As if surfacing from the ocean's dark depth, Orisa was slowly coming back to her senses. At first, there were only sounds; muted, indistinct noises became clear and turned into spell shouts. A few seconds later, both her sight and other senses returned as well. Her entire body was sore after hitting metallic carcass numerous times during their roll, but thankfully there were no serious injuries.
A seat to her right, previously occupied by Dippo, was now empty. She looked back her friends motionless, covered in bruises. She almost succumbed to panic but suddenly noticed a now familiar feeling of Mana. At least for now, all her squad members were alive and without significant injuries.
Surprisingly, after rolling quite a few times, the Deju ended up back on its wheels again, truly a miracle. The car fell to the side and rolled tens of meters into the forest. The space around it was now illuminated by numerous floating lights, probably conjured by someone to brighten the forest. A series of violent coughs jolted Orisa out of her thoughts. It came from the first row of seats, right in front of her.
Orisa leaned forward and saw the grumpy boy coughing up blood. One of the metal pipes broke and struck him, piercing his right side and nailing him onto the seat.
"Shit!" yelped Orisa, remembering a similar scene from Final Destination movie. To her surprise, the boy turned his head and looked at her. Considering his condition, he looked rather well.
"Behind the last row. Closed box. Green crystal with a black circle," each phrase was short and supplied by more coughing, but he didn't look like a man who was about to die. It was when Orisa finally notices that both his hands were glowing green; he was healing himself repeatedly.
Orisa climbed out of the car and rushed to its rear. She finally noticed all the noise again and saw both Dippo and the girl fighting a group of the Beasts. 'Oh, fuck. OOOH FUCK!' Her thoughts were, indeed, rather dull.
As she was about to open the box with supplies, she felt an intense tingling sensation on her back. Orisa abruptly turned around and witnessed a meter-tall ant march towards her position. At the same time, she heard Dippo's furious roar from the other side of the car where the primary battle was going on:
"Where is the fucking Lantern?!"
A cold sweat struck Orisa since she was the one carrying their lifeline item; she lost it in the crash. 'We are so fucking dead," she thought, chanting her defensive spells and then taking aim at the ant.
"Block Rush!" - "Block Rush!" - "Block Rush!" - "Block Rush!"
"Where is it!?" roared Dippo again.
"How the fuck should I know!? Lost it, dammit!" yelled a thoroughly scared and irritated Orisa.
She threw the ant back, but it was clear that she stood no chance against him as she was now. Orisa turned back to the box and spotted her bag there as well.
"Block Rush!" - "Block Rush!" - "Block Rush!"
Two more ants were now visible under the illumination, so Orisa threw another barrage of Walls to push them back and shouted:
"They are coming from this side, too!"
"Fucking kill them or, I don't know, make friends!" yelled Dippo. Orisa couldn't spare a single moment to look their way, but if her captain was having a hard time, things were not that good.
There were numerous crystals, bottles, packs of pills, and various other things inside the box. It took Orisa another twenty seconds to find the crystal, and she also had to push the ants back. She abruptly opened her case and pulled the Concentration potion; another barrage of Walls followed after a little sip from the bottle. She now had to survive until the Potion would take effect.
"Triple Block!" - "Triple Block!" - "Triple Block!" - "Triple Block!"
Orisa surrounded the Deju with Walls, leaving the side facing Dippo and the girl open, and rushed to the skewered boy. 'Is it my imagination or he turned all pale?' There wasn't much blood probably due to the Blood Blockade spell, but his every breath was probably making internal wounds. Orisa got onto the driver's seat and turned to the boy. She could hear the ants banging against her Walls already. The boy extended his bloodied hand and Orisa put the crystal on his palm.
"I'll cut the bar. You pull it out," he muttered.
Orisa nodded while following his palm with an intent gaze. A blue flame appeared at the tip of his index finger; it rose in intensity with each passing second, until the flame turned into a blowtorch that the boy pressed against the pipe. The fire finally won against the enchanted metal, and Orisa pulled the pipe in one swift motion, which made the boy momentarily gasp from pain. He immediately crashed the crystal over his wound, and it glowed with green after a small circle appeared around the puncture.
"Begone," he muttered before closing his eyes.
The wall closest to her broke, letting the ant inside her improvised garage. While Orisa managed to push him away, another wall broke on the opposite end of the car. Finally, the Concentration potion took effect, so Orisa shouted without wasting a single moment:
A nearly forgotten calmness and clarity dawned upon her. She breathed in and out to fill her brain with oxygen and jumped out of the driver's seat.
Utilizing all three Mana layers, Orisa cast three spells at the same time and flipped the car on the side, making its armored bottom face the ants. She was mildly concerned about the safety of her friends and an injured Shou, but this was the easiest way to buy them more time. Upon losing access to its prey, the ant turned to Orisa.
'Eyes, joints between legs, and antennas should be his weakest part. Plus fire ought to prove effective at least to some degree.'
A wave of flame disoriented the Beast momentarily, and Orisa was already in front of him, throwing dual Palm Push Strike into the slits that the Beasts had instead of eyes. They exploded, making two holes with green fluid oozing outside. The Beast flinched from the pain, grazing Orisa's defensive barrier with its mandibles, but the Thickness shield withstood a light scratch like this one.
"Hand of God!"
The first spell smashed through the roof she made earlier, pressing the Beast down, and three Force Blocks pinned the ant to the ground. The power of the Beast unaffected by the Lantern became evident as all three of her blocks were filled with cracks the moment the ant tried to get up. Without any second to waste, Orisa jumped closer and struck her hand inside the mess that was its left slit-eye before. A simultaneous triple Palm Push Strike decimated its head, and the Beast died. The only thing Orisa miscalculated was that the ant still clenched its mandibles the last moment, injuring her right ankle.
It hurt like hell. All her senses were sharp, which made the pain feel five times stronger; despite that, with her new Seal, Orisa still managed to sense another foe coming from behind. In her empowered state, there was no need to cast with hands, so she focused momentarily on her back and shouted:
Another ant was thrown away by the wall that shot out of her back, but more foes came out of the woods. Among them were spiders, ants, and one mantis. Orisa wouldn't be able to run with her leg like that, so she had to fight them or at least survive until Dippo could save her.
'I shouldn't get close or let them get near me, but all my attacks are of melee range.' Orisa could now easily remember all the Seals she saw before, but she wasn't confident in drawing them. So only focusing on these few she practiced sketching, Orisa made a few reinforced Blocks around her and the car. The Bulwark Seal reshaped Mana inside spells, making it more durable against attacks.
Orisa could also use all Mana layers to do three simultaneous Block Rush spells, and a series of these bought her around six more seconds by pushing the group of monsters back. A surprising feeling struck her during this maneuver, and Orisa concentrated on Mana inside her body. Indeed, while temporarily, she could now use the fourth Mana layer due to the Concentration potion's effect.
'Okay. I need something to break through the Beast's resistance and their carapace. Everything should be focused on penetration power.' The first was the Seal of Piercing; she paid attention to that Seal after offering it to Clemen. Another Seal she could use for the same purpose was the Seal of Sharpening, which they used to repair and polish test equipment during their practice.
The hardest part was to make the second Seal while maintaining the first, but she managed to do it despite the growing pain in her right ankle. Her forehead was already dripping sweat, but these two Seals were, in fact, easier than what she was about to do now. Still maintaining them, Orisa conjured and strengthened a cone; it was supposed to be extremely durable to pressure from the inside, which made its creation even more complicated. Grabbing her newly acquired temporary layer, Orisa began to inject burning Mana inside the cone. The idea behind this attack was the same as of her Palm Push Strike, to compress Mana and make it explode, creating a strong but narrow jet of energy.
Orisa now was maintaining two difficult constructions while injecting Mana inside a conjured and maintained shell. To say that this process was demanding would be an understatement; Orisa was so tense and focused that the blood vessels inside her nose popped up, creating two red streams that were now soiling her newly bought gear.
When Orisa was done with Mana compression, no more than six seconds had passed in the world. The closest to her position enemy was a spider, and only ten meters separated them now. After compressing enough Mana into the shell, Orisa used the freed last layer to throw the shell forward, adding a spinning motion and pushing it towards the spider.
If by some weird twist of fate it was possible to shoot cannon at the cow, this was how it would end up looking. The shell made of Mana hit the spider's upper part and dug inside its body. The thin and sharp tip of the shell broke while piercing the spider's skin, and all burning Mana compressed inside the shell charged out. The spider exploded from the inside, and his smoldering pieces flew in all directions.
Orisa tried to conjure another spell, but her vision became blurry; the scene in front of her eyes swayed back and forth, and Orisa ended up on the ground. Despite extreme dizziness, she still tried to get up, but her attempt failed awfully. She lost track of her surroundings while focusing on the spell, and that let the ant she pushed away earlier to crawl upon her. The Beast sunk its mandibles into Orisa's right side, pierced her Thickness barrier as if it was made of paper and dug deep into her breast and shoulder.
Her scream echoed through the forest. The next moment some other source of Mana landed by her side with a loud thud.
A fist struck the ant's side, making it fly into the air and flip twice before falling a few meters away. Marina pressed both hands against Orisa's chest and chanted:
Orisa felt all Mana inside her body jolt in the direction of her wounds, and these spots started to heat and itch.
"Te-he-he, nice boobs, by the way!" Marina laughed and made a V-sign before jumping onto the still shocked ant. Both her fists glowed with blue while she pummeled him into the ground, shouting, "Ola-Ola-Ola-Ola-Ola~!"
The ant's head was now buried deep in the ground, but it still moved its legs in hopes to hit Marina; the thing was still alive even after severe pummeling, proving to Orisa once more how scary the Beasts were without the Lantern. That, and how lucky she was to be able to outlive its attack.
Marina's straightened palm glowed with light blue after she enveloped it in lightning. The first strike cracked the ant's carapace, and two more attacks completely broke it. Marina jumped in the air and smashed her right fist into the tear on the ant's body:
Due to Orisa's focused state, she was able to see how Mana gathered on the surface of Marina's fist and exploded a moment later inside her victim's body. The ant flinched once and stopped moving.
While the girl slowly strolled back towards Orisa, she noticed other Beasts enclosing on their position. Pulling all her willpower together, Orisa slightly raised her body and pointed her hand in the direction of the Beasts:
"Triple Block Rush!" - "Triple Block Rush!" - "Triple Block Rush!"
While the foes were pushed again once again, Marina looked over the scene and whistled before bending towards Orisa:
"Feeeh, why aren't you healing properly, sis?" she sighed unhappily before pulling out Orisa's tag that she was now wearing on her neck like a proper soldier. "Bwahaha, holy macaroni what the heck is that!? No wonder you aren't healed yet. Okay, leave the rest to us!"
"How is Dippo?" Orisa muttered while still struggling from the pain. She used another Blood Blockade spell, but that was her limit as another wave of dizziness assaulted her head.
"Oh, cappy? Two evolved deers, a few dozens of normal Beasts, you know, the usual business. Te-he-he," with that, Marina came to the flipped car and slammed her fist into its armor, "Shou, sweetie, come here and help, or I'll have to punish you again!"
Loud "Tch," could be heard from the other side of the car. The grumpy boy, Shou, walked around the Deju a few seconds later. Sparing only a quick glimpse, he threw at Orisa lesser healing and painkilling spells and slowly walked to stand by Marina's side. She soundly slapped him on the butt and yelled while still laughing:
"Yahho, that's my Shou! Now I won't punish you so hard, te-he-he."
"Tch. Brainless gorilla, stay away."
Orisa slowly stood up. Her wounds were far from being healed, but the painkiller spell helped a lot. She moved closer to the pair while leaning on the nearest Force Block.
"Te-he-he, isn't our sis cool?" Marina elbowed Shou after looking at a slowly crawling girl.
"Don't care. Don't touch me, hag. God, this is so troublesome," after finishing his line, Shou took two short metal wands out of his wrist holster and crossed them in front of him:
A circle appeared in front of him. Its outer part was red, while inner figures appeared to be light-blue. Apple-sized projectiles started flying out of the circle towards the enemies. On the impact, they exploded with fire, simultaneously shocking enemies with lightning. While each attack was not especially strong, simultaneous hits on the same Beast made it stumble and crumble in the end.
'Whoah, so this is the power of the Noble bloodlines? I wonder what's stronger, his dualcast or Tiana's empower?' Orisa looked at a clear display of strength in admiration. But it soon became evident that even this attack speed was not enough to stop the enemies as they drew closer.
"If you hit me with this, I won't be content with a simple whipping," Marina giggled after sending cold shiver all over Shou's body and jumped forward. Her leap was empowered by Mana, so she flew at least four meters in the air before landing on the back of the spider:
Her leg glowed with red in the last second before the impact, while her back pushed out Mana burst to further increase her speed. With this setup, Marina rammed into the spider's back, and the ground beneath it crumbled, creating a small crater in which now barely moving spider was buried.
Orisa finally made it to where Shou stood and raised both her hands to start casting. He noticed this movement and said in an even voice without breaking his channeling magic:
"If you end up dead because of that, it's not my fault."
"I like your attitude," muttered Orisa back and launched a barrage of spells. By the look of things, their primary source of damage was Shou, so Orisa focused on stalling or pushing the Beasts back.
"Hand of God!" - "Triple Block Rush!" - "Block Prison!"
In the meantime, Marina was jumping back and forth, kicking, slamming, punching, and throwing the Beasts. Cuts and wounds frequently appeared all over her body, and each time she used this strange Source Heal technique to cure most of the damage.
At first, Orisa was wondering how it was possible for the girl to fight against fully powered Beasts without any hesitation, standing on equal footing. But then she noticed Marina chew on a pill; another one followed half a minute later, with more pills being added even more often.
"Lesser Overflow!" - "Lesser Sage!"
"Lesser Protect!" - "Lesser Might!"
Kanai and Onuki joined the fight. Orisa felt how a grip over her heart loosened; this whole time, she was subconsciously worried about the state of her friends and seeing them more or less intact set her mind at ease.
"I'm glad that you are alright, guys. How are Iten and Clemen?"
"With Dippo on the other side," Kanai grumbled while throwing more healing at Marina and wiping the blood from a deep cut over his forehead that hasn't healed yet.
"Why is it that you are the one to always got hurt and cut?" said Onuki with a sigh after observing Orisa's state. She used three more healing spells, and Orisa felt the pressure and tension made by hiding the pain with the painkiller spell slowly go away.
Suddenly, Shou swayed and fell on one knee. A quick inspection revealed that he was almost chalk-white and covered in sweat.
"Should I bring something from the box?" asked Orisa in a worried tone.
"No. Out of Mana. Too expensive," he spat out short phrases while panting hoarsely.
"Onuki, cover us and watch over this dude. Kanai, focus on the Beasts that are slowed or stopped," she gave them instructions and rushed to help Marina.
"Te-he, sis came to play?" the girl tried to sound cheerful, but even a single glance was enough to see how dire her situation was. Marina's fists were a bloody mess despite constant healing; vessels in her eyes popped, and an unsightly brownish substance was dripping from her mouth. When the girl tried to swallow another pill, Orisa stopped her hand:
"That's enough for today. Go back and cover the casters."
"Huh? Are you worried about me, sis? How cute!"
But Orisa already focused on the foes in front. There were five of them, including the mantis. The first thing she did was to trample two half-buried ants deeper into the ground and stack a few Blocks over them. The moment she was done with this part, Kanai’s spells flew towards the incapacitated Beasts. 'That's my boy, good job.'
At the same time, a purple light illuminated surroundings and a cheerful "Found it!" could be heard.
Orisa couldn't risk casting her four-layered spell again, but taking into consideration buffs from Onuki and Kanai, as well as the Lantern's effect, she could probably make do with a weaker version of that spell. After throwing away two Beasts, only one spider stood in front of her. It spat a web that instantly bound her to the ground, but it was of little concern to her since she wasn't planning to move in the first place.
She could now do the spell quicker since only three Mana layers were used, and she was quite proficient with them from all her previous fights. First was the Seal of Piercing, than the shell and its compressed contents. It took her less than two seconds to finish the spell. 'Buffs to Mana control and concentration are bliss.'
The first spell blew some of the spider's back and slowed its advance, but this was not enough to kill the Beast. She had to throw two more spells to finish it. But it still felt much weaker and slower due to the Lantern.
'I'm astonished of how much more powerful was the four-layered spell compared to the one I used right now.' She felt the power of the Sealcasting and blessed Rita inwardly.
Orisa first sensed a huge Mana burst flew by her side, and then felt a wind pressure from something going past her at an incredible speed. The next moment, both Beasts that were closing on her position fell apart. Dippo stood between them, cleaning his knives.
"Consider yourself lucky that there were no shooters or jumpers today," he said slowly and gave Orisa a tense gaze. She gulped after understanding that they had to deal with the easiest setup possible. "Next time we lose the Lantern might be the end for some of you. But aside from that, good job."
This very moment, Marina passed out and fell on the ground with a loud thud. With that, their first encounter with the Beasts came to an end.