"My-my, we need to repair it yet again," Dippo sighed after inspecting the Deju. "Okay, my cuties, take your stuff, we are going on foot since it won't launch in this state."
One of Deju's wheels broke completely with two others being bent and tattered. Some of the Mana pipes cracked, and, ultimately, the right side was a mess. Announcing the horrible truth, Drugan went to detach the core crystal of the car in case someone were to find it out before they could go back and fix it.
Orisa looked at her squad. Setting aside minor cuts and initial bloodied state from the crash, all her friends were mostly intact. As for the other two members, Shou was in a better condition with a severe Mana depletion; he looked pale and still couldn't catch his breath but was otherwise alright.
Marina, however, was another story altogether. She was still unconscious, and brownish saliva was oozing from one corner of her mouth. Her hands and legs were all swollen, and veins all over her body turned brown, surfacing over the skin and creating a creepy and ominous pattern.
"Captain, Marina doesn't look good to me," Orisa said worriedly. She checked the girl's pulse, which was extremely high for such a low body temperature she apparently had.
"Oh, she'll be fine in a few days," answered Dippo while calmly unloading the car's emergency box.
"Shouldn't we heal her somehow?"
"It's an alchemical poisoning from overusing the pills, so you can't cure it with magic. And I don't carry any meds for such dummies, you know?"
Just in case, Orisa thoroughly skimmed over Marina's few pockets, but they all were empty except same brownish pills. Orisa sighed tiredly and turned to Shou:
"Would you be able to move on your own?"
"Tch. In five minutes," even while dead tired and exhausted, he kept his annoying attitude.
"Guys, we'll have to carry Marina, I'm afraid. Let's organize a stretcher. Two people will carry it, swapping with the second pair from time to time."
Since Clemen was the shortest among them, Orisa entrusted him with her suitcase and paired with Kanai to make a reserve group, while Iten and Onuki were the first to carry the stretcher. With such a setup, they moved out.
"How far are we from the base?" Orisa asked to break the silence.
"Somewhere around three hours with our current speed. That is if nobody attacks again," he answered while toying with the Lantern in his hand. Aside from its purple light, six floating balls of white Mana illuminated the space around them.
While things were not that good, they also weren't that bad either. The Beasts attacked them from time to time, but they were mostly loners with occasional pairs. Together with Dippo, Orisa created a peculiar tandem. When they sensed or heard the Beasts, Dippo dropped his luggage and dashed to kick the foe into the air or on the road; meanwhile Orisa prepared her three-layered Sealcasting and took aim. While the Beast was flying in the air or rolling over the ground, Orisa shot it with her new spell. From time to time, Kanai or Onuki joined their fun little exercise.
The first time a considerable group of Wavespawn assaulted them, Dippo went all out while Orisa covered their convoy with her barriers. The second time was more unfortunate as there were long-ranged attackers among foes. Onuki and Kanai got hit before Orisa was could protect them, but the wounds were not life-threatening.
"How are you guys holding?" she asked them both. Kanai and Onuki looked at each other and back at Orisa before Onuki muttered:
"I'm fine, thanks."
Kanai merely nodded quietly, and they continued their way.
"Honestly, that's not how I planned your first trip," Dippo broke a half hour long silence. "But it has its charm, I must say. Considering your leader's extreme luck, I'm surprised that a twice evolved Beast hasn't appeared yet."
"Don't foreshadow!" yelled Orisa and Kanai in sync.
By the time they made it to the base, the squad was half-dead from exhaustion despite constantly switching Marina's carriers. Orisa's empowered state was still in place, but even she barely spared a glance towards the base's exterior.
It looked like an ancient mansion of some noble or politician, and ancient not in a good way. In a dim illumination from the night sky, Orisa was able to discern three-story yellowish building with giant columns supporting a balcony on the third floor. At least on the outside, the villa and its surrounding area were both run-down; ivy covered the mansion's walls and the surrounding area, and the road was in shambles. Orisa was too tired to care and think about it.
They barged inside the building and dropped on the floor. Only Dippo was full of vigor, and Shou decided to uphold his grumpy front and proudly strolled to his room.
"You can drop the luggage here and go sleep," said Dippo nonchalantly.
"What about Marina?"
"Gosh, AS I SAID, you can drop the luggage here."
The squad members exchanged disturbed looks. Orisa was unhappy with the way Dippo treated the girl, so she pulled him to the side and asked quietly:
"What's going on? Why are you treating her like garbage?"
"Oh, you are such an idiot. Listen carefully, defender of poor and sick. She isn't a victim here. She is a moron who wanted to show-off in front of her new friends. It's a payback for having muscles instead of a brain and ignoring numerous warning I gave her." He then grabbed Orisa's sleeve and pulled her even closer to whisper angrily in her ear, "girly, don't you dare doubt me. I gave you no reason to do so and won't allow any bullshit from a chick blinded by her righteous crusade."
"Okay, I got it. My mistake, sir. Forgive me," she bowed her head apologetically. Orisa didn't agree with everything Dippo said, but the point about needlessly showing off was disturbing, indeed. If it was true, that is.
Dippo showed them two temporary rooms and said that they'd get their apartments later. The boys instantly dropped dead inside their bedroom, but Orisa begged Onuki help her carry Marina to the girls' room. It didn't sit well with her to leave the girl in the hall.
One by one, they slowly woke up around the midday. On the table near the bed, Orisa found a note pinned by the Lantern:
'Food in the fridge. Go back to the car ASAP. PS: don't you dare lose the Lantern, I'm going to murder you. Your lovely captain.'
Orisa told the boys about the note, and they all spread across the empty mansion in search of the bathrooms, showers, and kitchen. On the inside, the house looked as bad as Orisa imagined; the paint on the walls peeled away, and the floor creaked and wobbled under their feet. Inside one of the rooms, Orisa finally found Shou vas Todo lay on a bed, lazily skimming through a book.
"Hey, Shou, how are you feeling? Last night was pretty rough, right?" she began in a friendly manner, but even after ten seconds still heard no reply. "Okay, I understand. The captain is waiting for us by the car. We are leaving in thirty minutes, be ready."
"And so? I'm not going to take part in this pointless Military fuss. Everyone following the orders can go and screw themselves."
"Our squad is moving out. You are a member of our squad hence you are going, whether you like it or not."
Orisa was still exhausted from yesterday's march, especially mentally. She had zero desire to argue with a spoiled, rebellious kid or support his delusions. While Dippo was not crystal clear on this matter, he at least vaguely implied that she was the leader of the squad, so it was her responsibility and her pain now to deal with this. A few more seconds passed without a reply, so Orisa asked in a cold voice:
"I didn't hear you."
"Go away and close the door."
"Do I need to force you up? Is that what you want?"
"I dare you to try," the boy snorted and returned to the book.
Without further ado, Orisa raised her right hand. It was way harder without the Concentration potion, but she still managed to conjure a Seal; a projectile formed behind the Seal, and Orisa filled it with Mana. Of course, she was bluffing; there was no way she could attack him without Enrage, but the boy didn't know that yet. Shou only spared her a single glance and returned to the book.
"We can still resolve it in a civilized manner," said Orisa calmly, but the boy snorted again.
He left her no choice, so Orisa moved her hand towards a window and launched the spell. She planned to send the shell through the window to let it explode far away in the fields. By the look of it, however, the window was enchanted. Her spell didn't safely break it but got stuck in its frame instead, half-piercing the thick wood. The tip of the shell broke as was intended by the spell’s design and released burning Mana outside, creating an enormous blast wave. The already cracked from the impact glass shattered from the explosion, throwing shards inside the room.
"Are you sane!?" yelled Shou after jumping on the bed. He got a few minor cuts, but Orisa was even less lucky; her hands and cheeks were bleeding. Thankfully, no glass got into her eyes.
"You have twenty-nine minutes," she said coldly and left the room. A few seconds later, her friends rushed to her side and yelled over her bloodied look. Orisa merely shrugged while wiping her face and said, "a short tutoring session. Nothing to worry about."
"Why is that it's you who are always covered in blood?" facepalmed Onuki before healing her yet again.
She was worried over Marina's state and didn't want to leave the girl alone, but they had too little manpower to leave someone by her side. Orisa inspected the girl and noticed the veins over her body were no longer brown and bulged; her face also returned its healthy color. Orisa left her a note in case the girl would wake up while they were away.
In the end, they had no time to shower or eat since Orisa pushed them to leave as soon as possible. After packing the food and washing their faces, six squad members left the mansion the same way they came yesterday. Orisa spared another glance over the base, but it looked as run-down as she imagined.
To prevent a recent fiasco, Orisa tied the Lantern around her wrist with a piece of fabric she found in the hall and connected one of her Mana layers to supply it. Just in case, she sipped the Concentration potion as well.
"The hell are you doing!?" yelled Shou again after backing away a good ten meters.
"I can't properly fight without it," Orisa said coldly. She felt great in this empowered state, but for some reason, the boy's words were getting on her nerves way more than in her non-combat mode.
"Tch, another freak."
"Guys," Orisa ignored his remark and talked to the other squad members, "unless the situation is bad, I'd like you four to face the Beasts. Yesterday we ate away most of the monsters, but it's important to feel their power by yourselves while we are more or less safe."
"What is it, a power leveling session of noobs by an experienced player?" Kanai chuckled.
"You don't like being a noob?"
"Well, it's kind of frustrating, indeed," he mused while looking at Orisa with a grin. "And your next line is - then go train and stop being a noob."
"Quite close, young one, but you still have a way to go," snorted Orisa.
"This is so dumb, are you for real?" Shou groaned with an unpleasant expression on his face.
"Listen, boy," she said without slowing her pace. Orisa's voice was now especially cold since the boy irritated her beyond words. "You'll treat us all here politely from now on, or I'll have to punish you."
"If you think I'll let your joke slide twice, you are a dumb hag," he muttered angrily.
"Block Prison!" - "Hand of God!"
Everything happened in less than one second. Because of Orisa's new Seal, she could sense Shou's position quite well. Without turning around, she closed him inside the Prison, and a moment later Hand of God slammed it from above. The Blocks withstood but received many cracks over their surface.
"They won't hold out next time," she calmly added and continued to walk.
"The hell you are doing!? You could have killed me, you crazy shit!" he kept yelling at their backs, but nobody stopped to react. "Hey! How am I supposed to get out?"
"Aren't you a smart boy? I'm sure you'll figure it out," Orisa waved her hand and kept marching. However, she still lowered their pace, not willing to create too much of a distance between them. They were, in the end, in the open; every bush and ditch could hide the Beast ready to strike. A minute later, the grumpy and red-faced boy caught up with them. The walk continued without any more pointless delays.