Everyone except her already left the opening where Sean was hiding, but the strange sensation that brought Orisa here in the first place was still present.
And it was coming from behind the boulders she was leaning onto right now.
Thankfully, the illumination from the Seeker Eye was still there, and Orisa gave the boulders a closer inspection. Unlike the ones that blocked the crack's entrance, these in front of her looked old. A thick layer of dust and dirt covered their surface. Without knowing where to look, Orisa wouldn't even be able to notice that this was another cave-in and not a natural state of the cave.
The opening itself was rather small, so Orisa decided against cracking her way through the rocks, fearing another cave-in from an explosion she might produce. She crawled back through the crack and stood up, brushing off the dirt from her gear. Before she could react, someone suddenly embraced her.
"Orisa, thank you! Thank you so much!"
It was none other than Jando. She was sobbing and muttering an endless stream of words of gratitude. Someone Orisa didn't know also patted her on the head. A few seconds later, people began to clap and cheer. "I don't know how to thank you enough. When I said that I was expecting great things from you, this isn't what I meant. I'm in your endless debt."
"I'm at a freaking loss here, girly. I was sure that the Seal would help you in battle, but damn I'm so glad I forced it upon you."
While everyone was cheering on her, Orisa felt sick. She was sure this was a coincidence; the sensation that brought her into that crack was unrelated to Sean. Orisa hated to receive praises for something she didn't do; she felt like an imposter, a thief, a con artist.
Luckily, the celebration died out quickly since Dippo reminded them of the mission that they still had on their hands. While the group members were busy constructing a stretcher, Kanai approached Orisa with a worried expression:
"Hey, you look like you were praised for starting a third world war. What's with this face of yours?"
"That thing that bought me here, it didn't react to Sean. It was something else, I'm sure. And it's still there in the cave," she whispered in a hushed voice.
"Well, that's interesting and everything, but I still don't get your problem. It's because of you idiot that we found the dude, fluke or not. Stop being so negative, alright? We'll think about your ghost compass or whatever later."
The break was over, and they marched into the depth of the cave once more. The path began to branch. After wandering for another hour, Dippo gave the order to turn back. There was no sign of the Beasts whatsoever.
Orisa had been pestering Dippo all the time during their march, asking him to let her back into that room. She urged and nudged him since her mind was on fire because of the unresolved issue. In the end, they stopped by the crack again, and Dippo crawled inside together with Orisa.
"Look, even if there is something there, we don't have time or tools to dig it. The ceiling is too unstable, don't you see? And these rocks completely blocked the path further, so without a specialist, we won't be able to advance."
"Sir, I know all that, but..." Orisa paused and bit her lip in frustration. "I just KNOW that it's important. I'm positive there is something behind these rocks."
"We are risking too much by staying here. You saved the man, don't kill him now." Dippo gave her a long look and grimaced over Orisa's distressed look. "How about that, we'll get back here when you are ready to hold on your own? In a month or so? That's the best deal you'll get, little digger."
Orisa nodded reluctantly. She looked at the cave-in for the last time and crawled back to the main cave.
They arrived at the entrance, and everyone looked at Orisa expectantly. She feared the moment, but alas it was upon her again. While her Mana pool recovered more than half of its former glory, Orisa's hands were still sore despite Marina's pills. After shuffling uncomfortably, she voiced the problem:
"I'm sorry, but I'll need someone to hold my hands or else I'll pass out somewhere along the way..."
"Yahho, sis, don't worry! Marina is plenty strong!" The girl flexed her muscles in front of Orisa, posing like a professional bodybuilder.
They moved out, keeping horses under the shield, and that made Orisa wonder how they were able to operate without such protection. 'I hope they just covered the horses with smaller shields and barriers,' a mere thought of them regularly healing poor animals instead of protecting them made Orisa shiver.
When they were around a third of their way, Orisa felt a firm grip around both her arms; Marina judged it was her time to support her leader. The strength in these hands surprised Orisa even despite her already high expectations of Marina's physique. She immediately relaxed and now was almost hanging in these arms; it felt surprisingly pleasant to be practically carried by someone mighty, especially when it was a girl.
"Te-he-he, how is it, sis? Feeling better now?" Marina whispered directly into Orisa's ear.
"You are a lifesaver, Marina. I could get used to this, you know?"
"I sure know," the girl giggled.
Their return trip was a piece of cake compared to the initial raid. Either the group killed most of the Beasts or the Wavespawn spread all over the area, but they met no more than thirty foes on their way. In less than four hours, they arrived at the headquarters. It was when Orisa put the horse into the stables that she let out a sigh of relief. Their first raid was over.
Sean was exhausted beyond measure, given their rations were running low even before he caved himself inside the crack, so Dippo forced the man into the bed. Entire team, however, went to celebrate. And Orisa, of course, was in the center of everyone's attention.
"So, the captain said its all thanks to some fancy Seal you are using?" asked one of the group members, a tall and bulky warrior with a long brown beard.
"Yes, the Seal is called Mind over Matter. Thanks to its effects, I can feel Mana flow around me," she answered with a wry face.
"To think you managed to pick his vitals through the rocks! I must say, that's some damn miracle you were with us, little girl."
"It was a fluke, nothing more. But I'm happy that we found Sean alive."
"Skilled, young, and modest. A rare trio to find in one place at the same time," Jando said after stroking Orisa's hair gently. "Can I borrow you for a moment?"
Together, they went outside and occupied one of the shabby benches scattered around the mansions. Orisa waited for a few minutes, but Jando was silent despite being the one to invite her. The girl either didn't know what to say or couldn't pull her thoughts together, so Orisa decided to ignite the conversation:
"Are you in a relationship with Sean?"
"No beating around the bushes, huh?" a hint of respect could be heard in Jando's voice. "Nothing serious, at least on his part. I respect Sean; he saved my life numerous time and always treated me well."
"One-sided love is a cruel thing."
"Not sure if it's love or something else..." The girl looked at Orisa thoughtfully, and then let out a chuckle. "Okay, whom am I lying to? Of course, I'm head over heels into our leader."
They laughed together for a few moments, and Jando turned serious again.
"I can't thank you enough. And I mean everything I said back then."
"Please, don't. It was a fluke."
With that, Orisa proceeded to explain the situation. When she was done, Jando gave her a long look full of mixed emotions.
"That's how it was, huh? It explains your low-key reaction to all the praises. So, you are one of these honest to a fault, right?"
"Pfft, no way, not in a slightest. This case is one of my weak spots, nothing more. I want my achievements and skills acknowledged and praised, but I'd hate to get recognized because of a fluke or something I wasn't part of, you see."
"Aren't you an honest and open person, then?"
"Nah, it merely helps me earn other people's trust faster, so I'm doing it only when needed."
"Hooh, I see. A little schemer, kingmaker, the one pulling strings?" Jando looked at Orisa appraisingly. "And why are you telling me all that? Aren't you afraid of me exposing your true nature or at least going off the hook?"
"I have nothing to hide, at least from my friends in the squad. As for you," Orisa showed the girl a wide grin, "aren't you already hooked? Anyway, all this goddamn attention making me melancholic, sorry. And, by the way, stop calling me little. I might as well be older than you."
"Pfft, I highly doubt it, young lady," now it was Jando's turn to laugh. "Anyway, it's your fault for being a cute little girl, you know?"
With that, Jando stood up and went inside the mansion. Orisa followed her shortly after and was pulled into the celebration's hassle once more. It didn't help her mood in the slightest.
The last phrase that Jando dropped unexpectedly occupied Orisa's mind. She tiredly dropped on her bed an hour later, and a sudden question startled the girls that were already resting there:
"Onuki, Marina, am I cute?"
"Yes, why?" both girls answered in unison before looking at each other in surprise.
"Hm, really? Never thought of myself in that way..."
"Really? I thought you've been pawing and fondling yourself day and night for the first month at the very least," Onuki muttered in doubt.
"Oh, you know what? Fuck off, that's what."
"See how great your new leader is?"
"Te-he-he, nothing wrong here," Marina quickly got into Orisa's bed and poked the girl's side. "Why are you so grumpy, sis? Wanna eat something?"
"Clearly not in the mood," Orisa muttered and turned away, covering her face with a blanket.
Marina sat there for some time, looking at Orisa's blanketed silhouette in dissatisfaction.
"Being grumpy is bad for your health, sis. Get well soon, or I'll have to punish you, te-he-he."
Dippo allowed his underlings to rest announcing the next day to be a day-off. Orisa woke up in a better mood, but it soon got to where it was thanks to unending hype and stream of cheering. The only good thing was that Sean was still asleep, saving her from the pinnacle of celebration. She holed up in the room with the communication device and buried herself in the endless stream of information.
Somewhere within the day, Onuki came and asked Orisa to send a private mail. To Nana, of course. Since Orisa had to manually enter the text, she obviously read its content under embarrassed Onuki's gaze. It was so sweet that Orisa couldn't help but smile despite Onuki's pestering to stop paying attention to the letter's contents.
During the lunch break, people assaulted Orisa yet again. A little more and a dark rainy cloud would appear over her head, so she retreated to the mailing room yet again.
"Yahho, sis! Whatcha doing here?"
A hurricane exploded inside a small room in the evening, turning upside down Orisa's tranquil, albeit gloomy mood. Marina took an empty chair and seated herself right by Orisa's side, poking the girl's side.
"Hey-hey, let's play! Or go for a walk or anything. It's bad for your health to be holed up for this long, you know?"
"Sorry, not in the mood. And I'm slightly busy here."
"Come o-o-on, drop it already and let's go have some fun outside. It's a crime to spend your day-off inside a dark and dusty room."
"Speaking from personal experience?"
"Te-he-he, I just might. But you'll never know since you are holed up here, sis!"
"Sorry, not interested."
Marina let out a long tired sigh. She stared at Orisa, and over time, the look in her eyes end expression changed from a playful and light to an exhausted and heavy.
"Orisa, listen," even her voice sounded old and dusty, "you need a positive distraction. I know we aren't buddy-buddy yet and don't know each other well, but I can tell that you are brooding pointlessly. Please, indulge this stupid lady's delusions and play along."
Orisa was looking at Marina with a shocked expression. Pleased by the reaction, Marina chuckled and continued:
"Don't look at me as if I'm some kind of imposter, alright? Now since I have your attention, let's have a nice walk and a pleasant talk." Orisa nodded silently, mesmerized and intrigued by the sudden change, so Marina added, "great, then let's meet at the entrance in five minutes."
Half an hour later, they sat atop a warehouse on the edge of the headquarters' territory. The roof, being rather wide and flat, was neatly furnished with a table, chairs, two almost classic office couches, and other little things to help people settle up comfortably and feel at ease. Part of the roof where the couches were was covered by a tent to shelter from the rain.
"Everything with my own hands," bragged Marina cheerfully. Her attitude now was something in the middle of her usual happy-go-lucky airhead and the recently discovered aged maiden. "Helps to have a quality time on your own or throw a little private party. Too far away from the house to let people hear and too high to see from the ground."
"Indeed, a great place, Marina," Orisa said, stretching herself over the couch. When Marina opened a bottle of wine and handed Orisa a full glass of bright red liquid, she waved her hand in refusal, "sorry, I don't like alcohol. Most of it tastes poorly."
"It's okay, I understand. But have at least one glass, okay? Consider it a bitter medicine to make your muscles loosen a bit. Tonight, I'm your doctor, therapist, and everything else, so take it as my prescription. I won't force you to get drunk or anything, but this one you should finish."
"I thought you were going to tell me about yourself," puzzled, Orisa took a sip. It tasted as bitter as she expected, but not awful like in her old world. She couldn't imagine herself enjoying it, although as medicine it might work.
"Oh, no, of course not. It's a boring and gloomy story about a person too scared to live. Tonight, we are here for you."
"Doesn't make any sense to me, sorry. I mean, sure, it's really nice to be here, talking and taking it slow. But..."
"But you can't stop looking for a catch. Ugh, how bothersome. Is it too hard to enjoy an evening without delving too deep into everything? Merely go with the flow. Would it kill you?"
"I can't!" Orisa waved her hands, spilling some wine over her shirt. She got up from the couch and took off now wet cloth, grumbling.
Marina got up from her seat and swiftly moved to Orisa, pulling the girl back to the couch:
"Just sit straight and relax, dammit. I didn't even know people could be so restless over nothing." She walked around the couch and stopped behind it, placing her hands over Orisa's shoulders and pressing the girl to rest over the couch's back. "Your shoulders are so stiff. It's unhealthy, you know? And not only for your body but the mind as well."
"Marina, this is just too strange and too sudden. If you really want me to relax, you need to sate my curiosity first." Orisa wriggled under Marina's touch as her shoulders were indeed stiff and almost screamed in pain from the girl's massage. "Why are you doing all this? And what's about this sudden change in your personality?"
Marina was silent for several minutes, pondering the questions while also rubbing Orisa's shoulders and upper part of her back. Her hands moved by themselves, strong and skilled they knew what they were supposed to do even without Marina's direct control. Finally, she sighed and said:
"Honestly, I don't want to dive into depressing stuff. Suffice to say when I woke up in this world, I made an oath to myself. I promised to become a person I always wanted to be, a person that wouldn't regret the way she lived her life. That's what I've been doing all the time and is doing now. As for your first question..."
Marina left her spot and sat on the other side of the same couch with Orisa. Turning to the girl, she almost ordered:
"Give me your feet now." As a puzzled Orisa turned on the couch and let Marina take hold of her feet, the girl continued. "As for your first question, I actually don't know how to explain it properly. It costs me almost nothing to help you, a person in need. And you are in need, which is obvious for anyone not completely blind. You look like a really nice girl with some minor problems that are easily adjusted, so I thought to myself - why not?"
"Oh, I know what you are talking about," Orisa grinned. "I was the same in my previous life. When the price was really low, when it didn't bother me, I always helped people. Huh, so that's who you are?"
"Te-he, let's just stop on this part for now," Marina slowly slipped into her usual attitude. She stood up from the couch and went to was her hands in a small washbasin. Upon the return, she occupied the same spot, placed Orisa's legs on her lap again, and began to caress them slowly. It was a surprisingly soothing and relaxing feeling that Orisa almost fell asleep.
"So, what's bothering you, sis? You are stiff wherever I touch you, and even your look is hard and stressed. Shouldering something?"
"It's complicated..." Half the glass of wine and Marina's handwork softened Orisa way further than she expected, lowering her guard down. "I honestly don't know, just too much going on at the same time. The moment I woke up in this world, I fell into some kind of an endless loop of happenings, and most of them unpleasant, too. Big and little things just keep piling up, they are giving me a constant headache. I need to think about lots of things, learn even more of them, train harder and so on. And the further I go, the more problems and needs are piling up and pressuring me. With each passing day, I feel heavier and slower, but at the same time much more vulnerable and weak. I don't know, sorry..."
Marina quietly listened to the tale, slowly going up and down on Orisa's legs with the back of her right palm. She only chuckled an looked at Orisa with a little mischief in her eyes:
"Sis, fix me if I'm wrong, but I assume you don't play with yourself, right?"
"What do you..." A moment later, Orisa's face flushed. "Um, ahem, erm! Marina?"
"Te-he-he, you are so cute when you are blushing. Anyhow, by the look of it, you aren't into boys despite having two of them so close to you. And that girl you brought with you, she clearly has some issues with you. So if we remove all the possible sources and add your answer to my last question, the problem is clear. Don't get me wrong, sis, it won't fix all your issues, but I assure you it will help you feel much better. Neglecting the needs of a young and healthy body is taxing."
"Um... I see." Orisa was still flustered by the girl's blunt attitude. She somehow forgot about that part of her life in the middle of everything that went around. It didn't even occur to her that not only males were constantly pressured by their urges. Experience with Onuki, the way her body reacted to the girl's touch, it all Orisa waved away as a part of her new body and safely ignored afterward. "It's just that... I don't know, there is not enough time, always something I need to be doing at the moment. And we were rarely alone during the camp time, right? So I kind of forgot about it altogether."
"I know, I know," Marina laughed merrily and gave Orisa an encouraging smile. "The first month is tough, especially for a leader, and even more so with your stats. I'm kind of amazed by the things you did with the crappy power level of yours. Sis is so cool, te-he-he."
"Um, thank you," Orisa wasn't used for such open praise and blushed again.
"So, want me to help you?"
"Oi, don't play a shy princess! Help you feel better tonight, of course."
"Te-he-he, sis, you are so damn cute with these red cheeks of yours! Don't worry, it's not like I'm in love with you or something. As I said, it doesn't cost me anything, and in this case, it might even turn into a nice experience."
"Marina, it's too sudden, I'm not sure that I'm ready..."
"Don't be like that, sis," the girl said and crawled closer to Orisa. "You'll feel better. Besides, I'm not sure that I'm ready as well, you know? But I always wanted to try and regretted not doing so in my past life." Her face drew even closer. Now she was almost on top of Orisa, looked her in the eyes and whispered, "I don't want to have more regrets."
Orisa stared the girl in the eyes and gulped. Marina was attractive, that much was obvious. What she said also made Orisa think. After pondering for some time, she sensed that hunger in her nether regions. And the more she thought about it, the less resistant she felt to the idea.
"No strings attached sis," the girl whispered again. Now her face was so close that Orisa could only see her glistering eyes and burning lips.
For a moment, Mirai's smile flashed inside Orisa's memory. 'I love you, Mirai. I just hope you wouldn't want me to live inside my memories.'
And their lips met.
On the next morning, Orisa woke up in heaven. She was in her bed, as usual, but her body was so light that she could fly. All the tension and stress that she accumulated throughout the past six weeks left her body without a trace. She was almost purring.
A light chuckle came from the neighboring bed, and Marina winked to her with a sly smile.
Orisa came down to the kitchen and stumbled upon a hurried Dippo. He looked rather pale and dismayed in his hasty preparations.
"Morning, sir. What happened?"
"I'm leaving. Will be back in a few days. Or I won't, who knows," Dippo muttered and almost ran to the garage.
"What's going on?" Orisa yelled him in the back.
"Read the last letter!"
With that, Dippo slipped into the small building and drove out in Deju less than a minute later.
Startled and anxious, Orisa dashed to the third floor and into the communication room and opened the news feed. It was overwhelming. New messages were arriving every few seconds. It took her some time to find the specified letter.
Orisa first tried to skim through it since the letter was rather big. Upon a glance review, she stumbled over a few phrases and decided to read it again, thoroughly this time.
She had to read it twice before understanding its content. Covering her mouth in horror, Orisa muttered"
"My dear friend..."
This urgent letter was about the capital city, Mitras. Last night, an entire district of the capital was destroyed, including the vas Kavenfenn mansion.
The culprit was declared to be Nowanzi Goalo.