If Orisa had been carrying something at that moment, she would have dropped it right away. A bizarre kaleidoscope of guilt, worry, fear, hope, and anticipation flashed on Tiana's face. She looked at Orisa reluctantly, not knowing what to say. Several seconds of tense silence passed, and Orisa dashed to the girl, placing her in a tight embrace:
"I'm so glad you are okay!"
Tiana squeaked in surprise. She didn't expect that kind of reaction at all. Slowly letting go of her luggage, she hugged Orisa too. Only after that, Tiana thought of looking around, and surprised, amazed, and pleased faces of people who came to check the source of the commotion overwhelmed her. She tried to distance herself from Orisa in panic, but the girl only gripped her tighter and muttered:
"I don't care. Bear with it and accept your punishment."
"My-my, who would have thought, huh? Our dear leader is still full of surprises. To think she could freely cuddle with the daughter of the Supreme Commander, oh my."
Coughs and gasps followed Dippo's commentary, and people began to whisper something like "That's Commander's daughter?", "What's going on here?", or "I'm gonna faint," and such.
This time even Orisa felt the need to break out of the embrace. She stepped back, her eyes dashing between Tiana and Dippo.
"But how? Is it even possible?"
"Long story short, it just happened. Thanks to certain someone's brilliant ideas I'm too damn tired to talk, think, or even eat. So I'm going to sleep, and you take care of these three since they are your precious friends."
Two other precious friends who were silent until that moment groaned unhappily.
"Dear brother of mine, how far we have fallen. Mongrels, mongrels everywhere."
"Indeed, dear sister. Alas, we will follow our liege to the depth of hell. But as I see it, we passed it a long time ago and ended somewhere far worse."
"What a lovely bunch, I already like them," Dippo chuckled and left the crowd.
"Tiana, may I bother you with an official introduction? Your own and your, well, friends as well." Orisa shuffled uncomfortably but had to steel herself and move forward with the most unpleasant part.
"Greetings, honorable members of an esteemed division, The Hounds. As of today, I, Tiana vas Kavenfenn, and my close peers, Bassa and Ramulie vi Durek, will be joining you all on the prowl. Please, take care of us."
"Oh, such a pleasant girl!"
"It's our honor to work with you, Lady Kavenfenn."
"Let's be friends!"
To put it shortly, people of Sean's squad were quite pleased with this addition. As for Orisa’s group, they were mildly surprised and moderately positive but nothing more since it was Orisa who made close ties with Tiana and not them.
"Tch. What are you two oafs doing here?"
To everyone's shock, Shou made his way towards vi Durek siblings and first chopped Ramulie's forehead, insulting her usual way too frilly pink dress, then quickly shook Bassa's hand before kicking him in the knee for the glove he wore during their handshake.
"You know each other?" Orisa muttered in disbelief.
"Oh, dear brother, another trouble on our doomed heads. What have we done to deserve such fate?" Despite her tone, sugar princess looked pleased and perhaps even happy.
"I assume you'd prefer to stay together?" Orisa asked the siblings, but they ignored her with a 'Hmph.' Deciding to save her nerves, Orisa turned to Shou. "Could I bother you with finding them a room for two people?"
"Tch. Guess I have no choice, then. You two, move your protrusions."
With that, the crowd began to thin out, and Orisa turned to a quiet and reluctant Tiana:
"If it's okay with you, would you like to settle in our room?" Orisa gestured towards the other girls. Onuki unenthusiastically nodded while Marina performed her usual "Te-he-he, nice to meetcha, sis!"
"I would love to!" Tiana reacted eagerly.
The four of them went upstairs to their room, but Orisa quickly pulled Marina to the side and quickly whispered:
"Marina, please help me with Tiana. I know how nervous she is to be here, and it is my first priority to make her at ease. Do you think you could lend me a hand? Although, I don’t know how, since Tiana is, well, a normal kid and certainly wouldn’t appreciate what you did with me."
"Gosh, sis, when you are so serious, you are no fun at all."
"Sorry, but Tiana is too important for me to let her just be. I want her to feel at home, needed and desired here. So that she could feel being among friends. She is that important to me."
"Who are you, her mum, or what? If you are so worried about her now, how are you going to fight? Would you throw all our lives into the fray just to spare hers? Think about it, sis. As for your request, of course I will help out. I also want to make lots of friends, you know?"
With that, Marina left Orisa brooding. She never thought about it because there was no need at all. But now because of Marina, the question struck her deep. Orisa always treated her friends equally, but Tiana was something else. Would Orisa really sacrifice her friends to save the girl?
"Tiana, I know you only just got here, but I really need to speak to the captain," Orisa's voice was full of guilt, but the fact that she needed to talk to Dippo remained.
"It's only normal, isn't it? Moreover, while I'm grateful to you and your kindness, I don't need nor want any special treatment. Please."
"Te-he-he, how cute and noble, I already like her."
"I wish that were me," Onuki stirred the pot.
Orisa found Dippo at his usual spot on the third floor's balcony:
"I thought you went to sleep?"
"Gosh, are you here to ruin the mood?" Dippo put an almost intact glass of wine on the table and turned to Orisa together with his seat. "What is it now?"
"You should have known about my warm friendship with these two retarded siblings from the report card, right? So what the fuck is going on, sir?"
"If you are so smart at guessing things, my choco muffin, then do a little bit of thinking, please."
"The set of three is indivisible?"
"Clap-clap," replied Dippo and halved the glass in one gulp before returning it to the table.
"So you were in the capital? What is going on? How Tiana ended up here? It should have been beyond anyone's capabilities to get a hold of her."
"Pure accident. I had to report to the Big Daddy and happened to overhear his assistant's complain about not knowing what to do with the girl. So I quickly offered my brilliant division. The only condition was that these two champs should always guard her."
"Considering how he treats his own daughter, I can't understand why he still insists on guarding her."
"Oh my, you too noticed what a loving father Commander is? Public image, I guess. I can see no other reason, you are right, my pumpkin."
"Please, sir, help me deal with them. I'm sure they won't listen to me."
"We'll see what could be done. I can't possibly make my lovely treasure cry." Dippo laughed. Despite his earlier grumbling, now he was clearly having a lot of fun.
"Yes, Tiana would be sad, I agree."
"Gosh, silly, by the lovely treasure I meant you!"
Orisa groaned loudly.
They discussed future plans of the group, Orisa also recounted what happened while Dippo was away before going back to her girls. Tiana had already unpacked her luggage and changed into a cute but simple set of trousers and a blouse by that time.
"Let's have a walk?" Orisa grabbed a surprised Tiana's hand and pulled her out. When she was about to close the door to their room, she heard Marina speak to Onuki:
"Aren't these two cuties close? Te-he-he, it's like they are dating or something."
"I thought you were dating," Onuki sounded a bit surprised. "Hooo? Aren't you observant one? How interesting, yahho!"
"Nothing special, I just know the difference in look of sexually deprived and well-fucked people, and that's it."
"Even more interesting, tell me more!"
Letting out a tired sigh, Orisa closed the door and pulled a puzzled Tiana outside.
They walked around the mansion in silence, but when Orisa led Tiana to the pond where nobody could see them, the girl suddenly turned and almost jumped on Orisa, hugging her tightly.
"I'm so happy to see you, Orisa! It's a miracle that makes me feel like I'm yet to wake up."
"I'm glad to see you too, my dear friend," mumbled Orisa, while patting the girl's back. Her eyes were itchy for some reason. 'It's you who are crying, not me!' suddenly woke up a long-forgotten internal critic.
"I thought I would never see you again," Tiana sobbed, clutching shirt on Orisa's back. "Unbearable it was such as I had hard time breathing."
"Now-now, you are here, and everything is perfectly fine, so let's leave our tears behind." Orisa planted a light kiss on Tiana's forehead and looked into these beautiful eyes. "Why won't you tell me how you ended up here?"
They settled near the pond, and Tiana began reluctantly:
"Besides what I shared with you in the letter, there isn't much to say. Father was even less receptive to my pleas, which made me stuck without a clear path. Then the attack came, but it went completely past me for I decided to stay overnight at Maria's home in the neighboring district. When I made my way towards the mansion, everything was already over. A few days later, my father's assistant summoned me and introduced to Drugan Dippo, saying that I'll be joining The Hounds to serve the mandatory year."
"And pleasant luggage was attached to you as well," Orisa muttered unhappily. She still couldn't fathom the whole extent of her troubles.
"Are you talking about Bassa and Ramulie?" Tiana was silent for a long ten seconds, before continuing. "I will try my best to keep them at bay, Orisa. But there was little for me to decide on this matter. And on almost every other matter, if I were to count."
"Don't despair, dear," Orisa squeezed the girl's palm and smiled warmly. "You are with me now, and together, everything is possible."
Now fully manned squad started practicing together, and the problem they were expecting rose.
"Dear brother of mine, I won't be participating in this nonsense."
"Indeed, my sister, only these lacking in talent and skill should pointlessly bang against their limits. We are more than capable as we are."
Tiana tried to reason with them but to no avail. They weren't disobeying here openly, but the sense she tried to hammer into their heads left without a trace right after her scolding was over.
Dippo gave them a harsh lecture as well, but his influence lasted for one day. Next morning, everything returned to square one.
Orisa tried to enlist Shou to make them listen, but he talked his way out, saying that it was pointless and not his problem.
It was on their third day that certain someone's patience ran out.
"Oh, dear brother, I can't stand this madness that-."
"Okay, that's enough. Listen here, you imbeciles," Kanai stormed towards the siblings. "You are so fucking pathetic that I can't help but puke. I saw dozens of losers like you, behaving like morons in hopes to garner at least a tiny bit of attention. Nobody here cares about you lame insecurities and rotten childhood where you failed to make at least some friends due to your garbage personalities and instead stuck to each other. Everyone clearly sees how scared and lonely both of you are. We might have talked to you and even invited to hang out if not for your outright laughable attempts to look cool and independent. You can't be normal, you failed to learn how to interact with others, that's why you are sticking to each other and making an arrogant front; you are trying to provoke people to start at least some sort of conversation with you brats, even if it's an argument and not a normal talk. We all see through your pathetic excuse of a demeanor, and we all are sick of it. You either start listening to orders like decent recruits, and someday we might accept your sore asses as squad members, or the eight of us would pummel you to half-death. And you won't be able to complain to your daddy or whatever since we'd all testify about it being a training accident. And I double-checked it from the Military law's standpoint, just in case."
A complete, deafening silence dawned upon the surrounding area. The wind died down, bugs stopped moving, and rivers froze.
The sibling's faces turned from pale to red, to purple, to green, and then red again. Bassa was glaring at Kanai and gripping the hilt of his sword, and Ramulie only could silently open and close her mouth like a fish.
"Please," Tiana came closer and spoke to them. "You are my friends, and I want you two to get along with my other friends as well. It's so much nicer to be together. Would you consider fulfilling this selfish request of mine?"
"I guess if it is for Lady Tiana's sake, we can endure a bit."
"It is as you say, my sister. For Lady Tiana, we would suffer whatever fate may throw at us."
Orisa looked at Kanai with awe, appraising him all anew. He was something else entirely.
After that, the tension hasn't completely left the group, but at the very least the siblings no longer opposed everything so openly and blatantly.
Later this evening, Orisa was cooking dinner together with Tiana, Marina, and Kanai, when Sean came through a back door that led to the workshop. He wore a blue smock-frock that was all dirty and ragged, smocking and charred to boot.
"Orisa, please, call the captain fast. We have a malfunction in the Deju's drive, I need his help. Hurry, please."
Dropping a knife she was using just now, Orisa dashed upward. She didn't know the scale of the issue but guessed it wasn't life-threatening, or else Sean would look more horrified.
Orisa looked over the balcony and knocked on Dippo's room, but the captain was nowhere to be found. Trying her luck, Orisa barged inside the communication room, making Dippo almost jump from the chair.
"FUCKING GUMMY BEARS! What is it!?" he yelled, startled and sweating.
"Oops, sorry, cap, but it probably is an emergency. Sean asked you to the workshop ASAP, saying something about the Deju's malfunction."
"Damn those idiots, they are gonna break it again!"
Dippo hastily made his way down, leaving Orisa alone. She looked at a blinking screen of the communication device and decided to turn it off just in case Dippo would forget to come back. When she was about to turn the machine off, her gaze stumbled over a short letter that Dippo left open just now. Being too curious for her own good, Orisa read its contents.
"It seems I am out of commission for at least one month, if not more. Our Puppy was smarter this time around. In six days, when I'd recover enough to move, come to the house three and help me move to the house forty-five. When you are here, I'll share what I was able to see inside the storage. Also, inform other officers down the line.