It was a living, breathing Shifter. This was not a practice, nor a simulation, but a monster in the flesh. The door had slammed shut behind us, and I could hear the sound of Kali trying and failing to turn the handle.
Faced with such an intimidating situation, I could see Kali trembling. However, Naomi and I didn’t even break a sweat. Living under the Commander, we’d had plenty of experience with Shifters ourselves. Although I hadn’t fought any wild ones out in the open, he had brought some small captured ones back for us to observe and study.
Having felt across the wall, the only thing I could feel was a shelf, coated with a sticky substance. Perhaps it had some battle utility, and I considered grabbing it, but Kali motioned as if to claim it herself.
Resultantly, Naomi and I charged forward across both sides of the room. We were aiming to apply pressure from both sides, thereby forcing the beast to pick one opponent and expose its back to the other.
It was still too dark to notice the beast. When it closed its eyes, our sight of it vanished entirely. The blinking phenomenon was truly horrible, so I was determined to get as close as I could to fight it.
“Are you planning on attacking it with your hands?” Yahruji called out from behind me, curious, without moving himself.
“There’s no choice - Either there’s a weapon at the end of the room, and we’ll find it on the way, or we’ve been forced to fight melee," I responded before Naomi motioned across the room with a finger over her lips.
I’m assuming she meant to say that we should be quiet, to avoid alerting the beast. Though it seemed like a lost cause, considering it had already seen us, perhaps Naomi was right. We didn’t know how effective the beast’s sight was, and there was a danger to be had in overestimating it from the get-go.
As we crept closer, the beast exhibited no sign of reacting. It just stared at us with rotten eyes; though they were a strong red as if they were burning, closer inspection brought a more uncomfortable feeling. Throughout their vibrant colour lingered a dull, empty expression.
The monster was seriously creepy. I would prefer to end it sooner or later, so I stepped just close enough for it to enter my kicking range. On my left, Naomi was in a similar position, bracing herself for the beginning of the fight.
“Don’t!” Yahruji screamed across the room, as I simultaneously lifted my leg to kick the beast. Hearing his warning, I immediately jumped back as the beast's head expanded, its mouth unhinged from its jaws to reveal sickening darkness inside.
I knew if I had gone for the kick, my leg would’ve undoubtedly been consumed. Damn it. I had to come up with a different tactic, then. But the beast was in motion. The beast stretched forward, roaring as it thrust towards Naomi.
I couldn’t help but shield my eyes for a second. Fortunately, I was able to sigh a breath of relief. Naomi knocked the beast’s rising head with her palm, knocking it down before following the attack up with a second kick.
Taking the opportunity while it was distracted, Yahruji moved to attack it from the front as I went around the back. I pulled up its outstretched neck to allow him to land a direct strike with his foot.
Still, the head was hungry and rapidly fought back. It slammed into Naomi, crumpling her against the wall, before bucking its head. Its fangs tore through my shirt, skimming my bare chest.
“Ruji, Katsuro, bring it over here!” Kali called out in a demanding tone as Yahruji shot me a look.
I could feel slight bleeding from the fang wound, but I had no time to think about that as I followed Kali’s instructions. Co-ordinating with Yahruji, we repositioned ourselves on either side of the body to pull the beast with us by the neck.
It was a risky move, considering how feisty the head was, however, we swung it back and forth erratically to disorientate it. At one point, the beast threw its head far enough to bite deeply into Yahruji’s arm.
“Khh…” He winced, the fangs planted in his soft skin. I half-expected him to drop there, but instead, he began sprinting faster. Using the beast’s position as leverage to prevent it from further resistance, he even forced its head down by pressing his fists against its furry head.
I could tell Yahruji was muscular, but even I had not expected him to be so stoically badass. Regardless of acting badass, though, I was worried; Any wound that severe would take a long time to heal, not to mention the sheer amplitude of pain.
Unfortunately, there was no time to think about that as we got closer and closer to the doorway; I could just barely make out Kali’s figure, but I wasn’t sure what she wanted us to do - Were we meant to ram it against the door?
However, she rapidly responded to my internal question. Jumping up from the ground, she used her entire body weight to smack the wolf monster with a wooden plank. At first, I was a little surprised that she’d ripped the shelf off entirely, but I was more shocked by the scream of pain the Shifter released.
It writhed for a few seconds, still firmly within our grasp, as I noticed a thick patch of white blood begin to spread across its back.
“What…?” I tilted my head, kicking the beast for good measure as we threw it against the ground. It didn’t seem to be resisting anymore. Although we could kill it, there was no benefit to doing so by kicking it for hours until it finally succumbed. Something a little faster would be more humane. Even if they’re not human, a swift death from the Professor or other authority would likely be better and cleaner for everyone involved.
In response to my question, Yahruji chuckled softly as Kali’s chest swelled with pride.
“See, me and Ruji figured out the first challenge a long time ago. So, in the meantime, we figured out what would be the best way to prepare for future challenges? Using the tree trunks of the teams which had already been transported, I collected a bunch of pins and kept them in my pocket.” She began, and I crouched to get a better view of the underside of the longboard. The bottom was densely packed with pins, their heads glued to the sticky surface of the shelf and the bottoms impaled into the Shifter.
“Ruji wanted me to take more pins, so other teams couldn’t qualify, but I’m not a big fan of playing dirty. Not that I’m too against it, either - In fact, we tried to smu-” Kali continued, before Yahruji shot her a look I couldn’t quite decipher.
Either way, she just rolled her eyes and smiled at her achievement. To be honest, I could imagine the gist of what she was trying to say. She’d likely attempted to smuggle in a weapon to the examination, despite that being expressly cheating. How disrespectful. Well, I did the same with a small dagger, but it disappeared promptly as we were transported, leaving me with a few mere rocks.
Walking over to Naomi, who was still crumpled up against the wall, I stretched out my hand to pick her up.
“Hey, you did a good job.” I nodded, as she gratefully grabbed my hand and stood up.
“Still, after all that talk, are you really gonna lose to one lousy Shifter?” I teased, though I suspected my voice remained as solemn as ever. Even when I tried to joke, I couldn’t shake my serious demeanour. I suppose it couldn’t be helped.
“Hmf, we’ll see. I won’t let myself,” She began, panting, “Be beaten by you so easily. The next challenge will be all mine, just you wait.” She shot me a cocky smile, despite her weakness, and I couldn’t help but sigh.
Speaking of the next room, we all turned our heads to the end of the hall. Yet, as far as we could see, there was still nothing. However, on that thought?
A small hole was blasted into the end of it, revealing a bright light outside. As we stumbled toward it, we weren’t prepared for the challenge we were about to see.
It was a much bigger room than the small one we were in before, and other teams on our side of the wall were given similar access. That wasn’t the issue, though.
No, the issue was the gigantic Duobeast in the centre of the room…