"Oh, we got our first elimination~" A laid-back voice sounded in a dark room full of monitor.
Luke was still sitting at his usual post overlooking the whole trial operation. His job was a bit different from the others who tallied the points of each examinees for the final scoring.
"It's rather fast this year. Shouldn't you jot down the name of the person who got the first kill?"
Behind him was the bearded old man who had come to accompany him to watch the whole procedure.
For him, it was more of a personal interest because of the exceptional temperaments some of the examinees had shown during the break between the written and practical exam.
"Whoa, hey. It takes a lot more than that to be jotted down by me." Luke retorted.
"So who was it, the one that got the first kill?"
Different from Luke, the bearded man was not tasked with monitoring the trial. Since he'd seen that most of the contestants was still searching for bunkers, he hadn't bothered to shift his attention towards the monitors during the first kill.
"Oh it's that Alter kid again, he sure is interesting!" Luke replied as he opened a bag of chips and put one piece in his mouth.
"Really...? Seems like i should really start focusing on the exam now." The bearded man widened his mouth with a broad smile on his face.
From their interactions during lunch hour and now, it was quite apparent that the bearded man and the man called Luke had a somewhat different way of judging.
The bearded man judged every little bit of actions that the examinees had done up until this point in an attempt to analyze their thought process. He'd like to see if he could grasp something more than what they had shown him during the trial.
Even though Luke could also appreciate the little things that had been pointed out by the bearded man previously, he was looking for something more immediate and more directly related to tricky situations during live combat simulation.
The kind that will only show during the peak of the practical exam.
That's why for him, the time for actual judging was nigh at hand.
In one of the pathways of the mining cave, a shadow the size of a dog lurked around hugging one side of the wall as it moved. A pair of red eyes shone dimly inside the lightless pathway.
Just as it was about to reach the light at the end of the darkened tunnel, the sound of firearms echoed twice causing the creature to jerk in surprise.
Unfortunately, the creature didn't have enough time to react as the two bullets that was released hit both of its eyes.
Alter who had confirmed that the bullets he shot had found their way towards the target went on to put back the Fenrir handgun he held with both hands back to the left holster of his body rig.
He then pulled 4 throwing knives from their slots, holding two in each hands, before he started throwing them in order towards the ground behind the creature.
The creature who was temporarily blinded and in panic because of the dummy bullets, jumped diagonally forward by reflex when it heard the stabbing sounds coming from behind.
Alter kept throwing the knives rhythmically following the jumping motion of the creature.
Each knife would cause the creature to jump forward a couple paces and when it stopped, the next knife would follow through, leading the creature ever closer towards his position.
When the fourth throwing knife once again reached the ground behind the creature, it finally stepped into the bright area at the intersection of the tunnel.
The light finally revealed the form of the shadowy creature. It was a hideous giant rat with red eyes and no hair on its body, making the pink colour of its wrinkled skin more eye-catching than the vicious looking teeth it wore on its face.
The creature was aptly named the giant pinkrat, one of the weakest magical beast in all of Myr.
Before its last jump, it was approximately 2 meters away from Alter's position. Calculating the distance, Alter quickly reached for his heat dagger on his left thigh and lunged towards the giant pinkrat at the same time as its jump.
The heat dagger needed some time before it reached its peak temperature, but fortunately, Alter had started heating it up the moment he discovered the beast.
With the sharp edge of the dagger glowing red from the extremely high temperature, the neck part of the giant pinkrat's skin was pierced like butter with Alter holding the dagger in a reverse grip with his left hand.
The force, supported by the help of his right palm pushing the base of the hilt, cornered the beast to the wall of the tunnel where it breathed its last.
It muttered an incoherent growl before the light in its eyes died down.
Seeing the beast no longer moving, Alter could finally exhale a large amount of air as he fixed his posture.
When he pulled the heat dagger from the giant pinkrat's neck, the blood within was still sizzling audibly from the heat. He turned off the heating function on the dagger before putting it back on its sheath.
"Killing magical beasts with these equipments is truly not worth it." He complained.
Different from hunting examinees wearing sensory suits, Alter couldn't kill the magical beasts in this place with his firearms.
Even the weakest of magical beast like the giant pinkrat had a far sturdier body than people, rubber bullets would at most annoy them without any significant damage.
The only way to eliminate them in here would be by using his melee weapon. A normal knife would still require a large amount of effort before it could pierce through their skin, as such, the heat dagger was the most efficient solution.
Even then, the giant pinkrat's speed was not one that could be overtaken by human. At least not by human without at least some agility based man-made ability.
Alter's tactic was to first temporarily blind the beast with dummy bullets, causing a certain degree of panic before leading him to run towards his position.
The reason he used throwing knives instead of his gun for that is because the loud sound of the gun would cause the rat to run the other way, which in this case, would be a game over for him.
Once the giant pinkrat was within his range of attack, the rest was as simple as stabbing his vitals with the heat dagger.
All this process just to eliminate one magical beast with the same amount of point as an examinee.
But Alter had no other choice.
"With this it's 9 points for me. It's been an hour and 23 minutes since the start of the exam, most of the participants should've arrived by now." Alter said as he wiped some sweats of his forehead.
With his Absolute Measure ability, he didn't need any device to measure the passage of time. At least not when he's awake.
"I should start finding out the scores of some of the Shining Generation soon."
He'd need some form of reference for him to maintain his scores to just below average of the special class' standard.
In his memory, he remembered that the special class didn't just have the Shining Generation members within, but all of the Shining Generation were in that class.
Since he didn't have any memory of anyone beside the members from within the class, he decided to find the weakest Shining Generation he could find to keep his points somewhere below the guy.
"Damn, the weakest Shining Generation was a noble with reserved seat within the Institute... He shouldn't be participating in the trial right now."
"Let's just move for now. Worse comes to worst, I'll just match my points with any of the Shining Generation I could find during the last hour of the exam."
Thinking positively, Alter started moving with the intent of locating Shining Generation members and keeping tabs of their points.
The entrance trial this time around had roughly 280 examinees participating. With many being eliminated during the practical exam round, Alter approximated that just about half of that number would survive and get accepted by the Institute.
In another part of the cave, Anastasia was hiding beside a mining cart as she looked around her surroundings carefully.
In front of her were two people with blinking red lights on their shoulders signifying their defeat. One of them was seated leaning on the cave wall with sullen looks while the other were passed out on the ground.
People who were eliminated in the exam were prohibited from speaking or moving away from their 'dying' positions until one of the supervisors came to fetch them.
Should they violate this rules and/or were judged disruptive towards the flow of the exam. They would risk being blacklisted from any service related to the Institute.
This includes reapplying for another trial or doing any form of business with any companies or establishments that has direct relations with the Frontline Institute for Soldiers.
Seeing the scale of influence that the Institute possessed within Calistran Kingdom or even the whole continent, the blacklist would pretty much close any doors for an individual to move up in life.
Knowing this, the still conscious examinee who was eliminated by Anastasia could only look disdainfully as his group of two failed in eliminating her.
Just as she thought that the danger had passed and started moving away from the cart she used as cover, the sounds of footsteps resounded from both ends of the tunnel she was in.
Anastasia's heart grew cold as she readied her assault rifle and pointed it at her end of the exit where the sounds of footsteps were louder than the other end.
The eliminated guy, realising that she was in a pinch started anticipating her elimination as a smile formed on his face.
'Dammit, I'm surrounded... Is this a coincidence or are the two groups part of the same team??'
Anastasia was thinking of every alternatives and outcomes before finally deciding to rush towards her side of the exit carrying both a rifle and a handgun on each hands.
When the silhouette starting to form around the corner of the exit, she readied her assault rifle and opened fire as she dashed out from the tunnel into the intersection.
The revealed group of four people noticed too late the presence of Anastasia firing her rifle, causing the two guys in front to be eliminated almost instantly.
Seeing that she only got two out of four because the guys in front shielded the bullets from the two behind, she quickly flung back her rifle and switched to another handgun as she kicked one of the ones in front to the side.
Her quick switching was rewarded as she accurately eliminated one more person with one of the handguns during the opening she created with her kick.
But before she could aim the gun at the remaining one, the last surviving guy acted promptly with his quick thinking.
He grabbed one of his friends in the front who had been initially eliminated and charged towards Anastasia's direction as he carried his friend as a meat shield.
Anastasia who didn't anticipate this move was thrown aside from the charge as the running man strongly threw the 'corpse' of his friend at her when he passed her by.
All this happened in the span of a couple seconds. After that, the man successfully escaped in the other direction of where he came from as Anastasia struggled to get away from the large body on top of her.
To her horror, before she could get the body away from her, the group from the other end of the tunnel she came out of had come running because of the commotion.
"There's a survivor over there!" One of the guys from the other group shouted.
"Shit!!" She couldn't help but curse.
*BANG* *BANG* *BANG*
The other group had started firing at her with their rifles. Fortunately for her, the obstacle that obstructed her mobility before had now become her saving grace.
The 'meat shield' blocked most of the bullets for her, but she knew that she was still a long way away from safety.
When the other group closed in on her position, her only way out would be closed. However she couldn't afford to throw away her cover as she was still peppered with bullets.
To make matters worse, she didn't have enough strength or time to swiftly carry her 'shield' and escape to safety.
The group of people from the other end were closing in on her as fast as they could, all the while firing their guns at her direction.
Within a few seconds, they almost reached her end of the tunnel and into the intersection. The one in the very front had already stopped firing as he was getting ready to shove aside the body protecting Anastasia.
Just as she was about to go out with reckless abandon with her rifle in hand, the rain of bullets stopped entirely, followed by the sound of several alarms echoing at the same time.
At first she thought it was her sensory suit, but when she realized that the light indicators on her shoulders hadn't gone off, she safely assumed that it was the other group that was eliminated.
She stayed silent and unmoving for a good while because she knew the one who eliminated the group was still in her vicinity.
But then a voice called out to her, "Is that you Anastasia?"
When she heard that, Anastasia assessed that she was no longer in any immediate danger and finally pushed the man/shield on top of her aside to look around.
Within her view, right there in the middle of the T intersection, were a number of people with their shoulder lights on, lying on the ground. Some were knocked out cold while some were still conscious but could only lay there helplessly while groaning every now and then.
Upon careful counting, there were 6 casualties. 3 which were the ones she personally executed, and another 3 which ran here from the other end of the tunnel.
Anastasia took the time to catch her breath.
Even though she was safe, she still couldn't let down her guards because in front of her, there was someone standing there looking at her with a handgun on hand.
"It's you afterall, I guess that silver hair has their disadvantage. You're easily noticeable." The man fixed his eyes at her and calmly spoke.
"Arthur Faulkes... It's you." Anastasia replied warily, the current situation didn't allow her to relax at all.
"Ah, you remember me?" For a moment, the composure on Arthur's face was broken and he showed a hint of surprise.
"Barely. So, why didn't you finish me off?"
"Well, there's a reason for that. But first of all, what's your current kill count?" Arthur asked.
Arthur nodded for a moment before starting to explain.
"As you can probably guess by now, at this time, many people have started forming groups and hunting together. It was quite logical afterall, you got someone watching your back, and you can easily clean up any individuals you met." He continued,
"With the increased pace of hunting because of the safety, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantage of sharing the points."
Arthur looked around the 'corpses' of the group of three he just eliminated as he said this. He then looked back at Anastasia as if asking if she understood where he's going with this.
"Are you suggesting to team up?" Anastasia still looked at him suspiciously, "What's in it for you, as I can see you were doing quite well even on your own." She skeptically retorted.
"Even with this 3, I'm still only at 7 points. And that's including the one running for his life I met on the way here. I assume he was running from you?"
Anastasia remembered the one she failed to eliminate and her expression turned sharp.
"I thought so, the point is I could only finish these 3 because they were focused on you. Judging by the scenes here, you survived after eliminating 3 people out of a 4-man group head on. You were probably as good if not better than me. It was only logical to team up with you rather than turn you into enemy, especially when you're worth the same amount of point as them."
"..." Anastasia stayed silent
She didn't really believe his words that she was stronger than him. First of all, he didn't even know that she too ambushed the 4-man group, allowing her to directly eliminate 2 of them in an instant.
But she couldn't deny that by teaming up with him, they could easily become the rank 1 and 2 out of the whole exam. She had noticed long ago that the individual skills of most of the examinees here were far lower than her, if she wasn't surrounded before, she believed she could easily sail through the rest of the exam.
A single blunder on her end almost caused her to be eliminated from the trial. She had realized by now that although technique-wise, she was far more skilled than the people here, physically, there was not much difference.
"...Alright." She finally nodded after almost half a minute of silence.
A trace of smile appeared on Arthur's face when Anastasia agreed to partner with him. Even he probably didn't notice the change on his expression.
"Great!" He exclaimed.
He offered a handshake towards her and she took it after a moment of deliberation.
Just like that, the future power couple teamed up for the first time.
Tens of minutes later, Alter arrived at the tunnel and intersection littered with eliminated examinees who still hadn't been picked up by the supervisors.
"Hoo... Amazing, an all-out war?"
Some of the 'dead' examinees who were still conscious looked in his direction upon noticing him.
Alter kept walking leisurely through the scene as he looked around trying to reconstruct what's happening in his mind.
"These ones are a group, and so is that one... Hmm." Through a couple of hints, Alter quickly realized that these were three different groups of people including the two a little bit away inside the tunnel.
'People have started forming groups huh.' He contemplated for a while.
'Two people left here together... The trails are still fresh.'
If it was two people in a group that was capable of surviving the number of people littered here, Alter's first guess would be The Twin Death.
"I assume whoever they are, they didn't handle these groups of people all at the same time. Even the current Shining Generation are still way too inexperienced to take on these numbers all at once." He mumbled.
'Well, I'll just see for myself either way.'
Alter shrugged a bit before moving once more towards the direction of the trails.