[ Zone restriction has begun]
[20% of site 13 will now be inaccessible. Good luck candidates!]
Astrid opened her eyes slowly as the loud voice of the mechanical announcer roused her from her sleep.
She tried to sit up but immediately felt sharp pains in both of her hind legs which caused her to abandon the attempt.
Someone had apparently bandaged all of her injuries and placed her on a soft bed made of grass and leaves.
There was an earth bowl next to her bed filled with fruits as well as a small water bag placed on the side of it.
"What happened?" Astrid held her head in pain as she tried to recall the last memory before blacking out.
She remembered leaping confidently towards the snake in hopes of landing the finishing blow but suddenly Sophie yelled at her to get away from the beast.
Astrid was confused but she managed to cast a complex barrier spell before turning around to flee.
Her last memory was of an orange flame bursting behind her back before the world turned dark.
This barrier spell was one that would constantly drain mana in proportion to the attack that it absorbed.
To have blacked out meant that her mana was completely exhausted when faced with the explosion. The fact that she still had injuries meant that Sophie's warning had saved her life.
Clearly Astrid's mana had been circulating through her injuries to aid with the healing process but that would have put her in a coma as her mana was constantly being drained.
"Sophie, where are you?!" Astrid hurriedly called out.
She was inside of a small cave that was surprisingly cozy with a small fire that was still burning with left over pieces of dried wood.
Two grass beds were inside of the cave as well as enough supplies and weapons to sufficiently arm a squad of ten cultivators.
Astrid sniffed the air a few times and determined that Sophie's scent hung around the items in the cave, so it was obviously her base.
She lay back down on the grass bed and turned around to look at the entrance of the cave with the expression of a lost puppy.
(Two hours later)
"Oh, you're finally awake!" Sophie noticed the wolf girl staring intently at her when she arrived with some fresh meat from hunting.
Astrid's tail wagged furiously as it stirred up dust on the cave floor. Sophie just smiled and walked towards her friend to check her injuries.
She unwrapped all of the bandages before washing the wounds with warm water and reapplying fresh bandages taken from the squads defeated by her.
It had been almost three weeks since the encounter with the triple headed elemental snake and the closing of the area had begun.
Every day from today the available area the candidates could occupy would be drastically shrunk until only a stretch of five kilometers remained.
Astrid had remained motionless during this time and if it were not for the fact that the barrier device did not activate, Sophie would swear that the girl was dying.
She knew precious little about mana and magic in general, so Sophie all could do was just make sure to spoon-feed her friend fresh vegetable soup and clean the wounds regularly.
"How are you feeling?" Sophie asked with concern.
"Is the exam nearly over?" Astrid replied with a question of her own.
"Yeah you've been asleep for a long time. There are only five days left," Sophie spoke in a solemn tone.
Astrid's tail stopped wagging as she hung her head in frustration before giving out a sad whisper,
"I will probably need three days to fully recover now that I can cast healing spells rather than just have my mana unconsciously healing me."
Sophie frowned slightly as this was certainly bad news. There were only five days left in the entrance exam and the candidates were now fully engaging in fights with one another.
Only twenty thousand participants were left from the initial million, but this still meant that there would be a significant amount of culling done over the next few days.
Exoplanet T-980 had terraforming devices implanted under its surface to create mountain ranges that would form the barrier to slowly push the students closer starting from today.
Already twenty percent of the zone was gone, and it was fortunate that Astrid and Sophie's hideout was inside the remaining area.
But who could say what area would be restricted next.
Sophie was confident in her chances of survival, but she would need to spend three of the remaining five days protecting herself and Astrid from other squads.
Astrid could read Sophie's contemplative expression and whined softly before moving her hand towards the barrier device to activate it.
She did not want to burden her new friend with the extra baggage as the exam intensified.
It was a hard decision to make but Astrid was determined to make sure that Sophie could qualify for one of the four universities.
"Stop that!" Sophie saw Astrid's movements out of the corner of her eyes and lunged towards her friend to swiftly grab her hand.
"Now what the hell were you thinking?" Sophie scolded the Mendolesa girl fiercely who just hung her head and listened quietly.
"II didn't want to destroy your chances of passing the exam," Astrid explained.
Sophie did not see herself as a hero of justice or the protector of the innocent. Had it been someone else who had been injured then she would not have spared them a second glance.
Years of being shunned and rejected by her fellow peers had caused Sophie's heart to be indifferent to the affairs of others.
But the exception was to those she considered her friends and family.
It is often said that children pick up their habits from their parents and the warmth that Sophie's father showed her formed a mantra in her heart.
She would never abandon the ones she cared about.
"Look Astrid," Sophie knelt down and firmly wrapped her hand around Astrid's paw before giving it a small squeeze.
"Do you really think I'm so weak that I can't protect you?"
Astrid shook her head frantically in the negative and seemed worried that her actions might have offended Sophie.
"I won't give up on you.so don't you dare give up on yourself!" Sophie confidently declared.
Astrid raised her head and took a deep look at the hybrid girl who seemed to be surrounded by an aura that made her fearful and feel protected at the same time.
Years later Astrid would recall that this was the exact moment when she became lifelong sisters with Sophie.
The sweet moment between the pair was interrupted by the beeping noise coming from their barrier devices.
A holographic map projected from their device and showed the area left in site 13. There was a red zone which was slowly advancing on all sides to form a smaller and smaller circle.
Numerous green dots appeared on the holographic map which showed the distance and location of all the eliminated participants.
The examiners had drastically increased the difficulty of this year's entrance exam and it seemed that those eager to hunt others would have their positions exposed.
Sophie noticed that several groups of green dots were cl.u.s.tered near their location.
It appeared someone or even multiple people were hunting down survivors in their area.
She then took a peek at the notification that was flashing on the corner of the screen.
[Participants are inside a future restriction zone]
[22 Hours until terraforming begins]