The beast that perched on the dusky red rocks, was massive. It twitched it's tail as it watched Chimera with piercing red eyes. She crouched, her eyes never leaving it and every muscle tense. A Kágro. Vicious bastards and top of the food chain on this barren desert rock. A world which was literally a dog eat dog kind of place and contrary to popular belief, the biggest were not always the strongest.
Plant life was limited, with so little resources and such unbearable heat. A few stunted bushes and bristles of tough grass had stubbornly set root in the cracks and provided for the myriad of wildlife that roamed the dry lands. With great sweeping plains of sand and looming cliffs of jagged rock, every narrow crevice and winding valley could be deadly. Much like this enclosed ravine, with only one entrance, had turned out to be.
The beast shifted one foot, the blinding sun flashing on deep black scales, showing them to be laced with blues and greens. The Kágro opened it's powerful jaws and roared, it's serrated white teeth looking wickedly sharp. Vibrant coloured fins flared out around it's elongated head and shook as it crouched down on its haunches, a matching fin rising along its spine.
Chimera twirled the daggers in her hands, flexing her fingers as she tested her grip. Soaked in sweat, it ran into her eyes and more tickled her sides as it plastered her ragged top to her ribs.
For four days she had been stuck on this hell cursed planet. Four days of baking heat, freezing nights and dust. Four days of no food and barely any water. The only water she had found, was a tiny stream that disappeared beneath the rocks almost as quickly as it emerged. Warm and gritty as it was though, it was better than no water at all. As for food, she usually hunted in her other form but for this test, shapeshifting had been forbidden and she had failed spectacularly to catch anything. With such intolerable heat, most creatures burrow underground through the day or hide in cool caves, only emerging in the cooler dusk. Some animals braved the heat, but not usually the Kágro. Being black, they tended to prefer the darkness of night, only suffering the heat of the twin suns when truly desperate.
Chimera had not found herself on this hell cursed rock of nightmares by chance though. No, this was a test of survival and she had been sent for a reason. Survive four days in a land of predators and limited resources, with basic weaponry. Upon returning to the Battle Academy, each student who survived the four days was expected to have a trophy to present before the Academy Mentors. The more fierce or the more difficult to catch the original owner of the trophy was, the higher the grade and the more respected you were. Most settle for the fast, long legged Burrow Rat with its vast network of underground tunnels. It is also extremely sensitive to the slightest tremor through the ground, making it hard to sneak up on.
Another popular creature is the more dangerous Rockcat. Smaller than a person, it's rusty red and black coat was perfect camouflage. Chimera had decided to track something a bit harder than the usual though.
The Sand Sweeper, a large burrowing serpent that uses stealth to get close and speed to strike. Once it has a vice-like grip on its prey, the Sand Sweeper will wrap itself around the helpless victim and squeeze, breaking bone. It would be a dangerous prey to subdue and survive. Chimera though had not expected to stumble on the King of the Desert, but if she could kill herself a Kágro, well, the thought was enticing. At least it would be, if it wasn't so bloody insane. A Kágro was far larger than the average person, heavily armoured and viciously armed with teeth and claws, they were strong, fast and bad tempered. A fully grown adult Therian, with their shapeshifting abilities, would have a hard time taking down a Kágro on their own and the young adolescent students of the Battle Academy, had to complete this task, with their shapeshifting abilities suppressed. A test of survival in their weakest form, unable to call on the shapeshifting to better defend themselves, this test was designed to teach students not to rely purely on shapeshifting to get out of a situation. Common sense dictated that avoidance was best when these creatures were in the area and Chimera started to wonder why she insisted on ignoring her common sense, as the Kágro roared again, clearly unhappy that she had not retreated with it's previous warning.
She fought the urge to scratch at the collar around her neck. A thin metal collar with a vibrant orange crystal, normally used only on volatile prisoners, to suppress their shifting abilities. It left her feeling itchy, vulnerable and constantly wired. The Mentors gave the collars to the Students for a few days before the mission, to give them time to get used to the feeling of not being able to shift. They had made it sound so easy to adjust, but the suppression of such a large part of their genetic make up, had been incredibly painful. Chimera felt the loss as keenly as if she had lost a hand or an eye and she suspected that even after years of wearing a collar, she would never really adjust.
The Kágro launched at her, it's talons swiping mere inches from her side as Chimera ducked and rolled. She took a shaky breath, eyes fixed on the Kágro as she stayed crouched low. She circled around, scanning for a weak spot and it growled deep and low. It's massive paws kicking up puffs of dry dirt, it's claws leaving scratches on the hard stone. As it twisted around and bounded onto a set of rocks, using the higher ground to pounce, Chimera surprised it by launching forward. She slid underneath it, hitting the rocks it had pounced from.
'Oh fantastic. I didn't just happen upon the most dangerous predator on the planet. I came across a male one. Just my luck.'
Male Kágro are highly territorial and incredibly vicious to anything that wandered within their boundaries. Females are usually more docile, unless they had pups and then even males avoided them, which is why the Academy avoided pup season.
Now pinned with her back to the rocks, on the far side of this small valley from the only entrance, Chimera partially hoped the Kágro would just leave, but it seemed she had firmly pissed it off.
'Story of my life'
She thought dryly.
Chimera slashed with one dagger as she sidestepped the beast's attack, but the dagger bounced off the smooth black scales above its nose. The blade tinged like it had struck stone, sliding up and biting into the soft flesh of its eye. It roared in pain, lurching sideways and Chimera felt a tug on her left side. They both veered away from each other and Chimera gasped as she was hit by a sharp pain. She glanced at her left side, seeing blood well up from a pair of slices in her top. Across from her, the Kágro was shaking its head, pawing as green blood flowed down it's face. It glared at her, it's teeth bared and Chimera smiled nervously. She had pushed it from pissed to enraged.
She thought, clamping a hand over her side.
The wounds were shallow enough to ignore, but they were going to need stitches when she was done here. Its fins flared out and the Kágro roared. It swiped at her and she leapt back, sucking in her belly as she smacked into the scorching rocks behind. Chimera snarled back and swiped with a blade, startling the Kágro into retreating a step. They circled each other cautiously, watching, waiting for any sign of weakness. Chimera lost focus for a split second, as something caught her eye and the Kágro leapt forward, smacking her with a massive paw. She slammed into a rock and hit the floor, landing with a crash on a sun bleached skeleton. One dagger skidded away through the sand, the other lay beneath the bones and Chimera blinked rapidly, the world spinning. The Kágro pounced on it's now prone quarry, but Chimera rolled onto her back, just missing the snapping jaws. Snarling, it snapped again but Chimera growled as she caught it on the first thing she could grab, the leg bone of the skeleton beneath her. The Kágro growled and snarled as it shoved against the bone, it's paws scrabbling at the dirt around her. Chimera could feel her heart pounding, teeth gritted as she let out a scream full of fear, anger and adrenaline. It took all her strength to hold the Kágro back as the beast was so strong, it was shoving her across the valley floor. Then she saw what had distracted her earlier, a gap in the scales, along the base of its jaw, allowing the Kágro full maneuverability. Chimera saw one of her daggers, off to one side. In frustration that it can't get past the boe, the Kágro pulled back to renew it's assault and Chimera took the opportunity. She slammed the bone into its jaw and the Kágro yelped, surprised and wary, as Chimera scrabbled for the dagger. She spun onto her back just as the Kágro dove for her again and she jammed the dagger into its neck, feeling teeth scrap across her left shoulder. The beast let out a gargled howl and convulsed, slumping over her legs.
Chimera moaned, coughing under the weight, then, twisting the dagger just to be sure it was dead, she flopped back onto the ground, panting. Her whole body shook as it slowly dawned on her, she had actually survived. The Kágro was dead and she was still breathing. She peered at its face laid on her belly, seeing the uninjured red eye go cold and dim and felt a pang of regret for killing it. It had been a truly beautiful creature, if somewhat cranky.
Chimera sat for a moment, getting her breath back, flinching at the pain in her side and shoulder, but her legs were going numb from the heavy body pinning her down. It took her a long time to wriggle out from underneath the Kágro, between the sheer weight of the beast and the pain of her injuries, but eventually she succeeded. Exhausted, dirty and covered in red and green blood, Chimera flopped in the sand and dozed.
When she came to, her skin felt tender from the sun, her wounds stung as the scabs pulled loose and her throat was parched. She stared at the Kágro 's body, then up at the darkening sky. Her wounds need to be tended, before there was too much blood loss. She ran a hand over the smooth scales of the body and stood up.
"I'm sorry. You truly were stunning."
Chimera walked to the entrance of the small valley, where it opened into a dried lakebed, the sky a vibrant blend of reds, orange and yellow as it stretched to the horizon. Chimera tended to her wounds, with a pair of small pouches hanging from her belt. One held some water, carefully collected and boiled clean one night. Taking a swig to ease her throat, Chimera ripped the shoulder of her shirt and gritted her teeth as she poured water over the wound. A strangled groan fought its way out and she bowed her head, squeezing her eyes shut. Taking a few deep breaths, Chimera did the same to her wounded side. She opened a small stiff pouch made from a tough leaf and sharp stalk of a plant with antiseptic properties, when prepared into a syrup. Chimera chewed on the stalk, relishing the flood of sweet sap, before slathering the syrup onto her wound, biting hard on the stalk as she cried out in pain. The shoulder was hard to reach, with most of it spreading down to her shoulder blade and even with the fast healing of her race, it was going to scar. She leant back panting, letting the pain ease and her mind wandered to the next step.
This was the final test before graduation and leaving the Battle Academy for good. It filled Chimera with nerves, for they would now be placed in active service and sent to work in different sectors. Some Captains would request particular students, but normally they were just sent where the Mentors felt was the best fit.
Chimera closed her eyes, her entire body hurt and she just wanted to sleep, but with a sigh, she forced herself upright. The desert syrup wasn't going to be enough. Not only was infection a concern, but the wildlife too. She shudders at the thought of the Digger Spider, which burrows into open wounds and anchors there, until the thousands of eggs it was carrying hatch and start to feed. Chimera pulled out whiskers of a dead Rockcat she had come across and a long thin shard of bone fashioned into a needle. Trying to breathe through the agony of stitching the wounds closed, Chimera almost passed out a few times, but eventually, when she finished, Chimera allowed the darkness to claim her. She didn't see the orange crystal on her collar start to flash. The SOS beacon calling for pick up had activated.
It was almost completely dark by the time a round bodied spaceship landed on the lakebed and four soldiers emerged, scouting the area for danger. A fifth person hurried down the rear ramp, in the uniform of an Academy Mentor, a gold braid around her waist revealing her position as a member of the Academy Council. She strode to Chimera's side and raised an eyebrow, her hands clasped loosely behind her as she watched Chimera drinking from an offered bottle. The soldier waited to check her wounds.
"You survived. Good."
Chimera huffed, her voice croaking as she replied.
"Did you expect any different."
The Mentor grinned.
"Oh I don't know, with your stubborn mood, it could have gone either way."
The Mentor gently pulled back the ragged remains of Chimeras top, to better see the mess of her shoulder. She surveyed the girl closely.
"Are you okay?"
She waved a hand to indicate all of Chimera in her blood and dirt stained glory. Chimera shrugged, then winced as her injuries protested.
"Nothing much I can't handle. Mostly just need some food and I'm pretty sure I could sleep for a full season cycle."
The woman nodded, then crossed her arms. Chimera said nothing, partly out of pettiness, but mostly because she was just dozing off again. The woman smiled softly and rolled her eyes, then flicked Chimera on the ear. The feline jerked, hissing against her wounds and growled deep in her throat. She glowered but the Mentor merely chuckled.
"Come on. I don't want to be here for too long. Did you manage to catch something?"
Chimera wiped a hand over her face and waved back into the ravine. Leaving the exhausted warrior to be tended to, the Mentor and a soldier entered the ravine and stared.
'No way. Seriously?'
They both stood stunned, but there was only one body in the valley and the Mentor laughed, shaking her head.
'Of course. Who else would pull something like this off.'
Covered in its blood and with her dagger buried in its neck, there was no denying what Chimera had managed to kill.
The most dangerous predator on the planet, A Kágro