The experiment started with one hundred testers. Under the torturous mental assault, most of them had already left the living world. Within the 7th research center, the fates of the last seven testers were being reported on monitors.
“Secret alpha tester No. 09. Confirmed mental collapse and subsequent termination of consciousness. Subject has been logged out. As per procedure, requesting transport to collection facility.”
“Secret alpha tester No. 15. Confirmed mental collapse and subsequent cessation of neural activities. As per procedure, requesting dispatch of disposal team.”
Five alpha testers left.
To fulfill the promise with No. 01, I headed towards where he was fighting the beta testers. I didn’t even remember his real face.
[Shedy] [Race: White Ghast] [Low Demon (High-Rank)] ・A low demon made of dust and gases. An intelligent spiritual lifeform. [Magic Points: 502/502] [Total Combat Power: 499/499] [Unique Skill: Reroll] [Racial Skill: Fear] [Simple Identification] [Humanoid Form (Normal)] [Skilled Packer] [※Evolution Unavailable]
It had been a whole day since that fight. I’d already healed up.
Was I just nervous about fighting him? Or did knowing the truth changed something in my consciousness? The sense of Disconnect used to feel horrible that first few days. Now it was nearly gone. Before I knew it, I had learned to control this body of mist like I’d always been born with it.
I wondered if I was mad, too, in my own way…
When I was going towards yesterday’s battlefield, I detected three signals with high magic heading straight here. Probably beta players coming to hunt me.
“There it is! That’s the white mist monster mentioned on the website!”
“Awesome! Man, I thought someone else already got it!”
“Everyone used their tickets, yeah? Then let’s go!”
Two front line warrior-types, one shield holder. All of them were around 120 combat power.
Why did these guys even bother coming?
I charged at them at top speed. An arrow whizzed towards me. Before it could hit, I scattered myself thin to reduce the damage, while at the same time shooting out a part of me to wrap around the bow-wielding warrior.
“Holy shit, what’s this?!”
“Dude, didn’t you read about how it could transform?!”
“Hang on, it’s gonna get hot!”
One warrior sheathed his sword, then flung fire from his hand.
I immediately gathered into my humanoid form, hiding behind the bow-wielding warrior while stabbing his abdomen with my dagger. He screamed.
Burned and stabbed, he departed as motes of light. The scene shocked the other warrior still. I rushed at him, covering his whole body, and began to absorb his life.
“I’m saving you, hold on!”
My victim’s health was plummeting. The shieldbearer unsheathed his own sword and ran towards me, but his steps slowed mid-way. Perhaps the image of his friend burning another one alive was still fresh on his mind. I took the chance to finish draining my victim dry, and once again, another player scattered as light.
“W-Why?! Why is the mist so strong?! Event monsters aren’t supposed to be this difficult!” The shield-bearer shouted in his turmoil.
Well, that would be because I wasn’t an event monster. Also, I might look white, but I wasn’t actually ‘mist’. ‘Gases’ would be more accurate, really.
I dispersed my gaseous body into a large cloud to make him [Fear] me. Then while he was rooted to the spot, I engulfed and drained him dry.
[Shedy] [Race: White Ghast] [Low Demon (High-Rank)] [Magic Points: 509/540] 38↑ [Total Combat Power: 499/499]
“Secret alpha tester No. 03. Confirmed mental collapse and subsequent termination of consciousness. Subject has been logged out. As per procedure, requesting transport to collection facility.”
“Secret alpha tester No. 20. Confirmed mental collapse and subsequent termination of consciousness. Subject has been logged out. As per procedure, requesting transport to collection facility.”
Three alpha testers left.
So it’s confirmed, then. My combat power didn’t rise any further, even if my magic did.
I had a bad feeling about this. So I didn’t bother looting them and just headed straight towards yesterday’s battlefield. As I was getting closer, more and more magical signals that I assumed to be beta players showed up on my radar.
There were far, far more than yesterday. A quick count already showed at least thirty. And right in the center, riddled with wounds, was the Cerberus. No. 01 was putting up a good fight all by his lonesome.
[Cerberus - No. 01] [Magic Points: 225/422] [Hit Points: 176/537] [Total Combat Power: 499]
Everywhere on his body were burns, bruises, gashes. No patch of skin was left unbloodied.
Five shield holders were surrounding him. Just the vanguard alone already had around twenty people. Some distance away, magicians were restricting his movements and throwing powerful spells.
More than half the beta players had over 200 combat power.
Yet No. 01 still hung on, even if only barely. The reason became evident as I moved closer.
“Stop getting in our way already!”
“We told you, we had dibs on it!”
“And who the hell just cut into our fight, huh?! Fuck off!”
“There’s barely any event monster left! You think we’re leaving just because you tell us to?!”
Apparently, multiple different parties were fighting over him. The latecomers probably forced their way in and tried to killsteal.
I dove into the field of carnage. Someone noticed and shouted.
“There’s that white monster again!”
“There, that one’s for you late parties!”
“Shit! Fine, but this isn’t over, you hear me?!”
That final reluctant, caustic reply came from a party of six. They left the group of players surrounding No. 01 and headed towards me.
“Aww shit, an intangible type?! What a pain in the ass. Why don’t we return to that wolf instead?”
“Don’t you still have plenty of MP? Spells and combat arts should work. Just deal with this one quickly, then we can get back to killstealing the other one.”
“Fuck yeah, let’s go!”
Damn you. If you’re not taking this seriously, you don’t get to stand in my way!!
I dispersed myself to the absolute limit that my consciousness could handle to minimize the damage from arrows and spells. As a five-meters wide cloud, I charged forward to engulf all of them.
“What the hell’s this?!”
“I can’t see shit. Where’s the real body?!”
No, I didn’t have one. The confusion must have led them to the wrong conclusion. I began lightly draining the whole party while they still couldn’t find their way outside. At the same time, I gathered myself at the neck of the magician who was firing the most dangerous spells, creating just an arm to slice his neck with my dagger.
He collapsed on the ground, dumbfounded. Creating the arm lessened the mist density by the same amount, so everyone else noticed his death.
“Come on man, this ain’t a joke. What the hell’s with this monster?!”
“Think later, just get out of here first! And don’t group up!”
As I expected, lower density meant lower absorption speed. I didn’t get much, but some healing was better than nothing.
On whose order, I didn’t know, but they were getting ready to scatter. I set my eyes on my next target, the archer with a powerful enchanted bow.
Even among the beta players, there were the experienced gamers and the newcomers. This archer was the former. I had to crush him while I still had the chance.
“It’s coming here?! [Shadow Bind]!”
The archer’s mouth twitched something fierce. He shot the same spell I saw the other day at the ground under me.
He [Fear]ed me, even if only for a moment, and that was enough for me to resist his spell. I shrunk myself down to a humanoid form of loose gas, about as large as an adult, without actually engaging the shapeshifting skill. The archer was still petrified when I wrapped my arm around his neck and drained him dry.
Seeing me, the other party members stumbled back a step. Fear was evident on their faces. Except the thuggish leader.
“Fucking shit, why the hell are we getting downed so quickly?!”
His face reddened with rage. He approached, swinging his sword in wild abandon.
But I didn’t have time to play with you.
“It’s running away!”
I left their shouts behind me and moved at top speed toward No. 01, still embroiled in battle.
“Chase after it! Don’t lose it!”
We were approaching No. 01. The people surrounding the wolf angrily yelled at the party behind my back.
“The white one’s here again! What the hell were you doing, idiots?! You can’t even keep it away!”
“Shut your trap!!”
“Secret alpha tester No. 08. Confirmed mental collapse and subsequent cessation of neural activity. Subject has been logged out. As per procedure, requesting dispatch of disposal team.”
Two secret alpha testers left.
Far away, No. 01 shivered. He let out a howl full of grief.
[Cerberus - No. 01] [Magic Points: 179/434] [Hit Points: 65/550] [Total Combat Power: 499]
He was nearly down. I headed straight for him, but the people in front of me flung spells upon my path.
Out of the way! He is mine!
A few hit. I changed my position. At the same time, I detected a spell being fired from behind me.
I barely managed to dodge. The spell continued to hit a magician who was tying up No. 01’s movements.
They screamed, losing their calm. I turned into my gaseous humanoid form again and gave them a hug. The last bits of their lifeforce quickly emptied.
[Shedy] [Race: White Ghast] [Low Demon (High-Rank)] [Magic Points: 464/558] 18↑ [Total Combat Power: 499/499]
“What the hell are you doing?!”
“Shut the fuck up! You stop hitting our prey!”
The groups didn’t care that I killed a few of their party members. They started insulting each other. A few warriors from the group surrounding No. 01 readied their weapons against the thuggish party leader, protecting their magicians and archers.
In the meantime, I picked up the rapier that dropped from the magician I killed. I made a dash for No. 01.
“Stop the white one!”
Except for the four shield-holders, the rest of the vanguard readied their weapons and approached me. Spells and arrows shot out from behind them, piercing through me.
The warrior’s art hit. My consciousness blurred for a moment.
[Shedy] [Race: White Ghast] [Low Demon (High-Rank)] [Magic Points: 371/558] [Total Combat Power: 426/499]
Both my magic and power took a huge hit. But I could still fight. The attack staggered me, but I kept moving. An axe-wielding warrior ran, getting ready to jump at me with another strange combat art.
“My turn! [Razing-”
His foothold was unstable. My skill tripped him and I slipped past through his side.
[Shedy] [Race: White Ghast] [Low Demon (High-Rank)] [Magic Points: 336/558] [Total Combat Power: 391/499]
“Don’t let it join up with the Cerber-aargh!”
A shieldbearer turned in my direction. The moment he did, No. 01 fired a ray of lightning from his horn, scorching his back.
[Cerberus - No. 01] [Magic Points: 112/434] [Hit Points: 34/550] [Total Combat Power: 499]
“Archers! Stop it NOW!”
“Got it, [Shadow Bind]!”
Dammit, still couldn’t get out. No, there’s still a chance. Again!
[Reroll] [Reroll] [Reroll] [Reroll]
“Shit, it’s out already?!”
My assumption was that at the moment, I wasn’t rolling to resist the binding attack, I was rolling to dispel it. So I retried a few times, and my gamble paid off.
[Shedy] [Race: White Ghast] [Low Demon (High-Rank)] [Magic Points: 236/558] [Total Combat Power: 291/499]
“Shit! I’ll hold it off! [Get Over Here]!”
As a shieldbearer used an unfamiliar art, he started to glow, looking very eye-catching.
My vision returned to normal. Once I flew past his head, I saw the near-dead Cerberus’ right head look at me… No. 01. Madness retreated from his eyes, and I thought… I thought I saw him smile. And then he bit into the left head, preventing it from attacking me.
Yeah… I’m here.
I shaped myself into the gaseous humanoid form, then stabbed No. 01 through his forehead with my rapier.
The blade broke. I clung onto his neck, absorbing all of his remaining magic. No. 01 disappeared in specks of light, releasing a blue magic stone. It was then sucked inside my body.
“Secret alpha tester No. 01. Confirmed mental collapse and subsequent cessation of neural activity. As per procedure, requesting dispatch of disposal team.”
One secret alpha tester left.
[Shedy] [Race: White Ghast] [Low Demon (High-Rank)] ・A low demon made of dust and gases. An intelligent spiritual lifeform. [Magic Points: 212/658] 100↑ [Total Combat Power: 267/499] [Unique Skill: Reroll] [Racial Skill: Fear] [Simple Identification] [Humanoid Form (Normal)] [Skilled Packer] [̹̳̻̗̟ͅ―̯̗͜͟͡―͏͍̪͓͇―̵̧̠̬̭―̳̤̖̯̬̻̰͇̭͠]
Everyone was all thinking the white mist was going to reinforce the wolf. Instead, they witnessed a scene of a monster killing another. They stared at me in sheer bewilderment.
“W-What the FUCK?! We lost one!” The thuggish leader was the first one to found his voice.
One of the shieldbearers shouted back angrily. “It’s your fault you couldn’t keep it away! This one is ours now!”
“Don’t fuck with me, you—”
That’s enough out of you… Shut up.
The thuggish party leader was about to unsheathe his weapon. I flew at him in a flash of wolven speed and tore apart his throat with my broken blade. He gurgled, the last thing he could do before being drained dry.
Farewell, No. 01… Well, I might be joining you pretty soon anyway.
Maintaining my vaguely-human shape, I flicked the blood off of my rapier. My cheeks split open in a fiendish, too-wide grin. The beta players were staring at me with evident terror.
But I won’t go quietly.
“Secret alpha tester No. 13. Confirmed mental collapse and subsequent termination of consciousness. Subject has been logged out. As per procedure, requesting transport to collection facility. As of the moment, all 100 secret alpha testers have been logged out.”
Once the logout procedure for the final tester was finished, the monitoring room exploded in cheers of relief. It had been a whole month of constant monitoring 24/7, even if the watchers were rotated in shifts.
Deputy Director Brian and his secretary entered the room. He congratulated the staff with theatrics:
“Awesome work, everyone. The experiment’s runtime was cut down by quite a lot from our original plan of half a year, but thanks to all of your efforts, we’ve gained some amazing data. There’s a barbecue and some beers waiting for you in the courtyard. Anyone who’s finished their work, feel free to take your rest. Ah, people working into the night, don’t touch the beers, alright? Cokes are all you’re getting.”
The employees left their seats, with a few chuckling at Brian’s words. There was still work left to be done, but for now, it was time to celebrate the completion of a smooth-sailing project.
Monitors and displays were turned off, one after another. The staff were all in the courtyard by now, with only the secretary giving the room a final check to see if there was anyone still staying behind. As she left the room, the door locked behind her, an unbidden thought came to her mind.
An albino girl. Only eleven, yet with eyes far more mature.
Spiritual-type avatars were considered to be the worst type to use. Despite that, she had survived until the very end, her mind unyielding.
But in the end, even she broke. Her consciousness was gone. At least the data she left behind would be of great use for the next wave of secret beta testers.
Testers with collapsed psyches would continue to be observed for the next thirty days. After that, they would be disposed of.
She remembered the sight of the alabaster girl, with scarlet eyes that reminded one of nothing so much as a rabbit. Perhaps she should come see the girl one last time, even if her body was now nothing but an empty shell.
But… something feels strange here, the secretary thought.
The other testers had had their minds broken after their own deaths. But this girl wasn’t like them. Could that mental fortitude of steel be so easily broken just after one or two times dying?
Some time later.
Within the empty locked room lit only by faint emergency exit lights, one of the screens flickered on. Lines of text ran through the display.
………………………………………………… ………………………………………… ………………………………… [Evolution Available] …………………… …………… [Y/N?] ……… ……… [Y]
Suddenly, the main monitor display turned on. Appearing on the large screen was the silhouette of a snow-white girl with drooping rabbit ears.
She pursed her lips in a demonic smirk.
Author’s note: A bit of explanation for the mana harvesting.
After the dimensional tear and subsequently the new world had been discovered, the company experimented to see what they could send through. Physical objects didn’t work, but ‘waves’ such as radio signals did. They also detected some mana leaking into Earth, albeit faint, and so they hypothesized that mana was a sort of energy wave floating around in the atmosphere.
All native fauna shared a trait: the ability to kill other lifeforms to gain mana. By creating remote-controlled vessels directly in the new world, granting them the same ability, then sending them to kill the local monsters, vessels would gather mana. Once they logged out, any extra mana – or in case of player deaths, half of their magic as a penalty – would be sent back through a collection facility built inside Temples, the spawning spots for players.
Currently, research into other methods to directly gather mana besides using remote-controlled vessels were still ongoing, but practical implementations were a long way away.
The new world was estimated to have around a few hundred millions native humans. And to gather magic from these people, they needed monsters. Which was the reason for the creation of “Beta Monster Avatars”, developed as a more efficient method of mana harvesting.
Due to the fact that the new world’s human race was not considered to be the same as Earth’s humanity, and thus received no protection from Earth’s human rights, invasions were not considered to be infringing on any laws.
On paper, mana was supposed to be used as a new source of clean energy. But in closed rooms, people were thinking about using monster avatars, which had demonstrated power equivalent to tanks while still having the mobility of beasts, in limited warfare on Earth.