Audrey opened the door of the room formerly used for monitoring the 100 secret alpha testers. Inside, the Deputy Director of the 7th research center, Brian, and several staff members were watching a screen.
“Heeey, Audrey. A bit late, aren’t you?” He cheerfully greeted.
It had been a week since the beginning of the activation test of the militarized monster avatar mass-production models. Fifty physically and mentally resilient soldiers of the Army were chosen to be the ‘secret beta testers’.
The new experimental models had been fine-tuned based on the valuable data gained from the secret alpha testers. Extraneous functions, including evolution, were removed. The precious mana gathered by beta testers had given them a head start in power.
“Looks like it’s gonna be tough for the testers to get acclimatized with the avatars if we infuse any more mana. I suppose in the end, nothing beats gathering mana yourself to increase your power. But then again, what if we need to use those things here…”
“Deputy Director Brian, why are you mobilizing the experimental models?”
“Oh, this? Well, seeing your fixation with the so-called ‘bunny girl’ made me curious too. Man, I knew you were hired for a reason! Just as you expected, the bunny was after the magic stone. The player event managed to lured her out.”
The secretary woman’s face turned a tad pale.
A rabbit beastman girl with an uncanny similarity to No. 13. Audrey had looked into the heist of No. 17’s magic stone, and had came to the same conclusion as the players. So she connected her mobile device to one of the monitoring screens and sent a watcher drone to observe the players who planned the event.
And just as she thought, the rabbit beastman girl took the bait, and a fight had broken out. Yet suddenly, the experimental models showed up and started attacking everyone there, when they were supposed to be still in the middle of a test run far away from any human civilization.
“Man, gotta say, that world really is wide. I never expected there could be a single lone beastman who could fight at that level. Identifications returned some weird numbers, but if she could fight like that, don’t you think she’d make for a great performance test for the militarized monster avatars? They were made to kill people, after all.”
“But shouldn’t we be keeping them out of the players’ eyes…?”
“Oh, it’s not any different from the previous ‘berserker’ event. Besides, that bunny stole the magic stone from No. 17, and now she’s trying to get No. 08’s. Two out of our original three testers had dropped magic stones, so why didn’t No. 01…? No. 13 was next to him that time, right? If, just as you said, that bunny truly had a connection to No. 13, wouldn’t that be so interesting?”
Since when did he know Audrey was looking into the rabbit? She thought she saw something twisted in Brian’s cheerful smile. She said nothing, her own expression stiff.
“Well then. Let’s see how much of a fight the bunny and the players can give against real soldiers in experimental models.”
“What the hell are those monsters?!”
“Are they event monsters too?!”
“Everyone, calm down!”
“Total combat power is 1000?! And ten of them?!”
“Archers, keep them in check…”
“Damn it, there are way too many of them!”
A carapace-spider dipped low, then sent its entire body weight into an upward smash.
It was more than the greatshield-holder could take. He went flying, despite his combat power nearing 800. I didn’t think that bit of difference in combat power could blow him off so easily, so it must be the mass difference. And the spiders knew it too; the way they fought was centered around leveraging their weight.
An archer pinned down a spider, and a magician froze one of its legs. But immediately, the other carapace-spiders moved forward to cover for it. Their claws pierced an approaching warrior.
The restrained spider opened up its crab-claws. From within, rock bullets shot out, aiming at the magicians staying farther away.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me… monsters are using [Stone Bullet]?!”
The mobility and agility of a wolf. The toughness of a tank. Possessing both close-range attacks and magical capabilities.
Despite personal combat power not all that much higher, they were still massacring the players one after another, without getting so much as a scratch.
I wasn’t just watching from the side. I was already busy with five of the spiders.
I jumped back to dodge a downward claw, but another spider was already going around to my position. It swung its leg. I ducked, expelling mist as a smokescreen and jumped out of the encirclement.
The very moment I landed, a rock burst apart at my feet. As I struggled to reclaim my balance, a spider charged in.
I froze and shattered the grass under me. The cloud of plant fragments obscured its sight for a moment, and I took the chance to stab my dagger into its head.
The dagger tip chipped off. Seemed like I dealt some damage with that, at least, but not enough to slow it down any.
I put some distance between us. The spiders didn’t continue their assault. They simply moved to surround me, weaving their net.
I had around double their combat power, so I was still managing to deal with their coordinated attacks… no. That wasn’t right. They were playing with me.
Like a pack of wolves hunting a moose. Once their prey weakened, the alpha wolf would turn the hunt into a lesson for the other wolves. And this fight was no different. The spiders were just tormenting me.
[Shedy] [Race: Mistral Neige] [Greater Demon (Low-Rank)] ・The demon of tempestuous mist that ravages the northern seas. A canny spiritual lifeform. [Magic Points: 1870/2060] [Total Combat Power: 2076/2266] [Unique Skill: <Reroll> <Cyber-Manipulation> <Absorption>] [Racial Skill: Fear] [Simple Identification] [Humanoid Form (National Treasure)] [Specialist Packer]
I was being ground down. At least their own magic were going down, too, due to their attacks. Still, if Isaac’s group went down, the spiders over there would come and gang up on me.
I apologized to Isaac in my thoughts. I didn’t have the leeway to come help them, but I still needed them to survive until I’ve killed at least a few spiders.
I supposed this wasn’t the time to be holding back, then.
The spiders were still slowly circling me, tightening their net. I threw the two daggers in my hands upward. Their movements hitched by a fraction.
Immediately, I shot toward the target I had in mind. It stalled for a instant, then moved backwards and started shooting rocks.
Just as I thought. Their connections to their avatars were weaker than us secret alpha testers. And my target had been favoring ranged magical attacks over close-quarters combat since the beginning.
I dodged the rocks I already knew were coming. Before the other spiders arrived, I dispersed both my arms and clung to its top.
One of its leg gouged out my stomach. I paid it no mind. As I began to freeze and absorb its life force, the neighboring spider approached and swung its giant claws.
The claws whiffed past my face, then proceeded to pierced through the carapace of the half-frozen spider. I jabbed my own claws into the hole in the shell and absorb the rest of its magic and lifeforce.
It was the first time a spider so much as said anything, and it was also its last. As my target disappeared in motes of light, I jumped to the neighboring spider. The accidental friendly-fire had immobilized it for a few short moments. I immediately began absorption.
It returned to its senses and started rampaging. Quite violently too, since I hadn’t frozen this one. On the other hand, the other spiders weren’t coming any closer.
[Reroll] [Reroll] [Reroll] [Reroll] [Reroll]
Every time I felt like I was about to fall, I [Reroll]ed to keep myself on it. I sucked it dry in one go.
Another spider began shooting magic at me.
I forced a success of [Cyber-Manipulation] with [Reroll]. [Fear] suddenly descended on the shooting spider, and its aim turned indiscriminate.
The remaining two spiders were calmly dealing with the situation. They restrained the terrified spider from both sides. As they did, the bound spider started to fade away. A forced logout? Immediately, I shot my dispersed arms to one of the two restraining spiders, the one on the right. I stabbed my claws inside a gap on its shell and began absorbing its magic.
The left spider smashed its claws into me, flinging me off.
At least I managed to drain dry my target. Still, that was too much damage.
[Shedy] [Race: Mistral Neige] [Greater Demon (Low-Rank)] [Magic Points: 1475/2240] 180↑ [Total Combat Power: 1699/2464] 198↑
I lost a bunch of magic. I could still fight, just not as recklessly. Otherwise this would turn into a losing battle in a blink of an eye.
I and the remaining spider entered a staring contest for a few seconds. Then it left, joining its comrades in fighting Isaac’s clan.
I really wanted to retreat here, but I couldn’t afford to let the magic stone fall into the hands of the corporation.
So I instantly gave chase. Looked like Isaac’s clan managed to down one of the spiders, too, but they paid for it with half their members. They had over twenty people at the beginning of the battle, and now their numbers didn’t even reach ten.
The spider from my side regrouped with the other four, repairing their formation.
As I arrived, Isaac’s group turned to face me. And so did the carapace-spiders.
I would really like to complain about the fact that both sides were more wary of me, here.
Isaac, battered and bruised but with weapon still firmly held, asked.
“Sherry… these crab-spiders aren’t your friends, right?”
“I see… then, do you want to join up until they’re dead, first?”
“Isaa-mmmfph!” Sandrea cut in, but didn’t get to say anything before pink-head muffled her.
“…even when you look so worn-out?”
“Heh, aren’t you about the same, Sherry?”
The players were avatars, so they were still standing on their own legs, but their wounds hadn’t completely healed. Looked like they ran out of potions. Their armor and weapons were all torn and cracked, too.
My glance swept through all of them. I quietly put out my hand.
“Give me the red magic stone. Then I’ll kill them for you.”
Isaac looked dubiously at me. Even if I could only recover my magic, it should still be enough.
Again, Sandrea was about to shout out something when pink-head held her down. Pinkie reprimanded her in a lecturing tone.
“Sally, be quiet. This is most likely a required condition,” she turned to Isaac, “I think it’s fine, but what do you think, leader?”
Isaac hesitated for a few moments. He looked at me one more time, then nodded to pink-head.
Pink-head threw the red magic stone to me.
No doubt about it. This was No. 08’s magic stone.
Apparently pink-head thought this was a necessary ‘condition’ to trigger the next step of their quest. But that wasn’t quite right.
This was a ‘condition’ necessary for my way of life.
I popped the stone into my mouth without hesitation. As it dissolved inside me, my magic began to rapidly stir, perhaps because all three magic stones were now together.
Hot… like I was burning up. I felt as if my body was heavier, yet at the same time lighter from the overflowing power coursing through me.
[Shedy] [Race: Mistral Neige] [Greater Demon (High-Rank)] ・The demon of tempestuous mist that ravages the northern seas. A canny spiritual lifeform. [Magic Points: 4000/4000] 1760↑ [Total Combat Power: 4400/4400] 1936↑ [Unique Skill: <Reroll> <Cyber-Manipulation> <Absorption> <Materialization>] [Racial Skill: Fear] [Simple Identification] [Human Form (Wonderful)] [Specialist Packer]
I was Ranking-up…?