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A note from Zogarth

Intermission 4 part 2 coming tomorrow.

3 years before the Initiation began

Matteo got out of the shower after his workout and got something quick to eat. It was just another Sunday night like any other where he had to get up early and get ready for work. But today was a special day as today was the day he would claim his big promotion.

He looked out at the penthouse that he had lived in for the last two months, feeling it was all a bit hollow. His only real possession in the entire apartment was a piano, which he had inherited from his grandfather.

After he put on his suit, he packed his briefcase with all the necessities he would need for the day’s work and rode the elevator down to the ground floor. His employer had insisted many times for him to get a driver, but Matteo had refused time and time again. He preferred to do things himself.

Riding the car that was worth more than the average yearly income of several households, he soon found himself in the industrial zone where the boss had set up their current base of operations. A furniture manufacturer that was more than suitable.

“M,” the doorman said with a small greeting. ”Boss is inside.”

Matteo just nodded and entered the building, crossing the floor and the running machinery, and into the back room. There, he found his boss and a few other members sitting around a table while watching tennis on the television.

“Why do they moan when they hit the ball?”

“It is all about controlling your breathing, and if it happens to annoy your opponent, it’s just a bonus,” Matteo answered upon entering.

“Ah, my boy, just in time! I heard the last job was finished ahead of schedule. Great work as always,” said one of the older members.

“You didn’t disappoint,” said a rough voice as he entered from a side room.

The others instantly turned off the tv and bowed towards the boss.

“Yeah,” Matteo confirmed, nodding to the boss.

“Let’s move,” the boss said as he motioned for the others to follow. Matteo following along without question. It wasn’t time yet, and everything was planned.

“Matteo, you drive.”

As expected.

They got into the armored car and set course for the docks. They had to meet their client there for the handover. Matteo was a natural inclusion in such… volatile situations. Usually, nothing went wrong, but the boss had caught on something was up and wanted him present.

He had been a part of the business and family since he was a kid, and the boss trusted him unconditionally.

In an old warehouse at the docks, dozens of men were already present as they opened up unmarked containers and took out the boxes, stacking them in the corner. A few of the containers were left closed, as they didn’t want issues with the merchandise before the buyers arrived. They had just checked that it was in good condition.

The armored car rode in through the opened gates as it closed behind them. Five men got out, with Matteo the first to do so and the boss next.

“Bronco! Good to see you, old friend!” yelled the seller at the five arriving men.

“Dakila,” the boss replied with a nod.” No issues with this shipment?”

“A few rowdy ones, but they just need to be trained a bit better, and I am sure they will turn into big earners. As for the other goods? No issues there.”

The business had recently expanded quite a bit into the entertainment industry and needed some ’employees’ for that, so they came to this man. He was already their supplier for many other tools of their trade and offered to provide.

Sadly, the last time a container of merchandise was damaged during transport, and they had to dump the entire cargo container into the ocean, inventory included.

48 young women and girls, thrown overboard and drowned due to one person in the container having tuberculosis.

Matteo wasn’t the most morally upstanding person, but that had left a sour taste in his mouth. Even worse so when his boss accepted Dakila’s reimbursement and went ahead with another delivery.

So, today would be the day where he took over. Guns and drugs were enough anyway; there was no reason to expand into human trafficking besides the boss’s greed.

The negotiations continued as expected as they stood there. Matteo had already given the signal during the ride, and soon he felt his smartwatch buzz with the return signal. 30 seconds.

Walking up to the boss, he asked to inspect the guns. He naturally got the go-ahead as none of them were loaded by default, but that wasn’t why he needed to go over there. He leaned over the table as if looking at the guns as he got the second buzz.

“Boss?”

“Yeah, wha-”

Before he could speak, he had a round hole in his forehead as blood and brain matter splattered everywhere.

The other side reacted as expected, and Matteo vaulted over the table just in time as several gunshots went past him. The flashbang he had dropped at his feet blew up, blinding all of them who had turned towards him, and at that moment, two cars smashed the gate in.

A dozen men got out, guns blazing, as they began lighting up the entire warehouse. Dakila’s men managed to return fire, but Matteo’s initial move had left many of them blinded and confused.

Matteo himself stayed behind the table as he prepared himself for the next stage.

The gunfire soon died down as he heard his ’partner’ call him out.

Their main competitor. A man who Matteo had made a deal with, to further his own means.

Smiling slightly at what would come next, he looked at the handgun in his hand and counted his bullets. It should be enough.

He yelled out as he stood up, seeing five guns already trained at him. His smile only broadened. Perhaps he had bitten off a bit more than he could chew.

Yet he moved. The first gunshot took a life before they reacted properly, the second shot took another as they pulled their triggers, and a third shot killed another man before their return fire came.

Matteo had already ducked once more as he remembered their positions. He threw another grenade over the table as he felt it be riddled with bullets, glad that Dakila had always insisted on having these large steel tables.

And then he heard it - screams from within the containers.

The men brought by the competitor, on edge, weren’t as clearheaded or experienced as Matteo himself, so they didn’t notice. They didn’t think. They just fired. It took a full second before their leader yelled for them to stop, but it was too late.

Matteo saw red as he got up again.

He fired his gun, taking down four more before he was out of bullets. He drew his knife and stabbed the first one in the throat, and the second went down with a quick stab to the chest. Matteo felt a few bullets hit him from behind, most blocked by his vest, but one took him in the leg.

Taking a gurgling soldier as a hostage, he used him as a shield and even used his own gun to return fire.

The police arrived ten minutes later, finding dozens of corpses within the warehouse and two containers with a few more corpses and several women who were crying and screaming for help.

The day of the Integration of the 93rd universe

A man in black walked through the foyer as he took the elevator up. Weirdly enough, walking in the blind angles of all the cameras and keeping his head low.

Four minutes later, he exited the building, one briefcase lighter.

Fifteen minutes after that, the building’s top floor went up in flames, a supposedly famous mafia-boss among them.

It was just another killing in a long string of organized crime, all committed by an assailant identified simply as M.


Matteo sat in another penthouse that he didn’t feel like was his own, his only possession still the old piano. He mentally checked off another mark as he prepared to begin his preparations for the next target. That is when the Initiation came.

He found himself in the room. He had asked for a gun but found that he could at most get a profession that could lead him to make guns himself later on. Useless. So Matteo picked light warrior as it suited him somewhat as he was more than confident in his knifework.

After that, he went to a grand hall of sorts, surrounded by thousands of other humans.

He had to specify humans, as he soon realized there were beings in this tutorial that weren't humans. They called themselves servants to the Mistress of Shadows, the sponsor who ran the tutorial - a god known as Umbra.

Most of the servants looked elven, but some were creatures of pure shadows. Dark elementals that were there to guide the new initiates.

In the grand hall at the beginning, they were met with an explanation from the Organizer.

“Welcome, Forerunners of the 93rd Universe.

“Welcome, to the tutorial where you will be given the opportunity to rise to power and discover your own path. The first choice of which will come right after this. There are two other halls like this, each with its own purpose.

“The hall we are in currently is called the Hall of Blades and is for those who wish to walk the path of combat. The hall to the right is the Hall of Creation, and to the left is the Hall of Guides. Creation for those who wish to craft and focus on their professions, and the last is for those who wish to guide others.

“I would advise you all not solely to focus on one path. If you already possess a profession, get a class, and get a profession within a reasonable time if you have a class. Do not fret if you feel like you have chosen wrong; just be aware of the path you wish to walk when you reach the first evolution at 25.

“This tutorial is sponsored and organized by the Dark Mistress, and if you perform well, you may even qualify to receive her favor.”

After that, the Organizer began explaining more general info before sending them all on their way to different halls and such. There was plenty of panic and people doubting the entire situation, but the appearance of dark elementals and elves was enough to convince most this wasn’t some trick.

Besides, it soon appeared that many of the types who had been brought there were not simple. Most of them hardened criminals, killers, soldiers, or assassins like himself. There was also more regular folk that Matteo assumed to be there to make up for numbers. In total, he saw they were 9000 initiates in the tutorial.

Of them, he surprisingly enough counted more than a hundred children who were all taken aside to be given some special elixir of some kind. Many of the ones who went to the Hall of Guides were those intending to help care for them.

Some others didn’t look very fit for combat either - old people, people who were clearly civilians, pregnant women, the ones who appeared more mentally unstable. These people tended to go towards to Hall of Creation or the Hall of Guides.

Matteo looked up at the high ceiling in contemplation. This wasn’t the first time he had been tossed into an entirely different world. When he was nine, he saw a rival gang member kill his brother. That also happened to be the first time he took a life himself.

With resolve, he began his journey to power.

The days quickly began passing as everyone fell into a groove. Matteo practiced a bit but spent most of his first week within the Shadow Trials. The Shadow Trials was where combat took place, a type of dimension that they were told was a dungeon.

In there, there were floors with progressively more formidable enemies. Every 10th level had a ’boss,’ and if they managed to beat all 50 floors, they could fight the final boss. But it was made pretty clear from the beginning that this final boss was more or less impossible to reach, much less beat.

Matteo entered the Trial for the first time less than an hour after the whole introduction-sequence. He alone entered the Trials and exited hours later with more than ten levels. This continued as he hunted down creatures one after another, honing his craft.

He also discovered why they had all been taken here, what they all had in common. Every individual in the tutorial had an affinity for dark mana, and most of the training and material provided played into this fact. An assassin like Matteo had already gained several skills related to dark mana.

When Matteo evolved his class, he was still relatively low on the level ladder. The reason for this was simple; he had yet to pick a profession. He had earned a private chamber due to his high performance, and that was where the servant came to discuss his lack of profession with him.

“A profession is highly advised, due to the levels in race an-”

“Piano.”

So, he got a piano and a profession that very day - a simple profession called ’Novice Musician’ that offered only four stats total and didn’t appear extraordinary in any way. But it gave race levels, and Matteo enjoyed it. It was his type of meditation before actually gaining the meditation skill.

His leveling speed kept being insane, only increasing further as he also got levels in his profession. A month in, they had their first evaluations - the leaderboard for the top 10 with Matteo solidly winning.

Leaderboard: Shadow Trials

1st: M – 19th floor

2nd: NBS – 17th floor

3rd: HJ – 17th floor

4th: GAS - 16th floor

5th: KIL - 16th floor

6th: PJH - 16th floor

7th: V - 16th floor

8th: YH - 16th floor

9th: CT – 15th floor

10th: KL – 15th floor

The first boss on floor 10 was only level 25, but it progressed fast after that, with the average enemy on the 19th floor around level 50. Every person in the top 10 did the trials solo as they only got harder if you entered with more people. You also had to share points from the kills, making it even less attractive.

After the evaluation, Matteo was offered even more power. A blessing from a subordinate god of Umbra, increasing his agility by 5% and giving him access to even better skills. He also officially joined the Court of Shadows and became a follower. Though, that wasn’t the term they used. They called them members instead of followers as the entire structure of the Court was more akin to a business than a religion.

Matteo didn’t know if others had also been offered a blessing, and frankly, he didn’t care. He just kept pushing forward.

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A note from Zogarth

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Zogarth

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