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A note from Zogarth

Intermission 4 part 2 (part 1 was posted yesterday).

Around the 1-month mark, Matteo got a weapon he had been waiting for.

“It’s ready?” he asked as he went up to KL, one of the other rankers.

”Of course, the materials you provided were more than enough. I should have a second one ready by the end of tomorrow. Remember, you owe me one,” KL said, as he handed him the handgun.

[Dark Handgun of Umbra (Uncommon)] – A gun made by a talented gunsmith from the 93rd universe during the tutorial. Can fire [Dark Bullet (Uncommon)] when infused with dark mana. Does more damage when striking from the shadows.
Requirements: lvl 25+ in any humanoid race

KL was the best gunsmith in the tutorial and had even gained a lesser blessing from one of Umbra’s subordinate gods, granting him a skill to infuse his creations with the god’s Records. The gun was frankly better than he had expected and was exactly what he needed.

The next day he indeed got his second gun.

After that, he only sped up his progress. His killing speed got faster as he also picked up skills related to his new weapons. The god that had blessed him even had skills related to guns, making it all the better.

He kept climbing the floors, fighting day after day. His only reprieve was when he meditated or practiced the piano. Through his profession, he had gained a few skills that helped him in combat too. Through sound, he could warp the perception of his foes and manipulate sound to muffle himself or even create supersonic attacks to throw his enemy off.

Never once did he drop below first place in the rankings. He knew there were other training grounds too, but this one was the most important. He even knew there were optional dungeons to do, and while Matteo had done one of them, he didn’t believe it was worth the +1 in all stats title to do it. While the dungeons did have combat, they were more focused on traps or different kinds of trials.

As the days progressed and they approached the tutorial’s end, the Organizer and servants had already recruited the most influential tutorial attendees.

It was apparent to him that this tutorial was partly to prepare them for the new world and partly for the Court of Shadows to recruit members. Many in the Hall of Guides members had gained priest-like classes and prepared to recruit even more members upon their return to Earth.

The Hall of Creation was prone to create tools of the trade for the fighters. Nearly everything revolved around dark mana, which was fine as everyone possessed it. It also explained why many of them carried classes revolving around assassination with great damage, stealth, and mobility over durability.

They were an army that would return to Earth and begin to establish their dominance. Without a doubt, one of many groups nurtured by a religious faction. The Court of Shadows made no secret of this but made them very aware of who they would contend with.

Matteo planned on standing at the helm of that group and proving his worth.

He had failed to become the ’boss’ in the old world, but he could do it now. Sure, he wouldn’t be the highest-ranking member of the Court, but he found it more acceptable to have unparalleled power be the dividing line.

This is why he showed up to the final ranking battles with assurance and conviction to win and claim the leader’s title. All who had any interest in becoming the leader got a quest, and deciding who was to be the leader would be done through a tournament. It was the final day of the tutorial, and nearly every single attendee was there.

Looking at the top 10, he noted down those who were participating.

Leaderboard: Shadow Trials

1st: M – 39th floor

2nd: NBS – 37th floor

3rd: HJ – 36th floor

4th: CT – 35th floor

6th: UA – 32nd floor

9th: KM – 32nd floor

KL, the gunsmith that had now claimed the 7th spot, didn’t participate, while the 5th place person didn’t either. Matteo only saw the tournament as having one other real contender. The woman NBS.

Nadia was her name. A ruthless woman that Matteo knew of even before the system. A corporate spy and sometimes assassin who specialized in social hacking and information gathering. She was also a mean lass with a rifle with more than her share of kills.

Which was precisely the kind of magic she had now. A large black rifle infused with shadow-energy. She had gained the rifle itself as a reward for passing one of the many Challenge Dungeons and acquired the legacy of a dead veteran of the Court of Shadows. Rumors had it the rifle was ancient-rarity if not legendary.

Matteo had wanted it, but as with everything bound to a Legacy, it was Soulbound. A shame. His own equipment was also decent, with mainly uncommon and rare gear, but a powerful rifle would be welcome. Well, it wasn’t all bad as they were essentially teammates, and it wasn’t like she was squandering it.

The battle took place in an arena that looked like an old worn-down city in some post-apocalypse Earth. It was the semi-final but was by many viewed as the actual final. The arena itself didn’t particularly favor any of the fighters, and even if it did, who were they to complain? The truly strong could come out on top, even in an unfavorable situation.

They dropped into the arena, and the 30-minute timer began. Both immediately faded into the shadows as they began hunting each other: one, trying to snipe Matteo, with Matteo trying to remain undetected and bring down Nadia.

Weaving through the ruined cityscape, Matteo blended in with the environment. Within the shade, he became practically invisible, his movements gave off the faintest of sounds, and even his mana, heat, and other detectable signature were hidden.

At the same time, Nadia had found a position on the 34th floor of a decrepit building. The rooftop was suicide as she would be too easily detected, and there wasn’t enough shade to keep her hidden. The battle took place at dusk, with only sparse rays of sunlight lighting up the city.

Nadia activated a skill called Eyes of the Specter, an upgraded version of her Archer’s Eye that she got upon her class evolution. Walls and other physical obstacles quickly faded away in her sight as the city lay bare before her.

Her left eye, the only one she had used the skill with, began bleeding a few seconds after using it. Her toughness simply wasn’t high enough to sustain the skill for an extended period, but it had been enough.

Like a silent wind, a beam of dark mana tore across the battlefield. Matteo felt it coming with his danger sense skill as he barely managed to avoid having his head blown off and losing the match. He still got a nasty wound on his shoulder, but it was nothing he couldn’t deal with.

More importantly, he now had her position. His bait had worked.

Sprinting faster than before, dark mana swirled around him as he sped up. Getting to the building, he didn’t stop, but began running up the side of it. He dodged another four shots on the way up. Just as he thought he had her, the entire side of the building was suddenly imploded into something akin to a black hole.

Grenades. Shit.

He was forced off the building by the unexpected attack, but instead of dropping to the ground, he shot out a tether and swung around the building, rolling into one of the lower floors. Pointed his guns upwards as he released a blast of dark mana up towards Nadia's position.

She returned fire, but it quickly became apparent that she was outgunned. Matteo slowly made his way up to her as she tried to retreat slowly. She threw grenades, used different skills, but it was all in vain.

With a final Shadow Vault, Matteo crossed the distance and landed a cut on her chest with his knife. Her body dissolved into shadows as four copies ran away in different directions. Sadly for her, he had a perception skill of his own to counter these kinds of techniques.

He quickly chased down the real version, where they were thrown into a melee. Well, he wanted to be in melee while Nadia wanted to create some distance.

She released a blast of mana and threw some knives, but Matteo deflected them as he went in for the kill. A few moments later, she fell dead to the floor as the world around them dissolved.

”M moves on to the final where he will face CT. The match will begin in 5 minutes.”

The Organizer nodded at him with approval as Matteo looked over at a frowning Nadia.

[Human – lvl 51]

”Good fight, you’re strong; it will be a pleasure working with you in the future,” Matteo said to the woman.

”… just be sure to win the final,” Nadia said with disappointment in her voice.

The matches in the tournament were done through some kind of magical simulation. They technically were fighting themselves, but it was some kind of projection of their souls and not their actual physical bodies. It still tired you out mentally, but it didn’t drain any resources or cause any bodily harm.

While the Court of Shadows was considered a rather ruthless organization, it would just be utter stupidity to kill off most of their new talents. Death was a very real thing in the tutorial as he saw that 1400 people had died in their tutorial so far - the vast majority of them within the Trial of Shadows.

Matteo nodded at Nadia with a reaffirming smile. He understood that she wasn’t content with losing and that she at least wanted to have lost to the champion. They were all prideful people. Or at least he assumed them to be. Because the person he would face in the final was a bit… uncharacteristic compared to the other top rankers.

CT was a relatively mild-mannered young man. He looked to be in his mid-twenties and didn’t have any significantly distinguishable features. However, what made him stand out was how he fought and behaved during the tutorial.

Firstly, he had chosen the Hall of Guides and not the Hall of Blades like every other ranker participating in the tournament. The other rankers in the top 10 who had chosen not to participate mainly focused on other things than combat.

CT appeared to have an affinity for children as he had taken responsibility for them as he helped both them and their parents. In fact, Matteo saw him as a very valuable and caring person. He believed he would be a great help in the new world.

Secondly, his fighting method was not like the others. Most rankers used magical versions of pre-system weapons. Guns, rifles, knives, things they were familiar with, to begin with. They were all fighters before the system, after all. CT wasn’t, it appeared. He was a caster who used some kind of lightning magic mixed with dark mana, of course.

Third, the man had spent a lot of time on the dungeons Matteo himself avoided. He still climbed the floors in the Trial of Shadows, but he did so far less than the other rankers.

Looking over at the man, he saw him surrounded by children who cheered for him as they prepared to watch the match.

[Human – lvl 49]

He was a few levels below Nadia and quite a few levels below himself. Matteo had reached level 55 himself, out-leveling everyone else by quite a margin. In fact, many had believed this entire tournament to be unnecessary with Matteo so far ahead.

The seeding of the tournament had also been off. Matteo defeated the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th place on the rankings on his way to the final, with CT only beating the 9th place. The match had been rather one-sided, which was expected with the level difference and noticeable power difference based on how many floors they could each do. CT had just shot a few lightning bolts, and the other side had surrendered.

But Matteo would not underestimate him. He was an outsider who had risen to power with conviction, surrounded by murderers, assassins, and hardened warriors. He had managed to help and be a gathering point for the less combat-orientated survivors - the children and women who needed someone to lean on. He had never seen the man flustered himself.

Their arena would be a lot more straightforward. It would be a giant colosseum with pillars placed around the battlefield. Matteo wasn’t very familiar with the other’s fighting style, but he had been a ranged fighter so far. His spells were fast and deadly, but his attack speed was low, and he hadn’t shown any potent mobility skills yet.

The finals began with the Organizer’s proclamation:

”This battle will determine the nominal leader of the Court of Shadows on Earth; in other words, the Judge. Of course, there will be support, but it will be limited due to the restrictions in place. Let the fight begin, and may you forever walk in the shadows.”

They both touched their respective orbs as their projections appeared in the arena, a hundred or so meters between them. The two men stared at each other for a bit before Matteo spoke.

”Give up.”

His words were straightforward. Matteo didn’t see the other man winning in any way. CT was out-leveled and frankly outclassed, and there was nothing he had shown that cou-

”I was about to say the same,” CT answered in a calm voice while still having his hands in his pockets before asking. ”We each have our reasons for this fight. What is yours?”

Matteo stared at the man for a bit. What did he want? Well, of course, that answer was simple.

”I want power, same as everyone else. Only strength can bring influence in this world, and I will lead the Court to that. I will lead us to be a true standout force on Earth, to make our members respected, and to make even a whisper of our name be met with shivers.”

”Maybe you are more fit to be the leader,” the other man said with a sigh. ”I just want to protect those I care about.”

”Do you need to be the leader to do that? Protection of significant others will, of course, be prioritized whenever possible,” Matteo said. He would have just fought usually, but he knew that CT held a lot of influence with the less combat-oriented members of the Court. It was best to stay on the best of terms with him.

”I guess I don’t really need to be the leader…” CT said as he looked up with a smirk. ”But at the same time, I would prefer to be in a situation where I can guarantee it. Besides, it’s only fitting for the strongest to be in charge, isn’t that one of the creeds of Umbra?”

”I see,” Matteo said, understanding as he smiled back. ”Then may the best man win.”

He didn’t hesitate as he attacked, planning to end it quickly.

CT kept smiling as he made his move too. Four orbs of black lightning condensed in mid-air as they began floating around him, crackling with energy. At the same time, he looked towards Matteo, the orb releasing a bolt.

Matteo easily side-stepped the attack as he scoffed a bit internally. The attack held power, but the opponent was inexperienced in fighting other humans. The lightning caster kept throwing bolts from the orbs making Matteo slow down but ultimately failed to land a single one.

Predictable.

Matteo Shadow Vaulted closer as the four orbs circled CT, protecting him. When he got within 50 meters, he pulled out his two guns and returned fire. Dark bullets flew through the air as they encountered a dark barrier of mana protecting the caster. It appeared to slightly crack with every shot, but it was quickly repaired again.

Fine, Matteo thought as he pointed his gun towards the caster and used one of his skills designed for this exact scenario.

Disruptive Bullet (Uncommon)

The bullet flew forth and tore straight through the barrier of mana, but CT still managed to lean to the side and avoid it. He appeared to have quite the reaction-time for a caster.

Another barrage of bullets put the caster on the defensive as he just kept using the orbs and the barrier. Sometimes two orbs moved together to create a whip of lightning, while at other times, all four came together to create magical circles in the air that released different kinds of lightning magic.

Matteo was fine with just learning what the man was capable of… but he was disappointed. The power behind the magic was indeed great, but alas… it wasn’t enough.

Dark Infusion (Rare)

He activated his boosting skill, which increased his agility, strength, and intelligence by 20%, and he charged. Dark mana swirling around him, partly obscuring his figure.

Basic Shadow Vault of Umbra (Uncommon)

With another vault, he came within ten meters. A single bolt of lightning hit Matteo, but he was more than capable of taking the blow as long as it allowed him to close in. His two daggers had now replaced the guns as he dove in.

The first slash tore the barrier apart as the next approached the man’s neck, stopping just before he slit it.

”What the fuck are you doing?” Matteo asked with a bit of anger in his voice.

He wasn’t blind and had obviously noticed… from start to end, CT hadn’t moved a single step. He hadn’t even taken his damn hands out of his pocket. He had just summoned those four orbs and stood there. That had been enough to win against the 9th place ranker, but Matteo just found it insulting.

”I should ask you the same,” CT answered with a chuckle.

”Get serious,” Matteo insisted.

”M… I am serious,” he said as he leaned forward into the dagger… electrocuting Matteo as he felt the crackling dark lightning around the dagger as it simply phased into the caster.

What?

He quickly pulled back as he saw CT finally take a hand out of his pocket. He raised it towards the air as he opened his palm.

The sky above the arena darkened as dark clouds appeared out of nowhere. What appeared like a thousand bolts of lightning struck down onto the lifted hand just as the caster summoned a black metal staff out of thin air.

Matteo stood wide-eyed at the display of power but soon noticed the clouds above had already calmed down after shooting lightning into his staff and now only hung there threateningly.

”I sought power to protect my family,… my wife, my unborn child… my brother, and my parents. I will find them after this, and I want the Court to help me protect them. Besides, I found out… I am quite good at this,” CT said as he pointed the staff towards M.

Dark Lightning Bolt (Uncommon)

Matteo barely managed to dodge as the side of the colosseum wall behind him was blown up from the blast. He knew he had to get serious as he closed in once more, hoping to finish off the man.

Based on how the dagger faded into him before and how he had avoided the disruptive bullet, he reckoned mana-based attacks would work as he coated his weapon in dark mana.

Shadow vaulting forward, he slashed down with the dagger, but CT blocked it, much to the surprise of Matteo.

It felt like his dagger was drawn to the metal staff as electricity wormed its way up the veins in his arm. He felt superior in both skills and strength, yet he kept encountering the staff every time he swung. It was a frustrating experience.

CT kept his casual smile, but his eyes were clearly focused as he fought the tutorial’s top ranker. But…

He had yet to take a single step. One hand was still in its pocket.

Matteo’s eyes sharpened as he pushed in further, his attacks getting more aggressive. The dark lightning coursing through his body from the staff was annoying but manageable. Still, he knew he couldn’t keep up the status quo.

With one hand, he stabbed down with the blade while he twirled the other around to a backhanded grasp. Dark mana began swirling around both weapons as his entire body sped up.

Dark Tempest Strike (Rare)

A small tornado made up of black daggers appeared around him and began tearing into CT’s mana barrier, and it quickly began cracking.

But Matteo wasn’t done yet.

Domain of Shadows (Epic)

A suppressive field appeared around him that bathed the entire area in shadows. The mana barrier was whittled down in seconds, and for the first time, CT’s eyes shot open as he took the other hand out of his pocket to grab the staff with both.

He blocked most of the blows but ended up getting kicked by Matteo and flew back and smashed into the wall, coughing up a mouthful of blood. He was, without a doubt, far less durable than Matteo himself or any other melee fighter.

Matteo was already charging towards the man, who got up quickly and swung his staff, releasing a storm of lightning, forcing the charging assassin to leap back.

”Damn, you’re good,” CT said with a chuckle as he spat out a mouthful of blood before looking up with the same smirk as before.

“Finally going to get serious?” Matteo asked, the domain of shadows dominating the surroundings.

CT laughed a bit as he breathed in. “My turn.”

The four orbs revolving around him all this time turned far darker than before and began crackling with ever-increasing dark lightning. Without any warning, three of the orbs entered his body while the last one entered his staff.

An aura spread throughout the arena as Matteo felt his domain be suppressed, as CT spoke three simple words.

“Ascension of Tenlucis.”

Above, the dark clouds churned with life once more. CT’s body burned with dark lightning as the entire projection seemed to shake, and the onlookers outside observed with terror.

Even the Organizer was shocked beyond anything an S-grade entity like her should ever be.

Tenlucis, a powerful god that died during the third era… said to have only left very scarce legacies that he gave to select powerful friends. He was an arrogant god who had slain hundreds of gods with his dark lightning and had been one of the Court of Shadows’ leaders.

The god's powers were domineering and powerful towards both the opponent and the user. It was said that the Legacy would drive the user insane unless they had the mental resilience to suppress it... but to cultivate that innate resistance was borderline impossible unless done since birth. Even then, it wasn't something you could just do. Yet this E-grade mortal appeared unaffected by it...

They had already confirmed that he didn't possess a bloodline upon first entering the tutorial... so how?

Why would the Dark Mistress make such a decision? To give such power...

Inside the arena, CT began his counterattack. His entire body was filled with untold power, as he released massive blasts of lightning one after another. Charging towards Matteo, the former top-assassin could barely defend as he got smashed in the side with the staff.

Matteo tried to close some distance as it was obvious the power-up skill CT had used was temporary. It indeed was… but CT still had enough time to finish the fight. Matteo didn’t even have time to raise his daggers to form a proper defense before the next strike arrived.

Thundershadow Vault of Tenlucis (Ancient)

CT turned into dark lightning as he soared through the body of Matteo, frying him from the inside. He appeared behind him as he swung his staff, smashing it into Matteo’s head. The blow cracked his skull, and with a follow-up blow coming milliseconds later, shattered it completely, ending the battle.

Before he even fell to the ground completely dead, CT’s power-up skill ended as he also fell to his knees, utterly spent.

”The winner of the battle is CT!” the Organizer said, still a bit confused about the entire situation… but she still had a job to do.

”As the winner, he has received the Lord title, will be named Judge of the first Court in the 93rd universe, and together you shall claim a Pylon of Civilization to establish our foothold upon your return to Earth.”

All the other fighters looked at CT with awe as he let go of the orb that had projected his soul into the arena. The man just smiled as he let out a tired sigh, walking over to the man he had just fought.

”Thanks for the match, mate, it makes me feel a lot better to know there are great people like you around me when we return. Because damn, you’re good,” he said as he raised his hand to shake the man’s hand.

Matteo looked at the man that had just beaten him and just smiled. It had been a long time since he lost to someone… and it wasn’t all bad. ”It will be my pleasure; you won because you were stronger today. Just don’t start slacking now, or I will depose you,” he said as he raised his hand to take CT’s hand.

”Of course, but for now, you will take the second-in-command spot,” CT said with a laugh. Everyone around them, including the Organizer, looked on with approval. It didn’t appear like internal strife would be an issue… at least not immediately.

”For now,” the second-in-command said. ”Name’s Matteo, by the way. No last name, I never had one.”

”Pleasure to meet you, Matteo,” CT said, introducing himself. ”I’m Caleb Thayne.”

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A note from Zogarth

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Read 5 chapters ahead for 3 bucks! 25 chapters for 5 bucks! Cool side stories and other goodies I get on for 10!

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Zogarth

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