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Marcello stood in the evening rain, his umbrella bobbing up and down impatiently. He wanted to get back home earlier to finish writing his chapter, but it was so hard to find a damn cab during the rain.

Normally he’d use Uber, but they jacked up the prices so high during high demand times that it made him feel physically sick. No way in hell was he going to pay ten times more than usual when he could just hail a taxi for a fraction of the price.

And… that left him waiting in the rain. For twenty minutes now. Maybe it was time to try his luck waiting on another street. To his left was a busy intersection, and to his right a quiet street.

The busy intersection made more sense. Marcello turned to the left, when he suddenly stopped in his tracks.

No.

Maybe he should go to the right, he thought.

He just had a sense that the quiet street would be the better choice to wait for a cab. So he turned back around and headed down the right towards the quiet street. After a few minutes of brisk walking in the rain, he arrived at the quiet street. A yellow cab just pulled to the curb and a wealthy woman stepped out, putting up her umbrella first.

“No, no, it’s alright, keep the change,” the white haired woman wearing faux fur said, dismissing the cab driver with a wave of her hand as she stepped onto the street.

Seeing an opportunity, Marcello ran up to the cab and quickly got in as the woman left. There was another man in a hat running up to the cab as well, but he had beaten him to it.

“Where to?” the cab driver asked bruntly.

“59th and Lex,” Marcello replied.

The taxi's engine splurted to a start as that stupid advertisement jingle began to play from the back seat tv.

"Tough weather, huh?"

"Yeah. It wasn't easy to find a cab."

"Of course. Business is always booming when it rains. You got lucky, kid."

"I guess I did..." he replied, although he frowned while looking out the window. It wasn't luck. He just had a... feeling.

Two hours later, at home.

The sound of keyboard tapping was all that could be heard from Marcello’s room at 11:54 pm on this rainy Sunday night. Empty beer cans lined the desk of the twenty-one year old college senior, illuminated only by the pale blue light emanating from his laptop. Despite his room looking like the aftermath of a rowdy party, it was far from it. Marcello drank because the alcohol helped him write his novel. But what about the beer stains on his carpet, empty takeout boxes piled to the side of his desk, and suggestive posters on the wall sagging down sadly due to lack of even the lowest standard of maintenance? Well, that was just his regular life.

The dark haired young man typed fervently while stooped over his desk. He had a regular social life, decent luck with girls if he could say so himself due to his height and passable face, and a nice cozy job lined up after graduation. But it was all so boring. Just boring! Where was his agency in life? He needed a little edge, some thrill.

At the end of the day, the time he felt truly alive was when he was writing. In the world of fiction, he was the thrill-seeking detective, the omniscient narrator hovering over the murder scene, and the mastermind villain all in one package.

He was the judge, the jury, and the executioner, all at once.

And that’s when Detective Malvolio noticed an irregularity, a thin line of blood drawn from the corner of the deceased maid girl’s white blouse to the edge of her apron. It was carefully disguised as well, hidden underneath layers of fabric and disguised by the food stains that accumulated on her blouse during the working day, only noticeable by the most trained of eyes.

Detective Malvolio exhaled carefully, the pieces finally falling into place in his head. Of course, the murderer had to be the butler. His hand traced downwards to his pistol, ready to draw at any moment.

To be continued on chapter 157…

Thanks for reading. –Malvolio

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Marcello, otherwise known as his online pseudonym Malvolio, was an up-and-coming anonymous web novel writer. With his novel packing ridiculous plotlines and shocking twists, his pulp fiction murder mystery rag had accumulated a reader following of several million readers over the last month, much to Marcello’s own surprise.

But that was all the side meal. Most of all, he just loved a good mystery.

At the end of the day, Marcello was just a normal human living his relatively normal life. A normal human that had no grasp of the concept of mana. Or the fact that his whole world was going to get turned upside down in about two minutes, when the clock struck midnight.

Currently, he was in the bathroom, washing his face absentmindedly. His hair was getting a bit long, but hey, sometimes girls liked that messy disheveled look right? At least, that was what he told himself.

Tik-tok.

Tik-tok.

Marcello came back from the bathroom at 11:58 pm, having splashed a bit of water on his face in preparation to go to sleep. He jumped onto his small apartment’s bed face first, landing in the thin blankets that never really kept him warm enough at night unless he layered the blankets up twice.

11:59 pm.

Flipping around so that his head faced the ceiling, he grabbed his phone from his nightstand and flipped through his notifications.

12:00 am.

Bzzt.

“Huh?” Marcello said in confusion.

The screen of his smart phone had turned completely white and felt particularly hot to the touch.

Clicking the power button did nothing. The screen just seemed to be getting brighter by the second…

A sultry female voice spoke through his phone like an announcer.

The first phase of assimilation has begun.

Earthling initiates will now begin their tutelage in the Tutorial.

Good luck, initiate 244601Z Marcello Vivaldi.

And with that, a feeling of intense dizziness hit him. His head spinning, he couldn’t help but notice that the phone in his hand had disappeared, and the whole world was fading to black.

He reawakened in what appeared to be a monotone gray jail cell, wearing an unassuming prisoner’s uniform. Marcello blinked, looking down at his drab new clothing in confusion. His entire surroundings were just gray, gray, and more gray.

“Greetings.”

Marcello looked up with a start, to be greeted by what seemed to be a person. At least, that’s what the figure looked like from a cursory look. But as he examined the figure closer, he noticed that the figure did not seem to be fully there, so to speak. It was more of a projection of a person, an impression of their original self, transmitted across a very long distance to the point that the impression was beginning to fade and flicker. And yet it was still responsive, observant of his every move.

“Where… where am I?” Marcello asked, taken aback by his strange new surroundings. “Am I dreaming?”

The shadowy genderless figure shook its head.

“You are not dreaming, Marcello.” The figure spoke with a calm yet authoritative voice.

“I-is this the afterlife?” He asked with a hint of fear in his voice. Please, don’t tell me this is hell, said a small voice in the back of his head. The thought of spending the rest of eternity in this gray monotone room was horrifying. If this was going to be hell, at least let there be some flames and torture, he thought, to make things less boring.

He was never a religious person, and in recent months he’d dabbled a bit too much in imaginary crimes to be able to enter a place of worship without a slight sense of guilt in his stomach, thinking of all those poor souls he’d killed and maimed in the worst of fashions. Figuratively speaking, of course. Surely he couldn’t be held in contempt for simply imagining a murder… er, imagining many murders.

“It is not.” The flickering figure gestured with its palm facing forward, speaking once more. “This is the waiting room, and the first important step in your assimilation.”

“Assimilation?” Marcello replied. He wasn’t following what was going on.

“Yes. The universe is changing, Marcello. Mana is appearing where it did not exist before. The flow of time has hastened. Which leads us to the waiting room. Quickly, we do not have much more time. The tutorial will begin shortly.”

With the wave of a hand, the shadowy figure caused a strange prickly sensation in Marcello’s body.

Somehow, there was a menu floating in front of him, similar to one frequently seen on a computer screen. What the hell was this.

“I have awakened your body to the existence of the System,” the shadowy figure explained. “It will explain the rest. Good luck.”

And with that, the apparition faded out of existence, leaving Marcello alone in the gray cell, with nothing but a floating menu screen in front of him.

Your objective is to survive the Tutorial.

Please select a Class.

This felt like a video game, Marcello thought. Exactly like a video game. And yet he had a feeling, no, he knew that this was real. The system, the shadowy figure, the assimilation… something in his gut told him that this was the real deal. The universe had changed. From the core of his being, he knew that it was the truth.

With that in mind, he decided to clear his mind of all the nonsense from before and take this next step seriously. The figure just told him that this waiting room was the first important step in his assimilation. And the only thing that he could do in this gray waiting room was engage with the system, and select a class.

From that, he could infer that the choices he made now were very important. After all, character creation in a video game would decide the parameters about how the rest of the playthrough would go.

The choices presented to him were relatively straightforward.

Warrior – A starting class for those who wish to tread the path of strength. Proficiency in front-line combat and fortitude will develop more quickly.

Archer – A starting class for those who wish to fight from afar. Proficiency in long ranged combat and agility will develop more quickly.

Thief – A starting class for those who favor speed and sleight of hand over brute strength. Proficiency in mixed combat and agility will develop more quickly.

Mage – A starting class for those who wish to tread the path of mana. Proficiency in long ranged magical combat and mana regeneration will develop more quickly.

Healer – A starting class for those who wish to tread the path of mana. Proficiency in healing magic and mana regeneration will develop more quickly.

Marcello took away a few key points from reading the description of the classes. First of all, the fact that stood out the most– magic was real! People often dreamed about a world with magic, where spells could be casted from magic circles and casters channeled the power of mana to create miracles, or to cast spells of devastating destructive effect.

Hm… His next step after the waiting room was the tutorial, and by what he read from the class descriptions, the tutorial had to mark the start of a fantasy world. A world where mana existed. A world where people fought with swords and bows and staves, where dangerous monsters prowled the forests and dragons lay sleeping in far away lands.

Just thinking about it was exciting! But also scary. There was so much left unknown that Marcello could do nothing but try to piece together this new world with the fragments of information given to him.

The second key point that Marcello drew from the class descriptions was that combat was inevitable. Why the hell else would the only classes be combat oriented ones? And that first message, about surviving the tutorial. Not passing it, but surviving it. Combat was an inevitability.

If that was the case, then choosing his class took on a whole other meaning.

The class he chose was how he would defend himself, and in the future, go on the offensive. He needed to choose something that would provide the best outcome for him.

Which led him to his third observation. The words starting class. From what he knew of games, that meant that the class he chose right now would not be the same class he’d have later on. Meaning that he didn’t have to care too much about the long term ramifications of his chosen class’s late-game scaling.

By the urgent tone of the shadowy figure, Marcello surmised that this tutorial was going to be a damn nightmare, accelerated beyond a normal pace because the universe’s time itself was hastening. Survival was not going to be easy.

Oh yeah, he forgot the fourth and final observation. The descriptions continued to mention proficiency developing more quickly in certain combat styles depending on which class you picked. Reading between the lines, it meant that classes were malleable. A warrior probably could also use a bow, just as a mage could use a sword. However, a player’s development would be greatest in the weapon or ability for which their class granted them additional proficiency growth.

With those facts locked in his mind, he considered his options.

Warrior was a tempting choice. He’d be able to start off the tutorial on solid footing, and fighting with melee weapons was rather self-explanatory. Marcello was a tall guy. He used to play volleyball in highschool, and his build right now was on the leaner side of things. He wouldn’t be the ideal hulk warrior, but the choice was decent enough.

Archer. Hm. If his shooting range accuracy with a pistol was anything to go by, he was solidly average. Not good, not bad at aiming. The idea of being able to fight from a range without risk of bodily harm was quite tempting though. However, he shuddered to think of how he’d manage to survive if the fight ended up in melee range.

He thought about it this way. The only real time he’d be in danger was if the enemy was in melee range. In that case, he’d prefer to have the warrior class. In a long ranged fight, he’d prefer to have the archer class.

But there was an important fact that he had to consider. When comparing melee ranged fights and long ranged fights, long ranged fights were inherently less dangerous. Even if the enemy was a ranged opponent, he could just run away very easily.

So in the long ranged scenario, he would still prefer the warrior class. He’d have less deadly aim with arrows as a warrior, but on the flip side, if the enemy charged into melee range of him, he’d be able to stand his ground.

If Marcello was some kind of eagle eyed savant who would never let anyone into melee range without putting an arrow into their skull first, he’d gladly take the archer class, but he knew that his accuracy with shooting projectiles was only mediocre at best.

The third choice he had was thief. This was an interesting one. He’d come back to that later.

Which left the fourth and fifth choices, mage and healer. As far as Marcello was concerned, the healer class was absolutely out of the question. Marcello did not want to have to rely on someone else to fight his battles for him. He elected to have more agency in his life, not less.

Likewise, mage was too much of a gamble at this point in the game. With no clue about mana and magic, magic classes were probably better saved for later on. He’d rather take warrior now and survive the early game, then switch to mage when it was safer and he understood more about what that entailed.

So the archer, mage, and healer classes were eliminated.

That left two options. Warrior and thief.

He read over the descriptions again.

Warrior – A starting class for those who wish to tread the path of strength. Proficiency in front-line combat and fortitude will develop more quickly.

Thief – A starting class for those who favor speed and sleight of hand over brute strength. Proficiency in mixed combat and agility will develop more quickly.

So warriors were stronger and tankier, and focused primarily on melee combat. On the other hand, thieves were faster and more finesse and agility based, while having jack-of-all-trades prowess in melee combat, ranged combat, and whatever other trickery was available.

Marcello liked that thieves had proficiency in mixed combat. It allowed for more options, more conniving maneuvers, and overall more agency to shape the battlefield. It felt like a more creative option.

And yet, the safety and ease of execution of the warrior class still remained.

What a tough choice.

In the end, Marcello knew what he had to do. Although the logical side of his brain told him to go with warrior, his gut feeling was that the thief gamble might pay off, given his skill set.

Ah, what the heck. Life wasn’t worth living without a bit of suspense, Marcello thought with a smirk on his face. After all, wasn’t he the one complaining about things being too boring for him recently?

You have selected the thief class. Confirm your selection?

Yes.

You have been promoted to a new class, Thief.

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A note from HereBeTreasure

Getting a lot of comments confused about thief since the title breaker of skulls and the knight cover suggest warrior. I updated the synopsis to make it clear, MC will receive a warrior/knight class later. Thanks for reading. 


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HereBeTreasure

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