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Marcello blinked as he reoriented himself to his new surroundings. He was in a large brightly lit dome-shaped auditorium with gray hexagonal tiles on the curved white membrane walls. Standing and sitting in the room with him were about two hundred or so dazed and confused looking people.

Other than the gray tiles on the dome wall and the flat marble floor many of the participants were uncomfortably sitting on, there was not much else going on in the entire room. Except for two doors, at the other end of the dome. The white door on the left was labeled EASY, and the black door on the right was labeled HARD.

He had no doubts about what that meant.

Seeing as there were no system prompts yet, he took a good look around the room. The people here were all outfitted with class specific weapons and armor, but just one look at the hairstyles and glasses and aspects of appearance that were not changed by the waiting room made it obvious that everyone here was from earth. That made him a bit more at ease than if they were aliens of some sort, but he knew better than to trust complete strangers, especially in a test of survival like this one.

There was a good mix of classes, with warriors being the most common class. He noticed that the most gender disproportionate class was the healer class, which had a two-to-one or maybe even three-to-one ratio of females to males.

“I-I must be dreaming,” said a middle aged woman. She was the first to say anything after they all landed here.

“What the hell’s this dome? Where are we?” shouted an angry gangster with bleached blonde hair and a piercing on his left nostril.

Soon, quite a commotion started as everyone began speaking at once. But that was quickly silenced by a sound amplified female voice projecting from the top of the dome.

Welcome to the Tutorial, initiates.

I am your tutorial guide. Please remain silent as I explain the tutorial’s rules.

As she spoke, holographic projections of her words were displayed on all sides of the dome. No matter which way you looked, a projection of written words was visible.

You may have noticed that there are two doors in this area. One is white, and the other is black. These lead to the trial rooms. The white door represents the easy trial room and the easier path to progression towards the next area. However, please be aware that even the easier option can be deadly. The first area’s white trial room has an estimated survival rate of 90%.

The black door represents a true challenge. Only proceed with this hard trial room if you are confident in your skills. Rewards are increased significantly for performances in this trial room. The first area’s black trial room has an estimated survival rate of 50%.

By successfully clearing rooms, you will be awarded tutorial points. Additional bonus tutorial points may be earned by showing an exemplary performance during your trial. Tutorial points may be used to purchase items from special shops, which are available starting from the second area. Tutorial stores in later areas will provide more options.

There is no food available in the first area. Food will be available for purchase via tutorial points at the special shop in the second area. You may reach this next area through either the white trial room or the black trial room. It is highly recommended that you proceed to the next area before your body experiences the onset of starvation, to increase your chance of survival.

All initiates have been granted one [Exit Pass]. Normally you will not be allowed to leave a trial room once you have entered, but this pass allows you to bypass that rule once. You may use this pass to unlock the white or black door that you entered the trial room with and retrace your steps to a previous area. Use of an [Exit Pass] will reset your progress with the trial room.

Initiates may enter a trial room as groups of up to 10 people. Each group will generate their own instance of a room, so there is no need to wait for participants to finish their trial for others to enter. The first ten participants who enter after a door is opened are considered a group. Once ten participants have entered, the door will shut automatically. Shutting the door prematurely can lower the amount of people in a group.

That concludes the explanation of rules for the first area. Good luck, participants.

The gray tiles continued to project a transcript of the rules for everyone in the dome to see, as the female voice itself ceased to make any more announcements.

*Ding*

Survive the Tutorial, 0/1 complete. Time limit: 62 days 23:59:59 hours

Marcello read the new notification, then minimized it. So they had 63 days to survive the tutorial.

A silence befell the auditorium as people pondered the rules.

He was also deep in thought. There was a lot to absorb. First and foremost, this trial was considered a team battle, so to speak. You were able to party up with ten people, and assuming that the difficulty level of a trial room was constant regardless of number of participants, the logical choice would be for everyone to enter with a party of ten. More was better when it came to survival, and different classes could complement and support each other when it came to combat.

The issue was picking the right ten people to go with. Despite it being a team battle kind of set up, Marcello knew better than to trust complete strangers. For his party, he wanted a combination of competence and trust.

But the biggest team-building problem for Marcello was something else entirely. It was his choice of door. The moment that the guide had finished her explanation of the rules, Marcello decided that he wanted to attempt the hard trial, the black door.

From a cursory look, the choice between 90% survival rate and 50% survival rate was a no brainer. Nobody in their right mind would pick a 50% survival rate challenge when a 90% survival rate challenge existed.

But it wasn’t as simple as that. As excitement-seeking as Marcello was, he wasn’t a complete idiot.

You had to consider the facts given. Fact numero uno, this was definitely not the last trial. It was likely that this was the first of many trials. The existence of multiple areas and points shops suggested that there would be multiple trials, and the whole premise of a tutorial in the first place was to prepare candidates for what lay beyond. The trials would not end merely when the tutorial ended, so to speak.

But even assuming that the trials would end with the tutorial, the existence of multiple trials meant that Marcello had no choice but to take the deadly 50% option now.

This was because the trials were obviously going to get harder with each stage, which led to the importance of fact two, the points system. It was a no-brainer that items from the points shop were critical to survival. Food itself was locked behind points. So Marcello could easily see that weapons, ammunition, armors, and all sorts of other unforeseeable advantages also lay within the points shops.

Securing those advantages earlier on would allow him to tackle the hard room again, which would lead to more points, which would make him even stronger, letting him tackle the hard room even more comfortably, which in turn would net him even more points…

Meanwhile, the sheep who went through the easy route would eventually get locked into the easy route forever, reducing their overall power each round relative to the black room hoggers, and hinging their survival upon ‘just another easy round’ as well as the mercy of the black room hoggers. Human beings were not kind, and Marcello could already foresee what a power disparity in the later areas could cause.

After all, the rules said nothing about restricting participants from killing each other, or worse.

So the choice between 90% survival and 50% survival was not actually that. It was the choice between being a slave to fate, or daring to grasp fate in his own hands.

The choice was a simple one. He would take the black door challenge.

Buuuuut….. He needed teammates to do so, and finding like-minded people who fit his criteria wasn’t going to be easy. One way or another, he was probably going to have to compromise.

“Praise be the father...praise be the father… Fuck this, just get me out of here!!” a crazed bearded man shouted. He had a healer’s robe on, but the religious icon around his neck from earth and his incoherent babbling in the beginning suggested that he was a preacher of some sort.

Just one look at his twitching eye and skewed mouth revealed that he had completely lost it, possibly shaken to the core that the religion that he’d preached his entire life may have been wrong. A frightful experience that Marcello had as well in the waiting room, except in the opposite direction. He could completely relate to where and when the man’s insanity began.

Before anyone could stop him, the man ran straight towards the black door while mumbling something about god’s forgiveness. Stepping inside the HARD room, he slammed the door shut while wailing. Everyone watched this happen, as some tried to stop him, while others were merely curious to get a glimpse of what lay beyond the dreadful black door.

Ten seconds passed.

Twenty seconds passed. It felt like the entire room was waiting with bated breath for something to happen. Even the loud mouthed blonde haired gangster from earlier was silent.

Less than thirty seconds after he entered, the door reopened as the priest ran back out, screaming at the top of his lungs.

“AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!”

But the damage to him was not only mental.

The bearded priest clutched the stub of his left arm, as blood spurted across his healer robes without any sign of stopping. He also had random cuts and bruises across his body, and his robes were tattered and torn. Upon closer inspection, there was a severe gash in his abdomen that had to be fatal.

A young woman shrieked upon seeing the bloodied man returning from the black room mutilated, as people backed away from him like he was the devil himself.

“What did you see?” a curious middle aged woman with frizzled hair asked the priest hesitantly.

“Monsters!” the bearded priest replied without a hint of explanation. “This world is doomed!”

And with those words, he fell to one knee as blood gushed from the severed artery in his stump of a hand and his torso wobbled dangerously from the missing flesh on his midsection.

“Praise be the father, praise be the father, forgive me father for I have sinned…” he mumbled incoherently as he continued to bleed out.

“I’m a healer, let me help!” a scrawny young man in glasses said as he rushed over to his side, staff in hand. Raising the staff, the teenager activated a healing spell.

It was Marcello’s first encounter with magic in this world, and so he watched on with hawk eyes at the process. An invisible tendril of something that he couldn’t quite explain extended from the top of the healer’s staff onto the mutilated bearded preacher’s body, causing his wounds to start closing ever so slowly. The blood loss slowed by a noticeable amount. A bead of sweat dripped down the bespectacled healer’s face as he concentrated. But a moment later, the tendril was broken.

The reason was obvious. Due to the severity of the bearded preacher’s wounds, he had died mid-treatment. In addition, the healer’s rank was far too low to mend anything but the most minor of scratches within such a short period of time.

“Y-you killed him!” shouted a hysterical woman in a shrill voice, shooting an accusatory glare at the teenager with glasses.

“W-what do you mean? I was trying to heal him!” he stammered, even more flustered than the hysterical woman who had just accused him of murder.

“Agnis, he scares me!” continued the hysterical red curly haired woman with a dragon tattoo on her arm as she clung onto what Marcello could only presume was her boyfriend, pressing her chest towards his torso like a bimbo. That, of course, was a lie.

The bald man was massive, taller than even Marcello, with the tattoo of a skull on his vascular arms and a powerful jaw and eyebrows that gave him a thug-like look. If Marcello had to guess, he was either a prisoner or ex-military, and probably worked as a bodyguard or bouncer at some point in his life. It was not a surprise that he chose the warrior class.

The bald man who the woman referred to as Agnis began walking over towards the scrawny man with glasses, who was visibly shaken at this point. Meanwhile, the redhead watched from a safe distance with a grin on her face.

With one swift motion, the snarling Agnis grabbed the scrawny teen’s robe and formed a fist, lifting the poor healer up into the air with just one arm.

“I was just trying to help,” whimpered the scrawny teenager with square glasses, as tears began to fill his eyes. “Why are you doing this to me?”

Agnis’s only reply to that statement was a frown. With a practiced gesture, the six foot six warrior dragged the scrawny healer by the robes all the way towards the black door labeled HARD as the tatted redhead bimbo simply watched while putting on a docile and innocent act. The docile act wasn’t convincing at all, at least to Marcello. He took down a mental note to stay away from that psycho bitch.

A woman tried to stop him, but Agnis kicked her to the side. People backed away as he walked, nobody really wanting to mess with the hulk bodybuilder who looked like he could crack their skulls open like watermelons.

In a phenomenon famously known in pschology as the bystander effect, the more onlookers there were to a crime, the less likely any single person would act. Printed in many psychology textbooks was the case of Catherine Genovese's murder in 1964, where a 28 year old woman's cries for help as she was being stabbed to death in her apartment entrance by an assailant were ignored by her entire apartment complex and passerbys. This was because there was a diffusion of responsibility when more people were present, as no single individual wanted to be that person who risked their hide to save someone. But when there was only one witness available, that witness would be pressured to act knowing that they were the only ones that could prevent the crime.

Upon reaching the black door, Agnis turned the door handle and opened so hard that the door crashed into the dome wall and bounced back a little.

August 2nd 2021. October 12th 2021 update.

October 12th update. The Weight Room Theory, by pirateaba

This is a common phenomenon I’ve observed among readers, or people in general. To preface this, I have a Discord and I sometimes chat with readers.

This occurred when I was writing about lifting weights in a chapter (Insert Chapter Here). During my stream and the chapter, I made a point to write new species (Drake, Gnolls, etc.), as well as those with classes and Skills that enhanced their strength testing out the bench press by themselves for the first time.

It was meant to be a fun chapter demonstrating a number of events, from the mechanics of weight lifting making a difference to the differences in biology across species and gender—one point I can remember being that it wasn’t a difference in female vs male Gnoll max reps, for one thing.

However, what stood out to me was when I threw out the number that 200 lbs was ‘high’ for Humans, and that a trained [Guard] could hit that—the average person? Not so much.

I was basing this on internet searches of statistical data. But my readers assured me that it was, in fact, something the average Human man could bench even without weight lifting experience.

I called bullshit. However, people told me that they could do it, so I put out a challenge: pics or it never happened. Video for preference.

I have yet to see one image. This is not to call all of my readers weak or delusional, but to highlight a common reaction the readers gets to have.

‘If it was me, I’d do it better’. Or ‘if it was me, I could do it’. Same with…emergencies. The fact is most people faced with a sudden emergency they are not prepared for do not react well. They freeze up, they make poor decisions.

It’s not a failing, it’s just reality. But the perception is that it’s not you. I’ve been in that scenario personally and seen it happen. Just remember as a writer that readers have that opinion.

Also remember it doesn’t excuse bad writing. Just that if you want to write a character freezing, someone performing a feat of strength that is impressive technically—some people might object. They think they can lift 200 lbs.

They can not.

 

August 2nd edit. Sorry about the intrusive edit but I'm still getting multiple complaint comments daily about this chapter from new readers, specifically about "why did nobody do anything to help the healer" so I'm going to copy paste the reason into here. Also added a paragraph talking about the bystander effect above. Hope that answers everyone's concerns about this chapter, it's just hard to focus on writing future chapters when this one keeps getting brought up over and over again.

Darley and Latané (1968) tested this hypothesis by engineering an emergency situation and measuring how long it took for participants to get help.

College students were ushered into a solitary room under the impression that a conversation centered around learning in a “high stress, high urban environment” would ensue.

This discussion occurred with “other participants” that were in their own room as well (the other participants were just records playing). Each participant would speak one at a time into a microphone.

After a round of discussion, one of the participants would have a “seizure” in the middle of the discussion; the amount of time that it took the college student to obtain help from the research assistant that was outside of the room was measured. If the student did not get help after six minutes, the experiment was cut off.

Darley and Latané (1968) believed that the more “people” there were in the discussion, the longer it would take subjects to get help.

The results were in line with that hypothesis. The smaller the group, the more likely the “victim” was to receive timely help.

Still, those who did not get help showed signs of nervousness and concern for the victim. The researchers believed that the signs of nervousness highlight that the college student participants were most likely still deciding the best course of action; this contrasts with the leaders of the time who believed inaction was due to indifference.

This experiment showcased the effect of diffusion of responsibility on the bystander effect.

Marcello observed the procession neutrally. As much as he felt bad for the kid, the world had changed today, and he wasn't about to risk his ass fighting a guy who could clearly kill him with his bare hands for no benefit. He needed to get stronger first, at all costs.

“No! No!!” the glasses wearing teen healer screamed, staring in horror at the darkness that lay beyond the black door.

Holding the sniveling glasses wearing teen by the shirt, Agnis’s muscles flared up as he flung the poor healer past the door and into the darkness.

Scrambling on all fours, the glasses-wearing teenager in a healer’s robe tried to crawl back out of the door, only to be greeted by a brutal kick to his face from Agnis’s boot. With a grunt, the teenage boy slumped to the side, unconscious in the darkness.

Bang.

Agnis slammed the door slammed shut, dooming the kid as the system registered the entry of a solo party into the HARD room. Parties of up to ten were determined from when the door was opened to when it was closed, but the rules specifically stated that a party of less than ten could be determined by closing the door prematurely. In this case, it was a solo party consisting of just one healer.

With one calculated move, the duo of Agnis and his girlfriend had taken control of the arena with a grip of fear. They took full advantage of people's confusion and shock to assert themselves at the top of the food chain, planting the seeds of fear in the hearts of the people in the dome.

Agnis returned to his original position, with the starry-eyed red haired bimbo by his side, the top of her white healer robe pulled down on purpose to display as much cleavage as possible. Everything about her seemed fake from her smile to her tits, and Marcello suspected that she wasn’t even a natural redhead. Marcello shuddered to think what kind of shit they pulled back on earth if they could do something like this so dispassionately.

A minute passed since the teenage kid was thrown into the HARD room. A part of Marcello hoped that the kid would find a way to use his [Exit Pass], but in the end that was probably just some wishful thinking, since he got knocked unconscious by Agnis before the door got slammed shut on him.

Marcello would rank the kid high on his trust scale, but too low on competency to make for a good teammate.

As the initial shock died down and worries about hunger settled in, players began to move around the dome and talk to each other, in an effort to form teams to tackle the challenge rooms.

He scanned around the room, searching for teammates with potential. Before long, a certain person caught his eye.

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A note from HereBeTreasure

edited to add some more context behind agnis + daphne (redhead)'s actions and why marcello did nothing. added bystander effect. 

august 13th edit: I'm going to just chalk this chapter up to cultural differences. I live in manhattan. People will walk by apathetically to anything. A commenter noted that this would not be allowed to happen in Hamburg, maybe that's true. 


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HereBeTreasure

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