Marcello encountered the concept of hobgoblins before in many stories within a fantasy setting. In a nutshell, they could be described as an evolved form of a normal goblin that was more powerful.

The hobgoblin standing before them was large, with muscles on par with that hulk Agnis. Instead of the goblin’s crooked toothy smile, this new specimen had tusks and a pronounced lower jaw. Its ears were similar to its unevolved brethren’s, but the new monster was far taller than the regular goblins from earlier. In its hand was a chipped bloody cleaver that seemed to get a lot of use. Many had fallen to the cleaver before now, and if Marcello and the rest of the survivors weren’t careful, they were next on the carving block.

The seven remaining human combatants quickly dove into action. Marcello ran up just a few steps to install a bear trap, as Nolan, Troy, Emma, and Michael rained down suppressing fire on the hobgoblin.

“Guys, buy some time for me to heal Jason!” Sarah yelled, her hand on the injured warrior’s shoulder. Jason wasn’t in great condition, and Sarah desperately healed him as fast as she could so that their last remaining warrior could once again take his place on the frontlines against this new evolved goblin menace.

“Heh, we’ll see if that’s possible,” Troy replied. A third of the party’s arrows and mana bolts were hitting the hobgoblin, but the arrows found a hard time penetrating the hobgoblin’s skin and the mana bolts were not nearly as effective as before, when they were used against the regular goblins.

The monster’s constitution was a whole lot higher than his unevolved brethren’s, making it a hell of a lot tankier. To put it into class perspective, the goblins from earlier had paper defenses like that of a novice healer, while this hobgoblin seemed to have the constitution of a seasoned warrior. Its brisk walk hastened into a light jog, as the ugly tusked green mug limbered over with its bloody cleaver in hand. Its path was straight towards Jason and Sarah, recognizing Jason as the biggest threat in the room at the moment.

There was no way Marcello was going to let the hobgoblin kill their best fighter like that, and he saw that Troy and Emma had the same thoughts. Although perhaps Emma would amend best fighter to second best fighter and insert herself to the top of the rankings.

“Distract him!” Marcello shouted at Emma.

“Already on it, mister,” Emma replied, a mana bolt coalescing in front of her palm. Marcello still didn’t understand why she refrained from using her staff, but at this point with the show of force she displayed compared to the only other mage in the room Michael, he didn’t want to question her.

She hurled a mana bolt at the hobgoblin’s face, which crashed with a sizzling explosion that blinded the monster of unknown level temporarily.

Marcello focused on his [Bear Trap (basic)] skill, unsummoning the one he already placed so that he could relocate it to Jason and Sarah’s vicinity. He summoned a new trap between the hobgoblin and Jason, cranking the damn thing as hard as he could since he knew that the damage scaled with the strength he used to crank it.

“Sarah,” he said. “If the hobgoblin comes this way, try to kite around the trap. Use it as a barrier. Alright?”

Sarah nodded. “I’m not sure if I can carry Jason by myself though. He’s really heavy.”

Jason let out a grunt. “Don’t worry, I can scoot over with a little bit of help. My wound is closing up soon. Just need to buy a bit more time.”

Marcello nodded. “We’ll get you time.” He finished cranking the bear trap and stood back up, letting the healer do her work on the wounded construction worker’s limp right shoulder.

If only Zack didn’t freeze up at the most critical moment, they could’ve had two warriors to fight with right now… but Marcello couldn’t think about it that way. In a way, Zack’s shocked state was more normal and typical of a regular human’s reaction to such a dangerous situation. Killer fucking goblins ripped straight out of a children’s horror book, running right at the humans with murder on their mind. Professional swimmer or not, of course Zack would freeze up. His specialty was racing against the clock, not racing against a machete.

His cowardice was normal. It was the others who were absolutely insane here. That unhinged blondie gangster Troy, the crazy highschool bitch mage Emma, the berserking construction worker Jason who chose a hammer of all things to go to the grave with, and himself too… they were all monsters that ran towards danger instead of away like normal people would.

Just like how Marcello found himself running straight towards the hobgoblin. There was a method to his madness though. He noticed a pattern now. While that four-eyes Michael only landed one of his mana bolts out of the three he fired since the hobgoblin’s appearance, Emma not only fired five mana bolts, but also landed all five of them, with three hits landing straight on the hobgoblin’s face.

The pattern was that every time that scarily magically talented highschool girl spun and landed a shot on the hobgoblin’s face, the monster was temporarily blinded for a second or two.

That’s why Marcello approached until he was just two yards away from the hobgoblin. Any step further and he’d be in cleaver range, but he had faith in Emma’s uncanny aim.

“Take this you monkey!” Emma laughed, sending a mana bolt straight towards the hobgoblin’s face. The mana bolt connected with its left cheek, causing a mini-explosion and a searing mark on its dark-green face. For a moment, the hobgoblin was disoriented as he tried to shrug off the blast to the face.

That’s when Marcello struck. Gripping his shortsword with both hands, the only thief in the room jammed his sword as hard as possible into the monster’s abdomen. Marcello was jubilant to find that the sword punctured its flesh a bit, but the forward inertia slowed down tremendously as Marcello’s underleveled strength could not fully break the constitution of the hobgoblin.

Maybe I’m just too low level, Marcello thought for a moment. But he remembered what the system said about stats. Stat growth is a key to progress and survival, but do not blindly rely on stats.

Do not blindly rely on stats.

In the early days of a popular fighting tournament back on earth called the Ultimate Fighting Championship, combatants of all disciplines from capoeira to sumo wrestling fought each other without weight classes, without gloves, and with pure disregard for safety. Teeth were knocked out on a regular basis in the first few bouts.

Strangely, one of the fighters that became most successful was a not-so-muscular grappler, prevailing with his meticulously applied vice grips over sumos and bodybuilders and boxers far larger and far stronger than him.

He brought a fighting style that allowed a smaller opponent to defeat a larger opponent, by applying pressure using the strongest parts of his own body onto the weakest parts of a larger opponent’s body. With the correct full-body grip, he could use his full body’s torque to target an opponent’s singular joint, causing it to snap. With a bicep strangle from behind cutting off the blood flow from his opponent’s brain to his torso, even a four hundred pound sumo wrestler could be put to sleep.

In other words, stats mattered, but technique mattered more. Apply your strength against the weakest part of your opponent’s body, and even a mightier and stronger enemy could fall by your hand.

Marcello realized he didn’t need to level up or use some fancy skill to beat this hobgoblin. Nah, none of that was necessary. He just had to do one thing to beat this thing.

He had to target its eyes.

Oh, and targeting its tendons wouldn’t hurt either.

A split second after he realized that his shortsword would not get through the hobgoblin’s rock hard abs, Marcello drew the dagger from his belt and slashed upwards across the hobgoblin’s face, specifically targeting its eyes.

“Ggggrruuuuuuuu!!!!!!” groaned the hobgoblin in pain, as it wobbled backwards from the dagger swipe on its face, right into a blast on the side from Michael’s mana bolt.

The AoE from his mana bolt hurt Marcello as well. Damn bastard four-eyed businessman was at it again, completely disregarding friendly fire like the son-of-a-bitch he was. A mage’s destructive firepower was seriously no joke, and Marcello felt his health bar drop quite a bit from that attack.

He rolled to the side as the hobgoblin nearly fell right on top of him.


Sensing the opportunity with the hobgoblin stunned, Marcello got up and climbed onto the hobgoblin’s chest, gripped his dagger tightly and got to slicing. He sliced at its face, then stabbed down towards its eye sockets and buried the dagger in the hobgoblin’s left eye. He drew the dagger again and repeated the process in the right eye.

Stab stab stab stab

A wave of heat washed through his body, igniting his senses. A foreign presence entered his mind, whispering in his ear to kill... to tear to shreds... to rip the hobgoblin apart. Suddenly, he felt that something about sinking his dagger into the hobgoblin’s skull just felt unimaginably good. Orgasmically good. A savage grin appeared on his face as he skewered the boss monster repeatedly.

Marcello stabbed the dark green monster so many times that his hand felt like it was going numb, but he kept going.

Stab stab stab stab STAB STAB STAB

It just felt so good to KILL! He wanted to keep going, and going, and going, and going... stabbing, slashing, murdering... that was what his whole life was about, wasn't it? He wanted to shank t–

“It’s already dead, man,” Troy said with a hint of pity in his voice. “You can stop now.”

It was only then that Marcello realized that he’d already received the kill notification for the hobgoblin.

You have slain [Lvl 11 Hobgoblin] - Bonus experience awarded for killing a higher level enemy. Tutorial points have been distributed between contributors.

Ding! [Thief] class has leveled up to level 4. Agility has increased by 0.1.

Ding! [Human] race has leveled up to level 4. All stats have been increased by 0.1.

Hah…. hah…. hah…

Marcello rolled off the dead hobgoblin and just laid there for a moment next to the level 11 monster that he just brought down. He got so lost in the moment there that he felt like a wild animal. Just stabbing, and slashing, and even more stabbing, losing his sense of self with every downwards motion with the dagger. The loss of control felt so… uncharacteristic of him. It felt foreign. And it made him feel a bit nauseated.

The nauseating feeling was not because he disliked killing, in fact he understood that violence was the new norm in this world, but because his body felt like it was in a feverish state trying to dispel foreign control. Like white blood cells activated to chase after an invader. That rage did not belong in his system, and he felt something deep within him angered by the fact that a foreign invader would dare enter its domain. A feeling deep within his soul was awakened by the invader, like a slumbering giant, and the more Marcello thought about it, the more the giant grew.

“Jeez Marcello, you sure have a lot of energy for someone so old,” said Emma. She walked over to inspect the dead hobgoblin.

Emma’s voice cut through his thoughts like a sharp knife through cobwebs, and his feverish feeling began to subside. In fact, it felt like some foreign presence was being withdrawn from his body in unison with her words. But he decided not to pay much attention to it right now after such a grueling victory.

“What? I’m only three years older than you Emma,” Marcello replied, rubbing the temple of his head as if he had a headache while getting up on his feet. He breathed in and out, slowly regaining his senses as he panted with his hands on his knees.

Emma chuckled while bending over to look at the hobgoblin’s mangled face. Marcello couldn’t tell if he was more taken aback by how the girl seemed completely unfazed by the gruesomeness of the stabbed up mess he made, or how she kept bending over in a way that made her skirt ride way too far up her thighs. Every time she did it, she was pointing her ass towards him as well. It had to be on purpose.

She did it a third time, bending over to pretend to look at the hobgoblin while pointing her butt straight towards him, this time adding in a little subtle wiggle too.

As much as Marcello hated to admit it, she was getting a bit of a reaction from him. The girl was objectively beautiful.

Troy whistled, while Sarah palmed her face in disbelief.

“Get a room, will you?” Troy said tauntingly.

Emma stood up and chuckled with the back of her hand covering her mouth. She brushed off her skirt and paced over to the side, pretending that nothing had ever happened.

Marcello took a deep breath, annoyed by this girl. But then he frowned, realizing something. That intense bloodlust he felt earlier, that unbridled rage where he felt like one of the villains in his own stories… after Emma’s antics, they disappeared. Was she the cause of that strange rage? It made no sense to him logically, but his sense was telling him otherwise.

“You were right Marcy,” Emma chimed.

The strange name Emma called him pulled him out of his thoughts rather abruptly. Marcello groaned, not exactly pleased with his new nickname. “Right about what? And don't call me Marcy.”

“Look Marcy,” she continued, pointing forward at the corridor. The torches that he mentioned earlier were now brightly lit, showing the way forward. At the end of the corridor was a door with the word EXIT written on top.

“We did it!” Emma said happily.

Marcello cracked a smile as well. No matter what happened, it was still a victory. He survived. “Yeah, we did it.”

Michael cleared his throat. “With only one casualty as well. We had an exemplary performance, surviving with 87.5% of our original party despite the guide warning us that the survival rate for this trial was 50%.”

Marcello wasn’t exactly thrilled about Michael after he blasted him with a mana bolt in that last fight. The man was clearly cunning, and more than willing to make a few sacrifices along the way. He didn’t like that part of Michael, but Marcello had to admit that Michael was a competent strategist and at least he was upfront about his intentions. Marcello decided to summarize his view about Michael as a respectable business partner and effective party member for clearing out black trial rooms, but not necessarily a reliable ally.

“It only worked out this way because this girl has some real talent,” Troy replied, pointing with his head at Emma, before shifting his gaze to Marcello. “And because nerdboy here plays too many video games in his free time.”

The surviving seven continued to banter while making their way out of the arena and down the corridor towards the EXIT door.

Several mana bolts and arrows whistled down the corridor first to check for traps of any sort. Finding none, the successful HARD trial goers headed towards the EXIT door and exited the trial into the second area.


The door to the hard trial closed behind them, as all seven survivors emerged into the second area.

[Objective: Find the exit and proceed to the next area 1/1]

[Trial complete]

[Assessing results]

[Rewards have been increased due to trial difficulty: HARD]

Clear bonus: 2,000

Monsters slain bonus: 4,052

Boss fight top contributor bonus: 1,000

Two-way tie for top contribution. 2,000 bonus split between top contributors MARCELLO and EMMA.

First party to clear a HARD trial bonus: 1,500

Party size bonus multiplier: 120%

Number of players below maximum * 10%

No casualty bonus multiplier: 100%

Bonus unavailable, 1 casualty sustained

TOTAL: 10263 points

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Troy moaned. “Another damn dome?”

The second area looked virtually identical to the first area, except the hexagonal tiled dome was half the size compared to before. All the way across on the other side of the dome were two doors again. One white door that had the word EASY on top of it, and one black door that had the word HARD on top instead. The setup was the same as before.

There was one vital new addition to the new area, though. In the middle of the dome stood a very large convenience store, complete with mana powered neon lights and fantasy-like posters plastered on the sides of them, advertising things like mana potions and limproot extracts. Two words were emblazoned in bold on top of the stand. TUTORIAL STORE. Out of the original two hundred or so people in the first area, about fifty had made it through so far, all of them perusing the tutorial store or eating some food purchased from there. With no tables or chairs anywhere, people just ate on the floor holding their bowls in their hands.

Marcello didn't feel so good. He felt a bit nauseated, as if that bout of rage had awakened something deep within his soul, like poking a sleeping dragon that was profoundly angered that something dared to enter its lair.

But he'd deal with that later. Nausea or not, it was definitely quite a while since his last meal, and right now he needed to find something to eat.


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