[Without a class, no experience is earned for the killing of a giant rat.]
Trace glowered, ignoring the voice in her head. Although it wasn’t entirely fair to call it just a voice. It was an artificial intelligence assistant with a complex and long name she didn’t want to memorise.
“I don’t care.” She stormed ahead, both hands tightly gripping onto her pistol, reaching the end of the corridor. The giant rat lay dead at her feet. It was a thin, misshapen creature, barely what she’d describe as a rat. More like a giant abomination of a creature. She was just as disgusted by it dead as when it was alive. “How do I get to the next floor?” Trace came to a stop right by the end of the corridor.
[There is a button to your left which calls down a lift. It will take you to the second level of this complex.]
“I see.” She pressed the button, and there was a ding. Stepping onto the lift, she had a thought. “XT, erm—”
“Right. Is there a shorter name I can call you by? Maybe a nickname?”
[The assignment of a nickname is allowed. What should I answer to?]
“I’m not sure. Maybe Ex?” Trace was never a very creative person. She called Liz ‘Liz’ because it was short for ‘Elizabeth’; not a lot of thought was put into it.
[Affirmative,] it said. [I will now be answering to the name ‘Ex.’]
“What about a pronoun?”
[A pronoun is not necessary as I do not have a biological sex.]
“Can I… give you one?” Wait, was that offensive? But Trace found herself uncomfortable referring to Ex as an ‘it’ all the time.
“Your voice kind of sounds like a man’s. So, ‘he’ should work.”
There was a bump as the lift reached the next floor. Ex now had a name, much to Trace’s relief. She’d rather be holding a conversation with what she thought was a person rather than a mindless voice.
She exited the lift and cursed. “Fucking hell.” Three giant rats stood before her in a box room. There was no hallway leading down to another lift. Rather, there was a stairwell at the other side of the room. “Do I have to kill these giant rats as well?”
[It is recommended—]
“But not necessary, got it.” Trace made a break for it. She darted past the giant rats, narrowly avoiding their frenzied bites. She reached the stairwell and bolted her way up as the monsters stopped their pursuit. “Take that, dipshits!” Victorious laughter carried her up to the next floor. “They were so slow. What level even were they?”
[Those giant rats were level 1 each.]
“So, just like that one on the first floor?”
The third floor was far larger than the first and second combined. It held over a dozen giant rats within, but they were not waiting to pounce on Trace when she arrived. There was a pit at the centre of the room housing the giant rats, and a ladder on each end climbing down the vertical wall.
“What is this?” She stared at the milling monsters.
[This is a nest belonging to the giant rats,] Ex said.
“Are they not going to try and stop me? I can just hug the side of the room and enter the lift without trouble, can’t I?”
“What’s the point of this room then?”
[Eliminating the giant rats will award you with experience to level your class. This room of the tutorial level is designed to let you decide how much experience you wish to gain before proceeding.]
Trace nodded as Ex explained. She tilted her head back, a thoughtful look on her face. “Good thing I don’t have a damn class, huh?” She went around the pit, entering the lift without any trouble just as she said she could.
Ex did not speak, which made the ride up awkward for Trace. She expected some kind of retort. But that was probably because she was too used to Liz.
Is Liz going through this same thing? I just hope she’s fine. There was no music. There was only a silence followed by a ding as the lift doors opened. This time, Trace did not step into a danger-free room. It was the exact opposite.
Six giant rats waited for her, already growling.
“Erm, what level are these guys?”
[Giant Rat – Lvl 2,] Ex repeated six times.
“Thought so.” Trace ran, and the giant rats leapt at her. She barely managed to roll under the terrible jaw of one of the monsters as they crashed into each other.
Scrambling to her feet, she glanced back to see four of them had been caught in a pile. Only two of them kept up with her. If the fourth floor were a simple box, Trace would’ve gotten away scot-free. But it mirrored the first floor in shape, with an even longer corridor to reach the end. A set of stairs waited for her. Her liberation.
A giant rat scratched her left leg, and she screamed. “You’ve gotta be shitting—” She kicked it back and fired off a single round at its skull. She missed, grazing the giant rat’s stomach instead.
[It appears you have been wounded.]
“I fucking know that.”
[It is recommended that you use your primary weapon to dispose of the monsters.]
“I only have a single magazine, Ex. I’m not going to waste all of it on those assfuck-looking things—” Trace snapped the back of her pistol at the second pursuing monster. It reeled back from the hit, giving her the distance she needed to reach the stairway. “Not when I still have this last floor of even more of them to deal with.”
[Then I recommend accepting one of the basic classes offered to you.]
“Oh, you can piss right off.”
She thought she escaped— her previous run ended once she reached the end of the room— but this chase was far from over.
“What the fuck?” A giant rat snapped its jaw at her. It nearly nipped her red scarf! “Why are they still chasing me?” She flew up the steps as all six of the giant rats poured after her.
[The fourth floor only ends when you reach the final room.]
“And you didn’t think to tell me that?” Trace was shouting as she whirled around a corner. A pair of double doors stood at the top of the last flight of stairs. Glancing back, she fired another shot at the foremost giant rat. This time, it struck true.
[You have defeated a Giant Rat – Lvl 2!]
The monster tumbled back down, taking its pack to the very bottom with it.
“Gotcha!” She didn’t waste time, climbing up to the double door and slamming it shut behind her. With a sigh of relief, she slumped against the wall and slid to her knees. “That was too close for comfort.” Trace glanced around the room, finding herself in a large hall with a stage and a pedestal in the middle. “This is the final floor?”
[Affirmative,] Ex said.
“There is nothing here.”
Trace massaged her forehead. “Ex, could you please explain what’s going on instead of saying ‘affirmative’ over and over again?”
[This is the boss room of the tutorial. You have reached the top of the tower and will now face the Rat King before you are returned to Earth.]
“Boss… room?” Her eyes grew wide as the ceiling opened.
A creature crashed down, kicking a cloud of dust up around it. What stood before Trace was not a giant rat. It looked similar to a giant rat in that it had wretched claws and fangs, but this creature was vaguely humanoid in shape.
It bore the wrinkled skin of a shaved cat, with the protruding face of a rabid dog. And yet, it stood on two feet, a pair of lanky arms falling to its knees: a two-metre monster ready to strike.
[Rat King – Lvl 5.]
Trace raised her pistol, and it snarled.
“What the fuck is that thing?” She fired a bullet, nicking it in the shoulder.
[The Rat King is—]
“I didn’t ask for a bloody explanation!” Trace ran for the stage and shot another round at the Rat King.
It leaped to the side, easily dodging the bullet from a fucking gun like it was nothing before pouncing on her. She ducked under the first swing, only to be kicked through the air like a ragdoll a second later.
[Trace Taylor,]— Ex’s voice sounded urgent— [it is imperative for you to choose a class to defeat the Rat King.]
“Why?” She gritted her teeth, getting back to her feet. “Why do I have to chooseone of the classes you’ve forced onto me, huh?”
[The tutorial monsters are designed to be less lethal than real monsters. However, that will not stop them from killing you if you cannot protect yourself. Choose a class.]
The Rat King climbed up to the stage, its black eyes focused only on Trace. She shot at the monster once again, this time hitting it in the other shoulder. It growled.
One left. She steadied herself, tightly holding onto the grip with both her hands. Don’t squeeze the trigger. Just move the trigger. That way, you’re less likely to miss. Trace waited for the Rat King to reach her before firing. She didn’t miss. She couldn’t miss. Because it didn’t dodge.
Instead, it swung its claws and blocked the bullet, before knocking the gun away and grabbing the redhead. She was held up by the neck, choking, gasping for air. But it didn’t kill her. It tossed her aside, and she slid across the stage floor.
Trace landed just a few feet away from her pistol. She tried to grab for it, only to be pulled back by her leg. The Rat King dragged her as she squirmed and cursed, unable to break free. And for the first time, Ex asked her a real question.
[Why will you not choose a class?]
The Rat King threw her against a wall, her back slamming into it hard. Trace coughed and stood back up. Why don’t I just choose a class? …
Trace wasn’t sure. She just knew that she was never someone who fit in. She wasn’t born in this country. Her family moved to the United States when she was barely a seven-year-old. Because of her English accent, she was bullied in elementary school, mocked for the way she spoke. Especially so when she had to turn boys and girls down.
She never had a choice in the matter; her parents dictated that she left all her friends behind for a strange place where she knew no one. But what she hated was not that she had no say in that decision. In fact, she never hated that she didn’t fit in. No, what Trace hated was that the other available options were always worse.
If she did fit in, she’d be friends with a bunch of bullies. If she stayed with her grandma in London, she wouldn’t get to see her parents.
“Because—” Trace punched the nose of the Rat King. It barely budged. “Your classes are dogshit.”
It kneed her in the stomach, causing her to double over. It wasn’t going to bite off her head or finish the job— this was a tutorial monster— but it would keep tossing her around until she died from breaking all her bones.
[Affirmative,] Ex said, and Trace’s eye twitched.
[Beginning class customisation process for Trace Taylor.]
The Rat King loomed over her as she blinked. “What?”
[Name: Trace Taylor. Age: Eighteen. Country of Birth: England.
Primary Weapon: Cel-Dec BMR-31.
Personality Type: Brash, stubborn, and intuitive.
Searching for basic classes which fit these criteria…]
“Ex, what are you— urk!” Trace found herself being picked up by the neck once more.
[Search complete. Class is found. Listing result:
Spellshot – A basic class specialised for the unconventional combat of utilising magitech weapons.
Strength: E- to E
Magic: G to F+
Endurance: F+ to F+
Vitality: F to F+
Dexterity: E to E+
(G) Improved Accuracy – Your accuracy is permanently improved.
(F) Deadly Sight – You can pinpoint the most vulnerable body parts of any creature up to 5 levels above you. Will increase for each skill level gained and increase by two.
(F+) Last in the Chamber – You can fire a powerful magical bullet when your magazine is emptied. Can be used once an hour. Cooldown will decrease for each skill level gained.
(F+) Recall Weapon – You can summon the last weapon you were holding if it is within 10 metres of you. Range will increase for each skill level gained. Can be used once an hour.
Do you accept this class?]
Ex’s words were all Trace could focus on, even as she was being strangled by the Rat King. She was lifted off her feet, held face-to-face with the monster. Right now, she had a choice. Either she was slowly killed in this tutorial sequence, or she became a Spellshot.
Unlike the other basic classes that didn’t pertain to Trace in any way, this class was tailored to suit her. In fact, it almost seemed to give her everything she needed to come out of this fight alive. It was a better alternative.
“Y-yes.” Trace didn’t speak as much as choke.
[Affirmative,] Ex said. [You are now a Spellshot.]
And suddenly, Trace felt everything change. Her blurry vision sharpened as she analysed the Rat King. It was about to throw her, but she held out a hand.
“Recall Weapon.” Her pistol flashed, swallowed by a brilliant blue light. It was sucked right into Trace’s fingers, already aimed at the chest of the monster. “Small brain, but a really big heart. You kind of remind me of myself, you know?”
The Rat King threw her, and she fired. Her magazine was empty, but that was why it worked. Last in the Chamber. She soared through the air as the monster’s chest burst open, its heart exploding from the piercing magical bullet. Its body slowly fell as she rolled to a stop, laughing.
“Take that, you fucking arsehole!”
It collapsed with a loud thud, and Ex spoke in her head.
[You have defeated the Rat King – Lvl 5! Additional experience is earned for killing a boss monster!
(G) Improved Accuracy has reached level 2!
(G) Improved Accuracy has reached level 3!
(F) Deadly Sight has reached level 2!
(F+) Recall Weapon has reached level 2!
(F+) Last in the Chamber has reached level 2!
Spellshot has reached level 2!
Spellshot has reached level 3!]
Name: Trace Taylor
Race: Human (Earth A314)
Class: Spellshot – Lvl 3
(G) Improved Accuracy – Lvl 3
(F) Deadly Sight – Lvl 2
(F+) Last in the Chamber – Lvl 2
(F+) Recall Weapon – Lvl 2
Trace’s mind was flooded with messages. She ignored most of them, simply lying, satisfied. “I did it! I’m not dead!” For a minute there, she thought she was actually going to die at the hands of the Rat King. She would have lain there forever, until a bright light appeared in her peripheral vision.
There was a glow coming from the pedestal on the stage. It seemed to call to her. Trace got to her feet, stumbling over to the light and—
[Tutorial sequence complete. Commencing return to Earth.]
“Wait, wha—” Everything around Trace spun as she was pulled into the light. And it was over. The world was forever changed.