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Arcane Ascent

One day, an all-powerful entity known as the Administrator takes vast chunks of humanity into the Trials, an alternate dimension where they must clear 100 quests or else face extinction. Kai is one of the unlucky ones transported to the Trials, but with a lifetime of health issues, all he can do is struggle to survive. After barely surviving the Tutorial, he ends up living a life of weakness, unable to progress while everyone around else leaves him behind. One day, however, Kai finds a rare item that he believes is the key to fixing his hopeless situation. However, he is betrayed and killed before he can change anything. But in death, he finds perhaps the greatest way to change it all: a Return to the Beginning.

John_Doever · Fantasy
Not enough ratings
11 Chs

First Fight

Kai breathed in deep, remembering the Intermediate Body and Mana Training manual he had spent an ungodly amount of time poring over. So much time, in fact, that the manual, made of less prime materials than the runic and alchemy ones due to being of lower rank, had worn away into nothing but shreds back in the pit.

Warmth flickered in in Kai's body.

All living beings had life force, no matter how weak.

And all forces had a direction.

Martial artists knew how to control that direction. Cultures across the world had different terms for it, but perhaps the most famous example was Qi control.

In the Trials, the term for life force was standardized to Aura. Incidentally, the Aura stat increased the amount of life force and, consequently, martial prowess you had because Aura was the resource that martial arts techniques consumed.

Kai closed his eyes, and with each breath in and out, he imagined life energy as bright green strands gathering at his heart and the core of his stomach, then circulating outwards through the complex network of nerves and veins and fibers that built who he was at a foundational level.

He consciously directed his life energy to every bit of his body that needed help. His lungs relaxed, letting air flow in better. He purged metabolites - waste products that built up fatigue - from his muscles, and their leaden weight lightened. He reigned in the wild rush of blood through his body that left his head so dizzy.

This was how martial artists meditated. Through sheer force of focused mind, they could, to some degree, realize the ideal of 'mind over matter', though it was limited to their own bodies.

<The Trials recognize your experience…>

<Technical Skill: Intermediate Martial Meditation recorded>

Kai saw the skill appear under the <Technical Skills> tab of his interface. He mentally dropped down a description menu for the skill.

<Intermediate Martial Meditation>

Rank: C

Description:

A skill recording knowledge of martial meditation techniques.

By remaining still and meditating, you are able to rapidly restore your Aura, regaining your stamina. Extended meditation can also heal injuries and purge toxins from the body.

In addition, using meditation to recover will also cleanse impurities from your body, increasing strength, constitution, agility, and aura. However, you will eventually hit a bottleneck where the current rank of meditation cannot break through.

That stat bottleneck is 100 for strength, constitution, agility, and aura.>

'Rank C. Good. Looks I really did master that manual,' thought Kai. In the pit, Kai could learn and train, but since his system did not work there, he had no idea how far along he really was in his training.

It felt good to get confirmation that he had truly mastered what he had set out to master. It made him realize that the biggest reason he had never gotten stronger in his past life was because he had been afraid.

Too afraid to take that first step, that first risk, to get stronger.

<+3 Strength>

<+3 Agility>

<+3 Constitution>

<+3 Aura>

Kai felt his body get stronger post-meditation. He felt lighter, his grip strength was tighter, and he overall just felt more capable. Getting stronger - it was an addictive feeling.

He checked his overall stats again.

<Stats>

Strength: 7 > 10

Constitution: 6 > 9

Agility: 8 > 11

Magic: 7

Aura: 4 > 7

Faith: 0

Arcane: 0

____

Just like that, Kai increased his physical abilities by around 50%. In the lower stat ranges, every single point counted for a whole lot more.

The higher your stats got, the less effect each new point gave until certain breakthrough points, but right now, in the 'early game' as it were, just 2 or 3 extra points in strength made a colossal difference.

Kai was already at the point where he was now comparable to a relatively fit person. He started his run again, jumping over exposed roots and darting between tree trunks with agility he did not have before.

This time, his run time went from one minute to five before he ran out of gas.

He meditated again, standing still, leaning his back on a tree trunk, eyes closed. Sweat pooled from his forehead. A very faint green aura started to ooze out from his skin, though since his Aura stat was still low, it wasn't that visible.

After half a minute of meditating, he felt refreshed again.

<+3 Strength>

<+3 Agility>

<+3 Constitution>

<+3 Aura>

___

<Stats>

Strength: 10 > 13

Constitution: 9 > 12

Agility: 11 > 14

Magic: 7

Aura: 7 > 10

Faith: 0

Arcane: 0

___

'Now this, I can work with.' Kai flipped in the air and, with primate agility, caught a low hanging branch with his hand. He did a one-arm pullup on the branch with relative ease.

Even though he didn't look any different, his body was changing at a cellular level. His bones were getting tougher, his muscle fibers denser, his central nervous system got more used to dealing with heavier stress, and even his immune system got sturdier.

Generally speaking, a 25 to 30 in any of the physical stats was peak human. World record level physical ability. Which showed just how weak humanity really was compared to the rest of the Trials. Or even compared to their ancient warriors of myth and magic.

In his past life, Kai had barely managed to get his stats to 20, and that had taken almost a decade.

Within ten minutes of his new life, he was almost already there. He wondered whether his old physical limiters were in place. If they were, his physical stats would hit a limit at 25.

When he was in the pit, the system had told him he had broken all his limiters, but he could not be sure whether that carried over here. It had also said he had 'adapted to a place beyond space and time', but he was not sure what that meant either.

Regardless, even if Kai had fully reverted, all he had to do was fight enemies to break his limiter. In his past life, he would have been too scared risking his and Snow's life for that. Now, though, when he thought about struggling to get stronger, he did not shiver; he smiled.

Speaking of enemies -

"Hihihi, look at what we have here?"

"I smell man flesh. Fresh man flesh."

"I want his heart!"

High-pitched, sinister voices rustled about from hidden bodies.

Imps.

Small, low grade demons that were not that dangerous to a trained adult alone, but in groups, they became deadly, agile assassins, darting around thick underbrush and tree branches to strike from the back.

Imps were especially strong predators in the dark and, during early dawn, the sun had yet to fully rise. The forest was deeply shadowed, enough that a normal person couldn't expect to see more than a couple meters ahead of themselves.

According to the quest descriptions, demons shouldn't have been in this area until the five day countdown ended. But that was misleading. It was only the demonic invasion that did not begin until then.

There were still demons here. Mostly imps, stealthy scouts that reported back to their superiors on what was going on from the human side.

Kai was not afraid. Nervous, yes - he hadn't tested his combat and magic training against live targets- but not afraid. Fear…he hated it. No longer would he ever let himself feel such a thing. It was questionable whether he even had enough fear left in him to feel.

Spending all that time in the pit, chased around with the fear of death looming over his head at any given moment, it had built up a mountain of a wall of tolerance against fear.

"Look at him, he's so still!"

"Too scared to move! Is this how weak these so called 'Ascenders' are!? They'll all be food then!"

"Take his heart! Pick his bones!"

Kai fastened the strap on his wooden buckler tight. He closed his eyes, focusing. Imps had dark purple skin that could camouflage in the dark, so it was pointless trying to get a visual on them.

Instead, he focused his Aura, gathering it around his skin and ears, improving his touch and hearing.

<The Trials recognize your experience…>

<[Intermediate Aura Control] has been recorded>

Faint rustling from above, in the leaves.

The sound of grass crinkling under two pairs of feet, a few meters ahead.

Three imps in total.

Kai reacted. He twisted his neck to the side, and a dagger of sharpened black stone lodged into the tree trunk right behind him, where his face had been.

"Die!" A shout from above.

'What's the point of a surprise attack if you're going to announce it?' Kai thought as he swung his buckler overhead, hard. It smashed into a fleshy body, about the size of a large dog, and sent it rolling on the ground with sturdy impact.

The struck imp wheezed, sprawled flat onto its belly.

Kai briefly inspected the creature. No different from how they were in his past life. Humanoid, around half the height of the average man with small black nubs for horns, long, pointed ears, and inky black eyes.

"Get him! Get him!"

The others burst out from tall grass, leaping up at Kai with daggers raised.

'About time I got to use my magic,' thought Kai. He raised his fist, the clay talisman clenched within, and casted [Mana Bolt].

His fist began to glow a faint blue.

'Hihi! What an idiot! That spell takes time to cast!' thought one of the imps while mid-air, dagger ready to plunge down on the human's neck. 'We'll be at him before he even gets it off!'

'-Is what you're probably thinking,' noted Kai.

And they were right.

For new Ascenders, they needed to focus their mana, shape it, and then cast [Mana Bolt]. That entire process took a solid ten seconds, maybe five for particularly talented beginners.

But Kai was no beginner. He had practiced this spell well over a hundred thousand times.

In a single instant, not one, but two [Mana Bolts] fired from his fist, blue-tinted, tennis ball sized orbs of pure energy that slammed into both imps with precision impact.

With experience in controlling mana, Kai could reduce [Mana Bolt's] cast time to 0.1 seconds, so low that it almost seemed like he could fire multiple at once.

On top of that, he could control the trajectory of the spell with ease, making it spin or loop around or dance to however he wanted.

And if he could control their direction, he would make sure damn well that wherever they landed, they hurt.

<The Trials recognize your experience...>

<[Intermediate Mana Control] has been recorded>

"Gh..gh…what?" one of the imps hit by the mana bolt gasped out, a burning hole sizzled from where his eye had been. That injury was lethal, eventually. Pure adrenaline and shock was what kept the critter up.

The other imp had flat out died from the attack, its brain fried.

Meanwhile, the imp that had tried to ambush Kai from above still lay plastered on the ground, trying to catch its breath. It probably nursed a few broken ribs. No recovering from that anytime soon.

Kai felt a mild pain radiate in his head from getting low on mana. Even if his control of mana was excellent, his mana pool was still abysmal due to his low magic stat.

Two [Mana Bolts] had almost drained him. A low magic stat also made his [Mana Bolts] weak because magic was the stat that mana bolt scaled off of for damage. It was because of that that he made sure his bolts hit the eyes for lethal strikes.

Kai walked over to the imp he had shield bashed. The creature still gripped a black dagger in its hand, though all it could do no was weakly raise the weapon with shaky hand. He stomped the imp's wrist, grinding the bone painfully under his boot.

The imp gasped in pain, still breathless, letting go of the dagger. Kai picked it up and twirled it in the air before catching it with expert ease.

'My body still remembers all the training. I should be able to use any weapon I find at a decent level.' Though, Kai did note, he still did not have any martial arts techniques.

The training manual that Dane gave Kai only taught him the foundational basics, and techniques were not included in that.

It did teach you how to use weapons and fight, but techniques were separate from regular self defense.

They were supernatural abilities that acted like spells, and they had to be gifted by the Trials, transferred by a proper master, or absorbed from a technique scroll.

Granted, martial arts experience was a requirement to learn those techniques, but just because you knew how to fight didn't mean you got access to the techniques in the first place.

Kai threw the dagger he picked up at the imp with the sizzling hole in its head. The dagger lodged right into the creature's charred eye socket, piercing its brain to end its misery.

As for the last imp that Kai stood over, he raised his buckler overhead, ready to bash the little demon's skull in.

"W-wait!" wheezed the imp, finally getting enough breath back in to speak. "You-you want to know why I'm here, right!? How many of us there are, right!? K-keep me alive, and I can guide you!"

"I already know." Kai slammed the shield down, and the imp's skull dented inwards with a sickening crack.