1 SSS Rank Item?

"Damn. More useless junk." Kai sifted through a pile of rubble with a hand shovel in his left hand, illuminating the innards of a dark cave. He was looking for anything he could sell. Raw materials for weapons, magic crystals, or, if he hit the jackpot, completed items like weapons or spellbooks.

But all he found was junk. At the same time, it was sort of fitting, considering his job.

That being, aptly named, a Junker.

"A job, huh…"

A word that, back on earth, before the Trials, Kai knew nothing about.

On earth, life had been so easy. He had been a chronic shut-in, finding himself in pixelated worlds of sword and magic where his body was not so pale, so weak, so useless.

He felt useful there, always grinding himself to the top levels with the best equipment he got his hands on. He never suffered from the anemia that unloaded precise dizzying buckshot into his head every single time he even tried to get in shape.

In-game, he felt like he was in control. Maybe it was his way of coping for feeling powerless when his mother was taken by the Trials. Maybe it was just who he was.

Still, he always held out hope that he could change his life if he just got a chance.

Stories about unfit nobodies going to other worlds with cheats and dominating everything and getting all the women were a dime a dozen. And also a particular guilty pleasure of his. He thought in the back of his head, deluded on sky high levels of coping, that maybe the Trials were his chance to live that life.

But reality was far harsher. Or rather, it wasn't harsh. It was just fair.

And on the scales of fairness, Kai had little going for him to push the scales towards him.

Kai laughed, mostly at himself. He leaned back against a wall of the cave, feeling the hard, uncomfortably uneven surface of the rock dig into his back. Sweat trickled down his dust and dirt caked face.

Now that he was in the Trials, a bona fide world of sword and magic and levels and equipment, he was still just the same: weak.

But that was just how things were. The Trials weren't a game. They were his new reality.

And when sword and magic actually became real, you still needed the strength to swing that sword and the mental will to cast those spells.

To Kai, who came here just like any other average joe, no, much worse than the average joe considering his poor health, he started out weak and stayed weak.

"Once a loser, always a loser, hm?" Kai closed his eyes, putting down his light crystal and hand shovel.

He still remembered when the Trials first arrived, even though it had almost been ten years.

One day, just like any other day, an all-powerful entity called the Administrator appeared before earth, manifesting as a world sized dark silhouette depicting a vaguely humanoid face.

Its eyes burned a molten orange, its alien, three-pupiled gaze visible to everyone looking up from earth.

With a grand statement, the Administrator declared that humanity was now part of its Trials, a twisted game where civilizations were whisked away to a different realm.

There, they were forced to enter the Spire: a tear in space leading to a hundred different quests across many different worlds and times.

Each quest represented a numbered level, with higher levels representing higher difficulties.

Unless humanity cleared 100 levels, they would face extinction.

The Administrator did not take all of humanity at once. It took its time, taking humanity in waves across five-year timespans.

Kai's mother was taken during the first wave, leaving behind a grieving father, son, and daughter.

The first few years after the first wave, humanity received occasional broadcasted visions from those that were transported.

The Ascenders, as they titled themselves.

Using the tiny fragments of knowledge that Ascenders sent back, humanity geared itself up to prep for the Trials as best as they could.

They knew that generally speaking, the waves took able bodied men and women from the ages of 15 to 50, so governments across the world issued a mandatory training regimen to make sure everyone in that range was as fit as possible.

It was basically a worldwide draft.

Conflicts between countries quickly quietened down because, for once, humanity faced an existential threat that would annihilate them all with unfathomable, godlike power regardless of race, status, or creed.

Then, they knew that the Trial worlds were a world of magic and that humanity's old gods, ancient names like Zeus and Odin and Ra, fueled said magic.

So, governments around the world put people through training with swords, spears, bows, wilderness survival, and learning on mythology.

It was a human thing to always crave social order, so a system was also put in place to maintain that order for those taken to the Trials. People were designated with differently colored uniforms based on their fitness, leadership qualities, and intelligence.

The absolute best of humanity, those with the highest authority, were given black uniforms. Then it was red. Then blue. Then green. Then, finally, white.

The idea was that those taken by the waves could start organizing themselves according to their uniforms and training.

Needless to say, Kai, armed with weak noodle arms and an inability to run a mile in a remotely competent fashion, wore a white uniform. That designated him not just as the weakest of the weak, but also as everyone's underling.

Ultimately, within the Trials, the uniforms became the basis for a new society, one full of ugly discrimination based entirely on the color of one's uniform when they first stepped into the Trials.

Kai sighed, bummed out at thinking about the past. No point in doing that. It was impossible to change the past, after all.

Or was it?

Kai rummaged at a sack tied to a belt at his hip. His fingers sifted through vaguely shiny rocks that he hoped were magical but probably were not and, at the bottom, he grasped a chillingly cold iron ring.

Taking it out, he inspected it, his weary eyes narrowing as he shone the light of his flashlight crystal at it.

The ring looked nondescript. Just a chunk of old iron roughly hewn into the shape of a ring, scarred over with patches of rust.

"[Inspect]," said Kai, casting a basic spell that everyone in the Trials knew.

[Analyzing item…]


Name: Ring of Return

Rarity: E-

Rank: E-


A ring that promises to return its user to the [Beginning]. Once used, it will never be available again. Does not work unless certain conditions are met. Otherwise, it is useless.


This was something he had fished out months ago, and even now, he held out a tiny bit of hope that it was worth something.

A low growl rumbled from beside Kai. Normally, a growl like that would have scared him out of his wits, but he just reached out and patted a furry white head.

"It's alright, Snow," said Kai.

Snow, a white wolf, licked Kai's hand and snuggled up beside him. Though, as far as wolves went, Snow was quite small, and though she was a magical beast said to hold the blood of Fenrir, it must have been like one millionth of a drop.

Compared to most magical beasts, Snow was a weak runt, left to die by her mother and sold for a pittance by her breeder. But among summons, she was all Kai could afford, and he didn't mind that the wolf was a runt.

In a way, Kai felt a sort of connection to her.

They were both runts, after all, rejected by the world around them for weakness they were simply born with.

Snow eyed the ring suspiciously, the whites of her blue eyes showing.

"You don't like this thing?" Kai put the ring back in his bag, and Snow ceased her growling. "Me too. It's just junk. Like everything else I pick up. But figures, the first world is almost completely mined out.

Anything rare is long gone while I'm too weak for the guilds to let me travel to the higher worlds.

To think I even spent an entire silver coin on appraising it properly, not just with a basic [Inspect]." Kai sighed, and started to ramble. "I almost thought it was my big break. Maybe I could swap it in for a Limit Breaker Potion that would finally let me get stronger than, well, whatever rock bottom I'm at."

Kai shook his head, checking his stats. His mental will invoked a gleaming blue screen to appear in front of his face, though only he could see it. He pulled out a compacted version of his status, showing just the parts that mattered to him.

Coincidentally, these were the parts that showcased just how weak he was in neat, tidy white font.



Strength- 20 [LIMIT]

Constitution- 20 [LIMIT

Agility- 20 [LIMIT]

Magic- 25 [LIMIT]

Aura- 8 [LIMIT]

Faith- 20 [LIMIT]

Arcane- 0


Vow of the Trickster - You have vowed service to the trickster god Loki. In exchange, the points you spend into Faith will grant you additional magic and vitality. The god Loki has not granted you any Divine Blessings so far.

Primary Class: Summoner


-Wolf Tamer (Level 2): Your summoning specialty is in summoning and boosting wolf type summons.

Technical Skills

-Rune Mage (Rank E)

-Alchemy (Rank E)

-Junker (Rank E+): You are known as a Junker. You search through rubble and trash for items. You are granted heightened senses while searching for items. You can vaguely sense when items are valuable.

Innate Skills:

-You have not achieved anything to earn any Innate Skills so far


All living beings had the potential to grow stronger in the Trials, but without Limit Breaker Potions, they reached a wall where they could no longer progress.

Kai just looked at the screen wistfully. His summoner path and skills sucked.

In the Trials, there were two categories of Skills.

The first were called Technical Skills. These were skills that formally recognized your knowledge and experience and granted you a skill that matched it.

Stuff like Rune Magic or Alchemy fit in here. Skills that represented fields you could actively study and grow in. The more you learned and practiced, the higher your skill rank became.

The other type were called Innate Skills. These were more like passive abilities like, for example, Fire Resistance or Danger Sense, though some were consciously activated as well.

Skills you did not learn but were instead gifted directly by the Trials, usually as some kind of quest reward.

Kai had zero Innate Skills, but among Technical Skills, he had Rune Magic, Alchemy, and Junking, all within the awful E rank range.

Innate Skills were more valuable. They were more like abilities such as, say, Fire Resistance or Stone Skin. Things you could not just learn, but had to earn by clearing quests or defeating monsters in the Trials.

Needless to say, Kai had never gotten close to getting one.

On top of all that, his stats were woefully low. At best, he was at the level of a relatively trained athlete.

That sounded nice at face value, but in the Trials?

Where even the average fighter could lift several tons? Or shoot fireballs capable of burning houses down?

He might as well have been an ant in comparison.

And not for a lack of trying, either. The [LIMIT] beside his stats meant that he had maxed out his stats to their full potential with as much training he could muster.

The main physical stats were self-explanatory, and he always figured his fragile body wouldn't have the best capacity for them.

But the other stats sucked too.

The Aura stat increased martial arts capacity, and, as noted, it was tragically low. Kai was always clumsy, and he stayed that way in the Trials.

The Faith stat increased one's affinity with divine spells or blessings. This was especially important in the Trials as practically every Ascender made a vow with a god.

In exchange, the Faith stat, depending on the god, granted bonus stats and access to blessings which could provide incredible abilities.

For example, making a vow with Ares, a war god, would boost one's physical stats the higher Faith was. An example of a Blessing from him might be the ability to be a master with any weapon one picked up.

For Kai, he had made a vow with Loki, wanting to specialize in magic.

But Faith also had a natural limiter in place that prevented Kai from enjoying his vow's benefits all that much. Gods could break limiters too, but they only did that for followers they thought had potential.

Which was to say, that wasn't Kai. Loki was especially stingy in this regard.

Arcane was a forbidden stat that boosted affinity with dark magics. Making contracts with demons, raising the dead, and creating curses were all in that stat's domain. It was also possible to manifest an Arcana, an ability that represented one's individual soul, but those abilities took too much time and development to make work for most people.

It was much easier to get free stats from gods than try and self-train an Arcana that might end up being useless anyway.

Plus the gods forbade anyone from speccing into Arcane in the first place, and if someone came out of the Tutorial with points invested into it, they forced them to redistribute the points to Faith.

It was to keep the natural order of things, the gods said. Gods helped humanity. Demons and monsters didn't.

It was just that simple.

Whether that was the reality or not did not matter to Kai because he never got strong enough to where it impacted him. He was just a lowly nobody after all. It wasn't his place to question stuff like that.

Kai's limit was what he saw now. Even in the supernatural worlds of the Trials, this. was. it.

Even then, he at first had tried to work around it. To make up for his bodily weakness, he started out as a Summoner at the beginning of the Trials.

Every Summoner got a free basic summon at the start, and the logic was that the summon would handle Kai's physical weakness while he big brained his way with magic.

Except that didn't work out because Kai's aptitude for magic was unexceptional as well. The summon he first started out with, a floating rock with arms on account of his earth elemental affinity, broke apart within two days of the Tutorial.

After barely surviving the Tutorial, mostly by hiding, Kai had gotten Snow, and since then, for five years, he had been with her.

To some degree, one of the reasons he had not broken his limit was because of her.

Aside from Limit Breaker Potions, another, more common way to break one's limit was to face struggle.

The greater the struggle in battle and the more life threatening it was, the higher the chance one's limiter broke.

But Kai had grown attached to Snow, and because he did not want to risk her life, he had always been too afraid to get into danger. The Trials were deeply lonely for a white uniform like him who was basically no better than a social outcast.

He could not bear taking Snow as a puppy to dangerous areas, so he fell behind everyone braver than him, and soon enough, the gap between him and most Ascenders got so wide it was impossible for him to bridge it.

Snow was his one and only loyal friend. Losing her would crush him and leave him hopelessly alone.

It was commonplace advice for Summoners never to get attached to their summons too much, but Kai just could not help it.

As a result, he chose a safe job as a Junker to just scrape by surviving but never accomplishing anything.

"Did you see the look on the appraiser's face?" Kai groaned, still embarrassed at the memory. "He looked at the ring like it was a dried-out turd. Chewed me out for wasting my silver and his time.

Just my luck, huh? He told me that a ton of items have misleading item descriptions and that I got suckered. How was I supposed to know!?

I could have saved up for a Limit Breaker Potion. Yeah, I'll still need like 100 of them to catch up to everyone by now, but at least it would've been a step forward.

Now, it'll take me a month to make that silver back.

Hell, I might not even be able to afford the fifty daily bronze to put a roof over my head at the inn. Even in another world, I can't escape capitalism."

Kai sighed, and Snow licked his face to comfort him. She whined, suggesting that it was about time to go. Night was approaching, and in the dark, monsters tended to get much tougher. More predatory.

"You're right, it's getting late. Too late for me to be swimming around in self-pity, that's for sure." Kai patted Snow's head and made his way out the cave, his whole body aching from crawling around in muck and tight spaces.

What Kai wanted right now was a nice, hot shower. Something to rinse away the filth and the bad thoughts. He exhaled deeply, tossing his hand shovel at a wall.


Kai raised a brow. The shovel pinged off the solid rock, but not before creating deep cracks in it. For a moment, he wondered if he had suddenly unlocked super strength, but no, things were not that easy.

Or maybe…

He tentatively stepped up to the cracks, shining his light crystal at it, and his eyes widened. The cracks widened across the wall which looked strangely flat and glossy, like glass.

This was an illusory wall.

One that nobody had found before.

'Is this it? Has my luck finally turned around?' Kai picked his shovel up from the ground and smacked the handle against the glassy wall.

One hit. The cracks widened.

Two hits. The wall shattered, breaking off into countless little shards that dissolved into nothingness. Behind it, through a narrow, dark pathway, he saw at the end a floating white key.

The magical energy emanating from the key washed over Kai even from where he was standing. It felt warm, almost uncomfortably so, and the hairs on his arms and neck rose up in instinctive reverence.

This was a high grade artifact, he could tell from the very depths of his bones.

Snow stepped in front of Kai, her snout flaring as she tried to sniff the artifact out. Unlike with the [Ring of Return], she did not react badly. She just looked ahead with curiosity in her blue eyes.

A good sign. Snow was pretty good at sniffing out danger. That meant the artifact was safe.

With heart beating almost through his chest, Kai…just stood there, scared.

What if there were traps? Like spikes or a rolling boulder or something like that?

Snow could sniff out monsters and items, but not hidden traps.

A voice rang in Kai's head. 'If you see a chance to get stronger, don't ever let it go! The Trials might seem harsh, but they can be generous, too. But you've got to trust it and take the chances it gives you, because if you miss, you might never get that chance again!'

Those were the words of Dane Denholm, one of the Nine Worthies, the strongest champions of humanity blessed by multiple gods.

Dane, in particular, was Kai's role model.

Dane had come to the Trials with the fourth wave as a white uniform, and just like Kai, struggled hard to make a living as a Junker.

But, when the Spire's levels reset with the fifth wave, he decided to risk it all and become a [Returner].

[Returners] were Ascenders from past waves that chose to reset themselves to enter the Spire again, starting all the way back from the Tutorial. However, only extremely desperate Ascenders chose to become Returners.

Returners lost all the equipment and powers they built up in the past. On top of that, in the Tutorial, they received much harder quest objectives.

Granted, their past knowledge could give them a leg up in strength since they knew how to swing swords or cast magic, letting them quickly relearn abilities, but it was not nearly enough to make up for how much harder the Tutorial became for them.

It was said that among all Returners, 95% failed to make it past the Tutorial. Less than 1% made it through with any notable rewards.

But Dane, like Kai, was desperate for a change, and he had miraculously made it through the Tutorial and become one of humanity's most famed and prized champions. For if a Returner did succeed in clearing the harder quests, they received rewards just as great.

On top of that, Dane was like a ray of sunshine, spreading positive encouragement everywhere, telling people not to give up and donating to and supporting white uniforms who had once been just like him.

If ever Kai had a role model to look up to, it was Dane. Heck, they even had the same class, though Dane was orders of magnitudes higher up with a supremely rare specialization called [Aether Caller] that let him call upon mighty heroes and beasts from mythology.

Kai clenched his fists. He was going to take the risk. If he wanted to be just like Dane, he needed to seize the chances given to him before they floated away, leaving him in the dust. He had been left behind one too many times.

Not now. Not today.

'If I want to make a change, I have to take the risk. It's now or never!' Kai thought as he sprinted down the dark hallway, eyes glued to the glowing white key.

Snow sprinted beside him, ears perked up and alert in case danger approached.

Kai nabbed the key, put it in his satchel, and then sprinted back out. He did not just stop there, he ran all the way out of the cave, afraid it might collapse on him with the sheer weight of his unluckiness.

But…nothing happened.

Kai was safe and sound, outside in in the midst of a grand green forest. He took the key out of his bag and inspected it. His eyes practically popped out of his head when he read the item description.


Name: Mid-Gate Key

Rank: SSS

Origin: Trials


A key that unseals the [Mid-Gate] that blocks entrance to the 51st level within the Spire.


"Yes!" Kai exclaimed, and Snow circled around excitedly, tail wagging as she sensed his happiness.

This was his big break. The key did not help him directly, but it was the solution to humanity's biggest problem in the Trials. That being no matter how much they progressed, they hit the Mid-Gate that blocked them from reaching past the 50th level.

Across all four past waves, nobody had found the key to open the gate.

Not until now.

Sure, the key itself didn't give Kai insane strength or magical power, but once he turned it in, he would get absurd rewards.

The money reward for this alone would make him set for a hundred lifetimes. He could buy as many Limit Breaker Potions as he wanted. He could deck himself in the best gear. He could hire the best trainers. Heck, the gods might even give him incredible divine blessings just because they were so thankful.

Gone were the days of scrounging through dirty caves and forests.

In were the days of gold plated hot tubs and cheat level gear!

'I'm set now! And all because I took a risk. Thanks, Dane - I owe you one. Hell, I might even get to see you in the big leagues soon!'

Kai excitedly picked Snow up and twirled her around. "I did it! I made it!"

Snow barked, happy.

After Kai's arms got tired from holding Snow up, he made his way back home, ready for the future and all that it held.

For once, he looked forward to tomorrow instead of dreading it.

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