5 The Return

Blinding light seared into Kai's eyes after what felt like an eternity of wallowing in the dark. The light swallowed him up like a hungry fish, and when it spat him back out, he found himself in a vast, blank white expanse.

The only way Kai could tell what was up and what was down was because the floor and ceiling were marked with black, grid-like patterns.

The light…was disorienting. After so long in the dark, he had gotten used to it, made it his home. The light almost seemed unwelcoming, out of place.

Kai looked down at his hands. They were pale and soft. None of the callouses and scars he had built up punching, swinging, and stabbing for however long were there.

'I've returned.' Kai blinked in momentary shock. 'I've actually returned.'

He knew that, deep down, in his bones, in the depths of his primal instinct, that he would return. But coming back here, all the way to the beginning, seeing it for himself, it still struck him with disbelief.

Kai's wonder was cut off by a deep, crackling noise, sort of like garbled static: the telltale sound of teleportation. His ears twitched as his eyes scanned his surroundings.

All around him, people materialized in little flashes of white light.

The flashes popped in like a great flood, forming into the silhouettes of hundreds, thousands, no, millions of people. Their numbers stretched out far into the horizon of which there seemed to be no end.

The teleportation noises faded as cries of despair drowned them out.

"No! No! Not me!"

"Why!? Why couldn't it have been someone else!?"

"I'm-I'm the son of a billionaire! I broke both my legs to get out of this! So why!? Why am I here with the likes of you!?"

"M-mom, I-I can't handle this, I can't! Take me back, please! Someone!"

At first, Kai felt dizzy, overwhelmed at the sheer number of people and noises.

It had been a long, long time since he had seen anyone, let alone this many people. He put his hands to his ears, closing his eyes hard, trying to shut it out. He started to shiver, his very body rejecting all of this after an eternity of getting used to solitude.

The sound of men and women shouting, clamoring, drowned out into white noise that blared in his mind.

But he calmed himself, taking in deep, meditative breaths to clear out the white noise buzzing in his head. He was not in the Maze anymore.

And now, he would never let anyone throw him into a place like that again.

For once, he was in control.

Kai calmed himself and started to analyze. The loudest among these people were going to be the first to die. He knew that by experience.

The Trials were cruel and unforgiving. Nobody with minds that fell this easily to despair would survive.

The Trials did not care whether you had millions in your bank account. Whether you were the son of a president or a king.

In the Trials, a human was just a human no matter how much power or wealth they had back on earth.

Just more meat to throw into the grinder that was the Spire.

Some, like Kai in his past life, would survive by hiding and relying on others, but that was a fate worse than death.

It doomed you to an existence of lowliness. And living beneath the feet of others was no life at all.

But though Kai saw fear etched upon the faces of many, he saw just as many with varying levels of resolve.

Kai even saw some confident faces here and there. These people wore black uniforms that would soon be upgraded to black stars after the Tutorial.

They were the strongest and smartest and most battle capable. The cream of the crop. The elite.

Kai looked at his clothes. A white uniform. He grimaced. The color reminded him of weakness he wanted to forget. For now, though, it did suit him.

As the [Ring of Return] stated, he had come back here with no items or skills. All his stats had been reset.

Functionally speaking, Kai was his same old weak self.

A pretty black uniformed woman caught a glimpse of Kai's white uniform and sneered before turning her face away, as if she had seen a smear of shit on the road.

Kai did not spare her more than a second's worth of a glance. She might have been stronger, faster, and tougher than him, but none of that mattered.

Because in the end, he had the greatest advantage out of every one of the five hundred million people here: knowledge.

In the vast, blank white sky, a figure materialized. Unlike the white around it, it was completely black, so dark that it looked like a void in space. Its outline vaguely shaped into something like a robed humanoid.

The only discernible thing about it were its eyes. Each eye held three burning red pupils, deeply alien.

The Administrator.

Copies of the Administrator floated in equal distances across the white space so that everyone could see it.

When they all spoke, their voices rang into the minds of every human present.

"This is the Fifth Wave, so I am sure you all know what to do by now. I will keep this introduction short. Clear all 100 levels within the Spire, and you will save humanity.

If not, then this may or may not be the last wave I entertain from your kind, as things are getting quite stale.

Now then, I will grant you all the guidance of the System.

This marks you as an Ascender - one among many strugglers who seek to reach the hundredth level. Take care not to lose it, for once you do, you may never get it back.

Do your best, Ascenders, and struggle for me."

With that, the Administrator and its many copies disappeared in showers of black sparks.

"That's it!?""



Kai saw shock and fear start to spread like lightning. The same emotions he had felt listening to this exact same speech long ago.

After all, even after twenty five years, humanity knew pitifully little about the Trials. All they had were vague ideas from the memory projections that very few Ascenders had been able to send to Earth.

They had no idea about specific details like which classes to pick, what these classes did, what the tutorial was like, and so on and so forth.

Kai glanced back at the black uniform that had sneered at him. Her face was pale, mouth agape in wonder as to what to do.

Kai, in contrast to everyone else, smiled. He grinned almost like a madman, even scaring some people near him away.

Because why not? He had been given the chance to return to the beginning, to fix what he had failed, to become strong, to ascend the Spire and protect his loved ones from ever needing to step foot in here.

Why would he not rejoice?

To countless many around him, this was the worst day of their soon to be short lives.

To Kai, this was the best day of his entire life.

Or technically his new life.

Kai immediately got to opening his system mentally.

Unlike him, everyone around him fumbled about, moving their hands awkwardly in the air to press the system interface materializing before them.

Kai, however, had worked with the system before. Operating it with his mind was just as easy as breathing.

[Welcome to the System, new Ascender. To begin: the System will introduce you to a variety of benefits such as-]

Kai mentally prompted the System to skip this intro while everyone else would listen to it drone on for a few minutes.

[You have skipped System introductions]

Instantly, Kai saw a prompt flash in his mind:

[Which Primary Class will you choose?]








In his past life, Kai had been a summoner. He had wanted the protection of summons, knowing he was too weak to defend himself.

This time, he hovered over the choice because he knew it would make him the strongest.

Summoners were the best 'late game' class in the Trials.

That was because in the late game, with good enough gear and training, they could handle their own in a fight at a high level on top of having summons that were just as strong, if not stronger than them.

They essentially became as strong as three or four high level Ascenders combined.

Case in point: Dane Denholm. His angel summons were each capable of rivaling the strongest of Ascenders.

Early on, though, summoners were weak. They had fewer abilities to defend themselves with than the other classes and their initial summons were downright awful.

Kai could relearn his technical skills once he got into the [Tutorial], but his body and magical potential would still be at rock bottom. There was a chance some stray attack would just instantly kill him.

There was risk.

But risk, Kai could minimize with knowledge. He did, after all, memorize the biography of the man who had once been the strongest summoner alive. The man who had cleared the [Tutorial] at its highest difficulty and documented the entire process with thorough detail.

Kai knew where threats were in the [Tutorial]. He knew where the secret items were. He knew the loopholes, the tricks, the risks.

He knew.

And as long as he knew, he would not lose.


Primary class: Summoner hovered

Starting stat bonuses: +5 Magic, +5 Vitality

Class Bonuses: Calling Hands (Level 1), Summon Space (Level 1)

-Calling Hands (Level 1): Decreases the cost of summons by 10%

-Summon Space (Level 1): Allows you to store 3 active summons in a personal dimensional space

Starting weapons: 1 x Iron Buckler, 1 x Clay Seal

-Iron Buckler (E Grade): A wooden shield, though slightly worn and splintered.

-Clay Seal (E Grade): A basic seal that aids in channeling magic. Minimally reduces cast time and spell costs.

Starting spells: Summon Elemental, Boost Summon, Mana Bolt

-Summon Sprite (E Rank): Creates a weak elemental called a Sprite that takes the shape of the summoner's elemental affinity. The currently registered affinity is Earth.

-Boost Summon (E Rank): Buffs a summon's stats temporarily.

-Mana Bolt (E Rank): Fires a basic bolt of mana.


Kai selected the class. Dane's knowledge was largely tailored for summoners. To maximize it, Kai needed to be a summoner as well.

[Class: Summoner chosen. May your choice give you strength.]

While basically everyone aside read through descriptions about the classes, some mispressing buttons to their great dismay, Kai moved on to his gift selection.

As the name would suggest, a gift was a free bonus that the Trials gave before the [Tutorial]. They were mostly Innate Skills, but there were some items as well.

[You are granted a Gift to begin your journey. Choose wisely, Ascender:]


Choose your Gift:

-Brave Heart (x 100,000)

-Solid Skin (x 100,000)

-Sharper Hearing (x 100,000)

-Faster Running (x 100,000)

-Extra Mana (x100,000)

-Stronger Muscles (x 100,000)

-100 Silver Coins (x 10,000)


There was a limited number of each gift, and once everyone else started to get to this section, they would run out rapidly. They were tempting because they promised immediate, raw power.

There were five hundred million people here, and most gifts had 50,000 to 100,000 stock, max.

The gifts, especially the ones that promised body buffs, would disappear rapidly. Those were all bait, though. Practically all of them were extremely low rank and helped minimally. After the [Tutorial], they also got grossly outscaled.

Kai scrolled down far, to the very bottom, to a pair of peculiar items.


-Shining Key Fragment (x3)

-Shadowed Key Fragment (x3)


He read the descriptions of each.

[Shining Key Fragment: A fragment of a brilliant key of warm gold. Its light inspires hope in you. When all three fragments owners are allied together, the key will be made whole again, granting access to incredible rewards.

This item cannot be removed from your body. If you are killed, it will disappear.]

[Shadowed Key Fragment: A fragment of a dull key of blackened metal. Its dark creates a void of longing within you. Take all three fragments for yourself to complete the key and fill the void with blood, granting you access to incredible rewards.

This item cannot be removed from your body. If you are killed, it will transfer to your killer.]

This had been the literal key of Dane's success in the [Tutorial.] As it so happened, the Shining and Shadowed Keys led into what were known as the Aether Records and Abyssal Records, respectively.

The records contained humanity's 'Civilization Data' - a physically manifested collection of its entire history and beliefs.

The Shining Key led to the 'good' side of humanity's records where data of heroes and saviors and gods were stored.

From there, you could obtain a legendary divine weapon or, in Dane's case, a summon.

That being the Archangel of War, Mikhael.

Granted, Mikhael, like any summon that was too high level for their summoner, was nerfed severely until Dane himself got strong enough to manifest the archangel's full strength.

Even while nerfed, though, Mikhael alone was strong enough that Dane, along with the two other shining key fragment bearers who each wielded heroic weapons of their own, could practically steamroll the [Tutorial]'s final boss.

The Abyssal Records, on the other hand, led to the 'dark' side of humanity's records. From there, you had access to all of humanity's enemies.

Villains and monsters and demons.

The past Shadowed Key bearer was a former veteran called Darius who hunted down and slaughtered the other fragment bearers, entering the Abyssal Records to obtain the legendary demonic sword Dainslef.

The sword granted Darius immense power at the cost of having a curse where once drawn, it had to kill someone before it could be unsheathed. And the longer it was unsheathed, the more insane it made its wearer.

Darius eventually grew mad and was put down by Dane and the other two shining fragment bearers.

In his past life, Kai had chosen to get 100 silver coins because all the Innate Skills had been taken by the time he fumbled over to the gifts section.

100 silver coins was a considerable amount, worth about 10,000 dollars in earth terms, but he had to spend it all to buy protection from stronger Ascenders to survive the [Tutorial].

No more would Kai ever cower under another's shadow, though.

Not even under the shadow of the gods.

Kai would abuse Dane's knowledge, but he would not take his path. To walk a path of light under the gods felt revolting to him at this point. He wanted power that was his own, all his own, and if that meant becoming a villain, then so be it.

[Shadowed Key Fragment chosen]

Next chapter