“Have you heard of the beastfolk?” Mr. Baek asked.
Kim Jin-Woo certainly had. Inu, whom he had recruited recently, was one of them. Although he had run away in fear when the war didn’t go in Kim Jin-Woo’s favor, he had contributed in the initial phase. Furthermore, the Feline currently staying in the labyrinth’s pub was also of the beastfolk race.
“These creatures are neither beasts nor humans. They’re popular nowadays, some of them even worth a top-grade down gem.”
“What do you mean? These creatures aren’t items,” Kim Jin-Woo asked, confused by the absurd statement he’d just heard.
Mr. Baek replied with a sly grin. “You’re right, they aren’t items. But they aren’t humans either. They may resemble us, but these are creatures of the underground world, after all.”
“Don’t tell me…” Kim Jin-Woo trailed off.
“That’s right. They seem to be hot commodities on the black market. Also, I hear the women of that race are excellent in bed. It’s difficult to tame them, but there are strange people who enjoy such a challenge.”
“Right. But think about it, most of our customers are like that. So if you happen to find a beastfolk, bring one to me. I’ll find a buyer for you.”
Kim JIn-Woo couldn’t help but scowl. As a dungeon baby who had once been a slave, a tunnel digger in the underground duke’s labyrinth, he couldn’t believe that humans were engaging in the same atrocious acts.
“You mean, there are dungeon babies doing this?” he asked in disbelief. He had assumed that the other dungeon babies shared his views.
“Don’t even get me started. Some of them specifically hunt for beastfolk. You asked me about Song Jong-Chul before, didn’t you? His team has been pretty successful in this business. The beastfolk are easier and more profitable targets than other creatures in the labyrinth, after all. That lad is a good businessman.”
Mr. Baek joked that one beastfolk was all one needed to become an overnight millionaire, but Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t laugh along. His bad impression of Song Jong-Chul from before became even worse.
“Well, I’ll have to enter the underground world soon. What I can do down there is a different story,” Kim Jin-Woo eventually said.
“Alright, I’ll leave it to you. Oh, and think carefully about what I said about the beastfolk.”
When Kim Jin-Woo heard Mr. Baek’s sickening words, he had to hold back his urge to curse. He left the office without even saying goodbye.
Kim Jin-Woo inhaled deeply. For the first time since he had come to the surface, the air above felt as suffocating as that underground, and he had to take many deep breaths.
After his visit to Mr. Baek’s office, Kim Jin-Woo felt uncomfortable staying out of the underground world. As such, he returned to the naga’s labyrinth ahead of schedule.
<Welcome back, master!> Dominique welcomed him as usual and reported on the status of the labyrinth’s reconstruction project. <The destroyed traps have either been disposed of or reinstalled, and the collapsed passages have mostly been reconstructed. It took shorter than expected, as we have twice the number of naga workers than we did before. But, we can’t do anything about the vacant lot next to the fallen gate that was created by the colossal basilisk. We may have to find a use for it.>
Kim Jin-Woo smiled bitterly as he listened to her report. That wasn’t surprising, considering how the colossal basilisk had wreaked complete havoc in the narrow passage. It would be wiser to find a use for the vacant space than to forcibly rebuild it.
<The labyrinth has grown in size due to the upgrade. The vacant lot was previously located close to the gate, but now it’s nearer to the center of the labyrinth. There shouldn’t be much of an issue.>
The naga’s labyrinth had changed significantly since its upgrade to Level 5. Not only was the master room much fancier than before, but the labyrinth as a whole had also become much larger. However, the most prominent change was the addition of new summonable personnel.
Naga Magician (Intermediate-Class) (40)It studies the mysteries of the underground world. The wise naga magician can dominate its enemies with its powerful spells. An intermediate-class magician can cast more powerful spells than a low-class magician.Naga Priest (Intermediate-Class) (37)It worships the primal snake. Being both a sage of the underground world and a doctor, it can heal injured nagas. An intermediate-class priest can heal wounds that a low-class priest is unable to treat.Naga Fighter (25)While a naga warrior is more specialized in defense, a naga fighter is a proficient attacker. No other naga can compare to the naga fighter in fighting spirit and strength.Naga Scout (20)The naga scout is a capable guide and hunter. It can find the quickest path and travel long distances in a flash. Due to its weakness in close combat, it prefers to lure its enemy into traps.Naga Sorcerer (Low-Class) (35)The naga sorcerer calls forth the darkness of the underground world. It specializes in amplifying an ally’s strength while decreasing the enemy’s.Kim Jin-Woo could now summon intermediate-class naga magicians and priests without having to raise them from low-class. In addition, the new list of summonable personnel—the naga fighter, scout, and sorcerer—greatly improved the quality of his army.
<With this, you wouldn’t have such a difficult time even if you faced the basilisk king again.>
Kim Jin-Woo nodded. The difference in strength between a Level 4 and Level 5 labyrinth was immense. “Now I can finally leave the labyrinth in peace.” He nodded with a satisfied expression.
Dominique sulked, on the other hand, upset that her master would leave the labyrinth again. <Are you going to be back soon?> she asked.
“I’ll be absent for about a month, but I’m planning to come back to visit once in a while. Cheer up, Dominique.”
Dominique smiled brightly at Kim Jin-Woo. Her faith in her master had increased a notch ever since the war against Anaxtus.
“Ah, what’s up with the blood leopard’s heart? I want to take a look before I leave,” Kim Jin-Woo added.
Dominique said, <I was just about to report on that, master. It took longer than expected to restore the damaged laboratory and forge. It was difficult to deploy new personnel and get the facilities working, but the addition of new, capable magicians has hastened the research of the blood leopard’s heart. The forge, however, will require more time.>
Kim Jin-Woo checked the progress of the research and the processing of the blood leopard’s heart in his status window and nodded. Just as Dominique had said, the forge processing was only about 70% complete.
“Let’s go to the laboratory. The research should almost be done,” he said, standing up when he saw a message notifying him that the research was complete.
The blood leopard’s heart in the naga magician’s palms had an eerie red glow.
[Blood Leopard’s Heart (top-grade down gem). This gem contains the power of the blood leopard, which has been accumulated over countless hunts. You may now utilize it thanks to the research conducted by the naga magicians.]
Without further ado, Kim Jin-Woo checked the power contained in the blood leopard’s heart.
[A stealthy predator and hunter, the blood leopard was a masterful assassin. Its heart contains the power to blend in with the surroundings.]
[You are now able to use the blood leopard’s special ability, ‘Camouflage’.]
As expected, the special power infused into the blood leopard’s heart was associated with stealth.
<Master, you should consume the blood leopard’s heart before leaving. You are strong, but there are equally formidable enemies in the underground world,> Dominique advised.
Kim Jin-Woo nodded, but he had no clue how to absorb the blood leopard’s special ability. Creatures could swallow down gems to gain powers, but that was impossible for a human.
As usual, the solution came from the most unexpected places. The parasite asleep in his right hand woke up and gobbled up the blood leopard’s heart.
[The parasite has consumed the Blood Leopard’s Heart (top-grade down gem). You have gained a new ability, ‘Camouflage’.]
[The parasite has gobbled up all the dungeon energy in the blood leopard’s heart, causing it to become an ordinary stone.]
[The parasite is getting ready for metamorphosis. You cannot use the abilities ‘Devil’s sight’ and ‘Detection’ until its evolution is completed.]
What the heck do these messages mean? Kim Jin-Woo stared blankly at the blood leopard’s heart, which had completely lost its crimson glow.
<Ah…!> Dominique gasped. She seemed startled at first, but eventually smiled and congratulated Kim Jin-Woo when he explained the situation to her. <Different parasites need different stimuli for growth. Good-quality down gems are required for yours.>
“What a pity. That heart wasn’t easy to obtain,” Kim Jin-Woo muttered as he stared at the pale, crumbling blood leopard’s heart.
Dominique shook her head vigorously. <It’s a blessing in disguise. Your parasite seems docile compared to those that consume the blood and life energy of their host to grow.>
“To think you recommended such a dangerous item to me,” Kim Jin-Woo remarked wryly.
<Well, survival was your first priority back then. We wouldn’t be here had it not been for the parasite.>
She was right. Kim Jin-Woo had only been able to gather sufficient down gems to upgrade the labyrinth thanks to the parasite’s detection ability. Anaxtus would have conquered the labyrinth if it had remained at Level 4.
“Argh, but it’s still a pity,” he grumbled.”
Dominique smiled when Kim Jin-Woo, who had been constantly pressured by creatures that threatened the naga’s labyrinth, displayed a more human side. Her beautiful violet eyes curled up as she reassured him, <The parasite is much more valuable than the blood leopard’s heart. Think of it as an investment for the future. You still have one more heart left too, don’t you?>
Kim Jin-Woo could finally relax after listening to Dominique’s repeated reassurances.
Kim Jin-Woo’s underground expedition schedule was disrupted due to his parasite’s sudden transformation. He needed its detection ability to sift through the countless abandoned labyrinths that were scattered on the way, so he had to postpone his schedule.
As a result, he was able to watch the naga magicians and blacksmiths install the core of the basilisk’s labyrinth, which they had been working on for a while now.
<Nobody has ever placed two cores in one labyrinth. Even the nobles tend to either reinforce their existing cores or grant the extras to their loyal subordinates to grow their influence.> Dominique appeared half excited and half concerned about the imminent changes the core would bring.
Kim Jin-Woo replied concisely, “Two is better than one.”
Dominique was flabbergasted at this simple reply, but she appeared to accept her master’s suggestion. <I suppose the core of the naga’s labyrinth may absorb the new core. At worst, the latter may take over the former, but it’s not too bad either way.> She had thought of those possibilities in her head in that short time span.
Kim Jin-Woo nodded, wondering whether the reason he could even contemplate keeping two cores in one labyrinth in the first place was that he was a human. This was a common approach to upgrading computer hardware, after all.
<We’re ready, master.>
Meanwhile, the naga workers had already stepped away from the altar.
<It’s all yours.>
Kim Jin-Woo climbed up the altar. With an excited expression, he placed his hands on the two labyrinth cores that were next to each other.
[The core of the basilisk king’s labyrinth is trying to recognize a new master. Do you wish to become its master?]
[The core of the basilisk king recognizes Kim Jin-Woo as its new master.]
The altar began to glow as soon as the message appeared.
[Do you wish to activate the new core? There has never been a labyrinth with two cores, so nobody knows what will happen. Do you still wish to continue?]
Immediately, the whole labyrinth began to tremble.