“That means……?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.
“I can find you wherever you are.” Angela seemed extremely delighted to receive her long-awaited attention from Kim Jin-Woo. “I can do this,” she continued, vanishing into thin air right before his eyes and popping up from his silhouette.
<And this.> Angela communicated with Kim Jin-Woo via telepathy instead of using her voice. Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t help but gasp in awe at her abilities.
“The fact that I require your blood doesn’t mean that I’m just a ‘parasite’. You and I share more things in common than you think. Of course, you can only utilize my powers if you don’t reject them,” Angela elaborated.
Kim Jin-Woo narrowed his eyes and became immersed in thought.
Kim Jin-Woo had no clue as to how the communication network between the naga scouts worked, but there seemed to be some sort of delay. It took the recon team led by Rikshasha and Yoon-Hee three whole days to return upon his command.
“Master, I rushed back as soon as I could, but my slow pace prevented me from reaching you earlier. Please punish this lowly servant of yours.”
Kim Jin-Woo ignored RIkshasha’s usual attitude and looked at Yoon-Hee, who was still staring blankly into space with unfocused eyes.
[The recon team has investigated the terrain in the vicinity.]
[Yoon-Hee has shared her ‘guide’ ability with you. A map has been created.]
Along with the above messages, a map with the naga’s labyrinth drawn in its center opened right before Kim Jin-Woo’s eyes.
“Ah…” he trailed off.
The map, which floated up like a mirage, revealed the route taken by the recon team during the investigation. Since the team had had to terminate its expedition halfway, only the vicinity of the labyrinth was charted on the map.
“Well done.” Kim Jin-Woo praised Yoon-Hee with a satisfied expression, but she began to tremble in fright. Her reaction was not unexpected. Indeed, she was likely very confused, as that was probably the very first compliment she had heard in her life.
Regardless of what was going on in Yoon-Hee’s mind, Kim Jin-Woo looked at the half-transparent map in the air and smiled, delighted. He would have ordered Yoon-Hee to chart the entire ninth floor if he had time, but there were urgent matters to settle. He said, “Go back and rest first. We’ll have to travel far soon, so replenish your energy until then.”
“Yes, master.” Rikshasha and Yoon-Hee, who never thought to ask questions, nodded and left the master room.
Kim Jin-Woo was now alone. He finally added Angela to the list of selected members for the expedition in his mind, then headed to Uther’s labyrinth.
Uther was sitting arrogantly on the throne as before. Caught off-guard by Kim Jin-Woo’s appearance, he immediately laid prostrate on the floor. “M-My king! What brings you here today…”
Ever since he had started on the wrong foot, Uther had been cowering more than needed in front of Kim Jin-Woo.
“Do you know of any passage that leads to the eighth floor?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.
“I’m referring to a passage that can bring me upward.”
As much of a coward as Uther was, he had probably gathered much information about the ninth floor. One could infer how active his espionage had been from his lumps of greed, which had given Kim Jin-Woo an excuse to declare war.
As expected, Uther did not disappoint. He said, “I know one. Why do you ask?”
“You do? That’s great.” Kim Jin-Woo blatantly ignored Uther’s question and grinned. “I’ll need you to follow me.”
Uther sulked, but he hadn’t been given a choice from the start.
“I’ll return in two days. Settle any important matters before then,” Kim Jin-Woo commanded before leaving.
With that, Uther was also added to Kim Jin-Woo’s expedition team.
On the day of the expedition, Kim Jin-Woo, fully prepared, opened the portal to the land of greed to find Uther standing at its other end.
“You ready?” Kim Jin-Woo asked as he crossed the portal nonchalantly, as if he were opening his bedroom door. Uther didn’t reply, but his whole body began to fizz.
“Is this the labyrinth ruled by your first knight, master?” Angela asked casually as if she were on a picnic, after passing through the portal and making her appearance. Rikshasha and Yoon-Hee appeared next, followed by the naga horsemen on their respective basilisks.
“This is a bit…” Uther had a troubled look as he watched the naga horsemen line up in the narrow master room. Although he and Kim Jin-Woo were all on the same side, Uther wasn’t comfortable with revealing his labyrinth’s core to the nagas apart from Kim Jin-Woo. He had been forced to swear allegiance, after all.
However, Kim Jin-Woo ignored Uther’s concerns and urged him to leave immediately. “Let’s go. Lead the way.”
“By the way, how long will this expedition take…?” Uther asked.
“Not too long,” Kim Jin-Woo replied. Uther’s face brightened a little when he heard that, but Kim Jin-Woo continued, “I would say about a month, at least.”
“O-One whole month?”
“It could be up to two months,” Kim Jin-Woo added. Their definitions of ‘long’ were clearly mismatched.
Uther whined reluctantly, “My king, my subordinates will cease to exist without my presence. If I don’t replenish their strength at least once a month, I may return to an empty labyrinth.”
It seemed the relationship between Uther and his subordinates was similar to that between Angela and Kim Jin-Woo. Now that Kim Jin-Woo thought about it, Uther did look smaller than before, as if he had donated a portion of his body away.
“I’ll adjust the schedule accordingly if possible,” Kim Jin-Woo said. Since the labyrinth of greed was now part of his strength, Kim Jin-Woo had to give Uther some consideration, unlike before.
The slime king cautiously suggested, “If you’re looking for a passage leading to the upper floors, it doesn’t have to be me. I can find you a suitable guide instead…”
Uther was right. It would suffice to have his subordinate lead the way, instead of taking the labyrinth master along. However, Kim Jin-Woo needed Uther for more than just navigation purposes.
“There may be instances where I’ll need you to open the portal. So quit blabbering and lead the way,” Kim Jin-Woo said.
Nobody knew what could happen in the underground world, which was currently flooded with a crowd of explorers. Although the portal had a cooldown time of twenty-four hours, it could be a panacea for many problems. It wouldn’t hurt to have two portals on standby.
In the end, Uther pulled out a lump of slime from his body and placed it on the throne before leaving the labyrinth.
“Remember this route, Yoon-Hee,” Kim Jin-Woo instructed.
Who knew how often they would have to travel back and forth along this route? With Yoon-Hee’s navigation abilities, the crew could find their bearings more easily next time. Therefore, Kim Jin-Woo arranged Yoon-Hee to stand behind Uther and familiarize herself with the surrounding terrain.
“How peaceful,” Kim Jin-Woo mumbled with a satisfied expression. Even the most common creatures were nowhere to be seen. Either Uther had done an excellent job cleaning up the area around his labyrinth, or the rumors of Kim Jin-Woo becoming the first underground noble on the ninth floor had spread.
“Since you’re here, trivial monsters won’t dare to approach us. They’re probably trembling in fear with their heads buried in the ground.” Uther tried to curry favor with Kim Jin-Woo. He then put on a stern face and made a request, saying, “No monsters would dare to hinder your march, but there are quite a few savage creatures around here. We’re stepping into the territory of beasts that are unable to distinguish the king’s aura from that of others. This is where you should display your majesty, my king.”
“In other words, you want me to fight and subdue them,” Kim Jin-Woo said bluntly.
Uther was beating around the bush, but he was basically asking Kim Jin-Woo to fend the creatures off as he didn’t wish to fight. Uther turned away when he heard Kim Jin-Woo’s blunt words, while slime dripped all over his body.
“You all heard that? Take care of anything that happens from now on!” Kim Jin-Woo bellowed at the naga horsemen, who beat their chests while spreading out into a delta formation.
The low growl of the basilisks made Uther uneasy. The nagas were indeed natural predators of the slimes from the army of greed. Uther’s body wriggled involuntarily whenever he witnessed the nagas riding on their basilisks.
“Hold on for a while. They’re only going to follow us to the entrance of the passage,” Kim Jin-Woo remarked.
The naga horsemen allowed Kim Jin-Woo and his crew to save energy and travel comfortably, but he couldn’t afford to let these valuable main force units vacate the naga’s labyrinth for long. Therefore, Kim Jin-Woo planned to send the horsemen back when they reached the passage leading to the eighth floor.
“Let’s go. There’s no harm hurrying,” he continued.
With that, the team quickened its pace.
The team settled down in a suitable vacant lot.
“Master, I’ve prepared a seat for you here.”
Kim Jin-Woo turned around when he heard Rikshasha’s voice. He shrugged upon finding the leather of an unidentified creature laid on the floor. “You didn’t have to…”
“I heard that you aren’t very fond of the chill in the labyrinth. The bad-tempered naga wench will nag at me if she finds out your seat is cold. Please excuse me.” ‘The naga wench’ probably referred to Dominique.
“Alright then.” Kim Jin-Woo didn’t refuse. After all, he could only leave the labyrinth after having listened to Dominique’s constant nagging. He lay down on the leather on the floor.
“Rotate in groups of three for the night watch. Let everyone know that our master is here.” Rikshasha, who seemed to have settled the pecking order, commanded the naga horsemen without hesitation.
“Who would dare to creep up on us when I, the king of greed, am here? Don’t worry unnecessarily, under-elf!” Uther reprimanded RIkshasha then proceeded to divide his body. He scattered lumps of slime here and there, which dripped onto the floor and crawled to the other end of the passage. Uther looked at Kim Jin-Woo proudly, as if trying to boast of his ability.
Kim JIn-Woo had to give Uther some credit, as that ability had empowered the latter to spy on the naga’s labyrinth from the distant land of greed. As promised, Kim Jin-Woo wouldn’t have to worry about intrusion.
However, the slime king seemed to have forgotten that this ability of his had landed him in trouble before, and Kim Jin-Woo found this rather hilarious.
“Is everyone on the ninth floor like this?” Angela covered her mouth with her hand and giggled softly, amused by Uther’s undignified attitude.
“He’s the odd one out,” Kim Jin-Woo remarked.
Anaxtus the basilisk king, for example, was powerful enough to be called a labyrinth master. Furthermore, the mere appearances of the envoys that had visited the naga’s labyrinth revealed that not all the labyrinth masters were like Uther.
“He looks and acts funny. I’m starting to like the ninth floor even more,” Angela said.
“Well, it’s too early to say that. How is this place different from the deeper floors? This is still part of the underground world, where everyone will come biting given half a chance,” Kim Jin-Woo replied. There was more to the ninth floor than meets the eye.
Kim Jin-Woo was also guilty of hastily looking down on Uther’s power right after witnessing his miserable army of greed. The army looked as ridiculous as its commander, but it was made up of powerful lumps of slime that were immune to most physical attacks. They were indeed a force to be reckoned with.
“Hmm, you’ll change your mind when you encounter the labyrinth masters of the deeper floors. That king of greed could only rise to a unit commander at best on the deep floors where real monsters lurk.”
“I’ve seen one of those labyrinth masters before,” Kim Jin-Woo said. In fact, he had done more than just witnessing one; he had been the slave of an underground duke.
Angela’s eyes opened wide when he let his hostility show without realizing it. “You have a grudge, don’t you?” she asked.
Kim Jin-Woo didn’t reply. He silently observed his other teammates, who were busy setting up the camps. Nobody here was afraid of an ambush, unlike the last time he had entered the underground world as a dungeon baby.
Kim Jin-Woo wasn’t sure whether it was because of his ‘baron’ title, or the confidence his teammates had in their abilities. They weren’t particularly anxious just because they were out of the labyrinth.
Not only were there two labyrinth masters of the ninth floor, but the team also contained ten vicious and courageous naga horsemen. Furthermore, the king of greed had split his own body to set a spiderweb-like perimeter, and Angela was a vampire who could detect the presence of living things. With them around, an ambush was almost impossible.
Therefore, Kim Jin-Woo could enjoy a tranquil night that made him forget he was lying down somewhere in the underground world.
On the next day, Kim Jin-Woo’s team began to move again.
The teammates encountered a few attacks, but they were all defused by the naga horsemen. Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t help but gasp in awe when he saw the naga horsemen fight for the first time.
The horsemen and their basilisks bit, clawed, and speared the enemy as if they were a single organism. Their courage and vigor were simply exceptional. As soon as the creatures emerged, they had their down gems extracted by the naga horsemen.
“This is the passage to the upper floors,” Uther stopped and explained.
Kim Jin-woo checked his messages.
[You have discovered the passage linking the eighth and the ninth floors.]
[The route from the land of greed to this passage has been added to the map.]
[Thanks to Yoon-Hee’s navigation ability, the route from the naga’s labyrinth to the labyrinth of greed has been successfully estimated and assessed.]
[Some of the uncharted areas on the ninth floor have been disclosed.]