#23. The War Begins
[The labyrinth’s upgrade is complete. The labyrinth has been upgraded from Level 5 to 6. New facilities have been unlocked.]
[With the activation of the labyrinth, almost all the creatures on the 9th Floor recognize and fear the existence of the labyrinth.]
[The labyrinths in the vicinity will never take their eyes off the Naga’s Labyrinth.]
[The ranks of the main core and the supplemental core, which were resonating with each other, have been fine-tuned. Following the main core’s upgrade to Level 6, the supplemental core has been unlocked to Level 6.]
[The efficiency of the two Level 6 cores has increased by an incredible amount.]
[The total dungeon energy capacity, conversion efficiency, and influencing power have all been increased exponentially. The labyrinth’s territory has expanded significantly.]
It was absurd to think that Kim Jin-Woo had completely forgotten about the completion of the Naga’s Labyrinth’s upgrade because he had been too focused on Yoon-Hee’s labyrinth. As a result, he had to constantly check his messages, which continued to appear, until he reached home.
[The Basilisk’s Heart (supplemental core) has begun to mature differently under the influence of the Naga’s Heart (main core).]
[You can no longer summon basilisks. The creatures will only exist in history books now.]
[The basilisks have evolved to become Tiger Dragons.]
[The Tiger Dragons exist only to protect the nagas and their master. They do not fear fire, the only weakness of the nagas.]
Kim Jin-Woo was literally flooded with messages. He struggled to remember the contents of the messages that appeared and disappeared in the blink of an eye.
[The term ‘nest’ no longer suits the Naga’s Labyrinth that has reached Level 6.]
[As a result of Kim Jin-Woo, the Underground Baron’s achievements (destroyed one labyrinth and conquered two more labyrinths), the Naga’s Nest has evolved to become the naga’s fortress.]
[The Naga’s Fortress is able to accommodate more nagas than before. The Naga’s Labyrinth will become more proficient in combat from now onward. Even the summonable personnel are specialists in combat.]
The portal that tore open a distortion in space was one notch larger and more grandiose than before.
[Kim Jin-Woo, the dungeon master, has evolved. He is now a courageous commander (Underground Baron).]
[The commander is optimized for combat. Under his command, the army of nagas will not easily cower or shrink in fear regardless of the opponent.]
[The commander’s physical abilities have improved. Stamina, muscle strength, agility, visual acuity, vitality, and regenerative capacity have all improved beyond comparison.]
As soon as the last message appeared, Kim Jin-Woo felt an intense surge of power.
<Master, the upgrade is complete!> Dominique exclaimed excitedly, despite being one who seldom expressed her emotions. However, Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t tell her off, as he too was shocked by the Naga’s Labyrinth’s transformation.
The master room that had been nothing but a slightly large stone chamber was completely revamped to the point he couldn’t even recognize it.
Furthermore, the previously poorly-adorned naga’s throne had also been upgraded. Its backrest depicted dozens of dragons and serpents rising to the sky, and its handles resembled a dragon’s claws grasping marble orbs. The throne was so grand that the dragons and serpents engraved on it almost seemed to come to life.
As for the master room, everything from the walls, floors, and even the ceiling had transformed so dramatically that it was incomparable to what it had once been.
“This is…” Kim Jin-Woo stared at the two labyrinth cores that were glowing more brilliantly compared to before. He then looked at the huge table in the middle of the master room and the map on top of it.
He couldn’t help but gasp in awe. The areas that he had explored thus far were clearly charted on the map. He carefully fiddled with a few naga miniatures, and a tattered miniature next to his hand caught his attention.
“Seems we’re being encouraged to fight.” He laughed bitterly, but his eyes gleamed more brightly than ever.
“This labyrinth really empties your wallet.”
Kim Jin-Woo had thought he had sufficient resources to last until the labyrinth became Level 7, but they had been depleted right after he reinforced his military and the labyrinth facilities because of the huge increase in expenditures once the Naga’s Labyrinth reached Level 6.
However, Kim Jin-Woo wasn’t disappointed, as the newly upgraded Naga’s Fortress was worth its cost. Most notably, all the existing summonable personnel had evolved along with the labyrinth’s growth.
They had been neglected whenever new summonable units appeared, but now they had all evolved to become mighty soldiers that could substitute for an entire army.
The naga horsemen became dragon knights, and the warriors led by Quantus became ‘true’ warriors. The same applied to the naga fighters. The naga magicians were all high-ranked now, while the priests and sorcerers had been upgraded by one grade. In summary, all of Kim Jin-Woo’s forces had become stronger.
“My king! We await your command!” Quantus, who had become larger and tougher than before, roared.
Quantus’ loud proclamation made Kim Jin-Woo snap out of his thoughts. He commanded, “Prepare to head out!”
“Aye, my king!” Quantus and the nagas bowed immediately.
Unfortunately, Dominique hadn’t been affected by the labyrinth’s upgrade. She stayed the same, presumably because she couldn’t overcome her inherent status as a maid. In addition, the naga workers all remained the same as well.
Kim Jin-Woo found this a pity, but he soon regained his composure and said, “I’ll open the portal; call Uther over!”
<Your wish is my command, master.>
A portal appeared in the middle of the hall. Dominique entered and returned with Uther by her side.
“Did you ask for me?” Uther bowed, seeming to have completely recovered from the previous expedition, as his whole body was wriggling as it had before. His jaw dropped upon noticing the drastic change in the Naga’s Labyrinth’s appearance. “This is…!”
Kim Jin-Woo looked at Uther’s startled expression and grinned, saying, “I spent some money.” His casual tone didn’t seem to correspond to the incredible change in the Naga’s Labyrinth.
Uther was stupefied, but that was none of Kim Jin-Woo’s concern. He immediately put on a stern expression and bellowed coldly, “Wake the land of the dead! Drag their men out and frighten them out of their wits!”
Even Uther, who normally behaved frivolously, immediately bowed and acknowledged the command upon sensing Kim Jin-Woo’s majestic aura. “When should we start?” he asked.
Kim Jin-Woo replied without hesitation, “Right now!”
[Uther, ruler of the Land of Greed, has declared war against Valicius, King of the Dead.]
Kim Jin-Woo sat on his throne, nodding when he read the above message that appeared not long after Uther returned.
The war had commenced earlier than he expected, but that wasn’t too bad. The upgraded labyrinth and the nagas were unrivaled in this vicinity, after all. The only legitimate competitors would be the real powerhouses of the ninth floor, ruling the area around the passage connecting the ninth and tenth floors.
“Master!” Rikshasha greeted.
“You may speak.” Kim Jin-Woo could now habitually speak in a dignified tone.
Rikshasha laid prostrate in front of him and reported, “The Army of the Dead has left the labyrinth!”
“That was fast. As we’ve thought, they must have been preparing for a while.”
The Army of the Dead had begun moving not long after Uther declared war. From this, one could deduce that Valicius had been preparing for a battle.
“We saw this coming; there’s no need to be frightened.” Kim Jin-Woo could already picture Uther’s startled face, but he knew that the latter would neither win nor lose with his ability.
Rikshasha looked at Kim Jin-Woo and added hastily, “However, in the Army of the Dead—”
Kim Jin-Woo frowned upon hearing her serious voice.
“—Basilisk King Anaxtus was spotted!”
“What?” Kim Jin-Woo had never expected to hear this. He blinked before replying, “The Basilisk King is dead! I decapitated him with my own hands!”
“You’re right! Master, the Basilisk King was headless!”
It wasn’t difficult to deduce what was going on. Valicius must have gotten hold of the Basilisk King’s corpse and created a chimera. Kim Jin-Woo knew better than anyone who could have handed the corpse over to Valicius.
“Black Merchants!” He gritted his teeth, cursing as he pictured their round faces.
He should have guessed as much when the Black Merchants were being excessively accommodating to him. They had been devising such an insidious plan behind his back all along.
“The Blood Leopard you killed was also in the army,” Rikshasha added.
“The Black Merchants really sold everything off.”
Whatever the Black Merchants had purchased from Kim Jin-Woo could be spotted in the Army of the Dead.
“The Basilisk King was defeated even when he was alive! Nothing shall change just because he came back from his grave!” Kim Jin-Woo exclaimed.
Moreover, there was a world of difference between the Naga’s Labyrinth of the past and that of the present. There was no reason to panic.
“Tell Uther to advance as planned.”
The only problem was the increased burden on Uther, but Kim Jin-Woo didn’t put much thought into this fact. With his tenacious survival skills, Uther would revive even if he did lose the battle. If he couldn’t, then Kim Jin-Woo would come to the slime king’s aid. He now had the power to make this happen.
“Damn it!” Uther was infuriated by Rikshasha’s message, evident from the simmering bubbles in his body. “What’s the king’s plan?”
“According to the master, nothing is to be changed,” Rikshasha replied.
In other words, Kim Jin-Woo wanted Uther to stop the Army of the Dead, which included the Basilisk King and the Blood Leopard.
Therefore, Uther’s body simmered intensely as if it were about to evaporate and disappear. “Tell him that I will advance the troops according to his will!”
Uther wouldn’t have made such a decision under normal circumstances, but he didn’t reconsider his decision. After all, his master was many times scarier than Basilisk King Anaxtus and the Blood Leopard.
Now that Uther thought about it, those two creatures had turned into chimeras only because his master had killed them before.
Furthermore, judging from how Valicius had advanced his troops immediately after the declaration of war, Uther realized that the King of the Dead would have attacked him sooner or later. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been able to mobilize his troops so swiftly.
In essence, Vailcious was patronizing Uther, which caused the slime king to brim with fighting spirit.
“Damn it, but the Basilisk King is still a little overkill.” However, this determination only lasted a split second, and Uther began to sulk as usual.
Meanwhile, Kim Jin-Woo was facing an unexpected guest. “You’ve got a lot of nerve showing up here,” he remarked.
The round-faced guest was none other than a Black Merchant. He pretended to be shocked by Kim Jin-Woo’s vicious intent. “Come on, what did I do wrong? I’ve done everything you asked! I’ll be sad if you treat me like this.”
But this facade failed to trick the labyrinth master. “Did you… no, the Black Merchants in general, instigate this war?” Kim Jin-Woo asked coldly, instantly cutting the Black Merchant off.
It had been obvious whom Valicius, King of the Dead, would attack with the chimeras he had created out of Basilisk King Anaxtus and the Blood Leopard’s corpses.
Uther’s declaration of war had diverted his attention for now, but the biggest threat to him in the vicinity was definitely the Naga’s Labyrinth. Without Uther, Valicius would have invaded the Naga’s Labyrinth without prior notice.
Would Valicius have chosen war without the Basilisk King and the Blood Leopard? Kim Jin-Woo pondered. From this perspective, the Black Merchants were the cause of the turmoil.
“Weren’t you the one that wanted a war?” The Black Merchant said with a crafty expression. “All we did was lend a hand.”
“Is giving the enemy a deadly knife and a spear lending a hand? That tongue of yours is as short as your body is despicable.” Kim Jin-Woo’s eyes had a violent gleam, as if he were ready to slice the Black Merchant’s tongue off at any moment.
Startled, the creature stepped back. He seemed genuinely intimidated this time, as he hid behind a gigantic mercenary creature he had brought as a bodyguard. “Listen to what I have to say first!” he spluttered.
“Go ahead, but you better explain properly. The trust we’ve been building thus far is about to break,” Kim Jin-Woo warned. That trust was nothing but business-oriented, in truth, but he still pressured the Black Merchant.
“Valicius, King of the Dead, is a truly wicked man.”
Kim Jin-Woo had given the Black Merchant a chance to explain himself, but the latter instead began to insult Valicius. Kim Jin-Woo grimaced and urged him to get straight to the heart of the matter.
“Alright! Long story short, Valicius wouldn’t have left his territory without the corpse of the Blood Leopard or Basilisk King Anaxtus.”
The Black Merchant was right. Kim Jin-Woo recalled that Valicius, whom he had seen from afar, seemed to prefer tactics and schemes over open war.
“Graveyard, the Land of the Dead, is a heavenly fortress. You and the nagas may be hailed for your courage on the 9th Floor, but you would have a difficult time defeating Valicius on his home turf. Anything that died in his territory would be recruited into the Army of the Dead, which would prolong this war of attrition,” the Black Merchant explained.
“You’re saying…… The Black Merchants should be complimented for getting Valicius to arrogantly send out his troops?”
“We don’t think of it as praiseworthy, but we did influence him to some extent. To be honest, you were the one who killed both the Blood Leopard and the Basilisk King.”
Kim JIn-Woo’s eyes gleamed when he heard those words. “I’m not very fond of your bunch. Always doing things as you please.” He slowly craned his neck and took a large step forward.
The Black Merchant hid further behind the mercenary creature, but even the creature was terrorized by Kim Jin-Woo’s aura. It stumbled backward with the Black Merchant, creating a ridiculous scene.
“I should let you know……” Kim Jin-Woo drew close to the Black Merchant and bent over to meet the latter’s eyes. The blue gleam emanating from his eyes was incredibly vicious, as if he were about to bite and tear the Black Merchant’s neck apart.
This time, even the Black Merchant broke out in a cold sweat, unable to control his facial expression.
“.……I absolutely abhor those who are up to something behind my back. That’s why I’m about to get extremely mad. You’d better spill what you—no, the mastermind behind you—is up to behind my back,” Kim Jin-Woo snarled, looking past the Black Merchant.
“That’s enough. Don’t pressure the poor merchant, baron.” At that moment, a robust voice interfered with their conversation.
Kim Jin-Woo stood up and stretched, as if he had been waiting for this moment. “Finally showing yourself, huh.”
“So you knew.” The figure’s huge body was comparable to that of the gigantic creature, and he was covered in a hood from head to toe. The giant took one step forward and said, “I have a very interesting friend. That guy is constantly warning me; how could I not know?”
As he spoke, a series of red messages appeared in front of Kim Jin-Woo’s eyes.
[The parasite is afraid of something.]
[The parasite is constantly secreting a substance, having sensed a threat from the indomitable presence. The secretion allows the host to temporarily wield power beyond one’s limits.]
[The power limit of your muscles has been released. You won’t feel pain due to the morphine-like properties of the substance.]
An opponent strong enough for the parasite to fear, who wished to meet him? Kim Jin-Woo had an idea of who that would be.
“Nice to see you, Anatolius of Blood and Iron.”