#26. The 10th Floor Nobles
“Might there be something else you need?” the Black Merchant asked cautiously, fidgeting with all of his stubby limbs.
Kim Jin-Woo laughed at the Black Merchant’s reaction and dropped the Blood Leopard’s Heart onto the floor.
“Oh no! My precious!” The surprised Black Merchant hurriedly picked up the Heart and inspected it for any damage.
Upon seeing that, Kim Jin-Woo said, “I have no intent to change the terms of our deal. But.”
“But?” The Black Merchant clutched the Heart tighter to his chest, worried that Kim Jin-Woo might change his mind.
“I have a request,” Kim Jin-Woo began.
Ominous thoughts started filling the Black Merchant’s mind as his face tensed up.
“You don’t have to do it. As I said, it’s a request,” Kim Jin-Woo reiterated.
It was just a request in name. The Black Merchant knew he would probably have to fulfill it in the end. He asked, “Umm…… What is it?”
“Let’s just talk it out, no pressure,” Kim Jin-Woo said. The Black Merchant seemed terrified and confused at his constant change in demeanor. He then asked, “Tell me, do you serve any of the Underground Nobles?”
“There are a few I do deal with, but why do you ask that…?” Unable to predict what Kim Jin-Woo would say next, the Black Merchant could do nothing but frantically look around.
“When will they next visit the Labyrinth?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.
“Why do you ask that?”
“What do you mean, why?” Kim Jin-Woo smirked as he looked at the Black Merchant. “I want to tag along as well.”
The Black Merchant headed back, saying that he couldn’t give a definite answer at the moment. Perhaps the matter was too big for him to decide on his own without consulting his bosses first.
His request may even be rejected, but Kim Jin-Woo wasn’t too concerned. Hadn't Anatolius already visited his labyrinth like that? Even if his request were to be rejected, he could probably just start a rumor and stir the pot.
“Phew.” Kim Jin-Woo emerged from his musings and threw some down gems into the Altar of the Dead.
Even if it looked different from the Naga’s Labyrinth, the Graveyard was no different in its hunger for down gems, as it consumed them immediately without a trace.
[Would you like to summon a Yufu's  Laborer? It costs 1/2 dungeon energy to summon one. How many would you like to summon?]
Black smoke rose from the Altar, and soon, the Yufu's Laborers, which looked like evil spirits, appeared.
“Start construction from the cemetery. Expand and upgrade until the dungeon energy runs out.” Kim Jin-Woo ordered the construction and continuous expansion of the cemetery, which would serve as another naga’s nest, and moved into the inner portal.
The Black Merchant returned earlier than expected.
“How did it go?” Kim Jin-Woo skipped the pleasantries and asked immediately.
“For now, it seems as though there won’t be a problem. But, as this is a rather sensitive issue, there are a few promises you need to make.”
“I’ll disguise myself as a soldier. I won’t be so easily caught, unlike Anatolius. I may look like this, but I have a knack for disguising myself.”
“There’s more.” The Black Merchant elaborated on the conditions:
First, never get directly involved in the visit.
Second, never talk while in the noble’s labyrinths.
Third, never reveal to others what you have seen or heard during the visit.
Fourth, never attempt to escalate any situation.
Fifth, the Black Merchants will not be held responsible for any incidents during the visit.
As the conditions all seemed reasonable, Kim Jin-Woo nodded in agreement.
“When the schedule has been arranged, we will inform you again,” the Black Merchant said and hurriedly left the labyrinth.
“Hmm, won’t that be too dangerous?” Angela said, suddenly appearing.
“It won’t be too dangerous. Hiding my presence is nothing to me,” Kim Jin-Woo replied nonchalantly. Finally, he seemed to reveal his true intentions. “I may not know much about the Counts, but I have to know how strong the other nobles are at the very least.”
As soon as things settled down on the 9th Floor, the 10th Floor would be his next target, and he had to know everything he could.
He would have liked to send others on this scouting visit, but only he and Rikshasha wouldn’t be affected by the floor’s restrictions. Since it had come to this, it was probably for the better that he witnessed the strength of the other nobles with his own eyes.
“Speaking of which, what’s Balzark doing?” he asked.
“He’s fighting it out with the guardian dragon. He’s a stubborn one,” Angela remarked.
It was said that the Hellmares, which the Iron-Blooded Knights rode into battle, wouldn’t even stand up at the sight of Balzark. On the other hand, the guardian dragon seemed to be holding its ground rather well, and that in turn had roused Balzark’s desire to fight.
“Looks like the guardian dragon is the one suffering. We still have Valicius around, so I guess there’s nothing to worry about,” Kim Jin-Woo mused.
“We should leave it alone. It’ll help the dragon get used to our naga warriors,” Angela replied.
Kim Jin-Woo nodded in agreement with Angela’s words, and headed off to find Valicius. When he arrived, he asked, “How are things going?”
Valicius was sitting dazed in the middle of a large, empty space. He stood up and bowed in greeting.
Kim Jin-Woo simply let out empty laughter at the sight of Valicius’ obviously forced greeting, and asked him for a progress report. Valicius didn’t reply, but simply pointed to a misshapen abomination on the floor.
“Hmm…” Kim Jin-Woo tilted his head, trying to figure out what the ugly, stitched-together being had once been.
“I’ve run out of materials, so I stopped here.” Valicius’ face had dissatisfaction written all over it. Perhaps the materials were of too poor quality for him. He begged, “Please let me visit the Graveyard. Let me visit once, and I’ll make anything for you.”
It had been many days since his pleas began, yet Kim Jin-Woo was unmoved.
“At least, please return the chimeras I made…… I’ll complete my mission even if it means dissecting them,” Valicius said.
“Well, I don’t know about dissections and stuff like that,” Kim Jin-Woo replied.
It hadn’t been long since Valicius had set up a place for himself in the Naga’s Labyrinth, and yet he had already been caught multiple times stealing materials. Without even asking what he was going to do with the stolen materials, Kim Jin-Woo gave him a cold, stern warning. “I can destroy the Graveyard’s Core whenever I feel like it.”
Having their Labyrinth Core destroyed was something no owner could ignore. The Graveyard was now the very thing holding Valicius hostage. He grew pale and simply lowered his head.
“Now make it quickly. I’ll think about supplying the necessary materials,” Kim Jin-Woo ordered. The scene almost made him seem like a villain, but that didn’t bother him.
Valicius was in fact trying to make a chimera with the Tiger Dragon and the Blood Leopard’s corpse, and seek an opening to strike back. There was no way Kim Jin-Woo will make life easy for someone who once tried to kill him.
“Oh, and it seems you are feeling unwell. I’ll send a priest over to look after you.”
Those words seemed to imply that Valicius would need to be strong for Kim Jin-Woo to make use of him.
“I am humbled by your thoughtfulness.”
He shrugged at the look of resignation in Valicius, and headed out.
Hoya, who had been afraid to enter the room, popped out from her hiding spot and affectionately reached out to Kim Jin-Woo.
“Keep an even closer eye on him. If you have even a hint of suspicion, report it to me immediately.”
Kim Jin-Woo stroked her head a few times before she headed back into the darkness with a growl.
Balzark’s tenacity was ferocious. Even the tough and mighty Tiger Dragon was no match for him.
But the Tiger Dragon was tenacious by his own right as it lay exhausted on the floor, still rejecting Balzark.
“Instead of disturbing that poor beast, how about you do something more worthwhile?”
“You are here.”
Balzark stopped his focus on the tired Tiger Dragon and gave a humble bow to Kim Jin-Woo.
“This beast seemed gutsier than those weak Hellmares, but I guess I couldn’t harness it either.”
As Balzark complained, a woman from the Feline Tribe, who was silently watching everything, took the Tiger Dragon away. She seemed worried that Balzark may harass the Tiger Dragon again.
“I’m making a mount suitable for you so just wait it out. Don’t make life difficult for others.”
“Yes, I understand.”
“That aside, there’s a few things I want to ask you.”
Kim Jin-Woo started asking all the questions he had on his mind.
“Will you tell me everything you’ve seen during your climb to the 9th Floor?”
“Since you’ve come from the 11th Floor, you must have bypassed the 10th Floor as well.”
Balzark seemed to understand where the question was heading to, and thought carefully before giving his reply.
“In simple words, the 10th Floor is a dump.”
“The Nobles were born into prestige, and thus they do not know how to fight. Everyone around them lives the same lives, thus laziness is rampant everywhere.”
“The Nobles are poisoned by their taste for luxury and pleasure, and have severely neglected their labyrinths. Instead of investing in their defenses, their walls are littered with useless ornaments and decorations, and the creatures that surround those walls have found so little use for their fangs and claws that they have started to tear them off on their own accord.”
Balzark’s poignant tone indicated that he was probably disgusted with the 10th Floor.
“The 10th floor is where mere storytellers are more favored than warriors skilled in battle. They have even forgotten their history of defeat, and have fallen into the desire for objects of the Humans. If you give me even a hundred naga, I can wipe them out right now.”
“Say that again.”
“A hundred, no, even seventy nagas…”
“No, before that.”
At Kim Jin-Woo’s words, Balzark tilted his head and seemed like he was pretending to think about what exactly he had said.
But perhaps, he really was as simple-minded as he was thought to be and was not pretending, so Kim Jin-Woo repeated his question.
“The 10th Floor nobles desire what?”
Kim Jin-Woo’s eyes sparkled as he looked at Balzark.
1. Yufu is a famous court official known for his medical skills during the era of Yellow Emperor.