#27. Boreas the Wind Piercer
The beings Horace had sent had strange appearances. Their appearances were covered in smoky black mist, concealing their true forms.
“The Baron is waiting for you,” they said.
“Oh, I apologize for having kept the Baron waiting,” the Black Merchant replied. There was quite a bit of power behind his clear voice, compared to his usual self.
It was hard to tell if there were two, three, or perhaps ten, but several mysterious figures started emerging from the dark smoke and started to walk ahead.
Kim Jin-Woo tilted his head as he watched the procession follow the guidance of the black smoke, going deeper into the labyrinth.
No matter how much trust had been built up through trading, the Black Merchant still had to be considered a mere outsider. Baron Horace’s treatment of the Black Merchant, allowing safe passage for his procession, was something Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t comprehend.
Moreover, the labyrinth passage was lavishly decorated with all kinds of sculptures and decorations; it certainly looked magnificent, but the spacious passage was definitely not suitable for defense. On top of that, unlike the 9th floor labyrinths, there wasn’t a single trap in sight.
"Hmm…” Kim Jin-Woo subconsciously let out a murmur, catching the attention of the Black Merchant. The Black Merchant hastily gave him a sharp stare, and he pressed down on his hood once more.
Unexpectedly, the black smoke guided them not just to the Labyrinth Core, but straight into the master room.
As soon as they entered the lavishly decorated master room, a terrifyingly loud voice greeted them. “Oh, here you are!”
The black smoke that contracted and expanded constantly, almost as if it were alive, was Baron Horace himself. He looked gloomy and grotesque, like a pile of leftover soot from a burned-out fire.
“Are you well, Milord?” the Black Merchant asked.
“Of course I have! Who dares mess with me, Horace the Chaotic?!” He almost seemed angry upon hearing.
The labyrinth guards let out spontaneous laughter as Kim Jin-Woo continued to observe the Black Merchant in silence.
The Black Merchant, however, kept up his good-natured facade to match Baron Horace’s mood. “I have brought the artifacts you requested.”
Regardless of what Kim Jin-Woo had expected, the deal went smoothly. The Black Merchant took one of the large wooden chests from the middle of the procession and set it down right in front of the throne.
“Hmm.” The edges of the smoke that made up Baron Horace's body seemed to vibrate, and the lock on the wooden chest cracked open.
“You managed to bring everything I requested. As expected of the Black Merchants. Good! Very good!” Baron Horace exclaimed with delight as he looked at all the items in the wooden chest.
The items were all luxuries that had no practical use for life in the Underworld, miscellaneous golden sculptures and random ornaments studded with crafted down gems that were all but useless. Still, Baron Horace’s smoky body shook with delight as if he had received something truly valuable.
As Kim Jin-Woo watched Baron Horace practically vomit his admiration for his goods, he could only think that the entire situation was absurd.
Bandits were conducting raids in his labyrinth’s front yard, and yet all Baron Horace cared about was his obsession with these luxury items. It seemed like Balzark's words about the 10th Floor Counts were true.
As this realization set in, Kim Jin-Woo started to notice a lot of things he had previously missed, albeit belatedly.
[Splendidly Adorned Labyrinth Core (Level 8)]
The Labyrinth Core, which was gilded and surrounded by a lavishly decorated throne and all kinds of precious artifacts, was only Level 8. Of course, considering that his own labyrinth was only Level 6, it was still definitely a high level, but for a Viscount residing on a floor this deep, it was too low.
“Thank you for always using the services of the Black Merchants.”
“Yes, take care on your way back.”
The transaction was completed without any hesitation.
The Black Merchant and his mercenaries left the labyrinth, but unlike the first time, there was no one to observe them or escort them out. The procession skillfully navigated toward the labyrinth’s exit and moved on, seemingly familiar with the route.
There were no complicated mazes, nor were there any traps. There were a few piles of black smoke guarding the gate, but even they seemed passive for some reason.
“How was your first impression of another noble’s estate?” the Black Merchant asked as soon as the procession left the border of the labyrinth.
“I had to question whether these were really the depths of the Underworld,” Kim Jin-Woo replied.
“It’s a bit of a relaxed atmosphere.”
Kim Jin-woo snorted at the phrase ‘a bit’. Even the abandoned labyrinth in the entrance to the Underworld had better defenses than this.
If all the labyrinths of the Underworld had been like this, humanity would have completely conquered it rather than being forced to sign a treaty. That was how poorly guarded Horace’s labyrinth was.
“This is close to the center of the 10th Floor, which is why the defenses are so poor. However, the labyrinths located near the passage connecting the 9th and 10th Floors are a little more secure than this,” the Black Merchant explained.
“Being a little more secure wouldn’t be enough,” Kim Jin-Woo replied with a frown.
The Black Merchant quietly commented, “To be honest, most of the 10th floor labyrinths, including Baron Horace’s, are in a similar state.”
Kim Jin-Woo could understand why Balzark had said that the 10th Floor Nobles were lowlives who had forgotten their duty.
Seeing the look of contempt filling Kim Jin-Woo’s face, the Black Merchant spoke on behalf of Horace, as if he were making excuses on Horace’s behalf.
“We don’t suffer attacks from humans on the deep floors, nor is there any antagonism between us. I’ve heard that wars were more frequent and fierce on the 10th Floor than any other in the past, though. It’s been a long time since the 10th Floor nobles lost their motivation and purpose, after being denied victory by the more powerful 11th Floor nobles.”
It was a valid explanation. But to Kim Jin-Woo, who had lived a life of fierce competition, the situation just didn’t seem that desperate.
After that, they visited two more labyrinths, but they weren’t very different from Horace's labyrinth.
Valatus of the Ant Hell, and Janax of Darkness.
Contrary to their grandiose names, their two labyrinths were only splendid in name, with no substance.
Janax of Darkness’ labyrinth was also a bizarre place that sparkled with all kinds of splendid jewels and decorations, and it certainly didn’t fit the name of “Darkness”.
Both labyrinths were decorated with all kinds of ornaments, as if they were competing to see whose labyrinth was more opulent, and the creatures guarding their respective entrances seemed soulless.
“They’re like children squandering their parents’ wealth,” Kim Jin-Woo muttered.
He had even found out that some of the 10th Floor nobles would sell off their facilities and summons to engage in some kind of strange competition, and the more he found out about the state of the 10th floor, the more eye-opening it was to him.
He could finally understand why Anatolius had sought aid on the 9th Floor, instead of going to the 10th Floor, which was just above his own labyrinth.
If what Kim Jin-Woo had seen on the 10th Floor was representative of the majority of its nobles’ attitude, then he had to assume Anatolius had found no one that could do his bidding.
“The final place we’ll be visiting is the labyrinth of Boreas the Wind Piercer,” the Black Merchant said.
“Sure.” Kim Jin-Woo still couldn’t grasp the absurdity of the situation on the 10th floor.
The Black Merchant seemed to have read his thoughts, as he turned and spoke in a serious tone. “One of the few labyrinths with tight boundary defenses, that I mentioned earlier, is Boreas’.”
“I hope we’ll get to see a proper labyrinth for once.”
Kim Jin-Woo felt he had to see at least one properly maintained labyrinth in order to feel at ease about the 10th floor’s situation, because Anatolius’ labyrinth aside, he had yet to see ven one proper labyrinth and grasp the true strength of a noble.
“Boreas the Wind Piercer is a very terrifying entity. The nobles you’ve seen previously are nothing compared to him.”
“Is that so?”
“Even the bandits that don’t recognize the authority of the Nobles don’t dare encroach upon Boreas’ labyrinth.”
It was no wonder that the Black Merchant, despite speaking with confidence, had a hint of reluctance in his voice. Kim Jin-Woo was unimpressed, however, after seeing the state of the other Nobles.
But it seemed the Black Merchant wasn’t exaggerating this time round.
[The parasite’s special ability, ‘Detection’, has found something.]
[A battle is occurring in the distance.]
[Some troops in the battle have noticed the procession and are approaching.]
Even without the parasite’s ability, Kim Jin-Woo could feel something unusual in the air. He smelled blood in the air, and his expression stiffened.
“Halt!” The Black Merchant also noticed that something was off and stopped the procession, preparing for the worst.
As the escorting mercenaries formed a line and pulled out their weapons, the smell of blood got closer.
"Oh, it’s you?”
Surrounded by giants and accompanied by a gust of wind, a being emerged with a presence so strong, it could pierce the soul of any weak creatures in its radius.
Although he was standing still, the tall, slender being and his long hair both swayed in the wind. Compared to the muscular giants standing behind him, he looked elegant. His presence, however, was absolute. It was unclear whether the marks covering his body were blood or scars.
“I humbly greet you, Lord Boreas the Wind Piercer!” Compared to his previous encounters, the Black Merchant was excessively polite and submissive.
“I believe you’re here earlier than we agreed.”
“I sincerely apologize. I should have given you notice of our earlier arrival, but I was so afraid of the bandits that we had to rush on our journey here.
“Stop your nonsense. If you were really afraid of mere bandits, the Black Merchants would have stopped operating eons ago. Am I correct?” Boreas said with a bark of fierce laughter, even as he wiped the blood off his scimitar with both hands. “For a merchant, even one unpredictable creature could spell catastrophe.
“So now you’re just full of shit. Even with just the mercenaries you brought along, you could have easily conquered one of the labyrinths of those pathetic 10th Floor nobles. Are you taking me for a fool!?”
“No! How could I dare?!” The look on the Black Merchant’s face was different from the stoic expression he usually had. Needless to say, the murderous aura Boreas emitted was no joke.
Even Kim Jin-Woo himself, who was relatively far behind in the ranks, could feel his skin crawl at Boreas’ presence. His neck stiffened as he witnessed the Black Merchant shaking his head and hastily bowing over something he usually considered trivial.
“You should remember what happened to your predecessor, who spoke out of line in my presence. Speak no more, for I trust you’ll be more careful in the future.”
An arrogant and violent being from birth, the first real noble Kim Jin-Woo had seen on the 10th Floor was more ferocious than he could have imagined.
“I apologize. I’ll be more careful,” the Black Merchant said.
“I don’t want to change the person in charge again, so let’s hope we get to see each other for a long time.” Boreas simply grinned and taunted the Black Merchant. He seemed dangerous, based on the lasting first impression he made.
"By the way." Boreas, who had been speaking with his chin held high, swiftly pointed behind the Black Merchant and tilted his head. “What’s with that guy? Why is his head all stiff?” His bloody red eyes stared at Kim Jin-Woo.