“We’re putting the 10th Floor invasion on hold for now.”
It wasn’t an easy decision for Kim Jin-Woo, who had been gathering clues and information on invading deeper into the Underworld to join the 11th Floor war. But if what Ustus had said was all true, it was practically a suicide mission to get involved now, right when things were about to heat up.
Dominique seemed to agree with him, as she explained the difficulties posed by defense due to the expansion of the frontlines. However, she still seemed to be doubtful of the reliability of the information.
After all, how was it that a labyrinth master like Ustus had been the first to detect the impending spillover of the Deep Floors’ war into the rest of the Underworld?
When Dominique questioned Ustus’ reliability, Kim Jin-Woo responded with strong certainty. “I have to trust it. After all, it’s Ustus and the fragments that created this scenario.”
Surprisingly, the fragments of the One-Eyed Lord had been preparing for a return to a bygone era. It hadn’t yet been revealed how they were going to achieve their plans, but the recent war on the 11th Floor proved that it was going successfully.
Now the question was when the reunification of the Underworld would begin.
“Inform all the 9th Floor labyrinth masters. We’ll be transitioning the entire labyrinth network to wartime preparations in order to get ready for the upcoming conflict.”
“And what if the reunification doesn’t happen?” Angela asked.
Kim Jin-Woo responded without hesitation, “Then we’ll use our troops to invade the 10th Floor.”
The entire 9th Floor’s preparations for the war were in full swing.
All the labyrinth masters trembled at the thought of simultaneously upgrading their Labyrinth Cores as well as expanding their troops, and in the process, all the wild creatures left on the 9th Floor had dried up.
The Black Merchant would surely make a big fuss if he were present. However, with the news of the war on the 11th Floor, he had completely stopped showing up on the 9th Floor.
Kim Jin-Woo was curious as to what the Black Merchant was up to, but he had no way of finding out. Thus, he kept the Black Merchant and the 11th Floor Counts out of his mind as he focused on preparations for the war.
“Are we really heading to war?” Uther said, frozen upon hearing the sudden news of war.
Soon after, he started spreading his Greed Slimes all across the 9th Floor. Expanding his troops hadn’t initially been part of his plans. However, every Underworld being had their own unique way of survival, and Uther seemed to have bet his life on good reconnaissance and surveillance.
And although he had suffered massively at the hands of Kim Jin-Woo and been forced to be his knight, Kim Jin-Woo didn’t perceive his actions as carrying any risk and decided to let him be.
The Greed Slimes soon spread all across the Underworld, and Uther, who had recently gained a massive amount of size, was skinny once more.
“Even if anything happens, don’t make any more enemies than we already have.” Kim Jin-Woo looked at Uther’s transformed body as he spoke.
Uther nodded in response. “Heh, I’m being extra cautious myself. Live lean and live long, that’s my creed, isn’t it?” He forcefully created a pair of hands and rubbed them together.
Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t help but burst out in laughter. “I was about to ask you for additional reconnaissance anyway. Unlike the wars of the past, where the routes were pretty much set in stone, now we’re unsure when or where a battle might occur. So, now you have an even more important role to play.”
With that, Kim Jin-Woo handed Uther three summoning stones and a highest-grade down gem, which were immediately gobbled up.
Kim Jin-Woo smiled bitterly, as Uther showed no hesitation about whether to use the resources on his subordinates or his labyrinth instead.
“They may be my minions, but they’re all a part of me. I have to get stronger first and foremost for my own subordinates to be strong,” Uther explained. Despite the fact that it sounded like an excuse, Kim Jin-Woo gave him two more summoning stones than he had initially planned.
“Ah…” Seeing Uther greedily munching on the summoning stones, he couldn’t help but be suddenly reminded of the parasite.
In the early days, he had wondered how he could run a labyrinth without the parasite. But now that his abilities had grown significantly stronger, most of the time he would simply forget about the existence of the parasite, unless it was to detect something.
“What’s the matter?” Uther asked.
“It’s nothing. Don’t mind me. If anything happens, report to me immediately. I’ll allow you to open a portal to me directly.”
It was a risky move to keep a portal that was directly connected to the Labyrinth Core open, but he knew that someone as greedy as Uther wouldn’t dare betray him.
He knew that Uther himself was aware of the tremendous benefits that had come thus far from being by his side, and that Uther wouldn’t risk ending that source of benefits.
“Ah, I, Uther, pledge my life in return for the King’s trust!” Uther said in a grandiose tone as his body shook.
One thing was for certain: Uther would, without a doubt, start bragging to the rest of the labyrinth masters about his latest gains. For Uther, who mistakenly believed that his master’s powers were his own, it was beyond predictable that he would do something like that.
Kim Jin-Woo turned back to look at Uther one last time, before heading to the other labyrinths to check on their progress.
In general, the longer the labyrinths had been with him, the more war preparations they had begun undertaking. In the case of the labyrinths that had joined him late, their reluctance to take part was clearly evident.
In the end, Kim Jin-Woo thoroughly excluded those labyrinths from his army. Those weak, uncommitted labyrinths would be no use to him regardless. If it were a pure test of might, they might have been able to serve some kind of purpose, but in a test of wits, they could instead become a point of weakness and even end up being his Achilles’ heel.
Thus, he left the insincere labyrinths out of his military forces. They would be sure to regret their stupidity the day the war arrived.
It wasn’t just the other 9th Floor labyrinths that were busy preparing. The Naga’s Fortress itself was also busier than ever. That was how tough the 11th Floor Counts were expected to be.
“Now that I think about it, we’ve never stopped preparing for the next war,” Dominique remarked.
At first, they’d had to prepare for the invasion of wild creatures, and then they’d had to prepare for a war with the Dragon King. Afterward, the Naga’s Fortress had always been in the center of another war. Having come this far, Kim Jin-Woo had nothing to worry about.
In fact, the Nagas even seemed to be enjoying themselves, rather than showing any signs of nervousness.
“All the Nagas tend to resemble their masters,” Dominique said.
“Huh. Am I that much of a warlord?” Kim Jin-Woo mused. Now that he thought about it, he had always chosen war over any form of coexistence. He let out a small snicker at the thought.
Apparently, his past suffering under the hands of the Underworld Duke seemed to have had an influence on him without him even realizing it, which was why he always chose hostility over compromise.
But he had yet to regret a single decision thus far. He had simply regained the ferociousness he had once lost when he escaped to the surface.
“Speaking of which, what the hell is Morrigan doing?” he asked.
“She’s been constantly in deep thought, every single day. She’s already usually hard to read, but it’s only gotten worse as of late. I’ve sent someone to keep an eye out on her just in case, so we’re prepared for the worst case scenario,” Dominique responded. Perhaps it was due to Morrigan’s origin, but Dominique seemed not to trust her one bit.
Kim Jin-Woo let out a bitter smile at the realization that the ever-so-stealthy Hoya had been keeping a watch on Morrigan around the clock. He said, “Recall Hoya. I’ll speak to Morrigan personally.”
Morrigan was undoubtedly the strongest being in the Naga’s Fortress. Seeing her in such a state didn’t sit right with Kim Jin-Woo.
“Master,” Dominique began.
“Please don’t trust Morrigan and Heimdall. There’s more we don’t know about the Ancient Lords than we do know. We can’t be sure what kind of relationship those two had with their former masters.”
Dominique’s words were something Kim Jin-Woo had always known deep down. He couldn’t know for sure if the two summons had had a similar master-servant relationship in the past.
If the Ancient Lords had controlled their labyrinths and subordinates with a different system in the past, there was no certainty that the current system would be effective in controlling the Ancient War Heroes.
Kim Jin-Woo decided to cut the conversation short, and went in search of Morrigan.
“My King.” The usually arrogant Morrigan was conspicuously reserved.
“What, are you so lost in thought that you didn’t even notice my arrival?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.
“I’m just feeling conflicted at the knowledge that fragments of my old master still exist.” Morrigan truthfully spoke her mind, with no regard for the consequences. This was the Crow of the Battlefield Kim Jin-Woo knew.
Seeing this, Kim Jin-Woo was finally able to make up his mind. Morrigan was truly charismatic enough for him to want to return her to her old master. He began, “Morrigan.”
“Yes?” she responded curtly.
Morrigan’s short and rude answers had always pissed Quantus off, but on the contrary, they only helped to make Kim Jin-Woo feel better about his decision, as he smirked at her.
“What is it…?” Morrigan’s expression hardened, thinking that her sly master was once again up to no good.
“Do you miss your old master?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.
As expected, the ever-so-honest Morrigan couldn’t give an immediate answer. Up until that point, Kim Jin-Woo had felt a mixed bag of emotions, but now he was feeling calm and collected. He knew that someone as proud as Morrigan wouldn’t lie about something like this.
“You can be honest with me. I’m not here to punish you,” he added.
Regardless of Kim Jin-Woo’s words, Morrigan continued to dwell on her answer. After all, it would never be easy for someone to talk about their old master in front of their new one.
Despite knowing this, Kim Jin-Woo pressured Morrigan to give her answer. Eventually, she couldn’t withstand it and admitted the truth. “My old master was the one to teach me the pride of a warrior, after all.”
Kim Jin-Woo smiled at her short answer and asked another question. “If you could return, would you?”
“What do you…” Morrigan was left stunned; not even she could not have anticipated that question.
“It’s as I said. If you could return to your old master, would you do so?”
Morrigan’s gaze deepened as she struggled to regain her composure. She squinted as she tried to figure out what her sly master’s true intentions were.
“Even if he may be a fragment of his former self, would you still return?”
Morrigan contemplated that one simple question for a very long time, before finally speaking.