Despite Kim Jin-Woo telling him to get to the point, Denarion continued to beat about the bush. Kim Jin-Woo frowned as he asked for further elaboration.
“To be precise, what we need is your name and your title of Undefeated Commander,” Denarion finally explained.
Kim Jin-Woo momentarily sighed and asked, “So, what you need are my amplification buffs?”
“That’s correct. I, no, we need the amplification buffs of the Undefeated Commander.”
Everything was starting to make sense. The power of the Undefeated Commander title was a formidable advantage that endlessly amplified allies’ power.
“But the amplification buffs of the Undefeated Commander only work on my subordinates. They would have no effect on you,” Kim Jin-Woo said.
The effects unique to the Undefeated Commander only affected those that resided within the Fortress, and no matter how powerful they were, they would be completely useless to the Counts.
“Do you think we don’t know that? We too once held the title of Undefeated,” Denarion answered.
“Wait, what?” Kim Jin-Woo’s eyes widened at the unexpected reply.
“It’s nothing surprising. The title of Undefeated Commander is nothing special, to be honest. Everyone is undefeated until their first defeat, and the Counts were such victors at one point. But the war dragged on, and we accumulated a few losses here and there, that’s all.”
“Ah…” The answer took Kim Jin-Woo completely by surprise. He had completely misunderstood, thinking the title was something unique to him alone. But come to think of it, being undefeated simply meant that he had to win battles back to back from the beginning. That condition wasn’t especially difficult to hit.
In hindsight, it wasn’t strange at all that there were others who also held the title of ‘Undefeated’. The fact that he had only realized this now was absurd. Even Krasto the mercenary leader was referred to ‘Undefeated’. Kim Jin-Woo felt humiliated at his own ignorance.
But Denarion simply looked at him in silence, seemingly enjoying the sight. After a while, he started to speak again. “We’ll figure out a way. All you have to do is to make your decision.”
“And what if I refuse?”
“Then we’ll have to find another solution.”
Kim Jin-Woo frowned at the way Denarion was speaking so nonchalantly. Despite the situation the war was in, his attitude was strangely relaxed.
Kim Jin-Woo pointed that out, but Denarion responded bluntly, “It isn’t just strength that determines victory or defeat in a war.” As he spoke, Denarion stared at Kim Jin-Woo intently. “If only the strong could survive, do you think you’d still be alive now?”
With that one sentence, Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t help but acknowledge the point Denarion was making. He wasn’t the strongest being in the Underworld; more often than not, he had been the underdog in his battles. And yet, he had always been able to overcome his adversaries in order to reach the position he was in.
“Even the Deep Floor Counts haven’t always been in a favorable position,” Denarion remarked.
Kim Jin-Woo responded, “It sounds like this isn’t the first time you guys have been in this type of war.”
Denarion smirked as he replied, “That’s because we’re the ones who drove out the Ten Ancient Lords, the old masters of the Underworld.”
KIm Jin-Woo woke up as he shook his head vigorously, trying to shake off the hazy feeling he’d gotten from his dream. The lingering aftertaste of the nightmare completely disappeared, and a terribly vivid sense of reality took its place.
“Commander…” he muttered. Denarion seemed to be willing to entrust him with a unit of his own, much to his surprise. He had been told that his detachment would consist of elites from the armies of each Count.
“And you trust me?” he had asked sarcastically.
Denarion had grinned and laughed. “What a funny thing to say. Are there any fools in the Underworld who trust others, I wonder?”
Despite those words, the conditions Kim Jin-Woo had been offered for taking command of the detachment were truly exceptional. The troops included in the detachment unit would forever belong to him, and in addition, an improvised labyrinth would be set up as a base camp for him to conduct activities on the 11th Floor. Of course, that labyrinth would become his estate, should the war end in their favor.
Kim Jin-Woo had wondered for a long time why the Counts would go to such an extent to get his help, and he finally found out why.
With all the constant wariness and conflict they had against one another, this was the best solution the Counts could unanimously agree on. Despite being on the losing end of the war, the Counts were unwilling to reveal their full strength to one another; and yet they wanted to see an end to this war.
Their constant conflicts had created an opportunity for Kim Jin-Woo to get involved directly.
They most likely thought that, with Kim Jin-Woo being a Conqueror and the Undefeated Commander, all they had to do was throw him a new title to add to his name. They were probably thinking that after the war, they could easily dispose of him as they wished.
Despite having defeated and chased away Parthenon’s coalition army, and having even defeated his elite soldiers, Kim Jin-Woo found it amusing that they still looked down on him.
“Interesting,” he mused as cold cynicism flowed through him.
He had yet to ascertain whether the Counts were the ones underestimating him, or if he was the one underestimating them due to not having seen their true powers.
But one thing was for certain: Even hunting dogs would be beaten after the hunt was over, but he was no hunting dog.
With that, Kim Jin-Woo got up from his bed and headed for the master room, where he gathered all the leaders of the labyrinth and simply said, “It’s war.”
With that one sentence, the atmosphere within the labyrinth changed.
Although Kim Jin-Woo had gathered his subordinate leaders for his declaration of war, he didn’t intend to move right away as Denarion and the Counts wished. He wasn’t foolish enough to empty his labyrinth when he didn’ know when the war would spread to the 9th Floor.
Moreover, he had yet to figure out what Denarion's true intention was. Denarion’s reason for bringing Kim Jin-Woo into the war was that the Counts wanted to hide their true powers in case something happened following the end of the war, but Kim Jin-Woo was certain that there was another reason behind it.
“If I ask Anatolius, he may reveal the true reason behind this,” he mused.
The one who had suffered the most damage in the Deep Floors was Anatolius. Based on what Kim Jin-Woo had heard, the Iron-Blooded Knights had failed in their surprise raid and were almost annihilated, and even Anatolius’ trusted lieutenants had all been killed.
“I’ll send a messenger to the Deep Floors to carry a message to Anatolius,” he said.
“But even Angela failed that mission. Anyone we send right now will be just another needless casualty,” Dominique remarked.
There was no one whom Kim Jin-Woo could afford to needlessly sacrifice to carry out his mission… or so it seemed. In fact, there was someone.
Kim Jin-Woo subconsciously looked at Rikshasha. She looked back at him as if she had been waiting for this exact moment and said, “Please give them a chance to prove their worth.”
Rikshasha’s words only helped affirm Kim Jin-Woo’s decision. He declared, “I’ll use the Under-Elves as my messengers!”
Rikshasha took up the responsibility of delegating and comforting the Under-Elves as they were informed of their new roles as messengers, and she carried out her job perfectly.
All the adult Under-Elves above the age of twenty were sent to the Deep Floors as messengers. They were to make use of Ustus’ labyrinth, heading directly to the Iron Knights’ Fortress on the 11th Floor.
Kim Jin-Woo had no idea how many of them would be sacrificed, and how many would even make it back alive. In the worst case scenario, none of them would be able to carry out the mission at all.
Despite that, he didn’t care. He felt slightly detached as he sent dozens of lives to their deaths, and he wasn’t too bothered. He felt that he was becoming less than expected of a human being, but it no longer mattered to him.
‘From now on, don’t trust anyone. Don’t trust anyone but me. No, don’t even believe me. You must only believe in yourself, understand?’
So-Hee’s delicate voice, which he had heard in his nightmare, rang in his ears again. And when he recalled her voice, he realized: The kind and gentle dungeon baby Kim Jin-Woo wasn’t real. If he were real, he would be dead by now.
‘You have to survive. At the very least, you must survive this hell.’
‘Even if you have to feed off their disgusting flesh and drink their blood, you have to survive.’
‘Until you survive this hell and experience the outer world for yourself, you cannot die.’
The will of the old tunnel diggers was engraved in his heart forever, and he lived up to those words like a personal mantra.
Naturally, for him, survival was an absolute value that superseded everything else. And Kim Jin-Woo had stopped at nothing to protect that value. Only by doing so could he survive the creatures’ attacks, even in the midst of hunger and loneliness.
After all, he was a “monster” who had risen from the hellish depths of the Underworld, and finally survived to reach the surface. Ten years later, the shell of ‘Fake Kim Jin-Woo’ had finally cracked and shattered, revealing his true self.
“Do you think they’ll succeed?” Dominique wondered.
Kim Jin-Woo responded coldly, “If they fail, then we’ll just have to send other messengers.”
Dominique seemed to have noticed the odd coldness in her master’s voice, as she tilted her head towards him while replying, “Then I suppose if that time comes, we’ll have to send many more than we’re currently sending out.”
Kim Jin-Woo gave her a smile of satisfaction.
As Kim Jin-Woo reorganized his labyrinth while waiting for the return of the departed messengers, he suddenly realized the surrounding air had changed and he quickly raised his head in alarm.
“Master?” Dominique, who had been in the midst of making preparations for the defense of the 9th Floor, noticed his change in expression.
“Something has changed,” Kim Jin-Woo remarked.
The dark and moist air of the Underworld had become more dense. Before he knew it, his heart was pounding and the blood vessels in his body felt as if they were about to burst. His face reddening, he found himself staring at the darkness beyond the labyrinth.
“Cock-a-doodle-doo!” A loud and bizarre cry rang out.
Dominique shouted loudly, her face turning white, “It’s Heimdall!”
The crowing of the unlucky Dawn Rooster was the signal that war had begun, and the endless roars of the War Guardians shook the Underworld itself.