Chapter 133

  Even after Kim Jin-Woo returned from his visit to the 11th Floor, the monsters’ offensive continued for over half a year. After many struggles, the Nagas finally found the enemy’s invasion route and succeeded in blocking off that passage.

  But the enemy still didn’t relent. The monsters that were immune to pain continued to attack the front line despite the reinforcements that had arrived, blinded by their sheer thirst for battle.

  Kim Jin-Woo started to grow weary as time passed. Even the 9th Floor labyrinth masters who had previously obeyed him well during times of crisis started to reveal their true greedy nature, as they began to act uncooperatively and look out only for themselves.

  The barely-formed front line was pushed back several times, and Kim Jin-Woo started to become tougher on his vassals in response. He didn’t hesitate to make even the harshest of decisions, sometimes even using entire labyrinths as bait if necessary. Only then did his vassals begin to be wary of him once more, pretending to be obedient.

  The enemy continued to attack, even as Kim Jin-Woo’s power was being drained away by internal conflict. Various creatures and unknown forces appeared through narrow passageways scattered across the 9th Floor, looking strangely desperate.

  They charged through the piles of corpses as if someone, or something, were forcing them to fight. Neither the ominousness of the Dead, the freezing cold of the Nagas, nor the uneasy stealthiness of the Under-Elf Assassins could stop their advance.

  The creatures and labyrinth masters of the Other Underworld marched forward without ever looking back, focusing all their attention on what was ahead of them. At first, Kim Jin-Woo didn’t know why they were so desperate. Only after nearly a year had passed since the first attack did he come to understand why.

  The enemy forces had suffered from a famine. Their entire ecosystem had collapsed, and the very foundation of their Underworld had been shaken to its core, as it no longer gave under-creatures the very characteristics that defined them. For some reason, the seeds of their down gems had completely dried up.

  It was unclear whether that was due to the numerous explorers who had continued to exploit their Underworld in search of down gems to harvest, or if it had been due to internal factors.

  One thing that was certain, however, was that if this situation continued, not only would the down gems on their Shallow Floors completely dry up, the down gems on their Deep Floors would follow as well.

  And try as Kim Jin-Woo and his forces might to prevent the forces of the Other Underworld from crossing over into their Underworld, once more passageways had been broken through, they couldn’t be blocked any more. Even at that very moment, creatures Kim Jin-Woo had never seen before were crawling out from those passageways.

  “This is trouble. At this rate, the 9th Floor won’t be able to survive,” Kim Jin-Woo remarked.

  “But we’re winning. You should know this as well, but in fact, there are more labyrinths on the 9th Floor now than there were before the war,” Dominique replied.

  Although the war had lasted for almost a year, Kim Jin-Woo’s power had been subject to a rather strange phenomenon. Over a hundred labyrinths now claimed to be his vassals; it was seemingly incomprehensible, considering that many labyrinths had been destroyed during the war even before he left for the 11th Floor.

  However, in truth, that wasn’t entirely beyond his expectations. Most of the labyrinths from the 7th and 8th Floor had migrated to the 9th Floor, unable to withstand the invasion from the Other Underworld. At first glance, it seemed like an advantageous turn of events, but upon closer inspection, the increase in the number of vassals wasn’t entirely good news.

  Due to the explosive expansion of the 9th Floor labyrinths, the ecosystem on the 9th Floor had been completely destroyed. The balance between the number of labyrinths and the number of wild creatures had been completely broken.

  The worst case scenario the Black Merchant had warned of had occurred. As a result of Kim Jin-Woo’s forces having slaughtered most of the wild creatures in preparation for the war, there was now a severe shortage of down gems on the 9th Floor.

  Naturally, the existing residents of the 9th Floor were unwelcoming to the new arrivals. The two parties consistently clashed with one another, and even after Kim Jin-Woo returned, they continued their feuds out of sight of him and the Fortress.

  With an end to the situation nowhere in sight, Kim Jin-Woo searched for a solution. However, the 11th Floor was still in a state of chaos with the war still ongoing, and the 12th Floor was an area that was still all but forbidden to him and the Fortress.

  “The biggest problem here is that if the Underworld no longer produces any more down gems, it won’t be of value to the surface any longer,” Kim Jin-Woo said.

  There was only one reason why the greedy humans had yet to launch all their horrifying weapons of destruction against the Underworld. The existence of down gems and other similar items in the Underworld meant that the humans wouldn’t dare hurt their precious golden goose.

  But if they ever found out that their golden goose was no longer providing them with the golden eggs, would the humans even consider keeping it alive? Kim Jin-Woo didn’t think so. He was certain that they would pillage the Underworld to its core then.

  And at this moment, Kim Jin-Woo, despite being a human himself, was on the side of the golden goose. He knew he couldn’t give up his labyrinth until he achieved his goal. He said, “There’s still time. Because the war has intensified, the explorers are still unaware of the situation in the Underworld.”

  The silver lining was that the explorers weren’t paying attention to the Underworld right now while the monsters were running rampant. They were simply waiting for the chaos to subside without trying to figure out what exactly was going on.

  Kim Jin-Woo continued, “But this won’t go on forever. If the creatures from the Shallow Floors continue to head up to the surface and cause trouble, they’ll be sure to invite unwanted attention from humans. And human leaders will definitely try to send people down here, if for no other reason than to quell all the commotion.”

  Then, the humans would see for themselves what was really going on in the Underworld and just how barren it had become. They would see the dried-up down gem seeds, as well as the way the Underworld’s creatures were dwindling in number by the day. As a result, they might end up making an extreme decision.

  “We’re looking for a solution, so don’t fret too much, Master. You’ve done well so far. No one could have expected Master and the Fortress to grow to this extent,” Dominique said in a small attempt at consolation.

  Kim Jin-Woo looked at her with a look of concern in response. “That aside, isn’t it time you head back? You don’t look so good.”

  Dominique’s complexion had gotten worse as their conversation went on. After all, they weren’t on the 9th Floor, but rather on the surface. They were in a labyrinth Kim Jin-Woo had prepared on the surface as his last bastion of hope against the current war, where he was being pushed into a corner.

  Although he had forcibly suppressed the growth of the labyrinth in order to avoid the attention of explorers, it was nevertheless a dignified piece of his estate. But with an undeveloped Labyrinth Core, it couldn’t provide enough energy output to sustain Underworld beings for long. As such, Dominique was trembling, slowly growing weak and pale.

  “I was just about to return, anyway,” Dominique said.

  “Then why did you come up in the first place?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.

  “I didn’t want Master to come back to an empty home,” Dominique replied. Despite the fact that it had brought her more suffering, she still only focused on looking out for Kim Jin-Woo. It may have been foolish, but it was an act of compassion.

  Kim Jin-Woo felt Dominique’s utmost devotion to him in that moment, and he hugged her tightly as he realized that. He said, “Head back. After all, my home isn’t here, but below.”

  Dominique smiled brightly at his answer as she returned to the Fortress through the portal installed in the basement.


  Right after Kim Jin-Woo saw Dominique off, as he was settling into the bed back at his house, his phone rang. When he saw Mr. Baek’s name on the screen, he sighed as he got back up and prepared to leave.

  “I was just about to leave.” Saying only the bare minimum, he hung up and left.


  “How rude of you to simply say what you want and hang up like that,” Mr. Baek nagged as soon as Kim Jin-Woo reached the appraisal office, seemingly upset at having been cut off over the phone.

  “You were like that at the start too, weren’t you?” Kim Jin-Woo responded without a hint of apology.

  “That’s because we weren’t familiar at the start. We’ve been doing well, but man, you’ve changed a lot.” Mr. Baek sighed to himself, knowing that there was no point in ranting on and on.

  “I haven’t changed. Only the circumstances have changed,” Kim Jin-Woo said.

  Mr. Baek sighed once more at that response. When Kim Jin-Woo had first shown up at the appraisal office, there had been an air of disappointment about him. He’d had no one to sell his down gems to, and nowhere to get information from. Thus, he had no choice but to sympathize with Mr. Baek to some extent.

  But only one year later, it was Mr. Baek who seemed to be more disappointed. Due to the drought of down gem seeds, it was difficult for him to secure his goods, and that led to his customers losing trust in him as he failed to meet their demands.

  Despite that, even in such a situation, only Kim Jin-Woo could continue to provide him with down gems; thus, Mr. Baek had no choice but to play to Kim Jin-Woo’s tune.

  “That aside, have you looked into what I asked for?” Kim Jin-Woo asked. It seemed like a casual request, but in truth, it was anything but.

  Despite that, Mr Baek only clicked his tongue as he replied, “It’s just as you said. It seems more creatures were surfacing in other countries from the start, as well. Because their lands are so vast and their governments have been doing their best to prevent the story from leaking, it’s not a widely known fact, but the truth is that this has been going on for a very long time. Right now, there are more explorers defending the gates than exploring the Underworld, so it all makes perfect sense.”

  It was exactly as Kim Jin-Woo had suspected. The depletion of down gems had started from the Underworlds of other continents. That was why creatures from the other Underworlds had been pushed out of their own and were invading other Underworlds like his: The Underworld to which his Naga’s Fortress belonged had been abundant with down gems.

  But that was now all in the past. Due to the labyrinth masters’ preparations for fighting against the creatures from the other Underworlds, down gems had been consumed freely, and they were in danger of being depleted. If a solution couldn’t be found soon, even his Underworld’s ecosystem would be thrown into chaos, and it would eventually implode.

  Hilarious. It was incredibly ironic that he had to worry about the preservation of the Underworld while hoping for its destruction at the same time. Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t help but let out a twisted smile.

  “My man, is there something wrong?” Mr. Baek seemed to have noticed Kim Jin-Woo’s eerie smile, as he turned slightly pale.

  “Ah, it’s nothing. I was just thinking about something else for a second,” Kim Jin-Woo replied.

  Perhaps one of the reasons Mr. Baek didn’t treat Kim Jin-Woo as harshly as he had in the past was that he could sense Kim Jin-Woo’s true, dangerous nature, which made an appearance from time to time.

  “But I heard a strange rumor,” Mr. Baek continued.

  “What rumor?” Kim Jin-Woo asked, showing barely any interest. There were hardly any credible rumors going around on the surface.

  “I heard there are also labyrinths on the surface,” Mr. Baek said.

  But when Kim Jin-Woo heard those words, he could no longer maintain his poker face. He immediately thought of the hidden Labyrinth Core in Paju.

  “Don’t make such a face. I said it’s just a rumor. It’s such a crazy rumor that I had to tell you about it,” Mr. Baek said.

  “Is that so?” Kim Jin-Woo barely managed to keep a straight face as he carried on with the conversation.

  “That’s right, so don’t worry about it. A labyrinth on the surface? Give me a break.” Mr Baek seemed to have gotten embarrassed by bringing the topic up, and quickly changed the topic as he requested some down gems.

  Kim Jin-Woo took out a couple of low-grade down gems, which he had been planning to do in the first place, and handed them over to Mr. Baek.

  Although he would have turned up his nose at such low quality down gems in the past, Mr. Baek now happily accepted them with a satisfied look on his face. He hurriedly collected the down gems and pressured Kim Jin-Woo to leave, saying, “Anyway, I’ll let you know when more information comes in.”

  With no reason to stay any further, Kim Jin-Woo exited the appraisal center.

  “Yes, it’s me, Baek. I have new down gems that just came in today, so I specially contacted you first, Mr. Chairman…”

  Based on Mr. Baek’s conversation, which was audible through the door, it seemed that he was finally getting back into doing business with down gems.

  “Yes, yes. They’re low-grade ones, but their quality is still pretty decent.”

  Kim Jin-Woo started to walk away from the office, leaving behind Mr Baek’s optimistic voice.


  “It’s exactly as I suspected. The other Underworlds have exhausted their down gems,” Kim Jin-Woo said, having pieced together a conclusion based on the information he had gathered from Mr Baek. Dominique nodded in agreement as she listened to his story. He continued, “That was probably the reason why the Deep Floor Counts were helpless to do anything about it.”

  One side was desperately fighting for their survival, while the defending Counts had been forced to engage half-heartedly in the war due to their wariness of one another. Thus, it was only natural that the Counts had suffered heavy losses.

  They were probably more concerned about the changing landscape and ecosystem of the Underworld after the war, having remembered the occasional wars that had broken out in the past, possibly for the same reason.

  Knowing that the war wouldn’t end any time soon, all they could do was drive the enemies out, but that was easier said than done. Among the forces that had crossed the passageway into their Underworld, there were some that had even migrated their labyrinths completely.

  “I don’t understand. Down gems are a necessity for us. What use are they for the Terrans?” Dominique asked. Despite having gotten to know the surface better over her occasional visits, she simply couldn’t understand what the humans wanted. “What exactly is it that the Terrans are using the down gems for, for them to be consuming more of them than we do?”

  The sheer amount of down gems pillaged by the explorers over the years would be enough for all the labyrinths of the Underworld to live in abundance for years. Despite that, the fact that the humans continued to take away their down gems simply didn’t make sense to her.

  “Perhaps they can’t survive without down gems as well?” she wondered.

  “That’s not true.” Kim Jin-Woo shook his head at Dominique’s remark. Even before the war between the Underworld and the surface, the surface had long existed without the need for down gems.

  Thus, even if they ceased to have down gems, the surface wouldn’t suddenly fall into chaos. Despite that, the Terrans’ greed for down gems was even greater than that of the Underworld beings.

  The Terrans who consumed the down gems lived long and didn’t fall ill. Even those who were stricken with illness could easily be healed by grinding down gems into powder and drinking them. Down gems had mystical powers that could be imparted to their owners.

  They sounded like an impossible miracle drug, but that was what was known to the general public on the surface. Many people even claimed that carrying down gems as accessories made them feel lighter and less easily fatigued.

  Of course, none of these claims were true. Kim Jin-Woo knew the true reason why Terrans desired down gems so badly.

  If all of those claims were true, there was no reason for there to still be so many patients lying in hospital wards. After all, the amount of down gems that had left the Underworld for the surface would have been more than enough to treat every patient in the world many times over. Despite that, the surface was still full of people suffering from various illnesses.

  That was because the true effect of the down gems wasn’t to cure illnesses, but simply to help sufferers forget they were sick. Down gems were just a form of drug for Terrans.

  Down gems were very expensive by nature, and they weren’t something that money alone could buy. They could produce a new kind of drug that dealt no lasting harm to the human body.

  But just being harmless didn’t necessarily mean they weren’t addictive. The drugs made using down gems as a base were more addictive than any other drug in the market.

  Kim Jin-Woo only found out the truth when he saw Lee Jun-Young intoxicated by that very drug right in front of him.


  It had been a long time since he had last met up with Lee Jun-Young, but she was now covered with bruises all over her body. She bled from all over as she emerged from the shadows. Her eyes shook anxiously, as if she were being chased by something.

  “Jun-Young?” Kim Jin-Woo began.

  But Lee Jun-Young’s eyes immediately locked onto the down gem in Kim Jin-Woo’s possession, which she discovered through the detection ability of her parasite. She asked, “Jin-Woo, that’s a down gem, right? Right?”

  Her first words upon their meeting weren’t even a greeting. Rather, they revealed a blind obsession with the down gem. She was very much unlike her past self, catching Kim Jin-Woo off guard as he instinctively grabbed the down gem and took a step back.

  “Why are you here…” Kim Jin-Woo muttered. She shouldn’t even have been here. After all, the 7th Floor was no place for someone to be exploring alone, even if that person was a dungeon baby like her.

  But instead of answering, Lee Jun-Young looked intently at his chest before disappearing back into the shadows.

  Kim Jin-Woo quickly returned to the surface to meet up with Jung Chan-Sik. Only then did he find out about the intoxicating effects the down gems had on humans, and that Lee Jun-Young had become addicted to them.

  “It can’t be helped. She was such a responsible and straightforward person. It seems she couldn’t come to terms with the fact that she ran away while abandoning her colleagues for her own survival. She kept saying something about taking revenge, and she probably took the down gems to forget her pain while doing so…” Jung Chan-Sik continued to give excuses, saying he hadn’t known how powerful the addiction could be.