At one point in time, Krasto had been so powerful and domineering that the entire Fortress went on alert over his mere appearance. However, now he was so ruined as to feel ashamed of himself, and his former panache was nowhere to be seen.
It was no surprise that he felt that way. His title as the Undefeated Mercenary had made him what he was, but he had lost the title. Over the course of the last year, the myth of his invincibility had finally been shattered during his battles in other Underworlds. And when he lost the title of Undefeated Mercenary, he also lost all the various amplification effects associated with it.
Naturally, he had been frequently defeated in battles since then, and as of late had become ever more reluctant to fight. Considering how he had once been powerful enough to compete with the forces of the Underworld Counts for supremacy, this was truly a miserable time for this legendary mercenary.
“So, why are you here?” Kim Jin-Woo asked. He didn’t sympathize with Krasto, since he knew better than anyone how harsh the Underworld was to the defeated.
“Down gems. I need down gems,” Krasto said.
Kim Jin-Woo clicked his tongue unwittingly as he looked at Krasto, whose eyes were closed. Peeling back the facade of the Undefeated Mercenary revealed the miserable entity that was the real Krasto, now merely a shell of his former self. It seemed as if Krasto had been so frightened by his repeated defeats that it was impossible for him to even think about making a comeback.
“Down gems, huh……” Kim Jin-Woo said, dragging out his words. “I don’t have many, but I can spare you enough for your few remaining mercenaries, including you, to sustain themselves.”
At those words, Krasto opened his eyes and rejoiced. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”
But Kim Jin-Woo shook his head at his premature gratitude and said, “But of course, you’ll have to pay the price.”
“The price?” Krasto asked.
Krasto’s status had completely changed within one year, but right now, he was wary of Kim Jin-Woo without realizing that the tables had turned. Seeing Krasto being so terrified of going back to the battlefield, Kim Jin-Woo was convinced that Krasto wouldn’t be able to make a comeback as the Undefeated Mercenary. Thus, he had to figure out how to make use of Krasto.
Originally, Kim Jin-Woo had thought of providing the mercenary with down gems, then exploiting him as much as he could on the battlefield. However, he couldn’t expect this broken being and his fellow mercenaries to earn him any victories.
“Ah, there just happens to be something you can pay me with,” Kim Jin-Woo said with a wide grin, breaking the silence. His smile was so radiant that Krasto could only wait for Kim Jin-Woo’s next words with a cowed expression.
“You said you were once an Underworld Noble, right?” Kim Jin-Woo asked. Krasto cast him a wary glance at the loaded question. He continued, “I can pay you handsomely for a Noble’s Seal.”
Krastro looked perplexed. It was as if he had never imagined Kim Jin-Woo would have a Noble's Seal in mind as his object of choice. But, even though he had been living as a mercenary in the Underworld after leaving his home labyrinth, it seemed he couldn’t respond to Kim Jin-Woo’s question so easily. In the end, Krasto left, unable to provide an answer.
Even though Krasto didn’t answer immediately, Kim Jin-Woo didn’t care. Seeing how Krasto had been reduced to a complete shadow of his former self, Kim Jin-Woo knew that sooner or later, Krasto would accept his offer. After all, his immediate survival would be more important to him than the useless seal that he had forgotten about while living in the Underworld.
Even if Krasto didn’t want to accept his offer, Kim Jin-Woo planned on forcing him into a situation where he would have no choice but to do so. After all, Kim Jin-Woo was now more than capable of pulling something like that off.
Angela, who had been hiding in the shadows, suddenly appeared and said, “That was cruel.”
"What do you mean?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.
“That giant became miserable because of you, Master,” Angela answered.
Kim Jin-Woo briefly glanced at the spot where Krasto had been standing, and responded, “He made the choice, not me. He had a chance to retreat, but he didn’t because he was overly confident of his power.”
“But he didn’t really have a choice in the first place.” For some reason, Angela blamed Kim Jin-Woo for his downfall. Kim Jin-Woo didn’t refute her either.
“Well, it’s no longer important why Krasto ended up being the way he is. What’s important is how you can make use of him,” Angela continued with a shrug. “And it seems to me that you’ve already found his worth, Master.”
Kim Jin-Woo, however, said nothing.
After Krasto left, Kim Jin-Woo headed straight to the surface. There was a chance Krasto might return while he was away, but he didn't particularly care.
Now that all of the Underworld had turned into a living hell, there was no other option for Krasto other than the Naga King. After all, the situation in the Underworld was so bad that a pathetic mercenary who knew nothing but defeat after losing his amplification buff effects would have no chance of surviving.
“Why are you coveting a Noble’s Seal all of a sudden?” Angela asked, having followed Kim Jin-Woo to the surface. “Master, you’re a Terran. Something like a Noble’s Seal was never something you were interested in, right?”
Kim Jin-Woo happened to have become a Baron, and then a Viscount, while struggling to survive. He had never really deliberately tried to earn the position of an Underworld Noble.
Angela tilted her head. She had always been right next to him and knew him very well. That was why she couldn’t understand why her master had unexpectedly begun coveting a Noble's Seal, especially since the owner of the Seal in question was lower in rank than he was. Once again, Kim Jin-Woo didn’t respond to her question. She pouted, seemingly upset with his icy attitude, but stayed quiet.
“I plan on getting some information,” Kim Jin-Woo finally said after a long silence.
“What should I do?” Angela asked.
“Monitoring and spying,” Kim Jin-Woo replied.
“Well, that’s no different from the usual,” Angela remarked.
With her vampiric stealth, Angela had done similar tasks countless times, so she wasn’t surprised by the instruction. In fact, she had experience assassinating people several times on his orders, so monitoring and spying wasn’t difficult for her at all. If anything had changed from before, it was that she was now on the surface, not in the Underworld, and the targets she had to monitor were Terrans.
“Who should I monitor?” she asked.
“That old and clever fox,” Kim Jin-Woo said shortly as he recalled Mr. Baek’s wrinkled face.
“What’s all this!?” As if he were bewitched, Mr. Baek made a big fuss over the down gems Kim Jin-Woo poured out before him.
“I was simply lucky,” Kim Jin-Woo said.
“Lucky isn’t enough to explain all this! My man, have you perhaps discovered a down gem mine or something!?” Mr. Baek's eyes gleamed with greed as he blabbered on.
“There are two medium-grade, one high-grade, and six low-grade down gems. How much will you give me for them?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.
“Hold on a moment! Even if you hadn’t said that, I was going to pay you well anyway.” Perhaps it was because of the shortage of down gems that had persisted until now, but it seemed as if Mr. Baek had gone crazy after seeing not one, but several down gems.
Mr. Baek took out a monocle, then busied himself with examining the down gems. “All of them are of good quality! Even if they were of the same grade, they could only be found deep in the Underworld!” After he was done examining the last low-grade gem, he chuckled with a satisfied look.
“So, how much?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.
As if he had been waiting for Kim Jin-Woo’s question, Mr. Baek quoted the skyrocketing prices of down gems these days, then said he would add another thirty percent on top of that price for the down gems that Kim Jin-Woo had brought him.
“Not bad,” Kim Jin-Woo remarked.
“Not bad!? You’ll get a really good price no matter where you go. If the supply of down gems hadn’t been cut, I wouldn’t pay you nearly as much. So don’t talk through your hat!” Mr. Baek exclaimed.
“Is that so?” Kim Jin-Woo chimed in.
“Of course! Why would I lie to you, of all people?” Mr. Baek replied as he sneakily grabbed the down gems on the table. “By the way, would you be able to get me some highest-grade down gems? If you can, I promise I’ll be able to make you rich.”
“I’ll try,” Kim Jin-Woo replied.
While they were talking, Mr. Baek had kept glancing at his phone. He seemed ready to call his clients the instant Kim Jin-Woo departed.
Kim Jin-Woo took the hint and decided to leave so Mr. Baek could call them, saying, “I’ll be leaving now. There are some urgent matters I have to attend to.”
“Sure, I’ll be here. I’ll deposit the money right away, so don’t worry,” Mr. Baek said.
Leaving behind the fidgety Mr. Baek, who was so excited to see him go, Kim Jin-Woo left the appraisal office. As soon as he left, he immediately heard Angela’s words inside his head via their telepathic bond. [Don’t you think you gave him too many down gems?]
Kim Jin-Woo looked around and said quietly, “I’m going to take them back anyway, so what’s there to worry about?”
Since the down gems had become more precious than ever, there was no way that Kim Jin-Woo would have done something that would only benefit Mr. Baek. Based on his experiences in dealing with Mr. Baek, Kim Jin-Woo believed that Mr. Baek would never tell him where the down gems were going; that was why he needed the bait.
[Pfft. I got it. So, all I have to do is to keep an eye on Mr. Baek, then trail those who purchase the down gems, right?]
“There may be several buyers, not just one, so you must come back as soon as you learn their whereabouts.”
Since the supply of down gems had been cut off for some time, Mr. Baek would first try to contact those he thought were his top clients. If the down gems that had been brought onto the surface were still around, it was highly likely that Mr. Baek’s top clients were holding on to them.
[Then, until we meet again, Master!] Angela’s playful voice echoed through Kim Jin-Woo’s head before disappearing.
After looking back at the appraisal office briefly, Kim Jin-Woo returned to the Underworld. After his arrival, he encountered Krasto waiting for him. “Have you made a decision?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.
Instead of answering, Krasto held out his thick palm with a sullen expression. A ring shone brightly on it. He held it out hesitantly, as if he still had a lingering affection for it.
“Oho, so this is your seal? It’s rather unique,” Kim Jin-Woo exclaimed in admiration when he realized that the ring was clearly different from his own Noble’s Seal. “You’ve thought this through well. What’s the point of living as a noble in this situation? The Deep Floors are nothing more than a battlefield, just like all the other floors.” Despite those words, he couldn’t take his eyes off the seal.
“Please pay me well.” Having abandoned his pride completely, Krasto openly asked for a good price, and Kim Jin-Woo willingly accepted his demand. “I’ll come back for it.”
Kim Jin-Woo nodded indifferently and said with a smile, “Anytime, if you can pay, that is.” Still, he knew that the day Krasto returned to retrieve his seal would never come.
The once-mighty mercenary was now obsolete, but a deep resentment toward him remained in the Underworld due to the missions he had carried out, both large and small. Rumors of his decline had yet to spread far within the Underworld, but the rumors of his no longer being the Undefeated Mercenary would have circulated far and wide by now.
And when the time came, Krasto would have to choose between hiding with down gems in a place where nobody could find him, or starting all over again while dreaming of a comeback.
Neither choice mattered to Kim Jin-Woo. Even if Krasto were to miraculously make a successful comeback and return to take back his seal, Kim Jin-Woo had no intention of returning it.
[The conditions for becoming a True Lord, the Highlord, have been fulfilled.]
As Kim Jin-Woo sent off Krasto, he smiled at the message that appeared before his eyes.
1. The raws used Krasto's title of Undefeated Mercenary here. But to prevent any confusion, since he was already defeated before, I translated it as Krasto instead.