“Mwahahaha, follow me!” Uther proudly shouted at the Naga Dragon Knights who had stepped forward to escort him. As someone who had only gotten to lead the wobbly Greed Slimes before that moment, he grew cocky as he finally got to command the majestic and dignified Dragon Knights.
His behavior was understandable, however. At least within the 9th Floor, the Naga Dragon Knights were stronger than most of the labyrinth masters in it.
Thus, when Uther arrived at the one of the frontline labyrinths, the Land of Emptiness, he started going around acting as if he was the Conqueror himself. He boasted, "If I hadn’t mobilized the entire Army of the Dead, the King wouldn't have taken over the Graveyard so easily!"
"I see! You’re amazing!” Tryndall, who had been waiting for Uther in front of the portal connected to the Fortress, exclaimed in admiration as he listened to Uther’s claims.
Seemingly satisfied with Tryndall's reaction, Uther ran his mouth excitedly. “I’m the King’s First Knight!”
Tryndall, completely fascinated by the power of Kim Jin-Woo and the Nagas, went along with Uther’s words sincerely, truly believing that he was Kim Jin-Woo's right-hand man.
"There’s no time. The King wants to learn the situation beyond the passageway as soon as possible,” Rikshasha said curtly. Had she not stopped him, Uther would have kept on gloating all day long.
“How dare you, petty slave?” Thinking this was an opportunity to win the favor of the King’s First Knight, Tryndall kicked up a huge fuss when the lowly Under-Elf dared to interfere.
But rather than being frightened by his words, the petty Under-Elf again pressured Uther to stop with a solemn expression.
Dumbfounded by her behavior, Tryndall was about to give her a piece of his mind when Uther hurriedly stopped him, startled. Uther said, “S-she’s right. As the King’s First Knight, I shouldn’t keep him waiting.”
Since Uther had sided with her first, Tryndall felt as if he had been slapped across the face. Instead of consoling Tryndall over his embarrassing act, Uther hurriedly prepared to leave the Labyrinth of Emptiness.
“A wise decision,” Rikshasha spat carelessly.
“Because I’m the extension of the King himself!” Uther responded arrogantly.
Tryndall tilted his head in disbelief. The great Conqueror’s First Knight was showing mercy to the petty Under-Elf again, for some reason.
“I would like to help as well,” Tryndall offered. But his request fell on deaf ears, as the expedition seemed ready to leave the Land of Emptiness as soon as the Tiger Dragons and Dragon Knights had taken a brief break. Tryndall hurriedly stepped forward and pleaded with Uther.
Tryndall had hoped to stand and fight by the King’s side, but he wasn’t strong and competent enough. He thought he could be of great help to the King if he were given a different mission from before, such as scouting. Even though it wasn’t in his nature to be making such a request, he repeatedly pleaded with Uther, who seemed reluctant to accept.
“Well, since you’re also a proud knight serving the King, I doubt you’re going to be a burden. Fine, I’ll allow you to join us,” Uther said.
This time, Rikshasha didn’t bother to take issue with Uther's decision. Given her indifferent expression, it was fairly clear that she didn’t care about Tryndall at all.
As he watched Rikshasha take care of the expedition discreetly, Uther let out a sigh of relief without being noticed by Tryndall. No matter how much he was favored(?) by the King, he couldn't help but feel wary of her, because Rikshasa had been serving the King from the very beginning.
“I think we should calm down a bit. We’re making too much noise,” Uther murmured.
"What did you say?" Tryndall asked out of the blue, apparently overhearing him.
“Oh, I meant to say we should be cautious because we don’t know what’s over there.” Uther tried to gloss over what he had said as he followed the expedition force silently.
“This must be the cause of the war.” Uther had already seen the passageway several times through the Greed Slimes, but it felt different seeing it with his own eyes. At a glance, it looked similar to any other passageway connected to the other floors, but the darkness lurking beyond it was even thicker and more ominous than usual.
“Let’s go,” Uther said. The anxiety and fear that he had shaken off thanks to the imposing power of the Dragon Knights following him were revived in his mind. He looked over the passageway, bearing a serious expression unlike before.
Even though Uther’s timid and skeptical personality had reemerged, Tryndall still seemed impressed by his serious look. "Indeed! I’ve heard that the King has supernatural powers of discernment. You must be the source of that power!” he exclaimed in admiration as he watched the slime masses breaking off Uther's body before being sucked into the darkness beyond the passageway.
“Well, in a way, that’s true.” Even in this situation, Uther didn’t forget to bask in Tryndall’s compliments. But his moment of glory was cut short.
“How is it going?” Rikshasha asked, having silently approached Uther.
Uther replied with a sullen expression, "It’s strange. I can't see anything. This has never happened before.” Apparently, he couldn’t communicate with the Greed Slimes that had gone through the passageway. “Not even the ones I sent to the Deep Floors were like this.”
“Well, I guess we have no choice but to check it out in person,” Rikshasha said casually, after taking a quick glance at Uther’s serious expression. Kim Jin-Woo must have anticipated something like this might happen, which was why he had sent the Under-Elves as part of the expedition as well.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Uther muttered. Although he was naturally timid and paranoid, his gut feelings, based on his innate instinct for survival, were better than anybody else’s.
They were so much so that even Kim Jin-Woo, who hardly praised anybody unless he had to, had called Rikshasha over separately and pointed out Uther’s excellent sixth sense to her before the expedition left. Thus, Rikshasha didn’t take Uther’s words lightly.
“You and you,” Rikshasha began. Two Under-Elves who had been waiting for her command stepped forward. She ordered, “Go there and check it out.”
It was far from easy for them to check out what was beyond the darkness, which had been responsible for plunging the Underworld into chaos. However, the Under-Elf Rangers threw themselves into the darkness without hesitating for even a second.
“T-those…!” Startled, Uther was left tongue-tied as he watched the darkness swallow the Under-Elf Rangers.
“They’re smart, so if anything goes wrong, they’ll buy us some time to prepare.” Ignoring the fact that she had pushed her own people into a possible death trap, Rikshasha continued to speak in a relaxed tone.
It wasn’t out of the ordinary, however; the Under-Elves had followed a very thorny path over the course of the last year while desperately struggling to prove their worth to Kim Jin-Woo.
Not only had they taken charge of reconnaissance in the chaotic Deep Floors, but they had also risked their lives to report on the situation amid the harsh war. The number of casualties they sustained in the process had reached nearly two hundred, and each of the surviving Under-Elves had become a full-fledged warrior in their own right.
It wasn’t unreasonable for Rikshasha to firmly believe that the Under-Elf Rangers who had been dispatched would accomplish their mission.
"Um…” Uther began.
The Under-Elves, who had successfully completed dozens, if not hundreds of scouting missions, hadn’t returned.
“It really seems as though something has gone wrong. At least one of them should have returned by now to report on what they’ve seen, but from the look of things, I fear they’ve both been killed,” Rikshasha said.
“Urgh.” Uther groaned. He had watched the Under-Elves carrying out their missions tenaciously for the past year. Thus, he realized that the situation was dire.
“Give me a chance instead of trusting the weak Under-elves!” Tryndall, who had been observing the situation, stepped forward as he made his request.
“T-that’s alright, I think?” Uther asked as he glanced at Rikshasha.
Tryndall couldn’t understand why Uther was letting Rikshasha be the decision-maker, but he held his tongue as he repeated his request.
"There’s no need for an unnecessary sacrifice, but if he really wants to…” Rikshasha said, giving her approval. Uther nodded at Tryndall.
“Please wait a moment,” Tryndall said. He then summoned some of the Void Knights who had followed him, then sent them into the dangerous space inside the passageway. The hollow-bodied Void Knights melted away into the darkness like ghosts.
But even the Void Knights that Tryndall trusted so much showed no signs of returning.
“It looks like they’ve failed as well…?” Uther remarked.
“It seems we have no other choice but to go in there and check it out directly,” Rikshasha said.
Tryndall almost flew into a fit of rage upon hearing those words, but he thought better of it. He was already anxious about losing contact with his subordinates who had gone through the passageway. He felt it would have been better if he had gone instead and checked on the situation himself.
“Shall we go?” Uther asked, and the expedition force slowly began to approach the passageway.
With their scales raised, the Tiger Dragons were already letting out low growls and dripping flames. Even these brave and invincible Tiger Dragons, who had never backed off in the face of countless enemies, paced cautiously around the passageway. The Naga Dragon Knights pushed them to move by repeatedly hissing, resembling the sound of wind blowing.
With hardened expressions, the Under-Elves followed closely behind the Dragon Knights. They gripped the hilts of their scimitars tightly, ready to draw weapons at any given moment.
"It’s strange. No matter how hard I think about it, this is strange,” Uther remarked.
“The King must have given us this task precisely because it’s strange,” Rikshasha remarked.
Uther had been in the middle of the ranks at first, but now found himself standing at the back as he slowly reduced his pace. Rikshasha deftly poked him from behind with the hilt of her scimitar, pushing him back toward the forefront.
“It’s really strange that I can’t even communicate with my precious Greed Slimes, and it’s also strange that your resilient and strong subordinates didn’t come back. In my eyes, these guys called Void Knights are also fairly competent,” Uther continued.
“What are you trying to say?” Rikshasha asked, once again poking Uther in the back with the hilt of her sword.
As Uther reached the front of the group, he raised his hand and suddenly ordered with an unnaturally stiff expression, “Halt."
The Dragon Knights barely managed to stop the Tiger Dragons, which were now gasping for breath.
At that moment, something popped out of the passageway with a bizarre scream. “Kyaaaargh!”
The Dragon Knights at the forefront reflexively thrust out their spears at that terrible scream. Four or five spear blades ripped through the air, tearing right through something that had popped out of the passageway.
No blood splattered from it. Instead, there was only a brief noise, followed by the sound of clanging metal.
“Why, you!” Tryndall exclaimed.
After he recognized the identity of the object hanging off the tips of the Dragon Knights' spears, Uther exclaimed with a dismayed expression, "Stand down!”
The Dragon Knights moved swiftly. As soon as they discovered that the objects pierced by their spears were Tryndall’s subordinates, the Void Knights, they had already begun withdrawing their spears.
The Void Knights, who had already been in rough shape, were torn apart once again, their metal armor shattering into pieces.
Just then, something broke through the darkness of the passageway, and attacked the Dragon Knights.