The Under-Elf Rangers left the labyrinth to deliver the message. They would travel through Ustus’ labyrinth to reach the Deep Floor Counts. Even though the 11th Floor was still in chaos because the ongoing war was still unpredictable, they would likely be able to complete their mission, since they had scouted the 11th Floor successfully.
Some time passed after the Under-Elves left, and Kim Jin-Woo was visited by Denarion. Denarion appeared after Kim Jin-Woo had an eerie nightmare, as always. He seemed to hardly believe Kim Jin-Woo’s tales of the other Underworld. Who would believe his story that an Underworld was devouring living things when the Underworld itself wasn’t a sentient being?
However, Denarion listened seriously to Kim Jin-Woo’s explanation, as expected of another Underworld being. After all, he had encountered many other unusual events and activities during his time in the Underworld.
Denarion finally remarked, “If that’s true, this war isn’t simply a matter of winning or losing.” Kim Jin-Woo nodded and Denarion continued, “As things stand now, even if we won, we wouldn’t be able to call ourselves victors, because there’s no guarantee that our Underworld won’t suffer the same fate as the Other Underworld.”
Kim Jin-Woo had expected to get some information from Denarion, but he wasn’t able to. Nonetheless, he was satisfied that Denarion now realized how serious the situation was. He asked, “Can you think of any solutions?”
“First, we must drive out the enemy. We can think about the down gem issue after that,” Denarion answered. As long as the enemy remained to take the down gems for themselves, there was no chance that the situation could get any better. Fortunately, Denarion wasn’t so pessimistic about the war itself.
“Can you do it?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.
“It doesn’t matter what’s possible or impossible, isn’t it? As things stand now, our destruction is imminent.” Having said that, Denarion promised to return and left.
After Denarion’s departure, the Under-Elf Rangers returned one by one. However, they only confirmed that none of the Underworld Counts knew anything about what was going on.
"It's strange that no one thought of going through that passageway to check out the situation,” Kim Jin-Woo mused.
He knew that Iron-Blooded Anatolius had deep insights. Even though he had never met Parthenon of Despair, Kim Jin-Woo didn’t think the latter was lacking in wisdom and tactical skills. If the Deep Floor Counts, including Parthenon of Despair, were indeed really this ignorant, Anatolius wouldn’t have been so wary of them in the first place.
Kim Jin-Woo found it strange that none of the Counts had shown any interest in what was beyond the passageway, but he simply couldn’t figure out why.
Denarion suddenly returned, saying, “The 11th Floor will be cleaned up soon. It won’t take long.”
Kim Jin-Woo was bewildered. He couldn’t understand why Denarion wanted to do such a thing only now, when he could have wiped out the enemy early on so easily.
However, with the Deep Floor Counts likely having their own circumstances to deal with, Denarion didn’t elaborate too much. He simply said, “It’s because we have been wary of one another for too long. Even if we don’t take this chance to weaken the invading forces, our boring confrontation will continue.” It seemed that it wasn’t just the Iron-Blooded Anatolius who had been waiting for the right moment to act. Denarion continued, "It may be a bit late, but we’re trying to correct the situation now.”
“How long will it take?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.
Denarion casually replied, “It might take up to a month. There’s still no way to get rid of the passageway that has already been created, but that will be enough time for us to push our front lines right up to it.”
Kim Jin-Woo found himself in a dilemma when Denarion made his declaration. If the war continued to drag on, there was no guarantee that the Underworld with its depleting supply of down gems wouldn’t end up in the same situation as the Other Underworld beyond the passageway. However, if the war ended too soon, the unidentified being that called itself the Usurper might notice his newly gained ‘Highlord’ status.
Regardless of how the situation unfolded, Kim Jin-Woo and his Fortress would fall into danger. He agonized over the matter for a moment, but ultimately, he was undeterred. After all, he had expected such a turn of events when he decided to approach the Deep Floor Counts with his information on the Other Underworld. He was neither stupid nor ignorant.
“One month, huh,” Kim Jin-Woo muttered. One month was both a long time and a very short time, given the circumstances. He finally made up his mind.
After meeting Denarion, Kim Jin-Woo immediately convened a meeting with Dominique and the other leaders. Those who attended the meeting were his most trusted subordinates, including Dominique and Quantus, as well as Rikshasha and the other Hero-Grade Nagas. On the other hand, Morrigan and Heimdall weren’t summoned to the meeting.
“Everyone is here,” Kim Jin-Woo began. His subordinates looked nervously at one another as they anticipated what their King was going to say. He continued, “The Deep Floor Counts’ war will be over within a month. I intend to take over the 10th Floor before then.”
Dominique looked puzzled, but Kim Jin-Woo continued quickly without giving her a chance to interrupt. “My targets aren’t their labyrinths or their down gems. We’re going straight for the 10th Floor Barons and Viscounts.”
Kim Jin-Woo’s plan was simple. The 10th Floor Nobles were being helplessly swept away by the enemy's offensive, paying the price for their self-indulgence and laziness. Numerous Nobles had been either killed or eaten alive by the raiders known as Moai. Those who remained were scattered everywhere, desperately fighting to protect their labyrinths.
Thus, Kim Jin-Woo’s target was the Nobles, who were completely weakened in their current state.
“If you’re concerned about the Counts’ interference, why don’t you tell the 10th Floor Nobles to move instead? The surviving Nobles are barely scraping by, so if you suggest for them to relocate under favorable conditions, I’m certain they’ll be more than happy to pledge their allegiance to you,” Dominique recommended after listening in silence. She suggested a rather amicable option after explaining how the situation on the 9th Floor, which seemed stable, was actually maintained via a delicate balance.
But Km Jin-Woo was unable to accept a recommendation of that nature. In the past, he could have regarded it as worthwhile to expand his forces and absorb the troops of the Nobles, but what he needed now were the Nobles themselves, not their troops or their labyrinths. As long as they were alive, it would be impossible for them to hand over their Nobles’ Seals to him willingly. He desperately needed the Nobles’ Seals, or in other words, the Power Fragments that they held.
“This information is highly confidential,” he began after looking around. Then, he revealed the truth about the Highlord and the Usurper that he had been hiding from his subordinates, ending any doubts or concerns about his plan. He concluded, “That’s the situation we’re in right now, and I will accept no further deviations from my plan.”
Kim Jin-Woo’s subordinates were left dumbfounded at such an incredible secret. Only Rikshasha continued to intently fix him with an unusual stare.
“Come up with solutions. I need the heads of at least ten Nobles,” Kim Jin-Woo said, expressing his strong, firm intent. The silence of his subordinates only grew deeper.
A summons was issued to the labyrinth masters of the entire 9th Floor. It was a rare occurrence that had happened only a few times over the course of the year-long war. It was also the first time such a thing had happened since the formation of the front line and the successful defense against the Moai invasion. As such, the 9th Floor labyrinth masters gathered as quickly as possible at the Naga’s Fortress, despite having their own reservations.
“We’re heading into another war.” Kim Jin-Woo briefly explained the reason he had summoned the labyrinth masters in front of him.
“Another war?” Uther asked. He had exhausted his energy during the previous scouting expedition, and had yet to fully recover to his original size. That was perhaps why he was even more frightened than usual.
“Gather your forces, and leave behind only the minimum number of troops needed to defend your labyrinths,” Kim Jin-Woo declared in a sudden and unilateral fashion. However, none of the 9th Floor labyrinth masters, who had sworn their allegiance to him, objected.
“Who the hell are we fighting this time?”
“Are we finally going on the offensive?”
The labyrinth masters began to whisper among themselves. They tried to figure out the king's intentions, making assumptions they thought were valid in their own way. But only Uther, who had seen the disaster beyond the passageway with his own eyes, made no hasty guesses despite his confusion.
“Since it’s the King’s order, it isn’t difficult for us to gather troops. But I wonder who we’re fighting against…” The King of the Dwarves stepped forward and asked on behalf of the other labyrinth masters.
Looking at the King of the Dwarves, whose face had gained a couple of horrific scars in the last year, Kim Jin-Woo answered briefly, “The 10th Floor is the target of this war.”
None of the labyrinth masters could have anticipated that answer, as all of their jaws dropped as if they had been hit hard in the back of their heads.
As he watched them quietly, Kim Jin-Woo whispered softly instead of clarifying the situation, "Portal."
The darkness cracked open, creating a door in empty space. Uther's labyrinth could be seen beyond it.
"Eek!” Belatedly realizing that the labyrinth visible through the portal was his own, Uther stepped in front of the portal and protested, “What is this sudden…”
The supply of down gems had been strained a lot recently, so it was no wonder the numerous labyrinth masters that had gathered turned their eyes toward Uther’s labyrinth beyond the portal.
Since it was certain that they would find out the truth about his labyrinth, Uther inflated his body as he attempted to block the portal. The labyrinth masters, who were gazing over at the portal out of greed and curiosity, smacked their lips in frustration.
But shortly afterward, another portal appeared where the labyrinth masters had gathered. This time, it was connected to the Labyrinth of Illusions that the Queen of Illusions ruled. As Ariane attempted to cover the portal by spreading her wings wide…
Yet another portal appeared.
And another portal opened.
Eventually, over a hundred portals had been open in the vast square.
Dumbfounded by their king’s mysterious, incomprehensible actions, the labyrinth masters made a big fuss over blocking the portals connected to their own respective labyrinths. Their confusion was at its peak.
Some of them fiercely glared at the other labyrinth masters, while others even extended their talons, ready to rip out the eyes of the other labyrinth masters at any moment. The atmosphere became extremely tense.
As he watched them, Kim Jin-Woo belatedly gave an order. His voice was low, but it had enough resonance to silence the commotion. “Summon your troops.”
The labyrinth masters, who had been making a big fuss while staring at each other, waited with blank expressions for him to elaborate further, unable to figure out his intentions.
But Kim Jin-Woo did nothing to help them understand the situation, nor did he explain his plan to them. He simply said, “The war starts now.”