“Is that so? I asked a stupid question, then,” Kim Jin-Woo said.
Hecarim frowned and stepped forward, opening his mouth… No, he tried to open it.
However, Kim Jin-Woo’s cold voice followed immediately. “I asked an obvious question, and the answer was decided from the beginning.”
Kim Jin-Woo seemed to take pleasure in the questioning, as he giggled and laughed. Hecarim, however, couldn’t. He saw the deadly murderous intent behind Kim Jin-Woo’s smile.
“I’m sure you…” Kim Jin-Woo began. He thought of the centaurs’ swift movements and powerful attacks. Hecarim’s fighting style, which was rare in the Underworld, was familiar. He continued, “.……must have belonged to the Iron-Blooded Knights.”
Hecarim’s fighting style that went straight for the heart of the enemy using rapid maneuverability was also a method that Kim Jin-Woo and the Naga Dragon Knights utilized often.
The battles of the Underworld were a test of one’s strength and power, relying on one’s true capabilities and prowess. However, the Dragon Knights preferred to crush their enemies with speed rather than force. It was a rare fighting style in the Underworld.
However, it was Balzark who had suggested and trained them in this unfamiliar tactic. After all, Balzark had once been affiliated with the Iron-Blooded Knights. And Hecarim’s fighting style was too strikingly similar to Balzark’s to be coincidental.
“Is there anything more you have to say?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.
“M-milord!” Hecarim belatedly got on his knees as he begged for forgiveness.
“Too late.” Even before the King of the Centaurs’ knees fully touched the ground, Kim Jin-Woo had already gotten up close and personal.
“Kaaaaaaargh!” Realizing this, Hecarim quickly kicked out with his bent legs and drew out his long spear.
“I always knew something was off about the fact that you lost to Bartholomew, and yet survived. Who knew you were hiding such skills?” Kim Jin-Woo remarked.
Although Hecarim’s attack didn’t connect with Kim Jin-Woo, it was rather unusual. It was a powerful thrust that wasn’t merely on the level of a 9th Floor labyrinth master. It made no sense that Hecarim had lost to Bartholomew despite such power.
“Looks like you went easy on Bartholomew,” Kim Jin-Woo continued.
It was Boreas the Wind Piercer that had finished off Bartholomew, but Hecarim was no less powerful than Boreas. It made no sense that he couldn’t deal with Bartholomew.
That was because the insidious King of the Centaurs had met Bartholomew outside of the latter’s labyrinth, where there was no advantage for the defender.
“Contrary to your looks, you’re quite a sinister one. Anatolius must trust you quite a bit too.” Kim Jin-Woo smiled wider, having confirmed his suspicions that Hecarim would have been considered a formidable being even amongst the Iron-Blooded Knights thanks to his great strength and psychological warfare capabilities. He continued, “However, if you don’t make it back, I’m pretty Anatolius will grow quite upset.”
Hecarim’s spear, which had been frantically cutting and stabbing in all directions, stopped. Kim Jin-Woo had suddenly closed in out of nowhere and grabbed the spear by its head.
“Eeek!” Hecarim gave his all to shake Kim Jin-Woo off. But even as the hefty centaur struggled with all his might, the relatively puny king didn’t budge an inch.
“Pass on the message. The price of betraying my trust will be high. Pass it on to Anatolius…” Kim Jin-Woo began. Hecarim’s grip loosened. He saw some hope in his opponent’s words. But Kim Jin-Woo wasn’t done speaking and continued, “.……if you can still make it after you’re dead.”
Kim Jin-Woo’s fist swung with a mighty roar.
With one blow, a third of Hecarim’s upper body exploded as if it had been hit by a bomb.
The headless body of the centaur trembled a few times before collapsing onto the ground.
The deafening silence that had filled the Underworld was broken by the traitor’s giant body collapsing onto the ground with a loud thud that rang in the ears of Malaxus and the others like thunder.
As soon as Hecarim fell, the rest of the centaurs fell to their knees. Normally, they would have been annihilated together with their master, but as they had already lost their labyrinth and its labyrinth core, they were able to avoid their own extinction.
“Ariane.” Kim Jin-Woo looked back as he stood in front of the bowing centaurs.
“Milord!” Ariane quickly answered with a sullen look on her face, trembling as if she had been struck by lightning.
“Who is behind you?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.
“Denarion of Nightmares was the one who sent me,” Ariane confessed. She had been shocked by Hecarim’s hidden strength, and doubly so at the king’s power, that had easily disposed of the centaur as if it were child’s play.
“What’s his objective?” Kim Jin-Woo asked further.
“I’m not trying to hide it, but right now, there are too many ears around us for me to tell you about the situation,” Ariane replied.
Kim Jin-Woo nodded, seeing that Ariane seemed to have already made up her mind to completely follow his instructions. He said, “You’re lucky. Let me spare that miserable life of yours just a little longer.”
With that, he went back to the position where he had first revealed his presence. He asked, “Now, should I finish what I started?”
The trial, which had been temporarily interrupted by the two traitors, resumed.
Some of those who had been sent to the right side began to run away, screaming and flailing. Now that even the King of the Centaurs, who had been hiding a power incomparable to their own, had been defeated with ease, they had lost all the will and courage to stand up to the king.
In an instant, the number of escapees increased.
“How impatient. If they had begged for forgiveness, I might have let them live.” Kim Jin-Woo clicked his tongue as he gave the escapees a pitying look. Contrary to his words, however, his ice-cold demeanor seemed far from forgiving.
The mob didn’t seem to have heard him, as even more ran for their lives. They were so desperate that some were already approaching the edge of the empty square.
If Kim Jin-Woo let them be, he was sure to let countless mobs escape. And yet, his expression didn’t change a single bit. Instead of kicking up a fuss, he murmured in an excruciatingly relaxed manner, “Close labyrinth.”
The words were so soft that no one else would have been able to hear them, but the aftermath of those words was far from small.
The wide, empty square swayed like a wave before stabilizing, and in an instant, it was surrounded by tall walls on all sides.
[As you will, the Grand Labyrinth has been completely closed. No one will be able to leave the labyrinth without your permission.]
The mob stopped dead in their tracks as they saw that they were unable to get over the wall that had suddenly sprouted. They started panicking as they pounded their fists against the wall, to no avail. Terrified screams and shouts ensued, as the mob trampled one another in a bid to save themselves.
“If you want to resent someone, blame Ariane, Hecarim, and your fellow labyrinth masters. Without them, none of this would have happened,” Kim Jin-Woo said.
Based on the facts that had spilled out of Ariane’s mouth, there were sure to be some who might see the relationship between him and Anatolius. It was a faint possibility, but Kim Jin-Woo didn’t overlook it. He didn’t want that fact to jeopardize his plans, and he simply wanted the day to end quietly in peace.
Although he had been dealt with a low blow thanks to them planting spies, Anatolius and Denarion were still useful to him. It was necessary for him to continue their existing relationship.
He also hoped that, if possible, the fact that Ariane’s identity had been discovered wouldn’t be revealed. If he was lucky, he would even be able to return the favor for Denarion trying to backstab him.
In order to achieve that, Kim Jin-Woo had to ensure that word of the ongoing events in his labyrinth would never spread beyond those four walls. If he let the mob escape as they were, despite the fact that most would turn into mindless beasts that would roam the Underworld until the day they died, there was a possibility that some might survive long enough to make contact with the Counts.
And if just one of them were to divulge what they had experienced here, trouble would follow suit. He wasn’t about to take that risk.
There was no need for Kim Jin-Woo to get his own hands dirty. After all, he had the power to remove the seeds of strife with just a single utterance. “Eat them all.”
“Kaaaaaaaaaargh!” As soon as Kim Jin-Woo finished speaking, deadly cries and howls began to fill the labyrinth. Terrifying screams, seeming as though they were coming from the abyss, echoed in all directions, and the vibrations gradually increased.
Just as the mob was about to escape the square, they lost their balance and stumbled as the ground rose and the ceiling fell.
“Please forgive me!”
Frightened screams and flurries ensued. But they were soon swallowed up whole by the Grand Labyrinth itself. The Grand Labyrinth had devoured them alive.
[Even though each one is insignificant, the vitality of the thousands-strong mob was enough to satiate the newborn Grand Labyrinth.]
[The life energy absorbed by the Grand Labyrinth has been converted into dungeon energy.]
[Converted dungeon energy has been used to reactivate inactive facilities and summons.]
And when the square reverted to its original form, not a single member of the mob remained to be seen.
Malaxus and the others were utterly terrified. At first, they had thought they were just afraid of Kim Jin-Woo’s overwhelming power, but they later realized what true terror was when the Grand Labyrinth devoured the mob whole without leaving a single dissenter alive.
They weren’t just intimidated by Kim Jin-Woo’s power. They were afraid of the overwhelming threat that he exuded once in a while, as well as his power that was sufficient to defeat Hecarim in one attack. But it wasn’t just simple fear that they felt. It was a deeper kind of fear that stemmed from the very ground they placed their two feet on.
The moment they had stepped into the Grand Labyrinth, blinded by their past, they had stepped into their own doom, as if they had stepped into a boiling cauldron on their own.
And that boiling cauldron called the Grand Labyrinth had not only swallowed thousands of lives whole; it was also boiling hotter than before.
In the minds of Malaxus and the others, an invisible darkness was greedily consuming them from within. The illusions caused by the darkness were turning them blind.
“Milord!” They all knelt as they smashed their heads against the ground.
“You were wise not to agree with them.” The king’s voice rang throughout the labyrinth. Those who remained shut their mouths as they heard his gentle but overpowering voice.
“But, it’s a shame.” The air surrounding the king began to freeze. “What a shame. If you had stepped in to stop them, I could have truly trusted you all.”
Malaxus closed his eyes tightly as he heard the king’s sharp voice. Perhaps he had entertained the thought that the mob had the slightest chance of succeeding, without him even realizing it. He hadn’t been sure if the Nagas would be able to withstand the thousands-strong mob. He felt pathetic for entertaining the worst case scenario, and for his indecisiveness that had stemmed from fear of being turned on by the mob.
“Perhaps there are some of you who wish I had suffered in the hands of the rioters,” the king said.
At that moment, everyone gathered knew, as the chilling air froze over. The king’s cold wrath froze the trembling onlookers in place, and yet, they were still stuck in that same boiling pot.
“Kaiman, to the right.”
“Helmut, to the right.”
The trial that had been temporarily suspended resumed.