Having discovered the Veins, Kim Jin-Woo was left with a dilemma.
In the past, he would have redeployed the defensive troops protecting his labyrinth to protect and secure the down gems instead. However, he had insufficient resources to relocate from the labyrinth in order to protect the Veins that were situated quite a distance away. However, the Veins themselves were too important to ignore.
In the end, after much deliberation, he gave an order to Uther. “Unleash your Greed Slimes and cover up this passageway for the time being.
Uther freaked out. “It would take half my body to completely cover a passageway of this size! No, it would take almost three quarters.” He had already concealed the Veins the same way once, but Kim Jin-Woo’s request seemed excessive.
Kim Jin-Woo peered deep into the passageway where Uther’s eyes couldn’t reach, and asked Uther to cover up the entire area. “Please.”
“Is this worth that much?” Uther seemed to be completely confused not only at Kim Jin-Woo’s request, which was unusual in itself, but at how persistent he was about it. The Naga King he knew wouldn’t be so obsessed over these piles of unripe down gems.
But that was only because Uther didn’t know of the existence of the Veins, and also because he was unaware of the situation in the Grand Labyrinth, where its elite troops had all vanished.
“Worth, huh…” Kim Jin-Woo looked around the passageway. “Well, that depends on how it’s used, isn’t it.” His slightly curled lips indicated that he was definitely up to something.
“Oh! We’re finally here! Finally!” Uther, whose body was now smaller than that of an imp, quivered when he finally spotted the outer perimeter of the Grand Labyrinth.
But unlike Uther, who was completely overjoyed, Kim Jin-Woo had strangely been frowning the whole time. There was a strange sense of incongruity, and despite the fact that Uther had exhausted all his strength, the time he had taken to return was shorter than the time he had taken to reach the location of the Veins. And Kim Jin-Woo soon found out why.
“Amazing. It’s still expanding,” he remarked.
Rikshasha and the Under-Elves brought a truly astonishing report. The Grand Labyrinth had been steadily expanding its boundaries ever since its first appearance. As a result, the Grand Labyrinth of today was a completely different existence than yesterday’s. The boundary had expanded to such a degree that it took a day to cross from one end to the other, and the number of residents living within it exceeded a thousand.
It was still a bit underwhelming due to the poor state of its facilities relative to its huge size, but if that could be rectified, the labyrinth would pretty much become a city of its own.
Kim Jin-Woo was already eagerly looking forward to the day that all the mysteries of the Grand Labyrinth were revealed. But for now, there was something he had to do.
“Morrigan.” Kim Jin-Woo sent away Rikshasha as he called for Morrigan and the other Ancient Heroes. He looked around as he asked, “If it's you guys, you must know something about the Grand Labyrinth.”
“Right now, our labyrinth is constantly expanding its territory. And I…” Kim Jin-Woo trailed off as Morrigan and the Ancient Heroes quietly listened to him. He looked back before continuing, as if making a declaration. “I intend to engage in the expansion of its boundaries.”
“Ah…” It was perhaps something the Ancient Heroes hadn’t expected, as they seemed to be lost for words.
“You have a plan in mind, don’t you?” Dominique, who had been observing from the side, chimed in.
Ever since the labyrinth had evolved into the Grand Labyrinth, the map of the 9th Floor was updated several times a day by the Rangers. On that map, Kim Jin-Woo pointed at a place that was two days of travel away from the labyrinth. “Here. My goal is to expand the Grand Labyrinth up to this point.”
It was the location of the 9th Floor Veins, which had first been discovered by Uther and later confirmed by Kim Jin-Woo. He explained, “Once we get our hands on this place, the labyrinth will expand endlessly.”
Although a significant amount of energy was lost during the process of converting dungeon energy, the Moai were a pretty good energy source. And the Moai were terrifyingly good at finding out the location of down gems.
If Kim Jin-Woo could place the 9th Floor Veins within the perimeter of the Grand Labyrinth, the Moai would constantly flock to it like moths to a flame and satiate the Grand Labyrinth.
“Ah…… For such a place to exist…” The Ancient Heroes gasped as they listened to Kim Jin-Woo’s explanation. It seemed the Veins were something unfamiliar even to these ancient beings that had lived in the Underworld for a long time. But soon, they started to divulge everything they knew that might be related.
Thanks to the Ancient Heroes sharing their vast knowledge, the master room was quickly filled with a commotion.
But Morrigan and Heimdall had spent more time on the battlefield than in their labyrinths, so they weren’t particularly helpful. It was the same for Rikshasha and the Under-Elves. Up until recently, they had been wanderers struggling for their lives in the Underworld.
They all put their heads together, but they weren’t able to come up with anything.
“All useless,” Kim Jin-Woo said.
The bustling room fell silent. They belatedly realized that they had strayed from the original topic for a long time, and humbled themselves.
Kim Jin-Woo continued, “This isn’t about reminiscing about your past glories, but finding a way out of the present situation.” In response, the others bowed their heads in unison.
“Tsk.” Kim Jin-Woo clicked his tongue at the sight. Upon hearing that sound, Morrigan and the others bowed their heads even further. He continued, frowning as he racked his brains, “We have to find a solution, I’m telling you.”
As long as he was able to connect the two locations—the Grand Labyrinth that swallowed its invaders whole, and the Veins that would attract said invaders—he wouldn’t have to worry about the loss of the Grand Labyrinth’s inhabitants due to its hunger.
Not only that, if he succeeded in connecting those locations together, there would be no more effort required to get rid of the Moai that were draining his resources. The Moai would not only be a constant source of energy to fill the stomach of the Grand Labyrinth, but they would end up being his ‘dogs’ and ironically end up guarding the 9th Floor for him.
“Master, you’re doing well now,” came a whisper.
Kim Jin-Woo had been lost in thought, but he looked up to find the owner of the voice. Dominique’s expression seemed to be filled with regret for some reason, and he tilted his head as he asked, “What do you mean?”
“I’m just worried about whether you’re having too much on your hands lately. Master seems too preoccupied as of late,” Dominique said.
Come to think of it, the feeling of sincere joy and laughter had disappeared from Kim Jin-Woo’s life. He always had a dry smile on his face, and he couldn’t even remember the last time he had genuinely laughed.
“Please take some time off. Although the lost Nagas can’t be recovered, the present labyrinth can’t be easily overcome by anyone. Even if someone tries, they’ll come to regret it like the mob and the Moai,” Dominique said.
It was true that Kim Jin-Woo hadn’t caught a break for himself. He would have normally said something back, but this time, he simply shook his head with a tired look on his face.
“Is there anything else that you guys have to say?” Instead of responding directly to Dominique, he sought to end the meeting, and those gathered left the room.
He then asked, “Is there something else?” Everyone else had left, and yet Dominique remained.
There was something strange about the appearance of her king, and this time, Dominique couldn’t overlook it. She pleaded bluntly with her king once more, “Master, please find some time for yourself to relax.”
As soon as she finished speaking, the king frowned heavily and replied, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Dominique was convinced. Her king wasn’t normal. The others didn’t realize it, but only she, the King’s Advisor, knew. Right now, there was something strangely off about the king. She asked, “Why don’t you pay the surface a visit?”
The king didn’t know why, but for some reason, Dominique was suggesting that it would be beneficial to him to leave the Underworld for a while. Whether it was because the mighty Conqueror’s hometown was the warm surface or some other reason, he had no idea, but she had advised him to do so.
“If Master heads to the surface for a while, I’m sure you’ll…” Dominique began.
“Dominique.” But the king refused to listen to her until the end. He replied with a rather frustrated tone and an expression he would normally never show her. “Although we’ve obtained the qualifications of the Highlord as well as the Grand Labyrinth, we’re still weak. There exist Nobles that once destroyed ten Grand Labyrinths, and they desire nothing more than the Highlord’s power. On top of that, the Moai have now taken the entire 9th Floor for themselves, as they wander around like wild dogs to destroy it.”
It was the first time that the king had refused to listen to anything she had to say. Dominique panicked without even realizing it herself. “I simply wanted to…”
“Dominique,” the king repeated as once again, he refused to listen. This time, he even looked angry. The look of repressed anger on his face was a sight foreign to Dominique.
“I’m just making priorities, and doing what is necessary. Nothing more, nothing less. So, Dominique, go and do what you have to do.” His tone towards her was gentler than it had been toward the others, but his words were a curse in disguise.
Realizing that her advice no longer worked, Dominique let out a long sigh. And perhaps even that sigh went against the king’s heart, as his expression grew even more bitter.
Little by little, Dominique’s suspicions turned into certainty. Seeing her king’s excessively violent appearance, Dominique clenched her teeth and stepped forward. To be hated by the king was a punishment worse than death for the King’s Advisor, but it was even more undesirable for the king to make a wrong choice.
“My King.” It was the first time Dominique had referred to him as her king and not her master. “Please think of Angela, whom you’ve left behind on the surface. My King understands the weight of the duty that was entrusted to her, and I’m very concerned about her well-being, as she made the covenant of blood.”
At that moment, she was not just a meager Naga Chambermaid, but a true King’s Advisor. Her dazzling purple eyes gleamed, and her roaring voice was imbued with loyalty that couldn’t be easily ignored. It was a change that not even she was aware of, and it was her awakening.
The king seemed almost troubled by the voice of Dominique, who had now awakened and transcended.
“Please restore your purity, and I pray that your unclouded eye catches all,” Dominique said. Even the king, whose discomfort was clearly showing, couldn’t ignore her words this time and nodded.
But almost immediately after Dominique said her goodbyes, she began to turn around as she felt a burning gaze behind her back. She didn’t have to look back to feel the king staring at her with his cold, deadly eyes.
When Dominique left the master room, Kim Jin-Woo sat alone on his throne as he looked around him. The room had changed incomparably from the previous one, but the view from his throne wasn’t particularly enjoyable.
“Relax, huh…” He quietly pondered Dominique’s words. “If I relax as you say, I’ll find myself dead before I know it.” A horrific smile curled across his lips as a harsh voice escaped his mouth.
The past year of endless, devastating war had truly been hell. Over the countless days where the only things he could trust were himself and his Nagas, it had been meaningless to distinguish between his vassals.
The other labyrinth masters hadn’t been loyal at all, in spite of the Vassal’s Pledge, and they had been sly. Although they had succumbed to him by force, many of them had hoped for his downfall.
In a way, it was to be expected. In this Underworld where survival was a virtue, he enjoyed and possessed too much power. His strength and glory were enough to earn him the envy of the greedy Underworld beings.
After all, if he died, the unique Dual-Core of his labyrinth as well as his masterless labyrinth would become a mighty treasure even for the Underworld. If one were to get their hands on the Naga’s Labyrinth, they would have the entire 9th Floor beneath their feet and enjoy unparalleled power.
Many people hoped for Kim Jin-Woo’s death, and the Moai’s movements had been enough to truly put him in danger. It had been a lonely fight, as he’d waited for a helping hand that never came, battle after battle. And with each battle, all had vassals had done was apologize and pretend to reflect, but their true intent was clear.
Thus, Kim Jin-Woo had learned to stop seeing the 9th Floor labyrinth masters as his allies. And after finally overcoming all odds and adversaries in his way as he climbed to the title of Highlord, he had been left nauseated by the truth.
All Kim Jin-Woo could remember were the filthy emotions of those labyrinth masters as they looked at him. He had truly been outraged at the deception of those who hid their greed, envy, and hatred behind sweet words.
Thus, Kim Jin-Woo felt that it was rather fortunate that things had turned out this way. He felt it was for the better than they had turned against him. It was for the better that the as yet incomplete Grand Labyrinth wasn’t able to take them all in.
“Keke.” Laughter flowed out of Kim Jin-Woo’s mouth. Those who had gone behind his back with greed and hatred were no longer in this world. With a twisted smile, he stared into the air for a moment before getting up.
“Since I have some things to sort out anyway…” He wasn’t following Dominique’s advice. It wasn’t that he couldn’t afford to catch a break, as Dominique had suggested, nor was it that he was weak enough to break if he didn’t. It was just that he had remaining work to do on the surface.
“Portal,” Kim Jin-Woo said.
As the air in front of him cracked open, he stepped forward onto the surface. And at that moment, he felt an unknown sense of discomfort and let out a soft moan.