Chapter 100

The silent Underworld suddenly turned chaotic. A robotic alarm rang in the distance, and Kim Jin-Woo hurriedly looked at the Black Merchant.

The Black Merchant was ignoring the alarm, and was deep in discussion with the imp, who was in charge of the 5th Floor. The mercenaries trembled as they held their positions and maintained their ranks.

But even the Black Merchant had to stop at the sight of blinding floodlights. It seemed that the Harimao labyrinth’s guards had set up defenses, as they stared down at the procession from behind the floodlights.

A group of explorers in a body bunker formation held their spears and shields up, while the rest of the explorers pointed various firearms toward the procession.

“Halt! Reveal your affiliation. This is a protected area under the authority of the Republic of Korea! Civilian explorers are not permitted!” The guards had assumed the procession was a group of lost civilian explorers, and were giving out their warnings.

“We repeat! This is a protected area under the authority of the Republic of Korea! Civilian explorers are not permitted! You are to retreat immediately!” Another warning followed.

The Black Merchant frowned at the blinding light, before shoving the imp beside him forward. Whether it was a signal for the imp to move, or whether it was a push to help the nervous imp, Kim Jin-Woo wasn’t sure. The imp moved one step forward.

Ch-chk!

At the slightest movement by the imp, the humans cocked their guns and called out, “We will take any further movement as a sign of aggression and react accordingly!”

Heeding their warning, the imp didn’t move, but instead opened his mouth and spoke loudly. “Greetings, Terrans.”

It was a greeting that didn’t seem to match the situation. Perhaps it was an opening prepared in coordination with the Black Merchant.

“Terrans?” At the word ‘Terran’, the guards seemed to have been caught off-guard.

The imp continued in a calm and clear manner, as if to not provoke the humans. “We’re merchants from the Underworld. We aren’t here to fight with you, so please lower your weapons.”

“What bullshit is that!?”

A person who claimed to be an Underworld merchant had appeared, so it was no surprise that even the seasoned elite guards selected by the Underworld Research Institute were caught off-guard.

“Who are you rea…”

One of the guards suddenly let out a scream. “Those fuckers! They aren’t humans!”

The vicious faces of the escort mercenaries, which had been covered by their hoods, were half exposed in the bright light. The guards noticed their blue skin and long fangs, which were obviously distinctly inhuman, and began to scream and shout.

“Report to the ops room! Call for reinforcements! It’s an enemy invasion!”

“The enemy troops number roughly seventy to ninety!”

The atmosphere emanating from the bustling ranks of the humans turned completely hostile. The imp noticed the situation escalating, and quickly shouted in response, “We aren’t here to fight! We’re just here to do business with you!"

Dozens of red dots suddenly appeared on the head of the shouting imp. Kim Jin-Woo noticed this and quickly scanned the surrounding darkness. “Hmm…”

He saw countless snipers stationed between the guards, with their sniper rifles pointing in his direction. Just a pull of their fingers would send dozens of bullets flying towards the poor, tiny imp.

But the tiny imp had no idea what the red dots meant, and he panicked, thinking that there was a strange growth on his body.

“Ahem, ahem.” The Black Merchant, who was some distance behind the imp, coughed lightly as if to tell the imp to remain calm and composed.

“We’re merchants! We’ve brought artifacts that may be of interest to you! We simply wish to do business, nothing more!”

But it was obvious that his words did nothing to help de-escalate the situation, as none of the snipers lowered their weapons. That was because all the humans knew about the Underworld was that it was a vicious dog-eat-dog world.

“Any word from the top? We need to know if we’re to engage or retreat!”

Despite the tiny appearance of the imp, the Harimao labyrinth’s guards remained vigilant. As the situation quickly escalated, the body bunker explorers stood on the frontlines and anchored themselves to the hard floor.

“I repeat, we aren’t here to fight! We’ve simply brought items that may be of use to you to trade!” The imp shouted loudly once more.

Seeing the imp facing down the dozens of weapons in front of him was a sight to behold, and Kim Jin-Woo looked at the Black Merchant, wondering about his next course of action.

The moment he saw the Black Merchant hiding behind the escort mercenaries, he knew why the latter hadn’t stepped forward, but had let the imp face the humans instead. The Black Merchant had cunningly sent out the imp for a reason.

Should the snipers pull the trigger, the body of the imp would become a beehive in an instant. And yet, nothing of significant value would be lost, for imps are considered insignificant beings in the Underworld.

Knowing this, the Black Merchant was hiding far behind, under the protection of the mercenaries.

While Kim Jin-Woo was praising the Black Merchant in his head, noise came from within the ranks of the Harimao labyrinth.

“Did you say you wanted to do business?”

From the midst of the explorers, the labyrinth master Kim Jin-Tae and the institute’s Deputy Chief Kim Joo-Hyuk stepped forward.

“That’s correct. It’s an honor to meet the King of Black Tigers and the representative of the Terrans.” The imp finally breathed a huge sigh of relief at the sight of the personnel in charge, and gave his greetings once more.

***

The imp and the human representatives met in the middle of the two parties. For safety purposes, each party had to be fifty meters apart from one another, so Kim Jin-Woo was unable to listen in on what they were talking about.

Deputy Chief Kim Joo-Hyuk stepped forward to represent the Harimao labyrinth. Five dungeon babies escorted him during the discussion, but from the Black Merchant’s end, only the imp was present.

“Mm.” Kim Jin-Woo did his best to listen in, but all he could make out were some keywords, such as “down gem”, “Black Merchants”, “an ongoing deal”, and a few others, due to the distance. There was no way he could figure out the topic of the conversation, and soon he gave up trying to listen in.

“Phew.”Kim Jin-Woo let out a deep sigh and looked at the party representing the Harimao labyrinth, as well as the imp. There was a familiar face escorting Deputy Chief Kim Joo-Hyuk.

It was Lee Jun-Young.

She had a fierce look in her eyes, as if she were ready to slice anyone who dared make a wrong move in half in an instant. It was nothing out of the ordinary. After all, she was under long term employment by the institute.

“Eek!” In the brief moment that Kim Jin-Woo had spent lost in thought, he and Lee Jun-Young locked eyes. Panicking, he quickly pulled his hood down and lowered his head. His heart beat wildly. If anyone found out that he was part of the Black Merchant’s procession, there would be huge trouble.

Thankfully, she didn’t seem to have noticed him. He observed Lee Jun-Young for a while longer before finally relaxing. There was no way she could even imagine him being in this situation right now.

“Mm?” However, his expression changed as he noticed the sudden change in the atmosphere surrounding him.

A strange life force was slowly being emitted from the Harimao labyrinth, and it was slowly inciting the mercenaries. The air was thickening and the mood was getting heavier.

Some of the mercenaries started tightening their grip on their weapons, and some were even posturing for a fight.

“Wait. Don’t move until I order you to,” the Black Merchant said. With his command, the rising tension within the mercenaries settled.

Kim Jin-Woo felt a moment of relief. He turned his head to see an expressionless Black Merchant staring right at him.

And if the time comes, Milord will have to make a decision.

As Kim Jin-Woo stared into the blank eyes of the Black Merchant, he suddenly remembered the conversation they’d had earlier.

“Decision? What decision?” Kim Jin-Woo frowned at the Black Merchant’s statement.

“Don’t you know that we might end up in a battle with the Terrans?” The Black Merchant brought up the worst case scenario that could occur. It was a reality check for Kim Jin-Woo, as he stared at the Black Merchant.

“If that moment comes, what will Milord do?” The Black Merchant didn’t miss a beat as he questioned Kim Jin-Woo. “Will you join us and get rid of those troublemakers?”

He almost seemed to be smiling as he concluded, “Or will you join your species and get rid of us instead?”

Kim Jin-Woo ultimately hadn’t answered at that moment. It wasn’t that he had lost his desire to kill. If he needed to, he was more than willing to bathe himself in blood once again.

He had already dealt with cannibalistic human hunters several times, as well as other humans who had tried so hard to murder him. Even now, he had the confidence to deal with any ‘enemy’ that threatened him at any given point in time.

But the Black Merchant’s question was more of a philosophical question about his fundamental values.

If the time came, would he choose the side of the Underworld, or would he choose the side of the humans? That was the Black Merchant’s question.

Once, he would have chosen the human side without hesitation. But now, he, who had once had a burning hatred for the Underworld, was a part of it. Thus, he had to think of whether he could live with the consequences of supporting the very source of his hatred in the first place.

The Black Merchant had stated that he would immediately wipe out the Labyrinth of Black Tigers should danger befall the Underworld. And Kim Jin-Woo was certain that no matter what decision he took, he would be held responsible for it.

That was why he couldn’t immediately give an answer. Any rash decision could result in him losing everything he had worked hard for.

Kim Jin-Woo laid his eyes on Lee Jun-Young, who was fidgeting with the handle of her sword. He felt his heart sink as he looked at her face.

He hoped that the day he would have to make that decision would never come. If that day ever came…

He quickly averted his gaze toward the mercenaries.

The Black Merchant stared at Kim Jin-Woo as the Viscount lost himself in a myriad of thoughts.

***

The discussion seemed to have ended, as Lee Jun-Young dashed toward the labyrinth guards.

The imp seemed restless, as Deputy Chief Kim Joo-Hyuk alternated between looking at the imp and the Black Merchant.

Kim Jin-Woo had a bad feeling. Both the serious look on the Deputy Chief’s face as well as the imp’s restless look were cause for concern.

When Lee Jun-Young approached the guards, there was a sudden bustling among the ranks. Kim Jin-Woo started to feel them tensing up. The mercenaries perhaps sensed this, as they too started to tense up and be on their guard.

Creak, creaaaak.

As a mysterious roar sounded out, Kim Jin-Woo found himself looking at the Black Merchant.

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