Chapter 103

“Me?” Kim Jin-Woo was caught off-guard by Kim Joo-Hyuk’s response.

"Yes. From what we know so far, the enemies that invaded the labyrinth are more powerful than the creatures from the Deep Floors, at the very least. The heavy weapons placed in the labyrinth should have been sufficient against creatures from the 5th and 6th Floors…”

<What should we do?> In between the deputy chief’s explanations, a faint but familiar voice could be heard.

Kim Jin-Woo instinctively turned toward the portal, and realized Angela was telepathically communicating with him. He replied, <Do as we planned, should they not take up my offer.>

<Understood.>

Kim Jin-Woo was slightly taken aback by Angela’s cheery voice, as her presence slowly faded away from the other end of the portal.

“Jin-Woo?”

“Ah, yes. I’m listening.”

“Anyway, it should be difficult to turn this around even if our reinforcements arrive on time. But this labyrinth is more important than anything else to the Republic of South Korea.”

From the perspective of the ambitious Underworld Development Institute, it was only natural that an already activated labyrinth was more important than a labyrinth that had yet to find a master. However, Kim Jin-Woo was still skeptical as to whether it was worth sacrificing the countless dungeon babies and explorers.

“You said there were a hundred of those Deep Floor creatures, didn’t you?”

“Yes? Ah, yes, that’s right. We’re sending around a hundred Level 7 dungeon babies to match them…”

It was obvious that Kim Joo-Hyuk was indirectly hinting for Kim Jin-Woo, the nation’s only Level 12 explorer, to lead them.

However, it wasn’t a proposition that Kim Jin-Woo could accept. He knew that the Black Merchants had already marked the Harimao labyrinth as their own, and should he be involved from the humans’ side, he would have to fight against them. As such, he rejected the deputy chief’s proposition.

“Sorry?” The deputy chief must have thought that he had misheard Kim Jin-Woo, and attempted to continue his explanations.

Kim Jin-Woo promptly cut him off. “I won’t be entering.”

“Why?” Kim Joo-Hyuk had never thought in a thousand years that his proposition would be rejected.

“The sense of duty and patriotism you talk about… I don’t feel it. And most importantly, I don’t wish to die.”

If it was indeed the Black Merchants that had attacked the Harimao labyrinth as per his deduction, there was truly nothing he could do about it.

They had a hundred Hero-Grade mercenaries. Even if he rallied every last unit in the Naga’s Fortress, the penalty gap of four floors would render them nearly useless.

Despite knowing that, there was something Kim Jin-Woo simply had to find out. And if possible, he wanted to save Lee Jun-Young.

“But—!” Kim Joo-Hyuk began.

“I won’t stop you from deploying the additional reinforcements. However, I won’t be going with them.” With that, Kim Jin-Woo folded his arms and took a step away from the portal.

<Master.>

<How did it go?> Kim Jin-Woo drowned out the deputy chief’s noisy rambling and focused on telepathically communicating with Angela.

<Our offer was declined. They didn’t trust me.>

<How foolish…>

The remaining members of the Harimao labyrinth had thrown away their last chance at survival.

<There’s not much time left. I can even hear the battle from here.>

No wonder Angela was unusually excited. The sadistic vampire might have been even enjoying her master’s suffering due to his dilemma.

<What shall we do?> Angela asked eagerly with anticipation.

Kim Jin-Woo let out a silent sigh and closed his eyes. <Extract the core.>

<Excellent choice.>

Even before the telepathic link was disconnected, the portal in front of them completely disappeared.

“Huh? Huh?” Kim Joo-Hyuk stared at the empty space that remained as he tried to make sense of what just happened.

“It’s too late.” Kim Jin-Woo felt a wave of energy right before the portal vanished, something he had felt many times before.

It was the energy he always felt when he separated the labyrinths from labyrinth masters he had killed with his own hands.

***

The Underworld Development Institute was in complete chaos. Its connection to the labyrinth was completely cut. Without even receiving word that the enemies had breached the central passageway, the portal had disappeared.

Kim Jin-Woo was completely put on the backburner as deputy chief Kim Joo-Hyuk hurriedly left for the institute to reorganize the reinforcement troops.

With that, Kim Jin-Woo returned home. Right as he arrived, Angela emerged from the shadows.

“I’ve done exactly as you’ve commanded.” She leaned forward, as though expecting her master to stroke her head and shower her with compliments.

Kim Jin-Woo squinted, saying, “Maybe you should start off by wiping off all that blood.”

Angela’s chin was dripping with blood, very much intentionally. Her hands were equally covered in thick layers of blood, which she had absolutely no reason to keep on her. Despite all that, she was gleefully looking at him like a very satisfied cat after a full meal. She said, “At least you should tell me ‘Good job’. I worked so hard for Master.”

But Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t bring himself to compliment her. He knew whose blood was dripping off her.

Angela looked on at Kim Jin-Woo, bright-eyed, before finally pouting. “I failed to convince the targets, so I eliminated them. And I’ve extracted the core.”

“Nobody saw you, right?”

“Nobody. At least among those that survived.”

Kim Jin-Woo was creeped out as Angela put on a sinister smile once more. She was beautiful and loving in her own right as always, but he was always reminded of how deadly and cold she could be in these moments.

“And the invaders?” he asked.

“They immediately retreated.”

Thank goodness, he thought. If the invaders’ objective was the humans and not the devastation of the labyrinth, there was no other way to save them.

But thankfully, the invaders must have decided that there was no purpose in destroying a labyrinth without its core and retreated. If Jung Chan-Sik and his party had survived until then, it was highly likely that Lee Jun-Young would have survived as well.

But perhaps Angela read his mind, as she gave a little giggle. “It won’t be easy for the survivors to live on. With that kind of energy wave, even the dumbest of creatures in the vicinity would have known that the labyrinth lost its master. The labyrinth should be crawling with creatures looking for scraps of meat to feast on by now.

How vile. Angela was now feasting on the misery of Kim Jin-Woo, who was worried sick about Lee Jun-Young. The way she continued to chip away at his misery and intensify his negative emotions was truly sickening to watch.

“Watch yourself. I’m at my limit.” Kim Jin-Woo finally bared his teeth at her, unable to further tolerate her tasteless comments.

Angela quickly understood that her master was dead serious with his comments, and knew not to push it any further. Although her master was as kind and loving as other Terrans, she also knew that he could be colder and scarier than any other Underworld Noble.

She quickly composed herself so as not to cross the line, continuing, “Back to the point, this is the extracted core. It’s too good to be wasted on the 5th Floor. Although it still does have its limits.”

From her embrace, she took out a blue down gem that was soaked in bright red blood and had turned completely red.

How cruel, Kim Jin-Woo thought. But knowing that it would be too much for him to be angry at this matter, he sighed deeply and took the bloody highest-grade down gem into his arms.

***

It wasn’t just South Korea; countless other countries had lost their labyrinths in this attack.

The media was filled with endless coverage of news about the labyrinths, and due to the deaths of many explorers, even those that had forgotten the existence of the Underworld were now once again reminded of it.

But due to the outcome of the war ten years ago, there weren’t many people left feeling uneasy about the situation at present. In most people’s memories, humans had emerged victorious from that war. They didn’t even entertain the thought that the Underworld, the losers, would dare encroach upon the surface ever again.

Kim Jin-Woo left for the Underworld to avoid having to deal with this issue with his parents. He needed some time to think things through.

He was buried deep in thought on his throne when the Black Merchant made his appearance at the Naga’s Fortress.

“I’ve heard some exciting news, so I’m just dropping by.” The Black Merchant seemed jolly as he entered the master room, continuing, “Do you remember the Harimao labyrinth we visited together? That same labyrinth was recently attacked.”

Kim Jin-Woo’s expression didn’t even change as he gave a deadpan reply. “Is that so?”

“Yes. To be more precise, only its core was taken away.”

Kim Jin-Woo immediately knew that the Black Merchants were aware of his intervention. Thus, he replied with a white lie. “I heard an unknown group had attacked it.”

“Oh! You’ve heard about it?”

“There’s this thing called the news on the surface. Word spreads quickly because of it,” Kim Jin-Woo said. The Black Merchant nodded as he continued, “But from what I heard, the attackers were never-before-seen and were unusually strong, even by the Deep Floors’ standards.”

“Is that so? How strange! There’s no way for the Guardians to get involved there, and neither are there such powerful creatures on the 5th Floor.”

“Exactly. But somehow, those attackers coincidentally looked very similar to a certain other group I know of.”

The two kept up their pretense as they continued to beat about the bush. The Black Merchant eventually grew tired of putting on an act and finally confessed. “Well, we did have a hand in it.”

“Why? Did the Black Merchants not acknowledge the existence of the Labyrinth of Black Tigers?”

Weeell...” The Black Merchant dragged out the word before squinting as he replied, “Rather than acknowledging it, let’s just say we were simply putting it on hold. Just as Milord had put his decision on hold, so too did we.”

The tide of the conversation quickly turned on Kim Jin-Woo, as the Black Merchant stared at him with a creepy smile on his face and added, “Perhaps Milord was entertaining another thought?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Unlike the Black Merchant, Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t afford to reveal the truth. From the way the conversation was going, he knew he was going to be cornered. Thus, it was better for him to act innocent as much as possible for now.

He had no idea how the Black Merchants knew of his intervention, but he also knew that there was no way they would be able to keep tabs on everything.

“Well, that’s fine. Something like this isn’t uncommon in the Underworld anyway.”

The sight of the Black Merchant uncharacteristically backing off so easily left Kim Jin-Woo feeling uneasy. That caught the Black Merchant’s attention, as he added, “Isn’t this the most perfect Underworld incident to have happened?”

“What do you mean?” Kim Jin-Woo questioned the strange response.

The Black Merchant looked Kim Jin-Woo straight in the eye and said, “If the person who stole the core were standing right in front of me, I would love to tell him this.”

It would seem as if the Black Merchant were talking about a third party, but Kim Jin-Woo knew better. Everything finally clicked in his head.

The Labyrinth of Black Tigers had been bait from the beginning. The Black Merchants didn’t even care about its existence. They had gone on about the Terrans and their intentions and whatnot, but none of it mattered.

The judgment they were passing down wasn’t that of the Labyrinth of Black Tigers and the Terrans, but that of Kim Jin-Woo and the Nagas.

“I would say that he took care of business like a true Underworld being.”

And thankfully, it would seem that he had passed their judgment.

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