Chapter 106

“A successor?” The unexpected question caught Kim Jin-Woo off-guard, as he replied awkwardly.

“Now that the Fortress is prosperous, Master’s life force is ever more important than before. With your powers at their peak currently, your successor would undoubtedly inherit the same strength you hold right now.”

Despite that brief moment of shock, Kim Jin-Woo now understood what Dominique meant. The kind of successor he had been thinking of was different from the kind of successor Dominique was referring to.

Dominique meant that appointing a successor at the peak of one’s power was one of the fastest ways to increase a labyrinth’s power. In the Underworld, an appointed successor was similar to a close and reliable right-hand man, in a sense.

Of course, there were instances where successors were made to fight for the position, such as with Denarion, but most labyrinth masters preferred to outright select their own successors.

“The Naga’s Fortress is in its prime right now, and your successor will certainly be born with great power.”

What Kim Jin-Woo needed the most was absolute power. A successor now could be exactly what he needed. If he were to have a child right now that had even half of his powers, that child would undoubtedly surpass the level of a Hero-Grade summon in no time.

However, that wasn’t the problem. Nagas were born from eggs, and they only took a year before maturing into adults. But Kim Jin-Woo wasn’t a Naga by any definition. A human child took too long to mature. Whether he could wait that long was the question.

No, before that, he had to decide if he was ready to be responsible to hand over his cursed fate in the Underworld to his own flesh and blood.

Kim Jin-Woo found himself lost in thought, before realizing he was blushing and quickly turned away.

“Mm?” He belatedly realized that Dominique had been staring intently at him the whole time, and he quickly backed off. “I’ll think about that matter. It’s not something I can decide on right now.”

As Master wishes.” Dominique was behaving and replying the same way as usual, and yet, Kim Jin-Woo was reluctant to face her directly. He had subconsciously found himself avoiding Dominique’s gaze.

***

Kim Jin-Woo put the matter of succession on hold as he went after the troublesome Naga Sorcerers once more.

“So, what you’re saying is that the Nagas contained within the summoning stone are excluded from the Fortress’ military strength limitations?”

With Kim Jin-Woo’s unexpected interest, the Advanced Naga Sorcerer, who had once been discouraged by his constant berating, nodded excitedly in response.

If it was as the Naga Sorcerer said, Kim Jin-Woo had finally found a way to augment his stagnant troops. And with them having even willingly put their bodies on the line for their experiments, there was no reason for Kim Jin-Woo to doubt their words.

Even now, the Naga Sorcerer was pushing the summoning stone toward his other colleagues in front of Kim Jin-Woo, as if to fully earn his trust.

And as they entered the summoning stone, the troop count indeed dropped, as shown on the Fortress’ status window.

“Alright, stop! I fully understand now, so you may stop now.”

The last of the Naga Sorcerers was on the verge of entering the summoning stone, and would have, if not for Kim Jin-Woo’s loud intervention.

Poof!

As Kim Jin-Woo activated the summoning stone and recalled all the Naga Sorcerers, the troop count returned to its original size. With that, he confirmed what they had told him.

“Isn’t this dangerous?”

If it were dangerous, the Naga Sorcerers might not have risked their own lives, but then again, these were his experiment-crazed Naga Sorcerers he was talking about.

They proudly proclaimed that should one be trapped in a summoning stone for too long, they risked getting trapped in it forever, but it was guaranteed that short-term usage was perfectly safe.

“But there’s no way other labyrinth masters don’t know of this.”

If this was as beneficial as he saw it to be, there was no way other labyrinth masters wouldn’t make use of this system. The Advanced Naga Sorcerer shook his head in response.

“You crazy bastard!”

Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t help but swear at the advanced Naga Sorcerer’s reply, as it was only then that he was informed that the summoning stones required mid-grade down gems at the very least.

Panicking, Kim Jin-Woo looked at the table in the middle of the research lab. There was a large pile of fifty or so summoning stones, but below it were hundreds of failed down gems rolling around.

***

Kim Jin-Woo shuddered as he left the research lab. He felt that if he had stayed any longer, he would eventually catch the madness from the rest of the Naga Sorcerers.

He finally calmed down as he started thinking deeply.

Despite the immense cost of the experiments, the end results were pretty good. While the previous experiment involving core synthesis had been basically gambling at the lottery, the costs of creating a summoning stone were all predetermined and the results would always be within his calculations.

And their uses were also limitless.

He could insert his existing troops into the summoning stones while creating new summons to break the limits of his troop capacity.

This came with a downside, which was that the troops that were over capacity would slowly lose their unity over time. But Kim Jin-Woo knew that a scenario would no doubt arise in which this function would be of tremendous use.

The stones offered great mobility for his troops, and could even be used to sneakily strike at his enemies when they least expected it.

However, there was one big problem. It was the cost.

If he were to convert all the down gems that the Naga Sorcerers had expended in their most recent experiment into dungeon energy, it would add up to a horrific sum of almost five thousand.

That might have been why other labyrinth masters didn’t make use of this function, even if they did indeed know about it.

“Master?”

Kim Jin-Woo was so lost in thought that he didn’t notice Dominique entering the master room. Seeing her curious expression, he explained in detail what had happened in the research lab.

“Master!” Having heard his story, Dominique seemed unable to suppress her excitement. “Successful research on the summoning stones is a great accomplishment!”

The last time he had brought this issue up, she hadn’t been as excited, perhaps because she’d had low expectations of a successful outcome. But now that the Naga Sorcerers were successful in mass-producing the summoning stones, she enthusiastically started talking about the benefits of the stones.

“Of course, there are strategic benefits to the summoning stones, but it’s too costly for us to use them in the long run. There may be a risk of losing the troops, and on top of that, the cost is way too high. It’s probably best used as a one-off tactic.” Kim Jin-Woo shook his head, seemingly pessimistic about the situation.

“Master.” Dominique called him out without even batting an eyelid. “There’s something you’re forgetting.”

“Hm?” What on earth is she talking about now? Kim Jin-Woo thought.

Dominique continuously licked her lips as she replied, as if she were dying of thirst. “Remember what I consumed to ascend to the title of “King’s Advisor”.”

Kim Jin-Woo’s eyes widened at remembering that one important fact.

“Summoning stones are the greatest fruits for our ascension,” Dominique finished.

***

It was as though Kim Jin-Woo’s brain had been hard reset at Dominique’s groundbreaking words. He finally asked,  “So, I should mass produce the summoning stones and feed them to the Nagas?”

“That’s right. You’ll create a nearly indestructible army.  There will be a few that ascend in terms of their title, and there may even be some that rise to the rank of Hero-Grade. Even for those that don’t achieve such major upgrades, they’ll still be significantly upgraded without a doubt.”

Kim Jin-Woo finally reveled in her words. He couldn’t help but tightly hug Dominique with joy.

“Master?”

“Dominique is a genius! My advisor indeed!”

Kim Jin-Woo had still been shocked after seeing the might of the Wind Piercer Army. With the current strength of his army, he had no chance of even thinking of invading the 10th Floor, and he had been desperate to strengthen his troops.

But Dominique had provided the solution to all his problems. He was beyond pleased.

“If we utilize the summoning stones correctly, we can create an army on par with that of the 10th Floor Nobles! It’s all thanks to you, Dominique!”

“M-master...” Dominique was half smiling, half crying as Kim Jin-Woo continued to hug her tightly and swing her around in happiness. She couldn’t help but feel joyful as she let out a small smile in her master’s embrace.

***

Kim Jin-Woo immediately set off to hunt for creatures. 

Although there was no flesh or blood involved in the consumption of summoning stones, it was no different from having a meal.

But Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t bring himself to feed the Nagas with Naga summoning stones just to upgrade their powers. So, he went hunting for creatures instead.

“Ignore the weaklings. Only capture the good quality creatures.”

The Naga Dragon Knights rode on their Tiger Dragons as they followed Kim Jin-Woo in their hunt for the creatures. The creatures that had once threatened the 9th Floor under the labyrinth masters now felt like insects.

But that was also a time when most labyrinth masters had been content with living their own reclusive lives, and took in these creatures at random instead of selecting their forces, simply to create buffers between themselves and the other labyrinths for safety reasons.

And now that these creatures were running wild, they were up for grabs by anyone.

Kaaargh!

“Kill the weaklings here, and take the strong ones back!”

The moment Kim Jin-Woo had unified the 9th Floor, these creatures no longer served any purpose. No, in fact, they had become prey for the hunt. Unlike before, the labyrinth masters could no longer attack one another to strengthen their troops, and now all they could hunt were these creatures.

And of all the labyrinths to come out to hunt today, unfortunately for them, it was the Naga’s Fortress.

The creatures screamed and tried their best to escape, but they were easily outpaced by the high mobility of the Naga Dragon Knights. Even those who were lucky to evade capture at first were eventually caught by the rangers, who were born hunters.

“Carry them away!”

One by one, from a creature that looked like a leopard to another that had been beaten beyond recognition, countless creatures were slowly carried away to the Naga’s Fortress.

“They too are part of the Underworld. Without them, the balance of the Underworld will be broken.” The Black Merchant just happened to visit Kim Jin-Woo at that moment, and made the statement as he witnessed the end of his hunt, sounding almost like some sort of environmental activist

Kim Jin-Woo quickly dismissed him. “Survival of the fittest. Isn’t that the only rule of the Underworld?”

Kim Jin-Woo hunted because he was strong, and the creatures were hunted because they were weak. It was logical and indisputable.

But the Black Merchant wasn’t willing to give up. “If you keep this up, the 9th Floor will no longer have any creatures, and instead will only have useless beasts, just like the entrance of the Underworld. It will take a long time for them to grow to become as powerful as the creatures once more. In the long run, this will be detrimental to you, Milord.”

Stating that the labyrinths’ summons would eventually starve to death after all the creatures are gone, the Black Merchant tried to dissuade him once more.

Kim Jin-Woo grew agitated listening to the Black Merchant, who was more persistent than usual. “If the 9th Floor runs dry of creatures, then I simply have to find a way to survive off the 8th Floor or the 10th Floor.”

“If you keep that up, there will eventually be nothing left. What will you do then?” The Black Merchant was more outspoken in his protest.

But Kim Jin-Woo didn’t bat an eyelid. “I don’t even know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so what use is there thinking so far ahead?”

“Milord.”

The way the conversation was flowing, perhaps no one would have been able to identify who was the human and who was the Underworld being.

But Kim Jin-Woo was, in fact, truly behaving like a human. Conquerors who only knew who to destroy, decimate, and subjugate everything under them. That was the true nature of humanity.

And Kim Jin-Woo was a human, after all.

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