Chapter 110

#43. Preparations for War

“I just wanted to say, well…” The Black Merchant repeatedly opened and closed his mouth before finally managing to say his piece. “After this war ends, can I request a favor from you?”

“A favor? Is there really a favor you would need to request from me?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.

“It’s nothing difficult.”

Kim Jin-Woo looked at the Black Merchant, thinking that it was perhaps another deal, but that didn’t seem to be the case. The Black Merchant was unusually awkward.

“Is this a personal favor, or a favor from the Black Merchants?” he asked.

“If I had to put a label on it, you could call it a personal favor.”

Since the Black Merchant had been a reliable ally all along, Kim Jin-Woo didn’t find doing him a favor a difficult request. “What is it?” he asked.

“I can’t tell you now, but after all this is over, I’ll let you know then.”

“Sure. As long as it’s nothing too difficult. But of course, there has to be a price for it.”

“Of course. We have to be clear about these kinds of things.” Unlike his initial request, the Black Merchant’s reply was quick and straight to the point.

Kim Jin-Woo nodded and waved his hand. “Then we’ll talk about it when the time comes.”

He didn’t think it would be impossible to overcome Parthenon’s army, but neither did he think it would be easy. Stating that he had to make preparations for the upcoming war, he chased the Black Merchant away.

However, as the Black Merchant started to leave his labyrinth, he offered Kim Jin-Woo a useful piece of information.

Kim Jin-Woo’s expression hardened as he asked, “Are you certain about this?”

“Ah, for what reason would I give you information that I can’t personally guarantee?” the Black Merchant quickly retorted.

Kim Jin-Woo stroked his rough chin as he stared at the merchant. “And why are you telling me this?”

“Milord has to emerge victorious for my request to be heard, is that not so? Please consider it my down payment.”

Kim Jin-Woo sighed as he looked at the Black Merchant’s solemn expression. “Looks like I have to listen to your request, now that I’ve received your down payment.”

“If I could add one more thing... The information I just gave you puts my own neck on the line. This information cannot be leaked anywhere else. Please keep it to yourself.”

Kim Jin-Woo snorted at the Black Merchant’s seriousness and replied, “How funny. You told me yourself that it wasn’t a difficult request, and now you tell me that the information you gave me as your down payment puts your life on the line? Well, fine. I’ll hear you out once this war ends, and then we’ll decide how things go.”

“If you do that, I can only be grateful.” With that, the Black Merchant smiled brightly and left the labyrinth.

***

“Master, you called?” Dominique called out.

Kim Jin-Woo hadn’t seen Dominique for a long time due to her preparations for the upcoming war against Parthenon. It had been a while since she had visited Kim Jin-Woo in the master room.

“How are the preparations?” he asked.

“There are some areas that are lacking, but overall, they’re still progressing as planned,” Dominique replied.

Kim Jin-Woo cautiously asked, “So, what’s the method you were talking about?”

“Mm…” She seemed to be carefully choosing her words, based on the fact that she was unable to give an instant reply. She began by saying, “I plan on intercepting Parthenon’s army.”

“Intercept?”

“Yes. If we fight within our labyrinth, we may be slightly ahead due to the buffs, but should things go wrong, the entire labyrinth may end up in shambles, the same way it did during the war with the Basilisk King Anaxtus.”

The giant hole that had been opened up by the invasion of the Basilisks was still present in his labyrinth. At that time, the labyrinth’s facilities were so lowly that they could be easily restored, but if they were to be damaged now, the damage could be irreparable.

This fact held true, but it wasn’t enough of a point to call it a well-thought-out plan. Kim Jin-Woo was admittedly slightly disappointed. On top of that, there was a flaw in Dominique’s plan.

“According to Anatolius’ message, Parthenon is going to send out his elite of elites, the Priests of Despair. I've never faced them in person, but what I know is that they’ll be at least as strong as the Iron-Blooded Knights. How do you plan to intercept them?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.

If there was indeed a way to overcome the inter-floor penalty, there was no existence on the 9th Floor that could stop the Priests of Despair. What method would there be to stop an entire army of Hero-Grade beings?

Despite his concerns, Dominique seemed unfazed. “If it were an ordinary method, there would be no way we could do that.”

“Do you have an alternative method?” Kim Jin-Woo questioned Dominique’s confidence.

Dominique pointed at the map in the master room and said, “We’ll be the one doing the chasing.”

“Chasing? It’s the 11th Floor army we’re talking about, not the 10th Floor. Will it really be as easy as you say?” Kim Jin-Woo asked. Even chasing the 10th Floor’s alliance army had taken a heavy toll on his own army, after all.

And because of the superiority of the enemy’s troops, he’d had to create a backup plan, and a backup for that backup plan as well. But with an even bigger difference in strength between his army and the 11th Floor’s army, what other method was there to bridge this gap in power?

Dominique shook her head in response. “No, we’re not going to chase Parthenon’s army.”

“What?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.

Dominique slyly laughed as she continued, “We’re not going to chase the Priests of Despair. We’re going to chase the 10th Floor creatures instead.”

***

The long-awaited summoning stones were finally completed. Kim Jin-Woo distributed them with priority going to those who had proven themselves to be capable of being his commanders.

Dominique was the first to receive her high-quality summoning stone, followed by Quantus, Ortehaga, Rikshasha, and Balzark.

Morrigan and Heimdall rejected the offers of the summoning stones.

Kim Jin-Woo was unsure if it was due to the fact that they had come out of summoning stones themselves, or whether they were sick and tired of them, but he didn’t question their decision any further and didn’t ask again.

“I am eternally grateful for my King’s grace.”

“I will do my best to prove my utmost loyalty to you.”

Quantus and Rikshasha got on all fours as they showed their gratitude, while Ortehaga and Balzark sang a little song of joy. They all consumed the summoning stones in Kim Jin-Woo’s presence.

[Naga Warrior (Hero-Grade) Quantus has consumed the summoning stone.]

[Under-Elf Ranger (?) Rikshasha has consumed the summoning stone.]

Flashes of light erupted from all directions as the messages appeared one after another. Unusual waves of light and energy radiated throughout the labyrinth, but that was all.

Not a single one showed any significant change, compared to Dominique’s transformation into the King’s Advisor. Only Rikshasha had upgraded to a Hero-Grade.

“One isn’t enough…” Ortehaga blurted out as he smacked his lips like a hungry dog that had just been fed.

“You’re a greedy one.” Kim Jin-Woo shook his head in disbelief, but nevertheless, he distributed a few more summoning stones.

“Oh, what a wonderful day it is today! My utmost loyalty to you!” Ortehaga chowed down on a summoning stone once more, and the others looked at one another before cautiously taking one for themselves.

“Again.”

“Again.”

But despite consuming several more summoning stones, none of them showed any signs of change.

Kim Jin-Woo had begun entertaining the possibility that Dominique’s case was a unique one, and was on the verge of stopping the process when Rikshasha suddenly started to glow brightly.

[Under-Elf Ranger (Hero-Grade) Rikshasha is evolving due to the powers of the summoning stone.]

”This is it!” Kim Jin-Woo sprung up from his throne and raised a fist into the air at the message.

Ortehaga looked back and forth between his master and Rikshasha, before testing his luck once more. “Sigh. If only I had a few more to eat…” He hinted at his desire for more summoning stones, but by then, Kim Jin-Woo only had eyes for Rikshasha.

Just as Dominique had been encased in a cocoon, Rikshasha was wrapped in a casing that looked like the fruit of a tree.

[Additional time is required for her to be reborn as a new entity.]

And similarly, it also required some time for her to fully complete her metamorphosis. Kim Jin-Woo checked the message and turned his attention to Ortehaga and Balzark, saying, “Looks like you guys are in for a treat today.”

And with that, he emptied out the huge load of summoning stones in his possession.

***

It wasn’t just the commanders who received summoning stones.

Even the ordinary warriors that had shown great potential to rise to the level of Hero-Grade through hunting and combat were given summoning stones to consume as well, albeit of lesser quality.

Unlike the summoning stones that were handed to Dominique and the others, these summoning stones were smaller and duller in color, but it was more than sufficient to test out their potential.

And there were some that did indeed rise to the level of Hero-Grade.

Among the Naga Dragon Knights, three were upgraded to Hero-Grade, and among the Naga Sorcerers and Naga Priests, two from each group were upgraded to Hero-Grade as well.

One Naga Warrior and Naga Fighter each had also been upgraded to Hero-Grade via the summoning stones, and thus, the Naga’s Fortress as a whole received a significant boost in its overall power.

The power of the regular troops, which had paled in comparison to the Hero-Grade summons, finally caught up thanks to the upgrades. The change was even more pronounced in the master room.

Following Rikshasha, Quantus also buried himself in his cocoon, and Balzark was transformed into an iron statue as he too started to undergo his transformation.

“Why only me!?” Unlike others who were undergoing their metamorphosis, Ortehaga alone was left behind as he cried out at the unfair circumstances.

“It seems only that Drakan failed to undergo any form of metamorphosis because his basic form is different from that of the others.” Dominique shook her head as she watched Ortehaga throw a tantrum.

“But why aren’t you consuming your summoning stone?” Despite having received her share as well, Dominique hadn’t consumed it, and Kim Jin-Woo asked out of curiosity.

But Dominique turned red at his question. “Please spare me some time separately. This place is a bit…”

As Dominique trailed off, Kim Jin-Woo smirked. Even in the last incident, Dominique had gone off to consume the summoning stone in private. It seemed she was too embarrassed about her metamorphosis to show it in front of others.

Seeing his smirk, Dominique grew further red with embarrassment as she lowered her head.

“Is there anything for me?” Angela suddenly interrupted, perhaps not liking the mood between the two of them.

“Didn’t you reject the summoning stones yourself?”

“That’s only because fresh blood is better for us vampires than those summoning stones.” Angela licked her lips as she stared at Kim Jin-Woo’s wrists.

Kim Jin-Woo pretended to look away from the awkward pressure Angela was putting on him, when he saw Hoya out of the corner of his eye.

Despite being a Beastfolk, she had proven herself to be capable against the human explorers in combat, and thus, Kim Jin-Woo gave her a summoning stone as well. But Hoya took the summoning stone and started to juggle it like a toy.

“Hoya,” Kim Jin-Woo called. Hoya, who had been playing with the summoning stone, rushed toward him. The summoning stone was nowhere to be seen.

It was left hanging in the air, and if not for Angela’s quick reaction, it would have fallen onto the floor and been smashed to pieces.

“Urgh. Good girl. Eat this first.”

Instead of scolding her, Kim Jin-Woo tried to coerce her many times like a child, but Hoya kept shaking her head as she refused to consume the summoning stone. Despite Hoya listening to her Master’s words so obediently in the past, seeing her vicariously rejecting the summoning stone, Kim Jin-Woo knew there was another reason for her refusal.

“I guess I have to teach you how to speak.”

The Beastfolk lady he saw at the auction house could speak well, but somehow all the Beastfolk in the Naga’s Fortress were mutes.

As he said that, Hoya giggled and ran towards him before rubbing his cheeks with her hands.

“I guess all that’s left are the Mirror Wraiths.”

Kim Jin-Woo barely managed to drag Hoya off him, as he collected the remaining summoning stones before heading towards the Labyrinth of Mirror Wraiths.

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