Chapter 112

#45. True King

“Mm.” Kim Jin-Woo blinked a few times at the dim light as he woke up with a low yawn. For a moment, he wondered if his eyes would ever adjust to the darkness before his vision started to clear.

It seemed he had fallen asleep in the labyrinth's bedroom again.

Lately, he had been eating and sleeping in the labyrinth more often, and he was beginning to question whether he was a human living on the surface or an Underworld being living below it.

Moreover, ever since he had met Denarion, the frequency of his nightmares had increased. No matter how much he slept, it was his spirit and not his body that was tired. He scrunched up his face as he stretched himself awake.

The thick, stuffy air of the Underworld, which he thought he had become accustomed to by now, felt particularly damp and heavy today.

It seemed the time had come to slowly return to the surface.

Until you survive this hell and experience the outer world for yourself, you cannot die.

Jung Yung-Tae’s will, which Kim Jin-Woo had heard in his nightmare, burned in his heart. He wondered if he was doing well enough to make Jung Yung-Tae proud. He had finally reached the surface, only to return to the Underworld on his own two feet.

Kim Jin-Woo pondered for a long time, but he was unable to come up with an answer.

“Master?” Dominique entered the bedroom at that moment. Under the dim light, her pale skin glistened. Kim Jin-Woo felt his spine crawl and quickly sat upright. “You don’t look so good. Perhaps you’re sick somehow?” Dominique asked gently, her voice filled with worry.

But instead of responding, Kim Jin-Woo lowered his head as he pressed on his closed eyelids. “I think I’m having the chills,” he said eventually. It would have been a convenient excuse in the past, but this time he was truly feeling under the weather, judging from the fever he was having.

“The chills?” Dominique slightly tilted her head as she repeated after him. Of course an Underworld being wouldn’t understand what that meant.

“I’ll be back,” Kim Jin-Woo said.

Dominique looked troubled at her master’s sudden need to see a doctor on the surface.

With Parthenon’s invasion imminent and a vacuum in power left by the summoning stone-induced metamorphosis of her fellow comrades, she was worried that an incident might occur at this unfortunate time.

But above all, she was most worried for the well-being of her master, as she told him to take care of himself.

“It won’t take long,” Kim Jin-Woo said. With that, he left for the surface to visit a hospital.

***

“How are you feeling unwell today?” a middle-aged doctor in a white coat asked coldly with an unbefitting smile on his face.

“I’m having some fever, as well as some difficulty breathing. My body feels heavy too,” Kim Jin-Woo replied.

“Hm. No coughing or phlegm?”

“That’s right.”

The doctor diagnosed him in a very robotic manner and systematically prescribed him some flu medication.

“Well, it’s the flu season now, so take the medication I’ve prescribed you. And if you don’t get better, please come back and look for me.” The doctor gave Kim Jin-Woo a very clichéd comment as he buried himself in his charts once more.

Kim Jin-Woo frowned as he bowed and left the hospital. He thought it might have just been him becoming overly sensitive due to his poor condition.

Having been unable to rest properly, he headed to his home instead of returning to the surface. And he fell asleep as soon as his head touched the bed.

Even without taking his prescribed medication, he slept for a long time before finally waking up.

“Mm?” Kim Jin-Woo grabbed his thumping head as he got up, before belatedly taking his medication. But he noticed something odd as he unscrewed the cap of his water bottle. Mysterious flakes that hadn’t been present before were now lying on his bed.

Having not returned home in a long time, he thought they were dust, but when he tried to brush them away with his hand, the flakes stuck to it.

He frowned as he raised his hand to inspect the crunchy flakes. The familiar looking substance seemed to be keratin or some kind of plastic. Kim Jin-Woo didn’t think much of it as he brushed them away into the dustbin.

“Kaaaargh.” He let out a loud yawn as he headed to the bathroom.

Having broken out in a cold sweat, he wanted to take a quick shower as he lifted his shirt. But he saw that those mysterious flakes were once again present all over the inner lining of his shirt, and he quickly reached out to check his back.

He felt a strange feeling all over his back, and he turned around with his back toward the mirror.

There were scars and stains all over his back. In contrast to the color of his skin, they were all blue. Kim Jin-Woo was momentarily frozen in shock.

Those mysterious flakes were from his own skin, which he was shedding. And underneath his shed skin, fine scales could be seen.

“Scales?” His heart dropped. Scales that were similar to those of Dominique and the Nagas were starting to appear in places they should not.

“Ah…” He ran his hand over his back several times, hoping that he was just imagining things. But the scales didn’t peel off, as though they had naturally been a part of him from the start.

His scratching worsened as he tried to peel off the scales. And soon, his fingers were violently ripping his skin apart.

His skin turned red and even started to bleed, but the scales remained present.

***

There was no doubt that the root cause of those scales was the labyrinth. Kim Jin-Woo hastily returned to the Underworld.

“Master, you’re back,” Dominique said in greeting. Kim Jin-Woo ignored her words and went directly to look at her tail.

“Master?” Dominique squirmed at Kim Jin-Woo’s odd behavior, but he kept on staring at her tail.

After a long silence, Kim Jin-Woo finally cursed. “Fuck.”

Although the color was different, it was the exact same type of scale as the ones on his back. He suddenly felt a sudden chill run through his body, as if he were about to die.

Something sour rose up from within, and Kim Jin-Woo belched.

“Kyaaa! Master!”

Dominique’s screams faded away into complete silence, as everything in front of Kim Jin-Woo turned dark.

***

Kim Jin-Woo had a dream. A very long dream.

But when he woke up from his sleep, he couldn’t remember a single detail from his dream. All he remembered was a strange chill and a softness that had caressed and cooled his boiling body.

Subconsciously, he grabbed tightly onto it and didn’t let go.

“Mm…”

That mysterious cold and soft object moaned. Kim Jin-Woo’s heart skipped a beat as he opened his eyes.

“Dominique?”

It was Dominique who had hugged and caressed him so gently in his dream, with her black and shiny hair like the night sky, and her small, round forehead with her beautiful features beneath it.

Kim Jin-Woo stiffened at the realization.

“Master?”

The timing couldn’t be worse for Dominique to wake up.

“Ah, Dominique. Why are you here…” Kim Jin-Woo was caught off-guard at her awakening before he even had a chance to grasp the situation.

But Dominique blinked twice before bursting out into tears. “Master!”

***

“So, what you’re saying is that two weeks have passed?”

“Yes, I was so worried because your body was boiling hot with fever.”

Kim Jin-Woo groaned as he looked at Dominique's tearful face. He thought he had simply been knocked out for a while, but two weeks had passed, just like that.

It was truly a shocking turn of events.

“You’re really okay now, right?” Dominique asked.

The feverish condition Kim Jin-Woo had been in right before he passed out was no longer. In fact, he felt that his body was lighter than ever before, and he felt even more invigorated.

“That’s great. That’s really great,” Dominique repeated to herself.

Kim Jin-Woo kept looking at Dominique, before suddenly realizing the gravity of the situation. Just before he had passed out, he had been full of worries about Parthenon’s invasion. He was now uncertain what had happened in the time he was unconscious.

“Parthenon’s army has already been defeated, and they’ve made their retreat,” Dominique said.

“What?” Kim Jin-Woo’s eyes widened. He could not comprehend how the 11th Floor Count’s army had been driven off.

Dominique carefully explained, “Master wasn’t around, so I had no choice but to proceed with our plan. I gave false information to the bandits on the 10th Floor, and Lord Boreas personally stepped in to take care of those that weren’t obedient. This way, we were able to slow down Parthenon’s army from advancing.”

Spreading false information that Parthenon’s army was in cahoots with the 10th Floor Nobles to get rid of the bandits seemed to have worked as planned. The bandits had fought tooth and nail with the Priests of Despair and succeeded in tremendously slowing their advance.

“But I never expected them to be able to fully fend off the entirety of Parthenon’s army in the first place. Based on my knowledge, they were only strong enough to keep them at bay for a while.”

There was no way for even the 10th Floor Nobles to fend off Parthenon’s army, much less the ragtag group of bandits.

Dominique went on to further explain how she and the Nagas stopped Parthenon’s army. “When the thieves were making their last stand, the Undefeated Mercenary Group appeared. And they were joined by Boreas’ Wind Piercer Army.”

Kim Jin-Woo was unable to comprehend her explanation. The Undefeated Mercenary Group and the Wind Piercer Army would have been able to fight toe-to-toe with Parthenon’s army on the 10th Floor, due to the inter-floor difference penalty.

However, there was one issue with that fact.

“Who ordered their movements?” he asked. Only Kim Jin-Woo himself knew about the agreement he had with the Undefeated Mercenaries. Without his request, there was no way for them to have gotten involved in the battle. On top of that, Boreas was a proud being who wouldn’t simply obey others at will.

“The King of Mirror Wraiths.” Dominique giggled. “It was all thanks to Espesto.”

***

“Ah…”

Kim Jin-Woo had briefly told Dominique of Espesto’s existence, and it seemed she had remembered that detail and used it to her advantage.

He was half amused, half surprised at this fact. He asked, “And that worked?”

“Lord Boreas immediately agreed, and even the Undefeated Mercenaries joined in without any hesitation.”

Although the crisis had been averted thanks to Dominique’s quick-witted thinking, Kim Jin-Woo wasn’t entirely pleased due to the fact that someone had perfectly traced his identity and made use of it. But it was true that it had been a necessary measure, and thus, Kim Jin-Woo let it go.

“Anyway, the Priests of Despair saw the Undefeated Mercenaries and immediately retreated. It seems they aren’t so determined to fight us to the point that they’re ready to take on some casualties.”

What an anticlimactic ending. Contrary to their name of “Priests of Despair”, they were cowards on the battlefield.

But a win was a win after all, thanks to Dominique’s wit. If she hadn’t acted quickly, the entire Fortress would have been destroyed before Kim Jin-Woo had even gotten a chance to fully utilize his authority as the Conqueror of the 9th Floor.

“I’ve sinned by daring to use Master’s name without your permission. I’ll accept any punishment. Please punish me accordingly.” Dominique got on all fours as she requested to be punished.

However, despite her actions being highly risky, the results spoke for themselves, and Kim Jin-Woo had all the intention to reward her instead.

Kim Jin-Woo wrapped up the matter as he moved on to ask Dominique why he had fainted. “Why did I black out like that?”

There had to be a reason for him to have passed out for two weeks, and if anyone had a clue to the answer, it would be Dominique, who had observed him throughout the two weeks.

As expected, she had the answer.

“Master is…” Dominique’s purple eyes gleamed as she smacked her lips. “...in the process of becoming a True King.”

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