Chapter 24

Kim Jin-Woo frowned upon exiting the portal.

<Master!> Dominique called out as if she had been waiting for him for an eternity. <The enemy is…!>

“I know! How’s the situation?” he asked as he dashed towards the gate with a rattling bundle in his hands.  

Dominique slithered diligently alongside him and explained, <There are thirty-two enemy soldiers! We’re only holding out thanks to the naga gatekeeper and magician, but it won’t last! We may be able to turn the table when the naga soldiers on patrol return, but it’s not looking great as of now!>

Kim Jin-Woo replied with a grim expression, “The naga soldiers won’t return.”

They were the first line of contact with the enemy creatures. Their absence and the enemy troops’ advance to the labyrinth’s gate indicated that the naga soldiers had already been killed, unless the enemy forces had split in half. Kim Jin-Woo’s heart ached, but he had no time to hesitate.

<We’re greatly outnumbered without the naga soldiers! It will be impossible to stop the enemy forces…>

“I’ll go to the gate. Meanwhile, help me gather the naga workers.”

<Huh? Why the naga workers…?>

“We don’t have time! Hurry!” Kim Jin-Woo bellowed sternly before Dominique could complete her sentence. She bit her lips for a moment and disappeared.

“Damn it,” Kim Jin-Woo swore. Time had never been on his side. He vowed to prepare himself for any unexpected turn of events in the future. However, surviving the impending catastrophe came first.

He leapt up from the ground with determination.

***

“Kyaaak!” The roar of the naga gatekeeper resounded across the battlefield. The ferocious battle cry startled even the naga warriors, but the enemy soldiers treated it as nothing out of the ordinary.

Notably, a creature that was half-dragon and half-man was throwing punches at the naga gatekeeper as though nothing had happened. A creature known as a drakan, his attacks covered the gatekeeper’s massive shield with dents.

“Ay-kum!” With a tremendous roar from the naga gatekeeper, a cold gust of air swept across the battlefield.

“Kyak!” The drakan almost lost his balance. He stumbled backward with a shriek when the naga gatekeeper plunged its gigantic halberd into the ground where he had been standing moments ago.

“Damn it…” Kim Jin-Woo frowned. The battle was looking more dire than he had thought. The naga gatekeeper and its battered shield were drenched in blood. The naga magician, who was kneeling and chanting spells, didn’t appear to be in good condition either.

“Out of my way!” Kim Jin-Woo clenched his teeth and charged at the drakan with a mighty cry, snatching a naga warrior’s blunt weapon on the way. When he jumped over the naga gatekeeper, the drakan responded by correcting his battle stance and snarling fiercely at Kim Jin-Woo.

At one glance, Kim Jin-Woo could guess that the drakan was a challenging enemy. Not only did his golden scales appear impenetrable, but his whole body was also clad in thick muscles and his fists were covered with spikes. But most importantly, he charged at his opponent with violent and lethal vigor.

Kim Jin-Woo’s eyes gleamed eagerly as he switched his gear. He swiftly swung his weapon to parry the drakan’s fist.

“Kyak!” The drakan’s right hand was completely crushed. He screamed in pain and closed his large eyes as tears rolled down.

“You dare to close your eyes?” Kim Jin-Woo was flabbergasted. In a critical situation like this, even the tiniest blunder could cause one to lose their life. And here was the drakan, running away with his eyes closed despite sustaining such a minor injury.

<Master!> Dominique arrived just before Kim Jin-Woo could charge at the drakan.

Kim Jin-Woo regained his senses and evaluated his current situation. The blunt weapon in his hands was missing its head, while its target had already hidden among his men. It was difficult to chase after the injured drakan at this rate. He contemplated for a moment before returning to the gate.

<I brought all the naga workers!> Dominique said.

There was a momentary lull in the battlefield once the drakan vanished, which indicated that he was probably the leader of the enemy forces. Nevertheless, the monsters in both parties continued to roar viciously at each other.

Kim Jin-Woo untied his bundle and whipped out a bunch of black steel rods. Dominique couldn’t hold back her curiosity, asking, <These are…?>

“They’re weapons used by humans, known as shotguns.”

This was the alternative to the black merchant’s proposal. Even the naga workers could be useful in the battle with these powerful weapons. There were other useful items in the bundle, but Kim Jin-Woo distributed only the shotguns to the naga workers.

“Make sure you point this end at the enemy. Pull the trigger upon my command.” As they were still in the midst of battle, Kim Jin-Woo only had the time to correct the posture of the naga workers. “Stand in one line and remember to pull the trigger.”

Although the naga workers weren’t intelligent creatures, they flicked their tongues as if to prove to Kim Jin-Woo that they could handle this without breaking a sweat.

“By the way,” Kim Jin-Woo began.

<Yes?> Dominique, who had been examining shotguns with curiosity, looked up immediately.

“Is that the Basilisk King Anaxtus?” Kim Jin-Woo asked. The drakan was standing at the front line again with his completely healed fist.

<No. The Basilisk King is courageous but not that vicious. That’s the drakan.>

“What is he doing here?”

The drakan might have shed a tear when his hand got crushed, but Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t underestimate this creature.

<Sometimes, there are creatures that challenge the masters of the labyrinths in hopes of taking their place.>

“How do the other masters deal with them?”

<They usually ignore the challengers. Why would they ever accept the challenge? Also, there’s such a stark contrast in strength between the masters and the challengers that such minor affairs are dealt with by the minions. It’s a rare occurrence, though.>

“In other words, the drakan is underestimating us,” Kim Jin-Woo inferred. He shook his head and walked to the front line. “Dominique,” he began.

<Yes, master.>

“With just one look, I can tell the drakan is strong.”

<Drakans are descendants of dragons. Although they’re unable to wield the powers of their ancestors, they’re still strong. This is going to be a tough fight.>

Kim Jin-Woo recalled how the drakan had fled when his fist was smashed. In the underground world, one required a strong will to maintain composure regardless of the obstacles. However, Kim Jin-Woo had yet to observe such determination in the drakan. He was a cowardly novice at best.

<Alternatively, we can settle this peacefully by giving the drakan a decent reward to turn him away...> Dominique hesitated before suggesting this option. Before she could finish speaking, Kim Jin-Woo stepped forward. <Master?>

“You may be right. But...“ His eyes revealed an eager gleam. “I don’t think we’ll lose.” 

He raised one hand and commanded, “Ready!”

The naga workers stood in a row with their shotguns.

“Fire!”

They pulled the triggers on his signal.

Bang!

The sound that thundered across the battlefield was more like an explosion than a gunshot. The naga workers were startled by the tremendous sound.

“Again!”

They continued to tremble, but they regained their senses and returned to their respective positions at Kim Jin-Woo’s order.

“Fire!”

A huge explosion roared once again. The battlefield was inundated with the pungent smell of gunpowder.

“Kyaaak!”

“Keeek!”

Not even the under-creatures clad in hard carapaces could withstand 12-gauge shotgun shells. They shrieked in agony as the rain of gunfire punctured their bodies. Although the shots failed to completely take out the under-creatures, some of them landed on their victims’ vital points, incapacitating them.

The naga workers eventually ran out of bullets. As soon as Kim Jin-Woo heard the sound of the shotguns emptying, he ordered the naga workers to stand back. He summoned the naga gatekeeper and warriors to the front line.

<Master, what’s going on…>

“These will be one of our labyrinth’s greatest assets.” Kim Jin-Woo grinned at Dominique, who stood bewildered by the incredible gunshot sounds and sheer power of the shotguns. He then led the nagas and charged at the enemy forces. “Attack!”

The naga magician, who had recovered its mana in the meantime, summoned an icy gale to freeze the floor. This caused even the strongest of the enemy creatures, who could resist gunfire, to lose their balance and fall to the ground.

Kim Jin-Woo and the nagas refused to miss this opportunity. They immediately pounced at the vulnerable-under creatures.

“Kyaaak!”

The nagas swung their shields to crack the skulls of the drakan’s subordinates. The naga gatekeeper was the most brutal of them all. The enraged drakan tried to pounce on the naga gatekeeper, but Kim Jin-Woo stopped him in his tracks, preventing the drakan from shredding the gatekeeper’s battered shield to pieces.

Kim Jin-Woo refused to let the drakan run amok. “I’m your opponent, lizard, he taunted as he burrowed in between the drakan’s legs and slashed the creature’s thick thighs with a knife. The blade bounced off the drakan’s hard scales, but it still dealt some damage. 

“Kaaak!” The drakan came to a halt and screamed in agony. He desperately swung his fist at the naga gatekeeper’s thick shield. His punch boasted the power to destroy the gatekeeper’s shield, but that was all. One could tell the drakan couldn’t fully utilize his powers.

Kim Jin-Woo just had to nimbly dodge the barrage of fists and launch a counterattack.

Clang!

However, his knife failed to penetrate the drakan’s armor. It couldn’t even leave a scratch, to be precise. On closer look, Kim Jin-Woo noticed that the drakan’s scales were now laid out lengthwise, and his fist also looked slightly different after getting smashed. The drakan was adopting a defensive stance this time. 

Clang, clang!

The sound of metal clashing resounded on the battlefield. Kim Jin-Woo tried to slash diagonally along the direction of the scales, but to no avail. For that matter, he almost lost his weapon when the drakan’s scales rose up without warning.

Kim Jin-Woo swiftly twisted his knife to withdraw it. He then darted across the floor and arrived at the drakan’s rear. “Hup!”

However, it was too early for Kim Jin-Woo to rejoice. Powerful fists weren’t the drakan’s only weapons. He had a tail thicker than an average adult male’s body.

The drakan swept his tail across the floor and lashed it toward Kim Jin-Woo. After dodging the attack by a hair’s width, Kim Jin-Woo pounced at the drakan and slashed his armpit.

“Kaaak!” The drakan wasn’t wounded, but he couldn’t escape from the pain. Kim Jin-Woo slashed, stabbed, and cut the creature down without mercy, as the latter shrieked desperately in agony.

The drakan tried to retaliate by brandishing both fists, but Kim Jin-Woo evaded the attacks. He thrashed the drakan to the extent that the blade of the knife that he had purchased from the black merchant for a hefty price was starting to chip.

However, Kim Jin-Woo refused to stop. It had been a while since he had last felt such emotions. His dormant senses were gradually awakening with every slash, as was evident from his movements, which were becoming more fluent, agile, and bestial.

In essence, Kim Jin-Woo was evolving. With that, his unique ability, which had been dormant for the past decade, was finally active.

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