Chapter 38

#15: Hybrid

The black merchant bowed lower than ever before and congratulated Kim Jin-Woo. “You are the first labyrinth master on the ninth floor to become a noble of the underground world. Congratulations on becoming an underground baron.”

Is that a big deal? Kim Jin-Woo hardly felt anything, as his ultimate goal was to become an underground duke. However, he had to admit that the title of ‘underground baron’ did have a nice ring to it.

[Even the most stubborn labyrinth masters bow to the underground nobles. They will not dare to go after a labyrinth ruled by an underground noble.]

Another message appeared. The fact that other labyrinth masters wouldn’t eye the naga’s labyrinth was very attractive to Kim Jin-Woo, who had been suffering for a long time due to Anaxtus.

He contemplated for a moment. In the end, he took the ring out of the wooden case and placed it on his finger. It was loose at first, but it slowly shrunk until it fit his finger perfectly.

[You have become an underground baron.]

[The naga’s labyrinth has been declared a baron’s territory. Intelligent creatures and beasts will not dare to trespass in your territory.]

[All the creatures in the labyrinth are showing their respect to the new baron. Creatures and beasts will not challenge you for the next few months.]

[You now have the authority to tax anyone who passes through your territory.]

[You can confer knighthood on your most courageous and loyal subordinates.]

[You may now form chivalry.]

[You have the right to pass through the lowest floors.]

The jewel on the ring gleamed brilliantly before revealing the unique emblem of the naga’s labyrinth. When all the changes were in place, Kim Jin-Woo checked his status window again.

[The underground nobles have unique abilities. One of them has been granted to Kim Jin-Woo.]

[You have acquired the ability of a low-class noble, which is engraved on the seal.]

The black merchant seemed to have witnessed this scene many times before. He waited patiently for Kim Jin-Woo as he inspected the changes. When Kim Jin-Woo was done, the black merchant congratulated him once again before asking, “That aside, what are you planning to do with the labyrinth of Anaxtus?”

Kim Jin-Woo, who had looked rather excited by the baron’s seal, frowned when he recalled he had urgent matters to settle.

***

“It’s a miracle that we won.” Kim Jin-Woo marveled at his victory once again upon witnessing the core at the center of Anaxtus’ labyrinth. It was shining so brightly that even the core of the naga’s labyrinth paled in comparison. In fact, it was silly to even debate on which one was more magnificent.

[Masterless Labyrinth's Core]

  • Labyrinth Core (Level 7) 5400/7000
    * It harbors immense energy and potential. The greedy Basilisk King was accumulating dungeon energy without using it. Therefore, the Labyrinth Core awaits its new master containing the entirety of Anaxtus’ energy.

Using the authority of the victor of the labyrinth war, Kim Jin-Woo could discern the core’s status without even using the parasite’s abilities.

“Woah, he didn’t see his death coming. He must be heartbroken to have lost all of it to his nemesis,” the black merchant said bitterly.

Kim Jin-Woo nodded. Had the Basilisk King properly gathered his soldiers using that dungeon energy, Kim Jin-Woo’s army would have been massacred long ago. The outcome of the war had been due to a combination of serendipity and Anaxtus’ foolishness.

However, what mattered now was that the Basilisk King was dead, while Kim Jin-Woo was still alive. Now, it was time for the latter to claim the spoils of victory.

“I guess we, the black merchants, have to quote a higher price. Even I didn’t expect the labyrinth’s core to be in such perfect condition.” The black merchant blabbered on as if the labyrinth were already his.

Kim Jin-Woo frowned a little and spoke coldly. “I haven’t decided.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said, I haven’t decided whether to hand this labyrinth over to the black merchants.”

“W-What! Didn’t you tell us that you don’t have the time and resources to rule both labyrinths…?”

The naga’s and the basilisk’s labyrinths were quite some distance apart, requiring four days on foot to travel back and forth. Even with the portal, it wouldn’t be easy to pay attention to both.

The neglected labyrinth would fall prey to an ambitious labyrinth master, just like the naga’s labyrinth had. Kim Jin-Woo’s baron title would deter some predators, but not all. Therefore, he had been contemplating selling the labyrinth to the black merchant at a high cost.

However, Kim Jin-Woo changed his mind when he saw the intact labyrinth core. Not only did he crave the incredible stash of dungeon energy, but he also wanted to get hold of a Level 7 labyrinth, as the naga’s labyrinth was only Level 5 at the moment.

Kim Jin-Woo decided to withdraw his offer, saying, “Did I ever promise to sell the labyrinth of Anaxtus?”

“No, but you agreed that you didn’t have the time and resources to take care of it—” The anxious black merchant began to speak faster.

However, Kim Jin-Woo interrupted and replied with a stern expression. “You’re right. I’m not in the best position to take care of the basilisk’s labyrinth. It’s close to the naga’s labyrinth, and yet too far away.”

“That means…!” The black merchant’s face brightened again. “We, the black merchants, are willing to pay you better than anyone else in the underground world. Furthermore, we promise not to hand the labyrinth over to any of your potential enemies.”

The black merchant blabbered on, delighted, until Kim Jin-Woo shattered his hopes by saying, “I said I lacked the time and resources, but who said anything about selling the labyrinth?”

“Huh…?” The black merchant grimaced again.

“Let me repeat: I will not sell the labyrinth.”

It was satisfying to see how the black merchant’s expression changed whenever Kim Jin-Woo said something. He had always been bothered by how the black merchant had subtly pressured the naga’s labyrinth despite his submissive attitude. Now was his time for revenge.

“What are you trying to do? You don’t have time and resources to manage the Basilisk King's labyrinth, yet you don’t wish to sell… I don’t understand at all. Are you perhaps abandoning—”

The black merchant sulked. He paused suddenly, seeming startled. “Don’t tell me…” He gasped. 

Kim Jin-Woo grinned widely. “That’s right. I don’t intend to keep the labyrinth of Anaxtus.” He swept his hand across the masterless labyrinth core and turned around to face the black merchant. “I’m just going to steal its core.”

“W-Wait! The number of labyrinths has already decreased ever since the under-war. You don’t have to destroy a perfectly intact labyrinth…!” The black merchant desperately rushed towards Kim Jin-Woo in an attempt to cling onto the latter’s pants.

Kim Jin-Woo, however, ignored the black merchant and read the message that had appeared in front of him.

[Do you wish to deactivate the labyrinth and remove the labyrinth’s core?] 

“Yes, I do.” The core lost its light the moment Kim Jin-Woo ended his sentence.

“Ah…!” The devastated black merchant collapsed onto the floor and groaned.

Kim Jin-Woo glanced down at the black merchant’s round head and said, “The right of plunder belongs to the victor.”

With that, the nagas that had come along began to loot everything valuable in the labyrinth.

***

The master room, which had been decorated according to the Basilisk King’s taste, was a complete mess. The down gems and jewels embedded into the walls had been torn out by the nagas long ago, while the sound of them breaking and tearing something could still be heard from afar.

“The core, can’t you just take the core?!” the upset black merchant exclaimed, but Kim Jin-Woo refused to listen. He continued, “Why are you completely destroying the labyrinth? At this rate, there may never be another labyrinth here again!”

“That’s my plan,” Kim Jin-Woo replied. The black merchant stared blankly at him as he continued, “I don’t want a labyrinth to be next to my own ever again.”

“The title of a baron is more powerful than you think. Most creatures wouldn’t dare to lurk near your labyrinth!” the black merchant exclaimed.

“You’re right. ‘Most’ creatures won’t,” Kim Jin-Woo replied. He had already confirmed this through the system messages. The black merchant was indeed telling the truth. He continued, “But I’m not fond of that word, ‘most’. All we’d need would be a creature pretending to be a lunatic for the labyrinth to be in danger.”

The black merchant couldn’t rebut Kim Jin-Woo’s argument. He tried to mutter something but eventually lowered his head. Kim Jin-Woo grinned, as he felt as though he had triumphed over the sly black merchant.

“Well then, I thought the black merchants had a lot of things to take? I don’t intend to take all of those nasty things.” Kim Jin-Woo spoke casually as he pointed at the eccentric ornaments that reflected the Basilisk King’s taste, and items that only the basilisks could use. “Let’s make a deal.”

The black merchant was furious, but he couldn’t refuse Kim Jin-Woo’s offer. He ran to the corner of the master room and began to inspect the pile of items.

***

The black merchant had to pay a hefty sum to purchase the items that were ‘unnecessary’ to Kim Jin-Woo and the nagas.

“Urgh. Thank you for trading with the black merchants.” He bowed out of obligation and left the labyrinth with a shudder.

“That’s settled. Let’s go back home!” Kim Jin-Woo announced. The naga workers that had been newly recruited after the war cheered.

***

“Phew!” Kim Jin-Woo exclaimed. The air above the ground was more refreshing than ever. He breathed in and out as many times as he could, unable to bear the stuffy and humid underground air anymore.

He could finally relax now. He had won against Anaxtus and gathered as much loot as he could. Since there wouldn’t be any urgent matters to attend to for a while, he decided to enjoy his break.

Kim Jin-Woo would eventually have to think about where to position the fully researched and processed blood leopard’s heart, and how to utilize the labyrinth’s core, but he decided to postpone that until later. He was already thankful to have escaped from bloodbath and anxiety.

“It took you so long to come home! Your father and I are so bored without you and Hyun-Ji.”

“Stop saying unnecessary things. Don’t worry about us, Jin-Woo. Just do whatever you have to do. You are an adult, after all.” 

His parents were as welcoming as ever. Kim Jin-Woo smiled, as he could finally relieve his anxiety and get a good rest. He replied, “I’m sorry. I’ll come home whenever I can.”

“Gosh, why did you have to say such things to trouble our son? He has to earn a living too,” his father muttered, but he couldn’t hide his delight.

Kim Jin-Woo looked at his father and smiled brightly. He was about to take a long break when a phone call disrupted his peace. He answered it, asking, “What’s the matter?”

{Hmph, how unfriendly. At least say a proper greeting.}

Mr. Baek complained over the phone. Kim Jin-Woo remembered the stash of down gems in his possession and got up from his seat, saying, “I’ll go over.” 

{Oh, that would be great. It’s a little hard to talk over the phone when you’re old. I prefer to talk face to face, you know.}

Mr. Baek blabbered on. He replied that he would be waiting for Kim Jin-Woo and hung up the call.

“When are you coming back? Hyun-Ji says she’s coming home later, so you should see her before leaving.”

“I’ll be back before that,” Kim Jin-Woo replied and headed straight to Mr. Baek’s office.

“You’re here.” Mr. Baek welcomed him from behind the desk as usual. He then proceeded to discuss work matters. “How’s the investigation of the abandoned labyrinth going? Any news?”

Mr. Baek had asked Kim Jin-Woo to check on the status of an abandoned labyrinth, but the latter had been preoccupied with the war against Anaxtus. Naturally, he hadn’t attended to Mr. Baek’s request at all.

“Argh, we have a problem,” Mr. Baek grumbled.

“What is it? I thought this job didn’t have a due date,” Kim Jin-Woo replied.

“Everyone knows the underground world is harsh and dangerous. It will naturally take some time to get the job done, but the client doesn’t understand our circumstances. It’s tough,” Mr. Baek explained. The client had evidently bothered him. He continued, “I think I’ve told you before, but we’re not the only ones interested in this job. I think we may have a strong competitor.”

“They shouldn’t have started yet.” Kim Jin-Woo recalled when he had received the job offer, and concluded that the other team couldn’t have reached the labyrinth on the seventh floor.

“The client wouldn’t know the details. All he knows is how to earn and spend.” Mr. Baek seemed thoroughly annoyed by the client. He appeared to have aged by ten years since the last time Kim Jin-Woo saw him.

“Why don’t you give it a shot?” He went straight to the point. “You don’t have to succeed in one shot. I understand that it isn’t an easy task, and nobody has high expectations. But I need you to at least pretend to be interested so that I can give an excuse to my client.”

The client seemed like someone important. Otherwise, Mr. Baek wouldn’t be going through so much trouble.

Kim Jin-Woo looked at Mr. Baek and grimaced. The latter’s request was rather unreasonable. He asked, “Entering the underground world shouldn’t be an issue, but why should I bother wasting my time?”

“Think of it as helping a poor old man out. If you’re still not keen, you can just explore around the labyrinth as usual and come out. My client wouldn’t know your whereabouts anyway.”

Kim Jin-Woo contemplated the information. Not only was he relatively free for the next month, but he had also received the title of a baron, which guaranteed him protection from creatures and beasts for a few months. Furthermore, he had to burn time until he could figure out how to utilize the newly obtained core from the Basilisk King’s labyrinth.

He didn’t mind helping Mr. Baek out. He was curious about the masterless labyrinth too, after all.

He replied, “Well, count me in, then.”

“Wonderful! You saved me from my dilemma. Let me give you a piece of useful information as my thanks,” Mr. Baek exclaimed, delighted.

“What useful information?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.

A sly smile spread across Mr. Baek’s wrinkled face.

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