Chapter 44

The under-elf wasn’t a creature who easily revealed her presence to begin with. Once her body blended into the dark, she was like a ghost, even when she was standing right in front of one’s nose.

Kim Jin-Woo’s presence was even harder to detect when he activated his camouflage ability, however. “Phew. This is tiring,” he muttered. He couldn’t move quickly while the skill was active. It was frustrating, but the outskirts of his territory were fortunately not that far away.

“We’re here,” Rikshasha reported, facing the wrong direction as she was unable to locate the camouflaged Kim Jin-Woo. It looked comical despite the heavy atmosphere, but he stared into the darkness without any change in expression.

The naga horsemen were present, clutching their long spears and the leashes around the basilisks’ necks.

Standing opposite them was the troop Rikshasha had mentioned. It was made up of dwarves that were a few heads shorter than the naga horsemen. About thirty of them were equipped with glistening knives and armor, which seemed out of place in the underground world.

Kim Jin-Woo could understand why Rikshasha had called this group of dwarves a troop. How else would one describe these armed creatures? He approached the dwarves cautiously while glancing at their green skin, visible through the cracks in their armor. 

“Urgh. so frustrating. If only we spoke the same language,” a dwarf muttered in a raspy voice. With his strikingly fancy armor, he stood out from the rest of the dwarves. “Hey, you losers. Didn’t I tell you to go and report to your master that he has guests? What are you waiting for?!”

“Hiss! Hiss!” The naga horsemen roared and raised their spears in a threatening manner, in response to the dwarf’s aggressive tone. 

“Okay, okay. I’ll wait for your master then. What a temper.” 

“I saw one of them urgently run to the back, so someone will come. Let’s wait a while longer,” another dwarf remarked. From how the dwarves had called themselves visitors, one could infer that they didn’t seem interested in trespassing the naga’s territory.

Meanwhile, Kim Jin-Woo was hiding in the dark and watching the dwarves. He quietly joined Quantus’ troop when it arrived a little later.

“Hah!” When Kim Jin-Woo made his appearance, the nagas howled and beat their chests simultaneously. The dwarves, intimidated by their immense fighting spirit, clutched their weapons with pale faces.

“Quantus!” Kim Jin-Woo barked.

“Aye, my king!”

“Find out what business these unexpected visitors have here!”

As soon as Kim Jin-Woo finished giving out his orders, Quantus snorted fiercely and bellowed at the dwarves, “Who are you people, crossing into the land of the mighty king?”

The dwarves stumbled backward in fear of the nagas’ vigor, but they still craned their short necks to get a glimpse of Kim Jin-Woo. However, the nagas didn’t seem to appreciate such an attitude. They deliberately created a wall and hid their master from the dwarves.

“We are Mellac and Bellac, the envoys of Malaksus, king of hammers and anvils!” a dwarf announced.

Quantus stared at Kim Jin-Woo for a moment before continuing his interrogation. “Why did you invade our king’s territory?”

“Invade? That’s not true at all. We’re here to greet the baron and congratulate him for becoming the first underground noble on the 9th floor, that’s all! As evidence, here’s a handwritten letter from our king!” One of the dwarves whipped out a paper made from an unidentified material from his pocket. Rikshasha stealthily emerged from the dark and snatched it away. The dwarf, shocked by her sudden appearance out of thin air, let out an ‘Eek!’ and hurriedly ran toward his comrades.

“Please give this humble slave of yours the honor of becoming your eyes and ears,” Riksahsha said. In other words, she wanted to read the document for Kim Jin-Woo. He nodded, and the under-elf began to read.

[The envoys of Malaksus, the king of hammers and anvils, have visited the naga’s labyrinth.]

[Malaksus wishes to establish an amicable relationship with the underground baron Kim Jin-Woo, who has defeated the greedy and brutal basilisk king.]

What nonsense is this? Kim Jin-Woo frowned.

The green dwarf began to speak in his raspy voice, “We request to meet your honorable king!”

Quantus stared at Kim Jin-Woo and awaited his reply.

***

The encounter with the dwarves was short-lived. Mellac was surprised to find out that Kim Jin-Woo wasn’t a naga, but he didn’t particularly seem to mind. He treated Kim Jin-Woo no differently, as if he couldn’t differentiate between an average human and a dungeon baby.

“Thank you. We shall relay this piece of good news to our king,” he said after they finished speaking. Nothing in the conversation had been out of the ordinary, but Mellac and the rest of the envoys seemed delighted to know that Kim Jin-Woo didn’t intend to become their enemy. They left the labyrinth with smiles on their faces.

After that, envoys from various labyrinths began to visit the naga’s labyrinth one by one.

[Envoys of Gorintos, the king of swamps, have visited the labyrinth.]

[Gorintos is trembling in fear, worried that he might be the next victim of the new powerhouse that defeated Anaxtus. His envoys wish to hear a formal guarantee of non-aggression.]

[Envoys of Hecarim, the king of the nomads, have visited the labyrinth.]

[Hecarim is very interested to hear epic tales of the new rising star. You may be able to get something in return for telling him your stories.]

[Envoys of Uther, the king of greed, have visited the labyrinth.]

[Uther seems uneasy about the birth of a new underground noble. Information about the labyrinth may be leaked if you are not careful.]

Envoys from various places visited the naga’s labyrinth once every few days, all with different motives and intentions. There were so many of them that it was troublesome to even send them back.

Kim Jin-Woo later appointed Dominique and Quantus to turn most of the envoys away, but some of them were from powerful labyrinths located in close proximity to the naga’s labyrinth. Thus, he couldn’t afford to just treat them carelessly.

Valicious, the king of the dead, was one of them. His envoy gave Kim Jin-Woo a shock the moment he stepped into the labyrinth. His whole body was sewed together like a patchwork of rags, with a human head attached to a wolf’s body. The labyrinths were full of grotesque and bizarre creatures, but this envoy was one of a kind. Even Dominique couldn’t help but gasp in horror.

“Our king is eagerly looking forward to meeting you,” the envoy said. He had a childlike voice that failed to suit his horrifying appearance. Kim Jin-Woo inferred that Valicious had horrible tastes.

“Alright, let’s do that then,” Kim Jin-Woo gave his consent with a tired look. The envoy shambled out of the labyrinth with his clattering body.

“Sigh, I don’t really want to get involved with them,” Kim Jin-Woo said wearily.

<But the labyrinth of Valicious is the next closest to our labyrinth after that of the basilisk king. It won’t hurt to get to know them early,> Dominique replied.

Recently, the reinforced naga scouts had been patrolling areas far from Kim Jin-Woo’s territory, recording the topography in the vicinity.

In addition, Kim Jin-Woo had appointed the stealthiest scouts to trail after the envoys that visited the labyrinth. Therefore, he knew exactly where each and every labyrinth was located.

The labyrinth of the dead had been one of Kim Jin-Woo’s accidental discoveries. No different from an enormous graveyard, it was only two weeks of travel away from the naga’s labyrinth. As it consisted only of a vacant passage and tons of tombstones, it wasn’t surprising that Kim Jin-Woo hadn’t noticed its presence until now.

“Send Rikshasha this time. We know where the labyrinth is, but who knows what the envoy will do on the way back.”

<I’ll get Quantus and the naga horsemen to keep an eye on the labyrinth’s outskirts. Beyond that, Rikshasha will take over.>

“Good. That will do.”

Kim Jin-Woo had assumed that mercenaries, including Rikshasha and Ortehaga, lacked potential for growth. Recently, however, they had been showing slow but consistent improvement in their skills. This helped to reduce the burden on his shoulders.

But the more the naga’s labyrinth expanded, the more it inevitably came under the spotlight, exacerbating his anxiety.

<Don’t worry. The naga scouts are weak in close combat, but they excel in detecting enemy forces and hindering their advances. With them around, we don’t have to worry about an attack without any notice.>

“You’re right. That’s why we recruited more naga scouts than naga horsemen.”

Kim Jin-Woo had learned his lesson from the previous battle against Anaxtus. This time, he had done all he could to prevent an ambush. However, it was impossible to filter out all intruders, even if he put in his utmost effort to heighten vigilance.

The only saving grace was that he discovered the ominous sign first. He grimaced upon finding a tiny bit of slime hanging on the ceiling. At that moment, his ‘Devil’s Sight’ activated.

[The parasite has detected a camouflaged enemy. Since you aren’t in a battle, an imperfect Devil’s Sight has been activated.]

[The parasite’s special ability, ‘Analyze’, has been activated.]

The parasite had also evolved after consuming the blood leopard’s heart. Now it could even give a detailed analysis of an unknown enemy, instead of just detecting its presence.

[Lump of Greed—harmless on its own, but a disturbing creature that can provide vision to its host. Uther, the King of Greed, has been spying on the naga’s labyrinth.]

As soon as the message appeared, Kim Jin-Woo leaped up and ripped the slime off the ceiling.

Keeek!

The slime struggled to escape his grasp, but Kim Jin-Woo refused to let go. “Uther, the king of greed, huh…”

He spoke succinctly to the crafty creature who was surely watching him through the slime, “Do you want a war?” This sentence alone was enough to make the squirming slime freeze.

Kim Jin-Woo had already analyzed the labyrinth of greed. Although he hadn’t seen its interior, he had been able to determine that it was inferior in strength to the labyrinth of the basilisk king, judging from their revealed strength alone. Thus, he had no reason to hesitate.

“I’m fine with that,” he declared. If his opponent had an ulterior motive, it would be safe to eliminate any potential risks.

Kim Jin-Woo had had no intention to start a war, but the underground world was a brutal environment where those who were taken lightly would be ripped to pieces.

The lump of slime trembled. Perhaps it was reflecting the fear that Uther, the king of greed, felt as he watched the scene in the naga’s labyrinth. Kim Jin-Woo’s glare was that intimidating.

Kim Jin-Woo patrolled around the labyrinth and removed the lumps of slime dripping from various corners of the ceiling. He would have loved Rikshasha’s help, but she was away spying on the envoys of Valicious, the king of the dead. 

“That bastard put so many of these on the ceiling,” Kim Jin-Woo sighed. These lumps of slime weren’t easily eliminated with a knife. He had to rely on the naga magician’s ice spells to shatter them into pieces.

<Master, do you really plan on starting a war?> Dominique asked.

“If Uther has an ulterior motive, we don’t know when he’ll stab us in the back. It won’t hurt to set an example for everyone,” Kim Jin-Woo replied.

<I agree. The tides have turned. With our current strength, we can teach the labyrinth of greed a lesson even in your absence.>

Kim Jin-Woo had expected Dominique to dissuade him from declaring war, but she’d supported his idea instead. “Aren’t you going to stop me?” he asked.

<Huh? Why would I? The weak have to pay the price for craving what belongs to the strong. The king of greed is weak, and you are strong. Why do you have to care?> Dominique replied with a puzzled expression, as if she genuinely couldn’t comprehend his concern. Kim Jin-Woo smiled bitterly.

The law of the jungle prevailed in the underground world, and Dominique was under its influence as well. Kim Jin-Woo was reminded once again of his position in the underground world.

“It doesn’t have to be an all-out war. It will suffice to establish the pecking order. Right, gather the nagas as soon as Quantus returns. We’re heading out!”

<Yes, master.>

[The naga’s labyrinth, ruled by the glorious underground baron Kim Jin-Woo, has declared war against Uther, the king of greed.]

[The battle has drawn the attention of everyone on the ninth floor.]

Kim Jin-Woo still had no clue how rumors spread in the underground world. He looked at the message and prepared for battle.

The die had already been cast.

There were fifty elite warriors and fighters, equipped with new weapons and armor made in the forge. Supporting them from the rear were fifteen priests, sorcerers, and magicians. Kim Jin-Woo now possessed an army that was incomparably stronger than the time he’d had to fight the basilisks. The nagas, excited by their overwhelming military strength, raised their fighting spirit and waited for the day of the war.

However, no battle happened in the end, as Uther’s envoy arrived at the naga’s labyrinth before the nagas could advance. He had rushed to the naga’s labyrinth so urgently that his mushy body had melted, making a mess. A naga horseman had found him on the outskirts of the naga’s territory and brought him to Kim Jin-Woo.

The envoy’s body, which was wrapped around the tip of the horseman’s spear, was thrown onto the floor. “Oh, mighty underground noble and king of the nagas!” he exclaimed without even tending to his own body.

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