Chapter 45

“My king wishes to convey the following message: He does not have the slightest intention to oppose the naga’s labyrinth!” Uther’s envoy exclaimed desperately. He must have been shocked by the army of nagas standing in formation after having prepared for battle. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be yelling so urgently without even attending to his own body, which dripped and splattered slime everywhere.

“Your words don’t match your actions. Why else would he spy on us so blatantly? I refuse to believe you!” Kim Jin-Woo replied with a stern look on his face. He then commanded, “Head out, Quantus. Go rampage to your heart’s content.”

“As you wish, my king!”

To begin with, Quantus had been a loyal warrior who followed his master’s orders by any means necessary. Since Kim Jin-Woo had ordered him to go wreak havoc, he would at least wipe out the outskirts of the labyrinth of greed before returning.

“Oh, king of the nagas! Please give me some time!” the envoy cried.

“I refuse! It’s not been long since your last envoy visited this place, yet you couldn’t endure that short period of time and expressed such blatant aggression. How could I ever believe your words?” Kim Jin-Woo roared. He was beginning to sound more majestic, as he was getting accustomed to being a ruler of a territory and the king of the nagas.

“How can I prove my sincerity to you? I’ll do anything you say!” The envoy, flustered by Kim Jin-Woo’s stern roar, struggled while slime began to drip down his body.

“Anything?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.

“My king has informed me that he’s willing to do anything to prevent a war!”

Kim Jin-Woo was astonished to hear a master of a labyrinth succumb so easily and blatantly. Dominique whispered when she saw his puzzled expression, <Survival is a virtue in the underground world. One can only remain a king by living on.>

“That’s true,” Kim Jin-Woo replied as he reflected on Dominique’s words for a while. He then stopped Quantus, who was preparing the nagas for battle.

“Well then, let me give you one last chance!” he roared with immense vigor, causing the envoy to tremble. “Tell this to your king! If you don’t wish for war, prove your sincerity! I have no use for empty words!”

The envoy hurriedly escaped from the labyrinth, still dripping slime. Kim Jin-Woo’s threat must have worked, as the king of greed personally visited the labyrinth not long after.

“Greetings, king of the nagas,” Uther said.

Kim Jin-Woo had scared the envoy out of his wits, but he had never expected the labyrinth master himself to visit. He glanced at Uther curiously. The creature had a rather distinctly humanoid look, unlike his subordinates, but he was also made of slime. “You really came,” he said.

“I’m here to sort out the misunderstanding,” Uther said. His body wriggled and dripped slime relentlessly, in contrast to his casual manner of speech. It didn’t seem ideal for concealing his emotions. Kim Jin-Woo was amused by Uther’s ridiculous appearance, but he tried his best to maintain a stern expression.

“Now we’re even. You should recognize me from your various spying attempts.” Kim Jin-Woo mentioned Uther’s mistake from the very start, causing the creature to fill with air bubbles. “Let me make this succinct,” he continued.

“I’m listening,” said the king of greed, as he bent over in a humiliating fashion and waited for Kim JIn-Woo’s next words.

Kim Jin-Woo paused and stared at Uther for a moment before uttering a single word, “Bow.”

Uther, unable to comprehend the intent behind this absurdly short command, raised his head and his clear, transparent eyes rolled around.

“I’ll close one eye if you submit and pledge to become my vassal,” Kim Jin-Woo offered, then studied the look on Uther’s face.

To begin with, the labyrinth of greed was considered one of the weaker ones on the ninth floor. If Uther refused the offer, Kim Jin-Woo just had to send Quantus to annihilate the whole labyrinth of greed. Either way, he had nothing to lose.

Uther didn’t even hesitate, as if he had seen this coming. “If I volunteer to become your vassal, will you believe me?” he asked. 

Anyone in the underground world could pretend to swear allegiance to avoid a moment of harm. As Dominique had mentioned, survival was the greatest virtue in the underground world.

“Are you going to doubt me again?” Uther said as he regained his composure.

Kim JIn-Woo grinned and replied, “Why would I? You won’t be able to betray me.” Uther realized that something wasn’t quite right when he heard Kim Jin-Woo’s strangely confident voice. Effervescent slime began to drip all over his body.

“Well, I assume you’re accepting my offer,” Kim Jin-Woo added.

The dice had been cast. From the very beginning, Uther didn’t have a choice. The king of greed, who lacked the power to match that title, had made the mistake of failing to notice the presence of Kim Jin-Woo’s parasite. After all, even those with acute senses like Rikshasha and the scouts couldn’t detect the lumps of slime on the ceiling. Only Kim Jin-Woo could.

[The underground baron’s ability: ‘Vassal’s Pledge’, has been activated.]

[Uther, the king of greed, shall be appointed as the underground baron’s first knight.]

[Knights are the most loyal and courageous subordinates of the baron. However, they are not always faithful from the start. Only after making the vassal’s pledge will they realize what true loyalty is.]

A message appeared in the air. Only Kim Jin-Woo could read the long sentences under normal circumstances, but he wasn’t the only one this time. Uther’s clear pupils rapidly flicked across the air.

“This is…” Uther trailed off.

“You should know this since you’re a labyrinth master yourself,” Kim Jin-Woo remarked.

Uther might have sworn allegiance so easily because he had assumed that he could betray Kim Jin-Woo anytime. The creature looked flustered by this sudden turn of events.

[Do you wish to appoint Uther as your first knight?]

[Do you wish to become a knight of the underground baron?]

The messages blinked yellow as if they were pressuring Uther to respond. His body began to boil, bubbling like a can of soda.

***

[Uther, the king of greed, has become the underground baron’s vassal (Knight).]

[The first knight will share his master’s fate. Uther will disintegrate when the naga’s labyrinth is destroyed.]

[Uther’s territory, the land of greed, has become a ‘feudal territory’. Uther is still the ruler of the labyrinth, but he now has a master. Twenty percent of the dungeon energy stored in the core that governs the land of greed now belongs to the naga’s labyrinth.]

[You can open a portal that links the two labyrinths whenever you wish. However, only the baron can decide when to open it.]

Kim Jin-Woo looked at the messages with a satisfied expression. Uther was blabbering that he would swear allegiance to Kim Jin-Woo, but deep inside he wasn’t very pleased, as evident from the wild bursts of air bubbles in his body.

“You can go back now,” Kim Jin-Woo said.

“Can I?” Uther rejoiced. He seemed to have given up and accepted his fate.

“Why, you don’t want to?”

Worried that Kim Jin-Woo might nitpick at something and hold him back again, Uther kept his mouth shut.

“Try not to lie next time. It’s hard to pretend when I can clearly tell what you’re thinking,” Kim Jin-Woo remarked.

Kim Jin-Woo was right. Uther’s body was rumbling relentlessly, indicating his dismay. Furthermore, even the messages could see through his facade.

[Uther has sworn allegiance under the effect of the vassal’s pledge, but he has yet to genuinely surrender to the master of the naga’s labyrinth. You can use some of Uther’s abilities if you win his heart over.]

Kim Jin-Woo was able to gain Uther’s submission thanks to the baron’s ability, but earning his genuine loyalty was another story. Nobody knew whether Kim Jin-Woo could win this cunning lump of slime’s heart over, but he had nothing to lose.

He gestured to Uther with a delighted look. “Go back. We can see each other anytime now.”

“Aye, master.” Immediately, Uther fled from the naga’s labyrinth. Kim Jin-Woo smiled with satisfaction again as he stared at the droplets of slime Uther had left behind.

***

In the end, Kim Jin-Woo concluded the war against the labyrinth of greed without lifting a single finger.

<Congratulations on becoming a true king, master.> Dominique looked at Kim Jin-Woo with admiration and respect. She had also not expected the conflict to be resolved so easily.

“Thank god that amoeba-like bastard was greedy but weak. His cowardly attitude made things easier too.”

<After all, it’s not common for someone on the ninth floor to meet an underground noble, who would usually live on the deep floors. Uther couldn’t have imagined things would turn out like this.>

“That’s true, but I wonder how that coward can be useful.”

Twenty percent of the land of greed’s dungeon energy going to the core of the naga’s labyrinth was great, but Kim Jin-Woo was skeptical of Uther’s abilities. He tried to summon the status window to check, but the vassal’s pledge didn’t mean that Uther belonged to him completely. The description of the first knight and the feudal territory written in the corner of the status window only revealed the labyrinth’s level.

“Our labyrinths are both level 5. Why is his labyrinth so weak?”

<The quality and magnitude of cores vary, even for labyrinths of the same level,> Dominique replied. In other words, the naga’s labyrinth had a superb core.

“I was lucky, then.”

<Nothing in the underground world is based on luck. All of these things were destined to belong to you, master,> Dominique said.

Strangely touched by Dominique’s words, Kim Jin-Woo widened his eyes. “Is that so? Maybe it’s really fate,” he replied. Ever since he had obtained the naga’s labyrinth and swore vengeance after encountering the hell spiders, he had been granted the power to deal with dilemmas whenever necessary. All those events seemed artificial in retrospect, as if someone were trying to control his fate. 

“Let’s conquer the ninth floor first,” he declared with a determined expression, setting a goal having accepted Uther as his first knight. His demeanor was drastically different from what it had been a few months back, when he had first faced his fate upon obtaining the labyrinth.

<As you wish, master.> Dominique, impressed by her master’s brilliance, narrowed her eyes and flicked her tongue. She began to breathe restlessly.

***

Ever since Uther was forced to swear allegiance to Kim Jin-Woo, envoys from various labyrinths stopped visiting the naga’s labyrinth. The masters were worried that they might fall victim to Kim Jin-Woo’s scrutiny and face trouble.

“Phew. Feels good,” Kim Jin-Woo mumbled. He had been on edge for some time due to the relentless influx of envoys, but now he was more relaxed than ever. Hoya kneeled next to his foot and rubbed her cheek against his knee, as if trying to act cute. “I still can’t get used to this,” Kim Jin-Woo muttered.

It had been a while since Hoya arrived at the labyrinth, but he still couldn’t grow accustomed to the human-like beastfolk coming to him for hugs. However, he couldn’t bear to stop her, as she would misunderstand that she had angered her master, and proceed to sulk and starve herself.

Kim Jin-Woo wondered whether this was the same tigerfolk who had massacred numerous explorers.

<Master, the black merchant has arrived.>

In the past, the black merchant’s visits would cause a ruckus throughout the entire labyrinth. Now, however, both Kim Jin-Woo and Dominique felt lukewarm about them.

“What is it this time?” Kim Jin-Woo asked. Nevertheless, he recalled that he had made useful trades whenever the black merchant visited and stood up without hesitation.

***

“Greetings, honorable underground baron and king of the nagas.” The black merchant bowed his small head as low as he could.

However, Kim Jin-Woo replied with an uninterested attitude. “Skip the formalities, they don’t suit you. Since when have you been so respectful?”

“That won’t do. I’ll be in trouble if I don’t treat an underground noble with respect.” The black merchant kept a straight face and glanced around his surroundings, as if he were genuinely worried that someone might hear.

“Okay, moving on.”

“Eek, it seems you’re becoming colder every visit. No wonder they say that living in a spacious and open space cultivates one’s soul,” The black merchant snickered and whipped out something from his pocket.

Hoya, who had been following the black merchant from behind, darted out and snatched the envelope in his hand. However, she soon sulked and passed the envelope to Dominique, as she wasn’t able to read the words.

“What is it?” Kim Jin-Woo asked as he watched Dominique tear the posh seal off the envelope.

“It’s an invitation,” the black merchant replied without giving Kim Jin-Woo the full context. When the latter frowned, the merchant elaborated with a boastful look. “It’s an invitation to the auction held regularly by the black merchants.”

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