#19. The Underground Count
Angela hesitated and paused for a moment. She then took a deep breath in and continued, “Anatolius, the underground count—one of the rulers of the eleventh floor—was my previous master.”
There was no way Kim Jin-Woo, who had been only an ordinary dungeon baby until recently, would recognize the underground noble’s name. He frowned and tried to persuade her to elaborate, but the vampire stepped away and giggled in response.
“You’ve never heard of Anatolius before? Now that’s unexpected.”
“Is he so famous that I have to know?” Kim Jin-Woo asked nonchalantly, as if he had decided to act boldly from now onward. He hadn’t expected her previous master to be a count, but there was no reason for him to be startled by someone he knew nothing about.
<Anatolius, the underground count of blood and iron, is famous in the underground world. If he was indeed Angela’s previous master, it makes sense for her to have wandered around to find a new master.> Dominique appeared out of nowhere and inserted herself into the conversation.
“Why? Is there something I’m missing?”
Angela replied instead, “Anatolius, the count of blood and iron, is a giant made of iron as his title suggests. Since cold molten metal, and not warm blood, flows in his veins, he can’t be my source of life.”
Kim Jin-Woo was able to hear many stories from Angela. She knew many details about the stagnant power structure on the eleventh floor, which prevented new competition from emerging or an existing party from expanding its influence. Several underground counts had to leave their labyrinths as a result.
“In essence, Anatolius is looking for someone who can be the needle-mover,” he noted. Naturally, Angela’s new master would be that ‘someone’. Kim Jin-Woo continued, “If my thinking is right, Anatolius will have more in store for your new master. Isn’t that so?”
“That’s why I didn’t tell you about him. I don’t want my lovely master to encounter the monsters of the deep floors.” This was Angela’s first sentence that sounded sincere. However, that failed to daunt Kim Jin-Woo, as he had already made up his mind to take control of the ninth floor and advance to the rank of underground duke.
“If that’s how things are, Anatolius will be reluctant to cut ties with you,” Angela said.
Kim Jin-Woo paused for a moment and raised his head. “Help me arrange a meeting with Anatolius. I think I need to see him in person,” he said.
Angela sighed, evidently disgruntled with his decision. “I’m not too keen, but my lovely master’s voice is too sweet for me to say no to.”
However, she still imposed a condition despite her words. “First, conquer the whole ninth floor. If you meet Anatolius in your current state—” Angela paused for a moment then continued with a stern expression, “—You’ll be eaten alive.”
It seemed Anatolius hadn’t just treated Angela with goodwill. When she talked about him sometimes, she appeared overly cautious and fearful.
From the information Kim Jin-Woo had gathered thus far, Anatolius was so powerful that even the combined strength of the ten strongest labyrinths on the ninth floor couldn’t compare to his.
“We’re back to square one.” Kim Jin-Woo knew clearly what needed to be done now. “Dominique!” he called.
“When is the black merchant arriving?”
<He informed us that he would come immediately once he settled matters. I think it should take about two weeks at most.>
“As soon as the black merchant arrives, collect the items and begin the labyrinth’s next upgrade. Also, harvest as many down gems as possible. We don’t need them now, but we’re going to need more later,” Kim JIn-Woo ordered.
Dominique replied, <Yes, master,> and left the master room with a determined expression.
The plan was to raise the level of the Naga's Labyrinth and conquer the other labyrinths on the ninth floor. Kim Jin-Woo would then march to the deepest floor and put an end to his ill-fated relationship with the underground duke once and for all. He didn’t know how long it would take, but at least he had a clear goal in mind.
“Ahh, my lovely master. Your enthusiasm and anxious expression are driving me insane. Those traits are rare in the cold monsters of the underground world.” With an ecstatic expression, Angela surreptitiously approached Kim Jin-Woo and brought her lips to his arm.
Kim Jin-Woo adamantly waved his hand upon noticing the strangely icy, yet soft sensation on his wrist. “Isn’t it too early to replenish your life force?”
“P-Please give me the honor to feel you…” Angela was shivering relentlessly, as if she had withdrawal symptoms. Her usually dignified and demure appearance vanished whenever she craved blood.
“I can’t stand how shameless you are. You’ll have to learn not to hide anything from your master first.” Kim Jin-Woo gave Angela the cold shoulder, but she only clung to him more desperately.
The black merchant brought all the goods he had promised in exchange for forcefully entrusting Angela to Kim Jin-Woo. He grumbled, “Urgh, you’re really persistent. You already own that precious vampire. Do you really need to get all these goods as compensation?”
“Ridiculous. Those items aren’t even yours anyway,” Kim Jin-Woo shot back. He had already assessed the situation through Angela.
It was a self-evident fact that Anatolius hadn’t found her a new owner purely out of goodwill. He needed a game-changer who could disturb the static power balance on the eleventh floor, and Angela was just his tool for that.
In such a circumstance, the black merchants had no reason to suffer a losing deal. The items that the black merchant was so reluctant to give away were probably all from Anatolius.
Kim Jin-Woo seemed to have hit the nail on the head, as the black merchant glanced at Angela with a startled expression.
“I’m sure Anatolius entrusted the items to you with the intention of passing them to someone. You should know better, so cut the poor acting,” Kim Jin-Woo snapped.
Only then did the black merchant grin cunningly while rubbing his hands together. “Well, it’s a pity to give those goods away for free regardless of their source. Merchants like us absolutely abhor losing money… so I beg your pardon. Of course, it’s natural for trades to go two ways, hehe.”
“Is that so?” Kim Jin-Woo asked. The black merchant became flustered when he sensed that Kim Jin-Woo was about to nitpick at something. On cue, Kim Jin-Woo continued, “Then what did you promise Angela in return for spying on my trips?”
When the black merchant finally realized that Angela had spilled the beans, he gave up trying to negotiate with Kim Jin-Woo and sighed. He then emptied his pocket and handed the goods to Kim Jin-Woo.
What excuse could the black merchant give, when he had tried to steal his customer’s information despite emphasizing credibility and trust?
Kim Jin-Woo reprimanded the flustered black merchant, but he knew that this naive attitude was nothing but a facade. Someone who had traded with all sorts of monsters in the underground world wouldn’t be this careless.
The black merchants probably had something to profit from the growth of Kim Jin-Woo and his labyrinth. Therefore, Kim Jin-Woo decided to play along by stepping out of his comfort zone to act betrayed and infuriated by the black merchant.
With that momentary effort, he was able to obtain enough funds to upgrade the Naga's Labyrinth to at least Level 7.
“Each black merchant can choose a labyrinth he wishes to sponsor. That ugly black merchant probably chose to sponsor yours,” Angela said.
“This is my first time hearing that. Why me, of all the labyrinth masters?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.
“Little things can often have great power.”
Angela was referring to the principle of high risk, high return. In contrast to Dominique, who was knowledgeable about internal affairs regarding the management of the Naga's Labyrinth, Angela was quite well informed about external affairs.
Kim Jin-Woo nodded unconsciously, pleased to have Angela by his side for the first time.
At that moment, she approached silently and clung to him, asking, “One sip? Or even a drop…”
If Kim Jin-Woo were to identify one flaw with Angela, it would be her incredible obsession with his blood.
“You hear me? Follow this under-elf called Rikshasha and learn about the terrain in the vicinity,” Kim Jin-Woo instructed.
Yoon-Hee nodded quietly with a vacant expression, while Kim Jin-Woo warned Rikshasha multiple times to avoid engaging in battle. The female dungeon baby’s mission was to learn about the terrain on the ninth floor.
“You may head out now,” Kim Jin-Woo concluded.
“As you wish, master.” As usual, only Rikshasha replied.
That wasn’t unexpected. After all, it had taken Kim Jin-Woo a whopping five years to fully acclimatize to the environment on the surface. He had no clue how long it would take for Yoon-Hee to find her identity in this underground labyrinth that lacked sunlight and warmth.
However, if she managed to overcome this obstacle, Kim Jin-Woo would be able to hear why she had never left the labyrinth, even though a decade had passed since the end of the under-war.
About ten naga scouts followed Yoon-Hee and Rikshasha out of the labyrinth. When the recon team left the labyrinth, Kim Jin-Woo swiftly began to settle the labyrinth’s administrative affairs.
He first checked the progress of the core’s upgrade, then proceeded to calculate the labyrinth’s leftover capacity and summon new personnel to address the deficit.
More workers were allocated to Dominique, who was working diligently to mine more resources, whereas more naga warriors and fighters were assigned to Quantus and Ortehaga.
The labyrinth was growing much quicker than before. At this rate, it would surpass Level 6 and reach Level 7 in no time.
Since Kim Jin-Woo was getting curious about the situation on the surface and had time to spare, he decided to head out of the labyrinth.
However, a new message appeared in front of his eyes when he was about to open the portal as usual.
[Do you wish to open the portal to the surface?]
[Do you wish to open the portal to Uther’s feudal territory, the Land of Greed?]
[The two portals have separate cooldowns.]
Now that Kim Jin-Woo thought about it, a long time had passed since he had browbeaten Uther into swearing allegiance, but he had never visited the Land of Greed before. Having recalled Uther’s existence, he headed straight to the Labyrinth of Greed.
“M-My king!” Uther, who was looking down from the huge rock that served as his throne, was frightened out of his wits when he saw Kim Jin-Woo. He leaped down from his throne and laid his wriggling body prostrate on the floor.
“Ah, I just swung by on the way,” Kim Jin-Woo replied nonchalantly.
Uther seemed to exist as a shapeless lump most of the time. Only now did he shapeshift to adopt a human figure. Kim Jin-Woo curiously watched the creature’s transformation, then turned to face the core that governed the Land of Greed. He asked, “Is this your labyrinth’s core?”
Uther had already made the Vassal’s Pledge to Kim Jin-Woo, but he still seemed reluctant to reveal his labyrinth’s core to an outsider. He hurriedly puffed himself up to hide the core.
Kim Jin-Woo smirked and said, “Don’t bother hiding the core. It’s Level 4 at best.”
In fact, the core was probably very poor in quality, as it was incomparably inferior to that of the Naga's Labyrinth when it was Level 4.
“Hmm. Is this all?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.
“Yes,” Uther replied.
Kim Jin-Woo had ordered Uther to gather all his men to compare their military strength, only to confirm how insignificant the Labyrinth of Greed was.
The Army of Greed, despite its grandiose name, was made up of a bunch of slime monsters without any hero-grade personnel.
How did this labyrinth survive amid the harsh environment on the ninth floor? Kim Jin-Woo wondered. He had his doubts as to whether the Labyrinth of Greed could even defend itself. He asked, “What are the nearest labyrinths?”
“There is a labyrinth ruled by the King of Hammer and Anvil, and another ruled by the King of the Dead,” Uther replied.
A sudden thought shot through Kim Jin-Woo’s mind at that moment.Previous Chapter Next Chapter