Chapter 53

The map covered the routes from the Naga’s Labyrinth to the site of the former labyrinth of Anaxtus, the Labyrinth of Greed, and the passage leading to the 8th Floor. Kim Jin-Woo concluded after reading the map that the Naga’s Labyrinth was located on the outskirts of the 9th Floor.

Under normal circumstances, the closer a creature or labyrinth was to the passage leading to the deeper floors, the more powerful they were. In other words, the labyrinths that he had encountered so far didn’t belong to the key players of the ninth floor.

“Master.”

Kim Jin-Woo’s frown faded upon hearing Rikshasha’s voice. He snapped out of his deep thought and turned around to face the naga horsemen, commanding, “Good job. You may return now.” 

“Yes, my king.”

Since Kim Jin-Woo had ordered Rikshasha and the naga horsemen to accompany him only until the ninth floor, they turned back without any objection.

It was a pity to send Rikshasha back, as she was stealthy and proficient in investigation. However, Kim Jin-Woo knew how difficult it would be to bring a non-human being like her to the crowd of explorers in the underground world.

“Be careful not to get lost.”

“This humble servant will safely guide your soldiers back to the labyrinth.” 

Kim Jin-Woo wasn’t too worried, since Rikshasha was a former nomad who had wandered around the underground world. He watched the under-elf and the naga horsemen disappear over the horizon then turned around.

“We’re in luck. It’s clear around the passage,” Uther reported, collecting the lumps of slime that wriggled back after scouting the other end of the passage. He attached them back onto his sides and explained the situation on the eighth floor to his master. “The eighth floor is uncharted territory that even I’ve never been to. We should keep our guard up at all times. Your honorable title may not affect some of the creatures there.”

Having heard Uther’s advice, Kim Jin-Woo gathered his crew members and entered the passage to the eighth floor. “Angela?” he asked as they emerged.

“There are no living things around here. Even if something did emerge from the dark, it would be neither dead nor alive,” Angela reported.

Uther was visibly reassured by Angela’s words. Kim Jin-Woo asked the slime king why he was cowering so much despite being a labyrinth master on the ninth floor. Uther, his shoulders drooping, replied that this was his first time traveling to another floor.

“That’s not uncommon. Not many creatures in the underground world leave the floor they were born on. The further they stray from their birthplace, the weaker they become,” Angela remarked.

This was Kim Jin-Woo’s first time hearing that. Now that he thought about it, Uther’s body was visibly smaller than before after barely crossing the passage. 

“No wonder the humans were able to emerge victorious in the under-war.” Kim Jin-Woo tutted. If Uther, a labyrinth master from the ninth floor, was in this state, other creatures would surely suffer even more. 

Angela and Uther stared at their master seriously. Angela began, “Master, the forces of the underground world might have surrendered to the humans according to the peace treaty, but none of the masters of the deep floors—the real powerhouses of the underground world—participated in the war. All they did was send a few of their subordinates over. If those monsters had participated, the humans would never dare to claim that they had won the war.”

“The Terrans never explored past the upper floors. They merely defeated a few weaklings near the entrance, and yet they’re so arrogant,” Uther added.

Perhaps Uther and Angela felt a sense of pride in the underground world. Kim Jin-Woo smiled bitterly at his two rambling subordinates who had been triggered by his statement. 

Both parties must have participated in the under-war with a handicap. While none of the powerful labyrinth masters of the deep floors had volunteered to fight for the underground world, the humans hadn’t been able to utilize the weapons that were their biggest strength.

“Anyway, you’re saying that Uther becomes more useless the higher we go...” Kim Jin-Woo said with a smile in an attempt to calm the overly agitated Angela and Uther, and thus defuse the tension in the air.

“The fact I can’t deny that makes me sadder.” Uther appeared crestfallen as slime dripped down from his body again.

Angela snickered at him and clung onto Kim Jin-Woo. “I’m not affected by the floor, as long as you’re by my side,” she bragged. 

Infuriated, Uther exclaimed again, “You vampires can’t even step on other people’s land or cross water without your master’s permission! You’re the one who cannot do anything alone; who’s mocking whom?!”

“Funny. Have you seen any bodies of water in the underground world other than in the deep floors? Besides, I’ll never leave my master. What’s the big deal?” Judging from the way Angela had a huge grin on her face in contrast to Uther, who looked genuinely exasperated, she was evidently playing with him.

Kim Jin-Woo sighed as he observed the two of them. “We’re way behind schedule. Enough with the idle talk. Let’s start moving again.”

They had no reason to dilly-dally when the map of the eighth floor had been renewed thanks to Yoon-Hee sharing her 'Guidance' ability with Kim Jin-Woo.

“Lead the way, Yoon-Hee,” Kim Jin-Woo ordered the female dungeon baby, who had stood aloof without a word even amid the commotion. She finally began to move, or at least she tried to.

Angela stopped Yoon-Hee the moment the latter tried to step forward, saying, “Master.” 

“What is it?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.

“We’re surrounded by creatures.” Angela sounded completely nonchalant despite the severity of the situation.  

“How many of them?”

“About fifty, I think. Judging from how their hearts are beating rapidly, they probably rushed over here.”

“You can even know that?”

“As long as the target is alive.” Angela had a somewhat eerie smile on her face.

Kim Jin-Woo looked at Uther and said, “Uther, I suppose you can hide with Yoon-Hee?” 

Uther wriggled fiercely and lost his shape almost immediately. He swallowed Yoon-Hee whole and attached himself to a wall, becoming one with it.

“Woah.” Kim Jin-Woo marveled at Uther’s new ability. He then said to Angela, “Let’s go.”

[Special ability ‘Camouflage’ has been activated.]

[Angela has shared a portion of her abilities with you. The ‘Camouflage’ ability has been upgraded to ‘Stealth’.]

[Stealth is a level of concealment higher than Camouflage. Very few creatures will be able to detect your presence, as even the sound of your heartbeat and your presence will be completely masked.]

A series of messages appeared immediately upon activating the Camouflage ability. Kim Jin-Woo’s eyes opened wide in shock, as the new ability erased his presence completely instead of merely hiding it.

Angela chuckled. “I told you I was useful.” She began to blend into the dark like Kim Jin-Woo.

***

“Sniff sniff, something came up from the ninth floor around here.”

“But where did they go?”

A few monsters that resembled wild boars stood on their hind legs and rambled on.

“That’s what I’m saying. They were definitely here.”

“Could they be hiding somewhere?”

“Sniff sniff, I wouldn’t be called ‘Big Nose’ if they could escape from my keen nose.”

These monsters seemed to be the monsters Angela had been referring to. Kim Jin-Woo, shrouded in the dark, was observing the gigantic wild boars when Angela sent him a message via telepathy.

<Yuck! They’re so ugly!>

He had assumed that the vampire had something important to say, but she was just talking nonsense. He frowned and sighed inwardly. 

Angela seemed to have read his mood, and explained the situation. <Those two possess the strongest life force.>

That was to be expected. Kim Jin-Woo could tell that those two wild boars were hero-grade at the least. They were probably the leaders of the creatures that were surrounding his team.

“Sniff, to think I was getting excited to taste the meat of those ninth-floor bastards.”

“We have to search longer. You think our chief will let us off if we return empty-handed after dragging so many warriors along?”

According to their conversation, the passage linking the eighth and ninth floors seemed to be located within the wild boars’ territory. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so many of them swarming in so soon after Kim Jin-Woo’s team had entered the eighth floor. 

<Master, what’s the plan now? Ah, so frustrating. If you just imagine talking to me in your mind—> Angela began, but was cut off.        

<Like this?> Kim Jin-Woo replied. Telepathy was easier to perform than he’d thought. Angela giggled in delight. The sound of her laughter echoed in his mind, giving him a very strange feeling.

Angela asked, <So what shall we do now? If we just pass through, we’ll be chased by these monsters relentlessly.>

<It’s obvious.> Kim Jin-Woo had already positioned himself behind the wild boars by the time he finished his sentence.

“If they can speak our language, they should lead the way.” He spoke verbally and not via telepathy this time. The wild boars, startled by Kim Jin-Woo’s sudden appearance, flared their nostrils and squealed excitedly.

“Keek! Here he is! This is the bastard who—“ The wild boar sniffed Kim Jin-Woo’s scent and abruptly shut his mouth.

“Since you can talk, I assume you have some intelligence, which means you should know who I am.” The baron’s seal on Kim Jin-Woo’s hand sparkled brilliantly.

[The baron’s unique ability: ‘Low-Class Noble’s Authority’ has been activated.]

[Creatures with intelligence cannot rebel against authority. However, if the target is stronger than the baron himself, it can attack and claim the seal for itself.]

[You lack the charisma for this ability to be effective on all creatures. However, you were still able to subdue your opponents this time. They have succumbed to the Low-Class Noble’s Authority.]

***

“Uther,” Kim Jin-Woo called out in a low voice.

The slime king was disguised so cleverly that Kim Jin-Woo had almost walked past him without knowing it. Uther recovered his original color and spit out Yoon-Hee.

“Urgh.” Even Yoon-Hee, who seldom expressed her emotions, seemed to dislike having been trapped in the slime. She brushed the lumps of slime off her body, while Uther collected them and pasted them back onto his body.

Uther remarked, “It’s difficult to replenish these over here… That aside, what are these pigs?” 

Only now did Uther discover the wild boars. He tilted his head sideways in wonder, then suddenly rejoiced. “Are they food?”

The wild boars began to roll their eyes and drool.

“No. They’re our guides,” Kim Jin-Woo replied.

***

The wild boars explained that they were warriors of the ‘Large Tusk’ clan, located right in front of the passage linking the eighth and the ninth floor. Based on their explanation, this whole labyrinth appeared to be a large village.

“Sniff, we should report to our chief nonetheless.”

“Didn’t your subordinates go back to report?”

“They’re too dumb to trust.”

The wild boar didn’t seem too bright himself, but Kim Jin-Woo didn’t point that fact out. After all, he wanted the wild boar to lead the way, not take him on a tour around the eighth floor. 

“By the way, what brings you, an honorable noble of the underground world, to this floor…? No nobles came up to this floor even during the war…” the wild boar asked curiously. It seemed only the creatures and beasts that had lost territorial wars climbed up the floors occasionally.

“You won’t live for long if you pry into a VIP’s affairs,” Uther snapped, disgruntled after learning that the wild boars weren’t meant to be eaten. The wild boar immediately shut his mouth.

“Hmm, master?” Angela alerted Kim Jin-Woo while Uther and the wild boar were conversing.

“I noticed it too,” Kim Jin-Woo replied. “It’s impossible to not notice when they’re rushing over here this loudly.”

Kim Jin-Woo and his team came to a halt and braced themselves for battle upon hearing the thundering footsteps from afar.

“Sounds like the pigs are coming,” Kim Jin-Woo remarked.

As expected, dozens of wild boars with exceptionally large tusks appeared.

“Sniff. This is why I wanted to report to the chief,” the wild boar guide grumbled.

The wild boar next to him with an unusually large nose replied, “You would have forgotten about the VIP by the time you headed back.”

Their conversation was getting more and more ridiculous. Kim Jin-Woo had guessed that the wild boars weren’t very intelligent, but he had never expected them to be this dumb.

However, not all wild boars were dumb, it seemed.

“Master, there’s one exceptionally strong wild boar hiding over there,” Angela said as she pointed at the herd of wild boars which flooded the entire passage. “I believe that’s the ‘chief’ these two were talking about. Otherwise, he wouldn’t possess such incredible life force.”

There was a particularly powerful creature amongst the swarm of wild boars. Kim Jin-Woo narrowed his eyes and scanned through the crowd, only to discover a head that protruded above the rest. The wild boar must have tried his best to hide, but to no avail due to his massive size.

“So they do have some kind of strategy.” Kim Jin-Woo shook his head, while the captive boars with him stepped forward and yelled.

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