Chapter 61

[The battle between the Army of Greed led by Uther, King of Greed, and the Army of the Dead, has begun.]

The war had finally begun.

“Dominique,” Kim Jin-Woo began.

<Yes, master.>

“Any news from the other labyrinths?” 

<Not much. Everyone seems to be waiting for the storm to pass, hoping not to get embroiled in this war.>

Kim Jin-Woo called Rikshasha upon hearing Dominique’s response.

“Aye, master,” Rikshasha responded.

“Lead the scouts and take the field! Make sure to leave no stone unturned!”

“As you wish, my master.” Rikshasha bowed and soon disappeared into the dark.

“Well then, Dominique, I’ll leave the labyrinth in your care while I’m gone.”

<I’ll try my best. Please take care.>

Kim Jin-Woo glanced at Dominique and the nagas who were left behind to defend the labyrinth, before turning around and roaring, “All men, forward!”

“Forward—!” Quantus loudly repeated after his master’s command, and the nagas began to march forward in unison.

“Ortehaga, stand in the front lines with the naga dragon knights! Clear the path for the marching troops!” Kim Jin-Woo commanded.

“Aye!” Ortehaga replied succinctly and charged towards the darkness with thirty naga dragon knights.

Quantus, lead the nagas and support Ortehaga from the rear!”

“Your wish is my command, my king!” Quantus led ten warriors and thirty fighters, increasing their marching speed.

Kim Jin-Woo was watching Quantus and his army gradually fade into the distance when Angela spoke up. “Aren’t you rushing a little? The King of Greed may be able to hold back Valicius alone.”

“Are you looking down on these nagas behind me?” Kim Jin-Woo asked. There were almost a hundred nagas behind him, excluding those that had left with Ortehaga and Quantus. “I guess they may seem insignificant to you, since you’re used to the scale of the army on the deep floors. But don’t forget that we’re on the ninth floor.”

Kim Jin-Woo’s eyes gleamed with confidence, as if he were already certain of victory. After all, he had obtained victory against the army of Anaxtus, which was many times larger than his own. Furthermore, his current military strength had increased by more than tenfold. Therefore, he was confident for a good reason.

However, Angela still expressed her concerns. She seemed worried that Kim Jin-Woo was feeling pressured to recklessly rush the war after his encounter with Anatolius. 

Having realized her concerns, Kim Jin-Woo said with a stern expression, “I absolutely hate it when others try to control my life as they please.”

He had already spent half of his life digging underground tunnels like a slave, and the other half coming up to the surface. Only with blood, sweat and tears did he finally earn his freedom. Therefore, he could never let anyone step in and dictate how he had to live his life.

“That’s why I’m displeased with the current situation.”

Kim Jin-Woo now clearly understood his position and responsibilities. He was no longer an ordinary dungeon baby; instead, he was the master of 150 naga warriors, the commander of the Naga’s Fortress, and the king of 18,230 serpents.

“I’ll turn the table on Anatolius,” he declared.

Angela felt as though she had just heard a powerful prophecy. Her master was significantly weaker compared to Anatolius of Blood and Iron, but right now he appeared to be on equal footing with the other nobles of the deep floors.

“And when this war is over,” Kim Jin-Woo continued in a low voice. Angela couldn’t help but pay attention to his words. “Anatolius will never patronize me again, at least on the ninth floor.”

***

“You’re smarter than I thought.” 

Anatolius of Blood and Iron was literally a giant made of steel. His skin was clad in armor with beautiful patterns engraved on it, as if he were showing off his nobility with his whole body. His pale face was also made of metal, but was beautiful and elegant, which made it seem out of place considering his huge stature.

Strong yet magnificent—that was Kim Jin-Woo’s first impression of Anatolius of Blood and Iron. 

“P-Please forgive me, Count Anatolius,” the Black Merchant stammered.

“It’s not your fault. He was just cleverer than we thought,” Anatolius replied.

The black merchant had been hopping around anxiously with a fearful look on his face. Judging from how he was still so afraid even though the Black Merchants had his back, the count from the deep floors must truly be terrifying.

Indeed, even Kim Jin-Woo wanted to back away from the incredible charisma of the steel giant that gave him pins and needles. However, he refused to yield under the influence of the parasite’s secretion, which eliminated his sense of fear.

“What brings you, an honorable count of the deep floor, here?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.

“I’m just here as an investor, to check whether my investment has paid off. I wasn’t planning to reveal my identity,” Anatolius answered.

Despite the penalty that rendered a creature weaker the moment it left its floor, Anatolius was terrifying even after climbing up two whole floors.

“So, what does our dear investor think?” Kim Jin-Woo raised his head and said provocatively, to pose a challenge to Anatolius.

“You’re too arrogant and disrespectful, as expected from a beast that was born and raised in the Underground. That’s why I’m not very fond of you.”

As soon as Anatolius ended his sentence, Kim Jin-Woo felt his whole body stiffen with fear.

[The high-class noble’s authority has been activated.]

[You are unable to disobey the honorable count. Both you and the count are nobles, but your body has been petrified due to the unparalleled majestic aura.]

Kim Jin-Woo had been using his noble’s authority to subjugate other creatures, but now he was getting a taste of his own medicine. His body stiffened upon sensing danger, just like prey facing a predator. However, his body miraculously recovered its function at that critical moment.

[The parasite is secreting its substance more profusely.]

[Kim Jin-Woo’s special ability ‘Indomitable Will’, which allowed him to persevere through the arduous journey to the surface, has been activated.]

[You have miraculously resisted against the high-class noble’s authority.]

[Your body is gradually becoming less rigid. However, the decrease in all your physical stats is unavoidable.]

Kim Jin-Woo regained his composure once his body began to loosen up. Anatolius’ jewel-like eyes began to sparkle as he remarked, “Not bad. You’re barbaric, but strong. It’s quite commendable for a mere labyrinth master of the ninth floor to hold his ground in front of me.”

“Judging people as you please, huh.”

Anatolius had made an unexpected remark about Kim Jin-Woo, but the latter wasn’t pleased in the slightest. How could he be, when this whole encounter wasn’t what he had wanted and Anatolius was making wild guesses about him?

“By right, I wasn’t planning on meeting you until you had the qualifications. However, you do seem good enough to face me now,” Anatolius said. Regardless of what was on Kim Jin-Woo’s mind, he seemed quite satisfied. 

“You asked me for an opinion, didn’t you?” Anatolius had a smile on his metallic face as he continued, “You exceeded my expectations. Angela met a decent master.”

However, the smile on his face was neither warm nor gentle, but cold, befitting an austere king. Anatolius clearly considered Kim Jin-Woo to be inferior to him. 

“You can be a useful ‘pawn’.”

***

Kim Jin-Woo snapped out of his flashback and mumbled with a stony face, “I’ll play along for now.” His eyes gleamed with incredible vigor, which almost appeared terrifying.

The naga army led by Kim Jin-Woo was rapidly advancing toward the Land of the Dead. Since Quantus and Ortehaga had already cleared the path, there were no creatures obstructing their path, and no ambushes occurred. In essence, they were marching at an incredible speed. At this rate, they would arrive at the Graveyard ahead of schedule.

“Master, there are quite a few spies snooping around. I will eliminate them upon your command,” Rikshasha reported, having faithfully surveyed the main troop and the vicinity.

Kim Jin-Woo said with dull eyes, “Leave them alone.”

“But one of them may report our situation to Valicius.”

Kim Jin-Woo had long been aware that a variety of creatures, ranging from dwarves to beast-like monsters, were hiding and watching from the crevices in every tortuous passage. However, Kim Jin-Woo wasn’t particularly concerned. 

“Leave them alone. We don’t have to mind those minions that would dare do such a foolish thing even with good eyes and ears.” Kim Jin-Woo didn’t falter this time, his determination solid as a rock. He continued, “And even if there were spies, it would be a good time to show them what we’ve got.” 

“As you wish, my king.” Rikshasha bowed to her confident master and disappeared into the darkness.

Kim Jin-Woo stared at the darkness where the under-elf had vanished into, then estimated the distance from the map that floated in front of his eyes like a mirage.

They only had about three days before they reached the Land of the Dead. By now, Valicius would have noticed Kim Jin-Woo’s move and started to hurriedly prepare for battle. He might even call back the army he had sent to deal with Uther.

As Kim Jin-Woo had expected, he received a message indicating that the battle had concluded within a day.

[The battle between the army led by Uther, King of Greed, and the Army of the Dead, has ended.]

[The Army of the Dead has retreated.]

[However, both parties failed to inflict fatal damage on each other. Although the Army of the Dead retreated, there is no winner in this battle.]

As the above messages appeared, the dead began to hinder the march of the nagas in an attempt to buy some time for the main troop to return from fighting Uther.

“Just trample them and move!” Kim Jin-Woo ordered.

Ortehaga and the dragon knights returned from the front lines and stomped all over the hideous dead creatures, which looked like rags sewn together.

Kim Jin-Woo’s eyes gleamed when he observed how the dead soldiers were unable to slow down the nagas at all and remarked, “They must be desperate.”

“They wouldn’t have expected you to start the war so quickly,” Angela said.

Kim Jin-Woo nodded. The fact that the Vassal’s Pledge was a confidential contract between the master and the vassal played to his advantage. Valicius would have wanted to defeat Uther, the eyesore, and harness his power to challenge the naga’s labyrinth. He should have realized the relationship between Uther and the nagas by now, and that Uther was just a tool to lure his army out.

However, it was too late. It would take a week for the Army of the Dead, which had gone to conquer Uther and his Army of Greed, to join Valicius. Furthermore, the nagas were already very near the Graveyard.

“Keeek!”

Another dead soldier who attacked the nagas was trampled on and disintegrated by the naga dragon knights. It was ridiculous to even call this mob attack an invasion. Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t help but smirk.

He confirmed his suspicions after fending off several small-scale invasions: Valicius was bold enough to have sent most of his men to fight Uther. Nobody knew whether it was due to the special trait of the Graveyard, or if he wanted to settle scores with Uther once and for all, but it was indeed a wily decision.

That boldness was now coming back to bite Valicius.

“Hurry, unless you want to wrestle with those stinking dead soldiers!” Kim Jin-Woo bellowed, and the nagas began to quicken their pace even more.

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