Chapter 71

#30. The Crow of the Battlefield

“Hmm. This is?” Kim Jin-Woo frowned at the mysterious piece of leather that the Black Merchant handed to him. A rather detailed map appeared on it, much like an illusion.

[You have obtained the complete map of the 9th Floor. Your existing map has now been updated by the ‘Guidance’ ability.]

[There are no further unexplored areas on the 9th Floor.]

[However, there may be hidden labyrinths not shown on the map.]

A notification indicated that his map had been updated, and the once-hidden areas of the map brightly revealed themselves.

Without letting the Black Merchant notice, Kim Jin-Woo scanned across the map and frowned internally.

Anatolius could obviously easily gather intelligence on the goings-on of the 9th floor from the 11th floor with great vigilance. That meant the map that Anatolius provided was exceptionally meticulous and precise.

“There’s also a message that came with the item.” Regardless of Kim Jin-Woo’s surprise, the Black Merchant carried on. “He has stated that while there is no set time frame, he would like to see some results as soon as possible.”

“Now that’s just arrogance. Am I being treated like his lackey now?” Kim Jin-Woo grumbled.

“Oh, there’s no way that could be the case. Count Anatolius has said that this was just a simple request.”

“Of course that arrogant Anatolius called this a ‘request’.”

The Black Merchant saw the pissed-off look on Kim Jin-Woo’s face and hurriedly continued, “It’s true! In fact, Count Anatolius promised additional support should Milord achieve results within half a year.”

“After our agreement was fulfilled, I helped to subjugate an additional labyrinth. Isn’t it too greedy of him to demand that I show more sincerity? There’s no way he expects me to take over the entire 9th floor within those 6 months, right?”

Truth be told, Kim Jin-Woo already held three fiefs, but he was feeling uncomfortable about the whole situation, even if just for a moment.

Needless to say, the incredible power behind those unrevealed fiefdoms had been fully showcased during the battle with Valicius. There was simply no need to reveal his true strength to the Black Merchant here.

“He doesn’t expect anything to that extent. Just clearing a path to securing the 10th floor would prove satisfactory to him.”

“Hmm.” Kim Jin-Woo pretended to think about the Black Merchant’s words. In fact, he had had a plan from the start to subjugate the entirety of the 9th floor, but he very much preferred to make fuller use of his time in that respect.

“So, what’s in it for me?” he finally replied as though there had been a lot of deliberation.

The Black Merchant excitedly started to talk about the possible rewards. “You’ve been promised fifteen Hero-Grade mercenaries that no one has yet to lay claim on, as well as ten highest-grade down gems. In addition, should you require anything else, you may request it anytime.”

With such an unexpectedly great reward, even Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t help but show some genuine interest. “Damn, he’s splurging quite a bit this time around.”

“Also, as an advance payment, he would like to entrust you with this.” From what seemed like an endless storage space, the Black Merchant dug into his bag and took out a jewel the size of both his fists.

“What is that?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.

The Black Merchant replied,“This is the summoning stone of an Ancient War Hero.”

***

“There’s a powerful hero inside of it. But as powerful as he is, he’s equally conceited and may just act on his own accord. In the worst case, you may end up being attacked by the summon yourself,” the Black Merchant explained.

“You sure gave me one hell of an item,” Kim Jin-Woo muttered.

“As long as you rein him in, he’ill be of great help. And Count Anatolius has expressed his belief in you.”

After the Black Merchant left, Kim Jin-Woo silently fiddled with the red jewel in his hand. The peony-red jewel was rather peculiar, with irregular angles all around. There was a conspicuous black speckle that flickered every time light shone onto it.

Kim Jin-Woo frowned as he recalled the Black Merchant’s words. He wanted to know the true intent behind Anatolius giving him this summoning stone. Perhaps this was a test.

“Master, that is…” Angela, who usually stayed with Yoon-Hee, unexpectedly showed up.

“This is a test sent by Anatolius,” Kim Jin-Woo replied.

It seemed Angela knew about the summoning stone’s identity. Reluctantly, she asked what was inside of it. Kim Jin-Woo shook his head.

Despite being the one who had delivered the summoning stone, even the Black Merchant himself couldn’t tell which hero was residing inside.

Upon seeing the response, Angela’s face turned serious. “Then don’t use it. It would probably be better to turn it into dungeon energy and use it for something else.”

Kim Jin-Woo had never seen her act so serious, and demanded an explanation.

“All the summoning stones that are of use have been utilized. And for those that have yet to be used, there’s usually a good reason for it. Either they have a history of turning on their summoners, their personalities are too eccentric, or conflicting personalities have turned out to be too much to overcome.” With that, Angela once again asked Kim Jin-Woo to reconsider using the summoning stone in earnest.

“So, he’s simply patronizing me by handing me pain-in-the-ass junk,” Kim Jin-Woo said, with an unusual look on his face.

“Master!” Angela exclaimed.

“Even junk can be recycled into something useful. There often comes a day where one ends up regretting throwing away such junk, is there not?” Kim Jin-Woo remarked. Angela fell silent, accompanied only by the sound of dripping cold water in the background.

“Gather the troops!” Kim Jin-Woo ordered, turning to face Angela as he drew a smirk. “It’s time for a welcome party.”

***

In a wide open square...

An otherworldly whirlwind manifested, and flashes of light scattered across the square. With an ear-piercing noise, the light flickered and spat out a single dark mass of shadow. And just as suddenly as it appeared, the light quickly vanished, as if it had never existed.

[An Ancient War Hero has been summoned via a summoning stone.]

[From the time when the Underworld was a single floor... She who served the One-Eyed Lord, one of the ten mightiest lords of the era; Morrigan, the Crow of the Battlefield, has awakened.]

Behind the message, a giant crow slowly rose and brushed its blood red beak with its wing.

<Are you the one who summoned me?> Its sharp and eerie voice echoed inside Kim Jin-Woo’s head and pierced through the vastness of the battlefield. <You look so small. And weak.>

[Ancient War Hero Morrigan wants you to prove your worth.]

[Morrigan must be completely subdued to fully control its powers. Morrigan will not return to the summoning stone peacefully should the subjugation fail.]

As soon as the message ended, the crow spread its wings that spanned several meters. The now-stiffened feathers almost seemed like sharp daggers as she intoned, <Prove your worth.>

Kim Jin-Woo sneered at its piercing voice. “Worth?” He raised his right hand and answered sarcastically. “The one who has to prove their worth isn’t me.” As soon as he lowered his hand, Ortehaga, Quantus, and Balzark appeared behind him.

<Do not mock the sacred test!>

“Sacred my ass.” Kim Jin-Woo snorted at the crow’s outcry and commanded, “Subdue it.”

“For the King!” Balzark charged toward the crow on his spirit horse, with Ortehaga and Quantus fiercely following suit.

[The Commander’s unique ability, ‘Domination of the Battlefield’, has been activated.]

[Your allies’ combat ability has increased. They will obey you to your last word.]

[Your allies’ formation becomes stronger and more resilient.]

[Your allies’ combat ability has been amplified by the effect of ‘Domination of the Battlefield’.]

[Battle has occurred within the labyrinth. The combat power of all allies within its radius will be amplified.]

[The Naga Shaman has blessed its allies as they enter the battlefield. Physical abilities have been temporarily increased.]

[The three stacked buff effects have increased your allies’ ability by an incredible amount.]

As soon as the messages ended, Balzark's absurdly huge axe slashed toward the crow.

“You’re the one that has to prove their worth!” Kim Jin-Woo took a step back with a cold smile on his face.

***

Indeed, Morrigan was as strong as Angela had anticipated. Even against three Hero-Grade summons, it was unfazed. With each flap of its wings, dozens of its dagger-like feathers flew out in all directions. Even the usually confident Ortehaga had to make a retreat in the face of such ferocity.

“This is troublesome.” Seeing how his subordinates couldn’t even make a dent despite having three buffs, Kim Jin-Woo seemed neither surprised nor unimpressed. “You have no right to call yourselves warriors!” he chastised.

“Since when have I called myself a warrior!?” one of his subordinates shot back.

Kim Jin-Woo then turned to talk to Angela, who was pretending to pick at one of her ears in response to Morrigan’s shrieks. He asked, “Anatolius should have no problem at all dealing with a minor annoyance of this level, shouldn’t he?”

“Exactly. We don’t even need to talk about Anatolius’ own strength. Just a couple of his high level knights should be able to handle something like this, so this is rather puzzling.”

“Is there something we’re overlooking?”

The two of them racked their brains trying to figure out what exactly was going on with this summon that they couldn’t figure out. Morrigan’s power was great, but nowhere near enough to reach Underworld Count status.

<Kaaaaah!>

In the midst of all that, the battle between the crow and Kim Jin-Woo’s subordinates was heating up.

“Master, do you happen to know the true nature of that crow?” Angela asked.

“It said it was Morrigan, the Crow of the Battlefield that used to serve the One-Eyed Lord.”

Angela frowned as she heard those words.

At that moment, Dominique showed up. <Oh my goodness. Master!> Upon hearing her exhausted voice, Kim Jin-Woo turned around and saw a pale-faced Dominique. She continued, <You have to send her back right now!>

“Why?”

<Anatolius didn’t hand over the crow to Master because it’s a flawed summon!>

Kim Jin-Woo frowned at Dominique, who wouldn’t calm down as she continued to ramble incoherently. She finally snapped out of it after a while and gathered herself to explain properly.

<If it’s the Morrigan we’re talking about, she’s the embodiment of disaster itself. Morrigan is a scourge that has killed countless nobles! Even Parthenon of Despair, an 11th Floor Count, is one of those who has a grudge against her!>

Kim Jin-Woo gritted his teeth as he realized the weight of those words. “That son of a bitch Anatolius, he pulled a fast one,” he muttered.

The resentful faces of the soldiers who charged towards the ominous crow flashed before Kim Jin-Woo’s eyes.

Perhaps Anatolius had even expected this scenario to play out when he handed over the summoning stone.

If things went according to the wicked Count’s plan, Kim Jin-Woo would be the one enslaved by Morrigan, and that would make his relationship with the various Underworld Nobles a very difficult one. For him, that is.

And there was no doubt that the sly Count would be part of that horrible equation.

If I don’t send it back, word will spread quickly about this… Kim Jin-Woo thought.

Moriggan suddenly let out a cry the moment Dominique finished speaking. “Kaaaaah!”

The soul-piercing cry made Dominique collapse onto the floor. The awaiting nagas started throwing up blood.

Balzark, Ortehaga, and Quantus all ceased their combat and started retreating with stunned looks on their faces, as the giant crow started transforming.

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