Chapter 75

#32. The Way the Naga King Fights

“Still, they’re Underground Nobles, so there must be a reason. We should start by talking…”

“Bullshit! This is an invasion! They’re bringing an army of over two thousand troops, do they look as if they’re here just to talk? Do you think they’ll just turn back and head home if we throw them a sacrificial lamb!?”

“But to go against the nobles…”

“Since when were they even nobles!? Aren’t we all labyrinth masters all the same? I have no idea why we’re living as if we’re no better than them!”

The open square that was being temporarily used as a meeting hall was now no different from the neighborhood market, as representatives from each labyrinth argued loudly over each other.

“This is the Underworld! The Underworld! It’s not like the surface where everything is happy and sunny. This is the Underworld, where the only thing that matters is power! Rather than succumbing to the nobles, I would rather destroy myself along with my labyrinth!” Malaxus, King of Hammer and Anvil, retorted fiercely.

“Why do these nobles have such fancy names? It’s because they have all the power and history behind them to back it up. The King of Hammer and Anvil thinks too lightly of them. Is your brain fried from standing next to your hot brazier?”

“My brazier has covered not my head, but my heart! I’m different from you, Gorinthos, who only knows how to hide like a coward in your swamp!”

The conversation that had initially started out as a discussion of the invasion from the 10th Floor quickly degraded into a war of words between them.

Kim Jin-Woo had expected as much. Although they were here to unite against a common enemy, with their own survival instincts kicking in, there was no way unity would be formed so easily.

“Enough, enough!” He finally stepped in, feeling sick and tired of their petty bickering.

The labyrinth masters quickly ceased their arguments and shut their mouths. For such prideful beings, it was an unfitting sight.

However, it was to be expected, as they had all gathered in one place under the common belief in one name—the Naga King, Kim Jin-Woo; he who had defeated powerful enemies one after another and established himself as the King of the Naga’s Fortress.

In addition, they knew that he had the backing of the 11th Floor’s Count Anatolius, whom none of the labyrinth masters dared to offend.

“How pathetic. You guys seem to have a lot of free time, considering our enemies are practically right at our front doors. It seems everyone here is able to defend themselves against the two-thousand-strong army. Is that it?”

The labyrinth masters dared not speak up against his sharp criticisms and only looked at Kim Jin-Woo, waiting for his next action.

“No? Then what is with this pathetic bickering!?”

This was an alliance formed by picking out the more mild-tempered members. Evil masters like Valicius had been rejected, and those with strong, clashing personalities had been filtered out; and yet, this was the result.

Seeing how pathetic the scenario was, Kim Jin-Woo yelled, “Their army numbers two thousand! And leading the charge are a hundred Hero-Grade summons! The sheer power of their army is formidable! Even if you put all your powers together here, you wouldn't be able to reach such a level of strength! That very army has now advanced right to the entrance of the passageway to the 9th Floor! All that, just to trample on your labyrinths!”

It was only upon hearing those words that the labyrinth masters finally grasped reality. They paled at the thought of two thousand troops swarming over their labyrinths.

“We don’t even have time to fully gather all our troops to defend ourselves, and here you are, busy fighting among yourselves. The 10th Floor Nobles would love to see this!”

Kim Jin-Woo’s fierce outburst finally seemed to have knocked some sense into them, as they awkwardly coughed and averted their gazes.

“Even if it means my brazier goes out, I will still fight to my last breath! This hammer and anvil are not just for smithing!” Malaxus, King of Hammer and Anvil, stood up resolutely and shouted out loud. Half of the labyrinth masters looked up and nodded in agreement.

“How?” Kim Jin-Woo uttered one word, and the fire that had begun burning within them was doused once again. He continued, “Does the King of Hammer and Anvil have a plan to stop the army of two thousand?”

Malaxus looked at him with a bewildered look on his face, as he had thought that by rallying the alliance, everyone would agree with him unconditionally. He began, “That is, by everyone working together…”

It was a childish suggestion. It wasn’t a plan at all.

“How frustrating. It’d be better if we just surrendered to them.” With a sigh and a simple statement from Kim Jin-Woo, the whole mood turned ice cold.

However, he belatedly realized that he himself was also a 9th Floor Noble. The other 9th Floor Nobles had probably expected to be on equal footing, and seeing Kim Jin-Woo’s reaction, they were clearly disappointed. Still, they knew they needed him and his nagas’ strength to fend off the 10th Floor Nobles.

Truth be told, the entire reason why such an army was invading the 9th Floor was because of the Naga’s Fortress, but with the truth unknown to the other labyrinth masters, all they could do was fret about restlessly.

It was a misunderstanding by the other labyrinth masters, but it was also according to Kim Jin-Woo’s plan.

These wicked and cunning 9th Floor Nobles would no doubt turn their backs on him the moment they found out that the target was the Naga’s Fortress itself, and not the entirety of the 9th Floor. In fact, they might lead the charge against the Naga’s Fortress themselves.

“Then do you have a plan?” Ariane, the Queen of Illusions, who had stayed silent the whole time, finally spoke up. She looked at Kim Jin-Woo, her black bat wings wrapped around her body.

“I’m not sure I’d call it a plan, but there is a way,” Kim Jin-Woo replied.

“Oh! Indeed!”

“As expected of the Undefeated Baron!”

The 9th Floor Nobles responded gleefully.

Kim Jin-Woo sighed internally, looking at the pathetic scene in front of him. Of course, he didn’t let his feelings show on the outside, further solidifying their trust in him.

“The nagas and I will fend them off,” he replied. The open square trembled at his unexpected answer. He continued, “Of course, I can’t do this alone. So I’ll need your help.”

***

The meeting ended, and the labyrinth masters quickly left the Naga's Fortress to prepare for the upcoming war. But as most of them left, two labyrinth masters remained.

“King of the Wanderers and Queen of Illusions, is there something you two would like to say?” Kim Jin-Woo asked. The centaur Hecarim and the bat-winged Ariane had stayed behind in the meeting hall.

“Hmm…” At Kim Jin-Woo’s words, Hecarim looked at Ariane with unease.

But Ariane got straight down to business, saying, “The Land of Greed seems to have gotten some fine upgrades recently.”

“So?” Kim Jin-Woo was unsure what Ariane was getting at.

“I heard that it was all thanks to you, Baron.”

He realized what she was trying to say. But he let her continue, as he was interested in what she had to say.

“You’re a bad man. You shouldn’t let a lady say something like this first.” As the saying goes, a thirsty person would go to a well of their own accord. Ariane finally stopped beating about the bush and got straight to the point. “I would like to present myself, Ariane, and my Land of Illusions, to you.”

[The Underworld Baron’s ability, ‘Vassal’s Pledge’, is activated.]

[Ariane, the Queen of Illusions, has pledged her oath to be the Baron’s knight.]

[Do you accept?]

Kim Jin-Woo suspicions were confirmed. After realizing the truth behind Uther’s sudden massive upgrades, Ariane had come to him directly. After all, without warfare, a labyrinth would only stagnate and cease to grow.

Uther, who had been watching the scenario play out, suddenly appeared impatient. He asked, “Why? After this war ends, you’ll go back to the comfort of your own independent lives. I have no idea why you would prefer to subjugate yourself under someone else.”

“Do you really think that this war will be the last?” Ariane shot back. It was totally unexpected. Even Kim Jin-Woo flinched upon hearing her speak. She continued, “I don’t think so. The Baron won’t let that happen.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Kim Jin-Woo said, feigning ignorance.

To conquer the 9th Floor and then the 10th, and then to kill off all the Underworld Dukes… It was obvious that war would be inevitable if his plans were to play out, but it wasn’t a certainty yet. That was because he had low hopes of the 9th Floor Nobles uniting.

“I am the Queen of Illusions. And I can always ever so faintly see the illusions that blind others…” Ariane said mysteriously.

“Illusions, you say…” Kim Jin-Woo muttered.

Was she teasing him for his desire for revenge against the Underworld Dukes? He felt more bitter than scared about the fact that his inner desire had been revealed, for it was none other than the queen who ruled over dreamers who was responsible.

“Now really, how long are you going to keep me, Ariane, waiting? One thing is certain about me, and it’s that I don’t betray people. Besides, your dreams looked very delectable.”

There was a bitter taste in Kim Jin-Woo’s mouth, knowing that someone else knew his deepest desires. But he knew it wouldn’t matter, for once the Vassal’s Pledge was complete, she would have to obey him regardless of what she thought.

[Would you like to appoint Ariane as your fourth knight?]

“I accept.”

[Ariane, Queen of Illusions, has now become the Underworld Baron Kim Jin-Woo's vassal (knight).]

[The fourth knight Ariane now shares the same fate with her master. She will cease to exist should the Naga's Fortress be destroyed.]

[The Land of Illusions ruled by Ariane has become a 'Fiefdom'. Ariane is still the ruler of the labyrinth, but she now has a master. Twenty percent of the Dungeon Energy accumulated in the Core that governs the Land of Illusions 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.]

The same messages he had seen before appeared, as Ariane knelt and pledged her loyalty.

“From now on, all that I have is my master’s; my body and mind will bend to my master’s will…” Even as she said those words, her eyes hinted that she wanted something in return. It was obvious that she wanted the same treatment Uther had received.

But Kim Jin-Woo had no plans to invest down gems into her labyrinth that easily, so she would have to live with that for now.

“I suppose you had the same idea as she did?” Kim Jin-Woo asked Hecarim.

Hecarim seemed slightly resentful at the fact that Ariane had made the first move, but he kept his composure and bowed. He said, “All the rumors floating around the underworld are about you, my lord. I would like to turn those rumors into legends.”

The reason seemed to be different, but the end result was still the same.

“Sure. I’ll accept you as well.”

***

<How did the meeting go?> Dominique asked nervously. Since the meeting had been attended only by the labyrinth masters, she hadn’t been able to follow its progress.

“First, those cowardly bastards must show me some convincing results.”

<So are we beginning immediately?>

The conversation between Dominique and Kim Jin-Woo flowed smoothly like water, as if she had prepared for this conversation in advance.

“No. We’ll wait for the army to come closer. Once they’ve exposed their plan to attack us, they’ll commit to it. I plan to punish them as much as possible in one swift strike.”

<This will be a close one.>

“Have we ever not lived on the edge?”

Dominique giggled as Kim Jin-Woo let out a smirk. She seemed to have remembered their past battles together.

“Anyway, we gained some unexpected bonuses. I’ve claimed both the Queen of Illusions and the King of the Wanderers as my vassals.

<They are rather respectable beings.>

“Be they from the 9th Floor or the 10th Floor, either way, they’re survivors.”

They were capable enough to remain labyrinth masters until this point, and by virtue of surviving until now, they were indeed strong.

“Call the rangers. They need to leave now to account for the time traveled.”

<Yes, I’ll call for them immediately.>

***

Boreas was in a bad mood.

Even the creatures who dared to boldly raise their heads in front of him were annoying him, but he was even more annoyed with the other 10th Floor Nobles, who had completely handed over their troops to him and were nowhere in sight.

Wherever in the ranks they were, not even a strand of their hair could be seen.

“Damn bastards. They’re truly rotten to the core,” he grumbled.

The other nobles, who had once been of similar standing with him, were now an empty shell of their former selves, as they had been completely corrupted by luxuries and pleasures.

“If they’re pretty much trash at this point, it might be better for them to stay obedient and out of trouble,” his lieutenant said.

“Well. Will those cunning opportunists stay that way till the end? No matter what, this is an opportunity we haven’t had in a hundred years. We don’t know what they’ll do if they see one within their reach.”

“Even without their talons and fangs, I see that their greed is still the same.

Boreas spat out vulgarities in response, as they finally started to reach the end of the passageway to the 9th floor. Suddenly, he asked, “Speaking of the Naga King… what kind of being do you think he is?”

“Flawless victory or not, he’s probably yet another sleazy guy just like the others you’ve dealt with on the 9th floor as well.”

“We don’t know for sure. In just a few months, he’s won two major wars and rapidly expanded his labyrinth. If his feats were enough to catch even the mighty Lord Parthenon’s attention, he’s no weakling.”

Of course, he had caught the attention of Parthenon in a bad way, but there was no doubt that this particular being was someone special. If not, there would be no reason why the 11th Floor Noble himself would promise a promotion in return for wiping the Naga King out.

Even Boreas’ lieutenant couldn’t help but start fantasizing about the promotion that would await him in return. He commented, “Just ahead is the 9th Floor. Those 9th Floor bastards, they’ll be so confused at our sudden appearance. I can already see it happening.”

“Speaking of which. Decimate every labyrinth that you come across. Take the cores and slay any living being you see.” As soon as the scouts returned with news of no oddities, Boreas gave the merciless order in cold blood.

“Oho, so this is the 9th Floor.”

Sniff!

“This place smells… savage.”

“Doesn’t this place seem to have its own charm? There might be something beautiful I can use to decorate my labyrinth with.”

The other 10th Floor Nobles suddenly appeared out of the blue and kept up their pathetic act.

Boreas felt his head throb at such incompetence, while the other nobles continued to behave disgracefully. He yelled, “Stand back! Our march was delayed entirely because of you! The ranks are all messed up!”

The other nobles grumbled at Boreas’ words before slowly heading back into file.

“Fucking bastards,” Boreas muttered.

“Doesn’t something feel strange? I heard that they were strong enough to set foot into the 11th floor, so where are they now?” Boreas’ lieutenant asked.

Boreas frowned. It was a question he had been asking himself throughout the journey, and yet he was unable to think of an answer.

“Hmm?” A wicked odor pierced into his nostrils, breaking his train of thought. “What is this smell?”

“It smells like sulfur…”

A pungent yet unfamiliar scent was mixed into the air. Sensing something strange, Boreas tried to stop the troops, but his expression hardened.

The passageway connecting both floors wasn’t an ordinary hole. The pitch darkness of the holes swallowed all light and sound, and it was too late to try and stop the movements of the countless creatures pushing through the passageway.

“Halt! Halt!” Boreas ordered.

On top of that, the creatures were all difficult to control. Not a single one of them obeyed the message to halt their advance.

“Relay the order! All those who have yet to cross over, hold your position!” Boreas repeated.

“Understood!” The lieutenant took the order and disappeared.

But before long, a loud cry could be heard from a distance. “Stop! Something isn’t right!” Even the Hero-Grade warriors who were leading the charge had sensed that something was off.

But it wasn’t easy to stop the movement of such a massive army.

Crash! Crash!

As roughly half the troops left the passageway, the entire passageway turned red as flaming infernos rose from massive explosions.

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