Chapter 80

#34. Torrent

“One of them is an invitation from Lord Parthenon, and the other is from Lord Anatolius.”

Kim Jin-Woo had already anticipated Anatolius to contact him, but Parthenon reaching out to him was unexpected.

“Hmm…” He had a feeling that things were about to go in an unwanted direction. The Black Merchant kept silent as he continued to hold out the two envelopes and the wooden box.

After some deliberation, Kim Jin-Woo decided to open Anatolius’ letter first. Together with Dominique, who had been waiting by his side with bated breath, they leaned in to read the contents of the letter together.

“The circumstances were inappropriate for me to extend my help to you, but nevertheless, I continued to root for your victory even from afar. For delivering more than what was promised, I will be extending my fullest support to you as appropriate. As soon as things are ready on my end, I will have them delivered to you via the Black Merchants. I congratulate you once again on your victory, Undefeated Commander.”

The contents were nothing special, but Kim Jin-Woo was focused on the words “fullest support”. The amount of support he had already received thus far was immense, so he was eager to find out what more he would be able to receive at its fullest.

And with Anatolius now calling him the ‘Undefeated Commander’, he couldn’t help but feel the dynamics of the relationship between them were changing. Whether it was a good or a bad thing, he would have to find out.

“Ah, and the wooden box was sent by Lord Parthenon.”

Kim Jin-Woo frowned at the Black Merchant’s words. With his subordinates annihilated, there was no way Parthenon was up to any good. The fact that he had personally sent items over was nothing but bad news.

“This is…” Kim Jin-Woo’s eyebrows furrowed as he opened the wooden box.

“This is a replacement Hero-grade summoning stone, in exchange for the Crow of the Battlefield.”

It seemed that Parthenon was unable to forget his loss at the hands of Morrigan, even until this day.

Kim Jin-Woo didn’t like Parthenon’s attitude of pushing the limits of his own desires, and of not being able to let go of his grievances till the bitter end. Thus, he put the shining summoning stone back into the wooden box and closed its lid.

“I’ll pretend I didn’t receive this box.”

“Would that be alright? Lord Parthenon won’t give up so easily.” The Black Merchant approached Kim Jin-Woo and carefully questioned him. However, Kim Jin-Woo pushed Parthenon’s invitation letter and the wooden box back toward the Black Merchant’s hands.

“Urgh. I guess there’s nothing else I can do about it.” With that, the Black Merchant reached out to retrieve the invitation letter and the wooden box.

Suddenly, Kim Jin-Woo suddenly pulled back his hands. “No. I’ve changed my mind.”

“Milord?”

“I’ll return this myself.”

The Black Merchant’s eyes widened.

“He didn’t say when I should give him a reply, did he?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.

“He didn’t say that, but…”

After all, Parthenon, who had been born strong and reigned over countless people, would never have thought that a mere 9th Floor Baron would dare to weigh his proposal.

Even the Black Merchant looked flabbergasted, as such a reaction was definitely beyond Parthenon’s expectations.

“Then, I’ll make time to pay him a visit. Does this invitation letter lead me directly to his labyrinth?”

“Yes, but…”

“You’re a pretty busy man, aren’t you? First you had to work your ass off for Anatolius, and now for Parthenon too.” Kim Jin-Woo quickly changed the subject, leaving no time for the Black Merchant to respond.

“As long as the price is right, we, the Black Merchants, will deal with anyone. But what do you really plan on doing?”

Kim Jin-Woo smirked at him, replying, “Who knows?”

“Urgh.” The Black Merchant couldn’t get a straight answer out of him and eventually left.

With the merchant’s departure, Dominique quickly nagged at Kim Jin-Woo. <I really believe that meeting Parthenon isn’t a good idea, Master. According to the rumors I’ve heard, Parthenon is as typical as Underworld Counts get. He’s arrogant and ferocious, and is cold-blooded towards his enemies and those he deems useless.> It was apparent that she was worried he would do something reckless again.

“Ah, I have no intention to use this any time soon,” Kim Jin-Woo replied. Hearing those words, Dominique breathed a sigh of relief. But he then continued, “But that doesn’t mean I intend to leave it aside and forget about it.”

Although Dominique had seen Kim Jin-Woo’s subsequent words coming from a mile away, it only served to aggravate her anxiety as she let out another sigh.

***

The relatively unscathed corpses of the Hero-Grade summons, from which down gems had been extracted, were of no further interest to the rest of the alliance. Thus, Kim Jin-Woo was able to easily obtain them for his own purposes.

Valicius was the one who was most excited. He quickly grabbed the high-grade corpses and ran off to bury himself in his research. It seemed as though he wanted to replenish his Army of the Dead with the new supply of corpses.

That process ended up consuming a large quantity of down gems, but it was a fraction of what Kim Jin-Woo had obtained from his last war. Even if they were all converted into dungeon energy right away, they would still have amounted to tens of thousands, which was why he was able to provide the many down gems to Valicius without hesitation.

“I will attempt to create an Army of the Dead that will make our foes tremble at the mere mention of its name.”

Valicius’ loyalty had only grown stronger since his integration into the naga worker’s body. Although his own body was weaker than before, leaving him slightly disadvantaged in terms of physical capabilities, he had no problem when it came to creating more Dead.

It was not just Valicius that had regained his purpose. The naga sorcerers were all busy researching the various masterless Labyrinth Cores.

“I’ll repeat myself. Don’t damage the cores. And your research will only last until the end of the labyrinths’ upgrades,” Kim Jin-Woo ordered.

At those words, the naga sorcerers plunged themselves even deeper into their research.

The Labyrinth Cores would only be useful after the upgrades concluded, and thus, Kim Jin-Woo kept them out of sight and out of mind for now. His newly obtained labyrinths were getting stronger by the day, but there was one being that was conversely growing weaker.

That was none other than Boreas. Due to the rules of the Underworld, he had lost everything, and it seemed he had even lost his hope to live.

“He needs to stay alive for me to understand what’s happening on the 10th Floor.”

“The priests are doing their best to heal him, so it shouldn’t be long.”

As Boreas had remained unconscious since their last battle, Kim Jin-Woo was unable to invoke the Vassal’s Pledge on him; therefore, his desire to sate his curiosity about the 10th Floor had to wait another day.

“I’ll return in a couple of days, so take care of the labyrinth in the meantime.”

As there was still some time left for Boreas to make a recovery, as well as for the labyrinths to finish their upgrades, Kim Jin-Woo took the opportunity to finally leave the Underworld.

***

“Phew.” Kim Jin-Woo felt the weight on his shoulders lift as he stepped out back onto the surface and took in a large breath of fresh air.

He continued to take deep breaths as if to expel all the damp air and feeling of the Underworld, a telltale sign of how long it had been since he last returned to the surface. Ah, to finally feel alive once more.

As he had been unable to leave the labyrinth in the midst of war, too much time had passed indeed.

As soon as he turned his smartphone back on, it vibrated with endless notifications.

[Missed Calls—99 Calls]

[Unread Messages—44 Messages]

At the countless unread notifications, his face turned to disgust. “How tiresome.”

From Lee Jun-Young and Mr. Baek, to the Underworld Development Institute and even his family, he started clearing the messages.

[My dear Jin-Woo, how are you doing as of late? Please give me a call when you see this. I’m about to forget how your voice sounds.]

[Oppa! My husband told me some time ago that he wanted to grab a meal together with you, but you were unreachable. Text me when you see this!]

Those were from his family…

[Hey Jin-Woo, are you busy?]

[Your phone seems to be off. Call me when you see this message.]

[Are you still in the Underworld?”]

[Jin-Woo, I have something important to say. Call me immediately when you see this.]

Those were from Lee Jun-Young.

[Did you return to the Underworld? Come over as soon as you return. Urgent.]

Mr. Baek had sent that last message.

“Mm…”

His family members’ texts aside, Lee Jun-Young and Professor Baek’s messages seemed a little off. It sounded as if something urgent had come from the both of them, and after some deliberation, he decided to call Lee Jun-Young first.

[You have reached voicemail. Record your message after…]

Lee Jun-Young’s phone was turned off once again. Left without a choice, Kim Jin-Woo called Mr. Baek, and after a few rings, the old man’s voice picked up the call from the other end.

[What on earth have you been doing?! The world is in chaos!]

***

Kim Jin-Woo burst through the appraiser’s door and was met with Mr. Baek standing inside, waiting for him.

“What do you mean there’s chaos?” Already feeling stressed out from his time in the Underworld, Kim Jin-Woo was visibly more irritated upon receiving such news.

“No need for words. Just take a look at this.” Upon hearing the question, Mr. Baek turned on the television inside the room.

[Currently, South Korea is the world’s 24th country to have confirmed the presence of labyrinths within its borders.]

With the news anchor presenting key points at the perfect time, Kim Jin-Woo jolted right out of his seat in shock. “What the fuck!?”

Professor Baek simply watched him in silence as the television broadcast continued.

[After the United States, we are the third country to have confirmed the existence of a low-depth labyrinth. The labyrinth present in our country is a five-floor labyrinth, with only one floor less than the six-floor labyrinth owned by the United States and China.]

“See that? Thanks to the labyrinths, the world is in shambles. Not just on the television. There’s chaos all over the Internet as well.”

Even as Professor Baek continued talking, Kim Jin-Woo was focused on the television screen.

[Currently, authorities are avoiding directly revealing the location of the labyrinth, which is understood to be a preventive measure in case of any possible incidents. In fact, in some countries where the location of the labyrinths were revealed early on, the labyrinths were attacked by an unidentified group.]

[Despite such past incidents, we are unable to understand the decision made by the authorities to reveal the presence of this labyrinth. Reporter Kim Jun-Ho, have they responded to our queries?]

[Yes, the government's response is that 'Harimao', South Korea's first labyrinth, has completely stabilized, and the necessary defenses against any intrusion have also been completed and are fully operational.]

[Does that mean the development and defense of the labyrinth have been completed to the extent that we no longer have to worry about attacks on...]

The presenter and reporter took turns to enlighten their viewers on the situation, but what stood out the most was the fact that behind the reporter was the Underworld Development Institute that Kim Jin-Woo himself had visited in the past.

While it hadn’t even had a signboard back then, now it was clearly labeled as the Underworld Development Institute, with the national flag flying high beside the building.

“Does this make any sense?”

For Kim Jin-Woo, who had once barely managed to get information about the labyrinths from the government after endless deliberations, it simply didn’t make sense that that very government would willingly expose the existence of the labyrinth.

“It seems that with their latest labyrinth find, the government wants to reduce the number of unnecessary explorations and start focusing on exploring the lower floors directly. In fact, some of the exploration teams have used portals to head straight to the 5th Floor directly.”

It still didn’t make sense. Not long ago, there had been an incident where an explorer, who was a labyrinth master himself, was murdered. There was absolutely no reason to publicize the labyrinth’s existence, with the risk of exposing it to danger.

“This is just crazy.”

It hadn’t even been that long since he had left the surface, and there was already so much chaos. Kim Jin-Woo was unable to figure it out in his head.

Mr. Baek looked at him as he provided further elaboration. “It’s as if our country is being run by aristocrats. At least they’re still handling it pretty well thus far.” His words implied that there had already been an incident with a labyrinth.

“The identities of three of the seven labyrinth masters in the United States were completely uncovered. One of them ended up getting murdered, and the status of the other two are currently unknown.”

“The labyrinth masters’ identities?”

“Correct. They were respectively Level 8, 10, and 11 dungeon babies. The one who was murdered was a Level 8 dungeon baby. He was found with a hole in his chest. It seems the government is swiftly taking control of the labyrinths and preventing them from being passed on to others. But that itself seems to have spawned many other problems.”

It was an eye-opening revelation. Mr. Baek added that some Middle Eastern countries were attacked by various terrorist organizations and had lost ownership of their labyrinths.

“Wow. Unbelievable.” Kim Jin-Woo finally seemed to have calmed down and collected his nerves, as his reply was calm.

“It truly is. But the real chaos is that,” Professor Baek said as he turned off the television.

“Is there something else?” With the sudden publicizing of the labyrinths, Kim Jin-Woo didn’t expect anything else to surprise him any further, but once again he was taken aback by Mr. Baek’s words.

“There’s one more labyrinth that hasn’t been publicized. Of course, it has yet to find a master.”

“How did…”

“I, too, have no idea how they found it. But that’s not the important thing.”

This was all surprising news to Kim Jin-Woo, but he knew that Mr. Baek hadn’t called him for a simple teatime catch-up session. His face hardened as he braced himself for what Mr. Baek was going to say next.

“The government is looking for a master to take over that particular labyrinth.”

Kim Jin-Woo knew what was coming next.

“They’ve chosen you.”

“Is the government looking for dungeon babies?”

“That’s right. The government is secretly looking for labyrinth masters to fight against the high level dungeon babies.”

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