“Wh-where did you find this?” Duke Tuan Tien burst out. He began to examine the map again. It did seem old, and it laid out the Dragon Temple clearly. Since it had details that most people didn’t know and included locations that the Blood Land had found for themselves, he could tell that it wasn’t fake.
The map mentioned a gate that led to a secret location and marked out a path clearly. It was an undiscovered hidden stage. If Yeon-woo were telling the truth…’This is a treasure that can’t be exchanged for a thousand gold pieces!’
The ancient dragon Kalatus was better known by another name: the last dragon king, Kalatus. He had led the Draconic species during their era of prosperity, but he hadn’t been able to discard his lingering attachment to transcendence. He was a king of misfortune who challenged Allforone and led his species to ruin.
If they could find his grave, all the secrets of the Draconic species would be theirs. The Blood Land would have the research, treasures, and even the weaknesses of the dragons’ descendants in their hands. Not only would it turn the tide of battle, they’d even be able to rebuild their kingdom, which they had been longing to do for thousands of years.
「Damn, this sucker has great dedication.」Yeon-woo ignored Shanon’s teasing and continued to speak in a low voice in case someone might overhear.
“I came across this map on the thirtieth floor.” While he was making the map, Yeon-woo had come up with an explanation for its existence, and he smoothly relayed it to the duke. He lied about receiving the map as a reward for a hidden quest, and after completing related quests, he’d discovered that it was a map of the fiftieth floor.
He added that he’d found Kalatus’ grave, called the “Dragon Labyrinth”, as a reward.
“So that’s the reason why you went off the grid. I understand. But why are you asking us for help? You can take it all for yourself.”
“It’s because I know it’s too much to work for one person.” Yeon-woo said that he had felt the limits of doing quests on his own. The difficulty of the quests increased as he continued, and because of the time constraints, he was at a loss. His explanations seemed so sincere and desperate that Duke Tuan Tien looked completely hoodwinked.
「Jeong-woo said that our temperamental king is super bad at acting. But why is that idiot falling for it so easily? Is this what it means to be blinded by greed?」
「Stop with the nonsense and focus on your task. I’m almost done with the clean up on my side.」 Hanryeong clucked his tongue from far away through their link, tired of Shanon’s mumbling.
Shanon was still cheerful even though he’d been scolded. 「I’m watching over the duke carefully, so don’t worry.」
In the meantime, Yeon-woo’s tall tale continued until it reached its end. “...and I’ve come to ask the Blood Land for help, even though it may make me seem rude. I know how busy the Blood Land is, but I brought this up hoping we can help each other.”
“I see. That makes sense.” Duke Tuan Tien nodded with an easygoing attitude and stroked the map again. His eyes had a crazy light, and he was trying to hide the greed in them, but Yeon-woo didn’t miss it. Then, Duke Tuan Tien’s eyes turned dark. He slowly took his hands off the map and sat back in his chair. A sharp light flashed in his eyes. “But that doesn’t seem to be the only reason you’ve requested our assistance?”
As expected from the person who was second in command of such a large clan, Duke Tuan Tien immediately assumed that Yeon-woo wanted more. Since Yeon-woo wanted him to think this way, as well, he nodded coldly and suggested a few things.
Duke Tuan Tien listened seriously, nodding. He smiled and gave a few of his own opinions. “I think that’ll be fine. Good. Let’s do this.” His smile was sharp and cold, just like the sword he was named after. “Let’s find the grave of the last dragon king.”
「It’s a big one.」
Yeon-woo grabbed Duke Tuan Tien’s extended hand. Under his mask, his eyes were curved just like the duke’s, but for a completely different reason.
* * *
「You know that I’m watching, but you’re still trying to commit such amusing acts. How impertinent, human.」 Swoosh. After Duke Tuan Tien left saying that he would make a report to the Gluttony Emperor, the Summer Queen appeared behind Yeon-woo with her sharp laugh and intense aura.
She didn’t have the powerful energy she’d possessed when she first left the Black King’s power, but she exuded her will in her faint spirit body. Suddenly, Shanon appeared from Yeon-woo’s shadow as well to protect him against the Summer Queen.
Even though the Summer Queen had descended because of Yeon-woo’s call, she wasn’t a familiar like Shanon and the others were. Shanon had to be prepared because the Summer Queen was unpredictable.
「The loyalty of a dog to a new master is quite incredible.」 Of course, the Summer Queen couldn’t harm Yeon-woo in her state, but she had lived for such a long time that it was hard to say what she’d try to do.
However, the Summer Queen ignored Shanon’s protectiveness with a laugh, thinking it was cute. Shanon had been a team leader who didn’t even dare look at her when he was alive. He’d luckily grown this powerful being and was now glaring at her, his original master. However, she was more entertained than displeased.
Even still, Shanon regarded her warily. She was his previous master, but he was now completely dedicated to Yeon-woo. Losing interest, the Summer Queen crossed her arms and looked down at Yeon-woo arrogantly. Yeon-woo was trying to bring down one of her legacies, White Dragon, but despite that, the Summer Queen was calm and even seemed amused.
“Red Dragon hurt Jeong-woo.” Yeon-woo no longer said that Jeong-woo died. With Jeong-woo’s vestige body in the pocket watch, he didn’t have to say it. “Why? Are you going to stop me?”
「Of course not. Do you think I’ll have any attachments to my previous life? My descendants should take care of their own business.」 Unlike the souls of humans that wandered around the nether world, unable to let go, the Draconic species let go of any regrets as soon as they closed their eyes. After all, they had lived long lives.
The Summer Queen had a lingering attachment for Yeon-woo and resentment of Allforone, but she no longer had any interest in her legacy. She wasn’t foolish enough to have regrets, but she wasn’t completely indifferent either.
“Is that how much you trust your children?”
「I trust the eldest.」
“Even though she’s falling behind her younger siblings?”
「That’s just how it is. Only the strongest survive. That is a rule that never changes no matter how much the times change.」 The Summer Queen didn’t seem to be too concerned about her children ruining her legacy. She believed that after they chewed each other up, the last one standing would take everything. She was also certain that it would be her eldest, the Spring Queen, Waltz.
“You’re saying I should take them down if I can.”
「A king is only qualified to rule if he vanquishes his rivals and overcomes challenges. Try as much as you want.」
Yeon-woo slowly took off his mask and swept his hair back. His fierce eyes pierced through the Summer Queen. Although Jeong-woo had forgiven her, he hadn’t.
However, the Summer Queen only laughed as if she didn’t care if he exhausted himself trying to cut down her legacy and disappeared. She used a small amount of the Black King’s power to freely come and go, and Yeon-woo couldn’t stop her.
Yeon-woo stood, putting the mask back on. The trigger had been pulled. Now, all that was left was to move forward to his goal, the fiftieth floor. Just as he was about to turn around, something occurred to him. ‘Edora should be on the fiftieth floor around this time.’
There wasn’t a day when he didn’t think fondly of the drinks he’d had with Phante and Edora a long time ago.
* * *
Rumble. Rain poured down in sheets.
“This is Jonathan?” Iron Lion Ivan ducked away from the umbrella his subordinate was holding up and stood in front of the coffin. His voice was dry, as though he weren’t feeling any emotions. However, those around him knew he was pressing down his fury with preternatural strength.
“We discovered him alone with his eyes closed on the forty-second floor. We apologize.”
The death of their co-captain, Jonathan, had been a great shock to the Iron Lion Clan. Although he lacked too many things to be considered skilled, Jonathan’s warm personality had made him seem almost like a maternal figure to those who led the rough life of a mercenary.
He was well-respected not only by the Iron Lion Clan but by many others in the mercenary world, and it was hard to find mercenaries who weren’t indebted to him. Although the mercenary alliance had been forced on them, they were united in their fury at the Hoarder who had killed Jonathan.
“Fool.” Ivan felt like he knew why Jonathan had made the decision to go to the forty-second floor. Jonathan had been depressed after losing many of his subordinates on the Five Mountains of Penances. He didn’t express it openly, but those close to him knew that he felt guilty about making the wrong judgment and causing so many deaths.
Ivan had tried to comfort him by saying there were always losses and victories in battle, but Jonathan couldn’t shake it off. When he heard that the Hoarder had reappeared, he said he’d step up himself. Knowing the danger, Ivan tried to stop him, but Jonathan had been unshakeable. Ivan ended up agreeing to let him go only on the condition that he left as soon as it got too dangerous.
In the end, Ivan’s worries had become reality. He knew why Jonathan had returned as a corpse. The forced alliance was already bleeding with fury and hostility. With his death, Jonathan was hoping that something greater would bind them all.
Ivan felt like his right arm was being pulled out, but he clenched his fists, not wanting to lose the opportunity Jonathan had given him. He rubbed the coffin, and when he stood up, his eyes were ice-cold. “Daham.”
“Yes, sir.” The third captain, who was now the co-captain, bowed.
“The investigation of the Hoarder is over, I presume?”
“Yes, sir. We’re in the process of organizing the results.” Players inevitably left traces whenever they battled, and they had investigated the Hoarder’s combat style by examining the corpses he left behind.
“What’s the conclusion?”
“We’ll have to take a closer look…but if we face him directly, we’ll sustain a lot of damage.” It was already known that the Hoarder was a Lord with many familiars. Ivan didn’t think they’d be able to avoid the losses either.
“You said the Magic Tower people are at headquarters now, right?”
“Yes. They proposed an alliance with us. The surviving members of Triton, Necropolis, emerging clans, and rankers have also sent emissaries.”
The movements of the Iron Lion Clan weren’t limited to the mercenary world. Those who resented the Hoarder, envied him, and were wary of him were also on the move. They were planning the first large conference at the Iron Lion Clan’s base. They didn’t have an official name, but they called themselves the anti-Hoarder clan alliance.
“That’s how much trouble he’s caused. But it isn’t enough, we should render our prey completely powerless.” Ivan muttered to himself. He remembered something and turned to Daham. “That One-horned tribe member who is close to the Hoarder—Demon Beauty. She’s challenging the fiftieth floor, yes?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
Ivan smiled crookedly. “There’s nothing better than a little bait to force someone’s hand. As soon as the conference is over, send forces over.”
“Yes, sir!” Daham bowed neatly.
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