Chapter 88

That wasn’t the end of the Naga Sorcerers’ explanation. They had once found a Labyrinth Core fragment while wandering through an old abandoned labyrinth, but with no opportunity for them to collect the rest of the remaining fragments, the sorcerers had left the fragment in the research lab and forgotten about it.

But it just so happened that that fragment was a key ingredient in enhancing a Labyrinth Core.

“Hmm.”

“Master, what are you so deep in thought about?”

Kim Jin-Woo looked up at Angela’s voice. She had been busy taking over Dominique’s role in her absence, so she clearly looked haggard.

“The naga sorcerers have discovered something totally unexpected.” He roughly explained the situation.

Angela was taken by surprise. “What a disaster.”

She too looked at the Naga Sorcerers dumbfoundedly upon learning that three Labyrinth Cores were gone for good.

“Let’s think positively for now. Even if they are Labyrinth Cores, they were ones that weren’t particularly useful,” Kim Jin-Woo said.

“That’s true, but…” Angela paused for a while before suggesting something unexpected. “...That means figuring out how exactly the synthesized cores have changed is our priority.”

“Exactly. Only then can we figure out where to use them.”

“How about this? We could find a suitable location for one, and start a brand new labyrinth with it to find out the effects of the synthesis?”

Kim Jin-Woo rubbed his chin as he considered his options.

“The Greater Underworld Nobles always have a few outer satellite labyrinths protecting their main labyrinth. Their subordinates are the ones usually in charge of managing the satellite labyrinths, but sometimes, the Greater Underworld Nobles themselves personally plant additional labyrinths in the gaps of their outer defenses to block off any potential routes to their main labyrinths.”

This was the first time Kim Jin-Woo had heard of this, and he requested further elaboration.

“Let’s just call it the first line of defense should there be an invasion. It also serves to prevent spies from spying on the main labyrinth.” With the experience Angela had from staying by Anatolius’ side, every point she made was sensible.

“Oho, that’s a good proposition.”

“I’ve heard that most nobles defend their main labyrinths that way. Should there be a war, the satellite labyrinths help to buy them time to rally their troops, among many other things. I think it won’t be a bad idea for Master to prepare your defenses the same way as well.”

Kim Jin-Woo found no reason to reject her proposition. “Inform Rikshasha to find suitable plots of land in the Fortress’ perimeter. Let’s try setting up three labyrinths and see how it goes.”

Everything was smooth sailing from that point onwards. As Rikshasha was already familiar with the majority of the 9th Floor, finding suitable spots was an easy task for her.

“Hmm…”

Of course, there were plenty of places that weren’t the most ideal locations for a labyrinth, so the Naga Workers were sent to do the necessary work to expand the nearby passageways.

In the end, one labyrinth was set up to the north of the passageway to the 8th Floor, and two more were set up to the south of the passageway to the 10th Floor.

[The inactive Labyrinth Core has been activated.]

[It will take some time for the Labyrinth Core to fully settle.]

[720 hours left until the birth of a new labyrinth.]

It was longer than Kim Jin-Woo expected, but it wasn’t a problem for him.

With the war over, all there was left was to wait for the Fortress’ Core to complete its imminent upgrade.

Thus, Kim Jin-Woo redeployed some troops that were defending the Fortress to observe the progress of the completion of the satellite labyrinths that would ultimately serve to protect his main labyrinth.

“Urgh. As long as they don’t end up being useless.” Kim Jin-Woo sighed as he recalled the message informing him that synthesis of the Labyrinth Cores wouldn’t necessarily lead to positive results.

***

The Naga’s Fortress was not the only one that was overwhelmed with the task of bolstering their forces with the spoils of their latest war.

The labyrinths of the alliance, who had reaped the rewards of victory under him, as well as the Queen of Illusions and the King of the Wanderers who claimed to be Kim Jin-Woo’s new vassals, were all equally busy making use of the Labyrinth Cores they had obtained as a reward for their contributions.

And among them, Uther seemed to have decided to imitate the Naga’s Fortress by adding the newly acquired Labyrinth Core to his existing one. He seemed to have caught on that the Naga’s Fortress’ strength came from not one, but two Labyrinth Cores.

However, Uther had to go through multiple rounds of trial and error, as every Labyrinth Core was unique.

Unfortunately, he came to a realization that both his Labyrinth of Greed’s Core and his newly acquired Labyrinth Core were of lower quality.

“Even if you focused on consistently upgrading a single Labyrinth Core, you would have eventually hit a ceiling due to it being of lesser quality,” Kim Jin-Woo told him.

“That’s true, but…”

Each Labyrinth Core had a limit to the upgrades it could receive. Uther had experienced this firsthand and was feeling down. It seemed that he had expected his labyrinth to upgrade to the Naga’s Fortress’ standard.

“But now there are no more labyrinths left for us to conquer on the 9th Floor. And besides, you’re holding onto two Labyrinth Cores. No other labyrinth masters even have the privilege of doing so. And they can’t even acquire another core anymore.”

Despite knowing that there were limitations, he still knew that combining the existing core and the new core would increase their efficiency. Knowing that, Uther finally let out a weak smile.

“I wonder how the other labyrinth masters used their gifted cores,” Kim Jin-Woo mused.

Uther frequented the Naga’s Fortress, so he was able to easily imitate their methods. However, Kim Jin-Woo was interested in how Ariane and the other labyrinth masters were utilizing their newly acquired Labyrinth Cores.

That was because unlike Uther, who had been influenced by Kim Jin-Woo’s own choices for his Labyrinth Cores, the other labyrinth masters were more likely to have used their cores in a more traditional method known to the Underworld.

With that, he opened a portal to the Labyrinth of Illusions.

“My Master!” As though she had been anticipating his visit, Ariane hurriedly rushed over and bowed in greeting.

“Being overly polite isn’t a good thing. Just be comfortable.” Kim Jin-Woo helped Ariane up as he quickly glanced around.

With purple mist filling the surroundings, the Labyrinth of Illusions truly felt like a place of fantasy. Even the master room that held the Labyrinth Core had mysterious mist flowing out of it, giving one a sense of delusion and loss of connection with reality.

“For what matter have you visited my labyrinth? If you had called, I would have personally gone over instead.” It was apparent from Ariane’s tone that she was uncomfortable with Kim Jin-Woo visiting her master room, which was practically her most personal space.

Seeing as she knew that he was capable of destroying her core and Ariane herself along with it on a whim, it was understandable why she was feeling uncomfortable.

Kim Jin-Woo pretended to have just wandered over to her Labyrinth Core and asked gently, “Where is the new core I passed to you?”

“Um…” The Queen of Illusions seemed to be concerned that Kim Jin-Woo was about to turn his back on her after seemingly fairly distributing the Labyrinth Cores.

Seeing her uncomfortable look while avoiding his question, Kim Jin-Woo let out a laugh. “How unpleasant. It’s just one Labyrinth Core. I can get another one whenever I want. Do I look so pathetic I would extort something so insignificant from my subordinates?”

Despite the fact he was laughing as he said it, there was some truth in his statement. Belatedly realizing her mistake, Ariane immediately got on her knees and deeply apologized.

“I didn’t make you my vassal. You came to me asking to be one,” Kim Jin-Woo said.

Ariane was a practical woman. The willingness to do anything as long as she needed something was reflected in her eyes.

And that was why Kim Jin-Woo knew he had to put her in her place when he saw the opportunity to do so. If he didn’t do so now, he knew it would come back to bite him later on.

“I can negate your Vassal’s Pledge. However, all the gains you’ve made under me, you have to return.”

In reality, he had been unsure if she would take the Vassal’s Pledge, but he just winged it. But she seemed to have misunderstood his words.

“I had no such intentions! Please forgive me!” Ariane cried.

Kim Jin-Woo stared at Ariane, who was pale and shivering with fright, when a message appeared in front of his eyes.

[Would you like to negate the Vassal’s Pledge with Ariane, Queen of Illusions?]

[Abandonment by one’s master is the worst form of disgrace.]

[Should the contract be negated, the Land of Illusions and its ruler will suffer immense damage.]

[Going against one’s pledged loyalty will be heavily punished. No one will devote themselves to a dishonorable master.]

[The mercenaries will be cut off from the tavern.]

[The Nightmares will doubt their master’s leadership.]

[The vassal’s master will also suffer damage, but it will not be severe. Only your reputation will suffer slightly.]

This was unexpected information for Kim Jin-Woo.

If what the message said was true, he could understand why she was suddenly behaving differently. For him, it would only be a slight drop in his reputation, but for Ariane, it was basically no different from suicide.

“Hmm…” Kim Jin-Woo smiled, now realizing that he had another way to tighten his rule over his vassals.

***

Although he did encounter some issues, Kim Jin-Woo finally understood how the different labyrinth masters had used their newly acquired Labyrinth Cores.

They had used a refining process to extract only a portion of the labyrinth’s strength and used it to enhance their own labyrinths. In this process, the majority of the core’s vitality was lost, but the reasoning given was that this was unavoidable if they were to upgrade their own cores.

After the extraction was complete, the processed cores would then be sold to the Black Merchants at a lower price.

“The Black Merchants sure have their hands in every pie,” Kim Jin-Woo thought to himself, when a voice called out to him. Angela was running over to him with a panicked look on her face.

“What now!?” He knew that when his subordinates usually ran over to him like this, it usually spelled trouble.

Angela was slightly taken aback by Kim Jin-Woo’s harsh response and paused momentarily before reporting to him. “It’s just…”

“Just what?”

“Dominique is…”

At the mention of Dominique’s name, Kim Jin-Woo quickly stood up without hearing Angela out. “Lead the way!”

***

It looked like a giant cocoon.

Kim Jin-Woo tried to find Dominique behind the translucent silver curtains, but all he saw was a shimmering veil.

“I think her transformation is nearing its completion,” Angela said.

“Is that so?”

“Yes. And if I were her, I would hope that Master would be waiting for me at the end.”

It appeared Angela hadn’t brought bad news after all.

He could feel that Dominique’s energy was stronger than ever before as it leaked out of the cocoon.

“Do all nagas transform this way?”

“I’m not sure. I’m not a naga myself, so I can’t say for certain, but this is a very rare sight to see.”

It was just as Angela said. Seeing Dominique wrapped in the silver veil was truly a sight to behold.

“Ah, it seems the process is almost complete.”

“That was faster than I thought.”

Despite Dominique informing him she might be absent for a month or two, the time taken had been much shorter than that.

“It seems she sped up her transformation out of concern for Master.”

While Angela may have said that half-jokingly, since this was Dominique they were talking about, Kim Jin-Woo knew that it could possibly be true. After all, he knew that that honest and loyal maid of his only lived to serve him and for no other purpose.

“That may be true.” The moment those words left his mouth, the silver veil lost its shine and began to crumble. And with a loud noise, the dry cocoon split in two.

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