Chapter 96

#39. The Birth of a New Species

“Who are those idiots?” Morrigan said, suddenly appearing as she folded her signature black wings.

“They’re refugees from the 6th Floor.” With a single sentence from Kim Jin-Woo, Nortos and the rest of the labyrinth masters were reclassified as refugees.

Nortos was visibly upset, but dared not retort. His eyes met with Morrigan’s and he quickly lowered his head.

Morrigan continued to stare down at them. “Wait a minute, you guys are labyrinth masters…” She continued to scan Nortos from top to bottom as she spoke with brutal honesty. “They look so pathetically weak.”

Nortos looked up with anger, only to be instantly subdued just by the sheer dominating will exuding from Morrigan’s blood-red eyes. He seemed to have realized that he had no chance of even leaving a scratch on her.

And this wasn’t only applicable to the crow lady in front of him. Every being that surrounded Kim Jin-Woo was more powerful than Nortos could hope to be.

With that realization, Nortos and the rest of the labyrinth masters kept their heads lowered throughout the encounter.

“Your stupid pride is useless here,” Morrigan said.

Kim Jin-Woo, who had been observing the exchange, belatedly stopped her and intervened. “This place is safe. Let me hear you out.”

Seeing the arrogant king sitting on his throne, Nortos stepped forward and started to explain the situation. “The Terrans suddenly rushed down through the floors, and the sudden influx of their presence caused tremendous chaos on the 6th Floor…”

“I know about that already, so let’s start from after that.”

“By after that, you mean...?” Nortos was confused by Kim Jin-Woo’s demands.

“Why were you guys so helplessly chased away? If it were the 5th Floor, it would be understandable. But this is the 6th Floor we’re talking about here. You guys simply got rolled over.”

This was the point that Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t comprehend. The 5th Floor was understandably weak enough, but there was no way that the 6th Floor would be such a pushover as well.

Nortos replied bitterly, “It’s been ten years since the war. The Underworld has gotten so weak.”

“Continue.”

“To be more precise, the labyrinths near to the surface have gotten weaker.” Nortos carried on with a sullen look on his face. “The Terrans constantly invaded our labyrinths like it was their backyard, and they mercilessly plundered the life source from the Underworld. And that’s been going on for ten years. It’s been like having our blood sucked out constantly for the last ten years.”

Creatures would consume down gems, and their predators would consume them in return. And the labyrinths would devour the predators in return and make the down gems their own. The down gems could truly be said to be the source of life for the Underworld.

But the number of Terrans intruding on the Underworld and the Shallow Floors had been growing exponentially over the last ten years. They had hunted down any creature in sight for the sake of extracting more down gems.

It was a negligible amount at first. But as time passed, the creatures could no longer find down gems to consume, and started to grow weaker.

The lack of prey and predators weakened the ecosystem, and the labyrinths themselves were also equally affected by the drought of down gems. The supply of down gems needed to restore and upgrade the labyrinths had entered a severe shortage.

“The elite soldiers left the labyrinths because the labyrinth masters couldn’t afford their upkeep costs, and the labyrinths, which weren’t being supplied with dungeon energy, continued to weaken. This resulted in the labyrinths being run over by the rabid, hungry creatures,” Nortos said bitterly, on the verge of crying tears of blood.

“Is the situation the same on the other floors?” Kim Jin-Woo asked earnestly. It was little wonder that the situation in the Underworld was vastly different from the Underworld he knew.

Nortos shook his head. “That’s probably not the case. The Terrans seem hesitant about going beyond the 6th Floor.”

This was in line with the information Kim Jin-Woo had. The explorers themselves knew that the risks increased dramatically beyond the 6th Floor. It was also what Lee Jun-Young had said earlier to him.

“But I’m not too sure about that now. The Terrans have grown as strong as the Underworld has grown weak. In my opinion, should the Terrans consolidate their strength and truly go all-out, they could even invade up to the 8th Floor.”

“Is that so?”

Morrigan and the rest of the Fortress’ leadership frowned at such a bold statement.

Despite all the competitiveness within the Underworld, none of the Underworld beings felt good about being cornered by the Terrans.

Kim Jin-Woo looked at his subordinates, a million thoughts running through his mind. Should he celebrate the Terrans’ progress and prosperity, or should he be saddened by the decline of the Underworld, which was practically his home? He felt deeply conflicted.

After a short while, he seemed to have come to a resolution. There was no time to be caught up in a wave of useless emotions.

Despite having the strength to invade the Deep Floors, he was now being held back by the situation unfolding on the Shallow Floors. At this rate, he would have to pay more attention to what was behind him rather than what was in front of him.

In the worst case scenario, he could even end up having to battle against the humans. But whether he could draw his sword against his own kind was a question for another day.

Considering that his fate was tied to the fate of his labyrinth, he would have to truly fight for his own survival first and foremost. But that was a thought he didn’t wish to entertain, if possible.

“So what are you guys going to do? As long as it’s reasonable, I’m willing to listen to your requests.”

Kim Jin-Woo had already made them undertake the Vassal’s Pledge prior, but he still wanted to give them a choice. It wasn’t out of respect, but more because they were too weak to be of significant use to him.

“This may be presumptuous, but I would like to ask one thing from the king.”

“Go ahead.”

Nortos cautiously asked upon seeing Kim Jin-Woo’s approval, “Are all the 9th Floor masters this strong?” He glanced at Morrigan as he asked the question.

“I’m not sure if they’re strong, but what’s certain is that you’re all weak,” Morrigan interjected before Kim Jin-Woo could respond.

“Morrigan isn’t a labyrinth master. She’s… a special being.” Sensing that Nortos was gauging the strength of the 9th Floor, Kim Jin-Woo laid the truth out for him. However, he was also acknowledging the fact that the 6th Floor labyrinth masters, including Nortos, were far from being able to even attempt to survive on the 9th Floor.

“Then I will forfeit my labyrinth.”

[Nortos, King of the Hounds, is about to give up the ownership of his labyrinth and transfer it. If you accept his offer, you can take full ownership of the new labyrinth.]

[Nortos has resigned from his position as a labyrinth master, and will be able to stay in the Naga’s Fortress as a Hero-Grade summon.]

[Nortos is able to grow like other summons. However, as a being who was once a labyrinth master, he has the potential to grow beyond Hero-Grade status.]

[Do you accept the ownership of Nortos' labyrinth?]

Kim Jin-Woo frowned as he contemplated the messages. Nortos confessed, “I honestly don’t have confidence that I can survive on the 9th Floor. Now, I simply wish to restore my strength under the service of Your Majesty.”

Nortos was being realistic about the sheer difference in power between himself and the 9th Floor. Rather than remain a labyrinth master in name only, he desired to regain his strength within the safety of the Naga’s Fortress.

“As you wish,” Kim Jin-Woo replied.

[You have taken ownership of Nortos’ labyrinth.]

[Nortos’ labyrinth is contained within an advanced down gem, which is not the highest grade possible. It is uncertain if the labyrinth can be reactivated properly. Even if the reactivation is successful, the instability of the Labyrinth Core may cause problems at any given moment.]

Seeing Nortos’ request being granted, the other labyrinth masters followed suit; one by one, they gave up their labyrinths as well.

***

[Activation of the labyrinth has been completed.]

[The Labyrinth Core is now activated and the existing passage has been reconfigured as part of the labyrinth.]

[The newly synthesized Labyrinth Core formed from the previously existing Labyrinth Core has resulted in a completely new labyrinth.]

[You are now witnessing the birth of a new labyrinth.]

[The Mysteries of the Underworld have blessed the birth of a new labyrinth.]

[The Labyrinth Core is now active.]

In the midst of the endless exploration of the Underworld, Kim Jin-Woo’s satellite labyrinths were completed.

The Labyrinth Core formed mysteriously at the Naga Sorcerers’ discretion had finally begun to reveal itself.

[A new race is being born.]

A flash of light that was several times brighter than any Kim Jin-Woo had ever seen embraced the whole Underworld.

Morrigan, Dominique, and Angela, who had come to see the results of the Naga Sorcerers’ work, looked on with admiration at the formidable energy contained within the mysterious light source.

“Looks like something great is about to happen.” Angela’s voice was filled with excitement as she looked on eagerly. “I hope so, anyway.”

The Underworld was full of vitality and energy, in spite of the warning message that had appeared during the synthesis process.. Kim Jin-Woo also waited eagerly in anticipation for the glare to dissipate, hoping for something good at the end.

And when the flash finally subsided, a new message appeared in front of him.

[The Silk Frog Clan has been born.]

Contrary to expectations, the Labyrinth Core revealed after the flash was smaller and shabbier than any other Labyrinth Core Kim Jin-Woo had ever seen.

Despite being a mere Level 1 core, its dull color and mediocre size were still way below his expectations.

[It is unknown how the Silk Frog Clan will develop in the future.]

[The Mysteries of the Underworld have blessed the birth of the Silk Frog Clan.]

After the end of the message, the dull core seemed to have gained a bit more color, but it still looked as shabby as ever.

“Master?” Angela spoke firmly, as if to hide her disappointment.

Kim Jin-Woo stared blankly at the core before frowning. “Looks like it’s ruined.”

***

The second synthesized core gave birth to yet another mediocre race called the ‘Big-Headed Dwarves’. Its color and size were similar to that of the Silk Frog Clan’s Labyrinth Core.

Kim Jin-Woo felt beyond disappointed. “We wasted two perfectly fine cores and two highest-grade down gems for this.” With a harsh expression, he stared at the last synthesized Labyrinth Core and muttered, “Useless sorcerers.”

“Let’s wait and see, Master. This time, something useful might emerge.” Dominique tried her best to console her master.

But Kim Jin-Woo was unfazed. “That may be true, but this is still infuriating. They wasted two perfectly fine labyrinths to make such trash; of course I feel upset about this.”

When he revealed his frank and honest thoughts, even the reticent Morrigan stepped in to console him. “There’s still one left; we shouldn’t lose hope. To be honest, even before the synthesis, those cores weren’t particularly useful.”

Morrigan’s words made sense. Kim Jin-Woo breathed a deep sigh and raised his head. The synthesized core had begun its activation.

[A new race is being born.]

Having witnessed the process twice, he felt indifferent to the majestic sight unfolding before him. He held his breath as the shining light dissipated, but his eyes widened at what had emerged.

“Oh?”

Compared to the previous two synthesized cores, an indescribably brilliant core lay before him. As he looked at the core that was emitting a brilliant glow, a message appeared in front of him.

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