Tim, who had been about to down the rest of his beer, stopped moving. Even Emily looked at Sungyoon with surprise in her eyes.
“… mmm. You are...1st Gen?”
Tim was careful as he asked the question. Sungyoon nodded to show affirmation.
Tim and Emily were taken aback. Since Sungyoon had boldly stated that he was aiming for the Great Labyrinth, they had assumed that Sungyoon was a 2nd or 3rd Gen Connector. However, it was hard to blame them for making that assumption. Even most 2nd and 3rd Gen Connector avoided the Great Labyrinth, and it was not an exaggeration to say that almost no 1st Gen Connector wanted to raid the Great Labyrinth.
At the very least, the two of them did not dismiss his claim out of hand. To be precise, they sounded worried for him.
But it was not as if Sungyoon didn’t understand their perspective. A 1st Gen Connector reached one’s limit extremely quickly. The idea of a 1st Gen raiding the Great Labyrinth was like someone reaching for the stars above the sky. It was like reaching for the clouds on the horizon. They had good reasons for being worried.
At the same time, it was also true that they were pointing out the deficiency in Sungyoon’s abilities. He could have felt anger and embarrassment by how Tim and Emily had reacted to his words. However, the man looked unperturbed.
“Yes, I’m a 1st Gen.”
He looked more than comfortable in his skin. In fact, his tone was as if he didn’t care about their words. Tim’s face became serious when he saw Sungyoon’s dismissive attitude.
“I’m sorry, but you do know that the 1st Gen Connectors reach their limit very quickly, right?”
“I heard about it.”
“Then, I would think it would be impossible for you to raid the Great Labyrinth.”
He didn’t want to hurt Sungyoon, so he was careful with his words.
“I’ve heard there are 1st Gens that are skilled enough to be able to enter into the Great Labyrinth.”
“However, those are extremely rare cases. The probability of a normal person becoming a 1st Gen is minuscule. But the odds of someone having the qualification to enter the Great Labyrinth as a 1st Gen is even rarer.”
“So are you going to tell me to give up? Are you going to mock me?”
Tim shut his mouth. He found Sungyoon watching him with a blank expression on his face. There was no anger, agitation, or embarrassment. Tim realized at that moment. It didn’t matter what he said or did. Sungyoon would continue to move towards his goal.
“It is as you’ve said. I’m so far down at the bottom, that I can barely catch sight of my goal of raiding the Great Labyrinth. I understand that the limitation of a 1st Gen might keep me shackled.”
Sungyoon took a deep gulp and poured the rest of the beer down his gullet. Then, he looked straight at Tim as he spoke, “However, I haven’t reached my limitation yet.”
His words had a profound effect on Tim.
“It isn’t too late to quit after I reach my limitation.”
Afterward, Sungyoon shut his mouth.
Tim didn’t say anything, either. No, Tim was berating himself inwardly. He was swept up in self-recrimination.
‘Was I doing the same thing as those bastards that had laughed at my dream?’
Of course, Tim wasn’t really at fault. Unlike Tim and Emily, Sungyoon had a higher chance of not being able to enter the Great Labyrinth. There was a good chance that he didn’t have the required abilities. If Tim and Emily’s goal was treated as a dream worth mocking, then Sungyoon’s goal could be considered to be a wild delusion. It was foolish, and it was inevitable that he would be mocked.
Still, Tim looked at Sungyoon in an entirely different light. Sungyoon was different from them. Tim and Emily had to deal with mockery from others, but Sungyoon was clearly in a worse position than them. And despite knowing this, he possessed the perseverance to advance step by step towards his goal.
“You are cool.”
Is this what it meant to admire someone? Sungyoon was in a worse position than him, yet he was steadfast like a rock. He continued to look towards his goal. Tim’s resolve had been shaken by words spoken by people around him, so Sungyoon was like the epitome of courage to him.
This was why he was sure of his next decision.
“Would you like to create a party with us, Mr. Woo?”
The offer had come out of the blue, and Sungyoon showed signs of being a bit surprised by it. However, Tim’s resolve was firm.
“Do you perhaps already have party members?”
Sungyoon shook his head from side to side.
“It is the same for us. It is just the two of us exploring the labyrinth. If you don’t mind, we would like to accompany you until we get assigned a Personal Labyrinth.”
Sungyoon felt conflicted.
Tim’s proposal was a tempting offer. Even if he had acquired a shield that could survive past the 4th floor, he was under-geared. Also, Sungyoon knew his limits. It took him a whole day to make a round trip to the 4th floor. If he wanted to go deeper, he would have to spend the night in the labyrinth. If he had comrades, a watch could be kept while he slept, so he wouldn’t be ambushed by monsters. Above all else, Sungyoon had envied the Connectors that were able to easily and safely explore the labyrinth with a party.
Sungyoon alternated between looking at Tim and Emily. They looked a bit nervous as they waited for Sungyoon’s answer.
Sungyoon asked a question to himself.
‘Can I trust these people?’
That was the most important point. Sungyoon was very suspicious of others. Even if he needed a party, the idea of making a party with these newly acquainted people had never crossed his mind. If it were a zero-sum game, he would have immediately turned down Tim’s offer of making a party.
However, the two of them had acted in ways that had bought some trust with Sungyoon. They hadn’t tried to pass on the monster to Sungyoon. They took responsibility for their actions, and they weren’t stubborn. The part that stood out was when Tim realized the battle was going poorly. He had tried to distract the Bigfoot in order to save Sungyoon and Emily.
‘I do have a bit of apprehension in regard to them.’
Tim had thrown caution to the wind when the Bigfoot showed signs of dying. Emily had stepped forward to save Tim, but she had frozen in place when the Bigfoot turned its attention on her.
However, how likely was he to find two people that satisfied both requirements of trustworthiness and skill? Of course, if he had to choose, he would choose trustworthiness over skill. The siblings possessed both these qualities, and they also possessed high ranked Gems. The fact that he was making this evaluation was laughable in itself.
He was starting to lean toward saying yes when Emily butted in.
“I... if you party up with us, I can loan you my mace.”
Her words dealt the final blow.
“Ok. It’s settled.”
Both of their expressions brightened.
“Please take care of us from now on, Mr. Woo.”
“You can call me by Sungyoon. In Korea, we usually call each other by our first name. ”
It kind of grated his nerve that they kept referring to him as ‘Mr. Woo’. If they were new acquaintances, he would have overlooked it. However, they were going to be in the same party now. He wanted to be called by a name that he was comfortable with.
“Is that so? Please call me by Tim.”
“I’m fine if you use Emily.”
Sungyoon nodded at their words.
“Understood, Tim and Emily.”
* * *
After they decided to create a party, it didn’t take too long for all their Gems to regain their color. It meant it was time to explore the labyrinth again.
As a party, they decided to meet each other in front of the labyrinth, and they went over their game plan.
“As I’ve said before, we should explore the 1st floor for now," Tim spoke.
Sungyoon had briefly floated the idea of exploring the 4th floor, because Tim and Emily had gone lower into the labyrinth than him. However, they had to worry about team chemistry now. If they weren’t careful, the party might even be wiped out by low-level monsters. Thus, the three of them decided building chemistry on the weakest floor was a priority.
“If the 1st floor is too easy, we can move down a floor.”
They could repeat that process.
After they went over the plan created at the store, the three of them entered the labyrinth. Sungyoon carried the Blue Gem shield, which he owned now. On his other hand, he held the mace lent to him by Emily.
He swung the mace several times. As expected, it felt awkward compared to the spear he had been using. He really wanted to continue using his spear, but the spear had a tough time piercing the hide of the Fang Boar. He could not continue to use the spear. Sungyoon had no choice. He would just have to get used to using the mace as he built chemistry with the two siblings.
‘This is what my trainer meant. This is the sorrow of being with a small company.’
He let out a small sigh.
“I’ll take point.”
Tim shook his shield as he took point.
Tim’s shield had taken on the brunt of the Bigfoot’s attack, so his shield had been close to breaking. Cracks had formed everywhere. However, time had passed, and his shield looked fine now. His shield was Yellow Rank. It was two ranks higher than Sungyoon’s newly acquired Blue Rank Gem. Of course, Tim took on the role of being the tank of the party.
The first monster they encountered was the Mad Dog. It still looked like a dog with rabies. It didn’t care that there were multiple foes as it bared its teeth towards Sungyoon’s party.
“Jeez! It is only a 1st floor Mad Dog.”
Tim looked a bit apathetic as he looked at the Mad Dog. Its long tongue was lolling out of its mouth, and its red eyes glared at him. It usually was enough to strike fear in its foes. However, Tim and even Sungyoon could easily defeat the 1st floor Mad Dog. The 1st floor Mad Dog was a small fry.
However, Sungyoon gave a warning to Tim.
“Do not let your guard down. We are trying to get on the same page. The practice right now will translate into what we do in the real battles. You should do your best.”
Tim was a bit embarrassed, but he knew Sungyoon had a point. He gave his apologies and increased his concentration.
Sungyoon had seen it before. Tim had a tendency of being careless and sloppy. In a battle for one’s life, it was a pretty big flaw. Thankfully, Tim was able to accept his mistake, and he was receptive to criticism. He worked on fixing his flaws.
“Come at me, you bastard!”
He put his shield forward, and he provoked the Mad Dog with his loud voice. The Mad Dog charged towards Tim.
The Mad Dog’s teeth were deflected. His shield was 1m 50cm tall. It was a metal kite shield. A 1st floor Mad Dog could ram it hundreds of times, and it wouldn’t even be able to scratch the shield.
When the Mad Dog bounced off the shield, Sungyoon dashed forward. He had stood diagonally towards the back of Tim. He swung his mace.
A terrifying sound rang out, and the Mad Dog’s head exploded like a watermelon. Blood and the content of the head splashed into the surrounding.
‘As expected, it is powerful.’
Its destructive capability couldn’t be compared to the Purple Gem spear. This was why one couldn’t get comfortable with using one type of weapon. When a better weapon appears, one would inevitably have to switch.
Tim bent over to pick up the Mad Dog’s moonstone. He put it away in a pouch, and he started moving to find the next monster.
After some time passed...
They were able to kill dozens of monsters.
“At this point, I think we are getting used to working with each other. Don’t you think so?”
Tim asked the question to Sungyoon as he picked up the moonstone. He agreed with Tim’s assessment.
“Yes. At the very least, we won’t gain much experience from the 1st floor.”
They had tested out various formations, so it was time for them to head lower into the labyrinth.
Tim’s face brightened. It seemed he was bored of repeating these simple tasks.
“Shall we head down?”
Tim’s body tensed as if he was about to charge towards the 2nd floor. However, Sungyoon stopped him.
“We have to do something before we do that.”
“Something we have to do? Ah!”
Tim let out an exclamation as he turned his head. Sungyoon also turned his head towards the location where Tim was looking.
Emily stood there, and her face looked a bit pale.