Chapter 102

“They’ve broken through the first line of defense! They’ll soon engage our second line of defense! We can’t hold for much longer!”

“What’s the casualty count? No, how many survivors are left?”

“We’re still consolidating the number of casualties. But based on our situation, only around three percent are likely to remain as survivors!”

The operators in the ops room were shouting over each other. The person in charge of the labyrinth, Team Leader Lee Ho-Jun, had an expression that was frozen with despair.

“Fuck!”

Everything was complete chaos.

It had been only twenty minutes since the mysterious group had invaded the labyrinth, and already, the first line of defense had fallen. Even with their heavy military-grade firearms and a carefully selected group of explorers on the front lines, they couldn’t even last twenty minutes.

“Our defensive weapons aren’t working at all!”

“The invaders have clashed with the second line of defense, the bunker line! They couldn’t hold on! The line has been broken!”

The defensive measures that could fend off even 6th Floor creatures were taken down in a blink of an eye. The decision the humans had made to widen the passageway in order to maximize their firepower had come back to bite them.

Based on the data gathered from the previous war, they had assumed that their defenses were sufficient, but it had all turned out to be a huge mistake. The heavy firearms they placed so much faith in only managed to graze the creatures’ thick hides, which in turn only fueled their rage even further.

The central passageway the Harimao labyrinth had put so much effort into creating was now the very thing that was threatening its existence.

“Damn it!” Lee Ho-Jun exploded with expletives.

One of the operators shouted with a pale look on his face, “Our losses are immense! Any further engagement will be practically suicide!”

“Don’t withdraw! Should the regular explorers retreat, the dungeon babies will be in grave danger! We have to hold out until reinforcements arrive, no matter what!”

“But—!”

“Hold! We have to protect them even if more explorers die!”

The operators gasped at Lee Ho-Jun with shocked looks on their faces at such a cold-hearted order.

“You assholes, this decision isn’t easy for me either!”

Lee Ho-Jun’s mind wanted him to turn tail and run away immediately, but his sense of duty told him to protect the labyrinth at all costs until reinforcements arrived. He dug deep to overcome his instinct for flight.

However, it wasn’t easy for him to keep calm as he watched the bloodbath occurring via the closed-circuit televisions. Every corner he turned was filled with bloodshed.

“Let’s summon the Black Tigers.” Kim Jin-Tae, who was standing beside Lee Ho-Jun, suddenly spoke. Each and every Black Tiger was a precious sample, but there seemed to be no other way. He continued, “The Black Tigers can always be summoned again. But the explorers can never be brought back.”

There was nothing to hesitate about. Time wasn’t on their side, with the second line of defense on the verge of being broken through. And just beyond the second line of defense was the main central passageway that was connected directly to the heart of the Harimao labyrinth. There were numerous guards defending the area, but there was no guarantee that they would last any longer either.

Lee Ho-Jun finally decided to send the Black Tigers into combat. “Fifty Black Tigers! I summon you to the front lines!”

Huge beasts whose menacing red stripes stood out in the darkness were caught on camera running down the central passageway. Everyone in the control room looked at the screens with bated breath at the charge of the Black Tigers, which seemed comparable to the intruders in terms of presence.

“Ah…”

But that brief moment of hope was short-lived. The Black Tigers were ripped to shreds in an instant, and their blood and flesh spilled all over the labyrinth. The operators’ faces turned pale at such a hopeless sight.

Still, Lee Ho-Jun quickly acted, as if he had already known that the Black Tigers were not going to be enough. He barked, “What are you doing!? Retreat and reconsolidate our forces while the Black Tigers are buying us time!”

The Black Tigers were truly a feared entity, but that was only applicable on the 5th Floor. If the Black Tigers were truly powerful enough to be able to turn the tide, they would have been summoned from the beginning.

“Inform those in the back lines! Prevent the enemies from getting through the central passageway at all costs!”

The remaining Black Tigers were still bravely charging forward, buying the humans much precious time. The enemy creatures tore the Black Tigers apart one by one, manhandling them like child’s playthings.

That was because Kim Jin-Tae was constantly summoning Black Tigers to the battlefield. However, the newly enhanced Black Tigers that were the result of countless experiments were basically fodder to the creatures at this point.

“Where the hell are the reinforcements? Are they going to arrive only when we’re all dead!?”

***

“Things aren’t looking great,” Jung Chan-Sik said solemnly as he looked at the endless wave of Black Tigers charging down the passageway.

“If it’s gotten to the point that the Black Tigers have to be mobilized, we’re screwed,” Lee Jun-Young retorted.

Jung Chan-Sik frowned in response. They had been deployed the moment there was news that all the countries’ labyrinths were under attack.

Aside from the teams that had already been dispatched on expeditions, the remaining explorers in the institute were all deployed to the Harimao labyrinth.

Almost two hundred of these explorers had arrived at the labyrinth. There were even Black Tigers supporting the front lines. And yet, as soon as a dozen Black Tigers charged towards the enemies, the same number of Black Tigers reappeared on the back lines.

“This is looking kinda dangerous. This isn’t about holding the line, this is us waiting to get massacred. I’ve never seen those Black Tigers that just passed by us before.”

The labyrinth had maxed out its capacity for its Black Tigers. And yet, the sight of new Black Tigers meant that something bad had happened to the initial group of Black Tigers that had charged towards the front line.

“Oh? Those from the front line are returning.” As Jung Chan-Sik pointed that out, the rest of his group members looked up and froze at what they saw.

“Forty-two, forty-three... That’s all!?” Lee Jun-Young couldn’t believe that these blood-soaked survivors were all that remained.

Almost two hundred or so explorers had been deployed to the front lines, and yet, not even fifty had returned.

“What’s the situation?” Jung Chan-Sik grabbed one of the surviving dungeon babies and asked.

The survivor looked at him with his soulless eyes and replied with a whisper, “It’s hell.”

***

Excluding the seriously injured, there were merely thirty-four able-bodied survivors. There were relatively few seriously injured explorers, but that was only because the rest were already dead.

“What should we do? There was nothing like this in our contract! We were told that we only had to fight against 5th Floor creatures…”

“We slaved away in the Labyrinth for all our lives and finally returned to the surface, and yet they want us to risk our lives for the Labyrinth once more? Fuck that, I’m out.”

The explorers were badly shaken at what they saw. Their behavior was to be expected, however. They had signed on their contracts with little care or concern for the Harimao labyrinth. There was no way they were going to risk their lives for something they couldn’t care less about.

“You should at least work for your money’s worth. Since when did you sign up for this to live a posh and comfortable life anyway?” Lee Jun-Young harshly retorted toward the other explorers. She knew that if she didn’t rein in the explorers right now, they would slowly think of turning tail. She grew fiercer at the thought of them abandoning their positions.

“We’ll demand compensation. And speaking of which, this isn’t even our problem in the first place. Didn’t we sign our contracts with the condition that we wouldn’t get involved in anything too risky or dangerous?”

Despite being elite explorers carefully handpicked by the institute, they were still divided in the face of their adversaries.

“Why, you…” Lee Jun-Young almost snapped at the explorers.

Jung Chan-Sik held her back. “Let them be. It’s not as if we can’t understand their feelings.”

“But...!”

“Have you already forgotten? Survival is our greatest virtue. That has been our guiding principle.”

Dungeon babies weren’t some kind of superheroes armed with justice and conviction. They were merely survivors of the Underworld who had survived everything life had to throw at them.

These dungeon babies had initially never even set foot onto the surface. They had been too busy surviving in the Underworld to know of virtues like justice and sacrifice. There had even been a sick joke that the only good dungeon baby was a dead dungeon baby.

The current situation didn’t help whatsoever in terms of fostering a bond between the dungeon babies. After all, they were mostly only in it for the money. With no ties to the source of their duties, all they had to do was walk away.

“Let’s fall back together. Even the Black Tigers are no match. Is there anyone among us who can even match up to the Black Tigers, much less our enemies?”

In fact, the explorers tried to convince Lee Jun-Young and Jung Chan-Sik to join them in their retreat. To them, it was the best course of action.

But Lee Jun-Young simply couldn’t accept it. “If we retreat…”

Her colleague, Kim Jin-Tae, and the Labyrinth Core were at stake. All this while, the interval in which the newly summoned Black Tigers were appearing was getting shorter and shorter.

“Reinforcements will be arriving soon! We just have to hold out until then!” she shouted to no avail, as the rest of the dungeon babies didn’t even look back as they retreated.

“There are security protocols; where on earth are you going to get any more reinforcements? At most it’ll be another supporting team or two,” someone said.

Support from the military would have been welcomed, but the military and the Institute were at odds. There had even been a confrontation between the two regarding the operations of the labyrinth, so military support was highly unlikely.

Due to their poor relationship with the military, the Institute had barely managed to scrape by and set up its defenses against the 5th and 6th Floor creatures.

“We hope you make a decision soon, before it’s too late.”

And with that, half of the remaining dungeon babies on the back lines abandoned their posts. Those that remained either had personal ties to Kim Jin-Tae, or were simply too wary to make their move.

“Fuck!” Lee Jun-Young kicked the ground in frustration.

Kaaaaaargh!”

At that moment, a Black Tiger’s screams could be heard nearby. And shortly after, the enemies appeared.

Ra-ta-ta-ta-tat!

Dozens of fully automatic heavy firearms started firing away at the enemies.

***

Kim Jin-Woo tilted his head as he stood in front of the portal, looking at all the survivors running out of it.

“Hey you, if you’re here because of the call for reinforcements, just turn back. It’s hell down there, hell!” One of the retreating people noticed Kim Jin-Woo and stopped to caution him.

“Hell?”

“Unknown beings from the Deep Floors have invaded. We could never defend against that. Even the remaining troops are retreating, so it’s best that you don’t put yourself at unnecessary risk.”

The man was covered from head to toe in blood. His bloodshot eyes and the heavy stench of blood on him implied that he had barely survived the front lines.

“What are you doing!?” Deputy Chief Kim Joo-Hyuk suddenly appeared and shouted at the man.

The man paid no attention to the exclamation, and gave his final warning before running away. “I’ve warned you.”

Kim Jin-Woo looked at the deputy chief, requesting elaboration.

“Urgh. As he said, things aren’t looking good. Our troops have all been exhausted and are now retreating back to the surface.” The deputy chief decided to tell the truth rather than beating about the bush.

“Are there any other reinforcements aside from myself?”

“We will be dispatching dungeon babies that are Level 8 and above.”

“Why didn’t you dispatch them from the start…?” Kim Jin-Woo was confused at the fact that despite the availability of the higher levelled dungeon babies, they hadn’t been deployed from the beginning.

“We’ve been waiting for you, Kim Jin-Woo.”

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