Chapter 27

Earlier...

“Dominique,” Kim Jin-Woo asked.

<Yes, master,> Dominique replied.

“What’s the drakan’s reputation in the underground world?” 

Dominique contemplated for a moment before answering Kim Jin-Woo’s question. <Drakans are rare. But whenever they appear on the battlefield, there’s a rumor that any creature that provokes them will get killed.>

The drakan had a better reputation than Kim Jin-Woo had thought. He thus devised a plan. “Ortehaga,” he began.

“Hmm?” The drakan, who had been standing arrogantly at the front line with his arms crossed, turned around to face Kim Jin-Woo.

“Do as I say.”

“Do what?”

“When the basilisks come…”

“Uh-huh.”

“...Don’t think about anything and just wreak havoc.”

Dominique gasped in horror. <Master! We’re still–>

“Pretend you’re the master of this labyrinth and go on a rampage. I’ll support you from behind,” Kim Jin-Woo said.

***

The basilisks waddled forward with their stubby legs, their shifty eyes rolling busily. They were shocked by the drakan’s unexpected appearance, but they had no intention to back off.

Ortehaga glared eagerly at the basilisks. “Judging from how shifty your eyes are, I assume you aren’t here for a pleasant visit! You shall not pass!” With that declaration, he stomped toward them.

The nagas followed suit, slamming their tails on the ground as they trailed behind the drakan. The whole scene seemed natural, like a well-devised play. Intimidated by their vigor, the basilisks began to stumble backward. 

“Come! Give me an excuse! That shall be your only way out of here alive!” 

So excited, huh. 

Kim Jin-Woo smirked when he saw the drakan breathe out hellfire as he blabbered on excitedly. However, he immediately put on a stern expression again before gesturing to the nagas to march forward.

Ortehaga was unintentionally getting urged forward by the nagas as a result, but he continued to run amok. Intoxicated by his excitement, the drakan swung his fist at one of the basilisks standing in front.

Riiiip!

The loud sound of leather tearing could be heard. The basilisks shrieked and stumbled backward, unable to retaliate against the notorious drakan. Ortehaga caught a basilisk by the tail and swung the creature with great power.

[The battle against the basilisks has begun.]

A message appeared, as usual, signaling the start of the battle.

***

The basilisks were defeated. Despite Kim Jin-Woo’s concerns, it was an overwhelming victory, mainly thanks to Ortehaga. However, the drakan looked at Kim Jin-Woo with an unsatisfied expression, as if he were about to complain.

“This is enough,” Kim Jin-Woo said.

“But I could have caught that basilisk if you had given me more time,” Ortehaga replied. He seemed upset to have missed a basilisk because Kim Jin-Woo had stopped him from chasing it.

“No. We had to let one go,” Kim Jin-Woo explained. With that, there would be rumors that the naga’s labyrinth was ruled by the drakan. 

Anaxtus is extremely cautious and prudent, even compared to the other labyrinth masters. He will not make a move unless he’s 100 percent sure. That is why the basilisks didn’t participate actively in the under-war.

Kim Jin-Woo recalled Mr. Baek’s explanation and grinned with satisfaction. 

Ortehaga’s true abilities were underwhelming relative to his reputation, but the dragons were clueless. Instead, they would report the drakan’s exaggerated viciousness to their master, who would then face a dilemma. He would feel uneasy to challenge the drakan, and hence become hesitant to act.

<Master, why do we have to rely on this drakan…? What good will this do for us?> Dominique asked, seemingly unable to comprehend the significance of this momentary victory.

“We can buy time. That’s what we need the most now,” Kim Jin-Woo answered.

<But the enemy will find out sooner or later. When that happens, the whole army will be intruding on our labyrinth.>

“That’s more than enough,” Kim Jin-Woo said. He ordered, “Get Ortehaga to guard an area that’s more visible to the enemy. It would be best if he stays somewhere close to the gate.”

This would cause Anaxtus to mistake Ortehaga for the master of the labyrinth, while Kim Jin-Woo’s existence remained hidden.

“I’ll be away for the next few days, but I’ll return if something happens. Until then, please take care of the labyrinth.”

The labyrinth’s upgrade still had a long way to go. Furthermore, he lacked the down gems to summon personnel even if the upgrade did finish. 

It had already cost Kim Jin-Woo a fortune to summon the naga gatekeeper from a Level 4 labyrinth. He couldn’t imagine how expensive summonable personnel from a Level 5 labyrinth would be. However, he knew just where he could supplement his down gem stash.

***

“Are you really going down alone?” It had been a long time since Kim Jin-Woo last met Lee Jun-Young. The latter had asked the same question multiple times. “Even though you’re a Level 12 dungeon baby…”

“It’s fine. I don’t intend to go down too deep.” Kim Jin-Woo would have ignored her under normal circumstances. However, he couldn’t continue to turn a blind eye to her genuine words of concern. 

“Then why did you ask for a map leading to the sixth floor?” Lee Jun-Young asked.

“Just in case,” Kim Jin-Woo replied with a straight face.

Lee Jun-Young shook her head. “What are you up to? You asked for weapons last time, and now you’re asking for a map. Are you declaring a war against the underground world?”

Kim Jin-Woo kept silent. Not only was he a terrible liar, but he also didn’t want to lie to someone who had a good impression of him.

Lee Jun-Young gave him a frustrated look, but didn’t inquire further. “I’m sorry for being a busybody. I just want Mr. Jin-Woo to stay safe…” She must have thought that she was butting into other people’s affairs. However, she still remembered to warn Kim Jin-Woo, “Be careful. The underground world is extremely dangerous for a solo traveler.”

Kim Jin-Woo smirked. Lee Jun-Young asked, “What’s so funny?”

“Oh no, it’s just that… I returned from the twelfth floor alone. It’s weird to hear such words of concern.” 

Kim Jin-Woo might have unintentionally put Lee Jun-Young to shame, as she kept her mouth shut. He said softly, “I’ll call you when I get back.”

Lee Jun-Young’s face brightened immediately.

***

Kim Jin-Woo finished his preparations and stood in front of the crowded Paju gate.

“How many people?” the guard inquired skeptically, as he rarely saw people passing the gate alone.

“Ah, I’m alone,” Kim Jin-Woo replied. The soldier looked at him as if he were a lunatic, but he simply continued, “I’ll only walk around the entrance.” 

“Hmm. Can you wait for a minute?” the guard asked.

It was rare nowadays, but criminals or debtors being chased by loan sharks used to hide in the labyrinths. The guard suspected Kim Jin-Woo of being one of them. Other than those types, no sane person would enter a labyrinth alone. Even veteran explorers and dungeon babies formed a team of at least five before entering the labyrinths.

Kim Jin-Woo hadn’t wanted to stir unnecessary commotion, but things didn't go his way. He had no choice but to silently show something to the approaching officer.

“Don’t tell me you have an ulterior motive for entering the underground world–” The officer inquired, having received a brief report about Kim Jin-Woo’s situation. But his eyes opened wide in astonishment when he saw the card in Kim Jin-Woo’s hand. He barely managed to ask a question with a trembling voice. “Y-Your level is…?”

“I don’t wish to cause a commotion,” Kim Jin-Woo said quietly.

The officer had been frightened out of his senses when he saw the ‘Level 12’ engraved on Kim Jin-Woo’s explorer license. That was to be expected, as he had never seen a dungeon baby from a lower floor before, not to mention the highest level dungeon baby in South Korea. Furthermore, Kim Jin-Woo’s identity had been so well-concealed that even his fellow dungeon babies believed he was dead.

Kim Jin-Woo had a gut feeling that strange rumors would follow him from today onward. 

“May I enter now?” he asked.

“Sure, go ahead!” The dumbfounded officer even gave him a salute, which attracted the attention of the nearby explorers.

Kim Jin-Woo swiftly pulled his hood down and passed through the gate.

“Hey! Gather the boys! Let’s hit the second floor within a week then turn back! Okay?”

“Okay!”

The traffic in the areas near the gate was heavy, as there seemed to be many teams going on hunts today. Kim Jin-Woo increased his walking pace when he saw almost thirty explorers flocking toward him.

“Hmm. Did that person get separated from his team?”

“Don’t be absurd. What do you think he is, a lost child? Stop talking nonsense.”

Some explorers stared at Kim Jin-Woo curiously, but most of them took no notice of the solo traveler, as they assumed he had been temporarily separated from his team.

Kim Jin-Woo pulled his hood down more to be safe and dashed through the labyrinth passage. When he finally reached the entrance to the second floor after a long walk, he stared into the deep crater and whipped out the map he had gotten from Lee Jun-Young. It was incredibly useful, as it marked the risky sites and the location of the abandoned labyrinth.

Kim Jin-Woo confirmed his bearings before walking toward the crater, where the abandoned labyrinth was according to the map. He soon identified the wall with the faded dungeon emblem.

Kim Jin-Woo frowned as he stared ahead at the labyrinth, which was even darker than the rest of the underground world. The back of his hand began to sting and his eyes tingled. Shortly afterward, his whole world began to turn black and white. 

[The parasite is…]

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