Chapter 30

#12. The Calm Before the Storm

<I’ve reallocated half of the workers assigned to the traps back to the mines. We’re not done installing the traps yet, but we urgently need resources to build new facilities once the labyrinth’s upgrade is complete. Dungeon energy doesn’t appear from thin air, after all.>

Kim Jin-Woo listened quietly to Dominique’s advice as he sat on the naga’s throne. He asked, “Any news from the basilisks?”

<They were creating a ruckus for a while after that day, but now they’re nowhere to be seen, probably analyzing our strength from afar.>

Kim Jin-Woo’s plan to use Ortehaga to deter the cautious Anaxtus from making a move must have worked brilliantly. However, he couldn’t let his guard down. With only two weeks left until the labyrinth’s upgrade, he had to stay vigilant until new personnel could be summoned.

“Make use of Rikshasha more,” he commanded.

Rikshasha, the under-elf, was the only reliable scout he had as of now. Dominique had told him that there were nagas specialized in surveillance and camouflage, but Kim Jin-Woo didn’t know what level his labyrinth had to be to summon them.

<Leave it to me. I’ll make sure that the under-elf doesn’t slack off.> Dominique always had an acrimonious attitude when it came to Rikshasha.

***

Two weeks had passed since the nagas chased away the basilisks, but the underground world was more tranquil than ever. The naga’s labyrinth, previously full of tension that was ready to burst any moment, had returned to its original state as well.

All of the naga workers had stopped installing traps and taken up their pickaxes again to mine new down gems. Meanwhile, the naga warriors accumulated combat experience and grew stronger.

“Where’s Quantus?” Kim Jin-Woo asked. Quantus was the name given to that one naga warrior that had caught his eye.

<He’s away on a hunt with the other naga warriors. He’s going to return soon, so you’ll see him in a while.>

“Is that so? I’m excited to see how much stronger he’s become.”

<You can look forward to it. He’s already comparable in strength to a naga gatekeeper, I believe he can even become a hero-grade warrior with the right opportunity.>

The labyrinth’s upgrade was going to be complete soon, but it had to rely on its existing military forces for the time being.

Although Kim Jin-Woo’s army was relatively strong, he had noticed its glaring limitations during the battle against the basilisks: The quality of his soldiers and warriors was simply too poor. As this was one of his biggest concerns, he was exhilarated to hear that one of the naga warriors had the potential to mature into a hero-grade unit.

“My master.” Rikshasha returned before Quantus, having investigated the basilisk’s labyrinth.

“Cut the formalities and report your findings.” Kim Jin-Woo raised his hand to prevent Rikshasha from prostrating herself to worship him.

“There are 142 normal basilisks and two hero-grade ones. I was unable to penetrate deeper into the labyrinth due to my lack of ability. Please punish this incapable servant of yours.”

“So you didn’t manage to spy on Anaxtus?”

“The Basilisk King lives in the deepest part of the labyrinth. A lowly under-elf like myself could never bypass such tight security.”

Rikshasha always had a self-effacing tone, but Kim Jin-Woo recognized her contribution. He had to credit the elf for risking her life to infiltrate the basilisk’s labyrinth and analyze the enemy’s strength. Even Dominique had a look of admiration this time. 

“In essence, their revealed strength is already greater than ours.”

<A hero-grade basilisk won’t be able to defeat the drakan, but it can hold him back. It would have been impossible if Ortehaga were a normal drakan, but… he isn’t the most trustworthy.>

Ortehaga, who was overly prideful in proportion to his abilities, would have been furious if he heard this. However, Kim Jin-Woo agreed with Dominique’s remark. To be honest, he felt pity for Anaxtus, who had been intimidated by a nobody like Ortehaga.

“Now the question is, who can take care of the hero-grade basilisk after we defeat the Basilisk King? I assume he’s too much for the naga gatekeeper to handle.”

<Nobody in this labyrinth can deal with him.>

“Then we’re back to square one. Seems like we have to wait for the labyrinth’s upgrade to be complete first.” Kim Jin-Woo stroked his chin and nodded before standing up from his seat.

<Are you going back?>

Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t do anything even if he stayed, so he simply waved at Dominique and left the labyrinth.

***

Kim Jin-Woo’s phone vibrated and rang noisily the moment he returned to Earth. He picked it up and answered it, to find that the call was from Mr. Baek.

{Finally picking up, huh,} Mr. Baek mumbled over the phone. Kim Jin-Woo cut him off and told him to get straight to the point. Mr. Baek complained and tutted but began to talk nonetheless. {It’s regarding what you asked me last time. Can you come over for a while? It’s a little hard to discuss over the phone.}

“Is it urgent?”

{Kind of. The earlier the better.}

Without hesitation, Kim Jin-Woo replied that he would visit the office. He had some information to obtain from Mr. Baek anyway.

“You’re here. Please take a seat.” Mr. Baek sat behind his old desk, as usual, welcoming Kim Jin-Woo as he arrived. “I heard you visited a labyrinth alone?” he asked.

Kim Jin-Woo’s face stiffened upon hearing this unexpected question. He knew he couldn’t keep his visits a secret forever, but this was way too early.

“There are no secrets in this industry. How can you escape the scrutiny of so many eyes?” Mr. Baek replied ambiguously when Kim Jin-Woo asked him for the source of his information. “So, which floor did you go to?” he asked.

“Why do you ask?” Kim Jin-Woo replied.

“Work purposes. Come on, I’m waiting.”

Since Mr. Baek already knew his level, Kim Jin-Woo decided to tell him the truth. “I went to the third floor.”

“You didn’t explore beyond that? Or you couldn’t?”

“I had some personal matters to settle, so I had to turn back halfway.”

Kim Jin-Woo told Mr. Baek about the manhunters that he had encountered. The former recalled that in the past, dungeon babies had had a horrible reputation due to these savages. 

Mr. Baek clicked his tongue and frowned when he heard the word ‘manhunter’. “To think they’re still around... The explorer association is daydreaming. When are they going to deal with these brutes?”

“The association is involved?” Kim Jin-Woo’s face stiffened upon recalling Song Jong-Chul’s awful face when he ridiculed the death of his fellow dungeon babies.

“Not really, but the association sides with the explorers under all circumstances, giving the labyrinth managing office a headache. Hmph, those biased bastards, they are so greedy.”

However, it didn’t seem like Mr. Baek had any concrete evidence of a connection between the association and the manhunters. He rambled on for a while before returning to the main issue, asking, “That aside, how deep can you go down?”

“I don’t understand…” Kim Jin-Woo looked at Mr. Baek with a puzzled expression.

“As I said, what’s the lowest floor you can explore alone?” Mr. Baek asked inquisitively as if that was relevant to his request.

“I don’t know for sure, but I think I can explore the sixth floor alone. It would be difficult beyond that.”

Mr. Baek’s eyes opened wide. “Woah, it seems you aren’t a Level 12 dungeon baby for show. Even the Level 8 dungeon babies need to form teams to explore the fifth floor, let alone the 6th.” 

He was right. In the past, most of the dungeon babies had formed teams, even when they were returning to the surface after being granted freedom. There was no reason for them to wander in the underground world alone when their lives were at stake.

“Level 6, huh… Level 6…” Mr. Baek stroked his beardless chin and pondered.

“What exactly is your request?” Kim Jin-Woo asked Mr. Baek in frustration.

“It’s nothing much. I just need you to check something for me, but it’s located pretty deep down.”

“What is it? You’re taking so long to answer.” 

“Argh. Okay, okay. I’ll spill the beans, so please sit back down.”

Kim Jin-Woo had gotten halfway out of his chair, as he’d guessed that the conversation would lead to nowhere at this rate.

“Have you heard of the abandoned labyrinth?” Mr. Baek asked.

“There’s plenty in the underground world, hundreds in South Korea alone,” Kim Jin-Woo replied.

“No, not that.” Mr. Baek paused for a moment before continuing his story in a low voice. “I’m talking about a labyrinth without a master, not one that has been abandoned by its master.”

It sounded like a confusing play on words, but Kim Jin-Woo had to maintain a poker face with all his might.

“There seems to be a masterless labyrinth with an intact core–basically an unscathed one–down there.”

Kim Jin-Woo felt a chill run down his spine. “What on earth is an abandoned, yet unscathed labyrinth?” He asked a silly question in an attempt to maintain composure.

Mr. Baek tutted and shook his head. “I’m serious–there’s a labyrinth without a master.”

“What even…” Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t hold in his shock any longer. His face began to stiffen, but fortunately, Mr. Baek assumed that Kim Jin-Woo had merely been shocked by his information.

Mr. Baek had a proud look on his face, as if he was revealing some important information. “I was also skeptical until I obtained this piece of information from a credible source.” His confidence caused Kim Jin-Woo’s heart to sink with anxiety.

“I’m certain there’s a labyrinth waiting for a new master,” Mr. Baek said.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter