Chapter 42

Pang!

A net spread out and flew toward the charging beastfolk. With a scowl, she leaped off the ground and began to climb the wall.

“Get your shit together, bastards!”

“Group 2!” the man commanded.

The explorers immediately deduced from the beastfolk’s extraordinary movement that something wasn’t right. Another net flew out, causing the beastfolk to crawl upside down on the ceiling and jump back down to the ground.

The man clenched his teeth when he observed the beastfolk move nimbly across the narrow passage.

“Something’s not right! Forget about capturing this beastfolk. Get ready to attack!” the dungeon baby yelled.

“What? That creature is at least a top-grade–” 

“Nobody can tame that thing! Just kill it!”

It was a wise evaluation of the situation, as expected from an experienced dungeon baby. While they were hesitating for a brief moment, however, the beastfolk had already reached the ordinary explorers on the front line.

“Bunker!” the man ordered. Huge shields lined up in the middle of the passage to form a body bunker.

Unfortunately, the beastfolk leaped across the barrier without any issues. She moved so incredibly fast that only her faint footsteps could be heard. The explorers attempted to fire their crossbows and thrust their spears, but none of these attacks could reach the beastfolk.

They can’t stop her, Kim Jin-Woo thought as he remained hidden in the dark thanks to his ‘Camouflage’ ability. He was certain that the explorers couldn’t put a halt to the beastfolk’s rampage.

The dungeon babies born on the deep floors were strong, but their skin and flesh weren’t damage-proof. They would still be killed if they were slashed and pierced by knives. Furthermore, the beastfolk was extremely agile and had razor-sharp claws that could rip their tender flesh apart.

“Argh!” 

Meanwhile, the beastfolk pounced over the ordinary explorers and reached the dungeon babies. Thus began the massacre.

“Eek!” 

Her first victim was the dungeon baby who had been scolded by the man previously. He swung his knife with his teeth clenched, but he ended up as a headless corpse before he knew it.

“Woo-Young!” someone screamed.

The dungeon babies swiftly surrounded the beastfolk and attacked viciously. However, the creature evaded the attacks and slashed the belly of another dungeon baby open, causing his intestines to spill out.

“Damn bitch!”

“Die!”

The dungeon babies were enraged by their comrade’s death. They attacked with all their might, but to no avail.

More dungeon babies fell victim to the beastfolk by the minute, until none of them were alive. It was already too late when Kim Jin-Woo, who had been contemplating helping them, came to his senses and realized what had happened in that brief moment.

“Kyaaak!” The beastfolk kneeled on the floor and shrieked, surrounded by the corpses of her victims and their blood. The screech, too sharp and threatening to be a victory cry, caused Kim Jin-Woo to grimace.

“Kyak!” Suddenly, the beastfolk raised her ears, beginning to sniff and look around her surroundings. She seemed to have noticed Kim Jin-Woo’s presence in the dark, but was unaware of his exact location. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be looking somewhere irrelevant when he was standing right behind her.

The beastfolk was slender and small; nobody would expect her to have killed so many humans alone. Kim Jin-Woo stretched his hand out as he observed the faint stripes on her back, which resembled that of a tiger.

He wasn’t planning to take vengeance for killing the dungeon babies or explorers. The humans and the beastfolk had fought fair and square with their lives at stake, after all.

Kim Jin-Woo just wanted to eliminate a potential threat. Since the beastfolk appeared to be searching for traces of explorers, he might encounter her again in the future. Moreover, even he would struggle against this exceptionally agile and stealthy, yet vicious predator. That was all there was to it.

“Keek!” The beastfolk, who had been carefully surveying her surroundings with her ears raised, let out a cough when Kim Jin-Woo grabbed her by the neck.

“No hard feelings. Both you and those explorers did whatever you had to do,” Kim Jin-Woo said. If he had to choose one, he disliked the latter more. They were a bunch of unethical frauds who captured and sold the beastfolk as slaves.

“Keek, keek!” The beastfolk barely managed to turn her head to face Kim Jin-Woo, her eyes blazing with anger. He could infer from her hostility toward humans that she hadn’t had pleasant experiences with humans.

“Kyaak!” Kim Jin-Woo was about to break the beastfolk’s neck when he felt a sudden impact and grimaced. She had taken advantage of her incredible flexibility to kick Kim Jin-Woo backward in the belly. It was strong enough to have ruptured his intestines if he had been an ordinary explorer or dungeon baby.

“Keek!” The beastfolk shrieked in agony, despite having been the attacker. Kim Jin-Woo was wearing armor made from Anaxtus’ extremely tough leather. It wasn’t as tough as it had been when the Basilisk King was alive, but it still provided formidable protection. The beastfolk was fortunate to have her legs unscathed after the attack.

“If only we’d met on the 9th Floor…” Kim Jin-Woo mumbled out of pity. How great would it be if this powerful and vicious beastfolk could be his mercenary?

He couldn’t help but hesitate to kill her for that reason. It was also partially because he could picture the catfolk woman back in his labyrinth, trembling on the floor. However, he decided to break the beastfolk’s neck, as she was too dangerous to set free. 

Or at least, he tried to. Had it not been for the ring of the underground baron on his finger, which began to emanate a brilliant flash of light, the beastfolk would have certainly died.

[The underground baron’s ability has been activated.] 

[The beastfolk have served the underground nobles for many generations, but many of them have been chased away to the deep floors recently, for some reason. This tigerfolk woman is one of them.]

[Do you wish to take her in?]

Kim Jin-Woo smirked bitterly at the series of messages, muttering, “Is it supposed to be this easy?”

[The greatest honor for the beastfolk is serving the aristocrats of the underground world. That is their destiny and responsibility from birth. This tigerfolk will gladly devote herself to an underground noble as well.]

Another message appeared as if in response his question. Surely enough, the violent beastfolk had calmed down ever since the ring on his finger began to glow.

[Do you wish to take the tigerfolk in?]

“Yes, I do.” Kim Jin-Woo had been struggling to decide between killing and letting the beastfolk off. He was obviously delighted by this newfound solution.

[You have taken in Hoya, the tigerfolk.]

[Hoya is the strongest fighter among the beastfolk. She may not be able to penetrate the hard carapaces of some gigantic creatures, but she will protect an underground noble from any ambush in the dark.]

The ring began to glow again after the series of messages appeared. When the light completely faded, Kim Jin-Woo found Hoya the tigerfolk looking up at him, her hands neatly folded like those of a newlywed bride.

***

The expedition was over, but Kim Jin-Woo didn’t hesitate to turn back, as he had done whatever he could in this round. In fact, he had even found himself a powerful subordinate.

However, there were a few problems to settle before he could leave the underground world. In particular, he had to find a way to bring Hoya back.

He couldn’t just bring her out of the underground world, as it would cause a commotion; he couldn’t open the portal in the middle of nowhere, as he had to guard it for twenty-four hours once it was open.

As such, he decided to sneak into one of the abandoned labyrinths he had found in his previous expedition thanks to the parasite. He could open the portal in its master room without having to worry about intruders. In addition, it wouldn’t be difficult to defend the core, even if it was exposed.

However, Kim Jin-Woo was unlucky as usual.

“Oh my, isn’t this the dungeon baby who used to hang around with Jung Chan-Shik and Lee Jun-Young?”

Kim Jin-Woo heard the most annoying voice when he was about to turn the corner to reach an abandoned labyrinth.

“Why are you alone today? Did you leave the team, perhaps?” The voice belonged to Song Jong-Chul. Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t believe how unlucky he was, to chance upon this bastard in the vast underground world.

“Going in or out? Why are you alone?” Song Jong-Chul asked.

Kim Jin-Woo frowned. He tried to ignore Song Jong-Chul and changed directions to give him the slip, but the latter continued to follow and annoy him. As Kim Jin-Woo’s first priority was to bring Hoya somewhere out of the public eye, Song Jong-Chul was like a thorn in his side.

“Let’s mind our own business,” Kim Jin-Woo shot back.

“Woah! What a temper. Someone’s full of fighting spirit, huh?” Song Jong-Chul blabbered on to the subordinate standing next to him. Kim Jin-Woo wasn’t sure whether the other man was mocking or taunting him. Song Jong-Chul asked, “By the way, what’s that behind you?”

“None of your business,” Kim Jin-Woo said curtly.

At that instant, Song Jong-Chul sneakily stretched his hand out to pull Hoya’s hood off. She managed to fend his hand off, but revealed her stripes and long claws in the process.

Song Jong-Chul identified Hoya immediately. “Hey, I may not seem like it, but I’m an executive of the explorer association. You’ll have to cooperate, or else… Wait, what’s this? It’s a beastfolk!”

Kim Jin-Woo scowled and pulled Hoya toward him. This was why he had wanted to open the portal in a secluded place, but it was too late now.

“What’s this? You came from a beastfolk hunt?”

Kim Jin-Woo glared at Song Jong-Chul. His already negative impression of the latter became even worse.

Intimidated by Kim Jin-Woo’s ferocity, Song Jong-Chul apologized, but he now had a friendly expression on his face. “I see. I was wondering why you hung out with Lee Jun-Young and the other losers, but now I know the reason. Those idiots would never approve this sort of activity.”

He seemed to have the wrong idea as he continued, “Haha, I apologize for misunderstanding you, my friend. You should have told me earlier. I assumed you were as stubborn and foolish as those idiots.”

Kim Jin-Woo abhorred Song Jong-Chul’s snicker, but he managed to hold his feelings back. It was more beneficial to leave this misunderstanding be, as it was in his favor.

“You guys had a falling-out, right? Lee Jun-Young’s crew detests this sort of thing. But don’t mind them; they’re a bunch of losers who can’t read the trends. What’s wrong with capturing beastfolk? They’re beasts, not humans. Lee Jun-Young and those idiots act all high and mighty, but they don’t even care about their fellow explorers. Selfish, aren’t they?” Song Jong-Chul answered his own rhetorical question, before he suddenly spoke with a stern expression. “Does that mean you don’t belong to a team?”

Kim Jin-Woo didn’t have to reply, but he played along to ease the tension in the atmosphere, nodding.

“Is that so? You look like a high-level dungeon baby. Chan-Shik’s crew don’t earn much, yet they’re so damn picky. They only accept talents from the deep floors.” Song Jong-Chul dug into his pocket and whipped out a calling card. “Let’s find a date and place to talk. Oh, and tell me if that beastfolk still isn’t taken. I can hook you up to a buyer without any commission.”

“Mind your own business.”

“Haha, okay, fine. Did I disturb you too much? Well, pardon me! I was too delighted to meet you. Anyway, congratulations! The beastfolk is a female, isn’t she? That’s awesome!” 

Kim Jin-Woo ignored Song Jong-Chul and turned around to avoid hearing the latter blabber on for the entire day. 

“W-Wait, where are you going? I’m not done with my story yet–” 

Kim Jin-Woo whispered faintly when he heard Song Jong-Chul’s voice from behind the corner, “Camouflage.”

Immediately, his body blended into his surroundings. Meanwhile, Hoya ran toward the abandoned labyrinth without hesitation, just as Kim Jin-Woo had instructed her to do. 

Song Jong-Chul turned the corner, but Kim Jin-Woo was nowhere to be seen. He wandered around the place to find any traces, but to no avail. He mused, “I was about to ask him to join my team. He looks pretty useful.” 

“It shouldn’t be difficult to find his contact information from the managing office data. You can talk to him again afterward. It’s more profitable to work for a client than to do explorer jobs, so he should be keen to join.”

“Well, leave that for next time. I’m sure we’ll meet again.”

“But are you really letting him go? That beastfolk is probably worth more than a hundred million won…” his subordinate asked greedily, causing Song Jong-Chul’s expression to change.

“Say that again, you bastard.”

The intimidated subordinate stumbled backward and gave an excuse. “I mean… he seemed alone…”

“Sigh, do you think I’m that low of a scumbag just because I’ve been clashing with people outside of the association?”

“Erm…” The man’s face went pale in response to Song Jong-Chul’s furious attitude.

“We may fight amongst ourselves occasionally, but we still have to respect each other. Who other than your fellow dungeon babies empathized with your circumstances when you returned alive from the underground world?”

“No one.”

“Then what the hell are you suggesting?”

The subordinate lowered his head and apologized, “I’m sorry.”

“Hey, let’s not cross that line. even if the whole world is against what we’re doing. Why waste energy fighting among ourselves, when a higher-up can simply impose restrictions and screw us all equally?” Song Jong-Chul only calmed down when he saw the subordinate’s genuinely apologetic look.

“Anyway, where did he disappear to? Hmph, I guess it’s about time for me to return now.” He tutted and turned back.

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