Chapter 59

{Hello?}

A man’s voice could be heard over the phone when Kim Jin-Woo pressed the call button. He briefly pondered over where he had heard this voice before, then replied curtly, “Who’s speaking?”

The caller cautiously introduced himself upon hearing Kim Jin-Woo’s brusque voice. {Hello, this is Kim Joo-Hyuk, the new assistant manager of the Underground Development Board.}

“Underground Development Board? Is it different from the Labyrinth Management Office?” Kim Jin-Woo asked when he heard the unfamiliar name.

{Yes. We inherited the work of the Labyrinth Management Office, but we focus more on the overall state of the underground world. Looking at the recent uproar and the potential of the underground world, we’ve concluded that it’s not feasible to maintain the status quo of the past.}

In other words, the underground world appeared highly lucrative, so the government had decided to invest more effort in managing it.

However, Kim Jin-Woo failed to comprehend the need for a new organization when almost a decade had passed since the under-war. Why now?

{It’s a little difficult to explain the details over the phone. Can you visit our office when you’re free? You’re the highest level dungeon baby, whom our board is highly interested in, so we hope you can visit us.}

Kim Joo-Hyuk rambled on as he pleased, requesting many times for Kim Jin-Woo to visit the office before ending the call.

“Why are they doing this now…”

The government had been neglecting the underground world until now. Kim Jin-Woo had no clue as to why the sudden change in its attitude had occurred, as seen with the Underground Development Board.

It was far-fetched to assume that this change had been instigated by the recent discovery of the abandoned labyrinth, since the government had kept a low profile for the past ten years.

Tons of resources and cash had stemmed from the underground world, both in the past or the present. Kim Joo-Hyuk’s attitude was too mellow for Kim Jin-Woo to believe that the discovery of a labyrinth with unknown value had brought such a significant impact. In essence, he suspected that the government had planned this for a long time.

The question ‘Why?’ appeared and disappeared in his mind a myriad times, but struggling alone to arrive at the answer was ineffective.

Kim Jin-Woo called Mr. Baek just in case, but the latter replied that he had never heard of such an organization before. He instead bombarded Kim Jin-Woo with questions about the Underground Development Board. Kim Jin-Woo equivocated and stared at the address on his phone for a while before leaving the house.

Since he had to return to the underground world soon, he couldn’t just wait for the office to call.

“Hmm…”

The Underground Development Board was located in the central area of the Gwanghwamun gate. It looked like a normal office from the outside and didn’t even have a mundane signboard. Kim Jin-Woo stared at the office for a moment then entered.

There were about twenty workers in the 1,500 square feet office, staring at their computer screens and absorbed in whatever they were working on. Kim Jin-Woo was convinced once again that this organization hadn’t been established overnight.

“What brings you here?” asked a worker, having noticed Kim Jin-Woo.

“I came to see Kim Joo-Hyuk, the assistant manager.” Kim Jin-Woo went straight to the heart of the matter.

“How should I address you?”

“You may call me Kim Jin-Woo. I gave the office a call today.”

“Ah, Mr. Jin-Woo, is it? Alright, sure.”

Kim Jin-Woo’s eyes gleamed. The man pretended to be aloof, but seemed utterly shocked after hearing his name.

In other words, the man knew about him. This was in line with how almost all the workers in the Underground Development Board were dealing with the underground world’s matters. Otherwise, a mere officer wouldn’t be so shocked by Kim Jin-Woo’s name, which was classified information even for the Labyrinth Management Office.

“Oh, Mr. Kim Jin-Woo. You’ve come earlier than expected.” Soon after the man disappeared beyond the partition, a man came over and said, “I’m Kim Joo-Hyuk. It’s very nice to meet you in person. Here, this way.”

As Kim Jin-Woo had guessed, the average-looking man was Kim Joo-Hyuk, the assistant manager. He followed the latter to a meeting room at the corner of the office.

“I didn’t think you would come so early; I’m somewhat surprised.” Kim Joo-Hyuk welcomed Kim Jin-Woo, albeit with an adroit and crafty attitude.

“I have many questions, that’s why.” Kim Jin-Woo went straight to the heart of the matter, since he knew that his lack of social experience would put him at a disadvantage the more he beat around the bush with such a person.

“Ah, is that so?”

“Yes. What is this Underground Development Board? Nobody could answer when I asked around.”

“Don’t tell me you already told the others about the board… Ah, never mind. We’re going to have an official launching ceremony soon anyway…” Kim Joo-Hyuk rambled on.

Kim Jin-Woo frowned. He gestured to the chatterbox to stop digressing from the topic.

Kim Joo-Hyuk seemed to have understood, as he began to explain with a sheepish expression. “We, the Underground Development Board, are an organization that aims to better manage the unlimited resources and potential of the underground world to benefit human society.”

“Is it because of down gems?”

“It’s different. Our main priority isn’t only down gems, but rather, all the ways the underground world can benefit society. That being said, down gems have inexhaustible value. Isn’t a single top-grade down gem already able to bring significant advancement to many aspects of society? It’s a pity to see the rich monopolize those valuable down gems.” Kim Joo-Hyuk gave a long-winded explanation, but he ultimately acknowledged that down gems were the main issue.

In both the past and present, the underground world had presented unlimited profit and value. Kim Jin-Woo thus failed to comprehend why the government had neglected this land of treasures for so long.

He guessed that the government having conceded most of the rights regarding the underground world to the public had played a role. Most notably, it had even relinquished the custody of the dungeon babies, who were the key players of underground expeditions, to average households.

Kim Jin-Woo wondered about the reason behind the government’s sudden interest in the underground world.

“Why now?” he asked. This question sounded simple, but it could be interpreted in various ways.

Kim Joo-Hyuk seemed to have grasped the intention behind the question. He cherry-picked his words, unable to reply confidently. “That’s not it,” he answered after a long pause. “We started precisely because now is the right time.”

Puzzled by Kim Joo-Hyuk’s riddle, Kim Jin-Woo waited for an explanation, but the other party had no intention to elaborate further on his statement. 

“You’ll learn the details on the way. Since you’re undoubtedly the highest level dungeon baby in the nation, we promise not to conceal information from you.”

“I don’t understand why you even brought this matter up if you aren’t going to tell me now,” Kim Jin-Woo replied. Why did he tell me now and create this unnecessary suspense?

However, Kim Joo-Hyuk seemed to have seen Kim Jin-Woo’s response coming. He replied without hesitation, “We hope that of all people, the dungeon babies from the deep floors, including you, can appreciate that fact.”

“What fact?” Kim JIn-Woo asked, halfway out of his seat. He was starting to get annoyed by how Kim Joo-Hyuk constantly beat around the bush.

However, the latter replied without a change in expression, “The fact that the war is still ongoing.” There was a strange echo in his voice, and Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t help but sit back down on the chair.

“Please don’t get involved in any unnecessary mess for the time being.” Kim Joo-Hyuk discarded his crafty attitude and bowed to Kim Jin-Woo desperately. “We need your help, Mr. Kim Jin-Woo.”

***

The meeting with Kim Joo-Hyuk left Kim Jin-Woo with more questions than answers.

“He shouldn’t even have brought this matter up,” he muttered in frustration. The assistant manager hadn’t even disclosed all the information, which had only left Kim Jin-Woo puzzled and curious.

I’ll tell you everything soon. Until then, please watch us, the Underground Development Board, from an objective point of view. We seek your cooperation in this matter.

Instead of bidding him farewell, Kim Joo-Hyuk had petitioned him persistently until the very end of their meeting.

What’s going on? Kim Jin-Woo’s instincts told him that a change was brewing. He looked up at the blue sky with a solemn look. Such an open, clear view was rare in the underground world, but it made his heart heavy for some reason.

***

“I’ve done my research on the Underground Development Board.” Mr. Baek, having collected some information, blabbered on even though Kim Jin-Woo hadn’t asked for it. “This organization plans to manage all matters associated with the explorers and the underground world, which the government had been neglecting thus far.”

“So they’re planning to oversee the underground world’s matters more meticulously than the Labyrinth Management Office, huh.” 

“That’s not the case. The Underground Development Board isn’t just planning to oversee. Instead, it plans to directly manage all matters regarding the underground world.”

“What...”

“It wasn’t easy to obtain this information. I had to jump between various sources, you know. It seems there’s a team that works for the government, made up of only dungeon babies and soldiers, without any ordinary explorers.”

Kim Jin-Woo had guessed as much. It was now clear that the Underground Development Board had been constructed over a long period of time

“The government prepared well for this. It’s incredible how the existence of this organization was kept secret. Even this information was only leaked because the board was about to be officially established soon. Otherwise, I too wouldn’t even have seen it coming.”

Mr. Baek seemed rather confident in his information network, as he was more impressed by the confidentiality of the development board than its job scope.

“Nonetheless, the Association is out of the game after the recent incident. It’s already received so much criticism for monopolizing the abandoned labyrinth. Furthermore, the introduction of this Underground Development Board is going to send the Association to its grave, since there isn’t much difference in their duties. If the two organizations are of the same value, people are more likely to be attracted by the government institution that has more public credibility.”

Assistant manager Kim Joo-Hyuk had formulated such a grandiose excuse, but it was nothing more than a turf war between the two organizations. If this was the case, Kim Jin-Woo didn’t have to pay so much attention. He could utilize either of the organizations for his benefit and vice versa, not to mention how much he hated getting involved in complicated political wars.

However, he was still bothered by Kim Joo-Hyuk’s declaration that the war wasn’t over. The underground world had lost the under-war and signed a peace treaty pledging that they would never invade the surface again. What did the assistant manager mean?

No, is it even relevant to me? Kim Jin-Woo wondered, his expression turning cold. Since wars were a common occurrence in the underground world, there was no reason for him to be alarmed. He continued to listen intently to Mr. Baek’s explanation before getting up from his seat.

“Ah, also, please bring some down gems over next time. This office isn’t some real estate agency where you can just go in and out anytime you wish, you know.”

“Noted. I’ll bring some next time.”

Kim Jin-Woo had been planning to convert some down gems to cash to purchase some necessities anyway. They agreed to meet again; just then, Mr. Baek smacked his lip and waved his hand.

“Hmm? What is it? Did you forget something?” Mr. Baek asked nonchalantly when Kim Jin-Woo stopped just before stepping out of the door.

“Ah, nothing. I’ll excuse myself then,” said Kim Jin-Woo. A series of messages that were visible to no one else but him appeared and blinked in front of his eyes.

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