Chapter 81

“Why does it have to be the high-leveled ones, of all things?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.

“All those who ended up being labyrinth masters were born on at least the 8th Floor,” Mr. Baek replied.

It was like finally putting the missing pieces of a puzzle together. That meant it hadn’t been a coincidence that he and Yoon-Hee were chosen by the labyrinth. Those thoughts ran through Kim Jin-Woo’s head while he listened to Mr. Baek's explanation.

“This isn’t confirmed information, so just take it with a grain of salt. There are rumors that the higher one’s level is, the higher one’s chance of becoming a labyrinth master becomes. In fact, the labyrinth masters in overseas countries are all close to the highest level.”

“I heard that the 4th Floor labyrinth master that was murdered wasn’t particularly high leveled,” Kim Jin-Woo commented.

“That’s why I said to take this information with a grain of salt. It’s more of a likelihood than a certainty.”

This information was definitely going to be an obstacle moving forward, but Kim Jin-Woo understood where Mr. Baek’s speculation was coming from. But he had another question on his mind. “If I become a labyrinth master, what happens to you, Mr. Baek?”

Mr. Baek was as cold-blooded as they came. For someone who had once even threatened Kim Jin-Woo’s own family to force him to do his bidding, there was no way he was doing this simply out of altruism.

There was definitely something Mr. Baek was expecting out of Kim Jin-Woo, who had already become a labyrinth master without him knowing. But Kim Jin-Woo couldn't figure out exactly what it could be.

“Well, let’s talk about that some other day. We don’t know if you’ll end up being a labyrinth master now, do we?” Mr. Baek added.

“Hmm…” Seeing that Mr. Baek had no intention of giving him the answer he sought, Kim Jin-Woo got up to leave the appraiser.

“Definitely go and pay them a visit! If you do become a labyrinth master, your life will become smooth sailing beyond your expectations! Don’t end up regretting it!” Mr. Baek, who seemed to have noticed Kim Jin-Woo’s disappointed demeanor, shouted from the lab as Kim Jin-Woo walked away.

However, Kim Jin-Woo wasn’t interested in what Mr. Baek had to say. He was already the master of his own labyrinth on the 9th Floor, one of the deepest floors. His labyrinth level and the quality of his core were top-notch, and he even had five other labyrinths as fiefs.

In addition, as he was the regent of three of the fiefs, they were practically no different from labyrinths under his direct control. And the moment Boreas gained consciousness, the 10th Floor would be under his rule as well.

So why would he feel any interest towards a mere 5th Floor labyrinth? The deeper the labyrinths were, the better quality their cores were. A 5th Floor labyrinth brought no interest at all to the likes of Kim Jin-Woo.

Besides, if he wanted to, he could create another labyrinth at will. With nine inactive Labyrinth Cores in his hands, there was absolutely no reason to risk the hassle of working with the government.

Ring ring!

[Underworld Development Institute Deputy Chief Kim Joo-Hyuk]

Kim Jin-Woo didn’t bother to answer the repeated calls from the institute. The institute clearly seemed to be frustrated, as they eventually sent an employee to meet him directly.

“You were unreachable, so we had to pay you a visit in person. We apologize for the inconvenience.” The deputy chief himself had personally come to visit Kim Jin-Woo at his residence, eagerness written all over his face. “Mr. Kim Jin-Woo, right now your country needs you.”

At the mention of patriotic service to the country right from the get-go, Kim Jin-Woo simply rolled his eyes. For him, someone who had spent more than half his life in the Underworld, he had no affinity or strong feelings toward the country.

“Should you agree to help us, we’ll give you our fullest support. It will include so much money that you won’t be able to spend it within your lifetime.”

Perhaps Kim Jin-Woo wore his feeling of annoyance on his face, as deputy chief Kim Joo-Hyuk immediately changed his method of persuading Kim Jin-Woo. Perhaps the deputy chief had looked at his residence and misunderstood that Kim Jin-Woo was having financial difficulties.

The house itself wasn’t too shabby, but because Kim Jin-Woo spent most of his time in the Underworld, an assumption must have been made that he wasn’t particularly affluent back on the surface. After all, they knew that he had entered the Underworld to help his younger sister pay for her dowry, so there was room for misunderstanding.

However, Kim Jin-Woo didn’t bother to correct that misunderstanding.

“If you want, we can give you a luxury house in the middle of Seoul right away, in your name. You only need to take one test. It’s not that difficult,” the deputy chief said.

Kim Jin-Woo had already grasped the general situation through Mr. Baek, but the deputy chief seemed to be unaware of that fact.

But since Mr. Baek was getting his intel from secret sources that used rather unusual means, there was no way the institute would even suspect that their information was being leaked.

Kim Jin-Woo thought hard. Would he attempt to gain more information by playing it by ear, or would he simply refuse at this point?

After some thinking, he finally came to a conclusion. “I reject.”

“You haven’t even heard me out comple…”

“There’s one thing I’ve learnt recently, and it’s that nothing is free in this world.”

It was a firm rejection. He had decided that he would stand to lose more from working with the government than he could gain. After all, all they could offer was money.

And when it came to money, all Kim Jin-Woo had to do was to convert the down gems he had recently gained from his victory against the 10th Floor to money, and he would be financially set for life.

Besides, the offer to make him a labyrinth master had absolutely no merit to him. Outside of the unlikely event of him losing the Naga’s Fortress, that offer was pretty much useless.

“I’m going to have to decline. Your offers just smell like bait to me,” Kim Jin-Woo said with brutal honesty.

The deputy chief seemed quite taken aback. “Ah… I understand. After all, you’re famous for being a bit of a lone wolf, rejecting any form of support. It seems I’ll have to give up, unfortunately. After putting myself in your perspective, we can understand that desire to not work with the institute. We truly understand.”

The deputy chief quickly corrected his demeanor and agreed. If they were looking for a dungeon baby, it need not be Kim Jin-Woo. Of course, he had the distinction of being the highest level, but what they were really looking for wasn’t necessarily a strong person per se, but rather, someone who would serve the institute and do all its bidding without question.

“Ah, but there’s one thing,” Kim Jin-Woo began.

“Yes? Please, do speak.” The deputy chief was about to leave Kim Jin-Woo’s home, but he quickly turned around, as if he were hoping Kim Jin-Woo had changed his mind.

“That labyrinth you call Harimao,” Kim Jin-Woo continued.

Kim Joo-Hyuk’s eyes narrowed at the sudden mention of Harimao. Kim Jin-Woo knowing the name of the labyrinth wasn’t a big deal, as it was widely publicized, but the deputy chief knew that whatever Kim Jin-Woo was going to bring up, it was going to be important.

“I heard you can go directly to the 5th Floor through it.”

“Yes, but…”

“Can I try using it?”

***

The deputy chief left.

Hmm.. Harimao, huh? What kind of labyrinth is it? Kim Jin-Woo had failed to get an answer immediately, but knowing that there were other explorers who had used Harimao to enter the lower floors directly, he knew it was a matter of time before his request would be accepted.

As expected, Kim Joo-Hyuk called soon after.

He was allowed access on the condition that a predetermined expedition team would join him on his descent, as a solo expedition was strictly prohibited.

What it really meant was that there would be someone to keep an eye out on him throughout the expedition, but it didn’t matter to him. After all, his main purpose was to examine the Harimao labyrinth with his own eyes. Having someone observe him was of no concern.

But of all the people who could have been attached to his expedition, it had to involve dungeon babies he was acquainted with.

“It’s been a while, Kim Jin-Woo.”

“Jin-Woo?”

With the South Korean national flag stitched onto her armored vest, Lee Jun-Young looked at him with a big smile on her face.

***

“So this was that big offer you had for me the last time?

"Yes. I couldn't tell you for security reasons. I’m sorry. It would have been nice if we could have worked together from the start,” Lee Jun-Young replied with regret written all over her face. But Kim Jin-Woo lowered his head.

“I heard that the institute made you an offer, but you refused…” Lee Jun-Young quickly changed the topic. “Please reconsider. Your life may really change, Jin-Woo.”

It was almost as if she wanted to tell him more, but couldn’t. She kept asking Kim Jin-Woo to reconsider, before finally stopping as they arrived at their destination and stopped the car.

“Ah…”

“Isn’t this amazing? This is what they call a portal. Using this, we’ll be able to go straight to the 5th Floor,” Lee Jun-Young explained.

Surrounded by all kinds of security equipment, there was a door in the center of the room that resembled a hole in space.

“I almost passed out when I first saw this,” she continued.

“That sounds about right,” Kim Jin-Woo replied.

She wasn’t lying. Kim Jin-Woo himself had almost passed out from shock the first time he had taken a portal to his own labyrinth. He was simply playing along, as if it were his first time seeing a portal.

“Once you step through that door, you’ll be in the Underworld. It isn’t dangerous, but you’ll momentarily feel nauseated, so don’t panic.”

Kim Jin-Woo nodded as Lee Jun-Young grabbed his hands and pulled him forward. His eyes were fixated on Harimao’s master room, which could be seen beyond the portal.

“Shall we?”

With Lee Jun-Young’s visibly excited guidance, Kim Jin-Woo stepped through the portal with a groan. “Urgh!”

“It’s okay. You’ll feel better soon. If you keep using it, you’ll get accustomed to it, but since it’s the first time, you’ll feel a bit worse than me.”

Kim Jin-Woo let Lee Jun-Young give him a back rub as he slowly surveyed the master room.

There was a large variety of equipment lying around, almost reminding him of an operating room. All kinds of cameras and electronics were scattered all over. It seemed as if they had turned off all the screens in anticipation of Kim Jin-Woo’s arrival, but he could see how it would look when the room was operational.

However, due to barricades that covered half of the master room, he was unable to spot the Labyrinth Core. But as he looked at the labyrinth’s facilities, he was able to estimate the labyrinth’s level.

It was at most Level 4, and at least Level 3. The government might hold a lot of down gems, but upgrading it would require some time.

From the look of things, they had been upgrading the labyrinth without rest from the moment they discovered it.

“Looks decent. But what’s over there?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.

“Mm… I can’t tell you right now due to security reasons, but all I can say is that it’s something very important,” Lee Jun-Young replied.

“If it’s something very important…”

“That’s…” Lee Jun-Young panicked, for she was terrible at dealing with sudden questions that could catch her off guard.

“It’s been a while.” A familiar voice suddenly interrupted them, much to Kim Jin-Woo’s dismay. It was Jung Chan-Sik. It was no surprise that he was with them, considering how Jung Chan-Sik had been on the same team as Lee Jun-Young from the start.

“Ah, we meet again.” Kim Jin-Woo greeted him back without making a big fuss.

“I’m surprised. It wasn’t too long ago that the institute declared that there would be no more expeditions via Harimao.”

“That’s because no matter what anyone says, it’s undeniable that Kim Jin-Woo is the nation’s highest leveled dungeon baby.” Lee Jun-Young suddenly cut in and replied on Kim Jin-Woo’s behalf, sounding almost proud of him.

Jung Chan-Sik shook his head. “The way you’re acting, people would mistake Kim Jin-Woo for your boyfriend.”

“Well, I’m sure she’s just saying it and means nothing else.” Sensing that the conversation was headed in a weird direction, Kim Jin-Woo quickly intervened and cut the conversation short.

Belatedly realizing that they shouldn’t be talking about the person in question while right in front of him, the two quickly fell silent out of embarrassment.

“Anyway, I want to take a closer look at the labyrinth, is that okay?” Kim Jin-Woo asked.

“Yes, as long as you stay within the labyrinth.”

It seems that the institute was adamant about keeping the location of the labyrinth a secret. It made sense, as seasoned explorers would easily be able to identify the labyrinth’s location by simply observing its outer appearance and the creatures in its vicinity.

But the institute hadn’t considered the fact that Kim Jin-Woo was no ordinary explorer.

[Your ‘Guidance’ ability has created a map of the 5th Floor.]

Thanks to the message and the map, he was able to figure out that the labyrinth Harimao was situated in a rather remote area.

Seeing that the location overlapped with the previous map that Lee Jun-Young had provided to him, it seemed there were various abandoned labyrinths within the vicinity of Harimao.

“Mm…” Seeing the message and the afterimage of the map disappearing, he sighed.

“Let’s go. Please take this card,” Lee Jun-Young said.

Kim Jin-Woo had the late realization that the entrance to the master room was blocked by a thick steel door, secured by various electronic security devices. One could have mistaken this place for a secret research lab within the labyrinth.

“Let’s go.” Kim Jin-Woo was about to take a step forward at the guidance of Lee Jun-Young when he suddenly stopped dead in his tracks.

“Jin-Woo?” A man appeared from beyond the barricade.

“Ah, you saw him the last time we went on an expedition, right? He’s the youngest member of our team,” Lee Jun-Young explained.

“Ah, it’s been a while.” Kim Jin-Woo gave a weak smile as he extended his hand. But his eyes were fixated on the spot above that man.

[You have encountered the righteous master of the Labyrinth of the Black Tiger, the fierce Underworld hunter.]

[The Underworld Noble’s unique ability, ‘Noble’s Majesty—Lesser-Grade’, has been activated.]

Previous Chapter Next Chapter