“You brat, move along.”
“Ah, again? Didn’t you hear the deputy chief telling us not to act independently?”
“Since when were we so obedient?”
“I’m not leaving! What rubbish are you going to tell him again when I leave!?”
The sight of the two arguing was truly one to behold. Kim Jin-Woo just smiled bitterly off to the side, as they continued to argue with little concern for his presence.
“Damn, you little bitch. You sure are running your mouth a lot today. Am I a child? Stop the nagging and go on first!”
“Why!?” Kim Jin-Tae screamed as he insisted on staying.
Lee Jun-Young eventually shouted in frustration, “You brat, this lady here is trying to strike up some romance, that’s why!”
“Ah…” The blunt confession left Kim Jin-Tae speechless.
Belatedly realizing what she had just said, Lee Jun-Young could only see stars in her eyes as she was filled with embarrassment.
“Uh. I’ll take my leave. Don’t be too late.” It took a long time before Kim Jin-Tae finally came to his senses, as he took a quick look at the blushing Lee Jun-Young before leaving hastily.
With the disappearance of the third wheel, the mood between Kim Jin-Woo and Lee Jun-Young became even more awkward.
“Ah, I assume it was a misunderstanding. You must have had something else to tell me, right?” Kim Jin-Woo tried to lighten the mood by changing the subject.
But Lee Jun-Young pouted, replying, “No, I meant what I said.”
Feeling the tension so thick he could cut it with a knife, Kim Jin-Woo tried to speak again, but Lee Jun-Young cut him off.
“What I said earlier, it was something I’ve been holding back.” Lee Jun-Young approached him bravely. She locked her gaze with his, not even missing a blink, and her eyes shone with confidence. Kim Jin-Woo gulped.
“Well, I’m not going to pressure you. For someone who was born and raised in the Underworld, I don’t think it’s right for me to talk to you about relationships and the like, but I just wanted to let you know how I feel.”
This was beyond her simply showing gratitude for having her life saved. Despite having more than repaid her debt on more than one occasion, she seemed to be frustrated that she couldn’t do more.
“Why me…?” Kim Jin-Woo trailed off.
“Do I need a reason? As someone who was once untamed and rabid, I finally met a man who truly helped me find my place in this world and made me change for the better.”
The Underworld was all about survival of the fittest. Considering the hellish environment that was the Underworld, her old personality was completely understandable.
And with a life debt to repay, it was no wonder that she felt so deeply emotional toward Kim Jin-Woo.
“You don’t have to give me a reply. We don’t have to pretend to be like any other couple out there. Just… Think of me when you’re feeling lonely. Be it in body or spirit, I’ll be willing to run to your side whenever you need me.”
Rather than being bold, her statement was in fact an admission of a deep sense of self-doubt that came from being born and raised in the Underworld, and all the prejudice that came with it.
But nowhere was it written on her face that she desired any form of pity or affection. Her expression was firm and resolute.
Kim Jin-Woo nodded. “If I ever feel that way, you’ll be the first person I’ll look for, Jun-Young.”
“That’s good enough.” She let out a big grin as she playfully knocked her shoulder into his and added, “We’re not awkward, are we? Heh.”
Lee Jun-Young mustered all her energy to change the subject.
“This was what I was trying to say earlier, but the institute is looking to officially start its activities this week at the earliest, and next week at the latest. It looks like they’re looking to reveal the hidden labyrinths to a select handful of teams and send the explorers to the Shallow Floors.”
“Sounds like they’ve completed their defenses.”
Since the Underworld Research Institute was so adamant on protecting its labyrinth for fear of it being stolen, there was absolutely no way they were going to reveal its existence without prior preparation, even if the disclosure itself was limited.
“Their preparations are ready; besides, there are already other countries that have started to officially invade the Underworld with portals, so we’re simply playing catch-up. I don’t know about other countries, but our Underworld can’t be that big, so I think they’re taking the initiative to reveal its existence, rather than having it being discovered and exposed by someone else.”
Lee Jun-Young had an annoyed look on her face as she looked at Kim Jin-Woo before continuing, “There were already leaks about its existence, but that Jin-Tae bastard was being unnecessarily sensitive.”
She had revealed a lot of information without hesitation, but somehow she had never let slip that Kim Jin-Tae was in fact Harimao’s labyrinth master. It seemed she drew the line at information that involved the lives of her colleagues.
“And they plan to set up a camp for explorers in a certain area near Harimao, so try using that as well. After all, for explorers like us, the longer the time we spend in the Underworld, the more we’re paid, aren’t we? Earn what you can, and don’t try to save time and money by using only the portals.”
Kim Jin-Woo nodded in response. But the priority was to grasp the situation in the Underworld, so they used the Underworld Gate in Paju to descend.
Kim Jin-Woo was left astonished at the immense popularity of the 5th Floor.
He had always heard that there were many explorers on this particular floor, but now that he saw it with his own eyes, the sight of countless explorers gathered around made the Underworld seem like a highway rest stop.
He had been able to venture down to the 5th Floor thanks to his ‘Stealth’ ability, but from here on, it was possible that there would be explorers with the ‘Detect Stealth’ ability.
It wasn’t something that would result in him being put in harm’s way, but he wanted to avoid any unnecessary confrontation if possible. He disabled his ‘Stealth’ ability and tugged down on his hood.
It wasn’t difficult to find an explorer. All he had to do was take a few steps, and he was bound to run into one. He attempted to find a relatively small group of explorers, and casually approached them when he spotted one.
On any other occasion, the explorers would have greeted him with their blades. But due to the sheer number of explorers on the 5th Floor, they simply gave him a passing look and paid no further attention to him, assuming he was just another explorer.
It was a group of about fifteen or so explorers, four of which were dungeon babies; eleven were ordinary explorers consisting of spearmen and a bunker formation.
Kim Jin-Woo left a moderate gap between himself and the group as he slowly trailed behind them.
“What are you doing? You’re being distracting.”
“Leave him be. He must have missed his party.”
“Maybe he’s a hunter?”
“Are you crazy? There are so many explorers here, do you think a stupid lone hunter would dare to roam around here?”
It wasn’t uncommon for an explorer who occasionally broke away from their group to move along with another group. And it also wasn’t uncommon for one of them to turn into a hunter and attack that group of explorers.
But as previously mentioned, the 5th Floor was bustling with explorers everywhere, so it would be nigh impossible for a hunter to take action. It was because of this that the group of explorers simply ignored Kim Jin-Woo, aside from the occasional glances.
In other words, they seemed to think there was no reason for a lone stranger like him to target them, especially when they weren’t particularly outstanding in any manner.
“Ah, there were rumors that Ju-Seong’s group had already scouted the west side and left empty-handed. But it looks like it’s the same for us as well.”
“I would rather have used this time to look for down gems. Isn’t this a waste of time?”
“You idiot, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us. The title of ‘labyrinth master’ is truly a unique title to have bestowed on you.”
“That’s only if we find a labyrinth.”
Kim Jin-Woo continued to eavesdrop on their conversation before coming across another group of explorers, which he decided to follow instead.
“Chan-soo, that bastard. It looked like they found some pretty good stuff...?”
“That son of a bitch is definitely bluffing. Do you know how many guys were screwed over by his lies? That guy is full of shit; we should teach him a lesson one day.”
“How can we when that bastard’s already Level 6? There’s a reason why nobody’s able to confront him, so they simply let him be.”
This group also didn’t seem to have any useful information. Kim Jin-Woo repeated the process as he shadowed many other groups of explorers.
“Hey, it’s gone. There’s nothing left on the 5th Floor. If we have yet to turn up anything despite all the searching, it just means there’s really nothing left. Let’s just move on to the 6th Floor. At least capturing a creature will bring us some rewards. What the hell are we even doing here?”
The conversion in this group took on a persistent tone of frustration.
“Hm, should we gather more people and head down one floor deeper?”
“Arthur. That floor is a true blood bath. The creatures that were chased out of the 5th Floor and into the 6th are infamous for their bloodthirst. Plebs like us will get massacred if we go deeper. Massacred.”
And that was the conversation of a group that was right in front of the passageway leading to the 6th Floor.
Kim Jin-Woo had roughly gotten a feel of the situation on the 5th Floor, it seemed that most of the higher leveled dungeon babies and explorers had moved on to the 6th Floor.
They seemed to have dealt with a large number of creatures; Kim Jin-Woo didn’t meet a single one during his descent.
As Okonutoshi had said, the creatures were bound to eventually move as a group to keep themselves safe.
With such a large number of powerful dungeon babies and explorers, even the ferocious Underworld creatures wouldn’t dare lay their claws on them. In fact, those creatures would be lucky to make it out alive.
And, as Kim Jin-Woo found out, the situation on the 6th Floor was much worse than he had anticipated.
It was as though he had descended one level deeper into hell. The smell of blood permeated the stagnant air throughout the 6th Floor, and everywhere he went, there were traces of bloody battle. Corpses of beasts and creatures were scattered all over.
“They sure had their fun,” Kim Jin-Woo muttered to himself as he looked at the pile of corpses. The creatures had had most of their teeth and claws pulled out, probably to be sold for money.
Kim Jin-Woo stood up as he looked at a corpse whose head had been smashed from the extraction of a down gem.
Everywhere Kim Jin-Woo stepped, he could feel the corpses of beasts and creatures slain by the explorers beneath his feet.
Unlike before, when he couldn’t fend off a single creature’s attack, he was now much more powerful. Despite this, he still couldn’t shake off the uneasy feeling he had felt ever since entering the labyrinth.
As time passed, Kim Jin-Woo’s expression only hardened.
This time, he encountered the corpse of a very large creature.
With its teeth and claws pulled out and its hide skinned for leather, it posed no threat at all to Kim Jin-Woo. Despite it being dead, he could still feel the power of the creature, simply based on the sheer size of it.
However, he couldn’t find a single trace of blood from the explorers that had engaged with this creature. Even on the walls and the floors, he couldn’t find a single speck of blood.
Something felt off. It was hard to imagine that not a single drop of blood had been shed in the process of slaying a creature like this.
On top of that, there were numerous traces left behind by the explorers.
It was enough to convince anyone that the number of explorers could have added up to form a battalion of troops. Sensing that he could find out more from the explorers than the creatures, he followed the trails they left behind.
After a long chase, he finally caught up to the explorers for the first time on the 6th Floor.
“The western front is requesting for additional support!”
“Tell them to shut the fuck up! We have to completely take over this area while we have the upper hand, otherwise our efforts will all go to waste!”
A report delivered by one man was drowned out by the shouts of another explorer.
“If we don’t reinforce the other areas of the frontline, they’ll be broken through! The creatures will escape through those weak spots!”
“We were all given the same firepower, so why the bitching now!? Tell them to stop saying such bullshit!”
“They’re all going to die!”
“Ah, those useless bastards! I get it, so stop whining!”
It seemed the man’s pleas had finally worked. The explorer raised his hands and ordered everyone to slow their offense against the creatures.
“Ah, what now? We could have got them all!”
“You crazy bastard, can’t you see those few guys who seem ready to jump ship? We were told to slow down our pace for fear of creatures breaking through other parts of our frontline.”
The explorer then looked around before catching sight of Kim Jin-Woo, who was observing the whole situation from a distance.
“And what team are you from?” the explorer asked.Previous Chapter Next Chapter