Beneath the scorching midsummer heat in June, ten men and women were wrapped in thick clothes that made them seem as though they were going for a hike in winter. Their choice of clothes might not have been suitable for the surface, but it was certainly appropriate for the icy cold, dark passageways hundreds of meters down below.
The crew walked through the passages, following the light from a yellow bulb. Occasionally, Jang Yoon-Joo would throw in some comments to hype up the atmosphere, while the cameraman would diligently shift his camera lens around to capture the surroundings on film.
Jang Yoon-Joo was making a big fuss over touching the walls of the underground tunnel. Kim Jin-Woo knew that he had to give him a word of caution. “You can’t just go about touching everything like that. We have to be very careful here underground, even for things we’re familiar with.”
“But it’s for the film…” Jang Yoon-Joo said, sulking and pouting.
Kim Jin-Woo let out a sigh. When he looked at her, he felt she would eventually stir up some trouble. Due to that hunch that something bad would happen if she were to be left alone, he solemnly told her, “I told you to listen to me unconditionally… This is all for the crew’s safety.”
He frowned when he saw that Jang Yoon-Joo was staring elsewhere. She seemed to trust the armed bodyguards in black, as she kept glancing in their direction. He couldn’t help but smile bitterly.
The four bodyguards were nothing but ordinary humans equipped with hunting rifles and electric batons. What could they do here with hunting rifles that could barely injure a wild boar?
Kim Jin-Woo felt a sense of foreboding. Meanwhile, the bodyguards were looking at him condescendingly. The look in their eyes was cold, causing Kim Jin-Woo’s expression to stiffen further.
Times really had changed……
The upper floors of the labyrinths, that had always been pitch black in the past, were no longer as dark as they had been back then. Even the ground was no longer covered in jagged rocks. Yellow lightbulbs were embedded in the ceiling every twenty meters, while the floor was evenly flattened out, as if asphalt had been poured over it.
Ordinary humans had once been afraid of the dark, but they didn’t seem to be quite as scared anymore. In addition, many of the men discharged from military service after the war were now making a living by exploring the underground world. The labyrinths were no longer a stage monopolized by the dungeon babies.
‘You have to be careful. If you feel you’re in danger, come up to the surface as fast as you can. Don’t worry about the cancellation fees.’ Kim Jin-Woo could still remember how his mother had grabbed him and pleaded for him to stay when he was about to leave their residence earlier in the morning.
Still, he refused to burden his family. He wanted to be useful. Thus, he decided to pull his already problematic schedule forward a little.
Jang Yoon-Joo and her crew ended up completely exhausted. They weren’t too physically tired since Kim Jin-Woo was moderating their pace, but they were mentally exhausted. Walking along the seemingly endless passageway had overwhelmed them.
Fortunately, the place where they decided to set up their camp was a vacant lot of ten square meters. The crew could finally take a break.
“Let’s rest for six hours before we continue. As for the night watch……”
“We’ll take turns. Every turn is an hour and a half.”
Jang Yoon-Joo watched as Kim Jin-Woo and the bodyguards set up their camp at the entrance of the vacant lot. She then asked the cameraman next to her, “Did you manage to get some footage?”
“There’s nothing much to film. I don’t think there will be something interesting enough for us to film until we arrive.”
“That seems to be the case. My eyes are so dry from looking at the light bulbs for so long…”
The conversation between the cameraman and Jang Yoon-Joo continued, until the latter pointed at the men setting up their camp and whispered, “You have to do as I say. To be honest, there’s nothing really interesting about this part of this labyrinth. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry has already disclosed so much info about this place that there’s nothing new at all.”
“Are you sure? He seems to have quite a temper. What if this will cause a problem for us later?” the cameraman whispered back, as though they were plotting something.
“Dungeon babies are notorious for their atrocious tempers. Well, we are technically exploring the upper floors, so I’m not lying about what I said. If you’re worried about it, then you can film depending on his mood,” Jang Yoon-Joo said.
The cameraman sneakily touched the camera in his bag. The camera lens, emanating red light, faced Kim Jin-Woo.
“A dungeon baby with an unknown level, who has never been on-air before…” Jang Yoon-Joo’s eyes glistened as she looked at Kim Jin-Woo.
The underground world was a hostile place.
Although the crew was barely at the entrance of the first floor, it was still a cold place hundreds of meters below the surface. Despite the midsummer heat in the outside world, they felt as if their hands and feet would freeze at any moment. They shivered constantly as they moved. It was understandably difficult to fall asleep in such an environment.
“Ugh, it’s so cold…” In the end, Jang Yoon-Joo gave up sleep and stuck her head out of the sleeping bag. She observed Kim Jin-Woo, who was leaning against the entrance’s wall. She couldn’t see his facial expression as he sat with his back turned to the yellow lightbulbs, casting a long shadow. Still, there was no doubt that he looked awfully familiar with this place.
That was to no one’s surprise. He was a dungeon baby after all. He had spent more time underground than on land, so it made sense for him to be more familiar with the environment down below.
But Kim Jin-Woo was an abnormal individual among dungeon babies. That was because most dungeon babies had become obsessed with the labyrinths after the war. In contrast to them, it had been 5 years since Kim Jin-Woo last set foot into a labyrinth.
Jang Yoon-Joo had heard that he wouldn’t have accepted this job offer if not for his assigned foster parents’ financial difficulties. He truly was an abnormal dungeon baby indeed.
She must have been staring too bluntly due to her strong curiosity, as Kim Jin-Woo raised his head to look at her and said, “You better catch some sleep while you can. Tomorrow will be tougher.” The sound traveled through the quiet campsite with an odd echo.
With butterflies in her stomach, Jang Yoon-Joo frowned and tucked her head back into the sleeping bag.
Kim Jin-Woo let out a bitter smile. It wasn’t just her; the other members of the crew also woke up and took turns to stare at him. Still, he could understand why.
It was obviously uncomfortable to sleep in the unfamiliar and cold underground world. They might only be at the entrance of the first floor, but Kim Jin-Woo could already feel the distinct atmosphere of the labyrinth creeping into his mind.
If someone born and raised in the labyrinth could already feel this much, it would be strange if ordinary humans touring the labyrinth for the first time could sleep well in the presence of such distinctive pressure from the labyrinth.
“By the way, that hunting rifle looks modified. Is it?” Kim Jin-Woo turned his gaze away from Jang Yoon-Joo and asked the bodyguard who was standing opposite him. The bodyguard, who was awake because it was his turn on the night watch, nodded in reply and raised the rifle’s barrel.
The bodyguards would have been worried about entering the labyrinth with generic hunting rifles that had been downgraded as a result of the Gun Control Act. Fortunately, it seemed they had prepared for this journey in their own way.
Still, one thing was for sure—no one among them had any experience inside a labyrinth. Anyone with experience knew that hunting rifles were useless against the under-beasts. It didn’t matter whether they were modified hunting rifles or generic ones.
“Even if we do meet an under-beast, don’t even think about using that gun,” Kim Jin-Woo warned.
The bodyguard immediately assumed that Kim Jin-Woo was underestimating his weapon, which he had painstakingly modified and prepared. Thus, he frowned and turned his head away.
Kim Jin-Woo still wanted to say something, but for a while, he kept quiet to avoid any argument. From the very beginning, no one had been happy to have him in the group anyway.
“A gunshot can instantly attract every under-beast nearby, so don’t use it.” In the end, Kim Jin-Woo still said a word of caution. Despite that, the bodyguard didn’t seem to care.
A high-pitched gunshot rang loud and clear. Those who had already been petrified by the heinous monster right in front of their eyes either collapsed onto the floor or backed away when the shot rang out.
“Stop! I said stop!” Kim Jin-Woo scowled and shouted, but everyone found it hard to hear anything due to the sudden gunshot. They couldn’t hear him at all.
The four bodyguards stepped forward and fired their hunting rifles. The place was immediately inundated with the acrid smell of gunpowder and blood.
Kim Jin-Woo felt his temples heat up. He grabbed one of the bodyguards by the neck and threw the latter aside. Despite having a bigger build than Kim Jin-Woo, the bodyguard fell and collapsed onto the floor with a single move.
“Don’t shoot!” Kim Jin-Woo yelled. Fortunately, the battle was over and the bodyguards lowered their guns.
“You fucker!” The bodyguard got up and swore. There was a commotion as the other bodyguards held their agitated colleague back, but Kim Jin-Woo didn’t even care to glance in their direction.
The under-beast, easily the size of a small car, had horns behind its ears that were as thick as an adult’s forearm. The teeth attached to its protruded snout were as sharp as razors. It was a menacing sight.
The monster, which appeared to be a mixture of a bull and a wolf at first glance, breathed heavily as it lay on the floor in a pool of its own blood and flesh.
“Damn it!” Kim Jin-Woo swore. Why were bad omens always so accurate? He wasn’t even mad at their situation anymore.
“We know you’re a dungeon baby, but we also have to prove we’re worth our salt. We can’t just stand still when a monster like that prowls around right in front of our eyes,” the supposed leader of the four bodyguards said. Kim Jin-Woo just turned his head away.
We can settle matters on a higher floor like this. Don’t be so cocky. The bodyguard’s expression settled into a despicable look of triumph that replaced his formerly blank façade. He must have been mindful of Kim Jin-Woo’s perceived derogatory comment regarding his rifle’s firepower earlier. When Kim Jin-Woo turned around, the other bodyguards also gave him defiant looks.
“O-Oh my god! Did you film this?”
“Yes, I did!”
The crew members were making a fuss, in contrast to the serious atmosphere around Kim Jin-Woo and the bodyguards.
“You’re amazing!” Jang Yoon-Joo gave the bodyguards a thumbs-up. The bodyguards raised their chins proudly in return.
Kim Jin-Woo could feel his body cool down. He was merely a subcontracted laborer all right, but he was still in charge of the crew’s safety in the labyrinth. He calmed himself down as he observed the obstinate crew members.
But there was no time for him to reprimand them all.
The sound of a charging herd reverberated from afar.