“Are you saying that everyone except Ms. Jang Yoon-Joo is dead?” Manager Moo asked.
“Yes. They were all killed before I could do anything,” Kim Jin-Woo replied.
The Labyrinth Management Office manager’s expression didn’t change, even after hearing that there were only two survivors. He seemed tired of hearing about sacrifices and wanted to hear something new.
That seemed heartless, considering that eight people had died. But what could he do? People often lost their lives in the underground world. Even now, his table was filled with documents regarding those who had died or been declared missing in the labyrinths.
“Are you sure you weren’t mistaken? This is the first time I’ve heard of wolf monkeys on the first floor,” the manager said.
Considering how he wanted to hear something new, the manager didn’t ask what happened with the crew in detail. Instead, he talked about the changes happening in the labyrinth.
“The details of what happened are all recorded in the camera I gave you. I was too busy ensuring Ms. Jang Yoon-Joo’s safety. I couldn’t pay attention to anything else. It’ll be faster for you to check the footage,” Kim Jin-Woo answered. He knew he would be caught in a complicated situation at this rate, so he quickly got up from his seat.
Fortunately, the manager agreed that checking the footage was the foremost priority. “I won’t go far,” he said briefly.
Kim Jin-Woo hesitated before beginning to speak. “What about the payment—”
Kim Jin-Woo found it hard to talk about the payment when most of the crew members he was supposed to protect had been killed. However, he refused to get involved in this situation any further and hoped for a quick monetary settlement. In the first place, he had only agreed to enter the labyrinth for money.
“Ah, the client must be in a confused state of mind. We shall take care of it.” The manager seemed to have noticed Kim Jin-Woo’s worries, as he quickly reassured him.
Kim Jin-Woo felt his face heat up. He escaped the office in a hurry.
“To Hapjeong station, please.” He flagged a taxi and headed to Hapjeong station, which was close to where his family lived. They had been worried because he’d entered the labyrinth.
Indeed, he had received ten messages telling him to return home as soon as possible once he was done with his work. They were worrying a little too much, but Kim Jin-Woo was hardly bothered by it. Instead, he smiled.
However, his face stiffened when he found a geometric snake pattern on the back of his hand. It hadn’t been there two weeks ago when he had entered the underground world. He stared at the tattoo in confusion and covered it with his other hand.
A translucent status window popped up at that moment.
Level 1 Labyrinth (Synchronization Rate 16.1%)Durability 39/1050FacilitiesMaster Room (Level 1)Portal (Ready for Use 1/1)UndisclosedThe master of the labyrinth has insufficient ability.The labyrinth’s facilities cannot be activated.“What?!” Kim Jin-Woo exclaimed when he saw the strange message. He couldn’t help but think he had lost his mind.
Startled, the taxi driver glanced at him through the rearview mirror. Kim Jin-Woo could sense the curiosity in the driver’s gaze, but he was too occupied to care about it. His head felt as if it were about to burst from thinking about what had happened to him in the labyrinth.
<The liberator of 18,230 snakes shall inherit the dark underground world and sit on the throne of the nagas.>
A strange voice rang in his head. At the same time, a black snake leaped out of the stone table and bit his arm.
<You are far too weak and insignificant to bear the weight of the crown. But time is what I have the least of now. This might as well be destiny.>
A strangely remorseful voice resounded. Before Kim Jin-Woo could find out who was speaking, the voice rang out one last time before it disappeared.
<I wish you luck.>
A translucent status window appeared.
Level 1 Labyrinth (Synchronization Rate 1.25%)Durability 39/1050FacilitiesMaster Room (Level 1)Portal (Ready for Use 1/1)UndisclosedThe master of the labyrinth has insufficient ability.The labyrinth’s facilities cannot be activated.Kim Jin-Woo thought he was seeing things after that fall. However, the vivid texts didn’t disappear even after a while. He hesitated before reaching out to touch the words, and saw them dispersing like a mist before gathering once again to form coherent sentences. He found the situation all too surreal.
Since then, Kim Jin-Woo had calmed down enough to accept the hologram-like texts. After all, not many things made sense in the labyrinth. He could still accept this turn of events in the end.
For some unknown reason, the former labyrinth master had given him this labyrinth. The place he had stood in back then was far too pathetic to be called the ‘throne of the nagas’, but he knew it was an important place containing the core of the labyrinth.
Kim Jin-Woo did a few experiments and found out that the translucent window and texts appeared whenever he covered the black snake tattoo with his other hand, but that was the extent of his discoveries.
He tried his best to remember the details of that encounter, but unfortunately, he had been so preoccupied with ensuring Jang Yoon-Joo’s safety and escaping the labyrinth that he hadn’t even noticed his broken arm had recovered. Now, he was dumbfounded to find that his arm had actually healed so fast.
“We’re here,” the taxi driver said.
Kim Jin-Woo had arrived at his destination amid his deep thoughts. He fished out a 10 thousand won note from his wallet and gave it to the taxi driver. He then got off the taxi and headed home.
“I’m home……” Kim Jin-Woo said casually, but he soon realized that something was off. When he looked inside the house, he found his mother with a stern expression and Kim Hyun-Ji with swollen eyes, as though she had cried for a long while. “Mother, what’s happening……” he began.
“What are you waiting for, Hyun-Ji?! Hurry up and return that to your brother!” His mother fiercely scolded Kim Hyun-Ji, having realized how the latter suddenly had so much money.
Kim Jin-Woo’s eyes widened. He rarely saw his mother in such an enraged state. Kim Hyun-Ji, her nose reddened, handed over an envelope to him.
“Mother—” Kim Jin-Woo began.
“Your father and I aren’t so pathetic as to sacrifice you for Hyun-Ji’s wedding.”
Kim Jin-Woo immediately understood the situation. His mother had been bound to ask where the money for the wedding dowry came from. Kim Hyun-Ji, an honest girl, would certainly have told her the truth.
“No, I’ve already put aside the compensation I received from the job. That money is my savings from before—” he began.
“We may not be blood-related, but you’re looking down on us too much. Did you really think I wouldn’t find out?” Kim Jin-Woo’s mother cut him off.
“Sorry.” In the end, Kim Jin-Woo gave up and bowed in apology.
“Take it,” his mother insisted.
He felt remorseful when he pictured Kim Hyun-Ji being scolded for selling her brother out for her own benefit.
However, his mother accepted no compromise when it came to such issues. Kim Jin-Woo could only accept the envelope from Kim Hyun-Ji, who wept and disappeared into her room.
“I thought I raised her well. But it seems I was mistaken, since she’s become so selfish. Raising a child sure is hard……” His mother clicked her tongue.
Kim Jin-Woo tried to persuade her again. “Mother, I have nowhere to spend that money anyway. I still think it should be used for Hyun-Ji’s wedding.”
His mother raised her eyebrows. It caught him by surprise, as it wasn’t a common sight. She spoke in a sorrowful voice despite her furious expression. “I was worried and contacted the Labyrinth Management Office. I heard ten people went, but only you and another lady survived. Hyun-Ji wouldn’t have accepted that money if she knew that you would be in danger.”
Kim Jin-Woo had hidden the details of his job from his mother, but he clearly hadn’t expected her to be so worried she would call the Labyrinth Management Office. As his legal guardians, his parents had the authority to request any information related to him whenever necessary. Thus, the manager couldn’t possibly lie.
“People will criticize us once they hear about this. A lot of children like you were injured because of greedy adults. Being labeled as one is the last thing I want, so keep that in mind.” Kim Jin-Woo’s mother turned her head away and refused to talk about it anymore.
Seeing this, all he could do was sigh without a word.
Kim Jin Woo was worried about Kim Hyun-Ji’s mental condition, but his mind was currently occupied with the events that had happened in the labyrinth. More specifically, he was worried about the translucent status window that popped up whenever he covered the snake tattoo. Only upon searching on the Internet did he notice that his status window resembled those of certain games that boys of his age frequently played.
Kim Jin-Woo had put all his effort into surviving the labyrinth in his youth. When he grew older and came to the surface, he found it difficult to mingle with children of his age.
Of course, he had received invitations from his so-called ‘friends’ to play games, but he had failed to notice their appeal, as he had already experienced countless life-and-death situations in the dark underground world.
Kim Jin-Woo, who had neglected every game he had encountered after playing them once or twice, was now ironically standing in front of a status window reminiscent of those games.
Level 1 Labyrinth (Synchronization Rate 16.1%)Durability 39/1050FacilitiesMaster Room (Level 1)Portal (Ready for Use 1/1)UndisclosedThe master of the labyrinth has insufficient ability.The labyrinth’s facilities cannot be activated.“Naga’s Labyrinth, huh……” He had seen this status window a number of times now, but he began to inspect it once more. Come to think of it, there was a new circular button that had the word ‘portal’ next to it.
With his hand hovering in the air, Kim Jin-Woo accidentally touched the ‘portal’ button. Immediately afterward, his vision blurred.