Screams erupted everywhere, and the worker who was standing right next to him grabbed his pickaxe while saying, “Jin-Woo, you must survive.”
The air in the tunnel was humid and soaked up the dust, and yet it was insufficient to fully absorb all the dust that had formed. Thanks to the collapsed wall, the dust spread like a mist. Coughs erupted from all over the place.
Even before all the coughing and dust clouds subsided, a battle had commenced.
The first to break into the battlefield was the striped spider, which had been screaming wildly from the beginning. It began to run through the dust even before the wall had fully collapsed. One of the workers who was unable to avoid it was trampled by its charge, and his head was unfortunately crushed into smithereens.
The other workers freaked out at the instantaneous death of their colleague and hurriedly pressed up against the sides of the tunnel, but were soon swept away by the endless waves of creatures that filled the space.
Kim Jin-Woo’s eyes widened with fear as he watched what was happening in front of him. The other workers had pleaded for him to hide himself, but he had yet to come to his senses, mesmerized by the horrific scene unfolding before his eyes.
At the sight of such a heartbreaking scene, the former soldier, Jang Ki-Soo, gritted his teeth as he wrapped Kim Jin-Woo in his skinny yet toned arms.
They pressed their bodies hard against the wall to the point that it was hard for them to breathe, but Jang Ki-Soo knew that they had nowhere else to hide. He felt humiliated at his circumstances.
He was a proud former South Korean Special Forces officer who had once feared nothing with only a gun in hand, but he was now trembling in fear holding only a pickaxe. But that was only because the giant monsters passing by in front of him were something no human could ever match up to.
He felt helpless, but with the trembling Kim Jin-Woo in his arms, he mustered all the courage he could gather and raised his spirit.
The battlefield was as ferocious as the creature soldiers with fearsome appearances. The giant spiders roared, and unknown creatures with tentacles ripped them apart. Yet other creatures appeared from somewhere else and destroyed those creatures.
This deadly battlefield was no place for a mere human. To make matters worse, a huge monster running toward them from behind caught Jang Ki-Soo’s eye. It was a spider the size of a house, covered with ominous markings.
A worker named Ho-young screamed to warn others of the gargantuan spider running through the tunnel. “Run forward! Otherwise, you’ll be trampled!”
With that warning, Jang Ki-Soo grabbed Kim Jin-Woo and ran forward like a maniac. They crossed the collapsed wall, and what awaited them was a battlefield straight out of hell. Corpses of creatures were piled up high like a mountain, and pungent blue blood had been spilled everywhere.
The creatures from the other side were too busy fighting with creatures from their side to notice them. A man named Lee Ji-Suk hurriedly ran past them along with the other workers. Ho-young, who was following them from the rear, noticed something and was shocked.
The others didn’t seem to notice it, but the creature corpses that lay collapsed on the floor all belonged to their side of the tunnel. A huge, mysterious enemy creature was easily shredding the spiders apart.
As soon as the house-sized spider roared and jumped out of the tunnel, it screamed while biting the nape of the bestial enemy creature, which was half its size.
Jang Ki-Soo was momentarily stunned by the incredible scene, but quickly came to his senses thanks to the other workers shouting at him.
Park Hyung-Tae, a former singer who always boasted that he had traveled to all sorts of places before he was brought here and sang whenever he had spare time, was caught up in the brutal battle of the creatures; his whole body exploded. He was trampled underfoot by an allied creature who was retreating from the attacks of the enemy creature.
Despite the horrific screams of agony from all over, the workers continued their march forward. They were still at the center of the battlefield.
Due to the immense strength of the creatures from both sides, a long line had formed on the front lines. Several of the allied creatures were fighting against one of the enemy creatures in what was a truly chaotic battle.
Lee Ji-Suk and the other workers continued to sneak around the battlefield.
The creatures were formidable in size, with the smallest one being around three meters tall. There was no way that it would be entirely safe for the workers to sneak past them.
“Aah!” One of the workers was randomly caught by a poisonous mist and was vaporized. It was Jung Tae-Soo, the baker, who had once said that one day he would get the ingredients he needed and serve the best bread ever to his colleagues.
The workers continued on without a moment to mourn. They avoided the poisonous mist and the giant creatures as they trudged on, but they still found themselves in the center of the battlefield.
They were now in a more dangerous situation due to the invasion of the allied creatures, and they were desperate for a way out.
“Fuck! If we keep this up, we’re all gonna die!” Lee Ji-Seok, the non-commissioned officer who had until now kept up his composure as expected of a soldier, began freaking out.
But his panicked cries weren’t unwarranted, as many of his fellow workers had died while traversing the battlefield aimlessly. Aside from Kim Jin-Woo, there were only five others left.
Lee Ji-Seok from the Republic of Korea Army, army officer Jang Ki-Soo, chef Oh Hyun-Il, engineer Lee Ji-Woong, and reporter Jung Yung-Tae.
They appeared to be in despair. They were fully ignoring the presence of the creatures, and were left hopeless at the realization that they were going to die helplessly.
“I think there’s no other way. It might be too difficult for us to group up and try to survive together,” Oh Hyun-Il, the former chef, muttered bitterly. Lee Ji-Woong was about to say something to him, but when the chef pointed to his broken leg, he bit his tongue.
During the escape, it seemed he had been struck by the poison mist, and his right leg had started to melt grotesquely. Despite what must have been a great deal of pain, he had a look of admirable resolve on his face.
“I’ll be bait; you guys take the chance and run as far as you can.” Oh Hyun-Il then limped ahead despite his injured leg without even giving a chance for the others to respond.
“Hey, you monstrous bastards! I am Chef Oh Hyun-Il, who will one day prepare the best dinner ever with your own flesh!” He ran toward the creatures with that off-beat remark, but none of the workers laughed.
Jang Ki-Soo shouted at the remaining workers, who had sad looks on their faces. “What are you doing!? Hurry up and run! Do you want Hyun-Il’s sacrifice to be in vain!?” With that, he took Kim Jin-Woo into his arms once more and ran forward.
It was in a slightly different direction from Oh Hyun-Il, who had run ahead first, but the creatures heard Oh Hyun-Il's shouts and moved toward him.
Jang Ki-Soo ran through the small gap that had appeared in between them.
Then, ahead of him, Lee Ji-Woong began to take the lead and cried, “Take care of Kim Jin-Woo!” It was a statement that seemed to affirm his death, but nobody questioned it.
On this battlefield, everybody knew what it meant to be the first to lead.
And as expected, Lee Ji-Woong was suddenly sliced into a dozen pieces by a sharp blade. It was one of the traps installed in the labyrinth. There wasn’t even a trace of the trap visible in the place where he had been split apart, only blood and flesh scattered all over the place.
“Damn it!” Jang Ki-Soo cursed. Despite their different origins and character, they were all like family to him in this hellish place. And one by one, they were all dying in front of him, and he was unable to bear the pain.
He briefly looked at Kim Jin-Woo in his arms before talking to Lee Ji-Seok, barking, “Give me a pickaxe!”
Perhaps he didn’t hear it while he was running frantically, but Lee Ji-Seok continued running ahead. When Jang Ki-Soo called for him once more, Lee Ji-Seok stopped and turned around.
But upon seeing the look on his face, Lee Ji-Seok snapped. “Shut up! You may be my superior back on the surface, but here, I am your senior! So shut up and look after Jin-Woo!” With that, he continued to run ahead.
Oh Hyun-Il's sacrifice seemed to have not been in vain, as they had discovered a path between the creatures. Lee Ji-Seok, who had run ahead without hesitation, found a small tunnel at the end of the square and informed the others. “If we can reach over there, we can make it out alive!”
But their hopes were short-lived. One of the enemy creatures was blocking the passageway with its large body.
Intentional or not, the creature didn’t even look at them as it blocked the entrance. Jang Ki-Soo and the others cursed at this unfortunate turn of events.
“Fuck, I really wanted to live.”
At the front, Lee Ji-Seok looked back for a moment before starting to run wildly ahead. Jang Ki-Soo didn’t even get a chance to dissuade him.
Lee Jin-Seok was following the example of Oh Hyun-Il, who had sacrificed himself earlier, and he shouted loudly to attract the attention of the creature. Shortly after, he was crushed by the creature into an unrecognizable slab of flesh.
Jang Ki-Soo and Jung Yung-Tae clenched their teeth as they pressed on forward toward the passageway that was now open.
Seeing the passageway as they rushed toward it with their mouths wide open, they sprinted through the final stretch, with no thought in their minds other than to survive.
They breathed deeply as they finally sat down upon reaching the passageway. Despite the brutality of the battlefield they had just witnessed, the passageway was dead silent.
“Huff! Those creatures won’t be able to enter through such a narrow passageway,” Jung Yung-Tae choked out as he cleared his throat. Jang Ki-Soo seemed to agree, as he finally put Kim Jin-Woo down on the floor.
Kim Jin-Woo had passed out for a long time due to shock, and was now breathing deeply as he lay unconscious.
When Kim Jin-Woo regained consciousness, only Jung Yung-Tae remained. The faces of his fellow workers still vividly remained in his memory, and yet, now there was only Jung Yung-Tae left.
Kim Jin-Woo was still ignorant, and he just stared blankly.
"I'm sorry. I don't think I can protect you anymore." Jung Yung-Tae, the last remaining survivor alongside Kim Jin-Woo, was dying. His stomach had been pierced by an unknown skewer.
Despite not understanding the concept of death, Kim Jin-Woo started to feel his chest becoming heavy at Jung Yung-Tae’s words. He was feeling upset at the fact that despite being at death’s door, Jung Yung-Tae was more worried about Kim Jin-Woo’s well-being than his own.
“Poor Jin-Woo, who’s going to take care of you now…” With his blood-stained hands, he tried to caress Kim Jin-Woo’s cheeks, but was too weak to even raise his hands. Kim Jin-Woo then unexpectedly grabbed Jung Yung-Tae’s hands and placed them on his cheeks.
“Ah……” Kim Jin-Woo couldn’t understand the reason behind it, but Jung Yung-Tae started to cry.
Seeing Kim Jin-Woo grab his bloody hands and constantly rub them over his cheeks, Jung Yung-Tae’s heart broke with pain even greater than what his body was physically feeling.
“Our Jin-Woo… Our little brother…” As his vision darkened, he continued to call out to Kim Jin-Woo. As Kim Jin-Woo struggled to piece words together, Jung Yung-Tae bit down hard and gritted his teeth.
“You have to survive. At the very least, you must survive this hell.” Jung Yung-Tae could no longer hear anything as the world around him turned silent. He struggled to get his final words out. “Even if you have to feed off their disgusting flesh and drink their blood, you have to survive.”
His voice grew weaker. “Until you survive this hell and experience the outer world for yourself, you cannot die.”
Kim Jin-Woo perked up his ears as Jung Yung-Tae’s voice trailed off. He wanted to hear what the latter had to say next, but there was nothing to be heard.
“Yung-Tae bro?” He called out Jung Yung-Tae’s name, but there was no response.
In between Jung Yung-Tae’s barely closed eyelids, only lifeless pupils remained, and his body had turned colder than the world around them.
But not knowing what death was, Kim Jin-Woo fell asleep beside Jung Yung-Tae, thinking he had fallen asleep. Even in the past, when they had been beaten badly by the Spider Overseer, all they had to do was to fall asleep and they would wake up the following day.
But when Kim Jin-Woo woke up, Jung Yung-Tae’s eyes didn’t open. Kim Jin-Woo shook him several times but he didn’t move, leaving Kim Jin-Woo feeling confused.
After a while, Kim Jin-Woo started to feel hungry.
‘Even if you have to feed off their disgusting flesh and drink their blood, you have to survive.’
He remembered Jung Yung-Tae’s final words and looked around him. Luckily, there was a creature’s corpse nearby. It had a disgusting appearance, as well as skin that resembled that of the skewer that had pierced Jung Yung-Tae’s body. It was truly atrocious to look at, but Kim Jin-Woo was unaffected.
He felt around the creature, looking for a soft spot on its body. He noticed that the stomach of the creature was softer than the other parts of its body, and instinctively, he bit into it.
Contrary to the soft texture, the flesh itself was tough, and Kim Jin-Woo bit through its flesh for a long time before finally collapsing beside it, full from the feast.
But he was reminded of Jung Yung-Tae and Jang Ki-Soo, and quickly looked back at where they were. He thought that once they woke up, they too would be hungry, just like him.
With that in mind, he dragged the creature’s corpse over to them, and went back to sleep in Jung Yung-Tae’s embrace.
A very long time had passed since then.
Kim Jin-Woo had nearly eaten all the insect-like creatures around him, and he was starting to get anxious. The thought that the other two may be sleeping forever frightened him.
But thinking that they were simply too deeply in pain and required more rest than usual, he waited for a few more days. By then, Kim Jin-Woo had eaten the remaining creatures down to their bones.
With no change in his circumstances, Kim Jin-Woo started to cry. He shook his two friends’ bodies hard, as if to tell them that it was finally time to wake up.
Jung Yung-Tae’s head dropped off his rotten corpse. The head was horribly crushed, but Kim Jin-Woo burst out crying, thinking it was his fault.
After crying for a long time, he finally fell asleep out of exhaustion. He woke up to the sight of the severed head and cried again, and this repeated a few more times.
Finally, after a couple of days, he was no longer crying, but instead, was staring blankly at the head. Jung Yung-Tae’s corpse had bloated and turned red.
To make matters worse, Kim Jin-Woo fell sick with fever racking his body, and he lost consciousness a few times before finally gathering enough strength to stand on his feet.
And when he did, he found a giant spider staring at him with its big eyes. Once again, he was captured by the spiders.
Kim Jin-Woo finally had a realization as he was dragged back into the Duke’s labyrinth. The workers, just like himself, were some of the many slaves that had been brought over during the war, and those like him were descendants of those slaves. And countless other children were enslaved just like him.
“Mm…” Kim Jin-Woo squinted. He was strangely aware that he was dreaming.
No, it was more like a journey into his past than a dream.
Having remembered his miserable days as a tunnel digger, his expression was tired and he looked like a mess. But his expression quickly hardened as he noticed a strange feeling.
It was different from an ordinary dream. It was no simple nightmare, either. There was a strange sense of distortion between dreams and reality.
He quickly drew his sword. The feeling of remembering himself as a weak tunnel digger disappeared, and his identity as Conqueror Kim Jin-Woo came forth. A blue stream of light flowed from his eyes as it slowly spread through the darkness around him.
“Come out!” Kim Jin-Woo stared hard into the darkness as he barked an order with a thunderous voice. “I’m in a foul mood right now. Come out when I’m telling you nicely to.”
The sharp look in his eyes indicated that he was serious. Perhaps due to that, the strange lump in the darkness started to move.
“Nice to meet you, Undefeated Commander, and the one and only Conqueror of an entire floor.”
An ordinary-looking silhouette stepped forward from the shadows. But his blue skin and the horns on his head indicated he was anything but ordinary.
But Kim Jin-Woo felt a sense of familiarity from this unknown being. “You’re…”