Records of Dungeon Travel Chapter 9
#4. The Underground Duke
Two weeks had passed since the Naga’s Labyrinth finished its upgrade. Many things had happened in the meantime. Most notably, there were now creatures in the previously quiet labyrinth.
“Good boy.” Kim Jin-Woo smiled warmly. He had been spending more time in the labyrinth recently.
“Hiss hiss!” A creature flickered its tongue in reply. It was a naga worker that had appeared two weeks ago when the labyrinth was upgraded to Level 2.
It was a human from the waist up and a snake from the waist down. This wasn’t too pleasing to the eye, but Kim Jin-Woo had taken quite a liking to it, since it was a creature that followed him around like he was its mother. He wasn’t concerned about its terrible appearance at all.
“Hiss!” The naga worker flickered its tongue to greet Kim Jin-Woo as it left the storage.
The storage was another facility that had appeared when the labyrinth rose to Level 2. It had been empty at first, but it was now filled with quite a few rocks and grass roots collected by the naga workers. Of course, most of the items were useless and didn’t pique Kim Jin-Woo’s curiosity at all. He was just there to watch the nagas slithering in and out of the storage to do their work.
He was about to close the storage door once the last naga left, but he saw something glisten in the dark. He opened the partially closed storage door and was surprised by what he saw.
A down gem was stuck in between the shapeless lumps of black rocks. It was small and probably not worth a lot, but it was still a valuable jewel amid the seemingly useless collection of items in his storage.
The down gem was barely a quarter of his pinky finger in size. Kim Jin-Woo kept the jewel and inspected the whole storage in hopes of finding more. He labored and breathed in dust for an hour, but he was more than happy to, as he found three down gems in the pile of dirt.
Eventually, he ended up harvesting four down gems at the end of his search.
Kim Jin-Woo visited the same gemologist, who received him in delight, saying, “You’re back!”
Without any delay, Kim Jin-Woo placed the down gems on the table.
“Let me see…” The gemologist inspected the down gems for a long time. But instead of proposing a price, he began to chatter. “Where did you find these? I heard the situation in the underground world hasn’t been very good nowadays. Almost every explorer in the lower levels has already left the place, leaving only the veterans.”
Kim Jin-Woo was surprised. Then, he remembered that he had come across the wolf monkeys on the first floor when they were supposed to be found on the fifth floor. He couldn’t help but flinch upon hearing the gemologist’s words.
“You’re aware, yet you still went into the underground world? Are you young and bold, or just thirsty for cash?” The old gemologist shook his head.
Kim Jin-Woo knew that their conversation would be endless at this rate. He frowned and asked for the appraised value. However, the gemologist kept blabbering. “Recently, the supply of down gems has been low. I won’t ask you where you got these, but what if you were to trade exclusively with me?”
It seemed the monsters on the deeper floors had recently appeared on the shallower floors. Obviously, these monsters were the reason why the ordinary explorers avoided the deeper floors. Since they had been sighted on the shallower floors, there was bound to be a commotion among the explorers.
“In the past, those explorers were dying to explore the deeper floors even when the government was trying to stop them. But look at them now; they’re all waiting for the situation to get better. They’ve become way too complacent,” the gemologist rambled incessantly.
Kim Jin-Woo pondered for a moment after listening to his story. It had already been 5 years since he left the labyrinth. The labyrinths on the shallower floors had already been conquered by the many explorers who scavenged their way through the underground world.
They had accumulated their own knowhow and paved the shortest routes. They had even classified the beasts and creatures found in different regions. Compared to these individuals, Kim Jin-Woo was almost clueless. He decided that it would be wise to know someone like this talkative gemologist.
“Good choice. Not many shops are as credible as mine. I’ll pay more for your down gems if their quality is similar to the ones you previously brought here.”
Unfortunately, the gemologist was just too talkative. Kim Jin-Woo could learn about the situation in the underground world thanks to him, but his ears felt as if they would bleed while listening to the man.
“But first, the appraisal value…” Kim Jin-Woo began.
The gemologist, who had been chattering away, clicked his tongue in disappointment. “Tsk. It seems all tunnel diggers are impatient.”
Kim Jin-Woo tapped the down gem instead of replying to the gemologist. In return, the gemologist wore his loupes and began to appraise the value of the down gems with some dissatisfaction.
“Let me see. Where did you find these good-quality ones? They’re small, but high in quality. Don’t expect too much though; I can’t give you much for this size. I’ll pay you 3 million won for the bigger one and 2 million won for the smaller ones.”
It was more than what Kim Jin-Woo had expected. He was puzzled at the stated price, which was higher than the market rate, but he soon understood why.
Down gems were rare to begin with. The invasion of the creatures from the deeper floors into the shallower floors had disrupted the supply of down gems. In that context, it was unsurprising to see a price increase.
“It’s 9 million won altogether, but I’ll add a 500 thousand won bonus. Think of it as a greeting, since we’re going to see each other more often.” The gemologist had added 500 thousand won of his own accord.
Kim Jin-Woo had no reason to refuse. When he grabbed the cash and got up from his seat, the gemologist frowned and said, “We’re going to be business partners. Aren’t you even going to tell me your name?”
The gemologist had a point. Kim Jin-Woo replied with his name and asked the old man for his name, but what he received was an absurd reply.
“A youngster like you wants to call me by my name? Just call me Mr. Baek. Everyone calls me that.”
Kim Jin-Woo felt as if he had taken a loss. He shook his head and left the office.
Kim Jin-Woo discovered more down gems among the pile of rocks brought by the naga workers. They were small, like the ones he had previously found, but Kim Jin-Woo was satisfied since it was free money from the first floor.
He had already collected over 21 million won. At this point, he realized that this labyrinth of his was a stable source of income. It was especially great for Kim Jin-Woo, who ordinarily had to work part-time because he was only good at exploring the dark tunnels of the underground world.
He could also become good friends with Mr. Baek. He was a good business partner, although he was a bit of a chatterbox.
One day, Mr. Baek made a passing remark. “I’ve heard the news that there will be temporary restrictions on the entrances of our country’s labyrinths. The lousier explorers are unhappy, but the dungeon babies and the veteran explorers are unconcerned.”
“The situation on the first floor doesn’t seem very good,” Kim Jin-Woo replied.
“The standards of the explorers have dropped a lot in the last five years. Forget about adapting to the changes happening on the first floor; they can’t even do anything without a manual to guide them. Since the government needs those useless bums for profit, they’ve placed temporary restrictions to control the situation and to prevent them from needlessly dying.”
Kim Jin-Woo’s eyes narrowed upon listening to Mr. Baek’s words.
The wolf monkeys were far too cunning and ferocious for an ordinary explorer to handle. Even a dungeon baby would find it hard to guarantee their survival. This was why it wasn’t surprising for the government to restrict access to the underground world. It was all thanks to those beasts.
“Well, you’re a true explorer compared to those people. I can tell from how you’re consistently entering the underground world amidst this chaos.” Mr. Baek gave him a thumbs up and praised him.
Kim Jin-Woo put up his guard. He knew to be cautious around someone who spoke sweet words. Furthermore, he couldn’t reveal the source of his down gems to anyone.
“I can’t find anyone useful around here. I may be able to trust you though.” Indeed, Mr. Baek seemed to have an ulterior motive. When Kim Jin-Woo stared at him without a word, he gave him a cunning smile. “As such, would you be interested in a job?”
Mr. Baek sounded as if he were offering something in goodwill. However, Kim Jin-Woo shook his head instantly. As he was just getting to know the importance of his very own labyrinth, there was no reason for him to step out of his comfort zone and accept Mr. Baek’s offer.
“Think again. I can only share the details with you after you’ve accepted my offer, but I can guarantee that you’ll hit the jackpot if you succeed,” Mr. Baek offered again, but Kim Jin-Woo remained steadfast in his decision.
“What’s the issue? You’ll go in and out of the labyrinths regardless of this job, anyway. Why not earn some extra cash on the way?”
Although Kim Jin-Woo had left the underground world a long time ago, he wasn’t so delusional as to believe these absurd words.
There were no jackpots in the labyrinth. One only reaped what one sowed. A job with such a high reward was likely to be a dangerous one that could take countless lives, including the lives of dungeon babies.
“Tsk, I’m not supposed to tell you this until you’ve accepted my offer… but listen.”
Kim Jin-Woo was convinced that the task was a perilous one, but Mr. Baek hurriedly clung onto him. The latter wouldn’t be so desperate to hire someone if the job were an easy one. After all, the shallower floors might have been a mess right now, but there would always be vagabonds willing to risk their lives for cash.
Kim Jin-Woo stood up. He was about to turn away, but he froze when he heard Mr. Baek’s story.
“Hell spiders have been spotted on the first floor. I’m sure you know them. How many people were killed by those bastards during the labyrinth wars? They’re now on the first floor, even though they’re usually found on the tenth floor and below.”
Mr. Baek assumed Kim Jin-Woo was interested, as he had stopped moving. Thus, he began to explain quickly. “Hell spiders are tricky to handle, but they all possess down gems. I’m talking about good ones. We can become millionaires overnight just by catching one…”
“Where did they witness these hell spiders?” Kim Jin-Woo’s expression was completely different from before. When Mr. Baek saw his furrowed expression resembling that of an evil spirit, he kept his mouth shut.
That didn’t last long, however. Mr. Baek was delighted by how Kim Jin-Woo was finally showing interest in his story. “It’s good that we’re on the same page. They were found not too far from the Paju gate. I heard they were migrating somewhere in a swarm.”
Hell spiders. The soldiers of the detestable underground duke had appeared once again, right when Kim Jin-Woo had just become the master of a labyrinth.
“A team… Is there one yet?”
“We do have some volunteers, but they’re all novices. Rumors will spread if I go about asking around, which will only attract incompetent people. I need real talent for this.” Mr. Baek seemed certain that Kim Jin-Woo would take his offer. He was now talking without reservations. “Don’t you have a family to feed? I heard your financial situation hasn’t been too great recently…”
Kim Jin-Woo slammed his fist down on the hard wooden table between him and Mr. Baek, which split precisely in half and crashed onto the floor. Mr. Baek shut his mouth again.
“You did a background check on me?” Kim Jin-Woo asked angrily.
“Ahem. Pardon me. I had to check whether you were credible,” Mr. Baek said.
“At the same time, you probably intended to investigate the source of these good-quality down gems.” Kim Jin-Woo’s polite appearance was nowhere to be seen. Instead, he mumbled coldly and growled with a fierce expression.
However, Mr. Baek remained composed, as if he had something up his sleeves. “Most people in this industry lead a rough life. Their parents and siblings have all been killed, so they don’t have anything to lose. Those people can hardly be trusted. On the contrary, you have decent parents and a cute sister. One becomes prudent with things to protect, so I’m sure you won’t break a promise that easily.”
It was a clear threat.
Kim Jin-Woo’s face stiffened and turned cold. His icy expression looked more terrifying than his angry one. “If… anything happens to my family…” He spoke slowly, enunciating every word. “You will witness what a rampaging dungeon baby is capable of.”
It was no simple threat. Many dungeon babies had once wreaked havoc because they couldn’t assimilate into society.
Even Mr. Baek, who had managed to maintain a calm expression until now, went pale as he nodded immediately.
“I’ll excuse myself then. I apologize for the table.” Kim Jin-Woo seemed to have regained his composure in that brief moment. He greeted Mr. Baek as per usual and left the office.
Mr. Baek remained, staring dumbly at the destroyed table.
Meanwhile, Kim Jin-Woo left the office with a stern look on his face. He had recalled unpleasant memories. Nightmares, in fact. He could vividly imagine the monster that had swallowed countless of his brother-like friends. His whole world back then had become engulfed in darkness.
Kim Jin-Woo shut his eyes tight and gritted his teeth. His wrath frightened a passerby and made him run away. His face was distorted, similar to an evil spirit’s.
That night, Kim Jin-Woo had his first nightmare in a long time. He was a nameless underground tunnel digger, not a dungeon baby. There were many humans around him. They were soon trampled and murdered by gigantic spiders.
The underground duke watched this scene. He was one of the instigators of the underground war, and was also Kim Jin-Woo’s sworn enemy after he had ruined his life. The contrast was strong, however; the duke was vicious and strong, whereas Kim Jin-Woo was insignificant.
Kim Jin-Woo woke up from his nightmare with a gasp, and he clutched his body tightly. He could still recall the six sinister pupils of the underground duke.
There was no time for hesitation. He clenched his teeth and opened the portal.
Kim Jin-Woo felt better when he saw his cat leap away from his arms. He realized he wasn’t the only one who could cross through the portal. The cat snooped around the open gate and disappeared into the dark.
Kim Jin-Woo got up.
[Naga’s Labyrinth] (Active)
Master Kim Jin-Woo (Level 5)Level 2 Labyrinth (Size 9×9)Durability 1050/1050FacilitiesMaster Room (Level 1)Portal (On Cooldown 23:58:11 0/1)Gate (100/100)Storage (346/500)Naga’s Nest (4/10)
* Level 3 facilities can only be activated after upgrading.
Military Strength (4/10)Naga Worker (Level 1) 4/1
The storage space was already more than half full. It was the hard-earned result of the four naga workers. Still, it wasn’t enough.
Kim Jin-Woo pondered. He had been at ease for too long. Five years away from the underground world had caused him to lose touch with reality. Thanks to Mr. Baek’s words, he realized that he had become much too idle. Thus, he began to sharpen his skills.
Just thinking about the detestable hell spiders made Kim Jin-Woo feel a shiver down his spine. He could still recall the scream of his comrades as they pleaded for mercy, all while that underground duke–that heinous spider–watched over them with a smile.
Kim Jin-Woo breathed in and out for a long time. He grabbed a down gem barely the size of a fingernail, that had been collected by his workers in his absence. He then walked toward the master room.
Unlike before, he threw the down gem onto the altar without much hesitation.
Kim Jin-Woo had been avoiding reality because he was powerless. However, his attitude changed when reality began to creep toward him once again.
[You have sacrificed a lowest-grade down gem to the altar. You need 9 more down gems of the same grade to upgrade the labyrinth.]
[The higher the grade of the down gem, the more efficient it is.]
[You can summon personnel using down gems.]
“Damn it!” Kim Jin-Woo swore at the sequence of messages. He could almost sense the hideous spiders mocking him from afar. He barely regained his composure and sat on the naga’s throne with newfound determination.
“Summon personnel, huh…” As upgrading the labyrinth wasn’t an option, Kim Jin-Woo focused on the last message. Messages began to fill his screen as though they were replies to his mumbling.
Naga Worker (Level 1) (1)A worker that gathers resources and handles difficult work. Its combat strength is the lowest among the nagas.Naga Soldier (Level 1) (2)A guard of the labyrinth with nothing to fear. Combat is its specialty.Naga Maid (Level 1) (2) In charge of the chores in the labyrinth. It has high intelligence and is thus an efficient worker. However, it is a noncombatant without any fighting capabilities.
Kim Jin-Woo contemplated as he scrolled through the list of summonable personnel. He wondered which naga would be the most helpful in his current predicament.
After agonizing about it for a long time, he finally made his decision. “I shall…”