While reading through the documents containing information on different dungeons, Min Sung glanced at Ho Sung, who was mumbling something and pouting. Seeing that, Min Sung put the documents down on the table and stared intently at Ho Sung.
“D-did you have a question?” Ho Sung asked, looking cautiously at Min Sung.
“You know, don’t you?”
“That you tried to kill and rob me at one point.”
“Of-of course! Which is exactly why I’m here! Being a loyal servant, doing my absolute best to serve you at all times…”
“I’m not sure how accurate that statement is. It seems to me that you have a lot to say,” Min Sung said, nodding as he opened his inventory. Then, as he was about to unsheathe his crystal dagger, Ho Sung sprung up from his seat with tears streaming down his cheeks, saying, “Why must you doubt my loyalty!?”
“… What?” Min Sung asked, furrowing his brow.
“Do you even know what was on my mind?” Ho Sung asked while tears dripped down his chin. Puzzled, Min Sung tilted his head and stared at him. “I was regretting bringing you to such a terrible coffee shop! The coffee’s terrible here! They must’ve hired a new barista or something! Sir, I know a place just around the corner. They serve the most aromatic, and flavorful Americano…”
“What are you talking about? Our coffee isn’t even out yet,” Min Sung said, eyeing the buzzer, which had just started to vibrate.
“Th-that’s because I have a terrific nose for coffee! This coffee you’re smelling? It’s far from quality!”
“Just go get our coffee,” Min Sung said as he put the crystal dagger in his inventory.
After sending Ho Sung to bring their coffee, Min Sung read through the documents again. According to them, there were seventy-nine dungeons across Korea, including those of the labyrinth variety. Only five labyrinths existed in the entire country, and unlike ordinary dungeons that had already been conquered, the unconquered labyrinths were brimming with invaluable items. However, most hunters were hesitant to go into one for a simple reason: the difficulty. Most labyrinths were significantly more difficult than ordinary dungeons, and because of that, there were more hunters who had never made it back alive than those who had survived, which made labyrinths even less appealing.
Since the learning curve was far too steep for most ordinary hunters, labyrinth explorations were usually left to the Hunters’ Institutes, which enabled them to monopolize the labyrinths, which meant the stronger the institutes became, the wider the gap between the rich and the poor. The world had always been unfair, and the Hunters’ Institutes were the ones who had the world at their disposal. That had been the extent of the information on the documents.
“Your iced Americano, sir,” Ho Sung said as he handed the coffee to Min Sung and took a seat. Putting the bundle of documents down, Min Sung looked down at the coffee in the disposable cup. Surrounding the crushed ice that resembled an iceberg, was the dark, rich color of the Americano.
‘Is this gonna be any good?”
He had been nineteen years old when he had been summoned to the Demonic Realm. Prior to that, Min Sung had no recollection of ever having had an Americano. After all, it hadn’t been common for a high school student to be in the habit of drinking coffee.
‘Let’s find out,’ Min Sung told himself. Bringing the straw up to his mouth, he pulled the coffee through it. Immediately, the coldness of the iced coffee filled his mouth, followed by an intense bitterness, the smooth aroma of the coffee, and a rush of caffeine. The experience brought him comfort that was difficult to put into words. If he were to put it concisely, it would’ve been refreshing and relaxing, as if sitting under a stream of water coming down a waterfall. Although it was his first experience with coffee, it was not half bad.
‘Let’s try another sip.’
Min Sung pulled the dark brown liquid through the straw one more time. As the ice-cold coffee quenched his thirst, the caffeine made him feel as though his mind was clearing up.
‘So, is this what caffeine does? Fascinating. It makes sense that people don’t ever get tired of coffee.’
Wondering if his nineteen-year-old self would have had the same experience, Min Sung savored another sip of his Americano, and before he knew it, his cup was empty.
“Would you like another?” Ho Sung asked.
However, Min Sung shook his head and said, “I think I’ve had enough.” Then, moving the empty cup aside, the champion said to Ho Sung, “So, tell me more about this labyrinth.”
“Oh, the labyrinths? Hm… How should I put it? It’s just luck, really.”
“A labyrinth is essentially an uncleared dungeon that appears at random every month, but there’s one thing that sets them apart from the rest. For example, an entire guild goes into a labyrinth, and none of them come back out in the end. What do you think those waiting outside of the dungeon would think?”
“That the dungeon’s difficult.”
“Exactly, but that’s not all. There’s something special about labyrinths. Their difficulty changes at random.”
“How?” Min Sung asked.
“Say you try your hand at the dungeon one day, and it turns out impossible no matter how hard you try. Then, you try again another day, and it feels like a walk in the park, or at least easier enough for you to notice the change in difficulty. That’s how the labyrinths work. Their difficulty changes every time somebody enters.”
“Does that mean the payoff depends on the difficulty of the labyrinth?”
“Not necessarily. It’s a bit of a gamble, but generally speaking, even the easiest labyrinths will reward you with loot far better than any of the ordinary dungeons of higher difficulty.”
“Yet, guilds and clans avoid labyrinths altogether because…?”
“They’re intimidated. They know they’re screwed the moment they end up in a higher-difficulty labyrinth. Not only is there a limit to how many people can go into a labyrinth at once, but once you’re in there, you can’t leave the dungeon until a party clears the floor. There’s just too much at stake, which is why only the official Hunters’ Institutes explore labyrinths,” Ho Sung said, shaking his head.
“Has anyone ever cleared a higher difficulty labyrinth on their own?” Min Sun asked.
“Of course. The current leaders of the Hunters’ Institutes. They are advanced hunters who are classified as miscellaneous types. They appeared just around the time the monsters started to break out of dungeons,” Ho Sung replied.
“And what does that mean exactly?”
“Let’s just say that miscellaneous types are at a completely different realm when it comes to their combat abilities, their growth rate, basic stats… You name it.”
“So, that’s how the Hunters’ Institutes are able to horde all the labyrinths.”
“In reality, though, they hardly ever go in there themselves. But when they do, the higher-ups come up with a strategy, and the mid-rank officers put together a team to execute it.”
“I’m sure it’s still risky, am I right?”
“Absolutely. People die all the time in labyrinths.”
“Then, why aren’t the miscellaneous types getting involved in this?” Min Sung asked, and with a bitter smile, Ho Sung explained, “For a number of reasons. For one, the Central Hunters’ Institute is investing a lot into training hunters capable of clearing labyrinths without the help of the miscellaneous types. I’m sure they’re breeding the next generation to prepare for a future when their kind is no longer around.”
Min Sung nodded to that and asked, “So, just how powerful are these miscellaneous types?”
“There’s no telling, unfortunately. You see, I’ve never actually come across one myself.”
“And their levels?”
Shrugging, Ho Sung answered, “They say that when you clear a labyrinth, your level is no longer visible, so you look just like an ordinary person. That’s why the miscellaneous types are shrouded in mystery and rumors. They function outside the law and they’re practically figures from legend. It’s almost hard to believe that they even exist.”
“And what happens when you don’t clear a labyrinth or dungeon?” Min Sung asked.
“The monsters break out of the dungeon. As for time, you get as little as…”
Raising his hand, the champion stopped Ho Sung mid-sentence and said, “That’ll do.”
“What will you do now…?”
“Ah! Of course! Right away, sir.”
“We’re here,” Ho Sung said upon arriving at a certain restaurant. As Min Sung got out of the car, he said enthusiastically, “Enjoy your meal, sir!”
Without responding, the champion made his way toward the restaurant. Watching him from behind, Ho Sung murmured internally, ‘Asshole. Would it hurt him to ask if I wanna come along?’
Satisfied by Ho Sung’s tactfulness, Min Sung looked at the sign in front of the restaurant and smiled. It was the perfect place to start off the day with a light breakfast.
[Noodle Soup: 2,900 Won.]
It was an astounding value. It had been a decade since Min Sung had crossed over to the Demonic Realm. Yet, the fact that a bowl of noodle soup still cost twenty-nine hundred won was astonishing.
‘Do they even make a profit?’ he wondered. Then, a small worry crept into Min Sung’s mind:
‘What if I’m getting what I paid for?’ However, the worry quickly faded away as he remembered who had recommended the restaurant to him: Ho Sung Lee.
Whether Korean or Japanese food, Ho Sung had known just exactly where to take Min Sung, and so far, the champion was satisfied with every one of his recommendations. But did that mean he could expect the same from Ho Sung this time?
‘There’s only one way to find out.’