Descent of the Demon Master
After taking off the backpack from Seong Tae-Ho, Kang Jin-Ho slung it over on top of his own.
The other squad members helped him secure the two backpacks together.
Jo Won-Gu worriedly asked, “Can you really do it, Jin-Ho? If you can't manage it, it's fine to stop, you know.”
“I'll be fine, sir,” Kang Jin-Ho replied while getting back up without any trouble.
Then, he even helped Seong Tae-Ho back to his feet.
“Don't give up yet, senior.”
“I'm sorry about this, Jin-Ho…” Seong Tae-Ho sheepishly muttered.
“It's fine, sir.
Besides, we'll be late at this rate.
We need to get going now.”
“Alright, let's go!”
The squad members ambling about quickly got in formation and set off.
“That can't be a human being…” Jeon Hyeok-Su quietly muttered while staring in a daze at the massive backpack blocking his view.
No, make that two backpacks, one piled on top of another.
One would sometimes hear discharged soldiers boasting about how they marched on while carrying an extra backpack for the sake of a faltering junior.
The truth was, though, they had done that for only a very brief period.
Two backpacks would be fifty kilograms in total, as each one weighed around twenty-five kilograms.
And now, Kang Jin-Ho was about to lug that much weight for 40KM after going through five days of grueling training exercises.
Anyone could imagine how difficult that would be.
he was walking without any problems as if this was a pleasant Sunday stroll! Moreover…
“Sir, how are you holding up?” Kang Jin-Ho asked Seong Tae-Ho.
“…I, uh, I'm okay.
Sorry about this, Jin-Ho…” Seong Tae-Ho replied while panting heavily.
Even after handing his luggage over to Kang Jin-Ho, Seong Tae-Ho was still having a hard time traversing the mountain.
Kang Jin-Ho walking behind him reached out to stabilize Seong Tae-Ho's staggering figure, then gently pushed him forward.
Normally, any hot-blooded man watching this scene unfold should feel their pride kicking in.
However, none of the 3rd Squad members saw Kang Jin-Ho as someone to compare themselves with, as no one had volunteered to take over the job of lugging Seong Tae-Ho's backpack.
Besides, what if they also overextended themselves and burned out? That would mean Kang Jin-Ho must carry three backpacks instead.
Jo Won-Gu called out, “Seong Tae-Ho!”
“Private 1st Class Seong Tae-Ho, sir!”
“We'll take a dinner break after reaching the summit, so do your best to hold on until then!”
“Yes, sir!” Seong Tae-Ho cried out, desperation and unwillingness to give up creeping into his voice.
Jo Won-Gu silently nodded, then turned his head toward Kang Jin-Ho.
“…Did he consume wild ginseng before enlisting or something?”
Kang Jin-Ho’s figure lugging around two backpacks while going up the mountain reminded Jo Won-Gu of the wild ginseng diggers.
No, wait—as most ginseng diggers carried as little as possible while combing through the mountainsides, maybe it was more correct to compare Kang Jin-Ho to a lumberjack?
One of the squad members couldn’t help but speak, “Serg, that kid dragged five logs down a mountain not too long ago.
I don't think he'll break a sweat over two backpacks, sir.”
It's just that there's always something new to surprise me, that's all.” Jo Won-Gu groaned while shaking his head.
Shouldn't humans act like humans? Wasn't that how nature was supposed to be?
The squad finally managed to reach the summit.
After unpacking their gear, they got ready to have some much-needed rest and dinner.
Jo Won-Gu walked up to Seong Tae-Ho, who was slumped over lifelessly near a boulder.
“Hey, how are you feeling? You good?”
“I'm okay, sir.” Seong Tae-Ho barely managed to respond.
“Things should get easier now since it's all downhill from here, followed by a plain.
Focus on recovering your stamina, okay? I know you don't have any appetite, but you ain't gonna survive without eating something, Tae-Ho.
So, try your best to eat a lot.
And drink only a moderate amount of water.
I'm really sorry about this, sir.”
“Don't worry about it, you dumbass,” Jo Won-Gu replied, then glanced at Kang Jin-Ho next.
That kid had already finished unpacking his stuff and was currently waiting in a queue for the rations truck to receive food.
“…Sheesh, doesn't he ever get tired?”
Kang Jin-Ho carried two backpacks while basically dragging another person up this mountain.
It wouldn't have come as a surprise to see him laid out on the floor, dead tired, and that was why Jo Won-Gu was thinking of getting the kid's meal.
However, Kang Jin-Ho proceeded to smartly unpack and organize his things as soon as they reached the summit, and then he even volunteered to stand in the queue to receive the squad's rations.
“Even though I'm his senior, I honestly can't raise my voice at Jin-Ho anymore, Serg.”
“We're seniors only in rank, nothing more.”
Jo Won-Gu glanced at the complaining 3rd Squad members.
“…I guess you will go through some hard times in the future, huh.”
Even in a civilian setting, a too-excellent junior would only make things extra difficult for their seniors.
So, imagine how much harder it was in a military setting.
Besides, 'too-excellent' was inadequate to describe Kang Jin-Ho, anyway.
Indeed, it would be more appropriate to say he was born to live the military life!
“…In any case, make sure to fill up, gents.” Jo Won-Gu muttered.
He glanced at the downhill section and let out a lengthy groan.
Some said that a military march was a battle against oneself.
The truth was, though, one wouldn't be able to complete a march without the presence of their peers.
Not many people would be able to successfully complete the task of covering 40KM with military gear by themselves.
However, a march wasn't like that.
It was called a march because many people were doing it together.
Kang Jin-Ho glanced at Seong Tae-Ho.
“Don't give up, sir.”
“I'm sorry, Jin-Ho…”
“Please don't say that and focus.”
“Okay,” Seong Tae-Ho weakly responded, unable to even raise his head.
Not because he felt apologetic, but the mere act of raising his head seemed to suck a ton of stamina out of his body.
Simply trudging forward while staring at the heels of the person in front was one of the many ways to avoid unnecessary waste of energy.
I feel like I'm dying…'
Seong Tae-Ho mused inwardly, sensing that he didn't even have a single ounce of energy left.
Even before his enlistment, he had always suffered from poorer fitness than most people.
Going through the guerrilla training like every other soldier would have been enough to knock him out by now, but his squad hadn't been taking it easy at all.
The 3rd Squad's seniors were gritting their teeth and pushing so hard to win the top squad prize, so Seong Tae-Ho had no choice but to go along with them.
Unfortunately, he had hit his limit, and it felt like even his reserve energy had been exhausted by now.
'No, I can't collapse here.'
If Seong Tae-Ho had been alone, he might have collapsed already.
However, he wasn't alone.
And he certainly couldn't negatively impact others because of his own shortcomings.
He even handed over his gear to a junior, didn't he? His last vestige of pride shouted at him to at least finish this march, even if it killed him.
“…Euh-hut?!” Suddenly, Seong Tae-Ho's legs gave in, and he nearly fell on his face, only for Kang Jin-Ho to grab him in time.
“I—I'm sorry, Jin-Ho.”
“Stop apologizing all the time, senior.”
“S-sure…” Seong Tae-Ho clenched his teeth and moved his legs once more.
What a strange fate it was to have such a monstrous junior join his squad! Regardless of what, though, he was still Kang Jin-Ho's senior.
Seong Tae-Ho might not win in terms of fitness or strength, but he could not afford to lose in mental strength, too!
“Hey, Tae-Ho! Do your best, man!”
“Yes, sir!” Seong Tae-Ho pushed his body forward again while listening to the encouragement of his seniors coming from the front of the pack.
Sometime later, the marching group reached a roadside.
“We'll take a ten-minute break! Move to the side of the road!”
Seong Tae-Ho shuffled to the side of the road and lay down on his back.
It wasn't just him, though, as seemingly everyone started to stare at the night sky.
'…I think I'm dead.'
Thoughts of just giving up flooded Seong Tae-Ho's mind every time he got a chance to lie down like this.
He managed to bring a canteen to his lips, but it was empty.
But then, someone pushed another canteen forward from behind him.
“Here, drink this,” said Kang Jin-Ho.
“…Thanks.” Seong Tae-Ho sheepishly accepted the canteen and realized how heavy it was.
'Jin-Ho hasn't touched a drop of water yet?'
Unscrewing the cap revealed the full canteen.
This only proved, without a doubt, that Kang Jin-Ho's fitness was beyond Seong Tae-Ho's understanding.
Seong Tae-Ho took large gulps of water, then raised his head to stare at the sky.
Countless stars seemed so close as if they would start to descend to Earth at any moment.
“Those stars are really pretty, aren't they?” Seong Tae-Ho quietly muttered, but Kang Jin-Ho didn't respond to him.
Of course, Seong Tae-Ho wasn't expecting a reply in the first place.
However, he continued, “I’m sure we would never see such a sight if we weren’t in the army.”
Kang Jin-Ho flatly replied, “I guess so, sir.”
“Don't you feel bad about joining the army, Jin-Ho?”
“I don't, sir.”
“Regardless of our feelings, we don't have a choice but to serve in the army, sir.”
“Well, that's true.” Seong Tae-Ho muttered; his thoughts were basically the same as Kang Jin-Ho's.
“What would I have gained…
after this is over, I wonder?”
“I don't know, sir.”
I guess, nobody knows.”
They couldn't know yet, as they still had plenty of time remaining to serve in the army.
However, Seong Tae-Ho still wanted to confirm whether the assertion of a man needing to serve in the army was nothing but nonsense or not.
“Break's over! We're departing!”
Seong Tae-Ho gritted his teeth and pushed himself off the ground.
Then, he politely pushed away Kang Jin-Ho's offered hand.
“Nah, I'll be alright.”
He couldn't accept help from a junior all the time.
He was already apologetic and ashamed about not being able to carry his own gear, so he didn't want to be looked after like a child right up until the end.
“Let's go, Jin-Ho.”
Seong Tae-Ho began walking again, his gaze staying glued to Jeon Hyeok-Su's back in front.
He was being pulled by Jeon Hyeok-Su from the front while Kang Jin-Ho supported him from behind.
'I can do this.'
He was not alone.
With his comrades around, Seong Tae-Ho felt like he could do it.
And that was the essence of a march.
Two pieces of good news were waiting for the 3rd Squad when they returned to their base.
The first news was that they were selected as the best-performing squad, and everybody would receive a ten-day-long leave.
The second news was Kang Jin-Ho being chosen as the top 'owl' of the training and would receive a separate ten-day-long leave.
Jo Won-Gu rubbed his chin.
“…Oh, wait a minute.
We have that reward from the talent show, too.”
“That's only a five-day-long leave, Serg.”
“That's still pretty good, no? Then, uh…
Jin-Ho's getting twenty-five days off?”
“Don't forget that Jin-Ho hasn't cashed in his regular off days yet, Serg.
Add them all, and he has gotten himself thirty-five days off, sir.”
A whole month?”
Other squad members jeered and booed in jest.
Of course, none of them was jealous of Kang Jin-Ho's lengthy leave.
After all, he fully deserved his reward, and they all knew that Kang Jin-Ho had been instrumental in earning the vacation time for all of them.
“Listen up, you bastards with no conscience! Don't forget to buy Jin-Ho a present after you return from your leave! Every single one of you! Got that?”
Everyone cheered raucously at Jo Won-Gu's new order.
The guerrilla training was hell, but they still walked away with the sweet time-off from military life in the end.
Kang Jin-Ho's life had noticeably changed ever since the guerrilla training.
His seniors still found him difficult to handle, of course.
However, no one treated him as 'junior' anymore.
That was because they had realized Kang Jin-Ho was superior to them in both military-related knowledge and physical stats, making it rather difficult for them to call themselves his seniors.
Despite this, Kang Jin-Ho didn't look down on them, but the seniors still felt it was wrong to treat him as a mere newbie—a little junior.
Eventually, Kang Jin-Ho began to receive treatment equal to that of a corporal, even though he was still a Private 1st Class.
In other words, no one was meddling in his daily routines now.
There was one more change as well, and that was…
Kang Jin-Ho flatly called out a name.
“Private 2nd Class Jang Jae-Hwan, sir!”
“The raised sleeping floors are dirty.”
“…!” Tears began trickling down Jang Jae-Hwan's face as he climbed on the raised wooden floor to mop it one more time.
Seong Tae-Ho and Jeon Hyeok-Su hurriedly tried to dissuade Kang Jin-Ho, cold sweat covering their foreheads.
“H-hey, Jin-Ho? Don't you think this is enough already?”
It's still dirty.”
“H-hang on a second, Jin-Ho! Take a look again, will ya? It's literally spotless!”
“But, sirs, it is dirty.” Kang Jin-Ho looked back at the duo with a confused expression on his face.
“If he can't even clean the floors properly, how can we entrust him with other tasks?”
“…Jin-Ho, have you ever thought that your standards are a bit out of wack?” Jeon Hyeok-Su cautiously asked.
He then tried to convince his abnormal junior that the people here were sweaty, dirty men and that there was no need to clean the floors so rigorously; all the while sorrow threatened to overcome his heart.
However, what choice did he have? Jeon Hyeok-Su determined that not intervening now might lead to the poor Jang Jae-Hwan developing some kind of long-term neurosis, so he had to do his best to convince Kang Jin-Ho.
Humans don't have infinite stamina like you.
You mustn't carelessly apply your standards to other people!”
Not even this much?”
“No, this won't do.
“Corporal Seong Tae-Ho, sir!”
Jeon Hyeok-Su groaned.
“You take over the education of our new juniors from now on, okay? Otherwise, Jin-Ho might roast them alive.”
“Understood, sir.” Seong Tae-Ho nodded powerfully away to show that he unreservedly agreed with his senior on this topic.
Kang Jin-Ho, still making an unconvinced expression, tried to say something, “However, sir.
However, an announcement suddenly came on the loudspeaker to interrupt him.
[Kang Jin-Ho, you have a phone call waiting for you at the Administration Office.
Come to the office, Kang Jin-Ho.]
Kang Jin-Ho glanced at the loudspeaker as his forehead creased a little.
No matter how busy he was, he never forgot to call home regularly.
And when he called yesterday, everything seemed fine with his family.
Yet, someone still called him in the middle of the day? Something had definitely happened.
Kang Jin-Ho turned his head to address Jeon Hyeok-Su, “Sir, I must go and take that call.”
Once Kang Jin-Ho quickly left the living area, the remaining squad members breathed a sigh of relief.
“Aigoo, what did I do to deserve this? Minding a junior's mood is so bloody exhausting!”
“You're right, sir…”
Jeon Hyeok-Su and Seong Tae-Ho slowly shook their heads in exhaustion.
Kang Jin-Ho soon reached the Administration Office and picked up the phone's receiver.
This is Private 1st Class Kang Jin-Ho speaking.”
– Jin-Ho! It's me!
Unexpectedly, the voice on the line didn't belong to Kang Jin-Ho's family member but to Park Yu-Min.
“What's going on? What happened?” Kang Jin-Ho asked, sensing that Park Yu-Min didn't sound like his usual self.
His friend replied in a weak, trembling voice.
– It, it's the director.
Sister Yi, she…!
Kang Jin-Ho slowly squeezed his eyes shut.
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