Descent of the Demon Master
Jo Gyu-Min wordlessly stared at Kang Jin-Ho walking back toward the campsite.
“My apologies for that commotion,” said Kang Jin-Ho with a faint smile.
He had already reverted back to his 'usual' self.
Jo Gyu-Min caught himself being relieved by this revelation.
It made him chuckle in dismay.
'Relieved, is it…?'
Kang Jin-Ho wasn't some machine with a mode-switching button.
No, that Kang Jin-Ho of a few minutes ago was simply another facet of 'Kang Jin-Ho.’ It was just that he had usually been hiding that side of him.
Having realized this, Jo Gyu-Min could only swallow his dry-feeling saliva nervously.
He then spotted the figure of the unconscious Chinese man slumped inside the crater some distance behind Kang Jin-Ho.
'What did he do to that man?'
All Kang Jin-Ho did was wave his hand a few times in front of the Chinese man's face, yet that man started screaming like a horror movie victim before blacking out, bubbles foaming out of his mouth.
Kang Jin-Ho reached the campfire and addressed Jo Gyu-Min, “We should get some rest now.
We'll continue traversing the mountain tomorrow, after all.”
“A-ah, of course.” Jo Gyu-Min hesitantly nodded while thinking…
‘Yes, it's a good idea to rest.
Resting is all good and well, but…’
“…Mister Jin-Ho, are you going to, uh, leave that person over there? Like that?”
He's not dead.”
‘Yes, I can tell as well, Mister Jin-Ho.
I mean, his body is squirming and convulsing every now and then, so he can't be dead yet.
‘But, if we let him 'sleep' like that in the rough, wouldn't he turn into a cold corpse by tomorrow morning? At the very least, wouldn't passing out like that somewhere freezing paralyze his face or something…?’
When Jo Gyu-Min kept staring at the unconscious Chinese man as if he wanted to say something, Kang Jin-Ho chuckled softly and tried to reassure him.
That man's constitution is tougher than it looks.”
“…Yes, I don't doubt that,” said Jo Gyu-Min.
That man had flown twenty meters in a straight line and got buried in a crater, but he still survived somehow.
At this point, Jo Gyu-Min was ready to believe that the unconscious Chinese man's insides was forged in adamantium or something.
“…Maybe he's Wolverine?”
Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head.
“No, it's nothing.” Jo Gyu-Min powerfully shook his head.
Kang Jin-Ho shrugged his shoulders and pulled out his sleeping bag.
Jo Gyu-Min leered at him.
“Are you going to bed now?”
You don't have to worry about the campfire.
I've ensured that the embers won't bounce around while we sleep.”
‘N-no, the possibility of wildfire isn't the problem here, you know! No, wait! It is a problem! Yes, causing a wildfire is a problem, but now isn't the time to worry about that, no?!’
Kang Jin-Ho didn't seem to be aware of Jo Gyu-Min's thoughts as he leisurely slipped inside the sleeping bag and pulled up the zipper.
You're really going to sleep?'
Really? In this situation?! Jo Gyu-Min stared alternatingly between the surface of Kang Jin-Ho's sleeping bag rhythmically rising and falling and the distant unconscious Chinese man.
Eventually, though, he let out a long groan and slipped inside his own sleeping bag.
“I don't care anymore.”
He should just do as told like a good salaryman—in this case, it'd be to get some sleep.
Jo Gyu-Min had a rough night, so he didn’t get a decent sleep.
Unsurprisingly, he was now having a torrid time ascending the mountain.
As for the Chinese man, he was gone by the time Jo Gyu-Min had opened his eyes in the early morning.
It seemed his worries had been for naught, after all.
Kang Jin-Ho was still dozing off in his cozy little sleeping bag when Jo Gyu-Min woke up, so he probably wasn't responsible for the Chinese man's disappearance.
Which meant that the heavily-injured man had somehow gotten up and ran away all on his own.
'…I'm sure he can take care of himself.'
Even though it sounded a bit heartless, the truth was that Jo Gyu-Min didn't have any leeway to worry about someone else at the moment.
This mountain he was climbing? In a word, it was insane.
In the not-too-distant past, Jo Gyu-Min had hiked the famous Seollak and Taebaek Mountains.
Going through society meant one would inevitably meet a senior manager who believed a group hiking trip with employees during weekends could build a stronger bond within the team.
Rather than building bonds, those hiking experiences had built up resentment and anguish in Jo Gyu-Min's heart, but he still got to know what it felt like to go on a long hike, so it wasn't a total loss.
Working as a secretary meant he would gain experience in various things which could come in handy later on, so he was definitely thankful for that, but now…
'…Those hiking experiences were useless!'
Those Korean mountains weren’t really mountains! Yes, compared to this mountain he was on right now, they should be called hills instead! And no, this wasn't the issue with whether a mountain was tall or not.
Jo Gyu-Min had come to learn that hiking through man-made trails shouldn't be seen as 'hiking' at all.
Fallen leaves had piled up so much that Jo Gyu-Min's foot would just sink deep into it, making it really challenging to maintain his balance.
Even worse, he couldn't figure out how the ground with all those leaves could be so slippery.
If the snow that had fallen overnight had half-melted and then got covered by a fresh layer of snow, would that feel similar to this slipperiness?
The top layer was soft and cushy, but the bottom half was unbelievably slippery.
Walking on such a surface was tiring enough, yet Jo Gyu-Min had to also break through dense foliage and tree vines in the way.
All these things combined to devour his stamina in no time at all.
Unable to hold on any longer, Jo Gyu-Min had to ask that one question to Kang Jin-Ho, “Mister Jin-Ho!”
“Just where are we going?”
Kang Jin-Ho didn't immediately reply, instead choosing to smack away the thick foliage blocking his path with his hiking pole.
Then, he straightened his back and looked up.
The way he stood still and stared at the far-off distance—gave off this inexplicable melancholic feeling.
Kang Jin-Ho finally broke his silence.
“…Should I say it's some ancient ruins?”
“Ancient ruins, you say?”
That will be the correct way to refer to our destination these days,” After saying some strange things, Kang Jin-Ho resumed walking forward.
“W-wait for me!” Jo Gyu-Min increased his walking pace and went after Kang Jin-Ho.
They had to have traversed the wilderness for three days now.
Jo Gyu-Min couldn't really tell due to his exhaustion, though.
He was almost at the limit of his physical endurance, but surprisingly enough, he hadn't collapsed yet.
That was all thanks to Kang Jin-Ho's preternatural knack for knowing when Jo Gyu-Min was mere inches away from giving up and taking a much-needed rest.
Jo Gyu-Min gulped his drool back as he stared at the rabbit meat being roasted in the campfire.
'Just where did this guy learn to do all these things?'
As their initial starting luggage wasn't a lot, Jo Gyu-Min had been worried about how they would survive this trek through the wilderness.
Yet, Kang Jin-Ho would always manage to hunt a rabbit or two whenever it was time for a meal.
That wasn't all either, as he seemed to know how to roast these wild rabbits to perfection as well.
Normally, the rabbit meat's strong gaminess meant Jo Gyu-Min didn't even want to go near it.
However, Kang Jin-Ho's roasted rabbit tasted so good that Jo Gyu-Min would polish one off in the proverbial blink of an eye.
'Bringing a lot of luggage would have tired me out in no time at all…'
If Jo Gyu-Min knew this trip would take long, he would have most likely packed enough food to last several days.
But the added weight would have no doubt destroyed his stamina while traversing a mountain this treacherous.
Now that he thought about it, Jo Gyu-Min began to wonder if Kang Jin-Ho had foreseen that possibility as well.
'Besides all that, why is he so…
good at this?'
At this rate, people might mistakenly think Kang Jin-Ho was a mountain man—a savage living in the woods.
That was how natural Kang Jin-Ho looked as he did all these survival things with consummate ease.
And to think he even knew how to hunt game!
Hunting might sound like a doable activity, but the reality was anything but easy.
An ordinary person wouldn't be able to catch a single rabbit or a cat without some kind of weapon or a tool.
First of all, one had to consider the extreme difference in speed between species.
However, Kang Jin-Ho somehow managed to hunt several rabbits with his bare hands.
He was so good at hunting that he might as well become a professional hunter.
“By the way, Mister Jin-Ho…
Are we even allowed to hunt these rabbits?”
Kang Jin-Ho chose not to say anything and focused on roasting the meat.
If this were Korea, these two would have been thrown inside a jail cell by now.
However, Jo Gyu-Min wasn't sure what the Chinese law said about this situation.
As long as we don't get caught, it's fine…'
Jo Gyu-Min decided to turn a blind eye before he began to bite into the rabbit meat.
His starving belly had ultimately triumphed over his conscience.
How long had they been walking now?
Suddenly, Kang Jin-Ho's steps gained pace.
“M-mm?” Jo Gyu-Min noticed Kang Jin-Ho urgently pushing past the foliage and tried to keep up.
“W-wait! Wait for me!”
However, it seemed like Kang Jin-Ho wasn’t in the mood to listen.
He continued to powerfully and quickly forge ahead.
'It's this way!'
An old idiom stated that a decade was long enough to transform mountains.
Since Kang Jin-Ho had lived around here hundreds of years ago, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say the terrain had changed to become totally new land.
And indeed, most of the familiar landmarks were nowhere to be seen.
Even so, he didn't get lost, and he managed to find his destination thanks to the mountain peaks and tall cliffs that had seemingly withstood the test of time.
And then, there was the distant tall mountain peak pointing to the heavens.
It told him where to go.
It told him his destination was right below it.
It told him that just below its magnificent peak was the location of the demon cult's palaces and sanctum—his former home!
Kang Jin-Ho worked hard to suppress his pounding heart.
still have an attachment to this place?'
He had made this journey just to confirm it.
To see with his own eyes.
Yet, his heart began to pound in excitement like this.
Didn't that mean he still had some kind of lingering feelings toward his second life?
Kang Jin-Ho eventually entrusted himself to this unknown emotion and sped up the steep incline.
“M-Mister Jin-Hooo!” Jo Gyu-Min failed to keep up and could only cry out.
However, Kang Jin-Ho was in too much of a hurry to respond.
He quickly ascended the incline and was greeted by the sight of an extensive basin not too far away.
“…!” He stood there, unable to say anything.
His lips clamped shut.
The extensive basin had…
nothing but overgrown weeds.
This wide, seemingly-endless basin had no evidence of human habitat left.
“Huff, huff!” Jo Gyu-Min somehow managed to chase after Kang Jin-Ho, then fell on his butt while panting laboriously.
“J-just what is in this place that you… Mm?”
Jo Gyu-Min scanned the basin below as his frown got deeper.
“Mister Jin-Ho, there is…
nothing down there.”
“…Yes, you're right.”
Jo Gyu-Min quickly clamped his mouth shut after sensing a hint of sorrow and loneliness in Kang Jin-Ho's voice.
While experiencing many 'adventures' together, Jo Gyu-Min got to witness Kang Jin-Ho getting angry or happy.
However, not even once did he witness Kang Jin-Ho express such emotion before.
'What did he expect to find down there?'
Jo Gyu-Min didn't even know where to begin guessing.
Well, he could see nothing of importance down by the basin, after all.
Kang Jin-Ho quietly closed his eyes and recalled the past.
He could still vividly see everything even now.
In the past, back in Zhongyuan, this place was packed full of so, so many buildings and palaces.
Countless people had lived here, living their daily lives.
Even the land where Kang Jin-Ho drew the last breath of his second life wasn't too far from here.
Nothing was standing in this place.
As if all those years Kang Jin-Ho had lived were nothing but a passing dream.
there really is nothing here?”
What an odd feeling this was.
That life in Zhongyuan shouldn't have any 'bearing' on the current Kang Jin-Ho.
After all, didn't he consciously decide to live this life to the fullest, unfettered by his past? Being attached to the past he couldn't go back to didn't suit Kang Jin-Ho's personality.
However, for some reason…
A corner of his heart ached.
The completely erased traces of the past seemed to be crushing down on that part of his chest.
Kang Jin-Ho slowly turned around to leave.
Jo Gyu-Min looked at him.
Don't worry about it.” Kang Jin-Ho shook his head as he began to make his way down the mountain slope.
'What does he mean by that?'
Jo Gyu-Min wasn't sure what Kang Jin-Ho was trying to say just now, but he still instinctively knew that now wasn't the time to ask.
He should just quietly follow for now.
He began to follow Kang Jin-Ho down the mountainside, but then…
'Huh? We didn't take this route to get up here, though?'
Kang Jin-Ho wasn't going back to the path they had taken to get here.
It seemed he was heading somewhere else now.
'Wait, is that a cave?' Jo Gyu-Min's eyes opened wider.
If it had been him alone, he would have never found that cave.
The entrance was so craftily hidden between steep inclines on the rocky mountainside that it was nearly invisible to the naked eye.
The space there was barely enough for a single person to go through.
“…Wow, there’s a place like that around here?” Jo Gyu-Min muttered.
Kang Jin-Ho didn't respond to that; he simply stood still with his eyes closed and his head slightly raised.
Again, Jo Gyu-Min failed to understand Kang Jin-Ho’s actions.
However, Kang Jin-Ho's heart was pounding away crazily right now.
hadn’t been a dream!'
Here was the proof that those years hadn’t been a dream his mind had cooked up.
The land that couldn't be filled up even with all the knowledge in cultivation and various techniques—the proof of the land he used to live in being a historical part of this world was now standing tall right before him!
Kang Jin-Ho pushed his slightly trembling legs forward and tried to enter the cave.
However, his steps came to an abrupt halt when a low voice filled with killing intent suddenly came from somewhere behind him.
“Go back to where you came from!”
Kang Jin-Ho slowly turned his head.
A crazy-looking man with indecipherable age stood there, glaring.
His wild, crazy hair covered his face, while his clothes resembled tattered rags at this point.
This crazy-looking man glared at Kang Jin-Ho and muttered once again, “I'm warning you, you better scram!”
“Somehow, this…” An unreadable grin floated up on Kang Jin-Ho's lips just then.
That grin morphed into a full-on chuckle as he slowly walked closer to the crazy-looking man.
“…This feels rather welcoming, doesn't it?”
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