The Demon Emperor Has Returned (2)
It was now the middle of the night.
Kang Jin-Ho gazed at his mother by the bedside, quietly dozing away.
It had been decades since he last saw her.
Once upon a time, he thought that he would break down in a flood of emotional tears after finally seeing his mother again.
But now that she was here…
All he felt were panic and a sense of awkwardness.
In a way, this reaction was inevitable.
Even though he had roamed around in gangho for decades, his mother must have been 'frozen' in this era. The 'mother' in his imagination would've changed little by little throughout the years, so it would be unsurprising to see some discrepancies creep up between that version and his real mother.
It was the same story with his father.
His father arrived a little later than his mother.
While maintaining a grave expression, he quietly observed his son before letting out a sigh. “You should've been more careful, Son.”
That was the first thing Kang Jin-Ho heard from his father in decades.
He almost burst into hollow laughter at that.
But that was because he felt an emotion beyond what he could verbally describe.
An emotion that he was too immature to understand in the past.
His father's heart ached from concern toward his son and at his own powerlessness, but he lacked the eloquence to put them into gentle-enough words, which ultimately forced him to sound like a gruff old man.
However, Kang Jin-Ho could fully understand his father's sentiments.
Kang Jin-Ho slowly got up from the bed.
The IV needle stuck to his right arm got in the way, so he unhesitantly yanked it out.
He could already picture the nurse biting his head off for doing this, but the excuse of the needle falling out while he slept should take care of that.
Besides, something else was more important to him right now.
Kang Jin-Ho slowly crept out of his room, making sure not to make any noise while doing so.
He avoided walking past the nurse's station and climbed up the stairs to reach the hospital's roof.
Dull aches continued to shoot up from his waist, but it would be embarrassing to call this level of pain too torturous to endure.
Kang Jin-Ho opened the door to the roof and stepped outside, and the cold night winds dug into his body right away.
He raised his head to look up at the sky without a star.
A night sky filled with nothing but pitch-black darkness entered his view.
'I'm really back.'
It finally felt real to Kang Jin-Ho that he had returned to the modern era.
The sky he could see right now belonged to the 'present,’ the one he used to see all the time.
‘Was it all a dream?’
‘How did I come back?’
Maybe, everything I've experienced was just a dream?’
Kang Jin-Ho quietly chuckled to himself.
Dream, was it? Such things couldn't be a mere dream.
He reached up and grabbed at the empty air.
He could sense the energy flowing within the atmosphere through his fingertips.
He shouldn't be able to sense stuff like this if his experiences had been just fragments of a dream.
What seemed even more puzzling was that he had returned to the past.
Kang Jin-Ho died in his 35th year.
Yet his current age was eighteen.
He somehow rewound nearly two decades' worth of time to end up in the past.
'Although it's a good thing…'
Not once did Kang Jin-Ho feel happy to be alive after passing the age of twenty.
Soon after growing out of his teens—the only bright period in his entire life—-his whole family was killed in a horrific car accident.
He was the sole survivor, but he still had to pay the far-too-high cost of becoming a paraplegic.
Kang Jin-Ho had to live fifteen years of misery as a disabled man, and in the 35th year of his life, he ended his own life.
But when he reopened his eyes, he found himself in a 'new' world called Zhongyuan.
His new life in this foreign land was a series of misery incomparable to the modern era in its harshness.
As if fate itself was trying to drive him into the pits of pure torment, seemingly endless trials and tribulations continued to hinder his life.
He resisted the pain and fought back against the trials until he eventually found himself as the leader of the demonic cult.
And somehow, he had returned to the present at the end of it all.
Kang Jin-Ho couldn't wrap his head around his current dream-like reality.
In this world, he no longer had to watch out for blades aiming for his life during his sleep.
He no longer had to endure the barbaric era where it was considered normal to murder other people for one's benefit.
Oh, just how badly did he long for this peaceful era back then!
Kang Jin-Ho softly muttered the resolve buried deep in his heart.
“An ordinary life…”
‘Just like everyone else.’
‘To be able to laugh sometimes and to be able to cry…’
‘To be able to get angry, to be able to argue…’
‘I wanted to live like that; I wanted to chase after my own happiness…’
‘An ordinary life.’
‘Just like everyone else, my own ordinary life.’
“Haha…” Kang Jin-Ho started to laugh.
It felt awkward, but his laughter didn't want to stop.
His raucous laughter spread out to the night sky.
He laughed until his gut began to hurt.
It didn't take him long to realize that the pain wasn't caused by the laughter but by his wound opening up.
As such, he tapped on the pressure point to stop the bleeding.
Kang Jin-Ho looked back up at the night sky.
The sky above looked clogged, with all of its stars hidden away.
Most people wanted to escape from that polluted sky, but he felt solace simply by looking at it.
Soon, a smile bloomed on his face.
“It's okay to eat food now, Mr.
Kang Jin-Ho's expression became stoic at the nurse's words.
“Food, you say?”
The nurse continued. “You'll be given liquefied food initially. Aside from that, you can also try simple drinks.”
Is there something wrong?”
“No, not really,” Kang Jin-Ho replied with an even more serious expression.
The nurse stared weirdly at Kang Jin-Ho mumbling about drinks before leaving his hospital room.
He turned his head and glared powerfully at the storage closet next to his bed.
He slowly muttered again, “…Drinks.”
His mother had definitely left some money in one of the closet's drawers in case of an emergency.
Kang Jin-Ho climbed out of the bed and opened the drawer in question to discover a 10,000 won banknote resting within.
Being greeted by Sejong the Great after an incalculable length of time automatically filled Kang Jin-Ho's heart with so many emotions.
Kang Jin-Ho picked up the banknote and quickly left the hospital room.
He stood in front of the elevator door and stared hard at it before clumsily entering it after other people went ahead and climbed inside first.
He briefly got flustered by the bizarre sensation of momentary weightlessness, but he still managed to keep his cool and reached the ground floor.
He maintained his determined face while heading toward his ultimate destination.
Soon, he found himself glaring intensely at the vending machine installed in the hospital's lounge.
More specifically, he was glaring at a cylindrical object made out of reddish metal!
Indeed, it was coca-cola, the best invention of modern civilization!
Kang Jin-Ho's eyes passionately burrowed into the can of cola. Zhongyuan was just like any other land where plants and animals existed.
In other words, the food back then wasn't all that different from the modern stuff.
Kang Jin-Ho had 15 years of experience living alone, equipping him with the necessary skills to cook most dishes.
Anything he wanted to eat, he could try and make them.
Getting the taste right without the traditional Korean sauces and condiments was difficult, but he could more or less cook most grilled and stir-fried dishes.
However, there was one modern food he just couldn't replicate no matter what—cola.
Kang Jin-Ho might possess modern knowledge and high-level martial arts, but he still had no idea where to even begin with dissolving carbon dioxide into sugary water.
Not even burgers and fries could torment him back then, but that one thing…! Only cola managed to trigger his longing so bad.
Kang Jin-Ho approached the vending machine.
His memories remained fuzzy but things were coming back to him gradually as he began his modern life once more.
He should be able to operate something as simple as a vending machine.
He pushed the banknote into the machine's slot.
Unfortunately, the vending machine didn't seem too willing to accept his money as it repeatedly sucked in the banknote only to spit it right back out.
Kang Jin-Ho tried to flatten and smoothen out the note before inserting it back into the machine, but it acted like a prim lady as it continued to reject his money.
However, 'giving up' did not exist in Kang Jin-Ho's vocabulary.
Kang Jin-Ho's hands began trembling more and more.
A voice suddenly intruded from the side.
“That won't accept 10,000 won notes, you know.”
“Mm?” Kang Jin-Ho turned his head to look.
“Where are you looking at?!”
“Mmmm?” Kang Jin-Ho's line of sight lowered a bit. That was how he discovered a little kid that was barely ten years old looking up at him. “The machine won't accept 10,000 won notes, you say?” he asked.
The kid tilted his head in confusion.
“Oppa, did you just arrive from outer space or from a rural village out in the countryside?”
“In any case.
Yeah, that thing won't accept 10,000 won notes.
You should try thousand won notes instead.
Or loose change.”
“I see.” Kang Jin-Ho promptly realized that he was now facing a crisis.
On his person was just a single 10,000 won note.
Did that mean he must go somewhere else first to get a change? Didn't hospitals usually have a canteen or convenience store on their premises…?
“Mm…” Kang Jin-Ho scanned his surroundings as a troubled expression formed on his face.
The kid asked him, “You don't have loose change, Oppa?”
“But, uh, the hospital's store is closed for today, though?”
‘I thought convenience stores are open for twenty-four hours, all year long? A convenience store that closes on certain days? Maybe my memories are still fuzzy?’
Kang Jin-Ho took one final longing glance at the vending machine before turning around to leave.
He wasn’t happy about leaving like this, but today wouldn't be his only chance, anyway.
He should be able to drink his cola soon enough.
A metallic clunk and laughter halted his steps.
Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly stared at the little kid offering the can of cola in his way.
The kid started explaining herself. “I thought you looked so pitiful, glaring so hard at the vending machine like that.
So, let me buy you one.”
Kang Jin-Ho flatly refused. “I don't accept goodwill without reason.”
“I told you, I thought you were pitiful.
There's your reason.”
“I'm not pitiful.”
“Nope, you looked really pitiful just now.”
Kang Jin-Ho was left somewhat speechless.
He couldn't even remember when was the last time someone said that to him.
No one dared to call him 'pitiful' after he began mastering martial arts, after all.
But now, this little kid called him exactly that.
However, his mood didn't sour at all.
That was because he didn't sense any malice from the kid based on his observation.
Should he say that it was more like a gesture of pure goodwill rather than sympathy or pity?
The kid asked him again, “Aren't you gonna take it?”
“I don't accept a…”
“If you don't want to, fine.
I'll just throw it away.
I don't drink cola, you see.”
Kang Jin-Ho was stunned.
“You'll throw it away?”
“But, that'll be a waste…”
“We ain't gonna drink it, so how could it be a waste?”
“Should I throw it away, then?” the kid asked while taking the can to the nearby rubbish bin.
Kang Jin-Ho quickly pondered his options before extending his hand.
“I'll take it.”
“Heh.” The kid smirked and handed the can of cola over.
Grabbing the can with the dew condensed on the surface during their chat rewarded Kang Jin-Ho with the sensation of refreshingly cool metal.
The kid bought a pack of juice from the vending machine and then addressed Kang Jin-Ho with a grin on her face. “We can't drink here, though.
Eating and drinking in the hospital's corridors are prohibited, you see? You should head to the lounge.”
“Oh…” Kang Jin-Ho nodded.
If that was the rule, then he should abide by it. However, the kid didn't follow her own advice and began heading elsewhere instead. A bit puzzled now, he asked her a question.
“Where are you going?”
“I don't like the lounge, you see.
I wanna go outside and drink my juice.”
“Yeah, by the bench in front of the hospital,” said the kid.
Kang Jin-Ho nodded.
He agreed that the hospital garden bench would be a better option than the indoor lounge. He also spotted a structure resembling a pavilion when he looked down at the garden from his room upstairs.
Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly followed after the kid.
The way this unfamiliar kid waddled a little as she walked seemed slightly awkward, yet it also comforted him somewhat.
She certainly felt different from Zhongyuan’s children, at least.
This kid was spunky, yes, but she wasn’t rude.
‘What illness does she have?’
Kang Jin-Ho wondered.
Although his curiosity was piqued, he chose not to pry.
He knew from experience that asking about one's illness out of morbid curiosity would only leave behind extra scars in one's heart.
The kid entered the well-maintained garden in front of the hospital and plopped down on a bench.
King Sejong the Great's face graces South Korea's 10,000 won notes. ☜
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