Descent of the Demon Master
“Do they get ulcers or something if they don't torture us first thing in the morning?!” Jo Won-Gu muttered while gritting his teeth.
It felt like his bones were creaking for real, not just his imagination.
His discharge from the mandatory military service was only about a month away, so being forced into participating in guerrilla training had already incensed him to no end.
Yet, this year's training seemed particularly harsh.
“…Did these instructors all lose their damn minds?”
For some reason, Jo Won-Gu thought he could sense the drill instructors chomping at the bits.
He glanced at his squad member.
“Corporal Seok Wung-Cheol, sir.”
“Tell me something.
Is it my declining stamina, or are these as*hole instructors trying to kill me?”
“Are you comparing this year's training to the last year's, Serg?”
This year is a lot crazier than the last time, right?”
Seok Wung-Cheol chuckled.
“Eii~, Serg, I think you're forgetting something, sir.
Wasn't there a big accident last year before we joined the training?”
Jo Won-Gu tilted his head slightly.
“A big accident?”
Didn't some kid fall during the rappel training and break his legs? And he died while being transferred to a hospital, didn't he? Don't tell me you already forgot about that, Serg.”
“…Aha, that's right.”
“And that raised one hell of a fuss back then.
The instructors got scared, and they didn't make us go through anything too tough last year, Serg.
I mean, we even had inspectors dispatched from the higher-ranked unit to keep an eye on the proceedings and all.”
Jo Won-Gu slowly nodded, having finally managed to dig through his dim memories and recall those events.
“Hmm. That means we didn't get to taste the real guerrilla training last year, then?”
“It seems that way, Serg.”
“…In that case, why does this whole thing still feel so sh*tty to me?”
“It must be just a feeling, Serg.”
“You think so?” Jo Won-Gu asked back.
Logically speaking, Corporal Seok was right, but something about that explanation just didn't feel adequate enough for some reason.
However, there was another person capable of helping him see the truth.
One of the drill instructors yelled, “Owl No.88!”
“Owl No.88, Jo Won-Gu!”
“Are you not going to respond, soldier?!”
“No, sir! Time ouuuuut!” Jo Won-Gu desperately cried out.
He quickly learned that stuff like his sh*tty feelings would quickly be forgotten once he started tumbling and rolling around on the dirty ground.
“…Uwaaaah! Gimme a freaking break!”
“Did you say something, soldier?!”
The so-called guerrilla training consisted of a rather amusing set-up.
While waiting for their turns to run around the obstacle course, the soldiers were constantly being harassed by the instructors.
However, both of these practices had one thing in common—the instructors wanted to inspire willingness in the soldiers.
And that goal was achieved by offering a reward to a soldier who performed excellently during training.
“Owl No.521! Time out!”
Kang Jin-Ho abruptly stopped in the middle of scaling a near-vertical rock wall as if it was a flat piece of land.
He quickly stepped out of the course.
The instructor roared at him.
“You're now given a break.
“Yes, sir! Understood!” Kang Jin-Ho replied and sat down.
His seniors were desperately crawling and rolling around in the dirt, yet Kang Jin-Ho got to take a seat and mess around every time he overcame an obstacle.
Of course, he was just sitting there like a stone statue, but the senior soldiers weren’t seeing it that way.
They couldn't help but think that Kang Jin-Ho was having a good time while everyone else was going through hell.
'Kang Jin-Ho, you son of a b*tch!'
'You bastard, imma rip you a new one when we get back to the barracks!'
Unfortunately for the soldiers, it didn't matter how green they were with jealousy or how badly they detested Kang Jin-Ho's unperturbed attitude.
They wouldn't dare to express it, after all!
Wasn't guerrilla training ranked as one of the toughest military exercises, along with cold weather conditioning? Drill instructors were chomping at the bits, waiting for that one little opportunity to put the hapless recruits through even more wringer.
And when a soldier did present such an opportunity, just like how Jo Won-Gu had done earlier, he would be forced into performing the 'legs raised, whole body twisting' calisthenics routine straight away.
“Seveeeeen, eiiiiight, niiiiine…”
Jo Won-Gu breathed laboriously while his mind tried to distract itself by thinking that the person responsible for inventing this particular calisthenics routine had to be a goddamn sadist.
Or, at the very least, a psychopath!
Which sane person would even come up with such a cruel torture method?! And how did they even dream of making one do this routine in the middle of the guerrilla training area where all South Korean men had to pass by at least once?!
This hellish torture should have been consigned to history books alongside the anti-commie security police by now!
“Can't you do this one little thing properly?! Aren't you ashamed to be in front of your juniors?!” the drill instructor roared.
“…!” Jo Won-Gu's face reddened instantly.
“Do it properly now! Understand me, soldier?!”
“Aaaahk!” Jo Won-Gu raised his legs back up in sheer desperation.
'…Kang Jin-Ho, you motherf*cker!'
Jo Won-Gu swore he would utterly annihilate Kang Jin-Ho as soon as the day's so-called training was over.
However, he had to change his plans wholesale when the afternoon training session began.
Jo Won-Gu cried out in helplessness.
That was because Kang Jin-Ho was sprinting forward as if he was the Korean Usain Bolt.
“Wait, Jin-Hoooo! We are on a mountain! A bloody mountain, Jin-Hooo!!!”
The afternoon exercise turned out to be 'map reading.’ In this training, each squad was handed a map, and they competed to see who would reach the designated area the quickest.
Now normally, such an exercise should take place deep in the wilderness.
Owing to the unique nature of guerrilla training, however, it would be a waste of time to transport all these participants to the starting area.
There was also the danger of unforeseen emergencies, so the training would usually take place in a comparatively low-lying mountain.
However, the goal would remain the same in that the squad reaching the mountain's peak fastest would be the winner.
Even though Jo Won-Gu had been grinding his teeth all morning, he had to believe in Kang Jin-Ho come afternoon and issue a new order.
And that was to—“Reach the goal before anyone else!”
Predictably, Kang Jin-Ho was carrying out that order like a relentless machine.
He took a second to scan the map, and then he began to sprint through the mountain's terrain at scarcely-believable speed.
The rest of his squad members desperately chased after him, but Kang Jin-Ho didn't even seem to care that he was running on a mountain.
No, he was dashing forward like an Olympic sprinter on a flat piece of land!
“H-hey! Go after him! Go! Do not lose him!” Jo Won-Gu cried out urgently.
Were they being drilled by the instructors or Kang Jin-Ho? The squad members got increasingly confused as they chased after one of their own through the mountainside.
“Don't! Lose! Him! Doooon't!” Jo Won-Gu continued to cry out while running as if his life depended on it, spittle flying out of his mouth.
Just one squad member reaching the destination would stop the timer and record the time for the whole squad.
However, that didn't mean they could relax and stroll leisurely now, could they?!
To prevent any one-in-a-million freak incident, the rest of Kang Jin-Ho's squad simply had to follow him, no matter what!
“Our leave is right there, boys! Man up!” Jo Won-Gu cried out to encourage his squad members.
They were on the brink of passing out from chasing after Kang Jin-Ho with everything they had.
“…What the hell? Why are you here already?” The drill instructor waiting at the finish line stared at Kang Jin-Ho in disbelief.
Even a blind could tell that he was deeply flustered by the latter’s unexpected arrival.
Kang Jin-Ho stood upright and replied, “Sir! We're Charlie's 3rd squad.”
3rd squad, you say?” The instructor dazedly nodded while staring at Kang Jin-Ho’s unperturbed face, and then he glanced at his watch to make sure.
'I'm pretty sure the previous squad arrived here only five minutes ago, though?'
During the map reading exercise, five different squads would set off toward different destinations at ten-minute intervals, and the time each squad would take to reach their goal was measured.
Simply put, Kang Jin-Ho had arrived at the destination in half the time the previous squad had taken.
“Good job, soldier! Take a breather over there.”
“Yes, sir!” Kang Jin-Ho saluted, then headed to the rest area at the finishing line.
He took a seat and drank water from one of the available canteens.
He watched the rest of his squad members in the distance breathlessly running this way and thought to himself…
'Things are going well…'
On the third day…
Jo Won-Gu muttered in a tired voice.
“Private 1st Class Kang Jin-Ho, sir.”
“Can you, like…
toss them a bit more gently?”
“I don't follow, sir?”
They are not our enemies but fellow Korean soldiers, right? If you toss them outside like that, it's gonna hurt a lot, you see? So, I'm asking you to be gentle with them.”
“I see, sir.
I'll engrave it to my heart.”
“S-sure thing…” Jo Won-Gu weakly replied, already wondering about the point of life itself.
However, how could he not? This was his second time participating in guerrilla training, which naturally meant this was his second time experiencing the so-called 'trench battle.’
The trench battle was usually a competition between soldiers to shove others outside of a deep hole in the ground.
Although it was referred to as a battle, you were prohibited from hitting your opponents, so the competition would inevitably descend into a free-for-all wrestling battle royale.
However, it could also descend into an utter pandemonium where a group of mud-covered young men would roll, tumble, push and shove each other away.
To make matters worse, the head drill instructor had declared before the start that the winner would receive the most points for the overall 'best-performing squad' evaluation.
His provocative words meant today's trenches would turn into a fierce battleground where the blood, sweat, and tears of countless soldiers would be shed.
At least, that was what should have happened.
“But now, what the heck…” Jo Won-Gu muttered quietly while taking in the gruesome sight of a 'massacre' before his eyes.
“H-hey, man! My arm! My arm!”
“Can't I just get out myself? Please? You know what, let me just get out now.”
Kang Jin-Ho was usually Terminator, but in this place? He was Fedor Emelianenko.
Strategy? Tactics? Such things were unnecessary in this place! Kang Jin-Ho simply grabbed the nearest person, lightly picked them up, and tossed them outside the trench.
Those who knew what it meant to pick up a person and throw them around could only look on in sheer disbelief.
As for those 'victims' who had gotten themselves thrown around by another person for the first time since their elementary school days—they could only lie on their backs and stare at the skies in a daze, wondering what had just happened to them.
Thanks to Jo Won-Gu's quick-witted flexible thinking, Kang Jin-Ho proceeded to end the confrontation by picking people up and then gently placing them outside the trench.
“Now! Grab him! Do it nooow!”
When Kang Jin-Ho picked up one person and began walking towards the trench's wall, three, no, four people rushed in and clung to his waist, trying to pull him down.
Unfortunately for them, Kang Jin-Ho was like an unstoppable bulldozer.
He reached his destination, put down the person he was carrying, then picked up every single soldier clinging to his waist and placed them outside the trench, as well.
“…This can't be called a trench battle anymore now, can it?” Jo Won-Gu quietly muttered to himself.
Rather than combat, this whole thing seemed more like an escort mission instead!
The other members of the 3rd squad, the squad where Kang Jin-Ho belonged, could only stand back and stare at the unfolding spectacle because…
it didn't seem right for them to interfere.
“Isn't Jin-Ho a bit too much?” Jo Won-Gu muttered to no one in particular.
“That's an understatement of the century, Serg,” Jeon Hyeok-Su shook his head helplessly.
“Sometimes, Jin-Ho being a part of our squad feels like a blessing, but some other times, it's like a curse…
I just can't make up my mind, sir.”
“Still, we're being spared that humiliation, so there's that, right?” Jo Won-Gu pointed with his chin.
He noticed a soldier from some other squad getting picked up in the air.
That poor lad in the air was this close to breaking out in tears.
Unable to look on any further, Jo Won-Gu turned his head away.
Jo Won-Gu didn't know about the boys from the infantry division, but at the very least, he could confidently say that the artillery troops were renowned for their physical strength.
Soldiers in this branch of the military were forced into back-breaking work dealing with cannons weighing over seven tons.
That wasn't all since they were also forced into participating in harsh training that paid absolutely no consideration to the aerobic energy-generating process! Repeatedly going through such torture every day meant an artillery soldier's arms would get naturally thicker while their gut would start to protrude.
An artillery soldier could only accept such dramatic changes to their physique with manly tears, their only solace being their enhanced grip strength and the ability to bench-press seemingly superhuman level of weight!
To these soldiers, being picked up like a toy was probably the worst type of humiliation they could ever imagine.
“…Hey, Jin-Ho? Go easy on them, will ya?”
“Sir? Understood.” Kang Jin-Ho glanced back at Jo Won-Gu and nodded briefly.
“N-no, I didn't mean you should grab them gently…” Jo Won-Gu's voice faltered as he watched the carnage continue—what a heartless, cold-blooded bastard!
“Serg?” Jeon Hyeok-Su cautiously raised his voice.
“When I think about it, it's a relief that we met him in the army.”
Jo Won-Gu was taken aback.
“How did you arrive at that conclusion?”
“I mean, sir…
Had I ever met him as a civilian, I don't think I could look at Jin-Ho in the eye.”
“…Huh. You have a point there.”
It seemed that Kang Jin-Ho was dealing damage to both his allies and opponents at the same time.
Jo Won-Gu scratched his cheek.
“…We will be the best-performing squad, right?”
“Well, it's almost a done deal at this stage, Serg…” Jeon Hyeok-Su muttered.
Although the members of the 3rd squad hadn't done much, they had still 'won' the map reading and the trench combat.
As long as they didn’t stumble during the rest of the training and drop out of the upcoming march, the overall victory should be theirs.
“Jin-Ho is carrying all of us to the finish line, so do your best not to mess it up, okay? …Let's just do our best. Our best, I say.”
Jo Won-Gu turned his head to look at Kang Jin-Ho, who was currently hoovering up choco pies that had been bought for him as the reward for all of his 'hard' work so far.
A satisfied grin slowly floated up on Jo Won-Gu's face.
“Enjoy it, Jin-Ho.”
Kang Jin-Ho replied with a salute, “Thank you, sir.”
Jo Won-Gu nodded in approval.
Kang Jin-Ho had a tendency of making one mad every once in a while, but he was still a good kid who would bring the 3rd Squad their much-deserved vacation time.
When Jo Won-Gu thought about how all of his accumulated mental stress from looking after such a piece of work would be rewarded with a lengthy leave, it felt like the weight of the world had been taken off his shoulders.
“By the way, Serg?” Jeon Hyeok-Su tilted his head.
“Don't we have a talent show tomorrow evening? With the prize of extra leave on offer? Serg, shouldn't we aim for that as well?”
“Let's be brutally honest here.
We are diligent and physically strong, but we also don't have any artistic abilities whatsoever, am I right?”
“…T-that is true, Serg.”
“Let's not get greedy over things out of our wheelhouse, okay? I sure don't want to become a laughing stock by tackling stuff we have no idea about.”
“…You're right, Serg.”
At this point, Seong Tae-Ho broke his silence and raised his voice.
Jo Won-Gu glanced at him.
“I've been thinking about that, and…
Sir, I think there is a way to win the talent show without getting laughed off the stage.”
“Really?” Jo Won-Gu's brows rose up.
Seong Tae-Ho turned his head and stared at Kang Jin-Ho, who was still munching on his choco pie.
“…I think we can go with the demonstration of superhuman strength, sir.”
Everyone in the squad suddenly stared at Kang Jin-Ho.
As for Kang Jin-Ho, he could only stare back, puzzled by the sudden outpour of attention on him.
Fedor Vladimirovich Emelianenko is a Russian heavyweight MMA fighter, a winner of numerous championships and accolades. ☜
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