Descent of the Demon Master
Making a Move (2)
Right at that moment—
One of the soldiers holding onto the howitzer suddenly reached out and snatched the falling spade up with consummate ease.
Jang Jae-Hwan gasped in stupefaction.
“Get up,” said Kang Jin-Ho.
“I, I'm sorry?”
“I said, get up.”
“…Ah, yes, sir!” Jang Jae-Hwan sobered up instantly and shot up to his feet.
He couldn't help but get shocked by what he was seeing.
Kang Jin-Ho was holding up one of the howitzer's trails with one hand while the other was lifting the howitzer's spade up.
One of those spades weighed nearly 100kg, and at least two strapping young men were required to pick it up, yet Kang Jin-Ho had easily lifted it up.
Not only that, but the spade in question had quickly been falling to the ground!
'How can a human do that?!'
Something like this should be completely and utterly impossible for a normal human being to do.
Even the mere attempt would result in every single arm muscle tearing apart.
And even if that didn't happen, your balance would have crumbled, leaving you with no choice but to let go of the howitzer.
However, Kang Jin-Ho was expressionlessly holding the howitzer and the spade simultaneously! What an incredible and nonsensical feat of physical strength this was!
Kang Jin-Ho spoke in his usual unperturbed voice, “Stand up, soldier, and carry the spade properly.”
“Y-yes, sir! Ju-Yeong, stand up, man!”
Private Choi Ju-Yeong, who was still on the ground and was looking up in stupefaction, quickly stood back up at Jang Jae-Hwan's yell.
Kang Jin-Ho glanced at the two.
“Don't rush it.
Take it one step at a time.”
The two privates, now fully sobered up thanks to military discipline quickly pumping through their veins, tightly held on to the howitzer's spade and carried it to its intended destination.
Kang Jin-Ho watched the duo with withdrawn eyes.
Gun laying was completed, and the 3rd Squad stood behind their howitzer.
Thankfully, it seemed that the other squads had missed the sight of the near-accident.
Imagine what would have happened if high-ranking officers had witnessed it—they would have raised one hell of a fuss.
Jang Jae-Hwan was keeping his head low as cold sweat trickled down his face.
'That was close…'
If the falling spade had struck Choi Ju-Yeong in the chest…
He would have died instantly.
Even if the falling metal missed him, it would still hit the leg of a senior soldier propping up the howitzer, which would have led to an even bigger accident.
was Jang Jae-Hwan's fault.
“Jang Jae-Hwan,” Kang Jin-Ho quietly called out.
“Private 1st Class! Jang Jae-Hwan, sir!” Jang Jae-Hwan tensed up and bowed his head.
Kang Jin-Ho narrowed his eyes and stared at Private Jang.
“Are you feeling unwell?”
“However, you seem to have a fever.” Kang Jin-Ho pressed his hand on Jang Jae-Hwan's forehead, then turned toward Seong Tae-Ho to make a report.
“Squad Commander, sir.
This private has a fever.”
“Say what?” Seong Tae-Ho quickly walked over and grabbed Jang Jae-Hwan's collars.
He didn't stop there and proceeded to curse like a sailor.
“You dumb sh*t! Didn't I tell you to report to me immediately if you aren't feeling well? What the f*ck were you thinking?!”
“I'm sorry, sir.”
“Why didn't you tell me that you were sick?! You stupid f*ck, if Jin-Ho hadn't been here, someone would have died because of you! Don't you get that?!”
“Damn it, what the hell am I supposed to…” Before Seong Tae-Ho could finish, Kang Jin-Ho quietly tugged at his side and pulled him back.
Seong Tae-Ho looked back.
“Sir, remember that he's not feeling well.”
“Fuu-woo…” Seong Tae-Ho slowly shook his head.
“I'll talk to the medics and make the necessary report, so you go back to base.”
Jang Jae-Hwan shook his head in alarm.
I can still do this.”
“Shut it, kid.
It's fine even if you're not here.
You dumbass, why didn't you take it easy with your illness as an excuse? Why are you putting yourself through this nonsense when there's literally no reward for you at the end of the day? When I was your rank, just a hint of a runny nose made me cop out and run to the infirmary, dude.”
“I'm sorry, Squad Commander…” Jang Jae-Hwan's voice grew smaller and smaller.
Seong Tae-Ho tutted loudly, “You sure love to say sorry, don't you? I'm telling you to go back since you causing an accident will only delay my discharge, okay? So, go away now, will ya?”
Seong Tae-Ho turned to Kang Jin-Ho next.
“I'm gonna go and make the report, Jin-Ho.
Make sure this idiot goes back to base and calm down the rest of the squad in the meantime.”
“Yes, sir.” Kang Jin-Ho nodded and watched Seong Tae-Ho head toward the Battery Commander's position.
He then shifted his attention over to Jang Jae-Hwan.
Go back to base, Private Jang.”
“And make sure to take a long, good shower first before changing out of your uniform.
Then get some rest.
There should be plenty of warm water.”
Understood.” Jang Jae-Hwan turned around and headed back toward the barracks.
His shoulders felt especially heavy as he trudged forward.
Despite the presence of an IV needle stuck to his arm, Jang Jae-Hwan still slipped outside the infirmary and headed to the smoking area.
After briefly looking around, he saw Kang Jin-Ho puffing away on a bench, and he joined him.
Kang Jin-Ho cocked an eyebrow.
“What are you doing outside, Jae-Hwan?”
I was hankering for a smoke break.”
“They let a patient smoke?”
“…Sir, lying down and doing nothing was slowly killing me inside.”
“That makes sense…” Kang Jin-Ho slowly nodded.
The conversation came to a stop there, replaced by a sense of awkwardness.
Jang Jae-Hwan lit his cigarette and initiated the conversation this time.
“Corporal Kang, sir.”
Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly looked back at Jang Jae-Hwan before tilting his head slightly.
“If it weren't for your intervention, something terrible would have happened today, sir.
You really saved our bacon today.”
Kang Jin-Ho shut his mouth, not knowing what to say.
He was still not used to this sort of flattery.
“It has been a while since I enlisted, but…
Honestly speaking, sir? I've always found you difficult to approach or work with.
After going through that mishap, though…
I think I understand why you emphasize sticking to the field manual so much, sir.”
Kang Jin-Ho was slightly taken aback and asked, “You find me difficult?”
“How come?” Kang Jin-Ho narrowed his eyes, unable to understand what Jang Jae-Hwan was saying here.
He had never tormented the junior soldiers before, nor had he ever broken the rules and abused them.
Hadn’t he guaranteed their freedom during their off days and had eliminated all internal irregularities as well? So, why was this private saying that Kang Jin-Ho was difficult to approach or work with?
“Sir, you are usually not very talkative.”
“Mm.” Kang Jin-Ho nodded.
He couldn't refute that.
“And sir, you…
usually don't make any facial expressions.
That kind of makes it scary to talk to you, sir.”
Jang Jae-Hwan spoke with a little more conviction, “The others are saying the same thing, sir.”
“I see…” Kang Jin-Ho rubbed his chin, trying to digest this unexpected revelation.
He didn't think his relationship with the junior soldiers could be described as friendly, but the fact that they found him uncomfortable and difficult was still news to him.
'Do the others feel the same way about me?'
Kang Jin-Ho was working hard toward becoming a person who outwardly seemed aloof and hard to talk to but was always available to listen to other people when they were in trouble.
That was why he couldn't help but feel somewhat disappointed to learn that the others found him difficult to be with.
'I'm hard to approach me first, is it…'
This problem required Kang Jin-Ho's serious consideration.
To uphold Sister Yi's wish, Kang Jin-Ho had to become more approachable, after all.
“Thanks for telling me, Jae-Hwan.”
“No, I should be thanking you, sir.”
“Next time, don't hesitate and tell us if you're not feeling well, okay? Why do you think our squad commander worked hard to eliminate all irregularities in our squad? It's to make your lives easier.
In that case, why would you try to hide your illness?”
“I'm really sorry, sir.” Jang Jae-Hwan quietly wiped away the hints of tears near his eyes.
The saddest thing during military service was being sick.
That was because you couldn't freely reveal your poor condition to the higher-ups.
The current regulations were designed to be more considerate toward soldiers with illnesses, but the reality wasn't so kind.
No senior soldier would be happy about having their workload increase because one of their juniors was sick.
Such a situation would inevitably lead to some level of hostility brewing toward the sick soldier.
No wonder many junior soldiers often held back on revealing their poor condition to the others.
Kang Jin-Ho inhaled a lungful of gray cigarette smoke before continuing, “Our squad won't face issues just because you are not around to pull your weight, Jae-Hwan.
This is precisely why we set up the rule of everyone performing their assigned duties.”
“I hadn't thought that far ahead, sir.”
“…As long as you understand now.” Kang Jin-Ho leaned back on the bench and ended his sermon there.
He had never been a talkative person, wasn't he? What Jang Jae-Hwan had noted earlier was true.
He finished his cigarette, then got up from the bench, prompting Jang Jae-Hwan to follow suit and stand up.
Kang Jin-Ho stopped him.
Stay and finish your smoke.
I have some other things to attend to, anyway.”
Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly waved and turned around, his steps taking him back to the barracks.
Jang Jae-Hwan stared at Kang Jin-Ho's back and realized something.
Kang Jin-Hi was a truly strong person.
Of course, Jang Jae-Hwan already knew that.
Living together under one roof was enough to learn that simple fact.
However, moments like this still freshly reminded him—reminded him that Kang Jin-Ho had been looking after not just Jang Jae-Hwan, but the entire squad.
“Maybe I should grow up and stop whining…”
Jang Jae-Hwan wasn't an idiot blind to the truth.
Because Kang Jin-Ho was here, he and the other privates were free from all sorts of underhanded irregularities and abuse.
How could he not see the truth when his mates in the other squads were going through all kinds of hell trying to meet the nonsensical demands of their heartless seniors?
Jang Jae-Hwan had gained a renewed appreciation of how much Kang Jin-Ho thought about his juniors.
“Ah, by the way…” Kang Jin-Ho suddenly stopped and turned toward Jang Jae-Hwan for some reason.
“Once you recover, don't forget to wash the blanket you've been using.”
“The others might catch your cold.” Kang Jin-Ho left behind those words and disappeared beyond the doorway.
Jang Jae-Hwan silently stared at the heavens above.
I guess there are no perfect human beings, after all.'
Kang Jin-Ho couldn't get rid of this sour taste in his mouth.
People find it difficult to approach or talk to me, is that it?'
This was so strange.
Kang Jin-Ho hadn't inconvenienced anyone, nor had he caused them harm, so why did they find him so unapproachable?
This could potentially mean someone in his squad was going through a hard time but was unable to talk about it in the open.
'Right, she told me to approach first.'
Sister Yi told him to become someone who would reach out first.
In that case, he shouldn't passively wait for others to ask for help as he had done until now.
He had to be more proactive.
Perhaps, that could be the answer he was looking for.
'I don't know how to make myself more…
approachable, after all.'
He figured being more proactive was the easier way for him.
Just as he finished making up his mind, though, Kang Jin-Ho realized that an unexpected acquaintance had been sitting next to him all along.
He cocked an eyebrow and stared at Ju Yeong-Gi.
“You seem to have lost some weight, Yeong-Gi.”
“You think so?”
Kang Jin-Ho quietly observed Ju Yeong-Gi's state.
Never mind losing weight; the term 'skeletal' might be a better description for him at this stage.
Ju Yeong-Gi used to blur the boundary between 'well-rounded' and 'chubby' back in the boot camp, but now, he was even gaunter than an average person.
Kang Jin-Ho narrowed his eyes.
“Did something happen to you?”
“…Nah, not really.” Ju Yeong-Gi waved his hand dismissively, but the deep creases in his forehead said otherwise.
His skin was visibly rough, while large dark circles were drooping below his eyes.
Kang Jin-Ho's eyes narrowed some more.
'It's not as simple as losing weight, is it?'
He used to think Ju Yeong-Gi was a bit overweight and that the disciplined lifestyle was helping out with the weight loss.
Now that he had taken another look, though…
That didn't seem to be the case at all.
'…Why haven't I noticed this before?'
Ju Yeong-Gi was one of the few acquaintances Kang Jin-Ho had made after enlisting.
Although he might not be close enough with the former to call him a friend, there was no denying the fact that Ju Yeong-Gi was among the handful of people in the military Kang Jin-Ho felt comfortable enough to talk freely like this.
Yet, he still failed to notice the change in such a person until now…
'This is well beyond the level of disinterest…'
Kang Jin-Ho sighed under his breath, thinking that he deserved to be called a blind fool or something even worse.
He acknowledged his crippling and severe lack of interest in other people.
However, this seemed way too excessive even by his own standards.
He suddenly understood, at least a little more than before, why Sister Yi wanted him to become a person capable of reaching out to other people.
She had been looking after many frail children during her life, so it had to be easy for her to see that Kang Jin-Ho resembled an unfriendly hedgehog who didn't welcome any strangers into his world.
“Yeong-Gi, you don't look so good.”
“We're in the military, man.
No need to look good all the time, right? Don't worry about me, Jin-Ho.”
“It seems a lot worse than that, Yeong-Gi.”
“Argh, I told you, I'm fine!” Ju Yeong-Gi shot up to his feet and walked away in a hurry.
That unexpectedly prickly reaction only frustrated Kang Jin-Ho even further.
'Something is definitely going on here…'
Kang Jin-Ho's glare sharpened as his eyes became withdrawn.
Night had fallen…
Sometime after the evening roll call was finished and the lights went off for the night, Kang Jin-Ho slowly opened his eyes.
He got up from his bedding, put on his shoes, and silently headed outside the living quarter.
“Sir? Where are you going?” The night watch noticed Kang Jin-Ho and asked.
“I'm off to the bathroom.”
After successfully coming up with a random excuse and convincing the guard, Kang Jin-Ho headed to living quarter no.1.
It was located on the opposite side to Kang Jin-Ho's no.5 building, yet no one tried to stop him.
'He's not here…'
Kang Jin-Ho's eyes narrowed to slits after confirming the situation.
He had already asked around earlier in the day, and it seemed that no one was tormenting or bullying Ju Yeong-Gi during the daytime.
Which meant either something was happening to him during the night or his family was experiencing some trouble back home.
Sure enough, Ju Yeong-Gi was nowhere to be seen in his living quarter.
However, he wasn't the only one.
Kang Jin-Ho confirmed that there were also several other unoccupied beddings within the 1st Squad.
'Where could they be?'
Kang Jin-Ho quickly exited the building.
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