Descent of the Demon Master
Kang Jin-Ho carefully dusted his discovery, which turned out to be a common exercise book.
However, he found himself unable to flip it open.
The idea of taking a look at its contents made him uncomfortable.
Kang Jin-Ho decided to exit the emplacement for the time being.
It was still the middle of the night, and there was no danger of being seen by anyone.
However, the unexpected was always there, so it paid to be cautious.
He sought out a location well out of people's view and sat somewhere more comfortable.
After putting the exercise book down for a bit, he smoked a cigarette to calm himself down.
This wasn't the time to be impatient.
The key was to be calm.
No matter what was written on the book's pages, he must not get agitated.
Agitation sometimes behaved like a powerful toxin seeping into your every pore; it had the potential to ruin everything.
Kang Jin-Ho slowly picked up the exercise book and opened its cover.
The initial parts didn't contain any notable revelations.
Stuff like various information related to the base that had to be memorized filled its pages, but such things were also written in the memo pads and the books of other soldiers, so nothing seemed amiss there.
The real meat of the matter began to surface only after Kang Jin-Ho got to the second half of the exercise book.
[It feels like Corporal Noh Su-Bong and Private 1st Class Kim Hak-Cheol don't see me in a favorable light.
I think I'm doing my best, but they keep getting angry at me for being slow.
I've never heard anyone say that to me before my enlistment, so it feels like I've become a moron after coming to this place.]
It seemed the 'diary' was written sporadically.
Some entries were written in three-day intervals, while some were written after a week or even a fortnight.
[Before enlisting, I never understood why some people silently endured their seniors making their lives a living hell.
A man has his pride, right? I figured I'd simply kick their asses and spend a few days in a cell or something, like a real man.
However, only a fool who doesn't know the truth thinks like that.
I learned that the real start would be after your release.
My seniors told me the story of some idiot in the neighboring squad who beat up his senior soldiers and spent time in jail.
After he served his time, he was treated as an invisible man by everyone, said my seniors while laughing their heads off.]
[Would I be able to endure that kind of treatment? I only have these people to talk to, so would I be able to stay sane if they ignored me?]
[My remaining time in the army feels so bloody long.
I thought things would get better as long as I endured it, but it's not getting better at all.
Being the maknae of the squad is so tough.
I swear, I'm gonna treat my juniors nicely once they join our squad later.]
[I got slapped for the first time today.
I told myself I'd wreck any fool who'd dare hit me first, but…
I couldn't do anything after the slap.
I was in a daze.
Confused, I think.
I couldn't even figure out if someone had really slapped me or not.
And when he started shouting at me right after that, I couldn't think of anything and just kept saying I'm sorry, over and over again.
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry…]
[I was on my way back from guard duty when I got this urge to rush inside the living area.
When I remembered my rifle had bullets in them, I began to fantasize about charging in there and shooting those motherf*ckers in their heads.
I hear you'd think about such stuff at least once in your life.
Does that mean I'm normal?]
[My confidence is gone.
I always thought I could do anything as long as I put my mind to it.
But in this place? I'm just a slow and dull-witted piece of trash.
I should have realized it during boot camp when I nearly killed someone with a grenade.
Maybe my confidence got overblown as I didn’t have real experience out in the world.
I want to see Min-Gi again…]
[When I got hit in the head with a pickax handle at the emplacement, something in me snapped.
I thought I had endured enough, so I threw the hammer I was holding at the seniors even without realizing it.
That was the beginning.
I haven't slept in the last three days.
They didn't physically touch me after that day, but they resorted to taking turns keeping me awake for the last three days.
I feel like I'm going crazy.
Three days without sleep will do that to anyone.
I can even hear this weird buzzing in my ear, too.]
[Surrendering is not weird.
Against enemies you can't resist, continuing to fight is simply too tiring.
But, it looks like they see my surrender as me giving up on my resistance altogether.
They now hit me if the mood takes them.
Getting kicked by their combat boots is a daily thing now, too.
In the beginning, I thought I was getting cursed at for making dumb mistakes, but now, I don't know anymore.
It feels like the fact that I am breathing is a crime to them.
Are they punishing me because I made mistakes, or are they punishing me even though I haven’t done anything wrong?]
My whole body hurts.
I can't walk properly since this morning.
But I can't take a break.
When I told them that I wasn’t feeling well, they dragged me to the boiler room and beat me up.
Kim Hak-Cheol shouted at me, and I couldn't even make an excuse.
He asked that if I get sick and can't work, does that mean he has to do my job?]
[I've reached my limit.
Until now, I figured I could keep enduring, and our ranks would rise up, then those bastards would eventually get discharged.
But, at this rate…
I'm scared I'll go crazy before they are gone.
I can't hold myself back anymore.
Next time, I swear I'm gonna kill them.
I'm gonna let them know that I've been holding back until now.
If I don't, they are gonna keep treating me like a moron and a loser.
I'm already a loser, though…]
[I got a call from home earlier today.
Grandma collapsed from an illness.
Who's looking after Min-Gi, then? That crazy son of a b*tch of our father probably won't leave Min-Gi alone, right? What am I gonna do now that grandma has collapsed? I can't think straight right now.]
[Grandma has been hospitalized.
I explained my situation to the battery commander, but he only told me that I couldn't get an early discharge because my f*cking old man was still around.
Father, is it? Am I supposed to call a bastard who drinks himself to a stupor, beats his children up, and ransacks the house whenever he gets bored…
my father? Really?
If only that bastard were dead, I would have gotten out of here already.
But he's still sticking around, preventing me from going home.
Then, who's looking after Min-Gi?
That kid is still in middle school, so who's taking care of him? And what about Grandma?]
Kang Jin-Ho closed the exercise book, then silently mouthed a fresh cigarette.
couldn't bear to read any further.
If he kept reading this diary, he feared he would charge straight into the 1st Squad's living area.
He had never considered himself to be an emotional or a sentimental person, but that assessment seemed to have been wrong after all.
'I have to finish reading this.'
Reading it was painful, but Kang Jin-Ho had to know what happened.
He had to know what they had done to Ju Yeong-Gi and learn what Ju Yeong-Gi felt.
This was the only act of repentance Kang Jin-Ho could perform for failing to extend a helping hand to Ju Yeong-Gi much sooner.
[All I can do now is to keep enduring and get discharged as soon as possible.
I can't think of any other way.
What if I beat up a senior and get thrown in jail? Min-Gi, my only sibling…
He's gonna be alone.
I gotta hold myself back.
No matter what happens to me, I gotta endure it.
That's the only thing I can do as Min-Gi's big brother.
Right now, Min-Gi must be doing his best to nurse Grandma while dealing with our sh*tty father's violent streak all on his own.
My remaining service duration feels so bloody long.
It feels like I'm going more insane every day.
I think I can hear weird noises whenever I close my eyes.
And nightmares are the only things I dream of lately.
Going on leave should help me perk up.
[I don't have any energy.
Feels like I can't get myself to do anything.
I don't know why the beatings feel more painful now.
Is it because the beatings have gotten worse, or has my body gotten too frail?
My seniors look like devils to me.
Why don't they care that I'm hurting? It's so hard for me, so can't they see it? Those bastards were laughing while stepping on my legs.
They really looked like devils back then.
Did I… did I look like that to others in the past?]
[I dropped the shampoo bottle during the shower, and they started hitting me right there and then.
I'm used to getting hit, but when they stepped on my junk, I felt something totally indescribable.
I seriously thought about killing myself just then.
That had to be the first time in my life.
Why am I dealing with this bullsh*t? Everything will be over if I'm dead, right?
No, that's not right.
I need to think about Min-Gi.
I cannot be weak.
If I keep enduring, they will eventually get discharged.
And I'll get out of here not too long after that.
Yeah, that's right.]
[They told me to smile.
I don’t see anything funny here, so I don't know why they are telling me to smile.
When I didn't smile, they said they'd help me with that, and they began to shove toothbrushes into my mouth.
They forced me to sleep while mouthing broken toothbrushes.
I think I finally know what that old saying means.
The one about getting beaten up is more preferable…]
[I heard somewhere that a person will get used to pain, but that has to be a lie.
I never got used to all the repeated beatings.
Instead, I'm more scared of them now.
I finally know what it feels like to get beaten up, so that makes sense, right? I get so scared even before they start hitting me.
And I'm scared of waking up in the morning.
I sometimes think it'll be nicer to just…
Go to bed at night and never wake up again.]
[Would I be any help to Min-Gi after leaving this place? I'm just a piece of trash, after all.
Maybe, the reason why I am going through all this sh*t is that I'm a pathetic loser.
It's not just Kim Hak-Cheol or Noh Su-Bong, but everyone else has begun to treat me like a loser now.
Since everyone says I'm a loser…
Maybe I am one?
Do I even deserve to live?]
[I couldn't sleep for the last five days.
I can no longer tell what I've been thinking about until now.
I even freaked out at a night watch's flashlight in the middle of the night.
I think I screamed back then, and the bastards dragged me to the boiler room.
But they didn't hit me.
And I still didn't get hit.
left me standing in the boiler room until daybreak.
to go to bed.]
Trash, trash, trash, trash, trash, trash…
Trash, trash, trash…
Trash, trash, trash, trash…
Trash, trash, trash, trash, trash, trash, trash, trash, trash, trash, trash…]
[I finally learned that Noh Su-Bong's father is someone powerful.
He asked me about my sick grandma.
He asked if she was okay.
How did he find out about my family's situation? I'm terrified that, even after getting out of here, I won’t be able to escape their grasp.]
[I threw up in the middle of the meal.
Noh Su-Bong acted all nice and caring, asking me if I was alright.
Instead of getting angry at that disgusting fake act, I'm angrier at myself for feeling grateful and breaking down in tears right there.
At this rate, I'm just a dog that wags his tail whenever his master hands out treats and obediently accepts getting beaten up.]
[I'm too tired.]
[I can't talk about this to anyone.
[I tried to test the waters with the quartermaster, but he simply glared at me coldly.
Now, I know for sure.
It was my fault all along.
[Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…]
The diary ended there.
Kang Jin-Ho closed the cover, his expression flat and cold.
He slowly got up and headed back to the emplacement before shoving the diary back inside the bundle of camouflage netting.
He then leisurely walked back to the barracks…
as if nothing had happened.
His steps were definitely not slow, yet they weren't fast either.
As he walked back to where the others were, a tall, grim shadow began to stretch behind him.
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