Descent of the Demon Master
The 'Charlie' artillery corps quickly regained its sense of normalcy.
Ju Yeong-Gi was still unconscious, but the soldiers acted as if he had never existed in the first place.
Kang Jin-Ho was no different.
“Jang Jae-Hwan,” said Kang Jin-Ho.
“Private 1st Class Jang Jae-Hwan, sir!”
“Are you done cleaning yet?”
“Sir, I’m done.”
“Again.” Kang Jin-Ho gestured to the floor.
“Yes, sir.” Jang Jae-Hwan grew tearful as he grabbed a mop.
Kang Jin-Ho walked away afterward to attend to other matters.
After making sure the coast was clear, Jang Jae-Hwan groaned loudly and tossed the mop at his junior soldiers.
“We don't have a choice anymore, fellas.
Corporal Kang wants us to surf the floor once more.”
One of the private 2nd classes raised his hand.
“Private Jang, sir?”
“I've been wondering about this for a while, and…
Could it be that Corporal Kang thinks that this is a fancy hotel and we're its cleaning crew?”
“…Why don't you ask him personally?”
“I don't have the courage, sir.”
The investigation into Ju Yeong-Gi's matter was quickly wrapped up, just like Noh Su-Bong had anticipated.
A case like this would commonly be filed under 'suicide' even if the victim's guardian showed up to harass the officials with sharp questions.
However, no one showed up and demanded justice for Ju Yeong-Gi.
As such, the momentum of the investigation quickly fizzled away, with no investigators willing to dig any deeper.
Jo Gyu-Min began his report.
– Mister Jin-Ho, Ju Yeong-Gi has been successfully transferred to Jaegyeong's hospital.
As for his guardian?”
– We've found he has a father, a grandmother, and a younger brother.
However, the father should be declared legally unfit, in my opinion.
He's an alcoholic, and…
let's just say he's unsalvageable as a human being.
As for the grandmother, she has been working as a cleaner to eke out a living for her family, but she has recently been diagnosed with pneumonia and is currently hospitalized.
The family can't even keep up with the treatment cost.
“What's happening with the younger brother?”
– That kid is only a middle schooler.
Due to his young age, I don't think he fully understands the severity of his current situation.
When he learned about Ju Yeong-Gi's hospitalization, the boy seemed lost and confused, Mister Jin-Ho.
Kang Jin-Ho's grip on the phone receiver tightened.
“What about the mother? Is she dead?”
It seems she passed on a while ago.
“I see.” Kang Jin-Ho sucked in a deep breath.
“Please, stay on top of this matter.
And I'd like you to provide financial assistance to the grandmother, as well.”
– I've already dealt with her treatment fee.
As for the child, the legal side of things hasn't been sorted out yet, and he can't be moved to a proper institution.
As a stop-gap measure, I've contacted a welfare organization.
With a bit more push, we can have the father declared legally unfit and take away his guardianship rights.
And I think it's not a bad idea to have him stay in Seongsim for the time being until this matter is resolved.
“Mm. That sounds like a good idea,” said Kang Jin-Ho.
The orphanage's kids were all kind, so they should treat Yeong-Gi's younger brother well.
“I'd be great if that boy gets to see Yeong-Gi in the near future.”
– He'll get the opportunity to visit the hospital soon.
The grandmother doesn't know about Mister Ju Yeong-Gi’s hospitalization; however…
“What about her condition?”
– She should make a speedy recovery with continuous treatment, but…
With how weakened she has become, I don't think she can continue working as a cleaner, Mister Jin-Ho.
Please provide for her living cost from my account.”
– Will do.
“Then, I'll call you again later.”
– Take care, Mister Jin-Ho.
Kang Jin-Ho ended the call and leisurely walked out of the Administration Office.
In the afternoon of the same day, Kang Jin-Ho received a new visitor.
“Soldier, you must be Corporal Kang Jin-Ho.”
Kang Jin-Ho stood at attention and saluted.
“Nice to meet you.
I'm Major Nam Tae-Sik from Defense Security Command.”
“Take a seat, please.”
Kang Jin-Ho sat on the spot on the couch pointed out by Major Nam.
They were currently the only people inside the Battery Commander's office.
Major Nam Tae-Sik leaned forward and spoke in a calm voice, “Let me cut to the chase.
I'm here to get your cooperation on that matter.”
“I see…” Kang Jin-Ho slowly nodded.
“Do you know anything about this incident that can help the investigation?”
Kang Jin-Ho didn't say anything and quietly studied Nam Tae-Sik's face.
The major from South Korea's Defense Security Command cleared his throat and began his explanation, “It seems the… general consensus is to bury this incident as another suicide attempt.
However, I have no thoughts of doing that.
If someone tried to take their own life, there has to be a reason—a cause.
Yet, someone with seemingly no motive to do such a thing suddenly attempted suicide out of depression? That makes no sense to me.
Especially when the person in question had such a strong desire to finish his service and leave the army.”
“Without a doubt, there has to be some kind of irregularity in this place.
Someone had definitely been bullying that kid.
Yet, everything seems so spotless in this place.
Too clean, in my opinion.
And no one seems to be interested in digging any deeper either.
So, what do you think? Am I wrong?”
“I don't know anything, sir.” Kang Jin-Ho slowly shook his head.
“Don't know anything, you say…” Nam Tae-Sik narrowed his eyes and stared at Kang Jin-Ho before pulling out a packet of cigarettes.
“Do you smoke, Corporal?”
“Then, have one on me.”
Kang Jin-Ho shook his head to say no, but Nam Tae-Sik didn't withdraw his hand.
Left with no choice, Kang Jin-Ho accepted the cigarette and mouthed it.
The cigarette was lit up, and its end slowly burned away.
Nam Tae-Sik also lit one up for himself.
“Someone almost died.”
Kang Jin-Ho didn't say anything as he smoked his cigarette.
“Do you really think it's easy for a person to tie a shoelace around their throat? Besides, the victim didn't even try to hang himself from somewhere high up.
If he had changed his mind and stretched his legs, he would have escaped largely unscathed.
So, do you understand what is being implied by the fact that he hadn’t done that?”
Kang Jin-Ho still didn't say anything as he slowly exhaled the cigarette smoke.
“All I need from you is just a tiny little help.
I promise you; I'm different from the previous corrupt investigators that just stopped by here for a quick look around.
Just one brave person coming forward, and I assure you, I will bring justice to the victim.”
Kang Jin-Ho silently listened.
Nam Tae-Sik's voice got a little more desperate.
“You're his mate, a friend, aren't you? You had to have heard something.
Or, you must have seen some hints, at least.
Try to remember.”
Kang Jin-Ho finally responded with another slow shake of his head, “No, sir.
I don't know anything.”
“Look here, Kang Jin-Ho!” Nam Tae-Sik finally lost some of his cool.
“Someone close to you is dying! Yet, are you telling me that nobody in the base of nearly two hundred personnel knew what was going on?! You think that makes sense?!”
“Sir, I understand your point.
However, I really don't know anything.
I think it'll be better to interview the other soldiers.”
“What the hell?! Corporal Kang!” Nam Tae-Sik slammed his fist down on the table.
Kang Jin-Ho stopped talking and stared back, leaving Nam Tae-Sik with no choice but to sigh deeply.
He briefly nodded.
“Yes, sir.” Kang Jin-Ho got up and headed to the exit.
That was when Nam Tae-Sik muttered, “Aiding and abetting…
are no different from committing murder.
And you just turned a blind eye to the injustice of your mate.”
Kang Jin-Ho stopped opening the door and replied in a quiet voice, “It probably won't happen that way, sir.”
Nam Tae-Sik looked up, but the door was closed by then, and Kang Jin-Ho had already exited the office.
Nam Tae-Sik noticed that the light had died on his cigarette, so he lit it up again.
And with that…
the investigation was wrapped up for good.
After no evidence was discovered…
No, after seemingly no one tried to seriously uncover the truth, Ju Yeong-Gi's incident was judged to be a suicide attempt due to personal matters.
It would change after Ju Yeong-Gi woke up and testified, but for now, that would be the 'provisional' conclusion.
That punk, will he ever wake up?” Noh Su-Bong speaking to the phone's receiver suddenly raised his voice in dissatisfaction.
“Dad, how could you let him get transferred out of there? What if he wakes up? Do you really wanna see your son thrown into jail?!”
His tone of voice seemed nervous, maybe even a little fearful.
However, Noh Su-Bong's expression was definitely none of those.
“There's zero chance of him waking up? Are you sure? Hah, that's still making me nervous, Dad.
Is there a way to cleanly deal with this? Sorry? What do you mean if I was a part of that accident? I'm telling you the truth, Dad.
I haven't done anything to that punk.
He lost his mind and suddenly tried to hang himself, you know? What could I have done in that case? No, I haven't bullied that idiot, either.” Noh Su-Bong's irritation level got even higher as he talked.
He eventually put the phone down unhappily.
“Argh, goddamn it.
What a boomer!”
His father was going to do it for him anyway, so why did the old man always have to nag and irritate his son like this?
Noh Su-Bong turned his head toward Kim Hak-Cheol next to him.
“Corporal Kim Hak-Cheol, sir.”
“Go and get rid of that thing.”
“That thing, sir?” Kim Hak-Cheol tilted his head slightly.
“Come on, you moron.
You know, that thing! The notebook!”
“Understood, sir.” Kim Hak-Cheol noticed Noh Su-Bong's sour mood and quickly sprinted to the gun emplacement.
While heading there, he began to think.
'I guess it's finally over, huh?'
Kim Hak-Cheol wasn't sure why they had to hold on to Ju Yeong-Gi's diary until now.
Noh Su-Bong had previously said something about using it to create an alibi just in case, but it turned out to be unnecessary.
'He probably had a plan.'
Noh Su-Bong was certainly a lot sharper and craftier than Kim Hak-Cheol.
So, there had to be a good reason for Noh Su-Bong to leave the diary alone until now.
While playing with his lighter, Kim Hak-Cheol arrived at the emplacement.
He shoved his hand straight into the camouflage netting and rummaged through it.
“Okay, so… Mm? Huh?”
He had definitely left the diary hidden in here, yet he couldn't find it anymore.
“…Where did it go?”
Kim Hak-Cheol quickly grew flustered, and his searching hand desperately felt around inside the netting.
The diary going missing would be the worst, so he had to—
“What are you looking for, sir?”
Kim Hak-Cheol jumped up in shock at that sudden voice out of nowhere, and he hurriedly looked back.
The owner of that voice turned out to be Kang Jin-Ho.
He stood at the entrance of the storage…
while holding a familiar-looking exercise book.
“Hmm. Were you looking for this?”
Kim Hak-Cheol freaked out.
“H-hey, you brat! Why do you have that?!”
That exercise book was definitely Ju Yeong-Gi's diary.
Kang Jin-Ho's expressionless gaze landed on Kim Hak-Cheol before shifting over to the diary.
“Sir, you should have been more careful when it comes to storing important things like this.”
“Y-you bastard, you…” Kim Hak-Cheol was at a loss for words.
He couldn't think of a way to respond.
What was he supposed to do here? After all, Noh Su-Bong was the brain of the team, not Kim Hak-Cheol!
But then, something completely unexpected unfolded right before his eyes.
The diary in Kang Jin-Ho's hand suddenly caught fire and began burning away.
“…Eh? Huh?” Kim Hak-Cheol blinked and stared at the spectacle in a daze.
The diary turned to ashes in the proverbial blink of an eye, and Kang Jin-Ho lightly dusted his hand.
He looked back at Kim Hak-Cheol.
Kang Jin-Ho leisurely strolled away back to the barracks.
As for Kim Hak-Cheol, he could only stand there with his mouth agape.
the hell was that all about?'
Noh Su-Bong narrowed his eyes.
“Say what? What are you trying to tell me?”
Kim Hak-Cheol gulped and animatedly explained in a hushed whisper.
“That guy burned the diary, sir! Yes, Kang Jin-Ho really did that!”
“…And? What happened after that?”
“H-he said I should have been more careful when it comes to storing important things like that.”
“Hah, f*ck me…” Noh Su-Bong shot a sharp glare of annoyance at Kim Hak-Cheol.
The latter flinched and hurriedly lowered his head.
Fine! Whatever the case may be, that diary is now no longer a problem, right?”
“You sure it was our diary?”
I'm definitely sure.
It wasn't a military-issued notebook, so I could easily tell it apart, sir.
Even if it's the same type of exercise book, there’s no way you can find another one that looks that old.”
Noh Su-Bong tutted quietly, “In that case, it's fine.”
“But sir, I can't figure out what that brat was thinking.”
“He's probably looking for a payday, that f*cking bastard.
I should at least praise him for not threatening you.
We just have to sufficiently grease his palm, and everything will be over.” Noh Su-Bong groaned as he said this.
The situation had gotten a bit complicated toward the end, but the matter should still be as good as over now.
Finally feeling relieved, Noh Su-Bong mouthed a fresh cigarette with a content expression on his face.
After the evening roll call, Kim Hak-Cheol lay down on his bedding, then whispered to Noh Su-Bong next to him, “With this, are we finally in the clear, sir?”
All you gotta do is keep your mouth shut.”
“Sir, that punk won't suddenly wake up now, right?”
“He's apparently half-brain dead.
Even if he wakes up, nobody is going to believe his word.
You think I don't have the power to make that happen?”
“…I think I can finally relax, sir.” Kim Hak-Cheol closed his eyes while saying those words.
Worries had been gnawing at him for quite a while now, even during his sleep.
But now? He believed he could finally get some decent rest.
Kim Hak-Cheol woke up from a strange sensation.
Why did it feel like bone-chilling coldness was digging deep into him?
Maybe the soldier in charge of the boiler room had forgotten to turn the boiler on? Without that explanation, it shouldn't be this cold in the—
Where was this?
Kim Hak-Cheol's fully opened eyes took in the unfamiliar sight.
He hurriedly turned his head to look around.
'Isn't this the boiler room?'
Why was he in here? Unless he had suddenly started sleepwalking, he shouldn't be down here in the boiler room, so how…?
Kim Hak-Cheol tried to get up from the floor only to shudder in shock after realizing that his body…
refused to move.
Could this be some kind of sleep paralysis?
That was when his hearing picked up a low, hushed voice.
“She told me to become someone who reaches out first.”
It sounded like it came straight out of the netherworld.
Kim Hak-Cheol felt his entire body freeze at that voice.
His limbs shriveled up; his hands and feet began to tremble in fear all on their own.
It was just a voice, yet Kim Hak-Cheol's body began convulsing.
What was going on here? What was this situation?!
“In that case…” The voice grew louder.
“…What kind of a hand should I extend to you?”
A demonic fiend slowly rose from the deepest, darkest corner of the boiler room.
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