Descent of the Demon Master
Grabbing Tightly (3)
Noh Su-Bong woke up in the morning and turned his head to look around, only to freak out immediately.
“Where the hell did he go?!”
That was because Kim Hak-Cheol's figure was nowhere to be seen.
Noh Su-Bong yelled at Private Kim Do-Hyeong tidying up his bedding.
“Hey! I asked you a question! Where did Hak-Cheol disappear to?!”
“…Sir, he was already gone by the time I woke up.”
“Say what?!” Noh Su-Bong's expression crumpled.
“You wake up and can't see the dude with an unstable mind, yet you didn't think it's weird?!”
The other squad members sneakily averted their gazes when Noh Su-Bong's voice got louder.
‘Who cares about an as*hole like him?’
That was the thought in the squad members' heads.
If they had any sort of 'affection' toward Kim Hak-Cheol, then maybe, just maybe, they could have searched for him, thinking that something had happened.
However, most normal people would naturally be disinclined to 'like' a bully like Kim Hak-Cheol.
They simply saw him as just a squad member, nothing more.
It was just that Noh Su-Bong was so… caring about Kim Hak-Cheol, preventing them from openly expressing their feelings, that was all.
“What are you waiting for?! Go find him, now!” Noh Su-Bong roared at the top of his lungs, prompting the 1st Squad to quickly rush outside the living area.
“Seriously, man! I just can't stand all this bullsh*t!” Corporal Lee Sang-Yeop yelled in dissatisfaction.
“Sir, you should watch what you say.
If Sergeant Noh Su-Bong hears you, there will surely be hellfire,” said Private 1st Class Kim Do-Hyeong while hurriedly scanning their surroundings.
“I haven't said anything wrong, though! Why are we even searching for that as*hole, anyway?”
“Sir, we're in the army.
They say jump, and we ask how high.
Isn't that how it works?”
“…Goddamn it.” Lee Sang-Yeop groaned.
Of course, he didn't feel chuffed about this situation.
He, and the rest of the 1st Squad, had functioning eyes, so they knew what Noh Su-Bong and Kim Hak-Cheol had done to Ju Yeong-Gi.
Hadn't they witnessed those two dragging that poor sod down to the boiler room often enough times? It was just that…
they didn't dare to open their mouths.
In this squad, Kim Hak-Cheol and Noh Su-Bong were the predators.
And Ju Yeong-Gi was their prey.
That relationship would remain unchanging as long as everyone else kept their mouths shut and turned a blind eye.
No one wanted to 'unnecessarily' butt in and cause the prey to become them.
'This sh*tty army can kiss my f*cking ass.'
Lee Sang-Yeop unhappily thought to himself.
Someone once said that the Korean army was a pretty good microcosm of South Korean society.
Who could have guessed that person was spot-on? Especially when it came to whistleblowers getting the short end of the stick—that part seemed to be perfectly copied, right down to the finest detail!
'Yeah, I know it's all just an excuse, but…'
Lee Sang-Yeop could think of a thousand different excuses why he was keeping his mouth shut.
However, that didn't mean he could talk his way out of accepting some portion of the blame for what had happened to Ju Yeong-Gi.
He and the rest of the 1st Squad were given several chances to speak out, after all.
Such as when Ju Yeong-Gi's bullying had crossed the line for the first time, when Ju Yeong-Gi was visibly struggling to even make it through the day, or when the investigation had begun.
If someone had tried to alert the higher-ups and stopped the abuse, the situation wouldn't have reached this state.
However, none of them had done that, and it meant they were all complicit in this abuse in some way or another.
“Sir, could Corporal Kim have deserted?” Kim Do-Hyeong cautiously raised his voice.
Lee Sang-Yeop grimaced deeply.
“Hey, don't jinx us, man.
If desertion was added on top of a suicide attempt…! Dude, the brass will utterly obliterate our squad!”
There aren't any places around here that Corporal Kim could have gone to.”
“You've got a point there.
The others haven't found him yet, right?”
No news so far.”
Lee Sang-Yeop could only frown while glancing at his wristwatch.
The time for the morning roll call was just around the corner, and if they failed to find Kim Hak-Cheol before then, this situation could balloon into something much worse.
“Argh… He was supposed to get hospitalized today, so why couldn't he stay put and behave like a good little kid? Damn it!”
Corporal Kim was supposed to get admitted today, wasn't he?” Kim Do-Hyeong nodded contemplatively.
“Yeah.” Lee Sang-Yeop nodded along; his expression was rather gloomy.
A soldier wouldn't usually get hospitalized for losing their mind, but even Lee Sang Yeop could tell Kim Hak-Cheol's state was really bad.
“By the way, don't you find it really weird?” Lee Sang-Yeop glanced at Kim Do-Hyeong.
“What is, sir?”
I get that some people might get pushed to the edge psychologically by their nightmares.
I can certainly see something like that happening to some people.
However, I just don't understand how anyone would physically look like Corporal Kim just because they were going crazy.
It just makes no sense.”
That's some properly scary stuff.” Kim Do-Hyeong shuddered as he recalled Kim Hak-Cheol's physical state.
In just one week, Kim Hak-Cheol transformed into a totally different person.
His once well-rounded physique had become so emaciated he became a walking skeleton, while his hair had started falling out in ugly clumps a couple of days ago.
“Just how much stress do you have to go through to end up looking like that?” Lee Sang-Yeop muttered.
“Honestly, I'm kinda scared, sir.”
Kim Do-Hyeong slowly nodded.
Watching someone wither away like that right next to you…
I can't help but get the chills just thinking about it, sir.”
Lee Sang Yeop cocked his eyebrow.
“That scares you?”
Aren't you scared by that, Corporal Lee?”
“Me? I'm more scared of this bloody army that won't let you into a damn hospital even after you have ended up in that state.”
“…Now that I hear you, I agree that's also a horror show, sir.”
Kim Do-Hyeong and Lee Sang-Yeop both shook their heads in disapproval.
“What a sh*tty army this is.”
Believing that Kim Hak-Cheol had gotten what he deserved, and being dissatisfied with the army's apparent unwillingness to quickly provide medical treatment for one of its soldiers displaying a mental breakdown, were two separate issues.
No matter how much someone deserved punishment, shouldn't they still be eligible for medical attention if they get sick?
“In any case…
Just where could he have gone, I wonder?” Lee Sang-Yeop groaned softly.
Kim Hak-Cheol couldn't have gone far in his current condition.
Even walking was difficult for him last night, after all.
Lee Sang-Yeop scratched his head.
“He probably didn't go AWOL with that body of his.
In that case, where could he have gone off to in this cramped little artillery company's base?”
“Sir, it's also kinda strange that Corporal Kim disappeared in the morning.
He didn't have any duties assigned to him, so why would he have gone outside? I don't get it, sir.” Kim Do-Hyeong shrugged his shoulders.
“Wait, what? He had no assigned duties?” Lee Sang-Yeop's steps came to an abrupt halt as he began chewing his lip.
“Has someone searched the bathroom yet?”
“…Sir, it's still morning, so lots of folks must be in the bathroom by now.”
“That's not what I meant! Has anyone looked through the toilets?!”
I don't think so…”
“…F*ck!” Lee Sang-Yeop swore as an ominous foreboding suddenly crept into his thoughts.
He unhesitantly sprinted toward the bathroom.
“S-sir?! Please wait for me!” Kim Do-Hyeong quickly ran after his senior soldier.
Lee Sang-Yeop ran inside the bathroom and began pounding on the closed toilet cubicle doors.
'It can't be, right? Right?'
Loud protests came from beyond the closed cubicle doors without a moment's delay.
Lee Sang-Yeop quickly moved on from those doors and kept pounding away until he suddenly stopped in front of a particular cubicle.
Despite his pounding, no one answered.
This cubicle was located in the farthest corner of the bathroom, and its door was firmly locked.
No matter how hard Lee Sang-Yeop pounded on it, no replies came his way.
“Hah-ah…” Lee Sang-Yeop involuntarily shuddered at the ominous foreboding cackling at him, then reached up to grab the top of the cubicle door.
“Hey, Do-Hyeong! I'm going up, so help me!”
“…Yes, sir!” Kim Do-Hyeong also seemed to have realized something was up and quickly grabbed Lee Sang-Yeop's feet to provide support.
Lee Sang-Yeop let out a brief yell before pulling himself up to the top of the cubicle door.
He peeked his head over and looked into the cubicle's interior, and his eyes soon caught the figure of a limp human being 'standing' by the corner.
That wasn’t all, however, for he had also discovered a lengthy 'rope' of some kind visible above the limp, unmoving figure.
Lee Sang-Yeop urgently cried out as if he was screaming, “Hey! Someone, go and bring the medic over! Right now!”
“Hurry the f*ck up, will ya?! You dumb sh*t!” Lee Sang-Yeop landed back on the solid ground, his face utterly pale.
He began to viciously kick at the cubicle door.
Kim Do-Hyeong also realized the severity of the situation and began ramming against the door with his shoulder.
Only after they viciously kicked and rammed into the door several times did it finally begin to creak off the hinges.
Lee Sang-Yeop backed off before performing a near-perfect flying kick to finally break the door down, then rushed inside the cubicle.
“Corporal Kim Hak-Cheol!”
Lee Sang-Yeop hurriedly grabbed Kim Hak-Cheol's limp body hanging from the wall and tried to lift it up.
Kim Do-Hyeong discovered the shoelace tied around Kim Hak-Cheol's throat, then quickly rushed outside the bathroom while crying out at the top of his lungs.
One of the amusing things about humanity was that they couldn't remain uninterested in other people's misfortunes or accidents.
And Noh Su-Bong was getting a good lesson on that part of humanity right at this very moment.
“Where is the goddamn ambulance?!”
“It's on its way, sir!”
“Tell them to hurry up if they don't want to see a dead man when they get here!”
Kim Hak-Cheol was lying on his back, white foam bubbling out of his mouth.
A heavily-sweating medic was next to him, performing CPR as if his life depended on it.
And then, a large crowd of spectators surrounded them, even though none of those idiots could do anything useful in this situation.
Noh Su-Bong stared at this spectacle as if it was a scene from a film.
Was it because he was calm? Of course not.
No, this situation just didn't feel 'real' to him; that was all.
Why was Kim Hak-Cheol lying on the floor like a corpse? Did someone say he…
tried to hang himself? But, how?
Noh Su-Bong's back was now soaked in cold sweat.
What the f*ck is happening here?'
Back when Ju Yeong-Gi hanged himself, Noh Su-Bong was flustered, but he wasn’t scared.
He still believed the situation was still under control—his control.
Everything had remained under his control afterward.
Even after the investigation got underway, he easily escaped the net of suspicion and walked around unhindered as if it was the only outcome.
The hints of things going wrong first manifested themselves after Kim Hak-Cheol began having nightmares.
And now, this situation had truly escaped from his control as it rampaged around like a runaway train.
“Get out of the way!” The paramedics jumped out of the ambulance and rushed inside the bathroom with a gurney.
They quickly placed Kim Hak-Cheol on the gurney and carried him back to the waiting ambulance.
Noh Su-Bong stood there and etched this scene into his retina.
The spectators followed outside to crowd around the ambulance.
Noh Su-Bong was among them.
'Just what the hell is happening here? What is this?'
Even now, this whole thing didn't seem real at all.
No, it was like Noh Su-Bong was still dreaming up this whole thing.
Even as the ambulance's siren noisily blared in the air as the vehicle urgently accelerated away, Noh Su-Bong stood there and stared at this spectacle in a daze.
The ambulance gradually grew smaller in the distance.
Noh Su-Bong kept staring at this unreal scene, only for a faint little voice to sober him up and bring him back to reality.
That voice was hushed, soft.
It was so hushed that, at first, Noh Su-Bong mistakenly thought it wasn't coming from a human being.
He needed only a moment or two to figure out the meaning behind that whisper.
Chill ran down his spine, and he hurriedly spun around to look behind him.
“W-who was that?!”
The other soldiers stared at him with puzzled faces.
Noh Su-Bong hurriedly looked around and cried out.
“Which motherf*cer was it?! Who?!”
“What are you talking about, Sergeant Noh?”
“W-who was talking to me just now? Which bastard was it?”
“…Sir, no one was talking to you.”
“W-what? Didn't you hear that? Someone was definitely talking to me, goddamn it! Wait, are you all trying to mess with me? Is that it? You motherf*ckers! Do I look like a punk to you?!” Noh Su-Bong yelled at them with his voice thick with barely-contained madness.
The soldiers around Noh Su-Bong realized that something was wrong with him, and they began to distance themselves while frowning in disapproval.
“I said, who was it, you bastards! Answer me!”
Noh Su-Bong soon found himself alone in front of the barracks' entrance.
He raised his shaking hand to rub his pale face.
'N-no, it can't be.
I must have made a mistake.'
Indeed, that whisper had to be an auditory hallucination brought on by the shock of Kim Hak-Cheol's attempted suicide.
Yes, it was all because of how flustered he was.
After all, no one else heard that whisper, no? It simply had to be that.
Noh Su-Bong desperately tried to convince himself with that logic.
'…Kim Hak-Cheol said someone was dragging him away to torture him, didn't he?'
Kim Hak-Cheol kept saying that as he steadily lost his mind.
He said that every night, every time he fell asleep… He would show up.
“…F*cking hell! That doesn't even make any goddamn sense!”
Noh Su-Bong knew that didn't make any logical sense and that such a thing could never happen.
Kim Hak-Cheol had simply gotten crushed under the weight of his guilt over Ju Yeong-Gi's matter, causing him to see terrifying illusions.
In the end, he succumbed to the mental pressure and lost his mind, eventually hanging himself.
Looking at the situation this way made everything seem so crystal clear.
However, just what was with this inexplicable anxiety gnawing at him?
Noh Su-Bong tried out to pull out a cigarette from its packet.
However, his hand was trembling so much that it made him lose grip and drop the cigarette on the ground.
He wordlessly stared at the fallen cigarette.
I don't know who you are, but…!” Noh Su-Bong chewed out those words while angrily crushing the cigarette with his foot.
“…I'm going to make you pay.”
Noh Su-Bong turned around and headed back inside the barrack, his expression stiff and determined.
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