The Encounter (6)
Kang Jin-Ho's voice echoed in the darkness, and then…
An eerie silence descended on the surroundings.
The silence was unnerving and ominous.
It was as if this location, and this location only, had become isolated and cut off from the rest of the world.
Kang Jin-Ho growled quietly.
“Come out before I drag you out myself.
I won't repeat myself again.”
“Hah. But, you have already done that,” A quiet murmur replied to him as a figure leisurely stepped out from the nearby shadow.
The figure narrowed his eyes.
“When did you notice my presence?”
The shadowy figure turned out to be a middle-aged man wearing a fedora.
His eyes were gleaming softly in the light of mild shock as if he had never expected to be discovered.
This middle-aged man had always been confident in his skills in tailing a target, yet he got discovered for the first time ever.
Kang Jin-Ho replied in a flat voice, “Since the beginning…”
“Tsk, tsk,” the middle-aged man tutted and shook his head.
I've been tailing you for three months now.”
It was Kang Jin-Ho's turn to tut instead.
“As I said, since the beginning.”
The middle-aged man's expression stiffened, having finally understood what Kang Jin-Ho meant.
detected me that early?”
“Then, why haven't you called me out until now?”
Kang Jin-Ho sighed ruefully.
“I didn't want to shatter it, you see.”
“I didn't want to shatter this peace I've finally obtained after a lengthy struggle, that's why.”
The middle-aged man grinned deeply.
You are far better than we expected, then.”
Kang Jin-Ho narrowed his eyes and studied the middle-aged man.
Did he say 'we?’ Who was he talking about? And why was he monitoring Kang Jin-Ho without doing anything else for months?
Honestly speaking, Kang Jin-Ho wasn't interested in finding out, so he kept avoiding the truth.
However, it wasn't possible to do that anymore.
It was time to uncover the hidden truth of this world.
Kang Jin-Ho quietly muttered, “Speak.
Why have you been tailing me?”
“I heard you called for me, though?”
The middle-aged man adjusted his fedora a touch.
“You told my stupid disciple to bring his master.”
Kang Jin-Ho quickly combed through his memories.
“Indeed, that did happen.”
There was a time when he ran into a martial practitioner in an alley during his high school years.
He remembered telling that nameless practitioner something like that.
The middle-aged man grinned.
“So, here I am.”
Kang Jin-Ho also grinned back at him.
“Too bad for you, I don't enjoy silly jokes.”
“Especially jokes made by a rat that has been chasing after me.
Such a thing makes me feel an urge to spill blood.”
“Kekeke.” The middle-aged cackled softly.
“Do you want me to apologize, then?”
“I don't need it.
Just spit out your purpose.”
The middle-aged man nodded slowly.
“Well, in that case.
I've been observing you these past months to determine what kind of a person you are.”
“We need to know who, or what, you are to figure out whether to bring you into our fold or eliminate you.”
What a worthless statement that was.
At least to Kang Jin-Ho's ears.
“So? What was your conclusion?”
I'm not certain.” The middle-aged man scratched his cheeks sheepishly.
“A guy like you has never appeared before.
You really do have so many different facets, don't you? Even though you seem exceedingly evil, you can also be unbelievably kind.
You come across as insensitive and dull, yet you have a surprisingly delicate touch.
You can be as cold as ice, but also be sentimental.
I swear, I've not seen a guy with so many opposing personalities like you before.”
“So, I can't make up my mind here.
What should I do about you? It's a quandary, alright.”
Kang Jin-Ho tutted.
“Get to the point.”
The middle-aged man narrowed his eyes as a fierce grin crept up on his lips.
“We've been thinking.
And, as it turns out, there had been no need for us to decide.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you are capable of making up your own mind, aren't you?”
Kang Jin-Ho's eyes became withdrawn at that rhetorical question.
The middle-aged man continued.
Will you join us?”
Kang Jin-Ho silently studied the middle-aged man's face beneath the fedora's brim.
The middle-aged man shrugged nonchalantly.
“I know, I know.
You need me to explain first. Mm, let's see…
We aren't trying to do anything grand or overly ambitious.
We won't say some silly things like we're out to conquer the world.
No, our aim is simpler than that.
We aim to stay in the shadows and control…
“Control, is it?”
“There are people in this world who possess certain powers the rest of society can't understand.
In the past, such people were called witches or, sometimes, prophets.
In the modern era, however…
Such people don't reveal themselves anymore, just like you.
Even those who think they know you well will stare in horror after finding out what you're truly capable of.
They’ll look at you as if you are a monster.”
Kang Jin-Ho slowly nodded since the middle-aged man was speaking the truth.
The middle-aged man theatrically spread his arms open.
“But, that's wrong, don't you think? Being better than everybody gets you ostracized? Why? It makes no sense.
And so, we're trying to bring the order back to this world.”
Kang Jin-Ho nodded once again.
The middle-aged man's argument had a point.
The strong preyed on the weak in this world, a survival of the fittest.
At least, that was how it should have been.
In the modern era, however, the absolute powerhouses had to hide from the frail but numerous commoners.
The advancement in modern firearms most probably had a hand in that.
Then, there was the thirst for new types of power.
If the truth about martial arts was revealed to the world once more, the number of people wanting to dissect Kang Jin-Ho alive for 'scientific purposes' would be high enough to fill up an ocean.
Of course, Kang Jin-Ho wasn't scared of them or their firearms.
However, getting involved meant Kang Jin-Ho would have to say goodbye to the life he had been living so far.
Saying farewell to the peace he had finally found? And to the happiness he had been longing for? Kang Jin-Ho definitely didn't want that.
He looked at the middle-aged man.
“Did you say something about eliminating me?”
“Well, that's if our ideals don't match.”
“That sounds like 'you' are split into different camps, then.
Camps on the opposing side, I assume.”
The middle-aged man licked his lips ruefully.
Honestly, you're right.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that some people wish to maintain the status quo. Moderates, if you will.”
“So, you were planning to eliminate me if I was one of these so-called moderates?”
Even if you're a moderate, we won't touch you as long as you're not hostile or try to hinder us.
I've been tailing you for months to determine that.
I'll have you know that our… organization isn't some gathering of murderers that enjoy senseless killing.”
Kang Jin-Ho nodded.
The middle-aged man adjusted his fedora.
Have you come to a decision?”
“I already have…”
“I'd like to hear it, then.”
Kang Jin-Ho cocked his head slightly to the side.
“Get out of my sight.”
“Don't worry, I won't kill you.
I'm not the same man as before, after all.
So, stop bothering me and get lost.
However, if you bother me one more time…
You will learn who I truly am.”
The middle-aged man narrowed his eyes.
“You don't mind me asking the reason for your decision?”
“You said you wanted me to join you, right?”
“That I did….”
Kang Jin-Ho grinned all of a sudden.
No, wait—that smile didn't belong to him.
That smile belonged to Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor, the one who plunged Zhongyuan into fear of death and destruction.
He was smiling once more in the modern era.
“This world is a survival of the fittest.”
“Indeed, that's correct.”
“In that case, why should the strong lower his head and join the group of weaklings like you?”
“What did you say?”
Kang Jin-Ho scoffed.
“If you wish to walk with me, then kneel.
Grovel on the ground.
Then, I might accept you.”
“You insane fool!” The middle-aged man chuckled hollowly.
That reply wasn’t on the level of merely being arrogant.
It was so mind-numbingly haughty that the label 'utter lunatic' seemed to be a good fit for Kang Jin-Ho.
How could anyone say something like that with a straight face?
“Sounds like you don't know your place!” The middle-aged man harrumphed while raising his cane.
“If you give me your word that you won't hinder us, I shall spare your life.
How about it, fella?”
At that ludicrous offer, a deep grin slowly spread on Kang Jin-Ho's lips.
“And you want to control everything in this world?”
The middle-aged man nodded.
That is our goal…”
Kang Jin-Ho's grin deepened.
“Doesn't that mean I'm included in that goal?”
“Doesn't that mean I must close my eyes and cover my ears while you manipulate and mess around with my family and friends?” Kang Jin-Ho mockingly asked as the smile on his lips distorted ever so slightly.
That was all he did…
But that was more than enough to instantly transform the air Kang Jin-Ho had been giving off so far.
The middle-aged man detected that sudden shift and hurriedly stumbled back, his entire body trembling fearfully.
A sense of despair similar to falling into the pits of hell began crushing down on him.
“Urgh…” The middle-aged man's shoulders visibly shuddered.
No, our assessment of him was wrong!'
The aura of slaughter gushing out from Kang Jin-Ho's figure tightened around the middle-aged man's throat like an iron noose.
The dense, choking aura clawed at his skin, trying to rip him apart, while his heart felt like it would explode from the sheer pressure.
Kang Jin-Ho growled like a beast.
“Kuh-uhk!” The middle-aged man crumpled to the floor as if he was shoved down.
Just how was Kang Jin-Ho doing this?! The middle-aged man couldn't stop shaking from shock.
This demonstration confirmed that Kang Jin-Ho wasn't merely 'strong.’ No, this strength had to be at least equal to a powerful clan’s top heir.
He was strong enough to command heaven and earth regardless of what era he was born in!
The middle-aged man cried out.
“W-Who the hell are you?!”
“Don't you already know the answer?”
The middle-aged man's shivering grew even worse.
Kang Jin-Ho disregarded that and slowly closed the distance, forcing the middle-aged man to stumble back without even realizing it.
I'm scared? Me, scared of him?!'
The middle-aged man clenched his teeth while gripping the cane tightly.
Kang Jin-Ho slowly, oh-so agonizingly slowly closed the distance before stopping in front of the kneeling middle-aged man.
The latter couldn't even lift a single finger in the meantime, even though Kang Jin-Ho hadn't been restraining him using an unknown power.
Yet, the middle-aged man could only kneel on the ground, unmoving.
He thought even a flicker of his finger might get him ripped apart to shreds, and this fear had completely paralyzed him to the spot.
Kang Jin-Ho's lips slowly parted.
“Don't be so scared.
I'm a man of my words.
I'll let you leave.”
“However, go and deliver my message to your friends.
Do not provoke me.
Do not snoop around my surroundings, either.
If you don't heed my warning…
You shall witness a living hell.”
With that, this conversation was over.
Kang Jin-Ho turned around to leave.
He had been turning a blind eye to the unwelcome visitors snooping around until now as he didn't want to get tangled up in something troublesome.
The truth was, though…
He still had some thirst left for martial arts.
He secretly desired his realm to be recognized and admired.
He also wished to find someone to compare his current strength with.
Even so, Kang Jin-Ho suppressed his desires.
To him, maintaining the current lifestyle was several times more important than fulfilling his worthless thirst for some martial prowess.
Especially more so…
if the ones chasing after him turned out to be no mere small fries but a professionally-run organization.
Getting involved with those people would be tantamount to uprooting his current lifestyle from the ground up.
Kang Jin-Ho definitely didn't want that.
Which left him with two options—either eliminate every single one of them or make them go away and leave him alone.
In the end, he chose the latter.
The middle-aged man forced himself to say something.
hehehe! You're strong.
Kang Jin-Ho ignored him and kept walking away.
“To get this strong…
Just how many times have you experienced it?”
However, that question stopped him in his tracks.
Kang Jin-Ho's head slightly turned towards the still-kneeling middle-aged man.
Kang Jin-Ho's attention was no longer on this man, of course.
But what the latter said managed to pique his interest nevertheless.
Something about that question interested him, but it irritated him for some reason too.
‘Did he ask me how many times?'
What did the middle-aged man even mean by that?
The middle-aged man somehow raised his hand to adjust his fedora and began grinning.
“Was it dozens of times? Or could it be hundreds?”
Kang Jin-Ho's head was fully turned around by now.
Dozens of times? Hundreds? What experience was the middle-aged man talking about? It didn't make sense.
However, Kang Jin-Ho's intuition still reacted sharply to the words that could be deemed random nonsense.
It told him not to ignore what was being said here.
“Answer me, Kang Jin-Ho! Just how many hells did you overcome before returning to the modern era!”
Kang Jin-Ho's eyes opened wide, his whole body now turning around to face the middle-aged man.
“Did you just say…
The middle-aged man flashed a toothy grin beneath his fedora.
That was a smile of pure satisfaction.
That place was hell.
The ancient past we all call hell! Now, tell me! How many lives have you experienced before returning to the present, oh the returner from the past!”
Kang Jin-Ho began shuddering involuntarily.
what was this man saying? What was he even trying to say?!
The middle-aged man landed one more critical blow right at that moment.
“Did you really think you were the only one who managed to return from the past?”
The middle-aged man's smiling visage dug into Kang Jin-Ho's retinas.
The night was deepening while the moonlight was waning.
The time was approaching the early dawn, just before the advent of twilight.
And on this very spot…
A new kind of wind was blowing.
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