Descent of the Demon Master - Chapter 131
One of the mysteries of the known universe had to be how the clock in the Korean Ministry of National Defense worked. Its second hand would move excruciatingly slowly to those waiting impatiently for the time to pass. However, it tended to tick by surprisingly quickly for those who had forgotten about where they were and how long they had been there.
As an example, Kang Jin-Ho was already a corporal. His days as a private 1st class seemed like only yesterday, but here he was, already a corporal. Time seemed to flow fast for him.
Unsurprisingly, though, Kang Jin-Ho’s daily routine hadn’t changed much even after becoming a corporal. However, the same couldn’t be said for the people around him.
“Jang Jae-Hwan,” said Kang Jin-Ho.
“Private 1st Class Jang Jae-Hwan, sir!”
“The laundry isn’t finished yet.”
“S-sir! It’s being dried as we speak!”
“The laundry should have been done yesterday, Private Jang. So, why is it being dried today?”
“…Sir, I’ll reflect on my error.”
“Mm? I only asked you why you had to delay yesterday’s job to today, that’s all.”
Kang Jin-Ho cocked an eyebrow. “Have you not understood my question, Private?”
“I’m sorry, sir!” Jang Jae-Hwan bowed deeply as a flood of cold sweat broke on his skin.
Seong Tae-Ho couldn’t watch this anymore and quickly intervened. “Aigoo, Jin-Ho!”
“Corporal Kang Jin-Ho, sir.”
“Stop killing these kids, will ya?! They might really desert at this rate!”
Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head in confusion. “But, sir? I was only asking him a question.”
Seong Tae-Ho could only spit one lengthy groan after another. He knew too well Kang Jin-Ho didn’t mean anything bad with his actions. And, as far as Seong Tae-Ho could tell, Kang Jin-Ho was not even remotely interested in tormenting and bullying his juniors. Why would he be when he wasn’t even interested in his seniors?
Unfortunately, that perspective wasn’t shared by the juniors on the receiving end.
Seong Tae-Ho turned his attention to the junior. “Listen, Jang Jae-Hwan.”
“Private 1st Class Jang Jae-Hwan, sir!”
“How many times have I told you to be honest in times like this?”
“I-I’m sorry, sir…”
“Urgh…” Seong Tae-Ho groaned again, knowing he shouldn’t be blaming Jang Jae-Hwan here. Didn’t he get to learn that the scariest thing in the whole world was, ‘I can do this just fine, so why can’t you do the same?’ courtesy of Kang Jin-Ho?
Imagine the Division Commander going on a march with all of his military gear. Obviously, the soldiers below him would have no choice but to do the same. Even if the Division Commander knew his subordinates’ stamina wasn’t so good, and he told them to take it easy, who in their right mind would actually do as they were told?
“Damn it… Bloody hell, he’s exactly like a department head who never goes home.”
At least a department head wouldn’t try to take on a lot of work in return for going home late for the day. However, Corporal Kang Jin-Ho was acting the same as when he was still a private 2nd class!
His rank meant it should be fine to order the privates around, yet Kang Jin-Ho insisted on carrying out his duties, no matter what! In the midst of all this, he even did the squad’s duties by himself! No wonder the lower-ranked soldiers felt like they were constantly sitting on a bed of thorns even if Kang Jin-Ho hadn’t really ordered them to do anything.
Jang Jae-Hwan groaned deeply. “Urgh…”
“Private Jang, are you alright, sir?”
“…Do I look alright to you?”
“At this rate, we might end up with partial hair loss, sir.”
If only he had longer hair… Nothing would be funnier than a dude with a military-grade short hairstyle suffering from partial hair loss.
Jang Jae-Hwan muttered, “…What is Corporal Kang doing right now?”
“Sir, he went off to do his laundry in the name of ‘organizing’ his things.”
“Wah? But the laundry’s already done, right?”
“…I guess he wasn’t happy with the result, sir.”
“Uuuurrrgh…” Jang Jae-Hwan’s groan this time was especially long. He had been under the impression that the scariest thing during military service would be the senior soldiers treating their subordinates as mere playthings. However, he had been greatly mistaken. The scariest thing turned out to be a senior that seemed to have come straight out of a fairy tale! It was the kind of senior soldier who always respected his juniors, never tormented them, and made sure to treat them fairly—all the while sticking rigorously to the bloody field manual!
And then, he even had the gall to ask, “Is this difficult for you?”
If Jang Jae-Hwan hadn’t been a patient man, he might have already screamed, “Of course, it’s difficult! What the hell is wrong with you?!” at the top of his lungs.
“I mean, let’s get real here. If everyone on the planet was like him, why would the world be in this state?!”
Jang Jae-Hwan finally understood the meaning of the old saying, ‘Fish can’t live in too-pristine water.’
The private 2nd class trying to console Jang Jae-Hwan sighed deeply. “Corporal Kang said he will inspect our combat gear in a bit as well…”
“Uuuuuuurgh…” Jang Jae-Hwan held his face in despair.
This was simply too much—Inhumane! Not too long ago, Kang Jin-Ho said he would do an inspection on the firearms, so Jang Jae-Hwan worked his butt off to clean and polish his rifle. However, Kang Jin-Ho only spared a cursory glance at the finished article and ordered Jang Jae-Hwan to do ‘better maintenance work’ on it!
Of course, Jang Jae-Hwan protested against this unfairness, but Kang Jin-Ho’s response was to wordlessly display his own firearm.
“Back then, I thought that was a brand new rifle, fresh out of the box…” Jang Jae-Hwan muttered.
“Me too, sir. That was my first time seeing a gun sparkle so brightly like that.”
“Let’s be honest here; polishing guns like that is a waste of military resources, isn’t it?! It’s gonna get all muddied up in the field, anyway!”
“But, uh… Sir, why do I get the feeling that Corporal Kang’s rifle will still sparkle like brand new after a field operation?”
Jang Jae-Hwan realized that argument was quite persuasive. However, that only sent chills down his spine.
“Even so, sir, doesn’t Corporal Kang buy us snacks often?”
“Maybe he wants to fatten us before putting us to slaughter?”
“…Well, that thought did cross my mind, sir.”
Kang Jin-Ho’s infamy within their artillery corps was widespread.
‘I heard he was like this since his private 2nd class days, too…’
The recently-discharged Sergeant Jeon Hyeok-Su had a nasty habit of tormenting his juniors. He didn’t go as far as beating them up or abusing them, as his torments always stopped at cruel pranks and jokes. However, even he absolutely did not touch Corporal Kang Jin-Ho.
“Listen up, kids. Pretend that dude doesn’t exist, and your lives will be so much easier.”
That was what Sergeant Jeon had said, and it had to be one of the best pieces of advice he had given. What a sorrowful thing it was, though—that advice was only applicable to the senior soldiers, not the juniors. Maybe that mantra was widely accepted in the base because not a single sergeant even dared to trip Corporal Kang Jin-Ho up.
“Still, isn’t it amazing, sir?”
“What is?” Jang Jae-Hwan tilted his head.
“Corporal Kang is good at everything he does, doesn’t he? I heard he was ranked the best ‘owl’ during the guerrilla training before we enlisted, sir. Besides that, he got first place during the combat ability assessment and was awarded extra vacation time and then, he went on an emergency dispatch, and he also got another first place and came home with more extra vacation days…”
“Yup, he’s basically a vacation-earning machine.”
One good thing about those vacation times was that they were distributed among the squad members. Corporal Kang would always say he already had too many vacation days in his books he couldn’t possibly use them up, and then he would distribute them to his fellow squad members.
“Dang it. If only he were a bad guy, I would have tried to rebel against him at least once,” Jang Jae-Hwan complained sourly.
The soldier responsible for eliminating all forms of irregularity and abuse within the squad as soon as Sergeant Jeon Hyeok-Su had been discharged was none other than Kang Jin-Ho. Seong Tae-Ho was solidly in favor of Kang Jin-Ho’s view, resulting in the 3rd Squad easily becoming the most infamous squad in the whole of Charlie artillery corps—they became the most democratic squad quite literally overnight.
Who would have thought that the mantra of ‘You must perform your assigned duties’ could be this terrifying? What an invaluable experience it was to learn that sticking to the field manual could potentially stress you out even more than cruel-and-unusual abuse tactics!
The military higher-ups had to be psychopaths, without a doubt! Or, they had to have thought that nobody in their sane minds would operate strictly according to the field manual while creating those regulations.
“But, sir. From what I heard from my friend in another squad, the seniors there totally went off the rails after accusing the juniors of not properly organizing their lockers, sir. Compared to those guys, our Corporal Kang is a certifiable angel.”
Jang Jae-Hwan sagely nodded. “You’re right. He never touches our lockers; he just tells us straight to our faces to re-organize them. Again and again.”
“And when we’re done, he tells us to do it again. Again… and again!”
“S-sir, please calm down.”
“This is why I’ll die before my time, man!”
Unfortunately, Jang Jae-Hwan had no idea he had been tempting fate with those words.
The officer in charge yelled, “Hey, Jang Jae-Hwan!”
“Private 1st Class Jang Jae-Hwan, sir!”
“Better wake up, or else!”
“My apologies, sir!” Jang Jae-Hwan shouted his apology, then sneakily shook his head as he tried to pull himself together.
‘Did I catch a cold or something?’
Since early this morning, it felt like he was getting periodically lightheaded. Kang Jin-Ho told him yesterday to wash up properly before going to bed, but Jang Jae-Hwan ignored that advice and just dozed off. Maybe that was why his entire body felt so heavy and lethargic.
The officer growled loudly, “Don’t forget that today’s training involves gun laying, soldier!”
“Yes, sir! I haven’t forgotten, sir!”
“Keep your wits about you, and don’t you dare mess it up!”
“Yes, sir,” Jang Jae-Hwan replied while sighing under his breath. Why did he have to do gun laying today of all days?
The ‘gun laying’ was a process of disassembling and then deploying a howitzer so that it could fire its shells. It sounded simple enough, but the act of lifting up and re-orienting a seven-ton howitzer, then using sledgehammers to secure it on the ground before using jackeys to adjust its height, was one of the hardest hard labor you could imagine in the military. The training was even performed as a time attack, to boot!
Regardless of your fitness level, just one round of gun laying would be enough to knock you out for the day.
‘Should I tell the others about my condition?’
Saying he wasn’t feeling well and opting out of the training wasn’t against the rules, but this was gun laying, not cleaning the barracks. It wouldn’t look good to opt out while saying he was sick. Besides, his squadmates would have to take up the slack if he wasn’t there to participate.
Jang Jae-Hwan shook his head hard, then clung tightly to the howitzer. After connecting the weapon and its platform to a five-ton truck, he stepped some distance away and stared at his handiwork. “Gee whiz, so freaking heavy…”
Even when he was feeling good, lifting a howitzer once had made him feel like his back was about to break. Today, though? The damned thing seemed twice as heavy as usual. Sure, the howitzer’s two wheels were touching the ground, and his job was just to lift the weapon’s trails, but it still weighed as much as seven compact hatchbacks. Obviously, pushing something like that by hand wouldn’t be an easy task at all.
‘Whatever. I just have to endure it today.’
Tomorrow was Saturday, so he should be able to get plenty of rest. No, hang on. If he said he wasn’t feeling well tonight, Kang Jin-Ho would immediately order him to stop everything and get some much-needed rest. That was what Kang Jin-Ho’s personality was like, after all. Knowing this, Jang Jae-Hwan told himself to do his best to endure today’s training.
After making up his mind, Jang Jae-Hwan followed the truck towing the howitzer and headed to the training ground.
The Battery Commander scanned his soldiers and loudly asked them, “Did you know that today, we’ll be assessing each artillery corps’ combat ability?”
“Yes, sir. We know!”
“And what will happen if we’re late?”
“That won’t happen, sir!”
The Battery Commander frowned deeply. “You lose to either Alpha or Bravo today, and you will all kill yourselves, me included! Do you understand what I’m saying?!”
“Come on, boys! Losing to them will be too humiliating, right? Let’s be honest, we all know those brats are a bunch of weaklings! You know it, I know it! However, let’s say we somehow lose to them today. That means we’ll be constantly mocked until next year’s combat ability assessment! Do you want to be mocked by them?”
“That’s right! So, train hard, fellas! And then, we’ll play hard afterward! As a reward for working hard today, I’ll order the duty officers to leave you alone during the weekends. Meaning, absolutely no work! Do you understand me?”
“Yes, sir! We hear you loud and clear!”
The Battery Commander grinned in satisfaction at the energetic replies of his subordinates. “Alright! Get ready, gents!”
The soldiers quickly got to their assigned positions. They trained gun laying every fortnight, but they still couldn’t do much about getting nervous during every training. Among the news of incidents and accidents, you would occasionally hear about someone making a mistake during gun laying and dying as a result. As such, their nervousness was natural. After all, even if such accidental death was a rare occurrence, there was no guarantee that it wouldn’t happen today.
“…Now, charge!” The Battery Commander issued the direction indicator, prompting the squad members to sprint toward their assigned howitzers. They quickly proceeded to uncouple the weapons from the trucks, then raised the barrels. Next up, the howitzers were quickly oriented before being secured to the ground.
‘Damn it, I gotta keep myself together…!’
Jang Jae-Hwan tried to concentrate, but it felt like his mind was scattering in a billion directions with every breath he took. Meanwhile, the senior soldiers rushed in to raise the cannon, then split open its ‘trails’ left and right. While they were holding on desperately to maintain the balance, Jang Jae-Hwan extracted the ‘spade’ that weighed almost 100kg and got ready to move it, but then… His head suddenly began to spin. “Urgh…”
“Hey, what are you doing!”
“S-sorry, sir!” Jang Jae-Hwan tried to hurry up. That was when a problem reared its head.
He was in too much rush that he failed to notice that the ground here wasn’t even and that the soil right before him had been gouged out. His body momentarily lost balance, and he fell face first. At the same time, his junior carrying the spade together with him and trying to back away also lost his balance and fell.
“Aaaaahk?!” Jang Jae-Hwan screamed as he crashed to the ground. How could he not, though? He could vividly see the sharp-edged metallic lump weighing nearly 100kg falling onto the chest of his junior soldier, after all! If that thing landed on that poor guy’s chest, it wouldn’t end with his ribs breaking into pieces.