Descent of the Demon Master - Chapter 151
Chapter 151. Discharged (1)
The aftermath of the suicide incidents left the artillery company reeling in its wake. The seemingly-nonstop investigation left all the soldiers in the base exhausted and fed up; meanwhile, the officers saw their career paths dead in the water.
Funnily enough, none of the affected soldiers lamented or really complained loudly about it. Whatever their individual reasons were, there was still no excusing the fact that the officers had failed to supervise a company of fewer than a hundred soldiers.
Kim Hak-Cheol and Noh Su-Bong both failed to return to base. Soon, the rumors of them being committed to a mental asylum circulated within the Charlie base.
Three soldiers from the same squad trying to kill themselves spooked quite a few people in the base, making them utter some inane nonsense about the whole company being haunted and stuff like that. However, the popular sentiment among everyone else was that, with the sole exception of Ju Yeong-Gi, the other two had gotten what they deserved.
Afterward, the Charlie artillery company operated a little more… ‘by the book’ than before. The enlisted soldiers were understandably unhappy about this turn of events and raised their voices of discontent. Fortunately for them, though, the clock in South Korea’s Ministry of Defense continued to tick relentlessly regardless of what happened on one of its bases.
Kang Jin-Ho glanced around. “Jang Jae-Hwan?”
“Yes?” Jang Jae-Hwan sneaked closer to Kang Jin-Ho with a puzzled face.
Kang Jin-Ho pointed to the wooden floor. “It’s dirty.”
“Seriously?!” Jang Jae-Hwan’s expression distorted instantly. He let his annoyance known rather openly before shooting off his barrage of complaints. “Go home already! Just leave, will ya?! You’re about to get discharged tomorrow, so why are you still trying to bother us like this?! I’m gonna catch your OCD at this rate! Holy cow! Seriously, dude! You’ve been tormenting this hyung of yours for over a year and a half already! Isn’t that enough for you?!”
“…But, can’t you see it’s dirty?” Kang Jin-Ho didn’t back down and kept pointing at the floor.
“…Urgh. Hey, you bastards!” Jang Jae-Hwan shouted at the squad members lazing around. “Didn’t you hear our ahjussi? He says our sleeping floors are dirty!”
The squad members jeered loudly.
“Tell him to bugger off to his home already, sir!”
“Ahjussi! This ain’t your living room! If it’s too dirty for you, go back to your house and sleep on your own bed!”
Kang Jin-Ho’s shoulders drooped in dejection. He used to hold enough sway to turn the whole base upside with just one order, yet when it was almost time for him to get discharged, his power vanished like snow melting under the intense sunlight. Now, even his squadmates were treating him like a passing tumbleweed. Even the stray cats loitering about behind the mess hall might garner more respect than him now!
However, Kang Jin-Ho couldn’t oppose this tide of change. Wasn’t this tribulation an event every soldier on the cusp of their discharge had to face?
While Kang Jin-Ho was silently enduring this indignity, the living area’s door was suddenly shoved open, and a man with a pale face hurriedly rushed inside. It was none other than Ju Yeong-Gi.
Jang Jae-Hwan grumbled loudly at Ju Yeong-Gi’s harried figure. “What the hell? Is my squad some kinda ahjussi scout meeting hall or something?”
Ju Yeong-Gi urgently rushed up to Kang Jin-Ho and began pleading with him. “J-Jin-Ho! Hide me! Hurry!”
“Mm? Why?” Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head.
“Guys in my squad are trying to roll me up inside the blanket and beat me up! But the mood is just too suspicious, know what I mean?! They might beat me to death!”
“…Huh.” Kang Jin-Ho slowly shook his head. How should he describe Ju Yeong-Gi’s current situation? In one sense, it might seem complicated yet fully resolved. From a different perspective, however, it seemed to be even more complicated than before.
Fortunately enough, Ju Yeong-Gi wasn’t transferred to a different company. The problem with that situation was that he no longer had superior-ranked soldiers in his squad. Well, both Noh Su-Bong and Kim Hak-Cheol had ended up in ‘that’ state, after all. Obviously, no one could claim seniority over Ju Yeong-Gi in his squad.
A handful of the company’s executives didn’t feel comfortable about handing over the squad commander position to a soldier who had tried to kill himself. However, Lee Sang-Yeop offered his unreserved support, which helped Ju Yeong-Gi in becoming the 1st Squad’s commander. However, it was under the condition that his performance would be carefully monitored. And then…
Kang Jin-Ho tutted loudly. “That’s why you should’ve done it in moderation, you dumbass.”
That was when Ju Yeong-Gi’s repressed desire to rule with an iron fist got unleashed on the world. Having regained his former self that had taken a peek at the outside world during the initial stages of the boot camp, Ju Yeong-Gi brought his squad under his thumb in no time at all.
The junior soldiers were obviously puzzled by this sudden and drastic change in Ju Yeong-Gi’s personality. However, after learning that he had been holding himself back due to his family situation, they had no choice but to ‘accept’ their new reality and go along with it.
The ones who had to bear the worst of it all, though, were…
The door was shoved open powerfully again. Lee Sang-Yeop and Kim Do-Hyeong rushed inside the 3rd Squad’s living area, followed by the other members of the 1st Squad.
Lee Sang-Yeop began cackling. “Hehehe. So, this was where you were, Ahjussi Ju.”
Ju Yeong-Gi stumbled back. “…H-hey, you punks! Wait! Listen to me first!”
Lee Sang-Yeop ignored him and ordered his underlings. “Boys? Let’s bring our ahjussi back home, shall we?”
“W-wait, you bastards! I, I was only… Waaaait!”
“Stay still, ahjussi. We know your back’s been giving you problems lately, and we just wanted to give you a nice back massage, that’s all! So, why have you been running away from us? That’s not very manly, you know?”
“What the hell?! What massage are you even talking about?! Do people get massaged with clubs and sticks these days?! Help me, Jin-Ho! Jin-Hooooo!”
Kang Jin-Ho slowly shook his head while watching the soldiers grab and lift up the struggling Ju Yeong-Gi by his limbs before dragging him outside.
‘Power’ was cyclic in nature. It would cycle back to you sooner or later. Even if a sergeant ruled over his squad with an iron fist, he could never stop the time from shifting forward. As such, he would have to contend with his day of reckoning sooner or later.
“…Hang on, shouldn’t our ahjussi also experience the… massage from us? Inside a rolled-up blanket, I mean?” someone in the 3rd squad suddenly piped up.
Kang Jin-Ho flinched and coughed to clear his throat before sneaking closer to the exit.
“Ahjussi? Where are you going?”
“A smoke break.” Kang Jin-Ho quickly slipped through the exit and shut the door behind him.
The remaining squad members could only lick their lips ruefully.
“Kuh~… Never knew I’d get to see him act that way!”
“…It has been a long road, hasn’t it?”
“He’s finally leaving.”
The squad members didn’t even bother to hide their joy. Frankly speaking, they had suffered a lot under Kang Jin-Ho, hadn’t they?
“I mean, really, sir! What kind of a sergeant wakes up earlier than a private 2nd class and tidies up his bedding?! I had to wake up on the dot like a robot because of him!”
“Yes! A sergeant shouldn’t be so strict like ours, you know!”
“And that bloody FM!!! I swear to God, I ain’t gonna listen to a bloody radio for the rest of my life! I swear it!”
The boos and jeering were all varied and colorful.
Jang Jae-Hwan listened to them before snorting loudly. “Hah, these brats! Let me tell you something. You can complain like this only because of our ahjussi, Kang Jin-Ho!”
“Do you think you’d be allowed to yap on in the living area freely at night? Especially after having just joined the squad? You would have been dragged outside for being an insolent punk, you bastards!”
“Sheesh. What kinda dictatorship is that, sir?!”
“You fool, don’t you know that’s still how things are like in other living areas?”
The private 2nd classes tilted their heads in puzzlement, prompting the senior soldiers to nod to indicate that it was indeed true.
“Right, right! My friend is still being kicked around by his seniors, I hear. Even though he’s already a corporal!”
“As for my friend in another squad, he’s not even being treated as a person. He’s a total worker ant of his squad!”
Jang Jae-Hwan nodded slowly. “Our ahjussi does have the tendency to drive us mad, but he had never made our lives a living hell, did he? He managed to eliminate all the irregularities in our squad, but what will happen if they are revived? None of you idiots will get to breathe freely again, you hear me?”
“Our ahjussi was subjected to all sorts of nonsense, but he never once did that to us, his juniors. Be thankful, alright?”
‘Of course, the seniors couldn’t really bully Kang Jin-Ho, anyway…’
Jang Jae-Hwan’s follow-up murmur to himself was too quiet, and everyone else missed it as a result.
The squad members chuckled and began to sing Kang Jin-Ho’s praises next.
“Let’s be honest here, everyone. Our ahjussi is a certifiable legend in our company, isn’t he?”
“That’s right. Just think about all the leave permits he had swept up for us… Uh-whew~!”
Kang Jin-Ho was like a vacation collecting machine. Whenever he went off on a training exercise, he would come back home with leave permits. It didn’t matter whether he was participating in a combat ability assessment or artillery exercises; he aced them all.
“…And he’s the real legend in athletics competitions, isn’t he?”
Starting from soccer to basketball and even wrestling… Kang Jin-Ho had participated in every category eligible and had figuratively hoovered up all the available prizes, which were leave permits. He had won in everything he was in during the inter-battalion competition, then moved on to the inter-brigade competition to do the same. He didn’t stop there, though, as he had also cleaned house during the inter-division competition.
“Didn’t the HQ want to change his assignment or something? To make him a commissioned officer?”
“I heard Sergeant Kang Jin-Ho refused, though.”
“…Well, he’s one impressive specimen, alright.”
After winning all those leave permits, Kang Jin-Ho distributed them to his squad members. He would have probably spent most of his military service on holiday outside the base by using up those permits for himself, but he didn’t do that.
Every member of the 3rd Squad had at least enjoyed a free leave, thanks to Kang Jin-Ho’s generosity. That was why they all admired and respected him even if they whined and complained sometimes.
“Uhm… By the way, sir? When Sergeant Kang leaves us, wouldn’t our squad instantly lose its standing in the company?”
Jang Jae-Hwan cocked an eyebrow. “Say what now?”
“I mean, isn’t that the truth? The absolute being in the company is about to disappear for good, after all…”
“Hey! I’m still here, aren’t I!”
“Squad Commander, sir… You alone ain’t gonna cut it, sir.”
Jang Jae-Hwan’s shoulders drooped low. Having a too-good predecessor would only put the next-in-line in a tight spot. Jang Jae-Hwan was already suffering from the weight of needing to fill the void Kang Jin-Ho would inevitably leave behind, so this cold dagger of truth stabbing straight into his heart left him staggering and moaning in anguish.
Jang Jae-Hwan tried to reassure himself. “I-it’ll be fine. We’ve learned a lot, after all. Let’s just do our best.”
“And it’s meaningless to pine for someone who’ll be gone, anyway!”
“You’re right, sir. Although, it has been great that the brass didn’t dare touch us with Sergeant Kang around…”
No matter what, it was a truly lamentable thing to lose the strongest weapon in the squad’s struggle against insurmountable opponents.
“Sir! Shouldn’t we throw a farewell party for Sergeant Kang? How about frozen foods?”
Jang Jae-Hwan held his forehead. “Dude, I’m so sick of frozen foods already. We have been having that every single day, but you still want to eat more of that stuff?!”
“In that case, should we get takeaways, sir?”
“We have to ‘negotiate’ with the duty officer first, but do you really think our ahjussi will allow that? Do you?”
“…Sir, let’s just give up on that idea.”
Kang Jin-Ho disliked the idea of breaking the rules. The unspoken agreement among the soldiers was to allow takeaways to be delivered, but that went against military regulations, which clearly stated that no outside food was allowed into the base. So, there was no way Kang Jin-Ho would allow that to happen.
Jang Jae-Hwan groaned. “Just… pack some Choco Pies, okay?”
“…Wow, we’re really showing our gratitude with that, sir.”
“Urgh. No more free pass at the PX, I guess…”
Jang Jae-Hwan groaned again while listening to the complaints of his squad members.
It all started with him jokingly asking Kang Jin-Ho for a pack of frozen food some time ago. Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head in confusion at that request and replied with a rather dumb-sounding and flabbergasting question, “Don’t you have money on you?”
Jang Jae-Hwan not replying with, “Sir, I didn’t ask you to buy me food because I don’t have money,” proved to be a stroke of genius. His actual reply, “Eii~, where would a broke soldier like me get money, sir?” was now the stuff of legend in the Charlie company. Because that reply was met with Kang Jin-Ho taking his bank card out and handing it over to Jang Jae-Hwan.
Of course, the flustered Jang Jae-Hwan responded with, “Sir, this is unnecessary. Just one packet of food will suffice.” Predictably, though, that response didn’t work. Kang Jin-Ho still entrusted his card to Jang Jae-Hwan and told the latter to “Use it whenever the squad members want to eat something,” thereby throwing the entire squad into serious turmoil.
Just like that, Kang Jin-Ho was instantly elevated to the status of the most-ideal gold spoon. An example that all gold spoons should aspire to become!
At first, the squad members were not sure how to proceed. Even if they had permission, it was still a bit weird to use someone else’s money to buy whatever food they wanted, after all!
However, when Kang Jin-Ho learned that his squad wasn’t listening to his order, he just left his card behind with the PX soldiers and ordered them to charge him whenever his squad members wanted to buy something. Simply put, the 3rd Squad had been given free passes to the PX.
That was the start of the party time for them. After all, people would even gladly accept battery acid if it were for free! Soon after Kang Jin-Ho made that decree, the 3rd Squad members began bombarding the PX.
One of the members was cheeky enough to bring along his mate from a different squad to buy lots of food from the PX, forcing Jang Jae-Hwan to summon the idiot in question and give him a stern lecture. That was how ‘bad’ things had gotten. Every evening turned into a ‘feast’ of frozen foods, eventually leading to the unforeseen side effects of ‘Military Rations Rejection’ syndrome and obesity in the squad members.
Jang Jae-Hwan glanced at his fellow squad members and their… well-rounded frames and groaned deeply. These idiots would start losing weight pretty soon. The land of milk and honey was about to dry up for them, after all.
‘Yup, they are gonna learn the hard way now.’
Soldiers ranked corporals and up already knew the truth, of course. Unfortunately for the privates, though, they had enlisted after Kang Jin-Ho was done seizing the Charlie artillery company’s seat of power, so they had no idea how cumbersome the military life could really be without Sergeant Kang’s generous protection.
If only they knew how instrumental Kang Jin-Ho was in their wonderful military lives… They would be crying their eyes out by now!
Thinking about the massive void about to be left behind by Kang Jin-Ho’s departure gave Jang Jae-Hwan another case of migraine, and he had to hold his head. However, he couldn’t do anything about it. He couldn’t cling to a soldier about to be discharged, after all.
“Hey, you idiots! Just clean this mess, will ya? Tonight’s our ahjussi’s final night, so let’s at least give him a nice farewell, yeah?”
“Understood, sir! We’ll get right on it!”
The squad members all got up and began cleaning the living area. Jang Jae-Hwan chuckled while watching them.
A person about to leave had no choice but to leave. As for those left behind, their duty was to stay behind.
‘…I’m also gonna pull my weight. You’ll see.’
1. This is supposed to be a riff on the Boy Scouts. And yes, that’s how the author wrote it. ☜
2. Field Manual ☜