Kim Hak-Cheol's eyes opened wide enough they could pop out of their sockets.
A shadow was slowly standing up from the darkness! A shadow that could either be a person or some kind of a specter was now looking down at Kim Hak-Cheol frozen on the floor.
The shadow's lips parted.
“Did you know”
was this thing even asking about
Kim Hak-Cheol squeezed his eyes shut.
He had to be sleeping right now.
Right, something like this couldn't happen in reality.
All these terrifying things should go away once he closed his eyes and opened them again!
This was what Kim Hak-Cheol told himself.
Without that, he wouldn't be strong enough to maintain his sanity.
Obviously, no living human would have the opportunity to experience something like this in their lifetime! This was a scene straight out of some bone-chilling horror movie, and, confronted by this nightmarish scenario, Kim Hak-Cheol's heart pounded fast and hard enough that it seemed like it would explode.
His heart continued to race despite his closed eyes, proving that this was his reality, but Kim Hak-Cheol was simply unwilling to accept it.
Never! If that pitch-black shadow was a real creature, then...
Then, what was he supposed to do against it!
The shadow began walking slowly, its footsteps echoing so vividly in the boiler room.
With every passing second, those steps sounded louder and louder in Kim Hak-Cheol's ears.
Inch by inch, step by step...
That shadow was 'creeping' closer to him.
Kim Hak-Cheol's heart started to beat faster and faster as the shadow loomed closer.
Kim Hak-Cheol sensed something near his face, and he flinched before immediately backing away.
No, he tried so hard to do just that.
However, his body didn't even budge an inch despite his brain sending it urgent signals.
Shortly afterward, something neared his ear, followed by a hushed voice.
“What kind of a hand should I extend to you”
Kim Hak-Cheol's body began trembling like he was having a seizure.
“The director told me to extend my hand toward the weak.
Honestly, her recommendation left me quite confused.
Do you know why” The voice's, no, the shadow's icy-cold hand slowly patted Kim Hak-Cheol's cheek.
“In my eyes, everyone in this world looks like a weakling.
What was this insane bastard even talking about! Who the hell was this director, and who was the weakling this creature was talking about!
“Do you have any idea what I feel about this Everyone in this world looks like a fragile straw to me.
They may look perfectly fine on the outside, but...
Just a little touch from me, then snap! That's what I constantly feel.
And that's why her recommendation sounded so amusing to me.
Helping the weak means I must help the entire world, you see”
“Huff, huff, haaa, haaa...!”
Kim Hak-Cheol felt like something on him had been lifted, and he urgently began huffing away.
He was already soaked in cold sweat from head to toe.
The incomprehensible words whispered by this strange creature only made his stress level shoot up even higher.
Why does this voice sound so familiar, though'
Kim Hak-Cheol was dead-sure that he had never heard of this voice before.
There was simply no way he wouldn’t recognize such a low, unique voice like this.
For some inexplicable reason, he kept getting this feeling that he had heard this voice before.
And this feeling drove Kim Hak-Cheol even crazier.
The 'shadow' stared at Kim Hak-Cheol and cackled softly.
Every echo of that cackling laughter dropped Kim Hak-Cheol's pounding heart deeper into the abyss.
“I wanted to honor her request.
I really did.
However, I soon found myself in a dilemma.
The weak can also be wicked, after all.
Does that mean I should help the wicked because they are weak That can't be right, wouldn't you agree”
Kim Hak-Cheol couldn't reply to that.
But there was no need to because that rhetorical question was followed by a declaration from the 'shadow.’
“I realized that my answer to that dilemma is actually quite simple.
The hand I extend to people like you will be...
a little different.
As an example...”
The shadow's hand moved away from Kim Hak-Cheol's cheek and slowly went lower before grabbing his collarbone.
'No, it can't be!'
“...Something like this.”
A horrifying noise dug into Kim Hak-Cheol's ears just as excruciating pain shot up from his shoulder.
Blood vessels in his eyes burst while veins bulged throughout his entire body.
Kim Hak-Cheol's stiff figure tried to thrash about on the ground from the indescribable pain, but the shadow didn't even flinch once.
It just remained deathly still and took in the spectacle of his pain.
Kim Hak-Cheol couldn't understand why no words would come out of his mouth.
Even his screams were muffled and almost inaudible as they escaped his throat.
It was as if someone had forced his jaw open while squeezing his throat tightly.
His mouth and vocal cords were no longer under his control.
“Does it hurt”
The other collarbone snapped under the pressure.
The unimaginably excruciating pain caused Kim Hak-Cheol's whole body to tense up.
He tried to scream at the top of his lungs, but the sound stayed trapped in his chest and could not escape his mouth.
This pain might have been more bearable if only he could scream as much as he wanted!
“There are supposed to be individuals unable to empathize with others' pain.
I always found that assertion strange.
If you can't 'feel' other people's pain, wouldn't that be solved by 'feeling' your own pain” The part of the shadow that seemed to be the head leaned in closer to Kim Hak-Cheol's ear.
The voice was so low and creepy—so creepy that it sent chills down Kim Hak-Cheol's skin.
And such a voice rang vividly in Kim Hak-Cheol's ears.
“Wouldn't you agree”
This time, it felt like Kim Hak-Cheol's entire arm was being crushed.
However, he couldn't hear the sound of bones breaking as his mind was too preoccupied with the soul-shattering pain right now.
The intense pain from his arm even made him feel dizzy as his consciousness dimmed.
Unfortunately for him, he couldn't even pass out.
Losing his consciousness could go a long way in erasing all this pain, but for some unfathomable reason, his mind seemed to get clearer and sharper as the pain intensified.
The shadow's lips arched up slightly.
He was smiling.
was definitely smiling! This devil-like bastard was enjoying his time breaking Kim Hak-Cheol's bones.
But, why! How come! Why did Kim Hak-Cheol need to go through this
“Euuuuuph!” Kim Hak-Cheol suddenly began rocking violently on the ground.
Just where did he summon this strength from He was tensing up his muscles and struggling so much that his body seemed to have swelled up.
However, all his struggles amounted to nothing more than his body lifting off the floor just a little.
“Why are you making that expression” the shadow asked, his dismissive chuckle registering in Kim Hak-Cheol's ears.
That cursed laughter echoed in the boiler room, making it sound like it came from every direction imaginable.
When the echo combined with the soul-wrecking pain, Kim Hak-Cheol genuinely started to think that he was going insane.
“You need to smile.
Don't you think so”
This time, it was Kim Hak-Cheol's other arm breaking.
Kim Hak-Cheol violently convulsed, his 'seizure' seemingly getting worse.
Tears flooded out of his eyes while snot and drool streamed out of his nose and mouth.
“Kekeke.” The shadow continued to cackle at this scene.
Too scary! By this point, Kim Hak-Cheol thought the mental anguish from looking at this shadowy creature had exceeded the physical pain currently tearing his body apart.
Kim Hak-Cheol's bloodshot eyes urgently scanned the boiler room, his heavy panting getting too fast for him to sustain.
Kim Hak-Cheol's expression was dyed in puzzlement.
The question in his mind was rather elemental in nature: why was he even down here The confusion and doubt arising from the question of why he was being subjected to this torture were even more unbearable than the pain itself.
“Are you curious” the shadow quietly asked—as if he could read Kim Hak-Cheol's mind.
Kim Hak-Cheol nodded his head urgently.
He nodded again and again until the shadow responded.
Unfortunately for him, the response he got was the shadow's lips drawing a bizarre upward curve.
“You thought I'd tell you” The shadow leaned in closer and whispered, “You don't need to know.
Just feel it.
That's your role.”
“Let's make a bet.
And it will be: how many days will it take How long before you lose your sanity I'd say it will happen within a week.
Well What do you think Want to make this bet with me”
The shadow started cackling once more.
That low cackle soon grew into loud laughter before it became a maddened guffaw loud enough to rumble the ceiling.
The shadow—this person—had to be a madman! Whether he was a human being, a specter, or even a devil...
One thing was for certain; this person was definitely insane!
The devil draped in shadows held his head and laughed like a maniac, his back arched backward.
He guffawed loud and hard before suddenly shoving his face really close to Kim Hak-Cheol's.
When Kim Hak-Cheol stared into those crimson eyes, he finally understood the old saying about one's soul freezing up from pure terror.
Every fiber of his being, whether it was his fingertip or a hair strand, refused to obey his will.
Remember, it'll be one week.
And it's starting...
“Kkuwuuuk!” Kim Hak-Cheol's eyes bulged as something began to constrict his throat.
And it was doing so agonizingly slowly.
While not touching the carotid artery, this thing delicately blocked off his airways, all in careful consideration of keeping Kim Hak-Cheol conscious...! Slowly, oh-so-slowly, the shadow was asphyxiating Kim Hak-Cheol.
The terror of looming death flooded Kim Hak-Cheol's mind.
He was dying.
This would be different from all the physical pain he had been subjected to until now.
However, his attachment to life began burning even hotter despite the fear of death ruthlessly boring down on his soul.
This sensation of slowly trudging toward his death...! The color of the world in his view gradually drained out, and strength quickly abandoned his limbs.
Just as his bladder was about to let go, that low, hushed voice dug into Kim Hak-Cheol's ears again.
“That moron must have felt it, too.
So, it's only right that you also feel it.”
That was when Kim Hak-Cheol fainted.
“Uwaaaaaaahk!” Kim Hak-Cheol screamed at the top of his lungs and shot up from his bedding.
“What the f*ck!” Noh Su-Bong swore loudly while jumping up in shock.
“Hey, you stupid motherf*cker! Why the hell are you screaming in the middle of your sleep!”
“Huff, huff! Huff!” Kim Hak-Cheol panted and sucked in lungfuls of air like a large air pump on overdrive.
With his hands still uncontrollably shaking, he hurriedly looked around his vicinity.
I was asleep”
“That's right, you moron! What, did you have a nightmare Hah, would you look at this bloody moron!”
Kim Hak-Cheol hurriedly touched his arms.
broken At all'
Indeed, his collarbones and arms seemed to be perfectly fine.
that was a dream'
Even though it was so vivid and real Kim Hak-Cheol shivered uncontrollably.
Simply recalling what happened seemingly a minute ago caused his entire body to shudder powerfully as if he had been thrown into a frigid wintry field without any clothes on.
I was dreaming I dreamed that”
However, it had to be—it had to be just a passing dream.
Something like that couldn't happen in reality, after all.
Yes, the highly stressful situation Kim Hak-Cheol had been experiencing in the past few days should be the culprit for that nightmare.
Kim Hak-Cheol tried so hard to convince himself that that was the case.
The faint vibration of the large boiler he picked up through his back, the unmistakable smell of oil! The dampness of the floor and the faint whiff of the mold growing in the underground boiler room.
And then, what about the pain his body had experienced And...
and what about...
...Those red eyes!
Kim Hak-Cheol hurriedly tore and yanked at his own hair when his mind remembered those crimson eyes of the shadow.
“What the hell! What's the matter with you, Hak-Cheol!” Noh Su-Bong was genuinely taken aback at the sudden scream and hurriedly pushed himself off his bedding.
“Hey! Someone bring this guy some cold water!”
While the junior soldiers rushed over to the water cooler, Noh Su-Bong grabbed Kim Hak-Cheol by the shoulder and shook him around.
“Hey, Kim Hak-Cheol! Hak-Cheol, can you hear me!”
“Are you okay”
“What the hell Snap out of it, man!”
Kim Hak-Cheol slowly shook his head.
Although his movement lacked energy, it was still a clear and understandable gesture.
“I… I'm fine, sir.”
“What kind of a nightmare was it for you to end up this way” Noh Su-Bong glared and asked in annoyance and genuine worry.
a bit serious, sir.
My nightmare, I mean.”
“Maybe you're too stressed out and not feeling well, Hak-Cheol.
To be safe, let's call a medic over and check your temperature and stuff.
I'm gonna go and report to the duty officer.”
“Understood, sir,” Kim Hak-Cheol replied as his head faltered.
He was inwardly trying to convince himself.
'Yeah, it was just a dream.
A dream! Wake up, me! It was only a dream!'
To think he would raise such a ruckus over a mere dream! What an embarrassment this was.
Kim Hak-Cheol sighed deeply after barely managing to calm himself.
Noh Su-Bong put on his slippers and got ready to leave the squad's living area before turning around to look at Kim Hak-Cheol.
“Corporal Kim Hak-Cheol, sir.”
“By the way, what's wrong with your neck, man”
“...My neck, sir”
That kinda looks like a handprint on your neck.
Were you holding your own neck while sleeping”
Kim Hak-Cheol's eyes grew wide.
He forced his shaking legs to move and desperately stood up.
He grabbed onto the locker and barely managed to keep his balance, then fearfully stared at the reflection of his own throat in the mirror.
A vivid handprint could be seen on his neck skin.
A handprint that clearly belonged to a devil, with spindly and long claws at the fingertips!