Kang Jin-Ho lit up the cigarette stuck between his lips.
“I guess being a bad senior gets you beaten up, huh.”
He had witnessed quite a few senior soldiers getting rolled up inside their blankets already.
Of course, Kang Jin-Ho had never participated in those...
And if someone wanted to do that to him, then well...
He thought he wouldn't go out of his way to stop them.
Now that he looked back on his military experience, Kang Jin-Ho noticed how strange the Korean army could be.
This place was more rigid than any other part of Korean society, yet it was also tightly woven in the sense of camaraderie.
Other than how slow the time could move in this place, Kang Jin-Ho evaluated the military as 'Not Bad.’ Especially when he took into account what he had acquired during his stay.
Kang Jin-Ho inspected the qi currently circulating within him, then closed his eyes.
'Around three-tenths, huh.'
According to his own estimation, he seemed to have recovered around thirty percent of his power at his peak in Zhongyuan.
It had been five years since his return to the modern era, yet he managed to recover only that much.
Thinking about how much longer he would need to regain all of his lost strength left him feeling somewhat gloomy.
A part of the reason had to do with just how high he had reached back in Zhongyuan.
The biggest culprit, however, was the far lower level of absorbable qi in the modern era's atmosphere compared to Zhongyuan.
Should he chalk this one down to the limitation imposed by the world
If it hadn't been for this opportunity to spend almost two years on a remote mountainside to focus mostly on his cultivation, Kang Jin-Ho would still be struggling to reach this level even now.
'Although, it's unknown whether it's necessary to regain my peak realm or not in this world...'
Even he had to admit that Heavenly Crimson Demon Emperor’s cultivation realm was a bit too overpowered for this era.
Something too outstanding would always invite disasters of some kind.
Being able to hide it forever would be great, but the moment he bared his hidden fangs of martial arts for some reason, unwelcome things would undoubtedly intrude into his life.
Considering that, he should pay more attention to improving his cultivation, but then...
Kang Jin-Ho's eyes suddenly became withdrawn, distant.
The modern era had 'them,’ didn't it It was still unknown how they would approach Kang Jin-Ho.
They hadn't made any moves toward him during his military service, but the odds of them showing up more actively after he rejoined society was uncomfortably high.
In that case, his current realm was not satisfactory at all.
The barrack's door opened, and Ju Yeong-Gi hobbled outside while holding his back.
“...Huh.” Kang Jin-Ho stared at that scene and chuckled softly.
'Yup, they got him good.'
It didn't take a genius to deduce that the members of the 1st Squad had trampled on Ju Yeong-Gi.
Ju Yeong-Gi groaned unhappily.
“Argh, those bloody bastards!”
Kang Jin-Ho chuckled again.
“I told you, you should've done it in moderation.”
“I haven't done anything that bad, though!” Ju Yeong-Gi complained bitterly like a wrongly-convicted man.
Kang Jin-Ho didn't try to punish the soldiers staying in living area no.1.
Them keeping quiet over Ju Yeong-Gi's matter could certainly be categorized as a 'crime,’ but their sins weren't serious enough for Kang Jin-Ho to get involved in their punishment.
Besides, Ju Yeong-Gi was there to make them pay, anyway.
All Kang Jin-Ho did was sneakily goad the higher-ups to appoint Ju Yeong-Gi as the squad commander, then gave him enough necessary clout from behind the scenes.
That was all.
After getting the backing of the higher-ups and Kang Jin-Ho, Ju Yeong-Gi went to town with what he had always been itching to do.
From Kang Jin-Ho's perspective, Ju Yeong-Gi coming back without any noticeable aftereffects was a huge relief.
However, the same probably couldn't be said for the soldiers occupying living area no.1.
Kang Jin-Ho muttered flatly, “You reap what you sow, Yeong-Gi.”
“Urgh...” Ju Yeong-Gi helplessly shook his head.
That bastard, Sang-Yeop...
Did you see all that venom in his eyes”
“Yes, I did.”
“That son of a b*tch.
And I treated so well all this time, too!”
Kang Jin-Ho let out a dismayed chuckle at that.
Sure, 'treating well' came from Ju Yeong-Gi's subjective point of view, so one could argue about the correctness of that opinion.
Objectively speaking, though, Ju Yeong-Gi should be grateful that Lee Sang-Yeop and the gang hadn’t beaten him to death just now.
Because of what happened to him, Ju Yeong-Gi refrained from psychologically driving his junior soldiers to a corner or making them do crazy stuff.
No, he was simply guilty of his snarky attitude.
One could even say that Ju Yeong-Gi's specialty was making others want to kill him not out of hatred but by how infuriating he was to deal with.
Ju Yeong-Gi groaned as he settled down next to Kang Jin-Ho.
What an eventful military service this has been.”
“What are your plans after rejoining the civilian society, Jin-Ho” Ju Yeong-Gi turned his head and asked.
Kang Jin-Ho mulled his answer for a bit before hesitantly replying, "First of all..."
“I'll go back to school.”
Ju Yeong-Gi frowned deeply.
“Why did you have to think so hard about such an obvious answer, dude That’s not even anything special, too.”
Kang Jin-Ho cocked an eyebrow.
“...What about you, then”
This time, it was Ju Yeong-Gi who took his time replying.
He even grandly sighed.
“I still have no idea.
It's not like I was in college before coming here, you know”
“Are you thinking of going back to your hometown”
But Min-Gi and my grandma are in Seoul already, so...
Wouldn't it be smarter to just settle in Seoul instead of going back to my old place”
“It might be.” Kang Jin-Ho slowly nodded.
I think it's better for me to get a job in Seoul instead of forcing Min-Gi to move schools again.
There are plenty of companies located in Seoul, so there has to be a place willing to hire someone like me, right”
Kang Jin-Ho agreed that this would be the correct course of action for Ju Yeong-Gi.
Thanks to Jo Gyu-Min, Ju Yeong-Gi's father was no longer involved with the Ju family.
As for Ju Min-Gi, Ju Yeong-Gi's younger brother, he was currently staying in the Seongsim Orphanage, which automatically placed him under Jo Gyu-Min's protection.
And finally, Ju Yeong-Gi's grandmother was doing her best to regain her health in a rehabilitation facility.
Although there shouldn't be any problems even if she decided to stay in a regular house, she still had various health-related issues to worry about.
In the end, she chose to remain in the facility until Ju Yeong-Gi was discharged from the military.
This meant Ju Yeong-Gi might as well go along with his family's current living arrangement.
“Hey, man.” Ju Yeong-Gi tapped Kang Jin-Ho on the shoulder.
“Mm What is it”
You better answer your phone.
Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head.
“Punks who act like they are your best friends while in the army supposedly won't answer your call after getting out of this place.
Knowing how indifferent you are, it's kinda obvious what you'll do, isn't it You dare not answer my call, and imma come to your place and kick the living sh*t outta you.”
“Hah...” Kang Jin-Ho chuckled hollowly.
Expressing one's feelings this way was obviously a big problem.
Kang Jin-Ho briefly wondered if Ju Yeong-Gi would be dumb enough to threaten his future girlfriend for refusing to marry him or some such.
If he could find a girlfriend in the first place was a different question altogether, of course.
Surely, Ju Yeong-Gi couldn't be that senseless now, could he
Kang Jin-Ho chuckled and nodded.
“I dare you not to answer the phone.
I already know where you study and live, Jin-Ho.
So, don't answer the phone.
I dare you.
I really wanna show you what a real spectacle looks like, you see!”
I got it already.” Kang Jin-Ho cocked an eyebrow again.
Honestly speaking, though...
This threat was somewhat scary, even for him.
What would Kang Jin-Ho's mother say after she saw the determined Ju Yeong-Gi throwing a massive tantrum in the Kang family home
“Jin-Ho, my child! Did you actually befriend a gangster while serving in the army!”
Kang Jin-Ho frowned deeply, realizing he had to stop that scenario from happening at any cost.
Jin-Ho” Ju Yeong-Gi suddenly became serious.
“I wanted to ask you about something.
“Yeah What is it”
Ju Yeong-Gi wordlessly stared at Kang Jin-Ho, his lips twitching as if he wanted to say something.
In the end, though...
“...Nah, it's nothing.
Forget about it.”
“Huh. That's lame.” Kang Jin-Ho tutted.
“Even if I ask, you ain't gonna gimme a straight answer, anyway.
No need to waste my time, right In any case, I'm gonna go back inside. Aigoo... Looks like the boys are planning to hold a farewell party with frozen foods, so I better hurry inside, or they'll start beating me up again.
See you later.”
“Okay.” Kang Jin-Ho nodded, then faintly smiled while watching Ju Yeong-Gi head back inside the building.
He could guess what Ju Yeong-Gi wanted to ask about.
It probably was regarding Kim Hak-Cheol and Noh Su-Bong.
Kang Jin-Ho hadn't said anything, while Ju Yeong-Gi didn't ask anything either.
However, it seemed he was suspecting something.
In a way, he could claim to know Kang Jin-Ho the best in this artillery company, after all.
Kang Jin-Ho leaned back and muttered, “My enlistment is ending, huh...”
Even though the military life had never been particularly difficult for him, and it failed to leave any lasting impression, Kang Jin-Ho still had to admit that the idea of getting discharged possessed a certain something that made his heart flutter just a little.
While he sat on the bench and calmly analyzed his upcoming discharge, an unexpected guest showed up to interrupt him.
“Ahjussi” A private suddenly called out to him.
“Mm” Kang Jin-Ho glanced at him.
“The Battery Commander wants to see you.”
Kang Jin-Ho narrowed his eyes, but he still got up.
He wasn't sure why the Battery Commander wanted to speak to him.
However, there should be a good enough reason for summoning him like this, so he might as well find out what it was.
Kang Jin-Ho reached the Battery Commander's Office and knocked on the door.
After confirming the voice coming from the other side, Kang Jin-Ho opened the door and stepped inside, only to tilt his head in slight confusion at who he found in the office.
Of course, he remembered who this visitor was.
It was just that this person and Kang Jin-Ho didn't share a connection deep enough to warrant a visit like this.
“Victory,” said Kang Jin-Ho while saluting.
The visitor nodded and saluted back, then addressed the Battery Commander, “Well, then.
Please excuse us.”
“Of course,” The Battery Commander nodded at the visitor and exited the office.
Once the door was closed, the visitor stared at Kang Jin-Ho while making an unreadable expression.
He then pointed to one of the spots on the couch.
“Please sit, Mister Kang.”
'...He's using polite speech'
Kang Jin-Ho cocked an eyebrow in suspicion.
This visitor showing up was already strange, but for him to be this polite That was even stranger.
After all, the visitor was a major while Kang Jin-Ho was still a sergeant, even if his discharge was only a day away.
The visitor smiled.
“Is me showing up here such a surprise, Mister Kang”
“A little bit, yes.”
“I see.” The visitor slowly nodded.
“Actually, I didn't think we'd speak again after that day, Major Nam Tae-Sik.”
The visitor was none other than Major Nam Tae-Sik, the investigator who had shown up during the investigation into Ju Yeong-Gi's matter and had asked Kang Jin-Ho to cooperate.
Major Nam's face, as he pleaded for cooperation, remained vividly etched in Kang Jin-Ho's memories.
The way he tried to convince Kang Jin-Ho to talk while saying someone had to be responsible for that terrible incident certainly left an impression on him.
At the very least, he was the only one Kang Jin-Ho had observed as someone who earnestly wanted to uncover the truth.
As such, Kang Jin-Ho's impression of him was a favorable one.
Kang Jin-Ho remained standing.
“What brings you here, sir”
“...Mm. I guess this office isn't a suitable place to hold a private conversation.” Nam Tae-Sik got up.
“Do you mind following me for a little while Please.”
“...” Kang Jin-Ho frowned slightly at Nam Tae-Sik's puzzling behavior.
However, he neither verbally expressed his discontent nor rejected the request.
If his first impression of the man wasn't wrong, Nam Tae-Sik should have a reason for doing this.
In that case, it might not be such a bad idea to go along with him for now.
Kang Jin-Ho's style wasn't to demand an answer on the spot just because a minor question had popped up to inconvenience him.
Kang Jin-Ho followed Nam Tae-Sik outside the building and spotted the Retona the latter had driven to get to the base.
Nam Tae-Sik called the Battery Commander, and the two of them quickly discussed something.
Eventually, the Battery Commander briefly nodded in Kang Jin-Ho's direction.
Nam Tae-Sik led the way.
“This way, please.”
“Yes, sir.” Kang Jin-Ho didn't say anything else and climbed into the waiting Retona.
Nam Tae-Sik unhesitantly stepped on the accelerator and left the base altogether.
He drove to a secluded location not too far from the base and stopped the car there.
Here, practically no one would show up.
Nam Tae-Sik wordlessly took out a packet of cigarettes and offered Kang Jin-Ho a smoke.
The latter accepted the offering and mouthed it.
Nam Tae-Sik used his lighter to light Kang Jin-Ho's cigarette up, then finally began talking, “I heard you're about to be discharged, Mister Kang.”
“Yes, I am.”
“What are your plans moving forward”
Kang Jin-Ho didn't immediately reply and simply smoked away; the gray cigarette smoke slowly wafted into the air.
Nam Tae-Sik continued to speak politely, “I believe you'll have to deal with...
many matters once you rejoin the civilian society.”
Kang Jin-Ho frowned slightly.
“Before that, I'd like to know why you want to know about my plans, sir.
And why you're speaking to me so politely as well.
This type of polite speech from a commissioned officer doesn't seem quite right when addressing an enlisted soldier, sir.”
Nam Tae-Sik suddenly smiled weirdly.
“But, Mister Kang.
This is how it's supposed to be.”
When Kang Jin-Ho saw that expression, Hwang Jeong-Hu's name momentarily popped up in his mind.
Since Kang Jin-Ho, someone with ties to Chairman Hwang, was about to leave the army, was Nam Tae-Sik trying to act all cordial and stuff to mooch off of him If that were true, Kang Jin-Ho would be bitterly disappointed.
What Nam Tae-Sik said next completely shattered Kang Jin-Ho's expectations.
That was because something he had never even considered had come out of Nam Tae-Sik's mouth.
“Considering the length of time you have been alive, you definitely qualify to be treated with respect befitting an elder, Mister Kang.
Wouldn't you also agree, oh dear returner”
Kang Jin-Ho's widened eyes took in Nam Tae-Sik's smiling face.
Kia Retona is a military vehicle developed by Asia Motors, a subsidiary of Kia Motors.
A small jeep-like SUV, it was sold to both military and civilian customers.
Fun fact: a 2006 survey by a leading German motoring magazine Auto Bild found the Retona 'abysmally unreliable'. ☜