“Thankfully, looks like there's no traffic,” said Nam Sang-Hyeok.
“Yes, looks that way.” Jo Gyu-Min sitting in the front passenger seat nodded slightly.
Their off-road vehicle was currently driving on a wide, sparsely-populated road.
The driver, Nam Sang-Hyeok, glanced at the clock.
“If traffic stays like this, we should reach our destination in around four, maybe five hours.”
“It's not that far away, then.”
“Indeed, it isn't,” Nam Sang-Hyeok replied to Jo Gyu-Min.
Truth be told, however...
His focus was still locked on the passenger riding in the back seat.
Kang Jin-Ho sat there, his arms crossed and his eyes deeply closed.
His silence was so unnerving that Nam Sang-Hyeok could barely focus on anything else.
is that guy'
Despite boasting such a...
naive-looking face, he still blew away all those hoodlums by himself.
That was not a feat a normal human could pull off!
Even Korea's legendary street fighter, Sirasoni, wouldn't be able to do something like that.
Not to forget, those hoodlums were all brandishing scary weapons, too! Yet, Kang Jin-Ho still one-sidedly pummeled them to the ground.
'Maybe, he's a member of some special forces'
That had to be it—otherwise, what happened back in the diner wouldn't make much sense.
'Besides all that, what did he mean by beating the grass to scare the snake'
Simply put, Kang Jin-Ho was implying that he had caused a scene to draw someone out of hiding.
However, provoking the local hoodlums would only draw out the Triad, wouldn't it
'Whatever the case might be, I better get myself out of this mess real quick.'
No matter how good Kang Jin-Ho was at using his fists, what he was trying to do was tantamount to committing suicide.
Even the CCP didn’t dare to carelessly provoke the Triad, after all!
Living in Korea would sometimes make people underestimate the capacity of organized criminals.
Nam Sang-Hyeok used to be one of those people.
No matter how overbearing a criminal gang was, it shouldn't be able to lift a single finger as soon as the cops or the Public Security Bureau showed up on the scene—that was his mindset before coming here.
However, living in another country had taught him how wrong he was.
As it turned out, South Korea's public security was easily one of the best in the entire world.
Living here also taught Nam Sang-Hyeok that China wasn’t South Korea.
Imagine how poor the public security had to be for dozens of gang members wielding various weapons to brazenly engage in a mass brawl in broad daylight.
Such a thing would be unthinkable if the Public Security Bureau were doing its job.
Nam Sang-Hyeok had a pretty good idea of how short-tempered, cruel, and driven the Triad members could be.
As such, he wanted nothing to do with Kang Jin-Ho if he could.
As the car drove on, Kang Jin-Ho slowly opened his eyes.
He took in the sights of mountain peaks that felt intimately familiar.
With a hint of distant longing in his eyes, Kang Jin-Ho quietly watched the scenery outside the car window.
want to climb that mountain” Nam Sang-Hyeok stared at Kang Jin-Ho in a daze.
“Yes, that's correct,” Kang Jin-Ho flatly replied as if he wasn't concerned about anything.
“Huh. Mister Kang...
Mister Kang, wait.” Nam Sang-Hyeok sucked in a few deep breaths to organize what he wanted to say, then unleashed his barrage.
“Please listen to me.
This isn't Korea, Mister Kang.
And those mountains you see over there, they are not the same sort of mountains you'd find in Korea! No, wait! Even in Korea, you're prohibited from hiking in the middle of the night, Mister Kang! In other words, you're asking for death here! Even in comparatively small mountains in Korea, it's easy to get lost, you know But in those mountains You get lost, and no one will ever find you! What I'm trying to tell you is that this place is not like Korea, where you can just keep going down the mountainside until you find a road or a village!”
Jo Gyu-Min inwardly tutted while watching figurative flames fly out of Nam Sang-Hyeok's eyes and mouth.
'Was I like that in the past'
Looking back, Jo Gyu-Min had to admit he used to act similarly to Nam Sang-Hyeok.
He would try to interfere and voice his opposition to almost every little thing Kang Jin-Ho had done.
But Jo Gyu-Min had come to learn that Kang Jin-Ho's actions were not as reckless as they initially appeared.
Now that he knew Kang Jin-Ho could be thoughtful and calculating, Jo Gyu-Min decided to just place his trust in the young man's decision-making.
He inwardly hoped for Nam Sang-Hyeok to win this argument.
Jo Gyu-Min wasn't blind, so he could see the sun setting below the horizon just like everybody else.
Even then, if Kang Jin-Ho insisted on hiking at night...
Jo Gyu-Min would have no choice but to follow.
Unfortunately for him...
“Yes, I am aware of all those,” said Kang Jin-Ho in his usual unperturbed manner.
“If you're so dead-set on hiking, how about finding a place nearby to spend the night And start climbing tomorrow morning There aren't any rescue services to find you if you get lost up there, Mister Kang.
This isn't Korea where rescuers will show up almost immediately, you know”
'Yes, you're doing great, Mister Nam!'
Jo Gyu-Min dearly wanted to cheer on Nam Sang-Hyeok right now if he could.
Although, no one knew whether such a thing would please Nam Sang-Hyeok or not.
“Thank you for your concern.” Unfortunately, Kang Jin-Ho remained adamant.
'Gee whiz, it's like I'm talking to a wall!'
Nam Sang-Hyeok finally gave up on changing Kang Jin-Ho's mind.
Since time immemorial, trying to convince someone unwilling to listen had always been a total waste of time.
“If you insist, there's no helping it, then…”
Kang Jin-Ho fastened his luggage on his back, then picked up the bottle of water he had bought from a rest stop earlier.
Nam Sang-Hyeok sighed.
“You probably won't get any signal once you're in the mountainside, Mister Kang.
When you're done hiking and have descended, please give me a call.
I'll come and fetch you in this exact spot.”
“I will…” Kang Jin-Ho nodded.
Nam Sang-Hyeok turned around to leave, but he still felt a bit unwilling about this turn of events.
Even though there wasn't much he could do here, his feet still didn't want to take him away, as it felt like he was abandoning his companions to their deaths.
However, Kang Jin-Ho didn't seem to care either way.
He simply glanced at Jo Gyu-Min and said, “Let's get going, Mister Gyu-Min.”
“...Didn't you say I should treat this trip as a vacation, Mister Jin-Ho”
“Mm, well…” Kang Jin-Ho smiled refreshingly.
“Some people go hiking during their vacation, so can't we pretend this trip is one of those”
Just before Jo Gyu-Min could cry those two words out, Kang Jin-Ho suddenly spoke again, “Mister Gyu-Min, I'm being serious this time, so please listen carefully.”
“You don't have to come with me on this trip.”
“...!” Jo Gyu-Min's expression stiffened a little.
“The path I'm about to take from here onward will be rough and unforgiving.
If you carelessly follow me, you'll no doubt experience a lot of hardship.
That is why it's fine to go back with Mister Nam.
I promise you that once I'm done here, I'll definitely give you a call.
I won't be needing an interpreter from this point on, anyway.”
Jo Gyu-Min's expression had fully stiffened by then.
“Do you know what makes a salaryman...
“...No, not really.”
“A salaryman is a salaryman because they do what they are told, Mister Jin-Ho.
If I were not prepared to do that, I would have just opened up my own fried chicken franchise or something instead of sticking to you in the hopes of making it big in Jaegyeong.”
“Two important aspects a salaryman must have are tact and quick-enough wits, Mister Jin-Ho.
Of course, it's also important to know how to pretend to be working while not doing any work at all.
Unfortunately, there are times when you need to work even though you don't want to.
Especially in cases like this one.
If I skip my duties now, then well...
I'll develop a mindset of wanting to skip more work in the future.
When that happens, that will be the death knell for a salaryman like me, Mister Jin-Ho,” Jo Gyu-Min spoke as determination filled his expression.
“Following you is a part of my duties, Mister Jin-Ho.
I will not allow anyone to interfere with my work, including you.”
“Oh, and Mister Jin-Ho”
Kang Jin-Ho cocked an eyebrow and stared at Jo Gyu-Min as a confident grin floated up on the latter's face.
“Don't forget that I'm Jo Gyu-Min.”
“...I'm Jo Gyu-Min, my foot!”
When Kang Jin-Ho said, “You don't have to come,” Jo Gyu-Min should have said, “Hell yeah!” and went back with Nam Sang-Hyeok.
Why, oh why, did he have to be so bloody stupid!
While hiking, Jo Gyu-Min couldn't stop thinking that he had made a terrible mistake.
And his regret wasn't tied to whether the mountain was steep or not.
No, it had to do with the sudden realization he had while walking inside this forest covered in darkness.
And that realization was about the massive difference between hiking predetermined mountain trails created by people and blindly marching through the wilderness!
“Uhuhut!” Jo Gyu-Min's feet stepping on the fallen leaves suddenly slipped, pushing him dangerously off balance.
Kang Jin-Ho quickly reached behind and caught the falling Jo Gyu-Min, then pulled him up to his feet.
“Are you okay”
Sure, he was more or less 'okay.’ However…!
Hiking through a mountain in the middle of the night when human eyes could barely see anything What kind of crazy nonsense was this Even worse, this mountain's difficulty was on another level compared to what Jo Gyu-Min was familiar with.
One good thing about hiking at night was that...
Jo Gyu-Min had a feeling that to his side was a steep cliff.
If they had been hiking during the day, he would have been too busy wetting his pants to get a move on from that sight!
They hadn't been hiking for that long, yet they were already encountering such a scenery
“Aren't we just asking to get injured at this rate”
“No, we won't get injured.”
“...Huh.” Jo Gyu-Min groaned.
Even though Nam Sang-Hyeok had already realized that one shouldn't waste their breath talking to a wall, Jo Gyu-Min still hadn't let go of his foolish hope just yet.
“N-no, hang on...
What I'm saying is...
I don't have a problem with hiking itself.
My job is to do as told by my boss, after all.
However, isn't it fine to climb this mountain during the day”
“Hmm. But, if we had chosen to set off tomorrow morning, we would have needed four days for this trip, you know”
“I'm sorry” Jo Gyu-Min tilted his head in confusion.
Kang Jin-Ho smirked a little.
“Remember, this mountainside is different from what you get in Korea.
Tian Shan—the Mountain of Heavens is actually more like a mountain range with many other mountains surrounding it.
We got as close as we could with a car, and now, we must travel on foot to reach our destination.”
What you're saying is...
We are not hiking, but, uh, literally ascending the mountainside Like, traversing the Taebaek Mountains Something like that”
“Yes, more or less.”
Jo Gyu-Min began shuddering just then.
“I-in that case, why didn't you...”
“Mm Please repeat that”
‘You should've said that upfront when you were telling me to go back earlier, you son of a b*tch! I thought I'd be hiking my butt off for one day, then have enough material to boast about at the company water cooler, you know! But this is not just one day, is it!’
‘If reaching the destination takes three days, how long will we need when coming back down!’
“H-hang on a minute.
Are you saying we'll have to ascend this mountain the whole night!”
Kang Jin-Ho tutted slightly.
“Of course not.
We'll set up a camp nearby.”
“...Huh.” Jo Gyu-Min turned his head and stared at the distant moon shining brightly in the night sky.
For some reason, he was missing his mother tonight.
Kang Jin-Ho was surprisingly proficient at setting up a camp.
He gathered some leaves and branches, then tied them down to create passable bedding for two.
Next up, he dug a small pit and got a campfire going.
All these took less than ten minutes to complete.
Judging from his speed, this couldn't have been his first time camping outdoors.
However, as far as Jo Gyu-Min's memories went, Kang Jin-Ho didn't have any outdoor-related hobbies, so this came across as rather strange.
'This is weird...'
Kang Jin-Ho should be an amateur in all things related to camping, yet he seemed just so proficient in everything he did.
Of course, even an amateur could acquire all the information they wanted on the Internet these days.
However, a brutal wake-up call waited for those hoping to put the knowledge in their heads to actual reality.
Jo Gyu-Min knew the severity of that 'disparity,’ so he couldn't explain Kang Jin-Ho's proficiency.
After Kang Jin-Ho was finished setting up camp, he poured some water into the cup and handed it over to Jo Gyu-Min.
“N-no, I'm fi—” Jo Gyu-Min was about to politely decline, only to notice the steam rising from the cup.
He then unhesitantly accepted the offered cup.
He could see the boiling water inside, and his head slowly shook all on its own.
'Did he bring a Thermos with him or something'
That couldn't be it, though, since Jo Gyu-Min didn't remember seeing Kang Jin-Ho prepare hot water before setting off for this trip.
So, where did this hot water come from When the campfire only got going literally minutes ago
Meanwhile, Kang Jin-Ho got up and began hoarding the luggage to one side.
Then, he suddenly stretched himself and loosened his muscles.
Jo Gyu-Min looked at him weirdly.
Didn't Kang Jin-Ho say it's time to go to bed So, what was he doing now
Kang Jin-Ho glanced at Jo Gyu-Min.
“Get some rest in the meantime.”
“...Are you going somewhere, Mister Jin-Ho”
“Not 'going,’ but 'welcoming,’ actually.”
Jo Gyu-Min's head tilted to the side.
Kang Jin-Ho smiled meaningfully.
“The snake has shown up, so it's time to hunt it.
snake” Jo Gyu-Min's head tilted even more.
“I'm genuinely curious now.
What will come out after hunting the snake A dragon Maybe a tiger” Kang Jin-Ho muttered before turning around to leave the campsite.
'What on earth was he talking about'
Jo Gyu-Min narrowed his eyes while righting his head.
Maybe, it had something to do with the 'beating the grass to scare the snake' idiom from earlier in the day However, what did that have to do with their current situation However, Jo Gyu-Min didn't need long to get his answers.
Suddenly, this strange chill flooded the surroundings.
Jo Gyu-Min quickly squeezed his eyes shut before opening them again.
Kang Jin-Ho was still standing there, but he...
He was no longer the same Kang Jin-Ho.
That person had the outward appearance of the everyday Kang Jin-Ho, yes, but his atmosphere had totally changed.
Jo Gyu-Min could instinctively feel it.
In other words, Kang Jin-Ho's hidden 'side' had come out.
Why was he unleashing his dark side in the middle of nowhere
Kang Jin-Ho quietly looking up at the heavens suddenly raised his voice.
“Sirasoni” was the nickname of Yi Seong-Sun, a well-known gangster in Korea. ☜