“Let me say my thanks.” (Rhee Jin-Cheol)
Rhee Jin-Cheol turned around to leave, allowing Jeong Hae-Min to lean closer to Yi Ji-Hyuk and whisper.
“That ahjussi, what was he trying to say?” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“Mm….” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk smirked softly.
“I dunno.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“….My bad. Shouldn’t have asked.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
Jeong Hae-Min wordlessly shoved the apple slices inside his mouth.
“By the way, when are we going back home?” (Jeong Hae-Min)
Jeong Hae-Min’s inquiry prompted a puzzled expression to float up on Yi Ji-Hyuk’s face.
“I wonder. The timing is all off.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
If the crisis came to an end near the evening hours, they could’ve eat supper, get a good night’s rest in the hotel, and depart the next morning, but seeing that the sun had risen up not too long ago and they were having breakfast right now, the situation felt a bit lukewarm, to say the least.
“Can we, like, depart after finishing up with breakfast?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“I don’t like it here. The atmosphere is all wrong, and something keeps bugging me.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“You too?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk gulped down another bottle of Cola next to him and noisily put it down with a loud ‘tap!’
“For some reason, even I find being here uncomfortable.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“You can also be uncomfortable about something??” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“Well, it’s kinda like, feels ‘more uncomfortable than usual’, something like that.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk took a look around him.
‘Seriously, man. It just feels off.’ (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
The frozen-stiff atmosphere of this place reminded him of Berafe; everyone pretended to be happy and all that, yet they all carried this fear of not knowing when they might get killed.
The violent power of uncivilised societal constraints was getting on Yi Ji-Hyuk’s nerves somewhat.
“Right. Makes me feel just a bit dirty inside.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk shifted his head towards south.
It might be called ‘Hell Joseon’ and whatnot, but regardless of all that, it was the world he longed for, a country he wanted to get back to.
‘I didn’t feel this patriotic back in America, but to think, this place managed to do exactly that.’ (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk cackled to himself before pulling out his pack of smokes again.
Someone used an ancient Zippo lighter to light up his cigarette from the side.
“Oh, thank you.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Don’t mention it.” (?)
The old man responsible for the light pulled out a chair and settled down next to Yi Ji-Hyuk.
“Looks like American tobacco. Is my guess correct?” (?)
“Pardon?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk took a look at the cigarette package and nodded his head.
“Looks that way.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Those types of American cigarettes are low in quality.” (?)
The old man extracted his own pack of smokes and pushed one towards Yi Ji-Hyuk.
“Try this one. This cigarette has been rolled with special tobacco leaves grown right here in the Republic.” (?)
“Really?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk stubbed his cigarette off and placed the one offered up by the old man between his lips.
“Hmm….” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
He lit it up and took a long drag, before exhaling the smoke slowly.
“How is it?” (?)
“It’s a bit smelly, but there’s this strange charm to it, too.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Hahaha. That’s a good assessment.” (?)
“By the way…. Who are you?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Is that important?” (?)
“Well, not really, but after you sat here, grandpa, the number of people glaring in this general direction has shot up a notch, you see. I figured that you’re a very important person.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
The old man got up from his seat and offered his hand.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Jeong Byeong-Seo, the Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Joseon Workers’ Party.”
“I’m Yi Ji-Hyuk.”
He took the offered hand and shook it amicably.
“I shall never forget how you helped the Republic.” (Jeong Byeong-Seo)
“It’s alright. We should help each other out whenever we can, right?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Jeong Hae-Min’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets as she stared at Yi Ji-Hyuk.
He knows how to show respect to elders?
Honestly, shouldn’t me or this Jeong Byeong-Seo look like wet-behind-the-ears hatchlings to Yi Ji-Hyuk? (Jeong Hae-Min’s inner monologue)
“I heard that you’re South Joseon’s top warrior. And it seems that assertion isn’t wrong from the report I received earlier.” (Jeong Byeong-Seo)
“Nah, it’s just that our boys and gals are too weak.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Hahaha. You have a good sense of humour.” (Jeong Byeong-Seo)
Jeong Byeong-Seo settled down on his seat again and quietly spoke.
“Comrade Rhee Ji-Hyuk.” (Jeong Byeong-Seo)
“Yes?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“You’ll soon be departing to South Joseon, am I correct?” (Jeong Byeong-Seo)
“Probably?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Before you do, however…. Now that you’ve come to our People’s Democratic Republic, don’t you want to meet a certain person?” (Jeong Byeong-Seo)
“Who?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Jeong Byeong-Seo smiled broadly and replied.
“The highest official of the Joseon Workers’ Party, and the highest commander of Joseon People’s Army wishes for an audience with you, Mister Rhee Ji-Hyuk.” (Jeong Byeong-Seo)
“The Culcuri?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk) (TL note at the end)
“….Did you say something?” (Jeong Byeong-Seo)
Jeong Hae-Min moved at the speed of light and covered Yi Ji-Hyuk’s mouth before he could clarify himself.
“Ahahaha, I think he’s having indigestion.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
Cold perspiration trickled down her forehead. Choi Jeong-Hoon in the distance was involuntarily making a strange, contorted hand sign, signalling her to perform a headlock and make Yi Ji-Hyuk faint to stop him from blabbering his mouth off.
“Well, if you say so. That’s a bit soft, but….” (Jeong Byeong-Seo)
Fortunately, it seemed that Jeong Byeong-Seo didn’t get to clearly hear anything.
“L-looks like we might need to go back soon.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“So soon? But, our Comrade Supreme Leader expressed his deepest wish to definitely meet Mister Rhee Ji-Hyuk, you see….” (Jeong Byeong-Seo)
Realising that Jeong Hae-Min looked to be at a loss, not knowing what to do next, Choi Jeong-Hoon dashed towards her in the blink of an eye.
“Hahahaha! It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mister Chairman.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“And you’re….?” (Jeong Byeong-Seo)
The secretary next to him whispered something in his ear, causing a bright smile to bloom on Jeong Byeong-Seo’s face.
“Ah, so you’re Choi Jeong-Hoon, the leash of the tiger, so to speak.” (Jeong Byeong-Seo)
“It’s an honour to meet you.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon felt his back getting soaked in cold sweat. It was at this point that he got to fully recognise how dangerous it’d be to let that madman loose in North Korea.
“Although we too sincerely wish to accompany you in that glorious occasion, unfortunately the void left behind in South Korea due to our absence is causing untold suffering to our citizens as Gates go by unchecked. If we don’t return as soon as possible, then we might incur serious damage.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Is that so?” (Jeong Byeong-Seo)
“As you’re in a position to move a country, please understand why we have no choice but to hurry.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“If that’s the situation, there’s nothing much we can do, now is there? The most important thing is securing the safety of the people.” (Jeong Byeong-Seo)
Jeong Byeong-Seo nodded his head repeatedly.
“Still, it’s very unfortunate. The meeting of two heroes would’ve been a wonderful spectacle to behold.” (Jeong Byeong-Seo)
You’d take a few pictures and circulate them all over the world to boast about how wonderful you are. (Choi Jeong-Hoon’s inner monologue)
Choi Jeong-Hoon could easily figure out what Jeong Byeong-Seo was aiming for, but too bad, he simply couldn’t play along this time around.
“It is indeed unfortunate.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
It was then, a voice was suddenly heard coming from behind.
“What the? I also wanna speak to that Cul….” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Choi Jeong-Hoon grabbed whatever his hand touched and chucked it behind him.
“Ouch?!” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
It seemed that he was on target, fortunately enough.
Choi Jeong-Hoon then raised his hand up and waved it urgently, causing the NDF agents indulging in breakfast to hurriedly rush over here and pounce on Yi Ji-Hyuk. They then proceeded to wrap him up tightly and carried him outside the venue.
“Euph…. euph….??” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
It seemed that Yi Ji-Hyuk was trying to say something, but Seo Ah-Young quietly shoved more food inside his mouth.
“T-that’s a bit heavy-handed, don’t you think?” (Jeong Byeong-Seo)
“Hahaha, if Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk was really serious, then such a level of restraint won’t work on him. Just think of it as loving prank between friends, please.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“….He might die from that….” (Jeong Byeong-Seo)
“Trust me, he’s not someone who will die from just that much.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon remained unmoving.
“A-and so, we shall be on our way now. If there is anything else, please get in touch with us through the Unification Ministry.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“How unfortunate. Please have a safe journey home.” (Jeong Byeong-Seo)
“Well, then.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon bowed deeply and turned around to leave.
He then signalled with his hands and eyes, telling the others to quickly throw Yi Ji-Hyuk inside the bus. He then wiped the cold sweat caking his forehead.
“….I’ll really die young at this rate.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“What’s gotten into you, acting as if lightning has stuck your a*s or something?! I mean, we should’ve packed some of the leftovers and buy some souvenirs, too.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Choi Jeong-Hoon shuddered uncontrollably.
“Who do you think is to blame for that?!” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Who?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“It’s because of you, Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk! Holy cow! How could you even dare to say ‘Culcurius’ inside North Korea?!” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“But, that’s what everyone calls him by, no?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“You think the North Koreans also call him with that name, too?!” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Aha. I guess they wouldn’t. But, ‘Culcurius’ is such a cute name, though.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Groan….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon shook his head. Now normally, there should be many more procedures to go through than this, but thanks to Yi Ji-Hyuk, all of that had been greatly reduced. He wasn’t sure whether to thank his lucky stars, or berate the one responsible for being such an insensitive madman.
‘No, let’s look at it positively.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
No matter what, it’d be wiser to leave this place as soon as possible. It remained rather uncomfortable even to him.
“What will you do after returning home?”
“I’ll order some pizza.”
“I’ll just play some games. I can endure everything else, but man, not having access to a computer really killed me.”
“It’s only been a day, though. You and your exaggerations.”
Other agents must’ve been feeling the similar sentiments, judging from their conversations.
“Let’s go home.”
Choi Jeong-Hoon smiled wryly after checking out the agents starting to hum in anticipation. Really now, even he was thinking that their office back home filled with nothing but work was much more preferable to this place, so there should be no need to mention other people’s feelings on this one.
“Well, in that case….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Hold on.” (Jeong In-Su)
“Excuse me?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
It was then, Jeong In-Su suddenly grabbed Choi Jeong-Hoon.
The latter pointed to somewhere, and the former realised that Park Yong-Hui was walking towards the bus at that moment.
“Open the door.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
The vehicle’s front door opened, and Park Yong-Hui climbed aboard.
“What can we do for you?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Oh, I just wanted to give him this.” (Park Yong-Hui)
Park Yong-Hui signalled with his eyes, and the adjutant behind him pushed forward a small box.
“And this is?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“It’s the reward from our Comrade Supreme Leader bestowed unto Comrade Rhee Ji-Hyuk.” (Park Yong-Hui)
“Oh….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Should he open it first?
He couldn’t tell which would be the correct etiquette in this situation.
“Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk? It’s for you.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“What is it?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Apparently, it’s a reward for you.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Yi Ji-Hyuk stared at the box in puzzlement, prompting Park Yong-Hui to grin and explain himself.
“It’s wild ginseng found in Baekdu Mountain.” (Park Yong-Hui)
“Ohh!” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk opened the box’s lid. A somewhat refreshing yet slightly bitter scent immediately filled up the bus’s interior.
“It’s supposed to be wild ginseng.”
Yi Ji-Hyuk closed the lid and nodded his head.
“Thanks. Appreciate it.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Thank you. You worked hard. Well, then.” (Park Yong-Hui)
Park Yong-Hui exited the bus, but then turned around again.
“Ah, by the way, Comrade Rhee Ji-Hyuk?” (Park Yong-Hui)
“Yes?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Park Yong-Hui stared at Yi Ji-Hyuk’s face for a long time, before waving his hand.
“Be careful on your way.” (Park Yong-Hui)
The bus’s door closed shut, and after the members of the special forces settled down on their seats, the vehicle slowly began moving.
“Hmm….” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk leaned himself against the seat back.
‘Just doesn’t feel right.’ (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
He could sense that something was off, but he kept thinking that it was not a matter he should concern himself with.
“Did you scan the bus properly?” (Jeong In-Su)
“Sir, yes sir.”
Jeong In-Su must’ve sensed the unease in the air as well, because he continued to grill his subordinates over and over again.
“Right. Something just feels a bit chaotic, doesn’t it?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Still, Yi Ji-Hyuk decided to stop worrying about it and closed his eyes shut. Whatever happened from now on, it was none of his business.
The bus drove on for a long while.
They ran into a slight issue on their way here, but on the way back, they got to go through all the checkpoints without a single hiccup.
How should this be described as?
As if they wanted the South Koreans gone from this land as soon as possible?
‘What’s going on?’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon continued to sense this weird out-of-place feeling and stared outside the windows of the bus, now getting closer and closer to Panmunjeom.
Even if something were to happen to them, they could just open up a Gate and escape right away. Although, it was questionable anyone was crazy enough to attack a bus with Yi Ji-Hyuk in it.
The North Korean ruling elite wouldn’t do anything underhanded either if they got the report detailing what Yi Ji-Hyuk’s capability was. Because, ‘failure’ wouldn’t mean just their deaths only but the collapse of North Korea itself.
“Still, why does it feel so… wrong?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon couldn’t reach any satisfactory guesses and arrived back in Panmunjeom.
The taut atmosphere permeating within Panmunjeom felt rather refreshing. And after he signed a couple of documents and crossed the border, the knife-edge air circulating within the bus began to settle down for some reason.
“We’re almost home.”
Everyone began sighing in relief. Even though they hadn’t mentioned it, the sense of heightened tension must’ve been pretty intolerable for them, too.
It was then, both Choi Jeong-Hoon’s and Jeong In-Su’s phones went off at the same time.
“What’s this?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon hurriedly answered it.
“Yes, it’s Choi Jeong-Hoon speaking.”
– “Listen, Choi Jeong-Hoon. Did you notice or sense something was off on the other side?” (Defense Minister)
“Not sure I follow….?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
– “This guy!! There’s been a huge uproar! A coup d’etat happened in North Korea!” (Defense Minister)
“Ehhh??” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon freaked out and looked at Yi Ji-Hyuk. The latter opened the lid of the ‘reward box’ and stared at the wild ginseng inside, before sighing grandly and closed it shut.
“I knew it.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
The situation had gotten quite extreme now.
< 325. To be called a madman, I should at least do this much -5 > Fin.
(TL: the term “Culcurius/꿀꾸리우스” is a nickname South Korean netizens assigned to the one and only Kim Jong-un. Not sure where it came from, but the first two letters in Korean is a modified onomatopoeia for the sounds pigs make, so it might have come from there.)