“Wasn’t the departure date the day after tomorrow?” (Jeong In-Su)
“That means they are still here, aren’t they?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“I believe so.” (Jeong In-Su)
“Hmm….” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
One could tell from how the NDF didn’t show up here, presumably prevented from doing so, that the government was taking the upcoming excursion up north as an incredible grave matter.
“In any case, I’ll leave the clean-up to you.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Well, even though it’s supposed to be the clean-up….” (Jeong In-Su)
Jeong In-Su smiled bitterly.
Almost no remains of monsters could be found. The only thing his eyes could see was the ground pockmarked by pools of dark red or blue blood here and there.
All the monsters Yi Ji-Hyuk had summoned, plus the suppressed ones, had all entered the Gate and disappeared from the view a while ago.
‘Do we really need to, uh, literally clean this place?’ (Jeong In-Su)
Of course, the real clean-up would involve searching for civilians who might still be found inside nearby buildings and sending them home, plus filling up all the paperworks back in the office.
And there was also the small matter of getting cussed and questioned by the brass on why the defensive line had been breached. Most definitely, he’d have to write up a rather extensive, detailed report on the subject, too.
“In any case, thank you for your hard work.” (Jeong In-Su)
“It’s fine. Well, then.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk waved his hand, and headed towards a building to the side.
“…Where are you going?” (Jeong In-Su)
“Ah, this? Actually, I was attending the school reunion, you see.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Eh?” (Jeong In-Su)
Jeong In-Su asked back in a dumb-sounding voice.
“Nice work.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
Jeong Hae-Min grinned and lightly massaged Yi Ji-Hyuk’s shoulders.
“No biggie.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Kim Dah-Som wordlessly came closer to him and pushed forward a cup brimming with cold drink. He took it and gulped it down in one go, before letting out a loud exclamation of admiration.
“Yup, a chilled cup of cola after work is the best.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Choi Seon-Mi asked him with a still-trembling voice.
“I-is everything really, really over?” (Seon-Mi)
“Yup.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“C-can we go home now?” (Seon-Mi)
“I don’t think that’s an issue, but…” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk looked back towards Jo Ji-Woong, and the latter took over the explanation.
“For the time being, the surroundings will be in the lockdown. It’ll be better to sit tight until the defence command arrives to guide us out.” (Jo Ji-Woong)
“So he says?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Seon-Mi maintained a deeply anxious expression.
“There are no more monsters here. You don’t have to be so nervous now.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
She nodded her head.
Today, she learned for the first time that she was an easily-scared type. If it wasn’t for Jeong Hae-Min staying by her side to keep her calm, she might have lost her mind from the shock and done something unwise.
“….Hae-Min eonni, thank you.” (Seon-Mi)
Seon-Mi even felt sorry for behaving so rudely up until now.
“Oh, no. No need to mention it. We obviously need to help each other out.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
Jeong Hae-Min smiled brightly.
‘She’s really an angel. An angel.’ (Seon-Mi)
Despite being an entertainer, she had a kind heart. To add on top of this, she was pretty, she was a good singer, had a warm personality, and even danced well….
Indeed, one couldn’t help but think that she was basically perfect.
‘I’ll join her fan club.’ (Seon-Mi)
If not, maybe it’d be a swell idea to create a dedicated personal fan club and actively promote it. Like, naming it as ‘Milky-White Jeong Hae-Min’ or some such…
It was then, Yi Ji-Hyuk suddenly raised his voice.
“By the way, you….” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Ng?” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“Instead of wasting time like that, why didn’t you teleport everyone outta here? Especially when they were so scared like this?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Well, things were gonna get sorted out soon, anyway. Too much work, you know.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“Oh, really?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Seon-Mi’s eyes shook hard and her fists automatically clenched by themselves.
Now that she thought about it, wasn’t Jeong Hae-Min an ability user capable of teleporting? As long as she wanted to, she could’ve evacuated everyone in this venue to a safe zone.
‘It, it’s too much work??’ (Seon-Mi)
Because of such a stupid reason, she let everyone in here shiver non-stop from terror??
“….Yeah, it is a bit of work, sure.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk replied nonchalantly and began putting on his jacket.
“Since things turned out like this, I guess it’s impossible to carry on with the reunion now. Why don’t we meet up again some time later?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“In that case, see ya around.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk strode outside, prompting both Jeong Hae-Min and Kim Dah-Som to hurriedly chase after him, too.
“Take care, everyone.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
The classmates dazedly waved their hands. After the exit was closed behind them, a lengthy silence descended in the venue.
“….A tornado swept by here.”
Yi Ji-Hyuk emerged outside, and trudged towards his home. He could see armed soldiers rushing in his general direction from a far.
‘Will they be fine?’ (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
He couldn’t help but think that while looking at all those soldiers.
The NDF felt burdened by the fact that Yi Ji-Hyuk wasn’t going to accompany them. On the other hand, he too didn’t feel settled when thinking about how the NDF would be carrying out the mission without him. It was kinda like leaving a little kid near a big body of water or something.
“Hey, Ji-Hyuk-ah.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“Mm?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Jeong Hae-Min smiled brightly and asked.
“Should we go somewhere to have fun the day after tomorrow? My schedule is completely open on that day, you see? Because I’m on emergency standby.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“…..You’re on standby, so where do you think you’re going?!” (Kim Dah-Som)
Even before Yi Ji-Hyuk could reply, Kim Dah-Som retorted first.
“I can be on standby anywhere I want, you know? Waiting for a call is my version of standby, you see.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“….Keuk.” (Kim Dah-Som)
Indeed, she was right. What reason was there for a teleporter to care about where she was on standby?
“E-even still, shouldn’t you be upholding the basic principle of being on standby, at least?” (Kim Dah-Som)
“Don’t you sweat it and just keep attending school, little miss.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“I will. And it must be so nice, having ‘graduated’ after getting too old for school.” (Kim Dah-Som)
“What?!” (Jeong Hae-Min)
Yi Ji-Hyuk glanced at the two of them bickering away and could only sigh.
‘Is it me who’s too worried, or are these two just too laid-back?’ (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yet another long, long day was drawing to a close.
On the day of the operation.
With a really tense expression, Choi Jeong-Hoon stared at the scene unfolding in front of him.
‘This… Will this be okay?’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Since this was supposed to be a sudden incursion, he thought he’d jump out of a helicopter or some kinda drop ship and parachute towards the destination. However, the route the army had chosen completely betrayed his expectation.
“….Of course, since it’s big enough for a person to stand up straight, I’m not really complaining, but….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)s
Colonel Gwok Min-Ho currently overseeing command explained it to Choi Jeong-Hoon.
“Basically, all land-based missions will have to go through the demilitarized zone first, but that’ll give the enemy time to organise their defences. No matter how quickly we advance towards Pyongyang, that option is still too limited, unfortunately.” (Gwok Min-Ho)
“Yes, I understand that….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“It’s no different with air transport, as well. The North pays especially careful attention over their air defence systems. Although it’s difficult to penetrate their airspace with fighters or guided missiles, we can still perform bombing raids, but that won’t guarantee a thorough elimination of the designated targets.” (Gwok Min-Ho)
“I see.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“More importantly, Pyongyang is currently teeming with civilians. With over five million people living in that city alone, it’s simply impossible to bombard the targets.” (Gwok Min-Ho)
Choi Jeong-Hoon nodded his head.
If you didn’t know the North’s situation beforehand, then you’d be tempted into thinking that the North Korean government deliberately brought in all those people just for this purpose. That’s how lob-sided the distribution of population was.
“There are around twenty million people living in North Korea, yet to think that five million of them live in Pyongyang alone….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Indeed, a lot of people have been gathered there. But you could also say that, even after they used all sorts of methods, they only managed to gather that many. Which in turn could be interpreted as the authority of the North’s ruling elite having waned significantly compared to before. Back when Kim Il-Sung was still alive, over ten million would’ve showed up, at least.” (Gwok Min-Ho)
“Most likely.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
That certainly made some sense. Didn’t mean Choi Jeong-Hoon felt any better, though.
“That’s why the sea is the best available route for us. If we could penetrate through Daedong River, that would be ideal, but if we can’t and have to land somewhere, as long as we can get to Nampo and find a road, we’ll only need to cover 50 kilometres. Meaning, we can advance to Pyongyang in one go.” (Gwok Min-Ho)
Choi Jeong-Hoon nodded his head again.
From his perspective, it made more sense to use aeroplanes or helicopters to get to Pyongyang, but the colonel was a military specialist, so his opinion should be the more educated one in this case.
“How will the other countries move?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Both China and Russia will divide their forces and advance through land and sea. We’ll definitely need occupying forces, after all. A small portion will move by plane, however.” (Gwok Min-Ho)
“Mm….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon let out a worried groan.
South Korea didn’t choose the land route, so he couldn’t help but worry about China and Russia choosing to go ahead using precisely that.
“It’s an obvious choice. The absolute majority of the North’s armed forces are concentrated on the south of their territory. Why do you think those attempting to escape the North’s regime don’t bother with the demilitarized zone but try to cross the Amnok River, instead?” (Gwok Min-Ho)
“I see.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon expressed his agreement and looked to his side, over the railings of the huge ship. The vast, endless ocean entered his view, the waves breaking below the advancing hull.
“In that case, are we heading to Pyongyang right now?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Pardon? Ah, no. We’re currently en route to China. Our destination is Qingdao.” (Gwok Min-Ho)
“Eh? Qingdao?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Yes.” (Gwok Min-Ho)
“Hang on a minute. Didn’t you say a minute ago that the landing forces will be invading Pyongyang directly by boat? Why are we headed to China, then?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Gwok Min-Ho grinned brightly.
“You mustn’t forget that this operation is a joint cooperation between multiple forces. Although South Korea doesn’t have a direct route to invade Pyongyang, it’s a different story for the Chinese. The Chinese army, for instance, has a teleporter who maintains a mark in Pyongyang. Through that ability user, we can all reach there in one breath.” (Gwok Min-Ho)
“Ah!” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Only then did Choi Jeong-Hoon understand their situation.
Teleporting the majority of the landing forces was impossible. If not, air force pilots would be out of jobs.
However, this wasn’t the case with the NDF – even if the entire roster of the agents were teleported, there weren’t that many to begin with so it was definitely possible to do so.
“But, doesn’t the Chinese side have ability users participating in the operation as well?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“When considering the size of the Chinese population, I’m sure you can probably guess how many teleporters are in their ranks.” (Gwok Min-Ho)
“….I see.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
If one estimated the number of teleporters per population by using South Korea’s example, then China could easily have over twenty teleporters.
‘This was why Miss Jeong Hae-Min didn’t need to step up.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
In South Korea, she was seen as basically indispensable, but when looking at the matter internationally, she was merely only one of many teleporters available.
Choi Jeong-Hoon then remembered that, unlike other ability users who could be a great help as long as lots of them gathered regardless of how good their abilities were, a teleporter would end up as a surplus goods the moment they finished their assignment of moving people around.
“…Does this mean we’ll be the first to advance to Pyongyang?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“No.” (Gwok Min-Ho)
Gwok Min-Ho resolutely shook his head.
“Please don’t underestimate yourselves. The Americans, Chinese, and even the Russians all have acknowledged that the NDF is currently the strongest combat force present within the alliance. Meaning, we can’t just haphazardly deploy such assets in the frontlines. Once the army’s landing forces arrive and render the enemy’s defence systems inoperable, we’ll be advancing towards Pyongyang accompanied by the American special assault forces.
“You’ll only enter Pyongyang then. You’ll be grouped with the elite of all elite ability users from other countries excluding America.” (Gwok Min-Ho)
Choi Jeong-Hoon nodded yet again.
“By the way.” (Gwok Min-Ho)
“Yes?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“According to my knowledge, you are not an ability user, Mister Choi Jeong-Hoon.” (Gwok Min-Ho)
“That’s correct.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“In that case, do you really need to go to the frontlines as well?” (Gwok Min-Ho)
Choi Jeong-Hoon smiled wryly and looked behind him.
The faces of the NDF agents sitting around in the chairs and on standby were filled with anxiety.
‘I’m also questioning that, but….’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Telling them to go to war and fight wasn’t technically all that different from telling a firefighter to go and put the fire out from some burning buildings.
Maybe this was for his self-satisfaction and nothing more, but Choi Jeong-Hoon was not the kind of man who’d boss around people fighting in the frontlines while he’s sitting comfortably far, far away.
“I’m aware that I could become a hindrance. But, no matter what, I can’t just sit back and watch the situation unfold.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“….If that’s how you feel.” (Gwok Min-Ho)
Gwok Min-Ho didn’t press the matter further. Choi Jeong-Hoon entering the frontlines had been agreed upon earlier, anyway. The colonel was asking the intentions one more time out of concern, but in reality, he didn’t have the authority to force Choi Jeong-Hoon out of the operation.
“I know that I won’t be much of a help once we get to the ground zero. But, there must be something only I can do when we get there.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Gwok Min-Ho suddenly smiled brightly.
“I’m sure that plenty of people believe that, but thinking that and personally jumping into the field are two different things. Your life might be in danger yet you’re still volunteering like this. I can see now why the name Choi Jeong-Hoon comes up first when people talk about the NDF.” (Gwok Min-Ho)
‘….No, the name Yi Ji-Hyuk should pop up first.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Reality was reality, after all.
Choi Jeong-Hoon stared at the distant land and swallowed his saliva.
“Is that China?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Yes. Not just us, but even the Russians will enter through this side, as well. Also, the Japanese have dispatched some ability users.” (Gwok Min-Ho)
“Japan did?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“They are just putting up a show. I mean, they are famous for willing to do anything as long as they can weasel themselves into the matters of other countries, after all. Since they can’t deploy their JSDF, they chose to send ability users, maybe hoping to slowly and gradually find the right pretexts.” (Gwok Min-Ho)
“Did the Americans greenlight this?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“They probably did, wouldn’t you say?” (Gwok Min-Ho)
Choi Jeong-Hoon’s head nodded again. Although he didn’t like this news one bit, now wasn’t the time to argue about such things.
‘I’ll have to ask Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk to pay the White House a visit later.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
He smirked a little after imagining Yi Ji-Hyuk throwing a tantrum in the Oval Office, demanding for a burger to be delivered or some such.
That was all he could to lessen the tension currently filling him up. Well, they were about to invade North Korea, after all.
The operation launch hour was rapidly closing in.
< 375. That’s also not a bad idea -5 > Fin.