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chapter 376: Ah, so I was that kkondae (1)

(TL: “Kkondae” is a Korean derogatory term for older people who try to enforce their views on the younger generation. Kinda like the Korean equivalent of “boomer”, basically.)

“It must’ve been tiring to come this far.” (Gwok Min-Ho)

“No, not at all.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Choi Jeong-Hoon scanned his vicinity and fell into a deep train of thoughts.

‘What a spectacular mess this is.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Even if this was a gathering of only the finest, bestest and elite-est, folks from four nations had gathered here so the number present couldn’t be described as small at all.

‘In terms of the ability user rankings, they all belong to the countries that hover around the top five in the world.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

He ended up gaining a renewed appreciation on how dangerous a place East Asia was. Just the military capabilities alone, both China and Russia vied for the second place in the world, while Japan wasn’t too far behind, either. Even South Korea easily made it to the top ten.

And if one narrowed the field to include only the ability users, then the nations gathered today all belonged to the top five in the entire world.

‘To think that this massive force has gathered here just to attack North Korea.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

In a way, one could say that this reaction bordered on mass hysteria. But it was also easy to sense how much the world feared the existence of the demon kings, too.

‘If a doorway to the demon world opens up, then everything will be destroyed.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

It was a small mercy that the nation trying to cause such an incident was North Korea and not someone else. Sure, they might be quite strong, but the event occurring there was one hundred times better than it happening in either America or Russia. Of course, neither the Americans nor the Russians were mad enough to do something like this.

“For the time being, please be on standby.” (Gwok Min-Ho)

“When will be the commencement of the operation?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“It will be three hours from now.” (Gwok Min-Ho)

“I see.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

To be deployed in three hours….

Choi Jeong pulled out a cigarette.

“You know where I’m allowed to light one up?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

“Pardon?” (Gwok Min-Ho)

Choi Jeong-Hoon ended up smiling wryly just then.

He momentarily forgot that this was not Korea. When he mouthed the cigarette, Colonel Gwok Min-Ho also pulled out one for himself.

“Soon, the army will begin their invasion. At the same time, the landing operation will commence.” (Gwok Min-Ho)

“I guess so.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

After that exchange, silence descended between the two men.

The palpable tension grew thicker in the air. A short while later, Choi Jeong-Hoon stubbed the cigarette and headed towards where the NDF agents were.

“How are you feeling?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Seo Ah-Young replied with a stiff expression.

“Feels the same as that day.” (Seo Ah-Young)

“….Even if we forget about the lack of completeness in that reply, I can still understand how you feel, ma’am.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

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“And how can a man know that?!” (Seo Ah-Young)

In that case, why did you even bother to answer like that?! Why are you even shouting at me?! (Choi Jeong-Hoon’s inner monologue)

Choi Jeong-Hoon spat out a groan and shifted his gaze to the others.

The nervousness and tension were writ large on their faces.

But, why wouldn’t they be?

Despite doing his best to not look perturbed, Choi Jeong-Hoon too was having a tough time trying to calm his tense heart at the moment.

He could proudly boast that his mentality was rock-solid. No, maybe even more than that – he was sure of his mentality being tougher than anyone’s in South Korea. Yet he was feeling this much stress already, so how bad must it be for the others?

“Why don’t we drink some warm coffee, everyone?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

“….Where do you think we’re to drink coffee as if it’s nothing to worry about?” (Seo Ah-Young)

“Well, we did prepare drinking water and instant coffee, didn’t we?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

“We didn’t bring a stove so how will we even boil the water?” (Seo Ah-Young)

“That shouldn’t be too hard.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Choi Jeong-Hoon shifted his gaze back to Seo Ah-Young. When that happened, though, she began shuddering like a boiler about to go off.

“You know, I’m feeling really sh*tty right now, so how about I roast you real good instead??” (Seo Ah-Young)

*

Driiiip.

Warm water was poured into the paper cup.

“Hmph!!” (Seo Ah-Young)

Having finished warming up the kettle, Seo Ah-Young began sipping away on her coffee. Despite her earlier threat, she still did as asked and warmed the water. This sight caused other people to whisper among themselves behind her.

“Now that I think about it, she really listens to Mister Choi Jeong-Hoon, doesn’t she?”

“You think so, too?”

“If you look back to her old personality, something like that is unthinkable. Let’s be honest here, the department head Seo Ah-Young was the one who benefited the most when Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk showed up, am I wrong? Back then, people used to call her the Insane Witch and stuff, but after he showed up, her tale got buried under his infamy, didn’t it?”

“Yeah, for sure that did happen. But from my memories, didn’t she, like, do pretty much everything Mister Choi Jeong-Hoon asked of her waaay before that?”

“Wait, now that I hear you, you might be right.”

Seo Ah-Young and of course, Choi Jeong-Hoon, were already famous celebrities back in the KSF days, well before the NDF was even established.

“In the past, I thought that she listened to him since Mister Choi Jeong-Hoon is the most rational out of the lot, but now, that might not have been the real reason.” (Kim Dah-Hyun)

“It isn’t?”

“Maybe, she’s interested in him?” (Kim Dah-Hyun)

It was then, a hushed but threatening voice could be heard.

“Sounds like someone is feeling cold today?” (Seo Ah-Young)

“…..Ah, ahahaha….” (Kim Dah-Hyun)

Kim Dah-Hyun smiled uncomfortably and started sipping on his coffee. If he continued to run his mouth off here, then he might get really warm on this bitter wintery day.

Never mind being warm, his hide might get burned to crisp, instead.

Once the warm coffee entered his system, it felt like his mood was settling down somewhat.

“When will the operation start?” (Park Seong-Chan)

“Apparently, it’ll be in three hours.” (Kim Dah-Hyun)

“Holy sh*t. They are taking their sweet time. Can’t they get a move on already?” (Park Seong-Chan)

Park Seong-Chan muttered out while sounding restless. Others grew silent as if to agree with him.

The thing was, getting punished first was always for the best. Waiting around like this only seemed to make the tension climb up even higher.

“I think this might be my first time feeling this tense ever since my first dispatch?” (Park Seong-Chan)

“….Is that so? But, this feels hundreds of times better than facing the demon king, though?” (Kim Dah-Hyun)

“….Forget what I said. Yeah, this is better.” (Park Seong-Chan)

At least, they were not under the constant pressure of getting completely wiped out because of a moment’s slip-up.

“We need to do this right.” (Kim Dah-Hyun)

Kim Dah-Hyun piped up with a stiff face.

“What’s up with you being so stiff, dude?” (Park Seong-Chan)

“….That’s because Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk is not participating in this operation.” (Kim Dah-Hyun)

“What about it?” (Park Seong-Chan)

“Think about what will happen if we fail the very first mission without his presence. Especially when it’s a mission involving America, China, Russia and even Japan.” (Kim Dah-Hyun)

“Mm….” (Park Seong-Chan)

“If we fail, people will start saying that the NDF can’t do anything without Yi Ji-Hyuk. And that will become the fact. We won’t even be able to make excuses afterwards.” (Kim Dah-Hyun)

Choi Jeong-Hoon eavesdropping from behind silently nodded his head.

That assertion was correct.

The NDF could be referred to as the organisation of the strongest, highest-ranked ability users in the whole world. But the majority of their international partners mostly thought of it as a government department Yi Ji-Hyuk worked for.

Sure, even without his presence, the overall level of the NDF was still high, but the number of its agents was desperately low, so the organisation was in danger of being treated as yet another elite force that was a bit difficult to deploy as the main combat unit.

“If you wanna avoid hearing crap like that, we definitely must succeed.” (Kim Dah-Hyun)

“Easier said than done.” (Park Seong-Chan)

Park Seong-Chan tutted loudly.

“You haven’t even served in the military, so don’t make light of warfare, dude.” (Park Seong-Chan)

“Well, have you been to one, then?” (Kim Dah-Hyun)

“Do you even know what ‘1111’ is?” (Park Seong-Chan)

“….Your password?” (Kim Dah-Hyun)

Park Seong-Chan shook his head rather theatrically.

“It’s true that not knowing can be good for you sometimes. However, remember this. Fighting a fellow human is definitely not an easy thing.” (Park Seong-Chan)

“Okay.” (Kim Dah-Hyun)

Choi Jeong-Hoon grinned brightly.

‘What a relief that he’s here with us.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

The ‘Iron’ Park Seong-Chan was a career soldier before becoming an ability user. Because he was here, the others felt like they could settle down just a little. And he seemed to understand his role, because he continued to stand tall among them.

“For now, let’s keep ourselves warm somehow. I thought they would provide us with barracks at least, but didn’t expect them to make us wait in the open like this. Should I say, as expected of the ‘mainland’?” (Park Seong-Chan)

“Won’t you get ‘disappeared’ without a trace if you keep saying stuff like that?” (Kim Dah-Hyun)

“….I’ll treat it as an unexpected vacation, then.” (Park Seong-Chan)

“I’ll make sure that they can’t kidnap you.” (Kim Dah-Hyun)

In the meantime, the soldiers were bringing in blankets they had procured from somewhere.

‘That’s quick.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

It was as if they knew what was needed right now.

Gwok Min-Ho walked over to Choi Jeong-Hoon and addressed the latter.

“They entered enemy territory just now.” (Gwok Min-Ho)

“Mm. It’s begun for real.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

“Yes. You’ll be on standby for a while, so please keep yourselves warm with these blankets and make sure to not waste your stamina unnecessarily.” (Gwok Min-Ho)

“Thank you.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Being covered in a blanket and drinking coffee made him feel like his heart was slowly sinking down.

‘So, it finally has begun for real.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Up until now, this whole thing lacked the tangible sense of reality as if he was only half awake. However, his tension flared up the moment he heard the news of the incursion.

This was war.

Half a century of uneasy peace later, the Korean peninsula was plunged into yet another flames of war.

“Even though our side isn’t responsible for starting it, it just doesn’t feel so good.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

It was unknown what the ruling elite of the North was thinking of. But it was quite unlikely that they were capable of withstanding the combined military assault of five nations – South Korea, America, China, Japan, and Russia. And that was when not including the NDF.

It’d be a miracle if they could last one full day. Especially when America brought forth their full might that included even aircraft carriers, their sole aim being to erase the North beyond the demilitarized zone, not just their ruling elite only.

Choi Jeong-Hoon questioned whether or not that was a step too far, but Christopher McLaren was adamant that they would all end up regretting it if they didn’t do everything in their power the first time out.

‘He’s not wrong there, but.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

However, those words still rang hollow simply because they had left behind the most powerful combat personnel back home. Without Yi Ji-Hyuk, it just didn’t feel like they had managed to gather up the strongest combat force on earth.

‘Should I rest for a bit?’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)s

Choi Jeong-Hoon suppressed his worried mind and closed his eyes.

He wasn’t thinking of catching some Zs, of course. He wasn’t sleepy to begin with, but well, he might lose his focus if he did and wouldn’t be able to respond properly if the agents, currently on a knife edge, caused a scene.

Indeed, he was simply closing his eyes for a little while.

*

“Mister Choi Jeong-Hoon?”

“M-mm??” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Choi Jeong-Hoon was jolted awake and shot up from his chair.

‘But, when did I?’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

He was only planning to keep his eyes shut for a little while, but ended up falling asleep somehow. Now that his eyes were wide open, he realised that the NDF agents were currently surrounding him.

“Wow, he sure slept soundly.”

“Is his nerve made out of nylon or something? How can he sleep so happily in a situation like this?”

“He’s just showing us that this much is nothing to him. Keuh, look how relaxed he is, and look at his fighting spirit! We need to learn from his example.”

Choi Jeong-Hoon’s face reddened up immediately. Others seemed to have finished gearing up already, yet he was soundly snoring away all by himself.

“The time?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

“Thirty minutes before the deployment.”

Choi Jeong-Hoon sighed softly. The remaining time wasn’t a problem since he participated in the mission briefing many times before. It’s just that he didn’t know what to do with this embarrassing situation.

“He must’ve been really tired.”

“That makes sense. I don’t remember him going home from work recently.”

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“He might as well just sleep through it.”

Choi Jeong-Hoon shook off the blanket and stood up proper. His eyelids still felt heavy.

Gwok Min-Ho approached him and handed over a cigarette.

Click.

Once the strong, acrid smoke filled his lungs, Choi Jeong-Hoon sensed his drowsiness disappear in an instant. He shook his head a couple of times to get rid of the cobwebs and scanned his vicinity.

Not just the South Koreans, but even the ability users of other nations had gathered up nearby.

‘Maybe it’s because this is an international situation, but well, it sure feels different somehow.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

If an event like this occurred in South Korea, then someone who thought of himself as the top dog would’ve stepped up to the front to start making some grand speech or two.

However, maybe because this was an international affair, no kkondae like that stepped forward. Of course, even if someone wanted to, there was a slight problem of who’d do it as this was a gathering of people from different countries.

“You should get ready as well.” (Gwok Min-Ho)

“Of course.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Choi Jeong-Hoon began recalling the simulation he went through many times before. If he closed his eyes right now, the map of Pyongyang would spread out in his head but still, he went through everything over and over again with a fine tooth comb just in case.

‘This should be enough.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Even if it wasn’t, he had no choice but to believe that it was. The only thing remaining was his conviction.

“Excuse me, Mister Choi Jeong-Hoon?”

“Yes?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

“Looks like it’s about time we make our entrance.”

“I believe so.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

“In that case, don’t you have to say something?”

“Eh?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Choi Jeong-Hoon looked back to discover that the agents were all staring at him.

“…..Ah, so I was that kkondae.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Choi Jeong-Hoon’s expression crumpled.

< 376. Ah, so I was that kkondae -1 > Fin.

(TL: Happy April Fool’s day. That’s what I’d like to say, but….)

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