Kim Yuri and Kim Joohyuk.
Within the 35th Special Assault Commando, they both shared the same title.
Even in the 35th SAC with the most elite of the elites, they were exceptional.
Their natural talents were unique and their attitudes toward meeting the goals that they set for themselves were indeed commendable.
Of course, they had everything.
Respect, pride, and even self-confidence!
All of these things ultimately gave them assurance—the assurance that they could fulfill any given mission under any state, circumstance, or accident.
However, on December 31st, all of those notions were completely shattered.
In the midst of the sudden emergence of monsters and the battle that followed, they were unable to achieve anything.
They couldn’t kill the monsters they had to kill, reach the target location they had to reach, or save the people they had to save.
Failure after failure, tragedy after tragedy.
There was only despair at the end of that misery.
During the brief moments in battle when they could catch a glimpse of their surrounding, what they saw of Seoul was not what they remembered.
The skyscraper buildings were sprawled in stacks all over the ground with half-torn corpses, and the city echoed with countless shrieks as consistent as the ticking of a clock.
The peak of despair was the future of these survivors.
Many people went mad knowing that surviving meant facing an even greater despair.
Kim Yuri and Kim Joohyuk, of course, thought that this was how it was everywhere in the world.
And that was the reality.
No matter where you went outside of Seoul, there was no hope, only overflowing despair.
But this place was different.
The city of Bucheon.
To Kim Yuri and Kim Joohyuk, it was a place that existed only on the map, but now standing on its ground, they saw vitality, something they had thought completely absent in this world.
The vast park was blooming with the construction of spaces for solar panels, a live dissection of monsters was being showcased in another open space, remaining scraps of buildings were being sweeped, and the roads were being cleaned.
During their breaks, the workers were smoking cigarettes or snacking on chocolate bars and ramen, laughing together.
‘How can they be laughing?’
These people were laughing and conversing through hard labor in this grim place.
It was impossible to witness this atmosphere in Seoul. Though there was similar construction work in Seoul, it was closer to forced labor. The people had no choice but to work by whatever means necessary in front of a gun being aimed at them.
‘It’s like this is a separate world.’
The biggest surprise was how the people reacted to Kim Taehoon as he entered.
It could not simply be described as respect, trust, or love.
It was more.
More than any word could describe.
That was indeed the difference.
In Seoul, an Awakened soldier who had supernatural powers was not a source of security but rather another source of fear.
It was shocking in many ways.
It was such a shock to Kim Yuri and Kim Joohyuk that they lost the capacity in their minds to think of escaping.
In the end, they followed Kim Taehoon into Bucheon, unable to set any plan.
The very first to greet them was Bhang Hyunwook.
After appearing with the utmost joy, he suddenly flinched when he noticed the two behind Kim Taehoon.
“Huh? Who are those two?”
His was astonished because Kim Taehoon almost never brought people in. The first impression that Bhang Hyunwook felt meeting Kim Yuri and Kim Joohyuk was similar to when he first met Kim Taehoon.
Kim Taehoon introduced them briefly.
“If you see them fooling around, kill them.”
Bhang Hyunwook made a face as though he was trying to understand a foreign language.
Kim Joohyuk and Kim Yuri felt the same way. They could not decide what expression they should make, whether they should talk back or keep quiet in response to Kim Taehoon’s incoherent words.
In the end, they stood still in a daze like robots undergoing a program error.
Meanwhile, a new figure appeared.
It was a woman who saluted Kim Taehoon as soon as she walked over, Lieutenant Kim Suji.
“Major Kim Taehoon, you’re back?”
Her expression changed as soon as her eyes met the two standing behind Kim Taehoon.
‘Are they from the Special Forces Unit?’
She had been raised in a military household. A brief moment was enough for her to know their position.
‘Could it be true that the Maek Guild was founded on soldiers?’
Kim Yuri and Kim Joohyuk were indeed the same. They, too, changed their glare as soon as they saw Lieut. Kim Suji.
“They are Sergeants Kim Yuri and Kim Joohyuk. Make sure they don’t stray out of your sight.”
“Where’s Jang Sunghoon?”
“He’s on his way.”
Speak of the devil. As if he was waiting for this exact moment to make an entrance, Jang Sunghoon appeared. He spoke as soon as he approached them, studying the two behind Kim Taehoon.
“Two new faces, I see. This vibe of similarity… Couples? Lovers? Married?”
Kim Joohyuk and Kim Yuri looked flabbergasted at his sudden remarks and quickly shook their heads.
“No, we are not.”
“We are not in that kind of a relationship.”
“Seeing that the guy looks somewhat happy while the girl looks stern, I can roughly see the picture….”
Kim Joohyuk and Kim Yuri turned their faces to each other in response to Jang Sunghoon’s insistence. Kim Joohyuk cleared his throat while Kim Yuri made her expression even colder.
Jang Sunghoon took advantage of this moment and exchanged glances with Kim Taehoon. Kim Taehoon’s eyes pointed upward.
It meant that he wanted to speak in the mayor’s office.
In other words, they needed to separate themselves from Kim Yuri and Kim Joohyuk for a moment.
“Well, welcome. You both are still guests, so we should be hospitable. Hyunwook, help them to the meeting room next to the mayor’s office. Lieutenant Kim Suji, you will go as well?”
Jang Sunghoon naturally arranged a plan.
“So how did everything go?”
Jang Sunghoon threw the question across the table to Kim Taehoon with a serious face.
Kim Taehoon explained everything that he had experienced at the Gimpo International Airport.
After hearing the story, Jang Sunghoon first let out a long sigh.
“Are you saying there’s no president or prime minister? Then to whom will the authority to make decisions be passed?”
“If this was a normal case, it would be passed to the minister of economics and then to the minister of relations, but in this situation, it can only be passed to the state prime minister.”
“Can’t the speaker of the National Assembly or Chief Justice of the Supreme Court have any influence over this?”
“Right now, the surviving party is a military party, so of course there isn’t anyone who has influence over them aside from the president and the prime minister. It’s a fight for justification, anyway.”
“Do you think they’re really dead? Or could they be hiding them?”
“There’s no way to be sure, but if we had to choose which is more beneficial to us, it would be the former. Because in case of the latter…. it would mean that there’s a party planning to use authority figures like the president and the prime minister as weapons.”
Jang Sunghoon drummed his fingers on the table.
“So if we look at the situation, it seems that the Capital Defense Command is occupying Seoul. And as you mentioned, one of the six snake-like men from your dream is gathering strength inside that CDC right now.”
Kim Taehoon nodded.
“The best thing to do would be to cut the weed early… but there’s no way that it would end just by killing Oh Sebum. I think killing him would make things rather worse. No, even if we do kill him, we have to keep in mind that we can’t proceed to Seoul directly. What a pain.”
The problem was that whatever step they took in this situation, the constraints would be too great.
Not only were there already many things to consider about going from Bucheon to Seoul, the collapsed city of Seoul that was destroyed by monsters was also not the same. It was a hell in the form of a maze.
“We can’t sit and wait until the six snakes build themselves by chomping up the inside of the CDC.”
Even so, they could not just treat this problem as the problem of a different country.
Right now, fate was set. Kim Taehoon had to obliterate that fate in order to survive.
“In the end, a zero-sum game is a system of winner-takes-all.”
The response that Kim Taehoon decided in this situation was simple.
“Right. Because when two share the same pie, the one who eats the most ends up eating the whole thing.”
“Relics and monster stones. Whoever takes more wins in the end.”
Jang Sunghoon, as expected, absorbed Kim Taehoon’s response fluently.
“So, you’re saying that for the price of doing the government’s work for them, you’re going to take the CDC’s relics?”
The game was set.
From now on, the Maek Guild was to take the place of the government and set out to hunt the monsters that were occupying Seoul in place of the CDC.
Doing what the government should be doing.
Of course, he would receive compensation.
It would be killing two birds with one stone—terminating monsters and receiving relics for compensation.
“But will the people in the CDC easily hand them over?”
There was no way that the CDC was not aware of this reality. So they would not naïvely give away the relics.
They would use any means necessary to start a clever scheme.
“We’re not asking them, we have to make it so that they have to give them to us.”
“Is that possible?”
“What do you do if a counterpart has something you want but they’re not giving it to you?”
Jang Sunghoon answered without a second thought to Kim Taehoon’s sudden question.
“I would probably ask them if they’re thinking about selling it.”
“And if they say no?”
“If I really need it, I would use threats if I had to and st—”
Jang Sunghoon looked at Kim Taehoon with wide eyes. He had perceived his inner thoughts.
What Kim Taehoon wanted was not just payment to compensate for the amount of work he would do. He wanted a unilateral profit on his end.
If they refused to give it him, he would tear it from them.
“I want you to organize a list of any national treasure relics that the CDC may be currently securing.”
As soon as Jang Sunghoon heard that order, the look in his eyes changed.
The nervousness in his eyes dissipated and excitement solidified in its place.
“I finally get to see the day that I put my hands on the national treasure. Right, we have to make the most out of everything we do. If we’re going to steal anyway, the least we can do is get those national treasures! Of course! Just leave it to me!”
Kim Taehoon did not smile as he watched Jang Sunghoon respond with eager excitement.
‘Relics are attainable.’
Relics could be earned. They could also be torn away.
However, the same was true for the unidentifiable six snakes. They were most likely biting away at the things that the CDC had at this very moment.
There was no way a man nibbling on a hard shell exterior could compete with a man devouring soft flesh from the inside out.
‘I have to put one of my people on the inside.’
Most importantly, the military was definitely not an organization that operated only by profit.
The military could not exist if profit was placed as a priority. There was no organization more exhausting and unproductive than the military.
The same was true for soldiers.
The truth was that there were no soldiers who became soldiers for wealth or materialism.
If the purpose was to be named, it was to carve their names into history. The history of humanity was the history of war. War was the perfect opportunity for soldiers to leave a legacy.
‘Lieutenant Colonel Yoo Daehyun is also a man of ambition.’
The Lieut. Colonel was one of those ambitious people. To begin with, he had to be closely tied to influential people of authority as part of the 35th Special Assault Commando. If Kim Taehoon were a figure of authority, he would have sought the Lieut. Colonel the moment that the accidents spread in Seoul.
However, the Lieut. Colonel was not in a good state currently.
‘But right now, his situation is at its worst.’
First of all, he was not an Awakened himself and that was a huge penalty. Even right now within the military, there was no other way but for the Awakened to hold power. Their personal weakness still surpassed the commander’s strength.
That was why the Lieut. Colonel was wandering outside right now.
A person of authority never stands on the front line. Because the moment they die, the chaos that forms eventually leads to loss and ends in great damage.
‘A loss to discard.’
In other words, even if the Lieut. Colonel died right now, there would be nothing that the CDC would regret on their part.
And it meant that the Lieut. Colonel himself could not do anything about this position that he was in.
This was evident even in how he interacted with Oh Sebum.
If he really held true power, Oh Sebum would not smoke in his presence no matter how incredible he was.
‘If he’s running around in real battle when he’s not even in a safe position to start with, he probably doesn’t plan on falling to his knees like this.’
He engaged in action despite the danger that he had to endure because his ambition had not died out yet.
That was characteristic of an ambitious man. Just because they wanted to put out the ambition didn’t mean it would.
Kim Taehoon closed his eyes. Now, he could hear sounds that he could not before and things started to become clear.
He could even naturally hear Kim Suji and the two sergeants conversing in the meeting room nearby.
Kim Taehoon opened his eyes.
“Are there any yellow-rank monsters nearby?”
“Yes, there’s one near Incheon.”
“I’m hunting it.”
“What shall we do about the base?”
“I’m doing it myself. And I’m taking those two with me.”
Kim Taehoon set on a decision.
‘I, too, am going to feast inside the CDC by using the Lieutenant Colonel.'