Chapter 1: Chapter 1, Episode 1: Legion Etranger
January 20th, 1982. Kimpo International Airport, International Departure Hall.
“Uncle, thank you very much.”
A young man, about 20 years old, nodded towards the foreigner who had half-whitened hair. With a body as tense as refined piano wires and eyes as sharp as sashimi knives, the young man had an unnatural beauty that would have been called the best in Joseon. His name was Mu Ssang.
“Were not strangers! To think Id hear gratitude from my own nephew, now that just saddens me,” the foreigner, British Ambassador Hamilton, laughed heartily.
His Excellency was almost a Korean since he had been a British foreign services officer in Korea for over 20 years. Two years ago, Mu Ssang had saved Hamilton from a group of bandits, beginning a brotherly relationship.
The power of one of Her Majestys ambassadors was astounding. Current president, Jeon Du Hwans government was in control of every international departure flight. Mu Ssang had no backings nor money. He wasnt worth the hair on a dog. Moreover, he had been a soldier who had a star on his name before being accused of a crime he did not commit. There was no way he could leave the country by ordinary means.
Hamilton easily organized his departure. Even the visa he provided allowed Mu Ssang to move in and out of Korea for a year. On top of that, he had escorted him through the departure screening process and had given him a ride in his ambassadorial vehicle to Kimpo airport. He was like an uncle to him, and this made MuSsang feel overwhelming gratitude.
“A thanks is a thanks,” Mu Ssang argued.
“Im a British official, and youre not the average person. Consider it bribery on my part to ask you for help when needed. You know, the type of bribes that Koreans are good at.”
“Hehehe, youve learned all the bad things.”
Mu Ssang smiled sadly. Under Jeon Du Hwans government, there was nothing impossible with money. Jeon Du Hwan was someone who even got rid of the multi-millionaires in the country because they hadnt paid their political funds.
“Hahaha! You use what you learn. Legion Etranger is known to be the first unit to be sent into a controversial front. Be careful. Even if youre physically at your best, and you have learned the best martial arts, a bullet fired means a man is dead.”
“Geez, youve said that three times already.”
“Brat, 10 times isnt enough. I still dont understand why priest master Dae Woo permitted you. Its likely a reason I wouldnt understand since hes a man of wisdom. French people are silently aware of class differences. Even the service sector of the country isnt friendly towards Asians. Nonetheless, French government officials are as friendly as their small paychecks. Control your temper, do you understand” Hamilton continued to worry.
“Uncle, Im going to see you again, next year. Why are you talking as if Im leaving for good Calm down,” Mu Ssang lowered his head and entered the gate.
“Brat, Im telling you to watch your fist,” Hamilton shouted after him.
Mu Ssang flinched, then clenched and unclenched his fist before his eyes. This was a weapon that could break through the skull of an iron-headed boar. Although it looked like a womans hand, a closer look would reveal wounds littered all over his skin. It was simply that his unique physique didnt create lasting scars.
“The others should watch out. Stop worrying and visit my master now and then,” Mu Ssang said carelessly as he passed the gate.
Several emotions raged inside him as he walked down the jet bridge and sat down. He had forgone his studies to become a priest. He had acted as a disciple unbecoming his station and had now had forgone his Wooden Fish to hold a gun instead.
“How did this happen” he thought.
A lump of sorrow welled up from within. In the end, he had failed to find his missing mother and had to leave his hometown. He had built a body like iron and techniques strong enough to break boulders, but he felt empty.
The plane vibrated lightly. The large chunk of metal sped down the runway before lifting off. His sensitive senses told him that the take-off was at an eight-degree angle. The Yellow Seas archipelago faded further away from his sight. The lands he loved and hated disappeared under the clouds.
“Now Im really leaving!” he thought.
His face pressed onto the tinted window and held a complicated expression. It was the land that had turned him into a sort-of orphan slave under his uncles household at nine, a country that had sent him to a mine with a pickaxe to pay for his studies, a land in which he had nearly died, crushed under coal remnants, and a land in which he had committed a murder when Chui Do Shik kidnapped him in the mountains.
The avatar of never-ending faith, Jin Soon, Hae Young, whom he had shared a fiery love with, his master who had made his beastly self a human, his greedy uncle, his evil aunt, and officials who threw abused what little power they had, made for a land full of good and bad connections.
“I will definitely return. You beasts can enjoy yourselves until then.”
Mu Ssang ground his teeth.
Excellency Hamilton had talked his ear off about the hardships of living a mercenary life, but he was not shaken. There was nothing to fear other than death.
He had already died once when he was crushed under several tons of coal remnants. He had nearly died 10 times during his work in the mines. When he was imprisoned in Daegus jail for seven months, human Bak Mu Ssang had died, and, in his place, a well-sharpened knife emerged.
He couldnt understand his masters profound thoughts in sending him, a disciple, to the path of evil, but he had taken the chance to become stronger.
“Hae Young, in the end, Im leaving!”
Ironically, he had been torn away from Hae Young with whom he had wanted to love and spend his life. Hae Young was crossing the Pacific Ocean towards America, and he was crossing the Indian Ocean towards Europe. They had each turned their backs on their home country, on women for their educational greed, and on men needing to resolve their uncontrollable bloodlust. If that had been fate, he wanted to break it apart.
Mu Ssang adjusted his chair, leaned back, and relaxed his body as much as he could. He had to take a break when possible. The in-flight service, which provided him with slippers, blankets, TV, and a personal bar, came to his attention. This was all possible because Hamilton had booked him a business-class flight. His eyes closed automatically at the comfort the chair gave him.
His memory was activated randomly. His memories, which had been silent for a long while, began to lead him into its fragments. The mental conditioning that he had gone through under the hands of Sai Dojiku still lingered.
Mu Ssang crossed the peach tree fields behind his house. He had been late getting back after playing with his friends in the flower beds. The moon had already leaned towards the west. It was past midnight. If his mother found him sneaking in, he would be whipped on his calves until there were two blue lines.
Crawling under the crumbling wall, Mu Ssang shouted in surprise, “Ah, uncle!”
He ran into his uncle who was turning the corner of the house in a hurry.
“Uh, what are you” his uncle was surprised; it was as if he had met the devil in the middle of the road.
“Uncle, what are you doing here Did you hurt your head”
“Nothing, nothing. You didnt see me; you hear”
And with those words, his uncle crawled under the wall and disappeared into the night.
Mu Ssang tilted his head. Adults didnt crawl under walls; that was a path he used, a path a dog had dug up.
“My instincts tell me he did something. Why is there a black paper on his forehead anyways Who is he to tell me where to go and not go”
Mu Ssangs curiosity didnt last long, as he was tired from playing. He entered his room and burrowed under the blankets. Fortunately, his mother didnt say anything.
“Whats the point of living, how will I face my husband when I die” His mother mumbled, but he fell asleep from overwhelming tiredness.
The next day, he was awakened from his sleep by the shouts of people outside of his home.
“Why arent we given food”
“Wheres the woman”
“What are we meant to do if a restaurant doesnt serve food”
When Mu Ssang came out of his room, the older men crowded around him. “Wheres your mother”
“I dont know.”
Mu Ssang, still half asleep, rubbed his eyes and looked around. His mother was gone. All he could see in the room was a broken lampshade and an overturned bronze bowl.
His house wasnt large. He searched the kitchen and the restroom even underneath the floorboards. His mother wasnt there. Mu Ssang went all around the town looking for his mother.
“Damn, where is she I need my food.”
Mu Ssang ate some leftover food before going to school.
“Mum!” Mu Ssang shouted after returning from school. There was no reply.
The workers from the construction site were in front of his house talking in hushed voices. His close neighbors, Lee Kang Chul and Jo, couldnt be seen anywhere.
“Kid, what happened to your mother”
Mu Ssang nearly cried. Fear crept into him. The complaining men couldnt wait any longer and left the house. A strange silence filled the house where men once ate and spoke vibrantly. There was only a hungry nine-year-old boy.
Mu Ssang took out what was left of the rice in the pot. It was cold. He waited for his mother while stuffing the rice in his mouth, but his mother didnt return even when it was late into the night.
His mother didnt return on the second day and not the days that followed. Mu Ssang didnt go to school. Sitting at the edge of a table in his yard, he waited for his mother. The place in which his mother had waited for his dead father to come back had become a place for him to wait for his mother.
And like that, two, four, seven days passed. He waited without washing his face that was dirtied by tears and a runny nose. He stayed in that place even when his stomach growled in hunger. He felt as if his mother would never return if he left that spot.
A week passed. His mother didnt appear, but his uncle did and dragged him out of the front gates. He cried, saying that he had to wait for his mother, but his uncle didnt even pretend to hear him. He slapped him several times. And, at the young age of nine, he became an orphan— no, a slave.
“You brat, get out here.”
He was tired. It seemed his uncle had another reason to scold him.
His uncle grabbed his neck without warning; his temper, which had been calm for a while, was now erupting.
“Let me down!”
“Lets go, you bastard!”
His body was frail after having been starved for long. He was dragged out like a scarecrow by the brute force.
A fat hand hit the back of his head relentlessly. Every time he was hit, his forehead bounced on the ground.
“Die, you damned robber! If youve stolen my money, you should be running. Why are you still in my house”
“What are you talking about Robbery Money”
“Hah, look at you. You think you can get away with stealing all of the shops money How many times is this” His uncle always blamed him with such accusations out of the blue. It seemed he was delusional from an illness.
“Im Bak Jin Bos son, Mu Ssang.”
Every time the back of his head was hit, he stubbornly resisted so he would not be sprawled on the floor. The last thing he wanted was to roll on the dirty floor in pain.
“I didnt go near the shop. I went to see some fish and visited the field.”
Aunt Jang came down from the houses main platform. Her eyebrows, which had already risen, went up higher, and her cheekbones seemed to get redder. Her cold eyes scared him, so he avoided eye contact.
“Look at you, you thieving brat. Seems like lying is the only thing your mouth can do. So, did your school fee fall from the sky” she said with venom.
“Uh—Thats not it...”
Every time he talked, Aunt Jangs slapped him. It meant for him to shut up and take the hit. Because she had a strong build, her slaps stung. Blood had pooled in his mouth; it tasted of iron.
His aunts eyes were always fearsome. It was those stilted eyes that followed him even in his dreams. The eyes of a true assailant. His uncle was only a second-hand assailant compared to her.
“You can suffer as much as I have.”
That was what he heard from her the first day he was dragged to this home. He never trusted those words. Exactly what kind of suffering had she gone through He was curious. His uncle glared some more.
“Tak, you speak. You said you saw Mu Ssang walk out of the shop”
“Yes, I saw Mu Ssang run out for sure.”
Wu Tak straightened his back as if he was giving a speech during a sports festival and spoke with the purest face he could muster. He recalled a story about Saint Peter who denied Jesus three times before the rooster cried. The problem was that Wu Tak was someone who would keep lying even after the rooster cried.
Mu Ssang, who was flabbergasted, glared at Wu Tak. “Wu Tak, you bastard. Stop lying. You really saw me”
At Mu Ssangs glare, Wu Tak averted his eyes.
“Why are you calling your older brother by his name”
His uncle punched the back of his head with his fist. At the pain of his eyeballs shooting forward, tears gathered in his eyes. Hwa Ja, who had just entered the gate, ran inside.
“Father, he keeps hanging outside of our shop. Im pretty sure he did it if it concerns money.”
“Ha!” Mu Ssangs mouth fell open. He hadnt even gone near the shop. Hwa Ja said incriminating lies without a single blink. Mu Ssangs insides were burning.
He looked at the sky. When he became frustrated or sad, he had the habit of looking at the sky. The sun hanging over the peak of Jak Doo San had disappeared. The western sky started to show stars.
“Oh, I see. You thief, youre dead.”
His uncle, whose spirits had risen, stared into his face. He could grasp what had happened. His uncle didnt have a good personality, but he wasnt someone who hit people without reason. Usually, Wu Tak caused the scene, and Aunt Jang made it worse.
Wu Tak was sly and liked sweet things. Wu Tak had stolen the stores money and had blamed it on him countless times. Even if he claimed his innocence, as long as Aunt Jang was there screaming, it wasnt going to work. Resisting and making claims was only going to make the situation worse.
“Yeah, I should just let myself be hit some more and get this over and done with,” Mu Ssang thought, giving up on his excuses.
He would have rather been chased out of the house, but his uncle and Jang werent going to let him run away because they had no one to work for them. He didnt want to complain or ask for forgiveness. It wasnt the first time he was blamed for something he didnt do, and getting hit some more wasnt going to kill him.
“Now that theres no way to escape, youve finally shut your mouth.” Aunt Jang sat back on the platform and spewed out poison.
His uncle, now emboldened, reaffirmed his determination. “You little sh*t, Im going to kill you.”
His uncle pulled out his belt and wrapped it around his hand. The leather belt with embedded studs was nearly a torture device.
Mu Ssang was exasperated rather than scared. He wondered, “Why do these people torment me”
It had been three years since he had been dragged here. Until now, he still hadnt been given a full meal and had labored heavily. He wanted to ask why they were so cruel to him and why they had such hatred in their eyes.
His thoughts didnt last long. The leather belt thrashed his thin shoulders and back without fail.
Mu Ssang tried his best to curl up and covered his face with his arms. If his face was cut, his mother may not be able to recognize him.
Red lines appeared on his back. In the end, his skin split and blood flowed. Mu Ssang who was filled to the brim with injustice and anger couldnt even feel the pain.
“Go ahead, hit me. Ill return it to you twofold.”
Mu Ssangs eyes flashed with bloodlust. Bak In Bo, who was agitated, failed to notice his nephews cold eyes.
By the time he ran out of stamina, Aunt Jang who had been standing by the platform called out. “Stop it now! We dont want to be responsible for his hospital fees. Its obvious the son of that whore would do such things.”
“Damn, this rotten thing. Fine. Not a peep or a scream.”
His uncle dragged up some saliva and spat on Mu Ssang. He sauntered to the main room and banged the door closed.
A sound echoed through the hazy skies, and raindrops started to fall one by one. The blood that mixed with the rain started to spread across the front yard.
Laughter came out of him. Instead of his uncles lashes, his aunts gaze pained him more. That gaze was not one that regarded him as a human being. It was a gaze full of disinterest looking down on a dying dog stuck in the middle of a pond.
Jang looked at him as if he was a pest but didnt kick him out of her house. The neighbor, Old man Ha Dong, told him what a parental authority was in terms of the law and what his uncle and Aunt Jang were planning.
His fathers house and peach field had become his uncles possessions. According to Ha Dong, his uncle had sold his fathers field and fixed up the house to start a little general store.
He remembered the day he was dragged out of his home while waiting for his mother. The Shin-Jak road was full of dust and the hoots of owls, which followed him. That was the day he had fallen to hell from heaven. There was no end in sight.
There was a skeleton right where Mu Ssang fell.
He had kissed the skull upon falling on it. He spat continuously, but there was no end to the salty taste. The virus that had been attached to the skull rampaged through his body as if it was being vacuumed in and began its contamination through his respiratory system. The virus used the metabolism of the host cells. 40 minutes was the shortest time needed for reproduction, and at the most, it needed one hour.
The Excita virus had a component called Ricetta, which allowed its reproduction to bloom rapidly. Its DNA entered the host cells DNA without regard. The virus finished its first growth within three seconds and entered a phase of unlimited reproduction. As the Excita RNAs electrons attached themselves to the host cells, the poison was expelled in the process causing the host cells to tremble.
The poison that the Excita virus created was currently beyond the toxicity of Botulinum. The human who came into contact with such a poison was bound to die. A Paranthropus cell had some resistance to the Excita virus, but that was the only one. In that rare case, the person would be tortured but not killed.
Mu Ssang lifted up the skull.
“Agh, ho, hot!”
His hands burned as if he had picked up a flaming piece of coal. He was so surprised that he dropped the skull; it rolled on the ground. He had felt that it was hot, but his reaction, in fact, came from the surprised reaction of his nervous system infected by the Excita virus.
“Wha, what the hell”
He was confused because the reaction had occurred so suddenly. Now that he thought about it, he had felt a hot sensation running across his skin when he was putting the bones together. He had thought nothing of it. He had not questioned it.
“Aaaaah!” His howl resounded across Wol Song San. A surprised flock of Parus Major flew away from the noise. Mu Ssang rolled on the ground as if he was a worm sprayed by salt. His head swarmed. He became so disoriented that he could not tell up from down.
He lost consciousness. It was to protect the body from shock, but even when he had fainted, his body kept trembling from the pain. Only the sounds of the cuckoos remained.
The possibility that a human with a Paranthropus cell coming across the Excita virus was one in a billion. It was literally impossible. And Mu Ssang had that very cell.
But a low possibility was still a possibility. Sometimes, the world causes things that happen outside of the norm. When coincidences collide, it creates something called “fate.” Mu Ssang was now involved in that one-in-a-billion chance: his fate.
Where am I Who am I
The wet and stuffy smell of the earth rose into his nose; it was something he had never smelled before. He shook his head and tried to wake up. This was his first time in the cave.
And so, at an early age of 10, Mu Ssang became entirely different from all the other children.
He sold two northern snakeheads for 1000 Won at the farmers market, but he ran into trouble while exiting the main gates, appearing to be an uplifted mood. Two police officers rushed forward like eagles after their prey.
He didnt understand and wondered what they were talking about, “What was a Sony radio, and what was larceny”
The second day he was assailed with interviews. He repeated what he had been doing for the past two days at least 10 times. One of the police officers, the one wearing a black jacket, was his Aunt Jangs distant cousin, Jang Chi Soo.
Mu Ssang, who had fallen asleep, twitched. They had threatened to beat him up sooner or later. When he was dragged to the police station, he had been scared, but he was not stupid. After reading the documents several times, he refused to put his signature on it.
It was fabricated. In summary, it was a plea to forgive him for trying to steal a box of radios, which he had intended to sell to earn some money and flee the house. There was no way Mu Ssang, who valued his freedom, was going to sign that.
“I didnt do this.”
“Brat, just put your fingerprint on it.”
“You want me to become a thief by doing so”
The man in the black jacket swung his metal police bat around.
It hit Mu Ssangs head.
“Do you want to die, or do you want to put your fingerprint on it”
“Damn, are you trying to anger me some more” The man in the black jacket hit his cheek and kicked his shin with his polished shoes.
“Police officer, let me at least see what this radio you speak of looks like,” he begged. He had no idea what a radio was.
The black-jacketed man thrashed him with the bat between his head and shoulders.
“Look at this thing, trying to lie his way out. Whats the point of asking me what youve stolen”
Mu Ssang wrapped his arms around his head and replied, “Tell me how I could possibly hide something that I havent seen or heard of.”
“What a joke. How would I know where youve hidden your stash No one confessed. That means its you. Make sense, you idiot.”
Blood trickled down his head, which had been thrashed some more.
“Ah, why do you keep hitting me”
“Confess before I bash your head in, wont you”
“It hurts. I swear I was sleeping in my room when the truck accident happened on the highway.”
“And does anyone know that Is there someone whod prove you were in your room”
“Then its you, you sh*t.”
The officer kicked his stomach. Mu Ssang felt the back of his head break as he fell backward in his chair. The man acted as if he was one of those Japanese colonizers from his books. Without the right answer, the accused was to be tormented and tortured. If people werent deformed by the beating, they were disabled or killed.
“Im too tired to hit you. Just put your fingerprint down, and you can go.”
“If I put my fingerprint on the square, doesnt it mean Im confessing to having stolen something”
“Ack, this f*cking bastard is driving me crazy.”
“Listen to yourself. I dont think your words are more valuable than me turning into a criminal.”
“Ha, look at you running your mouth.”
Jang Chi Soo had gone around the bend. This young thing was even sturdier than a cows hide. He had not been able to wring out an admission from him for three days. It was embarrassing to look at his co-workers mocking laughter.
“Bastard, when I tell you to sign, you sign. Stop chattering away.”
“Dont swear, sir. I didnt do anything to be trashed-talked to.”
“Ha! Youre still running your mouth. It seems like your mouth is the only thing alive. Ill beat you into submission, then.”
“Do whatever you want. Im not a thief.”
“Argh, Ill see you dead today!”
The officer punched with his large fists. Mu Ssang, who was hit on his cheeks, rolled around on the floor, untied from his chair by the beating. He stood up and spat out the blood gathered in his mouth as he glared at the police officer. Jang Chi Soo found the kids eyes spooky.
“Youre the worst kind of breed, arent ya You little weed, is that what your father taught you”
Mu Ssang wanted to pull out all of the officers hair as he pushed his face and foul stench into his face.
“Why are you bad-mouthing my dead father Does your father teach you things from the grave You have an amazing father.”
The police officers around the office laughed.
“Hey, Officer Jang, it seems youve met your match today.”
“That kid is one hard nut to crack.”
“His name is Mu Ssang, aint it His mouth lives up to his name.”
The officers face turned red as the sounds of laughter continued.
“This little sh*t. You think this is funny, huh”
His reasoning left him. He punched and kicked without regard. Mu Ssang was beaten as he covered his face. He felt confident that he could win against the officer if he could fight, but then he would become a real criminal.
“Hey, Jang Chi Soo. What the hell do you think youre doing.”
A shout rang out. The jacketed man stopped hitting.
“Sir, this kid isnt breaking.”
“You idiot, dont you know this is a surveillance unit You want to be fired, is that it Hes a child. Stop beating him up.”
“Damn it, Im losing my reputation over a kid.”
Jang Chi Soo spat on him. Mu Ssang had become quite a sight. His nose was bloody, and his lips had ripped. His eyes had turned black and blue, and blood trickled out of one of his ears.
“Your name is Jang Chi Soo, right Im not going to forget that. From now on, if you hit me, Im not going to stay still.”
A fiery light emanated from his swollen eyes. Mu Ssang hadnt been intimidated in the least. Fire roared behind his gaze. There was nothing to getting beaten up since he had been beaten by his uncles family for over four years. He engraved Officer Jangs face into his mind.
“Ha, this sh*t is the real deal. Im going to go crazy.”
Officer Jan flew into a rage but couldnt hit the kid with visible attacks. Mu Ssang was locked behind a glass cage once more. There was no other parrot like him; he repeated his words again and again. Later, it came to the point where he could repeat the details of the admission paper line by line.
Officer Jan had said that he would release him once he signed it, but Mu Ssang didnt budge.
“The Jjajangmyeon tastes great. Im going to go home late. Im planning to eat more of this.”
“Ugh, I want to beat you to death.” Jang Chi Soo threatened him. “Hey, you weakling. I heard you always steal from your uncles store. I heard your aunt has given up on you. Your uncle and aunt also said that it was you who stole those things.”
They did, did they Damn them!
He ground his teeth, but there was no way out of the accusation. The officer had no intention of listening to his explanations. Mu Ssang now had a reputation as a depraved person. Every police officer he came across punched his head or smacked it with their report file. Due to that, Mu Ssang came to regard the police force from this dark perspective for his entire life.
Mu Ssang was 13, so he couldnt go to jail. After being sentenced to psychological treatment for 10 hours and observation, he was released.
“This damned breed of evil! If we tracked your age according to your looks, I would have put you in jail a long time ago. Damn it! Its just a years difference.”
Office Jang lamented having to release this 13-year old. Apparently, he was not officially charged due to the lack of “acute responsibility” as a 13-year old. It meant that they were going to overlook his problem. The officer looked as if he wanted to change the records of his birth date.
The day he walked out of the station, Mu Ssang talked to Officer Jan.
“Thank you for all the meals. My name is Mu Ssang. Do remember it. I dont do childish things like stealing radios. Your name is Jang Chi Soo, right Im indebted. Ill never forget you.”
Mu Ssang was not a weakling who was always defeated. He took out his list of people to kill and wrote Jang Chi Soos name with a heavy hand. He was afraid it would get erased if he wrote it in pencil, so he wrote it in ink. Mu Ssang glared at the sticker on the main door of the station: “The Helping Hand of all People.”
“Helping hand Just admit to beating all people instead. You damned thugs!” he shouted before the police station at the top of his lungs.
“Hehehe, you sh*theads, stay right there until I come back. The more comfortable you are, the more painful it will get when I exact my revenge.” Since Mu Ssangs sleep talk didnt end, the complexion of the old woman, who sat beside him on the plane, turned pale. She had heard that Asians lacked manners and feared that the man beside her would stand up and do something rash.
And that is how the nightmare of the battlefield, the call name of the angel of death—Black Mamba—and the Eastern baptism that established the land of freedom in Africa, began. A country in which the weak and victims were protected, where a person on the job was rewarded for their effort, where there was no special treatment, started with the slumber of this person in a seat in Business Class, on a DC-10 to Paris. A man who was getting freedom from his past.