Chapter 2: Chapter 1, Episode 2: Legion Etranger
The old woman was scared. She seriously considered asking the flight attendant if she could move to another seat. But once she looked carefully at Mu Ssangs face, her frown disappeared.
“Handsome.” She thought.
It was a face with defined cheekbones, but one side had an unfortunate scar on his otherwise unblemished skin. She suddenly felt pity for this young man having a nightmare next to her and slowly wiped the sweat beading on his forehead.
He woke to the sound of the falling snow. Heavy snow was usually silent, but light snow gave off a rustling sound. In times like this, he lamented the fact that he had abnormal hearing.
The scent of his dirty blanket rose to his nose. The smell of blood inside the bedbug on his wall also came into the range of his senses. This sensitivity was so annoying.
The room had not been sealed properly against the outside winds, but the floor had heated up since he had shoved some wood in the fire before he had gone to sleep.
“Now theres no point in going up Wol Song mountain with my pack, nor the chance to feed the cow,” he thought.
Mu Ssang realized how much he missed warmth the moment he stood on the heated floor. He placed some soup in a pot on top of the stove. When the wood in the stove started to burn, he left. He ran up the mountain in a flash. And coming down, he threw his sweaty body in the lake to wash himself. The light snow turned heavier. Clumps of snowflakes fell into the lake and melted.
If someone would have seen him washing himself in the freezing lake during the snow, they would have called him a ghost. The lake was near Nakdong River, a place where people often saw ghosts.
Mu Ssang washed for a long time. He wanted to wash away the tears, troubles, desperation, and rage he had gathered in his uncles house.
The moment he poured the soup into the trough, his nose twinged. He patted the cows cheeks who then stuffed its face into the melange.
“Be well. Who will take care of you when Im not around”
With no one else around, there was only an animal to whom he could say farewell.
He washed some rice and placed it on top of the stove then made some soup with taro. All he had, otherwise, was kimchi and the grains that Ha Dong had sent him. He ate breakfast and gathered his belongings into the newly bought school bag. All he had were some books, pencils, and notes. He didnt bother packing the worn clothes hanging on the wall.
While he was heading out of the house, he ran across Jang. Rather, Jang had been waiting for him by the front gate. As usual, an abnormal hatred was pouring out of her gaze. Mu Ssang silently lowered his head.
“You little ungrateful bastard. I hope you beg yourself to death out there.”
As usual, barbed words fell from her mouth. There was so much he wanted to say, but he didnt want to waste time.
“You dont feed me or give me clothes, so theres nothing I should be grateful for. The blanket and clothes in that rotten room, thats what I earned, down to the very bowl. The clothes Im wearing and the bag Im holding, I bought myself. You didnt give me a single cent while I lived in your house over the past five years. I am a beggar. Thanks for making me beg while also working for you.”
Mu Ssang felt such relief in finally speaking the words that, for so long, he hadnt been able to say to this woman. But he had disrespected his aunt, so that wasnt the best idea. Perhaps calling this person before him a “woman,” after she caused the disappearance of his mother and attempted to kill him, was enough respect.
“Your father would turn in his grave looking at you like this.”
“Yes. Im leaving exactly because of my father. He would turn in his grave seeing his son live under these conditions.”
“You damned thing! I hope you die.”
“Whether I beg or die, thats not something for you to concern yourself with.”
Jangs glare could have drilled a hole through the back of his head, but he didnt care. This was his escape from a desolate island after five years.
The snow gathered until it buried his calves. All he had was a school bag. The heavy snow turned lighter once more. Mu Ssang didnt turn back, not even once.
Mu Ssang was heading back from loading up the coal into the cart when he felt a slight vibration. He paused. A shiver ran through his body and vanished. The moment he was about to turn around, a large sound ripped through the mine.
Black liquid fell from several meters above him. It was unbelievable. The liquid covered his entire workspace in a flash.
The three other people mining the coals were covered and suffocated almost instantly. A large tremor came from the back of the mine. Mu Ssang was overcome with fear. Time slowed and so did his reactions.
“Ahhh!” Mu Ssang hurled the cart away ran towards the exit as if death was on his tail. Shouts echoed behind him from the very depths of the mine. Even the leader of the group was uncharacteristically shouting.
The moment his conscience understood that he was in peril, his body started to enter the most defensive form possible. His blood started to flow at three times its usual pace and pumped violently in the lower half of his body. His leg muscles, which seemed comparable to a horses muscles, pounded against the floor as he ran.
Unfortunately, the force of an oncoming wave was faster than a man could move. A weight pressed down on him. Pain rampaged throughout his body. He recalled the face of his mother who had abandoned him.
“F*ck, I need to find my mom!” his desperate shout was buried underneath the strange noise. Desperately, he tried to stand, but his weight had increased several-fold. He felt sharp pains in several places in his body and started to suffocate. His thoughts began to stray. Darkness surged.
“Ha!” Mu Ssang, who was momentarily frightened into awakening, closed his eyes once more. The last thought in his mind as he was crushed under the flow of coal was his mother. He had been more desperate for his mother than he was fearful of death.
Hae Youngs house was a two-story Japanese-style house. In the center of her courtyard was a pond. Planks were fitted head-to-head around the pond, making a mysterious atmosphere.
The late autumn rain that had continued throughout the night had receded in the early morning. The sunlight and gentle winds dried the courtyard instantly. A sudden rush of wind blew the fallen leaves into a corner then up into the second-floor window. The man standing by the window closed it. A brown leaf slid down the closed window slowly. The mans gaze, full of emptiness and pain, followed its path.
“I should leave. If I cant be a rock for my woman to lean on, I shouldnt be a rock in her path.”
He sighed with regret.
Beside the window was an elegant turntable. His long and hard fingers picked up a Cesaria Evora album. Hae Young liked Evora, and he liked Besame Mucho.
Mu Ssang set the record on the turntable, and the needle hit it perfectly. This was not an easy feat. The arm moved by itself and landed on the first track.
Que tengo miedo tenerte. (I am scared I will lose you.)
Y perderte después. (I will still be scared.)
Quiero tenerte muy cerca. (I want to have you close to me.)
Sorrowful lyrics from Evoras voice filled his chest, and his heart pounded. “Ah, Hae Young!”
The name he had decided not to call out, even in the most desperate of times, leaked through his mouth. Thinking of the last night of his stay in the motel sent tearful emotions through his mind.
The moonlight reflecting off the window caused her bare skin to shine with a bluish tint. His thoughts wandered as he looked at the womans body. “She must have been so tied to have fallen asleep without even bathing!”
She was lovely. Her hair stuck to the perspiration on her forehead. Even that was beautiful. Mu Ssang tiptoed out of the room like a cat. He lifted the water jug and went to the kitchen. He rekindled what remained of the fire underneath the furnace and poured several buckets of water inside.
Water began to boil. He put some of the warm water in the jug and returned to the room. He wet a towel and began to wipe down her body.
Hae Young remained sleeping like a corpse, snoring.
It made him sad to think that she must have had such a difficult experience to be sleeping so soundly. He wiped her down, from her chest to her waist, and she remained asleep. His hard work only ended after he refilled the jug five more times.
He had stayed up all night, but he couldnt go to sleep. His abnormally strange body wasnt tired even after all the sex throughout the night. Rather, it was completely awake. He didnt feel like going back to sleep.
He left the room, ran down the path and climbed the cliff at the back of the village. He threw off his clothes and swam in the ocean.
It was the middle of winter, and the water was so cold that it might give a person a heart attack. But that didnt concern him. His body had already evolved beyond that of a normal humans body, and, as expected, water was needed to kill the fire that had been rampaging in his body.
Hae Young woke up from her sleep around noon. The sunlight poured into her room and lit up the cave-like darkness.
“Ah!” Hae Young shouted lightly as she sat up in surprise. A strong arm wrapped around her waist. A mans scent filled her body. She was happy being wrapped in warm skin and pressed up against a firm chest. He was her man who she wouldnt share with anyone else. A rough hand caressed her thighs.
“Yes, just now.”
He wasnt fully awake and mumbled something.
“I dont know, you beast! Over seven times, I think.”
“I did I deserve to be shouted at, then.”
“Ugh, thinking of living with a beast like you, my future looks bleak.”
She rolled her eyes and he smiled broadly. That was the one woman he had promised to love for his lifetime: Hae Young.
“Kekeke, sugoi, sugoi (amazing)! Ive finally gotten something worth its price. Kekeke.”
Chui Do Shik! He was a fear deeply engraved into his brain. He could hear his voice and that the evil laugh. Mu Ssangs sleeping body twitched violently.
“Are you sick Would you like an airsickness bag”
Foreign words knocked against his silence, and he woke up. His brain struggled, unable to discern the boundary between his dreams and reality. The flight attendant held a cup of water before him and had a worried look on her face.
“Thank you. Can I have a wet towel”
She handed him a towel, and he wiped his sweat. Chui Do Shik, whose Japanese name was Sai Dojiku, could make Heuk Dam of Bang Tae San cry with that evil laugh. He was Mu Ssangs nemesis.
“Where are we now”
“We will arrive in Singapore soon.”
The old woman beside him called the flight attendant. “Puis-je changer de place (Can I change my place)”
He didnt know French, but he could tell that she was requesting a seat change. Mu Ssang smiled bitterly. A healthy man, who was slightly unstable, did seem dangerous, after all.
The attendant shook her head and tried to assure the old woman. The old woman, exasperated, glanced at Mu Ssang. He drank another cup of water and closed his eyes. It was still a long way to Paris. He still had to change planes in Singapore and go another 14 hours.
Chui Do Shik had experienced trauma at a young age and turned his entire life around. Mu Ssang now wondered if his separation from the woman he had longed to love his entire life dug up his deep traumatic memories. He wondered if he could also turn his life around. “This is the side effect of my mental conditioning!”
The memories he had once lost followed him even in his dreams. Now, he wasnt even tired of them. It became a part of normal life.
He looked out of the window. The sky was dark. He suddenly became worried as to whether his master would take his medication on time. He was as healthy as a finely crafted staff but was still over 80 years old.
Three hours after arriving in Singapore, he boarded an Air France DC-10, which was considered a “coffin” even on shorter flights. He didnt realize how tired he was. Physically, he felt fine, but he wasnt thinking straight. He asked for a drink.
A slim, tall flight attendant brought him a green wine bottle.
Mu Ssang thought that she was speaking French for “drink.” It was only afterward that he realized it was the name of a wine. He attempted to sleep after drinking the entire bottle. It was his first meeting with the Sciaccarello that he would come to love. He closed his eyes.
Professor Giz had told him not to worry too much. He had said that it was the process of his memories returning after being suppressed. Because of his master, his forced memories had at least settled somewhat.
Chui Do Shik clapped his hands. He lifted Mu Ssang and went inside the log house. After laying him down on the bed, Chui Do Shik poked around his body here and there and slapped him with his hands in several places.
Every time he was touched, MuSsang screamed, but Chui Do Shik didnt stop.
“It seems like you werent broken anywhere. Youre uncomprehendingly strong. At this rate, your bones are two times stronger than Akakikao. To think there was this type of material, I cant believe it. Your ribs and left arm have been broken, right shoulder is dislocated, and four of your ribs are bruised. There is some internal bleeding but not much on the outside. It seems like your front tooth is broken too. Some muscles are torn here and there, but its not that bad.”
Chui Do Shik observed him as if he was looking over a cow on the market and said his diagnosis flatly.
“You f*ck! If this isnt broken, then what is” Mu Ssang screamed internally. His brain was burning from the pain and healing Chui Do Shik was giving him. If he was sent to the hospital, they would have sent him to the emergency room immediately.
“What a perfect body to operate on.” He tied the broken body to the bed.
Mu Ssang fell in despair. Chin Do Shik had not tied him down when he first tested out needles on his body. Tying him down meant that there was going to be a higher form of pain and torture awaiting him.
Chui Do Shik pulled out a silver needle at least five inches long. Mu Ssangs eyes widened to the point of ripping. His heart seemed to have stopped beating by him just looking at the needle.
Whether Mu Ssang was scared or not, Chui Do Shik pushed the long needle into the center nerve of his brain where the spinal cord ended. This blood vessel was a part of his anterior spinal vessel, one mark away from the basilic vein on both sides.
Mu Ssang felt pain that made his mind go white, a pain he had never felt before in his life. The belts on the bed began to tear from his shaking.
Chui Do Shik glanced at those tears before inserting a needle near the seventh vertebrae of his spinal cord. His shaking stopped like magic. The lower half of his body had been paralyzed.
Chui Do Shik placed similar needles on his anterior cerebral and his cerebral cortex. He was extremely careful. One needle took 5 minutes. Every time a needle was inserted, the pain increased several folds.
He didnt tamper with Mu Ssangs brain when paralyzing his body, and the shocks he received were increasing. By the time the fifth needle ran through his blood vessel, he felt his consciousness slipping away. Blood poured continuously down his nose. And like that, five needles were inserted into his brain.
Mu Ssang fell into a vegetative state. A third person lifted his head and fed him a liquid. His conscious altered between lucidity and unconsciousness.
“You are my slave and disciple. I, Chui Do Shik, am your father. You must always respect your priest, your father and serve him for the rest of your life.”
The words were repeated continuously. Strangely, his head picked up on them.
One of Chin Do Shiks lackeys lifted Mu Ssang and placed him inside a murky liquid. He went through 10 days of recovery. When his body recovered, he was hit by the lackey and moved inside the cave once more.
Mu Ssang grit his teeth. Inside the cave, he shivered, recalling the needles that were inserted inside his head. It felt as if every single nerve had been awakened in his body, and the feeling of a small needle crawling around his veins made him nearly wet his pants.
Hatred burned inside him. He wanted to chew up that priest and drink his blood. He wanted to slit his stomach and drag him around by his intestines.
“Chui Do Shik, you sh*t, Im going to kill you!”
A desperate shout echoed in the cave. Mu Ssangs eyes turned red.
It was a low-frequency growl trembling through its vocal cords. The animals stench rose in the air.
Mu Ssang was astounded. His premonitions of danger had become irritating.
“F*ck, I should have watched my words. Why did I say it Ive dug my own grave.”
As the stench grew thicker, a bloodthirsty beast entered the cave. There were no sounds of footsteps.
The beast roared inside the cave.
“Come on, you little sh*t!” Mu Ssang also shouted. The reason behind the lackey spraying his blood around finally made sense: to provoke the beast before him. After smelling the blood, the beast became even more angered. Considering the soundless movements, the beast was a cat. Although it wasnt one of the big ones, like a lion or a tiger.
“Chui Do Shik, you f*cker!” At this desperate shout, the beast responded with a growl. Mu Ssang realized that this was the call of a predator. He was in a situation where he could turn into an animals meal.
As he entered his battle stance, the animals size could be approximated. It was a sense Mu Ssang had developed after trying to eat centipedes for food inside the dark cave. Although he couldnt see, he could grasp the size and presence of its movements.
“Leopard, puma, jaguar”
The list of feline animals ran through his head. He was the object of the bloodlust the animal was feeling. His skin was tingling, and his hair stood on end. Adrenaline ran throughout his body; his blood boiled, and the shiver that began at his toes ran up his spine and flashed onto his head.
At the same time, his tenacity and survival instincts rose. He came to Bang Tae San to live not to die. He had survived this far, in a constant battle every single day of his life. He wasnt going to let some beast take it. He couldnt die simply because of how unfair it was.
“Aaaa! Come at me!” a shout to intimidate the beast erupted out of Mu Ssang. He pushed back the fear with his own bloodlust. The strong will to end the life before him was impressed on the beast. This was the result of the genetic reactions to Paranthropus. Considering the ancient beast he had fought in his dreams, a leopard wouldnt give much of a fight.
A shout to intimidate the beast erupted from Mu Ssang. He pushed back the fear with his bloodlust. He impressed on the beast his strong will to end his life. This was a result of the genetic reactions to the Paranthropus. Considering the ancient beast he had fought in his dreams, this one wouldnt be much of a match.
Because of Mu Ssangs violent aura, the beast couldnt attack rashly. This was a life and death situation, a match between two with a desire to kill. There was nothing to take for granted when facing life and death. They both knew that their opponent wasnt something to underestimate.
The beast moved right, and the Mu Ssang kept glaring. The boundary between human and animal was drawn. A battle of wills began.
The moment the beasts bloodlust went beyond its limits, it pounced without a sound. Its desire to kill was too strong to be held back among the smell of blood.
Mu Ssang instinctively understood that its mark was his neck. He lowered his stance and made a fist, aiming at the beasts face before launching it like a cannonball. It was smart. It tilted its head and reached out with its claw, scratching his cheek.
He had avoided the front paw by leaning away, but it was a little wet. The claws, like a blade, made a bloody mark from his temples to his left cheek. The beast had torn his clothes and skin and landed without a sound.
The beasts low grumble reverberated around the cave. Mu Ssangs eyes turned red after seeing blood. His bloodlust made him forget his pain. It was the rampage of a wild man.
“Kwaaa!” His strange scream shook the cave. The last of his fear evaporated. All that remained was his instinct to break the beasts bones and rip its skin.
It was a cave without a shred of light. They had to fight each other with limited sight.
The leopard, predator of the night, couldnt talk, and Mu Ssang was at a disadvantage in the dark, but his battle instincts awakened. All that was left to think about was skin and bones. When it attacked, he had to tear the beasts skin and break its bones to level the playing field.
It was 45 degrees to his right and about 10 steps away. It had hunched up to attack. He moved a foot forward. It was going to pounce soon. He could feel the beasts movements vividly. It was a sense he had gained through searching out centipedes and fighting Chui Do Shiks lackeys.
The silence of the atmosphere in the cave shifted. Darkness crashed. The beast closed in several meters and shot forward in an attempt to latch onto his neck with its open jaws. He gave it his shoulder and punched its stomach with his fist.
This time, he wasnt too late. He started to learn the rhythm. Before its teeth could dig deeper down to his bones, he lashed out at its side. It released his shoulder and rolled on the floor.
“How dare you, cat!”
Its reactions were faster than he anticipated. His fist punched it shallowly. He couldnt injure it permanently because it moved away.
The leopard missed his bone and main artery, but the blade-like jaws had managed to tear a fair bit of his flesh away. It had also clawed his chest. He reached his pain threshold and it rampaged inside his head.
It pained him to have even the slightest thorn on his fingertips. So how painful it is to have flesh ripped apart by fangs! The smell of blood hit his nose.
The flow of blood pulsed faster. His vision was clouded by redness, and his fighting spirit rose. He wasnt scared of some meager feline. He thought of the monsters he faced in his dreams. The leopard wasnt even in the predatory category. In his dreams, he had fought monsters while holding back his intestines that were about to fall out. To eat or be eaten: that caused his spirit to rise further.
He could read the slower movements of the beast and managed to land a blow where its kidney was. That was a critical weak spot of four-legged beasts, and he had injured it.
The injured man and beast started to rear up once more. The starved beast ran forward.
One-to-one, they bit, hit, threw, and rolled around. He couldnt land a solid hit while avoiding the beasts front teeth and claws.
Knife-like claws ran over Mu Ssangs body. He used both fists and feet to land blows. The ancient cave was filled with the scent of blood, the beasts roars, and the mans shouts.
He managed to avoid the front paws solely by instinct. His body leaned back, and his foot managed to catch the beasts chin.
The beast, which had been hit squarely, screamed and retreated. It shook its head rapidly.
“Kitty, how did that feel” Mu Ssang shouted with confidence.
The man and beast created some distance between themselves and entered an observational phase. Both were tired. The beast took shallow breaths.
The beast was injured on the inside, and the man was injured on the outside. Hunger and the scent of blood had infected them with bloodlust, but these two opponents were almost equal.
It weighed about 50-100 kilograms. There was a time when a leopard was reported to be 150 kilograms, but that was a special case all by itself. 150 kilograms was nearly the weight of a tiger. From his instincts, he could tell that the beast was around 80 kilograms, and his weight was 70 kilograms. There was no reason for him to be pushed back in a battle of strength. Of course, the leopard had enough power to hold a dead, 60-kilogram deer in its jaws while jumping up a tree. But he was confident in his strength. It was just the animals speed was a little worrisome.
It was dangerous, but he decided to lure the beast to end this battle. Mu Ssang trembled and fell to the ground. The beast ran forward to end MuSsangs life once and for all.
“Bastard, thats why youre a measly animal.”
Mu Ssang pushed his injured shoulder-deep into the beasts mouth. It bit as if it had been waiting for it. Without missing that chance, he grabbed the beast by its waist.
The surprised beast tried to get rid of the formidable man by thrashing around. But Mu Ssang was stronger. He grabbed onto its waist harder by pushing its neck up.
At the pain of being bent, the beast scratched at Mu Ssangs back, which became ragged from the beasts claws.
Mu Ssang shouted, without realizing it, so loud that he tore up his vocal cords. The pain, like hot coals being pressed upon his back, caused his consciousness to wane for a moment.
With a shout, the cave trembled. Mu Ssang pressed himself closer to the beast. He wrapped his legs around its waist and wrapped his two arms around its neck. And in that position, he pushed the beasts head back with the strength of a bull.
This ground technique was called a “rear-naked choke.” Usually, it was a technique that stopped the blood from flowing into the brain around the neck, causing the opponent to faint. Mu Ssangs strength didnt simply stop the blood flow; it managed to break the neck bone.
The animals dying cry followed the sound of its breaking neck.
“Dieeeee!” Mu Ssang cleared his hazy vision and gathered the last of his strength to kill the beast.
Strength seeped out of the beast. He released his arms that had been choking the beast and punched the center of its head as hard as he could. It was a stone fist that could break apart stalactite.
He could feel the skull breaking underneath his fist.
It wasnt a roar but the last of its voice.
He could smell the animals urine from where he stood. The beasts head rolled.
“Ahhhhhack!” he screamed crazily as he lifted the beast then threw it on the ground. Silence descended in the cave where the beast and man had once shouted. Mu Ssang also lay crumpled to the floor.