The Heavenly Demon Receives A Massage chapter 19

The Heavenly Demon Receives A Massage

“It looks promising enough to have some expectations.”

Upon a closer inspection, the land itself seemed to be of no particular interest, and it could have been mere coincidence that the bellflower wine consumed there previously turned out to be so effective.

Although I had my concerns, the location I just checked was a site of such excellent quality that it completely dispelled any worries.

Of course, considering that this is an era where the concept of Qi (气) has become quite faint, even the best site would have its limits…

Yet, even with that in mind, to Kang Taehan, it was like finding an oasis in the desert.

“Would it be alright if I were to enter the mountain next week?”

“It wouldn’t be a problem any time. Why would it be a big deal to wander around the mountain, especially when your benefactor needs it? After all, it’s practically a mountain that’s been left idle without any use.”

Shin Junho shrugged nonchalantly as he spoke, and Park Hoyeon, standing next to him, showed a look of surprise.

“Really? Why neglect it?”

“I don’t know; the land must not be good. I tried planting various things there and even moved some fruit trees, but everything came out lackluster.”

That’s a possibility.

Kang Taehan inwardly nodded in agreement.

Spiritual energy, or Qi, is not only beneficial to life.

To make a comparison, it’s conceptually closer to energy than nutrients.

Martial artists who recklessly consume precious spiritual medicines often end up dead not without reason.

Especially the raw and pure spiritual energy formed in nature can be akin to poison if one lacks the internal strength to handle and absorb such power.

Most living beings cannot withstand this environment or grow properly, but sometimes there are beings that absorb a massive amount of spiritual energy and are perfectly fine, and those become spirit herbs (靈草) and spirit creatures (靈物).

‘It’s not an environment suitable for farming or orchards.’

It’s difficult to grow crops properly, and even if one manages with great effort, the normal grains and fruits will at best only have a somewhat richer taste.

And that’s the story of a minority that has adapted to the environment; the rest are merely subpar.

Commercially speaking, it’s a business where the time and costs invested do not balance out the profits.

However, regardless of that… it was good news for Kang Taehan.

The fact that crops were not growing well was evidence that the mountain was rich in spiritual energy density.

And since it had been left idle for so long, it was nothing less than a stroke of luck.

“May I forage for herbs or wild vegetables there as well?”

“Of course. It seems like that’s what you meant to ask, and how could I say no to that? However…”

All of a sudden, Shin Junho’s expression turned worried.

“Frankly speaking, it’s not a mountain that’s easy to roam around in. There are hardly any paths due to the lack of human traffic… As far as I remember, the place where Wonho foraged for bellflower was just around the entrance area of the mountain.”

“Then I’ll need to be careful.”

Kang Taehan played along with a worried expression, but inside he could hardly hide his smile.

Just like before, it was yet another piece of welcome news.

* * *

The chilly weather brought a biting wind.

There are many foods that come to mind on such days, but when thinking of something warm and hearty, there’s nothing quite like a bowl of sundae soup.

The white broth bubbles up from the earthenware pot.

Adjust the taste to your liking after the rich flavors have deeply infused the broth.

A bit of salty shrimp paste can enhance the flavor, adding a touch of umami.

A fiery red seasoning paste could also be good.

After tweaking it to your taste, you take a spoonful of the boiling hot broth to check the seasoning.

“Ah, perfect.”

An unadorned expression of satisfaction escaped Kang Taehan’s lips.

Across from him, Choi Seonghyun couldn’t help but chuckle.

“You sure enjoy your food. Didn’t have lunch?”

“A bit like that.”

Kang Taehan reflected on how he unintentionally skipped lunch due to his visit to the hospital.

He had a hearty breakfast, so hunger struck him later.

Only when he was about to leave the ward after finishing his work did Kang Taehan realize he was fasting.

Perhaps that was why the warm comfort traveling down his throat felt exceptionally special today.

After tasting the broth, now it’s time for kimchi.

Before mixing rice into the soup, he tries the kimchi along with plain rice.

The slightly ripened but still crunchy napa cabbage kimchi.

The chunky radish kimchi with seasoning well-penetrated to its core.

They say you can tell the quality of a restaurant by the taste of its kimchi.

He first discovered this place in his freshman year of high school and its flavors have remained consistently good.

‘Come to think of it, it’s been quite a while.’

He often thought of this place’s soup even when he was in the martial world.

Contemplating such thoughts, Kang Taehan stirred the remaining rice into the soup.

A key point is to eat about half the rice with kimchi before mixing the rest into the soup.

Mixing the entire bowl of rice at once can cloud the broth due to the stickiness of the rice grains, but adjusting the amount in advance allows for a clear broth, even when the rice is added.

Spicy broth, chewy offal, and savory blood sausage.

And the rice that adds a subtle sweetness to balance it all!

It didn’t take too long for the two young men to finish their own pots.

“By the way, did you manage to sort out the business you mentioned?”

“Yeah, it went better than expected.”

Choi Seonghyun asked casually as they finished their meal, and Kang Taehan nodded in response.

He briefly reminisced about his departure from the hospital ward after finishing the day’s tasks.

‘I’ll take care of it, so Taehan can come and go whenever it’s convenient. Just leave me a message, that’s all.’

Shin Junho had added another thank you after saying, ‘Couldn’t I do that much for my benefactor?’, his tone filled with concern that Kang Taehan might feel burdened.

‘It’s good that I came.’ The achievement of getting a clear answer about the mountain was one thing, but the gratitude and goodwill he received in itself felt good.

It was as if he felt the reward for his good deeds.

“It turned out well. So, how about we go play some billiards after such a long time… Ah, but Taehan, you’re going to lose again.”

“Yes.”

Choi Seong-hyun’s smartphone displayed the score of the baseball game from the previous day.

2:4.

It was a come-from-behind loss, with three runs given up in the top of the ninth inning.

“Choi Tae-jun again. He is the problem, this guy.”

“Who is Choi Tae-jun?”

“He’s a pitcher, but since last year, his form has been off, and this year it’s really not good. These days, if there’s a one-sided loss or a come-from-behind defeat, nine times out of ten it’s when this guy was on the mound.”

Come to think of it, I seemed to have seen his name a few times in Internet articles.

Adjectives like ‘super rookie’ and ‘prospect’ often preceded his name… followed by words like ‘decline’ and ‘fall from grace.’

Is he someone who was doing well and is now in a slump?

Actually, that was clear from just what Choi Seong-hyun said.

If his form has been weird since last year, it means he must have been doing well before that.

‘It happens quite often.’

A promising star shining early might suddenly stop growing and even regress back.

You don’t have to look far for examples, even outside the martial world, it’s quite common.

As a result, some give up on their path, or they choose the wrong methods and become unable to recover.

But for Kang Tae-han, it was unrelated.

He was neither a baseball player nor a fan.

He picked up the bill in front of him and stood up from his seat.

“Anyway, you said let’s play billiards. Where do you wanna go?”

“Oh… What’s the occasion? You’re offering to pay for billiards?”

Choi Seong-hyun smirked and said.

He’d always been confident about his billiards skills.

When it came to betting on games, he never lost.

However, Kang Tae-han was different now.

Of course, this was his first time playing billiards in the modern era…

In other words, he didn’t know his own limits yet.

Kang Tae-han also grinned.

“If you plan to lose, I wouldn’t have suggested we play.”

“Alright. Guess we’ll have to get our coffee at the billiards place.”

They both laughed confidently, a bet agreed upon.

But an hour later…

“…How come you suddenly got so good?”

“I had some stuff to do, so I practiced a bit.”

“If you’re going to be like this, you might as well go pro…”

Choi Seong-hyun had to pay not only for the billiards but also for coffee and even the train ticket to Seoul the next day.

* * *

The weight of expectations is terrifying.

Choi Tae-jun had felt it at some point.

It used to be different.

Since his time in elementary school baseball, he was exceptional compared to others.

If nothing else, when it came to pitching, he was superior to anyone around him.

As such, receiving expectations was natural, and satisfying those expectations was a given.

He had the talent for it and never lacked effort.

But… the professional world was different.

Although they called him a superstar rookie, a promising pitcher, he was not the best.

He was not a genius, and the spot at the top was reserved only for the real geniuses.

He was still under the weight of expectations.

But meeting those expectations was no longer something taken for granted.

It wasn’t just talent and skill; sometimes, even luck was needed to barely make it possible.

‘It’s really tough now.’

Especially lately, Choi Tae-jun felt burdened by the mere act of holding a ball.

The starting point was a shoulder injury he suffered last year.

Due to over-practicing, the injury wasn’t major and he quickly returned to the mound, but…

Ever since, his condition hadn’t fully returned to normal.

Lately, it’s been downright abysmal.

Not only were there frequent leaks of runs, but also more than one come-from-behind loss.

Just like a few days ago.

‘Should I retire?’

If he really couldn’t do it anymore, a clean break might be the way.

But Choi Tae-jun shook his head.

He didn’t want to retire showing only this kind of performance.

“Tae-jun.”

“Yes, Coach.”

“Take it easy for a while.”

“…I am taking it easy.”

Coach Jang sat down next to him as he said this.

He was sitting on the bench of the practice field.

Even though he always had a high training volume, nowadays, he hardly ever leaves the training ground.

Yet he still couldn’t seem to escape the slump, which made it all the more regrettable.

Coach Jang looked at him with a concerned expression.

“That’s not what I mean… Never mind. How’s your shoulder? Still bothering you?”

“Yes. It just won’t go away.”

Choi Tae-jun rotated his right shoulder a couple of times as he spoke.

His shoulder injury was healed cleanly.

But occasionally, there was a niggling feeling in the back of the joint.

Like there was a grain of sand caught between bone and muscle.

Yet, medical check-ups showed nothing, and rehabilitation and acupuncture proved ineffective.

“That’s tough. Really, why is it like this…”

Is it just in my head when in fact there’s no problem?

Am I inventing symptoms as an excuse for my lack of condition?

Such thoughts even started to arise.

“Tae-jun. There’s no game tomorrow, why not go to Seoul for a bit?”

Coach Jang suggested casually to Choi Tae-jun.

“Seoul…?”

“My wife found out about a massage place, they’re supposedly very good. Someone in the same apartment block even had his lower half rejuvenated.”

“A massage, is that it?”

Choi Tae-jun’s lips curled into a sneer.

After visiting so many places without relief, he had no thought that a mere massage could solve his problem.

“It’s by appointment only, hard to get a slot, but my wife managed to get one for tomorrow. Go relax and try it out.”

“…Alright. Thank you.”

Even so, he wasn’t rude enough to refuse help offered with good intentions.

Choi Tae-jun slightly bowed his head to show his gratitude to Coach Jang.



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