<Chapter 43. Return - 1>

<Chapter 43. Return - 1>

"None can hide from me on the surface, especially if they're strong. But that wasn't the case with you. I formed several hypotheses, but none of them fit. Of them, there was only one remaining possibility: that you came from a place beyond my gaze. And that means you either came from another world or the underground..."

"Hoh, what an interesting deduction."

"You may think that you're the only hero here, but God has brought several heroes here from other worlds."

No, he already knew that. After all, there were two other heroes on the surface right now!

"But unfortunately, God's summoning magic is too conspicuous. After the golem network was created, I would find and kill any hero summoned on the surface, unless one of God's apostles secretly descended into the world."

Wait a sec... The surface, not the underground? This is the first time he'd heard about it. So God had sent heroes to the surface rather than the underground in the past? Why? In order to defeat the Magic Emperor, who assumed complete control over the Empire?

Of course, just looking at the Emperor gave him some idea. The Underground Empire wasn't the only problem. Both the surface and the underground had their fair share of problems!

"Hoo."

The Emperor noticed that Lee Shin Woo was beginning to listen, sported a disgusting smile fit for a middle-aged man, and continued.

"God can no longer send heroes to the surface. Thus, you came from underground. Moreover, the barrier doesn't allow the living to pass through it, so you must be undead. But if you were one of the underground's undead, then you wouldn't have been able to leave..."

"Mm..."

Wait a sec. What he was saying was largely contradictory. On the outside, Lee Shin Woo acted calm, but he was actually quite shocked.

'The hell is this guy saying?'

Let's say that the Emperor was talking about the barrier under the assumption that Lee Shin Woo came from the underground.

But what did he mean after that? If he were one of the underground's undead, then he couldn't have come out? Why not? They had gone through the trouble of turning themselves into the undead to pass through the barrier, so why couldn't they leave?

But the Emperor spoke firmly and voiced his conclusion as if he were putting an end to Lee Shin Woo's many questions.

"So I thought about it. If God wanted to nurture a hero without being noticed by me, then she would call them underground and transform them into an undead so that they could go through the barrier! Am I right? Undead hero!"

"...Phew."

"Hoo. Not so relaxed now, hmm."

Of course he wouldn't be. Since it was so laughable! That probably wasn't God's plan when she made him an undead! He'd gotten it all wrong, yet he'd still come to the right conclusion: that he was an undead hero. Lee Shin Woo couldn't suppress his admiration.

Whereas, the Emperor, who couldn't know what he was thinking, raised a hand towards Lee Shin Woo and stretched out his fingers (Lightning Bind, which restrained Lee Shin Woo's movements, got even tighter). Then, he smiled in satisfaction.

"You fooled me with that disguise ability of yours... I acknowledge it. It's impressive enough that even I cannot replicate it, but you were much too rash and arrogant. That's why you failed."

"...I'd like to ask one last thing. How do you plan on killing me? I don't know what you think of me, but I'm the one who killed that divine bird. You won't be able to kill me through trivial means."

"Hoo. You're still bluffing, even though you can't even move a finger due to my Lightning Bind."

The Emperor smiled and refuted him. He must've thought what Lee Shin Woo was saying was ridiculous.

"It was called a divine bird long ago. But it was weakened by my barrier, the parasites, and the undead curse. You think I don't know? That you could barely beat it by sacrificing all the Sun God religion's paladins and priests?"

"Mm."

As he thought. On the way back to the capital, Lee Shin Woo and the Pope had conversed discreetly. If his abilities were revealed, then the Emperor would be more wary of him than necessary, so they would spread rumors that not only was the divine bird weakened but that the Sun God religion had sacrificed its paladins and priests to defeat it.

Of course, he didn't doubt the Pope's abilities, but those rumors had reached the Emperor in just one day. Not only that, the Emperor completely fell for it. Did the Evileye General not properly report to him?

No, the Emperor probably thought that she was exaggerating his abilities to save herself, and may not have completely trusted in her report.

'Then that means... That innate element, Lightning Bind, was nothing more than the ability to connect himself with someone else whenever he wanted. This means he can't read one's mind, see the past, or get notified if something doesn't make sense in his domain.'

Its power was incredible, yes, but compared to his other innate elements, which could affect cause and effect, Lee Shin Woo felt like it was weaker. Was Lee Shin Woo the only one who thought that way? Perhaps the Emperor hadn't even completely mastered the darkness element.

'It looks perfect, but this guy's information network is full of holes. It's fine, now that I know.'

Then again, the only thing he could interfere with was the status quo, so he'd so diligently created golems and spread them across the Empire. Moreover, it seemed like the Emperor wasn't yet aware that Rem had taken control of those golems, so he couldn't help but laugh.

No one other than Lee Shin Woo could've thought up something like this. With this, however, Lee Shin Woo was already above the Emperor. What the Emperor said next was proof of this.

"Shall I tell you what the biggest reason you were discovered was? Someone with the strength to match a divine bird couldn't have been so easily ensnared by my ability. You're the hero who defeated the divine bird one-on-one when you couldn't even resist my ability and are just waiting for death? Haha, what a funny lie."

"If I die here, then it'll become rough on you. You shouldn't look down on the feelings of so many people."

It wasn't a threat. He wasn't trying to buy time either. He didn't need to anymore anyway. He was just curious. Rumors of the dungeon and the undead curse were spreading throughout the capital, so if Lee Shin Woo were to die, everyone would suspect and hate the Emperor. So what was he thinking?

"That's only temporary. Didn't I tell you before? As time passes, the people have no choice but to fall back on the palace, on the absolute Emperor. Without you, the religious order cannot lead people. You... must be sacrificed to maintain public order."

"..."

Another simple answer. This so-called Emperor placed way too much confidence in his power. He was speechless that a guy like this would be brazen enough to utter the word 'arrogant'.

Of course, he possessed such absolute power, which enabled him to control the Empire. Moreover, he'd become a Vampire and thus immortal, so he could understand why the Emperor felt like he had nothing to fear... But it seemed like he still hadn't realized it. That nothing lasts forever in the world.

"If I had my way, I would've destroyed Lawrence as well, but there's no way a mere merchant can take your place. There should be no problem with just leaving him be."

"You shouldn't look down on Lawrence."

Since I'm Lawrence.

"Haha. I don't look down on people. I make my decisions objectively. And if I'm acting confident, then there's only one reason for that. ...It's because I am the Emperor who rules over all creation!"

Having said his piece, the Emperor tightly clenched his hand. The large quantity of mana enclosing Lee Shin Woo... No, the entire mansion converged onto Lee Shin Woo and exploded!

And as a result, the Emperor... or the Evileye General was affected as well. She was dead the moment she'd picked Lee Shin Woo over the Emperor.

- Saaa

The magic explosion muffled all sound, and the entire mansion was vaporized. In its place, the darkness of the capital flooded in and filled the area to the brim.

The only thing that proved that the Evileye General had been here was her skull... and soon, even that melted into the air and disappeared.

[The Wild Card skill has become Lv2. All stats have increased by 30.]

[The Beginner Dark Shadow element has become Lv5. Magic has increased by 20.]

[The Acting skill has become Lv21. Your acting can even fool magic.]

[You have acquired the Lv7 Evileye General, Shurina Von Hegel's skull.]

"So in order to fool the Emperor, you're hosting a hero get-together here?"

Lee Shin Woo smiled at Pleine, who had pushed her head forward over the counter and looked speechless.

"It's been a while. It's nice to see you, Pleine. Haha."

"It's nice to see you too... Wait a sec! That's not what I want to say!"

"Wow. That scary shop lady's talking so proudly...!"

[Was I able to enter because we formed an official contract? It's a really interesting space.]

[So Lee Shin Woo, who is that woman!? I sense divinity from her!]

That's right. Lee Shin Woo's entire party was in the secret shop right now. To be more specific, Lee Shin Woo, who'd sensed the Emperor's visit, had sent everyone else to the secret shop. Then, he'd spoken with the Emperor and come to the secret shop after.

"I can't believe you acted in front of the Emperor and managed to fool him."

"Well, that's my karma. Ah, and because he was using the Evileye General's body, he couldn't control his magic perfectly, which is one of the reasons that I could deal with him so easily. That Lightning Bind element or whatnot didn't seem like it was at a very high level either."

And what were his countless reasons? He had several ways of dealing with the situation, but he'd chosen Wild Card and Dark Shadow this time around. The Emperor said it, didn't he? That there was no way someone powerful enough to fight the divine bird head-to-head wouldn't be able to resist his Lightning Bind.

He was right. The Emperor believed that he was restraining Lee Shin Woo with his Lightning Bind, but what he was actually restraining was Lee Shin Woo's armor. If Lee Shin Woo had completely understood the Emperor's innate element, then his armor wouldn't have been restrained by his opponent's magic either.

"The next step was easy. When he unleashed that magic explosion, I used Dark Shadow to twist cause and effect, focusing the explosive power onto the Evileye General. I hid my body within the darkness, took the Evileye General's bone, and then came here, to the secret shop."

When one reaches the peak of the darkness element, doing something like this became possible. Lee Shin Woo waved his hand as if he were bragging. His hand softly melted into the darkness, flickered, and then returned to its original form. Seeing that, Pleine shook even more.

"What's worse, you came without any permits! You shouldn't just come in here whenever you want with the Heaven Door's Key!"

"Well, it couldn't be helped. Since I don't have any permits left..."

When he came to the surface, the Heaven Door's Key had eaten all of his permits, and he hadn't gained any on the surface. If Ye Jin Jin didn't have any permits left, then he would've had to use the Heaven Door's Key to get them here, but if he did, the Emperor would've known.

"We're not going to stay for very long, so just look the other way this time. If I had been properly rewarded for my actions on the surface, then I would've had permits to spare."

"Ah, nothing makes sense anymore..."

Lee Shin Woo looked at the grief-stricken shop owner and grinned. Then, he suddenly thought of something. The one thing the Emperor had said that had bothered him.

"Pleine, I'd like to ask you something."

"I can't promise you that I'll answer it, but go ahead."

"Why hasn't the Undead Emperor gone to the surface when he can supposedly go through the barrier by being undead?"

"..."

Pleine's eyes became empty. Lee Shin Woo spoke even more forcefully.

"Can't you tell me at least this much? I deserve to hear it."

"...You should already know the answer to that question, Mr. Shin Woo."

Pleine responded with a bitter smile. Immediately after, she said something so simple and clear... the despondent truth.

"It's because the undead cannot move forward."

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Boko's Thoughts

Happy Memorial Day!