Two weeks had passed since the dungeon countercurrent. During that time, the peddler, Lawrence had cemented his position in Kuroa's Glory because of the Sun God's hero, Kay's influence.
Lee Shin Woo fearlessly advanced again and again, and was able to buy a villa once used by an aristocrat with good terms, became able to buy/sell various choice goods from the merchant's guild, and was even authorized to open his own shop. These benefits were supposed to be unattainable by an unknown stranger, yet he had been given them. It made him wonder why he'd worked so hard, struggling with his Acting and Instigation skills thus far.
He couldn't call himself a peddler anymore. After all, he was far off from a regular peddler now.
"They're helping me so openly. ...They're accepting me, even though they know I'm suspicious. That just tells you how much they want Kay's power."
Lee Shin Woo showed off his goods on the display stand outside his store and muttered leisurely. It seemed like he'd just settle down in his shop, but he had bigger ambitions as a peddler.
In two weeks, he'd sell the wine in the auction, and after that, he would go to the next city... the capital and sell his goods there. He wasn't going to take it slow and start from the outer cities as he'd done in the past. Even when he was relaxing, it would be the climax of the story.
"Aren't they using you as bait to get to Kay? Since it's better to keep someone in one place than letting them go around wherever they please."
"Jin... You're a lot smarter than I expect... Hey, wait. I didn't say anything. It was all my secretary!"
Jin, who was tied outside his shop, asked a good question, but then bit off some of Lee Shin Woo's hair and nibbled on it. Lee Shin Woo realized that having his hair, which was created by his Disguise skill, ripped off his head, was incredibly unpleasant.
However, Jin was right. A powerful individual could become a blessing or a curse. The Emperor, or his followers, should've heard the report by now, so the reason they'd let him be for 2 weeks was likely to mobilize someone who could actually contend with Kay.
"I'm looking forward to their response. Will a level 7 pop up, or a level 8. Depending on who they send, I can estimate how strong the Magic Empire is."
"I don't think they'll send a level 8..."
"Well, that's not necessarily true."
During these two weeks, Rem had been travelling across the cities and brainwashing the golems. Once its Mana Parasite had gained the Infection ability, its brainwashing speed increased, and the golems in several large cities were already under its control.
The information he gained from them increased significantly, and he was able to extract info regarding the Magic Empire's main force...
"Listen, but don't be surprised. You might've already guessed, but those bestowed with the title and power from the Emperor are known as the '12 Generals'. Apparently, they're not so different from the Underground Empire's. That means level 8s may exist here too."
For a moment, Jin didn't know what Lee Shin Woo was talking about and looked on vacantly. The 12 generals? He'd thought that term was only used in the Underground Empire. However, the Magic Empire used the exact same term. That meant...
"Shin Woo, do the Magic (Surface) Empire and the Underground Empire share the same name?"
As expected, Jin could be pretty smart when he wanted to be. Lee Shin Woo nodded his head in satisfaction and continued.
"The name of the Magic Empire is Heita. It's exactly the same as the Underground Empire's name."
"That's... Wait a sec. Which one came first?"
"That's unusual. You're quite sharp today. You go straight to the point."
"You know, it's all because I've stuck around you for so long."
"I guess you're right..."
Which came first, the Magic Empire or the Underground Empire? The answer to that question was a lot more important than it might seem. When God had first summoned him, she had called it 'The Empire, Heita, which had flourished underground'. That meant there was a chance that humans born underground had created the Underground Empire.
"But unfortunately, humans originated from the surface. I wasn't sure, so I used every means available to me, and found that humans were indeed born on the surface, not underground."
"Then... we can assume that the Empire was once whole, but was split due to some unknown circumstances. One side must've gone underground."
It was the shocking truth, but it didn't really mean anything to him. The history wasn't what mattered, it was what led history to go down that way, or the cause and effect.
"Think about it, Jin. No matter how wide the underground may be, do you really think that people would voluntarily live down there?"
"Although the Empire flourished underground, do you really think they could live as naturally as those on the surface?"
"Exactly. There's no way they'd be able to. So, let's modify what you said. The Empire, which was once whole, split into two for some unknown reason, and one side was 'forced to live underground'."
The two heroes daringly and extremely naturally figured out the truth. Once he came to the surface, he knew he'd figure out the truth eventually, but he couldn't do anything about the bitter taste.
To think that the Underground Empire that they had to defeat had such a ridiculous truth behind it. What's worse, their jobs didn't change, despite knowing the truth, and they couldn't do anything for the undead. They had no other choice but to exterminate the undead, just as they'd been doing.
"But that means we can't trust anything God said to us..."
"What about? The Underground Empire's curse? You don't think the humans on the surface created that, do you!?"
Jin's blank eye sockets blazed with fury. Unlike Lee Shin Woo, Jin possessed a sense of justice, so he wouldn't be able to let this go. Even so, they couldn't change what they were doing, so... Perhaps it would just fester in his heart.
"No, that's not it. The Underground Empire's undead... When you take a look at the attitudes of the 12 generals, who maintained their intellect, then no. But the Emperor used magic to achieve immortality... and it failed. There's something else to it, something hidden."
Honestly, Lee Shin Woo had a hunch before he'd come up here regarding what that truth may be, but once he actually came to the surface, he became even more sure of his assumption.
But because it was only a hypothesis without any evidence backing it up, he couldn't just say it outright. If his hypothesis is true, then... he would have to sock God in the face before he felt any better.
"So, we have to more thoroughly investigate the surface, if for no other reason than to find out the truth. That's what I'm leaving to Rem."
At the same time, Lee Shin Woo acted as Lawrence, the peddler, and the hero Kay, gaining what he could from the surface. And what he wanted probably lay in the capital.
"Shin Woo. You're planning on meeting the Emperor, aren't you?"
"I don't have to meet him, but if need be. It might turn out that way in the end."
"I knew this would happen."
He remembered Pleine's warning. She didn't say it outright, but he'd guessed how powerful the Emperor was based on her attitude.
He was probably level 9. If not, then Pleine wouldn't have warned him like that. Since Lee Shin Woo could take on a level 8 now. Even if he fought against Feotane Von Seldin, he could come out of it alive.
'But I can't avoid him just because he's dangerous.'
Pleine had misunderstood something. Although he had to oppose all the undead, he didn't need to do that for the surface dwellers. He didn't need to avoid him like the plague just because his level was high.
Could the Emperor even see through his Disguise and Acting skills? He was joking of course, but Lee Shin Woo thought he'd be able to somewhat trick God at this point. No matter how high their level was, so long as they were a human, they won't be able to see through Lee Shin Woo's facade.
"You know, it might be fun to become one of the 12 generals in the meantime..."
"Yeah, I was just joking. Even I'm not confident enough to work under him and keep acting."
Right after he spoke, he felt someone coming towards his shop. When he looked over, he saw a heavily armed female knight. It was kind of funny seeing her being so tense around a peddler.
"D-Does the Sun God's hero, Kay live here?"
"He doesn't, but he lives in a place where I can contact him."
"Then please relay this message to Sir Kay! The pope of the Sun God religion requests an audience! He came to the lord's castle without any prior notice, so you have no idea how surprised we... Eup."
He thought it'd be better if he seemed more distinguished, so he'd called himself the Sun God's hero. To think it'd turn out like this. However... the Sun God religion. It wasn't so bad when he thought about it. No, it was actually great.
Lee Shin Woo didn't know how prosperous the Sun God religion was, but considering how the female knight was acting, they were definitely an organization that the Magic Empire couldn't deal with so easily. If that's the case, then he would be able to meet with the Emperor assuming a more favorable position.
He immediately formulated several plans in his head, and continuously broke up and reassembled pieces of his plan. As a result...
"I understand. I'll tell him right away."
"Mm, thank you. We can prepare a carriage for you..."
"No, he'll probably arrive there on his own."
"Mm, that would be disrespectful to the Sun God's hero... However, if that's what he wants, then I guess we have no choice. I understand. I'll let them know. Then I'll get going now..."
"Yes. Come back again!"
The female knight sighed in relief and left. Lee Shin Woo thought he needed an assistant ASAP and cleaned the store. He couldn't get there on a horse, so he would have to leave Jin here.
He first disguised himself as Kay where no one was looking. Then, he tied the greatsword on his back and walk over to the lord's castle. Lee Shin Woo looked incredibly dignified, and everyone he passed on the road took notice of him. Moreover, fire wrapped around his surroundings, so there was no one who didn't know who he was.
He encountered various people along the way. Some spoke of the 'Sun God's hero' from behind him, while others approached him and said it to his face. There were even some who were afraid of being harmed and just stepped back. Of course, this would enhance the influence of the Sun God's hero, Kay, and at the same time, ensure that Lawrence, the peddler, would remain safe.
[Lv7 Pope of the Sun God religion - Aurel Genisman]
30 minutes later, Lee Shin Woo met the Pope of the Sun God religion in the castle's living room. From first glance, he looked like a middle-aged man, but his level was higher than he'd expected. He wasn't just a representative of the religion.
"You moved quite boisterously. So much so that I question how you were able to hide your identity until now."
"No. It's fine since the Emperor's no doubt aware that we've come here. No... actually, that ostentatious attitude of yours might fit with our goal. You may just be acting conspicuous, but that's even more in our favor."
Lee Shin Woo understood what he was saying and smiled. He thought the pope would say something like 'You're the hero the Sun God has chosen!? I can't believe it!' and test him first, but was instead showing his hand.
In layman's terms, this was the Pope's intent. 'It doesn't matter if you're really the Sun God's hero or not. Why don't you work with us?'.
"I'd like to hear about it in more detail."
Honestly, Lee Shin Woo didn't hate these kinds of people. If their goals aligned, they would have a good relationship.
"I'm glad you understand, Sun God's hero."
The Pope grinned and said.
Unfortunately for the people on the surface, Lee Shin Woo and the Pope really hit it off.