It had been a long time since he'd last visited the secret shop. Beyond the counter, Pleine placed a spoon inside her bowl, which was filled with huge chunks of meat, and then looked at Lee Shin Woo.
"Guten Abend! I was just about to eat. Would you like to eat with me?"
"Please don't do that. Since I was tortured by the other heroes."
"Ah, that's right. I forgot... Wait, Mr. Shin Woo, you're a human right now!?"
After they'd gone through their normal routine (it wouldn't feel normal without it), Pleine noticed Lee Shin Woo's appearance and was astonished.
Lee Shin Woo finally realized that he'd been maintaining his human form all this time, so he deactivated his Disguise skill. Pleine sighed in relief, which was kind of funny.
"I had a suspicion that you could do it, but it really is impressive. Can you eat in that form...?"
"Please keep this a secret from Jin, but I think I'll be able to if I level up more."
That's right. Lee Shin Woo's Disguise skill had infinite potential. To be more specific, the word 'Disguise' didn't accurately describe the transformation; he could feel the skill's latent potential.
He had a feeling that he, a skeleton, would be able to pass off as a human sometime in the future with his Disguise skill. But he couldn't really tell anyone, as he wasn't 100% sure. If he gave someone false hope and it didn't work, then Jin would feel even more hopeless.
"Well, if it doesn't work, there are always other options. Anyway, the other heroes motivated me, so I've been thinking about a lot of things."
"It's so strange watching you do something you've never learned before. What did you do in your original world, Mr. Shin Woo? I heard that magic didn't exist in that world."
"I was just a normal salaryman."
"Yes, yes. I understand."
Lee Shin Woo replied honestly, but Pleine shook her head as if she didn't believe him. Then, she clapped her hands and changed topics.
"More importantly, congratulations on your consecutive wins against the 12 generals. It seems like you've taken care of Ethan Cruz and the other traitors, so let me thank you personally."
"Yes. But for the time being, the Empire's going to be in chaos, so it'll take some time before we can take care of another one of the 12 generals."
"You went wild, so I guess it can't be helped. But it's not all bad. You knew it was going to happen, didn't you? It's good that the heroes were the ones who prompted it."
Lee Shin Woo silently nodded his head. Yeah, he didn't know what the other heroes thought, but he believed this battle came out ok.
Especially because they forced the Empire, as well as its opposing factions to act... Although it'd become more dangerous from here on out, there were now more pieces he could use on the board.
"But the problem's whether or not the heroes can adapt to this quickly changing environment..."
"You're amazing, Shin Woo. You talk about it like it's someone else's business. ...Actually, it really isn't your problem."
The remaining task was to level up the other heroes ASAP. Those who participated in the battle needed to be strong enough to battle one of the 12 generals one-on-one, and the lowest level newbie heroes, Ye Jin Jin and Silene Viesa, needed to be able to easily take on the highest rank undead, aside from the 12 generals. That would be ideal.
Whereas Retadane, who was the strongest amongst them, had huge emotional issues. Fixing that would be his most difficult task...
"Now that I think about it, your little sister came out unscathed. Though her Berserker vibe kind of scared me."
"...Ah, you found out?"
"So you were sisters."
"You tricked me!? How cowardly!"
Pleine, who realized she'd been tricked, complained loudly, but Lee Shin Woo realized that he'd been correct, muttered to himself, and nodded his head.
He'd had his suspicions when he'd first met Seira Von Retadane, but he hadn't been able to ask her himself. But since he was close to Pleine, it was easy to get it out of her.
"Keuk, how did you find out? None of the other heroes who've met her found out."
"You two are alike. I could tell right away."
"...We're alike? That's the first time I've heard that since I was born. Everyone else said that we were completely different from each other."
Lee Shin Woo spoke, and her expression became odd. Was she happy that she and her younger sister looked alike? He smiled while watching her, but she suddenly frowned.
"Being compared to her feels really unpleasant. There are things that even you can't say, Mr. Shin Woo!"
"Who's prettier, me or her? Please answer honestly."
"Good. It doesn't seem like you're lying. I'll forgive this time."
He felt like his body would break from the pressure of her gaze alone. Of course, he honestly thought Pleine was prettier, but Seira's body was more his type. However, he wasn't stupid enough to say that out loud.
"Now then, would you like to see our products? A level 7 bone hasn't come in yet, but would you at least like to see our gear?"
"Ah, I didn't come here to buy anything today. I came here for some advice."
"Advice...? Hoo, hoo. If you really wanted to see me so badly, then you could've just said so. To be honest, you're not good enough for me, but if you change your body, then I think you'll be my type! Good luck!"
"I'm getting mad."
Lee Shin Woo spoke after she'd politely apologized. He wanted to know more about the secret shop permits.
"I've gathered 131 secret shop permits."
"I've gathered 131 secret shop permits. Ah, I got the message when I gathered 100 of them though."
He'd received that message when he was in the middle of a fight. That's why he hadn't looked at it in detail and just passed over it, but after he was done with the fighting, the first thing he checked was what he could do with those 100 hard earned permits.
"The message told me to ask the secret shop."
"I'm sorry? Ask the secret shop? Why is it telling you to come here?"
"As I thought, this is the first time you've heard it too..."
Perhaps Lee Shin Woo was the first one to gather 100 secret shop permits since the secret shop's inception. He looked at Pleine's stupefied expression and was sure.
Moreover, 'ask the secret shop'? When he gathered 10 secret shop permits, he received a message, asking him if he wanted to go to God's garden. In comparison, this seemed a lot less thought out.
"Uah, you really... Mm. In that case... But still."
"She's gone crazy."
Either it wasn't ready yet, or something would be created. That's what Lee Shin Woo thought would happen, and he was correct. After all, what more proof did he need? Pleine was flustered and communicating with God. Did she finish speaking with God? She soon got a hold of herself, looked at Lee Shin Woo, and grumbled.
"...You should've told me earlier, you damn hag."
"Isn't that blasphemous? Won't you get weaker or something?"
"Mr. Shin Woo, we've come to a conclusion."
Pleine ignored Lee Shin Woo's question and moved on.
"It's never been done before, but... Mm, I think it'll work. If it's you and your partner. It can be used by the two of you. Yes, probably."
"So what is it?"
"Hoo... I'll tell you after I'm done eating."
Before she continued, Pleine touched the stew on the counter with one finger and heated it. Then, she scarfed it down right before his very eyes. She was really going at it, yet Lee Shin Woo still felt some dignity from it, which surprised him even more.
She had finished eating within a minute. Was it too hot? Her eyes were slightly teary. If she knew that was going to happen, then she shouldn't have heated it again.
"Now I'll tell you. By using 100 secret shop permits, you gain permission to go to the surface. Of course, it's not a one-way trip, but a round-trip. It doesn't sound like a bad idea to take a breather at the surface since the Underground Empire's in chaos right now."
"I said you could go to the surface. You're the first hero to do so. And you'll probably be the last."
He had somewhat anticipated this. However, he didn't think it'd actually be possible. Lee Shin Woo continued to stare at her, dumbfounded, but that wouldn't make her explain any further. There were several things that concerned him, but he would have to figure that all out on his own.
"What will you do, Mr. Shin Woo?"
"...If I can, I'd like to go there immediately. Let's go now."
"Alright. Then let's call over your partner, Jin Taylor, first. It's quite easy because of your deep connection."
Lee Shin Woo's tone was serious as he gave the okay. However, Pleine replied nonchalantly, as if she'd expected him to say that, and flicked her hand. He heard a refreshing sound, and right after, Jin appeared right next to him.
"Huh? What's going on? Why am I here?"
"If you have some unfinished business in the Underground Empire, then please tell me now. You can leave right away if that's what you want."
"Leave? To where? What's going on, Shin Woo?"
"Apparently, we're going to the surface. I'll explain the details later."
Lee Shin Woo was having trouble processing all this, so he couldn't explain it to Jin right now. For the time being, he needed to listen to Pleine. He briefly used his head. The Paul Zero Corps would be in a safe location and everything else...
"Could I bring a small bird with me? It's a golem."
"A golem? Ah, that one's connected to you as well, Mr. Shin Woo. Alright. It'll cost you 30 more secret shop permits for the round trip."
"Why don't you just steal them!?"
"Hoo. It's not something under my control. I'll summon it for free, so don't hate me so much."
Soon, Rem was summoned into the secret shop as well. Rem wasn't flustered at all and just perched atop Lee Shin Woo's shoulder, a severe contrast to Jin's reaction to the summon.
"Then, you're all set now, right? I'll start right away."
Lee Shin Woo rode atop Jin after Rem had perched on his shoulder. He had barely adapted to the Underground Empire yet he was going to the surface now. He didn't know what would happen, so he prepared himself to be ready for a fight at any moment. Riding atop Jin was one of those preparations.
"Hoo... I'm starting!"
Pleine left the counter and stretched her hands towards the empty floor. Lee Shin Woo felt all his secret shop permits flow into Pleine. The more that flowed into her, the brighter the light shined from underneath them, until it formed an extremely powerful holy magic circle...
[The Lv8 Bone Gate is activating.]
At that moment, Lee Shin Woo's bone ring flew off. Pleine, who was performing the ritual, as well as Lee Shin Woo were surprised and watched. Then, the bone ring swelled in size and stuck to the luminescent floor. And...
[The Bone Gate is absorbing the magic circle.]
[The Bone Gate has evolved to Lv9.]
A miracle happened, one that even God hadn't expected.