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Stop, Friendly Fire! Book 9

<Chapter 39. New Party Member - 8 [End of Volume 9]>


"How stupid."

Jin, who'd learned the truth, said and went silent. He probably had so much on his mind that he couldn't say anything more. Lee Shin Woo also had mixed feelings on the subject, so he didn't say anything either. Soon, Jin spoke, as if he were muttering.

"If the Emperor's true goal was turning them into the undead and he succeeded, then... Why are we fighting them? Did even God abandon them?"

"No, it's to protect the world. If the undead curse spreads to the surface, then the world is as good as dead."

Since Lee Shin Woo was undead himself, he didn't want to label them like this. But strictly speaking, the undead consumed the world's resources, without creating anything in return.

That was their biggest flaw. If all the beings that lived on this world became undead, then the only course the world could take is ruin. It was only natural that God sought to eliminate the Undead Empire's curse.

"But the Undead Empire's so pitiful."

"The hell are you talking about? Everyone's trying their hardest to live. What are you going to do, let the underground inhabitants go to the surface? If you do that, then the underground and the surface will go to war. It's been so long since the underground was isolated from the surface. Even if the underground takes their revenge on the surface, the surface dwellers will be the only ones who'll suffer."

"Then why do you look so unwell? You don't sympathize with the underground citizens, nor do you hate the surface dwellers, so why..."

"I feel bad for the heroes."

"Huh...?"

As expected, Jin hadn't gotten that far yet. Jin looked bewildered and Lee Shin Woo explained kindly.

"The heroes don't know anything and are being manipulated by God. They don't know what happened to the people underground, why they became undead, or how the surface is faring. That's pitiful enough, but even if they eliminate the undead curse, all that's left for them is despair."

"Why despair... Ah!"

Jin realized belatedly and was shocked.

"The barrier that prevents the living from passing through... I see! So the heroes can't leave the Underground Empire either!"

"Yeah. God's using the heroes to do her dirty work, but once they've eliminated the curse, she plans on burying them underground."

"How could she... Wait a sec. What if they collect 100 permits; if they get that many, they can see the surface. Wasn't her intent to let them escape to the surface?"

"No, absolutely not."

God's power seemed absolute, but Lee Shin Woo knew that God, and by extension, Pleine, were just bluffing.

"You've never thought about why we're the only ones given the mission of collecting the secret shop permits? Even though there were dozens of heroes (seniors) before us."

"Just us... Isn't it because, other than you, it's impossible to gather that many permits?"

"No. It'd be really tough, but it's not undoable. You can also get quests from God. If God had told our seniors that they could go the surface if they gathered 100 permits, then they probably would have tried."

However, God had never given them that option. She had only given that option to Lee Shin Woo by surreptitiously saying 'save the permits'. Why did she do that? Lee Shin Woo realized why she'd done that early on.

"If the other heroes were to gather 100 permits, it'd be meaningless."

"Meaningless... What are you talking about?"

"There were several clues. Lee Man Bok hated God, and Pleine showed some signs as well."

Ah, and now that he thought about it, he'd heard it before he had brought Jin to the secret shop to leave for the surface. Lee Shin Woo remembered that time and kindly told Jin what Pleine had told him.

"She said if it were just me and you, it should be possible, but she also said I'd be the 'first and the last'. Why would I be the last? That's because the other heroes can't pass through the gate."

"Ah...!?"

That's right. Pleine had borrowed God's power to create a gate that led to the surface, and while that gate looked like it could be used by the other heroes, it actually couldn't.

Although she seemed omnipotent, even God couldn't do anything about the barrier that divided the surface and the underground. So it made sense that Lee Shin Woo and Jin, who 'weren't alive', could use the gate. Looks can be deceiving. Rem also wasn't alive, so it could go through without any problems.

It made sense that the other heroes hadn't heard of gathering 100 permits in order to go to the surface before. No matter how many permits they saved, God didn't have a way of sending them to the surface!

"But the Bone Gate absorbed God's power and evolved into a level 9 artifact. It blew God's expectations out of the water and possessed power greater than that of the chaos element barrier. God probably wanted us to do something about the barrier from the surface, but the problem had already been solved. So, there wouldn't have been any problem if we went straight back underground when we first arrived on the surface."

"It sounds really stupid."

"Yeah. It does sound stupid, even while I'm saying it."

Of course, the fact that Lee Shin Woo's Heaven Door's Key could transport Ye Jin Jin to the surface was enough proof.

However, that was merely the outcome. The fact that the Heaven Door's Key had even been born was strictly luck. Its creation hadn't been God's intention, but a result of Lee Shin Woo's karma. It wouldn't have even been enough if all the heroes traveled around the Underground Empire and went on a 'three steps, one bow' pilgrimage to Lee Shin Woo.

"If we put everything together, we find that... God's a bitch."

"Uh, yeah."

Lee Shin Woo was flustered by Jin's extreme bluntness and agreed with him. Although it wasn't his intention, he ended up defending her a little bit.

"But I feel like God wasn't pleased with her choices either. Whether she decided that things couldn't go on as they were, or that she pitied the heroes... It doesn't matter. After all, she turned you and me into the undead."

"Did she make it so that we could go to the surface after we've completed our mission? Sure. But we're undead! Moreover, it doesn't change the fact that the other heroes can't escape!"

"Yeah, so she didn't have a clear goal or plan in place. She probably just... hoped? We're both heroes and also entities that can enter the outside world; she was hoping that we would do something about that barrier."

"She should've been more clear!"

"Well, we did deal with it though."

From the very beginning, Lee Shin Woo didn't think God was looking far into the future. As he said, she probably just hoped they'd deal with it; that's why they were in this situation.

And realistically speaking, they had dealt with it. Lee Shin Woo thought 'you sure are lucky that it turned out as you wanted'. If he just dealt with the undead curse, then everything would be... Lee Shin Woo knew that that was probably what God was thinking, and it had played exactly as she wanted.

"So she put us into this situation because of some unclear expectations..."

"It's not like I don't sympathize with her at all though. Whatever the rule that's imposed on her, God definitely can't directly influence the world. And it's true that this world is really suffocating."

"I still can't forgive her. I want to beat the crap out of her."

"I don't plan on forgiving that damn woman either."

Lee Shin Woo smiled bitterly, and Jin asked him a question as if he'd just thought of something.

"But you said that living beings couldn't go to the surface, even with God's power. Then how did Pleine go to the surface?"

"You know that Pleine possesses an extraordinary power, right?"

"Yeah."

"Isn't it the same reason that she can't directly intervene with matters regarding the Underground Empire?"

"Ah!"

If Pleine were here, then she'd say something along the lines of 'stop being a hero, lay down a mat, and watch the store for me.'. Jin immediately agreed with his easy to understand explanation.

"In other words, Pleine is also..."

"Yeah. She's either a god herself or a being like one. That's what I think. If I had to call her something, then... I'd call her an angel."

"An angel? That really doesn't fit her."

Pleine was Seira's older sister but was also a human at the time of the Empire's demise. At the time, something had happened that allowed her to keep her appearance. Even so, it was quite laughable. There was one brother and two sisters (Seagald, Seira, and Pleine), yet one of them was an angel, another was a hero, and the last one was an undead.

'Pleine must not know what to think. Since her brother and her sister have been reduced to that...'

Then, Lee Shin Woo felt really curious. Pleine obviously knew, but did Retadane know the real reason as to why the Emperor had created the undead curse?

If he just took into account her desire to eliminate all the undead, then it might seem like she didn't know, but there was still a chance that she knew, yet she acted like that anyway. If it's the latter, then he had to recognize how strong willed she was.

[Paul Zero, are you ok?]

"Yeah. I feel great since you led me here."

[Mm. I actually have a lot on my mind...]

"Don't worry. I'll protect you no matter what."

[...Yeah. I trust you, Paul Zero!]

Now that he thought about it, there was another puzzle he'd solved. There was an order that every golem in the Magic Empire’s golem network shared that was to be their top priority: 'spirits - search and destroy'. Of course, once he'd discovered it, he discreetly canceled that order.

When he'd first discovered the order, Lee Shin Woo wondered why the Empire was going out of its way to look for and eliminate spirits. But it made sense if the Magic Empire always hated the spirits.

It wasn't enough that they slaughtered and chased out the spirits, they were still actively trying to find and eliminate spirits. He was speechless. Perhaps that was why the golems were so spread out across the Magic Empire... Wait a sec.

"Wait... Golems?"

"Shin Woo?"

At that moment, a light bulb went off in Lee Shin Woo's head. It was just a hypothesis, but when he combined everything he'd experienced and the memories he'd acquired from the golems, then everything made sense.

"The living can't go through the barrier."

"Yeah, so what?"

"...But the golems can go through. Since they're not living."

"Yeah, that's why Pleine said it was ok when you asked if you could bring Rem along."

The magic engineering involved in controlling golems was advanced on the surface. It was probably much greater than that of the Underground Empire's. 

And one day, one of the Underground Empire's 12 generals, Arema Steelworker, appeared out of nowhere, and greatly advanced their golem manufacturing technique.

"Arema Steelworker... He didn't betray the Emperor."

"Why are you suddenly talking about him? Wait a sec, a golem?"

"Yeah. Arema Steelworker's a golem. He was probably a golem the moment he showed up in the Underground Empire. He coaxed the (Undead) Emperor, who wanted to leave, to help him develop golems, but he actually took full control over the golems..."

All the information he'd acquired on Arema Steelworker fell into place. Everything he'd done in the past, which he couldn't understand before, made sense when he took into account the circumstances on the surface.

"He's a spy that came from the surface. Perhaps he was sent to watch over, or even kill the (Undead) Emperor... He didn't betray the Emperor, he was always his enemy."

He voluntarily placed his soul into a golem and entered the Underground Empire. Why? So that he could leave when he'd completed his mission! And he fooled the Emperor, who was studying golems so that he could pass through the barrier, and increased the size of his forces. Did he not get good results from his research into placing souls into golems? It's not that he couldn't, it's that he didn't!

And even now, he received orders from the surface and was staying underground. Arema Steelworker’s true purpose wasn't to live quietly or to annihilate the undead. He was watching the Undead Emperor, and making sure that they couldn't leave the underground.

"Wait a sec. Then... This might get interesting."

"Uwah, Shin Woo, your expression's turned really evil... Turn back into an expressionless skeleton. Hey, turn back."

Lee Shin Woo completely ignored Jin, summoned Rem, and gave him an order.

Five minutes later, Lee Shin Woo got his answer, and thought 'I won'.


[1] E/N: .

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