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Chapter 119: If You Live As You Dream – V

"I-I am so, so, so sorry, Mister Jihu!" Charlotte clenched her hands against the hem of her white dress and said, "I-I don't know what came over me..."

I let out a bright smile and said, "It's fine, your majesty. I've had worse happen to me."

...And let's not think about a few of the mishaps that occurred when a few of my girls thought it'd be fun to get too kinky with wine in a few places it shouldn't be poured.

The inner garden of Eva's palace.

After Charlotte's lightning baptism and our subsequent clean up, Advisor Kuhne said he would handle the aftermath and bid us farewell.

Charlotte was still a little shaken up, so I suggested that we retire to a more comfortable setting to chat.

Thus our current situation, me and Charlotte sitting at a table in the inner garden of Eva's palace while Ian took on the role of a suave butler serving us refreshments.

Speaking of Ian...

"Tea, your majesty." Ian politely tipped his hat and set down a cup of black tea in front of Charlotte.

"Oh!" Charlotte smiled and said, "Thank you, Sir Ian."

Ian smiled back and said, "There's no need for that, your majesty. These old bones have hardly done anything worthy of that title."

Charlotte drew her tea cup close to her and then shook her head. "That isn't true! I heard from Unni that Sir Ian is responsible for building the Arden Valley Fortress." She paused and said, "I believe she said you were their Grand Architect?"

Ian froze and looked at me.

I felt my lips twitch, but carefully suppressed the smile and laugh from hearing that bit of news. Instead, I said, "Mind pouring me some tea too, 'Sir Ian?'"

Ian frowned, but eventually sighed and poured me a cup of black tea as well. After that, he set the tea kettle down on the table and gave Charlotte a deep bow. "Forgive my rudeness, your majesty, but I believe there are other matters I must attend to at the moment. I will leave you in the very capable hands of our Leader, Jihu."

Wait. Oi, you bastard!

I stared at Ian, doing my best to glare at him without showing anything to Charlotte.

He stared at me and just smiled. A smile that would've been a shit-eating grin if Charlotte wasn't watching him.

Charlotte smiled and said, "You don't need to bow or apologize, Sir Ian. If there's something you have to do, it's something you have to do. A-And..." She glanced over at me, a hint of red on her cheeks. "I-I-I am sure I will be fine with M-Mister Jihu here..."

A vivid crimson thread flared to life before winding itself into the mess that was already chained around me.

...Of course. Why was I not surprised?

Was Claire right? Did I have a thing for blondes?

Or maybe the Oppa thing wasn't just a coincidence?

I mean, Charlotte 'was' cute and she did look pretty beautiful amidst that golden lightning...

...Okay. Maybe I 'did' have a thing for blondes.

Did Ian guess my thoughts? He chuckled and then bid farewell, leaving me alone with just Charlotte.

Charlotte looked at me and fidgeted in her seat. "S-So..." She stared into my eyes and then looekd away, a clear blush on her face.

Oh man. She had it bad.

Okay. Time to draw lines and establish boundaries quick-

Ah, wait. First, gotta take care of her mental state.

"I'm honored that you took time out of your day to speak with me, your majesty. Especially after experiencing such a traumatic event." I bowed my head and said, "It must not be easy suffering such betrayal from someone so close to you."

Charlotte froze and then let out a long sigh. "It is not." She looked down into her cup of tea and quietly said, "I really believed in Miss Jung Sua. But I guess I should have seen the signs." She let out a bitter laugh and said, "Teresa Unni warned me. Mister Sorg Kuhne warned me. Even Roe Unni warned me." She sighed and then said, "I guess I just wanted to believe it too much. After Miss Evangeline promised to be Eva's guardian and then disappeared, I just wanted someone to believe in..."

Evangeline Rose?

Who was-

---

[Evangeline Rose]

Deceased. The former leader of Evangeline and fated to become the Guardian of Eva in another future.

One of the High Rankers who perished at the Banquet in Paradise and committed suicide soon after due to her obsession with Paradise.

Noted Eun Yuri's talent and tampered with her during Eun Yuri's Tutorial in Paradise, leading to Eun Yuri's death.

---

Ah.

I vaguely remembered now.

Wasn't too important though in the grand scheme of things. And she got what was coming to her for causing Yuri to die in Paradise.

Which, come to think of it, would explain why Yuri seemed to have a few screws loose when we met...

But anyway, Charlotte.

I looked up and nodded, saying, "It's understandable, your majesty. Wanting to rely upon someone is a natural occurrence."

Charlotte gave me a relieved smile and said, "Isn't it?"

"Yes. But learning to stand on your own feet is natural as well."

Charlotte's smile froze and then vanished. After that, she sipped on her tea.

Ah. Too much, huh? It seemed like while Atma Refinement drew out her potential, bad habits died hard.

Even with me pulling the charm out, it wasn't enough to change a person in an instant.

That was Karmic Binding, and that was also something I didn't want to use on people that didn't deserve it.

So...

Time for a subject change.

"I have to thank you again for allowing this meeting, your majesty, as well as allowing Elysium to set its roots down in Eva." I smiled and said, "It's a great help for us."

Charlotte waved her hands and said, "Oh, no no. It's the least that I can do for a great hero like yourself!" She smiled and said, "Teresa Unni said that you managed to defeat two of the Army Commanders by yourself! And their armies too!"

I laughed and said, "Resa exaggerates a bit too much. It wasn't completely by myself."

Charlotte paused and said, "Resa?"

Oh crap. Recovery time. Let's see...

"Mm." I nodded and said, "That's what the princess tells me to call her." I sighed and said, "She's super stubborn about these sorts of things."

"Oh, I know." Charlotte giggled and said, "You must have had it hard in Haramark with Teresa Unni."

I sipped on my tea and said, "I wouldn't say it was hard."

Charlotte frowned and said, "But isn't that why you moved to Eva? Because Teresa Unni was putting too many responsibilities and obligations on you?"

And there's the projection. Hm. How do we work around this...

I shook my head and said, "No. I moved to Eva because it's where I can do the most good for Paradise, not because I was under pressure by Resa."

Charlotte frowned. "...What do you mean?" She lowered her gaze and then muttered, "How can you do good with a useless Queen like me who didn't even realize she was being lied to for months?"

"True." I nodded and said, "It would be impossible to do any good with a useless Queen."

Charlotte's eyes teared up and then she said, "So why-"

"But you aren't useless, your majesty."

Charlotte froze, staring at me with her wide blue eyes.

...Ah. Damn.

Looks like I did have a thing for blondes. Or maybe it was women who were at the brink of despair...

No. Focus, Jihu. Even if you've become a scumbag, there's a time and place for everything!

And right now...

I stared back at Charlotte and said, "When you were faced with betrayal, you did not cower. Although you were blinded to the injustices happening around you, you were not blind to justice itself. And do you remember what you said?"

"W-What did I say?"

I smiled for a bit and then put on a cold expression just like Charlotte had. After that, I held out my hand and said, "The Queen declares. For the act of laying your filthy hands upon this royal self, you are sentenced to death."

Charlotte's face turned red and then she looked away. "T-T-That's... E-Even so-"

I chuckled and said, "Your majesty is a queen, through and through."

Charlotte looked back at me, frowning.

I smiled and said, "Even though you may not believe it yourself, I know that you are a valiant queen who will return Eva to its former glory- No. A valiant queen who will lead Eva beyond even the highest glory of its past."

Charlotte fidgeted in her seat and then muttered, "...But I don't know how..."

"Well, your majesty." I stood up and said, "That is why I, as well as Elysium, have come to Eva."

"E-Eh?" Charlotte looked up, confused.

I placed my hand over my heart and said, "If there is no path forward, we will cleave one for you. If you are lost, we will stand by your side until you find yourself. And if everything seems dark, we will become the spark to rekindle your majesty's flames."

Charlotte's face turned a deep red and she said, "T-That's a bit much!" She held up her hands and said, "Y-You're flattering-"

"Flattery? No!" I stomped the ground and then swept my arm out. "This is reality." I looked at her and said, "You said it yourself. I am a hero famed throughout the land. One who could choose anywhere. And yet I chose here. I chose you." I held out my hand and said, "Charlotte Aria, Queen of Eva. Inheritor of the royal blood that bears the wrath of Divine Lightning. Will you stand by my side?"

Charlotte looked at me, looked at my hand, and then looked at me again. The embarrassment in her face vanished, replaced by a serious expression. Staring into my eyes, Charlotte slowly stood up and said, "...Do you really believe that? Do you... truly believe that I can become such a queen?"

I smiled and said, "You already are. All you lack is practice."

Charlotte stared at me again and then let out a bright smile. After that, she reached out to take my hand and said, "Then... I'll believe in you, Mister Jihu."

"Don't believe in me. Believe in yourself. And if you can't... then until then, believe in the me that believes in you."

Charlotte blushed and said, "I-I will try..."

I ended the handshake and said, "That's all you need to do, your majesty. The rest will come in time."

Charlotte let out a refreshed laugh. "My! You know how to talk, Mister Jihu. No wonder even my uptight Unni talks so highly about you."

I noticed the crimson threads start to become more vivid.

Okay. Time for emergency measures.

I chuckled and said, "Yes. My wife warns me about it every day."

Charlotte blinked and then tilted her head. "...Wife?"

I nodded and said, "That's right. Seol Hannah, my beloved wife. She's currently leading the operation to help your majesty in restoring Eva's glory."

Charlotte frowned and then looked at my left hand. "...But you're not wearing a wedding band, Mister Jihu?"

I froze.

...Dammit! I knew I was forgetting to make something!

I smoothly put on a smile and nodded. "Of course I am not wearing it." I held up my left hand and made a show of rubbing my ring finger. "Such a precious symbol of our bond... how could I bear to wear it when it could be lost at a moment's notice upon the battlefield?"

<It seems your shamelessness has gotten worse... but somehow your ability to charm women has increased?>

Shut up, Seol- Wait. You're not Seol.

<Mm. It's about time. Head over to the temple after you finish talking with Charlotte.>

Before I could even think to question the mysterious voice, I felt the connection between us break.

And before I could think about why there was a connection in the first place, Charlotte gasped and placed her hands over her chest. "Mister Jihu! To think you were such a devout romantic!"

"Ahaha... Yes. That's right-"

"Hm... It would be rude to step on such a bond even as a Queen... but surely we could discuss it?"

"..."

Charlotte glanced at me and blushed. She quickly cleared her throat and said, "I-I-In any case!" She brushed off her chair and sat back down. "L-Let us discuss business. The Royal Administrator said that there is quite a bit to do before Elysium can establish itself as an organization..." She looked up at me shyly and said, "I-Is there anything this Queen may do to help?"

...Yeah. Might be a good time to go use that Divine Stigmata and figure out what the hell is going on with my life now...

xxx

The news spread like wildfire.

The Queen of Eva executed Jung Sua. Charlotte Aria, the powerless and naive woman everyone thought to just be a puppet. When faced with clear evidence of Jung Sua's betrayal in taking advantage of Eva and her citizens, the Queen immediately struck her down with a blast of golden lightning.

And her wrath was such that the entire throne room was still filled with scorch marks from where her magic lashed out.

For the Earthlings, it was chaos.

The fact that Jung Sua was killed just like that... And the fact that it was Charlotte Aria who did it.

Suddenly, the Earthlings worried.

Although Jung Sua made assurances that the Queen was under control and just a puppet, the fact that said Queen killed Jung Sua and was clearly a powerful magician told a different story.

Was it all a ruse? Did Charlotte Aria simply set everything up to get rid of all the rot that had taken root in Eva after the deaths of her father and older brothers?

The wiser Earthlings didn't believe it. Since Seol Jihu had arrived in Eva around the same time, they thought it was all just a cleverly disguised ploy by him. After all, it was known that Jihu was also a lightning user.

But they were forced to reconsider it when Charlotte Aria took the lead in investigating the seven organizations ruling Eva's underworld.

And they were forced to believe it when she personally executed the heads of six of those organizations who were found to have not only violated Eva law, but exploited its citizens and violated members of the Federation.

The only organization left unscathed were the Dongchun Merchants and its leader, Park Dongchun. And the reason for that was due their full cooperation in turning over private records and incriminating evidence on the other organizations.

Like that, Eva turned on its head overnight.

The citizens living in hell were able to witness their long lost Queen shed tears for their sake and correct her wrongs by eliminating their abusers. The

The Earthlings living in heaven were forced back into reality and made to walk in line with Eva's laws. As they should have been from the beginning.

And while there were protestors, the fact that not only Seol Jihu, but even the Sacred Empress Baek Haeju and the Daughter of Luxuria Seo Yuhui were backing Charlotte Aria made those protestors shut up and lower their heads.

Of course, this was all helped by the fact that a mysterious black bunny had already been quietly sabotaging the organizations and rescuing the Federation captives for the past month even before Elysium stepped in.

But whatever the case, the future for Eva was bright. Especially after it was announced that Elysium would be the new royal partner due to their aid with the restoration efforts.

For the first time in the history of Paradise, hope grew to be more than just a spark.

However...

xxx

[It was a mistake.]

Sitting upon the Corrupted Throne, the Parasite Queen stared out at the unreadable starscape before her and grit her teeth.

A dead star.

It had been just a dead star.

If she had let it be, then perhaps nothing would have happened.

But she forced it to change.

And now...

[A galaxy formed. A Vortex of Fate that forbids the future I have claimed.]

That star had collapsed and vanished. And as that star embodied Fate itself for that individual, she believed it was over.

The collapse of Fate meant that the Fate had reached an end.

At least, that was what it should have meant.

But there was another meaning. Something that she didn't realize until now.

A being that Fate possesses no hold over. One who Fate itself could not affect.

A variable- No. A paradox.

All beings in existence possessed Fate. Although it could be changed, diverted, or stopped, it was impossible to exist without Fate.

Even that Martial God possessed a Star of Fate.

It was an unfathomable existence that seemed to defy all rules, yes. But that was 'defiance.'

This... This was 'erasure.' A being for which rules did not apply. One that would not be affected even if time spun back, collapsed, or folded in upon itself.

And the Parasite Queen had tried.

Realizing her mistake, she attempted to return to that point before losing Undying Diligence and Vulgar Chastity.

Like with the other times she made a mistake, she used her stolen Authority of the Chief Deity to attempt to undo it.

But she could not.

Time, which had once been bidirectional, had frozen.

Like she had become a mortal once more.

The Parasite Queen clenched her fist, shattering the armrest of the Corrupted Throne.

At that time, a light-hearted male voice called out.

"Seems like you're not having a good time of it either, Queenie."

[Sung Shihyun.] The Parasite Queen looked down from her throne and frowned.

The defector from the Earthlings and the Champion she raised to take over for Undying Diligence.

He looked ragged as always, his armor in tatters and his glowing white sword cracked with crimson lines.

But unlike his appearance, his expression was bright. "Did you figure out what to do yet? Those fucking gods are definitely cheating, right? So you can fix it?"

[...I cannot.]

Sung Shihyun paused. His expression dimmed a bit, but he laughed. "Shame. If it's something even Queenie can't fix, then it must be serious, huh?"

[Indeed.]

The Parasite Queen stood up and then spoke again. [And this is why we must act quickly. While that anomaly is biding his time, we must lay the traps to devour him whole.]

"Gotcha." Sung Shihyun lowered his sword and said, "So I'm guessing I'll be tied up again waiting?"

The Parasite Queen nodded. [Yes. I cannot lose you as well. Sung Shihyun... you shall be the key to defeating that Seol Jihu. So... Please be patient.]

"Saying 'please' like that..." Sung Shihyun chuckled and said, "Of course, Queenie. Then I'll just head out to enjoy myself."

[Take care. Please.]

Sung Shihyun held up his hand in farewell as he walked out.

After he was gone, the Parasite Queen turned her gaze back to the starscape.

[It is changed, but a few points may be salvaged.] She shifted her gaze to the Spirit Realm and muttered. [If Twisted Kindness and Raging Temperance successfully assimilate the Spirit Kings in the Spirit Realm, the Federation will be hobbled. Then if that is taken over... it will be difficult, but the kingdoms should fall. Then in the worst case...]

She trailed off, muttering under her breath.

xxx

A private room in the bottom of the Imperial Castle that the Parasite Queen had usurped after felling the Empire.

There, Sung Shihyun walked in while shaking his head. "It's just like I thought." He took off his shirt and then walked over towards the secret toy that he stole while the Parasite Queen was distracted. "Queenie might be a god, but it seems like she's no better than a human... Just like you. Right, Pattie?"

A beautiful and refined noblewoman, wearing formal garb. Not only that, but one with a thin burial shroud draped over her pale face to obscure that beauty.

But on seeing Sung Shihyun, her eyes glowed with crimson light and she giggled. She stood up and tossed aside her shroud before slowly taking off her clothes.

Sung Shihyun smirked and said, "That's right. Seems like you've finally learned to throw away that patience of yours." He laughed and said, "Of course, I already stole it from you after I brought you back to life, so... I guess it was obvious?"

"Master." The woman spoke with a dignified voice. And yet, that voice was filled with desire. Something evident by how her crimson-rimmed eyes slowly traced Sung Shihyun's lower body. And from how she quickly knelt down, opening her mouth wide. "Is it time for my feeding?"

Sung Shihyun grinned and reached down to unzip his pants.

xxx

[You wish to use the Divine Stigmata?]

Gula tilted her head and frowned.

I frowned back at her and said, "Will that be a problem?"

Eva was squared away. Hannah was handling the logistics and teaching Charlotte the ropes... while doing her best to talk Charlotte out of falling in love with me.

Ganbaru, Wifey. Please help.

But anyway...

Eva was settled, and we already won the auction for the Tutorial and the Neutral Zone.

Well, technically the Triads and Sicilia won the Tutorial and Neutral Zone, but since it was handed over as an early wedding gift for me, it was Elysium's.

There was that whole giving Jinhee the Golden Stamp and Invitation Letter, as well as giving one to Eun Yuri and Seunghae, but Flone had that part covered.

Which left me free until the September Halfway Point actually opened.

Not only that, but that weird voice kept bugging me about the Stigmata. Seol did too.

It was about time I settled that and got some answers... or at least learned what questions I needed to ask.

Gula hesitated. [There is not. However, I caution that it may take longer than expected. The Halfway Point is close, and it would not do for you to miss it.]

"Can I leave the Stigmata trial partway?"

[...You may. But your examiner may not allow it.]

I laughed. "Well. Let's find out if he can stop me."

[...Are you sure?]

"Of course."

[Are you truly, truly sure that you wish to go through with this trial? In full transparency, it is unnecessary for you. At your power level, it would be possible to fend off even the Parasite Queen if you wish without much trouble, let alone her army.]

I frowned. "...It makes it seem like you know something I don't about this, Gula. Is it really going to be that bad for me?"

I didn't see any danger. And Transcendent Insight said that it would be fine.

A different voice called out. Warm and motherly, although a bit sultry... Luxuria's. [Oh please.]

The Goddess of Lust appeared next to Gula and then laughed. [It's about time we let that child do some proper self-reflection, isn't it?]

[...I suppose so.] Gula let out a deep sigh.

"So... Are we doing this?"

Gula nodded and then swept her hand across the air. As she did, the space around me shimmered and dissolved. [Then... with the authority of the Goddess of Gluttony, I accept Jihu into the trial of the Divine Stigmata.]

Great. Now to-

Wait.

Jihu?

I frowned and said, "Is there a reason why you aren't calling me-"

[May luck be with you, my adopted child. You will undoubtedly need it.]

O-Oi. Oi oi oi.

What the hell do you mean adopted-

An explosion of white light.

I flinched and held up my hands to block it.

But not even a moment later, the light faded.

I frowned and lowered my hands to look around.

A scenic mountain area with three peaks. Grassy plains in every direction and a soft breeze flowing through the air.

"Huh. So this is the trial... Should be easy enough."

I didn't remember until now, but on seeing it, I recalled how Seol's trial went.

Pushing a boulder up a mountain... should be doable.

And at the foot of the closest mountain, there was said boulder.

Seeing that, I made my way older, ready to speedrun the first two tests before seeing what the third test would be for me-

*sching*

The sensation of cold steel for a brief moment. Shortly after that, burning pain cutting across my torso.

My eyes widened and I spun around to look at my attacker, instinctively trying to use my powers. But-

---

[Innate Ability <All As One> has reverted to its original form <One With Nature> and retrieved by its true owner.]

[Innate Ability <Karmic Eyes of Destiny> has reverted to its original form <Future-Gauging Nine Eyes> and retrieved by its true owner.]

[Innate Ability <Conceptual Manipulation> is unusable due to a lack of understanding.]

[Innate Ability <Chaotic Resolution> is unusable due to a lack of understanding.]

[Innate Ability <Transcendent Insight> has reverted to its original form <▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓> and retrieved by its true owner.]

[Innate Ability <Enduring Soul> has resisted. Your life will be safe-guarded no matter what wounds you endure.]

[Your Physical Level is changing to reflect your soul's true form.]

[Class Ability <Unbound Karmic Sword> is degrading due to loss of your innate abilities. <Unbound Karmic Sword> has become <Synthesis Blade (Lowest)>.]

[Your Aptitude is changing to reflect your soul's true form.]

[Immeasurably Insightful has become Well-Read (Understands patterns and information due to vast knowledge)]

[Iterative has become Brute-Force (Attempts as many trials as possible until the result is achieved)]

[Your Temperament is changing to reflect your soul's true form.]

[Analytical has become Overthinking (Takes in all the information but thinks too much before acting)]

[Decisive has become Reckless (Acts according to whatever emotion is felt at the time)]

[Invictus remains.]

[Your Level of Cognition is changing to reflect your soul's true form.]

[Miraculous/Contemplative/Karmic Rule has changed into Empty(One who has lost everything)/Lost/Karma (You reap what you sow, no more, no less)]

---

A flurry of status messages in my vision. Messages that obscured the face of the one who attacked me.

Not only that, a sudden change in my entire being.

My body becoming heavier than lead. My senses suddenly sealed, losing the usual connection I had with all the energies around me.

It was like a fog suddenly descended at once.

But I focused. Even while everything was changing, I clung tight to at least my thoughts and tried to see who had struck me.

And as the status messages vanished. As my vision dimmed, I saw him.

No, 'them.'

A handsome but arrogant man with spiky black hair. Cracked armor and a white broadsword held over his shoulder, dyed crimson from blood.

And next to that guy...

A young man, probably no more than eighteen. A thin face and pale skin, dark circles under his eyes. Plain and unappealing. Unassuming as well, dressed in an ordinary black hoodie and worn-out jeans.

And, just before my vision blacked out...

"Looks like I'm a bit late, huh?"

A tall man with bloodstained armor, a black bunny mask, and a crimson spear.

Blackie- No. Seol.

He turned to look at me and then shook his head. "We've got a lot of work to do 'Jihu.'"

Before I could say anything else, I felt soft touches against my neck, shoulder, and temple.

A surge of pain that made me want to scream.

And then, nothing.


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