Afterward, Konrad was relieved of his kitchen duties, promoted to the rank of head eunuch and given new quarters. Verena also promulgated a decree allowing Iliana to return to her household on the very same day.
That decree spread within the inner court like wildfire and alarmed all its knowledgeable denizens.
But while they expected Else's immediate counterattack, they were disappointed to hear nothing of her side.
Meanwhile, at Else's palace.
"Your grace, now that the Empress ordered the release of Iliana, shouldn't we…take the opportunity to strike?
Tamara cautiously asked.
But Else who laid on her side within a grey velvet sofa remained unfazed.
"What is there to gain?"
"We could lure out and ambush Wolfgang Kracht to remove that trouble once and for all!"
Tamara exclaimed, but seeing the lack of reaction from Else, she quickly became confused.
"Since you can think of it, others also can. We are not the only ones wishing for Wolfgang Kracht's demise. Why dirty our hands, when many are already planning to use the opportunity to butcher him?
This is an excellent opportunity to see if we have a full measure of the man."
Tamara believed Else overcautious but didn't dare comment any further.
"But why would the Empress suddenly override the Emperor to order such a thing?"
And although the answer was clear to her, Else didn't reply.
As the center of the news, Iliana was naturally the most astonished and incredulously stared at the complacent Konrad now standing in front of her.
"How did you pull that off?"
"I was born with divine charm and irresistible appeal. The Holy Empress was moved by my presence and conceded to my every demand!"
He shamelessly boasted while puffing out his chest.
Iliana naturally didn't believe that the empress had fallen for his tricks. Could a Saint be so easily swindled?
"In any case, you now owe me a thousand kisses so go prepare your lipstick to cover me with red!"
But a deal was a deal so she would have to comply.
"I am shameless! Mightily shameless!"
"What, do you know any great, bashful man? No!"
"The first characteristic of a great man is shamelessness!"
"And I am beyond the boundaries of greatness!"
Iliana stared slack-jawed at that outrageous display of impudence. And seeing her waste time in pointless staring, Konrad decided to take the bull by the horns, hauled her on his shoulder, and pulled her back toward her quarters.
"What are you doing?"
"I know I'm a fantastic specimen, but I can't afford to have you waste time in bewildered stares when I have smooches to get."
"Since you're so concerned about face, I will have to rearrange our deal to receive and give!"
But wait he would not. And so, Iliana was dragged back to her bed and pulled into a consuming session of smooches!
Time flew by in a flash, and Konrad's body was now covered with red lipstick marks while Iliana's was full of hickeys at unchaste spots.
"How can I face my dad like this…"
She complained with her flushed cheeks held within her palms.
"Just tell him that you've been marked by his future son in law."
Defeated, Iliana could only rearrange herself and prepare for the imminent departure.
The Empress had granted them an escort of four royal ladies at the middle stages of the Arch-Knight rank. Naturally, that escort wasn't meant merely for her protection, but also as an additional show of goodwill toward Count Wolfgang, her father.
With the descent of night, the group departed from the imperial palace through a teleportation circle. At the gate, a luxurious red and gold carriage driven by a head eunuch awaited.
They embarked, with Konrad making sure to keep the flushed Iliana pressed against his chest.
She whispered in a mental message.
"Glad to see you know where your priorities lie."
He replied in kind.
"In any case, once we get to your family's mansion, you won't have to worry about my misdeeds for quite some time."
Hearing that, a stinging sense of loss burst within Iliana's chest and her struggles collapsed.
With forty million citizens and six thousand square miles, the Holy Flame City was the largest of the Holy Continent and perhaps even of the entire Ancient Crystal World. Yet, not everyone had the means to put a roof above their heads. In fact, with commoners being unable to own land, they had to rent whatever dwelling they possessed from either nobles or the imperial court.
The latter being the primary source of commoner lodgings within the Holy Flame City. Commoners and slaves constituted the two lowest social classes and had drastically different statuses. Commoners could choose to be servants, but slaves only had that option.
Humans were the primary source of slaves within the Holy Continent. Their status within the three empires and twenty-eight kingdoms that composed the Holy Continent was meager. They were either waiters, housekeepers, farm workers or prostitutes.
With the latest being the most lucrative option. Commoners, on the contrary, had the right to own a business which they could operate by renting space from the authorities or some noble.
For that reason, having a half-human bloodline had always been a source of great mockery for Iliana among children of nobility.
As for human nobles…in the hundred thousand years long existence of the Holy Flame Empire, while more than one powerful human eunuch or maid had appeared, not one human noble house had managed to establish itself.
All potential in that area was squashed in the cradle. But within the Barbarian continent, the situation was radically different.
The carriage moved past the streets at moderate speed, the horses carrying it spared of rough handling.
But while Iliana subconsciously snuggled against Konrad's chest, large scalding spears of golden flames flew from the shadows and shot toward the carriage! Konrad's demonic instincts kicked in, pulling him into awareness and causing him to kick open the door to carry Iliana out of harm's way in a rapid leap.
The four Arch-Knight royal ladies were faster, summoned their energy swords coated in a variety of elemental powers, and flew to meet the flame spears.
The deafening noise created by the collision sent the carriage spiraling into the air and the poor horses and head eunuch to violently crash onto the ground with eruptions of blood and a fatal fate.
"Again? Negligent. I was negligent."
Konrad rebuked himself as they landed on the ground. The situation had just settled within Iliana who stared at the repelled court ladies with horror.
"Golden flames...the second division of the Holy Flame Knight Order? I don't understand…Why?"
As the highest power of the Holy Flame Empire, the Holy Flame Church was composed of more than priests. They possessed their own personal knight order trained in four different elemental flames that made up for four divisions. The White Flame, the Golden Flame, the Blue Flame, and the Innate Flame. Each possessed its own unique ability, and each represented a division of the Holy Flame Knight Order.
Without a shred of doubt, the attack came from the second division. But why? This time Iliana didn't believe that the Holy Consort had anything to do with this.
But she would get no answer. Five armored figures emerged from the shadows, illuminating the night sky with the golden flames swirling around their forms, and carrying great flaming swords which they hurled at the royal ladies baring their paths.
The elemental affinity and aura bursting from their form made their Arch-Knight status evident. More precisely, three were mid-level Arch Knights while two were of the high-level. Konrad wasted no time to bolt alongside Iliana.
It was impossible for the royal ladies to hold them back for long…if they could even hold them back.
And although they were confused by the sudden, harmful appearance of members of the Holy Flame Church, the ladies didn't waste time in idle chatter and met their assailants with their elemental swords.
Alas, one of the two high-level Arch Knights managed to slip through and pursued the pair at breakneck speed.
They didn't have time to cross two blocks before the blazing figure of the two meters tall Arch-Knight stood in front of them.
Konrad quickly assessed the perimeter, as far as the eye could see, there was no living soul. There never was in cases like these.
At his back, the royal ladies had already fallen, and the remaining Arch-Knights were breaching the distance toward them. That was to be expected. Although their cultivation was high, those ladies spent all their time within the inner court while those men were trained warriors used to work in tandem. The power gap was enormous.
"My family doesn't have any enmity with the church. Why target me?!"
Iliana snarled with soaring rage and hatred. She was almost there, so close to returning to the warmth of home. But those hateful creatures had reared their heads and shattered her dreams.
"You don't need to know. You only need to follow us, and no harm will befall you."
"As for the pretty boy by your side, he can only blame himself for being at the wrong place, at the wrong time."
The knight facing them stated, and his words caused Iliana to despair.
Konrad, however, was surprisingly calm. His gaze went beyond the knights at their back and locked on the four royal ladies that now laid lifeless in a pool of their own blood.
Once he confirmed they were indeed dead, and that no undesirable witness remained, he heaved a sigh of relief. But to Iliana's ears, it seemed more like a sorrowful one.
"Konrad I'm…so sorry."
"Sorry for what? If anyone should be sorry, it's them."
All traces of apprehension vanished from his gaze, and he stared at his assailants as if facing dead meat.
"You really should have just let us leave. But hey, we should all be free to choose the date of our deaths. And since you've so crudely chosen yours, I absolutely don't mind seeing you off."
His words caused the surrounding knights to wonder if he had gone insane from fright, but when he released Iliana from his grasp and overwhelming demonic energy burst from his body in a whirlwind of violet flames, they were alarmed!
"Awaken and bring them all to their knees, Man-Breaker!"
He stretched out his hand, and from the whirlwind of violet flames emerged a terrifying jet-black war hammer engraved with purple veins that glittered with extreme demonic might.
And as soon as it appeared, boundless suppression force crashed onto the Arch-Knights, and as if gravity had increased by a thousandfold, it pressed them all onto their knees in a resounding thud.