"What is the meaning of this? At the doorstep of the Holy Flame Temple, under the watchful gaze of the Divine Flame Lord, you dare act unruly?!"
The bishop's words carried formless holy force that further oppressed both Koloman and Konrad.
The illusory winged serpent at Koloman's back vanished, and he fell onto his knees. As for Konrad, the level of strength used was only enough to make him tremble, however, to avoid provoking the Semi-Saint any more, he feigned weakness and knelt.
"Bishop Alto, this…"
Bishop Alto cut Koloman in his attempt to justify himself. He was relatively short, standing only at a modest 1.65 meters. However, his aura refined through a thousand years of cultivation caused most to be unable to look down on him.
"Your reasons are irrelevant, and I will warn you all only once. Regardless of your background, when you reach the temple's staircase, the only things in you should be humility and reverence. Otherwise, no matter how mighty, your elders cannot save you. Now, follow me!"
Bishop Alto spat, flung his sleeves and led the way toward the temple's inside. Without hesitation, the contestants followed him, crossed the stairs and walked into the Holy Flame Temple.
Marble white walls painted with humanoid flame winged creatures awaited them within. Some couldn't help but let their gaze drift onto the paintings, representations of the elemental beings serving the Divine Flame Lord's will, while others cared very little and remained focused on the road ahead.
"The spiritual energy here is hundreds of times purer than in the outside."
Konrad appraised, and soon, they reached an altar surrounded by four fifteen feet tall pedestals each lighted by bright white flames. Above the altar floated a white orb alike the one hovering above the temple's roof.
"This is where the chosen of the winning team will receive the Holy Flame Baptism."
Bishop Alto flatly said before leading the way toward another location. This time, he brought the troop across a corridor through which they reached a spacious room where another bishop awaited by the side of a human-sized blue prism.
"And this is where the first part of the competition will be conducted."
Alto's index aimed at the human-sized prism floating by his fellow bishop's side. Incomprehension flashed within some of the contestant's eyes, but soon, it was replaced by enlightenment.
"It should be a space treasure."
Konrad explained toward Daphne and Iliana.
Even among the nobility, space treasures were few and far between. The main reason was that they were not produced within the Holy Flame Empire, but mostly came from the Space Temple within the Great Void Empire. Therefore, many of the gathered individuals had never been exposed to one beforehand.
"First, we will register your names, assess your age, number of teammates and cultivation levels to make sure you fit the requirements before officially starting the competition. By the way, in case you possess one, you're not allowed to bring in space treasures or anything besides what we provide you with.
Another team is already waiting at the testing location. Follow me."
The bishop standing by the floating prism's side never said a word, and his gaze also never seemed to fall onto the contestants as if none of this had anything to do with him.
Clearly, he'd rather be someplace else.
Alto brought his troop through another corridor and reached the testing hall where the team he mentioned was standing in front of a sky-blue tower. Alto stepped toward a nearby desk and sat while pulling out a paper list and ink.
Meanwhile, all the contestants he brought with him stared at the present team with dread.
There were nine of them in total, and all were contestants. Such a quota was reserved solely for the imperial family!
Each possessed the textbook translucent skin, silky silver hairs, and eyes of the paragon spirit race.
Each brimmed with power and confidence.
At their helm were two people dressed in the golden robes reserved for the imperial princes. Seeing them, Konrad's eyes shone with confusion.
"Who are those two?"
"The fifth prince, Holger von Jurgen and the ninth prince Nils von Jurgen."
Iliana replied to Konrad's inquiry.
Konrad's eyes ignored the fifth prince to focus on the ninth. A slender youth with a piercing, sword-like gaze, he held himself with a military discipline that seemed out of place on one so young.
In fact, was it not for the long silver hairs that fell below his waist and the enchanting face whose beauty rivaled that of Iliana's, he would have given the impression of a young military general.
But the more Konrad looked at him, the more he felt something amiss, so he used his Origin Sight to clarify the ninth prince's characteristics.
"Are you sure he's a prince?"
"Of course, he is well known as the most outstanding imperial prince with talent rivaling the current Crown Prince. Why such a question?"
Konrad turned a confused glare toward Iliana, a glare that made her wonder if there was something wrong with her face.
"What's wrong with you? Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Why? What's wrong with me? What's wrong with you! This is obviously a princess. How does such beauty pass off as a prince?! Are you all blind or retarded?!"
Iliana stared blankly for an instant, then switched her gaze toward the "ninth prince" to observe him more closely.
"Hum, I know his face is deceiving, but you shouldn't get swindled by it. Why would the imperial family pass off a princess as a prince when they are already eight before him? Regardless of his looks, he has to be a prince."
At times, the confidence within her tone wavered as the ninth prince's fairy like face seemed to say otherwise.
"…yes. It wouldn't be the first time an androgynous man with beauty eclipsing women's appears within the world. Why make such a fuss?"
Konrad was astonished. Was he truly the only one seeing through this farce?
"Daphne, what do you think about the ninth prince?"
"Hum, he's prettier than most women I've met in my life."
"So? Doesn't that tell you he's probably a she?"
"How could that be possible? He's probably just one of those rare men born with female faces. Don't tell me you got trapped."
Konrad would have flipped a table if one stood in front of him. Unfortunately, none did.
It was then that Bishop Alto's voice echoed within the hall.
"I will now call the registered houses. When I do, the concerned contestants should line up in front of the tower, give their names and press their hands onto it."
"As for the spectators, they can stand on the side. Later, they will be sent to the lodgings assigned for them."
The concerned group stepped forward. There were only three people, showing that house Spitzer was of the viscount level. Viscount level houses had three quotas, count level houses had four, the margrave level had five, and the duke level had six.
As for sovereign prince level houses, they had eight, but none was present.
One after the other, they gave their names and had their age and cultivation level tested by the tower.
Repeatedly, the groups went forward to register names and go through the assessment. First, it was the viscount level houses. Then it was the count level houses. This went on until finally…
Alongside house Kracht's three fillers, Konrad stepped toward the sky-blue tower. Having witnessed the thrashing Koloman received at his hands, the three fillers stood behind him with politeness and deference.
Konrad called the name he'd settled on with Wolfgang and stepped toward the tower.
As soon as he pressed his hands onto it, the tower shone with sky-blue light that condensed data on top of Konrad's head.
"Cultivation level: Sixth Step Grand Knight, Sixth Step Grand Priest."
Without delay, the Semi-Saint recorded the information. However, the gathered individuals who still recalled the previous battle were terror-stricken.
"Se-seventeen…just…at the Grand level? Five…five levels below me? Impossible…impossible!"
Koloman struggled to say through his teeth while staring incredulously at the data above Konrad's head.
The eyes of his peers then turned toward him, and all looked at him with a gaze that seemed to be saying.
"Dude, you have lived in vain."
Even his wife by his side had lost all respect for him. And seeing all those unbearable stares, Koloman staggered. His cheeks burned, and his mouth was filled with the iron taste of blood he almost spurted.
The testing carried on until only one group remained. Naturally, it was the von Jurgen. And after they registered, Konrad realized the competition was fierce. The ninth prince aside, even the weakest among them were second step Arch Knights. As for the strongest, it was the fifth prince.
"Forty-five years old, fourth step Arch Knight."
Without further breakthroughs or the use of his lineage weapon, Konrad couldn't defeat him.
As for the ninth "prince," he was both at the ninth step Grand Knight and Grand Priest Ranks. However, the pressure he gave Konrad surpassed that of many of the present Arch Knights.