Following the assessment, it was time for the contestants to bid farewell to their supporters.
"Take care of this spatial pouch for me."
Konrad said while putting his space treasure into Iliana's hand.
"As for you Daphne, don't cause trouble while I'm gone."
Both looked at him with worried eyes.
"You must be careful. We don't know what kind of creatures you will encounter within that space world. Also, you may have to worry about the other teams' plotting too. Please remain prudent."
Iliana urged with a trembling voice. As for Daphne, she grabbed Konrad's arm and leaned onto his shoulder.
"I can't bear to leave you…"
"It's only for a few days. Just wait for my good news."
The supporters were led to their assigned quarters, and the contestants brought back to the prism holding room.
The ninth "prince's" gaze locked onto Konrad for an instant, a hint of interest flashing within. Judging by the numbers, they were both the youngest and most outstanding contestants. Therefore, paying attention to him was natural.
"Nils are you interested in that boy?"
Asked the fifth prince in a mental message.
"Just a bit curious. Why have we never heard of a martial and spiritual dual talent emerging from house Kracht in the last decade?"
"Who knows? Maybe the Kracht fox wished to train him in secret for this very competition? In any case, it matters not."
A light chuckle escaped the fifth prince's lips as his gaze passed by Konrad.
"Do you want to befriend him? He's only one year younger than you, and his talent isn't far behind. Maybe you could finally make a friend."
"Fifth brother, please don't tease me. My sword is the only friend I need. That said, shouldn't you show more concerns? He seems awfully close to the woman you're supposed to woo."
Unlike what Wolfgang believed, it was the fifth and not the ninth prince that had been selected to get Iliana's hand. However, hearing Nils' words, Holger merely curled his lips into a smile.
"Let them be. We want her house, not her heart. All pretenses of courtship and courtesy are unnecessary.
Regardless of who she may yearn for, the day I present myself with father's marriage decree, what can she do besides giving herself to me?"
To this, Nils had nothing to say.
"Why did father allow you to take on this task? Wouldn't it be appropriate to choose among our seventh and eighth brothers?"
The fifth prince, Holger, the ninth prince, Nils, and the crown prince Elmar were all born of the same mother. Their relationship was also the closest among all the imperial princes. Elmar and Holger, in particular, were bound by unequaled brotherly love. For the sake of helping his elder brother achieve his dreams, there was nothing Holger couldn't do.
Thus, allowing him to take Iliana was no different than giving the crown prince a new pair of wings.
"Father is not afraid of Elmar having too much power. He's afraid of him not having enough."
The contestant groups now stood in front of the blue prism waiting for bishop Alto's instructions.
"There are twenty-seven groups and one-hundred-eight contestants in total. After the first trial, only thirty will remain."
"We will transport you to the lowest level of the prism world. You have three days to collect the skulls of as many demonic beasts as possible. The top thirty point earners will go on to the second round.
"However, there is an additional requirement. By the end of the third day, there must be no living demonic beast left within the first and second levels of the prism world. If there are any, you all fail!"
At first, the contestants were only mildly surprised, but by the time Alto's final words settled within their minds, unease took over. They exchanged glances, seeing the same apprehension within each other's eyes.
"Are you asking us to both compete and cooperate? How is that viable?"
One contestant couldn't help but ask the question trotting within everyone's mind.
"How you do it is up to you; we only care about the end result. If by the end of the third day there are still demonic beasts left within the first and second level, regardless of accumulated points, you all fail. It's that simple."
"All things connected to demonkind deserve slaughter. It is your right and duty to bring them the righteous sword of our Divine Lord and pass judgment onto their damned souls.
Today it is those demonic beasts, tomorrow it will be the barbarian heathens!"
Konrad was impressed. He had not expected the church to make use of the competition to further indoctrinate the nobility's youth.
Bishop Alto then motioned toward the table by the prism's side. On top of it was a collection of brown rings.
"We will now check for any unnecessary item you might have before loaning you a space ring. They each possess ten cubic meters of space, and you can use them to store the skulls. Right now, they contain nothing besides a map, and the number of points you receive depending on the beast's rank."
"What about the third and fourth levels? And how do we know when we go from a level to another?"
"The limits of each level are drawn on the maps. You can try the third level if you feel confident in your strength. As for the fourth, go if you seek death."
"If there is nothing else, step forward!"
One after the other, the groups were checked for items, then received their allocated space rings. It was time for the competition to start.
The gaze with which the contestants looked at one another was now full of complex thoughts.
They were no longer merely competitors. It was now imperative to consider when to compete and when to join hands. Some alliances were most likely already being formed through mental messages.
In the span of a few seconds, Konrad received several offers of alliance from the viscount and count level houses and even a few from the margrave level, but he rejected them all.
His main goal within this competition was to temper himself through battle with fierce beasts. He didn't wish to get burdened by unnecessary help.
"We will now send you to the prism world. Best of luck and may the Divine Flame Lord guide your blades during this journey."
Alto and his fellow bishop pressed their hands onto the blue prism, causing dazzling rays to spread within the room and blind all the contestants. By the time they recovered their sight, they stood at the entrance of a dark-green forest from which they could feel vast, beastly energy signatures emanating.
The weaker among them still looked for support and alliances, the strongest groups, however, didn't hesitate to dive in.
Led by Holger and Nils, the von Jurgen were the first to step inside. Following them were the Slesinger, with Koloman not forgetting to glower at Konrad for good measure.
"Before we start tracking down the beasts, we should first assess the perimeter. I say we take a few hours to do this so that the next days are easier to handle."
One of the three Kracht fillers began, seeking Konrad's approval. He, however, had other plans.
"Fair enough, but there is no 'we.'"
Konrad turned into a purple beam and vanished within the forest, leaving the three dumbstruck.
"Wait…boss please wait!"
They tried to run after him but were far too slow to catch his trail.