While Konrad's hands bathed in the blood of the third level's Monstrous Beasts, the other contestants were not staying idle.
The weaker nobles at the low and mid-level Grand Knight Ranks formed Extermination Teams to slaughter all the beasts at the first level while those of the high-level Grand Knight Ranks did the same at the second level. All clung on the hope that they could replace quality with quantity and at least send one of them to the competition's next step.
However, among the Arch Knights of the margrave and duke-level houses, many chose to try their luck within the third level.
As for the imperial family's team, they, of course, did the same.
The fifth prince had just returned from dealing with a low-level Monstrous Beast when he realized someone was missing within the team.
"Where is Nils?!"
His bark almost caused his subordinates to jump from fright.
"Huh…he was here not long ago…"
"…we…don't know when he left…"
The two who'd just spoken were sent crashing onto the ground by two violent slaps that left burning red marks on their cheeks.
Holger's eyes were bloodshot, and veins beat on his temple.
"You better find and bring him back within the next hour. Otherwise, should anything befall him, none of you can escape with your lives!"
The seriousness of his threat was evident. Therefore, they didn't dare delay and scattered in two groups to look for the ninth prince's whereabouts.
Meanwhile, Nils had decided to test her skills in a solo hunt. Although she still was at the Grand Rank, she was confident in her ability to defeat low-level Monstrous Beasts and avoid coming across stronger ones.
However, she knew her overprotective brother would never grant her the opportunity to truly test herself. So, she could only sneak out!
At the moment, she was lost in a fierce battle against a Nether Leopard, unaware that from the shadows, several gazes were locked on her.
"Koloman, do you really want to do this?"
Asked one of the Arch Knights among Koloman's teammates.
They'd unwittingly come across the scene of the ninth prince fighting a Monstrous Beast and initially planned to ignore it and carry on with their business. However, who would have thought that Koloman would order them to stop and observe the scene from the shadows, then wait for an opportunity to strike the ninth prince down!
The coldness within Koloman's tone made it clear that if they showed hesitation, their future was in jeopardy.
"Before the paragon spirits appeared, we winged-serpents ruled this land! However, a hundred thousand years ago they appeared out of nowhere and with their false holy church leading them, slaughtered us en masse and forced all the noble serpent clans into submission!
But not content of taking away our lands, they had the audacity to take the 'tamed winged-serpent' as the symbol of their house!"
Koloman snapped with deep rancor, his words causing fury to suppress the apprehension within his fellows' hearts.
"Look, look at his robe, look at that symbol! That glaring shame! Even today, in spite of our allegiance, they still openly scorn us as if reminding the world of how they subjugated our ancestors was their most ardent desire! Our elders may be able to swallow this shame, but I cannot!
A good von Jurgen is a dead von Jurgen!
All paragon spirits should die!"
However, not everyone had lost their minds.
"This is something even your maternal grandfather, Sovereign Prince Huber Voight would not dare. Let's not even discuss the consequences of an imperial prince's death. We have no way to hide our identities! What if he manages to escape and reports back to the fifth prince? My life is not much, but I will not see my entire family exterminated for such petty, misguided revenge!"
Immediately, the outraged men were cooled. However, Koloman's next words gave them no way back.
"You only have two choices, either come with me or kill me if you can. In any case, today I must slay an imperial prince!"
Nils was wrapping up her battle and delivering a fatal blow to her prey when she felt a distortion within the air coming from her back.
After slaying his seventh Monstrous Beast, Konrad chose to rest and meditate on his gains.
He found himself a secluded spot beneath a tree and sat cross-legged to refine his discoveries and solidify his foundation.
"You're a fast learner. It's evident that his majesty's blood runs through you."
"Hey, don't blame my awesomeness on that distant seed-planter I will most likely never meet in a lifetime.
You can just blame it on me."
"D-distant…seed-planter? Bold! How dare you disrespect his majesty? Do you know how many demon gods would kill for the privilege of being his blood?"
To the Flame-Mark's outrage, Konrad paid little attention.
"I don't know, and I don't care. Why would I give a damn about some random demon gods' daddy iss-?"
But before he could finish his words, the sound of heavy footsteps approached at breakneck speed.
Konrad cast his gaze toward its origin and was surprised to see the ninth "prince" fleeing a group of six assailants with two gaping wounds. In a flash, Konrad vanished into the shadows.
With two gaping wounds, one of which was at her thigh, Nils' speed had been shrinking all along. However, she couldn't afford to slow down and mustered all her strength to escape from Koloman's team.
But to no avail.
Taking advantage of her speed loss, the six team members of house Slesinger encircled her, blocking all paths of retreat.
Koloman stood at her front with a victorious smile.
"Ninth prince. I'm afraid this is the end of your struggle. Just obediently surrender your life."
The self-satisfaction within those words made Nils' blood boil and caused fury to shine on her outraged face.
"Why? Why plot against me? I have no grievance with you. House Slesinger has been for generations a loyal vassal of the imperial family. For what reason do you wish to take my life?"
Her clenched fists trembled, and blood dripped from her lips, chest, and thigh.
"Hahahaha! Reason? He's asking for a reason?!"
Koloman went from elated to infuriated in a heartbeat and aimed his index at the slouching winged-serpent embroidered on Nils' robe.
"This! This is the reason! Every step you take insults my people's dignity. What? Did you think the mighty winged-serpent race was content being used as the banner of your house?!"
"A day will come when we take back what is ours. But for now, I will satisfy myself by spilling your wretched blood! If you want to blame something, blame your lineage!"
There was a deep, personal hatred in Koloman's voice that clearly went beyond what he seemed to be targeting.
However, Nils could pay no attention to that.
"Hahaha. So, this turns out to be nothing more than the struggle of the defeated ant. Disappointing…"
"Say what you will, the result is set in stone."
Feeling that he was about to take the life of one of those von Jurgens he hated so viscerally, Koloman was wild with joy.
Although Nils managed to run across a short distance, from the sneak attack till now, everything went relatively smoothly.
He could now vent some of the hatred within his heart!
He aimed his spear at Nils' heart and was about to deliver the final blow when a slow clapping sound echoed from his back.
*Claps* *Claps* *Claps*
Instantaneously, all the gathered individuals turned to face the clapping's origin and Nils' aside, all were mortified to see the green haired teenaged youth standing with his back leaning against a tree.
"You? What the hell are you doing here? How come we didn't see you before?"
Toward Koloman's stupor, Konrad replied with a mild laugh.
"Haha, I'm afraid someone of your level can only see me if I allow him to."
He took a step forward and appeared by Nils' side.
At first, when she heard the clapping sound, Nils had expected the sight of her elder brother, or at least someone able to bring the news back to him. But seeing that the interruption came from Konrad, she lost all hope in survival.
With his cultivation level, there was no way he could reverse the situation.
"Heaven is really helping me today. Go, kill them both!"
Koloman roared, causing his teammates to pounce onto Konrad with weapons drawn.
However, Konrad remained undaunted.
"Helping you? Tss, tss, I'd say I don't know how many times you have been cursed by heaven to come across me at this critical moment.
Third Circle Spell: Judgment Lotus."
Konrad lifted his palm, causing three white-violet circles to appear around him.
A violet lotus rose from his palm, it bloomed, releasing dazzling rays of white light that spread across a hundred-meter radius.
The five assailants howled as their eyes burned into nothingness and life left their collapsing bodies.