Inwardly, the Stolas Beast cursed its ten thousand ancestors, fate and all the deities of the universe. Most importantly, it also cursed itself. Never in its wildest dreams did it expect Konrad to be a direct descendant of a noble demon house. Had it been aware of that, it would have never dared open the hostilities.
"Overreach…I overreached myself…"
It complained with green blood gushing from its half-broken face. Konrad took a leisurely step forward and appeared before it. His hands tightly clenched around Man-Breaker while his cold, unfeeling eyes rested on the Stolas Beast.
"It's too late for such words. Don't worry, I will make sure your body doesn't go to waste."
Konrad lifted Man-Breaker and lowered it in a crushing blow that bashed the Stolas Beast's head in, and crushed the life out of its body in a macabre concerto of breaking bones.
The Stolas Beast's lifeless body limply fell onto the ground.
"Do you want to start the refining process?"
The Flame Mark asked.
"Let's wait for one moment. We still have someone to deal with."
A berserk force approached at breakneck speed. It moved past the trees and appeared by Nils' side.
Naturally, it was her brother, the fifth prince, Holger. He had first been alarmed by the flurry of spells that streaked across the sky. Spells he recognized as his sister's. Reckoning that she'd gotten entangled in a battle with the Accursed Beast that caused all to flee toward the lower levels, Holger decided to leave his team behind and rush toward this place.
However, when vast demonic energy buffeted his face, he knew the situation dozens of times worse than he expected. Therefore, he used the full might of his cultivation to cover the distance at his fastest speed.
By the time he arrived, the Stolas Beast had just perished; leaving only Konrad, Nils and the plethora of demonic energy.
Holger's blazing eyes moved between the unconscious Nils and Konrad whose body seemed to be the source of the demonic energy.
His mind reeled, his thoughts went wild, and assumptions ran rampant.
"What have you done to my sister?"
He bellowed in a frenzied tone upon kneeling by Nils' side to check her pulse and realizing the frailty of her current state.
Konrad glanced at him with a sneer.
"Regardless of what I did or did not do to her. What can you do?"
He had no intention to waste time pleading innocence when his status as a demon clearly meant an inevitable battle. And with Man-Breaker in hands, he simply didn't put Holger in his eyes.
Holger stood up, his scorching, silver gaze daggering Konrad while he stretched out his arms.
"True Spirit Form!"
Just like Nils before, silver light and grey fog burst from Holger's body while his hairs and skin glittered in a light akin to the moon's.
In a heartbeat, his cultivation rose from the fourth step Arch Knight to the seventh step Arch Knight and his battle power soared.
However, Konrad still didn't take him seriously. Wielding his lineage weapon, even a low-level Accursed Beast was no match for him.
Could he possibly dread Holger?
He tapped the ground with Man-Breaker, releasing vast suppressing force that smashed into the unprepared Holger and lowered his cultivation by half a rank.
He went from the seventh step Arch Knight to the second step Arch Knight. The same level as Konrad.
"What sorcery is this?"
Holger blurted in stupor. He wasn't well-versed on the topic of demons as they seemed like a distant enemy that served a greater role in justifying the church's power rather than pose an actual threat.
Thus, although he could identify Konrad as a demon, he possessed no understanding of his weapon and its abilities.
Suppressed by Man-Breaker, he now had to fight against his own body to maintain control and display a minimum of fighting power. The fight had not even started, that it was already lost.
Konrad gave him no verbal answer, appeared before him in a flash, and threw a punch straight at his chest.
It caved in, and he flew backward with blood gushing from his mouth, staining his lips and golden robe in its red. He then crashed onto the ground.
Konrad once again appeared by his side and kept him pinned down by pressing the full weight of Man-Breaker on his chest. He was entirely at his mercy.
"I'm confused. What did you hope to accomplish by coming here? On one side you had an Accursed Beast and on the other side a pureblooded demon. Regardless of how you look at this, you were rushing toward your death.
What was the point?"
Though he knew himself defeated and unable to reverse the situation, Holger still didn't give in to fright and kept his unyielding eyes locked on Konrad's.
"Since my beloved sister is in danger, I must, of course, come to her aid. Regardless of the cost, regardless of the result, the first thing to do is naturally to support her.
But I suppose one of demonic blood cannot understand that principle."
He spat, causing Konrad to burst into laughter.
"You're right, I can't understand. You speak about brotherly ties with such vigor that I'd almost taken you seriously. However, was Nils replaced by say…your seventh brother, would your reaction still be the same?"
To this, Holger turned his eyes and didn't answer.
"Yeah, I thought so. Such selective, hypocritical family ties. The imperial family is truly a joke. But it's alright, this all suits me well.
Submit to me, and I can spare both your lives. How does that sound?"
Holger could exchange his life for his princely dignity, but he could never gamble Nils'. Therefore, he immediately softened.
"What do you want me to do?"
"Simple, accept a contract of perpetual servitude. Pledge to do my bidding for an eternity, and you can both go scot-free. Are you willing?"
As an imperial prince, the implications of surrendering his life and soul to a demon were clear within Holger's mind. However, his eyes remained firm, and he didn't hesitate.
"I am willing! As long as you can spare her, I can do whatever you want."
Recalling how Nils proudly said her father, eldest brother and fifth brother could burn the country for her sake, and how Holger brazenly charged to rescue his sister, Konrad had no doubt that he could coerce him into submission.
A new pawn had been obtained.
Unlike Wenzel, the unfavored sixth prince, Holger was greatly valued by his father, the Holy Emperor. Moreover, he was the closest man to his eldest brother the Crown Prince.
He would be an excellent pawn within the imperial family.
Konrad summoned the pentagram and glyphs and conducted the contract with Holger's compliance.
Like all the others, his talent became Konrad's, his mind became an open book while his life and will now belonged to Konrad.
Konrad lifted Man-Breaker from Holger's chest, making it vanish in a purple haze.
"In the next part of the competition, you will feign injury and not participate. Understood?"
Clear unwillingness appeared within Holger's eyes. This competition was his once in a hundred years opportunity to obtain a Holy Flame Baptism. His only hope to reach the Holy Knight Rank in a lifetime. Without it, unless he received great opportunities, he was likely to never go beyond the Semi-Holy Rank. How could he give it up?
However, thanks to the contract, Konrad's will was now a supreme force he couldn't challenge.
"Good. Now take your sister and scram. When she asks, you joined the battle at a critical time and managed to tip the scales. Together, we fought off the Accursed Beast and forced it back to the fourth level."
Konrad ordered, and Holger didn't delay. In silence, he placed Nils on his shoulders and left the scene.
Konrad then walked back toward the deceased Stolas Beast.
"Why didn't you keep the girl? I can feel that you want her."
The Flame Mark's inquiry produced no emotion within Konrad's eyes.
"With that girl, there are only two ways things can go. Either I forcefully rewrite her memories to suit my needs and slowly deprive her of her free will, or I let her be. I am not conceited enough to believe I can cause that kind of girl to disregard the fate of her cherished relatives for the sake of my pretty eyes. I won't comment on the others, but if her father and eldest brother treat her with the same love her fifth brother does...if the day comes when she must choose between them and I, what do you think she will do?"
"I have no certainty about the future, and since I do not plan to modify her, I might as well let her be. As for what we will be in the future, be it friends or enemies, let fate run its course."
"You have too many considerations. If you want a woman, you should just take her. The consequences be damned. With the rising power of your demonic blood, what can you not handle?"
"To each its own. I may be self-serving, greedy and conceited, but knowingly pulling a woman I like into such a furnace for the sake of temporary pleasure or false emotions is something I'd rather not do."
The Flame Mark had nothing else to say and began instructing Konrad on how to refine the Stolas Beast into a new totem.