Konrad had remained buried within the dozens of contestants, causing most to overlook his existence. Especially with the presence of the crown prince and his handling of the recent events, his name had vanished from the contestants' minds.
However, hearing the two words "number one" paired with the name "Anselm Kracht," all began looking for him. Dozens of pairs of eyes locked upon him while those around him took several steps back, unknowingly forming a circle around him. The crown prince followed those eyes and spotted the green haired Kracht youth Konrad was currently disguising himself as.
Puzzlement flashed within his silver eyes as he observed Konrad. Why was it that with his Semi-Holy eyesight, he couldn't understand the nature of a youth's physique? The only thing he could see was the cultivation of the second step Arch Knight and Priest Ranks. Even then, he had to pay close attention.
Clearly, that youth possessed an ability or artifact that allowed him to evade the scrutiny of even Semi-Saints, and although his features matched the usual members of house Kracht, Elmar couldn't help but feel something amiss. Their eyes met, and although, at first glance, those eyes seemed awed by his presence, Elmar could feel no fear ingrained within them.
Konrad tried his best to give a flawless display, but the two centuries Elmar spent dancing with court politics allowed him to spot the imperfections others would not. If Konrad showed blatant insolence, Elmar wouldn't have paid him much attention. However, he was clearly trying to conceal his true feelings and thoughts from the eyes of those around him.
Elmar concluded that he had something to hide. A background check was necessary, but that was only secondary.
"Seventeen years old, but already at the second step of the Arch Knight and Priest Ranks. In raw spiritual talent, he surpasses Nils. Perhaps, he also surpasses me. According to what happened, he got his score in only one day. Therefore, it is very likely that he can defeat mid-level Monstrous Beasts.
Meaning that in battle power, without his True Spirit Form, Holger is at best able to contend with him. With such a descendant, why would Wolfgang let his daughter marry outside? He will most likely have them married before we can bring the imperial edict. If they are not already.
Holger taking Iliana's hand was an essential tool for Elmar to expand his control of the Uradel nobles. Initially, they planned to present the edict after the competition, but now it seemed they were a step late.
As for Konrad, he was slightly annoyed. That his score made him the center of attention was nothing surprising. However, the crown prince was not supposed to be here. His presence messed with all the plans previously laid out. Holger could no longer fake injury, and from the insistence he saw within Elmar's eyes, Konrad could bet his fingers that before the competition ended, the crown prince would have a report on him.
Fortunately, he carefully selected his identity among the many Kracht descendants. The real Anselm Kracht had always been a loner who focused solely on cultivation and never mingled with nobles of his age. His status within house Kracht was meager, and none paid him much attention. To top it all, he was an orphan.
To say nothing of outsiders, even the members of house Kracht found it difficult to know his current progress and true nature. Besides his birth certificate and lineage, Elmar couldn't find anything. House Kracht wouldn't be the first training talents from the shadows. Best of all, Konrad had made sure Anselm was somewhere "safe," away from prying eyes to avoid complications.
But as their silent exchange carried on, killing intent aimed at Elmar rose, causing him to shift his attention toward its origin. His eyes fell upon Koloman who didn't disguise the hatred within his gaze, and the desire to kill.
Taken by surprise, Konrad didn't have time to react. Although he knew that there must have been a deeper reason to his new servant's hatred of the von Jurgen, he didn't expect him to so brazenly fire killing intent at the crown prince.
Was he courting death?
"I should have taken some time to browse through his memories. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Let him draw the crown prince's attention. It would be a pity if he died, but he can only blame himself."
Konrad didn't intervene, but surprisingly, when Elmar's eyes locked on Koloman's face, a frown flashed by his face, but he took no further action.
The bishop who awaited an explosion of tension was disappointed by the lack of reaction. As for the remaining contestants, with Elmar present, they didn't dare comment on the rankings.
Joke, a Semi-Saint of the church just lost his head for offending the imperial family. Did they not cherish their lives?
"Now that the rankings have been announced, we will lead you to your assigned quarters where you can rest until the beginning of the second round. Those you came with are waiting there.
The second round starts in two days."
Those who didn't qualify didn't feel much disappointment. From the beginning, all had a rough idea of who could make it to the second round.
Unlike the first round, the second was a public event during which the nobility gathered to observe the battles of the most promising youths of the various houses and witness the birth of the next Holy Talent.
Regardless of how low their talent initially was, whoever obtained the Holy Flame Baptism possessed great chances to reach the Holy Rank in a lifetime. In the future, that person was destined to stand at the peak of the Holy Flame Empire.
Elmar pulled Holger and Nils toward the quarters assigned to the imperial family and led them into his chosen room. Incomparably vast, the church dedicated entire wings with several rooms to the competing families.
"The combined points of all the members of the imperial family didn't equal that of a single youth of house Kracht. I believe this is the first time I feel the name -von Jurgen- echoing with -shame-
Care to explain how exactly this happened?"
Although Elmar kept a level tone, Holger could feel the displeasure hidden within.
"I have no excuse."
Holger bowed, saying nothing further.
Nils who stood by Elmar's side knew that her fifth brother was about to get punished for her misdeeds, and so took his defense.
"It's all my fault, you can't blame him! I snuck out of the group to go on a solo hunt and ended up coming across that Accursed Beast. Holger had to drop the hunt to come to my aid, and then leave the third level to make sure I could heal in peace.
Was it not for that, our scores would have never been so low!
"A simple sorry is not enough to make up for this loss of face. We are the imperial family. At the very center of our empire, how can we allow lesser houses surpass us? What message are we sending? Decline?
Holger, do you understand your mistake?"
"As the team leader, I've failed to get my priorities straight and damaged the dignity of the imperial family. Please punish me."
Elmar nodded and fell into his seat.
"Since you know your wrongs, it is your duty to fix them. As long as you trample all contestants and snatch the quota, all is well.
By the way, how did you manage to repel an Accursed Beast?"
Elmar knew his younger brother's strength better than anyone else. Although in his True Spirit Form, Holger would rarely find a rival beneath the Transcendent Rank, escaping from the clutches of an Accursed Beast was something he could not accomplish.
However, before Holger could answer, Nils stepped forward.
"It was thanks to Anselm! He was fighting that demonic beast by my side and held out long enough for Holger to come to our aid."
Elmar felt a strange exuberance within Nils' voice as she mentioned "Anselm." If his sharp ears weren't betraying him, she seemed quite fond of him.
"Yes, it's true. When I arrived, Nils had just lost consciousness from the beast's blow. I teamed up with that Kracht boy, and together we managed to escape.
Holger repeated the version imprinted in his mind by Konrad. Hearing this, Elmar simply nodded. However, at the same time, he sent a mental message to Holger.
"The Holy Flame Baptism quota is of paramount importance to you. Without it, even if you manage to reach sainthood, you can't do it in less than two thousand years. We don't have that much time.
There must be no mistake.
As for that boy, he's likely Wolfgang's chosen son-in-law. After the competition, I will dispose of him to pave the way for you."
Nils remained unaware of the brief mental exchange. As for Holger, no trace of surprise appeared within his eyes. Inwardly though, he was full of complaints.
Meanwhile, Konrad who, from a distance, observed the scene through Holger's mind curled his lips into a smile.
"Crown Prince, it is way too early to say who will dispose of who."