"How could I be this, unlucky?"
This was the thought of those that ended up in Holger's group. They were all Arch-Knights; however, none had any illusion regarding the battle's result.
"The only way to tip the scales is to join forces against him."
They silently exchanged mental messages and readied themselves for the battle.
On the contrary, Nils' competitors were thanking all the Divine Lords for their mercy. Of the twenty-nine contestants, she was the only one beneath the Arch Rank. Therefore, most of them felt relieved, assuming that even in her True Form, she wasn't out of their league.
For the spectators' enjoyment, the groups would fight one after the other from A to D.
The arbitrator, the surviving bishop they were all so familiar with, hovered high above the ring, ready to intercept any misdemeanor.
"The rules are simple. The fight ends when only one man remains conscious. You can concede if you wish to and save yourself needless trauma. Artifacts are forbidden. As for injuries and death, you are responsible for your own safety. If you fear death, there is still time to step down."
The church had no intention to restrict the contestants by sanctioning killing and maiming. In any case, they were quite content seeing new grudges form within the nobility. Many members of Holger's group considered surrender. After all, even if they'd all came to an arrangement, chances of victory still appeared slim.
No one wanted to gamble his life on such an uncertain outcome. However, with their relatives, elders, and thousands of nobles eying them, they ultimately didn't dare concede.
"Since no one wishes to concede, may the battle royal begin!
Group A, on the stage!"
High above the twelve dukes was a floating, invisible booth concealed by high-level magic.
Not many possessed the qualifications to seat in that area and those who did often disdained attending. Currently, two women were seated on throne-like chairs and observing the events below.
With their eyesight, not even the tiniest detail escaped them. Naturally, those two were Verena and Else. As for the reason of their presence, it was to observe Konrad's results.
As they silently observed the scene below, the middle-aged Exarch in charge of the competition made his entrance.
"Your majesty, your grace. Had I known that you would bless us with your presence, I would have prepared accordingly. Please forgive my negligence."
His face displayed a friendly smile. However, neither of the two felt any good will toward him. Else flat out ignored him, not sparing him another glance.
"Exarch Heinrich, long time no see. Please do not stand on ceremony. This was an impromptu visit, and we've just arrived."
Although Else clearly didn't plan to greet him, Heinrich didn't appear offended and took his seat beside Verena who stood at the middle.
"It's rare for Saints to gather to witness this kind of event. To what do I owe the honor?"
"We're just curious about the progress of the imperial family's young generation."
"Is that so? Her grace the holy consort also bears such an interest?"
Toward that two-sided question, Else didn't bat an eyelid. And still, without turning toward Heinrich, she replied:
"I heard your eminence suffered severe setbacks during the previous round, and your position is now unsteady. While having difficulty protecting your burning house, are you sure the time is ripe to inquire on my…interests?"
A frown quickly flashed by Heinrich's face, but the change was too fast for anyone without holy eyesight to notice.
"I don't know what's more sorrowful. That you've been outplayed by someone you might never find, or that you cannot even openly investigate the…disturbance.
I wonder, should you fail to recover the beasts, how are your high exarchs planning to deal with you?"
This time, Heinrich had to suppress the urge to stand up and throw a palm at Else's mouth.
"Holy Consort, you're out of line!"
The debacle had indeed cost him a lot of prestige within the church's upper level, and if he failed to recover the lost beasts, considering that his failure thwarted the church's Anti-Demonic Beast program, harsh sanctions were inevitable.
"Out of line? Since when is the truth out of line? In any case, if you feel stung, then stop blabbing your mouth like a bored, neglected wife in need of gossip, and let me watch the competition in peace.
Otherwise, I don't mind -entertaining you-"
Despite his high self-control, Heinrich couldn't prevent the grimaces from showing on his face. Still, he said nothing more.
House Metze and the Holy Flame Church were nemeses. Else would never give him face. As the bystander, Verena couldn't help but let out a chuckle.
Group A was the least eyed since no extraordinary character was present. However, it was also the most balanced. With its seven contestants all at the second step Arch Knight Rank. In fact, it was too balanced. Every single one of the seven felt like they had a shot at victory. Therefore, no faction formed, and all fought indiscriminately.
The battle was long and arduous, and seeing such a fierce competition, the crowd loudly cheered. However, one man stood out of the lot. It was a purple haired man with pitch-black eyes that seemed as deep as the night sky. His features were eighty percent similar to the Kringel Duke's. He was his third son, Lars.
Lars's eyes shone with dark rays, and the shadow of a three-eyed purple serpent appeared at his back. In the middle of his forehead grew a third, pitch-black eye from which vast black fog emerged and spread to all his remaining opponents.
The three-eyed serpent race excelled at controlling poisons. Although theirs weren't as brilliant as Stolas Demonic Beast's, their innate skill was enough to shatter the battle power of most unprepared foes.
Lars' opponents quickly felt their vision darken, and their strength leave their bodies. They fell onto their knees, and couldn't resist his next blows that knocked them all out.
"Group A's victor: Lars Kringel!"
The bishop announced, causing a wave of applause to rise from the crowd.
With a self-satisfied smirk, Lars stepped out of the ring.
"Good boy. A pity that Koloman is missing in action. Otherwise, perhaps they could have had a good showdown."
Said the Kriegel Duke upon witnessing his youngest son's performance.
The Slesinger Duke didn't bat an eyelid, keeping a disinterested gaze on the platform.
"Group B, on the stage!"
This time, there wasn't much excitement within the crowd as the result seemed too obvious. Indeed, this was Holger's group. As soon as the bishop announced the match's beginning, the seven other contestants formed one group and encircled Holger.
However, he didn't seem troubled in the slightest. Seeing the disregard within his gaze, the seven felt humiliated.
"Holger, don't be too conceited. Although your cultivation is way above ours, with our combined strengths, we might not lose to you!"
"If you say so."
Nonchalantly, he stretched out his palm and summoned his energy sword. Pure white light burst from his form, shrouding his entire body. And feeling the lofty, immaculate power emanating from that light, the seven shivered.
"This is…holy quintessence. You took a Saint-Origin Pill? Why?"
The seven complained. This was no different from using a butcher's knife to kill a chicken!
To say nothing of them, the dukes included, not a single person present understood this sudden change. They could also see that Holger's cultivation had risen from the fourth to the sixth Arch-Knight Rank.
"You're asking the wrong person. Do you concede, or do I still need to butcher you?"
The seven simultaneously took a step back. However, surrendering at this junction would follow them for a lifetime. Therefore, they unanimously chose to press on.
Without hesitation, every single one of them assumed their True Forms. Some assumed tigers-based shapes, others eagles, and there was even one red python. However, none maintained a human form.
All the noble houses possessed True Forms in which their battle power soared. However, because their True Forms often looked so similar to demonic beasts, they rarely used them.
In their seven gigantic forms, they towered above Holger, making him look like a tiny pet.
Konrad who'd never witnessed members of the nobility using their True Forms was taken by surprise. His eyes widened, and assumptions flew within his mind.
"Why are they so similar to demonic beasts?"
"Because those so-called nobles all descend from Restoration Beasts. At the Restoration level, demonic beasts can assume human shapes, and the children they give birth to at that stage also possess innate human forms.
The current nobility of the Holy Continent is composed of the descendants of ancient Restoration beasts who surrendered to the Celestial Church eons ago. However, with time, the Celestial Church made sure that knowledge would disappear, creating the belief that those beast descendants belong to entirely different races.
And even though many doubt their ancestry, none dare acknowledge it. Truly an inferior breed. In the Infernal Realm, they're called False Demons."
The Flame Mark replied, dispelling Konrad's doubts.
In front of the seven towering beasts, Holger remained unfazed.
His sword drew a dazzling energy arc, his spiritual energy turned into sword energy, and slammed into the seven beasts in a hissing sound.
The sword energy tore their flesh, cutting large, gaping wounds within. Their blood gushed forth, and they limply fell onto the ground with the noise of their massive bodies crashing onto concrete.
"Group B's victor: Holger von Jurgen."
Holger dispelled his energy sword and walked out.