Heinrich's guttural howl pierced the sky. As the lightning dispersed, he fell onto his knees with his charred body oozing smoke, alarming the thousands of spectators. Although they didn't know his cultivation level, from his cassock alone, they could see his exarch rank, which clearly marked him as a Saint!
But such a powerhouse, a rarely seen individual standing at the summit of the Holy Flame Empire with the church as his backing, was struck down in a single blow without the ability to resist.
As for the bishop hovering in the air, while he wasn't targeted by the lightning bolt, the horrible energy emanating from it was enough to shred half of his body. He dropped from the sky, crashing on the ground, lifeless.
Protected by a wave of holy power, Elmar who stood right in front of Heinrich with Nils within his grasp remained unscathed.
All eyes rose to the sky, seeking the origin of the terrifying blow. Grey fog gathered, coalescing in the form of a silver-haired, slender man whose features were seventy to eighty percent similar to Elmar's.
The overpowering aura of a monarch rippled around him, and although he seemed to be in his mid-twenties, the weight of centuries shone within his eyes.
He was the holy emperor, Olrich von Jurgen.
Seeing him, the thousands of nobles rose from their seats, and without exception fell on their knees. The twelve dukes were no exceptions.
"Greetings your majesty! May your reign last an eternity!"
On his knees, Heinrich who clung onto his life stared at Olrich's form with a mixture of fury and horror. Horror because from this blow alone, he felt the depth of Olrich's cultivation. This made no sense. Although he knew the Holy Emperor's cultivation way above his, the gap couldn't be this vast.
After all, Olrich achieved sanctification at the age of six hundred. It had been less than three hundred years since that moment; therefore, according to logic, it would be great if he broke through one level. However, from what he could see…
"He completed the Third Cycle of Purity…"
Heinrich inferred, and as if to answer his unspoken question, Olrich released his vast holy power. Nine pairs of white wings spread from his back while a large ring of the same color appeared above his head.
Within that ring, three spotless lotuses blossomed, releasing a formless, immaculate power that swirled around Olrich's form.
Was it not for his bone-chilling eyes nailing Heinrich from above, he would have looked like the holiest of angels.
And seeing his fears confirmed, Heinrich despaired. However, with his strength, if Olrich wanted to kill him, he would already be dead. Therefore, he assumed that the church's name still brought him no small amount of scruples.
The belief emboldened him.
"Your majesty, what is the meaning of this? Are you trying to rebel?"
Heinrich roared while attempting to rise from his knees. However, Olrich's vast holy power kept him nailed on the ground, unable to make the tiniest move. In front of a crowd of thousands, he was being suppressed like a child. The feeling of humiliation welling up within his heart threatened to shred Heinrich from the inside.
"Rebel? I am this country's master. Against who must I rebel?
As for you, under my gaze, you attempted to harm my crown prince and kidnap my daughter. Are you trying to rebel? Or did you think that your measly Rising Saint cultivation was enough to run amok within my realm?"
Every word carried with it formless holy power that stabbed Heinrich's organs and caused him to spurt blood. Was it not for the force maintaining him in the same kneeling position, he would have already collapsed on the ground.
He couldn't understand why Olrich who in the first century of his reign always catered to the church's wishes before slowly withdrawing from the court scenes to focus on cultivation, was now adopting such an oppressive stance.
Instead of bringing gifts and asking for forgiveness, he was actually raising his sword! Had he gone insane?
To say nothing of him. None of the knowledgeable nobles didn't find the scene bizarre. Exarchs ranked third within the church, right below the twelve high exarchs who themselves stood beneath the head exarch. With the high exarchs mainly focusing on cultivation, the exarchs were the church's face within the empire.
Was the emperor going to openly clash with the church?
"Your right to rule comes from the church. It is by its will that you hold your throne, and by its will, you can also lose it. Do you think that just because you became a True Origin Saint, you can go against it? You are courting death!"
The Holy Rank was divided into three great stages, each with their own three lesser stages for a total of nine stages. Because of the sheer power gap between each stage, they all possessed their own name. The three great stages were the Purity Stage, the Tribulation Stage, and the Star Taming Stage.
Within the Holy Flame Empire, the strongest was the church's head exarch who stood at the third Tribulation Stage. As for the high exarchs, nine were at the first Tribulation Stage while three were at the second.
Therefore, Heinrich firmly believed that Olrich, who had just reached the third Purity Stage, couldn't challenge them.
"Is that so?"
Olrich stretched out his hand.
The darkened sky crackled with roaring thunder and endless grey lightning rays that sent shivers down the spines of all the gathered individuals.
"You…dare, kill me? In front of all those people? In the middle of the church's domain? Are you out of your mind?"
Heinrich's confusion peaked.
"In this country, the people I dare not kill are not many."
Olrich lowered his hand in a seemingly slow, yet fluid motion to fire another lightning bolt onto Heinrich.
But at that time, three voices boomed from a distance.
However, it was too late. The lightning bolt descended and turned Heinrich into a pile of ashes. Even at the point of death, he still couldn't believe that his millennia of existence would end in such a wretched way.
Three new figures appeared at Olrich's front, all dressed in the golden cassock of high exarchs. Each one of them was an ancient character that dominated the Holy Flame Empire for thousands of years. And during that timeframe, never had they seen such blatant rebellion.
Just like Olrich, they possessed nine pairs of white wings and a large white ring above their heads within which three spotless lotuses hovered. However, in their presence, the feeble could feel the very essence of their fate being stifled; proof that they'd already reached the first Tribulation Stage.
Still, Olrich was undaunted.
"Olrich, did you lose your mind from cultivation deviation? Or is it possible that our long silence made you forget to who you owe your allegiance?"
The one at the middle of the three asked with veins beating on his temple. They'd arrived a step late and failed to prevent the death of a Saint. There were roughly thirty exarchs within the church, all of which required countless training. The loss of a single one of them was a non-negligible blow. To say nothing of the tremendous loss of face.
Although Heinrich ranked among the weakest, his death was still intolerable. Worse, he was a member of their Celestial Faction. How could they tolerate the insult?
"I hear a lot of the "did you go crazy?" nonsense today. It's odd, I believe you're taking the situation in reverse. Allow me to bring you back on earth.
All across the north. All across the south. From east to west. All things within this empire belong to me!"
Olrich released the full might of his cultivation, and although the mysteries of fate weren't contained within, the overbearing strength he displayed didn't lose out to any of the three. Individually, he even surpassed them.
"Third Cycle of Purity, True Origin Saint. Olrich made another breakthrough."
Else stated in a flat tone that prevented any grasp of her true feelings.
"Isn't it because of that accursed cultivation method? Was it not for that forbidden art, with his limited talent, how could he grow at such pace?"
Verena spat in a clearly displeased tone.
"Forbidden Art or not, there are not many people left capable of suppressing him. If the trend is not reversed, it won't take a thousand years for him to become unrivaled within this country."
As she spoke, Else stood up and alongside Verena, vanished from the booth to reappear by Olrich's side. Although they couldn't contend with the high exarchs if only for the sake of appearances, they had to stand by him.
Just like with Olrich, nine pairs of white wings sprang from their back while a ring of the same color appeared above their heads. However, only two lotuses stood within theirs.
"I was wondering when you'd show yourselves."
"Your majesty clearly has the situation under control. We're just extra."
"Since this is about putting the church in its place, how can I not join?"
Verena and Else replied to Olrich's words.
"No need. You should just stay put and enjoy the show."
Seeing the six figures hovering in the air, for once, Konrad felt the profundity of his weakness. While he tried to remain cool-headed and not let success get over his head, it would be a lie to say his unrivaled battle power didn't make him feel conceited.
However, no matter how high the battle power, his cultivation was ultimately shallow.
In front of the average Saint, he was an ant. And in front of powerhouses such as the holy emperor, he wasn't qualified to call himself an ant.
The thought was both unbearable and stimulating.
Dear readers and fellow men of culture, I have a few announcements to make.
A: Since the Holy Rank is more complicated than the previous ones, I've updated the "Ranks" chapter to include all its stages. You can check it if you feel confused.
B: I've been contracted for about one and a half month now, and after discussion with webnovel staff, it is time for me to go premium. Starting tomorrow, we're going premium.
C: In consideration of that, the release rate will increase to 10 guaranteed chapters for the first two weeks, and as I free up more time for writing, we will move onto 14 per week. I think by June, I should have finished all the required preparations to do 14 per week.
D: Mass release next Friday.
Thank you all for being so supportive. I hope we will keep producing good content in a healthy environment together!