The flame spirit exarch who'd been assured that everything would proceed smoothly felt like he was experiencing some form of human hearing problems. But flame spirits didn't have human ailments. Therefore, he believed a powerful cultivator was playing tricks with his mind and distorting what he heard.
Of course, it must be it.
Convinced of the accuracy of his judgment, he carried on as if the script remained unchanged.
"What devotion, what piety! Iliana Kracht, you are a heartwarming example for the faith, a beacon of virtue! In my thousands of years of existence, never have I seen such a humble, graceful human being! Surely the divine lord will bless you with countless graces, no, he's already blessed you!
Oh, to so unpretentiously reject what so many would aspire to with unconcealed greed? Oh, it is my greatest honor to…"
Confused, Iliana felt like the exarch wasn't hearing her words right, and so repeated stronger, louder, for all to hear.
"Your eminence must not have heard me right. I'm accepting the divine lord's baptism!"
The exarch stopped dead in his tracks and lowered his gaze onto the still kneeling Iliana. Either the mighty, hidden cultivator playing tricks on him was truly an unparalleled existence, or he was hearing things right, and the girl was accepting the quota?
How could this be?
Did she dare?
His eyes sought confirmations in the hundreds of pairs staring at him, and seeing the odd, confused looks aimed at him, he realized his hearing was perfect, no one was playing tricks on him.
She'd really just accepted the baptism.
Flame spirits were short-tempered beings. Even thousands of years of existence didn't teach that exarch self-control. His flame red hairs wildly blew at his back, and his similarly colored eyes daggered Iliana below him.
He was about to release his holy pressure and cause an unfortunate incident when a voice echoed within his mind.
"Stop making a fool of yourself. Carry on with the baptism."
That voice was one of the few capable of making him shiver, and upon hearing it, though begrudgingly, the flame spirit immediately carried on with the ceremony.
"Well, …then receive the divine lord's grace!"
Dazzling white flames erupted from the altar, soared into the air and descended onto the kneeling Iliana. The flame lifted her from the ground, carrying her onto the altar where the pure white orb flew toward her forehead and vanished within.
Holy light and flames swirled around her, giving her an ethereal look that rivaled celestials.
The flames snuck into her body, refining her veins, bones, blood, flesh, and spirit to the pinnacle.
Her spiritual cultivation directly reached the third step Arch Priest Rank while her martial cultivation reached the first step Arch Knight Rank, but that was only a secondary effect.
In a flash, her physique quality reached the top level of the Holy Flame Empire, rivaling the likes of the crown prince. Although her bloodline didn't change, it became a lot more refined and powerful. As for her innate constitution. Previously, she didn't have any. Now, however, she possessed an Innate Flame Physique.
With time, even without training, as her cultivation improved, it would naturally reach the holy rank.
Seeing all the benefits that half-human insect received, the flame spirit exarch despaired. Those benefits should belong to his Celestial Faction! Why did those damnable inquisitresses swindle him?!
If it weren't because inquisitresses didn't belong to his jurisdiction, he would have already had them exiled to the deepest recesses of the empire!
For the first time in his long, dignified life, there was one word he ached to scream with all his might: FUCK!
The baptism ended, and alongside it, all the supernatural phenomenon surrounding Iliana. The white orb escaped her forehead, going back to floating above the altar while a mild force returned her onto the ground.
"Thank you, Divine Flame Lord, for your grace!"
Hearing this, the exarch wanted to spurt blood, but because his flame spirit body was chiefly composed of fire, he didn't have blood to spurt. So, he just drew in a deep breath and barked:
"The ceremony is over, and now I must return to prayers! Disperse!"
And with a sweep of his long sleeve, he stormed out of the altar room, leaving some of the still dumbstruck noble to wonder what was wrong with him.
The baptism's end quickly spread throughout the Holy Flame City, carrying alongside it the news of the birth of a new holy talent!
"What dog-level intimidators is your department producing that you can't even coerce count-level nobility children into submission? Are you sure you've not been bribed by house Kracht? Is that why your results were this pathetic? Lost to a trivial count! Fuck! Do you even understand the importance of this quota?
On the young, it represents a potential saint, but on established peak-level Semi-Saints, that's an immediate ticket to sainthood!
With it, we could have instantly replaced Heinrich's loss. With those damned barbarians showing signs of action. What is the current worth of a Saint? Damn Olrich and damn your useless worms!"
The Flame Spirit vented his anger on one of the two exarchs in charge of the inquisition department.
"Our people followed the instructions to the letter. If you want to blame something, blame yourself for getting outplayed by the "trivial count." You not only failed to gauge his real strength but provided him with the opportunity to conceal all his close relatives.
Now you want to put the blame on us?!"
The argument was getting increasingly more heated. Meanwhile, others were discussing what to do with Konrad.
"Have the inquisitresses cleanse all his wounds and release him."
"Just like that?"
The flame spirit couldn't accept such an end. Due to his lack of cooperation, Konrad was one of the chief culprits of this debacle. If he didn't beat him senseless, he could never vent the hatred within his heart.
"Of course, just like that. What? Have you not created enough doubts? Must we also answer for the sudden disappearance of the country's new number one talent right after his victory? Or are you that eager to give others the opportunity to cause trouble?"
Two inquisitresses came down Konrad's cell to clean and prepare him for release. Afterward, they led him back up and brought him all the way toward the church's exit, where Iliana had been waiting for hours.
As soon as Konrad's eyes laid on her, he activated his Origin Sight to see the baptism's results. What he saw didn't disappoint him. If she could digest all her gains and build on them, Iliana's battle power wouldn't be inferior to Nils' in human form.
It would even be a step above.
As for her, as soon as she saw him, Iliana leaped onto his chest, collaring him in a tight embrace. She pressed hard around his neck, as if afraid of again losing him.
"Good. Why does a scoundrel like you deserve to breathe? Just die within my arms."
As usual, the words didn't match her heart where relief now overflowed.