Nils crossed the corridor leading to Konrad's cultivation chamber with a pair of maids by her side. Since her last interaction with him, she became more confident in that eunuch hiding deep secrets, and her heart thumped with trepidation.
The trio soon reached the door where the maids stopped to announce Nils' arrival.
"His grace, the imperial duke ordered us to let you in. However, we won't follow your highness inside. We shall now take our leave. If your highness needs anything, feel free to call for us."
The maids curtsied, turned heels and left, leaving only Nils to hesitantly stare at the door. For some incomprehensible reason, she began dreading what she would find inside.
With a deep breath, she strengthened her resolve and pushed the door open to step inside the room.
But as the door closed behind her, her eyes widened in disbelief. The man standing before her faced the opposite window, leaving only his back to greet her. Effortlessly, she recognized the "imperial duke robe" tailored specifically for him as well as the nine-jeweled crown donning his head.
However, the long green hairs that cascaded at his back didn't match his previous appearance and filled her with a mixture of fright and expectations.
The man turned, facing her with a figure that turned disbelief into shock. Though handsome, his appearance wasn't particularly extraordinary. Among the many von Jurgen scions, finding more striking was a piece of cake.
Yet, those pairs of emerald eyes instantly threw Nils' heart off balance.
"Anselm" didn't reply, staring into Nils' silver eyes with an indifferent look while his hands rested on either side of his waist.
Nils took a trembling step forward, and before she knew it, she threw herself onto "Anselm's" chest, wrapping her lithe arms around his back while warm tears trickled down her cheeks.
"It's you…it's really you…you're…alive."
"Anselm" said nothing, and as Nils' eyes rose from his chest to meet his, a startling sight awaited. The emerald eyes and hairs had turned black while the face reverted to that of the effeminate "ninth brother."
Alarmed, Nils pushed herself away from him with a shove and teetered as she regained her foothold. "Anselm" didn't budge, his body as immovable as a rock, and before she could understand what was going on, his figure once again, morphed.
This time, his height increased to 1.85 meters while his eyes turned into a shimmering purple. His slender body rippled with perfect muscles while his chest and shoulders broadened, and his face became a masterfully carved artwork eclipsing deities'.
Were it not for his expression that remained the same throughout the two transformations, Nils could never believe that from the start, she was dealing with the same person.
And yet, she was.
"So…so that's how it is. From the start…you wore a mask to trick the world.
This…is your true form…"
Nils stammered, and her mind browsed through the many possibilities that now appeared to her while her eyes trembled and her tears unceasingly flowed.
"What if it is? What if it's not?"
Konrad asked with his lips curling into a dissolute smile as he took a leisurely step forward.
With Nils being fifteen centimeters shorter, he towered above her and had to lower his gaze to seize hers.
Unable to withstand the pressure of his eyes, Nils attempted to take another step back, but before she could, Konrad held her waist, pulling her back against his chest while maintaining eye contact.
"You and I both know it is inconsequential. Regardless of what mask I wear, my eyes will still hold you captive."
Konrad declared while lifting Nils' chin and lowering his face toward hers so that their noses almost brushed one another.
Nils' heart rate shot up.
"Why chase the dead? Why antagonize relatives? Why come here with this palpable, mixed scent of expectation and dread?
The answer is simple.
Your heart has long since surrendered to me. The belief that you'll never again feel my presence haunts you because you…crave me."
Nils' heart threatened to burst from her chest, and she shivered within Konrad's arms.
"The heart is willful, desires uncontrollable. Once you surrender to them, you can never regain the reins, they become the masters, and you the slave."
Konrad's lips grazed Nils', his steady breath and mild orchid scent overwhelming her.
Konrad then leaned in, taking her lips into his for an ardent kiss. At first, Nils couldn't resist, surrendering to the sensation of his tongue dancing with hers. But as their minds connected, her eyes shone with renewed vigor, and she shoved Konrad away.
She stated in enlightenment.
"Before you were just a hoodlum. Self-centered, perhaps. Ruthless to enemies, definitely. But your callousness was limited, and your humanity still palpable.
But now…you're truly heartless. Whose emotions and fate do you consider before you make a move? And where do I stand on your spectrum?"
Nils didn't mention that she now understood Konrad plotted the fall of her two brothers. She didn't mention it because it was inconsequential. From her father, she now realized that even if he didn't move against them, they would still butcher him. If only to remove a hidden danger. To save his life and preserve his woman, he had to fight.
She could understand the principle.
However, the method showed a callous heart and caused the death of at least one innocent.
And now that he again stood before her, his mesmerizing eyes didn't conceal the oppressive darkness that existed within. Making her feel that compared to him, Elmar was an inoffensive choir boy.
"I just grew to accept my true self. Considerations? As long as it doesn't harm someone I care for, all is correct.
For those who climb the ladder of supremacy, building a few piles of corpses along the road is…nothing. A man must strive for might, for absolute domination.
Unless your will reigns supreme. All you possess can be taken at will. Women, wealth, dignity. If I didn't scheme the fall of your brothers, wouldn't I now be watching my woman under Holger's crotch?
Watching from the grave, that is. But why do I need to scheme? Because I am feeble.
Were I mighty, I could just butcher him, butcher Elmar, butcher anyone that dared oppose and threaten me."
The ferocity of Konrad's words forced the trembling Nils against the door. And when she realized she could no longer step back; she mustered her strength to again face him.
"Can't you just enjoy life beside your loved ones? Away from strife, away from woes? Is there really a need for supremacy? Don't tell me that the weak are forever barred from freedom and happiness!"
Hearing those naïve words, Konrad burst into laughter and slammed his palms against the door, trapping Nils in-between.
"It's because of words like these that I like you. Don't you want to know your worth in my eyes? Wrong, it's not about what you mean to me, but about what I mean to you."
Konrad began in a gentle yet tyrannical tone.
"I want to be your guilty pleasure. The wine you take, knowing it will harm your livers. The more I look at you, the more I want to stain you, ruin your purity, and pull you into my world of depravity."
Konrad's corrupt words triggered Nils' outrage. But before she could let it burst, a commotion came from the outside.
*Clang* *Clang* *Clang*
The sound of colliding blades reached the pair's ears. Konrad frowned, spreading his soul power to access the outer situation. And what he saw caused his lips to curl into a devilish grin.
That smile made Nils shiver.
Without a word, Konrad pushed the door open, and with his arms crossed beneath his back, exited his mansion.
Nils followed suit, and what she saw startled her. Two of Konrad's unremarkable eunuchs were now battling tooth and nails with masked assailants, showing dreadful cultivation she couldn't estimate.
"What…is the meaning of this?"
"The realities of the world. Even if you mean no harm. Jealousy, spite and apprehension are enough for the mightier to shred your life."
The two imperial eunuchs flew with blood spurting from their lips, falling before Konrad who'd reassumed his "imperial duke disguise."
"Your grace, his majesty let us hide within your staff to ensure your safety. Please don't worry, we'll use our lives to open an escape road for you!"
The assailants had sealed the area with a Semi-Holy force shield, preventing any noise from escaping.
Thus, the imperial eunuchs could only try their hardest to open a path for Nils and Konrad. Hoping they could hold the assailants long enough for the two to escape and alert the emperor.
But at that time, new forms appeared from the shadows, and as the eunuchs rose, desperation filled their eyes.
Sixteen men now stood before them. Five fifth step Semi-Holy Knights, and eleven ninth step Transcendent Knights.
Such a dreadful lineup was enough to eradicate any margrave-level house. Who was so ruthless as to dispatch this force for Konrad's life?
But as the eunuchs and Nils considered their options, Konrad's smile remained unchanged.
The eunuchs raised their weapons. Still ready to fight against all the odds.
However, before they could launch themselves into a desperate fight…
…a slender pair of hands pierced their chests from behind, causing blood to erupt from their backs, chest and mouth.
The imperial eunuchs turned their trembling heads to see the origin of this backstabbing, but when Konrad's face appeared as the culprit, disbelief filled their eyes.
"How could it be…you?"
Not only them, but Nils and the sixteen assailants also couldn't believe their eyes.
"I'd already been looking for an opportunity to get rid of you. Being Olrich's men, you can't blame me.
Don't worry, you won't die…yet."
Konrad retracted his hands, causing the eunuchs' gushing blood to drench the floor and stain his regal clothes in red.
They dropped onto the floor, their state unknown.
Konrad leisurely stepped forward, his eyes sweeping the masked assailants with amusement.
"Adelar is truly kind-hearted. Feeding me with so many high-level Transcendent Knights and Semi-Saints. I will have to thank him in the future."
Konrad joked while assessing the cultivations of his enemies.
"I give you one opportunity. Only one.
Surrender and thrive, oppose me and perish.
The choice is yours."
Konrad stretched out his arms, his Miraculous Transcendence erupting alongside the power of his meridians while his bone-chilling eyes daggered his foes.
And Nils who stood at his back, couldn't help but feel that in this particular moment, Konrad looked more dreadful than her father ever did.
The assailants could feel his cultivation was merely at the fifth step of the Transcendent Knight Rank. Although the intensity was something they'd never faced before, they didn't dread him, blaming the fallen imperial eunuchs' fate on carelessness.
"Kill! Whoever takes his head, his highness will reward handsomely!"