During the thirty-sixth incarnation, as Konrad climbed the ladder of society, the belief that one couldn't have it all slowly ingrained itself within his mind. That the cost of standing above all was, perhaps, too much to bear, and not worth the result. His beliefs wavered, and he instinctively started retreating.
But as he backpedaled, an invisible force blocked his retreat. That force contained his unwillingness to be at the mercy of anything besides his self. That force, the root of his ambition, transcended everything else, and shoved him back on the road.
He couldn't retreat and dared not advance. There, he stood, trapped in the maelstrom of his self, without an answer to his path and the perpetual reincarnation circle he knew nothing of.
Then it occurred to him, that perhaps, there was no need to seek an answer. That instead of floundering, he should just advance without looking back. And if mistakes occurred, build on them to grow further.
Again, as he reached the top of society, he met the eldest princess under a new identity. But as they fell for one another, and past lives repeated under new circumstances, Konrad realized she wasn't the problem.
Somewhere along the road, he'd forgotten why he set on the path and lost himself.
No, more accurate was that in all his incarnations, his reasons were flawed, and his methods laughable.
To reach the summit on the sacrifice of those he called "beloved" was never the path he pursued, never the road he set out on. That summit was by no means supremacy.
It was failure under the guise of success.
The acme of mediocrity.
What point was there in owning all if no one remained to share it with?
Supremacy was nothing more than a shield allowing him to indulge his willfulness throughout eternity. Not a binding that required him to sacrifice what he treasured.
Such supremacy, he didn't want.
This time, Konrad didn't allow the sacrifice. He'd rather perish alongside the eldest princess than use her corpse as his stepping stone. First, they feigned separation, then, sowing dissent, split their enemies, and turned them against one another until they finally destroyed themselves and opened the road for Konrad's ascension.
Vast dominion and endless riches were all his. He ruled for fifty years and had twenty-three sons. But like all the rest, Konrad's mortality soon knocked on the door.
In his waning years, as he lied bedridden from a debilitating stroke, with the support of high-ranking officials, his seventh son forged a regency edit and had all his brothers put under house arrest.
He then falsified Konrad's will, murdered him, and usurped the throne. All his brothers were killed, alongside their mothers.
The thirty-sixth incarnation collapsed, and Konrad appeared in a world of hungry ghosts, each representing a soul he'd directly or indirectly harmed across all his incarnations. They gnawed his flesh and blood for one thousand years, urging him to relent and repent, but he never did.
Again, the world collapsed, and this time, Konrad appeared on top of a foreign world's highest mountain. From there, all could be seen.
A bald, middle-aged man dressed in the saffron robe of Buddhists sat beside him, holding prayer beads within his right hand, and forming a mudra with the left.
Without hesitation, Konrad sat at the man's right, ignoring him to enjoy the view below.
"Why such an ardent pursuit of supremacy?
Why not accept that one will always stand above you?"
The Buddhist monk asked.
"Why do I crave supremacy? Why can I not settle for a world where one shall stand above me? Honestly, I believe there are seven reasons.
First, greed. I delight in owning, in controlling the lives and deaths of those that surround me. I am greedy. Greedy for authority, power, wealth, glory, splendor, and pleasure.
Second, lust. I crave the touch, conquest, and ownership of all beauties in this world.
Third, envy. I must seize and own what others possess, just because it is theirs.
Fourth, wrath. I must brutally obliterate all challenges to my will.
Fifth, sloth. I am lazy to care about how others view me, as long as they grovel. And rather have my pawns trample all dissidence while I enjoy all the sweet fruits of existence.
Sixth, gluttony. Gluttonous because there is never enough; therefore, I seek it all.
And seventh, pride. Proud, because I am I. And relish in being the incarnation of sinful greatness.
A man like me, heaven cannot tolerate, hell will not welcome. I only have one road, above it all! In success, I shall laugh at the multiverse's summit. In failure, my laughter will still echo, for I know I have lived a more splendid life than any before and after me.
I dare do what none other dares.
And covet…the unthinkable."
Konrad replied without shifting his eyes from the world below.
"What about regrets, what about fears? What about the consequences of failure?"
"Missed opportunities are more dreadful than failure.
Regrets? Fears? Those who step on this road should know what awaits upon defeat.
I do not fear defeat. I fear not having dared.
If I remain true to myself, if all decisions I make remain true to my heart, then no matter how vile, willful and corrupted it might be, and regardless of the result, I shall know no regrets."
The Buddhist monk nodded.
"Amitabha! Though I do not agree with your vile path, your heart is calm, your aim clear, and your understanding of your self, complete.
If your heart is a stone, then your Dao is this mountain. Unwavering and unshakable. Your position on the sin spectrum is also comprehended.
You are fully Sublimated."
The Buddhist monk's mild voice echoed within Konrad's mind.
"I'm curious, why is a bhikkhu serving as my Sublimation guide?"
Konrad asked in a mild but candid tone.
"Amitabha! The dharma is the law, the dao is the road. The two overlap in an organic whole. To guide the seekers is my duty, if one day you abandon this road to seek the Grand Liberation, perhaps we shall meet again."
The world collapsed, and Konrad reappeared within the emerald river.
His cultivation skyrocketed, going from the second step straight to the ninth step of the Semi-Holy Rank.
And as his eyes opened, he was already half-step into the Rising Saint Rank.
Leaping out of the Tribulation Valley, Konrad sat crossed legged within the air to refine his Pure Self and officially break through the Rising Saint Rank.
Meanwhile, within the Holy Flame Empire, the von Jurgens faced an existential crisis.