"Did you hear?"
Asked a Jade Dynasty official to his coworker and friend following court session.
"How can you not know? Word is that his majesty has been spending the entirety of his time with a new consort and now neglects even the Jade Empress!"
The official hushed in his friend's ear after looking left and right, clearly afraid of the tiniest whisper leaking in the wrong ears. Hearing this, the other official's eyes widened in fright.
"How could that be? The world stands witness to his majesty's affection for the empress. But even she couldn't keep him trapped within her chambers. Who could possibly hold such appeal?"
The official scoffed, unable to believe such rumors.
"What do you know? I hear that woman lives within his majesty's personal chambers and shares his bed. Words have been spreading among the eunuchs and maids that he doesn't allow her to step out, and indulge in her body days and nights!
Now, the Legion Commander and Dragon Duke Wolfgang handle all of the Chthonian Realm's affairs."
If Krann was Konrad's right hand, then Wolfgang was the left. The two stood as the Jade Dynasty's top officials, answering only to Konrad. But though recent court sessions and events did showcase such trend, the other official still remained skeptical. And as the two left the Court Hall of the Emperor's Palace, they came across a young man around the age of sixteen, with back-length, translucent white hairs, snow-white skin, and the icy-blue eyes that showcased his imperial lineage.
At that age, he already stood at 1.8 meters, and though he greeted them with a warm smile, the two officials felt a chill run through their spine. Still, they bowed in greetings.
"Greetings, your highness!"
The two exclaimed with their backs bent low. Though he threaded carefully and seemed to never act beyond his station, they couldn't help but feel that a wolf lay hidden in the second prince, Ube's eyes.
If Ube felt their apprehension, he showed none of it, and following a brief nod, left them to carry on his way. Only then did they rise.
"I don't know if your words are true. Too many rumors circulate nowadays. Another is that his majesty plans to name a crown prince in the following weeks."
The official stated while staring at the direction Ube took. Now it was his friend's turn to gawk in disbelief.
"A crown prince? For what reason? Let's not even mention that the princes are too young. What need does the Chthonian Realm possibly have for a crown prince?"
He replied, causing his more astute friend to shake his head in disbelief.
"That's the crux of the issue. None whatsoever. But perhaps the appeal of the title alone will lure some beasts into baring their fangs. Though it seems outwardly peaceful, imbalance now reigns in the imperial family.
The eldest prince will soon reach the middle-stage of the Heart Devil Realm. The third prince will soon return, both stand with formidable background, but are, at the same time, remarkably aloof from worldly matters.
The second prince's background is the weakest of the lot, but his concealed ambitions surely surpass that of his brothers. I wouldn't be surprised if he coveted his father's throne."
The official muttered and his friend sighed at the words. While the three all were imperial princes, and the sole inheritors of the emperor's blood, in the eyes of the officials, a key difference in background still existed. The eldest prince was the empress' son, and therefore, the child of the number one and number three expert of the Chthonian Realm. That alone set him aside.
Moreover, his maternal grandfather, Hubert Voight, also held a seat among the twelve Chthonian Dragon Dukes while the Voight ranked third among the four mightiest houses.
As for the third prince, while his mother, Divine Consort Daphne Kracht didn't rank among the strongest of the Jade Dynasty, she undoubtedly was most favored. Better, his uncle Anselm Kracht, and granduncle, Wolfgang were both Chthonian Dragon Princes. With those two seats, and their second rank among the top four, the Kracht naturally were unshakable backers.
Those were rock-solid foundations.
If the emperor chose to let the princes compete among themselves, then undoubtedly, the first and third prince stood above the second prince whose sole backer would be his mother, Jade Consort Verena Kvass. As former enemies of the emperor, the Kvass never enjoyed the glory of the other imperial relatives. Therefore, their strength remained negligible. The von Jurgens were not much better off and could not provide much support.
Worse, the consorts didn't bother with politics. If he really had eyes for that seat, the second prince could only rely on himself.
"Be that as it may, this is not what we should be meddling with. The imperial family's matters are not what we can inquire on. If his majesty eavesdrops on us, we're finished."
The more astute stated and led his friend outside of the imperial palace. Little did he know that Konrad did eavesdrop on them and heard the entirety of their talk.
Within his chambers, Konrad indeed stood with one woman, Selene. But unlike what his officials expected, the two sat across a table, playing a chess game while enjoying potent alcoholic beverages.
"Konrad, the world has rarely seen a more ruthless man than you. What's the saying? 'No matter how evil, a tiger will not eat its own cub.' But you're not just planning to eat him, you're setting up the stage to bleed him dry!"
A half-drunk, half-serious Selene exclaimed before gulping another sip of her jug. Before such words, Konrad's lips curled into a smile.
"There are two things I do not allow within my house:
Treachery and stupidity. If he's so stupid as to challenge my will and threaten this house's stability, then I must deal with him as I would my other enemies. I give him one chance, one.
Survival or ruin is up to him."
Konrad casually replied before pushing a chess piece. And before such callous words, Selene shook her head. With his imminent breakthrough into the Grand Devil Realm, Konrad was ready to leave for the Higher Realms. The day he broke through was the day they'd leave.
But before that, he set up a stage to rid the house of its black sheep:
Second prince, Ube.