It took less than a second. Verena didn't even have the time to take a good last glance at her only child, that he'd been reduced to a pile of nothingness. Instinctively, she stretched out her hands, wobbling, paling hands toward the lingering black flames, but even they remained not for long.
The flames dispersed, but the echo of Ube's howls remained. Remained within her mind, against her skin and assailing her knees. They weakened, and she dropped onto the ground with reddening eyes and death-colored cheeks.
If before, Wenzel, Elia, and Helmut didn't dare make a sound, when catching glimpses of Verena's anguish, they couldn't repress a sigh. Konrad, however, remained impassible. And from his body, horrendous Devil Force soared in billowing black mist, fog, winds, and flames, announcing his breakthrough to the early-stage of the Grand Devil Realm. Now, based on cultivation, he was equal to peak-stage Cosmic Gods. But in battle-power, depending on the full power of his Bloodline and Laws, peak-stage Ancestral Gods were not likely to survive three moves.
Of course, if he unleashed the full power of the Chthonian Realm, throughout the Three Realms, none could resist him. In this multiverse, he no longer had rivals. However, unleashing that force would undoubtedly reveal his position to the undesirable few of the Firmament. Therefore, unless absolutely necessary, he'd rather not.
Aware that their monarch had broken through to a new Realm, Wenzel, Elia, and Helmut bowed on their knees.
"Congratulations, your august majesty, for your breakthrough!"
"Congratulations, imperial father, for your breakthrough!"
The three proclaimed. But while Wenzel and Helmut didn't care for the treacherous Ube's demise, Elia felt a bitter taste coiling around his tongue. Worse, the feeling that their father's breakthrough was linked to Ube's destruction only made it worse. The timing was far too convenient.
However, he couldn't express such thoughts. Threading on the fell to rise, such was the Devil Road.
Ignoring their words, Konrad waved his hand, teleporting the three beyond the throne room through three beams of black light. Now, only Verena and he remained, and he shifted his gaze toward her. Her silent tears trickled without end.
"Why the sulk?"
Konrad asked, but the insensitive words seemed to fly by Verena's ears, and for an instant, she didn't turn to face him. But following a lasting moment of silence, Verena broke her stillness.
"You did what you had to do; I won't blame you. You didn't favor him and can therefore stand indifferent to his fate; I won't blame you. But if you don't allow me a moment to grieve my loss, I can't forgive you."
Verena stated in a listless tone. Hearing this, Konrad shook his head.
"You grieve the dead, not the living. If you're that determined to grieve, then I must kill him first."
Konrad replied, and squeezed the Chthonian Devil Heart within his hand. Only now did Verena hear that faint, imperceptible heartbeat lingering within the air. Her eyes opened wide, and she spun toward Konrad to see Ube's heart beating - if only a little. Lifted by a surge of emotions, she rose to her feet and strode toward the faintly beating heart.
While the other three remained, Konrad kept the heartbeat suppressed. Only after sending them away did he release it. But as her wobbling hands brushed Ube's heart, Verena couldn't understand the nature of this sorcery. Although Gods and Devils could reconstruct their bodies as long as their soul remained, once destroyed, to say nothing of a heart, even a full corpse served no purpose.
Ube's soul had clearly been consumed by Konrad's flames and was now nowhere to be seen. Why did his heart still beat?
"In my grand, boundless, and world-soothing generosity, I used my third Devil Body to create a purgatory for this rebellious creature. He now stands in a parallel dimension within the Chthonian Realm where his soul shall burn 24/7. The only way out for him is a 180 degrees turn. If he renounces his resentment and other treacherous thoughts, the flames will burn the insecurity, greed, envy, and other problematic sources of negativity from his soul, and he will return with an incomparably mightier foundation.
A century, a millennium? Perhaps in a million years he will still be burning. Perhaps eternity won't be enough, it depends solely on him."
Konrad explained, before tossing the heart toward Verena who quivered in excitement! So great was her excitement that she almost failed to grab the heart, fumbling with it for a few seconds before holding it firm within her hand.
"The day the heart disappears is the day he returns. Needless to say, this shall remain a secret. Especially from those runts."
Konrad stressed, and the half-dazed Verena replied with a succession of approving nods. There was no way Konrad would allow those runts to realize Ube's true condition so soon. The lesson should stick for some time, less they become unscrupulous.
In a twister of light, Verena summoned a box in which she sealed Ube's heart before concealing it in a space treasure. But as her eyes returned on Konrad, she realized that she now was at a loss of words. With nothing else to say, she graced him with a radiant smile, and said:
"Sorry and thank you."
Verena had always considered Ube's relentless misdeeds the result of her own failings. Meanwhile, though a potential eternity of searing pain outwardly seemed brutal. How could she not see that it was but an opportunity under the guise of penalty. Moreover, with her current understanding of the Laws, how could she not know the cost of creating such a dimension?
For Ube who indeed deserved to be damned, this was only a step short from rewarding malice with kindness.
Therefore, besides "Sorry and thank you," she didn't have anything to say.
Konrad didn't reply and walked past Verena before vanishing in billowing black flames. But as she wondered if he was perhaps dissatisfied, Konrad's voice echoed within Verena's mind.
"It takes two to make children, and two to raise them proper. If the child's character flaws lie in the parents' failures, then I hold half the share of blame. I don't allow you to take it all upon yourself.
Also, between the two of us, if I ever hear words such as 'sorry' and 'thank you' again, I won't spare you."
As those words resounded, warm tears trickled down Verena's cheeks, contrasting with her radiant smile and eyes that mirrored the untold waves of warmth filling her chest.
"Konrad, having you as husband, I have not lived in vain and ask for nothing more."