Time held its breath, allowing the pair to enjoy the fleeting moment for what seemed like an eternity.
Konrad then freed her from his grasp, and although she let nothing transpire on her face, Iliana felt a small sense of loss swirl within her abdomen.
"Let' get to proper business. I'm sure you must have an idea as to why they wanted to kill you right? Maybe you even know some of them?"
The inquiry pulled Iliana back to seriousness, and Konrad could see the shadow of sorrow hidden within her eyes.
Following a brief silence, she sighed and stepped toward the three priestesses lying on the ground.
"The dead males are head eunuchs, and those three women are among the Holy Consort's personal attendants."
She then moved toward Freya and indexed her drowsy face while casting a perturbed gaze at Konrad.
"As for her, she is Freya Stein, the daughter of baron Niklas Stein of the golden-eyed lion race. She used to be a court lady working under the Holy Consort, but thirty years ago, she was married to viscount Thorsten Schoner by the Holy Emperor's decree."
Court ladies were the superiors of the head palace maids and theoretically were not under the jurisdiction of any consort beside the Empress. However, many chose to join the different factions to pave a better future for themselves. Some of them were promoted head palace maids, but the majority came from noble families and entered the palace with the title.
The house Stein was a feeble noble house, but Freya was a woman of high talent and incredible beauty, so her father sent her into the palace at a young age to serve the Holy Consort and weave connections.
She didn't fail his expectations and managed to marry into the Uradel house Schoner which greatly improved House Stein's status and brought them countless benefits.
"You may not understand the meaning of "Uradel" so allow me to explain. Nobility titles may not be hereditary, but nobility is. There are two kinds of noble families. The Uradel that constitute the ancient nobility, noble houses with more than ten thousand years of history, and the Briefadel, noble houses with less than ten thousand years of history."
"Uradels wield enormous power and prestige within the Holy Flame Empire and can all trace their lineage back to a saint. Viscount Thorsten Schoner is a five hundred years old second step Transcendent Knight with an army of more than fifty thousand troops. He endured public criticism to divorce his previous wife and beg the emperor for an opportunity to marry Freya. That alone shows how much he loves her. But look at what you've done to her…"
"Careful, I might think that you're actually worried about me."
"Who's worried about you? I'm just warning you in good faith."
But she was indeed worried.
"That aside, I suppose the reason why they're targeting me is because of the Holy Consort's political games."
Again with the Holy Consort. Although he had never met her, Konrad was starting to find that woman particularly annoying.
"Else, the Holy Consort is the country's number one talent. She is less than three hundred years old but has already broken through to the Holy Knight Rank. But although she's the emperor's favorite consort and admired as the empire's number one beauty, she's not satisfied."
"In the last decades, she's been amassing an increasing amount of political power, and already has a hand in many government institutions. She also gathered the support of many Briefadel houses. This has alarmed many powerful nobles who now attempt to thwart her influence. Among them is my father, Count Wolfgang Kracht."
She paused, her eyes drifting into the past.
"The reason why my father sent me to the palace is not because of my illegitimate status. He was forced to do so by the emperor due to Else's intrigues. Ten years ago, as a warning to my father, she had me and my cousin sneak attacked by a ninth step True Priest. As a result, my spiritual cultivation was sealed while my cousin fell into a coma."
"In fact, was it not for me always hiding my spiritual cultivation, I would probably be in the same state."
There was nothing more terrifying than a power-hungry woman. The level of cruelty they could reach often went far beyond men in the same positions. Thinking about it, that was only natural. After all, their rise was often more challenging and required an abundance of ruthless decisions early on.
"Who's the cousin you mentioned? Is she the one you needed the other high-grade True Spirit Restauration pill for?"
The reason why Konrad was confident in the cousin being a "she" was simple. Since she could be used to threaten count Wolfgang, she was undoubtedly her paternal cousin and belonged to the Uradel house Kracht. That being the case, it was impossible for her relatives to not have True Spirit Restauration pills at disposal. The only explanation was that just like Iliana, she had entered the palace.
As for her status, Konrad recalled the rumor of Iliana being related to a consort.
"Her name is Daphne, an imperial consort and the daughter of one of my uncles. Although my father always doted a lot on us, he could not resist the emperor's decree to send us into the palace. Fortunately for me, my illegitimate birth allowed me to avoid the miserable fate of becoming a consort."
Challenging the emperor's decree was treason. Oddly, a commoner committing treason would only get himself beheaded while nobles caught doing so would drag their entire bloodline alongside them. This had something to do with commoners not possessing family names.
And now that Konrad knew the full story, he couldn't help but pity those women caught in the crossfire of political games.
"It is necessary to give them a lot of penetrating love."
"What did you say?"
"Hum, hum, nothing, nothing…"
He needed to stop that nasty habit of thinking out loud.
"Regardless, I do not think the Holy Consort is the one who sent them after you."
"Why is that?"
Iliana was puzzled. Who besides the Holy Consort could dispatch those ladies within the inner court? Freya was especially known to only obey Else's will.
"From what you've told me, the Holy Consort is callous but shrewd. You and your cousin are her political hostages. Meaning that as long as your father doesn't go beyond a certain limit, she will keep you alive. She can harm you, but she cannot kill you. Otherwise, she not only loses her advantage, but she also gains your father's unrestrained retaliation. It makes no bloody sense. Even if she wanted to kill one of the hostages to send a powerful message, she would first start with your cou…"
At that time, Konrad's eyes widened in realization.
"Not good! Quickly lead the way, your cousin is in danger!"
Only now did Iliana become aware of her own neglect. If she was being attacked, then wasn't it almost certain that her cousin also was?
Without another word, she turned and shot toward Daphne's palace with Konrad right by her side.
Meanwhile, at Daphne's palace, the only attendants left with her, servants carefully handpicked by house Kracht to assist and protect her, were now fighting tooth and nails with a group of masked assassins. But their resistance was coming to a brutal end.