The silver mechanical arm clenched its fingers slowly but surely, causing a metallic crunching sound as it held the massive palm back, gradually pushing it back.
Scale-like patterns on the arm shone with a white glow, illuminating half of the being holding off the giant palm.
Grizzled hair, a resolute face, and a two-meter-tall frame built like a tank. His shirt was almost bursting from the rippling muscles that were completely taut from using all his strength.
The figure standing there alone possessed a powerful aura of deterrence, not to mention the piercing gaze as well as the fearsome aetheric field he had unleashed.
At first sight of this burly old man, Zuikaku and his magician corps were stunned as looks of disbelief appeared on their faces.
Destructive-rank Great Radiant Knight of Secret Rite Tower, 'Indomitable Sacred Flame' Joseph!
What the hell is he doing here?!
Zuikaku's heart tightened as he recalled the past deeds of this man, especially the previous person to have fought Joseph, the Destructive-rank black magician Wilde. It was said that Wilde had been blown up (real physics effect) during this battle of apex beings.
Joseph had also lost a hand from this battle and gradually regressed. Due to old injuries and backlash from the demon sword, he withdrew to the rearlines, going from the Combat branch to becoming chief of the Intelligence branch.
In other words, Joseph should have 'retired long ago,' but he was actually here waiting in ambush!
The thought of Wilde made the Destructive-rank Zuikaku shudder.
At the same time, he had some doubts.
He had clearly gotten orders from the top to deal with the Church of the Dome's issue as well as the Ash Chamber of Commerce. There hadn't been anything said about Secret Rite Tower being involved!
Damn it... We're in trouble. We all won't be able to escape unscathed today if we mess with Secret Rite Tower. Norzin is pretty much under their jurisdiction…
Zuikaku gritted his teeth and thought, My mission can be considered accomplished if I kill half of the people in the book cafe. Joseph has been wasting away for so many years and hasn't been in combat for a long time. There's nothing to fear!
Eyes gleaming from beneath his sheep-skull mask, he raised his pale bone staff, and the ruby at the tip glowed with a blinding light.
The sea of blood rose again, and out of it stretched countless pale bone-like hands that twisted around the massive arm as if they were blood vessels supplying blood to it.
Blood vessels and muscles swelled up, making the arm seem like an old, knotted tree root as it jerked forward once more.
Joseph could hear his mechanical arm straining under the weight.
He groaned, disregarding the strain. Aether throughout his body ignited, and because of the high density of aetheric fluctuations, it glowed like a brilliant white flame, exerting pressure all around.
This was how Joseph's nickname 'Indomitable Sacred Flame' came about. As long as he was still fighting, the intense white flame would never extinguish.
While Joseph's frame was considered large amongst humans, he was still just a fraction of that massive three-meter-long palm.
But that was also why the scene of him blocking that arm was so striking.
After two years, Joseph's first appearance in combat still held the same overwhelming aura.
Sparks burst from the crevices of Joseph's mechanical arm as the massive force caused the metal joints to break apart. Even the metallic plates on it became deformed, cutting off the power supply.
The white glow around Joseph started to dim.
A few moments later, with his face and neck full of bulging veins, Joseph gave a roar as he stamped down, twisting his waist and 'ripping' the whole monstrous arm from the sea of blood.
Swish... Strands of squirming tentacles dangled from the arm ripped from the sea of blood, creating an extremely disgusting sight.
At the same time, Joseph's mechanical arm was completely twisted in the direction of that force, its outer layer ruined and now completely useless.
"How... How does he seem even stronger than from two years ago?!" Zuikaku gasped in shock.
The surrounding sigil array was also ripped along with that arm and largely disappeared.
Zuikaku could feel the aether reaching the point of exhaustion and reeled back in horror. He quickly gave out a command for his magician corps to begin mending the array.
But it was too late. After tossing the giant arm aside, Joseph ripped off his own prosthetic arm without flinching and stretched out his remaining arm.
"Blood Curse Mage Zuikaku. You shall be my first comeback victory!"
Corner of the lips curling into an excited smile and body glowing with a white blaze, Joseph shot into the sky like an arrow released from its bowstring.
Zuikaku was frightened at first, but when he thought about that great being in the next-door bookstore, he realized he wasn't in any danger. After all, the appearance of a Destructive-rank was probably the worst that could happen.
There were only a handful of Destructive-ranks in the whole of Norzin, and Zuikaku believed he could take down this tiny little book cafe.
And even if he failed, once that great being made a move, death would be the conclusion even for someone like Joseph.
At that thought, Zuikaku stopped panicking. With a twinkle in his eyes, he gestured at his magician corps to destroy the book cafe while he took care of Joseph himself.
He raised his staff once again, combining sigils.
From beneath the bloody waves, where the arm had been ripped off, a giant clambered out with a low growl.
This was a grotesque humanoid monster. Its entire body was covered with black fur, and its sole remaining arm was exactly the same as the one that had been ripped off by Joseph just moments ago.
The giant's skin was shriveled, green and basically decayed. At the sides of its head were two bulging eyes that glowed pink, and a massive mouth gaped from the top of its head all the way to its chin full of sharp yellow teeth.
"Sea of Blood - Impure Giant!"
This Impure Giant that Zuikaku had fed with the blood of countless possessed power at the peak of Destructive-rank.
"Go! Kill him for me!"
Dream soil scattered wherever the giant stepped, shrouding the surroundings in illusion.
Zuikaku was confident in his own strength. Even if Joseph is strong, Impure Giant is...
He suddenly noticed Joseph smirking as what seemed like an expanse of stars appeared behind him. In the center of it, a vortex of complete darkness swallowed the arm that Joseph had just tossed aside.
Zuikaku's eyes widened. Isn't this a sacrificial ritual—That arm?!
Joseph hadn't just tossed that arm away but sacrificed it according to a summoning technique from When The Stars Return, the book which Boss Lin had given him.
The stars are resplendent, the stars return.
Out of the dark vortex amongst the stars, a blurry figure rose with features so hazy it was difficult to make out. But beneath the yellow hood that was connected with robes of the same color, one could vaguely make out countless soft wriggling tentacles.
One of the tentacles stretched out from within the starry vortex, which drew Zuikaku's attention.
He was first fascinated before being frozen in place. Then, his body started to tremble as if he was going mad.
For that tentacle alone was actually larger than the 10-meter-tall Impure Giant...
This tentacle that grew out from the starry expanse was like some great, indescribable horror from outer space. A tyrant of the unfathomable astral ocean, capable of stirring up nebulae and shattering planets at will.
The tentacle casually coiled around the Impure Giant that struggled and howled before turning into a heap of mud.
Zuikaku was linked to the Impure Giant, and he coughed out blood as the sigil array all around him completely shattered.
With a defeated look on his face, Zuikaku's eyes followed the retreating tentacle into the deep darkness beneath the yellow hood…
By the time Joseph caught Zuikaku and punched him, the latter was already listless and drooling from his mouth like an imbecile.
Zuikaku was knocked to the ground and tumbled twice before coming to a halt, but he didn't stop his uncontrollable giggling. He got back to his feet, limbs dancing and uttering gibberish.
Joseph took Zuikaku by the hand, confirming that the latter had lost his mind.
Feeling a little shaken himself, he muttered, "Boss Lin is really scary. A summoning of this level... What the hell was that?
"Huu... Never mind. I don't want to go crazy either."
Joseph shook his head, and when he turned, saw that the fight in the book cafe was over as well.