“Everyone, Formation 3, engage!!“
On the ground floor, Claude was the first to react and shouted out. He grasped the air as golden rays converged and transformed into a longsword that appeared in his hand. At the very same instant, a figure charged out from the swirling dust and came crashing down with the howl of a deafening gale.
Its target was clear as it shot straight toward the most important person on the ground floor.
He was the commanding officer and highest-ranked among the knights present. Most of all, he was the strongest. Once he was defeated, the others wouldn't be of any concern.
Naturally, Claude perceived this intent as he raised his longsword and adopted a defensive stance. From within the smoke and dust, a pair of dark green, webbed claws emerged first.
This surprised Claude. It's not Oswald?! Impossible! Probe magic had indicated Oswald was alone on the second floor! What exactly is this thing?!
But he no longer had any more time to think.
These claws closing in on him were at least half a meter long. Claude could see the thick joints, razor sharp nails, waxy skin, and hideous scales. Along with the webbing between each individual claw, it was evident that their assailant wasn't human.
However, the longsword merely parried the claws for an instant before shattering from the immense strength of the blow.
A thunderous sound was created as a result of the clash, causing all the billowing dust to disperse.
Claude gritted his teeth as he was forced backwards by the remaining unnegated strength of that blow. A white glow erupted around him while all his muscles contracted as he activated the power of aether.
He let out a low grunt and held onto the fingers of his opponent, expending all his might to hold off this non-human creature.
A string of fissures started appearing on the stone floor beneath Claude's feet like an expanding spider web of cracks. At the same time, the ground was dragged along as Claude was pushed back, creating dragging long tracks along with him.
The immense impact had ruptured his internal organs and bones, causing his face to turn pale and spit out a mouthful of blood. Using his last remaining ounce of strength, he forced himself to squeeze out a "Run."
Formation 3 was a tactic of using a single person as bait and having others surround him and the target.
Everyone else had spread out at start and hadn't been caught in the duel, saving them from unnecessary sacrifice.
At this crucial moment, Claude made the right judgment and command in the shortest time possible.
Too strong... I could at most hold on for three seconds at best. Perhaps I'll already be dead by the time Teacher rushes here.... Claude thought to himself grimly.
During a quick glimpse while he had been retreating, Claude noticed that Monica, who had been pleading for her life earlier on, had turned into a fleshy paste from being caught in the fallout of the clash.
That non-human monster had finally revealed its face.
Its huge body stood about five meters tall and was covered in somewhat silky-smooth scales in a shade of dark green. At the same time, it also had hair as well as what seemed like glossy human skin on certain areas, though all its limbs were webbed claws.
Most peculiar was its head. Half of it was still Oswald's face; his expression pained yet with a hint of delirium. His pupils spun uncontrollably, and the vein on his forehead throbbed like a squirming worm. It appeared as if he had already lost his mind.
Meanwhile, the other half somewhat resembled an amalgamation of fish and frog.
The midpoint connecting the two halves of its face was dark gray with layers of wrinkled skin covered in a mix of slippery, viscous fluid and blood. One of its eyes completely protruded and was bloodshot, and its mouth was torn to its lips, revealing an array of razor sharp teeth.
It let out an unintelligible rave, then switched to a human tongue, all the while with a deranged expression. “Great Lord…No, don’t….Kill…Power…Save me…Save me!!!”
As it let out a furious roar, the strength exerted by the creature continued to increase. Claude's forehead was completely covered in sweat as his hands trembled uncontrollably. He was only able to withstand it for less than a second before cracking sounds erupted, fracturing all the bones in his body, and he was sent flying away as the white flame emanating from his body subsequently extinguished.
Though Oswald is Destructive-rank, his advanced age makes him a peak Pandemonium-rank at best. But this monster’s strength is comparable to Teacher's! Despair sprung up in Claude's heart.
Who exactly is this 'Lord' it is referring to? The one who turned him into this monster? Right when we were coming here to apprehend Oswald... This must be a targeted conspiracy!
But there aren't many in Norzin with the power to raise a peak Pandemonium-rank to peak Destructive-rank...
Claude was defeated in mere seconds after the battle broke out, and however hard he thought right now no longer mattered.
The terrifying monster that Oswald had transformed into walked over to the fallen Claude and, with one hand, grabbed the knight but didn't kill him right away.
Instead, it lifted him up, revealing an eerie smile, then turned toward the door to meet the gaze of Joseph who was about to make a move.
“Our strongest former Great Radiant Knight, are you preparing to kill me?” The monster chortled as it tightened its grip on Claude, causing its sharp claws to pierce deeply into the latter's torso. "Or are you preparing to kill your beloved disciple?
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“Now, I just have to use a little more strength and the disciple you are so proud of would be crushed to bits.”
It no longer seemed as deranged and irrational as it had first appeared. On the contrary, it appeared like it had become even more intelligent.
Joseph's face was grave, but he made no move. He remained stationary with his fists clenched as an even more glaring, glorious white blaze emanated from him.
He looked toward his disciple. Claude was already in his dying breaths, struggling to keep his eyes open as he could only gasp feebly. "Teacher…Leave…Kill…I’m…Dead…”
His innards had basically been turned into a mash, and most of the bones in his bloodied body had been shattered. Any ordinary person sustaining such injuries would have long been dead.
It was only because Claude was a transcendent being that he could still hold out till his final breath.
And with this breath, he had made a decision regarding his own fate.
For a moment, Joseph could see his past self in Claude. With an approving nod, he grunted, “You have done very well. I might not have been able to do a better job if it were me in that position."
With that, he unclenched his fists.
“Guugugugugugu!” Oswald exploded into a series of eerie laughs as he taunted, “Are you furious? Livid? But you are Joseph, you are destined to not give up on your own disciple’s life.
"Now, please watch me take my leave while you... are powerless to do anything about it!"
The huge monster paced back and forth arrogantly, then raised the claw that pierced Claude was impaled on, allowing for gravity to intensify his pain. “Enjoy this burst of anger, for this is the final outcome for righteousness.
"Despicability is a free pass of those that are despicable, isn't that right?"
Joseph took in a deep breath as he stood his ground calmly. “Unfortunately, Oswald, despicable would just be your epitaph.”
Oswald was taken aback for a moment. Then, as he was about to retort the stubborn fellow, he suddenly sensed a massive shadow looming over his head. As he instinctively gazed up, he saw an even bigger white giant reaching its palm toward him.
His vision turned dark and he no longer felt or thought anything.
The giant had no face and gently twisted Oswald’s head off with one hand, while its other hand caught the falling Claude and laid him down among the wreckage.
—[Virtual Soul Realm]!
When Joseph extended his fist, it hadn't been to channel strength but rather to open Virtual Soul Realm.