A smile appeared on Melissa's face with the fire. Her eyes, resplendent as gemstones, curved into crescents. She opened her eyes as if she was about to say something and her beautiful brows froze for a moment before being swallowed by the darkness.
Sparks lingered near Joseph's fingertips before dissipating into the cold wind.
The young knight's outstretched hand stopped dead in midair, turning to ash that swirled with the snow and scattered in all directions, away from her father's hand.
Time seemed to stand still as Joseph could only stare blankly as his lovely daughter turned to ash in front of him.
The domain with the concept 'Burning' rapidly arrived and condensed on his body as white flames that seemed capable of incinerating everything. In an instant, the flames burned more brightly than ever and spewed out in all directions, but Joseph could no longer feel anything.
The tough-as-nails knight, who had never been weak in his entire life, felt like something was stuck in his throat. His mouth opened and closed like a fish gasping for air, but he could not utter a complete sentence—
"Me-Melissa..." He choked out the name of his own child.
He knew how painful it was to burn one's own life force. Yet Melissa had crossed half the battlefield all the while withstanding the barrage of Wilde's Supreme-rank domain.
Burning up her body with fire and never faltering.
However, such a strong child—his kind, cute, smart, hardworking, mischievous, beautiful, brave Melissa—hadn't been favored by fate… In the end, she could not reach her father's arms.
"Melissa… I'm sorry."
Great sorrow drowned Joseph. His eyes, which had long dried up for countless years due to the grueling training and tempering since his youth, filled with tears instantly.
He took deep breaths, but the surrounding air seemed to have become frozen, preventing him from taking in any more oxygen.
It was as if his everything that had always made him carry on living had left him along with those ashes.
As his vision clouded up with tears, images of Melissa's smile and memories of her flashed through Joseph's mind. Gradually, these seemed to overlap with the face of her equally young and brave mother.
Melissa's mother was once a Great Radiant Knight, as well as a comrade that had fought alongside Joseph countless times.
He still remembered… When she was young, Melissa hated her mother because of her strictness and her expectations.
Melissa's mother, a fellow Great Radiant Knight had died in Joseph's arms—
["Joseph, I'm dying." Darya smiled and reached out to touch his cheek. "Forgive me. I can only let you take care of our child alone… I-I hope to see Melissa become a true knight…"]
At that time, Joseph thought that he would be able to protect everyone as long as he was strong enough.
Thus, he trained himself with all his might, went on missions nonstop, often hovering between life and death situations. In short, he put the work of Secret Rite Tower first in order to numb the pain in his heart. His temper got worse, but his personality became increasingly upright and straightforward.
He'd followed his wife's wish, strictly demanding that Melissa become a Great Radiant Knight like her mother.
He never imagined that on this day, Melissa really became the embodiment of a true Radiant Knight. She was so dazzling, so gentle, just like her mother—And like her mother, died in Joseph's arms.
What was the use of being strong?
So what if he was a knight?
In the end, he couldn't even keep anything...
Joseph knelt on the ground and covered his face as he cried bitterly in the burning white flames, his tears evaporating before they hit the ground due to the high temperatures.
When the Demon Sword Candela drew him into painful illusions that tormented him for days and nights countless times, Joseph had thought that was hell.
Yet, he never imagined that this world would be even more frightening than hell...
Winston turned around upon hearing something and was rooted to the spot.
In the distance, a blazing explosion of flames lit up the battlefield for a moment. But when darkness enveloped it once more, that beautiful scarlet flame had completely disappeared.
Winston's heart sank, and he was entirely in a daze.
He couldn't believe that the talented girl's life would just come to an end so easily here, but...
But halfway through his daze, he roused up and tugged at his own hair while gazing at the white sea of flames.
As an old friend, he knew about Joseph's past.
Though Joseph had always been as dazzling as the sun in the eyes of outsiders, Darya's death was a darkness always hidden within his heart. Joseph had always blamed himself and even wished he had died during that ill-fated mission as well. And that was the reason why the 'Indomitable Sacred Flame' didn't fear death.
Since then, Melissa had become the main pillar of his life, which allowed him to return from the brink of death over and over.
But… What if Melissa died?
Surging white flames pushed the tide of darkness outward with unstoppable force.
From above, Wilde overlooked his adversary. He didn't ridicule Joseph for his weak and miserable demeanor. Instead, there was even a look of pity on his face.
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The pitiful fellow who couldn't discard his emotional burden was destined to lose.
As for Wilde himself?
He did reveal a soft side to his disciples in the past, but what came from it was betrayal and death; a knife that stabbed and twisted into his soft side.
From the day he personally used the ceremonial knife to kill his most valued disciple under Boss Lin's guidance, he had already woken up from that dream of self-deception and cut off all his feelings.
Wilde found Joseph's current disposition rather laughable. With a low chuckle, he asked, "Tsk, tsk, tsk. Does it hurt... Joseph? Is it unbearable?
"This is the path you chose. This is everything you wanted to protect. Take a look, what exactly have you protected?"
Wilde didn't waste this opportunity and tried to use words to further break Joseph's defenses with his words.
The most important thing right now wasn't to mock his adversary but to kill Joseph when he crumbled.
When Wilde spoke, the annihilative darkness of 'Eventuality' surged like a raging wave. Squirming tentacles poised to strike as he prepared to personally end Joseph's life.
The darkness representing 'Eventuality' wasn't able to quickly kill off Joseph.
'Eventuality' actually accelerated organic life to the end point, which was dissolving into nothingness. However, Joseph had already reached Supreme-rank, and every Supreme-rank transcendent individual had a 'pseudo-eternal' life.
The reason why it was 'pseudo-eternal' was, of course, because nothing in this world was truly eternal (except the great Boss Lin). Even Supreme-ranks only existed for a relatively long time.
Even though 'Eventuality' could make Joseph disappear, it would take a long time to do so. Thus, Wilde was only using his Law to weaken his adversary as much as possible so that his main body could attack.
These tentacles that seemed to have extended from hell itself rushed, shot forward, and attacked Joseph relentlessly.
Joseph was still whimpering, still unable to accept his daughter's death. The mass of tentacles wrapped around him, forming a squirming ball, and the white glow for his flames seemed like they were about to disappear.
Wilde concentrated his strength and even shrunk his 'Eventuality' Domain.
Seeing the still motionless Joseph, his lips curled upward—
Suddenly, he felt a burning sensation in his brain.
Wilde hadn't yet been able to react, but as if coming into contact with boiling water, he subconsciously wanted to pull his tentacles away.
A lava-like torrent flowed out from under the tentacles that wrapped around Joseph, turning wherever it went into scorched earth.
Wilde's eyes opened wide as he watched the tentacles restraining Joseph crackle and melt away like fragile paper. It was as if they had been incinerated by invisible flames that were still spreading. All Joseph could do was cut off those tentacles from himself.
Joseph had stopped crying. He picked up his sword and got to his feet slowly. There was no longer any fire around his body. His grizzled hair had turned pure white now and fluttered silently in the cold wind. His body was hunched and he appeared incomparably aged.
The domain of "Burning" had been completely formed.
But there was already no more fire.
Joseph looked up and raised his sword. His eyes were dead, but something invisible seemed to burn within them.
"Wilde... I'LL KILL YOU!"