Riftan's POV - Under the Oak Tree - Chapter 44
Chapter 44 – Riftan’s POV
Translator – LF
Proofreader – Nymeria
*** Trigger warning! – Dear readers, please note that in this chapter there will be depiction of suicide, think carefully before deciding if you want to read it or not. ***
If he were to perish in battle, the thin string connecting him to her would be broken overnight. Then, she would forget his face completely in just a few years: he would be vaguely remembered by her as a monstrous man who had brought her unpleasant and painful experiences.
Riftan hid his bitter expression, wiping the ale from his lips with the back of his hand. He could tell just by her refusal to go to Calypse Castle how lowly she saw him. Perhaps, she even hoped for him to never come back. A sharp pain came over him, a pain he had gotten used to feeling now.
“Enough of the dreary talk.” Hebaron suddenly interrupted the conversation, sitting with his long muscular legs stretched out in front of him. “Let us rest for a day or so. Discuss the reinforcements or the dragon subjugation while on the road, can you not? We still have time.”
“Are you talking about just having a drink or getting wasted?”
Hebaron laughed at the sarcastic remark thrown at him.
“It’s the first time we’re tasting ale in 9 months. I don’t want to hear any more stories deviating from the taste of alcohol.” He shuddered and yelled over his shoulder. “Hey, does no one here know how to tell merry stories? There should be some enjoyment at a drinking party.”
“This is a vital expedition that will determine the Western Continent’s fate! An enjoyment…!”
Hebaron disregarded Uslin, who was vehemently shouting, and pointed to one of the apprentice knights sitting around the bonfire. “Harman, tell them a bit about that time you travelled to the South, when you were tricked by three harlots, robbed of all the money you had, then thrown out on the streets stark naked.”
“Sir, you have just told the whole story.” The concerned knight murmured, as if Hebaron’s suggestion was absurd.
“It’s a whole lot funnier when you tell it. Stop hesitating, you’ll never know when you’ll get another chance to brag about your experiences.”
Harman hesitated at Hebaron’s urgings, but eventually stood up. Riftan nodded at him with a sigh after the young man looked at him as if asking for permission. Then, the 20-year-old lad, who was a son of a merchant, began telling exaggerated stories and experiences he had while travelling around the world.
Riftan quietly watched as the soldiers got immersed in his stories, as if they were trying to forget the fears from their minds and the exhaustion of their bodies. Just as Hebaron said, Harman was good at telling stories. Laughter, jeering, and booing erupted from everywhere as he told the story of how he fought off a hundred thieves.
“Who are you fooling? You couldn’t have even fought two of them!”
“Just see and listen ‘til the end of the story. I’m telling you, hundreds of Southern Pagans cried out the name of God while running away from me because I outwitted them with my superior brain.”
Riftan’s lips pulled at one corner: a hundred became hundreds. One of the knights scoffed at Harman. “People from the South don’t believe in God, instead they believe that whenever people die, they become gods.”
“They believe that virtuous people get reincarnated as gods.” Harman corrected. “People from the South believe that humans are reincarnated every time they die. You may be born as a king or a beggar, depending on how you have lived your prior lifetime. They also believe that those people who committed terrible sins are reborn to suffer terribly as livestock.”
Another round of jeers erupted around them. However, some of the men seemed to be interested in his statements.
“Well, if I had to base it on their beliefs, I would be born as a king in my next life.” One of the knights spoke sarcastically and profanities broke out from everywhere.
“You lots would be reincarnated as donkeys!”
“No, you would be reborn as swine because you all devour food like pigs.”
Princess Agnes had an uncomfortable expression on her face as she listened silently to their exchanges. “I think the topic is getting a little out of hand.”
“It’s just a random conversation at a drinking spree, what’s wrong with that?” Hebaron retorted sternly.
The princess’ lips parted as if she was about to warn them, but sighed deeply and muttered instead. “Please be more cautious later when you join the Holy Knights. Mere stories like this could lead to interrogations.”
Hebaron snorted audibly. “If you place your soldiers in front of the jury for some joke such as this, the Holy Knights will be ridiculed.”
“You don’t have to take everything so seriously. Everyone is merely saying such things to get rid of their fears of facing death.” Ruth, who was quietly taking bread apart, spoke.
The princess shot him a glare then sipped her wine, replying with a coy expression. “Fine, then. Do whatever pleases you.”
The princess acquiesced and gently turned her head away. The soldiers began to talk enthusiastically about what they would be born as in their next life. Riftan watched them laugh and chatter for the first time in months and thought that, perhaps, moments like those would never come again.
“How about you commander, what do you want to be in your next life?”
Hebaron, who seemed to have had a good amount of alcohol in his system, dropped the honorifics and asked him just like how he talked to him back in the past. Riftan’s eyebrows gathered. He didn’t want to pour cold water over the heated conversation, but he couldn’t think of anything that he wanted to be.
Despite feeling inferior for being born as a mixed-raced, illegitimate child, that didn’t mean that he wanted to become a pure noble since he had a deep-rooted contempt for the nobles. He didn’t think he wanted to be anyone else other than who he was right now. Perhaps, he was tired of being alive. Riftan stared at the flames of the bonfire with distant eyes. At that moment, absurd words escaped from his mouth.
“What?” Hebaron burst out laughing like what he said was completely ridiculous. “Commander, are you drunk?”
Riftan brought the cup near his lips and laughed bitterly. “Probably…”
The expedition headed the northeastern course under the direction of Princess Agnes. Riftan’s breaths came out white as he cautiously steered his horse to climb up the frozen rocks. Fewer monsters lived in the higher altitudes of the mountains, but the roads became exponentially more difficult and steeper. On top of that, the temperature went below zero which made situations worse.
“The mana in this area is concentrated on one side.” While taking a momentary break, Ruth was scanning the area, then spoke between his rattling teeth. “I couldn’t detect a single fire mana in this area. It appears as if something is absorbing all the heat.”
Agnes had a serious expression on her face as she gazed at the frozen white ground and held one of her palms out. She produced a blazing fireball the size of a pumpkin, but the flames were extinguished instantly, like a candle lit against a raging wind. The princess clamped her lips, trying to light a fire for several attempts, but failed every time.
“Like that person said, something seems to be sucking up all the fire mana. It appears as if there is a special magic device installed to absorb it all over this mountain.”
“…it means that we’ve found the right path.”
The princess nodded her head in agreement. “Perhaps, the fire mana is being consumed to fortify the barriers.” She stroked her chin with a thoughtful face and added. “Or the dragon might be drawing all the mana from this area to restore its magical powers. Either way, there must be a clue hidden somewhere in this mountain that will lead us to the Dragon Lair.”
Riftan gazed up carefully at the sky. Clouds were hovering from the northern direction, earning a frown from him. It was impossible to climb the alpines together with an army the size of 800 people. He looked at the dozens of wagons and weary horses then declared his decision.
“From this path forward, it will only be me, Ruth, and 30 elite members of the knights who should go on. The rest of you shall wait here.”
“Wait a minute! Why are you excluding me?”
Riftan responded to the Princess’ question harshly. “Your magic is useless in this place. I have no intention of carrying an extra load.”
The princess raised her head like she was furious, but soon nodded her head, her expression turning to annoyance instead, like she understood he had a point. She herself was well-aware that she would only be a burden if she wouldn’t be able to cast her magic.
Riftan immediately chose 30 elite knights who would accompany him, including Hebaron, and rapidly formed a party to search in the mountains. They grabbed some equipment and began climbing up the rocky, jagged mountain. Ruth kept falling behind and delayed their hike, but there was no way for them to move on without bringing a wizard, they couldn’t leave him.
“How much further is it until we reach the point that the princess told us to go?”
Gabel questioned and Riftan looked up at the skies, trying to estimate the distance they had to traverse.
“We will be able to reach it by sunset if we move without taking a rest.”
“I hope we don’t freeze to death by then.”
Ruth grabbed his cloak made of wolf fur tightly around him and spat out. Riftan glanced at him, his eyebrows burrowing as he saw Ruth’s lips turning blue. The wizard seemed to be able to endure the cold back when they were mercenaries and stayed in the north, so he thought that he would not encounter any problems this time around, but that didn’t seem to be the case. Ruth grabbed his fire mana stone and rubbed it within his palms, but the stone was drained of all its mana, so he swore and harshly threw it away.
“Stop being foolish and hurry up. The mana energy will return to normal once the magic formula creating the barrier is destroyed.”
The knights glanced at Ruth worriedly, then began moving forward again. As they moved further, the slopes became less steep, and a glistening snowfield spread out in front of them. Riftan stepped into the snow, careful not to slip. At that moment, something flew above his head. His instinctive reflexes made him draw out his sword and roll down to the ground. The earth suddenly shook like there was an earthquake and then there was a dark shadow that loomed over their heads. Riftan positioned himself in a stance ready for battle. A silvery giant made out of ice stood towering over the rocks. He shouted at the knights.
“It’s a golem! Everyone, avoid it!”
The giant stretched out its heavy arm towards them and swept the snowfield with one strong blow. The knights scattered, running in all directions to avoid the attack. Riftan stood close, hiding behind a rock and swiftly threw a hook onto the golem’s forearm. The frosted giant staggered, leaning to one side. The knights did not miss that opportunity and threw all their hooks and chains all at once. The giant stood about 30 kvet high (about 9 meters) and was a puppet controlled by magic. It was instantly wrapped with steel chains reinforced by the scales of half-dragons.
Riftan did not delay and climbed over the giant’s body, then raised his sword. The blade that had a bluish glint penetrated deep into the golem’s head. Then, a blinding white light erupted out of its massive body made out of ice. Riftan had no chance to avoid it. The golem’s body exploded and shattered like glass.
Riftan rolled against the snow, protecting his head and dodging the flying shattered ice. He was in deep shock, to the point that all his senses had gone for a moment. He had no idea where he was as he took a deep breath and slowly stood up. As his darkened vision gradually returned, a snowy landscape covered in thick fog appeared before him. The knights were nowhere to be seen.
“Hebaron! Ruth!” Riftan called out but his voice echoed emptily over the snowfields. Riftan’s eyebrows furrowed.
Is there some kind of magic causing this? Even if he got caught in the explosion, he wouldn’t have strayed that far away. Riftan scanned the surroundings, then searched his armors for flare. However, no matter how many times he tried striking a flint, no spark emitted out of it. Eventually, he gave up looking for the others and began walking over the snowfield. It would be faster gaining the distance lost than waiting for Ruth to find him.
He gazed up at the thickly clouded sky and climbed up the hill to find the right direction, but to make matters worse, the snow fell heavily, and the wind raged from all directions. Riftan muttered profanities, looking for a place to take shelter. He saw a hazy boulder of rock not far away from there. He assumed that there might be a cave, so he immediately headed towards it. As he had predicted, there were cracks between the rock boulders.
He let out a sigh of relief and stepped into it. At that moment, an eerie chill ran all over his body. Riftan’s eyes pierced through the darkness, his expression turning into a bewildered one: a woman with dark hair was hanging from the cave’s ceiling. A noose was wrapped around her slender neck and the parts of her face that were exposed through her disheveled, frizzy hair were stained with tears made of blood.
Riftan staggered and fell on his back. It was the face that he had seen thousands of times in his nightmares. He immediately ran out of the cave, feeling a heavy weight on his back as he ran through the snow like he was being chased by evil spirits. Then, a cold, damp hand wrapped around his neck and dark hair drenched in sweat eerily clung to the nape of his neck. He slowly turned his head to look. On his shoulder laid the face of a woman, pale and bluish. He shuddered, throwing the woman’s body on the ground. Then, the corpse shattered into pieces and crumbled to a white powder. Riftan sobbed harshly.
…it’s hallucination magic. A vague trail of thoughts ran through his paralyzed mind. He swiped his face with trembling hands, struggling to regain his composure. Everything here is just an illusion. All of these are merely designed to distract our minds.
He walked through the field of snow again, desperately repeating those words in his head. However, he no longer knew which direction he was going. The wind blew stronger, enveloping the surroundings in a hazy fog. Riftan gazed blankly through the pale world, completely disoriented. He couldn’t even think of what else to do so he could move forward.
Haven’t I done everything I could? Haven’t I fought hard enough?
He slumped down, unable to overcome the exhaustion weighing heavily on his shoulders like a boulder of metal. The fluttering snowflakes clung to his face icily and the cold seeped through his skin to his marrow bone freezingly.
Is this how I die in vain? He thought dazedly, then he saw a red glow that fluttered through the heavy falling snow and he blinked slowly. The fog then lifted; a woman stood on the snow field. Her hair swayed like flame against the wind and her white face glowed from the light coming from behind her. Riftan felt something thumping come up from his chest, drawing out a groan from his lips. His whole body trembled in frustration, sorrow and resignation.
It has always been her, all this time. If you searched deeply in the corners of his heart, it was her who had been there all along. He wondered why it was only her who could make his heart feel such pain. Why was that pain like a stuck thorn that wouldn’t go away? It felt like his heart was crumbling.
She approached him slowly then reached out her white, soft palm to touch his icy cheek. He stared sorrowfully at the smile on her lips. Her hair that fluttered against the wind tickled his face like a fantasy and he licked his chapped lips.
If I were to be reincarnated, I want to become your hair. If only I could sway against your back, touch your cheeks from time to time when the wind blows, perhaps even your lips, then I would be…
Looking up at her gentle smile, Riftan closed his eyes.
“Have you regained consciousness?”
Riftan massaged his throbbing forehead and squinted his eyes open. As his vision gradually became clearer, Ruth’s pale, exhausted face met his eyes. He turned his head and saw a warm bonfire burning, then asked Ruth.
“…Have you destroyed the barrier?” Ruth nodded slowly. “There was a magic formula hidden within the torso of the golem. It isn’t usually that difficult to dismantle.”
Riftan sat up and checked each and every knight with his eyes. Fortunately, everyone appeared to be scatheless. Ruth offered him a warm wine and continued to speak boastfully.
“It could have been a disaster. It seemed like the magical hallucination was bound to work once the golem’s body was destroyed. If it weren’t for me, everyone would have frozen to death due to the hallucinations.”
Riftan picked up his sword and swept the hair that had been caught in his eyes. Ruth, who had placed a thick cloak over his shoulders, brought down the earthen wall he made as a shield against the wind and climbed over the snow-covered field. The light from the rising dawn pierced his eyes.
His eyebrows furrowed at the pale, cold light. On the side of the white hill there were fragments of ice scattered like sparkling diamonds: the remnants of the golem’s body.
“… Now, the final battle is not far.”
Hebaron muttered to himself as he quietly approached his side. Riftan scanned the silvery snowfield with his eyes, like he was looking for something. Hebaron placed a thick palm on his shoulder and smiled.
“Let’s go back to where the expedition is gathered, commander. We must hurry to defeat the dragon and go back home.”
“…home.” Riftan quietly muttered, echoing the word.
Hebaron approached the knights and instructed them to prepare for descending from the mountain and Riftan gazed at the snow-covered field again. As he stepped over it, the shape of his footprints was clearly captured. Then, while looking down on those footprints, he suddenly realized that he was clutching something tightly in his left hand and stretched his fingers out to see what it was.
At first, he couldn’t discern what it was. Only later did he realize that it was the shabby iron-crown that he had never been able to give to her when they were children. Then, the crown crumbled to a white dust. Riftan looked down at it blurrily, then scattered the remains of that hallucination over the snowfield, bidding farewell to the fantasies he had cherished for a long time in his heart.
I shall no longer wander in my fantasies. That woman doesn’t exist in fantasies, she only exists in real life.
Something felt like burning up in his chest. He licked his cold lips and touched it. The frosty kiss that they had shared in the hallucinations seemed to remain. Now it was time to stop using fake fantasies as comfort. He recalled the actual kiss he shared with her, stained with tears and sweat. In reality, she was so unbelievably sweet and warm that it pathetically pierced his tongue.
There’s no need for fantasies anymore. If I do live through this battle, I will get to know you for real this time. Even if it takes for my heart to get shattered…
The snowflakes scattered in the sudden gust of wind. Then, Riftan, who gazed at the lonely landscape, stepped towards the knights who were waiting for him.
Note – LF: This is the end of Riftan’s POV for book 1. It has been a pleasure translating this and getting to know Riftan’s side of the story. It’s very well-written. Author-nim is the best <3 Do buy the series in Ridibooks if you can, to support the author 😊
Nymeria: We’re done ladies and gentlemen! It’s been a pleasure, let’s hope to have more of Riftan’s POV one day <3