Chapter 285 - 285 Chapter 46

285 Chapter It had taken Maxi all her courage to tell him how she felt. Despite that, Riftan did not respond for a long time. When she glanced up, her eyes full of hesitation, she caught him staring at her with an intense look. He dropped his gaze to the coin resting on her bosom a second later.

She tensed, worried that he might try to take it from her again, but all he did was touch it before lowering his hand to brush one of her many bruises. To her great mortification, her stomach chose that moment to growl. Riftan’s face darkened as he stroked the bruise on her side.

“I can’t say I’m happy about all this, even as a lie.”

Maxi recoiled. In an instant, the fire that had been burning in his eyes vanished, leaving only a cold emptiness.

“This is the second time you almost died before my eyes,” he said slowly. “And now you’re hungry and cold, covered in bruises in a dingy cave. I didn’t want to do that with you here, of all places.”

Maxi could feel her face heating up. For a moment, she felt irresponsible and senseless for seducing him under their present circumstances. His irritation was understandable. After his rescue efforts had led them to this dreadful situation, all she had done was babble about how happy she was.

“I-I just…”

Her actions might have been ill-considered, but at that moment, she had desperately needed his warmth. She was about to tell him so when he rummaged through her bag for the bundle of food. He held out the leftover cheese and half a loaf of bread.

“You should get something in your stomach first.”

Maxi wordlessly stared down at the hard bread. Only then did more practical concerns begin to fill her head. How long would the blizzard last? There was no way of knowing when they would be able to reunite with the others. Hunting was impossible in this desolate land, and the only food inside her bag was the lunch she had packed for the day: a loaf, bits of cheese, and a palm-sized chunk of bacon. It was nowhere near enough to sustain two people over days.

“I-I’m not that hungry.”

Riftan narrowed his eyes at her blatant lie. Extracting a dagger from his sword belt on the ground, he sliced a small piece of bread and brought it to her lips.

“Eat, even if you don’t have an appetite. You won’t be able to replenish your energy if you starve.”

“You eat first. I-I will as well later.”

Riftan’s face twisted into a scowl. “Stop this foolishness. I can last without food for days, but you can’t.”

Though she directed a glower at him, she could not withstand his stubborn insistence. She opened her mouth, accepting the bread. It was stale and crumbly, and it felt like chewing sawdust. She shook her head after three morsels.

“I-I’ve had enough now.”

Riftan furrowed his brow and stared down at her. Evidently concluding it would be better to conserve provisions, he placed the remaining bread inside the bag with a heavy sigh. Soon, the combination of food in her stomach — albeit only a few morsels — and accumulated fatigue brought another wave of drowsiness. She rested her head on his chest and began to nod off.

Holding her in his arms, Riftan lay on the clothes spread over the ground. He made sure to tuck the remaining garments around her. Lying on top of him, Maxi slipped into a light sleep.

Even as she dozed, she felt his manhood swell with desire. He shifted her legs away from his lower body and began to pat her back gently. Knowing how hard this was for him, she strove not to arouse him further.

Snow continued to fall without any sign of stopping, and it was difficult to gauge the passage of time. Riftan had gotten dressed twice to clear the snow from the cave entrance, and they were already on their fourth magic stone.

He patted her clothes hanging from the chain and handed her a dry chemise. Since her thick woolen tunic and trousers were still damp, she endured the biting cold wearing only the thin chemise and a spare pair of socks. The only warmth came from being snuggled in Riftan’s arms.

Hunger began to grate at her after some time. To stretch their rations as much as possible, she made bread porridge by boiling snow, their last square of bread, cuts of bacon, and a handful of mandrago leaves in a flask. When the meal was ready, she obstinately offered half of it to Riftan.

“I told you I don’t want to eat,” he growled.

“I won’t eat… unless you do,” Maxi replied, her face set in a stubborn expression.

She switched tactics when his eyes flashed dangerously.

“You haven’t eaten anything since we got here,” she implored. “At least have a little.”

“I once went a fortnight on only water. Nothing will happen to me just because I went without for a few days, so stop your needless worrying. Eat. I need you to get through this until we find the others.”

Maxi bit her lip. “Then, why not a few spoonfuls? I… really won’t eat if you won’t. As you said, I doubt a few days of going without will kill me.”

Riftan’s expression went blank. Sensing danger, Maxi swallowed dryly. He looked as if he were about to force the food down her throat. Then, seemingly changing his mind, he accepted the flask with a sigh. He poured half of the porridge into his own vessel and gulped it down.

Though it was a scant serving, Maxi breathed a sigh of relief. He now had at least some sustenance in him. She gulped down her own share of watery porridge, which tasted mainly of bitter mandrago leaf. Despite how starved she was, the food did not go down easily.

She recalled the pheasant pie their cook at Anatol baked for them during winter. Her mind began to wander with daydreams of golden pastries filled with greasy pheasants hunted by the knights, roasted piglets stuffed with apples, potatoes with freshly squeezed milk, thick stews, and soft, buttery bread.

Riftan rose to his feet. “I’m going to look outside for a moment.”

After checking the dryness of his cloak hanging on the chain, he threw it on and grabbed his sword. Maxi hastily chugged the watery soup and rose after him.

“I’ll come with you.”

“I’ll only be checking around the entrance. Wait here,” he said firmly before ducking out of the cave.

Maxi crouched in front of the fire and anxiously stared into it. The flames were now down to half their original size. Drake stones, being less mana-efficient than firestones, only went for a short while. Their current supply of two would not even last them half a day. Without food or heat, not only would they have to endure the cold, but they would no longer be able to melt snow for water.

Maxi bit her lip. If the snowstorm showed no signs of ceasing, the others would likely brave the danger to search for them. Could there be a way for her to contact them?

She mentally rifled through all the spells she knew. Sending up a flare to show them their location was one option, but it was foolhardy considering her feeble abilities with casting fire magic. It would be imprudent to use up the small bit of mana she had managed to replenish when the next few days were so uncertain. And in the worst-case scenario, a flare could attract monsters.

There was also a wind-based spell she had heard of that allowed long-distance communication. To use it, however, both parties had to form a contract with a wind sprite. After pensively staring into the fire, Maxi took out a quill and a piece of paper from her bag.

Was it possible to create an earth property spell of the same kind? Lines creased her forehead as she began formulating possible runes.

“The wind’s died down,” Riftan said as he ducked into the cave. “We might as well explore the vicinity.”

After a blank stare, Maxi’s face lit up in a smile as she belatedly realized he had said “we.” He was likely too anxious to leave her alone somewhere he could not get to right away. Whatever the case, Riftan being the first to suggest that they do something together was a rare occurrence. Maxi happily started to get dressed.

Thankfully, all her clothes except her robe were dry. She donned her woolen tunic over two chemises, then pulled her thick leather trousers over leggings. Lastly, she slipped into her long boots and coat.

Riftan had already finished securing his armor when she finished bundling herself. “Are you ready?”

When she nodded, he ducked down and left the cave first. Maxi hurried after him, poking her head out into the pale, snow-covered world.

Though thick snowflakes still danced in flurries, the wind had indeed calmed. Pulling her hood over her head, Maxi scanned the stark white hill that shimmered and stung her eyes. The snow was piled to her knees, and hazy clouds obscured the sky. Even so, it was blinding after the gloom of the cave.

“Stay close behind me.”

With that, Riftan began to wade ahead through the snow, carving a path for her. Maxi looked up and meekly walked behind him. The rock face was so high that the top was difficult to see. Just how far had they fallen? She could not even estimate their current distance from the spot they had landed.

At the time, her only concern had been finding shelter from the snowstorm. She suddenly grew anxious. What if the expeditionary party thought them dead and gave up the search? She shook her head, driving the thoughts from her mind. That was impossible. The others would not give up on them that easily.

She mustered her energy and marched after Riftan. The hunger and cold soon took hold. In an effort to bulk up the bread porridge, she had added as much water as possible. The resulting slop had not taken long to digest.

Clutching her growling stomach, she glanced at Riftan’s back. Surely he was much hungrier than she was. In her estimation, they had spent around two or three days in the cave. The only things he had consumed in that time were water and a meager portion of porridge. Despite that, his legs showed no sign of exhaustion as they plowed through the snow.

His tenacity moved her both with awe and pity. It made her realize he might have lived a much harsher life than she had ever imagined.

Didn’t he say he had once starved for a fortnight?

Such impoverishment would not have been possible after his knighthood. Even knights of low rank led wealthier lives than most common folk. So, was he referring to the time before?


She felt the urge to ask him to tell her everything about his past. While he knew everything about her, she knew very little about him. Though she was well-versed in his fame and accomplishments, all she knew about his life during his mercenary days and beyond were fragmented stories she had heard from Ruth. Moreover, he had never told her exactly when he had started to harbor feelings for her. It all seemed so unfair.

However unintentional, the fact remained that he knew Maximilian Calypse inside out. After their reunion, she had endeavored to show him how she felt. Riftan, however, only showed emotions that were convenient to him.

She fought the urge to grab him and force a confession of his innermost thoughts. It was neither the time nor the place. Pushing the swirling thoughts from her mind, she concentrated on moving through the snow. The biting cold penetrated her thick socks with each step, and the freezing air needled her numb nose and mouth.

Covering her face with gloved hands, she scanned their path. To their left was a steep rock face that seemed to continue on forever. A gentle hill shimmered with snow to their right, its crest shrouded in thick mist. Though it was difficult to see, an obscure shadow seemed to loom within. Maxi surmised it was a mountain or another rock face beyond.

They were stuck in a labyrinth of snow, ice, and rock. She stared across the desolate landscape with faraway eyes. Suddenly, Riftan pulled her to him and drew his sword.

“Be ready to cast a barrier. Something’s coming this way.”

Maxi flinched and looked up. Indeed, something was hurtling down toward them in a flurry of snow. Riftan was about to swing his sword when Maxi hastily stopped him.

“W-Wait, don’t hurt it! It’s a fairy!”