Prologue—Devil Mountain’s Guest
Translator & Editor: SaltyTank
Five years ago.
Bone-chilling wind ravaged the mountains covered in a layer of pure white snow. Thunderous roars resounded throughout the mountains as snow soared down the steep slopes. It was no rare sight; dozens of avalanches occurred every day in this place.
Such a lofty snowy mountain was situated on the border regions of the Reiz Empire, and it was also in the way of a major trading route. Plenty of merchants had to take detours around the mountain, leaving them with meagre profit due to their extended travelling time. There were also brave ones who attempted the trial of cold; those who made it past the frozen hell earned profits befitting their brave actions, but they were just the minority. Those who failed the trial had to pay the price with their lives and stay forever frozen within the never-ending blizzard.
Some say that a devil who controlled wind and snow resided on top of the mountain. As more and more people were lost forever on the mountain, this saying was widely acknowledged, giving rise to the nickname “Devil Mountain”. Most people did not even know its official name which was “The Uriel Mountain Range”.
The nickname was indeed a fitting name for the mountain. It required one to have the boldness and strength to go against such a terrifying and deadly environment. It was impossible to trespass the devilish terrain if one was lacking in either department; the piles of bones buried deep under the snow were proof of that.
The conditions were especially worse now as it was currently winter. Trying to enter the mountain range at such a period was no different from seeking death. As such, Bernard the trek guide was astonished upon learning that a guest was requesting for him in the tavern. His brows rose so much that it was almost touching his hairline (he was bald though), and anger soon rose within him. Bernard glared daggers at the teenage boy in front of him and yelled, “Blue haired brat, do you know what’s the consequence of making fun of me? I…”
“Killed a horse with just a punch!” A customer said it for him.
“Hm? I thought it was kicking a sabre-toothed tiger down the kill!?” Another customer asked his companion.
“The version I heard was that he slapped a bull so hard that its head buried into the ground,” someone else said while chuckling.
The entire tavern bursted into laughter. Apparently Bernard had been boasting about himself all the time, but the details were different each time as he was drunk most of the time.
“Cut it out!” Bernard went through the roof after getting mocked by the customers. “Brat, if you don’t call your parents over and explain this…”
The short teenage customer donned in a thick black cloak only reached Bernard’s waist. Exposed from the cloak was a young, tender face with short blue hair and a pair of sharp eyes. The blank look void of any expression had a coldness that a child of his age should not have.
The boy flicked open his cloak and tossed a shiny object onto the desk in front of Bernard. He looked up at the trek guide who was heads higher than him fearlessly and said, “I’m not joking.”
The noisy tavern was suddenly as silent as the grave. Bernard, for the second time of the day, was startled; the shiny object in front of him was a golden coin with the Pope’s face engraved onto it. It was the official currency within the Reiz Empire, and the gold coin was worth a month’s worth of alcohol for everyone in the tavern. Everyone now knew the boy now carried considerable wealth on him, but no one dared to show even the slightest sign of greed after they got a peek of his clothing.
The boy wore a tailor-made black suit and had a tidy, white kerchief around his neck. Those were not the important part though; the silver pin in the shape of a cross on his collar was. Who would have thought that such a young kid was a cleric? Furthermore, the silvery chrome colour of his pin indicated that his rank was by no means a low one. Without the pin, he would simply be a young noble. Trek guides were people with guts and strength; with their lives on the line every time they went to work, they valued strength over noble ranks. Fists had greater power than noble ranks in such a distant place.
However, things were different for clerics. Most trek guides were no fervent believers in the religion, thus they were not afraid of something like getting punished by the gods, but getting on the bad side of a cleric was something they wanted to avoid. Anyone who dared to harm or kill a cleric would suffer the wrath of the largest religious organisation in the entire Reiz Empire history. The Church would literally chase the person to the ends of the earth and kill him mercilessly. Although it would be stretching things to say that the Church had eyes everywhere, they still had troops stationed at the borders near Devil Mountain.
It was somewhat strange for such a young cleric of the Church to come to such a remote place without a servant, but no one dared to question him.
Bernard felt awkward after realising the person who he had been calling a brat the entire time was a cleric. “Um… Honoured cleric…”
“This is the deposit. I will pay you the rest for a total of ten gold coins after you lead me into the mountain,” the young cleric said expressionlessly. “But we must head out now.”
“But it’s winter now, my honoured cleric.” Bernard’s mouth watered upon hearing the pay, but he believed that he would not live to receive the coins if he headed into the mountain now. He squeezed out the best smile he could and suggested, “How about staying in the town until spring? I will organise a team to lead the way, I promise…”
“I said, we are heading out now.” The young cleric cut Bernard’s speech short and showed no signs of reconsidering things. “I know you’re the most experienced trek guide, which is why I’m asking you to take me into the mountain. This is not a deal, but an order.”
“You’re asking this old man to die!” Bernard could no longer keep his cool and slammed the gold coin in his palm onto the table. “I don’t care what kind of order you give. I’m not going into the mountain even if the Pope comes here today! You think you’re so smart just because you’re a cleric? Fi…”
That was the greatest and bravest thing he had said in his entire life, but he could not even finish the word “fight” before the cold metallic muzzle of a pistol stuck to his chin, causing him to shiver.
In the young cleric’s hand was a standard service pistol of the Reiz Empire. Although the firing range and power were a lot lower than rifles, it was enough to blow a whole from Bernard’s chin all the way to the top of his head. The sharp blue eyes seemed to give a freezing chill as the boy repeated, “This is not a deal, but an order.”
Bernard broke out in cold sweat, drops of crystal-clear sweat gliding down from his forehead. No one thought that the kid possessed such a deadly weapon. It was no wonder that he dared to travel alone to such a remote place. From the beginning, the young cleric was holding the pistol in one hand and gold coins in the other, just that he did not reveal the former at first. Bernard understood this was in fact not a deal, but an order which he could not refuse.
“I’ll go! I’ll get prepared right away!” Bernard’s brave resistance came to an end. He believed that everyone present would understand his decision. Being threatened at gunpoint, there was not much he could do apart from giving in.
“There’s no need for that.” The young cleric took a few steps back, gun still pointed towards Bernard. He then pointed at the tavern door and said, “We’re leaving immediately.”
Two hours later, the two were already climbing the snowy mountain. Worthy of its name, Devil Mountain was really a frozen hell. Not only was the weather terrible, the terrain was also extremely complicated. Without a trek guide leading the way, outsiders would not even know which was north was the moment they entered the never-ending blizzard after reaching halfway up the mountain. Bernard led the way with a pale expression, and the young cleric following closely behind, his blue bangs wavering in the freezing winds. Of course, he was still pointing his pistol at Bernard’s back with his white finger on the trigger.
“Honoured cleric, we brought no one with us and we have no supplies. Let alone the winter, entering the mountain like this is basically suicide even in other seasons,” Bernard said with his brows furrowed. With the god of death behind his back, he could not retaliate with force, which was why he tried to change the young cleric’s mind through reasoning and inducing empathy. “My daughter’s just barely six. Just how poor would she be if her father’s dead at such a young age. I’m sure your honoured parents would…”
“Shut up.” The young cleric’s face which had been void of any emotions all this time showed displeasure. He subconsciously pulled the trigger, but fortunately it was just a light tug. The trigger gave off a light click without firing.
Bernard’s shuddered upon hearing the clicking sound and immediately stopped talking. He grimaced at the thought that he was about to meet his end. He thought that the blue-haired kid must be nuts. Without food, they were not climbing the mountain, but literally walking towards their deaths.
“We’ll turn left here,” Bernard said as the two stood at a branch in the snowy path. “We’re lucky to not face any blizzards up till this point, but that’s as far as luck can get us. The real Devil Mountain begins from here. The mountain ledge’s to the left, the safest route to make it across the mountain. We’ll reach the other side in five days, but that is of course if we don’t come across avalanches and can magically produce food, fire, and tents.”
“How about the right?”
“The right’s towards the peak. We can reach the top today, but that’s a dead end. The other side of the peak’s a cliff.”
“We’ll take the right.” The young cleric looked to the right path that was practically non-existent. Everything was dyed white, with clouds rolling violently around them. It could only be called a general direction instead of an actual road.
“Honoured cleric, did you hear me clearly? I said we can reach the peak today, but not return!” Bernard facepalmed. “That path is literally a dead end. The blizzard above this point never stops, and no one has ever returned after climbing further up.”
The young cleric glanced at Bernard. His face was chilled red from the freezing cold, making him almost look like a shy little girl, but his crystal-clear blue eyes seemed to hold something even colder and more terrifying than the raging blizzard.
“If no one’s ever come back before, how do you people know it leads to the peak?”
“Fine, someone actually made it back, He’s an old trek guide.”
“Then why do people say you’re the most experienced guide?” The boy asked.
“That’s because the old man’s gone mad. Ever since he came back from the peak, he’s been saying he saw the devil’s finger there.”
“The devil’s finger?”
“According to him, the finger was tens of metres wide and reached all the way into the sky. But it’s clearly bullcrap, we can see it from here if such a thing actually exists.”
The young cleric looked up thoughtfully towards the peak for the third time, but that was a mistake. Aiming for this opportunity, Bernard yelled as he charged at the boy, knocking him over onto the ground. More importantly, the pistol flew out of his hand and landed on the snow a few steps away.
“Brat, don’t blame me for being merciless! It’s all because of yourself!” Bernard slapped the cleric while shouting. The boy’s cheek began to swell after facing the brunt of the trek guide’s powerful slap, his head turned sideways into the snow. Just when Bernard was about to turn and run, he suddenly remembered something. He immediately turned around, just in time to see the boy reaching for his pistol not far away.
“People say that believers have a kind heart, but you’re such a bitch! Just die if you want to, don’t drag this old man down with you!” Bernard quickly kicked the boy’s hand away and picked up the pistol. “Though it’s pretty much impossible, in case you make it back alive, I’m fucked. You’re here to die anyways, so I’ll grant you your wish right here!”
The trek guide roared to muster courage and pulled the trigger. Bang! This was the first time he had used a firearm, and the unexpectedly high recoil knocked him over onto the ground. The young cleric was hit square in the chest, with blood flowing out to dye the white ground red.
After confirming his shot was on target, Bernard tossed the pistol away and dared not to stay any longer. All that shouting and sound of gunshot might induce the rage of the devil in the form of an avalanche. He backtracked down the mountain as quick as he could.
The young cleric lay eyes closed on the snow. After some time, the boy sat up and coughed up a mouthful of blood, his hand pressing onto the wound on his chest. The trek guide was obviously not from the military man, but he was rather accurate for a person who fired a gun for the first time in his life, hitting the boy almost perfectly in the chest.
However, for the same reason, he failed to notice that all the rounds within the pistol were blank rounds. They could still deal some damage, but nowhere enough to kill someone. It took him a lot of effort just to get the pistol and live rounds were simply beyond him, which was why he stole the training blank rounds instead. It was better than not having any rounds after all.
Despite all that, he was just a kid. The blank round’s power was enough to break one of his ribs. He grit his teeth and stood up while enduring the intense pain, not whining or crying about it even once. He looked up towards the peak again, then started walking slowly but surely towards it. Without a guide, backtracking down the mountain was not an option. In the first place, his destination was not the other side of the mountain.
The petite silhouette entered the ravaging blizzard and was quickly swallowed up by the tempest of snow. The peaceful journey thus far was just a facade; the mountain was now showing its true nature. The young cleric finally realised what Bernard truly meant when he said it was literally a dead end. It was not something the trek guide fabricated to threaten him, but was the cruel reality.
He was already at his limits after a few dozen steps. The biting cold wind wore away his warmth and strength, and the tiny chunks of ice clashed at his body like stones. Chunks of snow splattered him within the angry vortex of cold. He could barely open his eyes, unsure whether or not he was still heading in the desired direction. Standing up alone consumed a great deal of his stamina, let alone walking.
This was hell made of snow and ice, a frostferno. Every breath he took dealt damage to his insides, and every step he took brought him closer to his demise. The young cleric finally fell onto his knees, his hand clutching his chest. He was breathing in less air every time he exhaled, and it was almost impossible to breath under such conditions. Before he would die from frostbite, he would first suffocate.
“Loki Davoral Auxsasy.” A mysterious voice calling the young cleric’s name could be heard within the snowy tempest. The voice gradually grew louder, reverberating in his ears. It was like an auditory illusion before death, but Loki knew it wasn’t.
“It’s… me. I… have to see you,” Loki struggled to reply with his fading consciousness.
“I want you to die.”
The blizzard immediately turned into a hurricane of snow and ice. Wind tore through the air at supersonic speeds, causing sonic booms one after another. The tiny bits of ice also turned into razor-sharp blades, slicing his body bit by bit. They easily tore through his cloak and suit, drawing lines of red all over his body.
Loki lay on the snow and could no longer speak. He simply awaited the god of death to swing the icy scythe that would rob him of his life. All of a sudden, the blizzard which had always been raging on the mountain stopped. Devil Mountain, in this rare occasion, finally saw light once again. Rays of sunlight shone onto the snowy ground.
“So you’re resigning to fate just like this? Do you not want to take revenge?”
Loki lifted his head. A towering structure which seemed to pierce through the heavens reflected in his azure eyes. It was not the devil’s finger, but a magic tower, one that belonged to an archmage.