Chapter 3:

Riding Home.

I became the Recordkeeper of the Second Holy War.

It took them most of the morning to gather the mauled remains of the dead Crusaders. The remainder of the morning, and a good chunk of the noon, was devoted to the burial. Carrying out so many bodies, especially in their current state, was out of the question. Thus it fell to Minerva, as the highest ranked member of the Order, to perform the funerary rights.

Normally, such events would warrant a solemn ceremony. Of course, these were not normal circumstances: they were in the middle of the wilderness and had no embalming tools; time was of the essence. The ceremony was brief, little more than the mandatory reading of the holy scriptures and some choice passages that Pioll, ever the stickler for religious doctrine, felt were appropriate for the situation. Catherine’s and Minerva’s platoon had served together for barely six months. Pioll marked the tombs, arguing that, in the near future, they could be turned into a sanctuary for pilgrimage to honor the martyrs.

“We are departing,” Bellisaria announced once all the formalities had been fulfilled. Her gaze focused on the foothills.

"We haven't eaten yet!" Sidonnie huffed, her teeth gritting to stave off her hunger and annoyance.

Minerva allowed herself a moment of malice. Serves you right, you guard skipper. If she'd been standing guard, she would have been awake enough to eat breakfast.

"I personally don't feel like eating at a slaughtering ground," mused Narsem, his face still pallid from their gravedigging duty. This was his first time seeing dead people.

Pioll cleared his throat, getting the attention from the other Crusaders. "Oi, you bunch of chattering fishmongers, the troop hasn't vanished!" Upon seeing how Minerva hesitated, and that Narsem was still shaken by the last turn of events, Pioll started to shout commands at the soldiers.

Soon, when the men-at-arms began to move and sort things out for their departure, Minerva tugged Pioll’s left sleeve. “Pioll, we’ve got to talk about the stranger.”

Pioll briefly turned to the boy in question. The stranger, this Kazuya, tried to sit properly on the saddle under Cassandra’s watchful vigilance. Tried to being the operative words. A sack of potatoes would look more graceful.

“Well, he seems to be of your age,” Pioll sucked a breath of air before turning to Minnerva with a cocked eyebrow. “You’re not into the rough type,” Minerva rolled her eyes in frustration, but Pioll didn’t stop. “So there’s clearly something afoot, right? Something that I’m sure will be needlessly complicated.”

"What I want to say is, how do I put it,” Minerva’s voice trailed off. She paused for a second, turning her head nervously in all directions. “I know all the sigils of the forty-five loyal crusaders.”

"Aside from boasting of your bookworm ways,” Pioll playfully stuck out his tongue, though his follow-up jab died on his lips when he saw the concern on Minerva's face. "What is it? '' he asked with a slight sense of dread creeping up.

"His cross doesn't match any of the known crusaders, it may belong to one of the five traitors," she quickly fired the answer, her voice more agitated with each word. "He may be a servant of the remnants of the demon lord's army.”

“Is there any meaningful remnant left after all this time?” Pioll suddenly realized what a silly question he had made. One just needed to turn around and count the graves. The Order’s men at arms were usually seasoned fighters, while each crusader was a formidable fighter. They had just buried twenty of the first and five of the latter. “Maybe he’s a spy, the timing seems convenient… no.”

“No?” Minerva turned at him with a cocked eyebrow.

For a second, Pioll looked at her, clearly debating whether or not he should confide in her his muddled thoughts . He pressed his lips, almost as if he’d eaten a lemon. “Nevermind, I’m essentially overthinking things. I was thinking it strange they'd aim for a backwater like the garrison of Fort Chameroix, but you never know."

The two of them stood in a tense silence. Pioll dared to break it. “Shall I kill him, just to make sure?” He shifted his weight, causing his halberd to budge slightly.

Minnerva almost gagged at that request. Fighting back her bluster, the Lieutenant shook her head. “N-no, it is a hypothesis, and it is our duty to protect the people of the Crusader States. Until we can ascertain his intentions, that includes him.”

“And you propose to ascertain that yourself,” now it was Pioll’s turn to shake his head. “I swear, you’re way too creative when it comes to finding excuses for your unhealthy curiosity, Minnie.”


Kazuya cursed his luck. He’d taken the offer from the goddess precisely to avoid this kind of scenario. To begin with, he didn’t even expect to be given any ridiculous power or any of that nonsense. He’d have settled with just not getting roped by the locale's cops. Just my luck, he bemoaned internally as he struggled with the damn pack horse.

Kazuya really should have beaten some common sense into, or at least ditched, that fool of a friend. Not that he would, he had stuck out his neck for Kazuya on other occasions. Not that it mattered, he was right at the heart of the column.

"Getting the gist of the reins?" Kazuya turned, almost gasping in surprise, and saw that blonde midget gracefully ride her horse towards him. Bellisaria Minnerva, wasn't?

A part of Kazuya wanted to dazzle the girl with his otherworldly knowledge and superior civilization. Another part, which handily won the inner argument, knew full well that Kazuya was a moron, that the girl was clearly a studious and intelligent (and sheltered) fella, and that the idea of "superior civilization" was stupid and reeked of insecurity. He'd spare himself the pretentiousness.

"I'd lie if I said I enjoy dealing with this animal," at that sullen remark, the animal neighed with visible annoyance. A hint of a smile graced his lips. "The sentiment is mutual, of course."

After a moment, Bellisaria found her courage. "So, I want to ask you the following: who are you? Why are you here"

Kazuya winced. Such a simple yet complicated question. Something told him that 'I am a japanese fella whom truck-kun and goddess-sama sent to solve your problems,' was not really gonna fly.

Unfortunately for him, Bellisaria had no intention to wait for him to gather his thoughts. She looked positively thrilled. "Where are you from?"

"About that-"

"Which Crusader bloodline do you hail from?" Literal sparks flew from her passion filled eyes.

"What in the actual hell is that?"

She didn't stop. Instead, she increased her momentum even further."Why is-"

At that point, Kazuya was utterly exasperated. He had to stop her."Will you shut your trap for a moment and let me get even a single answer out!?" He raised his arms skywards to put emphasis on his frustration.

Put an emphasis on it, it did, but Kazuya also caught the attention of the others. Twenty-ish pairs of distrustful eyes were on him.

Kazuya grimaced and remained silent for an awkward moment. It was clear that this could get ugly for him real fast.“Okay, I’m sorry for snapping, I’ve had better days,” Kazuya pinched the bridge of his nose, his brows furrowing along the way. “I think the two of us will benefit from taking a deep breath and starting from scratch.”

Minerva flinched at that offer. She blinked several times. Kazuya mused how easy the girl was to read. And clearly, she is too damn curious for her own good.

"Fine," the word barely escaped through her gritting teeth. "Let's start with introductions, proper introductions.

"Right, my name is Abe Kazuya, from Japan."

"Abe?" Minerva blinked, perplexed by his seemingly normal response. Regardless, she upheld her side of the bargain. "My name is Minerva Augusta Maria Bellisaria de Ferrazo e Vitrulio; a mouthful, I know."

"A pleasure, regardless, Bellisaria-san."

"I'm sorry, what?"

Now, it was Kazuya's turn to be perplexed. He almost gawked at Bellisaria, who in turn was visibly confused. "Oh right, where I am from, Japan, we usually refer to others by surname and use honorifics adequate with our relationship."

Her face lit up once she finally made the connection. "Ah! So it's like calling a knight ser!" Kazuya nodded in confirmation, a gesture she mimicked, as if that would help her to better absorb the information. "Well, you mentioned where you are from, so you can ask another question."

"I can ask two," Belisaria shot him yet another confused glare. Savouring the moment, Kazuya made a smarmy smile and cocked his head. "I confirmed that using san and other honorifics is like using 'ser'."

That caused the girl to almost snap. "That's-that's cheating!" She obviously saw Kazuya's shit eating grin widen, and, with a big harrumph, she conceded. "Fine."

"Where are we?" Kazuya raised his right arm, showcasing the goddess' brand. "What is this brand?"

Minerva's face became a mask. "We are in the northwestern reaches of the Kingdom of Clermont, the northernmost of the Crusader States."

Kazuya bit his lip right before taking a deep breath. "That's generated more questions than answers, but that is entirely on me."

"As for the latter," Minerva's eyes were transfixed on the floral cross. "You should know. That brand marks you as a heir of a Crusader bloodline and bearer of a power beyond that of mere mortals, what rock did you come out from, where is this Japan you spoke of?"

"If I told you the whole story right now, you'd not believe me, trust me on this one."

Minerva let the matter slide, clearly intent to get her coveted answers eventually. And thus they continued back and forth til lunch. At the head of the column, Pioll couldn,'t help but shake his head, forcing a resigned smile.


The platoon travelled through the old road for most of the day. Towards the late afternoon, they diverted their course and sought the solace of a ruined manor. The three story burnt building was flanked by the remnants of a stable and a pile of rubble whose original purpose Kazuya couldn't trace. There still remained a thin stone fence that stretched all around the manor's perimeter.

“Dismount,” Ordered Minerva as she preached through example. “We will camp here tonight.”

“There’s a village not too far away, we passed it on our way to track Catherine’s lot,” Sidonnie waved repeatedly at the hamlet’s distant features.

“And, if you paid attention when we passed it,” Narsem didn’t bother to look at Sidonnie’s cross expression. He focused on tending to his steed. “You’d have noticed that that frontier settlement, with about forty to fifty inhabitants, couldn’t accommodate twenty six adults and about fifty horses.”

Kazuya had to repress a chuckle when he saw the elf’s face all but revealed the hard whirring of her brain’s cogs. For a second, he could see smoke popping out of her ears, right before she dismissed the dwarf’s point with a handwave. “Bah, I still say we would have been better off at the village.”

At that point, Narsem just shrugged and Pioll rolled his eyes and made a tired smile. This hadn’t been the first time they’d had this type of argument, by the looks of it.

“I think I expressed myself quite clearly,” Minerva drummed her left hand’s fingers against her right forearm. “We will camp here.” She tried her best shot at an authoritative tone. She almost succeeded. Almost.

“You expressed yourself with utmost clarity," Narsem nodded in agreement. "You even looked like a respectable leader, if I squinted," that last comment made Bellisaria click her tongue in annoyance, which earnt a smile from Narsem.

Regardless, the platoon followed suit and proceeded to set up the camp. Though some rooms were still usable, plenty of tents were set up inside the walls of the ruined residence’s courtyard and dinner was held in the now abandoned garden. Pioll read aloud some passages that most likely were holy scripture (not that he really cared) while they ate, if slurping that bland porridge could be considered eating. He didn’t want to complain, lest they take issue, but the chorus of resigned sighs made it painfully clear no one was happy with that kind of meal.

Guards were set up and the troops went to sleep. Kazuya had been given a blanket and a tent, but he just couldn’t manage to sleep. Under these circumstances, he’d usually check out his social media feed til he fell asleep, but the damned goddess hadn’t had the decency of sending her a phone with a functioning internet connection. And it was only then, when he tried to grab the phone and didn’t find it inside of any of his pockets, that Kazuya realized how big the withdrawal syndrome would be. Cursing under his breath, the Yankee rose up and decided to take a walk.

Kazuya wandered across the silent halls. The place was desolate, with most of the walls marred by scorch marks and tears, and several chunks of the roof were missing. The furniture that hadn’t been looted lay shattered, rotting in silence.

Then he found her, the Bellisaria girl. She sat silently by the arches that separated the building with the garden. Her eyes were fixed upon the starlit sky, so she didn’t notice Kazuya. Under that filter, Minerva was quite a looker, with those blue eyes shining along the starlight and the golden hair magnifying the effect, it was a sight straight out of a movie. He would have spent some more time looking at her but Kazuya's attention was single mindedly focused on another thing.

The stars. Damn it all, that sky was packed with stars. It was all he could think of; his neck craned upwards with glee, his eyes widened up to grasp as much of that view as it was possible and his jaw gently fell in disbelief. Inadvertently, Kazuya let out an awe-filled whisper.

The sudden sound dragged Bellisaria out of her stupor. The Knight turned towards Kazuya at mach speed. Her reaction was so sudden and brusque that she lost her equilibrium and fell from her spot. That, in turn, caused Kazuya to snap in surprise. The yankee tried to clasp her hand and get her on her feet, but she flailed around and almost pulled Kazuya down.

"Oi!" Kazuya gritted his teeth, tensing his muscles to gather the strength and momentum needed to pull her upright. “Calm down, I’m not about to mug you!”

“You scared me!” Minerva slapped Kazuya in the chest. Once more, the girl’s unnatural strength came into play, and Kazuya reeled backwards, almost falling on his ass. Minerva covered her mouth, ashamed by her overreaction. “I’m sorry!”

Kazuya tried to speak, but the smack had left him breathless. He wheezed twice, just before he managed to get a word in. “No, I should be the one apologizing, I got too distracted by the stars.”

Minerva cocked her head quizzically. “The stars? I think I’m not following you.”

Kazuya chuckled, his gaze once more wandering towards the firmament. "You know, where I am from we never really see the stars.”

"Oh, you live in underground cities, like the Merfolk of Zalanar?"

Kazuya turned and faced the crusader, his mouth slightly open. "I have no clue who those are," upon seeing how she was about to explode into a highly educational tirade, Kazuya went. "Nor do I want to know."

Minerva closed her fists, shaking them towards Kazuya to emphasize her frustration. "But you should want to! Knowledge is power."

Regardless of Kazuya’s complaint, Minerva was about to essentially vomit way too much information . Just before she could start the downpour, Kazuya, out of sheer instinct, put his hands. "Damn it, that crazy elf was right about needing to muzzle you," shaking his head, Kazuya turned once towards the mesmerizing stars "We are straying from the question: in my home, our streets are lit by a-”

“Oh, getting intimate with the mysterious Heitairoi, are we?” Cassandra had sneaked behind them, and decided to chime in at the most inopportune moment. With that sudden question, the two humans turned westwards. Kazuya cursed and Minerva almost fell again, though she was more mindful of her equilibrium.

Once Minerva regained her balance, she began fuming."Cassandra, you need to wear your uniform when doing guard duty! That attire is inappropriate for your duty!”

It wasn't like Cassandra was naked. Rather than don the armor and tabard, just like her colleagues, Cassandra had chosen to don a black linen shirt. The moon bathed her, and Kazuya could appreciate her features. The two of them had been far away during the march, given that she had ranged ahead from the platoon.

And it had been a pity, he thought. She was clearly the sporty type, given that those legs and biceps of hers were pretty damn impressive, though he had no clue on goat legs, to be fair. She had a country girl charm: her tan was clearly earnt from long days of work, and a sprinkle of freckles marred the area around her nose. Her ears, he noticed, were those of a goat. They jutted outside the lustrous brunette mane alongside the delicate looking horns. And those eyes. Those green, vibrant eyes.

A nearby noise broke him out of his trance."-were you doing." That voice belonged to Bellisaros, didn't it.

Cassandra didn’t respond outright. Instead, she chose to hurl a trio of freshly hunted rabbits at the startled pair of humans. She grinned at them. “Breakfast; not much of it, but it will beat just eating porridge.”

Minerva’s face lit up in delight. “Oooh! I swear, Captain Bohemond literally shoved us out of the fort before we got time to sort out our provisions.”

Kazuya, though, was still perplexed by the prior comment. He pressed his lips before taking the leap. “Did you- did you just call me a pervert out of the blue?”

The two girls turned to look at him. For a second, Kazuya thought he had grown a second head, going by their puzzled, awkward faces. “I… did nothing of the sort?” Cassandra scratched her chin, trying her darndest to figure out when she had even mentioned such a thing.

“You know, when you called me Hentairoi or whatever that word actually was,” Kazuya wringed his hand in an awkward gesture, because frankly the situation was getting weird.

Cassandra stared at him, her mouth forming the shape of an O as she realized the misunderstanding. After what seemed an eternity, she shrugged. “Nothing of the sort, fortunately. What the northerners call Crusaders, we call Companions or Hetairoi.”

“Myeah, the Likaians have always been weird like that,” Minerva stretched her arms, making sure the joints popped off, by the looks of it. She then paused, as if she was correcting herself mentally. “My apologies, you’re from Parnon.”

The yankee was about to ask but he could see from the corner of his left eye that Minerva was smiling with excitement. Instinct, once again, kicked in. “Summarize, for the love of your goddess.”

Kazuya couldn’t help but roll his eyes at the need to make such a request. The fact that Belllisaria had to bite her lips for a second, so as not break into a non-stop ramble, and that Cassandra let out a sigh of relief, only added to the hilarity.

“Fine,” given that sour face of hers, it was not fine. Kazuya almost snickered at the reaction, which only made her furrow further. “So to keep the story short, she almost spat that word. It clearly rubbed her the wrong way. “After the Holy War against the demons - and that’s an entirely different story- Four Crusader states were formed. Amongst them was the Likaian League, which… after some unpleasantries-”

Cassandra chuckled just as she got the rabbits back. “To put it mildly.”

“Ended up becoming five different states, amongst which was the Kingdom of Parnon.” Minerva paused briefly. She smiled and then made her gambit. "As well as the Kingdom of Zalaran!" Kazuya snorted. She puffed her chest, as if sneaking some trivia was a personal victory.

“Pray forgive the lieutenant,” Cassandra looked utterly mortified at the momentaneous outburst. “She’s… fond of scholarly matters.”

Kazuya let out a surprised gasp and he brought a hand to his mouth in a theatrical gesture.“No, who could have thought,” sarcasm oozed from each of Kazuya’s words.

Cassandra chuckled, nodding in agreement. It was a delightful sound, and the little snort that she unconsciously let out was nothing short of adorable.

Minerva, on the other hand, huffed with indignation. Her eyes darted between the two offenders and, with each turn, she further bit her lip. “You louts, off to your guard duty, Cassandra!” She ordered while she pushed Kazuya towards the tents.

Just before departing, Kazuya spared one last glance at the starlit sky. He clearly hadn’t thought things through when he had made the decision to accommodate that goddess’ wish; he was clearly gonna miss a ton of stuff he had taken for granted in his prior life. But maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t all be so bad.