Chapter 4:


I became the Recordkeeper of the Second Holy War.

Minerva had had a fitful night, the distorted memories from the days of her flight haunted her. That had become business as usual, so she wasn’t too worried about that. Minerva grabbed a towel to wipe out the patina of sweat that covered her whole body, one last reminder of the night’s terrors.

“Well, that’s not what’s got you all so hung up,” she muttered to herself.

No, a new worry had started to make the rounds inside her head. That boy, that Kazuya. At first she had thought him a spy. The mark on his hand had been the first indicator, a possible link to the Traitor Crusader and the demons. Then was this Japan place he claimed to hail from. Minerva, ever the studious soul, had a good grasp of the world’s political landscape. There was no kingdom, theocracy or republic that had such a name. Obfuscating one’s origin was part of a spy’s job.

Once she was done with the cleansing, she folded the towel in a compartment of her saddlebag. She’d have to bring it to a servant once they arrived. “A lousy job at that, given that lie was so transparent.”

She paused. Yes, those little details made him look like a spy. Yet, by the same token, his mannerisms were too bizarre for a spy, too conspicuous. His arrival, though convenient in timing, was more likely not planned, or else he wouldn't have been so stunned nor chosen such an irrelevant target. Also, for a spy, he really asked excessively simple and common knowledge questions, which made him more conspicuous. Granted, this could be a ploy to slowly worm his way through the ranks and-

Minerva rubbed her temples. She had mentally repeated those lines multiple times when trying to sleep. There were more productive uses of her time. "On we go then."

Minerva put on her uniform again. It was a pity that the manse only had a well to draw water from, but she could endure without a bath for a day. Once she was ready, Minerva left her tent and began her early morning patrol.

Most of the platoon was still asleep, as could be surmised by the occasional snores. That said, she spotted Narsem sitting in a corner with a mirror at hand and a small box filled with assorted substances to keep his mighty beard in perfect, gorgeous shape.

When she was coming near the courtyard, she had to stop when she saw two men-at-arms who hailed from the Yabisah Coast, another Crusader State, prostrated in prayer. Pioll had explained to her, on multiple occasions at that, that in the Southern states, the faithful prayed several times a day and directed their prayers at specific locations based on when they prayed. Which locations these were she could not remember, but she didn't want to interrupt such a personal rite. It was a matter of decency.

She had been so focused in not bothering her subordinates that she didn't notice Cassandra. Not until Minerva rammed the satyr's back and sent her sprawling on the ground.

Minerva blinked, disoriented by the sudden turn of events. "What is going on? She craned down her head and saw her fellow Crusader nursing her hip and took a step back, gasping in horror. "Oh, I am so sorry Cassandra!"

Minerva nervously offered her hand, which Cassandra willingly took. The satyr licked her lower lip, nursing a small cut caused by her fall. "Don't worry too much, lieutenant, I had worse accidents when hunting, you are nowhere as bad as a boar," her chuckle was almost infectious, as Minerva drew a ghost of a smile.

"Well, I," Minerva had to stop herself. She was going to apologize again, which at this juncture would only further hammer down what a blunder she had made. One just needed to look at the light, almost imperceptible straining of her smile.

Minerva's voice trailed off as her eyes scoured for any potential conversation starter. And she almost squealed in relief when she found it. "Well, I wanted to ask you about the rabbits you are carrying around, are you planning to do something to them?"

The satyr unslung the rabbits from her back and presented them, once more, to the lieutenant. “Well, yeah,we need to skin and prepare them: we cannot eat the rabbits as is!” Cassandra turned away from Minerva and proceeded to sharpen the knives.

“Oh,” Minerva was left speechless and, for a second, she had to ponder just what a sheltered lifestyle she had led up until her exile. Of course, steaks did not pop from thin air, you had to butcher the animal. Which brought her to another realization.“Mind if I help you?” she had to expand her horizons, she had to leave her comfort zone.

Cassandra looked at her with a mixture of uncertainty and apprehension. Regardless of her potential misgivings, though, the satyr chose to shrug them off and respond with a nod. "Follow me, then."


Kazuya grunted in annoyance as he writhed around and pulled at his blanket. The sun had barely risen up from the horizon. It was, at the very best, six in the morning. Yet still, that fucking rooster had the urgent need to ruin its vocal cords and wake them up. “I need eight hours of sleep, damn it!” he complained as he covered his head with the blanket. It wasn’t enough to silence that damn bird’s shrieks.

“Wake up, sleeping beauty!” chirruped a singing voice.

A hand popped out of the tent's entrance and pushed the curtain's aside. Kazuya had to rub his eyes in disbelief. There was no way a beard could walk on its own. "What in the actual fuck," he muttered under his breath and rubbed harder.

It was no living beard, though he hadn't been too off mark. It was the dwarf, Narsem."Our most pitiful lieutenant wants us to reach the fort today, so we will not be wasting much time.” He made a beaming smile and, for a second, Kazuya almost swore it was genuine rather than some roundabout jab at Bellisaria.

"Oh, of course not," Narsem laughed at the sheer sarcasm that oozed from Kazuya’s voice.

“That’s the spirit, Kazuya” the dwarf laughed and clasped the yankee’s shoulder

Kazuya cringed at the unexpected use of his name and the sudden breach of his personal space. A part of him wanted to snap at the dwarf, to demand he stop trying to be so familiar with him. He bit the corner of his lips, holding back a snide remark about the dwarf. Like, the guy was being solid to him, he should be treated the same way. That and... he was honestly in deep shit as it was, there was no need to dig one’s own grave.

“Narsem-san, I’d be very grateful if you’d avoid that excess of familiarity in the near future,” Kazuya tried to minimize the hostility that could have permeated from his words, but this was too early in the morning to play diplomat.

Fortunately, Narsem chose to focus on another thing. “Narsem-san? Narsem, san,” the dwarf repeated the two words with amusement and curiosity. “I take that’s a figure of speech from your home, what a daft response.”

That remark caused much confusion for the yankee. “Daft response,” Kazuya was about to tell him that was the basic etiquette on how to talk to outsiders, until he recalled that little incident he had had with Bellisaria yesterday. Narsem’s reaction had been more reasonable partly because Kazuya didn’t know his surname, so he had himself acted too familiar. He considered bowing to apologize for the misunderstanding, or rather, he had to fight the urge to do so; but Kazuya had always bemoaned such stiff formalities.

“No doubt that’s how you do things in your home,” Narsem had almost read his mind. He grinned and turned around. “Well, it’s still daft, like all the things you men and elves do. Don’t drag your feet or you will miss breakfast.”

Kazuya grumbled to himself before proceeding to rummage the tent. “Oi, give me a moment to put my shirt on, I don’t want to go around topless.”

Narsem didn’t pay much attention to his excuse. “You’d look stellar that way!” He just chuckled and left the tent, waving goodbye at Kazuya. ”You will miss breakfast!”

The yankee merely rolled his eyes with an annoyed grunt, but he appreciated the attempts at banter, so he made a thin smile. Once ready, the duo (for all his bluster, Narsem had chosen to wait for Kazuya) made their way through the shattered abode and reached the garden, where campfires had been set and the rest of the crew were eating. Unlike yesterday’s dinner, the mood was… nothing short of somber.

Kazuya’s gaze swept across the faces. Most still had a haunted look, which he understood well because the scene he had been teleported was nothing short of horrid. He briefly pictured the carnage, and his stomach protested. Kazuya covered his mouth, and mused how thankful he was that the thought had crossed his head before having breakfast. He was sure that Narsem’s optimism was but a coping mechanism.

Over the overgrown thicket sat several of the troopers and Sidonnie. The elf barely deigned to look at him right before going back to her bowl of porridge and meat.

“Wait, we got meat on the menu?” Kazuya then remembered his meeting with Cassandra. He rubbed his face, chuckling to himself and mocking his drowsiness. Boy, and they didn’t have coffee, didn’t they? He whistled in an attempt to stave off the rapidly mounting despair. Now, that would be rough. He needed that life-bringing brew.

He turned rightwards and saw Pioll tending to the campfire. The half-orc noticed the two newcomers' approach and wordlessly directed them to their bowls, pointing a sole finger at the food. Meanwhile, Bellisaria sat in a corner, huddled and pale with horror. She ate her porridge, putting the rabbit meat aside from her bowl. Narsem cocked an eyebrow and shot a silent question at Cassandra, who just shrugged apologetically.

"She just learnt how to turn a hunted animal into meat," and with that explanation, and Narsem's grimace, Kazuya had enough to picture her reaction at the butchering process. “It was an... enlightening experience for her.”

Kazuya could barely repress an amused snicker. "Oh, and she's got hands-on experience? Cassandra nodded in affirmation, her dry smile a silent testament to the sheltered girl's startled reaction. Minerva turned and glared at them, brows furrowed in silent outrage. She was clearly trying to set them aflame with her glare. Trying being the operative word.

To his right, Kazuya saw Narsem wrinkle his nose with awkwardness. “I’m afraid I will pass on the rabbit.”

Pioll was taken aback by the statement, though, judging by his expression, he quickly understood why. “Right, the Holy See of Uzhair is pretty strict on that matter.”

That sentence made Kazuya turn to the half-orc. Holy see. Those words were something the people around here had been peppering around from time to time. None of them had elaborated what they meant by that, which was starting to rub Kazuya the wrong way. "Okay, what do you mean by Holy Sees," and Kazuya immediately regretted that question.

Oh, it wasn't for any fear of getting an information overlord from Bellisaria. Rather, it was the lack of said information overload that served as a dead giveaway that something had gone awry. There, and for the first time in a whole day of interacting with them, the five crusaders were clearly of the same mind. They were shocked. Utterly appalled in the case of Pioll, who clearly had stopped to breathe after such a mind boggling statement. The half-orc was so stunned that he didn’t notice how the spoon fell from his hand and clacked against the soft ground.

“Is this some kind of joke,” even Minerva had been taken aback. By now she’d be making sure Kazuya regretted the question thanks to an endless barrage of trivia.

That made the yankee flinch in surprise.“What, no!” And that only served to further the shock from those around him. The silence grew more awkward, more painful.

After what seemed an eternity, Sidonnie blinked and managed to make a baffled remark. "Just what kind of hole did you crawl out of?”

Bellisaria "So," she was still struggling to form a coherent sentence. "Right, all the Crusader States share their fervent Worship for the Goddess, but that worship takes many forms."

Pioll cleared his throat, getting the lieutenant's attention and interrupting her exposition.``Minerva, if I may?" Upon getting a nod of consent, the sergeant cleared his throat once more and turned at the yankee. “We once partook in a single unified creed; alas, as is the case with men, the pass of time eroded that commonality. Divisions between the Crusaders, their descendants and the believers that surrounded them grew as generations passed, which resulted in multiple schisms and the birth of no less than eight churches.”

“So there’s multiple churches, but aren’t you guys like a religious organization? Shouldn’t you keep it up to a single religion?”

“Just what kind of hole did you crawl out of, seriously!?” Sidonnie brought her hands to her head in disbelief. She stood in that position for a solid while shaking her head occasionally. She turned once again to the yankee, her eyes wide as pie plates. “Just to be sure, did you break your skull, do you suffer from any similar ailment?”

At that point, Kazuya was starting to get defensive from such overreactions. That last remark was about to break the camel’s back. Patience, man. Like, Kazuya hadn’t told them he was from another world. Unfortunately, that kind of statement, given their first meeting and their intent to properly interrogate him when they reached their headquarters, wasn't likely to sound believable. Sure, your goddess sends me from the modern land of Japan. Just what kind of idiot would think that didn’t sound like a con or rambling madness?

Thinking and weighing his words carefully, the yankee had started to furl and unfurl his fists out of reflex. You better stop digging your own grave, Kaz.

“You’ll have to excuse my ignorance: I am from Japan, a very distant land, so we don’t really have knowledge of your customs, religions and what not,” he spoke slowly, forcing a smile while he tried to not grit his teeth with frustration. He did his best attempt at keeping a calm and level voice, lest he somehow managed to offend them.

And he did. Sidonnie sprung at lightning fast speed, making headway for her weapons right before Pioll pulled a lariat against her, smashing his arm right against the elf’s neck and bringing her to the floor. All of a sudden, almost twenty five pairs of eyes were fixated on the two wrestling crusaders. Pioll rapidly formed a lock around the elf’s torso and arms to keep Sidonnie pinned down. The girl tried to fend him off, shaking her whole body with blinding speed and violence.

Just as the elf started to calm down, Pioll let out a blood chilling hiss. “D’Angoulenne, our Order’s Code is extremely strict on the subject of treating civilians,” he squeezed further the elf’s frame, clearly causing her some pain. “Please remember our responsibilities in this front, for I fear that in another occasion, may halberd may precede my reprimand.”

“Civilian!? He’s a heathen, an unbeliever!” She shrieked and violently wriggled against the steel-like arms of her superior. Murmurs began to run amidst the camp.“By the seven thorns, Holkins, let me go and cleanse him with my axes!”

Kazuya’s face had blanched with the sudden rampage. Now, after that last outburst, he was pale as a sheet of paper. She wasn’t going to be the sole of those fanatics, wasn’t she? They were all like her, deep inside, weren’t they? You fucking good for nothing goddess, why didn’t you warn me this kind of shit awaited? I only need you as a catalyst, my ass!

Pioll only hardened his strangling hold. “I will let your severed head go, if you so desire, now behave like a civilized being.”

After a brief bout of further resistance, Pioll released Sidonnie. The elf’s hair was now a mess and she labored to breath from the last turn of events. Her eyes sought Kazuya, and when the two glares locked, she made an indignant huff. “The lapdog is right, killing you is a waste; making you see and embrace the truth, much like my ancestors did, will be a more productive purpose.”

Just before Kazuya could get another word in, the elf turned around and left. His whole body was almost trembling from the sheer surprise, it took all his willpower to keep himself from doing so. The rest of the platoon, right after a whole minute of tension, finally resumed their tasks and meals. Well, he noted with a body shuddering sigh of exhaustion, not everyone.

Minerva didn’t go back to her business. For a while, the two locked stares. Kazuya felt uneasy, given that he had no clue about what the girl was thinking. Minerva, on the other hand, hid her emotions behind a stoic facade; until she smirked. Right then, her eyes lit up the same way that they did when she went on a diatribe. She nodded, silently telegraphing her challenge to Kazuya. The yankee made a thin smile, the girl was amazingly easy to read.

I will uncover your secret, she silently promised before returning to her duties. He somehow wasn’t sure if that was the lesser of two evils, given the latest overreaction.