Chapter 7:

More than a leap of faith.

I became the Recordkeeper of the Second Holy War.

Kazuya’s eyes sluggishly opened right before the migraine hit him. His head felt like it had been reduced to mush, and he could swear he had been almost quartered. While his mind was still cloudy by the sudden turn of events, he began to turn around, finding he was in some kind of room. “Where the hell am I?”

“In the barracks, my room to be specific, and you’re resting in my bed, for maximum precision” he explained as he handed him a skin. “Drink, you look like you’ll need some colour on your cheeks.”

While Kazuya still hadn’t fully recovered, he flailed and tried to grab the skin and proceeded to down the delicious, sweet and clearly alcoholic liquid. Upon discovering the last property, his eyes turned into pie plates as he stopped his chugging and spat the drink. “This is wine!?” The yankee almost shouted but managed to control his pitch at the last moment.

Pioll jumped out of his stool and barely avoided the spray of alcohol and saliva. He looked at Kazuya with bewildered eyes. “Is there something wrong with that!?” His eyes darted between the skin and the yankee, he was clearly at a loss.

“Not really,” he stopped to cough and eject the last traces of alcohol from his lungs. He massaged his throat to ease the slight pain. “It’s just that in Japan the law prohibits us from drinking alcohol if we are not 20 years of age, so it really caught me by surprise.”

Pioll briefly drew a faint smile, but Kazuya’s words sunk in and he frowned in confusion.“Wait, do they really impose such restrictions in your homeland?” He let out a short, baffled chuckle while he went for a rag to clean up the mess.

“Aye.” Kazuya did return the chuckle, though his’ was weaker, almost strangled. “Sorry for the sudden overreaction. It just took me by surprise. I didn’t expect you to offer alcohol, not when we drank water along the way.”

“Well, yeah, that’s because we drank the supplies and used the manse’s well to draw the water, we had to use Narsem’s magic to purify it, and he complained enough to make it clear that we will not get him to do this in a good while.” He began scrubbing the floor, methodically cleansing the stone slabs. “Water can be treated and purified, but it’s less of a hassle to just brew beer or, in this land’s case, cider.”

Once he was satisfied, Pioll folded the rag and set it aside. “Mind if we take a brief walk?” He scratched his jaw and spared a soft glare at Kazuya. “I need to talk about something with you, if you will.”

Kazuya froze. A phantom pain rapidly coursed through his body, right as memories of his meeting with Bohemond emerged despite his mind’s best efforts. He froze and started to break a cold sweat. With an almost audible gulp, he looked at Pioll. He wanted to kill him, didn’t he? Given their track record, he’d crush his skull to a pulp.

Inside his braincase, a part of him desperately shouted You should have dealt with the cop without stopping. For the most part, he resigned himself. Kazuya’s whole body sagged as he gave up any pretense of resistance. He was going to kill him, just like the rest of these fanatics wanted to. He was dead, there was no use in trying to stall.

“Okay,” every single muscle in his face relaxed. It was over.

The crusader smiled and helped Kazuya get on his feet. Clearly, he wanted to spare himself the hassle to clean off the bloodstains off his personal abode, didn’t he? Pioll opened the door and left first, holding the door for Kazuya. Once the yankee was out into the naked stone corridor, the half-orc made to close the door. When Pioll’s back was exposed, Kazuya wondered if he could smash his head against the door, a pre-emptive strike to save his hide. His whole body tensed, his hands curling into fists in anticipation at the last chance he had at survival. Kazuya doubted for too long, though. The half-orc turned towards Kazuya. It was too late.

But. Pioll did the last thing Kazuya expected him to. He bowed. “I’d like to apologize for my comrades’ behavior.”

Kazuya’s mind was just destroyed at that moment. For the last minutes, he had been psyching himself up to a quick and miserable demise. “Well, I; damn, I need to collect my thoughts,” he ran his hands all over his head. Yeah, his skull hadn’t been shattered yet.

Pioll shot him a worried glare as he fidgeted ever so slightly. “Did I perform the bow correctly?” He covered his mouth with a hand while he gasped. “Wait, is it improper for foreigners like me to perform such a gesture?”

Kazuya finally reacted and frantically pushed his arms forward, gesturing Pioll that things were going fine. “No no, it’s not that, it’s just that I didn’t expect an apology after… that.”

“Hence why I need to apologize!” The half-orc looked at him with passion stoked eyes. “Because the goddess preaches that we love our neighbor and help those in need, not kill them at first sight!” He grew silent. Kazuya was starting to give him a wide berth.

The yankee, once he realized that Pioll noticed his manneuver, stopped and made a strained smile. “I see.”

Pioll grew crestfallen, he was clearly thinking of the recent events. He wrung a hand, as if he was turning the arms of a clock, and grimaced. “How do I put it… right, let me ask you a question beforehand, Kazuya: is Japan a country that shies away overt religiosity?”

“It’s, in part, to help me formulate a proper response,” He absentmindedly rapped his knuckles against his chest. “And this is something that I think I’ve done a poor job in so far.”

The half orc began to forge his way out of the tower, right towards the staircase. Kazuya followed him, but ensured that he remained a step behind and out of arm’s reach. That didn’t escape the half-orc’s notice, either. He silently sighed and decided to keep on with a resigned expression, waiting for the yankee’s response.

After what seemed an eternity of awkward silence, Kazuya found the courage to reply. “Well, yeah, we are not too big on that, believe it or not, people back home don’t really like to stand out,” he paused and scratched the back of his head. He just needed one final push to say it, he could do it. “Like being so gung-ho about religion.”

Pioll stopped at that jab; but rather than take offence at it, he let it sink. His eyes bored on Kazuya, inspecting him in detail. “At the same time, do you feel there’s anything your people are ‘big on’, as you say?”

Kazuya didn’t need to think for a second. “Politeness, damnation are the people back home obsessed with being polite and overly formal.” That was something that deeply frustrated him. A big chip he couldn’t take off his shoulder. “I wish I was kidding, but everyone’s obsessed with keeping up a facade, of not hurting the status quo or not going too strong; you need to keep everything in a bloody rigmarole of formalities, honorifics and stupid oblique approaches to do anything.”

By then they were halfway down the stairs, Pioll, who had taken the lead, did a full turn and cocked an amused eyebrow at Kazuya. “Politeness,” his smile was incredulous, which caused Kazuya to reel a bit and roll his eyes amidst a deeply annoyed groan.

“Yes, yes,” Kazuya clicked his tongue but he looked more at ease by now. “I know it’s nowhere close to my forte.”

Pioll laughed hard, bringing his hands to his stomach as his whole body heaved with each beat. “I’m shocked,” the half-orc wiped his teary eyes. “And do you think that the rest of your people hold to those standards you complain about to the same degree?”

The question caused Kazuya to scoff. “Of course not.”

When the two exited the stairs and approached the tower’s entrance to the courtyard, Pioll finally broke the silence once more. “I was given the Book of Nestor, one of our holy scriptures, as my first reading material; much like these formalities and procedures influence your people’s day to day life, faith has influenced ours. But just as your people, mine are not a monolithic collective.”

“You’re basically saying that not everyone is like the elves.”

“I’m saying that every individual is a world in its own,” as they opened the doors, the moon shone gentle rays upon them. “Though I will admit that the people of Clermont are… a bit of an outlier.”

Now that the opportunity had presented itself, Kazuya dared himself to seize it.“Why are they so…”

“Fanatical?” Pioll let out a dry, almost humourless chuckle and grimaced. “The elves are not natives to Granzen, to our land. They hail from the cold islands of Vvarfel. As is the case with Japan, they had different customs to those of Granzen... and worshiped different gods.”

Kazuya stopped in his tracks and blinked. “You converted them,” much like what the christians had tried to do in Japan centuries ago. Holy fuck.

“Aye… given that they were hellbent on conquering our lands, the process was,” he grimaced and waved his hand a bit. “Let’s say that it was less than peaceful; which made it even more of a necessity, with the raids and plundering and whatnot.”

Kazuya barked a short, sarcastic laugh. “I can’t imagine a peaceful encounter with them, going by my past experiences.”

Pioll paused and looked at him. The half-orc pressed his lips and nodded in agreement. “Aye, they are like that; and, unfortunately, this meant their conversion was a bloody process.”

Kazuya stood silent for the next steps, only daring to talk when they turned the corner and started to approach the fort’s chapel, a humble stone building that hugged the western wall.“You know, you’ll most likely be bothered by this, but that’s my main problem: that you’ll try to convert me,” Kazuya’s hands grasped at the air, he was trying to feel the right word. Seeing he was not having luck, he opted for simplicity. “It feels wrong, it feels I’d be giving away my self and turning into another person.”

Pioll jabbed an index right in front of Kazuya. “Now, that’s patently wrong, and the best example is the Saint Marches.”

The yankee pressed both of his hands against his mouth, barely repressing the urge to cry out in annoyance. “Could you elaborate.”

“Oh,” Pioll had been taken off-guard by that comment. He looked at Kazuya as if the yankee should know it, as if any toddler should know of it. Snapping back to reality, the half.orc reclined against the chapel to collect his thoughts and begin his explanation.

“So, the elves of Vvarfel had this custom to parade totems representing their different gods, they’d organize in bands and dress themselves in the attired decreed by their deity. “Pioll’s hands moved back and forth in gentle motions, as if they represented the steps of individuals. He was almost as excited to have this explanation as Minerva would be about any other subject. “They’d eventually meet at the city squares and battle each other, so the winning deity would rule the city’s pantheon.”

Kazuya just gave Pioll a blank stare, but the knight continued undeterred. “And you ask yourself, ‘Pioll, what does that have to do with anything!?” He pointed an index skywards. “Well, simple, when they embraced the cult of the Goddess, those rituals didn’t disappear, but instead they changed: rather than gods, they paraded finely crafted statues of saints and martyrs, they adjusted the fineries and the rules of combat. The custom survived, if in a different form.”

“That’s still the issue, though,” Kazuya was quick to argue. “It’s that change, it’s just something I don’t want.”

Pioll covered his mouth, taken off-guard by those comments once more. He blinked slowly, clearly trying to revise his newly challenged worldview. Finally, he opened the doors to the chapel, stretched an arm, and pointed at the other side of the building. Kazuya strained his eyes, narrowing them ever so slightly and craning his head forward. Soon his eyes grew used to the darkness and could see three nestled circles. In the outer rung, he only saw crosses; the middle one had ten faces surrounding the innermost, largest circle. That one contained engravings of a woman, a bearded satyr, a mouse of all things and a regal orc.

Pioll noticed that Kazuya was finally inspecting the engravings. “At the center you can see the Cardinal Virtues, the greatest of the original crusaders: Old Nestor, Marianne the Faithful, Cyrenne the Valiant and... my ancestor.”

Kazuya looked at Pioll a bit puzzled.“The orc?” He then realized what a dumb question he’d made.

“Aye, Karaz the Hero, he was the very first Crusader,” with that remark his chest puffed in pride, his face lit up. Turning his head rightwards, Pioll gestured to Kazuya to take a seat. “My ancestor understood that our differences are much lesser than our commonalities; that we had to talk and cooperate, reaching a common ground for the greater good. And that requires understanding and not needlessly forcing people.”

“But your people are not a monolithic collective, that much you’ve said,” at that point, Kazuya was aiming for full pigheadedness.

And then, all of a sudden, Pioll knelt in front of Kazuya. “We knights are subject to many oaths and vows, several of which are contradictory, but there’s one vow any self-respecting knight must respect at all costs,” he took out his dagger and gave it to Kazuya. “And that is to protect the people, which, as far as I am concerned, also includes you.”

“Are you implying that you’ll be my knight in gallant armor.?” Kazuya smirked at the proposition.

Pioll didn’t pick up on the double entendre at first, but when he did, he burst into a raucous bout of laughter. He arched backwards, his eyes shut down and tearing generously due to the spasms that violently racked his body. “All I am saying is that you give me some trust, if it’s possible,” his eyes glinted with kindness. “Now, if you will have me make my oaths, that would be great: I hate staying with a bent knee.”

As Kazuya performed the makeshift ceremony, he couldn’t help but shake of the absurdity of it all. These people were indeed from a different world. As he absentmindedly looked at the slab that featured the Crusaders, he pondered on this strange land. On their religiosity, on these bloodlines, on everything. Could he deal with this madness? As Pioll had asked him, he’d need to have some faith. But something particularly bothered him. What was the purpose of these bloody Crosses? What did hide beneath them?

Now, that would require more than just faith.