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Gateways to Casselonia chapter 6
Early morning of the next day.
The resonating bells from the chapel called out to the village population, announcing the time for holy services. A middle-aged priest dressed in a dark brown cloak stood outside the chapel’s rustic doors welcoming and greeting the villagers going inside.
Entire families consisting of twelve members, to smaller families containing as few as two members, arrived en masse with delight and joy on their faces. There was still some time before the service’s commencement began, so children played with each other while all the adults socialized and talked.
Sorata and Mizuki were on their way to the chapel following behind Lola down the hill on where the manor resided. Except, the only thing missing was Lola.
Just a few minutes ago, the maid had stayed behind halfway down the hill where a very talkative, ( almost annoying ) female villager suddenly struck up a conversation with her, only a few seconds after they had come out of the manor. And to make things worse, other women started joining in on the conversation, like pigeons crowding around bread crumbs in a park. It didn’t seem like Lola was going to be able to shake off the gossiping women from her any time soon, so Sorata and Mizuki had no choice but to walk down to the chapel themselves.
As they walked downhill together, not a word came out from either of their mouths. The aura from last night’s dismal episode between Sorata and Mizuki still lingered around them. The fact that they tried to ignore it didn’t mean it would go away. But on one hand, it was a good thing that it happened. For starters, Sorata now had solid confirmation that Mizuki had taken him up on his promise the other day to protect her. This meant that Mizuki did see him as a man in her eyes and ultimately trusted in his words.
And second. With that trust, they could both grow emotionally closer together. Giving Sorata the best chance to win over Mizuki's heart.
Even if it meant that every night they would have to do the same thing, he had nothing to lose. But the easy part was over. The hard part was going to be staying true to that promise and being there for her when she needed him the most.
Luckily for them, the beautiful village scenery below was enough to at least provide a sense of calm. Seeing the villagers' lively faces and the beauty of the lush fields was a better thing to wake up to than the grumpy and cold faces of busy Tokyoites.
Though for Sorata, he felt lucky just to be walking alongside Mizuki: the girl of his dreams. “After what happened last night, we haven’t said anything to each other. Mizuki woke up by herself this morning, so that destroyed any possibility of me doing it. We haven’t even said good morning to one another. The only communication we’ve really had was only a slight bow and the silent nodding of our heads.” Sorata glanced at Mizuki to his left from the corner of his eyes. She was wearing a white dress with a blue and black colored over-bust corset. In his eyes, she looked like a pure and innocent angel, despite her stubbornness to show more emotion like she did back in Japan.The only thing different today was her hairstyle. She had it tied in a single braid and over her right shoulder, making her look somewhat more formal than usual. Most likely she wanted to look a bit more proper, given that they were on their way to a religious gathering.
“I wonder what she’s thinking right now. Could she be thinking about me? No… I doubt it. She probably feels awkward. I can’t blame her, I kinda feel the same but…” He quickly went back to what happened in their bedroom last night. Remembering Mizuki’s trembling body and the
hopelessness in her crying voice was painful to go through, but his confidence slowly built up inside because Mizuki was relying on him from now on.
Shaking his head, Sorata said to himself, “Ughh!!! Get it together Sorata! Mizuki’s relying on you. If I really meant what I said, then there’s no way I can afford to show any weakness around her. She needs to feel safe when she’s in a crisis. And only I can be there to console her. From here on, man up!”
The heavenly voices of the young choir members dressed in white robes, reverberated harmoniously throughout the entire chapel. Light coming in from the windows and the single painting on the ceiling of what seemed to be a saint holding a holy relic, only added more of a spiritual experience to the religious ceremony in it’s peek. There were approximately 156 people sitting inside, and another fifty sitting and standing near the entrance. The interior of the chapel was about as simple as the exterior, everything was made of stone and wood. Only the pillars separating the nave from the side aisles had any elaborate designs engraved into them, and the seats and the altar were the only visible things made out of wood. But what stood out the most, were the precious gold jewelries, necklaces, and colorful robes around a white, stone bust of the this world’s goddess known as the Lady of Salvation.
Sitting on the second to last row near the entrance of the chapel, Sorata and Mizuki sat next to Lola and Sir Bowen. Lord Maxwell and lady Endolyn were sitting on the right bench at the very front of the church that was especially reserved for them. They had their heads turned down and hands clasped together at the front, joining in on the last prayer that would end the week’s religious gathering. It was only natural for Sorata and Mizuki to join in on the prayers. Showing disrespect for their religion wouldn’t look good on them since they were the only outsiders in the village, not to mention this entire world.
Even though Sorata and Mizuki didn’t share the same beliefs or have any idea as to what the prayers meant, they still went along with it as naturally as possible.
In a way, Sorata even came to feel some form excitement. He had never attended any church in his eighteen years of life, or taken part in any prayers other than in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. You could almost say he felt like a tourist in an old european town.
As the prayer came to an end, everyone inside the chapel stood up and began to head home while others stayed behind to chat with their fellow neighbors.
“So are you two ready to go back to the manor now?” Lola looked over at Sorata and Mizuki who were sitting at the end of the bench.
“Uh, yeah... We’re ready when you are Miss Lola.” Only Sorata replied, while Mizuki gave a slight nod.
The maid puffed out her cheeks in protest of Sorata adding a title before her name. “Geez Sorata. I thought I told you to just call me Lola. You make me feel like I’m much older.”
He panicked slightly at his mistake. He forgot that yesterday morning Lola had told him the exact same thing after she went to wake him and Mizuki up. “O-oh yeah. I’m sorry uhh… Lola…”
She giggled gently and gave a tolerant smile, letting him know that it wasn’t such a big deal.
Now outside the chapel, Sorata, Mizuki, and Lola were making their way on over to the manor amidst the crowd of villagers still socializing outside the chapel.
“Mizuki, would you mind switching from cooking in the kitchen to cleaning rooms today? Me and the other maids are going to need your help, especially with dusting.”
Glancing over to Lola, she nodded and replied in a soft tone.
“Mmm… yes. I’ll help.”
“Great. That settles it then. Today you’ll finally be making your debut in helping us poor underhanded maids with our duties. I’m looking forward to it.”
Ending in a singy songy tone, she smiled at Mizuki, flashing a full set of shiny teeth.
“By the way…” Lola’s swift change in tone grabbed the attention of both Sorata and Mizuki. “That new hairstyle you got going on there really looks cute on you. Did you change it because of today? Because of today’s religious services?”
At a loss for words, Mizuki couldn’t quite answer the maid’s question. Only inaudible and muttered words came out of her mouth as she tried to think of what to say. There really was no particular reason for her change in looks, other than having her hair tied in one braid and over her shoulder to let her neck feel a bit of fresh air. The climate at that time was similar to that of the late summer. And having her hair loose would only encourage more sweating. So it was an infinite amount of times better to have it braided and out of the way than having it blanket over her neck and causing sweat. But in order to get the attention off of her, she slowly nodded her head in agreement to Lola’s question.
“I see I see. Then what do you think Sorata?”
“Huh?... about what exactly?”
Lola smiled mischievously at him and asked in a playful voice.
“What I mean is, what do you think about the way Mizuki’s hair is done today? Exposing that provocative neck of hers and all. You must think she looks so cute. It makes you wanna hold her tightly in your arms again like when you two were found in the Grand River, am I right Sorata?"
"W-w-w-what are you talking about! Don't- don't say stuff like that when there's this many people around us!"
"Nyahahaha! I love how you react to my teasing hahaha! If only you could stand quietly and accept it wholeheartedly like Mizuki does. Then you wouldn't feel so embarrassed about it."
Contrary to what Lola said, Mizuki was now walking two steps behind them with her head down to where the front bangs covered her eyes. However, they still couldn't hide her blushing cheeks overflowing with a fierce redness of embarrassment.
"Is this what you would call 'agreeing with you'?" Sorata desperately barked his question at Lola, stopping abruptly and turning around to show her how much Mizuki would rather be hiding in a hole than be subjected to listening to any more of her teasing.
As Lola continued to joyfully tease Sorata and Mizuki like an older sibling, Sir Bowen hesitantly called out to them, interrupting their playful quarrel. "Ummm, excuse me everyone... but..."
"Ah. What is it dear?" Lola stopped and swallowed a gasp as soon as she heard him. "Do you need me for something?" She walked over to his side and hummed a happy tune as she grabbed his left hand.
"Actually, I wanted to ask Sorata if he could help me out with something today."
"M-me?..." Looking at Sir Bowen with a puzzled face, Sorata asked as if questioning what good he could possibly assist with.
"Yeah, I was wondering if you could accompany me to the capital right now. There's some things I need to buy for my horse, and also I need to pick up some equipment of mine from a weapons shop. You wanna tag along?"
"Uh, sure... I mean if- if you think it's good for me to go, then..."
"I think that's a great idea Sorata. You should definitely go." Lola added enthusiastically. "Think of it as an opportunity for you to familiarize yourself more with Casselonia. The capital's really a cool place, and there's always new things to see."
"Umm, well... maybe I should..."
Before he could give an answer, Sorata quickly glanced over at Mizuki to see what she thought about the idea. But disappointingly enough, she had her gaze set over in a different direction like she could care less about what was happening.
"Geez, I don't get her at all. Yesterday she held on to me and even came to me for consolation. I thought she might become a little more honest about her feelings during the day after last night but... she's acting like nothing ever happened between us. Not just yesterday but since we got here. I wonder if I'm really making progress with her."
Feeling somewhat annoyed, he tightened his left hand firmly into a fist.
"Maybe... maybe if I accept and go like it's nothing, she'll say something to me. Or perhaps if I go and don't come back for a long time, I can make her miss me enough to force her to interact with me more. Alright, that sounds like a good plan. Forgive me Mizuki, but you leave me no other choice."
With his fist still gripping tight, Sorata turned his eyes over to Sir Bowen and accepted in a firm tone."Yes, I'll gladly go along with you Sir Bowen."
"Good, it's settled then. We're going to Casselonia."
Sorata nodded with a smile on his face, "Yeah, let's go."
Inside a cramped pub densely packed with nothing but grown men, sat a hooded person all by themselves at an old rounded table for two in a corner at the very end of the establishment. The eating house was lively and rowdy with it's male customers. So much, that one could even smell the heavy stench of testosterone polluting the air and their lungs. There were dozens of candles around on the walls only lighting to a minimum, and the stone covered ceiling was so low that you could touch it with your hands if you jumped high enough.
Sitting at a table across from the hooded person, were three bulky men talking over some beers and clean bones on their plates.
"So tell me boys, how's that military training been going lately? Any of ya'll know if we're really gonna start this war with Koringia from where it left off again?"
"No doubt about it. I heard rumors that those bastards have been planting their flags all around one of the neutral islands and such. Supposedly that's what the islanders were saying, and like always, those damn Koringians are denying the fact any of it is taking place."
Guzzling down the last of his beer, the third man added. "That's a Koringian for you. Always a two-faced liar like my grandad used to say. Only thing they're good for is for bustin' their teeth in! Hahahaha!!"
Already half drunk, the three men turned up the noise level even higher in the pub with their laughter. One of them even banged his enormous hands on the table, causing it to shake violently.
"You guys know what? I actually want this war to happen again. Hell, I might even sign up so I can kick some Koringian ass. My great grandad and my old man both lost their lives when they fought for Casselonia. I might as well pay those bastards back for what they did."
The lone hooded person was only half-listening to the conversation taking place at the other table. Taking a sip from a hot mug sitting on their table, when suddenly, something caught the loner's attention.
Talking silently in a whisper, one of the bulky men asked, "Hey, but did you guys hear what happened in the Grand River a few days ago?"
"You mean those kids that were allegedly found swimming in it or something like that? Yeah, I heard about it."
After hearing this, like feeling a zapping electric current, the hooded loner quickly jolted their head up a few centimeters. They then slowly set their mug back on the table as to not make any more sudden movements. And very discreetly turned their attention towards the gossiping men.
"I've only heard a few things here and there, but what's this all about?"
"Who knows. Some say those two kids just came out of the surface from nowhere. Their hair was black, which means they're most likely Aldgrundian. Not to mention, the clothes on their backs was strange looking too. But not one person who was there seemed to recognize them."
"Weren't they pulled onto a fishing boat apparently?"
"Yeah. Some old fisherman helped them onto his small fishing boat. I think the guy's name was ... 'something' Risenmarc, I can't remember exactly. But his last name was Risenmarc, no doubt about it."
Still holding onto the mug, the hooded loner tightened their hold on it as they continued to listen. Whatever it was that made them so invested in the mens' chattering, really bothered the hooded loner. The two kids floating in the Grand River that runs right through the city of Casselonia, was of course none other than Sorata and Mizuki. The incident that day had become a hot topic in the district they were found in, and other neighbouring parts of the city.
It could be a good or a bad thing for Sorata not to know about the small ruckus him and Mizuki had caused in the capital a few days ago. The good thing for sure, was that no one who saw them that day knew they were from another world. Which meant the odds of them not being able to blend in with everyone else were slim.
After enough eavesdropping, the hooded loner took out a small bag from their cloak and extracted a few silver coins from the inside. Placing them on the table, the loner stood up and walked towards a set of stairs going up. A loud "Thank you for your patronage" from the bartender followed as the hooded loner exited the underground pub.
Emerging step by step from the ground, the hooded loner came to a stop in a busy, noisy street in Casselonia. The underground establishment was just on the edge of the Grand River, overlooking where Sorata and Mizuki first came into contact with this new world.
"So, it was a success after all..."
A brief pause. And then.
"I'm gonna have to clean this up now."
"I-I-I'm terribly sorry sir! Please excuse me!" After bumping shoulders with Sorata, a middle aged man pushing a small cart looked back at him with an irritated gesture on his face as he walked off.
"You gotta be more careful there Sorata. That's the third person you've bumped into since we got here to the capital an hour ago." Sir Bowen advised turning his head over at him.
Sorata sighed and hopelessly uttered, "I'm sorry, I don't know what's wrong with me today. Navigating through crowds like this usually isn't a problem for me."
The streets were busy and noise was abundant everywhere. People were hauling things, making things, selling things, eating things, and saying things. Vendors populating the cobblestone streets called out loudly to the crowds of people, offering discounts here and there trying to draw in potential customers.
Many different stone and half timbered buildings considered medieval to Sorata's eyes, stood in every direction imaginable.
After three days, Sorata was once again back in Casselonia where his and Mizuki's strange adventure first began.
"It's only been three days since the last time I was here, and yet... I feel like it's my first time." Sorata couldn't help but gawk at the scenic medieval city he was in. It was almost impossible for him to not constantly twist and turn his neck everywhere to catch a glimpse of his surroundings. There really was no way around it, anyone and not just him would find themselves doing the same touristy thing. Maybe that could explain why he had already bumped into three people since arriving there.
"I guess it was due to me being so worried about Mizuki that I was blocking everything else out of my mind except for her. I really was worried back then, she was the only thing I could focus on..."
"Hey Sorata." Sir Bowen called out while walking a few steps in front leading the way.
"Yes? What is it?" Like a reality check, Sorata fixated his mind out of his thoughts, blinking his eyelids like a camera's shutters a few times, curious as to what the knight wanted to tell him.
"Aren't you glad I know a shortcut to the capital that takes half as long as what you told me? You shoulda seen the disappointed look on your face when you asked me if we were really going there."
"Yeah, I was. That's because the first time it took us more than seven hours to get to the manor. And also, we weren't going as fast as today.
"I believe it's because Mr. Risenmarc had other clients he had to attend that day. Did you guys make any frequent stops along the way?"
Following Sir. Bowen's question, Sorata put his right hand to his chin and his eyebrows slanted downward in a brainstorming manner. He quickly went back to the events when they first headed to the countryside.
"Now that you mention it, we did make a stop at a smaller village because Mr. Risenmarc had business to take care of. We stayed there for about a half hour or so from what I remember."
"So you guys took the long route. There aren't any villages in the one we just took remember?"
Sorata nodded his head even though Sir Bowen was looking ahead as he walked on. "Yeah... not a single one."
Sir. Bowen stopped in his tracks abruptly, staring at a stand a few meters ahead. Sorata stopped as well, but since he was walking behind the knight he stuck his body out to the side to see what was wrong. "Ummm, Sir. Bowen-” A bright light flickered into Sorata’s eyes, catching his attention and stopping him from finishing his sentence. He looked up ahead to where the light might be coming from and spotted a most stunning assortment of exotic and colorful jewelry on sale in the direction where Sir. Bowen was looking.
Hastingly and in an excited tone, Sir Bowen relayed to Sorata. “Sorata, I need you to do another favor for me…”
“Sure. What can I do?...” He replied with a hint of hesitation.
“There’s a ring I’ve been wanting to get as an engagement ring for Lola over there. So could you go to another stand that has an orange covering overhead at the corner here, and ask for the horseshoe order I placed.” He stretched his left hand behind him to Sorata without looking away from the jewelry stand. “Take these coins and tell the guy working there that I sent you. Got it?”
The sudden reveal slowly brought a small smile to Sorata’s face. He began to feel butterflies in his stomach knowing that anytime now, he could witness something joyous like a proposal anytime soon.
“Count on me Sir Bowen. I won’t take long.”
With a firm resolve, Sorata took the money into his hands and headed straight for the stand at the corner of the long street.
Eyes glazed with a thin film of saline and pleasantly smirking, Sir Bowen made his way over to the jewelry stand. As soon as he got there, he immediately eyed a specific silver ring holding a charming red diamond, twinkling graciously from the sunlight. “This will be the ring for you my love.”
There, in the same busy market streets, the hooded loner walked by the corner of a tall, half timbered building with a small stand outside of it. The stand had a wide and orange cover stretched over on top of it to block out the sun. Coincidentally, it was the same one where Sorata went to pick up Sir. Bowen’s order. Looking in that direction, the hooded loner caught sight of Sorata waiting behind someone else. They stood motionless staring at him intently, almost with an intrigued expression on their face. “That boy…” Whispering to themselves, the loner took two steps towards the stand where Sorata was now engaging with the owner.
“G-good afternoon. Ummm, I came to pick up an order of horseshoes in Sir Bowen’s stead.
The owner- a sizeable man with short and dark brown hair, toothpick in his mouth- looked at him silently for a few seconds and asked. “Bowen? You mean Sir. Mereck Bowen?”
“Yes, him.” Sorata nodded his head amicably, looking at the owner.
“Yeah… I know him. Let me ask you something kid.” The owner crossed his muscular arms and looked at Sorata skeptically before continuing. “And just who the hell are you?”
Taken back by the man’s immediate doubtful question, Sorata blinked quickly a couple of times as if trying to make sense of where the conversation was going.
“Uh- uh, well… I came here with him… today and… and he asked me to pick up his order… that’s, what he said.” He froze for a second as his hand with the money he was given laid spread out pointing at the owner, waiting for him to accept the payment.
The only thing happening was Sorata being stared at with an intimidating face from the the two meter tall, muscle head who was deliberately ignoring the money. The scene was pretty much painful to watch, and full of awkward no matter how you looked at it. There he was, dead frozen in place with an arm spread out, a ridiculous smile on his sweating face for everyone around to make fun of like he was a clown. Some customers behind him even began to chuckle and quietly whisper at one another. All those stares and whispering voices behind felt heavier and heavier as each second went by. His own sweat had never felt hotter than today. Nothing could have prepared him for this sort of strange humiliation.
“Ummm… sir?... can you... please take the money now?”
“Huh?! What are you, a lady or something? Speak louder cuz ain’t no way I can hear you!”
The chuckling behind him grew louder.
Out of fear, Sorata began to shake slightly. He had no idea how or why things had come down to this disturbing and pressurizing situation. No memory of saying or doing anything out of line or respect came to his mind. Things just turned out like this in the blink of an eye without the slightest warning. He miraculously opened his mouth to speak once more, and as to where he found the resolve to do so under these circumstances was anybody's guess.
"B-b-b-but I... I-I need it for... Sir Bowen and-" His repeated stuttering was really beginning to tick off the shop owner. And not only him, but other customers who were behind him started raising their voices. They asked things like "Hey, what's taking so long?" and "Some of us have other places to go to!" which only added to Sorata's self consciousness.
"Aye, listen to me kid. How am I supposed to trust that you're really here with Sir. Bowen anyway, huh? How should I know you ain't actually gonna resell these horseshoes somewhere else? I never heard of him having a squire in the first place. And besides... I don't think anyone would wanna have a filthy Aldgrundian brat as a squire to begin with."
The stand owner picked the toothpick out of his mouth and flung it straight into Sorata's face, making him flinch instantly on impact.
"Nnghh!!" He lost his balance and immediately fell to the ground, landing on his bottom and the money flying everywhere.
Standing in the same spot just a few meters away, the hooded loner watched on as the humiliating act continued. "Is that Aldgrundian boy crazy? He should know better than to make business in this part of the city." The hooded loner watched on as Sorata hopelessly tried picking up all the money he scattered on the ground. "Oh well... He's probably not from around here anyway... Wait!! That's it..." Just when the hooded loner was about to turn around and walk the opposite direction, they quickly stopped, turning a gaze back to Sorata and widening their eyes in a terrified manner examining him further. "He's not from around here, his black hair, those slightly
different facial features from any other Aldgrundian. And above all... he's had enough time to change into more normal clothing. There's no doubt about it. That's him."
Still watching from a distance, the hooded loner saw as Sorata began to flee the scene where he was so wrongly made fun of apparently for being something he wasn't. "He ran off huh? Hah, useless idiot. Nothing but a coward I see. Well, I'll keep a close eye on you from now on. But when I get a chance, that is to say, if you and I are ever to be in the same place again with no one around... I'll personally take your life."
The hooded loner turned around, their long cloak fluttering from an incoming breeze taking over the street, slowly walking away after a bone chilling declaration. A bone chilling declaration that for some unknown reason was targeted towards ending Sorata's life, who was completely oblivious of the fact he was being watched from afar.