The next day, Chester, Jonathan, Peter, and the mercenary band left the city. They were still riding further West.
Chester seemed bored.
Jonathan decided to bite the bullet and pick a topic he wanted to know more about. “What religions really are there?”
“Is that why you seemed confused earlier?” Chester seemed like several pieces had fallen into place for him. He stared at his friend in amazement, “Was your family atheist?”
Chester nodded. “Alright, alright.” He moved on casually to show that he wouldn’t pry further. “There’s the Pantheon, which includes the major gods, minor gods, and local gods. Most of them coexist pretty well. However, there are a few rivalries between gods with similar or opposite domains.”
“Ah . . . ” Chester thought it over for a minute or so, and then explained. “Wealth and prosperity are pretty close in domain. Gods with those domains would be in competition for followers. On the other hand, war and peace are directly opposed, so there’s going to be conflict with their goals and where the focus of government and culture should be.”
“That makes sense.” Jonathan could see why there would be issues for both too similar and opposite domains that the gods would claim for themselves.
“There is only one god that isn’t part of the Pantheon. He has many different names, depending on the region.” Chester held his reins in one hand, and used the other to gesture around them. “In the West, here, He is known as The One Who Walks Alone.” The bard pointed over his shoulder back towards the Hrea Empire, “And in the East, He is called The Lonely One. It’s the only religion where the god claims to have control of . . .everything. Creation and destruction, sun and moon, life and death, prosperity and misfortune, harvest and famine, and so on.”
“I can see why that would lead to some conflict, but is there anything more to that? Meeting that prophet seemed to freak you out a bit.” Jonathan ignored that he had also been weirded out from Yon’s cryptic words.
“From what I’ve heard in random tales and legends, songs, and all that, true Prophets of the lonely god have a habit of causing chaos in whatever land they go into.” Chester continued in a somewhat reluctant tone, “Whenever one appears, people convert and are blessed on a level that is unmatched by any of the Pantheon.”
Jonathan shook his head. He was more convinced by hearing that part. What Yon had done fit that description rather well.
Rando, who was riding in front of them, turned his head and chipped in his own thoughts. “He also claimed to be the only ‘real’ god centuries ago, which made all of those snake-faced Pantheon followers really mad.”
“Are you a follower, Rando?” Chester questioned.
“No, but I hate the Pantheon.” A smirk twisted down the mercenary’s face. “Anyone or anything that messes with them is something I enjoy.” He, like many others, had rolled down his sleeves to keep his arms from getting burnt by the noon sun.
Peter was nearby, listening. He didn’t have much to contribute, considering that he wasn’t from this world.
Buffo, who apparently heard part of the conversation, called back something about sacrifices.
Rando elaborated—with a grimace—that the Empire had stopped such practices after largely converting to the One Who Walks Alone with a grimace. There were still ritual sacrifices of many dumb or sentient magical animals—and occasionally even people in more rural parts—of the Western kingdoms. On the other hand, for both the East and West most forms of necromancy, or ritualistic magic related to it, were outlawed.
With the travelling done for the day, they all set up camp. A storm was on the way, which meant either Chester or Jonathan had to set up the large tarp to keep the two from being rained on during the night. After a quick game of chance involving three stones that had really never been explained to Jonathan, the transmigrator won and happily sat at the fire.
Jonathan was whittling at a new branch he had picked up and didn’t pay much attention to his surroundings.
“Why do you whittle?”
Jonathan tensed as he hadn’t realized he had an audience. He looked up to see Rando sitting on the long grass near the fire and relaxed his shoulder. “It’s a hobby of mine. Whittling is . . . fun. I enjoy creating things with my hands.”
Peter sat down nearby as well. He was polishing some jewelry or metallic merchandise, as he often did.
“Also . . . ” Jonathan hesitated, “My dad used to whittle a lot and he was the one who taught me how to. He’s dead now, and this is really the only thing of his I have left.”
“I can understand that. Same thing for my wife,” Peter chimed in. “She loved travelling.”
Jonathan nodded. “What did you love the most about her?”
“How patient she was, with everyone.” Peter had a sad smile on his face, but he added, “How she always wanted to learn and experience new things.”
Jonathan wasn’t great with comforting people. However, he sincerely said, “She sounds great.” He wanted to fall in love with a woman like that.
Rando dropped chunks of raw potato beside him. He had been given the dubious honor of feeding The Blade that night.
“What about you, Rando?” Peter asked.
Rando’s lips turned down into a sneer. He didn’t seem to have much fear of the boar next to his leg. “What about me?”
Jonathan leaned forward slightly and decided to let his curiosity get the better of him. “Why don’t you want to be the leader?” He continued on, “You’re already the unofficial leader. If there’s a serious decision, everyone looks to you and not Buffo,” he huffed, “Even Buffo looks to you.”
“Transfer of leadership for mercenaries . . . that requires a duel to be fought between the current head and the challenger to win,” Rando dully said.
Jonathan opened his mouth, ready to retort. The transmigrator didn’t believe that Rando was scared of Buffo, or that Rando couldn’t beat Buffo in a fight.
“Buffo would likely forfeit,” Peter calmly said. His lips held a charming smile and he carried no blade, yet his words were sharp. “I haven’t been with you all long and I can still tell Buffo doesn’t feel he belongs as the leader. Therefore, what’s the real issue?”
“I wouldn’t do well as a leader. I don’t like the risks. I don’t like the responsibility. I don’t like the fear of failure. I don’t like the inevitability of disappointing those who depend on you.”
“That’s understandable,” Peter acknowledged.
“Are you going to let that stop you? Are you going to keep ignoring how you already are a leader?”
“I don’t know,” Rando replied simply. His eyes were dark, with an unusual spark of determination. “Maybe . . . Maybe not.”
I honestly forgot about this chapter. It’s an interesting one, because of the world building. Also, Rando taking responsibility, we love to see it.