What kind of harassment is this? Actually, isn’t this a form of torture?
At the behest of the Nomura head, the entire village is now sitting outside around a long mat filled with various dishes. I’m next to Takashi at the end of the mat, giving everyone a good view of me. Please don’t stare. I’m figuratively sweating bullets here.
The food being served looks like Japanese cuisine. While the presentation is similar, the ingredients are obviously different. The “rice” are light green beans and the meat is mostly lizard. The shape of the tempura also makes me curious of their contents. Despite all this, it still looks somewhat appetising, which only adds to my frustration.
What part of “Undead” do you not understand!?
Hachirou, please don’t tell me this is my reward. I’d rather be given a wooden plate, not that I’m implying your life is only worth as much.
Takashi must have ordered this feast before we met, when he didn’t know I was a skeleton. Come to think of it…
“How did you figure out I was undead?” I whisper to him.
“There was a… um, subtle hint, but what truly betrayed your form was the circulation of your spiritual energy. It is highly condensed at a single point, the likes of which found in those who possess a <Soul Core>.”
“I see. I better prepare countermeasures in future.”
It seems the magic circle can’t hide spiritual energy. Should I try insulating my cloak?
“It’s a minor oversight. After all, not many people possess <Spectral Sense> of the greater rank. Those who do tend to have a spiritual affinity, which is also rare in and of itself.”
“Then that means both you and Chiyoko have it. Are affinities hereditary? No, wait, Hachirou didn’t seem to notice.”
“It isn’t. Of all my children, only Chiyoko has a spiritual affinity.”
“Hm? Going by what you said, it sounds like you’re not just a father of two.”
“Indeed, I am a proud father of eleven.”
“We kobolds can bear many offspring. The rest of my children have already grown up and left my care. Only Chiyoko and Hachirou stayed behind. My daughter intends to be the next branch chief, while all responsibility as the Nomura clan head will go to my eldest son, who lives elsewhere.”
His voice is tinged with melancholy. To watch your kids venture out on their own, time and time again, must be heartbreaking. He reminds me of my father when I first left my childhood home. That reminds me, how are Helena’s other “graduates” doing?
“Ah! My apologies, Enbos. In my old age, I’ve taken to dwelling in the past. Well then, we best eat soon. But first…
!noitnetta ruoy tseuqer I ,enoyrevE”
At their head’s command, everybody draws their attention to Takashi. Not a single sound is made, not even from the children. It is clear they all view Takashi in the highest regard.
He begins to speak with great delight to all the villagers, and finishes his talk with a gesture towards me. Hachirou then bows and says, “Arigatou gozaimashita.” Likewise, everybody bows and offer words of appreciation, even from Chiyoko. It’s kind of embarrassing being showered in their praise.
But Takashi wasn’t finished, as he continues his explanation. I have no idea what he said, but everybody is now looking at me in disbelief. Somehow, I can tell Hachirou’s face is turning pale beneath his grey fur. Chiyoko raises an eyebrow at her father’s words.
“Um, excuse me Takashi. What did you just say to everybody?”
“Hm? I only told them you’re an undead.”
He dangles a black glove in his hand. I immediately look down at my exposed skeletal digits. When did he take it? No, forget that…
“Why in the world did you reveal my true form!?”
“From now on it’s going to be important for them to know.”
“From now on? Wh-what exactly do you have in mind, Takashi?”
He ignores my question and proceeds to make a grand declaration. Everybody’s jaws are now wide open from shock. Even Chiyoko has the same saucer eyes and frozen expression.
“A-are you sure, father?”
“Yes Hachirou, I have decided. Enbos, I’ll tell you of my announcement after the feast. The rice is starting to go cold.”
Like I care! I want to know what you said! I feel incredibly uneasy.
He claps his hands and says, “Itadakimasu,” followed by the rest of the village in a stiff tone. It seems whatever he decided is questionable, but they still trust his judgement.
I stare blankly at my empty bowl and untouched chopsticks. Several villagers are also wondering how am I going to eat.
“Yes Takashi…” I weakly reply.
“Please accept this gift. <Perception Link>.”
He casts a spell and his spiritual energy forms a connection to my core. As I ponder what he just did, I immediately recognise a long lost sensation.
“I-I taste… fish?”
“Gulp… so, how is the sashimi?”
I see! <Perception Link> is designed to share senses. God bless the creator!
“… As you are connected to me, I am connected to you. I feel your hollowness, your perpetual struggle. A lesser man would have gone mad. You have endured well Enbos, and now I offer you this slight reprieve.”
He truly understands me. This man, or rather, this kobold is a saint!
“T-thank you Takashi!”
“Now, now, let us enjoy this meal together.”
He begins to eat the more questionable dishes, but who cares! Bitter or salty, sweet or savoury, I will forever treasure this moment for the rest of my un-life!
“Are you crying? Why are you pretending to cry?”
“Shut up Chiyoko! You try fasting for a year, then come back to me!”
My rather sudden mood swings catch everybody off guard. It seems I’ve piqued their interest, especially the kids, but I couldn’t care less. I want to savour the rest of this glorious dinner. Please take your time Takashi!
“Gochisousama deshita. Well then, as promised I’ll tell you my decision.”
“Father, please reconsider!”
“Trust me, Chiyoko. As I was saying Enbos, would you consider joining our clan?”
And enjoy more of this delicious food?
“No hesitation!” shout Chiyoko and Hachirou in unison.
… As I look back on this night, I tell myself it was not on impulse.
A perfectly sound decision.
I regret nothing!