Thanks to the independent actions of our snow clearing team and the mountain branch, we were able to pass through the short ravine before noon. Upon meeting our guides, the first things I noticed were how refined they are compared to the main branch and the fact they have metal shovels. Unlike our wooden tools, the mountain branch must have their own forge or even a small mine.
As we head downhill, I’m given a chance to view the hidden valley in its entirety. It truly is a secluded sanctuary, with mountains on all sides, woodlands at the base and a river branching across vast tracts of land. In the distance, I spot a large formation of orderly rooves surrounded by tall wooden walls and outposts: the kobold village of Yamagakure.
As we get closer, I notice we are actually heading to the clearing several kilometres away from the settlement. I look over the flatland and notice it’s already occupied by two other encampments. They’re probably the break off branches led by Takashi’s remaining children.
“Lady Nomura, please use this land for your camp. We’ve already cleared the area and will join you shortly with a larger taskforce.”
“Thank you Kenichi. Please give my older sister our warmest regards… Everybody, listen up! We will spend the rest of the day building our camp! Do not be hasty! There is plenty of time to reunite with family and friends tomorrow! Look forward to the celebration!”
Following Chiyoko’s announcement, a great cheer erupts from our group before we immediately get to work. After a while, several dozen volunteers appear from the mountain branch and begin assisting in the construction. Well, it didn’t as smooth as I just described, since most of the volunteers are relatives or friends, resulting in many heartfelt reunions.
As I continue working on my tent, I watch Izumi run into the arms of her uncle. The rest of the gang is with her, and I notice Yuki wearing a sad smile. I’m glad he came to visit, otherwise those kids might sneak out at night. While I’m afraid of them getting caught in a snow storm, judging by the existence of the village wall and the sentry wards around the camps, there are probably dangerous animals roaming this valley.
As I’m about to finish my humble abode, I’m approached by Takashi, Hachirou… and an unfamiliar female kobold. She gives a slight bow before she introduces herself.
“Greetings, my name is Nomura Honoka.”
“Hello, mine is Enbos. Just Enbos.”
“Please pardon me for intruding, but I was eager to meet you in person.”
“That’s alright. Takashi, am I right to assume you’ve already told her about me?
“Indeed I have. While I’m sure you’ve realised this, Honoka is one of my daughters. My third daughter to be precise. She’s here to see you as the leader of the mountain branch.”
“Please do not mind. My position is only a duty my father has entrusted to me. Still, I will gladly welcome you into our village, Enbos. Also, I am here to personally thank you for saving my younger brother… and I would like to apologise for any disrespect my younger sister has shown.”
“I-it’s alright. It was the natural thing to do.”
That’s weird. I was expecting to go through another season of awkward interactions like when I first joined the Nomura clan, but her response is quite pleasing. It’s completely different from a certain other daughter of Takashi’s.
Though they have the same golden irises as their father, the similarities end there. While Chiyoko is rough, suspecting and brash, her older sister is graceful, open minded and reserved. Honoka’s well groomed grey fur and creaseless kimono stand in stark contrast to Chiyoko’s coarse brown fur and worn-out leather armour. Just who do they take after?
As if reading my mind, Takashi suddenly looks away while Hachirou has an apologetic expression.
“You are truly a humble soul. Please, as a reward I would like you to live with us in the village for the duration of your stay. Of course, Hachirou will be staying with you as well. I’m sure he will make a wonderful guide.”
“W-wait a moment, big sister! Surely there is someone more suitable than me! If anyone, big brother Takumi would be a better choice. Both Enbos and Takumi share an interest in magic after all, and he’s also a local.”
“While that is true, Hachirou, you have accompanied him for the last seven months. He’ll feel more at ease with you around than anybody else. Isn’t that right?”
“Yeah, I guess it would.”
“I… I understand big sister.”
“You’re a wonderful brother, Hachirou. We’ll be ready to receive you by tomorrow.”
I see what you’re doing here, Takashi. You and Honoka must have arranged this so that I can spend more time with Hachirou and hopefully cheer him up. Good job!
She’s clearly inherited her father’s craftiness.
Oh darn, I almost forgot.
“Will it really be okay? After all, the rest of the villagers don’t know I’m a skeleton,” I say as I look down at my bony digits through the burn holes in my gloves.
“Do not worry, Enbos. I’ve already informed everyone you’re an undead.”
You’re exactly like your father!
“As I said, do not worry. You’ll find your reception to be most pleasant.”
As I ponder the meaning of her words, I look at Takashi who is refusing to meet my gaze.
“I thought it was a fairy tale…”
“He really exists!”
“Look, look. Here he comes!”
“… Why is everyone looking at me like this, Hachirou?”
“H-honestly, I don’t know.”
I’m now walking down the streets of Yamagakure with Hachirou as my guide. As suggested by Honoka, I’ve taken off my mask, but contrary to my titles the villagers aren’t suspicious or even afraid of me. Instead, they’re watching with stunned awe and excitement not unlike a local idol!
What the hell is going on?
Also betraying my expectations were the design of the buildings. I was looking forward to tiled rooves and paper doors, but now that I’m here I’ve realised the depth of my foolishness. Of course Takashi would design the village with modern sensibilities! There’s even a large life well supplying the houses with power, and there’s a water tower to boot. If anything, this place is set up to become a thriving town, but it’s limited by its isolation from the rest of Aren. I guess that’s what makes the nomadic branches so important.
As we make our way to the Nomura clan house to attend the family feast, I watch as the kobolds from our branch reunite with their loved ones and friends, sharing stories and gifting articles of clothing. The warm atmosphere in such a cold time of year really reminds me of Christmas. Ah, I really miss those days. I remember the time I discovered my dad was Santa and…
“Look mummy! He’s real! He’s really real!”
All of a sudden, I’m approached by a young kobold with his mother in tow. As she apologises for her kid’s behaviour, I hear a very interesting question…
“Ne, why don’t you have hair?”
“Hrm, why should I? I’m all bones.”
“B-but didn’t you have strong roots?”
I have a ba~d feeling about this…
“P-pardon me for asking, but who might you think I am?”
“Isn’t it obvious! You’re Broo-“
“STOP! Don’t say it! Don’t you dare say it!”
Damn you Takashi! You probably told it to your kids as a bedtime story, but now it’s spread through this entire village like a goddamn wildfire! No wonder they aren’t afraid of me! They must have grown up hearing the epic adventures of a boy who wants to become the pirate king… with a skeletal afro musician in his crew.
“W-what’s wrong, Enbos? Why are you on your hands and knees?”
“D-did you also grow up hearing the stories, Hachirou? Our branch wasn’t like this when I joined!”
“Stories? Come to think of it, some time ago big sister Honoka started writing this fairy tale that father used to tell her. She said more people should enjoy the same story.”
And let me guess, it has finally reached the arc where he comes in?
“Mummy, mummy, w-was I wrong? I-I really thought he was…”
I turn around to see his big teary eyes, and his mother’s expression telling me to play along. Damn it, this really does remind me of Christmas. Sigh, I guess have no choice…
“Y-yo… Yohohoho~ Keep it a secret, okay?”
“Eh… Mummy! Did you hear that?”
“Y-yes I did, Shinji. We’ll keep it a secret together, okay?”
“Yohohoho~ In return, let’s sing a song!”
… that day, I became the village’s version of Santa, or rather, the Pied Piper of Yamagakure. We all danced and sang on the frozen streets, before Takashi arrived and fell over in laughter.