After successfully driving the Mellivorath away, we return to the clearing to salvage supplies from the aftermath of the battle. Minna is busy dismantling traps, Norf is recovering arrowheads and Lili is healing Hachirou’s and Sen’s weary bodies. Meanwhile, I’m harvesting horns from the scattered beetles to complete our quest. I doubt they will wait until nightfall for my explanation, and I can’t help but worry about what I will say. Finishing my task, I return to the clearing to find they are sitting atop a fallen tree, waiting for me to join. Cornered, I steel my non-existent nerves as I take my seat beside Hachirou and face the rest of the party.
“Sigh, to be honest, I have no idea how to begin this. I-I guess I’ll answer anything you guys want to ask me.”
“Oh, there are plenty of things we want to ask. But before anything, w-what is that thing you’re stroking on your lap?”
“It’s an undead rabbit. I found it in a dead zone and made it my familiar (guinea pig). Don’t worry. As long as it’s under my control, it won’t attack anybody.”
“I-I see. So, you’re really a-a…”
“Yeah, I’m a necromancer.”
Although they must have suspected it, the reveal leaves everybody staring in blank amazement. I can see the confusion in their eyes as they wrestle with their image of a necromancer with the one before them. To be accurate, my class is something far more sinister, but calling myself as such isn’t wrong in any sense of the word.
“A-a necromancer, you say. D-does that mean you follow some dark god like all the cultists we hear about?”
“Please Sen, after hearing yesterday’s argument with Lili, do you really think I would accept any kind of god?”
“Ah, right. I guess you are that type of guy.”
“Good grief, I don’t know whether to feel relieved or appalled that you’re an atheist messing with the miracles of life.”
“But if you’re not part of a cult, where did you learn to become a necromancer?” asks Minna.
“A few years ago, I saved a village from an undead attack and, um, “confiscated” the culprit’s tome. At first, I wanted nothing to do with it, but I came to view necromancy as a tool, and a tool is only as good as the one using it.”
“That’s a nice way of framing it, but what good can come from raising the dead? Why would you do something so risky as an official mage?”
“First off Minna, I’m not really a Novuseus mage, although I’m practically indistinguishable from the real thing. Secondly: there is more to necromancy than controlling armies of skeletons. I have never sacrificed a life or destroyed a soul to empower my spells. On the contrary, I believe in its potential to save lives.”
“Yes Lili. Think back to the day we first met. If I had managed to stabilise that man’s spiritual links…”
“… we could have saved him. I-I see. I had my suspicions, but you really were using necromancy to help him.”
“By the spirits, I feel like we’ve heard enough to convict you to death twice over, and I don’t think that’s all…”
I give the four time to digest my words as they whisper towards each other. They remind me of a panel of interviewers and I can’t say the experience is any more pleasant.
“So… do you guys believe me?”
“Of course! If anything, it explains so much about your character,” replies Sen.
“You’ve helped us one too many times to doubt you now. We all know you’re a good man,” states Lili.
“Too good if you ask me,” follows Minna. “Honestly, I’m not sure I would pull off half the things you do if I were in your shoes.”
“We trust you Enbos, and nothing you can say now is going to change that.”
“… Thank you Norf, everybody. I’m glad I met a bunch as understanding as you.”
“Well then, now that’s cleared up… would you mind tell us about yourself Hachirou? It’s been bugging me until now, but i-is that really a tail?”
Naturally, we all look towards Hachirou as he’s flustered between hiding said tail or showing it. Although I did promise them an explanation, I don’t want Hachirou to feel pressured to provide one.
“Hachirou, you don’t have to-”
“It’s okay Enbos. If it’s them, I know it will be fine. A-as for why I have a tail, um, I-I think it would be easier if I just show you…”
I look at Hachirou with great concern, but he returns a firm nod to put me at ease. However, I feel anything but as he reaches for his mask with nervous movements. Knowing what’s to come, I hold my breath alongside the others as he reveals his canine features to the world.
“O-oh my lord…”
“A-allow me to introduce myself again. M-my name is Nomura Hachirou, youngest son of the Nomura family, a-and as you can clearly see…”
Here it comes…
“I am not a human child!”
What the hell!?
“You’re still hung up about that! You’re supposed to tell them you’re a kobold!”
There we go!
“Y-y-you’re a monster!?”
“A-am I really that unsightly?”
“N-no Hachirou, I-I’m really sorry, but that wasn’t what I meant! W-what I’m trying to say is: how can a kobold be walking and talking like a human being!?”
“Actually, d-doesn’t that make Hachirou a demi-human!?”
“Y-yes Minna, I suppose I can be called as such.”
“Were kobolds always this humanlike, or are we koboldlike!? Are you an exception or are there other species as advanced as you!?”
“W-well, I’m not sure, but I can’t say it’s impossible.”
“O-oh god, this feels so surreal. I’m starting to question every monster I’ve ever slain, and it’s making me feel incredibly guilty…”
“Calm down, Sen. I doubt you’ve killed a demi-human quite like Hachirou. After all, how many of them clearly received a proper education? Did Enbos teach you Hachirou, or are you some kind of genius?”
“Please Minna, you’re greatly exaggerating my abilities. I’m nothing but an ordinary, talentless kobold following Enbos of my own free will…”
“THERE’S NO WAY THAT CAN BE TRUE!”
Watching the pandemonium unfold, I’m not surprised Hachirou’s reveal is causing a bigger commotion than mine. Despite knowing he has a tail, it seems Hachirou being a demi-human was far from their first thought. They never knew a kobold could become so cultured or expressive, especially when the closest thing they have for comparison are goblins. Of course, being a demi-human herself, Lili appears less confused and more fascinated by Hachirou’s identity.
“… if chickens suddenly became intelligent, would it be right to continue eating them or is it fine as long as they don’t speak Arenish?”
“Well, it’s not like they want to die in the first place, but it would be hard to stomach if they started begging for their lives.”
Good grief, the conversation has completely derailed. Although it’s nice they’re accepting Hachirou so quickly, there is one thing we have to address…
“Guys, I need your attention. I want you all to swear something on your lives: you must never share this with anybody else, especially Hachirou’s secret. If word ever gets out… it won’t stop at our deaths.”
Snapping back to reality, everybody falls silent as the gravitas of our secrets finally sinks in.
“I-I see. If the king or adventurers’ guilds ever find out, t-there would be hunts across the entire country.”
“Not just here, Sen. Other nations will hear of it too and do the same thing. They will be treated like goblins and exterminated until there’s nothing left outside the Wasteland.”
“… As much as I hate to admit it, the Path of Eden Church will likely not veto such a purge.”
“Huh, why!? Hachirou is kinder than most humans I know!”
“Y-yes Sen, I’m well aware Hachirou is probably the most developed beast type demi-human since the Apocalypse, and I’m sure his kin are just like him. B-but as much as I want to believe in humanity’s compassion, there are some who will feel threatened by their existence, more so than any marauding goblin. Society… just isn’t ready to accept them.”
Wearing an uncharacteristically grave expression, I can’t help but feel those words apply as much to herself as to Hachirou. If things were so simple, she wouldn’t be using illusions on people as good as Sen, Minna and Norf. Still, to say society “isn’t ready” rather than “isn’t willing” carries a small meaning I can only describe… as hope.
“And then there’s the issue with Enbos. If his secret gets out, we would branded as accomplices.”
“Yeah. Although Enbos is a good guy, being a necromancer is as bad as spitting in the Church’s eye. I’m just glad Lili is okay with all this.”
“I owe Enbos my life, Sen. I don’t wish for any ill to befall anyone here. God’s grace extends much further than you may believe.”
“Huh, come to think of it, if Hachirou is a kobold, then does that mean…”
“No, I am not kobold, and I’m definitely not a half-deer man either. I am human, down to the bone.”
“Oh, o-okay. Then, if it’s not too much to ask… may we see your face as well?”
I knew it would lead to this. Watching Hachirou unmask himself was nerve-wracking enough, but the thought I would have to follow suite terrified me even more. A part of me just wants to lay everything bare, to be rid of all this secrecy and treat them as companions. While it would cause another panic, I know that deep down they wouldn’t mind what I am. They deserve to know… and yet, the moment I touch my mask I immediately freeze as incessant fear overrides all trust and reason. I can hear myself grinding my teeth in frustration at how frail my heart truly is.
“… It’s alright, Enbos.”
“I’m saying it’s alright if you don’t want to. When I think about it, we already know everything we want about you.”
“Sen is right. We can see past your mask just fine. B-besides, I think it’s perfectly natural to have some secrets.”
“I’ll say this again Enbos, but nothing is going to change our trust in you. You don’t have to force yourself to speak.”
“I’m sorry for asking such a thing. Revealing you’re a necromancer was shocking enough. I shouldn’t have asked any more.”
“N-no Sen, I should be the one apologising. I’m sorry…”
Hearing them forgive my reluctance, I feel ashamed for denying them in the recesses of my soul. However, on the same token I can’t help but admire their boundless understanding. Sharing a glance with Hachirou, we nod to each other before offering a deep bow towards Sen, Minna, Norf and Lili.
“Thank you, everybody. Out of all the adventurers we could have worked with on this quest, I’m glad it was with all of you.”
“We are forever indebted to your kindness. It was an honour to travel alongside you.”
“C-come on you two, you don’t have to be that dramatic. It sounds as if it will be the last time-”
Sen stops mid-sentence as he realises this may indeed be the last time we’ll work together. With a visa into the Lysium Theocracy, we’ll be leaving this country to journey along the Velvet Road. I’ve always intended to change my identity at some point, but I may have to do so sooner rather than later. Once I do, nobody will be able to trace my travels back to Sen’s party, but doing so would mean this is the last time I can face them as Enbos the Black.
“I-I see. I guess we’ll have to part ways now that this quest is over.”
“We all have our own adventures. Let’s hope our paths cross again.”
“Yeah. I can honestly say I hope we do.”
And maybe next time, I will have the heart to tell you.
“Now, speaking of our quest, do we have enough Boulder Beetle horns to even complete it?”
“Don’t worry, Sen. I collected 19 horns from the beetles I reanimated, and we have more than a dozen back at- Oh snap!”
“W-what is it!?”
“When we chased the Melivorath away, it was tunnelling in the direction of the water hole! If smelt the bait we left behind…”
“It would have eaten most of our haul!”
“We have go, now!”
Picking up our weapons, we immediately rush back to the water hole to drive off the Mellivorath. While I’m hoping I was wrong and that the giant badger isn’t there, it’s more likely than not it’s already eaten all our hard work and emptied our supply of bait. However, upon reaching our hunting ground…
(There it is! It’s still eating!)
(Quickly, we have to surround it, but remember to leave a gap for it to escape. Most of the beetles are still intact, so maybe Enbos can…)
(Wait a second, Sen. Something seems off. Why isn’t it moving?)
(Huh, you’re right. It looks like it’s sleeping.)
(Then why are its eyes still open? Is it exhausted from our battle?)
“… Oh my god.”
(What is it, Enbos?)
“I-it’s… It’s dead!”
Shocked by this revelation, we all step out of the bushes to examine the 6-ton carcass laying in the middle of our ruined trap. In front of its outstretched tongue is an empty pot with a sickly-sweet aroma.
… Wait, are you kidding me?
(C-could it be…)
(N-no way Minna. Don’t badgers- I mean, Mellivoraths have high poison resistance?)
(I think so Enbos, b-but doesn’t that mean the syrup he cooked was… I’m glad Sen is still alive.)
While Sen, Norf and Lili look over this baffling scene, Minna and I turn towards the culprit who’s just as confused by this turn of events. Realising our gaze, Hachirou returns a inquisitive look, wholly and innocently ignorant of his lethal handiwork.