Hour Empty Child
As the rain plummets to the ground, Kudo peered from behind a thick tree at the cloaked figure that stood in the middle of the clearing.
The strange, sickening feeling continues to fester in his stomach, making his face contort in slight anguish.
But then something else caught his eye. Another black cloak that fluttered in front of the daunting figure.
The other person was much shorter in comparison to the tall one. The young boy looked to be the same size as Kudo.
He could hear faint voices overlapping with each other. It was a conversation between the two cloaked figures.
Within his sensitive earshot, he could hear faint footsteps despite the heavy rainfall. According to the light and fast steps, it could only be Hinota.
He turned on his heel in an instant, and saw Hinota running towards him and was about to shout out loud.
Before she could, once Kudo put his finger to his mouth and shushed, she stifled her voice and kept silent.
It was something that she never saw before. A fearful Kudo motioning Hinota to come over quietly with his hand. She knew that Kudo wouldn’t normally do this if they were against a normal monster.
Her heart raced as Hinota did as he told and crept up to Kudo’s side.
Feeling the warmth from Hinota’s body near him, Kudo’s heart lightened a little, but the whitening look on his face has not disappeared.
“What’s going on?” She asked, her voice as soft as a whisper.
Just from those words, Hinota nodded and paid close attention to the figures talking underneath the rampant rain.
“Wow~, Master Shinezu, that’s incredible!”
The young boy, draped completely in black cloth to cover his identity, responded with a childlike tone in his voice as they could see a smile beaming underneath his hood.
“Master, that’s too incredible, even for you! To think that you would do such a thing sends shivers to my bones!”
The boy responded in glee over his master’s news, getting the tall figure known as Shinezu to reveal his face by undressing his hood.
A built older man. His long black hair flowed out from his hood, revealing his handsome features that could be mistaken for an elf’s looks. His slanted sharp eyes, more intimidating than Hinota’s dazzling stare, could shoot daggers at the boy, but his chiseled chin moved up and down as he chuckled grandly.
“Haha, even I can’t do anything on my own. I had to call in a few favors from some of the buddies back home. It’s was a bitch to do, but I managed to properly prepare the bomb.”
The words sent a chill down their spines. Kudo and Hinota could hear their blood freezing up.
The boy laughs endlessly, and even jumped and danced around in the rain despite having a conversation. The look of pleasure and joy derived from the boy’s hidden face could be seen clearly to the stunned adventurers.
“Master is amazing, as usual! To bomb the entire place filled with all of Peranim’s farmers… as expected of Master Shinezu—your cunning knows no bounds!”
Another chill ran down, but it left Kudo’s throat completely dry. His mouth gaped upon hearing the news. Hinota’s heart raced faster than it could take.
However, despite saying such dangerous words, the boy jumped and spun around, one leg hung in the air as he spun and spun underneath the rain. His cloak fluttered, whipping off the raindrops from his body.
“This rain is perfect for such a setting! Master’s plans are always perfect!”
The boy’s ecstatic voice gave shivers to the PlusFire’s bones in a way that was completely opposite to the boy’s excitement.
Shinezu could only chuckle as he enjoyed looking at the young boy prancing about, but then his laughter subsided.
“Now, now, enough prancin’. You need to get back, or else your senior will give you an earful again.”
“Eeh… that old man can suck it. It’s like he can’t enjoy anything like a normal human does.”
“He always runs the operations, so it’s a given that he has to be serious in his work. Don’t make so much work for him either, you got it?”
Responding in a childlike manner, the boy stopped his movements with a reluctant stop. He turns around, and walked away from his master toward the crowd of trees.
“Master, tell me the news when you succeed! I wanna see what you look like with my own eyes first!”
“Hahaha, you’ll be the first to see it! I promise.”
Shinezu smiled warmly as the boy waved back at him at him with an innocent smile, and right when he turned back and stepped forward—
His body disappeared without leaving any trace left behind. The PlusFire could only widen their eyes.
“N-No way… so quickly…”
The disappearance was still strong in Hinota’s mind, but then something more important took precedence.
“Kudo… we just heard something we can’t ignore.”
Hinota said, her tone slightly higher than before. Kudo knew that her usual arrogant demeanor could not take place.
She knew personally, from the way the two acted, that they were incredibly strong. Even if they were to stop them right here and now, who knows what could happen? In their minds, they know that outright charging in would only make the situation worse.
And so, the two devised in the same way that the best chance to counter this is to go back to the city.
“If we get back quickly, we can call the guards and get them to find the bomb. If anything else, we can always call the Knights.”
Knights are assigned in separate bases around Peranim according to the military base in Olinia. The Knights are, in a sense, the same way as Adventurers.
Using the favored blessings, the knights are considered to be more powerful than the usual adventurers. If one wants to become a knight, they must pass a rigorous test, but even before that, one must come from a prominent family.
Due to their reputation, the Flamver family could have enlisted to be knights instead of adventurers, but as their history is saturated in adventures, the military wouldn’t accept them even if they tried.
That was the reason why so many became adventurers instead of knights. Though the number is smaller compared to them, knights can easily handle the petty squabbles of adventurers if they were to fight in a city.
That would also include a violent plot made by an insane adventurer.
“Calling a knight will be a pain. Who knows how long they will take?”
Hinota cursed the fact that knights take a while to respond in a situation, due to their locations being far away from the actual danger.
“We have to anyways. You go and call the guards, while I evacuate everyone out of the Sparkling Oasis.”
“But what if…”
“There might be a chance that this guy might be there, but if we can get to the city first, I can avoid him and get everyone out right away.”
Kudo’s tone was dark and solemn.
She knew that Kudo was bad with people, but given the situation, it’s not a surprise that Kudo would be the one to offer to evacuate the citizens by himself.
Especially since his parents were involved in the danger.
When it comes down to it, Kudo will forget his usual troubles, and goes for the kill if his life, or another’s, was in imminent danger.
Hinota agreed without a word. The two left the area and ran quietly towards the direction of the city.
Seeing Hinota’s running body becoming farther and farther, Kudo looked back at the area where he saw the deranged adventurers.
What was that feeling he felt before? The strange sickening feeling that could be the same as a Dark Monster that nearly killed him before in a crazed frenzy?
He didn’t see the strange, swirling black aura that surrounded the zombie before on the two cloaked figures, but he could somehow feel it within his very core.
Was it possible that those adventurers shared the same dark aura as the zombie from the Olinia event?
As his questions go unanswered in his mind, he swallowed his saliva, the rain constantly hitting his body as he ran after Hinota back to the city.
All the while, back at the clearing, the tall man stood dauntlessly underneath the heavy rain.
His head turned around, peering over his shoulder to the side where Kudo and Hinota were just was.
Shinezu sneered—a crooked smile replaced his warm smile from before. The white shine of his teeth and the sleazy look in his eyes was apparent on his face.
The room was sparkling, hence the name ‘The Sparkling Oasis’.
“I hope everyone is enjoying the festivities! Please, talk, eat, and enjoy what we have to offer!”
The owner of the Sparkling Oasis, Herrin Oasis, raises his hand with a cup in it as he made a wide grin, getting the others to copy him.
Inside there were dozens of tables lined up to the four walls, each filled with delicious cuisine that would leave the farmers’ mouth water.
The enticing scent of the food lingers in the air, causing everyone’s noses to point up and take a whiff.
Sounds of pleasant music also permeated the air, causing a gentle stream of eloquent artistry that could only belong to high-class parties.
Rather than an exchange, it was like a ball, a smaller version than in the Olinia castle.
The room was separated by four walls, making a rectangle-shaped room. There was a big space between the tables that allowed the visitors to the building to talk and enjoy the atmosphere.
Herrin Oasis put down his cup, and while he was looking away from the other people, made a sneer to himself.
(Once these people eat their fill, I’ll bring them in with a deal that they’ll never be able to refuse! If everything goes as that guy said, I’ll have complete control over the commerce on their farms. Nobody in Peranim will get a morsel of food without my help.)
Herrin smiled to himself with a creepy sneer, chuckling to himself as he walked towards one of the farmers who looked like they were free.
So far, each of the people, some dressed up in casual wear, and others who spent a little bit of Jib to dress up in formal attire, were talking amongst themselves about the agriculture methods for their farms.
The only ones enjoying the food there were the Braven farmers, who also joined the group that had formal wear.
Taking each and every bite they could muster, the Bravens enjoyed each bite that entered into their mouths. The succulent tastes, and the overwhelming aroma, caused them to nearly lose composure.
“Whoo~! That’s some good grub!”
Trun spoke loudly, tapping his oversized belly after eating an incredible amount of food.
“Goodness, why don’t you learn some manners, Trun?” Meiki quickly admonishes her husband.
“How could I be lectured by you when you did the same thing?!”
Trun pointed at Meiki who had her mouth covered with her dainty hand, and an oversized belly that she rubbed to sooth her aching.
“At least I don’t bother the others.”
“Ah, yeah…” Trun felt the stares of the other farmers.
Some were chuckling at them, putting on a refreshing smile as if they haven’t seen anything funny in a while, and some others were looking at them strangely, putting on an air of discomfort.
“It feels really uncomfortable here… especially with these clothes on.”
Trun looked down at his attire.
If he hasn’t been informed, he would have mistaken it as a tuxedo. But it was, in fact, a black suit with a white shirt underneath.
“Hinota picked out an outfit that fits you! Don’t disrespect her while saying that!”
Meiki admonishes Trun again, putting both her hands on her silk black dress that fitted her toned body.
The shoulder straps wrapped around her shoulder, causing a relaxed allure to her image.
“And Kudo paid for it all! Are you gonna go and ignore that?”
“Of course I’m not! And that’s why I feel so uncomfortable. It’s not right for a child to pay for his parents!”
“He did it because he wanted to. There’s no way we can refuse him when he’s like that.”
A sense of uselessness swelled inside his heart. As a father, Trun took it upon himself to pay for everything he needed to make his son happy.
He certainly didn’t expect the other way around to happen. While he was proud beyond belief, he felt as if he became a burden.
“No disrespect or anything, but I rather have him pay for himself, rather than for us. He needs to use that money for something more important than jut buying us clothes.”
“…Like so he can meet his real parents?”
Meiki’s tone suddenly dampens, causing Trun to turn to her. Her eyes gazed downwards, looking a little distant.
“Now that he knows, do you think he’s going to look for them? What if he does see them? What happens if those parents aren’t good people, and plan to take advantage of him?”
Meiki huddled her arms together around her waist. The very idea of her son, whom she raised with all her love and care, being used by someone else for their own purposes, filled her with dread.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have told him…”
She finally said the concern that she had in the back of her mind.
Though Trun knew it all along, just by looking at her face every now and then.
He formed a smile, then made a drink by using the ladle to pour in a bit of wine into a cup, and handed it to Meiki’s hand.
“You’re worrying too much.”He spoke softly.
“But… what if…”
“Didn’t you also say something about Hinota? About how she could be someone who would take advantage of the unsocial Kudo? Assault his body, and take all of his money from him and leaving him out to dry?”
Trun smiled as he said it, but it left Meiki with a gaping hole in her chest, a cold sweat ran down her head.
During these past months, once Meiki knew about the girl who was traveling with Kudo, she had concocted dozens of situations where the girl would take advantage of him and take everything he owned, all under the illusion of the girl’s kindness that she shows to him.
All the time, she would spout such hateful words to the girl, thinking that she was a deceitful cat that doesn’t care for Kudo at all.
It was to the point where she was running Trun’s ear off at times which made him exhale every time she starts talking about her.
“W-Well, I learned that she is actually a good person…”
“And there was also the fact that Kudo might have attacked that girl with his urges—”
“A-Ah! Don’t talk about that!”
Meiki’s eyes widen as she shouted, beating her husband’s chest with her fists to try to stop him, but Trun only took it with a smile on his face.
“So stop worrying about it. Kudo’s a strong kid. And he became even stronger and more sociable on his adventure. Isn’t that something the both of us wanted?”
Trun smiled warmly at her, getting her to see it and blushed in embarrassment, looking away from that radiant smile.
“The thing I’m worried about is how he’s handling it. He looked fine yesterday, but I think he’s still worried about it. Something like being told that you’re adopted would definitely rattle the kid.”
“Yes… I hope he isn’t distracted by it when he’s killing monsters right now.”
“We can always rely on Hinota for that. We know now that she’s a good girl with some complicated matters.”
“Yes,” Meiki smiled, thinking about Hinota’s smile. “That girl… I could tell that she had some trouble in her past, but she’s not letting it get in the way of her future.”
Meiki took the drink that she set down before and took a swig at it. When she thought of Hinota as she drank it, her heart lightened a little.
“She’s got a good head on her shoulders, so maybe she knew about Kudo’s worries. Maybe she even cheered him up a little bit.”
“Heh, seeing you now, I’m surprised that you didn’t strangle her when you finally saw her.”
“Hey, I’m not going to hurt a child just because she might have been some thieving cat with no honor. Though if she wasn’t up to my tastes, I would have definitely kicked her to the curb.”
“Haha, you’re as ruthless as always. I remember the time when you nearly kicked my ass when we first met.”
“Mmh, back then, you were nothing but a petty thief. Though you’re still irresponsible, you grew up to become someone I can trust.”
“Says the girl who had it rough all her life. You get soft on people when you know them better.”
Meiki looked away with a small blush on her cheeks. Trun smiled warmly as he put his hand on her shoulder and placed his cheek near hers.
“You’re so adorable, you know that?”
“Stop that! We’re out in public…”
“U-Umm, excuse me…”
Another voice was heard, getting the Bravens to turn back to see another farmer couple meeting them.
The two greeted them, Meiki looking a little embarrassed while Trun rubs the back of his head. The two couples then began to talk about the methods they could use for their farms.
Vipory was strangely quiet except for the roaring sounds of heavy rain. Even the citizens of this city, who merrily enjoys the rain, knew that being in such terrible weather would be detrimental to their health.
Every citizen that roamed the city were inside, guarding themselves against the cold rain. Some were enjoying the peaceful sound of water plummeting the ground, an eloquent orchestra of rain drops, while enjoying the warm fires from the fireplace. Others developed a cold from overdoing it, and were now bedridden at their houses.
All the stores and stalls were closed down. The owners packed up everything since the citizens and adventurers staying here wouldn’t come out in such weather, so they returned to their homes or inns to relax.
In this rain, as the day becomes night, the PlusFire returned to the city with haggard breaths. They kept running ever since they left the forest.
Near the gates, even when the rain was terrible, the guards had to stay working. Fortunately, they were shackled up inside the small room inside the gate’s walls avoiding the rain.
Kudo shouted, ignoring subtleties as he and Hinota ran up to the guards.
“Oh, it’s you two. You look like hell,” the guard, pleasantly comfortable inside the warm room with a fireplace of their own inside, answered with a surprised look.
“Have you quelled the monsters around the area?”
“Forget that!” Kudo shouted, surprising the guard. “There’s something dangerous in the city! A bomb!”
“Now, don’t joke about something like that.”
Another guard came in beside the one in front. The guard with a darker skin tone responded with a silly smile.
“I’m not joking!”
Kudo shouted, his eyes firmly placed on the guard’s eyes.
“Please, listen to us! There are some incredibly dangerous adventurers planning on blowing up the Sparkling Oasis. We want to get inside to evacuate them and call for help!”
Hinota ran up to Kudo’s side, explaining which Kudo omitted due to panic. The guards, after hearing the calm Hinota explaining, widen their eyes.
“Y-You serious?” The darker skinned guard responded with a stutter.
“Why would we joke about this?!”
Kudo shouted, the tension in the air becoming harder to breathe for the guards.
The guards looked at each other in shock, getting the guard that doubted the two to pursed his lips and shouted:
“W-We’ll get every guard on duty! You! Go ahead and call them up!”
The darker skin-toned guard ordered the one sitting, getting him to quickly stand up as he went for the door to exit.
Hearing the guard listen to them got Kudo to become relieved, his chest lightened from worry.
“Call the Knights as well! Call them in early as the first priority!”
Hinota made sure that the first thing they do is to call the Knights, as the time to get them here would be shortened if they did.
The guard nodded, getting him to realize what he meant as he pulled on the lever beside him.
The gate to the city slowly draws open, the grating sound filling their ears. Kudo looked back to Hinota, and the two of them nodded as they commence their plan.
The PlusFire ran through the city with haste. They didn’t care whether they were being bombarded with a million raindrops—they still ran as far as they can.
The city felt deathly quiet as compared to their last visit. Perhaps because it was nighttime, or the heavy rainfall. Whichever of the two, Kudo’s chest tightened.
“Something like this doesn’t feel right… it’s strange.”
Kudo talked to Hinota, trying to relieve some of the pressure from his chest.
“We’re here now, and we’re getting to the Sparkling Oasis. As long as we get there, nothing is going to happen!”
Hinota could tell Kudo’s worries just from his tone alone. Being together with him for a long time got Hinota to understand more about him than he could himself.
Hinota grabbed Kudo’s shoulder, stopping the both of them near a closed bakery store. As Kudo turned to shout at her for the sudden stop, she grabbed Kudo’s shoulders and intently glared at his eyes.
“Everything will be fine. Stop your worrying and believe in yourself!”
Seeing the determination in her eyes, Kudo felt his concerns slowly wither away.
“Let’s get to the Sparkling Oasis, and save everyone there!”
Kudo nodded, and right when Hinota smiled and was about to let go…
The sickening feeling returned.
Hinota’s eyes widened as Kudo pushed his body backward, grabbing Hinota’s waist to drag her back with him.
The bakery store near them exploded, the shockwave pulsing through every fiber of their beings.
Kudo grasped onto Hinota’s body tightly, ignoring her personal space to save her from the flying debris and the flames that burned afterward.
Hinota had a shocked look on her face, realizing that she was close to death if Kudo hadn’t saved her just now. She looked back at Kudo’s face which was near hers, but Kudo’s solemn expression took over his shock.
(Was it his new Support Skill that saved me…?)
Hinota remembered Kudo’s 【Sixth Sense】 that was learned during the Olinia event. She could remember this happening a few times, but it was only now that she saw it completely with her own eyes.
Kudo’s face contorted into panic and anger as he turned his head to see a figure come into view. His cloak fluttered as his heavy footsteps took over the sounds of rain in the PlusFire’s ears.
Kudo widened his eyes to see the aura around his body.
The strange, swirling mass of dark energy was emitted from his body. His hood was off, revealing his tanned and older face.
A crooked smile crept along Shinezu’s face.
His hand was stretched out, strangely convulsing as he stopped, getting the PlusFire to stand at the ready to face him.
“Naughty brats shouldn’t eavesdrop on an adult conversation.”
He spoke clearly, his voice cutting through the sound of rain and fire.