Hour Empty Child
The roaring sounds of the Avian flew over the forest, blasting away the trees in its wake with a powerful shockwave of its passing. Eyeing over from the cockpit, the driver spotted the perfect spot—a clear grassland near the southwestern part of Vipory.
Making adjustments to the controls, the pilot made the Avian descent onto the grassland, the blast from the engine blowing the grass and leaves of the trees constantly from its potent heat. It landed smoothly on the grass using the wheels that came out from its bottom.
The engines of the Avian lessened its volume, and eventually turned off. From the side, there was an arch-shaped door which was opened up by none other than a prominent woman who has covered herself with the perfect cover. Underneath the door, stairs flung down to the ground.
The woman stepped down from the stairs, the soft wind making the black cloak that she wore over herself become swayed, and for a moment, the gale blew away the hood covering her face, revealing the stunning person within it.
If one saw her, they would be charmed like a status debuff without resistance. Long, azure hair cascaded down from the hood’s release, resembling the ocean falling down from the highest cliffs. Tails that reached to her busty chest fell from the sides of her hair. The pretty picture of a regal woman whose jaded colored eyes narrowed after having her cover blown off so easily.
Feeling the sun drenching her silky smooth snow-like skin, she gave a short sigh as she steps onto the new land with her hidden armored boots covered in metal.
Despite her earlier objections about this land as she rode in her Avian, one moment in the relaxing atmosphere around the forest and already she was captured by the essence of nature that wafts in the air.
Serene and pretty. Two words which described her sentiment towards this land. Her nose picked up the nice scent of wild grass and humid air as a smile rose from her lips.
But then, from amidst of the air came the most gruesome scent.
The scent of blood and cinder.
Her smile ran away as soon as she whiffed it up, and all her prejudice against Peranim returned without any trouble.
“Shokan, you stay here. It won’t be long till I find Kagero and Kasara. In fact, run the engine after a half-hour.”
“Understood, Master Hikari.”
Appearing behind her, walking down the stairs, was her faithful Head Maid, Shokan, who bowed as she received her order, a professional smile on her face.
Hikari nodded and put back up her hood which covered her stunning face. Covering almost everything, she waved at Shokan before heading off into the city.
The walk there would have been pleasing to Hikari, who always enjoyed a good walk, but the scent of violence became stronger with each passing step, causing her nose to curl up every time. She wished she could smell the pleasing scent of nature instead, but unfortunately, life isn’t always kind to her.
Weaving around the trees, she finally found the dirt road that leads straight to the city’s gates. During her walk, she finally spotted the gates, but instead, she was surprised.
She expected the gates would be the usual large wooden doors in between the stone walls that circled the city, and outside the city would be several guards on their posts being vigilant for any and all suspicious outsiders.
But instead of that, the gates were surrounded by several men in heavy armor having some discussion amongst themselves, the air around them becoming tenser by the minute. The ones with a simple iron armor were being admonished severely by another group of decorated armored guards.
The ones with the decorated armor were the Knights of Peranim.
Known as the counter-measure for Adventurers, the Knights raise levels and gain skills like Adventurers do, however, they work only to maintain the peace of Peranim issued by the high council of Peranim.
The very presence of a Knight in a city would mean that something big happened, such as an adventurer-related issue that occurred in the city.
Seeing them for herself, these knights didn’t have the perfect picture of ‘safe-keepers’.
Several Knights crowded around the gates, colored blue and black with an insignia of the Peranim Council—an 8-sided star—on their capes which fluttered from the bitter cold wind blowing past. From the distance, it looked like they were just discussing amongst themselves, but once she’s gotten closer, she could hear slanderous words from the decorated knights, and blame is thrown about like a ball amongst children.
Closing in towards the mess between the Knights and the guards of Vipory, the scent of blood grew stronger, making her nose curl in disgust.
(Judging from the scent, it doesn’t look like the Knights cleaned it up yet. I see, so they’re as incompetent as our own knights. I guess knights are just internationally useless.)
She heard somewhere that rather than an adventurer, being a Knight is the preffered way to live in the world as it brings honor and pride to a family. However, in Hikari’s experience, the only time a Knight has ever been proven useful was when they were cleaning up the mess left behind by criminals rather than actually tracking him down and capturing him before he’s done any more damage.
Stepping forward by one step, the sound traveled to the ears of the other guards and knights, leaving one of the Knights to turn around and notice her on the spot.
“Hey, you! Stop!”
The voice sounded hoarse and meaty, and according to Hikari’s view, sounded like somebody who only thinks with his muscles.When she saw the actual knight running towards her, a towering figure that seemed to have put on some weight in the middle of the armor, made her realize that she was right.
The Knight stood in front of Hikari, looking downwards through his helmet at the small-statured woman compared to him.
Through the open slits of his eyes, he seemed to be glaring at Hikari with a nasty scowl. One look is all it took to see that he did not want anybody coming in.
“Hold on a moment there, girly,” The Knight asked—rather, demanded. “You cannot enter the premises of the city without first revealing your face.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” She joked with a smirk. “I got a nasty face. I don’t wanna scare you off.”
“Either you take that hood off or I’ll take it off for you. You’re choice!” The Knight cut through her joke, but her chuckle made it seem like it was just a toddler’s rampage.
“I can guess that you’re all anxious about letting thE dangerous criminal slip through your fingers. And now you’re trying everything you can to bring back whatever honor you have left. But I’m afraid that revealing a woman’s cloak in front of all these people is just too tactless.”
“Y-You… those are the words that a criminal would say! I hereby order you to undress now, or else you’ll face charges for obstruction of justice!”
The big knight put himself into a stance and moved his hand towards his belted weapon, a mace with spikes protruding out of it, letting it hover over the mace as a form of intimidation to Hikari.
However, Hikari only heaved out a sigh and begrudgingly moved her hand forward, revealing a glove-wearing hand that sprawled open.
She said, and before long, a crystal suddenly appears out of her hand, floating above her palm as the big knight jumped in surprise.
However, the big knight wasn’t shocked at the fact that she was an adventurer.
Every other Knight and even the guards took notice, gazing upon the incredible color that the Growth Crystal showed.
Blood-red. A crystal shaped like an armored woman raising her sword high in the sky and was completely red as if it was carmine blood. The crystal shined thanks to the sunlight flashing down on it which left the other men in awe.
“I-I never heard of an adventurer having the color red on their Growth Crystals before!”
“Such redness… it’s unbelievable.”
Another Knight stood in front of Hikari. This time, he had a smaller stature compared to the big gutted Knight. He raised the cover off of his helmet to reveal an older man with tanned skin, a bushy gray mustache painted over his lips. His eyes were the only ones resembling that of a small child in wonder.
“The only one I know who has a blood-red Growth Crystal…” The old man commented, his throat running dry. “The one who has reached the pinnacle of adventurer ranks! Hikari Valkyria, the greatest adventurer in the entire world!”
The old Knight exclaimed as if he was introducing the very divine-like being before him. The other knights were left with no breath and sensed the awesome might radiating off of her now. Whether or not they should have felt this before didn’t matter. All they know is one thing:
“They were being rude to her.
“ “ “ “ “Please excuse us, Lord Valkyria!” ” ” ” ”
All the knights, including the big-gutted Knight, bent their waists and bowed, each knight and guard forming 2 separate rows forming a bridge-like entrance to the gates of Vipory. They couldn't ’even look up—their minds were too afraid to even look up at the adventurer who walked past them as she heads down the road.
“Well, make sure to keep my presence here a secret, okay, boys?”
She said with a light smirk and tone as she walks towards the gates, but on the inside, she wasn’t as soft-spoken.
(Let me in from the start if you were going to act like that.)
She scoffed as she entered through the wooden gates and headed into the city.
Entering into the city, she was bombarded with depression and anxiety.
The air is barely breathable, as if the tension was at an all-time high, and everywhere she looked, there was no colorful excitement. The citizens walked past her with neither a skip in their step, practically trudging through the streets with their heads sank low.
The sky above was showing a sunny sky, but the citizens were emanating an atmosphere filled with gray clouds.
Hikari recalled that Vipory was a tourist city, its citizens bustling everywhere to enjoy the festivities going on. But now she can’t find a shred of that kind of that excitement anywhere.
The scent of blood that hung in the air hasn’t left either. It could be possible that the scent is smelt by the citizens without their knowing, unwillingly letting out their panicked instincts which bore a heavy weight on their minds.
She walked forward, stepping over the metal trays that covered the aqueducts around the city that were no longer filling up with rainwater. Another reason for the citizen’s lack of enthusiasm—their only source of joy dried up after such a massive rainfall yesterday. She then spotted several Knights making their rounds in the city blocks, each in pairs and holding their weapons out in the open like they were in a parade.
If that wasn’t enough, their intimidating presences made it difficult for the citizens to stay cool. Children hid behind their parent’s leg whenever a Knight passed them by, fearing that the Knight might come after them.
To make matters worse, her ears caught wind of a Knight yelling at a citizen to get out of his way.
(The Knights are as panicked as the residents here…) This thought traveled in her mind after seeing this horrid state.
The Knights have just been delivered a terrible work to do. They must investigate and find the adventurer that have caused this accident.
As the people are relying on them, the Knights tried to show that they’re capable of doing so.
However, Hikari could only scoff as they only had to do this one thing:
(If they had taken care of their security in the first place, none of this would have happened.)
This one simple action left undone caused Hikari to view the Knights and guards of the city with a condescending gaze, not able to comprehend how they were able to survive this long with this level of care.
Nevertheless, she threw out the cynical thoughts in her head before they got in the way of her mission.
And what her mission is—it is to recover the two members who went ahead of her and bring them back to their home.
At the plaza of the city, the depressed atmosphere was hurting the merchants trying to keep up with their sales. Some tried to use their vibrant shouts while others cleverly used a limited-time half-off discount for their purchases, however, none of these made a dent at the condensed air of despondency of the people.
“Kasara, is Master coming over here now?” The man said to his partner.
“She said that she’ll come around at noon. She should be here in the plaza to give the report,” The woman responded back to her partner.
The two partners had a vastly different air about them compared to the people crowding them. Kasara, her fiery red hair swaying, her eyes narrowed and her arms folded, walked alongside with Kagero, dressed in a casual fashion with both hands in his pockets.
They were just returning from having a meal, and even that was depressing for them. If they had come by a little earlier, they would have enjoyed a good meal. But the atmosphere and the empty seats around them brought a bit of discomfort for their tastes, so they left early to head to the meeting place.
“It would be better if she didn’t have to come here directly,” Kasara commented. “Being in such a place would drain too much out of someone.”
“Well, Master does have this depressing air around her,” Kagero answered. “I would hate it too if she had to stay in this place more than she has to.”
“Kagero, be more mindful about what you say about Master. You know how she feels about that.”
Chided by his partner, Kagero brushed the back of his head as he remembered the words Hikari said to him a long time ago.
The moment when she lost someone very dear to her.
“If I recall correctly,” Kagero let his hands rest behind his head. “She lost her son around… 15 years ago, right?”
“Yes, when he was just a baby,” Kasara answered sternly. “Why do you ask?”
“Oh, just curious, that’s all…”
Kagero didn’t know why he would ask which left Kasara to shrug in response. However, in the back of his mind, the picture of a grown-up boy, with azure hair and jade-colored eyes flashed within. It quickly disappeared, but it left a sort of brand in his mind.
“Kagero?” Kasara noticed the strange of wonder in his eyes.
“Ah… sorry. I was just thinking about something.”
“You better tell me then,” Kasara commented with a teasing expression, a grin slowly forming across her lips. “Or do you want me to guess~?”
The expression alone made Kagero droop his head as a response with his chest swelling in anxiety.
“Please don’t,” Kagero pleaded. “You always take it out of hand.”
“Then, just tell me.”
Hearing such a sharp response, making it practically a demand from her, Kagero responded with heaved sigh, brushing his black unruly hair as he figured that he should just answer.
“Well… around yesterday,” He began. “I was talking to one of the victims of the incident. A boy who lost his parents in the fire.”
“Ah…” Kasara’s tone dampens. “I see. Did he… is he okay?” She asked, a slight worrisome look on her face.
“Mmh, he’s fine… to say the least,” Kagero scratched his cheek as he hesitated to answer. “But, other than that… he just sort of reminds me of Master Hikari.”
Kasara tilted her head, “You mean how depressed they look?”
Even she knew that it seemed rather rude to say that, but she couldn’t help herself answering it.
“No, no, it’s more like… they look REALLY similar, like they have the same colored hair and eyes.”
His response rushed outward out of his mouth, and from the way he spoke about it, it left Kasara with a scowl on her face.
“Ah?” Kasara grunts. “What are you talking about?”
She looked at him as if he just told a lie right to her face. It stung Kagero’s heart a little to see her react in such a way.
“Y-You don’t have to look at me like I just babbled like an idiot.”
“You better not say that stuff in front of her,” Kasara quickly chided. “Saying that stuff is just going to raise her hopes up, and if she gets hurt by this, I won’t hold back on making you pay for this.”
This time she answered with a slightly raised tone, her scowl deepened which sent a chill down his spine.
Kagero could sense the aura around her that she was not joking. Even as close as they are, she would not hold back on delivering divine punishment for fools on him.
After the whole threatening atmosphere passed away, Kagero glanced at a certain individual walking forward, her face covered with a black cloak.
“Ah, found her.”
Hikari looked up from below her hood, noticing Kagero waving his arm wide to aid her in spotting him.
“It’s good to see you two in one piece,” Hikari smiled as she got up close with them. “Good work.”
“Ah,” Kagero winced after hearing that. “We didn’t do much good work at all, Master…”
“We lost him, Master,” Kasara continued for him, her usual energy diminishing from her tone. “We apologize…”
“No need for apologies,” Hikari raised her hand. “I already knew about it beforehand. There’s no point in crying over spilled milk.”
“This is nothing compared to spilled milk, Master. This is…”
Kasara drifted off, shifting her head side to side to signal Hikari to do the same as it to see the consequences of their actions.
Hikari did so, a frown plastered on her face. She looked directly to Kasara, her eyes now heavy and stern.
“Thanks to this incident,” Kasara calculated. “Over 50 casualties were committed, most of them were the farmers that were invited by none other than Herrin Oasis, who is also part of the deceased.”
After Kasara made her carefully analyzed report, Kagero continued for her.
“So we can take out the fact that Herrin was planning on sacrificin’ others. I’m sure as hell that he never planned on becoming one of the victims.”
“Knowing these types,” Hikari assumed. “They only care about making money. So Herrin was only responsible for calling them over to the Sparkling Oasis resort. If he were alive, he would be facing criminal charges and be sent away to life in prison.”
Even if Peranim’s laws were outdated, the knights can be able to point out from A to B. However misdirected it might seem.
“Yes,” Kasara crossed her arms. “But now these Knights will have to find somebody else to blame for this. After all, they don’t want to reveal that they failed to capture the killer that’s roaming around in Peranim.”
It was an unfair and completely immoral action for the Knights to take, but Kasara knew a fair bit of them who would go that far just to protect their reputation.
“Hah…” Kagero sighed. “We failed to stop him, and now somebody’s gettin’ blamed. This really sucks.”
The two partners shared a melancholic look on their faces, an obvious frown to their otherwise beautiful expressions.
“Right now,” Hikari exclaimed. “What matters to me the most is that the two of you are alive and in one piece. Like I said, there’s no point in mulling over the losses now.”
Hikari formed a smile on her regal expression, the two noticing the exotic beauty she showed just beneath the hood which was unavailable for everyone to see. That smile was enough to perk them up, even for a tiny bit.
“Still, what exactly is that bastard Shinezu plotting?” Hikari asked herself.
“What’s the point of doing such a bold act?”
“Didn’t he just wanted to gain a lot of experience points?” Kagero offered up his idea.
“Possibly,” Kasara answered. “For someone as crazy as Shinezu, that idea is very plausible. But the way he carried himself like without any disregard to some kind of plan made it suspicious.”
As she told her own opinion, her hand gripped into a tight fist, shaking with a mild discontent.
“It feels as though he’s just two steps ahead of us. I really don’t like that.”
“Kasara,” Kagero smirked. “You never like anything that isn’t in your favor.”
“Damn straight. “
Kasara answered as if it was the most obvious statement. Seeing that the two were getting back on their feet, Hikari smiled warmly.
“Whatever it is that we need to do, there’s no point in continuing it here. We should get out of here as quickly as we can.”
Hikari said, but what she really wanted to say was that she can’t handle staying in this town anymore. As the three were about to leave, a sudden gust of wind blew on them, making Kagero’s hair fall onto his eyes.
“Ah, damn it…”
Kagero cursed a bit as he brushed his hair aside out of his eyes before realizing that he was looking at the other side of the plaza.
Then… a flash of azure whipped past his vision.
He broadened his eyes to see a strikingly familiar look of Hikari at the other side. Walking past the melancholic citizens was a young male teenager, wearing casual wear of black shirt and pants as he headed towards to the other side.
“That’s… the kid again,” Kagero uttered, leaving the two women walking behind him to turn around.
“Kagero, what are you saying now?” Kasara answered as if he just babbled again.
“Kagero, what’s wrong?” Hikari looked up to see Kagero’s look of surprise on his face.
“See, there’s that kid again.”
Kagero pointed at the direction where the boy just went in, but as he pointed, he suddenly the tension rising around them, the threatening aura behind him caused him to shiver which turned out to be Kasara.
“Kagero,” Kasara answered rigidly. “We have no time for games. We need to leave now.”
Kagero looked back to see his partner’s slanted eyes glaring at him, shouting a message that said ‘Stop talking now!’.
“N-No, really! Just look for yourself! The similarities are uncanny, don’tcha think?”
Kagero pointed as a sweat was visibly seen running down his temple. Hearing his plea, Kasara sharply sighed as she took a look as he said.
Surely enough, the look of the boy left Kasara stunned.
“Ah, that’s… the boy that Hinota was just with. Does that mean that she’s here?”
She took a look around, but there was no sign of her crimson-colored hair anywhere in this dreary place.
“Looks like he’s alone,” Kagero surmised. “I wonder what happened?”
“Mmh,” Kasara takes another long look at the boy with her long-sighted vision, finally piecing together what he said. “I see what you mean, Kagero. He does kinda look like Master a bit…”
For Kasara’s perfect eyesight, it was obvious that Kagero’s claims weren’t false. The look of his azure hair swaying in the dreary air, a melancholic look of his jade-colored eyes—they looked similar to the point of leaving even the two most long-termed partners in disarray.
Seeing that the two were so preoccupied all of a sudden about a boy, Hikari looked up to see what was all the hubbub about.
She watched the back of the boy’s head, seeing the azure hair for herself. True enough, he looked similar to her, but as she was just about to say that it was another sort of similar aspects, another strong wind blew, leaving the boy to become affected and turned around.
Her heart ached in a way that nearly broke it. Her eyes became wider in response.
Every fiber of her being screamed out for her. Telling all kinds of signals to her brain as if something was switched on inside of her. That one single look of that boy’s face as he looked back for a moment made Hikari’s body react strongly to it.
A forgotten image of the boy’s face resurfaced in her mind, along with all the memories and feelings that have been long lost.
Feeling her body frozen in place, her mind quickly recovers. She tightens her fists in reaction, a sweat streamed down her temple as her heart continued to ache in such pain.
And in elation.
A sharp look replaced her regal beauty turning it into a solemn expression.
“Change of plans,” Hikari exclaimed. “We’re going after him.”
“ “Eh?” ”
The two partners, suddenly hearing this change of plans, turned back to face her.
“W-Why?” Kasara asked, her stunned expression controlling her face.
“Don’t ask why! Just come!”
After suddenly shouting, Hikari made a dash towards the direction where the boy was walking towards to. Having no choice, the two stunned adventurers quickly followed after her.