Hour Empty Child
The youth who caught their attention, Kudo, weaved around melancholic citizens without a spring in his step. The way he moved was asif something was possessing him to move forward, the look in his eyes seemed distant.
Under the gloomy atmosphere, along with the bleak citizens, it was no surprise that Kudo wouldn’t exhibit an excited manner.
The three adventurers followed him, using the crowds to cover their presences.
Hikari was particularly relentless in her trailing. Her narrow eyes were affixed onto his person, not letting go of her sight at any cost.
This was apparent to the two adventurers following behind their master. They expressed a look of concern over the matter of their master’s sudden request to follow this boy.
“Kagero,” Kasara glared at him. “This is all your fault.”
She is clearly pissed as it was Kagero’s big mouth that made Hikari act this way.
“Hey, it’s not my fault. I just pointed him out, that’s all.”
Trying to defend himself from the blame, Kasara continued to glare at him, her aura becoming frighteningly dangerous. Shaking off the dreaded daggers being pointed at him, Kagero asked:
“Hey… do you think it could be him?”
Kagero turned away to face outward, asking this single question stemming from his doubt and his hope. Kasara was taken in surprise by his sudden question, now forming her own solemn gaze.
“Whether or not it is true,” Kasara answered. “I only hope that Master doesn’t set herself up for a fall…”
What matters more for Kasara is her master’s mental state.
As a mother, losing one’s child is equivalent to losing a part of yourself. The bit of happiness, pride, and love nestled into that child, now completely vanished from her life, affected every aspect of her life.
It happened a long time ago even before Kasara and Kagero met with her. Even then, they knew from their times together that bringing up the topic of her child would only reflect in her eyes the void that was left in her heart. That is why nobody would dare bring this up, and why Kasara wanted to punish Kagero for suddenly doing so.
Because even after losing him, Hikari has been searching for him for all these years, and each of those searches bore no fruit. But even then, the hope within the void continues to fester inside.
Throughout all their missions, this was the first time that Hikari has shown so much perseverance on scouting out a person, much less a child.
Kasara’s heart stung, silently praying to the gods above that Hikari can recover after this if her senses were proven wrong.
“Kasara, it looks like we’re heading over to Lamosil District.”
Swallowed by her thoughts, Kagero brought Kasara back into reality. Kasara looked up to see that they have entered into the north-eastern side of Vipory.
The Lamosil District is where only one particular business laid—the Lamosil Cemetery.
It was there where the deceased of the tragedy were sent to be cremated.
Behind the Lamosil Cemetary was a large grass field, spanning over miles of beautifully cut grass and the graves that lined up in rows from each other. Each grave had a stone above them, words chiseled onto the front to name the recipients of those graves.
The atmosphere, comparing to the air around in the city, was relatively cordial. Unlike the doomed city forced to live on in total guilt, the graves were, like their definition, at peace. There were other people as well, and not all shared the same gloomy expressions. Some teared up at the sight of their loved ones no longer around, and others displayed cheerful expressions, mainly those from children who were visiting their passed family members with their parents.
Truly, the place where there is nothing but the dead felt more alive than the bustling city.
‘Such a strange feeling,’ thought Kasara. It’s as if the peaceful rest from the graves was affecting the atmosphere.
Taken in by this surprising emotion, the three noticed Kudo entering through the cemetery’s gates. The three were left stunned as they faced the ebony iron-barred gates with the sign that had the name ‘Lamosil Cemetary’ on it.
Hikari raised her head to see the sign, her brows wrinkled by realizing what this means.
“Master, maybe we shouldn’t go…”
Kagero showed a sense of guilt in his eyes as he pleaded his master. He was clearly reminded the reason why Kudo would go there.
“Master,” Kasara chided. “This is an invasion of his personal privacy. We can’t do this.”
Kasara knew that when the Master is set on something, she would do it no matter what. However, if she proved that she was wrong, then she has done a horrific disservice to the poor child.
However, the look in their master’s eyes did not lose its fire.
“Let’s keep going.”
Once she gave her order, she pushed herself through the gates, an unbreakable will showing on her expression. Kasara looked back at Kagero, only to see him brushing his hair with a frown.
“I’ll apologize to him after this. I will promise that.”
Once they entered, the sunshine glimmered on the graves as if they were being paraded by the sky itself. They spotted several graves—some were simple and plain, while others were outrageously big and gaudy. Supposedly, some would rather keep it simple, and clearly others like to go out with a bang.
Weaving around the graves, making sure not to disrespect the dead by stepping over the graves despite that there were no bodies below the earth, the party followed, their boots stepping onto the fresh soft grass, the pleasant heat of the sun showering them as they spotted Kudo not too far away from here.
However, where Kudo was going was somewhere in the cemetery that was not the norm. The stones further ahead were not part of the scenery until just recently.
There were about dozens of these stones—a simple stone, flat and arch-shaped, with rushed chiseled writings that didn’t seem to fit in eloquently like the others before. None of the words spoke their names—only the same few set of words written on each one.
These were the graves of the victims from the tragedy.
There was nobody there that were citizens of Vipory. The victims, the farmers of the exchange, did not know anybody in this town, and as such, only receives a passing prayer from them whenever one gets close.
Save for one.
Kudo trudged further, passing through the stones towards a certain section.
The sky was slowly becoming submerged into an orange hue, the sun descending downwards to the horizon. The heat from before was starting to lesson, but the tension of following the boy remained high.
Seeing that there were no cover for them to use, Hikari motioned the two behind her to stop, and then, raised and lowered her finger to them.
It was a signal to activate their abilities.
The two nodded, and focused on the internal mana to concentrate.
They hve activated their skill—Vanishing.
Their auras that were emanating such a powerful presence have gone silent, their appearances to the outside world, like the name of the skill said, vanished.
This skill is a Support Skill that allows the user to shut off his or her aura and presence completely. Not even those proficient in tracking could be able to sense the user, even if they were right in their faces.
As long as their levels were high. At low levels, only the slowest creatures lose their presence—those who are used to sensing others could still sense them even if they stepped just a meter close to them. But with the party’s levels, nobody will be able to find them, let alone stop them from following Kudo.
The three continued to follow, their bodies shrouded in silence, until finally their target ceased walking.
He stopped near two stones who were next to each other. They were quite a few ways from the other stones. These stones were special—they were created solely for Kudo’s state of mind.
The atmosphere around them became heavier, knowing exactly what he was doing. Both Kasara and Kagero wanted to leave—it was too personal to pry into, but Hikari stayed resolute in staying.
Then, the young teen dropped to his knees.Surprsing Hikari and the others, his head sank down, no longer having the energy to keep standing.
Their hearts stung at this imagery. Hikari ushered herself to move ahead to peek at the stones in front of him, reading the special text written by the young boy himself.
‘Here lies Trun Braven. A good father. A good husband.’
‘Here lies Meiki Braven. A good mother. A good wife.’
Simple, and yet the best descriptions that portrayed the people they represented.
Hikari surmised that these two were important members in his life.
An obvious pair of gravestones, and an obvious grieving boy. It was clear to them that they had no right to see this.
Hikari knew of this, however, her burning desire to see proof for herself broke her reasoning. But then, she noticed a tear dropping to the grass. She saw Kudo’s body jerking his shoulders, short gasps filled the air.
Then, Kudo moved his hands towards the bag holstered to his hip. It was his [Magic Bag]. He dipped his hand into the dimensional storage and took something out.
It was a book—a rather thick book that seemed so aged and used, it would have no value in the market.
But to him, it was the living memory of the people who have given it to him.
He opened up the book’s cover, revealing the pages that were dirty and hard to read, but to Kudo, he could see it clearly, remembering every word that he has learned over the past 10 years.
As he cried, Kudo flipped page after page, his tears continuing to drown his eyes.
He whispered, in between short gasps, he kept whispering to himself as he held back his tears with a strong force of will, but it was slowly breaking.
Page after page, he kept flipping them over, desperately looking for something as he gripped hi chest with his other hand. The tears that escaped from him dropped onto the dirty pages.
Finally, he stopped. He couldn’t deny the truth anymore.
“There’s nothing… there’s nothing that can get rid of this pain…”
Those words resonated within the onlookers, pursing their lips and looking away.
Those words were not only from someone who has lost his family members. They were the words of someone who has lost someone thanks to their incompetence.
If they were faster—if they had gone ahead and captured the one responsible, the poor teen wouldn’t have to suffer through this.
It was even worse for Kasara. Her heart became wrenched in pain as this boy was her little sister’s friend. The same one that her sister held onto and was willing to give up her life to protect him from the incoming attack of Shinezu.
There was nobody around that felt more guilty than her. Perhaps this was the reason why she didn’t want to follow him. She knew that she would have to see the mistake she made by not getting there faster, and the consequences that followed.
As the thought of why her friend wasn’t here to be there for him passed through her mind, she saw Hikari moving ahead which surprised the two.
Her next action then shocked them. Hikari released her Vanishing skill. Her powerful presence became known, but the young teen could not notice her in such an emotional state.
“There’s no advice on how to handle the pain.”
Hikari spoke out loud, her tone stern and firm. Kudo remained looking down at the ground.
“One handles pain by various methods. Some go drink, and others drown themselves in the flesh of others. But I don’t suggest a young man like you to do so. It’ll only make your soul rot.”
A smile rose from her lips. She joked in a way to soothe his heart. However, the boy remained still, completely silent.
“…Nobody knows what to do when they had someone taken away so forcefully like this. What you’re feeling is natural. However, there is no point in continuing to despair.”
Hikari could not mince her words nicely for him—he needed facts. Taking the displeasure to shove reality to the boy, Kudo responded with an exasperated grip on his fingers, scraping the grass underneath them.
“One must keep moving forward. There is no turning back for anybody.”
A cool breeze rolled in, their hair swayed and their skin felt cooler. Kagero and Kasara kept themselves quiet, hearing every word as if it was for themselves as well.
It was the same words that Kagero learned long ago, taught to him when he went through the toughest ordeals of his life. He brushed his ebony hair again, a smile reflecting those times of his past.
Kudo’s tears finally ceased, and asked what has been nagging away at his heart.
“…What about the people that were taken away?”
Kudo said without facing her. His heart is a mess, and his head in a fog. He wanted to ask this of someone, anyone, to relieve him of his pain.
“We must keep moving forward—so that the people that were taken away can look down on you from the Upperworld with a smile on their faces. I believe that’s how they gain peace.”
Feeling that it was unnecessary now, Hikari undressed her cloak, revealing the figure underneath it.
Black clothing donned her exquisite body. It was the epitome of a powerful adventurer. She had a toned hourglass figure with a voluptuous chest that wore a black shirt and pants that fit her snugly. With armored gloves and boots, her long azure hair and jade colored eyes reflected the shine of the evening sun that no artist could ever hope to recreate in their image. Along with a powerful presence, there was a warm smile that was reminiscent of a goddess that has descended onto the world.
Kudo knew that this was the answer all along, and yet it soothed his aching heart. Using his forearm to wipe away the tears, he turned to face the stranger that has conversed with him in his hour of need.
Facing him, Hikari’s breath was taken away. Her chest tightened and her heart ached, the void within finally being filled.
The same azure hair that flowed with the wind. The bright, jade colored eyes that caught the sunshine from the fleeting sun. A bright, rounded face with a bit of redness around his eyes.
“Thank you, Miss… Now, I need to know what I’m going to do now...”
Kudo felt as though he has lost his way, but the words made him feel a little bit hopeful.
But he just noticed how Hikari was staring at him, her eyes widened. Then, he flinched when he noticed Hikari’s body tremble all of a sudden. She lifted her finger, and pointed at him.
She stuttered, surprising her followers who were seeing this kind of reaction for the first time themselves. Hikari wouldn’t usually show such an expression, unless…
“Y-Your name… what is your name?!”
Dropping to her knees, she cupped Kudo’s shoulders with her hands, making him jump in surprise from the sudden grip that held him so tightly.
“M-My name…” Kudo hesitated to answer. “My name is Kudo Braven. I-Is there something wrong?”
It was in that moment, she was left with an agaped expression. When Kudo felt flustered and tried to understand what was going on, he sees her eyes starting to well.
Kudo gasped in shock. Who could keep their cool when a strange woman started crying after hearing his name? It was then that the two followers turned off their skills, making their presences known as they walked up to them, both having stunned expressions.
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?!”
Kudo worried, showing concern for the woman who has aided him in his time of need. Hikari’s tears fell to the grass, holding back her sharp inhales as she slowly whispered:
“I… finally found you. After all this time, I finally found you…”
Those words made Kudo’s head tilt.
“I-I’m sorry… I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Hoping that she would explain more on her vague words, Kudo was suddenly, without warning, embraced by her.
Kudo flustered after having this strange woman suddenly hug him out of nowhere. Feeling more flustered, he decided to rip her off of him, but when he did, she only made her embrace tighter. Her strength was abysmally strong. So strong to the point that he felt his torso was being crushed by her arms alone.
“W-What’s wrong?! What’s going on?!”
Sensing that his life was in danger, he shouted out, hoping that somebody around would aid him in his other time of need.
“Master, you should really calm down and explain what’s going on for that poor boy.”
Kasara responded to his plea, getting hm to look back at the owner of that female voice, finally realizing that two new people showed up near them.
Were they there this entire time? This question would have passed through his head, but when he glanced at the other woman raising her hands and showing a concerned look, he widened hi eyes.
Not only the man who gave him advice on the day of the incident, there was also a woman who… resonated within him.
Long, crimson hair that reaches her back, and sharp, slanted eyes that pierce right through you. Her voluptuous body covered in mage’s clothing has made it clear that she has an uncanny resemblance to his partner.
(C-Could that be… Hinota’s sister?)
Kudo couldn’t believe it, but he saw the resemblance for himself. However, the clear difference was that the older sister’s face was more mature, her facial features were more well-defined than Hinota’s rounded face.
When the words about her relation to Hinota were at his throat, Hikari’s embrace loosened, getting him to turn back to her, wiping her eyes with her hand as she looked back to him with a smile.
“You’re right, Kasara.”
Hearing the name himself, Kudo knew now that it really was Hinota’s sister as she shared the same name that Hinota spoke of so fondly.
“Kudo,” Hikari formed a gleaming smile. “I’m sorry for surprising you. You may not believe this…”
Hikari took a moment before answering, leaving Kudo to widen his eyes, his heart throbbed from anticipation.
“I am Hikari Valkyria… I’m your mother.”
Time seemed to stop around Kudo.
His vision slowly blurred, his mind racing from this sudden fact.
She is his mother. When she said those words, Kudo remembered the topic his parents talked to him before.
He was adopted. His real parents were out there somewhere.
But he never thought that he would find one of them so soon. Not to mention, her long azure hair, and her jade-colored eyes—Those features were hard to ignore, and thus proved that she was right.
“Y-You’re my mother? My real mom?”
He had to ask again. His eyes trembled and his breath was nearly taken away. Hikari then nodded vigorously.
“Yes…! I have been… I have been looking for you for a long time now.”
Those words have not only made Kudo surprised, but it also made her heart swell with so much emotion that it could burst.
“Kudo… were these… the ones who have taken care of you? Your foster parents?”
He couldn’t believe what she was saying. But after a moment, he realized that his parents who have cared for him since he was a child were truly his foster parents—parents who took him in.
Hearing no answer, Hikari smiled as if his silence was all he needed.
“Kudo… my darling Kudo… from now on, I will take care of you.”
Hearing those shocking words, Kasara turned to her and asked:
“W-What are you planning to do, Master?”
She asked with a slightly high tone, fearing for what might come next. Hikari only stood up to her feet, forming a proud stance by putting her hands on her hips, a grin flashing on her face.
It was a different grin than the ones Kasara and Kagero saw before.
“It’s obvious that I’ll be taking Kudo with us to Roprase!”
The three around her became pale. It was as if her words struck them with lightning. Kudo couldn’t believe it himself, but both Kasara and Kagero knew better than that.
“W-What?” Kudo became flabbergasted. “W-Who says I’m coming with you?!” He snapped back, now furrowing his brows, but he didn’t felt anger—he felt fear rising up in him.
“Well, you said that you had no idea on what to do, right?” Hikari quickly reassured his last words, getting him to flinch in surprise.
“I-I did say that…”
“Then, why not come with us to Roprase? That way, we can be together!”
“E-Even if you say that… I have to make sure that…”
“Whatever the case, I’m still taking you!”
Hikari intercepted with a flashing grin, leaving him stiffened up.
“W-What?!” Kudo felt exasperated as he shook. “You… can’t do something like that!”
Kudo may not know much about social interactions as much as Hinota did, but he knew that suddenly taking him somewhere without asking his permission was borderline illegal.
“Don’t worry about those silly details, Kudo. Now, come on, let’s go to our home!”
“M-Master! You can’t just take him like that. Forcing him to go is a bad idea!”
Kasara tried to bring order to this somewhat chaotic reunion between mother and child, but when she saw Hikari’s eyes burning with willpower and the drive to go forward with it, she knew that she wouldn’t back down from this.
“Kasara,” Hikari turned to her, showing an instant solemn expression. “There’s no way that I’ll ever miss this chance.”
Saying that, Hikari bend down to Kudo’s level and, without warning, picked up Kudo by the waist and lifted his body upwards.
Uttering those words, Kudo’s body was lifted off easily from the ground, and was placed gently on her right shoulder. When it did, a sharp pain coursed through his abdomen.
He was being carried as if he was a bag.
“W-Wha—?!” Kudo cried out, the situation becoming more dire than he realized.
Kagero intervened this time, his hand outstretched to stop his master from going as far as kidnapping, but it went unnoticed as Hikari lowered herself again to pick up his guidebook.
“Ah, this guidebook takes me back. Your parents were good people to buy you this,” Hikari had a flash of nostalgia when she read the guidebook’s cover, then turned back to Kudo. “Now then, let’s keep moving.”
She acted as if what she was doing wasn’t a total crime at all. Hikari walked forward, turning back to the two and ushered them to follow her.
“Come on, guy! The day’s burning away!”
“M-Master, at least be reasonable!” Kasara quickly chided.
“Master, this is going too far!” Kagero added in.
“No matter what, I will bring Kudo with us. I won’t hear any more refusals. Now, Kudo, let’s keep going!”
Hikari proudly proclaimed as she walked forward, with Kudo now beginning to struggle to break free, but her grip strength was far beyond anything he has ever seen.
Kasara and Kagero could only look to each other, beginning to sweat as their Master’s whims were too much this time for them to swallow.
When they turned back to see Kudo, he looked up to them, his eyes were widened with terror and confusion.
Seeing this, the two could only raise their right hands in a prayer form.
“Sorry, Kudo,” Kagero apologized fervently.
“Please, just go along with this,” Kasara pleaded, her face turning blue.
“L-L-Let me goooo!!!”
Of course, Kudo’s scream went unnoticed.