Hour Empty Child
Kudo, Raika, and Kuki who has finally awoken from his slumber, huddled around together in a circle, surrounding the kitten while messing around with him with their drop item, the Rainbow Tail—a springy tail where at the end was a fluffball painted in all colors. They were using it as a playtoy for the kitten who would jump up with its small body to scratch the tail, only for the adventurers to raise it upwards before it could reach, and thus, the fun repeats.
It wasn’t torturing the poor kitten—it continued to cry out in joy from this simple-minded playfulness, and its cries and jumps were sort of a blissful combination for not just the obsessed Raika, but for Kudo and Kuki as well.
“Myaa~” The kitten cried.
“Nyaa~ So cute!” Raika repeated the same cry.
“I take back my statement,” Kuki admitted, the kitten heading towards his tail before he raised it up again. “He can soothe our souls when we’re tired.”
“Right?” Kudo formed a grin as the kitten went up to him to catch the tail, only for him to raise it up before he could.
The two of them were also enraptured by the kitten’s cuteness.
“So, what’s its name?” Kuki asked, getting Kudo to realize it himself.
“Mmh, now that you mention it, it doesn’t have a name. I wonder what should I call him?”
“It should be a cute name!” Raika objected. “Anything other than that is out! So, Kui, butt out!”
“W-What’s with this sudden treatment?! And what’s wrong with me making a name?!”
“Anything you say will bound to be lame. It’s a fact.”
Against Raika’s sudden assertive nature, Kuki could not hold it against her while making an awkward expression.
“Wow, Raika, harsh…” Kudo commented before Raika turned her attention to him.
“Kudo, you gotta give it a cute name!” Raika asserted, pointing her finger to Kudo.
Her eyes were actually glaring at him, getting him to feel the pressure from her will as she demanded a cute name. However, there was one issue that he needed to fix.
“Well, before I give it a name, I need to know what gender it is.”
Saying that, the three turned silent. Even the kitten realized the mood and stopped moving about. He raised his small head, seeing the three who now turned their sight to him, their eyes suddenly glowing in curiosity.
“M-Mya…?” The kitten widened his small eyes.
A moment of invasion of privacy later…
“Well, we know for sure that he’s a boy kitten, so he needs a boy name.”
Kudo exclaimed, folding his arms as his two party members looked up to him in suspense. The kitten, on the other hand, was at the back laying on the ground, eyes tearing up from being invaded.
“…How about Shiro? It’s short, and I think it’s cute.”
Feeling his heart race, he wondered if it would appease Lord Raika.
“Mmh!” Raika nodded. “It’s perfect! Then, this cute little kitten’s name will be Shiro~!”
Suddenly, Shiro, the kitten, raised his head and cried out: “Myaa!” as if he understood the conversation, and ran up to Kudo. Kudo turned around and before he knew it, Shiro jumped up to Kudo, getting Kudo to instinctively catch him with his arms.
Kudo’s face was now directly facing Shiro’s face.
“Myaa!” Shiro cried out.
“Heh, guess you like the name, huh?” Kudo chuckled, putting on an elated expression himself from seeing Shiro’s fluffy face in front of him. Raika showed a jealous pout from seeing Kudo holding Shiro.
Then, she noticed that something fell out of Kudo’s shirt when he caught Shiro. The small gem shined as it hanged from Kudo’s necklace.
“Oh, Kudo, what is that?” Raika pointed as she told him, making him look down and get surprised to see his necklace out in the open.
“Oh, I didn’t know you were wearing this—do you always wear it?”
Kuki became curious, directing his sight solely onto the necklace. Kudo felt his face flushed when they’re now asking about his necklace, but this time, he was slightly happy that they asked.
“Y-Yeah…” Kudo’s face glowed a faint red. “This necklace is like a treasure for me—someone precious gave it to me before I left Peranim.”
“Now that I think about it,” Raika recollected. “You never told us about your best friend from Peranim… can you tell us?”
Raika became curious herself now for Kudo’s mysterious friend. Kuki sat upright to listen closely as well as Raika. Kudo became flustered now that his expectation actually became real.
“Ah, geez, where do I begin?” Kudo asked himself, brushing his hair with his hand while Shiro remained on his chest, looking up at him with his crystalline eyes as if he was looking forward to hearing it himself.
Kudo saw this expression, as well as the other two members, giving him a bit of courage to say it.
“Well, my best friend’s name is Hinota. She’s someone that I met when I first started my career as an adventurer. We formed a party together on the same day. Ever since then, we were always together, watching each other’s back and helping each other improve.”
Kudo relayed his memories to the three listeners, not noticing that he was walking down memory lane, his mind reminiscing the adventures he spent in Peranim with her and his other comrades.
Perhaps Kudo wanted this. He needed to let off his frustration of not being able to see Hinota and wanted to talk about her at least in some form. Kudo explained all the exploits Hinota made during their travel, including some personal stories about Hinota such as her embarrassing and cute moments.
As Kudo diverged himself into his story, Kudo and Kuki were both in awe of how excited he was about Hinota, and the two listened intently on every word.
“And… man, what else?”
Kudo’s face flushed when he realized that he talked about Hinota solidly for 30 minutes. Feeling awkward, he looked at the two.
“Wow…” Raika’s cheeks were somehow blushing. “She sounds so heavenly. Like a goddess.”
“Yeah,” Kuki also had flushed cheeks, brushing his head. “She sounds so unreal, it’s like she came from a novel.”
“Hehe, if you say that in front of her, she’ll take it as a compliment. She’s used to taking praise like that.”
Mentioning Hinota’s haughtiness, Kudo chuckled as his friends reached the same conclusion as he did.
“F-Figures you would know everything about her since she’s your g-g-girlfriend…” Raika blushed when she stuttered on the last word, making Kudo’s eyes grew wide.
“Well, yeah. Isn’t she your girlfriend?” Kuki asked while tilting his head, as if asking an obvious question.
“N-No! She isn’t!” S-She’s just my best friend!”
Kudo corrected with a loud pitch, surprising Shiro and making his body flinch from the high volume, all the while having a strong blush on his face.
The two childhood friends tilted their heads. “Really…?” The two asked in unison, both showing a doubtful gaze and a small smile rising on their lips.
“I-It’s true! I swear!” Kudo screamed out, swinging his arms as if he became mental trying to correct their misunderstanding.
“But, I mean, you told us so excitedly,” Raika mentioned. “Like how a b-boyfriend would brag about his girlfriend.”
“N-No, I’m not! Get your facts straight. She’s my best friend—the same as you two together!”
Kudo pointed at the two, making a comparison between him and Hinota between the childhood friends.
The two looked back at each other, both eyes blinking twice before finally—*Puh!*—the two of them puffed and started to laugh out loud.
“Yeah, right!” Kuki denied, his eyes tearing up as he laughed resounded in the room.
“Kudo, you’re so in love with her, it’s not even a joke!” Raika was not even blushing anymore as she giggled.
Kudo’s face flushed, resembling a stove that was heating up as steam could be seen blowing out of his ears.
“Y-You guys!” Kudo, for once, wanted to punish his disciples, taking out his frustration to the two who continued laughing and denying his pure friendship.
After the whole spectacle of denying their claims, Kudo, still angered by their words, sent them away to their hotel, a place where weary pedestrians and adventurers sleep, so that they can rest for the quest tomorrow. It was already night by the time this happened, and the rain has finally ceased.
Feeling exhausted, Kudo laid on his bed in his room, his face still blushing from the conversation he had with them. He has already prepared for his quest tomorrow, and has already checked his Magic Bag in case he was missing anything. As he laid on the bed, he shook his head whenever he would think about how they keep saying that he loves Hinota.
“I’m not… in love with her.”
Kudo denied, however, those words were uttered out without any conviction to prove them right…
The night passed and the sun once again lifts itself up from the horizon, it’s sunlight shined through the glass window, once again flashing right in Kudo’s eyes. After the unfair sneak attack, Kudo opened his eyes and then started his morning routine.
Fully adorned in his heavy armor, and once again taking out his necklace for good luck, he headed out of the estate. As he reached to the loggia, he saw Kuki and Raika waiting alongside Shokan and Chui who remained in well-mannered postures.
“Morning…” Kudo’s voice was dragged out, a yawn leaving out of him. The two shared his sentiments as it was quite early in the day.
“Now that Master Kudo is done preparing, Chui,” Shokan directed her composed eyes to her colleague. “Please drive them safely.”
Giving a salute, Chui put on an ecstatic face as she led the three to the parking lot.
The parking lot was where Hikari put all the Ames she owns for safe keeping. After walking a fair bit, the three saw the vast lot for themselves. It was a large 15x15 meter square-sized lot, and on it were various colorful Ames in different sizes all lined up diagonally with a bit of gap in between, giving it that chic atmosphere.
Kuki and Raika, who were supposed to be used to seeing this after visiting so many times, could still not get used to seeing such a sight. Even Kudo, the one living here, felt overwhelmed here. Chui moved forward and walked down the lot as she eyed on the Ames along with the party to find the perfect Ame, and she found it.
“If we’re going to a nomad’s settlement in rough terrain, this model JXRP-01 should do the trick.”
Chui led the three and showed them the Ame they’re going to drive in. It was a fairly simple Ame, so it’s design was plain. However, it had armored edges on the bottom and front, and its wheels were as big as a foreleg and fairly thick.
Chui gestured them to head inside while she went to the driver’s seat, getting them to see the vast space inside that could fit in 10 people at once. Kudo received an explanation that the insides of Ames were similar to that of Magic Bags, where the person goes inside a small dimensional space within the Ame. The inside becomes bigger than the outside so that they could fit in more people, and so that they can squeeze in the Ames between tight spaces. However, only very expensive Ames had this feature—the normally priced Ames were the same size on the inside and outside.
They entered into the Ame, and saw plushy seats lined up by the walls, its very own fridge for long travels at the center. There were four windows on each side, revealing the area around them. Kudo moved forward and sat on one side while Kuki and Raika sat on the other side facing Kudo.
Seeing them comfortably sitting from her Ame-mirror on the top-right, Chui moved the mirror to her eyes, giving a small wink to herself before turning the key on the engine and started it up. The engine roared, making the Ame rumble before driving out of the estate.
Within the Ame, it was as smooth as if they were gliding in the air, even though the Ame was actually driving on jagged rocks as they ride to their destination at the nomad’s settlement. It was a few kilometers away from Triun, but the ride there was just a few minutes at best.
Kudo looked out the window, feeling blessed that he no longer had to suffer through the uncomfortable carriage ride like in Peranim. His butt was so thankful, it nearly lost all feeling of it.
He looked at his side and saw Kuki’s body sprawled out from the comfort of his soft chair, being embedded into it as if he was absorbed by it. Raika was fiddling with her Magic Bag inventory screen, possibly giving one last check to make sure that she has everything ready.
She has always been the cautious type, no matter how much experience she racks up. Kudo thought that Kuki could learn a thing from her, but he believed that she’s cautious because Kuki was always lax about this. Though, seeing them being calm like this was good for Kudo as he looked out the window again, his chest swelling with excitement for their first C-Rank quest.
A few minutes later after that, the Ame’s engine was finally turned off. Chui got out of the driver’s seat and opened the door on their side to let the StormPlus head out of the Ame.
They saw a vast open space filled with a few batches of grass and earthy terrain that covered most of the area. Large rocks stood mightily on their set positions which cast a large shadow from the harsh sun rays. Kudo thought that the sunlight from before was bad enough, but the heat here was blistering hot—making the humidity wither up like a husk. The hot sun would have made Kudo sweat in his armor, but thankfully, during these three months, Kudo learned how to make his armor cool using the small open spaces to keep it ventilated which allowed him to feel slightly cool even under hot weather.
From the distance, there were various wooden structures, turning out to be the settlement for the nomads.
“That doesn’t look like a settlement of nomads to me,” Kuki commented as he cast a shadow over his eyes with his hand.
“Master Kuki, the nomads are the kind to improve their lifestyle by not relying on modern technology. As such, they would build wooden houses with their own hands and rely on nature for their disciplinary training.”
Chui offered her wisdom which made Kuki nod slowly as he understood it.
“B-But, how can the nomads live in such a place?” Raika made her next question, still nervous from talking to Hikari’s maid. “This place doesn’t seem very hospitable to me.”
“Master Raika, they may not need modern technology, but they still use Mana Crystals to supply them with living essentials such as clean water for bathing, and fire for cooking and warming themselves up. Mana Crystals are a part of life, and as such, they use them without relying on machinery, and use their own mana as a form of training to draw them out.”
“Ooh, that’s amazing…” Raika became astounded by the nomad’s way of life. “Kudo, we’re going to have to go there to hunt for those Heli… Heli… Heliwreaths?”
Raika stuttered as she tried to remember the name before answering it wrong.
“It’s Heliwrath… but we can just call them Helis.”
Kudo figured that it would be easier for all of them by shortening their names to which Raika immediately nodded.
“Our quest today is to take out as many Helis as possible. This will be easy for our first C-Rank, but remember to be cautious as always,” Kudo warned as he turned to Chui. “Thanks for bringing us here, Chui.”
“I have only followed your order,” Chui bowed to Kudo. “This much is nothing for me. Then, I shall wait for you all here.”
“Ah,” Kudo raised his hands. “You don’t have to do that. You can just go home and we’ll call you when we’re done. I hate to make you wait in this hot sun.”
“…Then, I shall take my leave,” Chui formed a small smile from hearing that. “Please call me when you are done immediately, and I’ll rush back here in a minute, tops.”
Chui spoke with outstanding confidence and sparkles could be seen emanating from behind her, pounding her small chest with her fist.
“Y-You don’t have to break the speed of sound,” Kudo joked, hopefully. “Just get here at an ordinary rate.”
Chui looked reluctant, but she agreed as she bowed once again to the three before heading back into the Ame and started the engine. She drove away, leaving the trio on their own.
“Then, let’s get started,” Kudo gripped his fist. “Kuki, Raika, let’s hunt for a bit of our own then split up when we lowered the numbers.”
“ “Got it!” ” The two answered simultaneously, brandishing their weapons as they nodded before heading towards the settlement.