Hour Empty Child
The StormPlus headed to the settlement where several wooden structures surrounded them. Feeling the dry air latching onto their skin, they continue passing down through the streets before Kudo felt numerous presences a few feet from them.
Kudo turned back at the two and shushed with his finger near his mouth, signaling them to be quiet. Gesturing them to move along with him, the StormPlus hid their presences by lowering their stances and followed along the structures’ walls. Then, peering from the corner, Kudo spotted about five Helis.
The Heliwraths, or in this case Heli, were bipedal reptiles in the same family as lizardmen. Their stout bodies and powerful hind legs made it perfect for them to run at incredible speeds. Their weapons were their strong jaws which hid the sharp fangs used to bite into the flesh of anything they chomp to and rip it apart with ease. Their only weakness would be their short arms, so they can’t grab anything within reach, but they easily make up for it with their long necks.
The group of Helis was searching for something, using their snouts to whiff up the barren dirt in search of food for their hungry bellies.
“T-Those are big…” Raika commented, gripping onto her bow.
Raika’s bow has been replaced and improved by Kuki’s skill. The bow now had different carvings on it while having a glossy exterior. The ends of the bow were curled to show off its clever designed as it was made to further increase its maneuverability.
“Heh, this will be a cinch. Right, Boss?” Kuki smirked, changing his sight on his leader’s back.
“Yeah,” Kudo nodded. “We can handle this much. Raika, start things off!”
Kudo whispered, his desire to hunt shown in his tone. Raika nodded, but a look of concern was still plastered on her face. However, she swallowed her fear as she nocked an arrow from her quiver to her bow and pulled the string wide enough, directing her sight, powerful and sharp, to the other wooden building on the other side.
She released the arrow, the string shooting the arrow with a powerful force which shot right at the building. The arrow easily pierced the wall, creating a loud *thunk* noise. It was that very noise that took over the Helis’ attention, raising their heads and becoming alarmed.
Once the Helis moved over to the other building, completely facing their backs to the adventurers, the StormPlus finally made their move…
By using these deceptive techniques like these, Raika sniped down the Helis from behind without them noticing their own demise. Although it wasn’t perfect as some of the few noticed their killing intent. They reacted in kind to such murderous notions and when they did, Kuki charged in and shot them down with a volley of bullets.
Though, this only happened because Kuki charged in on their blind spot. When another Heli would attack him from behind, Kudo would step in and support from behind by releasing his chains and drag it down, finally blowing it up with his Plus Bomb.
It was their hit and run tactic they developed from their specific roles, which is to charge in, run away after attacking, and charge in again, repeating the process.
As an hour passed, the carcasses of the Helis numbered in dozens across the barren ground, puddles of red liquid everywhere making it some kind of horrific hell for any normal citizen.
“Hey, look! Hehehe,” Kuki raised something up to his face and called the other two. Kudo and Raika turned, only to widen their eyes.
“Wraagh! I am godrilla! Hear me roar!”
Changing his voice to a higher, hoarse tone, he held a ripped Heli’s head, still dripping blood from its bisected neck, as Kuki opened and closed its jaw to make it seem like it was talking.
“Agh! Kui! That’s so disgusting!” Raika, obviously, was not amused.
“Hahaha, it’s talking! Hehe,” Kudo, however, thought it was hilarious.
“See? Kudo gets it. You’re just a party pooper, Rai.”
“A-Anyone would be disgusted by that! Kudo’s an exception!” Raika defended herself, scowling at Kuki as he sarcastically shrugged.
“Haha, but seriously, Kuki. It may be a monster, but it’s kinda disrespectful.”
Getting back to his senses, Kudo reprimanded Kuki of his action, surprising him.
“Why not? They were trying to kill us, so we can do whatever we want, right?” Kuki created a point, but Kudo was well prepared for that statement.
“Kuki, imagine that you were killed. Would you like it if a monster paraded around your head and made jokes to other monsters like you did?”
Though Kudo created an unlikely situation, considering that monsters aren’t exactly intelligent enough to joke, Kuki understood the context behind it and bit his lip.
“Yeah… I definitely don’t want that.”
“Remember to treat those you kill the same respect you want someone to show you.”
“Right,” Kuki does as he said and gently places the ripped head of the Heli down on the ground, Raika putting her hands on her hips as she chided him.
“See? Kudo makes a good point.”
“Okay, okay, I get ya,” Kuki brushed his hair, showing a displeased look from Rai’s meddling. “I was just messing around.”
“Well, don’t lose your head over it, Kuki.”
The two showed a glassy stare at him, their sweat rolling down their temples and left stunned, in an indifferent kind of sense.
“I promise to not make another bad joke again…” Kuki now realized his own grave mistake.
“See, Kui? Now you started Kudo’s lame jokes,” Raika let out a disappointed sigh, her eyes looking exhausted.”
“Eh~? It wasn’t that bad!”
Kudo whispered to himself ‘tough crowd’ as he and the other two continue to put away the loot.
The party decided that when an hour comes by and everything is going well, they would split apart and cover more ground. With Kudo moving to one side, Kuki and Raika moved to the other side as they reached the intersection between buildings.
“I’ll be going to the east side. You guys stick together and get some experience by going to the south side.”
“Kudo,” Raika showed a look of concern. “Will you be okay on your own?”
“I’m fine,” Kudo then pointed at the two. “I’m more worried if you guys can handle it on your own.”
“C’mon,” Kuki insisted, gripping his fist while putting his other hand on his hip. “We can handle it. You’re not giving us enough credit. Just go—we’ll be fine.”
“Well, alright… but call me on my mana phone in case something happens.”
“Stop worrying about us and move!” Kuki became frustrated and pushed Kudo off to the side to get him to leave. Kudo has done so and left the two as he went off to the east side.
After about 30 minutes, a screech of a high-pitched roar resounded before it lowered its volume, until finally the owner dropped to the ground with its jaws hanging open.
“Whoo!” Kuki’s sweat streamed down his forehead and he wiped it off with his arm. “That makes the last one.”
“Kui, that was too much!” Raika complained, her body heaving heavy exhales and inhales. “Facing all three on our own like that!”
“Hey, we took them down, didn’t we? If we keep facing loners, we’ll never finish in time.”
“W-Well, that’s true…”
Raika turned to see the multiple bodies of dead Helis around her. Now that they took a group down, they can focus on bisecting the parts for drop items.
“Still, we’re seeing a lot of Helis so far,” Kuki commented as he used his hunting knife to slice open a Heli’s stomach. “Just how many did we kill so far?”
“I think around 50 so far,” Raika was disassembling a Heli’s hind leg to take apart its claws. “But it sure is a lot. I don’t think we’ll have enough space for our Magic Bags.”
“Yeah,” Kuki lifted himself up, finishing his work. “But we can’t disappoint Kudo. Let’s keep hunting and raise our levels.”
“Yeah!” Raika raised herself up, both her fists in front as she nodded in agreement.
Getting on with their quest, Kuki took point while Raika followed behind. This was their formation as a mobber and ranged attacker. As a mobber, it was Kuki’s job to charge in and face multiple monsters at once, especially the ones that would be too troublesome to take on for the ranged attackers. He was more of a frontline attacker that had the same capabilities as a mid-range shooter. Raika showed exemplary shooting as she took in-depth training of the bow, so her accuracy is deadly.
They carefully traveled around the wooden structures, keeping an eye out for the Helis while at the same time giving themselves pacing from their last bout. Though the situation was tense, the two didn’t have much to worry about as they had their conversation.
“Hey, Rai,” Kuki called out.
“The way Kudo talks about this Hinota girl, what do you think of her?”
Since they mostly talk about anything, Kuki delved into the topic of Kudo’s best friend.
“Well, from what we heard, this girl seems so noble-like,” Raika, without noticing, went ahead of Kuki as they kept walking forward.
“Yeah, she sure does. I can’t even imagine how pretty she is from Kudo’s words. It’s like my mind can’t handle so much of it.”
“Hehe,” Raika giggled. “That’s because Kudo kept mentioning how pretty she was. He really does like her.”
“Yeah,” Kui smirked, his hands resting behind his head. “Though, I really want to see this chick for myself. I want to see if she’s really up to Kudo’s standards.”
“Me too,” Raika said as they were turning the corner. “I want to see her for myself as we—”
However, when she turned the corner, her vision suddenly darkens, and her body was pushed back.
Her dainty body fell over to the ground and landed on her rump, making her grunt out in pain.
Realizing what just happened, he ran up to Raika and knelt down to her to help her up, only to see the two shadows envelop them as he and Raika looked up to see who obstructed her path.
“Whoa, you alright there, little bunny girl?” A mellow voice chimed which got Kuki to wrinkle his brows, almost ready to explode at the man who practically pushed her down. When he turned, he was left stunned.
He was huge. From the way his voice sounded, he’s a teenager, but his robust size and obvious muscles betrayed that notion. Yet, looking up to his face, he had a fresh-looking expression with a sturdy chin and long bronze hair that reached to his neck which was covered by a black bandanna with a crimson lotus flower mark on it. He is adorned with a sleeveless leather armor revealing his thick-muscled arms, black belts tied around his torso and metal shoulder pads. Along with gloves and boots, he had red-lined black baggy pants. He appeared closer to that of an armored bear.
Along with the large bear-like man, there was also another, a female adventurer that contradicted his size.
It was a slim woman in her teens, her stern expression gave way to the girl below, her bangs covering her forehead while flipping away her light blue braided tail aside. From the looks of it, she was also quite toned as shown through her clothing, a sleeveless shirt that extended to a long robe that covered her legs, leaving open slits that showed her supple legs worn with black shorts, knee-high boots, and forearm-high fingerless gloves.
“Hey, what’s your deal?!” Kuki snapped.
“Whoa, whoa, it’s not her fault—the little bunny girl just got in the way.”
Kuki became surprised after hearing that it was the toned girl beside him that pushed her down, however, he let that aside as he placed his attention on his friend in need.
“Rai, you alright?” Kuki asked in concern.
“Y-Yeah, I’m fine,” Raika responded, showing a relieved smile as she took Kuki’s hand to get up.
However, this sparked the girl’s displeasure, a scowl rose from her expression.
The girl scoffed. “Are you that dainty that you needed to get picked up by a guy?” she spoke in a callous tone, catching Raika’s attention.
“W-What are you—?”
“How pathetic can you be?” The girl intercepted Raika. “I only got in your way and you fall down like some doll. And now, you’re getting picked up by a man without even trying to get up yourself. How can you even call yourself an adventurer? It’s girls like you that end up dying in places like these. If you’re not going to even pick yourself up, then why bother coming here at all?”
Her sudden capricious words sent a stinging pang through Raika. For some reason, on their first meeting, this girl insulted her very demeanor.
“Hey! Shut up!” Kuki vented back. “You don’t know anything about her!”
“Oh, I know plenty,” The girl retorted. “Just from that collision alone, I could tell that she has no balance at all. Her stance is weak and she’ll fumble in one hit. It makes me sick at how weak she is.”
She kept piling on, leaving Raika agape and Kuki to snarl.
However, the most surprised is her partner beside her.
While the boy, Tsuchi, tried to diffuse the situation by speaking calmly to her, the girl, Mizuri, barked back with a mild scowl, making him startled by her sudden angered pang.
“E-Even using my full name…?” Tsuchi, knowing that Mizuri usually shortens it, became stunned by this sudden solemnity.
“If I don’t teach her here and now the cruel reality, she’s just going to get herself killed!”
As Mizuri turned her attention to the two, Tsuchi held in his need to heave a sigh. (She always gets like this to girly girls…) He thought to himself as he kept quiet and hoped for the best.
“Y-You don’t have any right to… Rai?”
While Kuki tried to resolve the matter, he noticed Raika suddenly getting up on her own, making him lift up his head to see Raika’s darkened expression, barely visible to read.
However, the way she moved like that made it seem as if she was angered. Her furry ears jerked continuously while her small fists shook.
Raika has been doing her best to improve herself to become someone she can be proud of. Kudo has praised her constantly how far she has progressed from the time he first met her. His words became her inspiration to further cultivate her courage to face any kind of social interaction without fear.
If she faltered now, especially after receiving these insults to her face, then she would spit at all the effort she put in these past few months, and step on Kudo’s faith in her. This is the very thing which she cannot stand for.
“I…I would rather be weak…” Raika slowly gathered her courage, inputting all her rage and contempt into her next sentence. “Then to be someone as muscle-headed as you!”
Her words echoed, a gust of wind blew past the four as a momentary silence filled the air. Kuki’s jaw was left wide open along with his eyes in disbelief. Tsuchi covered his mouth with his hand in shock.
And finally, Mizuri was left flabbergasted.
Tsuchi looked to see Mizuri’s reaction, and sure enough, her expression darkened as well, showing a similar experience as Raika did. Kuki looked on in terror while Raika continued to show her brave expression, though her knees buckled as she stood against her.
Finally, Mizuri showed her face—an angry vein throbbed on her temple while her teeth grinded against each other, her skin color reddening like a teapot ready to explode.
In the next instant, Mizuri shouted ‘Inventory!’ and opened the inventory screen from her Magic Bag. Her hand reached inside of it and a long weapon out of it. It was a wooden bo staff, a tall wooden staff stylized to have a glossy exterior with a teal-colored flourish and carvings. The ends of the bo staff were plated with metal, and one of those ends flew straight to Raika.
“Rai!” Finally noticing it, Kuki shouted to Raika before finally the blow was struck.
A short shockwave traveled through the air, both the males’ hair swayed by it as the two locked eyes on the incredible sight.
Mizuri, without hesitation, drew her weapon in a perfect thrust and delivered her strike with such finesse and strength that could break boulders. However, something intercepted the blow.
Surprisingly, guarding Raika was her bow, angled perfectly so that the metal end would hit the sight window of her weapon which hardly dealt any damage—though in Raika’s case, her right hand felt numb which made her grunt.
“So, you took that, huh? Can’t say that I’m not impressed!” Mizuri praised as she was about to make her next move, but instead Raika let out a roar and pushed back Mizuri with her bow, causing her to stumble a little before regaining her stance.
“Ghh, she’s stronger than she looks?!” Mizuri was the most shocked from all this as Raika switched her weapons by putting back her bow into the inventory screen and bringing out another weapon—the dagger that Kudo gave to her for close combat. She made a reverse grip on the dagger, angling it as she put herself into a survival stance.
“W-What are you doing, Raika?!”
Using her full name himself, the two boys watched their partners suddenly launch at each other, Raika’s dagger and Mizuri’s bo staff clashing against each other which caused what felt small shockwaves passing through them.
Kuki was the most shocked from all this as he never saw Raika fight for herself, especially against a human opponent. However, he noticed that the area around him darkened, and he instantly looked up.
“Hello!” The giant teen responded as he brought down something heavy on top of Kuki. Kuki’s instincts from all his grinding took over and quickly jumped back.
The ground exploded from the force, a small dust cloud formed from the impact as Kuki landed safely on the other side, his heart racing from the near-death experience.
“W-What was that for?!” Kuki asked the giant teen, Tsuchi, who delivered the blow with his weapon.
It was a large two-handed hammer, black in design with a golden color on each end of the mallet. The long grip was held by two hands as he spun the heavy mallet around with ease before flinging it over his shoulders.
“Since Mizuri’s going wild, then I’ll do too! Sorry, buddy, but you’re just gonna have to bear with it!”
Giving a quick apology, Tsuchi grinned as he bent his knees into a stance, angling the hammer as he prepared himself to face Kuki.
Meanwhile, Kuki was barely able to understand what’s going on.
“H-Hah?!” He retorted, the entire situation becoming more chaotic than orderly.