Hour Empty Child
Kudo and Hinota stood against each other with their blades still at each other, forming a cross of blades. The winds blew on this unexpected reunion, the look of shock on their faces showed the irony in all this.
Their party members, who were looking at them expecting a fight between two of the most powerful adventurers, were left bewildered at this sudden standstill. Were they fighting each other in terms of mental fortitude? The tension around them only seem to increase even further.
Kuki and Raika looked at Kudo’s adversary in astonishment. It wasn’t just because of her seemingly intimidating expression, but just everything about her screamed ‘fiery beauty from a faraway land’. She wore a stylized medium armor, with a black colored shirt that fitted her busty chest and pants that accentuated her hipline.
Her arms were covered in several bands including black shoulder pads, with an leather armor on her torso and legs, she was prepared for anything. What made her overwhelm their thoughts was the incredible weapon she held—a curved one-handed sword, quite long and was a sparkling silver, which, upon closer inspection, radiated a faint red color similar to that of an aura emitted by an actual person.
The two continued with their long stare, the earlier hostile atmosphere slowly dissipating in time.
Kudo was the first to respond after a long stare, but what came after were watery eyes and an increasing smile, his hands literally shaking before they dropped down along with his weapon.
Replacing her stern expression and frightening intimidation was something unexpected—eyes gleaming from the tears shed, and a bright smile that encompassed every elated emotion she could bear.
Dropping both their weapons to the ground, the two charged in for a different reason—an overenthusiastic and well-deserved hug. It wasn’t something that they were used to, but they were so full of emotion, something like personal space stopped taking precedence.
“Hinota! I can’t believe that you’re here! It’s like a dream come true!”
Kudo expressed every unexpected emotion from his hug, including picking Hinota’s body up with his strength and, having no hesitation, twirled her body around, laughter filling the air as they spin.
“Kudo! You’re alright… thank goodness!”
Hinota didn’t mind at all, in fact, she was rather blissful as she held onto Kudo as if he’ll get lost again if she let go. She formed a smile that burned brighter than even her fiery expression from before.
“I thought I would never see you again, Hinota! I’m so happy, I can’t bear it! Who would have thought you would be here in Roprase!?”
“I should be asking you the same question! How in the world were you able to get here!?”
After their momentary explosion of joy, Kudo slowed down his twirling and put Hinota back on the ground, though, their arms never left each other’s side as the two looked at each other in surprise.
In the meanwhile, the party members were left aside as the two entered into a completely new world of their own. Tsuchi, Mizuri, Raika, and Kuki were left with glassy stares, and an incredible void being born in their stomachs after the hostile tendency becoming decimated by their reunion.
“H-Hey… what’s going on? Kudo’s hugging the enemy,” Kuki pointed at the girl and said this to Raika.
“I-I think that might be Kudo’s friend,” Raika was able to pick up the obvious notions.
“S-So that’s her friend? No way…” Mizuri uttered out in awe.
“Yes way, it’s happening now, Mizuri-chii…” Tsuchi was left with a disbelief expression, an awkward smile on his lips.
“Kudo, you have to tell me everything that happened! Don’t spare any detail,” Hinota began her interrogation. “How on Yarim did you managed to get here in Lerabelum?”
In one way or another, Kudo knew that with her connections, it wasn’t impossible for Hinota to get here in Lerabelum as the continent’s security protocol was beyond incredible. As such, for Kudo who came from a farmer’s home, this question came first.
Facing this question, Kudo was still too excited to think about the mood.
“Well, the bottom line is, I got kidnapped by my biological mother and taken against my will!”
This sudden answer left not only Hinota, but the rest of the party members in shock. Kudo just brushed the back of his head with a silly smile as if there was nothing wrong with anything he said.
“K-Kidnapped, you say…? How is that—?”
“Forget about me!” Kudo intercepted, surprising Hinota by closing his face towards her. “What happened with your family? How are you here? Please tell me everything!”
“Ah that’s…” The grim topic just now was easily replaced by Kudo’s question, causing Hinota to also become overly excited the same way.
“The thing is, I cut ties with my family! Basically, I disowned myself!”
Kudo was left by surprise, and except for Mizuri and Tsuchi, Kuki and Raika showed a look of shock.
“H-How is that… but Hinota, how did you get here then?” Kudo asked with a burning curiosity deep within his belly.
“Lord Grandfather gave me a ticket to go to Lerabelum—he even gave me something called a Growth Upgrader to enhance my status. It’s such an incredible item!”
“B-But is it really okay for him to do that? I thought you were disowned.”
“I am, but Lord Grandfather gave it to me anyways. He believed that in order for me to get stronger, getting into Lerabelum is the best path to be in. It’s all thanks to him that I’m even here!
Hinota showed a bright smile that seemed to enrapture Kudo’s heart with brimming happiness.
“Is that so… your Lord Grandfather ‘s such a great guy!” Kudo praised from the bottom of his heart that there was somebody looking out for her.
“If I had known that you were here, I wouldn’t have felt so bad leaving Peranim…”
For a moment, Hinota lowered her gaze, becoming jubilant from this chance encounter. But then, a sinking feeling passed through her.
“…Kudo, even then, I want to apologize,” Hinota locked eyes with Kudo. “I… I came to Lerabelum and I thought I was leaving you behind… I wanted to become strong, and I knew that staying in Peranim wouldn’t change much…”
Seeing her apologizing, Kudo realized that she felt the same way he did. After getting kidnapped, he thought that this would be the last time he’ll ever see Hinota again. The thought of betraying her by going to another continent became heavy on his heart, and it looked like it was the same for her.
A wave of felicity overtook him from the concern she showed.
“Hinota, don’t worry about it,” Kudo answered, a smile forming on his expression. “I did the same, too. Instead of getting back, I stayed here since I thought I could get stronger here as well. We’re both the same.”
Hinota widened her eyes after hearing his kind words, then slowly, a smile rose from her lips.
“Thank goodness…” Her chest becoming lighter now, Hinota decided to change the heavy topic. “By the way, are these your friends?”
Hinota directed her attention to the group behind Kudo, expecting that they were his comrades. The moment she showed her sharp-looking eyes on them, the two shivered to their bones after being subjected to her glare, straightening themselves up.
“That’s right! I forgot for a moment,” Kudo realized instantly and looked behind. “These two are my party members. He’s Kuki Windrow, and she’s Raika Eledad. The three of us make up the party StormPlus,” Kudo pointed at the shivering party members as Hinota nodded her head.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” Hinota displayed her graceful manner. “My name is Hinota Flamver. I’m sure that being with Kudo must have been troubling, but I thank you for taking care of him.”
Hinota spoke so different than usual that it threw the duo into disarray. How could they respond to such a polite manner from a girl who showed off her noble demeanor?
“Hey! I’m not that bad!” Kudo intercepted after hearing himself being insulted already. “And… who are the two behind you?”
Kudo pointed at the two behind Hinota now, the two flinched for a moment after being called out so quickly.
“Oh, these are my own party members. The big one’s Tsuchi Eartherin, and the girl’s Mizuri Seaser. We all formed the party called EarthFire.”
Looking back at the two and introducing them, Hinota sees Kudo hesitating for a moment before finally answering. Hinota knew instantly that Kudo was still not used to meeting new people so soon.
“It’s good to meet you two,” Kudo answered with forced clarity. “My name’s Kudo Braven. Thank you so much for taking care of Hinota! I’m sure that it must have been awful making sure that she’s maintained well…”
Kudo formed a wry expression as Tsuchi and Mizuri were left too stunned to even answer his greeting. That was mostly because Hinota was shooting him a deadly glare from her side.
“You don’t have to say that!”
“What?” Kudo joked. “When I think about the food costs they had to pay for you, I can’t help but feel so bad for them.”
“Mmh, it’s a necessary sacrifice.”
“Wow, you’re admitting it…”
Hinota answered after huffing and looking away, folding her arms as she knew that it was inevitable. Kudo’s sweat rolled down his temple after seeing that Hinota didn’t change after these 3 months.
“Hinota…” Kudo answered, a smile now replacing his joking face. “I’m really glad that you’re here.”
Hinota looked back, now curling her lips into a smile as well.
“Yeah,” Hinota nodded. “From now on, I won’t ever leave your side.”
Hearing her declaration that resonated from her heart, Kudo’s chest swelled with emotion, knowing that this time Hinota is going to keep her promise or die trying.
However, the next feeling they felt cut their happy reunion short.
They were faint, but with Kudo’s and Hinota’s trained ears, they heard several footsteps closing in on them, scratching the ground. Their eyes sharpened as the two quickly turned back around, their backs facing each other while looking out on each side.
Kuki screeched after feeling the atmosphere around the two change. As he looked around to see what caused this commotion, Raika tugged on his sleeve. Seeing her, he noticed that her furry ears twitched as she pointed at the corners of the house they were nearby.
“K-Kui… they’re here!”
Upon hearing Raika’s stuttering of her words, the four party members grew their tension as they put on their stances to see several creatures coming out of hiding.
Snarling, scratching the ground, and possibly rumbling hunger from their bellies, the Helis came out of their hiding spot in droves from the corners of the structures, all had their beady eyes and drooling jaws aiming right at the adventurers.
“T-They’re a lot more of them than before!” Raika’s earlier courage suddenly vanished as her legs returned to their usual shaking, holding onto her bow while backing away from the incoming Helis encircling them.
“Rai, don’t fall back!” Kuki shouted to Raika to raise her spirit, but even he didn’t show much of it as his own legs shook like hers.
“Now they show up of all times? So unlucky…” Tsuchi cursed, feeling his body ache from the earlier shooting as he raised his hammer and pointed it at them.
“Damn bastards… why didn’t you show up before when I at 100%!?” Mizuri growled, her body still stinging from the cuts Raika delivered to her as she twirled her bo staff over her head and finally, directed its point right at the group.
The four party members were in no state to fight the increasing numbers of Helis around them. Even if they took a break and drank a potion, it’s not like the Helis would just let them. They could attack at any moment, and nothing’s worse than getting attacked while drinking a potion—especially when surrounded by the dozens.
However, in front of such adversity, practically clinging onto the edge of the cliff from the surrounding foes, the smiles of the leaders never gave way.
“Kudo,” Hinota began a light conversation. “Tell me honestly, were you the one hunting the most helis here?”
Though it was supposed to be just banter, there was a slight irritation in her tone, as if he has done her wrong already.
Kudo held a grin, “Could it be that you were hunting the same monsters?” He said as he brandished his bastard sword at the incoming helis.
“Yeah, we were,” Hinota’s blade reflected the harsh sunlight onto the helis. “The truth is, when we were here, we didn’t have a chance to hunt at all. We were quite unlucky. So that’s why we couldn’t hunt anything—your luck was getting them all!”
Apparently, Hinota was in a bad mood all day which explained the other two’s hostility—it was mostly because throughout the day they were here, they were not able to get enough monsters to hunt. Most of the monsters were defeated by Kudo and his party mostly because of Kudo’s high luck of getting the spots where the most monsters were.
“Well,” Kudo chuckled. “Now that we’re together, you can have all the helis you want. Go wild.”
“Yeah,” Hinota flashed a wild grin. “I will!”
As soon as the Helis were about to charge in and begin their devouring, Hinota, quickly turning her katana, kick the ground which made it explode into a huge dust cloud in her wake.
It was just an instant, but she has already broke through the helis’ encirclement. The Helis couldn’t even be able to perceive what just happened. But in the next second, flashes of crescents lights flew all over the place, and what came after was a shower of blood that drenched the barren ground as multiple parts gave way and fell to the ground.
“Three at once?!”
Raika and Kuki were left agape from this sudden turnabout. Such a slim girl with one single blade, and in just a second decimated three Helis at once. Even Raika and Kuki’s speed could not match up to hers despite that they were trained in their [DEX] stat.
Hinota did not even have a scratch on her, her blade dripped in blood before she flicked it aside with a single motion with ease. The wind that was ignored before now blew on her as soon as she finished, her fiery ponytail flowed in the wind as the sunlight reflected off her katana moving towards her purple eyes that were burning with killing intent.
“Yeah, that’s how you do it, Hinota-chii!”
“You got this, Hino!”
Her party members, Tsuchi and Mizuri, cheered from the sidelines, both hollering from seeing their leader’s fighting up close once more. Even if they were her party members, they would get excited whenever she gets to fight as her skills were second to none.
However, being close to enemy lines, the surviving Helis turned back and faced their greatest threat imaginable. Widening their driveling jaws, not minding their own possible demise, they charged in headfirst to their slippery foe.
Hinota did not move even a single inch. As the Helis were moving in ever closer to her person, they soon found themselves pierced by a single long partisan. Three of the attacking Helis were stopped midway and were skewered, lifted up from the ground by the very adventurer they ignored.
“Hyaah!” Kudo cried out before he threw them down with abandon, releasing them from their unpleasant demise as blood splattered about in the air.
“W-Whoa…” Mizuri was left wide-eyed and a slack jaw.
“D-Damn…” Tsuchi showed the same, holding onto his bandanna-covered head.
“Yeah, do it, Boss!” Kuki shouted while raising his fist.
“Kudo, that’s so cool!” Raika cheered as she cupped her hands to make her shout louder.
Now, it was his own party’s turn to give out praise and look in awe at their leader’s battle style. They were used to this, but it’s not usual to see him use different weapons other than his bastard sword.
Kudo spun his partisan around with ease, his muscles aching to slash another monster as he pointed it at the other Helis around them.
“Hinota,” Kudo said while facing away from her. “You got really strong. I could tell in an instant.”
Kudo praised, a smile on his lips and feeling happy that his best friend improved.
“I’ll say the same to you,” Hinota responded. “It looks like you weren’t just doing nothing but reading books all this time.”
“That’s mean, Hinota!”
Despite feeling upset about it, he knew that it was just her way of being affectionate to him. Standing back to back against each other, the two brandished their weapons at the Helis who were now surrounding them instead of the others. They have done their jobs of taking the bait in order to let their comrades rest up and heal.
Only one realized this out of the four, one being Mizuri whose [INT] stat was fairly high.
“Hinota,” Kudo formed a wild half-smile. “It’s been long since we fought together like this. Let’s do this just like the old times.”
“Mmh,” Hinota nodded. “Couldn’t agree with you more there, Kudo.”
Giving each other one good look before facing back, the two then dashed off, both speeding up faster than the Helis’ eyes can capture.
Afterwards, the other four watched as if they were seeing an action movie from TV. As though they were actors, Kudo and Hinota sliced, dismantled, and pierced every Heli in such a synchronized form like it was part of a script, despite the fact that the two have separated from each other until just now.
Hinota sliced off several heads off in one single horizontal strike, then when one of the Heli from behind the corpses charged in to bite her, Hinota cleverly jumped backwards—using Kudo’s back as a foothold for her back before she turned and faced the other way. Kudo, during this process, swung his bastard sword in a vertical notion and sliced up the attacking Heli on Hinota’s former side with a powerful swing. Then, Hinota faced the other three Helis on Kudo’s former side with another slash.
Just like this, the two continued to bring about destruction and chaos to the Helis just by using each other in ways to move around the battlefield smoothly without even an order or even a look. Hinota uses her fire skills to burn the Helis to death while Kudo continuously switches his weapons around from bastard sword, to partisan, to a dual-bladed dagger and sword. It was as if the two were reading each other’s minds as they continued to fight off the Helis.
A couple of minutes after the battle started, the ground became covered in the red carmine liquid, body parts were strewn about as if they were decorations to the lovely shade of red that the ground has become. In the middle of such travesty for the Helis were their executioners, both breathing haggardly and flicking away the blood from their weapons now that the battle has ended.
“It sure is nostalgic,” Hinota commented. “You having my back like this while we battle.”
She was still excited, her blood still pumping with adrenaline as her torso heaved heavy breaths. Using her hand to wipe away the blood—not her own—from her regal face, she flashed a smile that seemed to fit her bloody attire all the more.
“Haha, I feel the same way,” Kudo was also quite bloody, but his smile still seemed so gentle after being near Hinota’s side this time.
Watching this from afar, the party members were left in awe. Seeing such a magnificent fight for themselves, they knew now that the two have shared dozens of battles together, and their friendship clearly shows. In fact, they felt as if they shouldn’t get in their way.
Seeing them fight like this, it was hard to believe that the two did not see each other after a long time. They fought with such precision with each other’s attacks that it seemed as though they have never separated to begin with.
“They killed off so many by themselves…”
Tsuchi and Mizuri commented, their eyes showing a glimmer of awe at their leader.
“S-So this is Kudo and Hinota… amazing.”
“Yeah, these two are practically one person…”
Kuki and Raika made their own comments, both sharing awe-struck look on their faces.
They saw their leaders looking back, smiling at each other after being gone from each other’s sight for so long. This image seemed to burn itself into their minds—the look of two of the most powerful adventurers that they have ever seen.