Hour Empty Child
Getting back together once again, the two decided to head back into town—of course, they’re going back together. There was a small matter, however, that made it difficult to continue onwards…
“Hey, what are we gonna do about returning to our town and finishing the quest?”
Tsuchi scratched his bandanna-covered head when he asked this question.
“That’s right,” Mizuri realized, pounding her palm with her fist. “We can’t just go somewhere and leave it behind, right?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Hinota assured. “The Hub connects the quests no matter which town, right? So it shouldn’t matter where we go to finish the quest.”
“Ah, that’s true…” Tsuchi quickly remembered such a useful function of the Hub’s features.
“Though, I still have no idea how those things work,” Hinota lamented as she gave a short sigh. “I have a hard time touching that stupid screen…”
“Right?” Kudo quickly intercepted. “It’s so confusing sometimes. I still have no idea on what my phone does.”
Kudo and Hinota shared a sense of comradery after realizing that they were clueless on technology. However, what he said got her attention.
“So you have one too? A phone?”
Hinota raised the question which caught Kudo’s interest.
“Then, that means you got one as well?”
“Right,” Hinota admitted, putting her hand into her pocket and pulled out a similar looking rectangle shaped machine out of it. It was sleek and crimson in color, and it was the same brand as Kudo’s from the way it is shaped.
“These are important for us since we can talk to each other without relying on our Growth Crystals. This can even look up for information as well!”
“Oh, I heard of that! That’s called the ‘internet’, right?” I still have no clue on how that works…”
“Hehe, you gotta have a good track of mind if you’re gonna have to get used to living here, Kudo.”
Hinota chuckled, showing off her prowess and haughtiness as usual. Though hearing her haughtiness straight from his best friend himself made his chest swell with emotion.
It was a strange feeling. He couldn’t explain this sort of joy into words. He knew that he enjoyed every minute of it, though.
Meanwhile, as the two were eloquently taking their time talking to one another, the clearly left-behind members gazed upon them and listened to their conversation as they had nothing to do to pass the time as they walked back.
“It’s kind of weird to hear them talk about the simple stuff of the phone…” Tsuchi commented with a small smile. “It really shows that they’re pretty simple country folk.
“That’s what makes Hino shine,” Mizuri praised Hinota’s lack of knowledge. “It makes her even more charming!”
“Can’t disagree to that,” Tsuchi unhesitatingly agreed.
“We even showed Kudo that we can do a video chat. It really surprised him,” Raika added in as she remembers the day before their quest which she believed what rather cute of him.
“Hehe, it was hilarious to see his reaction. He was totally shocked,” Kuki snickered, a smirk on his face.
The four were now enjoying their own conversation, becoming embroiled on the topics that concerned their leaders. However, something caught their ears when Hinota asked a simple question:
“Hey, Kudo, since you got a phone, let me have your number.”
She asked with no hidden motive behind her words, however, the way she asked made the other four listen intently to Kudo’s answer.
“Oh, that’s a great idea!” His tone clearly showed his excitement as he pulled out his phone without delay, showing it to Hinota.
“Oh, that phone looks the same as mine.”
“Ah, really? Oh yeah… you’re right.”
Noticing the same shape, Kudo and Hinota moved their phones near each other.
“Now, to add the number…” Kudo fiddled around with his phone.
“It goes like this, Kudo… I think.”
Hearing that slight hesitation, Kudo chuckled as the two struggled slightly to get each other’s phone number.
The other four members could clearly help them out on that by simply telling them to use the infrared feature which immediately copy’s the person’s phone number to their phone, but they didn’t.
Why? Because they were just too adorable to intervene.
“T-They look so cute together…!” Raika whispered to herself, her hands grasping each other as she looked on with a slight twinkle in her eyes. It looked like as if the two of them together made a picture similar to cute animals fiddling with machines.
“Alright! I got it! To think we can both have our numbers at the same time… I thought we had to copy down the number one by one.”
“Mmh,” Hinota nodded. “I figured that this ‘infrared’ would work. Though, it’s still kinda confusing…”
Hinota looked down at her phone in her hand, seeing Kudo’s name and number on her list. A smile formed on her lips as she placed the phone into her pocket.
It was then that—Hrrrrgh... —A strange sound erupted from someone. The five adventurers looked to see the one who made the noise, turning out to be Hinota with her eyes widened, her cheeks blushing into a rosy color.
“…My apologies. I haven’t eaten much this morning,” Hinota quickly apologize for her rude hunger, holding her belly with her hands as she tried to quiet down her rampaging stomach.
“W-What?!” But Hinota-chii, you already ate more than 3 meals for breakfast!”
“T-Three meals?!” Kuki became shocked from Tsuchi’s retelling of their morning.
“Eh? Only three meals? That’s so little. Hinota, did anything happen?”
However, Kudo was not surprised by this at all, and was instead concerned as Tsuchi and Mizuri were left with gaping mouths.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Hinota answered. “It’s just that we were in a hurry to get a ride here, and we didn’t have time to eat breakfast much. I didn’t want to keep everyone behind just because I needed more food…”
Hinota felt her energy being drained from her body due to the massive rumbling of her stomach, something that which created the sounds resembling that of a vicious beast ready to devour anything.
“N-No way… she can eat this much and can still get hungry?” Kuki spoke in disbelief, but then he remembered that Kudo said something about his friend having a large appetite. However, this was too much for him to believe.
“Well, it won’t take long for Chui to get here,” Kudo mentioned, but he put on a concerned look for his best friend who looked like she was about to keel over. “But maybe we should take the time to eat something for now.”
“Ah, sorry for the trouble…” Hinota apologized again, holding her belly with a distraught look on her regal expression.
“We got some ingredients in case something like this happens,” Kudo looked back to his party members. “Then, Raika, can I leave it to you?”
Looking back with a smile, Raika flinched as all eyes were on her. However, in this particular order, Raika responded with a bright smile and a determined look on her face.
“L-Leave it to me!”
For their meal, the party set up a small circular border around themselves made out of excess wood from their bags. It wasn’t difficult to make as one can just easily dig down the wooden board into the ground with enough force into it. This is so that it could protect them from any external struggles with nearby monsters. The border themselves doesn’t make much defense, but once enchanted with Hinota’s incredible VIT stat increase, the durability of the boards rivals that of ramparts from castles.
Within the middle of it, a succulent scent wafted in the air, thumps rang out a few times from a sharp knife hitting the small wooden board, slicing the target which were the carrots that she was fond of (not as a bunny girl—she just like carrots). Now that the carrots were perfectly chopped into small round bits, they were picked up by her delicate and precise hands and fell into a bowl with the other chopped vegetables.
Near her on the table set up for her work, there was a small appliance used for her specific skills: The Portable Burner. The Portable Burner is almost exactly like the Portable Furnace—It is used to create a small fire which heats up the contents if something was placed on its metal rings which underneath the rings was the fire. The Portable burner works just like the furnace, except that it’s powered by the mana and can be left on or off even as the cook is away doing something else. The power given by the user is left behind on the burner for it to burn until it runs out of power.
On that burner, there was a small metal pot being heated up by the small flame on the bottom, the stew inside the pot at boiling point as it heated the meat within it. The smell that most resonated with their taste buds comes from within the pot itself.
“Mmh… it smells so good…” Hinota cooed with her eyes closed, a pleasant smile with a small stream of drool over her chin before she wipes it to avoid looking like a glutton which served no purpose for Kudo who was used to it.
“The food is almost ready~” Raika rang out, a bright smile that spoke volumes of her maternal side. “Please wait for just a little longer!”
Her voice rang out in such a way that was so pleasing to the party members’ ears that it felt similar to their loved ones creating meals for them to eat back home.
Raika has an incredible talent for cooking, and it’s not only because she has the Crafting Skill, Cooking. All her life, she enjoyed cooking more than anything. Other than her talent of shooting a bow, within her family’s house, she’s in charge of cooking her family’s meals. That is to say, when she got the Cooking Skill, it was already at such a high level than any other adventurer chef who has received their skill for the first time.
As she prepared the dishes, she constantly checks the boiling pot with her watchful eyes.
“Rai has always been a good cook,” Kuki praised as if he was doing it himself. “Whether it’s a small snack or a full course meal, she can do anything!”
“K-Kui,” Raika’s cheeks were colored red from embarrassment instead of the heat from her private kitchen, yet her eyes were still loyally on the process of her cooking. “Don’t say stuff like that! It’s so embarrassing.”
“Kuki’s right,” Kudo exclaimed afterwards. “Raika always makes such delicious food. It’s equal to what the chefs make back where I live. Forget the skill, she has an amazing talent for it!”
“K-Kudo, you’re praising me too much…” While still doing her best to cook, her face has already gone hotter than the pot itself.
“Amazing, so her feminity is this far high up. You really are the epitome of girly girls, Rai!” Mizuri made her own comment, her eyes sparkling as if star-struck.
“M-Mizuri, please…” Raika’s face could not handle any more heat flowing to her cheeks.
“I can’t wait to eat it! I’m starving so much, I could eat a heli!”
Tsuchi kept rubbing his stomach, now getting more hungry thanks to the succulent scents of the meat and boiled vegetables in the air.
“Ah, I’m glad then,” Raika managed to become clear of her emotions as she responded. “We’re having Heli’s meat for lunch!”
Tsuchi’s face was left blank from hearing an ironic turn of events.
Surprising every one of the menu, the meal was served eloquently by none other than Raika herself. Priding herself on her meals, she handed them personally, her gleaming smile showing everyone how hard she worked on this.
Though, Tsuchi and Mizuri were reserved on eating a meal made by a monster. However, when they saw the plates handed out, what’s on it made them forget their troubles.
For Mizuri, a roast rack of Heli meat with wild garlic stuffing in it. For Tsuchi, a smoky sausage casserole.
Kuki had Heli meat on potato mash. For Kudo, a BBQ pulled Heli meat sandwich. For Raika herself, Heli meat with seat and sour onion sauce over it.
Finally, for Hinota, as requested, it was all of the above.
“Whoa!” seeing their meals for themselves, Tsuchi and Mizuri apologized in their minds for their lack of trust.
The smell wafted from the meals into their noses and eventually to their tongues, leaving them salivating from the mouth without even taking a bite. They felt that the scent alone would be enough for their stomachs to be at ease, but of course, they wouldn’t stop there.
Taking their utensils that were packed away in their Magic Bags, each of the party members dined on the meals with haste.
And all of them squealed in delight.
“So good!” Mizuri shouted at the top of her lungs, her eyes tearing up from the explosion of meaty and pungent flavors mixing together into a perfect harmony of taste.
“Oh my gods, I regret dreading to eat this!” Tsuchi’s casserole with smoked sausage forced his tongue to shiver in delight after tasting the texture of the crisp and smoked vegetables.
Needless to say, it was delicious.
“I can’t believe how good this is! Rai, you’re so talented!” Mizuri praised as the taste has not left her mouth as she took another bite.
“T-Thank goodness that everyone likes it…”
Raika, despite her big confidence in her cooking, heaved a small sigh after seeing that everything went well. She always gets nervous when someone new eats her cooking, but seeing their ecstatic faces, a gleaming smile took place afterward.
Shocking everyone, the one who first shouted was Hinota, and already, she has gathered empty plates at her disposal on her lap, each one completely clean with a few smudges of sauce left over.
“I-Incredible…” Raika was left in shock after knowing that all her meals were just devoured in an instant. Kuki was left with a face of disbelief even after seeing the evidence for himself.
However, instead of faltering, something sparked within Raika’s chest, causing her to grab hold of her right arm, her fist in the air as she exclaimed:
“U-Understood! P-Please wait just a moment!”
Hearing her exclamation to fill up that vastly endless void Hinota calls a stomach, she immediately got back to the table where she relied on her portable burner.
“It looked like it got Rai pumped up…” Kuki saw the determined look in her eyes and wryly smiled as he finished his plate.
Their plates empty, Hinota made one final sigh, her nearly endless stomach appeased from her meals. It left behind an exhausted, but satisfied Raika as she heaved heavy breaths in pride over being able to satisfy Hinota to the point of receiving praise from Kudo specifically.
“Nice Job, Raika!” Kudo spoke in high regards to the bended-knee Raika, lifting his hand and caressing the top of her head in-between her furry ears. Doing so made Raika’s face lit up in high spirits, her ears twitching up and down in contentment.
Whenever Raika does a good job, Kudo habitually pets her head. While for some others, doing this to a beastman might assume that it has been reduced to that of pet status, but Raika enjoyed it fully and couldn’t wait to receive Kudo’s gentle and comfortable petting he gives to those who work hard.
This made even Hinota glanced it from the corner of her eye, slightly showing a miffed expression.
As if on cue, once they were done cleaning up the plates for their next use, they hear the sounds of the engine running from a distance, and when they looked at the one causing it, they saw a driving black-sleek Ame making haste and leaving nothing but dirt dust in its wake.
It was literally blazing through the ground at such high speed that it left the others in fear to see what might happens next.
The Ame drew closer, each of them flinching in response to it coming forward so fast. The Ame finally stopped by unleashing its brakes, skidding the ground as the wheels squealed like a roar from a monster, the entire Ame spun around in a half circle before immediately put in place at the side, right where the doors to the Ame face themselves in front of the party.
The dust quickly followed suit and shifted towards to the adventurers who were left too stunned to even react to that. The door quickly opens in a hurry, revealing the exasperated Chui jumping out of the car huffing and puffing.
“M-M-Master Kudo! I-I apologize for being late! Please forgive me~” Her voice elongated at the end as she asked for forgiveness with tears welling up in her eyes, a look of frustration and anxiety filled her face.
“W-What happened, Chui?” Kudo asked after seeing such a state from a professional maid.
“I-I got caught up in a lot of traffic within the city~! Dozens of journalists and paparazzi thought that I had Master Hikari on board, so they stopped me multiple times to talk to her. It was such a pain~!”
Expressing her deep annoyance, Chui’s arms flew about in quick succession as she told her story, leaving an understanding Kudo to scratch his head awkwardly as he listened.
However, hearing those words, the EarthFire members were left with a large impact.
“D-Did she just says Hikari?” Tsuchi whispered to his partner Mizuri.
“T-There’s no way, right?” Mizuri asked herself, however, there was no answer.
(Master Kudo…?” Hinota noticed the sudden call of Kudo’s name, widening her eyes as she also notices that the girl was wearing an expensive maid’s costume. “K-Kudo, who’s this?”
“Ah, this is Chui, our driver.”
Kudo turned and said in a matter that seemed obvious, but it left Hinota with more questions than an answer.
“Master, could these people be…?” After finally relaxing from her struggles, Chui noticed the three extra members which left Kudo to nod.
“Right,” Kudo answered. “I’m bringing them back with me. Is that okay?”
“Of course, Master!” Chui agreed without hesitation. “I’m so happy that you get to have more friends than before. This is such a joyous day indeed! Minus the inconvenience before…”
Clasping her hands and ignoring the annoyance from before, Chui expressed a joyful smile. Kudo made the others in his party move into the Ame, though some expressed their difficulty in doing so as Chui moved to the driver’s seat and once again set off into the road towards the capital city.
Inside the Ame, where they saw the terrain of the rough land where they just were into a luscious scenery of nature as they head towards Triun, it provided such smooth driving that the EarthFire members were left in a daze of sereneness from the comfort of the soft chairs.
Of course, the four members left Kudo and Hinota by themselves to sit by each other, despite that they were never even asked to do so, but Kudo and Hinota never said anything about it since it was what they wanted to do anyway.
Kuki and Raika were left in their seats as they saw Tsuchi and Mizuri sat by the windows becoming excited from their venture in such a fancy Ame.
“Kudo, this is…” Hinota started off with a bit of a stupor from receiving news of Kudo having his own personal driver.
Kudo knew exactly what she meant without her saying it, and responded: “Ah, yeah, the driver thing, right?”
“Y-Yeah,” Hinota slowly nodded. “I mean, how on earth did this happen? Did you finally get rid of your stingy ways and got yourself a driver? I mean, it’s nice that you finally bought something luxurious, but isn’t this a bit over the top?”
“A-Ah, it’s not that! There’s no way I would pay someone to drive me if I could do it myself!” Kudo defended his cheap farmer’s mindset, pounding his chest as if it was something to be proud of.
“I figured,” Hinota slightly chuckled before resuming. “Then, how did this happen?”
“Ah, well… the thing is…” Kudo rubbed the back of his head as he tried to find the words. “The driver works for my mother, who gave me a place to stay in Triun.”
Once Kudo said that, both Tsuchi and Mizuri flinched as if a jolt ran through them and turned their head around, ignoring the window behind them and the view outside.
“H-Hey, Kudo-chii,” Tsuchi created his naming suffix for Kudo. “W-When you say that, does that mean that your mother is…”
“T-There’s no way, right?” Mizuri once again denied the reality. “I mean, sure, you got the look and everything, but… you couldn’t possibly be…?” Mizuri looked in shocked at Kudo, noticing his azure hair and jade-colored eyes.
Kudo’s face faintly blushed, scratching his cheek as Hinota watched in awe.
“Y-Yeah,” Kudo admitted. “You guessed it—My mother is Hikari Valkyria.”
It was then that the atmosphere in the Ame became deathly quiet. The expressions on Mizuri and Tsuchi’s faces were agape in shock. Hinota’s expression was left with a widened look while Raika and Kuki nodded vigorously, their arms folded together as if they understand their surprise.
“Yep, that’s how we felt the first time,” Kuki commented as he and Raika continued to nod in understanding.