Hour Empty Child
The sounds of metal boots resounded in the hall, and the galvanized orchestra of armor rang through it.
Though the sounds were unfamiliar to her ears, his voice, prolonged and filled with obnoxious tone, was the only thing that brought her memory to light. This was the only thing that she wished she didn’t have to see during her visit.
Hinota turned back, her lips pursing into a well-hidden frown as she faced her cousin.
It was a young male, a bit older than Hinota by age as he was over 20. His spiky hair with the color prominent of the Flamver family, a fiery red, swished side to side as he walked forward. His face was, in one way or another, attractive—chiseled jaw, sharp eyes, and a smile that could enrapture women of lower intelligence.
His armor, golden and crimson, covered his entire ripped body that fitted him to a T, with pauldrons, a cuirass, spaulders, and vambraces to boot. It made him terribly gaudy to the point of infecting Hinota’s eyesight with a disease known as the cringe.
He held a weapon, as gaudy as he is, that was as tall as him. It was a lance. Its sharp point that tapered down to a circular metal band, and the color was exactly the same as his armor—gold and scarlet red.
“Oh dear, oh my, it has been such a long time, my dear little princess, Hinota Flamver!”
His voice prolonged, as if he enjoys the very sound of it, reached to her, no, everyone’s ears inside the manor as he walked forward with a gait.
From the looks of things, he has been called back by their parents as well, and from the armor he still wearing, he must have come back recently from his adventuring.
During the ride, Hinota was wearing her usual black outfit, but her pants were long and leathery, wearing a black sleeveless T-shirt. She wore this simple getup since she won't be adventuring for a while.
“My, you look ever so pretty as usual~! Your eyes, on the other hand, remains ever so sharp and frightening,” Lariz flashed a grin, his white teeth shining with a small fang that protruded by the corner. “Well? Have you nothing to say to your cousin after he has returned from his long and harrowing journey?”
Lariz walked up to Hinota, her servants by her side as he looked down at her from his slightly tall height.
However, despite the difference in size, Hinota remains glaring at him—this would usually say that she was angry at him, but in truth, if she truly glared, it would look even more frightening, so this is just her usual but slightly annoyed glare.
“Master Lariz,” Lisa knew of her annoyance quite well and stepped in. “Lady Hinota has just come back from a harrowing journey as well. She is quite tired, and thus needs time to rest.”
“Hah? What are you talking about, wench?” Lariz responded with one brow raised. “What did dear little Hinota ever do to make her tired? Just because she became an adventurer doesn’t mean that she had it all that tough.”
Hinota could take the fact that he didn’t know what she went through, or how hard she worked, but she just couldn’t take the expression on his face as he says it all without a care in the world.
“And who in the world says that you can say anything about it? Why don’t you pipe down and do your job like you’re hired to do so?”
But what she couldn’t take at all was how Lariz talked down to Lisa, her caretaker, like she’s some lowly servant who’s not worthy of even treating equally to.
“…Lord Lariz, I implore you to hold back your tongue against Lisa. She is only thinking of me.”
Hinota, in all formality, bowed slightly at the frustrating warrior in front of her. Her bow showered the area around her with grace, enough to leave Maon and Lisa stunned.
“Oho, so little Hinota grew a bit of a backbone? That’s the first time you ever talked back to me in a while.”
However, to Lariz, it was just another attempt to tease her, but her stoic expression still showed.
“I guess you did a little something to get that brave, but in the end, you’re back here, where you belong. Women just don’t have what it takes to become adventurers.”
Hinota’s right brow twitched. His voice rang through her head enough to make her swell with anger, but she held it in as she raised her head.
“Well, after this, it doesn’t matter. For all I know, this meeting is about that accident that happened his Vipory,” Lariz raised his shoulders and shrugged as he recalled the cause of this.
“So a bunch of people died—I don’t see the reason why we need to gather together. I kill things all the time, and lower people die all the time too. It’s just the natural order.”
It was as if Lariz is pushing all of Hinota’s buttons on purpose, never knowing it was intentional or not. Hinota gritted her teeth behind closed lips, her facial expression still remained, but inside of her swelled a furious storm of rage.
He’s talking so loosely over the lives of dozens of people who had lived longer than he had, and possibly had families that were left behind back home. What’s even more unforgivable was that he talked down to Trun and Meiki Braven, Kudo’s parents who have passed away.
Despite her best to reign in her emotions, her right hand balled into a fist before she could control it, and she had a strong urge to clock him across his face and hoping that it would break a few teeth in return to stop him from speaking again.
And with her Strength stat, she could do that.
“Master Lariz, forgive my insolence, but you cannot speak like that to the people in Vipory.”
Hinota felt her anger evaporating from her fist as Lisa spoke up to correct him. Her fist lost its tension and uncurled her fingers as she listened.
“As a caretaker, I cannot let one of our Flamver members talk in such a shameful way. Those people who died were all farmers that worked in Peranim, and have harvested food that we still eat today. Their loss is grand to Peranim, and a major hit in the economy. Their lives are not to be taken lightly.”
Despite having been called out before by Lariz, Lisa withholds her ground, and even insisted on silencing Lariz with logic and reasoning.
Even if Lariz had difficulty with common sense, even he knew that he can’t beat Lisa when it comes to logical arguments. Hinota could see the frustration swelling up in his face when he clicked his tongue in a sharp tone.
“Hmph, what does it matter? It’s all the same anyways.”
With that, Lariz turned and headed back to the main entrance to leave the hall. As soon as he left, the negativity bottling up in everyone in the hall loosened and dissipated.
“Lady Hinota… I apologize. Even when you have just returned…”
“Don’t, Lisa,” Hinota turned and smiled to her loving caretaker, who felt guilty about having such a meeting so early as she returned. “That’s just who he is. Rather, I thank you for defending the farmers. You have my gratitude.”
Hinota’s smile, to Lisa’s eyes, showed a bit of sadness and at the same time, happiness from her words. Lisa could only smile back to such an expression. Maon let out a small breath, thanking Isabel that it didn’t turn nasty.
Once they were clear of any cousins around her, Hinota was led by Lisa, though she didn’t need any help to reach it, to the bath where she can cleanse herself of any grime and disgusting scent on her, particularly from talking with Lariz.
Led to the bath, Hinota entered into the spacious room where she shed off her clothing by taking off her T-shirt, shorts, and finally her underwear before being handed the towel by her caretaker, then, she headed off into the bath.
Inside the bath, though the Wurtzite wood walls were the same, the large square-shaped pool of warm water covered most of the room, the steam lingering in the air from the hot scalding water enough to make a grown man unable to continue bathing for even a moment.
The room was lighted up by the mana stone lamps which were expensive but easily purchased by the Flamver family. The scented candles that wafted within the steam-covered area easily punctured through the nose and skin on Hinota, who remained relaxed as this was her favorite time.
Hinota laid completely bare in the steaming water, drowning her body within its vastly relieving bath. Lisa was the only one standing aside as she smiled to see Hinota so pleased with the bath.
“Is it to your liking, Lady Hinota?” Lisa asked with a smile from seeing Hinota’s stoic expression relaxing beneath the soothing water.
“Yes, it is. As always, you know exactly what I need to relax. This heat is perfect.”
Hinota said with a smooth tone, her eyes closed as she wanted to let the water cleanse her of every filth she had on her, including the words of her cousin.
Feeling the water relieving her tensed muscles and the aggravation within her soul slowly dissipating, Hinota was now returning back to her usual calm self.
Lariz belittling Hinota has always been the norm. Ever since they were young, Lariz would spout off his mouth whenever he pleases, never caring about what others think about.
Though some say that it is a defining trait of his, to those who grew up with him, it was an arrogant take on his personality.
Hinota, when she was young, would often be ridiculed by Lariz whenever she would fail at a task, and would just laugh at her afterward.
Though truthfully, she didn’t care much for that one. However, there were a few moments where Lariz would even belittle on her dear sister, and that would make Hinota enraged and try to beat him up.
Before Lariz became an adventurer, Hinota would actually have the upper hand in a fight due to her advanced knowledge of martial arts. However, after he became an adventurer, Hinota stood no chance afterward due to the blessing he received, and was forced to keep in her anger.
Then the day came when Kasara would be forced to marry Lariz according to their parents’ wishes, to preserve the bloodline of the Flamver family.
That was the last straw for her.
It was because of that that Kasara had to leave Hinota.
Considering her circumstances, Hinota understood why she left only after she has grown up a bit and matured. And then she completely understood her sentiment of wanting to be an adventurer when she was handed down the order of marrying Lariz.
Hinota wanted to prove that she can be an adventurer, and that her bloodline does not need to be reinforced to live on. But her parents disliked the idea—enough to sabotage her in her first month by making her teacher, a veteran adventurer, teach her the wrong ways to hunt monsters.
Her physical abilities are top-notch, but when informed about hunting incorrectly, she has suffered being a target for the goblins at the Forest of Dek for an entire month, and was close to abandoning her career as an adventurer and be forced to marry to Lariz when she returned home.
As Hinota lowered her head enough for her mouth to be submerged, she let out a breath which in turn made bubbles burst out from the water.
“Troubles in your mind, Lady Hinota?” Lisa could easily tell by the look on her face that she was not pleased even when taking a bath.
Hinota raised herself out of the water, the sounds of water splashing filled their ears before she responded.
“I was just thinking about the past…”
“I’m sure it was due to Master Lariz’ Influence,” Lisa pursed her lips, her eyes looking away as if she didn’t want to repeat the name at all while Hinota was taking a bath.
“Lisa, it’s fine. I know that he’s always like that.”
“But to talk in such a way about the farmers… including Kudo’s parents.”
Lisa was well-informed by Maon on the situation that happened in Vipory, especially the situation about Kudo and his now late parents.
Hinota’s heart grew heavy when Trun and Meiki were mentioned again, her eyes slowly looked down at the reflection of herself in the water.
“I will speak to Lariz’ mother regarding his behavior. I’m sure that—”
“Lisa, we both know that won’t work,” Hinota interrupted, knowing what she was going to say. “Lariz’ mother is just too proud of him to accept the fact that he’s an arrogant douche. With his accomplishments, they’re willing to ignore everything he does inside and outside this manor as long as he brings in the money.”
Usually, the Flamver’s adventurers would go on quests and defeat monsters to bring jib for themselves, and especially for the family. With that, they can continue in the noble lineage and be looked up upon by the commoners in Erijo, and stay as the envy of nobles as well.
Hinota didn’t share anything to her family considering what they did to her, but Lariz was ever so generous with his money, not caring at all about using it for himself and just get equipment and items from the Flamver family instead.
“Lady Hinota, you have done enough just like him as you showed so much independence ever since you left. I’m sure that your mother and father are just as proud.”
“Heh… I wonder about that.”
Hinota smiled bitterly to herself that she didn’t think much about their response when they would see her again.
At most, she can already tell what the meeting will be about, and she knew that she was just wasting her time.
She could have used this time for something more important than meeting with the Flamver family. Much more important.
Such as being with Kudo.
However, she knew that Kudo would have wanted her to settle this with her family. Even if she was all alone within the family, she knew now what she has to do. By the time her parents come home, when the meeting goes underway, she will have to make a decision.
Hinota raised her hands out of the water, clutching them closed with a tight grip. The water dripped from her fair skin as her scowl became apparent on her face.
Lisa could only watch, seeing that Hinota has become quite determined as she furrowed her brows over her thoughts for the future.
Though her bathtime could have passed peacefully, Hinota did enjoy the bath that she had not used in such a long time.
The spaciousness was nice, but at the same time, she felt a little lonely. Though Lisa easily made her feel better, she would be glad if she had more people to talk to, like she would usually do whenever she would take a bath in one of the towns’ bathhouses, where other adventurer girls would share their stories on their journeys.
Though it was fine enough to hear about Lisa’s life while Hinota was away, even though all she has ever done was just doing her job, but it was pleasant regardless.
Once finished with her bath, within one of the many rooms of the manor, there was the fitting room near the bath where Lisa was at work adorning Hinota’s body with a red robe, a crimson kimono.
Though putting it on the robe was so easy that a child could do it, Hinota needed help on tying the kimono with a purple sash around her waist. Only an expert on kimonos like Lisa could tie it with such elegance that it leaves no discomfort whatsoever, leaving Hinota in pure bliss in her inner wear for the manor.
Once she was done, Hinota walked out of the fitting room to head to the main dining hall, where she would eat to her heart’s content as she became slightly famished from her journey.
She walked along the wooden hallway, her footsteps resounding softly along with another set of footsteps coming from Lisa who was tagging along behind her. A single loud sound of a bamboo stick hitting the solid rock could be heard from outside the garden. She was used to this as she grew up with that sound since she was a little girl.
She would sometimes pass by white-colored sliding doors for different rooms, and servants at some parts in her path would bow to her in respect when she walked along.
Hinota was used to this scenery very well as this was how she has always been doing before she left. Though some parts of her were glad to relive this moment again, another part of her felt that this was all unnecessary.
Perhaps it was because of her experiences in the outside world that have changed her to believe that all of this grandiose living was pointless. She began to wonder that her change of mindset was most likely due to Kudo’s influence to spend everything frugally.
Thinking about Kudo again somehow reforming her brought a smile on her lips, but then thinking about the situation that he was facing through now while she was being pampered like a spoiled rich kid caused her spirits to dwindle again.
It was very complicated whenever she would think about Kudo. Nevertheless, she has finally reached her destination.
She faced the white colored paper sliding doors and opened them by sliding them to the right, revealing the dining hall where she would eat her meals with her family members.
Lighted by the mana stone lamps, the hall had the distinct feel of being close to royalty where the hall was larger than the bath. A long table, fitted for royalty, was placed there which was also made out of Wurtzite wood, polished to the point of being able to see your reflection on it.
And, as usual, she would be alone in the hall along with Lisa. This is what normally happens in the dining hall where the Flamver family goes to eat—Hinota would usually eat by herself to feed her vast stomach as her parents would sometimes come in for a short meal every blue moon or so.
Hinota gave herself a sharp exhale of her nose as she figured that this is how it would turn out to be. She moved forward and lowered her butt to one of the open seats near the table.
Once she did, Lisa walked up to her and told her of the meals that will be served, and quickly left to the kitchen.
Sometime later, the food would arrive in droves by the kimono servants bringing in wheeled carts. A number of plates on those carts were equal to having a buffet for several people at once, but it was all to appease Hinota’s stomach.
These were the kind of meals that she was used to when she was living here. As a Flamver, the servants knew that feeding them would require a lot of food, as they had to burn a lot of calories for their heated bodies. They made it their sole mission to make sure that the food was delicious for the Flamvers to eat, and that they work right after engorging themselves to fuel them up.
Hinota sees the array of wonderful meals that were succulent to the eyes and the delicious scent that wafted to her nose. However, even as the meals spread out in front of her, she still revealed a stoic expression to her servants.
Only Lisa, who watched from the distance, know what is going on in her mind. As soon as the meals were done being placed on the table, she looked to her side on the table to see various empty plates of different sizes in front of her, with one bowl filled with red colored miso soup which its meaty scent also filled her nose.
And finally, she looked to her right side to see two pairs of long sticks called chopsticks that were the size of her hand placed side by side, each stick neatly together on top of a small napkin.
She took the one pair off a napkin tht were colored red, leaving the other pair that was colored brown to eat with on their own. She carefully placed her fingers around them, grabbing the two sticks to make a pincer-like action with them.
This is done only after practicing this for many years, as one who doesn’t use them frequently would find it difficult to even grasp it properly, rather than pick food with it.
Hinota reached out to the table and grabbed a grilled fish on one of the plates to place on one of her own empty plates in front of her. After grabbing enough food to her plates, she then placed the red chopsticks carefully down to the napkin, and grabbed the brown pair of chopsticks to eat the meals with.
It was then that Hinota was taken back to the past in her mind whereshe would usually eat her meals like this by herself, where she would eat delicious meals fit for a princess of her stature, all the while eating on her own and sometimes rarely with her parents.
As she was called back to her past as she ate her meals with elegance, she realizes that she has gone back to her manners of eating delicately, rather than eating furiously back at the Adventurer’s hall alongside with Kudo who would eat his small meals while reading his book.
She would recall the conversations they had about increasing their strength as adventurers, and what they needed to do for efficiency on their journey.
Even though they were talking seriously about their future, Hinota always found herself smiling ecstatically to hear Kudo’s plans for their future.
Before she knew it, the meals in front of her have already disappeared. She was remembering so much to the point of not realizing that she was close to finishing. As she ate the last bite of her last meal, she delicately placed her chopsticks down to the napkin, and then silently clasped her hands together in a form of a prayer.
“Thank you for the food,” Hinota said in respect for the chefs in the Flamver manor for her delicious meal.
Hinota quickly got up from her seat as Lisa came up to her to ask.
“…Is it already night time?” Hinota asked as she could see from the window above that the sky has turned to a cool dark color.
“Yes, it is already 9:00 pm.”
“Then, I will be going to sleep.”
Hinota said her next action as she really had nothing to do for the night. Even if she wanted to train a little, her body was just too tired, both physically and mentally, to even think about training.
She left the dining hall as the kimono servants moved ahead and picked up the empty plates. It was time to sleep, so she headed to where she would find solace out of all the rooms in the manor—her room.
On her way to her room, she would see her servants bowing in respect for her as usual as she walked through the hallway.
Eventually she came outside where the hall was connected to the garden where she would see a wonderful scenery of her garden before heading inside the manor to get back to the hallways.
Though the walls were ever the same, she remembered the position of her room more than anything else as she has slept there for all her life.
She slid open the white-colored sliding doors and saw her room once again after 6 whole months. It was a spacious room, enough to fit in a tea set in one corner of the room, some cabinets that were filled with pots that had very small trees growing from them, and more than anything, a collection of katanas hung on the walls that had three sheathed katanas in a triangular formation.
On the side of the room was where her bed was—though the bed itself is actually a mattress consisting of a pad of cotton on the floor called a futon. A square shaped pillow rests at the top of the futon, which is a specialty bed for most of the houses here in Erijo.
Seeing the futon once again after so long, Hinota felt the sense of nostalgia hit her once again. Her heart feels slightly at ease, but the worry was still lodged in her heart.
(Is Kudo sleeping properly…? Can he even go to bed?)
Hinota started to worry to the point of sounding like a mother who has left her child for the first time. They never had a decent sleep ever since the incident, so she never saw how Kudo acted when he got some sleep.
Perhaps he has gotten to feel better… or perhaps he wasn’t getting any sleep at all, and he might go into some kind of accident.
“Lady Hinota?” Lisa, who stood behind waiting for her to go to sleep, answered in concern after seeing Hinota’s gaze looking downwards.
“Ah,” Hinota was taken back to reality from Lisa’s abrupt call. “I’m fine. I’ll be taking my rest.”
“…Understood,” Lisa bowed in response, having no answer to give her at the moment. “If there is anything, please let me know.”
“Thank you, Lisa… I hope you have a good night.”
“I will tell you the same thing, Lady Hinota. Sweet dreams.”
Lisa smiled warmly at Hinota which she gave a smile back. Lisa bowed once more and turned around. She turned on her heel to close the sliding doors connecting to her room.
Hinota was left alone now, the breeze from the small open window which shows the beautiful garden outside rolled in again which made her fiery red hair swayed along.
It was tied up as soon as Hinota came out of the bath, but now it was time for her to untie it. She moved her hands behind her head and unfastened the tie hanging her hair, allowing her long hair to be released, falling to her upper back.
She lowered herself, putting the hair tie on the clean wooden floor near her futon for safekeeping. As she has done so, she lifted the covers of her futon and placed herself inside of them.
Hinota laid her head down on the soft pillow, her sleeping position as straight as it was before she left for her adventure, and turned her head slightly to the side to see the night sky from out the window.
Her purple eyes sparkled beneath the moonlight showering down onto her as her one thought before she closed her eyes to sleep was about Kudo that was left behind in Vipory, the one who has changed her so much during the past 6 months.
She wondered how he was doing once again as her mind drifted off to sleep.