Hour Empty Child
In her vision, she sees a young boy, perhaps her age, kneeling on the ground. She could only see his back, not knowing who could it be, but she had an inkling.
The boy was shrouded in darkness, but his physique made clear that he was male. His kneeling posture brought Hinota to close up to him by walking forward.
Two people, covered by a blanket colored white as snow, contrasting the darkness around her. Their condition was unknown, but the blanket covering them is a universal language for death.
The boy’s shoulders shook violently, sharp gasps reached her ears. It was then that she felt something change in the air.
A heavy atmosphere rained down upon her very body, the weight was becoming unbearable. Her sharp eyes looked forward to see the boy shrouded in darkness suddenly trembling.
The boy slowly stood up on his feet, his image becoming clearer. It was Kudo—she knew instantly who it was by the look of his azure hair. But something was different.
The moment the boy turned, she knew instantly what it was. His eyes were no longer his, but instead came a frightening pair of white eyes with small sharp irises made entirely out of ebony.
The very air around them trembled, the young boy’s presence was becoming hard to bear. It was then that the boy lunged at her—his mouth opening to transform into a ravenous beast with sharp fangs that swallowed her whole.
Her scream was the only thing that was heard before suddenly being engulfed in his darkness.
“Aaah!” Hinota screamed in terror, raising herself out of her futon with sweat streaming down her face.
The window beside her was shining brightly—it was morning daylight. The sun’s rays shined down on the window, the beautiful hum of birds singing flew about in the air, but the inside of the room was completely different.
Hinota’s shoulders heaved every so often, trying to catch her breath from the horrendous nightmare she has endured. But she knew that it wasn’t supposed to be this way.
She dreamt of Kudo, but it turned out to be a nightmare—because he changed into someone entirely different.
She could sense it. Kudo was no longer himself. He was not the same caring and gentle boy that she has come to know and love.
He was… different. More on edge than usual. And, even worse, he was frightening.
Hinota shook her head violently. She wanted to dispel those kinds of thoughts immediately. She knew more than anybody that Kudo would never turn out that way, yet she dreamt it just now.
Even if it was just a dream, it felt frighteningly real…
Her shoulders jumped to her cheeks the moment her name was spoken, making her turn her head to face Lisa who came in with a worried look on her face.
“Is there something wrong? Did you have a bad dream?”
Lisa spoke gently after closing the sliding doors connecting to her room. It was as if she was speaking to a panicking child, but in this case, Hinota was that panicking child.
Realizing that her pointless concerns were worrying her dear caretaker, she shook her head more firmly this time.
“N-No, it’s nothing… it’s just a silly nightmare.”
“Lady Hinota…” Hearing that, Lisa’s brows relaxed, and knelt down to lay a hand on Hinota’s shoulder. “Would you like to talk about it?”
Lisa said this carefully, in order not to make a strong reaction from Hinota. Hinota knew that she asked so that she could let out her feelings from it, from the look of her distraught face just moments ago.
Hinota pursed her lips—she can’t hide anything from her caretaker who knew and loved her like a parent would.
“It’s just…” Hinota struggled to get the words out. “It was Kudo…” She spoke softly, her cheeks slightly red from admitting her dream to her caretaker.
“The boy you have become best friends with, yes? I heard so much from him.”
Lisa knew who she was talking about. The boy who was gracious enough to take care of Hinota when she was on her own. Rather than taking care, he helped her and they ended up working together, but Lisa took the boy as a gentle knight who would watch Hinota’s back during those dangerous adventures.
In Hinota’s letters, Lisa’s heart jumped from joy from how excited she talked about Kudo and her adventures. It was when that Hinota admitted that they were now best friends that Lisa knew that Kudo was the right person for her. The kind of person that looks out for her and care for her like a true friend would.
That’s why her heart was in tatters when she heard the news from Maon about Kudo’s situation right now.
“What happened in your dream?” Lisa asked for the details as gentle as she could.
“He… he wasn’t the same anymore. He changed... into someone scary.”
Hinota was slightly embarrassed, but at the same time, she could not tell this to anyone but Lisa. Her body shook from her chaotic emotions swirling inside of her, but her expression remained only anguished, and never broke into tears.
She was trying to hold in her frustrations and fear as she usually would, but Lisa knew that she was holding in too much. She grasped hold of Hinota’s shoulders with both hands and caressed Hinota’s head with her own.
“Calm down. Everything is alright. It was just a dream. That young boy will be just fine,” Lisa told her the words she needed to hear more than anything else. It wasn’t just words to calm her—they were sincere words that came directly from Lisa’s heart. She believed this more than anyone else.
Hinota let Lisa held her tightly as she needed it more than ever. She never broke into tears, but she was glad that she let out her feelings to Lisa.
After that momentary rest, Hinota was back to her normal self. She had Lisa to thank for making her feel better with her comforting words.
Lisa, of course, would keep it a secret between them, since it would be embarrassing for a girl her age to feel distraught after a nightmare, at least, that’s what she believes.
Her kimono now drenched in her sweat, Hinota took this chance before cleansing herself to give her body the right amount of training it needed. The earlier admittance of her feelings made her body feel lighter than usual.
Adorned now in her small clothing fit for training—a red robe with a long white colored folded pants called a hakama, and a wooden sword that she picked up from her room that was quite hefty for even a man to hold for her training.
Hinota left her room and walked the hallways with Lisa in tow to the training hall, where the Flamvers practice their martial arts and weaponry skills to steel themselves into battle.
After walking a fair bit, Hinota came up to the pair of sliding doors, now colored red with black markings that resembled that of a sword in one sliding door and an axe in another.
It was kinda gaudy, but this was the picture that she grew up with as she trained. She slid open the doors, revealing an empty hall with a wooden floor. Several shelves lined up the walls that contained wooden swords to use for the practitioners here, and even some actual weapons such as a spear and short swords for versatility.
Bringing in her personal wooden sword, she walked forward with a heavy breath after coming back to the hall after a long time.
Lisa, as always, stood by behind her to be able to take any order that Hinota needed. Stepping into the hall, feeling the polished wooden floor at the soles of her sock-covered feet, she felt as if she has turned back in time.
But this time, her body was lighter than ever before. Hinota raised her wooden sword, the tip pointing diagonally at the ceiling while extending her arms forward to their extent.
Her right foot moved forward, bending her knee while leaving the other foot as a pivot. She relaxed her body first to get used to her position, and then slowly raised her wooden sword over her head.
Her arms now near her head, she closed her eyes and felt her soul steeling itself into a fighting spirit.
She opened her tapered eyes.
She used all the force in her body to swing down the wooden sword with enough power to practically bring down the air with her. A violent gust of wind ensued the moment her sword stopped in midair after the powerful swing.
The very atmosphere itself practically trembled from her mighty strength, enough to make Lisa widened her eyes and feel it with her own body.
But Hinota was not done yet.
She continued to swing down her wooden sword in the same fashion, both feet used as centers for her body, making her arms swing down with more force than before.
Each swing left Hinota to expend her stamina, but this was the point of training—to enforce your body to extend the limit even further.
After a few powerful swings, Hinota continued next by practicing to spar with a shadow partner. Though the imaginary partner in her mind had no face or recognizable body, it was a worthy opponent to test her skill.
She positioned her wooden sword the same way she would wield her katana. She inhaled slowly, closing her eyes to further visualize the opponent.
Then, after exhaling, Hinota’s tapered eyes opened once again, bringing in her assault.
She swung diagonally, but her opponent dodged it with barely a graze and countered attack with an upward swing from below with his imaginary blade.
Hinota blocked by raising her sword to her chest, feeling the heavy blow of the opponent which Hinota pretended to feel the blow directly.
The opponent then stepped in after seeing that Hinota has fallen back, but Hinota used her wit to counter back by thrusting her sword forward, but as usual, the opponent was one step ahead of her and sidestepped as he backed away.
This is how she would usually train, and thanks to her experience out in the field as an adventurer, her opponent has raised its level by the dozens.
But Hinota has also raised her abilities to the fullest. As Hinota swung and danced around the battlefield like a true veteran warrior, Lisa looked on with interest.
She has always watched Hinota train every day before she left, knowing that Hinota was stronger than your average princess, but what she saw now was more than just a princess practicing martial arts.
It was an adventurer warrior fighting to the death with a powerful foe, and each strike could be her very last. That was the feeling Lisa felt as she saw Hinota practice with such zeal and ferocity.
After her morning sword training, her body was suffused with her sweat. It was a perfect time for her to take a good soak in the bath now.
Once Hinota returned her favorite wooden sword to her room, she turned around to head to the bathhouse where she took a while to cleanse herself of her sweaty smell.
The training helped her clear her mind, making her forget about the nightmare momentarily.
However, it was still at the back of her mind, as if it was remaining there for some purpose.
Once she was done, Lisa dressed her up in her kimono. It was the same color, but it was a different one. Now that she was dressed up, she had some free time now.
She was still an adventurer, however, she can’t go outside and hunt as she would normally do. Reasons are that someone of her stature can’t go outside without at least somebody being present, and Hinota didn’t like that kind of weight on her shoulders.
It was bright and early, but Hinota was already bored. As such, she decided to take a walk around the manor to clear her mind and to remind herself of her home.
She walked alongside Lisa, feeling the nice breeze hitting her fair skin from walking along the wooden floor outside the manor. The garden in her eyes looked nicer than normal, pleasing Hinota’s tapered eyes.
Hinota would usually train at this point, so she felt slightly distant from all the servants around her serving her hand and foot.
After an hour of exploring, she recognizes the manor from top to bottom, leaving her now with nothing to do. At best, she would just go to her room to read, but then with her sharp hearing, she heard wooden wheels rocking from the distance.
She remembers that sound more than anything else. It meant that her parents have returned from their work. Feeling her heart beating fast to see them again, Hinota took a sharp inhale of breath and then slowly exhaled.
By her side, Lisa put a hand on her shoulder and offered a gentle smile on her lips. Hinota smiled back, knowing that Lisa had her back when it comes to situations like this.
This meant that with their return, the meeting would be today. This is where Hinota’s fate will be decided.
Hinota made her way to the entrance along with Lisa to finally greet her parents. She stood outside in front of the entrance where she saw the carriage entering through the gate of their large estate.
The carriage was just as gaudy as the one Hinota returned in—red and gold as its base. The rider was another servant who was her parents’ designated rider. As every servant in her manor stood side by side to meet with them, Hinota stood and waited for her parents to come as their daughter.
The rider goes to the back of the carriage and opens up the door for them. It was then that two people came out. A man and a woman, each of them showing off a heavy presence of masters who lived in the manor.
The man wore a garb that showed exactly which family he came from—red and gold—as well as a circular hat on his black-haired head. The man had a mean look in his eyes, with a stubble on his chin and a few wrinkles to show his age. He is Hinota’s father, who married into the Flamver family, Honchu Flamver.
And the one who truly resembled that of the Flamver family was her mother. Her kimono was the same gold and red color as her husband’s, but her fiery red hair was tied up side by side in loops. Her eyes were just as slanted, all the while wearing crimson lipstick that accentuated her lips. Her visage did not show her age at all, resembling a young woman possibly in her late twenties’. This was Hinota’s mother, a direct daughter of the leader of the Flamver family, Kinoka Flamver.
Seeing her parents once again made Hinota’s stomach churn a little. She was nervous. She always has been whenever they return. Since they usually don’t spend time with her, Hinota made sure that she would be prim and proper when they would return.
However, as of now, Hinota could only feel disdain for them. It was their fault that she had to separate from Kudo due to their threat. As they walked down to the garden to return to the manor, Hinota did her best to keep in her small rage.
“Welcome back, my Lady, my Master. I hope that you had a wonderful visit,” Being the caretaker, Lisa made sure to properly welcome them back as all the other servants did the same.
“We have returned,” Honchu spoke with his stern voice while Kinoka walked up beside him. “So, you have returned, Hinota.”
Honchu noticed his daughter standing beside Lisa with her usual slanted eyes. Hinota could only furrow her eyes once before making up the words to speak.
“Welcome back, Lord Father, Lord Mother. It has been a long time,” Hinota responded with a proper bow as would a daughter act to her parents in the Flamver Manor.
“It is good to see that you have finally returned from your journey. As expected, it is better for you to remain here where you belong.
Honchu said as though it was expected of Hinota to return, but Hinota reacted by clutching the hems of her long sleeves with her hands away from their sight.
“Now that you are done with that adventuring nonsense,” Kinoka, her stern yet smooth voice permeated Hinota’s hearing. “I hope that you will act your duties as the daughter of the Flamver.”
Hinota looked up from her bow, only to see her mother’s glare onto her. The only thing that would make her nervous to the core is looking at her mother’s eyes whom she has inherited her slanted eyes from.
She has always been afraid of being hated by those eyes, and as such did everything she could to satisfy her mother’s wishes.
But not like this.Not when she has no choice but to marry someone that she despises to help the Flamver family.
While Hinota was facing her parents, she noticed someone else coming out of the carriage which has filled her with surprise to see who has come out.
He was as big as life itself—a towering figure of muscles that would intimidate even the most burliest of adventurers. Armored instead of wearing a garb, he stood tall and proud as the color gold and red fitted him more than anyone else. His blazing red hair, a trademark of the Flamver, flowed endlessly to his upper back like a mane of a lion as his braided beard of the same color was stroked by his meaty hand.
Though his age was actually advanced, his face resembled that of a man in his early 30’s.
“Lord Grandfather,” Hinota walked further ahead and, with the greatest formal bow, greeted him with the utmost respect. “It has been a long time, Lord Grandfather. I hope that your journey has treated you well.”
“Ah, is that you, Little Hinota?”
Inferuno Flamver, the leader of the Flamver, greeted with a hearty smile. Comparing to his intimidating presence before, he now had the air of an easy-going old man.
“You have grown so beautiful. You are a splitting image of Kasara. Why, I'm not surprised if you would turn out to be a bombshell of a woman when you grow!”
Inferuno always had a bit of a wild tongue, as expected of a full veteran adventurer. Hinota felt her cheeks blazing after being compared to her older sister, her heart screaming in elation.
“Hinota, you have returned from your journey for some time, yes? You must tell me your adventures later. Your letters are not enough to make my blood boil!”
“Lord Father, that is enough.”
Kinoka’s voice interrupted the happy reunion as Inferuno looked at her with a slightly surprised look while Hinota only pursed her lips.
“Hinota has just returned from her travels. If you start talking about adventures, it will only make her want to leave. And also,” Kinoka scowled at her father, her eyes glaring as if he had done something wrong. “We do not mention that name here in this household at all.”
Hinota knew who she was saying. Kasara was stripped of all connections with the Flamver family. As such, speaking her name in the household has become a taboo for the parents.
However, this taboo, acting as if she doesn’t exist, is the reason that leads Hinota to grow disdainful of her parents.
“Now, our meeting will commence shortly. I hope that you will be well prepared, Hinota.”
Kinoka ended her declaration as she and Honchu returned to the manor. Both Hinota and Lisa turned back with frowns on their faces. Inferuno rubbed the back of his wild red hair.
“My daughter must truly learn to take it easy…” He whispered to himself as the members returned back to the manor.
Returning to their manor, Lis walked along with Hinota as the parents took this time to further prepare themselves for the meeting they will have.
All the Flamver family has assembled in the manor. Though some have stayed at other places, they will return to the meeting that will occur at the main hall.
Walking along the hallways, Lisa awaited for Hinota’s words as she stopped in the middle of the hallway.
“Lisa,” Hinota spoke with a stern expression on her face.
“Yes, Lady Hinota?” Lisa replied, as if expecting something from her.
“Today’s the day… today, I have resolved myself to say to my parents how I truly feel.”
Hinota turned to Lisa, her slanted eyes glowing with determination which has caught Lisa’s attention.
“However, after this… I’m afraid that we might not be able to see each other again…”
The moment those words left her, Hinota turned her downcasted eyes to the floor. Knowing exactly what she was saying, Lisa felt a twinge of pain coursed through her heart for a moment, but then, a smile rose from her lips as she lifted Hinota’s chin upwards, facing her eyes with her own.
“Lady Hinota, I am, and will always be, your caretaker. No matter what happens, I will always support you in every way. Whatever decision you make, know that you do so with pride in your heart. Do that for me, and I will be satisfied.”
Hearing those words with a bright smile on her lips, Hinota’s eyes nearly watered from the look on her face, instilling her with courage that she needed for this day.
“Lisa, thank you, for everything,” Hinota sincerely thanked her with all of her heart.
“It has been a pleasure serving you, Lady Hinota. Please, send me letters whenever you can. Hearing your adventures, it brings me great joy.”
Once again, Lisa smiled, but this time, it brought Hinota to firmly nod her head at her request.