Hour Empty Child
Within the very ventilated lobby of the Adventurer’s Hub, Hinota was stumped by Mizuri’s sudden request.
“You want me… to join the party?” Hinota asked to make sure that she got it right.
“Yeah, that’s what we wanted to say!” Mizuri smiled before pointing at Tsuchi with a frown. “But this idiot decided to become a sleazeball instead.”
“H-Hey!” Tsuchi put up his hands, an awkward smile on his lips as he began to sweat despite the coldness in the room. “I was just trying to liven up the mood! I figured that she would sense that I was joking around!”
“Obviously a woman like her wouldn’t think of it as a joke, dumbass Tsuchi!”
Mizuri raised her fist high and dropped it right on Tsuchi’s covered head, bringing out stars from his eyes as he felt the stinging pain as if a boulder landed on him.
“Ah, I kinda figured that it was a joke…”
Hinota felt bad now that Tsuchi was getting punished for trying to break the ice. She figured that he was joking but at the same time he was interested in her, so she ignored him just as she usually does to any potential pursuers.
“Anyways, I’m really sorry for this…” Mizuri bowed down again, showing a proper posture with her hands joined together to make a proper apology. But then she showed a nasty glare at Tsuchi from below. “Hey! Tsuchi, bow down too!”
“R-Right! I-I’m sorry…” Tsuchi did as she said and bowed as well to apologize.
Hinota didn’t know how to accept such an apology like this so she felt slightly flustered, but she remained composed.
“I-It’s fine. I should have realized that he didn’t have any bad intentions. It’s okay.”
Hearing Hinota’s taking in their apology, Tsuchi and Mizuri raised their heads with expectant looks.
“So, getting back on topic, would you like to join our party?”
Mizuri asked once again. Hinota figured that she should tell them the truth, even if it seemed that they knew of it already.
“Well, the thing is, I’ve just gotten here from another country just recently. I’m completely new here.”
“Yeah, we know,” Mizuri answered.
“It’s natural for new adventurers to come here from other countries,” Tsuchi followed up.
Hinota figured that they already knew, but they didn’t think they wouldbe so willing to ask her to join despite that they knew nothing about her.
“So, you were looking for new adventurers from outside the country?”
“Y-Yeah…” Tsuchi rubbed the back of his head, showing a wry smile. “We need some help with a quest. The adventurers here just don’t cut it, you know? So we were hoping to find a pretty strong looking adventurer to help us out.”
“And you fit the bill!” Mizuri stepped in to answer, a fiery look showing in her eyes as she pointed at Hinota.
“But why did you chose me?” Hinota asked again, prying for the reason of them picking her.
“You just have that strong aura about you,” Mizuri answered, putting her index finger and thumb over her chin. “I have a good eye for that kind of stuff.”
“Plus you got some sweet-ass equipment you’re wearing. You’re definitely in the upper league compared to the other bozos here.”
Tsuchi answered from the plain look of her equipment. Hinota thought that they had a good eye as she herself scanned the other adventurers around the ship at the time, and none of them could hold a candle to herself or Kudo. At least, by the look of their equipment, that is.
“But I don’t know much about this country… I might get in the way.”
“Don’t worry about that!” Mizuri suddenly said while putting her hand on top of her shoulder, which she then put up a thumbs up with her other hand. “We’ll help show you around and teach you all you need to learn!”
“We’re pretty good around this area,” Tsuchi punched his chest as he proudly exclaimed. “And we’ve been around for a good while, so you can trust us on getting you in shape to live here!”
“Is that right…?” Hinota smiled as she asked. “Well…”
Hinota took a moment to think this through. Thanks to her high Intelligence stat, one moment in her mind is basically a second in the real world, so she thought it through—the merits and demerits of joining their party.
Hinota had to find party members at some point. Since Kudo was not here anymore, she had no choice but to find worthy looking adventurers to join her party.
However, she could sense that the adventurers facing her aren’t exactly telling the whole truth… but at the least of it, they seem nice, and they don’t seem to have any kind of malicious intents.
This was what Hinota thought of the two who came up to ask her. Seeing that the merits outweigh the demerits, especially since they could show her a thing or two about the country, Hinota made her choice.
“Alright,” A second later, Hinota answered which brought the two in front of her to smile. “I’ll join you for a bit.”
“T-Thanks so much!” Mizuri grabbed hold of Hinota’s right hand with both of hers, swinging it up and down. “We really appreciate it!”
“Since you’re joining, we should still do some introductions, even if we already did it. My name’s Tsuchi Eartherin. My Class is Earth Chief.”
(Earth Chief…? A Special Class?) Hinota’s mind included that spanking new information part of the merits of joining their party.
“And my name’s Mizuri Seaser! My Class is Aqua Strider!”
Hinota couldn’t believe the number of merits that increased now. Seeing their expectant looks on their faces, Hinota wrinkled her brows and showed her smirk.
“My name is Hinota Flamver,” Hinota proclaimed. “My Class is the Crimson Archmage.”
“Whoa! A Special Class, too?!” Mizuri looked back at Tsuchi, her eyes practically gleaming bright.
“Welcome to the party, Hinota-chii!”Tsuchi was the first to welcome with an added word.
“Hey, do you mind if I call you ‘Hino’?” Mizuri asked permission for the shortening of the name which Hinoa nodded.
“Sure, I don’t mind.”
And with that, Hinota joined Tsuchi and Mizuri as they went to the receptionist again, where the first thing they will do is create a party. However, there were some issues…
“Come on, what’s wrong with Planet Crushers? It sounds strong and manly!”
“You dumbass, We got another girl here. We should call ourselves ‘Serene Grace’!”
Before they could properly form a team, Tsuchi and Mizuri fought head to head in front of the receptionist counter over the new name of their party.
Hinota was left standing behind them, a spectator for their battle.
“But that name doesn’t fit you at all…”
“What’d you say, Tsu?!”
Mizuri grabbed hold of Tsuchi’s neck and brought her to her chest as she forced her muscles to tighten on Tsuchi. Despite his muscled body, Tsuchi seemed to be suffering as he continuously tapped Mizuri’ arm with his hand while his breaths remained short.
“Gah! Uncle, uncle…!”
“You better take that back, Tsu! I told you that I’m a girl!”
Tsuchi nearly lost his consciousness before Hinota stepped in.
“Guys, calm down.”
“Ah, Hino…” Mizuri released her muscles from Tsuchi’s neck as soon as Hinota raised her hand, leaving Tsuchi to stand back up and breathing heavily to regain his air.
“Listen, we aren’t getting anywhere like this,” Hinota reasoned with her logic. “So how about we just make it a simple name and leave it at that?”
“I-I guess…” Mizuri figured that it was most likely a good way to resolve this.
Seeing that both Tsuchi and Mizuri returned back to normal and had expectant eyes at Hinota to figure out a name for themselves, Hinota wracked her brain in one solid second before coming up with a new name.
“How about EarthFire?”
“Earth…Fire?” Tsuchi uttered out which made Hinota explain.
“Earth meaning both ground and water, like Yarim. Both of your affinities are Water and Earth, so it’s combined into ‘earth’. Fire is my case, as my affinity is Fire.”
““Oooh!”” Tsuchi and Mizuri both pounded their hands with their fists, letting out impressed awes.
“So, madam, can you name our party ‘EarthFire?’ Hinota stepped forward to face the sweating receptionist since the look on her party members’ faces showed that they liked the name.
“A-Alright!” Seeing that the issue has been resolved, the cute receptionist gladly helped them make their name.
As such, Hinota has now joined the party called EarthFire along with Mizuri and Tsuchi.
Now that their party has been formed, it was time for them to continue with a quest.
Tsuchi and Mizuri had to forfeit a quest since the difficulty was too much for them. They had to pay a small fine, but they managed to dissuade that by adding in another party member.
Getting back their pay, the EarthFire has once again gotten back their quest. The objective of the quest is to hunt down lizardmen prowling near the river aside from the port city.
The lizardmen were making a mess of the ecosystem there by hunting the fishes that swam in the river. If left on their own, they will further reduce the population which will be difficult for fishermen to fish and sell them to other people.
Thus, it was the EarthFire’s job to hunt down these lizardmen. Once they showed their Growth Crystals to leave the town, Hinota and her party members went on their venture.
“Wow, to think that Hino would have such a beautiful Growth Crystal!” Mizuri spoke in awe, her eyes sparkling while her hands grasped onto each other.
“Yeah, that proves she’s especially powerful!” Tsuchi made a grin to follow along Mizuri’s praise.
“Come on, guys. It’s not that special… though you can keep praising me for it.”
Hinota wasn’t the kind to stop the compliments as she too felt that her transformed Growth Crystal was incredible.
Her Growth Crystal changed form after using the Growth Upgrader to change her status. Her Growth Crystal changed from a gem-like shape into a lioness-shape, its graceful form and hidden ferocity showing exactly who Hinota was.
The port city was near a forest, and the forest lays near the river that connected to the ocean, so they hurried up on their way to get there.
At their speed, they can get there, hunt the lizardmen, and get back before night fall, though it depends on how they take down the lizardmen.
Walking on the dirt path in the forest, feeling the soft wind caressing her face, Hinota was once again reminded of her first month when she first started.
Rather, it was strangely similar to that. She could recall running away from the goblins after making various failed attempts to hunt them down, and remembered hiding until night fell before returning back to the city empty-handed.
It was such a difficult time that it left Hinota feeling pangs of pain from being so weak and defenseless. She shook off those memories from her mind, realizing that she is no longer weak.
As they finally reached near the river, she was ready to show just how strong she has gotten to the people and monsters of Roprase.
Curved lacerations screeched in the air. Blood splurted out from their bodies in a form of a rain shower that drenched the emerald-colored grass red.
For Hinota, this was an ordinary view, enough to call it her daily viewing. The lizardmen who were unfortunate enough to be part of Hinota’s rampaging yet graceful destruction were all high skilled warriors adorned in medium armor stolen by other unfortunate adventurers or delivery Ames.
Later on, her party members explained to her exactly what were the Ames, which surprised her a little bit and figured that it was such a convenient contraption.
Continuing on, the Lizardmen have decent enough techniques to make it difficult for any beginning adventurer.
While on her side taking down multiple lizardmen at once, her katana kept ablaze sweeping across in a horizontal slash which sliced three lizardmen’s stomachs at once, feeling her body only being slightly out of breath. She could feel the difference in strength between Peranim and Roprase.
The lizardmen were thankfully taken down thanks to her immense Strength stat, her highly refined katana, and her powerful skill Flaming Strike, so it didn’t take her a long time to take them down. Thanks to her recent status update, she was able to tell how much energy she had now and considered pacing herself later.
Though she was surprised how strong they were. Not only were they adept in dodging her attacks, they also had a good instinct which makes them difficult to attack without preparing for their counterattack. It turns out that the lizardmen were at a high enough level—above 100. It was enough to leave even Hinota surprised by their strength.
Feeling the sweat running down her temple, she looked back at her party members at the distance since she took it upon herself to leave the group to take down the stray lizardmen coming forward.
Only to see a horrifying sight that she never expected.
Tsuchi, holding a giant two-handed hammer, was swinging widely and chaotically at a single lizardman he was charged to handle.
The lizardman, being thin and nimble, dodged it without a care and lunged in, stabbing Tsuchi’s slow and robust body with its small dagger.
“Aggh! It hurts!” Tsuchi wailed in pain.
“H-Hold on! ——《Aqua Rain》!”
Yelling out her skill behind Tsuchi, Mizuri held her Bo staff in her hands to call out her skill. Mizuri’s skill looked like a small gray cloud appearing over Tsuchi’s wound in his stomach. The cloud released a small patch of rain that didn’t follow gravity, and instead only fell over at his new wound.
As she wasn’t in battle, Hinota could see clearly the cloud’s rain healing the wound by enclosing it in a torrent of water.
(So she’s a healer…) Hinota thought impressively at the benefit of a healer in her party.
Tsuchi, whose wound was healed up quickly, gritted his teeth as he let out his skills again.
“——《Call Claydoll》!” Tsuchi moved his hand, and from within the earth below the grass, cracks formed at the center between the lizardman and Tsuchi.
From within those cracks, something burst through the earth, revealing a small mannequin like doll made entirely out of dirt, and only half the size of Tsuchi and the lizardman.
The lizardman itself looked at it strangely, wondering if it was even of a threat
“Ghh… Attack!” Tsuchi looked like he just grimaced as he let out an order to the clay doll.
The doll did as he told and posed for a running start position. The doll kicked the earth with its small nub feet and tackled the lizardman, hitting it directly in its stomach.
However, it looked like it was only a mild bruise as the lizardman managed to say standing, holding its stomach with one hand while brandishing its dagger in the other.
“M-Mizuri-chii! My [HP]’s down from the skill. Heal me please!”
“R-Right! ——《Aqua Rain》!”
And just like that, the two party members did this exact routine for a good ten minutes.
Hinota was left dumbfounded at either the two party members doing their damn hardest to take down one monster, or the fact that the lizardman was too shocked to even consider defending itself from their struggles.
(T-They’re so bad…) Hinota couldn’t have imagined that these two had such a difficult fighting process.
After a while, the number of lizardman Hinota took down was about 15 or so while Tsuchi and Mizuri both put together managed to take down precisely 1.
After finishing their quest by taking their loot—their claws and lizard skin—Hinota walked up to the two and placed her hands on her hips.
“So… care to explain that kind of performance to me?”
The look of her furious glare brought the two members to look down at the ground, unable to even look at her in her glaring eyes. It was then that the two had no choice but to explain.
“W-Well…” Mizuri started off, feeling a little intimidated and scared to say it. “Ever since we graduated out of Adventurer’s School…”
“Adventurer’s school?” Hinota asked while tilting her head.
Mizuri and Tsuchi were both surprised, looking back at each other and realizing that she was really uninformed of the country at all. Then they explained exactly what the Adventurer school was to her clearly.
“Ah… sounds incredible,” Hinota said, but was a little disappointed at the progress made only to their levels.
“See, ever since we graduated, none of our classmates wanted to party up with us,” Tsuchi said, rubbing the back of his covered head with his hand.
“It’s because we do this kind of stuff every time…” Mizuri explained in a somber tone.
“We’re really trying!” Tsuchi exclaimed. “It’s just that… my Special Class, the Earth Chief, was made for taking hits since my skills use up my [HP] instead of [MP], so I need a lot of healing when I use my skills to defend myself.”
“And my Special Class, the Aqua Strider, is a battle-mage healing class that covers all ground, and it’s not enough to be called impressive. I attack in close combat, in the distance with my spell, and heal at the same time, so it’s hard for us to rack up monster kills and raise our levels.”
“Because we’re not exactly good at monster killing, people tend to avoid us so that we won’t get in their way…”
Tsuchi finished it off as the two of them seemed like they were defeated soundly by their own uselessness. Hinota tilted her head again, becoming curious.
“But having a tanking class and a healing class is essential for any party. Why would anyone ignore you guys?”
“Because Roprase is easy to make up the tanking by buying specialized armor, and potions are easy to get thanks to Adventurer’s insurance, so they don’t need to rely on a healer as much…”
Mizuri said as she felt even more pathetic after relaying the information. Hinota couldn’t believe that the essential classes used in any party were actually obsolete in Roprase.
Still, she can’t believe that their classes were useless. Their Special Classes are special for a reason, and even if healers and tanks weren’t all the rage now, that doesn’t mean that with time, they won’t get any better.
She believes this more than anyone else.
“We’re sorry to keep this from you, Hino…” Mizuri apologized by bowing her head.
“Yeah,” Tsuchi bowed his head as well. “We didn’t mean to trick you or anything. It’s just… we really needed help.”
Hinota could sense their sincerity and genuine apology straight from their hearts. They truly didn’t mean to force her to party up with such weaklings.
“You can leave if you want,” Mizuri added in. “We understand that you don’t really need us draggin’ you down.”
“Yeah,” Tsuchi agreed. “You’re really strong, so you can get anywhere you want without any problems.”
It was then that a memory flashed within Hinota’s mind.
After all the trial and error that she went through at the first month, her funds only at a mere 48 jib, Hinota had to make a last-ditch effort to collect cash from monsters, or else go back to the manor and be forced to marry her cousin.
After she failed even that, she was saved by a boy who just started his adventurer career. Even after being talked down by Hinota’s high-standing pride, Kudo let out logical explanations, though a bit forced, and got her to realize that her way of doing things was wrong.
“Every time I hunt, I go up and face the goblins. But no matter what, I couldn’t get past their defenses. They keep forming around me, causing me trouble to no end. I couldn’t keep up, and my stamina would always be drained. I… when that happens, I just run away…”
She let out every worry that has plagued her for a whole month.
“Everyone keeps telling me that I’m strong and powerful, because of my Special Class that my family held. But truthfully, I can’t even hunt goblins. The goblins almost kill me, and I would dread the next time I hunt. I’m still only [Rank D] because I can’t go on quests if it means having to face even stronger monsters.”
Her fear didn’t let her sleep properly, and she was nearly doomed to starve. But then, when her luck was down and her knees on the ground, Kudo gave out a hand to her.
“Right now, nothing’s more important than your survival. I’ll teach you all that I know, so that you can keep on living and enjoy being an Adventurer.”
Those words became her salvation.
Once she took his hand and learned from his knowledge, she has raised through the ranks of adventurer status, and became one of the top two adventurers in all of Peranim, including her party member, her best friend, and her partner, Kudo.
Hinota closed her eyes and curled her lips into a small smile. The two party members Tsuchi and Mizuri looked at her in surprise when she let out a hand for them to take.
“I went through the same thing. If it weren’t for my best friend, I wouldn’t be here standing right now. Let me help you guys. I’ll make you into strong adventurers.”
Tsuchi and Mizuri widened their eyes in awe. It wasn't mockery or pity—it was empathy. They couldn’t believe that she herself was weak once, but from the look of her smiling face and gentle gaze, it was the truth.
The two shared a look at each other and smiled. They put their hands on top of hers, showing their determined expressions.
It was then that the EartiFire has started their path together to become stronger than they have ever been.