Hour Empty Child
After asking directions from the nice Knight—the ‘nice’ term is loose in this part—The E-Plus headed off towards the west of town to head to the Ashspell Forest.
Once leaving the city, Kudo walked up the grassy hill and viewed the place before him with wide eyes.
Ash-colored trees as according to the name donning the landscape, the scent of volcanic ash wafted in the air. It made Kudo’s nose crawl as he shifted it side by side from the wind blowing the ash towards his face.
“So this is Ashspell Forest…” Kudo said while blocking his eyes from the sunlight shining down on him.
“I wonder how it got to be this way…” Hinota walked up to Kudo, evidently curious about the strange phenomenon in front of them.
“I read on one of the books that there are some places that are charged with mana from the intense heat below them. I heard that sometimes the ground beneath them can be as hot as a volcano, so it must have dried up these leaves and made them look like ash.”
Kudo explained as he remembered the details from a book he read some time ago from the Valkyria library. Hinota nodded in understanding as her curiosity was filled thanks to his lecture.
“Still, this is where we’ll find the hut, huh? But isn’t it dangerous to stay living in that forest?”
Kudo remembered in the books he read in the past that it wasn’t safe inhaling volcanic ash if one lives close to a volcanic region. Hinota nodded again with an increasing smile.
“That’s right, so that’s why we’ll be wearing these.”
Hinota opened up the inventory screen and grabbed some items from it. It was a white face mask and see-through goggles that had a strange silvery glow around them.
“These masks and goggles are enchanted so that we can safely breathe the air and see without letting any dangerous toxins enter our bodies, so we can safely avoid the ash particles from the trees. I made them so that in cases like these, we can handle anything with no problems.”
Hinota handed the mask and goggles to Kudo, then continued to hand these to the rest of the party members. Finally, she pulled the last ones from the inventory for herself.
After placing them on their faces, the string that held the mask to their noses and mouths by their ears, their goggles firmly placed over their eyes, each one was decked out to head into the forest.
“This looks kind of lame, though…” Kuki, his voice slightly muffled from the mask, poked it as he said his complaint.
“Oh, I’m sorry, do you want to breathe in ash and die?” Hinota tilted her head. Even with the mask on, they could see her smiling innocently from the way her eyes were closed, the overwhelming aura surrounding her very being.
“Well, let’s get a move on.”
After Hinota soundly silenced Kuki into lowering his head towards himself like a turtle, Kudo urged the others to move on.
Heading towards the forest, the trees’ ashy leaves leaving particles as the wind caressed them in a strong gust, eventually forming a fog of ash particles. The party members, especially Kuki, were now grateful for the masks and goggles after seeing the ashy particles blowing on them which could have blinded them thoroughly.
“Lord Hinota, thank you very much!” Kuki shouted at the top of his lungs, the ash blown by the wind at him completely blocked.
“You’re welcome!” Hinota shouted back, smiling to herself as she did a good job enchanting them.
The party continued on their beaten dirt path towards wherever the hut might be thanks to the clarity of the enchanted goggles, but since they had no idea where to start going, the party had no choice but to stop for a moment to plan. It became even worse as the gusts somehow started to pick up.
“What’s going on?! Why’s the wind getting stronger?! And why there’s a fog here?!”
Tsuchi tried to hold onto his bandanna around his head, his bronze-colored hair swaying in the strong breeze and the particles getting to his face.
“I think the forest is also causing the weather around here to go crazy!” Kudo surmised.
Then, something blared in his mind, similar to hearing an alarm with his nerves. Widening his eyes beneath the goggles, Kudo shouted:
“Everyone! Be careful! We’re not alone!”
Kudo soundly warned them through the usage of his passive skill, Sixth Sense, getting everyone to be on guard. They turned around, their backs against each other for support, to see within the whirling vortex of ash around them starting to show red dots flashing within the dark parts of the forest.
Raika, her hair swaying behind and her furry ears flopping along the wind, could hear rustling from beyond and armed herself with her carefully-crafted bow by notching an arrow on it and aimed it at one side.
“There!” Raika shouted, letting go of the arrow.
The arrow shot forth from her bow at a ridiculous speed, and as soon as it disappeared into the fog, a small shriek could be heard from the distance.
Everyone turned to their side where Raika shot the creature and noticed the dead body within the discarded ash particles. It was a monkey-like creature with large jaws that had protruded sharp fangs with big red glazed eyes. Seeing it unable to move at all, it was obvious that it was a critical shot.
“Nice, Raika!” Hinota praised Raika’s skill. She lowered her head to look like a turtle herself as her cheeks flared from the honest praise.
“What is it?” Mizuri shouted, eyeing at the strange creature through the goggles while trying to bring her braided hair out of her face.
“It’s a Roaring Monkey. They use their surroundings to bite unsuspecting adventurers with sharp fangs with a paralyzing agent. If you get bitten once, you’ll be at their mercy!”
Kudo explained after remembering the monkey’s image in one of his books also from the Valkyria library.
“Can anyone see them?!” Tsuchi shouted, preparing his hammer in his hands while gritting his teeth behind his mask.
“I can!” Raika shouted. “There are five of them! Each one surrounding us!”
“Then it’s a good thing we beat them by one!”
Kuki shouted as he aimed one of his guns at the east where Raika was pointing, and pulled the trigger. The bullet shot off towards one side where there was a thick tree seen from the fog, aiming at one of the branches.
The bullet grazed the branch, causing it to shake and disrupt whoever was on top of it.
KUAAH! The Roaring monkey fell and crashed to the ground, roaring as it goes. But it managed to break its fall by landing on its feet. The furry creature had a figure of a monkey, but its teeth were sharp and jagged, and its red eyes seemed to bore right through them.
KUAAAH! The monkey attacks after being found out, having no choice but to force an assault on the party members.
Unfortunately for the monkey, its head was shot without hesitation by Kuki’s accurate shot.
“There’s one down!”
“Four more left!” Mizuri pointed her bo staff at the other side, noticing the big red eyes that pierced through the ashy fog. “——《Aqua Blast》!”
Mizuri unleashed a powerful torrent of water, aiming directly at the poor monkey that was just about to run away by grabbing onto the tree trunk. The torrent of water, shaped like a powerful beam that could cut through anything, blast onto the monkey, losing its form from the high pressure of the skill.
“There’s three left!” Kudo shouted, bringing his party together as they fought off the monsters.
After fighting out in the fog, each monkey was on the ground, all either shot, dismembered, or cut apart by their blades or skills. The fog, however, continues to persist, and the wind was not helping them much by blowing on their weary bodies.
“The ash is ruining my clothes…” Raika pouted within her mask, her tone sounding depressed as she noticed her leather armor adorned on her was covered in various ashy smudges.
“Why are you so worried about your clothes? It’s just clothes!”
Kuki snapped back to the fashion-minded Raika. She delivered a rightful glare at him afterward.
“Don’t worry, Raika. The maids can get any stain out of any clothing no matter what. I swear; it’s like a skill or something.”
Kudo assured her with the help of his mother’s maids, who apparently have superpowers beyond measure.
“Thanks, Kudo!” Raika’s tone quickly changed to high elation, then shot another glare at Kuki. “See, Kui? Kudo cares!”
“He always cares!”
“The hell kinda conversation is this?”
Tsuchi intervened as the two fought over the matter of clothes, with Kudo right in the middle. Mizuri chuckled as the group continued to venture towards the center of the forest.
So far, about a few minutes passed. The party mowed through the hordes of Roaring Monkeys as they go along, using their new heightened statuses and skills to handle them. Raika used her Magnetized shot to shoot an arrow that collected the unwilling monkeys around it, which in turn let Kuki shoot them using his free air bullets created by Air Recovery.
While some stragglers were released from Magnetized Shot, Tsuchi collected them using his Dummy Clay which brought the other monkeys to go after the small clay doll that appeared at a far distance. With the monkeys conveniently biting against the indomitable dummy clay, Mizuri’s eyes gleamed at the chance to raise her Transparent Strikes skill by hitting them one by one in such a brutal way that it left Raika nearly shivering, and the others gaping behind their masks.
Finally, about an hour later, Kudo spotted something dark in the distance.
Kudo somehow felt his senses blaring in the back of his mind. He looked further into what’s in front of him, and the black object that he was seeing in this ashy fog formed into something like a small home.
“Hey, isn’t that…?!” Kudo pointed at the small home’s shadow, turning everyone’s attention to where he was pointing and saw the form as well.
The party hurried towards the object, the winds turning fiercer with every second passed before suddenly breaking free of the fog as if they just passed through a wall.
The party widened their eyes. The winds were now no longer blowing, and their bodies no longer pelted by the ash.
The entire area that they have entered was completely free of fog. At the front, they see a small wooden home that was built with a cozy atmosphere around it. Surrounding the small wooden hut was grassland everywhere, up to the point where the wall of fog surrounded it. It was a large circle that embodied the hut, surprising the party.
Kuki looked up, and became astounded even more to see the fog even covering the sky, but not the airspace around the hut.
“W-What’s with this place…?”
Kuki asked as the party felt that something was amissed.
To find themselves in such a place in a land filled with danger… what sort of event will unfold for them here?
A little short of a chapter, this one. But I promise you, the intensity will only rise from here! Remember to give it a like and vote and of course give your opinion in the comments below!