Hour Empty Child
Noticing the strange atmosphere surrounding the hut, the E-Plus could gather at least one clue.
“This hut must be charged with mana,” Hinota spoke her mind to her confused friends who looked at the strange hut surrounded by peaceful air rather than the turbulent fog outside its realm.
Kudo raised his head and whiffed with his nose. Being that he was raised in a clean-air environment, he felt that the space around the hut was nearly the same.
“It feels so calm here…” Kudo said to himself, but everyone else agreed with him.
“But this hut is surrounded by Roaring Monkeys. I can’t imagine living here all my life…”
Raika gave her fair statement on the location. Kudo nodded in agreement as he also didn’t want to do the same without feeling pressured by the ferocious monsters all around him.
“Still, it’s no wonder why Sherald would think this place is special,” Kuki spoke out, sheathing his guns into his holsters by his hips.
He knew that at this point, there was no reason to shoot anything. Everyone else followed his action and sheathed their weapons.
“Sure is,” Mizuri followed up. “So, Hino, what do you mean by this hut is charged with mana?” Mizuri turned to Hinota for an answer.
“What I mean is, following Kudo’s explanation, this hut is at the center of all the mana surging around us. The reason why the Ashspell Forest has ashes around is that underneath it is a surge of mana acting like a volcano—sharing its natural mana to this forest and causing this phenomenon. And so, this place, being at the center, is charging the rest of the storm outside. You could say that this space is what’s called ‘the eye of the storm’."
“The eye of the storm…” Tsuchi spoke in awe. “Nature is weird…”
Hinota stepped forward carefully towards the hut after giving her surmised explanation.
Everyone else followed her, the stillness around the hut making them nervous.
The hut was tranquil looking, to say the least, and was as big as a normal house. Stepping onto its porch, Hinota walked towards the wooden door. She saw the knob on the door, a golden-colored knob that had a round shape. She also noticed that there was a keyhole underneath.
“Kudo, you go.”
“Eh? What for?”
“We might be lucky that it’s unlocked.”
“T-That seems kinda pushing it… but I’ll try.”
Kudo stepped forward under Hinota’s order and placed his hand on the doorknob.
The moment he did, a sudden chill ran down his spine.
“Arh…” Kudo let out a sound as if he just whimpered. Hinota noticed it.
Hinota asked, getting the others to look. Kudo couldn’t understand what just happened. He felt his sixth sense blaring in the back of his mind, and it made his stomach queasy, like he devoured something that’s gone bad. His hands were visibly shaking, rattling the knob.
“Kudo, what’s wrong?” Hinota asked again, growing concerned.
“T-This place… I don’t know why, but I’m getting a bad feeling about this.”
Kudo said the best he could. Everyone else also felt the same chill Kudo felt when he said those grim words, causing everyone to shrink back.
“…We got no choice. Even if we’ll find something disturbing, it’s our job to figure this out.”
Hinota explained, trying to calm down her comrades with a hand gesture. Kudo understood Hinota’s intent, and he tried to, but the shaking wouldn’t go away. He knew that if he opened this, he will see something that he will regret seeing.
However, like Hinota said, it’s part of the mission. Even if he doesn’t want to, he can’t just deny the quest he’s given. It will go against his adventurer’s code.
Swallowing his fear, Kudo turned the knob, getting everyone on guard. The hinges squeak as the door is slowly opened, revealing the inner room. Kudo steps inside first, with everyone else following afterward.
Their heavy footsteps filled the silence in the room, seeing the living room of the hut. The living room was a mess—the shelves behind the wooden counter with a single entrance on the right was broken into pieces. Several pieces of broken wood could be seen here and there on the floor as well.
Smudges of unknown substances stained the walls, and a broken wooden chair could be seen on the left side of them.
“What happened here…?” Mizuri looked around, seeing the ingredients on the floor from the apparent struggle. “Uggh, it stinks in here…”
She held her nose tightly with her fingers, blocking the incredible stench that lingered in the air. Everyone else did the same thing, not able to withstand the rotting smell that is coming from somewhere.
“Looks like there was a fight here,” Hinota pointed out what she thought was obvious. “But what’s so bad about this, Kudo?”
Hinota turned to Kudo as he walked forward to the center of the room, looking around to see anything grim or scary that has happened here all the while trying to ignore the unbearable rotting stench that assaulted his nose.
“…No idea. Sometimes, the Sixth Sense can be weird, I guess…” Kudo rubbed the back of his head, his cheeks blushing from the embarrassing fruitless fear.
“Well, it’s nothing bad, at least. But there’s no sign of Sherald anywhere here.”
“Do you think he got into a fight with someone?” Raika pointed out, still trembling from Kudo’s warning with her arms close to her chest.
“Considering that everyone in town apparently doesn’t like him, that’s a given. Sherald acts like a fool, everyone gets mad at him, then he apparently escapes into this place. Then, someone who really wanted to get him, found this place and then finds him to do the deed… Or at least that’s how I think it went.”
Hinota made an assumption based on the image of the room in her mind and considering the possible outcomes. Hinota investigated further by stepping across the room, eyeing on the smudges on the walls and the broken pieces of wood on the floor.
Hinota then told her party members to start looking around in specific places for any type of clues.
“Kudo, go check behind the counter—see if anything’s there.”
Kudo nodded and did as Hinota told. He moved towards the counter where there was a small door to enter to the other side. Kudo then grabbed the wooden door on the top and pushed it forward, letting himself through the entrance.
After Kudo checked around the broken shelves, he looked below—and widened his eyes.
Kudo jumped back, hitting the wall behind him which shocked everyone else in the room.
“Kudo?! What happened?!”
Hinota asked after seeing Kudo himself being shocked. That doesn’t usually happen unless something grotesque occurred.
“T-This is…” Kudo, his finger pointing forward, was shaking more profusely than before, urging Hinota and the others to head towards the counter, and look behind it.
Each one held their mouth in horror.
A human body, filled with gaping holes and completely white eyes. His jaw was open, but there was no sign of breath leaving his body. He was sprawled out in whatever space there was left for him. The body was seemingly wearing a white robe stained with dried blood, and holes where the blood trailed from.
“Nooo!” Raika shrieked in terror, closing her eyes with her hands and huddling to her knees, trying to pretend that what she saw never existed.
“W-What the hell is this?!” Kuki shared Raika’s panic, his body trembling in fear.
“Guys, don’t panic!” Tsuchi raised his arm, aiming his hand at the two with a surprising furrowed look. “Calm down!”
“W-What’s going on here…?” Mizuri followed Tsuchi’s calmness, but a sense of panic could be seen on her face.
Kudo swallowed his spit, his stomach nearly churning at the sight. He was used to dismantling a monster’s dead body, but in the end, he nearly buckled after seeing a human’s dead body. He held onto himself in order not to vomit, and turned to Hinota who shared a panic look alongside everyone else.
“Hinota… is this… Sherald?” He uttered out, having no idea what to feel for this situation.
“No… it can’t be,” Hinota could say without much hesitation, but a sense of dread could be felt from her. “Sherald’s a Thief class. But this… this is definitely…”
Kudo finished Hinota’s wording, the words along made everyone chill to the bone. Raika kept muttering to herself ‘no, no, no’ as she shook her head, her eyes tearing up. After seeing her in this state, Kuki lets go of his fear of seeing a human body for the first time to console his childhood friend by getting down on his knees and rubbing her head and right shoulder.
Tsuchi, despite showing his best expression to keep in his panic, had a sweat trailing down the side of his head as the sight was too much for his young mind. Mizuri didn’t even want to come close, but she turned to Hinota for an answer.
“Hino, w-what should we do? Should we call the Knights?”
“W-Won’t we get in trouble for doing that?!” Kuki shouted in panic.
“Dumbass, it’s not like we’re the ones that did this!”
Mizuri snapped back, but the tone of her voice was higher than before. Perhaps she was also afraid that the blame might be put on them.
“I believe that should be the correct form of action…” Hinota held her arms together, closing her eyes despite her shoulders trembling. “But first, we need to figure out what happened. The Knights might mess this up.”
“I-Isn’t this the kind of stuff they’re used to?! Shouldn’t we let the Knights handle this, Hinota-chii?” Tsuchi asked, confirming their inexperience to handle this.
“I know that! But think about it—this was supposed to be Sherald’s ‘special place’ right?”
“R-Right…” Kudo affirmed, nodding in the progress.
“Then, when we checked it out, we saw this… corpse,” Hinota hesitated on how to pronounce the body. “And we can see that this body is wearing some kind of clothing. It’s a robe. A priest robe. It makes sense to believe that this guy here is… was part of Sherald’s party, the party leader, Jax.”
The others grew silent. As Raika and Kuki got up to hear about Hinota’s proclamation, Kudo pursed his lips, gritting his teeth behind them.
“Jax…?” Tsuchi repeated, becoming somewhat lost.
“Jax was the leader of Sherald’s party. He’s the one who kicked him out just recently,” Kudo explained to him, however, his eyes were still set on the corpse.
“I believe Jax here tried to talk sense into Sherald after kicking him out the party. I think at some point, Sherald figured out that Jax was trying to go after his aunt, Cirya. Finding out his real motive, his emotions took control and killed him.”
“S-Seriously… that’s messed up,” Kuki commented under his breath.
Hinota let out a sigh, as if to expel any fear within her body. Once she has done so, it felt as though she was relieved of any panic. She then turned her back to the others, furrowing her slanted eyes.
“Our missing person case turned into a wanted case. It’s our job to catch this guy before he does any more harm. I believe that after taking Jax down, he’s going to go after his party members next. I think he’s going to go back into the city to find them and… do the same thing.”
Hinota issued this order, the others swallowing their spit in response.
However, Kudo was the only one who furrowed his eyes, his irises showing a sudden spark of flames burning within them.
The party members are now heading to a world where they shouldn’t be. And what’s with Kudo’s eyes? Could he be…?