Hour Empty Child
The E-Plus returned home to Triun—after an unsuccessful quest that later became null and void due to the fact that their missing person, turned into a vicious criminal, was taken away by some mysterious figure.
The client, Cirya, was taken to the hospital to have her checked out, only to turn out to have a broken neck which will take weeks to recover.
However, despite having being taken to safety, Cirya remained silent throughout the way, without ever speaking to the E-Plus as Hinota explained the events that occurred after her fainting.
Seeing that they couldn’t take any reward at her state, the E-Plus decided that they failed the request, and once returning back to Triun, they would pay the fine for failing.
It would have been a time when the E-Plus would look back at their mistakes, and try to correct them with time so that they won’t fail another quest next time, but the ride back to Triun within the Valkyria ame became deathly quiet—not a peep to be heard from these once-energetic adventurers.
That was because, throughout the ride, Kuki, Raika, Tsuchi, Mizuri, and Hinota were having difficulty talking to Kudo who remained sitting by himself on the seat, looking out the window with a crease in his brows, his hand underneath his chin used as a resting place.
He looked out the window with an expression that was hard to read, even for Hinota who has spent more time with him than anyone else in the Ame.
It was hard to breathe, so to speak, within the once vibrant Ame that was always filled with dreams and goals. When they returned, Kudo returned back to his room within the mansion, and never came out till the next day.
Until then, all meetings with the E-Plus were canceled until further notice.
About two days have passed, and so far they have never seen Kudo get out of his room. Outside the hallway, Hinota’s hand closed in on Kudo’s door, her knuckles close to the door and ready to knock.
However, her hand remained frozen like a bird’s wings through winter, unable to even make a sound. Hinota didn’t know what to do.
It was their first quest as E-Plus, and it turned out in such a terrifying and terrible way. First, they found out a murder that took place, and had the displeasure of finding out that their missing person turned out to be the murderer, but that wasn’t all.
Once he found out, Kudo showed everyone just how angry he was, and even made them fear him. For Hinota, it turned out to be the worst kind of experience any adventurer could go through.
As she bit her lip, she retracted her hand away from the door, and walked away.
“I see… so he still hasn’t come out.”
Inside the living room that had everything a person needed involving big chairs and sofas and a giant TV, Hikari sat on her giant chair fit for a king, a frown on her gallant visage with her hands beneath her chin, her elbows on her chair’s armrests.
Hinota sat on the sofa across from her, her knees touching together with her hands on her lap. She looked down at them with downcasted glaring eyes, a look of sadness overwhelmed her beautiful face.
“I don’t know what to do… he never acted this way before…”
Hinota had no other choice but to confess to Hikari what has happened and asked for advice.
“I’ve never seen Kudo like this before.”
“Is that so? So you have never seen him truly express his anger?”
Hinota felt her heart stung after hearing that and answering the way she did. If was as if this was the first time she has seen Kudo like this. As his best friend, she never felt so undeserving of that position.
“Well, not even I have seen him act like this—at the least, not in such a way like he did back in La Ruinda.”
Recalling the time when she made Kudo angry by taking off his last name for appearances, she still recalled the painful look on his face to hear about his own name being erased, and the time they spent afterward reconciling.
“I know. I’ve seen him angry before, but… not like this. It was as if…” Hinota hesitated.
She didn’t know how to say this, her mouth became tongue-tied after trying to recall the time from before. Hikari looked closely as Hinota continued.
“It was as if… the time in Vipory, when he lost his parents…”
Within her heart, she felt so much anguish that it left her in tatters. Hikari lowered her brows as she listened closely to the rest.
“When the building exploded, and his parents’ lives were lost, Kudo showed the exact same expression, I think, and charged after Shinezu. He beat us to the ground from the start, yet he did such a thing… and that cost him his stomach.”
Hikari hands slowly formed into fists, gripping tightly enough to hear from Hinota’s side. As his mother, she also felt anguish and anger for not being able to stop Shinezu in time.
“It’s my fault… if I hadn’t left him like I did… h-he wouldn’t have had to change. If I had stayed by his side…!”
Hinota contracted her stomach, her tone sounding higher than before. Her anger towards herself and her guilt gripped her heart to the point of breaking into pieces. It was her sin that Kudo changed like he did.
Before, he was so sweet and innocent, but after leaving him aside to settle her own problems, Kudo has changed into a person Hinota feared the worst.
Just like in her nightmares, Kudo has become a monster of his own.
“Hinota… do you honestly believe that Kudo changed because you weren’t there?”
Hinota opened her eyes and raised her head. Hikari raised herself out of her chair, and walked forward. She knelt down to Hinota’s level on the floor, her solemn eyes looking up to hers.
“Kudo… would have changed whether you were there or not. He had to. Otherwise, he couldn’t have been able to bear the loss of his parents any longer.”
Hinota widened her eyes. What was she saying? Kudo had to change? She didn’t understand despite having a higher intelligence stat.
“Hinota, to change oneself—to get over the feeling of loss, Kudo had to move forward. Losing someone you love… is something that changes everybody. If Kudo remained the same as you thought, then he would have to be forcing himself to remain the same, and that’s not healthy for the mind.”
As Hikari continued, light began to shed within Hinota’s mind. Her mind becoming clearer, Hikari continued.
“Kudo’s anger comes from his reason for moving forward. Towards Shinezu, the one who took them away, Kudo resolved himself to become stronger than ever before—even breaking through his limits one by one by going out at night and killing monsters to raise his level and skills.”
Hinota raised her head. What did she say? Did she just say that Kudo went out at night and trained? Her glaring eyes began shaking, her breaths becoming scarce.
“W-What do you mean?! You mean you let him get out at night?! What were you thinking?!”
“Do you think I would be able to stop him?
Hikari interrupted Hinota before she could say more. Her mouth turned shut as Hikari continued.
“Kudo would have gone anyways and ignored my warnings. If I had to limit him to the house, he would go out and train himself to the point of burning himself out. He’s the type to strive to get stronger no matter what. Even putting himself in danger if he has to.”
After hearing Hikari explain smoothly so far, Hinota could now tell Kudo’s character little by little.
Throughout the three months they’ve been separated, Kudo has struggled to become stronger no matter what. His intensity, his desire to become stronger overrode his emotions to the point of distorting them to become what they are now.
Hinota gritted her teeth, gripping her hands into fists. She didn’t see this at all. She couldn’t have seen this.
She has always believed that Kudo was the same as always, but she should have known that Kudo would have no choice but to change to keep up with his emotions.
To keep up with the being who took his parents.
‘I mean, even I had to…’ Hinota shut herself off. She bit her lip as Hikari saw her expression change one after another, realizing that she did her best to explain and stood up.
“Kudo… has never felt so alone before as he is now. If you’re his best friend, then you also have to stay with him, no matter what. I ask this of you… as his mother. Please… make him realize he’s not alone.”
Hikari said what she needed and walked out of the living room. Hinota clutched the hems of her shorts tightly, gritting her teeth as she does.
After about a few hours passed, as the sunlight of the day slowly waned towards the evening orange, the E-Plus, or at least, everyone besides Kudo was having dinner at the Alpha Heart, ordering their meals from the working maids as the jubilant adventurers had their fun within the guild hall.
However, the mood around the E-Plus was as stale as it could get. Everyone looked at their meals and ate them without any energy. It has been this way for about two days now.
For a while now, they wouldn’t have anything to say until they had to leave for their own businesses, but now one of them decided to speak.
“I just can’t believe how different Kudo acted…” Mizuri started off, finally revealing what she felt these days, and even saying Kudo’s full name instead of his shortened version.
Everyone else listened, and each one of them stayed quiet until Tsuchi spoke up.
“He was… a lot different than I thought he’d be. I figured that he was the soft type, y’know…?”
Tsuchi didn’t have his usual vigor, and instead revealed what he felt that was nearly the same as a betrayal.
“Kudo was… really scary,” Raika finally decided to say. “I-I don’t know how to look at him from now on…”
“Me neither… I thought that the boss was really cool, but… if he acts this way, then…”
Kuki revealed, feeling awful for saying something like this, but after seeing that everyone was revealing what they were feeling towards Kudo, it became easier to say.
It wasn’t as though they were suddenly going to start hating him, or at the least decide to kick him out of the party. It didn’t matter whether it was because he was Hinota’s best friend, or the fact that he is the guildmaster’s son.
Those statuses didn’t matter to them at all. It was just too difficult to handle the fact that Kudo, the gentle type of the party, would act in such a way.
Seeing her party members showing difficult expressions and saying heavy words, each one mourning the fact that they had changed their views on Kudo, Hinota knew that she had to act, or otherwise, Kudo would very well lose his friends.
Even if it meant revealing something that Kudo doesn’t want them to know.
“Guys… there’s a reason why he acted this way,” Hinota suddenly said, catching everyone’s attention as they slowly turned back towards her as she continued to look down at her meal, which she hasn’t even taken a bite up to now.
Gripping the fork within her hand before slowly putting it back onto the food-covered plate, Hinota looked forward with a solemn expression.
Hinota decided to tell them. Whether Kudo wanted to or not, she’ll tell them how everything happened before they came here.
After about 30 minutes of explaining passed, which turned out longer than Hinota thought, she realized that even after explaining, her party will still hold some doubts about Kudo’s personality.
She wanted them to see, at the least, that Kudo isn’t the type to get so violent so easily. But then, to her shock, all she saw were tears coming from Raika and Kuki, and looks of shock from Tsuchi and Mizuri.
“S-S-Such a thing…! I can’t believe that Kudo went through that!”
Raika shouted, tears forming and trailing down from her eyes as she closed them with her hands and tried to wipe them away. Snot dripped from her nose which surprised even Hinota.
Then, turning to her side, she even saw Kuki crying his eyes out, but he still looked like he was holding himself back by heaving breaths sharply.
“K-Kudo… I didn’t know you were hurtin’ so bad… We should have seen it!”
However, no matter how hard Kuki tried, he still sobbed and wiped the coming tears from his eyes. Hinota didn’t expect them to react in such a way. Turning to the other side, Hinota could see the frustrated looks in Tsuchi and Mizuri’s eyes, biting their lips as they spoke.
“Shit… And I thought Kudo was actually pretty cruel… No wonder why!”
Tsuchi, being the mellow kind of guy, actually gripped his fists as his guilt reached his heart. Hinota has never seen him regret something so much from the look on his face.
“Even I would… if my parents were taken away like that, I wouldn’t be able to smile like he did… I’m surprised that he could even be able to hold it in after so long…”
Mizuri also showed a look of regret. Her shoulders shook out of pure anger towards herself.
“So that ‘Dark Experience’ mumbo-jumbo,” Kuki, in amidst of his tears, managed to say something. “That kind of stuff is insane to believe, but that’s why Kudo went ballistic. That’ll definitely piss someone off.”
“I sure would!” Mizuri slammed the table.
Seeing the party members’ faces, Hinota now saw that each one was reflecting on their words, and not only saw Kudo’s side of the story, they sympathized with him to the point of empathy.
“…Guys,” Hinota called them, getting their attention onto her. “Kudo is… feeling as if he’s all alone in the world. We need to show him that he’s not. I know that what you guys saw felt as though that was the real him, but it’s not… He’s the kindest out of anyone I know. He’s not the type to hurt someone willingly. Not without a really good reason.”
Hinota thoroughly explained, seeing her party members nod their head in agreement. She has never felt so glad to have such understanding friends before in her life.
“Right now, at this moment, I think he’s getting ready to head out by himself once again.”
“Huh? What do you mean?” Raika asked, her eyes still filled with tears.
“Kudo is getting ready to head out to kill monsters in the night.”
““““W-What?! He’s crazy!””””
Each one reacted in such a strong way, all of them hit the table with their hands in response.
“I know, but I just learned that he does this as a regular thing. I know he’s going a lot more than before. He’s in danger right as we speak. That’s why—”
“We need to stop him!” Raika stood up, her chair scraping against the floor as she shouted.
Then, before long, Kuki, Mizuri, and Tsuchi followed her and stood up from their chairs.
“We can’t let the boss do himself in like this!” Kuki raised his fist.
“I don’t want him to feel alone, either!” Mizuri shouted.
“He’s our leader, and our precious comrade!” Tsuchi grinned as he punched his fists together.
Seeing her party members, Hinota looked down and smiled at herself, then, she also followed along and rose to her feet.
“Right! We’ll teach Kudo that he got us by his side, even if we have to kick his ass to make him learn! Everyone is with me on this, right?!”
““““Right!”””” The E-Plus members each nodded their heads in response.
“Then, let’s go to Kudo—immediately!”
The E-Plus roared at her command, and immediately began their own personal quest.
With their hearts ignited, the E-Plus, now learning that Kudo is more human than they think, rushes off to save him from his despair. Can Kudo be saved from his own emotions…?