Hour Empty Child
A screech resounded in the air.
Another death-filled scream later.
The sounds of eternal demise echoed through the air, like a symphony of ruination that has fallen onto the land. Yet, the young adventurer continued like it was no big deal.
The young adventurer could only feel one thing—hatred. It oozed out of his pores. He swung his bastard sword and strikes down another monster that came his way, with no sense of strategism and cunning.
He only wanted to kill something to ease the torture in his mind. Kudo, the young adventurer bringing havoc and chaos in the monster world, was out in the dead of night, the stars filling the sky above, doing his usual routine of gaining experience.
However, he had no such purpose of doing so this night—instead, he was out just to make himself feel better.
The only way for him to get out of any slump is to improve himself farther by gaining experience and practicing his skills to become a better adventurer. This would normally cheer him right up as he slices each monster in the forest and gains their loot in the process, but instead, just like the last night before since he returned, he still felt empty—sad and broken.
He felt that there was no point in all this. No matter how hard he tried to kill the monsters, or gain more levels as he does, he still couldn’t feel better. Instead, he felt worse than before, as if he was burrowing further and further down into the ground, darkness surrounding him at every corner.
It becomes darker and darker with no sense of light filtering through to guide him the way. Only darkness was there. The cold, unfeeling darkness.
Kudo creased his brows as he continued annihilating every monster he could find. He had to do something, because he wanted to go back to loving adventures as he normally did.
But somehow, he just couldn’t. After that quest, after realizing that there was another poor soul that has resolved to kill another person just to make himself feel better, or to even improve himself, it made Kudo realize that there were more people like Shinezu in the world, and that just depresses him further.
Even if he improved himself, even if he struggles to gain the best equipment or increase his skills or status, there was no chance that there was another poor victim at the hand of a selfish, cruel bastard that would take his or her life just because he can.
It made Kudo sick. It made him angry. It made him want to just reach his hands out and grab their necks to stop them from ever hurting anyone else again. Why would anyone do such a thing? Why would they hurt another just because they can? Don’t they know that they have feelings too?
The warrior male and the female mage, once they found out that their friend was murdered, all fell to their knees and cried. They were suffering so much pain over the loss of their friend, and neither of the E-Plus members could do anything about it.
Kudo couldn’t do anything about it. Even when he did, somehow, he angered Hinota, and was treated like some villain. He was shunned by his friends throughout the ame ride. He never felt more alone than he was now.
Even so, Kudo knew that what he did was the right thing to do. Isn’t it? It’s the right thing to do to stop a person from hurting someone else, and making sure that they never hurt anyone else ever again.
Otherwise, they’ll just get over it and hurt another person. Killers and murderers only want one thing, and there was no going back for them even if they were forgiven, so why give them a chance at all?
They had plenty of chances, and they lost it all the moment they plunged their knife into another person’s heart. The more Kudo thought about this, the more anger he felt towards Sherald, towards Shinesu.
And especially, towards himself.
If he was faster, if he was stronger, if he was as strong as his mother, nobody would get hurt. He has this earnest belief in his heart. Otherwise, how else can he move forward? Now that he was alone, he has no choice but to keep moving forward by himself.
Just as he had always planned from the start of his adventure. Kudo knew that he wouldn’t make any friends considering his personality, so he planned out his entire adventure that only needed himself to work.
All this time, he had received help and company from the many friends that have gathered around him, but now, he was alone. Each one of them turned their back to him, and left him to his own devices.
If that’s the way it’s going to work, then Kudo will just rough it alone.
He has to—to move forward.
The more he delved himself further into the cyclone of hatred and depression, the further he went towards the forest as he kills each monster without remorse. He didn’t even have the energy to pick up more of their loot, and continued walking further.
Before long, light began to shine in his eyes as he looked up to see, voided of any trees, the vast and clear dark sky filled with glittering lights like jewels that scattered all over.
He soon realized that he came across a clear plain that had no tree or rock in sight—only grassland everywhere he sees.
Did he get lost? It wasn’t like him. He walked further, knowing that no monster would come around because then his Sixth Sense would tell him.
As he walked further, he finally sensed someone behind him, walking forward with heavy steps that crunched the grass. He turned around, his sword at the ready to fight this apparent two-legged monster.
But instead, he found himself to be a target of two glaring purple eyes that he knew all too well.
“…Hinota…” Kudo muttered, lowering his blade towards the ground to see Hinota dressed in her armor, standing right in front of him with a glare.
“Kudo… so this is where you were.”
Hinota looked around, as if to notice her surroundings. She then turned back to Kudo, who remained glaring himself. Hinota could see the look on Kudo’s face, and it was filled with exhaustion.
His eyes looked dead, yet they continued to glare with a sense of crimson fire burning within his jade eyes. However, that once sparkling light within his eyes were gone, and only a vast emptiness covered his irises.
Just like before, Kudo showed this empty look when he is feeling an intense surge of emotions. Hinota knew this all too well, considering that she saw this during the time Kudo lost his parents as well.
“Kudo… how are you feeling?” Hinota asked to keep the conversation going.
However, Kudo remained silent for a moment before answering.
“What are you doing here, Hinota? You’re not supposed to be here.”
“And you’re telling me that you should be? Do you think you outrank me or something?” Hinota snapped.
The way Kudo told her to stay off with that somewhat glazed look riled her up. How dare he act this way to her?
“That doesn’t matter. Just… go back home. It’s dangerous here.”
“I should say the same thing to you! Kudo, return home with me!”
This time, Hinota dropped the formalities and plainly demanded him to go back home.
However, Kudo only turned around, his back facing Hinota.
“I’m not done yet. I’ll go back when I am.”
Before Kudo could continue walking, Hinota’s sudden shout stopped him midway. Kudo turned his head around, his eyes peering at Hinota with a dead-like look.
“I just want to say this… the way you acted towards Sherald was unprofessional. Even if he did deserve every punch and stab from you, and with good reason, you didn’t have to go so far.”
Hinota had to get this out of the way, as the leader of the E-Plus. When one of their members does something wrong, it’s only natural that she has to admonish them, even if it’s Kudo, the co-leader.
“It made us look bad, but everyone in the guild understood the reasoning behind it, so we were forgiven even when we failed the quest, but that’s not what I came here to tell you.”
Hinota raised her voice, making her sound clear and crystal as Kudo turned back around to face her entirety.
“Going out like this is dangerous, Kudo. You could really kill yourself like this someday if you keep this up. Master told me that you were doing this ever since you came here, so I got worried. That’s why I’m here. I figured you would be here to train yourself.”
Hinota clutched her chest tightly.
“I know what you’re going through. The feeling of loss, of pain and misery. Like there’s a permanent ‘loser’ sign above your head and you just can’t get it off.”
Hinota explained in a way that she felt was natural. She hoped that her words would go through to him.
“I know the feeling most of all. I know you, Kudo, so I know how you fe—”
“HOW WOULD YOU KNOW?!”
Hinota flinched the moment Kudo’s cry rang out from him. His voice became strangled to the point of distorting it, frightening Hinota for a moment as Kudo bent his torso as he did, gritting his teeth as his scowling eyes met with Hinota’s.
“I WAS THERE! I saw it happen with my own eyes!”
Kudo didn’t even have to explain further, as Hinota knew exactly what he was talking about. The desperate look in his eyes showed it all.
“I was so close…! I was right there, near the door! If I had been faster, I could have saved them! If I had been stronger, I could have stopped all of it!”
This was it. Hinota knew that this was the very emotion that he kept inside all this time. Silently buried within his heart, deeper and deeper it went as time passed by. But now, it has been released, stronger than it has ever been before.
“If I was just stronger than before, I could have stopped everything! But I couldn’t! And now they’re gone! That’s why I had to get stronger! Stronger than I ever was! If I don’t… If I don’t, then I’ll lose more precious people!”
Kudo’s tone nearly broke, his fists gripping so hard that his nails were cutting the skin of his palm. The blood trailed from those cuts, dripping from his hand that has fallen on top of a single grass blade before eventually falling to the ground.
Hinota could see the desperation, the anger riding his very emotions. And there was something else too.
She could see tears forming in his eyes along with the blood in his hands. During this, Kudo didn’t realize that he had dropped his sword in the process.
“You don’t know what it’s like! You have always been strong. So you don’t know what it’s li—“
Kudo’s head turned, his cheek suddenly burning and stinging from the pain ensuing. He only just realized that Hinota slapped him across the face. He turned back, his eyes widened, to see Hinota biting her lip in pure anger.
“…I know exactly what it’s like. I know because I did the same. So don’t you patronize me.”
Tears start to form in her eyes as she lowered her hand, stinging from the hard hit she gave him. Kudo felt his cheek by rubbing it with his hand, continuing to see Hinota with widened eyes.
“Yes, I was also hunting at night. You weren’t alone in thinking about this. I went out there every night, killing everything to get as strong as possible. If I didn’t, I couldn’t bear seeing myself in the mirror. Did you think you were the only one that suffered that night!?”
Her tone becoming higher, she screamed to the point of flinching Kudo, making him arch backwards from her sudden shout.
“I lost two people who I met the first time, but have never felt so close to! I felt more close to them than to my own parents! I thought Trun and Meiki were the kindest parents that I know, and it hurt so much to see how they ended up! So don’t think that I didn’t care enough to feel hurt by their deaths!”
Hinota gritted her teeth. Her anger showed Kudo exactly what she felt this entire time as well, like a geyser that erupted from the massive pressure within the earth.
“That’s why I strived to get stronger no matter what, but you know what? I almost died, several times! It was because I was alone that I had nobody at my back. I didn’t have you at my back, so I nearly died all the time. But I kept going, because I wanted to get stronger too. You’re not alone!”
She gripped her fists tightly, putting enough pressure to match Kudo’s.
“Kudo… you’re not the only one who wants to pay back Shinezu! I want him to suffer for what he’s done. But if that meant always staying angry and keeping hatred in my heart, that’s no better than being dead. I don’t want you to go through that, Kudo, because being alone hurts more than anything else.”
That reminded her during her years when her sister left her home. She never felt so alone, so strangled by her own parents. But then Kudo came into the picture, and soon enough, everything around her became warmer, like light shined down upon her.
After getting her feelings across, she saw Kudo looking down, gritting his teeth as tears flowed from his eyes. His shoulders shook as he listened to every word that came out of her mouth.
“Kudo… let me be with you.”
Kudo looked up to her, finally seeing a smile on her face.
“I know it hurts, that’s why… I want to be with you. I don’t want you to be alone. I also don’t want to be alone. That’s why, let’s stay together. Because I know that when we’re together, we’re unstoppable. Nobody will get in our way.”
Hinota closed in towards him, looking up to his face as he was slightly taller than he was before when they first started.
“Kudo, let’s keep working hard together, okay?”
Hinota flashed a smile that shined like the moon above. The moonlight caressing her face made her visage all the more beautiful to see. Seeing such a dazzling smile, the inner turmoil within Kudo’s chest seem to just fade away.
Now, nothing but a simple warmth filled it.
“…I’m sorry, Hinota,” Kudo managed to stop crying, but his eyes still glistened with tears and were red as they can be. “I just…”
Before he could finish his wording, he was suddenly embraced. He felt his torso wrapped around so tightly that it seemed to be trying to crush him, but instead of pain, he felt a satisfying warmth.
Hinota rested her head on his shoulder, a smile on her face.
“Don’t worry about it. I always got your back,” Hinota giggled as she hugged him tighter.
Kudo raised his hands, and wrapped his arms around her as well. The two don’t usually share a hug, only on special occasions such as the time they left each other in Vipory.
Kudo thought that he wouldn’t be able to share this feeling of warmth anymore, but every time he comes back to it, it made him that much happier.
(This feels way better than grinding monsters…) he thought happily.
“Alright! They did it!”
Suddenly, Kudo reacted in a strong way that his whole body flinched. His eyes grew wide as he looked up behind Hinota, and noticed the four party members closing in on them. Each one of his members, Kuki, Raika, Mizuri, and Tsuchi, all shared a smile on their faces that seemed the opposite of what they showed during the ame ride.
“I thought things were getting kinda dicey, but I figured that you two would make up!” Kuki shouted, his hands behind his head with a silly smile.
“I knew that the two of you would make it through!” Raika said, clapping both hands with a radiant smile.
“Mmh, this is how it should be between lovers, right, Tsu?” Mizuri turned to Tsuchi while crossing her arms.
“Yeah, otherwise, it just ain’t natural!” Tsuchi grinned back.
Hearing the word ‘lover’ got the two leaders to quickly release their hug, their faces burning red.
“I-It’s not like that!” Kudo snapped back, showing a blushing face that made his party members laugh out loud.
Seeing that they were acting naturally towards him, Kudo let out a sigh of relief. He never felt so glad that they didn’t start hating him.
“Kudo… we’re sorry that you went through something like that,” Raika stepped forward, her eyes looking up with a sense of depression around her visage.
The others showed the same expression, leaving Kudo to see those and say something.
“I-It’s not like I wanted to say it, anyway… So you guys were really listening, huh?”
Kudo said, rubbing the back of his head feeling as if he was tricked.
“We’re sorry, but we listened to what happened in the past too…” Mizuri offered a word of apology.
“I told them what happened, so if anything, I’m to blame.”
Hinota turned to him and arched her back to bow to Kudo. Kudo raised his hand in counter.
“Don’t worry about it. They would have known about it sooner or later, anyway.”
Kudo finally revealed a smile, the same smile that the party were used to which got them to share it back.
“Great, now that we got this emotional moment out of the way, let’s start training our asses off!”
Kuki decided to intervene and raised his fist, surprising Kudo.
“Wait… so you’re saying…”
“Like I said, Kudo. We’re always gonna be together—even during the hard times. That means that we’re together when we’re hunting at night, too.”
Hinota explained what was already on Kudo’s mind, surprising him as he turned to his party members to see them smiling back at him.
“Yep! We’re together like blood brothers, so don’t expect us to leave you behind!” Tsuchi said.
“Blood brothers and sisters, you mean,” Mizuri corrected.
“Right! I forgot to include Raika-chii and Hinota-chii, too!”
Before long, Tsuchi bended his torso forward, feeling intense pain from his stomach after being punched with enough force to make a giant like him tumble from Mizuri.
“You also mean me, right?!”
Mizuri, in a fit of rage, threw another punch towards Tsuchi as he fell backward and eventually to the grassy ground. As the others got to laugh at this, Kudo saw this scene as if he was seeing an image.
Seeing his friends together, it seemed like a dream that he would have such understanding friends like these. And when each one turned their heads towards him, they were showing that he was a part of them.
This made Kudo feel so much warmth that he couldn’t stop himself from smiling. He knew now that he is not alone.
“Then,” Hinota stepped forward to Kudo, offering her hand to him. “How about we get started and hunt some monsters to start things off? We gotta pay back to the guild by getting ready for the next quest.”
Kudo showed a strong affirmative nod before taking Hinota’s hand with his own.
This is the revival for the E-Plus, the night where they renewed their goals to become stronger together.
After the intense swirl of emotions, their bonds grew stronger ever more. Nothing can stop the E-Plus now!
Thank you all for the reading through the entire volume! I hope everyone enjoyed it so far. There is still just one more part to publish, and the entirety of Vol. 8 will be completed.
I hope it is to your liking. If you like it, then give a vote or like here, and comment if you wanna say something. See you guys then!