Chapter 136:

Vol. 9 Chapter 1: Silver-Haired Heroine Part 1

Hour Empty Child


“Everyone, assemble!”

A cheery voice rang through the otherwise loudest and deafening guild headquarters in all of Triun. The adventurers of Alpha Heart, the proud—and slightly obnoxious—group known all across the Lerabelum continent, were busy doing merrymaking and drinking. Within the midst of their revelry, the E-Plus party held their gathering at their usual table right in the dead center.

The noise of their shouts, cheers, and merriment didn’t faze them anymore since they were practically seasoned veterans at this point.

One young man whose voice cut through the explosive shouts was the leader of the E-Plus party who stood at the end of the table. At the table, several well-designed wooden chairs made with the highest of pedigrees had their legs scrape against the tile floor to allow the party members to sit down and await their orders.

“Everyone present?”

“Right here!” Kuki Windrow, the gunner, shouted.

“M-Me too!” Raika Eledad, the archer, timidly raised her hand.

“Of course, I’m here!” Tsuchi Eartherin, the tank, pounded his big chest.

“I’m obviously here!” Mizuri Seaser, the healer, gripped her fist in accordance.

“Alright!” Kudo Valkyria Braven, the co-leader, responded. “Now then—”

“You better not forget about me.”

Taking him by surprise, Kudo’s shoulders became heavier by a sudden weight. He turned his head to face two sharp and slanted eyes that shot him with the usual glare.

Her flaming-red ponytail swished about as she turned to face the entire party.

“That’s a bad joke if I ever heard of one,” Hinota Flamver, the co-leader, smiled.

“I was just joking around. I wouldn’t ever forget about you!”

Kudo smiled as the two leaders faced the party members waiting for the meeting to begin. He cleared his throat while putting his fist near his mouth for all the members to hear

“Now that we’re all here, it’s time to start. First on the list—We’re taking on an entirely different kind of quest!”

“What kind of quest is it?”

“I’m glad you asked, Mizuri!” Kudo answered. “The truth is, we’re going to take on a pretty difficult quest. Not to mention, it’s seriously super special…”

The party members slowly closed in towards Kudo as his voice became softer. He etched closer towards his members as if he’s ready to give them the greatest secret.

“We’re going to take on an Extreme Quest!”

Everyone gasped as soon as he finished. Their heads hung back in shock. Some even took exaggerated poses such as their arms sticking out in the air, and some putting their hands over their mouths.

“Umm…” Kuki asked, raising his hand. “What’s an Extreme Quest?”

“An Extreme Quest are given to those who passed B-Rank and above,” Hinota answered for him. They’re called that because the quests are mainly about taking out a very powerful boss.”

“So it’s like a Raid Boss? A-Are we really able to handle that?” Raika nearly shivered at the thought of facing a Raid Boss so soon.

“Don’t worry, it’s nothing like a Raid Boss,” Hinota chuckled. “It’s like the usual Mid-Boss that we face a couple of times.”

“Sooo, what’s so extreme about it?” Tsuchi asked another question which was on everyone’s minds.

“The reason it’s so extreme is that it’s not an ordinary Mid-Boss,” Kudo lifted his finger up, entering into his teacher mode. “We’re facing a Boss that actually has its own name.”

“A named… boss?” Mizuri repeated.

Kudo continued. “In the guidebook, it said that in legends, monsters who have made many feats in their lifetime receives a name from one of the gods. Upon receiving the name, their stats doubled, and they receive new skills according to their name. Basically, they’re like a powered up version of an actual Boss monster.”

“Stats doubled?” Kuki repeated.

“New skills added?” Raika chimed in.

“That sounds…” Tsuchi scratched his cheek, putting on a wry smile.

“Awesome!” Mizuri stood up. “We gotta take it!”

“I knew you would like it, Mizuri,” Hinota smiled, sharing her emotions.

“But can we do it?” Raika asked again. “I know we just passed B-Rank and all, but isn’t it a bit too soon?”

“Right, and what better way to celebrate it by taking on an Extreme Quest as our very first quest? Wouldn’t that be cool?”

Kudo smiled, almost slamming the table in his excitement as the thought of completing an Extreme Quest as their first one filled his mind. Unfortunately, Raika didn’t share the same enthusiasm as she sighed.

“So, what do you think? Should we take on the quest?” Kudo asked the party once more.

“Doesn’t sound bad!” Tsuchi raised his fist up in the air. “I’m ready to take on a Named Boss anytime!”

“Good answer, Tsu!” Mizuri pointed at Tsuchi. “Of course, I’m in!”

“Well, not like there’s anything better to do…” Kuki turned to Raika, scratching the back of his head.

“There are tons of things to do other than this…” Raika let out a short sigh again. “But I guess we can do this…”

“Good!” Kudo gripped both his fists, his smile broadening across his lips. “Then, I’ll go ahead and—”

“Master Kudo!”

In amidst of the rough and tumble atmosphere of the guild, Kudo’s highly trained hearing caught wind of another person voicing out his name. Himself and the other members turned to face the one coming forward.

It was one of the waitresses of the Alpha Heart Guild, one of the maids that belonged to the Valkyria family. It was a woman dressed in a black and white maid uniform with the usual colored headdress placed firmly on her acorn-colored hair. Her slightly tanned face that was framed by her twin-tails approached Kudo and the party, giving a small courtesy by lifting the hem of her skirt slightly.

“My apologies for bothering you, Master Kudo,” The maid changed her tone for a moment while giving her greeting.

“No problems, Rydian,” Kudo spoke with a smile. “What’s up?”

“Master Hikari has told me to come to fetch you and bring you to her office immediately. I’m sorry, but she said that it’s very urgent.”

“Mom’s asking me?” Kudo raised his brows. “And it’s urgent? I wonder what it’s for.”

“Considering that it’s your mother,” Hinota spoke. “It’s better that you get there as soon as you can. She usually doesn’t do this, so it’s gotta be important.”

“Right…” Kudo raised his head, his eyes solely on the ceiling. “Though, considering her, I wonder if it’ll get in the way of the Extreme Quest…”

Raika’s bunny ears stood up on end and twitched, a small hope nestling in her heart.

“Do not worry. Master Hikari said that despite being urgent, it’s nothing to worry about.”

“Oh, so we can still do the Extreme Quest!”

Raika’s ears soon fell, withered and devoid of life.

“Then, I’ll go ahead then. Everyone, get yourselves ready for the quest!”

“Got it, boss,”

Kuki answered as he placed his hand over Raika’s back to pat her to life. The other party members then did as he said, beginning their own conversation on what to bring for their mission. Meanwhile, Kudo turned to Rydian the maid as she turned to the other way.

The two walked through the busy lobby filled to the brim with adventurers about as they head towards the western side of the lobby. They entered through an open hallway that led deeper into the guild headquarters.

The hallway stretched out, showing different kinds of murals and paintings that would speak about the Alpha Heart members’ adventures. Kudo remembered one time that his mother loved the idea of history being left behind in ancient times. Her favorite part of adventuring is when she would enter into some ruins out in the world, and discovering all sorts of hidden mysteries that were left behind in the creative murals and statues.

She replicated that sort of mystery onto the guild house and her own home so that when the time came, people from the future would look upon her created murals and become astounded by the history left behind. It was something that also captivated Kudo’s adventurous heart.

The maid continued leading Kudo towards the office, which was at the deepest part of the hallway. As soon as they did, Kudo viewed upon the entrance that leads to the Alpha Heart’s guild master’s office.

It had the door made entirely out of pure mithril. The door shined with a beautiful bluish-green hue that could withstand even the most powerful skills by high-leveled adventurers. The door was also engraved with swirls, resembling that of a sword covered by flames.

Kudo remembered Hikari’s words about this—“Mithril’s light and sturdy, perfect for a door!”

The knob was also something spectacular—Adamantite. A powerful metal that is as legendary as mithril, capable of creating the most powerful of equipment. Once again, reduced to just being a simple knob on a fairly powerful door with its own engraved markings on it.

The maid turned the adamantite knob and opened the mithril door to reveal the inside of the office. The inside was as luxurious, showing the polished white marble floor with rectangular tiles. Kudo raised his eyes to notice the calming-beige colored walls and equally colored ceiling. On the ceiling was a glorious chandelier that was currently turned off since the office was already illuminated by the bright sunlight of the open glass windows.

The walls were decorated with paintings galore and filled with shelves and furniture of extravagant colors and material that would make even an ordinary mansion made by a millionaire fall flat. At the center was the powerful woman, the guildmaster of the entire Alpha Heart, who sat behind her well-furbished rounded desk. She turned on her spinning chair, her cool yet passionate eyes glaring right at her son.

“Yo, Kudo,” Kudo’s mother, Hikari Valkyria, greeted with a wave of her hand. “Good to see you!”

“Hey, Mom,” Kudo greeted back, though her greeting sounded strange for some reason. “Is there anything you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Right… it’s actually something personal about our guild. It’s very important that I talk to you about it…”

Hikari’s words trailed off as her eyes laid on the maid standing by. Rydian understood her gaze with a nod, and moved out of the room, closing the door behind her. Kudo found it odd at the sudden disappearance of the maid, but then noticed that the atmosphere of the room suddenly shifted.

He turned to his mother whose eyes now showed a slight change. Her usual vibrant colors of dazzling jade showed a more solemn shade, her brows slightly knitted. A shiver ran through Kudo.

“M-Mom?”

“Kudo… I actually wanted to talk to you about the Dark Players.”

The room got silent. The moment those words resurfaced again, his mind replayed the memories of the time he learned about the Dark Players.

And the experience of encountering one.

“…What about them?” Kudo walked forward, his expression turning cold.

“There’s a reason why I’m telling you this. I figured you should know some things considering what happened before. Kudo, you should know about what the Dark Players are, right?”

“Yeah, of course. They’re adventurers that kill innocent people for experience points.”

Even now, Kudo could not believe that such an action could exist. Dark Players are basically killers and murderers that take innocent lives who have not ever killed before, attaining their experience points as if they were monsters.

It was the same process as attaining pure experience energy from monsters by converting their corrupted mana into pure mana, thus transferring into an Adventurers’ body to help them level up and gain more power. However, for Dark Players, it was the opposite. They change the pure mana they receive by killing an innocent person and corrupt it into corrupted mana, thus turning it into Dark Experience points.

Dark Experience points have a much higher mana density, allowing someone to attain more levels than usual compared to receiving pure mana from monsters. It would have been a proper way to end up getting stronger than before at a faster pace…

“That’s right, and in return, they lose a bit of their humanity at the same time. A perfect example was Sherald back in that last quest.”

“Sherald...”

Kudo bit his lip. He wished to erase that memory since it showed more of his immature side. His quest involved finding a missing person which later turned out that their missing person committed murder and became a Dark Player. How it all ended left a bad taste in his mouth.

“Why are you telling me this, Mom? I already know about them.”

“Now, now. The reason why I’m asking you this is because you never asked why we know this information in the first place.”

That caught Kudo off guard. “W-What do you mean?”

“Knowing about Dark Players, and the existence of Dark Experience points—that’s not something everyone in the world knows about.”

“R-Right…”

Kudo nodded his head. If everyone in the world found out about this exploit, he feared that there would be more murders amongst the adventurers even in the peaceful city of Triun.

“I learned of this a long time ago when we first faced a Dark Player. It was on a quest to resolve the disappearance of several people within the town. When we found the perp, that’s when I realized what he was. After some… persuasion, I learned how Dark Players work from the guy.”

“Persuade…” Kudo could tell already the sorts of things she did to the poor man, even if he was a Dark Player.

“Don’t worry—he deserved every knife. But after learning about what they are, I knew that I had to do something.”

“Something… what do you mean?”

“Of course,” Hikari smiled. “I’m talking that our guild is not only formed just to take down Raid Bosses. Our other goal is to also take down Dark Players and bringing them to justice.”

“You mean that the guild is formed to take down Dark Players, too?”

“Hehe, that’s right,” Hikari chuckled, her once solemn eyes turning bright and calming. “I guess you could say that we are heroes of justice as well.”

“Somehow, that doesn’t fit right…”

Hikari burst out laughing once Kudo gave a complaint about that comment. No matter how much he pictured it, the rough-handling and merry-making adventurers of Alpha Heart does not fit the image of ‘Heroes of Justice’ any more than mixing juice with gasoline.

“Haha, come on, now,” A tear welled on Hikari’s right eye which she wiped it off with her finger. “Let’s move back into the topic. The Alpha Heart might not seem very heroic, I understand. But in truth, our guild is pretty much based on taking them down.”

“For real…?”

“For real,” Hikari parroted. “Often times, we investigate the crime scenes that involve murders everywhere we go, even sometimes outside our country, for the sake of quieting the Dark Players on the rise. Sure, we might be doing knights’ work, but honestly, the knights barely do anything of this magnitude.”

Hikari’s tone of voice darkened, and her mood shifted once again into an annoyed demeanor.

“Honestly, if they were to do their job right, I wouldn’t be here splitting hairs like this. It’s frustrating and stupid.”

“Yeah…”

Kudo’s memories popped in, remembering the knights that came in too late after Shinezu has already done the damage done to Vipory, the city of water. Despite giving them advance warning, the knights didn’t assemble fast enough to save the farmers from destruction.

And…his parents as well.

“But that’s not the only reason why. We’re not just helping out the knights—far from it than that. It’s more personal than you think.”

“Personal?”

“It’s more like… it’s our duty, yours and mine, as part of the Valkyria family.”

Her words hung in the air. Kudo tried to make sense but he was reaching out to nothing but air. Hikari noticed his struggle and formed a better way to explain.

“The reason for that is because you and I can be able to see the dark energy forming around Dark Players.”

Hikari’s eyes turned sharp, bringing Kudo to spark another memory in his mind.

The time when he noticed Shinezu’s energy, as well as Sherald’s aura surrounding him. Those memories flashed in his mind like blaring dark lights.

“That’s… that was it?” Kudo formed his sentence after his mind returned to normal. “That was the energy I keep seeing?”

“I see that you went through it yourself. That’s pretty much it. Since you have my blood, you can also see this energy surrounding Dark Players. It makes it so that no Dark Player can escape our sight.”

“So… Ritheru himself wants us to stop these Dark Players?” Kudo said as he started to piece together her words.

“Yes, he told me in during our meetings that the Dark Players can turn against the tide of mana. In other words, they go against the world order. You’re not supposed to kill people and get experience from it. That’s something of a by-product when the gods created this world.”

“A by-product…” Kudo finally made sense of it. “So when they created the world, Dark Experience was made for no reason?”

“In a sense, yes. If you talk about it in a video game sense, it’s sort of like a glitch—an error in the programming.”

“Glitch…? Pro-gra-min…?”

Kudo tilted his head, his eyes twitching from trying to understand the concept. He never played a video game yet, so he had no clue on what that meant. However, Hikari smiled since he looked adorable in her eyes.

“You don’t have to think about it so much. To finish this off, we can see which are Dark Players and which are just bad guys. This makes it easier to realize who killed who. But since we can’t be everywhere at once, there’s a lot of murders that are happening everywhere in the world.”

Hikari conjoined her fingers together as she continued. “That’s why the guild was formed. It’s not just to defeat Raid Bosses and gather all the special class adventurers in the world. It’s also to defeat the Dark Players and bring the world to order just a little bit.”

Kudo nodded slowly, still overwhelmed by the information.

“Well, we can still see them no matter what, but you know that even someone without the sight, like ours, can notice it when the Dark Player absorbs too much Dark Experience… as I’m sure you’re well aware.”

Kudo bit his lip. The haunting image of Shinezu becoming the darkened form after destroying the building still sometimes kept him up at night.

“Once the Dark Player absorbs too much, their bodies become like that of monsters… and they start acting like them as well. At this point, everyone can see it clearly. But we need to make sure that it doesn’t reach to that, understand?”

“…Yes,” Kudo answered.

“And you should know why I’m talking to you about this in the first place, right?”

“…”

Kudo didn’t answer. He had a faint idea on why she was talking to him about this.

“The quest you had that involved a Dark Player…and how you acted quite unlike yourself during it.”

Kudo gripped his fists. He scrunched his lips together in embarrassment.

“I’m not saying that it’s your fault you acted that way. Rather, it’s natural to do so, but just remember this—the reason why I created the Alpha Heart is that the Dark Players are extremely dangerous. The reason for that is because they are unpredictable. They’re like monsters, but even worse since they can still think at some points. That’s why—you need to be more careful when dealing with Dark Players.”

“...Right,” Kudo nodded.

“When you find one again, please contact me. I don’t want you to go and deal with him or her on your own. Understood?”

“…”

“Kudo?”

Hikari expected an answer. However, Kudo gripped his fist tightly, then faced her again.

“I… can’t. At least, not on one.”

“One you mean… Shinezu?”

Hikari understood what he was saying immediately, showing a disapproving stare. But Kudo continued, facing her directly.

“I have to defeat him… no matter what. I have to. I can’t just let him be taken by someone else.”

“Kudo,” Hikari glared at him. “This is not something I can just leave to. This guy is so bad, even I can’t catch him as easily. Sure, once I finally get my hands on him, I can defeat him no problem, but you—”

“That’s why I have to do it!”

Kudo slammed the table with his hands, silencing Hikari. The two continued to stare at each other before Kudo let go of the table.

“Please. If he ever comes up, please let me get him.”

“Kudo…”

“Please, Mom. I… I need this.”

Kudo spoke honestly, his words coming straight from his heart. His downcast look as he pleads her made her heart twinge in pain from his situation. She sighed.

“Fine…” Hikari admitted. “However… no matter what happens. If I find out that something’s going awry, I’m going to stop him myself.”

“Right… Thank you,” Kudo bowed his head in respect for allowing him.

“Hah, good then,” Hikari closed her eyes for a while before opening them back up. “That’s all for now. You can go.”

“Understood. Thank you for telling me about this.”

Kudo bowed his head to his guildmaster and turned back around for the extravagant door. He opened the door and left the office, closing the door which caused a loud sound of the door hitting the metal hinges to travel across the office.

Within the spacious and silent office, Hikari’s heart finally became relieved as she let out a long sigh, something that she normally wouldn’t show to her child.

“Hah… I feel so bad,” Hikari complained, scratching her shimmering blue hair. “But I had no choice in this matter.”

===

As soon as he left the office, Kudo became muddled with thoughts. The Alpha Heart was created also for defeating the Dark Players, and that he had the ability to pick out Dark Players from ordinary people. It brought him to understand a little about the Dark Players in general.

In short, he realized just how awful they truly are.

He gripped his fist, but not in embarrassment or shame. Anger fueled his heart as his brows knitted to reflect the inner turmoil.

He returned back to the lobby, the loud cheering of the adventurers filling his ears. The crashing sounds of some plates breaking also traveled across the lobby as Kudo went back to his table where his party was.

“Welcome back, Kudo,” Hinota was the first to greet him. “What was Master talking with you about?”

Kudo took a moment of silence, his eyes peering over at their table in the center. The party members were talking amongst themselves while reorganizing their items and equipment in their Magic Bag screens. It was obvious for an adventurer to sort out their items in case they needed them when the time was right. In this case, preparing for an Extreme Quest takes high priority to clean out the bag for only necessaties.

Kudo would usually go over the line about preparing for a quest, joining in their conversation every chance he gets for the fun of it. However, the earlier conversation left a frown on his face, getting Hinota to easily notice it.

“…Kudo, what happened?” Hinota asked again, this time her brows knitted.

“…Well…”

Kudo explained what he learned from Hikari to the party members. Ever since he revealed his emotions to the party concerning his anger issues, he promised he would talk to them about these sorts of things whenever he could. Since it regarded Dark Players, it was obvious that he needed to talk it out.

At the moment in doing so, the party members were left with staggering expressions. Some were stiff while others scrunched up their faces in disgust. One of them shivered, holding onto her arms as her ears shook abruptly.

“That’s so crazy…” Raika shook her head multiple times. “So this guild is formed to take on those crazy people? Just one of them still gives me nightmares…”

Raika would often admit that ever since the quest, Raika would often dream about the scene where they found the body, and how Sherald would frighten her by appearing right next to her. It wasn’t just Raika—everyone else would occasionally snap back into that hut in their dreams, wanting to forget every moment of it.

Her words brought everyone a chill down their bodies from remembering again.

“H-Hey, Kudo,” Kuki stuttered. “We’re… we’re not going after them any time soon, right?”

“Of course not,” Kudo shook his head. “Mom was actually scolding me on not to do that. There’s no way that she’ll let us fight against them anytime soon.”

“Oh… right…” Kuki let out a short sigh of relief. “W-Well, it’s not like I’m afraid or anything! It’s just… she says that they’re unpredictable, so it’s better to train a lot more than to fight them without preparations, right?”

Kuki chuckled as he happily adopted Kudo’s philosophy on fighting stronger opponents. Everyone else somewhat became relieved after witnessing Kuki’s cowardice in full view, bringing a smile on their faces.

“Right,” Mizuri stated, bringing her hand up to the air. “But if one of them shows up again, I’m not gonna hesitate as I did before. This time, I’ll stop the guy myself!”

“You’re our healer,” Hinota intervened. “So it’s better that you stay behind our rear and bring us peace of mind.”

“Yes, please do…” Raika let out a wry chuckle to plead Mizuri as she groaned in reluctance.

As the party continued on with the conversation, Kudo remained silent as his thought process delved deeper away from the light-hearted mood.

(I have to warn Mom about them… but if Shinezu pops out again… I’ll have to--)

“Kudo?” Hinota asked, turning her attention to Kudo.

“Ah… Yeah,” Kudo answered half-heartedly. “Umm… what were we talking about?”

“About how you look really lame when you’re giving out your stupid puns.”

“Hey! That’s not what we were talking about, right?!”

Kudo snapped back, slapping the table in pure protest which got everyone else to chuckle in return.

“No, but I’m glad to see that you’re back.”

Hinota laughed at his expense, though Kudo could pick up her meaning.

(Right… they stopped me from going too deep, huh?) Kudo let out a reluctant smile.

“Hello, everyone.”

A voice through the loud atmosphere, getting everyone’s attention at their back to the woman who appeared before them. Her long flaming red hair reminding them of their certain co-leader brought everyone to enjoy the stunning cool beauty that appeared with grace.

“I see that everyone here’s in a joyful mood,” Kasara Flamver, Hinota’s older sister, smiled at the kids.

“D-Dear Sister…” Hinota actually showed a surprised expression. “It’s been a while.”

“Hasn’t it? We’ve been gone on a quest for a while, but now we’re back. Have everything been going well, Hinota?”

“Y-Yes, it has!” Hinota answered with energy. “We were—”

“Yo, Kasara! Come on, wait for me!”

Right behind Kasara as she turned around, another person showed up running to her. Carrying various bags in his hands, the handsome man in black clothing let out short breaths as sweat streamed own his temple.

“Really cruel of you to just leave me behind to head to the guild after shopping…” Kagero, Kasara’s husband, said in a grumbling tone.

“Hehe, because I know you’ll be following right behind me,” Kasara flashed a smile which was slightly different than the smile shown to the kids.

It was the kind of smile that was half-mocking, but half-loving to her sweet husband. It was something that the other kids often enjoyed from seeing Kasara switch moods in an instant before turning back to them.

However, one of them wasn’t at all enjoying it. In fact, her glaring eyes and knitted brows showed exactly how she felt towards the arrival of her brother-in-law.

“Ah, hey guys,” Kagero greeted the party, then turned to the glaring Hinota. “And how’s it going, little sister?”

“Did I ever say that you could call me that, cretin?”

“Ah…”

Her cold and menacing words hung in the air and froze Kagero’s mood instantly. His face stiffened as another cold sweat streamed down his temple from Hinota’s pure hostility pouring out of her.

“Oh, come on, Hinota, don’t look like that. Here, I even got you—”

“I don’t need it, thank you very much.”

Before Kagero could find the thing that he was rummaging in the bags for, Hinota already denied it and politely, but harshly, apologized while bowing her head slightly. The party couldn’t keep themselves from nearly laughing at how she instantly changed from love to hate in an instant.

“Hinota… take it easy,” Kudo started to feel guilty for Kagero as he tried to reign in Hinota’s hostility.

Hinota only responded with a puff of air as she turned her head to the side, ignoring whatever else Kagero wanted to say.

“Ah, Hinota…” Kasara let out a short sigh before turning her attention to something else. “Then, Kudo, I’ll tell you. You’re about to go onto an Extreme Quest, am I correct?”

“A-Ah, yeah,” Having no choice but to leave Hinota alone, Kudo answered. “We’re preparing for it right now.”

“Then, I’ll tell you something good,” Kasara showed a smile, but her lips quickly fell downwards as her brows knitted. “Extreme Quests are nothing to laugh at.”

Her sudden solemnity brought everyone on edge since usually, Kasara does not mess around when it comes to adventuring. Both Kasara and Kagero are top-of-the-line adventurers even in the Alpha Heart guild, so the young adventurers took her words to heart.

“But Kasara,” Kudo intervened, smiling proudly. “We’re already over 200! From what I know, Named Bosses are almost near 200. Our equipment is also good and our skill levels are high too—We can handle it!”

Kudo spoke with pride in his tone, the other party members beginning to smile and break away from the serious atmosphere. Kasara smiled back, but even though it’s a smile, the mood around her was still stiffening.

“Just because you have good equipment, skills, and even a higher level… doesn’t mean you should underestimate Named Bosses.”

Her words hung in the air like a chandelier—the party members shivered at her tone of voice and demeanor. Hinota hunched herself from how serious Kasara was being, an uneasy look in her eyes.

Kudo pursed his lips. As long as his party members and himself are high level and well-equipped, it should be smooth sailing… according to the guidebook, at least.

===

Kasara and Kagero left the party’s side to return to their daily errands, which was mostly selling their loot and meeting with Par again, to her displeasure. The E-Plus, having received their warning, got Kudo to head to the counter to get his Extreme Quest.

The Extreme Quest process was a lot more complicated than he imagined. There were various papers he needed to sign, listing all the equipment and items he had for them to review, as well as writing down their precise levels and even skill levels for them to study. At the end of it all, the maid that worked at the counter, Liria, looked over at the papers with a studious gaze.

“Mmh… alright! Your party’s decent!”

“…Decent?”

Though that word seemed off-putting for Kudo, Liria accepted his request and gave him the Extreme Quest. The quest is taking down a mix of an ape and a troll—An Aproll named Axil.

“So that’s the name…” Kudo let out after reading the quest paper in his hands, becoming awed.

After receiving the quest, Kudo and his party took a few days of rest to prepare themselves for the extermination quest.

===

A few days passed. The sun blared above the top roof of the driving Ame. It drove through the long winding street. There was nothing around the street—nothing but the barren wasteland with several hulking rocks that could surpass the skyscrapers within Triun. There were a few bits of greenery here and there, however. Several creatures roamed the empty barren land, their heads peeking out in the air as they turned it several times to scope their surroundings. There were bird-like creatures that had the body size compared to small two-wheeled Ames. Once the Valkyria Ame drove by them, the monsters quickly scattered, separating themselves from each other in order to avoid combat.

“Aww, those Chickies look so cute~!” Raika’s face smushed against the window glass, trying to view at the bird creatures as much as she can before they were gone from her eyes forever.

“They’re monsters, though,” Kuki pointed it out.

“As long as they’re cute, it doesn’t matter.”

“Right…”

Kuki let out a sigh and rolled his eyes as Raika continued to view at the other Chickies that came into view.

The E-Plus was currently in the back seat of the long Ame, enjoying the very luxurious feel of the family car with it’s soft and cushiony seats and well-ventilated airspace. It let the party members enjoy the nice and relaxing atmosphere before their big fight.

Even Raika, who was currently on her knees against the seat to look out at the window, was well relaxed with Kuki sitting beside her.

Tsuchi and Mizuri were using this time to get their naps in, both comfortably snoring away with their heads laying on the soft pillows given to them by their driving maid, Chui.

On the other side, Kudo was studying his equipment again as well as his skill menu, tapping on the screen multiple times with a steady gaze that could burn through the screen if it could.

Hinota, of course, remained sitting beside him. She was doing nothing in particular, but her mind was currently processing the information they needed in their quest. She doesn’t need to check her equipment since she already remembered what she has to begin with.

Therefore, she had more time to think about what they were talking about a few days ago—about the Dark Players. Once again, her mind turned into discord whenever she would flash back to that awful day, bringing her heart nothing but pain and misery no matter how long it passed.

It has been 4 months since that day. It wasn’t that long, but it felt like it. To Hinota, it was the worst day of her life, but for Kudo, it must have been much worse than that.

Hinota turned her head to face Kudo who was currently studying like crazy.

“Kudo,” She spoke, catching Kudo’s attention as he turned around to face her.

“What’s up?”

“Well… about the topic the other day, about how you can know who’s a Dark Player or not… How can you know?”

Kudo tilted his head. She must have been curious since he didn’t actually explain how that worked for him and Hikari. He lifted his head. “I can’t really say for sure… it feels like it’s just turned on all the time.”

Kudo raised both his hands and formed what looked like a dome-like shape by moving his hands up and down. “Whenever I see a person that has Dark Experience, it shows up like this dark energy surrounding him. I think I told you this before, right?”

“Right…” Hinota raised her glare to the ceiling. “I recall that you said the same thing when we went to the Olinia event back in Peranim. Is that how it worked?”

“Yeah,” Kudo nodded. “That’s exactly it. Though I’m not sure how that happened. I remember the boss that we faced that seemed way too powerful than usual. That zombie monster had the same dark energy. Then, there was that person that saved me—he also had dark energy.”

Kudo recalled the giant zombie monster that appeared during the Olinia event a long time ago. It was the very same creature that killed an adventurer in front of his eyes and was about to do the same to his party at the time. He offered himself to be bait for his party to escape, and when it came too close for comfort, a black knight appeared and destroyed the zombie in one hit.

The black knight, in particular, was truly stunning. It had more dark energy than even the zombie monster. It was something that never left his mind, no matter how long ago it happened.

“I see, so that person was a Dark Player then,” Hinota said, putting her finger on her chin. “But why did he let you go? And that zombie monster… how did that monster even get Dark Experience in the first place?”

“I don’t know…” Kudo held his head, trying to calm down the rampaging confusion. “It makes even less sense after what Mom told me. I guess monsters can also get Dark Experience points.”

“So that happens when monsters kill innocent people?” Hinota surmised. “But then that would mean that there would be plenty of Dark Monsters, then.”

“Dark Monsters…” The very name made his bones shiver. “I really don’t like those around everywhere we go.”

“Then that would mean… there’s some kind of requirement for monsters to get Dark Experience points on their own because they can’t get it from people since they often do so to begin with.”

“I guess I’ll have to ask Mom about it when we get the time. Maybe she’ll know about it.”

Kudo gave up at that point, letting out a sigh as Hinota rose a small smile on her lips.

“Mmh… well, let’s focus on the task at hand. Look, we can see the jungle from here—the Sterile Jungle where Axil should be.”

Hinota took a glance at the window ahead, getting Kudo to react as he turned to look outside. In amidst of the barren wasteland, greenery showed at the very horizon. Once they got closer, the greenery rose to show several trees that expanded for several miles on the horizontal line.

Kudo couldn’t hold in his excitement.

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