Hour Empty Child
The morning sun rose from the horizon. Through the window glass that filtered the beaming sunlight, the light itself fell onto the eyes of the tanned girl with silver hair that was practically eating at her face.
Her eyes fluttered before opening, an annoyed expression marring her face.
“Cursed sun… giveth me more slumber…”
Saka muttered in her sleep before she turned the covers over her face and groaned.
Unfortunately for her, Saka came to the living room where everyone was already prepped up and ready. The living room was the same as usual—the giant television that can be mistaken as a movie screen from the theatre. Several furnitures lined up around it, with every party member sitting on it who waited for their comrade to arrive. Kudo and company looked at their new arrival with a surprised face after noticing something new about her appearance.
Her hair was disheveled, and her eyes were practically dragging to try to stay awake. Her back was hunched as if her body was ready to fall over and go back to sleep at any time.
“Did you had a good sleep?” Kudo asked, bringing a beaming smile to her face.
“Ghh… more time…” Saka pleaded.
“Haha, sleeping in Master’s home is like being in heaven! The beds are so soft and comfortable.”
Tsuchi said as the party agreed since they all slept over in the mansion instead of their usual inns. For Kudo and Hinota, it was the same usual routine, but they also agreed on the comfortable beds being a blessing.
“Of course,” Hikari came over, with two other maids by her side. “My maids make it so that the beds are always soft and comfortable whenever we rest. It’s their job to make sure that we’re prepped for anything for the day—ain’t that right, Shokan?”
“Yes, Master,” Shokan, the head maid, nodded her head once. “We always work hard to provide excellent service.”
“Mmh!” Hikari nodded her head. “Now then, some bit of news for you all!”
The party quickly turned their attention to her as Hikari moved over to where the furniture was and sat down at her big luxurious chair reserved for her.
“I heard from a good source last night that a new dungeon popped up near the border of Roprase.”
Hikari said, getting everyone to pop their eyes open and gasped.
“A new dungeon?!” Kudo repeated. “For real? How does that happen?”
“Oh, that happens all the time,” Hikari waved her hands up and down as if it was an ordinary happening. “When a dungeon is cleared, it goes back to the ground and it pops up again in a different location, designed differently for the next time.”
“B-But I thought dungeons are usually there for hundreds of years, ever since the gods first put them there as a challenge…” Hinota said, remembering what she learned from in Peranim.
“Probably because in Peranim, nobody has ever successfully completed the dungeon, am I right?”
Kudo and Hinota both nodded their heads in agreement.
“Then, that happens. Though the time it takes for a new dungeon to arrive is usually a couple of years. This time, a new dungeon appeared in just a year, which is a surprise but not uncommon.”
Hikari snapped her fingers, and instantly Shokan grabbed a rolled-up map from her inventory screen and handed it to her. Hikari then rolled open the map and turned it over, showing the location to the party.
“Currently, the DMC is trying to get a hold of it. If you hurry, you can be the first ones there and beat everyone else!”
“No way!” Kudo jumped up from his seat, his fists practically flying into the air. “Alright! This is awesome! I never thought we could actually go for another dungeon here in Roprase!”
“Whoa, you two went to a dungeon before?” Kuki asked.
“Yeah, we did,” Hinota smiled from the memories. “Though we failed, we gained a lot of good loot from it. Lots of experience too. It’s a great place with a good challenge.”
“And we’ll be heading to another dungeon too! Over at…” Kudo checked the map quickly. “ Haeldom! Haeldom, we go!”
Kudo made a fist as he punched the sky. Hinota agreed and shouted too, but the other party members weren’t exactly so keen.
“B-But I heard a dungeon is really difficult… I heard there’s always a powerful boss after every floor!” Raika said.
“It’s actually every 10 floors,” Kudo corrected.
“But we still gotta fight a boss every time, right?!”
“Oh come on, Rai! It’ll be great!” Mizuri shouted.
“Hey, if everyone’s going for it, I am too!” Tsuchi said.
“But, uhh… do we go, like, right now?” Kuki asked.
“Yep! Right now!”
Kudo replied, getting Kuki and Raika’s spirit to lower as they slumped back onto their seats’ cushion and sighed.
As the party talked about what to do, Saka walked forward, pulling the sleeve on Kudo’s shirt. Kudo turned around, noticing Saka’s deep stare.
Saka cleared her throat. “I believe my power is suited for this kind of leisure battling. Let me at the beasts, and you will not regret it.”
“Oh, so you wanna help us out?” Kudo understood her immediately. “Awesome! I… umm, Mom, how do we include Saka into our party? Usually, it’s only allowed up to six members, right?”
“The 6-man party rule is mostly an unspoken rule. It’s usually followed, but it can be broken as long as everyone agrees on the loot distribution. Parties with more members than 6 usually often fight over the loot and end up breaking apart.”
“We always distribute our loot fair and square, so Saka, you can join us!”
Kudo laid a hand on Saka’s shoulder, admitting her to the party. Saka lowered her head, hiding her light blush on her cheeks from the person in front of her.
“G-Good…” Saka muttered to herself.
The party then headed over to the guild. After a few moments spent, Kudo admitted Saka into the E-Plus without a hassle. As the rustle and tussle of the adventurers continued in the guild lobby, Hinota moved towards Saka and asked.
“Saka, that scythe of yours…”
Hinota pointed at the scythe currently strapped behind Saka. Saka turned around and looked at the scythe before turning back to Hinota.
“What is the issue with my Nightingale?”
(So she named it, huh?) Hinota lightly smiled. “Actually, I was thinking that maybe the… Nightingale needed a good fixing. You can lend it to Kudo to have it fixed. He’s an experienced blacksmith, and he can repair it for free since you’re part of the party.”
Saka unstrapped her scythe and held it tight, as if Hinota was ready to nab it and take it for herself.
“Nightingale belongs to me! I shan’t let anyone grasp it!”
“Whoa… easy there,” Hinota raised both her hands. “I didn’t mean anything like that.”
“Saka, don’t worry.”
Both the girls turned over to Kudo who moved over to their side as he happened to listen in on their conversation.
“I’ll treasure Nightingale like it’s my own weapon. I promise nothing bad will happen to it. Will you trust me, Saka?”
Kudo said in a sincere tone, putting out his hand for Saka to give her weapon to. Saka looked at the hand for a moment, pursed her lips, and let out a big puff of air through her nose.
“…Please, care for it like it is your livelihood.”
Saka said as Kudo replied in a heartbeat. Saka handed over the scythe to Kudo, which he took a moment to stare at in his hands and marveled at the sight.
“Wow, it looks pretty worn out, but it still has a good edge… it won’t take too long. I’ll be back later with it.”
Kudo said as he waved at Saka before heading to the Crafting Garage to clean up the scythe. Saka waved back for just a moment before crossing her arms over her chest as if already missing the scythe with a sigh.
(Somehow, it looks like Saka is more friendly with Kudo more than even us…)
Hinota lowered her brows in suspicion as she herself crossed her arms. But without her noticing, someone else crept up behind her and chuckled.
“She’s gonna take him away if you don’t hurry, Hino~” Mizuri whispered, causing Hinota to flinch and turned around.
“Oh, shut up!”
Since Kudo was away at the moment, Saka sat on the chair that she used to sit on before by herself as usual. She stared at the deep abyss known as the Alpha Heart, looking at all the adventurers who were constantly throwing themselves into their fun antics.
Meanwhile, the other party members watched her side with a gaze filled with concern and worry, knowing that she was the sort of girl who will never initiate the first conversation.
“Alright, we gotta talk to her at least in some point,” Mizuri said to the party members. “We can’t be scared of a pretty girl!”
“Easy for you to say,” Kuki said, scratching the back of his head. “She’s kinda scary in a way.”
“Where did your balls go? And you call yourself a man!”
Mizuri’s venomous words hit Kuki deep as she told everyone to follow her lead to talk to her. Being the first, Mizuri stepped in to talk to her.
However, Saka did not even reply.
Going with the list, Tsuchi went on next.
Not a single word.
Then, it was the fearful Raika.
Again, no word at all.
Finally, the coward Kuki.
He was shot down before he even had a chance from the way she turned her head to the side.
“Gah… it hurts too much when a girl so bluntly ignores you…”
Kuki walked back in shame, his feet dragging to the party members with his head craned down in defeat.
“Sorry…” Mizuri apologized. “I spoke too harsh. That was pretty brutal.”
“Nah, that’s just how Kui always is with other girls.”
“Rai! The hell?! Don’t say that out loud for everyone to hear!”
Raika flipped her hair as she admitted Kuki’s faults, getting Kuki to scream back with a throbbing vein on his forehead. Mizuri and Tsuchi then turned to the only one with an answer on how to ask her.
“Hino, you know any way to talk to her? I mean, you’re always able to talk to her.”
“In this case, I won’t be able to.”
“Huh?” Mizuri tilted her head.
“That girl, she’s nervous without her weapon,” Hinota surmised. “She’s probably too nervous to even talk without a weapon in hand. Only person she’s willing to talk to would probably be Kudo. Somehow, he’s the only one whom she’s more comfortable talking to.”
“I see…” Mizuri understood a little, looking back at Saka sitting on her chair.
Now that Mizuri noticed, Saka was actually darting her head around multiple times, as if being watchful of any other person going to talk to her. Her legs fidgeted and her arms squirmed slightly. Mizuri was only able to notice this after carefully analyzing her from the distance.
“Wow, she really does look nervous.”
“So there was no point in me getting shot down?!” Kuki shouted, receiving a karate chop from Hinota.
“We’re not talking about that now,” Hinota said as Kuki rubbed his head from the playful pain. “Still, we can’t just let her be. I’ll go ahead and talk to her.”
“What if she ignores you too?” Raika asked.
“She won’t,” Hinota smiled. “I won’t let her.”
Hinota spoke with a courageous tone as she moved forward, getting the party to look back in awe at their co-leader.
“Our spirit is with you, Hinota-chii~!” Tsuchi waved at his hero with a welling tear in his eye.
Hinota kept moving forward until she met up with Saka, who looked back at her with a fright and immediately hunched her back.
“I-I wish to be alone now. This emissary of darkness does not require any sort of companionship.”
Saka said to scare her off, but Hinota remained firm and dragged a chair from another table and moved it beside her. She sat down on it, turning her attention to Saka fully which only caused her to groan.
“Mmh, you conniving…”
“Yes,” Hinota answered. “I’m a conniving woman.”
Hearing that, Saka turned her head without another word, a slight ‘hmph’ sound escaped from her lips as if she was done with her already.
A moment passed as Hinota and Saka remained seated together in silence. Saka kept looking down at the ground, fiddling with her thumbs to pass her nerves as Hinota figured that it was just about time.
“Saka… can I ask where did you come from?”
Saka didn’t answer. Rather, from the way Hinota studied her expression, it was as if she couldn’t answer.
“…Do you have any family members?” Hinota asked again.
Saka did not answer as well. Hinota lowered her gaze as she couldn’t find an answer from that expression she wore—a sullen and empty expression that was hard to describe.
(It’s like this girl’s mystery just gets deeper and deeper. She won’t let us inside.) Hinota closed her eyes to be deep in thought. (But… Kudo wants to help her. He’s not even asking any questions—just wants to help her in any way he can. I gotta at least try.)
After another moment of deep thought, which for Hinota’s highly advanced mind, it was mere nanoseconds, she thought of an idea that could do the trick.
“Hey, Saka,” Hinota started. “Do you wanna know more about Kudo?”
Saka’s head rose. Her ears perked as she turned her head towards Hinota’s direction, her curious eyes telling all that Hinota wanted to hear.
“…Well,” Saka cleared her throat. “I-I do not need to know any crucial details… but… I suppose I can let you advance with your discussion…”
Saka tried hard to hide her blush, but Hinota smiled knowing that she got her right where she wanted her. Though something aggravated slightly deep inside of her, Hinota continued.
“Well, did you know that before becoming an adventurer, he was a farmer kid?”
Saka widened her eyes. “For certain?”
“Yeah,” Hinota answered with a smile. “It’s surprising, isn’t it? He’s the most veteran adventurer, but he was a farmer before he started. And he was so skinny back then too.”
“I see…” Saka nodded, continuing to listen in on the discussion.
Hinota continued speaking more on how she knew Kudo from his stories, getting Saka to listen in on every one with an attentive expression.
An hour passed, and before long, the girls were laughing together, their voices becoming higher as if they were long-time friends catching up with one another.
“Wow!” Raika said in amazement. “Hinota managed to cheer her up!”
“Gotta give it to her,” Kuki said, whistling slightly at the two. “She got skills.”
“What do you expect?” Tsuchi asked. “She’s Hinota-chii, after all!”
The party members continued to gaze in awe at Hinota who also continued to talk about Kudo to Saka. Saka finished her laughter and then asked another question.
“Then, what of his kin?” Saka asked. “Who were Kudo’s foster mother and father?”
When Saka asked, knowing the circumstances of Kudo’s birth from the earlier stories, something stung in Hinota’s heart. Her usual beaming smile and laughter ceased, replacing it with a sullen expression in an instant. Saka knew immediately that what she asked caused such a change.
“That’s…” Hinota tried to answer. “Well, they were farmers, like Kudo was. They taught him everything he knew… and…”
Hinota still had a hard time to explain about his parents, getting Saka to listen intently.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound depressed,” Hinota apologized, noticing her own change. “It’s just… recently, Kudo’s parents passed away about 4 months ago.”
Saka flinched, the light within her eyes beginning to shift as she returned to her seat, her head lowered down. “I-I see… what happened to them?”
“…It was a murder. A Dark Player took them away, along with a lot of people.”
Saka’s shoulders shuddered. Her hands grasped onto each other’s tightly as her lips pursed.
“Then… what that gigantic woman was talking about at the bath… about Kudo’s history…”
“Yes,” Hinota answered. “Before we moved here, a Dark Player came over and blew up an entire building, bringing along everyone within it to die, including his parents. Ever since then, Kudo carried that heavy burden on his back.”
Hinota and Saka both looked forward, viewing the adventurers who were having fun within the jolly atmosphere outside of the deep atmosphere they were having. Saka kept grasping at her arm, her bandaged arm as she asked another question.
“Does… Kudo has a seething rage towards Dark Players?”
Hinota had no clue on how to answer that. It was clear as day, though—he had extreme hate for the Dark Players. The time when he faced against Sherald was the one thing she could never forget, even if she wanted to. Even the time when he faced the slime Dark Player just a few days ago as well.
“Kudo has… a thing for Dark Players. He would go ballistic when he sees a Dark Player hurting other people. He just couldn’t stand it.”
Saka kept looking down at her lap, looking at her bandaged arm. Her arm continued to burn, even now, fiercer than ever. She grasped at her bandaged arm, hoping to relieve it at least just a little bit.
“Hey guys, I’m back!”
Kudo shouted, getting the attention of the girls. He had the Nightingale scythe in hand, the blade more polished and sheen thanks to his careful care. Saka lifted herself up from her chair and grabbed the scythe from Kudo’s hands.
Saka cooed, moving the scythe towards her face as she nuzzled it with great love and care. However, this brought the others to look at her in an endearing way, getting her to quickly let go of the scythe and strapped it back to her backside.
Saka then cleared her throat. “I… thank you for your service, Kudo.”
“Heh, no problem,” Kudo replied. Then he turned to Hinota for a moment before he switched back to Saka. “What were you guys talking about before I came in here?”
The two girls glanced at one another, then like clockwork, the two replied: “It was nothing.”
“Oh… uhh, okay,” Kudo tilted his head from the sudden simultaneously response. “Hinota, is everything ready?”
“Mmh? Ah, yes…”
The two leaders started their conversation, leaving Saka to herself as she held onto her bandaged arm even tighter, grasping it with her hand.
“Everyone, how’s our progress going?”
Kudo said to his party members who were standing in front of him at their table.
“We got everything we needed, right, Saka?” Hinota asked.
“Yes,” Saka nodded. “Everything is going as fate commands. There will be no issue.”
(Oh… the two seem closer now,) Kudo tilted his head. (How did that happen…? Well, as long as they’re getting along, that’s fine.)
Kudo smiled warmly at the two who were talking to each other with excited expressions. He then pulled something out of his Magic Bag inventory and grabbed some chainmail out of it.
“Saka, this is for you. This is reinforced with my blacksmithing, so it should provide some more defense for you if you wear it underneath.”
“Oh… I thank you,” Saka said, grabbing the chainmail with a surprised look.
“Mmh, how is everyone else doing?”
“I’m going to start making some short meals for our dungeon raiding,” Raika said, grabbing her arm as she flexed it in front. “I gotta put my best buffs there.”
“Good,” Kudo replied with a nod. “And Mizuri, how are the potions?”
“Going good,” Mizuri said while pinching both her index finger and thumb together. “Almost done with the mana potions and health potions with some added buffs for good measure.”
“Good!” Kudo replied loudly. “Alright, I’m getting excited! This will be our second time going to the dungeon, Hinota.”
“Yeah,” Hinota said. “It’s time for our much-needed looting.”
“Man, I can’t wait!” Tsuchi said in excitement, rubbing his hands together.
“I wonder what a dungeon is gonna be… I can’t even imagine it,” Kuki said, his lips rising upwards.
“Then, let’s aim for the hundredth floor in the dungeon, guys!”
Kudo raised his fist into the air, getting everyone along to do the same.