Hour Empty Child
The party continued going down through the dungeons, passing through the floors with mercy to those who stood in their way. With Kudo as the lead, their way was blessed with good luck as this dungeon was mostly using traps and so forth relying on the adventurers’ luck, such as trick doors and treasure chests.
Each time they went down, they increased in experience and loot. However, they also had to face high-rising tides, breaking floors, and blazing rooms that would otherwise make every other party give up at this point.
It was a horrid time for the party members during their travel, but thanks to going over them, they were able to get more loot for sale when they come back to the guild. In other words, it was a winning situation.
Eventually, they got to the 50th floor. It was a feat that was lower than when Kudo and Hinota went through on their dungeon trip back in Peranim, but considering that it was Lerabelum of all places, it was a forgivable feat.
When they reached the 50th floor, they were met with a darkened sky blanketed in dazzling stars. Underneath the starry sky was a vast green field that seemed to extend as far as the horizon, leaving them to gaze in awe at the sight.
“Wow…” Raika let out an awed greeting to the sky. “It’s so beautiful…”
“Kinda reminds me of the field back near Triun,” Kuki said, craning his neck up to the sky with widened eyes. “But it feels like a lot bigger than that for some reason.”
“Mmh…” Kudo looked up above with a smile, then he turned back to Saka who also looked up with a wandering expression.
The party was able to pass through the floors with no issue concerning their new party member. Saka would demonstrate her extreme power when they would face the bosses from every ten floors they go through with such prowess and precision, they’d believed that she was a much higher level than they were.
However, there was an issue regarding something else—the loot. When an adventurer would make the most contribution, the party would usually give the loot to the person who did the most. Though each one contributed equally, Saka did so much work that they felt inclined to give the loot to her.
However, when Kudo would try to give the loot to her as appreciation for her hard work, Saka would refuse, speaking in her old tongue that she does not need such things.
When Kudo would ask again and again, Saka would refuse each time. When Hinota would ask, Saka would say that she does not need such spoils of war for her own sake as she is already strong enough.
Kudo crossed his arms—he knew that Saka must be doing this to be kind, but in the end, it felt as if she doesn’t want anything to do with them. Even though she got close to Kudo and Hinota, she would still refuse to talk as much with the party. Kudo thought he understood her plight, but it turned out to be more complicated than he imagined.
“No need to think so hard on it, Kudo,” Hinota said to him, noticing his gripe from the way he crossed his arms.
“I know, but…” Kudo said. “But there’s gotta be a way for her to get close to us…”
“But it’s not like we have to force her. Remember, you took a while to get used to both Tsuchi and Mizuri, right?”
“R-Right…” Kudo gazed downwards, remembering the time when he would feel awkward around them.
“So, don’t worry about it—time will tell. Eventually, Saka will get used to us.”
Kudo smiled at Hinota, but that smile was tinged in worry. Hinota knew that but she lets it go as she also had worries of her own.
(In the end, I can’t seem to trust her… unless there’s something that she’s after, I have no clue on what she wants… it’s as if she wants us to be away from her as much as possible. But then, why did she wanted to come with us to the dungeon, then?)
Hinota thought this through many times, but in the end, she had no clue herself unless Saka shows exactly what she wants. She looked over to Saka who was currently walking forward with a steady gait.
The party continued forward, but each member was quiet as they walked. They were too entranced with the room’s atmosphere, the stars taking away their attention mostly.
Kudo noticed Saka’s long stare into the sky, looking up every so often to possibly enjoy the stars brimming with so much light.
“I-It’s nothing…” Saka immediately looked forward the moment she was called out and returned to her walking.
“Hey, no need to stop,” Kudo said with a smile. “The stars are really pretty, aren’t they?”
“…The stars do shine as bright as they were before…”
Kudo picked up on her mumbling, catching everyone by surprise.
“You’ve seen these kinds of stars before, Saka?” Hinota asked.
“Yes… Twas’ a time before everything started…” Saka mumbled, the group not knowing if she was truly answering. “Along with my precious comrade and family.”
“Heh,” Kudo said in awe. “Must have been nice. How are they now?”
Saka remained silent as she walked further along. Kudo knew instantly what he did, and wanted to kick himself for asking that. The atmosphere turned heavy once again, getting Hinota to put a hand on top of Kudo’s shoulder.
“Probably best not to mention that.”
They eventually made their way to the center of the floor. They were able to know—because they saw something at the center.
They walked over to a giant hillside where Kudo immediately stopped them. He felt something with his [Sixth Sense], getting him to be silent and motioned the party to come forward with him. Once they peered over at the hillside, they noticed something deep below the hill.
Ruins entered their sight. A giant circle made out of white stone covering the grass field. An arch that seemed to reach for the sky stood at the edge of the circle. There were some insignias and strange letters that dressed the circle all around it, overflowing with knowledge that would make a historian drool. Since it was at a high floor, nobody would be able to go there so easily other than the usual Alpha Heart.
Along with the stars and the night sky, it made an impressive image. However, there was something standing in the center of the circle.
That something was a creature—the boss of the 50th floor.
A snake-humanoid creature, having the body of a man but the head of a long snake head. It turned its head, its forked tongue slithering about from its mouth. What the humanoid snake wore fluttered, showing the magnificent looking robe with a purple color and golden seams. It held a staff within its sharp and scaly hands which had an azure orb at the center between four rectangle-shaped poles at the top.
“T-That’s the boss?” Raika whispered.
“It’s a boss with equipment,” Kudo said, his tone slightly wavering. “If I can make a guess, those are probably about as dangerous as Extreme Quests bosses.”
“Whoa, we just got our asses pounded from that!” Kuki whispered loudly for Kudo to hear. “You think we can handle that?”
“Don’t worry, we can handle it,” Kudo said, easing Kuki’s worries. “It’s not that tough since it shouldn’t have any skills. It might know some spells, but if we can work around it—”
Saka intervened, interrupting Kudo. She stood up from the hill and jumped out of hiding, landing right near the white ruins with her scythe, the Nightingale, brandished by her side.
Her cloak fluttered, and her silver hair flowed with such grace as she landed with precision, taking the snake mage’ attention as it reared its head at her.
The snake mage hissed, putting its staff into position by aiming it at her.
“Four creature from the netherworld,” Saka spoke with a grandiose tone. “You shall not muck about in this world any longer. For I, the Emissary of Darkness, shall reap you!”
Saka posed with her scythe facing forward, bending her knees as she prepared herself to attack the boss.
“W-What is she doing? She didn’t even listen to the plan!”
Kudo complained as he stood up, having no choice but to pull out his bastard sword out of his inventory screen.
The other party members followed, and soon after they jumped from their own place and landed near Saka.
“Saka!” Kudo shouted. “You can’t just jump out without warning!”
“Awaiting for the formulation of a plan is meaningless,” Saka said without facing Kudo. “My Nightingale is well enough for this creature.”
Saka’s scythe gleamed under the dazzling starlight as she rushed forward with her scythe poised, aiming directly at the snake’s long neck as she swung diagonally down.
It created a large arc of silver as it swung. The snake mage raised its scaly hand and hissed. A wall of purple energy formed in front of it. The energy wall resembled that of the night sky above as the scythe landed on it, causing small sparks to fly out in retaliation of the hit.
“Kkh, cheating creature!”
Saka hissed herself as she jumped away from the retaliation, landing right near the party as the snake mage lowered the energy shield.
The snake hissed once again as it raised its staff high into the air. At the sky above, the stars that were glistening with such brightness gleamed once before they began to move, and fell right from the sky onto the earth.
The stars resembled like meteors as they fell from the sky. The ground exploded upon impact, the wave of hot air and fire covered the entirety of the field. The party responded by jumping away at full power.
“Damn! It literally used a star!” Mizuri shouted, jumping away from the flying bits of flaming earth that landed near her.
However, it didn’t stop there. The snake mage hissed as more stars moved from the sky, and fell right to the earth.
“I got it!”
Tsuchi shouted as he ran after the mage before the stars landed. Once he got into place, he aimed the hammer at the ground and swung at it.
Tsuchi shouted, slamming at the ground with force. It created a crater, but once the hammer lifted, the crater formed into a small doll made out of pure earth. The doll resembled that of a scarecrow as the rocks formed into clothes, making them into overalls as it stood mightily before the snake mage.
The stars that were falling soon aligned themselves, moving trajectory from where they were going and headed straight towards the doll. One of the stars hit the doll, with the others hitting the area around it. The ground exploded with the doll at the center, but there were so many stars that fell that it covered a wider range, getting Tsuchi to grit his teeth.
“T-Too much! It’s too much for my doll to take!”
Tsuchi shouted before he jumped away from the explosions, but his lesser speed got him to get burnt up from the explosion, his back feeling the burn and intense heat from it.
“But it got enough for us to move in! Mizuri!”
“On it, Hino!”
As Tsuchi got to their side, pulling out a potion from his inventory screen, Hinota and Mizuri rushed in towards the snake mage with their weapons in hand. Hinota’s katana glimmered as Mizuri’s pole swung with precision. The sharp tip and flowing top of the pole flew at the snake mage, ready to hit it with everything they got.
The snake mage raised its hand once again—the starry shield showed itself once again. Their katana and pole hit the shield, once again grinding against it and causing small sparks to fly off.
“Damn it, its’ reaction is too quick!” Hinota cursed, both her and Mizuri jumping away from the snake mage before it could swing at them with its staff.
“Hold on, I’m using my support! —[Plus Pulse!]”
Kudo shouted, lifting his arm up into the sky and letting out small white rings from his palm. The rings enlarged and encircled the entire party, showering them in the light and making their bodies glow a bright white color.
“Alright,” Kudo positioned his bastard sword. “It’ll be a tough fight, but let’s get it!”
Much like before, the fight went on for a while, at least for themselves. If it did took a while, they would have been called to get back by the DMC by now. The fight was still going strong between the E-Plus and the snake mage. The snake mage continued to bombard them with its spells that caused the stars themselves to fall onto them and explode upon impact.
In response, the party did whatever they could against the snake mage, but the boss would not give an inch thanks to the barrier it put up against them. No matter how hard they try, their attacks could not land a single hit onto the mage.
“Damn it, this boss is too annoying!”
Horrible flashbacks resurfaced in Kudo’s mind as he tried to deliver an attack by swinging his sword at the mage, only to be deflected by the star barrier it put up. In response, the snake mage hissed and poised its staff, causing another star to fall onto him.
Kudo managed to jump away in time, but the burning sensation felt on his skin despite wearing his armor still persisted, causing him to flinch and wince in pain.
“Ghh!” Kudo groaned as he landed. Then, he noticed somebody rushing forward.
It was Saka. She positioned her scythe upwards and tried to swing down her attack once again. However, the snake mage responded quickly and put up another barrier. There wasn’t even a short interval between the shield and its attacks as it managed to block another powerful attack from Saka.
Saka clicked her tongue. “Why will you not surrender?!”
The snake mage hissed once again as it swung its staff at her, hitting her side with the orb as the powerful hit blew her body away. Saka groaned as her feet caught the ground, causing them to slide from the force and dragging the dirt.
Saka managed to land, but her gut felt intense pain as she held it with her hand. Her heavy breaths resounded as each of the party members tried to attack the snake mage once again but to no avail.
“Saka! We need to work together!” Kudo shouted, trying to get her attention. “You can’t just rush in without backup!”
“Silence!” Saka snapped back, furrowing her brows at Kudo. “I shall take it down with my own strength!”
“W-What are you talking about?!” Kudo asked. “There’s no need to take it on yourself!”
“I…” Saka trailed. “I cannot let anyone do my work for me! I will not be a burden!
Her words resounded within Kudo. As she nailed down on the bosses through the rooms and even letting the party keep her loot—Kudo wondered what she was trying to do by doing that.
(Is she doing all this so that… she wouldn’t drag us down?)
Kudo managed to realize as he almost let down his sword. He witnessed Saka continuing to fight against the snake mage on her own despite that the snake mage would not let her in another inch.
She struggled, gritting her teeth and gripping onto her scythe more to the point of blood dripping from her hands.
Kudo shouted, this time not withholding his voice any longer to the new member. Saka turned back in surprise from the sudden shout as the other party members kept the snake mage’s attention.
“Saka! We’re a party!” Kudo said, closing in towards Saka. “That means that we work together—there’s no such thing as solo play. We work together and we beat it together. Then, we celebrate together!”
Kudo’s words resounded to every party member, getting each one to turn back for a second to listen to his words as they made their way to Saka.
“That’s why we can’t just let one of our own go by herself. We all go in or we all go home. That’s how we work.”
Saka remained silent as Kudo let out a hand.
“Work together with us. I promise that nobody here will think of you as useless. We’ll need all the help we can get. Alright?”
Kudo said with a smile even though the fight was still going. However, that seemingly gentle and bright smile got Saka to purse her lips in response, then she lets them go as she turned her sight to Kudo.
“…Understood,” Saka said, nodding her head.
“Then, here’s the plan.”
The snake mage hissed loudly as it continued to drop stars onto the party. The party managed to dodge in time by jumping away, but the field was already becoming that of a war zone thanks to all the craters the stars created.
“Here I come!”
Hinota shouted, her hair already succumbed into flames from her [Flaming Soul] and her body powered in a bright glow with her enchantments. She rushed forward to the boss with her katana aimed high, enveloping itself with flames.
Hinota shouted the skill as she swung the flaming katana down to the boss. However, the boss raised its staff once again and the star shield came back. The katana hits the shield, burning sparks flew out in response along with the ember of the flames.
Hinota gritted her teeth at the snake mage, but then she smiled. She jumped away before the snake mage could do anything.
As the snake mage became confused at her sudden withdrawal, it widened its slit eyes after noticing fog that has entered inside the shield.
The fog developed, and through that, Saka appeared in front of the snake mage.
“—[Foggy Escape],” Saka said before revealing her own smile. “Have a taste of this.”
Saka said before throwing something at the snake mage. The boss caught it by reflex, taking a look at what it was.
It was an iron ingot, the rectangle-shaped metal bar that was slightly heavy in its scaly hands. However, what caught its attention was the shining bright orb that was stuck on it. The bright orb continued to flash multiple times until—
—Boom! The orb exploded, taking the snake mage by surprise as it roared in pain. The shield that was put up began to shatter into pieces and fell onto the ground.
“The shield is down!” Kudo shouted, raising his sword at the boss. “Attack it now!”
With Kudo’s order, the other party members unleashed their skills at a fast pace. Each one shot at the snake mage while it’s shield was down and causing it to cry out in agony.
Each element made a strike at it, causing even more explosions than the stars ever did. Eventually, the skills from each party member slowed down, their Mana Points lowering as a result.
In amidst of the smoke cloud that was generated by the skills’ explosions, the snake mage appeared from within the smoke, hissing one more time at the party members.
It dropped down onto the ground, letting go of the staff in its hand.
“W-We did it!”
Mizuri shouted, bringing her pole into the air as if it was a rallying flag for the party to celebrate. The other party members all shouted in joy, their injuries now a far cry from being hurtful as they gathered towards one another to share high-fives.
Eventually, they got to the boss and dismembered it for its loot. Since it was a boss, its’ skin was highly valued, and the staff and robe were particularly expensive.
As the party was talking about how to share the loot, eventually leaving it into the E-Plus bank for later safekeeping, Hinota turned to Saka who was away from it all. Saka was by herself, huddling towards herself by crossing her arms over her chest as if waiting for them to finish their business.
“Yes?” Saka replied, her expression as stoic as she could.
“I heard what you were talking about with Kudo… and I have to agree with him.”
Hinota offered a smile, a gentle smile as if all her earlier thoughts about her eradicated. Saka noticed this as her expression softened from the look of her genuine smile.
“You don’t need to hold yourself back for us. Now that we’re together, we can share just about everything—because that’s what a party is.”
As Hinota spoke, Saka lowered her head as if in shame. Her expression turned into a frown as she tugged onto her bandaged arm.
“But… I am an invader—A trespasser to a group of long-time comrades. There is no need for me to go along with everyone else. I do what I am asked…”
“That’s not true,” Hinota intervened. “You don’t need to just do as we ask. We want your opinion. We want to know how you feel about it. We want to know what you think. That’s what we do with each other—we tell our thoughts and we converse. That’s how we know each other so well.”
Hinota offered her hand to Saka. “That’s why we want you to tell us what you think, just like right now.”
Saka pursed her lips. The only reason why she is able to tell this at all is that she didn’t want to bother them. The only time she let her feelings out is when she had to fight the boss that she couldn’t defeat the first time. It took them all together to fight the boss and end him, getting them their deserved victory.
Because it took them all together to defeat them, she felt as if she wasn’t needed, but Hinota offered her hand regardless of that.
Kudo followed afterwards, along with everyone else who was present. Each one had a smile on their face, showing their genuine expressions towards the girl.
“Didn’t think you were just feeling nervous around us,” Mizuri grinned widely. “Geez, you remind me so much of Kuu, it’s eerie.”
“D-Don’t say it like that…” Kudo chuckled, now showing a wry smile.
“Well, it’s the same as usual then,” Tsuchi said. “Don’t worry about what we think. Just say and do what you want.”
“B-But… I am an emissary of Darkness…” Saka said, her voice stifled.
“You’re our friend as well.”
Kudo said, getting him and everyone else to nod and agree to that. Saka looked at each of their faces, brimming with smiles as if they were looking at a fond friend for many years.
In spite of this, tears began to brim around her eyes as Saka tried desperately to keep them in.
“I-I really am an Emissary of Darkness…” Saka said between sniffs. “I-I do not need any friends…”
The other party members all chuckled as Hinota offered a handkerchief to Saka. Saka took a moment before taking it and dried her eyes.
“Then, how about we talk a bit about the loot? There’s a lot of loot we want to share with you, Saka.”
Hinota said. Saka stopped her crying and silently nodded her head.
They took the time to talk about the distribution of the loot, and a lot of other things such as how they were acting in battle. Since there weren’t any actual problems with each other, they were having fun doing casual conversations instead. Eventually—
“The time for the E-Plus party has been expired. Please use the Dungeon Call to get back up on the surface and return.”
The disembodied voice from the dungeon echoed around them, catching all of their attention. The party members all groaned in disappointment as their time was over already, but each one didn’t groan for long. After all, they had their fun and didn’t regret a single bit.
“Well, it’s time to go home then,” Kudo said, his smile brimming with happiness. “Saka, let’s go.”
“…Yeah,” Saka smiled back, getting everyone at awe with it.