Hour Empty Child
“Hey, what happened to Saka?”
Kuki asked as the celebratory party within the Alpha Heart lobby continued on. Despite the festivities commencing, there was no sign of the guest of honor at all. The other party members, who were enjoying themselves by munching on the food, noticed this plight as well.
“Where did she go…?” Raika said, noticing this now. “Weren’t Kudo and Hinota with them too?”
“Maybe they went out with her or something? She doesn’t like being in big groups, remember?” Tsuchi said, biting onto the giant chicken leg.
“Still, they would have messaged us, or something…” Mizuri said as she put her finger to her chin.
Before they could give this any thought, the doors of the lobby were slammed open, surprising everyone who heard it. Kudo and Hinota slammed open the doors themselves, showing themselves with sweat riddling their faces and concern marring their faces.
“Guys, it’s bad!” Kudo shouted. “Saka… she’s gone!”
Everyone in the guild stopped what they were doing. Including the E-Plus, who showed more of a shock than the other members. Kudo and Hinota entered the lobby while the E-Plus went up to them.
“W-What do you mean she’s gone?” Mizuri asked.
“She’s gone… she disappeared and we have no idea where to find her!” Kudo said, gripping onto his fist while he gritted his teeth.
“W-What happened, though?” Tsuchi intervened. “Why did she leave?”
Kudo remained silent as Hinota pursed her lips in response. The other party members felt a chill down their spines from this sudden silence as Kudo answered.
“That’s… Saka is…”
Kuki said aloud, speaking from everyone’s experience from his story. Kudo gazed downwards, not wanting to know their exact expressions.
“So Saka was… a Dark Player?” Raika said in a low voice.
Every Alpha Heart member kept to themselves since it was the E-Plus’ issue that Saka was gone. However, they still showed worry on their faces to the young adventurers.
“That can’t be…” Mizuri trembled. The memories of Sherald resurfaced in her mind, shaking her head in response. “That can’t be! That girl can’t possibly be a Dark Player! She just can’t be! She’s so…”
“I know…” Kudo said, pursing his lips. “I know that. But it’s true. I saw it myself… not just her dark skin, but also her aura… it was filled with the same aura from Sherald and the other Dark Player… she’s the same.”
Kudo said bitterly, his tone unlike his usual gentle sound. The party caught on his plight, getting them to slowly accept this.
“This is the reality,” Hinota answered. “We have no choice but to accept this.”
“Right… Hinota,” Kudo ignored his issue and turned to Hinota. “Can you use the Locator to find her?”
“I could, but Kudo… what do you plan to do?”
Her question brought Kudo to a standstill. As the party members watched, Hinota asked with a serious glare.
“What do you plan to do with Saka? After finding her, what are you going to do? Are you planning on letting her go, even after knowing what she’s done?”
Kudo remained silent, hesitating on what to answer. Hinota was not at all saying that they needed to punish Saka, but unfortunately, they can’t just ignore what happened. If this was true, then Saka committed a crime as well, making her an enemy for the Alpha Heart.
Hinota didn’t bother telling him all this because he already knew what she meant. Kudo gazed downwards for a moment before raising his head up.
“When I find her… I’ll have an answer,” Kudo finally said. “But for now, let’s make sure that she’s safe.”
“…Understood,” Hinota, somehow, smiled at that. Her heart warmed at his answer, despite that he didn’t actually answer it at all.
Each one turned their heads towards the entrance doors. The doors were still open, so they could hear the sudden explosion immediately. The ground began to rumble where they were, getting everyone to stand up from their tables. Where the night sky was supposed to be dark, there was a strong light emitted at the distance. A strong color of yellow and red that crawled upwards in a raging fire.
“W-What was that?!” Kuki shouted, getting everyone in the lobby on edge.
“An explosion…?” Hinota said. “In the city?”
“W-Where did that come from?!” Tsuchi shouted.
Kudo turned silent. His body felt a chill that he felt just once before. But it shouldn’t be possible. This kind of feeling that burned within his skin was too disturbing to actually discern.
“No… it can’t be. No way,” Kudo finally said, shaking his head as he warded off the emotions swelling inside of him.
“Alright, everyone relax!” Hikari shouted, her stern voice devoid of the usual cheeriness as she addressed her guild members. “It’s hard to believe, I know, but we got a terrorist in our own turf!”
The moment those words surfaced, the angry roars of the guild members howled in the lobby, each one banging on the tables and walls and the floor to discharge their wrath.
“How dare they attack our own city?!” One guild member shouted.
“They think they can deal with us? Bullshit!” Another cried out.
“That’s right,” Hikari responded. “We have an invader coming through in our own city! You know what that means?!”
“It’s time for war!”
The guild members shouted, each one proudly exclaiming with their weapons held high in response. The E-Plus could only be baffled at this display of righteous power and authority, even though they were only adventurers.
“This is getting intense…” Kuki whispered to Raika who nodded in agreement.
Meanwhile, Hinota grabbed Kudo’s arm, pulling him in to speak to him since the lobby was too loud with their cheers. “Kudo, don’t you think that this is a little too close of a coincidence?”
“Yeah,” Kudo understood what she meant. “Saka’s gone, and suddenly an explosion… it’s gotta be Dark Players…!”
Kudo turned to the party members. “Guys, we’re going to find Saka in this mess, and get her to return with us. But we gotta make sure that we avoid everyone else too. We can’t have anyone here find out about Saka—especially Mom…”
“But, Kuu, how do we find her?” Mizuri asked.
“We use the Locator. Hinota can use it and tell us where to find Saka. Then, we’ll split up and try to find her like before.”
“But Kudo,” Kuki asked. “Dark Players are attacking the city, right? What are we gonna do if they target us?”
Kuki asked to be sure of what to do. Kudo, in response, narrowed his eyes, surprising the party.
“Escape. Get away from there as fast as possible. Dark Players are too dangerous to face. I know it first hand. Whatever you were doing—abandon it and get away as fast as possible if you’re spotted.”
His narrow eyes were intense, enough to call them the same as the time he faced against Sherald. The other party members felt his resolve to pull this through even if he had to go through this alone. But the party members wouldn’t let that happen.
“I get that…” Mizuri said, her fist slowly shaking. “But there’s no way I’m abandoning Saka!”
“Right. Sorry, Kudo,” Raika said. “But I don’t want to leave Saka all by herself. I’m staying too.”
“We’ll fight the Dark Players if we find them,” Tsuchi said, putting a thumbs-up with a smile. “We can handle some if you can, dude.”
“We can’t call ourselves adventurers if we can’t face tougher foes every now and then, right?” Kuki said, recalling what they said before.
Kudo was astounded by their own resolve, but then realized that there was no point in asking them to leave. He answered with a smile.
“Then, promise me that you’ll return to the guild alive, and make sure to bring Saka with you.”
Kudo said, putting his hand out in front of everyone. Each one knew what this meant, and pulled out their hands forward. After putting each hand on top of each other, Kudo nodded and shouted.
“Alright, split up and find her, no matter what!”
Kudo said, bringing their hands up into the air with a break for the party.
Making sure to avoid everyone’s sights, the party left under the heavy noise of the guild preparing themselves for the fight. Each of the members left in a hurry to fight the possible terrorists attacking the city.
During so, the party headed out in the same way, pretending to be the assaulters, as they split up the moment they got away from the guild to separate parts of the city. As part of their plan, Kuki and Raika were the first to go to the west side of the city while Mizuri and Tsuchi went to the north where the suburban areas were.
Kudo was by himself as he ran towards the south side. He told Hinota that they should split up to cover more grounds, and since they were slightly higher leveled, it was fine if they were by themselves. Hinota did so and went to the east side.
Kudo checked on the map of his phone, seeing the red dot that seemed to constantly shuffle around the different parts of the city in a rapid pace.
“Figures. She’s disappearing and appearing all over the place again. Maybe I should try my luck?”
Kudo said to himself as he ran by the sidewalk, making sure to avoid the sights of the other guild members that were running around. Despite the massive explosion, there weren’t that many people around. It was possible that they were staying at home, avoiding the possible accidents that were occurring.
There were dozens of knights prowling around, moving in a march to find the culprit that committed the crime. Since the explosion happened recently, they were dispatched to find the person, but since they were still running around in a frantic, it looked like they haven’t spotted him yet.
“Hehehe! Looks like we found some nice prey!”
A disgruntled voice permeated the air. Kudo reared his head at the voice, his skin crawling from the sound. The knights gathered around the individual who shouted such nonsense without hesitation.
He looked and noticed—dark aura around the dirty-looking man. Though he wore simple clothing, blood was smeared on his shirt and pants, his hand gripping onto a large hunting knife tightly.
“Geahahaha! Give me blood! Give me dark experience!”
The man shouted nonsensically, swinging around his hunting knife as if there were dozens of peple in front of him. However, he caught nothing but air as the knights kept their distance, and even pulled out their long spears.
The rest Kudo ignored as he turned around to run the other way.
“Dark players… they’re… everywhere!”
Kudo couldn’t believe it, but he could see within his sight various dark auras, and if he closed his eyes, he could sense them all around the city in different sections. His heart beat fast as the thought of actual Dark Players invading the city was becoming too much for him to bear.
Who are these people? Where did they come from? Whoever they are, them doing this is practically suicide. But he couldn’t think on that any further.
However, as the snow fell from the sky onto the ground which became a battlefield within the city, Kudo recalled the time when the snow was water, and the streets were wet.
Kudo’s mind brought an image of the black man he faced before during that time, but he shook his head to get rid of it. His fear was playing tricks on himself. At least, he hoped that it was. It was just a coincidence.
“Damn it, I can’t get distracted! I need to find her as soon as possible!”
Kudo shook his head again as he ran faster than before, avoiding the others and using whatever locating trick he used in his skills to find her.
Back at the Alpha Heart Guild, Hikari sat behind her desk in her office. There was a small screen attached to the desk, showing the news station recording the accident that occurred just moments ago in the city, and the attack of dozens of strange maniacs. It showed a young woman in her blazer jacket and skirt reporting what was going on in the city, with dozens of knights behind her doing the investigation of what was going on.
“There’s no way they can do anything about this. It’s better to just leave this to me.”
Hikari said, or she would like to say, but she had to stay behind. Since she was part of the council, one of the special rules designed for her is to make sure not to exhibit her power within city boundaries. It was the sort of a lock on her skills to make sure she wouldn’t go crazy, to avoid a possible dictatorship within the fair city of Triun as the council members run it like clockwork.
But in truth, Hikari had no interest in such things. All she cared about was adventuring with her comrades. However, it was annoying to deal with since she would love nothing more than to fight the possible invaders attacking her home, but she has no choice but to leave it to her precious comrades to fight for her.
“Being a commander is tough…” Hikari said, letting out a sigh.
As she was stuck in the office, bored out of her mind as she watched the snow fall onto the city through the window, somebody knocked on the door. After a brief pause, the door clicked open, revealing Kasara who closed the door afterward.
“Master, I couldn’t find the E-Plus party anywhere. Did you sent them off somewhere?”
“Ah,” Hikari pointed at the screen. “They went outside, probably to look for Saka.”
“What?!” Kasara shouted. “Why would you let them go outside when there’s a chance that a Dark Player is outside?!”
Kasara showed a furious glare, which was obvious considering that her little sister was a part of it. Hikari, however, smiled at that ferocious glare and answered.
“That explosion…” Hikari said. “It’s possible that ‘He’ is there.”
“He… you don’t mean…”
Kasara knew exactly what Hikari was talking about. How she could smile like this while still sending the young party outside along with that person she mentioned is beyond her.
“But… why?! You know how dangerous he is!” Kasara shouted, swinging her hand out in anger.
“What else can I do? With Kudo’s luck, it’s possible that he might find him. Once he does, Kudo will then have to make a choice—A choice that will affect how he grows from now on.”
Hikari, this time, showed a furrowed expression that left Kasara speechless. Her own look was enough to tell her that she herself wasn’t fond of this decision.
Kasara already knew what happened between Kudo and the incident back in Peranim. She was there when it happened. However, it was too soon. Too soon even if Kudo had raised his levels and skills.
“Master Hikari, even if Kudo has to make a choice, don’t you think that before that, he’s going to get killed?”
“I trust him.”
Hikari stated, surprising Kasara. Hikari turned and stepped forward to where the window was, viewing the snowing night sky and the city that was glowing with a bright red.
“I have to. If I don’t, then Kudo will never grow. Trust me… I don’t want this any more than you do.”
Hikari said without facing Kasara, but she could tell what expression she was making. Kasara gazed down, understand what she means.
“Are you… able to handle it?” Kasara asked.
“…I have no choice. Honestly, this job is even tougher—being a mother.”
Hikari said, placing a hand on the window glass. Without letting Kasara see, her fingers gripped on the window glass with a firm tightness that was enough to break it if she wanted to.
Hinota ran throughout the east side of the city, which was mostly just stores that were closed during this accident. In the distance, she could hear the following screams from the people that were still outside, either trying to run away or from excitement from being in the scene.
She also noticed some random attackers coming around swinging weapons at other people. Those were taken down by the other Alpha Heart members, which she then tried to avoid as soon as possible.
But other than escaping from their sight, she didn’t care much about what was going on. She mostly kept thinking about Saka’s situation, and how she ended up like that.
Saka was a Dark Player, and was actually a part of a group of people who were the same as the Dark Players she met before. She has no clue on who they are, but it was clear that they were up to no good.
She felt her chest tighten after hearing about what happened to Saka that made her end up as a Dark Player. It was something nobody should ever have to go through.
But she got distracted as another explosion took place. It was far from her, but she could still feel the ground rumbling underneath her feet. She stopped for a moment as the explosion somehow triggered her memory.
An awful memory which she wished she could keep down for good. An explosion that took away the lives she cared about and the one who nearly took her best friend’s life.
It was there that her map made a beep sound that caught her by surprise. Thanks to the Locator’s connection, as long as Hinota still kept someone in mind, they will appear on the map to show where that person was. Hinota looked down at the map where she figured where Saka was.
But it made her gape in shock.
There were two dots on the map, both completely still unlike the flashing dot from before. The one dot that stood still was possibly Saka who she was tracking along with everyone else, but then there was another dot that made Hinota frozen stiff.
The other dot was the only person she was thinking about alongside Saka, a person that she wished she would never meet at all during this time.
She had no choice. She called on Kudo’s number and, as the phone rung in her ears, she kept biting her lip in anticipation.
[Hinota?] Kudo spoke through the phone. [What’s wrong?]
“Kudo! Saka is… she’s over at the south-west section of the city near you! She’s standing still, so she should be there.”
[Great! Then I’ll head there right away!]
“W-Wait, Kudo! There’s also—”
Before she could finish, the connection immediately dropped. Kudo must have shut it off the moment he heard about Saka’s current whereabouts. Hinota nearly wanted to throw her phone to the ground, but she refrained from doing so.
“Damn it! Kudo… if you go there now…!”
She gripped onto her phone tightly, the fear from the past still reaching and grasping at her heart and soul. She shook her head to ward off the fear, and grunted out of anger instead.
Hinota finally said, putting down her phone to her pocket and turned herself around. She ran as far as she could with her high speed, hoping to reach there before Kudo would make a decision that he could regret.
Once hearing Hinota’s information, Kudo ran as fast as he could to the desired location. He ran, wondering what Hinota was about to say before he accidentally shut it off, thinking that it was all she was going to say.
However, he put that to the side. There is no other priority than trying to find Saka and bring her to safety. He headed off towards the south-west side, where the abandoned lot was near.
As he reached further, he came across a warehouse with a large open space in front of it. Surrounded by crude-looking metal plates on the wire fence, Kudo turned over to where the entrance was, which was open for him to peer through.
Kudo looked over at the map—somehow, there were two dots. He didn’t understand what the second dot meant, but he knew for sure that one of them was Saka, who remained still at this precise location. The other party members who were at the opposite sides were still far away, so he was possibly the only one there.
There could be another person there, but his mind was all about trying to get Saka out of there.
He peered over at the entrance, and sure enough, there were two people there—with one of them being the girl with silver hair that he was looking for.
Then, there was another person there like the map said. It was a bald man in sharp-looking black clothing, sporting glasses on his face as he faced somewhere else.
“So we sent those losers out there to get taken,” The bald man said, pushing his glasses to his face. “They were becoming a nuisance so it’ll be easier for us for them to get taken. But you still need to rouse up explosions here and there to get the Alpha Heart’s attention. If they notice one of their own missing, it would be troublesome. Once we get this girl out of here, they won’t be able to find us so easily.”
“Yes, yes. I got it. Don’tchu worry about a pretty darn thing, Arnold.”
The low and sickening voice resounded that somehow brought Kudo’s soul to shiver.
Kudo returned back outside. He held his chest with his hand, his heart somehow beating fast. It was out of fear, something that he usually wouldn’t feel unless…
The second dot on the map started to make more sense. Just like Kudo, Hinota must have thought about the explosions that were taking place similar to the ones in their past. He closed his eyes, and he let out a breath.
He forced himself out into the open, revealing himself to the others.
“Saka!” He yelled out, getting everyone’s attention.
“K-Kudo…!” Saka said in response to his call, stepping back in surprise at him coming over.
Kudo got a closer look at the scene. It was a large lot with a barren ground, several steel beams surrounding them. It was the sort of building that was focusing on construction for the moment but was left unattended. At the center, he noticed Saka standing aside two men, with one he noticed before being the bald man Arnold.
And the other on the side… it was someone that made Kudo’s heart drop.
The dark being that continued to hunt in his dreams ever since that day. The very one that forced him to go onto a path of no return. The very same that brought him to change his facial expression into a glare that Saka widened her eyes in shock to.
In his eyes, he could see the very same dark aura that made him sick to his stomach, with his skill that only someone of his blood can be able to see. Even now, he wished he didn’t have that kind of skill for someone with an abundance of dark aura that could practically choke him to death.
“Shinezu…” Kudo said, his voice low and grumbling from the anger welling within.