Hour Empty Child
There were still fires that continued to burn within the spacious lot. It still burned the ground and some parts of materials used for the construction. The snow that fell on them soon made them dissipate within time, allowing the lot to survive thanks to the snowy night.
Kudo looked on with awe at the being in front of him who stood against the mad man known as Shinezu. Gripping onto her katana with her right hand, she turned her head to her partner with a furrowed look, her glaring eyes becoming more frightening by the second.
“You idiot! How can you just take him on all by yourself!?” Hinota screamed at him, her furrowed expression making an impression on Kudo’s mind.
Kudo was bewildered. His mind was in such disarray from being close to death that he has no idea on what to respond other than stutters.
“Hey, hey, now,” Shinezu intercepted, raising his hands up. “Don’t be so hard on the boy. See, this is about justice. He needed to fight for himself to avenge his parents. Not like he actually could do it, but a man gotta be a man.”
Shinezu’s word stabbed right into Kudo’s chest. He pursed his lips in frustration as his words rung too close to the truth.
“I could care less about a man’s pride, so shut it.”
Hinota didn’t even face Shinezu as she silenced him with her words. Shinezu, however, did as she told with a carefree smile.
She turned to Kudo, this time her face showing a glimmer of pain and frustration herself.
“On that day… I was also wronged,” Hinota said, tilting Kudo’s head. “When you were down, I begged him to let us live. It’s way, way less important than what you faced through… but for me, it was something I could never forgive myself for.”
Hinota’s hand gripped into a fist. It was so tightening that blood could seep from her palm.
“My pride was disgraced that day. I could never live it down. If I keep going like this, I can never know peace.”
She directed those glaring eyes of hers right to Kudo.
“So, that’s why we will take him down together! So don’t just go ahead and take our kill for yourself!”
Kudo now understood what she was trying to say. Just like Kudo, she had a right to take Shinezu down. It wasn’t just her pride being sullied—she also loved his parents as he did. Despite only knowing them for a short while, she was showered by the parents with the same love as Kudo did. Their hug together wasn’t just random—it felt right.
He gritted his teeth. As if his body recovered just slightly, he picked himself up from the ground and stood with his two feet. He wobbled, but he stopped soon after. He stood upright, his head raised high near Hinota’s, showing his eyes full of will.
“…Right. Sorry for trying to take it. My bad.”
“Good,” Hinota smiled. “You’re going to be punished for that later. Right now, let’s focus on taking this asshole down.”
Kudo nodded, then he turned to find his nearly broken bastard sword on the barren ground. It was completely black with soot covering it entirely. He gripped on the handle and held it high. It was still good enough for a couple of swings.
“Right…” Kudo said to himself. “This is how it should have been.”
Hinota answered, getting Kudo to chuckle as he positioned his sword’s tip right at Shinezu. Hinota picked up a potion from her inventory screen and, without warning, splashed the contents onto Kudo. Kudo instinctively closed his eyes, but he was thankful for the potion as it managed to recover his health.
“Are you two done cuddling each other yet? I really like to get my Dark Experience right now.”
Shinezu said with a devilish smile, raising his hand up and cracking his fingers’ bones out of boredom.
“He looks just as charming as usual,” Hinota joked. She could barely stand looking at the creature in front of her. But then her small smile turned into a glaring frown. “So… how strong is he?”
“…Pretty strong. We’re gonna have to pull out every trick in the book to beat him.”
“Even that?” Hinota asked.
Hearing Kudo’s response got Hinota to smile widely, becoming excited for being able to use ‘that’ after a long time.
“If you’re done ‘planning’ now right in front of me, I would love to get this under way. See, if I don’t do my job, the Alpha Heart is gonna come track me down. Though, at my power, I can probably take some of them out. It might even be fun to watch them despair from my immense power.”
“Your ‘immense power’ is nothing but bullshit,” Kudo responded. “And you’re already facing the same Alpha Heart that’re gonna take you out.”
“Oho, so you two moved up in the world, huh?” Shinezu giggled, his voice becoming sickening to their ears. “So, you’re all Alpha Heart members now. Ah… perhaps that explains that sickening hair color… you’re Valkyria’s kid, aren’t you?”
Shinezu pointed at Kudo, his smile widening to a creepy extent. It was enough to send another chill down his spine.
“Hahaha! I wonder how that old lady is gonna take it when she’s going to lose the same kid that she’s been trying to find for years!? Now I got even more priority to take you out!”
His hands glowed a strange red color, and posed himself into a battle stance. Kudo and Hinota both prepared themselves for his next action.
He threw his hands down at the ground. “—[Chain Explosion]!” A series of explosions strung along a path towards the two adventurers. Kudo and Hinota both jumped out of the way of the explosions and remained separated by their sides.
Hinota became the first to rush in, her blade in hand as she raised it towards Shinezu. Her sword, as always, has been improved by Kudo by a colossal rate. Unlike his bastard sword that was more for increased durability, in exchange for that, her katana has been increased in attack power and sharpness. It was enough to cut through anything, even making a large scratch at adamantite, the strongest material around.
That was why with her improved stats, she was able to cut Shinezu’s arm by a certain degree.
Hinota slashed at him with her katana, but Shinezu sidestepped just a smidge before the sword could reach him. Shinezu backed away to gain some distance, but in return, Kudo appeared behind him, aiming his bastard sword at him.
Since the smoke was still filling the lot, Kudo took this chance to use his [Plus Chain] to get around the two fighting. As Hinota’s attack missed, Kudo was able to get behind him with his own attack.
Kudo’s sword managed to dig into the right side of Shinezu’s hip, but as usual, only a small bit of blood dripped from the wound. It was barely a scratch, let alone a gaping wound.
“Hehe,” Shinezu chuckled out of spite. “That’s the best you can do?”
Kudo said, surprising Shinezu as Kudo gripped harder on the handle of his bastard sword. Then, he turned it.
“Ghh! Gaah!” Shinezu wailed as the sword that was still deep into his hip suddenly turned, his insides practically screaming as the blade turned while still within the flesh of his hardened skin. Shocked by the sudden pain of this strange technique, Shinezu jumped away from the blade, his wound becoming larger on the hip.
“That’s the best I can do,” Kudo said with a smile.
Before Shinezu could realize what he just did, he felt heat closing in on his face. He turned, only to get hit by a raging ball of fire right at his face.
“How’s a taste of my improved Fireball, you ass?” Hinota said, feeling intense satisfaction just from that hit alone.
However, Hinota knew better than that. Even as his face was being burned in literal fire, Shinezu didn’t even yelp out in pain. Instead, he rubbed his face with his scaly hand to rub out the fire, barely causing any damage anymore.
“Baah…” Shinezu groaned. “That was annoying… mind not doing that anymo…?”
Before he could finish, Shinezu raised his head up to notice a volley of Fireballs coming straight for him.
Each one hit him with a loud blast that was considered an explosion of itself. Each one hit him on the head, on the shoulder, on the chest, and other limbs as well. However, despite getting hit with each fireball straight to his body, Shinezu only showed an annoyed expression on his face.
“Hah… I’m guessing that you’re able to use [Silent Cast], but no matter how many times you throw them at me, it won’t work.”
Shinezu said, practically ignoring each fireball that hits him. Hinota narrowed her eyes further as she picked up the flames from her hand and made them dissipate.
He was right. [Silent Cast] was a valuable skill to learn throughout their journey. It must be shouted out in order for the skill to take effect, but when learning the Support Skill [Silent Cast], an adventurer is able to cast skills without actually sounding out the word. It was perfect for making secret attacks without calling out to an enemy.
Though doing so will make the skill lowered in power, and sometimes some skills needed to be shouted. The demerits decrease when it levels up, but it was perfect for the party to learn it at least for battles such as this.
“And no matter how many times you attack me, it won’t work. Honestly, you’re so optimistic that it hurts my old brain.”
Shinezu said with a groan as he was prepared to do another attack. Hinota remained silent, but instead, she flashed a grin at him.
“Huh?” Shinezu noticed that peculiar grin and tilted his head.
Hinota shouted out the skill this time, forming a blazing fireball in her hand and launched it towards Shinezu. As usual, Shinezu was instinctively going to ignore it, but then caught where the fireball was going.
It was going straight to his belly. That’s when Shinezu noticed something flashing as he looked down. His eyes widened when there was a flashing white orb stuck on his belly, something that he couldn’t notice before thanks to the constant barrage of fireballs.
And the fireball was aiming right for it.
The explosion occurred when the fireball interacted with the bomb. Thanks to its fiery clash, the bomb exploded early, and the combining forces of the skills made the explosion even stronger.
They called this the PlusFire—their original party’s name.
As the smoke began to clear, Shinezu thrust his arm to the side to wipe away the smoke covering his eyes. He gritted his teeth in frustration.
“Damn! Caught in a stupid trap like that…” Shinezu complained, rubbing the back of his darkened head out of annoyance.
The smoke was starting to get on his nerves. It was something he was used to seeing when he would use his skills, but he usually sees them when he finishes off other people. However, when it’s used against him, it was starting to grate on his skin like a bad rash.
He thrust his hand forward to clear more of the smoke, the ashy substance becoming a nuisance at every second. Without him knowing, his own anger was swelling up within his core.
When he did it again, he looked up to see the starry night sky.
And the flaming-haired girl swinging her katana at him.
Hinota flew to the sky and was aiming right for him. Her hair was flowing and fluttering like a flame and her katana glowed with bright and different colors intertwining each other like an aurora.
Hinota shouted, her blade becoming submerged in flames of the highest purity. The flames devoured the blade, but it still used it to swing at the darkened man below her.
The blade sliced and practically dug onto his right arm, blood finally spurting out from the wound and a resounding scream coming from Shinezu.
Hinota jumped away as soon as she committed the strike, landing on the other side of him. Her blade dripping in blood, she swung it to the side and caused the blood to spray all over on the barren lot. The blood was dark at first, barely any color, but soon once hitting the ground, it later changed its tint to a reddish crimson.
The blade, now cleaned of blood, glowed brightly thanks to the enchantments done onto it. Hinota, once seeing her blade back to her, raised a smile.
“I’ve been preparing all this time just so I can give you what I owed you.” Hinota said, pointing her katana at Shinezu.
Shinezu held onto his damaged arm, but rather do anything about it, Shinezu smiled. His chuckle resounded in the air, becoming the only thing heard through the night. He finished his laughter and gave a smile to her.
“How cute,” Shinezu laughed again. “So you guys have been waiting for me all this time, huh?”
He showed a smile, but it was enough to send Hinota a freezing chill. She gripped onto her handle harder as if mentally preparing herself.
Shinezu said before suddenly turning back around. He reached out his hand, and caught the blade that was aiming for him.
“Ghh!” Kudo groaned.
“—That you thought of me so much during all this time,” Shinezu finished, his fingers catching Kudo’s blade easily. “So I think I should do the same, and give it my all too!”
He was about to use his other hand to activate his skill once more, his smile deepening as he approached it. He looked at Kudo one more time, wanting to see more of his despairing face.
But he only smiled instead.
Suddenly, his body was gripped on various places. He looked back down to notice the white chains that were tightening on different parts of his body.
He looked back at Kudo who showed him the single white chain he had in his hand. He then pulled on it.
The chains reacted in kind and pulled Shinezu away from Kudo and making his body fly throughout the air. As the chains pulled him, he was sent to a wall of a nearby building, crashing onto it with a hard thud.
The chains released Shinezu as he was taken out for a spin, making him land on the ground. His head became in disarray as he looked over at the two members of the PlusFire coming closer to him.
“This whole time,” Kudo said. “We prepared everything we could to stop you.”
Kudo gripped his fists. The memories of the past resurfaced back to him.
During the time when Kudo showed his true motives for his pursuit of strength, the E-Plus trained together during their nightly trainings. But when the other party members wanted to rest for the night, both Kudo and Hinota, their two souls still burning with a passion, continued on.
During this time, they sparred and sparred every time. They would learn each other’s tactics, and try out all sorts of strategies to use against human opponents, opponents that could be the same as Shinezu.
Their time training together increased their survivability, and doing so, increased their skills and knowledge.
“This time,” Kudo moved his bastard blade towards Shinezu, its tip shimmering from the available street lights. “We will stop you!”
Shinezu stayed silent for a moment, their resolved heard loud and clear. Then, he laughed.
He laughed loudly, practically cackling at the two. The PlusFire couldn’t even be felt disturbed by this—it was as if he had already lost his mind. His laughter continued, making the two wonder what was so funny for him.
“Hahaha, I really admire your resolve, you two.”
Shinezu stood up on his two legs, his bent slightly bent forward with his head lowered. The two adventurers now felt a chill down their spine once more, but this time, it made their skin crawl and their instincts blare up in their heads.
“The resolve to fight till the end… I like that. So that’s why I think I should try it too… this fighting till the end.”
In Kudo’s eyes, the dark aura that he was able to maintain looking at became stronger as he spoke, sparking Kudo’s unrest to show on his eyes.
“It’ll be even better… when I see you two lose to despair, and lose your lives while doing so! You’ll give me all the Dark Experience points I need to fully ascend!”
Then, his body glowed dark. The dark aura that was surrounding himself and practically clouding Kudo’s eyes—now started to become reality.
Both Kudo and Hinota watched as his body began to change.