Chapter 1:

Prologue

Hour Empty Child


Sounds of clucking from chickens and cries from cows were heard. Everyone who heard it knows that they belong to the Braven Farm.Bookmark here

This particular farm has a plant field and several animals living in it. At the top of the hillside was the farm and in that farm was an old, decrepit house. Lying beside the wooden home were several stacks of hay lined up into a pyramid. There was a young man happily sitting on top of the haystack as he buried his eyes onto the thick book he held in his hands.
The young man finished reading the book which he has read multiple times in his life. He heaved a satisfying sigh, yet his heart remained unsettled and shaken, despite reading the book which always calms him.Bookmark here

“Kudo! Come over here and help me!”Bookmark here

An older man, wearing a dirty overall over his ripped red shirt. His boots that continue to hit the ground as he walks was covered in mud and smudges of grass stains. Placed over his shoulder were several pieces of wood, each having their own weight which was bearing too much for him.Bookmark here

“I’m coming.”Bookmark here

The young man set his treasured thick book on top of the haystack, jumped down to the grassy ground and helped the man by carrying half of the wood.Bookmark here

The young boy was in his teens, though his young face states otherwise. His scrawny yet sturdy body that also wore dirty clothing with a simple shirt and pants helped his father carry the wood over his right shoulder. What set him apart from the other villagers was his dark-azure hair and crystal green eyes, making him somewhat of a spectacle. Bookmark here

“Gotta keep up with the winter times, you know. It’s getting pretty close.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, I know, Dad,” Kudo spoke as he nodded while carrying the wood to the farm.Bookmark here

As they walk to the barn, which lived aside the wooden house, showing that it was past its prime with the help of rust and small holes. Kudo’s father, Trun, set the wood down inside the shed along with his son.Bookmark here

“Also, how many times you’re going to read that guidebook? I’m sure you can already recite the whole dang thing by memory.”Bookmark here

Kudo chuckles awkwardly as his cheeks became red, “I can’t help it.”Bookmark here

Given to him as a present, despite their poor incomes, Kudo read the book titled ‘The Beginner’s Guide, Tips and Tricks to Adventuring’ from cover to cover and has done so many times for ten whole years.Bookmark here

“…You know that stuff is dangerous, right? Being an Adventurer.”Bookmark here

Trun showed a look of anguish on his expression. Trun continued to gaze at Kudo, hoping for an answer he can accept. A small guilt appeared in Kudo’s heart, but his spirit gave him the answer.Bookmark here

“You know the answer to that, Dad. I can’t shake this off any longer.”Bookmark here

“I know… it’s all you ever talked about ever since you were a kid. And now, you are 15 years old. Man, time flies fast.”Bookmark here

Trun spoke with a heavy tone. Hearing it caused Kudo to feel that he should say something, but there was nothing to say.Bookmark here

“I get it! I totally get it!”Bookmark here

Trun suddenly shouted as Kudo nearly jolted, letting the wood that he was carrying fall and clatter to the ground.Bookmark here

“As a man, you got to do this! You can’t stop just because someone asks you to! I mean, I can still remember the time when you shaped the wood into a sword and used it as practice for fighting in your adventures…”Bookmark here

“Dad! That was 6 years ago!”Bookmark here

“I know, and I still think that you wasted such good wood!”Bookmark here

“Dad…”Bookmark here

Heaving a sigh, Kudo was amazed that his father pulled up an old memory that should have been buried in the recesses of their minds. After that, Trun’s face made a concerned look to his son.Bookmark here

“But your mother is going to worry. At least get your mother’s blessing before you go.”Bookmark here

Kudo figured that, since she was the one against him going, his mother wouldn’t let him go. That is why he is planning on leaving without telling her. He knows that she will miss him greatly, but hearing her say that she won’t let him leave will be too much for him.Bookmark here

“…I’ll try.”
Kudo showed a faint smile, but his father knew that it would be a tough job for him.
Never been an outgoing and sociable person, Kudo has always been reserved. All his life, he only ever knew older adults and young children. Kudo has never made a friend that was close to his age. Because of that, Kudo became shy and awkward around his own villagers.
But when someone would ask him about Adventurers, Kudo would instantly transform. He would spill out so much information, it was like he was the guidebook himself.Bookmark here

Adventuring. Being an Adventurer. That was Kudo Braven’s dream.Bookmark here

Being an Adventurer means basically a monster hunter. They specialize in hunting monsters and doing jobs that resemble a mercenary. However, it extends far more than just fighting monsters. Collecting rare ingredients and samples, dealing with the troublesome populace and investigating a newly-discovered cavern or forest that held danger at every corner.Bookmark here

Such an exciting life would only be fitting for Kudo, a small villager who lived in a simple village called Arkhem.Bookmark here

Kudo went back to recover his treasured book, and he went inside the house. It was his final day in this house, because on this day, he promised himself that he would leave for his journey.Bookmark here

Kudo walked towards his room and opened the door. Seeing before him were dozens of white-colored papers, pinned to the wall, tossed aside on the floors, all scribbled with his own writings.Bookmark here

“I guess I should pick all of this stuff up…”Bookmark here

Kudo figured that he wouldn’t want to bother his parents by leaving his room in this state. These were all papers that he made by researching everything there is to know about adventuring, working out each plan in detail to become an Adventurer. Knowing all this information to heart, he crushes the papers into a crumpled ball and throws them all into a wooden trash bin.Bookmark here

After a while, his room was wiped clean of every paper he has ever written. His heart beats rapidly as he thought once again that he was about to leave his home—the only place he has ever truly known all of his life.Bookmark here

Kudo went over to his wooden desk, opened up one of the cabinet and peered inside to see a brown-colored thick bag. He grabbed the bag, feeling several hard pieces inside. Small jingling sounds were heard from the inside of his bag. He opens it up and heaved a sigh of relief as he sees the coins he had saved up in his entire life for this journey.Bookmark here

The round, colorful coins were called Jib, and each color represented a different amount. He counted the coins in his bag in his mind, counting 55,000 Jib inside of it.Bookmark here

“Alright. I got it all.”Bookmark here

Kudo assured of himself as he takes something underneath the desk. It was a brown backpack, clean and polished with many pockets for keeping items safe. Kudo puts the money bag into the backpack, assuring its safety once again. He was very paranoid about this kind of safety.Bookmark here

“Alright…”Bookmark here

Leaving behind his vault of memories, he stepped outside of his room and led himself out of the house.Bookmark here

All his life, he worked hard to become an Adventurer. The life of a farmer just wasn’t for him, no matter how much he believed his parents wanted him to be. He would have dreams of adventures, a man’s romance, and most of all, transforming into a different person.Bookmark here

It might come out as a shock, but Kudo doesn’t like how he is. Having no social skills whatsoever and always being so passive and reserved. Just once, he wants to shout like a madman, roar like a beast, and socialize like everyone’s best friend.Bookmark here

He finally became 15 years old, the legal age to become an Adventurer. Though the exams to achieve the Adventurer’s License is difficult, which requires putting into paper the knowledge appropriate to survive in the outside world as well as basic calculations. For Kudo, the latter was common knowledge.Bookmark here

His family, as well as the village, doesn’t have many resources for their incomes. They mostly rely on their hard-worked crafts and produce, from hunting animals near their village and harvesting from the farm which they sell to the small towns around the village to merchants and vendors. Bookmark here

Under that environment, Kudo barely raised enough money as he did now, taking him nearly 10 years to collect.Bookmark here

After becoming 15, though, he had to wait a full month to collect just about everything he ever needs for his journey. Which is why he couldn’t stay any longer despite his father wanting him to stay, especially his mother.Bookmark here

He turned around and gazed at his home to which he will never go back to again after he leaves. A feeling of guilt entered his heart. He was going to miss the times he spent in his house, along with his parents that have so cared for him throughout the years.Bookmark here

“I can’t believe that it’s finally time… I know that Mom will be sad, but I have to do this.”
After that, it was like Kudo ignored the very reality of his situation. Following along the path of dirt before him, Kudo continued to walk as to get out of the village before anything else could happen.Bookmark here

He can’t talk to anyone else. More like, there was no point. As he walked, he felt that it was a right decision. After all, for a boy who hardly talks to everyone else, Kudo’s disappearance would hardly matter to everyone else…Bookmark here

Yes, nobody would say that it would matter…Bookmark here

“Look! Kudo-nii is carrying a backpack!”Bookmark here

“Is he leaving?”Bookmark here

Kudo stopped in his tracks and looked behind, only to be caught in a surprise huddling of small children. There were 5 in total, two girls and three boys. One of them looked like a leader— a boy named Tak who had a scar across his nose due to his rambunctious playing.
“Is Kudo-nii finally going to leave? Haha, he’s gonna get killed by a monster soon enough!”
Tak spoke abrasively, as if death was nothing to him. Despite the insult, Kudo hardly felt anything. After all, he is only seven years old. Kudo knew that he shouldn’t take the words of a younger child like him very seriously.Bookmark here

“Kudo-nii! You’re going to die. You’re just too weak to fight monsters!”Bookmark here

“Kudo-nii, you’re such an idiot. You’re just going to kill yourself!”Bookmark here

The children were somehow starting to rub him the wrong way. While Kudo doesn’t exactly make much of a presence so the kids would often tease him, he didn’t deserve so much strife from them. Bookmark here

“Kudo-nii, you should just give up! You’re never going to make it!”
Tak shouted to Kudo’s face which evidently made him slightly frustrated. However, Kudo didn’t respond back at all, and continued his path to the village. He literally walked past the children, not making a single word as he continues to walk.Bookmark here

“Kudo-nii, you idiot! Stop what you’re doing!”Bookmark here

“It’s not worth it!”Bookmark here

“Stop! Kudo-nii! You’re just too weak!”Bookmark here

The children began to yell at him, following after him like a mob chasing a monster as Kudo’s temples were showing his pulsing veins, his frustration reaching out like hot air out of a tea kettle.Bookmark here

“Aggh! Geez! Whatever! You guys are never gonna see me again! I’m going on this journey, and there’s nothing that you can say otherwise!”Bookmark here

Kudo turned back and shouted at the children. He tried to hold it in, but now that he was going to his adventure, he wanted to scream back to the kids that were so against him leaving. The children were left stupefied as their mouths made an ‘O’ shape at Kudo who shouted at them so roughly for the first time. Though he would scold them at times, they were surprised at his sudden outburst.Bookmark here

After that, Kudo continued to walk, leaving the children behind. He felt relieved, yet he felt bad for screaming at them like that after such a silent reaction from them. However, he continued to walk, knowing that there was no point in continuing to talk to them.
After that, his steps became the only sounds he could hear. The voices of the villagers working quietly and gleefully resounded in the small village of Arkhem. He tried to become like the shadow— something people would see but doesn’t mind it. And so far, it was working.Bookmark here

However, the more he walked, the more he felt as if time has incredibly slowed down. He wanted to leave, yet the exit to the village, which was a grand wooden archway that was made since the beginning of the village, stood so far away. No matter how many steps it took, the archway felt farther away than before.Bookmark here

“Why is it taking so long… I just want to leave.”Bookmark here

He couldn’t spare saying goodbye to everyone else. At the very least, they would make fun of him like the children did. He never made much of a close bond with them. That’s because he hardly talked and made conversation, and when he did, it would be about Adventurers.
He felt embarrassed remembering those times and wanted to forget them. He felt that the villagers were tired of him talking about only one thing and one thing in mind. He believed that the villagers would be happy if he would just leave. Bookmark here

And yet… his heart remained perturbed. His steps become unusually heavy and his back was weighing on him, and it wasn’t the backpack.Bookmark here

Before long, the wooden archway finally stood before him. But despite reaching the exit, Kudo was not happy at all.Bookmark here

“… I guess it’s ti—”Bookmark here

“—Hold on!”Bookmark here

The sudden high-pitched voice shouted, getting Kudo to turn back quickly to see his own mother, widening his eyes at the sight of her.Bookmark here

“Mom!”Bookmark here

Kudo spoke out of shock. The one person he didn’t want to say goodbye to suddenly ran towards him. His mother, who had long black hair that reached to her neck, wearing a simple brown blouse with a dirty apron over it as she was just working at the farm.Bookmark here

“Hah… Kudo, are you going on to your adventure?”Bookmark here

Meiki Braven, wife of Trun, took a moment to breathe before she asked. He didn’t wanted to see her. Especially her. Kudo gazed downwards and clenched his hands, knowing that this was the obvious result.Bookmark here

“Yes! I’m going onto my adventure. Today is finally the day for that.”Bookmark here

Deciding that it would be best to be confident, Kudo shouted back with vigor. Hearing his loud words, Meiki had a look of surprise which was soon replaced with concern.Bookmark here

“Then, you should have said something. I know that you’re not very outgoing, but at the very least, you should have said goodbye to all of us!”Bookmark here

Meiki shot back with a louder voice, chiding her child like a mother would. However, that left a sting in Kudo’s heart.Bookmark here

“Goodbye… Mom, there’s no one around that would miss me. I never really became close with anybody else. Nobody would want to talk to me anyways. I only talk about adventuring… I’m sure nobody would even care about me going, or even notice it…”Bookmark here

Hearing himself say that, he felt even more morose. He finally understood the reasoning for his gloomy atmosphere.Bookmark here

He discovered that it was because nobody would miss him, even when he leaves. Despite the many years being here, nobody would even remember that he left. Knowing that his villagers hardly cared, he felt that he fell deeper into a dark hole.Bookmark here

“…That’s not true.”Bookmark here

The sudden upbeat voice rang in Kudo’s ears, making him lift his face up to see his mother’s gentle beaming face. Before long, more shadows appeared behind his mother, making him look up to see them.Bookmark here

“Kudo, that’s really mean. You’ve been living here all your life— Of course, someone will notice you were gone!”Bookmark here

The villagers, whom he has lived and known his entire life, appeared behind Meiki, all having a smile on their faces. Kudo looked at each individual with a shocked look.Bookmark here

“Kudo, you have always been such a sweet child. That’s why you’ll have no problems making friends!” The kind wife of the Hunter spoke, her tone sounding proud of Kudo’s traits.Bookmark here

“I have doubts that you might pull it off, but a man’s got to do what a man has to do! If it fails, don’t forget that we’ll welcome you with open arms!” The tall, burly hunter shouted, his voice booming like how Kudo imagined Adventurers would be.Bookmark here

“Even if you think like that, there’s always somebody that would miss you, so don’t you ever leave again without saying goodbye.”Bookmark here

The older man walked up to Kudo, who was the elder of the village, and placed his hand on top of Kudo’s shoulder with a smile on his wrinkled face.Bookmark here

“You’re a part of the Arkhem village, our most prideful young adult generation! Don’t forget that.”Bookmark here

Flashing an unexpectedly bright smile, Kudo widened his eyes. His villagers, the people who have lived with him and hardly made a close bond with, came up to him to say their words of goodbye. The hazy, morose feelings held in his heart was starting to disperse. He felt that a ray of sunshine cleared up the darkness around him.Bookmark here

“W-What is all this…?”Bookmark here

“What do you expect! This is your goodbye ceremony!”Bookmark here

Kudo heard his father’s voice as he walked towards him, putting his arm around his wife with a bright smile.Bookmark here

“Kudo, you have been dreaming about adventuring ever since you were a kid. We all knew that. We were all expecting you to leave, but everyone would get upset if you just leave without saying goodbye!”Bookmark here

“That’s right, Kudo. And don’t you ever leave without at least giving your mother a good old hug.”Bookmark here

“Dad… Mom…”Bookmark here

Seeing his parents easily accepting his decision, Kudo was about to give in. He felt his lips quivering as a rising feeling of joy was about to make him tear up.Bookmark here

“You can’t go!”Bookmark here

This feeling was dashed as he heard the young voice shouting at him. He looked downwards to see the children that he screamed at before running towards him. All of them had an expression of anger on their faces.Bookmark here

“Come on, Tak. He has to go! It’s his fate to do so!”Bookmark here

The burly hunter chided his son, but Tak continued to show an expression of animosity.
“He can’t! There’s no way that he’ll survive! Even if he does… what’s gonna happen now!”
Tak shouted, and though it sounded like an insult, after having a closer look, Kudo noticed tears running down on the children’s faces.Bookmark here

“Yeah! Who else can we make fun of?!”Bookmark here

“Who else can we say when he’s too weak?!”Bookmark here

“Who else would scream at us when we take away his book and chase us around?!”
The children, Reinal, Kiri, and Mayn, shouted at Kudo, but then tears began to swell in the corners of their eyes.Bookmark here

“Who else would pat us on our heads when we mess up or feel sad?!”Bookmark here

“Who else would clean up our mess and take the blame when we make a mistake?!”Bookmark here

The remaining children, Paya and Tak, shouted as tears began to stream down their cheeks.Bookmark here

To think that even the kids would miss him. Kudo figured that the kids would especially not care about him, after all the teasing and bullying they did to him. Seeing their saddened faces, the adults were left confused. They didn’t want to make Kudo sad by this, but they felt that it was needed.Bookmark here

Seeing this, Kudo had an idea.Bookmark here

“Hey, Tak.”Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

Kudo knelt down to Tak’s level, making Tak respond callously.Bookmark here

“Tak. Listen. I’m leaving you in charge. You have to take care of these kids in my stead. That means you have to act like me.”Bookmark here

“Like you?! I don’t want to be weak!”Bookmark here

Tak insulted without remorse. Kudo, as well as the adults, had their sweat drop from his personality.Bookmark here

“I-I meant to be more responsible. You have to make sure that you can protect the kids from all kinds of dangers. The adults may be here, but you have to work hard for them, OK?”Bookmark here

“…Ok…”Bookmark here

Tak now knows what Kudo meant, leaving him to slowly nod. Seeing such an expression, Kudo stood up, flashing a bright smile.Bookmark here

“I promise I’ll come back and visit. When I become stronger and richer, you guys can ask me whatever you want!”Bookmark here

“…Then, you better give us lots of stuff when you come back!”Bookmark here

“Hehe, yeah, I promise!”Bookmark here

Tak wiped away his tears and responded with a furrowed look, but the other children still let out their tears. The Elder put his hand on Tak’s shoulder for comfort, responding to Kudo.
“Don’t worry, Kudo. Leave them to us.”Bookmark here

Kudo smiles to the Elder, and turned his sight to his parents.Bookmark here

“Mom, Dad, I promise that I will become a great Adventurer, and make this village known as the place where a legend grew up! Though… that could take a while.”Bookmark here

While his speech became passionate in the middle, the last sentence made everyone nearly fall and began to chuckle at his realism. As the villagers laugh, Kudo notices his mother slowly letting out her tears.Bookmark here

“Oh… I’m sorry. I promised myself that I wouldn’t do this. I can’t show you something like this when you’re going to leave…”Bookmark here

“Mom…”Bookmark here

Kudo felt another guilty pain in his heart, finally seeing his mother cry like he expected that he would make her do. However, his mother wiped away her tears, replacing her solemn look with a brighter one.Bookmark here

“Remember, Kudo, no matter what happens, we will always love you. I will be sad when you leave, but I know that you have to go. But do please return to us when you can.”
“Mom… Thank you, really.”Bookmark here

Kudo moved in and stretched his arms. Meiki widened her eyes to feel her son hugging her, and it was a deep hug which Kudo would have never shown in front of others. Such a shock made Meiki’s tears ran down like a stream of a river. Of course, his father also shared in the deep hug.Bookmark here

“Make sure you come back sometime, OK? And make sure that you write us a letter every week! I want to know that you’re safe!”Bookmark here

“I will, Mom, I promise.”Bookmark here

Meiki hugged Kudo back so hard that Kudo felt that she was going to crush him with her arm strength, and she has a lot of strength for someone who worked on a farm for a long time.
“Kudo, make sure that you write different letters to me and to your mother. I like to know the stuff that you wouldn’t want to tell your mother about, including getting yourself a lover!”Bookmark here

“Dad…”Bookmark here

Kudo’s sweat dropped from hearing Trun’s playful side come out from the mention of a lover.Bookmark here

“Come on, Trun! I want to know that stuff too!”Bookmark here

“Oh, I meant the really extreme details that boys don’t want to share with their mothers…”Bookmark here

“Dad!”Bookmark here

Kudo’s face was dyed in red as his father heartily laughs out loud. His mother heaved a sigh and also made a chuckle from this.Bookmark here

Kudo was released from the hug and stepped back to see the villagers spread around him as his back faces the wooden archway.Bookmark here

“Guys, I’ll become a great Adventurer and help this village prosper! You’ll hear stories about me in about… a few years!”Bookmark here

Kudo wanted to be realistic, but he expected to be famous if he worked hard enough.
“Come on, Kudo! Make it months!”Bookmark here

The hunter, being a guy who likes to say what he wants, shouted to Kudo as if it was a challenge from the villagers.Bookmark here

“M-Months!” Kudo asked with a surprised look, widening his eyes.Bookmark here

“Yeah! Become famous in a year! Or we’ll roast you!”Bookmark here

The elder decided to add in more details, making it more easier for Kudo by extending the time, and every villager nodded in agreement and cheered for it.Bookmark here

“Yeah! Kudo, become a great Adventurer known far and wide in this country of Peranim in a year!”Bookmark here

“Eh? Come on!”Bookmark here

Before Kudo could object, the villagers shouted and cheered for this new Arkhem Challenge for Kudo. Before long, Kudo made a pained expression and shouted back.Bookmark here

“Agh! Alright! I will become famous in one year’s time!”Bookmark here

Kudo finally agreed, and the villagers all cheered and chanted Kudo’s name repeatedly, despite Kudo’s hardened groans.Bookmark here

Despite the hard challenge ahead of him, compared to when he left the village before— now, he felt more nervous, but also… extremely excited as if his blood was boiling to start right away.Bookmark here

“Kudo! Always be careful!”Bookmark here

Meiki shouted with a concerned tone over the cheer of the other villagers to Kudo before he could turn towards the wooden archway.Bookmark here

“Yeah! Come back in one piece! I still want you to work on our farm!”Bookmark here

Trun shouted back, from which Meiki elbows him in the side of his stomach and making him exhale out his breath. Seeing this, Kudo couldn’t hold back his need to laugh and screamed back at them.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I will!”Bookmark here

Kudo turned around and faced the wooden archway. Feeling supported by the cheers, Kudo walked through the archway with pride. He turned his head to see the villagers, all waving goodbye to him. Kudo also did the same, waving his arm left and right energetically with a bright smile formed on his lips.Bookmark here

Knowing that so many villagers that he grew up with would come to see him off, and that they even offered a challenge for him to complete, Kudo’s heart became light and felt that the inside of his mind was cleared like the sunlight flashing it’s strong light on it. Looking ahead to the horizon in front of him, Kudo furrowed his brows.
“I promise… I’ll become famous in a year!”Bookmark here

******************************************************************************
After his heartfelt goodbye, Kudo has taken his first steps into becoming a full-fledged Adventurer! Bookmark here


Bookmarked
You can resume reading from this paragraph.