Hour Empty Child
Their tough morning has passed, and the duo Adventurers return with their quest finished in hand. They returned back to the Adventurers’ Guild and turned in their report over the job’s completion to the receptionist.
The receptionist was the first to congratulate the two as she gave them their just rewards which were 5,000 jib in 10 [500 Jib] coins and a few reputation points to become closer to the next rank.
However, all was not well. Not well at all for the poor former farm boy from Arkhem. Seated at their private table, which again was away from the other Adventurers, Kudo’s chin softly rested onto the sturdy and clean wooden table with Hinota sitting across from him.
“This… really sucks,” Kudo explained as a heavy breath passed from his lips.
“I’m sorry that this happened to you, Kudo.”
Hinota expressed her apology as Kudo shook his head.
“It’s not your fault. It’s this stupid Special Class…”
“But to think… that it would be the [LUK] stat.”
Hinota spoke softly as they recalled the grinding session during the quest.
Kudo tested out, in various ways, his bomb skill given to him by his Special Class. Since there was no information regarding how it was powered up, Kudo increased three of his stats to fully analyze how it powered up.
Unfortunately, there were no changes. To make matters worse, the bomb skill varies in damage every time it is activated. That is to say, in simpler terms, it caused random damage to monsters.
When he increased his [INT] stat, there was no change. When he increased his [WIS] stat, no change at all.
Then, finally, he was forced to increase his [LUK] stat, and lo and behold, there was change. Among the varying amount of random damage, the skill became slightly more damaging. It made the Blue Goblin take immense damage and eventually lost its life.
Kudo tried to deny this, and hoped that it was just because he got lucky. So he tried again, this time adding more points.
The damage became higher than before.
Therefore, it was concluded that the [LUK] stat increases his power… for better or worse.
“The [INT] stat gives you more cognitive improvement. The [WIS] stat helps you solve problems more quickly and painlessly. Even the physical stats provide more uses than the [LUK] stat!”
Kudo whined, banging the table just slightly, like a feather, as he showed his frustration.
“Well, at least raising your Luck… improves your luck.”
Hinota tried to be quirky, but even she knew that she failed at that.
“Maybe I’ll get lucky and find a [10 Jib] coin somewhere…”
Kudo spoke sarcastically and eventually groaned as he let his head fall onto the table, causing a loud smack on the wooden furniture.
“Cheer up, Kudo! At least you can get stronger. It’s not like you can’t get any stronger than you can. We should at least celebrate this!”
Hinota stood up and slams the table with her hands, causing yet another smacking sound as Kudo looked up to her. Seeing the positive look on her well-defined sharp gaze, Kudo’s negativity just vanished into thin air.
“…Yeah. I should be happy with this much, at least. It’s better than not being able to increase power at all.”
“Exactly. Besides, we might not even know what other good uses there are by increasing your [LUK] stat. You’re smart, so you might find a way to use it well.”
“Hehe, thanks, Hinota.”
Feeling refreshed and new thanks to Hinota’s encouragement, Kudo has easily gotten over his slump. Since the morning ended and noon began, they decided to ask for a meal back at their inn, the Foxy’s Den.
With the sign that showed a sleeping little fox rested snuggly on top of the soft-looking grass, the two headed in expecting to have a good meal.
Once they ordered and received their food, once again, they sized each other up on their meals.
“Kudo, you really disappoint me,” Hinota proclaimed with her meal that could rival giant meals given to competitive eaters.
“Leave me alone…” Kudo groaned with his small meal that could be fitting for a small child.
Once they sat down at their usual table, they began to converse about subtle topics.
“That reminds me, Kudo… do you think we have enough money for all this food?”
Knowing that eating tons of food could be a drawback to most people, Hinota asks with a slight worry nagging at the recesses of her mind.
“Don’t worry. Nothing’s more important than making sure that you eat your fill. We have enough to cover all food and accommodation expenses to last for weeks thanks to the jib we earned at the start. I can’t have you break down because you didn’t have enough to eat.”
“Ah… Good! Then, thank you for the food~”
Hinota’s eyes glimmered as her needless worry of expenses vanished, and placed her soft hands together into a prayer sign as she begun to eat.
In the middle of their consumption, Hinota began to speak after consuming a large portion of her meal.
“Kudo, what’s our next move?”
“We need to get that [Magic Bag] for ourselves. Thanks to selling our loot this morning, we finally have enough to buy two of them.”
“Oh, think we got enough thanks to your increasing [LUK] stat?”
“No way~ It can’t work that fast.”
Hinota joked which Kudo quickly denies.
“Then how do we get them?”
“We need to talk to a Bag merchant. He’s the one in charge of issuing [Magic Bags] to Adventurers. But I don’t know where to find him in this town.”
“So all we gotta do is find this guy. That sounds easy enough if we talk to some people in the city.”
Though Hinota spoke about talking to other strangers innocently, she doesn’t realize that she just sent Kudo into an inner turmoil.
Talk to people...
Kudo’s thought process halted as these words began to resound in his mind.
“Oh, Kudo, you’re getting pale. Are you that nervous when talking to another person?”
“Y-Yeah… I’m trying to change, but it’s hard when facing another stranger.”
“You talk to me just fine, though.”
“Because you’re special!”
“Aww…” Hinota cooed, teasing Kudo as he looked away with a blushing face. After a short giggle, Hinota responded:
“Just try your hardest, and we’ll be able to find the guy in no time.”
Once they made up their plans for today, the two of them left the inn to begin their investigation for the Bag merchant.
However, there was one flaw that obstructed them… well, mostly Hinota.
It was that when she stepped out of the inn along with Kudo, they were all swept along by a vast crowd of Adventurers, who all came in and asked dozens of questions to Hinota, such as “Who is this guy you’re with?!” and, “We’re a much better party for you than this loser!”
Basically, they were all green with envy to Kudo, who was the only one that spent more time with Hinota. As Hinota tried to escape the nauseous group of desperate Adventurers, somewhere inside Kudo told him that it would be better that they separated.
“Hinota! I think we should split up! I’ll meet you here in an hour!”
“A-Alright! I’ll meet you there!”
After they promised, Kudo quickly ran from the group of Adventurers who he believed deep inside that they were glaring death looks at him.
At this time, Kudo was left alone, just like how he first came to be when he first entered the city. Kudo walked around aimlessly, gazing at other citizens walking about with their happy expressions on such a fine day. But they were all not aware of the internal struggle Kudo was facing through from sociability.
“Ah, gotta find someone soon… Mmh…”
Kudo realized that his goal of being more social and friendly sounded tougher when he was alone. But then he remembers his vow, and the promise he made to his villagers.
He has to do this. Kudo cheered himself up by self-coaching—that if he can talk to Hinota, he can talk to anybody else.
The first person I see, I will talk to him!
Kudo resolved himself as he looked above, slapping his cheeks loudly with a big smack that caught the attention of the onlookers. Kudo set his eyesight down and gazed at the first person he saw.
Laying his back to a wall, Kudo spotted an older gentleman with a cowboy hat, wearing leather-banded armor on his body. His age showed on his face, along with a finely trimmed beard and bore a gallant look in his eyes.
Suave was the word that made first in his mind. Following his promise to himself just now, he forced himself to go towards him, pushing off the ground with his feet despite his beating heart and closed in on him.
Once he reached a short distance, the man noticed Kudo’s presence as he lifted his eyes to face Kudo’s.
Kudo cursed himself for not making his first greeting sound natural.
“Well, well. Strong greeting there, boy.”
The older man spoke with a rough but slick tone of voice. It was at this moment Kudo knew… that he was facing a social expert.
“U-Umm… D-D-Do you know where I-I can find a Bag merchant? I-I want to buy a [Magic Bag] for me and my friend.”
He’s out by the commercial district. I heard he came by around this morning.”
“I-Is that so? Really?!”
Kudo could not hold in the excitement in his voice. The older man responded though with a smile.
“Yep. You know where the commercial district is? It’s at the south side of town. Once you’re there, you’ll eventually see a crappy-looking store with some real nice things for sell. You can’t miss it.”
“Oh, I see… Thank you very much for the help!”
Kudo, surprised that it went so well, bowed in respect to the older man as he responded by tipping his cowboy hat.
“Be careful now, boy. Don’t get swallowed up by the prices…”
“Got it! Thank you again!”
With that out of the way, Kudo waved his arm at the kind gentleman, leaving him to his own devices as Kudo headed towards their meeting place…
Kudo waited patiently for the hour to come up, and soon enough, before the last 5 minutes were up, Kudo saw in the distance Hinota walking towards him with a disgruntled expression, which only made her glaring look more ferocious.
“Hah… Kudo, you’re so lucky that nobody likes you.”
“Is that supposed to be a good thing?”
“To me, yes.”
Kudo thought that it was an insult, but after seeing Hinota displaying bouts of exhaustion both physically and mentally, he believed that she was honest about it.
“Did you find anything, Hinota?”
“Not at all. All they wanted to say was whether I can join their teams. Such a pain…”
“Well, I managed to find him!”
“Oh, really? Wait… how long did it take you to find him?”
“About 50 minutes ago.”
“So 5 minutes after we separated?!”
Hinota widened her eyes from the total shock that Kudo managed to complete his objective so fast.
“Hehe, guess I got lucky. Come on, he’s at the commercial district down south in this town!”
“Ah, wait for me!”
Kudo ran, with Hinota following along, to the south district of Klein.
Once they headed there, Kudo was hit with a slight nostalgia. The commercial district, a large street where dozens of vendors and small stores lined up the side of the street, was filled with shouts and songs from merchants to promote their goods.
Walking along the somewhat peaceful and festive atmosphere of the district, Kudo and Hinota searched out the area for the store owned by Ouzan.
“Mmh… Oh! I think that’s him!”
Kudo shouted as he spots the store that they were looking for. Just like the gentleman said—it was quite crappy-looking. The store reminded him of his old home, which was rustic and showed its age by its appearance alone. Various broken holes, small cobwebs, and several insects crawled around the surface of the wooden store. Laying in front of his wooden store, there was a man covered from head to toe with a black-colored robe. His face could not be seen, but when he notices two shadows coming closer to him, he turned his head and showed a small glimmer to his smiling mouth.
“Welcome, citizens! To my Pack Store! My name is Ouzan. Are you two lovely couple in want of my well-known and stylish bags?”
The mention of ‘lovely couple’ left Kudo and Hinota to show a slight blush on their cheeks.
“W-We’re not a couple! And we would like to buy two [Magic Bags].”
Kudo, being the man there, responded with a denial of their relationship and proceeded to ask for the bags.
“Oh… well, I do have to apologize for my miswording.”
Ouzan, filled with strong and energetic positivity, now had a dispirited tone as he tugged on the top part of his hood as if to hide his shame.
“Yes, you see, when I meant well-known and stylish bags, I meant the dainty-designed bags meant for normal citizens over long travels. However, I’m afraid I just don’t have the [Magic Bags] in hand…”
“Eh?! How is that possible?”
Kudo became shocked, leaving Ouzan to believe that this was their solemn purpose for getting here.
“It’s strange how a Bag merchant like you suddenly don’t have [Magic Bags]. Or is it that you truly only sell just ordinary bags?”
Hinota asked back as she showed a displeased look in her eyes. The tapered and sharp glare produced from her left Ouzan to jolt back in fear. As sweat trickled down his covered temple, Ouzan cleared his throat with a low grunt and answered:
“You see, before I came here, I had the necessary ingredients to make a few of them.”
“Ingredients…? You make them?”
“That’s right,” Kudo explained for Hinota. “The Bag merchant is licensed to create these [Magic Bags] meant for Adventurers. They are in line with the Adventurers’ Guild, so they are required to learn how to make them.”
“Exactly. I was planning on making bags when I came here. However, before I reached the city, I was attacked by bandits.”
The sudden words of bandits coursed through their minds, leaving them in shock as Ouzan hoped that they won’t think that he was lying.
“I’m just your poor, simple Bag merchant. Fighting’s not in my system. I would be a foolish man to not leave my ingredients behind for them to steal while I only got away with my life and my small store in hand…”
“Ah… I’m so sorry that this happened. At the very least, you’re still in one piece.”
“Thank you for the kind words, young man.”
Ouzan thanked Kudo as Hinota begins to think about their current situation, and asked in return.
“I’m sorry that this happened to you as well, but do you think you can make the bags if you got the ingredients again?”
“Young lady, that would be the first thing on my list. But the ingredients were given to me by a special channel; that is to say, I get them with special means. In order to get the ingredients again, I have to wait a few more weeks. Until then, I have to make do with selling ordinary bags.”
Even Hinota felt like giving up after having heard his reasoning for not selling the bags. As Kudo was about to slump from the sad news, Hinota suddenly had an idea:
“Then, how about we go and make this a quest? You ask us to get your ingredients for you from the bandits?”
Hinota decided to ask, leaving Kudo and Ouzan to turn their sight onto her and widen their eyes.
“Eh? Are we gonna do that?”
“W-Wait, wait! Surely you two can understand how dangerous this is, right? I mean, we’re talking about dangerous bandits who has no clue about the meaning of the word ‘mercy’! One wrong move and you’ll be seeing the Upperworld!”
Kudo expressed his surprise while Ouzan expressed his worry. However, they both saw the confident, sharp look on Hinota’s eyes as she responded back.
“Ouzan, we’re two incredible Adventurers. I’m sure we can get the ingredients back for you. And, if we do, for our reward, can we ask that you waive off the price for our [Magic Bags]?”
“Ooh… if you two can get me all the ingredients, with both of you in ONE PIECE,” Ouzan expressed this clearly. “I guess I can make them for free…”
Ouzan had a look of doubt in his eyes, and felt that he was making a big mistake sending two teenagers to recover ingredients from bandits. But then he saw the two Adventurers beginning to talk to each other and felt a strange aura of strength pouring from their eyes.
Once the two finished talking business, they both directed their sight to Ouzan.
“Don’t worry, Ouzan! We’ll get them back for you!”
“Just make sure you hold up your end of the deal.”
With that out of the way, Kudo and Hinota asked for the information that Ouzan had about his attack from the bandits. After learning everything they needed to learn, they left the store, leaving Ouzan to be overwhelmed by their tenacity and laid back on his store’s counter from the decision that he has made just now.
Meanwhile, the two Adventurers walked towards the location for their preparations, which was the Foxy’s Den.
“That was a great idea, Hinota! Taking it as a quest to get our bags for free… what an awesome idea!”
“If you know how to handle people, especially after hearing their story, you can get away with just about anything.”
“T-That sounds so manipulative…”
“Hehe, that’s how the world works.”
Saying those words with a charming, innocent-like tone, Kudo figured that Hinota is the kind to take her chances when she can.
Soon enough, the two Adventurers headed towards their inn, prepared their items and equipment and quickly headed out to their next location…
Kudo and Hinota left the gates of Klein in order to regain the ingredients that were forcefully taken by Ouzan.
As they walked to the nearby forest, they could already feel fatigue hitting their chests like a boulder weighing on them. That’s because they were not walking towards the Forest of Dek, but a forest that was connected near it.
Since the Forest of Dek was rather large, the two Adventurers took a while to get there on foot.
“Hah… Kudo, when can we buy a horse?”
Hinota grunted with exhaustion filling her tone of voice.
“We can’t buy a horse. Unfortunately, they are only to be rented.”
“Eh? Then let’s rent a horse…”
“That’s bad too.”
Kudo responded with a sad tone along with Hinota’s grunting, ‘Why…?!’ Which rang out in the air.
“That’s because the guidebook says that since Adventurers are always on the move, they often misuse the horse and nearly kill it. There were also cases where Adventurers would use the horse like a sacrifice if they were attacked, so horses can only be rented. If the horse is damaged or killed, the Adventurer pays double the rent fee and the original price of the horse. There're too many variables where we might pay more than what we can afford.”
“Geez… you’re so stingy. There’s nothing wrong with buying something to make our lives easier.”
Hinota said this as she recalls last night, where after the party was formed, Kudo warned her that she should bathe in the cheapest bathhouse, rather than the expensive one that she frequently visits. Though she didn’t hate the experience —Rather, she enjoyed it—, she would have liked it if the cheap inn provided more services that would make the visit more luxurious.
“You know, you’re supposed to have more [VIT] points than me. How are you getting tired?”
“Well, I don’t like to sweat too much.”
“For that kind of reasoning…”
“Kudo, you can’t understand a woman’s need to not smell sweaty.”
As they began to converse to make the path towards their quest site shorter, Kudo began to think about the current circumstances that Ouzan went through.
“Hinota… I don’t really notice the awful things happening on this side of the country. But… is assaulting and stealing common here in Klein?”
Kudo spoke out loud, sharing his thoughts on the matter of the bandits.
“Thefts like this happens everywhere. It’s these kinds of occurrences that Adventurers are asked most of the time as bodyguards. Ouzan was either foolish or had no choice because of financial troubles for not asking an Adventurer to guard him.”
“Yeah, it didn’t seem like Ouzan asked for an Adventurer from his story…”
“It didn’t seem like he liked the idea of sending us over to recover the ingredients from the bandits either. It seems like he doesn’t like to ask for help.”
“Is that so?”
Kudo asks as his curiosity took over. Since Hinota became more attuned with her mind, she could be able to tell other people’s worries with her already socially-adapted mind.
They were closing in on the forest near the Forest of Dek. Though it had no name, it was hardly a forest where most people should enter due to the changing of monster nests in it. The monsters were more higher-leveled than the goblins, so most Adventurers would draw away from this place. Inside this forest, the trees were taller than the Forest of Dek, towering over the sky which was enough to block some of the sunlight. Inside this deep, unforgiving maze-like forest, Kudo and Hinota entered into it to complete their quest quickly.
As they walked through the forest that they finally entered into, into the emerald-colored trees with thick wooden bases that could take a strong hit if possible, Hinota sensed something making a whooshing sound.
Her ears pricked up as her eyes widened. She sees something glint in the darkness ahead of the forest as it headed straight for Kudo.
Having quickly notice it, Hinota tackled Kudo to the ground, making him nearly scream out as a sharp object whipped past Kudo’s original position and pierced right into the thick three base.
“U-Uwaahh… What was that?”
This time, Hinota was on top of Kudo. Her soft body nestled on top of him as Kudo’s face began to blush a little. However, his senses returned quickly as he just realized that his life could have been taken. He spots the shining object pierced into the thick tree behind them, and managed to see its shape.
“A… shuriken? And something is dripping from it…”
Hinota got up from Kudo, making Kudo thank her in silence as they both closed in on the shuriken thrown at him.
“This is… a poison-coated shuriken! If it hits, I would have been—”
“Kudo, here they come!”
Before Kudo could finish his fearful realization, Hinota yells out as she unsheathes her katana and brandishes it towards the location where the shuriken came from. Kudo looked behind to hear the leaves rustling loudly at the top of the trees. As the leaves rustled for a while, Hinota managed to pinpoint the enemy’s location.
“Over there! ——《Fireball》!”
Hinota cast her skill and launched a fireball straight towards the next leaves that rustled. The fireball combusted, leaving the top part of the tree in front of them to explode as their enemy jumps out and land on the ground for all to see.
It was a small animal who wore a bag on his back, wearing a light-brown robe that was tied with a black belt. The small animal wore a straw hat that nearly concealed its furry face and body.
“That’s a Rounin-Racoon! They’re extremely fast, and they can attack from a distance! They also know how to poison their weapons too, so we need to be careful!”
Kudo pulled out his bastard sword from his back as he and Hinota faced the lone rounin. Remembering the information about the monster from the guidebook, Kudo bit his lower lip as he recalled the rounins being past level 20 in terms of strength.
“Well, I won’t let it do whatever it pleases. Take this!”
Hinota, feeling angered from the surprise attack, charged in and slice the air by swinging her sharp katana downwards to the rounin.
However, right before it reached its target, the target itself vanished. The rounin jumped up back to the tree leaves in a flash, leaving Hinota’s katana to strike the ground instead.
“No, it went back up the trees!”
Kudo managed to follow the rounin’s speed for a moment, and then he noticed something that fell to the ground as the rounin left the area as it disappeared into the leaves.
“Oh… this is…”
Kudo closed in onto the fallen item as Hinota sheathed her katana and followed him. Kudo picked up the item that fell, and noticed a small shine as he picked up a small, turquoise colored round gem, similar to the 【Corrupted Sphere】 they usually collect.
“Could that gem be the ingredient…?”
Hinota asks as she and Kudo inspect and study the gem closely.
“I don’t think rounins would usually drop this. I think this is something that it picked up.”
“Then, it could be possible that the bandits that took the ingredients were ambushed by the rounins. They must have fought, or perhaps the rounins stole the ingredients without them knowing.”
“That sounds possible. Let’s look around…”
Hinota went ahead in front of Kudo, making sure that she would be in front in case that Kudo gets attacked once again. Though the Rounin-Racoons were small, hardly any Adventurer would dare go here.
“The bandits must have been desperate if they had to stay here in the forest after taking Ouzan’s ingredients. This place is too dangerous if you’re careless.”
As Kudo made his assumption, Hinota picked up a scent that lingered in the air. To her nose, she smelt something that she was used to smelling at this point in her Adventurer career, which made her body cringe.
Hinota prompted Kudo to be quiet, putting her finger near her pink lips to get him to be silent. She also got him to shift their knees down to avoid being seen while hiding amongst the bushes. Kudo knew that this was dangerous and followed Hinota as she led the party.
Slowly, the scent that lingered in the air eventually got Kudo to smell it as well. Feeling the tension rising in their bodies, as well as their hearts beating faster from the tension, Hinota and Kudo sneaked across the bushes to get to the source of the scent.
The silence filled the air, other than the rustlings of the bushes. Finally, Hinota stopped her tracks, leaving Kudo to notice Hinota staring out from the top of the bushes.
“…Kudo, I think you should take a look at this.”
Hinota moved her head, leaving Kudo the spot to see the scene in front of them. For a while, Kudo wondered what kind of scent it could be, and why it was so familiar to him…
Now he sees why.
In front of him lies a clear field, much like the Forest of Dek usually has. But in that clearing, blood was everywhere. In the clearing, what looks like a camping site for several dozens of people, there were many shurikens that were scattered about, some fallen to the ground while others were pierced into objects.
The campsite was riddled with them, but that wasn’t what got his attention. What caught his attention was the mass piles of dead bodies thrown everywhere on the campsite, all who belonged to grown men that were punctured by the same shurikens. Blood was sprayed everywhere, and to Kudo’s eyes, it was quite literally a bloodbath.
The scent of blood finally made sense to Kudo as his face turned blue, and the need to hurl everything out of his stomach was felt deep inside.
“I… think I know how the rounins got the ingredients from the bandits now.”
Though Hinota tried to relive the mood around them, her shaky tone of voice and her mouth quivering showed that Hinota was taken aback from this sight.
As the duo watched the horrific scene in front them with gaping mouths, Kudo thought to himself:
The rounins are more scarier than I thought.
Suddenly the Rounins aren’t so cute now… How will they get their ingredients now?