Hour Empty Child
It became the end of the busy day for the PlusFire. The moon shone brilliantly in the blackish sky, dark clouds blocking the luminescent light as the townspeople of Loune prepares for their venture into their homes and into their slumbers.
But the PlusFire were not done yet.
Inside of Hinota’s room in the ‘Heaven’s Wings’ inn, inside the spacious room where they put away all the furniture to the side with a single candlelight lighting the dim atmosphere. Heavy breaths were let out in the air, the air becoming hot and steamy as the residents’ loud voices overlapped with each other.
“Hinota… I can’t go on…”
“Come on, Kudo! Just one more round!”
Hinota urged him on, but his tired voice groaned out of his mouth.
“I-I can’t…” Kudo could feel his entire body contorting in pain as he spoke these words. “I can’t go on anymore! You’re splitting me apart!”
Kudo pleaded as Hinota was currently on top of him, bending his arm behind his back, completely dominating him. Hinota heaved a heavy sigh as she lets go of her grip, relieving Kudo of the hold.
Hinota stood up, showing off her supple, toned body as she wore a black tank top and short pants, her usual wear for personal clothing. Her mature body, to which was nearly bursting out of her clothing as sweat drenched her body, made her seem much more daring than before.
Kudo was also wearing his usual wear for inside use, wearing a black shirt and gray shorts. He looked up to Hinota, his head down on the ground due to exhaustion, and saw the image of the candle’s light hitting on Hinota’s sweating, glimmering body. Hinota turned her sight to Kudo after she has taken a small tower and placed it on top of her neck.
Kudo’s cheeks redden as he looked away from the beautiful sight Hinota was showing.
“Kudo, you’re seriously weak. It’s unbelievable.”
Hinota made her analysis after their silence. This hits Kudo deeper than the spar they just had.
“Ghh! I... I have no excuses…”
“Though your grip strength is amazing, thanks to your work on your farm, the rest of your body is severely lacking. How is it that you’re weak despite having worked on a farm?”
“Eh… probably because I usually don’t do much work. I only take care of the animals and take care of expenses…”
Hinota became interested as Kudo finally sat up, feeling his inner emotions calming down as he explained.
“See, my parents taught me basic math, but they weren’t really good with expenses. So, because I was trying to raise Jib for my License, I took over trying to take care of our expenses. Food, maintenance, taking care of the animals. I tried everything I can to keep ourselves out of the red.”
Kudo felt like he was admitting a big secret, feeling a little ashamed as he explained his reasoning because he felt that it must sound like an excuse to Hinota.
“Though, I know that I should have trained harder than this…”
“H-Hey, don’t worry about it,” Hinota stuttered. “Still, this is surprising. I didn’t know that you had a job like that.”
Rather than chiding him, Kudo saw the look of awe in Hinota’s face, looking as if she was impressed.
“W-Well, it’s not that hard, once you know how to do numbers.”
“But, taking care of expenses even though you were younger. It’s no wonder you turn out so well as an Adventurer.”
“Eh?” Kudo became surprised from the sudden praise, and sheepishly rubbed the back of his head as he formed a silly smile. “Hehe~ you think so?”
Hinota shared a smile, but then that smile disappeared as she crossed her arms.
“However! This cannot continue!”
Her suddenly loud and crisp voice nearly made Kudo topple as she stands resolute.
“I can’t have you be this weak as my partner! From now on, we’ll be doing strength training and vitality training! To raise your [STR] and [VIT] stats! We’ll also train your dexterity to improve your speed! Every night, we’re doing this to raise our physical stats!”
“Oh…” Kudo sounded impressed, thinking that this was a good idea, but then his face contorted into immense terror. “Eh?!”
Of course, training with Hinota doesn’t sound like a dream that he likes to have, even if he gets t see something nice. However, Hinota’s glare proved that she wasn’t joking.
“H-Hinota, I won’t survive!”
“Kudo, I’ll work you over until you become a completely new man!”
Kudo could see Hinota’s burning spirit rising from her as she clenches her fist with fiery eyes. Seeing such resolution from her, a cold sweat trickled down his back apart from his warmer sweat.
“Ah… I’ll probably won’t be able to go to sleep after this peacefully…”
Kudo was right. After their spar, which was used to get Hinota to see how fit Kudo’s body was, she put up an extensive training regime where she pushed Kudo to the limits.
Basic exercises, endurance training, as well as strength training, Hinota made Kudo do it all inside of their room. Thankfully, the room was spacious as the inn offered tons of living space for their rooms, otherwise, they couldn’t be able to train as much.
Despite Kudo’s objections, he knew that when he would level up, his physical stats will increase, so he didn’t complain as much.
Kudo wasn’t able to sleep as much as he could since his body became extremely sore. At the next day, dark bags were shown in his eyes as Hinota faced him outside of their rooms.
“Kudo, you sure look worse for wear.”
“Whose fault do you think is that?!” Kudo shouted back with animosity.
“Well, let’s get some breakfast. We need our energy to grind our skill levels.”
Kudo’s tears nearly ran down his cheeks as Hinota casually ignored his plight, leading towards the cafeteria.
After their breakfast, the PlusFire began their grinding regime.
They left the city of Loune and headed towards the large river that streamed down south near the city. Nobody would dare go near the river as a group of monsters made it their home—
—Monsters known as Kappas.
They had the appearance of a goblin, except that they had a large beak, green hair with a cup on their head with webbed hands and feet. Their sharp teeth and red eyes make for a more frightening monster than goblins.
Though their levels were slightly higher than the PlusFire, with their raised skills and levels, the two managed to easily annihilate any Kappa that stood in their way.
Throughout the pattern, Kudo felt a disturbed sense, feeling a sense of dread, and Hinota notices it.
As they have finished their grinding session, Hinota asked about what she noticed.
“Kudo, did something happened?”
Walking back from the surrounding area of Loune, Hinota turned to Kudo, knocking him out of his head and faced her.
“Hinota… My skill, 【Plus Pulse】… I think I realize how it works.”
The PlusFire, during their grinding session, made sure to use their buffs whenever they can so that they can raise its levels, but after using the skill many times, Kudo saw a pattern in it.
“Last time, it gave us an increase in speed, right?”
“Oh…” Hinota recalled the last time he used his buff, getting her to feel the massive decrease in her weight. “Yeah, it made me go even faster.”
“I think I know why it just increased another stat. It’s because it only increases one stat, and it comes randomly…”
“That’s right,” Kudo’s face contorted into worry as he gazes at Hinota. “And it’s not just my buff that’s random either. My 【Plus Bomb】… do you remember back at Klein that I tried to blow up 4 goblins at once, but it didn’t kill them?”
“Yeah, of course. You told me that it might be because the damage was spread apart.”
“It’s not like that at all.”
Hinota widens her eyes as she recalled his last words.
“That’s right. The damage for 【Plus Bomb】 is random as well.”
Finally affirming his own theories, Hinota asked again.
“So, it could be extremely strong, or extremely weak, at random times?”
“It could also just deal normal damage, or everything in between… it’s too hard to see how much exact damage it could make.”
Words of disbelief escaped from Hinota’s lips. If his skills were all random, then they shouldn’t be trusted. After all, anything that doesn’t provide a solid power is not considered wise to use.
“Hah...” Kudo heaved a sigh that seemed to carry his soul in it.
“So, that must be the reason why your Class relies on the [LUK] stat?”
“Yeah. In the end, it still needs to rely on luck for it be stronger… Mmh…”
Kudo continued to think deeply, putting his hand on his chin which got Hinota to notice this.
“Kudo, you always put your hand on your chin whenever you think deeply, don’t you?”
“Eh?” Kudo became surprised to hear Hinota say that, and he surprised himself when he saw himself actually doing it. “Ah… I guess I do.”
“You make such a serious face, and yet you show what you’re thinking so easily. Hahaha!”
Hinota chuckled as Kudo rubbed the back of his head.
“I guess… it’s kinda embarrassing now that I think about it.”
“Well, don’t worry about it too much. In the end, it still saved us many times, so it can’t be all that bad.”
As Kudo felt his face flushed, Hinota offered kind words to cheer him up. Hinota did a fine job as Kudo’s expression changed to a lighter one, opening up his skill list to see how much progress he made.
“Oh… I got a new skill!”
Hinota’s eyes widened as Kudo himself was shocked. Seeing a new skill himself, his face turned slowly into that of hopelessness.
“Ah… it’s the same as always. There’s nothing there but garble.”
Kudo heaved a sigh as he showed his skill by swiping his screen away to Hinota.
【Minus Pulse】 Lv. 1 (Proficiency: 0%)
“Oh, it has a new name! 【Minus Pulse】… it sounds like the exact opposite of 【Plus Pulse】.” Hinota analyzed the skill in her mind, making several hypotheses already.
“I just hope it’s not a negative skill for me…”
“Geez, Kudo, don’t be so pessimistic. It could be another buff or something. Something like a debuff?”
Hinota recalled the word ‘debuff’ in the guidebook, mentioning making a negative status onto an enemy.
“Maybe… well, I won’t let it get me down. In the end, I decided to take this Class.”
“Exactly!” Hinota loudly smacked Kudo’s shoulder with her hand, offering a grand smile. “You just gotta believe in your skills!”
“Hehe~ Got it.”
Once the PlusFire has gotten back to Loune, they prepared for another venture as it was still early in the day. After picking up their supplies to go out again, Kudo bought a pickaxe from a nearby store with Hinota to start grinding his Crafting Skill.
“So, we’re going to look for more 【Iron Ores】?”
“Right. I figured we can get some stuff on our own rather than keep buying it. It’s less daunting on our pockets.”
“True enough. Then, where do we go?”
Upon asking, Hinota was shown on the map they bought along with the pickaxe with all the known mining points crossed out on it. Seeing their next destination on the map, the PlusFire quickly headed over there before any other Adventurer gets to it.
As they head over there, they began their next conversation.
“Kudo, if everybody looks for 【Iron Ores】, how can there be enough for us to collect? Wouldn’t it run out?”
“It would, but since the earth is made of mana, the ores created in the earth are also connected with mana. Even if dug out, the ore would quickly recover, returning back to its former glory.”
“Eh…” Hinota’s eyes remained in awe. “So everyone can mine it without limit?”
“Not exactly,” Kudo corrected. “When you pick out the ore, you need to wait for several hours, or days if it was completely destroyed, for it to completely recover. After that, you can pick it out again.”
“Ah… so we might get unlucky and never be able to recover some Ores.”
Hinota considered her timing to get the ores along with the timing of other Adventurers picking out the ores, getting her to sigh.
“Right. We might get unlucky, though. Sometimes the amount of Ores vary, so we might not be able to even get at least 4 ores…”
“Eh, that sounds troublesome…”
The PlusFire continued their adventure, reaching towards the next mining spot. It was near the cliff side, where many boulders were strewn about on the ground. Gray boulders, with a slight shine, shimmered from the sunlight not blocked by the hanging cliffs which caught Kudo’s attention.
“Hinota! I found it!”
Kudo shouted at Hinota who was looking at the other path, getting her to look back and saw Kudo running towards the small boulder.
“Is that the Iron Ore spot?”
“It should be. It has a shine right here, so I think this might be it.”
“Alright then,” Hinota clap her hands together, making a sharp sound. “Start working!”
As if he was reinvigorated by her words, Kudo picked up his pickaxe from his [Magic Bag], and began to mine the stone.
Raising the pickaxe over his head, he swung it down with an immense force onto the stone. *Crack!* the pickaxe pierced the stone slightly.
“Whoo… tough rock.”
“Well, nobody said that it would be easy…” Hinota assessed as Kudo swings the pickaxe at the stone again.
Each time he swings, the pickaxe destroys the stone slightly. With each swing, his stamina decreases.
“Hah, it hurts…”
“Kudo, what’s wrong?”
Hinota sounded surprised to Kudo, even though Kudo believed that it was her fault, since his body was still sore.
“H-Hey…” Kudo spoke after swinging it once more. “C-Can you help out, at least?”
“But, Kudo, this is your job.”
Hinota responded with a slightly sarcastic tone. Kudo looked behind, seeing her making a coy smile which made him realize something.
D-Don’t tell me this is also part of training?!
His body shivered as he recalls the training from last night, and now he had to go through it all again with his sore body. With every aching pain coursing through his arms, legs, and torso, Kudo’s face nearly contorted into a painful expression.
T-This is not fun anymore…
Kudo never wanted anything more but to kick his younger self for not training hard enough.
After a while, Kudo has finally picked out the Ores that was held within the stone. After checking out the Ores, each one had a surprised look on their faces.
“Hey, Kudo… correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the usual rate of getting ores out of a stone was about 3 or 4?”
“Yes,” Kudo responded. “It should be.”
Hinota trails off as she and Kudo saw, on the ground rested on a blanket, 6 shiny 【Iron Ores】 that were picked out by Kudo.
“How come we got so many Ores out of one stone?!”
“I-I don’t know! Maybe… we just found a really fruitful stone?”
“…” Hinota assessed in her mind, and quickly realized an answer. “Could it be because of your high [LUK] stat?”
“What?” Kudo retorted. “No way! I mean, the [LUK] stat also raises the chances of getting items? I think that might be pushing it a little.”
“Mmh… don’t we still have to get more?”
“Mmh? Ah, yeah. I need at least 50 Ores…”
“Then,” Hinota put on her serious expression. “Let’s find them quickly!”
As Hinota suggested, the PlusFire continued on their personal quest to find more 【Iron Ores】. With each stone they find, Kudo was to be the one to mine them out. Not only that it was for his training, it was also to see if Hinota’s hypothesis would come true.
As the day slowly turned over to the evening, her hypothesis came to be.
Kudo responded with a shocked expression, with Hinota sitting by his side as she watched the Ores in front of them.
Kudo has amassed about 86 【Iron Ores】, all from only finding 14 stones throughout the day.
“How could I get the maximum amount of Ores from all of them?! That’s insane!”
“I knew it. So raising your [LUK] up to a large point does affect the chances outside of battle!”
“B-But that’s… no way…”
Kudo couldn’t believe it. If he wasn’t a Crafter, if all these Ores that were on the ground in front of him proved no use for him, he could sell all this and could live out his life in a medium luxury…
“T-This is amazing… with this much, I can even make Steel equipment!” Kudo shouted as his eyes nearly glimmered from the idea of making a new, powerful equipment.
“Mmh…” Hinota remained quiet as an idea popped into her head.
“Kudo…” Hinota spoke to him with a serious tone, but formed a devilish smile. “I got an idea. Let’s get back to town!”
Kudo saw her devilish smile, forming a malicious aura which resembled the times when she would bargain for impossible prices.
After recovering all the 【Iron Ores】, they quickly returned back to town as night quickly sets in.
Once they settled in, Hinota suddenly grabs Kudo’s wrist, and dragged him out of the inn, going to a linear path to the southern part of town.
“H-Hey, Hinota, where are we going?”
Kudo’s innocent mind tried to find out the answer from his suspicious friend.
“Kudo, from now on, follow my lead. And don’t say anything, got it?”
Kudo had no choice but to agree. Knowing her, she knows that it’s for the benefit of their party. But after a while, Kudo was starting to get suspicious…
What they saw was a sketchy neighborhood, filled with translucent shops that sold various oddities that…satisfies the common people. What they entered was the aisle for adults, called the ‘Pleasure Welcomes’.
“H-Hinota, are we allowed to be in here…?”
“Of course we are. The legal age is 15, you know.”
“I-Is that so…?”
After Kudo was nearly taken aback by the sights, involving lots of dolled up pretty women and various sketchy men in luxurious clothing, Hinota brought Kudo to the one place where all kinds of commotions were taking place.
“It was called the ‘Gambler’s Den’.
It was a run down building, separate from the others. Various people, suspicious people, would come in and out, laughing loudly in the night. The smell of alcohol and smoke wafts in the air as a single red drape covered the entrance.
“…Hinota!” After taking a moment, Kudo finally realized something. “You’re not thinking of—”
“—Of course I am!” Hinota interrupted him. “Now, follow my lead.”
After putting on a serious face, Hinota got Kudo to move along, dragging him inside the den.
Going into the building, the smell would overwhelm the young farmer boy.
“Gah… this smell…”
“Yep, this is exactly where it would be back in Erijo,” Hinota commented on her birth town as she brought Kudo along inside the den.
Inside the den was various tables, holding games that had a dealer along with a bar counter to sell alcohol to the players. Music was playing along at the back part of the den played by various [Bards], a Class that uses instruments to give buffs to Adventurers.
Kudo looked around the den with fresh eyes, getting used to the many people often contorting their faces to pure pleasure when they were playing games, and some frantically pulling their hair from the losses.
Soon, Hinota stopped, getting Kudo to knock himself back into reality.
“Here it is. Kudo, go play here.”
Hinota showed what was in front of them. It was a long table with various players sitting by the edge. A single man stood by wearing a black and white suit, held a cup in his hand which he shook continuously, making the inside of the cup rattle as if something was being thrown aside inside of it.
The dealer looked back, wearing a scar across his temple to his left eye, nearly shaven brown hair, and droopy eyes which along with it came a smile that sent chills down the children’s spines.
“Oh-ho… we have some wild players already. You two are 15 years old, right?”
The dealer took a moment to stop shaking and addressed the PlusFire. The look on the dealer’s face got Kudo to nearly shake in his boots.
“That’s right,” Hinota responded, not being taken aback by this atmosphere. “My friend here wants to play. Do take it easy, though. He’s new at this.”
“Oh…” The dealer took a long look, moving his sight up and down at Kudo who stood frozen. “I see. I can tell that he’s a noob at this.”
The dealer then moved aside, showing a free seat near the two players, a man dressed in a suit and a woman who wore a silk hat and a fine dress.
“Come on over. I’ll show you how this works. If you’re willing to pay, that is.”
Offering another creepy smile, Kudo hesitantly looked at Hinota, getting her to nod slightly. Kudo walked over to the seat, and sat down as he was told the rules.
“Now, first off,” The dealer started. “You always pay up before I roll. Plain and simple. You can up the deal if you’re feeling lucky, or downsize it, but you can’t go under 500 Jib.”
The dealer started to shake his cup, making more rattling noises as he continued.
“There are two dice in this cup. You make the closest guess before I throw it, and you get paid by the amount. The closer your guess, the more your pay is increased. Make the correct guess, and you get double the pay. And that’s the rules.”
Finishing off like that, every player then began to pay up 500 jib, putting them onto the table. Seeing everyone doing, Kudo does the same.
“Now, make your bets!”
As the dealer shouted, the other players responded by shouting out a number. After everyone made their call, it was Kudo’s turn.
Kudo could feel their stares piercing him, getting him to fumble and look behind for Hinota’s say.
“Kudo!” Hinota whispered strongly. “Make a guess!”
Seeing her response, Kudo had no choice but to shout, “F-Four!”
Once he shouted, the dealer then lets loose the dice. The two numbered cubes then fall onto the table. The dices rolled on until they came to a slow stop, appearing the numbers of each dice ‘2’.
“We have a winner! Correct guess!”
The dealer widens his eyes and shouted, getting everyone around Kudo to clap slightly at his win. Seeing that he just won, the dealer took everyone’s money that had a wrong answer, and paid Kudo with 1,000 Jib instead.
“I-I did it, Hinota!”
Kudo looked back, his face filled with shock and amazement.
“Yeah, now pay up exactly what you got, Kudo!”
Seeing her excited expression, Kudo nodded in agreement as he has done what she said.
For the next hour, Kudo gave his guesses, which turned out to be the correct one.
Each one, Kudo has paid up all of his winnings, getting double of what he just earned. With each correct guess, the payment stockpiled, enough to get everyone to become either excited or miffed at his success.
After the next hour, even the dealer was getting quite annoyed, as his left eye covered by the scar twitched slightly.
Seeing that twitch, Hinota made her move.
“Kudo, time to go!”
Grabbing his shoulder, Hinota dragged the shocked Kudo as his face contorted into shock.
“W-Why?! I was getting so much, Hinota!” Kudo asks as he was getting so into the gambling that he didn’t notice the awful auras that were emanating from the other players.
“And that’s exactly why we’re getting out! Now move it!”
Following her order, Kudo followed Hinota out of the den, escaping everyone’s malicious stares as they headed back to the inn.
“Whoo… to think we would win so much Jib”
Kudo had a large smirk on his face as the Jib collected from the den were hiding in his [Magic Bag], getting him worried that there might not be enough space in there.
“Yeah. Now, we can take a break from adventuring…”
“Yeah! Though, I don’t know if gambling is considered adventuring…”
Kudo sheepishly scratched his cheek as he walked forward, looking forward to studying more of his books that he had in store in his [Magic Bag], but then, he felt a hand touching his shoulder.
It was Hinota.
“Kudo… don’t you think you’re forgetting something…?”
Kudo could sense Hinota’s rising spirit coming from her body, getting Kudo to cringe in fear.
“It’s time to train!”
Hinota dragged Kudo once more to the inn, getting him to nearly cry out in despair as he just wanted to read his books.
Throughout the night, the sounds of groans and moans from Kudo’s wailing were misunderstood by the other residents of the inn, believing that these two were doing ‘nightly’ actions to soothe their souls.
Good luck, Kudo! May you survive the hellish onslaught of Hinota's TLC!