Hour Empty Child
In the heart of Olinia, a grand castle rests on the top part of the city. It had a rustic feel—bleached white with several towers sprung up from the ground. Within its castle walls, a group of Adventurers entered through with the aid of the knight, who was in charge of the event.
The Adventurers were already armored, which is why there were several knights—fully dressed in ornated armor issued to them by the kingdom—at their side as they were taken towards the main room of the castle. The knight in charge of the Olinia event led them inside, and after seeing the beautiful view of the hallways practically covered in beautiful portraits and several busts standing so beautifully, the group was taken to the main room.
The Queen’s throne.
The knight opened up the giant, ornated doors that separated them from the room, revealing a large room with a single throne sitting at the very end.
The high ceiling and surrounding walls were a clear white color and golden decorations as highlights.
A single chandelier that hung from the ceiling was the only one, yet it took away the breath of every Adventurer that saw it for the first time. Dressed with various precious stones of all kinds of colors, it emitted a wondrous radiance.
One banner was at the top, behind the throne, that had the marking of the kingdom’s mark.
The throne rested on top of several stairs which seemed to gleam from the light coming from the colorful glass of the windows. And resting on such a beautiful throne was an even more beautiful woman.
Long, turquoise hair reaching to her slender waist, adorning a long robe with an opening to her skin on her forearms and legs, showing her snow-white skin. The Queen’s face showed a gallant look that toppled even those of nobles in the city. Along from the flashiness of her robe-dress, her long legs which showed openly were making it difficult to look away.
The Queen looked down at the Adventurers that appeared before her, and her lips curled into a graceful smile.
“Welcome, my dear Adventurers—the PlusFire! How long I waited for people of your caliber to enter my chambers.”
The Queen eloquently shouted, her voice filled with power and grace, leaving the room silent. Multiple guards, dressed in a higher-quality armor when compared to the knights outside, were lined up by the walls of the room as the Adventurers closed in.
The PlusFire party—consisted of Kudo, Hinota, Mick, Lailah, and Eruda—all watched in awe of the magnificence of the room, especially Kudo with his poor farmer’s mindset.
Kudo expressed his shock as his eyes gleam in the light pouring in from the stained glass above.
“S-So this is the Queen’s throne room…”
Suddenly, a sharp pain entered into his gut. Turns out that the hit came from Hinota’s elbow.
“Kudo! Focus! You’re in front of royalty!”
Kudo stood up straight along with the others who received Hinota’s glare which afterward got herself to look poised and graceful for her.
“Mmh, do not look so distressed… Here, I’ll come to you to extend my gratitude.”
The Queen said as she lifts herself off her glamorous throne, leaving the other guards to fumble and break out a sweat. Of course, the other Adventurers’ sweat poured as well as the Queen of all Peranim was closing in on them.
“My Queen! Forgive me for being so boorish,” The knight that came in with the Adventurers stepped in front of them. “But you cannot go near these Adventurers without proper caution!”
“You’re right… you are being boorish.”
The Queen spoke harshly, countering her last tone when she was speaking with grace. It left the knight to break out a sweat.
“These brave Adventurers fought for not only themselves, but for us as well. No matter how they are, it is rude to not come directly face to face with them, and expect any respect from them in return from that. I hope you understand that part, dear knight.”
The air around the two began to chill as even the Adventurers felt the intensity behind the Queen’s words. The knight could only press his lips together and moved his head downwards.
“F-Forgive me, my Queen…”
“You are forgiven. Now, please step aside, and let me greet these Adventurers.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” The knight steps aside as she said, leaving the party to meet directly with her.
“Forgive my knight,” her tone returned to her usual graceful voice. “He can be very... concerned with my safety.”
The Queen returned a smile to the Adventurers, leaving some of the girls mesmerized by her dazzling smile, and the boys widening in awe.
“I also want to apologize for the rough treatment you have gotten when you have won the event. Being taken here immediately after you have done the event must have been exhausting.”
After that they have done their duty in the event, they returned back to where they first started, and were announced as winners. When the PlusFire members wanted to take a break, the knight issued them to get into their carriages—which were ornated and were quite a sight to see—and sent them to the castle immediately, not giving them any break.
“We thank you for your concerns, My Queen.”
It was decided amongst them that since Hinota was the only one with experience meeting with royalty, she would be the one to speak for them as the rest would be too tongue-tied to even utter a word properly.
“My, how courteous. With such stunning red hair, I assume you are part of the Flamver family of Erijo, am I correct?”
“Yes, Your Majesty. My name is Hinota Flamver, the youngest daughter of the Flamvers. I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Hinota spoke reservedly, as if she was another person. She pulled the hem of her skirt and slightly tugged at it, making a graceful bow. The Adventurer girls were left shocked—after all, they could never imagine themselves being so prim and proper as Hinota was now.
“I am pleased to meet you as well. My name is Ramil Velandous, the 43rd queen of Olinia. It is nice to meet all of you as well.”
The Queen, Ramil, met eyes with the others as well, knowing full well that they were too nervous to even speak to her.
“Now then,” Ramil’s gaze returned to Hinota. “I’m sure all of you wondered as to why I made such an event in Hunter’s Grave to begin with.”
“It is to thin down the exotic bosses, correct?” Hinota spoke up which left Ramil to nod.
“Exactly. However, the lazy nobles here in my kingdom aren’t so keen on me asking for Adventurers’ help. The guards are enough, they say, but that won’t help lessen the gap between the social classes. That is why I decided to make an event—a race, so to speak.”
Kudo suddenly spoke. His words that rang out reached Ramil and made her turn to him, causing him to redden immediately and began to shake.
“That’s right…” Somehow, the queen looks at Kudo with longing eyes. Her eyes widened as the light allowed Kudo see clearly into her amber eyes.
“My Queen?” Hinota spoke, leaving Ramil to return to her senses as she turns to her.
“Ah, I apologize… I was taken by nostalgia.”
“Nostalgia?” Hinota asked again.
“He reminded me of someone for a moment there. He looked very similar to her... Nevermind that.”
After knowing that her words were lost to the Adventurers, she decided to leave it and continued the topic.
“What I mean is that rather than asking the Adventurers directly, I decided to make a race between the parties, and have the nobles use that as a way to pass their time. They despise Adventurers, but they aren’t so stiff to use them as a way of entertainment. During your event, they all go and bet on the most promising Adventurers. Of course, the one with a Flamver in it had the most bets out of all the others.”
“T-That’s… while we were fighting for our lives, they were betting on us as entertainment… that’s kind of a downer.”
“Nee-chan, don’t speak like that! A-Ah, I’m sorry…”
Lailah felt as if the nobles had used her. In response to her way of speaking, Mick chided her, but then he quickly tightened up his lips after seeing Ramil’s heavy gaze.
Ramil chuckles. “You have every right to feel indignant about this. However, it is true that you are winners of the event,” Ramil turned her head, looking at every member of the party. “Though, it’s hard to swallow that such young Adventurers like yourselves took down 68 exotic bosses. I commend you all for your valiant efforts.”
Ramil walked back towards her throne, and turned on her heel as she spread her arms wide as if an angel spread her wings towards the Adventurers.
“For winning this nearly impossible task with your unending courage and vast strength, I hereby grant the party PlusFire with the amount of 10 million Jib. 2 million for each Adventurer.”
“2 million Jib!”
Mick, Eruda, and Lailah couldn’t help but pop their eyes open with shock from hearing the amount.
For Kudo and Hinota, who remained stoic despite hearing the amount, this much was not such a big deal for them.
“I apologize if I made it seem that you all receive 10 million. I’m afraid that out of my own personal account, I don’t have much money to give.”
‘Ah, so it’s all hers, then…’ Kudo spoke with awe to himself.
“I-It’s fine! We’ll accept such a great amount!” Lailah decided to speak up as her facial expression shows her excitement.
“2 million… I would never have believed that I would get so much for myself.”
Eruda spoke softly, feeling a sense of pride for getting so much on her own.
Though the siblings and Eruda were beginning to converse about how they would spend such fortunes, Kudo turned to the Queen, Ramil.
“…My Queen, about my reward,” Kudo looked directly into Ramil’s eyes as he said it, catching her attention.
“Yes?” She responded with a raised brow.
“If it’s possible… I would like to give my reward away to the families of the Adventurers that died.”
When he said those words, Ramil widens her eyes in surprise. The others couldn’t notice it as they were too shocked from Kudo’s sudden request.
“Give away the jib?” Ramil spoke in awe. “That’s… quite the surprise.”
“W-Would that be alright?” Kudo stuttered as he felt that he might have been too forward.
“Well… it’s not impossible…If I checked the list, I can see the Adventurers that did not make it back. Sometimes, in these events, some Adventurers don’t make it back, you see, so I make it a habit to find these people out. But, why would you do this?”
Ramil had a strong curiosity for such an action, and ended up asking. Kudo gazed downwards, and responded:
“Trust me, I would love to take the money… but I just feel too bad for the Adventurers that died. Even if they were against us, they were still Adventurers. I’m sure that they had a family, and that they were waiting for them to come back. So… I like to give them the money as an apology gift, and… maybe it’ll help them somehow.”
Kudo took a moment to respond the last sentence, getting him to become red in the face as he felt that it might have been a bit childish.
“…Mmh,” Ramil spoke with a sly smile. “This is impressive, young Adventurer. This is quite a grand deal, even if this is just to raise my favor for you.”
Kudo tilted his head, his eyes saying that he was completely clueless about what she just said. Seeing such a reaction, Ramil widened her eyes, wider than before.
“Your Highness, please forgive him,” Hinota spoke up to clear the misunderstanding, showing off a smirk. “You see, he’s quite new to the world, so he doesn’t really understand any kind of underhanded tactics outside of battle. He’s very honest to a fault.”
Kudo reacted, feeling that it sounded like an insult. However, Ramil’s expression changed to a lighter one as Hinota continued.
“Following that, I would also like to give my money as a gift to them.”
“You too?” Ramil was, once more, quite surprised.
“H-Hinota, you don’t have to! This is just something I want to do to feel better! You don’t have to—”
“Then, I’m doing it too. I have a right to do it, after all. It’s my money.”
Hinota responded, shutting down whatever logic Kudo was about to give as she crossed her arms.
“Also, Mick, Lailah, Eruda, you guys don’t have to do the same. This is something for me and Kudo since we can easily get this much money. Make sure you spend your reward to empower yourselves, got it?”
Hinota turned back to the others that looked like they were stressing on whether they should also give up the money. Hearing her words, all of them heaved a sigh a relief.
“I-I thought we were going to do the same…” Lailah expressed her deepest thoughts.
“W-We’re sorry we’re so selfish…” Mick apologized as Eruda showed an embarrassed look on her face as she felt the same.
Suddenly, Ramil’s laughter rang out in the throne room, throwing everybody off track from her hearty laughter which doesn’t seem to fit a Queen like her.
“You really caught me off guard like that! To think that there were Adventurers like you all! Not to mention, you, young Adventure, remind me of someone that I know very well…”
Ramil changed her direction to Kudo, and stared deeply into his eyes which made Kudo slightly surprised.
“I got a feeling that you two will beat all kinds of expectations in this world! I feel it in my gut!”
Ramil looked back at the official, an older man, which after nodding to him, nodded back and left the room to continue his work.
“Alright. I’ll look up my sources to find these families, and give them your rewards. I’m sure that they will be quite pleased.”
“Ah…” A look of awe wafted over Kudo’s face, and shared a bright smile. “T-Thank you very much, Your Highness!”
Giving a quick bow to her, Ramil looked down onto the Adventurers with glee, and then spoke:
“Actually, there is one more gift that I would love to bestow upon you all…”
Hearing her words trailing off, the other Adventurers looked on with curiosity hitting their minds.
“As the Queen of Olinia, I would like to personally invite you all to our wonderful party—a ball.”
Shock ran through the faces of the Adventurers, leaving them with surprising looks that reminded Ramil of young children—though, technically, they were children to her.
“A ball?!” Lailah shouted, her eyes gleaming along with Eruda’s.
“D-Does that mean that we can dress up and eat delicious food, that kind of ball?!” Mick kept asking, not able to get rid of the shock on his face.
“That’s right,” Ramil responded to Mick with a soft smile.
“H-Hinota, what’s a ball? Like a toy?”
Kudo, not handy with such fancy words, decided to ask Hinota as he whispered.
“Oh, umm… well, it’s like a party. We call it a ball because it involves a giant ballroom in a castle, where people can dance and eat and dress up properly.”
“Geh… that doesn’t sound like a party I want to be invited in…”
A small tint of blue spread across Kudo’s face as he imagined the situation that would normally involve lots of people. Seeing his expression go sour like that left a smirk on Hinota, and caused her to chuckle involuntarily.
“I hope you guys can join. Don’t worry,” Ramil assured. “The nobles will not cause any trouble for you guys. I’ll make sure of it. Once you are done with your preparations, the ball will commence at 9:00 pm, where I will send my escort to bring you all from your inns to the ball.”
Ramil explained the current planning as everyone was already getting excited about the upcoming party.
After being escorted out of the castle, the PlusFire immediately went inside the capital town of Olinia, where they searched for a boutique that sells formal wear for the women. Of course, the girls took their time upon picking up a dress.
It was at this moment where Kudo and Mick learned that girls somehow enjoyed spending time picking on what kind of dresses that would most fit them. Kudo remembered how Hinota carefully chose his armor the last time, so now he has to go through the same procedure as well.
But then a problem arises. The chosen dresses that Eruda and Lailah chose were quite expensive, but then that problem was reduced to a mere trifle as Hinota stepped in, and severely slashed the price down to 1/5 of the original price, hardly making a single dent in their reward earnings.
Of course, once the dresses were done, Kudo and Mick were the only ones left. Being taken against their will, the men suffered another ‘enjoyable’ time of being practically guinea pigs to the girls’ enjoyment. Lailah and Eruda chose Mick’s outfit, while on the other side, Hinota chose a proper outfit for a country boy like Kudo.
Of course, the prices for those suits were slashed mercilessly by Hinota’s cold haggling skills.
It was at this moment where Kudo decided to name such a dastardly skill of hers: 【Devil’s Deal】. Of course, Kudo’s noggin was not safe from Hinota’s wrath when she heard that.
Eventually, the day sets on Olinia as Mick, Lailah, and surprisingly Eruda went back to the same inn that they came from, and decided to wait for the driver to pick them up personally at a later time.
Now, it was just the original members of PlusFire walking towards their inn to get their proper rest before going to the ball.
The mood between them was strangely quiet. Hinota first noticed this after they left the others. She looked upon Kudo as they walked, noticing that he kept looking downwards at the street, as if he was trapped within his thoughts.
“Kudo? Is going to the ball that bad for you?”
Figuring that it was just Kudo’s introverted ways, Hinota sought her answers from him.
“Huh?” Kudo looked up, surprised. “Ah, yeah… the ball… it sounds fun, I think.”
Hearing such a lackluster response, Hinota figured that her assumption was wrong. Then, she was reminded of the incident at the last day of the event.
“… Do you feel responsible for what happened to those guys?”
Kudo’s ears perked up and turned to Hinota, facing her eyes. However, he couldn’t respond properly as his mouth closed on him.
“Kudo, it wasn’t your fault. What happened to them… it was their own foolish mistake.”
“…But, if they had just listened to me… if I had just been more convincing…”
“Sometimes, Kudo,” Hinota interrupted him. “People will not listen to anything you say. Even if you were completely right.”
“…But, why?” Kudo looked up to her, his eyes showing a deep regret in his soul.
“Because they would much rather make the mistake than to give up. People learn by committing mistakes, but sometimes, these mistakes can kill them. As an Adventurer, it’s for our own sakes that we take caution and tread carefully, but those fools did neither.”
Hinota offered her own opinion after experiencing many people failing in her time of youth. Being the most experienced, Hinota was teaching Kudo the ways of human beings.
“Besides, Kudo, you already did enough. They attacked us, but you still gave away your reward to their families, if they had any. That’s already pushing too much kindness onto them.”
“P-Pushing, you say…” Kudo felt somewhat bad hearing that he was pushing something against them.
Hinota chuckles as she explained: “I meant that you’re already doing so much for them when they don’t deserve anything in return.”
Turning to Kudo, she returned a warm smile which, along with the sunset, made it much more charming for Kudo to handle mentally.
“Though, it’s because of that trait is why I like to hang out with you so much.”
Kudo’s eyes widened, and then they gleamed as Hinota opened up her impression of him.
“That’s why, don’t worry too much. You always told me, right? That sometimes, expectations can be broken easily. We can’t let what happen to us weigh us down.”
Hinota’s words rang deeply into Kudo, erasing whatever negative emotion he was containing within himself. Now, all that was left was a bundle of energy gained from looking at Hinota’s charming smile.
“You’re right. You’re absolutely right, Hinota!” Kudo shot back a smile himself at Hinota’s direction.
“Of course I’m right. It’s me we’re talking about.”
Going back to her cocky attitude, her head was held high as if she knew the outcome already. Though she was acting slightly arrogant, Kudo’s smile turned gentle and warm.
“Thanks, Hinota…” Kudo trailed off, and then continued: “I’m so glad to have you as my friend!”
Hearing those sincere words, Hinota thought that their bubbly atmosphere returned to their side.
“How about we go back and get some rest. It’ll be some time before the carriage comes and picks us up.”
“Alright,” Kudo nodded. “I also want to see the loot we got from that. That’s the best reward!”
Kudo and Hinota went back to their inn, and sorted out their loot before the appointed time for the carriage to take them to the ball has come.
Getting their rewards, their invitation to the ball, and even clearing their past regrets, the PlusFire are all headed towards the time of their lives!