Hour Empty Child
It was a wondrous night, but afterward, it completely drained the PlusFire party. They were Adventurers, so they weren’t used to relaxing and dancing, despite their trained bodies.
However, the next day, Kudo and Hinota began to grind as they needed their fix of grinding for their experience points and farming for items. They even went back to the Hunter’s Grave since they were the winners of the event, and as such, were allowed to enter and grind there under the permission of the Queen herself.
After a couple of days of rest, Mick, Lailah and Eruda decided that they will separate from the PlusFire. They explained that while it would be beneficial, they didn’t want to burden the PlusFire any further.
The PlusFire were high leveled, so the rest would feel uncomfortable if they have to slow down their efficiency in order for them to catch up. It was a feeling shared between the three low-level Adventurers.
Though Kudo was saddened that they had to depart due to such reasons, he understood their feelings. Because of that, Kudo remembered the promise he made to Mick, and began to create the Rabacite armor with the excess 【Rabacite Ingots】 that he had.
Amazingly, a day later, Kudo has already created all three sets of armor for the three of them. Of course, Hinota has enchanted them with extra effects that would benefit each one individually. They paid the price—it was a lowered price than before since they bought the full set, as told by Hinota— and the low-leveled members donned their new equipment, feeling their own power rising due to its effects.
The next day was the day that they would leave the city of Olinia. After saying their goals and their goodbyes, the three left together. Eruda decided to party up with the siblings as they have bonded well together.
Though, during their goodbyes, Hinota dragged Mick for a short chat together:
“Mick, remember; always be natural around her. I can see it, you know; She’s starting to like you.”
“R-Really?!” With a surprised reaction, Mick then changed to a slightly silly face full of joy.
“Focus! Remember, be natural around her. Don’t force yourself to be something you’re not, but in some cases, always show that you are a man, got it? That way, she’ll fall for you.”
“A-Alright! Thank you very much, Hinota!”
“Hehe, follow my guidelines and you are sure to get her heart. Just remember to take care of it like you would to yours.”
After giving such impactful advice, Mick continuously bowed to his romance master and the three Adventurers left the PlusFire to continue on their own journey to the next town.
“So… they’re gone…”
Kudo spoke up, his tone sounding sad as he looked at the Adventurers until they disappeared into the horizon.
“Don’t worry, Kudo: If they keep getting stronger, we’ll see them again someday…”
Though Hinota was sure that they will meet again, she couldn’t help herself feeling down as her tone matched Kudo’s tone.
“Even you feel sad, Hinota!” Kudo noticed that difference as clear as day.
“I-I can’t help it that I’m sad about them leaving!”
Hinota wanted to defend herself, but Kudo continued to glare at her with a doubtful look. That look changed into a warm smile as they looked back at the horizon one more time before going back to the city.
The next day.
Kudo and Hinota came down from their rooms to begin eating their breakfast. As always, Kudo’s meal was left nearly barren while Hinota’s meals resembled that of a bountiful oasis.
“Kudo, why do you eat so little?” Hinota asked as she finally let her curiosity get the best of her. “There should be a reason why you’re eating so little.”
“It’s not much of a reason; I just learned to eat less.”
“L-Learned to eat less?”
Hinota’s mind was boggled. In her mind, nobody could be able to learn to eat very little.
“Well, it goes like this…” Kudo began to explain. “We were always low on money, especially after we get our supplies. We’re always in the red because of our living expenses. That’s why, so that I can become an Adventurer, I started being frugal. I decided to eat less so that we can spend less food. Sure, I got hungry, but when it’s needed to become an Adventurer, I learned to eat as little as possible. Now, I don’t have to eat as much.”
Kudo smiled as he recalls the times of saving money for every little thing imaginable for his goal, and though it was painful at times, he was fond of it as it made him the life he is living now.
Though, it was completely destroyed as he sees Hinota’s tears streaming down from her eyes. He sees Hinota’s watery eyes and her tears that were falling from her eyes to her food.
“T-That’s so awful…!”
Hinota literally cried. It was to the point where the other residents of the inn turned to see a girl crying, and then turned their sight on Kudo with disappointed looks. Each one was saying something mean such as calling Kudo a jerk for making a girl cry.
The undeserved attention of the mean onlookers caused Kudo grief as he felt the stares piercing him and immediately tried to salvage the situation.
“H-Hinota! W-What’s wrong?!”
“It’s not right! It’s not right at all! Even if it is to save up Jib, that’s just… to sacrifice eating is just…!”
Hinota’s emotions went out of control. Kudo now learned that Hinota was as passionate about eating food as she was on adventuring. As her tears began to dry up, Hinota furrowed her eyes and slammed the table with such force that it made the other residents jolt in shock.
Kudo himself nearly jumped back from the sudden slam, and then sees Hinota pick up her fork and stabbing a large cut-up piece of meat from her own plate, and then moved it towards Kudo’s mouth.
“Kudo! Eat! Eat to your fill! You have to get used to eating more!”
“E-Eh… but I really don’t need to—”
“You have to!”
Hinota was resolute. Kudo could tell from her eyes that she was serious about not letting Kudo get away without letting him eat as much as she did.
“B-But…” Kudo wanted to get away from this situation as much as possible. “I really don’t need—”
“Kudo, this is what your parents would have wanted! I’m sure that they never wanted you to eat less because of their money problems! So eat! It will make you stronger and give your parents peace of mind!”
Hinota was just about to push the meat right on Kudo’s face, getting him to hang his head back in near disgust.
“L-Like I said—” Kudo tried once again to negotiate.
“I swear I will spoon-feed you if I have to!”
Hearing such words, Hinota practically thrusts the meat into Kudo’s mouth. Kudo’s eyes teared up as his mouth was assaulted with the smoked meat, getting him to be forced to take it into his mouth as he began to chew in earnest.
Hinota put her hands on her hips as she nodded in approval, ignoring Kudo’s tears as they ran down his face.
“T-This is too much…” Kudo nearly gagged once more as he swallowed the piece of meat with reluctance.
After a while, the PlusFire finished their meals and headed out of the inn to start their day of grinding. Upon their walking through the town, the townspeople, more specifically the nobles, spotted these Adventurers, but knowing that they were the Queen’s prized Adventurers, they didn’t show them any hostility like before.
In fact, they were glad to see them. Some of them even spoke to the two with glee and waved at them. Kudo, being the positive kind of Adventurer, waved back at them in response.
“I’m really glad that the nobles don't see us as annoying now…”
Kudo had a grateful tone in response to the treatment.
“It must be the Queen’s influence. Though they might treat us differently, they’ll probably treat the other Adventurers the same as before.”
“Ah, I see…” Kudo wasn’t as disappointed as he believed, and responded with a smile to Hinota. “At least we’ll get some benefits of being here.”
“True enough. Now then, let’s—”
A sharp sound of whipping rang out. Kudo and Hinota quickly heard it and raised their heads to see the one coming towards them. They saw, in the distance, a man riding on an armored horse, its armor dyed in crimson red. The man himself was wearing clothing suited to that of royalty—a set of Light armor also dyed in red.
The man himself looked quite handsome—a stout face, strong but slender build, and his brown hair reached to his ears that swayed in the wind.
Kudo turned around at the shock of Hinota’s sudden shout. Even Kudo knew then what it meant.
“Y-You know him, Hinota?”
As he asked, the man in question, Maon spotted the two seeing them and called his horse to stop. With powerful steps, the horse slowed down and made himself get off the horse.
“Yeah… he’s the messenger of the Flamver family.”
“T-The Flamver family?!”
The noble Adventurer house, the Flamver family. Hearing this, Kudo’s heart quickened in speed as Maon closed in towards them, wearing a serious expression. Kudo’s body suddenly stiffens up like a pole as he came in, and turned his gaze at Hinota.
“Ojou-sama*,” Maon spoke curtly, then made a bow to his master. “I apologize for meeting you so abruptly on your journey.”
Maon spoke with a cold tone, but in a sense, it carried the respect he would to royalty.
“Pay no mind,” Hinota responded with the same elegance as Maon. “Now, why is it that you’re here?”
Hearing her talk so formal threw off Kudo’s groove. However, he reminded himself that she is part of a noble house, so perhaps she talks that way to her family as well.
“Ojou-sama, I have received a message from your father and mother, as well as a gift to be given to you by my Lord. Which would you like to receive first?”
Figuring he should ask, Maon asked for the order.
“Give me the gifts first, then the message.”
Maon has quickly reached to his [Magic Bag] holstered on his hip and took out various items.
One was a large partisan, a spear with 3 blades at the top of a long steel staff. The blades had a decorative finish, with red being the primary color as well as golden edges. He gave other weapons that were similar such as a one-handed sword, a dagger, and an ordinary bow.
Seeing those weapons, Kudo could tell that these were made carefully and, if he watches closely, he can see that each of them had a powerful effect.
“These weapons were created, and were created with strong [Traits]. There are also these…”
Once again, Maon took out several things from the bag. This time, they were all books with different colored covers.
“Three 【Skill Books】, given to you for your success in winning the Olinia event.”
Hinota’s brow furrowed as she quickly responded: “How did Lord Grandfather know of my success?”
“Your Grandfather has been messaged directly by the Queen of Peranim herself. After hearing about it, my Lord insisted on giving you your gifts.”
“I see…” Hinota responded with a surprised but grateful tone. “Tell him my thanks.”
“I will see to it.”
Hinota gave Kudo the weapons and books to hold, to which he took them gladly.
“Would you like to hear your message now?”
“Yes, please tell.”
Hinota, Kudo’s eyes, somehow looked like she was steeling herself to hear about their message. Then, Kudo was reminded that it was them that made Hinota’s beginning career as an Adventurer so awful. Kudo also steeled himself as he waits in anticipation.
“Your mother has told me to relay to you, that as soon as you finished playing around, come back home.”
Hinota’s face cringed into a cramped expression. Kudo, who believed that adventuring is a worthy profession, even felt hurt by her mother’s words.
“…And what of Father?”
“Your father has relayed to me that you must hurry with your adventures so that you can come home and begin planning for your marriage.”
Kudo’s mind nearly blanked out. He couldn’t believe it. Rather, he didn’t want to believe it. Hearing about Hinota’s own marriage caused Kudo to nearly lose balance, but remained his stance as Hinota responded:
“…Tell my Father that I do not ever wish to plan for marriage. And to my mother… please tell her that adventuring is a serious profession, and saying so is an insult to me and to my friend.”
Hinota’s words were absolute. She spoke clearly and without reserve. Hearing those cold words, Maon responded in turn:
“Pardon me, Ojou-sama. But I believe that you should… comply with your mother.”
Maon spoke with reserve in his tone, contradicting his usual demeanor. However, Hinota furrowed her eyes, making her sharp eyes even sharper.
“What my mother wants is not my wish. I want to establish that. If she gives you any trouble, then I will personally take responsibility. Talk to Lord Grandfather if such a case occurs.”
“That’s… not what I was referring to, but I understand.”
Maon bowed to her words as Hinota sensed what he meant.
“Ah, I did not mean to make you sound so cowardly, Maon. Please, forgive me.”
Hinota quickly apologized, making Maon’s hand raise up.
“It is alright, Ojou-sama. It is by your orders that I will stand. I, too, do not wish to make you unhappy.”
Hearing his kind words, Hinota reached to her [Magic Bag] and opened it up. She took out a small bag which made the jiggling sounds of coins as she handed it to Maon.
“This is for your services, Maon.”
“O-Ojou-sama!” Maon’s eyes widened as he put on a surprised expression. “I-I cannot receive such a generous—”
“That’s my order, Maon,” Hinota responded curtly. “For traveling here from Erijo on your own, and for respecting my decisions. I must at least show this much appreciation.”
Hinota formed a smile on her lips, one that shows exquisite charm that even Kudo was taken aback by it.
“…Your kindness is greatly appreciated, Ojou-sama.”
“I wish you safe travels, Maon.”
Hinota spoke kindly as Maon bowed in response. Then, he turned his gaze to Kudo.
With a surprise utter from Kudo, Maon glared intently into Kudo’s eyes. Kudo’s head hung back as he got closer, and then he began to scan Kudo’s body from head to toe.
Kudo remained stiffened, his body resembling a totem. Then, Maon spoke up:
“E-Eh, you know my name?”
“I heard of you from Ojou-sama’s letters to my Lord. I heard of your exploits and of your friendship. To be honest, I came here to also know exactly who you are under my Lord’s orders.”
Maon continued to glare at Kudo with his eyes showing a furious intensity. Hinota turned to see him and hoped that he doesn’t scare Kudo too much.
“…Please take care of Ojou-sama.”
Maon finally spoke. Hearing that, Kudo widened his eyes as Maon now looked at Kudo with a gentle expression.
“She can be rash, but she is kind. She is someone that I am proud to be serving.”
Hearing his words, Hinota’s cheeks glowed red as Maon returned to his horse and mounted it. With powerful steps, the horse turned and began to run, leaving a trail of dust as the horse ran with Maon on it.
The PlusFire were left behind with no words to say. But after a while, Hinota began to speak:
“I figured… that you want to know some things.”
“W-Well… I understand that you have something that you don’t want to talk about.”
Kudo responded as he believed he should. However, Hinota knows Kudo more than he thinks.
Hearing her ask that, somewhere inside, Kudo’s body was brought to its limit.
“…What’s with all that?! And… and marriage?!”
This was the one thing on his mind that he wanted to ask about. Hinota chuckled in response, bringing Kudo to be confused.
“I suppose that explanations are in order. Let’s go and sit down at one of the restaurants. We can talk there.”
Hinota pointed in another direction where they were, getting Kudo to agree as he nodded.
Hinota discovered a restaurant where she and the other members found during their shopping. It peaked her interest as she got Kudo to be there along with her and sat down. It was a fairly famous restaurant, where the tables were outside instead, and waiters would come in and serve them and then come back inside to get their food.
However, since they have already eaten, they decided to go lighter this time. Hinota only ordered three meals, while Kudo only had a glass of water.
At their table, Kudo was keen on listening to every living detail about Hinota, getting Hinota to eat at her pace as they talked.
“…So I guess you wanna know how this marriage thing started.”
Hinota answered grimly. She appears to not like to talk about this kind of topic. Usually, Kudo would back off, but after spending so much time with her, he believed he is entitled to know this much at least.
“Mmh… I guess I should explain about my family first. As you know, they are a family of Adventurers with a Special Class, the 【Hell Knight】. Because of this class, our family became well-known Adventurers in Peranim, making a name for themselves as the most powerful family in Peranim.”
“R-Right, I know that.”
Kudo nodded vigorously as Hinota continued.
“When I was born in the family, I wasn’t expected to be an Adventurer. When a new child is born, it’s usually a male, so they become Adventurers. For women, they were raised to be more domestic, and, well, are expected to be betrothed to other nobles as to gain more political power.”
Hearing her talk about that, Kudo’s heart became restless. He can’t imagine a girl like Hinota used to marry off some noble that she wouldn’t know just for more political power.
“However… lately, there were rumors that our bloodline is dissipating over the years.”
“Mmh… I think it happened somehow that one of our males over the years wouldn’t have the class every now and then… so it was possible that we’re losing the class that’s keeping us afloat.”
“E-Eh?! That can happen?!”
Kudo never heard of something like that ever happening. A Special Class that could be lost within the passages of time…
“It’s all just rumors, but our family was frightened and was very cautious. Because of that, it was told that when I become older, I would be married to my cousin to assure the bloodline.”
“EEEEEHH?! Your cousin?!”
Kudo shouted to the point of standing up, slamming his hands against the table. It caused such a ruckus that it made the other nobles look to where he was in shock, getting him to notice the stares piercing him. Kudo became increasingly embarrassed as he sat back down.
“M-Married to your cousin…?!”
Kudo spoke softly this time, making sure that he doesn’t bother other people.
“Hah, in this day and age, it’s not strange to marry a cousin from your family in Peranim. However, I understand what you mean…”
Hinota spoke with a slight disgust.
“T-That’s right! I mean, it’s your cousin… tha—that’s just already strange enough as it is!”
“I know…” Hinota heaved a sigh as she had the same feelings as Kudo. “When they announced that, I was appalled. My cousin, Lariz, isn’t what you would call humble.”
Hearing about her cousin, Kudo could tell that he wasn’t a model kind of guy that Hinota likes.
“He’s the kind of guy that believed that he will be the next clan leader. Our current clan leader is my Lord Grandfather, and he believed that his time will come soon.”
“T-That’s kinda rude, isn’t it?”
“To him, that’s the least of his insults.”
Kudo is already beginning to dislike Lariz.
“Originally, it wasn’t supposed to be me. My cousin Lariz was actually supposed to marry my older sister, Kasara.”
“Your older sister… The one that gave you your hairband?”
Kudo remembered the night before the ball started as Hinota wore a gentle smile on her lips.
“Yes, she’s the one. She’s... well, she’s very kind and sweet. She’s the kind of person that you can rely on no matter what to get any job done. Whenever I would mess up, she would always be there for me, to comfort me and to take the pain away…”
Hearing her speak so casually and freely on her sister, Kudo widened his eyes at how much light she was giving off when she talked about Kasara. He wondered about something, and then asked:
“W-Was she beautiful?” He couldn’t resist asking.
“She’s the most beautiful woman you ever lay your eyes on… Kudo, your jaw would drop from your mouth at the first glance.”
I bet she can’t do it the same way you did…
Kudo retorted, but he kept it to himself.
“But, what happened?”
“After hearing about the marriage, she just refused. She was planning on becoming an Adventurer, and so, she severed the ties between herself and my family.”
“S-She severed the ties?! Why?!”
Kudo’s shout was reflecting Hinota’s emotions when it happened. She kept it to herself, however, as she continued:
“I don’t really know. Suddenly, she just severed everything and left, leaving everything behind.”
“B-But why would she do such a thing to you?! I thought she was a kind person!”
Hinota was left silent. Seeing the silence, Kudo thought that he might have gotten too far with his questions.
“It’s Ok,” Hinota raised her hand to assure that it was fine. “I know you didn’t mean anything bad. I’m sure that it’s because she didn’t want to marry Lariz, and used for strengthening our bloodline.”
“I-I see…” Kudo could understand that it was for that point, however, he still felt miffed about how she just left Hinota behind.
“But, before she left, I remember her visiting me before. She said to me that she was going to leave, and she won’t know if we would ever meet again. But she told me that she will always love me, and gave me the hairband that I’m wearing today.”
Out of nostalgia, Hinota undressed her ponytail and let her long, fiery hair fall down, putting the said hairband into her hand. Kudo’s eyes widened at the sight of Hinota’s hair cascading downwards like a waterfall.
“She told me that she’ll believe that we will meet again. She believed in that, and I believe in that as well.”
Hinota wore a charming smile as she put the hairband back on her hair again, tying it up as Kudo’s mind was wrapped around this image like a ribbon as he returned to his senses.
“After that, it was decided that I would marry Lariz. However, I didn’t want that either. So, I pleaded my Lord Grandfather to give me a chance on becoming an Adventurer. And, sure enough, I had the Special Class.”
“Kudo, that’s when my month of hunting goblins began, and you know how well that went. The truth is, I never wanted to be an Adventurer to begin with. I just wanted to follow the same steps as my sister did. I didn’t want to be some housewife for a man I don’t even love.”
At this point, Kudo started to piece together the key points, and somehow, his mind was fully enraged with anger.
‘So, when your parents got you training for fighting…”
“…Most likely, they told my training instructor to teach me all the wrong things so that I would fail, and come back crawling to them.”
“That’s… That’s not right!”
Kudo banged the table once more, once again taking the attention of the other nobles. However, at this point, he didn’t care.
“Parents are… supposed to support you in your decisions! They shouldn’t sabotage you, or force you to marry someone you don’t even like! A parent that would force you like this is just…!”
There were aggravation and frustration in his voice. It was unlike anything Hinota has heard before. Her eyes widened as Kudo began to clench his fist in anger as he stifled himself from continuing on. She could tell that Kudo didn’t want to admit anything worse about her own parents.
A feeling of relief blew through Hinota at that point.
“I’m sorry, Kudo… rather than me, it was you that got angry. In the end, this is all just assumptions. It’s not like they would deliberately get me into a dangerous situation, after all.”
After hearing Hinota’s calm analysis, Kudo’s shame has now brought him incredible embarrassment as he sat back down on his seat, his cheeks reddening like mad.
“T-Then… you’re not planning on marrying someone, are you?”
Kudo looked up to Hinota with upturned eyes. It made an impact on Hinota’s mind as she responded:
“Don’t worry; I’m not planning on marrying any jerk. I’m still going to become an Adventurer, whether they want that or not.”
“But, they’ll get more angry at you.”
“Yeah,” Hinota nodded. “At the very least, they’ll probably disown me.”
Kudo heard it before, but it seems like it was really possible that the Flamver would disown their child for the sake of their pride.
It brought chills down Kudo’s spine.
“But, I think that if I impress them with how successful I am right now, I might be able to change their minds about the marriage.”
Hearing Hinota’s positive remark on that, Kudo’s eyes widened, perhaps they even glinted at the thought.
“Yeah! That sounds like a great idea, Hinota! I’m sure that it’ll happen if we work harder!”
Kudo’s own positive shout brought Hinota to smile, and say these words:
“Thanks for getting angry for me, Kudo…”
Hearing her voice soften to say those words, Kudo’s cheeks reddened.
“N-No problem! That’s what friends are for, right?”
Kudo chuckled as Hinota couldn’t help but to do the same. Meanwhile, a waiter comes in walking towards the two, a sweat streaming down his bald-headed head.
“Umm, sir… I’m afraid that you’re bothering the other customers…”
The waiter cautiously worded as Kudo widened his eyes and surveyed his surroundings.
Sure enough, there were some of the customers that had a displeasing eye on them, each one laying their sight on the duo themselves.
“Ah, ah… I’m sorry!”
After bowing repeatedly to the staff, Kudo and Hinota left the restaurant, under Kudo’s orders that they will never return to the restaurant again due to pure embarrassment.
“They had such good food too…” Hinota spoke with a disheartened tone, leaving Kudo to have another sting in his heart.
“I’m sorry… please, just bear with it.”
After Kudo’s wanting to cry at that point, he was reminded of their conversation, and proudly announced:
“Our goal now is to not just become famous Adventurers, but to prove to your parents that you can become successful on your own!”
“Well, that’s pretty much one and the same, but I understand what you mean.”
Hinota spoke with a smile as Kudo continued:
“And just maybe, we’ll find your sister!”
“E-Eh? What do you mean?”
Hinota stopped in her tracks, becoming surprised as Kudo formed a smile.
“Don’t you want to see her? If we keep going, we’ll probably be in the same place your sister might be in. If we work quickly enough, we can get to your sister’s level and meet up with her!”
Hearing Kudo’s plan, Hinota widened her eyes in surprise and was left gaping.
“Kudo… you would help me that much?” Hinota spoke in surprise. She was even surprised at what she said, knowing what kind of answer Kudo would say.
“Your sister sounds like an incredible Adventurer. I want to see her too! I want to see someone that Hinota looks up to so much. So it’s like killing two birds with one stone!”
Hinota couldn’t believe what he said, but she can’t deny his words. She felt overwhelmed by his optimism, but then a smile rose from her lips.
“I never… even thought about meeting my sister again. I thought she would go away to somewhere where I will never meet her again. No matter how much I want to...”
“But you can now,” Kudo corrected. “We’ll get stronger and stronger, raise our levels, improve our skills and equipment, and stand in the same league with her. I want to do that with you, Hinota!”
“…That sounds like a plan!”
Hinota responded with her charming smile once more, leaving Kudo and Hinota to start their day of adventuring.
Reassuring their resolve, they now have a clear goal to aim for! Go out and adventure, PlusFire!