Hour Empty Child
After their last day, the PlusFire used the carriage to drive themselves out of Olinia, the capital city, to head their way to their next location:
The Dungeon City, Prom Pru.
The city has its name solely due to one part of it that calls the attention of all the Adventurers who dare to go through it: the Dungeon.
—Dungeons: Surreal buildings that were made way before people have created civilization. How they are created is unknown, and most people, even the oldest amongst them, believed that it was the gods of the Upperworld that have created them solely for the venture to gain its treasures.
Passing through the border gates into the city, it had the appearance that was similar to the capital Olinia—Stone paved roads as well as towering buildings.
“We’re here! Prom Pru!”
Standing on the paved road after sitting in the carriage for hours on end, Kudo Braven, co-leader of PlusFire, stretched his back far enough to hear a crack from it.
“Do you smell that, Kudo? It smells like jib here.”
Hinota Flamver, also co-leader of PlusFire, took a whiff in the air and showed her greed in her eyes.
“Yeah! Still, being in that carriage took a lot of out me.”
“I’m pretty sure it messed up my circulation…”
Hinota also stretched her arms by intertwining them and making her bones crack. The sound was enough to send chills to everyone who heard it.
“I ask that we get more comfortable rides from now on.”
“I can’t help that the carriages are uncomfortable,” Kudo sighed. “Just bear with it till we find a suitable transportation without renting a horse.”
“With our budget, we can buy 5 horses now.”
“Why would we need 5 anyways? We got out legs.”
“Gah… so stingy.”
After their short rest, which was getting a small snack from the vendor store beside them, they headed deeper into the city. They were met with various stalls and banners that promote the dungeon as if it was a festival to be placed there. Dozens of merchants selling items to Adventurers that were treated as souvenirs and even survival kits that includes ropes and first-aid.
“To think that Dungeons were so popular…”
Kudo widened his eyes in response to the dozens of people being here.
“I figured that Dungeons were more… dangerous, considering how often the Guidebook warns us about them.”
Hinota recalls the information shown in the guidebook, turning her attention to Kudo.
“Kudo, what exactly are these dungeons anyways? The Guidebook didn’t explain much on that.”
“Ah, right, the book never explained it. See, Dungeons are special places where time and space run differently. The moment you enter, your body enters into an area outside temporal boundaries. Time acts differently inside, so an hour on the outside is 24 hours in the dungeon.”
Kudo remembered the details that he read in one of his books that he bought and summarizing it for Hinota to learn.
“We Adventurers can enter and do what we usually do, and when we come back, only an hour will pass, so other Adventurers can come in.”
“Eeh, so, inside these dungeons are monsters that live there, right? We kill them and take their loot?”
“That’s right. There are 100 floors in the dungeon, and there will be tougher monsters each time you go up a floor. However, before we enter, we need to talk to the DCA to gain permission.”
“The DCA…?” Hinota tilted her neck.
“Dungeon Control Association. They’re Adventurers who are in charge when it comes to exploring dungeons. They’re the ones who offered the business to help Adventurers who will explore dungeons by helping them whenever they can. They provide support and control how many Adventurers go in or out. Also, they get 10% of whatever you collect in the dungeon, along with the massive fee of entering it in the first place.”
“Geez, that sounds steep.”
“Yeah, but that’s the rules. Either way, they help us on surviving if the dungeon is too tough. They call on the best Adventurers to go and save the ones who went in over their heads and went up too many floors. Though, if you do that, you’ll be banned from entering the Dungeon for the next week.”
“I see,” Hinota rubbed her chin. “So that way, the same mistake won’t happen again as they train to gain more levels.”
“Still, this must mean that the dungeon here is tougher than it looks.”
“That’s what I believe,” Kudo raised his index finger. “However, if we complete it, we should have the necessary experience points to get to our 【Class Up】. I just hope that we can make it to at least the 10th floor.”
“Kudo, it’s us,” Hinota assured. “We’ll at least make it over 10!”
“Yeah. Now the problem is to find a cheap inn to rest…”
“Being this promotional towards the dungeon, the ‘cheap’ inn here won’t be very cheap.”
“Eh? Hah… can’t they give a break for my pockets?”
Kudo heaved a sigh for all the Jib he will lose. Hinota offered consolation by putting her hand on his shoulder.
“For now, let’s focus on our current goal. We still need to rank up at the Adventurers’ Guild Hall here.”
“Oh, right! How could I forget?”
Kudo immediately perked up as if a flash of energy surged through him. Hinota smiled as the two of them headed towards the Guild Hall of Prom Pru to gain their new rank.
After getting there, they asked the GuildMaster for their Rank-up, who was actually an older woman in her 50’s, and she offered them a test to complete to get their [B-Rank] status.
The test for ascending to [B-Rank] is more complicated because it involves not just the monster’s behaviors and patterns—they also test the psychology of Adventurers and ways to counter their behaviors. Apparently, [B-Rank] Adventurers are more mindful to their party members to survive rather than gaining enough strength to fight monsters.
Nevertheless, Kudo and Hinota passed the tests with flying colors, impressing the older GuildMaster. Once they were done, the GuildMaster improved their Growth Crystals, making their color of light green to dark purple, glowing with a mysterious yet colorful design.
“Now, we’re [B-Rank] Adventurers!”
Hinota and Kudo raised their hands in the air and slapped them with each other’s.
For their reward for completing the tests, the GuildMaster offered them a chance to buy improved [Magic Bag] which were an improvement from their old ones. Of course, they bought it without restraint.
“Hehehe, these new bags look awesome!”
Kudo laughed with a silly expression as the PlusFire headed out of the guild hall. Kudo held onto his new [Magic Bag] which was the same color as the last bag, only that it was about 2 inches bigger.
“Kudo, come on, you look really creepy with that look on your face.”
Hinota held onto her bag as well, looking the same as Kudo except that it was dyed with a red color.
“But it’s a new bag! It holds double the spaces than our last ones! Not to mention we can just keep our old bags inside, making even more spaces! Imagine the extra storage for our crafting needs!”
“Mmh, I can’t disagree with you on that one,” Hinota flashed a smile. “Not only will this help with the exploration, but it will also get us extra space for those loot items that we keep hoarding.”
Hinota then showed a dirty look at Kudo.
“Though, we didn’t have to horde so much if you didn’t make such a fuss about it.”
“But every single one is important!”
“Still, having over 50 different crafting items does leave us little space for something more important.”
Feeling defeated, Hinota cherished her victory as Kudo had to admit her point.
“Now then, we became [B-Rank] Adventurers, and we even got new bags about of that. Now all that’s left is to enter the dungeon!”
Before Hinota could head towards the direction where they see the giant tower of the city, which is the Dungeon itself, Kudo stopped her by moving in front of her.
“We can’t yet. First, I need to get ourselves signed in with the DCA to be official Dungeon Dwellers.”
“O-Official Dungeon Dwellers?”
“That means that we gotta sign in and give them a fee to give us licenses for entering the dungeon in the first place.”
“But, aren’t our Growth Crystals proof enough that we’re Adventurers?”
“It’s not like that.”
Kudo decided to use this chance to use his new bag. He opened up his bag and put his hand inside, pulling a book out of it. Hinota eyed at the new book, which was something Kudo has bought a while ago before he left Olinia. He read the part that he specifically marked himself.
“It says here that signing in with the DCA is more than just identification. It’s to prove a… what’s it called… insurance?”
Kudo was distraught about the new word he just saw.
“Oh, insurance is an act of compensating someone’s life or items in case something happens like loss or harm.”
Hinota quickly defined the new word for him which made Kudo’s eyes glittered at her knowledge. Then, she quickly realizes what he meant.
“I see… so if anything happens to us, the DCA will take care of us.”
“I know it seems like I’m being more worried than usual,” Kudo looked troubled, but then he balled his hand into a fist. “But I rather not spend more money if we get into an accident!”
“Hehe, don’t worry,” Hinota patted Kudo’s shoulder. “That sounds like a good idea. I rather pay extra for a safe peace of mind than to worry about more problems later.”
“Hehe, glad to see that you think the same way!”
“Of course. We think alike, after all.”
Hinota flashed a smile, which coincidentally, made Kudo’s heart skip a beat.
“R-Right! Then, I’ll go ahead and do the line for getting the DCA insurance. Hinota, I might take a while, so go ahead and do some research for the dungeon.”
“Oh, I get it,” Hinota crosses her arms as she understood. “You want me to spy on other people’s hard work so we’ll have an easier time.”
“D-Don’t word it like that! I meant to say that it’ll help us further if we get some advice from people that already went through it!”
“Hehe, it’s still the same thing.”
Once the two have settled their matters, Kudo left Hinota in charge of research while he went ahead to the main DCA facility to pay for insurance.
After separating, Hinota headed towards where all the fuzz was about. She entered into the street that was suffused with people, brimming with excitement over the Dungeon that was a few miles away.
Hinota looked up, from amidst the crowd of excited Adventurers, the stronghold that towers over the entire city. It was a large structure, a long tower capable of reaching all the way to the clouds. Hinota thought that it might have even reached to the Upperworld from how grand it was.
Lowering her head, she returned to her senses while being submerged in the flow of Adventurers returning from the dungeon, tired and drained from their exploits.
“Mmh, where should I start?” Hinota asked herself, rubbing her chin just like Kudo would whenever he was thinking hard.
She moved towards the dungeon, only to be met with a riot of noises coming from the Adventurers. There was a sea of them, and there were dozens of long tables sprawled along the wall of the dungeon. There was a huge space between the tables which was the entry way into the dungeon.
Two golden ornated doors. On the doors were markings which Hinota cannot understand. She believed that they were ancient runes regarding the dungeon only true dungeon dwellers would understand, but they were in the least of her mind.
Her only interest was moving towards one of the tables.
Many Adventurers were actually in a line to the tables, with one person in charge of it. The one person was part of the DCA cast, wearing a black and white vest uniform while wearing a smile on her face
There was a huge line, so Hinota devised a plan to avoid all of that.
She surveyed her surroundings and finally spotted a group of Adventurers who looked gullible.
She screamed, putting on an expression she was used to putting on for all the social activities she was put through back in Erijo.
“Urrgh… where is she? There are so many people here. It’s making me…”
Kudo’s stomach gurgled as he walked through the streets encumbered with Adventurers. He was going towards the dungeon area where he would meet up with Hinota for her research.
He was already done with getting the insurance. Folded up into neat documents, Kudo and Hinota were assured of their safety. Despite feeling safe, Kudo felt like he was about to lose his lunch if he doesn’t find Hinota soon.
Like a healer to a damaged attacker, Kudo felt relieved as he notices Hinota’s flowing red hair as she waved towards him.
“Kudo, you’re done already? As expected, you get things fast.”
“Yeah,” Kudo hands the documents from his bag. “There wasn’t a big line for some reason. Apparently, today was the day where Adventurers would mostly go to the dungeon instead. I couldn’t imagine how packed it was until I actually saw it.”
“It’s your luck,” Hinota glared at him. “It’s a gift from the gods that your life is meant to be easy.”
“Don’t say that, Hinota!”
Kudo felt as if everything would truly be easier, getting him almost worried for his excitement.
“A-Anyways, let’s go find someplace else to talk. Just being here is…”
“Geez, you’re still not over that? Alright,” Hinota quickly scans the area. “There. We can rest there while we eat.”
Feeling like he might hurl, Hinota grabbed Kudo’s hand and led him away from the packed street.
Finding a nice, quiet restaurant, which was a hole in the wall restaurant covered with red drapes, their specialties were freshly made noodles in a soup that called the two’s attention.
Seating down at one of the chairs in the small restaurant, Hinota and Kudo both ordered the same meal, though the quantity between them is massive as always.
“Hinota, t-this might be a little bit too much for me to take…”
Kudo spots the giant bowl of noodles in front of him, nearly the same size as Hinota.
“What are you talking about? This is small compared to my plates! Besides, they don’t have anything smaller, and you need to eat more!”
Hinota first clasps her hands together for a prayer, then she quickly splits two chopsticks apart with ease, making uneven chopsticks. She didn’t mind them, though, and she dipped them into the soup to get the noodles out of it.
Kudo was amazed at how Hinota quickly slurps up the noodles like a vacuum, taking a few small breaks to eat the rest of the side dishes that she ordered.
“Come on, Kudo! Go ahead! It’s delicious!”
‘I-If you say so…”
Kudo felt tempted and did the same. The chopsticks broke up perfectly even, surprising him as he dipped them into the soup to slurp up the noodles.
Kudo shouted as he continued eating, way more than he would usually eat.
“Hehe, looks like you like it.”
The two continued to eat until the noodles were no more, and finally, they took the big bowl filled with soup and tilted it towards themselves, drinking the delicious soup that quenched their thirsts as well as satisfied their taste buds at the same time.
The two exhaled, putting down the bowls at the same time.
“Woo...” Kudo turned to Hinota. “So, how did it go? Everything went okay with the research?”
“Of course,” Hinota turned her head up, her nose in the air. “Who do you think you’re talking to?”
“As expected. Lay it on me.”
“Well, I managed to find some Dungeon Dwellers.”
“Oh, those are hard to find! They’re Adventurers who make it their entire careers into exploring dungeons! The information they have must be really good!”
“Yes it was, but they weren’t so keen on sharing them. So all I did was just butter them up to give me the details.”
“B-Butter them up?”
Kudo tilted his neck in response.
“I complimented and praised them, saying how powerful they are and all that crap. They completely ate it up and told me everything I need.”
“W-Wow, that’s really manipulative, Hinota.”
“In this world,” Hinota’s eyes glinted. “There are times where you have to manipulate around you to be in your favor. And what else can I get such good info from if not from the Dwellers?”
“I have to agree,” Kudo conceded. “So what’d you learn?”
“It’s a castle-themed Dungeon. You go and defeat monsters in hallways and gardens, and most of them are the variety type. Goblins to Gnolls to even Pixies. The beginning floors sends out the kind of stuff you find just about everywhere.”
“Is that so,” Kudo rubbed his chin. “And the upper floors?”
“The more we go upwards, the more traps there are, such as pit traps and medieval level traps like spikes falling from the roof.”
“Geez, that’s insane…”
“Don’t worry,” Hinota assured. “They told me that it’s about 50% chance of getting hit by one, so if we’re together, they’ll never touch us.”
“Hehe,” Kudo chuckled. “Counting on my luck again, Hinota?”
“You gotta use whatever you got to succeed. Am I right, or am I right?”
“Hahaha! Good point!”
The two shared a hearty laugh, being taken in by the good atmosphere of the small shop. They paid the shopkeeper the Jib and left the restaurant, thinking about going back again later.
“So how far did the Dungeon Dwellers go in the dungeon anyways?”
“Up to 40 floors,” Hinota said with a disapproving expression.
“Eh?! That’s so low… I figured they would go higher than that.”
“Tell me about it. I figured that with those titles they have, they might have gone to floor 80 or more, but that’s just literally cutting my expectations in half.”
Hinota sighed and shrugged.
“It was so hard to hide my disappointment in front of them. I need a reward.”
“You’re such a good actress, Hinota. You did your best~!”
“Now that’s what I’m talking about. Give me more praise.”
Hinota put her hands on her hips as an air of arrogance took over her. Kudo, knowing her the best, figured that it was the best response to cheer her up.
Afterward, they found an inn which, thankfully, was very cheap for Kudo. They entered into their rooms after paying up and settled down.
Once they had enough time for themselves, Hinota entered into Kudo’s room to begin their preparations for tomorrow. Hinota started drawing a map according to the information she got from the Dwellers. As she draws, Kudo sees the majesty of Hinota’s drawing skills.
“That’s incredible, Hinota! Your drawings look like they’re coming to life!”
“Back at my family’s manor, calligraphy is one of the things I had to master. Can’t say there was a use for it in real life, but it sure helps drawing out what I picture in my mind.”
“That also goes for your high [INT] since it lets you remember every vivid detail.”
“Of course. It’s me we’re talking about.”
“Now that we see what’s in front of us, we can check our supplies. Hinota, what do we got?”
“We got enough rations to last the full 24 hours. Some water canteens, and some fruit shakes for me.”
“Can’t forget the fruit shakes,” Kudo assured.
“Of course. But with all these items, will we have enough room in the bags?”
“We can put the extra rations in the downgraded versions of the [Magic Bags]. That way, we’ll have enough space. Not to mention, they won’t spoil in the bag’s dimension no matter how much time passes, so we’re good!”
“Alright! I’m liking this already. It’s filling me with goosebumps when I think about tomorrow!”
Hinota felt her supple skin with her hands, feeling the small bumps.
“Me too! I can’t wait to see what items we’ll get and the levels we’ll gain!”
“Alright, what’s next?” Hinota asked.
“Let’s see,” Kudo rubbed his chin. “We got our items, so now all we need is to repair our weapons. Once we’re done, we need to wake up early to get to that line to start immediately!”
“That means we have to wake up at 6:00 am. A little earlier than we’re used to. Think you can keep up?”
Hinota had a doubtful look on her face, glaring at Kudo with sharp, suspecting eyes.
“O-Of course I can! When it’s something this important, I’ll go to sleep earlier!”
Kudo defended himself, turning around as he recalls that he wanted to read a book before he sleeps, but he knows how much time would be wasted if he did.
(If I take a little time for myself, I might squeeze some reading in,) Kudo thought to himself, getting a little excited.
“Though, we’re still going to train all night before then.”
Suddenly, he felt a hand that made his body chill up. He turned around, seeing Hinota’s sharp eyes glaring at him like a general getting ready to train a recruit.
Her aura that seeped out of her sharp glare practically said ‘You’ll never sleep peacefully’, getting Kudo to shudder.
After that, Kudo received the training that he was not used to having after a while, making his body ache in pain for the rest of the night, not even letting him have the time to read his books.
Soon the sun rose from the horizon, starting the day of their exploration.
Next up: The Prom Pru Dungeon! How will the PlusFire fare against the dungeon itself?! Find out in the next chapter!