Concealed Warriors
Chapter 3: New Encounter

"Kazu! Wake up already!" Haru's voice gently rouses me from my deep slumber, coaxing me back to reality. I reluctantly peel my eyelids open, only to be greeted by Haru's face peering down at me. She's always the early bird, ready to seize the day, while I feel like I could sleep for decades.

As I finally manage to sit up, I take in the scene before me. The group is bustling around, making preparations to leave. What catches my attention is their attire today. They are not wearing the hoodies. Haru dons a fierce black warrior dress, with a belt-like structure adorning her chest and neck. Ayame, also wearing a black dress accentuated with iron plates resting on each of her shoulders. Hayuki and Yumi, as usual, are almost identical in their choice of clothing, both clad in matching gray cloaks. And then there's Kaito, strolling towards me in his commanding suit-like attire, resembling a seasoned general.

Kaito tosses a gray shirt my way, interrupting my thoughts. "Here, take this," he says with a hint of urgency in his voice. I glance down at my white suit, the same one I wore inside the facility.

Yep, I can't go anywhere looking like this.

"R-Right... Thanks," I respond on his tos

He flashes a quick smile before turning his attention to Ayame and the others, assisting them in tidying up the area. As we begin our journey, I slip on the shirt Kaito provided, blending in with the group. We venture deeper into the forest, and I find myself taking in the vibrant details of our surroundings. The wind whispers in my ears, rustling the leaves that dance and sway around us. Birds chirp merrily above, their wings gracefully cutting through the air. Sunlight filters through the canopy, casting a mesmerizing pattern of dappled light on the forest floor. The sound of water gushing from the nearby river adds a soothing melody to the symphony of nature.

In this moment, I wish for this peacefulness to last forever.

After half a day of walking, we finally reach the imposing gate of the kingdom. Towering stone walls loom before my eyes, guarded by armored sentinels. People mill about, bustling in and out of the gate. The clanging of metal emanates from the nearby swordsmiths' workshops. The air is alive with the sounds of animated conversations, joyous laughter, and the rhythmic rumble of carriage wheels against the cobblestones. It truly feels like a medieval kingdom, a world beyond my wildest imagination.

Am I really here, in another world?

As we step through the gate, the wooden and stone structures of the town come into view. I stand there, motionless, my eyes darting around, trying to absorb every detail. It's like stepping into a living painting, a tapestry woven with vibrant colors and bustling energy.

"Come on now! The town's market is right there!" Haru urges, pointing in a direction while simultaneously pulling me forward.

Hayuki shouts from behind, "Hey! Don't leave me behind!" and dashes after us, her enthusiasm contagious.

Yumi chimes in, her voice meek yet determined, "M-Me too..." and she follows suit.

The three of them drag me along, their excitement palpable. I steal a glance over my shoulder, catching Ayame and Kaito's radiant smiles as they wave at me. In this moment, I can't help but feel a flicker of hope, a glimmer of the freedom that awaits me.

Well, I guess I can savor this taste of liberation for now.

We strolled leisurely, exploring each stall that caught our eye.

"Say 'Ahh'~" Yumi playfully beckoned, holding a delectable piece of bread.

"Ah~" I complied, taking a bite of the bread.

"Wonderful, isn't it?!" Yumi exclaimed, her excitement palpable.

"Hey, hey! The blacksmith is over there!" Hayuki pointed energetically, tugging at my shirt.

"Stop pulling him! We're not finished eating!" Yumi countered, pulling my shirt in the opposite direction.

"H-Hey, you two, stop!" I pleaded, caught in the middle of their alternating pulls. "My shirt might tear in half-" And without further ado, it split right down the middle.

"Oops~" Yumi and Hayuki chimed in unison, holding the torn shirt, leaving me shirtless in the middle of the street. Passersby couldn't help but stare.

How embarrassing!

I could hear Haru sighing by my side, though her face bore a bright smile. "Come on, let's buy him some new clothes."

"Yeah, yeah, sounds good," Hayuki chimed in.

"Okay!" Yumi exclaimed, taking the lead. And so, I wandered the streets, shirtless, with 50% of my skin exposed.

And they act like they did nothing...

At the cloak store, Haru presented a brown cloak and a grey shirt. Hayuki joined in, holding the same colored pair. "This one's better," she declared. Yumi, not one to be left out, protested, clutching another set of identical pairs. Now, they all turned their gaze to me, awaiting my decision. "T-They're all the same," I hesitantly replied.

"No, they're not!" Hayuki retorted. "No, they're not!" she repeated

Why did she have to say it twice?!

"We're waiting!" Haru insisted.

"I mean, they're all exactly the same! Either one will do!" I replied, bewildered, as I glanced back and forth at the three identical sets of cloak and shirt.

Haru let out a defeated sigh, while Hayuki raised an eyebrow. "Oh, I've got this!" she exclaimed, clenching her fist as she approached the counter. "I'll take all three sets of shirt and cloak, please!"

"Whoa! Problem solved!" Yumi cheered, admiring her sister.

"Hehe!" Hayuki chuckled, chin held high, hands on her hips.

I stepped out of the store donning the first set of cloak and shirt.

"So, where are we off to next?" Yumi inquired, scanning the surroundings.

"I wish I could join you guys, but I need to get back to the tavern," Haru replied, a tinge of sadness in her voice.

"Oh yeah, that reminds me. Yumi, we need to help those kids again," Hayuki interjected, gesturing towards Yumi.

"Kids?" I asked, intrigued.

"Yes, we're assisting an orphanage near the outskirts of this town," Hayuki explained.

"Want to come with us?" Yumi asked, curiosity gleaming in her eyes.

"Uh, maybe next time," I replied.

"W-Why? There's plenty of delicious food there! Sister Kaira's cooking is like magic!" Yumi exclaimed, her excitement contagious.

Food truly is her weakness.

"I've decided to wander around a bit and familiarize myself with this environment," I explained.

"O-Oh, okay then," Yumi replied, turning her head to Hayuki.

Hayuki let out a sigh. "It's alright," she reassured, patting Yumi's head.

"See you two around!" Hayuki called out as they waved their hands while walking away.

"Bye-bye, Yumi, Hayuki!" Haru shouted, waving enthusiastically.

"Heading to the tavern?" I inquired, turning to Haru.

"Yep, I'm going to check how things are going there. And you? Where are you planning to go?" she asked, her gaze fixed on me.

"I don't know, I just want to get more familiar with this place. So I guess I'll wander around," I replied, scratching the back of my neck.

"I see. Catch up with you later then. If you need any help, just make your way to the tavern," she pointed towards the straight path ahead, where a small fountain stood in the center of the town.

"Take care!" she said before taking a step. "Oh, and don't let your shirt tear again. Tehee~" she added, walking away.


"A-Alright..." I let out a wry smile as I watched her walk away.

As I stood there, pondering my next move, my gaze fell upon a display board in front of one of the houses. The structure was made of sturdy stone, with wooden walls and a quaint wooden sign hanging above the door frame. "Guild?" I mused aloud, the word triggering thoughts of tasks and quests in video games. "What in the world? Am I somehow inside a game or an RPG?"

Curiosity piqued, I directed my attention to the announcements pinned on the board. There were various tasks listed, ranging from catching thieves to protecting carriages transporting goods. There was even a request for help from farmers facing bandit threats, and reports of missing teenagers scattered throughout the kingdom. Each query was marked on a map fixed beside the board.

"Adventurer from far away, I presume?" a soft voice chimed in behind me. I instinctively turned my head to find a girl with striking white hair standing before me. Her fiery red eyes were fixed on the board, and she wore a similar cloak to mine, with a white shirt peeking out from underneath. A sword rested at her hips.

I simply stared at her for a moment before returning my gaze to the board, until she spoke again. "Looking to make some coin? I'd recommend this one," she said, pointing her index finger at the farmlands. "It's just a bunch of bandits, and with a seasoned adventurer like you, it'll be a cakewalk."

Seasoned adventurer? I barely even know what that means. Heck, it's my first time venturing into the outside world, and to top it off, it's not even my own world!

"Uh... Well, I guess I'll go with that one," I replied, accepting her recommendation.

I mean, I do need to earn some money while enjoying my newfound freedom.

And with that, Ayame's invitation lingered in my mind.

"Lucky you, I'm heading to the same quest," she added, a smirk playing on her lips.

"Eh? Does that mean we'll split the reward?" I inquired.

"Yup. Besides, I've already claimed that quest, so no one can come after it except for me and whoever I choose to bring along. But don't worry, I'll let you have the entire reward for this task," she reassured, her tone oozing persuasion.

I see. She's not exactly helping me; she's seeking help herself, but in a rather unique and professional way. It's a win-win contract.

"What do you want from me?" I asked, already knowing the answer.

"Oh, come on. Don't be so blunt. You almost sound mad," she replied, her smile unfaltering. "Anyway, it's about this," she said, pointing to the missing persons' cases.

"What about it?" I asked, genuinely curious.

"My sister... She's been missing for half a year now, but I know she's alive," she declared, placing a hand over her heart and closing her eyes. "I can feel it."

Suddenly, it hit me like a bullet.

Could there be another underground facility here? But that doesn't make sense, considering the Veiled Guardians are currently stationed in this kingdom. The question is... How long have they been here?

"So, I'm searching for an ally, because searching on my own for all these months has gotten me nowhere. Are you in?" she asked, her gaze fixed on me.

I could see the determination shining in her eyes. "I-I'll do my best," I responded.

She quickly nodded in gratitude. "Thank you!" her voice filled with appreciation.

"I-It's nothing. By the way, how could you tell I'm an experienced adventurer?" I inquired, examining my own attire.

She didn't hesitate to answer. "The cloak," she clarified, pointing at mine.

"The cloak?" I repeated, searching for something special about it.

Could there be some kind of stamp or seal the three girls put on it?

"Yeah, the cloak," she affirmed. "It's made of high-quality fabric that's flame-resistant. It's lightweight, yet it provides the protection of three layers of leather combined," she explained. "Mine is the same."

"Is it really that good?" I asked, gazing at my cloak with a wry smile.

"Uh-huh. And it's incredibly too costly. I could only afford to buy two pairs in the past few years," she admitted.
My wry smile widened as I heard her words.

Huh? So it's actually that good? But still, Hayuki bought me three pairs like it was no big deal... I'll have to thank them later!

And so, our adventure began as we set foot on the bustling streets of the kingdom. The vibrant sounds of merchants calling out their wares and the pleasant aroma of street food filled the air. I couldn't help but be curious about the young woman who had entrusted me with her quest, even though I didn't know her name yet.

"Why are you taking this quest if you're searching for your missing sister? Do you think there's a connection between the two?" I inquired, trailing behind her.

"Uh-huh," she replied, glancing back at me. "I've been investigating the missing cases for months, but the clues on the map contradict what the witnesses have said. Most of them claim to have seen the person walking near this farmland before their disappearance."

"So, you suspect that the bandits are behind these abductions?" I clarified.

"Yes, exactly! They're the main danger lurking in the kingdom's outskirts, like pirates haunting the seas," she explained.

As we walked through the streets, our conversation continued, and we made our way towards the western outskirts of the kingdom. The sun began to set, casting a golden glow on the surrounding landscape, where lush crops spread out before us, with the majestic mountains forming a stunning backdrop. A tranquil atmosphere pervaded the area, unaware of the bandits' sinister activities.

I couldn't help but wonder if these bandits were part of a larger scheme, perhaps even connected to underground facilities. It was a 'must' to inform Ayame, and this girl... oh I forgot to ask her name

Turning to the girl, who was gazing at the mountains and the setting sun, I ask, "By the way, what's your-" she interrupted me with a smile. "It's Ayaka. I've been waiting for you to ask all this time."

Feeling slightly embarrassed, I chuckled and scratched my head. "Sorry, I'm not accustomed to interacting with people."

Ayaka glanced at me before returning her gaze to the mountains. "No need to apologize. It's not a big deal. So, here's the plan!" Determination and energy filled her voice as she outlined her strategy.

Time passed quickly, and as the sun dipped below the horizon, I found myself perched quietly on the roof of a nearby barn. Ayaka positioned herself on a nearby tree, a little distance away. Suddenly, the sound of rustling bushes caught my attention, and I noticed four figures closing in from behind the barn.

Should I wait a little longer? No, I can't afford to waste any time.

Swiftly and silently, I leaped from the roof and landed behind the bandits without making a sound. With lightning speed, I grabbed one of them, covering his mouth, and pulled him away from the others. Once we were at a safe distance, I released him and attacked before he could utter a word.

"Hey, where's Grien?" one of the bandits shouted from a distance.

Keeping my head low, I swiftly returned to the others, purposefully moving through the bushes to remain concealed.

"What's that?!" one of the bandits exclaimed in fear as I maneuvered through the bushes, preventing them from seeing my movements.

With a sudden dash, the man stumbled backward, falling to the ground. "Ah! Argh! H-Help-!" he cried out as I caught hold of his leg and rendered him unconscious in the bushes. Leaving him there, I made my way back to the remaining two bandits.

"What the heck is that?!" one of the men said, his voice trembling.

"Leave this to me. Go back to our camp," the other man commanded.

"All right!" the frightened bandit replied, dashing toward the trees.

Mission accomplished. Everything was going according to plan.

Or so I thought, until a face appeared from the bushes. "Boo!" the man exclaimed, grabbing hold of my face and lifting me off the ground. But it didn't take long for me to free myself, kicking him away with surprising force. His feet slid on the ground from the impact of my attack.

"Oh? That's no ordinary kick," he remarked, rubbing the dust off his chest where my strike had landed. "Same goes for your grip." I responded, stretching my neck from side to side. In the moonlight, I caught sight of a tattoo on his shoulder.

578...could he be a subject? I knew it! I had to warn Ayaka! Our plan to tail one of them back to their camp was a mistake. She was in danger!

As these thoughts raced through my mind, I turned my gaze between the man and the direction where Ayaka was hidden in the trees.

"Thinking of running through the trees? Ah, you're concerned about that girl, aren't you?" he taunted mischievously before charging toward the trees.

"No! Face me head-on, you coward!" I shouted, dashing after him.

The bushes rustled wildly as we unleashed shockwaves with every step, racing toward the trees.

He was fast. I could keep up, but I couldn't gain the upper hand.

Just as we closed in, a volley of arrows from the dense trees sped toward the man with remarkable speed. Caught off guard, he could only dodge them one by one, slightly slowing his pace.

Now was my chance!

Summoning all my energy, I leaped straight at him, taking advantage of his distraction by the arrows.

He noticed me, but it was too late to evade. I seized his neck, slamming his head into the ground with explosive force. The impact created a thunderous sound and a gust of wind that continued to sweep the area.

He attempted to rise, but I swiftly crushed his head beneath my boot, causing the ground to tremble and a cloud of dust to billow from the impact.

"Don't you dare lay a finger on innocent people!" I growled, my words erupting like a thunderous shout, while I surveyed his lifeless body sprawled at my feet.

Now, Ayaka remained to be rescued...

Before I plunged into the woods, a collection of scattered arrows on the ground piqued my curiosity.

Were these Ayaka's arrows or from another faction? No, I needed to secure Ayaka first. These missing cases were no ordinary matter.

I picked up a medium-sized rock, gripping it tightly, and hurled it with all my might. It soared through the air, leaving a trail of swirling wind in its wake, traversing the kingdom.

I hoped you guys would notice it.

With swift determination, I darted through the trees, tracing Ayaka's path amidst the branches, pathways, and hidden nooks. I skillfully utilized the expansive tree branches, leaping from one to another, tripling my speed compared to traveling on the ground. After a series of agile leaps, flickering lights caught my attention.

I silently observed the camp from a vantage point, hidden in the shadows of the trees. White tents dotted the area, each corner illuminated by bright bulbs. Bandits roamed about, forming a protective ring around the camp. I noticed that some of them bore numbers on their shoulder, while others did not.

I couldn't be certain if Ayaka was inside. I couldn't recklessly barge in.

After observing for a while, my gaze locked onto a group of bandits holding an unconscious Ayaka, accompanied by a man in a white coat who approached them.

There you are!

But before I could intervene, a voice from a distant tree called out, "Got ya!" My head snapped in the direction of the sound, locking onto a masked man hurtling toward me at lightning speed, a wicked smile glinting in his eyes. "Now, fight!"

"You—!" I exclaimed, swiftly assuming a defensive stance to block his incoming attack.

© Jooo