Chapter Title: A Cowardly Swordsman? Introducing Sword Collector Arie!

Note: Use of ~ indicates extension of final syllable of word preceded; example: "Oh~" is read as "Ohhhhh."


"Who the heck are you?"

Murto continued to glare at the group, although his attention was on the bandana. "Look, let's not start any trouble here. Just let that guy through." His eyes, now squinted, were straining to examine what the white emblem on the bandana was.

The man in question hastily agreed. "That's what I've been saying! Come-on, fellas!"

His pleading wasn't met with a happy response, the supposed thug leader shouting into his face, "Hey you, don't talk! Shut up!" His head whirled around to Murto and mirrored his glare, a finger jutting out. "And you too! Ain't none of you supposed to be talking!"

"Yeah boss says!" One of the other thugs finally spoke.

His boss turned to him, screaming, "What did I just say?!"

"Sorry, boss!" the entire group shouted and threw their hands up defensively—the man surrounded by them included.

"What, he's your boss too?" Murto asked with his head tilted sideways while looking at the other man.

"If it means I can go free, he certainly is!"

"Oh. Sounds okay, I guess."

Silence ensued.

"I told you all to shut up!"

"Sorry, boss!" The actions were repeated.

Clearly agitated and stroking his chin while gritting his teeth, the boss closed his eyes in thought. When he opened them, he once again jutted his finger in Murto's direction. "I got it! Give me that bag of yours," he then turned to the man they currently held captive, "and you give me that fine sword, an' I'll let both ya' go. Once in a lifetime deal."

Three of the other thugs guffawed and the fourth grinned, his voice rising above the laughter, "Best take that deal. You're messin' with the Alleyway Cat-burglars here!"

Suddenly Murto jutted a finger out, like the boss had been doing, towards the bandana and his lips formed a perfect circle in shock. "Oh~! That's a cat!"

"Yes, it is a cat!" the boss declared proudly.

"Cat-burglars?" the man surrounded by them rhetorically inquired. He paused as if deep in thought before stating, "But you guys aren't very stealthy at all, or cat-like."

Apparently he hit a soft spot as the boss turned around and walloped the man on his head. "Don't insult us~!"

The man held his head and cried out, "Okay okay I'm sorry I'm sorry!" He hissed in pain and rubbed his head.

Growling, the leader clenched his fists, ready to announce something…

"Hey, there you go. Growling, that's pretty cat-like!"

…But he hadn't the chance to before that comment came from Murto and made his pot boil over. The boss exploded and walloped the man surrounded by them yet again to ease his frustration; he then jutted his finger at Murto and yelled, "Deals off! Get him~!"

Murto yelped and his eyes widened as he saw the four thugs come rushing at him at the boss's command. His head went left-and-right, swiftly surveying the alleyway. There was a box. There was a ladder on the side of a building. Yep, those would do! Rushing over to the box, he hopped onto it and then jumped to reach the ladder; after he quickly pulled himself up and clambered up it halfway, he tucked his legs behind a bar and let himself begin falling backwards while pulling three arrows from his quiver and his bow off his lower back. He snickered cockily at his strategy. It soon turned to frantic shouting, his eyes bulging. "Ah, no~! No no no!"

His quiver was empty. The arrows had fallen out and were scattered across the pavement beneath him. The thugs below him stared at the scattered arrows in disbelief. When their gazes rose to meet his, they had burst out laughing. Murto accepted the loss and stupidity of his action of hanging upside-down. He didn't like it but he also didn't like the thugs laughing at him. He held two of his three arrows with his teeth for safekeeping and readied the third on his bow, although it was particularly difficult with his backpack pulling down on his armpit. He shot while they were still busy laughing, and landed a hit on one of the thug's shoulders. The thug immediately collapsed and cried out in pain.

"Hey!" the boss interjected. "How dare you shoot at my men!" It sounded as if he was about to join the fray—"You three, get him," or not.

"You heard the boss!"

"Yeah!"

"Come-on!"

The three thugs drew knives and began hopping and attempting to slash at the archer on the ladder. One of them even got on the box and leaped off it, missing still and falling haphazardly onto the ground and cutting himself on the scattered arrows.

"You're really like cats now! Look at you guys go!" Murto teased as he curled his stomach and grasped the ladder, pulling himself up. He climbed it all the way to the top to make certain he was out of their reach. He released one of his arrows from his teeth grip and readied it on his bow. From the top of the building, he aimed down into the alleyway and shot—another hit, another thug down.

The remaining thugs looked down worriedly at their fallen allies. Their boss's words suddenly brought them out of their daze. "Hurry and go get him! He's up there!" They followed his finger's direction to the top of the building, but the archer was nowhere to be found. Nodding to each other, the thugs took turns hopping from the box to the ladder. They both managed to grab it on their first try, and the two were now climbing up it.

"Hey!" Murto came into view over the ledge, grinning. "Climbing now too. I guess you guys really are like cats." His grin widened as he brought into view a fully drawn bow, arrow pointing directly at the lead climber's face. He snickered as they began panicking.

"Down, down climb down now hurry!"

He let the arrow fly, and at the same time the lead climber twisted his body and took the hit in the top of his shoulder. His arm grew weak, lost grasp of the ladder, and he toppled down, crashing into the thug below and plummeting them both to the ground. Murto laughed loudly.

"How dare you! You mock us Alleyway Cat-burglars?!" The boss was fuming, and drew from his pocket a switchblade. "I'll kill this rat behind me and we'll see who's laughing then?!"

Murto quit laughing and raised an eyebrow. "Huh, why are you asking me that?"

"Shut up~!" the boss screamed and then turned around, thrusting his dagger into the man—into the air behind him. He blinked several times, confused. "Huh?" He looked all around for the man who was supposed to be stuck to the end of his supposed to be bloody switchblade.

"He's behind you," Murto stated.

"Oh, thanks!" the thug boss graciously replied while turning around.

"Why would you tell him that?!" the other man screamed while shooting a dagger-filled glare at Murto.

"Pay attention!" Murto instructed.

The other man listened, turning his attention back to the thug boss and screaming upon seeing him lunging with his switchblade, ready to kill. Panicked, he brandished the sword at his side and held it out in front of him, slashing it like a madman and screaming more to boot.

Flesh was cut into, blood was splattered, and someone collapsed.

Eyes opened and shaky hands dropped a long blade. Metal echoed in the alleyway as it hit brick pavement. A brown-topped head turned around and blue eyes took in the bleeding body of a bandana-wearing thug boss.

"Ahh~! I killed someone!" the other man frantically hollered, his hands on his cheeks and his eyes bulging. He knelt down and shook the man violently in a panic. "Are you okay?!" He shook harder. "Answer me! Oh no, I can't be a murderer! I can't go to prison!" Boots scuffed pavement and the sound of tiny wood pieces (sometimes metal) bumping filled the alleyway. It went unnoticed by the panicking man for a good while until he turned to it and woefully cried to the archer retrieving scattered arrows. "What do I do~?!"

"Nothing," the archer replied bluntly. "You barely cut him. He won't die from that."

The other man blinked in disbelief. "Really?" he asked in earnest.

"Yep."

He began to think back. Amidst the panicking was a memory of his frantically swinging sword catching the side of the thug boss; it didn't seem like it could be that bad of a wound, and upon calmly—or at least somewhat calmly—examining the thug boss's side, he saw that the wound was maybe half a centimeter deep. He breathed a sigh of relief, and after a much needed pause of recomposing, picked up his blade. He wiped the blood off on the thug boss's shirt before sheathing it. After another sigh of relief for good measure, he turned to the archer and bowed graciously. "Thank-you."

Murto had just finished picking up his last arrow; he couldn't believe he'd done something so clumsy. Shaking away the thought, he slung the quiver over his shoulder and grinned. "Of course. I hate thugs."

Still bowing, the other man introduced himself. "My name is Arie. Thanks again, really. May I ask your name?"

The man—Arie—seemed rather gentlemanly. Murto tried to act likewise, "Me? I'm Murto. I was trying to draw a map of this town when I ran into those bozos," but it was a failed attempt.

"You're a cartographer, then?"

"That's right."

"That's awesome!" Arie gleefully exclaimed. He suddenly unlatched the sheath from his waist and held it out on display like a trophy. "I'm a sword collector. I've been traveling to find rare and unique swords." His excitement suddenly vanished and he frowned with a downcast gaze. "Though I've been at it for a month, this is the only one I've found…" When he looked up, Murto was in front of him. The sudden closure of distance startled him. The archer pulled the sword from the sheath and held it out in examination. The blade was shiny and, though he was no expert sword appraiser, seemed flawless without a single scratch.

"Impressive!"

Arie smiled at the compliment. "It sure is! That blade you're holding is called 'Kenshin' and was forged two centuries ago!"

Murto fit the sword back into the sheath that Arie still held out like a trophy. "That's old. How's it in such good shape?"

"Because it was forged perfectly. That's why it's a rare sword," Arie explained while fitting the sheath back around his waist.

"I bet it's worth a lot."

"Yeah, it cost me fifty thousand Coin."

Murto's jaw dropped to the floor. "What?!" Indeed, that was an absurd amount of money. It was what most people barely managed to make in a year of labor.

Arie laughed nervously. "I guess you could say I'm relatively wealthy," he admitted.

Murto reached into his backpack and brought out his sketchpad and pencil. "Well, it was nice meeting you, but I have to get back to charting this town." He began walking away without another word.

"H-Hey, wait up!" The sword collector chased after him. "At least let me accompany you through town. It's the least I can do."

Murto grinned. "All right!"

To be continued.