6 ✲ Fateful Encounter ✲
There stood the same small, wiry man with the bag of tusks on his hands. He appeared to be laughing and showing off to other people who were sitting at a table.
"It's a good thing he was stupid enough to not cash in the materials sooner. This is my chance to take back what is mine," Kurogane angrily thought, breathing heavily to himself.
"Hey, you there, that belongs to me! Hand it over, criminal!"
Kurogane rushed after the man, grabbing him by the scruff of his neck and tugging him forward, away from the table.
To the utter surprise of Kurogane, the man yelled out.
"H-Help me! This man is trying to steal my belongings!"
The cry caused an abrupt silence and the turn of many heads in the guild, immediately followed by voices as adventurers called out.
"Hey, let go of him! What do you think you're doing?"
"Shame on you, picking on a weak man like that."
"Get out of here, people with no honor like you don't belong in this guild!"
Multiple adventurers started to speak out for what they saw to be an innocent fellow getting harassed and stolen from.
Kurogane's eyes widened as he let go of the man and shook his head slowly before telling them:
"I'm not the culprit, you have it all wrong! I was coming back with this bag full of boar tusks and he snatched it from me in my sleep! He should be punished!"
The wiry man shook his head and replied in a small voice.
"That's not what happened. I was already hunting these boars earlier for a request, and this man came and took them from me, running off with a bag full of them. I managed to take it back right before I came here, since that was where I heard him say he was going for the reward, which should be rightfully mine!"
Heads shook and mutters echoed before one large, armored, buff adventurer spoke out.
"Honestly, to think a weak, scrawny fellow like him could take that bag from you, it makes no sense. If he did, then you're pathetic for being careless, and if he didn't, you're a liar and a thief. Now get moving."
Murmurs of agreement rippled through the crowd as people nodded. The guild managers were unsure of what to do, eventually going back to what they were doing upon agreeing with the general consensus.
"Thank you, kind gentleman. But I'm afraid he'll attack me later for the reward… It's blatantly obvious, especially with that helpless, raging look he has on his face."
The man said this while grinning at Kurogane. People began to resume what they were doing as he continued speaking, now in a lower voice, directly at Kurogane.
"See? No one believes you. There isn't a thing you can do about it… you understand that well, don't you, Satsujin?"
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This very word devastated Kurogane's sanity.
For someone whose honor had been shattered one too many times, this became too much to bear. Enraged, his movements were pure impulse at this point.
"SON OF A…!"
Those were Kurogane's last words as he lunged himself at the man, only to be caught by two adventurers and shoved out most unceremoniously onto his back out of the guild.
"I knew there was something up! Scram! Try coming back here and see what happens to you!" said the same hefty adventurer.
Both walked back inside and slammed the entrance shut.
Kurogane loosened up, his eyes dulling almost entirely as he slowly walked away with his head down.
"It happened again, didn't it…?"
As soon as he reached an alley, he paused before abruptly slamming his fist against a wall, leaning forward while looking down in distress.
"STUPID AND CARELESS!" he shouted, gritting his teeth and closing his eyes.
"What am I supposed to do now? What is there left to do? Why does this keep happening to me? Curse it! CURSE IT ALL!"
Kurogane started to reflect on his misfortunes, such as the one and only time when a party of two male adventurers asked him to join them for a quest together. They ended up using him and not giving his share of the reward after the quest was completed.
"Did you really think we'd ally with you? You were but a tool to us, now get lost. " Said one of the adventurers as they both glared at him with smiling, darkened expressions.
"Too bad, you can't do anything about it even if you wanted to. Like hell would anyone would believe someone like you!" Said the other adventurer.
There stood Kurogane in a distance – eyes widened and twitching, empty-handed and hopeless at that time.
He opened his pained eyes halfway upon suddenly remembering his mother when he was little. His beautiful, caring, warm-hearted mother. The one person that was his entire world and whatever it contained.
Kurogane's mother was blessed with gorgeous looks. She had Kurogane when she was twenty-four and poured all her love and attention to him.
She often wore a red kimono with white, daisy flowered designs and had her black, lengthy, silky yet shiny hair elegantly tied as a ponytail, having two side bangs hanging downwards from her cheekbones.
He then remembered her smile – a smile that shined brighter than any star Kurogane had ever seen... The amount of sacrifice and attention she gave for his sake… The delicious meals she cooked for him – meals none could dare compare... The bedtime stories she'd read and tell him at night which put him into an unforgettable sleep of absolute tranquility… The hugs that made him forget the meaning of despair… The lifelong, undeniable lessons she educated him with… The phenomenal combat training she had taught him... as she had attained a level of mastery in sword fighting from a young age, conveying as much as she could to young Kurogane.
"Mother... you were the only one... that ever stood for me… the only one... who was ever there for me. My caretaker. My doctor. My teacher. My cook… My... friend..."
Clenching his chest with his hand out of painful agony, a tear started to roll down his right cheek.
"The only one.. who I could call... a friend.."
"You cut ties with everyone and moved away from the city when you knew I couldn't get along with anyone... and dedicated your entire life for me!"
"What am I supposed to do without you?!" shouted Kurogane in despair.
It was then that he remembered the sheer horror of that day. It was a bitter day beyond one's possible perception. The day where ashes and blood filled the air in his obliterated village as he helplessly hid, curled up in absolute terror.
His mother's last words to him after realizing something was wrong:
"Kurogane dear, please, listen to your mother and stay quiet. You'll be okay," as she smiled and hid him away in a floor cabinet.
Knowing that a deadly entity was seconds away from breaching their front door, his mother grabbed a knife from the counter since it was the nearest weapon she could utilize at the moment. She cautiously waited to confront whatever was coming – the loud footsteps only getting more intense until completely vanishing.
Kurogane had both of his hands firmly covering his mouth – unwilling to let his horrified self disturb the silence, struggling with small traces of tears residing on the corners of his eyes.
The silence was shattered when the door suddenly broke down, explicitly revealing the flames crackling outside as they brightened the room, followed by the loud, dreadful screams in the other neighboring houses.
Kurogane's mother glared at the figure, then dashed forward with immense speed, almost instantly clearing the gap between her and the intruder.
The killer stood there, seemingly calm and collected without worry. It was then that his mother could sense the unexplainable, terrifying vibe emitting from the figure – causing her heart to skip a beat.
However, with all her will to survive and protect her beloved, dear son first and foremost, she frowned and vigorously gritted her teeth. After focusing all of the tension to her knife, she ambidextrously and underhandedly lunged the weapon forward while letting out a loud cry.
"You abominable beings!"
It was then that the killer finally made his move. He drew out what looked like a wakizashi blade at an inhuman speed, slashing the chest of his mother in the process. Within a moment's delay, blood began to release out of the lengthy, horizontal deep gash.
His mother paused out of sheer shock, sweat rolling from her face upon witnessing the overwhelming speed and strength.
But it didn't end there. The cruel-hearted being that had fatally wounded her followed up with a second slash, not giving her a moment to spare, creating an "X" mark on her chest.
Upon the second slash, blood splattered onto the cabinet, portions of it going through the gap of cabinet doors onto young Kurogane's unmoved, petrified face.
His mother's eyes started to void away, dropping the knife and falling onto her knees before losing her life entirely, her lying corpse emitting a puddle of blood in all directions.
〔Live on.. Kurogane dear….〕
The only thing that kept Kurogane from screaming out of his lungs as he witnessed everything through the gap between the cabinet doors was the pure terror of the sight as she confronted the killer, only to be murdered instantly.
His eleven-year-old self had seen a sight which took almost every particle of life that remained within him.
Upon remembering such events, Kurogane dizzily fell on his knees and covered his mouth with his hand as he felt the urge to vomit, but nothing came out due to his stomach being completely empty, leaving him retching before he closed his eyes and endured his pain, struggling to breathe.
"Do I really deserve this, mother…? You didn't raise me for such an outcome.."
An elderly man stood at the alley entrance behind Kurogane and saw his saddening condition.
Upon getting a good look from a distance, he continued to walk down the street without capturing anyone's attention.
After gaining a little control over himself, Kurogane stood up and used his left arm against the wall to support himself, since he felt weak and nauseous.
"It must have been nearly 40 hours since I last ate. Damn... I'll kill a boar or two and sell the materials for some change, or maybe even eat the meat myself. I don't know how much longer I can walk around like this," he thought to himself, as he remembered delaying his meals the day before yesterday.
At this point, anything would be sufficient for Kurogane, as long as it didn't have anything to do with the guild, since that was no longer an option to rely on for sustenance.
The weakness calmed down to an extent, his head clearing up as well. Kurogane knew he had to take advantage of it as he'd eventually feel weakened again. It was his best option to take the rush of his momentary energy to keep himself alive.