The farther away from Riiko's home the man got, the deeper and darker the woods around him became. The pleasant crackles of a fire pit were no longer present, and even the heavy glow of the moon was not enough to make the woods seem any less frightening. Mainly because he knew just what was waiting for him. He carefully continued onward, fear swelling at the pit of his stomach, until he finally came to the place he was told to arrive at. He nervously stood beside the moss covered boulder, looking around with dilated eyes. Finally, the shadows around him began to move and come closer. Stepping into the light, a small group of men revealed themselves. Around each one of their necks, silver dog tags glinted with the mist of the moon. Some of the men were nekos, crouched down to the floor and claws sharpened. Those that were missing ears stood tall and erect, their short swords and daggers at the ready to kill.
"Have you done what I asked?"
The man looked around in attempts to find the source of the voice, but did not find the man he was searching for. "Up here, you lard infested parasite." The man's pudgy face snapped upwards, spotting a figure laying leisurely against a thick tree branch. Though the body was silhouetted, the gleam of his dog tag was very visible. After a moment of just laying there, the figure swung his legs out and landed on the ground silently. He as well stepped out into the light.
Bonkotsu. Leader of the Shadow Thieves. Known for his insatiable blood and money lust, and his short temper. His eyes were a harsh, ice blue, narrow and naturally frightening. His hair, as a good representation of his anger, was a crimson red, tied tightly into a long pony tail behind his head. He was about Riiko's size in height and build, though the mere air that he put off was not like Riiko's in the slightest. Where as the other man had a subtle, intimidating yet noble way about him, Bonkotsu seemed to be the kind of man who would kill his own mother for the copper coins in her purse. He wore the typical gray-green garb of the thieves. Nekos often wore black leather, while humans wore camouflage. It was Bonkotsu's "uniform" policy. On the left side of his hip sat a sheathed short blade, about twelve to thirteen inches in length. He wore tight, short sleeves on his tunic which ended near the elbow. A perfect way to hide the tattoo that mirrored Riiko's. He walked forward to the farmer, standing a good half a head above him.
"Well then?" he persisted. "Did you do your job?"
The man nodded. "Yes," he said quickly. "Yes, sir. I did everything you asked of me, sir. He said he would leave in the morning, he should be away until nightfall tomorrow. Perhaps even later." He paused then, his beady eyes looking along Bonkotsu's person. The thief cocked an eyebrow.
"Do you find me interesting?" he asked curtly.
"O-oh!" The man back-tracked himself. "N-no... I-I mean!" He swallowed a lump in his throat. "It's just that I... I did what you said... May I have my payment now?" Bonkotsu's eyes remained unreadable, though his lips curved into a smile.
"A man who knows his priorities. Very good." He pulled out a hand of silver, letting it shimmer in the light. "Is this what you're after?"
The man nearly salivated at the fifteen pieces before him. He nodded, reaching forward to take his payment. But Bonkotsu yanked his hand back before he could take the money. "First," he said, "we must see how honest you really are." He looked to the others and nodded. Without a word, the thieves moved forward, patting the man down. The nekos sniffed along his body, trying to detect something. Soon, one of the men pulled out five pieces of gold that were hidden in his breast pocket. The man tried to defend himself, but his words came out only as a timid squeak. The thief walked over to his leader, showing him the stolen gold. Bonkotsu stared at the gold for a moment before letting his eyes drift up to the man in question. After a tense silence, Bonkotsu broke into a smile. He began to laugh.
All around them, the other men began to laugh as well, the nekos even snickering a bit here and there. The man tried to smile, but it only made him seem even more frightened. Soon, however, things began to seem looser. Bonkotsu's laugh quieted a bit and he held up the gold pieces. "A thief through and through," he said lightly. "I enjoy seeing a man with his priorities in order."
The man brightened. Bonkotsu held out the gold as though he was going to give it back. A wave of relief came over the man as he held out his hand as well. "So no hard feelings then?" Bonkotsu turned his hand over, ready to drop the pieces, but he never did. This confused the man for a moment, but confusion quickly turned into shock as Bonkotsu stabbed him in the stomach. He stood there, blood seeping from his abdomen, his face devoid of color. Bonkotsu put the gold in his own pocket before leaning in.
"No," he said smoothly. "No hard feelings." He gave it a sharp twist, causing the man to sputter suddenly, jerking from the pain. He then pulled back and yanked his blade away, kicking him to the ground. He wiped off the blood with his tunic, nodding to the others. "Have fun," he said, turning away. The thieves laughed to themselves before beating what little life the man had left out of him. One of Bonkotsu's advisers, Jun, walked to his side.
"And so we try again tomorrow," said Jun simply. He was a slightly older man, with weary eyes and circles beneath them. His hair was silver and tied in a small knot behind his head. He let his hands rest behind his back. "Are you sure you will be successful this time, Bonkotsu? You have tried to rob Riiko for years now. You never never accomplished your task. Not once."
"I am aware, Jun." Once his short sword was clean, Bonkotsu slid it back into its proper holster. He patted it against his hip before turning a lazy eye to his comrade. "Do you think me incompetent?"
"Of course not, sir." Behind them, the sound of ripping clothes was heard. Anything that they could use or sell, they would take from the dead man. "I am simply observing the fact that you are allowing history to repeat itself." He watched as Bonkotsu walked forward, following him. "Surely Riiko is wise to you by now."
"That is enough of your rambling." Bonkotsu continued his way deeper, heading towards firelight from within the forest. It wasn't long before they arrived at the Shadow Thieves' camp. Small bonfires were set up in several different places, the thieves either laying on the ground, in the trees, or resting against rocks. Bonkotsu climbed easily up the trunk of a tree and perched himself on a low branch. He looked down to Jun.
"Riiko will succumb to me," he vowed firmly. "Eventually, he shall know who is the better man. I shall show him. Force him to see."
Jun watched him, saying nothing. Bonkotsu settled himself at the base of the branch, laying his back along the wood. It was then that Jun spoke. "This obsession of yours isn't healthy, my leader." He let out a sigh. "But we have pledged to follow you to the gates of Hell if needed. I fear that one day you will indeed take us there, if it means Riiko's humiliation." With that, he patted the tree and headed to his own spot, settling himself near the base of a moss ridden tree.