Edited 12/31/15: The story is three years old, so you may notice a drop in writing quality as I go through and edit each chapter. Edited chapters will be written in past-tense, too. It's slow-going, but I hope you enjoy the story and make it to Volume two. Thanks!

01) Prologue

Light rain fell gently upon the forest, pelting the treetops before landing on the lone wanderer. The man continued at a leisurely pace however, bare feet crunching beneath the leaves and twigs with each step. He wore very little for a trek through the forest; just a simple black hakama tied with a golden obi. His black keikogi left his upper left torso exposed. With no hat to guard against the rain, his wet, golden-brown ponytail drooped and his long fringe plastered down the sides of his face.

He approached a rocky outcropping and scaled it, using the claws on his hands and feet to grip the wet, slippery rocks. He walked across the mossy surface, and his golden eyes swept through the dense fog. The canopy was thick, the light rain gathering in its large leaves. Once it became too heavy for the leafy roof to support it, the rain poured down by the gallons in several places.

The wanderer remained still for a moment, jaws stiff and lips pursed into a thin line. In a strange, dog-like manner, he shook the excess water from his hair and hopped back onto the forest floor, proceeding into the thick brush.

Unbeknownst to the wanderer, a canine-like creature—an inukonjou—stalked him, hiding in the endless rows of tall, dark tree trunks. The creature's red-brown fur stiffened in the darkness as its emerald gaze fixated upon its prey. Almost soundlessly, it darted through the brush, jumping in front of the man and cutting off his path.

The inukonjou's huge paws flanked the wanderer, it's obsidian, sharp claws digging into the dirt. The beast's pointed snout curled into a snarl, exposing rows of sharp, white teeth. Its deep growl rumbled the earth and shook the leaves.

With a subtle smirk on his face, the wanderer surprisingly showed no sign of fear. Instead, he slowly lowered himself to one knee before the great beast.

"Good evening, Kori," the wanderer said. "The Elemental Warriors' Society said you need my assistance."

In an instant, the inukonjou dissipated in a green, spiritual aura. The emerald essence swirled gently, transforming into an elegant woman clad in a long, white gown. She gave Haruki a warm smile as she approached him, her delicate, bare feet almost floating over the ground. She offered her hand, giving the warrior permission to rise.

"Thank you for coming, Haruki," the inu-woman called Kori said. She abruptly turned on her heel, her short, red-brown hair swaying gracefully with her movement. "We need to hurry. There's an issue at the mountain base."

Haruki joined her side, letting her lead the way. Though her gaze remained straight ahead, he could see the glower wrinkling her otherwise flawless face. "I've gathered some information from the sorcerer's village nearby. Care to give me your side of this tale?"

The mention of the village seemed to had deepened Kori's frown, and a low growl rumbled in her throat. "I have received a message from my tengus that the sorcerers from that village have sealed a monster in a cave. I went to investigate myself, and there's definitely something sealed there."

"And you're not able to dispatch it yourself?"

"The sorcerers are pretty powerful. Even I can't penetrate the magical seal."

"So how is a half-breed like myself expected to break through a seal that a full-blood like you can't penetrate?"

Kori finally brought her eyes back to Haruki, her glare narrowing into emerald slits. "I'm sure you can come up with something, Haruki."

"Hmm." Haruki threw his hands behind his head. "I'm gonna have to, it seems."

The pair grew silent as they continued their trek to the edge of Kori's territory. With no trail, the journey would have been nearly impossible for ordinary humans. Kori and Haruki scaled the uneven, muddy terrain with relative ease nonetheless, navigating through the thick brush, rocky streams, and steep hills.

Soon, they arrived at their destination, approaching the small mountain's plateau. Weeds, moss and other greenery covered and surrounded the cliff face. It was now late evening and the rain had stopped. The last sunlight for the day began to break through the dissipating rainclouds. The fog was less dense, with young evergreens glistening in the moist air.

"This is the place," Kori said, pointing towards the cliff face. "There's an opening that leads to a small cave."

A frown crossed Haruki's face. Advanced dark sorcerers were able to summon cursed creatures to the living world. This must had been one hell of a monster for them to make the trip to such an isolated part of the forest. He continued to follow Kori to the cave, carefully navigating over layers of dead leaves and overgrown shrubbery.

Haruki approached the cave and pushed aside a bush, bending to peer through the transparent, magical seal that glazed its opening. His gaze fell on a surprisingly disheartening sight. On the rocky cave floor was a raven-haired youngster lying in a fetal position. Her hair was matted and a worn, dirty kimono draped loosely on her frail, pale body.

"It's just a child," Haruki whispered, speaking mostly to himself.

Kori folded her arms, letting out an exasperated sigh."I know. How do we get her out?"

"Well, I already stopped at the village and told the elder I could kill this so-called monster. They agreed to let the barrier down at sunset. But why did they put a girl in here and called her a monster?"

"She has the mark of the beast. They dumped her because she's a half-breed."

Sure enough, there was a black image of a canine's profile on the young girl's thin right wrist. It was an interesting phenomenon that occurred randomly in half-breeds, likely just a genetic mutation from mixing human blood with inukonjou blood.

Kori let out another growl. "I would have eaten the whole village if the girl didn't need my help."

"Then I would have been summoned here to muzzle you. You don't want that to happened, do you?"

"You can try."

"Confident, as always, Kori." Haruki returned his attention to the abandoned girl. "Did she get any food at all? She looks very frail."

"The seal only prevents those with yōkai from penetrating. My tengus were able to put food in. It startled her at first, so I don't think she can see through the seal from the inside.

"Cruel," Haruki mumbled."She's a dark-type too, but that's no reason to treat her badly."

"Hm? You're right," Kori said, noting the faint, violet glow in the girl's eyes. "It's a miracle that she didn't have an accidental envenomation with the humans. They would have done worse."

"No point thinking about that. The sun is setting." The smirk returned to Haruki's lips as he watched the half-breed girl. " She'll have a fresh start, soon."

As the sun began to set, the seal started to change. It slowly warped and deformed, until it shattered into thousands of glass-like shards. The shards dissolved into the air, exposing the girl inside.

Big, violet eyes gazed at the strange pair, and a weak gasp escaped the girl's lips. Shivering, she propped herself up with her arms. Her big eyes grew even wider as Haruki crouched towards her, extending his hand. Using the little energy she had left, she scooched away, pressing her back on the cold rear cave wall.

Haruki was persistent however, and leaned closer. "Don't be scared. I will take care of you from now on."