Although it's against the rules to consume alcohol while on a mission, the hooded warrior sips a cup of saké from the corner table of the empty tavern. It's a good thing the villagers evacuated the place and locked themselves in their homes. He is sure that the alpha of the targeted pack will not be happy to see him.
The warrior waits patiently as he stares at the sun set through the windows. According to Akane's report, it is around this time when a pack of full-bloods come visit the tavern. Although they remain in their human form, the canine beings will intimidate the humans out of food and drink. Once they are full and intoxicated, the pack will terrorize the civilians throughout the night. The most recent incident ended with the rape of a young girl and the death of her father.
The hooded warrior watches the entrance door as it slowly opens. A large man with dark-brown hair enters, followed by several more men. The warrior can tell from the yōkai signature that the pack alpha is a dark-type. His followers are all full-bloods of various elements, but they are also low-level. The hooded warrior smiles inwardly; this will be an easy mission.
The emptiness of the tavern bewilders the group, but they immediately focus their attention on the hooded intruder. They let out a disapproving snarl, but refrain from attacking. The warrior politely gestures to the vacate seat in front of him, inviting the alpha to the table.
The brown-haired alpha accepts the invitation as his pack surrounds him protectively. He gives the hooded warrior an intense glare through his violet eyes.
"What business do you have here? This is our territory!" the alpha male snarls.
"Really?" the hooded warrior pretends to be confused. "Forgive me. I thought this was a human village."
The pack alpha lets out a low growl. The hooded man's voice was deep, but raspy; as if he had just entered puberty. There is no way in hell he was going to tolerate a smart mouth from a mere pup. "This is my village!" he yells. "The humans are here to serve me and my pack!" Cheers erupt as the pack voices their agreement.
"You know the rules," the young warrior says. "When you occupy a human village, you follow their law. You can't enforce inukonjou law on them and take over their home!"
"The humans are lower beings. They should be honored to serve me!"
"You imply that you are a higher being, yet you intimidate and bully! You are a disgrace to our race!"
The dark-type alpha has had enough of the young warrior's presence. He shifts into his beast form, causing his pack to jump back. Tables and chairs fall over as the man's canine body triples in size. Standing on all fours, he towers over the young warrior as he displays his sharp fangs.
"What do you mean, our race!?" he roars. "You are not of my race! You are a half-breed mutt; an abomination. The time will come when both your kind and the humans are wiped away from this earth! Be gone, messager boy! Tell the Divine One that she is on borrowed time!"
The young warrior slowly gets to his feet. Although his hood partially hides his face, the alpha can see a sly smirk.
"You misunderstand. You have already received a cease and desist order a week ago. You ignored the Divine One's warning, and now you and your pack have the death mark. I am not your messager boy; I am your executioner."
The rest of the pack immediately transforms into their beast form at the young warrior's threat. Some are bipedal while most are on fours. The pack waits patiently as they snarl and growl, allowing their alpha to strike first.
"You are a mere pup who has not even reached breeding age! You cannot hold a candle against my pack!"
The young warrior grumbles with annoyance. In spite of his skill and experience, nearly all of his enemies dismiss him as a pup. Once inukonjous and half-breeds reach prime age, their growth slows to a crawl, barely noticeable for decades or even centuries. This particular warrior's aging began to slow down when his physical appearance is comparable to a seventeen-year-old boy. The young warrior removes his hood to reveal short, jet-black hair and a youthful face with a patch covering his right eye. His remaining eye glows a crimson-red with aggression.
"I am not a mere pup! I am Ryuji; the Elemental warrior!" With the mark of the beast on each of his wrists, Ryuji summons his spiritual weapon; a pair of glowing, red wakizashi swords. The fire-type warrior roars his challenge and charges his adversary.
Pack 17 hasn't received any more assignments since the Yasuishi mission, so Haruki decides to pay a visit with a potential recruit. With his pack in tow (Kana, Toru, Ophelia, and Naomi), the light-type alpha leads the way through a lush, open field. The atmosphere appears peaceful as the sun sets, but all the warriors are dressed in battle attire. Toru takes notice of a wild boar that runs away at the sight of the half-canine predators.
"We should stop and do some hunting," Toru suggests. He pulls up the sleeves of his keikogi and flexes his biceps. "You ladies want to watch me take down a boar with my bare hands?"
"I wanna watch." Kana is the first to answer. Toru glares at the earth-type warrior as Ophelia giggles at Kana's unwanted flirting.
"Killing animals for their flesh is disgusting!" Naomi says, turning up her nose. The wind-type warrior refuses to talk more about killing innocent creatures, and quickly walks ahead of the pack. Haruki lets out a low growl; for only an alpha is allowed to lead a pack during a trek. He'll let her insubordination slide, nonetheless. The light-type warrior is not in the mood for a confrontation with the headstrong vixen.
"What?" Kana is confused by Naomi's words. Now that he thinks about it, he has never seen her join in a meal after a hunt. As a matter of fact, she was always preoccupied with something when it was time to hunt.
"Naomi's a vegetarian," Ophelia says to the earth-type warrior.
"We'll go hunting later, guys," Haruki says as he continues to lead his remaining pack through the field. "I may need you in top form. This potential recruit is unwilling, so I will have to initiate a challenge."
"I can't wait!" Ophelia announces excitedly. "That will be our sixth packmate! Then we will be an official Society pack."
"I hope she's hot," Toru says lustfully.
Haruki gives his childhood friend a backwards glance. "Uh… He's a fire-type."
"Haruki," Toru whines. "I'd thought we were getting a harem."
"I made no such promise," Haruki says.
"I was part of this harem?" Kana asks as he bats his long lashes.
"You know how you ended up in this pack," Toru says, finally out of patience. "Stop trying to woo me!"
Kana responds with a small giggle. Truthfully, the earth-type warrior is not serious. Toru's reaction to his teasing is just downright entertaining.
"I don't understand why we have to challenge him, Sensei," Ophelia says. "Did he refuse your invitation?"
"Yeah," Haruki answers. "He returned a very short and colorful refusal letter."
"What did it say?" Ophelia's curiosity grows with her big, violet eyes.
"Fuck off," Haruki says.
"Sensei!" Kana is appalled at his alpha's harsh words. "I know Ophelia asks a lot of questions, but you didn't have to tell her that!"
"His letter said 'fuck off'," Haruki clarifies with an annoyed tone. God, you're dense.
"Oh." Kana's face flushes as Toru laughs at the earth-type warrior's expense.
"If we recruit him, that will give us one warrior from each element," Ophelia says. "Was that a coincidence, Sensei?"
"Not really," Haruki responds. "All of you came to me by chance, but I do believe in a well-balanced pack. Every warrior from each element has something special to offer. The six elements have a delicate balance of power."
"Was it because of Pack 15?" Toru is not buying Haruki's sudden onset of wisdom.
"That, too," the alpha admits as he lets out a sigh.
"What is wrong with Pack 15?" Kana asks.
"Out of five current members, four of the warriors are earth-types," Ophelia answers. "They came to assist us once. It was a huge…"
"Pain in the ass," Toru finishes the little warrior's sentence.
"I know about Pack 15," Kana says, feeling offended. "You guys have a problem with earth-types?"
"Only when there's more than one," Haruki answers frankly.
"Don't take it the wrong way, Kana," Toru says gently. "We like you. It's just that… earth-types can be a bit competitive with each other. Like you, Takeshi, and Ju…"
Toru, saying too much, suddenly interrupts himself with a fake cough. The older warrior had forgotten that Kana doesn't remember killing Juro in a fit of rage. Toru doesn't like keeping secrets from his pack, but he believes that the fewer people who know, the better. It's the best way to protect Kana.
A female warrior sits crossed-legged on a roof of a house, overlooking the tavern. She smiles with satisfaction as she spots Ryuji leaving with the body of the pack alpha draped over his shoulder. The evening breeze plays with her wavy, dark-red hair as she remembers the day Haruki asked her to take the fire-type pup in as her pupil.
Back then, he was just a runt who clung to Kana like a starving tick. It was hard for the female warrior to balance between being the pup's teacher and surrogate mother, but the hard work had paid off. Ryuji is now the best warrior in his graduating class. It's just too bad things turned out the way it did…
The sounds of an advancing warrior startle her. He must have cloaked his yōkai; otherwise, she would have sensed them a lot sooner. She narrows her silver eyes, glaring at Haruki as he approaches her with a sly smile.
"It's not polite to sneak up on a girl," the female warrior says, getting to her feet. "Or be late."
"Sorry, Akane," Haruki says. "Did we miss it?"
"Yes, you did. Ryuji is preparing the bodies for cremation."
Toru, Ophelia, and Naomi hop onto the roof, joining their alpha and Akane. Like assassins in the night, the skilled warriors barely made a sound.
"Please meet my packmates," Haruki says gallantly. "This is Ophelia, Toru, and you remember Naomi."
"Of course I remember her," Akane says teasingly. "Who could forget the wingless wind-type?"
Naomi's face turns bright red, prompting Ophelia to reveal the exciting news. "Actually, Isamu helped her sprout her wings not too long ago. Her alternate form is very beautiful."
"Yeah," Toru chips in. "But you should have seen Haruki. I've never saw so much lust in a man's eyes since…"
"Yourself?" Ophelia finishes for Toru.
Poor Naomi is now as red as a beet. She remembers crying on her alpha's shoulder that day. The wind-type warrior had no idea Haruki was feeling lust the whole time. That damn mongrel.
Sensing her discomfort, Haruki gives Toru a nasty glare. The light-type alpha decides to continue his business with Akane, hoping to change the subject.
"Wasn't this your mission?" Haruki asks the red-headed warrior.
"Yeah," Akane answers nonchalantly. "Ryuji needs the practice."
"But you need the exercise. How many missions has that pup done for you, anyway? You're getting fat."
Akane snarls at Haruki while the others are left shocked and speechless at his brazen remark. She quickly calms down, however. Light-types are very manipulating. For whatever reason, Haruki is intentionally trying to upset her, but she will not fall for it.
"Whatever," Akane says. "You've wasted your time coming here. Ryuji's not interested in joining a pack. I've urged him to change his mind, but you know how stubborn fire-types are."
"But if he's defeated by me or one of my pack members, then he wouldn't have a choice in the matter."
"You defeat Ryuji?" Akane begins to laugh mockingly. "Good luck. He's already defeated five other packs, even Pack 15."
"It won't hurt to try." Haruki is not the least bit dissuaded. He turns to his pack with a confident smile. "Come on guys."
"I think I'll keep the lady company up here," Toru says.
The water-type warrior watches as his pack jumps from the roof to the village below. Satisfied that he is alone with the beautiful redhead, Toru offers an inviting grin. He takes a moment to get an eyeful of Akane's shimmering, silver eyes partially hidden under long, seductive lashes. Her warrior's attire is more revealing than most, but wind-types need to have at their backs exposed to sprout their wings. Her top is a mere piece of silver cloth tied around her torso. Her black skirt is long, but splits on both sides all the way to her waist. The slightest movement reveals long, smooth legs and curvy thighs.
"Sorry about Haruki," Toru says to Akane. "That damn dog can be brutally honest sometimes."
Akane immediately glares at Toru. "Honest? So you agree with him?"
Toru gasps inwardly at the error in his words. It's not like him to make such a bad blunder while wooing a woman. Am I losing my mojo? He makes a quick recovery, nonetheless. "Never mind what that mutt thinks. It accentuates your voluptuous curves. Personally, I appreciate such a quality in a woman. I bet you're soft to the touch."
Toru knows that he's a bit bold, but Akane appears to be an older warrior. It's likely there are few words a man can say that will shock her, so why not get to the point? Waiting for a response from the red-headed warrior, Toru notices her odd stare.
"What?" he asks.
"I'm not from Japan, but I've never seen a foreigner with traits such as yours," Akane says, taking an interest in the dark-skinned man. "You look neither Asian nor European. Where are you from?"
Toru rubs his goatee between his fingers, thinking of an answer. "That I'm not sure," he eventually answers. "I have a bit of a memory problem and I can only guess the region. It's somewhere near the equator."
Not expecting such an response, Akane raises an eyebrow. Most male warriors will continue to blabber on about themselves. They talk about their ranks and skills; anything that will make them appear better than the other warriors. "You're an intriguing man, Toru. Can I touch it?"
Now it's Toru's turn to stare; Akane's sudden forwardness has the water-type warrior a little bit confused.
"I mean your hair, idiot!" Akane says with laughter. "I've never seen such a texture."
Akane reaches for a strand of Toru's dreadlocks, but he slyly grabs her hand.
"How about over dinner?" he asks, covering his hand over hers.
"You think it's going to be that easy?" Akane challenges Toru in a game of hard-to-get.
"Okay," Toru says, accepting the challenge. "Can I take you out for dinner once we recruit Ryuji?"
"You have a lot of faith in your alpha. However, you guys haven't even seen half the stuff Ryuji can do. I accept."
"It's a date."
Ryuji tosses the final body in the burning pile of corpses. The fire-type warrior didn't even break a sweat carrying out his mission. He lets out an annoyed sigh; Ryuji doesn't like to be spied on.
"You can stop hiding, Haruki," the young warrior says. "I know your yōkai anywhere."
Haruki, Ophelia, and Naomi, emerge from their hiding places and reveal themselves to the potential recruit. In spite of being called out, Haruki has a satisfied smile on his face. Ophelia and Naomi, on the other hand, are bewildered.
"I thought you cloaked our yōkai," Naomi whispers to Ophelia.
"I did," the dark sorceress whispers back. "Maybe he just picked up our scent?"
"That can't be it," Naomi says. "Toru used an elemental spell to make sure that we were always downwind."
"Cloaking spells don't work on me," Ryuji says, interrupting the female warriors. He returns his attention to Haruki. "What do you want, Haruki?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Haruki replies with a smirk. "I'm here to recruit you to Pack 17."
"Not interested," Ryuji says with a bored sigh. "I'm sure you've gotten my letter."
"Then there's no choice but to challenge you."
Ryuji's single eye suddenly glows a bright, crimson-red and Haruki is strangely immobilized. The light-type warrior struggles, but soon falls to his knees as if a giant weight was placed on his entire body. Ryuji casually walks to Haruki, standing over him with his arms folded.
"This is what I'm capable of, Haruki," Ryuji says in a low, controlled voice. "Not only can I detect cloaked yōkai, but I can also manipulate it. I can make you my puppet with little effort."
Naomi and Ophelia can only stare in awe. The ability to concentrate one's mind and manipulate another's yōkai against their will is simply unheard of. Toru, leaning over the edge of the rooftop, is also amazed at the young warrior's unique skill.
"That's incredible," Toru says, mostly to himself.
Akane smiles with pride for her young pupil. "Are you still sure you're gonna get that dinner date?"
"Yep," the water-type warrior responds, returning the smile. "We still have a secret weapon."
Akane rolls her eyes at Toru's misplaced confidence. From her point of view, Haruki is at Ryuji's mercy. She watches as the light-type warrior struggles to regain his footing to no avail. Still unable to control his own body, Haruki has no other choice but to reason with the overpowered pup.
"You say you're using little effort," the light-type alpha begins. "But I don't think that's true."
Maintaining his concentration, Ryuji tilts his head with curiosity. "How so?" What the hell? I have him on his knees, yet he still doubts by skill.
"You haven't officially defeated me. By tradition, you must pin me down with your spiritual weapon. Why don't you summon your swords and conclude the duel?"
Feeling annoyed, Ryuji snorts at Haruki's challenge. The rest of the pack expected the young warrior to prove their alpha wrong immediately. However, Ryuji does not summon his weapon, but keeps his arms stubbornly folded.
"It is because you are too focused on pinning me down that you can't summon your weapon?" Haruki looks up at the fire-type warrior with a satisfied smirk; he knows he had just hit the nail on the head. "Your ability is remarkable, but leaves you very vulnerable when you're solo and fighting multiple enemies."
Ryuji has enough of the alpha's criticism. The young warrior releases Haruki's yōkai and allows him to get to his feet. His single, crimson eye glares at the older warrior with contempt.
"You're the first to figure that out," Ryuji says admittedly. "But perceptiveness is expected from a light-type. I'm not impressed, and I still won't join your pack."
"But why not?" Haruki asks. "Given are history, I expect an explanation."
Ryuji rolls his eye. I can't believe he's asking the obvious. "My skill is one of the kind, so I don't really know what to expect when I advance it. What if I can't handle my new ability and lose control? When I need you the most, will you simply put me down, like a rabid dog? The same way you killed Kana when he needed you?"
Haruki and the rest of Pack 17 are suddenly baffled. Finally understanding why he is sensing extreme hostility from the pup, the light-type alpha grumbles inwardly. Kana never sent word to Ryuji that his execution was annulled. Ryuji thinks that I killed him. The big idiot. This recruitment would have been a lot less bothersome.
"That has nothing to do with the challenge before you," Haruki says, glaring at Naomi and Ophelia so they do not interrupt. He'll find out, soon enough. "You must complete it."
"Fine," Ryuji responds concededly. "It'll be an easy win, anyway."
"Haruki! Kick his ass!" Toru's yelling is suddenly heard from the rooftops. Akane stares at the water-type warrior, startled by his outburst.
"What?" Toru asks, defensively. "That runt needs a good spanking!"
Akane responds with a small giggle. She unexpectedly observes Haruki putting his hands up in defeat before the fight even started, and looks on curiously. What's that damn mutt up to?
"Wait," Haruki says to the fire-type pup. "I never said that I would challenge you. A member of my pack will."
"Really?" Ryuji looks over at Ophelia and Naomi. Then he looks to the rooftop at Toru and begins to laugh hysterically.
"You think one of these misfits can hold a candle against me?" Ryuji asks mockingly. "How about you make this interesting, and send all three of them…"
Ryuji is suddenly grabbed from behind by Kana. The earth-type warrior pins his forearm on the pup's throat and holds Ryuji close to his chest, preventing his captive from turning around.
"What the hell!?" The young warrior is obviously taken off-guard. "Get off!"
"I'm getting off, alright," Kana puns.
Ryuji begins to struggle comically as Kana holds him in place with little effort. Akane stares at the mayhem with her mouth dropped.
"Kana?" she says with disbelief. She turns to Toru with astonishment. "I thought he was dead!"
"We thought Kana would take Ryuji by surprise because he has completely inhibited yōkai," Toru explains. "But we didn't expect you guys to believe that he was dead."
"Ryuji requested an audience with the Divine One to find out Kana's fate. I came with him as support."
"He's in debt to the Divine One and must save a million lives. I think it was a million; some stupidly large number that would take a lifetime to fulfill."
"She simply told us that Haruki had located Kana and 'completed his mission'. We assumed that Haruki killed him like he was set out to do."
Toru chuckles as he shakes his head. "The Divine One is a cryptic bitch."
"So this whole time, Haruki was just sizing-up Ryuji?"
"Yep. He heard that Ryuji can detect cloaked yōkai and wanted to see for himself. However, Kana's yōkai isn't cloaked; it's just inhibited. He can even summon his weapon without using it. But I have noticed that it does compromise his healing ability somewhat."
"Why'd he stopped using his yōkai?"
"Emo bullshit; something about never becoming a monster again."
The pair returns their attention to the mayhem below as Ryuji's struggles intensify. This pup finally runs out of patience and releases a large amount of yōkai with a loud roar. Kana, sensing the change, frees Ryuji from his hold and falls back. Ryuji goes into his alternate form and spouts a pair of black, leathery wings, canine ears, and a tail. Snarling, he turns to confront his unknown assailant, but freezes in place.