3) Pack 17
Haruki approaches Kana with his sword, ready to execute his former student. The rest of his pack, Toru, Naomi, and Ophelia, can only look on in despair. They know that intervening now would not only go against Haruki's orders, but the Divine One herself.
"Kana," Haruki says, the torment evident in his voice, "I'm sorry. You would have made a great alpha."
Kana doesn't respond, too afraid that the whimpers he's holding may escape his lips. In spite of his dishonor, he wishes to die with some dignity. The sounds of Haruki's footsteps as he advances grow louder. The tension quickly thickens, and seconds begin to feel like an eternity. A knot forms in Kana's throat, and it becomes difficult for him to breathe. Is this how impending death supposed to feel like?
Now in range, Haruki pulls his blade back in preparation to behead Kana. However, a small light suddenly appears. A shimmering, winged creature flies in between Haruki and Kana. It hovers about erratically in an attempt to get the pair's attention.
"Haruki!" Toru exclaims. "Wait! There's a tengu!"
The tengu zaps a small beam of light towards Haruki, materializing a golden scroll. The parchment levitates for a few seconds before landing into the alpha's hand. Curious, Kana stands from his kneeling position. He notices the rest of Haruki's pack joining their alpha, and decides to keep his distance.
"What is it?" Ophelia asks, standing on her toes to gaze over Haruki's shoulder.
Haruki opens the scroll and his eyes begin to move across the page. Everyone else remains quiet, patiently waiting for the alpha to speak. After a few seconds, Haruki arches an eyebrow as he golden eyes rise from the scroll and stare at Kana.
"It looks like the Divine One wants you alive," Haruki says. "She will bestow judgement on you personally."
Kana looks downward, rubbing the back of his head. "Okay," he says in an almost inaudible whisper.
No longer feeling threatened by the large, white-haired warrior, the pack looks on silently, unsure of how to console a man getting ready for death. Haruki makes the first move, placing a supportive hand on Kana's shoulder.
"I'll escort you," Haruki says. He turns around to address his pack. "You guys head back to base. Ophelia will the alpha until I return."
Ophelia lets out a tiny gasp. "Me? But-"
"I trust you, Ophelia."
Before Ophelia can say more words of protest, the tengu circles around Haruki and Kana. A ribbon of golden essence forms and swirls around the pair, and in a flash, they disappear. Poor, little Ophelia is left whimpering.
Toru instantly takes advantage of the little sorceress nervousness. "So, Ophelia, you're our alpha, right? Well, as soon as I get in trouble, I expect you to save my ass."
"Whatever, Toru," Ophelia says, used to her packmate's teasing. "Let's just go home."
Haruki sits in the lobby outside of the Divine One's throne room. After twenty-five years of service in the Elemental Warriors Society, this is the first time he has visited the Divine One's grand palace. His eyes gaze around the room, admiring the shiny, brass-plated pillars and cream-colored, marble floors. The sliding doors and ceiling-high windows maintain the Japanese atmosphere, giving the room a comforting, homely feel.
However, Haruki can't stop staring at the odd fixture in the ceiling. He spotted smaller versions of it in on the walls of the corridor. Whatever they are, its purpose seem to be some sort of light source. But it is no source he is familiar with. What further perplexes the Society alpha is that it feels like he's has seen it before, though he is certain he hasn't.
The door to the throne room opens, jerking Haruki away from his thoughts. A grey-haired servant grabbed in formal robes steps out. Haruki immediately gets to his feet, anxious to hear Kana's fate.
The messenger pulls a scroll and clears his throat. "Kana has been found guilty of taking 162 innocent lives," the messenger reads. "His punishment: To serve the Elemental Warrior's Society until he has salvage said number of lives, a hundred-thousand fold."
A wave of relief falls over Haruki, and a smile slowly crosses his face. Though it will take a lifetime to repay his debt, Kana's life was still spared. "Her Grace has a forgiving soul," he says, giving the messenger a deep bow. "Please tell her that I am-"
Kana suddenly explodes from behind the messenger and interrupts Haruki with a suffocating hug. Wrapping his large arms around his neck, Haruki is trapped in Kana's grasp. The earth-type warrior happily dances around the room, taking Haruki with him.
The messenger stares at the spectacle for a moment. When it seems like Kana will not be releasing Haruki anytime soon, he continues his message. "Kana is to remain with Pack 17 until he has repaid his debt." The messenger's gaze returns to the pair, and is surprised to see Haruki is still in the choke hold. He shakes his head, wondering exactly who is receiving the punishment. "I guess he's your problem, now. There's a tengu outside waiting to teleport you two home." And without giving a second glance, the messenger retreats into the throne room, leaving Haruki to his demise.
"Ow!" Kana jumps back, rubbing the side of his head in pain.
"Compose yourself, damnit!" Haruki snarls, managing to give Kana a mean whack with his elbow. He fixes his golden-brown hair, returning it into a neat ponytail. "I'm your Sensei again, so act like it! You can't behave like that in front of the rest of my students."
"Don't be so cold, Sensei," the white-haired warrior says. "Just a few seconds ago, I thought I was going to die."
Haruki lets out a sigh. This mission had been mentally challenging, and now he's exhausted. "Let's just get home so you can meet your packmates. Not to mention I need a drink."
Ophelia, Toru, and Naomi arrive at their base after the long trek from the gorge. Every pack of the Elemental Warriors Society is assigned a place of operations to execute their duties, train, and rest. In between missions, however, a pack becomes a family and the base becomes their home.
"Finally," Naomi yawns as she stretches her arms. The archer smiles at the familiar sight of the dark, wooden floors of their home. Every sliding door is decorated with pictures of animals and landscapes depicted with soothing colors. Scrolls with beautiful calligraphy hang on the walls. Parchment shades covers the large windows, but allow just enough moonlight to bring an inviting shimmer in the main room.
"We could have stopped at the bar," Toru whines.
"Just check the lounge and see if there's any saké left," Ophelia says. "I'm going to the springs to bathe."
"Same here," Naomi says, rubbing her stiff neck.
Toru watches as the ladies make a beeline to the back exit where the hot springs are located. He follows Ophelia's suggestion and heads for the lounge, hoping to find something to drink. He slides open the door leading to the sitting room and is surprised to discover that Haruki and Kana have already beaten him to the prize. The pair is sitting on the floor with the brown-red, wooden table in between them. Their cups are full and the saké is already opened.
"Toru!" Haruki greets with a slight slur in his voice. "Well don't just stand there. Meet your newest packmate."
"Hey!" Kana says, now a much cheerful person than the one Toru met previously. "You're the one I threw up the gorge!" He chuckles nervously as he scratches his head. "Gee, I'm sorry about that."
"That's okay," Toru replies. "I'm a water-type, so I heal quickly."
"Toru can also redirect an injured warrior's yōkai to hasten the recovery," Haruki includes. "And he's proficient in elemental magic."
Kana gives a seductive smirk. "Resourceful and cute. Just my type."
Haruki glares at Kana, but the white-haired warrior either doesn't seem to notice, or is just completely ignoring his alpha.
"Sorry to disappoint you," Toru quickly retorts as he folds his arms. "But I'm straight."
"Hmm," Kana doesn't seem to be dissuaded. "Conquering a straight man will be interesting."
"Yyyyyeah, have fun doing that." Toru gives a pleading look to the pack leader. "Haruki, is he going to be my roommate?"
"Hell, no," Haruki says, still glaring at Kana. "Kana will be assigned to room four. Where are the ladies?"
"Bathing," Toru answers.
"Oh, yeah!" Kana clasps his hands together excitedly. "I can't wait to meet them."
"Sure you are," Toru says with obvious sarcasm.
Haruki lets out a chuckle as he gets up from the table, "You guys get along. I'm going to turn in." The alpha leaves the lounge room, allowing Toru and Kana to mingle privately.
"There's still saké left," Kana invites politely.
"Awesome." Toru accepts the invitation and sits in Haruki's place across from Kana. He takes the glass bottle and pours himself a cupful.
"I've noticed that you don't address Sensei by his title," Kana says. It's obvious that Toru and Haruki have a more relaxed relationship than the average alpha and omega.
"I don't think he would like it if I did," Toru chuckles.
"We were friends long before we joined the Society. Haruki and I were just couple of pups with no home or parents, so we relied on each other. I taught Haruki how to survive off the environment without relying on human means. You can say I was the big brother."
Kana raises an eyebrow. "'Big brother'? But Sensei out-ranks you."
"Yeah," Toru admits, sipping his saké. "I joined the Society much later than he did. While he felt the need to train and become stronger, I still wanted to enjoy my freedom. I already knew how to use my spiritual weapon without the training."
"You talked as if you lived here a long time," Kana says, "but you don't look like you're from here." It's true that elemental warriors are from all over the world, and are sometimes assigned to a base outside their home country. However, Kana has never seen a foreigner with Toru's dark complexion and odd, rope-like hair texture.
Toru places his empty cup on the table. "I'm definitely not Japanese. I came from the other side of the world. We water-types can cross the seas rather easily. With no family or responsibilities, I simply traveled the world."
"So why did your travels end here?"
Before Toru could answer, Ophelia and Naomi enter the room dressed flower-patterned kimonos. The ladies halt at the door, surprised to see Kana. They turn their gaze to Toru, wordlessly asking for answers. The water-type warrior responds with a lustful grin.
"The Japanese chicks, of course," he says, answering Kana's interrupted question. "They're the sexiest things alive!"
"Toru!" Naomi scolds, noticing Ophelia flushed face. "Stop speaking like that around our guest!"
"I'm sorry, were you feeling left out?" The water-type continues his teasing, and leans over to Kana in a mock whisper. "Chinese chicks are awesome too."
Gritting her teeth, Naomi gives the lecherous Toru a menacing glare. The deadly intent in her silver eyes put a knot in Kana's throat, though it seems that Toru is used to playing with fire.
"Okay, okay," the older warrior says, raising his hands in resignation. "He's not even our guest. Ophelia, Naomi, meet our newest packmate."
"So the Divine One pardoned you?" Ophelia exclaims, forgetting Toru's embarrassing comment. "That's great!"
Overwhelmed with happiness and relief, Ophelia gives the new packmate an unexpected hug. Kana nearly spills his drink; the little dark-type is much stronger than she appears. Unfortunately for her packmates, she is also a glomper. Toru can't help but chuckle at the hilarious sight.
Naomi offers a more formal welcome with a bow. "Welcome to Pack 17."
"Now, there's no need for formalities," Kana says as he recovers from Ophelia's hug. "Come join us."
Naomi seems to hesitate, as her pale face suddenly flushes. She eventually adjusts her robe and takes a seat on the floor next to Toru.
Ophelia has already taken her seat next to the earth-type warrior, her interest in him very apparent. "So, how did you summon your weapon without using yōkai? And why is your sword so big? How did you lose control of your beast form?"
"Uh… uh… " Kana stammers, not sure which question to answer first.
Toru decides to rescue Kana from the onslaught of questions. "Earth-types typically have large spiritual weapons."
"But they're usually two-handed weapons," Ophelia says. "Kana wields his with one hand." She turns back to Kana, smiling at her new packmate. "You must be really strong."
"I've always used one hand for my claymore," Kana says, shrugging his shoulders. "It feels the most natural."
"I know dark magic spells that can cloak a warrior's yōkai," Ophelia continues. She tilts her head, her big, violet eyes blinking rapidly. "But your technique is unheard of."
"It took weeks of meditation," Kana answers, now in a more solemn tone. "I had time to reflect on my sins and train my body to never get close to my beast form, again."
"So you completely rejected your beast form?" Toru says with surprise. "You'll never become an alpha."
"I don't care about being an alpha," Kana responds. "I'm just happy to be with my Sensei."
"Yōkai usage is based on a warrior's emotions," Ophelia ponders out loud. "Even during the heat of battle, you have complete control of your feelings?"
"That explains the stupid smirk you keep on your face," Toru comments, pouring himself another drink.
The same smirk crosses Kana's face. "Actually, that has nothing to do with my yōkai control. I just like to agitate my opponent. It gives me the upper hand and, more importantly, makes a battle a lot more fun!"
Ophelia realizes that Naomi was quiet during the whole conversation. She simply stares at Kana, tight lipped and tense. "Naomi, are you okay?" The young sorceress asks with concern.
"Uh, yes," Naomi answers, shaking herself out of her obvious trance. She stands up from the table. "I'm just tired. I'm heading off to bed."
"Hey," Kana addresses his new pack, "before anyone leaves, I just want to thank you guys for pleading for my life earlier today, even though I had given up on it."
Toru rolls his eyes. "Please spare me. I'm not good with the sentimental stuff." He finishes up his second cup and gets to his feet. "Let me show you to your room. I'm getting tired, too."
Toru, Naomi, Ophelia and Kana head upstairs to the sleeping quarters. Naomi and Ophelia, who share a room, say their goodnights to the male warriors. Naomi retreats to her room, but before Ophelia can follow, Kana stops her with a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"Remember what you said earlier about the spirits of the gorge?" he asks. "Did they really forgive me?"
"Yes," Ophelia says with a beaming smile. "I'm well-versed in dark sorcery, so I am positive that all the spirits there are at rest."
Kana suddenly surprises her with an embrace. He easily lifts her petite form from the floor, and holds her gently for a few seconds. So moved by her good news, Kana doesn't notice the soft squeak she manage to make within is suffocating hug.
"Thank you," Kana says softly as he releases Ophelia.
"You're welcome," Ophelia say, her face as red as a beet. "Good night."
Toru chuckles as Ophelia leaves into her room and gives Kana a sly smile. "You shouldn't get those girls' hopes up like that."
Kana pretends to be confused. "What? You're jealous 'cause I'm getting all the attention?"
"Far from that," the water-type says with another laugh. "I'm just trying to spare you a shit-load of drama."