Sword in hand, Haruki approaches Kana to execute his former student. 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." The torment in Haruki's voice is evident. "I am so sorry. You would have made a great alpha."
Kana doesn't respond, too afraid that his whimpers may escape. The white-haired warrior wishes to die with some dignity in spite of his dishonor. He can hear one of the warriors sobbing. It sounds like the young, dark-type girl. Haruki pulls his blade back in preparation to behead Kana, but 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!"
A huge, but elegant inukonjou suddenly appears before the group. Her body is as sleek as a Doberman and her tail is full and bushy like an artic fox's. The great beast's silvery-white fur shimmers in the afternoon sunlight as she splays her large ears, sporting it like a crown. She opens her jaws and exposes teeth and fangs more intimidating than a timber wolf's. The creature releases a howl that bellows through the rocky gorge and forest, alerting any creature in a hundred-kilometer radius of her presence. The inukonjou is intimidating, but has a warm, maternal aura about her.
"Divine One!" Haruki, Toru, Naomi, and Ophelia exclaims in unison. The pack immediately takes a knee to the royal canine. Kana, who is already on his knees, looks on in surprise.
"I must order you to abort the mission, Haruki." Her voice echoes with indisputable authority. "Kana is coming with me."
"Yes, Your Grace." Haruki is quick to obey his mistress.
"You shall come with me, as well," the Divine One orders the alpha. She turns her attention to the rest of the pack. The color of her piercing eyes shifts from gold, to red, violet, blue, and so on. "Ophelia," the royal canine says to the young warrior. "You will be alpha for now. Please lead your pack back to base."
"Y-yes, Your Grace." Ophelia is taken aback. To be addressed by the Divine One herself is one thing; but for the great canine to recognize her as alpha material is another. It's true that she is the stronger than Toru and Naomi, but she's also the least experienced.
"Please, come," the Divine One directs Haruki and Kana. The pair obediently approaches the great beast, and they disappear in a flash.
"That was unexpected," Ophelia comments.
"Yeah," Naomi agrees. "It's rare for the Divine One to take a direct part of any mission. I had no idea how important this one was."
"So, Ophelia, you're our alpha, right?" Toru instantly takes advantage of the little sorceress nervousness. "Well, as soon as I get in trouble, I expect you to save my ass."
"Whatever, Toru." Ophelia is used to her packmate's teasing. "Let's just go home."
Haruki and Kana stand anxiously at the bottom of the stairs that leads to the Divine One's throne. Kana, after receiving a reassuring nod from Haruki, timidly approaches the royal canine up the steps and kneels before her with his head bowed. She glares down at the nervous warrior, displaying threating fangs. Kana won't be the least bit surprised if she swallows him whole right now. However, he must first make amends.
"I am truly sorry, Your Grace," Kana unwittingly speaks without being addressed. "I wish I could give back the lives that I have taken, but I cannot."
"Kana," the Divine One starts. "Reports say that you have taken a total of 162 lives, including eleven elemental warriors."
Kana flinches at the actual number, and loses his composure. "I implore you to take my life! Not just as retribution for the souls of the dead, but to prevent me from losing myself and repeating my crimes!"
There is a long silence before the Divine One's stern expression turns into grief and remorse. Kana holds his breathe, wondering what his punishment will be.
"Kana," she begins with a soft, maternal voice. "It is I who should apologize. It was my responsibility to determine your readiness and I misjudged. Because of me, both you and I are stained with the blood of innocent lives. I will not add more blood by taking your life, as well."
Both Haruki and Kana could not hide their looks of surprise and confusion. Was this a pardon?
"Then, what is my fate, your Grace?" Kana feels a mixture of guilt and relief.
"Kana," the Divine One begins. "Because you have taken 162 lives, you shall continue to serve the Elemental Warriors Society until you have salvage that many lives… a hundred thousand fold."
"Your Grace has such a forgiving soul," Haruki compliments with a bow. Kana will never reach that number in his lifetime.
"Kana, you shall join Pack 17 until you've paid your debt," the Divine One orders. "You may dismiss. My tengu will teleport you back to your base."
Kana forgets that he is still in the presence of the Divine One. The great canine watches his puppyish display as he runs down the stairs and hugs Haruki, nearly knocking his teacher over.
"Compose yourself, damnit," Haruki snarls, hoping that the Divine One didn't hear his swearing. "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 is now annoyingly cheerful. "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. 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." This particular pack is lucky to have their base deep in the forest next to a hot spring.
"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 his packmate. Toru can tell that the pair had a sizable share of the saké; Haruki has a slight slur in his words. "Well don't just stand there. Meet your newest packmate."
"Hey!" Kana greets, now a much cheerful person than the one Toru met previously. "You're the one I threw up the gorge!" The earth-type warrior scratches his head, ashamed of his earlier actions. "Gee, I'm sorry about that."
"That's okay," Toru replies. "I'm a water-type, so I heal fairly quickly."
"Toru can also redirect an injured warrior's yōkai to hasten the recovery," Haruki includes. "And he's proficient in elemental magic."
"Resourceful and cute," Kana gives a seductive smirk. "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 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. The water-type warrior takes the glass bottle and pours himself a cupful.
"I've noticed that you don't address Sensei by his title," the white-haired warrior comments with curiosity. 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 at the thought of calling Haruki by title. "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. Being older and more experienced, I taught Haruki how to survive off the environment without relying on human means. You can say we are closer than littermates."
"You're older and more experienced?" Kana is a little confused. "But Sensei out-ranks you."
"Yeah," Toru admits. "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 the Society provides."
"You talked as if you lived here a long time, but you don't look like you're from here," Kana says. 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 hair texture.
"I'm definitely not Japanese," Toru confirms. "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 in their kimonos. The ladies halt at the door, surprised to see Kana. Toru lets out a lustful grin.
"The Japanese chicks, of course," he answers Kana's previous 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. He 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 archer's silver eyes glow as she attempts to maintain her composure. Toru decides that the jokes have gone on long enough.
"Calm down," the older warrior says. "He's not even our guest. Ophelia, Naomi, meet our newest packmate."
"So the Divine One pardoned you?" Ophelia exclaims with excitement. Her embarrassment from Toru's earlier comment has completely left. "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 suddenly feels shy and blushes. She 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. She does not attempt to hide her interest in him.
"So, how did you summon your weapon without using yōkai?" Ophelia begins her series of questions. "And why is your sword so big? How did you lose control of your beast form?"
Kana stammers, not sure which question to answer first. Toru rescues him.
"Earth-types typically have large spiritual weapons," the older warrior informs the inquisitive Ophelia.
"But they're usually two-handed weapons," Ophelia says. "Kana wields his with one hand." The dark-type smiles at her new packmate with admiration. "You must be really strong."
"I've always used one hand for my claymore. It feels the most natural," Kana says, trying not to sound like he's boasting.
"I know dark magic spells that can cloak a warrior's yōkai," Ophelia continues her prying. "But your technique is unheard of."
"It took weeks of meditation," Kana answers 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."
Not every half-breed has the ability to change into their canine-like, beast form; only those with the mark of the beast can make such a transformation. It takes intense training to master the technique, which may take years for even decades. However, those who worked hard enough to complete the training take the first steps in becoming a pack alpha of the Elemental Warriors Society.
"I don't care about being an alpha," the earth-type 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?"
"Yep," the earth-type warrior confirms.
"That explains the stupid smirk you keep on your face," Toru comments.
"Actually, that has nothing to do with my yōkai control," Kana denies with the familiar smirk. "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 the archer was quiet during the whole conversation. Naomi simply stares at the new packmate. "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."
"Please spare me," Toru says dismissively as he rolls his eyes. "I'm not good with the sentimental stuff." The water-type warrior gets to his feet. "Let me show you to your room. I'm getting tired myself."
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 could follow, Kana stops her with a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"Remember what you said earlier about the spirits of the gorge?" The earth-type warrior asks. "Did they really forgive me?"
"Yes," Ophelia says with a smile. She's happy to put Kana's pleading, emerald eyes at ease. "I'm well versed in dark sorcery, so I am positive that all the spirits there are at rest."
It's now Kana's turn to surprise the little warrior with an unexpected hug. It's a gentle embrace, unlike Ophelia's forceful glomp. There's a huge amount of emotion in it, nonetheless.
"Thank you," Kana says softly as he releases Ophelia.
"You're… you're welcome," the dark sorceress stammers. In spite of Kana sexual preference (yes, she can tell), the youngster can't help but blush. A man hasn't embraced her like that since… never mind. "Well," Ophelia continues. "Good night."
Toru chuckles as Ophelia leaves into her room. He gives Kana a sly smile. "You shouldn't get those girls' hopes up like that," he says.
"What?" Kana pretends to be confused. "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."