Story 10: The Weak
Takeo blinked sleep out of his eyes as he walked, the scent of the early morning dew filling his nostrils as he shuffled quickly down the village street. The sun was just beginning to rise over the Eastern horizon, and Nagoya's rustic buildings seemed to almost shimmer in the gleam as it did. Looking around, he could see that other pet dogs were emerging from their masters' yards as well, and he recognized every last one as they staggered out with tired yawns, stretching their stiff legs while they moved to answer the summons that had been put forth to them. The Kishu kept his pace steady, stretching his neck as he heard another dog pad up silently beside him. It was his mate, Kotone.
"What do you think Timber wants now?" she asked sleepily, her body brushing lightly against his as they continued to head towards the outskirts of town.
"God only knows." Takeo replied with a weary smile. "This is the earliest he's ever gotten us up for one of these pack gatherings of his."
"You should remind him that we're not part of his pack." she said in a mildly annoyed voice and Takeo turned back to the path.
"He likes feeling like he's in charge." he said. "And his pack have helped keep the peace around here since they moved in. Let him have his moment."
"I hope nothing's wrong." Kotone said, both of them ascending a hill that led out of town. "I don't remember him ever calling an 'emergency' meeting before."
"He's probably just being paranoid about something." Takeo said reassuringly, "But we'll listen anyway."
Then he gave her a curious look, as if he had just remembered something.
"Is – " he started but Kotone immediately cut him off.
"He's asleep." she said with a smile, knowing immediately what he was going to ask. "I left him back with the master. No need to wake him up this early for things he wouldn't understand anyway."
Takeo nodded with a smile, nosing at her cheek as they walked into the clearing where everyone else was already waiting for them. As they approached, another Kishu greeted them.
"Takeo." she said, nodding at them. "What's this all about?"
"Your guess is as good as mine," he replied, then teasingly added. "I thought you were the one who made a habit of knowing everything that happens around here, sister."
She turned up her nose at him.
"You can't expect me to know everything, can you?" she huffed and then looked him over slowly.
Seconds later she smirked.
"Little one keeping you up again, brother?" she asked knowingly and Takeo nodded with a yawn.
"He kept wanting to hear more stories." he said with an almost proud smile. "He's more inquisitive than you were, Asami."
The female Kishu inclined her head at him.
"Stories about Ohu?" she asked and Takeo tensed up immediately, giving her a warning look.
"I don't want to have this argument right now, sister." he warned. "I'm too tired as it is."
"He deserves to know." she said and he shook his head emphatically.
"Absolutely not." he said. "And you're not to tell him either."
"Takeo…" she said with a shake of her head. "You've got to let this grudge of yours go. They both have the right to know about each other."
The male Kishu looked at her hard.
"The right?" he repeated in a quietly angry voice. "He gave up the right to know my son the minute he threw us out like we were some kind of burden to him. I'm happy here. My son is happy here. And if I can help it, that's not going to change."
Asami rolled her eyes and kept silent, knowing that it was pointless to argue with him. Takeo huffed slightly and turned away from her, allowing Kotone's gentle nuzzle to calm him down slightly.
Then Asami's voice sounded again.
"Timber! There you are! What's the idea of getting us all up so early like this?"
Turning to follow her gaze, Takeo saw the Kai mix standing by a tree a few yards away, his face bathed in shadow from the angle of the rising sun. There was no answer from him.
"Timber?" he repeated, frowning slightly, and suddenly the scent of blood assaulted his nose, its sudden appearance making his ears perk up in alarm.
Then, before he could do or say anything else, Timber suddenly toppled over where he stood, his body flopping down onto its side with a dull 'THUD' and laying motionless on the ground. Takeo froze, hearing alarmed barks erupt from the dogs around him as another figure suddenly stepped out from behind the tree Timber had been next to. The new dog was tall, he could see, very tall, and he was not alone. Takeo felt his whole body tense as other forms began to slink out of the trees as well, their movements deliberate and calculated as they quickly surrounded the group of pet dogs in a wide circle. Soon they had cut off every point of retreat. Takeo growled, stepping protectively closer to Kotone as he bore his fangs and watched the intruders warily. Then the tall one stepped forward into the light.
"Dogs of Nagoya," he said slowly in a smug-sounding voice. "Allow me to introduce myself. I'm your new boss…and as of this moment, every one of you is now under my command."
The newcomer was an Irish Wolfhound, Takeo saw, and his piercing, cruel eyes seemed to cut right into them as they stood there helplessly before him. The Kishu narrowed his eyes at the larger dog.
"Who are you?" he demanded in a calm but angry voice.
Suddenly, a paw smacked him hard across the face and Takeo let out a pained grunt of surprise, his head snapping sideways as Kotone yelled his name in concern. Then a smaller, younger Wolfhound stepped forward as well.
"You speak when spoken to, bastard!" he growled and the bigger Wolfhound's grin widened.
"My name is Izanagi." he said, and then nodded sideways. "This is my son, and these are the rest of my subordinates. This is our territory now, and that makes you my servants."
Then he started pacing around them in a wide circle.
"Now I know you're just pet dogs," he sneered. "And as such are pathetic and useless. But that's not something I care about at the moment, so I'm going to make you a deal. You can swear your allegiance to me and live, or you can refuse me…and die horribly."
A series of low cries and moans of fear erupted from all around the group, and Takeo stepped forward once more, ready to dodge an attack if he needed to.
"This territory belongs to the humans." he growled. "Our masters. So unless you can defeat them and their guns, coming here was pointless. If you harm us in any way, they will hunt you down. I suggest you leave while you can."
Izanagi turned to him with an angry but somehow knowing look, as if he had been expecting this and was waiting for it to happen. He immediately started to move forward towards the Kishu, his fangs gleaming in the light as he opened his huge maw…and stopped in his tracks. The younger Wolfhound looked at him, seemingly ready to attack as well.
"Dad?" he said, looking confused. "Should I kill him?"
The huge male didn't answer, and looked hard into Takeo's face with a strange expression, one that seemed to suggest he had seen something unexpected and was trying to figure out what to do about it. For his part, the Kishu didn't move an inch, and when Izanagi straightened up once more and opened his mouth to speak, Takeo simply followed him with his gaze. Then the Wolfhound began to laugh, a low, creepy sounding noise that slid out of his throat and attacked the dogs' ears like a poison. He glared triumphantly down at Takeo.
"Well I'll be damned…" he said almost softly. "Look who we have here."
Takeo frowned, his danger senses screaming at him.
"You look just like him." Izanagi breathed.
The Kishu froze on the spot, his breath catching in his throat.
"What?" he asked sharply.
"You have his face." Izanagi said, licking his fangs. "And his figure. Oh this is too good to be true."
Takeo clutched the ground beneath him tightly with his claws.
"I don't know what you're talking about." he said flatly, praying that the Wolfhound didn't know what he suspected he did.
Izanagi grinned lethally and began walking around him again.
"Don't you?" he said, a deep, poisonous note in his voice that chilled Takeo to the bone. "Well, I suppose after lying to your friends here for so long, it's only natural you'd keep it up. They must think you're just like them, unremarkable, unimportant… But we know better, don't we?"
Takeo felt a hot rush of fury shoot through him and Kotome met his gaze concernedly.
"Takeo," she said. "What is he talking about?"
Izanagi walked over to her before the Kishu could answer, the Wolfhound's cruel eyes meeting his.
"Change of plan, boy." he said, towering over the much smaller female. "In return for not annihilating all of you, you're going to go find him – and don't pretend you don't know who I mean – and bring him to me."
Takeo glared at him defiantly, realizing that it was pointless to lie.
"I barely knew him." he spat. "He's not part of my life anymore. I don't even know where he is."
Izanagi stalked right up to him and got in his face.
"Try Kaisume Dake." he whispered with a smirk. "Rumor has it he and his pack were sighted just north of there recently. Oh, and when you find him, tell him…if he wants to save you all, he'll come home to fight me, one on one, to the death. He knows why. If he isn't there in two days, I'll kill you all, starting with your sister here."
Asami took a nervous step away from them upon hearing this, and Takeo silently swore to himself, wondering when Izanagi had realized who she was. He shook his head slowly.
"You're out of your mind." he said.
"Am I?" the Wolfhound replied. "Well in that case, let me give you further incentive."
Then, without warning or hesitation, he spun around, grabbed Kotone by the throat, and ripped it clean out, an explosion of blood following in his wake. Takeo felt his stomach fall to his feet.
"NO!" he screamed in horror and launched himself at the huge dog…a move that got him nowhere.
The moment his feet left the ground, he was grabbed hard from all sides and shoved face-first into the dirt, thrashing and shouting at the Wolfhound as tears streamed down his cheeks.
"You bastard!" he screamed. "You fucking bastard! I'll kill you!"
Izanagi rushed forward, covering the distance in only a few strides, and drove his shoulder hard into the smaller dog's chin, sending him flying backwards with a grunt of pain. Then, once he'd come to a stop, the Wolfhound stood over him and leaned in closely, stomping down on the Kishu's throat to immobilize him.
"Listen up, you piece of shit." he said in a deadly voice. "You deliver that message or I'll kill your sister, your friends, and anyone else I find. Am I clear?"
Takeo growled at up at him, tears still trickling from his eyes. Over by Asami and the others, Izanagi's subordinates stood at the ready, looking eager for bloodshed. The Kishu ceased his fighting. He had no choice. There was only one option.
"All right." he said in a soft, hate-filled voice. "I'll find him, you monster. I'll find him…"
Akame grimaced, feeling the same throbbing pain ripple through his shoulder again as he put weight down on the leg it was attached to. It was growing more constant now, he could tell, and even though his long, light-footed strides allowed him to keep up easily with Gin and the others, he was secretly getting worried.
'Something must be wrong.' he thought in anxious annoyance. 'That puncture should've healed by now.'
Despite this, they were making good time, and were already within a mile of the Gunma Prefecture, home to Kaisume Dake and its boss dog, Moss. It had been over 5 days since the group had arrived back on Japan's mainland, and as before they were in relatively high spirits. After stopping off in Ohu to give orders and make sure things were still intact, Gin had kept them moving at an almost constant pace down to Moss's territory, which was one of the few that Akame himself had never seen before. The prospect of seeing their old friend again in his home had stirred excitement and intrigue in the ninja-dog, but that sensation had left him quickly after a new one had made itself known. Pain…
A mere 2 days into their journey back from Hokkaido, Akame had begun to notice a tenderness in his shoulder where the human's tranquillizer dart had hit him, and it had gotten steadily worse by the day. Though he had initially shrugged it off as overexertion, in time it became impossible to ignore. On the third day, while breaking up a three-way wrestling match between Zach and the Kais, the tenderness had transformed into a sharp pain, and that had made him take immediate notice. Though he was concerned about the possibility of infection, he decided to keep the injury to himself so as not to slow them down, a decision he was becoming increasingly convinced had been wrong. Thus far, Gin had been the only one to notice his slight limp, and had confronted him immediately to see if everything was all right. Though he was grateful for his friend's concern, Akame had waved him off with a reassuring smile, insisting that they continue at the same pace until they reached their destination. Now that they were nearly there, the Kishu could safely say that he was looking forward to getting off his feet for a while and resting his weary legs. Suddenly, he heard a popping noise and perked his ears up, looking towards its source as soon as he had. Striding alongside him was Kurotora, a contented look on his face, and the dark-furred Kai Dog cracked his neck once more as he looked up at Gin and John, who were leading the group.
"Did Moss say he was gonna meet us?" he asked, sliding his tongue over his fangs. "Or are we gonna have to go look for him?"
"Probably the latter." John snorted. "He's a pack leader and he weighs half a ton. If he has any sense at all, he just kicks back in his home base and relaxes in between fights."
Chutora nodded from Smith's side, looking around him at the scenery passing by.
"That does sounds like Pops." he said and Smith gave him a look.
"You still call him 'Pops'?" he asked, raising an eyebrow in amusement.
The Kai Dog shrugged.
"Hey," he said. "Old habits die hard. Besides, he doesn't care."
"Give him some time," the Spaniel said, rubbing himself up against a tree to scratch an itch. "He will. You Kais'll probably piss him off with one of your insensitive little remarks and then he'll get mad and sit on you."
Chutora seemed to shudder beside him.
"Oof." he said, wrinkling his nose. "Now there's an ugly thought."
"You guys might want to cool it on the insults pretty soon." Gin said over his shoulder from up front. "We're almost there.
Kurotora snorted, dropping back beside Zach as he did.
"Ah, let 'em go, Gin!" he smirked. "We're supposed to be having fun on this trip anyway, right? Besides, if we arrive in good spirits maybe we'll meet some girls for a change! And by 'we' of course, I mean those of you who don't have one already."
He gave Zach a light shove with his paw and the Malamute snapped out of his thoughts instantly, smiling moments later with a shake of his head.
"Keep it up, Kuro." he threatened in a calm voice. "I'm perfectly willing to start our little sparring match up again."
"Yeah?" the Kai Dog said, his grin widening. "How's your jaw?"
"Fine thanks." Zach said in a fake polite voice. "How are your balls?"
"Bigger than yours, cheap shot."
Akame chuckled and shook his head, hearing the others laugh as well as he looked at the wilderness around him in curiosity. As implied by its name, Kaisume Dake was a mountainous area, and steep cliffs separated groves of trees all around them as they walked, their tops sometimes shrouded in mist and hidden from view. All in all, the Kishu decided, it was nice territory, and he looked forward to complimenting Moss on it. Then the group rounded a corner and came to a large rocky slope, its top punctuated by 6 dead trees all standing in a row, a perfect position for getting a vantage point. Standing near them, looking down at the Ohu Army with cautious frowns, were two large dogs that Akame assumed were guards. Seconds later, this was confirmed when one of them turned and called to someone out of sight:
"What?" a deep voice replied.
"Gin and his comrades are here!" the dog replied and the deep voice answered him again, this time sounding surprised and excited.
"Already?" it said. "I thought I still had two days!"
Moments later, another much larger dog appeared at the top of the slope, and its eyes immediately widened happily as it saw them.
"Gin!" it called. "It's been too long! I was just complaining about how much I missed you lot!"
"Hello, Moss." the Akita smiled pleasantly as both dogs rushed to greet each other. "You're looking well!"
The Kaisume Dake leader, who was an enormous blob of a Mastiff with scars decorating his body, grinned toothily, looking at the others as well as his tail wagged behind him.
"I'm surprised so many of you came." he said as another, smaller Mastiff padded up beside him. "I thought you would have your paws full with that paradise of yours!"
"It's being cared for." Gin replied. "We decided that it was high time to visit old friends."
"Rank has its privileges." John added with a smirk and Moss nodded, shifting his weight as he did.
"Indeed it does." he agreed with a chuckle. "Well, it's good to see you. Things have been too peaceful around here. Jaguar and I have been feeling almost forgotten about."
"We should trade lives, Pops." Kurotora quipped, moving up beside Gin. "We've had nothing but excitement since we left Gajou!"
"I wish I'd been there." Moss grunted, wrinkling his drooping face in irritation. "And don't call me 'Pops'."
Smith smirked from where he stood.
"Told ya." he said and Chutora gave a little growl at him.
Jaguar, however, had just finished scanning the group from his father's side, and stepped forward with a look of surprise.
"Zach?" he said in his gravelly voice. "Is that you?"
Akame's ears perked up in curiosity and he looked over at the Malamute, who nodded back at the Mastiff with a smile.
"Hello, Jaguar." he said. "It's good to see you again."
The younger Mastiff pulled back a little with a small smile of his own. Then he looked over at Moss.
"Father," he said. "Look who's back."
Moss turned and followed his gaze to where Zach stood, a similar look of surprise passing over his face moments later.
"Zach of Ibaraki!" he exclaimed. "Riley's pup? What are you doing here? I haven't seen you since you were the size of my paw!"
The Ohu dogs looked back and forth between their friends.
"Wait." John said, raising an eyebrow. "You know each other?"
Both males nodded in affirmation.
"My uncle and Moss-san used to be allies." Zach explained, looking at Gin. "My father and I would travel with him sometimes when he'd visit Kaisume Dake."
"That was a long time ago, though." Jaguar said, and then turned back to Zach. "What are you doing with the Ohu Army?"
"Becoming stronger." the Malamute said after a pause. "And having some…interesting experiences along the way."
"Well," Moss replied, looking him up and down as he examined him. "You seem to have grown up nicely, boy. I think I preferred you as a pup, though."
Zach grunted in surprise and Jaguar rolled his eyes over Smith and Kurotora's laughs.
"Father," he said with a deadpan look. "You prefer everyone as a pup."
"Hmph." the elder Mastiff snorted. "That's beside the point."
Then he gestured to Gin and the others, indicating that the conversation was over.
"Come on." he said. "I want to hear about everything I've missed."
Gin nodded and glanced at John, who did the same with a small smile. Then the Ohu group followed their friend up the rocky slope and out of sight of the path.
Gin opened his eyes slowly as the early morning light hit them, the beams just intense enough to wake him from his slumber. Giving a wide yawn, he stood and stretched his stiff form, avoiding waking the others as he did. They had spent the remainder of the previous day reminiscing with Moss about the war against Akakabuto and telling him about what had happened to them since they had last seen him. The Kaisume Dake leader apparently spent much of the time in between fixing up his own territory, using Gin and Riki's examples to transform his mountainous home into a safer and more pleasant place. Now that he saw it for himself, Gin had to admit that it was much nicer than before. The last time he had been to Kaisume Dake was when they were trying to recruit Moss for the Ohu army, and it had nearly resulted in the death of Ben at the Mastiff's hands. Granted, everything had turned out all right in the end, but still, this place brought back a lot of memories. It reminded him of Sniper, his sworn enemy, who had been behind all the trouble last time and had disappeared shortly before the final battle against Akakabuto. Gin felt hatred rise in his throat like bile and quickly forced it back. Sniper was gone, presumed drowned while attempting to kill Ben, and there was no point in thinking about him any longer. Besides, it wasn't like he would ever see him again.
'Good riddance.' Gin thought brutally. 'He deserved everything he got. But the dead should stay in the past. I need to look to the future.'
Suddenly, right as he was finishing this thought, a strange noise came to the Akita's ears. Frowning in confusion, he looked over towards it where it had come from, wondering silently what it had been. The others were still asleep where they lay, and he stepped around them carefully as he looked for anything out of the ordinary. Moments later, he saw what was causing it, and his face twisted into a look of great concern. Akame lay near John and Chutora, still apparently sleeping, but shivering and trembling within it as if he were freezing to death in the cave where they were. Gin rushed towards him quickly. It wasn't that cold out. As he moved up beside his friend though, he accidentally stepped on Kurotora's tail, causing the Kai dog to sputter to life instantly with a grunt of surprise.
"What the – ?" he said sleepily. "Who the hell?"
"Sorry, Kuro." Gin apologized and leaned down to examine Akame.
"What's going on?"
"Wake the others." the Akita ordered urgently. "Something's wrong with Akame."
This made the younger Kai shoot to attention immediately and he quickly did what he was told, shaking the others out of their slumbers one by one until everyone was awake and confused.
"What's going on, Gin?" Smith asked drowsily. "Is something wrong?"
"I'm not sure." Gin answered and then shook Akame with his paw. "Akame! Akame, wake up!"
The Kishu's eyes immediately shot open in the dim light of the cave and he let out a gasp that sounded halfway between surprise and pain, one that caused Gin to pull back a little.
"Akame," he said worriedly. "Are you all right?"
The ninja-dog lifted his head to glance up at him, but then rested it on the ground tiredly.
"Gin…" he said softly. "No… My shoulder…is killing me."
Gin frowned slightly and examined his friend's shoulder, his concern growing when he realized that it looked swollen. He quickly gestured to Zach.
"Zach," he said. "Come look at this. You're the one he trained for this kind of thing."
The Malamute immediately stepped over to him and bent down to look at it, giving it a few testing sniffs moments later. Then he looked up at the Ohu leader and nodded.
"It's infected." he announced. "Badly. It looks like he has a fever on top of it."
"The dart that hit me was probably rusty…" Akame agreed quietly. "I suspected this before but…it moved faster than I thought it would."
"Why didn't you say something?" John demanded almost accusingly and the Kishu gave him an almost amused look.
"I didn't know how bad it was." he replied. "And I didn't want to slow you down. I foolishly thought I could just wait it out…"
After noticing the looks they were giving him, he added.
"Hey, even I make mistakes. Zach, how bad does it look to you?"
The younger dog tilted his head slightly.
"Bad enough." he said. "I definitely don't have the knowledge to fix something like this."
"Moss," Gin said, looking at the Mastiff. "Do you have anything around here that could treat this?"
The Kaisume Dake leader shook his huge head.
"Not that I know of." he said. "I wouldn't even know what to look for."
"I do." Akame said, sitting up slowly as he did. "In the Iga territory, there's an ivy that we used to use to treat wounds during the war against Koga. We used to call it 'The Healing Vine'. It should help with this."
Kurotora stepped up to them, looking determined.
"What does it look like?" he asked. "Chutora and I will go get it."
Akame opened his mouth to answer, but before he could, a new voice cut him off from outside the cave.
"What is it?" Moss asked, glancing over his shoulder at its source.
"There's a traveller outside who wants to talk to you," the voice said, and one of the Mastiff's guards walked up to them.
"Tell him not now."
"He says it's urgent, sir." the guard responded. "Life or death."
Moss grunted irritatedly and stood, turning to follow him as soon as he had.
"Fine." he said. "Let's hear what he has to say."
Gin and the others followed him quickly, Akame being helped by Chutora as they did. As soon as they emerged out into the light, they saw another of Moss's guards standing beside a young male Kishu, his tan fur glistening in the sun as he shifted his weight impatiently. Moss walked up to him as soon as he noticed his presence.
"What can I do for you young one?" he asked, and the Kishu's head swiveled his way.
Standing up straighter, he opened his mouth to speak…and promptly closed it again. Then his eyes widened and Gin could see that he was looking past Moss to someone standing behind him. The Akita pulled up a little in surprise. The newcomer's face was very reminiscent of one of their own, and it was him the young Kishu fixed his angry gaze on, ignoring everyone else around him as if they weren't even there. Then Gin heard Akame let out a gasp, and soon everyone there was looking back and forth between the two in confusion. For his part, Akame looked as though he'd seen a ghost, and almost seemed to pale beneath his white fur as his eyes went wider than Gin had ever seen them go.
"T-Takeo…?" the ninja-dog stammered, clearly shocked. "You…"
The young Kishu didn't answer. Instead, before anyone had time to react, he bolted forward with blinding speed and head-butted Akame directly in the face, sending the older Kishu flying backwards into a tree before the stunned Chutora could stop him. Then, to Gin's horror, he grabbed Akame by the throat and began smashing his head into the tree repeatedly, tears streaming down his face as he did.
"You bastard!" he screamed. "You fucking bastard! I oughta kill you right now!"
Gin rushed forward at the same time everyone else did, both he and Moss pulling the younger male off the bleeding Akame by force. The dog named Takeo didn't stop for a moment.
"My mate is dead!" he shouted, still being forcibly restrained as Akame got slowly to his feet in shock. "She's dead because of you! I hope you're happy, you son of a bitch!"
"Takeo…" Akame said softly, sounding very shaky. "I…I…"
"What?" Takeo spat. "You're sorry? You know, it was bad enough you abandoned us and made a new life for yourself! But now I have to pay for your goddamn sins, and you have the gall to stand there like nothing's wrong? Fuck you, Dad!"
Everyone stopped dead. Gin was so startled by what he'd heard that his grip momentarily loosened in shock, and Takeo managed to twist himself free, panting from the effort moments later. After that, for a long while, the whole clearing was silent, with only the sound of the morning breeze breaking the calm. Finally, Smith was the first one to recover his voice.
"D-Dad?" he stammered, clearly stunned. "Akame, this guy's your…"
There was a momentary pause, but then Akame nodded slowly.
"…Yes." he replied, his voice wavering as he looked at Takeo. "He's my son."
Then there was another long pause, and eventually Moss cleared his throat.
"I um…" he said, seemingly trying to find the right words. "I'm not sure what's going on here, but I won't tolerate unprovoked attacks in my territory, youngster. Speak your peace or leave."
Takeo stood up straighter, nodding at the larger male as soon as he had.
"My territory," he explained angrily. "My village, was invaded by an enemy pack yesterday. They've already killed a local boss dog and my mate Kotone, and are threatening to slaughter everyone else if their leader's demands aren't met."
"Who's their leader?" Gin demanded, looking at him seriously.
"He said his name was 'Izanagi'." Takeo replied, meeting his gaze momentarily before looking back at Akame. "He's a Wolfhound. He wants you to "Come home" to fight him, one on one, to the death. He said you'd know why. He also said that if you weren't there in two days time, then he'd start killing people…starting with Asami. You remember her, right?"
Akame nodded, but didn't say a word. Takeo took a step towards him, not acknowledging John and Zach as they stepped in front of him to block his way.
"I don't care about your battles," he said in a quiet hate-filled voice. "I don't care about your wars, and I don't care about you. All I care about is keeping the family that I have left safe. So whatever this is, you deal with it…and then I don't ever want to see you again. You're not my father…and I'm not your son."
Then he turned and walked away, allowing Jaguar to lead him into the cave they'd slept in as Gin and the others remained where they were, glancing at each other uncomfortably as they waited for him to be gone. As soon as he was out of earshot and everything was quiet once more, Moss looked at Gin.
"I'll be sending some of my males out on patrol." he said. "When you all are ready to talk about this, come get me."
The Akita nodded without a word and kept his gaze fixed on Akame, listening as the Mastiff plodded away behind him. The ninja-dog had turned his back to them and seemed to be trembling slightly as he sat with his head lowered, facing the trees away from the cave. Sighing deeply, Gin walked up slowly behind him, arriving at the same time John and Zach did. Seeing him approach, the two males exchanged a glance and then nodded to him before backing off, allowing their leader to deal with the situation instead. Gin was silently grateful for this, but didn't acknowledge them as he sat beside Akame instead, resting a paw comfortingly on his friend's shoulder.
"Akame…" he said slowly. "I…"
"I know, Gin." the Kishu answered, tears streaming down his cheeks. "I know. Thank you."
Gin nodded, understanding that he wanted to be alone.
"If you need anything." he said softly. "I'm here. We all are."
Akame didn't respond, and seemed to be trying to regain control of his emotions as Gin turned and headed back to the others, waiting patiently for when everyone was ready to talk about their sudden new problem.
Izanagi rolled his broad shoulders, grinning lethally as he gazed upon the dilapidated ruins of the Iga household. The once grand structure was now nothing more than a few charred beams laying on a foundation of stone, the result of the flames that gutted it and the passage of time. The Wolfhound walked slowly sideways, careful to watch for any forgotten traps that might still be lying in wait.
'How unfortunate.' he thought with sarcastic glee. 'And it was such a nice house too.'
He could almost see the images in his mind of the day long ago when he'd visited this place before, and the more they flooded his subconscious, the more angry he got. Why had he been so hung up on getting territory, he wondered? Why hadn't he thought of revenge in the first place?
'Well, the ball is in motion now.' he thought. 'Maybe I just needed a little kickstart to get it rolling. Seeing Akame's brat certainly did the trick.'
Suddenly, he heard the sound of leaves crunching under someone's paw, and he glanced over his shoulder in time to see his son walk up.
"Dad." the younger Wolfhound said. "Chase is ready. He and the others are all set to move on Nagoya if needed."
"Good." Izanagi smiled, licking his fangs. "I expect they'll be getting the orders to do so quite soon."
"You really think Akame'll go for this?"
"His children are in danger." the elder Wolfhound said almost matter-of-factly. "Parents fight when their children are in danger."
The younger Wolfhound cocked his head slightly.
"W-Would you fight for me, Dad?" he asked, his normally confident voice slightly hesitant.
Izanagi snorted and bared his teeth at him.
"Don't be selfish!" he snapped. "The only person in this world that matters is yourself, boy! No real male fights to help others…he fights to help himself!"
He turned and looked back at the Iga ruins.
"That's why our pack is getting more powerful by the day," he added, not taking his hungry eyes off of it. "Because all of these other charlatans don't realize that. Remember that, boy, and you'll always get what you want…what you deserve. Now go patrol the borders! I want some warning before he comes!"
The younger Wolfhound bowed immediately and ran off, seemingly eager to do what his father wanted. As soon as he had left, another Wolfhound emerged from the trees on the other side. This one, however, was female.
"Izanagi." she said and the large male did a double take.
"Shika!" he snapped immediately. "What the hell are you doing here? I told you to stay back in Nagoya with Chase and the others!"
"Iza," she said, paying his words no heed. "We have to stop this! Don't we have enough territory already?"
"Stop?" the Wolfhound repeated, sounding as though the concept had never occurred to him. "This is about revenge you stupid bitch! Why the hell would I stop?"
"Because of our son!" Shika said, slinking up to him with a pleading look on her face. "Iza, he's getting more violent by the day! I'm worried about him. I just want to settle down somewhere and live as a family instead of going to all these places just to fight!"
"Pfft! He's becoming a real male! Don't talk about what you don't understand!"
"You have no right to – "
Before she could even finish the sentence, Izanagi suddenly whirled around and head-butted her to the ground hard, clamping his jaws around her throat seconds later with a growl. Then he glared into her eyes.
"Don't you ever," he threatened. "Tell me what I can't do! You females are too soft. You understand nothing about war and what it means to be a male. The battlefield is no place for you, so go back to Nagoya right now or I'll grab you by the tail and drag you there! Go!"
Then he leapt off and gave her a kick with his hind legs towards the trees, showing no emotion at all when she rolled to a stop and glared up at him with tears in her eyes.
"Don't make me say it again, Shika."
The female Wolfhound gave a shaky sigh, a sad note resonating in it down to its core. Then she turned and walked quietly away, tears sliding down her furred cheeks as she left Izanagi to himself. For his part, the large male didn't even turn to watch her go. Instead, his eyes were still on the ruins of the Iga house, a constant reminder of the bloody fight that was to come. Izanagi licked his fangs.
"Your move, Akame." he thought viciously. "Your move…"
Akame sighed deeply as he approached the cave where the pack meeting was to take place. He knew that his friends were undoubtedly waiting for him inside, but so too would be Takeo, and the ninja-dog wasn't sure he could bear facing his son again. His son… Even the words sounded foreign to him and every time he looked at the other Kishu, it felt to him like he was staring at his past self, at a life that he could've had but gave up for honor and duty. When he had given Takeo and his other children away so long ago, he had honestly never expected to see them again, believing wholeheartedly that it was for the best. Now there was a stranger with his face and his blood sitting in the cave in front of him, loathing him with every fiber of his being…and Akame had no idea how it had happened. The whole situation was really starting to fray his nerves.
He took another deep breath, trying to ignore the constant pain in his still infected shoulder, and continued forward into the cave, treading lightly until he came to where he needed to be. As expected, Gin and the others were scattered around the room waiting for him, most of them deep in conversation with each other or Moss's group. As soon as Akame made his appearance, however, they all looked up. Seeing his friend approach, Gin stood quickly and gestured for everyone there to circle up, an action they all took immediately. Once they were all facing one another, Gin bowed his head slightly from his position between Moss and John.
"Akame," he said, sounding more formal than the Kishu had expected. "Are you ready?"
"Yes." the ninja-dog said with a nod, surprised at the strength in his own voice. "I don't think there's much you can learn from me, though."
"Why?" Chutora inquired, cocking his head to the side. "Do you not know this Izanagi bastard?"
Akame glanced at him.
"Apparently I must." he said. "He certainly knows me. The trouble is, I don't remember ever knowing an "Izanagi" at all."
Takeo sat forward almost indignantly.
"You don't remember?" he sputtered. "How the hell – "
Smith cut him off with a curt bark.
"Hey!" he snapped, and then glared at the younger Kishu when he met his gaze. "Enough."
Akame reversed his ears slightly.
"It's okay, Smith." he said, then looked back at Gin and Moss. "I think that the 'home' he's referring to must mean the Iga territory. If he knows about my children, then he had to have met me back during the ninja war. That's the only explanation that makes sense."
"Or he just knows you really well from following what you've done over the years." Zach said from where he was, then gestured at Takeo. "I mean…he looks remarkably like you, Akame. Anyone with eyes who's met you before could see that the two of you are related somehow."
"No." the Kishu replied. "My instincts tell me this is about the war, or at least something having to do with it."
"Who cares what it's about?" Kurotora scoffed. "Let's just go to Iga and kill this son of a bitch! Rid ourselves of this mess once and for all!"
"No." Akame repeated and almost everyone looked at him in surprise.
"No?" John said, frowning slightly. "You're just gonna let this go?"
"Of course not." the ninja-dog said, his voice still calm. "But the only one going to Iga is me."
There was an outbreak of simultaneous gasps and Chutora stepped forward.
"Akame," he said incredulously. "You're not seriously going to accept this guy's challenge are you?"
"I need you all to go to Nagoya." the Kishu insisted. "That's where my children are, and that's probably where most of Izanagi's pack will be. I need you all there to help protect them."
"Leaving you to walk into certain death in Iga." Zach said with a stunned frown. "How can you ask us to do something like that?"
"I won't die."
"In that condition?" the Malamute insisted. "Yes you will."
Akame winced in pain as another wave of hurt rippled through his shoulder. This time though, it lingered a while longer. He grimaced, trying mightily to ignore it.
"This challenge was issued to me." he said with a tone of finality. "And this dog is threatening my children. I'm going to fight him and that's the end of it."
"Then someone should go with you, Akame." Gin said, siding with Zach. "I know you feel it's your responsibility, and any other time I would trust you without question. But with that infected wound – "
"Gin," Akame said louder than he intended. "Trust me, please. I need to do this alone."
"Sir," Zach said, jumping back in before the Akita could respond. "With all due respect, this is stupid. It's obviously a trap, and there's no way in hell you can take on multiple dogs alone like that. You can barely walk."
Akame opened his mouth exasperatedly to respond, but pain shot through him again and he winced even deeper.
"Zach," he said irritatedly. "This has nothing to do with you. Be quiet and stay out of it!"
"The hell it doesn't." the Malamute said. "As your subordinate it's one of my duties to help protect you. And you won't be able to protect anyone if your busy getting ripped apart."
Akame glared angrily at him, having had enough of both the pain and the arguing.
"Just because you couldn't protect your family doesn't mean I can't protect mine!" he spat before he could stop himself. "Back off!"
The minute the words left his mouth, Akame wished he could take them back. The whole cave had gone dead silent, and each of the Kishu's friends was staring at him in shock, all of them looking staggered that the words had come from him. Startled that he had lost control like that, Akame looked up to meet Zach's eyes, and immediately felt a rush of guilt shoot through him. The Malamute hadn't moved from where he'd been standing, and the expression on his face reminded Akame of how a pup looked after being struck by a parent for the first time. Moments later, Zach broke their mutual gaze and turned away from him, clenching his jaw tightly as he did.
"Fine." he said in a voice that dripped with anger and hurt. "You wanna get yourself killed, be my fucking guest."
Then, ignoring the protests of Gin and Moss, he padded away out the cave entrance, not looking at Akame once as he did.
"Zach, I…" the Kishu tried to say, but he was gone, and Akame bit his tongue to stop himself and organize his thoughts.
Then he turned back to Gin, Moss, and John.
"Leader," he said softly. "Please. I'm asking you as a friend. Let me handle this."
Gin didn't reply for a moment, still apparently shocked at the incident moments before. Then he nodded.
"All right." he said and then turned to the others as Akame inclined his head in grateful thanks. "We're gonna need to split up to cover more ground. Smith."
The Spaniel perked up at the mention of his name.
"I want you to go to Iga with Akame." Gin said. "Not to help him, but to find the plant that grows there that can cure his infection. You have the best nose here and you're the best tracker. If anyone can find it, you can."
"Consider it done, Gin!" Smith said with an emphatic nod.
Then the Akita turned to the two dogs sitting on either side of him.
"John," he said. "Moss. The rest of us will be going to Nagoya to deal with Izanagi's pack and the dogs they're holding hostage. Moss, can you spare any of your males to help?"
"Of course." the Mastiff said. "We're not just gonna sit back while this goes on. This old demon feels the need to bite something again!"
"Well said!" John replied with an approving smirk and Gin looked over at the Kais.
"I know you two are ready." he said and they both nodded in unison.
"Always." Kurotora said with a smile of his own and Gin nodded in satisfaction.
"All right." he said. "Zach will come with us too when he…calms down a little. So will you, Takeo."
The younger Kishu nodded wordlessly, seeming calmer than before somehow. Gin continued immediately.
"Everybody make preparations to go." he said. "We move out in 2 hours."
The group all broke the circle at that, heading in different directions once they had and moving at different paces, all of them having tasks of their own to perform. Gin immediately walked up to Akame, looking at his friend with a mixture of concern and suspicion. The Kishu knew instantly what he was going to say.
"I know you're going through a lot," Gin said softly. "And I know that you know your one of my closest friends. But if I were you, I'd apologize to Zach at some point. The last thing I want right now is two of my friends hating each other."
Akame bowed his head solemnly.
"Yes, leader." he said obediently, though the words the Akita had spoken had crossed his mind before.
Gin returned the nod, concern still on his features, and then walked off after John, intending perhaps to go over battle plans with the Shepherd for the upcoming fight in Nagoya. For his part, Akame turned and began limping slowly away from the cave, heading for the apex of 6-tree ridge. Though it took him a little longer than normal to get there, by the time he had it was devoid of life, and the ninja-dog was grateful for the solitude. He sat down on a boulder in front of the middle tree, looking over the landscape silently as he tried to collect his thoughts and send his turbulent emotions back down to the cage in his heart where he was used to keeping them locked away, under control. Not that he had succeeded much in that regard over the last 24 hours.
'I need to concentrate more on the tasks at hand.' he thought bitterly. 'My old Chourou would bite me 'til I bled if he saw how much I've neglected my training today.'
Then, right as the thought left his mind, Akame heard a twig snap behind him and glanced quickly over his shoulder to see what had caused it. Expecting to see Gin or John, he was surprised to see Moss standing there looking at him, a look on the Mastiff's face that was more curious than concerned. Strangely enough, Akame found himself pleased by this, and allowed the Kaisume Dake leader to sit down beside him moments later, a firm sounding 'THUMP' echoing off the rocks as his great girth came to rest on the ground beneath them. Akame kept his gaze forward. It was just past midday, he saw, and his friend's territory was far too beautiful for them to be dealing with something like this. Still though, that was the burden of a leader. Moss's head swiveled to look at him.
"How's your shoulder?" he asked and Akame glanced at him.
"Painful." he replied, and turned his gaze forward again. "But thank you for asking."
"It's a pity all this happened so quickly." Moss said, stretching his neck slightly. "I wanted to ask you how Chibi and the others back in Ohu are doing, but…obviously other things came up."
Akame gave the tiniest of smirks.
"He's doing well." he said, grateful to talk about something else even though he knew where the conversation would inevitably lead. "But he's not 'Chibi' anymore. Goes by 'Tesshin' now."
Moss raised an eyebrow.
"'Tesshin'?" he repeated, sounding as if he were silently trying to contemplate the word's meaning. "Hmm…I like it. He'll always be 'Chibi' to me though."
Akame chuckled quietly.
"I thought so." he said, then shook his head as his smile faded. "He's so different from his father it's astonishing. It astounds me every time I look at him. The son of my enemy might actually be a great male one day."
"Because of you." Moss said, and Akame looked at him. "Because you were noble enough to take him in when his father went and offed himself."
"We all had a hand in that," Akame said dismissively. "Not just me. Besides, I'm starting to question my decisions as a father lately."
"Akame," Moss began in his deep voice. "I – "
really thought sending them away was the right thing to do." the Kishu
said, cutting him off. "That war was no place for them. It was bad
enough Hayato and his brothers had to fight in it; I didn't want my
children living through it as well."
"I thought you were the one who said that it was your duty as Igas to defend your house from Kurojaki." Moss frowned.
"I did." Akame replied. "And it was. But I didn't want them to be Igas."
When Moss looked surprised and confused, he added:
"All of my comrades, all of my fellow ninja-dogs, were highly trained and capable…and yet they still died. Young. Every last one of them. Before that, I watched them change. Every battle they fought, every kill they made, they'd come back to me different. Emptier somehow… You know as well as I do that war changes people. All it takes is one thing horrifying enough and they'll never be the same again, no matter how dedicated they are…or who trained them. I wanted Takeo to have a better life than that."
"He has." the Mastiff said simply. "What happened to his mate wasn't your fault."
"You don't know that." Akame shot back. "And if it is, I failed them. I've had enough of failing people. I need to fix the damage that's been done."
"Is that why you took in Zach?" Moss asked almost pointedly. "To fix his damage?"
Akame frowned at him.
"Zach?" he said stiffly. "He has nothing to do with this."
"Come on, Akame." Moss smirked, looking forward away from him. "I may be old and fat, but I'm not stupid. I knew that kid when he was just a pup. I also know what he turned into after the war that his pack had, the one where his mother died. The minute I saw the two of you interact in there, I knew that you must've been the one who had defeated him, who had convinced him to come with all of you. I think I know why now."
Akame didn't answer, waiting uncomfortably for him to finish. Moments later, Moss did just that.
"Because he was what your kids could've become if they'd stayed with you." he said quietly. "At least in your eyes."
Akame was silent for a long time. Then he nodded slowly.
"Yes…" he murmured. "That's the way I saw him. Gin is like the son I could've had if there was peace…and Zach's the one I would've had if there was war. And there was war in Iga, Moss."
The Kaisume Dake leader sighed deeply. Then he turned and faced his friend completely.
"Akame," he said. "You're a much wiser dog than me, but can I give you some advice?"
"I'd welcome it about now." the ninja-dog replied and Moss met his gaze once more, concern finally in his eyes.
"Don't focus so much on your regrets." he said. "Despite all this, you're still a great male, and you've done great things. You helped make Gin the leader he is, you helped bring down Akakabuto, and you helped save Zach from himself. Every one of those dogs trusts you with their lives, and I see no reason for them not to. I may be just an old dog that babbles too much, but I know that we're both growing older, and neither of us should be focusing on regrets. You should remember all the good you've done. Regrets will eat you alive."
Akame was silent, stunned by his friend's words, and suddenly felt a deeper respect for him than he ever had before as he sat there and met his gaze. Then, as if their talk had given him what he needed, the Kishu stood and looked out at the landscape in front of him once more, shooting an almost unnoticeable smile down at Moss as soon as he had.
"Moss," he said simply. "Thank you."
Then he turned and began limping off away from his friend, making the Mastiff shoot to his paws with a look of confusion.
"Where are you going?" he asked warily and Akame looked back at him.
"To finish this." he said. "Whatever it may be. I'm a soldier of Ohu…and this ends tonight."
Moss grunted in impressed surprise and opened his mouth to say more, but Akame had already turned and walked away. The Mastiff nodded to himself approvingly. Then he turned and ran off as well, heading back towards his clan's home base as he prepared to gather Gin and the others, and head for their destination.
"Moss!" Gin called as the Kaisume Dake leader galloped up to them, his tongue lolling out as he panted from the effort. "What's going on?"
He and John had just arrived back at their friend's cave, and hadn't even gotten a chance to speak to anyone before the Mastiff had appeared as well, his very aura telling Gin that what he had to say was urgent. Moments later, the large, heavily scarred dog confirmed what he suspected.
"Akame's left for Iga." he informed them. "If we want this fight to go smoothly, we should do the same."
Gin nodded instantly.
"Everyone!" he called, looking over at the others. "Get ready to move out! Smith, you know what you have to do?"
"Just leave it to me, leader." the Spaniel said, then glanced around at his friends as soon as he had. "You lot be careful! Don't get killed or something!"
"Ha!" Chutora scoffed, rolling his eyes. "We brought down Akakabuto! Dying at this hooligan's fangs would just be embarrassing!"
"Head back here to Kaisume Dake when you have what you need." Gin ordered, ignoring the Kai dog. "Do you know what you're looking for?"
"I'll figure it out." Smith said simply.
Then he turned and bounded off into the trees without another word, disappearing from view at the same time Zach emerged back into it. Upon seeing him, both Ohu leaders perked their ears up.
"Oi." John said in his smooth, confident voice, getting the other male's attention. "You okay?"
Zach nodded immediately, the expression on his face unreadable.
"I'm fine." he said dismissively. "What's going on?"
"We're leaving for Nagoya." Gin replied, meeting his gaze. "Get ready to move out."
"I'm ready now." the Malamute said in response, then looked around at the group of them with a frown. "Where's Captain Chuckles? He leave already?"
Despite the serious situation they were in, it took real effort for Gin not to laugh at this.
"Yes," the Akita replied, fighting back a smile as he heard the others all quietly snickering behind him. "Akame left for Iga already. And we need to go too."
"He left?" came a new voice and all three males found themselves looking at Takeo when they turned towards it. "He actually went?"
The Kishu sounded genuinely surprised from his position by the cave entrance and Gin inclined his head slightly, meeting his gaze.
"Of course he went." he said. "He's your father."
Takeo turned his head away.
"He's not my father." he said, though he sounded less confident now.
John looked over at the younger male irritatedly.
"Has it ever occurred to you that maybe he gave you away as a pup because he loved you?" he asked scathingly and Takeo tensed immediately. "Did you ever think for one second that maybe he just wanted you to have a better life?"
The Kishu had no answer for this and John nodded with a scoffing shake of his head.
"No," he said. "Of course you didn't."
Gin met Takeo's reluctant gaze as well, a vaguely disappointed look in his eyes.
"Your father loves you," he said. "Whether either one of you admits it or not. I'm sorry about what happened to your mate, but blaming him for it is unfair. Every leader has enemies, and as much as you may want them safe, you can't protect your family all the time. Now, despite his own weakness, your father is going to fight for you and your siblings. The least you can do is do the same."
Takeo seemed to think hard about his words for a long time, a contemplating and almost suspicious frown spreading over his face as he did. Then after looking back at Gin and studying him closely, the Kishu nodded with a guilty looking expression.
"All right." he said quietly, submitting to Gin's request.
Satisfied, the Ohu leader turned and looked at Moss.
"Moss," he said loudly. "Jaguar, are your males ready!"
"Just give the order, Gin." the Mastiff rumbled and at his side, Jaguar and dozens of battle ready subordinates nodded in agreement.
"Consider it given!" Gin said and then exclaimed, "Let's go!"
The dogs of Ohu and Kaisume Dake answered together with a combined shout of support and then followed their leader as he bounded off towards Nagoya, Takeo leading the way at his side as the Misty Mountains and their base began to fade into the distance behind them.
Akame pushed forward determinedly as he ran, his limp growing more pronounced with every step as an agonizing stab of pain shot through his infected shoulder at the slightest pressure or provocation. Still though, he needed to keep going. Time was running out for him to get to where he needed to be, and he was determined not to give this Izanagi bastard any excuse to hurt someone else before Gin and the others could to get to Nagoya and stop his pack. It had been hours since he had left his friends behind in Kaisume Dake, and the further he pushed into his former territory of Iga, the more nostalgic things became. Despite the years that had passed since he'd been there, the landscape around him still mostly looked the same, and he found himself flashing back to his time as the territory's leader, the faces of his old comrades filling his head as it all came back to him. The ninja-dog shook his head hard.
'No.' he thought. 'I need to focus. If I'm going to survive this fight, I'll need to keep a clear head.'
Still though, as hard as he tried to keep them out, the memories pushed their way through anyway, and Akame found himself thinking again of a past long gone by.
"Soudaisho!" an urgent voice yelled, its owner skidding to a halt just inside the Iga house's front entrance. "Soudaisho!"
Akame stopped his pacing, looking the younger Kishu over with a suspicious eye.
"Kirikaze," he said, acknowledging the other male by name. "What is it?"
"Sensei." Kirikaze said in a professional voice. "The Koga are moving our way. They've already killed 2 of our border guards and may be making a move to attack the house."
Akame's eyes narrowed and he looked over his subordinate's shoulder in silent animosity. Of all the terrible times to fight! He met Kirikaze's gaze, his expression unfaltering.
"Head them off by the Western border." he ordered sternly. "Kurojaki cannot be allowed to take what we protect!"
"Yes, sir!" Kirikaze barked and made to run off, but Akame called him back.
"Kirizake!" he called. "What about Chiasa? How is she doing?"
The younger ninja-dog's eyes went momentarily wide and he looked uncomfortable.
"Sir…" he said. "No one's told you?"
Akame stepped forward, a lump rising in his throat at the other male's tone of voice.
"How's my mate?" he demanded again.
Kirikaze's expression fell.
"Soudaisho…" he said in a gentle voice. "You're mate….she… There was a problem with the last birth and…"
Akame knew what he was trying to say without any further words. Slumping to the ground with a moan of horror, he felt himself trembling with grief as Kirikaze took a hesitant step forward to comfort him, then seemed to rethink it and retreated back to where he had been. The Iga leader didn't particularly care. Regaining his feet slowly, he stumbled into the other room of the elegant old building and saw a site that would burn itself into his mind forever. His beautiful mate lay dead on her side near the back wall of the room, a few of his ninja subordinates resting beside her with their heads drooped, refusing to meet his gaze. On the ground between her legs, slipping and sliding in a large pool of their mother's blood, squirmed 6 whimpering Kishu puppies, all of them crying for the touch of their mother or father as they did. Akame walked forward shakily, nosing at his children gently as he took in their scent and tried not to look at what had once been the dog he'd loved.
'So there are 6.' he thought, a momentary flicker of pride asserting itself in him. 'I told Ben there was. Oh Chiasa…I'm so sorry…"
Behind him, Kirikaze stood with a pity-filled expression.
"Soudaisho…" he said again. "What do you want us to do?"
Akame was silent for a long time, thinking hard as he straightened back up and waited for the tears streaming down his face to fall away. By the doorway he had walked through, Hayato and his elder brother appeared behind them and deposited the body of one of his border guards, the dog's face ripped up so badly that he was unrecognizable. As the brothers vanished from sight again, Akame stared at the corpse, and his expression suddenly became pained as he made up his mind. Then, as Kirikaze followed him with his gaze, he looked down at his children and swallowed hard.
"Take them North." he said softly. "Away from here. Make absolutely sure that the Koga don't see you."
Kirikaze let out a grunt of shock.
"Sir?" he said. "What do you – ?"
"I want them safe, Kirikaze." Akame said determinedly, cutting him off. "I will not let this war kill them too. You take them North and give them to humans to take care of. Then maybe they'll have a chance at a peaceful life."
"Sensei," the younger Kishu said, looking truly stunned. "I don't think that – "
"Don't question my orders!" Akame barked. "Just do it! Wherever you decide to take them, tell…tell the dogs there that their names are Asami, Hajime, Takeo, Koji, Kaito, and Ran."
He looked hard at his fellow ninja-dog.
"And tell them that when my pups are old enough," he said. "They're to swear, swear…to never become ninja-dogs like me. That's my one wish. For them to live their lives in peace and never experience this. Can I entrust you with this, Kirikaze?"
The younger Kishu looked taken aback for a moment, but then nodded with a determined look.
"Good." Akame said. "Then get it done. As quickly as you can."
Kirikaze nodded again and quickly gestured to his fellow ninja-dogs resting nearby, picking up two of the whining pups in his jaws as he did. Leaping to their feet, they each did the same and followed him as he took off running into the forest, vanishing from sight seconds later. In the darkness of the Iga house, Akame watched them go.
"Have a good life…" he said softly, his tears returning again. "Good luck."
"Well look who showed up?"
Akame snapped out of his thoughts as soon as he heard the voice, its smug tone cutting through the silence like a knife as he stopped in his tracks. Looking up, he saw that he had come to a stop near the foundation of an old house, the structure that had rested on it having long since burned and rotted away. Standing in front of it, flanked by two subordinates and wearing a triumphant grin that angered Akame down to his core, was a large Wolfhound, a dog that could only be one in the world. Izanagi smirked.
"Hello, ninja." he drawled. "Welcome home."
Moss breathed steadily as he crouched amongst the trees surrounding Nagoya, his ears catching the quiet huffs and pants of his comrades as they waited beside him. The group of them had reached the small town only 15 minutes ago, and it hadn't taken long for them to find where Izanagi's subordinates were holding their hostages. In the small clearing in front of them, a large group of pet dogs sat in the middle of an equally large group of hostiles, their expressions telling the Mastiff and his friends everything they needed to know about how badly the Wolfhound's dogs were treating them. To Moss's right, Gin leaned in closely to Takeo, who had a look of fury on his face as he gazed upon the pain being inflicted on his friends and family alike.
"Takeo," the Akita whispered. "Do you recognize any of Izanagi's pack?"
The young Kishu didn't answer for a moment, and only spoke when two other Wolfhounds, a female and a young male, came over the hill beyond the clearing into view.
"That one's his second in command." he said, gesturing at the male Wolfhound with his muzzle. "He said it was his son."
"All right," Gin said, watching as the two Wolfhounds started to argue. "We move in on my signal. Moss, you and John lead the charge from the front. Zach, you and I will hit them from above. Everyone clear?"
Then he gave a pointed glare at John, Zach, and Kurotora.
"Take all the enemy dogs down," he said. "But only kill when necessary. We have innocents caught in the crossfire here. I mean it. NO unnecessary deaths."
All three gave different forms of the same amused snort.
"You make that sound like it was such a bad thing." Kurotora said with a smirk, but Gin ignored him.
When Moss followed his friend's gaze back to the scene in front of him though, they were greeted with a surprise. The young male Wolfhound was gone and the female was moving off back into the town, a determined look on her face.
"Damn it." Gin swore, seeing it too. "Go! GO!"
At that, Moss shot back to his paws and charged forward out of the bushes, John, Jaguar and the Kai brothers at his side as he did. Izanagi's troops were caught completely off guard. John tackled the nearest one, a mutt of some kind, to the ground immediately and ripped his throat out before the other male could so much as yelp in surprise or call for help from his comrades. As it turned out though, they heard him anyway.
"Shit!" one of them, a Rottweiler, yelled. "Kill them! Kill the hostages!"
Then the whole clearing erupted into a snarling, bloody chaos. Moss saw Jaguar and one of the enemy dogs come together in a thrashing, snarling mass a few feet over, their heads smashing together with a loud 'POP' before blood started to fly from them both. He meanwhile, saw that the pet dogs had started to run and dashed immediately to help them, bowling over two of Izanagi's dogs as they tried to cut them off. Then he felt a pain in the nape of his neck and looked up to see another enemy on top of him with its fangs sunk deeply into his flesh. Moss gave a short laugh.
"Young one," he snorted. "Mosquitos have wounded me deeper."
Then, with one hard jerk of his huge body, Moss sent the unfortunate dog flying into another of his comrades, both of them crashing to the ground in a heap moments later. The Mastiff could've howled with excitement. This was exactly the kind of action he'd needed for a long time. His happiness, however, was nearly short lived. To his right, he suddenly saw a Borzoi from Izanagi's pack lunging to attack a small St. Bernard puppy cowering on the ground nearby, and none of his friends was near enough to stop it.
"No!" he snarled in horror, throwing himself after the enemy dog uselessly.
Suddenly, though, a blue flash dropped out of the trees above the Borzoi and leveled him with one hard slash across the throat, landing on all fours neatly a moment later. Moss sighed with relief. It was Gin. As the pup's mother came running back and grabbed the tiny, trembling form, the Ohu leader leapt back into the fray, taking out two more dogs at once as Zach suddenly lunged out of another tree and decapitated a Saluki that was about to attack him from behind. Moss was deeply impressed and decided to go in their direction, seeing John and Chutora causing all sorts of havoc to his left as he did. Moments later, Zach leapt up into the air again and landed in front of the fleeing female Wolfhound, stopping her dead in her tracks as Gin and Takeo came running up as well. The Malamute growled at her.
"Where do you think you're going?" he demanded in a threatening voice.
To Moss's surprise, she was not at all defiant.
"Please…" she begged. "Don't kill me!"
Takeo narrowed his eyes.
"Are you Izanagi's sister?" he asked and she shook her head.
"N-No." she said shakily. "He's my – was my mate. I came back to get my son and get away from him."
Moss cocked his head as the Kishu gave a look of surprise.
"Get away from him?" he repeated. "So you don't want to protect him."
"I just want my son." she said more forcefully, regaining some courage. "Izanagi is dead to me. I don't care what happens to him now."
Then it was Moss's turn to be surprised as a sly looking smile suddenly passed over Zach's face, causing Gin to turn to him warningly.
"I don't like that look, Zach." he warned, but the Malamute ignored him.
"If we promise your son safety," he said to the female. "Will you help us bring down Izanagi?"
The Wolfhound looked both shocked and grateful.
"Yes." she said, nodding emphatically. "I swear it!"
"Zach," Gin said, turning to his comrade completely. "What are you doing? She's no soldier! We can't put her in harm's way just because she's Izanagi's mate!"
"Oh yes we can." Zach retorted, and then gave Gin a strange smile. "I have an idea, leader."
Akame narrowed his eyes at Izanagi, feeling his strength slowly waning as more of the evil Wolfhound's subordinates came slinking out the trees around them until he was all but surrounded. He wasn't surprised by this, having not trusted the other male for a minute when he'd heard the challenge, but even so, it put him at even greater risk. The chances of him emerging from the confrontation alive were dimming by the second. The Kishu glared at the smirking Wolfhound.
"All right." he said in a voice that dripped with anger. "I'm here. Tell your dogs to leave my family alone."
"Heh," the large male laughed. "You didn't seriously think I'd let them go did you? By now they should already by dead. Which leaves only you to deal with."
Akame forced back his sudden fear. He trusted his friends. There was no way they'd ever let that happen. He growled at his enemy.
"Why the hell are you doing this?" he demanded. "I've done you no harm!"
Izanagi looked staggered, his expression akin to that of someone who had just received the most shocking news in his life.
"Done me no harm?" he snarled. "You – You – "
Then Akame saw him look closer at him, his shoulder now feeling like someone was twisting a knife into it. Moments later, the Wolfhound's eyes went wide.
"You don't remember…" he realized in fury. "You bastard! How could you not remember?"
Then he suddenly launched himself at Akame in a fit of rage, forcing the Kishu to dodge aside quickly to avoid getting hit. Unfortunately, doing this meant landing on his bad leg and he immediately came up limping with a loud groan of pain, wincing as he tried to mentally will it away. This didn't last very long. Izanagi barreled into him seconds later with punishing speed, sending him rolling to the dirt with a grunt to land on his back. From there, the enraged Wolfhound grabbed him by the leg, swinging him into the trunk of a nearby tree hard with a wood-splintering 'CRASH' as soon as he had. Akame growled in pain, forcing himself shakily to his paws once more. Seeing Izanagi leap in to hit him again, he managed to gather his strength and dodge the attack, slashing his opponent's eye as hard as he could in the process.
Izanagi gave a cry of anguish, pawing at his face instinctively as his subordinates all rushed at Akame in fury. Seeing this, the ninja-dog dodged left and right, ducking under bites and leaping over slashes until one of them finally managed to grab him by the tail, yanking him to the ground with a 'THUD' as soon as he had. Then Akame of Iga felt fangs tear into him everywhere. With mouthfuls of his flesh between their jaws, Izanagi's troops twisted their heads around violently and tried to rip chunks right off his body, making him yelp in pain as he tried to fight passing out. Then though, one of them bit him right on the infected part of his shoulder and Akame howled in agony, feeling a strong pair of jaws snap down on the upper part of his muzzle as soon as he had. It was Izanagi himself, and he was none too happy.
"I bet that hurt, didn't it?" he said in a subtlely mocking voice. "That looks pretty infected, Akame. Looks like we're only ending your life a couple weeks early."
"Izanagi…" Akame said softly, trying mightily to stay conscious. "I don't know why you're doing this, but I'll never let you get away with it. Gin will never let you get away with it."
"Gin of Ohu is a wannabe." the Wolfhound spat, licking Akame's own blood off his fangs as he did. "We'll be long gone by the time he gets here. And as for you…"
He leaned in closer and looked Akame in the eyes.
"You're gonna remember me," he threatened with a bloodthirsty look. "One way or another. Is it coming back yet? Remember back during your little ninja war? I offered you my assistance you tried to have me killed!"
Akame looked at the ground, trying as hard as he could to remember. He couldn't ever recall having met the Wolfhound before. Unless… Suddenly, it hit him. There was an incident, though a very small one, during one of his first years in charge of the Iga ninja-dogs. But that was nothing, barely anything at all! That couldn't be what all this was about could it? The more it came back to him though, the more he realized that that was indeed what the evil Wolfhound was referring to. Giving his opponent a look of shock, Akame saw Izanagi nod knowingly.
"Yeah," he drawled. "You remember."
"You – You –" Akame sputtered. "You did all this because of that?"
Izanagi straightened up where he stood.
"I offered to join your clan and help you defeat the Koga ninja-dogs." he said. "Instead of taking me up on my offer, you tried to kill me and had your coward subordinates throw me out of your territory by force. I was left with nothing."
"You attacked me." Akame shot back, still shocked by the pointlessness of the whole thing. "We were in the middle of a war and I didn't even know who you were. Despite that, I tried to be polite to you and send you on your way, but before I could even open my mouth to explain why, you attacked me without provocation. That's why we kicked you out of our territory. I never once tried to kill you."
Izanagi suddenly spun around and kicked the ninja-dog in the jaw with his hind leg, making him grunt loudly in pain and go flying backwards into another tree. The impact split Akame's head open on a broken branch, and he slumped to the ground again as blood came streaming down into his white fur, staining it with red. Then the Wolfhound stalked up to him again.
"Did you know that there was a time when I actually admired you?" he said. "Despite the fact that you were younger than me. After that day though, I've just wanted to make you suffer ever since. How dare you do that to a male like me?"
Then he smirked down at the Kishu.
"Well, it's a new day, Akame." he drawled. "Now that my pack and I are about to take all this country's territories for our own, I figured I'd start with you. Then, when I'm the ruler of Gajou, I'm going to bury you somewhere close by so I can spit on your grave every morning when I'm finished making new heirs with my mate. What do you think of that?"
Akame breathed heavily, glaring up at him furiously.
"You're a thug, Izanagi." he said. "Nothing more. That's all you've ever been. All you do is hurt others to make yourself feel powerful. That's the mark of a coward, not a real male. You're unworthy to walk on that holy ground where my friends gave their lives, and you never will."
The Wolfhound was beside himself.
"All you ever did was hurt your opponents to show your power!" he barked. "That's why I came to join you! You're not just a coward, Akame, you're a hypocrite on top of it! I'll be doing the world a favor by killing you!"
"We were fighting for a cause!" the Kishu replied shortly. "We were trying to defeat them, to protect our house and its documents! You were just there to kill. That's all you cared about."
"What do you think war is, you stupid fuck?" Izanagi snarled and Akame's eyes suddenly went deadly.
"Don't you dare lecture me about war, you disrespectful piece of shit!" he growled in a low, rage-filled voice, sounding nothing like himself. "I've watched friends of mine die in battle since I was a pup…and every minute since then I have tried to end the fighting and bring peace back to my home. You think I wanted to kill them all? If I could've worked my will, the only one who would have died was Kurojaki himself. Being a ninja-dog is about honor, loyalty, and doing what's right. That's why I turned you away…because you had none of those things. You were, and still are, just a violent hooligan pretending he's great. You're nothing!"
Izanagi howled in fury and grabbed him by the neck with his jaws, tearing bloody slashes in his flesh as he swung around and threw him back into the middle of the clearing. Then he looked around at his subordinates.
"Beat him to death!" he shouted. "And make it painful!"
The group of dogs all acknowledged him with loud shouts of their own and rushed the fallen Ohu commander, bloodthirsty looks on their faces as Akame struggled in vain to regain his feet.
Everyone skidded to a halt as the new voice echoed across the clearing, and Izanagi whipped his head around to look for its source.
"Who the hell?" he said, sounding angry at being interrupted.
Akame followed the Wolfhound's gaze and gasped in shock as he saw a familiar face standing on a hill overlooking the scene. It was Zach. Izanagi glared up at him.
"Who the hell are you?" he demanded and Zach snorted.
"I'm Zach." he said simply, then nodded at Akame. "I'm with him."
"Well you're too late to save him." Izanagi said, "Now fuck off!"
Zach seemed unfazed, and Akame tried to look him in the eyes, not liking the calculating look on the Malamute's face one bit as he tried to catch his breath and speak up.
"This doesn't look much like a one-one-one duel to me." Zach sneered. "Maybe you should live up to your own terms before things start going badly for you."
Izanagi turned and looked at him.
"Why don't you run along and play, boy?" he said in an extremely condescending voice. "The adults are busy at the moment."
"All right." he said. "I just came to let you know that you lost something."
At that, he reached behind him and came back with another dog's throat between his jaws, its owner struggling against his hold. Izanagi froze.
"Iza!" the dog cried. "Help me!"
It was Shika. Behind Izanagi, a second new voice suddenly made itself known.
The evil Wolfhound whirled and saw his son standing in the bushes where he'd been hiding, a scared look on his face as he saw his mother's predicament.
"What are you doing here?" he howled. "I told you to stay – "
"Izanagi," Zach threatened loudly, cutting him off. "You're gonna call off your dogs and fight fairly or I'm gonna kill your mate…right in front of you."
Akame gasped, finally regaining his voice.
"Zach!" he yelled. "Stand down! This isn't your fight!"
"Shut up, Akame." the younger male replied simply.
"This isn't how a real male acts! Have you forgotten everything we taught you?"
"Shut up, Akame!"
The Kishu went silent in shock and Zach looked back at Izanagi, cracking his neck as he did.
"You have 5 seconds to call them off or I rip off one of her ears." he said and the Wolfhound shook his head with a confident smirk.
"You don't have the balls." he said, licking his fangs. "You're bluffing."
Zach was silent for minute and stared right into his eyes. Then he leaned forward.
"5." he said simply.
Then, to everyone's shock, he threw Shika on the ground out of their sight, grabbed something in his jaws, and jerked his head back hard. An agonized shriek of pain pierced the calm and when Akame looked again, he clearly saw Zach spit a severed ear out of his mouth on the ground. Izanagi howled in fury.
"You fuck!" he bellowed. "I'll kill you! I swear to god, I'll – "
"YOU SWEAR WHAT?" Zach cut him off with a terrifying roar. "WHAT DO YOU SWEAR, YOU SICK FUCK? CALL THEM OFF RIGHT NOW OR SO HELP ME GOD, I'LL RIP HER LIMB FROM LIMB! DO IT!"
Akame felt a chill go through the parts of his body he could still feel. Unblinkingly, he stared at Zach in horror, wondering what had happened to make everything go so wrong. The Malamute met his gaze seriously.
"Akame." he said, lowering his voice. "This is your battle. Do what you will, sir."
Then, to the Kishu's surprise, Zach winked at him, a gesture he was sure no one saw but him. Grunting under his breath as he saw it, he held the other male's gaze for a long time, hearing Izanagi furiously calling off his remaining subordinates as he did. Then Zach gave a little nod and Akame returned it, deciding to trust him as he forced himself to his paws moments later. This done, he turned to the clearly shaken Izanagi, who glared up at Zach hatefully.
"I'll hunt you down for this, you bastard." he threatened in a low voice. "You and your entire family."
"I'm all aquiver." he said sarcastically and Izanagi growled, turning back to Akame.
"First though" he hissed, "I'll deal with you."
Akame lowered himself into a battle stance.
"Let's finish this, then." he said. "I have family waiting for me."
The Wolfhound lunged immediately with a full-throated snarl, his sharp fangs aimed at Akame's face. For his part, the Kishu gathered his remaining strength and waited for the right moment to strike, doing so right before his opponent reached him. Leaping forward at an angle, he slashed Izanagi up the side of his throat and sent blood flying from the impact, making the evil dog stumble as he landed. Then Akame lunged again, but this time Izanagi whirled around and head-butted him hard right between the eyes, making the Kishu fall back into the same tree he'd hit before. When the Wolfhound charged again right after this, Akame knew that he had to end it with his next attack, as he just didn't have the strength left to keep going. Positioning himself just right, he grabbed a branch broken from his earlier impact and waited for Izanagi to get close enough. Then, right as the Wolfhound's fangs were about to end his life, Akame whirled around and drove the branch into the other male's open mouth as hard as he could, making the sharpened end of it explode out the back of his neck moments later in an explosion of blood. Izanagi's eyes went wide with shock and then rolled up into his head as he dropped like a rag doll, landing with a dull 'THUD' on his side. He was dead before he hit the ground. Then Akame's remaining strength failed him as well and he fell over onto his side too, breathing shallowly as his vision began to blur.
"Akame!" Zach cried and then turned to Moss, who stood quickly from where he had been concealed. "Moss-san! We – "
"I know!" the Mastiff said with a nod. "I'm on it!"
Then he charged down the slope at the Wolfhound's remaining subordinates, all of whom yelped in fright at his sheer size and ran away as a group, tripping over each other as they tried to get away. Moments later, they had disappeared into the woods. Moss skidded to a halt by Akame.
"They won't get away." he said with a satisfied look, as if he knew what the Kishu was thinking. "Jaguar and the rest of my pack are waiting for them a few hundred feet in there. They won't get far."
Akame nodded but said nothing, looking instead back up to where Zach was running down the hill towards them. Another figure was at his side though, and Akame recognized it immediately as the female the Malamute had been holding, both ears intact and looking totally unharmed. He smiled weakly, happy that his earlier suspicions had been correct. Shika, for her part, trotted up to her son, who hadn't moved since his father had fallen.
"It's all right!" she said in a comforting voice to him. "It's okay!"
Her son, however, didn't look comforted at all.
"Mom…?" he said in a hollow sounding voice. "H-He ripped your ear off! I saw it!"
She shook her head.
"It was another dog's ear from an earlier fight." she said. "Not mine. But it's over now! Now we can live in peace again!"
He glared at her in utter betrayal and disgust, his eyes growing wide.
"You planned this?" he whispered. "You worked with them? They're the enemy! They killed Dad!"
"No," she pleaded with him. "They're not the enemy! I'm sorry you had to see this, but your father needed to be stopped. Please, now you and I can be a family!"
She reached out to nuzzle him comfortingly with her nose, but he jerked away angrily.
"You bitch." he said with a furious look. "I'll never forgive you! You bitch!"
Then he turned and ran off into the trees as well and Shika gasped, turning to Zach.
"Please," she said. "Can I…?"
The Malamute nodded.
"A promise is a promise." he said. "We won't hunt him down. Go on."
She nodded gratefully at him.
"Thank you for everything." she said and then took off after her son, yelling his name loudly as she did. "Kamakiri! Kamakiri, wait!"
Moments later, her voice faded and they were both gone. Zach immediately leapt up to Akame's side.
"Hang in there, Akame!" he said and the Kishu looked up at him weakly.
"You're…a disturbingly good liar…" he said and Zach smiled.
"I had some practice." he replied and Moss gently picked up his friend by the neck, throwing him onto his back seconds later as softly as he could.
Once the Kishu was positioned so it wasn't painful for him, the small group set off back the way they came, heading towards where Gin and the others were undoubtedly waiting for them. Akame looked up at Moss as they did.
"My…children…?" he asked and the Mastiff nodded.
"They're fine." he said reassuringly. "Don't worry."
"Get some rest." Zach added from his position alongside the larger dog.
Akame's tired gaze panned to him, a ghost of a smile on his muzzle.
"I'm sorry for what I said earlier," he whispered. "About your family. I didn't mean that at all. And I'm sorry I doubted you. I should know better than to doubt you by now, Zach."
The Malamute looked touched and gave him a warm smile.
"Get some rest, Akame." he repeated quietly and the Kishu did just that, slipping into unconsciousness as the small group walked off back home.
Akame inhaled deeply as he awoke, an amalgam of scents finding their way to his sensitive nose as his eyes fluttered open. Even before his vision adjusted, he could tell that he was back in Kaisume Dake, and he wondered silently how Gin and the others were faring after their victory in Nagoya. He was back in Moss's main base cave, he could see, and there seemed to be no one else there with him, although traces of their scents still lingered from before. As his senses returned fully though, he felt that his back was pressed up against something warm, and despite knowing immediately that it was another dog, he was greatly surprised to hear the voice that followed.
"How do you feel?"
Forcing himself to roll onto his other side, Akame found himself looking at Takeo, whose concerned and hesitant eyes were fixed onto the ninja-dog's own. The older Kishu grunted softly.
"I'll live." he said. "Are you all right?"
"So is Asami," he said. "And my…"
"…my other friends." the younger Kishu finished, looking away. "Everyone somehow made it through alive. We owe your friends a great debt."
Akame sensed that he was hiding something, but let it slide anyway. He was still too tired to argue. Pushing himself into a sitting position, he stretched his back slowly.
"They'll be pleased to hear it." he said, looking out the cave opening.
Takeo, however, called his attention back moments later.
"Dad?" he said, and Akame was startled enough by the word's usage that he turned back to the younger Kishu with widened eyes.
Then Takeo smiled at him, and the guilt behind it was as plain as day.
"Thank you," he said. "For – For fighting for us. It seems I may have been wrong about you."
Akame nodded at him, feeling very touched deep down. Moments later, Takeo stood, looking around as he did.
"I better go." he said. "I've got an entire village of dogs who are gonna be looking to me to get them through this. I shouldn't keep them waiting long."
Akame stood as well, looking at his son apologetically.
"Takeo," he said. "I need you to know…when I gave you all away, it was never because I didn't love you, or I didn't want you. It was because I loved you too much. You deserved better than what I could've given. I didn't want that war to take you too."
The younger Kishu nodded, his ears reversing as his smile remained.
"I know." he said and Akame pulled up slightly in surprise.
Takeo nodded again.
"Yeah." he said. "You're my father…and I'm your son."
It took all the willpower Akame possessed to hold back his tears at this, but he managed it admirably as Takeo stepped up to the cave entrance. Then he met his father's gaze one last time.
"Bye Dad." he said simply.
Then, before Akame could respond, Takeo of Nagoya turned and vanished out the entrance, disappearing into the trees as soon as he left the cave and reentered the outside world. Smiling after him, Akame walked outside as well, seeing multiple familiar faces as soon as he had.
"Akame!" Gin exclaimed, turning from where he had been talking to John and Moss. "You're awake!"
"Mmm." the ninja-dog nodded. "And it seems I'm healing well. How long was I out?"
"Almost 2 days." Kurotora said, walking up beside Gin. "You had us worried."
Akame blinked in surprise. Had it really been that long? He looked at them almost sheepishly.
"Sorry." he said sincerely, then looked over at Smith. "You found what you needed I assume?"
"Of course." the Spaniel said with a nod and Akame cocked his head.
"How long did it take you?" he asked. "I didn't even get a chance to tell you where to look."
Smith gave a laugh.
"I'm Master Detective Smith!" he grinned proudly. "Nothing escapes my nose."
The Kishu raised his eyebrows at his friend, secretly impressed. Then he shook his head.
"At least it's over now." he replied. "And I'm glad that you all made it out all right as well."
"Pff! It was hardly a challenge." John boasted with a snort. "I've been in more intense arguments. My fangs barely got any action at all."
"Yeah," Zach smirked from Smith's side. "Too bad the rest of your mouth won't follow their example."
Both packs laughed at this, and the Shepherd scowled at the Malamute.
"It might when it's wrapped around your throat." he shot back and Akame chuckled with another shake of his head.
"Good to see you two will never change." he said and Gin nodded in amused agreement, turning to Moss as he did.
"Moss," he said. "Now that Akame's on the mend, we should probably head on. You're welcome to join us."
"Yeah," Chutora chimed in. "Come with us, Pops!"
The Mastiff shook his head.
"I'd love to." he said. "But Jaguar and I are going to be busy in the aftermath of all this. Our borders need to be strengthened; Takeo's pack might need assistance. Seems we finally have some action of our own thanks to you."
"What can I say?" he said. "I attract trouble."
"And this old demon is eternally grateful." Moss said, his tongue lolling out. "Oh, and Chutora?"
The Kai's ear perked up at the mention of his name.
"Don't call me 'Pops'."
Then Gin looked around at his friends.
"Come on, guys!" he said. "Let's head out!"
They nodded and followed him as he began to run off, his powerful legs taking him further and further away with every stride. At the last second though, Moss called out Zach's name, making the Malamute turn around in surprise. When their gazes met, Moss nodded at the other male.
"It was good to see you again." he said. "You've done all right for yourself, boy."
"Thanks." Zach said and the Mastiff gestured at where Gin and the others had gone.
"Take care of them." he said. "Or else you answer to me."
Zach nodded with a smirk.
"Consider it done." he said.
Then he nodded at Jaguar and ran after the others, catching up to them moments later. Akame glanced at him as he trotted up, Moss and Jaguar already gone from their view.
"Everything all right?" he asked and Zach nodded, falling in line beside him.
"Yeah." he answered. "We're good."
"Good." Akame said in a satisfied voice, then turned his gaze to the group's leader. "Where to now, Gin?"
The Akita glanced back at him.
"Shikoku." he replied. "It's time we paid Musashi a visit."
Smith groaned slightly.
"That's a long way, leader!" he said and Gin smiled teasingly at him.
"In that case," he said. "We better start right away."
Then the Ohu army continued down the path and began heading South once more, their hearts set on reaching the island territory of Shikoku…and their fight dog comrade who resided there.
Takeo looked around as he walked down his village street, blinking fatigue out of his eyes as he did. The sun was just beginning to set over the Western horizon, and Nagoya's rustic buildings seemed to shimmer in the gleam from its last waning rays. The Kishu kept his pace steady, stretching his neck as he heard another dog pad up silently beside him. It was his sister, Asami.
"Brother," she said. "Is everything all right?"
"Yes." he said. "I think it will be now. Are the others all back with their masters?"
"Most of them." she said. "I'm helping the last few get to theirs now."
"Good." he said, then looked at her with a sad smile. "I need to get home. Someone's waiting for me."
She gave him a look that was filled with both pity and love.
"If you need any help," she said. "You know where to find me."
He nodded gratefully, and she turned and continued on down the street, disappearing from his view right as he reached his master's yard. Leaping over the gate, he was immediately confronted by another, much smaller form, its tiny legs pumping furiously as it ran out to meet him.
"Dad!" the pup squeaked. "Dad! You're home!"
Takeo nodded, nudging it gently with his nose.
"Yeah." he said. "I'm home."
He paused to collect himself.
"She had to go away." he said shakily and the puppy panted excitedly, not understanding what he meant.
"Where were you all day, Dad?" he asked. "We're you helping somebody?"
"Actually…" Takeo said thoughtfully. "Someone was helping me."
"Who was it, Dad?"
Takeo smiled at him.
"A great male." he said. "Some day, Shirozaru…I'll tell you all about him."
Then he leaned down and picked up the squirming pup in his mouth, disappearing inside his master's house moments later as the sun set behind him in his wake.