Final Story: The War - Part 3
Part 3: Coming Home
Sleet stung at Gin's face like thousands of tiny knives as he ran, his swiftly moving paws kicking up a spray behind him as each of his footfalls left the ground and repeated the motion over and over. The storm had started less than half an hour ago, but already it felt like it had been going on forever…a feeling the Akita was sure his companions shared. It certainly felt like forever since he had been this way, but with the ever-present figures of John and Akame tailing him like duplicate shadows, that fact didn't work its way under his skin as much as he thought it would. On the contrary, it was other matters related to their sudden mission that bombarded him with anxiety and fear.
'Go on. Don't look back.'
Those had been his mother's final parting words to him as he ran off to join Ben and his pack all those years ago, and now that he was on his way towards her for the first time since, Gin wondered what he would even say to her when he came running into town. Was she even still alive? He hadn't heard news to the contrary, but he also hadn't been checking up on her either.
'Yes,' he told himself, 'She's still alive. I would've heard if she had died. …But what about Daisuke?'
It was confronting the young man that Gin somehow feared even more, and though he wanted badly to see his former best friend once more after so very long, another part of him felt guilty for leaving at all. There was no way Daisuke could have understood the reasons he had to go. How could he have? To him it probably had just seemed like abandonment, and that thought stung Gin squarely in his conscience. The Akita shook his head, dispelling the disquieting thoughts from it. First things first, he knew…they had to stop the Nomads from reaching both of them. Zach had seemed pretty certain that the dogs he had seen were up to no good, and Gin was inclined to believe him, trusting the Malamute's instincts enough not to take any chances, especially with his family. Certain things about the sudden meeting with the group's former member confused him though, mainly why he had seemed so determined to personally tackle a mission so mundane for a dog of his talents.
'Maybe he hasn't gotten over what happened in Shikoku after all.' the Ohu leader pondered. 'That would explain why he didn't come back before now, and why he shut himself off from us…which would in turn explain why he didn't know about Chutora.'
That seemed like a satisfactory answer to Gin, and though a lingering doubt nagged him, he didn't have time to focus on it for long. Akame spoke up from his right, speaking loudly over the sounds of the weather around them.
"Leader," he called. "We're coming up on Tokobu Valley! Your mother's village should be just ahead!"
"I know," the Akita replied seriously. "Let's not waste time talking! We need to get there before anyone else does!"
Both males answered with affirmative grunts and Gin pushed himself faster, moving at great speed as they flew up the last hill and suddenly found themselves overlooking a sleepy human village, it's buildings still mostly dark as the town's inhabitants prepared to awaken to the new morning that was quietly creeping in amongst them. As it was, a few of them were already up and about, walking down the town's dirt roads with a sense of purpose, as if they knew exactly where they wanted to go and wouldn't let anything stand in their way of reaching there. Amongst these early risers was a group of young men heading towards the woods at the opposite end of town, each of them carrying bags as they prepared for a trip of some kind.
As soon as he saw them, Gin skidded to an abrupt halt, a cloud of dust and water erupting around his paws as his claws dug into the dirt beneath him. At the back of the group, where the Ohu leader's gaze immediately fixed, a tall young man with short black hair struggled to catch up to his friends, fiddling with a zipper on his bag as he did. Gin felt a rush of nostalgia fill him. He would recognize Daisuke anywhere. That, however, was not what had given him pause. The group of dogs covertly trailing in his wake held that honor, and Gin felt his heart leap into his throat as he saw them in an attack formation, their movements swift and silent as they hunted the group like prey. He wasted no further time.
"Akame!" He said. "Go to where my mother is and get her! John, come with me!"
Neither male acknowledged him but immediately leapt into action, the latter following Gin down into an alleyway as they sped off after Daisuke and the former leaping around the corner of a nearby building and disappearing from sight.
Akame picked up his pace as he skidded around another corner and his target came into view. The house that once had been his leader's home lay on the western border of town, surrounded on one side by a small grove of trees and shrouded in darkness as the storm floated by overhead. The ninja dog scanned it with his piercing gaze. Though on a better day it would surely have been pleasant to look at, now it seemed to have an aura of doom resonating from every board and brick, and Akame was more than a little wary as he vaulted the perimeter fence with ease and landed in its spacious yard. The moment he had, he looked around carefully. The house itself seemed quiet, devoid of any activity or life, and Akame was far more interested in the barn-like building that hid behind it like a shy child behind a parent, its side just poking out from around the back. The ninja dog trotted towards it slowly and took it in, the raised slatted roof, the lanterns hanging on the wall…and the motionless figure lying in its gaping main doorway.
"Shit!" Akame swore aloud and bolted forward, hay flying out from under his paws as he skidded to a halt.
As soon as he reached the figure's side, his fears were confirmed. A red-furred female Akita lay in a slowly expanding pool of her own blood, the pungent red liquid soaking steadily into the hay that covered the floor around her. Her throat was partially slashed and was the main source of her bleeding, but Akame also noted that she had deep bite marks on the back of her neck and stomach, suggesting that her attackers had tried to force information from her before delivering the fatal blow. He looked at her face. Despite her clearly advance age, she was also strangely beautiful, and Akame had a feeling she always had been.
'As expected from Riki's mate.' He thought sadly, taking a step away from her still form. 'I'm sorry that we were too late.'
Suddenly, she coughed weakly and Akame perked up in shock, immediately rushing back to her as soon as he heard it.
"Be still!" He commanded softly. "You'll hurt yourself more!"
"Wh-" she whispered. "Who a-are -"
He laid a paw on her shoulder gently.
"I'm a friend of your son, Gin's." He said. "We came to help."
"G-Gin!" She gasped, perking up slightly at the name. "Oh, Gin…"
"Please don't move!" The ninja dog pleaded quietly, trying to lick her wounds softly. "Who did this to you?"
Fuji breathed shallowly.
"He s-said he was a-a police d-dog…" she rasped. "But I kn-knew something was - was wrong."
"Jacim…" he half spat and Fuji didn't acknowledge him.
"I didn't t-tell him…" she said, meeting his sympathetic gaze. "He asked m-me where my so-sons were...but I wouldn't t-tell him…"
Akame forced a smile, trying to stem the bleeding even though he knew it was useless.
"You saved them." He said. "They owe you their lives twice now. "
"He's fine." The Kishu reassured her. "He's a strong male."
Fuji got a nostalgic look in her eyes and closed them as she laid her head down gently.
"D-Don't tell him… she begged softly. "Say that I d-died before…that it wasn't his fault..."
She was rapidly losing strength, Akame saw, and though she hadn't been clear on her request, he understood anyway.
"I won't." He replied gently, and she looked much more at peace then she had before.
"He's so much l-like his father…" Fuji breathed, looking up at him again. "...S-So very much…like Riki…"
As she said the words, a proud look passed over her face and she laid her head down once and for all. Then Fuji of Tokobu Valley closed her eyes forever and was still. Akame winced openly, lowering his head in sorrow. He would honor her final request, though it pained him to lie to his friend. Gin had enough to deal with without this. Lifting her lifeless body onto his back gently, the ninja dog scattered hay over the blood pool and then leapt back over the building's perimeter fence, intending to bury her quickly on the outskirts of town with as much honor as he could give. Then he needed to get to Gin…
Gin picked up his pace as he changed streets once more, water continuing to splash up from his every step as he and John closed in on their quarry, both of them on high alert as they prepared to intercept the strange dogs before they could cause any damage of any kind. Blinking rainwater out of his vision, the Ohu leader paused at an intersection and whipped his head around, trying to find any sign of either Daisuke or his pursuers and grunting in annoyance when he located neither. Glancing over at John, he saw his friend with his nose to the ground, trying to pick up any fresh scents that may have been left behind. Gin took a step his way.
"Anything?" he asked and the Shepherd shook his head.
"No." he said gruffly. "Where the hell did they all go?"
Gin clenched his jaws tightly, looking around one more time.
"We should split up." he said. "We can't let them get to – "
"Mister! Hey, Mister!"
Both males whipped their heads towards the sudden voice in surprise, pulling back in confusion when they saw a young pup standing beside them a few feet away. Gin frowned. The newcomer was a young Dalmatian, not much older than a few months, and he seemed to be scared of something. Putting aside his curiosity as to how the pup managed to sneak up on seasoned warriors like themselves, Gin turned to face him, hearing John's voice break their silence before his could.
"Not now, kid." the Shepherd said rudely. "We're busy."
"B-But there's a human!" the pup squeaked. "In the junkyard!"
He turned and motioned over his shoulder with his head at a nearby tall fence.
"A bunch of big dogs jumped on him and dragged him inside! I think he's hurt!"
Gin's blood ran cold.
"Show me!" he demanded, taking a step forward. "SHOW ME!"
The pup nodded fast and ran off towards the fence, his tiny legs making it so both Gin and John passed him after only a few strides. Gin didn't care. Leaping the fence in one bound, he whipped his head around powerfully as John landed beside him, looking for any sign of the human he knew had to be Daisuke. That's all he had time to do. Suddenly, something hit the Akita from behind hard and sent him flying face first into the dirt a few feet away, John landing beside him with a pained grunt. Then teeth tore into him from all sides, the weight that had put him down in the first place staying on his back as sharp pain shot through his neck, legs, stomach, tail and flanks. Panicking, Gin lashed out as hard as he could in every direction, throwing most of his attackers off with grunts of pain and managing to tear the throat out of one before he was knocked onto his back and the rest were on him again, more dogs joining them in holding him down as John cursed and snarled somewhere nearby. Then, before he could fight any more, he was flipped back onto his stomach and held down by at least 7 dogs, all of them putting their full weight into him so he was immobile. Gin growled, wincing from the attack as he looked at what now lay in front of him. Standing on top of a pile of wrecked cars a few feet away, his dark brown eyes scanning the scene with a triumphant, smug look, stood a large Norwegian Elkhound, 2 subordinates flanking him on either side as he remained motionless atop his perch. At his feet, so small he only came up to his knees, was the pup they had followed, and Gin let out a small growl of anger. They'd been tricked. The Elkhound remained silent for a moment, then turned his head to the pup, keeping his eyes locked with Gin's as he did.
"Thank you, Hinata." he said, his voice smooth and disarming. "You can go now."
The pup seemed to pout slightly.
"But you said I'd get a reward!" he whined. "I did good!"
The Elkhound turned to face him with a smile that made Gin's danger instincts go wild.
"You know," he said. "I did, didn't I? Well, I'm a dog of my word kid. Turn around and close your eyes."
"Because this reward is a surprise." the Elkhound said, nosing his cheek like a teasing father would.
The pup nodded excitedly and did what he said, turning around and shutting his eyes tightly, his tail still wagging in happiness at the reward he was about to receive. For his part, the Elkhound turned and smirked at Gin.
"Watch this." he drawled almost lazily. "This is my favorite part."
Then, before Gin could do a thing, he reached behind him, grabbed what looked like a machete in his jaws and brought it down on the pup's neck as hard as he could, decapitating him in one blow and sending a spray of blood spattering all over the wrecks lying nearby. Gin's horrified gasp turned into a full on snarl at that, his ears hearing John doing the same beside him as his captors stomped on his face repeatedly to keep him under control. Up top, the Elkhound tossed the blade aside, turning back to Gin with a satisfied look as it fell with a metallic sounding 'CLANG' out of his view.
"Praise be to God." he grinned and Gin heard a chorus of voices echo him from every side of the junkyard, his instincts estimating at least 30 or more dogs from just those words alone.
The Akita trembled in hatred as he glared up at the enemy leader.
"Which one are you?!" he snarled furiously. "Draven? Jacim? I'm assuming you're not 'Mercy'."
The dog shook his head, giving a 'tsk-tsk' noise as he did.
"Gin of Ohu." he said. "You're taller than I thought you'd be. You know following people is a dangerous habit."
"How dare you bring this fight to my home!" the Akita growled in reply, still struggling against the grip he was being held in. "And using that poor kid! I ought to kill you where you stand!"
At those words, Gin felt the jaws on the back of his neck tighten and a new voice spoke up from right above him.
"Should we kill them, Jacim-sama?"
"Not. Until. I. Say so." came the blunt reply and the dog who had spoken stepped off of Gin to move forward in protest.
"But sir," he said. "They pollute this place with their filth! Lord Draven gave us specific orders to – "
"Tell me my orders again, captain." Jacim growled with a deadly look. "And I'll remind you why they call me 'Wrath'."
The dog, a Coonhound, seemed to whiten beneath his fur and scrambled backwards with a deep bow, resuming his position atop Gin. For his part, the Akita looked over and exchanged a glance with John, the Shepherd returning his nod as he understood the silent order to wait for his leader's signal. Then Gin turned to glare at Jacim again, the Elkhound seeming lost in thought as to what to do with them.
"I thought you were a police dog, you pathetic disgrace!" the Ohu leader snapped, trying to provoke the Nomad general. "How does it feel to betray everything you were supposed to stand for? You were supposed to fight for justice, not your own selfish needs! Males like you make me ashamed to be one."
Jacim's eyes flashed angrily, his whole body tensing up as he snapped out of his thoughts.
"Don't you talk to me about justice, you fuck." he spat, taking a step forward. "I have spent the last 5 years making sure that every last dog I came across was happy, was safe…all while sacrificing everything I wanted for myself, because I truly believed that people were inherently good. And you know what? Not a single one of them returned the favor. The world is cruel…full of arrogant, violent, pathetic, useless people who expect the world to be handed to them on a silver platter, while everyone else just caters to their every whim."
He paused for a moment and then shook his head slightly, his gaze turning, if possible, even colder.
"Well I'm done." he finished. "I've had enough. They come into this world blind, helpless, and whimpering for their mother…it seems only fitting that they should leave it the same damn way."
Then he looked at a dog over Gin's shoulder, and the Akita knew instantly who it was.
"Now, captain." the Elkhound hissed. "Kill them."
That was what Gin had been waiting for. As soon as the jaws on him loosened slightly, their respective owners moving to go for the killing blow, he shouted "John, now!" and pushed up as hard as he could with all four of his legs, sending his captors flying in all directions and hearing John's do the same to his right. Then they went to work. Swinging around as two dogs lunged at him, Gin slashed one across the face with his claws and grabbed the second by the throat, tearing it out as soon as he had tightened his grip enough. From there he dodged left and right, avoiding bites and slashes and leveling the perpetrators with hard kicks and body slams, hearing yelps of pain mix in with the telltale snarls of a fight in progress.
Over to his left now, John slashed back and forth like a mad dog, bodies flying everywhere as his attackers flew away from him in geysers of blood, one of them pawing at an empty eye socket screaming while another dragged himself away with his front legs, his entrails trailing behind him from a split open stomach. Gin didn't pay much attention to his friend's battle, however, as he was too caught up in his own. Head-butting a Tosa between the eyes, he grabbed the dog's stunned form and swung him around like a weapon, sending his comrades staggering and flying away into the rusting corpses of the cars nearby, a dull 'THUNK' echoing around the area with each hit that landed. Then suddenly, Gin was grabbed from above and thrown hard into the junkyard fence, the wood exploding outward as he tumbled right through it and landed in a snarling heap, a new attacker on top of him. It was Jacim.
The Elkhound grabbed him hard by the throat and shook him like a rag-doll, smashing him into the ground repeatedly before throwing him back onto the battlefield with an enraged snarl, immediately lunging for his throat as Gin prepared a counterattack. Before he reached him though, a white blur came flying in from the side with a hideous snarl and hit Jacim like a freight train in the ribs, sending him flying so hard into a nearby wrecked car that he dented the metal of its door. Gin recognized his savior immediately. It was Akame! The ninja dog immediately dodged a retaliatory bite by the ex-police dog and smacked him across the face with a paw, grabbing his ear in his teeth immediately afterwards and, in one swift motion, ripping it off with a sickening sounding tearing noise. Jacim howled in pain and lowered his head, seeming to protect his face as the enraged Akame moved at him again. Gin shot to his paws, seeing the trap before Akame did and shouting at him to "Watch out!". It was too late. As the ninja dog came close enough, Jacim whirled around with a metal pipe in his jaws and smashed him in the side of the head with it as hard as he could, sending the Kishu crumpled to the ground in a motionless heap. This done, he stood over the white-furred dog and began hitting him in the face with it repeatedly, aiming viciously at his eyes as Gin launched himself forward and kicked the Nomad general in the side as hard as he could, sending him flying through the junkyard fence into the street with multiple splinters of wood sticking out of his legs and flank.
Before the Akita could attack him again though, he was intercepted by more of the Elkhound's troops and managed to look over long enough to see Jacim take off running down the street, fleeing back towards the forest as his number of subordinates began to dwindle against the three seasoned Ohu leaders. Gin yelled in alarm, sending dogs flying left and right as he tried to pursue the Nomad general…but to no avail. By the time he reached the street and heard the last of the battle winding down behind him, Jacim was nowhere in sight, the still pouring rain and sleet washing away his scent as soon as it fell. Swearing in frustration, the Akita looked over and saw Akame leap up to the top of a nearby building, blood pouring down his face from where the pipe had hit him.
"Anything?!" Gin yelled and the Kishu shook his head a few moments later.
"Nothing!" he replied with a quick glance, his one eye already swollen shut. "He's gone, Gin!"
Gin swore again and turned to see John pad up to him, Akame leaping down to join them as the rain washed out the blood staining their respective fur coats.
"What now, leader?" the Shepherd asked, looking invigorated by the brawl instead of hurt by it.
Gin looked around him, seeing nothing but the motionless, dead forms of their opponents littering the ground in a pattern-less mass.
"We should check on Daisuke and your old master." he said. "Make sure none of that bastard's troops…slipped away."
The Akita trailed off as he finished, both of his friends following his gaze over John's shoulder to a dog that was slowly pushing himself to his paws, trying to quietly sneak away before they noticed him. Gin recognized him instantly as the Coonhound from earlier and stormed forwards towards him in a rage, grabbing him by the throat before he could react and slamming him down on the ground on his back, releasing his grip only after John took his place as their enemy's potential killer. Then he put a paw on the other male's chest and glared furiously into his eyes.
"Where's Jacim going?" he demanded.
The Coonhound smirked up at him.
"Heretic!" he said and John tightened his grip, making him choke mightily.
"John, ease off." Gin commanded and then looked him in the eye once again. "I'm giving you one last chance. Where is Jacim going?"
"Don't have a clue." the dog replied again slowly, glaring defiantly back at him. "Lord Draven was moving the pack as we left. He didn't tell us where. They could be anywhere by now."
Gin clenched his jaws in frustration, exchanging a look with Akame before narrowing his gaze suspiciously at their prisoner.
"Then why were you here?" he asked coldly and the Coonhound's own gaze grew icy.
"The family of heretics are themselves heretics." he hissed as if reciting from something. "They shalt surely be put to death."
Gin's stomach fell to his feet. His suspicions had been confirmed. He immediately pushed a paw into the dog's throat near John's jaws, cutting off his air entirely.
"What did you do?!" he demanded fearfully as the Coonhound choked and gagged. "What did you do?!"
"Leader!" Akame interrupted loudly, holding a paw out in front of Gin.
When the Akita looked at him, the Kishu met his gaze with a calming look, reassuring him without words that everything was fine. Gin paused, seeing something else hiding in his friend's gaze, sadness perhaps, before deciding to trust him and back off. Then he straightened himself out, glaring down at the Coonhound angrily.
"From this point on," he said. "You are a prisoner of the Ohu Army. You'll be taken back to our base, where you'll be held until your punishment is decided."
Then he leaned in closer.
"But…" he said. "I can see to it that you receive leniency…if you answer one last question, and answer it truthfully."
The dog looked up at him suspiciously, but then nodded, glancing almost nervously at both John and Akame as he did.
"Tell me everything you know about the dog known as 'Angel of Mercy'." Gin said sternly.
The Coonhound let his head fall back onto the dirt ground underneath him.
"I don't know." he said and Gin put more weight onto his chest.
"Who is he?" he demanded and the Nomad soldier glared up at him.
"I don't know!" he repeated loudly, then lowered his voice a little. "No one sees Lord Mercy. Ever. Only Jacim-sama and Lord Draven. He's like a ghost."
The three leaders exchanged a troubled glance at that and the Coonhound let his head fall to the side.
"He's like an angel." he muttered quietly, seeming to talk to no one. "Praise be to him."
Gin was about to open his mouth again and give John and Akame an order when a faint voice came to his ears, its timbre curious and concerned…and human.
"…ome on, Daisuke!" it was saying. "We've gotta go if you wanna catch the eclipse next week!"
"Just a minute!" a new one said. "I thought I heard something back here."
Gin straightened up in shock, his nervousness from before returning as he heard his old friend's voice growing steadily closer and closer. Suddenly, before any of them could react further, the Coonhound smacked John in the eyes with his paws and then twisted out of his grip as it loosened in surprise. Then he turned and ran out into the street as Akame tried to grab him and failed, leaping in front of a passing car as soon as he reached its dirt borders. His body shot sideways on impact and let out a sickening series of crunches as the car's wheels ran him over, blood pooling around his broken form as he skidded to a stop and the three Ohu leaders rushed to the roadside in shock. As soon as it happened, the car stopped and a woman jumped out of the driver's door, a horrified look on her face as a group of young men who had been walking back towards the junkyard rushed to her and the dog's motionless body.
"I didn't see him!" she cried frantically. "He just jumped out in front of me!"
Looking over, Gin's breath caught in his throat as he noticed that one of the young men was indeed Daisuke, his hand sweeping his black hair out of his face as he checked on the dog's status. Then, John nudged his shoulder and Gin turned and ran the other way down the street, forcing himself not to look back as they rounded a corner and disappeared from Daisuke's sight. As soon as they trotted to a halt, the Shepherd turned to his friend concernedly.
"You okay, Gin?" he asked and the Akita nodded.
"Yeah." he said in a subdued voice. "I just didn't think I'd see him so close."
Then a thought seemed to strike him and he whirled on Akame with a frantic look.
"Akame," he demanded. "My mother and brothers! Are they…?"
A strange look passed over the Kishu's face momentarily, but then he lowered his head a little, looking his friend in the eye almost apologetically.
"Gin," he said, and then paused for a moment. "I…I didn't smell your brothers' scents anywhere around the yard I went to, not even old ones. I think they must have moved on a long time ago."
"And my mother?"
"Gin…I'm afraid she died over a year ago." the ninja-dog said. "From what I can tell…it was natural causes."
The Akita winced openly at this news and took a moment to compose himself, looking strangely like it was something he had expected. John rested a paw on his shoulder.
"Gin?" he asked softly and the Ohu leader nodded.
"It's okay." he said. "At least it was peaceful…and Jacim didn't get to her."
"I think, leader," Akame cut in. "Something tells me…she was proud of you."
Gin smiled at him, touched, but then shook his head and turned to John.
"I think our work here is done." he said. "Do you want to check on your old master before we head out?"
The Shepherd seemed to consider this for a moment, then glanced at his friends with a small nod.
"Give me a minute." he said and then turned and ran off down the street, seeming to know exactly where he was going as he did.
John slowed his pace as his destination came into view, the building still looking exactly as he remembered it from its yard down to the color of its walls. Trotting up to a gate in the outer fence that surrounded it, he looked into the yard and saw the doghouse that used to be his resting in the exact same spot it always had, a chain snaking its way off of a nearby post and around its perimeter before ending at what it held…another German Shepherd lying beside it. John straightened up upon seeing this and the other dog's ears perked forward, as if it had heard the movement. Then its eyes shot open and it leapt to its feet with a growl, barking at him the moment their gazes met.
"Hey!" the other dog snapped. "Who said you could come here? This is my territory!"
John ignored him, looking instead at the human silhouetted in a nearby window, its posture suggesting that it was hunched over a desk writing something. He felt a sudden pang of nostalgia and turned his gaze away from Hidetoshi, looking instead at the ground between his paws.
"Hey, you hear me?" the other dog barked. "Get out of here!"
John met his gaze calmly.
"Take it easy, pal." he said. "I'm not staying. Just wanted to check that everything was all right."
"Yeah?" the other Shepherd replied. "Why's that? I've never seen you before."
John nodded at the figure in the window.
"You his partner?" he asked and the dog followed his gaze, nodding suspiciously moments later.
"Yeah." he said. "I back him up on his hunts sometimes."
John returned the nod slowly, swallowing an irrational sense of betrayal as he did.
"Does he ever talk about his former partners?" he asked and the dog looked confused for a moment.
"Just some guy named 'John'." he said after a pause. "Why?"
John didn't reply, swallowing hard as he looked back at the window. The other dog took a step forward, his aggressiveness gone.
"Why?" he repeated curiously, his eyes wide. "Is…Is that you?"
John was silent, shaking his head slightly to clear it as he turned away from the window. Then he glared seriously back at the other male.
"Take care of him." he said. "Or you answer to me."
Then he turned and ran off down the street the way he came, ignoring the other dog's cries of "Hey, wait!" as he did. By the time he reached Gin and Akame, they had already retreated to the border of the city, their stances suggesting that they had been waiting patiently for his return. Seeing him arrive, they turned and darted off into the forest at his side, all three of them leaving Tokobu Valley behind as they began the long trek back home to Gajou.
Jacim made no noise as he weaved through the trees of the darkened forest, his paws crunching down on dried, dead leaves and small patches of snow as he glared around him intently. Winter was beginning to tighten its grip on Japan, he could tell, and the more the warmth seemed to leave the world, the more in his element he got. A spasm of pain shot through him as he took another step, making him wince momentarily before feeling the remains of his ear go numb once more, a small amount of blood still oozing from its jagged edges.
'Well, THAT went well.' He thought with a snort. 'I'm lucky I didn't lose anything more important. That ninja dog is as tough as his reputation suggests.'
At that thought he growled, a pang of dark satisfaction filling him as he cracked his neck and caught the sharp odor of blood still emanating from his own fur, a reminder of the battle he had just survived. He smirked. Watching the stupid die was always fun, and the mere knowledge that they had a vast number of subordinate replacements at their disposal made it hard for Jacim to control himself. After all, they could have won that fight had Gorou and his useless little band actually known how to brawl effectively, a fact the ex-police dog had drilled into the heads of his few remaining subordinates by leading them up to the nearby Braeden Pass and tossing them one by one off the 300 foot drop to their doom below, taking particular satisfaction at the muffled impact noises they created upon landing.
He sniffed at the air, changing his direction slightly as his wandering mind came back around to his past once more, once too many times for his liking. He just didn't understand it. All his life he had had the law of the jungle branded upon his consciousness like it was the penultimate rule of life on earth. The strong survived and the weak did not. It was that simple. Oh, he had tried to negate that logic and live like any good male should, of course. Take a mate, save lives, raise a family to call your own.
But it didn't take long for him to get bored with it all, and soon his existence had spiraled into a never-ending circle of whining pups and complaining weaklings, all relying on his strength to further themselves while sacrificing none of the things he had. After a while it had just seemed logical to kill them. Helping filth like that was like electively growing a cancer. And, as it had turned out, he had the perfect position from which to negate this problem. After all, he was a police dog. No one would question him and no one would challenge him. What better way to rid the world of all the walking waste?
Now, all these months and years later, he found himself on the cusp of achieving his goal, making it so only a precious few remained to reap the rewards of their strength, him among them. …And then Gin of Ohu and his little brood had to go and butt their noses into his business, successfully destroying any covertness his and Draven's plans could've had. It made him angry...quite angry indeed. This in turn made him wonder about Draven's reaction to it all. How would he take it? As he approached their army's position, he considered the various ways to break the news of his encounter to the volatile cult leader…and their various ramifications. Emerging from the tree line at the edge of a clearing, he stormed purposefully towards the abandoned human temple he and his comrades had been occupying recently. Padding swiftly up the building's front steps, and ignoring the low, deferent bows his subordinates were giving him, he nudged the front door open with his head and slipped inside, strange wet sounding noises greeting his arrival.
"Why, Jacim," a calculating sounding voice spoke immediately. "How nice of you to grace us with your presence."
The police dog had learned long ago not to take Draven's condescending tone personally, and straightened up somewhat as he stopped in front of the pack leader, trying to ignore the body of the female at his feet, her head positioned between the cult leader's hind legs. Jacim smirked despite himself.
"Keeping busy I see." he said and Draven didn't react, looking down at his companion momentarily before smiling malevolently back at his fellow leader.
"What's your report from Tokobu?" he asked, not moving a muscle as he did.
"Mission mostly accomplished." Jacim replied professionally. "Gin's mother's been taken out, but his human friend managed to escape."
"And why is that?"
Jacim chose his words carefully, not being able to read the Shepherd-like dog's emotions as he stood there under scrutiny.
"The human was surrounded by others of his kind at all times." he said. "And before we could isolate him, Gin and two of his fellow leaders showed up to stop us…just like I told you they would. We had…a disagreement."
"So it would seem." came a voice from up in the rafters above Draven's head. "Love the new look, Jacim."
The Elkhound growled despite himself, his lips lifting in a silent snarl.
"Come down here, Mercy," he threatened. "And I'll be happy to give you another scar for your collection."
The other male seemed to grin toothily and stayed where he was, letting Draven take center stage again as the Nomad leader nodded at Jacim's missing ear.
"How did it feel?" he asked with disturbing interest and Jacim merely glowered, waiting for him to make his next move.
This came a few moments later. Looking down at his female companion in irritation, Draven leaned in and nuzzled her neck fur in what looked like compassion…that is, until he grabbed her head with his jaws and wrenched it sideways, breaking her neck with a sickening 'CRACK' that seemed to echo off the wooden walls as her body went limp atop him. Then, pulling himself free from her, the Nomad leader cracked his own neck and looked down at her corpse.
"Thanks for trying, sweetheart." he said. "But it does nothing for me."
Jacim watched tensely as he stretched himself slightly and then turned back to him, his gaze both calculating and serious as their eyes locked.
"Now that Gin and his pack know about us," he said. "This stealth we've been practicing is useless."
Then he looked up at Mercy as well and panned his gaze back and forth between them.
"Send word to our brothers down South." he said. "All of them. In every territory we've taken. Tell them to kill the hostages…kill them all."
Jacim nodded with an excited grin and watched as Draven turned to lay back down where he had been.
"It's getting dark." the Nomad leader smiled cryptically. "We should share the light. I think it's time we came out of hiding…once and for all."
The Elkhound's grin widened and he turned and exited the building, intending on completing his orders quickly so that they might reap the rewards of their action sooner. He didn't even pay Mercy a second glance as he passed him and disappeared into the trees, heading…who knows where. Jacim didn't care. Things were finally falling into place.