Final Story: The War - Part 4
Part 4: The Killer Angels
Gin had expected bad news awaiting him by the time he, John, and Akame got back to Gajou. After all, he reasoned, Jacim certainly wouldn't be waiting around after their clash in Tokobu Valley, and the way their luck had been recently he wouldn't have been surprised if an army of humans had suddenly invaded Gajou from the sky. What he didn't expect however, was for that bad news to seek them out before they even got there, and so when Kurotora met them at the border of Futago Pass, a serious look in his normally brash eyes, Gin knew that something else had happened even before he opened his mouth.
"Gin!" The Kai dog called as he trotted up to them, fallen leaves crunching under his paws. "What's the word from Tokobu?"
"The word is 'war', Kuro." The Akita answered solemnly and John nodded in agreement beside him.
"Yeah," he added, looking over at their comrade with a lick of his lips. "We met that Jacim bastard that Asher talked about. Pleasant little psychopath."
"I guess we got the fuckers all good and riled." Kurotora remarked with a snort, cocking his head at his friend's sarcastic tone. "You're not the only ones that had developments."
Gin tensed almost unnoticeably.
'Here it comes.' He thought. 'This must be why he's here.'
As if on cue, Kurotora turned to him, his serious look reasserting itself once more.
"Messengers started showing up earlier today while you lot were gone." He said. "Coming from all over the damn place, Saitama, Niigata, Hiroshima, even as far South as Nagasaki. All of 'em claimed they were under attack or had invaders moving their way. Looks like 'The Nomads' are stepping things up."
"Then we need to as well." Akame replied, looking at Gin intensely moments later. "We need to go on the attack, leader."
"Way ahead of you." Kurotora smirked, a proud glint in his eye as he fixed his gaze on the ninja-dog. "Hakuro and Musashi went to the Miyagi Prefecture a few hours ago with their forces to head off the attackers…or at least one group of them. One of their messengers just got back 10 minutes ago and said they had engaged an enemy force of about 50 dogs. Half the Miyagi clan had already been wiped out entirely before they interfered."
Gin clenched his jaws together in silent anger, feeling his hatred of Draven multiply. Then he looked around at his friends.
"Let's get back to base quickly." He said. "We need to stop this before it gets even more out of control."
His friends all echoed this sentiment with nods or light grunts and the Ohu leader resumed his charge towards the safety of Gajou without further delay, knowing that the rest of his comrades in arms awaited him there. Once they were under way it didn't take them long to reach the stone fortress, and the small group was greeted immediately by both Kisaragi and Asher, the two large males standing expectantly at its entrance. Kisaragi cut right to the chase.
"Have you been informed on what's happening, Gin?" He asked and the Akita nodded, not breaking his stride.
"Yeah." He replied. "Kuro told us. You two need to get everyone ready and get all the leaders out here so we can divide up our forces. We can't put off counter attacking any longer."
"You got it." the Mutsu leader said and bolted away as Asher nodded curtly and did the same, both males headed off in different directions as they did.
Then Gin turned to his remaining friends.
"You three go help them." he said, his gaze panning between John, Akame, and Kurotora. "Come get me when everyone's ready."
Then he turned before they could respond and headed quickly inside Gajou, not looking back as his companions watched him go from where they stood. As soon as he was gone, Kurotora glanced at his two friends.
"Is he all right?" he asked in mild concern. "He seems…distracted."
Neither John nor Akame answered for a moment, both continuing to look at the spot where their friend had disappeared before the latter nodded at the Kai dog.
"He's fine." he replied. "Why don't you go ahead, Kuro. We'll be right behind you."
The younger male looked skeptical, but didn't push the matter, turning instead and running off in the direction of his clan and the soldiers near them, most of them massing near the river canyon nearby. Once he had gone, John glanced at Akame as well.
"If I were describing Gin's state of mind, Akame." he said solemnly. "…'Fine' wouldn't be the word I'd choose."
The ninja dog sighed almost unnoticeably. Then he turned away as well.
"He can handle it, John." he said, effectively ending the discussion. "I have faith in him."
Then he sprinted off across the plains of Gajou towards where Wilson and Kouzou were grouping with the latter's troops, leaving John standing alone by the stone fortress's entrance. The Shepherd wrinkled his nose at his departing friend, feeling a little irritated for being run out on. He knew that the Kishu was probably right though. After all, Gin had more than proven himself to be an effective leader during wartime. Still though, he was worried about him, and the Ohu commander made a mental note to himself to keep a close eye on his best friend in the coming days to ensure that the pressure didn't get to him too much. Such was his duty. Then, with a simultaneous snort and shake of his head, John ran off too, running to get the last group of their soldiers ready to fight before Gin was finished with whatever he was doing inside their home.
Gin took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he rounded another corner inside Gajou and found himself alone at last. There was so much to think on, so much to consider before the inevitable battles to come, and the Ohu leader needed to clear his mind before they did.
'Peace,' he thought. 'That's all I want. Peace. Come summer I hope this has all passed by. I could use a day or two to just relax for a change.'
That thought calmed him down somewhat. The fields and valleys around Futago Pass were quite beautiful in the warmer seasons, and imagining peaceful days lazing around in their soft grasses was a fantasy that kept Gin going whenever times got especially hard…like they were now. When had it all gotten so easy? When had –? He shook his head, dispersing the thought.
'I need to concentrate on the battles.' he scolded himself lightly. 'I can't do this now. The others are counting on me. I need to concentrate.'
"You okay, Gin?"
The Akita whirled in surprise at the voice, momentarily annoyed that one of his friends had followed him inside after he gave them specific orders elsewhere. When he saw the face of Ben looking sightlessly back at him though, a look of silent concern resting there, he calmed down significantly. If there was one person whose company he wouldn't mind having at that moment, it was Ben's. Gin nodded at him.
"I'm fine." he reassured, grimacing the moment the words left his mouth for how unconvincing they sounded.
Sure enough, the Great Dane didn't miss a beat.
"You don't sound fine." he said observantly. "You wanna talk about it? I'm afraid I'm pretty useless these days in preparing for a battle."
Gin bit back the 'No' that lingered on the edge of his tongue solely because of the undercurrent of regret that laced his friend's voice when he spoke. Despite this, it was still difficult for him to confess what was plaguing him out loud and so when he finally spoke, it was only after an exceptionally long pause.
"I'm worried, Ben." he said.
"Not about losing the battle I take it." the older dog said as he sat down nearby. "The Gin I know is more confident than that."
"No." the Akita confirmed. "I…"
Ben waited patiently, giving him a moment to find the words he wanted to say.
"…I'm worried I'm losing who I am."
The Great Dane pulled back in surprise, blinking a few times as he did. Seeing his confusion, Gin turned to face him completely.
"The battle that John, Akame and I fought in Daisuke's village was…" he began and then paused to think again. "I killed over a dozen dogs in that fight and it…it didn't faze me. I didn't even hesitate, Ben, I just…reacted. I saw a dog kill a kid in front of me and it was just…so easy to put them all down. I didn't even once think of sparing their lives."
Ben was silent and Gin continued, pacing a little as he did.
"Even at the end," he said. "There was one we captured to interrogate and I…I told him he wouldn't be harmed if he didn't fight us but I didn't mean a word of it. All I could think about was killing him the first chance I got."
The Akita stopped and looked his older friend in his blind eyes.
"It's too easy, Ben." he said. "All these battles, all these things that have happened. It's so easy for me now to just…kill them. And with these battles still to come…I'm just scared things are going to get worse. I don't wanna be that dog, Ben, I just… I need to keep who I am…intact through this."
Then he stopped talking, mentally chastising himself for how lame it sounded as Ben sat there silently for a long time. Then the Great Dane sighed.
"I'm surprised," he began, and Gin prepared himself to be told off by his old mentor. "That it took this long for this to happen."
The Akita blinked in surprise as Ben gave him a knowing look.
"You're the face of what we did, Gin." he said. "We defeated Akakabuto together, but your name is the one that dogs everywhere are going to remember. I knew that when that happened, you were in for some rough times. Challenges, fights, problems…everything but the peace we fought for. And I knew that when that happened, you would be forced to kill. More than once."
Gin looked at the ground between his paws and Ben continued uninterrupted.
"I had the same thoughts back when we were gathering males for your father, and I can tell you right now that the only thing that kept me from losing my mind was Cross." he said bluntly. "Especially after I went blind. She kept me grounded, made sure that I remembered who I was…and who I needed to be. Maybe you should find someone like that for yourself, Gin."
The Akita considered that carefully, wondering why he had never thought of it before. Ben stood again.
"We both know that this is liable to get worse before it gets better." he said, not mincing words. "And we both know that before this is over, you will have to kill again. But when you do, Gin…remember what it is you fight for. This place, your friends…justice. Stay grounded, leader. I know you'll pull us through."
Gin looked at him in silence, smiling gratefully as he felt a great weight lifted from his conscience.
"What would I have ever done without you?" he asked and Ben chuckled.
"Gotten yourself killed a long time ago." he teased. "That's what you would've done."
Gin laughed out loud and nodded his head slightly.
"Probably." he agreed and Ben's smile widened slightly.
Gin looked up in surprise. It was Smith's voice that had suddenly echoed through the stony corridors of Gajou and he stepped back around the corner into the main room curiously right as the Spaniel came into view.
"Smith," he greeted professionally. "What is it?"
The former platoon leader looked excited and seemed to be trying not to tremble in anticipation as he faced his friend and leader.
"We just caught a huge break, Gin." he said, his demeanor seeming much more like the old Smith than the one Gin had gotten used to since Chutora's death. "All the packs are ready to go outside and our scouts are reporting in to join us. But get this: one of our scouts said he was stopped by a dog at the border of our territory who said he knew where Draven, Jacim, and "Mercy" were all leading their troops to."
Gin's eyes widened at this and he stepped forward as well in anticipation.
"Smith," he said. "Did he – "
" – tell our scout everything he knew?" the Spaniel finished with a smile. "Yep. We know where these bastards are gonna be, Gin."
"Good work, Smith!" the Akita exclaimed with a grin, exchanging a nod with Ben as the elder canine turned and walked off to join Cross somewhere outside. "Let's go get everyone ready to move."
Then he paused as they turned to head outside as well, looking as if a thought had just occurred to him.
"Who was the dog that told us this?" he asked curiously and Smith shrugged.
"Beats me." he said. "Our scout said that he couldn't see him very well. He stayed in the shadows I guess. I know that sounds fishy, but there's a lot of refugees fleeing the Nomads' attacks, so it was probably one of them."
Gin frowned, his concern over this development only lasting a few moments as he shook his head and stepped back out into the afternoon sun, Smith tailing him in his wake. Immediately, he found the rest of his friends and their packs waiting for him patiently, led at the front by the immediately recognizable figures of John and Akame. He looked around at all of them.
"Are we ready to go?" he asked loudly and Akame nodded at him.
"Waiting for your orders, leader." he said.
To the ninja dog's left, Kurotora and Moss stood side by side with their packs.
"Let's get a move on, Gin!" the Kai dog called. "I'm ready to give these pricks the ass kicking they richly deserve."
"So am I, Gin." Moss said with a grin. "It's been too long since we fought together like this. Let's go do again, eh?"
Gin smiled over at him but didn't respond. Instead he looked over at Tesshin, Ken, and Kagetora, who were gathered off to the side of Gajou with a few of the guards.
"You three," he called and their ears perked up. "You'll be in charge of Gajou while we're gone! I'm trusting you with its safety, as well as the safety of everyone here. Tesshin, you're in command."
"Yes, leader!" the Koga ninja dog replied, but Kagetora looked incensed.
"Whoa, wait!" he protested. "Why can't we come and fight too?!"
"Because he's telling you to." Kurotora snapped at his eldest son. "Now live with it!"
"Because I don't trust Draven and I want someone I do trust here to protect this place in case something happens." Gin responded, ignoring the elder Kai dog.
Kagetora didn't look happy about this explanation, but nodded nonetheless, exchanging an irritated shrug with Ken as he did.
"What about Musashi and Hakuro?" Wilson asked, looking around at the others. "Are they gonna meet us where we're going?"
"We already sent scouts to let them know." Kisaragi said, meeting his gaze. "They should be there to help if we need it."
"Speaking of help," John cut in. "Where the hell is Zach and that pet dog army he promised us? Cause they'd sure be useful about now!"
"Zach?!" Smith asked in surprise as Kurotora gave the Shepherd a confused look as well. "When did he show up?"
"We'll just have to live without them, John." Gin replied, realizing that he had forgotten to tell his other friends about the nighttime meeting they'd had. "At least until Musashi shows up. Maybe he'll know where he is. Until then, stopping these guys is up to us."
He looked around at them all again.
"Males!" he called. "Let's move out!"
A chorus of 'Yeah!' responded from all sides and the Ohu leader walked forward purposefully towards the forest to the South, sensing John and Akame falling in beside him as they always had, Kurotora and Smith on either side of them. It would be a little bit before they got to their destination, he knew, but they would get there one way or another. Hopefully, come tomorrow, it would all be finished for good.
Gin knew even before they arrived that the strange land they'd entered would be their battlefield. He had no proof to support this thought; it was simply a feeling resting deep in his chest, bleeding into his instinct and making him cautious as they moved ever forward. As battlefields went, this one was certainly unusual, and as they approached the forest that sat to the East of the tall mountains of Yamanashi, the Ohu leader could smell a strange, pungent odor wafting through the air, seeming to come from everywhere at once. It very quickly became apparent that he wasn't the only one.
"Ugh!" Kurotora grunted, wrinkling his nose in displeasure as they stepped in amongst the trees. "What the hell is that smell?"
"It's sulfur." Wilson responded quietly and Gin could see small hot springs dotting the forest around them even as the sun began to fade in the Western sky.
"Well," Moss remarked, looking around at them as well. "At least we'll have healing springs for the aftermath."
"I wouldn't get too close to those." the Collie said with a glance towards him. "This is Jigokudani. Some of those pools are hot enough to scald you alive."
"Hell Valley?" Smith said, raising an eyebrow. "How pleasant."
"Keep an eye out." Akame ordered from up front by Gin. "They're close."
"You feel it too?" Gin murmured, glancing momentarily at his friend and advisor.
The ninja dog merely nodded, still scanning the forest for any sign of their quarry. Finally, as the trees began to thin and steep rocky cliffs rose up on their left, a winding river matching their course on the other side, both Gin and Akame stopped dead in their tracks together, the latter holding up a paw to ask for silence. Then he lowered his head to the ground and pressed his ear to the dirt, listening intently for a good 20 seconds. When he righted himself once more, he had a distinctly troubled look on his face, one that Gin could not decipher well enough to take its meaning. Before any of them could say a word though, a howl suddenly split the silence, its tone piercing and strong. Gin's head whipped towards the cliffs where it had come from, hearing his friends' identical reactions behind him. Then another howl sounded, this one coming from the forest in front of them, its slightly higher pitch proving it was a different dog altogether. By the time the third howl sounded from the river, its tone more menacing than the others somehow, Gin had realized what was going on.
"Everyone get ready!" he called behind him as the others dropped into battle stances, knowing that they had been spotted. "This is it! Remember, this is our duty as soldiers of Ohu! We must not fail!"
A number of voices answered him with excited or wary sounding grunts, but he paid them no heed.
"John," he said and the Shepherd turned to him instantly. "You, Smith, and Moss take the river. If Draven split his troops up, given the terrain, that's probably where 'Mercy' is."
Then he looked his friend in the eyes intensely.
"The three of you," he ordered. "Hunt him down."
John nodded determinedly.
"You got it." he replied in a voice that practically dripped with power.
Then he, Smith, and Moss took their troops and sprinted off towards the river, their thundering footsteps fading slowly as they departed. Gin turned the other way.
"Kisaragi," he said and the Husky met his gaze as well. "You and your brothers take Wilson, Kouzou and both of your packs and head up to the cliffs. Chances are, that's Jacim. He's yours."
The Mutsu leader nodded with a grunt and gestured to his troops almost instantly, all of them following him without question as he began running towards the giant sloping rocks, Wilson and the Saitama clan mixed in amongst them. Finally Gin turned to everyone that remained.
"The rest of us are in the forest." he said, and saw dozens of eyes staring faithfully back at him. "It's time we meet Draven of Osaka."
"Let's fucking do it." Kurotora snorted excitedly, battle ready as he always was.
To his right, Asher glanced at Gin.
"You sure Draven's in there, Gin?" he asked, squinting his eyes at the trees to look for movement as they started slowly forward again.
It was Akame who answered instead.
"Cult leaders are narcissists." he replied bluntly. "They want all eyes on them. If I were Draven in a battle…I'd come right down the middle."
"In that case," the police dog said, licking his lips. "Let's give him an opponent to meet, shall we?"
"Absolutely." Kurotora agreed and Gin and Akame both increased their pace, neither of their gazes leaving the forest as the sun descended ever lower in the sky.
From that point on it became a quick march, the sound of footfalls echoing louder as Gin and his troupe trotted towards the tall trees at the other end of their clearing. Then, right as they got to within 30 feet of the tree line, their enemies finally showed themselves. Dogs erupted from the wooded darkness in droves, all of them howling battle cries and charging. Gin and his friends however, did not charge back. Instead, they came to a dead halt with expressions of shock and surprise.
"What the…" Asher murmured, and Gin felt the same words rush through his mind as well.
The Ohu leader was caught completely off guard. Their charging foes were children. Puppies no older than a year, some as young as a mere few months, ran as fast as they could towards them, exclamations of "Kill them! Kill the heretics!" erupting from their small mouths. Gin didn't know what to do. These were kids! They couldn't attack kids this young!
"Uh, Gin?" Kurotora asked in a wary voice. "What the hell do we do?"
The Akita was given no time to think. From behind the puppies the real soldiers suddenly emerged, blood lust filling their eyes as they snarled and charged full speed towards the Ohu Army. Gin gritted his fangs. It couldn't be helped.
"Go!" he shouted, trusting his friends to know enough not to harm the pups, however brainwashed they might have been.
Moments later, the two groups came together with bone-crunching force, snarls raising in intensity as blood began to spatter from combatants on both sides. Gin ducked a bite at his face and slashed the enemy responsible across the throat, a jet of blood erupting from the impact point as he fell back with a whine and another two dogs took his place. Before they could intercept the Ohu leader though, Akame grabbed one of their comrades by the hind leg and swung him like a bat, making their heads collide with a dull 'THUNK' as their skulls came together hard and all three dogs slumped unconscious to the earth below, one of them twitching as he did so. A few feet away, Kurotora and Asher were fighting side by side, taking out multiple dogs at a time as their enemies kept on charging forward in droves. Gin grunted as he was smacked across the face, his head snapping to the side as a pup weaved precariously in between his legs. Dodging a second blow, he grabbed the dog responsible by the muzzle and hurled him into one of the nearby hot springs, a horrible scream erupting moments later as the hiss of scalding flesh began to sound from where he'd vanished. Then, despite all the chaos around them and Gin's own disgust at his enemy's demise, the Akita heard a voice speak out loudly, its sound as clear as if it's owner was standing right beside him.
"Go, my brothers," it said, and Gin didn't recognize the owner. "Make them bleed. Soak the dirt to sow our seed."
He came to an immediate stop, ducking a lunging enemy's attack as he did so and only vaguely hearing him fly straight into Kurotora's waiting fangs behind him. Nearby, Akame did the same, a startled expression on his battle-hardened face. The Kishu looked over at him in alarm.
"Gin, that came from the cliffs!" he shouted and Gin nodded, knowing that they were thinking the same thing.
"I know!" the Akita replied. "And that definitely wasn't Jacim!"
"No," came a voice from right behind him. "But I am."
Gin didn't even get a chance to turn around before fangs sank into the nape of his neck and he was smashed into the ground, his head pummeling off the volcanic rocks beneath them for only a moment before Akame leapt to his defense. His attacker relinquished his hold in order to avoid the Kishu's slashing razor sharp fangs and Gin was back on his feet in seconds. Sure enough, Jacim stood less then 10 feet away, his blood-spattered fur telling them that he had already seen significant action before reaching them. His smirking complexion filled in the rest of the blanks. They'd walked into a trap.
"Draven's on the cliffs!" Gin panted fearfully, exchanging a glance with Akame. "We have to warn Kisaragi!"
Akame nodded, turning to run towards the tall rock formations as Gin turned to face the Elkhound, his fangs bared and ready to bite. Right as Akame took to the air though, another shape came flying in from the side and grabbed him by the neck, slamming him down onto the ground with a force that made even Gin cringe.
"Akame!" he shouted and leapt at the dog, not getting more than a few feet before Jacim lunged at him, forcing him to go on the defensive and counter attack the Elkhound's flashing teeth.
As the two enemies squared off once more, Akame swung his hind leg up fast and kicked his attacker in the eye as hard as he could, a yelp erupting instantly on impact. Then the ninja dog twisted out of his grip and leapt back to Gin's side, limping a little as he did. Together they looked at the strutting Jacim.
"I'd like you to meet Kenta." he said, and gestured at the large Tosa that was now standing beside him, his eye slightly swollen from Akame's strike. "He's a former fight dog under your friend Musashi and is more than enough of an opponent for both of you. He'll be keeping you busy for a while Akame…while Gin and I figure out which one of us walks away from this."
He chuckled low in his throat at this as the Tosa licked his fangs and dropped into a battle formation. After a few seconds, Gin turned to Akame.
"We have to warn Kisaragi." he repeated quietly. "If you can get away, I can take both of these guys and buy you the time."
"Gin, don't be reckless!" the ninja dog hissed back. "You can't fight both of them at once!"
"Do as I say!" the Akita snapped, but before the white-furred male could respond, Jacim turned to Kenta.
"Break his back." he said to the fight dog. "Make it painful."
The huge male didn't wait another second. He lunged at Akame with surprising speed as soon as the Elkhound was done speaking, forcing the ninja dog to leap aside and begin dodging his attacks as quickly as he could, his speed allowing to just barely stay out of range. Gin didn't waste time either. Taking the initiative, he brazenly charged forward and attacked Jacim head on, grabbing the police dog's neck at the same time his opponents fangs sank into his. Then it became a contest of strength. Wrenching his head back and forth to try and rip at the Elkhound's flesh, Gin picked up his equally strong foe and slammed him into the ground with all his strength, almost immediately feeling a paw kick hard into his stomach and send him down as well. Then they rolled, snarls erupting from both of their throats as Jacim slashed Gin across the face and then bit him hard on the muzzle, making the Akita yell in pain before lunging with all his strength and slashing a bloody chunk out of the Elkhound's cheek, exposing his teeth beneath the gore and sending him into a stumble. Seeing this, the Ohu leader turned and kicked him in the jaw as hard as he could with his hind legs, hearing a 'CRACK' as Jacim crumbled to the ground and he turned his attentions back to the cliffside.
Up top, he could see a battle raging ferociously, the combatants mere silhouettes as they fought and gambled their lives. One in particular seemed to be on the receiving end of most of the assaults and Gin squinted hard to try to see him through the darkening night around them. The dog was very large he observed, with erect, pointed ears and a musculature that screamed 'soldier'. He saw another form lunge in from the side and grab onto the huge dog's neck, but to no avail. Though at first he didn't seem to react at all, the big male turned, shook off the second form, and proceeded to decapitate him in one fluid strike from his fangs, his victim's head rolling off out of sight as Gin heard a horrible scream echo across the battlefield moments later. He recognized it instantly and his blood ran cold. Kisaragi… His murder committed, the huge male turned once more and suddenly a voice came to Gin's ears, one that he knew had to be from this strange enemy.
"Fight on, my friends." the smooth voice chanted, and Gin recognized it as the one from before. "The moment when we bow to none, is when the moon swallows the sun…"
The Akita felt a chill go through him, despite how ridiculous the words sounded. It was Draven, he realized. The huge dog on the cliff was none other than the Nomad leader himself, speaking to his followers that were fighting nearby. At that moment, however, he was tackled from behind once more and thrown at one of the hot springs, his lightning quick reflexes alone allowing him to avoid a particularly painful and gruesome death. Then Jacim came at him again. Gin clenched his jaws together tightly. It was all going wrong. They needed to end this quickly and regroup…and see what damage had already been done. Leaping over the vicious Nomad commander's strike, Gin dodged a bite from one of his enemy's subordinates and put him down with a body slam, a yell of pain erupting from the soldier's mouth as he landed on a particularly jagged rock. Then a new howl echoed across the expanse.
"Come on!" came a wonderfully familiar voice. "Let's get in there! Charge!"
Gin looked up fast, blood dripping from his wounded muzzle as he saw Jacim pausing in place as well. There was no mistaking the owner. Hakuro of Hokkaido was charging from the tree line behind the Ohu Army, a whoop of excitement escaping his throat as his soldiers flanked him on every side. Beside him came Musashi and his fight dogs, all of them looking particularly ferocious as the grabbed the first Nomad soldiers they got to and laid into them, blood and screams sounding as soon as they had. From his position 10 feet away, Jacim reacted immediately.
"Kenta!" he called, and the fight dog looked over at him from where he stood, bits of flesh hanging off of him like vines from Akame's numerous strikes.
"Yes, Lord Jacim?" he replied, his voice starting to slur from repeated hits to the head.
"Keep them here." The Nomad commander ordered. "I'm entrusting this battle to you."
Gin leapt at him and slashed at his throat, anticipating a retreat. He only managed to graze the side of his neck as the Elkhound bounded away, pausing to face him moments later.
"Brothers!" he called. "Fight 'til the last dog! You shall earn your places in heaven!"
Then he sprinted away, Gin hot on his trail as he tried to follow him…until Kenta broke away from his battle with Akame and tried to grab the Ohu leader. Gin skidded to a halt and leapt backwards, just barely avoiding a potentially devastating blow to his throat. By the time he looked back up though, Jacim was gone. Swearing under his breath, Gin looked over his shoulder.
"Kurotora!" he called. "Hakuro! Take over here!"
Then he turned to his companion.
"Akame," he said intensely. "To the cliffs!"
"On it!" the ninja dog replied and bolted towards the looming rock formations, Gin right behind him as Musashi and Hakuro double-teamed the heavily wounded Kenta, bringing him to the ground with a yell of pain as Kurotora gave them support on the other side.
Leaving them behind, Gin and Akame leapt up from rock to rock, reaching the top together and whipping their heads around to see what the situation was. The moment they did, both of them gasped audibly in horror. Bodies were scattered all across the rocks and hills of the cliff and the more the two Ohu leaders looked at them, the more people they recognized. Wilson lay partially on his side over near a jagged drop, looking dizzy and unstable as he regained his feet. Kouzou was half off one of the edges, his hind leg sticking out unnaturally behind him at a strange angle as he remained motionless and unconscious. Behind him though was where the real carnage had taken place. The heavily wounded Kisaragi lay sobbing over the motionless body of a dog Gin immediately recognized with a thrill of terror as Uzuki, his throat torn open to the bone as his eyes stared unseeingly out in front of him, a look of vague surprise imprinted on his face. From there it just got worse. The dead forms of Hazuki and Minazuki also lay nearby, their bodies in various states of disrepair, the former's head completely separated from his body and lying near a gnarled tree growing a few yards away.
"…Wh…What happened?!" Gin demanded in a much weaker voice but the Husky didn't answer, devastated as he was.
"He's gone, Gin." Wilson gasped out and both the Akita and Akame were at his side in seconds.
"Wilson," the Ohu leader said, trying to keep the sadness and panic out of his voice. "Where did Draven go?!"
"Into the forest." came the pained reply, the Collie's legs shaking as Akame leaned against him to help him stand. "Gin, there's something seriously wrong with that guy. We hit him over and over again, but he didn't even flinch! I've never seen a dog take hits like that. Nobody's that tough!"
"Why was he even over here?" Akame wondered to Gin, then gestured down at the simmering battle below. "And then leaving his troops behind to die like it was part of his plan all along? This doesn't make any sense at all."
Gin nodded, hearing the quaver in his friend's voice as they both saw Wilson rush to Kisaragi's side and were reminded of their friends' fates.
"We need to regroup." he said. "Get Kuro, Hakuro and the others down there and fall back to the outskirts of the forest. I'll deal with things up here."
As he turned to run off though, he was stopped by Akame's voice calling his name.
"Gin!" the ninja dog barked, and looked his friend in the eyes when the Akita turned back to him. "What about John, Moss and Smith?!"
Gin tensed up immediately. He had forgotten about his other friends battling down by the river! The Ohu leader kept his gaze locked with Akame's.
"Shit…" he breathed in fear.
John stormed forward through the fighting dogs around him, paying their writhing and snarling forms no heed as he tried mightily to get to his real target. "Mercy"…
The battle had started as soon as his group had reached the river. They had been ambushed immediately from the side, their opponents trying to force them into the swiftly rushing water and end it all right there before they could fight back. He and the others had had other plans though. Moss and Jaguar had counter attacked to the front, heading off their assailants coming from that side while Smith had stayed with John and moved right towards the trees lining the riverbank, both of them dodging numerous attacks as they felled their foes as quickly as they came. Soon afterwards though, while leveling a Rottweiler that had foolishly tried to attack him from behind, John had seen a shape lurking back in the woods, its gait leader-like and professional as Nomads of all sizes gave it a distinctly wide berth. John had seen it instantly. Their enemies were trying to push them back away from this dog. It was "Mercy". After that, he had charged right through the Nomads' ranks, howling a battle cry and trying to get to the only dog he saw worthy of being his opponent. It hadn't gone the way he'd hoped. Mercy had fled deeper into the trees upon seeing him and John been forced to give chase, their path taking both of them away from where Moss and Smith were holding their own by the river's edge. That was where he found himself now.
"Get over here!" he demanded with a fierce growl, watching as the Nomad commander continued to keep to the shadows, not saying so much as a word as he did.
The Shepherd sent a charging opponent staggering with a rib-cracking shoulder check and then another behind him crumpled lifelessly to the ground seconds later, victim of a devastating kick to the jaw. John kept moving stubbornly, the sulfur odor around him practically eliminating his sense of smell.
"Show your face, you coward!" he snarled, determined to goad his enemy out into the open.
Mercy said nothing still, callously tearing out the throat of one of his own soldiers who fell in his way as he passed. Still unable to provoke the Nomad commander, John leapt forward and bit at his face, hitting nothing but air as Mercy danced aside and further into the shadows. John was beside himself.
"Rrr! Get out here and fight me!" he bellowed, teeth flashing as he lunged forward at the other male again.
Once more though Mercy jumped out of range, retreating into the darkness and pausing for a moment before cocking his head at John almost curiously. In the Shepherd's eyes, it was clearly a mocking gesture. Raising his hackles furiously, John was caught off guard when Mercy suddenly lifted his head and reacted as if he'd heard a voice calling to him, his attention instantly leaving their battle upon hearing some signal that John had clearly missed among the chaos. Moments later, he suddenly leapt off the ground with astounding speed and aimed himself at a low hanging branch that dangled tauntingly over their heads. It was a move to escape.
"Oh no you don't!" John snapped, lunging forward with a speed that surprised even him and grabbing the other male by the hind leg in midair.
Then he slammed him down into the dirt with all his strength and immediately was on him, sinking his fangs into the back of the Nomad commander's neck hard and fast.
"Look me in the eye, you bastard!" John yelled with an irate snarl, flipping him over onto his back so they were finally face to face. "Look me in the fucking – "
The Shepherd's words instantly died on his tongue. The face that stared back at him from beneath his pin was not that of a stranger and for the longest time neither of them moved, their gazes locked together as though by invisible chains. For his part, John felt his throat go dry and the world seemed strangely muted somehow as he tuned out the chaos around him and focused solely on the warm weight beneath his claws. Down in the dirt, Mercy stared back at him calmly, his impassive expression shaking the Shepherd to his core even as he successfully hid it. Then at last their silence was broken.
"Hello, John." The Nomad commander said softly.
Then, before the Shepherd could react, Mercy kicked him in the groin with his free hind leg and shot up both front paws to gouge him in the eyes as he yelped in surprise and pain. That was enough to jar him loose and the Nomad commander immediately threw him off with great force, sending the Shepherd flying sideways into a tree. Then, with John stunned, he rolled to his feet and bolted into the forest's shadowed confines, disappearing from view moments later. John made no move to follow and stayed where he was, the sounds of fighting beginning to dim behind him in the distance. He didn't care. He knew that he would never be able to catch up anyway. After all, Zach of Ibaraki had always been faster than him.