Final Story: The War - Part 6
Part 6: Crossing The Rubicon
Gin could hear the deafening silence coming from Gajou even as he crashed through the underbrush a mile away, his feet merely a blur as he kept up his full speed charge back to their home. To his left and right, his comrades matched his pace as best they could, with only the top generals able to fully keep up with the panicked Ohu leader as he ran for all he was worth. After their victory against Jacim, they had regrouped with John, who was more angry than hurt despite the blood covering him from head to toe, and quickly explained the situation they'd found themselves in. The Shepherd had clenched his jaws tightly in silent worry and in turn told them about his own battle…and how Zach had gotten away.
"I'm sorry, Gin." he'd said with the air of a male trying to keep a hold of his wounded pride. "I nearly had the bastard. But he's as slippery as he always was."
"You did nothing wrong, John." the Akita had replied. "Don't apologize. But we have to get back to Gajou quickly! Now!"
"Kouzou," Akame ordered as soon as he'd finished. "Stay towards the rear and help any stragglers. We can't slow our pace for an instant."
"You got it." came the answer.
"Males!" Gin shouted. "Move out! On the double!"
And with that, they had started their charge north back to Futago Pass. Now they found themselves nearly upon it, and Gin's worry increased a hundred-fold as they went further and further in…and still no one greeted their arrival.
"They should've met us by now." Smith mumbled from where he ran by Hakuro and Gin snapped back bitingly.
He had no time to be cordial. There were lives in the balance. And now, as he crested a hill and leaped over a fallen log that had lain there since last summer, there was only a few hundred feet left.
"Ben!" he bellowed, leaping out onto the plains of Gajou. "Cross! Tesshin, where are – "
The next thing out of his mouth was a horrified gasp, and his comrades quickly echoed it one by one as they joined him looking upon the scene.
"No…" Kurotora breathed. "Oh god…"
Bodies lay everywhere in front of the great stone fortress, all of them broken and bloodied, some nearly unrecognizable. To Gin's express relief, none of them seemed to be anyone he knew, and as he stepped forward and looked around purposefully, he suspected that the vast majority of them were refugees that Ben and Tesshin had taken in.
"Search for survivors!" he yelled to his subordinates and friends. "Gather the dead together and treat the wounded as best you can!"
Then he looked at John and Akame.
"John," he said. "Akame, look for Ben, Cross and Tesshin. Hurry!"
The two males nodded in unison and took off in different directions, their muscular forms disappearing around different corners as soon as they entered Gajou together a few hundred feet away. Gin was about to join them when he heard someone calling his name.
"Gin!" Musashi yelled loudly off to his right. "Gin!"
The Akita turned and quickly ran up to where his comrade was standing, Asher and Kisaragi lingering nearby as well, and saw them helping a heavily wounded dog to a laying position, a deep slash leaking blood into the dirt at his feet.
"Hold still." Gin commanded as the dog tried to sit up further. "Don't try and move. Now what happened?"
The dog, a young Labrador mix, looked up at him with a gaze that seemed to mix pain, intimidation, and great respect.
"Th-They hit during the night." he said, his voice wavering as he spoke. "I think they came in posing as others like us, ones fleeing the fighting down south."
"Did you see what happened to the males who were in charge here?" Musashi asked and the dog seemed almost guilty.
"Yeah," he nodded. "There was this…this really big male who seemed to leading the attackers. I saw him flee East with two subordinates. They…They had other dogs slumped over their backs, a Great Dane, a Saluki, and I think one of those ninja dogs, th-the ones with the mohawks."
"Shit!" Kurotora exclaimed in dismay and Gin glared at him.
"Quiet!" he barked. "Where exactly did they go?"
The dog winced in pain as one of the Ohu dogs licking his wounds hit a particularly painful spot.
"Look man," he said. "I woke up from a dead sleep and we were under attack. I barely got a chance to see anything before they turned and started massacring us all. I didn't even know what was happening. I have no clue where they went. I'm sorry."
Gin grimaced in frustration. The young refugee wasn't finished though.
"I'll tell you one thing, though." he said and an air of hushed fear entered his voice. "That lead dog, the one who was in charge of the attack…there was something really wrong with that guy."
Gin's ears perked back up and Asher leaned in closer from where he sat.
"In what way?" he demanded.
"Nobody could even slow him down." the dog said, then gestured at a dead body lying nearby. "That guy over there hit him hard trying to stop him. The bastard didn't even flinch. He actually smiled. I've never seen anybody take a hit that good. That guy was seriously fucked up man!"
Following his gaze, Gin looked over at the body as well and quickly clenched his eyes shut in sorrow as he registered who it was. Less than 10 feet away from them lay the mangled, still form of their longtime guard and scout Ikaru, a male who had been a loyal, near constant presence since the war against Akakabuto had come to an end. Now his life had finally ended as well.
"Oh, Ikaru." the Ohu leader sighed deeply and walking up, rested a paw on his dead comrade's side.
Before he could do anything else though, he heard footsteps behind him and turned to see Akame trot up on his left.
"No sign of Ben or the others." he said solemnly. "John's searching the upper corridors, but it looks like there was a struggle in one of the lower caves. Ben's scent is all over it."
"Draven has them." Gin said simply. "We have an eyewitness."
"Same situation as before." Kouzou chimed in and both males looked his way. "Nobody could stop the son-of-a-bitch."
Smith snorted beside him, shaking his head as the surviving refugee continued to get tended to.
"It's like the bastard can't feel pain." he remarked. "We need to come up with a new strategy."
As soon as the words left the Spaniel's mouth, Gin's eyes went wide with long awaited understanding, his mouth hanging open slightly as his gaze met Akame's, the ninja dog's expression akin to his.
"Because he can't…" Akame murmured quietly and Gin nodded in emphatic agreement.
"What are you blathering about over there?" Kurotora asked rudely and the ninja dog turned towards his friends.
"Think about it, Kurotora." he said patiently. "Soldiers like us are tough by nature, but everyone has his limits. We're trained to brush off pain, but we can't ignore it entirely. We still would react to it regardless of how strong we are. Nobody can just ignore the pain like Draven has."
"…Unless he couldn't feel it at all." Gin finished as Hakuro's and Wilson's faces went slack in understanding as well, the rest of the group following suit soon after. "Smith, that's brilliant!"
The Spaniel looked slightly taken aback by the compliment.
"B-But I wasn't serious!" he said. "Is that even possible? A dog that can't feel pain?"
"It's extremely rare." Akame conceded with a nod. "But it is possible. It would explain why he's seemed so impossibly strong all this time."
"But it still doesn't explain what the hell he's doing." Kisaragi said. "We should warn everyone about this and look for Ben and Cross on the double."
"Agreed." Gin said and turned and to his friends' subordinates who were standing nearby and clearing the dead from the battlefield. "Everyone! Fan out in all directions and search for Draven and Zach's scents! If you encounter them, don't engage them in battle! Regroup with one of us commanders and we'll attack from there! Move quickly! They have hostages!"
A chorus of responses sounded from the crowd gathered around and they all sprinted off into the trees around the great fortress of Gajou, disappearing in small, but determined groups as Gin felt his previously controlled panic returning.
'Hold on, Ben.' he thought, clenching his fangs together tightly. 'Hold on, Cross, Tesshin. We'll get you back. Just wait for us.'
Then he turned to meet John as the Shepherd emerged from Gajou and the two of them sprinted off together with Akame to conduct a search of their own. Watching them as they left, Musashi of Shikoku stood by and tried to push down the part of his mind that was screaming at him to run after them…to tell them the truth he was hiding. But something held him back, and he silently cursed his unflappable loyalty. So lost in his thoughts was he that he almost didn't hear Asher come up beside him and lean in close to his ear. The moment he did, he knew exactly what he was going to hear next.
"Where is he?" the police dog hissed angrily. "If he ran, I swear to god – "
"I don't know." Musashi spat back curtly. "Now shut up. It's bad enough I have to lie to my friends because of you. Don't make it worse by running your mouth before the mission is complete."
The Shepherd growled audibly under his breath.
"Watch yourself, Musashi." he threatened. "I don't take kindly to being disrespected."
"Good!" the fight dog said harshly in a low voice, whirling on him. "Because I want to see your face when you have to explain to Gin exactly what's been going on! Make no mistake, Asher, the only reason I'm not marching up to him right now and telling him everything is because I respect my packmate's wishes. You may have guilted him into this mission, and he may be fully invested in it now, but that doesn't mean I have to like it…or you."
The police dog was silent for a time and seemed to be seething, but Musashi knew full well that Asher wasn't stupid enough to actually attack him. Finally, the Shepherd let out a shaky sigh, rage behind every bit of it.
"He owed me a debt." he finally said.
"And that's between the two of you." Musashi said. "But your methods for dealing with it were dirty and steeped in revenge, not justice, and that's why I will not forgive you if something happens to him before this is over."
Then he turned and looked around, making sure that they were still alone.
"All we can do is wait and follow our orders." the Tosa said, shrugging a crick out of his shoulder before glancing over at the other male. "And you better have a damn good excuse for your actions when the time comes, 'cause if I'm angry over this…how do you think Gin's gonna react? Or John?"
Asher seemed to tense slightly where he stood and Musashi knew his message had gotten through. Then he turned and took off after where his friends had gone, watching out of the corner of his eye as Asher did the same in a different direction. The fight dog shook his large head, putting on his normal stoic mask as he did to hide his worry.
'This had better work.' he thought. 'Or else we're in big trouble.'
Then he disappeared around a bend and was gone.
Zach winced slightly as one of his numerous wounds seeped more blood, the red, viscous liquid sliding down his thick chest fur and getting matted up with the rest of the seepage just above his left leg, a result of the direction the deep slash travelled.
'Damn!' he thought in irritation. 'After all this time, all these years, John can still pack one hell of a punch!'
After the fight had ended, he had quickly travelled North to the prearranged location to meet Draven, his group of subordinates following his every move loyally as always. The Malamute snorted. The fools. Not all of them were as dumb as the dirt he walked on, so why in god's name would they continue to willingly follow him and Draven, especially after all the Nomad leader had done? It didn't matter much to him anyway anymore. There were far more important things for his mind to focus on, specifically what to say to Draven to weasel more information out of him whilst still keeping his head on its shoulders.
Now, as he approached the abandoned, burned-out bus where the Wolfdog had made his temporary home base, he cycled through the checklist in his mind of the things to always do to not anger the volatile Nomad leader. Fortunately, they had become almost second nature to him now, and he stepped into the charred and rusted vehicle with little hesitation, seeing Draven standing with his back to him at the rear of the bus's main aisle. What he didn't expect to see was the Nomad leader's company. Being held down off to the side where seats used to be were Ben, Cross, and Tesshin, all of them surrounded by at least 2 dogs on each side, and all of them awake and alert to everything going on around them. Zach swore under his breath, moving forward quickly just as Tesshin noticed him and the ninja dog's eyes went wide.
"Za – " he started in startled confusion, but the Malamute quickly stomped down on his muzzle, muffling his words as his jaws snapped back shut painfully.
"Be silent, boy!" Zach hissed in his smooth voice. "You have no allies here to save you."
Then he gave the Koga dog a little wink and the other male's eyes widened once more though the fleshy gag that was Zach's front leg. After a moment, the Malamute pulled his leg back.
"Consider it our mercy that you're even still alive to speak at all." he finished and turned his attention back to Draven warily, Tesshin remaining silent as he did.
"Mercy." the Wolfdog greeted. "It's good to see you still in one piece. But where is Jacim I wonder?"
"Fallen, my lord." Zach replied and then switched his tone to thick sarcasm. "A crying shame really. I might even shed a tear."
Draven glanced over his shoulder with a satisfied smirk.
"I'll bet you would." he agreed, then cracked his neck and turned back to looking out the opening where the bus's rear window used to be. "We're almost home, Mercy. There's not long to go now."
"Success to us then, my lord." Zach said. "We'll see this through to the end."
Draven lifted his head a little.
"My lord." he repeated, sounding like he had just tasted something particularly disgusting on his tongue. "You know, brother, I had a 'lord' too once, just like you all have me. A long time ago it was. He was a wolf too, you see, and took it upon himself to cultivate my military dog training with training of his own. He saw potential in me, he said, and it was up to him to bring the holy warrior that he knew was in me out. It changed me. He taught me how to fight, told me stories, and showed me what honor was really worth when it all was said and done."
He paused for a while. Then his head drooped a little as if in thought.
"His name was Gaia."
Zach tensed slightly. He remembered that name from something Gin had told him years ago, something about a war they had fought in the years long past. He cocked his head and gazed intensely at the back of Draven's head.
"Is there anything else you wish of me, my lord?"
Draven didn't respond and still seemed to be lost in thought.
The Nomad leader seemed to snap out of his trance and quickly shook his paw dismissively.
"No." he murmured. "No. Gather your troops for a march. Get it done quickly, Kaito."
The Malamute's lone ear perked straight up at that. It was another name he recognized, this time from his own childhood.
"'Kaito', sir?" he asked and Draven seemed to tense.
"Slip of the tongue, Mercy." he said quickly and a hard edge came into his voice. "Now do what you're told."
Zach nodded and turned quickly to leave, his thoughts racing at a mile a minute.
"Oh and Mercy, one more thing."
The Malamute stopped and looked over his shoulder with the most neutral expression he could muster.
"Yes, my lord?"
"Have you ever heard of a dog named 'Zach of Ibaraki'?"
The Malamute felt his stomach fall to his feet. He saw Tesshin, Ben, and Cross's gazes shoot to him the moment it was said and used every bit of willpower he possessed to keep the expression on his face from changing. Draven had looked over his shoulder at him again as soon as he'd spoken and finally Zach met the Nomad leader's piercing gaze.
"No, my lord." he said. "I can't say that I have."
Draven continued to stare silently for a while before turning away once more, cracking his neck again as he regained his previous position. Then he snorted.
"Neither had I." he said. "I overheard some of the others talking about him. He sounded…interesting to say to the least."
Zach stayed silent and finally Draven waved him off.
"See to your task, brother." he said. "We've not far left to go."
"It shall be done, my lord." Zach replied and walked calmly off the bus, retreating into the woods and out of sight before letting out a ragged sigh.
The exchange had been by far the most telling of any he'd had with the volatile cult leader in all the time he'd been in his presence, and Zach had a sneaking suspicion that he knew at least part of what the Wolfdog was up to. That knowledge, however, meant that he had to do something that he had secretly been dreading for a long, long time.
Inhaling a deep breath into his lungs, he turned and ran a few hundred feet into the forest, tracking down his top commander and ordering him to rally their troops together for a march, as per Draven's orders. The dog, a Greyhound, immediately snapped into action with a nod and Zach quickly stole away into the trees as soon as he was gone, his legs taking him West as fast as they would carry him. The road he travelled on would lead him exactly where he needed to go: to Futago Pass…to Gajou. He sighed again, ignoring his still throbbing wounds as he kept his pace grueling. This was not going to be pleasant in the least bit.
Smith moved quickly along the valley perimeter, his nose pressed to the ground at every step he took. Though he had left alongside Wilson and Kurotora, he now found himself alone as he approached the entrance to the river canyon, an Ohu landmark that could be treacherous if not respected and dealt with carefully. Fortunately, Smith had lived there longer than most, so he knew it like the back of his paw, something that came in handy in situations such as the one they now found themselves in.
'Not that it's doing me any damn good right now!' the Spaniel thought to himself in frustration. 'Where the hell did these bastards go?!'
There had thus far been no trace of Draven, Zach or any of the dogs that had apparently helped facilitate the Nomad leader's escape, and with each passing minute Smith grew more and more worried about the wellbeing of the cult leader's three captives. Ben in particular had always been one of his closest friends, and Cross… Well, the history between them was complicated, but he still cared for her very deeply. The fact that Draven had military training made it even worse as far as Smith was concerned. That meant that the crazy Wolfdog had the knowledge and the skill to be even more dangerous than he already had been. And that was saying something. Trotting precariously close to the edge of the canyon drop, Smith sniffed around some more, inhaling the scent of grasses, trees and water…but no enemies. Up above, the sky had turned nearly black, an ominous warning of the incoming snowstorm that would trigger the start of Ohu's winter. If it snowed before they found their friends, the trail might be lost. If that happened, the chances of getting them back alive went down significantly. Smith swore silently to himself.
'Where the hell did you go?!' he demanded again in his mind.
Suddenly, as his eyes were scanning the landscape for signs of their targets, he saw movement on the other side of the canyon. Letting out a little grunt of surprise, he narrowed his eyes and focused on the dog that was rapidly approaching the opposing drop, a large figure that seemed strangely familiar. Then, as the figure reached the edge and began to look around, he turned and saw Smith and the Spaniel's breath caught in his throat instantly. A pang of horrible recognition shot through him as their gazes locked together. It was Zach of Ibaraki.
"Smith!" the Malamute yelled, sounding glad to see him. "Where's Gin?!"
The Spaniel only paused for a few seconds before turning tail and sprinting full bore back towards Gajou, his sense of loyalty outdoing the pride he was wounding by fleeing an enemy. He could hear Zach's voice yelling after him and turned around just in time to see the former Ohu soldier leap the canyon in one massive bound, his hind legs nearly slipping on the wet grass at the edge of the drop as he landed. Then he ran after Smith. The Spaniel was secretly impressed. Leaping the canyon had long been a test for new soldiers to prove their worth to the Ohu Army, and it had been a long time since he'd seen someone do it so effortlessly. It was a very crude attempt compared to Gin and some of the other top males like Akame, but it was still impressive nonetheless. Sprinting as fast as his legs could carry him, Smith leaped over a fallen tree and bellowed "Gin!" as loud as he could, hoping that the Akita was somewhere nearby and had heard him. Then however, a figure shot from out of a tree above his head and landed right in front of him with a crunching 'THUD', fallen sticks scattering upon his landing. Shouting in fear and surprise, Smith skidded to a halt and leaped backwards out of the way, meeting Zach's gaze as the Malamute looked at him intensely from where he'd landed.
"Smith," Zach repeated. "Listen to me. I need to talk to Gin – "
"Get back, traitor!" Smith cut him off angrily, getting into a fighting position. "Don't come near me! Where the hell are Ben, Cross, and Tesshin?!"
"That's what I'm here about." the Malamute insisted in a strangely nervous voice. "Please, let me see Gi – "
"Smith? What's wrong? Did you find something?"
Smith's head whipped to the right as Wilson emerged from the underbrush with no warning, clearly having answered his comrade's call. As soon as the Collie saw Zach standing there, he froze in his tracks, his gaze shooting back and forth between them.
"Smith?" he asked warily. "What is – "
"Get Gin!" the Spaniel ordered loudly and Wilson only hesitated a second before turning and sprinting off again.
Zach's head whipped back and forth between them.
"Damn it!" he yelled. "Listen to me!"
Smith immediately lunged forward and bit at him, trying to warn him off from following Wilson. The Malamute dodged aside before he reached him though and Smith found himself smacked backwards into a stumble. The hit, however, was weak at best, and Smith wondered angrily if the occasionally arrogant male was toying with him. Zach seemed to glare in his direction.
"I don't have time for this!" he snarled. "Now whe – "
Suddenly, distant voices came to both their ears and Smith saw Zach pause mid-word and shift his attention toward Gajou, where the noises had clearly come from. Finally, he lowered himself into a crouch and leaped high into the air, avoiding Smith's attempt to stop him and ricocheting off a tree trunk before bounding off in the direction of Gajou.
"Stop!" the Spaniel yelled after him and took off running the same way, hoping to head him off before he got there.
What the Nomad 3rd in command had in mind he didn't know, but him reaching Gajou was unacceptable. Not after all that had already happened. Ahead of him, he could see Zach's tail disappearing into the underbrush and willed himself to run faster, but seemed to gain no ground.
'Damn he's fast!' Smith thought in frustration. 'Akame just HAD to go and be a teacher to him! There's a fantastic lack of foresight!'
Suddenly, before Smith knew it, Gajou seemed to rise out of the earth in front of him, and he only paused for a moment as he saw Zach skid to a halt at the edge of the clearing a few hundred feet away, his eyes darting left and right warily as Ohu soldiers passed unaware close by. Then he seemed to take a deep breath and stepped out into the open, his presence immediately being noticed by a number of dogs walking nearby.
"You – You're – " one of them stuttered as his comrade turned with a wild look.
"Leader!" he howled loudly. "Here! He's here! Zach of Ibaraki!"
Smith swore under his breath and darted forward again, coming up alongside them moments later.
"Keep back!" he warned with a yell. "Nobody engage him!"
To his express surprise though, Zach seemed uninterested in attacking and instead lay down on the ground where he was, looking around him at the growing crowd. Then Smith saw Asher run up, looking as if he'd sprinted very fast to get there. He stepped forward towards the prone Zach.
"There you fucking are!" he growled in a low voice laced with dislike. "Where the hell have you been?!"
"Entertaining your mate." the Malamute spat back. "Bite me."
The police dog gave an angry, offended huff and lowered his head further.
"I can't protect you here." he said. "These dogs might tear you apart."
"I know." Zach replied. "But I trust Gin. As long as he listens, that's all I need."
Smith was very confused upon hearing this and gave Asher a scrutinizing look.
"Asher," he said in a very platoon leader-like voice. "What's going on?"
The police dog looked at him stiffly and Zach glanced up at the Shepherd.
"I'd start coming up with an explanation if I were you." he said. "I'm not the only one this is going to get unpleasant for."
Then Smith saw his eyes widen slightly and followed his gaze in time to see the others sprinting up to them in a big group, Akame leading the way with an intense, unreadable gaze. Without saying a word, he darted past Smith and leaped over Zach's back, clamping down onto his protégé's neck with his jaws as he passed and pulling him down onto his side roughly. Then he tightened his hold and looked up at Hakuro and Kisaragi, who were there as well.
"Immobilize him!" the ninja dog ordered sternly, his voice not one to be argued with.
Both other males did what he said at once and grabbed Zach's hind and forelegs, effectively rendering the Nomad commander defenseless. Before Smith could say anything, he saw someone storming roughly through the crowd towards them and knew somehow that it was John before he even looked.
"Get outta my way!" the Shepherd said nastily to one of Kouzou's soldiers. "I'll kill him!"
"John!" Zach rasped through Akame's hold. "Akame! Listen to me! This isn't what you think!"
"Quiet!" Akame barked forcefully before turning to his friend. "John, we need him alive."
"He's not gonna tell us shit!" John replied, cracking his neck as he pushed past Kurotora. "We'll track down Ben and the others by following Draven's trail. Let's just break his neck and get it over with once and for all."
"I'm not with Draven!" Zach yelled. "Listen to me, damn it!"
John looked down at him in disgust.
"Oh, don't even try it." he spat. "We won't be lied to a second time."
"John – "
"You brought this on yourself." the Shepherd said, stepping up to him and opening his jaws.
Suddenly, Gin of Ohu arrived in force.
"John, stand down!" the Akita shouted, sprinting up alongside Wilson and jumping into the fray. "That's an order!"
The Ohu commander met his gaze in disbelief and fury.
"We should've killed him in Ibaraki when we had the chance, Gin!" he thundered back, not backing down an inch as his best friend stepped right up to him. "Why in God's name would we – "
Everyone quieted at the scream instantly and all heads simultaneously turned to look at Musashi, who was panting and looked like he had run very fast from the forest border of the plains of Gajou. After catching his breath, the Tosa met Gin's gaze apologetically.
"Gin," he said. "Don't kill him. There's something you need to know."
After exchanging a stern look with John, the Akita stepped around Hakuro and took a few paces towards his friend. He seemed wary as he approached.
"All right, Musashi." he said calmly, though there was definitely turbulence underneath. "Let's have it."
The Tosa sighed deeply and glanced at Asher, who immediately averted his gaze elsewhere, forcing Musashi to look back at the expectant Ohu leader.
"Zach's here because I told him to be." he said. "He's not here as an enemy."
A frown slowly passed over Gin's face. Then he cocked his head slightly.
"What are you saying?" he asked warily.
The response was immediate.
"He's not one of the Nomads, Gin. He's undercover."
There was dead silence following these words. Gin looked like he had been smacked across the face by something hard and the expressions of his friends seemed to mirror this, their heads turning to look slowly at each other in between muttering from their subordinates further back. Gin looked back and forth between Musashi and Zach.
"He – He's what?!" he demanded. "Musashi…are you serious?!"
"Yes," the fight dog repeated. "I am. He infiltrated the Nomads a year ago when they started attacking people. He's been feeding us information ever since to help get dogs to safety before they were harmed."
"Feeding us - " Gin sputtered, then yelled. "How many innocent dogs has he killed since this madness started?"
"He had to keep his cover." The fight-dog countered in as calm a voice as possible. "We never expected him to get as high as he did in the cult."
"Whoa! Wait! 'We?'" Kurotora asked angrily from off to the side. "Who the hell else knew about this?!"
Musashi paused for a moment, then turned and looked pointedly at Asher, who looked simultaneously defiant and guilty as all eyes turned on him, as if he were a rebellious pup that had been caught doing something he shouldn't. Gin narrowed his eyes at the police dog.
"You knew about this?" he asked in a dangerous voice, sounding not at all like his normal, kind self.
Asher didn't answer at first and seemed to swear under his breath.
"Answer the question!" Akame demanded pointedly from where he stood and the Shepherd glanced at him irritatedly before relenting with a nod.
"Yes." he said bluntly. "I knew. I was the one that convinced him to infiltrate them in the first place."
For a moment, Gin opened and closed his mouth to try and say something in response to this, but no words he could muster could adequately describe the anger coursing through him at this turn of events. Fortunately, John was much less inclined to keep his mouth shut.
"When the fuck were you going to tell us all this?!" he bellowed, looking angrier than Gin had seen him in a long time. "After we killed him?!"
"We should've been in on this!" Akame added, also clearly angry. "Did he even understand how dangerous The Nomads were when he infiltrated them?! Going in there by yourself with no backup is suicide!"
"He was only supposed to be there for a week at the most!" Asher retorted, raising his voice a little as well. "We didn't expect him to get as high as he did! Draven bought his act! We had to take advantage of that!"
"At the cost of what?!" Gin yelled in reply, finally regaining his voice. "You - "
He stopped, sighing forcibly to calm himself down. Then he looked hard at both Asher and Musashi.
"You know I respect you." He said in a low voice. "But this crosses the line, and we WILL deal with this later."
Musashi nodded respectfully.
"Anytime you want, Gin." He said.
Asher, meanwhile, said nothing, having the grace to look a little ashamed of himself for lying. After that there was silence from everyone there and Gin turned finally to the still immobile Zach, his anger warring with a sense of relief that his friend had not betrayed them after all. He wasn't sure which one was winning the battle. Walking up to him, he nodded at Hakuro and Kisaragi, who took the hint and released their holds, stepping back to join the main group as soon as they had. Then Zach glanced up at the looming Gin and slowly stood up, cracking his neck as he did. Finally, after looking around at the group for a few moments and meeting the Ohu leader's gaze, the Malamute found his voice.
"If you're gonna hit me," he said. "And you have every right to, please just get it over with so we can get down to business and I can tell you what I've learned."
"If I thought that hitting you would knock some sense into your thick skull then I would pummel you repeatedly until it did some good." Gin said scathingly, making the Malamute pull back slightly in surprise. "Unfortunately, being a reckless fool seems to be incurable with you."
Then he sighed.
"…So let's go hear what you have to say." he finished, gesturing at his friends with his head. "Come on. All officers inside Gajou now to talk this over. Everyone else, stand by to move out quickly if need be."
Answering barks resounded from all around him and Gin quickly turned and padded towards Gajou's front opening, John beside him as Akame and Musashi flanked the quiet Zach right behind them. At the back, Smith and Kurotora exchanged a wary glance, both of them silently agreeing to keep on their guard, in case any other unexpected surprises should make themselves known. Soon enough, they were all inside the main chamber and circled up quickly as multiple guards moved to sit by the door. As soon as they were all settled, Gin turned to Zach.
"Let's hear it." he said shortly and the Malamute nodded, seemingly not worried in the least by his leader's still noticeable anger.
"I'll get right to it then." he said, all eyes fixed on him. "I may have figured out at least part of what Draven is up to, as insane as it's going to sound."
"Are Ben, Cross, and Tesshin okay?" Smith cut him off and Zach nodded almost guiltily.
"For the moment, yes." he said. "But we need to move quickly if we're gonna keep it that way."
"Where are they?" Gin asked sternly.
"At Draven's main base with him." came the answer. "I didn't know he was targeting them or I would've intervened. I'm sorry."
"What is Draven doing?" Kisaragi asked and Zach looked his way.
Then he scanned the group with his gaze.
"I assume, first of all, that you've realized by now that he can't feel pain." he said and they all nodded.
"Just recently, yes." Akame said and Zach nodded in his direction.
"Good." he said. "I don't know how he ended up that way, whether he was wounded in battle or was born with that ability…I don't know. But after he stopped being a military dog for the humans, I know who took him in…trained and mentored him, like you did with me."
Gin perked up a little. Finally, they were getting some answers.
"Who?" he asked with baited breath.
Zach met his gaze.
"Gaia." he said simply and then paused for their gasps. "Of the Empire soldiers. You remember him I take it."
There were stiff nods to this and both Kouzou and Asher looked confused.
"Who's Gaia?" the former asked and Akame turned his way.
"He was the leader of a wolf pack we fought a number of years ago." the ninja dog replied, looking troubled. "They called themselves 'The soldiers of the Empire'. He was brutal. More of a warlord than just a pack leader."
"But Gaia never would've taken in a half-breed." Kurotora insisted. "Never in a thousand years."
"If Draven impressed him enough he might have." Akame said. "Especially if he did have mostly wolf blood in him. This also could explain the whole cult thing."
"How?" Asher asked and Moss glanced his way from John's side.
"Those mutts were really into that spiritual garbage." he grunted. "Constantly talking about their gods and how they had special attacks or powers only they could use."
"And if Draven was taught by them…maybe he really does believe in all of it." Wilson said.
"He does." Zach confirmed, looking over at him. "I wasn't sure until today. But he said something accidentally that made me realize what he may be doing."
"What?" John demanded harshly, speaking to his friend for the first time since Musashi's big revelation.
Zach merely glanced at him before turning back to Wilson.
"Ever heard of 'The Trials of Kaito'?" he asked and the Collie frowned.
"The what of what?" Smith asked, a confused look plastered all over his face and Wilson beat Zach to the punch.
"The Trials of Kaito." he repeated, still frowning in apparent thought. "It's an old wolf fable if I remember right. A story some packs tell."
"Exactly." Zach said, looking impressed. "My uncle used to tell it to me and my brother when we were young. He dealt with some of the wolf packs down near us before he died. Right before I left to come back here, Draven called me 'Kaito' by accident and I knew what he was doing…or part of it anyway."
"And this story is…what exactly?" Kurotora asked with a raised eyebrow.
Zach motioned to Wilson and the Collie shrugged and shook his head.
"Well," he said, settling down on his haunches. "In the story, Kaito is a great soldier, the leader of a war pack. They called him "The Night Walker" because he liked fighting in the dark. All the younger wolves see him as a living legend. But the wolf god Hati, who chased the moon and brought the night, was jealous of him. He wanted the night for himself. So he takes everything from Kaito, his mate, his children, his pack, his honor…everything. He leaves him alone and broken, totally without purpose or a reason to live. Then he comes to Kaito, not telling him that he's the one behind it, and tells him that if he purges world of evil in Hati's name and comes to him right when he finally eats the moon, then he'll give him back what he lost."
"What does this have to do with anything?" Kurotora asked rudely and Zach looked at him.
"Wait for it." he said simply.
Wilson, meanwhile, looked over at Gin.
"So Kaito believes him." he continued. "He does just that. He travels the world and kills countless dogs and wolves, all in Hati's name. Then, when he had finished, he comes to Hati at the agreed moment and demands to be given what he was promised. And Hati said: "I gave you my word, and my word I shall keep" and gave him back all he'd lost. But there was a catch. Even though Kaito had gotten back all the people he'd lost, they were just empty shells. They had no emotion, no personality, no feeling, no anything. They just walked around like ghosts. Finally Kaito couldn't take it anymore and took his own life, leaving the night all for Hati, which was Hati's goal all along."
Then the Collie stopped talking and there was silence for a long while. This was broken when Smith leaned forward with a frown and said:
"So…again, what does this have to do with anything?"
"It has to do with everything," Wilson said exasperatedly, glaring at him. "Because I think Draven's trying to live out 'The Trials of Kaito'! Zach is right! I mean, look who he is! He's a former war dog that lost everything, including his ability to feel. Eventually he lives with the wolves and hears this story…but his warped mind twists its meaning. The whole moral of the story is you can't change what's done and don't anger the gods, but to Draven, all he heard was the part about getting back what he lost."
"So he thinks that if he kills everyone," Akame said, his eyes widening in sudden understanding. "And does it at the right time, he'll get back his ability to feel. He won't be a shell anymore like in the story."
"Exactly." Zach replied with a small smile. "That's what he's doing. That's why none of his movements seemed to make any sense. He's trying to live out his own version of that fable."
John shook his head in bewilderment, shrugging at Kurotora as the Kai dog did the exact same thing. Beside them though, Gin looked warily intrigued.
"But why now?" he asked. "Assuming you're right, why wait all this time and only start this up now?"
"Because in the story, Kaito didn't get what he wanted until Hati finally ate the moon." Akame answered. "He's was waiting for the right moment."
"Waiting for what?" Moss asked, speaking up once more.
"What's happening tomorrow night?" the ninja-dog asked almost casually and Gin's eyes widened, remembering back to Daisuke and the conversation he'd overheard in the junkyard while fighting Jacim.
"The eclipse…" he breathed in awed realization.
Akame and Wilson both nodded at him with small smiles. Then Kurotora shook his head again with a scoffing noise.
"That's insane." he said simply. "The whole damn thing. It fucking insane."
"It's a cult." Hakuro snorted. "Who said sanity was involved anywhere?"
"He may be insane." Zach said, looking at Gin. "But don't take him lightly because of this. This delusion is the one thing that's keeping him going and he will kill anyone who gets in his way. He's more dangerous than you realize."
"So where is he going?" Smith asked. "If killing us all is his endgame than why did he kidnap Ben and the others?"
Zach shook his head.
"I don't know." he admitted. "The story is only a blueprint for what he's doing. Every individual move he's making otherwise is of his own design and I don't know what he's planning for us. I don't think anybody does but him."
"In that case, we need to attack his base quickly!" Kurotora said. "Before this blasted storm hits or he gets time to do something!"
"He won't still be there." Zach replied. "I'll tell you where it is, of course, but…he'll be long gone by the time you get there."
"We'll still take a chance on it." Gin said firmly. "Where is it?"
Zach turned and nodded out the stone fortress's entrance.
"About 10 miles or so due east." he said. "In an old, abandoned bus near the river."
"I know where that is!" Kouzou exclaimed. "My pack and I passed it on our way here when we were arriving!"
"Go check it out then." Gin said. "Kisaragi, go with him. Do not engage Draven unless you absolutely have to. The last thing we can afford is to lose more people, especially officers."
"Got it." both males said almost simultaneously and then stood, darting out the entrance one by one and disappearing from sight moments later.
As soon as they had, Akame turned to Gin.
"We should rally reinforcements to help them, leader." he said. "Leave at the earliest possible time to counterattack."
"There may be a problem with that, Akame." Smith said suddenly and everyone's heads swiveled to see him standing near the cave's entrance, looking out at the plains of Gajou just beyond it.
Standing up quickly, Gin padded over to his friend, hearing the others beside him doing the same, and followed his gaze the moment he arrived at his side. Outside, snow had begun to fall in torrents, a thin first layer already covering the ground in the short time it had taken them to have their pack meeting.
"Winter is here." the Spaniel mused and Gin seemed to clench his jaw in frustration.
"Damn it." he muttered and John looked over at him from Hakuro's side.
"We're not going anywhere 'til this dies down." he said, echoing what was in his friend's thoughts. "We're gonna have to wait it out and hope it lets up soon."
Gin didn't reply and seeing this, Akame turned to the others.
"Get some rest while you can." he ordered. "We move out the moment this is over."
The tired dogs didn't have to be told twice, and most of them disappeared outside to join their packmates huddled together to shelter from the storm. As he passed, Musashi stopped and looked at Gin, who met his gaze unblinkingly.
"I'm sorry," the Tosa said, and it was obviously genuine. "For my deception. I wanted to tell you."
Gin paused for a moment, then nodded.
"I know." he said, and it was with some difficulty. "Thank you."
The fight dog bowed his head slightly and then ran off as well, leaving Gin, John, Akame, Smith and Zach remaining in the cave. Soon though, Smith too yawned and padded towards the entrance.
"I'll be with Kuro and his group." he said to no one in particular.
Then he turned and looked at Zach, flashing a small smile in the Malamute's direction.
"It's good to have you back." he said simply.
Then he walked away out into the snow and the cave once again descended into silence. This continued for an uncomfortable minute or so before Zach's voice broke the stillness.
"He seems different somehow." the Malamute remarked, gesturing towards where Smith had disappeared. "Smith. And I haven't seen Chutora around anywhere. Where is he?"
No one answered for a moment, but Gin finally turned his gaze to the floor and spoke when he saw that his friends weren't going to.
"He died a few weeks after you left." he replied softly. "An accident with a cliff. Smith had to put him down because of his injuries. He's never really been the same since."
Zach's lone ear reversed slightly and he seemed to stare vacantly at the wall upon hearing this. Then he shook his head almost unnoticeably.
"I didn't know." he said. "I'm sorry."
"You don't sound too affected by it." John observed bitterly from where he sat, and Gin gave his friend a warning look, one that was completely ignored by the Shepherd.
Zach snorted lightly.
"I've seen so much death this past year, John, I don't think anything affects me anymore." he replied, suddenly looking very tired. "Some of it I even caused. Chutora was a good friend…but that seems like a lifetime ago."
Then he turned and walked away, vanishing into one of the darkened corridors as his path took him steadily towards the top of Gajou, the wind howling through the stones around them all the while. After exchanging a glance with each other, the three Ohu leaders soon stood and followed him, finding him a few minutes later by scent near one of the upper entrances, overlooking the dense forests of Futago Pass and watching them slowly get blanketed in white. Gin sat down beside him as soon as they had, sensing Akame and John taking the positions directly behind the two of them on either side. Then the Ohu leader looked at his friend.
"What happened, Zach?" he asked quietly. "After everything we've been through you owe me at least an explanation. And this may be the last opportunity we get to talk before the fighting starts again so…what happened?"
The Malamute sighed.
"Asher came to me," he said. "A few months after you left. Said that I owed him for what I'd done to his cousin, no matter what you said. Then he told about the Nomads, and everything he thought they had done."
He looked up and met Gin's gaze.
"They were moving towards Shikoku at the time." he continued softly. "And Asher said that if something wasn't done about them that there could be a war. The only way to figure out what they were doing, and who they would attack, was to become one of them. Asher told me that's what I needed to do to repay him, that in order to save everyone I'd befriended…I needed to become the dog I used to be. The one I swore I never would be again."
Gin clenched his jaws in silent anger, his dislike of the police dog increasing exponentially every moment he sat there. Behind him, John muttered:
Zach smirked a little.
"I only did it because I wanted to protect the others." he said. "When he first arrived I told him to shove it. You should've seen Musashi when he found out. I thought he was gonna break him in half in front of me."
Gin and Akame smiled at that, but John was looking at the slash wound on Zach's chest. Moments later, he nodded at it.
"Sorry about that." he said gruffly, sounding dismissive as he said it.
Zach snorted again through his smile.
"You don't sound too affected by it." he said teasingly, using the Shepherd's own words against him.
John snorted and glared pointedly down the corridor in the opposing direction, not taking the bait. Zach sighed, shaking his head slightly.
"John, I really am sorry." he said. "For not telling you. The last thing I wanted was to fight you in that forest."
The Shepherd turned back to face him at this, his expression akin to a disappointed father's.
"Then you should've said something." he said coldly.
"I couldn't." Zach replied insistently. "Some of those dogs watching us reported straight to Draven. They would've seen the change in your behavior even if I'd whispered it in your ear, and then Draven would've found out and everything would have been exposed."
"Before that!" the Shepherd clarified. "Back when you visited us before! You could've told us then and we could've avoided this whole damn mess!"
"Draven would have found out."
"Guys, please." Gin said wearily. "Just – "
"No, Gin!" John cut him off, then turned back to Zach. "You know, it's not even the fact that every word that came out of your mouth was a lie, it's the fact I don't know whose side you're on! Not for certain."
"Whose side I'm on?!" Zach sputtered incredulously.
"I've never seen a male as good at lying as you." John said, not backing down an inch. "You're convincing as a friend, you're convincing as an enemy…how am I supposed to trust you if I don't know where the hell your loyalties lie?"
For a few long minutes, Zach sat and said nothing, letting the cave fall into silence as he seemed to think hard about his friend's words. Then he stood once more and turned to face John.
"Since my words are what you don't trust." the Malamute said calmly. "Then saying more will only make this worse."
John snorted derisively.
"I'd say you're right." he agreed bitterly.
Zach's only response to this was to step forward and pull the moody Shepherd into a tight hug with his front leg, keeping his grip firm as John let out a startled grunt of surprise and froze, his expression alternating between confusion and shock as he awkwardly returned it a few seconds later. For their part, Gin and Akame also exchanged surprised glances, having the good sense to stay quiet and let the scene play out instead of intervening. Finally, after a few more moments of holding it, Zach pulled away and stepped back to where he had been. Then he met John's shocked gaze and gave his head a little tilt.
"Genuine enough for ya?" he said and then turned back to looking out at the snow, sitting down as he did.
John said nothing and merely gave a slow nod, sitting down as well as Gin and Akame took their previous positions near their friends. Zach cracked his neck slightly.
"Does that officially end our quarrel I hope?" he asked and Gin looked over in time to see John frown.
"End it?" the Shepherd replied in his gruff voice. "Now I'm just kind of confused. On one hand: thanks, that felt nice. On the other: don't ever hug me again. I'm a male you know."
Gin and Akame both laughed at this and Zach shook his head with a tired grin.
"Keep your hackles down, John, it's just a hug." the Malamute chided, then sighed deeply as the smile faded from his face and he seemed to deflate slightly. "Besides…I won't be here for much longer anyway."
All three of them perked up at this.
"What do you mean?" Gin asked warily and Zach said nothing, continuing to stare out at the falling snow.
He didn't have to say a word though, as Akame put two and two together moments later.
"You're going back aren't you?" the ninja dog said.
Gin felt alarm shoot through him at this and it took only one look at Zach's face to confirm his friend's suspicions. Moments later, Zach confirmed them himself.
"I have to." he said.
"Why?!" John demanded. "If we know what Draven is doing now, then you can help us fight him from here!"
"I don't know all of it, remember?" Zach replied. "He still has something planned before this is over, and I'm the only one that can get close enough to keep Ben, Cross, and Tesshin alive if something goes wrong."
"Zach, if he figures out who you are, he'll kill you." Akame said in concern, stepping a little closer. "Especially now that he's close to his endgame."
The Malamute gave a sad smile.
"I know." he said. "He's already begun to suspect me, I think. Right before I left to come here he asked if I'd ever heard of 'Zach of Ibaraki'. I told him I hadn't but…it's only a matter of time 'til he figures it out. Hopefully I can get Ben and the others out of there before that happens."
"Kid, if he's that suspicious then going back is suicide!" John exclaimed and Gin agreed.
"Zach, don't do this." the Ohu leader pleaded, turning to his friend fully. "We can stop him with force if we stick together. Don't throw your life away on a gamble."
"I threw my life away 6 years ago in Ibaraki," Zach replied, standing up. "When I watched my mother die and a dog named 'Mastermind' was born."
The Akita pulled back a little, somewhat offended by this.
"And what we did didn't matter?!" he asked. "What we went through together meant nothing?"
Zach looked him right in the eye.
"It meant everything." he said and Gin knew that it was genuine. "You gave me a second chance at life I didn't deserve, showed me compassion I'd never felt before, and gave me a family like I'd never had. I love you all more than I can even say. But I will not have my legacy be a bloodthirsty vigilante. My mate doesn't deserve that. …My kids don't deserve that."
All three Ohu leaders straightened up visibly at that and the entire mood of the encounter changed.
"Wait!" John sputtered, exchanging a shocked glance with Akame. "Kids?! Like actual, real, ankle-biting kids?! You?!"
"You took a mate?" Akame asked with a surprised smile and Zach nodded almost shyly.
"Her name is Kana." he said.
"The dog who led you and John into that trap in Shikoku?"
"What can I say?" the Malamute said with a shrug. "I have a thing for beautiful females who try and kill me on the first date."
"And she had pups?" he asked and Zach's smile widened.
"Four." he answered. "Three males and a female."
Gin felt a sense of happiness fill him at this news and Akame tilted his head curiously.
"What are their names?" he asked and Zach met his mentor's gaze.
"Ryu, Ryo, Hanji and Heita." he replied, his voice sounding proud while saying it. "Musashi's really taken a liking to them, though I doubt he'd admit it."
Then he paused for a moment before continuing.
"I also want you to know that I almost named one of them Akame." he said quietly. "But I decided against it. Didn't think it was fair to make the kid have to live up to the original."
Akame looked very touched by this and nodded appreciatively with a smile of his own. Zach returned it and then once again turned back to the storm. He sighed once more.
"I have until the snow eases up." he said. "Then I'm gone."
Gin sighed silently, turning his head to gaze out at the falling snow. The spruces and pines that dotted Futago Pass on every side were already coated with a thickening layer of powder, and the Akita could feel the very warmth getting sucked out of the air the longer they stood there watching, as if winter wanted them to witness its raw power firsthand on the eve of battle. Looking down the rocky side of Gajou, Gin could see the groups of dogs under his command huddled into groups, steam rising off their bodies as they tried to share their body heat in the increasingly frigid air. The Ohu leader turned to John.
"We should have some scouts begin hunting for some food for the others." he said. "Something to keep them all busy and tended to until we move out."
"I'll let them know." the Shepherd said and ran back down the stone hallway to Gajou's entrance to deliver the orders.
"We should be ready ourselves, leader." Akame said. "When we do leave, we'll need to move fast to catch up with Draven before he's able to implement any more of his plan."
"I know." came the answer. "But first I want to say something to everyone."
Then they too turned to follow John down the corridor, their powerful figures only taking a few strides before they each turned and looked at the still prone Zach.
"You coming?" Akame asked and Zach nodded once.
"In a minute." he said. "I'll catch up."
Gin turned further towards him.
"Follow us." he commanded calmly. "I won't have you running off while our backs are turned."
The Malamute raised an eyebrow at him and stood up.
"You really think I'd do that?"
"Yes, I do." he said. "So don't you dare."
Zach smirked and got a fleeting almost playful look on his face before turning and following his friends back down the corridors of Gajou, only stopping when they'd exited the front cave entrance and emerged into the sunlight and cold of northern Japan's winter. Waiting in the threshold was John, and the Shepherd fell in wordlessly beside them as they stepped out into the light. Seeing them, a number of dogs stood quickly in respect, something Gin merely acknowledged with a nod rather than focus on. Instead, he saw that the snow squall had hit a lull and the clouds were momentarily letting up their assault. It was time to go. Also… Looking to his right, the Akita saw Zach staring back at him, a small smile decorating the Malamute's scarred face. Zach gave him a nod.
"See you 'round, leader." he smiled, turning to walk away.
"Zach – " Gin started, but trailed off almost immediately, realizing that he didn't quite know what to say.
Fortunately, the Malamute seemed to understand.
"For what it's worth," he said in an even tone. "…know that I'm glad you came to Ibaraki that day. I wouldn't trade that year we spent together for anything."
Gin smiled at him warmly.
"Be careful." he said and the Malamute nodded, turning once more to leave as dogs stepped aside to let him pass.
"Hey." John called calmly and Zach paused, glancing over his shoulder at him.
The Shepherd's face seemed stoic, but in his eyes Gin saw a glint of deep concern and knew at last that John had forgiven their wayward friend. The Ohu beta met Zach's gaze.
"Don't die." he commanded simply and Zach smirked at him.
"Oh ye of little faith." he grinned and when the Shepherd gave him a stern look added, "Don't worry. Death's too scared to take me."
Then he turned and bounded away, sprinting off into the trees and vanishing from sight before anyone could further interrupt his mission. For a moment, Gin stared after him. Then he turned and stepped powerfully out amongst his waiting comrades, more of whom stood as they saw that something was about to happen. When he was confident that he had their attention, Gin spoke up.
"Everyone," he said loudly. "Get ready to move out!"
"S-Sir?" came a voice and the Akita looked over in surprise to see a young male from Kouzou's pack, a glint of apology in his eye. "We – There's a rumor going around that Draven can't feel pain…that he's invincible. Is it true? S-Sorry, sir, but…how can we beat him if he can't be beaten?"
For a moment, Gin was caught off guard by this and looked around at the other soldiers around him, all of them looking to him anxiously to assuage their fears. Finally, he took another step forward.
"I'm not sure how that rumor came about," he said powerfully. "But let me tell you all something. It's true Draven can't feel pain."
There was an immediate upsurge of muttering from the foot soldiers gathered nearby and the Akita raised his voice louder, making sure that all could hear him.
"But make no mistake," he said. "He is not, and never will be, invincible. For all his strength, for all his skill…he's just a dog, and he will answer for what he's done. We'll make him answer for it. If any of you are still afraid, remember this: we fought another enemy here a number of years ago, one that was also considered to be invincible."
He paused a moment before finishing.
"His name was Akakabuto."
The muttering returned again in full force, but this time it sounded more supportive than hesitant.
"There were dogs back then who told my comrades and I that we were suicidal for even thinking of taking on Akakabuto, that there was no way we could ever win. And still we defeated him! They said we would die in the attempt."
He looked around him at Akame, John and the others.
"We seem to still be here." he said, causing a light chorus of supportive shouts to rise up from the crowd, and chuckles from his nearby friends to follow them.
"This day reminds me a lot of back then." Gin continued, looking up at the sky. "It was snowing that day too. And I'm thinking that the rest of this battle will follow that one equally as closely…as long as you all stand with us and fight."
He looked around one last time at his numerous subordinates, his friends included.
"Let's do this one more time, shall we?"
At that, a thunderous roar of barks and howls of support arose from everyone there, from the oldest veteran down to the youngest rookie, and Gin stood as tall as his leader rank allowed him. As this was happening, two dogs broke through the crowd and ran up to him, both of them skidding to a halt as John and Akame regained their places at the Ohu leader's side. It was Kouzou and Kisaragi.
"Gin." the latter said intensely. "Draven was gone when we got to his base, like Zach said he'd be. But a few of our scouts reported seeing him and his army moving north towards Mutsu, specifically a place called Yagen Valley, right on the border between our territories."
Gin's ears perked up at that. It was the break they'd been waiting for! Kouzou nodded as if he understood.
"We know where he's going, Gin." the Shepherd said. "We can catch up to him."
The Ohu leader wasted no further time.
"All soldiers!" he shouted. "Move out!"
And with that, the Ohu Army was on the move again, each platoon falling in behind the others one at a time as Gin, John, and Akame led them swiftly northeast towards the Mutsu border, and the valley where the war could, once and for all, come to an end.