Story 4: The Great One
The wind was stronger than normal
today. Daian shivered as it blew into the sanctuary of her cave home,
rustling her black fur and chilling her to the bone. Glancing outside,
she sniffed at the air and tried to pick up the scent of her 3 pups.
They should've been back from their hunt 15 minutes ago, and the
Labrador was just about ready to go and look for them.
'Those kids…' she thought affectionately, with just a touch of exasperation, 'I knew I shouldn't have let them hunt on their own this early. They get so easily distracted.'
Stretching her legs tiredly, a result of the nap she'd been taking, she stood and got ready to head out. Maybe she was being overprotective, she thought, but given the proximity of where they lived to the humans, who lived not far to the west from where they were, she didn't want to take any chances. The humans didn't usually bother them, or the other strays of the area for that matter, and aside from the building where they took dogs that were violent or problematic, there was very little that she had to worry about in the Nagano prefecture. Still though, she wanted to be sure, especially with her 3 bundles of energy in the stage of their puppy hood where they loved exploring and examining everything. Dismissing the thoughts from her mind, she walked forward towards the cave entrance…and nearly ran right into a dog that she hadn't seen walk up.
"Excuse me, miss?" he said and she jumped back with a yelp of surprise.
"Who are you?" she asked warily and he shot her a disarming smile.
"Sorry for startling you." he said. "It's just that I need directions. I'm from up at Keji. I don't know this area too well."
"Keji?" she repeated, looking him over as she did. "The animal laboratory? Why are you all the way down here?"
"There was an escape this morning." he said gravely. "A number of pretty bad dogs got away. We found your pups wandering around and thought we should bring them back before something happened."
At that, 3 tiny, black furred pups shot around the corner and ran up to her, barking excitedly and talking at once to her. Daian smiled in relief, licking each one of them before turning back to the dog, who still wore a smile on his muzzle. He was a Beauceron, she saw, and was relatively handsome, despite the numerous scars that adorned his back, face, and chest. She nodded gratefully at him.
"Thank you." she said. "But do you think those dogs are down around here, um…"
"Toraji." he offered, and then added. "And we're not sure. We're looking everywhere we can think of. Have you seen any suspicious dogs around here lately? Any dogs at all?"
"Just a few pets from the local human village." Daian said with a frown. "No one I didn't recognize."
"Ah." he responded, then looked at someone out of her line of sight. "No luck, guys. I guess we'll just have to move on."
The moment he finished saying it, another whole group of dogs came up to him from the same direction, and he turned back to her as she tensed up, not being used to having this many unknown males around.
"Forgive us for disturbing you then, miss." Toraji said with a courteous nod, then started to turn away.
One of her male pups, though, who always had been very curious, leapt forward with his tail wagging.
"Mr. Toraji!" he called, and when the dog turned back said. "Do you really deal with bad dogs? I mean really ugly, nasty dogs?"
"Jonasu." Daian scolded. "Don't pry."
"It's all right." Toraji said with a laugh. "Yeah, kid, I do. We all do."
"What's it like? How bad are they?"
"They're pretty bad guys." came the answer. "Not the kind you want to grow up to be. There's one I know who actually ate another dog alive!"
Daian gasped softly, shocked that Toraji would say something like that to a pup. Before she could say anything though, Jonasu jumped in again, his two sisters looking just as fascinated at his side.
"Eww!" he said making a face. "How do you know?"
Toraji flashed him the same disarming smile as before.
"Because he was my cellmate." he said.
Daian went numb. She looked up at the Beauceron, who now smiled back at her with a glare that looked very predatory. She took a step back.
"What?" she said, certain she had heard wrong. "B-But you said – "
"I said I was from Keji." he said, his voice suddenly cold. "I never said I worked there."
Trembling, Daian reached up and pushed her children back behind her roughly, all three of them complaining, looking confused as to what was going on.
"P-Please," she said in a shaky voice. "We don't want any trouble. We just want to be left alone."
Toraji tilted his head to the side, cracking his neck.
"I wanted that once too." he said. "Ask me how it worked out."
Then, after studying her for a moment, he looked down at the ground.
"I'll make you a deal." he said. "Tell me where the Ohu army resides these days and you'll never see me again. Cross my heart."
"Ohu?" she said, startled. "They're up in Futago Pass. They have been since that war of theirs ended."
"All of them?"
"W-Well, last I heard, a few of them were traveling down near here somewhere, including Gin himself. That's just a rumor though."
"Tell me," Toraji said, glaring unblinkingly at her. "Is one of them named 'Great'?"
"I-I don't know." she answered.
He nodded, then smiled again.
"See?" he said. "That's all there is to it. You did good!"
"So you'll let us go?"
"No." he said bluntly and she froze again.
"But y-you said – "
"I said you'd never see me again." he responded as the other 5 dogs with him walked slowly into the cave at her. "I never said that me leaving would be the reason why."
"Sorry." he said with a snort. "Witnesses and all that. Nothing personal."
Then he turned and walked away, hearing loud screams and whines of agony erupt from the cave behind him, the voices big and small amidst the snarls. Looking north, Toraji kept his pace steady, his blood-spattered comrades swiftly falling in behind him, their work done. He gritted his fangs, the face of an old friend entering his mind.
"Nothing personal." he repeated.
Great yawned, stretching as he awoke to find that the sun was already up, shining its new light down onto their backs. The rest of the group was still asleep, he saw, and he gave a silent snort as he looked over at them. He, Smith, and Wilson had met up with Gin and the others shortly after they had crossed into the Yamanashi territory, and from there they had made their way Northwest into the Nagano Prefecture, a large area that none of them knew very well. While he and his two companions had been fine, though, Gin and the others had looked exhausted, and the moment they entered the territory, they had stopped for the night to sleep, flopping to the ground and dozing off right after Gin had told the three of them that they would reveal what happened to them tomorrow. The Great Dane had accepted this, and had taken the opportunity to see if anything had changed since they had last seen each other.
Ever since Gin had taken over Ben's position back when they were gathering soldiers for the war against Akakabuto, Great had felt like something of an outsider. They were his friends, sure, but they seemed to get along better with each other than with him, and only Smith seemed to talk to him much anymore, which meant that he had to check up on them himself, making sure that they were okay without them telling him anything. Part of it was just the platoon leader in him still asserting itself, he knew, but another part of it was sheer curiosity. While the whole group had seemed tired, they appeared otherwise to be quite normal, and in fact had seemed to be a good deal happier than they were when Great and his group left. They talked to each other more frequently now, which was in stark contrast to the time right after they'd left Ibaraki, and each seemed to be making a distinct effort to boost their morale. What shocked him, Smith, and Wilson the most though, was their newfound acceptance of Zach, the group's "prisoner".
The last Great had seen, the Malamute had been hated pretty much by everyone, and had returned their animosity in an even greater amount. Now, though, the others seemed to get along with him quite well, and though they were still stern to him on more than one occasion, reminding him that he was still their prisoner, they didn't snap at him almost at all anymore, and included him in their group discussions. Perhaps most surprising to him though, was the relationship Zach now had with John. Out of all of his friends, Great had assumed that John would be the one who would hate Zach the most, and would end up fighting with him at every turn. Instead, they seemed to be getting along surprisingly well, and though they did seem to constantly bicker and weren't exactly "friends", Great could tell it was all in good fun and that they were no longer out to hurt each other…most of the time anyway. Just before they had all gone to sleep, he had seen the two of them teasing each other like old comrades, and he silently wondered what the hell had happened to the group in Kanagawa that had brought them so much closer together.
Shaking his head, the Great Dane stepped carefully over the sleeping Wilson and moved silently off into the trees that surrounded where their group had decided to stop and rest. There was a small stream a few hundred yards in this direction, he knew, and it was perfect for quenching his thirst before they moved on. As soon as he reached it, listening instinctively for any presence besides his own, he bent down and lapped at the cool water, still blinking sleep out of his eyes as he did.
"There you are! I was wondering where you went."
Great whirled around toward the voice with a grunt of surprise, falling into the water as he did. As soon as he found its source, he frowned with an irritated snort. Smith stood on the bank of the stream right behind him, smiling amusedly at his comrade's antics and looking thoroughly pleased with himself. Great scowled slightly.
"Smith, you pest!" he said. "Next time warn me."
"But then I wouldn't have gotten to see that." the Setter grinned, then leaned down and lapped at the water as well. "Cool off. I came to tell you that the others are waking up. We should be heading out pretty soon."
Great nodded, stepping out of the stream.
"Got it." he said.
Then he turned and sat down on the steam's bank, looking up at the sky as if examining it. Smith turned back from where he had started to walk away, having noticed this.
"Hey, what's with you recently?" he asked with a concerned frown. "You've been acting all brooding ever since we left Gajou. Why?"
The Great Dane shrugged.
"Lot of thoughts just going through my head I guess." he said. "This journey's not much of a soldier's work."
"Maybe not." Smith responded thoughtfully. "But it's necessary. They were our comrades after all."
Great nodded, only half listening to him.
"Remember the old days?" he asked suddenly and the Setter looked at him in confusion. "Back when it was just you, me, and Ben as the Boss's platoon leaders? A couple subordinates each and that was it?"
Smith gave a snorting laugh.
"Yeah." he said. "God, that feels like a lifetime ago."
"I think we're getting too old for all of this." Great grinned, standing again.
"We're only like 6." Smith said with another laugh, standing as well. "Besides, if we're old, what does that make Ben…or Akame?"
"Younger in mind than in body." came a new voice and the duo turned to see the Kishu striding up, an amused smile on his normally stoic face.
He stopped and gestured with his head.
"Everyone's up." he said. "The leader wants to leave immediately."
Great nodded and so did Smith.
"Let's go then." he said, and they followed Akame back through the trees to where everyone else was waiting.
It didn't take long for them to move out after that, and soon enough, the 9 of them had moved further into the Nagano Prefecture, Gin keeping the pace steady at the front with John and Akame. Great walked in the middle of the group, and kept his eyes open for any sign of trouble that might pose a threat to the leader's safety. That was, after all, his primary job as a direct subordinate, and he took it seriously. Next to him, Chutora looked up at his three friends leading the way.
"There's no one we need to give condolences to here right?" he asked and Gin shook his head.
"No." he said and it sounded almost relieved. "Once we get past this territory, we need to stop in the next one."
"Can we go home then?" Kurotora asked sarcastically from the back of the group and the Akita chuckled.
"Don't I wish." he responded, but suddenly, Akame stuck his paw out, stopping him.
"What is it?" Smith asked from behind them, having nearly walked into the Kishu.
"Blood." John growled softly, having smelled it too. "From right up ahead."
"Everyone at the ready." Gin said and they all obeyed. "Let's check it out."
With Gin and John at the front, the group slowly walked into the clearing they had just been about to enter. They could smell humans not too far from where they were, but the stench of blood was coming from a small cave on their right. Glancing at each other, Akame and John stuck their heads around the edge of the rock wall and looked into the dim inlet, inhaling sharply in shock seconds later.
"It's clear." the Kishu said, then rushed into the cave quickly, Gin right behind him.
When he saw where the smell was coming from, Gin too let a small gasp. The remains of a female Labrador and her 3 small pups lay decaying on the stone floor in front of them, their bodies torn into pieces and scattered to every corner of the cave. Zach nosed at one of the dead pups.
"Who the hell kills kids?" he asked in a disgusted voice and Kurotora stepped up next to him, looking around at the carnage with a similar expression.
"A real fucking coward, that's who." he said, and then looked at Smith. "Smith, you're the tracker here. Any sign of whoever did this?"
Great didn't hear how Smith responded, as he was busy sniffing around the area himself, looking for any sign of the killer. Suddenly, he caught a new scent and stopped in his tracks. It didn't belong to anyone there, and yet…it seemed familiar.
'I know that scent.' he thought. 'Why do I know that scent?'
It was at that moment that a shape lunged from the tree line outside and collided hard with Wilson, tackling him to the ground with a snarl and making the others whirl to look.
"What the – " Chutora started, but then another figure hit him as well and he was sent rolling with a grunt of pain, trying unsuccessfully to fight back as two more figures jumped on him and started ripping at his flesh.
Leaping into action, Gin lunged and head-butted the two figures off of him hard, throwing the third one into a tree as John and Akame tackled the fourth off of Wilson, slashing his shoulder with their fangs and sending him flying onto his side before leaping back next to their friends. Then the fight stopped as the two groups faced off, snarling angrily at each other. At the front of the other one was a German Shepherd, his fur a little lighter than John's, who bared his teeth at the Ohu soldiers.
"Show me your faces!" he spat. "All of you!"
"Come make us you god damn – " Kurotora started, but Gin cut him off, yelling:
This made the Ohu dogs do just that and soon, the other dogs did as well. The leader looked at them warily. Then he turned to his subordinates and said:
"Wait! I think their just travelers."
"I'm Gin of Ohu," Gin responded, looking cross with the attack. "And you better have a good explanation for attacking my friends."
"The Ohu Army?" the leader said in shock, then bowed his head slightly. "Forgive us, we thought you might have been someone else. I'm Asher of Nagano. Our masters sent us out to track down the bastards who did this."
He gestured with his muzzle back at the cave and for a moment, Gin studied them. Then he tilted his head slightly in wary curiosity.
"You're police dogs?" he asked and the Shepherd nodded.
"Yeah." he answered in mild surprise. "We all are."
Gin nodded and looked at the group that was with Asher, who were all different breeds but looked highly trained.
"Apology accepted." he said, calming everyone down. "We just came across it ourselves. Who was responsible for that?"
"His name is Toraji." Asher said, a grave look on his face. "He and 8 other dogs escaped from a medical testing lab a few days ago. These murders bring their kill total up to 7. We've been tracking them ever since."
Great's stomach fell to his feet. His eyes went wide.
'Toraji?' he thought. 'Oh god! That's where I know that scent from! How the hell could I have forgotten?'
Gin glanced back at the cave.
"Well," he said. "I can't just let this be. Cowards who kill children need to be brought to justice. We'll help you get him."
"Thank you," Asher said, inclining his head at him. "But we can – "
Then, one of his subordinates nudged him and whispered in his ear. The police dog stiffened visibly and then looked over at Zach, an expression of shock and anger on his face. Then he took a step towards him and looked him right in the eye.
"What's your name?" he asked sternly.
Zach frowned in confusion.
"Zach." he responded. "Why?"
"You're from Ibaraki, aren't you?"
The Malamute looked taken aback and glanced over at his equally confused comrades.
"Yes." he said slowly. "But how'd you know that?"
Suddenly, Asher lunged like a bullet and tackled him onto his back, startling everyone there as he seized him by the throat and started slamming him hard into the ground.
"You murdering son of a bitch!" he snarled and Zach choked as he tried to throw him off, caught totally off guard.
John and Akame beat him to it though and grabbed Asher with their jaws, yanking him off and throwing him back at his group moments later. After rolling a few times, the Shepherd was back on his feet instantly, but Gin jumped in front of him as well, growling in his face.
"Enough!" he barked. "If you're a police dog you should know better than to act like this!"
Asher didn't back down an inch.
"We know what happened in Ibaraki!" he hissed as his and Gin's subordinates growled at each other once more. "My cousin disappeared there 2 months ago and never came back! I demand that bastard be taken into custody now!"
"He is in custody." Gin replied flatly. "Ours. He's our responsibility, not yours."
Asher shook with rage.
"Do you know what he did?" he asked angrily and Akame stepped up as well.
"Of course we do." he said. "We're the ones who caught him to begin with. With all due respect Asher, it's much safer for him to go with us than with you. We can handle him better."
Gin looked the Shepherd in the eye and lowered his voice.
"Please." he said. "We didn't come to fight with you. We're offering to help. Let us."
Asher looked reluctant for a minute, but then nodded slowly, muttering a half-hearted apology as soon as he did.
"Very well." he said. "Follow us. We'll take you back to where our masters keep us and then we can talk."
Then he walked up to Zach, growling warningly right in his face.
"But I'm warning you, you piece of shit." he threatened. "This area is still my responsibility. So if you so much as look at someone in a way I don't like, I will personally rip your balls off and shove them down your throat so you choke to death on them! Got it?"
Zach stared at him for a second silently, then shot him wide, mocking smile, a little blood still seeping down his neck from the attack.
"That hurts my feelings." he smirked and Asher snarled loudly at him again, but Akame quickly stepped between them.
"Stop!" he barked sternly. "This isn't the time or the place!"
"I agree." Gin said, walking up. "Asher, let's go to your base so we can talk about what's going on."
Then he turned to Zach with an irritated scowl.
"And Zach," he said, not bothering to sound courteous. "Don't be a jerk."
The Malamute snorted with a grin and John glanced over at Gin as they all fell in behind Asher, who had started to lead them out of the clearing.
"Don't bother Gin," the Shepherd said, shooting Zach a teasing glare. "I think that's his permanent state."
"I learned from the master." Zach responded.
"Not the mastermind?"
"Hey!" Gin barked, glancing over his shoulder. "I said knock it off, you two!"
"Oh come on, Gin!" Kurotora quipped from the back of the group. "Listening to them fight is the most fun we've had on this depressing trip!"
Though it took effort to fight off an amused smile of his own, Gin shook his head.
"I think we're about to have bigger issues to attend to." he said. "So this can wait until later."
Then Asher and his group rounded a curve in the path and the Ohu Army followed, disappearing over a hill as soon as they had.
Toraji cracked his neck again, clenching his teeth together angrily as the dog beneath him let out a gurgling sound, choking slowly to death on his own blood as it seeped into his mangled throat. It was the one cowering in front of him that he was angry with though, and his eyes focused on her again as he looked back up.
"I'm going to ask you," he said in a slow, malevolent voice. "One last time: Where are they?"
"I-I don't know!" the female, a Spitz, said. "We never saw them, I promise! Please don't hurt us!"
The Beauceron narrowed his gaze, and his voice rose slightly.
"Babe," he said. "I have not yet begun to hurt you. But if you do not tell me where they went in the next 15 seconds, I am personally going to skin this kid alive IN FRONT OF YOU! NOW WHERE ARE THEY?"
"I d-don't know!" the Spitz sobbed, watching as her small pup whined and cried between the jaws of one of the attacking dogs.
Suddenly, another dog stepped forward, this one a young male Dalmatian.
"Wait!" he said and Toraji's head whipped to him. "I saw a group of dogs heading out our territory into Nagano yesterday! It might have been them!"
"Was one of them an Akita?"
"Kid," Toraji said, walking right up to him and narrowing his gaze again. "You better not be lying to me."
The Dalmatian cowered a little, stumbling back a few steps towards where the bodies of most of the other males of his pack lay in a pile.
"I'm not, I swear!"
"Are you sure? 'Cause those who do tend to meet rather unpleasant ends."
The larger male nodded, his face unreadable.
"So it's back to Nagano is it?" he said out loud to no one. "Fine then. Let's go!"
The last words were to his pack, and one, a heavily scarred Tosa, stepped forward.
"Sir," he rumbled. "What should we do with them?"
He gestured to the remaining dogs that were still there and Toraji only glanced at them for a second before looking back at him.
"I direct you back to that talk we had this morning, Katsuro," he said. "About witnesses."
"Is that really necessary, Toraji-san?"
The Beauceron walked back to him, getting uncomfortably close and glaring into his eyes before half-whispering his response.
"I didn't spend 2 years getting tortured in that place, and dreaming of only one thing the whole time, to have it all unravel because we were careless. I am getting my revenge, Katsuro…one way or another. Now kill them."
"Yes sir." the Tosa replied and turned back to their captives.
The screams and howls that came moments later, could be heard for miles.
The building that Asher and his pack were based out of wasn't nearly as far away as some of the Ohu Dogs had thought it was, so they didn't have far to walk to get there. It was, however, fenced off, and while every dog there could've probably found a way in, Asher chose to remain outside its borders, right on the edge of the forest where the humans wouldn't notice them. As soon as they got to this spot, the Shepherd turned and sat down, his fellow police dogs doing the same nearby. Gin sat across from him, and as the others followed his example, they saw Asher nod over his shoulder at a relatively unassuming building that was isolated from the rest in the town. It also had fencing, they saw, but this time, there was barbed wire mounted on top. Asher looked back at them.
"That's Keji." he said. "It's where they escaped from. It wasn't our job to guard them while they were there, but it is our job to get them back now."
"Why were they in there?" Akame asked and the Shepherd looked at him.
"It's not a pound or prison, despite what you might hear." he said. "They were test dogs, used for experiments and things like that. Lake Kurobe's a couple miles outside of town, and the humans use water from it to help make the liquids they inject them with. That's why the building's right there."
"Wait." Gin said, sitting up straighter. "Did they consent to it?"
Asher paused, looking at one of his subordinates uncomfortably. When he turned back to the Akita, he looked almost ashamed.
"No." he said.
Kurotora growled slightly and so did John.
"So you messed with them anyway?" he said angrily. "What the hell right did you have to do that?"
"Look," Asher said with a sigh. "I may not agree with everything that goes on in there, but it's our duty as dogs to obey our masters. Besides, these are dangerous dogs. I put every one of them in there for a reason."
"And how much of their being dangerous is your masters' fault?" Gin asked, sounding almost accusatory.
Before the Shepherd could answer though, a tiny form leapt out from behind one of the trees, startling the whole group. It was a young German Shepherd pup, only 3-4 months old at the most, and it immediately growled at Gin.
"My dad's a good dog!" it yelled at him. "Don't you insult him!"
The Akita looked a little taken aback by the pup's sudden appearance and courage, but before he could reply, Asher leapt to his paws.
"Jerome!" he said sternly. "I thought I told you to stay home!"
The pup wagged his tail as he looked at the larger dog.
"I wanted to see you working, Dad." he said, but Asher bared his teeth angrily.
"When I tell you to do something, I expect you to do it!" he yelled. "Now go home!"
Jerome looked hurt, and Gin saw his eyes begin to water a little. Then, nodding slightly, he turned and started to lope sadly away. The Akita silently disapproved of Asher's handling of the situation, but knew better than to get involved in a family dispute. To his surprise though, the older Shepherd sighed and walked forward, stopping his son with a paw.
"Jerome," he said gently as the pup turned his head away. "I'm sorry. I know I said you could watch me, but there are 9 really bad dogs running around somewhere who would like nothing more than to hurt you because you're my son. I don't know what I'd do if that happened."
Jerome nodded again, and buried his face in his father's leg. Smiling at him affectionately, Asher nosed at the top of his head.
"Come on now." he said. "Go on home. You can come another time."
The pup looked up at him.
"You promise?" he asked hopefully.
"Cross my heart." Asher said, and Jerome wagged his tail happily.
Then, with a nudge from his father, he ran off back into the town, Gin and the others smiling silently after him. As soon as he was gone, Asher's smile faded again.
"Toraji used to say that whenever he'd kill another dog." he said, turning back to them. "'Cross my heart'. I feel almost dirty using it with my son."
"He seems like a good kid." John replied and Akame nodded next to him. "Brave. I'm sure it doesn't matter to him."
Asher nodded his thanks.
"He wants to be like me when he grows up." he said. "But I'm not sure I want him dealing with dogs like Toraji, whether it's their fault they're that way or not. He doesn't know what they're really like."
"I think someone else does though." Smith suddenly said and when they all turned to him in confusion, they saw him looking at Great.
The Great Dane stiffened a little, looking cross with him.
"What are you saying, Smith?" he asked and the Setter didn't miss a beat.
"I'm saying I saw that look on your face when Asher mentioned Toraji's name back at the cave." he said. "You know him don't you?"
Great remained silent, feeling very angry with his friend, but sensing the eyes of everyone there fixed on him. Finally, he sighed deeply and looked at the ground.
"Yes." he said simply. "I knew him. A long time ago."
Gin looked both concerned and wary.
"Why didn't you say something sooner, Great?" he asked and the golden furred dog looked away ashamedly.
"Because I think it might be my fault that he ended up in Keji in the first place." he said.
For a moment, everyone was silent. Then Chutora exchanged a look with his brother, an expression of shock on their faces.
"What do you mean it's your fault?" he asked. "How do you even know this guy?"
"I'd like to know that too." Asher said, stepping forward with a half-suspicious frown.
Great clenched his jaws and sighed again. Then he looked at Smith.
"You probably don't even remember him Smith." he said. "He joined right after you and I did."
"Joined what?" the Setter asked.
"The Ohu Army."
There was a collective gasp from everyone there and John leaned forward incredulously.
"Wait." he said. "This bastard was one of us? There's no way!"
"This was before any of you were even there." Great said, looking at him. "At the time, it was just me, Smith, and Ben as Riki's platoon leaders. Toraji was one of my subordinates."
"So what happened?" Akame asked in a calm but curious voice.
Great looked away, and seemed for a moment to be trying to find the right words to answer.
"The Boss had just started sending us out to recruit more soldiers for the fight against Akakabuto," he said. "But in those days he would order us platoon leaders, and we would then send out a couple subordinates to go where he wanted us to go. One day, he ordered some of us to head south to recruit followers, so I sent Toraji. He was basically my right hand dog at the time."
"Wait." Smith cut in. "The Beauceron?"
Great nodded and the Setter smacked the ground lightly with a paw.
"I do remember him!" he said. "God, I forgot all about him!"
"So did I." Great replied, sounding uncharacteristically shaky.
Smith and the others froze again.
"Wait." he said, frowning. "What?"
"Right after I sent him out," Great said. "Dozens of new dogs joined us within a week. A few days later, you and John showed up, Gin. Then Riki said he was sending everyone out to get strong males to join us and you know what happened after that. With all that was going on I just…forgot him. It was like he had never even existed…"
Smith put his paw on his head, looking at him in shock.
"Great…" he said in a disappointed voice but Gin looked over at him sternly.
"Smith, enough." he said quietly. "I'm sure he feels bad enough already."
"No, leader." Great said after a pause. "This is my fault. Thank you standing up for me, but…he was my responsibility. It should be my job to put a stop to him."
Asher stepped forward, looking just as shocked by the revelation as the rest of them.
"Toraji's not the only dangerous one." he said. "They all are. And even if what you said was true, this is still our jurisdiction. We're not just sitting this out."
"No one's suggesting you do." Akame said, but Great stepped forward.
"I'm the one he wants." he said with an almost irritated look. "Let me deal with him."
"He hates me just as much as he hates you." Asher said, not raising his voice for once. "Trust me. He even threatened to kill my son a few weeks ago when I went to see him. I respect what you're saying, Great, but he's not your subordinate anymore. He's my responsibility. Just like that thing is all of yours'. I can't let you fight him alone. I'm sorry."
He had nodded disgustedly in Zach's direction when he spoke, and for a moment, the Malamute opened his mouth angrily, as though he wanted to retaliate somehow. At the last second, though, as if he knew better, he closed it and looked back down at the ground silently, choosing not to respond. As Gin mouthed 'Thank you' over in Zach's direction for his decision to avoid a fight with the police dog, Great sighed, scowling slightly as he realized that Asher wasn't about to back down.
"Very well." he said. "But you follow my lead."
This seemed to satisfy Asher and he nodded at the Great Dane in response. Then he turned back to the rest of them.
"My pack needs to rest for a while before we move out and look for them." he said. "You can do the same if you wish."
Gin nodded, looking over at his friends as he did.
"Mmm." he said. "That's a good idea. We'll do that."
Then, he stood and walked over to where Kurotora and Zach had lay down, John, Akame and the others joining him. Once he was there, he lay down as well, resting his head on his paws as John and Wilson talked quietly about something. On the edge of the group, Great did the same, guilt filling him from nose to tail as Smith looked concernedly at him from a few feet away. The Great Dane ignored him. Seconds later, he closed his eyes.
On the hill overlooking the town, a group of dogs silently stood and watched the soldiers of Ohu and their new allies rest themselves for the job ahead. They too were tired, having come from a neighboring territory at a grueling pace, and some of them panted exhaustedly as they waited for their leader's order. Everyone knew that he wasn't about to let them rest, not when they were this close, and sure enough, he called for action immediately, an excited quaver in his deep voice as he looked piercingly down at the sleeping dogs.
"Katsuro," he said, cracking his neck with a smile. "I think it's time. Take them."
other dog nodded and began to stalk forward towards the resting Ohu
Army, his comrades at his side. Suddenly though, as if he'd changed his
mind, Toraji turned and began walking in another direction, silently
heading towards the town. Confused, one of his other subordinates called
"You're not coming with us, boss?" he asked.
The black-furred dog glanced back.
"I'll be there eventually." he said. "Engage those Ohu bastards without me. There's one more thing I need to do first before I get to them."
"Let's just say…" he said. "That there's a promise I need to keep to an old friend…before I get to the other."
Then, with these cryptic words spoken, Toraji walked away, leaving his subordinates staring after him. Finally, Katsuro turned away with a snort, and panned his brutal gaze to the building sitting a few hundred yards away instead. Behind him, Toraji's other subordinates turned as well.
"Are we going to attack, sir?" asked the dog who had spoken before and Katsuro shook his head.
"No." he said. "Forget the Ohu mutts. It's the dogs of this place who kept us here, caged us like beasts. Let Toraji get his own damn revenge. I want mine."
The others sniggered behind him, telling him that their feelings were the same. Katsuro felt a bloodthirsty grin spread over his muzzle.
"Come on." he said. "Let's see how they like it when the inmates run the asylum."
Then the group of them ran off, no one noticing them leave as they did.
When Great awoke, it was to the sounds of a commotion around him. As he had done only that morning, he blinked the sleep out of his eyes, but this time shot to his feet at the ready. Looking around, he saw that everyone else was already awake, and as he looked at them, he saw Gin's head turn his way.
"What's going on?" he asked intensely and the Akita noticed he was awake.
"Something's happening over at Keji." he said. "We're heading out now."
Then, Asher was at his side, his whole group behind him.
"We're ready." he said. "Let's move!"
"Lead the way!" John barked and the other Shepherd nodded and ran towards their destination, everyone following in his wake.
As they approached the lab called Keji, Great could hear the sounds of a fight before he saw it. When he did, he and the others all skidded to a halt, their eyes sweeping over the scene. Dogs of all kinds were fighting in the building's grassy courtyard, and a number of bodies already lay dead there, some bloodied beyond recognition. On the side of the building itself, a large door had been knocked clean off it's hinges and more dogs were pouring out from within it, still more exploding through windows to its left and right. Before either Gin or Asher could give any kind of command, John spoke up.
"Look!" he growled.
When Great followed his gaze, he saw a group of 9 dogs or so running away from the lab, howling and snarling…and headed right at the town.
"That's Katsuro!" Asher shouted above the din around them, gesturing at the group with his muzzle. "He's Toraji's right hand dog!"
"There are innocent dogs and humans down in that town!" Akame added, looking at Gin for support. "We need to ensure their safety leader!"
The Akita nodded immediately.
"We have to stop those dogs now! Let's go!"
"Gin wait!" Smith barked. "What about this right here? We can't just leave it like this!"
He had gestured to Keji and the chaos around it when he spoke, and for a moment the Akita looked conflicted, realizing that he was right. Then, Zach stepped forward.
"I'll deal with this." he said intensely, nodding at the laboratory. "You handle them."
Gin pulled back in obvious surprise, as did the others. This was clearly the last thing they had expected.
"Zach…" Gin said. "Are you sure?"
The Malamute licked his lips.
"Hey," he said. "This Toraji guy is your problem, not mine. And these guys need my help more than you do. I'll put these bastards back in their cages."
"By yourself?" John asked with a skeptical, but almost concerned look. "Against all of them? You'll get killed, kid!"
Zach grinned at him toothily.
"Oh ye of little faith." he said and the Shepherd gave an amused snort.
"Fine then," he responded, shooting him a return half-smile. "Impress us."
Zach nodded and Asher turned to his troops.
"All of you!" he yelled. "Stay here with him and contain this! And make sure he doesn't make a run for it!"
The Malamute scowled at him, but then Gin spoke up again.
"We'll be back to help when we're finished!" he said. "We'll meet you here!"
"Not if I meet you first." Zach replied and Gin gave him an almost proud nod of approval.
Then he looked at the others.
"Let's go!" he yelled and then took off after the fleeing dogs, the others following closely behind him.
Watching after them, Zach waited until they were out of sight before turning back to the brawl in front of him, which was slowly breaking up into two opposing groups as more guard dogs arrived to help put a stop to the fighting. The test dogs, however, had control of the building itself, and as Zach and Asher's subordinates stepped forward to the front, glaring at the snarling, swearing group opposite them, they realized that they needed to stop them from escaping beyond the compound's grounds if everyone below was to remain safe. Then one of Asher's subordinates turned to a guard dog standing next to them.
"Where are the humans?" he asked and the other, a Doberman, glanced at him.
"The ones inside are dead." he said. "But a couple ran down to the village to get help. For now though, it's just us."
"Perfect." Zach said without looking at them. "That makes things much, much easier."
Suddenly, a large Irish Wolfhound stepped to the front of the other group, leering at them.
"Get out of our way you human loving fucks." he said. "We've got some payback to deliver."
"It's time," Zach responded as the dogs around him dropped into battle stances. "For you to go back to your little cages. Scum like you who hurt innocent dogs don't deserve the gift of life. The world'll get along just fine without you in it."
"You don't want to mess with me, boy!" the Wolfhound hissed angrily. "Do you know who I am? They call me the "Devil of Nagano"! You're 1000 years too young to fight me!"
"Really?" he drawled in a thoroughly mocking voice. "Well isn't that a coincidence. They call me "The Mastermind"."
The Wolfhound snarled in fury.
"Kill them!" he screamed. "Kill them all!"
Then his group charged, teeth bared and ready. On the other side, Zach and his group did the same. The fight was on.
Gin pumped his powerful legs hard as he closed in on the escaping group. They were nearly upon the town, and though mostly everyone had fled indoors, the Akita could see a few pet dogs still chained in the back yards of some houses on the outskirts, howling in fear as they saw the brutal escapees charging their way. He couldn't let them die! Suddenly, one of the dogs, who was faster than the rest, made it to the closest yard and leapt over the fence, snarling loudly as he bared down on a young female Shiba Inu, who screamed in terror and tugged uselessly at her leash.
Putting on a burst of speed, Gin made a flying leap of his own, jumping clear over the other dogs of the group, who stopped in surprise, and grabbed the attacker right before his fangs closed down on the female's face. As the dog let out a startled growl, Gin threw him hard back over the fence and right to the waiting John, who grabbed him by the throat and ripped it clean out, spraying everyone nearby with blood. Then Gin turned and bit through the female's leash.
"Ma'am," he said urgently. "Please get inside with your owners! We'll handle them!"
"Thank you!" she gasped, and the Akita leapt back into action.
The first thing he saw was that Katsuro and his pack had abandoned their attack and turned to fight, engaging his friends and Asher on the grassy field they had just sprinted across. Kurotora was locked in combat with a large Rottweiler, and the two dogs slashed at each other furiously, blood flying through the air as they each landed hits on the other. Akame, meanwhile, was dancing around a Kai dog, dodging bite after bite before leaping in and slashing open his neck and face, finally subduing him permanently by breaking his back on a large rock, slamming him down on it with a sickening 'CRACK'. Nearby him, Chutora had already dispatched his opponent and Asher was rolling around with what looked like a Doberman, their jaws a blur as they bloodied each other up. Right as Gin saw John bite the front leg clean off a Mastiff, who collapsed with a scream of agony, he was hit hard from the side, and only just managed to leap away from a second attack as he landed miraculously on his feet. He saw that his attacker was a Tosa and immediately knew that it was Katsuro. The test dog was livid.
"I let you alone before!" he snapped furiously. "But now you've interfered in our fight, and for that I'll slaughter you all!"
"Take your best shot, coward." Gin spat back, and soon they too joined the others in combat.
Over at the edge of the group, Great saw Gin engage Katsuro, and knew that the Tosa had no idea how little of a chance he stood against the younger dog. Turning back to his own fight, though, he dodged a bite from his Greyhound attacker and retaliated by slashing him so hard across the face with his sharp fangs that his opponent pulled back with a scream, blinded completely in one eye. As the smaller dog stumbled backwards, Great knocked him onto his back and stomped down on his neck, immobilizing him. Then he leaned in.
"Where's Toraji?" he growled angrily and the Greyhound whimpered.
"Don't kill me!" he pleaded in a frightened voice.
"Answer my question and I'll let you go." he said. "I won't even follow you. You're not the one I want anyway. Now where is Toraji?"
The Greyhound nodded at the town.
"H-He went in there!" he answered. "He wouldn't say why. It sounded like he was after somebody though."
Great looked at the buildings and narrowed his gaze. What was the Beauceron doing? He had to end this. Looking down, he stepped off the Greyhound, watching him roll to a sitting position seconds later. Glancing back at him, he looked him in the eye intensely.
"This is the only second chance you're getting." he said. "Don't blow it."
Then he turned and ran into the town, unseen by everyone else except his former opponent, who turned as well and was gone.
Jerome pressed himself harder into the grass of the police station's courtyard. He had heard the fight start up at the laboratory and he instantly wanted to run to find his father. After all, he was scared, and after his mother's death, his father was the only person he had left to comfort him. The image of him getting hurt by one of the bad dogs entered his young mind again and he whimpered, trying to will Asher to come home safely. Suddenly, he heard a 'CLANG' and looked over at the courtyard's outer fence, which the humans used to keep him and the other dogs inside the station's boundaries. There was nothing there. Mentally willing himself to be braver, Jerome stood from his laying position to get a better look. Then something landed right in front of him with a dull 'THUD', and the young German Shepherd stumbled backwards in surprise. Once he regained his balance, he looked up. Standing over him, glaring down with a horrible grin on his face, was a large black-furred dog, who was easily as big as his father. Jerome squared himself off to the intruder, looking very insignificant next to him.
"Who are you?" he said, trying to sound fierce.
Toraji's grin widened as he heard it, and he licked his lips at the young pup.
"Your worst nightmare, kid." he said. "Yours…and your fathers."
Then he lunged forward, and Jerome tensed up in terror, not even having the time to howl for help.
John let out a grunt as the dog he hit fell, his body twitching as blood poured morbidly out of the gaping wound where his face used to be. Then he was still and the German Shepherd looked over at his comrade on the ground, now being helped up by the Kai Brothers.
"You all right, Smith?" he asked and the Setter nodded.
"Yeah," he said. "Thanks for the assist."
"Heh. Don't mention it."
Then he looked over at Gin, who stood over the motionless Katsuro. The Akita was barely even panting to catch his breath, and John silently marveled at his friend's endurance. Then he saw Akame walk up to Gin and he moved forward as well.
"Leader," the Kishu said. "Are you okay?"
Gin nodded slowly.
"I didn't even hesitate that time." he said. "I thought I would. Especially after Heizo."
John smiled at him supportively, looking down at the dead Katsuro as well.
"Well done, Gin." he said. "You made the right decision. Now he can't hurt anybody else."
Gin smiled back at him appreciatively, but then Smith stepped forward.
"Gin," he said. "I thought I saw Great run into the town during the fight. He must have seen something we didn't. We should go after him."
"I agree." Asher said, sporting a fresh swollen eye, "Maybe he saw Toraji."
"Why would he have gone in there, though?" Chutora asked with a frown. "If Great was over here with us and he's the one he wants, why go in there?"
"He has a point." Wilson said, and for a moment, no one answered.
Then Asher's face went slack in horror and his head whipped over towards the town.
"No…" he breathed. "Oh shit, no…"
"What is it?" John asked intensely and the other Shepherd turned to him, looking terrified.
"He hates me just as much as he hates Great." he said. "I said it before, remember?"
When the Ohu dogs looked confused, he added:
"My son's down there!"
Gin felt panic seize him as he realized that the police dog was right, and before he could respond, Asher had already taken off running down the street as fast as he could move, Smith and Wilson in hot pursuit.
"Let's go!" the Akita shouted and they all turned to follow their friends as well.
Then Gin heard Akame call his name and he paused.
"What is it, Akame?" he asked, a touch of impatience in his voice.
"I'm going back to Keji to check on Zach." the Kishu said and John turned and looked at him as well.
"Good idea." he said. "That pride of his could get him killed without one of us there."
"It's not just his safety I'm worried about." Akame responded, fighting back the urge to remind his friend how much his own words also applied to him.
"What do you mean?" Gin asked with a frown and the Kishu turned to him.
"I don't trust him, Gin." he said bluntly and the Akita looked surprised. "When he's with us, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but in fight? Against dogs like these? There's no telling what he might do."
Seeing that he had a point, Gin nodded quickly.
"All right." he said. "We'll go after Great and meet up with you later! Be careful, Akame!"
The Kishu nodded with a fleeting smile and them leapt away, seeing his friends do the same out of the corner of his eye as they took off the other way after Asher, Smith, and Wilson. Once he got going, it didn't take Akame long to get back to within visual distance of the besieged laboratory and he put on a burst of speed as he saw dogs both standing and lying motionless around the outside of it. As he reached it and skidded to a halt, he saw guard dogs and Asher's remaining subordinates helping each other away from the building, supporting those who were injured and licking their wounds as soon as they got clear. In the courtyard, there were no more fights going on, and it seemed that the escaped test dogs had fled. Zach was nowhere in sight. Akame turned to one the dogs nearest him.
"The Malamute who came with our group," he said urgently and the dog turned to him. "Where is he?"
"He went inside." he answered, wincing at a fresh slash in his side. "The rest of the escapees retreated back in there. He went after them."
The Kishu nodded at him and turned to run at the building as well, but suddenly, he saw a figure emerge from its gaping front entrance, walking almost casually away from it. Akame stopped. It was Zach, he saw, and as the Malamute looked up and noticed him, the ninja dog saw a small, satisfied smirk on his face that made his danger instincts go wild. Seconds later, before Akame had any time at all to react, Keji exploded, erupting in a massive fireball that knocked him painfully onto his back with a dull 'THUD'. Though his ears were ringing slightly, Akame was back on his feet in seconds, and his face quickly became a mask of shock. For a second, he gaped at what was left of the building, a twisted, ravaged wreck burning vividly against the afternoon sky. Then he turned and looked at Zach, who had just pushed himself back to his paws as well, still wearing the same expression as before. Akame leapt up to him, feeling angrier than he had in a long time.
"What the hell did you do?" he hissed and Zach frowned slightly at him.
"I ended the fight." he responded, panting. "We lost a bunch of good dogs out here to those bastards, and they weren't giving up. So I spared them the decision. By the way, did you know that those liquids the humans inject you with in these places explode when you burn them?"
"They wouldn't surrender so you killed them all?" Akame barked furiously at him, ignoring his sarcasm.
Zach turned his full attention to his comrade, suddenly looking almost cross.
"We needed to ensure the innocent dogs' safety!" he said. "Your words!"
"Not like this!" Akame responded. "If you have to kill an enemy, you do it honorably! In fair combat! And even then, it's only when you have to!"
For a moment, Zach just stared at him. Then he looked back at the burning laboratory and smirked again, turning at the last second back to Akame.
"Whoops." he said tauntingly.
That's what made Akame finally lose his temper. The ninja dog prided himself on being able to keep his emotions in check and always remain professional, but there were times when he found he just couldn't, and though they were rare, this was one of those times. Startling one of the retreating guard dogs nearby, he lunged and tackled the surprised Malamute, who ended up on his back for the second time that day with the Kishu standing atop him, snarling down into his face angrily.
"You listen to me you sadistic little brat." Akame growled softly, clearly startling the younger dog with his sudden ferocity. "This is the last straw. I thought you were getting better, that the good male I know is in you somewhere was finally coming out, but obviously I was wrong. And this is the last time that's going to happen. You hear me? This is the last time. From now on, you're going to train with me. I am personally going to teach you how to be a great male, or I am going to beat the life out of you trying. From now on, you do not hurt a single strand of fur on anyone's head without my expressed permission, bad or otherwise. And yes, I will be watching you. Now let's go!"
Zach looked completely taken aback by the change in his comrade and as Akame yanked him roughly to his paws and half dragged him back towards where Gin and the others had gone, he didn't even speak a word, not knowing what to say.
Great whipped his head back and forth as he ran through the deserted streets of Asher's town. All the humans had gone indoors, and the dogs that were outside were just pets chained in yards, most of them cowering behind whatever was nearby out of fear of being seen by any escaping test dogs. As a result, when he found Toraji, wherever he was, it would be nigh on impossible for the Beauceron to hide from him. Great didn't expect him to do that, but still…he was glad for it anyway. As he reached an intersection in the road, his nose suddenly caught his enemy's scent, and he quickly lowered his head to track his movements. But, and he paused, there was another scent there as well, and for a moment, he didn't recognize it at all. Once he did though, Great's eyes went wide and he took a step back to better survey the area. The violent test dog had gone after Asher's young son, Jerome. He remembered the police dog's insistence that Toraji hated him just as much as Great, and the Great Dane hadn't believed it for a second until now.
'I have to stop him!' he thought. 'That kid has nothing to do with this. He can't even defend himself!'
Following the scent trail down a side street, he soon found himself leaving the town altogether and heading up into the mountainous area behind it. Great clenched his jaws. This could not continue. It was time for this madness to end.
Jerome squirmed and whimpered as he dangled from the stranger's jaws. His attacker's teeth dug painfully into his back and stomach and he found quickly that he was completely immobile, and therefore couldn't escape. Eyes tearing up slightly, he tried to look at his black furred kidnapper.
"L-Let me go!" he demanded. "I don't want to go with you! Let me – "
"Shut up." came the sharp, cold-voiced reply, and Jerome's fear intensified.
They had walked a long way up into the hills behind the town, and none of Jerome's cries for help had been noticed along the way. Now, they had just approached Lake Kurobe and his mind raced as he tried to think of a way to call his father. There was no way he could fight off the older, larger male, and it was looking more and more like he wasn't going to be released. Letting out a little growl, he squirmed again.
"Why are you doing this?" he asked desperately, and to his surprise, the dog responded.
"To show your father what it feels like to fall as far as I did." he said bitterly, stepping onto a road that seemed to cross the massive lake. "Unfortunately for you though, kid, your version of that lesson is a little more literal."
Suddenly, he stopped walking and Jerome noticed two things: his kidnapper had reared up onto his hind legs…and the ground had suddenly disappeared beneath him. The little German Shepherd let out a howl of terror as he looked down. They were on top of Kurobe Dam, specifically the walking road that ran along its top, and his attacker was poised to drop him off the edge. Jerome nearly peed himself. The dam was over 600 feet high, and if he fell, if anyone fell off it, the chances of survival were nonexistent. He tried desperately to grab onto any part of the dog he could reach.
"N-No!" he begged, tears streaming down his young face. "Please! Let me go home! Please!"
"The world's a cruel place, kid." Toraji said, sounding even bitterer than before. "I know that better than anyone. Now so will you…for a couple seconds anyway. Don't take it personally, though. It's not your fault. You just got born to the wrong father."
"D-Don't do this! I don't want to die!"
"It'll only hurt for a second." he said. "I give you my word."
"B-But – "
"Hey." Toraji said, and Jerome finally managed to twist and look at him.
The Beauceron grinned evilly.
"Cross my heart."
It was in that moment that Jerome knew, despite his youth, that he was going to die. Closing his eyes, he waited for the dog's jaws to release him, and when they did, he felt himself falling fast, and he had nothing to grab onto to stop himself. Suddenly, though, he hit the ground. Opening his eyes in confused surprise, Jerome saw that he was back on the paved walking road, and he silently tried to stop his trembling as his mind caught up to his body. Then he heard a snarling and, looking over, saw two dogs fighting viciously a few feet to his left. Finally, one, a golden-furred Great Dane, threw the other one off and looked back at him.
"Kid," he said urgently and gestured with his muzzle. "Run! Head back to the town!"
Jerome was very confused and only stood up, still trembling a little from his brush with death. The golden dog looked desperate.
"Kid, run!" he yelled louder, but suddenly, the black furred dog head-butted him hard in the cheek, sending him skidding perilously close to the edge.
"Fine." he growled, bleeding from slashes in his neck and muzzle. "I'll deal with you first, sir. Then I'll handle that little brat."
As he lunged, Great's paws found the ground again and he lunged sideways, grabbing Toraji as he did and throwing him backward towards the other edge of the walking road. At the last second though, the Beauceron clawed at its concrete lip and managed to catch it, pulling himself back to the flat ground quickly before his opponent could finish him. The two snarled loudly at each other and Great got in between Toraji and the pup protectively, seeing that he was too confused and too scared to move. He looked his former comrade in the eye.
"Toraji," he growled, glaring at him hard. "This needs to stop. You can't hurt this kid for what his father helped do."
"Sure I can." the Beauceron responded, lowering his head. "The bastard let them hurt me. He put me there to begin with! Now he'll know how it feels when it's his own flesh and blood being killed."
"I'll never let you near him."
"You know, Great," Toraji said, narrowing his gaze hatefully. "You hurt me too. You're the reason any of this is happening in the first place. You just threw me away…like old, rotten meat that can't be eaten anymore."
Great's gaze softened slightly, and a guilty look spread over his face.
"I made a mistake." he said softly and Toraji's eyes widened.
"That's your excuse?" he screamed. "You made a mistake? I got needles the size of my dick stabbed into my eyes every week and you MADE A MISTAKE?"
Great's ears reversed in shame, but he didn't let his guard down.
"Toraji," he said shakily. "I'm sorry. Truly I am. You can hate me all you want and I won't blame you, but this fight is between you and me. This kid has nothing to do with it."
Toraji let out a brutal laugh.
"I used to be such a great male." he said. "I used to have so much mercy. Not anymore. You were right, Great. This ends now. I will never forgive you for what you did, and I'm going to see to it that both of you die…together!"
At this, the Beauceron lunged at him, and Great could no longer stall. Letting out a ferocious growl, he lunged as well and met his former comrade in midair. There, their bodies collided violently, and Great immediately ripped at Toraji's neck and face with his teeth, feeling his shoulder getting slashed open as he did. Then they landed back on the ground and he immediately grabbed his opponent by the leg and threw him hard at the edge of the dam, feeling Toraji's fangs slash his face one more time before he let go. As soon as he did though, Great froze. It took him less than a second to realize in horror that he had mistakenly thrown Toraji right above where Asher's young pup still sat cowering, and sure enough, as he began to go over the edge, the Beauceron reached out and grabbed Jerome in his jaws…and pulled him over too.
"Shit!" Great yelled and without wasting a second to think, ran and leapt off the edge of Kurobe Dam as well, plummeting the moment his feet left the ground.
It was then that a series of near miracles happened, and as Great somehow managed to grab Jerome by the scruff of the neck and tear him from Toraji's grip, his hind leg hit the railing of a lower maintenance walkway and got wedged in it, bringing his freefall to a sudden painful end. As he got caught and his momentum ceased, Great heard a 'POP' and a shockwave of pain shot through him as his leg got wrenched clean out of its socket, nearly making him open his muzzle in a scream of pain. Instead, he kept his grip on Jerome desperately and groaned loudly in agony around his bite, watching as Toraji plummeted to his death 600 feet below, his own scream one of bitterness and frustration, before he went silent. At the same time, he heard someone calling his name, and seconds later Gin and the others burst out onto the top of the dam, their heads whipping around as they looked for their friend. It was Wilson who finally saw him and as soon as Great heard him call out in alarm, everyone else's heads peered over the edge and looked down at him.
"Holy fucking shit that's high!" Kurotora exclaimed and Great saw his head disappear as he pulled back from the edge.
Gin, however, leaned forward father.
"Great!" the Akita yelled fearfully down at him. "Hang on!"
Great nodded lightly at his leader, and he saw them start scrambling to find a way down.
"How the hell are we going to get down to him?" Smith asked urgently and John looked over at him, the same worried expression on his face.
"I don't know." he said. "Akame's the only one agile enough to get down there!"
"He should be on his way back right now with Zach." Chutora said. "Hopefully he can – "
Suddenly, a loud, blaring noise shattered the quiet and the Ohu warriors' heads whipped around once more as they tried to determine its source.
"What the hell is that?" Kurotora asked nervously and Asher, who stood next to John, looked nothing short of frantic.
"It's the warning siren!" he yelled. "The dam's about to release its water!"
"Shit!" John swore fearfully and Gin ran back to the edge.
"Great, hold on!" he shouted. "We're coming down to you!"
"Don't!" came the reply and they all stopped in their tracks.
Smith stepped to the edge next to Gin, hearing the others do the same beside him.
"What do you mean, 'don't'?" he asked loudly and the golden-furred Great Dane looked up at them, a strange look in his eyes.
"You'll never get to me in time." he said. "This water's about to release! You'll get swept away if you try and come down!"
"Great, don't be an – "
"I'm gonna throw this kid up to you!" he yelled. "Make sure you catch him!"
"If you try and do that, your leg will come loose and you'll fall!" Gin responded, and Great smiled at him almost gently.
"I know." he said.
"Great, don't do this!" the Akita begged. "Let us help you!"
"You can." the Great Dane said, and then paused, looking at them almost affectionately. "By remembering that Great died like real male…and by telling everyone that I never meant any of this to happen. I'm sorry, leader."
Gin's eyes started to water and he began to get more and more desperate as he looked for some way to save his friend. But he couldn't find one.
"It was my honor to fight with all of you." Great said, and everyone else began to tear up as well. "Do me a favor will you? Tell Ben…tell him…the answer is 'Yes'."
"Wh-What's that mean?" Chutora asked shakily and Great smiled again.
"He'll know." he answered.
Then he looked at each of them one last time.
"Goodbye." he said.
And before they could stop him, Great twisted and threw Jerome back up at them with all his strength, his leg coming loose as he did. Acting quickly, Gin immediately reached out as far as he could with his jaws and grabbed him, John holding his tail to keep him from falling. Then he pulled him back over and put him gently down on the ground next to his father, who hugged his son tightly to him with his front leg, licking the top of his head as the pup pressed into him firmly. Seeing that he was finally safe, the group looked back over the edge in time to see the water come rushing out of the dam in a torrent, the siren stopping its screams soon after. But that was all they saw. At the railing where their friend had been, there was only air and sunlight. Great of Ohu was gone.
Gin felt hollow as he stood in front of Asher and his remaining subordinates. He knew that he needed to be stoic and strong as leader, but every time he tried to do that, visions of Great entered his head, and his eyes teared up again. He wasn't alone though. It had taken them just as long to get back down to the town from Kurobe Dam as it had getting up to it, and they had met Akame and Zach along the way. The ninja dog had sensed instantly that something was wrong when he saw them, but that probably wasn't hard to deduce when every one of them had tears streaming down their faces. When Gin had told him of Great and Toraji's fates, the Kishu had winced openly and it was only thanks to the bad mood he had obviously been in that he didn't cry as well. Why Akame had been angry Gin didn't know, but truth be told, he didn't care. All he knew was that his friend was gone, and it had happened on his watch. Looking up, he saw Asher speaking to him again.
"Gin I…" the police dog said almost guiltily. "Thank you doesn't even come close to what I want to say to you, but…it's all I have. Thank you all for everything. Now we can start rebuilding the peace around here."
The Akita nodded.
"Of course." he said, though it was half-hearted. "It was in the interest of peace. We were glad to be of assistance."
Asher nodded at him, and then turned to Akame, who stood on Gin's left.
"I'm curious, though." he said with a frown. "What happened to make Keji explode like that? Akame, you were there. Did you see what did it?"
For a moment, the ninja dog paused. Then he glanced over at Zach, who, after meeting his gaze briefly, looked away firmly in the other direction, not saying a word to anyone. Then Akame looked back at Asher.
"No." he said. "I'm afraid not. It just seemed to happen."
Asher nodded, not looking as disappointed as they expected.
"Oh. Never mind then. I'm sure it was just an accident that happened in the chaos."
The police dog hadn't seen Zach give Akame a look of true shock upon hearing the ninja dog's answer, and he shook his head as if to clear the thought from it. Then he looked back at them.
"Tell me," he said. "Did Great have any family?"
Gin looked over at Smith, who shook his head slowly and didn't say a word, still shell-shocked by his close friend's death. Then the Akita looked back at Asher.
"We were his family." he said and the Shepherd nodded again.
"Then thank you again." he responded. "…Thank you for my son."
At that, Jerome walked forward from between his father's front legs, a look of awe on his face as he stared up at the Ohu Soldiers. Gin smiled, trying not to tear up again.
"You're welcome." he said. "I have a feeling he'll be a great male someday."
Then he turned to the rest of his friends.
"Let's move out." he ordered quietly and the sad, weary group turned and walked away, none of them looking back. Once Asher, his dogs, and the town were out of sight, Kurotora turned to Smith, who was walking beside him with an empty look on his face.
"Smith…" the Kai Dog said almost gently, recognizing his friend's pain. "That last thing Great said before he… That message for Ben…what did it mean?"
The others overheard this and turned to the Setter as well, knowing that he had known him the best and being interested despite themselves. Smith swallowed hard.
"Before we left Ohu," he said hoarsely, "Ben was telling Great that he was nervous about becoming a father. When Great tried to tell him that he'd do fine, I heard Ben ask him: "Would you have wanted me as your father"."
Then the Setter lowered his head and walked further on ahead, clearly wanting to be alone. As soon as he had, the others remembered Great's final one word message to Ben, and their ears and tails drooped sadly as they finally realized its meaning. Then John turned to Gin, and when he spoke, he spoke in a quiet, subdued voice.
"We're ready to head to the next territory when you are, Gin." he said.
Suddenly, the Akita stopped walking and everyone else stopped too, looking back at him in surprise.
"Leader?" Akame said, stepping up to him. "Are you all right?"
Gin looked up at him.
"No." he said. "None of us are. And after this, heading further South is just going to be harder."
Akame and John looked at each other in concern.
"Gin," John said. "Whatever you decide we'll do. We're with you no matter what. We can keep going South if that's your command."
"Yeah, leader." Kurotora said. "Just give the order."
Gin shook his head.
"We can deliver the rest of the condolences another time," he said. "My first priority as leader is to my own pack, and right now I think we've had enough."
He turned and looked at his loyal friends.
"Let's go home." he said.
Then, sticking close together, the Ohu Army turned and began heading north, their path taking them straight towards Futago Pass. At the back of the group, Zach of Ibaraki walked silently, and his gaze panned contemplatively to his companions as he wondered if the approach he had taken to protecting others all his life was actually the wrong one, and if Great of Ohu had had the right idea after all.