Story 5: The New Beginning
Kurotora sighed, stretching his neck as he walked behind John at the middle of the group, a combined feeling of guilt and restlessness growing in him with every step he took. It had been almost 3 days since he and his friends had left Nagano behind, and though he was happy to finally be heading back to Ohu, he was also still downcast over the recent death of Great, a friend whom he'd rarely talked to, but still cared for and respected nonetheless. The Great Dane's absence felt like a hole in the group, and every time he glanced behind him, he half expected to see the golden furred dog walking there as well, as if nothing had happened to change anything. That was a feeling that he hated, as it depressed him immensely, and that he was sure the rest of the group was experiencing as well, despite their attempts to hide it.
They had made their way North as they began heading back towards Gajou, but a few territories still lay between them and it, and they had crossed into the first one only that morning, the massive Niigata Prefecture. Every one of them had been to Niigata before, whether to fight enemies or just to pass through, but the territory itself was so big that there were still parts that were foreign to them, and the area they were traveling through now certainly qualified. Lots of brightly colored trees decorated the landscape, and though he had no idea what exactly resided amongst them, Kurotora was reminded strongly of his home territory of Kai, which he had not been back to in some time. It was because of this that he was actually secretly glad they were passing through Niigata, a feeling that his brother clearly shared from his position next to Wilson, and he was half-looking forward to seeing what else the territory had in store for them. Its beauty wasn't the only thing he had noticed though. Besides the overall feeling of depression permeating the group, a natural result of the death of a friend, he had sensed definite tension between a couple of his friends, specifically Akame and Zach. The two males were clearly angry at each other for some reason, and though he didn't have a clue what it was, the fact that it was Akame who was involved to begin with, and not John or someone else, perked his interest.
'Zach just has this way of getting under people's skin, I guess," he thought. 'Even someone as professional as Akame. He's even better at it than me… I must be losing my touch.'
Either way, he knew better than to get involved, and decided to let the two males settle whatever it was amongst themselves. He had other friends to focus on anyway. Up ahead of him, Smith was walking beside Gin at the front of the group, and was using his impressive tracking skills to try and find them the quickest route back to Ohu from where they were. It wasn't long, though, before the Akita turned to his friend concernedly.
"Are we still on track, Smith?" he asked and the Setter nodded.
"Yeah," he responded in his reedy voice. "And the sooner we get there the better."
"No argument from this corner." John snorted and Gin looked around at the scenery as Kurotora himself had done.
"At least this territory is nice." he said, and John didn't respond. "We could've gotten another Kanagawa."
"And wouldn't that have been a blast." Zach said sarcastically and the Akita chuckled.
"My thoughts exactly." he agreed with a smile and Kurotora turned back to the trail, relieved to see his friend manage some happiness despite the specter of death still looming over them all.
"What packs are even in this area?" Chutora asked and Wilson shook his head from beside him.
"Take your pick," he responded. "Niigata's home to at least 3 or 4. I don't know any of them personally though."
Kurotora shook his head at the Collie.
"How do you know things like that?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "How many places did you go when you were a circus dog?"
Wilson smirked and kept looking to his front.
"A said few." he replied, then teased. "I just have a better memory than you."
"I think you have a better memory than God." the Kai dog quipped, but as Wilson and Chutora laughed, the group suddenly came to an abrupt halt, and he nearly walked right into John's rear end.
"What the – " he said, wrinkling his nose in irritation, "What's going on?"
"Shh!" Akame silenced him and he saw the ninja dog and Gin already dropped into cautious battle stances up at the front of the group.
For a moment, none of them said anything, and he glanced over in confusion at Chutora, who looked equally as confused.
"What is it?" the elder Kai whispered and John glanced back at him sternly.
"We're being watched." he said, looking around suspiciously.
That shut both the brothers up instantly and they listened attentively as well, but still no one heard a thing. Gin stood back up to his full height.
"We know you're there!" he called. "We're just passing through, that's all! We're trying to get to Ohu, not invade your territory!"
"Just passing through, huh?" came a voice suddenly. "Do you take me for a fool?"
Kurotora pulled back in surprise, not because of the voice's sudden entrance, but because it didn't belong to another male at all. Whoever the stranger was, they were definitely female.
Gin looked around more, trying to look non-threatening.
"I give you my word." he said. "As leader of Ohu."
Suddenly, something shot out from behind a tree in front of them, and seconds later other forms followed suit from all of the other trees around it. There were more than 30 of them in all, and before he or the others could say another word, they were completely surrounded. Then one of the newcomers stepped forward.
"You're Gin of Ohu?" she asked skeptically and he nodded.
"Yes," he said. "But who are you, miss?"
"My name is Amaya," the dog responded. "I'm the boss of this part of Niigata. And I prefer the title 'leader', thank you."
Kurotora felt his jaw slacken in shock. Amaya, he could see, was a purebred Kai-Ken like himself, and her striped, reddish-brown fur seemed to practically gleam in the sunlight shining through the trees as they stood there facing each other. On top of the clear confidence that seemed to resonate in her voice as she spoke, she was also quite beautiful, and Kurotora found his interest peaked in a major way. He was so taken aback by her in fact, that he almost didn't notice that she wasn't the only female there. When he finally broke his captivated gaze away from her though and got a better look at her pack, he pulled back in even greater surprise. Every single one of the dogs that now encircled them were female, all of varying breeds and ages, and they all seemed to be keeping a close eye on him and the others as they slowly cut off every possible route of escape. Kurotora could see his friends looking around at the strange group as well, and even Gin looked more than a little surprised that there wasn't a single male amongst them. Amaya must have noticed this, because seconds later she glared at them in irritation.
"Is something wrong?" she asked challengingly and Gin shook his head.
"No," he said quickly. "I – er – just didn't know there was a pack in this area."
"Well, there is," the female Kai responded. "And I'd like to know who you really are and why you're here."
"I told you," Gin said carefully. "My name is Gin. My friends and I are just passing through. We're trying to get back to Ohu."
Then he cocked his head slightly in curiosity despite himself.
"Forgive me if I sound rude," he said. "But…is all of your pack?"
"No," Amaya said, narrowing her eyes at him. "There are more elsewhere. And yes, before you ask, we are all girls, so you can tell your friends to stop checking us out."
Kurotora heard Zach snort quietly from in front of him as he looked around at their detainers.
"Happy birthday, Zach." he muttered, and the Kai dog had to bite his tongue hard to keep from laughing as Akame reached over with a paw and smacked him upside the head in response.
Amaya, however, wasn't as amused.
"Was I talking to you?" she snapped, glaring furiously at him. "No? Then shut your mouth!"
Zach straightened up a little, clearly taken aback by her aggressiveness and John grinned widely with a snicker.
"Well said, miss." he said. "I think that got the message across!"
She turned to him with the same expression.
"I wasn't talking to you either 'Rin-Tin-Tin'!" she spat. "This is between leaders!"
It was Zach's turn to laugh and John looked livid as he opened his mouth to say something back to her. Gin, however, beat him to it.
"I appreciate that we're strangers," he said crossly, "But there's no need to be disrespectful. For the last time, we only wish safe passage."
"I don't believe you!" the female Kai shot back. "I think you're working for Katsu, and I'm going to give you pigs everything you deserve!"
"Miss," Kurotora suddenly said, stepping forward before Gin could answer. "Trust me, he's telling the truth. I give you my word."
Amaya's gaze whipped over to him and for a moment, she glared at him intently. Then a look of genuine shock passed over her face.
"You – " she said, then paused. "You're one of those three demon brothers from Kai!"
Kurotora was caught off guard, but nodded anyway.
"Yes," he said. "I'm Kurotora."
Then he gestured to his friends.
"This is our leader Gin, John, Akame, Smith, Zach, Wilson, and my brother Chutora."
Amaya seemed to think for a moment, studying them closely, but then nodded and calmed down a little. Then she turned to her packmates.
"Stand down!" she called. "They're okay."
The other dogs did what she said immediately, and she turned back to Kurotora.
"My sister and I heard about you and your brothers when were growing up near here." she said. "You're famous among our kind. Actually, I've heard of most of you. I'm sorry about that, but I had to be sure."
"I understand," Gin said, stepping forward again. "But who's this 'Katsu' you thought we worked for?"
A scowl passed over the female Kai's face.
"A dead dog if I ever get my claws on him." she responded and when Gin looked confused added. "He's a local troublemaker whose pack moved into this area recently. He's kind of a wannabe mercenary but he's basically just a thug. We've been fighting him for a few months now."
"He and his pack want us to be their mates." she responded hatefully. "When we refused he started kidnapping us by force. My sister was taken two days ago…"
Kurotora growled angrily at the same time John, Smith, and Chutora all did.
"How cowardly!" the Setter hissed and she nodded in agreement.
"We all banded together in the first place because we were abused." she told them bitterly. "By humans or males of our own kind, it didn't matter. Either way, we weren't gonna take any more, so we decided to make a better life together as a pack. This is our territory now."
Then a dark look passed over her face.
"Not that that matters to Katsu, of course." she said. "He thinks we're his property. Unfortunately he has more dogs than us, and he's gotten more and more violent every time we fight back, but that's not going to make us lie down and submit. We won't be pushed around just because he's stupid enough to think that a female wouldn't fight back."
As soon as she finished saying this, she looked at Gin.
"But if you're really who you say you are," she said, "Then your help could be invaluable. I know I was rude to you before, but I ask you, one leader to another…will you help us?"
Gin looked at Akame and John and then nodded immediately once they had.
"Of course we will." he said. "Dogs like him need to be put in their place."
Amaya nodded a 'thank you' and Kurotora saw her smile for the first time since she'd revealed herself. It was undoubtedly in relief, he knew, but it still somehow made her look even more gorgeous than before, and he licked his lips excitedly. The female Kai then turned and gestured to them with her head.
"Come," she said. "We'll take you back to our base. We can discuss everything from there."
With that, she walked away into the trees, and Kurotora followed her alongside Gin at the front of their group, hearing the others tailing close behind as they waited to see where they were going.
It didn't take long for them to reach Amaya and her clan's home, a series of small dens set into a hillside, and once they had gotten there, the female pack leader had quickly brought them up to speed on the problems her clan was facing. Katsu, it turned out, was a St. Bernard that had originally come from the nearby city of Yamagata, but had been kicked out into the wilderness as a stray after apparently attacking other dogs and causing too many problems around its outskirts. Unfortunately, he had amassed a pretty sizable pack since then, and was capable of being a significant threat to all of their safety. What they did have to be thankful for, though, was that most of his pack was untrained in battle, and weren't used to fighting dogs that were better than them. If they played their cards right, Kurotora knew, the enemy pack would have a very hard time with the seasoned, more experienced soldiers of Ohu.
By the time they had found out everything they needed to know, night had begun to fall, and Gin had decreed that they would post guards around the base and rest until morning, a suggestion that Kurotora himself had no qualms with, as he hadn't gotten a good night's sleep since Great had died. As he, Wilson, Smith, and Chutora found a comfortable spot and laid down though, he found himself instead watching the movements of their hosts, and let his eyes linger repeatedly on a few of them. Truth be told, after all the death he had witnessed since he'd left Kai, and the birth of Ben and Cross's young pups a number of months ago, Kurotora had been thinking more and more about possibly starting a family of his own. He had no idea how to be a father to anyone, but still, the Kai family line needed to continue on somehow, and given Akatora's tragic death at Akakabuto's claws, maybe it now fell to him to see that it was.
'But who would want to be my mate?' he thought. 'I'm not exactly the most agreeable dog, am I? Besides, is that what I really want?'
As the Kai dog's mind continued to wander, Gin, John, and Akame were settling down themselves off to his left, and laughed quietly at their friend's daydreaming.
"You think he's noticed that she's not the only female here?" John joked to Gin, seeing Kurotora staring absentmindedly at Amaya.
The Akita chuckled.
"With Kuro," he said. "You never know. What do you think Akame?"
The Kishu didn't answer and Gin repeated his name a little louder, making the ninja dog jump a little and look up at him apologetically.
"Lost in thought, Akame?" John said. "What's on your mind?"
"A number of things." came the answer and the Shepherd raised an eyebrow.
"Like what?" he asked again, slightly more insistently, but Akame turned his attention to Gin instead.
"Gin," he said, "Could you do without Zach and I for a couple days?"
The Akita frowned.
"I suppose." he said slowly. "But why?"
"I'm taking him out into the woods to train him as a soldier," the ninja-dog said. "And while I am, I need you all not to disturb us, or help him in any way."
John cocked his head slightly and looked at his friend.
"You've been pissed at him ever since we left Nagano, Akame." he said observantly. "What's going on between you two?"
"I'd like to know that too." Gin said with a slightly concerned frown, looking the Kishu in the eye.
Akame didn't miss a beat.
"What's going on," he responded seriously. "Is he butchered close to a hundred dogs in Nagano."
"WHAT?" Gin barked in shock and John echoed his expression. "When?"
"Remember when I told Asher that I didn't know why Keji exploded?" the ninja dog said solemnly. "Well…I lied."
Gin sighed deeply, grimacing in simultaneous anger and disappointment.
"God damn it, Zach…" he muttered and turned away from his two friends, looking as though he was thinking about what to do.
"Are you gonna punish him, Akame?" John asked in a serious voice and the Kishu looked at him.
"The training itself is harsh." he said. "It'll be punishment enough, trust me."
"Good." the Shepherd responded, and Akame turned to Gin, who had just spun back around to face them.
"Is that all right, leader?" he asked and the Akita nodded.
"Yes." he said. "Do what you will Akame. I trust you."
"Thank you." Akame answered gratefully.
Gin shook his head again, looking contemplative.
"I thought he was getting better." he said, then sighed again. "Maybe he really is beyond redemption."
"I don't believe that." Akame said and both of his friends looked at him in surprise.
"Akame?" Gin asked and the ninja dog looked at him sagely.
"He's not a bad dog, Gin." he said quietly. "Deep down, his motives are as pure as ours. The problem is the way he acts on them. That's what's wrong, what's twisted, because no one's ever been there to stand up to him and tell him he's wrong. No one ever taught him the right way…so I will. It's a lesson he needs to learn, even if it's a harsh one."
"He's been with us almost a month now, Akame." John said. "You've seen how combative he is. He's as bad as me. You really think he's gonna listen?"
The Kishu looked at his friend with a suddenly determined look.
"Oh, I'll make him listen." he said. "One way or another. I am not giving up on him just because he's a stubborn bastard. I'll make him the good male he should be."
Gin nodded at him with a confident smile.
"Good luck then." he said. "I look forward to seeing the results."
"As do I," John agreed. "Don't neuter him too much though. I need somebody to fight with on these trips of ours."
Akame and Gin both smiled in amusement, and then the ninja dog stood, looking again at his two friends.
"If you need us," he said. "Send up a howl, leader."
Then he turned and walked away, his tail swishing behind him as he vanished from their view. Gin and John watched him go, and then laid their heads down as well, intending finally to get some well-earned rest. To their right, Kurotora of Kai was still lost in thought, and found himself strangely restless as he vainly tried to close his eyes for a while. Right as he was about to finally succeed though, he saw movement out of the corner of his eye, and glanced over to see Amaya striding calmly into the woods away from them, no guards of any kind following her as she did. The Kai Dog silently praised his luck. Standing immediately, he padded quickly after her, making sure that none of her subordinates were watching him as he slipped unnoticed into the trees in her wake.
Chutora stretched himself as he stood. The nap he had been taking had been brief, but it had still helped relax him somehow after the stress he and the others had been under for the past few days. Blinking fatigue out of his eyes, he glanced over at where his brother was supposed to be and saw nothing but the ground he'd been laying on. Chutora smiled, knowing immediately where the other Kai Dog had gone.
'It's not gonna work out the way you want, Kuro,' he thought. 'I hope you're prepared for that.'
Shaking his head amusedly, he began walking towards the trees on the other side of their clearing, accidentally bumping Smith as he did. The Setter lifted his head sleepily.
"Where are you going?" he asked and Chutora glanced back at him apathetically.
"To take a piss." he said. "Don't get up on my account, Smith."
"Hmph." the Setter snorted. "Fine. Then I won't."
Chutora didn't acknowledge him and continued on into the forest, yawning as he did. He wondered what Kurotora planned to do when he found Amaya and smirked as he imagined the possible ways it could go wrong. He had been able to tell immediately that his brother liked the female pack leader and while he had to admit that she was definitely easy on the eyes, that kind of thing had never really been of great interest to him. Kai dogs were bred to fight, he thought, and they both had duties to Gin and Ohu. Neither one of them had really had time to think about mates or families.
Chutora's lone ear perked up immediately and he stiffened in surprise.
'What the hell was that?' he thought.
Kurotora stepped carefully around another tree, seeing the lithe shape of Amaya weaving between obstacles as she continued to move quickly away from her clan's base. He could hear water flowing somewhere nearby, and assumed that she was probably headed for a nearby river or stream to get a drink or some fish for the pack to eat. Sure enough, a small creek came into view moments later through the branches in front of him, and he saw her stop by the water's edge. He slowed.
'What the hell are you doing, Kuro?' he thought. 'Why are you following this…this…female?'
Kurotora scowled, mentally kicking himself for being such a coward. Before he could change his mind though, he emerged from the trees as well. As soon as he had, Amaya turned around and saw him.
Chutora ran towards where the sound had come from, whipping his head left and right as he looked for its source. Suddenly, he heard what sounded like a muffled, pained yell to his right and immediately changed direction to head towards it, his fangs clenched in concentration as he sensed for any danger around him. Then, as he emerged from between two trees, he saw what the noise had been. Fifty feet or so away, three large male dogs were dragging a lone female away from where the Niigata pack's base was, holding her muzzle shut so she wouldn't scream for help again, and biting her painfully on her already wounded neck as they did. She was thrashing and fighting mightily, he saw, but was badly outnumbered and was much smaller than her three attackers. Suddenly, one of the dogs slammed her head into a nearby tree with a painful sounding 'THUD'.
"Stop moving, bitch!" he hissed and Chutora snarled angrily.
That immediately got their attention, but by then the Kai dog was already moving. He slashed the one who had done it across the eyes with his claws and grabbed a second one by the side of the neck with his jaws as the first one fell with a yelp of pain. Then he jerked his head backwards hard and felt the dog's flesh tear loose in his grasp, hearing him whine loudly as a jet of blood shot into the air and he fell to the ground twitching. Seeing this, the third one immediately let go of the female and made a run for it, vanishing amongst the thick foliage as Chutora stood in front of the young victim protectively. He glanced back at her.
"Don't worry, miss." he said. "You're safe now."
"Actually, you're not." came a low, angry voice.
Chutora froze. The voice had come from right behind them and he silently cursed his carelessness. Whirling around, he tried to aim a bite at where he thought the voice's owner was standing. Instead, something smashed him across the face hard and he slumped to the ground limply as the female let out a howl of terror and all his vision went dark.
Kurotora watched as Amaya's eyes widened in surprise, and she stared at him in annoyance.
"What do you want?" she asked bluntly and the male Kai shrugged.
"Just to talk." he said, stretching his hind legs a little. "I'm curious how someone like you becomes a pack leader."
"Someone like me?" she repeated. "A female, you mean?"
He looked at her.
"A strong-willed one." he said. "One who's able to stand up to thugs like this Katsu while still leading a big pack. That's not something I've come across too much. It's impressive to say the least."
She snorted, smirking slightly.
"Thank you," she said, leaning down to lap at the water. "But don't waste your time. You're not my type."
Kurotora laughed with a shake of his head.
"Wow," he said sarcastically. "You're just full of surprises, aren't you?"
"No," she answered with a teasing smile. "You're just predictable. Figured you'd put the moves on the girl in charge, huh?"
The Kai-ken smirked.
"Hey," he said. "I'm a male, what can I say? Besides, you're not helping yourself by being – "
He stopped abruptly, catching himself, and Amaya looked over at him with a frown.
"By being what?"
"Nothing." he said, clearly embarrassed. "Nothing."
"Oh," she scoffed. "Now you've got my attention and you don't want to talk anymore?"
"It's nothing!" he snapped. "You're just…you…you look good is all."
Amaya pulled back a little in surprise and then gave him an almost flattered smile.
"Well aren't you the charmer." she teased and he flushed even more beneath his fur.
Her head whipped immediately towards the sudden hail and one of her subordinates came bounding up quickly from out of the trees.
"What is it?" she demanded, and the dog, a Spitz, came to a stop panting.
"Leader," she said. "It's Katsu! He did it again!"
Amaya growled deeply in anger and took off running towards her base, Kurotora and the subordinate sprinting alongside her.
"Who did he take this time?" she asked seriously and the Spitz gave her a worried look.
"Emiko." she said. "It also looks like he may have taken one of Gin's packmates as well."
Amaya and Kurotora skidded to an abrupt halt and stared at her in horror.
"What?" the female Kai gasped, but Kurotora was more insistent.
"Who?" he demanded anxiously. "WHO?"
The Spitz took a step back nervously and glanced at her leader before responding:
"The other Kai dog who was with you. The brown one with only one ear."
Kurotora's stomach fell to his feet.
"Chutora…" he breathed, and without another moment's hesitation turned and took off at a full run towards the Niigata clan's base, hearing Amaya shouting behind him to wait.
Seconds later, he burst through the trees and immediately saw Smith walk up to him, Gin and the others awake and alert behind him.
"Kuro – " the Setter started, but the Kai dog pushed right past him.
"Where is he?" he demanded. "Do we have his trail yet?"
"Kuro," Gin said calmly, also looking worried despite it. "We're looking for the trail now. They won't get far."
"You're fucking right they won't get far!" Kurotora growled. "Nobody attacks my family! What the hell happened anyway?"
The others looked at each other for a moment before Wilson answered.
"It looks like Chutora stumbled across an abduction in progress." he said gravely. "When he tried to stop them it looks like he was ganged up on and taken too."
Kurotora snarled, his hackles rising in fury.
"Kurotora," John said, meeting his gaze. "Calm down. We're on it."
"Calm down?" the Kai dog howled. "This bastard took my brother!"
"We'll get him back." Amaya said, stepping up to him and he managed to get himself under control a little. "I promise. We'll get them all back, and Katsu will pay dearly for what he's done."
Kurotora nodded in vindictive agreement and looked around at his friends to check on their progress. Then he frowned in confused annoyance.
"Where's Akame and Zach?" he demanded. "Shouldn't they be here helping?"
Gin and John exchanged a glance.
"They…um…" Gin said slowly. "They had something they needed to take care of first."
"Yeah? Well they better get back here soon!"
Gin nodded, but then looked over his shoulder at the trees.
"I wouldn't count on it." he muttered quietly.
Zach padded silently after Akame as the ninja dog began walking faster, slowly getting further and further away from where they'd been. The older dog had approached him as he was settling down to rest and asked to speak with him alone, a request that Zach had agreed to, though he secretly wasn't looking forward to it. Out of all of his friends, Akame was the one he had probably the most combative relationship with, and he often found himself nervous around him. Sure, he fought with John constantly, but with him half the time it was just lighthearted teasing. With Akame, who was the only dog he'd ever met who was more cunning than him, it was usually the real thing, and now he wondered what talk was serious enough that they had to go so far out of their way to be alone together. He glanced up at the Kishu's furred back.
"Akame," he said. "We're getting pretty far away from Gin and the others."
"Shut up and walk. We're almost there."
Zach didn't argue with him and soon enough, they emerged in a large clearing that seemed perfect for holding a large pack meeting of some kind. As soon as they entered it, Akame walked to the middle and sat down on his haunches, staring at Zach expectantly. Shrugging in irritation, the Malamute sat down as well, looking his comrade in the eyes as soon as he did.
"All right." he said in exasperation. "What is it?"
For a minute, Akame just stared at him quietly and Zach frowned when he got no reaction from the ninja dog.
"You did bring me out here for a rea– " he started.
Zach blinked in surprise.
"Hit me." Akame repeated, standing up. "Anywhere you want. If you land a single blow, you can go back."
Zach looked at him as though he was crazy.
"Why the hell would I want to – "
SMACK! Zach's head snapped to the side and he stumbled from the blow, looking up at the ninja-dog in shock moments later. Akame continued to stare calmly at him.
"I said hit me." he repeated. "You have five seconds or I do that again."
Zach growled. Then he glared at him.
"Fine." he said and quickly swung a paw at the Kishu's face.
Suddenly, Akame was gone and he felt a sharp pain stab him in the side. Zach grunted as he fell sideways and rolled twice before coming to rest back on his paws moments later. Akame strode up calmly.
"Again." he barked and the Malamute lunged at him, aiming for his throat.
Akame leapt high into the air as soon as he did it and grabbed him by the back of the neck with his teeth. Then he twisted and slammed him down back first on the hard ground below, stepping away from him as soon as he had.
"You fight better than this!" he said bluntly. "Stop wasting my time!"
Zach pushed himself to his paws, growling angrily.
"Did you really bring me out here just to beat me up?" he hissed. "Have a little one-on-one time away from Gin?"
Akame turned back to him with a serious stare.
"I brought you out here," he responded. "To train you. To be a soldier of Ohu."
Zach gaped at him.
"You can't be serious!" he said and Akame walked right up to him.
"Do you know why I caught you?" he asked seriously and Zach scowled at him.
"I had a bad day?" he said through clenched teeth.
"No." the ninja-dog answered. "I caught you because I was the first person you ever met who was better than you. Every opponent you faced before then was inferior, and that's why you walked all over them without so much as a single consequence. But I'm not inferior to you, and from now on you answer to me. I'm smarter, faster, stronger, and have far more fighting experience than you, and until you learn to better yourself, you will never defeat me."
Zach snorted, looking thoroughly irritated.
"Your humility is inspiring." he said and Akame suddenly tried to smack him again with his paw.
Anticipating it this time though, the Malamute dodged the blow and quickly aimed a bite at the older dog's face…and hit nothing but air. Akame had ducked so fast that he had barely seen him move, and before he could make sense of it, he was upended and slammed face-first into the dirt once more as Akame settled back into the sitting position he had been in before. He looked at Zach patiently.
"Finished?" he asked coldly and Zach glared murderously at him, wiping gravel off his muzzle with a paw.
"What the fuck was that one for?" he hissed and Akame looked him right in the eye.
"That was for talking back to me." he said bluntly. "And every time you do it from here on in, I'll hit you again, each time harder than the last. From this day until I say otherwise, you are my student, and while you are, you will address me as 'sir'."
"Not even if you threatened me!" Zach spat.
SMACK! The Malamute spit some blood out of his muzzle. Then he met Akame's gaze.
"Ohhhh…" he said with a furious laugh. "You're enjoying this, aren't you? As much as an emotionless machine like you can enjoy something anyway."
"No," Akame answered simply. "I'm not."
"Then why are you doing it?" Zach hissed, and the ninja-dog stepped up close to him.
"Because it's the only way you'll listen." he said. "And it's the only way you'll learn."
Then the Kishu settled down onto his haunches.
"Now," he said. "This training is not going to be easy. And though I will teach you what you need to know, I won't help you otherwise. Whether you succeed or fail is entirely up to you. I warn you though: every 2nd time you fail at something you go a day without food."
"You can't do – "
"On top of that," Akame continued, cutting him off. "Every time you try and run, I'll knock you down and drag you back. And don't think for 1 second that I'm not every bit as stubborn as you."
Then he stopped talking and looked at the younger dog, and it was immediately clear that Zach was at a total loss for words. He gaped furiously at the ninja-dog, looking completely lost, and a second later Akame's gaze surprisingly softened.
"I'm doing this to help you." he said quietly. "This isn't only about punishment for what happened in Nagano. I'm trying to save your life."
"You said that once before." Zach growled. "The day you took me from my home."
"And I meant it then too."
"I am not you!" the Malamute yelled loudly. "I will never be you! Why can't you understand that?"
Akame didn't answer and waited patiently for him to continue, his senses telling him that Zach was finally revealing his true self. When the younger dog kept going though, his voice was just as angry as before.
"Believe me," he snapped. "I've tried! After Kanagawa, I saw the kind of dogs you really were and I tried to be like you, but I'm just not. I haven't lived your lives and you haven't lived mine, so how can you expect us to be the same? You all share a bond and a friendship with each other that makes you who you are, and I don't even know what that feels like. No one's ever felt that for me. You certainly don't."
He paused for a moment and sighed to calm himself a little. Then he looked at his white-furred comrade again and the jealousy and bitterness in his eyes were as clear as the cloudless sky around them.
"I did what I did," he said, "Because aside from all of you, I've never met another 'soldier' who didn't deserve to get wiped off the face of the fucking world. That's the way I see things, the way I've always seen them. Nothing else has ever worked, so what makes you think that this will work now?"
Then he stopped talking, and for a long time, Akame just sat and stared silently at him, his gaze a mixture of pity and disappointment. Finally he stood with a deep sigh and moved closer, sitting down beside the younger dog and looking him in the eye.
"I have never," he said softly. "Expected you to be us. You're right. You haven't lived our lives, or been through the things we have, and it would selfish of me to ask you to become something you don't understand. But despite what you said, what I did, and still do, expect of you, is to do what's right, to do what a real male would do, without stooping to the level of those you fight. Your way is the only one that's worked because you've never been taught another way, and if you keep going down this path you're on, Zach, the only thing it will lead you to is death. That's why I'm here to teach you now, because I don't want to see that happen. And I know that this will work because even though what I said before still stands, I'm willing to show you what that friendship feels like, to have faith in you when you clearly have none in yourself, despite all that sarcasm and bravado you show."
Then the ninja-dog rested a paw on his shoulder gently.
"You're not the monster you want the world to think you are, Zach…" he said kindly. "And I'm gonna prove it to you."
Zach stared at him wide-eyed for a moment after this, clearly caught off guard by the ninja dog's response, and seemed almost to be fighting back tears as he looked at the ground and darted his gaze back and forth, as if contemplating everything he had heard. Then Akame stood and walked a few paces away, looking back at him as soon as he reached the edge of the clearing.
"Training starts now." he said, "Follow me…and show me who you really are."
Zach nodded, and an almost undetectable smile formed at the corner of his muzzle as he looked at his comrade, a new determined glint in his eye.
"Yes sir." he said, and Akame returned the smile before he turned away, and they both disappeared into the trees.
Chutora growled loudly in agony as he was bitten again, this time on the stomach, and the two dogs responsible ripped and twisted at his flesh savagely as he was restrained, a whole group of their brutal looking comrades standing around watching the show without mercy. Above him stood the dog named Katsu, an ugly, heavily scarred St. Bernard who's drooping face couldn't hide the combined look of anger and nervousness that it wore.
"Who are you?" he spat again. "What the hell are you doing around my females?"
"The last dog you wanted to mess with, bastard!" the Kai dog hissed, wincing. "And they aren't your females. They don't belong to anybody!"
"They are MINE!" yelled the huge dog and stomped down on Chutora's groin with his massive paw, making the proud Kai dog cry out in intense pain before he was forcibly held down again. "And you will tell me who you are or I will spill your guts right now! Who the fuck are you?"
Chutora clenched his teeth. After being attacked in the forest, he had woken up in some sort of cave, and had immediately been leapt upon and restrained by half a dozen dogs while they waited for their leader to question him. This had taken quite a while, as Katsu had been busy raping the young female Chutora had attempted to save, and he had been forced to listen to the whole thing whilst trying to provoke the huge dog into leaving her alone, an endeavor that had not only not worked, but had backfired when he had managed to piss Katsu off enough to strangle her with a bite to the throat. Afterwards, the St. Bernard had stormed over to him from his inner cave, and had attempted to viciously torture the information he wanted out of him, and that was where he found himself now. He had absolutely no intention of telling the thuggish dog anything, and was biding his time until one of them made a mistake that would allow him to escape, hopefully with any kidnapped members of Amaya's pack he could find. After all, he was a proud Kai dog, and a soldier of Ohu. If he gave into bastards like these he would never be able to look Gin or the others in the face again. One way or another, he thought, he was getting out of here. He just hoped that he wasn't too injured to do it when the time came. Right as he was debating how to respond to Katsu's demanded question, a new voice made itself known.
"Boss!" it said, and Katsu looked up.
"What?" he spat.
"Juro just got back from spying on them, Katsu-san." the dog said. "There's more of these guys with Amaya's pack."
He gestured at Chutora when he said it and Katsu looked furious.
"How many?" he demanded.
"At least 5 or 6." came the answer. "And get this: he thinks one of them might be Gin of Ohu."
Chutora growled softly in frustration upon hearing this, and Katsu turned to look at him with an angry, wide-eyed stare.
"The Ohu Army…?" he breathed, then cracked his neck. "All right. Fine. So Gin wants to stick his nose in my business does he? Well, we'll see how confident he feels when I send you back to him in pieces. First though, I think it's time Amaya paid the price for being such a difficult little bitch."
With that, he nodded at two of his subordinates and they walked out of Chutora's field of vision, reemerging moments later dragging a thrashing, fighting female Kai dog between them. As Chutora saw her, he gave a grunt of realization, feeling his wounds still seeping blood painfully from his 'questioning' as he did. The dog he was looking at resembled Amaya in many ways, and in fact only her younger age and slightly longer ears differed from the other female at all.
'This has to be her sister!' he thought. 'The one she said had been taken.'
Katsu sauntered over to her and stared down with a leering glare, his brutal eyes seeming to cut into her as he did.
"Your sister is really starting to piss me off." he said. "And now, you're gonna have to pay for it."
"What's the matter, Katsu?" she taunted, forcing her head up to look at him. "Still too afraid to fight me one on one? I guess it's kind of hard to brag to these fools how you lost to a girl, huh?"
He smirked at her.
"I'm going to enjoy this." he said, but she had just suddenly noticed Chutora.
When she looked back at the St. Bernard, she looked angry.
"You're attacking strays now, you monster?" she growled. "Dogs that have nothing to do with this? It's no wonder no one wanted you in Yamagata."
Katsu laughed loudly in his deep voice and shot Chutora a disparaging look.
"Strays?" he snorted. "You two clearly have things to talk about. First though..."
He suddenly shot his head down and grabbed one of her ears in his teeth.
"This is to teach you and your sister a lesson." he said threateningly. "About remembering your place."
Then he jerked his head sideways in one hard motion and tore her ear clean off her head, spitting it onto the ground once he had. The female screamed in agony and Chutora thrashed furiously at his numerous captors.
"You coward!" he howled in rage. "She can't even fight back! You worthless piece of shit!"
Katsu whirled around and grabbed him by the throat with his huge jaws. Then he picked him up completely off the ground and shook him hard, smashing his head into the nearby rock wall on purpose and stomping down on his underside before tossing him limply over to where the female lay shaking in pain.
"Put them in the back cave!" he ordered his gathered troops. "And put a guard on them! I'm gonna go leave this ear where Amaya can find it. Oh, and if you run into any of Gin's pack: kill them."
Chutora growled softly in pain as he tried to catch his breath, feeling blood streaming down his forehead as Katsu and most of his subordinates disappeared out into the forest. Then he was grabbed roughly by the hind leg and dragged into a smaller back cave, hearing the female getting the same treatment beside him. Once inside, they were unceremoniously dumped near a wall and their captors stalked back out, leaving them alone with their injuries and each other. Chutora pushed himself up a little and lifted his head to look at his female companion.
"Are you okay, miss?" he asked quietly, wincing at his wounds, and when she looked at him, he could see tears streaming down her face.
"W-Who are you?" she whispered, clearly in pain, and he tried to look non-threatening.
"My name is Chutora." he said. "I'm sorry they did that to you."
She inhaled a shaky breath and shook her head slightly.
"It's okay…" she said softly. "I knew he would do something. I've managed to prevent him from raping me so far, but I knew it was just a matter of time before he hurt me somehow."
Then she looked at him almost quizzically.
"Are you really from the Ohu Army?" she asked and he nodded.
"Yeah." he said. "And my friends will find us soon. They'll have noticed I'm missing by now. Until they come though, we should start looking for a way out. You're Amaya's sister aren't you?"
She nodded almost shyly through her pained grimace.
"I'm Shiori." she said and Chutora smiled disarmingly at her.
"It's nice to meet you," he said, and watched as she clutched at what had once been her ear. "Here, hold still."
Leaning over, he pushed her paw out of the way and gently began licking the still bleeding wound, stemming the blood flow within seconds as he did. Though at first she was caught off guard, and growled softly in pain at the contact, Shiori eventually relented and leaned tiredly against him, letting him continue with what he was doing. Feeling his own wounds still throbbing painfully, Chutora looked around at their new prison.
'I hope you guys get here soon.' he thought. 'Because this could get really ugly really fast.'
'Curse this rain! Curse this god damn rain!'
Kurotora lowered his nose back to the ground as he searched once again for any trace of a foreign scent, his claws digging into the gravel beneath them in fury. Three days had passed since Chutora's abduction, and with each passing moment, Kurotora got more and more agitated. He had thought that they would be able to find his brother quickly and without too much trouble, despite the seriousness of the situation. After all, they were soldiers of Ohu! One lowly thug and his pack of troublemakers shouldn't have been a match for them. Katsu though, to his great disgust and worry, had managed to avoid detection anyway, and mere hours after they had begun their search, a torrential downpour had started and hadn't ceased since, washing away all traces of the St. Bernard and his pack with it. Further complicating things was the fact that Niigata was rife with places to hide, and every time they found what they thought was their enemy's base, they were disappointed to learn that it was old or had nothing to do with them at all. Kurotora growled. He wasn't the only one getting frustrated, they all were, but aside from Amaya, he stood to lose the most if something went wrong, and worried what might happen to Chutora if he were injured and went longer without help.
'I won't lose another brother!' he swore silently to himself. 'I can't!'
Suddenly, someone padded up next to him and he saw the silver form of Gin gazing back at him expectantly when he looked to see who it was.
"Anything?" the Akita asked, a worried frown etched into his young face.
Kurotora shook his head.
"Nothing!" he said. "Where the hell did this bastard take them?"
Gin looked over at his friend and rested a paw on his shoulder gently when he saw the expression of worry on his face.
"We'll find him, Kuro." he said. "I promise."
The dark-furred dog nodded with a sigh, watching as the Akita turned with a reassuring look and walked silently over towards Smith, who was busy searching for traces of their enemy a short distance away. Kurotora turned back to the woods around them, trying to keep himself at ease so he could think more clearly. He had never been very good at staying calm, and his comrades often had to invent new ways to keep his temper in check, something that he wasn't particularly proud of. Still, he couldn't just turn off his emotions, and now wasn't the time to perfect that particular skill. Hearing a noise to his left, he glanced over and saw Amaya barking orders to her followers, who were fanning out in all directions and taking the search just as seriously as he and his friends were. Despite what was at stake, the female Kai looked relatively unperturbed and Kurotora frowned in amazement, striding over to her moments later.
"How are you so calm?" he asked bluntly. "This bastard has your sister!"
She glanced over at him for a moment and then panned her gaze to the ground.
"I'm not calm." she responded. "I'm worried sick. But as leader I can't afford to let that show. My comrades rely on me. They need to have faith in my decisions."
Then she looked back at him in obvious concern.
"How are you holding up?"
"Not as well as you." he said truthfully, then shook his head. "I don't know what I'm gonna do if I lose Chutora. I can't go through that again."
He glanced at her and sat down on his haunches by her side.
"I lost my older brother Akatora during the war against Akakabuto." he said, feeling strangely vulnerable for opening up so much to her. "It took me a long time to cope after that. I thought it would be easy but…even now I see his face when I sleep. I miss him… I don't want to lose them both."
"Then you should try having some faith in him." Amaya said, and Kurotora frowned at her in confusion. "Chutora. If he's as stubborn as you are, then he should be able to survive Katsu easily."
The male Kai looked hurt.
"I do have faith in him!" he snapped indignantly. "I just…worry about him is all."
Amaya smirked at him.
"And you don't think he worries about you too?" she asked. "He's your older brother, that's what they do. If I'm not counting my sister out, then you shouldn't give up on him either."
Kurotora was a little taken aback by this, and silently wondered if he hadn't been trusting Chutora's survival abilities enough. Maybe Amaya had a point, he thought. Before he could dwell on it any longer though, he heard a voice calling through the trees.
They both looked up together and Kurotora watched as the female pack leader immediately dashed off running towards it, her powerful strides taking her further away from him with each bound. He quickly followed her, the voice's alarmed tone unnerving him, and soon enough, he found her standing at the edge of a group of her subordinates, Wilson at their center. They were all gathered around something on the ground, and Kurotora frowned as he tried to see what it was. Beside him, Amaya was doing the same.
"What is it?" she demanded. "What's going on?"
As she tried to walk forward towards what they were looking at, Gin and Smith immediately tried to block her way.
"Amaya," the Akita said. "Don't – "
"Get out of my way." she said crossly, pushing past them. "What did you – "
Suddenly, she trailed off and Kurotora pushed his way forward to see what all the commotion was about. When he followed her gaze, his breath caught in his throat. Laying on the ground in front of them, partially covered by a leaf and surrounded by fresh blood, was a severed, red-furred ear, specifically one belonging to a Kai dog. He could tell immediately that it wasn't Chutora's and felt a wave of relief wash over him, but Amaya began to tremble seconds later, and he knew that it had to be her sister's.
"Sh-Shiori…" she said shakily, reaching a trembling paw towards it, and he lowered his head in concern.
"Amaya…" he started. "I – "
Suddenly, she turned and bolted off into the trees again, a howl of rage escaping her throat as Kurotora bounded after her once more.
"Katsu!" she screamed in a voice born of true hatred. "You bastard! I'll kill you for this! Where are you? Come out here and fight me you – "
As soon as he got close enough, Kurotora lunged and tackled her roughly to the ground, wrapping his jaws securely around the side of her neck to prevent her from escaping as he did. The two dogs rolled as they went down, and by the time they came to rest, Amaya had ended up on her back with Kurotora on top of her, his paws pushing firmly down on her shoulders to pin her to the ground.
"Get off me!" she yelled, tears streaming down her face, but he shook his head and kept his weight constant.
"No!" he barked, surprised at his own sudden clear-headedness. "Amaya, they need you! Your pack! Running off alone is exactly what he wants! Don't give it to him!"
"He hurt her!" she cried. "My sister! If he killed her I'm gonna murder– "
Kurotora suddenly leaned in and gently nuzzled the side of her face, feeling her press into it after a moment or two of uncertainty. For a few seconds, they stayed this way, but then she pulled him closer with her paws, shaking as she tried to calm herself, and he gave her furred cheek a tender lick.
"We'll find her." he said softly, echoing Gin's words to him. "I give you my word… We'll get her back."
Amaya nodded, her crying almost stopped, and he leaned back into the embrace, feeling a warm rush shoot through him as he did.
'I was right…' he thought. 'This is what I want… This feels right…'
Then, someone else came bounding up, and Kurotora looked up in time to see Smith skid to a stop, panting slightly as he did.
"Kuro," he said urgently. "We – "
Then he stopped and the Kai dog saw him pull back a little in surprise as he noticed what they had been doing. Moments later, a small smirk spread over the Setter's muzzle.
"Nice…" he said and the Kai dog growled, pushing himself off of Amaya.
"Smith!" he snapped loudly. "You better have good god damn reason for being here or I'll – "
"We found a trail!" the smaller dog said, backing up a little apologetically. "We may know where they are!"
Amaya leapt to her paws instantly, all sadness gone from her face and a new determination replacing it.
"Where?" she demanded, sounding like a leader again. "Show me!"
Smith nodded and gestured to them both with his head, and Kurotora bounded off after him, feeling Amaya running at his side as they headed back to where Gin and the others were already on the move.
Chutora listened closely as he lay on his side. Their guards were still right outside the cave and he suspected that they were planning on coming back in soon to carry out Katsu's orders…his execution. He didn't know how long he had been held captive, but he suspected that it had to have been a few days, his own hunger and the St. Bernard's predictable movements telling him everything he needed to know. He had planned to escape before, but his captors had wisely kept him as injured as they could to make sure that he couldn't go far, and he had only recently gotten some of his strength back. He still could've tried to get away before, he knew, but that would mean leaving Shiori behind alone, and that was something that was just not an option.
The female Kai had been his 'cellmate' ever since that first day, and he had been greatly impressed with her skill at preventing Katsu from raping her, which seemed to be his favorite thing to do with his female captives. Every time she was dragged out of the room for a private audience with the brutal dog, he would hear angry screaming and she would be tossed back in minutes later, usually with fresh beating wounds and a satisfied smirk on her face. Afterwards, it fell to him to clean those wounds, a favor which she had returned numerous times after Katsu had begun taking out his frustrations on him, and the more time passed, the more protective he seemed to feel towards her. He didn't quite understand it, but deep down he knew that had they been anywhere else, he would've wanted to take their relationship further, despite the short amount of time they had known one another. Now she lay on her side facing him, and as he felt blood trickling down from his neck and nose, courtesy of his latest punishment, he saw her look over at him.
"Chutora," she said softly, making sure the guards couldn't hear her. "You should go. You can make it now if you catch them off guard."
"Save myself and leave you here?" he replied. "Never gonna happen. I'd never be able to live with myself afterward."
"Please…" she pleaded. "They're gonna kill you. Go."
"Hey." he said, resting a paw gently on hers. "I'm not going anywhere, unless you come too."
She gave him a happy smile, and then looked at him affectionately.
"I'm gonna hate to see you leave." she said and he returned the smile.
"You're not gonna forget me are you?" he teased and she shook her head.
"How could I forget you?" she asked, meeting his gaze. "You're the first male I ever met who didn't let me down."
He felt a rush of affection for her, and then suddenly heard the approaching footsteps of the guards…his executioners. Shiori glanced over her shoulder and then looked back at him, her gaze suddenly sly.
"Ready?" she asked and he grinned toothily.
"Always." he answered.
Suddenly, the dogs came into the room.
"All right, bastard," one started to say. "It's time for you to di– "
He didn't even get the full word out, as Chutora suddenly shot to his feet without warning, Shiori doing the same beside him, and tackled him hard into the cave's stone wall, the impact causing a loud noise to echo around the small room. The dog let out a yelp of surprise, but then the Kai dog's fangs found their way to his neck and his whine turned into a gargling scream as Chutora bit down hard and ripped his throat free from his body, an explosion of blood following in its wake. Seconds later, a similar shriek of pain was heard as Shiori did the same to the other guard, dropping his limp body like something she loathed to touch as soon as she had. Chutora nodded at her.
"Let's go!" he barked and they quickly made a run for it, sprinting right past a couple more of Katsu's stunned subordinates as they leapt out the opening and into the light of the outside world.
Suddenly, he heard a roar of fury.
"After them!" the voice shouted. "Kill them, kill them, kill them!"
It was Katsu himself, back from burying the body of another captive, and Chutora immediately looked over at Shiori, who was struggling mightily against the pain from her wounds as she ran.
"Faster!" he snapped. "We gotta get back to Gin and the others!"
He pumped his powerful legs faster, trying as well to ignore the throbbing pain that shot through him with every step.
'Shit!' he thought. 'He's gaining! We have to move!'
It was no use. Katsu was in better condition and had longer strides, and before they knew it, he was right behind them, his fangs bared and ready to strike the death blow to both of them.
"You think you can get away from me? Let's see how you like this!" he snarled, and Chutora turned to take the hit himself and buy Shiori time to escape.
Suddenly though, a large shape came flying in from the side and hit the brutal dog to the ground as hard as it could, slashing his eye clean out of its socket as it did and making him hit a tree before coming to a stop. Then it landed in front of them and Chutora gaped at it in shock as Katsu pawed at his face screaming.
"John!" he gasped, letting out a relieved laugh as the Shepherd licked his chops and smirked at him.
"Get to safety!" he said. "Both of you! We'll deal with them!"
Then he turned and leapt away, and when Chutora looked after him in confusion, he saw Katsu's large pack all sprinting through the trees towards them, baying and howling battle cries as they ran. Right as they approached though, Gin and the others arrived as well and met them in a violent clash of bodies and fangs, and the battle was on. Suddenly, he saw Kurotora and Amaya run up to him, and the two sets of siblings greeted each other enthusiastically as they saw that everyone was all right.
"You had me worried, Chutora!" Kurotora said, clearly relieved to see his brother alive.
"What," Chutora smirked. "You didn't trust me?"
"I do now." came the answer. "Now let's show these bastards what happens when they mess with Kais!"
The other three all nodded in unison and then they leapt into the battle as well, slashing left and right at Katsu's struggling subordinates as soon as they reached them. Despite the fact that they were outnumbered, the Ohu Army and their new allies clearly outclassed their opponents, and very quickly the tide of the fight began to turn, with Gin and John leveling multiple dogs at once, and even Wilson taking out enemy after enemy as he fought. It seemed as though the battle had barely begun when already it was ending, and those of Katsu's terrified minions who were still standing began to make a desperate run into the forest, trying as hard as they could to get away from their much stronger opponents. Suddenly though, as the Ohu Army were all about to come together and regroup, Chutora heard a scream from right beside him and whirled in surprise to see Katsu standing there, his face bloodied and furious…and Shiori's throat between his jaws. The female Kai choked mightily and Chutora snarled in rage as he saw it, but Katsu growled and took a step back.
"Back off!" he spat. "All of you back off!"
He tightened his grip to prove his point and the group froze as Shiori's air was cut off almost entirely.
"Let her go, Katsu!" Gin threatened, stepping forward. "This fight is over."
"Never!" came the snarled answer. "You're all going to pay for this, you mark my words! For now, I'll just take her, but I'll be back for the rest of you! If any of you so much as make a single move towards me, I'll snap her neck! And I don't care how fast you are, Gin, we both know that you'll never be able to kill me before I do!"
The Akita narrowed his eyes angrily, stopping his advance, and they all watched as the St. Bernard continued to back away from them, biting deeper every time they tried to follow. Then the huge dog leered down at his captive.
"You wait until I get you alone, bitch." he rumbled. "I'm gonna teach you the meaning of respect…and pain."
"Ch-Chutora!" Shiori choked in fear and the Kai dog started to lunge forward.
"Ah ah!" Katsu snapped, holding her up again and biting deep enough to make blood stream from around his teeth. "Don't even think about it!"
Chutora froze in his tracks and the St. Bernard smirked at him.
"I'll tell her you said goodbye." he said.
The elder Kai brother growled in anger and fear as Katsu started to turn away, hearing Amaya doing the same beside him, and even Gin looked to be at a loss for what to do without endangering the female Kai's life. Suddenly, though, as Katsu was passing a tree with sharp, low-growing branches, the whole Ohu group saw a dark shape lunge out of nowhere from a branch high above and fly down at the huge dog with it's fangs bared and ready to strike.
"Raikaken!" it yelled fiercely and before they could even react, the shape landed on the back of the St. Bernard's head and slammed it down eye-first onto one of the sharp branches, leaping off to the side as soon as it had.
Katsu let out a long shriek of pain and dropped Shiori from his grip, pawing uselessly at the branch that had speared through him as she scrambled away to safety. As soon as they saw this, Gin and the others all ran forward as fast as they could, and Chutora quickly pulled her protectively to his side, getting safely between her and the thrashing Katsu as he did. Then they all finally got a look at the dog who had saved her life, and gasped in shock as they saw him.
"Zach?" multiple voices said at once and the Malamute nodded back at them, panting slightly.
Then he looked back up at the tree he had just jumped out of.
"How was that one?" he called and when they followed his gaze, they saw Akame resting calmly on another nearby branch, watching the scene with a teacher's careful eye.
"Much better!" he responded with a reassuring nod. "You did well. But it's 'Iga Ninpou Raikaken'. Not just 'Raikaken'."
"I'm not an Iga ninja." he said. "I go my own way."
Akame rolled his eyes and leapt down from the tree, landing gracefully beside him seconds later.
"No." he agreed half-teasingly. "You're definitely not an Iga Ninja."
The younger dog scowled and Gin and John stepped forward, both looking happy to see them.
"Akame," the Akita said. "I thought you would be gone for longer."
"He's made great strides." came the almost proud sounding answer. "He's a faster learner than I thought he'd be. I figured we could wait on the rest until we get back to Ohu, leader."
Then he looked at Zach.
"You still need a lot of work." he said. "No one becomes a great fighter in 4 days. But you did well, Zach."
"Thank you, sir." the Malamute answered, and when John blinked in surprise upon hearing him added: "You hear that, John? I did a good job. You've got some catching up to do."
The Shepherd snorted.
"I doubt it." he said with a grin. "That was about as graceful as a rock."
Before anyone could respond though, Katsu let out another howl of pain and they looked over to see him trying unsuccessfully to pull himself off the branch.
"Y-You motherfucker!" he yelled in furious agony, his whole body thrashing as he kept trying to free himself. "I'll kill you!"
"I know." Zach said sarcastically. "The world's not fair is it? Which is another way of saying: you'll live."
At that, Smith and Wilson walked over to the huge dog and carefully yanked him off the branch, dropping him to the ground as soon as they had. Then Gin looked over at Amaya, who still stood by Kurotora.
"Amaya," he said with a nod of his head. "This is your territory. I leave his fate up to you."
She looked surprised for a moment, but then panned her gaze to the pitiful looking St. Bernard, who's newfound blindness seemed to be disorienting him greatly as he lay on his side in front of her.
"I should kill you for what you did to us," she hissed angrily, and Katsu's trembling head whipped towards her voice. "For the good lives you took. But I won't. And do you know why?"
She leaned in towards him, Kurotora moving closer protectively.
"Because I'm not you." she spat and then stepped back again. "My subordinates will escort you back to Yamagata. If you resist, we'll take you by force. They'll know exactly how to deal with you there. Don't ever set foot in my territory again."
With that, she nodded at a small group of her soldiers and they all half dragged Katsu to his feet and began pushing him roughly towards the East, where Yamagata lay. Moments later, they were all gone from sight, and Gin nodded at her in approval.
"Well done," he said. "Leader."
She smiled slightly back at him.
"Gin," she said, "I can't thank you enough for helping us. Now though, it's up to us to rebuild the peace around here. With Katsu gone, maybe we can make our territory feel like a home again."
The Akita gave her a small nod.
"I'm sure that you will." he said kindly, "It was an honor to meet you."
"The honor was all mine," she replied. "Gin of Ohu."
Then she gave each one of them a nod and turned away, gesturing to her gathered subordinates as she did. They all immediately followed her, trotting away back towards their base, and for a moment, Kurotora looked torn, glancing back and forth between them and his friends even as Chutora followed after Amaya, supporting Shiori as he did and helping her to make it home. The dark furred Kai dog looked at Gin.
"Gin," he said almost apologetically. "I – "
"Go." the Akita smiled, nodding in the direction that Amaya had disappeared. "We'll see you back in Ohu when you're ready."
A wide grin spread over Kurotora's face and John smirked.
"Go get her, Kuro." he said and that was all the encouragement that the Kai dog needed.
Turning his head, he bounded after the Niigata clan, vanishing amongst the trees as well a few seconds later. Zach snorted and glanced at Akame.
"Typical." he said. "No love for the real heroes, right sir?"
Akame smiled amusedly and Smith looked over at Zach from the Kishu's other side as the group turned and once again began making their way North.
"You expected something from them," he asked. "Really? You weren't even here!"
"Oh come on," Zach grinned. "A 'thank-you kiss' at least would've been welcome."
Gin rolled his eyes with a smile and John snorted over at the Malamute.
"What self respecting female would stoop low enough to kiss you?" he asked, making Smith and Wilson chuckle and Gin chide:
Zach just smirked.
"Jealous John?" he asked. "Scared that I might have kids before you?"
John let out a loud laugh.
"You and kids?" he said. "Now there's a disaster the world doesn't need!"
"Oh, and you think anyone will cheer having a little version of you running around?" the Malamute scoffed. "I think they'd rather chew off a testicle."
"What would you even name a kid?" the Shepherd snorted. "'The Master Plan'?"
Zach let out a bark-like laugh and put a paw on the other male's shoulder.
"Don't worry, John," he smiled tauntingly. "You'll always have your paw to keep you company."
Gin laughed despite himself and glanced over at Akame, who was shaking his head beside him as John bit repeatedly at the other male in fury.
"I guess some things never change, huh?" he grinned and the Kishu sighed, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth as the group began leaving the Niigata clan's territory behind.
"You have no idea, Gin." he said. "You have no idea."