Story 6: The Pied Piper
Gin smiled widely, letting the familiar air of Futago Pass fill his lungs as he breathed it in with a contented sigh. It had taken the group of them the better part of two days to fully depart the Niigata Prefecture, but as soon as they had, he had begun recognizing the familiar sights and smells of Ohu, and his whole body surged with relief that their long trip was, for the time being anyway, over. With the departures of Kurotora and Chutora, whose endeavors to start families of their own were hopefully going well, the group had dwindled down to 6, but their decreased number didn't hurt his enthusiasm at finally being back in the place he had wanted to be in all along, and the others clearly felt the same way.
Smith appeared to have finally put Great's death behind him at long last, for which Gin was very relieved, and John's mood had taken a turn for the better as well, as the Shepherd hunted for the group's food voluntarily, and even enticed Zach into a lighthearted sparring match to kill their boredom while the others rested. He had won this play-fight of course, but Zach's rapidly improving battle skills had made it none too easy for him, and Gin had to admit that it had been exciting to watch the two go at it. He was glad that for the first time in a while, he didn't have any problems to solve or emotions plaguing his mind, and the closer they moved towards the Ohu Army's home base of Gajou, the better he seemed to feel. It was then that Gin saw something come up beside him out of the corner of his eye though, and he glanced over and saw Wilson matching his step, the Collie's face seemingly free of the worry and trouble that it had held only a few days before. The Akita smiled slightly and turned back to the path.
"Glad to be back?" he asked and Wilson snorted slightly, returning the smile.
"You have no idea, leader." he said. "I think it's high time we all had some real rest for a change."
"You took the words right out of my mouth." the young leader said. "Hopefully everything is in order when we get there."
From behind them, Smith spoke up before the Collie could answer.
"Ben and Cross were supposed to watch over things while we were gone, right?" he asked and Akame nodded from Gin's other side.
"Yes." he said in his normal calm voice. "It was better that someone with leadership experience remain behind to make sure things stayed protected. Ben was the perfect choice."
"I'm just glad he agreed to do it." Gin added, glancing sideways at his white-furred friend. "I know he and Cross have had their paws full raising their pups."
"This is quite the territory you lot have here." Zach spoke up from the back of the group, and the Akita glanced over his shoulder to see the Malamute looking around at the tall trees that enveloped them, a fascinated look on his face. "I'm actually impressed."
Gin felt strangely proud at the compliment, and Smith immediately voiced what he was thinking as well.
"You think this is nice," the Spaniel said, pride evident in his voice. "Just wait 'til we get back to our base."
"Speaking of which, how long before we arrive do you think?" Wilson asked, and suddenly they emerged from the forest they had been walking through and came into a large open area, a flat plain that ended at a wide canyon about 1000 feet away.
At the center, close to the cliff edge that led down into the canyon, stood a massive rock formation, a tower of large boulders and broken branches that looked almost like a monument to the dead that had fallen around it. It was Gajou. Gin looked at him again as John and Zach came up alongside them.
"I'd say pretty soon." he said and Wilson returned his grin as the group of them started forward towards it, their swift pace closing the distance quickly.
Around Gajou's borders, multiple dogs stood in various locations, and as soon as they saw Gin and the others approaching, one immediately shouted something inside the great structure and they all rushed to attention, gathering to meet their leaders as they arrived. As the Ohu group trotted to a halt, two older dogs emerged from Gajou's entrance, and Gin nodded happily at them as they approached.
"Gin," the one on the left, a white-furred, female Saluki, said. "You're back already?"
"We expected you all to be gone for another month." the blind but powerful looking Great Dane to her right added.
"Things have changed," the Akita said simply, but then smiled at each in turn. "Ben…Cross… It's good to see you."
"And you." Cross said, but then frowned slightly as she looked around at them. "Where are Kurotora, Chutora, and Great?"
Gin and John exchanged a look.
"The Kais decided to take after you and settle down." John said and the two looked surprised, but pleased. "They'll be gone for awhile. But Great…"
"We'll get to that later." Gin interrupted and their gazes panned to him. "Is everything here all right?"
"Aside from that storm that's approaching, everything's fine." Ben responded, gesturing off to their East, and when Gin followed his motion, he saw large black clouds gathering ominously for an imminent approach.
The Akita scowled in irritation, having not seen them before, and heard Zach snort from behind him.
"That figures." he said. "All this beautiful territory to look around and we get drowned in rain."
Ben and Cross both glanced towards him as they heard his voice and Gin saw simultaneous confused expressions form on their faces as they noticed him.
"Who is this?" Cross asked and John smirked.
"Proof that life has a sense of humor." he said and Gin smiled despite himself as he turned and nodded at the now glowering Malamute.
"This is Zach." he said. "He joined our group in Ibaraki. He's going to be with us for a while to…atone for some things."
Zach smirked, shaking his head at the Akita's last few words.
"Everyone's a critic." he said, and then added. "And how long is 'a while' if I might ask?"
John looked over and met his gaze challengingly before Gin could answer.
"Indefinitely." he responded and Gin chuckled, gesturing to the older dogs in front of him as he did.
"Zach, this is Ben and Cross." he said. "They're old comrades of ours."
Zach bowed his head to both of them and Ben straightened up slightly as he looked at the Malamute with his blind eyes.
"The Mastermind of Ibaraki," he said sternly and Zach tensed a little. "Yes, we heard about you. I trust you've learned from traveling with our friends?"
Zach looked up at him and then glanced at Gin and the others before turning back, his expression suggesting that he had thought carefully about his answer.
"Yes sir." he said. "Hopefully we're all better males for it."
"Good." Ben responded. "If Gin trusts you than I do as well."
Gin nodded, satisfied with this exchange, and then turned to the others.
"Everyone," he said. "Let's go inside and get some rest."
Then he looked at one of the nearby guards.
"Ikaru," he said, and the dog's ears perked up. "Take a few dogs and go hunt for some food. Be quick though, that storm looks bad. I don't want anyone out in it."
"Yes leader!" Ikaru said and immediately ran off as Gin and the others slowly padded into Gajou's inner sanctum, laying down inside the main chamber once they had.
Ben and Cross did the same as well, both looking curious about how their journey had gone. Before either of them could say anything though, four young dogs came sprinting into the chamber from deeper inside Gajou, all looking excited by Gin and his group's return. They immediately bounded up to the Akita.
"Gin-dono!" a male Great Dane, who looked about 10 months old, said. "You're back! Did you get in any fights?"
"Yeah, tell us what happened, Gin!" the male Saluki at his side, who looked around the same age, added.
"Ken, George!" John interrupted, looking stern. "You address Gin as 'leader' when you're talking to him."
"Oh, sorry, John-sama!" the Saluki, George, exclaimed. "We're just glad you're all back! It's been so boring around here!"
"Have you been training with your parents?" Gin asked and both nodded, their younger sister Miney, who was practically a twin of Ken's, doing the same beside them.
"Go practice some more." John ordered. "We all need to rest right now."
From beside the 3 pups, a fourth young dog stepped forward. Slightly older than the others, he was a Shikoku-ken, and had a tuft of whitish fur on top of his head between his erect ears that was a few shades lighter than his graying fur, which looked to be transforming from brown as he aged. He looked like an adolescent, halfway between a child and an adult, but he already clearly had a fire to him that demonstrated he could be a formidable male one day. He bowed his head slightly to Akame, who lay at Gin's side.
"Mr. Akame," he said, looking almost proud of himself. "I've perfected that back flip move you showed me. Would you like to see it?"
"Maybe later, Chibi." the Kishu answered, but then seemed to have a thought. "Why don't you show Zach, though. He's in training as well."
Chibi followed his gaze to the Malamute, who lifted his head upon hearing his name.
"Are you also a Shinobi?" he asked and Zach looked at him.
"I'm a work in progress, kid." he responded. "I could always use some tips."
"Come on, then." the young dog said in a professional, yet excited sounding voice. "I'll show you some moves!"
Zach shrugged and stood, stretching as he did. Then he turned and padded after Chibi, who led him quickly down a nearby corridor, into the heart of Gajou, and out of sight. Almost as soon as they had departed, a rushing sound came everyone's ears and a torrential downpour of rain began to drench Futago Pass. To Gin's right, Smith snorted.
"Just in time." he said and the Akita smiled in agreement.
Then he laid his head back down on his paws and closed his eyes.
Gin jumped a little as he awoke with a start, blinking sleep out of his eyes as he did. Once his vision had cleared, he looked up and saw Cross standing in front of him with the guard Ikaru at her side. Both had serious looks on their faces.
"What is it?" he asked, mildly annoyed at being awakened so abruptly.
"Sir," Ikaru said, "There's a group of dogs outside requesting temporary shelter. The storm's gotten worse."
Gin stood up, hearing John and Akame doing the same beside him.
"Who are they?" he asked sternly and Cross turned and fell in beside him as he began walking towards Gajou's entrance.
"Just a passing family group by the look of them." she said. "They certainly don't look like any kind of threat, Gin."
"How many are there?"
"7." Cross said. "Three males, a female, and a few pups."
Gin nodded and walked out of Gajou's entrance quickly, noticing as he did that Smith was still sleeping where he lay, and that Zach and Wilson were both gone. He wasn't sure where either had run off to, but didn't dwell on the matter for long, as cold rain and wind began pelting him in the face painfully as soon as he emerged into the dim light outside. Almost immediately, he saw a small group of dogs standing a few feet away, their forms drenched by the torrential downpour. As Gin walked up, one of them, a large Doberman, stepped forward.
"Please forgive our intrusion!" he said with a small bow, talking loudly over a clap of thunder. "This storm caught us off guard!"
"Where are you headed to?" Gin asked in an equally loud voice and the Doberman gestured East with his head.
"The Iwate Prefecture." he said. "We were just passing through, but then this weather hit. Would you mind if we took shelter until this passes over? We have pups with us."
Gin studied him for a moment, trying to determine if he was being truthful. Then he looked over and 3 small, shivering bundles of fur cowering at the female's feet and nodded, smiling disarmingly.
"Of course," he said, "Come in. You'll be dry inside."
"Thank you!" the Doberman exclaimed and he and his whole group immediately did as they were invited, shaking the water off their fur as soon as they were inside.
Gin then padded back up to him, John and Akame at his side. As he approached, the other male turned and greeted them with a respectful nod.
"Ghastly weather." he scowled, shooting an annoyed glance out at the rain. "We're lucky you were kind enough to let us in."
"Not at all." Gin said. "No one should be out in this, least of all pups. I'm Gin. This is John and Akame. Who are you?"
The Doberman looked shocked.
"Gin of – " he started, then grinned in surprise. "Wow… I'm honored. I didn't think we'd run into males of your stature. My name is Sakai."
He gestured to his group.
"That's Damien, my second in command," he said, and a large mix breed stepped forward with a nod, "My mate Tomoe and our pups, and our packmate Kenji."
A smaller, female Doberman and a male Belgian Malinois nodded gratefully at them as well, and Gin returned the gestures before turning back to Sakai.
"You're free to stay here until this storm passes by." he said. "I ask you not to wander though, it's easy to get lost in here if you don't know your way around."
"Thank you again," Sakai said. "We'll stay out of your way, I promise."
Behind him, his 3 pups suddenly began yipping wildly and darting back and forth, apparently recovered from their chilled state and eager to explore their new surroundings. Gin smiled amusedly as he saw them and Damien quickly reached out a paw and held them all in place roughly.
"Behave you three!" he rumbled gruffly. "These are great males we're guests of!"
To his right, Kenji stepped forward, an impressed look on his face as he turned his head left and right to study the rock fortress around them.
"This place," he said in a smooth, almost serpentine voice. "This is Gajou isn't it?"
"Yes," Akame answered as Gin nodded and Kenji turned to them with a small bow.
"We heard stories recently of a great battle that took place here not too long ago." he said. "And of the dogs who led it, of course. If you'll forgive me, it's just as impressive as I imagined."
Gin felt flattered and bowed back.
"Thank you." he said gratefully and the Malinois gave a smile.
"Of course." he said and Sakai turned to him and Damien as soon as he finished speaking.
"Can you two get them settled down to sleep?" he asked, nodding at his three squirming pups, who looked to be getting restless. "We'll follow soon after."
"Yes sir," Damien said and he and Kenji each picked up one of the tiny dogs and headed over towards the room's far wall, Tomoe picking up the third as Sakai stepped back up to Gin, John, and Akame.
"If you need us out of your way," he said. "Just let us know."
Gin nodded with a friendly smile and the Doberman returned it briefly before turning and walking back over to his packmates, all of them laying to sleep as he approached. Then the Akita looked at John, who snorted unconcernedly as he pulled his gaze away from the newcomers and made to go lay back down where he had been before. Gin went to follow him, determined to resume his rest, but suddenly Akame held out a paw in front of him, stopping him in his tracks. Glancing at his friend in response, Gin saw the Kishu gesture over at Smith and the others with a small concerned frown, and as soon as the Akita followed his gaze, he quickly matched his expression. Standing by the wall a few feet behind Smith, having apparently only just come back into the room, was Wilson. The expression on his face though, was one that Gin had never seen him wear before, and the horror and shock that were etched into his eyes was something that disturbed the Akita greatly. Exchanging a confused look with John, who had seen it as well, Gin walked over to the other dog.
"Wilson," he said and the Collie jumped, breaking out of his reverie instantly as his gaze shot to his friend. "Are you all right? What is it?"
The Collie appeared shaken and Gin could see that he was staring at Sakai and his small pack.
"Who are they?" Wilson asked softly and John turned back to him with frown.
"Just a passing group of dogs." he said. "Why? You recognize one of them?"
Wilson gestured with his head further back into Gajou.
"I – I need to talk to all of you now." he said in a quiet, trembling voice and the 3 dogs shot each other wary glances before following him deeper into the stone fortress's depths, walking until they were out of earshot of everyone in the main chamber.
Once they were, Gin turned to Wilson again and this time he was serious.
"All right, Wilson." he said. "What is it?"
Wilson leaned in closer to him.
"Gin," he said urgently. "That dog who's with that pack, the Malinois, who did he say he was?"
"Their leader said his name was Kenji." Akame answered instead. "Why?"
"Because he lied." the Collie said and Gin frowned.
"What do you mean?" he asked and Wilson looked almost nervous.
"His name is Endo," he said. "Not Kenji. I know of him from when I was a circus dog. He is extremely dangerous, Gin."
Gin straightened up in concern, seeing John and Akame doing the same beside him.
"Dangerous how?" John asked in a low, growl-like voice. "Who is he?"
"He's a war criminal." Wilson insisted, meeting his gaze intensely. "From down by Shikoku. They used to call him "The Pied Piper". This guy was the monster to end all monsters. His sole job in the wars he fought in was to demoralize his enemies by sneaking into their home base and kidnapping their children. He'd lure them into the woods or wherever they were, kill them, and then leave their bodies for their parents to find. That's how he got his nickname."
Gin gave a grunt of horror, his eyes widening in shock.
"He what?" he gasped in an appalled voice and even Akame echoed his expression.
"Wilson," he said, looking uncharacteristically alarmed. "Are you serious?"
"Don't joke about something like this!" John added fiercely and the Collie shook his head.
"I'm not joking." he answered. "You have to believe me. This dog was one of the most sadistic psychos I've ever seen. Him being here puts everyone in danger!"
"If he's a pup killer then why wasn't he brought to justice before?" the Kishu demanded. "Why the hell is he still free?"
"Because no one could prove it was him who did it." Wilson responded gravely. "Nobody could say for certain that he was "The Pied Piper". Everyone suspected it, but they couldn't prove anything, and without proof they couldn't punish him without starting another war. A lot of the boss dogs talked about killing him anyway, but before anyone could make a move, he vanished. They never found him. I didn't even know he was still alive."
"But you're absolutely sure this dog is him?" Gin said and Wilson nodded emphatically.
"Yes." he insisted. "Gin, trust me, this bastard killed over 50 kids…that we know of. It's him."
Gin clenched his fangs tightly with a frown and John and Akame turned to him, both of them wearing the same grim expression.
"Gin," John said. "We've gotta take him out."
"What are your orders, leader" Akame added and Gin closed his eyes momentarily, as if thinking about his next move.
Finally, he turned to Akame.
"Delay them." he said, and then looked at John as well. "When this storm ends, convince them to stay a little longer somehow. I'm sending Ikaru down to talk to Asher of Nagano. He's a police dog, he might know more about this than we do. If we can prove this dog is who Wilson says he is…we'll take him out immediately. I absolutely won't overlook the murder of innocent pups! Something that horrible is unforgivable!"
His three friends nodded and Akame turned to Wilson.
"Tell Smith about all this later." he said. "And make sure that Ben and Cross's pups don't go anywhere near him."
"Don't tell them why though." Gin added seriously, whirling to look at him as well. "The last we want if he really is Endo is to make him suspicious."
Wilson nodded at both of them and then casually walked back towards the main chamber, sighing to calm himself as he did. Behind him, the three leaders did the same, and John glanced at Gin as they rounded the bend in the corridor to approach where their guests where.
"You think Wilson's right, Gin?" he asked with a small growl. "Do you think this bastard really is this…"Pied Piper"?"
"I hope not, John," Gin replied quietly, glaring over at where Kenji was sleeping by the wall. "'Cause if he is…then this could get really ugly, really fast."
John didn't respond, and Gin followed Akame as they all went back to their spots on the chamber floor and laid down to rest once more.
"I don't understand," Sakai frowned, looking back and forth between Gin and Akame, "You want us to stay? Why?"
"Just for now." Gin answered, speaking in a calm voice. "We received some reports last night of some dangerous troublemakers on the borders of our territory. Until we deal with them, I'm afraid you and your pack need to stay here where it's safe."
Wilson stood silently to the Akita's right, keeping his head low and his wary gaze on the small group, looking for their reactions. The storm had ended almost at the same time the morning had arrived only a few hours ago, and he, Gin, John, and Akame had made certain to wake up before everyone else, in order to make sure everything went as smoothly as possible. He had told Smith about their plan only a few minutes ago, and the Spaniel was doing an admirable job of keeping a straight face as he stood next to Ben at the rear of the group, watching Gin talking to Sakai as well. Behind the Doberman stood the rest of his pack, all of whom looked equally as confused by Gin's request…all that is, except Kenji. The Malinois stood with an impassive expression on his face, clearly listening to everything Gin was saying but not reacting to any of it, and Wilson kept wondering silently if he knew he was being watched. It took real effort on his part not to growl, because while he listened, Kenji would occasionally reach out with a paw and run his claws gently down the back of one of Sakai and Tomoe's pups, which would've been an innocent and ordinary gesture of protection had the Collie not known who he really was. Or did he?
Despite the fact that Gin had agreed to try and prove what he had said was true, Wilson wondered secretly deep down if he was actually right about it all. After all, he himself had no proof that Kenji had done anything wrong, and as Akame had reminded him almost warningly, if they were wrong and did something to an innocent dog, they would be ruining a perfectly happy family and would be no better than the real "Pied Piper". Wilson clenched his jaw tighter. He had to be sure. Kurotora and Chutora getting mates had already started him thinking about his own lost family, and given who Endo was, and what he had done, the current situation had made him even more moody than before, so it was taking a lot of will on his part to keep himself composed. Before he went and condemned another male to death, he absolutely had to be sure. In front of Gin, Sakai looked over at Tomoe, who stepped forward cautiously.
"How long will it be before we can leave?" she asked. "We have business to attend to in Iwate."
"We'll deal with it as quickly as we can, ma'am." Gin answered and John added:
"You should be able to leave soon. Just leave it to us."
Sakai nodded, clearly annoyed but doing a good job of concealing it nonetheless.
"All right." he said. "We'll respect your wishes. Come."
The last line had been spoken to his mate and pups, and Damien followed as well as they headed back inside Gajou. Kenji however, didn't.
"Boss," he said and the Doberman turned his head. "I'll be down by the river in that canyon getting a drink. I'll return shortly."
Sakai nodded and then turned and continued on into Gajou without another word. Wilson saw Gin turn and begin talking to Ben and Cross solemnly, and immediately followed after Kenji, no one noticing him as he did. The other dog had already padded over to the canyon wall and had begun walking carefully down the side, reaching the bottom quickly as Wilson descended a few feet to the left instead, trying to avoid the impression that he was following him. As soon as he reached the bottom as well though, he turned his gaze back to his quarry, and saw the Malinois lean over and sniff at the swiftly flowing river, shooting his tongue out to lap at it as it passed. Wilson began to walk towards him.
'What are you doing, Wilson?' he thought as emotions rushed through his head. 'He's not going to admit anything to you! You could blow everything! You're just a know-it-all circus dog! You just – '
The Collie snapped out of his thoughts abruptly and looked up to see Kenji looking over at him, sliding his tongue over his lips as he wiped away stray drops of water. He nodded stiffly.
"Hello." he said back, his voice not confident in the least bit.
Kenji looked him up and down.
"You're Wilson, right?" he asked and the Collie nodded, leaning down to take a drink from the river as well.
"Yes." he said. "Sorry again we have to detain you here."
It felt strangely wrong apologizing to the other male, but Kenji waved it off with a flick of his muzzle.
"It's all right." he said. "I'm almost glad for more rest. The boss travels at quite a grueling pace sometimes."
When Wilson didn't respond, he added:
"Tell me, is it true that that field up there in front of Gajou is where the bear Akakabuto was slain?"
"Yeah," Wilson said simply, keeping his wary gaze on the other dog as he nodded.
"It must have been quite a sight to see."
For a moment, neither of them said a word, but then Kenji stood back up to his full height, shaking himself a little as he did.
"It's a good thing you lot took him down." he said, panting as he looked around him at the canyon walls. "Otherwise more innocent dogs could've died."
Wilson just nodded, his mind still warring with itself, and the Malinois kept going, shooting him an almost studying glance as he did.
"Personally," he said. "I find war distasteful. I've seen too many good dogs turned into bloodthirsty killing machines by it, seen them do things that would make you…sick."
Wilson gripped the ground hard with his paws, his legs tensing as he listened to the other male's words. Then Kenji turned completely to face him.
"Tell me, Wilson." he said, looking right at the Collie with an unreadable expression. "One soldier to another. Have you ever done something to end a war that was so terrible…that others speak of you as if you were the devil himself?"
The two dogs' gazes locked onto each other firmly, neither one daring to break their mutual glare. Wilson could feel his heart beating rapidly as he shook his head slowly, watching Kenji with bated breath to see what the next few moments would bring. Suddenly though, the Malinois smirked.
"No." he said, turning away from the river and Wilson. "Neither have I. I guess it's something good dogs like us'll never get to experience, huh?"
Wilson nearly swore out loud.
'He's toying with me!' he thought furiously. 'This fucking bastard is toying with me!'
"And who might this be?" Kenji said suddenly before he could respond. "Hello there, young one."
Wilson quickly followed his gaze and immediately felt his stomach do a backflip. Descending carefully down the side of the canyon wall, a look of youthful excitement on his face that suggested he was busy exploring, was Ben and Cross's pup Ken, his steps taking him closer and closer to where Wilson and Kenji were standing. He looked at the Malinois with a goofy smile.
"Hi!" he responded, wagging his tail a little. "I'm Ken! What are you guys doing out here?"
"Ken," Wilson started in alarm. "I think you should – "
"My name is Kenji." the older dog said, an almost predatory glint in his eye. "It's nice to meet you Ken."
The young Great Dane turned to Wilson, looking startled.
"U- Uncle Wilson?" he asked in surprise.
"Go back to Gajou, now!" the Collie barked angrily and Ken cowered back a little, a slightly hurt look on his face at being yelled at.
"But I – "
The young Great Dane cringed at his tone, but then nodded sadly and silently climbed back up the wall, hanging his head all the way until he had disappeared from view. As soon as he was gone, Kenji smirked over at Wilson.
"Gotta show 'em a firm paw, right?" he drawled. "Otherwise they'll think they can get away with anything."
Wilson had had enough.
"All right," he growled. "That's it! You listen to me you son-of-a-bitch and you listen well!"
He walked right up to the Malinois challengingly.
"I know who you are," he snapped. "And you will pay for what you've done, I promise you that! You go anywhere near that kid again and I will personally rip you into 5 pieces and dump you in this river! You hear me?"
Kenji narrowed his eyes at him, his whole body language suddenly much different.
"And who, praytell, do you think I am?" he asked icily and Wilson immediately realized his mistake.
"I – " he said, then paused. "I think…I have a lot of things on my mind. I apologize. I think for the sake of continued peace we should both pretend this never happened. Spend as much time as you need here, but let's just leave it at that."
Then he turned began ascending the wall again as well, and after a pause heard Kenji say, "As you wish" quietly behind him as he did. Once he finally had stepped back onto the flat plain of Gajou, Wilson let out a pent up sigh of anger and fear, trying to bring his emotions back under control as he started quickly forward and retreated into Gajou to think things over.
Zach grunted as he landed hard on his side, a shower of leaves and tiny twigs following him immediately after.
"Motherfucker!" he swore loudly, rolling back to his paws with an irritated growl.
Up in the tree above him, amused youthful laughter sounded, and the Malamute glared up to see Chibi grinning down at him from a low branch of a nearby tree.
"Almost!" he said encouragingly. "Just try and visualize where you're gonna land!"
Zach looked back up at the tree he had just fallen out of. They were out deep in the forest surrounding Gajou, and Chibi had been showing him more of his ninja-dog tricks and skills, every one of which was more impressive than the last. The young Shikoku-Ken had clearly been excited to finally have someone other than Akame to talk to about his ninja training, and Zach had obliged simply because he had wanted to see more of his friends' territory, and this gave him the opportunity to do so. What he hadn't expected, though, was for young Chibi to be as impressive as he was, and instead of exploring, he had allowed the pup to actually try and teach him, which had both succeeded and failed depending on what exercise they were attempting. This latest one, unfortunately, had failed, and now he was beginning to get frustrated.
"All that training and I still don't have this 'tree-jumping' shit down yet." he snorted in annoyance. "I think fighting on ground level is more my forte."
Chibi leapt down from his perch.
"Come on!" he insisted. "You can do this! You're good! It takes a lot of practice."
"Oh yeah? How much have you had?"
"3 hours every day," came the almost proud sounding answer. "It took me a week to get tree-jumping down to where I wasn't afraid I was gonna fall."
"Well," Zach said, grinning at him. "You're better than me, kid. I think I'm all 'trained out' for today."
The younger dog cocked his head slightly, looking almost disappointed.
"Don't you want to be a Shinobi?" he asked and Zach snorted.
"I didn't really have much of a choice." he said. "Akame made me do it. I can't say it's not interesting, but as to whether I want it though… I don't know. I've never really known what I wanted."
"Mr. Akame made you train?" Chibi asked in fascinated disbelief. "Why?"
Zach looked at him.
"Let's just say that I did some things he didn't like." he said. "Making me train was his way of keeping me under control and…saving me from myself."
"What did you do?"
The Malamute was silent for a moment.
"…Some things I'm not proud of." he said finally, then looked over at the smaller dog, who had come up alongside him. "What about you? You always wanted to be a ninja-dog?"
"My whole life." Chibi answered, rubbing up against a tree. "It's in my blood. My father was a ninja-dog. I don't really remember him, but it's my job now to take up his mantle. I'll be the greatest ninja dog there ever was!"
"I don't doubt it." he said, and then teased. "Is your dad the one who named you 'Chibi'?"
Chibi looked embarrassed.
"No." he said, suddenly examining the ground between his paws intently. "That was Mr. Gin and the others. My dad never gave me a name and…'Chibi' just stuck."
"You don't sound too thrilled with it." the Malamute observed and Chibi looked at him almost exasperatedly.
"Well come on," he exclaimed. "Would you be? I mean, who's going to respect me when I'm a great ninja-dog with a name like that?"
"It's your actions that make people respect you, kid," Zach observed wisely. "Not your name. But if you hate it so much, why not just change it?"
"Change it?" he repeated as if he'd never thought of this before. "To what?"
"Anything." Zach said. "Something that sounds powerful, respectable."
"What would you choose?" the young dog asked. "If you wanted a new name?"
Zach seemed to think about it for a minute and walked over to the top of the hill they were on, looking down at the terrain below from between the trees. After a while, he turned back to his young companion.
"My uncle used to tell me these stories when I was a pup." he said thoughtfully. "I swear he would just make them up on the spot, but…one of them was about a group of heroic dogs that fought together to win battles and wars. My brother and I used to love hearing it growing up. My favorite character he talked about was this one dog who always protected the others when they needed help. He was easily their greatest warrior. His name was 'Tesshin'. If I had to choose…I might go with that."
Chibi looked even more fascinated than before and looked down at the ground as if deep in thought.
"Tesshin…" he repeated. "I like that."
Zach smirked, and was about to say something else when another voice cut him off instead.
"Oi!" it snapped. "You two! Hold up a minute!"
Both dogs' heads whirled towards it and the Malamute immediately saw a large Newfoundland standing 100 feet or so away, his heavily scarred brown form flanked by well over 30 other dogs. Zach frowned as he turned towards them, his senses screaming 'Danger'.
"Gin gave me permission to look around," he said warily. "You can check with – "
"We just want directions, pal." the Newfoundland said. "How do you get to Gajou from here?"
Chibi stepped forward as Zach paused, looking professional despite his youth.
"What do you want there?" he asked. "This is the Ohu Army's territory."
"Mind your own business, brat!" a Pit Bull to the Newfoundland's right snapped, then turned to Zach. "Now where the hell is it?"
The Malamute narrowed his eyes slyly. Then he gestured East, away from where Gajou actually was.
"That way." he said. "Keep going until you reach the human road. Gajou's a mile beyond that."
The whole group of dogs looked towards where he had gestured, and the Newfoundland opened his mouth to say something else, when suddenly another dog ran up behind him.
"Jackson-sama!" it said. "We just got word from our source in Kofu! He got it! Gajou's a half-day's journey that way!"
Zach saw them all look in the exact direction it really was, away from where he had said, and silently swore as the large dog turned to him with a furious growl.
"You lied to me!" he yelled angrily. "You piece of shit! Do who know who you're messing with?"
The Malamute shot them a supercilious smile.
"I know you're apparently not as stupid as you look." he said. "Shame... I could've had hours of fun messing with you."
The Newfoundland was beside himself.
"Beat him to death!" he yelled and the whole pack immediately charged, howling war cries as they did.
Zach immediately turned to Chibi.
"Go!" he barked commandingly. "Run!"
The young dog immediately did as he was told and the two took off running as fast as they could back towards Gajou, both cursing themselves silently for straying so far.
"What do we do?" Chibi yelled, taking to the trees, "Should we fight them off, Zach-san?"
"There's too many of 'em!" the Malamute shouted back. "I'm good, kid, but I'm not that good! Not even Gin and Akame could take on that many alone!"
"So what do we do?"
"We've gotta make it back to Gajou to warn the others." Zach said, pumping his legs harder. "Those bastards must be here to challenge Gin for Futago Pass! Once we have backup, we'll take 'em all out! Until then though, we run!"
Chibi nodded and the two continued to move at top speed, weaving in and out of trees and rocks as they tried to lose their pursuers and make it back to Ohu's home base to warn their comrades.
Gin sat on a small overlook gazing out upon his territory, watching as the afternoon sun began to transition into the evening, and nighttime came again to his troubled home. Still, it would be a while before that happened fully, and he had left Gajou for a time to wander and think, debating with himself as he waited patiently for any news that could help them with their problem. Zach had still not reappeared, and he silently wondered with a jolt of youthful curiosity what the Malamute and Chibi were doing together, and why it was taking so long. The Akita shook his head slightly to clear the thought from his mind. There were more important things to dwell on, he told himself sternly. Zach's whereabouts were the least of their problems right now.
"Leader," came a smooth, calm voice and Gin didn't even have to look to know who it was.
"Any news from Ikaru?" he asked and Akame shook his head as he sat down next to him.
"Not yet," he said. "It should be another day at least before he gets back from Nagano."
"I'm not sure how much longer we can keep them here without them getting suspicious." he said, feeling a breeze tease at his silvery fur and John came up on his other side.
"We'll be fine." he responded. "Ikaru's good. He knows this is important. We won't have to lie to them much longer."
Gin nodded, glancing at his friend reluctantly.
"I wish I had your optimism." he said, and before John could answer, Akame's sensitive ears reversed on his head, and he looked behind them with a wary frown.
"What is it?" Gin asked immediately, trusting his friend's skills implicitly by now.
"Someone's coming," the Kishu responded and Gin stood, he and John both following the white-furred dog's gaze as all three of them turned towards the approaching sound.
Almost immediately, a long-furred dog came sprinting around a cluster of trees in front of them, and once it got a little closer, they realized who it was.
"Wilson," Gin said with a frown as the Collie came to a stop, panting as he did. "What is it?"
His friend gave him an aggrieved look.
"Gin," he said, and the three Ohu leaders could see the alarm in his eyes. "I messed up. Bad."
The Akita felt a lump form in his chest.
"What happened?" he asked sternly and Wilson looked at him almost apologetically.
"I confronted Kenji." he said. "Just to talk to him, make sure I wasn't imagining things. But things got heated and…"
Gin gave a grunt of fear.
"Does he know?" he demanded worriedly. "Wilson, does he know we suspect him?"
"He doesn't know specifics, leader, but – "
"But he is suspicious?" John growled and Wilson nodded ashamedly.
"Without question." he said and Gin could've kicked him.
"Shit!" he swore and then looked at his friend angrily. "Wilson, what the hell were you thinking?"
"I – I wasn't thinking, Gin." came the soft-voiced response and Akame turned quickly to the Akita.
"Gin," he said urgently. "We don't have a choice anymore. We need to confront him now! Subdue him at the very least."
"But we still haven't proven anything," the Akita said. "What if he isn't actually "The Pied Piper"? We could start a war."
"No," Wilson said, not meeting his gaze out of shame. "It's him. I saw how he reacted to what I said. There's no question anymore."
"Then let's go!" John demanded impatiently. "We're wasting time!"
Gin nodded and both he and Akame sprinted off after him, heading back quickly towards Gajou as fast as they could go.
Damien growled in irritation as he looked over at Sakai, his boredom becoming palpable as they continued to sit inside Gajou, waiting patiently for permission from their hosts to leave for their true destination.
"Boss," he growled lightly. "How much longer are we gonna wait here? My brother's expecting us in Iwate today!"
"I don't like it any more than you do, Dam," the Doberman answered gruffly, "But these dogs are our hosts, and they were kind enough to let us stay here in the first place so…we'll wait until they're ready."
"But how much longer with that be, Sak?" Tomoe asked, siding against her mate. "I don't like this. There's something these dogs aren't telling us."
"They defeated Akakabuto for god's sake!" Sakai exclaimed. "If anyone's trustworthy, it's them."
"Actually Boss…she's right. They're not telling you everything."
The Doberman turned immediately towards the new voice that had spoken and saw Kenji standing in the doorway when he did, a strange look on the Malinois's face as he glared coolly back at them with his piercing brown eyes.
"Like what?" Sakai asked with a frown. "And where have you been all this time, Kenji?"
"Reevaluating." came the calmly voiced answer as its owner stepped slowly into the room. "Because things have just now taken a rather unfortunate and unexpected turn…and I have some things to confess."
He walked right up to Sakai and the Doberman could tell immediately that something was wrong as the other male loomed over him, his eyes shooting occasionally over to the pups sleeping at Tomoe's side. Sakai stood up slowly, and Damien did the same behind him.
"What are you talking about, Kenji?" he asked tensely. "What's going on?"
Suddenly, a truly frightening smile spread over the Malinois's face, and he looked Sakai directly in the eyes.
"Kenji's not here right now." he said in a taunting, yet still calm voice. "But if you want to leave a message, I'll see to it that he gets it."
"K-Kenji – ?" Tomoe started and the dog's head swiveled on his neck like a turret as he looked towards her.
"My name is Endo, love." he drawled, cutting her off and then turned back to the shocked Sakai. "And now that we're all acquainted properly, let's…talk."
Wilson pumped his legs as fast as he could as he followed in his friends' wake, their paws kicking up water from the ground as they ran, residue from the rains of the night before. Gajou was swiftly approaching and the Collie could feel the anxiety all but resonating off of Gin and the others, their feelings exactly matching his own. He felt terrible, like he had let his pack down somehow because of his momentary lapse of judgment, and he wondered silently how angry Gin actually was at him for it. Whatever the answer though, he had no further time to dwell on it, as Gajou suddenly appeared in front of them out of nowhere and Ben and Cross appeared with it, leading their 2 of their 3 pups at their side as they came from the river canyon. As soon as Wilson and the others sprinted up, Cross turned to them and immediately noticed the alarm on their faces.
"Gin," she said. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"Is everything all right here?" the Akita demanded. "Has anything happened?"
"We just got back," Ben said with a frown. "We were busy looking for Ken."
Wilson felt a jolt of dread shoot through him.
"You can't find him?" he asked and the Great Dane shook his head.
"No." he admitted. "But he runs off all the time. He's probably off exploring somewhere. We just wanted to make sure he was okay."
Gin didn't respond and immediately ran inside Gajou, the two older dogs following in his wake in confusion, Wilson, John, and Akame right with them. The Akita ran to a smaller, inner cave inside the stone structure and as soon as he came to the doorway and looked inside, he stopped dead in his tracks. The others all leapt to his side as well and as soon as Wilson got a good look at what was in the room, he felt his stomach fall to his feet. Inside the smaller cave, a bloodbath had unfolded. Sakai lay on his side by the near wall, his underside split down the middle and his entrails spilled onto the floor between his legs. On his face was a look of shock and disbelief that chilled Wilson to the core. Behind him lay Damien and Tomoe, the former's throat ripped out so completely that his spine was visible through the wound. The latter appeared to just be unconscious, but her unmoving state only highlighted another discrepancy. Her 3 small pups were gone. Cross let out a moan of shock.
"Oh my god!" she gasped in horror. "What…What did – "
Gin and Akame immediately rushed to Tomoe's side and Wilson felt a rush of guilt and anger shoot through him.
'This is my fault.' he thought darkly. 'If I hadn't screwed up… He won't get away with this!'
Ben suddenly turned and leapt back out into the larger cave, his head whipping left and right as he did.
"Ken!" he shouted, the 'worried father' tone in his voice clear as it echoed off the stone walls around them. "KEN! Where are you?"
Cross looked beside herself as she jumped out to join him.
"Ken!" she shrieked. "Answer us! Ben, he has – "
"I know!" the Great Dane snapped and Gin looked up where he was.
"Ben," he said. "Cross. Stay here and take care of Tomoe. We'll find Ken, I promise."
Then he turned to the others in the cave.
"John, Akame!" he ordered powerfully. "We need to find Endo now!"
"I found his trail!" came a new voice and everyone whirled to see Smith run up from deeper inside Gajou.
"Smith!" John barked. "Where did you go?"
"I just found that a minute ago." the Spaniel said intensely with a nod at the inner cave, the near constant humor in his voice replaced by a dead serious tone. "I was looking for you guys. It looks like he went out a side entrance and took off East away from here. There were definitely pups with him."
"Let's go then!" the Akita said, but Akame cut him off.
The others turned to him, and Wilson could see him listening closely to something from Gajou's front entrance.
"What is it, Akame?" Gin asked in an impatient voice and the Kishu turned to him.
"There's someone coming." he said. "Fast."
"Leader, get back!" John barked at Gin and the others and leapt up to the side of the doorway alongside Akame, both of them crouching to strike.
Suddenly, a figure came sprinting in from the outside, and both lunged simultaneously, knocking the unsuspecting dog clear off his feet with a yelp of surprise as Akame swept his paws from under him and John tackled him onto his back, his fangs sinking deep into his throat as he did.
"Wh – What the –?" the dog choked out, and a second, smaller figure suddenly appeared from where the first had, his mohawk of white fur giving away his identity immediately.
"Chibi!" Gin gasped in realization, then turned to his friend. "John, wait!"
The Shepherd had already recognized a familiar scent though, and let the dog beneath him up, backing off with a frown of surprise.
"Zach?" he grunted, and the Malamute rolled to his paws, a small trickle of blood now streaming down his neck.
"Thanks." he said in an annoyed, sarcastic voice. "I needed that."
"Where the hell have you been?" John retorted and Zach turned to Gin.
"Entertaining a group of dogs that really don't seem to like you." he responded and the Akita gave an exasperated growl. "They're on their way here right now."
"How many?" Akame asked and Zach looked over at him.
"At least 30." he said. "Chibi and I just lost them 10 minutes ago."
"30?" John repeated. "Feh. That's just a workout. We can take them easily!"
Gin was about to respond when Smith suddenly said:
"Guys, where's Wilson?"
The Ohu dogs all looked around them in surprise, and Akame sniffed at the ground leading to where Smith had first appeared.
"Damn it." he swore. "He's gone after Endo himself."
Gin turned to his friends.
"Everyone," he said. "Go deal with these thugs that Zach ran into. I'll go after Wilson and Endo."
"Leader," Akame started. "I really don't think – "
"Trust me, Akame." the Akita said, cutting him off. "Please. Now let's go!"
The dogs all nodded and Chibi turned to Akame as Gin ran off into the darkness towards where Wilson had gone.
"Mr. Akame," he said. "Let me fight too!"
"No." came the curt answer. "You stay here."
"I can help," the young Shikoku-ken pleaded. "Please!"
The Kishu looked irritated, but after a moment nodded anyway, giving in with a sigh.
"All right," he said. "Fine. But keep up with us and stay near me. Understand?"
Chibi nodded emphatically, looking both determined and excited.
"Yes sir!" he exclaimed and Akame turned to the others.
"Come on!" he yelled and they all ran after him as he leapt away, heading to meet their enemy in the forests surrounding the place they called home.
Wilson could feel anger filling him as he continued to follow Endo's trail. Thoughts of his own dead son filled his mind like a poison, and he felt as though a vice had clamped down on his heart every time he saw his young one's face.
'No more.' he thought. 'No more. I can't let any more kids die. It's my turn to save one.'
He felt bad about leaving Gin and the others behind without telling them where he was going, but this was something that he needed to do alone, whether he succeeded or not. He had to find Endo. Wilson had no idea how far ahead the killer had gotten, but with four pups burdening him, it couldn't have been far.
'Even if you find him, though.' his mind yelled at him. 'What are you going to do? You've never been much of a soldier. You're not like the others.'
"Doesn't matter." he said aloud determinedly, answering himself. "I have to try."
Then he kept running, exiting the forest he was in and ending up in a small clearing along the edge of the canyon he had been following since leaving Gajou. The Collie was so busy thinking though, that he didn't even notice Endo's presence until he was right on top of him. As soon as he had, he leapt backwards in surprise and saw the Malinois whirl around to face him, picking up one of Sakai's pups in his mouth and pinning the other two, and Ken, to the ground with his paws. The young Great Dane looked up at Wilson with a frightened gaze.
"Uncle Wilson!" he cried. "Help!"
Wilson growled at Endo, who didn't look at all surprised that he had come.
"Let them go." he threatened and the killer shrugged.
"Okay." he said and suddenly whipped his head sideways and tossed the pup in his mouth off the side of the cliff, and Wilson could only watch in horror as the yelping young Doberman disappeared from view, and a faint impact sound came to his ears soon after.
The Collie snarled at the other male, tears in his eyes.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" he screamed as Endo picked up another one of the pitifully whining pups. "They did nothing to you! They're just kids! KIDS!"
"I knew it was only a matter of time before someone realized the truth," Endo said, and Wilson could hear that he didn't care in the slightest. "Who I really was. I just didn't think it would be this soon. You're an astute bastard if nothing else, Wilson, I'll say that for you."
"If you think for one second that you're walking away from this then you're sadly mistaken!" the Collie threatened dangerously and Endo gave a grin.
"You know," he drawled, "There was this kid I met once that you remind me a lot of, Wilson. Little Collie pup, cutest thing I've ever seen. His father had pissed off my leader rather badly, and it was my job to retaliate…which of course meant that Collie junior needed to die. Poor little thing… Didn't even know what hit him. He followed me willingly into those woods away his family. Can you believe that? Bounded after me like I was bringing him a treat. That's all there was to it. I barely even had to try."
Endo paused and Wilson shook in barely restrained fury. Then the Malinois looked at him again.
"I drowned him…" he taunted softly. "In a river that was nearby. He had this look of terror on his face the whole time that I can't even describe. Only managed to get his head above the water once, and you know what he did? Cried for his mother. How sad is that? I'll tell you, Wilson, if I had a scar for every time one of them cried…I'd be one ugly dog."
The Collie was so disgusted and horrified that words momentarily failed him, but finally he managed to growl out:
"You sick fuck! How could you? It's our duty as adults to protect children, not hurt them! They were innocent!"
"Innocence is in the eye of the beholder." he replied. "Besides, it isn't that important really. What's done is done. I guess I just wanted to tell you because you look so much like him…or what he might have looked like anyway. Hell, he could've been your son. Oh well…the circle of life, right?"
That was the absolute last straw for Wilson. Letting out a terrifying howl of rage, he lunged at the dog they called "The Pied Piper" faster than he had ever moved before in his life, his sharp fangs bared lethally to strike. Clearly not expecting an all out attack, not when he still had the pups hostage, Endo dropped the young Doberman puppy in surprise and immediately found himself bowled over onto his back by the enraged Collie, giving Ken and the others time to scramble out of the way. Kicking at his attacker, the Malinois bit hard on Wilson's shoulder and ripped a deep, bloody gouge in his flesh, trying to knock him off him the whole time. The Collie, however, didn't even seem to care. He bit at any part of the other dog his fangs could reach, and soon, he was ripping whole chunks of flesh out of the Malinois's neck and chest, immediately slashing at him again before the blood had even finished hitting the ground.
Swinging around though, Endo threw Wilson off roughly and sent him rolling into the dirt, leaping on him in indignant anger as soon as he had. The Collie felt sharp teeth tearing into his throat before he could regain his feet and he choked mightily as his air was cut off completely, eyes bulging out of his head in fear as he clawed and kicked at the bigger dog, slashing at his eyes with his claws. Endo wasn't affected and bit down harder, blood seeping from around his fangs.
"Don't delude yourself, Wilson." he whispered, his eyes full of an almost taunting anger as crimson drops dripped down onto the Collie's fur from the wounds he had caused. "I'm no devil and you're no hero. We're just dogs, both of us. The only difference between us is the legacy we'll leave behind. I'll have one…you won't."
Then he started to bite harder, readying the deathblow, and Wilson knew that he had no chance to escape his fate.
'I'm sorry everyone.' he thought. 'I failed.'
Then, however, something small hit Endo in the side of the face, and Wilson gasped as Ken bounced off and fell back onto the ground, a look of anger and determination on his face.
"Let him go!" he yelled and the killer released his hold instantly, whirling sideways to slash the young dog brutally across the cheek as he turned to him in annoyance.
"You little brat!" he spat and Wilson wasted no more time.
Mere moments after gasping in precious air, he kicked the Malinois off of him and bit down hard on his throat as soon as he had leapt upon him again. Then he turned and threw him partially over the side of the cliff and held him there suspended, watching as the other dog kicked and clawed uselessly at the air, choking audibly the whole time. Wilson didn't let up for one second, his son's face flashing though his mind again, and Endo's eyes began to roll back into his head as he suffocated. Suddenly though, he reached up and managed to wrap his front legs around the Collie's neck, and began to pull him over the edge with him as soon as he had. Wilson could feel his paws slip from under him, but before he could even attempt to regain his footing, jaws closed tightly around his tail and he felt someone yank him roughly back to safety. Endo, however, wasn't so lucky. Wilson had lost his grip as soon as he'd been pulled back, and the Malinois immediately plummeted into the canyon below, letting out a howl of terror as he fell to his death hundreds of feet below. Wilson didn't even look to see where he had landed and fell to the ground in exhaustion as soon as he heard the impact, turning to his rescuer as he did.
"Thank you, Gin." he panted and the Akita nodded, giving him a concerned look as he stood beside him.
"That's the second time you've ignored my wishes and put yourself in danger." he said quietly and Wilson looked away.
"Forgive me, Gin." he said. "It…it was my turn to save one."
Gin followed his gaze to the Ken and the two remaining Doberman pups, who sat trembling near the older pup's side, and understood immediately. He reached down and gently pulled his friend to his feet.
"Come on." he said. "Let's get these kids home."
Then, one bloodied and ragged and the other powerful and protective looking, they turned and walked back towards Gajou, carrying Sakai's pups as Ken followed closely in their wake.
"Tomoe, are you sure?"
The female Doberman looked up at Gin, her eyes still damp from crying over the loss of her mate and young pup.
"Yes," she said softly. "Damien's brother is like family to me. He'll take us in gladly."
The Akita still looked concerned and nodded slowly, feeling the sun beating down on them from overhead as they stood outside Gajou. It had been only a few hours since his and Wilson's return, but the only surviving adult of Sakai's ill-fated pack had insisted that she was fine and wanted to leave as soon as possible. She had spent a long time quietly saying goodbye to her mate, and after Ben and Cross had helped bury his and Damien's bodies, she had gathered up her two remaining pups and told Gin that she was leaving. The Akita disagreed with the swiftness of her departure, worried as he was about her state of mind, but knew he had no right to force her to stay any longer, and that it was probably too painful for her to remain in the place where she had lost just about everything she cared about in the world. He nodded at her, acknowledging her decision.
"All right," he said. "But I'm sending a guard with you to make sure you all get there safely. I'm truly sorry for everything."
Tomoe shook her head.
"It wasn't your fault." she said. "You're the only reason he didn't…h–he didn't…"
She trailed off, choking up, and Gin knew that she had meant to say "kill them all", but hadn't been able to finish.
"Sakai seemed like a good male," he said. "It was an honor to meet him…and you."
She nodded at him gratefully, composing herself a little.
"Thank you." she said, and then turned and moved to leave, looking over at her pups as she did.
"Thunder!" she called in a slightly shaky voice. "Lector! Come on!"
Then the three of them walked away, and Gin gestured to one of the guards standing watch outside to follow them, a strange, uneasy feeling filling him as he watched them go. He didn't know why it had hit him, but didn't dwell on it much longer, and turned and walked back inside Gajou himself, seeing John, Akame and the others still resting from their own fight in the main room inside. When he joined them, Gin saw Smith busy licking some wounds on his front leg, glaring over at Zach as he did.
"I can't believe you threw that guy into me." he said ruefully, and the Malamute snorted.
"Oh suck it up." he said and Gin managed a smile. "You should've been paying attention anyway."
"Yeah, Smith." John agreed, stretching himself as he did. "Besides, that battle was pathetic! It took 3 damn minutes to put them down. Those idiots were as far from real males as you can get!"
Over to their right, Cross was busy checking on Chibi, Ben doing the same to the newly scarred Ken right beside her, and Gin could see a proud look on the young dog's face, despite some visible wounds on his flank and forehead. Beside them, Akame stood patiently, watching over everything and ensuring that all was in order. As Gin walked up beside him, the Kishu looked down at Chibi.
"Chibi." he said, looking very pleased. "You did well today. You stood with us fearlessly against older, bigger dogs, and showed me once and for all that you'll be a great male one day. I'm proud of you."
The young Shikoku-ken looked happier than Gin had ever seen him, but as he met the older dog's gaze, a more professional look suddenly appeared on his face.
"Thank you, Mr. Akame." he said. "But if I'm going to be a great ninja-dog like you, then I think I should have a name that better commands the respect of others. One that will make them feel secure, and trust me as their leader when I'm older."
Akame frowned in confusion and Chibi stood a little straighter.
"From now on," he said. "I no longer wish to be called "Chibi". My name is "Tesshin". Tesshin of Ohu."
Gin blinked in surprise and he and Akame exchanged a look, but after a moment the Kishu nodded, smiling down at the smaller dog approvingly.
"Tesshin it is." he said and the younger dog gave Zach an excited look, getting a congratulatory smile in response.
Gin smiled slightly as well, but then looked deeper into Gajou and saw a long-furred figure sitting alone in the doorway of a side entrance, looking up at the sky with a conflicted look on his face. It was Wilson. The Akita sighed and walked over to the Collie, sitting down beside him as soon as he got there.
"Are you all right?" he asked quietly and Wilson sighed as well, not looking at him.
"I will be." he said and Gin nodded, his senses still telling him that something was still troubling his friend.
"You know," he said. "Those other two pups would've died if not for you. Ken would've died. You saved their lives."
"I put them in danger to begin with." came the answer and Gin turned away.
"It's not your fault." he said. "You know that. You made a bad decision. That doesn't mean everything that happened afterwards happened because of you."
The Collie sighed.
"Gin…" he said, and finally met the Akita's gaze after a long pause. "I'm leaving the pack."
Gin gave a start and looked at his friend in great concern.
"What?" he said, caught off guard. "Wilson, I'm sorry things happened the way they did but – "
The Akita silenced, continuing to stare at the Collie as he turned to him.
"I've been thinking about it for a while." Wilson said sadly. "But it's only now that I've finally made my decision. It's not you, Gin…or the others. You'll always be my good friends…always. The problem is me."
"Wilson…" Gin said softly. "I – I don't understand."
The Collie looked back at the sky.
"After Kurojaki killed my mate and son," he said. "I gave up. I only joined you after his defeat because I had nowhere left to go. But even though I wouldn't trade what we went through together for the world, after Kurotora and Chutora left, and after what happened here…I started to realize how much I missed the life I used to have. I started to miss having a family of my own again."
He looked Gin in the eyes gently.
"You're the greatest male I've ever known." he said. "And the greatest friend. But this life, the life of a soldier…it's not the one that I want. I want a second chance at being a normal dog again…at being a father. I hope you understand."
Gin nodded, feeling his eyes begin to tear up a little despite how much he tried to force it back. Then he nodded.
"Yeah." he said softly. "I understand."
Wilson stood, breathing in the Ohu air deeply as he did. Then he turned to his friend, smiling as he did.
"This isn't goodbye." he said with a smile. "I'll see you again, leader."
Gin rested a paw on his shoulder.
"You better." he said and Wilson nodded.
Then he gestured inside Gajou, where John, Akame and the others were still talking and resting up.
"Tell the guys," he said. "Tell them…it was an honor."
Wilson bowed, looking one last time at the Akita as he did.
"Gin." he said simply.
Then he turned and walked away from Gajou, never once looking back as he vanished into the forests around the great stone fortress, on his way to whatever awaited him. Gin smiled after his friend, feeling the wind tease at his fur as he did.
"Good luck." he said softly.
Then he turned and walked back inside, taking his place by his other friends as he did. After all, he knew, they had a lot of things they still needed to accomplish together before they left on their next journey.