Akame the ninja dog, leader of the venerable Iga clan, perched confidently on the high branches of a tree. "It's not natural for dogs to climb these. That is why you must leave all that makes you a dog aside. Don't think like a dog. Think like a squirrel, and you will move and fly like a squirrel. Do you understand, Tesshin?"
His protege, the young son of his mortal enemy Kurojaki of the Koga clan, nodded dutifully. "Yes, Akame-sensei."
"Good. Follow me, and try to keep up." Akame turned and sprang off. He heard Tesshin's paws not too far behind him. The two dogs, master and student, leapt nimbly across the treetops, the great height and obstructing branches failing to deter them. Akame smiled to himself. Tesshin was shaping up to become a fine fighting dog, not unlike his father before him. Since Kurojaki's death by fire, Akame made it his responsibility to look after the pup. Why he decided to take in the son of his mortal enemy sometimes baffled him.
'I'm just raising him to become a warrior of Ohu. Nothing more.'
Or was it? If that were so, if that was his only reason, why did he feel such determination to make Tesshin a better dog than his father? Why go out of his way to teach Tesshin the way of the ninja himself, when he had his duties to Gin and Ohu?
Akame came to a stop, and Tesshin stopped two or three branches away from him.
"You are doing well, Tesshin. Part of your success stems from your ninja dog heritage. But remember: you must temper your instinct with experience. The blood of ninja dogs courses strongly through our veins, but do not let the flow within you become a stagnant river. Living and learning the way of the ninja is an active pursuit. Never let yourself become weak, lazy, and soft. Hone your skills through hard work, dedication, and practice."
Tesshin took this in with serious and attentive reception. "I will do my best, Akame-sensei."
Tesshin's show of humility and lack of pride was something Akame took great pleasure in. The older ninja dog often had to restrain himself from openly expressing praises; he worried about deluding his protege with compliments. The last thing he wanted was for Tesshin to become an arrogant and brash dog like Kurojaki. But Akame found himself pleased time and time again with Tesshin's character.
The ninja dog leader hid a smile as he turned away. "That's enough training in the trees for today. Let's rest."
A ricochet of white fur, Akame leapt down from trunk to trunk to safely reach the ground. Tesshin had watched his master carefully; getting down was the hardest part. Akame looked up to see the young dog slip into a tense crouch, his dark eyes gauging the distance from his place on the branch to the ground. Then with astonishing fluidity, Tesshin jumped between trees to join his master on the ground.
A surge of pride filled Akame, and the sudden feeling startled him. Honestly, he hadn't felt that since he had taught his sons many moons ago. If Tesshin was expectant of his master's approval, Akame hoped he hadn't disappointed the pup as he merely nodded and made his way to the lake nearby.
Shortly after the two dogs had their fill by the bank, they stretched out on the grass under the warm noon sun. Butterflies were out and about, but Tesshin remembered his training and sat still, resisting the puppy urges to jump up and swat at the winged insects.
It struck Akame, not for the first time, that Tesshin was unusually mature for his age. He wondered if now was a good time to bring up Kurojaki: something he had been reluctant to discuss for many moons. Akame and Tesshin trained very often, but the time they spent in personal conversation was surprisingly sparse.
Akame gently broke the silence between them. "Tesshin...do you remember that day? The day your father died?"
The young Koga dog looked up at his master, then looked away and said quietly, "Yes. I'll never forget it."
Akame felt a twinge of pity and sorrow in his heart despite himself. He forced himself to go on: "I'd like to know how you honestly and sincerely feel. Do you hate him?"
Tesshin stared across the lake and said nothing for some time. Akame didn't expect an immediate answer; he can only imagine the chaotic swirl of thoughts and emotional turmoil fraught in the young dog's mind.
Finally Tesshin replied, "My father had been a very bad dog. I know that. But do I hate him...?" he shook his head. "I don't think I could. He was a murderer and a cannibal, but even a murderer and a cannibal loved me as his son. Somewhere in that dark heart of his, he cared."
A light breeze ruffled his white mane and spotted pelt. "I...I want to become a better dog than my father. That's why I'm so glad to have you as my teacher, Akame-sensei. I want to grow up wise and strong so that I can serve Gin and Ohu with honor. Just like you."
Tesshin's honesty and rare moment of confession moved Akame so much that the older dog was at a loss for words. Finally he said, "Tesshin...I want you to know that I, in turn, am very honored to have you as my student. After hearing from you, what you honestly felt in your heart and soul, I am more than certain that you will become a better dog than your father."
"Thank you, Akame-sensei."
The two dogs never openly acknowledged it between each other, but Akame and Tesshin distinctly felt at that moment and onward, the master and student became father and son.