Ginga Densetsu Weed: The Spirit of the Kai, and the Ninja

"There, there, it's alright. Shhh..."

Reika licked Teru's ear, doing her best to cease the little puppy's sobbing and whimpering. For more than two days straight Teru had refused to move away from his father's body, not allowing anyone (especially Kyoshiro or Weed) come near him. Reika had felt deep pity and sympathy for the little puppy, having lost her own father to the war with Akakabuto. She was actually surprised to find that the mutt puppy did not turn her away, but he was not responding to her at all. She decided that it would take some time, and almost considered leaving. Then, she felt a slight movement. It was Teru, leaning against her shoulder. Reika smiled, and said kindly,

"Don't worry. I understand. You know, I lost my father too... and I know how much it hurts... But please don't forget that all of our parents want us to live well, even after they are gone. He will still be here as long as you remember him."

Teru sniffed, then nuzzled her shoulder. He whispered, so softly Reika had to prick up her ears to hear,

"Will you... take care of me?"

She smiled.

"Of course I will."

"Reika."

She nodded respectfully to Wilson as he approached her, then asked him what he wanted.

"I've been discussing it with some of the others, and they agreed on my decision to go to Lake Biwa. We wanted to give an extra day to... let some of our group rest up from their injuries."

He had tactfully avoided mentioning Teru's father, for obvious reasons. He then continued,

"However, I think we should move out as soon as we can, and,"

Wilson coughed, then tried to hide it poorly. Reika twitched an ear, but didn't comment on it.

"Weed would like us to get moving around the middle of the day."

Reika looked at Teru. She smiled at him.

"I think we'll be alright. Are you sure everyone's injuries are healed?"

Wilson grinned.

"Worried about Hiro are you?"

Reika looked to the side, bashful, but didn't bother to deny it.

"They're all strong, Reika. They'll be fine."

She dipped her head, then stood up, nudging Teru along. She wanted to make sure the little male ate before they left... he had gotten a lot thinner, and would need the energy for the journey.

"Hey Kage?"

"Yeah, Ken?"

"Have you... noticed anything odd about Wilson lately?"

"Hmm.. nope, not really. Same old guy."

"Really? Cause... I think he's been coughing a lot?"

"Oh, that. Yeah, I noticed that. It's not unusual to get a cold, Ken."

"But... he always tries to hide it."

"Aw, you know him Ken. He's formal and stuff. He doesn't want to spread whatever he's got. And you know old guys, they want to prove they're still strong and shit."

"Kage..."

Kagetora pricked one ear, and stopped grooming his paws. He looked at Ken's doubtful expression, and raised an eyebrow.

"I think... Wilson's really sick..."

Unknown, to both the Kai and the Dane-Saluki mix, Wilson happened to pass not too far away. His ears pricked up at hearing his name, and then quickly hurried on. This is getting difficult... I wanted to leave a lot sooner, but Teru... I wanted to give him time... and now I'm getting worse... this isn't good...

He lapped up some water from a small pool, trying to clear his head.

I have to make it to Biwa... have to... I want to... apologize.. once more before I go...

He lifted his head, trembling all over. Looking into the sky, he remembered...

He shut his eyes, shook his head, and looked down.

Chibi... no... Tesshin...

Harutora leaped over a small boulder, then steadily caught up with his younger brother, Nobutora. Beside them, Akame and his daughter matched their pace, and all four nearly sighed in relief when they recognized Kurotora and his nephews standing around Gajou's base. Harutora slowed down, and touched noses with his father.

"Well? How bad did ya beat them, dad?"

Kurotora cackled.

"Didn't even break a sweat."

Nobutora grinned, then cracked,

"Yeah, but I bet the run here nearly tired you out, huh old man?"

"Aw, shut your mouth you brat!"

Kurotora snapped, cuffing Nobutora playfully. Nobutora laughed, while Haurotora tried his best to keep a straight face. Akame waited patiently while Kurotora talked with his sons about the fight, but then stood up once he had finished heavily exaggerating his glory.

"Kuro... did you bring Ben and Cross with you?"

"I did... we ran on ahead though. Ben ain't what he used to be Akame, you gotta remember that."

Akame nodded, then Harutora stepped forward.

"We lagged behind a bit, to make sure they were okay. Since that Genba guy is prowling around here I told them to head to that old stone cave and wait there for a bit."

Akame smiled.

"Very smart. Have they reached it yet?"

"They have. Ben is resting and George is keeping an eye on him. Cross said she was going to hunt last time I saw her."

"Alright. It may be best they stay hidden for now."

"Ah, why Akame? You said yourself we were short-handed even before that Genba bastard came here!"

Kurotora snapped. Akame blinked, and patiently responded,

"I just have a feeling Kuro. Please just trust my instincts."

Kurotora grunted, but then entered Gajou. All of his sons and nephews followed, Harutora taking a last glance at Akame before he too, entered into the stone mountain. The look he had shared with the old Kishu told him that Akame knew... that an invasion was coming soon. Harutora kept silent, not wanting to bring up the topic to his father. He knew what would happen if he did.

Suki pawed at the snow absentmindedly, then hesitantly said,

"Dad..."

"Hm?"

"There's... going to be an invasion..."

It was a statement, and not a question.

"Yes..."

"Please don't tell me you're going to do, what I think you're going to do!"

"Suki... I'm sorry..."

"Those are your friends Dad!"

Suki whispered harshly. Akame looked taken aback, then opened his mouth to respond. Suki interjected,

"You can't just throw them away like that! Let's just abandon Gajou for now, and regroup. Please Dad, don't do this again."

"A-Again?"

Akame stuttered. Suki growled.

"Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about. You sent my brothers and sisters, even me, away, and you thought we were going to die! But you saved him!"

Akame stood silent, then lowered his head in shame. He knew she was talking about Taro. He had saved him, sent him away somewhere safe... and he had abandoned his other children.

"I won't let you do that again, Dad. I'll make sure I save them all this time."

Suki was about to rush off, to warn the Kais, but Akame grabbed her tail.

"Please, wait, Suki."

He mumbled, then released her tail. Suki glared at him, green eyes lit up with contempt.

"It won't work."

"W-What do you mean?"

"They won't care, Suki. They're Kais. Kais live to hunt and fight. They can't run away."

He sadly looked into her eyes.

"They'd rather die than do that."

"But..."

"I know... and believe me, I don't want it to be this way... but there's nothing I can do... I tried to think of a way, Suki, I really did..."

Suki whimpered, then was silent for a moment.

"Then... I'll think of a way. Please help me Dad. I want to be able to save at least one of them."

Akame placed his head on top of his daughter's.

"Okay... we'll try... but it won't be easy..."

"I know, but I can think of a way..."

"No... I mean... picking who gets to live... it isn't an easy thing to live with Suki..."

"It's better than letting them all die, Dad... they're our friends..."

"I know, Suki. I know..."

Kyoshiro ran along side Kagetora, Ken, Jerome, Hiro, Rocket, GB, and Shinku, as they all followed Weed and Wilson. Behind him, out of the corner of his eye he could catch a glance at that Akita Inu who begun taking care of Teru. Though he didn't ever show it, he was grateful. He could tell, Teru would be safe with her, until his heart healed. In the mean time, he would redeem himself, and become a better male. One that Teru could truly look up to and admire. A role model, so that he would become a true male one day.

Ah, I'm getting so damn sappy now. Must be that Weed. I swear it's contagious.

Kyoshiro picked up his pace, so that he was right next to the old guy, Wilson.

"Hey old guy! How much longer to Biwa?"

"Hmph, what a rude youngster. I have a name you know."

Kyoshiro bit his tongue. I AM being polite, you..

"We should reach Biwa by nightfall if we can keep up this pace."

"And, who are we finding there again?"

"An... acquaintance of mine, you could say. And before you say anything, he is worth the run."

"How so?"

"Well... you could say... that before Weed was born.. he was going to be the successor to Ohu..."

"WHAT? You mean... him?"

Ken and Kagetora shouted.

"Yes, Ken and Kagetora. Little Brother."

Kyoshiro dropped back, knowing if he tried to ask the old man he wouldn't get much more out of him. Whenever anyone tried to get more info about 'Little Brother' out of this guy, he always got kinda pissed. Then he would have a coughing fit. So Kyoshiro knew in the long run it would be better to just ask Kagetora and Ken, since they apparently knew this guy.

"So... whose this Little Brother? He a friend of yours?"

"Hell yeah! It's a long story, but we'll just run it by you real quick."

Kagetora replied. Kyoshiro listened, his interest peaking.

"His name is actually Tesshin, but back when his father... died... Cross took care of him and raised him besides me and my siblings."

Ken continued, his tongue lolling.

"He's a ninja dog, a Koga. You familiar with them?"

Kyoshiro snorted.

"You think just because we're isolated, we're also ignorant? Nearly every dog alive knows something about Gin and all his adventures. And the Kogas are practically our neighbors."

"Anyway... Gin saw talent in our Tesshin right away. At the time, he hadn't met Sakura, so he hadn't even thought about having puppies of his own."

"Yeah, he was too busy going around Japan, helping everyone out."

Kage commented.

"So, he wanted to have an heir, so to speak. Someone he could leave in charge of Ohu when he passed, you know. And to look after the place like a real leader while he was gone on his journeys."

Ken butted in.

"So, he, Akame, and John trained Tesshin while he still lived in Ohu. He learned all of their techniques and skills... and can perform them all perfectly."

"Yup, they say he has Gin's courage, John-sama's fangs, and Akame's speed."

Ken grinned,

"So I guess you can call him a triple threat."

Kyoshiro stared at the Dane-Saluki mix blankly, while Kagetora just looked annoyed.

"Not funny Ken."

"Aw come on, not even a little?"

Kyoshiro blinked.

"... Righhht... so why did this guy leave Ohu, exactly?"

"Oh, I dunno. Something about trouble back home... you know, with the Koga elder."

Kagetora shrugged. Kyoshiro rolled his eyes. This kid Weed sure kept some... odd company. Still, it helped at least to get to know his comrades a little bit.

"Ah, Ken, you mentioned you had siblings?"

"Yeah, but they're...er... gone..."

Kyoshiro wrinkled his brow. He knew that look.

"They're dead aren't they."

Blunt as hell, as usual. Ken looked taken aback, then stated,

"My sister, Miney, drowned when she was a puppy. My brother George... well... he kinda left after that."

"Oh... er... I'm sorry."

"Well, no hard feelings. Tesshin's practically my brother, and I've know Kage since forever."

"Yeah, and I've been kicking his ass for that long too!"

The Kai Ken boasted. Ken responded by swatting him, which the Kai dodged at the last moment. Kyoshiro decided then, that these guys were okay. They were nearly children themselves, with all their banter and childish manners.

Guess I could get used to being a part of Weed's pack...

Genba sneered as he sauntered towards the wild wolf Ismene. She was lying on a small rock, sunning herself, yet still within watching distance of Gin and the German Shepherd Matt. She opened one eye to glare at him, then showed her teeth.

"You got something important to say?"

"Actually, I wanted to inform you we'll be invading soon."

Ismene twitched an ear.

"Oh I've got ya. That means I'll be moving the prisoners soon."

Genba cunningly licked his jaws.

"Actually, after witnessing your... earlier performance... I've been wondering if you would be willing to lend a pair of fangs."

Ismene snorted.

"Are your followers that incompetent?"

Genba cracked a grin.

"What can you expect out of a bunch of strays and house pets? They have no training and no experience. So far, their numbers are the only thing they've got going for them."

"And whose problem is that? Yours, tough guy."

"Oh come now. Don't tell me you're perfectly content to just lie there all day."

"That would be the case."

Genba narrowed his eyes. This she-wolf was rather stubborn, but, he had the persistence to match. He strutted up to her, and changed his tone.

"Oh, I understand then. A bitch like yourself would be tired out from beating up two half-dead mutts. Please, take all the time you need to rest and recuperate, while the rest of his smash all of Gin's friends to the ground."

Two seconds... and Ismene growled right on cue.

"You can shove it! I don't have to prove myself to anyone, especially you, who stole what was rightfully mine!"

The black and white wolf jumped down from her rock, fur bristling, lips pulled back. She brushed angrily past Genba, snapping over her shoulder,

"Find one of the few competent mutts around here and tell him to sit on his ass here, till we get back."

Genba smiled. Manipulation at its finest.

"I think I found a way."

"You did?"

Suki twitched her ears, and realized that what she heard was pawsteps. Someone was coming. Both of them stared openly as Harutora stood in front of them, his expression blank. Akame greeted him silently, as did Suki. Harutora sat down in front of them, and spoke calmly,

"I'll be blunt... all of us are going to die."

Suki nearly bit her tongue in surprise, and was about to shout back a retort, before the white and black Kai interrupted her.

"Don't even try to argue with me, Suki. Even though I'm rather... calm... I am still a Kai. Kai Kens don't back down."

Even the ones with sense... have no sense...

Suki thought, sitting back down reluctantly.

"I know, that you do not want us to die. That you want us to abandon Gajou and escape. But you know us, and Kurotora. We just can't back down. But..."

"But?"

Akame inquired.

"Shigure. Please, save my little cousin."

Harutora paused, and breathed heavily.

"Even if... the rest of us die... I want you to find a way to save him. He's not like the rest of us. Not fully anyway."

"What do you mean?"

Suki asked, stepping forward.

"The fighting spirit of Kai Kens is so strong, we would rather go down fighting than live to fight another day. You could say, the driving force of a Kai is to die honorably."

"But Shigure... his driving force... is to live honorably."

Akame nodded thoughtfully.

"I understand. Shigure is not a coward, yet he sees beyond the desire to fight and die honorably. He realizes there is more to life than that."

"Shouji agrees with me. Shigure should've never been involved. And neither should my father."

Harutora rose to his feet, and began to walk away. Over his shoulder, he muttered,

"I hope... I pray... you can save them both. But I will accept whatever you decide."

Then he was gone, as quickly as he had come.

It was snowing again. The wind was blowing heavily, limiting her version. It didn't matter though. Wolves surpassed even the more purely breed dogs out there, as if they were common mutts. Wolves were more agile, faster, stronger, had more acute senses... they were supreme. That was the reason no dog could ever hope to surpass a wolf, because, they were the descendents of wolves. As their wretched blood became more and more mixed, and as they strayed closer to the humans' side, their skills and instincts faded. Ismene couldn't help but feel disgusted as she walked amongst the mutts Genba had decided to take with him on the 'invasion'. A good deal of them were fat house pets who hadn't even grown in their winter coat, as they had spent too much time inside.

"Are we ready to move out yet?"

She snapped at the Great Dane next to her. Genba leered at her, then swiped his tongue around his lower jaw.

"Of course. Now that the storm's picked up..."

The wind howled, as if to add emphasis to his point.

"... we have even more of an advantage."

Slowly, he stepped forward. Ismene grunted and dashed past him, then in front of him, spraying snow into his chest and face. Quickly, the rest of the army rushed after her, while Genba growled in annoyance. He easily caught up and managed to adjust to the wolf's pace.

Does she want to waste the energy of all these mutts? It would've been better to calmly march to Gajou... and it would've made a great impression. Showing those Ohu mutts that we aren't rushing into battle, but calmly marching. As if we don't need to put any effort into it, since we will completely annihilate them. Oh hell, why not. Results are results.

Gajou was in sight, and Genba ordered the troops to a halt. He watched in distaste as a lot of them began to pant and breathe heavily. He curled his lip, then turned his head to face the stone mountain. Narrowing his eyes, he could just barely make out silhouettes of a couple of dogs at the peak, but it was hard to tell for sure how many were there.

"Seven at the peak, Genba. Presumably those Kai bastards."

Ismene stated. Genba nodded.

"That leaves four more. Can you spot them?"

"Hmmm... no. They must be hiding somewhere. Tch, at least those Kais have the balls to face us."

"Mm.. keep in mind those two Kishus may be cowards, but they are also tricksters. They could be plotting a trap."

Ismene snorted.

"Or an escape."

Genba laughed.

"Ohu, is as good as ours."

At Gajou, the two Kishus, Hook, and Mel were rushing to the peak of Gajou. Akame had plotted their escape route well, and so as long as they left quickly, they had a good chance to meet up with Cross and Ben. But first they had to deal with the Kais...

As expected, all seven Kais were waiting at the peak of Gajou. Akame directed Hook and Mel to a ledge that overlooked the river, and ordered them to jump into it.

"As you resurface, keep your eyes out for a stone building. It is half buried with snow, so it won't be easy to spot, but hopefully you will be able to track some scents to give you a hand."

Akame advised. Hook nodded, and nudged Mel.

"Come on, let's go. It'll make it easier if we both jump at the same time."

"Ahm, Alright."

They both jumped, and splashed into the water below. Akame looked upwards, at Kurotora.

"Don't try to stop us, Akame! Us Kais won't back down to a bunch of mangy mutts!"

"Kuro, please, reconsider. Their numbers are large, and there's too many to fight off. Don't throw away the lives of your children and nephews."

"Akame-san, we don't care. As long as we defend Ohu and our Uncle to the end, our lives have been well lived!"

Buru yelled.

"Yeah, to us, it is what we live for! We'll take as many of them down with us, and make them regret ever even looking at Gajou!"

Dodo added.

Akame sighed, then looked at his daughter. She nodded, and brushed her cheek against Akame's neck.

"Follow him. Make sure you're not seen, and not heard. Shouji and I, will take care of Kuro."

He watched as Suki descended Gajou, and took the back route they had chosen. As long as she kept to the trees, she wouldn't be spotted. Even if snow were to be dislodged, it could easily be blamed upon the storm. Now all that was left was for...

The steady chorus of yells and shouts rang into his ears. It was starting... he watched as the invaders got closer and closer, then began to run up the boulders of Gajou's base.

"Not now, Shouji. You've got to wait until they get a little closer..."

Shouji shouldered his Uncle, who stumbled. He slipped on some loose stone, but was easily caught by the scruff. Akame held on tightly to the old Kai, then nodded to Harutora and Shouji.

"What the hell, Shouji?!"

Kurotora snapped.

"I'm sorry, Uncle... but we cannot let you die."

Shouji looked up sadly.

"I... cannot let you die. Not after what happened to my father."

Kurtora's single eye widened, and he choked back a gasp. Then, he began to struggle.

"Let me go, Akame!"

"I'm sorry, Kuro, but all of your kin... feel the same as Shouji."

"Neugh, but Kais can't swim, you bastard! You'll drown me!"

Kurotora began snapping his jaws at empty air. He'd already had a bad experience with water before... way back when he fought an arrogant, snot-nosed little silver puppy...

"I know this river may as well be the River Styx to you... but I promise you, I will ferry you across safely!"

Akame nimbly jumped over the ledge, hoping that he had done the right thing as he and Kuro plunged into the icy water. The remaining six Kai Kens stood watching sorrowfully.

"Ah well... we can't swim worth a damn anyway."

Dodo cracked. Buru grinned.

"All we can do is fight."

Howling together, all the remaining Kais rushed at the invaders. They fought as they had planned, fighting straight through all of Genba's soldiers. They took wound after wound, but pressed on. Shigure had felt nervous before the battle started, but now his blood was boiling, and the adrenaline was rushing in his head and ears. He and his brothers, plus his cousins, tore through Genba's mutts like they were empty air. Blood splattered onto the snow left and right, along with several of the minions. Truly, he felt like he was alive. But that feeling quickly shrunk, as a large black and white wolf jumped in front of their path.

"This is the end of the line for you. Hurry up and die."

Quickly anticipating the blow, Harutora reacted just in time. He took the blow fully, and his throat was sliced clean through. Nobutora cried out in fury, but Harutora, still momentarily alive, ordered him to stop.

"Brother... this is the end for us both. Stop her, please, and let our cousins keep going."

Nobutora, understanding, tackled the black and white wolf, jumping onto her back and clinging on for dear life. His cousins moved on as more mutts chased after them. Once they were out of his peripheral vision, Nobutora closed his eyes, and allowed himself to be thrown off. The black and white wolf pinned him down into the snow, teeth bared. Damn, that was one pissed off wolf.

"Rggrrrh. Damn that Genba, making me waste my time with you. Don't think I don't know what you're doing."

Nobutora tried to hide his reaction, but the wolf hmphed.

"I already told Genba, and he's waiting at the end for whichever of you makes it there. And let me tell you... whoever it is, he'll meet the same fate!"

Nobutora kept his eyes open, but mentally, he was back home, playing with his brothers. He thought of his oldest brother, Kagetora, who had remained in Ohu to rebukd Paradise.

Sorry Kage...

He thought. Then it was over.

Far up ahead, Shouji was racing side by side with Shigure. Looking over his shoulder, he saw that Dodo and Buru had already fallen, trying to desperately slow down and hold back the soldiers on their trail. Is it truly only us left? But, the way out of Ohu is almost near... we're so close...

His hopes were dashed, because as they burst into a clearing, Genba stood there waiting with a circle of followers. They all dashed forward, but Genba barked at them to stop. They skidded into the snow, and remained still while Genba began walking towards them.

"So, you made it all the way here? Both of you? I'm impressed. Kai Kens really are something, aren't they?"

Genba laughed.

"Perhaps I should find a couple to add to my army. Maybe a few bitches as well, for the next generation."

Shouji stood protectively in front of his brother, then attacked. Genba reeled back in surprise as Shouji clamped his jaws around the Great Dane's muzzle.

"Brother!"

"No, Shigure, go!"

Shigure felt tears welling up in the corners of his eyes.

"NOW!"

Shouji snapped. Shaking his head, Shigure rushed around the followers, who gave chase. Genba was still focused on Shouji, who he had managed to dislodge from his muzzle. Grabbing the Kai Ken's head in his jaws, he clamped down his fangs into Shouji's skull. Shouji choked, and his vision faded.

Shigure... you can make it Shigure...

He felt his body falling, but somehow he also felt far away.

Don't let this be a waste!

Shigure squeezed his eyes shut as he continued to run, as the wind had become fiercer since he had left Shouji behind. Snow whipped into his face, but he could no longer hear the shouts of Genba's soldiers behind him. He knew he wasn't safe yet, but he had a faint hope, that he could make it to Mutsu. He'd find his Uncle's old friends, and come back, and get vengeance for them all.

Shigure panted, then slowed his pace a bit. His stamina was wearing thin, and he had to slow down and catch his breath. It was a bad mistake. He turned around, and there was Genba. He was by himself, but... his brother's blood was all over his mouth. Genba spat on the ground, panting a bit.

"I told them to wait for me."

He said calmly, still advancing. Shigure took a few steps back, but froze as Genba boomed,

"Do not even think of running away. You are tired now, and it will not end well."

He was close enough that Shigure could see his eyes. Deep amber, almost brown. He'd never forget those eyes.

"Stay still, and I will end it cleanly for you. After all the damn trouble the last one gave me, it will be easier on both of us if you just give up now."

Shigure took a few steps back. Then, quickly, shoved snow into Genba's face. The Great Dane was temporarily blinded as Shigure hurried around him. However, Genba reacted quickly, and grabbed the center of his spine in his teeth.

"Clever. But useless. Tricks like that only work on me once."

He placed a paw where his jaws had been, then placed the other over Shigure's mouth.

"This is one my techniques. Once I have you pinned, it's over."

He grinned, then stomped on Shigure's back. The Kai choked and sputtered, unable to get air. He kicked out of instinct at Genba's stomach and legs, but it was as if he were made of stone. Genba chuckled.

"There's no one to save you now."

"Think again, bastard!"

"Huh!?"

Shigure was free again. He scrambled to his feet and coughed. He quickly caught his breath, and turned to locate his savior. His jaw nearly dropped. It was... Suki?! Why...?

"Hey kid! Hurry up and get outta here now! I'll catch up with you later!"

Shigure would not make the same mistake again. Though it hurt him badly to do so, he turned and ran away. Snow fell from above and blew all around, making it hard to tell which path he was on. The only thing he could do was run forward until he recognized a landmark. As he ran, he realized that his tears had begun to flow freely.

I'm sorry... if it weren't because of me... you and Shouji wouldn't have died!

He wanted to howl, a mourning howl. As his father had told him, when a brave comrade fell, you howled with the survivors and honored the dead with them. But... he would be found. He had to disappear.

I promise, I'll fight for you too, Suki! You and Shouji, and all of my dead brothers and cousins, will be remembered!

Akame dragged Kurotora onto shore, then winced as the angry Kai bit him hard on the nose.

"Damn it Akame! You and Shouji planned that didn't you?!"

"Kuro... please calm down."

"Calm down. CALM DOWN?! HOW CAN YOU ASK ME TO CALM DOWN?!"

Kurotora pounded his feet into the snow.

"All my nephews... and two of my sons... they're..!"

He shut his eye, and whimpered quietly. Akame looked away.

"I'm sorry."

Kurotora, was oddly silent. Akame was about to comfort his friend when he noticed a pair of shadows overlap the snow. He looked up, and realized it was his old friends, Ben and Cross. Ben looked rather solemn, while Cross looked as if she were sharing Kurotora's pain.

"Ben, Cross. It's good to see you again."

Ben nudged Kurotora, who pushed him away. Ben instead turned his sightless eyes towards Akame.

"Where's your daughter?"

Akame bit his tongue.

"She's... on a mission."

Well, that wasn't a complete lie, but...

"We'd better get inside. I feel this storm's gonna pick up again."

Cross changed the subject, and began to guide Ben back the way they had come. Akame and Kurotora followed, silently.

Kuro... please don't hate me for this...

Akame thought. He hoped more than ever Suki had done what he had asked her to. After witnessing the raw power, strength, and cunning of Genba's older brother, he couldn't help but be doubtful. More than anything, he wished his daughter was safe. And that things hadn't ended like this.

"Ah, here we are. The New Koga Territory."

"New Territory?"

Weed questioned, looking up at Wilson.

"Yes. Not many know this, but after Kurojaki and his followers threw themselves into the flames, a couple managed to survive. They joined your father's pack and vowed to change the way the Koga lived. Their leader, the current Elder, decided to move to Lake Biwa after the war ended."

"Why here?"

"I'm not too sure. Perhaps the Elder was reminded of his leader when the brave warrior Benizakura sacrificed himself in that lake. Or it might be he was loyal to your father and wanted to remain close by in order to serve him faithfully."

"Wilson... was my father really that charismatic?"

"Haha, I don't think charismatic is the right word. Your father... had a strong will. And an even stronger sense of justice. He imposed that will and justice on others, and inspired them to change themselves into better dogs."

"Your grandfather Riki, on the other hand... he was the most charismatic dog I knew."

"What was he like?"

"A lot like your father actually. Brave, kind, powerful. He was quite calm and collected though, and calculating. You may not know, but back then, your father was quite the wild child. He always rushed in, thinking at the last moment. He often adapted to situations rather than planning them out in his favor."

Weed was listening attentively, keeping his gaze on Wilson's face.

"Now though, Gin's a lot more reserved. He still has a bit of a temper though. Probably from hanging around John too much."

Wilson chuckled.

Weed smiled in reply, then looked up. The moon was out, and the storm they had trekked through earlier had completely ceased. Though the snow had stopped falling, it was still an obstacle for some of the younger members of the group to get through. Weed had often wondered what he was going to do with those young puppies. They were too young to be involved, he knew. He wouldn't drag them into this mess, as he had been. But, he wasn't sure what he could do. He had nowhere safe to leave them.

Just as he began pondering about more places to leave the puppies, a quick moving blur caught his attention. He looked up, and saw that it was a dog. Was it one of the Koga? He quickly ran after it, Wilson and the others not far behind. He shouted after them, but they didn't listen. He chased after them, but they quickly lost him. Weed panted in frustration, then sniffed at the air, hoping to catch their scent. No such luck.

Wilson looked around, then his eyes brightened. He knew this place well. They were close to the Koga entrance to their secret cave. He led the group towards the clearing, and started searching. He couldn't quite remember where this entrance was exactly...

He began to eye a suspicious looking log, than stood straight up. Then, out of the shadows, a Koga dog jumped into the log, in and out of sight in mere moments. However, the careless Koga hadn't bothered to check his surroundings before entering, and hadn't spotted Wilson. The Collie smiled, before beckoning to Weed.

"I've found the entrance. But we should go alone. The Elder I know was loyal to your father, but he's gotten paranoid. He might think it's an invasion if we take too many dogs."

Weed agreed, then alerted the rest of the pack that he and Wilson would be going into the entrance while the rest of them could rest. The rest of the pack sank down onto the snow gratefully, except for Shinku and Jerome.

"Weed,"

Shinku started.

"I think you should take someone else with you. What if you're attacked?"

Weed smiled.

"There's no need for that. The Koga are friendly, and I have Wilson."

"But-"

"Are you implying something, Shinku?"

Wilson grinned coyly.

"Um, no, I'm just worried, that's all."

Jerome, who had been listening quietly until now, joined Weed and Wilson.

"I will go with them."

Shinku sat back down, and watched as the three of them entered the log, Wilson first, Weed second, and Jerome last. She went back to GB's side, and began licking his wounds.

"Think they'll be okay?"

She murmured in between licks.

"Ah, yeah. What could happen? And besides, we'll all be right outside if they need us."

Suki panted heavily, then rolled out of the way as Genba came charging at her like a mad boar. The fight had been going on for an hour and she had nearly exhausted her stamina. Unfortunately, her luck in distracting the Great Dane ran out at that moment. Genba quickly snatched one of her back legs in his jaws, and lifted her up into the air as if she were nothing. Suki swung helplessly about in the air, unable to control her movements too well. Blood was rushing to her brain, and she panicked.

"There will be no escape now. This... is another of my techniques. There is no dog alive who is flexible enough to break free out of this grip. Many have tried... and ripped of their limbs trying."

Suki's thoughts were racing. What could she do? She had to think of a way out of this! What would her father do?

Take your opponent's position... and use it against them. Make use of your surroundings... not every battle can be won with minimal damage...

Suki grit her teeth, and was reminded again of the intense pain in her ankle. Genba was holding onto her tightly, so tight she feared her ankle bone might actually snap in two if this kept on for too much longer. She needed to get momentum first. She struggled again, kicking out with her one free leg. Genba merely laughed at her, not seeing through her plan. As she got enough momentum, Suki swung her body upwards, lashing out at Genba's muzzle and eyes. Shocked, the Great Dane let go of her leg, (which now hurt like hell after the stretch it went through), and she bit down hard in between his eyes. She felt his blood gushing out of the wound like a waterfall, then began to scratch at his eyes. She couldn't get at them too easily, what with him shaking his head madly and moving about constantly.

Genba howled a string of curses, and blindly charged about. He was heading straight for a tree, which he could not see at all.

I think it's time for me to go. But I better make sure I slow him down for a bit first.

With a heavy shove, Suki pushed herself off of Genba and landed into the snow, hard. Genba kept running, blood running from his head wound into his eyes. He crashed headfirst into the tree, and screamed once in pain before falling unconscious. Suki didn't even bother to check if he was still alive before running off, in the direction Shigure had taken towards Mutsu. Her ankle felt raw and sore as she took a few steps, but she knew it couldn't be helped. Biting her tongue to keep from whimpering at the intense pain, Suki jogged as quickly as she could towards Mutsu.

Something tells me this is gonna be a hell of a walk. But... Shigure is alive. And so am I.

Hours later, Genba woke to a rather painful headache. He grunted painfully, then stood up awkwardly on all four of his paws. Wobbling slightly, he felt pieces of dried blood and skin tumble off his forehead and onto the snow. Angry, he stomped them in, and snarled. That damn Kishu... and the little mangy Kai... he would tear them to shreds. He wouldn't forget what they did to him... like hell he would.

He looked over his shoulder, as Ismene came stalking towards him, dried blood on her muzzle.

"It's done. All of the ones back at Ohu... they're dead and we've collected their bodies atop Gajou."

Trying to regain his cool, Genba took a deep breath, then rumbled,

"Good. I'll walk back with you. Did you decide on a location for Gin and the Shepherd mutt?"

"Yes. I've explored every inch of Gajou, inside out, and found a few secret passages. I'll lay out a mental picture for you later, but there's a tunnel that leads to a dead end. I've knocked them out and dragged them in there."

They climbed to Gajou's peak after returning, and Genba looked down in disgust at the bodies of the Kai Kens. All of their jaws were pried open, as if they had been laughing.

"Little shits... they died laughing at us."

Ismene shoved the corpse of Shouji. That gave Genba an idea.

"What do we do with em?"

Ismene asked. Genba grinned, then grabbed Shouji's corpse in his jaws. He hauled the body to the edge of the cliff side, and dropped them into the river below. One by one, all of the bodies fell into the river, drifting along with the current. Genba grinned, then licked his lips.

"Ohu is ours."

Back at his base, Hougen stretched his legs. Soon, it would be time to set out towards Ohu. Word had come of his little brother's success, and he couldn't have been more pleased. However, his mood soon turned sour as he heard the scrape of metal.

Urggh... that crazy old guy again... why did he show up again?

"Hougen. I heard, that you have Gin in your capture. Well done."

"Cut to the point, old man."

"Old? I'll show youoldyou...!"

Hougen laughed openly as the crippled Doberman attempted to rush him. However, with that cart that held his crippled legs, he was all but useless. Hougen merely walked around him, and sat down on the opposite end of the room. The Doberman finally gave up and sat down, fuming with anger.

"If you are here to join my pack, the answer is still no. I may take every mangy stray and fatass pet around, but even they have more use than you."

The Doberman bit his tongue, hating how true those words were. Back in his day, in his prime, he had been lethal, deadly accurate in his attacks. Until... that day...

BEN!

–– Flashback:: The War Against Akakabuto

He was still in the Great Dane's grasp as they both plummeted off the cliff side, heading straight towards the rushing river below. Water splashed and raged all around him as he struggled and fought to free himself. Suddenly, the current picked up, and he was torn free. Clearing his vision, he could see Ben was helpless as he floundered about in the river. He grinned, and knew this was his chance. Ben may have tried to kill him, but he failed, and was now helpless. He hurriedly grabbed Ben in his jaws, and shoved his head underwater.

"Heh, tried to kill me? You, a blind old fool? As if you could ever take my place as General!"

He yelled, forcing Ben's head back down as he attempted to resurface.

"You can't even tell what's happening to you, you're blind as a bat!"

Just a few more moments...

"SNIPER!"

He nearly choked in surprise as out of nowhere, Hyena came crashing into the river, forcing him away from Ben. The Great Dane resurfaced and spluttered, looking around desperately. Hyena had taken hold of Sniper's neck and was fighting bravely, but then he noticed the large group of rocks the river was carrying them towards.

"Ben! Get to shore, the rocks!"

Ben gasped and tried in vain to see, but it was impossible. Hurriedly, he began to swim to the far left, until the water grew more shallow and he felt solid ground underfoot. Hyena would've sighed in relief, if not for the fact Sniper had taken his muzzle in his jaws, and crunched down hard. He yelled in pain, and tried to break free. Sniper then shoved them both underwater, growling.

"You're not going anywhere, you traitor. If I die... you die too!"

He slashed at Hyena's stomach with his claws, watching with satisfaction as the blood spilled out and gushed into the river, changing the water's clear color into a deep red. However, he knew it was too late. He looked over a shoulder, and a large rock fell onto his spine. He howled in pain, then choked as water flooded his jaws.

Present –

I'll kill them both... like I killed that traitor...

Sniper thought, gritting his teeth.

"You're right. All this time, I've been relying on my apprentices, Lecter and Thunder, to carry out my work. But they are still whelps, who cannot compare to their teacher."

Hougen raised an eyebrow. Sniper dragged himself forward a few paces, then looked up at Hougen.

"Get rid of this damn cart. It's time I walked again... as an assassin."

Hougen smiled, then leaped. With his powerful fangs, he destroyed the cart, breaking both of the wheels and cutting the straps that were tightened around Sniper's body. The broken contraption fell around the old Doberman, who collapsed.

"Alright, old man. Time to prove it. Walk."

Sniper grunted, then picked his head up off the ground. He laid with his head on his front paws, trying to bite back the pain. Hougen sneered at him.

"Oooh, so you really were just talk. Tch, how pathetic."

"Shut it! This... isn't easy..."

He felt something, a... back leg? Sniper dragged himself forward, out of the shadows, in order to see better. His single eye widened in surprise as he realized, that his legs had been replaced with metal. Hougen stared openly, also shocked.

These... can become my ultimate weapon...

Sniper thought, struggling even more to get back on all four of his feet. It took nearly all of his strength, but he wobbled and shook until he finally regained his balance. He felt lighter, more agile, now that his heavy cart was gone. But, he still could not walk properly. He fell back to the ground, but was content. He could stand. Soon, he would walk again.

Hougen licked his lips, then nodded.

"Welcome to the pack... General."

Kurotora was sitting, dejectedly, at the riverbank, his head hanging low. When the bodies of Shouji and the others had washed up on the river, e had been close to tears, and had rushed off to be alone. But even alone, he wouldn't let his tears fall. He wanted to mourn his nephews in silence.

Damn, damn it! I should never have let them go! Why did I let those blockheads go and kill themselves? Chutora, I'm sorry! You left me to take care of your children and I failed you! My own sons are dead too! Ah, hell, where did I go wrong?

Inside, he could hear the muffled sobs and sniffles of Ben and Cross, but he tried hard to ignore them. It was hard enough to hold back his own tears. He could barely feel his own paws in the snow, so he ground his paw deep into it, shaking slightly. One tear rolled out of his single eye, and melted into the snow on the ground. He growled, in a mixture of anger and pain.

My sons... my nephews... I failed you!

"You tried the best for our sons, and our nephews. Kuro, you know blaming yourself isn't something that'll help the situation."

He whipped around, jaw nearly dropping. In front of him, looking the same as if she had never died, was his mate Emiko. The beautiful silvery white Kai Ken smiled at his expression.

"Y-you're...?"

"Nope, still dead, sadly. But I couldn't just sit there and listen to you moan like this. Kuro, it's not like you."

"Augh, damn it, this is serious! I-"

"Hey, listen up blockhead!"

He blinked, then sat back down.

"I know this was hard for you... but you can't give up-"

"Oi, who said anything about giving up? Let a man grieve, damn it!"

"Quit interrupting me, dumbass! Did you happen to forget what happened when I died?"

He bit his tongue, then it came back to him. Oh.

"We don't want a repeat of that again. Kuro, I know it seems like you've lost the most, and that everything's going to shit, but you can't give up. It's okay to shed a few tears for our children and nephews... but I want you to promise something for me?"

"Aright, Aright, sheesh. What is it?"

Emiko smiled.

"Get revenge. I want you to rip apart the bastard who did this to my kids."

Kurotora smiled, then cracked his neck.

"Too easy. I'll tear that Genba guy apart, kill him, then drag him back from Hell and kill him twice over! He'll regret what he did the moment he sees me, haha!"

Weed felt the pressure on his lungs increase as he swam deeper into the underground tunnel. It was getting darker and darker, so dark he had trouble seeing Wilson and Jerome on either side of him. Just when he thought his whole body was going to rupture from the inside out, the tunnel got lighter, and he could see the exit ahead. He quickly pushed with his legs in order to swim faster, and pushed his head above the surface. Forcing back a cough, Weed blinked the water out of his eyes and looked around. The cave he had emerged into was dark, but very spacious. The echo of dripping water was the only sound he could hear. Cautiously, the Akita Inu lifted his body out of the water, and hesitantly walked a few paces forward.

"So... this is the 'leader' of the intruders that have trespassed on our clan ground?"

Weed whipped around, and was utterly repulsed by the dog who had now appeared. His fur had been completely burned away, his bare flesh scarred with various burn marks. One eye was gone, and the other reflected a burning hatred that pierced him deeply.

"I believe so, Elder."

Replied a brown-gray Koga, who displayed no emotion and seemed quite stoic. He surveyed Weed with cold, calculating eyes as the burned Koga circled the Akita Inu. More Kogas appeared out of the shadows and settled in a circle around Weed, not moving and not speaking.

"I know who you are, you little brat. Word travels fast. You're the spawn of that damned Gin, aren't you?"

Weed nodded, trying not to expose his feelings of fear. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Jerome and Wilson keeping low in the water, trying to remain hidden.

"But you don't know a damn thing about me, or my clan."

"Please,"

Weed interrupted, keeping his ears low.

"I came here for your help. We're looking for someone, called 'Little Brother'."

At this point the brown-gray Koga had remained silent, but at this moment he spoke clearly,

"Though I detest that nickname... I believe I am the person you were looking for. Koga Ninja, Tesshin."

Weed's eyes widened in surprise and awe as he gazed at Tesshin. At first glance he didn't appear to be anything extraordinary, but looking closer, he could tell that this was the dog that his father had chosen to be his heir. Tesshin was slim, but muscular. And if all the things he had heard about Tesshin were true, then he had been trained extensively in his ninja training, and was also trained by the top three of Ohu.

"You're impressed. You should be."

The burnt Koga snapped. He stood next to Tesshin.

"He may have been trained by that bastard father of yours, but he was my leader's son first, and he still is. Kurojaki may be dead, but as long as I'm still alive, I will make all of you Ohu bastards pay for his death!"

He snarled, the pupil in his single eye shrinking. Tesshin calmly turned to the elder Koga, and stated,

"Chourou, calm down. Getting all riled up isn't good on your mental state... or your blood pressure."

"Hell, shut up Tesshin!"

Chourou snapped. Tesshin blinked, and sighed softly.

"You're father left my leader to burn, and me to rot."

He spat into Weed's face, and the Akita Inu flinched.

"Why should we help you? Fuck, why should I even left you crawl out of here alive?"

Weed lowered his head, but kept his eyes level.

"You're right. The truth is, I don't know very much about your clan, or what you have been through. I came here with limited knowledge and assumed you would help us. For that I am sorry. But I still need your help. If Hougen takes over Ohu, nothing will stop him from taking over all of Japan. He's already spread his pack into multiple territories, and killed hundreds. If you won't help me to rescue my father, do it to defeat Hougen and stop him from destroying everything."

Chorou mulled over what he said for a moment, then flexed his shoulders.

"Hmph. At least you're willing to admit you're mistakes. Fine. I'll be merciful, and let you and all your mutts a free pass out of my territory... but first you have to take the fall for this little fault of yours."

Weed lifted his head.

"Anything. I am the leader, so I am the one who will take responsibility."

Chourou smiled. He cocked his head at Tesshin, who stepped forward.

"Tesshin. You heard the little brat. Beat him to a pulp, and let him have it. Make sure we never see his mug around here ever again."

Tesshin nodded.

"Yes, Elder."

Out of quick reflex, Jerome leaped out of the water, splashing the surrounding Kogas and startling the Elder and Tesshin. Wilson quickly followed, trying to stop the German Shepherd. Jerome had already shoved four Kogas aside and was fighting off a fifth when another one jumped onto his back. Several more were joining the scuffle, making several small attacks and dodging out of the way to avoid Jerome's retaliation. Wilson took advantage of the distraction and made his way to the Elder and Tesshin. Coughing, he approached them both carefully. Bowing, Wilson pleaded,

"Please stop!"

Chourou snorted.

"Why the hell should I? I would've let you two go had you just stayed where you were. The deal was fair enough—the kid would take the beating and all of you leave here alive... that's more than what Gin ever gave my leader."

"Your leader died by his own choice. Gin gave him the choice to run away!"

Wilson turned to look at Tesshin, who still had Weed cornered against the cave wall. Jerome threw off the Koga on his neck and barreled forward, heading straight towards Tesshin. With his jaws opened wide, he prepared to execute a powerful bite to the Koga's shoulder... when Tesshin calmly turned, and stopped him with a powerful blow to his skull. His paw crashed down on his head, and his whole body fell to the ground. The Koga ninja pinned him down with his paw, and coldly said,

"This is not your fight. I admire your loyalty to your leader, and your desire to protect him... but if you try to stand between us, you will fall to your death."

Jerome growled, and pushed himself to his feet, trying once again to attack Tesshin. The ninja dog back flipped out of the way, and sped around in a half circle, shoving his head into Jerome's ribs. Two Kogas held him down while Chourou licked his lips.

"I should have you killed for your insolence!"

He growled, pacing back and forth rapidly. Wilson jogged up to them, and replied,

"Please, forgive him."

Chourou ignored him, and continued pacing, and began to mutter to himself. Wilson turned to look at Tesshin.

"Please, Tesshin. You know this is wrong."

Tesshin cocked his head to the side, then said,

"Whether or not this is wrong is not for me to decide. He is the Elder, and my leader. I will follow his orders promptly and with no hesitation."

The brown-gray Koga turned to the two others who were holding Jerome down, and ordered,

"Keep him still. Yochi,"

A dark gray Koga, almost black, quickly ran to Tesshin's side.

"Watch this senior. I do not think he will be trouble, but it never hurts to be careful."

"Yes, sir."

Yochi replied, standing in front of Wilson. The Collie watched as Tesshin walked back towards Weed. Standing squarely in front of the silver Akita, Tesshin flexed his shoulders and crouched down low.

"I am Tesshin, the ninja dog from Koga."

He bared his teeth, and barked, when Weed backed up.

"State your name and face me."

Weed snarled, and raced forward.

"I'm Weed, son of Gin of Ohu! For attacking my friends, you'll pay!"

In his blind rush, Weed was unable to avoid Tesshin's counter-attack. The Koga had dodged to the side and cut hard at Weed's throat with his fangs. Pushed back from the force of the blow, Weed was left open to another attack, this time a slash on his shoulder from Tesshin's claws. Weed ducked underneath Tesshin's stomach and bit down hard on the soft flesh underneath, causing the Koga to rear back in pain. However, he was quickly dislodged, and was being forced backwards as Tesshin let loose an onslaught of harsh attacks with his claws and fangs. He was forcing Weed to the edge of the pool of water, and with one last push, he shoved the Akita Inu into the water.

Weed was choking as he attempted to get away from Tesshin and return to the surface. The Koga wasn't letting up, grabbing hold of the Akita and shoving him further underwater whenever he attempted to resurface. Finally, Tesshin took hold of him and jumped out of the water, still carrying Weed in his jaws. Now Weed was limp, unable to do anything as Tesshin swung him around and beat him down into the stones. At last, his suffering was at an end when Tesshin dumped him onto the ground. Weed panted heavily his pain temporarily dulled by his exhaustion. Tesshin however, looked as if he hadn't even broken a sweat. The fierce and wild look in his eyes had faded, back to the ice cold expression they had been before.

Wilson, seeing his chance, shoved Yochi aside and ran to Tesshin. He was quickly caught, however, and forced into a bow in front of the Koga heir. Coughing, Wilson barked,

"You've won, Chibi! Please, just let him go!"

Tesshin pricked up his ears at the name, then turned quickly to look at the Collie. Recognition glimmered in his eyes, and he whispered,

"... You..."

"Yes, it's me. Please, Tesshin... this isn't you. This isn't the dog Gin raised you to be."

Tesshin looked away, distraught.

"I know... your Elder still blames Gin for your father's death... but you know in your heart that he threw his own life away. Tesshin, Gin was more of a father to you than anyone!"

"He was still my father, Wilson. He could've abandoned me a hundred times over and that fact would not have changed."

The young Koga paused, then added,

"Why have you come all this way?"

"Weed said it before... we need your help."

"No... why you...? You are too old for this... and you're ill."

Wilson turned away, then lowered his body onto the ground completely.

"It's true. Tesshin, I'm... dying.."

He lifted his eyes to gaze up at the Koga dog. He thought he could see a faint glimmer of sorrow in his eyes, but it was gone before he could be sure.

"I... had to apologize to you. Once more, before I went. God knows I've blamed myself over and over, wishing that I hadn't let the grief and hatred build in my heart. It nearly killed us both."

Tesshin blinked, stopping the tears that were beginning to well in his eyes.

"I'm sorry, Tesshin."

Tesshin crouched down, and licked Wilson's muzzle.

"You do not have to apologize. If anyone should be, it should be me."

"I'll do it. Even if I have to go alone, I will return to the Ohu army."

Wilson smiled, and coughed.

"Thank you. I would not have wanted to cross the river without apologizing to you and bringing you back to the Ohu army."

Tesshin felt tears well up in his eyes again as the Collie laid his head on his paws, and closed his eyes softly. His breathing became more and more shallow until at last, it stopped altogether. Chourou, unimpressed and even more pissed than before, growled and leaped in front of Tesshin.

"Has anything gotten through your thick skull, about making promises you can't keep?! There is no way in hell I am letting you join with them!"

"Chourou, I—"

"Don't. Even. Start."

The burned Koga growled, stalking off. Several Kogas leaped out of his way, not wanting to face the brunt of their leader's temper. Yochi walked up to Tesshin, and whispered a question into his ear. Tesshin nodded, and Yochi dipped his head in understanding. He turned to the Kogas who were holding Jerome down, and ordered them to let him go. Jerome walked over to Weed to check on his injuries, and helped the young Akita to his feet. Tesshin looked over at them, then said,

"I will give you permission to stay in this territory for another day. I would also... would also like your permission to bury Wilson on our clan ground."

Weed perked up his ears.

"Are you... joining us?"

Tesshin nodded.

"I will need the time to prepare... and to talk to Elder. But for now... may I?"

Weed nodded, and Tesshin picked up the Collie's body. He disappeared out of the cave exit, while Yochi urged Jerome and Weed to follow.

"I asked Tesshin if he was serious about joining you guys... guess that guy really does keep his promises."

The dark gray Koga commented.

"Despite what the Elder says, none of us really have any grudge towards you guys. It's just... he's our leader, you know?"

Jerome nodded in understanding. He knew very well what it felt like, choosing between what was right and what his master wanted him to do. That loyalty, that duty to obey his masters... had cost him all of his friends. He knew he couldn't let it happen again. Though he would follow Weed anywhere, he knew he would do anything to protect his leader's safety and well-being... even if it meant disobeying his orders.

After Wilson had been buried, Weed and Jerome returned to deliver the news of their success to the rest of the pack. Several dogs congratulated them, while others expressed worry for Weed, and a few who had been close to Wilson expressed sadness at his death. A few of them went with Yochi to help with his burial, but returned shortly after being sent away by Tesshin. The dark gray Koga had then offered to share some prey with the pack, to which Weed accepted. The silver Akita spent the rest of the day resting and recovering from his injuries, while Shinku applied some of the medicine Yochi had given her to use. Once, Weed had tried to go and look for Tesshin, but Jerome had stopped him. He had told him to wait, to leave the Koga dog to grieve. He promised Weed that he would talk to him tomorrow, to which the Akita Inu agreed.

The next morning came around, and Weed did not find Tesshin at Wilson's grave. After questioning Yochi, the Koga had answered that he had heard Tesshin and the Elder fighting atop a cliff not too far away, but he warned Weed not to get involved, as it was getting "pretty ugly". Weed ignored his warning and raced off to find the Kogas, panting as he ran. When he found them, he saw Tesshin and Chourou were arguing as Yochi had said. As he got closer, their argument became clear enough so he could hear what they were saying.

"I don't care! You were too young to remember it properly, but I do!"

"I remember it clearly! And I know for sure that you have to let this go!"

"Never! I nearly lost my life, and all of my friends are dead! Your father, is dead!"

"Blaming yourself, because you feel guilt, isn't right! Neither is holding a grudge!"

"Your father—"

"Enough! How many times do I have to say it? I am not my father, no matter how much you want me to be!"

Weed stepped in between them then, and faced the Elder.

"He's right. It's true that our parents leave expectations of us... I know I've felt pressured to become a great leader like my father, but even I know I can never truly be him. I have to set my own expectations and become my own person, just like Tesshin has to make his own legacy!"

Chourou growled, and roared,

"I've had it with you! You're just a little punk who doesn't know shit! Apparently the lesson Tesshin taught you didn't sink in! WELL THIS TIME I'LL MAKE SURE IT DOES!"

In blind fury, the burned Koga leaped towards Weed, but put too much power into his jump, and sailed clear of the Akita Inu and Tesshin, straight off the cliff side.

"Shit!"

Chourou swore. Weed quickly reacted, grabbing hold of the Koga's hind leg by the heel, and pulling backward. The force of gravity nearly pulled him over the edge, but he dug into the ground with his claws, steadying himself. Carefully, he began to move backwards, until Chourou was pulled up to safety. Tesshin thanked Weed, while Chourou glared at him.

"Elder,"

"Just stop."

Tesshin looked taken aback, but then stepped backwards. Chourou then turned his single eye onto Weed, and blinked.

"It pains me to say this... but I owe you one for saving my life, kid. And don't you get a swelled head about it. But I suppose you're decent enough."

The Elder walked away, then turned back to look at them both.

"Go with him. Knock that Hougen shit down off his high horse and show him what true dogs are made out of. Take whoever you want. Hell, take everyone, I don't care."

"E-Elder... thank you."

The Elder grunted, then disappeared from sight. Weed looked up at Tesshin.

"He may seem like a bad person... but he isn't really. He... has a lot of anger in his heart. He's forgotten himself in all that hatred."

Tesshin explained, gazing off at the break in the foliage where Chourou had exited.

"... You said you needed my help to rescue your father. Do you know where he is? Did someone capture him?"

Weed looked unsure, as he answered,

"Hougen had him at first... and then John and some others died to let him escape... but we don't know where he is now. Jerome says it's probably reasonable to think that he's been recaptured... but no one is sure."

"Hm."

Tesshin replied. Then, together, they returned back to Weed's waiting pack. As the sun reached its peak in the sky, warm sunlight spilled onto the lake and the clearing. Weed smiled as he felt the warmth on his back. He looked over and noticed Teru and several other puppies playing by the water. His eyes narrowed slightly in sadness, and then Tesshin caught his eye.

"Are you sure you should be dragging them into this war?"

Weed shook his head.

"I've been thinking about that. I don't want them to get hurt. They're... too young."

Tesshin nodded.

"Leave them here."

"Are... you sure?"

"Yes. The Elder is not a bad person. Even though he may not have shown it, but I think you changed him, Weed. I think having some young dogs around, to teach and train... will help him find himself again."

Weed smiled.

"I think that's a good idea. But will he agree to it?"

"I can convince him. He'll be grateful for them, since I am taking the rest of the pack with me."

"R-really?"

"Yes. Like Chourou said, none of his friends survived the burning of the Iga House. All of my subordinates... my clan mates... were strays and members of the younger generation of Kogas. None of us have any grudge against your father and Ohu. We would all like to lend you our service."

Though the plan to leave Teru and the others behind didn't sit well, with some convincing from Kyoshiro and Reika, who had offered to stay behind to look after them, they had all agreed to train and become stronger. Chourou had added he would make good on their promises, warning them that the training they would be going under would be intense and difficult. Not one puppy backed down from the challenge, knowing this was the best way they could be useful to their leader. In the evening, Tesshin approached Weed.

"What is it, Tesshin-san?"

"... I am going to find Gin."

"Huh? But—"

"Weed... I have pledged my loyalty to you, but I will not abandon and forget the dog who took me in as his own son. I promise to return to you, once I have found him."

Tesshin responded, turning away. He ran off, and was gone before Weed could even think about stopping him. Deciding to trust the Koga ninja, Weed let him go, grateful that Tesshin had talked to him directly instead of slipping away.

"He'll come back... leader."

Yochi reassured Weed. The Akita Inu smiled at the dark gray Koga and nodded.

"So, are we ready to head out now?"

"Yep. Everyone's ready to go."

"Alright, then,"

Weed rose to his paws, and stretched his legs. His pack was growing larger, and his confidence as a leader was growing. He could do this. They would be heading to Rocket's hometown, Kishu, to recruit some of his old pack members. Rocket had said that the pack had maintained their independence and had refused to submit to Hougen, so it would be a good place to look for more soldiers. And elsewhere, Tesshin would be searching for his father. Following Yochi, Weed mentally prepared himself for the long journey to Kishu.