There were few things more painful than clan stasis, not including permanent clan stasis. Permanent clan stasis was like the last shovel of dirt heaped over the grave. It was mostly applied once a dog of middle or low officer rank had gotten sent to the torture chamber– not too low to be let out of higher ranking custody, but not too high to be promptly dealt with– and after breathing in the underground hell for so many weeks, their cause was dropped. Perhaps it would either be let go out of sheer disinterest from the Grandmaster or Cain; sometimes it was the need to apply more clan workforce to other more important dogs or goals.

You knew you'd hit permanent stasis when most of your guards departed and left you in one of the little caves of the clan's home, forbidding you to leave. The dogs who saw it coming when they were apathetically shoved out of the torture den made sure to cherish every step they took in the sunlight and savored every last heaving breath. Once they got placed in one of those little caves, they weren't coming out. No one was executed in stasis. That would be a waste of the entire point.

They were just lazily guarded with the occasional meal and never saw the light of day again.

Alucard struggled not to growl at the thought, adjusting his front legs to lay out better. He could see a few weak beams of sun out creeping through the den's entrance, air leaking within bringing the smell of his two guards. Neither image nor smell was comforting. The Clan had stopped inhabiting the majority of the cave network when they headed up to the surface for permanent adjustment, but the dens didn't go unused.

And now, Alucard thought, after chasing Setsu across the mountains in a supposed-to-be suicidal mission, Cain had put him away in stasis the instant they got back. Ungrateful bastard. Alucard closed his red eyes and laid his head down, finding himself unsurprised.

He'd been forcing down the impulses to rip out Cain's throat and much, much worse the whole time he was traveling with him, especially when he thought of some familiar white fur and warm family scent, not to mention the hardheaded voice— Alucard forcefully unclenched his jaw and made his prickling fur lay down at the passing thought of Cain mixed up with that— so perhaps stasis was a good time to unwind the tension inside himself.

It took less than a second to realize that that wasn't going to happen.

Setsu was dead, the Grandmaster was furious, and all in all likelihood she was going to execute him and punish Cain after she'd got what she wanted out of him. Alucard let the thoughts pound over his head, struggling to keep down his bristling fur or any agitated swings of his tail. If the scent of fear began to leak off him, things could get worse. He didn't need the guard in here to see him. Alucard didn't show emotion, didn't show nervousness, not the blood-sucking tracker Alucard. Not even when he'd failed to track down the escaped Mayu and got his back laid open by Julia in punishment, a snarling Lazarus guiding her through just where to stab and bite him. He'd been grooming his more openly vicious daughter for the position of warden once he surpassed it, seeing he'd already gotten Maria to be a pup teacher.

She had much of her father in her… Alucard thought, perking his ears up and giving a half smile in a twisted mockery of real happiness. He'd gotten better at pretending. It had helped him keep a straight face during the tracking of Setsu, when the smell of rotting flesh had been crawling up his nose and Cain had been assessing him the whole time. The Grandmaster's favorite wasn't blind— at least, not quite as much as before. He'd had much of his hormonal impulses and childish arrogance beat out of him by the Grandmaster's sharp tongue and cold, false-sweet words.

Cain was still arrogant and slightly impulsive, but it was a more solid kind than that of before. He'd slipped around Alucard like the slithering of a snake whenever the two had taken a brief rest, moving about like his bone marrow was melting into every step. Mayu, Mao, and Alucard had been a fiercely close trio even to outsiders from the Clan, and Cain damn well remembered Alucard storming the torture den with Mao on the night of the first sacrifice selection. Alucard could tell by his slinking movements and significant glances that he half believed his red-eyed partner was going to tear out his throat and eat it while he slept.

To Cain's credit, he'd given it a thought. He'd been giving a lot of things a thought once Mao was killed and Mayu escaped. Not that the rest of the Clan was aware of it once he burst out of his cocoon of depression and anger a few weeks later, regaining full control of his mask.

Alucard sniffed, getting tired of holding the same position, but unwilling to roll over and make himself more vulnerable. He settled for sitting up, getting to his feet with a quiet scrambling of claws and shake of his head. The guard outside paused, speckled face glancing back at him with twitching ears, but resumed his stiff pose once he saw Alucard was doing nothing. The mix of cooler, more collected air from the cave and soft bursts of a warm breeze here and there filled Alucard's nose. It seemed to thread through his tangled fur and play around the rough rock inside of the den, skimming over worn-out quartz that hung from the ceiling in filthy stakes and encrusted the whole den in uneven sheets. Dirt separated the pieces of rock in cracked lines.

Alucard didn't get much more of a chance to reflect on his fate and how things had been holding together as a few footsteps echoed through the den, the dog outside sitting up straighter. Alucard tensed, watching the movement outside. Two giant akitas emerged from the side to block the light filtering into to Alucard's prison, their steps almost in unison.

The pair of siblings were almost identical, a female and a male only distinguishable by a few subtle face changes and the fact that they were both missing one ear on opposite sides. As a result, when the two stood next to each other with their fluffy coats almost brushing and faces hardened and grim, they seemed to melt into one giant creature with two ears perched on a broad and widened head. Alucard had seen them limping around the camp before he and the now dead patrol had gone to pursue Setsu, their ear stumps ragged and bloody. They'd been punished for something. Now, with their broad shoulders squared together and dark eyes fixing the guard in the place, ear wounds looking more scabbed and less raw than before, Alucard had no doubt they didn't intend to make another mistake like that again.

"We've come to retrieve the prisoner," the brother said bluntly, deep voice giving his identity away. "Grandmaster's orders."

"Understood," the guard said, stepping aside.

Alucard rose to his feet before the two siblings could step inside to retrieve him, walking out into the light. They observed him with cold eyes before pressing their sides lightly up aside him, one on each side. Alucard had no doubt that the akitas could slam their sides together to keep him pinned where he stood if they deigned so. He didn't intend on giving them that chance.

Flanked by the cautious guards, Alucard was led out from stasis into the light. The three immediately made a beeline for the very center of the Clan, disregarding all the rest of the buzzing and active clan members. A few passing glances were thrown at the twins and Alucard, but hidden eyes were quickly averted once they realized all the identities of the trio. Gossip was quickly stifled by the picking up of a freshly killed prey or the turning away of a guard on duty.

The Grandmaster had done well to contain all the panic and venom after Setsu's fleeing— just as she always did in a crisis, Alucard thought, bitter half smile or snort making itself known inside. The female akita gave him a rough nudge with her ribs to make him walk straighter. Alucard silently corrected his steps and coolly avoided looking at either her or her brother's face, not giving a second glance to the ripped tissue of their ears. Injuries were common now.

No one involved in the catalyst or result of the Setsu issue had come out whole, if they'd even managed to come out alive. The guard Setsu had positioned outside the cave of her drugged aid was slaughtered less than a day later, the akita assistants had lost an ear each out of a cruel joke made by Maria and indulged by her sister— 'They're twins who work together like one being… since they obey orders as such, wouldn't it be fitting for them to have one set of ears to listen with?'— and there was nothing to be said about the rest of the retrieval patrol other than he and Cain.

Hell, even they had gotten out with enough scrapes and bruises to make Alucard throb with soreness after he'd been directed to stasis; Cain himself had been cultivating a small limp as they'd headed to Ohu and back. When he thought about it, the only one to escape any repercussions or damages was Setsu's drugged aid Haloo. After the effects had worn off, he'd gladly informed the Grandmaster of what had happened and narrowly avoided being executed like the guard who'd been watching him. Haloo was now bouncing around the Clan again, running errands.

Alucard had to hold back a noise as he thought of Haloo, keeping between his guards without touching either of them. Setsu had saw fit to sic Haloo on him for one hunting trip for a pissant reason only she knew, and Alucard had gotten more than his fill of the puppish enthusiasm and odd mood behavior swings from overgrown pup to Clan guard. It was almost a pity. Beat some of the bad habits out of him, and Haloo would have made a good pet for some little girl…

The Life Sucker immediately cut his thoughts off, refusing to let them run in that direction to stir up old wounds. He had enough recent ones to deal with. One of Alucard's shoulders was jarred when the female akita guard bumped in closer, giving a clear warning as the dark mouth of a cave loomed in closer. Gnawed deer antlers were set on the top of the entrance, a cool stagnant air emanating from the large den, and Alucard braced himself as they approached the quiet sounds coming from the belly inside.

The maw of the monster awaited, curled deer antler teeth and all. Alucard made sure to hide his prickling fur and the disgusted flipping in his stomach as he heard familiar voices drifting up from the bowls of the den… Cain's included.

A second questioning was coming, Alucard thought, red eyes blinking and long tongue licking the side of his muzzle as he and his escorts stepped into the shade. The subterranean chill tugged at his fur again. Both akita guards gave two soft barks as they descended down the gentle slope of the den entrance, sunlight behind fading. Up ahead— further buried into the earth Alucard was pointedly ignoring, feeling the grooves and worn patches in the tunnel of one dog after another walking down and crawling on their bellies in submission— another duo of guards quietly moved over. Chunks of quartz scratched his shoulders.

Alucard only felt partial surprise when he and the akitas slid through the other entrance in the cave, the brother giving a growl of warning and nipping at Alucard's haunches to make him stay close in the tight-fit tunnel, and there was a smaller chamber instead of the main den. He'd heard rumors the Grandmaster had been doing some den changes, but Alucard wouldn't have been surprised if this preliminary room had been here the whole time. This whole den was a mockery of a fox warren, and the Grandmaster was one clever and wizened old vixen who refused to be dislodged from her twisting tunnels with a single bite.

Only a few speckles of sun drifted down the main tunnel behind them, the few that were lighting up the scruffy white akitas' tails with a soft glow and playing over the guard's sleek fur. The two guards closely watched Alucard with emotionless eyes he was forced to sit in the middle of the smaller chamber, akitas stiffly setting themselves down next to him. They were waiting for the summon to continue further into the home of the relic witch, and going ahead without so would just bring death down on their heads—and Alucard's.

The summon came sooner than Alucard thought, the red-eyed dog just beginning to feel tense as another guard poked their head from the whisper-filled chamber of the Grandmaster. Long, stringy ears framed a thin and scarred face with a muzzle too long for its form. Alucard was reminded painfully of what it resembled by the black tangled fur it bore on its ears. The dog had to be a Saluki mix with something. Most likely Borzoi, judging by the long and aerodynamic face.

"The Grandmaster will see you now," she said in a smooth voice. She looked over at the akitas, unblinking. "You are both dismissed to the outer entrance."

Both of them dipped their heads in respected. "Yes, sir," they said simultaneously, both rising to their feet. Alucard watched their bulky forms leave and go into the speckle of light from the corner of his eyes. They might've been leaving the darkness, but he certainly wasn't.

The two guards in the inner chamber got to their feet and stared pointedly at Alucard. The Borzoi mutt pulled back into the room, and Alucard had no choice but to dip his head in her direction before following her in. It felt like entering the lair of a spider. He pushed through the thin and winding tunnel that led into the inner chamber, feeling the rock brush against his back and a cold streak run down his spine that only had some to do with the icy quartz that lined the entrance. The guard dog followed in front of him with its spindly legs moving quickly and surely over the padded dirt floor. Alucard could only see its tail twitching in front of him now and then, feeling swallowed up by the hated home of the Grandmaster around him.

The whispers became louder, and then the guard dog slipped free from the tunnel in front of him, moving aside. Alucard kept his hackles down and heartbeat level as he sensed several other dogs in the den with him, stepping out into the shadows.

"The dog you requested, Grandmaster," the Borzoi mutt said, voice still smooth. It had gone oddly flat and emotionless in the Grandmaster's presence. Alucard knew the true feeling motivating why: nervousness. Or more adeptly, fear.

"Thank you, my dear Triyu," the Grandmaster said as Alucard moved forward. As falsely sweet as always, Alucard thought.

Triyu automatically moved to sit in a corner after bowing her head deeply, and Alucard kept himself composed as he saw the familiar face of Cain right next to the Grandmaster herself. Cain was still looking bruised and battered, though not as much as before, and there was a distinct look of cold command on his face. Sunlight filtered through a tiny webbing of cracks in the den ceiling, and they made Cain's eyes glow unnaturally bright. They looked almost like the eyes of the serpent he took his mannerisms from.

With his torn off ear and new netting of scars across his face, Alucard had to begrudgingly admit that Cain didn't… exactly… reek of incapability or incapacitation. He rebound from injuries had always been fast.

"Step forth, Alucard," the Grandmaster said, adjusting her position on her throne. She sounded like a cat playfully sheathing and unsheathing its claws, looking over a tidbit in front of her. Ragged deer skins and a few dark pelts of indistinguishable nature were piled underneath her in a grotesque mockery of a bed or nest, cushioning her aged bones and letting her bask in her dark glory.

Alucard cautiously took two steps forward, stopping himself a length away from the tattered bed of furs. As he bowed his head low and hugged his tail closer to himself, as was custom when addressing the Clan leader, he could feel Cain's eyes on him the whole time.

"You summoned me, Grandmaster?" Alucard said, avoiding direct eye contact and staring at her chest. Her fur had grown stringier in age, her limbs thinner, but still she lived, an unholy creaking mass of spirits, stretched fur, and marrow.

By some freakish element of nature, her fur had refused to silver anywhere else but the fringe that dipped down from her neck to the bottom of her chest. It was as if the color in the Clan leader's fur had viciously ate up the silvering color, refusing to let it advance, and her face was worn and drooping more than before.

The Grandmaster did not limp in her age. She still held the proud bearing of one years younger, though Alucard could never remember her looking young, not even before his corrupting entrance into the Clan. Her pelt sagged over her bony frame and hung over her ribs and haunches. The smell of decay and something much more frightening Alucard didn't attempt to seek out surrounded her in a swirling aura. Sometimes he swore he could smell more than one scent radiating from her, as if another dog hid underneath her skin…

"Why yes, dear, I did," the Grandmaster said, tilting her muzzle down to look at Alucard. "Cain and I were just having a discussion about the mission you two went on. He said you were very loyal to the thought of completing it, though it was just you and he left after the beginning."

The praise on the surface of her voice seemed to be patting Alucard for more than one thing, and warning him about others. Alucard simply dipped his head again, further avoiding her eyes but struggling to keep himself from escalating into complete submission. The Grandmaster knew what he'd felt about Mayu and Mao… as well as what their fates had been, and what he felt about Cain.

"I did what was necessary, Grandmaster," Alucard said, tone level and the same amount of emotionless Triyu's had been. "Following her to Ohu along with Cain was required."

Something smug glinted in the Grandmaster's ancient eyes, and she leaned forward, old and yellowed fangs bared in a smile.

"Is that so? Tell me about Ohu, Alucard…"


The news was all abuzz within Ohu; bits and tidbits of information and facts. Different words spread amongst different dogs. The exact truth differed depending upon who was telling the story. As they reached her ears, she sifted through which were true, and which weren't. It was a difficult thing to distinguish for she had not witnessed it. The first mention of the event reached her when her frightened daughter was escorted home. What her daughter was doing away from the den, she didn't know. Unlike Wing, Mina could be trusted to go where she could go and where she couldn't. She never questioned Mina on her whereabouts, for as soon as the rumors reached her ears, she went to investigate. There the body lay before her, torn asunder of flesh and bone. Its features could vaguely showed themselves upon the shredded body

Mayu's eyes glanced over the corpse with much attentiveness. She had heard it all; this dog had attacked her daughter. Although she would have liked to have been there to demonstrate her maternal instincts, that time had passed; she was just thankful her daughter was safe and sound; frightened but safe. She went over the body five times, trying to ascertain the familiarity of it all. The fifth time was what was needed. Mayu noticed the bits of fur that lay between the muscle and bone openings. The color, and the blood stained scent reached her nose. Eyes widened with alarm.

Were they here?

Fear laced into her observation, a fear she hadn't felt in such a long time. The scars upon her back flared with memory of their creation. Such sad echoes of the past, echoes she had wanted to forget. Closing her eyes, the fiery pain reached her mind. More memories dug themselves out clawing their way to the surface. Mayu didn't bother burying them again; she merely took it like a male, or at least how she would expect a male to take it within this one gender dominated army. As much as she tried to deny it, she couldn't. It was too obvious to not make sense. Mayu had foolishly thought they were behind her. When she was given that opening that day, she ran with hope of escape. With hope in her eyes she had set forth. That hope increased as she started her family.

With this coming tide, her family was in danger. It was time to face that tide, just as she would with anything in her life.


Weed listened closely to what the female had to say; every word. Ever since Hougan's death, Weed had held onto the concept of peace. He didn't think it foolish to do so. After all, peace was what the end result of war was. For now that seemed like a far off concept. A fool's notion.

The female, Mayu stood there, silently and idly chewing on a twig; an oral fixation that had long since engrained in her. His father Gin sat in-between them, listening and gauging the other's reactions.

"That's all there is to say." Mayu finished before resuming back to her twig. It was an addiction, some that warned would eventually grind her teeth down. Mayu paid those words no heed, not that health warnings were important right now.

"Do you really think they'll come here?" Gin asked with uncertainty."

Mayu switched the twig's position in her mouth. "Without a doubt," She answered. "I've lived with them for most of my life. I know how they work."

Weed stood there in shock for a moment. During the brief time Mayu had spoken, she had given enough information to leave an audible imprint upon the young dog. Though through war he had seen the horrors of death and pain, to hear it inflicted upon such young puppies left a mark upon him. He had grown up in relative safety and love. Even if his father wasn't around at the time, he still held onto the hope Gin cared despite his absence. Still, there was the matter of Teru. Yet in the end, his father had proven he loved his son, and in a sense making up for the long days of abuse.

"What should we do?" Weed asked. The question was directed at no one, yet he wanted an answer from someone.

Mayu chewed on the twig, biting into it and tasting the wooden flesh upon her tongue. The bitter taste burned only for a moment. Swathing her tongue in an attempt to banish the taste from her mouth, it vanished, although mostly Mayu simply took in its addicting flavor.

"If I were you...leader," Mayu added some hesitance with the word. She still couldn't get used to the idea of a child leading, especially one so fresh. Mayu could smell the lack of blood upon his soul. One who had not fully tasted suffering. Mayu herself had experienced it firsthand, living through each day with hope faintly dying out. How she had managed to make it through that life long nightmare was a miracle. "I would start planning now." Mayu spit out the twig, no longer satisfied with its taste. "They'll grab at this paradise till there is nothing left." She said right as she left.

Weed stood there in stunned silence. Peace had once more escaped the grasp of Ohu, and they were left with a new storm cloud on the horizon.

"Dad. I'm scared." Weed admitted. As a leader, he shouldn't have shown fear, especially not to his father, the great hero who took down the demon bear.

"Don't be ashamed Weed." Gin comforted. "You're still young."

Weed only took that at half comforting. He had braved Hougan's terror yet couldn't handle another one?

"Do you think I wasn't afraid when I fought Akakabuto?" Gin asked.

Weed stared at his father in disbelief at the implication. "The answer is no. I was afraid, more than you can tell."

"But you killed him." Weed countered.

"True." Gin replied right back. "But that doesn't mean I wasn't scared. Only fools aren't afraid before a battle."

Fear was a natural part of life. Everyone faced it, and to deny it would be foolish. Weed knew fear well, but he had simply viewed that it as a hinderance to ignore.

"Facing fear is another form of bravery." Gin stated. "I know that well." Gin could almost feel the snow and biting wind against his fur. The cold winter battle was like a remembrance of yesterday. Death and bravery all around him, fighting against the demon bear that opposed them. Indeed Gin was afraid; he had only been a child then, drafted into a war. As a child, he had to bear it, figuratively and literally of course.

The Ohu army didn't need a weak little pup longing for the father he hardly knew. Torn from his mother and siblings by his own choice, he went into the unknown future and in the end, came out a full-fledged soldier. Yet, at the cost of his father Riki. Although peace came as a reward, (at least until the wolf fiasco), that hadn't changed the fact he was afraid. In some ways, he still was afraid. He had lost two members of his family. One in front of his own eyes, while another apart from him. He didn't want to lose a third.

"I know you can handle this son." Gin reassured Weed.

Weed managed a smile in his father's reassurance. There was a storm coming, and Ohu would be ready for it. Weed just hoped he was ready.


Mina had been quiet the entire time she had been returned. Although he couldn't see, he could tell his child had been frightened the moment Kagetora brought her. Bat and Mayu had been given sparse details, but later talks revealed more. Mayu had gone to discuss matters with the leader, leaving Bat with the pups. Wing and Kuro idly played with each other, Wing himself dominating his younger brother. Kuro, being the runt, did his best to resist his brother's strength. Wing only lifted himself to allow his brother up just so he could pin him again.

Bat chuckled. Those two reminded him so much of his youth; the carefree days before his sight was taken from him. Yet there was the concern of his daughter. Mina was his little girl, and admittedly Bat held a sheltering instinct towards her. Maybe it was the gender stereotype that had been forcibly engrained in all of canine society. Mayu of course, along with Reika and Cross were exceptions to that stereotype. Knowing his mate, Mayu would more likely bring Mina up to be among those ranks. Bat would like to see his daughter grow up strong, if only with slightly different forms of training.

Silently, Bat walked over to Mina's, facing her back. The young puppy felt the cold nose of her father brush against her fur.

"Mina?" Bat beckoned.

Mina craned her head, and gave a few licks of playfulness towards her father. Bat gave a light lick in response against her backside.

"Yeah Dad?" Mina asked.

Bat's hot breath washed over Mina, wrinkling her nose slightly. "Is everything all right sweetheart?"

Mina couldn't hide things from her father. To be honest, she felt that her father was the only one she could confide in, save for Cross. Mina thought a lot about the old saluki. Their conversation had been ripped apart forcefully, and not seeing her worried Mina to no end. Yet somehow she knew that Cross was alright, or hoped at least.

"Y-yeah Daddy, I'm fine." Mina answered.

Looking at her father, Mina noticed the unconvinced expression upon his scarred face. That only served to show her that she really couldn't keep anything a secret.

"Mina, please, tell me what's wrong."

Bat's voice held a comforting undertone. It was the same kind that Cross had used, bringing a sense of familiarity. Slowly, Mina softened up to her father, finding compelled to reveal everything.

"I was scared Daddy." Mina admitted. "I was really scared."

Bat placed his head across Mina's shoulder. "It's alright. You're safe. That's all that matters."

"I'm sorry Daddy." Mina apologized. "I was trying to be brave, just like Mom wants."

Bat fell silent for a moment. "Mina, did your mother talk to you about anything recently?"

Mina turned her head around. "No. She said she wanted to, but she never did."

Bat sighed. Mayu had yet to have a talk with Mina. He could still sense the feelings of disapproval that Mina felt that Mayu held towards her. Bat could see the irony in the whole mother daughter relationship problems that both Mayu and Mina faced. It seemed to be in the blood.

"Mina it's okay, you can tell me anything you want. Even if you were scared." Bat assured his daughter.

Mina managed a smile. "You're just like Miss Cross."

Bat's mouth opened slightly when he heard that name. "What?"

Mina gasped in a tiny tone. Hesitation mixed in with her words. Mina berated herself in her head. "Stupid! You shouldn't have said that."

"Well I-um-well. I went to meet this dog. Her name was Cross. We talked and well she made me feel good about myself." Mina admitted. Turning around to face her father, Mina held her head down. One other thing that had neglected to be discussed: Mina's wandering off without permission. Since she had been brought back, Bat nor Mayu had spoken to their daughter of this indiscretion. Mina herself felt very shamed at what she had done. Unlike the irresponsible Wing, Mina always listened to the rules her parents set for her, well besides Kuro that is, but Kuro was too timid to really do anything on his own. Mina silently prided herself on being a well behaved daughter.

"You like this Cross?" Bat asked.

Mina was washed over with relief, and surprise that her father once more dodged the subject of disobedience.

"Y—y-yeah. Yes! I do. She's very nice." Mina declared.

Bat's face cracked with a smile. "I'm glad Mina." A family bond had been formed between a forbidden link. Least forbidden as far as Mayu was concerned. Bat hadn't forgotten Mayu's intention of barring all traces of Cross and her family from their lives. Bat on the other hand, wasn't so keen on that idea.


"Yes Dad?"

Bat knelt close to Mina's ear. "I think it's best if we don't mention this to your mother. Your talking with Cross."

Mina said nothing in response to that. But she agreed.


Cross laid her head upon the ground. A few insects that crawling underneath tickled her skin. Disappointment etched inside her. Her little meeting with Mina hadn't gone as she had planned. It appeared as if fate had conspired against her. Just when she had a chance to regain a portion of her old family, the chance was snatched away from her. It was depressing to be frank.

"How are you faring Cross?" Ben's voice came as a sudden but welcome surprise. She could use the comfort.

"Fine I suppose." Cross said whilst embracing her mate. Cross's eyes didn't match with Ben's and continued to face away from him. "I was so close to one of them." She said longingly.

Ben knew she meant one of the pups. Her grandpups, not his. Frankly, Ben was starting to doubt he would ever see grandpups of his own blood in his lifetime.

"What was Mina like?" Ben asked.

Cross thought back to the small puppy, her only granddaughter. "Such a sweet little girl. I can see much of her mother in her, she has my impatience." Cross smiled. "Such a polite girl, respectful of her elders. Such a little joy." A tear fell from Cross's eye. "She reminded me so much of Miney."

Memories of their departed daughter played through the minds of both parents. Mina and Miney were so very much alike, it was as if a ghost from the past had returned through her eldest daughter's child. Mina was part of Cross's hope that she could regain her family bond, for she had lost one daughter already, and she didn't want to lose another one.

"Is it ever going to be right between me and her?" Cross asked. She didn't need to explain.

"I don't know." Ben answered.

Cross sniffed, fighting back her tears. "I don't want to lose any more of my family." Cross lamented.

Ben embraced her again. His hold took away all of the pain that gripped her. Cross could sense that more pain was on the way. That dog she faced only hinted at what was to come. Cross may have been old, but all of those years had made her wise. Yet still, she held something even more precious: hope.