Mina padded slowly along. Back home, their old home that is, she would never have been allowed to wander by herself. Their boundaries extended barely beyond the entrance; if they wanted to go farther, their mother and father had to accompany them. Back then she had felt such unfairness in the matter. Wing in particular had made quite a fit one time, claiming he was big enough. Although their night with that fox said otherwise.
Ohu was different.
In Ohu there was a general sense of safety, save for that encounter with that strange dog, the one that had attacked her and Miss Cross. Miss Cross; she had been so happy to see her, so much that she had cried out her name. That turned out to be a mistake. Why couldn't she be more like her brothers? Well like Kuro at least. Kuro never messed up; he was the good pup. Wing on the other paw was the bad one. Mina lost count of the times their mother had yelled at him. But they never screwed up like this, never disappointed their mother to this magnitude. At worse, both boys received a scolding for misbehaving on Wing's part, or Kuro trying to hide from a bath.
"Why can't I be what Mom wants?" she asked herself.
Something was wrong with her, she just knew it. No child could disappoint their own mother like her. It sometimes made her feel like the unfavorite, but didn't her mother say she was tough on her because she loved her?
"Mina do you listen to me when I talk?!"
It was like her mother was right beside her. The fuzzy ghosts of the previous moment were before her: she, her mother, and Miss Cross. Mina focused only upon their eyes. For her mother she saw only hatred and anger. For Miss Cross she saw nothing but sadness. Being an observant pup, Mina could see her mother hiding additional emotions. Beneath the anger and spiteful words, Mina thought she noticed a tear falling.
"But Mom I-"
"Don't argue with me Mina! I want you to go back to the den this instant!"
"Don't be mad at Miss Cross! It wasn't her fault."
"I SAID NOW!"
Her mother's shouts overcame her pleads. Tiny drops of rain fell to the ground in time with Mina's paw prints. That's what she had to pretend, nothing but rain. Big girls didn't cry.
"Mommy wants me to be a big girl."
And that's what she would be. Pleasing her mother meant everything to her. For once she wanted her to be proud. She supposed that's what every daughter wanted. For sons it was the father, so it made sense for the daughter to seek out the second parent. But sadly, no matter how much Mina tried, she could never make her mother smile at her actions.
Just another thing she wasn't good at. Wing was good at getting into trouble, and Kuro being well behaved. If only she were more like her brothers.
Mayu felt a sharp pain against her paw. That rock was sharp despite its small size. As it skipped a few bounces, she inspected her paw. No trace of blood. It was foolish to think it could draw any, Mayu thought. Plenty had split her open; a simple rock wouldn't have done anything. If she found another rock it would have met the same fate as its cousin. At this point she could kick anything that came into her path, but it wouldn't have made things any better, nor would it make her forget. Frankly she didn't know who to be angry at.
"Mina, do you listen to me when I talk?!"
That voice, her voice made her wince. The memory looped itself once more spurring a growl from her throat. Oh, she just had to laugh; life loved playing this sort of trick upon her: taking a nice moment and turning it upside down. All she wanted was to talk with her daughter, to dispel any fears the child may have held. It was all so perfect until she showed up. That stupid bitch who had been the source of her anger ever since they arrived. A distance may have been between them, yet it didn't change the amount of anger.
"Why did she have to show up?" she asked herself.
Oh she could remember the conversation well. It seemed anything related to Cro... her dug a deep hole into Mayu's brain.
"Don't you think you were hard on her?"
Hard? 'She' was giving her advice on being hard. Mayu supposed Cross had the experience considering she raised two sons, her perfect 'pure' children. Pure as in the fact they were a product of love. But herself? Nothing more than a bastard pup from an illegitimate litter. She held no more need for brothers. Although she meant it when she said she had nothing personal against Ken and George, but there was only one brother in her life, or one that mattered. She had three to be precise (technically five if she counted Ken and George). Back when she was a pup, she and Mao had two extra litter mates. Mayu wondered what became of them. In all honesty, she didn't really bond with those two. It was just her and Mao. If she had to guess they were probably sold. Despite the bond she and Mao shared, secretly she had a sister too.
Turns out she did.
"She reminds me of Miney," Cross had spoken, rather somberly.
"Miney?" Mayu had repeated.
Cross stared down at her paws that time, her somberness appearing more palpable. "Your little sister."
"Sister?" She had a sister, or had a sister. More specifically, a half-sister. This was just perfect, another bite in the of her wanted to feel jealous, wanted to hate this replacement daughter, but she didn't—couldn't—for some reason. Maybe it was the past tense of 'was'.
"She died several seasons back." Cross's voice grew far more somber. "She was so young."
Mayu felt uncertain of how to feel. There was another child, another girl within her bloodline, one that was lost. Cross had lost a daughter, just as she had lost Mao. Mayu shook that thought out of her head. This wasn't about long lost siblings, but on motherhood. Mina would only need to listen to her mother. There would be no other female guidance in her life so long as she was alive. She didn't need it. She didn't care how she sounded. Mina was her daughter, and she would be strong even if Mayu had to drag herself through hell. It would matter so long as Mina didn't experience what she had: pain, abandonment, loss. She and her brothers would all be ready for the world.
Still, she felt something about something that lingered within her mind.
"You're pushing her too hard."
Bat had said that before, as did Cross just a while ago, right before she left. Even as Mayu made her way back to the Ohu encampment, the thought remained within her head.
It just seemed to get worse with each day. Cross felt a pit opening within her, a giant hole that dragged all within. The things she cared about appeared to occupy it. First there was her owner's betrayal, then Miney's death. Mayu and Mina were just two more occupants.
Mina was her grandchild, something she had hoped for ever since her second litter had reached maturity, maybe even a little before that. Ken seemed like the possible candidate to have pups, just needed to find the right female. George? Even Cross had to admit George didn't seem like the child rearing type, maybe more of a grumpy uncle, though anything was possible. As much as she had hoped her sons would find happiness like she did with their father, she knew that Miney would have had the gift. In her mind, she could always picture Miney as a mother, tenderly caring for her young, but that wasn't possible now.
How ironic she was a grandmother at last but was denied a presence within the lives of her grandchildren. When she had met Mina, a floodgate of memories opened, bringing in the drifting recollection of her youngest daughter. Mina had so much in common with her departed half-aunt it was uncanny. Miney had a very good childhood, was raised with a lot of love, but there was always the inkling of trying to prove something to someone, particularly the male population. Ben wasn't a bad father, but in Ohu, a female had to prove herself to stand amongst the males. Growing up around a large male influence Miney had zero female friends her own age, primarily playing with her brothers. Why was Miney on the rock in the first place? She knew the river was dangerous. Was she trying to be brave?
Cross forced herself to stop. That was as much as her old mind could take. She knew enough of the similarities to know that Mayu might make the same mistakes with her daughter. Such sweet little pups, both of them. Besides their need to prove themselves, Mina and Miney were sweet as could possibly be. Now there was a chance that sweetness could be dissolved, an unintentional side effect of a daughter trying to prove something to her mother.
Ultimately, there was nothing more she could do, nothing but try to press the boundaries that separated her from the severed part of her family. Selfish as it may have seemed, part of her wanted to hear that word whispered from a pup's mouth.
Though mostly, she wanted to act and feel as one. She had lost one daughter, she wouldn't lose her granddaughter.
Alucard remained motionless standing in the open. He was waiting for someone. Moments ago, he had let out a howl, signaling the one to return. Drake had always been a wildcard of sorts, always doing his own accord. That was a risk when taking in strays outside the Clan. Drake was no different. Although Drake had long been a member before he joined up, Alucard could tell something was always off about the child eater. That alone made him unpredictable in Alucard's professional opinion. Eating children was far more heinous than sucking blood. Though true that most found his trait disturbing, Alucard only did it for survival. Drake did it for pleasure.
He had seen it once. Hell knew for what reason; perhaps punishment? Nevertheless, that pup died. What disturbed the midnight furred canine the most was the enjoyment. Drake had eaten that pup while it was alive, feeling his pain and savoring it. Alucard couldn't drown out the whines that pup made as his life ebbed away, and his blood draining into the soil. Alucard himself felt the urge to lap up that crimson pool, but he refrained from doing so. There were lines he even drew.
"You're late," Alucard muttered.
Hard pads against the ground signaled the return. "Busy," came the gruff reply.
Alucard opened his eyes and noticed the shape of the child eater. Drake's body bore the wear and tear of battle. It was in his stance, his slightly hunched over position gave indication along with his hanging tongue. Mostly Drake looked rather well off. He wasn't going down so easily.
"Well if you're done, we have orders," Alucard said.
"Heh," Drake chuckled. "Always staying calm. I gotta admit I'm impressed, blood sucker."
Alucard couldn't tell if he was being serious, or simply mocking him. Frankly it could go either way.
"Shame you aren't willing to add more of a killer instinct," Drake said, almost in pity. "A little more force would do you good."
"Cain's gathered a platoon," Alucard said, ignoring the statement.
Drake grunted in slight irritation over the fact he was being ignored, but moved on all the same. He was above engaging in petty squabbles like an immature puppy. "So? He's finally making a move?"
Alucard simply nodded. "We're simply scouting, nothing violent... yet."
Drake grinned at the 'yet' part.
"It's estimated that Ohu might be making a move after today's events," Alucard said, speaking with a distinct lack of emotion despite what had happened to Setsu. Shame that one so young had to die. It made him think for a while, about...
"Best not to keep the prince waiting," Drake interrupted Alucard's thought process.
It best wasn't to keep the Grandmaster's head waiting. Alucard quickly pushed those thoughts aside and moved onto the present. But in the back of his mind, he could see a faint image of a white furred female and her brother. The first real family he had in a long time: but they were mere echoes.
Drake and Alucard darted off into the forest.
"Why do I have to stay behind?" George said.
Ken nudged his brother as he gestured ahead. "Because Mom needs the support."
"Support? Then why don't you stay?" George said in a low voice. He didn't need others hearing them.
"Because you need the practice."
"Ya know, with kids."
George could see where this was going. "No," the white furred scarred dog refused, shaking his head vehemently. "You're not going to leave me with them."
"Why not?" Ken said.
George felt that was a silly response. "You know I'm not good with pups."
That much was certain. Between the two brothers, Ken felt himself the most likely to have children, considering if he met the right female or not. George, on the other paw, never entertained the thought of spreading his seed. Didn't help that there were not many females in Ohu: one was taken, another was his mother, and another a long lost sibling.
"That's why I'm trying to change that. Just trying to help you, brother." Ken put his paw across George's shoulder.
"Knock it off, ass!" George growled, slapping his brother's paw away. "Look, it's fine Mom wants to do this, but I don't see why I have to be the one who goes with her."
Ken hardly seemed phased by his brother's words. The concept of having another sister was still a sore subject. Although he had gotten over his hydrophobia that had long plagued him, the sting of losing their little sister still festered like maggots over a rotten carcass, a stench that wouldn't fade for a time.
"Because you and Mom know what it's like to lose someone firsthand," came Ken's blunt reply.
George felt a response coming, but it never made it to the surface. As much as he wanted to argue and protest, he could slowly start to see his brother's point.
"Come on, don't be such a poor sport, Uncle George." Ken laughed, giving his brother a playful shove.
George snapped at him, silencing his elder brother. "Shut up, you moron," he muttered before turning around to join their mother.
"You'll make sure Wing doesn't eat anything strange?"
"Keep Kuro away from anything sharp?"
"Make certain Mina doesn't leave the area."
"I've got it, Mayu."
Mayu and Bat had gone through the usual routine for whenever either of them left and left another behind. This time it was Mayu, leaving Bat with the babysitting.
"I hear that tone Bat. Don't get short with me." Mayu scolded.
"I'm not," Bat retorted. "You just need to relax. I'll make sure nothing happens to the kids."
Mayu sighed, "I'm sorry Bat, It's just...you know?"
"You don't need to explain," Bat reassured her, understanding the stress his mate had been under lately.
Mayu felt an assembled row of paws before her. Staring down, she noticed a trio of black paws.
"Are you going somewhere Mommy?"
The question struck her from nowhere, straight out of Kuro's mouth. The small black pup stared up at his mother with innocence shining in his eyes. Mayu could feel the longing within, a feature that was not uncommon. Being the runt, Kuro always needed an extra form of attention, not that Mayu minded giving.
Reaching down, Mayu nuzzled her youngest son and licked him atop the head. "Just for a little while baby." Kuro let out a tiny but audible whimper. "You'll be fine," Mayu chided. Looking towards her other pups, but particularly Wing, she added, "Your father is going to be in charge, so I expect you to listen to him. And that goes for you two."
Mina kept her stance firm, but Wing rolled his eyes.
"Mom!" The eldest pup whined as he felt his mother's tongue against his head. "Mom! Quit it! I'm not a baby!" Wing barked in protest.
Mayu chuckled, "You're always my baby," she said warmly. Wing groaned as his mother licked him once again. Then Mayu stopped at Mina. Her tongue lapped out for a moment before it retracted. Nothing but steely silence sat between mother and daughter.
"Mina?" She beckoned. Mina said nothing and turned away. "Be good, honey."
Mina gave a numb nod. "Yes, Mom," she replied.
Wing and Kuro exchanged glances at the odd display. Momentarily a sense of triumph washed over Wing, seeing as he had been licked and not his middle sibling, but he kept silent. Kuro looked away, feeling a great unease hanging about, though the timid pup said nothing at all. Bat could sense the unease emanating from his mate. Silence fell over all as Mayu left to go about her duties as a soldier.
And then Bat sensed something. Out of the corner of his invisible sight, two shapes moved across the ground. Their steps both signified age, one young, and the other old. The footsteps of the younger one barely registered anything but a twitch of his ears. The footsteps of the other drew a greater response.
"Cross," Bat muttered quietly.
A.N: Hi! This is Minkspit here! And so here we are at the end of the 22nd chapter. I never expected Echoes to head this far, and neither did my coauthor, but we're both very proud of it. It's come a long way in three years. I want to thank everyone who's still reading it, despite our sporadic updates.
But I do have some news to deliver. As of this chapter, the story is being completely handed over to my dear friend and coauthor NoRatCat. I've had a lot of fun writing Echoes, but life is doing some changing around on me. Among other personal issues, original work is taking up a lot of my time now, and I feel like that if I pressured myself to keep continuing Echoes, I would eventually stop enjoying the story and giving it the respect it deserves. It was time to quit while I'm ahead. But I've had a blast while I was collaborating on this story.
Echoes will still continue updating from my profile. I'll be doing some slight editing on chapters here and there, so I won't be totally gone, even though my large chunks of writing are finished. I hope you all enjoyed the new update! :3