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Author Topic: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)  (Read 76192 times)

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Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (Senkumo War Stories PUBLISHED)
« Reply #465 on: April 19, 2019, 09:34:03 PM »
By Saint Vitus, I need help.

Okay, so Aika Crisis is almost complete. I think there's only two or three chapters for me to edit, so the release is inevitable. Funny it's taken me this long since, you know, DbEG was the story everyone actually wanted first but I decided I would juggle it with the SWS prequel series and release two full parts of that before finishing Aika Crisis. Because that's how you keep the momentum going for a book, right? That's how you please the customer, by giving them a banana split when they asked for a hot chocolate.

Let this thread be an example of how NOT to go about handling two huge stories at the same time.

With all that said, Aika Crisis will be here soon. Not sure if I'll just use the art some of you beautiful lads have gifted me or commission more. Hmm. We'll see. After this, I promise War Cloud and Dawn and Dusk (one of my favorites right there) will be worked on next for release.

Spoiler
Some day, when I finish all of DbEG and SWS, I'll do Anzu: A Friend From the Grave as well. Don't you think I've forgotten about that story. I had so much fun writing it and it legitimately left me with a slight feeling of emptiness after I finished it.

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (Senkumo War Stories PUBLISHED)
« Reply #466 on: April 23, 2019, 02:37:21 PM »
Alright! Aika Crisis is finally done!  :clapping: We can finally get the DbEG train rolling!

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (Aika Crisis Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #467 on: April 29, 2019, 09:34:34 PM »
With Aika Crisis finished, I went ahead and got someone to create some new art for the book cover This is the sketch so far



Ain't she pretty? Can't wait to get her all colored in!

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #468 on: April 30, 2019, 12:16:36 PM »
Bam. Now to title this baby.


Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #469 on: May 05, 2019, 06:28:20 PM »


Well alrighty then! Aika Crisis is scheduled to release for May 28th  :clapping:

Like I promised before, the story has gone through some major improvements and changes here and there, so it's way different from what you read in this thread three years ago. It came out at 52k words too, about the same length as Book of Blossoming.  :thumbsup:

Synopsis:

It's been four long years since Osamu left his hometown of Kyoto. He returns to town expecting a short trip down memory lane, only to be kidnapped by one of his ex-girlfriends. But it's not just one Osamu has several crazy dames vying for his heart, and sometimes his blood. After his house is destroyed on the night of his return, Osamu is forced to live under the same roof as his four exes, a fate worse than death.

In Aika Crisis, the star of the story is Aika Mihara, one of Osamu's exes. Osamu initially returned to pay his respects to Aika's late mother, but he quickly discovers that Aika is no longer the cheerful, bubbly song bird he once knew. Her eyes have gone cold, she's emotionally distant, and she hardly plays her guitar anymore. Aika Crisis tells the bittersweet story of Osamu's attempts to rekindle the friendship he once shared with Aika, his reply to her secret wish, and how it all ended with neither of them getting what they truly wanted.


Any suggestions or criticism of the synopsis of typeface on the cover art are welcome, because I have no idea what I'm doing there.

You can pre-order for $2.99 on Amazon here!

Thanks for all your support, everyone. Next up is War Cloud and then Dawn and Dusk!

Offline Manimal

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #470 on: May 06, 2019, 02:03:57 PM »
The very first arc eh, are you going to have a physical version also?     

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #471 on: May 06, 2019, 02:14:40 PM »
Yep, I’ll also have the physical version ready by then. Did you ever finish reading the first arc, Manimal?

Offline Manimal

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #472 on: May 06, 2019, 05:49:00 PM »
Cool. I don't remember how much I read, I don't think I read that much. This thread just became such a powerful mainstay it was hard to keep up lol.

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #473 on: May 06, 2019, 05:52:12 PM »
Yeah, not even I was expecting that. I originally intended for it to be a one shot and end with Aika Crisis.

That clearly didn’t happen lol. Now that they’re being released as books, I suppose it’s the best time to follow the story if you got left behind by my obsessive output.

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #474 on: May 06, 2019, 11:46:09 PM »
Aika Crisis opens up with this quote. I promise I'm not doing this just to be pretentious. It has a thematic purpose aligned with the theme of Aika Crisis and how it all ends.


Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #475 on: May 13, 2019, 11:34:52 PM »
Those Who Have Eyes Cannot See
Spoiler
Hours passed before Yachi woke up from her slumber. Her eyes peeled open and her blurry vision slowly came into focus. Her body, covered in gashes, bruises, and dried blood, had gone completely numb. She couldn't even feel her hunger pangs anymore. She sat up and cast her gaze down upon the sleeping Tsukiakari. A barrage of wet coughs caught her attention, drawing her gaze over to the Man in Black, who stood outside the cell. His chest aching from the coughs, he pulled up a chair and sat down upon it, wheezing as he tried to catch his breath. He wiped away the trails of blood flowing from his mouth as he stared daggers at Yachi, who did naught but stare back at him.

"Fear not." said the Man in Black. "You're not the only one who's short on time. Death is just another journey. It's the journey to death itself that's truly painful."

"Has any of this made you feel better?" Yachi asked. "Did vengeance give you what you wanted?"

The Man in Black scoffed before muttering his answer. "No."

"Good. You acknowledged that." Yachi praised. "It all starts there."

"What are you getting at?" asked the Man in Black.

"Hatred will never replace the pain. Hatred is often born from pain. You can never be free from your loss until you accept the fact that you lost something."

"That's easy for you to say. You still have a sister."

The Man in Black stood up, wiping away the cold sweat from his pale forehead. "How would you feel if I murdered your sister right before your very eyes? Would you still be preaching about acceptance of loss then? If our roles were reversed, would you still be able to pontificate like this?"

He suddenly stuck his hand through the cell bars like a snake lunging out of the grass. His hand wrapped itself around Yachi's neck, his pallid fingers pressing into her skin.

"If you were denied death and had scars like these, would you be able to forgive?" the Man in Black shouted. "Lose everything first, then you can talk to me about accepting loss."

The commotion roused Tsukiakari out of her slumber just as the Man in Black released Yachi's throat. She sat up and crawled her way over to the shivering, wheezing Yachi.

"Yachi!" Tsukiakari called out.

"If neither of you give me a location by the end of the day, I'll have one of you killed. That should put an end to this ridiculous game."

The Man in Black began to make his exit before he was stopped by Tsukiakari's words. "Noriko wouldn't want to see you this way..."

The air suddenly grew heavy, making Tsukiakari's ears ring and pop at the same time. The candles flickered wildly as the Man in Black slowly twisted his head towards Tsukiakari. He rushed back towards the cell, flinging the door open and dragging Tsukiakari away by her arm. Yachi grabbed hold of Tsukiakari's other arm to try and keep her in the cell, but she was immediately kicked in the side of her head. The Man in Black shut the cell door and threw Tsukiakari across the room, towards the reclining seat. Yachi could only watch in terror, her hands wrapped around the cell bars as she repeated cried out Gekko's name.

"Say her name again." the Man in Black said. "I said say it again!"

Tsukiakari's entire body was a bag of agitated nerves, pulsating and throbbing in pain. She suddenly felt an immense heat dry out the skin on her naked back, her skin aglow with the orange light of raging flames. She was grabbed from behind and hoisted up by her ankle by the Phantom Soldier, his searing, vice grip melting through her skin.

"Her name is all that remains of her." the Man in Black said. "And yet, you dangle it in front of me to shame me. That's a game you can't win, Tsukiakari."

He knelt down on one knee, wrapping his gloved hand around the back of Tsukiakari's neck. Doing so forced Tsukiakari to look into his scarred, pallid face, scarred by burn wounds and tissue rot. She didn't look away for a second. Her eyes fearlessly met his and would not relent from their intense stare. The Man in Black stared back at the maelstrom of pain and anger in the goddess's scarlet eyes and the tears welling within them. He smiled as he pinched the middle finger of his black, cotton glove, pulling it off of his right hand.

"We'll start with you." he whispered. "Those who have eyes cannot see, Tsukiakari."

Realizing what he was about to do, Tsukiakari's eyes widened in horror. "Yachi! Don't look!"

Doing as her lord told her, Yachi shut her eyes and slapped her frail hands over hear ears. Tsukiakari's throat tore itself into pieces as she screamed in indescribable pain, the Man in Black's fingers gripped around her left eyeball. Yachi's hands did little to shield her ears from the agonized wails of her friend. Her heart shattered into pieces hearing Tsukiakari go through so much pain, both of them helpless to stop it. First, the Man in Black took the left eye, then proceeded to rob the war goddess of the right eye. Streams of warm blood raced down Tsukiakari's head and pooled on the floor beneath her, drenching her tendrils of raven hair. The Phantom Soldier vanished into a veil of smoke, dropping the now eyeless Tsukiakari onto the bloodstained floor.

Robbed of her sight, Tsukiakari was plunged into complete darkness. Though her sense of touch, hearing, and smell told her she was in the very same room she had been help captive in all this time, her lack of sight showed her only an endless expanse of black. She was utterly disconnected from her other senses despite only being robbed of one. It felt as though she was a phantom lingering far away from her physical body, but could still feel everything it felt.

Tsukiakari's head throbbed with pain, as if her brain was trying to break out of her skull. She aimlessly felt around the ground with her hands, unable to map her surroundings in her head. Her fingertips grazed the cold toes of the Man in Black, earning her a kick to her chin. That single kick sent shockwaves through her entire body, igniting every nerve and making her heart race for a brief second. Her heartbeat suddenly changed into triplets, completely out of synch with her breathing. Sensing something was wrong, Tsukiakari clutched her chest as her breathing grew more labored. Her brief arrhythmia quickly turned into tachycardia, sending her heart into a rapid, panicked rhythm. Frightened, Tsukiakari began to hyperventilate, her head growing lighter and lighter as her tachycardia went on.

"I can only imagine the horror, Tsukiakari, of being enveloped in darkness." The Man in Black laughed. "At last, the goddess can see."

"Gekko! Gekko!" Yachi helplessly screamed from her cell.

Unable to control her erratic breathing nor her hastening tachycardia, Tsukiakari could not answer Yachi's call. She was far removed from the room and everyone in it, trapped inside of her own head and mental panic.

"All of this will end today, one way or another. Tell me where your base is!" The Man in Black roared at Yachi.

"No!" Yachi protested.

The Man in Black threw Tsukiakari's eyes into the cell, making Yachi cringe and recoil in disgust.

"I won't ask you again. Talk."

Yachi remained a silent, shivering mess. She couldn't do anything more than break into tears, her spirit breaking in the face of all of this pain and suffering. She couldn't take it any of it anymore.

"You had your chance." The Man in Black sighed.

Small sparks of flame floated out from Tsukiakari's skin like she was freshly lit kindling. Smoke accompanied the dainty sparks until Tsukiakari's entire body was suddenly enveloped in a raging conflagration. The Phantom Maiden levitated out of the flames, returning to The Man in Black's side. The ends of her tattered kimono dangled below her feet and glided across the blood-soaked, wooden floors. Yachi watched in hopeless, soul-crushing horror as her lord was burned to cinders. Once again, Yachi was all alone with her monstrous captor and his phantoms. Tsukiakari's blackened, scorched arm blindly reached out towards Yachi's cell before falling limp as the flames continued to reduce her body to char.

Yet again, Tsukiakari Senkumo had died.

Death was darkness.

Death was lonesome.

Death was hateful.

Death was painful.

"It was just like this when my village was destroyed. Trapped in my own home, the fires raging all around my neighbors and I. We huddled together for one last embrace, knowing we were all about to die. The smell of burning hair and scalding tea seed oil filled the room. My neighbors, my friends...they were all turned to char and smoke. And I breathed it all in. It was the same for many of the people you killed."

Tsukiakari recognized that voice as the Man in Black's. Somehow, he spoke to her as she slumbered in the darkness of death. Even in death, he made his presence known, haunting the war goddess like a phantom.

"War is so senseless and unkind." The Man in Black said. "Today's battles are hardly fought to preserve one's nation or people. They're not fought so that one ideology can prevail over another. Hell, they're not even fought for control over resources. Power. That's what it's all about. Except, by the time the war ends, there will be nothing left for lords of their kind to rule over. Japan will survive this, but it will face irreversible changes after this war is over. After extensive chaos comes centralization. After centralization comes stronger policing of society. The way of daimyo and samurai will be under threat, which raises the question. What will you do after there's now war to profit from? What will you do after clans like yours are no longer allowed to exist as they are? What place will a war goddess have in a land of peace and order, a land where daimyo and warriors are outlawed? When that time comes, you and I won't look so different, will we? We'll both be phantoms of a dead era, with nothing left to lose but our lives. Revenge will become your only reason to carry on. I promise you that. Tsukiakari...the second horn is emerging."

Tsukiakari's eyes peeled open. The sunlight pouring in through the open doors of the war room made her eyes ache and strain. Her blurry vision slowly came back into focus as she sat up in her futon, her body chilled by her cold sweat. She ran her fingers over her eyelids, checking that her eyes were really there and that everything she was seeing was actually happening. Reincarnation gave her her eyes back, as if she never even lost them. The rays of sunlight pouring in through the door faded into darkness as thick clouds rolled past the sun.

"I'm...back at base." Tsukiakari whispered.

A sudden knock upon the door startled her.

"Yes? Who is it?"

Taeko stepped into view, tossing Tsukiakari her sheathed sword. The startled Tsukiakari just barely managed to catch it, fumbling around before she was able to tightly grip it in her hands.

"Taeko?"

"Can you walk?" Taeko asked.

Tsukiakari used her sheathed blade to help stand herself up. She nearly tripped at first, stumbling onto one knee before regaining her balance and standing up straight. She used her sword as a cane, taking two steps closer to Taeko.

"You've been out for fifteen days. That's what Chiya said." Taeko informed. "I'm sorry to rush you out of bed, but we don't have any time. Yoshioki is closing in on the Man in Black. He's agreed to have us tag along so we can get Yachi back."

"Yoshioki? What? He's helping us?" Tsukiakari asked.

"Ever since their confrontation, Yoshioki probably saw the Man in Black as a bigger priority than you. He did attack Fushimi-Inari Shrine, after all."

"I see. What about Izanami? We won't able to leave if she's here."

"She went back to Kaga. She's still investigating, but it seems she's gotten everything she needs from here."

"Damn it..." Tsukiakari sighed.

"Meet me and Inari at the front gate when you're ready." Taeko said, walking away.

Tsukiakari took slow and steady steps outside onto the war room patio, where she was immediately greeted by Chiya and Goro.

"Gekko! You're awake!" Chiya exclaimed. "What happened to you? Why did you die again?"

"Chiya..." Tsukiakari said, unable to look her in the eye. "The Man in Black caught me."

Chiya's eyes widened in shock. She grabbed Tsukiakari by the shoulders and pinned her against the wall, not even realizing how forceful she was being.

"Chiya! You're hurting her!" Goro said.

"Gekko! What did he do to you? Was Yachi there too?!"

Tsukiakari nodded. "She was there. She was alive, but just barely. He was trying to get Yachi to reveal our location, but she refused to do it. We both...we both..."

Chiya threw her arms around Tsukiakari and pulled her into a hug. Chiya's warm, loving embrace and perfumed hair was such a stark contrast to the damp, bloody jail cell Tsukiakari sat in for days. It dispelled any lingering fear that remained from her reincarnation.

"Not another word! You're home now! He can't hurt you here!" Chiya cried.

"Who is this Man in Black guy?" Goro asked. "He's the one who took Yachi?"

Tsukiakari pulled away from Chiya's hug to reply. "I'll explain when I bring the bastard back here to stand trial. Taeko and I had a run-in with Yoshioki Ouchi while we searched for Yachi, but it turns out he's got a bone to pick with the Man in Black as well. According to Taeko, Yoshioki knows where he is. We're joining him so we can bring Yachi back."

"You're leaving? Right now? Gekko, you can barely walk!" Chiya said.

"I have to bring your sister home, Chiya. After suffering alongside her, I can't just leave her in the captivity of that monster. She needs to come home."

"I'll come with you." Goro insisted. "No refusals. You need someone to watch your back. Now that we know how dangerous this guy is, we shouldn't allow him a second chance to kill you."

Tsukiakari nodded. "I appreciate that, Goro. Go get your things ready. We're leaving in a few minutes."

Goro bowed and went off to ready his horse, leaving Chiya and Tsukiakari alone.

"You said you're bringing him back here, Gekko? Why?"

"That man is a phantom of his former self with nothing to lose. He's driven by hatred and his thirst for revenge against me and the entire Senkumo clan. He knows he can't kidnap Yachi without eventually getting cut down by the Senkumo. Dying is part of his plan. He'll have completed his cycle of revenge, and we would have done half the work for him if we just kill him. That's why I'm bringing him back, so that he can face justice. I'm bringing Yachi back too, so that she can finally come home and rest."

"If that Yoshioki guy you mentioned hates the Man in Black as much as I think he does, I don't think he's going to let you get all the glory by trying him, Gekko. He has no reason to. He's from the Ouchi clan, right?"

"You may be right about that. We'll cross that bridge when we get there. The Ouchi clan is just foolish enough to give the maniac what he wants. Did Izanami wrap up her investigation here?"

Chiya nodded. "Yeah, but Bishamon still wants us to stay put. The investigation itself isn't over, and Bisha thinks she might be back after her visit in Kaga."

Initially, Chiya's last sentence ran right through Tsukiakari's ears without a problem. But when Tsukiakari replayed it in her head, she found it incredibly strange.

"Wait, what did you say? He thinks she might come back? Why?"

"I don't know." Chiya shrugged. "You know Bisha. He barely even explains himself anymore. It's like he's planning everything out in his own head and doesn't run anything by us. It's got a lot of us on edge, especially with this investigation. Izanami seized a ton of our records while you were out. She's trying to establish a connection between the battles this clan has fought and the veneration of certain gods."

"Which she wouldn't find, because the records only show that I've been the one commanding the armies." Tsukiakari said. "Hold on. You said gods. Plural?"

"Well, that's how Izanami phrased it." Chiya recalled.

"That...makes it sound like it's not just Bishamon she's trying to arrest."

"Well, at any rate, let's just focus on Yachi for now. You should get going, Gekko. Please be careful, though. You're really not supposed to be walking around as soon as you wake up, let alone travel."

Tsukiakari patted Chiya's head and smiled. "Don't worry, Chi-chi. We'll be home soon."

Chiya tented her finger as she watched Tsukiakari walk towards the opened base gates, stumbling along the way but always picking herself back up. With clouds above their heads and mounds of white snow beneath their feet, Chiya and Tsukiakari waved goodbye, their hair swept aside by the gentle, winter wind. The guards stood at opposite sides of the gate, locked in their rigid poses as Tsukiakari passed them by.

Just up ahead, Taeko, and Goro sat upon their horses while Inari prepared Tsukiakari's horse for her. Tsukiakari took a deep breath, pushing back the creeping memories of her torture two weeks prior. She could only hope Yachi was still alive. Though, at the same time, with how impatient and desperate the Man in Black was getting, it might've been better if she wasn't.

"Good luck on your journey, war goddess."

That voice. It came from behind. That was not the voice of any soldier Tsukiakari knew. She turned her head back towards the gate, catching a glimpse of the ghostly man with the pale skin and tattered, black clothes. The Man in Black stood before her, taking off his hat as another gust of wind kicked up the glistening, mounded snow. When the snow settled and the whisper of the wind grew quiet, the Man in Black was gone. Or perhaps, he was never really there.

Tsukiakari only realized it after the visage of her enemy disappeared, but her heart was racing just as it was before she died. Her breathing was fast and deep, but she quickly calmed herself down. She took a deep breath, the exhale visible in the frigid, winter air. Then she took another as she rested her hand over her racing heart. Just as quickly as it had come, her tachycardia disappeared like the phantom Man in Black.

"Hey, Gekko. You alright?" Taeko asked.

Tsukiakari composed herself and swept aside a few stray strands of hair from her face.

"Yes...I'm alright. Let's go."

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #476 on: May 16, 2019, 07:36:17 PM »
How The Heart Bends
Spoiler
Throughout the whole journey back to Arashiyama, Tsukiakari looked like a ghost upon her steed. Both Taeko and Inari caught her leaning forward on her horse and nearly falling asleep multiple times. They stopped in the middle of snow-coated woodlands, beneath twisting canopies of dead trees to take breaks for Tsukiakari. Goro made sure to give her some of the water from his gourd to Tsukiakari's, as she consumed her entire water supply before they were even halfway to their destination. The goddess was in miserable condition, forcing herself to travel in the dead of winter after having just awakened from reincarnation. She refused to speak of what happened to her and Yachi while she was in captivity. Not a word of it escaped her lips.

The group took just one more break as they entered Arashiyama, letting their horses drink from an icy pond tucked away in the snowy forest. Deep, dark clouds loomed above their heads, concealing thunder and lightning beyond their gaseous cloaks. Taeko noticed the smell of petrichor rising from the ground again, a sure sign it was going to rain. Tsukiakari knelt down by the pond and splashed some of the cold water on her face, a much needed shock to her nerves that kept her awake. Goro stood just behind her, acting as her protective shadow and watchful set of eyes.

All the way across the pond, the waters reflected a shimmering, amber light coming from a ball of fire. The demonic neigh of a scorched, malformed horse caught the group's attention, drawing their eyes towards the light across from them. As the flames died down, they were all able to make it out the figure of the Phantom Soldier, staring daggers at them from across the waters. A strike of lightning flashed from the benighted sky, illuminating the forest in a sapphire light for just a brief second before thunder boomed through the heavens. The Phantom Soldier nudged the reins of his horse, turning the other way before disappearing beyond the shrubs and trees of the forest.

"We're close." Tsukiakari said, standing herself up with her sheathed blade as support.

"Yoshioki isn't far. Let's hurry." Taeko said.

The group mounted up and continued deeper into the forest. Droplets of rain plopped down upon the ground, quickly turning into a powerful downpour showering down upon the land. Taeko led the way, raising her left hand as a signal to everyone else behind her to slow down.

"Ouchi troops." Taeko said. "Don't make them feel uneasy."

Tsukiakari stole glances of the rain-soaked faces of the Ouchi troops staring back at her. They were clearly bitter they had to work with their enemy in order to take down the Man in Black. Not a word was spoken by the Ouchi troops, but their bitterness was made clear by their furrowed brows, pursed lips, and vice grips around the handles of their naginatas. The troops guided Tsukiakari's group uphill, where they started seeing the bodies of Ashikaga troops sprawled around the forest grounds. The further up they went, the more bodies they spotted. The Ouchi troops were either taking weapons and supplies off of the corpses, or marching into position for what Tsukiakari assumed was their next attack.

The group came to a stop upon spotting an abandoned temple on an adjacent hill, briefly revealed to them thanks to a flash of lightning. The temple was very clearly dilapidated, even from a distance. Many of the smaller buildings had collapsed, while the main building was halfway destroyed. Seeing that place where she was held captive from the outside, her mind was swimming with questions. Most of all, she wondered if the ailing Man in Black was really still alive, and more importantly, if Yachi was as well.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't get the chills from looking at this place." Tsukiakari muttered.

"Stay strong, Tsukiakari." Inari encouraged. "No way we're going to let him kill you twice. We're getting Yachi out of there."

Tsukiakari smiled. "Thanks for coming along with us again, Inari."

"She deserves a bigger thanks than that, Gekko." Taeko said. "She's the one that spoke to Yoshioki and got him to help us. Initially, we did it so we could rescue both you and Yachi, but the search effort went on for too long. You ended up dying before we even knew where you were."

"Inari, you pulled all of this together?" Tsukiakari asked, impressed yet again by Inari's effectiveness.

"It was the least I could do. Your Yachi was held captive at my shrine and I didn't even know about it."

"Water under the bridge, Inari. Let's just get Yachi home." Tsukiakari said.

The group dismounted, splashing their feet in the stew of rainwater, snow, and frozen mud on the ground. Yoshioki stood ahead in his full set of armor, scanning the abandoned temple with a fiery hatred in his eyes. He turned around upon hearing the annoyed cries of their rain-soaked horses, greeting them with his hands behind his back.

"Back from the grave yet again, Tsukiakari Senkumo?" Yoshioki quipped. "It seems the ghosts of the pasts won't stop coming back to me."

"Believe me, I know the feeling." Tsukiakari replied. "What's happening here?"

"At the request of Inari Okami, my men and I scoured over Arashiyama, turning over every rock in search of that accursed Man in Black." Yoshioki explained. "It wasn't until we encountered that damned demon that we knew we were close. We zeroed in on this abandoned temple and ran into some of his troops along the way. I believe you met them on your way up here."

"So, what's the plan exactly? He has one of our troops captive in there, so we can't just level the place." Tsukiakari said.

"Any troops the man has left will be holed up in the temple. We already have it surrounded." Yoshioki explained. "I suppose your group can assist my men in storming in. You can get your captive out of there and we can finally put this ghost in black to rest. However, I must inform you that I cannot offer your soldier treatment. I stuck my neck out to my superiors to be able to put together this little joint operation. Getting medical treatment for a Senkumo was out of the question."

Tsukiakari bowed her head in gratitude. "I understand. Thank you for doing that. We'll gladly assist in the assault."

"We begin in thirty minutes. You'd best make your way to the temple now." Yoshioki suggested.

Their horses hitched nearby, Tsukiakari and the others began their walk towards the abandoned temple. The nerves in their palms went off like fireworks with each step they took. As they walked, Tsukiakari laid out their plan of action.

"Inari, stay outside of the temple grounds until the fighting is over. It should be quick. Once we're done, we'll need your nose to help us find Yachi."

Inari nodded. "Got it."

"Taeko, Goro, you're both with me. We'll lead the charge into the temple, grab Yachi, and get the hell out of there."

"What about the Man in Black?" Goro asked.

"Don't engage him. Those phantoms will be protecting him and Yoshioki wants him alive anyway." Tsukiakari said.

Taeko suddenly laid her hand over Tsukiakari's chest, stopping her dead in her tracks.

"You two go on ahead. I need to speak with Gekko." Taeko said. Inari and Goro did as they were told, continuing up the road with hurried pacing.

"What's going on, Gekko?"

"What do you mean?"

"You're...you're not yourself today. You seem tense and stiff, a lot more than usual."

"Taeko, if you had any idea what that bastard did to me or to Yachi, you'd be acting the same way." Tsukiakari growled. "I'm sorry that I'm not exactly jumping for joy right now."

"I'm just worried, Gekko." Taeko frowned.

Tsukiakari locked eyes with Taeko as if she were an enemy. The hateful gleam in Tsukiakari's eyes was almost more frightening than the phantoms that had been haunting the Senkumo for all those years. Though, Taeko surmised that she looked the exact same way in that very moment, the scars of war sprinkled all over her face and body. Looking at Tsukiakari at that moment was like staring into a deep, dark abyss. And yet, at the same time, it was like looking into a mirror.

"Shall we proceed, Taeko?" Tsukiakari said, waving her hand towards the temple. Taeko backed away, keeping her worries to herself as the two caught up with Goro and Inari.

At last, the four of them stood before the ruined temple. Very little remained of the temple's perimeter wall, exposing its decrepit, tiled courtyard. Dead weeds sprung out from the cracks between the tiles as large, ceramic jars as big as a person lied strewn about. An old poetry slab stood next to a headless Buddha statue, but the engraving had been eroded by time and was illegible. As instructed, Inari stood back while Goro and Taeko remained by Tsukiakari's side. For a man surrounded by enemies, the Man in Black was deathly silent. As Yoshioki approached the temple, he found that fact to be quite funny, considering his fiery intervention at Inari's shrine.

"Man in Black! Orphan of the Katsura River! Whatever moniker you go by!" Yoshioki roared. "We have you completely surrounded! Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide!"

The temple door slid open, four pallid fingers curled around it. The Man in Black poked his head out with one foot on the patio and the other indoors. Suffering from a coughing fit, he could barely stand up straight. His mystery ailment had clearly gotten worse in the time it took for Tsukiakari to reincarnate.

"I'm afraid I can't entertain you today, Yoshioki." The Man in Black wheezed. "I wouldn't want you or your men to catch my cold. Perhaps it would be better if everyone went home."

Yoshioki chuckled. "Your and your men are traitors to the shogun, to the entire Ashikaga clan. I advise you to surrender peacefully. You have no chance of winning this."

"Traitors? These men were loyal to Lady Tomiko, Yoshioki. They simply want to fulfill one of her dying wishes, for the Senkumo clan to be destroyed." The Man in Black explained. "Our goals aligned. None of us are traitors. Last I checked, you were the one supporting a deposed shogun instead of the one who sits the throne. Wouldn't you be more of a traitor than I? Oh, and look! You've got the biggest traitor of all standing next to you."

It was obvious he meant Tsukiakari. Impatient, the war goddess drew her blade. "Where's Yachi?"

"Yachi? Doesn't ring a bell." The Man in Black scoffed.

"Don't screw with me! The girl you kidnapped and tortured!" Tsukiakari hissed.

Thunder boomed in the sky as the Man in Black erupted into laughter. Every second of his horrid chuckling only made Yoshioki and Tsukiakari angrier. Even the Ouchi men gripped the handles of their katanas tightly enough to snap their blades in half.

"Tsukiakari Senkumo. You promised to bring the girl home, didn't you? Well then? Come and find her." The Man in Black teased.

Tsukiakari closed her eyes, taking a deep breath as the rain pelted against her face. "I take it you don't intend to settle this peacefully?"

The Man in Black dropped his laid back tone, his voice booming from the temple as a deep growl. "Never. I swore vengeance. It looks like your heart hungers for the same. Tonight, I'm going to prove to you that I'm a man of my word, and that you're a goddess of empty promises."

Tsukiakari nodded. "Good. I was hoping you'd say that. I like it better this way."

With a quick swipe of her sword, the front-facing facade of the temple exploded into bits and pieces, blowing back the Man in Black and what few men he had left. The Ouchi troops stormed the building with Tsukiakari, Goro, and Taeko leading the way. Goro, Taeko, and Yoshioki were quick to stab the seven wounded Ashikaga guards writhing on the ground, ending their lives. The Man in Black was nowhere to be found. Tsukiakari continued into the candle-lit sanctuary, seeing a trail of fresh blood leading down the hall.

"He ran down here!" Tsukiakari shouted.

Two Ouchi men proceeded ahead with their katanas drawn. Just as they turned the corner, they were suddenly hit with urns of corrosive acid. They blocked the urns with their arm guards, but the acid hissed and sizzled as it burned right through their armor. Panicked, the Ouchi men scuttled backwards with frantic screams. Their comrades helped their armor off in time, only suffering minor burns in the process.

"Acid?!" Taeko exclaimed.

Tsukiakari turned back and ran through the sanctuary, blowing out the back wall to flank the two, acid-throwing Ashikaga. She brought brought her sword down vertically upon the first soldier, slashing him down from his face to his stomach. She was rocked sideways by a kick to her side, knocking her into the wall. The soldier unsheathed his tanto and ran into Tsukiakari while she was dazed, but only managed to graze her stomach with the blade's edge before he slouched over and slammed his head on the wall. Two arrows protruded out from his back, fired by two Ouchi archers down the hall.

"Gekko, you alright?" Taeko called out.

"I'm fine! Keep going!"

While Taeko rushed to help Tsukiakari up, Goro continued down the hall, following the trail of blood the Man in Black left behind. The Ouchi soldiers crossed paths with him as they emerged through sanctuary shortcut, finding nothing on their end. Goro traced the path of blood behind the Ouchi soldier with his eyes, the soldier's shoulder blocking his view for just a split second. As soon as he moved, however, there was suddenly someone there, standing in the hall. A girl with ashen hair, a mask of darkness, pallid skin, and a tattered kimono. Goro and the Ouchi troops came to a complete stop as a flash of lightning extended her shadow down the hall, its sapphire light blaring through the window behind the girl.

"Who the hell is that?" Goro asked.

The girl raised her sunken head as well as her arms. Her ashen strands of hair slowly grew alight with flame as she levitated off of her feet and phased through the ceiling, disappearing beyond it. A single fly landed on the wall next to Goro, rubbing the rain off of its wings. A second fly buzzed around the ear of one of the awestruck Ouchi soldiers, who quickly swatted it away.

"Did you see that? Was it another one of those phantoms?" Goro asked Tsukiakari.

"That was one of them, alright. Be careful, Goro."

A third fly landed on the hilt of Tsukiakari's blade, then quickly flew off. The air inside the building grew thick and hazy. The light of the candles refracted off of the increased moisture in the air. Agonized moans and wails echoed from the dark end of the hall. Chain links clanked and rang out, accompany the sound of slow, fleshy plods upon the ground. More and more flies flooded into the hall as a freaskishly tall, humanoid figure turned the corner, the flies amassed around his fetid body. The figure's head nearly touched the high ceilings of the temple interior, his body covered in a white burial shroud.

"Is that...Yoshikoki, fire at him!" Tsukiakari urged. "It's Masachika Togashi's phantom!"

"You heard her, men! Fire!" Yoshioki commanded. The Ouchi arches unleashed six arrows upon the revived Masachika Togashi, all to no effect. Masachika raised his twitching arms in the air and slammed them together, the fingers interlocking as if he was praying. The flies coating his body suddenly exploded down the hall, drowning everyone in an endless sea of buzzing horseflies. The darkened hall was illuminated in flickering, orange light as flames coated Masachika's rotten body, revealing his nearly skeletal state underneath his cloak. The flies stripped the armor and flesh off of some of Yoshioki's troops, their screams inaudible through the deafening buzz of the swarm.

Taeko had thrown herself over Tsukiakari to shield her from the flies while Goro managed to burst through the sliding door leading to the back portion of the temple grounds. He dropped and rolled on the ground, letting the rain wash away the carnivorous flies for him. He hurriedly stood himself up, swatting the wet flies off of his body. The flies that did succeed in stripping away the flesh of Yoshioki's men returned to the flaming Masachika, making their flesh part of his own before falling off and dying. The phantom daimyo, Masachika, marched down the hall as the rest of the soldiers helplessly tried to swat the flies off of their bodies. His target, of course, was Tsukiakari.

Facing down a ghost from the past, Taeko picked up her sword and took a defensive stance in front of Tsukiakari.

"The rain, war goddess! Blow apart the ceiling!" Yoshioki said.

"Good thinking!" Tsukiakari shouted as she pointed her blade upwards. With a blast of concentrated energy, Tsukiakari blew away the rest of the temple's ceiling, letting in the howling wind and biting rain. The flies were washed off of Yoshioki's men, all of them falling to the floor on their backs. The enraged Masachika picked up one of the staggered Ouchi troops off the floor and tore apart the man's legs from his body, throwing it at Yoshioki. Blood sprayed all across the hall as the man screamed in agony. Masachika then lunged forward at Tsukiakari, only to catch a mouthful of Taeko's sword. Biting down, Masachika shattered her sword into pieces before grabbing Taeko by the neck and strangling her.

Just as Taeko's face began to turn blue, Tsukiakari ran into Masachika, stabbing her sword through his side. He released Taeko, filling the air with his demonic screams as Tsukiakari ran him down the hall. The goddess stepped back, raising her sword skyward as thunder coursed through the clouds. She motioned her blade downwards, bringing a crash of lighting upon the phantom Masachika. The lightning pulsated through Masachika's nearly skeletal body, but it failed to kill him. Commandeering some of the acid urns used against them earlier, Yoshioki's men threw them at the stunned Masachika. The acid successfully ate away at what little flesh he had left, right down to the bones. With no flesh to support his skeleton, Masachika fell to the floor as a pile of bones. The fire surrounding him died away, going from a conflagration to a few floating sparks lifting off of his burnt bones.

Their hearts racing, Tsukiakari, Taeko and Yoshioki stood there staring at Masachika's bones, part of them unwilling to believe he was even dead.

"What the hell was that? I thought Yachi and Chiya cremated Masachika's corpse after he came back the first time." Taeko said.

"That must've been when that girl took control of him. He didn't have those flames last time." Tsukiakari noted. "Now that you've said that, I noticed the other two phantoms aren't here anymore. We haven't seen the soldier since our last rest, and the maiden hasn't appeared again. Something's wrong. They were always with him."

"Get the hell up, men! Don't tell me you're scared of a few ghosts!" Yoshioki roared, trying to rally his morale-shocked troops.

Tsukiakari and Taeko rushed outside and rushed to aid Goro.

"Please tell me you're okay, Goro." Tsukiakari said.

"I'm scared *censored*less, but I think I'm okay..." Goro sighed, his heart racing beneath his robes.

"Hey! Bastard!" Taeko suddenly yelled, pointing to the staggering Man in Black. Sprinted across the temple grounds, knocking over a few of the ceramic pots as she rushed towards him. His black rimmed hat was gone, exposing his extraordinarily thin head of black hair, its volume destroyed by the fire he originally died in. Taeko tackled the Man in Black onto the ground, pinning his arms behind his back to restrain him. His health failing, the Man in Black had no witty comment to offer. He could only cough blood from his mouth, wheezing from the extra pressure put on his lungs by Taeko's restrictive hold.

"We got him!" Taeko said, the Ouchi emerging from the ruined building and out into the pot-littered courtyard.

"Tell Inari Okami she can come in now. I'm sure she's worried after all of that." Tsukiakari said to Goro, who bowed in response.

"Right away, Gekko."

Yoshioki sheathed his katana laughing as Taeko brought the Man in Black onto his feet. "Would you look at that? We caught you. Have anymore tricks up your sleeve? Anymore ghosts you wish to haunt us with?"

The Man in Black's head swayed in every direction, most likely due to his injuries and ailment disorienting him. "Do it already. Kill me."

"Oh no, we're going to make sure all of Kyoto knows that the Ouchi clan bested a ghost and his pet phantoms." Yoshioki said. "You don't get to just die. Take him away, men!"

"Wait!" Tsukiakari urged, wrapping her hand around the Man in Black's neck. "Where is Yachi? Where is she?!"

Lightning ripped through the clouds as The Man in Black laughed in her face. Tsukiakari's eyes darted across the corners of his face, unsure of how to respond to his maniacal behavior.

"Tell me right now, you bastard! Where is my friend?!" Tsukiakari roared.

He didn't say anything, but his eyes drifted over in the direction of the dozens of upright, ceramic pots standing around the courtyard. Yachi, or perhaps the room where she was held captive, was somewhere in that direction, or so Tsukiakari thought. But there were no other buildings in the temple grounds. Yachi's cell had to have been somewhere beneath the grounds. Tsukiakari ascertained that much when she remembered that the staircase leading out of that room went upwards.

"I told you, Tsukiakari. I'm a man of my word. You can only make empty promises. Yachi is here. In this very courtyard."

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #477 on: May 17, 2019, 05:24:34 PM »
I've impressed myself.

The Adversary's Legacy
Spoiler
The day was just coming to an end at the Senkumo base. With the clan still in a mode of quasi-lockdown, there wasn't much for anyone to really do. The men spent most of the day chopping firewood and cleaning their pelts, while the women tended to the animals and prepared ingredients to be cooked for supper. It seemed the worst of winter had passed by, but the clan still expected another month or two of snow and rain. The sun started to hang low above the horizon as Chiya had a quick word with Inori in the halls of the female quarters.

"I'm very sorry, Inori. We haven't been able to procure any medicinal ingredients ever since this investigation started. Even though Izanami's in Kaga now, we're still not permitted to continue our regular schedule. It was risky enough letting Goro leave with Tsukiakari."

"No, I should apologize." Inori lamented. "I'm making a mountain out of a molehill. It's just that we usually get more sick troops during this season, and we don't have the medicine to treat them. No one is in any serious condition, though. Everyone in the medical ward now should be back on their feet soon."

"That's good to hear. It's kind of nice though, isn't it?" Chiya said.

"What's nice?" Chiya questioned, her head slightly tilted sideways.

"Not...you know. Going to war or anything."

"We're technically still at war, Chiya."

"You know what I mean. No one has died these past few weeks. I think we've all buried enough friends for several lifetimes."

"Yeah...I get you on that one. It is kind of nice to just have some peace. I don't know how long it'll last, but I hope we can at least enjoy one, peaceful winter together."

"Well, I'm gonna get some shut eye. Been a long day." Chiya groaned.

"Same here. Thank you, Lord Chiya." Inori sang with a bow goodbye.

"Rest easy, Inori."

Chiya closed her bedroom door and released a long, warm sigh. She kicked off her sandals and undid her kimono, stripping down to her basic, black robes. She undid her ponytail and let her silky, black hair fall as she peered out of her window. The laughter of children playing with snowballs in the courtyard just faintly bled through her walls, filling her with enough joy for a brief smile. She looked back to her laid out futon, which lied next to Yachi's rolled up futon. It was like this at the end of every day, the constant and crushing reminder that her sister was still out there.

"Gekko will bring you home soon. I know it. Just hang on, sis..."

Chiya, hoping to get some semblance of rest, lied down in her bed and went to sleep. Sometime later, she was woken up by the sound of the futon next to her being unrolled. She could feel someone's presence as the person lied down next to her, letting out a long, exhausted sigh. Chiya's eyes peeled open, but she couldn't believe what she was seeing. It was Yachi, covered in innumerable bruises and bandages. Yachi had to slowly easy herself into bed, lest she set off a landmine of nerves in any one of her injuries.

"...Yachi? You're home?"

Yachi smiled, locking her fingers with Chiya's. "At long last. You wouldn't believe the things I went through."

Chiya's lips quivered as tears ran down her cheeks. The sight of her sister finally home was too much to bear. "I missed you so much, Yachi! No more trips for you!"

"What? Sis, are you grounding me?!" Yachi asked. "But, Gekko said..."

"I don't care what Gekko said, you're grounded! As punishment..."

Chiya's face turned beet red as she threw her arms around her sister, trapping her in a loving hug. "As punishment, you have to stay by my side forever."

Yachi couldn't be happier to be grounded and punished in such a way. She buried her face into Chiya's shoulder, crying all of her fears and sadness away. She was finally home. There wouldn't be any suffering anymore. Tsukiakari, Goro, Taeko, and Inari brought an end to that awful period of constant worry and frustration. As if saying 'no need to thank us', they simply sent Yachi right up to her room to be with her beloved sister again.

"I love you, Chiya. I wanted to tell you that so badly."

"I love you too, Yachi. I love you so much."

But nothing could ever be that easy. Nothing could ever by that uplifting and joyful. When Chiya opened her again, she was all alone, the futon next to her still rolled up and Yachi still nowhere to be found. Chiya was left with tears staining her tired face and a gaping hole in her longing heart. Yachi did not return home. Chiya sat up, leaning against the wall and looking around at her empty, moonlit bedroom. Memories of the day before Yachi's departure for Kameyama played in Chiya's mind over and over again, her heart desperately trying to cling onto something that was no longer there. Chiya saw projections of herself and Yachi from that day, talking in the bedroom as Yachi packed her things.

"All packed up, Yachi?" Chiya asked.
"Yeah, I've got everything prepared." Yachi replied with a small smile.
"Excellent. I'll give you more coin tomorrow. You're to use it to help with the negotiations only. If you have anything left over after the fact, you can use it however you like."
"Thank you, Sis." Yachi said with a bow.
"Anyway, come outside with us. We're grilling chicken and beef skewers."
"Chicken?! Beef skewers?! Say no more! I'll be out in just a second!" Yachi cheered with a fire in her eyes.
"Exactly the kind of reaction I'd expect from you." Chiya laughed, nodding her head side to side.

The sweet taste of memories came with a bitter, heartbreaking aftertaste. Once the projections of her and her sister faded away into the cold, dark, empty space that was her bedroom, Chiya began to cry all over again. For perhaps the first time, Chiya knew the pain of truly missing someone, as well as the agony of being powerless to bring them back.

Just a few hours away from base, Tsukiakari, Taeko, Inari, Goro, and even Yoshioki and the Ouchi troops turned the ruined temple upside down in their search for Yachi. Inari ended up finding the room where Yachi and Tsukiakari were tortured, but she only found the charred, skeletal remains of Tsukiakari's corpse from her previous incarnation. Yachi was nowhere to be seen. The Man in Black remained restrained by the Ouchi, coughing violently as Tsukiakari desperately searched for Yachi with Goro. Just when it seemed like they had searched the entire perimeter, Inari returned from the torture room hidden beneath the sanctuary, her nose picking up a strange scent.

"Tsukiakari! I smell something! I think it's coming from one of these pots!"

"The pots?" Tsukiakari repeated, realizing she hadn't searched the pots. Everyone could see that she became very visibly nervous. Her eyes widened and her hands wouldn't stop shaking.

"Search the pots, all of you! I want every single one of them checked!" Yoshioki commanded, his men following his order.

One by one, the men tiled the pots down and peered inside of them. The pots were each around six feet tall and heavy enough to require two men to safely tilt them. Inari helped Tsukiakari tilt each pot while Taeko paired up with Goro. Old friends and old foes, for just one night, united to find a girl that desperately needed to be rescued. A girl that needed to come home to her sister, to spend one peaceful winter away from war and all of its wicked machinations.

Tsukiakari thought back to something Yachi told her while they were both held captive. Her voice played over in the goddess's head as if she was right there reciting every word from that day.

"I wasn't able to get the actual shrub, but I got some Azalea seeds before I left Kameyama. Remember? I originally wanted them as a gift for Chiya. I was so excited to see the look on her face when I brought home her favorite shrub. A beautiful gift of gratitude and sisterly love, for everything we've been through together since we left Kyoto. But now...I'm afraid they'll have to become a gift of parting. Listen to me, Gekko. We're wasting valuable time. It can take you anywhere between a day and three weeks to wake up from your slumber whenever you reincarnate. We won't wait for them to kill you. We'll take that matter into our own hands. When you wake up, all I ask is that you retrieve those seeds and bring them back home. Plant them at the Senkumo memorial. For just one day, let the clan celebrate peace. That's my final wish."

At long last, Tsukiakari and Inari found something. This one pot was heavier than all the others, requiring the additional help of Goro and Taeko. They gently laid the pot on its side, as it proved too heavy to even hold up in a tilted position. As soon as the pot was on its side, black liquid ran out from its mouth. The liquid carried a horrid stench with it, making Inari leap back in disgust. Along with the liquid, a single, pale arm poked out from the pot's mouth. Though she could just barely see it, Tsukiakari also spotted a familiar head of hair further inside of the pot. Taeko proceeded to pull the body out, the fetid odor making her nauseas.

The whole world stopped. The wind grew quiet. The rain ceased.

Everyone around Tsukiakari and the pot disappeared in a void of darkness. Tsukiakari gazed upon the face of the body now halfway out of the pot's mouth for what felt like hours, but she still could not believe it. She didn't want to believe it. The final and most important part of what Yachi said that day in her cell echoed in Tsukiakari's fragmented mind.

"Promise me you'll plant them? Not just for Chiya, but for the whole clan."

The body was mangled and devoid of warmth, its skin was white and its veins were an icy blue. Parts of her feet, and legs were skeletonized by the rainwater settled in the bottom of the pot she was so haphazardly shoved into. That cute, youthful face was now lifeless and dead. It was her.

It was Yachi. It was undeniably her. Tsukiakari fell to her knees screaming as the Man in Black had himself another long laugh.

Tsukiakari gripped Yachi's lifeless hand as the tears burned her eyes and blurred her vision. "Yachi! Yachi!"

Inari was quick to embrace the weeping Tsukiakari, even though she could barely keep from crying herself. Goro kicked one of the nearby pots over in grief-driven rage, covering his face as tears rolled down his cheeks. Taeko knelt down by Tsukiakari's side, hugging both her and Inari.

"Empty promises, Tsukiakari! Empty promises! You said you'd return her home, and now she's dead!" The Man in Black mocked.

"Shut the hell up!" Yoshioki growled, kicking him in the stomach.

"Tsukiakari, we have to get her out of here." Inari whispered. "You have to bring her home, even like this. She can't rest in peace here. She has to come home."

"Men, go get something to wrap the body in. Take one of the sheets out of the sanctuary or something." Yoshioki said, sending off two of his men.

"Now you know the pain that I felt." The Man in Black muttered.

Within an hour, Yoshioki's men wrapped up Yachi's body as well as the bodies of their fallen soldiers. At Taeko's request, Yoshioki also took custody of Masachika's skeleton. He was instructed to dump the bones in the ocean, somewhere the supernatural flames of the other two phantoms wouldn't be able to revive him. With their search for Yachi at a woeful end, all that was left was to take her body home. Tsukiakari couldn't piece together how she would tell Chiya. In what way could she possibly break that kind of news to her? She sat with Yachi's body in front of the abandoned temple with the emptiest glare in her scarlet eyes. Her eyes were swollen and itchy from all of her weeping. Though she had calmed down a bit, tears still ran down her face and dripped off of her chin.

Inari approached her, clasping her hands nervously as she thought of what to say to the grieving Tsukiakari. She could say nothing. Instead, she knelt down in front of her, handing her Yachi's pouch of Azalea seeds.

"I found these in that room. Are they Yachi's?"

Tsukiakari took a look inside the pouch, nodding as she began to cry again. "She wanted to plant these for us..."

"I'm so sorry, Tsukiakari." Inari lamented.

Taeko joined them as well. "Gekko?"

Tsukiakari was unresponsive, completely lost in a haze of grief. Taeko pulled Inari aside in order to give Tsukiakari some space.

"Yoshioki's loading up the Man in Black. He'll either face prison or execution. Whichever one it is, it's their problem now. It doesn't seem like those phantoms are protecting him anymore, either." Taeko explained. "We should get back to the Senkumo base. This whole thing is pretty much over."

"Alright." Inari agreed. "I'll get Tsukiakari up. I'll take the reins for her."

"Thanks for everything, Inari." Taeko said, patting the goddess's shoulder.

With everything done, Yoshioki loaded up his prized prisoner while Goro tied Yachi's body to his horse. Tsukiakari and Yoshioki met face-to-face one more time as the rain came to a stop. Spears of pale moonlight poked holes through the dark blanket of clouds above.

"You have my condolences, Tsukiakari, as well as my thanks. Though, it pains me to say that if we ever meet again, it may be on a battlefield." Yoshioki said.

"Thank you for your help. We couldn't have found her without you." Tsukiakari bowed.

"Take care, war goddess. And give my thanks to Inari."

With everyone mounted up, Tsukiakari and the others began their journey back to the Senkumo base. And what a quiet journey it was. Inari commanded Tsukiakari's horse, allowing the weary war goddess to rest for a few hours at least. Once they departed Arashiyama and rode through the wavy plains of snow in the countryside, it truly felt as though it was all over, at least where the Man in Black was concerned. As ill as he was, imprisonment was the same as a death sentence. Taeko still had her questions about the infiltration of the temple. Why was Masachika revived for a second time? Why didn't the other two phantoms come to protect the Man in Black? At the very least, her question of why the man had a retinue of Ashikaga troops was answered. Somewhere along the way, he teamed up with troops loyal to Tomiko, getting them to help him exact his revenge on Tsukiakari. In a way, everyone had been fighting Tomiko's phantom as well. Her hatred of the Senkumo clan lived on through the Man in Black.

Taeko's train of thought was interrupted as she grew lightheaded, her stomach twisting and churning. She leaned forward on her horse, groaning in pain.

"You alright, Taeko? Should we stop?" Goro asked.

"No, I'm alright. I get these often. Can I get some water?"

"Sure." Goro said, handing her his gourd.

"Thanks, Goro."

After taking a few sips of water, Taeko let out an exhausted sigh. "If her body wasn't right here with us, I wouldn't be able to believe she was gone. She was such a good girl. Such a capable woman. She didn't deserve this kind of death."

"I'm just scared of how Chiya is going to take this. She's been worried sick ever since Yachi went missing." Goro said. "I was hoping we'd be able to bring her back alive."

"Damn it..." Taeko cursed, fighting back tears.

Their conversation was just ambient noise to Tsukiakari. The war goddess was lost in her memories of Yachi. She was so captivated by her nostalgia that she felt as though she had really gone back in time, reliving the day Yachi and Chiya first sat down in front of her and Taeko back when the Senkumo clan was just starting to gain steam. She was back in the war room during the clan's heyday, interviewing the quirky twins when they were just teenagers. Thinking back, how they managed to keep such a chipper mood between them when they had lost everything in the Onin War was a herculean feat to Tsukiakari.

“State your names, please.” Taeko asked sternly.

“I’m Chiya Otonougi and she’s my sister, Yachi Otonougi.” one of them explained. “You can just call us the Otonougi twins.”

"So then, do you have any skills that would be of use to the Senkumo clan?" Tsukiakari asked.

Yachi recoiled in disgusted shock. "Seriously? Is she seriously asking if we have any valuable skills?"

"Skill is in our very name. It's the nou character in Otonougi." Chiya added in a snobbish tone. "Thought you would've figured that out just by hearing it."

Yachi covered her mouth as she gasped. "Maybe they're both lordless and witless, Sis."

"Oh heavens, what a tragedy,” Chiya said with a sarcastic tear-wipe.

"A tragedy indeed. But, to answer your question, Chiya and I are both quite versed in the art of equestrianism and animal breeding." Yachi said.

"Indeed. Our family owned horses in Kyoto and often sold them to the shogunate. They made an absolute living off of the trade and taught us how to do it as well." Chiya added.

"A Killing, Chiya. We made a killing."

"A living, a killing. Same difference, Yachi."

Tsukiakari saw everything so much more clearly in retrospect. Chiya and Yachi's chemistry must've been a shared coping mechanism for them. They had to rely on each other to get by in a war-stricken country. Two cute, young girls their age could've easily been captured and raped, or made into slaves or unwilling brides. They had that fear hanging over their heads as they wandered out of the ruins of Kyoto and stumbled upon the Senkumo clan. Together, those two had the resolve to walk into that war room with their heads held high, in spite of all they had lost. Not only that, but they lended their strength to Tsukiakari and the rest of the clan in whatever little ways they could. Even during the plague outbreak, the clan's darkest moment, those twins remained level headed and determined in their search for a solution.

Their strength was made even clearer when Tsukiakari suddenly asked them to take the reins of leadership and become commanding lords. Her memories took her back to that cold day just a few months ago.

“Us? Commanding lords? As in, Lord Yachi and Lord Chiya?” Chiya asked.

“Hold on, Gekko, this is all really sudden!” Yachi cried.

“I know that, and I’m sorry. We don’t have a choice. Mayumi and Ebina are both dead, and Taeko has been expelled. You two are all that’s left of the clan’s ring of leadership. You’re the only ones I can entrust the responsibility to.”

Further emphasizing her remorse for putting the twins in such a tight spot, Tsukiakari bowed to them as she pleaded further.

“Forgive me. You’re the only ones I can rely on right now. Please help me.”
   
“Gekko, please raise your head. A goddess shouldn’t bow to humans!” Yachi begged.
   
“We accept the position. We’ll hold down the fort until you get back.” Chiya assured. “Just…make sure you take care of yourself, okay?”

Tsukiakari rubbed the swelling tears out of her eyes with her sleeve, trying with all of her might to stop herself from crying. “I’ll do my best. It’s just really hard without them here.”
   
“Yeah. We know.” Yachi muttered. “You can count on us, though. We’ll follow you through hell and high water! Right, Sis?”
   
“Indeed we will. No doubt about it. If it weren’t for you accepting us into the clan, we’d probably be dead.”
   
“Ugh. Two dead beauties such as us. Thank the heavens we avoided such a tragic end.” Yachi sighed.
   
“Let’s not say things like that too early.” Tsukiakari warned. “We don’t want to jinx ourselves.”

Time within the memory suddenly came to a screeching halt around Tsukiakari. Yachi and Chiya remained frozen like statues. Tsukiakari's fists tightened so much that her nails dug into her palm and drew streams of warm blood from her hands. She fell down to her knees, her tears falling onto the snow-covered ground. She clenched her eyes shut and gritted her teeth as her heartbreak intensified. Trapped in her own memory, no one could hear her sharp whimpers and grieved cries. Except for one.

"Run away all you like. You'll never get her back."

The Man in Black knelt down next to her, gazing into her tear-soaked face. "Like the sensation of a missing limb, you'll keep trying to hold onto something that isn't there. You'll feel that phantom pain forever, just as I did."

The Phantom Soldier emerged from the tree line on his fiery horse, staring daggers at the grieving war goddess. The Phantom Maiden phased out the ground, on the opposite side of the Man in Black. She levitated out of the ground and remained floating over the frozen Yachi and Chiya, her ashen hair alight with flame.

"They say your friends live on in your heart. In your memories. Long after they're dead. That's how we know they're good friends" The Man in Black said. "That's why you should fear a good enemy as much as you love a good friend."

Tsukiakari turned her head, facing the Man in Black's disfigured, pallid face.

"Tsukiakari. I won."

Snapped out of her memory, Tsukiakari remembered where she was. Hanging onto Inari as she and the others rode their horses back to the Senkumo base.

Tsukiakari swallowed the lump in her throat and dried her eyes, issuing abrupt, new orders. "Inari, let me take over."

"Huh? Are you sure you're okay to ride?" Inari asked, everyone coming to a stop.

"I'm positive."

"What are you doing, Gekko?" Taeko asked while Inari switched places with Tsukiakari.

"We're changing direction. Follow me."

Yoshioki and his men continued in the opposite direction of Tsukiakari's party. They kept the coughing Man in Black locked in a caged, horse-drawn wagon. The small force of thirty men made sure to keep the cage in the center of their caravan, just in case their prisoner had any thoughts of escape. Though, in his condition, that was clearly unlikely. Yoshioki rode in the center, keeping a watchful eye over the Man in Black as they made their way back to Kyoto.

"That cough doesn't sound too good." Yoshioki said.

"I'm dying. I was sick before my home was destroyed. Inhaling smoke and bodily fumes didn't help me get any better." The Man in Black explained.

"I thought those ghosts of yours would've given you eternal life or something."

The Man in Black laughed. "No. They weren't mine. I was theirs. I was their tool and I knew it, but they gave me enough life to exact my revenge. Now that they've gotten what they wanted, they've left me to die."

"What they wanted?"

"You'd never believe me if I told you, Yoshioki."

"After what you put me through back there at the temple, I can believe anything."

The Man in Black leaned against the wall of his cage, slinking one arm over his bent knee. "The phantom girl. She's the one in control of it all. The other two were little more than corpses roused from their graves, driven only by their thirst for revenge. They had enough hatred to accept the girl's flame. Even the girl is a soul inside of a corpse. Who that soul belongs to, I don't know. Though I do believe the flames to be a dead giveaway. That girl is bouncing from corpse to corpse so she can interact with the physical world, but she needs a living body."

"For what?"

"To reincarnate."

A ferocious thunderclap boomed through the sky, warning of lightning's return. The men thought nothing of it and continued on their way.

"I won." The Man in Black laughed. "I actually won."

Lightning cut through the sky like a blade, striking down upon the convoy directly. A massive cluster of men and their horses were immediately killed by the strike, their armor and limbs melting off of their bodies. The stench of burnt hair and cooked flesh arose in the form of smoke lifting off of the bodies. The Man in Black's laughter turned into a fit of coughs as the caravan was struck by several more blasts of lightning, killing all but a few of them. Yoshioki himself was caught in the final strike, his horse nearly ripped in two by the lighting. The strike left Yoshioki writhing on the ground, reeling from flash blindness. The dirt road became a mess of burnt bodies and grass enwreathed in small flames.

The clouds were slowly tugged along by the wind, unveiling the dark blood moon sitting high in the night sky. The Man in Black head his cage being unlocked and its door swung open. He was grabbed by his tattered robes and dragged out onto the corpse-riddled ground.

"Get up. You're not getting off that easy."

The Man in Black knew exactly who stood before him. He had been expecting her, Tsukiakari Senkumo, to return. He raised his head, laughing in joy at what he saw. The blood moon illuminated the dirt road as Tsukiakari stood above the Man in Black, two full horns of fire protruding from her head. With the second horn sprouted, Tsukiakari had become the chosen host of the Phantom Maiden, the living body she would need to come back to life.

"I told you this would happen, Tsukiakari. At long last, the second horn sprouts. You've become a demon.

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #478 on: May 24, 2019, 04:10:09 PM »
Man, this feels weird. The final version of Aika Crisis has been submitted in time for release. I couldn't quite get the artwork to fit any of the standard book sizes, so that ticks me off a bit. I mean, it fits, but it doesn't cover all of the space, so there's two bars of non-art space on the top and bottom. Not the biggest issue, sure, but I'm a perfectionist. So, I guess I'll let you all know when you can grab some copies  :clapping:

I'll be working on War Cloud now. Feels great reliving Osamu's crazy life like this.

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #479 on: May 24, 2019, 11:40:05 PM »
Oh, that was faster than expected.

You can snag yourself a physical copy of Aika Crisis on Amazon now.
You can pre-order for $2.99 on Amazon here!

I want to try something a little different, though. I'm always weary of doing physical copies because they're bound to cost more than their digital counterparts. Manufacturing, printing costs, and all. Books with heavier word counts or bigger cut sizes cost more to print, so they naturally become more expensive.

So, how about this. You can read the book for free here, in it's entirety. If you like the work, go ahead and get yourself a physical copy. If you don't, well, tell me so. Either way, it's a good opportunity for everyone to see just how heavily I'm reworking and refining all of this.  :clapping: It has been no easy task, I assure you.

And since these books are coming out, I guess I'm open to any and all reviews, comments, or criticisms of any part of Death by Ex-Girlfriend or Senkumo War Stories. If you've got any thoughts about the series, a specific arc, general or specific, do share them  :clapping:

Alright, now to work on War Cloud. See you, folks.