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Author Topic: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)  (Read 79952 times)

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Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #480 on: May 25, 2019, 06:12:30 PM »
For those interested, I'm going to be posting the Senkumo War Story novels over at Royal Road. Book of Blossoming will go up first, and then Book of Betrayal Part 1 (gotta go a chapter at a time, so bear with me). Great chance to read it if you haven't gotten into it yet.

I know it's the 'final' arc, release-wise, but it actually takes place centuries before the events of Death by Ex-Girlfriend. You don't need to read DbEG to get into SWS. You'll actually start seeing a lot of connections and cool tie-ins if you read SWS first. The supernatural conflicts laid out in this series are what lead to the conflicts in DbEG, after all.


Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #481 on: May 29, 2019, 11:58:56 AM »
Oh yeah, the digital version of Aika Crisis is out now too. Happy reading, everyone.

You can snag yourself a physical copy of Aika Crisis on Amazon now.
Or the digital copy for $2.99 on Amazon here!

Online Manimal

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #482 on: June 04, 2019, 05:30:48 PM »
What is this?

Spoiler


Sure is a long way from when you posted the first chapter. These books always have weird dimensions, I got something else on Amazon that was made the same way and it's a strange size. But the text is really easy to read, lol. Now I can read it in the best format.

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #483 on: June 04, 2019, 06:06:32 PM »
Oh boy I bet that text is easy on the eyes in that size lol
See, the book file is formatted in one size while the standard Amazon cut is another size. They had the size that fits the book file (otherwise words would get cut off) but it’s a weird dimension indeed. Ah well. You get to read fiction is cook book format

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #484 on: June 06, 2019, 04:05:43 PM »
Hearts Betorn
Spoiler
Taeko and Inari gazed upon the lightning-scarred field of burnt, mangled corpses with their mouths agape in awe and disbelief. Nearly all of the Ouchi soldiers died with their eyes stuck open, the crimson glow of the blood moon reflecting off of their melted eyeballs as their flesh cooked and bubbled beneath their armor. Bound by his shackles, the Man in Black led the way back to Taeko and Inari, with Tsukiakari trailing close behind him with watchful eyes. Taeko jumped down from her saddle, stomping down the grass and flowers as she marched towards Tsukiakari.

"Taeko Senkumo. It's good to see you again." the Man in Black said.

"You shut up!" Taeko screamed as she cut Tsukiakari off. "What the hell is going through your god damned head, Gekko?! Do you have any idea what you've just done?!"

"Of course I do. The Ashikaga wouldn't have brought justice down upon this man. They wouldn't have punished him for what he did to Yachi. He was working for Tomiko the whole time. Everything he did was to honor her vendetta against me."

"Gekko, you're playing a fool's game. Release him. Let him die out here, alone. Revenge isn't going to make the pain go away."

"No." Tsukiakari replied. "This bastard is going to answer for what he did to her. He's going to answer to Chiya, who no longer has any living relatives in this world. He's going to answer to all of Yachi's friends and comrades, everyone who loved her! He doesn't get to sit in an Ashikaga jail cell taking it easy until he dies of illness."

"I think it's an honor to be able to meet the poor sow's sister." the Man in Black groaned.

"Shut the hell up!" Taeko screamed. "Gekko, I love you, but if you think I'm going to support this, you're out of your mind. You're coming undone if you really think this is a good solution to anything. I thought we were done with this endless cycle of bull*censored*."

"I'm indebted to you, Taeko, but you don't have a say in this. You're no longer a Senkumo." Tsukiakari said.

Before Tsukiakari could even blink, she received a swift fist to her cheek, knocking her down into the dirt as Inari gasped in surprise. Goro stepped forth with his hand trained around the hilt of his sword.

"Taeko! Do that again and I'll cut you down!" Goro shouted.

"I dare you to, boy!" Taeko challenged.

Tsukiakari coughed the dirt out of her mouth as she slowly got back up from Taeko's punch. "It's fine, Goro! It's alright."

The two women stood faced to face, eye to eye. The blood moon and its army of faded stars hovered above their heads like a cosmic light show.

"Yachi was my friend too." Taeko growled, her hand still balled into a fist. "How dare you speak to me as if I don't know the girl wrapped up in that damned cloth! I loved her! Do you seriously believe she'd support this if she were still here?"

"Get out of my way. I'm taking both her and her killer home." Tsukiakari muttered.

Taeko recoiled in disgust, taking a few steps back away from her former friend. "My god...you've forsaken yourself. You're about to give this madman everything he wants. After everything we went through together, you still don't understand the world you live in, do you? There is no such thing as justice here, Gekko. He knows that. That's why he did all of this."

Tsukiakari scoffed. "It seems you've forsaken yourself as well. You used to shed both blood and sweat to create the justice that wasn't there, the freedom that wasn't ours. That's how this clan has gotten so far, survived all of the tragedies it has. We fight to create the society we wish to see. Don't tell me you've lost your spine."

"You sound just like Bishamon." Taeko hissed.

Tsukiakari pushed the Man in Black towards Taeko, telling her, without words, to carry him on her horse. Taeko bit her lip in vexation as she tugged the Man in Black along. Judging by the veins popping out from Taeko's forehead, Inari could tell that it was taking everything in Taeko's power to leave the argument aside. Refusing to even take another glance at Tsukiakari, Taeko helped the Man in Black onto her horse before mounting up herself. No one said a word. The animosity was too thick in the air for conversation. For Taeko, the silence was preferable. She couldn't bare to think that Yachi might still be watching them from somewhere, listening to Tsukiakari's poisonous intent.

It was terribly late in the night. Most of the Senkumo had already fallen asleep, their day's work completed. As usual, a small team of armed guards patrolled on the graveyard shift, shivering in their boots from the winter cold. Chiya was yanked out of her slumber by a violent knock upon her door. She sat up with a yawn, her vision still blurry and unfocused. She slipped her feet into her sandals and answered the door, worried there was some sort of emergency. Opening the sliding door, she came face to face with Inori.

"What's wrong?" Chiya asked.

Almost immediately after asking, Chiya's ears caught the faint sound of a multitude of whispers down the hall, all of them mentioning 'Tsukiakari'. It seemed everyone had risen out of their beds in excitement, but also confusion.

"Tsukiakari returned just now. It looked like she was headed towards the medical ward with Taeko, Goro, and Inari." Inori said.

"The medical ward?" Chiya repeated, her eyes suddenly widening. "And Yachi? Did Gekko bring Yachi back?!"

"I-I'm not sure. I only saw one other person in tow and I have no idea who that was. They...also carried something wrapped in white cloth to the medical ward. It looked like another person was wrapped up in there."

Horrified, Chiya bolted down the hall and barged out of the living quarters. She ended up in the courtyard and continued sprinting towards the medical ward. Her body was moving on its own, her mind both overwhelmed and blank at the same time. She barged into the ward itself, following the faint sounds of voices and the flickering traces of lantern lights to find Tsukiakari and the others. Turning the corner of the hall, she ran into Goro first.

"Lord Chiya? Why are you awake?" Goro asked.

In tears, Chiya struggled to collect the breath to speak. "My sister, Yachi. Is she here?"

Goro's tongue was made of stone. He couldn't find the right words to break the news to Chiya. Chiya pushed past him, sauntering towards the lantern light pouring out from the opened door ahead. As she approached the door, two Senkumo nurses barged out of the room, one of them embracing the other as they both cried together. Chiya stepped inside, alerting Taeko, Inari, and Tsukiakari to her presence. She saw a mere glimpse of the white cloth Inori described, but it was obscured by Inari's nine tails.

"Chiya." Tsukiakari said, surprised to see her. "I..."

"Let me see her." Chiya demanded.

"That's not a good idea." Taeko warned.

Chiya's voice cracked as she fought back her tears. "I'm begging you. Please let me see her."

Inari patted Tsukiakari's shoulder, then directed a glance at Taeko. Silently, the three of them agreed to vacate the room. Left alone with the body, Chiya could already tell from the smell permeating from the cloth that Yachi was not in a good state. Her hands shivered as her she traced the face of the body through the cloth. Not only was it cold to the touch, but it was riddled with swelling and bruises that could be felt right through the cloth.

Chiya's chest caught fire as her tears blurred her vision and fell upon the enveloped body. She slowly parted the cloth at the face of the body, and came face to face with her own sister. Her face was disfigured by the extreme torture she endured, but Chiya nonetheless recognized Yachi. Tsukiakari, Taeko, Inari, and everyone else could hear Chiya's heartbroken wails from down the darkened hall. Even those standing outside the medical ward, waiting in dreadful suspense for news of Yachi's return, heard those painful cries. It was all the confirmation they needed that Yachi did not return alive.

It was Taeko that cried the most, knowing all too well the pain of losing a sister. Unable to bear it anymore, Taeko marched back into the room. She approached Chiya from behind and took a gentle hold of her right hand. Chiya stood from her kneeling position and threw her arms around Taeko, who hugged her as tightly as she could.

The lantern hanging above Yachi's body flickered and weakened, until the flame was extinguished completely, stolen by the maw of winter's cold.

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #485 on: June 14, 2019, 05:12:14 PM »
Melting Snow
Spoiler
It was a long night.

News of Yachi's death spread like a cancer and robbed nearly everyone of their desire to sleep. Friends and comrades alike congregated in the courtyard to mourn and pray together. Others preferred to lock themselves in their rooms and fight their sadness alone. For some people, quietude and a cup of sake in Yachi's honor was their preferred method of grieving. The night sky was dyed a dark blue, a sign of the morning sun's imminent arrival. Inori exited the medical room where she examined Yachi's corpse, her eyes still red and swollen from crying. She approached Tsukiakari in the hallway while Taeko, Chiya, and Goro stood out of hearing distance.

"I've never seen anything like it in all of my years in this clan, Gekko." Inori said. "The list of injuries and wounds plaguing her body is beyond extensive. It would be easier to write down what didn't happen to her than what did."

"Do you think there was a killing blow?" Tsukiakari asked.

"Not from what I saw. I think all of her injuries, combined with her severe malnutrition and dehydration led to her death. She just couldn't take it anymore."

Tsukiakari nodded. "I can't believe that monster put her through such unimaginable pain."

"What should we do? With the body, I mean."

"I don't know." Tsukiakari sighed. "I won't decide anything until I get Chiya's consent. For now, keep the body cool and preserved."

"As you wish. I'll be waiting on Chiya's decision, then."

Inori bowed to Tsukiakari and returned to the medical room. Left alone, Tsukiakari plopped herself down on a nearby bench, rubbing her tingly hands together as she hung her head. The first rays of the morning sun crept over the horizon and slipped through the gaps in the wooden shutters, painting her face in stripes of orange light and dark shadows.

"Oh, Tsukiakari!"

Tsukiakari raised her head and shot back onto her feet as she met eyes with Inari.

"Are you leaving?" Tsukiakari asked.

Inari nodded. "I'm sorry. I want to stay with you through this difficult time, but I've received summons from Izanami to help her in Kaga."

"Ah, to help with her investigation, I assume." Tsukiakari groaned, plopping back down on the bench.

"I'm...very sorry. This was not how any of us wanted this to end."

"It's alright. I'm really thankful to you for all of your help, Inari. We couldn't have found her without you." Tsukiakari said.

"I suppose...we're enemies now?" Inari said.

"You mean the investigation? I could never consider you an enemy because of that."

"You may feel that way, but I'm sure Bishamon doesn't. As I recall, Tsukiakari, you decided you would remain with the Senkumo clan rather than leave and come with me."

"Of course I'm going to side with my clan! They're my family."

"But even you can surely see that in this situation, siding with the clan is the same as siding with Bishamon. They're not mutually exclusive in a legal battle. Nothing changes the fact that he is your master."

Tsukiakari's silence was all but an admission that Inari was right. That silence was soon interrupted by a frenzy of cheers booming from the courtyard. Tsukiakari could faintly hear the massive, wooden gates  of the base creak on their hinges as they parted open.

"What's going on?" Inari asked.

"No idea." Tsukiakari replied.

Everyone around the base dropped whatever they were doing and swarmed upon the courtyard as if it were a holy site of pilgrimage. A massive crowd formed around one man, or rather, one god. Bishamon had come to visit. It was the first time anyone in Tsukiakari's base had seen him in years. He dismounted his fiery horse and embraced his fellow Senkumo with open arms, accepting their tearful hugs and praises. His mere presence brought the smiles back upon the Senkumo's faces, even if only for a moment. It was a morale boost like no other.

"My brothers, my sisters...my comrades..." Bishamon began, the crowd of hundreds splitting apart to make a path for him. "It's so good to see you all. I'm sorry it has taken me so long to come and see you. I've been very busy, as you can guess."

Tsukiakari, Taeko, Chiya, Goro, and Inari descended from the medical ward. They could tell just from the behavior of the troops that their surprise visitor was Bishamon. The body language of even the hardest soldiers became obedient and submissive, their hands clasped together in prayer and their heads bowed as Bishamon slowly sauntered past them.

"All of those battles, the plague outbreak, and now this investigation, this petty attack from Izanami herself. You've all been through so much, and yet you still stand strong, firmly planted in your cut of the earth." Bishamon praised. "I have never been more proud of all of you than I am right now."

Bishamon felt a tug at his robes. Looking to his left, he saw a young girl, no older than ten, crying at his feet. He knelt down on one knee as he stroked her shoulder, meeting the mournful girl eye to eye.

"What's wrong? Why the tears?" Bishamon asked.

The girl kept her head of brown hair bowed, hiding her tear-stained face. "Yachi...Yachi's dead..."

Bishamon stood up, stroking his beard. "Dead? What happened to her."

"My sister was kidnapped." Chiya interjected, all eyes turning to her. "She went to Kameyama to run an errand, but she never came back. Someone abducted her before she could make the journey home. Who abducts a damned girl? Who tortures her endlessly like that? Who beats her, pulls her teeth, and rapes her?!"

"Chiya..." Tsukiakari mumbled, unable to bring herself to stop her.

Bishamon's eyes scanned over Chiya, but they were quickly drawn towards Inari and Taeko. Even though Chiya was the one talking, his gaze was entirely focused on them. Taeko especially stared daggers right back at him, balling up her fist so tightly that her dirty nails drew blood from her palm.

"To do all of that to her...to give her such an undiginified grave...who would do that? Why? Why her?" Chiya cried, clutching a lock of Yachi's hair to her chest.

Bishamon refocused his gaze upon Chiya. "I am...so terribly sorry to hear that. I truly mean that."

Chiya shook her head. "Where were you?"

Chiya stormed off, retreating back inside of the medical ward.

Bishamon turned around to face his crowd of worshipers and comrades. "Return to what you were doing. I'm going to have a talk with Tsukiakari and our guests."

The crowd dispersed and return to their rooms. With Bishamon's abrupt return, the Senkumo at least had enough morale to actually go to sleep.

"My apologies, but I really must be going now." Inari said.

"That's too bad. I was hoping to reminisce about the good old days with you, Inari. You were an invaluable part of this clan's rise to power. We wouldn't be here without you." Bishamon said.

Inari forced a smile upon her face, taking Bishamon's praise as an underhanded insult, an insinuation that she was merely trying to kill a beast that she helped create.

"Duty calls, Bishamonten." Inari bowed.

"Let's go, Inari." Taeko urged.

"Leaving so soon, Taeko?" Bishamon questioned. "You're more than welcome to stay, at least for just a little while. This was your old home, after all."

"No thank you. I only came back to help Tsukiakari find Yachi." Taeko growled.

"I insist. You're staying for just a little longer." Bishamon commanded.

Taeko had no choice. She calmed herself down, sticking close to Tsukiakari.  The three of them bade farewell to Inari as they entered the base's brig. They followed the reverberating coughs down the halls, stopping at the Man in Black's cell. He lied on the ground, completely naked and exposed, just as he did to Yachi.

"That's quite the cough, young man." Bishamon teased.

The Man in Black snickered. "A progressive lung infection. It's a slow and painful death."

"Oh, I'm sure. I'm the clan leader, you see. I've seen my fair share of illnesses and infections, though most of it was fever, gangrene, bone infractions, just a slew of nasty afflictions." Bishamon said. "Still, I find that there is no rot in this world quite as pervasive as revenge. I've even seen it raise the dead right out of their graves, turning men into phantoms of their former selves. Kind of like you. You seem to be much more of a ghost than a man."

"We're all ghosts. Every single one of us." The Man in Black sighed. "And here I thought I had to destroy the entire Senkumo clan in order to get my revenge. I was wrong. Who knew that Bishamon himself would be foolish enough to play right into my hands?"

Bishamon chuckled. "Was all of this part of your plan? Did your grand strategy include dying of illness in a Senkumo jail cell? How the sick delude themselves."

"Death is a kind of clarity you gods will never understand." The Man in Black retorted.

"So then, what do you intend to do with him, Tsukiakari?" Bishamon asked.

"Every bone in my body is screaming for me to kill him, but that would be far too easy. I intend to put him on trial here at base, so that everyone can know what kind of monster he is. As for his sentence, that's up to Chiya to decide."

"The woman just lost the only family she had left and you want her to deal with this bastard's punishment too?" Taeko hissed.

"No one has more of a right to make that call than she does, Taeko." Tsukiakari replied.

"You do, you *censored*ing idiot! You're the Commanding Lord!" Taeko retaliated.

"That's enough, Taeko." Bishamon said. "As you're no longer part of this clan, I won't accept any hostility towards Tsukiakari. Besides, our enemy is right here. Once he's dealt with, this terrible chapter will come to a close."

"He fails to understand the depth of the human heart."

That voice belonged to the Man in Black, but it did not come from his cell. Tsukiakari shivered as she slowly turned her head to the left, her heart trying to rip itself in half inside her chest. She saw him. She swore she saw the Man in Black standing right next to her, dressed in his black, tattered roads and wide-brim hat. He looked at her and she at him.

The Man in Black turned her attention to Bishamon. "Fear, hatred, respect, even love—they are all powerful feelings. Power is what gives rise to action, and action to change. No one can kill what they fear, hate, love, or respect. No matter what the object of those feelings are, the emotions remain."

"You played the game and lost, young man." Bishamon said. "Well, I won't bother you any longer. I'm sure you have much to atone for and think about in your final days. You'll die an insignificant speck on the canvas of history. No one will remember you. Your tale will never be told. Consider this my way of making sure that your grave is even more undignified than Yachi's was."

Tsukiakari quickly glanced back to her left, but her vision of the Man in Black was already gone. She wiped the sweat from her brow, realizing her armpits were sweating beneath her robes. It frightened her, just how much his continued presence and memory unsettled her.

"Girls, let's leave him be." Bishamon said, walking away.

They left the Man in Black by himself, returning to the snow-covered courtyard. They walked Taeko over to the base's gate to see her off, the sun's light making the snow dazzle like a sea of diamonds.

"Thank you for your help, Taeko. After all these years, you're still a pillar of strength." Tsukiakari said.

"That's what you need to be, Gekko. You need to be a far stronger pillar than I ever was." Taeko replied. "These men here, especially the women and the children, they need you. You have to take on the world's brutality and cruelty in their place. You have to make tough decisions for them. Otherwise, the Man in Black really will win."

"I'll...I'll try." Tsukiakari bowed.

"It was a pleasure seeing you again, Taeko. Where will you go now?" Bishamon asked.

Taeko scoffed. "You must be joking."

The two locked eyes for a moment until the tension was broken by Bishamon's grin. "Good to know you're still a cautious woman, Taeko. Be careful out there. It's a dangerous world and the Senkumo clan has a lot of enemies. With us or not...people out there might still wish to harm you."

"Sure." Taeko said, cutting the conversation short.

Taeko mounted her horse, leaning forward as if the mere act of mounting made her dizzy. She took a deep breath and composed herself. "Farewell, you two. Be well, and give my love to Chiya."

"I will." Tsukiakari promised.

And so, Taeko departed from the base, the gate shutting behind her. Tsukiakari released a lonesome sigh, already missing the presence of her former friend and her nine-tailed ally.

"Well?" Tsukiakari led on. "I assume this isn't just a social call. What made you show up after all of these years? Where were you the whole time?"

"Defending the clan from afar, of course." Bishamon said. "I've been expanding our bases into different regions, keeping our coffers full, and planning out the clan's future. Of course, I've had to stop all of that to deal with Izanami and this investigation. She's very bothersome. As for why I came, it was indeed to let you all know that I am still here, this clan is still strong, and that I will not bend to Izanami. I wanted to tell you in person that you are allowed to resume normal operations again."

"What? Are you serious?" Tsukiakari asked. "Izanami isn't even done with her investigation yet."

"Don't worry about Izanami. I have friends in high places. They won't let Izanami and her gaggle of traitors have her way. We will survive, Tsukiakari. Remember that."

Bishamon's fiery steed approached, allowing the war god to mount and prepare to leave. "Start thinking about where you want to go next, Tsukiakari. Coming out of winter, most of the clans will have their forces all cooped up in their forts. The land is clear for our troops to march. We're very close to achieving our dream, a sovereign state free of the folly of daimyo and emperors."

"It's hard to think about any of that when we've just lost Yachi, Bishamon." Tsukiakari said.

"I know. I'm very sorry about that. Please tell that to Chiya. I must be on my way. I've got an investigation to break apart."

And so, Bishamon departed from the base as well. With that single visit, he seemed to have restored much of the faith that was lost over the years of suffering Tsukiakari's men endured. With his army re-energized, Tsukiakari was left to wonder just what Bishamon had in store for Izanami the Cruel, his pale adversary.

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #486 on: June 25, 2019, 01:25:12 AM »
Siblings
Spoiler

The morning wind scattered the falling snow like ashes upon the land. On that day, the gates to Tsukiakari's gates remained tightly shut and guarded. That day marked a very poignant occasion that could not be disturbed. It was Yachi's funeral. The courtyard was filled to the brim with tearful men, women and children, many of whom knew and respected Yachi as they would any other Senkumo. Whoever could not fit in the courtyard watched from the patios of the surrounding buildings or the windows of their bedrooms. With the crowd of mourning soldiers behind her, Chiya stood before Yachi's flower-adorned casket, still holding onto the bag of Azalea seeds her sister never got to plant. Tsukiakari stood among her troops in the front row, silent tears streaming down her face.


"My dearest Yachi..." Chiya began. "Welcome home."


Tsukiakari looked upon Chiya with a mix of sorrow and deep respect. She could barely hold herself together, and yet, Chiya had agreed to prepare an open letter to her sister. Her voice broke and cracked with every word she spoke, every breath she took. It was taking every ounce of Chiya's inner strength to keep her heart from shattering right then and there. And still, she continued to speak.

"We were all so worried when you didn't return. And you know me. I've always been the biggest worry wort when it comes to you. Though, we never imagined that you would come back to us like this." Chiya paused, collecting herself. "I received your gift, the azalea seeds. Gekko gave them to me after you returned. Thank you so much, Yachi. It's winter now, but when the spring comes, I'll be sure to plant them. We'll make the day they bloom a holiday, Azalea Day, where no one will fight or kill anyone. For just one day, the clan will celebrate life, love, and peace, just like you wanted. That's my gift to you, for being such a one of a kind sister. I love you, Sis."

Chiya wiped her tears with her sleeve and continued on. "Yachi, there's no more pain. No more suffering. No more tears or sorrow. Please, rest in peace."

While Tsukiakari and her men mourned the loss of Yachi Otonougi, their master, Bishamon was more than a day into his journey. He had traveled back to Oyamatsumi's temple on the lake, hoping to find him there. But alas, he was nowhere to be found. He dismounted his horse, looking around with his hands placed upon his hips.

"Looking for Oyamatsumi, kid?"

Bishamon groaned. He just knew it was Hachiman, making another one of his signature, unwanted appearances. "No, I'm looking for a good set of pots and pans for Ichiki."

Hachiman joined him by the lakeside, running his hands through his messy, white hair. "He's already left for Kaga, or so I heard from Raijin."

"Kaga?" Bishamon repeated.

"Yeah. Raijin mentioned the order to kill Taeko and said that Oyamatsumi tracked her down in Kaga. Don't tell me you called a hit on a girl without knowing where she was, Bisha."

"Taeko isn't in Kaga, she's here. I saw her yesterday with my own eyes."

"Well, either you're going senile or Oyamatsumi just walked himself right into a trap." Hachiman said. "If you saw her yourself, why didn't you just kill her?"

"Kill her?" Bishamon recoiled. "I wanted to kill her the moment I saw her, but I couldn't. She was with Tsukiakari the whole time. Besides, if Izanami's star witness was murdered in a Senkumo base, it would be like asking to get caught. I'd be throwing all of our leverage away."

"So, what do we do now? Want to try and find him before he screws up?" Hachiman asked.

"No. It might actually be better if we don't. I got engaged to Ichiki as a deterrent against Izanami's prosecution, but I have a feeling she might just go ahead with it anyway. In which case, I need to make prosecution a losing game for her on grounds other than her reputation. I'm thinking Oyamatsumi's arrest would actually help us with that. We'll have to give the kid a bit of scare, but it's all for a good cause."

"And what of Taeko?"

Bishamon crossed his arms. "For now, she's gotten herself some more time, but only a little. I underestimated her. I won't let her pull a ruse like this again."

That night, the machinations of men and gods went unheard as the peaceful, winter wind combed through the land. Despite the cold, the Senkumo were able to get their nightly campfires and torches lit. Tsukiakari and Chiya stood before the Plague Memorial outside the gate of the medical ward. The structure was a twelve foot tall, cream-colored obelisk, with an epitaph inscribed down the length of the memorial.

'In honor of those who fell to the plague. Though your souls have left us behind for a better world, your love remains with us, and ours with you. We recall the memories of your lives over drinks and crackling flames, partaking in the joy of reminiscence and it's subtle, yet powerful aftertaste of sorrow. We remember you. We love you. We always will.'

"Yachi wrote the inscription." Chiya said. "She was sure you'd like it."

"I love it." Tsukiakari assured.

"I hope you won't mind, Gekko. I've asked that Yachi be buried in the courtyard, and for the azalea seeds to be planted at her grave. I can't bear the thought of putting her anywhere outside of these walls."

"That's alright with me, Chiya. I think it's a beautiful idea."

"Thank you. I...have another favor to ask."

"What is it?" Tsukiakari questioned.

"I want to speak to her killer. The Man in Black."

Tsukiakari and Chiya locked eyes.

"Chiya...you know that's not a good idea. He's going on trial tomorrow morning."

"I'm afraid I must insist, Gekko. Let me talk to him. It's the only way I'll be able to move on from all of this."

"What do you mean?"

"Yachi has been in my thoughts non-stop since you brought her home. My mind won't stop replaying our lives together. I feel her everywhere I go, as if she's just watching me from a short distance. I feel her in the flowers, in the snow beneath my feet, and the wind beneath my hair. It's like this nagging, phantom pain that won't subside. And yet, as much as I think about her, her killer remains just as present in my thoughts. Every time I think of Yachi, her memory is sullied by his image. My head is all full of ghosts, Gekko. I need to make it stop."

Tsukiakari pinched the bridge of her nose. "I know the feeling."

"I'm going. Alone."

Tsukiakari raised her index finger as if she was about to make a point. She took a breath to speak, but quickly released it with naught a word of protest. "Just be careful, Chiya."

Chiya bowed in gratitude. "I will. Thank you, Gekko."

Chiya descended the steps of the medical ward, wading through the people in the courtyard like a snake through blades of grass. The occasional voice would call out to her for her attention, but she paid them no mind. The cold air stung her swollen eyes as she trailed past the crowds, approaching the two guards stationed in front of the brig. Recognizing their lord, the guards bowed their heads and allowed her through.

She slowly sauntered through the torch-lit halls of the spacious brig, not quite knowing what she was going to do or say once she saw the Man in Black. She could see herself barging into the cell and strangling him, but his terminal illness made murdering him pointless. Thinking a little more, she saw herself put the Man in Black through an interrogation of sorts. Though, if she asked why he did what he did, it would only make his presence in her thoughts that much stronger. She released an exhausted sigh, conceding the simple fact that there are many things in life that cannot be accounted for nor calculated. The most human moments are spontaneous, neither planned nor foretold.

And so, Chiya stopped in front of the Man in Black's cell, catching him sitting against the wall cross-legged. A single, solitary candle just barely illuminated his face in his darkened cell. Chiya spent what felt like an eternity just gazing at him, scanning every detail of his face.

"Come to mock a dying man?" the Man in Black wheezed before coughing.

Chiya struggled to put a string of words together. "No. I'm not here to mock you."

The Man in Black raised his head, but his waning vision prevented him from being able to see his visitor very clearly. "Who are you?"

"My name is Chiya. Chiya Otonougi. My sister was Yachi Otonougi."

"You're her sister?"

Chiya nodded. "Yes. How are you feeling?"

The Man in Black scoffed. "You don't care."

"Do you need any water? Food?"

"...Water." the Man in Black said, expecting to be served a swig of vinegar rather than water.

Chiya smiled. "Okay, I'll be right back."

Just a few minutes later, Chiya returned with a bowl of cold water, along with half a loaf of bread. She gently put the bowl down as she dug into her pockets for the key to the Man in Black's cell. Chiya unlocked the cell and stepped right inside with the man that murdered her sister, closing the cell door behind her.

"Here. I melted some snow for you." Chiya said, offering the bowl to the Man in Black.

He took the bowl and drank from it in silence. He put it to the side as he erupted into a fit of coughs as Chiya patted his back. Next, she offered him a roll of bread.

"When was the last time you ate something?" Chiya asked.

"Being sick doesn't leave much room for appetite."

Chiya dropped the bread roll into his hands. "You have to eat, even if you're dying."

The Man in Black sighed before he finished the bread roll in just three bites, then washed it down with more chilled water. Chiya herself didn't even understand why she was doing what she was doing. She didn't put much thought into her actions. She simply moved and provided help where it was needed.

"Thank you." the Man in Black said.

"No worries." Chiya replied with a smile.

The two of them sat together with the single, lit candle between them.

"Hey, what's your name?" Chiya asked.

"The Man in Black."

"No, your real name. The one your mother gave you."

"What does it matter? I was risen from my grave in the Katsura river. Any semblance of my past is dead along with my friends and family."

"That's not true." Chiya protested.

"What would you know?" The Man in Black dismissed.

"The ones we love live with us forever, exactly the way we remember them. Don't you think the way they remember us also lives on?" Chiya proposed.

"...Satoru."

"Satoru is your name?"

Satoru nodded. "The one my mother gave me."

"That's a great name, Satoru." Chiya giggled. "I knew a kid named Satoru, growing up. He was a real troublemaker. He used to steal radishes, of all things, from one of the produce vendors in my neighborhood. He'd been taking things from her ever since he was a little boy. He wasn't even that good of a thief. He'd always get caught and he'd be forced to apologize to the woman he stole from. The woman gave him so many lectures, I wondered if she would ever run out of lectures to give. When the Onin War erupted, though, Yachi and I escaped from our home and searched our neighborhood for any survivors we could take with us. A lot of our friends and neighbors were already dead in their homes or sprawled out in the streets. We found Satoru and that old woman among the bodies in the street. She died with her body wrapped around Satoru's. She tried to protect him when Yamana soldiers rampaged through the neighborhood. I never understood why she would do such a thing, but I think I finally understand why she made that sacrifice. I think she remembered who Satoru was before he became the neighborhood rascal. In her final moments, I think Satoru was still that sweet little boy she knew, and she gave her life to protect him."

"But now they're both dead. Where does that memory go when the people who shared it are no longer here?" Satoru asked.

"Well, I wouldn't have been able to tell you that story if it didn't live on, right? I witnessed their relationship from a distance, and yet, the memory of Satoru and the old lady lives in me."

"I suppose you have a point, then."

Chiya leaned her head back against the wall, closing her eyes. "You sound like you still don't believe me."

"Even if it's true, I have no intention of letting that version of myself live on in place of the demon I've become now. People have a choice as to what their legacy will be. I've chosen my way in my final days. One day, you'll choose your way in your final days."

Satoru went into another coughing fit. It sounded as though his coughs were powerful enough to tear his throat and lungs into pieces.

"What choice did my sister make?" Chiya asked.

Satoru went silent for a few minutes that dragged on like hours. He bowed his head and turned his thoughts to the weeks he spent torturing Yachi, his questions stonewalled by her obstinance.

"Your sister remained loyal to her comrades until the very end. No matter what I did to her, no matter how I wounded or shamed her, she didn't speak a word of treachery. She expressed no hatred towards me."

Chiya wiped the tears flowing in her eyes as a slight smile formed on her face. "Yeah. That sounds like her. Satoru, my sister was a caring girl. Whenever there was a friend in need, Yachi always stepped up to help. Whenever there was an opportunity to use her skills for a good cause, she took it. Do you know why she specifically wanted to gift azalea seeds to me? It's not just because they're my favorite shrubs. The flowers that grow from the shrub have a meaning. When you gift azaleas to someone, you're asking that they take care of themselves and be well. They're the perfect flowers to give to someone you love deeply. So deep was her love for her friends, comrades, and the world around her, that she couldn't even bring herself to hate you, her murderer. Her tormentor. Perhaps she saw in you what that old lady saw in the Satoru I knew."

"And what would that be?" Satoru questioned.

Chiya locked eyes with him. "Humanity, in all of its ugliness. But humanity, nonetheless. Beneath all of that hatred and drive for revenge, a part of you is still crying in pain. Hatred is never born alone."

Satoru snickered as he hung his head in embarrassment. "She said those exact words to me, once. You really are her sister, aren't you? The same looks, the same mannerism, even the same words. You remind me of someone I once knew."

"You know a good sibling when you see one, right?" Chiya asked, laughing and crying at the same time as she laid a hand on his shoulder.

Satoru turned his head away, hiding his flow of tears from the light of the flickering candle between them. However, he couldn't suppress his mournful sobs, nor his memories of Noriko. Chiya threw her arms around Satoru in a loving embrace as he shed his first true tears since his first death. Forgiving what he did to Yachi was impossible. Forgetting the pain he inflicted upon both her sister and herself was even more difficult for Chiya.But that night, Chiya made the choice to understand Yachi's killer, to break bread and water with him, to sit and know him.

And she knew that, somewhere, Yachi was cheering her on.

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #487 on: July 05, 2019, 09:30:44 PM »
Aunt
Spoiler
Chiya woke up in Satoru's cell, lifting her head off of his shoulder. Her neck cracked as she sat up, indicating she had stayed in that position for hours. It was the middle of the night, or perhaps even the early hours of the morning. It was hard to tell from what little she could the skylights in the hall. Satoru remained asleep as Chiya quietly sauntered out of the cell and shut the door, locking it back up with her keys. It seemed the whole base had fallen quiet. All she could think about was getting to her own bed and resting her aching neck.

She received quite a rude reminder that winter was still in effect when she stepped outside, her sandals crunching against crystalized blankets of snow and her body chilled by frigid wind. She slipped her arms out of her sleeves and kept them wrapped around her torso as she cut through the courtyard towards the women's quarters. She stopped just shy of the door, her heart feeling strangely uneasy. She looked back at the brig, knowing that tonight was the last night Satoru would be able to sleep. That bread and water she gave him would most likely be his last taste of food and drink on this earth. It was the eve of his trial, where he would surely be sentenced to death in front of a cheering, Senkumo crowd.

Envisioning such a spectacle only reminded her of when Taeko did the same thing to Chiharu. It reminded her of how quickly her fellow Senkumo would rush to kill a child if they knew she was guilty of killing their loved ones. After spending the night with her sister's murderer, Chiya didn't feel any rage or sorrow. Rather, she felt as cold and empty as winter itself, as formless and directionless as the wind. And yet, somewhere in that whispering wind, she could faintly hear Yachi's giggles and suspirations.

Chiya lifted her gaze at the pale moon in the sky. "Did I do the right thing?"

Satoru was awakened by an abrupt knock upon his cell door at the crack of dawn. The red sun rose from the horizon, cresting over distant hills as shafts of sunlight poured through the windows of the prison. Tsukiakari leaned against the wall facing Satoru's cell, her arms and legs crossed.

"Today's the day." Tsukiakari said.

Satoru nodded. "And so it is."

"Your trial won't be for another few hours. Seeing as you'll almost certainly be put to death, I'm just here to acknowledge any final wishes or testaments." Tsukiakari explained.

"In that case, why don't we have a chat?" Satoru proposed.

"This isn't exactly a social call. You murdered my friend."

"You're right. This is no social call. Think of it as a confession. I'm sure you have a few questions for me, don't you? Like how the bubonic plague came to infect your base. How I managed to get the support of the Ashikaga years after Tomiko's passing."

Tsukiakari, intrigued, stepped closer to the cell door. "How did you know about the plague outbreak?"

"Isn't it obvious? You think it was some sort of natural disaster or freak accident? No, no. It was a deliberate act of revenge committed by the phantoms. Specifically, it was the girl. The phantom maiden."

"The phantoms were responsible for that?"

"Didn't you find it odd that that the snow on the surrounding mountains melted that fast before the season had even gotten hot? The Katsura river almost never overflows like it did that day. It was the phantom maiden that melted the ice, causing the runoff to overflow the river and reject the corpses you had washed away."

"After that, she revived you from the dead." Tsukiakari said, putting the pieces together.

"And thus, we become adversaries." Satoru smiled.

"Bubonic plague isn't a disease you ever really see that often in this country. Which one of the villagers had it?" Tsukiakari questioned.

"None of them did, as far as I know. If even one of us was sick, the rest of us would've fallen ill in no time as well. Our village suffered from illness, as most villages do, but we never had any form of plague."

Tsukiakari recoiled in surprise. "What? Where did it come from, then?"

"That was also a gift from the phantom maiden. She produced the plague herself, as if it was some sort of curse. After you disposed of the bodies, you and your men brought infected fleas back to base with you, and the infection began to spread from there."

"She produced the plague herself? But that...that can't be right. The only person that could do that was..."

"Izanami." Satoru finished. "I know. The girl shared countless visions of her, though I don't think it was on purpose. Those horns you have now, they're links to the phantom maiden. Keep them long enough, and you'll see glimpses of the girl's mind. It's filled with hate for this woman, Izanami."

"So then? Why would the girl target me if she's angry at Izanami?"

"I couldn't say for sure, but if I had to guess, the girl hates you and Izanami equally. Perhaps her reason for hating Izanami is linked to her reason for hating you."

Tsukiakari took a step back with a frazzled look on her face. "It can't be. If you're telling the truth about the plague, I might know who the phantom maiden really is. I just really don't want to believe it. I have to check with someone to make sure."

"Either way, it's peculiar that everything she touches turns to flame." Satoru said.

"That's exactly what I was thinking. There's something else I want to know, though. Back at Inari's shrine, when you encountered Yoshioki, he referred to you as a grave robber."

Satoru snickered. "The phantom soldier was roused from his grave in much the same manner that I was from mine. The phantom maiden commanded we dig up his corpse so she could take control of his lingering hatred for you."

"I'm almost scared to ask, but...who is he?"

"An Ashikaga. That's all I'll say."

Tsukiakari slouched against the wall, her head weighing down upon her neck like an anchor. "This phantom maiden has been deliberately bringing back my old enemies, then. She hates me herself, raises an Ashikaga from his grave, resurrects you..."

Tsukiakari stopped in the middle of her thought. "Wait a minute. Did you link up with Tomiko's force after your revived the phantom soldier?"

"Yes, we did. That's how I was able to take command of of Tomiko's army."

Tsukiakari's chest tightened up, her breathing becoming shallow. "Yoshihisa?!"

Satoru nodded. "The son of Tomiko and Yoshimasa, and the cause of the Onin War. Turns out, he had enough hatred for you to catch the phantom maiden's attention. We stole his corpse from his grave and blessed him with divine flame. For all this time, those two phantoms watched you and stalked you, but the phantom maiden never disclosed your location to me. That's why I had to abduct your dear Yachi in the first place. The entire ordeal was a race against time to beat my affliction. The girl granted me enough time to exact my revenge, but only on the condition that I would work to pass on those horns to you. It succeeded. Revenge is not her only desire. She's searching for a body to tether her fiery soul to. A living body, not a corpse she can puppet with her flame. You growing both horns means she has fully attached herself to you. She plans to use your body as her new vessel."

"Could it really be her? How on earth did she find her way back to Japan after all these years?"

Tsukiakari took a deep breath and pressed on with her questions. "You also spoke of Noriko's ring when you encountered Yoshioki. You said you wanted it back."

"That bastard took my sister's onyx ring in exchange for sparing our lives. Our village was under suspicion of aiding the Senkumo war effort, even after you and the Ashikaga clan broke fellowship. The villagers, Noriko and I, we all lied through our teeth to protect the Senkumo as well as ourselves. We shot down any and all accusations that were actively aiding an enemy of the shogun. In the end, the people we sacrificed everything to protect ended up slaughtering us all."

"The ring itself was thrown in the bottom of the village's well. You never retrieved it?" Tsukiakari asked.

Satoru shook his head. "I planned to after I broke Yachi, but she never spoke a word. If what Yoshioki said back then is true, then Noriko's phantom haunts that well. That's...something I can't bear the thought of. Even if I could, I don't think I'd have the stomach to return to that village."

Tsukiakari sighed. "What a mess we all made."

"If I were you, I wouldn't waste my time with some pointless trial of a dead man walking." Satoru chuckled. "I'd be confronting my phantoms. The soldier, the maiden, and even Noriko. As long as those three remain, you and your men will remain haunted. The clock is ticking, Tsukiakari. All of the major players in this theater of war are all nearing their true goals. Everything is coming to a head. You can just feel it."

"That reminds me. When Yoshioki and I stormed that ruined temple, we encountered another old enemy. It was a different phantom, one covered in chains and swarms of flies." Tsukiakari recalled.

"Ah yes, you knew him as Masachika Togashi, former lord of the Kaga province. The phantom maiden revived him as well."

"That's what I don't get." Tsukiakari groaned. "When we took his body into our custody, he re-emerged as a phantom and attacked our livestock, feasting on our horses. All in all, his behavior was completely different from that of the soldier or the maiden. He seemed to be driven by instinct and self-preservation, not hatred. His moves weren't calculated or planned beforehand like the maiden's. He was like an animal, doing what his instincts told him to."

Satoru crossed his longs, stifling a barrage of coughs as he spoke with wheezing breath. "The phantom maiden didn't have control of him back then. She may have tried, but she did not succeed."

"What I'm wondering is why I found him again at the abandoned shrine. After our first encounter with him, I ordered Yachi and Chiya to cremate the body. That should've been the end of him."

"You did indeed cremate him, but the phantom maiden had been watching. She secured his ashes from their resting place and revived him, even in that state."

Tsukiakari lips parted in stunned surprise. "What did you say? She revived him? He was nothing but ash. How is that even possible?"

"For the same reason it's possible for her to revive the dead in the first place. It doesn't seem to matter what state the person is in. If there's any trace of their physical remains, she can bestow upon them the spark of phantomhood. She's an exception, even among ghosts. It almost makes me wonder if she's even really a ghost at all."

Tsukiakari stood up and anxiously paced back and forth. Beads of sweat dripped down her temple and raced down towards her chin as she came to a sudden stop. "It's just as I thought. The phantom maiden isn't actually a phantom, nor a ghost. She's a goddess. The power of fire, the ability to cheat death itself...I think I know very well who she is now."

Tsukiakari gathered the strands of her hair and tied it all up into a messy bun. "The others will handle your trial and execution. I'm going to take your advice. I've got phantoms to get rid of."

"You're leaving right now?"

"Yes."

"Well then, Tsukiakari, I bid you farewell. But before you go, just one more thing."

"What is it?"

Satoru struggled to stand on his own two feet. His hands coiled around his cell bars for support. "Beware of Bishamon. Whatever he's planning, his dreams of the future do not include you or the rest of this clan. You are following a madman."

"You are a madman." Tsukiakari replied.

"We're quick to recognize our own. Make your own plans for the future, Tsukiakari, and make them fast. Otherwise, Bishamon will be the end of you all."

The two stared daggers at each other, the silence between them thick enough to cut with a blade. Satoru's warning made the hairs on Tsukiakari's arm stand straight up. Part of her knew what he was saying was the truth.

"May you find peace in the world beyond." Tsukiakari bowed.

The war goddess stormed off, determined to put an end to phantoms that had plagued and haunted her for so long.

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #488 on: August 06, 2019, 12:02:34 AM »
Howdy, folks.

Great news! But also kind of bad news? I got distracted and deviated away from keeping the War Cloud arc of DbEG as my priority. The good news is that I focused my energy on Book of Betrayal Part 2 of Senkumo War Stories and it's 99% complete. Only one chapter is left. Betrayal Part 2 is going to be the biggest book in the SWS series, standing at 51 chapters in total. Blossoming had 16 chapters and Betrayal Part 1 had 28.

I did some pretty major re-working with this. Betrayal Part 2 was initially supposed to be three separate books, but it ended up being one big one. The ideas from Book of Azaleas and Book of Phantoms merged with the chapters already posted here. I re-did the fall of the Senkumo clan, since it was rather anti-climactic in the MR chapters. The new chapters shows Amaterasu's manipulation of Bishamon and rearranges events so that the clan is actually still around after Tsukiakari is killed in the catacombs beneath Oyamatsumi's shrine. Bishamon begins his systematic destruction of the Senkumo clan and closes in on Tsukiakari's base, leaving Chiya, Inori, Goro and one other person very little time to get the reincarnated and unconscious Tsukiakari to safety.

This chapter picks up at Taeko's final days, and then skips over to the 16th century.

Birth of the Second Great Holy War
Spoiler
And so the morning came, but there was still no light for Taeko. Feeling as if she was drifting in and out of sleep every three seconds, she desperately crawled her way over the door, tiring herself out just from doing that much. Her breathing was deep, but severely slowed down, and every breath she exhaled seemed to be getting colder. She planted her hands on the locked, wooden doors to the prayer room, exerting all of her strength to try and open them.

"Please...open!"

The door refused to budge even the slightest bit. After giving it her last push, Taeko fell to the side, knocking her temple against the cold, stone floor. She could feel the curse of the Mu-Onna spreading further through her body, burning through her veins like gasoline. Every breath she took stung her lungs, and the nerves in the tips of her dirtied fingers tingled endlessly.

"Tsuki...akari...forgive me..."

The curse had eaten away at three quarters of her body. Very little time remained for her.

Tsukiakari and Izanami went together to Inari's shrine, hopeful that she may know something. After all, she had better scouting and searching capabilities than either of them. Walking with Izanami during that somber, summer day, Tsukiakari's eyes gazed blankly at her feet scuffling along the dirt path beneath the green shade of forest. Izanami's voice snapped her right out of it.

"Tsukiakari?"

"My bad...I was drifting off into space."

"Are you sure you're okay? This all must be difficult for you to process." Izanami said.

"It just...feels like Yachi's disappearance all over again, except its far worse. At least with Yachi, there were clues we could follow, witnesses we could talk to. For Taeko to just disappear without a single trace, it shows she really was attacked by gods. Not even someone like the Man in Black could abduct Yachi without leaving at least one clue. And he had Kagutsuchi aiding him every step of the way."

"Tsukiakari..."

Izanami could see it on Tsukiakari's face. The pained realization that her own uncle lied to her about the previous attempt to kill Taeko. Amaterasu had all but lost her mind last time she saw her. Izanami was an imposter, and Kagutsuchi tried very hard to murder Tsukiakari. It seemed there wasn't a single member of her family that Tsukiakari could trust anymore.

"Do you know why I ran from Heaven, Izanami?" Tsukiakari asked. "It's not just because my mother was abusive. It's not just because my father was locked away. It was because I was the princess of Heaven, and yet, I was so insignificant. I was nothing more than the title I inherited. I wasn't a person or a little girl. I was the future of the pantheon, a monarch in waiting. I realized that after my mother tried to strangle me that night. I used to hate my mother for that. I couldn't understand how she could be so cold-hearted. But now, after all these years, I think I understand what made her that way."

Izanami listened intently as Tsukiakari continued spilling her heart. "Imagine going your whole life trying to fit your feet in the shoes of a construct. My mother had to become the phantom glory of Heaven. The gods had this shared idea of who the monarch of the pantheon should be, how she should act and behave. My mother discarded the person she truly was to become the person her fellow gods wanted. Initially, I felt like I was doing the same thing in the early days of the Senkumo clan. It's no wonder the men weren't very appreciative of me at first."

"But they all grew to love you." Izanami said.

"Exactly. They grew to love me for who I was. The key to winning that affection wasn't aspiring to meet the expectations of the title I held, but by allowing them to see me for who I truly was. Bishamon had always told me not to let that happen, to be more austere in how I present myself to my men. I couldn't do that. I couldn't stand firm when I saw so many men, women, and children lay down their lives for me and their fellow Senkumo. I couldn't hide my heartbreak when I looked into their eyes during the plague outbreak. We all cared for each other and loved one another. I don't think the gods can say the same about my mother."

Izanami kept her mouth shut, as she was just as guilty as anyone else for helping create the cold-hearted Amaterasu they all knew.

"Considering all of that...I no longer feel any anger when I think about her." Tsukiakari said. "I just feel sad for her. Now, I find myself slowly becoming more like her. The more people I lose, the colder I feel myself becoming. It feels like I've done all of this work for nothing. Maybe the Man in Black was right. Maybe I'll become just like him. In the end, it'll all come full circle and I'll die as insignificant as when I began."

"Look at you." Izanami said, tears swelling in her eyes. "Bishamon tried to make a monster out of a sweet, little girl. He thought he had found his demon of war. Little did he realize that he had taken in one of the only kindhearted, loving people left in Heaven. That's why you're so loved by your men, Gekko. For god's sake, you were the one person between both of our worlds that still had a heart."

The empathetic goddess of death caressed Tsukiakari's shoulder as she cried into her hands, her sharp inhales muffled beyond her palm.


When they finally arrived at Inari's shrine, any shred of hope any of them had of finding Taeko was dashed away. Inari had sent out every single one of her loyal foxes to search around the area Taeko was abducted and found nothing. All that remained was the burnt rubble of Taeko's former home, and several blast craters nearby. The substantial damage to the surrounding area was all the confirmation they needed to know that a god was involved. Given the close proximity of the incident to Oyamatsumi's shrine, Tsukiakari's uncle was a solid suspect. But therein lied the problem. Izanami wasn't allowed to lay a finger on Oyamatsumi ever since he was released from custody by Amaterasu. Fujin and Raijin had all but disappeared, probably occupied with War Council preparations in Heaven. The only other lead that could've exposed the other gods involved was Bishamon, and he had successfully honey'd his fellow gods with his Shinto-style marriage to Ichiki. With both leads shielded by Heaven, the search for Taeko was dead before it even started. There was nothing any of them could do.

Inari and Izanami continued searching for Taeko for months, but turned up nothing each time. The months turned into years, and the years into decades. The Senkumo clan continued to forge their own destiny in the Warring States era, fighting with some clans, allying with others. More and more Senkumo bases began propping up around the country, bringing in money, men, and most importantly, prayers. Goro, Inori, and Chiya were still around, acting as an elder ring of leadership around Tsukiakari. Many old faces in the clan passed away, while new a new generation of soldiers began to occupy space with the old guard. Of course, the decades had no affect on Tsukiakari whatsoever. She looked and performed the same as she always did.

The landscape of the war changed in those decades, and Tsukiakari was going to discover why. Bishamon had instructed her to come down to the shores of the Isa province one summer day. She arrived on the pale sands of Isa's coast, dismounting her horse and marching over to Bishamon, who stood just out of the blue ocean's reach. Both of them wore white versions of the traditional Senkumo robes, a decision made to help combat the absurdly hot temperatures of the summer and keep their troops cool.

Hearing Tsukiakari's footsteps in the sand, Bishamon turned his head towards her. "You made it, Gekko."

"I had to ride quite a long way from Yamashiro in the sweltering heat for this." Tsukiakari groaned.

"Well then, I do hope you're enjoying this lovely, ocean breeze we're getting." Bishamon laughed. "We're actually going to build another base in this region soon. Having bases on the coast will allow us to develop a naval presence in the war. It'll be a boon for trade and transport as well."

Tsukiakari sighed, laying her scarlet eyes among the sapphire blue waters before her. "I'm half tempted to strip down and jump in."

"Be my guest." Bishamon said. "We still have a while to wait."

"What exactly are we here for, anyway? You haven't given me the specifics."

"I have something to show you, Gekko. I promise it'll be like nothing you've ever seen before. Until then, go ahead and go swimming, if you want." Bishamon said, sitting down on the shore.

"Alright then, if you say so."

Tsukiakari stripped herself naked and submerged herself in the cool, ocean waters of Isa. Families of grey pelicans sat themselves on the shore, while others hovered above the ocean in search of food. The beach was just wonderful enough for both gods and animals to enjoy. After a while of cooling down and relaxing, Bishamon called out to Tsukiakari from the shore.

"Gekko! It's here! Look!"

Tsukiakari scanned the entire shore but saw nothing. "Look at what?"

"Towards the ocean!"

She turned around and finally saw what he was talking about. Just as Bishamon promised, Tsukiakari was left awestruck. A massive ship, indeed like nothing she had ever seen before, sailed towards the shores of Isa. The wind tugged along the ship's expansive, white sails, bringing the wooden behemoth closer to land. Tsukiakari returned to the beach, her eyes still fixated on the magnificent ship in the distance.

"I've never seen a ship like that in my life! Whose is that?" Tsukiakari asked.

"Ships like these have begun popping up all across the shores of Japan. They're foreigners from a land called Europe. It's a continent far away, home to many powerful empires and civilizations. They have entire fleets of ships this size."

"They're foreigners?" Tsukiakari questioned. "Wait, then doesn't that mean..."

Bishamon nodded. "Yes. Just as we predicted, there are vampires among them. Remember when I first told you about them, all those years ago, when you were just starting out? Well, the time has come. They're here at our shores. This boat in particular is no cause for worry, though. I've arranged a deal with these foreigners. They're going to sell us some weapons."

"What kind of weapons? We'd be better off buying a ship, if anything." Tsukiakari said.

"The ships aren't for sale." Bishamon replied. "But they are selling something else."

As the ship got closer, Tsukiakari could make out the blood-red cross decorating the sails. She knew this exchange between foreign powers was a double-edged sword, and the scales were demonstrably tipped against Japan. If these foreign empires possessed such amazing technology on their own, she couldn't imagine what they could do to the nation with the help of the vampires.

The ship anchored a fair distance away from shore. A smaller boat was loaded with men and crates of supplies and then lowered down to the ocean. These men wore armor pieces made of iron over their colorful, striped tunics. They wore stylized beards and moustaches. As their boats dragged across the sand, the men unloaded the crates of supplies while others pulled the boat closer to shore, so that it wouldn't get carried away by the water. Now that everyone had their feet on the ground, Tsukiakari saw how much taller they stood than the average Japanese person, including herself. She had never felt smaller in her life. Only Bishamon stood at around the same height as the foreigners.

"Tsukiakari." Bishamon coughed.

"Yeah?"

"Modesty, please."

Tsukiakari realized she was still naked. She quickly grabbed her robes and dressed herself back up, her cheeks reddened from embarrassment. Bishamon greeted one of the men with a smile, a handshake, and surprisingly, a greeting in the Portuguese language. Tsukiakari stood off to the side, realizing she was completely out of place there. She couldn't understand a word Bishamon or the other foreigners said.

After a few minutes of back and forth in a completely different language, the foreigners brought forth one of the crates from their boat, busting it open with pry bars. Tsukiakari took a curious glance at the crate's contents, only to be completely perplexed. These weapons Bishamon spoke us looked like giant sticks.

"Bisha...what are these?"

"Matchlocks rifles." Bishamon replied.

Bishamon smiled before asking a favor of the Portuguese men in their language. They took one of the weapons from the crate and walked towards the tree line. Bishamon offered to demonstrate the effectiveness of the bizarre weapon to Tsukiakari. He was given a powder horn and poured a small amount of gunpowder into the rifle's flash pan. Then, a different powder was poured directly down the metal barrel of the rifle. He then withdrew the ramrod situated beneath the barrel and, as the name would suggest, rammed the rod down the barrel. Next, he was given a small fuse and fixed it to the rifle's clamp, or serpentine, as it was called. One of the Portuguese lit the end of the fuse protruding past the serpentine and towards the rifle's flash pan, which was covered by the pan lid.

With the fuse lit, Bishamon held the rifle up to his shoulder, taking aim at one of the trees ahead. He opened the flash pan lid, pulled on the lever beneath the rifle, and fired. The result was a loud, explosion-like sound that made Tsukiakari jump in fright. A plume of white smoke drifted off from the rifle, flowing into Tsukiakari's face. The Portuguese men laughed and cheered for Bishamon's successful shot.

"Gekko, go take a look at that tree." Bishamon chuckled.

Tsukiakari did just that, and her eyes widened in amazement. The rifle had punched a hole into the tree's branch, a hole that could've just as easily pierced through the armor of any Japanese army. Bishamon said a few words to the Portuguese and handed them a closed sack of goods, the contents of which were unknown to Tsukiakari. He then sauntered over to the stunned war goddess with a very pleased smile on his face.

"Imagine what these could do to the average foot soldier on the field." Bishamon said. "The foreigners discovered something called gunpowder. When met with a spark, it creates an explosive reaction. They eventually came to the conclusion that if they used that explosive force as a propellent, they could launch things, big and small, over a great distance. And thus, they created rifles. These things use the propulsion from gunpowder to fire balls of lead at their target. The gunpowder launches them with such great force that they can punch through armor and kill the man wearing it. Chemistry is a beautiful thing, isn't it?"

"It seems...impractical." Tsukiakari said, replaying the loading process of the rifle in her head. "In the time it took you to do that, you could've easily been rushed by the average foot soldier."

"Indeed, if it were just one man firing this, that would be a problem. But what do you think would happen if it were a line of fifty soldiers, all kneeling as they fired off their rounds at the same time?" Bishamon asked. "Behind them would be another line of fifty soldiers, firing in a standing position. After those two lines fire, they cycle behind another pair of lines, alternating between firing and reloading. That's a hundred rounds per volley slamming through enemy armor and picking off a good number of front line troops before they even meet our forces."

Thinking of it like that, Tsukiakari immediately saw how these new weapons could prove revolutionary on the battlefield.

"More importantly, since they're easy to use, anyone can be trained to become a rifleman. This would allow us to recruit and train more men at a much faster rate. If we use rifles and traditional weapons in tandem, we can raise armies capable of outranging enemy archers, thinning out incoming troops, and then engaging the weakened force with swords and spears." Bishamon explained. "Weapons like these are popping up all over Japan now. Even our old friends, the Otomo clan, has them. We need to keep up with technological advancements like this, Gekko. Introducing this into our army, plus building a few naval bases? We'll be a force to be reckoned with."

"But...if we help proliferate these weapons across the country, won't these foreigners keep coming? That means the vampires will come in greater numbers as well. These men have weapons and vessels that clearly outmatch our own, and we're inviting them here with open arms by giving them a line of revenue." Tsukiakari reasoned. "What if they overstep their boundaries?"

Bishamon put his index finger to his temple. "Gekko, it's all going to plan. Everything. Just trust me."

And so, rifles were brought to Japan, signaling the arrival of the long awaited enemy of Heaven, the vampires. Already, they had proven to be extremely formidable. They saw Japan was flogged by war and filled to the brim with power-hungry lords fighting a never-ending battle to rule the country. They got the humans to accept their arrival by selling them superior weapons, thus creating trade partnerships between their empires and the various clans of Japan. Even Bishamon, an enemy of the vampires, couldn't resist their offer. It was a brilliant move, a masterstroke of strategy that not even Tsukiakari could've concocted.

Knowing that, she left Isa province feeling incredibly uneasy about the future.

A few weeks passed. The robed and distinguished gods of Heaven all filed out of the War Council's meeting room, filling the already noisy halls with their chatter of military matters and concerns. Bishamon however, remained in that room with Amaterasu, closing the door behind the departing lords and returning to the wooden long table. A row of windows behind Bishamon's set allowed for the sunlight to streak across the room, glaring off of the polished, wooden table. Amaterasu remained in her central seat, her fingers tented.

Amaterasu closed her eyes. "Congratulations on your promotion, Bishamon. I hope you'll serve Heaven well as our new Divine General.

Bishamon graciously bowed his head. "I thank you for the opportunity, Lady Amaterasu. I understand this is a crucial time for our pantheon and country. I will not fail."

Amaterasu stood up on her silent feet, slowly pacing around the room as she traced her fingers across the table. The goddess made such simple movement look like a work of art. "All these emptied seats...just moments ago, they held the bottoms of my most trusted advisers and generals. But there will come a time when these seats will be emptied for good."

"I beg your pardon?" Bishamon said.

"I'm talking about Death." Amaterasu replied. "Gods fear it much more than humans. When this pantheon merged with you Buddhist deities, the existence of a god become completely reliant on their popularity. Otherwise, a god may die and never reincarnate. It's a natural consequence of two pantheons joining into one. Similar gods have to compete to achieve their place, and gods who are archaic and outmoded are cycled out."

"Yes...that's the natural order of things." Bishamon replied, clearing his throat.

"The gods who sat before me today are not my comrades. They're not my supporters, nor my allies." Amaterasu sneered. "They greet me with flinching smiles and sweating palms, hoping I say 'Good Day' to them instead of giving them their last respects. They're all doomed to become desperate elements of Heaven, a faction so fixated on prolonging their lives that they would resort to the worst acts a god could ever commit. Upon this realization...I snapped. I wanted to find a way to strengthen our pantheon while also speeding up the removal of most of its current members."

Amaterasu turned her furious eyes to Bishamon, staring daggers at him. The war god suddenly went pale, bearing an absolutely horrified expression on his face.

"Did you think you could fool me, Bishamon? Did you think I had no idea what you were doing when you took my princess, my beautiful daughter under your wing?"

Decades after Bishamon thwarted Izanami's plans, he now realized that Amaterasu merely let him think he had evaded punishment.

"Amaterasu..."

"I will hear no more of your poison, Bishamon. I knew exactly what you were doing. I knew exactly what the Senkumo clan was. I know that you plotted with other gods to exploit the lives of humans to extend your own lives. You used my daughter as a tool to expand the influence of this pantheon. You had her murder and butcher her way through hell on earth. You aren't sitting in that chair because you're clever. You didn't earn your promotion through your serpentine, political maneuvering and lies. You're sitting there because I have allowed you to live and get this far."

Beads of sweat rolled down Bishamon's temple. "Why didn't you stop me?"

Amaterasu smiled "Because you satisfied every other member of this pantheon. Your heinous actions not only made us stronger, but they prevented copy cats from trying the same thing. You weren't the only god that had the idea of manipulating the era of strife consuming the country. The other gods would've taken up similar projects had you not been the first and only to do so. But because you did it, they all followed you and your leadership. With you being so close to me, it was easy to keep an eye on whoever else joined on your side. Why would I ruin such a great setup? So some other god far out from my reach could do the same thing as you? You led me right to them. You collected them for me. That's why I allowed you to continue."

Amaterasu sat on the table itself, right in front of Bishamon. "So, thank you for strengthening the pantheon, in spite of us bleeding members. Thank you for gathering all of the desperate elements of Heaven under your close leadership. Here's what's going to happen now. Oyamatsumi, Hachiman, Raijin, and Fujin. They will all be expelled from this council. You will remain Divine General, and you will do exactly as I tell you to."

"Just what are you plotting?" Bishamon asked.

Amaterasu chuckled. "We're finally going to initiate the end of the Warring States era. We'll do it my way. Ultimately, I think we can use your military talents to further help this pantheon. There's a project I've drafted over the years. It's my vision for this pantheon and Japan as a whole. It's my strategy for ending the war on earth, beating back the vampires, and securing peace and stability for both gods and mortals. Uzume will give you the specifics at a later date."

Amaterasu stood up, looking down upon the sweating, fuming Bishamon. "Poor you. You worked so hard just to become my little lapdog."

Without further word, Amaterasu walked away and departed from the room. Bishamon was left petrified by Amaterasu's fearsome cunning. The tables had turned against him. No, they were always against him. It was his punishment for believing he could deceive Amaterasu while still being right under her nose.


The End of All the Fighting
Spoiler
Tsukiakari bowed before Bishamon in his sanctuary, which had been slightly renovated since then. Treasured matchlock rifles and old swords of his hung on the walls, and now both sides of the room were fitted with sliding doors, allowing more indirect light to seep in and illuminate the area. It made for a brighter, livelier space, a far cry from the earlier days of the Senkumo clan. Now, every base had much more space than anyone knew what to do with.

"Will he be a problem, Bishamon?" Tsukiakari asked.

"Problem? No, not at all." Bishamon replied. "In fact, we should all be thanking him. Oda Nobunaga...if he keeps going at his current rate, he'll probably manage to unify Japan and bring an end to this strife between lords, peoples, and clans. With him, the Senkumo's dream of cutting the weeds will actually be realized in the near future."

"Really?"

Bishamon smiled. "You seem shocked. Surely you knew that, someday, we'd be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, right?"

"I'm just...glad, I guess." Tsukiakari stammered. "I was starting to wonder if all of our efforts were going to waste. All of this lasted so much longer than I thought it would, but...it's really...almost over?"

"If we continue to help Oda, it sure will be."

Oda Nobunaga had fought many intense battles with the underhanded help of the Senkumo clan. Specifically, he had used Tsukiakari to carry out many missions involving espionage and assassinations. Though he was brutal in his tactics, Nobunaga was greatly responsible for helping create a clear path to end the Sengoku period. Just as Bishamon said, with him, there was light at the end of the tunnel.

That night, Tsukiakari was back in Kyoto, visitng Oda Nobunaga at Hono-ji, a Buddhist temple of the Nichiren branch. It was surreal visiting the city again, as it was considered as the ground zero of the Warring States. Now, it seemed that it might be the place where that long period of strife and warfare would end.

Tsukiakari walked around the temple grounds with Nobunaga, whose deep and rugged voice felt like a serrated knife against her ears. He had the tall posture and presence of one who had fought many battles, an aura that Tsukiakari herself was very familiar with. As such, the two garnered a sort of respect for each other and their accomplishments in war. Much of Nobunaga's head was bald, but the hair on the very back of his head was tied into a small pony tail.

"I wanted to thank you for your service, Tsukiakari. I know I asked so much of you these past eighteen years." Nobunaga said.

"I'm just happy things have been going so well for you. Many of us are tired of all of this fighting." Tsukiakari said.

"Soon enough, unity will be restored to this great country. It will only take a little bit more time, and perhaps a little bit more blood." Nobunaga snickered.

They stopped, resting their arms on the wooden railing of the porch and gazing up at the moon together. The distant rock was unveiled by the clouds that previously occulted it.

"I wanted to provide you with a much more tangible form of thanks, however." Nobunaga said.

Confused, Tsukiakari turned her eyes towards Oda. "Huh? What do you mean?"

"You mentioned a while ago...your friend, Taeko Akiyama..."

Tsukiakari was almost scared to hear what he had to say. "...Yes?"

"A little while ago, I commissioned some miners to begin work around the area you said Taeko disappeared. Now that we have gunpowder, our miners can blow holes in caves if they need to dig a little deeper. They went through with one such controlled explosion a few days ago. They said they had come across a man-made door beyond the rocky walls."

Tsukiakari's eyes widened in curiosity. "A...door?"

"There's an underground structure in that area, not far from Oyamatsumi's shrine. They did open it, but they didn't go very far in. It seemed the path they discovered beyond the door led beneath the lake itself. They said they thought the structure was a catacomb of some sort. There were human bones lining the walls."


So many thoughts raced through Tsukiakari's head, and so many feelings through her heart. Oyamatsumi said nothing of catacombs beneath his shrine on the lake. It had been so almost eight decades since Taeko disappeared. She was supposed to have been long dead by the time Nobunaga discovered the underground structure. But if there was even the slightest chance that Taeko, somehow, survived that ordeal, it was Tsukiakari's duty to help her. Though it pained her to acknowledge this, she she would need Izanami's help. They had spoken very little in the decades since Taeko's abduction. A rift remained between them following the whole Kagutsuchi affair. Still, rift or no rift, Izanami would be able to tell if Taeko had passed on already or not. Not only that, but if other gods were involved in her disappearance, Izanami would be able to fight them in the event of a confrontation.

Reconnecting with Izanami was a small price to pay to save Taeko.

"Oda! I intend to conduct a search for Taeko. Is that alright?" Tsukiakari asked.

"If you truly believe your friend is down there, I won't stop you. Do as you please, just don't destroy the mines."

Tsukiakari bowed in gratitude. "Thank you so much! You have no idea how much this means to me! I'm very sorry, but I've got to go now!"

Just as she was about to run off in an excited hurry, Oda's sharp voice called out to her. "Tsukiakari!"

Oda smiled, perhaps one of the only times Tsukiakari had ever even seen him smile. "Be well, my friend. One day, you can go back to your normal life."

Tsukiakari nodded, keeping those words of comfort close to her heart. "Thanks, Oda."

Her eagerness to rescue Taeko made Tsukiakari's veins feel like live electrical cables. She knew the first thing I had to do was contact Inari and Izanami. The following night, Tsukiakari returned to her base on horseback. Upon stopping at the base's gates, Tsukiakari was startled to bump into Bishamon, Ichiki, and their two, infant children. Bishamon held his little baby girl, while Ichiki cradled the baby boy, her eyes lit with joy to find Tsukiakari there.

"Tsukiakari! It's been months since I last saw you!" Ichiki chirped.

"Ah, hello Gekko." said Bishamon.

Tsukiakari dismounted her horse, completely taken off guard by their presence. "What are you two doing here? Well, I get why Bishamon would be here but what are you doing here, Ichiki?!"

Ichiki feigned an offended gasp. "Oh, so I'm not allowed to visit you?"

"Hehehe, no...of course I didn't mean that..." Tsukiakari nervously stammered.

"I wanted to give her and the kids a tour of the Senkumo mansions. They wanted to see them while they still had the chance." Bishamon explained.

His choice of words left Tsukiakari perplexed. "Still had the chance? Is something happening?"

"Well, since Nobunaga seems to be progressing well on his own, I figured it's time for the Senkumo to minimize operations." Bishamon explained. "All bases will be rolling back their standing armies as we shift over to our post-war strategy. The war is no longer being fought across the whole country, between various different clans. The battles are contained to a much smaller area and fought between a handful of powerful players that survived the era just like we did. That means there are going to be a lot of towns that will need help rebuilding the damage from the war. That's where we step in, providing resources and labor to help build all those towns anew."

"Seriously? How long until the shift goes into effect?" Tsukiakari asked.

"Immediately." Bishamon answered. "I wanted to tell you earlier, but you hadn't returned from Kyoto yet. The troops are already throwing celebrations parties in honor of the Senkumo clan's history. Honestly, they're pretty drunk and rowdy right about now, but for now. They all worked very hard to make this day possible."

"Wow...I didn't think it would happen so fast...that's great! Really..." Tsukiakari cheered. "It just seems sudden. Didn't we just buy a whole bunch of rifles?"

"Part of post-war reconstruction is security, Gekko." Bishamon replied. "Bandits and thieves will expect carriages to roll through damaged towns, carrying money and resources with them. The guns will still come in handy. We just won't need to use all of them."

Tsukiakari nodded, understanding exactly where he was coming from. "Yeah, you have a point there. I didn't really think of it like that."

"I won't hold you up any longer. Go and be with your men. I have to get back to my base and start preparing." Bishamon said.

"Of course. Thank you, Bishamon." Tsukiakari bowed. "You gave me a home and family after what happened with my father. I can't thank you enough for that. It's been one hell of a ride up to this point, but we're finally here."

Bishamon patted Tsukiakari's head with a smile. "Indeed it has. I couldn't have done it without you. Thank you, Gekko."

"Well then, we'll be on our way. Do come by again, Gekko!" Ichiki said with a wink. "It's so much fun when you're with me!"

Tsukiakari waved goodbye as they disappeared down the road, greatly relieved at the monumental news. Though she intended to go back to base and rest, Tsukiakari couldn't get her mind off of Taeko. She was far too excited to stop now. Moving on from the base, Tsukiakari made her way up to Inari's shrine on top of the hill. Even up into the late hours of the night, Inari was still sorting through all of the prayers and wishes she was receiving from the general public like a teacher tirelessly grading her student's work. By candle light, she painstakingly went through every single wish, be it wise or stupid.

'Give me bigger boobs'?! 'Make me rich!'?! Ahhh! So many of these are absolute garbage!" Inari cried. "Sorry ma'am, but genetics didn't favor you! Deal with your flat chest! Of course I can't make you rich, you idiot! For the amount you're asking, you'll probably make our currency worthless! Ah, here's a nice one! Please watch over my ill mother, Inari. Will do, little one!"

"Hey."

Inari screamed and threw her wish plaques in the air, absolutely spooked by Tsukiakari's sudden entrance into the shrine.

"Gekko! At least ring the bell outside or knock! You nearly killed me!"

Tsukiakari raised her eyebrows in confusion. "Uhmm...what are you doing?"

Inari sighed as she reorganized the plaques, her tails swaying left and right around her like lotus flower petals. "Well, I've really exploded in popularity these past few decades, so I have to work late in the night to sort through these prayers and wishes. It's tiring, but I'm glad I've gotten so popular through sheer virtue alone. You know, Gekko, ever since that Oda guy has been bringing peace back to more regions of the country, these wishes have gotten more...mundane, instead of violent or miserable. It's like people are going back to their normal lives and their normal worries."

"I guess you're right, huh? Bishamon is even minimizing the standing armies of the Senkumo clan." Tsukiakari stated. "We're switching over to our post-war strategy. Looks like we won't be fighting anymore battles. The war is pretty much over for us."

"Really? Is that really true?"

"Yeah. Crazy, isn't it? I feel like I've come so far with the clan, I almost don't want to stop fighting. But the men are taking the news very well. You could hear the partying and the singing over the walls."

"I'm so glad to hear that, Gekko! That's wonderful news!"

"Yeah, but...that's actually not what I came here to talk about. Inari, can you summon Izanami here? She needs to hear this too."

Inari nodded."Okay, sure."

With just a simple prayer, Izanami came to the shrine within a half hour. She flung open the sliding door and stopped in her tracks upon seeing Tsukiakari. Everyone was trapped in a moment of awkward silence as Izanami grew visibly flustered near Tsukiakari. Her downcast eyes and needless fixing of her hair proved how uncomfortable she was.

"Gekko..." Izanami muttered.

"Izanami." Tsukiakari responded. "It's been a while."

Izanami nodded. "Yeah."

"I assume you've been well." Tsukiakari said.

"I guess so." Izanami shrugged. "Listen, Gekko, about what happened back then...I'm sorry."

Tsukiakari sighed, seeking to end this awkward confrontation. "It's going to take a lot more than an apology if you want me to forgive you. That's not what we called you over here for. I received a tip from Oda about Taeko. There's an underground structure situated beneath the lake of Oyamatsumi's shrine, the same area Taeko disappeared."

"Underground?!" Izanami recoiled.

Tsukiakari nodded. "Yeah, the miners who saw it said it looked like a catacomb. I think it's worth checking out."

"Izanami, are you sure you didn't feel Taeko die?" Inari asked. "You didn't see her in the House of Souls? If she's still alive she'd be an old lady but now."

Izanami shook her head. "No, I didn't feel anything, and I kept checking the House of Souls for her, but he never showed up! There's no sign whatsoever that Taeko died."

"Do you...do you think she's in there?" Inari asked with a cold shiver shooting down her spine.

"I wanted to go tomorrow to see if she really was there." Tsukiakari said.

"Why not right now? It would be easier for us to get in undetected if we did it now. It's the perfect time of night." Inari suggested.

"I agree." Izanami said. "We should head there now, Tsukiakari. Oda's miners discovered the entrance to the catacombs, right? If the entrance is still exposed, it means Oyamatsumi hasn't discovered it yet. It's best we go there before he has a chance to seal it up again. The only way to know what really happened is to go there. There's no reason to wait."

They left Tsukiakari no time to prepare her for what awaited her down there, but if Taeko was still alive after all of these years, then perhaps nothing would.

Ultimately, Tsukiakari came to agree with the goddesses. "Alright. Let's go"



Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #489 on: August 06, 2019, 12:04:57 AM »
We Were the Weeds
Spoiler
"Hey, Amaterasu. Got a moment?"

His voice rang out from behind Amaterasu's shut door while she sat beneath her window, brushing her long, silky head of hair. Those amber eyes of her observed all of Heaven's subjects and architectural splendor with caution and disdain. She felt she could decipher what was going on in the heads of the servants and gods below by watching them from her palace. She felt she could hear and feel their fleeting thoughts of treason, their futile plans to extend their lives. Each and every one of those thoughts slithered around her like snakes, hissing in her ears. Oyamatsumi's knock upon her door almost felt like a small instance of karma. Almost, had it not been cunningly planned by Amaterasu herself. By focusing on the tainted atmosphere of Heaven, she had brought one of its most prominent victims to her bedroom door. Her own brother.

"Come in, Oyamatsumi."

He gently opened the door, out of breath and clearly excited by something. Amaterasu kept her eyes on him through his reflection in her vanity mirror.

"Why did you boot us from the War Council? Hachiman, Raijin, Fujin, everyone. The decision was so sudden."

"The War Council is going to be reformed into a different team of people." Amaterasu said. "Until then, every existing member, save for our Divine General, will be booted."

Oyamatsumi smiled, brushing aside his blonde hair from his eyes. "You've been busy changing things up. I'm hearing whispers that you have some sort of huge plan for both Heaven and Earth. What's that about?"

"I'm afraid that's still a secret. The plan is confidential." Amaterasu said.

Oyamatsumi sighed and shook his head, deciding to let go of the matter. "Alright, sis. I'll trust you on this one. It's a shame about the war on earth though, isn't it? Right when everyone was getting comfortable, those foreigners brought a new religion with them. They've been going on and on about how there's only one god. Prayers might be a little tight for some of smaller gods. Even Tsukuyomi still gets enough prayers to stay alive."

If Amaterasu's hand gripped any tighter around her brush, it would've snapped right in half. "My husband was not the only demon walking in plain sight. There are no angels in this Heaven of mine, but I shudder to think that the men of action that once roamed these halls have now withered and waned into their pathetic state."

Oyamatsumi stood breathless. He could feel the coils of rage around his sister, festering and boiling beneath her porcelain skin.

"How sad it is, Brother, to see the gods whipped into submission by the same primal instincts instilled in humans. Mortal fear." Amaterasu said. "Is this what the Buddha meant when he said the root of suffering was attachment? That we only lose the things we cling to?"

"I'm afraid too, you know. A lot of people really wish this merge didn't happen." Oyamatsumi protested. "None of us were prepared to pay the cost of this new power. The day you agreed to merge our pantheons was the first day anyone ever found it necessary to make graves in Heaven. This was supposed to be a deathless place."

"So you scorn me as well." Amaterasu hissed.

"I just hope you haven't been doing what it looks like you're doing. I don't believe my sister would ever engineer the deaths of her subjects. Not on purpose."

Amaterasu put aside her brush. "Go. Handle your duties, Oyamatsumi."

The further he walked away from her room, the more her boiling blood finally came to a rest. She didn't realize until he left that his presence made her feel physically hot with vexation and anger. Little did Oyamatsumi know that Amaterasu's vision of Heaven's future did not include him anywhere in it.

Back on Earth, Inari, Izanami, and Tsukiakari found the mining cave Nobunaga spoke of, following it until it lead them down to the heavy, double door entrance. Both doors stood nearly 15 feet tall, engraved with low-relief swirls that made the doors rough to the touch. Tsukiakari held her flame-covered blade up as a torch, lighting up the cave.

Inari winced and pinched her nose. "The air is so musty and damp here. This really is right below the lake, isn't it?"

"Oyamatsumi isn't here?" Tsukiakari asked.

"No, we're lucky. He seems to be away right now." Izanami said. "Shall we go in?"

Tsukiakari nodded. "Do it."

And so, the doors creaked open, leading them down the long, straight path into the heart of the catacombs. The various skulls and femurs lining the walls almost sickened Inari. As they reached the heart of that putrid place, Tsukiakari rubbed her fingers on the unlit torches in one of the halls, observing the residue left on them.

"There's still traces of oil on these. They lit recently." Tsukiakari said.

"There's multiple ways we can take, too. We should all be on guard." Izanami cautioned.

"Is it wise to split up?" Inari asked.

"Normally, I'd say no, but we only have about two hours of darkness left. The sun will rise shortly after." said Izanami.

"Right. We need to find her as soon as possible." Tsukiakari interjected. "We can still talk to each other through prayer if anything happens. Perhaps we should split up. I'll go down the center route."

"I'll take the left." Inari said, raising her hand.

"Looks like I'm on the right." Izanami sighed. "If you find something, let the rest of us know immediately."

And so, the girls split up.

The slight odor of old bones and decomposition danced around Tsukiakari's nose as she proceeded down her selected path, opening the occasional, cobweb-covered door to check for any sign of Taeko. All she found were more skeletons, most of which clearly belonged to male adults, probably in their 30's.

"Hey, Izanami...do you know if Taeko had any items with her?" Tsukiakari asked, her eyes closed in prayer.

"Items? Well...the day she disappeared, I lent her a red umbrella for the heat. I don't know if she still had it by the time she came here."

"Alright, I'll keep searching."

Thankfully, Tsukiakari knew what decomposition smelled like when the flesh was still on the bone. Being exposed to the worst and most grotesque stages of human decomposition meant that sifting through the old skeletal remains in the catacombs was nothing for her. Door after door only yielded more bones of long dead souls until she came across one particular double door.

Tsukiakari finally stood before the wooden door leading to the abandoned worship area. Rats scuttled by her feet, running in the opposite direction of whatever was beyond the entrance.

"This looks like it leads to a wider area...maybe she's..." Tsukiakari trailed off.

All too curious to find out, Tsukiakari lifted off the door's brace with one arm, letting it plop down onto the rocky floor with a mighty thud that echoed through the halls.

"A steel brace on a wooden door? They were trying to keep something inside of here from getting out..."

Pushing open the door with her fingers felt like stepping off the edge of the universe. Everything beyond that door was unknown, and she had no idea what to expect. The sanctuary was incredibly dark. Even with her light, Tsukiakari could barely see anything in front of her. She took only two steps forward before she heard another set of footsteps ahead of her. She stopped, listening attentively to figure out who or what was there.

"Who's there?!"

No response.

The only vocal cue she received was the slight sound of incoherent moaning and groaning, along with the thud of the stranger's bare feet slapping against the stone floors.

Stepping deeper into the sanctuary, Tsukiakari's blade now lit most of the room, allowing her to finally see who was there. A strange mix of disgust and fascination widened her eyes as she saw what appeared to be a woman pace around the room in circles. Her kimono was tattered and ripped all around, as if the very fabric of her clothes had gone rotten. This 'person', if anyone could call it that, didn't even have any eyes, a nose, or even a mouth.

Much like Izanami, she resembled a walking corpse, only this one was missing anything that could give its body beauty, or anything resembling individuality. It was just a fleshy husk, a walking shell, a featureless zombie. Only her long hair, grown all the way down to her feet, gave that featureless husk a sense of self. Tsukiakari continued walking ever so slowly as she kept her eyes on the monster before her very eyes.

"Hey...guys...I found something." Tsukiakari whispered.

"Did you find Taeko?!" Inari asked in response.

"No, but I found something else. I think it's a Mu-Onna."

"What?! Gekko, are you sure? It doesn't have a face or anything?!" Izanami asked.

"No, nothing. It's just walking around the room. It doesn't seem to be interested in me at all. It's probably been here for a long time."

"Did they steal a Mu-Onna or something? Why would they do that?" Inari said, perplexed.

"I'm not sure, but I'm going to keep searching for Taeko. I hope she wasn't harmed by that...thing." Tsukiakari shuddered.

"Alright. Before we leave, we have to make sure the Mu-Onna is vanquished. We can't just let it roam the earth." Izanami urged. "That's so odd though. How did they manage to get their hands on one?"

Tsukiakari's next step did not bring the sole of her sandals down upon more of the stone floor. Instead, there was distinct crunch, as if she had broken something. Turning her eyes away from the Mu-Onna, she picked up the object she had stepped on, a tattered, red umbrella.

A chill shot down Tsukiakari's spine. It felt as if something lodged itself in her throat before she gulped and contacted Izanami again.

"Izanami...what did you say you lent Taeko again on the day she disappeared?"

"A red umbrella! Why? Did you find it?"

Multiple beads of sweat ran down her face as she turned her head back towards the Mu-Onna, who continued to aimlessly pace around the room. Tsukiakari's eyes peeled wide open among the daunting realization that the featureless monster before her was Taeko.

"Gekko? Gekko?! What's going on?" Inari panicked.

"Oh my god. Ta...Taeko?" Tsukiakari stammered.

Out of all the things she had seen on the battlefield, out of all of the horrors she had witnessed in her life, none stood up to that moment, the moment Tsukiakari realized what had happened to Taeko. Her beautiful eyes, her gracious smile, and petite little nose and intricate dimples...all of them were gone. She was no more than a walking mannequin now.

No matter how hard she looked, Tsukiakari still couldn't believe it. "No....it can't be...how did this..."

The Mu-Onna tripped over its own ankle, falling over on the floor with a loud slam against the ground. It was so incredibly clumsy as it tried to get itself back up, falling over several more times before it corrected its posture and continued its aimless march.

"Gekko?! Inari, head back to the forked path!" Izanami urged. "We need to meet with Gekko!"

"You got it!" Inari replied.

"That kimono....it's the same one she wore that day..." Tsukiakari recalled aloud.

Tears of unspeakable anguish forced themselves in a continuous, stinging stream out of Tsukiakari's horrified eyes. She could feel her very soul shatter into pieces as her breathing grew labored.

"Taeko! Taeko, please say something!" Tsukiakari cried.

The Mu-Onna said nothing. It seemed to be eternally locked in its aimless trance.

While the girls discovered what had happened to Taeko after all those years, Bishamon sat alone in his sanctuary night, his eyes closed in meditation. Dozens of candles burned around him in a circle, filling the room with the therapeutic scent of honey and mint. Someone knocked upon his door, pulling him out of his meditation.

"Come in."

Hachiman and Fujin entered the room, shutting the door behind them.

"We got your prayer." Hachiman said. "Are you really doing this? I thought you were going to ride this war out a little longer."

"Plans have changed. I'm going through with this. Are you two with me?" Bishamon asked.

Fujin bowed his head. "We're with you."

Bishamon stood up and opened the sliding door to his balcony. Fujin and Hachiman joined him as they looked out towards the army of thousands of Senkumo troops standing before him in the courtyard, awaiting their lord's order. A golden moon hung above their heads in the night sky.

"The operation will commence immediately!" Bishamon shouted. "Ride out!"

The men cheered in response and flooded out of the base's gates. Many of them were armed with rifles and lightweight, leather armor. Most of the traditional sword and spear units rode on mounts, making their forces fast and much more mobile. It was clear just from looking at the composition of the army that Bishamon was in a rush to move quickly over a great distance.

"We have more forces to link up with during our journey." Bishamon said. "We'll be forty-thousand strong by the time we reach our targets. It's best we take out all of the bases in the surrounding area first so we don't get boxed in by reinforcements."

"Good thinking, kid." Hachiman praised. "Let's get going."

And in Heaven, Uzume met up with Amaterasu once more in the emptied War Council meeting room. She shut the door behind her and bowed before her queen before speaking.

"I conveyed everything to Bishamon, just as you asked. He's taking action immediately." Uzume said. "Though, I must say, this is all very extreme. Is this really how you want to resolve things, Amaterasu?"

Amaterasu stood at one of the windows, the sunlight reflecting off of her skin. "I spent all of these years drawing up this project. It will work, Uzume. In order for him to be controlled, Bishamon must first have his power tethered to Heaven and Heaven alone. That's why the first step in the project is so extreme. If the Senkumo clan is his force of power on Earth, then it must be removed."

"I just think it's unprecedented, ordering a god to directly commit mass killings of humans." Uzume said. "Won't this put Tsukiakari in danger?"

Amaterasu smiled. "Bishamon was already plotting to end it this way. I simply told him to speed up his plans. Indeed, Tsukiakari will be put in danger. Bishamon will undoubtedly try to kill her along with the rest of the clan."

Uzume covered her mouth in horror. "Why wager your daughter's life?"

"No one from this pantheon can lay a finger on Bishamon or his group. We'll spark another civil war, and this really isn't the time for that. So, the solution was to get someone powerful, someone outside of this pantheon, to do the deed for us. Tsukiakari was the perfect person. I firmly believe in my daughter's strength. When she finds out of this grand betrayal, she will seek vengeance. She'll kill everyone she can get her hands on."

"Do you expect her to be able to kill Bishamon, too?" Uzume asked.

Amaterasu snickered. "Well, that's entirely up to the both of them, isn't it?"


The Truth, At Long Last
Spoiler
It all began to make sense. When Taeko's baby died, it must've triggered the grief necessary to turn her into a Mu-Onna. A human being turning into one while they were still alive was unheard of, but not impossible. How many decades did she spend locked in that room, circling around its four corners endlessly? The longer Tsukiakari stared at her, still shivering from the realization, the more it hurt. Taeko was already practically dead. However...the red umbrella wasn't all that she left behind.

Another surprise caught Tsukiakari by the corner of her eye. She held her flaming sword closer to the rear wall of the room to examine what seemed to be a message, written with the black blood and tears that Taeko spilled in her last moments. After all of those decades, the message was still clearly visible, forever stained onto the walls.

"Taeko...did you write this?!"

Taeko's message was written vertically, requiring it to be read downwards, from right to left. She left behind a simple message, with as much grammar and extra words left out. Judging from that, Tsukiakari knew she must've decided to write it when she felt like she didn't have much time left. Taeko must've known that by the time she was found, she'd already be gone. She decided she wouldn't go without exposing the truth.

"Bishamon, four co-conspirators. All gods. Hachiman. Raijin. Fujin....and Oyamatsumi..." Tsukiakari read aloud.

Oyamatsumi's involvement was absolutely undeniable. All of the evidence pointed to him having attacked Taeko, most likely upon her discovery of the identities of Bishamon's accomplices. Tsukiakari realized right then and there that she had been betrayed. They had all been betrayed.

"Hachiman...the former god of war...did he fire the arrow that paralyzed Ebina? For Mayumi and I...did one of them tip off the Mori clan ahead of time? And for Taeko...they all had some involvement, but it looks like Oyamatsumi was the one who did the deed...my own uncle. Uncle...why did you lie? You said you weren't involved! You promised me you weren't involved in this!"

So much was hitting Tsukiakari all at once that she recoiled away from the written message, holding her hand to her heart as she caught her breath. Though her head was still aching just from the sheer weight of everything, she already knew one thing that had to be done. Taeko, or what was left her, needed to be put to rest.

"Taeko...you must've been in so much pain. And yet, still, in your last moments, you kept fighting. You always blamed yourself for being unable to protect us, but you were the strongest of us all. You're an even better warrior than I could ever be."

With tears streaming down her cheeks, Tsukiakari raised her blade as the Mu-Onna walked towards her, still uninterested in her guest.

"I love you so much, Taeko." Tsukiakari cried.

Inari and Izanami both ran through the sanctuary doors at the same time, stopping dead in their tracks with as they saw Tsukiakari hug the Mu-Onna, her flaming sword protruding out of her back.

"Gekko..." Inari muttered grimly.

Tsukiakari gently retracted her sword from Taeko's body, catching her with one arm as she fell to the side. She laid her down on the floor gently, grabbing her cold, dead hands and clasping them together. The vile, black blood of the Mu-Onna pooled around her, reeking of rotten flesh.

"I felt her just now. Taeko is gone. She's at peace now, Gekko." Izanami assured.

Tsukiakari's trembled in a tidal wave of woe and dejection."Good. She deserves her rest. She fought so hard for all of us."

The girls took a moment of somber quietude, as if to honor Taeko's passing soul. Tsukiakari sighed as she slid her arms underneath Taeko's back and head, picking her up off of the floor.

"Inari, I need to ask you a favor." Tsukiakari said.

Inari nodded. "Anything."

Tsukiakari's eyes were like wilted flowers as she handed the corpse over to Inari. "Please bury her with Ebina and Mayumi. She deserves to rest alongside her sisters."

Izanami shut her eyes, as if to seal away any more tears that may escape down her cheek. "She was such a fierce woman. I can't believe this happened to her."

With a heavy, yet determined heart, Inari accepted the burden of burying Taeko. "Alright. I'll bury her. What will you do, Gekko?"

"I'm not sure. I really just don't know any—"

The catacombs were suddenly rocked by what felt like a powerful earthquake, crumbling the walls and very bones supporting them. The constant, bombastic crunch of breaking stone and a weakening ceiling served as the perfect cue to leave immediately.

"What's happening?! An earthquake?!" Inari shouted.

"I don't know, but we need to leave! This place is going to come down any instant!" Inari urged.

"Inari, take Taeko's corpse and get out of here! Be sure you keep your promise!" Tsukiakari commanded.

"Wait, what about you!?" Inari asked.

"This isn't an earthquake, we were discovered! Leave now!" Tsukiakari replied.

"Let's just go, Inari! Gekko, you better stay safe!" Izanami demanded.

Tsukiakari simply nodded as Inari and Izanami teleported out of the catacombs, taking Taeko's body with them. A great wave of relief washed over Tsukiakari, knowing Taeko would be free of that odorous abode beneath Oyamatsumi's shrine. But now, she had to worry about who discovered them.

Her sadness turning into rage, Tsukiakari let out a furious scream. In what seemed like a mad, suicidal fit of anger, Tsukiakari pointed her blade towards the ceiling, focusing a massive amount of fiery energy into the very tip of her polished sword. The high-powered explosion blew open the catacombs thunderous blast that ejected tons of the lake's water high into air until it fell down upon the earth like boiling rain.

Jumping straight out of the mess of fire, black smoke, and displaced water, Tsukiakari landed on the lake's shore, her wet hair covering one of her eyes. Now that she was outside again, she could see the rising sun brightening the sky, its light peeking over the hills in the distance and glimmering on the lake's falling water.

As her ears were preoccupied with the sound of the massive explosion and splash of falling water, Tsukiakari looked all around for the culprit.

"Where are you, you bastard?!"

The silence after the explosion was the most stressful thing about the situation for Tsukiakari. She waited and watched for any signs of the attacker, but saw nothing. Then, in just a split second, something had broken through the thick cloud of black smoke ahead, leaving a swirled hole right in the middle of the bellowing plume.

Before she could say anything, before she even knew what had happened, a lightning bolt pierced through her chest like a javelin. She fell to one knee, holding her hand to the gaping hole below her heart where blood poured out of like a small fountain.

"W-what...what's happening?!"

Her body went through a painful cycle of going numb and suddenly pulsating with unholy agony until she fell face-first on the ground. Her blood trickled into the lake, dyeing it red. Tsukiakari's senses dulled and weakened. Her sight became fuzzy, dark, and distorted, and she could barely even hear the water rushing into her ear. Everything felt numb and unresponsive. This feeling was familiar to her, for it was the feeling of death.

"This...confirms it..." Tsukiakari wheezed.

The culprit stepped forward from beyond the plume of smoke rising high into the morning sky. Though Tsukiakari could not raise her head to see him, she already knew exactly who it was. He walked on the lake's water itself as if it were solid ground, stepping ever closer to confirm his kill.

"Raijin. So...it's true..." Tsukiakari sighed.

"Sorry to have to do this after your years of wonderful service to the cause." Raijin laughed. "But it's over now. Enjoy your slumber, princess. I wonder if you'll even be able to wake up this time"

Tsukiakari's vision faded into a haze of darkness. The sounds around her grew muffled until they could be heard no more. She felt the blood in her veins go cold and her eyelids close shut.

Death was silence.

Death was darkness.

Death was vengeance.

Death was bitter.

Death was woeful.

Death was hateful.

The festivities were still going on through the night at Tsukiakari's base. Men extended their hands to the nearest, cutest girls they could find and twirled them around the bonfires lit throughout the courtyard. With enough alcohol in their system, even the most introverted of Senkumo troops found their singing voice or their dancing skills and joined in with the rest of the troops. The younger men linked their arms across each other's shoulders and drunkenly stumbled their way down the courtyard. It was absolute pandemonium like they had never seen before. All of their years of suffering and fighting were finally over, and that was sure as hell something to get plastered about.

Chiya, being much older, showed far more restraint that the rest of her troops. She sat on her knees before one of the flowerbeds of azaleas, quite a distance away from all of the loud partying and celebration. Yachi's tombstone stood among the azaleas, her remains resting below the soil. Her hands pressed together in prayer, Chiya opened her eyes and stood up with a smile on her aged, wrinkled face. After so many years, her long, unbound hair remained black with pronounced streaks of grey.

"Your dream finally came true, Yachi. I lived to watch it all happen."

Inori suddenly came running out of the base's sanctuary, wearing an azalea in her head of silver hair. "Chiya!"

"Is something wrong?" Chiya asked.

Inori took a moment to catch her breath. "It's Gekko! She reincarnated!"

Stunned silent, Chiya retreated into the sanctuary with Inori to go and see for herself. They raced up the steps to the third floor, slamming open the sliding door to Tsukiakari's worship area. Sure enough, there she was, lying unconscious in her futon.

"Why would she die in the middle of peacetime?" Chiya asked.

"I don't know. I'm not sure what happened. The guards mentioned that they saw her return from Kyoto, but she turned around and went somewhere else." Inori explained.

Chiya had no idea what to think. It didn't make sense to suffer a casualty during peacetime. She snapped her fingers and looked Inori in the eye. Even if she didn't say it, they both knew who they had to go to for answers.

"Let's send two men. We'll have them go and visit Inari and Izanami."


Our Final Enemy
Spoiler
By the time the morning sun began to crest over the hills, many of the Senkumo troops in Tsukiakari's base had retired to their beds. With all of the alcohol consumed throughout the night, the men were practically hibernating. For the first time in the clan's history, Tsukiakari's base was quiet, peaceful, and much to Chiya's anxiety, unguarded. With most of the men incapacitated, Inori and Goro decided to mount their horses and ride out to meet Izanami by themselves. They trotted down the dirt road together, unnerved by the unusually peaceful atmosphere of the region. The roads were completely devoid of travelers as the morning winds swayed the trees and tall grass coating the hillocks in the distance.

"We haven't heard from Bishamon yet, have we?" Inori asked.

"About Gekko's death? No, but it just happened, didn't it?" Goro responded.

"You're right. That was a stupid question." Inori sighed.

Goro took note of Inori's dejected and anxious expression. "You okay?"

"It's just not like her to die like this. We're not in any major wars and our provinces our secure. I can't see her getting into any dangerous accidents either." Inori chattered.

"We won't know a thing until we contact Izanami. Try to keep your chin up until then, alright?" Goro sang, hoping to preserve her optimism.

Inori smiled. "Sorry. It's part of being in the field of nursery. I'm a natural-born worry wort."

Goro suddenly yanked on his reigns, drawing an agitated neigh from his horse. Inori stopped as well, alarmed by Goro's abrupt halt.

"Goro, what's wrong?"

Goro didn't answer. His eyes were drawn towards the sun-kissed mountains ahead. Inori followed his gaze and gasped at the sight of the thick plume of black smoke bellowing out from the mountains.

"Don't we have a base up there?" Inori asked. "What happened?"

"Let's go!" Goro shouted, kicking his horse into a wild gallop.

Inori tailed behind him as they raced up the face of the mountain. They stopped in front of the massive, wooden entrance of the base, its doors blasted open. Goro and Inori lifted the necks of their robes to cover their noses as they dismounted their horses and slowly proceeded through the gate. This base was smaller than Tsukiakari's. It had been built thirty years prior to Bishamon's order to halt all offensive military operations. In the early days of the clan, Bishamon prioritized having bases that could hold large, standing armies, hence his preference to build them on relatively flat land in the countryside. As the Senkumo grew, the clan was able to hold more strategic positions, and started building bases along mountains and coastlines.

This base in particular housed a smaller force of roughly two hundred men, meant to act as a quick relief force in the case of emergencies and natural disasters. Though an opposing army may have found it to be a great position to capture, Goro found the chances of an enemy attack to be slim. Almost all of the Senkumo's enemies had either been destroyed or surrendered in order to become part of a clan neutral or allied to the Senkumo. Even if it was an enemy force, it made no sense to Goro or Inori that they would then raze such a valuable, well-stocked location.

As they walked in, however, all they saw were scattered corpses of Senkumo troops and charred buildings all around. Whoever had invaded the place did it only to kill the troops stationed there and destroy the facility. Goro turned over one of the corpses onto its back, revealing the mangled, blood-covered face of a young woman. Flies gathered to feast on the harvest of corpses, much to the disgust of Inori.

"Look." Inori said as she pointed at the woman's corpse. "Slash wounds on her stomach. She was killed with a blade."

"None of them are armed, either. They were completely taken by surprise." Goro observed.

"They must've been celebrating, just like the rest us." Inori lamented. "We should get out of here, Goro. We have to report this to Chiya. Izanami can wait."

Goro looked around as he slowly reversed towards the gate. "I've got a really bad feeling about this."

Goro and Inori quickly mounted their horses and began the race back to base. They descended the mountain and were about to head east down the dirt road, but they both came to an abrupt stop once again. Far in the distance, they spotted what looked like a hundred, fully-armored men flying the Senkumo banner. They set up pavises and guard towers along the road, forming a blockade.

"Those are our guys too?" Inori asked. "Maybe they know what's going on."

Goro and Inori slowly trotted along down the road, holding their hands above their faces to block the light of the rising sun. Once they were in sight to the small force below, however, the men quickly tightened their formation as if preparing to attack. Goro and Inori yanked the reigns of their horses, coming to a complete stop.

"They don't know who we are." Goro said, reaching in his robes for his ivory horn.

He blew through the mouthpiece of the horn, playing a small jingle that would've normally been enough to identify one Senkumo to another from a distance, but instead, the blockading force opened fire on Goro and Inori with their matchlock rifles, narrowly missing the both of them.

"Turn back! Turn back!" Goro shouted.

Goro and Inori did a complete one-eighty, galloping down the road to the west, away from the blockading force.

"Why the hell would they shoot at us?!" Goro yelled, sweat dripping down his neck.

"We have to get back to base!" Inori urged. "Avoid the eastern route! We'll go the long way instead!"

At noon, the two of them returned to base, urging the guards to open the gates for them. They hopped off of their horses and sprinted back over to the sanctuary's third floor like their lives depended on it. Goro slammed open the sliding door, spooking the worried Chiya as she looked over the unconscious Tsukiakari.

"What happened? Are you two okay?" Chiya asked.

"Chiya our base in the mountains south of here is gone!" Inori exclaimed. "The men were all killed and the whole place is up in smoke!"

"We raced back to tell you, but the roads to the east were blocked off by other Senkumo troops. They shot at us as soon as we identified ourselves!" Goro explained.

"What?!" Chiya recoiled. "The base is gone?! Are you sure the men who shot at you were Senkumo?"

"I'm positive." Goro said. "They had our banner, our armor, and our guns. I'd never mistake it for anything else."

Chiya stood up with her hands slapped over her mouth. Her gasps of horror were muffled. "Oh my god..."

Chiya took a moment to collect herself. "You said the base was up in smoke? So the fires were recent, then. They must've been killed while they were celebrating. And you said the roads to the east were blockaded?"

Inori nodded. "We're positive, it was east. It's our quickest way in and out of the region."

"That means whoever is doing this knows where our bases are, when they're most vulnerable, and our best routes out of here." Chiya analyzed.

One of the men suddenly presented themselves at the sliding door, bowing before Chiya. "Lord Chiya, there's a stranger at the gate requesting immediate entry. She said she needs to speak to you. She mentioned you by name."

"One thing after another..." Chiya groaned.

Chiya, Goro and Inori made their way to the gate, meeting the stranger right outside the base. The woman requesting entry dismounted her white horse and stood before the three Senkumo, face to face. She looked to be in her late forties and donned long, unbound black hair. For a woman, she dressed more like a man, wearing a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to her shoulders, and a dirt pair of tan, cotton pants.

"State your business." Chiya said.

"Is that...is that you, Chiya?" the woman asked.

Chiya stepped closer, shocked that the woman recognized her by sight and by name. The more she looked upon the woman's face, the more she came to recognize her. She almost couldn't believe her own eyes.

"No way..." Chiya gasped. "Is that you, Chiharu?"

"Chiharu?!" Inori recoiled

Sure enough, Chiharu nodded in response, tears welling in her eyes. "So you still remember me after all of these years? I couldn't be happier."

"I can't believe it." Goro said, his mouth agape. "You're still alive after all this time?"

Chiya laughed to herself as she brought Chiharu in for a long, tight hug. It took everything she had to keep herself from crying, both out of happiness and regret for what happened to Chiharu many years ago. Chiharu soon pulled herself away from the hug, resting her hands on Chiya's shoulders.

"As heartwarming as this reunion is, I'm afraid I'm not here with good news. Is Gekko still here? What about Mayumi?" Chiharu asked.

"Gekko is here, but things are complicated right now." Goro responded. "As for Mayumi...she was killed in battle a long time ago, just a few years after you were exiled."

"Mayumi died? That's terrible. She was such a kind person." Chiharu lamented. "Listen, we can catch up some more later. I think you guys are in some serious danger."

"Why do you say that?" Chiya asked.

"Because the Senkumo base in Isa province was destroyed." Chiharu replied. "It happened so suddenly, you could see the smoke from where I live. The locals were saying they all died before they even had a chance to fight back. I came back to Yamashiro to check to see if Gekko was still in this region, and that's when I passed by Bishamon's base this morning. It was completely deserted."

"The base in Isa was destroyed? We just discovered another base close by was destroyed as well!" Inori said.

"Bishamon's base is empty? No corpses? No sign of fighting?" Chiya questioned.

Chiharu shook her head. "Nothing that I could see. The gates were open but the base looked untouched. It's just that no one was in it. Not a single soul. All of the supplies were gone too. It looked like the army there deployed and took their supplies with them."

"They deployed?" Inori gasped.

Chiya remained eerily silent as her eyes widened in horror. It seemed she had figured out what was happening, and it wasn't good.

"Everyone, get inside." Chiya ordered.

The gate was shut and the guards were told to remain on high alert. A few men remained stationed at the walls while the men on the ground stormed into everyone's bedrooms, waking them from their alcohol-induced slumber. As everyone on base began to wake up, Chiya sealed herself, Inori, Goro, and Chiharu in the war room. For what she was about to say, Chiya required the utmost privacy, as not to spread panic throughout the ranks.

"I wasn't completely sure at first, but now I know for a fact what's happening." Chiya said. "I want you all to listen very carefully, and to remain calm."

Chiya let the silence settle for a moment, ensuring she had their unyielding attention. "The ones that destroyed our bases had to know where they were located, when they were vulnerable to attack, and which routes to cut off. If the base close by and the one in Isa went up at about the same time, it means the attacks were coordinated throughout multiple provinces. The only force capable of inflicting that much damage to us right now...is us."

"The Senkumo is attacking itself?" Chiharu questioned.

"It seems to me that Bishamon's force is responsible for this. If Bishamon himself is also missing, then I can only assume he's personally leading them." Chiya explained. "For whatever reason, Bishamon intends to destroy the Senkumo clan."

"But...he's our master! How could he do such a thing?" Inori cried.

"Izanami warned me that he might try something like this, long ago." Chiya recalled. "She predicted that once the Senkumo clan was no longer of any use to him, Bishamon would discard us. That was a dark period for our clan, and for this base specifically. We had suffered so many losses, and Yachi had gone missing around that time. Our faith in Bishamon took a serious hit."

"What happened to Yachi? I thought she was here too." Chiharu said.

Chiya closed her eyes in lamentation. "You missed a lot in your exile, Chiharu. My dear Yachi passed away years ago."

Chiharu's brows arched as she frowned. "Yachi too? I'm so sorry, Chiya."

"Thank you." Chiya said with a bow of her head. "Bishamon's forces are sealing off the roads to the east right now. They'll probably seal all of other routes of escape as well. From the look of things, it seems they want to box this base in. They're being much more cautious about attacking us because they know Gekko is here. Again, it points to this all being the work of Bishamon. Only he would know to do all of this, and how to do it so quickly and effectively."

Goro scoffed. "So, in the end, our last enemy is our fellow Senkumo."

"So then...he intends to kill Gekko?" Inori asked.

"If he's trying to wipe his own clan off the map after everything we did for him, it would make the most sense to kill her too." Goro said. "I just can't believe it. All those god damned years we gave him..."

"Where is Gekko, by the way?" Chiharu questioned.

"She died and reincarnated this morning." Chiya said. "Goro and Inori initially went out to learn why this happened during peacetime, but that's when they discovered the base and the blocked roads. Our own men tried to kill them."

"She reincarnated? So, I assume she hasn't woken up yet." Chiharu deducted.

"That's the problem. Gekko probably won't wake up by the time this base is attacked." Chiya sighed.

"Chiya..." Inori began, terrified to continue. "If this base is attacked..."

Chiya shook her head, confirming Inori's fear before she had even finished her question. "Yes. Bishamon most likely has a large force with him if he can attack multiple targets at once and block off roads. With Gekko out of commission, we have no hope of winning in the event of an attack. All of us will die."

The others were stunned silent. They each had to make their peace with that horrifying fact, that they were going to die at the hands of their own master and comrades.

"I should've heeded Izanami's warning." Chiya said remorsefully. "She was right. He really does intend to get rid of us and Gekko."

"Maybe there's no hope for us, but do you think it's still possible to save Gekko?" Chiharu asked, wiping her tears away.

"Save her?" Chiya repeated. "Well..."

"This base is probably his last target. He took out every other location with haste, but he's stalling on this one." Chiharu examined. "He must now know that Gekko is in a coma yet. In the end, Bishamon doesn't care about little old us. He's going to want to kill Gekko. We probably don't have a lot of time, but if we make use of the time we do have, can we prepare a way for Gekko to escape?"

"She's in no condition to be put on the road, Chiharu." Inori said.

"What if we made use of the ammo tunnel?" Goro proposed. "We've been keeping ammunition for the matchlock rifles in storage tunnels. If we expand those tunnels, we can make an underground backdoor out from the base and into the forest.

"We'd need a lot of manpower to make that possible." Inori groaned.

"We have the manpower." Chiya said. "It's actually possible, but it will require that we lay down the situation for the troops. After everything we worked for, that's going to be a tough talk to have."

"We have no choice." Goro growled.

"Goro, can I ask that you lead the effort to expand the tunnels? I'll give you as many men as you need to get it done." Chiya said.

Goro bowed. "For Gekko, it would be my life's greatest honor."

Chiya turned to Inori next. "Inori, we have a lot of kids here. If we don't move quickly to get them out of here, Bishamon will cut off any hope of escape they have. I need you to organize a way to get them out safely. Anyone younger than the age of twelve should be made to leave. Anyone above that age should have the choice if they want to stay or not."

Inori clasped her hands and bowed, her forehead touching the floor. "I'll do it gladly."

"Chiharu, help them out however you can. I'm sorry that you got dragged into this." Chiya lamented.

"That's okay." Chiharu said. "Gekko saved my life when I was a young girl. I'll gladly put mine on the life for hers."

Chiya sighed as she stood up, as if a great pressure had been lifted from her shoulders. "No matter what happens to us, we cannot let Gekko die here. She gave up her life for us time and time again. Let's do the same for her."


Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #490 on: August 06, 2019, 12:07:16 AM »
Accepting the End
Spoiler
The group broke off from their talk in the war room. Chiya, Goro, and Inori rounded up all of their men in the third floor of the sanctuary, having them sit in rows before the unconscious Tsukiakari. As Chiya prepared to get the rest of her men up to speed with what was happening, Chiharu took the opportunity to see the flowerbeds of azaleas. She found Yachi's tombstone among one of the flowerbeds, kneeling before it as she prayed for her old comrade.

Chiya surveyed the tired faces of her troops with a terrible pain in her heart. There were so many good men, good women, and innocent children sitting in front of her, all of them looking upon her with anxious glints in their eyes. Chiya didn't speak a word until all of her fellow Senkumo had finished filing into the room and taken their seats on the tatami floor. Once everyone was in, the room went silent as all attention was turned to Chiya.

"I'm sure you're all wondering why I summoned you here, and why Tsukiakari has reincarnated yet again." Chiya began. "Today, I sent Goro and Inori on a mission to contact Izanami-no-Mikoto, Gekko's grandmother. They were to talk with her and see if she knew why Gekko had died during our peacetime. On the way there, however, they discovered the smoldering ruins of our base in the mountains south of here. Every single man stationed there lied dead on the ground, killed before they could even arm themselves to fight back."

Chiya's revelation elicited frightened gasps from hundreds of the Senkumo. They all knew how close that base was to their own.

"Goro and Inori then turned back so they could report the base's destruction to me. On the way there, they approached a Senkumo blockade on the roads to the east. They identified themselves using their calling horn, but the Senkumo shot at them in response." Chiya explained. "Soon after their return, an old member of ours, Chiharu, came back to warn us that we were in danger. She said the base in Isa province had been destroyed in the exact same manner in the exact same timeframe. Figuring that Gekko's life might've been in danger, she made the return to Yamashiro. She happened to come across Bishamon's base on the way here. Unlike our mountain base or the one in Isa, Bishamon's base was completely deserted and untouched. No signs of fighting whatsoever. In fact, with all of the base's supplies and weaponry gone, it looked as though the army there had deployed. Now, Bishamon has the largest standing army of any Senkumo base in the country. It would take weeks of preparation to move an army that large. A base that size doesn't end up empty in just a few days."

Chiya sensed that her men knew exactly where she was going. She continued, nonetheless. "Given that, and the fact that Goro and Inori were attacked by their fellow Senkumo, we have more than enough reason to believe that it is in fact Bishamon carrying out these attacks against his own clan. No one else knows the location of those bases. No one else knows when they're the most vulnerable. No one else knows which roads to blockade in order to trap the forces of other bases. Whoever carried these attacks out did so with all of our logistics and security in mind. He's the only one that could've done it like this. Bishamon intends to wipe out the clan he created, probably because we have already fulfilled our purpose for him. As I said, Senkumo troops cut off our access to the eastern roads. They'll probably cut off our other routes of escape very soon, leaving this base with its back to the forest."

A teenaged woman raised her hand and was permitted to ask a question, her teeth chattering as she spoke. "So...Bishamon is trying to kill us? Will he kill Gekko too?"

Chiya nodded. "Yes. That's most likely why he's taking out the surrounding bases first. He must not know Gekko isn't awake right now. He probably wanted to play it safe and cut off our reinforcements. A defensive battle at this very base is inevitable."

The woman lowered her hand, asking another question. "What'll we do when he shows up here? Can we actually hold him off?"

"I'll be perfectly honest with all of you. The odds are overwhelmingly against us." Chiya stated. "It's inevitable that we will all be killed if Bishamon assaults this base."

Chiya wished she didn't have to say those words aloud, but they had to be said. She needed everyone to understand the gravity of the situation they were in. Their own master, their own beloved god, had turned against them. They had to accept that fact. The reactions among the troops were mixed. The younger boys and girls began to cry, for the thought of dying terrified them. The teens all whispered among themselves, each of them looking as if they had seen ghosts. The older members and battle-hardened veterans either closed their eyes or stared into the void as they contemplated what was going to happen to them.

One such veteran raised his hand as he scratched his grey beard. "How long will it be until Gekko wakes up?"

"Too long." Chiya replied. "It usually takes her two to three weeks to wake up from reincarnating. We'll definitely be facing Bishamon before then. Once he realized Gekko has reincarnated, he'll take advantage of the opportunity to wipe us out and kill her."

"That son of a bitch." the veteran growled. "My buddies died to keep this clan going, and this is how he remembers them? He even wants to kill Gekko? Unbelievable!"

"Listen to me." Chiya commanded. "We don't have a lot of time to prepare. We have to make every second count. First, I must reiterate this. We have no hope of winning. This base, this clan...it's all pretty much over now. Let that sink in. I'm not telling you this to deflate your spirits or to sadden you. Quite the opposite, actually. If we're all going to die anyway, we should make our last days on earth count, shouldn't we?"

The men all collectively roared in response. "Yes!"

Chiya smiled as tears welled in her eyes. Even in the face of impending doom, her men still possessed their fighting spirit. "Exactly. I have a plan to make sure that Bishamon doesn't get what he wants. First, I'm issuing an order, effective immediately, to evacuate every recruit younger than the age of twelve out of Yamashiro. There are still escape routes open to us, but they won't be open for long. I ask that the older recruits help the kids pack their essentials and prepare wagons to get them out of here."

After laying out her first plan of action, Chiya saw some of the kids hug their older comrades and friends, clearly not wanting to leave their side. Though it broke her heart to separate friends and comrades, Chiya couldn't die peacefully knowing that she had sent such young children to their deaths.

"I'm so sorry if this means you'll have to say goodbye to someone you love." Chiya lamented. "It's important we get the kids out first and bring them somewhere safe. I want them to live long enough to see this country return to a state of peace. I love you all too much to let you die here when you have such bright futures ahead of you. Please, accept my decision. Anyone who ends up driving the wagons will have to flee after they drop off the children. There won't be time for you to return. For everyone over the age of twelve, I'm giving you the choice. You can either leave while you still can, or you can stay here . However, please note that I also have a plan to save Gekko. That plan will require as many hands as possible. If you leave, her chances of surviving this leave with you."

"No *censored*ing way I'm leaving her behind!" someone yelled from the crowd.

The room erupted into defiant cheers of men and women, all professing their will to stay if it meant protecting their beloved lord and friend, Tsukiakari Senkumo. Chiya raised her hand with a smile, silencing them.

"Gekko is truly blessed to have such loyal comrades." Chiya said, bowing to her men. "On her behalf, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you so much. Thank you."

Chiya collected herself enough to stop from crying, taking a deep breath before continuing. "As I said, Gekko will not awaken before we're attacked. Even though the battle will result in all of our deaths, we still have enough time and men to make an escape route for Gekko. Goro has suggested that we expand the storage tunnels at the rear of the base and carve ourselves a path right into the middle of the forest. The bulk of our forces will have to hold off Bishamon's army for as long as possible as a small team moves Gekko through the tunnel. By the time the battle ends, we'll already be halfway into the forest. By the time they discover the tunnel, we'll already be out on the ground. From there, we'll hand Gekko off to Inari or Izanami. No matter what happens to the rest of us, they'll be able to keep Gekko safe until she regains consciousness."

"You'll need a lot of hands to expand that tunnel. When do we get to work on it?" Asked the veteran.

"Immediately." Chiya said. "We'll have to forego sleep and work through the night to get it done, but it can be done. Bishamon may able to kill the rest of us, but he won't lay a finger on Gekko. We won't let him. As long as she continues to live, our clan will never go floating down the river of time. Our stories, our history, will all live on with her. It'll be our last laugh from the grave. We all have a lot of work to do. Let's get started right now."

Amazingly, the men began to work out among themselves who would drive the wagons and the safest places to deliver the children. Anyone not involved in the evacuation process immediately referred to Goro and volunteered to help expand the storage tunnel. Very few of them resigned themselves to just mope around, reeling at their impending doom. That's what Chiya and Tsukiakari both loved about the Senkumo's soldiers.

They refused to surrender without giving it their all. If they were going to die anyway, they were determined to spend their final days ensuring that at least some of their comrades could survive.


The Great Divide
Spoiler
Everyone worked late into the night to put Chiya's plan into action, tirelessly digging through earth and soil to expand the tunnel, or helping load up the kids in their wagons. Chiya watched as the last batch of children boarded their wagons, many of them being lifted up by the adults. She sauntered over towards the base's entrance to speak with the lead driver as he mounted his seat.

"Lord Chiya, this is going to be the last shipment of kids." said the driver.

"Excellent." Chiya said. "Head west and keep going until you've gotten somewhere safe. Setsu or Izumi are good provinces right now. We've got contacts there that'll help take care of them. You'll be safe there too, I reckon."

The driver tipped his hat and grabbed the reigns. "Thank you for everything. It was an honor and damn good time, ma'am."

Chiya nodded with a melancholic smile. "Indeed it was, soldier. Indeed it was."

The wooden gates parted open, and Chiya watched as the last few wagons of children left the base and headed west, guided through the darkness by the lanterns hanging above the driver seats. Chiharu stood alongside Chiya as the final wagon left and the gates were closed once more. Feeling as though a part of her was missing after seeing those children go, Chiya released an exhausted sigh.

"You think the adults will come back?" Chiharu asked.

"No. They know by the time they get those kids to safety, there won't be a home to come back to." Chiya replied. "This whole thing is pretty much over."

"I'm still trying to process it, you know? Bishamon, I mean." Chiharu said.

"I know. I guess we humans had our plans and the gods had theirs." Chiharu groaned.

Goro's voice suddenly rang out from behind them. "Chiya!"

He stumbled over to them, shirtless and drenched in sweat. His chest and arms were caked with dirt and soot.

"Goro, how's work on the tunnel going?" Chiya questioned.

"We've already made a lot of progress, but I don't know how far into the forest we'll be able to extend it." Goro answered. "Even with all the manpower we have, we just don't have the time to construct a tunnel that long."

"It doesn't have to be too long. Just make sure that the tunnel puts us at a good distance away from the base." Chiya ordered.

"Understood." Goro saluted, marching back to his duties.

Chiharu kept her gaze fixed on Goro's back as he walked away. "Those men are really working hard, aren't they?"

"Damn right they are." Chiya said, a half smirk on her face. "It's been my pleasure to live with these men and women. It'll be an even greater pleasure to die alongside them."

"So, what now?" Chiharu asked. "The kids are out and the tunnel is underway."

"I'll show you. Come with me." Chiya instructed.

Chiya strolled through the courtyard with Chiharu, leading her back to the war room and shutting the sliding door behind them. Chiharu immediately noticed the rolled out scroll sitting on the table centered in the room. It seemed to depict a rough, top-down diagram of the base, it's buildings, and its staff count following the evacuation of the children. Several tall candles and oil lanterns painted the room in a deep, orange glow reminiscent of the light of the rising sun.

"I assume Bishamon will come with an army of at least ten to fifteen-thousand troops." Chiya said. "Based on numbers alone, it's guaranteed we will not survive the fight, but our chances are even more dire for one more reason. We're on flat land. That's what allowed our bases to maintain large, standing armies over the years, but now that Bishamon has turned against us, it only serves to ensure our doom. It's easy to surround a square structure like this on flat land. You don't start seeing hills or any kind of elevation until you hit the area behind the base, where the forest is."

"That's where you plan to take Gekko, right?" Chiharu.

"Yeah." Chiya nodded. "Inori, Goro, you, and myself will get Gekko out of the base through the tunnel the men are working on right now. That tunnel will spit us out in the middle of the forest. We'll have to carry Gekko with us as we hurry through the forest and head for Inari's old shrine. In order for any of this to work, we first have to contact Izanami and Inari. With the Senkumo troops cutting off our path to Inari's shrine, the best way to contact them is through prayer."

"Prayer?" Chiharu repeated with snarky intonation. "It's that simple?"

"They are gods, after all. I'll relay our situation to them tonight and let them know where to meet us." Chiya replied. "After that, I'll assign our men to their defensive positions. The goal here is to delay the enemy for as long as possible. Bishamon doesn't care about us nearly as much as he cares about killing Gekko. He'll be coming here for her."

"Don't you feel bad, Chiya?"

"Feel bad? Why?"

"I mean...your men will be laying down their lives while we escape with Gekko."

Chiya hid her hands in her sleeves as she closed her eyes. "Bishamon forced a painful situation upon us all. It will take all of our men to hold him off so that she can escape. Otherwise, everyone, including Gekko, will just die here. Bishamon would have gotten his way and wiped out the Senkumo clan in its entirety. The men are very well aware of that, Chiharu. That's why Goro and all the others are breaking their backs to build Gekko an escape route with their bare hands. They're not sleeping, they're not eating, and they're not bathing. They know that every second that spend now counts if they want to protect her. That's how deep their love for her goes. It's a sacred love that we all share. Even you share it, don't you? Isn't she why you came back?"

Chiharu smiled. "After my exile, I spent most of my years in the Yamato province working as a hunter and a farmhand. All the while, I kept hearing whispers of your exploits in the war. I never forgot any of you, not the people who wanted me executed, not Taeko or Mayumi, and certainly not Gekko. Even if I'm not a Senkumo anymore, I always knew that I owed her my life. That's why I came back."

"I really hope she wakes up soon. She wouldn't believe how much you've grown." Chiya complimented.

"Hey, speaking of which, what ever happened to Taeko?" Chiharu asked.

"Well...we don't know. Taeko helped Gekko during the search for Yachi. It was because of her that we captured Yachi's murderer, too. But soon after that whole ordeal, Taeko vanished. That was decades ago. Izanami and Inari searched all over for her, but they never found her. They said her house was destroyed, and much of the surrounding area had been damaged. It looked like a damn war zone. After so many years, I can only guess that she died long ago."

"Oh..." Chiharu sighed. "That's a real shame. Ebina's death really sent her off the deep end. Looking back, though, I know she was just trying to keep this whole thing together as best as she could. She was willing to sacrifice anyone for that, whether it be me or herself."

"You don't hate her?" Chiya questioned.

"It's hard to say that I don't. She scarred me when I was just a child. She blamed me for the plague outbreak and tried to hang me for it. And yet...I feel like I understand her, now that I'm older. I'm sure that if I were in her position, I would've lost my mind too."

"Well, this clan has had its soaring highs and its crushing lows." Chiya snickered. "But we're still here. Well, at least for the next few days. You should get some rest, Chiharu. I'm going to send my prayer and wrap up my plans for the battle. I'll stay up and watch over Goro and the others. You can sleep in my room. It's the same room as when you were here."

Chiharu bowed in gratitude. "Thanks, Chiya. Don't work yourself too hard. If I can help in any way, please tell me."

"I'll be fine, dear. Thank you for coming back to us. We don't deserve your help, but we sure need it." Chiya said.

With that, Chiharu went off to bed, leaving Chiya to her duties for the night. All through the night, she could faintly hear the shouts and hollers of the men working on the tunnel through the walls. It wasn't an ideal environment to try to sleep in, but then again, hardly any of the remaining troops on base were getting sleep at all. Even for those that weren't working on the tunnel, rest averted them. Each man and woman had to make peace with the fact that they were most probably going to die soon. The clock was ticking until the fated battle between them and Bishamon, and Tsukiakari had yet to awaken.

Just at the crack of dawn, Chiya received a rude bash upon the war room door, waking her out of her slumber at the table. She quickly rubbed her eyes and wobbled onto her feet.

"What is it?"

The sliding door opened. A guard knelt on one knee and presented a sealed letter to his lord. "Lord Chiya, it's urgent! Bishamon's hawk delivered this letter to us just now! It's addressed to Gekko!"

"Bishamon?" Chiya recoiled.

She immediately swiped the letter from the guard's hand, reading it to herself in silence. Her brows arched downwards in anger and disgust as she finished the letter and handed it back to the guard.

"Do me a favor and burn that." Chiya ordered. "And fetch Goro and Inori for me. Bishamon wants to meet with us at the ruined village.

"What if it's a trap, my lord?"

"He has no reason to lay a trap when the odds are already in his favor. He just wants to be able to choose what kind of victory he'll attain here." Chiya explained. "Now go! Tell Goro and Inori to prepare to head out and burn that god-forsaken letter already!"

"Yes, my lord!" the guard saluted.

Without delay, Goro and Inori ran out from the tunnel, wiping the dirt off of their faces with clean, white towels. They met up with Chiya at the base's entrance, leading their horses along with them.

"So, he wants to meet?" Goro asked.

"Yeah." Chiya replied. "But his letter was addressed to Gekko, not me."

"As we thought, he probably doesn't know that Gekko reincarnated." Inori surmised. "Once he sees us instead of her, don't you think he'll know something's up?"

"He will." Chiya nodded. "That's when the timer will really start ticking down. How's the tunnel coming along, Goro?"

"It's as I feared. It's not possible to construct a tunnel that runs that deep into the forest in such a short amount of time." Goro said. "We can get it to spit us out in the forest, but now as deep as we would've liked."

"We'll just have to make it work." Chiya groaned.

"Any word from Inari or Izanami?" Inori asked.

"I delivered my prayer to them last night and told them everything. We can only hope for the best now." Chiya replied. "For now, let's go see what this traitorous bastard wants. Goro, Inori, ride with me!"

Chiya whipped her horse into a gallop, followed by the other two. They raced down the road and headed towards one of the few places on earth they never wanted to return to. The ruins of the village was like a phantom in of itself. Even after all those years, the place still carried a dreadful aura around it. Charred skeletons of what used to be homes and shops littered the place from left to right. The grass had grown tall without any humans to cut it, and so it coiled around the blackened pillars of homes like snakes.

The sun had risen over the hills, angling its light down upon the village ruins as Chiya and the others arrived. Without a doubt, Bishamon stood there alongside Hachiman, waiting for them. Chiya, Goro, and Inori dismounted their horses and hitched them against some of the charred poles and pillars. Bishamon crossed his arms as he walked towards them, closing the distance between the two parties a little bit. Chiya did the same, but both sides maintained minimum talking distance between each other. It Goro and Inori stayed back a few a paces from Chiya, as did Oyamatsumi with Bishamon.

Chiya and Bishamon stared at each other as if their meeting was a showdown, rather than a parley.

"I do believe I asked Tsukiakari to come here, and yet you show up in her stead?" Bishamon said.

"Sorry, but this is the best your getting. Say your piece." Chiya demanded.

"I'm sure you've noticed what's happening, haven't you?" Bishamon said. "You always were a keen woman, just like Gekko and your late sister."

"So, it was you. I thought as much." Chiya growled. "After everything we all did for you, it's come to this, huh?"

"I have a proposition for you, Chiya." Bishamon stated.

"Oh?" Chiya laughed. "What's the proposition of yours? Do your pinky-promise to behead us rather than burn us alive?"

"Tsukiakari is to surrender to me. If she does that, I will spare the rest of you. You'll all be allowed to live and see this war come to an end at long last. The Senkumo clan, or what's left of it, will be disbanded, but you'll all still be alive." Bishamon explained.

Chiya looked back to Goro and Inori, the latter shaking her head while the former shrugged in disapproval.

"You want us to surrender Gekko to you? Just like that?" Chiya laughed.

"Despite what's happening now, we were comrades once. I'm giving you a chance to settle this without bloodshed." Bishamon said.

"But you still intend to kill Gekko, don't you?" Chiya hissed.

"I'm afraid so." Bishamon said.

"Then the answer is no. We won't surrender her to you." Chiya asserted. "You'll have to kill us all to get to her. That's the only way any of this is going to end."

Bishamon sighed, folding his long, black hair behind his ear. "So be it. I had hoped that we could settle this peacefully. If blood is what you want, then blood is what you shall have. Because of your labors, I've become more powerful than I have ever been in my lifetime. I have the gods on my side, and an army of your fellow Senkumo that chose me over Tsukiakari. You have no hope of winning."

"Whether we win or not, our clan will live on. We won't let you bury us between the pages of history." Chiya said. "For Gekko, for my dear Yachi, for Ebina, Ayadachi, Sayu, Mayumi, Taeko, and everyone else that sacrificed themselves to protect this clan, we'll fight before we go floating down the river of time."

Quietude settled between them as they stared daggers into each other's eyes. The silence seemed to hang forever until it was finally broken by the whistle of the morning wind, and a soft chuckle from Bishamon.

"Good luck."

Bishamon and Oyamatsumi mounted their horses and rode away, leaving Chiya, Goro, and Inori alone in the village. Now that the two gods were gone, Goro and Inori could stand close to Chiya.

"They're heading east." Goro observed. "My god, he really did kill his own men."

"Bishamon never cared about us." Chiya growled. "Right now, we need to get back to base and hurry up with the tunnel. Goro, Inori, prepare yourselves. We need to be stronger than we've ever been in our entire lives."

Goro nudged Chiya's shoulder with a grin on his face. "We're with you, right until the very end."

Inori took hold of Chiya's right hand, giving her a loving gaze as she spoke. "We won't let him lay a finger on Gekko."

Knowing she wasn't alone, Chiya released a relieved sigh and recollected her spirits. "Thank you both. Now let's go. Gekko needs us."


Last Night Alive
Spoiler
Goro, Chiya, and Inari quickly returned to base, dismounting their horses as the massive, wooden gates were shut behind them. Chiya knew that their time was short. Bishamon would certainly be moving in on the base now that negotiating was off the table.

"Goro, I'm sorry for working you to death, but we need to keep working on that tunnel." Chiya said.

"I know. I'll go see how the boys are doing." Goro replied.

"Thank you. Inori, tell everyone that the battle is drawing near. Have them take their positions." Chiya ordered.

Inori nodded. "Got it."

"Mind if I take a look at the tunnel with Goro?" Chiharu asked.

"That's a good idea. Tell me how far they've gotten along. I'll be with Gekko. She hasn't waken up yet, but we've got to get her ready to move."

As Chiharu ran over to the storage tunnel towards the rear of the base, Chiya marched over to the sanctuary. She opened the sliding door and shut it behind her, releasing an exhausted sigh. She slipped her sandals off and carefully climbed up the staircase to the third floor, hanging onto the guard rail for support. Streams of sunlight shined on her black robes as she opened the door to Tsukiakari's room. The war goddess lied in her futon in the center of the room, still unconscious. Chiya slowly sauntered over to her, as if the slightest creak of the wooden floors would wake the slumbering goddess. She looked down upon Tsukiakari's face and was immediately overcome with a terrible sense of agony.

As Chiya sat cross-legged at Tsukiakari's side, she thought back to the day she and Yachi first came to the Senkumo clan. It all seemed like a distant dream now. The world still seemed like a large place just waiting to be conquered by the fledgling clan of disillusioned soldiers and peasants. Then, reality shattered their rose-tinted dreams of glory of sovereignty. Every member of the clan suffered in some way. Everyone lost something or someone dear to them. And yet, through it all, Tsukiakari loved her soldiers.

"Gekko..." Chiya sighed, stroking Tsukiakari's cheek. "When you wake up, most of us will be gone, along with this home of ours. Even if some of us survive, we probably won't be able to see each other again. But you won't be alone. Izanami and Inari will take good care of you. I apologize in advance. I know you would've wanted to die alongside us, but we just couldn't allow that to happen. Thank you for everything, Gekko. Having you as my lord and friend was the second best blessing of my life. The first, of course, was having Yachi as a sister. Wherever she is right now, I know she wants you to live as well."

Chiya reached into her pocket, taking out Yachi's old prayer bead bracelet. She slid the bracelet onto Tsukiakari's wrist and took hold of her hand. She folded her gray hair behind her ear as she planted one gentle kiss on Tsukiakari's forehead, and then two more on her slightly parted lips.

"Here it comes, Gekko. This is the end of the line."

As the day turned into night, Bishamon and Hachiman began preparations for their assault. The two sat on horseback, overlooking Tsukiakari's base from one of the far off hills. A full, golden moon hung above their heads, watching them like a heavenly eye.

"Raijin informed me that he recently killed Gekko outside of Oyamatsumi's shrine." Bishamon said.

"Seriously? So then, she isn't awake right now. That explains why those three brats showed up instead of her." Hachiman laughed.

"I was initially going to bide my time a little more before I attacked, but now I know they're vulnerable." Bishamon said. "If we kill Tsukiakari, she won't be coming back. I destroyed her altar at my base before we deployed. She won't be receiving any prayers, and that means she won't be able to reincarnate."

"That's a shame. I kind liked the poor girl." Hachiman fretted. "I don't get it, Bisha. Couldn't you have kept the Senkumo clan around? Why exactly are you in such a hurry to destroy something that took you so long set up in the first place?"

Bishamon's grip around his horse's reigns tightened as his thoughts turned to the manipulative Amaterasu. All of this time, he had worked so hard to climb to the top of Heaven's ranks, never realizing that that's exactly where Amaterasu wanted him. Now that he had acquired the power he wanted, he was nothing more than Amaterasu's lapdog, but he couldn't say a word of it to his old master.

"Better things await us, Hachiman. Everything is going according to plan." Bishamon said. "Let's get some rest. We attack tomorrow evening."

"As you wish, kid." Hachiman said.

That night, the Senkumo clan congregated in the courtyard for a rather melancholic celebration. Everyone knew they would die in the upcoming battle, but instead of sitting in their rooms and dreading the fated fight, the Senkumo turned their despair into a reason to eat, drink, laugh, and live to the fullest. It was a farewell party, the last hurrah before everything came to an end. The night was filled with beef skewers and cold sake aplenty as everyone ate and drank their fill. Chiya looked around as she sat around a bonfire with Goro, Inori, and Chiharu, amazed by how differently everyone was handling their impending doom. Most of the men and women, with the aid of alcohol, of course, found it easy to laugh the night away telling funny stories and singing with their friends. It was mostly the younger boys who couldn't hold that kind of alcohol that hung their heads in their hands, contemplating the fact they were going to die.

Since many of them knew it was the last night of their lives, some of the men and women snuck off back to their rooms together after having a decent amount of sake. Sometimes, girls snuck away with girls rather than with men. There were certainly no limits on their last night alive.

"Everyone sure is letting loose tonight." Chiharu said, looking around at the other groups and bonfires.

"Let them have their fun. It's their last chance." Chiya said.

All of a sudden, a young man and woman stood up at their fire, shouting to get everyone's attention. The woman covered her blushing face with her hands as her partner gleefully screamed for everyone to hear.

"Hey! I just asked Uchi to marry me and she said yes!" the man roared. "I'm not gonna die a virgin!"

"Hell yeah! I'll toast to that!" Goro laughed.

The surrounding groups stood and cheered for the newlyweds as they shared their first kiss. The men in particular responded with teasing whistles and hollers, bringing an amused smile to Chiya's face.

"These kids are so green, it's unbelievable." Inori chuckled.

"I'm gonna miss them. All of them." Chiya said, taking a shot of sake.

"Well, we had a damn good run. We started off with one base and ended with over eighty spread across the country." Inori said. "Whether we were recognized as a legitimate state or not, we became a sovereign power all on our own. We said 'to hell with feudalism' and made our own path! That's something to be proud of. I don't think anyone else will ever come close to achieving what we achieved."

"And it was all thanks to people like Taeko, Mayumi, and Yachi." Goro said.

"Honor the dead, but give the living some credit, too." Inori maundered. "You turned a storage tunnel into a huge escape path in just a few days, Goro! And because Chiya's so smart, she was able to determine that Bishamon was targeting us and quickly create a plan of action! Chiharu was exiled decades ago, but she came back just for Gekko! If even a single person was missing, none of this would've worked for as long as it did."

"And that's not even mentioning Gekko's part in all of this." Goro said.

Chiya snickered as she took a bite of her beef skewer. "Taeko once told me that she was visibly scared *censored*less during the Battle of Kyoto. That was her first time taking command of an army and the men didn't respect her all that much yet."

"Really? She leads so confidently now. You'd never even imagine her being nervous." Chiharu said.

"Everyone was a newbie at some point. Even Gekko." Inori said.

"I really wish she was awake right now. I want to ask her how much dying hurts." Goro groaned.

"Why the hell would you want to know that before you die?" Chiharu recoiled.

"Why not?" Goro shrugged. "I'm curious, damn it! I guess I think I'll be more prepared for it if someone tells me beforehand."

"I don't know, I feel like I'd feel better if I wasn't told." Chiya said. "Not knowing is a kind of freedom."

"Yeah, I guess so." Goro conceded. "Man, what a ride it's been. For the record, it was an honor serving alongside all of you. You guys are amazing."

Inori, Chiharu, and Chiya raised their cups and inhaled their remaining sake in honor of all the years they spent together.

"You guys are the best damn family I've ever had! Here's to living and dying!" Chiya cheered.

The others repeated after her, raising their cups towards the flame of the bonfire. "Here's to living and dying!"

Meanwhile, far away in the realm of Heaven, Uzume joined Amaterasu in her bedroom during one of Heaven's rare nights. On most days, the land was blessed with Amaterasu's sunlight, but even gods need to rest every once in a while. At times like these, Heaven went dark, just as the earth did. Uzume brushed through Amaterasu's head of raven hair for her. She was the only god permitted to see Amaterasu in her see white, see-through robes during these rare nights. It was Amaterasu's most comfortable choice of clothing for sleep.

"The Exorcist Program?" Uzume asked.

"It's the culmination of all of this, Uzume." Amaterasu said. "With the Senkumo clan gone, Bishamon won't have any power of his own. Any power he holds from here on out will be afforded to him by Heaven. The war is reaching its end. After long conflicts like this, it's typical for the general populace to be wary of further war. When the country sees the Senkumo's stratocratic system fail and the other major clans kill each other off, the people will want naught to do with war. The warrior class of society will have their power taken from them, just as the warrior class took the power away from the daimyo. The plan is for the power of the state to be successfully centralized, and for the responsibility of policing a post-war society to fall into their hands."

"So, no more samurai? No more daimyo?" Uzume asked.

"None at all." Amaterasu replied. "At least, they won't hold nearly as much influence in this new society. The shogunate will still exist, but only for a little while. What we're forming out of Japan, Uzume, is an empire. But, of course, we'll also be at war with the vampires and whatever supernatural creatures find their way to our lands. So, we need something similar to the Senkumo clan in order to combat them. That is the Exorcist Program. Ordinary humans and mortal descendants of gods who all swear an oath to Heaven and receive missions directly from us. They'll combat our supernatural enemies during this time of peace."

Uzume was left breathless. "I can't believe you thought all of this through. Even for you, this is kind of..."

"Devious? Cunning?" Amaterasu snickered. "I know. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but this project will completely change the country, the pantheon, and our dynamics with the other gods, especially Bishamon. This is how we'll forge our own path in both the supernatural and mortal world. We'll also be getting our house in order, just a bit."

Uzume put down the brush, planting both of her hands on Amaterasu's shoulders. "Well, for now, just get some rest, okay? You spend so much time working and planning. Take advantage of the night."

Amaterasu tapped Uzume's hand with her fingers. "You're right. I could use the rest."


Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #491 on: August 06, 2019, 12:09:20 AM »
The Night The Bell Tolled
Spoiler
Another day, another shovel of dirt. The tireless men of the Senkumo clan continued working on the escape tunnel up until the crack of dawn. They had dug so deep in such little amount of time that the walk back to base often took them an hour to complete. Despite the herculean effort it took to construct the tunnel, there was cause to celebrate today. They had finally reached deep enough into the forest for Tsukiakari to escape unseen. Goro and his men popped out of the other end of the tunnel, using a make-shift ladder constructed of wooden planks and rope to get out. The shirtless, dirt-coated men looked around them, laughing to themselves as they realized they had completed their arduous task.

"By god, we did it boys! We did it!" Goro cheered.

The men hugged each other in joy, while others sat under the cool, green shade of the forest after days of hard work.

"That was more exhausting than any of our survivor's training!" wheezed a young, scrawny soldier.

One of the older, more muscular men gave a playful slap to the young man's head before passing him a cup of cold sake. "You've gotten some muscle on you these past few days, so don't complain! Maybe you'll be able to win Mari's heart after all, huh?"

Another one of the older guys chimed in, his face and voluminous bear caked in dirt as he smoked a Portuguese cigar. "Mari? You've got some good taste, my man! She's got brains and enough ass to last you through the winter!"

After taking some time to rest, Goro and his men returned to base through the tunnel. Chiya stood just outside the entrance, awaiting news of his progress.

"Well?" Chiya asked.

Goro smiled. "It's done. We got pretty deep into the forest. It's still a bit of an upward climb to Inari's old shrine, but it should do."

"Goro, I could hug you if you weren't dirtier than a sack of potatoes!" Chiya sang.

"Yeah, I know." Goro sighed. "I'm gonna go wash up and get something to eat."

Chiya patted Goro's chest, looking up at him with gratitude in her eyes. "Rest. You deserve it. Thank you for everything, Goro."

Goro walked off and joined his men as they all marched towards the baths, equally exhausted as they were proud of themselves. Chiya turned around and took several long glances across the base. Expecting Bishamon's forces to come soon, the troops that weren't involved with the tunnel's expansion were already armored, armed, and posted at their positions. Everything was ready. All that was left was the battle to come.

While Chiya continued to survey the base, Inori and Chiharu sat besides Tsukiakari in the sanctuary's third floor. They had just finished lighting new candles and incense for her.

"She's still not well enough to move, but we won't have a choice." Inori said. "One of us is going to have to carry her on her backs. Goro is probably the best man for the job."

"My hands feel all...tingly..." Chiya muttered, clenching and unclenching her fists repeatedly.

"It's probably just nerves. I used to get those when I was younger. It felt like fireworks were going off inside my hands. Not an assuring sensation when you're a field medic." Inori giggled.

"You don't get them anymore?"

"Well, I felt them today. Frankly, I'm surprised we're not all dead yet. It's the waiting that's making me a little nervous."

Inori laid her eyes upon Tsukiakari's sleeping face like it was the most precious thing in the world. The same fireworks she felt in her hands slowly moved to her chest. As if to relieve the pressure building beneath her ribs, Inori took a long, meditative sigh.

"Something wrong?" Chiya asked.

"I just keep thinking about something someone said many years back." Inori said.

"Who?"

"The Man in Black. Yachi's murderer. He made sure we all knew that he wasn't that different from any of us. No, it's the other way around. We're the ones that aren't that different from him. He said that if we would lost everything just as he did, we would become the very monster we were seeking justice against."

"Those are just a madman's parting words." Chiharu scoffed.

"That's what I thought, too. But now...I'm getting really scared. When Gekko wakes up and finds out what happened to the Senkumo clan, I wonder what she'll do. Just thinking about it makes me even more nervous than I already am. I guess that's because, over the years, I've come to understand why The Man in Black said what he did."

"Why?"

"Hatred is never born alone, Chiharu. Love often precedes it. People who are robbed of their love can change drastically, and often for the worse." Inori explained.

"I guess you're right. That's basically what happened to Taeko." Chiharu said.

"I desperately want to believe The Man in Black was wrong, but if he was right, maybe Gekko will turn into something far worse than he ever was. This clan is all she has."

"Well, we'll be there for her, right? If everything goes according to plan, we'll be the only ones getting out of here alive."

"Even if we all die, she'll at least have Inari and Izanami watching over her. Maybe I'm thinking about everything too much, huh?"

Chiharu patted Inori's shoulder to reassure her. "The only thing we have to think about right now is Gekko's safety."

Inori extended her arm, bringing Chiharu in for a hug. "I'm so happy you came back, Chiharu."

"I'm happy to be back."

The day went on. The sun continued to loom over the base until it slowly began to sink behind the hills, splitting the sky into orange and purple halves. The ghostly, amber light of dusk elongated the shadows of three gravestones erected together in the middle of the forest. Inari stood before them, having finished praying for all three of the women buried beneath her feet. Two of the gravestones had aged over the years, while one was only recently put up. The newest grave belonged to Taeko Akiyama. To the right of her grave was Ebina Sentani, and to her right, Katsumi Mihara, remembered as Mayumi Senkumo. Just as Taeko would've wanted, Inari buried her alongside two of her best friends.

"What a mess all of this was..." Inari muttered.

Inari suddenly heard the crunch of dead leaves behind her, followed by Izanami's voice. "Inari! We've got a problem!"

"Izanami? What is it?"

Izanami was covered in sweat, her eyes widened in fright and horror. "We need to get to your old shrine! Bishamon is going to kill Gekko!"

"What?!" Inari recoiled.

"I got a prayer from Chiya! I'll explain everything on the way, but we have to move now! I saw Bishamon's army on the way here!"

"Okay! Let's go! I'll lead the way!"

Back at the Senkumo base, the men stationed atop the front wall kept their eyes peeled for enemy forces. They had waited so long that they wondered if Bishamon was really going to attack them after all. One of the men noticed two Senkumo scouts racing back to base, an usual sight unless something was seriously wrong.

"The enemy is here!" one of the scouts shouted from his horse. "Bishamon is here!"

The men on the walls heard them loud and clear, opening the wooden gates slightly so they could slip back inside.

"Boys, it's time! Ring those bells!" yelled the captain of the wall guard.

Two men ran to the opposite ends of the front wall and rang the alarm bells as hard as they could. Every single person inside those walls immediately dropped what they were doing. All conversations and activities came to an abrupt stop as everyone turned their heads towards the entrance.

Inori and Chiya peeked out of the third story window of the sanctuary, watching as every single person on base scrambled to their defensive positions.

"Looks like Bishamon is finally here." Inori said. "Chiharu, it's time! We need to grab Gekko and get out of here!"

"She's still not well enough to move, though!" Chiharu cautioned.

"Like I said before, we don't have a choice right now! Carry her on your back and let's go!"

The guards escorted Chiya atop the front wall, where she could see the whole countryside ahead. Bishamon sat on his flaming horse, just within shouting distance of Chiya. Not far behind him stood a sea of Senkumo soldiers, and they weren't on Tsukiakari's side. There were at least ten squares of troops in formation across the land, with each square looking like it contained over a thousand soldiers. Each square flew two Senkumo banners in the air, fluttering in front of the setting sun.

Chiya looked down upon Bishamon with utter disgust. "How far you've fallen, turning the Senkumo clan against itself. To think we all trusted you!"

"Chiya, I'm giving you one more chance! If you're wise, you'll take it!" Bishamon roared. "Surrender Tsukiakari to me and the rest of you will be spared! If you resist, you'll all perish alongside her!"

"And this is the last time we're going to tell you!" Chiya yelled. "*censored* off!"

Bishamon laughed, impressed by Chiya's obstinacy. "Oh Chiya, you sad, deluded fool. Very well, then. To battle!"

The battle commenced with the boom of artillery stationed in the distance behind the hillocks. Puffs of white smoke rose from behind the hillocks as the whistle of incoming cannonballs sent the guards at the wall scrambling.

"Everyone, spread out and get down!" Chiya screamed, facing her men.

Hoping to reduce casualties, the men did as Chiya advised and spread out, knowing they'd have a better chance of dying if they clumped together. A volley of lead rained down upon the Senkumo base, ripping chunks out of buildings and cratering the courtyard. Several shots landed just outside of the sanctuary, rocking the third floor while Inori and Chiharu were still inside. Inori used her body to shield Tsukiakari as pieces of the ceiling crashed around them.

"God damn, how badly does he want to kill her?!" Chiharu screamed.

Back on the walls, tone of the guards escorted Chiya back to the ground level, even as the volley went on. "Lord Chiya, you have to go and get Gekko out of here! We'll hold them off as best as we can! Just get Gekko through the tunnel!"

Chiya held back tears as she realized the guard was smiling and shivering in his armor all at the same time. Everyone around her was both thrilled and scared out of their wits, but they all wanted to lay down their lives if it meant Tsukiakari could live.

"Goodbye, Lord Chiya. Let us handle these bastards!" the guard cheered.

"Alright!" Chiya said. "See you on the other side!"

The volley of artillery stopped, giving Chiya a chance to run towards the sanctuary. She stopped for a moment in the courtyard as she noticed that Yachi's azaleas had all been ruined, and her gravestone was blown apart. The sight of her sister's tarnished grave hammered home the feeling this was truly the end of the Senkumo clan. They had worked so hard to best all of their enemies, both human and supernatural, only to be cut down by their own master. Swallowing her sadness, Chiya continued towards the entrance of the sanctuary, where Chiya and Inori were already waiting. Chiharu carried the unconscious Tsukiakari on her back.

"Thank goodness, you guys got here out of there!" Chiya said. "Quickly, we have to get her through the tunnel!"

"Wait, where's Goro?" Inori asked.

"He should already be making his way towards the tunnel now!" Chiya replied.

Suddenly, the entire front wall was obliterated in a single, powerful blast that rocked the whole base. Huge chunks of rubble were ejected into the sky and came crashing down upon Chiya's men. The light of Bishamon's fiery horse could be seen through the thick smoke bellowing in place of the wall. The deafening battle cries of Bishamon's men rang out before they came sprinting through the veil of smoke, taking the bombarded soldiers by storm.

Chiya, Inori, and Chiharu quickly got back on their feet, still dazed by the explosion, and continued to stagger their way towards the tunnel. Goro spotted them running from across the base, but he quickly turned his gaze over to the first line of Chiya's men as they engaged with Bishamon's force. His own men, the same boys he dug the tunnel with, stood beside him and awaited his order. Goro put himself in Bishamon's head and thought that the first place he would try to find Tsukiakari in would be the sanctuary.

"This is it, boys! Take position in the sanctuary and start raining some arrows down on 'em!" Goro ordered.

They immediately moved across the base, setting up a defensive perimeter just outside of the sanctuary mansion. The men formed a line and began shooting arrows at the invading troops as they continued to push through the decimated entrance defense. Inside of the sanctuary itself, Goro and a few other men doused the walls and floors with oil, then continued pouring oil directly onto a pile crates of matchlock ammunition on the second floor.

"Goro, sir, you should get going! Lord Chiya and the others are probably waiting for you!" one of the men suggested.

"Not yet!" Goro replied. "We need to keep Bishamon busy in here! If he's looking for Gekko, this building will be his target! If we lose this line of defense too soon, Chiya and the others are as good as buried!"

Bishamon himself emerged out of the smoke with his golden odachi in hand, fearlessly sauntering through the ongoing battle. Very few of Chiya's men dared to raise their swords against him, as those who did were cut down before they could complete their swings. Bishamon's odachi severed limbs as easily as the autumn wind tore off the petals of flower. Having been the one that designed the Senkumo's combat training routine, he knew the counter to all of their swings, and the weaknesses in every single one of their movements.

Three spearmen lunged at him all at once, thrusting their spearheads at his abdomen. His fiery horse immediately swooped in and trampled them before their blades could piece his skin. Shinobi stationed on the roof of the war room tossed smoke bombs at Bishamon, clouding him and his horse in a puff of white gas. The bombs were filled with flour and starch, resulting in a fiery explosion as the powder met with the spark of Bishamon's horse. The resulting plume of black, odorous smoke was immediately sucked into Bishamon's palm, revealing his scorched arm and tattered sleeve. He had absorbed most of the explosion before it could do any serious damage.

Suddenly, three arrows came racing down upon that rooftop, exploding like bombs and killing the shinobi on top. Hachiman landed next to Bishamon, his golden bow in hand.

"Tsukiakari's men are tougher than I thought they would be!" Hachiman said.

"She must be resting in the sanctuary. Looks like those fools intend to guard it with their lives." Bishamon said.

Stepping outside, Goro caught sight of Bishamon as he made his march towards the sanctuary. Still, he stood his ground in the face of the tempestuous war god.

"Fire everything you've got, men!" Goro ordered.

Bishamon and Hachiman ran so fast it looked as though they teleported right in front of the line of archers, trapping the ranged troops in melee combat. Surrounded by the archers, Bishamon beheaded three of them with a clean swipe of his blade, then continued cutting everyone down around him as they drew their swords. Meanwhile, Hachiman kicked open the barricaded, front door of the sanctuary, blowing away the four men holding it shut. Bishamon struck his odachi into the ground to free his hands. He grabbed one of the Senkumo troops by their throats and swung them around, knocking away the surrounding archers before throwing the man he held into the wall of the mansion, killing him instantly. A matchlock ashigaru came barreling tumbling out of the busted open mansion door, killed by Hachiman. Bishamon grabbed his loaded matchlock as a swordsman stormed at him from behind, turning around and shooting him dead between the eyes.

As the fight raged on, Chiya, Inori, and Chiharu approached the mouth of the escape tunnel, looking back at the embattled base in sorrow and horror.

"Where's Goro? He's not here!" Chiharu cried.

"Don't tell me he's still back there!" Inori said, covering her mouth in shock.

"I'll go get him! Wait here!" Chiya ordered.

Goro made his escape through the back door of the first floor, just barely missing an engagement with Hachiman. Though every bone in his body told him to stay with his troops, he remembered what it was they chose to die for. Fighting alongside them would only make their sacrifices meaningless. He kept looking back as he sprinted towards the tunnel, spotting black smoke flowing from all of the sanctuary windows. The men intended to take Bishamon and Hachiman down with them in a raging blaze fueled by oil and ammunition. An explosion followed the fire, engulfing the entire mansion in bright flames.

Soon after the mansion went up, Bishamon and Hachiman came crashing through the roof, both of them riding on the flaming horse. The horse landed just in front of Yachi's shattered tombstone, allowing the two gods to dismount. With the first and second lines of defense destroyed, Bishamon's men continued to storm through the base, quickly overtaking those holed up inside of their quarters. The defense was quickly falling apart. The final line stood their ground along the perimeter of the medical wards and storage buildings. They sealed the gates, barricaded the doors, and placed archers at every window and vantage point they possibly could.

The troops made room for Goro as he came running through, all of them glad to see he was still alive.

"Goro, sir! Lord Chiya and the others are at the tunnel! Hurry!" one of the men urged, standing his ground behind a pavise with a matchlock in hand.

"Thanks! See you boys on the other side! It was a damned honor!" Goro said.

Chiya met up with him just as he crossed beyond the defensive line. "Goro! Where the hell were you?!"

"Sorry! Had to make sure they didn't catch up with us! Is Gekko safe?"

"Yeah, we have her! She's okay!" Chiya replied.

"Good! I knew you could do it!" Goro said with a relieved smile.

Suddenly, one of the troops hollered for everyone to hear. "Incoming! Arrow volley!"

Goro immediately wrapped his arms around Chiya, hugging her to protect her from the incoming projectiles. They both fell to the ground as Chiya's men returned fire with their matchlocks. Goro's blood bled through Chiya's robes, indicated he had been struck. Chiya gently laid him on his side, on the verge of tears as she saw five arrow feathers stick out from his back. He couldn't move an inch, let alone stand up again.

"Goro! Goro!" Chiya wept.

"Chiya...go! You have to go, now!" Goro wheezed. "Hurry!"

"You were supposed to come with us! I can't just leave you here!" Chiya cried.

"Don't die...Chiya..." Goro mumbled, taking his last breath.

Goro's eyes lost their light as his blood pooled around him. There was nothing anyone could do for him now. Chiya planted a kiss on his forehead and closed his eyes so he could rest with dignity, even in the middle of a battle. Chiya fought off her urge to stay by Goro's side and bolted back towards the tunnel as Bishamon's forces clashed head on with the last line of defense.

Inori and Chiharu saw her coming back without Goro, her robes stained with fresh blood.

"We have to go! Goro didn't make it!" Chiya cried.

"Goro...you big bastard..." Inori wept, wiping her eyes of their tears. "Chiharu, Chiya, you go first! I'll blow the entrance!"

Chiya and Chiharu ran down the tunnel as Inori opened up a small crate of cannon ammunition. She took one last look at the embattled Senkumo base, and all of the men and women left fighting there. She knew all too well that it would be the last time she would ever see that base, her home for decades, standing.

"Goodbye, everyone. Thank you." Inori prayed.

She took one of the hanging lanterns off of the cavern walls and threw it at the crate of ammunition, sprinting for dear life. The lantern caused the ammunition to explode, collapsing the tunnel entrance behind her. By the time the sun fell beyond the hills, and the last shade of orange in the sky faded into a dark purple, Tsukiakari's base had fallen to Bishamon.


Eternal Goodbye
Spoiler
The girls ran for what felt like an eternity before stopping at the other end of the tunnel. The ladder Goro had set up was still there for them. Chiya and Inori helped Chiharu climb up the ladder first and they kept their eyes peeled, in case anyone managed to follow them. After Chiharu and Tsukiakari made it up, Chiya soon followed, and last was Inori. The girls emerged into the fresh air of the forest, taking a moment to rest of the ground. The moonlight was bright that night, allowing them to see well enough without torches.

"What...what now?" Inori wheezed.

"I told Inari and Izanami to meet us at Inari's old shrine, the one Tsukiakari first met her at." Chiya explained. "It's just a little further west, on top of that hill over there. We have to hurry. It won't take them long to realize Gekko isn't at the base."

"You okay, Chiharu? You're quiet over there." Inori said.

"I just can't believe Goro didn't make it..." Chiya cried, wiping her tears away with her wrist.

Chiya nodded. "Goro was one of the bravest men I'd ever known. All of them were. We have to keep going, Chiharu. I'll carry Gekko."

"Alright." Chiharu replied.

And so, the three of them began the march west towards Inari's former shrine. The further west they went, the more of the base they were able to see from the hills. They stopped and looked back at the black plumes of smoke rising from the base, now occupied by thousands of Bishamon's troops.

"Damn it..." Inori cried as she bit her lip. "That was our home."

"I can't believe this is how it ends for the clan." Chiharu said.

"There will be time for sorrow later." Chiya reasoned.

Chiya took a close look at the light of the torches below, noticing that some of them were diverging off into the same forest they were fleeing through.

"Looks like they caught on, huh?" Chiharu asked.

"Keep moving! Now!" Chiya ordered.

Indeed, Bishamon caught on. He stood before the collapsed entrance of the storage tunnel, clenching his fist in anger. His men turned the base upside down, but found no trace of Tsukiakari or Chiya. He realized he had been tricked by mere mortals.

"Damn you, Chiya..." Bishamon muttered.

The girls continued up the hill posthaste. Inori stopped for a moment, looking behind her as she caught the sound of distant shouts and hollers.

"They're searching for us!" Inori warned.

"Just keep moving!" Chiya urged.

The girls kept up the pace in their desperate attempt to escape. They suddenly heard an agitated neigh of a horse reverberate from the night sky. They turned their eyes towards the moon, where they saw Bishamon's flaming horse flying above the forest with wings of fire sprouting from its back. The horse fired off orange flares from its mouth, lighting up the whole forest to help with Bishamon's search effort.

"Over there!" shouted a distant soldier.

Arrows started flying in from afar as the girls continued their race up the hill. As the flare fell lower and lower towards the ground, Bishamon's men were able to fire more accurate shots.

"Don't look back, just keep going! We're almost there!" Chiya urged.

A sudden scream from Inori brought Chiya and Chiharu to a grinding halt. They looked back and saw Inori on the ground, her leg struck by arrows. Chiharu ran downhill in the direction of the fire and risked her own life to help Inori up. She carried Inori on her back just as she did for Tsukiakari.

"You're not dying here, Inori! I won't let you!" Chiharu said, running back up the hill.

"You idiot! I'm just going to slow you down!" Inori said.

"Shut up and let me do this!" Chiharu retaliated.

Chiharu gave it all she could, but after a few more minutes of running, her strength quickly depleted, and she began to drag behind Chiya.

"Set me down, Chiharu!"

Chiharu stopped and put her down, leaning her against a tall tree.

"Keep pushing, Inori! They're on our tail!" Chiharu urged.

"I can't, Chiharu. I can't." Inori said. "Go, catch up with Chiharu before they kill you too! Go!"

"Inori!" Chiya called out, looking back in horror.

"Don't you two stop, not now!" Inori yelled. "If Gekko dies tonight, I'll never forgive you! Now go!"

"Damn it!" Chiharu cursed. "We love you, Inori!"

Inori laughed, delighted to hear those words. "I know, sweetheart. I know. Hurry!"

Left with no choice, Chiya and Chiharu sped up the hill, leaving their beloved Inori behind. Inori leaned her head against the tree, trying her best to relax before what she knew would be her death. She looked up at the night sky, twinkling with its stars and radiant, full moon.

"We had a good run, didn't we?" Inori mumbled.

Chiya and Chiharu didn't dare to look back as they continued uphill, Inari's shrine finally in sight. The shouts of Bishamon's bloodthirsty men quieted down as the girls put some distance between them. Chiya struggled to take another step, falling onto one knee as she tried to continue. Chiharu ran to her side to help her.

"Come on, we're almost there!" Chiharu said.

"Chiharu...take Gekko. I can't carry her anymore." Chiya panted.

"Got it!"

Chiharu carefully took Tsukiakari onto her own back, relieving Chiya of the exhausting burden of carrying her.

"Just a little further now. Inari and Izanami should be waiting there." Chiya said.

The neigh of Bishamon's horse returned. The girls turned their eyes to the sky as the horse seemed to be flying directly towards them, his flaming wings growing into dual conflagrations. It sped at them like a speeding bullet of divine fire.

"Get down!" Chiya screamed, throwing herself over Chiharu and Tsukiakari.

The horse's wings washed the forest in fire, burning the trees surrounding Chiya and Chiharu to the ground. The force of its overhead pass sent Chiya and Chiharu flying into a tree, with Chiharu taking the brunt of the damage. The horse flew away, its wings calming their flames back down to normal size. Chiharu was the first to get up from the attack, coughing as she regained her composure. Her first instinct was to check on Tsukiakari, who was knocked onto the ground during the attack. It seemed the flames had managed to scald the upper left side of her face, mostly around her eye. She checked for any further injuries, relieved to find nothing else, at least nothing externally present. She slunk Tsukiakari onto her back and proceeded to check on Chiya, who was lied against the steps leading up to the shrine.

"Chiya!" Chiharu cried, running to her side. "Are you hurt?"

"I can't move, Chiharu." Chiya groaned.

Chiharu's eyes dotted across Chiya's robes, spotting the branch that pierced through her right side.

"Listen to me, Chiharu." Chiya urged. "The shrine is just up those steps. You have to get Gekko up there. Izanami and Inari will take care of you both. You're all Gekko has right now. You're her only shot at surviving this mess."

Chiharu's tears raced down her cheeks, making it difficult for her to speak. "You were all...supposed to live..."

"That was the ideal plan." Chiya said. "But we were all prepared for this. Goro, Inori, even myself. We were all prepared to die for Gekko. Once you two get out of here, don't come back. They'll be searching for you."

Chiharu stood up, remembering that Tsukiakari's life was in her hands. She couldn't let it go to waste, not when everyone sacrificed themselves for her.

"Gekko is going to live! I'll make sure of it!" Chiharu assured. "She's gonna live to see a peaceful country!"

"Thank you, Chiharu. Go! It's just up the hill! Go!"

Chiharu ran up the steps with every last ounce of strength she had. At long last, she had finally reached Inari's old shrine with Tsukiakari. Inari and Izanami were there, just as planned, waiting for her arrival.

"Izanami! Inari!" Chiharu shouted, getting their attention.

"Izanami, look!" Inari urged, racing towards Chiharu.

"Oh my god! Gekko!" Izanami cried.

Chiharu gently let Tsukiakari off of her back, checking her for injuries once more, but again finding nothing. She had actually managed to get Tsukiakari up the hill without any fatal injuries. She couldn't believe it herself.

"We're being chased! We have to get out of here, now!" Chiharu cried.

Izanami summoned her scythe, slamming the handle into the ground. "We'll head back to Inari's place! We'll be safe there! Just let me handle one thing, first!"

"What are you going to do?!" Inari asked as Izanami stepped forth.

Izanami kept her eyes trained on Bishamon's flaming horse, sticking her thumb and index finger in her mouth to whistle. Her whistle attracted the horse, prompting it to speed towards the goddess of death for another flaming, sweep attack.

"Are you crazy?!" Chiharu cried, throwing herself over Tsukiakari.

"If we don't do this now, it'll just find us later!" Izanami said.

As the horse got closer, Izanami swung her scythe in thin air, releasing a highly pressurized burst of air from its blade. The air cut like an invisible sword, chopping the horse into two clean halves. Blood rained down from the night sky as its belly and hind legs landed in the shrine's pond, while the front of its body plopped down on the ground in front of Inari. Its flames went cold, never to be ignited again.

"Alright, let's go!" Izanami said.

With a few hand signs, Izanami was able to teleport everyone back to her house, far away from the chaos that had unfolded in Yamashiro. Having seen the gruesome death of Bishamon's horse from the steps, Chiya was able to surmise that Chiharu successfully reached Inari and Izanami. Tsukiakari's escape was a success. She lied there on the ground, the moon shining down upon her, staring up at the night sky.

"Thank you, Chiharu." Chiya muttered.

The flames burning away at the trees died away, leaving her under the cool canopy of leaves and quietude of the night. The moonlight dazzled off of the leaves, reflecting its light like fragments of a mirror. All Chiya had to do now was wait to die. After all of the chaos that unfolded that evening, Chiya thought it was almost unfair that she got to die to such a pleasant, peaceful sight. Mayumi, Yachi, Taeko, Goro, Inori, Ayadachi, Sayu, and so many others had all died so violently and horrifically. Chiya lied there, thinking about how she had survived everything up until tonight, and what a journey it had all been.

Bishamon sauntered up the steps, his presence drawing Chiya's gaze.

"Where is she?" Bishamon asked.

"Long gone." Chiya replied. "You're already too late. Gekko made it. She's going to live."

"Even if she wakes up again, things will never be the same for her." Bishamon said. "Her altar is gone, along with the Senkumo clan. Even the men fighting under my command tonight will be gone before morning. If Tsukiakari dies again, she won't come back."

"She only needs one life." Chiya replied. "Just one is enough. What you gave her, the gift of reincarnation, was no gift at all. It was the mechanism through which you tortured that poor girl."

"And what if she wastes that life and seeks revenge? What if the Man in Black was right about us, about her? Do you really believe she'll wake up and take all of this sitting down?" Bishamon teased. "When she comes for me, I'll make sure to extinguish her last life."

"Even if it comes to that, heaven forbid...Gekko will defeat you."

"How can you be so sure?"

"You have a reason to live. She has a reason to die."

Bishamon felt pity for the dying Chiya. He had planned on finishing her, but ultimately decided to leave her be. He descended down the hill, leaving her to spend her last moments in peace beneath the moonlight.

"Oh, it's beautiful. Battered, but still so radiant..." Chiya mumbled, her life slipping away. "Still...so..."

And with her final breath, Chiya was gone. Everyone but Chiharu and Tsukiakari were all gone. The base they had spent all of those years living in was ruined, occupied by an army of traitors. In this battle, there were no winners. Only survivors. Bishamon descended the hill, where Hachiman waited for him at the bottom of the steps.

"She's gone. Gekko managed to slip away." Bishamon said.

"Seriously? After all of that?" Hachiman groaned.

"She can't reincarnate. Either she'll live in the shadows from now on, or she'll waste her last life seeking revenge. Either way, the girl is doomed. If I see her again, I'll be sure to kill her." Bishamon explained.

"What are you scared of that you want her dead so badly? Isn't it enough that she's out of your hair now?" Hachiman asked. "I know you're hiding something, kid. Can't you tell your old master about it?"

Bishamon clenched his fist as he walked away. "Let the men drink themselves to sleep tonight. We'll kill all of them by morning."


The final chapter is next, the one where Tsukiakari finds out what happened and butchers Bishamon's children  :ninja:

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #492 on: August 12, 2019, 01:57:31 PM »
Book of Betrayal Part 2 is finished  :clapping:

Offline Operative13

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #493 on: August 12, 2019, 11:56:48 PM »
Another milestone complete. You're making it big out here OGHM  ;) Keep it up!
“To give of oneself is the noblest of all acts.”

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (DbEG First Arc Almost PUBLISHED)
« Reply #494 on: August 23, 2019, 08:34:39 PM »
I just wanted to write lewd, funny, and heartfelt stories about ex-girlfriend and their lover living together

Lol thanks Op