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Who is Best Girl?

Shoku Twins

Author Topic: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (Senkumo War Stories PUBLISHED)  (Read 66967 times)

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Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #390 on: February 23, 2018, 04:37:16 PM »
The Tempest Lord and the Deathless Child

Prepared for yet another endless day in Heaven’s council of war, Bishamon, dressed in a black kimono with blood-red trim, sat on his bed as he slipped his feet into his sandals. For some odd reason, despite being a god of such high importance, he had chosen to stay in a relatively quaint bedroom, a much smaller version of what Amaterasu had. The eternal, unending sunlight of Heaven beed through his window, glaring off of the marble floors. He stood up, tying his hair into a ponytail before an ominous aura sent chills down his spine. The room went silent, so much so that he could hear the blood rushing through his head as if it were thunder. He shut his eyes, cocking his head as the sensation traveled down his back like an icy snake.

His entire body went numb as the sound of footsteps echoed in that small room, as if he were in a great hall. The sound indicated small, bare feet slowly slapping against the floor, coming closer to him with every step.

He opened his eyes to a woman whose body was completely wreathed in fire, cloaking her definitive features beyond her feminine frame. Perhaps just six inches shorter than Bishamon, her glowing, fiery eyes scanned his confused and horrified face. But it seemed that the flames burning around her didn’t burn any part of the floor she touched, nor did any smoke arise from the fire. He couldn’t even feel the heat radiate off of her. The fiery woman slowly turned her head to the mirror lying against the wall, in complete synchrony with Bishamon. As if to haunt the god of war, the woman’s reflection was that of a naked Ichiki, smiling with her emerald green eyes and black choker. It was a perfect image of Ichiki before her brutal murder, one that infuriated Bishamon to no end. A perfect reflection of his former wife, alive and healthy, insulted the memory of her death and the gods that mourned her.

Bishamon walked towards the mirror, each step brightening Ichiki’s smile. But instead of embracing her, Bishamon slammed his fist into the mirror, the cracked fragments now reflecting Tsukiakari’s image. The war god pulled away his hand, staring at the blood that gushed from his knuckle and ran down his wrist in warm, crimson streams. A polite knock upon his door startled him out of his trance.

Amaterasu: Let’s go, Bishamon. You’ll be late to the meeting.

Bishamon: I’ll be right there, my lord.

He looked back down at his hand, the blood he felt gone without a trace. He looked to his mirror, and not a single crack distorted his own, perfect reflection. Finally, he looked towards his bedside, and the woman wreathed in fire was gone. Still, the smokeless, heatless flame left something behind in that room, something that sent a shiver down Bishamon’s spine and flames igniting in his bones. He couldn’t quite name the feeling that fueled those fires, but he felt he recognized it to some extent. If pure, raw hatred could ever take form, he knew it would look a lot like those flames.

The same flame that seemed to haunt the divine world danced and flickered in front of Izanami and Inari, down in the basement of the eldritch and ancient island hideout. Inari stayed in the shadows as Izanami crouched down to the Phantom Maiden, placing her pale hands on the maiden’s mask of shadow.

Izanami: It will only be a matter of time before this one regains its strength. We should make this as quick as possible. If I can just bring her back...

Inari: Izanami, are you going to tell me why this is happening? You haven’t been very transparent about any of this!

Izanami sighed, her eyes closed as if to seal in her own emotions. She inhaled sharply and swiped her hand across the maiden’s face, removing the shadow that obscured her identity. Inari threw her hands over her mouth after a brief gasp of shock, her eyes fixated on the Phantom Maiden’s face. Even her nine tails shot up in a mixture of fear, grief, and vexatious ire.

Izanami: Forgive me, Inari. I’m going to begin with this one. I cannot be completely honest with you this time. Still, you’re my only true ally in all of this. I beg of you to place your trust in me, at least just this once.

With tears swelling in her eyes, Inari shouted in response, her anger made clear to Izanami.

Inari: Izanami, this is beyond cruel! If you know what’s happening, you have to tell Tsukiakari! Don’t you recognize this girl?!

Izanami: Of course I do.

Inari: Then-

Izanami: If we get this right, Inari, we’ll have another powerful ally at our side! Another banished god will be freed!

Inari: You’re using these people for your own gain! You understand how dangerous this is, right?!

Izanami: I already know. Not a single one of the gods can kill me, Inari. Even Amaterasu would have a hard time with such a task.

Izanami stood up, her eyes reflecting the guilt of having to lie to her only friend.

Izanami: Right now, all that remains is the horseman. Retrieve him. That’s all I ask of you.

Here, the flame hungers and churns.

The voice led Tsukiakari far across the land, over the hills and across the streams. At long last, she could lean over on the handle of her blade, catching her breath after her lengthy trek. Her payoff was a seemingly endless expanse of flat land, a meadow of sweet, aromatic, purple flowers swaying in the breeze. For you every flower, there seemed to be a wooden plaque sticking up from the ground, bearing the names of the deceased. Soldiers, victims of war, starved and sick peasants, their names were all there. In the center of all those flowers and grave markers, a single, black statue of the starved and emaciated Buddha gleamed beneath the moonlight. The Buddha, twice as big as Tsukiakari, sat in his famed, meditative position, his bones more visible and pronounced than his face. It was a true testament to the six years of self-imposed starvation the Buddha subjected himself to before his enlightenment. Dozens of small candles flickered and glowed at the statue’s base, somehow staying alight in the frigid air of the night.

Tsukiakari: It’s like there’s thousands of these grave markers. Fitting that a phantom would meet us here.

The Tempest Lord. He will not be easy. Of all of our phantom pursuers, his hatred of you is most potent. It’s almost like it’s personal.

Noriko: So you’re really going through with this, Gekko.

Unseen even a second beforehand, Noriko gently laid her hand on Tsukiakari’s shoulder as she caught her breath. Her sudden presence was no shock to the smiling war goddess.

Tsukiakari: I don’t have much of a choice. As long as these phantoms are after me, vengeance is impossible. I’ll put you all to rest, and at the end of it all, I’m sure I’ll see you again. After rediscovering you, I was able to decide what I had to do. I know what’s important now.

Noriko: I’ll be with you, Gekko. Though I fear your tribulation will only become more difficult.

Thunder boomed and tumbled within the clouds above like war drums. The wind grew steadily stronger, lifting Tsukiakari’s hair as Noriko disappeared from her side. She stood tall and fast, gripping her sword by the handle.

Tsukiakari: Here we go.

One mighty and blinding bolt of lightning struck down upon the Buddha statue from the heavens, like a hammer upon an anvil. The accompanying thunder briefly drowned out all other sounds from Tsukiakari’s ears. The smell of smoke and burning wood lifted into the air as all of the grave markers caught fire across the meadow, glowing like candles in the distance. Lo and behold, the Tempest Lord, the fiery horseman of the night, stood before Tsukiakari, his flaming stallion screeching into the air. Even the statue was wreathed in fire.

Tsukiakari: Why such strong hatred?! Is it because I hurt your precious maiden?!

The horseman lowered his head, glancing at the fiery spear stuck through his heart. He returned his blazing gaze towards the war goddess, the two cautiously circling each other. The horse seemed deathly eager to kill Tsukiakari, with furious gusts of air jetting through its nostrils every few seconds. The heat from the horseman and his beast made Tsukiakari sweat in her clothes and wreathed the flowers at the horse’s hooves in gentle, life-stealing flames.

Don’t you wonder what drives him so? What force could be so strong that it rejects the embrace of the Shinigami, and the home of Izanami?

Tsukiakari: It’s no ordinary hatred. Was the maiden that important to him?

It has nothing to do with the maiden. Phantoms don’t care for one another.

Tsukiakari: What? Then why the hell is he...

The horseman unraveled the intestinal whip at his side, winding his arm back and coiling the fiery organ around Tsukiakari’s wrist. With his great strength, he swung Tsukiakari around and around before she could sever the intestine, circling her around at dizzying speeds. She could hardly see a thing as she was suddenly slammed into the ground with a nearly explosive impact, cratering the ground around her. The whip uncoiled from her wrist, leaving behind a blistering scar. Recovering from the impact, she dug herself out of the crater, her ears leading her eyes to Tempest Lord.

The horse circled his master around the area, keeping a far distance from Tsukiakari. The Tempest Lord  withdrew his fiery bow, aiming an arrow imbued with fierce, crackling lighting at the war goddess. She gathered her strength with a mighty war cry as the Tempest Lord shot his arrow, it’s lightning screeching through the frigid air. Already a master of lightning, she had no issue cutting the arrow in two with her extended slashes of serrated air.

Tsukiakari: You messed up, bastard!

She sent forth another blast of razor sharp air, the gust racing towards the Tempest Lord with a trail of severed flowers and grave markers following it. The horseman ducked his head and spurred his stallion, narrowly avoiding the blast of air while circling back towards the war goddess. She nearly froze upon the realization he was going in for a direct attack, her eyes peeled open in disbelief.

Move, you fool!

The horse’s thunderous gallop was overpowered only by its master’s monstrous, harrowing war cry as they raced towards Tsukiakari. She snapped out of her moment of shock and drove her blade into the earth, turning it like a key in a lock. The ground just ahead of the horse lifted slightly, tripping the beast over and sending I tumbling over Tsukiakari’s head as she dropped to the floor. At last, the beast and its master were separated.

Landing across from each other, both of the fiery phantoms set more of the flowers ablaze. With her blade still stuck in the ground, Tsukiakari’s hands quickly weaved together the kuji-in to channel the purifying power of ice through her palms. She ripped one of the grave markers from the ground, coating it in a thick shell of hard ice before throwing it directly at the downed horse. The blast ripped open its stomach, sending its flaming organs and intestines flying out of its belly and plodding onto the ground. The resulting cloud of ice from the impact doused the horse’s flames and silenced its demonic cries.

Tsukiakari: Now for the horseman!

She frantically reached for her blade, but saw the horseman’s intestinal whip coil around the handle and fly his way before she could take hold of it. Fixated on the Tempest Lord wielding her blade as if he owned it, another surprise startled her in the form of heat behind her back. She quickly spun around, rolling out of the way of the Tempest Lord’s sword swing. The fiery lord before her disappeared, but the other was still in the exact same place, marching towards the war goddess with her sword in hand.

Spared no time to think, another Tempest Lord seemed to come flying out of one of the flaming grave markers, charging at her from the front. Yet again, after dodging his strike, the Tempest Lord faded into a thin cloud of smoke. Two more charged from opposite sides of Tsukiakari, one of them delaying his speed by just a second.

Under enormous pressure and forces to think on her feet, Tsukiakari shielded herself from the fiery stab of the first with a thin wall of ice at her side, the wall breaking into chilled fragments as it took the hit. The other Tempest Lord attacked just a split second later, successfully catching her off guard and bringing his blade down upon her arm. The war goddess shrieked in agony as the nerves in her arm all spiked and exploded with pain, lopping the entire limb off from her body. At least, that’s exactly what it felt like.

After the attacking Lord vanished, Tsukiakari observed that her arm was still there, firmly attached to her body without even the slightest sign of damage. No blood, no rip in her kimono sleeve, and yet, the pain was so dire and real to her. Still, the Tempest Lord’s strange attacks continues relentlessly, now with five Lord’s dashing towards her from all sides. She slammed her icy palm upon the ground, encasing herself in a thick, glowing, and small dome of blue ice. The fiery blades of the Lords rocked the dome and cracked its surface, but each of them failed to penetrate her defenses before they vanished into puffs of smoke. With the resulting smoke from the Lords accumulated around her, Tsukiakari was doomed to hear the cacophony or voices echo all around her. Whispers and cries that flowed like the wind and lingered like the smell of incense surrounded her outside the dome as the original Tempest Lord calmly approached. He gently touched the dome with the tip of his flaming finger, observing how the ice could douse his flame. With Tsukiakari realizing she was safe in the dome, and the Tempest Lord realizing its purifying power, the two were at a standoff as well as a brief moment of respite.

The burning, pulsating sting of losing a limb still pervaded her nerves, the agony suffused with limb down to the bone. For just a moment within that cold dome of ice, she could let out an exhausted sigh of bygone worry.

Tsukiakari: Wraiths born of flame, allowing you to attack from multiple angles at a time, with swords that inflict phantom pain.

The Tempest Lord kept his blazing stare locked upon the war goddess as he circled the dome like a lion just waiting for the first moment he could attack his prey. As if to tease Tsukiakari, he dragged her blade across the dome, the meeting of steel and ice producing an awful, dissonant whistle. The blade left behind a thin, white line on the outer layer of the ice, but it wouldn’t be enough to break through it.

Tsukiakari: I can’t believe I almost died to a damned ghost. You think you’re the only one with hatred nesting in your heart? Do you think you’re the only one who wants to unleash their rage? Vengeance moves the earth as much as it moves the heavens. It’s flow is inescapable. But you’ve already had your time. Why don’t you just lie down and die like you’re supposed to?

She looked to the clouds, taking note of the thunder still booming in the sky.

Tsukiakari: Okay. There’s my way out. Let’s end this, Tempest Lord.

Tsukiakari weaved the kuji-in to switch over to lightning affinity, preparing to end the fight quickly. If she could just do that, it would all be over. The phantoms would no longer be a problem. The end of it all was in clear sight to her.

Tsukiakari: Let’s go!

A mighty bolt of lightning ripped through the sky and scorched the ice dome, shattering it in a furious explosion. The Horseman seemed unfazed in the blast, but it wasn’t the explosion Tsukiakari placed her hopes in. It was the electricity being conducted by her blade, the perfect beacon for teleportation. A second, much smaller lightning strike flashed just inches away from the horseman’s face, and Tsukiakari appeared out of its brilliant light. Her hand was already wrapped firmly around the hand he held her blade with.

As more wraiths of the Tempest Lord dashed out of the surrounding grave markers, Tsukiakari twisted his wrist and turned her own blade against him. She let her legs spread apart as she helped him drive her blade through his chest, allowing her to sink lower towards the ground as the wraiths closed in on her. Her blade, along with the blades of seven wraiths, all pierced through the Tempest Lord at once, most of them just narrowly missing Tsukiakari.

The wraiths vanished, lifting their choking smoke up into the air. The Tempest Lord remained still and silent, his grip on Tsukiakari’s sword loosened. She pulled her blade out of his chest and leaped backwards, keeping her distance as he fell on his back. His flames slowly died down, the spear stuck in his heart vanishing just as the wraiths did.

Tsukiakari was surprised to find that although the flames simmered away into a cloak of smoke, a fully armored body was still left behind. She slowly, cautiously stepped closer to the corpse left behind, the flames wreathed sound the starved Buddha and grave markers also dying away. She could see up close the traditional and rather dated, but colorful armor of leading general. The vibrant colors of green and purple stripes among the primary blocks of red indicated the wearer as a central figure of the forces he commanded. A large, jagged hole through the armor was left behind by the phantom spear, exposing the pale, almost dark grey skin of the wearer. The body was clearly going through the stages of decomposition, kept in tact only by the Tempest Flame.

At last, Tsukiakari removed the helmet, the face she was greeted with making her jump back in shock before falling on her bottom. Her trembling hands tightly grasped a handful of blackened, charred flowers as she tried to remain calm. She took several deep breaths, willing up the courage to take a closer, harder look at the face of the corpse.

Crawling towards it and checking again, her heart swirled with frenzied confusion and surprise. Her shock made her blood feel like fire in her veins.

Tsukiakari: I remember you...Yoshihisa Ashikaga!

The fiery horseman, the Tempest Lord, was none other than the long dead shogun she had slain in battle many years ago. Yoshihisa Ashikaga.

She could accept that Noriko was merely a phantom in her own mind, but for one of the phantoms blesses by flame to be someone she once fought in battle, what little sense she managed to make of her predicament crumbled. Or rather, she realized just how little she truly knew.

Tsukiakari: Why?! Why are you here?!

Yoshihisa Ashikaga, the center of the Onin War, a precursor to the past century and a half of conflict that has consumed the entire country. Son of Yoshimasa Ashikaga, his birth was a complete surprise to his father, who had already made arrangements for a successor from outside the family. His mother, Tomiko, was possessed by vengeance upon learning that her son would be denied his birthright. A single, vengeful woman sparked the flame of the Onin War, allowing your fated encounter with Bishamon to occur. When the baby grew up and rightfully took his place as Shogun, you two met on the battlefield and killed each other. Only you came back. Or so you thought.

Tsukiakari: That’s why he was so drawn to me? He wanted revenge on the goddess that killed him?

The Tempest Flame sought his vengeance and accepted him. Embraced him.

Tsukiakari stood up in silence. Nothing about the events of that night felt right anymore. The voice knew too much. Everything happened far too perfectly.

Tsukiakari: You aren’t helping me destroy these phantoms. You’re helping yourself.

It was only a matter of time before you found out. Our conflict was inevitable.

Tsukiakari: Talk. Stop speaking in vagueness and riddles and tell me exactly what this Tempest Flame is! Why did Yoshihisa Ashikaga come back from the dead to kill me?!

Her answer was an agonizing burn in her heart that brought her down to her knees. It was as if her very heart was on fire. She undid the breast of her kimono and observed her chest for herself.  The scar that had been left there by the Phantom Maiden was alight with small embers flickering within her very flesh.

The Tempest Flame is within you now. Rejoice, for you are almost one with the Deathless Child.

A warm flame shined its light upon Tsukiakari’s face, drawing her eyes up from the ground. The same woman wreathed in fire that appeared before Bishamon now stood before Tsukiakari, her flames burning gently like a camp fire. Her cloak of fire simmered away, revealing the pale, dead skin of yet another phantom from the past, the source of the voice inside her head. Though her hair remained alight with gentle flames and a crown of embers around her head, Tsukiakari  could recognize her face anywhere. That beautiful, black choker, those alluring, green eyes that shined like emeralds in the sun. Ichiki.

She stood before her completely naked, the wounds she died with healed, but leaving her body with scars. Most notably, an intensely pronounced scar across her stomach where she has been disemboweled. It was as if it had been sewn right back up.

Tsukiakari: whole time...

Ichiki: Oh how I’ve missed you, Gekko. If there was anyone in Heaven I ever truly wanted, it was you, not Bishamon. Is murder how you repay such strong love?

Tsukiakari: Damn you! You’re back too?!

Ichiki: Like Yoshihisa, I too was blessed by the Tempest Flame. Though, it seems his blessings didn’t quite go to good use. Not within him, anyway. But you...the flame is drawn to you with a special vigor.

Ichiki chuckled.

Ichiki: Oh, but you seek to know more about the Tempest Flame, don’t you?

Tsukiakari stood and pointed her blade at Ichiki, her hands and knees shaking with fear and uncertainty.

Ichiki: You have very little to threaten me with, Gekko. Besides, this is bigger than the both of us.

Tsukiakari: I won’t ask you again! Talk!

Ichiki slid her tongue across her top lip, rubbing her fingers around her small breasts.

Ichiki: Your hatred still enraptures me so. To think my murderer, and the murderer of my children soul still command my attention like this.  It’s infuriating. Do you remember the story I once told you? About the early days of Izanami’s existence?

Tsukiakari: What about it?

Ichiki: Izanami gave birth to many children, but there was one that scorched her so badly that she died soon after giving birth to it.

Tsukiakari: Kagutsuchi!

Tsukiakari’s eyes flung wide open as the pieces all fell into place.

Tsukiakari: The flame? It’s linked to her?! How?!

Ichiki: You don’t realize it, do you? Your best answer lies not with me, but with three people. The Shoku Twins, and most importantly, Izanami. Seek Izanami, Gekko. Expose her great lie for what it is. The Shoku Twins can guide you to the truth, if you give them no other option. Izanami’s immortality has nothing to do with her being a goddess of death.

Like the wraiths before, Ichiki vanished, leaving Tsukiakari with the corpse of Yoshihisa, The Tempest Lord, as well as a furious thirst for answers.

Tsukiakari: The Shoku Twins...someone is going to tell me the truth.

Just so you know I’m not a hack, the subject of this reveal first appeared in Samsara, the first chapter of Book of Betrayal. Just in case no one remembers that battle. Also one of the first signs of Tsukiakari suffering dramatic hallucinations concerning the deceased

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #391 on: March 01, 2018, 08:19:16 PM »

Izanami’s Greatest Lie

The sky had shifted from a dark, all-consuming black, to a deep shade of early morning blue. The sun would be up in just a few hours. Tsukiakari managed to survive the night, as well as the pursuit of her vicious phantoms. She couldn’t stop looking into Yoshihisa’s face, the memories of their battle against each other swirling around in her mind as if it happened yesterday.

Tsukiakari: You, the seed of the Onin War and all the violence that came after it. Ironic that you would choose to hang onto your vengeance, to outlive the very war you were heir to.

Noriko stepped forth into her peripheral view, a phantom seen only by her blinded eye. The two stood side by side as the morning breeze ruffled through their robes, both of them overlooking Yoshihisa’s corpse.

Noriko: I still feel your hatred. It’s reaching towards Izanami now, isn’t it?

Tsukiakari: If the Tempest Flame really is linked to Kagutsuchi, there’s very little chance that Izanami didn’t know about it. One can’t assume that kind of ignorance upon her. She knows more about everything than any other god in Heaven. She’s the oldest surviving one, after all.

Noriko: But we cannot assume her guilt either.

Tsukiakari: Then why? Why is she immortal? Why is she free from being cycled out? She’s not being truthful about her own power, her own existence. She’s been lying to us from the damn start. If she has such a power and refused to share it, it means that all of this could’ve been prevented. But she sat there and watched the fear of death corrupt all of those around her, all while she rules over death itself. She commands death, but doesn’t succumb to its rules. She takes but never gives.

Noriko: And you hold her partly responsible? For killing all that you loved?

Tsukiakari: I hate the gods that betrayed me and butchered the only family I had in this world, but if there was a way to stop gods from cycling out and Izanami has been hiding it, it was her omission that allowed all of this to unfold the way it did. This Tempest Flame must be part of that.

Noriko released a saddened sigh as she vanished. Tsukiakari sheathed her blade and began making her way, to back the abandoned temple, itching to confront the Shoku Twins. The whole time, she was well aware she was being watched by a familiar god.

Inari Okami observed the scene from afar, hiding amongst the flowers. Winded and frustrated, she realized she arrived too late, that the Tempest Lord had already been bested by Tsukiakari.

Inari: I didn’t make in time?! Then...Gekko absorbed the flame? I have to get back to Izanami!

(At last...I can hear my own thoughts again.)

A race for the truth for Tsukiakari, a race against time for Inari. Blaring shafts of sunlight broke through the leaves of the forest as the war goddess marched her way back to the abandoned temple with a vengeance. She could hear those damned crows in the sky cawing with all their might, as if they were actually trying to make her go deaf.

(Their stories conflict. I can remember that now. The story surrounding Oyamatsumi’s fight with Izanami revolved around a conflict regarding the use of Mount Fuji to quell the wars going on at the time. But the Shoku Twins insist the fight revolved around their ascension into divinity. Granted, I trust the Twins much more than I trust Oyamatsumi. All I know is that this story is missing a piece of itself. It was not told to me in whole.)

Tsukiakari barged through the doors, startling the Shoku Twins standing inside. Omagatoki’s face lit up with all the joy in the world as she ran with her little legs to hug Tsukiakari’s thighs.

Omagatoki: Welcome home! We were so worried, you know! Did you get rid of all the scary ghosts? Are you safe now? Want some tea? Sis and I brewed some for your return!

Tsukiakari’s voice grumbled with anger.

Tsukiakari: Get the hell off of me.

Omagatoki: Huh? Ge...Gekko?

Tsukiakari pushed Omagatoki onto her bottom, scaring the two girls as she withdrew her blade from its scabbard.

Akatsuki: What is the meaning of this?

Tsukiakari: Those phantoms out there were those who should’ve been long dead, revived and kept here on Earth by something called the Tempest Flame. The horseman we saw earlier was none other than Yoshihisa Ashikaga, a man who I killed on the battlefield long ago. She thought I wouldn’t notice, but Inari Okami was watching me from afar. If Inari was there, it means Izanami is also involved. I reckon Inari was meant to confront the phantom before me, which makes me wonder if she also confronted the floating girl.

Akatsuki: What are you trying to say?

Tsukiakari: It’s no coincidence that the Shoku Twins and I crossed paths at just the right moment. It’s no coincidence that Inari was also searching for the phantoms. You’re involved in this too. You will tell me everything, truthfully, or I’ll cut you both down.

Akatsuki: Killing either of us would lead to the end of the world, Tsukiakari. You’re aware of this, aren’t you? That was our deterrence against Heaven.

Tsukiakari: Your deterrence, not Izanami’s. Do I look like I could give a sh*t if the world ends right now?

Realizing they were dealing with someone who no longer cared for their own fate or the world’s, their deterrence was stripped of its power. They were forced to oblige.

Omagatoki: You’re right. It’s our deterrence. Not Izanami’s.

Tsukiakari: Start from the fight between her and Oyamatsumi.

Akatsuki: Fine then. There are two versions of this duel, both ending the same way. The first version describes the duel taking place because of Oyamatsumi’s suggestion that they use Mount Fuji as a weapon against the warring mortals, to make them bow to the might of the gods. Through disaster. Oyamatsumi hoped to bring peace to the world of mortals, and Izanami challenges that idea.

Omagatoki: The other is what we told you. The duel took place because Oyamatsumi contested Izanami’s proposition that we ascend to divinity, being victims of war.

Tsukiakari: So then? The truth.

The Twins glances at each other, as if to figure out who would be the one to say it. Ultimately, Akatsuki spoke up.

Akatsuki: Technically, both of these versions are true. Oyamatsumi indeed wanted to use Mount Fuji as a leash upon the country following the outbreak of the Onin War. Izanami contested with her own idea, to let the war continue on while she gifted Heaven with a different, valuable tool. Us. Masters of time, balancing the flow of the universe. Raising the sun, occulting the moon. A neutral party to handle these responsibilities in place of the divided gods. But that was only Izanami’s surface reason.

Omagatoki: The Tempest Flame you mentioned, it made its appearance after the Onin War, according to Izanami.

Tsukiakari: What?! That damned flame was here this whole time?!

Akatsuki: Since the very beginning.

Akatsuki: It lingered around the country in pieces, unable to latch onto anything or anyone like it has now.

(Oh my god...)

Tsukiakari: Akatsuki...did she...try to use you two as hosts of the flame?

Their silence was all the confirmation Tsukiakari needed.

Omagatoki: She was so careful and calculating. She made sure that we knew the man responsible for our deaths. Oyamatsumi. She made sure we acquired a taste for vengeance, oil for the Tempest Flame.

Tsukiakari: It worked. You still feel that vengeance.

Akatsuki: But we feigned cooperation with her plan, all so we could use that information against her. Izanami taught us what the Tempest Flame was, what it wanted, and where she would be able to gather its pieces.

Omagatoki: We threatened to expose it all to the gods. That was our deterrence. We refused to lose ourselves and die to the Tempest Flame in service of Izanami’s wants.

Tsukiakari: So you had her arrange your positions as masters of time, using her to kill Oyamatsumi and avoid harm. If the Tempest Flame took either of you, both Heaven and Earth would fall apart. You were protected by your positions, granted your vengeance, and left Izanami without a conduit for the Tempest Flame. She underestimated your cunning.

Akatsuki: But Oyamatsumi reincarnated, our vengeance nullified. We didn’t hate Izanami, knowing the truth of the flame. We simply protected ourselves as siblings. We thought there was a better way to do this.

Omagatoki: The Senkumo clan’s rise through the Warring States left plenty of opportunities for the Tempest Flame to take hold in others. Strong feelings of hatred and revenge circulated around you and your comrades, around your enemies. We didn’t know who the phantoms were beneath their fire wreaths, but it makes sense if the horseman was the Shogun you killed. The Tempest Flame must’ve accepted him, feeding off of his powerful hatred for you.

Akatsuki: We’ve no clue who the floating girl is though.

Tsukiakari: The Tempest Flame. Is it connected to Kagutsuchi?

Omagatoki: The Deathless Child?

Akatsuki: It is. The Catholics obliterated Kagutsuchi’s body after the failed negotiations to send her back to the Shinto pantheon. Naturally, they thought this would kill her. It failed. The Tempest Flame are the fragments of Kagutsuchi’s soul that wandered back to the country.

Tsukiakari: Her soul?! If the body is destroyed, the soul is supposed to travel to the House of Souls to be judged!

Akatsuki: Not Kagutsuchi’s. That’s why they call her the Deathless Child. She’s unbound by death, much like her mother. Her soul was split into three in the attempt to kill her. When it returned here, it sought physical form. Kagutsuchi is trying to get her body back. We don’t know why she chose to take the corpses of the dead, why she actively chose to feed off of the vengeance of a man who hated you. But we do know that she fed off of those intense feelings. She was drawn to them the most.

Tsukiakari felt around the scar on her heart through her kimono, now fully realizing the consequence of her victory over the Tempest Lord.

Tsukiakari: I...absorbed two parts of Kagutsuchi’s soul. You let me go out there knowing that this was a possibility?!

Akatsuki: You decided yourself you would vanquish the phantoms. It would raise too many questions if we tried to stop you. Inari was meant to gather them before...

Omagatoki: Sis?

Akatsuki: absorbed two pieces?

Tsukiakari: The voice in my head. I never mentioned it. I thought it was just me going crazy, but I had a phantom within me the whole time. Two, I suppose. The fragment of Kagutsuchi’s soul that attached itself to Ichiki, who then attached herself to me.

Omagatoki: And then the horseman?

Tsukiakari: Exactly. Ichiki left my side, thankfully. Yoshihisa’s fragment is all that remains. What if the floating girl?

Omagatoki: With Izanami...

Tsukiakari: Take me.

Omagatoki: I...don’t think we can do that. We have strict instructions-

Tsukiakari: You will do exactly as I tell you, or you and your sister will die here. Show me.

Akatsuki stepped forth, as if to shield her sister from Tsukiakari’s threat.

Akatsuki: Izanami can answer the rest of your questions. However, the place we’re going will only make you ask more questions. This will be a case where knowing more means you know less than you did before. You may think very ill of Izanami after this, but I must ask that yo put yourself in her shoes. Remember that even Izanami the Cruel has a heart.

Tsukiakari: I’ll judge her as I see fit.

Akatsuki: Very well. Sis.

Omagatoki: Right.

The Shoku Twins held hands with each other, each of them taking one of Tsukiakari’s hands as well. In the blink of an eye, the three of them vanished from the dilapidated temple, their feet softly landing on the wet sands of the hidden island Inari had visited before.

Their ears were filled with the harrowing cries of black-tailed gulls circling above the shoreline as the sparkling, sunlit sea continued to kiss the shore. Landing on all fours, Tsukiakari took a minute to catch her breath. Teleportation with the Shoku Twins seemed to leave her winded and nauseous.

It didn’t her long to stand up and look out towards the far reaches of the ocean, noticing the colossal, statue-like corpses stretching their arms out towards the sky with the sun rising behind them.

Tsukiakari: What the hell...what are those?

Though the corpses captivated her tired eyes, she looked back towards the Shoku Twins as they helped each other up, brushing the coarse sand off of their kimonos. Her eyes were naturally guided to the island’s center the massive death plateau formation acting as a sort of turtle shell to the island. She marched towards the entrance at the plateau’s side, stopping just twenty paces away from the small, stone crypt covered in foliage and weathered by years of exposure to salt water and rain.

Tsukiakari: A crypt? Did someone die here?

Omagatoki: We know about as much as you do. Izanami forbade us from ever opening the crypt. We weren’t even allowed to mention it.

Akatsuki: Tsukiakari...I beg of you, do not open that crypt. Whatever’s in there, I think Izanami kept us away from it for our own good.

Tsukiakari could feel it too, these perilous tendrils of raw darkness circling around her. A strong aura around the crypt begged her to go away, to not lay a finger upon its door. Even Akatsuki took a few steps back with her sister, wanting nothing to do with whatever was inside. Tsukiakari’s fingertips brushed against the crypt’s door, chilling them deep in the flesh as if she had touched an iceberg.

Tsukiakari: I’m going to open it...

Omagatoki: No! You shouldn’t!

Akatsuki: There will be no going back, Tsukiakari.

Tsukiakari: I’m already past the point of no return.

Defying the cautious fear traveling through her nerves and veins, Tsukiakari places both hands flat against the crypt door, pushing it wide open. It took considerable strength to open such a small set of doors, strength only a god could possibly have. The inside of the crypt was dark, it’s trapped air carrying the reek of old death. Within the dark of the crypt, Tsukiakari caught the slow but very lively movement of some human figure. Expecting only to find bones and corpses, Tsukiakari instinctively leaped back from the crypt, landing just in front of the terrified Shoku Twins. She clutched the handle of her blade, her heart racing and pumping chilled blood through her body.

Omagatoki: What happened?!

Akatsuki: Gekko?

Tsukiakari: Stay behind me!

(Who was that?! I swear I saw someone move!)

The wind fiercely raced through the palm trees and foliage, making their hair dance in front of their eyes as they tried to focus on the opened crypt. But it seemed that Tsukiakari’s eyes did not deceive her one bit. A woman emerged from the crypt, her hair long, voluminous, and black as deep space, covering her face, back, and shoulders. Her thin, tattered, long shirt extended to just above her knees, it’s once vibrant, white threads turned dingy with age.

The color and quality of the woman’s skin was unlike her decrepit dress. Her skin was lighter and brighter than the sand at her feet, so healthy that it seemed to glow and reflect the sun’s light as she stepped forth. How could such a lively, vibrant being be locked in a crypt among death-stricken air and bones? But as the woman turned her head, Tsukiakari and the Shoku Twins only experienced a heightened sense of fear. The sight of her face nearly made their hearts explode.

With eyes that radiated a rosy pink color, a smile that was all too familiar, and cheeks that blushed like flowers in spring, they knew exactly who they were looking at. And yet, her existence didn’t make any sense to them. The warning bestowed upon Tsukiakari just minutes before was not heeded. The answer she sought care forth, wrapped in nothing but truth.

Akatsuki, Omagatoki, and Tsukiakari realized they were looking right at Izanami, alive, full of color, and perfectly well. As if she had never died in the first place.

Izanami: He...hello. Are you...guests?

(The Izanami we were looking at was alive and well. Nothing like the pale Izanami we all knew, marked by death.)

Tsukiakari: is this possible?

It was no illusion. No phantom. No trick of time manipulation. Izanami-no-Mikoto was alive and well before their very eyes.

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #392 on: March 04, 2018, 12:33:21 AM »
The Truth in the Crypt

Izanami stood before them with a gracious smile, alive and well. Just as she was warned, Tsukiakari was burdened with more questions than answers.

Tsukiakari: that you?

The living goddess tilted her head like a confused dog.

Izanami: My do you know my name? Have we met before?

With a helplessly confused expression, Tsukiakari turned her head to the Shoku Twins.

Tsukiakari: What the hell is going on? Your idea of a practical joke?

Omagatoki: What? No! We didn’t travel through time at all! All we did was teleport here!

Tsukiakari: But...why? This isn’t making sense!

Akatsuki: That is undeniably Izanami. Face, voice, and all. The only possible explanations I can think of are that either Izanami discovered a way to bring herself back to life, or this is a different Izanami. Given that this one doesn’t seem to remember us, I’m more including bed to believe the latter.

Omagatoki: Another Izanami? A clone? A phantom?!

Izanami excitedly inhaled as she clasped her hands together, coming up with a novel idea.

Izanami: Ah! You look hungry! How about you join us for dinner? My husband Izanami should be back soon with the best fish from the sea!

(What? Izanagi?)

Izanami: Though, I wonder where Mizuhame is. She said she’d be right back, but I don’t really remember what she said she was going to do. Have you seen her around at all?

Those woeful, innocently asked questions turned their confusion into shocked sadness. This Izanami spoke of her family with the brightest smile they had ever seen. It was as if she had no idea where or when she was. She had no memory of anything past those happy days with her family.

Tsukiakari: Izanami....You-

Izanami: Ah! My love! Welcome home!

Tsukiakari stepped forth without so much as a blink as she watched Izanami talk to thin air.

Izanami: It seems we have guests! I know! I told them to stay for dinner so they could enjoy the fish you caught! Shall we set up the table? Oh don’t worry about it, dear! I’m sure Mizuhame will be home soon! Come, come! We’ll have everything set up for you guys soon!

Izanami gleefully skipped her way back into the crypt as if it were her house, enticing Tsukiakari and the Shoku Twins to come closer to her resting place. The sunlight began to creep onto the floor of the crypt, inching deeper and deeper until the light hit a pile of human bones. A female femur, a cracked, male skull, pieces of the spine, and more that the girls couldn’t bare to look at. Tsukiakari shoved herself in front of the Shoku Twins, protecting them from the terrible sight. But Izanami sat down among the bones, arranging them and rearranging them like a madwoman. It has become all too clear that this Izanami’s mind lacked not only important memories, but sanity as well.

Izanami: Don’t be shy! You’re welcome here! Izanagi catches the best fish around! Please do try some!

Picking up one of the bones at her feet, Izanami’s mouth opened up as she drew the bone closer to her lips.

Tsukiakari: Izanami, stop!

Tsukiakari rushed inside, forcefully yanking Izanami out of the crypt by her arm. She was deathly afraid Izanami would really bite down on the bones, convinced it was actually a piece of delectable fish.

Tsukiakari: Listen to me, don’t do that again! That isn’t fish!

Izanami: It isn’

The beautiful smile on Izanami’s face faded away as she looked back towards the crypt, fearful of what it was she had really been eating. Fearful of any semblance of the truth.

Noriko: I your whole world consists of them.

Tsukiakari could make out Noriko’s visage in the corner of her blinded eye, only for her to vanish as soon as she turned her head. A bone-chilling shriek suddenly blared out from the plateau entrance, drawing everyone’s eyes towards the terrified Inari...standing alongside the pale, speechless Izanami. Inari kept looking at the woman in Tsukiakari’s arms, then back to the Izanami at her side. She undoubtedly came to the same realization as everyone else. For whatever reason, there were two Izanami’s, one clearly alive, and one white with death.

The pale Izanami could not hide her brew of powerful feelings. Her anger that the crypt has been opened was apparent within her gritted teeth, but her fury was then washed away by a wave of silent sorrow, and then finally, shame, the kind that hung her head towards the ground.

Omagatoki: Inari!

Inari: Is that...Izanami?! She’s alive! But then...

Inari stepped away from Izanami, backing up towards Tsukiakari and the Shoku Twins.

Inari: But then, who are you?

Izanami: ...I told you...never to open that damned crypt! She was to stay in there for eternity! Not only that, but you led Gekko straight here?!

Tsukiakari: I threatened them with death so they’d show me the truth! For years, everyone has wondered how you’ve been able to attain perfect immortality, never dying or cycling out! We all assumed it was just because deities of death don’t die in the first place, but that’s not actually the case, is it?! Why?! Tell us why you sealed this woman inside of that crypt!

On the verge of tears, Inari could say not a word, but her eyes were fixated on the pale Izanami. Those eyes were clearly begging for an explanation from the woman she thought was her friend. Izanami knew how cruel her lie was. She had tricked the entire world and locked away her secrets on that island. Most of all, she realize she had hurt Inari, the Shoku Twins, and her dearest Gekko.

Izanami: Alright...I’m done lying to all of you. I never wanted it to come to this.  But the truth will always reveal itself, won’t it? You can’t bury your phantoms forever.

With a heavy heart drenched in sorrow and shame, Izanami looked everyone in their eyes and prepared to tell them the truth.

Izanami: That woman is Izanami. I am also Izanami. This happened immediately after I died giving birth to Kagutsuchi, after she had scorched my entire body. I was hardly little more than a skeleton at that point. Even my organ were burnt to a crisp. As hard as Izanagi and Mizuhame tried to keep me alive, I died from my burns. It’s just as you know already. While I awoke in the underworld, Izanagi thought to avenge me by murdering my Kagutsuchi and sealing my remains in that crypt. While I lived out my life as a walking corpse, my body remained in that crypt for years...slowly healing. For so long, I had no idea that she...that I was still in there, alive.

Izanami’s thoughts traveled back thousands of years, to one particular moonlit night on the island. That singular, lonesome island was all too familiar for her, for it was all that was left of a once greater landmass. It was an area meant to be surrounded my mountains and valleys, heavily forested and vibrant with greenery. But it was all reduced to that single, pathetic island, set far apart from the mainland.

When she arrived there that fateful night, the crypt had already been opened. At first, Izanami thought her remains had been stolen, perhaps by Amaterasu or Tsukuyomi. But after approaching the crypt door, the moon blaring behind her, she came to the same truth that Tsukakari and the Shoku Twins would come to find. Izanami found herself in that crypt, sitting amongst the wrapped corpses of her family in silence. The living Izanami had already run out of tears to cry. All that remained was endless pain.

The two Izanami’s met eyes, the pale one anchored by her shock. She almost wanted to vomit, almost wanted to scream and run. All she could do was stand there, gazing into the eyes of her former self, trying so hard to make sense of what she was seeing. Though, it seemed the living Izanami already knew. She spoke in an exhausted, defeated tone, lacking any lively energy she may have once possessed.

Izanami: That explains it. That’s why my family has been reduced to this. Bones at my feet. I killed them.

Izanami: That’ voice! My face! How-

Izanami: It’s exactly as it seems. I am Izanami-no-Mikoto, The Woman Who Invites, creator of the earth and mother of the Shinto pantheon.
Don’t look so afraid. This is no omen before you. No. In fact, it’s entirely our fault.

Izanami the pale stepped inside the crypt, staying within the reach of the moon’s light while her other seemed content to brew in shadow.

Izanami: It all makes sense now. You were created after my death, were you? There’s just one issue. Death did not truly exist by the time I had given birth to Kagutsuchi. Once a god is...was successfully born, they were here forever. Even children that died after birth went on to become gods or life in different form. They could become trees or valleys, rain clouds or mountains. Death, premature and unfinished, created you upon my destruction, and yet, I could not truly die.

The living Izanami softly chuckled.

Izanami: Take pride. We are the only god in existence to be dead and very much alive at the same time. The others here...well, they weren’t so lucky.

Izanami the pale knew exactly who those wrapped corpses belonged to at a mere glance. Having already been freed from the Underworld by Amaterasu, she knew very well that her family were all but dead.

Izanami: You’re right. This is my fault. I woke up in hell, begging to be saved, to see them all again. There are no words for the misery we created down there. All that is good rots away. What remains of the life that is gone is turned into a putrescent mess. Myself included. I was rotting. Izanagi came to rescue me, but he...he...

The memory of her final confrontation with Izanagi still haunted her, the wound still bleeding.

Izanami: You don’t have to say anymore. I understand. You’re free now. Your nightmare is over. Mizuhame and Izanagi are gone because we chose vengeance over acceptance. It was the worst way to end the nightmare, but regardless, it’s over. We unleashed death upon the world, salivating at the fact that Izanagi would die. But we forgot that if we made that decision, there would be no one left alive to see us. He wouldn’t be the only one in our family to die.

Izanami: ...Do you ever see them? Their phantoms?

Izanami: Do you?

Izanami: I asked first.

The living Izanami folded her hair behind her ear, looking across at Mizuhame’s wrapped corpse.

Izanami: Seeing them like this keeps the phantoms at bay. The nightmares only happen when I’m awake. Sleeping is more peaceful than it should be. Your turn.

Izanami the pale simply nodded “no”.

Izanami: I see. And I thought we were the same in heart and mind. I wanted to believe that. Yet, we’re the same person with different feelings. Your vengeance is not my vengeance. Your hatred is not my hatred. At the same time, I’ve already forgotten what was mine in the first place. Shadows creeping in my mind...occulting everything I once gets worse by the day.

Tears streamed down Izanami’s pale face, her voice shaking and feigning happiness. She and her other both came to a haunting realization and understanding. It was a reconciliation as much as it was a declaration of hatred and scorn towards the pale Izanami.

Izanami: You’re right. We are not one of mind and heart. I am you, and you’re me, but this vengeance is mine. The blood of our family in on my hands, not yours. The blood of our forefathers rains over me, but you remain dry. I chose vengeance while you waited for someone to return to you, to find you, and bring you home. I crushed your future. For that...I cannot apologize.

Her admission of absent regret was but a lie. The living Izanami knew that much. She didn’t choose not to apologize because she lacked the regret to do so.

Izanami: I’ve chosen this already. And though much of our family has departed, some of them, like Raijin and Fujin, still remain. If Amaterasu was able to kill Izanagi and take his place, anything can happen to what remains of our family. She’s become more dangerous than we could’ve ever imagined. I will be your phantom, watching for the day when she goes too far. I’ll guard over those we love. I’ll become even more powerful, even more black-hearted than her, so that no one can challenge us.

Izanami the pale patted her other’s head, who wrapped her arms around her dead self, gently laying her face against her stomach.

Izanami: Relinquish your guilt, your hatred, your misery to their rightful heir. They will become my greatest weapons, and our name shall haunt the Heavens. Leave it all to your you can be free of the weight. So you can see them again.

Finally free to let go of her pain, to surrender the constant, exhausting fight to maintain her sanity, the living Izanami began to softly cry into her other’s belly, holding onto her even tighter. Her thrust burned, her chest felt locked. She could peacefully let her mind wither away. She could live in false happiness, while her ‘phantom’ carried forth the love and wrath she could no longer give.

Izanami: This...this is my vengeance against you too, you know. You won’t find love for a long time. You may never know peace again.

Izanami: I know. I deserve as much.

Izanami: But I’ll protect staying here. My immortal phantom...protect all that which you love. Do what I could not.

Izanami the pale kissed her other’s lips, her cheeks, then her forehead. Alive and dead at the same time, Izanami reconciled with herself, each half inflicting their own revenge on the other, all while protecting each other. As the deceased Izanami slowly backed away from her other, they kept their hands loosely close together, savoring the tender feel if their skin and fingertips until they were too far away to touch anymore.

The living Izanami sighed in peace. Her fight to remain herself was over.

Izanami: Go forth, Izanami the Pale. I will guard your life.

And so, the Izanami the world would come to know sealed the doors of the crypt, the ray of moonlight creeping inside minimizing until the it was wreathed in darkness. The dead Izanami walked the earth, all while the living remained in that crypt. That was Izanami’s Greatest Lie, the ruse she pulled upon Amaterasu, Heaven, and Earth.

Now, thousands of years later, the truth had been freed from its crypt.
Izanami owed an explanation to her friends.

Izanami: She has long since lost her sanity. Her mind has already been fragmented by the years she’s spent here.

As if forgetting the earlier conversation, the living Izanami returned her smile, twirling around and away from Tsukiakari, stopping on the soles of her feet. She didn’t even acknowledge the other Izanami.

Izanami: Have any of you seen Mizuhame? She said she had something to do, but she should’ve been back already! She’ll be late for dinner and Izanagi will be furious!

Inari: So...she’s...

Izanami: That’s right. She still thinks she’s Izanagi’s wife, living with all of her children. She doesn’t respond to anyone or anything that conflicts with her internal timeline.

Inari: Dissociative amnesia? She’s blocking certain memories to protect herself?

Izanami: Her personality has also reverted to accommodate for it. She sees her loved ones every day. Our loved ones. Though, of course, not even the phantoms she sees are real. She has no idea that Izanagi, Mizuhame, and many of our children have been dead for millennia.

Akatsuki: So it’s the same manner in which Kagutsuchi’s soul broke apart, except she didn’t have her body. Suffering an incomplete death, Izanami split into two, one living and the other dead. The dead Izanami then completed Death and spread it across the world in a fit of vengeance.

Izanami: Kagutsuchi had already been sealed in the sun, so she remained untouched by Death. This Izanami fooled Death in her once rotten state, but she soon regenerated completely. She also remains deathless.

Tsukiakari: That’s why they call her the Deathless Child! You and Kagutsuchi avoided the curse of death this whole time! The others remained here alive, so they died as any other organism would.

Inari: And those corpses out at sea?

Izanami: The three primordial gods. They were the first gods, born when the universe was just a pool of chaos. Izanagi and I were the 7th generation of their descendants, and we made form out of the chaotic earth. The Forefathers, we called them, but they aren’t really male or female. Much like everyone else, they fell to Death after it was unleashed upon the world.

Izanami: Guys? Dinner, it’s-

Tsukiakari: Now I get it...she’s the key to your immortality. Her heart keeps the both of you alive. To hide this, you locked her in that crypt while you amassed more and more power against the newly founded pantheon. Your scythe, the Shinigami, death itself, and now the mechanism of reincarnation, and the Shoku Twins. You were building the foundations of Heaven and Earth, the underbelly of it all, while my mother built everything on top.

Izanami: Before she knew it, she relied on me to make sure Heaven and Earth operated harmoniously. I had the most valuable bargaining chips in my hands, and I went through hell to get them.

Omagatoki: So then...are you truly Izanami? Or are you just her phantom?

Izanami refused to answer, fortifying herself with impenetrable silence. The living Izanami kept looking back and forth between both parties, their words sounding like muddled gibberish to her the whole time. She could only observe the disgusted expressions on everyone’s faces, the pity for her biting at their hearts. None of them even knew if they could really call the woman they’ve known all this time Izanami.

(I don’t think I was the only one that felt the sting of Izanami’s lie. It was betrayal, played cleverly well up until that moment. By all accounts, the dead Izanami should’ve gone back to the living Izanami and made her whole again. It’s exactly what Kagutsuchi was trying to do with Tempest Flame. The woman before us was just a fragment of the whole, a phantom born from the original. And yet, the dead Izanami let her greater half resign her own sanity and identity. Would the living Izanami have been okay with her other half’s deeds? Would she be okay earning the of Izanami the Cruel, of killing swathes of humans out of furious revenge? The dead Izanami took the loving, gentle image of the person she owed her existence to, and morphed it into an ugly nightmare. It was such a strange, but profound tragedy.)

Inari: ....Even if this one is the true Izanami, I still formed a bond with you. If it’s true that this one relinquished her life and mind so you could take her place, then I’ll consider you Izanami as well. But only on one condition.

(A condition? What is she...)

Tsukiakari: Inari, where are you going with this?

Inari looked the woman she called her friend in her eyes with a stern gaze.

Inari: You have to give up this lie. Use the opportunity we have now to lay her to rest. You can’t keep doing this to her. She’s been wasting away on this island, in that damned crypt, waiting for her dead family to come back to her!

Izanami looked towards her frolicking other with the utmost pity. She never thought about how she may have felt, having her name change from being a symbol of love and kindness, to a curse filled with hate and tainted by blood. Phantom or not, did she not have an obligation to carry forth and improve the standing of such an honorable name? Her other half, who gave everything to her deceased self, did she not deserve a reputation that reflected the love she was capable of? Did it not occur to Izanami that vengeance and power were but a hollow anodyne for the real emotion locked away at the bottom of her heart?

Inari: She may have agreed with your plan, but wasn’t that because you presented it under the pretense of protecting your family? Did she want you to go as far as you did with all the power you’ve amassed?! You’ve forsaken her and everything she stood for! That’s how you repay her for keeping you alive?! For keeping you immortal while so many other gods have died and cycled out?!

Izanami’s lips trembled at the sight of Inari’s tearful, angry eyes and flustered face. The sight of the Shoku Twins, who she originally, callously tried to sacrifice to bring her own daughter back. The sight of the war goddess that inherited her taste for revenge, using it to drown out the true emotion they both shared.

Inari: Power wasn’t the only reason you locked her away. It wasn’t the only reason she agreed to resign her own existence. She didn’t just allow time and grief to fragment her mind so you could grab power! In reality, you both just found different ways of coping with the same affliction. have to stop.

The living Izanami managed to find a pure, white seashell in the sand, smooth and soothing to the touch. Her first instinct upon finding such a beautiful and relaxing thing was to skip on over towards Tsukiakari and offer it to her.

Izanami: For you! To a long-lasting friendship!

Tsukiakari blushed, taken aback by the crude but heartfelt gift. Gazing into that colorful, blissfully deranged face of hers was all too heart wrenching.

Tsukiakari: You’re too kind, Izanami.

The gleeful, living Izanami spun on her feet, playfully kicking up the sand as she she hummed an improvised tune. “Kind”. That single word struck like lightning in the pale Izanami’s heart. Her blackened eyes widened upon the realization of the great crime she committed, not only against her living self, but even against her phantom self. Even in a state of deep madness, even in a stupor of protective amnesia, Izanami was a kind person. She wasn’t a schemer, a liar, a mass murderer, nor a tyrant. All she was, and all she ever wanted or needed to be...was kind. Above all, that’s what her living self strived for.

At long last, the pale Izanami felt she had regained a part of herself that was lost, the same part her living self discarded long ago. Her self.

Biting her lip in mournful agony upon this realization, the pale Izanami clenched the breast of her kimono, relieving the lock in her chest.

Izanami: I really have failed you all. I lied to my dearest friend. I tried to use two of my most precious allies. My daughter and both inherited my curse. And it wasn’t just death...

The upbeat, care-free humming of the living Izanami cake to a stop. Her rosy eyes were suddenly captivated by a floating flame in the sky, pointing and signaling the others.

Izanami: Look! Fire in the sky!

Her signal gave everyone’s attention to the floating flame, soon manifesting as a fiery Ichiki.

Tsukiakari: The Tempest Flame is here!

Izanami: The third piece? It took hold of Ichiki?!

Ichiki’s sinister smile stretched from one ear to the other as she floated high above them, her voice booming like fierce thunder.

Ichiki: Tsukiakari...for some reason, she has a profound hatred for you. A daughter’s jealousy, perhaps?

The Phantom Maiden, free of her chains and fully healed, appeared in the sky as well, her body wreathed in violent fire. Ichiki slowly turned her head towards the unmasked Phantom Maiden, chuckling one she saw her face.

Ichiki: It takes true hatred to pull a stunt like that.

(Is that...)

Tsukiakari’s hands trembled, her tongue frozen in silence. Seeing now who the Phantom Maiden really was, she realized that she was being targeted by Kagutsuchi with the utmost hatred. The disembodied fire goddess was all too careful in her selection for conduits to the flame.

After all, who could forget such a cute, heart-warning face?

Tsukiakari: Ebina?! You sick bitch! How dare you use her corpse for this!

All along, behind that mask of shadow, it was Ebina who was marked to be the Phantom Maiden. Twisted by Kagutsuchi’s fiery hatred, she was able to cling to life well beyond her death.

Ichiki: So this island is the gravesite of the three primordial gods. Only they could look so beautiful in death. However, I only see two in the far distance. Tell me, Izanami.

Ichiki teased the deceased goddess with a malicious grin.

Ichiki: Where has the third been all this time?

Both Ichiki and Ebina disappeared in a cloud of smoke, the island suddenly surrounded by black clouds that slowly began to shower embers upon the sea. A rumble in the ocean wobbled the island, making the very act of standing up straight a challenge.

Inari: What’s happening?!

Izanami: No! They’re using the corpse of the third!

The living Izanami stood and watched in calm wonder as the third primordial god rose from the ocean in the far distance, just as breathtakingly colossal as its dead siblings. It had been laying down in the sea this whole time, resting in peace until the flame commanded its corpse.

But this one was a skeleton, it’s skull adorned with a rusted crown void of its former glamour and glory. A black, fur robe decorated its skeletal body, stretching all the way down to its legs protected by worn down, broken armored boots. As it’s arms arose from the ocean, so too did a pitch-Black and glossy greatsword, held firmly by its right hand. It’s colossal, godly stature cloaked the island in the dark abyss of its looming shadow, disrupted only by the ignition of tempestuous fire in its eye sockets, and the great,  bat-like wings of fire sprouted from its back.

Even Izanami trembled and swayed in the wake of the ancient god.

Izanami: Amenominakanushi...

Once a lord of the universe itself, Amenominakanushi now stood before them as the fiery Awakened King, embracing Kagutsuchi’s Tempest Flame.


Do you see now the reach of revenge’s rot?

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #393 on: March 09, 2018, 05:52:30 PM »
Hey folks. I've transferred over the rest of the Belle fight for Inari Standoff. Go ahead and give it a read

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #394 on: March 11, 2018, 03:35:40 PM »
I’ll flesh out the fight a little later. Still don’t want these phantom confrontations being too long considering that the Book of Revenge is all about Tsukiakari going on the warpath.

The Struggle of the Butterfly
The Awakened King, Amenominakanushi. Such a horrific sight froze everyone in shocked wonder, especially Izanami. Both of them.

Izanami: If he accepted the flame, he too must’ve wanted revenge. Revenge against me...

Inari frantically grabbed the living Izanami by her arm, rushing her back inside of the crypt as Tsukiakari and the Shoku Twins stepped forth, completely shaken by the task at hand.

Tsukiakari: How the hell do we take this thing down?!

Akatsuki: We will all need to work together. Whatever happens, you cannot be the one to kill Amenominakanushi, Tsukiakari. If you do, you’ll absorb the rest of the Tempest Flame.

Izanami turned her head to Tsukiakari, her eyes gleaming with fear.

Izanami: ...And Kagutsuchi will use your body to revive herself!

(Damn you, Kagutsuchi. What the hell do you have against me for you to go this far?)

Inari quickly pushed the living Izanami back inside the crypt, using her smile to deter her from worrying.

Izanami: My friends, will the be okay? What’s happening?

Inari: Don’t worry about a thing! Just stay in here for a little bit, okay? We’re gonna make the big bad monster go away, but you have to stay in here. If you does she.

The living Izanami reached out her hand to Inari, stuttering on her words as she struggled to plead her to stay. Inari shut the doors to the crypt, the only safe place she could hide.

Inari: Everyone! We have to lure it away from the island! Fight it on the water instead!

Tsukiakari: The water? Understood! Izanami, back me up!

Izanami: Right behind you!

The two rushed off towards the water, running on top the sea’s surface as if it were solid ground. The Awakened King lowered its fiery eyes upon the sea, focusing on the two goddesses standing between it and the island.

Akatsuki: Sis, The kuji-in required to walk on water will be constantly draining their power during the fight. We should give them support from here.

Omagatoki: Did you have something in mind? We’ll draw too much attention to the island if we manipulate time.

Akatsuki: We’ll use the water itself against Amenominakanushi.

Omagatoki: Purifying ice! Got you! Let’s do it!

Izanami and Tsukiakari watched as the Awakened King took his first, plodding step towards them, slowly but surely closing in on the island. The ocean’s breeze flew through their hair as they stood side by side, their weapons drawn and the spirits fortified. However, an air of division remained between them.

Izanami: I know what you did to Ichiki, Gekko. Her children too. Do you even understand the gravity of what you did? You’re officially an enemy of Heaven.

Tsukiakari: I know already. I don’t need you to lecture me. I’ve got a very special surprise for Heaven after all of this is done.

Izanami: Gekko...

Tsukiakari: On guard! He’s attacking!

Izanami snapped her eyes towards the Awakened King as he raised his black sword skyward, much of its length lost among the clouds.

(A vertical swing at this distance? Not even that sword will reach is from there.)

Betraying their predictions, the Awakened King threw its black blade directly at them, its skeletal body disappearing in a cloud of fire as soon as the hilt left its hand. In a mere second, the Awakened King reappeared with the sword in hand, having instantly closed the distance between itself and the two goddesses. The direction of its blade was telegraphed clearly by its stance and arm positions, enough so that both goddess were able to predict a hard, vertical slash upon the water.

The two leaped away in opposite directions as the black blade smashed through the deep sea, the displaced water rising and folding away from it like blooming flower petals. The sheer, earth-shattering force of that single attack produced hurricane-like winds that suffocated both Izanami and Tsukiakari. The flesh and bones in their legs were left with a feeling of phantom vibration, as if all of their nerves were going off at once.

Izanami: As bad as this is, he’s not nearly as powerful as he once was.

The ocean water at her feet suddenly emitted a bright, blue light, a sign that the water had been blessed. She turned her head back towards the island, realizing the Shoku Twins had successfully divined the water. The two of them sat on the shore together, their hands locked in the To sign with their eyes firmly shut. Behind them was Inari, who gently laid her hands on the backs of the twins to feed them her energy. As if locked in deep meditation, her eyes were shut as well.

Izanami: Gekko! The water! The others charmed the water!

Noticing the ocean's sapphire glow, Tsukiakari's morale was renewed. She could finally figure out how to take down the Awakened King.

(With this, Izanami and I can use purifying ice to quell Kagutsuchi's Tempest Flame!)

The Awakened King would have none of it. Its blackened sword suddenly ignited with ferocious fire as he focused its deathly gaze upon Tsukiakari. Dangerously quick and nimble for his colossal stature, the Awakened King lunged its entire body at the war goddess, its attacks quickly becoming far more wild and barbaric in nature. She managed to dash away from Awakened King just as its body slammed into the ocean, landing on all fours like a ravenous beast waiting to pounce. The Awakened King gripped its skeletal hand around its opened jaw, ripping it away from the rest of its skull. With its jaw discarded, the Awakened King spit forth a wall of bone-charring fire towards Tsukiakari, who stood shocked and awed by its desperate thirst for revenge.

A thick wall of water burst forth in front of her, quickly solidifying into purifying ice and protecting the war goddess from the scorching attack. Izanami landed just in front of her, her scythe in hand.

Izanami: Gekko, pay attention! We need to use the waters to douse the flames! I'll attack from the front, but I need you to go around it!

Tsukiakari: Right!

Izanami allowed the ice wall to shatter apart, prompting Tsukiakari to begin her sprint to the side of the monster before them. Standing up on its own two feet again, the Awakened King plunged its blade into the water, raising its other hand towards the dark, thickly clouded sky. A rolling rumble in the heavens grew louder and louder until a bolt of lightning struck down upon the Awakened King's hand, maintaining its glowing, electric form in the shape of a katana.

(What the hell is that?! A lightning blade?)

Izanami: Kumogiri?!

With a mere slash, Kumogiri brought down a barrage of shrieking lightning upon Izanami from, burning her flesh black and melting it off of her very bones. Several dozen blasts of lightning hit her, obliterating her body until it was just a fleshy sludge floating upon the water. But the sludge almost immediately began to form itself again, with every little piece of Izanami's flesh, her bones, her muscles, organs, and veins all rematerializing as they were just moments ago. With her kimono ripped apart and reeking of burning fire, Izanami stood tall in the face of her ancestor, truly unable to die.

Izanami: That's enough, Kagutsuchi! What right do you have to hate me after everything you did to me?! What right do you have to steal Amenominakanushi's corpse?!

Tsukiakari quickly used Kumogiri to her advantage, using the lightning possessed by the Awakened King and re-forming it into her signature dragon. The lightning dragon coiled around the Awakened King's arm like a constricting snake and detonated, sending fiery, acrid bone fragments flying through the air. The king was brought down to one knee, plunging his sword into the sea floor to hold himself up somewhat. Its bones creaked and cracked as it lifted its head skyward.

The Awakened King unleashed a loud, ear-piercing screech into the air, its power shaking the earth and sending violent ripples through the ocean like a ferocious hurricane wind. Both Izanami and Tsukiakari stood their ground atop the lapping waves, their robes fluttering out of control. When their eyes returned to the mad king, they were horrified by the bright pillar of fire sprouting from its arm socket. It showered the ocean with a rain of spark and ember, taking the shape of a skeletal arm to replace the one the king had lost. With its new limb, the Awakened King reach towards the heavens, summoning a blast of lightning into its flaming palm. Kumogiri, the Cloud Cutter blade of pure lightning, shined like a dying star in the king's flaming hand.

All of a sudden, its movements became far more flexile and swift. It leaped right over Izanami's head, spinning around in mid-air and slamming its raven greatsword upon her. Her body awash with sea water, Izanami blocked the attack with her scythe, the arms in her bones snapping and protruding from her skin from the sheer strength of it. From the shore, the Shoku Twins could see things had taken a bad turn.

Omagatoki: Sis! She's in trouble!

Akatsuki: Give her help from below!

*N O I R*

Tsukiakari rushed to Izanami's aid, taking notice of the built up light below the Awakened King.

Izanami: Now, Gekko!

The two goddesses slammed their weapons into the ocean, entrapping the Awakened King in a swirling tornado of purified water. Desperate to break free, it spread apart its fiery wings in an attempt to evaporate the water all at once, but as its prison of holy water solidified into ice, its wings were doused and severed from its back, fading away into plumes of gray smoke. The ice calmed the flames, but the Awakened King's movements grew vicious and barbaric again. With its bare hand, it punched a hole trough its icy prison, though its forlorn efforts were negated as Izanami kept fortifying the prison with more and more layers of ice. Again and again, the Awakened King would break through the ice only to be trapped once more, the flame inside growing weaker, fainter.

Finally allowed a moment to breathe, it seemed they had managed to stop the Awakened King.

Tsukiakari: Is it done?

Izanami sighed. A weight had been lifted off of her aching shoulders.

(Kumogiri? The Cloud Cutter sword. It's so similar to my dragon attack...)

The icy prison suddenly exploded with raging fire, melting away as the Awakened King reached its arm for the heavens as it fell forward, its entire body wreathed in flames. The infernal pile of bones fell and sank into the ocean, but not before the flames possessing it sprouted out from its remains, twisting and coiling towards Tsukiakari. Realizing she was too far away to intervene in time, Izanami could only desperately yell out to her granddaughter, the fear of seeing her die swelling in her blackened eyes.

Knowing she would only be possessed by the flames if she attacked, Tsukiakari was frozen in her indecisiveness, ignorant of how to counteract possession by the flame.

Izanami: GEKKO!

Tsukiakari shut her eyes as the infernal coils sped towards her, her moment of fear interrupted by the sound of feet splashing upon the water in front of her. The living Izanami stood in front of Tsukiakari, her arms extended open as if to embrace the Tempest Flame into her own body. As the two coils of fire formed into the visage of Ichiki and Ebina, the two realized they had mistakenly impaled the living Izanami as a result of her sudden and fearless sacrifice.

Izanami: No more. It's time to come home...Kagutsuchi.

Tsukiakari stood stunned and petrified by the sight of the sacrifice. The two remaining pieces of the Tempest Flame flowed into the living Izanami as Tsukiakari's heart ached with great agony, as if she were having a massive heart attack. Hyperventilating, she fell over on her side, and the living Izanami too fell unconscious.

Izanami: Gekko! Izanami!

The dead Izanami raced towards the two as the Awakened King's skeleton continued to fall into the sea. She knew not why her living other did what she did, but it was already clear that a far greater emergency had arisen. Both Gekko and the living Izanami could die. Though they had won the fight against the Awakened King, Izanami was ultimately defeated by Kagutsuchi. The fire goddess had gotten exactly what she wanted.

Inari rushed across the sea as the Shoku Twins stayed on the shore, resting for just a moment now that the fight was over. Though, Inari saw how dire their situation had become as she got closer, seeing the unconscious Izanami and Tsukiakari. Any trace of optimism or momentary relief only turned into fuel for more anxiety, more anticipation of what was to come.

Inari: Did she take the flame?

Izanami: They’re both in danger, Inari! We need to settle this soon! But...

Inari: One of them will die. Both if we’re not careful. Izanami, it’s your granddaughter or your living self.

Izanami: Damn it! This isn’t what I wanted at all! Inari, what do I do?! How am I supposed to choose?!

Inari smiled, gently laying her hand on Izanami’s shoulder.

Inari: Considering what just happened...maybe the choice has already been made. For now, lets keep them separated. Stay with your other half outside. I’ll have the Twins work on Tsukiakari inside.

Izanami:...I’ll carry Gekko.

The sound of the ocean’s long, deep kiss on the shore caressed the ears of the living Izanami. The sun’s light warmed her skin like a thick blanket as she owned her eyes, her first sight being the swaying, sparkling sea. A small, snow-white butterfly caught her eye as it fluttered around her, it’s beauty summoning a smile upon her face.

Mizuhame: Hey mom, Izanagi’s got dinner ready!

Mizuhame’s voice startled her, but the sight of her sparkling smile and joyous face immediately calmed her down. With her eyes of blue and bright, orange lion’s mane of hair, Mizuhame grabbed her mother by the hand and walked her inland.

Mizuhame: Enjoying the view?

Izanami: Yep! Oh, I meant to tell you something! I’ve got quite an interesting story to tell you that happened while you guys were gone!

Mizuhame: Oh yeah? What happened?

Izanami: I made some new friends! They came by earlier. One was named Tsukiakari, and she had this really beautiful and extremely long hair! Like, all the way down to her feet! No, even longer! Well, it was tied up for convenience, but you could tell how long it was!

Mizuhame giggled, excited to hear more.

Mizuhame: She hair way beyond her feet?

Izanami: Mhmm! And then there was Inari, who had nine fluffy tails growing from her rear like a fox! She’s super kind and gentle with me. And then there were the Shoku Twins, these two adorable little girls! Oh! But a big monster suddenly appeared before the island!

Mizuhame: Huh?! A monster?!

Izanami: That’s right!

Izanami had serious, but cute expression in her eyes as she retold her grandiose tale.

Izanami: Everyone worked together to quickly fight him off! He was covered in flames and had a katana made out of lightning! Kumogiri, he called it, The Cloud Cutter sword!

Mizuhame: What happened next? Did you help out?

Izanami: I sure did! These tendrils of fire emerged from the monster and tried to possess Tsukiakari! But I managed to get in front of her and take them myself! Thank the heavens I was able to get to her in time! I was scared she was gonna...

Izanami suddenly stopped.

Izanami: What...what was I scared of? Why did I feel the need to save her?

Mizuhame: You okay? You look a little pale. Hey, maybe some food will make you feel better!

They stopped in view of a single round table just up ahead, on a small bed of flat rock overlooking the shore. It was there that Izanagi waited, waving at his daughter and wife. The fish was already roasted and ready to be eaten. But not even the sight of her love could quell the strange feeling inside of her. It only made it stronger.

In a world where everything could only ever be born and grow up, what was she scared of? What did she fear would happen to Tsukiakari and the rest of her friends? The butterfly re-emerged, flying up towards the blinding sun until no one could see it anymore.

At last, everything began to make sense. At last, Izanami could relate to the struggle of the butterfly, flying away until no one could see it again. She looked back down into Mizuhame’s face, her expression melancholic. Her beautiful smile was mixed with saddened eyes glistening with tears.

Izanami: Mizuhame. I remember why I thought to save her.

Mizuhame returned the smile.

Mizuhame: I see. That’s it. That’s good. Dad and I...

Izanami: I know. I remember it all now. I haven’t finished saving my friend. You guys...will have to have your dinners without me from now on.

Mizuhame: I understand. Go finish your story, Mom!

Izanami: No. It’s only just beginning.

Izanami closed her eyes, knowing she would awake from her phantom slumber soon. She awoke to the same sound of the ocean, the sun setting in the distance and cloaking the sky in a veil of orange. She got up off of her back, realizing she was sitting on the shore with her other half. The Tempest Flame churned inside of her.

Izanami: You’re awake? How do you feel?

She gazed at her living self with clear worry in her eyes, knowing how unpredictable the Tempest Flame could be.

Izanami: They never came back...

Izanami: What are you...

The living Izanami gave her other half the same expression she gave Mizuhame. One could easily tell. Something changed within her.

Izanami: I remember now. They never...came back...

« Last Edit: April 13, 2018, 07:09:36 PM by OhGodHelpMe »

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #395 on: April 04, 2018, 04:15:15 PM »
Haven’t updated in a bit, so I’ll tell you guys what I’ve been working on since the last post.

-Yes, Book of Phantoms is getting finished and will be the last “new” DbeG story (I promise this time)
-Working on implementing cut content from the second part of The End of Osamu Ashikaga. Will include more interactions with the vampirical lord’s, Osamu’s journey across the globe to restore Hima’s empire, and Lucrezia’s involvement in a series of vital events
-Implementing cut content from Senkumo War Stories: Book of Betrayal. A new minor character has already been added (Ayadachi), chapters have been expanded upon to more intimately illustrate Tsukiakari’s command of the Senkumo clan, her relationships with its members, and some of their non-Bishamon related hardships. Also expanded to better illustrate the “descent into madness” the clan experienced as the war really started getting hot. Among that cut content, the Plague Chapters will be added as well, dealing with an outbreak of Bubonic Plague in the Senkumo mansion.
-Ending Letting Go on such a miserable note may have been too cruel. Working on a bittersweet resolution chapter where Osamu properly scatters Rousoku’s ashes. Fits more with theme of letting go of things.

I’m a very very busy writer  :ninja:

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #396 on: April 11, 2018, 08:20:37 PM »
Finally done with the Plague chapters!

They start here! with the Avidya chapter and finish with the Pratigha chapter. I'll continue fleshing things out over time, but I hope you enjoy this. Feedback desperately needed lol

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #397 on: April 12, 2018, 10:17:37 PM »
The Slaves and the Heir
Izanami: They never came back. And they never will.

Izanami the pale understood exactly what was happening, but she never expected it to happen at all. Her other was no longer chasing phantoms. The breeze bestowed upon them by the ocean commanded the lift and fall of their hair. The living Izanami kept her eyes fixed on the ocean’s glare and the faraway corpses of her ancestors.

Izanami: Every morning I wake and expect them to return, but the day goes and I remain alone, playing with their phantoms as if they were really here. But...I’ve figured it out now. Izanagi and Mizuhame...died a long time ago.

The Pale just couldn’t look away from the clear, colorful face of the Living.

Izanami: Why did you jump in front of Gekko?

Izanami: I asked myself the same question. Why did my heart jump with fear at the mere idea of her being in danger? Why did I feel like I was going to lose myself if I lost her?

Being her other half, the Pale could already feel in her heart what the Living was going to express with her words.

Izanami: And then I remembered. You existed. Death...existed. And if death existed, I’ve already lost my family. I refused to lose my descendants. Did you feel it too, Izanami?

The Pale turned her eyes away from her other, hanging her head in woeful silence.

Izanami: You appeared before me as my mind was on the brink of destruction. You offered to be my phantom, to amass great power in my stead. You were to be the greatest deterrence against Amaterasu and all the other gods of the pantheon. You became Heaven’s shadow while I remained here, protecting your life while my mind had already been fragmented. Such great power you amassed...perhaps far too much.

Izanami: Too much?

Her blood boiling with anger, the Pale stood in front of her other, her voice serrated by rage. Her shadow cloaked the Living in shade, blocking the setting sun from her view.

Izanami: Too much?! Are you telling me I did my job too well?! I promised I would be your vengeance, the anger you were too broken to feel! I used that power to make myself stronger than every single one of those bastards in Heaven! I earned my name! Izanami the Cruel! I became death and calamity incarnate! I did exactly what was needed, suffering more than anyone to achieve it! And after all of that, my reward from you is saying that I’ve done too much?! Look around you! The gods rule the land, sea, and sky that Izanagi and I created! I haven’t done nearly enough!

Izanami: Yes you have.’ve done enough. You can’t spend your entire existence like this. Motivated by anger and rage, constantly chasing after what has already been lost. In the end, you and I weren’t all that different. We were both trapped in crypts of our own making, both chasing after phantoms.

Izanami: What are you trying to say?!

Izanami: You and I suffered the same fate in reality. It wasn’t just my mind that was fragmented. It was yours as well.

Izanami: My mind is just fine!

The Living shot up onto her feet, startling the Pale. Face to face, neither was willing to back down. Every time this happened, this peering into her other’s rosy eyes, a certain kind of pain welled in the Pale’s heart. A pain she always tried to suppress as soon as she felt it coil around her heart.

Izanami: You’ve much the same manner that I did. You protected me and isolated me from the weight of our sorrow. But were isolated from our happiness.

Izanami: What happiness?! Have you been listening to anything I’ve been telling you?! We’ve lost everything that was once ours! Only a few of our children are even still alive! What happiness is there to be had?!

Izanami: The happiness of this island. Don’t you remember? The dinners, the nights besides the fire, the soothing light of the moon. You and your family lived here. This was our home.

Izanami: I know that already. What are you trying to say?

The Living smiled as she folded her hair behind her ears.

Izanami: You know, what Izanagi did...what Kagutsuchi hurt like nothing else. I may not remember it all myself, but I can see that much in your eyes. But even so, though our family wasn’t perfect, though we could never achieve all the things we wanted to...when I was married to Izanagi, when I was a mother of his children...

The fiery rage inside the Pale flickered and dimmed as the Living’s voice shuddered and broke, her tears trailing down to her beautiful smile.

Izanami: I was happy!

The Pale’s sunken brows lifted in heartfelt surprise. It was that simple admission of past content that continued to dim her hatred.

Izanami: So...I hope you too can remember why we can look back on those days with happiness. There’s so much more to our memories than sorrow or hate. After doesn’t matter if you become the most feared god in all of Heaven. It doesn’t matter how much power you have. You can butcher Kagutsuchi, take revenge on Amaterasu, and burn all of Heaven down to the ground! But no hatred, no matter how powerful, can give you back what was lost. It’s all gone for good. But even so, more so, that’s the reason why you should start anew. You will love again. You will be a wife and mother again, because you are not Izanami the Cruel. That’s not what Izanami means! are She Who Invites. You’re a kind and loving soul beneath all of your rage.

Izanami the Pale’s hands trembled as her lips quivered, her heart remembering those fine days where she was truly happy, truly kind. The Living took hold of her cold, shaking hands, giving them warm serenity.

Izanami: Soon, we will have Kagutsuchi back. Our daughter will have her own body again. I will use this body to do it, saving both Kagu and Gekko at the same time.

Izanami: No, you can’t! If you do that-

Izanami: It’s okay. I will die, but my flesh and heart will remain intact. They will shield both you and Kagutsuchi. You’ll be one step closer to building anew what you have so painfully lost. final gift. I know exactly why you worked so hard to amass such enormous power. Why you fought and suffered to become so feared. It has nothing to do with hatred, does it? After all, rage is never born alone. Even your trembling hands tell me what you’ve been really feeling.

Izanami: Shut up...there's nothing but hatred left...

Izanami: Your true emotion...

The Pale's gentle clasp turned into a bone-cracking, vice grip as she yelled out in anger, her breaths deepened by her rage.

Izanami: Stop it!

Izanami: It's pain, isn't it?

Those words alone, that recognition of what her life had been up until that very moment, set the Pale free. It was a mournful, heartbreaking freedom, to be stripped naked of the cloak of revenge, to have the true reason for her hatred out in the open. Pain. Physical, emotional, mental. Her life was nothing but that.

Clasped in gentle, loving warmth, Izanami’s hands ceased their tremors. But upon realizing this, her heart ached and rolled in her chest. Hand in hand with her other, she too began to cry, the both of them falling to their knees as the Pale’s whimpers and sobs finally escaped from the depths of her heart.

Izanami: Set that emotion free...and I promise...the hatred will be gone too. Let your pain guide you to a brighter future. I am yet another fragment of the past that will be gone to make way for the future. This day will be my last. After all is done, my flesh... my bones... will protect our daughter. And this island will sink into the glittering sea, laid to rest with our ancestors.  You’re already well on your way, Izanami. But you have to grasp these things before you let them slip away. You have to invite the new people in to make you happy, instead of waiting for phantoms of the past to come back to you. We can do this. Together. From today forth, seek not an abundance of power or vengeance. Seek love. Seek forgiveness. Seek new hearts to mend your own, and invite them. That's all you have to do.

The Living's eyes traced the darkened sand wet with the sea's kiss and caress, spotting the white butterfly bouncing about in the air. Its snow-white wings glowing like fragments of broken light, it fluttered towards the Living as the Pale's cries calmed down. She too sensed the butterfly's arrival.

Izanami: Look! There it is again!

The Living opened up he palms, letting the butterfly make a delicate landing in her hands. The Living's lips curled upwards in a gracious smile as she presented the butterfly to the Pale, putting it in her open palms. Something so full of light and life, fluttering its wings in the palm of death itself, spoke wonders to the Pale.

Izanami: Beauty has a language. Its words are silent, and we may often miss what it's trying to say, but it speaks right to our souls. This butterfly doesn't have to be anything else than what it is to be beautiful. The same goes for you. From this day forth, you are Izanami no Mikoto. You don't have to be anything else. You need only let your pain fly out and guide you.

The Pale lifted the butterfly up into the sky, watching as it quickly returned into the air, fluttering away as quickly and quietly as it came to visit. An overwhelming and peaceful relief washed over the Pale, as if the butterfly had taken with it all of her troubles and agony. A heavy burden had finally been lifted.

Izanami: Are you ready, Izanami?

A melancholic smile blessed the Pale's face.

Izanami: Yeah. Let's save our family.

*N O I R*

The two returned inside the island's plateau, descending the spiraling stairs into the torch-lit dungeon. Before they even turned the corner, they were immediately alarmed by Inari's increasingly frantic cries echoing throughout the room.

Inari: Gekko! Come on Gekko, breathe! Breathe!

The two Izanamis raced down those final steps, immediately rushing to Inari's aid in the center of the spiral dungeon. The panicking fox goddess held Tsukiakari's unconscious body in her arms, the breast of her kimono pulled open to give air to her sweat-covered chest.

Izanami: Inari, what's wrong?!

Inari: Gekko's heart isn't beating! She isn't breathing either! I don't know what's wrong!

The Pale dropped to her knees, feeling around Tsukiakari's chest while Inari felt for a pulse in her wrist.

Izanami: Nothing?!

Beads of hot sweat rolled down the Pale's face as the Living rolled up her sleeves, wasting no time in saving her granddaughter's life.

Izanami: Kagutsuchi is trying to kill her. We have very little time to act, but we can still make sure Gekko doesn't die. Inari, I need you to help Izanami draw out the Tempest Flame inside of Gekko and transfer it to me. We'll use my body to restore Kagutsuchi.

Inari: What?! But you'll-

Izanami: We don't have any time! Prepare the circle!

Izanami: Go ahead and start, Inari! I'll prepare the left side!

Inari and the Pale immediately shot up onto their feet and got to work while the living held Gekko's body in her arms. Knowing now that the war goddess was her granddaughter, she seemed a thousand times more beautiful than she was mere hours ago. It brought a warm smile to the Living's face.

Izanami: Gekko...hang in there, my love. Your grandmother will protect you.

Tsukiakari awoke to the sound of wordless chanting, a Gregorian melody. The first thing she saw were the high, vaulted ceilings above, their gold outlines shimmering in the rays of multi-colored light. She immediately sat up in a fright, the sound of splashing water pounding behind her. She came to realizing that she was sitting in ankle-deep water, with the floor beneath made of multi-colored tesserae. Her raven hair and kimono were both soaked, her sword lying at her side.

(What...where am I?)

Looking over at her right, her breath was all but taken away. She held her arm over her overwhelmed eyes as she gazed at the massive column of stained glass ahead, its patterns and colors reflected by the shimmering water. Six red cloaks knelt before a sleeping woman on the golden throne, three parted to the left and three parted to the right. But the woman bore a familiar visage. Hair thick, beautifully long hair was as black as a moonless night, its strands twisting and curling down to her feet. She wore a scarlet haori over her shoulders like a cape as a golden thurible necklace dangled over her snow-white kimono. Her face remained hidden behind a demonic noh mask, her slender hands gently clasped over the sheathe of the sword resting across her lap. Dozens of unlit candles surrounded the base of the throne, yet their aroma could be sensed in the air. At the center of the room, a sword nearly identical to Tsukiakari's stood with its glimmering blade stuck firmly in its pedestal, a small, silver thurible necklace wrapped around the hilt like a rosary.

Though the red cloaks folded and wrinkled as if there was a human body beneath them, Tsukiakari could see neither feet nor arms, nor any part of a physical person beneath the cloaks. And yet, deep voices emanated from them, bellowing out from their emptiness in melodic chants and wordless song. An eerie yet precious and sacred aura surrounded them, their robes painted by the color of the stained glass shining down upon them. But their chants went silent the moment Tsukiakari stood up on her feet, sword in hand. In strange unison, the empty cloaks turned themselves towards Tsukiakari in complete silence. Large, silver thuribles hung from the insides of their sleeves, releasing plumes of aromatic smoke into the air.

The light shining through the stained glass died away, as if the sun faded from the very sky and plunged the world into deep darkness. The thuribles held by the phantom cloaks shined with the gentle light of fire burning inside them, setting the candles alight as well. The previously sleeping woman slowly raised her head, silently awakening from her slumber. She arose from her throne, slowly descending the steps and wading through the water. Drawing the blade she held in her hand, she then sauntered towards the blade in the pedestal, taking firm hold of its handle.

The metal of the sword rung out as it rubbed against the inside of the stone pedestal, that single sound echoing and repeating throughout the room a few times over before quietude returned. Tsukiakari could only watch in stunned amazement all the while.

The sword blessed by the thurible was suddenly wreathed in black fire, while the other blade faintly illuminated the room with its ghostly, blue glow of holy ice. The gaze of the woman and all of the emptied cloaks focused on Tsukiakari, who knew now she had to fight them. Curiously, with such quietude between them, the war goddess had come to know their names.

Gunshuu, Eminent Slaves of the Hallowed Elder.

Samudaya, Hallowed Heiress of the Pyre.

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #398 on: April 15, 2018, 10:45:33 PM »
So, uhhh...

I believe it was mentioned early on in the story, maybe in a passing sort of way, that Osamu had seen Yoko naked before he had even returned to Kyoto. This is a true little detail I forgot to write about, but Osamu and Yoko did have an interesting interaction one day during a typhoon, about a year before Isabella came to Japan.  :ninja: I've always wanted to write this chapter so I can't believe it slipped my mind during The Corpse's Romance.

here, Friends into Lovers

Offline Walter B

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #399 on: April 16, 2018, 08:45:54 AM »

Maybe Oni can make a drawing of that part  ;)

Looked at some of the art in the first page, that girl with the akatsuki-like robe looks nice!

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Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #400 on: April 16, 2018, 04:58:46 PM »
Honestly, I'd kill for some Yoko lewds. Yeah the girl is Tsukiakari Senkumo, the war goddess  :clapping:

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #401 on: April 26, 2018, 09:04:24 PM »
Storms of Hate
Gunshuu, the collective, phantom slaves all stood to the side with their fiery thuribles dangling from their hollow cloaks, as if to bear witness to a most sacred and holy event. A flicker of flame suddenly sparked between Samudaya and Tsukiakari, quickly fading away. But once more, the flame sparked and erupted into a fiery helix, becoming the brightest light in the room. The helix soon collapsed on itself, taking the form of a fiery young woman levitating in the air. He hair, naked body, and flesh were all entirely wreathed in the sacred Tempest Flame. But this meeting of the flame felt different. It wasn't through the corpses of friends and enemies long past. It wasn't acting through a murderous, vengeful vector. This fragment of flame came as its true self, as part of the whole that was responsible for all of this. Tsukiakari took but a brief gander at the woman, already venturing to guess her identity.

She slowly descended atop the water, her fiery feet hissing when they met with the holy water. Steam lifted around her as the fire around her body calmed and waned. Her figure became infinitely more pronounced, including her long, free-flowing hair dainty sparks. Her flesh could only barely be seen in certain spots, with most of her body remained covered in ember aglow with faint flame beneath. She remained silent. Deathly silent. Tsukiakari had no clever remark nor surprised expression to give her either.

(I knew exactly who she was the moment I saw her. Kagutsuchi, the deathless daughter of Izanami. Her immense hatred for me was all too apparent. You could feel it, lingering about in the scented air. You could feel it pulsating around her. And although her body was born of fire, she held an aura that gave you the chills.)

Kagutsuchi opened her vibrant, pink eyes and whispered.

Kagutsuchi: Kill her...kill her...kill her...kill her...kill her...kill her...KILL HER!

Kagutsuchi disappeared in a thin cloud of ash, just barely veiling the lunging Samudaya behind it. Tsukiakari rolled to the side and avoided her quick slash, but found herself immediately put under pressure by her swift dash. A dance of blades ensued, clashing and singing along with the chants of the Gunshuu. Samudaya leaped and twirled in the air as gently as a flower petal carried aloft by the wind, arching her sword of black flame towards Tsukiakari. With a single slash, a crescent blast of black flame barreled towards Tsukiakari. She rolled once more, avoiding the smokeless flame's small explosion.

Tsukiakari: Come on, stop holding back! You and I both know that's not all you have! Did you think I'd ever forget you?!

Samudaya gently landed like a feather dawdling about in the air.

Tsukiakari: You're the one thing I could never forget. Heiress of the Pyre...who else could that possibly be other than me.

Silent and steady, Samudaya held her blade pointing upwards, leaning her mask against the very edge of the sword. The glimmering warmth of flame beside her signaled the appearance of the Tempest Lord, wrapped and controlled by Kagutsuchi's gift of fire. His already broken set of fiery armor continued to chip and break away from his body piece by piece, his body writhing as the flame corrupted him further and further eroding what little will he had.

Noriko: Hatred drove them to us.

Noriko stood beside Tsukiakari just as the Tempest Lord stood beside Samudaya. They've always been there, patiently watching and waiting.

Noriko: Hatred drove you to Kagutsuchi, and Kagutsuchi to you.

One phantom after another...

Ebina: I never wanted my death to spawn these feelings. I wanted you to live.

Taeko: Hatred left us hollow. It was only fitting I died as a Woman of Naught.

Mayumi: Hatred turned my friends into demons who could no longer remember their true names, nor their pasts.

Ayadachi: There was so much more I wanted to do for my grieving comrades. There was so much I wanted to say to Gekko.

Mayumi: I wanted us to remember the happiness we shared.

Taeko: I wanted to remember the love we nurtured. I wanted to cry out for it.

Ebina: I wanted to tell you I love you.

Taeko: I love you.

Mayumi: I love you.

Ayadachi: I love you.

Taeko: I love you.

There they all were. Not just those she knew personally, but all of the boys, girls, men and women that perished in the Senkumo clan, surrounding Tsukiakari and Samudaya.

Tsukiakari: Their lingering phantoms...they hurt like hell. There's only one thing we can do now, Samudaya.

Noriko curiously turned her head to Tsukiakari, waiting with bated breath for her next words.

Tsukiakari: Don't accept Kagutsuchi's hatred. Accept mine. Let the Pyre Burner emerge once more, unmasked and true to her own will. They can't return the lives they took, and we can't bring back the lives we couldn't save, but we can turn their own demon against its makers.

Noriko: Gekko...

Tsukiakari: I've accepted my fate as a demon of war. The goddess is dead and the princess was laid to rest long ago. All that's left is revenge!

Izanami: Inari, it's ready! It's time.

Akatsuki and Omagatoki stood off to the side, ready to help the moment the Living was ready to let go. With a nod from both Izanamis, Inari produced the 12 Kuji-in needed for the extraction and slammed her hands upon Tsukiakari's stomach.

Izanami: Now!

Akatsuki: Right!

As soon as the Shoku Twins got their hands on the other side of the circle, the Living was able to let go, rushing to Tsukiakari's side as Inari tried desperately to rip the phantom from her very body.

Izanami: Pull, Inari! With all your might!

Inari: You sure make it sound easy! I'm pulling with everything I've got!

Izanami: Akatsuki, Omagatoki! Once Inari pulls out the phantom, we'll need to seal it inside of the Living Izanami! I'll need you to make sure Gekko's pulse returns!

Omagatoki: We'll do our best, but what'll happen to the other Izanami?

Izanami: Don't you worry about me!

That haunting smile of hers remained affixed to her beautiful, lively face. Not even the immediate inevitability of death could take that away from her.

Izanami: I'm a lucky goddess, to have had loved so hard. And now, I get to live on and die at the same time, all for my daughter and granddaughter. I'm the happiest woman in the whole world right now.

Akatsuki: I see. It's not surprising this would result in her death.

Inari: I-I think I've got it! Here it comes!

Izanami: Get ready!

Inari unleashed a blood-curdling scream as she exerted all of her strength into pulling out the Tempest Lord. With a final pull, an orange, fiery light briefly flashed from Tsukiakari's stomach, and the fragment of flame representing the Tempest Lord floated just above Inari's hands. It desperately shifted, intensified, and waned again, as if trying to retake its shape as Yoshihisa Ashikaga. Much like Kagutsuchi, however, it now lacked a body to do so.

Inari: I did it...Oh my god, I did it!

Izanami: Inari, the flame!

Inari: R-right!

The Living opened up her palms, prepared to embrace and accept the final fragment of the Tempest Flame. Every bone in Inari's body sought the momentary comfort of hesitation, to truly look at the Living just one more time. The Pale felt it too. Torn between saving Tsukiakari and Kagutsuchi, and preserving the life and happiness of the Living, the two goddesses presented the Tempest Flame with a tightness in their chests and fire in their throats. The Living's melancholic half smile and glittering eyes was a bittersweet sight to behold.

Izanami: Don't be afraid. I feel nothing but peace. Give it to me.

Inari closed her tearful eyes as she gave the flame to the Living, who watched it flicker and swirl in her palms.

Izanami: Kagutsuchi, my love. It's been a long, long time, hasn't it?

That impetuous, haunting flame of hatred was but a curse to everyone else, but for the Living, she could only see it as the very symbol of where she and her other went wrong.

Izanami: My sweet Kagu, you're in pain as well, aren't you? Everyone is hurting because they've lost the things they clung to. And so, you think all that's left is the hatred. Well...when I look at you now...the hatred is gone. You who once destroyed my body and burnt my flesh to cinders...I now give my flesh to you, so you may live once more. Let me atone for all of us with this sacrifice. Kagu, my love...

The Living pushed the flame into her breast, accepting the final fragment in its entirety. Her eyes flushed with tears and her chest heavy with sorrow, the Pale watched her other complete the sacrifice in woeful awe. For all that had been taken from her, all of the liberties and memories she was robbed of, she only exhumed an aura of pure love, understanding, and forgiveness. Not an ounce of bitter regret or bloodlust could be felt from her. Knowing full well what this sacrifice would do, Izanami the Living smiled, for she was content just to die to protect the ones she loved. Even those that had done her wrong.

Izanami: Welcome home...

*N O I R*

The phantoms of her fallen friends dissipated and vanished like smoke blown apart by wind, leaving only the war goddess and Samudaya. The disappearance of the Tempest Lord did not go without notice. The absence of the Tempest Flame left the thuribles of the Gunshuu extinguished and cold, their robes falling to the ground as even their phantom bodies vanished.

(They must've extracted the final fragment of the flame from me. But if that's the case, what's going to happen to the fragments? She knows they're pieces of Kagutsuchi, so I can't see her just destroying or banishing them.)

Tsukiakari: Samudaya. It's over.

The black flames and holy ice flowing from her blades died away, and the mask that protected her face cracked and split apart, falling into the water. The sight of her true face was of no surprise to Tsukiakari. She smiled with tears in her eyes as she saw her own visage in Samudaya. The Pyre Burner that murdered her own soldiers. The Hallowed Heiress of the Pyre, who earned her name in such a self-fulfilling manner, was heir to the fury the Tempest Flame inspired in the hearts of the living and the dead. The Eminent Slaves of the Hallowed Elder were all nothing more than the illusion of a goddess's purpose, brought to life by the Tempest Flame. So powerful was this overwhelming sense of loss, that Samudaya's face was soaked with tears. Comrades she could never get back, regrets she could never resolve, guilt she could never bury. All that was left was anger and hate. It was the only thing either of them could feel after losing everything.

Tsukiakari: Trust in me. I will make each and every one of them pay. Raijin, Fujin, Oyamatsumi, Bishamon, Hachiman, all of them! We can bring them down, and only we have the power to do it! We are trench rats no longer, servants to a lying god no longer! Now we can make our own mark, carve our own destiny! We can paint the white clouds of Heaven crimson!

The pain of loss numbed with the taste of fiery hatred, one born from her own heart. She didn't need the Tempest Flame to fan the flames of her wrathful soul. Sunlight returned through the stained glass of the chamber, the wicks of the candle lit anew with a reinvigorated fire. Samudaya closed her eyes and laid down her blades.

Samudaya: Give them hell.

Tsukiakari: I will. We will.

Accepting her own hatred, Tsukiakari's vision faded into darkness. Her five senses slowly tuned back in to the world around her, to the dungeon she lied unconscious in. Agonized screams and the slow crackle of fire flooded her ears before her eyes peeled open. As her vision focused, she saw Kagutsuchi writhing and twitching on the floor, her entire body covered in dozens of small, black, cross-shaped burns. Her back was cindered and glowing with fire, but her flesh slowly healed  the corruption of her own flame. The cinders and fire morphed into normal flesh and skin. Her head of black hair faded into a dark blonde color, the visage of the Living Izanami molding to Kagutsuchi's visage instead.

(What is happening?! That's Kagutsuchi, isn't it? But why does she look like Izanami?!)

Inari: Kagu!

Omagatoki: It worked! She's back!

Akatsuki: Gekko is awake as well.

Inari: Gekko? Gekko, you're back!

Inari turned to Tsukiakari, helping her stand off the ground slowly and carefully.

Tsukiakari: What happened? How did Kagutsuchi...

Izanami: My other. She absorbed all of the fragments of the Tempest Flame into her own body. Kagutsuchi was able to take physical form once more because of it.

Izanami's tear-soaked face made Tsukiakari fully realize what she meant. She took another good look at Kagutsuchi as her screaming died down, her body almost fully molded to her visage. She frantically scurried her back against the wall, surveying the room full of familiar faces before her.

Tsukiakari: She sacrificed herself?

Izanami took a few steps towards the frightened Kagutsuchi, but didn't dare to come any closer.

Izanami: Kagutsuchi? It's me. It's your mother! Izanami!

Tsukiakari: Izanami! What the hell were you thinking?! You sacrificed the real Izanami to give her an immortal body?! Are you insane?!

Izanami fiercely yelled back.

Izanami: I did it for my daughter! We both agreed to do this!

Tsukiakari: You don't even know what kind of power she'll have with an immortal body!

Izanami: I know that! This wasn't just for her, it was for you too! A dangerously powerful daughter, and a granddaughter hellbent on revenge...I know what I've done! She knew too! But she didn't see it that way! She saw two people she loved in danger and gave up everything to save them! Whether I'm truly Izanami or not, I love you both too! I couldn't let you die!

Akatsuki stepped forth, her eyes fixed on Kagutsuchi.

Akatsuki: What shall we do with her?

Izanami reached out her hand towards Kagutsuchi, but the fire goddess recoiled and clasped her hands together. Thinking she was still ready for combat, Tsukiakari reached for her sheathed blade in preparation for another fight. Furious swathes of fire coiled around her body, their intensity drowning the room in heat waves. The flames continued to consume her entirely, veiling her sudden disappearance.

Omagatoki: She ran?! We should go and find her!

Izanami: No. Let her run.

Inari: Izanami, we don't know where she'll end up if we let her get too far!

Izanami: I know that. Let her run. The time will come when she's ready to face me with an open heart. That time is not now. We will meet again, and with that body, we won't have another incident like this. The Tempest Flame is no longer a danger.

Izanami's fist tightened until her nails bit into her palm. It was clearly a bitter decision to make.

(I managed to make it out of this phantom freak show alive. Kagutsuchi is still out there, but the Tempest Flame will no longer be a threat. But now...)

Tsukiakari: Izanami. You've proven to be completely untrustworthy.

Inari: What did you say?

Tsukiakari: You kept her locked in that crypt for all those years. You convinced her to lend you her name and identity while she wasn't even sound of mind. You bastardized her very name and legacy while she sat on this island, timidly wasting away as her mind crumbled to pieces.

Inari: That's enough, Gekko!

Izanami: She's right, Inari. She's right. I wronged her and deceived all of you in the process. Forgive me for these lowly, heinous acts. Please...

Izanami couldn't even bare to look at Tsukiakari. To gaze into her eyes after everything that had been revealed was like stepping into a spotlight completely naked.

Tsukiakari: Shoku Twins!

Omagatoki: Y-yes?!

Tsukiakari: Let's go back. We have unfinished business. The phantoms are gone. All that remains now is our revenge.

Inari: Revenge?! Wait a minute!

Akatsuki returned to Tsukiakari's side, cooperating with her sister to teleport the three of them away from the island.

Akatsuki: Our apologies, Inari and Izanami.

Omagatoki: We'll be out of touch for just a little while!

All that remained were Inari and Izanami, the latter seeming petrified by her own shame. Thinking of everything that had happened, Inari broke the silence between them and spoke her heart.

Inari: You know, I always thought that having Izanami for a friend and mentor was the coolest thing that could've ever happened to me.

Izanami: And I ruined that for you.

Inari sighed with her hands on her hip.

Inari: No. It's like I said before. No matter who you really are, whether you're Izanami or just her phantom in the flesh, I still love you. I'll still think of you as my Izanami. She thought of you the same way. This time, she entrusted everything to you with a full, sound mind. If she could die with the belief that you were truly her other, than I will continue to live with that belief as well. Believe in yourself. You are Izanami-no-Mikoto, no one else.

Izanami raised her head, wiping her flowing tears from her eyes. Her very blood tingled beneath her skin, for it felt as if something she had been missing for all that time finally returned to her. Her sense of self, her life purpose, and her dormant, locked away love all surfaced within her, emerging from the depths of her pain and hatred.

Inari: Listen, we should dispose of this island. After that, we need to figure out what's going on with the Shoku Twins and Tsukiakari. I have a really bad feeling about those three, Izanami. It's not just some looming grudge going on with them. It feels like...

Izanami: Like they're ready to burn all of Heaven down...

*R O U G E*

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 bridged across her hands.

Bishamon: What are your thoughts, Lady Amaterasu? On the exorcist program?

Amaterasu closed her eyes.

Amaterasu: You couldn't have come up with a better idea. This eliminates the issue of getting deities directly involved with mortal affairs. Once we resolve this issue with the vampires, I'll have you put the plan into action.

Bishamon graciously bowed his head.

Bishamon: I thank you.

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 formless art ad discipline.

Amaterasu: 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.

Bishamon: Ma'am?

Amaterasu: I'm talking about Death. 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 obsolete are cycled out.

Bishamon: Yes...that's the natural order of things.

Amaterasu: The gods who sat before me today are not my comrades. They're not my supporters, nor my allies. 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 serrated daggers at him. The war god suddenly went pale, bearing an absolutely horrified expression on his face.

Amaterasu: 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?

Bishamon: My lady-

Amaterasu: I will hear no more of your poison. I know the Tempest Flame denied you. You, who's supposed to be grieving for his late wife and children, who's supposed to be consumed by hatred for Tsukiakari. It's all a lie, and the Tempest Flame knew that. Let me set the record straight, Bishamon. I knew exactly what you were doing. I knew exactly what the Senkumo clan. I know that you attempted to scrub the record clean by disposing of them all. 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're sitting there because I have allowed you to live and get this far.

Bishamon: Why didn't you stop me?

Amaterasu: 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.

Amaterasu: 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, all of the gods that were part of your circle...they're going to die. We'll use Tsukiakari to do it. She's a ravenous, hate-filled lion just waiting to get her hands on you all.

Bishamon: That's why you wanted me to boot them from the they're no longer under our protection.

Amaterasu: They've already been stationed to several points on Earth with the goal of hunting her. It's only a matter of time before the Shoku Twins report to Oyamatsumi that they have Gekko in their custody. He takes the bait, he dies. I'm sure the rest will follow naturally. God after god will be slaughtered, and soon, you'll be the only one left standing.

Bishamon: With all due respect...I will not fall to your daughter. I'll survive the storm and I will secure our victory in the Second Holy War. Are you really willing to bet her life on this?

Amaterasu chuckled.

Amaterasu: You don't understand half of what I'm willing to do.

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.

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #402 on: May 04, 2018, 12:56:41 AM »
Alrighty, Book of Phantoms ends here. See how the ending here just kind of naturally leads right into Book of Revenge? Anyway, I initially omitted this book because I thought it wasn't all too important to the story, despite all of the plot reveals here  :ninja: This was mainly to answer the question of Izanami's remains that comes up later (chronologically later, I mean) and Tsukiakari's obviously broken mental state at this point.

But hey, if you think Senkumo War Stories could do with or without Book of Phantoms, do let me know. Since this is done, I'll be finishing up the branching stories of Letting Go and actually deliver the missing half of End of Osamu  ;D Oh, and I had finished compiling Aika Crisis for publishing and then forgot about it for the longest time? My bad. I'll be putting that into a PDF soon and putting it on Amazon. I guess I should work on War Cloud and Dawn and Dusk too. Gotta get the initial trilogy out there.

PEACE MY DUDES (Except no. War.)

Their Vengeance, Written in the Blood of Her Hallowed Kin
Oyamatsumi: 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 and 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.

Amaterasu: 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.

Oyamatsumi: The Shoku Twins reported the capture of Tsukiakari Senkumo this morning. We've arranged to have her brought to me immediately in central Kyoto. Looks like we'll finally have her put to the sword for all she's done.

(Amaterasu: Oh you poor fool. Would you be wearing that disgusting smile on your face if you knew you were walking into a trap?)

Amaterasu: Really? That's excellent news. I'd like this to be dealt with immediately, Brother. You can bring her back alive or dead. I'm sure there are plenty of members of the court that would love to see her execution.

Oyamatsumi smiled, brushing aside his blonde hair from his eyes.

Oyamatsumi: I'll have it done immediately. Bishamon will be there too, right?

Amaterasu: Of course. He'll be attending to Council duties for the day, but he'll assist you as soon as he's free. Right about now, he should be in another meeting with the War Council, so give him a few hours.

Oyamatsumi: Hey, speaking of which, why was I taken off the council? I didn't even get a damn notice before they just kicked me out like that. I almost-

Amaterasu: It's for your own good. You will be handling Tsukiakari while the others handle the vampires. I understand it was a sudden move, but Heaven is under a tremendous amount of pressure from multiple sides. Such times call for fast movement.

Oyamatsumi sighed and shook his head, deciding to let go of the matter.

Oyamatsumi: Alright, sis. I'll trust you on this one. It's a shame about Tsukiakari. Maybe she gets her murderous streak from her father, huh?

If Amaterasu's hand gripped any tighter around her brush, it would've snapped right in half.

Amaterasu: 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.

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

Oyamatsumi: I'm afraid too, you know. A lot of people really wish this merge didn't happen. 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.

Amaterasu: So you scorn me as well.

Oyamatsumi: 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.

Amaterasu: Go. Handle your duties, Oyamatsumi.

Oyamatsumi: On it.

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.

(Amaterasu: Goodbye, Brother.)

*N O I R*

With the Tempest Flame gone, the time of bloodshed and revenge was nigh. It was daybreak when Tsukiakari prepared herself for her journey, parting ways with the Shoku Twins in front of the abandoned shrine. The wind was howling as dark clouds cloaked the sun and turned the sky as pale as death.

Akatsuki: Oyamatsumi will be waiting for you in Kyoto. The city is still in ruins, so you shouldn't have to worry about interference.

Tsukiakari sheathed her blade with a sigh, her blood electrified in her veins.

Tsukiakari: Thank you two. You really came through for me when I needed it most. I'll be sure to make his death as painful as possible.

Omagatoki spoke softly as she twiddled her fingers together.

Omagatoki: Gekko, do you hate Izanami now?

Tsukiakari: She lied to me. She lied to all of us. I don't hate her, but I have no reason to trust her. I'd be cautious around her, you two. Everything she thinks and says is just a surface to something else. There's always something she isn't telling you, and that's why she's suffering so much now. She's been living a lie for so long that she doesn't have the heart to be honest with anyone. Even her very identity is a lie.

Akatsuki: Regardless, you cannot ignore that Izanami cares deeply about you. So much so that Kagutsuchi hated you for it.

Tsukiakari: Watch me.

Tsukiakari: Alright, I'm all set to go.

Omagatoki: Good luck, Gekko!

Akatsuki: We'll be laying low while you start the killings.You might not be able to reach us if you need us again.

Tsukiakari: That's fine. You've done more than enough for me.

Tsukiakari knelt down and caressed their heads with a beautiful half-smile on her face.

Tsukiakari: Farewell.

Omagatoki: Goodbye!

Akatsuki: Farewell to you, war goddess. And good luck.

With their farewells spoken, the impetuous war goddess began her march through the forest, bound for Kyoto. The howling wind made the trees and leaves sway in its wake, filling the air with the sound of creaking twigs and twisting greenery. She thought of what it meant to kill one's own uncle. A part of her shuddered and regretted the very thought of such an act even surfacing in her mind. Still, Taeko's dying words indicated he had a part in the misery engineered by Bishamon. That was a truth Taeko herself refused to let die along with her.

Noriko: So you've chosen revenge. Is that truly your reason to live?

There she was, the forgotten casualty of the madness of war, appearing without warning yet again. Noriko mimicked every step the war goddess took as the winds ruffled and swirled through her robes.

Tsukiakari: No. It's my reason to die. The gods wrote this tragedy in the blood of the Senkumo clan. I'm simply going to give it the bombastic climax it deserves, a final act written in divine blood. There's no stopping me now.

Noriko: Tragedy...

Noriko fell out of Tsukiakari's peripheral vision, bringing her to a stop. Noriko stood deathly still, gazing at Tsukiakari's scarred face with tears in her eyes.

Noriko: There's more to remember than tragedy, Gekko. I failed to help you see that. That is my only regret.

Tsukiakari: No, didn't fail at anything. I made my own choice. You were nothing but a help to me.

Noriko's shivering smile uprooted Tsukiakari's mourning heart.

Tsukiakari: Please don't cry...

Noriko closed her eyes, letting her heart lead her as she marched into a completely different direction. Tsukiakari didn't even think as she followed Noriko through the forest, as if her body was moving on its own. So enthralled by Noriko's warm presence and soothing voice, that Tsukiakari realized, in that very moment, that she would follow Noriko anywhere she went.

Tsukiakari: Wait, where are you going? Kyoto is in the opposite direction!

Noriko: There's one last thing I want you to see!

As they trotted along beneath the cool of the shaded skies and trees, Tsukiakari suddenly felt the soft crunch of snow beneath her sandals. Her own breath became visible in the frosted air while her toes and fingertips slowly numbed. What magic was this, this soaring feeling of wonder and amazement? Why did the bed of snow at their feet breathe with nostalgic longing? The war goddess truly wondered if she had been led into a secret eden veiled from mortal eyes and sense.

Tsukiakari: Snow? At this time of year?!

Noriko: No, not this time!

Emerging past the treeline, Tsukiakari stood frozen by sheer awe and disbelief. Before her very eyes was a perfect view of the Senkumo Mansion just as it was before its tragic destruction. Its walls and buildings stood tall, and its gates parted open as troops came and went, handling their daily duties and activities. Once again, and more seriously than before, Tsukiakari was forced to ask herself. What magic was this?


Noriko had been observing Tsukiakari's expression the whole time, delighted by her shock and awe.

Noriko: I know you've already chosen revenge. I had hoped things wouldn't turn out this way, that you'd find peace after confronting your phantoms. I was being idealistic. I was denying your anger and pain. I'm sorry, Gekko.

*N O I R*

Noriko's adventurous smiled turned melancholic as she clasped her hands together. Her eyes sparkled with tears welling beneath them.

Noriko: It's as I said before. We're all just fragments of your shattered heart...and your mind.

Tsukiakari: I remember those words. That's just what phantoms are at the end of the day, aren't they?

Noriko: Yes. But I am no phantom at all.

(What? Noriko...isn't a ghost?)

Tsukiakari: What are you talking about? You're Noriko, the same Noriko from that village. You're the woman I couldn't save. You're the mother that died because...

The burning lump in her throat forbid her from recounting the event any further.

Noriko: Look. Another fragment is being returned to you.

Tsukiakari turned her eyes towards the snow-covered mansion with a sudden surge of remembrance. That frigid, snowy day was a complete surprise to the Senkumo clan, for the snow season had supposedly already passed. And yet, before their very eyes, the heavens delivered blankets of it on top of them.

(I...remember this? It was well after the plague outbreak. We lost so many good people from the disease. We expelled Chiharu after putting her through a mob trial, all so we could fill the bleeding voids in our hearts with something. We sought justice for the natural tragedy that happened to us, to the point that we created a fake criminal just so we could have the thrill of a trial and conviction. We were all monsters already, robbed of our humanity, persecuting our own. Murderers, rejects, and cannibals, all of us.)

But on that day, something quite magical happened within the guarded walls of the Senkumo Mansion. Mayumi led the effort to shovel the ice left behind by the sudden snowburst out of the courtyard walkways. She couldn't help but become overwhelmed by the silence amongst the troops, their faces all dressed with frowns and blank expressions. She looked towards the medical ward, which was still undergoing reconstruction after its razing. It was as clear as day that no one could forget what happened in the medical ward. The sight of its burning structure lighting up the mansion, the smell of scorched flesh rising into the air along with the black smoke. Their friends, mentors, lovers, brothers, and sisters, all turned to ash in that building.

Mayumi: Alright everyone, let's take a break!

One could feel the weight being lifted off of their collective shoulders when they heard the work "break". Everyone laid down their shovels and sat by the flowerbeds while the girls of the group passed around onigiri to snack on, lightly salted and stuffed with grilled salmon. Everyone except Mayumi, who kept toiling away with her shovel as the rest of them watched.

Girl: Uhh...Chief Mayumi, aren't you going to eat? We made onigiri for you too!

Mayumi: Thank you, but I'm alright! I've still got all this energy to burn, you know?

Despite her pearly smile, her troops were a tad concerned for her. A sudden set of footsteps drew their eyes to Taeko, who walked past them and straight towards Mayumi.

Taeko: You never know when to just rest, do you?

Mayumi: What? I'm just a hard worker!

Taeko sighed in disappointment.

Taeko: No! Bad Mayumi! Bad, bad, bad! You need to work smart, not hard! Sometimes, working smart is taking a break.

Mayumi rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue in hearty jest.

Mayumi: Yes, mom. I apologize for worrying you.

Just imagine a tightly wound string in a koto snapping in half. Such an image was applicable to Taeko's rage.

Taeko: Mom?! Surely you meant big Sis! That's what you meant, right?! That sure is a funny way of saying Big Sis!

Taeko turned to the resting soldiers and began barking a very peculiar set of orders at them, as if she had any authority to in the first place.

Taeko: Get off your asses, put your food away, and help me out here! We're gonna teach our dear old Mayumi here a lesson!

Mayumi: Wait what?! What's going on?!

Shivering in her kimono, Mayumi realized she had disturbed the sleeping giant inside of Taeko. Her own troops followed Taeko's orders and lined up before her, staring down Mayumi with soul-piercing gazes.

Taeko: Now troops, what do we informally call Taeko from time to time? Mayumi doesn't seem to know the answer!

Everyone: Big Sis!

Taeko: What was that?!

Everyone: Big Sis!

Taeko: Say it loud!

Everyone: Big Sis!

Taeko: Say it proud!

Everyone: BIG SIS!

Taeko: Not Mom, not Granny, Big Sis!

Mayumi: T-traitors, the lot of you! I thought you were on my side!

Taeko: Everyone! Pick up a ball of snow in your hands!

Mayumi dropped her broom and very slowly began backing away, nervously laughing as her troops all followed Taeko's orders.

Mayumi: Taeko, if you're about to do what I think you're about to do, you should know that my skin is very sensitive when it comes to ice and it sends these awful chills down my spine and ba-

Taeko: Fire!

Chief Mayumi released quite an embarrassing shriek as her soldiers pelted her with snowballs one after the other, all while Taeko chuckled into the sky. Absolutely defenseless against the icy barrage, all she could do was shield her face with her arms and awkwardly dance about to dodge them.

Taeko: I don't hear an apology, Mayumi!

Man: Lord Tsukiakari!

The fun was immediately cut down as Tsukiakari stepped between them and Mayumi. Everyone immediately hushed themselves, dropped their snowballs, and politely bowed to their lord. Her wickedly long, voluminous hair was all tied up into a massive pony tail, decorated with bits of heavenly white snow.

Taeko: Tsukiakari! I'm sorry, I was just-

Tsukiakari: What's wrong with all of you? Going ten on one in a snowball fight?! Are you insane?!

Mayumi: Gekko?

Tsukiakari weaved kuji-in signs behind her back in secret, stunning her troops when several dozen snowballs arose from the ground around her all at once.

Tsukiakari: Mayumi, what do you say we even the odds?

Taeko: Everyone, snowballs! Now!

Taeko's team rushed to gather more snowballs as their lord launched a barrage of icy artillery upon them with Mayumi's help and amusement. The courtyard bustled with laughter and childish screams as the ultimate battle in snowball warfare broke out, drawing even more participants from across the mansion. The children were especially excited to toss and receive snowballs to the face, to fall on the cushioned ground and make snow angels. Taeko even managed to sneak behind Mayumi and shove a fistful of snow down the back of her kimono, giving her those terrible chills she warned of. For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, the Senkumo mansion was filled with laughter. The faces of its inhabitants were alight with excited grins. Tsukiakari herself was lost in the simple bliss of an all out-snowball fight with her soldiers, laughing so hard she could barely catch her breath.

Taeko: Look!

Taeko's sudden shout drew some eyes towards her as she pointed towards the parting clouds in the sky. Slowly but surely, more and more people took a short break from their snowball war to lay their eyes on a rare and magnificent sight. A white rainbow.

Mayumi: No's white!

Taeko: I had no idea that could happen! It's so pretty!

Tsukiakari: It's just like Sayu said...

Mayumi: Sayu must be smiling. I'm sure they all are.

Upon seeing that miracle in the sky, Tsukiakari realized that Sayu's wish had finally been answered. Even if only for just one day, laughter was brought back to the clan. A little piece of their humanity returned to them through the simple bliss of snow and a white rainbow. The vision of the long lost memory faded back into reality, away from the snow-covered paradise of the days long gone and to the charred reality of the current day. Tsukiakari stood alongside Noriko, wiping tears away from her sunken eyes.

Noriko: You weren't all monsters. Even as you waded through hell and all of its anguish, you were still humans with joyous hearts and souls. Sayu knew that much, and her wish came true for those she left behind.

Tsukiakari: do you know Sayu? How did you return this memory to me?

Noriko stretched her hood over her head, clutching her chest as she walked away from the ledge.

Tsukiakari: Noriko?

Tsukiakari followed behind her as she led her back into the forest. The clouds broke apart in just one area, allowing a spotlight of sunshine to dazzle around Noriko as Tsukiakari stayed in the shade. She gently lifted off her hood and turned to face Tsukiakari. Just looking at her, the war goddess began to understand what she truly meant when she said she was not a phantom. Noriko no longer possessed the visage of the woman that died that day in the village, brutalized by Tsukiakari's own troops. Now, she bore Tsukiakari's visage, her face soaked with tears. Breathless and confused, Tsukiakari couldn't summon any words past her lips.

Noriko: you understand now? You do, don't you?

*R O U G E*

Noriko's voice shook with sobs still locked away in her throat and chest.

Noriko: I've waited so long for this moment. I've wanted to reunite with you ever since that day in the village, when your mind and heart started to break and fragment away, just like Izanami the Living's. I am no phantom, just a fragment of your heart you've refused to remember until recently. You saw me as Noriko because that's exactly who you wanted to see. I bear her voice because that's the voice you wanted to hear. But Noriko never came back. Her flesh, her bones, were all turned to ash and lifted with the wind, scattering among the heavens in peace. Even that thought exists because that what's you think Noriko would think. I had hoped I could help you find peace with the pain you're suffering, but I could only watch as you chose revenge instead. Even so...I wanted to return as many fragments to you as possible. The memories you've discarded, the emotions you've locked away. They're all still there, Gekko!

Tsukiakari: I should have known...this whole time...

Noriko: Yes...the magic is breaking. You can't take back what you've lost, no matter how many gods you butcher and destroy. No matter how strong your hate is, it will never bring back Taeko, Mayumi, or any of the people you've lost. That doesn't mean you were ever supposed to let the memories of their humanity die with them. We were happy, Gekko! They were our family! The Senkumo name is not just a monolith of tragedy, but its a reminder of a kind of happiness we will only ever experience with them. Some day, we'll love again, and create more beautiful memories again. But this here, this era, these people, these memories? They're one of a kind. So, Gekko...just promise me this. No matter what you choose to do from now on...don't hate yourself anymore. Everyone may be gone, but as long as you carry the Senkumo name...they will always be with you. Now, and forever.

The sunshine began to close upon her, her very existence fading along with it. Tsukiakari realized the burden of her work, to return lost and now painful memories to the person that discarded them. "Noriko's" very existence was all the proof she needed that she spoke the truth, that there was still tenderness and pain beneath her endless rage. She discarded her memories in her mind, but her heart still yearned for them to return, even if they were painful to recall.

Tsukiakari: Thank you. Thank you so much for your hard work. You were right. I was blessed to know them. I was blessed to sit with them under our proud and ancient oaks, listening to the bird song of dawn. Elating and grieving beneath sapphire skies and huddled around warm, amber fires in the comfort of night's starry abyss...those were indeed special days. The Senkumo clan was everything I could've ever wanted it to be. That's why I'm going to cut down the serpents that plotted its demise. I can't promise you I'll stop chasing revenge, but I can tell you this. Come home now...and rest. Through you, I've become whole again. My rent and riven heart still bleeds, but I know now that it's still whole. It's all thanks to you.

Noriko respectfully bowed her head and smiled, the light around her finally succumbing to the shade of the clouded heavens. Falling leaves gracefully swayed about in the air, slowly landing, like feathers, where Noriko stood as she disappeared. A 'phantom' cast by the heart eventually returns to the heart, as she hinted when they first met. Though in reality, they've known each other all this time. Now, there was no "each other" to speak of. Only Tsukiakari Senkumo.

Tsukiakari: Thank you...

*N O I R*

(All has been restored to me. The bliss I've lost, the sorrow I chose to forget. I protected myself by obliterating all of it, remembering only the rage that comes after. But now...if I am to die in my quest for vengeance, I can say I will die whole, with my heart and memories intact. I'll die with the true memory of what the Senkumo clan was...and who I was. This is no longer about vengeance for me. No, not at all. This is vengeance for each and every one of them. I will see this task done. I will drag them all to hell.)

The clouds above her head grew darker and darker as she approached the very outskirts of Kyoto. Rain plummeted from the sky and pelted the area, soaking Tsukiakari's hair and kimono. Very few buildings were scattered about on the outskirts, all of them just as ruined and abandoned as the empty heart of the city. Ripped planks of soot-covered wood were scattered around the mud at her feet, the ruined and quaint house once belonging to a leather tanner. The war goddess was determined to murder her uncle.

Uzume: Don't do this, Gekko.

Tsukiakari could've recognized that soothing voice anywhere. The voice of Uzume, the goddess of beauty and fertility. The Yamato-nadeshiko was modeled after her likeness, her long-straight, black hair and wide, brown eyes. A small beauty mark below her glistening, pink lips decorated her porcelain skin. Tsukiakari saw her white and gold-trimmed kimono was untouched by the rain, unblemished by the mud at her feet.

Tsukiakari: Don't have the courage to face me in person, Uzume? Your parlor tricks were always your worst quality. It's needless too. You're the last person I would ever want to kill.

Uzume: If you do this, there will be no turning back. Bishamon will retaliate. Heaven will despise you more than it already does, and your mother will be heartbroken.

Tsukiakari: Bishamon already tried to dispose of me, Heaven has long since repudiated me, and my mother is nothing but cold and calculating. Do you specialize in the art of lazy lies as well as fertility now, Uzume? You will not stop me.

Uzume: I just don't want our little princess to get hurt...

(Little princess...Uzume was always a kind caretaker...)

Tsukiakari: I'm sorry, but those days are over. Your little princess was abandoned and morphed into a war goddess. I'm a grown woman now. I can make my own decisions.

Uzume:...I haven't told Oyamatsumi the Shoku Twins aren't accompanying you, but he's come armed regardless. Are you truly ready for that, Gekko? To kill your own kin?

Tsukiakari nodded.

Tsukiakari: More than ready.

Uzume sighed.

Uzume: Then, I suppose this is it. I won't stand to watch this...

Tsukiakari: I know. I don't want you to. Please...just remember me as your little princess, alright? That's all I want from you.

Uzume covered her quivering lips as her tears slipped through her closed eyes.

Uzume: Gekko...

The illusion drifted away, leaving Tsukiakari with distant by dear memories of her beloved caretaker, how she was a bundle of warm sunshine when her mother was cold and distant. Not a single place in her heart had hatred for Uzume. As soon as her uncle came to mind, the hatred returned in full force, booming inside her chest just as thunder began to boom behind the veil of the clouds. Her time of blooming had come and gone, her descent into madness decimated her. Her road to betrayal ignited the spark of her ire, and her phantoms revealed the truth of herself, her clan, and those around her.

Now was the time, the day, and the hour to deliver the grand finale of the long and brutal tale of the Senkumo clan. It would be a game of blood sports, a trial of destruction and chaos. It would be Tsukiakari's revenge, its manuscript written in blood. A perfect, miserable climax to the war opera orchestrated by Bishamon.

Tsukiakari: First up...Oyamatsumi.

A murderous glare illuminated her eyes as she marched deeper into the ruins of war-torn Kyoto, prepared to begin the first killing. Prepared to drown the Heavens in blood and drag the guilty down to hell. Her final tale, a book of revenge written in thickened blood.

It all begins with the downfall of her disgraced kin.

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #403 on: May 26, 2018, 05:59:09 PM »
40k? It was 30k three months ago  :hmm:

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #404 on: June 02, 2018, 11:14:14 PM »
So, there's something else I've been working on lately. Another addition to Senkumo War Story's Book of Betrayal. I've actually decided I want to have Senkumo War Stories printed and released first, so I've been working on that this whole time. May as well tackle the longest arc.  :ninja:

As I went through and edited Book of Blossoming, I added two more characters to Tsukiakari's "lordless" army. Chiya and Yachi Otonougi! The Otonougi Twins! I've introduced them in this reworked Book of Blossoming chapter

Senkumo War Stories: Masachika Togashi
That night, after Tsukiakari and all of the Senkumo orphans had gone to bed, Bishamon retired to his sacred room of worship. Strips of moonlight dazzled on the wooden floor and off of the golden bracelets and feather ear-rings of Hachiman, who surprised Bishamon with his unsolicited visit. Hachiman had merely waited for Bishamon, standing by the open, sliding door to the side of the room, listening to the sound of crickets and flowing winds. He smiled as if he owned the place, much to the lighthearted annoyance of the sighing Bishamon.

   “You have an awful habit of turning up uninvited, Hachiman. Didn't Amaterasu teach you any manners?” 
   “Well, a student is always indebted to his master, after all.” Hachiman replied with a light chuckle. 
   “What's yours is mine, huh?”
   “Now that’s the name of the game. But I didn't come here merely to be a bother. You've got some new support.”
   “Hmm?” Bishamon grunted curiously.
   “You may have already met these fellow gods, but nonetheless, they have been very eager to see you again. Like me, they want in on the fruits this Tsukiakari girl is bearing.” 

Bishamon's heavy steps creaked against the wooden floors until he stood beside Hachiman at the sliding door. Yet another pleasant surprise stared him in the face in the form of two cloaked and hooded deities. One of them spoke with a mighty and masculine voice that would be fit for a king, and characteristic of a clap of thunder. 

   “'s been a while.”

Bishamon, recognizing the faces of the cloaked gods standing before him, couldn't help but release the soft laughter welling in his chest. 

   “It's almost too good to be true…” Bishamon said with amusement.

(The travesty that was both engineered and suffered by the Senkumo clan, the cruel pet project of Bishamon, was more than just a consequence of the series of wars that was consuming the country. It was also the work of the very gods who were supposed to be protecting the mortals beneath them. In due time, I would come to know who those gods were that collaborated with Bishamon and aided him in the unforgivable sins he would commit. The next day, all of us were summoned to Bishamon's room in the early and deep blue hours of the morning. Most of us hadn't even washed our faces or rubbed the sleep out of our eyes as we all knelt before Bishamon. The hundreds of red cloud symbols printed on our kimonos and haoris all pointed to the ceiling as we knelt. I would force my eyes up from that uncomfortable position in the front row along with Taeko, Mayumi, and Ebina, just to get a peek at Bishamon's face. He seemed like he was purposely building the tension in the room by giving us only silence. It felt like so much as a sneeze would result in a death penalty.)

   “Tsukiakari Senkumo.”

(He called upon me, his voice like thunder in the deep silence.)

   “Yes!” She promptly responded.
   “Raise your head.”

Tsukiakari did exactly that, not even blinking as she stared Bishamon in the eyes. She could feel the nervous breaths of all the other Senkumo members beside and behind her, as if their hundreds of heartbeats droned within the room.

“I have come to a rather sudden, but necessary decision. You, Tsukiakari...shall become the Commanding Lord of the Senkumo clan.”

Though they kept their heads down and their lips sealed, the fellow members of the clan were silently shocked. Those words looked like their pierced Tsukiakari through her heart.

   “Me...the Commanding Lord?” She repeated in disbelief.
   “Of course, this will be a drastic change in responsibility. You’ll have your own Senkumo mansion, with only one worship room dedicated to me. Recruitment, collection of funds, supplying of troops, and handling of contracted support from the Senkumo clan will be up to you. However, I’m certain your army will be of use to you as you get used to being the Commanding Lord. And if you need my help, I’ll be glad to assist. Do you accept this position?”

(I could feel the excited glares of Taeko, Mayumi, and Ebina biting against my cheeks...)

   “I accept, Lord Bishamon!” She shouted proudly, bowing her head.

(Indeed, being the Commanding Lord was a tall task. was exciting! Bishamon had some of his men build up the basic facilities of my mansion over the next few weeks. Barracks for the troops, a storehouse for food, training fields, a storehouse for weaponry and armor, stables, watch towers, personal quarters for me, a proper war room, and a medical ward. The facilities were there, but it was up to me to get the manpower to build the teams that would manage all of them. I began to learn that having my own army required a completely different skill set than just being a good war goddess. Half of my job didn’t even take place on the battlefield.)

With but a handful of troops and some starting money supplies by Bishamon, Tsukiakari sat down with Ebina, Taeko, and Mayumi in her basic and unfinished war room. Such a name might’ve elicited feelings of grandeur, of a great hall seating many great military minds, all of them meticulously planning out their strategy. But alas, this war room wasn’t all that big. Although relatively large when compared to the space of other facilities, the war room was about two and half bedrooms big, consisting of four sliding doors leading to the patio, which then led down to the large, unfinished courtyard.

The courtyard at that point only consisted of sun-beaten soil with not a hint of green grown out yet. Stone walkways divided the empty  flowerbeds, each walkway leading to a different facility. Tsukiakari’s men were hard at work on that clear, sunny, sweaty day, finishing up construction on the watch towers and planting seeds in the flowerbeds among other tasks. Though, “men” was just a general term for her troops. A sizable portion of Tsukiakari’s garrison were young women in their early teens and twenties, most of them handling on-base duties while others were intended to work as combat medics in the field bases and camps.

The sliding doors of the war room were wide open, letting the girls have a view of their base in the works and catch whatever gentle breeze the air was kind enough to relieve them with. The girls all sat around the tea table in the center of the room, putting all the pieces together.

   “How does it feel to be the Commanding Lord? Has it sunk in yet?” Mayumi cheerfully asked, a single bead of sweat dripping down her cheek.

Tsukiakari sighed as she thought of everything that had been added to her plate.

   “It has. That’s why I’m starting to think I should’ve rejected the position! I can’t believe how hard it is to actually manage all of this!”

Mayumi’s smile seemed to be born of pity than amusement.

   “That’s why we’re here, you big dummy.” Taeko teased. “Let’s just calm down and figure this out, alright? Maybe it would work best if you played to our strengths.”
   “You’re right, you’re right. Okay then, let’s start with you Ebina. What do you think you should be doing here now that we have our own mansion?”

(I could never get tired of her cute, deadpan face.)

   “Since I’ve been assigned on most intelligence gathering and infiltration missions, I think we would benefit greatly if I were the head of a Shinobi unit. I highly recommend we establish our own Shinobi unit and build an according facility near the mansion. I can handle the training of our own Shinobi as long as I have the facilities necessary. Equipment should be inexpensive as well. Farming tools is all we need.”
   “Ah, that’s true!” Mayumi added. “Gekko, we can get an edge on our foes if we have a Shinobi unit sending out and gathering information. You could also use them for assassinations, infiltrations, theft, and the more underhanded tasks that our standard troops can’t tend to.”
   “Alright,” Tsukiakari said with a sigh of relief. “I’ll allocate some funds for the construction of a Shinobi unit. As for our equipment...”

Mayumi shot up a raised hand in excitement, a pearly white grin decorating her face.

   “Looks like you have an idea, Mayumi?” Tsukiakari asked rhetorically.
   “I have a few connections we can use to supply our troops with weapons and armor! It’ll be standard gear, but if we can forge deeper relationships with the various families vying for power in the country, we can pay them to forge better equipment specialized for our soldiers. Let me handle the clan’s transactions, Gekko. I can take of weapon dealing, accounting for the clan’s money, and resource allocation, whether it’s money, supplies, or materials.”
   “Alright, if you think you’re up for it. You’re pretty well organized, so I think it’s actually a good fit.”
   “If I may,” Taeko interjected, “I’d like to tend to the training of our standard troops. Also, Gekko, it’s good to have the girls work as medics in the field, but we should have a medical staff stationed here at the mansion. I’d like to head the medical staff as well. It’ll be useful if our troops get sick, return injured, or...well, dead.”
   “Alright, so a Shinobi unit, Mayumi will handle resource allocation, Taeko will handle standard training, and a medical team stationed here at home. Got it. That makes everything a hell of a lot easier, guys. I appreciate you jumping into action like this.”
   “No problem, Gekko!” Mayumi cheered.

The four of them turned their heads towards a group of long haired little girls that had been standing there just outside of the war room for a while, all six of the little munchkins running off as soon as Tsukiakari saw them. Everyone else continued to work their butts off to make the new mansion a proper home.

   “The troops all look up to you now, Gekko, but especially the girls.” Taeko explained. “Despite not being able to participate in more direct combat roles, they’re determined to help the clan, to help you grow, in any way they possibly can. Keep that in mind, alright?”

(Being looked up to by all my troops... that was going to take a lot of getting used to. I was their beating heart, the soul of the army. They were able to fight because they believed in me. It was like I had suddenly become everyone’s big sister.)

   “Well then, everyone, let’s get to work. We’ve got a clan to build.” Tsukiakari rallied.

(Just as Bishamon said, the Senkumo clan saw an influx of disillusioned warriors, ambitious peasants, and orphaned children seeking to join the ranks of the Senkumo clan, an army without a daimyo. An army led by the virtuous will of a goddess. Taeko handled the recruitment screenings, using the medical team to check each and every person for illnesses and physical conditions that may need to be treated first. Then, she and I would interview them in the war room.)
The following few days were all about recruitment. On yet another searing, sun-beaten day, Tsukiakari and Taeko sat side-by-side on the tatami mats, fanning their sweat-covered faces with paper folding fans as they interviewed potential recruit after potential recruit. Next up were two young women in their late teens, sisters with matching bob hairstyles and the same bratty attitude.
   “State your names, please.” Taeko sternly and routinely asked.
   “I’m Chiya Otonougi and she’s my sister, Yachi Otonougi.” One of them explained. “You can just call us the Otonougi twins.
They certainly came off a little differently than most of the other potential recruits. They answered far more directly and boldly, as if the questions being asked of them were just a waste of time.
   "So then, do you have any skills that would be of use to the Senkumo clan?" Tsukiakari asked.
   "Seriously?" Yachi asked in disgusted shock. "Is she seriously asking if we have any valuable skills?"
   "Skill is in our very name. It's the 'nou' character in Otonougi." Chiya added in a rather bitchy tone. "Thought you would've figured that out just by hearing it."
   "Maybe they're both lordless and witless, Sis."
   "Oh heavens, what a tragedy." Chiya said with a sarcastic tear-wipe.
   "A tragedy indeed. But to answer your question, Chiya and I are both quite versed in the art of equestrianism and animal breeding."
   "Indeed. Our family owned horses in Kyoto and often sold them to the city's ashigaru. Made an absolute living off of the trade and taught us how to do it as well."
   "A Killing, Chiya. We made a killing."
   "A living, a killing, same difference, Yachi."

Wowed by their sisterly chemistry, Tsukiakari discreetly whispered into Taeko's ear to clarify a small issue.
   "Meaning they know how to ride horses professionally." Taeko elucidated.
Taeko questioned them further.
   "So then, say we needed a message delivered or an area scouted ahead of time. Are you saying you could ride the horses and perform those tasks?
   "Absolutely." Chiya confidently proclaimed.
   "And you can help breed more fine horses for us?"
   "Horses, chickens, any commonly domesticated mammal, really." Yachi clarified. "From there, my sister and I can also prepare horse's milk and eggs."
   "Impressive..." Tsukiakari remarked.
(The Otonougi twins were in.)
Moving on to the next recruit, the two were confronted by a rather senile old man with a cane, devoid of any hair on his head.
   "Alright, state your name please." Taeko asked.
   "Shu! Shu Rogingyu! Gimme a sword, I'll slay the Hosokawa bastards that ruined my home! I won't stop until they're all dead, until the rivers run red with their blood! I'll even take the whole army by myself! I won't rest! I won't hesitate! I-"
   "Okay, I've think we've heard enough." Taeko quickly interrupted.
(Not everyone was really all that useful to us.)
Then came a young girl in her mid-teens, blessed with chestnut-colored hair of shoulder length and dazzling, hazel eyes. She wore a bloodied bandage around her upper arm, having been treated for a previous injury.
   "State your name, please."
   "Ayadachi! My name is Ayadachi." She responded with a sweet tone of voice, unlike the Otonougi twins.
   "And what skills do you possess that you think would be beneficial to the Senkumo clan, Ayadachi?" Taeko continued.
   "Well, I'm primarily skilled in medicine. I can handle basic treatment of ill patients with the cold, flu, food poisoning, pneumonia, arthritis, among other afflictions. I can also treat injuries non-critical injuries by myself, be it in a proper medical ward or on the field."
   "A field medic?" Tsukiakari curiously asked.
   "Yes, if that's what you call it. I'm also good with children! I'm a good teacher, and I've noticed you have a lot of young ones here. I can teach them to read, write, handle basic duties around the mansion, and even get them started in medicine."
   "You sound like a very well rounded person for such a young age." Taeko remarked, having been impressed. "Why do you wish to join the Senkumo clan?"

Ayadachi hesitated, her fingers curling into her palm.

   "The Yamana clan exiled my father and I from Kozuke Province, under suspicion he aided the Hosokawa war effort against them. My mother was from the Hosokawa clan and had ties to some of their generals. They thought my family was giving them information that affected the battles in Kyoto. I haven't seen my mother since, and my father fought with the Hosokawa to protect me from the wrath of the Yamana. He never came back home. So, with the city in ruins, I didn't have any choice but to leave. I heard of the Senkumo clan through word of mouth. Some villagers said you were a military force without a daimyo and free from any influence of the warring clans. I suppose I thought I would be safer here than anywhere else, and I could help people while I was at it."

(There were many stories like hers. Stories of loss, revenge, and pain were a common thread among many of our recruits, especially the younger ones. Most of them wanted to escape that violence and seek safety within the Senkumo clan. They were willing to become soldiers themselves if they had to, for they felt that fighting under the wing of a war goddess was a far better way to die than to be thrown into battle by a callous war lord, or executed by a paranoid general.)

   "Alright, you're in." Tsukiakari said. "You can prove your skills by helping our medical staff treat some of the new recruits here. You'd better live up to everything you've told us, Ayadachi."
   "Of course! Thank you so much!" Ayadachi cheered with her head bowed and eyes filled with tears.

Constant, never-ending days like these led to the swelling of the Senkumo ranks. It wasn't just Tsukiakari's mansion, but several more mansions being built across the province that held even more troops. In short time, the Senkumo clan went from a few hundred members to numbering in the tens of thousands.
(Even then I couldn't believe it. I was the head of all Senkumo military operations, in charge of my own army and property. 1488 was the year when the endlessly escalating conflicts in the Kaga Province finally fanned into a fiery tempest. It was the year the event known as the Kaga Rebellion took off. Just as Bishamon had predicted, the violent revolts and collapse of societal order spread throughout the whole country. Kaga was not the only place where these revolts were occurring. Nonetheless, the Senkumo clan took part in these conflicts one at a time.)

   “Rensu. He was an adviser of mine until recently.”

Tsukiakari found herself leaning against Rennyo's wall as they met inside of his beach home during a sunny, spring day. This time, the meeting was on much friendlier terms. Dazzling little specs of dust were visible in the radiant shafts of sunlight that shined through his windows and onto the tatami mats. The room was imbued with the fragrance of burning incense which Rennyo lit in Bishamon's honor as he sat at his desk, writing more of his pastoral letters. Tsukiakari, with the beautiful, Spring sunlight hitting her cheek, listened closely to every word Rennyo had to say.

   “Masachika had been able to squash the Kaga ikki these past few years, but Rensu's recent actions have been putting a strain on Masachika's grip on the region.” 
   “What's the extent of your advisers involvement?” Tsukiakari questioned.
   “He seems to be their de-facto commander, so to speak. He's secured funding and military assistance for the Kaga ikki from the various disaffected daimyo and noble families. He used his position as my adviser to tell the Kaga ikki that I condoned these violent rebellions, something I could not forgive. So, I had him excommunicated. But, as you can guess...”
   “That's not nearly enough to stop him, is it?”

Rennyo sighed from the sheer weight of the situation anchoring his mind.

   “Yes, I'm afraid so. Lord Ashikaga Yoshihisa wants me to do more to cease these rebellions, but he doesn't understand that I do not control them in the first place, nor have I ever condoned them. This violent branch of Jodo Shinshu has become its own extreme wing, and I am ultimately powerless in stopping it.”
   “That explains why you summoned me here with a prayer. You want me to stop this and other catastrophic revolts?”
   “That is my wish, yes.”

Tsukiakari stood up straight and put her wooden sandals back on by the front door, stopping only for a moment to utter her last words to Rennyo before leaving.

   “Monshu Rennyo...when you pray to a god, you must be heedful. When you make a wish upon a god of war, you must be deathly circumspect.” 

Rennyo said nothing as he sat frozen by her words, as if he was trying to unravel them then and there. Tsukiakari walked out, shut the door, and left Rennyo's house with a plan to end the conflict already in mind.

(Rennyo was a wise monk, I'll give him that. But he was too naive when it came to matters of the sword. Cut down one Ikko-ikki rebellion, and another one takes its place. When chaos eats itself, and thus, gives birth to itself, why not take out the reason that chaos exists in the first place?)

In those 8 years, the Senkumo clan had nearly tripled its numbers. Boys, girls, men, women, big, small, rich, and poor were all huddled beneath its crimson banner. The constant revolts and wars between lords and states resulted in more and more orphans ready to be fed, washed, and sheltered by Bishamon.

After teleporting back to her mansion, sitting comfortably in the center of a misty, forested valley, she took a walk through the torii gates that led her to the courtyard, where she could hear the collective shouts from the children in training. Taeko, fully grown and matured into a fine woman, instructed the columns of panting boys and girls dressed in peasant robes with a loud, thunderous voice.  Every time she would speak, it seemed like a flock of birds would fly out of the tree-covered mountain just behind the mansion, and fly away into the cool, hazy sky.

   “Attention!” she shouted.
   “Yes, Chief!” they all responded back.

Tsukiakari stood in the distance, just watching her. Her hair was tied up into the neatest bun Tsukiakari had ever seen, wearing a lightweight samurai chest piece adorned with the Senkumo symbol on the front. Leather faulds dangled around her hips like an armored skirt as she paced back and forth, making sure all of her underlings could hear her loud and clear.

   “What have I told you about your blades?! Your swords are your life! They are your death! They're your beginnings and your ends! Every day, we do what, Hayashi?”

A boy in his early teens called out from the columns.

   “We clean and cherish our blades, Chief!”
   “We do what, Hayashi?!”
   “We clean and cherish our blades, Chief!”
   “Then why was your sword stained today?!”

   “Because why, Hayashi?!”
   “Because I failed to clean and cherish my blade, Chief!”
   “That's what I thought, you lazy cretin! If you don't cherish your swords, I will not cherish you! Hayashi, Echizen, Kobe, Rin, Kotomi, Ieyasu, all of your swords were stained today! It is disgraceful! The next time I see your blades in such pitiful condition, I shall kill you with them myself! May as well make it easy on the enemy, right?! They've been killing idiots like you since they were children! Is that what you want?!”
   “No, Chief!” they responded collectively.
   “Then fix it!”
   “Yes, chief!”

(Taeko helped handle most of the training in my northern mansion. She was incredibly strict and demanding of our troops, and with good reason. Though they were unfortunate orphans, we could not have anyone who was too weak or unwilling to uplift the cause of the Senkumo clan in my name.)

Continuing her walk through the courtyard and into the garden, Tsukiakari crossed the small, wooden bridge across the little pond that housed all sorts of colorful fish and sprouting lotus flowers. The cool of the thick, lavender leaves of the wisteria trees provided shade on warm days, leading the way to the cascading hills of beautifully cut grass next to the main building of the mansion. As she crossed the bridge, Mayumi bumped into her from the path to her right.

Mayumi was covered in cold sweat, holding six scrolls in her arms as she gasped in startled surprise. Over the years, she had actually gotten just a bit taller than Tsukiakari, and kept her brown hair at breast's length.

   “Gekko! You scared me to death!” Mayumi exclaimed with a startled pant.
   “What? You walked into me!” Tsukiakari retaliated.
   “You’re right! I'm sorry! It was my fault!”
   “Geez…Hmm? Are those scrolls from the weapons shipment today?”
   “Ah, yes! They came in while you were visiting Rennyo!”

The two walked and talked through the gardens. Mayumi handed Tsukiakari one of the scrolls to check for herself. Within it were a list of the contents of the shipment, their quantities, manufacturing source, cost, and substitution disclosures if any.

   “Good armor is by far the most expensive thing these days...” Tsukiakari groaned.
   “Well, we are getting them fitted for people of all ages. The Ashikaga clan was kind enough to give us a discount on the swords and archery equipment though. The Shichikumo mansion in the west also confirmed they got their shipment of horses. Cavalry will be of utmost importance since more and more daimyo are throwing themselves into these conflicts.”
   “Excellent. I was right to trust you with handling our supplies, Mayumi.”
   “Aww, you're sweet, Gekko! Anyway, what did Rennyo want?”
   “Divine assistance. The revolts are damaging his relationship with Shogun Yoshihisa, so he wants me to put an end to the Kaga rebellion that's festering in the region. It's actually a blessing that our weapons and supplies came when they did. We’ll be removing the problem with the weapons Yoshihisa just gave us.”
   “So that means we're moving out, huh?”
   “Yeah, it does. I want you to stay here for this one.” Tsukiakari commanded.
   “'re worried I'll die or something!” Mayumi gushed.

(She got me...)

   “Lies! Lies and slander!” Tsukiakari exclaimed forlornly. 

Mayumi gave a cheeky smile.

   “See, even when you've got such a serious position, you're still the old darling Gekko we met so many years ago. As you wish, I'll stay here. But really, you don't have to worry, Gekko. Taeko, Ebina, and I can take care of ourselves in battle. Come on, how long have we been together?”
   “You're apologies. I'm under-utilizing your potential in the field. I'll...I'll stop being so protective.”
   “That's the spirit! Well, I'm gonna go stash these scrolls. You're probably looking for Ebina now, right? She's in the war room waiting for you!”
   “Of course, she's always so attentive. Thanks, Mayumi. I...I love you!” Tsukiakari embarrassingly shouted for everyone to hear.

Mayumi stopped in her tracks as Tsukiakari blushed uncontrollably. She looked like she wanted to die after blurting something like that out so callously.

   “Wow, you really are soft at heart, aren't you?” Mayumi asked with a chuckle. 
   “Ah! What is with me? Any other soldier I can handle, but when it's any one of you three, I just-“
   “Shhh. I think I can speak for all of us on this. We love you too, Gekko.

(That fear I once expressed to Taeko came back as the flames of war only grew hotter and cooked the country like a fresh lamb carcass. As such, controlling my urge to keep them out of combat was...difficult. The only person who ever went out in the fields was Ebina, and even then, it was for espionage purposes. Bishamon had fallen out of contact with Inari, so we couldn't use her anymore.)

Tsukiakari's footsteps alerted Ebina as she sat on the floor, waiting for her return. Ebina promptly stood up and bowed to Tsukiakari as she entered the war room, like any good soldier would. Like Taeko's, her white hair was tied up in a bun, though not nearly as inhumanly neat. A lightweight, black leather vest covered her chest, stomach, back and shoulders, whole leather bands protected parts of her arms. The white handle of her katana protruded into view from behind her back. 

   “Welcome back, Tsukiakari. I've returned from my mission in Kaga.” Ebina flatly declared. 
   “Well then, you deserve a warm 'welcome back' as well! I'm happy you're here, Ebina. Please, ease up. We're alone here.”

Ebina sat back down in front of the short, rounded table in the center of the room. Several calligraphic hanging scrolls decorated the walls, written beautifully in black ink.

   “I've received maps and documents from the Togashi clan defectors.” Ebina began. “They said Masachika plans to return to Kaga to reinforce the region against the Ikko-ikki. Among those documents is a map of Masachika's castle.” 
   “Is that so?” Tsukiakari asked with eyes widened with surprise. “Open them.”

Ebina laid the maps out on the table for Tsukiakari to meticulously inspect. All of the major roads, residential roads, even some of the back-alleys were documented. Several roads leading into cities from the countryside as well as government outposts in and around the more populated areas of the region were drawn and labeled accurately.

   “Before leaving, we were able to confirm the positions of several of the outposts listed here, as well as the route to Masachika's castle. I have firm confidence that their information is accurate.”
   “Beautifully done, Ebina. And the defectors...did you silence them?”
  “Of course. I made sure none of this could be traced back to the Senkumo clan. Tsukiakari, have you decided what you wanted to do with this? Who will we be fighting against?” 

Tsukiakari stood and leaned against the opened, sliding door, scanning the gardens and misty mountains with her crimson eyes as she finalized her decision. 

   “We're going to exterminate the Togashi clan and kill Masachika.” Tsukiakari boldly proclaimed.

Ebina bowed her head without so much as an inquiry behind her logic. She was almost too loyal for her own good.

   “I understand.” Ebina said with humble obedience.
   “Hey, come on...don't do that to me.
   “Do what?
   “Aren't you curious why I chose to fight with the Kaga ikki instead of against them? You're my friend, Ebina. You don't have to just go along with my orders without at least knowing why you're doing them. I don't ever want you marching into battle without a clue as to what I'm plotting.”

Ebina's cheeks flushed with a rosy color as Tsukiakari smiled at her. Though everyone was getting older, Tsukiakari was still as youthful and beautiful as the sun and the moon.

   “Very well then. So, Tsukiakari...what exactly is your thought process behind this? I figured we'd fight the Togashi clan since you ordered me to go on this mission...but I don't understand why.”

   “Not even the brilliant Ebina sees it, huh? It's not complicated at all, dear. Several Ikko-ikki rebellions have occurred in that region under Masachika's rule, right? Sure, all of them failed, but they've been growing more and more threatening to the Togashi clan as they get more support from disaffected nobles. Killing the rebels will do nothing. Killing Masachika and the Togashi clan however, will certainly bring about a change. Once Masachika is gone, the Ikko-ikki will place the leader they want in the seat of power. The region will most likely revert to a state of peace. And, if it doesn't, we'll simply cull the Ikko-ikki. The one thing that's certain is that Masachika Togashi must go. As such, our battle plans shall be formulated accordingly.”
   “Understood! I'll relay the message to the officers.” Ebina cried eagerly.

(Masachika seems another proper battle delivers itself my way.)

However, this chapter isn't quite what I wanted to talk about. It's the chapters I'm currently writing, taking place in Book of Betrayal. This story arc is heavily focused on Yachi Otonougi's trip to a town near Kyoto called Kameyama (called Kameoka in the current day). This trip occurs in the winter following Mayumi's death in the battlefield, when Tsukiakari takes leave from the Senkumo Mansion and stays with Ichiki. There are a lot of events and emotions I want to get right with Yachi's story about her trip, so I'd definitely appreciate feedback as I go along. Appreciate it in advance.  :dance:

Senkumo War Stories: Azalea in the Winter
Unspeakable horror and heartbreak had been inflicted upon the Senkumo clan time and time again. The slaughter of the local village destroyed the illusion that they were somehow protected from becoming monsters. The resulting battle with Yoshihisa Ashikaga revealed the deadly cost of their lord's sin. An innocent mistake allowed the black plague to ravage their loved ones, ending in a woeful crescendo of fire and bastardized justice. The entire clan had even unanimously agreed to hang one of their own, desperate to find a destructible vessel for their rage. So, the snow seemed especially solemn that winter, slowly dropping from the omnipresent clouds. The Senkumo mansion seemed all too quiet now. Mayumi was gone, and Taeko had been exiled for her excessive cruelty and breach of authority. Their lord's absence felt the heaviest of all of these sorrows. Every member, young and old, felt the same betrayal in their hearts. They felt as if their lord had abandoned them after all they had sacrificed in her hallowed name. At the same time, they sympathized with her. To lose one's closest friends and valuable allies left and right was a heartbreak they knew all too well.

There were only two things keeping the spirit of the Senkumo mansion alive in Tsukiakari's absence. Chiya and Yachi Otonougi. The two took it upon themselves to make a surprise visit to Tsukiakari that frigid day. They rode their horses through the snow-piled forest, wearing thick, black cloaks over their kimonos for warmth. It was a slow ride, for their horses didn't have the stamina to rush through the thick blankets of snow in such cold conditions. In the early afternoon, the two finally arrived at the foot of Ichiki's temple, dismounting their horses and ascending the steps together. Once they passed the first torii gate leading to the courtyard, the two were greeted by a cloaked Ichiki, who had already sensed their intrusion. Chiya and Yachi came to a stop as Ichiki politely, yet cautiously, questioned them.

"You mortals have stepped foot within my sacred grounds, without permission." Ichiki bluntly declared. "Do you have business with me?"

Chiya and Yachi dropped onto their knees, bowing before Ichiki with their foreheads touching the wet temple grounds.

"I am Chiya Otonougi of the Senkumo clan. We've come to see our lord, Tsukiakari." she explained with a soft and submissive tone.
"Senkumo?" Ichiki recalled. "Ah, Gekko mentioned you two might try and see her. How did you find out about this temple?"
"We begged Lord Bishamon to let us see Lord Tsukiakari. He eventually told us where to go." Chiya explained.
"With your permission, may we see Lord Tsukiakari right now?" Yachi asked.
"You pallid, charmless mortals." Ichiki sighed. "I will tell your lord you're here to see her. Wait here."
"We thank you, Lord Kisshoten." praised Yachi.

The stood up off of their knees, wiping their foreheads dry as Ichiki ascended the second flight of steps leading to the tower. Within a few minutes of silent waiting, Tsukiakari emerged from beyond the tower door in her Senkumo kimono, steadily descending the steps to meet her visitors. Tsukiakari couldn't contain her melancholic smile upon seeing their familiar faces. Tsukiakari's cheeks were flushed red by the cold, and every drop of snow would immediately melt onto her raven hair and kimono. Everyone could see their own breaths as they spoke.

"Of course you'd be the ones to to seek me out. I'd expect nothing less from the Otonougi twins." Tsukiakari scoffed.
"Glad to know that our natural tenacity hasn't been underestimated." Chiya quipped.
"Though Kisshoten did call us pallid and charmless." Yachi woefully groaned.
"At any rate, we have a few things to talk about, Lord Tsukiakari." Chiya said. "It's all related to the clan."

Tsukiakari averted her eyes from them both.

"Since your absence, Chiya and I have acted as leaders for the clan. No, I suppose it's more accurate to say we're acting as representatives." Yachi explained.
"Izanami's investigation of the Senkumo mansions means that military operations have been suspended. Transaction records between our mansion and various priesthoods around the country have been destroyed, and everyone back home as their stories straight for now." Chiya added.

Tsukiakari remained silent, unsure if she really wanted to compliment the twins on being able to lie to Izanami.

"Now, I'm not downplaying our ability to represent for the clan. In fact, I think we make quite a fine team, my sister and I." Yachi proudly declared.
"However, your absence feels...profound. Most of the folks back home really miss their lord. We're no exception." Chiya explained.
" morale low?" Tsukiakari asked.
"I'm afraid so." Chiya confirmed.
"It's not like we don't understand why you left, though. In fact, it's probably a good thing you aren't on base right now with the investigation going on." Yachi added.

Tsukiakari folded her hair behind her ears, looking the Otonougi twins in their eyes. The war goddess's lips trembled. Her throat burned and her eyes moistened.

"How have you been holding up, Gekko?" Yachi worriedly asked.
"Not too well, Yachi. Not too well." Tsukiakari whispered.
"Mayumi's death was hard on us all. Everyone looked up to her until the very end." Chiya recounted.
"May she rest in peace with the others." Yachi said with her eyes closed.
"I'm going to be staying here for a while. I might not be back until the turn of Spring. I'm deeply sorry, you two, for putting all of this pressure on your shoulders. I'm a disgraceful lord to you." Tsukiakari lamented, her head bowed to the twins.
"No, we fully understand. Just leave it to us, Gekko! We'll take it from here until you feel ready to return." Chiya proudly declared.
"Though, I'm sure we'll be constantly returning to you for advice." Yachi added.
"That's fine. Feel free to visit me any time. However, I'll only talk to you two. I have to ask that you don't tell anyone else that I'm here. Ichiki grows that much more irritable when visitors make unexpected trips here." Tsukiakari pleaded.
"And yet she called us pallid and charmless? The nerve!" Yachi quipped.

Tsukiakari sighed as she sat down on the limestone bench at her side, her hands clasped together.

"You two are taking up a very dangerous position in my stead." Tsukiakari cautioned. "It's no secret at all. The Senkumo clan has a lot of enemies, a lot of people looking for revenge. Even if military operations are suspended for now, you still have to be careful. Not even the gods are trustworthy. Traditionally, clans like ours can rely on their ties to more powerful families and lords to act as a deterrent against attacks during the winter. Since we pride ourselves on being free from such ties with a traditional lord, the military downtime during winter leaves us that much more vulnerable. Even more so with the investigation going on."

Yachi giggled as she gently patted Tsukiakari's head, startling the gloomy goddess. For a moment, the smiles of the Otonougi twins had Tsukiakari spellbound, completely detached from her worries.

"We've held our ground until now. I think we can handle a single winter by ourselves!" Chiya cheered.
"She says that, but Chiya always complains about the lackluster insulation in the women's quarters for this kind of weather." Yachi recalled.
"Must you always embarrass me in front of our lord? Have you no shame in your little blackened heart?" Chiya countered.
"Well of course not!" Yachi laughed. "Any sister with even a lick of shame in her isn't a sister at all! Besides, I'm not telling her some imaginary fable. You've never liked the cold."
"As you can see, Gekko, the only real threat to me is my sister's merciless abuse. So, you really don't have much to worry about." Chiya joked.
"Alright!" Tsukiakari giggled. "I guess you've got everything under control. What's going on with the other Senkumo mansions in the province? Have you heard anything from them?"
"Not really. Though, Bishamon tells us they're all following the same suspension of operations despite our mansion being the only one under investigation." Yachi explained.
"I see. I suppose he's being as careful as possible." Tsukiakari sighed. "Anything else to report?"
"Not at the moment, no. For the most part, things are going smoothly." Yachi replied.
"That's good to hear." Tsukiakari said, standing up from the bench. "I'm really glad you two came to visit. I was really starting to miss you guys."
"The pleasure was ours. We'll make our return to the mansion now. I'm sure we'll be back soon though." Chiya said with a wave goodbye.
"Understood. Have a safe ride home!" Tsukiakari cheered.
"Uhh, sis, I'll catch up with you in a minute! I need to talk to Gekko about something!" Yachi suddenly interrupted, leaving Chiya with a perplexed expression.
"Well, alright then. I'll have both of our horses ready then." Chiya replied before walking off.

Once Yachi felt that Chiya was a safe distance away, she turned to the confused but curious Tsukiakari.

"What's going on?" Tsukiakari asked.
" do I say this...I'm thinking about getting Chiya a gift, something really special!"
"Oh my, I didn't know you Otonougi were the giving type!" Tsukiakari gasped in jest.
"We aren't! That's why I had to talk to you about this privately!" Yachi hissed.
"Okay, so you want to give her something. First off, what's it for? It's not her birthday or anything, is it?"
"No, no. It's not in commemoration of anything special. It's just a Thank You gift, something to show her that she's appreciated. Chiya's been a great role model for everyone over the years. She's caring and protective of the other Senkumo members. She deserves to have something, at least one thing that's nice." Yachi explained with a pained glint in her eyes.
"That's sweet, Yachi. You're always looking out for your sister. So? Any ideas on what to get?"
"No. That's my problem."
"Hmmm. Well, what does Chiya like?"
"Well..." Yachi pondered. "Oh! She likes animals!  Maybe she'll like if I get her a rabbit!"

Yachi's smile slowly faded as she scanned Tsukiakari face. For reasons that didn't have to be spoken aloud, using animals as a gift to bring back to the mansion was out of the question.

"Oh...right. I'm sorry, Gekko." Yachi lamented.
"It's okay. Let's think of something else. Does she like flowers?" Tsukiakari asked with a bright tone.
"You're right! Chiya adores flowers! Yachi excitedly recalled. "She's always loved azaleas, like the ones our parents grew in their yard! Oh...but it's already Winter. I don't think any flowers are going to be blooming anytime soon."
"True, but I know a place that keeps potted azaleas alive during the winter. It's a bit far from the mansion though. It'll probably take you even longer to travel there in this season." Tsukiakari explained.
"What place?" Yachi asked.
"Kameyama, a beautiful agricultural town that gives their yields to Kyoto. I believe the Hozu river starts somewhere around there as well. Anyway, when flowers go out of bloom during the winter, the florists in Kameyama pot some of the most desired plants and sell them in their businesses. Azaleas are some of their most abundant flowers."
"Really?! Chiya said she was going to send me to a town called Kameyama! She wanted me to purchase some daikon and set negotiations for us to take some of their Spring and Summer yields." Yachi recalled.
"I hope you're negotiating in secrecy, Yachi. The people of Kameyama are still subjects of the Ashikaga shogunate. After the battle with Yoshihisa, they're not exactly our friends anymore."
"No, we'll be fine. The Ashikaga have lost much of their authority over Kameyama. Backdoor negotiations should be a breeze. Plus, if I can snag some of those flowers after completing the mission, I'd be hitting two birds with one stone!" Yachi excitedly fantasized in her head.
"Well, if you think you can do it, go ahead. Pack appropriately and bring enough supplies for at least a five day trip." Tsukiakari advised.
"I will! Thank you, Gekko!" Yachi sang, bowing to her lord. "See you soon, alright? Hang in there!"
"Sure thing, Yachi."

The two waved goodbye to each other as Yachi gleefully rushed down the stairs. Relieved that all seemed to be going well for the first time in a long time, Tsukiakari turned to ascend back up the second flight of steps. However, she was greeted by a grinning Ichiki, startled by her sudden reappearance. Ichiki's snow-white kimono was secured tightly by her violet obi, shutting out the frigid breeze from her body.

"Underlings of yours? They did say they were Senkumo." Ichiki deduced. "An army led not by mortal lords, but by gods. A community and a family free from the influence of daimyo, Shogun, or emperors. It definitely sounds like an attractive proposition to give to orphans of war. Their young hearts must've been afire with ambition. For that, I pity them."
"This has been one of the few times where they could relax just a bit. After the winter, I'm sure this quietude and calm will fade away. It'll be back to the trenches then." Tsukiakari replied as she sauntered past Ichiki and ascended the steps.
"I see." Ichiki giggled, ascending the steps with Tsukiakari. "You're a kind lord, giving them this winter, at least."

Glimpses of radiant shafts of sunlight broke through the clouded sky, cutting through the forest's thick blanket of leafless trees. Those shafts pierced through the web of branches above Yachi's head like spears into her eyes as her horse trotted through the snow. Yachi suddenly realized how beautiful Winter really is. Being able to see her own breath, the glistening icicles hanging from tree branches, the thick clouds and mist gathering at the tops of the hills in the distance. It was all a sight to behold.

"Yachi." Chiya called out, breaking Yachi's trance.
"Yeah?" Yachi asked.
"When we get back, be sure to start packing for Kameyama. It was difficult to get Lord Izanami to let anyone leave the base while the investigation was going on. In order to prove it wasn't a military-related venture, I had to make it so you'd be going alone. My apologies, Sis." Chiya regrettably explained.
"That's alright! I could use the alone time anyway. Even I get tired of sleeping in the same room with you all the time. You have a pretty nasty snore, Chiya."
"Lies! Stop lying, Yachi!"
"No lies spoken, Sis!" Yachi laughed.