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Author Topic: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)  (Read 48991 times)

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Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #405 on: June 02, 2018, 11:17:22 PM »
Senkumo War Stories: The Heart Afire With Reminiscence
Spoiler
After returning to the Senkumo mansion later that day, Yachi waited until night to begin preparations for Kameyama. Her quarters, shared with her sister, was but a simple, square room with two futons, a table, and a shared drawer. She sat beside the drawer with an opened, round bag made of the same fabric as the common Senkumo robe. The mouth of the bag was lined with rope so it could be tightened until closed, and then worn around the shoulder or across the back. She was able to simply pick up her already neatly folded clothes and drop them in the bag. She could barely contain her giddy laughter as she packed her bag. All she could think about was finding the perfect azaleas for her sister and wowing her to tears with the gift. Maybe she'd even be rewarded with a 'Best Sister" medal for her stunning act kindness.

"Kameyama! All by myself too!" Yachi cheered with a whisper.

Her eyes caught sight of her prayer bracelet, made of small, sandalwood beads. They were painted with a dark red pigment, making the beads resemble raw red beans. Knowing there were most likely going to be temples in Kameyama where she could worship, she gladly took the bracelet and wore it on her left wrist. Along with her clothes, she packed her paring knife, pouches of dried fruit, and a small purse filled with coin. With everything ready, she tightened her travel bag and left it at the foot of her futon.

"Alright. I'm all set for the morning." Yachi sighed. "I've got warm clothes, food, and money. I should stay focused on successfully negotiating with the farmers for their yields. I can't get too excited about the gift just yet."

The bedroom door slid open, and a very exhausted Chiya took a single step inside.

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

Chiya departed, giving her sister a few minutes to ready herself for the food. About a dozen Senkumo sat around a crackling campfire in the snow-covered courtyard, enjoying their skewers and drinking hot sake. Under Tsukiakari, the younger recruits weren't allowed to drink alcohol, but under the Otonougi twins, they were permitted two shots of alcohol per night. Chiya never did explain why she decided to change the alcohol rule. Many of them thought she was simply trying to get the youth of the clan to like her more, seeing that she had big shoes to fill with Tsukiakari's absence. Others, primarily the older men and women, silently concocted their own explanations. Perhaps, after so many Senkumo children had died fulfilling their duties, allowing them to drink with the adults was a sort of acknowledgement. It was recognition that they were real adults, real soldiers, just as likely to die in battle as anyone else. When they thought of it that way, it seemed fair to let them drink, so they could know the taste of alcohol and savor it before they died.

Five little girls, five women, and two men sat around that fire, laughing as they shared stories and cracked jokes. The commotion was briefly interrupted when they noticed Chiya and Yachi walking towards them. The women made room for them on the chopped logs they used as seats, handing them skewers of meat with smiles on their faces.

"Just in time!" one of the young women whispered to them, her chestnut hair tied in a ponytail. "Gunba is telling another one of his stories!"

The Otonougi twins both took synchronous bites from their beef skewers, immediately giving their attention to Gunba, sitting straight across from them. As he told his tale, the cold air made his breath visible as it passed through his thick, black beard. His raven, shoulder length hair was tied into a messy bun, letting only a few groups of loose strands dangle in the breeze. He had only one eye to look at his small audience with, for the other was injured and hidden behind a black patch.

"After the skirmish, Hiro and I tried to escape through the woods, find our way back to the nearest friendly camp. But unlike this gentle winter before us tonight, the winter of that year was harsh and unforgiving. Our bones were so cold, it felt like they could snap like twigs if we did as much as bend over. Regardless, I saddled our horse and let it walk us over to an abandoned hut on the other side of the hill. The moon was high that night, almost as bright as the sun. Hiro was bleeding badly, and the cold air only made his wounds ache more. I carried him inside and lit a fire to keep him warm. I was able to tear off a piece of my robe and secure it around his stomach. It stopped the bleeding, but he was certain to die without medical help. All we could do was wait. Only wind-blast and snowstorms awaited us outside."

Everyone was captivated by his story thus far, their anxious eyes glued to his weathered expression.

"To keep him talking, I asked him all sorts of trivial questions. Where he was from, how life was back home, if he had any girlfriends. He said he was a mud-covered farm boy in Kameyama for 16 years before he ever even thought about girls! He was far more concerned with gathering daikon during the winter and making sure the chickens grew nice and fat!" he shouted with a smile, making the little girls laugh. "But he said that it was soon after his 16th birthday that he started seeing this girl he knew differently. Sakura was her name. They had been friends since their early childhood. Sakura was always the one protecting him, cleaning him off after a hard day in the fields, and putting warm meals in his stomach when his parents were away. He said that it took him 16 years, but he finally realized the beauty of that woman. Not just her physical beauty, but the beauty in her actions as well. She was a natural caretaker. She knew Hiro so well that she could calm him and soothe him in any situation. So, he spent a few days working up his courage. On the night of the full moon, he proposed to her, and she gladly accepted."

The acceptance of Hiro's proposal brought smiles onto the women's faces. Gunba's eyes turned towards his cup of hot sake as if he were looking right into the reflections of the past.

"Soon after he proposed, however, the Onin War broke out. As it dragged on with no clear results, manpower on both sides had fallen. He was among several young men to be conscripted by Yoshimi Ashikaga, leaving Sakura behind at Kameyama. He saw some horrific things in the war, but he survived it all. In the final years of the war, Hiro was  recruited by Lord Bishamon and brought into the Senkumo clan. He said he loved the idea of pledging his life to a god rather than a mortal lord that callously threw people's lives away into the furnace of war. And yet, while he served the Senkumo clan well, he still ached to see Sakura again, to apologize for being gone for so long. That battle in Arashiyama was supposed to be his last before he could return to Kameyama. We were so close to Kameyama, so I encouraged him to just hang in there, fight through the pain. If he did that, he'd surely be able to reunite with Sakura again. Alas...no such reunion ended up happening. He asked me to write down his final words, and to give them to Sakura. He used up all of his might just to draw breath and speak. His skin had gone pale and his lips as blue as the summer sky. Soon after he was done speaking...he passed away in my arms, uttering her name as he went."

Gunba closed his eyes, swallowing the sorrow of his reminiscence.

"I did as I was asked and delivered his final words to the girl. She had been waiting for his return to Kameyama for all those years, turning down other suitors left and right. She was just as he described her. Flawless porcelain skin, long, black hair like a princess. As one would expect, she broke down when she read the letter. But then, she...she quickly composed herself. She bowed and said she's forever grateful I was able to deliver his final words to her. She promised herself then and there, that even in death, Hiro would always remain her true love. There would be no other."

Gunba raised his cup of sake towards the fire's extending flames, smirking in memory of his late comrade.

"Here's to you, Hiro. May you rest in peace." Gunba saluted, the others also raising their drinks and cheering his name.
"Kameyama?" Yachi asked. "I'm going there tomorrow!"
"Is that so? Maybe you'll end up seeing Sakura there! I hear she sells flowers these days." Gunba said excitedly.
"Seriously?! Oh, thank goodness! I was going to..." Yachi stopped herself, realizing she'd almost ruined her surprise.
"You were going to what?" Chiya curiously asked.
"J-just looking around, that's all!" Yachi cried, nervously cutting the subject matter short.

One of the little girls trotted over to Yachi, raising her chicken skewer up to her face. Her small hand rested on Yachi's knee as she stood on the tips of her toes to reach just a little further.

"Yachi! Eat well before your trip!" the little girl cheered with a smile.
"Wow! You're giving that to me? That's so sweet of you!" Yachi replied. "Thank you so much! I'll be sure to eat as much as I can before tomorrow!"
"Don't eat too much." Chiya warned. "You know you turn into a lethargic wreck if you eat a lot of food in one sitting."
"Just like a man!" Gunba cheered in support.
"Why would you say that right in front of everyone?!" Yachi laughed.
"Revenge for your snoring comment the other day!" Chiya giggled.
"Those aren't the same, you traitor!" Yachi cried as everyone broke down in laughter.

The night was blessed by a seemingly endless stream of food, drink, and laughter. Even tales of bitter memories left behind a sweet appreciation for the life and happiness everyone had in that moment. The night died down as people went to sleep, and the darkness was ripped apart by the break of daylight. Chiya saw Yachi off outside of the main gate of the mansion, helping her climb onto her horse's saddle. All of the hills and mountains in the far distance seemed to be blanketed in snow as much as the roads and flat plains were. The whole country seemed like a true winter wonderland.

"Got everything you need? Warm clothes? Food? Knives and your sword?" Chiya asked, bringing up a whole checklist of essentials in her head.
"Yeah, I made doubly sure I packed everything when I woke up this morning. I'm all set to go!" Yachi assured.
"Alright. Try to be back in no more than seven days. It really shouldn't take you more than five. Secure a deal for the Spring and Summer yields and report anything else that might be of interest to us. And don't go around telling everyone you're from the Senkumo clan either! The Ashikaga still lurks around the area, so you'll only make yourself a target."
"Chiya, stop worrying about me so much. I'll be fine. I'll try to be back in five days. I might even bring you a cool souvenir!"
"You're the last person I'd expect to know about anything that's cool! Now go!" Chiya commanded with a smile, smacking the horse's behind to get it going down the dirt road.
"Have a safe trip, Yachi! Stay warm out there! I love you!"
"See you soon, Chiya! Love you too!"

Chiya watched as the horse carried her off into the sunrise, the breeze fluttering her hair in every direction. She couldn't help but feel relieved and a little proud of her sister. She was finally going on her own adventure.

Senkumo War Stories: Down the Hozu River
Spoiler
Delicate blankets of snow covered the land for as far as Yachi could see. Enchanted by the gentle snowfall, she reached out her hand as her horse trotted along the dirt road, catching snowflakes in her palm. The clouds seemed to stretch across the entire sky unbroken by light or space, hanging low above Yachi's head. The low hills in the distance brought a sense of wave-like rhythm to the farmland all around her, like an endless ocean of white. She removed the gourd hanging off the side of her saddle and took a few sips of water from it. Her eyebrows shot up as she felt solid fragments of ice pass through her lips.

"It's already starting to freeze? It's only been about an hour since I left." Yachi pondered.

She slung the gourd back over the saddle and wiped her mouth with the sleeve of her robe, looking on at the road ahead. She spotted an elderly couple taking a walk along the side of the road, sharing a red oil-paper umbrella to shield themselves from the snow. Yachi pulled on her reins, stopping the horse in front of the couple.

"Pardon me, I'm traveling to Kameyama. Should I continue down this road, or is there a faster way to get there?" Yachi politely questioned.
"Oh, Kameyama's your destination? You can take the road if you like, but if you take make the right at the fork here, it'll lead you to a small dock on the Hozu river. You can take a boat ride along the river while they escort your horse to the village." the old man explained.
"They ride boats along the Hozu river?! Really?!" Yachi asked in disbelief, enthralled by the idea.
"They sure do! It's an especially wonderful ride during the autumn. The river is very calm and safe to ride for most of the year, too." the old woman added.
"Thank you! I'll try out the boat ride! Safe journeys to you!" Yachi cheered with her head bowed.
"Safe journeys!" the couple replied in unison, waving goodbye as Yachi trotted down the road.

Fireworks of excitement exploded in Yachi's palms. She was already happy enough to be traveling to Kameyama by herself, but learning she could ride a boat there made her trip even more exciting for her. Though some of the other Senkumo mansions closer to the coast had purchased boats, Tsukiakari's mansion had no reason to invest in such things. Being able to move large forces quickly across great expanses of land required the war goddess to turn her attention to horses, part of the reason why she brought the Otonougi twins in. Even if it was just a small boat gliding over a gentle river, Yachi couldn't contain her excitement for the mere idea of riding in it.

Shortly after making the advised right at the road's fork, Yachi began seeing more and more people walking around, even spotting some children playing in the snow. Young men in straw hats hauled baskets of produce on their backs, carrying them in the same direction Yachi was traveling. Looking over to her right, Yachi observed the dozens of men and women in the fields, still tending to their plantations. It all reminded her of her youth in Kyoto, raising animals and tending to some of the crops with her sister.

"Even in the wintertime, there's still work to be done in the fields. Certain vegetables can still be grown in this season if the soil has been prepared for it" Yachi said to herself, recalling what she learned as a child. "I'm glad I took this trip."

The next two hours of travel brought Yachi to a snow-covered grove just short of the Hozu river. She could already hear the whisper of rushing water in the distance. Sighing in relief, she ran her hands through her hair and hopped off of her horse. After over three hours of travel on top of her saddle, her body desperately needed the brief respite. Her feet sunk into the crunchy blanket of snow as they landed on the ground. She lifted her right arm into the air and bent her upper body to the left, groaning as she did so.

"Sitting on a saddle for three hours really is a killer on your behind. I think I'll walk the rest of the way."

And so, Yachi marched her horse down the grove, towards the sound of the Hozu river. She repeatedly yawned and rubbed her trembling eyes with her knuckle, finally starting to feel the effects of her travel now that she was on her feet. All she could think about was getting in a boat and enjoying a nice cruise down the river, as well as how nice it was of the elderly couple to give her such useful advice. With all her yawning, Yachi didn't think she would've survived riding any longer on the main road.

When the Hozu river finally came into her view, her tired eyes found their energy again, and a smile pushed her cheeks upwards. The river's current gently slithered between a maze of rocks protruding from the water, and all of the trees hanging off of the forested hills were stiff with ice. The hills hugged closely to both sides of the river, creating a snug hallway of frost-covered trees.

"Oh! I get it now! This must be Arashiyama!" Yachi proclaimed.

She then spotted an old, bald-headed man stepping onto a small boat by the dock the elderly couple mentioned, rushing towards him with her horse.

"Hey! You there!" Yachi shouted, getting the old man's attention. He wiped the snowflakes off of his black robes and bowed to Yachi as she approached.
"You look exhausted!" the old man observed. "Are you looking for a boat ride?"
"Yes! Are you heading to Kameyama?"
"I sure am! You can leave your horse here. My son will escort it safely to Kameyama."

A much younger man approached from behind and bowed, his short black hair riddles with snowflakes. He was a towering young man with a muscular physique, gladly aiding his father in the business.

"Two mon for the ride, and two for the horse service!" the old man declared.
"Sure thing!" Yachi cheered, reaching for her coin pouch and paying both the old man and his son.
"Alright, it's settled! Hop aboard, young miss. Have you ever been down the Hozu before?" the old man asked.
"No, never! This will be my first time, so I'm really excited! How long is it from here to Kameyama?"
"A little under two hours. I recommend bringing some water and a snack with you, something to tide you over until we get there." the old man suggested.
"Ah, a wise idea! I'll bring my gourd and dried fruits." Yachi said as she gathered those items out of the saddlebag. "Please take care of the horse." she said, bowing to the boat master's son.
"You can count on me." the son assured.

With everything ready and their transaction complete, Yachi and the old man were off, smoothly gliding downriver. The old man steered and controlled the boat's speed with a long oar, guiding the boat down every twist and turn. Yachi looked on at the surrounding hills and the rocks crowning at the river's shore with an exhilarated smile. The river itself had a certain aroma about it. It was like she could actually smell every element of the outdoors. The water, the snow, the frosted wood, the soaked rocks, all of it. She reached her hand over the boat and down into the river, instantly recoiling and giggling as the water chilled her fingers.

"Ah! It's so cold!" Yachi laughed.
"Yep, the river gets especially cold during the winter. Take care you don't numb your fingers, alright Miss?" the old man advised.
"Sure thing! I'll be careful."

There was a whole world outside of the Senkumo mansion, waiting to surprise and entice with its simplistic beauty. Yachi couldn't help but contrast this newfound peace to the continuous chaos back at base. There were no battles here. No deaths, no mob trials or executions. No sorrow, hatred, or guilt. There was only the sound of flowing water, gentle breeze that chilled her cheeks, and snowflakes that fell from the heavens like flower petals.

I bet this would be a great place to take the children. Maybe Sis and I could arrange a field trip for them, she thought as she closed her eyes, drifting off into a tranquil nap.

"So, Miss, what are your plans for Kameyama?" the old man asked.

After a few seconds of silence, he looked back at his passenger, seeing that she had fallen asleep with a subtle grin on her face.

"Sleep tight, Miss." he whispered with a smile.

The outdoors ambiance that lulled Yachi to sleep woke her up just two hours later. The raspy honks of seven red-crowned cranes resting by the snowy waterside pulled her right out of her slumber. She immediately sat up after realizing she had been asleep, catching a glimpse of the cranes as the boat passed them by.

"You're awake?" the old man asked. "We've just about arrived at Kameyama. See? There's your horse!"

Yachi rubbed her heavy eyes to clear up her vision, her head still spinning from being awakened so suddenly. The familiar neighs of her horse drew her eyes towards the old man's son, who waited at the Kameyama shore for Yachi's arrival. Yachi stood up as the old man docked the boat, leaping onto shore with a satisfied smile.

"You took care of him! I hope he wasn't too hostile to you. He doesn't take kindly to strangers." Yachi advised more than two hours later than she should have.
"Oh! Not at all! He's a very well-behaved steed. Did you train him yourself?" the son asked.
"I sure did! I..."Yachi stopped herself, remembering not to tell anyone about the Senkumo clan. "Horse breeding and training were hammered into my head ever since childhood. My parents worked with animals."
"Boy, stop yapping with our patron and get us some food! We're going upriver in two hours!" the old man commanded.
"Right away, sir! Thank you for your patronage, Miss! Please, enjoy your time at Kameyama." the son said with a quick bow.
"Thank you both! The ride was amazing! Safe travels!" Yachi cheered as she waved farewell.
"Farewell, Miss! It was a pleasure." the old man saluted as his soon waved goodbye.

Yachi walked her horse up the dirt path leading away from Hozu river, sighing with relief and exhilaration as it began to sink in that she really traveled to Kameyama in a boat. She could hear the faint sound of wood being chopped in the fishing village a little further downriver, the view blocked by a wall of bonsai and leafless maple trees to her right. She continued up the road with her horse until they reached a clearing, where the road diverged down multiple directions. It was there that her breath was taken away by the mere sight of Kameyama. Great, timeless mountains served as the backdrop for the town, all of them white with snow. Far ahead of her were the dark, wooden buildings and slanted, straw roofs she expected, serving as homes and places of business. Several people walked down every direction of the diverging paths, all of them transporting bamboo, wood, grain, and other valuable materials for the winter. She simply stood in silence, awed by the simple but effective beauty of Kameyama.

"It's even more beautiful than I thought it would be..." Yachi whispered, noticing she could see her own breath as the snow began to fall a little heavier. "Okay, don't get distracted, Yachi! For the first two days, we're on official Senkumo business. Firstly, I'm to find lodging, both for me and the horse. I should eat well and sleep early tonight. I'm supposed to negotiate for yields at first daylight. Still...I can't help but be a little excited!"

As if responding in kind, Yachi's horse gushed air through its nostrils and shook the snow out of its hair. She petted his face and the bridge of his nose, looking on towards the snow-blanketed town.

"Kameyama, here I am!"


Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #406 on: June 02, 2018, 11:18:26 PM »
Senkumo War Stories: Springtime in Winter
Spoiler
Weary from her travel, Yachi marched down the road into the heart of the quiet town of Kameyama, eager to find a caretaker for her horse. Almost everyone she walked by was tightly wrapped in colorful kimonos, using their oil-paper umbrellas to keep the snow at bay. Merchants to her left and right beckoned their potential customers, hoping to sell them chopped wood for their fireplaces, oil for their furnaces, and bundles of straw to reinforce their rooftops against the snow. Yachi continued down the road, delighted by the cheers and hollers booming from the inside of the bar to her right, where the men gathered to drink hot sake together. She returned her gaze to the road, spotting the town stables just a few steps ahead.

"Here we are! This is gonna be your stop, big boy." Yachi said to her horse, which responded by blowing more air through its nose. "What? Don't give me that face. They'll take good care of you, I promise. Just don't give them a hard time, alright?"

Yachi passed through the opened gate with her horse, greeted first by a large, wide-open space for the horses to exercise. Across from her was the barn house where the horses stayed, safe from the piling snow. Yachi turned her head to her immediate left, noticing a middle-aged lady inside of what seemed to be an administrative building. The lady smiled as she spotted Yachi through the doorway of the building, folding loose strands from her head of sable hair behind her ear. She walked towards the door and put on her sandals before coming outside to meet Yachi. Her bright red kimono made her stand out like a drop of blood among the pure white snow.

"Hello!" the lady sang. "How may I help you?"
"Hi, I'm looking to get this big boy some shelter for the next four days. I'm here on business and need someone to look after him." Yachi explained.
"Of course! We have plenty of room for him. May I get your name?"
"Yachi Otonougi."
"A pleasure, Yachi. Come inside with me and I'll have my husband take your horse to the stables."
"I appreciate it, Ma'am." Yachi said as she politely bowed.

The two went back inside, leaving their sandals at the door. The lady, though adorably small, proved her voice to be thunderous as she yelled out for her husband.

"Dear, we have a customer! Her horse is out front!" she shouted.

The sliding doors across from the entrance flung open, releasing the smell of steamed pork dumplings into the rest of the building. An older man came rushing out, his silver hair neatly combed backwards. His beard covered most of his chin and lips, somewhat masking his smile as he bowed to Yachi.

"Welcome! My name is Reo, and this is my wife, Hinata. We'll be taking care of your horse together." he said.
"Thank you. Please treat him well." Yachi said, bowing to Reo.

While Reo ran off to retrieve the horse, Hinata returned to the service counter and withdrew a piece of parchment from the drawer.

"Yachi, was it? You said you'd like the horse to stay here for four days?" Hinata asked.
"Yes, that's right. What are you rates for the wintertime?"
"Normally, it's more expensive during the winter when our stables are packed. This year has been pretty light, so we won't be charging you much. It's 60 mon per day. Multiplied, by four, that's 240 mon." Hinata explained.
"Oh, that's excellent! I thought it would be a lot more expensive." Yachi cheered.
"Does your horse have any conditions, illnesses, or allergies?"
"Nope, he's perfectly healthy. He just gets a little antsy if he's left alone for a long time, so please be sure to give him lots of attention and time to play."
"Will do!" Hinata replied as she jotted down Yachi's and her horse's info onto the parchment with her fountain pen.
"Ummm...excuse me for asking, but this is my first time in Kameyama. Do you know the best place for me to find lodging? I'd like to keep this trip as cost effective as possible."
"Oh, I see! When you leave here, make a left and keep walking until you get to Yamazaki's Inn. It's only 200 mon per night. There's another inn if you take a right and go up the hill. They have hot springs, a dining area, and bigger rooms for 600 mon per night. Yamazaki's is great if you're just making a short trip, but the winter is expected to get even colder here. I'd honestly spend the money and have access to a kotatsu and hot springs." Hinata explained.
"I guess you're right." Yachi sighed with a smile. "I'm gonna have to just spend the money. Thank you for the advice."
"No problem! Would you like to pay by the day or pay all at once?"
"Oh, I'll pay all at once. I might not have the time to come down every day."

Yachi withdrew two stringed bundles of 100 mon each, as well as 40 loose mon from her bag, handing them to Hinata.

"Four days from now, I'll be here in the morning to pick him up." Yachi said.
"Understood. We'll have him all ready for your return. Thank you for your patronage, and enjoy your visit to Kameyama. Stay warm out there!" Hinata cheered, bowing goodbye to Yachi.
"I'll try, thank you!" Yachi sang as she waved goodbye.

With that out of the way, Yachi departed from the stables and marched back onto the streets. She yawned as she stretched her arms up into the air. All that was left was to check herself into the inn.

"Make a right and up the hill, she said." Yachi recalled to herself.

As she began her walk, she came to a startled stop as two heavily armored guards turned onto her street, both of them carrying sheathed blades at their hips. Their breastplates were made of fastened leather, while their faulds consisted of small plates of steel connected by leather strings. Yachi took one glance at their flat, disc-shaped hats as they walked by her, noting the Ashikaga clan crest decorating them. Her heart rate shot up and her veins pulsated wildly in her wrists. Instinctively, she reached her for the short blade hidden beneath her robes, stopping herself only as they passed by her without a word.

"Ashikaga presence here is light, but they're finely equipped for the winter." Yachi observed. "Sis was right. I ought to be careful here."

With a sigh of relief, Yachi continued up the road and into the hill, reaching the inn Hinata spoke of. From the outside, the inn resembled the fierce and majestic appearance of a castle with its multi-storied structure and curved rooftops. Situated on the hill, the inn was surrounded by a variety of trees and shrubs, all of them coated in snow and icicles. Two cheery trees decorated the entrance with most of their blossoms gone, leaving its remaining buds trapped in ice. Interestingly, there were several tanuki statues sitting at the entrance, fully colored and smiling at guests.

Yachi opened the front door and walked inside, triggering the customer bell above her head. Red paper lanterns hung on the walls, illuminating and warming the interior. Yachi left her sandals at the door and walked inside, emerging into the reception area from the entrance hallway. Though it was a given that much of the structure was made of wood, Yachi took notice of how clean and polished the wooden floors were in the lobby. It smelled only of green tea and strong incense, with no noticeable flaw or blemish on the interior. The ceiling was high and the lobby spacious, forcing an excited smile on Yachi's face.

Yachi was then immediately greeted by a young woman in a fancifully colorful kimono. The woman's chestnut colored hair was kept in a neat bun as she bowed and welcomed Yachi inside, smiling all the while.

"Good evening, and welcome!" The young woman greeted.
"Good evening! I'd like to rent a room here for four days. I'm in Kameyama on business. Do you have a room for one?" Yachi asked.
"We do indeed. Would you like to see the rooms we have available? I can give you a tour while we're here, if you wish." the young woman temptingly offered.
"I'd love a tour! I was just at the stables down the road and the lady there sang your praises! I heard you have hot springs available here?"
"Yes we do! Come, I'll show you."

The young woman guided Yachi down the hall, opening a sliding door leading to a small, snow-covered garden. As they stepped outside, Yachi was startled by the sharp sound of bamboo striking a rock, as well as the sounds of water splashing. She looked over to the left, noticing the bamboo rocking fountain in the middle of the garden.

"Ah, during the spring and summer, we get deer here and they like to graze the plants and eat the fruit. We use the rocking fountain to scare them away. It's called a shishi-odoshi." the woman explained.
"Ohhh! I haven't seen those in a while! I helped my parents build one of those when I was a child!" Yachi gleefully recalled.
"Of course, its winter, so we've taken all of our fruits inside and potted whatever flowers we could."
"Oh, would you guys happen to have any Azaleas potted?" Yachi asked.
"Azaleas? I don't believe so, but there's several florists in town that most likely have some azaleas. You should try asking them." the woman advised.
"Thank you! I think I will, whenever I have the time."

The woman guided her through another sliding door into a separate building. Cubbyholes containing pairs of rolled, white towels stood tall in the center of the room. Two more sliding doors, one directly ahead and another to the left, remained closed.

"This is where you pick up your towels. The larger towels are for your body, for when you need to dry off. The other, much smaller towel is a modesty towel." the woman explained.
"Ohh, to cover your privates. Wait, so...do I cover my breasts, or do I cover down there?" Yachi asked.
"Down there. The hot springs are split by gender, so you'll only be surrounded by women. Normally, your fellow women won't mind if your breasts are exposed, but please be sure to cover your genitalia."
"Ah, alright. Got you." Yachi replied with a nod.
"The door directly ahead leads you to the women's hot springs, and the door to the left is the women's changing room. There are cubbyholes in there for you as well, so you can fold your clothes and leave them there."

The woman opened the door to the hot spring, the first Yachi had ever seen. It was a natural hot spring situated outdoors, the steam clearly visible in the cold air. Several women soaked and conversed in its warm waters, giving brief glances to Yachi and the woman as they walked by. As badly as Yachi wanted to stop and take in the sight of the hot spring itself, she was all too aware what that would look like with several naked women bathing in it. As such, she contained her excitement, giggling and squealing under her breath.

"Here is the women's hot spring. The men's section is much further down, so you have a great amount of privacy here. We also have a women's indoor bath if you don't like being outside. The same rules of modesty apply there." the woman explained.
"This is so cool! I've never been to a natural hot spring before! The steam is so refreshing in this season too!" Yachi cheered.
"I'm glad you like it! You can come here whenever you like. Access to the hot spring is free to all paying customers. Now let's show you to your room."
"Yes please!" Yachi sang, noticing even more tanuki statues around the entrance to the towel room. "You guys sure have a lot of tanuki statues here, you know", she giggled.
"Oh, that's because they like to visit sometimes. Have you ever seen them in person? They're like little raccoon-dogs!"
"Really? They sound so cute!" Yachi laughed.

Making their way back into the lobby, the woman quickly pointed to the large room across from the reception desk, its floor covered with tatami mats rather than bare wood. The room was lined with several round tables, and unsurprisingly, more tanuki statues sitting in the center of each table.

"This is the dining area. We serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner here. We also have alcoholic drinks available if you wish to order some, though they will cost you extra."

The woman then guided Yachi upstairs, walking her past several rooms until they reached a sliding door at the end of the hall.

"This is one of the rooms we have available for you. You don't share walls with anyone here, so you'll have the most privacy." the woman explained, opening the sliding doors.

Yachi stepped inside, wowed by the amount of open space and cleanliness present. It was as if the room was brand new, untouched by anyone until that very moment. A beautiful assortment of pink and blue hydrangea decorated the top of the kotatsu in the center of the room. A sliding door partitioned a smaller room with a futon and several blankets, meant to be one's bedroom and personal quarters.

"Every room is fitted with a kotatsu during this season. You'll be able to stay warm while you read or eat. A smaller room is available for you for when you want to sleep. This room is going for 600 mon per night, but since you're new here, we'd be happy to give you a rate of 525 mon per night as a special thanks for choosing to stay here." the woman explained.
"This is perfect for me! I'll take this room and the special rate! Oh man, I can't wait until I can dip myself into the hot spring!" Yachi squealed with red cheeks and stars in her eyes.
"Excellent! You're going to enjoy your stay here, Miss. Everyone that's come here has only ever said good things. So then, can I get your name?" the woman asked.

With a big huff and an even bigger smile, Yachi proudly told the woman her name, fully glad to be living in the moment.

"Yachi Otonougi! Please take good care of me!"

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #407 on: June 15, 2018, 10:50:54 PM »
Senkumo War Stories: Her Morning
Spoiler
Having paid for her room and completed all of her tasks for the day, Yachi readied herself for bed. Standing at the foot of her futon, she plopped her travel bag down on the floor and withdrew her black jinbei from it. She loosened her obi, reaching inside of her robes and removing her hidden short blade. Sighing as she set the sheathed blade beside her bag, Yachi pulled her robes off of her shoulders, letting them fall at her feet. She held up her wrist, gazing at her beaded bracelet with a smile.

"My first time sleeping in a Kameyama inn, during the winter no less." she whispered.

Yachi then sat down on the futon and put on her jinbei, her mind focused on the tasks of tomorrow. A small part of her felt uneasy having confirmed the presence of Ashikaga soldiers in the area. It only highlighted how vital it was that she kept her ties to the Senkumo clan as discreet as possible.

"Tsukiakari was right. The Senkumo clan has enemies everywhere. In the worst case scenario, it wouldn't be too hard for the Ashikaga to barge into this room and arrest me. I wonder if this is what she went through for all those years when she was our commanding lord. Gekko worked hard to keep us all safe from our foes, didn't she..."

With her jinbei on and her eyes heavy with exhaustion, Yachi let out a long, tiresome yawn. She blew out her bedside lantern and laid down in her futon, her face caressed by the moonlight faintly passing through her paper window.

"Early day tomorrow..." she muttered, drifting off into her slumber.

Much like her snowy journey through high hills and flat plains, her first night sleeping in Kameyama was nothing short of tranquil bliss. The first rays of sunlight broke through the easternmost windows of her room, scattering the darkness that lulled her to sleep. Her eyes slowly peeled open, her vision blurred. She sat up in her futon, yawning as she stretched out her arms. The first stretch of the morning was cathartic, releasing all the pressure and stiffness in her shoulders and back. She opened her bedside window, resting her arms on the sill as she watched the snow gently tumble from their clouds. Though the sun had emerged to awaken her, she knew it would surely hide behind the clouds again, shying from her yearning eyes like an elusive lover.

There was something unspeakably divine about the cold darkness of winter. She had always favored the spring and summer, and not even the previous winter changed that preference. It was this particular winter, this icy paradise before her, that showed her the beauty in darkness. Then suddenly, her belly let out an embarrassing growl from beneath her jinbei, as if screaming at Yachi to get some breakfast.

"I'm starving...but I don't quite have time for breakfast right now. I need to meet the farmer today and talk to him about his yields." she said to herself, her stomach angrily growling in response. "Pull through, stomach! I promise we'll get some food, but we've got work to do first."

With that, Yachi got herself out of her jinbei and back into her black robes. Like yesterday, she hid her short blade beneath her robes in case she ran into any trouble. Within a half our, she was all set and out the door, leaving her belongings behind in her room. Knowing the other patrons of the inn would still be asleep at that early hour, she walked sneaked through the halls and down the stairs into the lobby. It seemed hardly anyone was awake yet, as even the lobby was completely empty.

She departed from the inn and descended the hill, following the frosty dirt road back into town. Just as she thought, the clouds soon blocked the sun, snuffing out its deep orange rays of morning light. She continued straight down the road instead of making the right into the heart of the town. This route took her through the snow-coated farmlands, where several plantations were lined up against both sides of the road. Some plantations were larger than others, while some even had small houses built on them, implying peasants could own some land in this town. Yachi examined the gleam of flowing water in the distance to her right, towards the direction of the Hozu river. The water started as a single stream, cutting into the bottom of the rice plantation. It branched out into several smaller streams, stretching across the rice plantation like veins in one's hand. The streams naturally sectioned off parts of the plantation, cutting it up into a series of tiny islands rather than a single, solid piece of land.

"So this area is part of a polder? That explains why the heart of town is at a slightly higher elevation." Yachi whispered to herself, squatting down to examine the soil. "Peat. Lots of it. I thought it might be a good idea to help them collect excess peat and use it for fuel, but that might be a little too dangerous. Something tells me a town that depends so heavily on wood for their construction of buildings ought to stay away from a heat source as volatile as peat. Hmmm..." Yachi continued, talking quietly to herself.

Yachi stood up, looking around her as she rubbed her chin, her mind running laps in her head.

"It would be nice if we bartered with the farming community as a whole here, instead of paying a single farmer and his workers for yields. Wait!" Yachi shouted, snapping her fingers. "I've got it!"
"Got what?" a man suddenly asked her.

Startled, Yachi gasped in surprise. She turned around and met eyes with a short, middle aged man in a straw hat and grey jinbei. His thick eyebrows and narrow eyes gave him a slightly intimidating expression, as if he was angry or suspicious of her. He stood a bit taller her with his back perfectly straight, impressively good posture for a wetlands farmer.

"Oh, you must be...Jinbei..." Yachi said as she scanned the man's appearance. She understood immediately why he referred to himself as Jinbei in his letter.
"Yes, a terrible name, I know. Please understand, I must remain anonymous when dealing with your clan. The Ashikaga aren't exactly friends with you, I assume." Jinbei quipped. "So, you're interested in my yields?"
"Yes, that's why I came. I understand you can grow an exorbitant amount of rice, as well as a variety of fruits and vegetables. The Senkumo clan would like to arrange a deal for a portion of these yields. For the most part, our forces seek grain and vegetables." Yachi explained.
"I can supply you with at least seven sacks of rice, and that's if the yield is unfavorable. Under optimal conditions, I can supply you with twice that amount. We have an assortment of vegetables here, but I'm afraid I must limit your selection on those. The Ashikaga, you see. They've enforced quotas on most of the vegetable yields to be given to their forces." Jinbei sighed.
"That's fine." Yachi instantly replied. "What vegetables can you offer us? We'll take anything we can get."
"I can give you around a two dozen sugar beets, two and a half dozen heads of cabbage, some turnips, and radishes. During the winter, I can also supply six sacks of potatoes. I'd give you much more if the Ashikaga weren't breathing down our necks. Of course, I expect a respectable sum in exchange for the crops."

Yachi examined the farmlands around her, particularly the peat at her feet. Her eyes surveyed the corn stalks swaying in the breeze and the few farmers out in the fields, shoveling heaps of snow on top of their soil beds. It quickly dawned on her that Jinbei either wasn't thinking the entire transaction through, or he was being dishonest.

"You mean to tell me you can move that amount of produce, undetected by the Ashikaga?" Yachi curiously asked. "A respectable sum is that last thing you need right now. In fact, it's going to be difficult to explain the sudden boom in income to the Ashikaga, isn't it?"
"I have a team of young farmers in my employment. They're capable of moving the produce you desire. You also don't need to worry about the money. I can keep it hidden should the Ashikaga come knocking upon my door." Jinbei confidently responded.
"Jinbei..." Yachi groaned, pinching the bridge of her nose. "I cannot complete such a politically sensitive transaction like this, not off of the back of a single farmer's word alone. You're going to be smuggling supplies to a clan that is currently at war with the Ashikaga. I must be certain that the logistics match the gravity of the situation. So, Jinbei, here's what I see happening."

Yachi pointed her finger to the decayed soil all around them, carelessly shoveled to the edge of each plantation. Jinbei wore a perplexed expression, failing to understand Yachi's point.

"The dead soil? What about it?" Jinbei questioned.
"You need logistical support. The Senkumo clan can provide it. Our men can enter the town undercover as your employees. They can smuggle the produce within the peat and bring it back to base. The Ashikaga aren't going to be very suspicious of carts of peat leaving the town. If we play this ruse right, we can smuggle out much more produce than you originally advertised. The Ashikaga won't suspect a thing. In exchange for keeping your neck safe from an Ashikaga blade, I suggest you lower your expectations of monetary reward and accept our logistical support as part of your payment. We are going through the trouble of sending our own men to labor on your farm, making it healthier in the process. Or, should you refuse, the Senkumo can contact a dozen other land owners and just ask them for a share of their crops. It would be a much safer and simpler deal."
"...You're just like all the other bands of uncivilized mercenaries out there. Shrewd until the very end." Jinbei hissed. "That root evil in you never changes, no matter if your master is a god or a man."
"The deal, Jinbei." Yachi growled with furrowed eyebrows.

The two stared each other down, neither of them blinking or moving an inch. They remained locked onto each other's eyes for several minutes. Neither wanted to stand down. Ultimately, Jinbei sighed and averted his gaze as he conceded the negotiation. He couldn't dare risk upsetting the Senkumo, a clan he knew already was filled with evil.

"Fine. I accept the arrangement. We'll need at least eight of your men to smuggle the goods out of town. Four of them will handle the peat carriages." Jinbei groaned.
"Thank you, Jinbei. They'll also be acting as your bodyguards, so you won't have to worry about the big bad Ashikaga knocking on your door. I'll inform our higher-ups what we've agreed upon here. In the meantime, you are to keep this meeting a secret. I wouldn't consider it above you to cry wolf to the Ashikaga in hopes of getting out of one deal and into another. You may have remained anonymous, but we know where your property is. Remember that." Yachi threatened with an innocent smile and bright tone of voice.

In respect of their newfound arrangement, Yachi and Jinbei bowed their heads to each other and went their separate ways. Yachi sauntered back the way she came, letting out a long sigh as she returned to the heart of town. It was like a weight had lifted off of her shoulders and neck, and she was free to let loose. She stopped just outside the riotous town bar, leaning against its front wall as she stretched out her arms.

"I was really hoping I wouldn't have to threaten someone just to make a damned deal. I guess that's not always possible, is it?" Yachi asked herself. Despite the tension of the negotiation, a gleeful smile slowly carved itself onto her chilled face, reddened by the cold. "Regardless, the job is done. Now all I have to do is have a good time and find some azaleas! I can't wait to see Chiya's face when I come back home!"

Just as she was getting all excited about her surprise, two young men suddenly barged out of the bar, looking around for whoever they thought could help them. As soon as they spotted Yachi, they called out to her with their labored breath and sweating faces.

"Hey, you there!" One of them called out, startling the unsuspecting Yachi.
"Huh? Can I...help you?" Yachi asked, shocked and terrified.
"We need help eating Kobayashi's Insurmountable Sukiyaki! We only need one more person to join us! Want to help? It's free food!" the other man excitedly explained.
"Insurmountable...Sukiyaki?!" Yachi asked with stars in her eyes. Sukiyaki was all she needed to hear after such a cold and busy morning. Of course, the cherry on top of such a sweet sound was the word 'free'. Without even much thought behind it, Yachi accepted with the same amount of energy the men had.
"I'll do it! Let's conquer this Insufferable Sukiyaki!" she shouted, clearly already forgetting the name of the dish.

A full day of wonder and winter fun awaited her. What better way to start than with a hot pot full of Sukiyaki?


Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #408 on: June 19, 2018, 11:13:37 PM »
Okay, I've been getting this question quite a bit

So...About the "Other" Izanami in the Crypt...
Spoiler
This is a twist I've been implementing the build up to in the main story, and revealed fully in Book of Phantoms. At one point, there were two Izanami's alive at the same time. One, the pale-skinned, walking corpse you all know and love, and the other alive and well.

Izanami was said to have died after giving birth to Kagutsuchi, a birth which resulted in her being engulfed by flames and burnt into just a little more than a skeleton. Grief stricken, Izanagi decapitated the infant Kagutsuchi in his rage, but was surprised to find that this didn't kill the child. The decapitation only resulted in the brief release of Kagu's Onibi, a supernatural 'soul flame' in Japanese mythology. This soul flame would later grow far more powerful in Senkumo War Stories and become the Tempest Flame, fueled by Kagutsuchi's rage and jealousy towards Tsukiakari. This flame returned into the infant's body after its brief showing and Kagutsuchi's wounds healed just as Izanami's would heal in the main story. Izanami's charred corpse was interred into a crypt Izanagi and Mizuhame constructed.

Unable to cope with the loss of his wife, Izanagi ventured into Yomi to get Izanami back, only to find her in a rotten state and flee from her, as the classic Shinto story goes. Izanagi sealed the entrance to Yomi with a boulder and the two had a heated argument that ended in their divorce, completing the separation of Life and Death. Mizuhame would later try a second attempt at retrieving her mother, but she died in the perilous journey through Yomi (hence why Osamu would later find Mizuhame's gourd in the Underworld). And then Izanagi was killed off by Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi since he was effectively broken and useless following his divorce from Izanami. The corpses of both were retrieved and placed in the crypt with Izanami's remains.

All the while, unknown to anyone else, Izanami's remains were actually slowly regenerating inside of the crypt. After all, Izanami's body came from a point in time when death was not really a thing yet. The thing is, Izanami never really "died" per se. Her body was severely damaged to the point of unresponsiveness, but she never actually passed away because her "death" occurred during a time when the concept of Death was still incomplete (she was the one in charge of creating it, after all  :ninja:) Hence why Izanagi can get murdered but Izanami can revive. The former's death occurred after Izanami completed Death as a form of revenge against her husband.

Anyway, the corpse heals over the years until Izanami is back to her old self again, only to find she's been locked in a crypt with her family's remains. I know this all sounds convoluted, but this is actually based off yet another aspect of Japanese mythology.

There's this kind of supernatural being called an Ikiryo (lit. "Living Spirit"). This is the soul of a person who has not died that has escaped from the body. This is opposed to a soul escaping from the body of a person who is deceased. The spirit takes on the form and shape of its originator and can be malicious, good, or just wander around possessing people to trick another person into falling in love with them (<--- This was actually a story in Japanese mythology. Hilarious stuff.)

Ikiryo was later thought to be a sort of supernatural illness during the Edo period. This was called Rikonbyou, "Soul-Separation Illness" or Kage no Yamai, "Shadow-Sickness". This phenomenon occurred when part of the soul of a living person would separate from the body and take the form of the sufferer, unbeknownst to them. This basically resulted in a doppleganger effect where there would be two of someone living at the same time. This is essentially what happened to Izanami. Her "death" during a time when death didn't fully exist resulted in her being afflicted by Shadow Sickness instead of her, you know, dying.

In the end, the real Izanami would sacrifice herself by using her body as a vessel for the then-bodyless Kagutsuchi, while the Phantom Izanami would continue to live, assuming the form and identity of the woman that spawned her. No one was ever able to kill Phantom Izanami because of this, nor were they able to kill Kagutsuchi despite her gaining a body after Death was a thing. Originally, no one found any of this out, but The End of Osamu Ashikaga is being greatly changed and expanded upon to include everyone finding out Izanami's dirty little secret.

These events forced Phantom Izanami to do much more than just assume the identity of the real Izanami. She really had to become her. A dead, vengeful, and then loving version of her. It's why she values the concept of names so highly. It's why she fought so hard to redeem the identity she sullied, the identity given to her by her originator.

So, is the Izanami we meet in the very first chapter of Aika Crisis actually Izanami? Well...not...really? Maybe? Yes? It really depends on how you feel about it. It's all about how you define Izanami. It certainly doesn't matter to Osamu. Be it the real Izanami or a phantom husk that simply took her form, he loves her for the person that she strived to define herself as.




This twist was originally meant to be applied to Osamu  :clapping: Lucrezia was originally meant to afflict Osamu with the Soul Separation Illness in order to create the same effect. The fake Osamu would act in the real one's stead following his defeat during the Inari Standoff. The real Osamu would be hidden away out of the country, healing and lying low from the people who wanted him dead following the incident (LITERALLY EVERYONE). The fake would carry out his will and die in his place.

However, it was decided that this was just a slap in the face for Osamu's character development. I didn't want the last thing he ever truly did to be to run away from his life and family knowing that a decoy would take care of anything anyway. It was better to give it to Izanami. That way, the story would be about...well...the end of Osamu Ashikaga and how that changes him. Then the twist could provide a separate conflict that serves as the underlying fuel for all of her insecurities displayed throughout the story.
« Last Edit: June 19, 2018, 11:19:36 PM by OhGodHelpMe »

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #409 on: July 08, 2018, 08:18:46 PM »
Senkumo War Stories: Kobayashi's Insurmountable Sukiyaki
Spoiler
Yachi was rushed inside of the dimly lit town bar by the two excited men. Both of them seemed to be young with cleanly shaven faces. One of them wore a wool cap on top of his head, and the other donned a small, straw hat. The rowdy and jeering crowd of men and women were all ready to see the latest attempt at Kobayashi's Insurmountable Sukiyaki, expecting nothing but hilarious failure and a good story to tell afterwards. The interior was made almost entirely out of wood, including the flooring and support Y-shaped support beams evenly spaced across the building. The bartender was sandwiched between his long, wide desk and the several wine grids behind him. Corked bottles of sake rested in the wine grid, ready to be served to the already rambunctious patrons. The electric, screaming energy of the bar flooded into Yachi as she looked around at everyone's smiling, cocky faces. Infected by everyone's jovial mood, Yachi herself couldn't help but grin.

The man in the wool cap took Yachi by the hand, bringing her front and center in front of the crowd. The two stood on top of an unoccupied table for two, using it as a pedestal from which to address the crowd. Yachi chuckled as she realized they were both standing on the table like two drunken idiots, all while the man raised his hands to shush the crowd.

"Quiet down, ladies, quiet down!" he mocked. "As you can see, we've found our third partner in crime here, Ms..." he said in a hanging tone, prompting Yachi to introduce herself.
"Yachi!" she shouted.
"Yachi, beautiful name! A year ago when me and my brother said we were going to attempt Kobayashi's challenge, you all laughed at us! Well I don't hear you ugly mutts laughing now!" he jeered, garnering taunts and insults from the riled crowd. "We're going to conquer Kobayashi's Insurmountable Ramen or die trying!"

His brother removed his straw hat and held it out in front of the audience, revealing his buzz cut. While his brother seemed to play the part of the provocative loudmouth, he used their anger to get them to forfeit their coin in the form of bets.

"Place your bets, people, place your bets! Will Yachi, my brother Ouni, and myself be able to counter Kobayashi's Insurmountable Sukiyaki?! Or is it really just as well defended as Himeji Castle?! Place your coin and make your bets!" he teased like a sleazy salesman.

If their objective was to simply swindle some coin from the rowdy patrons, the brothers were doing a fine job of it. However, Yachi soon realized that the brothers had involved her directly in their bet against the insulted crowd. She didn't even want to imagine what would happen to her if they lost the challenge, much less what would happen if they won.

"Lose and get laughed at...win and get torn to shreds..." Yachi thought, smiling while secretly on the verge of tears.
"Service!" Ouni called out. "Bring out the pot!"

Ouni and his brother pushed three tables together as a kimono-wearing waitress stepped in, holding a small cauldron of sukiyaki. She gently rested the cauldron on the hastily smashed together tables, hushing the room with the sukiyaki's wondrous aroma.

"Here you go. Kobayashi's Insurmountable Sukiyaki." The waitress said, bowing before Yachi and the brothers. "It contains five pounds of thinly sliced, slow cooked pork, equal measure of slow cooked beef, 20 eggs, chopped scallions, yellow onion, potatoes, bean sprouts, and fresh Udon prepared in-house.For refreshment, we have cold water and sake. Mr. Kobayashi isn't in Kameyama at the moment, but in his stead, I wish you luck."

Ouni distributed bowls and chopsticks to his brother and accomplice Yachi, then filled their cups with cold water. Ouni turned his eyes to his brother, giving him a confident nod.

"Ready for this, Yuto?" he asked.
"Ready and steady, Ouni." Yuto replied. Ouni then turned to Yachi, whose stomach grumbled and growled under the aroma of the pot.
"What about you Yachi?" Ouni asked.
"Let's do it! I could eat a horse!" Yachi shouted, garnering cheers from the crowd.

The three snapped apart their chopsticks as the waitress passed out small, wooden spoons for the broth. Yachi especially wasted no time digging in after being so brutally tempted by the aromatic steam rising from her bowl. The blend of slow-cooked ingredients in the pot created quite the appetizing perfume, captivating even some of the spectators. In under a minute, Yachi slurped down almost all of the udon in her bowl before proceeding to the exquisitely tender pork and beef. It was a stark contrast from the dried meat and fish she would take with her during campaigns in the field. The pork and beef melted in her mouth like warm butter, perfectly flavored by the broth and assortment of other ingredients.

Ouni and Yuto were stunned by just how fast Yachi was eating, and sped up accordingly. Even if they won, the brothers didn't want to be remembered as two men that couldn't keep up with a woman. Though, if anyone knew that Yachi was a soldier, they might've understood.

"First bowl done!" Yachi shouted, raising her chopsticks. The waitress poured her another serving in a fresh bowl and laid it down in front of her.
"We're done too!" Yuto declared, earning their next bowls as well.

Yachi took a swig of cold water before digging into her next bowl, devouring its contents just as easily as she did the first. When the solid ingredients were all consumed, she drank the broth directly from the bowl rather than using the spoon.

"Second bowl done!" Yachi cheered, earning herself another round of applause.
"Go Yachi! Swallow it whole!" shouted some drunk in the crowd.
"Hang on now, I'm not as young as I used to be!" Yachi replied with a giggle before being served her third bowl.
"Next bowl!" Ouni demanded next.

Yachi drank more of her water, lightly banging the table with her fist as if to prepare herself for the next serving. The third bowl was gone in just three minutes, and pace showed no signs of stopping.

"You eat like a damned demon, Yachi!" Ouni jested.
"And you eat like a child! Next bowl!" Yachi insulted, rousing the spirits of the brothers.
"Well? You're not gonna just take that from a woman, right?" Yuto teased.
"Next bowl over here!" Ouni cried out.
"Choke, Ouni!" yet another drunkard in the audience shouted.
"Oh shut your yap! I can smell your pissy robes from here, you drunk!" Ouni responded, getting entertained cackles out of the audience.

The three may have shared a fiery ambition, but the brothers were already starting to slow down. As long as Yachi kept up the pace, she knew she'd be able to consume most of the sukiyaki with relative ease, even if she'd end up paying the price later.

"You guys are almost half-way there! Keep going!" the waitress encouraged.

Yuto leaned back in his chair, his hand rubbing over his grumbling, shifting stomach. One more bowl, and he'd officially be down for the count.

"Ouni...I think we've met our match here..." Yuto groaned.
"Pull yourself together! We're only halfway there! Yachi, how are you doing over there?" Ouni shouted.
"Still good!" Yachi mumbled with her mouth full. "Next bowl!"

Mere moments after she bravely uttered those words, the endless barrage of tender pork, udon, garlic, and chopped onion began to upset Yachi's stomach. She felt her stomach shift and grumble beneath her robes. The smiling waitress presented her with another bowl, and that's when it hit her, a sudden wave of doubt and regret. She had only just realized that she let her hunger lead her into a food challenge spectated by a gaggle of drunken buffoons. Now that her hunger had been appeased, her wits and senses returned to her.  All of this internal turmoil and regret festered as she kept on smiling, staring into the bowl of reflective sukiyaki. All the while, she was as still as a statue.

"I...I've made a terrible mistake..." she whispered, desperately wanting to cry beneath her grin.

She mustered up what little strength she had left, slowly working on her next bowl as the two brothers picked up the pace. Their strategy seemed to involve swallowing as much as they could and worrying about the consequences later. After they'd both downed their respective bowls, however, the brothers wore the same expression of silent suffering as Yachi. With the challenge a little less than halfway complete, the three silently deliberated that they had to make an exit. They simply couldn't finish the job. Though Yachi worried how they would do this after taking the crowd's money for bets, Ouni had a mischievous glint in his eyes. A confident smile blossomed on his face and his bushy brows arched downwards.

His expression was clearly a signal for some sort of clever getaway, but Yachi just didn't know how the brothers would go about it. Finally, Ouni made his move.  He took hold of the hat he used to collect the donations...and vomited inside of it. The cackling crowd was quickly hushed by Ouni's apparent sickness, followed by Yuto's quick, sympathetic response.

"Hey, are you okay?! Ouni?! Answer me!" Yuto shouted, rubbing his brother's back.
"Ouni!" Yachi worriedly exclaimed, shooting up from her chair.

Ouni's face remained buried in the hat as his brother stood and guided him towards the exit.

"Oh dear, is your brother okay?" The waitress asked.
"I don't think so, he looks really pale! I'm sorry, but I need to get him home immediately!" Yuto replied with panic. "Yachi, can you help me walk him?"
"Of course!" Yachi answered, throwing one of Ouni's arms over her shoulder.

Within seconds, Yachi and the brothers made their exit from the bar, leaving the crowd to laugh in their absence. Just as they had all thought, the brothers didn't have what it took to challenge Kobayashi's Insurmountable Sukiyaki. Their cheers brought thunder to the bar once more as they celebrated their victory with more alcohol.

"I knew those bastards were full of themselves! Serve's 'em, right!" a rugged wood cutter proclaimed.
"Hey, you don't think that kid was seriously ill, right? Like, deathly ill?" a young woman inquired as she clung to her husband's side.
"Did he look deathly ill when he was taking riling us up and taking those bets? Karma is as real as rain." answered a middle-aged man.
"Wait...the bets!" the woodcutter remembered. "Our coin was in that hat!"

The crowd was hushed again as they realized the brothers had just walked off with their money despite losing. Everyone made way for the exit, rushing outside to try and catch up to those two swindlers. Alas, when they stepped out into the street, all they found were blankets of cold, morning snow covering the ground and descending from the grey sky above their heads. Some of them looked to the tracks left in the snow, searching for three tracks linked closely together, traveling in the same direction. It would've been the dead giveaway to their location. However, their united tracks broke up as soon as they made those first few steps onto the snow. The brothers had split up with Yachi in tow, making their tracks impossible to distinguish from the all the others etched into the snow.

"Those thieving bastards!" the wood cutter yelled, his voice echoing into the gelid air.

Crouching behind a cobblestone wall surrounding one of the plantations, Yachi and the brothers quietly giggled to themselves as they heard the wood cutter's shout from afar.

"You two knew you couldn't actually beat the challenge!" Yachi laughed, realizing the brothers's true intentions.
"Of course not!" Yuto replied. "That crowd of ninnies and drunks don't deserve the honor of watching someone best that ridiculous pot of food!"
"It's better to just steal from them, y'know." Ouni added, leaning in to the conversation. "We've been planning this one for about a week now! The Great Upchuck Heist!"
"Quite a dangerous name, no? Fit for swindlers like us!" Yuto suggested.
"Well, they certainly won't want their coin back after that. In that sense, I will admit it was an ingenious plot. Well done, but I wouldn't call it a heist. It's not like you broke into the Shogun's treasury." Yachi said, downplaying their inflated victory a tad bit.
"Shogun's treasury, bar full of idiots. What's the difference?" Yuto shrugged. "At any rate, we're gonna head back home and wash our coin. We probably shouldn't let ourselves be seen around the bar again."
"Thanks for all your help, Yachi. We'd give you a cut of the profit, but..." Ouni stammered.
"No...I'm not a thief. Even if I was, I couldn't accept such a...gracious offer." Yachi politely rejected. "Besides, I didn't even know I was helping you steal from the bar. I legitimately thought we were taking on Kobayashi's challenge."

The three of them stood up, preparing to go their separate ways.

"But you can't say you didn't have fun, right?" Yuto asked rhetorically. "All's well that ends well!'
"And with that, we make our exit." Ouni saluted. "Farewell, Yachi!"

Yachi smiled as the two sneaked their way home, using the crops on the plantation as cover. She vaulted over the cobblestone wall, landing back on the dirt road as she brushed the snow off of her robes.

"Kameyama...really is something else." she giggled quietly. "The snow is endless, the thieves are clever, and the sukiyaki is divine."


Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #410 on: August 08, 2018, 12:46:35 AM »
It's at this point that I must say...

I tricked you. Now we descend into pain and darkness.


Senkumo War Stories: Azalea Day
Spoiler
Relieved to have cleanly gotten out of the mess with the two brothers, Yachi's thoughts turned to her remaining tasks in Kameyama. She stood at the side of the snow-covered, dirt road, out of the way of sauntering peasants and giggling, young couples.

"I'll have to put down a written report of my interaction with the farmer, but that's about all that's left of my official duties here.", she said to herself. "Just as quickly as I came...it's already almost time to go."

Yachi turned her gaze to the hazy, white sky above her head, then to the low clouds of mist forming in the pockets between the hills in the distance. It certainly wouldn't be the last time she would see such beautiful sights. It couldn't be. Mountains were abundant, and snow would fall every subsequent winter. There was just something about Kameyama she couldn't quite put her finger on. There was something magical, something that kept her spellbound by each, spontaneous moment. In the past few days, she had lived differently then she ever did in her days with the Senkumo clan. Always looking back in regret, always looking forward to plan for the next grueling day of scouting, marching, or fighting. In Kameyama, all that mattered was the here and now, the present moment.

This brief spell of bittersweet emotion faded away as Yachi remembered the most important task of the day.

"Flowers! Gekko said I could find some potted Azaleas!" she exclaimed, slamming her fist into her palm.

Wasting no time, Yachi marched back into the heart of town, hoping to find a florist selling her desired Azaleas. Luckily, not many people were out and about in the market during that cold, winter's noon. It seemed much of the consumerist population had already acquired their firewood, blankets, and oil, and settled in their homes for the season. Yachi looked all around at the various stores and stands encircling her, her eyes briefly scanning over a fish butcher's stand and a tapestry store to her right. Turning to her left, she spotted an apothecary, with a florist's store built in the annex next door.

"Found one!" Yachi cheered with a grin and rosy cheeks.

She rushed inside, taking that first, creaky step onto the wooden floor of the small, aromatic store. Several tables were set up and pushed together around the store, holding dozens of blooming flowers. Along with the flowers, pouches of their seeds were on sale for those hoping to have new decorations for the spring. Yachi searched around the store with her eyes until she finally found what she was looking for. With a joyous, elated smile, she ran over to a pot of vibrant, orange azaleas. Their sunset-colored petals fanned outwards like a ring, drawing her eyes towards the yellow-tipped anthers sticking out from the center of the flowers.

"This is it! These are perfect!" she whispered, veiling her excitement as not to be loud in the store. "They have potted Azaleas here, but it might actually be better to buy the seeds. I don't know if I can travel all the way back to base with a potted flower, not without killing it."

Yachi picked up two pouches, each containing twenty Azalea seeds. Just as she made her selection, the vendor, a short, middle-aged woman,  took to her post behind her counter. Ready to provide service, the vendor bowed and smiled at Yachi as she presented the pouches of seeds.

"Will that be all today, Ma'am?" the vendor politely questioned.
"That's all!" Yachi squealed excitedly.

However, childish glee quickly evaporated as she took a closer look at the vendor. She possessed a lush head of unbound, raven hair that reached all the way to her hips.Though Yachi had assumed the woman must've been middle aged, her skin had very few wrinkles that would indicate it. Suddenly, Yachi could hear the echoes of the various stories she heard on her last night back at base. She knew it was a shot in the dark, but her mild curiosity couldn't be satiated unless she asked the vendor a question.

"Hey...your name wouldn't happen to be...Sakura?" Yachi asked, nervously completing the question. The vendor's eyes widened as they met Yachi's.
"Yes? H-How did you know?"
"I..." Yachi hesitated. "You're Hiro's fiancée, right? Or, at least, you were..."
"Hiro? You mean Hiro Senkumo? If so, then yes! Yes, Hiro asked me to marry him! But, how would you know any of that?"
"I...I shouldn't be telling you this, but..." Yachi began, about to break a crucial rule of safety. "I'm from the Senkumo clan. Though, I joined just a little while after Hiro passed. My friend Gunba told me the story of what happened to him. He spoke of both of you quite tenderly."
"Oh Gunba..." Sakura sighed. "I remember him. He still remembers me? Is he still alive?"
"Gunba is alive and well! He's one of the strongest men in the entire clan! All of the kids look up to him too! The boys often join him when he works out in the training grounds, and the girls like to make him food and ask for piggyback rides when he's done!" Yachi happily recalled. "He went through a lot since he joined the clan, but it only made him stronger and wiser! He still remembers you, and he mentioned that you sell flowers these days."
"Goodness...I see..." Sakura said with a trembling voice.

Yachi refocused her gaze, noticing Sakura's face glistened with tears of reminiscence. Even though Hiro died decades ago, it seemed the wound was still fresh in her heart. Yachi instantly regretting speaking of Gunba and Hiro with such ease and carelessness when those two names clearly held so much weight for Sakura.

"It was no accident I decided to sell flowers." Sakura explained, sniffling. "After Hiro died, I searched high and low for new meaning in life. Honestly, I was so distraught and directionless, I thought it would be better if I died and joined him. This flower shop belonged to my mother, you see. Whenever the young men of this village were conscripted by the military, she'd prepare flowers for their return. It didn't matter if they came back dead or alive. There would always be flowers for them when they got back."

Sakura wiped her tears with her sleeve, wearing a slight smile upon her flawless face.

"At some point, she stopped leaving the flowers on the graves of the deceased, and started giving them to their families. She never told me exactly why she made this change, but she instructed that I follow her example when I take over the business. I'd go on five trips to hand out the flowers, and I still didn't get it." Sakura recalled, chuckling at how foolish she was. "Then I'd go on another five, and then another five. By then, I understood what my mother was trying to say. I'll never forget the faces of the grieving mothers and fathers when I handed them flowers. Their smiles emerged like lotus flowers out of their pond of tears. Just for that one moment, the flowers became more then flowers. They became love. They became peace of mind. Soothing the wounds in their hearts helped heal the scars plaguing mine."

Yachi, nearly moved to tears, couldn't help but gazed longingly into Sakura's content face.

"When it was time for me to take over the shop after my mother's passing, it became my mission to use these flowers to help people cope with their heartache. Hiro's death made me into a selfless woman, and Gunba's resolve in telling me what happened to him helped push me further. All these years later, here I am, and fate blows you in my direction." Sakura tearfully laughed, feeling as if all of the sorrows of her life had paid off.
"That's beautiful!" Yachi exclaimed. "I think you've done really well, Sakura! The whole reason why I'm getting these seeds is because I want to do the same thing as you. My clan could really use a little bit of love right now."
"Well then..." Sakura began, sliding the pouches of seeds back over to Yachi. "Have it for free."
"For free?!" Yachi gasped. "No, no, no! It's okay, I can pay for these! I want to support your business, especially since you mean so much to Gunba!"
"Without paying me a sliver of silver, you've supported me more than money ever could. Go on, take it." Sakura obliged. "Thirty-two years it's been since Hiro's passing. It's about time I gave something to his clan. Besides, what can money do for an old woman like me?"

Speechless, Yachi accepted the gracious offer and placed the pouches in her pockets.

"I really don't know how to thank you, Sakura."  Yachi said, bowing her head.
"I should be the one thanking you, Ma'am. You've given closure to this thirty-two year mission of mines. Now I have no doubts that Hiro will live on through my work. From the bottom of my heart, thank you."

With that, Sakura returned a polite bow to Yachi, who then made her way to the store entrance. She turned around, smiling at the elated Sakura.

"I just know that all of your good karma will come back to you, Sakura. When it does, it'll be the most beautiful moment in your life! Thanks again! I'll be sure to tell Gunba that we met each other!"
"Please do! Tell him he can visit anytime, if he's allowed to!" Sakura cheered with a wave goodbye.
"He will be! I'm sure of it! Farewell!" Yachi assured, walking off into the street again.

Returning outside into the cold embrace of winter's snowfall, Yachi felt as if a multitude of flowers had blossomed within her chest. Her interaction with Sakura only strengthened the aura of beauty Kameyama had for her. Steadily cruising down the Hozu river, getting into a strange sukiyaki heist with two thieving brothers, and meeting the long-lost love of a long-lost comrade? It truly felt, that of all the places on earth, she was supposed to be in Kameyama. The tranquility of the trip had brought her a sense of happiness she had never felt before. Anointed by the Azaleas, Yachi's final day in Kameyama was a day of total peace. It was a day of laughing joy and somber reminiscence. It was the best day of her life so far.

"Alright..." she sighed. "Time to head back to the hotel."

After a quiet ascent back up the hill to her hotel, Yachi wearily dragged her feet back inside her room. She knew she had to produce a written report of how her task went, but she couldn't think about any of it just yet. First, she plopped herself face-down onto her futon, staying there like a dead fish on a riverbank. After a few minutes of feeling as if she really was a dead fish on a riverbank, Yachi sat up and put her pouches of seeds on the bedroom table. She took a deep breath and slammed her hands together for a motivating clap.

"Alright! A brief report! Then, I'll take a nap, bathe, and pack for tomorrow!" she repeated like a mantra.

Making use of the complimentary parchment and ink, Yachi immediately began writing a brief report regarding her dealing with the farmer, speaking out the words as she wrote them.

"Jinbei tried dealing for a large sum of money for the recurring order of six sacks of potatoes, two and a half-dozen heads of cabbage, and two dozen sugar beets. A measly two dozen sugar beats, for an entire army of hungry men, women, and children! The farmland itself looked rather neglected. Large amounts of peat had built up over the years. It was bound to make the farm unsuitable for sustained crop life. Managed to get him to agree to an alternate deal where we pay a greatly reduced sum in exchange for labor to work on the farm and help smuggle the materials. We should send about a dozen men to assist with this operation as soon as possible. The men can also keep an eye on him, just in case he has any second thoughts about the deal. Perhaps we could send Gunba, too? At any rate, mission complete."

Yachi immediately put down the brush after completing the report and yawned, stretching her arms out towards the ceiling.

"All done..."

With some time to spare, Yachi slipped into the warmth of her futon and shut her eyes, falling into a brief slumber almost instantly. She awoke three hours later, just as the sun was starting to hang low. Some of the clouds had broken away, giving the town of Kameyama a view of the falling sun. Within another hour or two, it was sure to set beyond the horizon and cue the night to rule the sky. She yawned into her palm as she sat up, feeling rather well-rested after her nap. The room was dark, but she knew she wanted to take a dip in the hot spring anyway, so she didn't bother with lighting the lanterns. After a few minutes of rubbing her eyes and face, Yachi got up, put her sandals on, and slowly marched down the stairs. Making her way down to the lobby, she saw the other guests laughing and drinking hot sake in the cafeteria, recounting their favorite stories of wild, drunken escapades and fist fights. All Yachi cared about was getting to the hot spring.

She was able to recall how she was shown around the hotel when she first arrived, and quickly found herself in the women's changing room, alone. Lucky for her, it didn't seem like anyone would be sharing the hot spring with that evening. Giddy, she sang herself an improvised tune as she discarded her robes.

"Hot spring, hot spring! All to myself! I don't care if that makes me sound like a greedy bitch! Hot spring, hot spring! All to myself!" She sang, terribly. Suddenly, she stopped, a panicked expression lighting up her eyes. "Wait...I was supposed to grab the modesty towel before I got undressed..."

It was in that exact moment that Yachi realized, maybe, just maybe, she was a tad bit dim in the head. Like some sort of spy or criminal up to no good, she peaked around the corner with sharp, watchful eyes, looking towards the entrance for any oncoming women. She was completely nude, and could not possibly stand the embarrassment or the shame of exposing herself  to the other guests.

"Idiot, Yachi..." she said, cursing herself. "Breasts are fine, but you have to cover yourself below the waist! It's common courtesy among women!"

Like a viper lashing out for a bite, Yachi rushed out towards the cubbyholes and grabbed herself a set of towels. She then rushed back to the changing area, hoping to every god in the Shinto pantheon that she managed to get by unnoticed. She opened the sliding door leading to the spring itself, using the towel to cover herself despite no one being there with her. Learning the rules of modesty was all part of the experience for her. She didn't want to forego the practice just because she was alone.

She discarded the modesty towel as she began to dip her feet into the hot, mineral-rich water, and soaked the rest of her body. A wave of instant relaxation soothed every muscle and joint in her body. She let out a relieved sigh and turned her eyes towards the clouded sky. Every snowflake that fell into the hot spring melted immediately, becoming yet another small drop in the pool.

"Yachi's gonna love it when those seeds grow into flowers. Ah, I should be sure to thank Gekko too, for telling me about the azaleas here. So much to do when I get home..."

For as much as Kameyama impacted her, her heart fluttered when she thought of her sister or Tsukiakari. She already started to miss being around her fellow Senkumo, eating beef skewers and sharing exciting tales around a bonfire. She couldn't deny what the ongoing age of warring states had done to her comrades. She had seen even the most kindhearted of the clan turn into demons, ruled by sorrow and hatred. At the same time, she couldn't blame them. After all, she was one of those so-called demons, proudly bearing the name and banner of a group that lied, maimed, and raped their way to victory. Thinking back to her interaction with Sakura, Yachi had a splendid idea.

"Azalea Day..." she said, conjuring up an idea. "Azalea Day! For just one day, the Senkumo clan will abstain from all war-related activities! On that day, we'll plant the seeds of azaleas in the gardens. We'll dedicate the flowers to the lives of our comrades, both living and dead. A day of peace, remembrance... and moving forward. That might help them!"

Kameyama's final gift to Yachi was the drive to heal the broken hearts of her dearest comrades. Now that she had an idea to help her clan, she couldn't wait to return home. At last, the Senkumo could have a chance to let go of their collective hatred and rage. It would all start with the birth of the azalea. Time would heal the rest.

Later that night, Yachi returned to her room and packed her things before returning to bed. Early in the morning, she woke up and neatly folded her futon, a courtesy for the hotel staff. After making sure the room was as tidy as it was when she first saw it, she gathered her things in her travel sack. She took one more gander around the room, just to make extra sure she wasn't forgetting anything. Finally, she clasped her hands together and bowed to the room itself.

"Thank you for taking care of me." she prayed.

She exited the room and shut the sliding door behind her, locking it with her key. She quietly continued down the stairs towards the lobby, greeting one of the young women at the reception table. Many of the guests remaining were sure to still be sleeping, so they were both careful to talk softly.

"Thank you for everything, it was a great stay." Yachi said with a bow of her head. "I cleaned the room and locked the door. Here's your key."
"Thank you very much!" the young woman, taking the key and bowing back. "Safe travels to you, Ma'am."

Exiting the hotel building, Yachi enjoyed every second of the descent down the hill. One last time, she absorbed the view of the town as she descended the hill, admiring the thick blankets of snow that seemed to coat every inch of the land. She pulled on a few low-hanging tree branches on the way down, sending snow falling down upon her. There was a childish enjoyment to be had in being chilled by the snow, of simply being in Kameyama. First, she made a stop to retrieve her horse. Hinata and her husband Reo greeted her at the entrance of their stables with Yachi's trusty horse.

"Here you go! He's all taken care of." Reo sang, handing Yachi the reins.
"I can't thank you two enough! You've been wonderful! If anyone I know ever comes up to Kameyama, I'll be sure to tell them to drop their horses off in your care!" Yachi cheered.
"You're very welcome, dear! If you're ever in Kameyama again, we'll give you the first two days free!" Hinata declared.
"Safe travels to you, Yachi!" Reo added, wrapping his arm around Hinata as they both waved goodbye.
"Thank you for everything! Farewell!"

With everything taken care of, Yachi took her horse down by the riverside, not too far from the docks where she first arrived. The horse took the liberty of drinking from the Hozu river as Yachi sat by and watched, eating some of the dried fruit she packed. Over and over, she kept refining the idea of Azalea Day in her head, a day without war.

"Does it sound a little utopian to you? I hope the others don't think of that way." Yachi said, talking to her horse as if it were a person. "Just a single day...a single day without war or hate. That's all I ask. I think we can manage that, right?"

The horse replied with a stern gust of air through its nostrils before continuing to drink from the river. One more time, she turned her eyes towards those pale, Kameyama skies, and produced an oral report.

"Final report..." she began. "Secret mission accomplished, azaleas acquired! With newfound inspiration and resolve, I march on towards my next objective; Bring love to the Senkumo!." she concluded with a giggle, shouting into the sky for all of mother nature to hear.

While she sat there, waiting for the old man to arrive with his little boat, she continued to picture a day, just a single day, without war.



Secret
Spoiler
Arriving a half-hour later than expected, the old man that gave Yachi the boat ride down the Hozu finally made it down to Kameyama. Snowfall was light that day, but much of the riverside was already coated in thick blankets of snow, with thin layers of ice forming on the river's surface. He parked his small boat and disembarked to meet with his son on the docks.

"Boy, you made it!" the old man said, as if he'd witnessed a miracle. "My arms are turning into whale blubber! You mind taking over the boat for the rest of the day?"
"Sure thing, pops. You go ahead and take a break." the son proudly replied.

The old man sat down on the edge of the docks, his bare feet dangling over the frigid, Hozu waters. He rotated his arms until he heard them both crack, a sound that certainly made his son a bit uncomfortable.

"Uhh, you okay, Dad? You probably shouldn't do that to your arms..." he warned.
"I'm fine, boy! I'm fine! I've been rowing boats since I was your age!" the old man boasted with a growl.
"If you say so." the son chuckled.

Suddenly, the son remembered something, or rather, someone important. He surveyed both ends of the river, but didn't find any sign of Yachi.

"Hey dad! Isn't that girl we rode her a few days ago supposed to be here?" he asked.
"Huh? Hey, you're right! What gives? I know I was late, but she didn't have to just stand us up like that! But, again, I was late..."

Focusing his ears, the son picked up on the sound of a crying horse. He leaped off of the boat and ran to follow the sound, startling his father.

"Hey! Where are you going?!" the old man shouted, confused.

He continued to run down the riverside without stopping to answer his father. He soon came to realize his ears weren't deceiving him. He found Yachi's horse tied to one of the trees, the rope tightly secured around its neck. He slowly approached the horse, noticing that it was clearly frightened and panicked. He could tell straight away that Yachi wasn't the one who tied the rope around the horse's neck.

"No caring master would do this to their own horse. This was someone else's work..." he surmised. "Dad! Something's wrong! We need to notify the village!" he shouted as his father caught up behind him.
"Why? What happened? Wait, that's the young missie's horse! But if her horse is here, that means she was waiting the whole time!"
"I know. That's why it's even more strange that her horse is here, but she isn't."

There was no reason for Yachi to miss the boat, even if it was late. The question was, where was she now?


Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #411 on: August 14, 2018, 10:01:00 PM »
When the hell did I hit 46.2k?  :ohmy:

Anyway, came here for a little (but actually kinda big) update. I may have said this before, but I've decided I'd take on the daunting task of converting ALL of Senkumo War Stories into novel format, edit it, and publish it. That's exactly what I'm doing, starting with Book of Blossoming. If it seemed like I was slowing down with Yachi's side story, that's why. Editing this thing has been as hard as I thought it was going to be. Switching formats is no big deal at all since the prose is already there, but it becomes a matter of enriching the prose, improving dialogue, and adding tons of new scenes. Peoples and places, especially in the Book of Blossoming, need to be properly explained, introduced, expanded upon etc. Weird cuts between scenes that made sense in the older format have to be bridged by extended scenes in novel format. It's a lot of work, but I'm getting it done! It's been three weeks, probably, and I've already gotten to the middle of chapter 5.

I'd like to finish this soon, publish it, and then publish the first entry of the main series soon after. The actual DbEG books are going to be a lot easier to edit.

But I wanted to prove to everyone that I'm not just farting about over here. I'm really working to improve this behemoth of a side-story as well as the main series. As such, I'm sharing the Introduction and Chapters 1-2 here. If you've read the original SWS chapters, do let me know if this is an improvement or not  :clapping: I'll keep working on this thing.

(Format gets a little wonky when copied here to MR. Obviously it'll have the proper indents and other things.)

Senkumo War Stories Introduction: Madness in Paradise
Spoiler
Tsukiakari.
Her name means moonlight. It was chosen to represent the union between her mother, Amaterasu, goddess of the sun, and her father, Tsukuyomi. When the distant light of the sun hits the moon, the moon reflects this light back down to earth, creating the beautiful phenomenon we know as moonlight. However, it wasn't long after Tsukiakari was born that the union between her mother and father disintegrated.
It all started about six hundred years ago…

“Can you believe it? Tsukuyomi was banished from Heaven,” a heavenly servant whispers as she huddles with other servants in the streets of Heaven.
“For killing Uke Mochi, the goddess of food, I presume,” replies a second servant.
“I heard Lady Amaterasu's daughter took Tsukuyomi's side and pleaded for him to be shown mercy at his trial. They got into a pretty rough fight after that, but you can’t fault her for defending her own father,” a third servant chimes.
“Dear...poor girl...this must be so traumatizing for her,” the first servant proclaims, as the group continues to gossip, unaware of Tsukiakari’s presence.

Sitting nearby, Tsukiakari, the hallowed princess of Heaven, was forced to overhear the callous whispers of the servants, just as she had been forced to overhear the gossiping whispers of many of Heaven’s citizens. In the days since her father’s murder trial, she had become accustomed to the speculation. She sat alone in the alleyways of Heaven's royal town, hidden within the shadows of the elegant, traditional-styled houses. Though it wasn't their place to gossip about the gods they serve, the news of Tsukuyomi's crime was far too grave for people to ignore –– even as they walked about Heaven's streets, basking in the glorious sunlight created by Amaterasu's divinity.

For Tsukiakari, the atmosphere at home with her mother was no better than outside. The breathtaking size and splendor of Amaterasu’s towering, white palace did little to soothe the feeling of entrapment for Tsukiakari. Its reflective, marble floors, high ceilings, and vibrant gardens, sweetening the air with their blooming flowers, offered no sort of anodyne for the heartbreak of losing her father. And not even her mother sought to soothe the void left by Tsukuyomi’s imprisonment. The sun goddess’s heart had turned cold.

That night, when all of the gods and servants retreated into their quarters and warm, lofty beds, Amaterasu committed herself to her final duty of the day. After thoroughly brushing through her voluminous head of long, raven hair, she carried a lit candle by its plate into the darkened halls of the palace, sauntering over to Tsukiakari’s room. Her fierce, golden eyes seemed to glow on their own as the candle’s flickering glare bounced against her porcelain skin. She wasn’t the type to knock, and so she walked right into her daughter’s room. There, she saw Tsukiarkari brushing her own head of long, raven hair while sitting in front of her vanity mirror. Tsukiakari kicked her feet back and forth as she sat on her stool, not yet tall enough for her feet to touch the floor.
“Mama!” exclaimed the startled Tsukiakari.
“Ready for bed, yet?” Amaterasu asked in a soft tone.
  “Mhmm!”

As Tsukiakari climbed into her bed, Amaterasu blew out all but one of the candles in her room. Then, she sat at her daughter’s bedside, charmed by neither her daughter’s scarlet eyes, nor Tsukiakari’s resemblance to herself, and tucked her in for the night.

“Mama, will Papa ever come back?” Tsukiakari asked, her mouth covered by blankets.
    “Gekko, I’ve already explained this to you. Your father hurt another god. He killed him. Do you know what that means?” Amaterasu replied while stroking strands of hair away from Tsukiakari’s face.
“No.”
“To kill someone is to hurt them so much that they cease to live. One god should never kill another. It is the vilest and most heartbreaking thing you could ever do.”
“Why did Papa kill Uke Mochi?” she asked, far too young to understand it all.
“Your father was a jealous and small-minded man. He didn’t understand Uke Mochi at all. He thought killing her would be some sort of justice. His intentions don’t matter, Gekko. What’s important is that you never, ever kill someone –– god nor mortal.”
   “Mama…”
   “What is it, Gekko?” Amaterasu sighed, slightly annoyed.
   “Don’t you miss him?”
   “No, Mama doesn’t miss him one bit. You shouldn’t either. People will start to think ill of you if you have another outburst like you did in court. I know you love your father, but never forget that you are still the princess of Heaven. One day, all of this will be yours, including Heaven’s subjects.”
Though the concept of ruling Heaven was still foreign, Tsukiakari at least understood that her beloved father wouldn’t be back any time soon.
“When I become a queen, can I free Papa?” Tsukiakari asked, innocently.
“That’s still a long ways away, dear. You’ll have plenty of time to think of all of the wonderful things you want to do when you take my place. Don’t rush it. Being a queen is not easy.”
“Mama…”
Amaterasu chuckled, amused by the never-ending stream of questions. “Yes, Gekko?”
“Are you scared of Papa?”

The question made Amaterasu’s blood bite at her veins and flesh to an infuriating degree. Her heart raced and thundered beneath her white night gown. Tsukiakari could feel the disturbed aura of her mother, giving her delicate skin goosebumps. Fearing she may have saddened her mother, Tsukiakari sat up, gladly opening her arms, inviting her mother in  for a hug. But, instead, Amaterasu furiously pushed Tsukiakari back down onto the pillow, her hands tightly wrapped around her daughter’s neck. Confused and horrified, Tsukiakari gasped for air.
“Ma…ma!” she sputtered, struggling to breathe.

Amaterasu’s grip grew tighter as she ignored her daughter’s desperate fingers clawing at her mother’s hands, summoning tears from her daughter’s bloodshot eyes. Amaterasu’s soft voice grew loud, panicked, and shaken as she struggled to maintain the sobs locked within her chest.

“Am I scared? I fear no one! I am the living glory of Heaven, the light of its divine skies!”
Tsukiakari tried to pry her mother’s hands from around her neck, but found it impossible to match Amaterasu’s strength. She could breathe. She couldn’t speak. And as her eyes widened in horror, Tsukiakari was forced to stare into her mother’s tear-soaked, rage-filled face.

“I’m not scared of you or your evil, Tsukuyomi!” Amaterasu screamed with boiling rage.
“Lady Amaterasu! What are you doing?” Lady Uzume, the goddess of fertility, drawn by the screaming, appeared suddenly in the doorway and was mortified to witness the horrific scene She immediately attempted to pull Amaterasu off of Tsukiakari.

   “Lady Amaterasu, please control yourself! You’re going to kill her!”
In that moment, Amaterasu snapped out of her delusional rage, releasing her daughter’s throat. Uzume helped Tsukiakari to sit up, as the princess coughed and wheezed air back into her lungs, crying all the while. Amaterasu’s vision blurred and then cleared as she came to. Disoriented, once she saw Uzume’s long, straight, black hair and the small beauty mark under her rosy lips, she recognized her and began to calm her spirit.
“Come with me, Gekko. We’re going to the infirmary!” Uzume urged.
Neither of them looked at Amaterasu as she sat on the bed, her mind blanked by rage. She gazed at her trembling hands as Tsukiakari’s sobs disappeared down the hall. Covering her face, she laughed ever so softly.
This was Tsukiakari’s final night in Heaven.

   Heaven betrayed its name. There was nothing heavenly about it, no paradise within its towering palace she could call home. Even the gods themselves were more like demons. They were just civilized enough to be precise about their inflicted torment, to convene and decide in an orderly fashion, who would inherit their assigned punishments. But demons who organize their savagery are demons, nonetheless. There was no longer a place in Heaven for Tsukiakari. Everywhere she went, she was looked upon with either pity or contempt. And now, her mother had lost her heart and her mind. So, weary of Heaven’s profound madness, Tsukiakari ran away, far away –– to the world of mortals.


Senkumo War Stories Chapter 1: Heiress to the Father's Sin
Spoiler
Following that horrendous night, the young goddess fled from her home in Heaven, descending upon the Honshu island of Japan. The world of mortals lacked Heaven’s hollow splendor and endless sunshine. It was a change that proved difficult for Tsukiakari to grow accustomed to. The cold darkness of the night, a natural reality for mortals, frightened her, for in her world, she had only ever known eternal daylight. Japan was home to tempestuous tsunamis, torrential rainfall, and unyielding heat waves in the summer. It brought forth cloudy skies and dying leaves in the autumn, and blankets of snow during the winter. Tsukiakari had to live in a world of seasons, a world shared by animals and humans alike, vulnerable to the often destructive whim of Mother Nature. Though these changes terrified her, spring was the season that captured her heart. She found herself spellbound by the emergence of aromatic flowers and temperate weather. She realized the unique beauty of the mortal world with spring’s blue skies, and the flowers that would bloom beneath them.

However, the physical and emotional solitude that smothered her in Heaven did not change on Earth. For most of her time among the mortals, she continued to sit alone with no one to talk to, watching and listening as people passed by, tucked between alleys and roadsides. At, least on Earth, there was no gossiping or judgments about her and her family. Still, it was incredibly lonely there for Tsukiakari, and she wondered if she would ever find her place in a world so different from home. She wondered what she would do there, and how she could make a name for herself now that she was no longer a princess. So, for the next three years, Tsukiakari roamed the earth, listless and without direction, searching for a purpose.
   
Eventually, it found her.

   In the middle of the 15th century, conflict swelled in Japan’s capital, Kyoto, and anyone bearing the name Ashikaga found themselves at the center of the upheaval. The Ashikaga shogunate ruled Japan from within the city. During the reign of the shogunate's 8th ruler, Yoshimasa Ashikaga, controversy arose over who would succeed him, for he had no heirs. To amend the issue, Yoshimasa summoned his younger brother, Yoshimi, to the Imperial Palace.

The day Yoshimi arrived, he and Yoshimasa sat together on the tatami mats of the latter’s tea room, lit beautifully by pagoda torches hung over the walls. Yoshimasa, dressed in black robes that covered most of his body, stroked his long goatee as he put down his tea cup, glaring intently at his younger brother. Yoshimi was but a monk, uninterested in the world of politics.

      “I must ask you to take up a rough role, brother.” Yoshimasa said. “I do not have an heir, and unfortunately, this puts the stability of the dynasty at great risk. I need a successor, and quickly. You are my only option, Yoshimi. Please, forego your life as a monk and relocate here. If I adopt you into the fold, people will accept your ascension to Shogun when the time comes.” 
     “Yoshimasa, what you're asking of me...” Yoshimi groaned.
      “I know, and I'm sorry, but it must be done. The country will fall into political chaos if a successor is not chosen. Such controversial debates then lead to self-appointed heirs going to war with each other. Uncertainty breeds conflict and sows discord. I do not want that kind of instability to split these lands. Please, accept this position.”
Hesitant but understanding his responsibility, Yoshimi accepted.

A great burden had been lifted off of Yoshimasa’s shoulders. By adopting his brother as the heir to the shogunate, he had successfully avoided a power vacuum from opening up within Kyoto. He knew what it meant to have a powerul title, but more importantly, he knew that Japan’s feudal class system led everyone around him to covet his seat. Peasants, nobleman, soldiers, and even loyal generals all imagined themselves as Shogun, as the masters of the country. It would’ve been all too easy for one hasty general and his band of soldiers to take the opportunity that the lack of an heir would give them.

Despite Yoshimasa's attempt to curtail this chaos before it could start, his efforts were nullified by a very surprising and peculiar event. Only a mere three weeks after appointing Yoshimi as heir, Tomiko, Yoshimasa's wife, birthed him a son. The birth of Yoshimasa’s son proved troublesome, for it once again raised the question of succession. The problem was no longer that Yoshimasa had no heir, but rather, which heir would actually succeed him? Finding the Ashikaga’s claim to power under threat once more, Yoshimi and Tomiko met in the privacy of Yoshimasa's chambers to discuss the matter of his succession.

      “You...you what?” Yoshimasa questioned, shocked.
     “I believe our son should inherit the title of shogun. The shogunate is his birthright,” Tomiko sternly replied as she stood, rocking her infant son, Yoshihisa
      “Tomiko, you fool! I've already chosen Yoshimi to be my successor! This child comes far too late now!”
      “With all due respect, Tomiko,” Yoshimi interjected, “I've already accepted my position as heir. The other clans and feudal lords all…”
“I don't care if they've all accepted you.” Tomiko interrupted. “You didn't even want the position when my husband first handed it to you! The shogunate travels in our bloodline's descending order, which means our son is the heir! Or is it that you plan to rob him of that?”
      “It is not your decision, Tomiko! I am the shogun! I rule this country and its people! I, and only I, decide who takes my place! Remember that! Let's go, Yoshimi!” Yoshimasa shouted.

Yoshimasa and Yoshimi bitterly departed, but Tomiko would not be silenced by her husband's words. She had no intention of letting her son have his birthright stolen from him by a mere monk. Her obstinate assertion to Yoshihisa's right to the shogunate alienated her from the shogun himself, his deputies, and supporters of Yoshimi. However, deputies like Sozen Yamana supported Tomiko and her child's claim to the shogunate. Sozen was a powerful daimyo and monk in Kyoto, hailing from the Yamana warrior clan. Recognized for his red, sunbaked complexion, he was known as “The Red Monk”, a title he wasn’t all too fond of.  Sozen and the Yamana clan were case studies of Yoshimasa’s supposition, that the country’s class system encouraged everyone around him to covet his seat. In the two hundred years since the clan’s founding, the Yamana found themselves surpassed and bested by numerous other clans. The Hosokawa clan in particular had a history of quarrels with the Yamana, always managing to come out on top and gain prestige within Kyoto, while the Yamana saw little to no advancement in their standing.

So, the Yamana saw the vexing irony in Sozen’s son-in-law, Katsumoto Hosokawa, having a better title than him. Katsumoto, twenty-six years younger than his father-in-law, was one of the Shogun’s personal deputies. He had everything Sozen did not; A direct line to Yoshimasa, abundant wealth, and powerful allies in the noble ranks of society. Though Sozen resented him for this, he never dared to engage Katsumoto in open battle. For years, he had brooded and plotted, waiting for the right moment to strip his son-in-law of everything he had. That opportunity came with the re-opened question of Yoshimasa’s successor. While Katsumoto declared his support for the Shogun’s brother, Sozen took Tomiko’s side on the matter, knowing she was seeking strong, military allies to support her. Sozen was more than willing to bet the stability of the shogunate on his own, petty grievances with Katsumoto. In stern opposition to each other, both of the covetous commanders gathered their men and drew up their plans of war.

These two powerful leaders, both with huge armies of 80,000 men at their disposal each, came into conflict. Intense fighting engulfed Kyoto, and Tsukiakari was unlucky enough to get caught in the middle of it all. For months, Kyoto was in a complete state of disarray. The mansions of Sozen Yamana and Hosokawa Katsumoto were leveled to the ground, and the city itself became a violent battlefield. Countless buildings, big and small, were all destroyed in the intense fighting that raged in the streets. With no place to hide, Tsukiakari was forced to wander the streets, tripping over the blood-washed corpses of soldiers from both sides of the fighting.
The bustling city had grown silent and deadly. It was the first time Tsukiakari had been exposed to such a horrific and grotesque sight. She covered her mouth and nose as she walked through the lifeless streets, trying to avoid the stench, trying not to let her eyes meet the scarlet puddles at her feet.

What's happening? Why is there so much fighting? She asked herself.

Just then, the distant voices of soldiers rushing through the gutted neighborhood brought Tsukiakari's fearful march to a standstill.

“Kill anyone you see here, armed or not! Send the supporters of Yoshimi a message in blood!” an armored swordsman yelled from across the way.

His men replied with a synchronous, affirmative grunt as they continued through the streets, slaying enemies and civilians alike.

      Yoshimi...the heir? Tsukiakari pondered.
      “Hey, you there!” a voice called out.
   Tsukiakari stood in silent shock as she laid eyes on two fully armored soldiers wielding sheathed blades at their hips. The Ashikaga Clan’s crest adorned their chest plates as they stood tall, towering over her shivering frame. 

      “Leave, child! If you don't go home, you'll most certainly die here!” one of them demanded. 
      “I...I can't go home...I don't have one...” Tsukiakari muttered.
      “A stray?” inquired the other soldier.
      “Use your damn head. Her parents were probably killed in all of the chaos,” the first soldier suggested.
      “Should we just leave her?” the second soldier questioned.
      “Coming across child combatants is rare here, but it's not like it's never happened. Plus, she's got good reason to try and get revenge. Might as well just put her down like everyone else.”
      “What? I'm going to die?” Tsukiakari asked, horrified. 

    The soldiers unsheathed their blades as Tsukiakari stood frozen in terror. The words of her mother came back to her, words explaining the evil of killing. Having always lived under Amaterasu’s wing, protected by her very lineage, the thought of death never resonated with Tsukiakari. But now, she was a stray who had no heavenly name of her own for people to pray to. If a god could not be worshiped, they could not reincarnate. Sensing the permanence of her impending death, Tsukiakari lifted a sword from the ground, prying it out of a dead soldier's cold and bloody hands.

“Damn it, I told you! Give them a chance and even a child will arm herself! Kill her!” one of the soldiers shouted.
“Please stop!” Tsukiakari urged in tears. “I don't want to do this!”

    Neither of them listened. Before she knew it, one of their swords was already raised skyward for a vertical strike, leaving Tsukiakari no choice but to either fight or die. Her eyes shut themselves, preparing for whatever her body would decide to do. In that crucial moment, Tsukiakari blacked out.

    Those few, blank seconds passed her by. Realizing the men in front of her had gone silent, Tsukiakari opened her eyes. The two soldiers that nearly killed her lied dead at her feet. The first died from a slash to his neck, staining her hands and kimono in blood. The other had the blade she wielded impaled through his mouth. It all happened as fast as a flash of lightning. Realizing what she had just done, Tsukiakari once again thought of her mother’s words, her stern condemnation of murder. Her father was a murderer, and her mother attempted to strangle her mere moments after condemning such an act. On that day, in the year 1466, Tsukiakari too became a murderer. Though she understood it was self-defense, she was far too young to handle the weight of her actions. The sword fell from her trembling hand as she fell to the ground weeping.

    As she balled up and sobbed by herself in the hazy, smoky street, the sound of footsteps roused her curiosity, and made her raise her head. She recognized the man before her, with his bearded and stern face, his long, black hair, and his towering, muscular stature. Three red bracelets of prayer beads decorated his left wrist, while a glittering, golden band decorated his right. Despite the blood and ash all around them, the man’s white robes were untainted.

    Wearing an impressed smirk, the man spoke to the trembling princess of Heaven with a calm, yet intimidating voice full of presence. Somewhere far beyond the eyes of that shaking, scared little girl, he saw something ferocious. He saw the springtime of calamity itself, a girl that could make the flowers of carnage and war bloom on the battlefield.

   “Are you alright, little one?” he asked, extending his hand to the shell-shocked Tsukiakari. “I am Lord Bishamon. Come. Let us get you out of here. This is no place for a stray goddess.”


Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #412 on: August 14, 2018, 10:07:14 PM »
Senkumo War Stories Chapter 2: She Who Reaps the Weeds
Spoiler
Bishamon's voice called out to the shocked and confused Tsukiakari as they traversed the deathly quiet and ruined streets of Kyoto, the battle raging on in the distance. The small and timid Tsukiakari felt like she was walking right below a menacing mass of black thunderclouds as she gazed up at Bishamon's tall and powerful stature. His voice, calm and stern, called out to her as she trailed behind him, occasionally dashing her eyes away from the corpses littering the streets.

      “Tsukiakari, is it?” Bishamon asked, breaking the silence.
      “Y-yes...” She timidly replied.
      “What a coincidence. You're Amaterasu's daughter. Or...you were. I heard you ran away from Heaven soon after Tsukuyomi's trial. I suppose it's more honorable to excommunicate yourself than the other way around. However, the result is all the same. You are a stray god with no protection. Am I right?”
 Tsukiakari, having been seen through like cellophane, found no need to answer.
“You're...Bishamonten, right? I've seen you in Heaven a few times What...what do you...”
      “What do I hold dominion over?” Bishamon asked, completing her question.
      “Yes...” she whispered.
      “The calamity we detest and pray for at the same time; War. I, Bishamonten, am the god of war.” he proudly declared.
    Tsukiakari stopped in her tracks, holding her hands to her mouth as her fearful eyes scanned Bishamon's expressionless face. Her heart wrestled itself within her, thumping around like a war drum.
      “God of war? I didn't even know there was such a thing...”
      “There is much that your mother did not tell you, because...well, you're so young.”
     “Did you do all of this? Did you start this war?” she asked with a trembling voice.
    “This chaos is not my doing. Rather, this carnage before you is my calling.” The god of war knelt before Tsukiakari, wrapping his crimson wool scarf around her neck.
      “You see, Tsukiakari, neither the worlds of the divine nor the mortals are peaceful. Humans kill each other, and supernatural beings kill each other was well. Right now, the mortals are experiencing a surprising time of great upheaval, and all it took was the mere birth of a child, an Ashikaga heir. Now the commanders and deputies of the shogunate are fighting each other, prompting my responsibility as the god of war to answer the prayers of those who seek to eradicate their foes.” he explained, looking out at the ruin and chaos around them.
      “You can't stop it? My mother said that to kill is the vilest thing you can ever do! Shouldn't we gods be preventing humans from doing this to themselves?” Tsukiakari questioned, hoping to reaffirm what she had been taught. 
      “There is a bigger picture here, Tsukiakari, one that I hope you will see in time. I plan to turn this time of strife into something fruitful for Heaven and for the mortals. I have great things planned for both of our worlds...and for you.”
     “Me?” Tsukiakari curiously asked.
     “As I said, you're a stray god, Tsukiakari. Heaven will not protect you, and because you're so young, no one here will even pray to you. Come with me, little one. I can give you the protection you need during these times, as well as a family I'm sure you'll love. Have you heard of the Senkumo clan, young goddess?”

    Tsukiakari shook her head side to side

“I'm not surprised. We're still a very new clan. However...there will come a time when the whole country will know our names. Just as the name Senkumo implies, there are war clouds drifting over this ancient land, carrying an even greater storm than any of us could possibly imagine. Trust me, hallowed princess of Heaven. You will not want to be alone when that storm comes.”

Bishamon placed his index finger and thumb in his mouth, producing a loud whistle in the middle of the thick, ashen haze. The distant neigh of a horse rang out from ahead, as if it was responding to Bishamon’s call. Tsukiakari stepped forth as her eyes caught a glimpse of amber light through the smoke and ash. Bishamon extended his hand in front of her, stopping her from stepping any further.

“Careful. He’s easily startled by strangers.” Bishamon warned.

Rhythmic tapping of a horse’s hooves grew closer along with the amber light, until a pale horse emerged into view, its hair and tail wreathed in gentle flames. The horse stopped in front of the two deities, waiting for them to hop onto its saddle. Bishamon caressed the horse’s head as thanks for its unyielding loyalty. He glanced over at Tsukiakari, noticing the sparkle in her glossy eyes.

“Is this your first time seeing a horse?” he asked.
“He’s on fire!” Tsukiakari exclaimed, pointing at the beast. “It’s not like I’ve never seen a horse before!”
“Oh, of course! You’ve just never seen a fiery horse.” Bishamon chuckled. “This horse is my personal steed. He’s been in service to me for over a hundred years. Have you ever ridden a horse before, Tsukiakari?”
“N-no…” she replied softly.
“Well then, it seems today is a day full of firsts.” Bishamon quipped as he lifted the goddess by her armpits, plopping her on top of the saddle.
Bishamon hopped onto the saddle as well, taking the black, leather reins into his hands. Tsukiakari looked around at the ground below, feeling a small bout of vertigo building up within her. She threw her arms around Bishamon without thinking, feeling safer with something to cling to for balance. With a snap of the reins, the horse carried the two through the ruined streets with an ambling gait.

“This country is changing, Tsukiakari. Generations of feudal servitude have created what you see before you. This country’s system created men like Sozen Yamana and Katsumoto Hosokawa. They’re not the only ones seeking power at all costs.” Bishamon explained. “Many more like them will rise and war with each other until this city is nothing but cinders. I’ve already begun preparations for this, a balancing measure. I founded the Senkumo clan just two years ago, sometime after Yoshihisa Ashikaga was born. I pulled in some money and recruits, all to realize a certain vision.”

The horse entered a gallop as it reached wider roads. The haze of ash and smoke thinned out as Bishamon guided them out of Kyoto. For the first time that day, Tsukiakari could see the bright, morning sun shining all around. She could barely see the distant soldiers clashing as Bishamon’s horse raced through Kyoto’s outskirts and escaped through its city limits. The horrific sounds of screaming and raging fire were soon replaced with the tranquil bird songs of the lush, green groves overlooking Kyoto. Bishamon brought the horse to a brief stop, allowing Tsukiakari to see the flaming, smoke-covered city from a distance. The fires raging below were so intense that the resulting clouds of smoke shrouded Kyoto in darkness. Tsukiakari stared with wide eyes at the veil of shade and ash that cloaked the city. The grove they stopped at was only a few miles away from the city, and yet, the difference was night and day. Small sparrows traveled from tree branch to tree branch above their heads, while a gentle breeze slithered through the blades of grass below.

“In wars like these, Tsukiakari, the victor obtains his desired lordship, only to find that lordship’s sole reward is a desecrated capital and a throne that means nothing.” Bishamon observed. “When I founded the Senkumo, I dreamt of a community unbound by these avaricious desires. I imagined an army that didn’t have to throw their lives away for the insatiable greed of a daimyo. As such, the Senkumo clan has no daimyo, and we swear no loyalty to the Shogun, or the emperor.”
“But then…who are you loyal to? Even the daimyo at least agree on their fealty to the emperor.” Tsukiakari asked, intrigued by the lordless structure of Bishamon’s clan.
“Gods.” he sternly replied.

Bishamon snapped his reins again, turning away from the city. The horse softly ambled through the cool, breezy grove, heading into mostly unsettled territory. For every occasional peasant house, there were many more rolling hills and majestic mountains. Following the flow of a small creek, the horse led them into a forest, where the trees provided green-tinted shade from the sun.

“I purchased some land further southwest and built a base there. A few hundred troops live there, put into groups and living in their own quarters. In time, we’ll be able to expand and build bigger bases across the country. We’ll be a recognizable force on the battlefield, something to help steer us towards a conclusion in this haze of war. For now, we start small.” Bishamon declared.

They continued on their tranquil journey for over four hours, passing through low-density woodlands until emerging into a region of flat plains, where crops and marshes were abundant. The lapping wind combed through large, distant fields of rice stalks like invisible fingers through hair. The early afternoon sun glared off of the blades of tall grass surrounding the dirt road their horse ambled down. Tsukiakari silently marveled at the expanse of crops and open fields, still hanging on to Bishamon all the while.

Once they passed through the plantations, they found themselves in a mostly flat area again, the grass decorated with a multitude of colorful shrubs and the occasional, blooming cherry tree. A belt of tree-covered hillocks running parallel to the road helped obscure their destination. Bishamon, knowing the region as well as he knew his horse, called out to Tsukiakari.

“Still awake, princess? We’ve almost arrived.” He said.

The Senkumo base Bishamon spoke of came into view as the horse trotted along the road. First, Tsukiakari saw the white, granite walls of the base towering above her head. She noticed several men stationed on top of the walls, all of them wearing identical, black robes. Charged with keeping watch over the surrounding land, the men on the walls entered into a chain of calls and responses as they spotted their lord, Bishamon.

“It’s Lord Bishamon! Open the gates!” one of them shouted, out of Tsukiakari’s sight.

The wooden gate stood as tall and mighty as the walls, slowly creaking open as they entrance guards strenuously pulled it open from the other side. Once the horse passed through the gates, another series of shouts rang out across the walls, ordering the entrance to be shut again. The eight guards on the ground wore plates of leather chest armor over their black robes. Upon Bishamon’s arrival, they snapped their feet together, stood with their backs straight, and planted the base of their spears into the ground, the blades pointing skyward. They then bowed their heads, a standard salute for their superior.

“Welcome home, my lord!” they all chanted in unison.
“At ease, gentlemen. Did anything happen in my absence?” Bishamon asked as he stopped his horse.
“Nothing new to report, my lord. We kept the fort locked down since you left.” one of the soldiers replied with a clear, projected tone.
“Good to hear. Shift cycles with the third guard team and have some lunch. You all look tired.” Bishamon commanded, to the relief of the guards.

With a final salute, the guards departed from the walls, slowly walking deeper into the base. Tsukiakari caught glimpses of their tired, sweating faces and groomed beards. Now that they were inside the walls, she also noticed plenty of enlisted women roaming about the base, many of them still in their teens. Realizing they were standing on a paved road lined with granite stones, Tsukiakari’s eyes followed the straight path down to a cluster of banzai trees, each one encircled by more stones. Even more young girls could be seen ahead, tending to the trees and the rainbow of flowers growing in the soil beds of the courtyards. The courtyard sat between two large, multi-storied mansions like a partition of sorts. The exteriors of these mansions consisted of white walls lined heavily with bright red support beams. Multiple tiers of dark, pagoda rooftops provided shade and gave the facilities a wondrous, yet intimidating appearance.

Bishamon leapt off of the horse, then lifted Tsukiakari off of the saddle, plopping her onto her feet. She stepped forward, looking around in silent wonder at all of the people united under a single banner, tending to various tasks around the base. While the girls tended to the courtyard and gathered ingredients for meals, the men fastened their armor and polished their blades. Some of the younger boys and girls either sat around the base or chased their friends around the fields of freshly cut grass in the gardens. Tsukiakari suddenly felt Bishamon’s hand lightly slap her in the back, startling her out of her trance.

“Welcome to the War Cloud.” Bishamon saluted, walking along towards the third mansion opposite from the entrance. “Come inside, princess. We have some things to discuss.”
“This is amazing…” Tsukiakari whispered beneath her breath before following along.

    Bishamon led the stray goddess into the mansion’s first floor, where his sanctuary was located. The sanctuary was just a large room with polished wooden floors, and rows of windows on the left and right sides. Other than that, there was almost no furniture featured. With all of the open space, Tsukiakari could easily imagine several hundred people standing in the sanctuary at the same time.

Bishamon sat cross-legged on a cushion, in front of a golden statue of himself assuming the same sitting position. Smoke trails from incense sticks at the statue’s base floated up and dissipated into the air as Tsukiakari noticed the hanging scroll behind the statue, depicting the name "Senkumo" and a painting of three clouds. Landscape paintings decorated the walls to Tsukiakari's left, depicting rolling green hills and trees bearing blossoming buds.
“You hardly said a word on the journey here.” Bishamon recounted. “What you did in Kyoto still lingers over you.”
“…Mama said it was wrong to kill anyone. That’s what she taught me. Even worse, those were humans I killed.” Tsukiakari replied with downcast eyes.

      “It is true that we gods have to protect the world of mortals.” Bishamon said. “However, the methods of attaining this goal require the riddance of select mortals. In fact, the common way we protect mortals is by removing the ones that do evil in this world. Think of it as cutting the weeds infesting a garden.
“Weeds? Humans…are weeds?” Tsukiakari curiously asked.
     “What you saw today in Kyoto is proof that humans can cause trouble for other humans, Tsukiakari. That's why what you did today was not wrong, nor was it a sin. It was you cutting the weeds. And my, did you cut them beautifully. You have such amazing talent with a sword.”
     “So...I don't have to feel bad? I don't know about that...my heart is still racing...” she said with her hand placed gently over her chest.
      “Of course, it must've been shocking to you. However, that moment was your first confrontation of human evil. The reaction you displayed was the correct one. It is okay to kill those who threaten the stability of the country. It is okay to cull evildoers from the rest of the herd. There is no sin in vanquishing that which was not virtuous in the first place. Tsukiakari, we are gods, so these rules apply doubly so. Gods, and Heaven by extension, can do no wrong in our judgement of humans.”
      “We, as gods, rightfully have power over them?” Tsukiakari asked with widened, scarlet eyes.
      “Precisely that. After all, it was your lineage that gave birth to Man and the earth beneath his feet.”
      “Still...does that mean...they're inferior to us?”
      “That is up for you to decide. Whether you think humans as a whole are inferior to us divine beings, or if you'd rather judge on a smaller scale, it's up to you. However, there are very clear weeds in the garden that is this country, and we would not be wrong in cutting them. We'd be doing this world a great favor.” Bishamon confidently proclaimed.

This idea of divine superiority did not begin with Bishamon. Many of Heaven’s older deities would agree with his words. When she heard those words, Tsukiakari’s heart calmed itself. Her cold, small hands stopped shaking. Slowly but surely, the shock and guilt she felt when she killed those two humans began to fade away, for she realized that a god can do no wrong.

     “And so, Tsukiakari, I'd like you to join us.” said Bishamon with a raised tone of voice.
      “Us? You mean the Senkumo clan?”
      “Yes. We are a self-established, militaristic clan free from the avaricious influence of war lords and daimyo. Most of our members were orphaned and left homeless by the war consuming Kyoto. Coming here allowed them to pledge their lives to a living, breathing god, not just another provincial lord. I'm going to lead this clan as we remove the weeds from the garden, wherever they may arise. Your talent with a blade is a sign that you are just the right person to bestow this honor to. Yes...I foresee you becoming an even greater god of war than I am. You will become a mighty force on the battlefield.”
     “Battle?! But I...what if I...” Tsukiakari stuttered with panicked breath.
      “There is no need to worry, Tsukiakari.” Bishamon assured. “
   Bishamon stood from his cushion, holding a sheathed blade in his hand. He pulled the golden longsword out of its scabbard, wowing Tsukiakari as the blade itself was cloaked in flames, just as his horse was.

“From this day forth, you will be my disciple. You shall approach them, the warlords and commanders who wish for swift victories, and you will answer their call under my name. By bestowing the authority of my own name upon you, you too can flourish off of their prayers. It will keep you alive, so that even if you fall in battle...you shall never die. Like a phoenix, you will rise from the ashes, born anew out of fire and blood.” He ominously declared.
    
He lowered his fiery sword just above Tsukiakari's head, where she could feel the heat loom over her hair, then travel to her shoulders. Then, it was gone. The blade was sheathed, and her head cooled down again. Bishamon smiled as he patted her head, messing up her hair like an annoying father figure.

   “Do you accept this holy duty, hallowed war goddess?” he asked with a smile.

    After having fled from Heaven and fleeing the conflict embroiling Kyoto, Tsukiakari wondered what choice she really had. She could think of no safer place to be than within those sovereign walls, safeguarded from violence outside.
“I...I accept...” Tsukiakari said with her head bowed.

    Shown to her room, Tsukiakari timidly knocked on the sliding door, excusing herself as she went inside. The room was much like Bishamon's, albeit smaller and without the aroma of incense saturating the air. Three girls dressed neatly in black yukatas brushed each other's hair as Tsukiakari's entrance summoned their glances towards her.

    How odd, she thought.

The first girl was the tallest. She sat in the front while her black hair was being brushed by a girl shorter than her with shoulder-length, brown hair. The second girl’s hair was being brushed by a shorter, silver-haired girl even. The third girl’s hair radiated as if she wore strands of threaded moonlight on her head. She couldn't have been much older than Tsukiakari, in terms of appearance.

    Tsukiakari turned beet-red just staring at the three, as if she had walked in on them committing some odd, pagan ritual or group suicide. Still, she mustered together a string of awkwardly put together words in an attempt to say hello.

       “Uhh...he...hello...what are your…“ Tsukiakari mumbled.
    In order from largest to smallest, the girls introduced themselves. The black haired beauty with green eyes and an 'elder sister' air around her introduced herself without so much as a smile or a blink.
       “Taeko Senkumo, nineteen years old, born in Kyoto. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
    Then the smaller girl with the brown hair and sapphire-blue eyes spoke after her.
       “Mayumi Senkumo, fifteen years old, also born in Kyoto! A pleasure to meet you!” she said in a much more lively tone than Taeko.
    Then spoke the little girl with the beautifully long and angelic white hair and hazel eyes. She spoke with a raspy and timid voice, but introduced herself well nonetheless.
     “Ebina Senkumo, ten years old, Kyoto-born. A pleasure.”
     “Uhm...Ebina? How do you write that?” Tsukiakari asked with embarrassment.
      “Ah, it's not a common name, so I understand the confusion. Ebina is-“
    “Ebina is written with the characters for "Ocean", "Old Age", and "Vegetable"!” Taeko rudely interrupted with a lighthearted smile.
      “Taeko, please do not interrupt me in front of our new guest. I can talk for myself.” Ebina calmly replied.
     “Taeko! You ruined her introduction!” Mayumi groaned.
     “What?! Come on, I was just looking out for her!” Taeko replied defensively.
      “As I said, I can talk for myself. When will you learn, sis?” Ebina nagged.
    “Never, apparently.” Mayumi concluded.

    Dark clouds loomed over Taeko's head for her awful mistake. A crisis concerning her roll in life dawned upon her as her eyes went dark and gloomy. Was she taking her role as elder too far? Should she have shut up and let the girl introduce herself properly? All these and more weighed on her heart and soul, for she only yearned to be the perfect sister figure.

“Anyway, what's your name?” Mayumi asked, breaking the ice with a slight smile.
        “O-Oh! It's Tsukiakari! I suppose I'll be Tsukiakari Senkumo from now on. Please take good care of me!”

    A lady of politesse, Tsukiakari bowed before her new peers with a smile.

       “Tsukiakari?” Taeko repeated just for the pleasure of saying it. “What a beautiful name! Well, if you're here, I suppose we'll be roommates from now on! Please, make yourself at home and leave all your troubles to me! If you ever get sick and need someone to wipe down your sweaty, naked body, please don't hesitate to whisper my name!“
Mayumi delivered a swift chop to Taeko's head, bringing her to heel like a misbehaving dog. Between Mayumi and Taeko, it was easy to tell the former was the most mature.

       “Bad Taeko! You just want to run your fingers through a little girl's body! You're sick!” Mayumi lectured.
      “Hehe...guilty...” Taeko admitted.

At long last, Tsukiakari had a place she could call home. From that night on, she proudly called herself Tsukiakari Senkumo, a war goddess in training.

Now compare all this to these chapters  :clapping:

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #413 on: August 28, 2018, 10:05:53 PM »
Senkumo War Stories: Yearning
Spoiler
Two cold, winter days passed by. It was more than enough time for Yachi to make her return to the Senkumo base. Expecting her arrival any minute, Chiya waited outside the entrance gates of the base, looking on down the road. She thought that at any minute, she'd see Yachi's horse cantering towards her, with Yachi herself just barely awake. At any minute, when they could look at each other from afar, Yachi would smile and let out a childish giggle. Chiya smiled as she stood beneath those frigid, gray skies, imagining what kind of stories Yachi would tell of Kameyama. She'd probably talk at length about being able to ride a boat down the Hozu river, or about some great dish she tried while she was there. Chiya took a quick gander towards the gates, seeing not the usual Senkumo guards, but a team of vigilant shinigami, hidden beneath their black cloaks. Their aura was colder than the winter snow, serving as a reminder that the Senkumo were still under Izanami's punitive investigation. Steadily, the day began to grow dark.

Chiya stood biting her nails. "Where are you, Yachi? You should've returned two days ago. You better not be treating yourself to an extended stay at our expense..."

One of the shinigami standing guard at the gate grew impatient. "Lord Chiya Senkumo-"

"Otonougi." She interrupted. "If you soulless wraiths are to speak my name, you will say it correctly. I am a Senkumo, yes, but my sister and I are still called by our family names."

"Lord Chiya Otonougi", the shinigami corrected. "I must insist that you return inside. The hour of night is nearly upon us."
Chiya hissed in retaliation. "Am I not allowed to wait for my sister's return?"

"Like I said. I insist you go back inside. I won't ask a third time."

"You dare hold us prisoner in our own home..." Chiya murmured.

Chiya bitterly complied with the shinigami, returning to her quarters in the hope her sister would arrive tomorrow morning.The sun's rise was veiled by the thick, winter clouds the next day. Continuing her investigation, Izanami had Chiya guide her through the medical ward of the base. Most of the facility had already been rebuilt after the tragic plague outbreak. There was hardly any evidence that a fire occurred in the building at all. Izanami sat at the desk where Taeko used to observe the medical records of the day, under the watchful eye of Chiya. The goddess rummaged through every scroll and piece of parchment she could find. Her black and crimson eyes speedily scanned every bit of information she could get her hands on. The amounts of dead or wounded, the type of care they received, she saw it all. More interestingly, Izanami saw records referencing the massacre in the village just a few miles down from the base.

Izanami laid the scroll down and pointed at the text. "Is this true, Chiya? The Senkumo clan wiped out an entire village of people? What for?"
"It's...not a memory any of us wish to revisit, Izanami."

"I'm asking you to. I can present any and all evidence I find before a divine court. It's better you explain this with your own words."

Chiya hung her head low, hesitating to speak. "...One of our messenger teams were attacked on their way to another Senkumo mansion. The attack occurred less than a kilometer away from the village itself. At the time, our relationship with the Ashikaga clan was deteriorating, and the village had always been considered Ashikaga territory. The surviving troops were shocked and enraged. They weren't thinking straight. They assumed the villagers must've tipped the Ashikaga clan off about their route and responded accordingly. They didn't even know for sure if their attackers were in any way affiliated with the Ashikaga. Still...our men unleashed their rage upon those innocent people. As soon as we heard, Tsukiakari deployed an immediate action team and put the soldiers down. Our lord was trying to avoid a diplomatic incident with the Ashikaga. So...we were tasked with dumping the bodies in the Katsura river after the massacre. The whole site was cleaned up and scrubbed like nothing ever happened. We washed blood and sorrow out of the soil, but we couldn't get the dirt of our deeds off our souls."

"And then after that..." Izanami paused.

"Yes. The ourbreak happened soon after that. You could say it was cyclical karma for what we did that day. It's no surprise our men have been encountering angry demons and phantoms ever since. Our victims remain enraged with us, even in death."

Izanami stood. "After this place was razed, Tsukiakari explained her encounter with one such phantom here. No, it was actually two. She said they were enwreathed in fire. A naked woman with a body of char and hair of flame, and a wounded soldier in respectable armor. Have you or your men encountered either of them since the outbreak?"

"Some of the men who accompanied Mayumi in her final campaign reported seeing both of them in numerous, separate occasions. Either the woman or the soldier would just be...lingering among the corpses after a battle, both of them wrapped in fire. The soldier actually possessed a horse of some kind, a flaming stallion."

Izanami's eyes widened in surprise. "A flaming stallion? That sounds like...I'm sorry, Chiya. Keep going."

"That's about all the information I have on them, really. The troops said that both phantoms would just disappear into a puff of smoke in the blink of an eye, as if they weren't even there. Some of them thought they were hallucinating after spending so much time in the field. Others attributed the sightings to head injuries they sustained during the fighting, so they disregarded what they saw. When Yachi and I collected their accounts and noticed the similarities, we couldn't quite agree that our men were just losing their grip on reality."

"I see..." Izanami said with her thumb beneath her chin.

"Izanami, if I may ask...are those phantoms related to your investigation of our clan?" Chiya questioned.

"I don't know. They very well could be. Most vengeful ghosts and demons don't attach themselves so strongly to a single group, not unless there's something to attach themselves to. Guilt, anger, hatred, any sort of negative and powerful emotion. The fact that any phantom would affix themselves to the Senkumo is proof of your wrongdoing as a clan. You covered up a mass murder and burned your own men to death..."

"Yes...we have no one to blame but ourselves."

In truth, Izanami knew where the blame truly lied. Bishamon's threat had reminded her all too well of that. There she was, conducting a hypocrite's trial, digging up the old wounds of a mortal girl. Izanami sickened herself, but she didn't have the stomach to tell Chiya about the origins of the plague. Suddenly, a lone shinigami entered the office, apologetically bowing his hooded head.

"Lord Izanami, please excuse my interruption. I come bearing an update for Lord Chiya Otonougi." the shinigami spoke.
Izanami nodded. "Please, go ahead."
"Thank you. Lord Chiya Otonougi, your sister has yet to return from her trip." the shinigami announced.
Chiya gasped in shock. "Still?! It's already been three days since her return date! She should've been back by now!"
"You mean Yachi? Where is she supposed to be returning from?" Izanami asked.
Chiya took a deep breath. "I sent her off to Kameyama to handle an errand. It wasn't anything serious, so it should've only taken two to three days to get it done and get back here. Now it's been almost a week since she's been gone. Even if the weather was slowing her down, it still wouldn't take three whole days to get back from Kameyama."

Izanami set aside the scroll and stared daggers into Chiya's eyes. "I'm sorry, Chiya. I cannot allow anyone to leave this base while the investigation is underway. You will remain here until further notice."
Chiya's chest rose with worried breath. "Izanami! This is my sister we're talking about! What if she needs help? What if she's lost?
"That is of no concern to me at the moment. I'm sure your sister will turn up soon."

Izanami's cold reply left Chiya speechless. It only took a few hours to get to Kameyama from the Senkumo mansion, even with heavy snow. It just didn't make sense for Yachi to take multiple days getting back if she was returning via the same route she arrived. Though Chiya knew her sister could be quite an adventurous spirit, she couldn't see her spending extra time out during the coldest winter in years. Though her heart shivered and shook, Chiya released a meditative sigh and quieted her mind.

"The shinigami will be seizing all of the clan's medical records in relation to both the village massacre and the plague outbreak on base." Izanami said. "I also ask that your shinobi unit relinquish records relating to the cover-up of the massacre, as well as the clan's encounters with the fire phantoms."

Having no say in the matter, Chiya bitterly complied. "Do what you must..."






All throughout the day, the Izanami and her shinigami acquired as much written evidence as they possibly could. It seemed that Izanami hoped to be able to pin the village massacre and subsequent plague outbreak on Bishamon. However, for all the scrolls she searched through, she could find no direct evidence of Bishamon personally ordering the cover-up. Day-to-day reports went from the lowest point of the Senkumo's chain of command all the way up to Tsukiakari, but hardly ever to Bishamon. All she could find was Bishamon's suggestion that the plague-infected medical ward be razed, with the afflicted locked inside. It simply wasn't enough. With the evidence acquired so far, Izanami could put Tsukiakari on trial for her destructive activities as a rogue goddess, but Bishamon wouldn't be punished nearly as harshly. She simply couldn't shoot through her own granddaughter just to get at Bishamon.

That night, Chiya lied awake in her futon, staring at the ceiling of her bedroom. The songs of crickets were the only thing that kept the quietude at bay. All night long, she thought only of Yachi. She turned her head to the left, looking towards Yachi's rolled up futon, a reminder that she still had not returned.

"Yachi..." she whispered. "Please come home..."

The new day lit up the sky, and yet, Yachi had still not returned. After she awoke and straightened herself up, she opened the sliding door of the female quarters and walked out into the courtyard. Her sandals crunched on blankets of snow with every step as the wind left goosebumps on her arms. The courtyard felt much more like a prison yard with the shinigami patrolling about the premises, watching Chiya from afar, from every angle. Their hoods covered their heads and cloaked their masked faces in impenetrable shadow. Just looking at them summoned a torrent of rage inside Chiya. Her chest burned hot like a kiln.

Enough was enough.

She stormed up to one of the shinigami and growled. "Where is Izanami? I demand to see her."
"Izanami has not asked for your assistance yet. I suggest-"
"My sister has been missing for four days! I have no idea where she is or even if she's safe! How much longer will you have me wait?!"
"Until Izanami permits you to leave. Until then, you will do as you're told." the shinigami stubbornly asserted.

Chiya's eyes went bloodshot, as if she badly wanted to strangle the obstinate shinigami. She turned heel and stormed off towards the stables in a huff, taking matters into her own hands. On the path there, she walked by Gunba and a few of the other men that usually stood guard at the gates. They stood upon seeing Chiya and saluted her with a bow of the head.

"Gunba." Chiya called out. "Take the men and open the gates. I'm leaving."
Gunba stuttered in surprise. "L-Leaving? my lord-"
"I know. I'm not allowed to leave. That's exactly why I'm leaving right now."
"Lord Chiya...is this about Yachi? We noticed she hasn't returned from Kameyama." Gunba surmised.
Chiya hesitated with quivering lips. "Yachi should've been back days ago. Something must've happened for her to not return home."
"Perhaps she's just enjoying her time over there?" one of the men suggested.
"I thought of that too, but she didn't have enough money to afford to stay in Kameyama for this long." Chiya replied. Besides, she'd never stay out like that, not during such a harsh winter. Gunba, please...I just want Yachi to come home."
Gunba sighed as he scratched his head. "Boys, let's open the gates. To hell with the shinigami."
Chiya bowed as the men replied with an affirmative cheer. "Thank you so much..."

Gunba and the men took to their stations, moving quickly so Chiya could leave before the shinigami could stop her. Chiya mounted her horse as Gunba and the men pulled the large, wooden gate upon with all of their strength, using three men for each side. They had to pull against the blankets of snow on the ground, making it even more tiresome.

"Pull!" Gunba shouted. "Put your back into it!"

Chiya's horse cantered in front of the gate, waiting for there to be just enough space for them to fit through it. Right then, the shinigami took notice of the cracked open gate.

"Stop! No one is allowed to leave!" the shinigami shouted as he ran towards them. Several others followed behind him.

Gunba and the men managed to get just enough space for Chiya to squeeze through.

"Go, Chiya!" Gunba shouted.
"I'll be back soon, everyone!" Chiya assured as she raced through the gates, leaving the pursuing shinigami behind.

Her horse entered a full gallop as she traveled down the road, her destination already in mind. There was no one's help she needed more than Tsukiakari Senkumo's.

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #414 on: August 31, 2018, 11:39:55 PM »
Juuuust a quick detour. This chapter is going to end up going here I think, between chapters Samsara and Izanami the Cruel. See, I really REALLY wanted to provide a look at the emotional trauma of everything going on, but not from Tsukiakari's point of view. I wanted to try testing how, say, an ordinary nurse in the Senkumo clan might process a traumatic event. It still needs work, but I definitely had fun doing this. I hope you enjoy it too.

Senkumo War Stories: A Person Undone
Spoiler
A solemn sunrise shined its faded, deep-orange light on the Senkumo base the next morning. It was so early, but most of the clan was already awake, tending to the bodies brought home from the battle against Yoshihisa. That included Tsukiakari, who sat outside on the steep steps of the storage building. The morning wind slowly lifted and released her majestically long, raven hair as she sat there, staring off into the orange-tipped horizon. She could hear the faint, melancholic melody of a koto below. Perhaps one of the troops decided to start playing, hoping to soothe the aching hearts of their comrades. The notes were drenched in nostalgic reminiscence, yet burned with a poignant bitterness. The song did nothing but echo through her empty, hollow self.

Suddenly, a ball of red yarn protruded into her peripheral vision, slowly rolling up to her thigh. Tsukiakari picked it up and looked around, but she didn't see anyone coming to reclaim the ball. The yarn was almost perfectly wound into a flawless, round shape, but Tsukiakari noticed that a few inches of the yarn had come loose. Her eyes remained fixated on this ball of yarn. She held it close to her as if it were a precious child, her vision growing wavy and blurred as tears welled in her eyes.

"Gekko? Is that you?" rang the voice of Ayadachi

Tsukiakari jumped up a bit, startled by Ayadachi's silent approach. "Ayadachi? I...I thought..."

Ayadachi's expression was hard to read with the blindfold covering her wounded eyes.

"You thought what?"

Tsukiakari nodded her head from side to side. "Nevermind. My head's just a mess, that's all. Is this yarn yours?"

"Ah, yes it is! My apologies, I dropped it just now and I couldn't find it."

"Don't worry about it. Here, open your hand."

Ayadachi did as she was asked. Tsukiakari gently plopped the ball of yarn back into her hand, but only for a moment. Ayadachi was suddenly pushed aside by a furious Chiharu, knocking the yarn back onto the ground. Tsukiakari's eyes followed Ayadachi as she lost her balance, struggling not to fall over. She didn't see the ceramic urn that Chiharu reached her hand inside of.

Chiharu furiously screamed at her lord. "It's your fault! You got them all killed! You! You did this!

She quickly pulled her hand out of the urn, throwing a fistful of ashes onto Tsukiakari. The ashes coated the front of her black robes, the ends of her raven hair, and even her face. Stunned, Tsukiakari's scuttled backwards, coughing up particles of ash that slipped into her mouth and nose. Several other young girls and a few nurses raced out of the storage building, crying for Chiharu to stop immediately. She paid no heed to their calls.

"They all entrusted their lives to you, and you still let them die!" Chiharu screamed.

Terrified, Ayadachi tried to intervene. "Chiharu, please calm down!"

Chiharu bombarded Tsukiakari with more screams. "I hate you! I hate you! It should've been you!"

Chiharu was suddenly and violently pulled aside by her hair. It was Taeko that reigned her in. Chiharu's anger then focused itself on Taeko, one of the strictest adults on base, who loomed over her like a great shadow.

"That's enough." Taeko calmly stated. "Take your friends and go spread the ashes. Don't wander far from base."

Chiharu angrily gnashed her teeth, her grip tightening around the urn. She let out a final scream and threw the urn against the ground, shattering it and releasing the ashes. Taeko remained unmoved by her behavior.

"You think they'll appreciate that? Having their ashes spread across the floor?" Taeko teased.

Seeing what she had done, Chiharu's anger wilted into a deep sadness. Tears fell from her eyes like rain drops upon the pile of ashes at her feet. Ayadachi slowly approached Chiharu, gently laying her hand on her shoulders. The other young girls crowded around her as she released her sobs. Taeko kept her eyes fixed on Chiharu as the girls hugged her. She made it a point to herself not to look away from her anguish. Tsukiakari saw the tears swell in Taeko's eyes as well, but she fought them back enough so they would not fall.

"That's it..." Taeko whispered. "Let it all out..."

By the time noon came, the base was swamped with an unbearable heat. Most of the bodies had already been cremated, and the medical team spent their time cleaning the floors of the storage building. They mopped it down, scrubbed it spotless, and washed it with buckets of hot water. The remaining members of the deceased's teams were given their ashes, free to keep or dispose of them as they wished. Taeko and Mayumi worked tirelessly to make the whole operation run as fast and smoothly as possible. The wounded from the battle were treated in the medical ward. Dozens of patients were still in critical condition, unsure if they'd live long enough to recover from their wounds. Nurses frantically ran about, carrying clean cloths, scalpels, alcohol, and other tools through the halls. Tsukiakari still hadn't washed the ashes off of her face.

Mayumi found time to take a small break after distributing supplies to surgeons in need. She found Tsukiakari sitting by her lonesome in the entrance hall, her head hung low.

"Gekko? Are you alright?"

Tsukiakari raised her head, revealing her ash-covered face. Mayumi immediately took her hand rag and wiped her face off for her.

"I heard what happened." Mayumi said, clearing the ashes from Tsukiakari's eyes. "Her teammates wanted us to let you know they're sorry. She was just...really upset. Everyone is right now. I had to let one of our nurses take a break after one of the patient's died on her watch. She was torn up about it."

"They have nothing to be sorry for. No one does. It's all on me." Tsukiakari mumbled with clouded eyes.

"Gekko, listen to me. What happened...it...it wasn't your fault, okay? The Ashikaga are a powerful enemy to have. The battle was destined to end in heavy casualties for both sides."

"Do you actually believe that, Mayumi? Do you?"

Mayumi hesitated. "I..."

"Mayumi!" A nurse called from down the hall. "We need you in here!"

"Ahh! I'm on my way!" she responded. "Sorry, Gekko. I have to go. We'll talk later."

Tsukiakari silently waved goodbye as Mayumi ran off. She continued to sit in silence, stuck in her clouded, guilty thoughts. She felt imprisoned, trapped in her own flesh. She wished she could've just separated from her body and flown off somewhere as a detached spirit, free from physical sensations of every kind. She's be free to wander, to disappear into the deep, blue sky and simply vanish. No matter how many times she would die, she would only reincarnate. Over and over. Over and over again, stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of birth, rebirth. Birth, rebirth. Birth, rebirth.

She felt a sudden nudge at her foot. Looking down, she saw Ayadachi's red ball of yarn again. She picked it up and looked around, seeing nobody was there. She took a closer look at the yarn, noticing even more of it had come undone. She sighed, trying to wind the loose thread of yarn back into the ball. No matter how much she tried, it just seemed...out of place. The loose thread just couldn't rejoin the ball in a way that seemed natural. It couldn't be wound tightly enough, so it ruined the ball's otherwise flat surface.

"Oh darn...where did I drop it now?" Ayadachi said, walking down the hall towards Tsukiakari.

"Looking for this?" Tsukiakari asked, holding up the yarn.

Ayadachi blushed. "Gekko? Oh, do you have my yarn again? I'm sorry! I keep dropping it lately."

Ayadachi gently dragged her fingertips against the walls in order to feel her way around. This made up for her blindness, somewhat, allowing her to navigate the base at a slow pace.

"Here, let me help you." Tsukiakari insisted. She took Ayadachi's hand and slowly guided her onto one of the chairs.

"Ahhh, it feels nice to sit down again. Thanks, Gekko."

Tsukiakari plopped the ball of yarn into her hand. "No problem. What are you doing with this yarn anyway? Are you making something with it?"

"Gekko..." Ayadachi giggled. "Don't be silly. I can't see anything, so what could I possibly make?"

"Oh...I'm sorry..."

"That was a trick question!" Ayadachi cheered. "I'm making Cat's Cradle!"

Tsukiakari's eyes widened in realization. "Oh! I suppose you don't really need to see anything to make Cat's Cradle. You're comfortable enough just feeling your way around?"

"Mhmm!" she exclaimed with a nod. "Well...as you can see, I haven't actually made any progress. It's kind of difficult to make Cat's Cradle with one arm, you see. I was asking my teammates to help me earlier but they're all giving me the cold shoulder."

"That's not surprising. I doubt they're in the mood for yarn games during a time like this."

"Ohh...I guess you're right." Ayadachi agreed with a saddened tone.

She felt around the ball of yarn with the tips of her fingers, momentarily hypnotized by its texture. It was oddly stimulating. Or perhaps, it wasn't so odd at all. Robbed of her sight, she had to rely on her other senses, valuing touch above the rest.

"You're right, Gekko. Maybe I should stop bothering them about it. I just...I guess I just don't want them to be so sad that they forget me, you know?"

"Time heals all wounds. Let them have their space for now, and they'll eventually agree to make Cat's Cradle with you."

"I hope you're right."

A pair of thundering footsteps from up the hall startled the two. Tsukiakari stood up to see who it was, coming face to face with the Otonougi twins.

"Yachi? Chiya?" Tsukiakari asked, surprised to see them in a rush.

Yachi, out of breath, presented a sealed letter to her lord. "We just received this from our courier. It's got an Ashikaga seal on it."

"It's supposedly from Tomiko." Chiya added.

"Tomiko?" Ayadachi curiously questioned from her seat.

Tsukiakari immediately broke the seal and opened the letter. Yachi and Chiya crowded around her as she read it aloud. Some of the nurses nearby also heard her read the letter from down the hall.

"To the Wretched Tsukiakari Senkumo. My son, Yoshihisa, has returned to me. In a box. Do you feel good now? Do you feel like a true goddess, forcing a mother to bury her child? I will not see my baby boy silenced by your blade. I will tell the whole world what you did, and that you failed to hide it. I'll tell the people of this country that your society is the kind that brings death and misery upon the innocent. I shall never forgive your lowly kind. From one demon to another, I'll see you in hell."

"It's to be expected." Yachi said. "Forgive me for saying this, Gekko, but...we are the ones that wronged them first."

"What should we do?" Chiya asked.

Tsukiakari crumbled the letter. "Consider the Ashikaga our permanent enemies. If we have any trade or message routes still cutting through their territory, alter them accordingly. Any Ashikaga soldiers you see within our province is to be engaged on sight."

"If that's your choice, we're with you." Yachi proclaimed. "Let's go, Sis. We should inform the appropriate units."

"Right." Chiya agreed.

Ayadachi watched with concerned eyes as Tsukiakari stood there, paralyzed. A once amicable friend and valuable asset was now her sworn enemy. Tsukiakari sat there the whole day, even when Ayadachi got up to leave. The afternoon came and went like a flash of lightning. The dying light of sunset crept through the medical ward's windows, streaking across her face. The medical ward had quieted down and became less frantic. The resulting quietude left Tsukiakari room to lose herself in a cloud of vague, draining thoughts. She sat there on the same seat she'd been at the whole day, as still a corpse.

Taeko emerged from her office and marched down the halls. Seeing Tsukiakari in the entrance hall, she stopped and sat down with her. The two remained silent for quite a while.

"I've assigned some of the nurses on counseling positions. At least one of our patients is going to need psychological assistance. She's going through some...odd symptoms." Taeko explained.

"What do you mean?"

"Her surviving teammates informed the nurse that her recollection of events during the battle are inconsistent. She either remembers things that didn't happen as if they did, or she doesn't remember things that actually did occur. She's also shown very few signs of emotional distress or grief."

Tsukiakari turned her head towards Taeko. "After everything she went through?"

"Yeah. Apparently, the teammates brought up the names of some of the deceased during their conversation. But...the patient recalls them as being alive. She insists they survived the battle, despite what everyone else is telling her. The nurses ultimately decided not to press the issue too much. The situation was too stressful for her teammates. They left her mementos from their late comrades in hopes they would jog her memory, but no luck yet."

"Do we know what's happening to her? Is she just in denial?"

"No, I don't think so. The doctors are certain she's not faking it or putting on an act. There's no signs she suffered any serious head injuries either. She's genuinely separated herself from her own experience. We're not entirely sure what to make of it yet. Her memories are all fragmented and altered, as if she's trying to protect herself from what she really went through."

Tsukiakari held her forehead in her hand. "Do we have any cases similar to this?"

"Nothing yet, but I'm certain plenty of the troops will need some sort of counseling, especially the younger ones. I'll have all the reports ready within a few days."

"Thank you, Taeko."

Taeko got up from her seat, standing with her hands on her hip.

"Listen, Gekko..." she said, unable to look Tsukiakari in the eyes. "It's not your fault, okay?"

"I wished I believed that." Tsukiakari sighed.

Taeko turned around, patting Tsukiakari on the shoulder. "I'll be in our room. Don't stay here too long."

Taeko walked off, leaving Tsukiakari alone once more. For a moment, she almost wished she could switch places with the patient Taeko described. How nice it would've been, to be relieved of the burden of memory, to not have to confront or accept those horrors. It wasn't so easy for Tsukiakari to forget. There was nothing to protect her from her own experience, her own guilt.

The fading light of dusk was stolen by the darkness. A full moon shined in the night sky, looming above the Senkumo base with unrelenting brightness. Still, Tsukiakari stayed right where she was, right in that same seat. As she sat there, a red ball of yarn protruded through her peripheral vision. It rolled on the ground and into her center view, leaving a trail of thread until it almost unraveled completely. Tsukiakari stood up, looking around for Ayadachi. The halls were steeped in shadow, broken up only by the hanging lanterns mounted on the walls. Their flickering, amber glow were like small spotlights in the darkness. With no sign of Ayadachi around, Tsukiakari chose to follow the trail of yarn down the hall.

The faint sounds of anguished groans grew louder the further she walked down the hall. Eventually, the trail led her through an opened door leading into one of the patients' rooms. Ayadachi lied on the bed, writing and groaning in pain. She held her hand to her temple, as if the pain was coming from her head. A black-haired nurse wearing a white surgical mask stood at her bedside, gently stroking Ayadachi's cheeks to comfort her. Ayadachi's black robes lied at her bedside, neatly folded. She appeared to have stripped down to her white jinbei set, as her top was rolled up to her breasts, revealing her sweat-drenched torso.

"What's going on?" Tsukiakari asked, startling the nurse

She quickly responded in surprise "Gekko!"

Ayadachi's groans intensified. She flailed her legs around in pain, prompting Tsukiakari to rush by her side and aid the nurse in holding her down.

"Just hold her down!" the nurse urged. "I already gave her medicine."

Tsukiakari's heart raced with worry watching Aydachi suffer so much. The medicine seemed to have settled in after a few minutes, however. She slowly calmed down, her groans quieting into soft, breathy whimpers. Tsukiakari's hand felt as though it was enwreathed in fire as she continued to hold her down by her stomach. Even her breath was hot and visible under the light of her bedside lantern. A few minutes later, Ayadachi slipped into a peaceful slumber, her pain subsiding. The nurse sighed a breath of relief.

"What happened?" Tsukiakari asked. "She was fine a few hours ago."

"Honestly, I'm not sure. She started complaining about headaches at first, so she came here to lie down. When I came back to check on her, she was already writhing in pain. She couldn't talk much, but she said it was her eyes bothering her the most."

"Her eyes? You mean the phantom eye syndrome Taeko warned about?"

"Yeah, I think so. She was mumbling too, as if she were having a nightmare. Odd thing is, she wasn't asleep."

Tsukiakari turned her sympathetic gaze towards the sleeping Ayadachi. "Nightmares without sleeping?"

"Taeko did mention she'd be likely to experience hallucinations along with phantom pain in her missing eyes. It seemed like she was seeing things concerning the battle."

"The battle? But she couldn't have seen anything from the battle in the first place."

"Yeah, I know. I'm no expert like Taeko or Mayumi, but I can take a guess. I think her brain is building visual scenes of the battle, using other sensory information she received during that time as building blocks. She's probably seeing it via her hallucinations, as if they're real. Also, there's something else you should know, Gekko."

"What is it?"

"In her hallucinations...she seemed to think she was part of the reinforcements that arrived after you died in the field."

"What? No, she was instructing the medical staff in the camp behind our lines. She wasn't far off from the fighting at all."

"So I've heard." the nurse sighed. "I don't know what to think about it. It could just be her hallucinations, but she seemed to be remembering key details of the battle all wrong. Where she was, when she arrived, what she felt. It's almost like she thought she was an entirely different person. Whatever was going on in her head, she felt incredibly guilty about it. I'm not sure what it is or why."

"I guess we won't know for sure until she wakes up."

"Yeah, you're right. We still have our late-night staff here. I'll have them keep an eye on her. As for now, she's fast asleep."

The nurse stood up, her eyes heavy with exhaustion. She tied her hair into a ponytail and took her small tray of herbal medicine with her on the way out. She stopped at the door, unable to look at Tsukiakari directly.

"Gekko..."

"Yes?"

"It's not your fault."

The raven-haired nurse then disappeared into the darkness of the hall, leaving Tsukiakari with Ayadachi. She cleared the loose strands of her away from her sleeping face, careful to make her touch as gentle as possible. She couldn't dare wake the poor girl. It was late, about the time Tsukiakari would retire for bed. She just couldn't leave Ayadachi. She felt it was her duty to stand by her side until she was better. So, gently holding Ayadachi's hand, Tsukiakari lied her head at her bedside, deciding she would fall asleep.

"Don't let go...Gekko..." Ayadachi whispered.

Tsukiakari shot her head up, gazing at Ayadachi's pained expression as she slept.

"I'm scared...Don't let go...Don't let go of me..."

"Ayadachi..." Tsukiakari muttered, tears swelling in her bloodshot eyes. "I'm right here, okay? I won't let go of you. I won't."

Tsukiakari spent the next hour keeping a close watch on Ayadachi, her eyes mostly focused on her sleeping face. Before she knew it, Tsukiakari joined her in a deep slumber. She couldn't remember at what point she fell asleep, nor could she remember closing her eyes at all. It just happened as fast as one could blink. That deep sleep was her only respite from the pain burning like a fire in her chest. As if she had reached nirvana, the deep dark of her slumber comforted her. There was no more sadness or anger, no guilt or joy. For just those few hours, she knew blissful rest.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZeomtLGCbc

Tsukiakari's silent rest gently crumbled away. The soft sound of yarn being spun and woven woke her up. Ayadachi had already gotten up and brought her unraveled ball of yarn back to bed with her.

"Ayadachi?" Tsukiakari asked, still too tired to open her eyes.

"Gekko? Is that you? Is that really you?" Ayadachi asked, frightened by the sudden voice.

"Of course it is. You...you didn't sense me here?"

"Oh, I guess not! My apologies. I'm not feeling too well right now. My senses feel dulled. Even this yarn doesn't quite feel the same against my fingertips."

"The yarn..." Tsukiakari muttered, turning her eyes towards the red mess in Ayadachi's hand. "It's completely unraveled."

"Yeah, it felt like that was the case. Maybe I should just give up on the Cat's Cradle, huh?"

Tsukiakari smiled. "Of course not, silly. Give it here. We'll do it together."

Ayadachi held up her hand, letting Tsukiakari wound the yarn around her fingers. Tsukiakari then used her own hand to complete the Cat's Cradle, making identical loops around her own finger.

"Okay, ready?" Tsukiakari joyfully questioned.

"I think so! What shape are we going for?"

"Who knows? Who even cares? Let's just make something!"

The two awkwardly maneuvered their fingers about, laughing all the while.

"Gekko, I think we're pretty bad at this." Ayadachi chuckled.

"Not at all, it's just you. I'm the Cat's Cradle master around here."

"That's a lie, isn't it?"

"Okay, yeah. I suck at this. Oh wait! I think we're making a shape!"

"R-Really?! Is it a star? Maybe a double diamond?!" Ayadachi excitedly guessed.

"Here, let me just adjust your thumb..." Tsukiakari insisted.

She slipped Ayadachi's thumb out of the section of yarn around it, gently guiding it into a new section.

"Okay, now you should be able to move your thumb to complete the shape."

"Gekko, you're actually not very bad at this at all!" Ayadachi cheered with a giggle.

For all the elation Ayadachi was receiving, Tsukiakari's eyes lowered in despair. In reality, the two weren't making a shape at all. Their Cat's Cradle was a sloppy, incomplete mess. No one could help Ayadachi make a shape, and the yarn couldn't be rewound into the perfect ball it once was either. She fought hard to keep her tears and self-hatred bottled up, her suppressed sobs beating on the inside of her chest. All she could do was give Ayadachi that hallow, phantom joy to counteract the excruciating phantom pain.

"We made a star, Ayadachi..."

"We did? Ah, finally! We at least managed one shape! I can't wait to play this with my teammates! Oh...I mean, when they're feeling better, of course."

"Yeah..."

Ayadachi could sense Tsukiakari's waning mood. "Gekko? What's wrong? Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm just a little bit tired, is all."

Ayadachi nodded and set aside the yarn. "My apologies. Let's go back to sleep, okay? We shouldn't be up at odd hours playing Cat's Cradle. It was fun though, right?"

"Yeah. It was."

The two set aside their games and returned to their slumbers. This time, it was much less peaceful for Tsukiakari. The bliss was gone, and only the deep dark remained. She couldn't help but wonder why it all had to be this way. Why was she, a goddess, so powerless to stop all of the suffering around her? Perhaps some of the soldiers were wondering the same thing. Why, when you entrust someone with your life, do they always let you down in the end? Why does it always end this way?

A violent jolt in the earth rattled Tsukiakari awake. The ground shook violently, knocking the flower vases off the nightstand at Ayadachi's bedside. The walls shook and creaked all around, waking Ayadachi as well.

"An earthquake?!" Tsukiakari cried, trying to make sense of her crumbling surroundings.

Ayadachi let out a terrorized scream as she held her hand over her head, shielding herself from falling debris.

Tsukiakari threw herself over Ayadachi, protecting her with her own body. "Ayadachi! Stay calm!"

"Don't let go! Don't let go! Please don't let go! Don't let me go!" Ayadachi cried, over and over.

"I won't let go! I won't!"

Tsukiakari caught the reflection of a raven-haired nurse in the rattling hand mirror mounted on the wall. She turned her head, intending to ask for her help in protecting Ayadachi. But when she turned, the nurse wasn't there. No one was there. The thunderous cracking of rock and snapping of wood outside turned her attention to the window, where she caught view of a great oak tree falling towards the building. In that moment, she held onto Ayadachi more tightly than ever, as if she'd disappear at any moment. She closed her eyes, part of her praying, part of her remembering.

She had seen this all play out before, back during the battle against Yoshihisa. She remembered being in the Senkumo camp two days after the battle began. Wounded Senkumo men and women were rushed back to the camp almost every hour. She remembered flashes of the nurses frantically trying to keep their patients stable. She remembered doctors and surgeons covered in blood. She remembered she violent shaking and earth-shattering jolts that rocked the camp and filled their tent with screams of the frightened. Those were no earthquakes. Ashikaga trebuchets were bombarding their position from afar. Her reckless assault against the Ashikaga left a crucial opening in their lines, allowing a siege detachment to slip past them and attack their camp.

The flashes felt so real, so familiar. And yet, Tsukiakari couldn't reconcile this clear conflict. If she was on the front lines, leading the assault, just what was she doing back at camp?

Just like the ball of yarn, everything came undone. Everything unraveled.

Everything.

When she awoke, she was alone on the bed, her face soaked in tears. She lied there on her back, clutching the unraveled yarn tightly to her chest. The earthquake had made a mess of the room, but the medical ward received no serious damage whatsoever. The walls were intact, and only a few pieces of furniture and decorations were damaged or knocked over.

"Hey! Is someone in there?!" Taeko shouted from behind the door.

Still dazed by the quake, she could only lie there and watch as Taeko, Mayumi, and a few of the nurses barged through the sliding door. Taeko was the first to enter, and the first to rush to her side.

"Hey, are you alright? You're not hurt, are you?" Taeko asked.

Mayumi followed right behind. "It looks like she's okay! Thank goodness!

Her vision cleared as the nurses also flooded into the room. Finally, the final person to enter the room...was Tsukiakari. The war goddess knelt by her side, gazing into her eyes with tears of relief flowing down her cheeks.

"You're alright, sweetheart. We're lucky that tree didn't fall through."

"Everyone's accounted for, Gekko. Doesn't look like anyone was hurt, nor have we sustained any great damage. Just one hell of an earthquake." Taeko said.

"Excellent. Girls, go get the rooms cleaned up and the patients situated again." Tsukiakari commanded. "Mayumi, you mind expecting the exterior for any damage?"

"On it." Mayumi responded.

"I'll go help the nurses out. Take care of this one." Taeko urged.

This one? She looked down at her clothes, seeing she was in the standard nurse's white robes. She had trouble remembering her name, who she was, or where she was. Her recent memories were all scattered and fragmented, as if to protect her. However, she could clearly remember just one thing. Ayadachi.

Tsukiakari sighed. "Okay, time to get up, Inori. If you're not hurt, we've got a of work to do."

Inori. That was her name. Apparently, she was a nurse in the Senkumo clan, though she could've sworn she was exactly who she was looking at just a few hours ago.

"Where...where's Ayadachi?"

Tsukiakari snapped her head, locking her puzzled eyes with Inori's. "Ayadachi? I..."

Inori stood herself up, still holding the unraveled yarn at her foot. She looked around, seeing no sign of Ayadachi.

"Did she wander off again?" Inori asked.

Tsukiakari stepped forth, laying her hand on Inori's shoulder. "So that's why you were asked to take a break."

"What do you mean?"

"Inori...Ayadachi...died. She died back at camp."

Inori stood there, confused and petrified. "No, I...I saw her...I..."

Tsukiakari moved her hand from Inori's shoulder to her cheek. "There was nothing you could've done. It was my fault. All of the blame is on me. Come on. We have to help out. I'll be outside when you're ready."

As Tsukiakari left the room, Inori began to finally make sense of it all. Ayadachi never made it home alive. Despite shielding her during the attack on their camp, Ayadachi still died. She couldn't protect her. She wondered how much of what she experienced in the past day was real or imagined. For all she knew, she could've even been remembering everything out of order. All she knew was that the pain of being unable to save someone who so desperately wanted to live still lingered. The unraveled yarn she held close to her only made it feel all the more fresh and recent. Ayadachi may have died days ago, but she was only now coming to terms with it. Only now accepting it.

The next day, the Senkumo would make a small trip, on foot, to the Katsura river, to spread the ashes of their fallen. Inori watched from afar as Ayadachi's surviving teammates tearfully said their goodbyes, letting her ashes become one with the glimmering, summer waters of the river. She didn't know Ayadachi that well. She had only seen her a couple time and made small-talk here and there. Such was the plight of nurses like her, and even more so for surgeons. She was there for people in their greatest time of need. She gave them food, water, touch, and comfort. It was her duty to fill her patients with hope, so they'd keep fighting, keep living. Even if it was brief, that bond formed on the fork road of life and death was one of great intensity.

Ayadachi didn't want to die. She was scared to leave this world. For Inori, she had to accept that she had done everything she possibly could that day.

And so, watching Ayadachi's ashes flow down the river, she found some peace knowing that her soul would be making its great journey into the next life. Just how a Senkumo nurse must make her journey into the next day, accepting all that is, was, and ever will be.


Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #415 on: September 13, 2018, 03:43:31 AM »
My god, I'm almost done with Book of Blossoming. 52,000+ words and countless hours and long nights of editing. I'm gonna try to finish the major edits tonight and read it over for minor stuff tomorrow. But by god, it's almost ready  :bored:

Offline Coryn

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #416 on: September 13, 2018, 07:32:24 AM »
You have an absolutely terrifying output man. Good luck on the push to the end!

Will review stories upon request. My latest arc: http://goo.gl/KYgsfF

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #417 on: September 14, 2018, 01:46:54 AM »
I DID IT! IT'S FINALLY COMPLETED! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  :clapping: :clapping: :clapping: :clapping: :clapping:

Senkumo War Stories is now fully edited and ready to go! I promise it'll be worth the read. It's COMPLETELY improved and overhauled from the first draft here. I'll let you guys know when I get the cover art together and handle things like getting an EIN and all that jazz. In the meantime, I'm gonna shift focus to the actual main series, Death by Ex-Girlfriend. Aika Crisis is just like 90% edited already, and the series is generally much easier to edit for. (No worrying about aligning with history and Japanese mythology, covering events that took place over decades etc)

You best believe I'm taking pictures when I get that first printed copy of this. I'm super excited!  :dance: :dance: :dance:

You have an absolutely terrifying output man. Good luck on the push to the end!

Thanks, Coryn! I pulled like five all-nighters in a row to make this final stretch.

Offline Coryn

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Re: Death By Ex-Girlfriend (COMPLETED)
« Reply #418 on: September 14, 2018, 11:42:09 AM »
That's crazy dude. Then again, I've been in that final stretch of a book before. It's always a rush.

Will review stories upon request. My latest arc: http://goo.gl/KYgsfF