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Author Topic: [November 2019 NaNoWhatever Novel Progress] Senkumo War Stories: Book of Revenge  (Read 1260 times)

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Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Alright, time to use this opportunity to get Book of Revenge done in a hurry.

What is Senkumo War Stories?
A sister series of sorts to Death by Ex-Girlfriend. In the second arc of DbEG, Tsukiakari Senkumo was introduced to the story. She told Osamu about her past as a war goddess during Sengoku jidai (Warring States era of Japan). The version she recalled in War Cloud was a condensed account of over a hundred years of history. Senkumo War Stories is more of a full telling of the events leading up to, during, and following the Onin War/Sengoku jidai.

It's a chronicle of how Tsukiakari got involved in the war, how she joined the Senkumo clan, what the Senkumo clan even was, and the many military, personal, and political conflicts that involved the clan or Tsukiakari personally. It shows how Tsukiakari met Bishamon, an initial ally and mentor in Senkumo War Stories who was later introduced as Tsukiakari's sworn enemy in War Cloud.

The events of Senkumo War Stories also laid the groundwork for many of the events that would take place hundreds of years later in DbEG, like Tsukiakari bonding with Izanami, Kagutsuchi's reappearance in Japan, the formation of the Exorcist Program, and Inari's wrongful expulsion from the Shinto pantheon that ultimately resulted in the Inari Standoff.

Of a much darker tone and theme than DbEG, obviously. It's a war story that takes place during one of the most violent periods of Japan's history.

What is Book of Revenge?
The climax of the Senkumo War Stories series.

Tsukiakari has lost everything. Betrayed by her master, she wakens to find her beloved Senkumo clan has been destroyed. Haunted by her grief and the indominable phantom of the Man in Black, Tsukiakari sets her mind on revenge for her fallen clan. Oyamatsumi, Hachiman, Raijin, Fujin, and Bishamon are all on her kill list. Unable to reincarnate, she'll have to throw everything she has at the league of traitorous gods. If she dies to any one of them, she'll never be able to come back like all of the times before. She'll be dead for good, just like her clan.

Revenge is all she has left. Hatred is the only thing giving her strength. Death is her only reason to live.

Everything culminates in Tsukiakari's impetuous massacre of the gods. The long, arduous tale of the Senkumo clan reaches its bloody, tragic end in Book of Revenge.

Let's get cracking.
Introduction: Mutual Benefit
It has already been said once, in the very beginning of this long, arduous tale. Perhaps it needs restating. This story does not have a happy ending. No one will walk away from this situation the same person they were before. This is a war story in which there are no heroes, no champions, and no angels. No such things exist, after all. This is a story about the human heart, as well as the hearts of gods, making sense of the world around them in an era of war. As it turns out, gods and humans are not so different, are they? Both are capable of an insatiable lust for blood and power. Both are capable of love and evil. It's no accident that humans were made in the image of the gods they worship. Mankind inherited their greed and ceaseless yearning. Though every man yearns for something different, the desire is there. As long as there is desire, as long as there is yearning, suffering will surely exist.

And so begins the final chapter of the Senkumo war story, a chapter in which only Tsukiakari was alive to take part in. Having lost everything and everyone in her clan, Tsukiakari was enveloped in grief and uncertainty. What would the war goddess do now that her clan was destroyed? What would she do now that she was no longer a player in the Warring States era? She did what she knew best. She did what Bishamon taught her to do, only she turned her talents against her former master. Driven by the Man in Black's lingering influence, Tsukiakari found the hatred to swear a vow of revenge. She reached within herself and found the brutality needed to kill a mother and her two infant children, just to hurt Bishamon. Even that was only a preamble to what she truly planned to do.

Oyamatsumi, Hachiman, Raijin, Fujin, and finally, Bishamon. Tsukiakari made it her mission to kill every single one of them.

A few days after her murder of Ichiki, Tsukiakari returned to the old, abandoned temple where the Shoku Twins sheltered her. Beams of sunlight pierced through the dilapidated roof, shining down upon the burnt, wooden floors. Tsukiakari had remembered that the Shoku Twins bore a grudge against Oyamatsumi, something they now had in common. However, Tsukiakari had no means of knowing where Oyamatsumi was. That was when she enlisted the help of the twins, Omagatoki and Akatsuki.

"Ah, Gekko! You're back!" Omagatoki said, running up to the war goddess for a hug.

"We did what we promised. Are you sure about this?" Akatsuki asked, politely walking up to Tsukiakari. "Oyamatsumi is your uncle, is he not?"

Tsukiakari stroked Omagatoki's pale cheek with a warm smile before giving Akatsuki a serious gaze. "That's exactly why he has to be the first to die. If I can kill him, the others won't be a problem. I'm doing this. There's no going back now that I've made my vow."

"Gekko, you're on your last life, so you have to be careful!" Omagatoki cautioned, her eyes glistening with worry.

"These bastards won't be killing me anytime soon. Don't worry, Omagatoki." Tsukiakari said. "So then, where is he?"

"He should be near Kyoto by now, in the outskirts that were burned during the war." Akatsuki informed.

"He's alone?" Tsukiakari asked.

"As far as I know, the gods are splitting up in order to find you. They intend to widen their search area that way." Akatsuki explained. "Not even Oyamatsumi is careless enough to come with an army based off a tip from us."

"Perfect. I'll head there at once. Thank you for all of your help, you guys." Tsukiakari said.

"Beat the living crap out of him, Gekko!" Omagatoki cheered, flexing her arm.

"Please watch your language, Sis. And good luck, Tsukiakari. Dispatch him with our regards." Akatsuki said.

Tsukiakari wrapped her hand around the hilt of Kumogiri, the cloud-cutting sword. "I will."

Tsukiakari stormed off, her mind set on the battle to come. Her first fight would take place in the very city where she was first introduced to war—Kyoto.

Chapter 1: A Goddess's Scorn
Not an ounce of sunshine pierced through the dark, ominous clouds above Kyoto. All the land was covered by their frightful shade, and bathed in their pelting, heavy rain. The stone-paved roads of the empty city were submerged by several inches of constantly rippled rainwater. Very few buildings were scattered about on the outskirts, all of them just as ruined and abandoned as the empty heart of the city. Ripped planks of soot-covered wood were scattered around the mud at her feet, the ruined and quaint house once belonging to a leather tanner.

She had put on a pair of black, cotton gloves to keep her hands warm from the rain and frigid air. She found it much more difficult to handle a sword if her hands were too cold. The war goddess was determined to murder her lying, treacherous uncle. Their blood relation to each other meant little to her anymore. Her only real family had been slain by his hands, after all.

The city wasn't entirely empty, however. Down at the end of one of the major roads, standing on the roof of the Buddhist shrine, Oyamatsumi leaned his gleaming halberd across his shoulders, his long, blonde hair and brown fur coat drenched by the rain. He stood there patiently, waiting for his niece to arrive. At last, he saw her marching towards him from the other end of the street.

"There you are..."

With her wicked black hair and kimono soaked by the rain, Tsukiakari Senkumo, the vengeful war goddess, made her patient march down the street, slowly closing the distance between her and Oyamatsumi. Her sword was already drawn, and her soaked hair obscured the scarred half of her face. Her crimson eye glimmered in the pallid shade with a vengeful luminescence.

Finally, they were close enough to yell out to each other.

"Gekko.." Oyamatsumi growled. "I never thought it would come to this."

"Then you underestimated me." Tsukiakari replied.

"I suppose you're right. I never pegged my own niece for a baby killer."

"What I did to Ichiki and her sons was the direct consequence of both Bishamon's actions, and your cooperation with his vile schemes." Tsukiakari hissed. "Out of all the people I plan to kill, you make me the most sick, Oyamatsumi. I can't believe I ever called you family. I may be a demon, but I would never sell out my own family just so I could live longer!"

Oyamatsumi's balled his fist until his nails dug through his skin. "You don't know what it's like to face the reality of being cycled out! We gods do not live forever. At least, not if we lose our influence, prayers, and wishes. Many gods have been cycled out as they got older, replaced by newer gods until the process repeated itself. This process accelerated after the merge between Buddhism and Shintoism."

Gesturing with his hands, as if he were pleading for Tsukiakari's sympathy, Oyamatsumi continued. "What god wants to die and be forgotten?! What god wants to be replaced?! Being a god, in its very nature, is suffering! I saw an opportunity to avoid being cycled out when you joined the Senkumo clan! With your power, both Buddhism and Shintoism increased their influence! We were receiving prayers, Tsukiakari! They're a god's only lifeline!"

"That's exactly what your problem is." Tsukiakari shot back. "Not just you, but so many of the gods today. You're all obsessed with living. Didn't the Buddha say that attachment leads to suffering? We only lose what we cling to. I find that those words ring true when I look at you, rambling on about your fear of passing on. Look at you now, Oyamatsumi. You're driven entirely by your own attachment."

"Like I said, you don't know what it's like!" Oyamatsumi screamed.

"Yes I do! Bishamon destroyed my altar!" Tsukiakari roared. "Now that I'm not receiving prayers, I have no doubt that I'm on my last life. I know exactly what it is to teeter on the edge of oblivion, so don't insult me with your suppositions of what I know or don't know."

"You won't have a place or a purpose, Gekko. You know that, and yet...you still want to do this. So that's the power of a goddess's scorn."

Tsukiakari closed her eyes, as if in meditation. "Before we begin...I want to ask you one last thing."

Oyamatsumi hesitated, but accepted the question. "What is it?"

"On the final day of our campaign against the Ouchi clan, my army was ambushed by a Mori clan force. I suspected that someone tipped the Mori clan off about us, resulting in Mayumi's death that day. I hadn't thought about it in a while, but when Taeko named you among the list of Bishamon's co-conspirators, the question struck me again. So...who was it? Who killed Mayumi?"

Oyamatsumi's sinister grin was all the evidence Tsukiakari needed. "You got me. I'm your man. I tipped the Mori clan off about your advance that day. Your precious Mayumi died that day because of me."

The hateful intensity in Tsukiakari's eye burned even brighter as any emotional connection she still had with Oyamatsumi was immediately severed. "So it was you."

"You were so powerful, but those three were holding you back." Oyamatsumi chuckled. "Taeko, Ebina, Mayumi...they all needed to go! When they were gone, you truly became a one-man army, answering scores of prayers all by yourself! You became more powerful, free to go all out on the battlefield without any restrictions, without the fear of losing yourself! Up until Oda Nobunaga came along, your work kept the prayers coming in, which kept us alive! Why does this upset you so? The lives of a million mortals aren't even worth the life of a single god."

"Enough." Tsukiakari growled. "Let's begin, Oyamatsumi. Now I know for certain I won't have any regrets after today. You deserve to die."

Oyamatsumi slammed the butt of his halberd onto the tiled roof. "Very well. Let us begin."

Oyamatsumi bent his knees in preparation to fling himself directly at Tsukiakari. Once his feet lifted off of the roof, he sped forward like a bullet, kicking up waves of rainwater as he flew by. Tsukiakari side-stepped his dash, letting him crash into one of the mansions all the way down the other end of the road, the crash site veiled by a plume of white smoke and dust.

With her head only half turned towards him, Tsukiakari watched and waited for Oyamatsumi to reemerge. "Pathetic."

The ruins of the mansion were suddenly blown apart into millions of tiny, wooden pieces as Oyamatsumi made a second dash towards Tsukiakari, their blades finally meeting with a loud, ringing crash. Oyamatsumi leaped back just a few feet, at a distance that better suited the use of his halberd. Sparks sprayed around as Tsukiakari blocked the swings of his halberd with her sword. She rolled underneath his low, horizontal swing, managing to only lose a few strands of her hair as the blade ran just above her head.

Once she got back on her feet, the halberd was already coming down upon her again in a diagonal swing. With not enough time to properly block, Tsukiakari took the brunt of the hit with her bare hand, using it to catch the blade and push it away from her and momentarily compromising Oyamatsumi's poise. A bleeding, crimson gash was left on her hand, slashed across her palm.

"Bare handed?!" Oyamatsumi recoiled.

Tsukiakari took the opportunity to dash in towards Oyamatsumi, prompting him to hold his halberd horizontally to block what he expected to be a hard, blunt attack. He was thrown for a loop when Tsukiakari cut her distance short enough so that only her blade was in range of the halberd. With a mighty, powerful cut downwards, Tsukiakari's sword severed the halberd into halves.

"Damn it!" Oyamatsumi cursed.

As soon as her foot landed back on the ground, Tsukiakari found herself entirely submerged in a floating sphere of rainwater. WIth his halberd destroyed, Oyamatsumi fell back on magic, controlling the sphere with his hands. Intending to drown her, Oyamatsumi tightened the sphere, trying to rush the water down her nose and mouth. The sphere of what was supposed to be cold, frigid rainwater began to boil, and without warning, the entire thing went up in a swathe of flames. The blaze was so intense that Oyamatsumi leaped back to avoid the heat.

Just as quickly as the flames erupted, they were extinguished into a veil of steam. With steam rising all around her, Tsukiakari stood tall with her sword in hand.

"Perhaps Bishamon trained you too well..." Oyamatsumi said, catching his breath.

"It's just as you said. This is the power of a goddess's scorn."

Oyamatsumi's will to live and Tsukiakari's commitment to vengeance both grew in intensity, just like the rain that pelted and drenched them both. Uncle and niece were absolutely determined to kill the other.

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Chapter 2: Fall of the Iron Whale
Tsukiakari charged Oyamatsumi, entering in a dance of blades with him. Their feet splashed around the inches of restless water that covered the streets as the constantly dodged and blocked one another's swings, getting closer and closer each other. Suddenly, Tsukiakari's eyes were drawn to Oyamatsumi's arm as he raised the bladed half of his halberd as if it were a mace.

She rolled to the side as he swiftly slammed it into the ground, unable to pull it out. He swung the staff-like half of the weapon with such force that Tsukiakari, blocking the hit, was sent flying through three of the soaked, humble houses. She broke through wooden walls, catching glimpses of the empty kitchens and bedrooms of the homes she was flung through three times over before finally slowing down and landing on her feet, kneeling and alert.

The very ground beneath Tsukiakari's formed into a long, earthen hand, complete with five fingers. The hand soared into the sky with Tsukiakari in its palm. Its fingers closed in, trying to crush Tsukiakari in its vice grip. She managed to jump and slip through the crevice between its fingers, swinging her blade in the hand's direction and decimating it in a blast of lightning. Just as she landed back on solid ground, she found herself in the grip of another earthen hand. More and more of them were springing up out of the ground itself as Tsukiakari repeated the process of destroying them, desperately trying to find a safe place to land.

The shake and boom of the explosions could be felt across Kyoto itself as she kept destroying the earthen hands. However, for all of her effort, she ran out of luck and was caught in the grip of another hand, unable to move anything more than her fingers and feet.

"Damn it!" Tsukiakari screamed as her ribs were slowly crushed.

The hand soared up into the sky and then arched back towards the ground. Oyamatsumi intended to slam her into the street until she was nothing but red paste. Tsukiakari saw with her own eyes that the impact was imminent. Oyamtsumi watched from the distance with glee that the battle would soon end, but once again, his hopes burned right up. Theearthen arm exploded in a dazzling display of flaming debris and black smoke.

Tsukiakari landed on her feet, her blade still held tightly in her hand. Finally free from the hand's bone-crushing grip, she fell on one knee and caught her breath, using her blade to hold herself up. The entire block reeked of odorous smoke and flames. Finally, Tsukiakari's eye caught Oyamatsumi jumping atop one of the houses, cross-armed and confident.

"Look at you. You don't look so good, Gekko! Your ribs must hurt like hell, huh?" Oyamatsumi taunted.

"Didn't I tell you earlier to stop talking?" Tsukiakari wheezed.

"Just you try and silence me, trench rat!"

"Fine then."

Tsukiakari flipped her sword around, holding it backhanded. From her stance, Oyamatsumi knew she had something up her sleeve.

"What are you doing..." Oyamatsumi whispered to himself.

Oyamatsumi's was momentarily stunned as Tsukiakari threw her sword directly at Oyamatsumi. It seemed the war goddess had run out of ideas to attack him with. Oyamatsumi side-stepped the sword as it flew by his cheek, turning his eyes back to Tsukiakari's direction as lightning flashed over the city.

When his gaze returned to where she was standing, he realized Tsukiakari was no longer there. That bolt of lightning crashed down upon her, making her vanish into thin air. Another lightning strike struck down upon Tsukiakari's flying sword, where she reappeared and grabbed hold of the hilt. Expecting a rear attack, Oyamatsumi turned his head, only to be fed a mouthful of razor sharp steel. The sword cut vertically across his mouth, slicing open his cheeks, reducing his molars to powder, and sending Oyamatsumi's bottom jaw flipping and flopping across the rooftop.

Still in too much shock to even feel the pain, he fell on his knees, holding his gaping, bloodied mouth with two hands. All his hands found were his tongue and torn apart gums, all washed in flowing blood. As he stood there reeling, Tsukiakari picked up his severed, bottom jaw, the skin and most of the teeth still attached. When he returned his trembling eyes to Tsukiakari, who so proudly held up the jaw, the pain began to attack his nerves.

"Told you I'd shut you up." Tsukiakari said.

Overwhelmed by rage, Oyamatsumi shook the very earth was his surge of power as he morphed into the Iron Stag. A fiery projectile as small as a tennis ball formed in his mouth as Tsukiakari watched in awe, unsure of how to counteract this sudden transformation. However, the weight of the Iron Stag was too much for house's roof.

Oyamatsumi fell through the roof just as he was firing the projectile, getting both himself and Tsukiakari caught in the massive explosion. Several homes were all obliterated in the blast, and Tsukiakari herself was sent flying back towards the Buddhist temple, the sleeves of her kimono ripped to shreds as a painful sting rang in her ears.

For once, crashing into a puddle of dirty rainwater felt good on Tsukiakari's burned and bleeding legs. Still shaken by the explosion, she struggled to even hold herself up with her arms. They felt like soft, warm sticks of butter, ready to lose their structure at the slightest hint of weight or pressure.

The war goddess struck her sword into the ground, using it as support to stand herself up again. "I feel sick...The madman nearly killed us both."

The houses ahead were all enwreathed in flames, like one, great wall of fire. The Iron Stag stepped through the blaze, its heavy, metal hooves cracking the stone-paved road with every step. Once more, it opened its mouth, preparing the next explosive shot.

"Are you trying to level the city, Oyamatsumi?!"

Tsukiakari took the liberty of ripping away the torn sleeves of her kimono, going completely sleeveless. She readied her sword, keeping a very keen eye on the condensed ball of explosive energy in the Iron Stag's mouth. Once it shot out, Tsukiakari tightened her grip and raised her arms for a vertical swing.

With all of her might, Tsukiakari slashed downwards, rending the projectile in halves that deflected away from her, exploding in the sky. Wasting no time, she directed her blade skyward.

"I haven't done this one in a long time." Tsukiakari smiled.

Using her signature attack, Tsukiakari summoned forth the lightning dragon, its power amplified by Kumogiri. It slithered through the clouds like a heavenly serpent. When Tsukiakari brought her blade down, the dragon swiftly struck the Iron Stag like a mighty axe. It's impact was explosive, and the sheer amount of light it produced forced Tsukiakari to hold her arms in front of her eyes.

In a fit of panic, the Iron Stag instantly morphed into the Iron Whale, swimming around in the sky as if it were the ocean. Its panicked transformation only attracted the burning ire of more lightning. The cries of the agonized, Iron Whale reverberated through the sky with a deafening intensity. The final, great blast of lightning struck with explosive force, blowing a chunk of metal out of the Iron Whale's back.

The blast covered the whale in flames, illuminating the clouds in flickering, orange light as the whale fell from the sky and made a slow descent upon the city. It went down like a flaming zeppelin, hitting the ground with a fiery, deafening explosion.

A colossal plume of black smoke rose into the sky, lightning dancing and coiling around the plume. The whole city reeked of burning, wood and melting iron. For a moment, Tsukiakari could rest as she tried to assess if the battle was over yet. Of course, she knew better than to assume the death of an enemy without seeing the body.

Tsukiakari hopped across the rooftops in the direction of the crash site, and just as she thought, Oyamatsumi's body wasn't there. The street was covered in hot flames and molten iron that continued to spread and cool under the heavy rainfall at the same time. She looked around and saw Oyamatsumi limping as he made his way past the doors of the Buddhist temple down the street, his fur coat gone, probably burned in the fire.

"Don't run from me, you coward!" Tsukiakari screamed.

Oyamatsumi, still bleeding from his missing jaw, stumbled around inside of the temple, falling before the great, golden statue of the Buddha. The Buddga sat in his meditative position with one hand held up, as if he were waving to all who entered. Staining the sacred, tatami floors of the temple with his dripping blood, Oyamatsumi tried to pray. Almost his entire body was black and red from the burns and other wounds he suffered in the fight.

"Bishamon! Bishamon, are you there?! Damn it, why won't you answer me!? Are you just going to leave me here?! Tsukiakari is trying to kill me! I need help, please!"

No one answered. His prayer was answered with a silence that may as well have just been a death sentence. And yet, knowing he was abandoned, Oyamatsumi erupted into cough-riddled laughter, made awkward by his missing jaw.

"I see...that's why you're not answering. Bishamon...you're one crafty bastard."

The creak of the temple door hinges let Oyamatsumi know Tsukiakari had entered the building. She shut the door upon entering, walking into the prayer area where Oyamatsumi still sat, on the brink of defeat.

Knowing she was victorious, Tsukiakari unsheathed her blade. "It's time to end this, Oyamatsumi."

Chapter 3: Same As Her
Just a little distance away from the battleground, Uzume had watched the fight unfold. She stood at the bank of Kamo river, holding a cherry-colored umbrella over her head. The howling wind rustled through her white kimono as thunder continued to growl in the sky.

"Just as planned." Uzume snickered. "Farewell, Oyamatsumi."

Facing down his soon-to-be killer in the temple, Oyamatsumi's mind took him on a journey down memory lane. He remembered when Amaterasu had just given birth to Tsukiakari. Oyamatsumi and Izanamijoined the resting Amaterasu in her bed room, their reflections made clear on the reflective, marble floors. The windows were open, allowing the light and breeze of Heaven to pour into the room. Baby Tsukiakari was a sight to behold, the very embodiment of all things pure and beautiful. Her red eyes were both haunting and alluring, and her cheeks were fat and squishy.

Izanami especially couldn't stop gushing as Amaterasu allowed her to hold the child.

"Awwwwww! She's so cuuuuute! I could just eat her up!" Izanami sang.

"Yeah, don't do that..." Oyamatsumi sighed.

"So, Ama?" Izanami began.

Amaterasu, sitting up in bed, looked a little annoyed being called 'Ama'.

"Hehe...Amaterasu..." Izanami corrected.

Amaterasu nodded. "Thank you."

"What did you name her?" Izanami asked.

"I went with Tsukiakari."

"Tsukiakari? That's a beautiful name." Oyamatsumi complimented

"Yes, it is." Amaterasu said with a smile. "When the sun's light reflects off of the moon, it creates the blessed glow we've come to recognize as moonlight. And so, her name represents the love between Tsukuyomi and myself.

"How romantic!" Izanami swooned, caressing Tsukiakari's cheeks. "I see you got most of your looks from your mommy, didn't you, sweetie?"

The baby Tsukiakari opened her eyes, wrapping her tiny hand around Izanami's pinky. If Izanami could die again, she would've certainly died from the cuteness.

"I'm in love! She just grabbed my pinky!"

"So, this girl...doesn't this make her the princess of Heaven?" Oyamatsumi asked.

"It sure does." Amaterasu replied. "Though it will be a long time before she takes my place, she is still my precious heiress."

"Hey, Oyamatsumi, want to hold her?" Izanami asked.

Oyamatsumi crossed his arms. "I don't hold babies, so no."

"Oyamatsumi, how rude! This is Amaterasu's child! One day, she'll be your queen!" Izanami scolded.

"Fine. Maybe I should hold her, at least once."

Izanami gently laid Tsukiakari in his arms, correcting his elbow positioning so she'd be as comfortable as possible. As he gazed into Tsukiakari's precious, innocent eyes, it almost felt like he had gotten closer to understanding what happiness was. For once, he truly felt a little thing called joy.

"How does it feel to hold something so small and precious?" Amaterasu asked with a smile.

"You know, Sis...you really did give birth to a beautiful girl. Congratulations." Oyamatsumi said.

Izanami tauntingly patted Oyamatsumi's back. "Now, was that so hard?"

"Zip it, Mom..." Oyamatsumi snickered.

That adorable little infant now stood before him, a fully grown, impetuous goddess with an insatiable lust for revenge. The sound of rain pelting the roof of the temple grew increasingly maddening for him. Tsukiakari's eyes had grown into the most fearsome things he had ever witnessed, the eyes of his murderer.

"Hachiman will be the next to die after you, for paralyzing Ebina." Tsukiakari declared. "This is for Mayumi, and all of the Senkumo soldiers that died that day because of you."

Tsukiakari raised her sword and chopped off Oyamatsumi's legs, cutting them both off in one, clean swipe. His severed, bleeding legs flew across the room, forming puddles of blood as his screams filled the temple. Like an animal, Oyamatsumi desperately tried to crawl away with only his arms, but those were soon lopped off as well. Tsukiakari dangled the severed arms in front of Oyamatsumi like trophies. Finally, with his body robbed of its limbs, Tsukiakri muffled his screams by sticking her sword into Oyamatsumi's mouth. The blood wildly spraying from his wounds stained the Buddha's statue, splattering across his chest and face.

A single tear flowed from Oyamatsumi's eye as he realized this was truly the end. Tsukiakari thought hard about whether to immolate her uncle or not. She wanted him to feel as much pain as possible, but knew the flames would kill him too quickly. In the end, she removed the sword from the inside of his mouth, seeing that the light was already starting to leave his eyes. In just under a minute, Oyamatsumi sighed for the last time, and his head fell to the right.

Tsukiakari had successfully murdered her uncle.

With the battle at an end, Tsukiakari released a sigh of relief. "One down...four more to go."

Now that the battle was over, Tsukiakari felt her exhaustion kick in. She slouched against the wall, taking deep breaths to calm her tired, racing heart. It felt as if the veins in her legs had been working extra hard for the duration of the fight, and were only hurting now that the adrenaline had worn off.

"This is Good...now I have no reason to falter. Oyamatsumi, being family, was the hardest to kill. I can continue without any worry." Tsukiakari said, talking to herself. She turned her thoughts to her next target. "Hachiman...Bishamon's former master and the previous god of war. I'm sure he won't be easy to kill. His main weapon is the bow and arrow, and if he was able to kill Ebina from such a distance, I can assume that long range combat with him will be dangerous. He must already know that I excel in close to mid-range combat. Hachiman will most likely wait for me to bring the fight to him. At any rate, I should get out of here."

She took a final glance at the bloodied, limbless mess that was Oyamatsumi's corpse. She couldn't help but laugh. Many years ago, her mother had allowed her kin to kill each other off. After that, she had even killed her father. Amaterasu then warred with Susanoo, her own brother, and killed him off as well. Izanami had killed Oyamatsumi before, in a duel over the fate of the country and the Shoku Twins. Kagutsuchi had tried to take Tsukiakari's body for her own, and had even succeeded in killing her through the Phantom Soldier. And now, Tsukiakari had fallen in the same familial curse. She had killed her uncle. No other family in Heaven had such a violent history of family members killing their own kin.

"After all of these years, after all the distance I put between myself and Amaterasu...I ended up being just the same as her."

She marched out of the temple, bursting through the doors. She looked around at all of the flattened housed and torn up streets from the battle as she descended the stairs. The place was even more of a mess than before. What was a neighborhood in ruins now looked like an inhospitable hell hole of scorched earth and rubble. She suddenly came to a stop, her gaze focused directly ahead. It seemed she too was seeing visions of the past. She saw her younger self when she had first come to Kyoto, sitting on the ground, in shock. Blood splattered across her cheek, the young Tsukiakari turned to face her older self.

The Man in Black's voice continued to haunt her, even now. "Like the sensation of a missing limb, you'll keep trying to hold onto something that isn't there. You'll feel that phantom pain forever, just as I did. We're both more demons than people"

Tsukiakari turned around, forsaking her past self and everything she represented. All that mattered in that moment was finding a place to rest, somewhere out of the rain.

The next morning saw the return of the sun and the blue sky, with birdsong audible from a distance. Izanami and Inari had searched all over for Oyamatsumi's corpse, finally landing themselves in the Buddhist temple where he died. The sunlight poking through the open, sliding doors shined on the Buddha's statue as well as his unsightly, putrescent remains, his arms and legs still scattered about the room.

Their unfortunate role in all of this was to act as crime scene clean up. Though Izanami had seen and done worse, Inari couldn't even bare to look at the disgusting, maggot-ridden mess of a cadaver left behind by the fight.

"Oyamatsumi. So this is the depth of Tsukiakari's hatred. I can't believe she murdered her own uncle." Izanami said, a shiver traveling down her spine.

"This is why she told us to stay away, isn't it? We'd be charged for harboring a traitor if she was still around us right now. Still though...even if she was a traitor..." Inari said.

"I know. Like me, you'd do anything to help her. Right?" Izanami asked.

Inari nodded. "Izanami...I have this nagging suspicion that, right now, Tsukiakari's quest for revenge is a benefit to Amaterasu, and perhaps even to Bishamon. Gods cycle out periodically when they lose their prayer base. Even I understand that this prevents anyone from gathering enough power to be able to overthrow Amaterasu. Oyamatsumi was just another one of those gods that still tried to hang on to whatever he could grab."

"You're saying Amaterasu will allow these killings to go on?" Izanami recoiled.

"Why is it that Bishamon is nowhere to be found as Tsukiakari kills his comrades? Why is it that they're split up and forced to fight her alone? It's like Amaterasu and Bishamon want them dead, and Tsukiakari is doing the deed for them." Inari surmised.

Izanami held her hand over her weary heart. "Even now, Heaven is using her. She doesn't deserve any of this. Everyone uses her like she's a tool, a mean to an end. It's as if none of them see her as the person and beautiful goddess she is. It's like no one wants to love her. That's all she ever needed, just someone who loved her properly. I know that for a fact, because even when she was in the Senkumo clan, she was happy when she had Taeko, Mayumi, and Ebina. So why? Why do they treat her with such cruelty?"

"I can't make sense of it either. Izanami...if this massacre gets out of hand..."

"I know, Inari. Once those gods are dead, they'll ask the only deity who they know for a fact can kill Tsukiakari to finish her off...and that's me. Even with all of her abilities, all of her hatred and determination...Tsukiakari wouldn't stand a chance against me, against Izanami the Cruel."

"You wouldn't really kill her, right?" Inari asked.

Izanami refused to answer. "...Let's get this corpse cleaned up."

Chapter 4: Carmilla the Baneful
Tsukiakari fled from the city and ventured into Arashiyama on foot. The pounding rain came to a stop as she navigated her way through the woods. Luckily, she happened upon a small cave where she could rest for the night. It was a far cry from the warm beds she had in the Senkumo clan, but it would at least keep her safe and dry.

"It'll have to do." she sighed, leaning her sword against the cave wall.

Thanks to the rain, she would need three or four times the kindling she'd normally use to start a fire. She got to right to work, collecting sticks and branches off the ground or snapping them off of birch trees. She lifted the end of her robes up to her chest and stored the kindling in the fold, as if it were a bowl. Once she got the fire started, she undid her kimono and folded it into a compact square, using it as a pillow.

"I have to find out where Hachiman is..." Tsukiakari said, drifting off to sleep.

(Huh? What is this? Am I dreaming?)

Tsukiakari opened her eyes, barely able to remember falling asleep. She found herself not in the cave by the fire, but floating around in space, staring in the face of the planet Saturn. So many thousands of rocks, intimidatingly big and harmlessly small, floated around the planet in a perfect ring.

(I can breathe out here, so this must be a dream...)

"What is your name, God Killer?"

(A woman's voice? I don't recognize it...)

Tsukiakari managed to turn her floating body the other way where the voice came from. The young woman in front of her was shrouded in the darkness of her black hood and cloak. She was clearly an adult, and from the sight of her huge, spread out bat wings, she was no human. This woman was of supernatural heritage. Tsukiakari only saw one of the woman's emerald-green eyes beneath her hood, the color similar to that of Ichiki's. Unlike Ichiki, this woman's long, black, wavy hair stuck out from her hood like wicked tendrils of darkness.

"Who are you?" Tsukiakari asked.

"I asked you first, God Killer."

"The name is Tsukiakari Senkumo. You?"

"Tsukiakari Senkumo? How beautiful." the woman tittered. "Well then, I suppose it's only fair for me to introduce myself. I am called Carmilla. Carmilla the Great by my allies, Carmilla the Baneful by my enemies. I am a vampire, and I've flung you into this dream state to speak with you personally, Tsukiakari."

(Did she just say...vampire?!)

"We vampires are a relatively young race of supernatural beings, at least as we are now. There were older, less evolved forms of vampires roaming the earth for thousands of years. Some even formed small states within human societies across our homeland in Eastern Europe. You see, vampires evolve quickly, and so do our powers. I attained the power to create and infiltrate dreams when I sucked the blood of a succubus."

"I've heard of your kind. I was told you guys had built an unseen kingdom stretching from Western Europe to Southeast Asia." Tsukiakari said, recalling when Bishamon first told her about them. "After all these years of warning, I finally meet one? Or am I just losing my mind in a wild dream?"

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but you are a goddess, aren't you?" Carmilla asked.

Tsukiakari nodded.

"Then why did you kill your fellow god? I saw your fight against the blonde man with the halberd, and it had me helplessly curious about what it is you're doing."

(Damn it, if she created this dream, does that mean she's in the cave right now?! I can't believe I was discovered in the middle of the wilderness by a vampire! Okay, calm down, Tsukiakari. It doesn't seem like she wants to fight. It's alright if I merely answer her questions.)

"I'm a banished and betrayed goddess, taking revenge on those that have wronged me." Tsukiakari said. "That god you saw, Oyamatsumi, was my uncle. He was one of the people that betrayed me. That's why I killed him."

Carmilla gasped, chucking as she slightly covered her mouth, as well as her fangs, with her fingers. "My my, so it was just an act of revenge?"

"Do you find that funny? Or perhaps, you think it's childish?" Tsukiakari scoffed.

"No, no, not at all!" Carmilla said, waving her hands. "I can completely understand revenge as a motive. I suppose I'm just shocked. I guess this means you're a lone wolf going up against an entire pantheon. Frankly, I think it's insane."

"What were you doing watching the fight, anyway? I didn't know there were already vampires infiltrating Japan."

"I suppose you can say I'm doing a little espionage, an unauthorized tour of the Land of the Rising Sun on Count Dracula's orders. Oh, dear, I didn't even consider this, but...does this put us at odds?"

(Now that's a good question...)

"I'm a banished goddess, so technically, I have no obligation to consider you my enemy. Right now, my only interest is in revenge. I have no desire to fight any vampires."

Carmilla clapped her hands together. "Ahh, that's good! What a relief."

"If you don't mind, Carmilla...I'd like to stand on solid ground."

"Ah! Of course. I can change the scenery a bit."

The sight of Saturn, the sun, and all of the distant stars faded into a blur as Tsukiakari found herself transported to the sanctuary of a cathedral, the sun blaring through the seemingly endless rows of multi-colored, stained glass. Its light washed the entire sanctuary in a rainbow of bright color. Both Tsukiakari and Carmilla faced each other in the middle of the row separating the pews, with Tsukiakari able to see the massive statue of a crucified Christ behind Carmilla.

(I suddenly feel sick shifting from the middle of space to solid earth...)

"W-what is this place?" Tsukiakari stammered, awed by the sudden change.

"In Europe, this is called a Cathedral. It is where people come to worship our most prominent god on the continent, Jesus Christ. I'm sure you've seen one of these before, haven't you? The Dutch and Portuguese have been making more and more trips to Japan, bringing both weapons and faith with them."

(That's right. When I went with Bishamon to purchase those rifles, the Portuguese sails had red crosses on them.)

Carmilla removed her hood and sat at the edge of one of the pews, crossing her legs and smiling. Tsukiakari noticed now how beautiful she was, almost sinfully so. Her skin was as perfect as porcelain, and since she was a vampire, she could've very well been older than she appeared, just like Tsukiakari.

"Dracula and I are not in Japan without reason." Carmilla said. "Of course, we are at war with the Shinto pantheon, but in all honesty, there is another reason. My lord, Count Dracula, is dangerously ill."

"Ill? Vampires can fall ill?" Tsukiakari asked.

Carmilla nodded. "Yes, we can. In fact, we probably get sick more often than any other supernatural race, since our lives depend on the consumption of blood from humans. It is a curse born from the very genesis of the vampiric race. All supernatural races are born upon the transgression of a taboo, you see. Vampires were born from cannibals who broke the taboo of eating their fellow humans. Werewolves, humans capable of transforming into large, massive wolves, were born from the transgression of eating carnivorous animals. Succubi were born from the transgression of incest, developing romantic and sexual relationships with their own family members."

(Could that really be true? Species of supernatural beings can be traced back to broken taboos? In that case, which taboo did Taeko break? And what of us gods? Did we break some sort of taboo as well? )

"What exactly is Dracula afflicted with?" Tsukiakari asked.

"The Black Death." Carmilla replied. "I do believe it was Izanami the Cruel who swept not just Europe, but almost all of Eurasia with a catastrophic wave of the bubonic plague. Though the worst of it is long over, it still returns in waves, haunting us like a phantom. Dracula is holding up well, but even he knows he can't continue like this forever. As such, we have two main objectives by entering the country we're at war with. Firstly, find a cure, or at least a strong medicine to combat the illness. Second, a contingency plan. In the god-forbidden event that Count Dracula succumbs to his affliction, an heir must be created for the sake of the Vampirical Monarchy. Thankfully, one is already on the way, but Dracula and his wife require a secret place to facilitate the birth of the heir. He does not want the Catholic church or anyone else to know about the child."

"I hate to break this to you, but there's no cure for the bubonic plague." Tsukiakari groaned. "I would know. I've dealt with it first-hand. Anyway, I fail to see what any of this has to do with me."

"Roaming around in enemy territory is extremely dangerous, especially with the current chaos brewing in your pantheon, which mostly revolves around you." Carmilla said. "Originally, I was actually going to kill you in your sleep so the chaos could immediately be quelled, however...I think it would be much more beneficial to help you instead. We can't find a good place to birth the child while the gods are out and about, searching for you. I want you to keep killing those gods.

"So, keep doing what I'm doing, only I'll be having the vampires watch me, huh? I can't say I'm thrilled. I take it you've scoped out a place?" Tsukiakari asked.

"Indeed. That temple in the forest, the one that once belonged to Ichiki. We have chosen that location. It has a strong, supernatural presence to it. It will help ensure a successful and healthy birth to a strong, powerful child. That's the entire reason we decided to do this in enemy territory. The supernatural energy flowing here is abnormally strong."

"So you want me to clear that area out for you. Wait, does that mean you know there's a god there?!"

"Yes, and that's what we're giving you in exchange." Carmilla said. "It was an old looking man, not too old though. His hair was gray, unkempt, and he wielded a bow and arrow."

"That's Hachiman!" Tsukiakari shouted.

(So that's where he is! I can take the fight to him now that I know where he is!)

Carmilla smiled, licking her lips with utter excitement and anticipation. "Ahh, I can sense how badly you wish to kill him."

"That bastard paralyzed my friend. I absolutely have to kill him next!"

"Perfect. So then, since you're already a banished god and a traitor to your pantheon, what do you say we make a deal? You will kill this Hachiman with the information I've given you, and we'll take the temple in the forest as a birthing ground. I will keep locating the other gods for you if you give me a name and description. The less of them there are actively searching the country, the better. Especially when it comes to Kyoto and the surrounding area, the hotbed of supernatural activity in this land."

(So that's why they chose an area near Kyoto. Many shrines and gods have arisen there in its history, so naturally, it is a hotbed of supernatural energy.)

"How does that sound, Tsukiakari? Do we have a deal?"

(There's no reason to trust her, but I suppose this relationship is built on mutual benefit rather than trust. If vampires can suck out one's power through their blood, a banished goddess that no one cares about would be a perfect target. Given that Carmilla located me in my sleep, it's easy to deduce that they could've killed me easily anyway. Hmmm...it's a bit of a gamble, but...)

"Alright. You have a deal." Tsukiakari said.

"Splendid! Here, consider this a token of my gratitude, Tsukiakari."

Carmilla stood up as she bit down on her lip with her vampire fangs, drawing blood from their luscious, pink skin.

"Hey, what are you—"

It seemed Tsukiakari couldn't stop getting kissed by black haired, green-eyed beauties. Carmilla locked lips with her, forcing the goddess to drink some of her blood.

(I hate to admit such a shameful thing, but...her lips and tongue...why do they taste so good? Shouldn't they taste more like blood?)

Tsukiakari pulled awaym gasping as Carmilla wiped her moistened lips with her thumb.

"What...what the hell are y-you doing?!" Tsukiakari recoiled.

(Wait...what is this feeling? I feel...stronger.)

"Just as we vampires can take powers, we can also temporarily give our powers. What I just did was the Lesser Kiss of the Vampire. Even with the word "Lesser" in the title, it is still a very sacred bond between a vampire and non-vampire. We don't just go around giving our powers to anyone. You have to be someone we love, trust, or have faith in. For me, faith is the strongest thing that's compelling me to help you."

With that, Carmilla put her hood back on, cloaking her face in darkness. With her slender and curvy figure visible even through the baggy cloak, she walked past Tsukiakari, towards the massive doors leading out of the sanctuary, patting Tsukiakari's shoulder as she walked by.

"Go get em', Tsukiakari."

When Tsukiakari turned around, she was already gone, and the dream came to an end. She shot up from her slumber the same way she would whenever she reincarnated, with a sharp, deep gasp, drenched in cold sweat and cursed with trembling hands. The fire was doused, but the indirect light of the morning sun bouncing off of the trees and mountains warmed her up well enough.

(That wasn't a mere dream...Even now, I still have that feeling of improved strength and hearing. My lips still taste like her, sweet and delicate like a strawberry.)

Tsukiakari slowly stood up with Kumogiri in hand. She looked on at the blinding light at the mouth of the cave, ready to pursue her next target.

"Alright. Hachiman...you're next."

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Chapter 5: Hachiman vs Tsukiakari
Amaterasu sauntered down the halls of her heavenly palace, her reflection mirrored in the marble pillars lining the walls. As Heaven was still benighted, the palace was alight with sconces and braziers around every corner, holding dancing flames in their metallic cradles. Most of the gods were fast asleep during this rare period of darkness in Heaven, and there was no better time to catch up on some rest than right before a war. She stopped as she heard footsteps around the corner, knowing already that Uzume was approaching her. She cast her gaze upwards at the high, vaulted ceiling above her head, at the massive canvases of art and tapestries that decorated the walls of the palace.

Uzume turned the corner and bowed before Amaterasu, but not before noticing something very striking about the dear queen. For the first time ever, Amaterasu was dressed in all black from head to toe, as if she were going to attend a funeral. The black clothes, combined with her head of wicked, raven hair and golden eyes made her seem more like a queen of the night and a ruler of darkness rather than a goddess of the sun.

"My Lady..." Uzume muttered, taken aback by Amaterasu's apparel.

"Do you ever just look up at these ceilings, Uzume, and wonder?" Amaterasu asked.

"Wonder what, might I ask?" Uzume responded.

"Wondered how much blood it takes to build a nation."

"I...can't say that I've pondered on such a thing."

Amaterasu snickered. "Pantheons, kingdoms, countries, none of these things existed in Izanami's era. And yet, she became the foundation of it all. I took what she created and made it bigger, better. It seemed even Gekko inherited this talent of nation building."

Uzume's lips quivered in hesitance to speak. "...An organization of the poor and disillusioned citizens, turned into soldiers in a clan that declared its sovereignty, in a nation divided between lords. Every citizen was a soldier, and the military was its own government. A stratocracy that operated as a state, an army, and a private business. That was Gekko's model for Japan."

"She was naive in far too many ways." Amaterasu said. "Naive enough to trust Bishamon, and to misunderstand the world of mortals. After every catastrophic war, society revolts against its antiquated warrior class. It resents its sneering nobles and sheltered intelligentsia. Her clan was doomed to be rejected in the end. If it wasn't Bishamon that did the job..."

"It would've been you." Uzume finished, realizing where she was going.

Amaterasu turned her head towards Uzume. "Japan belongs to this pantheon, Uzume. Bishamon groomed my little girl to be my usurper. Had he gone on as planned, he might've succeeded. It may have seemed cruel to you, what I did. It may have appeared heartless, even, to order Bishamon to hurry along with his plan. But it was essential that the clan fail the way it did, and for Gekko to be stripped of her power. I couldn't bear the thought of fighting a death match against my usurper—my daughter."

"But in the end, My Lady, you're still going to gamble her life against Bishamon's." Uzume protested with an obedient tone.

"What is revenge but a gamble of blood?" Amaterasu quipped. "But I digress. Izanami brought the body, I presume?"

Remembering what she originally approached Amaterasu for, Uzume bowed her head in affirmation. "Yes, that's right. Though I insisted she bring it to the basement, she instead took it to your bedroom."

Amaterasu snickered. "My, she must be terribly upset. I'll go see her. Thank you, Uzume."

"Of course, My Lady."

Amaterasu quickly returned to her bedroom, where Izanami stood in wait. Oyamatsumi's mutilated body lied on top of a white sheet on the floor, sprawled out for Amaterasu to see. Most would weep at the sight of their murdered brother. Most would fall to their knees and slam their fists against the floor, but Amaterasu remained chillingly calm and tranquil, as if she had just received a parcel or a letter.

"This is what's left of him from the fight." Izanami said.

"I see." Amaterasu said, scanning the corpse. "Such profound hatred. I've never seen a god die in such a gruesome manner. Not even Tsukuyomi was anywhere near this brutal."

"You sound...proud." Izanami said.

"Don't pretend you're not suspicious of me, Izanami. I won't pretend to mourn Oyamatsumi's death either." Amaterasu said. "He's been dead to me for a long time. Most of the gods with us today are dead to me."

"So this really is all going according to some plan you've cooked up." Izanami growled.

"We've traitors in our midst, Izanami, phantoms that walk among us. Had everything gone according to my plans, Gekko would've never fled from home. All I can do now is clean up the mess we've all made and ensure it can never happen again."

"Did you write the ending to this massacre somewhere in your plan?" Izanami chided.

"It'll be a gamble, but you will be the mediator, Izanami." Amaterasu said. "Make sure Oyamatsumi does not reincarnate. This is the end of the line for him. The same goes for Hachiman, Bishamon, Raijin, and Fujin. Make sure you bring their corpses back, if there's a corpse left of them at all."

Izanami knelt down by Oyamatsumi's corpse, closing his eyelids with her fingers. "This boy was a hot-headed fool. He was a liar and a murderer. He brought unspeakable pain to my granddaughter. But he was my son...he was a boy that made all the wrong decisions in life."

"Izanami, we are in a position where you must choose what matters more to you." Amaterasu said. "Your remaining sons, or your granddaughter?"

Amaterasu excused herself, leaving Izanami with the corpse of her son, Oyamatsumi. Izanami's chest heaved up and down, her breathing becoming erratic as tears rolled down her cheeks and onto Oyamatsumi's body. She cried so much it felt like her eyeballs would pop out of their sockets. Izanami knew she would have to make the greatest sacrifice in this entire gamble. Her misguided, criminal sons, or her abused and vengeful granddaughter. Who did she value more? She asked herself that a thousand times over, always flipping between the two answers. No matter who she chose, she could not save anyone without becoming the enemy of the other.

Tsukiakari's day began with the splash of cool, sparkling water on her naked body as she bathed herself in the brook in the forest. The trees had all grown their leaves back, providing green-tinted shade and better protection for the bird nests resting within them. The constant symphony of birdsong and swishing leaves made that morning one of the most peaceful in her recent memory. All of the dirt and blood of yesterday came off, flowing down the purl of the brook.

Dozens of blackish-purple spots remained peppered throughout her body, the entry points through which fragments of Chiharu's bones and teeth embedded themselves inside her.

"Alright, all clean."

After her bath, Tsukiakari put her clothes back on and continued her march through to Ichiki's temple. She never thought she'd have to return there after killing Ichiki herself, along with her children. If that was where Hachiman was, then that was just going to have to be the battleground. Carmilla's kiss had rejuvenated her after the fight with Oyamatsumi, healing most of the cuts and broken bones she received. It also seemed to have improved her visual acuity, as she could see faraway objects far more clearly than ever before. She could hear birds from miles away, and smell nearby bodies of water before she could hear their purl.

Carmilla's intervention came at quite a convenient time for the most convenient foe. She would need those abilities to fight a god with the long-range capabilities of Hachiman.

(Hmm? There are apples on this tree.)

Tsukiakari took the lowest hanging red apple, a perfect morning snack before her fight.

"I suppose even gods need to eat something..."

The first, crunchy, juicy bite was delightfully sweet, and a little messy. She wiped the extra apple juice off her lips and continued eating around the center.

(Funny...when was the last time I ate something so sweet?)

Her improved hearing abilities let her catch on to a deer as its hooves softly dawdled on the ground. It stared at Tsukiakari with its beady, black eyes...or perhaps it was staring at the delectable apple in her hands. Tsukiakari held out the apple towards the deer, certain the poor thing was a little hungry.

"Wanna bite?"

Scared, cautious, but very, very hungry, the deer slowly approached Tsukiakari, stretching out its neck to take the first bite of the apple. When it realized the war goddess meant no harm, it felt more comfortable bringing itself within arm's length as Tsukiakari let it eat right out of her hand.

"Tasty, huh? Make sure you don't bite into the core."

(When was the last time I fed an animal like this? I'm starting to wonder how much I missed being in the Senkumo clan for all those years.)

With a sudden and brief swish through the air, an arrow violently struck the deer's side, pinning it against a nearby try. The arrow struck with enough force to crack the bark and rattle it from the roots all the way up to its branches, raining leaves upon Tsukiakari as she frantically dropped the apple and ducked behind the cover of the apple tree. The deer was bleeding profusely, screaming in agony as Tsukiakari tried to figure out what on earth was going on.

(An arrow did that?!)

Tsukiakari took a good look at the arrow that so violently struck the dying deer. The situation began to make much more sense to her as beads of stress-induced sweat trickled down her face and the bridge of her nose.

(It's just like what happened to Ebina, which means....Hachiman! The poor thing is only killing itself faster the more it kicks and panics like this. Judging from the arrow's position, the shot came from directly ahead, from an elevated position. It's most likely the temple towers he's firing from, which means he should have a decent line of sight on me. As I thought, he's sticking to long range combat. He knows I can't hit him from here.)

Right as Tsukiakari pieced together her dire situation, the arrow stuck in the struggling deer exploded as if it were a stick of dynamite. The animal exploded into a cloud of red mist and fleshy confetti. The explosion left Tsukiakari's ears ringing.

Her judgement concerning his position was spot on. Hachiman sat at the very top of one of the temple's towers with his golden bow and a bag full of arrows at the side. Though the shock of the explosion still rattled Tsukiakari's eardrums, Hachiman could only hear the panicked chirps of flocks of birds fleeing the explosions, and the stretch of his bowstring as he loaded a new arrow.

"Don't wanna poke your head out, huh? That's fine, sweet pea." Hachiman muttered, sweat dripping down his forehead.

A second arrow was fired right into the apple tree with even more intensity and strength than the last one. Knowing it would explode at any second, Tsukiakari leaped out of the way, covering her head with her arms. The subsequent blast, however, was almost three times more powerful than the last. Caught just outside of the blast radius, the explosion threw Tsukiakari through the forest, flying her past dozens of trees until she violently crash landed in the brook flowing towards the temple.

A large, round plume of dark smoke lifted in the air, casting a shadow over Tsukiakari.

"Damn him!" Tsukiakari shouted. "He's increasing their explosive power! He's trying to force me out into the open!"

She quickly stuck her sword through the water and into the rocky bed of the brook to help herself up, her hair and kimono soaked. There was one benefit to being out in the open, however. Tsukiakari, blessed by vampiric vision, could clearly see which tower Hachiman was shooting from. Finding some strange sense of vengeful joy in this battle, Tsukiakari couldn't help laugh to herself.

"You knew I was coming, huh? Well then, let's settle this, Hachiman!"

Chapter 6: War God and War Goddess
(I've waited for this fight! Now it's time to figure out how to kill him!)

"She's still alive? Alright then, let's go for a tri-shot." Hachiman grumbled from the all-seeing tower.

Hachiman loaded and fired three explosive arrows all the way from one of the temple towers. His divine force and accuracy behind each of his shots only added to the thrill Tsukiakari felt as her eyes focused on the arrows, speeding towards her like bullets. She back flipped her way out of trouble as the trio of arrows exploded in the brook, pelting the surrounding area in a blast of rocks and ejected water. The explosions sounded like mere pops in the distance from Hachiman's position in the tower. He patiently waited for any sight of Tsukiakari, another tri-shot already prepared. To his surprise and vexation, he spotted Tsukiakari running out of the plumes of smoke left by the explosion, her sword drawn and her strategy made very clear.

"She hopes to make an advance here, out in the open like that? I figured she'd use the trees for overhead cover. Oh well, your funeral, Tsukiakari."

(Here come the next three!)

Lightning coursed from Tsukiakari's palm all the way up to the tip of her blade. As the next three arrows closed in on her, she swung her sword skyward, sending off a crescent-shaped wave of blue lightning towards the arrows themselves. As a result, three explosions rocked the sky, clouding the area above the brook and further obstructing Hachiman's line of sight.

"She detonated them in mid-air?!" Hachiman recoiled, the tower shaking and shuddering from the blasts.

As Tsukiakari continued her sprint down the brook, Hachiman grew increasingly frustrated with her persistence. No one had ever been able to match the speed and power of his arrows before. To be matched by a banished goddess was an insult he took directly to heart. The next three arrows were loaded as Tsukiakari emerged from beneath the rising clouds of smoke, but instead of firing them towards Tsukiakari, Hachiman fired them above her general position.

Those were different kinds of arrows. To Tsukiakari's bewilderment, the arrows lit up like stars and broke apart into slowly descending, rounded bombs of tightly packed, explosive energy, much like the projectiles the Iron Stag was able to shoot from its mouth. Five of them fell from each of the three arrows, meaning Tsukiakari had to somehow deal with fifteen of what the Iron Stag could only produce one at a time.

"A manifold attack?!" she recoiled.

Hachiman erupted into a fit of laughter as he watched from afar. "Burn away, Tsukiakari!"

The entire brook was blown apart in a gloriously bright, flashy, and bombastic series of fifteen fiery explosions. Even the towers of the temple shook from the sheer force of it all, carving a smile onto Hachiman's face. Heavy chunks of debris and soil rained back down upon the forest after being skyrocketed into the air by the blast, chunks big enough to instantly kill a man.

"It was a good try, Tsukiakari, but I'm afraid you've lost. You should've had more respect for your elders." Hachiman taunted.

The smoke was whisked away by the lapping winds, revealing a crumbling, flaming dome of rock that wasn't there before the explosion. The dome towered above the trees just briefly before completely falling apart, revealing a bloodied Tsukiakari. Blood ran down her arms, face, and legs in multiple crimson streams. Her breathing was deep and labored, and yet, being the persistent and stubborn goddess she was, she smiled, still clearly up for the fight.

Hachiman realized she was no longer a goddess of war. She was a demon. "How...how did she..."

Tsukiakari took off running towards the temple again, much to the panic and anger of Hachiman. Now, she was much too close to the temple for him to use any more high-explosive arrows. Once more, he loaded the bow with a single arrow, firing it directly at Tsukiakari. Just as she did before, Tsukiakari struck the arrow in mid-air with her crescent wave of lightning, only to find out it was not a low-powered explosive arrow. Upon breaking, the arrow lifted everything in Tsukiakari's general area, water, rocks, trees and herself, into the air as if the earth had stopped holding them down to the ground, and was lifting them up into space.

All of the earthen debris caught up in the vertical tunnel of reversed gravity spun around Tsukiakari at neck-breaking speed. She was unable to see anything from inside of the cyclone of debris.

"This is child's play, Hachiman!" she roared.

Changing tactics, Tsukiakari imbued her sword with flames, directing a swathe of fire into the spinning debris around her. The entire tunnel of reversed gravity lit up like a tower made entirely out of fire. Debris was violently ejected from the tunnel in every direction, most of it crash landing in the middle of the forest and starting smaller fires. Gravity was restored, and Tsukiakari began her natural descent back towards the ground...until something massive appeared in the corner of her eye.

(What...is that?!?!)

Tsukiakari suddenly found herself under the massive shadow of one of the towering knights, staring right at her with its glowing, midnight-blue eyes. Utterly frozen by awe and fear, Tsukiakari watched as the Knight of Avarice raised raised its stone halberd and swung it down upon her, as it were swatting a fly right out of the sky.

"Damn it!" Tsukiakari cursed, raising her sword to guard herself.

She managed to block the overwhelmingly powerful attack, greatly reducing the damage she took. Still, the force of the Knight of Avarice's swing sent her flying hundreds of feet across the forest, crashing through the trees and cratering the ground. Her sword landed besides her, sticking itself into the ground.

(It feels like all of my bones and organs were all jumbled up! I can't take too many more of those hits! That bastard is commandeering Ichiki's statues, which means he must be wearing the Crown of Guilt right now. I need to focus on taking him out instead of fighting the statues!)

Planting her hands on the ground to get herself up, Tsukiakari was subjected to a sharp pain traveling all throughout her left arm, bringing her face-down back on the ground.

"No! My shoulder is broken?!" she cried. "That attack was much more powerful than I thought. I definitely can't afford to take another direct hit."

Settling with only being able to use one arm, Tsukiakari pulled herself together and staggered her way back onto her feet, taking a moment to rest against her sword, firmly stuck in the upturned soil. She could hear and feel the heavy, plodding footsteps of the Knight of Avarice shaking the very earth like it was a fault line ready to blow.

"I need to get back in range of the temple, immediately!" Tsukiakari groaned, winging from the pain.

Once she took hold of her sword, yet another massive shadow loomed over her. She looked to the sky, and her eyes widened in startled surprise as the second Knight of Avarice, wielding its massive bow, fired a stone arrow about as big as the temple's towers at her.

(It jumped so it can fire down at me?!)

Tsukiakari channeled a stream of lightning through her hand and into her sword, firing it off at the skyward arrow. The titanic lightning strike from her sword rent the stone arrow apart, tearing it asunder in an instant. Dozens upon dozens of small, flaming chunks of stone fell upon the forest as the Knight of Avarice landed on his feet, kneeling some distance away from Tsukiakari as it loaded another stone arrow into its bow.

Though exhausted, Tsukiakari pressed on, running through the trees in the direction of the temple.

(No good, I need to find a way to use these statues to my advantage and close the distance between me and Hachiman! There are still two more statues, so I need to be prepared!)

A sudden, loud crackle blared from the distance and was closing in on Tsukiakari fast. She turned her head to see a massive wall of flames brushing over the trees, lighting the entire forest in its intense, orange light. She immediately hit the deck, covering her head as the wall of fire rushed right over her, surrounding her in a sea of flaming trees and burning leaves. Almost a quarter of the entire forest was caught in the fire before the flame wall dissipated, unleashed by the fire-imbued sword of one of the Knights of Contempt, he who wielded the massive, stone sword.

(The third!)

The swordsman towered above Tsukiakari like a titan over an ant. It swung its sword down upon the ground with all of his might, barely missing Tsukiakari as she dived out of the way. Many of the nearby trees were blown away, clearing the sight of the sky for Tsukiakari. Taking the chance given to her, Tsukiakari jumped onto the edge of the sword and began running up its entire length, leaping onto the swordsman's stone hands and continuing up the arms until she finally got to its shoulder.

The bow wielding Knight of Avarice shot its next stone arrow with the intent to hit Tsukiakari, only to have its arrow pierce through and completely shatter the swordsman's head, releasing it from Hachiman's control. Finally, it felt like things were starting to go in her favor. The now lifeless swordsman statue fell towards the temple, giving Tsukiakari a chance to leap off of it and close hundreds of feet of distance at once. Upon landing back in the brook, she spotted the final Knight of Contempt, the war hammer wielder. It stood on defense, guarding the entrance to the temple and waiting for Tsukiakari to make a move.

With the crown of guilt upon his head, Hachiman was both impressed and further infuriated by Tsukiakari. "Why won't you just die, Tsukiakari?! Stop dragging this out!"

The falling swordsman finally hit the ground, rocking the area as it broke into a thousand, pieces of stone. The halberd wielding Knight of Avarice jumped the distance between it and Tsukiakari, landing at her eleven o'clock. It slid backwards against the ground and used its hand to slow its speed and stop the slide. The archer, still positioned at the rear, fired off another arrow at Tsukiakari, certain that this one would hit. The thunderous snap of its bowstring releasing the arrow alerted her immediately to the threat at her rear. She snapped around, preparing to destroy the arrow the same way as before.

"Enough! We'll end this now!" Hachiman roared.

As Tsukiakari imbued her blade with divine lightning again, the halberd wielder behind her reeled back its weapon, preparing to pierce the stubborn war goddess through her back. Her ears were able to catch the cracks and creaks of its stone arms and shoulders winding up for the piercing attack.

(No...I'll have time to destroy the arrow, but I don't know if I'll be able to dodge the halberd!)

Going for a three-fold attack, Hachiman stood and fired a low-powered, explosive arrow at Tsukiakari from the tower, smiling as the battle had a foreseeable end, one where the murderous war goddess would die.

(An arrow too?!)

Tsukiakari blew apart the stone arrow with another titanic blast of booming lightning, turning back towards the temple as the flaming debris rained all around her. So many thoughts ran through her head, so many calculations played themselves out that it all seemed to flow in slow motion for her. The halberd and the arrow fired by Hachiman were both coming at her at the same time.

(The arrow will get here first! I have no time to block it, but...I can take another risky gamble. If I lose this one...I'll die. But if I manage to pull this off...I have to try it!)

The war goddess did the unspeakable to any other war deity. She dropped her weapon.

She raised her hand up in the air, and stuck out her thumb and index finger. Her eyes, aided by vampirical clarity, traced the arrow as it zipped towards her. Tsukiakari managed to catch Hachiman's arrow between her two fingers, her wrist absorbing most of the force the arrow was launched with.

Baffled, Hachiman's eyebrows shot upwards in awe. "What?!"

"Here's a gift, you traitorous bastard!" Tsukiakari screamed.

With those same two fingers, Tsukiakari flipped the arrow around in her hand, imbued it with lightning, and threw it right back at Hachiman. Though she couldn't throw it with the same amount of force and speed as Hachiman could with his bow, she utilized the same trick she pulled on Oyamatsumi with the arrow itself.

(Last time, I threw my sword at Oyamatsumi and teleported myself directly on the sword with my lightning. This time...)

As soon as the electrified arrow left Tsukiakari's hand, it suddenly disappeared in a small, dainty flash of weak lightning. A larger flash of lightning spiked downwards in front of the tower, teleporting the arrow in an instant. In that split second, Hachiman's face was frozen in disbelief, unable to even process what Tsukiakari had done.

(Return to sender...bastard.)

And so, the explosive arrow that was meant for Tsukiakari instead detonated in the face of Hachiman, completely destroying the tower's crenellated top, and the Crown of Guilt along with it. With the crown destroyed, the three remaining statues instantly reverted into their normal, lifeless state. The halberd wielding Knight of Avarice also reverted, its blade stopping mere inches short of Tsukiakari's chest.

Hachiman fell from the tower as it collapsed on itself, finally bringing the battle to an end. Silence returned to the forest as trails of grey and black smoke lifted into the sky. With victory achieved, Tsukiakari was finally able to smile and rest her tensed shoulders.

"Now then...it's time for you to die, Hachiman."

Chapter 7: The Burden of Izanami's Love
Tsukiakari sheathed her sword, running her finger across the stone blade of the halberd that nearly killed her just a few moments ago. Though she was battered and bloodied, she was also coursing with excitement as her eagerness to kill Hachiman intensified with every step she took towards the temple. Struggling to get up off of the ground in the temple's courtyard, Hachiman felt around his face to asses the damage done to him.

All he felt was ripped skin and flesh, torn apart by the explosion. A gaping hole was blown through his right cheek, and his neck was running with blood. A chunk of his right shoulder was missing, nowhere to be found among all the debris from the collapsed tower littering the courtyard. He managed to get himself on his feet, trying to run away but only managing to move at a hopelessly slow speed. His injuries prevented him from even being able to reach normal walking pace.

"Wow, that was a close one!" tittered Carmilla.

Usually, having a vampire arise out of her shadow as if it were water would be something that would startle Tsukiakari. On that day, after that kind of battle however, it had no effect. Carmilla's sudden appearance did little to startle the tempestuous war goddess. They both kept on walking towards the temple. Just as she did in the dream, Carmilla covered herself with her black cloak and hood, a smile blessing her youthful and alluring face.

"I'm not surprised you're here. I've been wondering when you would show up." Tsukiakari said.

"Well, I resisted the urge to step in irked me several times during the fight. There were a few moments where I thought you were a goner, but you really did amaze me with how you managed to pull through!" Carmilla praised.

"So you were watching? Well, I thought I was going to die as well, but in the end, I was much more determined to win than he was. Now I just have to finish him."

(Oyamatsumi is dead, and soon, Hachiman will join him. That only leaves Raijin, Fujin, and finally, Bishamon. My vengeance is nearly halfway complete.)

As the two ambled up the temple steps and passed through the torii gate, Tsukiakari unsheathed her blade, swiping it across the stone floor to deliberately alert the helpless Hachiman to his own approaching doom. Even still, the war god of old tried to crawl away, only to fall on his stomach as Tsukiakari and Carmilla caught up with him. Whatever forlorn hope he had of escaping was shattered beyond all delusion as Carmilla kicked Hachiman onto his back, forcing him to come face to face with Tsukiakari.

Overwhelming anxiety and anticipation crippled Hachiman as Tsukiakari sheathed her blade, picking up one of the large pieces of stone debris instead.

"Hachiman, war god of yore." Tsukiakari said. "Of course. You conspired with your pupil to create a lifeline for yourself. I can't help but notice he's not here in your time of need. He wasn't there for Oyamatsumi either."

Hachiman groaned in pain as he responded. "That kid seems to have bigger plans that don't include any of us. Ever since Ichiki...we haven't heard a word from him. It wasn't just you he betrayed. That man would backstab his own mother. But I see you're no different. Look at you, conspiring with Carmilla the Baneful, an enemy of Heaven."

"I'm delighted you gods know who I am!" Carmilla sang. "We have a saying where I come from, Hachiman. The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

"Do you remember, during the Kaga Rebellion, when you fired an arrow into a young girl's hip?" Tsukiakari asked. "It was so powerful that it shattered her armor and paralyzed her from the waist down. Because of her disability, the order to dispose of her was placed upon me...and I almost followed through with it. In the end, it was my dear friend Taeko that did it. I'm sure you at least remember Taeko, since you helped lock her up until she turned into a Mu-Onna."

Hachiman chuckled. "Your friends? Is that what this is about? After all this time, your head is still filled with phantoms."

"That girl you paralyzed...her name was Ebina. Her real family name was Sentani. I want you to remember that name when you go to hell." Tsukiakari growled. "Think long and hard about the sin you committed, and how it all lead to this. You're not even worth staining my sword over, Hachiman. You're just another god trying to desperately cling to life, even if it's at the expense of mortals and fellow gods. So now...I'm going to help you let go of that which you can't stop clinging to. The Buddha would be proud. Carmilla, this is going to get ugly."

"Exactly why I want to keep watching. Do it." Carmilla giggled.

Hachiman, fearing for his life, stammered his words. "Wh-what on earth are you..."

Tsukiakari dropped down to her knees, tightly grasping the stone in her hand. She wrapped her left hand around Hachiman's neck as if to choke him, while smashing the stone into his face with her right hand. With every hit, more and more blood was drawn, covering the stone and splattering across the floor like an abstract work of gruesome art. Drops of Hachman's blood splattered onto Carmilla's face, who simply wiped her face with her fingers and sucked them clean.

She immediately spit out the blood, her face wrinkled in disgust. "Hmmm...it's bitter. Your blood isn't even worth consuming. What a pity."

Still smashing away at his face, Tsukiakari knew she was getting somewhere when Hachiman's legs and arms stopped moving. They fell still as the stone constantly smashing against Hachiman's face began to shatter parts of his skull, denting his face and severely disfiguring him. The crack of his skull, the mush of his brain and brain matter, the sight of his eyes drooping out from their sockets like the rotten innards of a fish, it was all too beautiful for Tsukiakari.

By the time she was done, Hachiman's face was an unrecognizable, concave mess of bloodied skin, shattered bits of skull, and smashed brain with the consistency of rice. It was finally over. Her vengeance claimed another.

(I've....I've done it. I won against Hachiman....)

"Wow...you certainly made a mess of him!" Carmilla praised. "I'm honestly very impressed! I've only ever seen my fellow vampires fight with such strength and vitriol, but you have truly earned my respect! Thanks to you—"

A sudden, hard thud shut Carmilla up, who saw that Tsukiakari had fallen unconscious on the ground, laying next to Hachiman's corpse.

"Huh?! Oh no!"

Carmilla knelt down by the war goddess, dispelling her panic as she confirmed a pulse in Tsukiakari's wrist. "Thank god, it seems you're just exhausted. I suppose you can stay here until you're rested up. I'm certain Lord Dracula will take a liking to you."

Carmilla carried Tsukiakari in her arms as if she were just a child. Her sleeping, bloodied face actually looked quite adorable to Carmilla, who smiled the longer she looked at her. Just then, another beautiful thing happened. Carmilla noticed that the entire forest was covered in a dark shadow. The clouds had returned, bringing the winds and promise of light snow with them. To a vampire, darkness is equivalent to a sunset for humans.

"How wonderful. It looks like it might snow today. But...I wonder why it would snow in the summer..."

Of course, Izanami felt Hachiman's soul pass from the earth. As she sat with Inari at her shrine, she felt yet another strong sting in her neck, the signal that a god had died. She put down her tea and reached for her neck, much to the worry of Inari.

"Izanami, are you alright?! Is it another one?!"

Izanami shivered in despair as she spoke. "Hachmian...is dead."

Though Inari already knew the answer, she couldn't help but pose the question. "Did Tsukiakari..."

"Yes." Izanami confirmed. "She has killed the former god of war."

"I don't understand! Why Hachiman?! Was he involved in the Senkumo clan in some way?"

A profound sadness weighed on Izanami's eyelids, closing halfway over her sunken eyes. "I think Tsukiakari knows things that we don't. These targets can't just be random acts of hatred. Perhaps she learned something about the identities of Bishamon's co-conspirators. That would confirm our suspicions surrounding Oyamatsumi."

A sudden realization forced a sharp gasp out of Inari. "Izanami! Fujin was also suspected of working with Bishamon! Do you think she might..."

Izanami closed her eyes, as if to protect them from any visions of Tsukiakari murdering Raijin or Fujin.

"Fujin is your son, Izanami." Inari said.

"I know that, Inari. Regardless...it's time for me to retrieve Hachiman's body."

"Be honest with me. What will you do to Tsukiakari if she kills one of your children? The last time any harm came upon your children you..."

Inari immediately hushed herself, bowing her head in apology. "I'm sorry. My words were insensitive and cruel."

"Honestly, I don't know how to answer that question." Izanami admitted. "I don't know what I'll do. I probably won't know unless it actually happens. I love my sons, and I love my daughter as well, wherever she may be. However...even with her monstrous acts, even as our fellow gods mark her as a traitor...I love Tsukiakari too. I love her as if she was my own. She is a descendant of my long lost love, Izanagi, after all."

"Izanami...you still love Izanagi? After all this time?"

Izanami's melancholy smile matched the somber mood of the gentle snow that began to fall outside, melting as soon as it landed. "I don't know. It's a confusing mixture of love and hatred. I hate him for abandoning me, but he's not someone I can just forget. Damn him, he's probably laughing at me from the grave, isn't he? I had the same love for Amaterasu once I got to know her, but it's clear that being the queen of heaven has somewhat blackened her heart. I suppose I love Tsukiakari because she was perhaps the last beautiful, truly innocent god in all of heaven."

"But now that innocence is long gone." Inari remarked.

"Yes, you're right, but Tsukiakari can still be saved. Maybe I'm being selfish, Inari. A part of me feels like I'm loving Tsukiakari as a way to atone for the ill will I harbored against Izanagi, no matter how justified I felt it was. Even after he abandoned me...I missed him. I loved him. I wanted to see him and our children again. I spent so much time agonizing over what to say if we ever met again, but...he had already died by the time I got out of the Underworld. My heart is possessed by this undying love and obligation towards Tsukiakari. It drives me to make sure she's happy, and that she walks on the right path. Though, seeing as I'm not really Izanami...I'm sure these emotions don't actually belong to me, do they? Then again, there was never a 'me' in the first place. I can't help but feel everything the real Izanami would feel."

Inari, just listening to Izanami articulate the immense volume of love and kindness in her heart, was almost moved to tears as Izanami stood up.

"In the end...I think I want Izanagi's descendants to be aware of the mistakes I made." Izanami said. "Tsukiakari is going down the exact same road of bitterness, hatred, and vengeance that I went down. My heart simply cannot allow that. Once she's on the right track, perhaps I can forgive myself for being unable to reconcile with Izanagi before his death, and for taking Izanami's place. Perhaps Izanagi will forgive me from beyond the grave. And perhaps...Tsukiakari and I can both find the love we're both starving for."

"And if you have to kill her?" Inari asked. "You know they just might call upon you when enough minor gods have been slain."

Izanami opened the sliding door, filling the shrine with a chilling breeze from outside. "If that time ever comes...I suppose I'll have to make a clear and harsh decision for myself, the decision of what it truly means to be Izanami-no-Mikoto."

Inari watched with worry and sadness brewing in her stomach as Izanami departed the shrine. She turned her eyes to her tea, slightly rippling from her trembling hands. She could see her own reflection in the steaming, aromatic tea, a reflection that became distorted as silent tears ran from her eyes, and into her cup.

"Tsukiakari...you have to stop...at this rate...you'll have to fight each other..."

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Chapter 8: The Corpse's Secret
Tsukiakari's eyes opened for the first time in what felt like a few minutes, staring up at the ceiling from the inside of the temple's sanctuary. Her whole body, from her neck down to her feet, felt warm and tightly wrapped in something, as if she was tucked into a bed. The dismal cacophony of crow caws bled through the ancient, stone walls of the sanctuary as she looked around, realizing she was lying in a futon. Her head spun in circles as she sat herself up, recalling her merciless execution of Hachiman prior to her losing consciousness.

Carmilla rushed down the aisle separating the pews, her emerald-green eyes widened in joy. "You're awake!"

"You again? Where am I? In the temple?" Tsukiakari asked.

"Yes. You fell unconscious after killing Hachiman. It's only been a full day since then. I know you might feel like you want to get up and get moving, but you should rest here for a while, give yourself some time to recover. You really pushed yourself to kill him."

(I guess she's right. I can't ever dream of fighting Fujin or Raijin like this. I'll...have to lay low for a little while.)

"Is this okay, Carmilla? Is the temple sufficient for you?"

"Yes, it's perfect!" Carmilla sang, tenting her fingers. "My gratitude is boundless, Tsukiakari. Dracula and his wife shall be here in a few days. The birth of the child can happen any day now."

"I see. I'm sorry to burden you like this, then." Tsukiakari said.

Carmilla waved her open hands with a smile, waving away the apology. "Not at all! You did us a great favor, so it's only fair we ingratiate ourselves with you in return. This is the least I can do to repay you for your help. Even we vampires have a sense of honor. How can we dare to live off of blood, the essence of honor itself, and not keep pay off our debts?"

"Is it really that meaningful to you?" Tsukiakari chuckled.

"Blood is sacred, Tsukiakari. When Jesus sat among his disciples at the Last Supper, he held a grail of wine, passing it along to his followers and telling them, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. Drink it, all of you.' When the Romans crucified Jesus, it was his blood and suffering that cleaned humanity. Knights, foot soldiers, lords, and kings, though they may all live different lives, they speak a common language. That language is the quantity of the blood they've spilled for their country, for it is a direct measurement of their loyalty and commitment. And when we pass on our genetic code to our offspring, do we not feel pride that it is our very blood and the miraculous, natural structures within that have been passed on to a new vessel?"

(Blood...is that sacred to vampires? I actually understand where she's coming from too. I just never thought of it like that, as a hallowed substance.)

Carmilla stood up, stripping off her black cloak in front of the blushing Tsukiakari. It seemed, beneath her heavy, baggy cloak, Carmilla had been wearing a black negligee the whole time. The flimsy, thin dress was split down the middle at her lower sternum area, revealing much of her stomach and just barely covering her large, round breasts. Although, more eye-catching than the faintly visible goods of her figure, Carmilla bore an awful cross-shaped scar on her belly button, as if someone had branded her lower stomach with a hot crucifix.

"Blood is love, sacrifice, loyalty, respect, salvation, and retribution." Carmilla stated. "It is the very essence of the human soul, and any dealings concerning it must be made with the knowledge of its meaning. Thus, Vampires maintain their honor whenever and wherever they can."

"Your...your stomach..." Tsukiakari muttered, feeling a bout of second-hand pain just from looking at the scar.

"Oh, this? My apologies if it's an eyesore." Carmilla lamented. "I got this many moons ago, for failing to uphold my honor as a vampire, and as a defender of the Cross. This was my punishment, an eternal reminder of who will judge me by my honor when, or should I die."

(This Carmilla...She's got me curious about so many things.)

Despite her curiosity, the dismal cries of the crows outside grew even more bombastic, as if they had tripled in numbers in just the past few minutes. Tsukiakari saw the dull, grey light from outside turn even darker as wind pulled a sheet of clouds in front of the sun. Sensing something was terribly wrong, Tsukiakari slowly and stood herself up, groaning as she got back in her feet, which felt like numb, soft noodles to walk on.

"Tsukiakari? Hey, you really shouldn't get up! You might tear something!"

"Stay inside, Carmilla. Someone is here."

On the way out, the war goddess grabbed her sheathed blade off of one of the pews. She stopped with her hand on the giant, stone doors, catching her breath and gathering her strength before pushing one of them open enough for her to slide through. As soon as the doors were just barely cracked open, a rather ferocious wind commanded Tsukiakari's kimono and wicked, black hair to dance to the tune of its endless, ear-popping whistle.

What looked like hundreds of crows circled above the temple, and dozens more were perched around the temple grounds. They were standing around on stair steps, crenellated edges of walls and towers, and upon Hachiman's rotting, pale corpse.

(The sky and this temple are pale and black, as if the day itself is dead. It must be her.)

Tsukiakari waited there at the bottom of the stairs, for the arrival of a certain goddess past the torii gate of the temple. The very name of the expected goddess sat on the edge of her tongue, coursing through her veins and arteries every time her heart beat. Just as she expected, the goddess of creation and death, Izanami the Cruel, passed through the torii gate in a snow-white kimono and silky, black obi, its loose ends dancing in the wind along with her voluminous, raven hair.

As it was the first time the two were confronting each other since Tsukiakari embarked on her marathon of vengeance, the two could only gaze upon the other, waiting for the words flying around in their hearts to settle into sentences they could communicate with their tongues.

"Izanami. I didn't expect you to just show up like this."

"Gekko..." Izanami muttered, holding her pale hand over her racing heart.

It was like Izanami was looking at a wildly different Tsukiakari, one whose very glare was made austere by her newly acquired taste for vengeance.

"I take it you're here to kill me as well?" Tsukiakari surmised.

"No. I could never." Izanami refused. "I have not been personally ordered to kill you, nor would I ever want to. I'm here to collect Hachiman's corpse."

Tsukiakari raised her right arm, pointing in the direction of Hachiman's body and the crows feasting upon it.

"You...really killed him?" Izanami asked, choking back tears.

"Yes, I did. All by myself." Tsukiakari confirmed.

"Gekko...what on earth do you think you're going to achieve like this? I understand Oyamatsumi, but did Hachiman have something to do with the Senkumo clan as well? Why would you-"

"In her final moments, Taeko listed off four co-conspirators." Tsukiakari answered.

Izanami's eyes were stuck wide open as Tsukiakari gently laid her sheathed blade on the ground and sat upon one of the steps.

"They were written on the wall of the catacomb she died in. I saw it shortly before the whole thing collapsed." Tsukiakari recalled. "That day, Raijin killed me as soon as I escaped from the catacombs, and when I reincarnated, Bishamon had already enacted his plan to destroy the Senkumo. It was tough work, Izanami, but I actually managed to do it. I avenged Ebina and Mayumi so far, but it's not enough! I have to kill Raijin, Fujin, and Bishamon next."

"Gekko...Raijin and Fujin are my sons. You know that, don't you?"

Tsukiakari nodded. "So, what will you do, Izanami? I've been wondering how you'll react once I cut them down. I have a great feeling that you and I, no matter how much we may try to avoid it, will become enemies if that happens."

Tears rolled down Izanami's cheeks as she tried to protest. "So then-"

"But I cannot stop, Izanami." Tsukiakari interrupted. "I can't let a single one of those bastards live, even if they're your flesh and blood, even if it pits me against you! Your children did a vile thing, and I deserve my vengeance as recompense. So, what will you do, Izanami? I want to know what your answer is."

Izanami seemed lost in deep, dark thought, possessed by the potential outcome of Tsukiakari's killing spree. She thought so hard for so long, and yet, when she raised her head, she could only smile at Tsukiakari. The war goddess, confused and angered by her stubborn sense of love and dedication, was dying to be entertained by whatever reply Izanami cooked up as the crows all lifted away from the temple, flying off into the sky and raining their black feathers down upon the two.

"Honestly...I don't know what I'll do." Izanami answered. "I don't know how I'll react, or what will happen to you should you kill my sons. Naturally, I would think I'd be furious with you. I'd probably...even kill you, with my own two hands. Still...even still...I cannot imagine myself hating you enough to enjoy having to fight against you. I would never even wish for such an outcome."

"Don't treat me like I'm still a child, Izanami!" Tsukiakari roared. "I know how wrathful you can truly be when the life of your child is on the line!"

"What...do you mean?" Izanami muttered.

"I know what you did after Kagutsuchi was sealed by the Catholic church!" Tsukiakari admitted. "I know how you earned the name 'Izanami the Cruel'! You wiped out a third of Europe's population! For your children, you would destroy the world and humanity itself! Don't you dare try to sweeten your emotions, Izanami! You would hate me! You would despise me! If it's for your child, you wouldn't stop until I'm dead!"

The shaken and cracked heart of Izanami grew heavier and heavier inside of her chest, as if it were turning into lead. She held her pale, dead hand over her chest as she spoke with a weary, downtrodden voice. "I see. You know."

"You have no right to tell me what I'm doing is wrong, or to stop, or whatever measly justification you can offer me." Tsukiakari said. "You went through the exact same thing as me, and your vengeance was far worse. The flames of your fury still burn away at the earth in the form of black plague, killing men, women, and children alike. We're both mass murderers. We're both avengers. The only difference is that you're lucky enough to be the most powerful god in all of Heaven. No one can challenge you, and you cannot die. I'm prepared to die, Izanami, if that's what it takes to see my vengeance completed."

"Gekko...when I died and awoke in the underworld as a rotting corpse, I waited so long for Izanagi to rescue me. As you know, he did, but...he abandoned me after seeing me. I was kicked to the curb and left for dead, like I didn't matter, like we never even fell in love with one another. When that happened, I had forgotten something very important."

"Like what?"

"I had forgotten what it meant to be Izanami-no-Mikoto. Names are so important, Tsukiakari. Our names are given meaning by the events and beliefs that shape our lives, and that name, in turn, defines us. When we are lost, we often turn to our names and all of the things done under them, to remind us of who we are and what we should be fighting for."

"You don't have that luxury, do you?" Tsukiakari mocked. "Izanami, my real grandmother, she's the one that name belonged to. You merely took her form and her identity. She loaned that name to you."

Izanami closed her eyes. "Regardless, it was still given to me. Izanami-no-Mikoto, "She Who Invites"...that name was lost when I chased Izanagi out of the underworld."

(Wait...what? What is she talking about?)

"What do you mean you chased him? I thought Izanagi abandoned you."

"He did. The story that most of the gods know is...incomplete. Izanagi walking away from me was not the end of our encounter in the underworld. For years, I've shamefully kept a small, but crucial part of that story out of the narration. That missing bit is important, for it was the death of my nature, the death of the meaning of my name. 'Izanami' not only died in body and spirit that day, but in namesake, ideals, and in conviction."

(The story Ichiki told me...was incomplete? What else is she hiding? How many secrets does Izanami really keep?)

"I want you...to hear me out." Izanami said. "Hear the part of that story I've omitted from my fellow gods. I want to tell you, so that you don't repeat my mistakes. Right now, you're heading down a path that will forever doom and dirty your precious, beautiful name. 'Tsukiakari Senkumo' will come to mean something horrid and atrocious, instead of the the lovely name it is, attached to the person who means so much to me."

"So then, you intend to lecture me about how you were able to save the meaning of your name, huh?" Tsukiakari chided.

"No. It's not a lecture. It's a warning. Right now, I am no better. My name is poisoned as well, corrupted by my own actions and deeds. I've betrayed and forsaken myself more severely than Izanagi ever did. So...please...will you listen?"

(Despite what she said, I was still expecting a lecture. I was expecting her to scold me for my wrongdoings and point to herself as a better example of what I am. Still, I knew, even back then, that the number of remaining encounters between me and Izanami were few. I knew I'd go down fighting, it was just of matter of knowing who would be my final opponent. And so...I made my decision, and gave her my answer.)

"Alright. Fine. Tell me. I'll listen to your story, Izanami."

Chapter 9: The Corpse's Sorrow
Tsukiakari flung open her eyes, suddenly finding herself inside of Izanami's memories of the day Izanagi ran from her. She was perplexed, standing in the middle of the cold, odorous cave as the putrescence of the underworld gripped her senses. The sound of racing footsteps grew closer and louder, until Tsukiakari saw him, Izanagi, run right through her, as if she wasn't even really there.

"Izanagi?! I get it now. This is what really happened that day, the missing part of Izanami's story." Tsukiakari said, talking to herself.

Just as Tsukiakari lifted her foot in preparation to chase after Izanagi, a wicked scream bellowed from the dark depths of those frigid caves, paralyzing her with fear. Not even the dying wails of the Iron Whale sounded so horrifying. So powerful and frightful was the yell of whatever demon lurked in those shadows, that the very caves themselves began to shake and grumble.

As demonic as those screams were, there was something incredibly sorrowful and crestfallen about them. The more Tsukiakari listened, the more she realized that those screams belonged to Izanami. They were not just pure anger and rage, but also heartbroken screams of agony, unintelligible cries that only Tsukiakari could understand.

That day, Izanami was screaming, 'Come back. Please come back.'

Just as Izanagi did just moments before, the fetid, rotten Izanami raced past Tsukiakari. She was followed by a thick swarm of shikome, most of them crawling on the cavernous walls and jagged ceiling in pursuit of Izanagi. Turning around, Tsukiakari ran from Izanami, catching up with Izanagi as he constantly checked over his shoulder.

"Izanami, why is this happening?! Why are you chasing him down like this!?" Tsukiakari asked.

The disembodied voice of the present Izanami echoed around her. "He broke a very simple promise. After I washed up on the Underworld's shore, I had hidden myself in these darkened caves. I was ashamed of my body, of what I looked like. When Izanagi came here, I told him specifically not to light a torch, to keep this place shrouded in darkness. I told him not to look at me. But he...he did it anyway. He sparked a flame and cast its light upon my rotting body. He was so overwhelmed and terrified that he ran away, and I..."

"I see. You grew angry with him for abandoning you after he broke that promise." Tsukiakari finished.

"Damn it! I need to slow them down!" Izanagi suddenly yelled out.

Fumbling around in his pockets, Izanagi quickly drew out a handful of seeds, throwing them into one of the puddles of murky water on the ground as he ran and causing them to instantly sprout into small plum trees. The shikome in pursuit had their attention stolen by the sight of sweet plums, stopping to pick and eat the fruit off of the trees. Such sweet juices and tender fruits were like handfuls of paradise to the foul women of the underworld.

After putting some distance between himself and the distracted shikome, Izanagi came to a stop, hiding around the corner, barely able to catch his breath as he held his bleeding, stinging arm. Tsukiakari's eyes traced the streams of blood flowing down his arm up up to his broken ulna, which protruded out of his limb.

(He's injured?! Izanami was trying to kill him?!)

Izanagi's hand trembled as it hovered around the wound, as if he was hesitating to even touch it, lest he make it worse. "That thing...is not my wife. It's not my wife...it's not my wife...that is not my Izanami! I have to leave, and seal this place off forever."

The wounded Izanagi staggered toward what looked an exit out of the caves, back into the bright, radiating world of the living. Every step he took chilled him down to his bones as he traced his dirty, slender fingers on the jagged walls of the cave, so close to the glaring exit of the land of the dead.

"Almost...there..." Izanagi muttered.

The ear-piercing scream of Izanami sent chilld traveling down his spine. She leaped out of the darkness and tackled Izanagi to the ground. Her rotten, maggot-ridden hands gripped around Izanagi's neck, choking the air out of his passageways. Izanagi fought hard to try and loosen her grip, kicking his legs and trying to unwrap Izanami's hands with his own.

(No way...Izanami did this to him?! )

Tsukiakari stood right there, watching as Izanagi's face slowly started turning purple, his veins bulging out of his forehead. Her eyes traveled up Izanami's rotten arms, to her shoulders, and finally, the tears dripping off of her chin. Izanami was sobbing and screaming at the same time, completely possessed by her own grief, sorrow, and anger.

"I told you not to use the light! I told you not to! Why?! Why didn't you listen to me?! Why don't you still love me!?" Izanami yelled.

With no other options available to him, Izanagi broke off his protruding ulna from the rest of his arm, causing his wound to bleed more profusely, but giving him a weapon in return. His broken ulna then morphed into a short sword made of pure light, as if crafted from sunshine itself. That intense light blindedIzanami's eyes, forcing her to let go of Izanagi.

Holding his hand to his recovering throat, Izanagi made a mad dash for the exit. As he ran, he stumbled and tripped over tiny pebbles and jagged edges of the floor, losing one of his sandals in the process. Every time, he got back up on his feet, uneven and scratched as they were, and finally dashed out of the darkness and into the sunshine of the human world. A lush, beautiful forest lied ahead, situated at the bottom of Mount Hiba. The world of the dead and the world of the living were separated by a mere cave entrance, and that was exactly what Izanagi was going to change.

Wasting no time, Izanagi gathered the rest of his remaining strength and put his back and shoulders into moving the boulder besides the cave's entrance, rolling it in front of the cave's mouth. He pushed the massive boulder with such strength that his nails cracked and bled, and his feet, firmly planted into the earth, dug deep holes into the forest's soft, fertile floor. As Izanami regained her sight, she could see the light ahead slowly becoming eclipsed by the boulder, realizing that Izanagi was trapping her in the underworld forever.

"No...you wouldn't!" Izanami muttered, her tear-soaked eyes widening in horror. "Izanagi!"

Izanami made one more furious leap towards Izanagi, who gave the last push all of the remaining strength he had. Both of their fatigued, enraged yells fell silent as the boulder was firmly sealed over the entrance, locking Izanami in complete, sorrowful darkness. Tsukiakari remained inside on Izanami's side, in wide-eyed shock. Izanami's yells of apoplectic wrath died down into heartbroken sobs as she collapsed on the floor defeated, betrayed, and abandoned. From her side of the boulder, Izanami called out to her husband.

"Izanagi! Answer me! Please!" Izanami sobbed.

From the other side, Izanagi replied. "Begone! You are not my Izanami, not anymore! You belong in there, not out here! How can you possibly hope to live in this world if you can't even face the light?! What is wrong with you?! You helped me build all of this! You helped me create these islands, these mountains, these valleys, oceans, and rivers! We created the sun together, the most blessed thing of all! And you would refuse the divine light of what you yourself made?! You would hide from it and grow furious at even the smallest spark?! It's you who has grown obsessed with appearances, not me!"

"Damn you! I was trying to properly explain this to you! I couldn't find the words to say! What was I supposed to do, Izanagi?! How can I tell the man I love that I'm rotting!?! How am I supposed to make him understand that?! I was so scared of what you would think! I didn't want you to leave me! But god damn you, you ran anyway! You didn't even give me a chance!"

"You're dead! There's no more chances for you! I was a fool to believe there was! The living and the dead live in separate worlds for a reason, Izanami!"

"Then why did you come back?! Why did you come here if you knew that!?" Izanami furiously questioned.

"Because I thought I could override that rule!" Izanagi admitted. "I thought I could overcome the gap between the living and the dead. In the end, even we gods are bound life and death. We're just lucky enough to have the power to create as well as destroy. I'm sorry I got your hopes up. I'm sorry I thought I could cross the boundary between our two worlds. You created something so powerful that not even we can surmount it."

Izanami pressed her forehead against the boulder, sorrowfully absorbing all of Izanagi's words. "What about us? What happens to us now?! If we can't be together...."

"There is no more us. You belong to death now. So...this marriage...is over." Izanagi regretfully declared.

"O...over? You're...divorcing me?" Izanami stuttered.

"I'm sorry, Izanami."

The boulder shook and rattled as Izanami slammed her fists against it repeatedly until she drew blood from her knuckles.

Her wrathful screams returned, revolting Izanagi more and more. "After everything I did for you, all the years I loved you, all the children I bore you, this is how you pay me back?! Even though I wasn't a lot, I constantly gave you my all! I was loyal, wasn't I?! I was beautiful and kind, wasn't I?! I was gentle and motherly, right?! I was the perfect woman for you, and you were the perfect man to me! You meant everything to me! I died giving birth to your child, Izanagi!"

"I know that!" Izanagi said.

"Then don't you dare toss me aside like I'm nothing! Remove this boulder! Either you come here and join me or I'll come out and join you! I want to live again! I want things to go back to normal! I want to see the children I worked so hard to raise again! Let me out, Izanagi! Let me out!"

Izanagi stood up, holding his bleeding arm with tears burning in his eyes. "Indeed. You were motherly, kind, beautiful, and so incredibly dedicated. You were Izanami-no-Mikoto, She Who Invites. But Izanami...ask yourself something now. Is what you just did to me the mark of a mother? Is it the mark of someone who is loyal? Is it the mark of someone who is kind?"

Her screams were silenced. On the other side, Izanami held up her trembling, skeletal hands, watching as her tears dripped onto her bony fingers. Izanami was no longer beautiful. Her kindness turned into wrath. Her gentleness soured into cruelty. Izanami realized that the world of the living was no place for people who only wished to hide in darkness. It was no place for someone who could not be kind.

"But you...you didn't show me any of those thing either..." Izanami cried.

"I suppose you're right. Maybe I'm no better." Izanagi muttered. "It's just an irreconcilable difference we have now. You will blame me, and I will blame you. That's just the way things will go. As such...I'm done with you. I am no longer your husband. You are no longer my wife. Let us go our separate ways from now on. Goodbye."

As Izanagi turned away, Izanami could hear his footsteps growing more and more distant from the entrance. Choosing hatred over forgiveness, Izanami screamed one final thing at Izanagi, the last thing he would ever be able to say to him. "Izanagi! No matter how many people dwell in that perfect little world of yours, I'll make sure Death claims a thousand of them everyday! They'll be just as foul as I am now, just as rotten and putrescent as the wife you abandoned! No matter how big, small, rich, poor, or beautiful they are, I will make sure they ALL die some day! And every time you lose someone, I'll make sure you think of me! I'll make sure you remember that you left the woman who gave everything to you! You will rue the day you abandoned me!"

Izanagi too gave into his festering rage, clenching his fist before turning around and giving his final reply. "Kill a thousand a day, and I shall create a thousand and five-hundred more!"

And with that, Izanagi walked away. Their marriage ended with hatred and bitterness, and from that day forth, Life created a multitude of beautiful beings, while Death waited in the shadows, promising to take them away when their time came. Izanami, trapped on the other side, could only curl into a pathetic, fetal position, and weep. Her sobs were ugly, heartbroken, and mixed with a potent air of bitter anger. One side of her heart screamed that she hated Izanagi, while another whispered that she loved him still.

With only one blink, Tsukiakari was back at the temple, standing in front of Izanami again. Izanami's smile looked like a mere mask hiding her innermost pain and regret. It was a smile neighboring a tearful frown.

"We betrayed each other that day. So, we blamed each other, hated each other, and lost each other. It's taken me all these years to acknowledge that, in a way, he was right. He ran, and I tried to kill him. I almost strangled my own husband to death. What's beautiful about that? What's kind and gentle about my reaction to his reaction?"

"But...still, you were justified, weren't you?! He was the first to betray you! All you did was respond in kind!" Tsukiakari insisted.

"That's exactly why it's wrong. Both humans and gods are quick to form symbiotic, poisonous relationships with one another simply because we think it's justified." Izanami said. "That was not justice. It was revenge. It was recrimination. Most of all...did anything I did that day look inviting to you?"

"Inviting?" Tsukiakari repeated.

"I didn't choose to become Izanami. I didn't choose to inherit her memories and experiences as though they were my own. I just woke up, and that was the way things were. I had no memory of who or what I was before I took the shape of Izanami. And yet, it all felt so real to me. Izanami's heartbreak felt like my heartbreak, her losses felt like my losses. I only realized the truth when I saw the real Izanami wasting away in that crypt. That's when it all started. That was when I accepted my role as Izanami's ghost."

"You kept my grandmother locked away in her crypt to keep this truth a secret. If they had found her, they would've figured out how to kill you." Tsukiakari recalled.

"That wasn't the only reason." Izanami admitted.

"Izanami...what are you trying to tell me?"

"Amaterasu...she allowed the War of Kin to happen. She allowed her siblings to kill each other over a succession dispute that didn't actually exist. She did it so she could begin putting together the pantheon that we know today, a nation of gods. I saw it for what it was, and I saw the direction the supernatural world was headed. Nations beget conflict. I knew that much. If I could've stopped Amaterasu right then, I would've done it."

"But you didn't." Tsukiakari said. "Why not?"

Izanami lips scrunched together, ashamed to admit her fault. "I couldn't enact revenge on my own. Amaterasu had a pantheon of gods at her side, an arsenal of divine regalia, a legal system...It was just impossible. My rage was the only power I had available to me at the time, and I knew that. So...I offered Amaterasu my hand in creating her pantheon. I tamed the Underworld, I brought about the Shinigami, and tended to the souls of all those who passed away. I was the one who encouraged Amaterasu to merge with the Buddhist pantheon and accept the system of reincarnation. Your mother and I have spent hundreds of years building every aspect and system that makes up the Shinto pantheon, and every decision we have made has served three purposes. On the surface, we were advancing our nation of gods. Take a deer look, and you'd, we were both amassing power for ourselves. Go even deeper than that, and you'd see we were amassing that power so we could eventually settle our grudge. We created things that were fundamental to the pantheon itself, forcing the gods to rely on us."

"You...you created Death in a fit of rage, but you used it as a bargaining chip." Tsukiakari surmised. "You used Death as a means of inflicting impermanence on the gods, on Amaterasu. She must've known this, but she accepted it anyway, because she had people she wanted dead as well."

"Death, the Underworld, reincarnation, the Shinigami, the black plague, the Shoku Twins, and secretly, the real Izanami. I use them all as tokens of power, as leverage against your mother." Izanami explained. "At the same time, your mother has leverage against me. We're mortal enemies, and yet, I'm bound to her as her mother, and she as my daughter. As much as hate each other, as much as we're preparing to settle the score between us, we also rely on each other. She sacrificed everything to be able to rule the pantheon, a responsibility that should've fallen on my shoulders as her mother. In return, I became the shadow of Heaven. I handled every dark deed, every twisted secret."

"All of this time...you used my grandmother's name and identity to build a counter-measure to my mother's work." Tsukiakari said, shaking her head in disbelief. "Izanami surrendered everything to you, and you turned her legacy into an aura of omnipotent evil?"

"It's what she wanted. It's what we both wanted." Izanami cried.

"That doesn't make it right! She was burnt down to her bones and spent all of those years regenerating inside of a *censored*ing crypt!" Tsukiakari protested. "She was in no condition to make that kind of decision! My grandmother was deluded and heartbroken, and you took advantage of that so you could plot your revenge!"

Izanami bowed her head in shame. "I know. I know I did."

"Oh my god." Tsukiakari gasped. "You're going to do the same thing to Inari. There was a reason you befriended her, nurtured her. It's not a coincidence she's becoming the most popular god in all of Heaven. You plotted that too, didn't you?"

Izanami's silence was all the admission Tsukiakari needed. She couldn't think of any words to describe the severity of Izanami's actions up until that point. Izanami's plans and intentions were both twisted and clever, and it was the combination that sickened Tsukiakari the most.

"You were going to overthrow my mother." Tsukiakari surmised. "And you were going to use Inari to do it."

Izanami's teeth clenched tightly together as tears streamed from her closed eyes. "After I got to know you and Inari...I abandoned the plan altogether. I don't care about revenge anymore. I don't care about my grudge with your mother, or how the pantheon was created. Gekko, I swear on my life, all I care about right now is you and Inari. I don't want to be seen as a villain anymore. I want to be loved! I want to love someone in return! I want to be true to the name Izanami bestowed upon me. I want to be a woman who invites!"

(She doesn't want to lose herself...and she doesn't want me to lose myself either...)

"It's the same for you!" Izanami wept. "You are Izanagi's grandchild, Tsukiakari. You have your own name, and a meaning attached to it! If you forsake that name and what it means to you, you will die at the end of this, and I don't want to have to be the one who puts you down! I want to invite you into my life too! I want you to be the first one I invite like this. I want you to be the one I give my all to! I love you, and I want to help you!

"You...love me? Even when I'm doing all of this? Even when I'm going down the exact same path you went down?" Tsukiakari asked.

"That's exactly what keeps pushing me to save you!" Izanami said. "We bear the same wounds in our hearts. So...when I say I want to invite you into my life, it's not just because I want to fix you. I...I'm also begging you, pleading with you to come in, to fix me and love me as well! I'm praying that you'll help me! I'm praying you'll find it in your heart to forgive me for my evil and my cowardice!"


"Please...stop this. Let me give you my all, and if it's good enough, please...give me your all too!" Izanami pleaded.

The somber snow slowly fell from the sky, adorning both Tsukiakari's and Izanami's hair with melting, fleeting flakes of white. Once again, the weather proved strange for the season. It was still summer, and yet it began to feel more and more like winter everyday.

Tsukiakari replied, but her tone had changed. Her voice was soft, but her words possessed a thunderous presence. "I will never forget what you did to my grandmother. I'll never forget the lies you hid from me in that crypt, or the burden you place upon the shoulders of the Shoku Twins. But most of all, I'll never forgive you for what you were going to do to Inari."

"Gekko...no..." Izanami muttered, her eyes widened in shock.

"Goodbye, Izanami. Be sure to take Hachiman's corpse."

Tsukiakari began her ascent up the stairs, stopping after a few steps as Izanami gazed back with tearful eyes.

Tsukiakari continued up the steps, leaving Izanami down below with nothing left to do but collect Hachiman's corpse. Little did she know of the impact that her words had on Tsukiakari, who waited until she was far up enough on the stairs to let her tears fall from her eyes. She fell on her knees, holding both of her hands over her broken heart. She was completely torn, barely able to process the scope of Izanami's manipulation and betrayal. And yet, Tsukiakari knew that the reason why Izanami's confession hurt so much was because she loved her.

It only made the coming battle between them that much more tragic.

Chapter 10: The Phantom is Born
The wind furled Tsukiakari's raven hair as she sat alone at the top of the temple's staircase. By all means, she should have been focusing on her next target. She should have been putting what was left of her mind to good use, strategizing about the best way to tackle someone like Bishamon or Raijin. Her mind, however, drifted far away from the temple. She held her left hand over her balled, right fist, contemplating the web of sin woven by her own family. Just thinking about it all, how Inari was almost the next victim, made her skin crawl.

No matter who she turned to, everyone was a schemer and a plotter. Everyone was more than willing to lie and cheat their way towards their goals. Bishamon, Oyamatsumi, Raijin, and even Izanami herself. Knowing that Izanami was no different than Bishamon didn't make Tsukiakari angry. It didn't fill her with violent rage and a thirst for revenge like it did with Bishamon. It saddened her more than words could convey. If there was ever a single person Tsukiakari wanted to believe was only trying to do good in this world, it was Izanami. The fact that she was at least forthcoming about her true intentions up until now served as little consolation.

Carmilla's called out to her from behind. "Tsukiakari. Are you sure you don't wish to stay and see the child?"

Tsukiakari stood up, wearing her black cloak over her tattered, sleeveless kimono. "I've been here long enough as it is. I don't want any of the gods to track me here."

"I see." Carmilla sighed. "Well, I'll be putting in the good word for you when Dracula asks. As promised, I scouted ahead in search of your next opponents. Going by your descriptions, I found Fujin, Raijin, and Bishamon grouped together just North of Lake Biwa. It seems they intend to fight you as a group."

"Lake Biwa? I guess they're taking the confrontation as far from the city as they can." Tsukiakari said.

"There's a problem, however." Carmilla warned. "They have a small army of minor gods at their command. Probably around two-hundred or so. You may end up having to fight them first."

Tsukiakari turned her head away from Carmilla, facing the rising sun. "I understand."

"Tsukiakari...judging by these odds...you'll likely die before you kill Bishamon."

"Maybe so. I wasn't expecting to survive anyway. If two-hundred of my fellow gods want to stand in my way, I'll just cut them down too. Thank you for all of your help, Carmilla."

Carmilla, donning a white negligee, folded her dancing, black hair behind her ear and crossed her arms. A heavy sympathy for Tsukiakari bore down upon her vampiric heart.

"Dracula is having a girl. They've already decided her name. Hima Chinagaregawa." Carmilla explained.

Tsukiakari's eyebrows soared in surprise. "Hmm? A Japanese name?"

"Her mother is Japanese. Hima will be living here as well, so she'll need to blend into Japanese society, should she ever choose to live among mortals. 'Hima' is written with the twenty-five stroke kanji for 'The smearing of blood'. Chinagaregawa is written as 'River of bloody currents'. Dracula doesn't seem to think he will live for much longer. He chose such a violent pair of names for a reason, as if to say 'I may be dead, but my descendant shall make you wish you only had to deal with me instead'."

"You vampires...you never let your wills die. I think that's what I respect most about you. This Chinagaregawa will undoubtedly become the Queen of Vampires once Dracula dies, won't she? In that case, I can only hope you're around to remind her that I once helped you all out."

Tsukiakari's smile was endearing to Carmilla. It was so sincerely presented to the alluring vampire that it almost seemed like a gift.

"You're the last Shinto goddess I'd ever allow to die. That's why I feel so uncomfortable letting you go like this." Carmilla said.

With only the utmost respect for Carmilla, Tsukiakari graciously bowed her head as she prepared to leave. "It's alright. You've given this stray goddess shelter these past few days. I thank you, Carmilla."

"No need to thank me. Do your best to live through all of this, alright? That way, I can be sure you and I will meet again some day."

(Who knew a vampire could make me smile like this?)

"I can't make any promises, but if I do live through this, I too will pray that we meet again. Goodbye, Carmilla, and good luck with the heiress."

"Thank you, Tsukiakari Senkumo. Farewell, and good journeys."

And so, Carmilla watched as Tsukiakari departed from the temple, descending the stair case leading to the courtyard and disappearing into the forest past the torii gate. The sun peeked over the eastern mountains as flocks of birds soared into the air above the snow-veiled forest. The goddess with no future and the vampire with no shadow were able to find something within the other, a common soul.

While Tsukiakari marched towards her final battle, Izanami laid down inside of Inari's shrine, staring blankly at the plain ceiling. Her eyes and cheeks were soaked with tears. Inari sat behind her against the wall, silently stroking her soft, fluffy tails as her mind drifted into dark places, places where Tsukiakari would end up dying, never to return.

"Hey...Izanami..." Inari muttered.

"What is it?" Izanami responded.

"Will they...ask us to collect Tsukiakari's corpse too?"

"...Most likely."

"I see."

Izanami turned on her side, tracing her finger along the tatami mats until the very tip of it felt numb. "I felt like I gave it everything I had, but I still failed."

"Hey...don't be so hard on yourself." Inari pleaded.

"If I'm not hard on myself, who will be? You're too kind to get mad at me for using you." Izanami said. "I can't believe I thought this cycle would ever end."

Izanami's trembling, breaking voice signaled the return of her woeful tears, gently dropping onto the tatami mats as she stopped tracing her finger on the floor and clenched her hand into a furious fist. "Izanagi, Mizuhame, Susanoo, Kagutsuchi...and now, Tsukiakari too? I cannot allow that to happen. I lost the first four because I failed to be a woman who invites. I don't want my heart to be shattered into a fifth piece, Inari."

" But...Bishamon, Raijin, and Fujin have already gathered a fighting force to stop Tsukiakari." Inari lamented. "Because of the murders of Oyamatusmi and Hachiman, Bishamon was able to get legal approval for the small army. He's now fully within his rights to subjugate Tsukiakari, meaning anyone who stands in his way is denying the will of Heaven. He's unstoppable now."

"She doesn't even have her mother's love anymore. Oh Gekko..." Izanami cried. "I'm so sorry..."

(Before heading to my final battle...I wanted to see my friends one last time. I visited the graves of Mayumi, Taeko, and Ebina on the cliff, not too far away from the blackened and burned remains of the first Senkumo mansion. I just had to see them. It was the only way I could strengthen my weary heart and continue on with my vengeance.)

For the first time in a long time, Tsukiakari went to visit the headstones in the forest. Thankfully, they weren't harmed during Bishamon's destruction of Tsukiakari's base. She sat on the ground, her raven hair speckled with sunlight piercing through the canopy of leaves above her head. The clouds were returning, threatening to veil the sun's warm, orange light again. Tsukiakari sat down below that fading light, sitting cross-legged before the headstones. With softened eyes and a stirring heart, she whispered to them, as though not to disturb their resting bones.

She slowly pulled her blade from its sheath, staring into the reflection of her baggy eyes. "This is it. This will be my final battle. Soon...I'm certain...I'll be joining you all in the next world."

She raised her arm, pointing her sword towards the sky as the clouds stole away the last rays of sunlight. "Plant your sorrow in me. Brand me with your pain and suffering. Lay the burden of your sadness upon my weary shoulders, for I shall not let you go unavenged."

Her hand tightened around the grip of her blade before she stuck sword firmly into the ground, stabbing the very earth as if it were an enemy. The lapping winds intensified, angrily pulling on the branches and leaves of trees and singing with a loud, deafening whistle. Those leaves, a mixture of green, red, and gold, soared into the sky like raptured souls. The wind rattled the beads of Yachi's bracelet on Tsukiakari's left wrist, while the frigid wind caused the entry wounds peppered throughout her body to ache. The remains of the base, and of the men, women, and children who died defending their lord weren't very far behind her. Yachi's bones remained there too, buried beneath the corpses and rubble. Chiharu's bone and teeth fragments rested within Tsukiakari herself, inflicting her with bouts of sharp pain as though Chiharu's ghost was getting revenge on the lord that murdered her.

"Even the wind screams in pain for you. It angrily calls for vengeance." Tsukiakari growled. "It bitterly weeps as it tears apart the trees and cuts the grass like an invisible blade. I will be your walking judgement. I will be your scorn and hatred personified. I shall become your pain. And when I die...I hope you allow me to become your love, and wrap me in your kindness and mercy."

Those screaming, wailing winds strengthened Tsukiakari, preparing her for combat and for a permanent death. She stood tall and proud, removing her sword from the earth and returning it to its sheath. "You guys used to say I could be the Queen of Heaven someday. If things were different, perhaps I really could've. But I'm fine with this. I'm fine with it all ending here. Goodbye. I will always love you."

(Raijin...Fujin...Bishamon. If you all wish to die together, then so be it. Let's finish this, once and for all.)

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Chapter 11: Doom
Tsukiakari's long march towards her final fight brought her to the tranquil quietude of the snowy countryside, away from any populated areas or man-made structure. The silence made the possibility of dying seem much less daunting than it really was. All of her dread was gone. She marched through the field of dead, snow-veiled grass, her mind focused only on her revenge.

(It all comes down to this. These are my last targets...and I'm sure these strong winds aren't just part of the weather...right, Fujin?)

Tsukiakari's intuition was all too correct. Fujin rode on the wind as if it were a surfboard, staying hidden above the thick, white clouds covering the sky. That wind rushed right by Tsukiakari, continuing down the plain and far off into the distance. A smile formed Tsukiakari's face as she kept on walking, watching the wind shift and dance through the grass like a comb moving through hair.

"Running away now, are we? Or are you leading me to the party?" Tsukiakari muttered.

Just a mile away from Tsukiakari, Fujin fell from the pallid sky, landing on his feet. Raijin stood before him, cross-armed and ready for anything.

"She's here. Where is he?" Fujin asked.

"He should show up any minute now." Raijin replied.

Lord Bishamon, now one of the most powerful military commanders in all of Heaven, appeared out of a swirling vortex of fire and shadow. He came fully dressed in red armor from the neck down, with two small tassels dangling over his chest piece. He came dressed for war against his former pupil.

"You sure took your sweet time getting here...Bishamon." Raijin mocked.

"The army?" Bishamon asked.

"They're already on their way to confront her." Fujin answered.

"Good. They won't last a second against her, but they will be doing all of Heaven a favor by dying before they can become rebellious elements, fearful of being cycled out." Bishamon said.

"So we're using her rage for Heaven's benefit? Only Amaterasu could've come up with something so cruel and clever at the same time." Raijin said.

Bishamon nodded. "Indeed. Now we wait. You're not the only one itching for revenge, Tsukiakari."

The three gods sat down on the grass and waited. Simply waited. Every second that passed by felt longer than the one before it as the same fire of revenge that nested itself in Tsukiakari's heart stirred itself within Bishamon. His battle with Tsukiakari wouldn't just be revenge against her, but against Amaterasu as well. Now that he really thought about it, the battles between gods made just as little sense as the ones between humans.

"We make our own heroes and villains out of war, just to make sense of the unspeakable carnage around us." Bishamon said. "In reality, war is often a web of liars and deceit. Hachiman taught me that. I didn't quite understand what he meant at first, but over the years..."

"May he rest in peace." Fujin said.

"We're all victims to the web. People from all sides tug and pull at the wars dropped in their laps and use it for their own gain." Bishamon rambled. "Even the manipulators end up being manipulated themselves. That was Hachiman's fate. It was Tsukiakari's and it's my own as well."

"Bishamon? Are you okay?" Raijin asked.

Bishamon squeezed his hands, trying to kill off the tingle exploding in his palms. "...Just a little scared."

Tsukiakari's feet came to a stop. Her entire body stood as still as a shallow pond, her eyes surveying the curious scene before her. Just as Carmilla reported, twoo minor gods assembled just short of Bishamon's position, all of them wearing white veils over their heads, concealing their faces and hair, save for their eyes. Just from their physical figures, Tsukiakari could discern who was a woman, and who was a man. Most of them wore white kimonos, pure as the driven snow.

(So they sent in a company of gods, huh? White veils, too...they want to remain anonymous because I'm Amaterasu's daughter.)

One cloaked man stepped forth, wielding two sheathed blades at his hip. A light, plate armor vest covered most of his torso. The veil covering his head and face fluttered in the wind as his deep, burly voice rung out from beneath.

"Tsukiakari Senkumo!" he called out. "You are charged with high treason by the courts of Heaven for your murder of Oyamatsumi and Hachiman! Arrest is out of the question! Instead, Heaven has issued your death sentence!"

Tsukiakari responded with silence. Her dancing hair covered the scarred half of her face as she sighed in vexation. "I don't have time for this. You're all in my way. Stand down or die."

The veiled man laughed. "Such insolence..."

A blinding light suddenly flashed on the horizon like lightning, distorting the vision of the Bishamon, Raijin, and Fujin from afar. They all stood up as the very earth was rocked back and forth. A thunderous boom filled their ears and chests with its roaring power, deafening them for a few seconds. As they opened their eyes, they were treated to the horrifying sight of the entire horizon veiled by a thick wall of black smoke.

The flaming corpses of the gods and their severed body parts rained down upon the land in the form of eyeballs, skull fragments, and fingers. Bishamon held out his fingers, catching some of the falling blood and tasting it. The sight of it all brought a smile to his face as Raijin and Fujin stood there in awe.

"Such power..." Bishamon said with a chuckle.

The few surviving gods ran out of the wall of smoke with their arms over their noses and mouths, covered in blood and dirt. As they fled for their lives, Tsukiakari too emerged from the wall of smoke, surrounded by her lightning dragon. With her blade already drawn, she directed the dragon's lightning strikes towards her fleeing opponents, striking them down with death from above as quickly as they could blink.

With brief screams, they all went down with bursting, bubbling skin, their faces petrified by rigor mortis. Just to be sure of their deaths, Tsukiakari stabbed each one of them through their backs, piercing their hearts as she walked by.

"This is child's play, Bishamon. I didn't come all the way here to fight these weaklings. You know that, don't you?" Tsukiakari growled.

Making short work of Heaven's pathetic company of gods, Tsukiakari continued her march towards Bishamon. All of the snow, previously white and pure, was now stained with black and red with soot and blood. The only similarity it seemed to have to snow anymore was the fact that it was all still cold.

Bishamon knew Tsukiakari was nearly there. "She is coming."

"We will wipe her out here and now. She musn't be allowed to sow any more chaos among the gods!" Raijin roared.

"Still...I can't believe she's so strong." Fujin said in breathless awe.

(I've waited for this moment for so long. I've fought and bled harder for this moment than any other in my life. I wonder if that means I am truly living, or if I'm already dead. I suppose...it doesn't matter.)

The lightning dragon traveled away from Tsukikari's body and coursed through the wall of black smoke, its flashing lightning pulsating within and outside of the raven clouds.

Raijin and Fujin did not underestimate their enemy. Even those two gods, children of Izanami, felt nervous just waiting for Tsukiakari to appear. They could feel the veins in their hands grow hot in anticipation. They couldn't tell if their anxiousness was making them sweat, or if it was just the heat carried over from the explosion.

At long last, Tsukiakari emerged, holding her drawn sword tightly in her hand. Her grip intensified as she saw Bishamon smiling from the hill ahead, with the other two at his side.

Bishamon extended a hand of welcome. "Stray princess...rejected war goddess...you've come. From the moment I found you that day in Kyoto...I knew you could be a powerful goddess. I knew you could bring about destruction on par with Izanami's. Even with such high expectations, you still managed to exceed them. Your work was brilliant and your strategies in battle were equally so. However..."

Bishamon's fist tightened and his eyebrows lowered in bitter disgust. "What you did to Ichiki and my children was unforgivable. If you hadn't done that, I would've worked out a way to ensure your continued existence after this. But now, I want nothing more than to see you drop dead."

"What do you know? We're on the same page." Tsukiakari replied. "All this time...our greatest enemy was within our walls, wearing our family crest and speaking our language. You took us in and filled our heads with dreams, just so you can take them away at our most critical moment. And those two helped you do it."

Raijin laughed in response. "From the moment you abandoned your home, you became a traitor as well."

Bishamon raised his hand, urging Raijin to say nothing more. "Did you truly believe that our plan was going to work out just as we imagined it? Gekko, your naivety is boundless. The Senkumo clan and its model for a stratocratic society was destined to fail."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Tsukiakari questioned.

Bishamon shook his head in shame. "Our plan could've only succeeded if the country was forever stuck in a perpetual state of war. Our entire economy was based off the idea of profiting from the conflict of others. The members of our clan merely went from being the victims of their daimyo to the profiteers of their war efforts. For all of your gallivanting about the condition of the human soldier, you remained blind to this fact, especially Taeko."

"That's why we planned out our post-war future!" Tsukiakari protested. "We didn't want our clan to rely on conflict for income any longer than it needed to!"

"You still don't get it, Gekko." Bishamon teased. "Yes, we did have a post-war plan. We were going to stop contracting our services for war and offer restoration services instead. When all those homes are built a new, when all of the infrastructure is repaired, where will your money come from? Where will you get your income from? What does a stratocracy's economy look like in a post-war society?"

Tsukiakari tightened her fist until her nails drew blood from her palm. She knew exactly where Bishamon was going.

"I suppose you could've taxed your citizens, right?" Fujin tittered.

"Ah, but how would those people feel having their money taken by soldiers?" Bishamon asked. "When the war ends, society will breathe a sigh of relief. They would've survived the destructive folly of daimyo and soldiers alike, and yet, you think they would allow a stratocracy to take root in their nation. You think they would allow for soldiers to take their money, or take their sons and turn them into soldiers. For all of those people out there, having the military emerge as the most powerful wing of government would not have been a victory. It would be cause for another revolt. To them, you're a war lord, same as Masachika or Yoshihisa."

"I'm a goddess." Tsukiakari said.

"A goddess that fled from her home in Heaven. A goddess that massacred an entire village of innocent people. A goddess that incinerated her own soldiers and was haunted by phantoms." Bishamon chided. "You're not some fairy tale hero. You're not the face of Japan's future. People want to live their lives, not be slaves to the army. They want to have a central government that keeps its military in check, not a government comprised of the very soldiers that sowed chaos in their nation. The country is shifting, Gekko, and after this war ends, the power of warlords and generals will diminish. Part of that is due to our own work."

"You scheming bastard. So you knew we'd become the villains in the end, and that's when you were going to get rid of us." Tsukiakari surmised. "I have to ask then, why did you spoil your plan so early?"

Bishamon refused to answer. He stepped back, allowing the sons of Izanami to lead the charge.

Raijin took off his kimono, wearing only his pants and bracelets. Small lightning bolts screeched in his palms as he and Fujin stepped forward in front of Bishamon, looking down upon Tsukiakari from across the blackened field. The sky began to rain glowing embers and sparks instead of snow. The land had become a hellscape of snow, smoke, and fire.

Tsukiakari pointed her sword at the three and the lightning dragon descended, surrounding her in its bright and loud crackle.

"Bishamon, and all in heaven who dare deny me my right to happiness and my retribution! I will destroy you all, no matter what it takes!" Tsukiakari declared.

"Hmph. Impudent girl. An orphaned god has no such rights. She never had a future to begin with." Raijin mocked.

"With your permission, Bishamon." Fujin said.

Bishamon nodded. "My fellow gods...kill her!"

Chapter 12: The Buddha's Assertion
The time had finally come.

After so much suffering, it was time for Tsukiakari to unleash her vengeance. The frighteningly massive wall of black smoke in the far distance behind her cloaked the entire field in an odorous shadow, making it look as if it was already nightfall. Sword in hand, Tsukiakari stood with unflinching eyes, waiting for Raijin and Fujin to make their first moves. The sound of their soft steps against the grass grew faster and faster in pace, changing from a relaxed saunter to an aggressive sprint.

"Let's go, Raijin!" Fujin roared.

(Here they come!)

Fujin and Raijin charged at Tsukiakari, both of them leaving trails of lightning and wind in their steps.

The war goddess held her blade skyward, commanding her lightning dragon to burst through the cloud of black smoke behind her. It's crackling lightning struck down Fujin in a single, blinding blast. Fujin fell flat on his face, temporarily immobilized as smoke rose from his robes. Wicked branches of lightning shot out in every direction from the dragon, coursing around the clouds like a snake around a tree.

The dragon's roar stopped Raijin in his tracks, alerting him to the next lightning strike. "I am the god of lightning! Don't think you can use the heavens themselves to smite me, you arrogant stray!"

The next blast of lightning painted the dark sky in a brief, intense light before striking down upon Raijin. Tsukiakari watched with glee and caution as the dragon's power flashed in front of her, shrouding Raijin in a cloud of foul, white smoke.

(Of course...it seems the lightning dragon won't be very effective against him.)

Raijin was not amused. He stood tall with his smoking palm raised towards the sky, having absorbed the lightning dragon's power.

"Even so...to possess such mastery of lightning itself..." Raijin muttered, equally angered as he was impressed.

A ring of flaming grass flickered around the lightning god's feet, set ablaze from the blast. He suddenly dashed in towards Tsukiakari with immense speed and power, focusing the absorbed lightning into a single, glowing point in his palm. Tsukiakari immediately held her blade up, tightening her grip around the handle.

With a swift and well-timed swing of her katana, Tsukiakari managed to sever Raijin's hand. Tsukiakari side-stepped him as he fell to the ground, holding his exsanguinating arm as he began howling in pain. It was then that Tsukiakari's eyes were drawn to the electricity coursing around the wound in place of blood. Tsukiakari aimed her open palm at both Raijin and Fujin, and they were blown back by a concussive, ear-popping shock wave that ripped up large chunks of debris from the ground. Bishamon watched the earthen debris barrel towards him as Raijin and Fujin landed by his side.

Both Raijin and Fujin held their open palms up, shattering the earthen debris into thousands of smaller pieces in a small cyclone of lightning and wind. Streams of lightning wildly ejected themselves from Raijin's hand as Fujin stopped the momentum of the boulders, trapping them in his cyclone. The now harmless pebbles stood motionless in the air before descending like drops of hail upon the gods.

"Damn orphan severed my hand! How dare you swing your blade against me!" Raijin growled.

"Do not forget, I am the one who trained her." Bishamon said. "She thinks very much like me. In fact, she's a living, breathing, embodiment of my own glory. She is carnage personified, the perfect war goddess. Take her lightly, and this will be a short battle."

Tsukiakari tightened the grip on her sword and made a swift, horizontal slash across the air. The force of her swing was so powerful that it rocked the area with hurricane-like winds and split apart the tops of the mountains behind Bishamon. She then lunged at them at a blistering speed, only for Bishamon to block the swing of her sword with one finger.

"Is that all you got, Tsukiakari?" Bishamon mocked.

(Not at all, you bastard!)

Tsukiakari channeled the energy of lightning through her blade, electrocuting Bishamon in a flash of blinding, blue light.

She sought to decapitate Raijin's leg as Bishamon was stunned, but she was blown away by a preemptive punch from the fast-moving Raijin. After tumbling across the blackened field, she stuck her sword into the ground to slow her movement, only able to recover for a moment as a gust of hot wind blew past her. Fujin was now behind her, and he delivered a crushing kick to her neck with as much power as he could muster. Bishamon joined in, catching Tsukiakari and throwing her into the dark clouds above.

The field went quiet for a few seconds. The only sounds were that of Fujin and Raijin's exhausted panting.

"There's no way that killed her..." Raijin said, looking up into the sky.

"No, but I'm hoping this will." Bishamon said, clasping his hands.

The clouds suddenly turned red as a fiery explosion rocked the sky. Tsukiakari made a free-fall back to earth, crashing hard into the ground. The sleeves of her black robes were ripped and torn asunder, exposing her blackened, bleeding arms. Despite her crash landing, she managed to stand herself up once more, brushing aside the ash on her robes with that stubborn, vengeful expression on her face.

"Wretched whore! Just give up! Accept your judgement! Join the rest of your Senkumo rats in hell!" Raijin yelled.

(Plant your sorrow in me...force me to drink your anger and feel your pain. Only then..can I have the strength to attain vengeance!)

Tsukiakari turned her pain into a battle cry as Raijin and Fujin charged her again. Electricity streamed around Raijin's remaining hand as he charged, allowing him to fire off a few bolts at Tsukiakari, who was already more than prepared. Her sword deflected Raijin's incoming thunderbolts, sending them back off into the sky.

"Keep her busy!" Fujin commanded.

(Don't think I don't see you too, god of wind! I won't let you trap me with your damn gourd!)

Fujin opened the gourd on his back and set it down on the blackened ground. When Fujin tried to suck her into the gourd with wind, she took a deep breath of the hot, stuffy air around her and exhaled flames from her mouth. The tactic used Fujin's power to Tsukiakari's advantage.

"Fujin, look out!" Bishamon warned.

The flames surrounded Fujin before he could dodge or extinguish them, and the god of wind, another accessory to Tsukiakari's pain, felt the fires of her vengeance. He screamed and rolled around on the ground as he was burnt to the bone, the flames tearing through his muscles, melting his fat into a pungent oil, and eviscerating his kimono. Bishamon rushed in to try and save him, but it was already too late. Fujin lied immobilized by the flames, his flesh and skin blackened to a char. He was nothing more than a melting pile of putrid flesh, reaching his partly skeletal hand out to Bishamon for help.


Bishamon could only smile as Fujin's arm fell back down as he died. Everything below Fujin's shoulders, his arms, his chest, his legs, everything, was burned right down to the skeleton, leaving only his smoldering remains.

"Tsukiakari...your power truly is magnficicent!" Bishamon laughed.

"You're next, Raijin!" Tsukiakari shouted.

Tsukiakari leaped at Raijin like a speeding bullet. Raijin blocked the swings of her blade with his bare arms, the blade conducting electricity with every hit. Her wounds pained her body as the weather grew colder, giving Raijin an opening. He kicked her in the stomach, sending her flying back towards Fujin's skeletal remains.

She gracefully landed on her feet and picked up one of Fujin's ribs, breaking it off from the rest of the rib cage like a branch from a dead tree. She then charged back towards Raijin, channeling the power of lightning in her steps. She wielded Fujin's fragmented rib like a blade, a move Raijin did not anticipate. With only one hand, Raijin was unable to defend himself as Tsukiakari stabbed Fujin's rib into his stomach.

"Be gone, Raijin!"

Tsukiakari concentrated concussive energy through her hand. She blew a hole through Raijin's belly, sending a storm of lightning spewing out of the exit wound. Raijin fell to the floor, dead before Tsukiakari's feet. The battlefield fell silent as Raijin's eyes rolled around in his head, his brain still clinging to whatever life it still had before, ultimately, all functions ceased, and Raijin was no more.

Covered in blood and soot, she turned her murderous gaze over at the astonished Bishamon. It all came down to them, the master and the subordinate. The rain of embers continued, filling the air with dainty sparks that burned their skin.

"Tsukiakari...do you know what you've just done? Do you know whose sons you killed?" Bishamon asked.

"Oh, now you're concerned with those who died? Now you care about the slaughtered and slain?" Tsukiakari responded.

Bishamon scoffed. "Care? How preposterous. I'm merely amused and proud of what you've become. You should see your face now, Tsukiakari. You've truly become the ultimate war goddess, and whether you want to admit it or not, it is because of us. Losing your friends was the best thing that ever happened to you. Would you have ever grown this powerful if you were happy? Misery breeds conviction. It breeds the desire to be able to force your own situation to chance according to your will. The ability to do that is the phenomenon we call power. Now, you possess the power necessary to defend that which you hold dear...is what I would say if you hadn't just killed these two very important gods. Raijin and Fujin were both Izanami's children, the only ones remaining besides Kagutsuchi. Tell me...

Bishamon drew his golden sword from his hip, his long, black hair swaying to the left and covering part of his face. "Do you really think Izanami will reincarnate you now?"

Tsukiakari erupted into laughter, as if she had just been told the best joke of her life. Even to Bishamon, it was unnerving and profound. For all of the horrors and insanity Bishamon had witnessed in battle, he could not quite decipher why Tsukiakari was laughing. It almost made him angry, how a goddess who no longer had a future could laugh so happily.

"I'm curious to know what's so funny to you, Tsukiakari." Bishamon hissed.

Wiping the tears from her eyes as the last of her laughs quieted down into a relaxed smile, Tsukiakari replied with an uplifted tone in her voice. " You really have trained a good war goddess. It is my intention to die. Oyamatsumi, Hachiman, Raijin, and Fujin are all dead by my hand now. Even if I win today, Izanami will only kill me tomorrow. The fact that she'll never forgive me for what I've done today is a blessing."

"You're insane..." Bishamon growled.

"The Buddha once said that death is suffering." Tsukiakari said. "He made that assertion without having experienced death himself. Once he had become enlightened and saw the truth of this world for his own eyes, do you think he was suffering when it was his time to die? "

"What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that revenge has made me whole. And so, I have no issue with dying and never coming back. My only wish now is to drag you down to hell with me."

"Revenge has made you whole, huh?" Bishamon chuckled. "Well then, I pray it will do the same for me. We've said enough, Tsukiakari. Let us end this little temper tantrum of yours and put you to sleep...for all eternity."

In silence, the two readied their blades and steadied their poise, anxious to kill one another for the wrongs they inflicted upon each other. The violent cycle of revenge was about to come to an explosive end.

Of course...the final moments of her two sons stung Izanami in her spine and flashed like a vision in front of her eyes. She was standing right outside of Inari's shrine when she finally felt those awful stings and saw visions of Tsukiakari killing her children. Even Inari, who sat on the porch fluffing her tails, noticed something was wrong with her dear friend.

"Izanami?" Inari worriedly called out.

For Izanami, everything had gone silent. The color bled from the world and everything was covered in an impenetrable darkness. The sound of the winds and the chill of the gently falling snow all disappeared. A sorrowful numbness overwhelmed her. She raised her head to the sky, then turned around to face Inari as tears streamed down her pale cheeks.

"What's wrong, Izanami?"

"She...she...killed them...Raijin and Fujin..." Izanami said with labored breath.

Inari stood up in shock. "No...they're dead?!"

It would be a lie if Izanami said she didn't hate Tsukiakari. How could any mother not hate the person who murdered their children? It's true, a fiery rage welled inside of Izanami's heart while a numbing misery flowed through her entire body. Part of her immediately wanted to take her scythe and kill Tsukiakari before Bishamon would even have the chance to. In that moment, all she could do was fall on her knees and scream her tears out, her heart breaking in two. Inari immediately rushed to her side, embracing her and crying with her. However, Inari's tears were for both Izanami and Tsukiakari.

Inari knew now, without a doubt, those two who had just grown to find a common understanding for each other, would have to fight each other.

Chapter 13: The Moon and its Halo

The battle of the two war gods began with a thunderous explosion that shook the very earth It's plume of white smoke dissipated into nothingness as the two gods jumped into the air, in the opposite direction from each other. Both of them weaved kuji-in hand seals in completely synchronous fashion, a true testament to their equality in training.

Both of them aimed their palms at the other, their eyes locked on their target. A swarm of swords, sickles, spears, and arrows emerged from Bishamon's palm, coming straight for Tsukiakari. The war goddess ejected a widespread stream of crackling lightning from her hand, using it to take electromagnetic hold of the great swarm of weaponry and directing it skyward. It was as if a snake made of weapons and lightning had slithered beyond the clouds before exploding in the heavens, raining down all of its swords and spears upon the earth. The orange glow of the explosion shined brightly enough upon the two gods that it cast their shadows upon the ground as they both landed on their feet.

"Bishamon!" Tsukiakari yelled.

Tsukiakari threw her blade at Bishamon, who quickly leaned his body to the right to dodge its spinning, sharp fury. With the blade dodged, Bishamon turned his head back towards Tsukiakari's direction, only to see that she was gone. A blue light flashed behind him as Tsukiakari once again used lightning itself to teleport to her sword's position, taking hold of the handle and thrusting the sword into Bishamon's blind spot.

Bishamon was able to notice just quickly enough, blocking her stab with the flat side of his sword. Flaming swords, spears, and arrows fell from the sky like falling stars, sticking themselves into the earth with their grips and handles pointed skyward. Tsukiakari could see the reflection of those falling weapons in Bishamon's eyes, the eyes of the god she hated most.

"Oh? Now that's new!" Bishamon cheered. "You've honed your own set of abilities, have you? Very well then!"

With his right foot, Bishamon lightly stomped on the ground, shattering the layers of earth beneath their feet. Like pieces of a cracked eggshell, the shattered, earthly debris fell into the crater created by his stomp, taking Tsukiakari down with them as Bishamon leaped away. Landing on high ground, Bishamon withdrew three of the flaming arrows stuck into the earth with one hand. His golden sword radiated with light before morphing into a white, gold-lined bow.

An explosion rocked the inside of the pit, ejecting most of the debris that had fallen on Tsukiakari into the air, towards Bishamon. She had managed to blow her way out of being buried alive, coughing and gasping as she stood on top of the rest of the rubble. All she could hear from inside of the pit was the loud crash and crumble of falling rock as she turned her eyes towards the sky, the rain pelting her dirty face. That's when her keen eyes caught the faint glimmer of three flaming arrows falling into the pit like swooping hawks.

Not wanting to risk destroying a set of explosive arrows, Tsukiakri ran upside the wall of the pit as the three arrows passed right by her. She made it back on ground level, tumbling away from the pit's opening after making her final leap out of it. Those arrows turned the deep, earthly pit into a massive oven, igniting and filling the whole thing with orange flames. Seeing those flames rise out of the pit for herself, Tsukiakari felt relief she chose not to destroy the arrows.

The sudden yell of Bishamon came from Tsukiakari's ten o'clock, prompting her to leap out of the way. It was a good call, as Bishamon's fiery whip came down upon where she once stood, leaving shallow, flaming cracks on the ground. The snap of his whip was nearly as loud as thunder itself.

Tsukiakari picked up one of the spears stuck into the earth, throwing it head first at Bishamon with so much power that a small vapor cone formed around the blade. With that amount of speed, Bishamon was unable to dodge or deflect. The spear pierced right through his shoulder, sending him flying all the way across the field before he managed to land on his feet. The entire spear had gone in and out of his arm, leaving only the hole that it created.

"Such impressive speed and power. To think she could actually land a good hit on me..." Bishamon groaned in pain.

Suddenly, a pop in the air alerted him to another spear cloaked in a vapor cone. He slammed his hand on the ground, erecting a thick wall of earth to protect himself. As thick as the earthen wall was, the spearhead managed to protrude through the other side, barely missing his stomach.

Tsukiakari then pointed her sword towards the sky as she channeled more lightning energy through her hand, letting it travel to the very tip of her blade. The lightning dragon abruptly emerged from the clouds, prompting Bishamon to leap out of the way as its massive lightning bolt struck down upon the earthen wall, obliterating it entirely. Sliding on his feet, Bishamon turned and noticed Tsukiakari dashing in towards him with the same impeccable speed she threw the spears with. He lightly stomped his foot on the ground, erecting a smaller and thinner wall of earth to shield him. Tsukiakari was unable to stop herself and ended up plunging her blade firmly into the wall.

Bishamon slammed his whip through the wall's top, partly breaking it as Tsukiakari dodged with a crouch and puller her blade out, shattering the rest of it.

(This is it! We're in close range now!)

Tsukiakari hit the ground with the edge of her blade, channeling a very small amount of fire to its tip. The result was a cloud of smoke that dispersed from the sword, obstructing Bishamon's sight. He held his arm over his mouth and nose as not to inhale the smoke.

"Damn her!" he cursed.

Bishamon expected either a frontal or rear attack, but Tsukiakari did not appear. She had already leaped out of the cloud of white smoke, pointing her blade at the cloud itself and setting it ablaze with a mere fireball. The raging cloud of fire quickly turned into a dust explosion. Tsukiakari landed on her feet, covering her eyes from the explosion's brief show of light.

She stood and waited, taking the time to slow her breathing. She stuck her blade into the ground and leaned on it, lowering her head as the rain slowed into a soft drizzle.

(I've expended such a vast amount of energy fighting today. I think it's starting to catch up with me. I need to land a decisive blow before fatigue gets the better of me. Lightning works, but it's costly and can still be dodged. I don't think he'll fall for a trick that he taught me himself. Think, Tsukiakari...how can I end this?)

The smoke and flames cleared away, unveiling a kneeling Bishamon, his iron plate armor almost completely destroyed. Plates were missing or broken, some even laid on the ground around him.

"You...broke a god's armor?" Bishamon questioned. "Had it not been for this, you may have actually killed me there. I'm impressed, Tsukiakari! By far, you are the strongest opponent I've ever fought! However...I see you're already getting tired. Don't tell me you were so determined to attain your revenge that you callously expended all the energy you had."

Bishamon's smile of confidence evoked an inner disgusting in Tsukiakari. She wanted nothing more than to break his teeth with her blade.

"You should be very proud of yourself. You wanted to surpass me. You wanted to become the most powerful god of war there was." Bishamon said.

"I would never wish for such a thing at the cost of my friends, you bastard! You took everything from me just to achieve that goal?!" Tsukiakari roared.

"Didn't I tell you there's always a price for power, Gekko? The lives of the Senkumo was a heavy, but worthwhile price, don't you think? Your work strengthened the inner circles of the pantheon just in time for the Second Great Holy War. At the same time, you've killed a staggering amount of minor gods, and even major gods on the verge of being cycled out. You cleaned up Heaven and made it run more efficiently. Really, we all owe you our thanks."

"You were all complicit in what happened to my clan! You're all guilty for what happened! That's why I killed your precious Ichiki! That's why I roasted your daughter alive and drowned your infant son! Every single one of you will pay in blood! Don't think you can just use me and dispose of me, Bishamon! Even if I die here, I will haunt you in hell when its your turn to be cycled out!

Bishamon shook his head. "Don't say her name, Tsukiakari. Don't you dare say the name of the woman you murdered. That was the work of a demon...not a goddess, nor a child of Amaterasu."

Bishamon pulled off the last scraps of his broken armor, now forced to fight bare-chested. "Let us continue, my fellow war god"

"I just have one last thing to ask you, Bishamon."

"Fine. What is it?"

"If you designed the Senkumo clan to fail—"

"Like I told you, Gekko, it would never have survived in a post-war society." Bishamon interrupted. "You would've only become a more powerful version of the system you tried to overthrow, and that would never be accepted by a post-war society. The days of people like us, of warriors and bloodletters, are numbered."

"Then what exactly is your true vision for Japan?" Tsukiakari asked. "What was worth the lives of all of those people?"

"Make no mistake, we are still building a new nation." Bishamon answered. "But this nation shall be so much more powerful than ever. It will be an empire capable, one capable of traversing oceans and conquering far away lands. Heaven is warring against the Vampires, Tsukiakari. Heaven needs and empire of its own in order to combat other empires. Everything we have done over the years has been to lay down the groundwork for that."

"I see..." Tsukiakari said. "So that's how avaricious Heaven truly is. Let's continue, Bishamon. I can't stop a plan that's already been put in motion, but I can stop you!"

As their battle raged on, Izanami continued to weep in Inari's shrine. She laid on her futon, facing the opposite direction of Inari, who so worryingly sat by her side, unable to find any words that could comfort her. In the face of such immense grief, even a goddess was powerless. Though she could not heal Izanami's latest heartbreak, Inari knew she could still get her focused on the most pressing issue at the moment—Tsukiakari. She knew that if Tsukiakari died, no matter what sort of mixed feelings may be floating in Izanami's heart now, it would just be another heartbreak for her.

"Izanami...you don't have to say anything back. Just listen, okay?" Inari said.

Izanami nodded, still crying her eyes out.

"I know...a part of you wants to kill Tsukiakari. A part of you wants to make sure she suffers for what she has done. I understand that much. Though I can never say I understand what it's like to lose a child, I still want you to hear me out. Tsukiakari is just as much of a victim. That's why everything has turned out like this. That woman never had a chance. She was humiliated in Heaven and exposed to war on Earth. With nowhere to go, no hope, and no one to love her, Bishamon's words were sure to have a profound effect on her. I'm sure he promised her a home, a family, friends, and a place where she could belong. All of that, in exchange for her service as a war goddess. I don't even want to think about what it was like for her to continuously die and reincarnate, waking up to find her friends and comrades did not come back with her. Tsukiakari has been through an immense amount of suffering, and the only way she could've possibly kept her will to live was to turn that suffering into bitter, vile hatred. She is unleashing that hatred upon the pantheon now."

"Inari..." Izanami whispered.

"It's just not fair. You said so yourself too, didn't you?" Inari asked. "If only she had been loved and raised properly. None of this would've ever happened. Heaven stood by and let their former princess suffer at Bishamon's hands because it was directly helping their cause."

Izanami snapped around towards Inari, sitting up in a sudden panic upon hearing those words. "Inari, don't say—"

"It's true and you know it better than anyone else, Izanami! Heaven used her. Bishamon used her. Her own family used her, as if she was some sort of prostitute they were all passing around. When you bore your heart to her, you told me every detail of her reaction. You noticed how her eyes lightened and glistened, as if they were soaked in tears. You noticed how her cheeks blushed, and her smile revealed her dimples. Even the tone of her voice bore an honest and sincere softness. That was the real Tsukiakari, Izanami. That vulnerable expression halfway stuck between a smile and tears is what Tsukiakari is! For someone who knows how much a name and the meaning behind it means, you're overlooking this, don't you think?!"

Izanami was seriously being scolded by a relatively younger goddess. She was taken aback by that mere fact, but she could not ignore the truth within Inari's words.

"Tsukiakari means 'Moonlight'." Inari said. "When you look at the moon, Izanami, what do you feel?"

"I...I don't know..."

"The moon is out right now. Why don't we go look?"

"Right now?"

Inari gently grabbed Izanami's hand and helped her up, walking out of the sliding door and onto the patio. Night had fallen, and the bright, blue moon was high in the sky, shining in all of its divine beauty. It was full, blue, and a true supermoon. It's very size and brilliant light was captivating. Adding to its blissful glimmer was a twenty-two degree halo around the moon itself, an optical phenomenon created when the moon's light is refracted in ice crystals floating in the atmosphere.

Izanami's tears glimmered around her eyes and down her cheeks as Inari interrogated her.

"Keep looking, Izanami. Look hard and long. What do you feel?"

"I...I don't know..."

"Come on, Izanami! You have to feel something!"


Her words stopped, and her eyes focused on the moon and its halo. All of a sudden, she could feel wind lap up in her heart. She could feel a profound mix of emotions welling inside of her as she thought of Tsukiakari. She finally understood. The moon and the emotions hidden in its rays of blue light were a reflection of Tsukiakari's heart. As she deciphered all of those glimmering feelings pouring down on her, she finally found her answer. Understanding it all made her even more filled with sorrow. Her lips quivered, and her tears blurred her sight of the moon.

She lowered her head and continued to cry, covering her face with her hands.

"What did you feel?" Inari asked.

"It's so somber, brilliant, and...lonely." Izanami answered. "It shines so brightly, all alone in that vast darkness. All of the stars in the sky...we admire them so much, and yet, all they do is slam into her and fill her with holes."

"The moon reflects the light of the sun, resulting in the phenomenon we call moonlight." Inari said.

"It's like she's calling out to her mother. No, not to her mother...but to anyone, anyone willing to genuinely love her." Izanami cried. "Like the moon, she wants to be loved. She doesn't want to be wounded or hurt anymore. And yet, as wounded as she is, she refuses to let her light die out. It's the most beautiful and tragic thing I've ever seen, Inari. I understand now...I felt that way too. I'm dead, and I look no different from a fresh corpse, but even I still wish to be loved and cherished!"

"Not to mention...her father is sealed inside of the moon. The object of her suffering as a child is still there, no matter how deeply buried it is." Inari said.

"Why didn't I notice before?! Gekko and I...we bear the same wounds! Why did I even let the thought of killing her cross my mind?!"

Inari looked on at her grieving friend as her tears intensified. As much as it was hurting Izanami, Inari knew that it was merely part of the process for Izanami to be stronger, and make a more informed decision, a decision true to who she is, and who she wants to be.

"I've been wanting to change for so long, but I almost made the same mistake as before." Izanami said. "I almost sunk back into revenge. I almost pushed another person I loved away, instead of inviting them in. I'm so foolish..."

"Hey now, someone who can recognize their own mistakes is no fool at all. It's part of how we gods stay true to who we are. Now then, Izanami, since you understand Tsukiakari and the feelings she holds...what will you do? Now it's time for you to decide what meaning and what emotions your name will bear, so you can properly respond to Tsukiakari's."

Izanami dried her tears, and her broken heart rebuilt itself anew, stronger than it was before. Her love for Tsukiakari only increased, for the moon's light and somber beauty made her realize the bond of sorrow she shared with her granddaughter. "Tsukiakari...I will save her. I will love her more than anyone ever has in her life. I'll protect her and guide her. I want to invite her and embrace her. I want to allow her to break, so I can pick up all of the pieces for her. I want to be Izanami, She Who Invites! I may have to fight her...but I will not let her die. I will not let her end as a corpse, nor as ashes. I'll be the flowerbed for which she can plant her sorrow in."

Izanami turned her heard towards the stunned Inari. Her tears were all gone, replaced with the most gentle and beautiful smile on earth. "And she does, I promise...I'll make sure her woeful seeds of sorrow blossom into beautiful flowers for the future! We'll water them with our blood and tears, and they shall never wilt. Will you help me, Inari?"

Inari's grin was all the confirmation Izanami needed. "Of course I will!"

From then on, Inari would never forget what it means to bear the same scars as someone. It would be a lesson she'd carry with her always. The same went for Izanami, who was even more determined to forgive and love the murderer of her children. No matter what she did, how much blood she spilled, or what horrible things she was responsible for, Tsukiakari was still locked firmly in Izanami's heart. It was a love that simply could not die, a love similar to that of a mother's affection for her daughter, realized through their shared wounds and suffering.

Such a love, born out of that myriad of feelings, was their bond of sorrow.

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Chapter 14: Kamikaze
How somber and quiet it was, the black field beneath the clouded, night sky. Swords, spears, halberds, and arrows that once belonged to the various members of the Senkumo clan were stuck firmly into the earth, as if the area was a massive graveyard, and the weapons were the tombstones. But alas, the clouds made room for the moon to shine through their heavenly, gaseous shroud like a spotlight upon the only two, living beings in that field.

Tsukiakari and Bishamon.

Their fight raged on, having turned into a duel of swords. Their very swings possessed so much force and power that every time one of their strikes missed, it would send forth a wave of wind that combed through the grass and flowers in the field, tearing the petals away. Those petals caught fire as they were lifted up into the air and gently floated back down to the earth, like falling fireflies.

The clash of their swords chimed through the air like a funeral song, one that the two vengeful gods were dancing to. The moonlight drew forth the shadows of the two gods, as well as the flawed gleam of the thousands of blades that surrounded them both. Bishamon pushed back against Tsukiakari, bringing some distance between the two and allowing them both to catch their breaths. It seemed no matter how deeply they breathed, their lungs could never fill themselves with enough air. Both of them had exhausted themselves.

"Why...are you fighting so hard?! You're practically on death row!" Bishamon scorned.

"I already told you why! Now shut up and keep fighting! If you can't do that much than just hurry and die!" Tsukiakari screamed.

Tsukiakari dashed in as Bishamon took hold of a sectioned, iron whip, wrapping part of it around the length of his arm. He quickly rolled and dodged Tsukiakari's sonic stab, quickly standing back up again as she continued her flurry of slashes, blocking them with the whip. Sparks briefly illuminated Tsukiakari's face with every blocked swing, until Bishamon wrapped his whip around the base of Tsukiakari's sword and yanked it out of her hands. Drawing back the whip, her sword flipped and tumbled in the air, landing firmly in Bishamon's grip.

"And now you're just a barking dog with no teeth." Bishamon mocked.

Trying her teleportation trick again, a brief, ear-ringing flash of lightning behind Bishamon allowed Tsukiakari to grab hold of the butt of her sword with one hand. She gripped Bishamon's arm wrapped with the whip with her other hand, channeling intense heat through her palms. The chain almost instantly glowed a hot, searing orange, burning itself into Bishamon's skin and becoming one with his very body.

Bishamon was forced to release her sword as he screamed in agony, allowing Tsukiakari to grab it and step back. It would've been the perfect time to end the fight, to thrust her sword through Bishamon's back and strike through his heart. but ultimately, Tsukiakari was in an agonizing amount of pain as well. The agony brought her down to her knees as if it were her ruler, forcing her to clench her chest as she kept one open eye trained on Bishamon.

"Now...is not the damn time! I need to—"

Suddenly, it felt like a balloon inflated and popped inside of chest, and the resulting burst of air forced its way out of her mouth in form of blood-ridden coughs.

(Oh no...no, no! Not now! I'm not done yet! I just need to hang in there a little longer!)

His arm still smoking from the chain embedding itself into his skin, Bishamon stumbled back onto his feet, laughing. "Your endurance has improved tenfold since your days in the Senkumo clan. But...I suppose...even you can still succumb to internal bleeding if you overuse such powerful abilities. Between Oyamatsumi and me, you've been fighting far too frequently with hardly any time for rest."

"Shut up!" Tsukiakari yelled.

"Do you really wish to join your comrades in death that badly?" Bishamon questioned.

Tsukiakari took firm hold of a nearby spear, channeling explosive energy throughout the entire length of it. With a harsh, scratchy yell, she threw the spear and her sword at the same time, clasping her hands to produce the lightning that allowed her to teleport to the swords location. Bishamon slammed both of his hands down upon the ground, shielding himself in a small dome of rock. The spear exploded outside of the dome, but failed to penetrate it. As the smoke from the small explosion drifted around the dome, Tsukiakari landed on her feet with her sword in hand, taking a halberd out of the ground and dashing in with its blade pointed forward.

The tip of the blade pulsated with red lightning as she dashed in like a speeding bullet, stabbing the halberd through the dome with immense power. The halberd managed to pierce several inches through, nearly stabbing Bishamon's throat. Tsukiakari vaulted off of the dome's top, landing a small distance away as she prepared to splice it right open with a final lightning strike. However, her body wouldn't even allow her to do that.

Before she could perform the hand seals, the pulsating ache in her chest intensified, and her heart stopped momentarily. Its rhythm resumed after its short stop, but it grew faster and faster, working hard to provide oxygenated blood to Tsukiakari's organs and body. If only her heart realized it was hindering her, not helping her.

Bishamon broke the dome into thousands of earthen pieces, dashing in towards the kneeling Tsukiakari with one hand wide open. That hand was intended to wrap itself around her throat and crush the life out of her. Albeit sluggishly and sloppily, Tsukiakari rolled out of the way, struggling to get back on her feet. In order to put the brakes on his dash, Bishamon slid across the ground on the edge of his sandals, turning his head to see the war goddess in her pitiful state.

"You poor thing. You look absolutely pathetic." Bishamon mocked.

"Quiet! Enough of your words! Everything that comes out of your mouth is pure evil! I will have no more of it!"

"Oh? Silence me then!" Bishamon said. "Cut out my tongue and rob me of my words!"

No matter how many times Tsukiakari stood, she almost immediately fell back to her knees, barely able to do even that much without the help of her sword.

"You're just about on the verge of death, like a flickering candle at the end of its wick." Bishamon said.

Bishamon's footsteps gently crunched against the grass, growing nearer to Tsukiakari until she could feel his presence looming over her, a victor standing over a defeated goddess.

"Did you think revenge could be achieved without sacrifice? Much like power, revenge has a price too. In fact, I'd say revenge is a distinct form of power, a kind of power you simply couldn't afford." Bishamon scolded.

Tsukiakari suddenly felt Bishamon's cold, heavy blade gently rest on her shoulder. Her execution was near.

"It's time for you to bow out, Tsukiakari. For all the havoc you caused, you deserve far worse than this. But you—"

"Stop talking already! You're pissing me off to no end!" Tsukiakari screamed.

In a mad and desperate move, Tsukiakari threw her sword to the side, making it disappear within a flash of red lightning. Bishamon couldn't possibly guess why she would throw her blade away instead of trying to stab him with it. It just didn't make any sense. But at that moment, Bishamon saw Tsukiakari's smile and vengeance-possessed glare. The second flash of lightning ripped through the sky behind Bishamon, launching the blade at his back.

Tsukiakari finally stood up, hugging Bishamon and locking him firmly in place. Bishamon realized then that Tsukiakari's words were as true as the dirt beneath their feet. She really meant to take him out with her. Her sword pierced through his lower back, protruding through his stomach and penetrating through Tsukiakari's.

On one side, the handle of the sword stuck out from Bishamon's rear, while the tip of the sword protruded out from Tsukiakari's. The sword's speed and sharpness were so effective, they both hardly felt a thing at first. Only when their blood ran down their bodies did the tormenting pain really set in.

Tsukiakari still kept her arms locked firmly around Bishamon, performing kuji-in with her blood-soaked hands behind his back. The mighty god's taunting voice had grown shaky and labored, a fitting an embarrassing change of tone, music to Tsukiakari's ringing ears.

"You...psychopath! What are you doing?! You'll kill the both of us!" Bishamon yelled, blood running from his mouth.

"That's the plan! You raised a fine war goddess, Bishamon! Let me show you just how great I've become! You and I will have a lot to talk about when we go to hell!"

Bishamon's ears were suddenly captivated by a continuous popping noise, as if something were breaking out of the very earth. Looking around, he realized why Tsukiakari trapped them both together. All of the weapons struck into the earth rose up into the sky, pointing their blades at the two in a circular, dome-like formation. Every single one of them burned hot with explosive energy just waiting to be released from their edges.

"I'll blow us both apart, Bishamon! An explosive projectile will be fired at us from every angle! Let's say hello to oblivion, shall we?"

"You madwoman!"

The dome of floating blades lit the entire field up like the first rays of morning sunlight. Bishamon was forced to close his eyes, for the light was so bright from inside that he could hardly even see his own hands. Tsukiakari's burning hatred was far too great for his eyes, and it would all climax with a suicidal explosion.

As the light grew brighter, the area in and around the floating blades grew hotter. The moon continued to watch their dance of vengeance, their waltz of contempt, finally come to an end. All of the floating weapons released their projectiles and stored up energy, firing them at Tsukiakari and Bishamon all at once. After which, the weapons immediately fell from the heavens, forming a majestic rain of steaming, searing blades that killed the grass and flowers they landed on.

The resulting explosion roared and ripped through the air, traveling down the hills and valleys for miles. Secondary explosions that looked much like fireworks popped around the very top of the bellowing tower of black smoke that rose to the sky, challenging the clouds in height.

Even in the distance, the water and moisture collected by the flowers, grass, and trees were all pushed right off of them by the explosion's shock wave, cloaking them in a violent, ghostly veil of white vapor. The shock and awe of the blast was over with, and so was the battle. All that remained was the rising tower of smoke, yet to reveal the fate of the two vengeful war gods.

Chapter 15: Indignity
The smoke finally cleared in the quiet field, unveiling a crumbling dome of earth protecting both Bishamon and Tsukiakari. Bishamon gasped for fresh air, having removed Tsukiakari's blade both from himself and her. Tsukiakari's soft coughs and frigid twitches were signs she was still of this world, though just barely. Her kimono was all but ruined, ripped and tattered beyond any ability to wear it.

Bishamon fell on his bottom, sitting himself up by leaning on his bloody elbow. With his other hand, he cauterized his wound with a small amount of channeled heat through his palm. The pain inflicted upon himself with this method was just a minor inconvenience compared to the hell every other nerve in his body was in. Victor or not, he could not deny that Tsukiakari had done a number on him. She had fought toe-to-toe with Bishamon, the legendary war god.

"You...are brilliantly insane." Bishamon coughed. "Had I not turtle-shelled us both, we'd be dead."

Tsukiakari laid on her cheek, hardly able to lift a finger. She clawed her dirty nails into ground, the soil softened by the explosion, in some forlorn hope she could crawl away to safety.

Bishamon staggered onto his feet, looking around at the mess they made. The area was hardly even recognizable anymore. It was barren, black, and dead, unlike the rest of the green and lush valley.

"Well...it looks like death is embracing you already. Judging by your wounds...you won't last long at all." Bishamon mocked. "As much as I hate you for what you did to my family, I suppose there's no point in finishing you. No, it would be a mercy, wouldn't it? It would be the opposite of vengeance. So, I think I'll just let you bleed out here, all alone. You can use your remaining time to lament over your foolish series of mistakes that led you here. However..."

Bishamon walked over to Tsukiakari, flipping her over on her back.

On the outside, Tsukiakari seemed dazed, yet calm. Internally, she was like the fragile little girl that ran away from Heaven in the first place. Inside, she was crying, angry at herself and Bishamon.


Why, all of a sudden, did she start remembering her childhood? Why now? Happy and woeful memories of her days as a child flashed before her eyes in heartbreaking succession. All of a sudden...she had wished she never ran away. She wished she stayed home and endured the ill-considered words of her fellow gods. She wished she stayed and tried harder to understand her grieving mother.

Tears ran down her eyes, wetting the dirt that caked her face. "Mom..."

"You'll be the only one going to hell, Tsukiakari." Bishamon said. "At least allow me to send you there with a parting gift."

As mighty as she was, as vengeful and hateful as she was, she was still just a girl. A scared, fragile girl. Knowing what Bishamon was about to do to her, she could not help but cry. What little pride and purity she had left was being robbed from her. As the world she saw with her own eyes grew black and distorted, Bishamon's words too grew inaudible. Her wounds and blood loss caused her to black out, or perhaps, some other, protective force decided it would be best if she did not remember the details of those moments.

(This darkness...it isn't death. What's going on?)

The sound of an infant crying faded in, as if getting closer from a distance. The baby's cries echoed and reverberated in her ears as she slowly regained consciousness. She realized she was no longer laying on the ground in the field, but she was back inside of a warm futon. The air was thick with the aroma of rose water.

(I hear other voices...)

Though her vision was still a mess, she was able to open her eyes long enough to see she was back inside of the temple. She could just faintly make out Carmilla's figure, who knelt by another woman. The other woman did not respond in the slightest, not with a vocal or physical response. She was as still as a corpse.

"Look! Look at your daughter! It's Hima! You have to stay with me, or you won't be able to see her! Please!" Carmilla cried.


Tsukiakari continued to drift in and out of consciousness, her vision, hearing, and other senses become clearer every time she woke up. The woman that had given birth to her vampire infant lied with a white sheet draped over her body, her pale hand creeping out from beneath with her curled fingers pointed upwards. Carmilla sat by her body, holding the sleeping baby in her arms with a drained expression. Footsteps echoed down the sanctuary. Carmilla stood up and waited for the second guest to approach her.

"My lord...what will you do?" Carmilla asked.

The knock of his boots against the temple floor went around Tsukiakari's head until she could see the man's boots for himself, as well as the ends of his white cloak. Through the sound of his deep and well projected voice, Tsukiakari discerned his body was physiologically in its prime, much like Carmilla's. However, his well projected sentences all too often ended in dry coughs and groans.

"Everything is settled." he replied. "I'll dig her an unmarked grave and plant the seed. I'll leave the rest to you, Carmilla."

"You're leaving?! What about Hima?!"

"If I stay...all of this would have been pointless. I've already given the second-in-command my orders for the war, so all I need you to do is take care of Hima. Take her to the safehouse. You know which one."

"I...alright. I'll follow your orders, my lord. However, I must see to it that the goddess heals and wakes up."

"Tsukiakari, huh?" the man asked.

His feet turned towards Tsukiakari. Though she could not look up to meet his eyes or face, she knew the Lord of Vampires was focusing his gaze upon her, as though he were judging her.

"The only reason we made it in time is because of her. I'd like to see to it she's well before I leave." Carmilla said.

"How unlike you, Carmilla. Why did you pull this girl out of the field? You already helped her once, yet you went out of your way to save her life again?"

"I couldn't let her die. I just couldn't do it. We vampires define ourselves by our honor. You know that better than I do, Lord Dracula."

Dracula coughed into his shoulder, his voice growing strained. "Very well. You may wait until she awakes. Remember to give her the message that Izanami girl sent you. I'll take the corpse and be on my way. This is farewell, Carmilla. Thank you for all of your years of faithful service."

Carmilla spoke with a shaking voice. "Yes. It's been an honor I'd repeat over and over again, my lord. Fare...farewell..."

After falling back asleep, Tsukiakari awoke once more to the sight of Carmilla's sun-kissed face wearing a relieved expression. Her eyes so sweetly lit up with joy as Tsukiakari fully came to. Judging by the color of the sunlight and the side of the temple it was shining through, Tsukiakari could tell it was the early morning.

"Tsukiakari! You're awake!"


"I got worried and went to observe the fight. You were already unconscious and nearly dead when I got there, but your wounds have all mostly healed now. You've been out for about a week now. I dressed you in a new, black kimono too. Your old one was ruined."

Tsukiakari's memories immediately resurfaced upon remembering her tattered kimono, how it displayed the fruits of her dying body to the man who had no right to partake in them. She suddenly discovered a burst of strength, screaming as she pushed Carmilla away from her. Her head pounded as the memories of what happened relentlessly carved themselves in her mind.

"Tsukiakari?! What's wrong?!"

In all of her long, miserable years, never did she experience a stronger sense of shame, disgust, and self-hatred. She held her arms to try and stop them from shivering, but her entire body shook and shuddered as she remembered the sinister expression on Bishamon's face, and her complete inability to stop what he had done to her.

"Tsukiakari, breathe! You're hyperventilating!"

Carmilla held Tsukiakari's hand as she fell back on her futon, staring up towards the ceiling with wide, panicked eyes. "Tsukiakari, listen to me! You need to take slow, deep breaths! In and out!"

It's like she was finally experiencing the memories that had been held back until then, every dehumanizing, humiliating aspect of it. That indignity gave birth to Tsukiakari's whirlpool of shame and wandering anger.

"Tsukiakari, look at me! Look in my eyes!"

Carmilla's hands pressed against her cheeks, forcing her to look and be dazzled by her emerald green eyes. Tsukiakari remembered she was no longer in that field being helplessly violated against her will. She was with Carmilla, someone who at least cared about her safety. She was alright for now.

"It's going to be alright! You're okay! You just have to breathe, alright? Just breathe with me! In and out!"

Carmilla provided an example, taking one deep breath in, and a slow, relaxing breath out. Tsukiakari followed suit, performing the exercise together. With her help, Tsukiakari's breathing slowed down, as did her racing heart rate. Her chest stopped rising so high every time she inhaled, until she was finally at normal, tranquil breathing rate.

"All better, right?" Carmilla whispered.

Tsukiakari broke into tears and sorrowful whimpers instead of the relieved sigh Carmilla was expecting. Still holding her cheeks, Carmilla caressed her crying face, unsure of exactly what she went through after that battle. She knew that if it was enough to make such a powerful war goddess cry, it must've have hurt her to her very soul.

"Tsukiakari...what happened to you? Will you tell me? Is it because you couldn't kill Bishamon?"

Unable to speak or open her eyes through her tears, Tsukiakari simply nodded 'No.'.

"Okay. You don't have to talk about it. I won't pressure you."

Carmilla stood up, gazing down upon the crying Tsukiakari with nothing but empathy for the poor girl. "Please, get a little more rest, alright? I have something to give you before we leave this place. It's from your friend, Izanami."

"...Okay..." Tsukiakari whimpered.

(I...I can't face Izanami like this. She'll think I'm disgusting. She'll hate me after what I did, won't she? I killed her sons, after all. Maybe...this is all karma. Maybe I deserved what happened. I probably deserve to die by her hand as well.)

Chapter 16: Walpurgisnacht
That night was a sleepless night for Tsukiakari. Up until then, her life had been given purpose by her incredibly destructive thirst for revenge. Revenge kept her soul ablaze, kept its light bright and powerful. After her defeat to Bishamon and the traumatizing atrocity inflicted upon her, that light died out, consumed by a cancerous darkness.

She had to wonder if Bishamon knew how much damage such a disgusting act would do to her. If Bishamon had his way, Tsukiakari would still be in that field, mostly naked and covered and caked in blood. The greatest tragedy of her defeat at the hands of Bishamon was not the defeat itself. It wasn't the violation of her helpless body.

It was the fact that she was both lucky and unlucky enough to have lived through it all. That alone made her wish for death.

There was no sunlight when the day swallowed the night. A thick blanket of clouds concealed the sky, and oddly, so late into the year, it began to snow. It was light and blissfully cold. The winds were all but silent. Not even the leaves of the trees moved very much. Tsukiakari's eyes were trained on the dilapidated stone ceiling, hardly paying attention to her own surroundings as her mind still meandered in vast nothingness. Not a single thought ran through that brilliant mind of hers. All that was left was a resounding misery, eating away at whatever remained of her defeated soul.

Does the ceiling really fascinate her so profoundly? Or is it that she can barely stand to look at her own skin anymore, to remember she was trapped in a body that had been abused in the worst possible way? The guess belonged to anyone who dared to make it.

"Uhm...Tsukiakari? Are you up?"

Carmilla walked closer to Tsukiakari in the sanctuary, her voice echoing throughout the tall, wide open room. The infant vampire from the night before slept peacefully in her arma, wrapped in a warm, white blanket. Tsukiakari slightly turned her head just to confirm it was indeed Carmilla approaching her.

Carmilla sat by her, still perplexed by her post traumatic state. "Are you hungry? I can make you some onigiri if you'd like."

Tsukiakari spoke not a single word.

"Still won't talk, huh?" Carmilla sighed. "This young one here...she was born last night while you were unconscious. Just as we thought, it was a girl, so Dracula's wife named her Hima Chinagaregawa. However...Ilona didn't make it through childbirth. She died shortly after birthing her beautiful baby girl. And Dracula's affliction had only grown worse, much worse than we anticipated. It's my own fault, really. We were looking at the disease from too much of a scientific angle, that we forgot its supernatural origin. Being here, in a place drowning in supernatural energy only accelerated the plague's progression. He left, taking Ilona's corpse with him. Those two will probably lie down and sleep together forever, if they haven't already. Even though we made all the right calculations...even with Hima being born on Walpurgisnacht...we still lost so much."

Carmilla softly rubbed the cheek of the slumbering Hima. "A-At any rate, I have to leave here now. So...this is goodbye, Tsukiakari. However, before I go, I need to tell you something. As I said last night, it's about your friend, Izanami. You don't have to reply. Just listen."

Tsukiakari was certainly listening, her eyes still blankly scanning the ceiling.

"She came to visit as you were fighting Bishamon. I'm not sure if she discovered we were vampires that had connections to you, or if she was expecting to find you here in the first place, but she first asked me to save you, something I was honestly planning on doing anyway. She also told me to pass along a message to you. I don't remember everything she said word for word, but I still understand the core of her message to you."

Tsukiakari closed her eyes, having grown sick of the sight of the ceiling.

"Izanami said that she had come to an even greater realization of your feelings and emotions." Carmilla said "She was able to understand them because they're mirror reflections of her own despair and sorrows from long ago. And so, she planned out how she'd be able to talk to you again. She knew that by entrusting me to save you, she'd be unable to provide a body to settle Heaven's nerves. You already did a lot of damage to Bishamon despite your defeat, so without a corpse to present to the courts, there's a high level of worry in Heaven, or at least, she anticipated there would be. She knew that this fear of you, the fear of your return would move Heaven to appoint one last god with the task of killing you, to end this massacre once and for all. Who else would that god be but the all-powerful Izanami the Cruel, grand architect of the Black Death?"


"However, Izanami does not intend to kill you. She only wishes to help you. She said she will do whatever it takes to keep you alive in secret, even if she has to exert her own energy to reincarnate you herself. Izanami loves you, and her only wish is to give you all of her care and affection. She wants to give you a future, something grand and beautiful to look forward to. It's a kind of love you'll only understand if you simply surrender to it."

(Izanami...thank you...but...I don't want to live anymore. I want...)

"She said...whenever you're ready...she'll be waiting for you in the city, in Kyoto. You should go there, Tsukiakari."

(I want to die.)

Carmilla was met only with more silence. "I'll be getting ready to go now. You should—"

A slight gasp escaped her lips as Tsukiakari suddenly sat up, scratching out her hair before finding the strength to stand on her own two feet. The sudden move filled Carmilla with a sense of hope that perhaps Tsukiakari's mood was uplifted by the news.


"Alright. I'll go." Tsukiakari said.

Something still didn't feel right to Carmilla. Tsukiakari's response was spoken in a gentle, defeated whisper. To dispel any suspicions about her true thoughts, Tsukiakari forced herself to smile in front of Carmilla as she bowed and proceeded to collect her sheathed sword.

"Thank you again, Carmilla. I hope little Hima grows to be both a wonderful person and vampire. As you said...I should go. Also...I'm sorry for your loss."

"Thank you. I'm sorry for yours as well." Carmilla said.

Though she couldn't have possibly known what happened to Tsukiakari, her words stirred Tsukiakar's weary and broken heart all the same.

Once the room was tidied up, Carmilla walked Tsukiakari outside, holding the sleeping Hima in her arms. Tsukiakari, feeling considerate, helped to seal the tower doors for Carmilla, since her hands were already full. Neither of them would ever enter that tower or the temple again. This feeling especially rung true for Tsukiakari, who seemed to be concealing something beneath her strenuous efforts to be kind.

"Thank you so much." Carmilla said.

"No, thank you. You saved my life. I owe you for that." Tsukiakari praised.

Carmilla inhaled as if she was about to say something, but her lips formed into a smile and she planted a soft kiss on Tsukiakari's cheek. Tsukiakari always seemed to attract the affection of green eyed, black haired beauties. It was truly maddening, but coming from Carmilla, also extremely needed and endearing.

"Well, this is goodbye." Carmilla lamented. "May our paths cross again someday, my friend. I hope, when that time comes, you'll be in much higher spirits."

Miraculously, Carmilla's kiss encouraged an actual, genuine and shy smile on Tsukiakari's blushing face. "I hope so too. Goodbye, Carmilla. And goodbye to you too, Hima."

There was something profoundly beautiful about Carmilla as he large, bat-like wings sprouted from her back as she waved goodbye. Tsukiakari waved back, unable to look away from her glistening, emerald eyes as she lifted into the sky and flew off like a bird, disappearing into the white veil of the clouds above. Though they didn't know each other long, no, because they didn't know each other long, it became so much more meaningful and tragic that Carmilla referred to her as "My friend".

It was time. Tsukiakari left the temple behind and made her long walk towards Kyoto. Having already been there, it wouldn't be a very difficult task to teleport there, but Tsukiakari purposely chose to walk. She wanted to take the long way to her demise. As much as Bishamon eroded her will to live, something hidden deep in her soul longed to listen to the crunch of leaves, twigs, and snow beneath her feet. She wanted to brush her fingers against the hard, uneven tree trunks she passed by. The sound of water rushing in a brook, the sight of the tree-covered hills and mountains in the distance, it all still meant something.

This was the world she had lived in and found meaning in, even if that meaning was horrific and bloody. This was the country that her clan fought so hard to change. To her, Tsukiakari Senkumo was the war goddess that lived to die and died to live. And now, she was just simply going to die.

As for Izanami, she sat peacefully and patiently on the roof of the temple where Oyamatsumi died, having waited a full week for Tsukiakari to come to her. The chaos and carnage of that battle still remained, with many of the houses and shops in the neighborhood ruined, partly destroyed, or burned down entirely. Her lazily worn kimono exposed her bare, right shoulder, legs, and crossed arms. Her eyes remained close, as if she were sleeping.

Inari, having been on the lookout, or perhaps the smellout for Tsukiakari's scent, climbed up to the roof as well, approaching the goddess of death from behind. Those tails of hers slowly swayed and bobbed side to side like the petals of a flower dancing in the wind.

"Izanami...are you sure she—"

"She will come here." Izanami interrupted. "I just know it. We both anticipated that this would be the result of her massacre of the gods. We all knew they would eventually order me to put a stop to it. Heaven knows I am the only deity besides for Amaterasu herself who can make short work of Tsukiakari. Even Bishamon struggled and nearly lost his life. So...she will come here."

"Do you think it will work?" Inari asked.

Izanami shook her head. "I don't know. I honestly don't know. I just have to try and convince her."

"And...what if she chooses to fight instead?"

"You helped me answer that question that night, Inari. Before that night, I would've told you I would just have to kill her, especially after what happened to Raijin and Fujin. However, I've already decided who I am. I am going to invite her in, no matter what. I promise. Be at ease, Inari. Place your faith in me."

"You know, watching you work so hard to define who you are made me want to do the same thing." Inari said. "I'm a young goddess, so I still have time to figure it out, but...I hope I'll find the answer too, just as you did. Maybe the first step in all of that is to help Tsukiakari."

Izanami smiled as Inari stood to her side. "Indeed, you're young. However, I think I already know how to define you."

"Really? How so?"

"You're the supporter and protector of weary hearts. You helped me find who I really am, and I have no doubt you can help me do the same with Tsukiakari. Always remember that, Inari. You are a goddess we can all entrust our hearts to."

Receiving such a dazzling compliment from Izanami herself made even a goddess like Inari blush as she turned her eyes away and nervously rubbed one of her tails. Though, Izanami had no idea just how true her observation truly was.

"Thank you...ah!" Inari exclaimed

"What is it?"

The scent they were waiting for had Inari by the nose. "No way...is it her? I think Tsukiakari is here, Izanami!"

Izanami immediately shot up on her feet as Inari took even deeper whiffs of the air. A slight wave of wind brushed through the area, making it even easier for her to pick up on it.

"Really?! Are you positive?!" Izanami questioned.

"It's definitely her! She's close! If I'm right, should be turning the corner right...now!"

Just as she did for her first fight, Tsukiakari marched down the same Kyoto street, facing the same temple, but with two different gods on top of it. Ironic that through all of her fighting and struggling, she ended up in the same place again. Revenge truly is cyclical. Izanami and Inari were both at a loss for words as their eyes met with Tsukiakari's. It was as if they were meeting an entirely different person. They could detect something was off about her. That fire that burned so brightly in her eyes and relied on spite for fuel seemed to be doused and empty.

Those eyes were dead, or at least, had already given up on life.

"Gekko..." Izanami whispered.

"I'm here, Izanami." Tsukiakari called out. "Just as you requested."

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Chapter 17: The Struggle for a Happy Ending
Adding to the strange meteorological anomalies in recent days, the gentle snowfall was joined by thunder. Tsukiakari and Izanami paid no mind to the sudden boom in the sky, nor the flashing streaks of lightning ripping through the clouds.

Inari, however did. "Thundersnow? As if it wasn't odd enough it's still snowing at this time of year..."

"When a god dies, they release their energy back into the world, just as humans do." Izanami explained. "With how many gods have died in just the past two weeks, it's no surprise the weather is reacting in kind. The sky will not let us see the light of Spring until we solve this. So, Tsukiakari..."

Looking up at Izanami from the street, Tsukiakari saw her saddened expression, and how much she did not wish to fight. Her scythe wasn't even drawn. With Tsukiakari's soft and silky hair folded behind both of her ears, perhaps it was the scarred half of her face that weighed on Izanami's heart. The moment she attained those burns, Tsukiakari was branded by hatred and vengeance, forced to cling to it in order to live.

What's a girl to do with no reason to live, and no courage to kill herself either?

"Izanami. I want to ask you something. Why do you look at me with those eyes? Those sorrowful, woeful eyes of yours..." Tsukiakari said. "The last time we spoke, you said you just might hate me if I killed Raijin and Fujin. Actually, it's more accurate to say you wanted to imagine yourself reacting with empathy, but you couldn't ignore the strong possibility that you would be driven by revenge to kill me. You vex me, Izanami. I can't ever grasp how you'll react to anything. You've managed to surprise me at every corner with your kindness. But still, you can't seriously look at me with those eyes, feeling more empathy towards me than your own fallen sons."

"You poor, beautiful girl.You don't know what love even is, do you?" Izanami asked. "How can anyone blame you? You're shown unconditional love and you don't know what to do with it. You can't be expected to know how to ask for such a thing. Your father was taken from you when you were young, and Amaterasu...it was as if her heart had grown cold at that point. Children are such delicate creatures. I know this better than any god in Heaven."

Izanami raised her head towards the rare and beautiful thundersnow above, likening it to a veil that needed to be removed from Tsukiakari's eyes. If the rain were tears, the snow was a sadness beyond it, a kind of numbness that comes after despair.

"A child's development depends so much on the love they are given from their parents." Izanami said. "It is through us that our children learn kindness, compassion, and respect. The chance for that development was robbed from you by the folly of Heaven. That's why Bishamon chose you. You were the perfect child to exploit and abuse, because you didn't know any better. For you, any home, any family, and any kind of friends would do, no matter what the price for them was. Indentured reincarnation...what a false freedom it truly is. I can't believe he came up with something so cruel and deceptive."

"Don't talk like you can just see right through me..." Tsukiakari growled.

"You're right. I can't exactly see through you. You're not a simple as water, and not as thick as blood either. You're you." Izanami said.

Tsukiakari fought back tears as Izanami smiled down upon her. She couldn't possibly understand how such a thing was possible. How could she smile at the person who killed her two remaining sons?

"You idiot...how can you smile at me like that?!" Tsukiakari shouted. "Did you forget how many people I killed?! Men, women, and even children fell to my blade! I've killed tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people and slept soundly when the night came! Your children and Bishamon's children...I killed them all! Why don't you hate me?! I'm the polar opposite of what a good god, or even a good person is! I have no innocence left, no shred of dignity! I'm not even a virgin anymore!"

"What?! Tsukiakari, who did you..." Inari recoiled.

Tsukiakari averted her gaze from the two, regretting the fact she even let those words slip out. It was too shameful to keep in, but just as shameful to express. "I'm disgusting. I'm cruel and impure. I'm hurtful, selfish, and hopeless. I'm an abomination of a god and a woman..."

Her attempts to convince Izanami of her atrocious character only intensified Izanami's love for her. "I know all of that. I know what you've done, and I still accept you. I still want to invite you into my life. I know you killed my sons, and reasonably, I have every right to despise you! I have every right to torment you for all eternity, to make your very existence a living hell beyond what you've already been through!"

"Then do it already! Didn't you love your sons?!" Tsukiakari said.

"Of course I did!" Izanami cried. "I love all of my children! But I love you too! We've both killed scores of people. I've done even more killing than you ever will! You said so yourself, remember? I don't care how many lives you've taken. Of course my heart broke when Raijin and Fujin died fighting you, and at first...I thought I would kill you. But I'm choosing a different path for once in my life. I'm choosing to stop being vengeful, and to apply love where it is so desperately needed.

"Nonsense!" Tsukiakari mocked.

"I've told you before, I love you because our wounds are the same!" Izanami said. "We've both committed the same sins and felt the same guilt, the same shame, and the same disgust with ourselves! You saw my memories, you know how humiliated I was when Izanagi saw me! You know how hateful and miserable I was in the Underworld! I tried endlessly to take my own life and it never worked! I know exactly what you're going through, and that's why I love you! If I was given that kind of love when I needed it, our pantheon's history, and the history of this earth would've been entirely different."

Tsukiakari's eyes widened in shock."...You...forgive me?"

"I do." Izanami assured. "I hold no grudge against you. I only wish to help you. I—"

"Izanami, watch out!" Inari shouted.

Izanami was suddenly pulled away by Inari as she leaped over to the neighboring roof, the temple roof behind them exploding in a cloud of dust and falling, ceramic tiles. Once they landed, Inari immediately pulled Izanami back onto her feet, gazing at the clouded, temple roof. As the smoke cleared, Tsukiakari pulled her sword out from the tiles, turning her head towards Inari and Izanami.

"Gekko..." Izanami whimpered.

"Thank you, Izanami. However...I have no intention of continuing to live. Bishamon already stole the will to carry on from me." Tsukiakari said.

"Izanami...she intends to fight you as a means of suicide. I think that's what she's trying to tell us. Even Tsukiakari knows she cannot ever win a fight against you, so it's the only conclusion I can come to." Inari warned.

"Suicide? But she...what drove her to that?!" Izanami asked.

Inari shook her head. "I'm not sure, but as of now, she poses a threat. What do you want to do?"

With a swing of her sword, Tsukiakari immediately cast away the plume of dust surrounding the temple roof, clearing her view of the two goddesses across from her.

It was a long, hard thought for Izanami. Should she kill Tsukiakari, she'd be granting her wish, and her standing in Heaven would surely improve for avenging all of the gods that fell to her sword. Perhaps the name 'Izanami the Cruel' would disappear from the tongues of her fellow gods. Maybe her existence wouldn't feel so lonely and ruled by shame and repudiation.

Izanami lowered her head and closed her eyes. "Very well..."

What good is all of the glory in Heaven if one must betray the virtue of their heart to attain it? Tsukiakari was the ultimate fork in the road of Izanami's destiny, the point at which she'd have to choose, once and for all, who she was going to be. Would she give a final breath of life to the name 'Izanami the Cruel', a name that would surely disappear in heaven, but carve itself into her regretful heart? Or what she put all of that glory and redemption in the eyes of her peers aside, and risk it all to save Tsukiakari? That day, as the thundersnow raged on, Izanami, She Who Invites, made her decision, and chose who she would be.

"Inari, stay back. I'm going to fight Tsukiakari. However...I shall not kill her. I promise, there's a happy ending to all of this. So just leave it to me, alright?"

"Normally, I'd protest against such idealism, but I'll trust you. I know you can do it, Izanami. You can save both her and yourself. I'll trust in your happy ending!"

Izanami smiled. "Thank you, Inari."

Inari leaped across the neighboring roofs, spectating the fight from a safe distance. There was no worry in her heart whatsoever, as Izanami undoubtedly had the power and conviction to see her dreams come true. If there was any worry at all, it would've been for Tsukiakari.

Saddened it even had to come to this, Izanami regretfully summoned her triple-bladed scythe into her hand as Tsukiakari readied her sword. Just as the two foresaw, their fight was about to begin. It was only a matter of who was powerful enough to see their vision of the end of the fight come true. An ending where Tsukiakari dies and is released from her body and the burdens of life, or an ending where she would live under Izanami, and find another kind of meaning in her own life.

"Don't hold back, Tsukiakari. Take it all out on me." Izanami said. "I'll bear your hatred. Only I can do that for you now."

"Don't you hold back either. I'm going to test the myth that Izanami-no-Mikoto cannot die!" Tsukiakari shouted.

"Do as you must. Let us begin."

Tsukiakari leaped across the street, landing on Izanami's rooftop with a roll. She immediately shot up on her feet with an upwards swing, temporarily knocking Izanami's guard off. Izanami quickly recovered, and the two entered a sparkling dance of blades, with Izanami mainly on the defensive. Tsukiakari kept swinging at empty spaces in Izanami's guard, spaces where her scythe couldn't guard, only for Izanami to skillfully block and deflect her blade every time with the long grip of her scythe.

However, Izanami wasn't all just defense. As she effortlessly blocked all of Tsukiakari's forceful, powerful attacks, she purposely waited until her final swing to block the sword with the three blades of the scythe, trapping the sword in place.

Realizing Izanami was going on the offensive, Tsukiakari pulled her sword her away and stepped back, giving her only a few feet of distance between her and Izanami. Just as she predicted, Izanami mightily swung her scythe in a horizontal cut, prompting her to block the center blade of the scythe with the flat side of her sword. Never before had Tsukiakari's arms and shoulders had to resist against such frightful physical power. It felt as if she was trying to lift the heaviest weight in the world. Izanami was truly, frightfully powerful, and she wasn't even trying to kill Tsukiakari.

(They're not kidding! Izanami, despite her looks, is insanely powerful! I can't hold this much longer!)

Izanami's sudden yell indicated a surprising burst of power. The force of her scythe became too much to resist, and Izanami's mighty push blew Tsukiakari away, all the way across the street. She violently crashed into a small, wooden house down the street at a speed so fast that not even Inari saw her actually flying. All of it was near effortless on Izanami's part.

Tsukiakari suddenly found herself in the house's tea room, still dazed and confused from her crash. Looking up as she coughed dust out of her lungs, she saw the small hole in the wooden wall she crashed through, giving her a view of the street outside, but unable to see Izanami through it.

"Such unbelievable power...I should've expected that from the god responsible for the Black Death." Tsukiakari coughed. "Still, to actually feel it...no wonder she's so feared."

The final fight, a struggle between love and despair, shall decide everyone's fate.

Chapter 18: The War Is Over
Tsukiakari emerged from the wrecked and wooden house, stepping over broken fragments of once beautifully crafted china and tea pots. With such magnificent power, it was already clear who was going to be the victor of this 'battle'.

The streets beyond the temple were increasingly narrow, with little spaces between the wooden houses that all seemed to be sandwiched together. However, Tsukiakari could still see Izanami across the block, standing on the roof of a flower shop. The two stared each other down from a distance until Tsukiakari suddenly pointed her sword skyward, causing a deafening boom to ring from the sky. Izanami gasped, cocking her head upwards and expecting something big to spring forth from the heavens.

All at once, Izanami's position was bombarded with blast after blast of ferocious, skin-melting lightning. As a result, the flower shop was swallowed by a ball of flames, burning away the beautiful blossoms in its stock. A bellowing plume of smoke rising from the building resembled a long, black arm trying to reach for the sky and grab hold of the thunder.

Izanami's voice rang out from being Tsukiakari "You're so strong, Gekko."

Tsukiakari snapped around and backed away from the wounded, blistering Izanami, caught completely off guard. It seemed Izanami did indeed take much of the hit, as some of her skin and flesh around her arms, face, and legs were melting right off of the bone in a grotesque, fleshy sludge. The muscles and tissue beneath it all were exposed to Tsukiakari's view as Izanami leaned on her scythe, unable to properly stand herself up.

"What? A god like you should've easily been able to avoid that kind of attack!" Tsukiakari said.

"I told you, didn't I? You've got to stop making me repeat myself, Gekko."

Izanami's smiled. "You can take it all out on me. But don't be mistaken. I'm going to knock some sense into that thick head of yours too, until you understand that you're loved!"

Izanami was slowly able to stand again as her deceased body almost instantly regenerated her wounds, rebuilding the burnt muscle and melted flesh, then properly covering it with her skin, as if nothing ever happened.

"Stop playing around and fight me seriously!" Tsukiakari roared.

"I am fighting you seriously. This just isn't the kind of fight you think it is."

Tsukiakari tightened the grip on her sword and drove her blade into the ground. Izanami suddenly felt the ground beneath her feet heat up like an oven, prompting her to leap away from Tsukiakari, dodging the small explosion that would've blown apart her legs. Tsukiakari's sword came twirling out of the plume of resulting smoke, coming right at Izanami like a boomerang. With a simple flash of lightning, Tsukiakari teleported herself right on top of her blade, grabbing it again and driving it forth to stab Izanami through her chest.

Izanami blocked the tip of her blade with only the handle of her scythe. Unexpectedly, Izanami was suddenly blown further down the street by a blast of concussive force channeled through Tsukiakari's sword. Izanami flipped and twirled, but quickly regained her balance and landed on her feet, skidding backwards across the ground as Tsukiakari continued to dash forwards. With her tremendous speed and might, Tsukiakari instantly closed in on Izanami, slashing her sword through the upper half of Izanami's head, severing everything above her nose clean off.

Tsukiakari could barely contain her shock as she watched half of Izanami's head, eyes, forehead, and much of her hair, fly into the air and plop down on the ground with a soft, fleshy thud. The war goddess had seen an endless amount of gore in her life, but the thing that made this so unnerving for her was the fact that Izanami's body did not drop. It stood up from it's kneeling, skidding position, blood running down its cheeks and neck, feeling for the missing half of the head.

The eyes of the severed half scanned the area in twitchy, sporadic movements, as if undergoing R.E.M with its eyes wide open.

"No way...seriously?! How is that possible?! Even for a god, that's..." Tsukiakari stammered.

And so, Izanami's body casually walked over to the severed half, picked up, and placed it back where it belonged. The head, brain, skull and everything else instantly regenerated and connected themselves. Good as new.

Izanami shook her head and slapped her cheek. "Whew...that felt kind of weird."

Inari screamed from her rooftop after witnessing the rather unpleasant scene. "Hey! Izanami! You alright?!"

Izanami smiled and waved to Inari "Yeah, it's okay! Don't worry about a thing! This will be over soon!"

"Damn you! You aren't taking this seriously!" Tsukiakari screamed.

Izanami's smile wilted into an austere, cold expression. "I am now."

Izanami turned at smiled at Tsukiakari before she suddenly disappeared, vanished into thin air without a trace. In her confusion, Tsukiakari didn't notice Izanami was behind her until she was grabbed by the neck of her kimono and thrown up towards another house, landing on the roof after smashing through the second floor.

Izanami's throws were so fast and powerful, Tsukiakari almost didn't even feel whenever she would crash through anything. It was as if the time between she was thrown and ended up on the roof were all just a fast blur. At least, that's how it felt at first. The pain hit Tsukiakari all at once as she sat on the roof. Her shoulders and head mainly took the brunt of the attack.

However, this was good news to her. Her wish to die was getting closer and closer to coming true.

Tsukiakari continued to lure Izanami in with even more powerful attacks. With a desperate expression on her face, she pointed her blade skywards and summoned forth another bombardment of powerful lightning, as if she were carpet bombing the opposite end of the street. Dozens of buildings were all blown apart and swallowed in flames as Izanami leaped and dodge every last lightning strike with relative ease, coming around in a hook direction towards Tsukiakari.

Izanami final leap brought her above Tsukiakari's position, where she held her scythe up in preparation to slam it down upon her. Tsukiakari leaped across to another rooftop just before her impact, which blew apart the entire building and ejected fragments of wood, bamboo, and a cloud of dust into the air.

Quickly recovering, Izanami dashed out from the wreckage with speed beyond that of an average god. Tsukiakari was only barely able to dodge again as her scythe sliced through the upper floor of the building. This increasingly difficult game of dodging Izanami's overwhelmingly powerful and quick attacks was quickly tiring Tsukiakari out, just as she had hoped.

She really stood no chance against Izanami, and that was a blessing.

(You said you'd let me take it all out on you...but you also want to take it out on me. I wonder if this is your way of releasing whatever hatred for me may be nesting inside of you. In fact, it probably is, isn't it? I can't say I have any problem with that. After all, I'm also taking my frustrations out on you.)

Izanami landed on Tsukiakari's rooftop, immediately slashing away as she continued to block and deflect with her blade. Sparks flew every time their weapons met. Izanami suddenly aimed for Tsukiakari's feet, making a shallow cut in her ankle. Tsukiakari leaped away again, sheathing her blade momentarily to free her hands. She quickly weaved the kuji-in signs necessary and shot out a helix-shaped projectile of pure flames. The blast scorched and ripped through the roof, collapsing the entire three-story building with a choking cloud of smoke.

Once more, Izanami flew out from the flaming wreckage, her burnt and bubbling skin regenerating as she closed in on Tsukiakari and slammed her back towards the temple, where she crash landed in its courtyard.

(I can't help but think that this is our way of screaming it all out to each other. This profound, confusing mix of 'I love you', 'I hate you', 'Leave me alone' and 'Stay with me'...is this love? Is this what it feels like when love fights so hard to survive? And yet, in this storm of feelings, one feeling remains dominant for you. Perhaps that feeling is longing. That's what leads you, isn't it?)

Surrounded by gravestones, Tsukiakari recovered and stood up from her crash, leaping onto the temple's roof. Izanami was quite a distance across from her, seemingly ready to prepare a larger attack.

(That's so sad...but it resonates with me. You can feel my pain, and I can feel yours. It's ironic then, that with all of this considered, our resulting ills are conflicting. You want me to stay, but I have nothing to stay for.)

Izanami readied her scythe, holding it behind her waist as she prepared to dash in towards Tsukiakari. She only had one more thing to say. "Gekko! Unless you have anything else you want to take out on me, I'm finishing this here and now! You're coming with me!"

(...What a shame it all came to this. I didn't get to live a good life, nor be a good god or person. I wasted it all, didn't I? And now, it's coming to an end. The pathetic and sad story of Tsukiakari Senkumo, the stray trench rat, ends here...at the hands of someone I love. At the very least, I guess that's a good way to end it.)

Tsukiakari closed her eyes to fight back her tears, only opening them once shad composed herself. She put on a brave smile, and an even braver bluff considering her body was in severe pain.

She could not stand to fight for much longer, but she still responded smugly to Izanami's proclamation. "I'm not done with you yet! This fight is only getting started!"

The watchful Inari paid close attention to Tsukiakari's trembling feet and hands, as well her smile that seemed to be a crumbling mask hiding away her pain and sorrow. By the time she noticed, the two of them already made their dash towards each other.

"Izanami, stop!" Inari screamed.

(Ah...it's finally time to let go...)

Those moments were crucial. Tsukiakari held her blade forward as if to stab Izanami, while Izanami's scythe seemed prepared for a horizontal swing. When the time had come for their hits to be exchanged, Tsukiakari instead let go of her sword, letting it fall to the streets below.

(My life was dark and tiring for so long...but now I can rest...)

With both of them moving to fast to stop, Izanami was destined to hit Tsukiakari with a fatal strike. But as her eyes just managed to catch Tsukiakari's release of her weapon and the melancholic smile gracing her face, Izanami knew she could only do one thing in the short moment she had to spare Tsukiakari's life. It was a simple technique Tsukiakari simply hadn't gotten down yet. Izanami de-summoned her just as the blades ripped through her kimono, just shy of her skin. The scythe de-materialized all at once, allowing Izanami to catch Tsukiakari in a hug as they both crashed down in the middle of the street.

Inari looked on at the resulting plume of smoke, unable to tell what happened. "Did they..."

Tsukiakari opened her eyes, her back and shoulders in severe pain from the crash. Despite the agony, she was still very much alive, with Izanami laying on her stomach. Their crash had formed a large crater, a sinkhole in the street. bits of tumbling rubble and earth fell down into the sinkhole's pit.

"What...you...de-summoned your scythe?" Tsukiakari groaned.

Izanami's arms trembled as she held herself up. Her entire body was covered and dirt and minor scratches, including her sorrowful face. In the moment Izanami nearly killed Tsukiakari, she had realized what this fight was for, and why Tsukiakari agreed to come to her.


In a fit of desperate anger, Tsukiakari struggled and failed to get Izanami off of her, screaming from the top of her lungs. "Damn you! Why am I still alive?! You were supposed to kill me! If you won't do it, then I'll end it myself!"

Tsukiakari raised her right hand to summon her blade, but she suddenly found Izanami's hands and fingers interlocked with hers, slamming them back down on the ground.

"Get off of me! I was supposed to die here and you ruined everything!" Tsukiakari screamed.

Izanami realized Tsukiakari never had the energy for a sustained fight. She knew she never stood a chance, and that's exactly why she came.

"Gekko...how could you? You were trying to commit suicide?! What on earth drove you to this?"

"Shut up! Just let me go!"

"Look at me, Gekko! You can tell me! You know I've tried to kill myself before too! If anyone could ever understand, it's me!"

"Just shut up already! Please let me go!"

Tsukiakari's angry screams turned into crying yells, unable to free herself of Izanami's grip. That helplessness was like a recurrence of what happened after she lost to Bishamon. That same humiliation, fear, and terror similar to the sensation of drowning overtook her as she began to hyperventilate. Even considering the situation, Izanami knew there was so much more to Tsukiakari's reaction. This wasn't anger, it was closer to an extreme panic attack in response to some sort of trigger, a reminder of a traumatic event.

"Get off! Get off! Get off of me!" Tsukiakari screamed, tears running down her cheeks.

Her legs, her arms, her waist all resisted Izanami with everything they had, but failed to get her off. "Please don't! Stop it!"

"I am not Bishamon!" Izanami screamed.

Izanami grabbed hold of Tsukiakari's cheeks, caressing them as her eyes shot open in realization that she was not in the middle of that blackened field anymore. Izanami was not Bishamon, and she was not on the verge of death.

"You're okay, Gekko! It's just me, not Bishamon! You don't ever have to see that monster ever again!"

Her breathing gradually slowed and calmed the longer she gazed into Izanami's crying eyes. Still, despair lingered, firmly attached to her very soul.

"Please tell me, Gekko. Please! There's no shame in feeling like you want to die!"

"I can't tell you! I just can't do it!"

"Is it because you lost to Bishamon? Is it your friends? Because I didn't kill you?!"

Tsukiakari sobbed as she nodded her head side to side, unable to even open her eyes.

"Then what? What is it, Gekko?! You have to confront it! You have to accept whatever happened to you, or you'll feel like this forever! I don't want that for you! I swear on my life and everything I hold dear that I'd never want that for you! Gekko...just this once...tell me! I'll never make you say it again, but you have to confront it now before it's too late!"

"I tried to fight back! I tried to get away but I wasn't fast or strong enough!" Tsukiakari wept.

"Gekko! You have to say it!"

"He raped me!"

Izanami was hushed, shocked, and heartbroken all at the same time. Tsukiakari bravely continued to speak through her tears and short breath.

"I couldn't fight back! I...couldn't do anything about it! A-All I could do was just...I'm so ashamed, Izanami! I couldn't live with it! I just couldn't do it anymore!"

"Then...all those things you said earlier...they were because of that? Oh, Gekko...my sweet, beautiful Gekko..."

Izanami let go of Tsukiakari's hand, as there was no longer the threat of further violence. With how hard and heartbreaking her crying was, it really seemed like Tsukiakari was finally letting everything out all at once. Her century and a half of suffering, her fallen friends, the betrayal of her clan, and the horror of her sexual abuse all came out in constant, child-like cries.

"Gekko...you're not disgusting. You're not rotten." Izanami assured. "You're not atrocious in any manner whatsoever. What happened to you was beyond any words in any language on this earth. However, the perversion and cruelty of that act does not define you. Even in the moments you went through it, it didn't define you."

At last, Tsukiakari opened her eyes. "I fought so hard, Izanami...My body wouldn't move...I couldn't...I couldn't..."

Izanami gently laid her forehead on Tsukiakari's. "It's okay. You're safe now, and you'll never have to go through that again. That's why you can let it all out. Lay your burdens on me, so we can bear them together. You'll never walk alone again. I promise! That's why you have to live until tomorrow with me, and all the days after that. It may take time, but I swear, you'll see the beauty in life!"

Izanami softly kissed Tsukiakari's forehead, wiping away her tears with a smile. "Inari and I...we're your friends! We both love you! You'll never have to fight in another war, or watch your friends die. Whenever you're sad about something, I'll listen to you. You can tell me absolutely anything! One day, I'm sure of it...you'll find someone to fall in love with. When that day comes, that person will wipe every detail of this nightmare away from your heart."

"How can you be so sure? How do you know there's a happy ending to all of this?" Tsukiakari asked.

"Because I finally figured out what your name means, and what it represents." Izanami said. "Tsukiakari...Moonlight, the phenomenon of the sun's light reflecting off of the moon. The moon, with all of its craters and flaws, is still one of the most beautiful heavenly objects known to mankind. It's taken so many beatings in its long existence, and yet it still shines gloriously in the night sky, and will continue to shine for all of earth's years. Just as the moon reflects what is shined upon it, you reflect the love given to you. For so long, you've only been fed misery and sadness, and that shined down upon the pantheon as vengeance. But now..."

Izanami truly seemed like an angel in that moment, a living, walking, breathing miracle. Her words pulled Tsukiakari out of the darkness consuming her.

"Now, for the first time, we're going to see what kind of light reflects off of you when you're given love! You have to live to see it, Gekko! If you live through this, you'll never look back! And I..."

An identical sadness in Izanami released itself through her gentle cries and tears. Tsukiakari, seeing her crying too, finally experienced the bond of sorrow between them for herself. Tsukiakari's sorrow hurt Izanami, and Izanami's sorrow hurt Tsukiakari. Just seeing the pale goddess cry made her want to protect her, to wipe away her tears just as she did for her.

"I need you just as much, Gekko...because there are parts of me that still hurt too!" Izanami sobbed.

Izanami was surprised to feel Tsukiakari's hand now softly placed on her cheek as a slight smile blessed her tired face. "Don't cry anymore...you look so beautiful...when you smile."

Tsukiakari fell unconscious, exhausted from the battle and all of the previous ones. It seemed her constant fighting caught up to her.

"Gekko?" Izanami panicked, quickly realizing she was still alive. "Oh goodness...you're just unconscious. And you...said I was beautiful..."

Izanami knew exactly why she specifically chose the word beautiful. Tsukiakari was acknowledging a huge part of Izanami's sorrow, her corpse-like appearance. Though her state now was leagues better than her rotten, partly skeletal state when she first died, her pale skin, black eyes, and red irises still set her apart from everyone else. It was like a curse that remained even ages after her death, and yet, Tsukiakari called all of it beautiful.

That alone made Izanami smile again. "Sleep well, princess. Let's get you out of here."

Inari had watched it all from the street, wearing a smile of relief and tearful happiness. Izanami carried Tsukiakari on her back and leaped out of the sinkhole, landing in front of Inari. The thunder had stopped, as well as the snow. The battle was finally over. Not just Izanami's battle with Tsukiakari, but both of their battles against their demons. At least, for now, Tsukiakari and Izanami had finally reconciled.

"Izanami...that was amazing! I'm proud of you! Both of you!" Inari cheered.

"Hehe!" Izanami snickered. "I hope you won't mind if we continue to crash at your shrine, Inari. It's the only safe place I can think of for her for now."

"Of course I don't mind. She can stay as long as she wants. No need to rush." Inari assured.

"...It might be dangerous." Izanami warned. "Tsukiakari's a wanted goddess, and I was supposed to have killed her and brought in her corpse."

Inari smiled. "It's also mighty convenient that the pantheon is distracted with the Second Holy War, isn't it?"

Izanami smiled and gave a hearty thumbs up to Izanami, who was shocked she'd harbor a divine criminal. At the same time though, she wasn't all too surprised Inari was so kind.

"That means they won't really care for now as long as she disappears and stops causing trouble. We can pull it off." Inari tittered.

"Thank you, Inari. You're a true friend."

The battle was over. Everything was over. The two of them departed the city and made their way back to Inari's shrine, tired but accomplished. It felt like a massive storm cloud plaguing them for so long had finally begun to break apart, and sunshine was imminent.

(That day...I was defeated. It was the best defeat that ever happened to me. With that loss, my time as a soldier was over.)

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Chapter 19: Even Dead Stars Can Still Shine
The Queen of Heaven herself, Amaterasu, stood by sunlit, bedroom window, gazing upon the beautiful, lush, green lands of heaven, the rest of the divine palace below, and all of the gods and servants that walked by. Anything that was not green or flowery in heaven was a glittering gold, from the very bricks the streets were made of to the lavish mansions housing each and every god.

She stood in the same bedroom Tsukiakari was born in, her reflection in the sparkling, marble floors distorted and fuzzy. Throughout the entirety of the ordeal, those golden, stern eyes of hers never trembled, never stained themselves with tears. One had to wonder if she even had a heart, or if she loved her own daughter.

Her door creaked open as someone entered, then closed very gently. Just from the way the sudden visitor opened and closed the door, Amaterasu could guess who it was. It could be none other than Izanami.

"Izanami." Amaterasu said as a scant greeting.

"Amaterasu." Izanami said.

The air was more than stiff, it was serrated between the two.

"I'm surprised you came to visit. Haven't I told you not to stick around in Heaven too often?" Amaterasu said.

"I wanted to talk to you. You know what the subject matter is." Izanami said.

"...Did you kill her?" Amaterasu asked.

"Of course not."

The sigh of the Queen of Heaven was heavy as she retired from the window and plopped down on her king-sized, white bed, resting her bare feet on the sides of the bed's wooden frame. Izanami could hardly even look at her.

"You're disgusted with me, aren't you?" Amaterasu asked.

"How could you wager the life of your own daughter? You gave me so little time to work with when we suspected Oyamatsumi, and you wouldn't intervene in the matter yourself." Izanami hissed. "What would you have done if Tsukiakari really did die?"

"...Birth another daughter." Amaterasu answered.

Izanami scoffed. "You really are cold. And what of Bishamon?"

Amaterasu smiled. "Well, it was a very close call. I neither lost nor won the gamble, but the results were still in my favor. Bishamon is currently in a coma. We expect him to wake up soon, but this fight really took it out of him. Neither he nor Tsukiakari will be anywhere near as powerful as they once were. The courts will have to consider Tsukiakari an unconfirmed kill, and they'll shift their attention over to the war. None of them will know that she'll be under your care from now on."

"You concoct plots like this far too easily." Izanami mocked.

"Perhaps I'm not fit for children or motherhood, Izanami. My occupation simply doesn't allow it. This pantheon is at the height of its power right now. All of us have had to make hard choices, day in and day out. Perhaps spending hundreds, if not thousands of years doing this every single day of your existence makes the heart grow colder.

"At least you can admit it." Izanami said.

"It was a gamble, but it worked out in the end, huh? Please, take good care of her, Izanami. You're the only one who can. You've spoken before about the importance of our names and how we build our reputations in respect to them. I'm supposed to be Amaterasu, the Queen of Heaven and Goddess of the Sun. If I'm the sun, I fear whatever light and warmth I once possessed has deteriorated. I'm merely a dead and cold star pretending to be that golden titan that you all worship me for..."

"When will you realize...even dead stars can still glow..." Izanami said.

Amaterasu had no words to respond with. Izanami silently left the room, closing the door on the way out and departing from Heaven. Amaterasu pondered those words, unable to get at the very heart of their meaning, but still understanding one thing. Those words represented Izanami herself. They were her life story up until then summarized in a simple, six word sentence.

"Maybe I can learn something from you then..."

(It was only a few days until I awoke again in Inari's shrine. It was like waking up in another body, in another life somewhere. That's because, well...I would no longer have to fight in any battles or wars. The era of military conflicts was over for me. Izanami wanted to give me something better, free from the vise grip of constant fighting and violence. I knew it would take some time for me to adjust to...well, normalcy. Still, I was willing to try. I was willing to trust Izanami.)

The long overdue spring weather had returned to the country after the fights and killings had stopped. Even the night was so much clearer, and the moon as bright and blue as it could be. Izanami walked outside of Inari's shrine with a sleeping and fatigued Tsukiakari on her back. A pair of moths flew around the oil lanterns hanging on the shrine's wall as Inari walked out with her. The two spoke softly to one another, as not to wake Tsukiakari from her well-deserved rest.

"Thank you for everything, Inari. You took care of us both even as your popularity as a good keept you so busy. I really cannot thank you enough." Izanami said.

"Don't worry about it! That's what friends are for, right?" Inari sang. "Let me know if you ever need anything, or she ever needs anything. My shrine is always open to you both. And Izanami... congratulations. You found your path in life. I know you'll grow to be just as kind and inviting as your name suggests. You'll make it for sure!"

Izanami smiled. "Yeah, you too! Congratulations on becoming one of the most popular deities in the country! I know you'll be the goddess you want to be as well. Come and visit whenever you can, alright?"

With a bright and kind smile, Inari responded. "Of course I will. Well, see you later, you two."

Inari planted a soft kiss on the sleeping Tsukiakari's forehead before waving the two of them goodbye. For now, it was back to Izanami's shrine on the hill, a place that would become a temporary home for Tsukiakari, long before 'the neighborhood', Osamu and the other girls even existed. It had been a while since she'd been back at her own shrine, so as she opened the sliding door to the main building, it did feel like a strange, new place at first. But as being home usually does, seeing your own possessions and living space reminds you that you're in the right place at the right time.

"Home sweet home. Let's get to bed, Gekko."

(And so, I began living with Izanami.)

Four weeks later.

It was an unbelievably normal breakfast on an unbelievably normal and warm, Spring day. There wasn't a cloud in the sky or a flower that wasn't blooming. The weather was good enough for them to leave the sliding door to the main building open, the deep, vibrant blue of the sky reflecting off of the patio's polished wood. Rice, fried fish, and mandarin salad were all laid out on the table. Though she was a girl like Izanami, Tsukiakari sure did eat like a soldier. Just the fact she even had the appetite to eat was already a good sign for Izanami, causing her to smile almost uncontrollably.

"Please pass the rice." Tsukiakari said.

"Ah, here you go." Izanami politely responded

"Hey, Izanami."


"Do gods get fat?"

"I....hmmm...." Izanami paused. "That's a good question. I've never had any problems with weight, but then again, I'm a corpse."

"Good, because...this my third bowl of rice and I'm starting to hate myself." Tsukiakari said.

The two broke out in soft laughter like any normal two people having a meal and talking together.

"Well, you can't be blamed. Mama 'Nami is gonna open your world up with lots of delicious meals!" Izanami sang.

"Uhh...'Mama 'Nami'?" Tsukiakari repeated with a laugh.

"What, you don't like it?"

"No, no, it's just really cute, that's all. I guess it's no surprise though. I mean, you're pretty cute yourself, so it makes sense you'd do cute things too."

Izanami suddenly screamed as if she saw a spider crawl up her leg. She slammed her hands on the table with her head cast downwards as Tsukiakari put down her bowl and stood up in alarm.

"Izanami? What's wrong?!"

"It just occurred to me..." Izanami said with a gasp.

"What is it?!"

Izanami lifted her adorably tear-soaked face, her lips trembling and her eyes glistening like rain drops. "Your birthday is just a few days from now!"

Dumbfounded. Tsukiakari was absolutely dumbfounded. "My...birthday?"

"May 31st, right?! We have to throw you a party! I should've remembered sooner!" Izanami lamented.

"N-no, really, it's fine! I don't even celebrate my birthday!"

Well, needless to say, saying that to Izanami did not neutralize the situation. It only made her even more determined to celebrate. "You poor thing! You don't even celebrate your own birthday?! Not acceptable! Nuh-uh! Nope, nope, and NOPE! We're celebrating your birthday even if it—"

Izanami's gibber-jabber was interrupted by a sudden and very loud burp. It was so unladylike, even saying that it was manly wouldn't be a stretch at all. She immediately covered her mouth as her face turned as red as the blooming roses, shying away from the laughing Tsukiakari

"P-please just forget you ever heard that..." Izanami muttered.

(Izanami's mannerisms, every detail of her gentle and seemingly cheerful nature were like a foreign language to me. Her dimples and glittering eyes were like their own secret alphabets. If I could learn to speak in that language, that accursed language without words that we all call 'Happiness', I thought...maybe...just maybe...I could really change the course of my life. The memories of my experiences in the Senkumo clan remained, but I was willing to believe in the mythical emotion and state of being called happiness. Perhaps happiness was simply a tiny fragment of glittering hope at the bottom of a muddy river of strife and tribulation. We need only fight against the flow a little longer to attain it. Taeko was right. We should never go floating down the river of time.)

The nights were just as serene as the days. The blanket of darkness that covered the sky seemed more like a box, with the stars being holes letting in light from the outside. Tsukiakari sat on the patio of the shrine, beneath the faint light of the oil lantern hung on the wall. She awkwardly held her unsheathed sword in her hands, seemingly trying to figure out how to cut her laid out, long hair with it. Her thick, black hair was so beautifully long that it laid flat and curled on the patio when it was untied.

Her awkward attempt at trying to cut her hair with a sword was interrupted by the sound of the sliding door opening as Izanami sat on her knees behind Tsukiakari, all ready for bed. There was something oddly adorable about how Izanami wore her plain, white kimono and her messy bun of hair. If anyone else wore the same thing with the same hairstyle and tired expression, they'd merely look, well, normal. Perhaps it was the strange phenomenon that curses both humans and gods, when they see the true inner self of another person, which in turn makes their outside features seem as beautiful as the moonlight.

"Gekko, not coming to bed yet?" Izanami asked.

"Oh, I'll be in bed soon. I just have to cut my hair. Now that I'm well rested, I have a few loose ends to tie up." Tsukiakari answered.

"Loose ends? What do you mean?"

"It's nothing bad, I promise. Chiya organized a partial evacuation of the clan's younger members before...you know. I was still unconscious at the time. My revenge mission might have failed, but it was still only a pyrrhic victory for Bishamon. He lost every one of his co-conspirators."

Izanami gulped down the lump in her throat and balled her right hand into a fist. She swallowed her own knowledge and let it rest in the acid of her stomach. She could almost hear herself saying the words swirling around in her head. 'There were five co-conspirators, not four.'.

"...Where are those kids now?" Izanami asked.

"Awaji, most likely. The men were told to take the kids west, but I doubt they stopped in Settsu or Izumi provinces. They're too close to the fighting. Awaji is at least a little more peaceful, and we've set up orphanages there in the past."

"I know you're feeling better, but you're still supposed to be resting." Izanami urged. "Why don't I check on the kids for you? I know the island very well. I created it myself, after all."

"You'd do that for me?" Tsukiakari asked.

"Of course! Besides, any contacts you might have in Awaji might be loyal to Bishamon. We can't risk you being seen and getting turned in."

"You're...surprisingly sharp, Izanami. Well, alright then. I'll let you do it for me. You only need to make sure the kids are being treated well."

"Sounds easy, Gekko."

Izanami's vision's cleared and exposed her to the sight of Tsukiakari's gleaming blade. The thoughts 'I guess it can't be helped she doesn't know any better', and 'For all that is holy, I must teach her to properly cut her hair' wrestled for control in Izanami's head.

"I just noticed. You...you're cutting your hair with a sword?" Izanami asked.

"Well, this is how I always did it..." Tsukiakari said.

Izanami brought out her own ultimate weapon; her wagging index finger of doom and disapproval, shoved right into Tsukiakari's face. "No! Bad Gekko! Bad!"

"I'm not a cat, Izanami!"

"That's Mama 'Nami to you, young miss! Here, at least do it with a small knife. No, even better, I'll do it for you."

"It's fine, I can do it."

"No no no, I'll be doing it. Honestly...I don't want you to ever have to touch a sword again if I can help it."

And so, Izanami sat behind Tsukiakari, crosslegged and as she thoroughly combed through Tsukiakari's hair with a small knife at her side. It was yet another simple act of kindness that felt so chillingly strange to Tsukiakari, like a foreign, cultural custom that she would have to assimilate to.

"Ah, I see why you wanted to cut this." Izanami sighed.

"All of that fighting really made my hair a mess. Much of it has gone brittle and split, huh?" Tsukiakari softly snickered.

"Yeah, it has. What a shame, you really do have a lovely head of hair, Gekko."

(Starting a new life like this almost feels like starting out as a nobody. I've curiously gone from being a destructive and mighty goddess of war to being...well...this. I guess the proper word for all of this is "Normal". Even when attaining a fresh start out of an objectively bad situation, why is it that a corner of my heart longs to go back to what was? Perhaps it's just because I haven't known anything else, or I doubt that I can really change the course of my life. And yet, every time I feel this surge of doubt within me, Izanami always banishes it with her normal self. Izanami's true self, and the ways in which she expresses all of the elements that make her Izanami, feel like cries of freedom, the severance of my bonds and chains. How curious...)

"How much of it do you want cut?" Izanami asked, leaning in past Tsukiakari's shoulder.

"Up to my shoulders." Tsukiakari answered.

"Whew! That's a lot of hair! Alright then, here comes the chop."

Izanami partitioned her hair into two sections and drove her knife cleanly through each of them. Tsukiakari was left with a thick head of shoulder length, wavy hair that looked much like a lion's mane. It was as easy as that. Izanami then folded the severed sections of hair and tied them up, putting them to the side. With a rather relieved and cheerful sigh, she patted whatever stray strands of hair remained off of Tsukiakari's shoulders.

"There we go! You look really cute with shorter hair, Gekko!"

"Really? That's good news. Honestly, I thought I'd look weird, or possibly even ugly. Just goes to show that doubt gets you nowhere, huh?"

Izanami's eyes turned to Tsukiakari's sheathed blade, the only remaining remnant of her time with the Senkumo clan. "Hey...Gekko."


"Do you want to drop the Senkumo name?"

After a long pause, Tsukiakari softly replied. "No."

"Can I ask why?"

"Because of you."

"Me? Did I do something wrong?"

"No, that's not what I meant. I understand what you're implying by asking that question. The Senkumo name is cursed and rotten. It carries a heavy legacy of blood, abuse, loss, and revenge. But...after being saved by you, I can't help but feel driven to change the meaning of that name. Every single soul that was a member of that clan, every man, woman, and child were all real. I wasn't the only one who lost everything. Those people all lost their lives. I have to honor those people. As the sole survivor of the Senkumo clan, what becomes of the meaning of our name and the legacy it will stand for is a burden that rests upon my shoulders. I refuse to let Senkumo become a nightmare manifested in a single word. Somehow, some way, the meaning will change into something more tragically beautiful than simply tragic.

Izanami fell silent after Tsukiakari said all of that. She was almost scared to hear what her response would be. Instead of words however Tsukiakari found herself in Izanami's embrace, wrapping her arms around her from behind and laying her head upon her shoulder.

Izanami's response to Tsukiakari's resolve came in the form of soft, tender whimpers and quiet cries into her back and shoulder. Though they sounded so painfully sorrowful, Izanami's embrace exuded only love of the highest kind, and an undying devotion to Tsukiakari. Unsure of what to say or do, Tsukiakari gently laid her hand on Izanami's. As if that profound blend of love and sorrow were being transferred to her, Tsukiakari's vision blurred with tears as she tried to gaze at the moon.

(I don't know why Izanami was crying that night, or if they were even really tears of sadness or not. By the way she held me that night, I want to say that those tears were not from any sort of heartbreak. In fact, if they were anything like mine...those were the tears of our hearts being rebuilt. No...perhaps it's better to say that our hearts...were reborn.)

Chapter 20: Children of War
Tsukiakari slept soundly in her futon that night, her new haircut leaving her scarred face unobscured. She lied besides the warmth of the fireplace, the gentle crackle of the burning birchwood. Izanami slid open the front door of the house, taking the occasional peek inside, just for the pleasure of seeing her sleeping granddaughter. She closed the door again, releasing a satisfied sigh.

"Good evening, Lord Izanami."

Izanami lifted her head and stood up upon seeing one of her shinigami approaching. The shadowy figure was cloaked in tattered, black robes and gloves. His featureless, white mask hid his face and muffled his voice, yet he could see and breathe just fine. He reached in the breast pocket of his robes, pulling out a sealed scroll and handing it to Izanami.

"We did as you asked and tracked down the Senkumo children." The shinigami said. "Chiya Senkumo had them taken to Owannouji Orphanage in Awaji. The place was originally a Shinto temple that began serving the community as an orphanage around the time Oda Nobunaga came into power."

"Did you find out if the kids are alright?" Izanami asked.

"That's where things got complicated, I'm afraid. We were able to find the Senkumo contact working for the orphanage. She said the Senkumo kids there are singled out by their caretakers and physically abused."

"What? Why?"

"Because they're Senkumo. The clan had as many enemies as it did allies. Some of the caretakers seem to have some sort of grudge with Tsukiakari and the clan as a whole."

"And they're taking it out on those damned kids." Izanami growled. "Now we know where they are. I'll set up a meeting and head there immediately."

"One more thing, my lord." The shinigami said. "The contact explained that there was one boy, an eleven year old, that suddenly disappeared from the orphanage two weeks ago. However, the caretakers have made no effort to find the boy, nor have they alerted the authorities. I've included the details in my report."

"Thank you. That'll be all."

The shinigami bowed and vanished into the darkness of the night, leaving Izanami to look over the scroll on her porch. It detailed every action the shinigami took over the course of just four hours. Everything from their arrival to Awaji to their meeting with the Senkumo contact. When she finally got to the part pertaining to the missing boy, her face wrinkled in rage. She closed the scroll, taking a deep breath to calm herself down.

"Those bastards..."

That very morning, before the sun had risen over Awaji, the owner of the orphanage sat himself in his wooden rocking chair, combing his slicked back hair at his desk. The dark blue light of the morning bled through his window as he began reading over his personal documents beneath orange candle light. He was twirling the long hairs of his full, black beard, lost in reading as one of the servants opened the door to his office.

"Right this way ma'am." the servant said, bowing her head.

Izanami stepped through the door, removing her black, cotton gloves from her hands. The owner stood up upon her entry, revealing his white cotehardie and golden ring on his pinky. The man's foreign clothing indicated his unusual wealth to Izanami, who was less than impressed by his gaudy appearance.

"It's an honor having you here, Izanami-no-Mikoto. Please, have a seat."

Izanami accepted the invitation, and the two of them sat down at opposite sides of the desk.

"Thank you for having me on such short notice, Makoto." Izanami said.

"It's not everyday we're contacted by a god anymore. Not since what happened to the Senkumo. What a pity."

"I understand you received quite a lot of charitable donations from the Senkumo clan." Izanami said.

Makoto nodded. "Yes, they were one of our primary beneficiaries during the more intense years of the war."

"Yes, I can tell. The facilities here are quite nice. Gardens, a playground, and it looked like you had a few more bedrooms added to accommodate more people. That's Senkumo money without a doubt." Izanami said with a smile.

"Are the rumors true, Izanami? Is Tsukiakari really dead?" Makoto asked.

Izanami hesitated, but then responded with a nod. "Yes. They're all gone. They were destroyed from the inside, a traitor sold them out."

Makoto's lips curved upwards in a slight smile. "Goodness. I'm sorry to hear that."

"Yes, I loved her very much. Tsukiakari was my granddaughter. As such, I found it necessary to check in on the kids from her clan. They were the only ones that survived the whole ordeal."

"Well, you'll be pleased to hear that they're all doing well. They've readjusted from their lives as young soldiers and are becoming used to the normalcy of civilian life. Most of them hadn't seen conflict, so that has made their time here easier. The eat well, they sleep plenty, and play almost everyday."

Izanami nodded. "All of the children are loved?"

Makoto smiled. "Of course. Here, everyone is loved equally, just as Tsukiakari would've wanted."

Izanami stood out of her chair, inspecting some of the works sitting in Makoto's bookshelf. The worn spines bore titles pertaining to astronomy, shipbuilding, and the translated words of foreign philosophers.

"You love all the kids equally, do you?" Izanami questioned. "Love is a funny thing, Makoto. I had a man I loved long ago."

"Izanagi. I've read the Nihon Shoki."

"Yes, and I've done mine too."

"I'm afraid I...don't understand, Izanami." Makoto snickered.

"You're a man who loves his job. You love your orphanage, you love taking care of people, and you love imported goods, apparently. Love is a frightfully strong emotion. It could compel us to change the way we dress or what we read, as it's clearly done for you."

Izanami returned to her seat. "You love a lot of things, but nothing as much as young boys."

"I'm...I'm sorry?"

"There was a boy here, eleven years old, that would get called to your office late in the hours of the night and early in the hours of the morning." Izanami said. "He disappeared, or at least, that's how your story goes."

"Yes, he was one of the only problem children we ever had here." Makoto said. He just upped and ran away. He didn't quite like it here. Wanted to return to the life of a soldier."

"Like I said, that's how your story goes." Izanami said. "And like I said, I've done my homework. You had your servants offer up the excuse that he ran away, but none of his personal belongings went missing with him, only the boy himself. Odd, that a runaway yearning to return to his past life wouldn't take any items of sentimental value with him, huh?"

Makoto had nothing to say. He tucked his lips in and remained silent.

Izanami leaned in, whispering her next words. "How many times did you do it? How many times did you tell your servants to wake him from his bed? How many times did you call him here, to this very office?"

"Stop..." Makoto said.

"How many times did you kiss him? Did you bend him over this table and have him take you from behind?"

"Stop it!" Makoto yelled.

Izanami leaned back in her chair, staring daggers at Makoto. "He didn't disappear. He didn't run away because of some yearning for the battlefield. That boy, eleven years old, hung himself in his bedroom because he couldn't bare the thought of living through another day of being your toy. Not only was what you did illegal, but it was a homosexual act that led to the suicide of a child. If anyone ever found out, you'd be hanging in town square. Your money would vanish and you'd never be allowed anywhere near a Shinto or Buddhist establishment again."

Makoto loosened the neck of his cotehardie as he began to sweat. "You knew everything all along?"

"The Senkumo may be gone, but that doesn't mean you can do whatever you please." Izanami said. "I have an empire of my own, Makoto. We can keep an eye on you no matter where you go. In fact, I'd say we're far more terrifying than the Senkumo clan ever was. Don't think that because Tsukiakari is gone that you can do whatever you damn well please. Tell me what really happened."

"...The morning he went 'missing' was the morning we found his body in his bedroom." Makoto said. "One of the caretakers was out waxing the floors, said they heard crying coming from his room. After the crying, she heard the crack of wood and the snap of rope. She barged in the room, something we don't usually do in respect to the children's privacy. It's as you said. The boy had hung himself from one of the support beams in the ceiling. He died instantly."

"You got rid of the body." Izanami surmised.

Makoto pulled open his drawer, taking out his bottle of sake and a small, white cup. He poured himself a drink and lifted the cup to his lips, his hands shaking the whole time. He averted his eyes from Izanami's unrelenting gaze as he gulped down the alcohol.

"At least you still drink like you're Japanese." Izanami insulted. "Makoto, where is the body?"

"Gone." Makoto grunted, speaking as he swallowed the alcohol. "We gave him over to the crematorium. I told them to keep the body wrapped as they burnt it. I paid them some money for their secrecy and told them they were doing a favor for the Senkumo clan."

"You used the Senkumo name and the reputation of my granddaughter to cover up his suicide?" Izanami asked, standing from her chair.

"Izanami...I'm sorry..."

"You're sorry. He's sorry." Izanami muttered, stepping back from the desk.

"I swear, I'll do anything to repent. Anything you ask, Izanami."

Quietude settled between them as Izanami formulated instructions for his redemption. "If you want forgiveness, Makoto, then you will go to beach at midnight. You will walk into the water and you will keep walking until you swim, and you'll keep swimming until drown."


"I mean that literally, Makoto. I want you to drown yourself."

"You...you'd have me commit suicide?"

"You'd have an eleven year old boy do it. What's wrong with you doing it?"

Makoto poured himself another drink, his face drenched in sweat.

"Makoto, if you don't do it yourself, my people will take matters into their own hands. We know where you are at all times. We'll know if you try to escape Awaji. My empire is far more fearsome than Tsukiakari's."

"When...when do you want me to do it?"

"Tonight, when no one will be around to witness it." Izanami hissed. "That gives you plenty of time to appoint one of the caretakers as the new owner. The person that takes your place will know that if they touch a single hair on those kids heads, they'll be doomed to the same fate."

"Izanami..." Makoto cried. "Is there no other way?"

"That boy didn't feel like there was any other way, did he?" Izanami scorned. "Get it done. If you make me have to come and find you, I'll make you wish you had drowned yourself. Oh, and dress like an actual Japanese man. I'll not have you die looking like some gaudy foreigner."

Izanami excused herself, leaving Makoto to wallow in his alcohol-fueled lamentation. He slouched down in his chair, laying his head on his desk in shame and utter contempt for himself.

Izanami reconvened with her shinigami at the main entrance of the orphanage, the two of them standing beneath the red torii gate with a view of the blue ocean ahead of them. Awaji was blessed by the salty smell of the sea and strong, cool winds. The buildings and homes were few and far between, as most of the island was home to bright, green pastures and flowery meadows. It was terrible to think that such an awful crime had taken place on such a beautiful island.

"Is your business concluded, my lord?" asked the shinigami.

"It's taken care of. This problem will resolve itself by tomorrow." Izanami answered.

"Are there any other tasks that need handling?"

"No, that'll be all. Keep your eyes and ears open, though. Without an army or a way to reincarnate, Tsukiakari has no bargaining power anymore. But with my network, we can get rid of any of her remaining loose ends and keep her safe from her enemies. It's about time I used my empire for good."

"Understood, Lord Izanami. We'll report to you immediately if we hear anything."

Tsukiakari's eyes peeled open from her slumber. The fire she slept next to had gone cold, leaving only embers burning in the birchwood. The morning sun had risen over the horizon, its cool, golden light blaring through the dining room windows. Tsukiakari sat up in her bed as Izanami came in through the front door.

"Izanami?" Tsukiakari yawned. "Good morning. Were you out?"

"Good morning, Gekko." Izanami sang. "I checked up on those kids for you. They're doing just fine. You don't need to worry about them."

"Already? You went to Awaji and came back before sunrise?" Tsukiakari asked, astonished.

Izanami snickered. "You forget that I can teleport, Gekko."

"Oh, that's right. My bad. I'm glad to hear they're okay. I couldn't stay here with any peace of mind without knowing that first."

Izanami sat down and planted a kiss on Tsukiakari's cheek. "It's all truly over, Gekko. Now that that loose end is all tied up, you can focus on living a normal life. No more war and no more fighting."

"What about you?" Tsukiakari asked. "There's still a loose end for you. You know, Kagutsuchi."

Izanami nodded. "We'll find her someday. At the very least, her days as the Phantom Maiden are over. I can have peace of mind on my end knowing that she's alive and will never die. It's all thanks to the real Izanami."

"You know...you're not a bad Izanami yourself." Tsukiakari said with a half smile. "If the real Izanami declared you to be real as well, then there's no room for anyone to argue, is there? So, don't refer to yourself as a fake Izanami anymore. You're just Izanami."

Izanami's eyes widened in stunned awe, her heart swooning from Tsukiakari's words. She released a joyous giggle before standing back up and reaching out her pale hand to Tsukiakari, the light of the sun gleaming off of her body.

"So, Gekko? What would you like for breakfast?"

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Chapter 21: Happy Birthday, Tsukiakari Senkumo
(Now, I've been through some awful things. Truly, I have. I suppose I don't have to spend too long convincing you if you've read my long, heavy tale this far. However...I never quite went through anything like the morning of my birthday. You see, I, Tsukiakari Senkumo, master of flesh iron, commander of tall souls and deep shadows, bringer of war and carnage...was forced to wear a cute, pink, yukata.)

"Gekko! Stop messing around and put it on!" Izanami shouted.

"No way in hell I'm wearing that!" Tsukiakari protested.

It was another beautiful, Spring day as Izanami chased a naked and blushing Tsukiakari in the dining room of their home. She was so averse to wearing the yukata that she suddenly had the agility of a nimble cat, jumping on tables and drawers like some sort of scared animal. Izanami wore an expression of cute vexation as she tried to catch Tsukiakari.

"What do you have against the color pink?! Is it too girly?" Izanami asked.

"It's too friggin' bright! It doesn't match me or my personality! Why can't I just wear my regular black robes?!" Tsukiakari pouted, standing on top of the dining table.

"Because they're black, so they'll attract more heat!" Izanami reasoned. "You realize it's almost June, right?! Summer is just around the corner!"

"You're talking to a woman who can control fire and lightning!" Tsukiakari sneered.

"Wear the yukata, Gekko!"

"Absolutely not!"

"Wear it!"

"Bite me!"

Izanami, the madwoman, actually chomped down on Tsukiakari's arm like a mildly angry puppy. Tsukiakari recoiled her arm, holding her hand over the dents in her skin left by Izanami's surprisingly sharp teeth.

"What on earth is wrong with you?!" Tsukiakari cried.

"Gekko, by all things holy, you will look dashingly cute on this day!"

Suddenly, Inari's shaking, timid voice interrupted their argument. "Uhh...what's going on?"

That moment was truly embarassing, so embarassing that both Izanami and Tsukiakari stood as if they were frozen in time itself, staring at the confused goddess that suddenly showed up on their doorstep.

"Izanami..." Inari groaned.

"Eh? Huh?! No no no! It's not what it looks like!" Izanami said with a nervous giggle.

Inari tilted her head like a confused dog. "Really? Because it looks to me as if you stripped Tsukiakari out of her clothes, tried to force her to wear another, cuter set of clothes, and continued to chase the unwilling girl across the shrine with a rather perverted kind of blush in your face. My dearest Izanami, surely you can't have fallen this low, right?"

At last, Tsukiakari found another soul that understood her and the internal struggle that comes with wearing such cute things. Inari looked like a rock in a storm of madness to her.

Tsukiakari leaped off of the table, grabbing Inari by the hands and pleading to her with a glimmer of hope in her eyes. "Inari! You understand me! She has to be stopped, right?! I get she just wants me to look pretty for today, but to go to such lengths is—"

Unfortunately, Izanami wrapped Tsukiakari in the yukata while she was talking to Inari. The two fell to the floor in a battle to decide the fate of the yukata, a battle that Inari largely ignored as she stepped over them and entered the kitchen.

"Get off!" Tsukiakari screamed. "Inari! Help me! She's lost control of herself!"

"You are going to look cute today, young lady! That's an order! Now stop squirming and give me your arm!" Izanami commanded, her legs wrapped around Tsukiakari.

Inari giggled to herself in the kitchen. "I think she'll remember this birthday for the rest of her life..."

In the end, Tsukiakari lost the battle of the yukata to the superior force of Izanami, the Bringer of Cuteness. Hanging her blushing face in shame, Tsukiakari awkwardly stood before the wowed Izanami and Inari, shivering with embarrassment and anger. Izanami even had the audacity to tie Tsukiakari's hair in twin tails, leaving just enough free hair out of the ties to partially cover her cheeks.

(The most humiliating defeat of entire life...)

"I could just fall in love!" Izanami swooned. "Inari, do you see all of this cuteness?! Isn't she just a handful of pearls?!"

"My goodness...she really is cute!" Inari sang.

Tsukiakari squirmed as if she had to pee, raising her pink, teary face in a last ditch effort to defy Izanami. "I think it looks like garbage and your taste is garbage!"

"Really? Because your blushing is telling me you think you look cute too!" Izanami tittered with a smug expression.

"T-that's not true! I-I mean it!" Tsukiakari stuttered.

Izanami clicked her tongue as she wagged her index finger. "Tsk tsk tsk. You're not a very good liar, Gekko."

"For the record Gekko, you really do look cute." Inari assured.

"That's not problem here!" Tsukiakari shouted. "Is it...really okay to...to...to not wear any...underwear...like this?"

"Izanami...you forgot to let her put on some underwear?" Inari muttered in awe.

Izanami nodded. "I regret nothing."

(Life...regular, casual life...still felt so surreal to me. There I was, taking a stroll on a beautiful, Spring morning, with two fellow goddesses that I could actually call my friends. They had stopped what they were doing, postponing their duties for that day just to celebrate my birthday. My heart was...shaken, in a comforting way. Of course, I'm not really the kind of girl to just come out and express her feelings like that, but I certainly felt it. It was real, this thing called love. After all of the carnage and suffering, after all of the loss and death, I was able to love again.)

The three were bathed in spots of sunlight and cool shadows cast upon them by the vibrant, green trees overhead. They walked along a dirt path descending from the shrine. So many beautiful, colorful flowers were in full bloom. Flocks of birds soared freely in the sky, and the wind made instruments of the leaves and branches of the surrounding trees.

"Wow..." Izanami mumbled.

"What is it?" Inari asked.

"Not too long ago, I'd usually see some large armies cross through this area." Izanami said. "Many of them were young men, guiding horses carrying supplies and weapons, using these very trees for shade during the hot season. Now it's just quiet again, like the peace has been restored."

"Almost. Thankfully, the battles between warring daimyo have simmered down in some aspects. They're not as widespread anymore, mainly because Oda Nobunaga managed to cut down so much of his opposition. Ever since he died, the battles between the remaining, powerful daimyo have been much more contained in specific areas and key cities. I heard Ieyasu Tokugawa and Hideyoshi Totoyomi are on track to be the last two influential daimyo left in the country."

"Oda's retainers?" Tsukiakari asked.

"Hmm? Do you know them?" Izanami asked.

"I've never met them formally, but I did run into them before when I worked for Oda." Tsukiakari explained. "I can't believe they've seriously held out this long. They're really the two most powerful lords in Japan?"

Inari nodded. "Yeah, that's how it is. Because of that, widespread fighting has largely stopped, but they're definitely going to end up fighting each other very soon. When that happens, it'll be the official conclusion of this era of war. One of them will have outlived all of the other great men in their era."

Tsukiakari looked out at the peaceful countryside with a mix of relief and sadness. "So the war is really coming to end, huh?"

Izanami clapped her hands together. "Hey! It's Tsukiakari's birthday! What are we doing talking about wars and the future of the country!?"

"Ah, sorry Izanami! You're right!" Inari laughed.

"Speaking of which, where exactly are we going?" Tsukiakari asked.

Izanami flashed a mischievous, sneaky little smile. "Hee hee hee! It's a surprise!"

"Surprise? Hey...we're not going to, like, a kimono shop or anything, right?" Tsukiakari questioned.

Izanami shook her head. "Even better!"

"I'm scared to find out what your definition of 'better' is!" Tsukiakari chided. "What transpired earlier has made me totally cautious of your devious plans for today!"

"Ehh, it did look kind of suspicious, Izanami." Inari admitted.

"I have no regrets! Come on! Let's give Tsukiakari the best birthday ever!" Izanami cheered.

(The great series of battles that consumed the country were contained, on track to a visible end. I knew even then that within a year or so, it would all really be over. Living through the chapters of history like that is an exercise in wrestling with madness. I could already tell that although history will remember the Warring States, neither history nor the Warring States would remember Taeko, Ebina, or Mayumi. It wouldn't remember Ayadachi, Yachi, Chiya, or any of the other countless people who lost their lives. Distinguished men like Oda Nobunaga were different, but for most of those lost souls...no one would ever remember their names. That...unnerved me. How many nameless, faceless ghosts lurk within History's almighty abyss?)

Izanami's surprise was quite simple, but very intriguing indeed. She had set up a picnic spot for everyone on a hill overlooking Kyoto, with the food and sweets kept covered in a woven, wooden basket. Oddly, Izanami wanted to start with dessert, because she's Izanami.

However, the contents of the  dessert basket left Tsukiakari perplexed, not necessarily because the dessert within was weird, but simply because she had never seen it before. In that sense, it may have well just been a foreign object not of this earth.

Izanami handed both of them three squares of green, red, and black gelatin squares.

"What...is this?" Tsukiakari asked, bringing the gelatin close to her face for inspection.

(Wait! What if this is all just a ploy for Izanami to assassinate me?! Yes, I see through you now. You think you're so slick, don't you? You were gaining my trust this whole time in preparation for this very moment! I bet these abominations I'm holding now are laced with poison! Your plan is to kill me and have Inari eat the body with her sharp, flesh-ripping teeth, isn't it?! Well Izanami, you're a fool to think I'd ever fall for such a transparent ruse!)

The sight of Inari munching down on the gelatin squares shot holes in the wild conspiracies going on in Tsukiakari's head. Now that the poison myth was out of the way, proven false by Inari's face of pure bliss and joy as her taste buds enjoyed the flavor of the sweets, Tsukiakari was left without any sort of clue as to what she was holding.

"Ahhh! I thought I knew these snacks! Izanami, you're so thoughtful picking something we could all enjoy!" Inari praised. Even her tails wagged around in joy.

"It's called Yokan, Gekko!" Izanami said. "They're jellied desserts introduced to Japan by Zen Buddhists from the mainland!"

"Jellied?" Tsukiakari repeated, finally understanding what she was holding.

Izanami nodded. "Mhmm! These ones are made with red bean paste and green tea! They used to be hard to get, but when the humans from Europe introduced mass-produced sugar, the mortals here took it and started using it to sweeten their desserts! With the advent of readily available, plentiful sugar, even commoners can enjoy these! Some are even making them and starting local businesses!"

(Ah...so it's not a plot to poison me.)

"Try it, Gekko! It's awesome!" Inari encouraged.

"Well...why not? Down the hatch." Tsukiakari said.

Can you even imagine the raw awesomeness circulating in Tsukiakari's mouth as she partook in such delectable, sugar-sweetened deserts? Can you fathom the joy, the spark of bliss and happiness that possessed her very heart in that moment? It was like the whole world had stopped.

"Damn, that's good!" Tsukiakari gasped.

"I knew you'd like it!" Izanami said with a smile.

"No, Izanami! I love it! Can we have more after lunch?!" Tsukiakari asked.

"Of course we can! I still have some more in here! I've got other kinds of desserts as well!"

"So, these sweet things are called...desserts? Interesting...very, very interesting. Why do we even have wars if such a thing as this exists?" Tsukiakari asked.

"There you go, drifting off into the war clouds again..." Inari giggled.

"Give her time." Izanami said.

Tsukiakari abruptly put a cap on her excitement and came back to her senses. She respectfully bowed her head to Izanami and Inari. "Izanami, you set this up in advance and introduced something new to me. It makes me very happy you'd go this far. I thank you. And Inari, you're so busy these days, but you still took the time off to celebrate this day with me...even when I've never celebrated it myself. I must thank you as well."

"Don't worry about it, I'm happy to be here! So, how old are you, Gekko?" Inari asked.

"Huh?! I haven't been counting! Izanami, do you count the years?" Tsukiakari questioned.

Izanami put her index finger to her lip as she thought of her answer.  "I lost count several thousand years ago, so no. I know that you're at least a few centuries old, though. In fact, you're older than Inari."

"Wow, I never thought of it like that." Tsukiakari said. "Hehe, Inari, I guess you'll have to start looking up to me now, huh kid?"

"See what you've done, Izanami?! Now she's calling me a kid!" Inari cried.

"To me, you're both kids, so I think it's adorable!" Izanami tittered.

"Fool! You've upset the social balance between us!" Inari moaned.

"The what now?" Izanami asked with a giggle.

Their peculiar little argument caused Tsukiakari to softly giggle to herself. Izanami saw it for herself. It was the kind of giggle people do when they're trying to stifle a much harder laughter. Just for that, just for that cheerful, happy giggle, Izanami was glad she could spend the day with Tsukiakari. Her love for the young goddess with an uncertain future only increased tenfold as she and Inari joined in on the contagious laughter.

(Yeah...maybe this isn't so bad...)

They sat there on that hill, laughing and conversing for a few hours as friends so commonly do. The late afternoon sky had a golden glow about it as Izanami stood up and stretched her arms and legs, all of them preparing to descend.

"Alright, I hope everyone didn't eat too much, because there's still a treat waiting for us back home!" Izanami teased.

"More?! You have more, Izanami?!" Tsukiakari recoiled.

"Yep! And I got your gifts!"

"Seriously?! Were they hidden or something? When did you manage to do all of that?" Tsukiakari questioned.

Izanami winked. "Mama 'Nami has her ways, Gekko. She has her ways."

"What's the treat?" Inari asked, her tails wagging in anticipation.

"Have you two never heard of 'surprises' in your lives?! Don't ask such questions! Just believe in the magic!" Izanami commanded

Inari's eyes turned towards Kyoto and all of the people living out their daily lives below. She too felt the humbling winds of history changing, sweeping away the ruins of the old era and preparing to usher in another.

"It's like the city has a heartbeat again." Inari said.

"Yeah, and a sweet tooth." Izanami replied.

Just that comment alone made Tsukiakari laugh again. "Izanami!"

"What? It's true!" Izanami said. "I guess that's a good thing though, isn't it? If a society has time to make, sell, and eat sweets, to laze about in the heat with their friends and lovers, then everything must be alright. That's how you know that the most dire issues people can face are absent."

(And if people are this peaceful, there's no need for a war goddess like me. That reminds me...did Izanami really mean what she said back then? About using herself as the altar to reincarnate me, should I ever need it? Is such a thing even possible?)

"Well, I'm dying to see what you cooked up for me. Let's head back." Tsukiakari suggested.

"Right away!" Izanami sang.

(I see now. This is what I was missing. I had the chance to enjoy a free day with Inari and Izanami. A free day used to mean a day off from military duties, but...I suppose every day is free when I'm with these two.)

The three of them made their way back to Izanami's shrine, kicking their sandals off at the door. That lovely 'home sweet home' feeling welled in Tsukiakari's chest as her eyes traced over the room and her nose reunited with its familiar scent of incense, tea, and tatami mats.

"Alright! Tsukiakari dear, you just sit down and relax! Inari, may I trouble you for your help in the kitchen?" Izanami asked.

"It isn't any trouble at all." Inari assured.

"Can I finally take off the yukata?" Tsukiakari asked.

"No you may not." Izanami sternly replied.

"Is this really my birthday or a hostage crisis?"

"Worry not, Gekko, for today, we shall be making fox stew!" Izanami declared.

Inari shivered with terror for a very obvious reason. "You were planning to eat me all along?!"

"No, just your tails." Izanami assured. "Haha, I'm kidding, Inari! It was just a silly joke, I'd never eat you!"

Inari was still shivering as if she had seen Death personified. Her eyes grew blank and cloudy as a crooked smile of madness and unstable fear dominated her expression. "Never...make that joke...again..."

Izanami waited...then waited some more...and whispered. "Fox st—"

Slapped by Inari, Izanami erupted into laughter along with Tsukiakari, who rubbed Inari's back to calm her down.

"I'm sorry! I just love your reaction!" Izanami chuckled. "Come on, I'll show you what we're actually making!"

"It's okay, Inari! You know she'd never hurt you!" Tsukiakari said.

"Unbelievable..." Inari sighed.

Though she had no idea what those two were cooking, she definitely knew it smelled lovely. Inari's audible 'oohs' and 'ahhs' made her more and more curious about the dish as she patiently waited in the living room, sipping green tea.

(It smells...sweet. The air around here has gotten warmer, so they must be using the oven. A baked, sweet good of sorts?)

"Careful Izanami, don't burn your hands!" Inari shouted from the kitchen.

"It's okay, worry wort! Mama 'Nami's got this!"

"Oh brother..." Tsukiakari smiled.

Izanami peaked around the corner, checking on Tsukiakari. Her hair was all tied up in a long, thick ponytail, and spots of flour were just barely visible on her already pale face. If there was such a thing as culinary hell, Izanami certainly looked like she went through it.

"It's just about ready, Gekko! Will you do us a favor and close your eyes as we bring it out?"

(Aha! I've got you now, Izanami! You wish for me to close my eyes so you can kill me! I bet whatever you were cooking there was just a ruse, a smokescreen! You were really heating up the oven to cremate my remains, weren't you!? So what is it this time? Suffocation? Shuriken? Poison needles? Guns?!)

Tsukiakari smiled and did as she was told. "Sure thing!"

(We'll have to see...)

"Alright! Let's bring it out, Inari." Izanami said.

With her eyes closed, Tsukiakari heard both of their footsteps grow closer to the table, as well as a sweet aroma that possessed her nose. It was unlike anything she had ever smelled before, more pleasant than any of the flowers or fruits outside. The dish was laid down on the table, and Tsukiakari could feel its warmth rise up into her face.

"Okay, you can open them." Inari said.

Her eyes slowly peeled open, and the first thing she saw was her name, written in elegant, cursive kanji. It was written in red frosting, over a white-frosted, rectangular cake. Multiple, tiny candles were stuck inside, all lit and aglow with faint flames.

(These things...I've heard of them before...the Europeans brought these over with them too. I think they were called...cakes?)

"Sorry it took so long, Gekko." Izanami said as she scratched the back of her head. "We actually had to start over since we messed up the first batch of batter. It was our first time making cake, so...I really hope you like it."

Tsukiakari stared at the magnificent cake with dewy eyes. "You guys...really made this just for me?"

"Of course! It's your birthday, after all." Inari said. "We love you, so of course we were going to go all out for you today."

Izanami nodded, locking her glittering eyes with Tsukiakari's as she smiled. "Happy birthday, Tsukiakari Senkumo. You're the most wonderful granddaughter anyone can ask for."

(She included both names...)

From that small act, Tsukiakari knew that Izanami had truly listened when she spoke about the Senkumo name. If Tsukiakari was going to be proud of both of her names, regardless of what they may mean in the current moment, Izanami would too. Her love and support was real, and that cake, as simple as it may have seemed, was proof of her understanding.

"Well? Go on! Make a wish and blow out the candles!" Izanami urged.

"A wish?" Tsukiakari asked.

"Yeah, you're supposed to wish for something before you blow them out." Inari explained. "It can be anything you want. Oh! But don't say it out loud! That will negate the wish!"

"Really? Alright then." Tsukiakari said.

(If I were still naive and stupid, I'd probably waste my wish trying to resurrect the dead. I'd probably wish for Mayumi, Ebina, and Taeko to come back. Izanami has taught me better than that. I can never go back, as much as my heart may scream at me to. And that's okay. I was blessed to have a clan filled with the bravest men and women I have ever known. They deserve their rest after everything they did for me. I, on the other hand, have yet to really live as a goddess should. Perhaps it all starts with making a wish. In that case...I wish...for a happy future with Izanami and Inari. I wish for them both to still be here five-hundred years down the line, and another five-hundred after that. Really...I just want these two to be with me forever. That's all I want.)

Tsukiakari took a deep breath and blew with all of her might, her cheeks puffing as she let out all the gathered air. For all of her effort though, she didn't quite blow out all of the candles.

"Eh? Come on, you have to try harder than that!" Inari giggled.

"Oh my god, Gekko!" Izanami chuckled.

"What the hell?! Do I get a retry?!" Tsukiakari asked with a worried expression.

"Keep blowing!" Inari urged.

(These candles are a bitch though...)

After tiring out her lungs from all of the blowing, Tsukiakari took a slice of cake for herself, loading it onto Izanami's fine china plate.

"Go on! Try it!" Izanami said.

"Alright..." Tsukiakari said.

It was Tsukiakari's first bite of a cake in her life, cooked especially for her. That sweet, fluffy bite moved her very heart.

Tsukiakari lowered her head, holding the plate of cake in her lap. To Izanami, it was a clear sign that the cake tasted no better than rat poison. It was a failure, the world's worst failure in all of its history.

"Crap! We messed up!" Izanami lamented. "Look, she doesn't like it! I'm such a lousy cook and now I've ruined Tsukiakari's birthday cake!"

"Izanami..." Inari said, attempting to interrupt.

"Gekko, I'm so sorry, you can spit it out if you—"

"Izanami! Look." Inari interjected.

When she stopped her worrying, Izanami heard the soft and saddening cries of Tsukiakari, hear tears falling onto her pink yukata. She wasn't lowering her head out of disgust, but was again bowing her head out of the most extreme gratitude. So much effort, love, and kindness went into her first birthday cake that she couldn't help but be brought to tears.

"Thank you so much...I can never repay you for everything...thank you..." Tsukiakari wept.

Izanami held her hands to her chest, tears gathering in her eyes. "Anything for you, my darling goddess."

(There's something profoundly magical about Izanami, about the way she smiles and absorbs sadness, converting it into cheer and love. I think, with those traits, her dream of falling in love again may come true in the future. And with her help, maybe such a thing is possible for me too. No...I know for a fact that it is. Thanks to her, I'm a believer now. Izanami, Inari, and I...we're going to be okay.)

"It's all gonna be alright..." Tsukiakari muttered.

"Hmm? What was that?" Izanami asked.

"Ah! Nothing! I was just thinking out loud!" Tsukiakari smiled.

Izanami suddenly stood up screaming as if her hair was on fire, or perhaps a cute little kitten was eaten by coyotes before her very eyes.

"What's wrong, Izanami?!" Inari asked.

"Is everything okay?!" Tsukiakari questioned further.

"Oh wait, no! It's okay!" Izanami sighed in relief.

"Huh?! Geez, what are you screaming about now?" Tsukiakari groaned.

"I thought I had forgotten the alcohol at one of my other shrines, but it was a false alarm! It's right over here! Plum wine!" Izanami sang.

"Goodness, are we getting drunk too?" Inari questioned.

"Well...why not?" Izanami shrugged.

Inari and Tsukiakari exchanged excited glares. They could already taste the wine. Though Inari didn't usually drink, today was a truly special occasion.

"Let's do it!" Inari and Tsukiakari cheered at the same time.

Free from her shackles as a war goddess, Tsukiakari could finally begin to move forward after all of the suffering she endured. She had overcome gruesome battles and fearsome enemies aplenty. She had slain men, phantoms, and gods alike.

Though the scars of her tribulations would forever remain on her body and nestled in her flesh, much like the moon, she would carry on shining. This life of hers, granted to her by the sacrifice of her clan, would never go floating down the river of time.
« Last Edit: November 14, 2019, 03:19:16 PM by OhGodHelpMe »

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Chapter 22: The Fate of Believers
Amaterasu sauntered down the hall of her sunlit palace, stopping before a bedroom door that wasn't her own. She knocked upon the wooden door with the back of her hand, receiving no response. She entered the room anyway, shutting the door behind her.

The sunlight pouring in through the window bounced off the white, marble floor of the bedroom, illuminating everything in a warm, golden glow. She approached the canopied bed in the center of the room, pulling apart the veil.

Lying there before her was Bishamon, his entire body wrapped in bloodied bandages from head to toe. He wasn't able to move by himself, nor speak at any volume beyond a whisper. Though Tsukiakari had failed to kill him, she undoubtedly came extremely close, just as he had done to her. She had weakened her former master, making his usual strength and air of confidence a relic of the past.

Tsukiakari had unknowingly helped her mother strip him of his power. Bishamon no longer had the Senkumo clan, nor did he have any of his allies or co-conspirators. Badly weakened and under the constant watch of Amaterasu, he had lost the fight for the throne of Heaven and Japan.

"Hello, Bishamon." Amaterasu said with a smile.

All Bishamon could do in response was stare at her. He couldn't muster up the energy to talk.

"I wanted to let you know that we've successfully trained the first one-hundred members of the Exorcist Program." Amaterasu informed. "They've already begun conducting operations around Kyoto, and we have plans to expand the force to multiple regions in Japan. The first key steps of my project have been successful, thanks to you."

Bishamon turned his head away, unable to stomach the sight of Amaterasu.

"You gambled everything in a game of power and lost. Don't take it personally." Amaterasu said. "These exorcists will be able to form their own chain of command and operate autonomously, but they will take direct orders from Heaven from time to time. In fact, they'll be carrying out a very important mission after the force is more built up. Maybe this will be a bit of consolation for your catastrophic loss. Their mission is to kill Inari Okami."

Amaterasu backed away from the bed, letting Bishamon have his rest. "She's gotten very popular over the years. She's one of the most revered goddesses in all of Japan. What a shame, that such a sweet girl will have to die because of Izanami's inability to let her grudges go. Whether it's you, Izanami, or Inari, none of you can unseat me from my throne. None of you can stop what I've set in motion."

Amaterasu departed from the room, closing the door behind her. Bishamon had hidden his tears of vexation from her when her turned the other way. Amaterasu had clearly won, and only visited him to gloat about that fact. It was beyond humiliating. If that disgrace wasn't enough, Bishamon knew he'd spend the rest of his days as Amaterasu's lapdog, forever stripped of his power.

Though, something did stick out to him. Amaterasu didn't feel confident in taking on Inari with a force of one-hundred exorcists. Inari, who had never participated in combat in her life, somehow posed that much of a threat.

Decades passed back on Earth.

It was the winter of 1657, the Edo period. Just as Tsukiakari and the others predicted, the era of warring states had come to an end in 1603. Ieyasu Tokugawa was the victor of the warring states and established the Tokugawa shogunate, becoming the unchallenged ruler of Japan. The country finally returned to a state of peace. Cities had been rebuilt or even renovated from their post-war state. Ieyasu's administration kept the daimyo of the country in check, even going as far as to force them to reside in the city of Edo once every other year. Unlike the shogunate of Yoshimasa Ashikaga, whose weakness gave rise to the Onin War, Ieyasu's administration wouldn't allow for its daimyo to run rampant. It kept tight control over the daimyo and their families, ensuring that this state of peace would last for centuries to come.

The predictions of Bishamon and the Man in Black proved to be true as well. Society viewed its warriors very differently than it did before. The Tokugawa shogunate forced all of the samurai in the country to either give up the swords and join society as peasants, or swear their loyalty to the shogunate as retainers. The age of the warrior was quickly coming to an end.

Cities that were once rocked by battles had become hotspots for businesses, trading, arts, and theater. No longer scared for their lives, the people could go back to making money and spending their days off in leisure.

Inari was no different.

Light snow fell from the sky, and much of the land was cloaked in white. Clouds cloaked the sky for as far as the eye could see. In the middle of the day, a group of six men in black kimonos walked up the slope of the hill that led to Inari's grand shrine in Kyoto, where she sat playing with her white, nine-tailed foxes. The little white foxes circled and played together at her feet as she fed them pieces of apples.

"You guys sure are hungry! Go ahead and eat up, little cuties!" Inari sang.

As one of the foxes ate, it began coughing. Inari rubbed its back and scratched its ears, soothing it instantly.

"Now now, don't go eating too fast! It won't rot as soon as it hits the floor."

The fox licked Inari's finger, and she was struck by its spell of cuteness.

"I love foxes so much! You are by far the most beautiful creatures in this world!" Inari cheered. "I hope Gekko can come by and play with you guys soon."

The men had arrived at Inari's shrine. They all got on their knees and bowed before her, showing the gracious deity her due respect. Only one of them spoke, the man in the center.

"Inari Okami, please excuse our presence here." the man said.

"Raise your heads, it's alright." Inari assured. "Are you from the village? I've never seen you before."

"We're travelers from the north. We're here on business, and we've come to give you proper tribute before we depart Edo." the man explained. "Please, if it is to your liking, accept it."

The man presented a white bottle of sake, wrapped with a red ribbon. Inari's eyes lit up with joy as she gladly took the sake, rubbing the chilled bottle against her face.

"It's beautiful! You even took the time to put a bow on it!"

"Is it an acceptable gift, Inari Okami?"

"Yes! It's beautifully presented, but it always comes down to taste, right?" Inari asked.

"Y-yes, Inari Okami! You're completely right! You can use the cap as a small cup, if you like."

"Such thoughtful design! I shall try it."

Inari poured some sake into the cap and took a delighted sip.

"Ah, that's fantastic!" Inari praised. "Whew! Kind of powerful too! It's all good though, I love it when sake has more of a kick to it."

The men watched with glares that made Inari suspicious that they were not here on good will. Not one of them blinked. All of them gazed at her, in the same manner, as if they were waiting for something to happen.

"Uhm...is something wrong?" Inari asked, her smile wilting.

"Forgive us, Inari Okami." the man said.

Inari's throat began to burn, and her eyes watered beyond control. She fell over as her foxes surrounded her, unsure of what was happening to their master. The men all stood up, the center one unsheathing a small blade hidden under his robes.

"Form a barrier around the shrine, as well as the arson charms." the man commanded.

The other men did as they were ordered, making sure no one would interfere with their mission.

Inari, struggling to stand, grabbed her burning throat and tried to crawl away. "What have you done to me?! How could you poison a god!? Do you have any idea what you've just done?!"

The man pulled out a necklace hidden under his kimono, a charm that could protect against kitsune, Inari's foxes. These were no ordinary men. These were members of Amaterasu's force of exorcists.

The foxes were determined to protect Inari, growling and charging at the priest who dared to poison their master. Something odd and terrifying took place before Inari's tearful eyes. Without even moving, without even touching them, the man severed the bodies of every fox that approached him into five pieces each, separating the front legs, hind legs, and the head. The blood of the foxes splattered across the ground, staining the snow.

"No...stop this!" Inari cried.

"To the gods above about to witness this gruesome act, I humbly ask for your forgiveness." the man prayed. "As you've asked, I shall rid this world of the fox goddess."

The man approached the fearful Inari with his blade and a stern set of eyes. In that moment of fear, her heart thumped like thunder in rolling clouds, and her eyes shined blood-red. Her body lit up like a solar flare and she vanished into thin air. The man convulsed and writhed about, much to the confusion of the other exorcists.

"What...what is this...what am I?" the man groaned in pain.

"Look at his eyes and his nails! It's just like Inari's!" shouted another exorcist.

Inari was inside of the man's body, controlling him like a sock puppet. Nothing like this had ever happened to her before. It all happened so fast that Inari couldn't process would just transpired. She looked down at her hands, realizing that she had possessed the exorcist's body as her own.

The other priests drew their blade and charms, charging the possessed man. Inari panicked, unsure of what to do as they tackled him to the ground. As if they had forgone their own humanity, they stabbed the man repeatedly. Inari felt the pain just as much as he did. She felt their blades tear apart her flesh and pierce her organs as if they were actually stabbing her.

Just as easily as she took over the exorcist's body, Inari forced herself out of it, knocking back the five exorcists with the force of her ejection. Her breathing was panicked, as it had really felt like she was the one being stabbed. She checked her body and confirmed she was unharmed. There wasn't a single stab wound on her.

"What happened?! I was controlling that man?!"

Inari could feel his warm blood coat her hand. When she saw him motionless in a pool of his own blood, she realized she was laying eyes on a murdered human.

"No...how could you do this?! H-he was your fellow man! He didn't deserve that!"

"He was possessed by you, you rotten witch! There was nothing we could do!" one of the exorcists shouted.

The arson charms placed by the exorcists went off, setting multiple points of the shrine on fire. The crackling fires spread quickly, burning the surrounding trees before reaching the tiled roof of the shrine. Inari pulled the murdered exorcist away from the burning shrine, saving his corpse from being burned to ash.

"Damn it! Let's get out of here! We'll never escape the flames if we don't leave now!" suggested another exorcist.

As the other exorcists fled, the shrine suddenly collapsed onto Inari's hip, pinning her under its weight as the flames continued to engulf the shrine. She let out a tortured scream as the nerves in her hips down to her legs pulsated in pain.

"Not here! Don't let me die here!" Inari cried.

Inari shapeshifted into a white fox to escape the wreckage, then turned back into her true form so she could grab the murdered exorcist's body and take it with her as she escaped.

The flames had grown so out of control that they ended up burning the barrier charms, allowing Inari to leave the shrine grounds. Her home burning to the ground behind her, Inari carried the exorcist's body on her back and ran into the snow-covered woods. She ran and kept running until she couldn't feel her legs anymore.

Inari was no fool. She understood that the men that made an attempt on her life must've taken their orders from Heaven. It wasn't safe to go to any of her other shrines, and it was even more dangerous to lead the exorcists to Izanami or Tsukiakari. With the exorcists determined to kill her, Inari had gone from a widely revered god to a divine fugitive.

Everything was going exactly as Amaterasu planned.

Two days later, early in the morning, Tsukiakari was called outside by an audibly distressed Izanami. Tsukiakari flung open the front door of their house, spotting Izanami bent over the wooden railing of the porch.

"Izanami? Whats wrong?" Tsukiakari asked with the utmost concern.

"It's Inari, Gekko. I went to check on her this morning, since we didn't see her yesterday. She's vanished!"

"Inari...went missing?!" Tsukiakari exclaimed.

"She's gone! Her shrine was razed too!" Izanami wept. "I asked around in Heaven and they said she's a divine criminal! She's a kind and beautiful goddess, not a criminal!"

"Izanami, do you know if they found out that Inari knew where I was and refused to turn me in?"

Izanami shook her head. "No, no! It's not your fault, Gekko. Inari's charge was different."

"What was it? I need to know." Tsukiakari said.

Izanami wiped her soaking wet eyes with the cushion of her thumb, her voice still hiccuping from her sobs. "They only said, 'high hreason'."

"I...I don't understand. Why would they hit her with a treason charge?"

Izanami right hand balled up into a vexed fist. "Because I groomed her to take Amaterasu's place. Our friendship initially began because I sought someone who could legally take Amaterasu's position if something were to happen to her. I was fixated on revenge. It was my obsession. Before you both discovered the truth behind my identity, all I knew how to do was use people. Inari's the reason why I've been able to atone for that. She gave me the strength to become a better version of myself, as well as a better Izanami. It's my fault, Gekko. Her life is ruined now, and it's all my fault."

"She wouldn't want you to think that it's your fault, Izanami." Tsukiakari consoled. "I think Inari knew better than anyone that you had changed. She knew how much effort your put into changing that part of yourself. Don't say it's your fault. Instead, we should be looking for her, right?"

Izanami shook her head. "We can't. The men that tried to kill her were exorcists. I found one of their bodies not too far into the woods. They'll be searching for her at every single one of her shrines, and we'll get no help from the citizens either. That's why she didn't come here after the attempt on her life. She didn't want to lead her pursuers to our doorstep. They would've discovered you're still alive, and your life would be in danger all over again."

Tsukiakari closed her eyes, holding back the tears gathering in them. "Inari...she's way too selfless."

"I'll ask the Shoku Twins if they can learn anything, but that's about all we can do right now. If we look for her, we have to be prepared for the fact that Heaven will realize you never died at Bishamon's hand. I'm sorry Gekko, but after that last fight..."

"I know." Tsukiakari said. "I'd never survive. Everything we went through would've been for nothing. It's just unfair. Inari was always there for us, and we can't be there for her. If I had the choice between saving myself and saving Inari, I'd gladly save her."

Izanami laughed and cried at the same time, wiping the tears from her swollen eyes. "That's the thing, Gekko. Inari would have it the other way around. We only see ourselves as hopeless murderers, but Inari saw more than that. She sees what people can become, not just what they are."

Realizing that trait about Inari, Izanami's saddened laughter become a fit of sobs. "To her, you're just as good of a person as she is."

They had survived the destruction of the Senkumo clan, outlived the Warring States era, and even managed to live in peace for several decades. Their trials and tribulations should have been rewarded, but instead, their happy ending was destroyed.

Inari, the goddess that aided Izanami and Tsukiakari on their path to redemption, was gone without a trace.

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Whew. It's done.

Chapter 23: Epilogue -- The Modern Era/A Family of Ex-Girlfriends?
Emerging successful in this long game of war and usurpation, Amaterasu and Uzume strolled down the sunlit halls of Heaven's palace, making their way towards the war room for their routine meeting. Though they had taken that walk more times than they could count, Uzume noticed that Amaterasu had a little more spring in her step. The reason was obvious. She had received news that Inari Okami was now a fugitive.

"All of our enemies have been dealt with. Bishamon, his lackeys, the vampires, and even Inari." Amaterasu said. "It would seem everything has worked out in our favor. Izanami's little setback will ensure she doesn't get any bright ideas as she watches over You Know Who."

"May I be frank, Amaterasu?" Uzume asked.

"Please. I insist." Amaterasu answered.

"What you did to Inari...it wasn't right. She's a good goddess and the people love her."

"Izanami propped her up as a potential usurper, Uzume. If there's anyone to blame for what happened, it's Izanami, not me. She should know better than to involve an innocent young goddess in her personal war with me."

"You only sent six men to deal with a potential usurper?"

Amaterasu and Uzume came to a stop in the middle of the hall. Amaterasu couldn't help but chuckle. She knew that Uzume saw right through her.

"You once spoke of how much blood it takes to build a nation." Uzume said. "Does that include the blood of the innocent? Standing back and letting your family kill each other is one thing, but ordering a hit on Inari?"

Amaterasu stepped closer to Uzume, standing right in her face. The two were so close they could feel their breaths warm each other's lips.

"I know you think I've lost it, that I've gone crazy" Amaterasu whispered. "You probably won't believe me, but the intent was not to kill Inari. Sure, that's the reason on paper, but we stateswomen are naturally duplicitous."

"Then what was the reason for only sending six people?" Uzume questioned, slowly backing away from Amaterasu.

Amaterasu held her index finger to her lips. "Shhh. That's a secret. All you need to know is that everything has gone according to plan."

Secrets. Amaterasu never kept secrets from Uzume. Amaterasu may have successfully repelled all of her enemies, but Uzume could see that something inside of her had changed in the process. What truly revolted her is that the parts of her that had changed were working in tandem with the parts that didn't. Uzume knew how cruel and cunning Amaterasu could be, but now it was on an entirely different level.

"You haven't changed from the night I stopped you from strangling your only daughter to death." Uzume scorned. "You'll never admit it, will you? You outmaneuvered Oyamatsumi and the other co-conspirators. You wagered your daughter's life against Bishamon's. Every time you made a move against your foes, you went for the kill, but not for Inari. You sent six men to her, six pawns. You took the safest action possible rather than sending a full force of men. You did that because you don't know what she's capable of, but you do know that she has power that not even she's aware of. You handled this the way you did because you're scared of Inari."

Amaterasu grabbed Uzume by the neck of her robes, slamming her into one of the hallway windows and cracking the glass. If she had slammed her with any more force, she would've thrown Uzume out to her death.

Uzume was right. She remembered that vitriolic gleam in Amaterasu's eyes from the night she nearly killed Tsukiakari. All of these years later, the beast inside of Amaterasu still lived, and that anger never left her golden eyes.

"See? You're scared." Uzume mocked.

Realizing what she had done, Amaterasu released Uzume and backed away from the window. Uzume continued towards the meeting room on her own, leaving Amaterasu to brood in the sunlight of her own making, her phantom glory.

Inari's disappearance was a powerful wake-up call to the both of them. Heaven's corruption and insatiable lust for control over its subjects did not end with the bloody legacy of the Senkumo clan. By creating exorcists and using them to hunt down Inari, Heaven had forged a near repeat of what happened to Tsukiakari. The difference was that Inari was far too kind to fight.

Tsukiakari pondered all of this as she laid down on the living room floor that same winter, staring up at the ceiling with blank, wandering eyes. Izanami sat across from her at the table, practicing her calligraphy by the light of an oil lantern to pass the time. The shrine was quite silent, missing the spark of life that Inari provided.

"Shoot...how do you write 'Kaeru' again? I really don't want to mess up..." Izanami said.

"Kaeru? Is that an older kanji?" Tsukiakari asked.

"Yeah, it's pretty old. If I remember right, it was...twenty-three strokes?"

"What was the onyomi reading?"

"Hen." Izanami replied. "The kunyomi reading is kawaru."

"Ah, that one. An old kanji for 'Strange', huh?" Tsukiakari recalled. "Draw the 'Silk' radical as seen in the kanji for 'Thread', then draw the 'Speech' radical as seen in the kanji for 'Word'. After that, draw another 'Silk' radical so the 'Speech' radical is centered between the two. Then at the bottom, a stretched out 'Hit' radical so the other three kind of float just slightly above it. The 'Mouth' radical in 'Silk' should be extremely close to the first stroke of the 'Hit' radical, but not touching."

"Wow...that's amazing! Did you practice calligraphy before too?" Izanami excitedly questioned.

"Yeah, I did. Most of the kanji above twenty strokes are only ever used for calligraphy anyway, so I learned quite a few of them in my spare time in the Senkumo clan. They're easy if you just break them down into common radicals."

Izanami giggled to herself. "You're so smart, Gekko."


"What is it?"

"Do you think...maybe...those exorcists may come looking for me too?"

Izanami's brush stopped moving against the parchment. "What happened to Inari will not happen to you. If Heaven wants you...they'll have to kill me first."

"Do you mean that?" Tsukiakari asked.

"Of course I do. I will never allow them to harm you. That's just that." Izanami declared.

"It's not like you can even die anyway. I guess that makes you the perfect guardian." Tsukiakari quipped.

Izanami stood up, taking several steps towards Tsukiakari before kneeling besides her. She ran her pale, slender fingers through Tsukiakari's raven hair, assuring her that her words were genuine.

"Hey, this is going to sound awful, but I want you to promise me something." Tsukiakari said.

Izanami slid her hand onto the nape of Tsukiakari's neck. They leaned in together, their foreheads touching and their eyes closed.

"Anything, my love." Izanami whispered.

"If there ever comes a day when I must surrender to Heaven, I want you to kill me instead." Tsukiakari said.

"Me?" Izanami asked.

"Yeah. If the time ever comes, I want someone I love to kill me, not Bishamon or anyone else from Heaven. Just you. Can you promise me that? I'm not saying it will happen, but...it's just hypothetical."

Izanami planted a kiss on Tsukiakari's forehead. "I promise. But until that day, stay alive with me. The world is changing so fast, Gekko. History is flipping through its own predestined pages as if it's trying to skip to its favorite part in this long, sad story. Stay with me, and let's see where it takes us. Let's see how the world changes before our eyes."

"I will. I'll be right here." Tsukiakari whispered, hugging Izanami.

"I love you. You know that, right?" Izanami asked.

Tsukiakari nodded. "I do. I love you too."

"We'll get them back, Gekko. Someday, we'll find Inari and Kagutsuchi. We'll even have the Shoku Twins with us. We'll all be one big, happy family. We'll bring everyone home and invite them in our lives again."

Tsukiakari smiled. "I know we will."

(Our pact of life came with a pact of death. It was proof that the love between us was stronger than that of what you'd call best friends, girlfriend and boyfriend, or even husband and wife. It was like our two souls were joined at their hips, and one simply could not exist without the other. Izanami was infectious, you see. Before I knew it, I couldn't live without her. Having her around all the time made living for the next few centuries a bearable, and at times, exciting task.)

The river of time moved on and on. The centuries passed by, leaving the bloody history of the Senkumo clan and the warring states further in the depths of the past. Tsukiakari and Izanami never forgot the names or the faces of those who were a part of that history. Time eroded the tombs of those people. Time distorted the humanity of the Senkumo clan, and the truth of their cause. But no force on earth or in Heaven could take away the communion Tsukiakari shared with them, nor the love she had for her comrades. With the passage of time, both Tsukiakari and Izanami could accept everything that they had lost. They accepted that burning emotion in their hearts.

They felt the love blossoming within them, the deepest benevolence of their best selves crying for a future beyond the madness of the Warring States. They kept every memory of the Senkumo's tragic war story, unleashing hell upon the deaf ears of history without uttering a single word. They accepted their divinity, and the imperfections therein.

No matter what, they refused to let those memories go floating away down the river of time.

And so came the modern era, the year 2012. Needless to say, Japan was a much different place than it was in 1467. The whole world had changed, and humanity lived in its most peaceful era in all of its history. Izanami and Tsukiakari had moved into a shrine dedicated to the former, in the city of Kyoto. The shrine was humble and small, nothing like the awe-inspiring grandeur of Inari's shrine.

The place was commonly looked after by the Shoku Twins, and sometimes visited by average city-folk and worshipers alike. The shrine was situated on a hill, not very far from a quiet, suburban neighborhood. It was a clear, spring day. The sun was warm, but the breeze swishing through the trees was nice and cool.

A pale woman wearing black, cotton pants and a blue, denim jacket strolled down the sidewalk, whistling an improvised tune as various cars skirted down the road to her left. She glanced at a group of kids playing video games on their cell phones on the sidewalk opposite of hers, then turned her eyes over to the young couple sitting on a nearby bench together.

A loud, droning sound blared from the sky as an airplane flew over the city. The pale woman smiled as she approached the steps leading up to her shrine. She removed her white, wide-brimmed hat, letting her long, raven hair dance freely in the breeze.

It was Izanami, enjoying yet another peaceful day in Kyoto. "Ah, Spring is so nice! Time to make some lunch!"

Izanami ascended up the steps, given green-tinted shade by the canopy of trees swishing above her head. To her surprise, she encountered Tsukiakari on the steps rather than on the shrine grounds. While Izanami started wearing more contemporary clothes to blend in with the humans, Tsukiakari mostly stuck to her black robes and yukata. She had grown her hair long again, keeping most of it tied in twin buns on the sides of her head.

Though, one thing had quite noticeably changed about her. Tsukiakari was a little girl again. She had gone backwards in age.

"Gekko!" Izanami sang. "You're home early! How was school?"

The young Tsukiakari blushed. "Turn me back, first! I have something to tell you! Oh, and let's make kontatsu today!"

"Alright, alright. Let's get inside first." Izanami said.

The shrine's house had a nearly identical layout to their original home from centuries prior. Izanami preferred to keep things traditional, but added a few modern rennovations, such as a faucet, oven, electrical lights, and all of the usual utilities of the contemporary age.

Tsukiakari was returned to her normal age with a simple combination of hand signs, kuji-in, performed by Izanami. Izanami was able to utilize magic to reverse Tsukiakari's physical age, making her appear as a little girl. With the world in a plentiful and peaceful era, Izanami insisted that Tsukiakari go to school and experience a proper education, starting with kindergarten. When she came home, Izanami would return her to her normal age.

As promised, Izanami cooked up some fried pork cutlets served alongside some white rice drizzled with curry sauce. They sat together at the dining table, Izanami eating with a fork while Tsukiakari ate with a pair of chopsticks.

"Huh?! You found a boy you like?!" Izanami exclaimed, holding her hand over her mouth.

Tsukiakari nodded excitedly. "Yep! His name is Osamu Ashikaga! Kind of ironic, huh?"

"An Ashikaga? I wonder if he's actually related to the clan." Izanami said. "So? Is he nice?"

"Super kind! I can't quite put my finger on it, but there's just something about him that I really like. I feel safe with him, you know? He always helps me and it makes me want to be there and help him."

"It's kind of weird though, isn't it? I mean, you've fallen for a child. You're hundreds of years old." Izanami laughed. "I believe people call that pedophilia these days."

"W-well it's not like I'm going to do anything to him while he's a child." Tsukiakari pouted. "I was going to wait until he was sixteen. Hopefully he's not a jerk by then. I can't believe how much the world has changed. Grown men used to marry children back in our day."

Izanami giggled, amused by Tsukiakari's expression. "I told you this school thing would work out for the best. If we're going to live on earth, we may as well actually be part of society. You've even found love, your first true love! Osamu Ashikaga, right? I'll remember his name and keep an eye on him for you."

"You'll do that?" Tsukiakari asked.

"I think they call that stalking, these days, but sure, I'll do it!"

"Thanks, Izanami! I really appreciate it. Hopefully he won't have a girlfriend by then, either. Oh, hey, did you pick up any manga while you were out?"

"Since when do you read manga?" Izanami asked.

"Since you gave me a computer. There's a ton of manga online, but I wanna support the authors for real." Tsukiakari said.

"I did, but I'm hesitant to just give it you." Izanami said, wearing a blank expression. "You've been having a little too much time on the internet. Remember when I caught you watching porn one night?"

"Stop! Please don't make me remember that!" Tsukiakari shouted, plugging her ears with her fingers.

"Think of how it felt for me, catching my granddaughter doing such indecent things with herself!"

"Stop! The embarrassment still lives with me!"

Izanami sighed. "It's okay. I'll give you some manga to read. I got one called Ane Doki and another called Dome na Kanojou."

"That's a very suspicious selection." Tsukiakari said.

"It's a suspicious industry. Come on, let's finish up and see what's on television!" Izanami said.

"Sounds good!" Tsukiakari sang.

It was indeed a wholly different era. No rampant wars, no shogunate, and even Japan's empire had fallen. The country retained its traditional identity while becoming a developed, industrialized, and democratic nation. Technology was a firm part of everyone's lives, as Tsukiakari had so gleefully discovered when she received a computer. Every basic need was taken care of, and the internet seemed to know the answer to every question anyone could ever dream of. Tsukiakari hadn't fought a single battle since she lost to Bishamon, and neither had Izanami. As a result, Tsukiakari had lost the destructive powers she wielded during her prime. Those days were long gone. 

Inari and Kagutsuchi had yet to be found, but Tsukiakari and Izanami never lost hope. They knew for a fact that Kagutsuchi was still alive, given that she had an immortal body. For Inari, it was more just wishful thinking. They had heard that the exorcists confronted Inari again, just a few years after the original hit on her life. The second attempt was unsuccessful, resulting in the deaths of dozens of exorcists. After that, everyone was left without a trace of the fox goddess. No one had any idea where she was, where she could be, or even if she was still alive. Izanami especially wondered how Inari, who had never seen combat in her life, was able to kill scores of men trained in the divine arts.

Those were the only loose ends remaining from the Warring States and Edo periods. Bishamon was still alive, Kagutsuchi was still missing, and Inari was nowhere to be found. All Tsukiakari or Izanami could do was hope that everything would be resolved in the modern era.

One thing was resolved, however. Osamu Ashikaga.

Roughly fourteen years later,  Tsukiakari learned that Osamu Ashikaga was back in Kyoto after a mysterious, four year absence. Her kindergarten crush was all grown up now. It was in the winter when Tsukiakari learned of Osamu's return from Izanami. Izanami returned to her shrine on that cold, winter day, ascending up the steps to the grounds.

Entering the building, Izanami was startled to find a young woman sleeping on her tatami mats, right next to the small, round tea table. The woman was dressed in a black yukata, her long, black hair stretching out across the mats like wicked tendrils of darkness. She wore no socks or sandals, exposing her bare feet to Izanami. Her sheathed katana stood against the cupboard opposite of the table. Upon seeing the blade, Izanami instantly breathed a sigh a relief, as she now recognized the young woman in her home.

The woman woke up from her nap, sitting up on the tatami mats as she rubbed the sleep out of her scarlet eyes.

“Izanami? When did you get back?”

“I should be asking you the same question, Tsukiakari.” Izanami said, sauntering into one of the rooms and gathering her extra clothes. She quickly came out with a bag of kimonos, putting it down near the opened, sliding door entrance.

“Hey, you can still call be by my nickname, you know.” Tsukiakari pouted.

“My apologies, Gekko.” Izanami giggled. “How was Arashiyama?”

“Great! Thanks for recommending it! I camped out as long as I could before it got too cold up there. I came back here when it started to snow. Sorry that I just dropped in like this. You and the Shoku twins were already gone when I returned.”

“Don’t worry about it! As always, my home is your home.” Izanami assured.

“Where are those twins, anyway?”

“I don’t know. They like to go out and explore the world on their own, but they always come back here before long.” Izanami explained. “They’re in charge of maintaining the shrine grounds in my absence.”

“So you’re not staying here anymore? Where do you live now?” Tsukiakari asked.

“I don’t live far! I’m just down the road. I live with Osamu and his ex-girlfriends now!”

“Oh, that’s nice.” Tsukiakari said, the name Osamu ringing in her head until her eyes shot open. “Wait a minute, did you say Osamu?! He’s here?!”

“Huh? Yeah! He is! You should come by and see him! You guys haven’t talked since kindergarten.”

“No way! I can’t believe he’s here! Ah, I need to grow my hair out a bit more! I need it to be long and beautiful when I see him again! Man, I can’t believe he’s back! Why didn’t you say so sooner?”

“Hehehe. Sorry, I just came here to get some clothes and I was a bit surprised to see you.”

Tsukiakari stood and grabbed her sheathed blade, giving Izanami a bright smile. “Give me a bit of time to spruce myself up! I’ll be back in a few days to see him!”

Tsukiakari ran off into the shrine grounds, stopping as Izanami called out to her.

“Wait, Gekko! You’re not wearing any shoes!”

“Whoops! Toss me my sandals!”

Izanami looked around, spotting Tsukiakari’s pair of straw sandals by the door and throwing them to her. Tsukiakari responded with a wave goodbye.

“Thanks! See you soon!”

“See you! Be careful out there! Don’t go around telling everyone you’re a goddess!” Izanami shouted as Tsukiakari descended the steps.

“I won’t!”

Izanami sighed as she watched Tsukiakari’s disappear down the hill, her heart throbbing with love for the young goddess.

“So, Gekko’s back, too. I can’t wait for Osamu to see her again! What a lovely reunion that’ll be!”

A few days went by. It was a pallid, winter day like any other. Snowflakes lazily swayed in the wind as they made their way down to the iced over roads of the neighborhood. The air was so cold that it almost hurt to breathe it in. It seemed as though all of Kyoto was blanketed in a accumulating layer of white. A single snowflake fell upon a head of long, scarlet hair, prompting her to turn her sapphire eyes upwards. You may know such a red-headed girl with sapphire-blue eyes that lives in this quiet little Kyoto neighborhood alongside her ex-boyfriend and sister ex-girlfriends. Yoko Akiyama.

Yoko gently ran her fingers through her hair before stuffing her hand back inside of the pocket of her suede scout jacket, her other hand carrying a plastic bag of miscellaneous goodies from the grocery store. A pair of rushed footsteps echoed behind her, accompanied by the frantic voice of a young woman.

“Izanami, which street did you say he lived on again? Oh, wait! I think I might’ve found it!”

Izanami? Yoko doubted there were very many women named after the Shinto goddess of death that just happened to live in the area. She instantly turned to face the young woman, forcefully yanking her by the wrist as she tried to pass by. Hey ocean-blue eyes scanned the woman before her, starting with her beautifully long tendrils of raven hair. Her eyes were as red as a blood moon and her peachy skin as smooth as porcelain. Strangely, this young woman was dressed in a black yukata and haori, a rather uncharacteristic outfit compared to everyone else in the area.

As the woman stumbled forward, Yoko also caught a glimpse of a sheathed tanto tucked inside of her obi. Had this woman stepped out of a portal from the Warring States era or something? Yoko seriously began to wonder if this person was some sort of time traveler or a very traditional, blade-bearing woman.

The two women briefly met eyes before recoiling away from each other.

“The hell is your deal? Why did you grab me?” The red-eyed woman asked.

Yoko snatched the phone out of the woman’s hands and put it to her ear.

“Hey! Give that back! That was a gift, you bitch!”

Yoko kept the young woman at bay with her arm as she spoke to the person on the other end of the phone. “Hello? Izanami?”

“Huh?! Yoko?! Is that you?”

Without a doubt, that was definitely the same Izanami that Yoko was thinking of.

The red-eyed woman backed away with her eyebrows raised. “You know Izanami?”

Yoko flipped the question around. “You know Izanami?”

Yoko put Izanami on speaker phone. “Ah! I was wondering why you had Gekko’s phone, Yoko! I can’t believe you two ran into each other!”

“Izanami, who the hell is this woman?” Yoko asked.

“My apologies! I call her Gekko, but her name is Tsukiakari Senkumo! She’s a really good friend of mine and a fellow goddess! She knew Osamu when they were both tiny! Ah, that might need some explaining to, but I invited her over so I could introduce her to everyone. Bring her back here so we can talk!”

“Hold on, she knows Osamu too?” Yoko questioned.

“Of course I do. What are you to him?” Tsukiakari asked.

“His ex-girlfriend.” Yoko replied.

“Is that so? I’m also his ex-girlfriend.” Tsukiakari scoffed.

Izanami could sense the tension seeping through the phone as they both went silent on the other end. “Hey…guys? Listen, if you come over, I can explain all of this pretty easily!”

Yoko hung up the phone, her eyes still locked upon Tsukiakari.

“Return my phone, please.” Tsukiakari said, her grumbling tone betraying her bubbling anger.

“Or what? If you reach for that tanto, you’re a dead woman.” Yoko threatened.

“You did hear what Izanami said, right? I’m a goddess. A war goddess, mind you.”

“And I’m a very jealous woman. I’d wager I’m far more dangerous.” Yoko hissed.

The two stared daggers at each other before Tsukiakari put her hands on her hip, clearly trying to inch her hands closer to her tanto.

“I only came to see my friend after a decade and a half. You’re not going to settle this peacefully, aren’t you?” Tsukiakari said.

“Sorry, but it wasn’t Izanami’s place to invite a complete stranger to my home. Even if you’re a friend of hers, I need to speak with you first.”

Tsukiakari sighed. “Good. I like it better this way.”

Sitting at home, Izanami stood paralyzed in the kitchen, the disconnect tone ringing out from her pink cell phone. If the idea of the ditzy Izanami using a cell phone perplexes you, it may help to know that Isabella was the one that got it for her and taught her how to use it. Isbaella was an ex-girlfriend of Osamu, a green-eyed blonde native to the United States, but living in Kyoto with Osamu, Izanami, and Yoko. Osamu had grown into a fine young man since Tsukiakari last saw him. He bore long, black hair that contrasted with his smooth, peachy skin. For some reason, Osamu had all of these girls centered around him.

Isabella was helping Osamu make a batch of takoyaki when she noticed Izanami looking unusually stiff and nervous.

“Hey, something wrong, Izanami?” Isabella questioned.

“Osamu, can you come with me real quick?” Izanami asked.

“Huh? Did something happen?” Osamu said.

Izanami nodded, sighed, and then smiled. “I think Yoko is about to pick a fight with a war goddess.”

And so, Izanami and Tsukiakari, who had lived through the Senkumo war story, found themselves entangled in another story for the modern era, a story centered around an altruistically kind boy named Osamu Ashikaga, and his family of ex-girlfriends. Though they had their own problems on Earth, the threads of the Warring States era remained. Little did anyone know that Osamu Ashikaga would be the one to resolve both the petty conflicts between his exes, and the greater conflicts brewing in the supernatural world.

Though it was a strange web of lovers, Izanami and Tsukiakari lived to see themselves love again. They kept their promise to the fallen Senkumo and to their beloved Inari. They accepted what they lost; themselves. Once they did that, they strived to become the best version of themselves. They believed in what they could be, not just who they were.

History had engraved the remains of Taeko, Mayumi, Ebina, Ayadachi, Goro, Chiya, Yachi, Inori, and countless others in the soil of the earth, hiding their bones beneath the noses of the people of the modern era. Tsukiakari kept her scars, her memories, and even the remains of Chiharu locked inside of her.

As she stepped into the new era, into this new story of love and partnership, she would never forget the Senkumo war story, the great tribulation that made her and Izanami who they are today.

Offline OhGodHelpMe

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Just realized something  :hmm:

The Man in Black
-Everyone he ever loved murdered by soldiers
-Awakens from his grave realizing everything was taken from him
-Vows to take revenge on Tsukiakari and Bishamon
-His lungs are stained by the fumes of his burning neighbors that he breathed in as died alongside them

-Everyone she ever loved murdered by soldiers
-Awakens from reincarnation realizing everything she ever built was destroyed
-Vows to take revenge on Bishamon and his co-conspirators
-Fragments of Chiharu's bones and teeth forever stuck inside of her body

The Man in Black's goal was to create the circumstances that would lead to Japanese society rejecting the old ways of daimyo and soldiers. He wanted to prove that a near ghost of a man such as himself was on the same moral level as the revered goddess of war herself, Tsukiakari Senkumo. He wanted to prove that she, the Senkumo, and all soldiers everywhere were capable of becoming the monster that he was, and he succeeded. Tsukiakari followed his exact same path despite Yachi's belief that her lord would never stoop to his level.

The shogunate would expand its influence over the daimyo come the Edo period, and samurai would be made to either serve the shogunate as retainers or give up their swords and live as peasants. Tsukiakari's dream of a nation comprised of soldiers was crushed, as the military and those who served in it became arms of the state, and in many cases, were used to suppress those who still believed that the state and the soldier ought to be separate entities.

Hip hip hooray?