Death by Ex-Girlfriend: War Cloud
(That morning, it began to snow. By the time we all woke up, the streets, cars, and trees were all cloaked in white. I couldn't shake the sight of Tsukiakari's face as she looked out the window and saw the snow. It was if...I don't know...maybe it was nostalgic for her. All I know is that her eyes looked so sad, as if there was a particular time or day they wanted to go back to. Because of the weather, we spent most of the day lazing about in the house. Yoko and Isabella remained in bed most of the time. I gotta say, I do love the lazy days that the cold weather brings.)
It was late in the night. Once again, Osamu found himself unable to fall asleep. His brain felt like an overheated computer. He who had once been helped by a goddess now found himself in a position where he was the one who had to assist a deity. Tsukiakari’s story and limited lease on life seemed like a problem far beyond his scope as a human. Still, he had to find a way. He wouldn’t stand to lose another member of the household.
To cool off his overworked head, Osamu was getting ready to take a quick walk, sitting down and putting his shoes and scarf on by the front door.
“Are you going somewhere?”
(Hmm? Tsukiakari? What is she doing up at this hour?)
Taking a glance behind him, Osamu confirmed it was indeed Tsukiakari who approached him. Her footsteps as a little girl were so light that he barely heard her approaching at all.
“Oh...yeah. I like to take walks when I get the chance.” Osamu said.
“Walks, huh? If we were married, we could just ride a chariot in the sky and take a tour of the earth.” Tsukiakari giggled.
(That sounds hopelessly cheesy...)
Tsukiakari sighed. “Come on. Can you at least try to acknowledge my feelings? You could at least call me Gekko.”
“Alright, Gekko. If I remember correctly, you and I met in kindergarten, right?”
Tsukiakari's face lit up with joy. “You remember?!”
“Don't get excited. I only have vague memories of you from back then.”
“Oh…” Tsukiakari murmured, deflated.
“I'm wondering what motivated you to track me down after all these years. You'd think, at your age, you wouldn't be so hung up on something that wasn't real to begin with.” Osamu said. “A lot of kids say they like each other when they're young. It's part of the adventurous ignorance of being a child.”
Tsukiakari's expression drifted back into sadness and nostalgic longing. “Can I walk with you?”
“Huh? Are you sure?”
Tsukiakari nodded. “Yes, please.”
And so, they went out together, leaving footprints in the snow as they followed the foggy light of the street lamps. The streets themselves were completely empty as they walked hand-in-hand together. If there were any passerby's, they would just look like an older brother taking his little sister out for a walk. Osamu took the opportunity to hear Tsukiakari’s tale from her own mouth.
Tsukiakari wiped snowflakes off of her cheek as she spoke. “I'm sure Izanami told you a little bit about my past. Being a war goddess, I existed solely to annihilate people. To pierce armor, stand under the shadow of arrows, to lead the thunderous charge of a thousand horses.”
“She did say that.” Osamu confirmed.
“You don't know what it's like to live like that for a century and a half. You don't know how horrible it was. Had I been an older god at the time...I would've been wiser. I wouldn't have made the same mistakes I did back then.”
“What mistake didn’t I make? Trusting gods. Loving people.”
“Hey, let's turn left here!” Tsukiakari exclaimed, pointing down the road.
“Huh? I usually walk by the bridge and then come back. Why do you want to go this route?”
“Because, I'll be able to answer you where I'm taking you.”
Tsukiakari led Osamu down a long road that took them to an old, abandoned school, a kindergarten, in fact. Osamu immediately recognized it as soon as they walked through the doors and into the empty, dilapidated entrance hall.
(No way...this is the kindergarten we went to.)
Tsukiakari stepped a few paces ahead, he hands locked behind her back. “This probably isn't as meaningful to you as it is to me. Children who grow up in war don’t understand the value in something so commonplace in today's era, such as school. This was also the place where we met, Osamu. You were just a little kid back then, and your hair was much shorter!”
“Are you implying I should get a haircut or something? You have ridiculously long hair too, even for a girl.” Osamu retaliated.
“Never, love. I like you as you are. Come, let's walk.”
(Being commanded by a little girl doesn't feel too good right now. Now that this place is ruined and left uncared for, it's hard to say that I feel any real connection to it. It seems to be the opposite for Gekko though.)
Tsukiakari led Osamu to the playground and the two sat on the swings together. Osamu was too big for the swings, but Tsukiakari was able to enjoy them like any other child. A full moon hung over their heads as snow lazily fell from the sky cradled by the wind.
“Gekko, you said that loving people was a mistake you made in the past. I'm still confused as to what you mean by that. Did someone break your heart or something?”
“No. It wasn't their fault. After Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi separated, I mainly just wandered about with nothing do to and nowhere to go.” Tsukiakari said, swinging back and forth. “But then, Bishamon took me in. When the Onin War broke out, he began collecting orphaned war children, and we soon formed into the Senkumo clan. By the time that war led into the Warring States period, we were all old enough to go fight in the war. It was a good time for Bishamon to gain power and notoriety as a god of war. So, like the blind children we were, we followed.”
Before Osamu's very eyes, the environment around them began to shift. Tsukiakari was guiding Osamu through her memories. They now stood in one of Bishamon's shrines during the Warring States period. The Tsukiakari then was just as she was now, before she was turned into a young girl. In appearance, she looked about twenty years old and still had very long hair that touched the floor. She sat in front of a group of at least two hundred bowing members of the Senkumo clan, most of them female, all of them bearing the clan crest on the napes of their black yukatas.
“Th-this is…” Osamu stammered, in awe.
“Stay calm and look. That's me.” Tsukiakari said, pointing to her past self. “When the Warring States period kicked off, I was promoted to a Commanding Lord. I had my own base and my own garrison as well.”
“Why did Bishamon promote you? Were you that good?”
“The Senkumo clan was no ordinary army. We strived to become a nation unto ourselves. We wanted to create an alternative society to Japan’s miserable system of feudalism. We believed that feudalism was one of the major causes of the Onin War, and the subsequent outbreak of the Warring States. Our society was going to be stratocratic.”
“The military was going to govern? Under your system, soldiers no longer acted as the arm of the nobles, right? I mean, you know more about this than I do.” Osamu said.
“No, you’re right. That was the idea. We believed in hierarchy, but we didn’t have faith in the shogunate or the emperor. Our decision to become stratocratic was made to avoid a situation where lords use soldiers to oppress civilians and tax the population. In this system, the state couldn’t abuse the military because the military was the state. Unlike any other government, our government made its own revenue instead of taxing its population. We did that by contracting our military services out during the war, mining raw materials, and we even put together a post-war plan to shift our focus from acting as a private army to a private construction company. We’d help in post-war reconstruction projects by lending our manpower and resources to those that needed it.”
Osamu looked at Tsukiakari with newfound admiration and awe. “You really thought it out, didn’t you?”
“I guess so. We made orphans into soldiers and made a society where the soldiers had their own agency and controlled their own destiny. They were given protection, food, and water during a time of upheaval and chaos. For me, Bishamon made sure that I would reincarnate if I died.”
(Gekko...was kept as Bishamon's disciple. She killed in his name, for his glory.)
“I had a lot of good comrades back then, good people. Of course, none of them are alive anymore. I’ll show you one of them. She was an affectionate girl, beautiful, and very talented in archery.”
All around them, Tsukiakari's memories of the girl flashed in a continuous sequence. She had short brown hair and hazel eyes, always smiling. Tsukiakari couldn’t help but smile as she revisited those memories.
“Her name was Mayumi, written with the characters for ‘Victorious’ and ‘Beauty’. A fitting name for her, right?”
“Yeah, she is beautiful. And I'm sure you had a lot of victories together.” Osamu agreed, happy to see Tsukiakari grinning.
“Mhmm. We did. But then…"
Like the power in a building going out, the memories cut to black, swallowing Osamu and Tsukiakari in darkness. Then, the scene of a barren battlefield faded in. Tsukiakari was on the ground with four arrows stuck in her chest and shoulder. She was bleeding badly, and her eyes were half closed. Right next to her was Mayumi, whose yukata was tattered. She had a large, open gash across her stomach, having been struck by a sword.
“We both died. But only I came back.” Tsukiakari said.
All around them, the battle continued to rage. The sounds of yelling, horses, and swords clashing filled the air of the open, grassy field. Knowing death was near, Mayumi decided to use the last of her energy to have a final conversation with her friend.
“Ge…Gekko…" Mayumi stammered, finding it a herculean task to speak with her injuries.
As Tsukiakari laid alongside Mayumi, knowing she was dying, tears silently fell from her eyes. “No...no, no! Not you!”
“Gekko...calm down...your heart is already going wild…"
Mayumi tightened her grip around Tsukiakari's hand. “I guess this...this is it. I don't think...I'll survive this one. I'm sorry, Gekko.”
“Why did you do that? You know I can just reincarnate, right?! So why?”
“Gekko. Do not live your life...thinking you can just…die and start over again. Bishamon allows you to reincarnate. It is not something you control. I...I don't trust Bishamon that much. Not anymore. If you get into the habit of throwing away your lives...who knows when you won't be able to come back?”
Tsukiakari tried inching her body closer to Mayumi's. There wasn't a single nerve that didn't scream in agony, but that was about to be over soon. Death would calm them both down.
“Love on the battlefield. How cliché.” Mayumi giggled. “At least...I get to die alongside you, Gekko.”
“Don't give up yet! I’ll…I’ll…” Tsukiakari groaned, knowing she had no real solution.
“There's nothing you can do. We'll both die here, but only you will come back.” Mayumi whispered, closing her eyes. “You'll need to be...stronger than ever. You need to be wiser. Don't let Bishamon trick you, Gekko. You're a banished god with no following...no descendants. You can still be vanquished much more easily than Bishamon. One day, I fear...he may not wish for you to return.”
“If you're not here, I don't want to come back! I can't do this without you, Mayumi!”
“Gekko...I'm glad...I get to die at home...with you…"
“Home? What do you mean?”
“Thank you, Gekko.”
“Mayumi! Mayumi, what did you mean?! Mayumi!”
Osamu shivered at the eery scene he witnessed. Two people, who knew they were both going to die, still wanted to share their last moments together as friends, not as warriors on a battlefield.
“Gekko...I didn't know…” Osamu quivered.
“She was the first to die here. I followed soon after her.” Tsukiakari said. “However, because I was a god, I came right back. I woke up in bed, right back at base. This kept repeating itself every time I died. This is what I meant when I said that my mistake was loving people. Reincarnating over and over again, experiencing the same tragedies on endless repeat...even if you're a god, it's detrimental to one's psyche and inner peace.”
The scenes of Tsukiakari waking up flashed before them. Bishamon walked into the room to speak with her. He had the appearance of a man in his forties, with strong lines and wrinkles in his forehead. He had a great beard that reached down to the middle of his chest and kept his long, black hair tied in a bun. He wore a black yukata, just like the rest of the Senkumo clan. Bishamon stood before Tsukiakakari, joined by a four overjoyed Senkumo troops. However, instead of embracing their resurrected lord, the troops recoiled in fear.
“Welcome back, Tsukiakari.” Bishamon sang.
“Mayumi! Where's Mayumi!?” Tsukiakari asked.
Not a shred of sadness seemed to exist within Bishamon. No sense of mourning for one of his most loyal recruits. “She's dead. The sword stuck in her side killed her.”
Tsukiakari’s stomach ran in circles. She felt so sick she could vomit.
“I'm very sorry, Tsukiakari.” Bishamon bowed. “We gave her a burial of the highest honor for her astounding bravery during the fight. Your troops here have also expressed their wish to reward you with a Golden Sword, a symbol of your own valor. I know this is a lot to take in at one time, but…"
Tsukiakari lowered her head, her face concealed by her thick, wavy head of hair. “What...did you just say? Golden Sword?”
“Yes, Commander! It's not much, I know, but it’s the least we can do for you.” One of the troops cheered.
“God damn you!” Tsukiakari yelled. “Mayumi is dead and you want to give me a sword?! Is that all you care about?! Are you just here to get your military decorations?!
“Tsukiakari, calm yourself.” Bishamon urged.
“Which one of you sold us out?! That counter-attack went down too smoothly! It was too perfectly timed to be anything other than betrayal! So which one of you do I have the pleasure of blaming Mayumi's death on?! Speak!”
Bishamon stood, angered and disappointed by Tsukiakari's accusations.
“Accusing your own soldiers of treason without so much as a trial? Do not blemish your reputation as their commander, Tsukiakari. Not like Taeko did.” Bishamon rebuked.
“You madman! You sent us to our deaths and you know it! You knew we weren't equipped or prepared for a campaign against the Ouchi!” Tsukiakari scorned. “It was supposed to be a few battles, but you had us out there for four weeks!”
“Men, please give me and Tsukiakari some time alone.” Bishamon ordered.
Bishamon smiled and patted their backs, giving them the confidence to leave it all to him. After they filed out of the room and shut the door behind them, the god of war sat down by near-hyperventilating Tsukiakari.
“Do you wish for me to make sure that you never reincarnate again?” Bishamon threatened. Hearing those words come out of her master’s mouth, everything that Mayumi said before her death began to make more sense than ever. It was undeniably clear now, that for whatever reason, Bishamon was using Tsukiakari for some other, undisclosed goal.
With her eyes wide with shock and offense, Tsukiakari turned her gaze towards Bishamon, who smiled as if such a statement was a joke.
“How dare you throw such accusations to your own troops? How dare you insult the Senkumo name? Does Mayumi's sacrifice really mean nothing to you, Gekko?”
“I haven’t seen you in almost four years, and you insult my devotion to my army?” Tsukiakari asked.
“True, I’ve been away for some time. I was hopping all across the country to oversee the openings of more shrines.” Bishamon explained. “I was out there putting brick to mortar for the sake of our clan. The same could be said of Mayumi.”
“Katsumi didn't die for the Senkumo clan that day. She died for me. Her friend.”
“Katsumi? I see. She told you her true name.”
Tsukiakari turned her tearful eyes away as Bishamon stood up again. “But you're different, Tsukiakari. The Senkumo clan is your true self. There was nothing else to Tsukiakari before this. Regardless, your mission was a success. The remaining Senkumo and Otomo were able to repel both the Ouchi and Mori clans, taking the entire province. Congratulations, Gekko.” Bishamon clapped.
“Damn you. Don't you dare call me that. Only my friends could call me that.”
“Oh? And what am I, if not your friend?”
“The first man in my life to break my heart.” Tsukiakari cried.
Their eyes met again, entering a prolonged and silently tense standoff. Bishamon had gotten exactly what he wanted, and he realized that as he stared deep into the dark depths of Tsukiakari's eyes. They were driven with anger, despair, and just the right amount of hatred. The best part was that a large amount of that poisonous hatred was directed at herself.
As offended as he should've been, Bishamon responded with hearty laughter. “You'll need to spend more time resting, Tsukiakari. Your body is all shaken up because of your reincarnation. Though, I suppose it may feel more lonesome than the first time. At any rate, rest well, Tsukiakari.”
“Please, stop this. I can't bare to look…” Osamu said.
As Osamu wished, the memory vanished.
“Japan fell into Sakoku eventually, a complete state of unification and isolation. The war was over and the Senkumo clan was all but extinct.” Tsukiakari said.
“Wait, what? Extinct?” Osamu gasped.
“We had a lot of enemies. The Ashikaga, Ouchi, and Mori clans, the Ashikaga shogunate itself, imperial troops, even the phantoms of enemies we had slain before came back to haunt us. But we always felt as though we were fighting a different kind of phantom enemy, one that we couldn’t see or touch. Someone worked behind the curtains to undermine us at our most crucial turns, always making sure we were never too successful. That enemy was Bishamon.”
“Bishamon? Your own master destroyed his clan? Why?”
“That whole dream of an alternative society…it was never his true goal. When dealing with gods, Osamu, they can have two agendas. One for Earth, and another for Heaven. Their intentions always go deeper than you think, and that much goes for any god. The Senkumo clan was a project to garner prayers for himself and a small ring of other god. Gods need prayers in order to reincarnate. Without worship, gods will fade away forever after they die. We were used to keep those gods alive, and they had no intention of allowing us to achieve our goal. In the final years of the Warring States period, the clan was able to shift to our post-war plan and celebrate our survival throughout the years. It was the one time we let our guard down.”
The scene shifted back to the same room where the Senkumo once bowed to Tsukiakari, except a different girl sat in her place.
“Who is that? That’s not you, is it?” Osamu asked.
“This girl was Chiya Otonougi, one of my friends. There was a time where I actually left the clan very briefly, and I entrusted them both to act as Commanding Lords. What you’re seeing now are the last days of this clan. I was in a coma at the time. I had died and reincarnated, but I didn’t wake up.”
Chiya Otonougi sat cross-legged before her fellow Senkumo. Her short, black hair extended down towards her collarbone, complimenting her black lace choker. Hundreds of men, women and children of varying ages sat in the room, in complete silence. Their expressions reflected alarming anxiety and worry. It looked as though they were all rocked by some awful news and relied on Chiya for answers.
“I know you’re all scared right now. I’ve gathered everyone here today so that we all know what has happened.” Chiya explained. “Unfortunately, I must confirm your worst worries. The Senkumo bases to the north and west and Kyoto have fallen. We haven’t received any form of communication from any bases outside of the province, and we believe they perished as well.”
Gasps filled the room, but Chiya lifted her hand to silence them. “I’m afraid that’s not actually the worst of it. The only clan that knows where all of our bases are, the only clan capable of wiping them all out simultaneously…is the Senkumo clan. Us. Our master, Bishamon, is killing off his own clan. Goro and Inori scouted the area around this base, and we have confirmed that a large Senkumo force is a few days out from this base. They will close in on us, probably with the goal to kill Tsukiakari. We’ve been betrayed. We’ve been lied to and used this whole time. The irony of it all…”
(Look at them all. They’re terrified, especially the kids.)
“In the end, after every challenge we’ve overcome, our final enemy is our master and fellow Senkumo.” Chiya said, shaking her head in shame. “Tsukiakari still hasn’t woken up, and she shows no signs of doing so yet. Now that we know that it’s Bishamon destroying the clan, we know why. He must’ve destroyed her altar just as she reincarnated, meaning reincarnating again is impossible for her. If we let Bishamon kill her, that’s it. She will die and never come back.”
Chiya stood up from her sitting position. “We won’t let that happen. I’ve put together a plan to buy Gekko more time to wake up, and to get her out of here when Bishamon arrives. We’ll use the mining tunnel down hill to move her out of the area, right under Bishamon’s nose. We’ll use explosives to seal the tunnel entrance after we’ve gotten her moving. That tunnel will spit her out near Inari’s shrine. Inari and Izanami will take care of her there. If the only safe place for her I can think of. However…”
Chiya balled up her fist, hesitating before she spoke. “Only three people other than Gekko can go in that tunnel. The rest of us…the rest of us need to buy Gekko time to escape. Now, Bishamon’s force is too close for us to go on the offensive and we won’t have enough time to mobilize and set up defenses somewhere else. We have to use this base, as our point of defense. I’ll be completely honest with all of you. We will not survive this.”
Chiya let her words settle upon them, giving them a full minute of silence to accept what was coming. “Anyone under the age of thirteen…will be asked to pack up and leave. We still have two days before Bishamon’s force arrives in the province, during which they’ll most likely blockade the major roads. That’s your window to get out. The rest of you will have the choice. I won’t force any of you to stay here. If you are going to stay…please take the time to make your peace and say your goodbyes. As for me, I’ll help Tsukiakari however I can. Even if I have to die.”
Osamu almost envied Chiya for her resolve, for her obvious love for Tsukiakari. So powerful was that love that Chiya, and much of the Senkumo clan, were willing to die if it meant they could get Tsukiakari out. He held his hand over chest, feeling for his heartbeat. Just hearing Chiya relay their impending doom to her comrades so calmly made his heart race.
“It all happened just as Chiya said it would.” Tsukiakari said. “The children were vacated from the base and released in Kyoto. Few made the choice to leave. Most of my men stayed. Chiya, Goro, and Inori got me to Inari’s shrine, to safety. Chiya and the others were killed by Bishamon himself. After using us, Bishamon was one of the most well known and renowned gods in all of heaven. I watched for years as Bishamon absorbed all the glory for himself, leaving me with my trauma and dead friends. Looking back, I blame myself for being so naive. How could I have possibly that the god of war would have benevolent intentions? And so, Osamu...I believe you know what happened next. You saw how I acted with Yoko. You know my nature. What did you think I did when I woke up?”
The scenery changed to a pivotal moment in Tsukiakari's life. She in a grassy field with a black katana in her hands, still proudly wearing the Senkumo yukata and crest. Thunderclouds cloaked the sky, and a lightning dragon spiraled above her. Across from the field stood Bishamon, wearing a coat made of bear's fur and white robes. Beside him stood Raijin and Fuijin, the god of lightning and the god of wind respectively. Raijin held lightning bolts in his hands and only wore pants and sandals to the fight. The tomoe was painted in black on his bare chest and stomach, and his long, black hair swayed in the wind. His eyes were as gold as an autumn moon. Fujin was more conservative, wearing a short-sleeve top. He kept his hair tied back, braided towards the bottom and wrapped with white cloth. He carried a bag of wind with him.
Tsukiakari pointed her sword at the three gods that conspired to destroy her and her clan. Her signature lightning dragon descended, surrounding her in its bright and loud crackle. “Bishamon, and all in heaven who worked to betray me, I will destroy you all, no matter what it takes!
“Impudent girl.” Raijin scoffed. “You kill us, you will no longer have a future.”
“What shall we do with her, Bishamonten?” Fujin asked.
“What shall we do? Subdue her. Subjugate her. Kill her, and let her soul fade away into oblivion. My fellow gods…charge!” Bishamon roared.
(Tsukiakari…declared war on her fellow gods?)