Death by Ex-Girlfriend: War Cloud
It was just before midnight, on Christmas day. Bishamon sauntered down the dark, lonesome streets of the neighborhood, heading towards Yoko's house. It was almost time for Tsukiakari to die. The New Year's deadline was fast approaching. He stopped in his tracks, looking up at the moon peeking out through the clouds.
"That was strange, seeing you again." Bishamon said.
Unbeknownst to Osamu or the other girls, Tsukiakari and Bishamon actually bumped into each other following their night of heavy drinking. Bishamon recalled their meeting as he gazed up at the moon, his mind taking him back to the cemetery nearby. It was four in the morning, hours before the sun was due to rise. Tsukiakari stumbled into the cemetery, as plastered as one could be. The wind lifted the aroma of freshly cut grass all around the cemetery while crickets chirped in the distance.
She spotted someone just a few gravestones down from her. At first, all she could do was wonder who else would be in a place like this at such an ungodly hour. She kept a watchful eye on him, but was too startled to move an inch. As the man turned around, realized who he was. She recognized the face of the man before her all too well. It was Bishamon, her old master.
Tsukiakari's feet remained anchored. She shivered beneath her robes as the memories of the Senkumo clan flashed before her in an instant. Bishamon took two steps closer to her, prompting Tsukiakari to take four steps back. The scars riddled throughout Tsukiakari's body ached with phantom pain, making her fall onto one knee. Her eyes burned and her stomach did backflips. She didn't know if she would weep or vomit first.
"Gekko? It's really you, isn't it?" Bishamon asked.
"Don't you dare call me that!" Tsukiakari roared.
Bishamon chuckled softly. "It's...been a long time. Last we met, we had nearly killed each other. I see you the scars still affect you to this day. Though, I didn't leave the battle unscathed either."
"What are you doing here, Bishamon?"
"Just collecting parts. It's nothing to worry about." Bishamon replied. "This is a good opportunity to tell you something, though."
Tsukiakari gnashed her teeth so hard she thought she would break them all. "Say it."
"All of Heaven knows you're alive now. I guess Izanami kept you hidden for all of these years? At any rate, when news had broken out that you survived, Amaterasu personally ordered that I find you and eliminate you on New Year's day. I happened to meet your lover when I first came to town. That boy, Osamu Ashikaga."
"You met him?!"
"I laid down the situation for him in a way he would understand." Bishamon said. "He knows full well what's going to happen to you. Though, it sounds like he didn't have the guts to tell you about it. Of course, it could be that he doesn't intend to honor his part of the bargain."
"What kind of man isn't honest with a woman who loves him? What kind of mother orders the death of her own daughter?" Tsukiakari cried.
"You are a criminal, after all." Bishamon said.
"Shut up! Don't talk as if we aren't both criminals! You were just silver-tongued enough to get away with it!"
Bishamon laughed. "Those eyes tell me you want to kill me. You're not nearly as powerful as you were back then. Then again, neither am I. The only one still in her prime is Izanami. Even so, I reckon I'd still be able to kill you."
"No. I don't want to kill you. I don't want you to kill me either. I won't give you or any of the gods in Heaven the satisfaction. I'm going to die the way I want, at the hands of the people I love. I'll never waste the time or the blood on you."
"We can't have that." Bishamon said. "I won't get the credit for taking you out. I suppose we'll have to see what happens on New Year's."
"Bishamon...I have something I want to ask you." Tsukiakari said. "For once in your life, I want you to tell me the truth."
"Very well. What is it?"
"What happened to Inari? She disappeared soon after our duel. We haven't seen or heard from her since."
"Inari? That name brings back memories." Bishamon said. "I'm not all too sure what happened to her. I wasn't directly involved in the attack that led to her disappearance. However, if she had died, Izanami would've known about it by now. I have to assume she's still alive, still fleeing from Heaven's judgement. Just like you, she's eluded us for all of this time."
Tsukiakari clenched her fist, keeping herself from crying. "I'm so sorry, Inari..."
"It's admirable that you still care about her, but you should worry about yourself, Tsukiakari." Bishamon warned. "I wonder which one of us will do you in. The clock is ticking."
Tsukiakari lifted her head, but Bishamon had already disappeared. She fell on all fours, crying into the grass alone. Her aching scars reminded her of everything and everyone she had lost because of him. After all of those years, she realized how much it all still hurt. It was though none of those scars healed at all. The emotions felt even fresher. Tsukiakari hated herself for showing him how much his very presence still affected her.
On Christmas night, there was a knock on the bedroom window where Osamu and the girls all slept. Osamu was the only one to wake up. He stealthily climbed out of bed, went downstairs, and walked out the front door, where Bishamon greeted him.
"Osamu, my man. It's almost time. Are we still settled for New Years?" Bishamon asked.
"Do I really have a choice?" Osamu replied.
"Well, if you want yourself and countless others to die, maybe. Don't tell me you've forgotten what's at risk."
"Of course not. I just think it's so unfair it has to be like this. She didn't choose to be part of any of the things that went down in her life."
"I can see why she fell for you. You absolve her of any of her responsibility, Osamu. She chose to stay within the Senkumo clan because it was the only family she had. Because it would allow her to reincarnate. She could have left at any time, but by the time she wanted to leave, there was no Senkumo clan left to speak of. Everyone was already killed. All those kids...gone."
Osamu sighed. "I have no choice, then. New Years is still on. Izanami already knows about all of this. We're all on the same page."
"Good, good! That's what I wanted to hear." Bishamon said. "If you ever tried to, I don't know, hide Tsukiakari from me, you'd ultimately be hiding her from heaven's punishment. You know what that means, right?"
"It means I will die as well. Sentimentality will only get me killed." Osamu groaned.
"Exactly. Well, I'm sorry to wake you up. Just making sure we're still set. Goodnight, Osamu."
Osamu returned to bed, his head pulsating with rage.
(Of course I'm not just going to hand her over to you. Izanami and I have got to find a way to avoid all of this.)
Osamu slept much longer than anyone else. By the time had woke up, it was already late afternoon. Though most of the other girls had already gotten out of bed and gotten their days started, Tsukiakari remained in bed with Osamu. He was awakened by a moist feeling on his cheek, the feeling of a kiss.
(Did she just kiss me?)
"I love you." Tsukiakari said.
Something was wrong. This was a broken and defeated I love you. It wasn't the competitive and feisty profession of love that was often declared in the house.
"Are you okay?" Osamu asked.
"Just listen to me. I love you. I've loved you since I met you." Tsukiakari admitted. "I never once forgot about you. You don't have to love me back, but I just want to ask you something."
"What is it?"
"Are you going to turn me in to Bishamon?"
"Please, just answer me."
Osamu could only reply with silence, which was as good as admitting his own uncertainty.
"I understand." Tsukiakari said. "I might really...."
Tsukiakari ran out of bed and out of the room.
Osamu ran out to meet her in the hallway. "Gekko! I don't want this either! But I don't know what to do! I don't know how I can help you when the odds are stacked against us so high!"
"I honestly believed you wouldn't turn me in. I thought you'd protect me and keep me next to you. But you had no intention of doing that. You gave up right from the start, didn't you?"
Osamu couldn't argue with her. Yet again, his own hesitance and uncertainty caused him to hurt another girl, another person that was precious to him.
"Why didn't you say anything to me?" Tsukiakari asked, tears rolling down her cheeks. "You're one of the few people I actually trust!"
"Gekko...I'm sorry...I didn't know what to do."
Tsukiakari smiled at Osamu, the last thing he expected her to do."I'm sure you didn't know this, but I've planned for something like this. Izanami and I made arrangements long ago, that if Heaven were to hunt me down, we wouldn't let them kill me."
"What are you talking about?"
"Thank you, Osamu. Thank you for everything. This is goodbye. When you awake, I probably won't be here."
Tsukiakari placed her palm on Osamu's head and used her powers to render him unconscious. He fell face-first to the ground, twitching before his vision faded out.
"I want to love, but I cannot be loved. It will only get you killed." Tsukiakari said. "If I'm going to die, I want it to be at the hands of the people who showed me what freedom was, not at the hands of my slave master."
As Osamu lost consciousness, Tsukiakari grabbed the sword she had been given as a gift. She wore the necklace Isabella got her and exited the house through the bedroom window. Once outside, she tied her hair up into a bun, with stray hair flowing from her sideburns.
"I refuse to die by your hands, Bishamon. The people who love me will be my killers. I will die with them. In order for that to happen, I must give them a reason to want to kill me, to raise their arms against me."
Tsukiakari walked deeper and deeper into the more crowded parts of the neighborhood and unsheathed her blade. She drew the fear and attention of everyone around her.
"Osamu. Forgive me for the sins I'm about to commit."
In short time, Tsukiakari massacred much of the pedestrians, filling the streets with corpses and blood. Men and women all died the same, with only children being spared to grieve by their dying parents. It was a sight that Tsukiakari was all too familiar with, being a child of war. She walked by the grieving children as if they weren't there, continuing her rampage through the area.
Yoko came out to find Osamu unconscious in the hall, and the bedroom window wide open. First, she checked if Osamu was still alive, confirming his vital signs were present and healthy.
"Damn it..." Yoko cursed.
Yoko ran downstairs to Isabella and Izanami, meeting them in the living room with great urgency. "Have either of you seen Tsukiakari?"
"Is everything okay?" Izanami asked.
"Have you seen her?!" Yoko repeated.
"No, not since we woke up! What's going on?" Isabella asked,
"Osamu's out cold and Tsukiakari is gone! Her sword is gone too!"
"What?!" Isabella recoiled.
Izanami remembered Bishamon's deadline was fast approaching. From what Yoko said, Izanami was able to put the pieces together. Tsukiakari found out what was going to happen, and opted instead to trigger their arrangement. Tsukiakari would give Izanami a reason to kill her.
"I'm going to go find her!" Yoko cried.
"Wait." Izanami said.
Izanami stood up and summoned her scythe. "I will go. I'm the only one who can kill her."
"Kill?! Wait, we should try to save her first!" Isabella urged.
"I'm afraid that's impossible now." Izanami said.
"Why?" Yoko asked.
"I can feel it. I can feel a lot of people dying right now. It's her, slaughtering them all. She wants us to be the ones to end her life." Izanami explained.
They remembered that Izanami can feel it when someone dies. If people were suddenly dying left and right, it was definitely Tsukiakari.
"Just what exactly is going on, Izanami?" Isabella asked.
"She's reverting back to her ways as a warrior and mass murderer, as a god of calamity and brutality." Izanami said. "Bishamon approached Osamu some time ago and threatened him. Heaven knows Tsukiakari is alive, and they intend to kill her."
"What?! Why is this the first time we're hearing about this?" Yoko asked.
"You're humans. What do you plan to do against a pantheon of gods?" Izanami asked. "It seems Gekko found out. A long time ago, Gekko and I made a deal of sorts. That if something like this were to happen, we wouldn't let Bishamon or any other god kill her. If there was no way out, it would be that kills her."
Yoko and Isabella were stunned into silence. They could hardly process what was happening, let alone the arrangement between Izanami and Tsukiakari.
"Please excuse me." Izanami said.
Izanami went upstairs to change into her white sun dress not wanting to ruin the clothes Isabella got her. Before leaving, she prayed one last time to Tsukiakari, hoping she would hear it. It was a last resort, but also a goodbye done ahead of time, so that there would be no more words between them when they next see each other. At least that way, they wouldn't have the opportunity to express words of hatred in the heat of the moment. Tsukiakari heard the prayer ring in her head as she continued to slay as many people in the neighborhood as possible.
"Tsukiakari Senkumo. Moonlight. You were always my moonlight. Even when you killed my sons, all I could do was empathize with you. All I could do was love you. I knew you needed love. You needed the one thing you were deprived us. What you did back then, and everything you are doing right now, in this very moment, is because I failed to love you enough to make up for all the hard times. I'm sorry, Tsukiakari."
Tsukiakari still continued to kill, even switching to magic to turn a busy shopping district into a ball of flames and screams. That murderous intent was back in full form.
"The truth is, Tsukiakari...whenever we laughed and smiled together, whenever we spent any time together, I always got this feeling in my chest. It made me wonder if that feeling was what it felt like to have a daughter. I love you like my own. I will always love you this way, murderer or not, Traitor or not. The gods may rule heaven, they may control the sun, the moon, the clouds, the sea, and the lightning above, but they have no dominion over my heart, and how much I love you. And so, I will honor your request. I will be the one to end your life. I shall do it with a heavy heart. I wish it didn't have to be this way, but you've given me no choice. Goodbye, Tsukiakari. Until we meet again, for the final time."
Izanami clapped her hands and completed the prayer. Meanwhile, Tsukiakari had just about finished her massacre. She laughed amidst all the destruction and corpses. Or rather, she laughed and cried at the same time. She heard Izanami's prayer loud and clear. She would die at the hands of the woman she loved most.
The sun was disappearing under the horizon. Night would come soon.
Izanami went back downstairs when she was ready, passing by Isabella, who was crying on the couch. Osamu was still unconscious. To Izanami's surprise, Yoko was outside waiting for her, wearing Osamu's scarf, a jean jacket, and her shirt with the kanji for 'Love' on it.
"You're here? Why?" Izanami asked, taken aback.
"I'm going with you." Yoko insisted.
Izanami smiled and closed her eyes. "I won't protest. But you do know what we're going up against, right? Even as a god, I may not survive the fight. We could both die in the battle."
"Yes, I already understand that. That's why I'm wearing Osamu's scarf. If I'm going to die, I want to die with a little piece of the man I love with me." Yoko said. "His scent will give me comfort. It'll make dying a little easier, if it really comes down to it."
"You really do love him. Very well then. Let's go together." Izanami said.
Isabella met them outside as well. She carried a SCAR 16, modified with a suppressor and holographic sight, as well as a large backpack.
"You too?" Yoko asked.
"Tsukiakari means a lot to all of us. I'm going to help out too." Isabella said.
"You realize we might all die, right? Tsukiakari was a war goddess, after all. She knows a thing or two about fighting." Yoko warned.
"I'm aware. This is to save her and countless other people. As an American, saving people is my calling card."
Yoko smiled. "You know, I'd be happy to die by your side, Gaijin. Let's go."
Clouds covered the sky now, blocking the moon from their view. It would surely rain soon. The three walked through the neighborhood, the streets littered with corpses. Despite the awful sight, they took comfort in the fact that they might die saving a friend. With that in mind, they didn't care that they would soon be joining each other in death. In fact, they could think of no better way to die, but to do it together.
Tsukiakari had decided to rest for just a while at Izanami's shrine. She sat on the steps of the main house of the shrine, twisting her sword into the ground and waiting.
"They're coming. Isabella, Yoko, and Izanami. If I am to die, it will be by your hands."
The three approached the bottom of the tree-covered hill Izanami's old shrine sat on top of. Now, it was just a long climb up to the top.
"She's here. I can feel it. Are you two really sure about this?" Izanami asked once more.
"Absolutely. We're with you, Izanami." Yoko assured.
Isabella gave an enthusiastic nod. "I'm ready."
"Alright." Izanami sighed.
As they made their ascent to certain death, Osamu finally awoke in bed again. To his shock and dismay, Bishamon sat at his bedside. He had been looking after him after the girls left.
"Bishamon? My head..."
Bishamon handed Osamu a glass of water as he sat up. "Drink."
Osamu gladly took the water. "Please tell me I was dreaming."
"I'm afraid not. Tsukiakari has chosen to do this the hard way. The other girls have already gone after her."
"It's my fault. I failed to man up and act again." Osamu growled, angry with himself.
"Fear of death..." Bishamon began. "It's a common fear humans. This fear is also common among forgotten gods like Tsukiakari, who don't receive any prayers or worship. It must be extra painful for her, considering she used to be able to reincarnate. Can you imagine? A war god, facing mortality? Facing a scheduled and permanent end to her own life? Her heart must be torn asunder right now. Fear and paranoia have nested themselves in her. She only wanted to love, but fate does not permit her to live in normalcy. Not for long. And so, fear has evolved into evil. Evil always roots itself in good people. It's not like in fairy tales, where the villain is always some demon with red eyes and big horns. It comes in the form of those who once loved you. It roots itself in their desires, then takes control of their fears. It then uses them as instruments of malice that must be stopped, and that is the great tragedy of evil. Sometimes, we must let go of what we once loved."
Osamu could only think back to his memories of Tsukiakari in school when they were much younger, eating and joking together in the chariot house.
(Hah...ride a chariot together...what a silly dream she had.)
"Right about now, I imagine those girls are going to try and kill Tsukiakari at Izanami's shrine. Well, I'm not really imagining it. I saw where they were headed as I made my way back here. But I can end it before that. I can kill Tsukiakari myself. Let me end this, Osamu. Neither of us want Izanami or anyone else to suffer."
Osamu's mind quickly flipped through memories like pages in a book, from the moment he met Tsukiakari, to the time they were reunited, and to the present moment. Her smile haunted him. Despite everything she had ever gone through, Tsukiakari could still smile so brightly. Despite her scars, she was willing to give everything to Osamu.
(She's a broken, wounded mess of a girl. Her scars are both physical and emotional, and she carries hundreds of years of baggage with her. And yet...she offered herself to me. All she wanted was to love me, a pitiable human with nothing to give her. She saw that much worth in me. Right now, my heart is telling me that she's worth even more to me than I am to her. I truly believe that.)
"Bishamon, thank you for asking for my consent first. But I must decline."
"Oh?" Bishamon chuckled.
Osamu stood up out of bed, his body and head aching with every move. "Instead, let me settle this if the others can't. If they fail, I'll be the one to kill her."
"Are you sure about this? I won't stop you, but I will warn you. If you step outside of this house, you're going to see the results of Tsukiakari's abilities as a war goddess. You're going to see her true nature first-hand. The past is one thing, but can you stomach her being a monstrosity in the present?"
Osamu smiled. "I'm the monstrosity. Tsukiakari, for all she's done...is just a girl looking for love. I'm the man that didn't act on that."
Bishamon sighed. "Very well then. Take this."
Bishamon summoned a golden katana and handed it to Osamu. As soon as he touched it, he could feel Bishamon's power flow through him, coursing through his veins like flames.
"This...this feels incredible!" Osamu shouted.
"In order to kill a god, you need a godly weapon." Bishamon said. "You can use this to do it. I will give you one hour. If she is not dead in that time, I will have to intervene. Do you understand how serious this is?"
"It's a race. Go forth, then." Bishamon said.
Osamu grabbed his black hoodie and ventured out of the house. The lamp posts flickered on and off, and the streets themselves were quiet and cold as snow covered the ground.
(Tsukiakari. This is it. I'm going to make it all up to you, no matter the cost. If I have to...I'll gladly die for you.)
The three girls were now face-to-face with Tsukiakari, who stood up from the steps and met them in the courtyard. Izanami had her scythe, Yoko had her swords and other tools, and Isabella had her guns.
"Tsukiakari. We're here to kill you." Yoko announced.
The goddess smiled. "I know."