Death by Ex-Girlfriend: War Cloud
(And so, just like that, your dearest, sweetest, Yoko Akiyama became the baby sitter of two time spirits. By now, you must be thinking 'Goodness Gracious, Yoko, The Exalted One, you should move out of that accursed neighborhood! Here, take my money and get yourself a first-class ticket to my home country, where we can live together in peace and holy matrimony!'. And to that, I must decline. Though, I wouldn't blame you if you thought that way. I suppose it's like a human version of Gresham's Law. Just as bad money drives good money away, bad people drive good people away. All that's left is the supernatural. Funny how that works, huh? My, my, I've been rambling for a while now. My apologies, Osamu was much better at remaining within the confines of the four walls of storytelling in his internal dialogue.)
Yoko brought the twins back home with her that evening, an act that would've looked mighty suspicious if her neighbors were still around. The twins looked around the house in awe, scanning every room and hallway with excited gazes. Yoko gave them a quick tour around the first floor, then hurried them up the stairs. Exhausted from her day and ready to go to bed, Yoko prepared a warm bath for the twins.
"Lucky children. You get to bathe in such a large and extravagant tub with golden faucets and lots of bubbles. Many children would kill to be you." Yoko said.
Omagatoki and Akatsuki bowed in unison and let go of each others hands to undress. The two nude twins stood naked before Yoko with an awkward quietude settling between them.
"Well, have fun." Yoko sighed. "Save the water when you're done, if it's not dirty. Get to bed soon and don't drown. Well, you're dead anyway, so it's not like it matters."
"Thank you very much." Akatsuki said.
Yoko shut the door and exhaled a sigh of exhaustion. She had barely done anything that day, but after hearing the news about Osamu, she couldn't help but feel fatigued, both physically and emotionally.
(I may really get to see Osamu soon, if this Hidetaka person is telling the truth. I just can't wrap my head around him being alive. And where is Izanami in all of this? Does she have anything to do with this Hidetaka person. Goodness, my head feels like scrambled eggs!)
Yoko suddenly heard thumping and splashing water in the bathroom. She frantically opened the door to check on the twins and saw Akatsuki hanging onto Omagatoki's hand. Omagatoki was on the floor, laying on her back as Akatsuki tried to pull her back up to the tub.
"Yoko..." Omagatoki whimpered.
"It seems we cannot figure out the complex contraption you call a 'bath'." Akatsuki said.
('Low maintenance' my ass and a half.)
Yoko took the time to help them bathe and wash their hair for them. She was too scared the twins would really drown themselves if she didn't just wash them herself, despite knowing they're already dead. In a way, bathing with the twins felt rather nice. It was like caring for two of her own children. She couldn't deny that having the awkward, supernatural twins with her was a preferable experience to being alone in her house for another day.
When all was done and the twins were dry, Yoko laid out a futon for them, next to her bed. She was almost curious if the twins would somehow manage to endanger themselves in an attempt to go to sleep, like they did with the bath.
"Hidetaka said you guys don't sleep, but I'm going to say goodnight anyway. Are you ready?" Yoko asked, putting on her best motherly act. "Goodnight, my darlings."
"Goodnight, Yoko!" Omagatoki sang.
Yoko closed her eyes, happy to finally be able to get some rest. As soon as she closed them, however, Omagatoki called out to her.
"What is it?"
"It's time to get up." Akatsuki said.
It felt like Yoko had only closed her eyes a mere moment ago, but it was already ten o' clock in the morning. Night had passed in what felt like seconds, and it was already a new day.
"No way...it didn't even feel like I really slept!" Yoko gasped. "Does time always slip away when people talk to you?!"
"Not really. The Aika girl can talk to us without any problems." Akatsuki said.
"Aika? You guys know Aika too?" Yoko asked.
"She discovered us by chance. Akatsuki said. "Instead of feeling fear, she embraced the reality of the supernatural. She may have used it as inspiration for her songs."
"Good grief, that girl..." Yoko groaned, shaking her head.
(Though I question the reason why time only seems to fluctuate when they're around me, I suppose there are issues with greater priority. When the hour of meeting came, we walked over to the abandoned bowling alley. I admit, I was shaking the whole way over. I did not know who I was going to meet, or what their relation to Osamu really was, or if Osamu was actually alive. If the twins are a sign of anything, I assume this Hidetaka person is also a supernatural being of some sort.)
Yoko led the way inside with two electric lanterns in her hands. The bowling alley was as dark as night. The twins would accidentally kick over the occasional stray bowling ball or pin as they stumbled their way through the darkness. Yoko could see the silhouette of a hooded figure standing in front of the stained glass windows. Though she feared the stranger, Yoko kept her composure with the twins at her side and walked closer to the man she was supposed to meet.
Hidetaka wore a black cloak and hood, and a demonic noh mask to hide his face. The cloak was decorated with art depicting the phases of the moon around his waist. His hands were gloved, and his blue eyes shined through the eye holes of the mask.
(This must be him...)
"Are you Ogamu Hidetaka?" Yoko asked.
The man's voice was deep and ominous. "You must be Yoko Akiyama. You came on time, as I specified."
His eyes turned towards the twins. "Akatsuki, Omagatoki. Welcome back."
The twins bowed and sat down on the bleacher seats. Yoko set both of her lanterns on the floor, casting light on the seats, lanes, and bowling balls. She wasn't in any mood to sit besides the stranger. For all she knew, this man was a foe instead of a friend. She kept that in mind and remained on alert, even if that meant seeming stand-offish.
"These two are the Shoku Twins. I hope they weren't too much trouble." Hidetaka snickered.
"Not at all." Yoko said.
Almost as if he had X-ray vision, Hidetaka knew Yoko was carrying blades under her dress. "Ah, I see. You came armed." Hidetaka
(How did he know? Is my dress too thin?)
"Of course I came armed. Anyone with malicious intent could send a letter like that and drop two spirits in my care. I do not know your true identity, and even now, I do not know what you look like. It would be foolish to not come prepared."
Hidetaka chuckled, his laughter echoing through the bowling alley. "I'm glad you came armed. Osamu was right. You're smart enough to trust."
"Osamu said that?" Yoko shouted, momentarily losing control of the volume of her voice.
Hidetaka crossed his legs. "Now then. Sit. We have much to discuss. I'm going to fill you in on what has happened in the past year and three months."
Yoko sat down opposite of Hidetaka. She sat up straight with her hands nested in her pockets. "I'm listening."
Hidetaka sighed and looked up at the ceiling. "Izanami deceived you. Osamu and Tsukiakari both died that night. They killed each other in one final strike. Death by ex-girlfriend. How tragic, right? He came back here and in almost four months, he got himself killed. It is also true that Izanami buried them both, but she did not tell anyone where. She requested that amount of privacy from the elder gods and they granted it to her, assuming she'd bury their bodies somewhere nice on the earth. Actually, it's more accurate to say that she entombed them, not buried them."
"Entombed?" Yoko repeated, confused.
"She kept their bodies in a tomb built on the moon. They were not laid to rest on earth. There was a reason for this." Hidetaka said.
The collective memories of the Shoku Twins and Hidetaka himself were being displayed on the stained glass windows like a movie being projected onto a wall. Yoko could see Izanami climbing back up to the shrine the morning after Osamu and Tsukiakari died. Omagatoki and Akatsuki sat on the steps of the shrine as usual as Izanami approached them both.
"Izanami?" Akatsuki said. "What are you doing here?"
Izanami's frazzled hair obscured both of her eyes. Her tone was deathly flat and serious. "Omagatoki. Akatsuki. I'm going to involve you in a lot of trouble...but I need your help. Come to the moon with me."
Izanami teleported them to the moon, just outside of the crypt containing the bodies of Osamu and Tsukiakari. As they were supernatural beings, they had no trouble breathing or talking in space. The sun's light bounced off of the expanse of pale rock around them, with Earth visible in the foreground. The tomb of Osamu and Tsukiakari small, constructed with bricks made from the moon's surface. It was more like a backyard storage shed than a tomb for two people that Izanami loved. This was on purpose, though. Izanami knew those two wouldn't be dead for long.
"Two people who should not have died are inside of that tomb." Izanami said. "One of them has the great chance of being reincarnated as someone or something else. The other faces complete destruction of their soul. I want to bring them both back, but if I do, I will surely die. However, there is someone we can trust in this situation, someone Heaven would never expect to help us.
"You don't mean...him?" Omagatoki recoiled.
"Yes." Izanami confirmed. "Please, unseal him from the moon."
Hidetaka crossed his arms, tapping his index finger against left arm as he watched the story unfold. "They did an unforgivable thing, something that could eternally ruin their standing with Heaven. They unsealed me from the moon and asked for my help. She told me something very valuable to me was in danger, and it was my duty to protect it. When the tomb was opened, I saw exactly what she meant. I didn't know the young lad, but the girl..."
"I think I know who you are! You're him, aren't you! Tsukuyomi! God of the moon! Tsukiakari's father!" Yoko said.
Hidetaka removed his mask just enough to reveal half of his face. The man looked eternally youthful, though there was a scar on his cheek as if he had been cut a long time ago. His hair was as silver as the moon itself, and white hairs from his goatee dangled from his chin. He put his mask back on after letting Yoko get a decent look.
"Despite the fact that you know my identity, I must ask that you still call me Hidetaka. The truth could put Izanami and Osamu in danger."
Yoko contained her amazement and calmed down as much as she could. "I understand."
Looking back at the memories, Yoko could see Tsukuyomi wearing a white burial kimono. His hair was pure white and flowed in slow motion on the moon. The moon god wept over Tsukiakari's body as Izanami stood at the entrance of the tomb.
"How did this happen to her?" Tsukuyomi asked.
"You haven't seen her for hundreds upon hundreds of years, have you?" Izanami asked. "That poor girl went through so much suffering. I could explain to you, but I'm giving you the opportunity to ask her yourself. Come to the House of Souls with me. We're short on time, but we can still bring them back. If I try to revive them, I will die in the process. But you have an ample amount of energy left to bring them both back."
"Why should I care about the boy?" Tsukuyomi questioned.
"Think of it as a thank you gift for unsealing you ." Izanami hissed "It's a very low price to pay for getting your daughter back."
Tsukuyomi could not argue with Izanami. He ultimately agreed to go with Izanami to the House of Souls, where Osamu and Tsukiakari awaited judgement.
Hidetaka patted the heads of of Akatsuki and Omagatoki. "We discovered something odd when we entered that room. We only expected to find one of them, but both of them were in there. Not only that, but the pool of water that a soul rests in until judgement had turned black. According to Izanami, this meant that the souls inside were about to be terminated, erased completely from existence. With due haste, I followed Izanami's instructions and were able to pull the souls of Osamu and Tsukiakari back up to the surface before that could happen. They both returned in one piece."
Yoko cried tears of joy as she saw Osamu and Tsukiakari get pulled up from the black water by Tsukuyomi. It seemed Hidetaka was telling the truth after all. Izanami had managed to save both Osamu and Tsukiakari. Once they were pulled out of the water ,the two regained consciousness and were able to speak. Izanami held Osamu close and was overjoyed by his return. An ear to ear smile blossomed on her face as an endless flow tears slid down her cheek.
"Izanami?" Osamu groaned as he came to.
"I thought I lost you forever! Why did you do something so reckless?!" Izanami chided.
"I'm sorry." Osamu giggled. "I had to show this stubborn girl just how much this stubborn man truly loves her."
On the other hand, Tsukiakari couldn't believe what she was seeing. She stared wide-eyed at her father, Tsukuyomi, whom she hadn't seen in centuries. Neither of them knew how to react or what to say. They wanted to say a thousand things all at once, but their tongues were practically made of stone.
"Dad? Is that really you?" Tsukiakari asked.
"Gekko. My, how you've grown! You look just like your mother." Tsukuyomi said. "Welcome back, Gekko. You're alive."
Tsukiakari's crimson eyes swelled with burning tears. She ran this scenario in her head a million times since the Senkumo clan met its end. She always wondered if she would see her father again, and when. None of her premeditation actually prepared her for that moment, when she could finally see him again. Her heart throbbed in rage at her father for getting himself locked up. Her head ached in grief, and her legs wobbled in shame. She could barely handle the barrage of emotions.
"How many centuries has it been?!" Tsukiakari screamed.
"Too many." Tsukuyomi said.
"You committed murder and got sealed away!" Tsukiakari raged. "I lost my family! Everyone in Heaven ostracized me, laughed at me, and I was forced to leave! I lived like a stray dog on earth, your own daughter! So much happened, and I have no idea where to start! I got caught up in a war and joined Bishamon's clan! We tried our hardest to create our own future!
Tsukiakari's crying turned into heartbreaking sobbing. "I had to kill so many people, Dad! Bishamon turned me into a monster! I Despite that, I loved my clan! I was happy with them! But they kept dying, and none of them were left in the end! Bishamon killed everyone that was left!"
"I know. Izanami told me what happened back then." Tsukuyomi said.
"I died so many times! Izanami sacrificed so much just to keep me alive and I failed her every single time! I had so many lonely birthdays, Dad! I looked at the moon and wondered where you were!
(I see. Tsukiakari was finally able to let it all out...)
"I fell in love, I made friends again, but Bishamon still tried to use them to get to me!" Tsukiakari wept. "I was almost happy to be dead! I didn't want to hurt anyone else! I didn't want to keep hurting like this! And you weren't you there for a single bit of it!"
Izanami smiled and placed her hand on Osamu's shoulder. "I know this looks rough, but this is good for her. Hundreds of years of pent up agony, and now, she can finally cry into the arms of her father and let it all out. "
"I suppose you're right." Osamu nodded.
"I'm so sorry." Tsukuyomi lamented. "I'm sorry you had to go through so much alone. It must've been scary. It must've been painful and difficult. It's alright now. You can cry and tell me all about it. You can rest. It's okay to crumble and break down now. Your father is here to put the pieces back together."
Yoko wiped her eyes and kept herself from jumping in joy. "He really is alive. Both of them are."
"After that, we returned to Izanami's shrine with their bodies." Hidetaka began. "Their souls and their vessels were connected once more. Still, there were injuries to heal, and the fatigue of nearly being obliterated kept them bedridden for a while. We moved them to one of my old shrines in Hokkaido to rest and recover. The Shoku Twins attended to their needs and made sure nobody knew they were alive. However, our job wasn't done yet."
Tsukuyomi's dilapidated Hokkaido shrine was buried deep in a sea of trees in the hills of the countryside. It was a completely different world than the concrete jungle Osamu had lived in his whole life. Sitting beneath a canopy of trees, the sun-speckled Osamu sat with Tsukiakari, Izanami, and Tsukuyomi at the steps of the old shrine. Osamu pulled off the hood of his black robe from his head, letting the countryside breeze cool his face. Tsukiakari wore a similar robe, as it was the only thing she had to wear after being saved from death.
"I must apologize to you all." Izanami announced. "I'm sure you'd love to go back home, but we can't do that."
"Of course. I figured as much. We're supposed to be dead, after all." Osamu said. "I'm guessing we can't go back until we do something about Bishamon."
"Do you have a plan, Izanami?" Tsukuyomi asked.
Izanami nervously tented her fingers. "Well, uhhh..."
"Guess not." Tsukuyomi sighed.
"Leave it to me." Tsukiakari interjected, squeezing her right hand. "The great part about being dead is that you can move around freely, like a phantom. We'll take advantage of that."
"Absolutely not. I cannot allow you to get involved with that monster anymore." Tsukuyomi scolded.
"Dad, I've got no choice. It has to be me." Tsukiakari firmly replied. "I've been living with this pain for all of these centuries. My clan, my comrades, they all remain unavenged."
"Revenge won't make any of that go away, Gekko." Tsukuyomi protested.
"I know that. I don't expect it to." Tsukiakari replied. "I've found happiness being with Izanami and Osamu, and with those two crazy girls they live with back in Kyoto. But as long as Bishamon still lives, my clan can't rest in peace. It has to be me. He was my master, and I'm the last surviving Senkumo. It's about time we settled this, once and for all."
Tsukuyomi's lips shifted and quivered, but no words passed through them. He looked over to Izanami to see her reaction.
"If that's what Gekko wants, I think we should support her. We should aid her in any way we can." Izanami suggested. "As long as Bishamon lives, Gekko's life will always be in danger. I think it was Bishamon who tried to obliterate both Gekko and Osa, probably to bury the secret of the Senkumo clan. Of course, I could just tell the elder gods about it, but I wouldn't have any proof. Those two have memories of what happened back then, so we need to keep them alive."
Tsukuyomi stood with his hands on his hips. "Very well. I understand. Bishamon will not see mercy from me after putting my daughter through so much, and even getting an innocent, young man involved in all of this."
"I've already made my decision in all of this." Osamu said. "I'll follow Gekko and Izanami wherever they go, even into the jaws of hell itself."
"That said, you and Gekko have only just recovered enough to move around. You'll need more time to rest." Izanami advised. "And so will you, Tsukuyomi. I've brought along the Shoku Twins to look after you while you recover."
"Wait...the Shoku Twins?!" Gekko excitedly repeated.
The twins ascended the steps of the shrine together, waving at Izanami and the others as they made their way up. Even from a distance, Osamu could clearly see the deathly pallor of their skin, similar to Izanami's. Despite their ghostly appearance, Osamu found the two little girls to be quite the adorable bunch, his heart racing in joy just from looking at them.
"Look at them! They're so cute!" Osamu cheered. "Hey, Gekko, do you know them?"
"Yeah, I met them back in the day, during the Warring States. They collaborated with me and helped me fight a lot of the clan's most dangerous foes. I've hardly seen them in the past hundred years or so."
With their hands unbound, the Shoku Twins could speak and think independently. Akatsuki remained as stone-faced as usual, but Omagatoki recklessly rushed up the stairs in joy when she spotted Tsukiakari.
"Gekko!" Omagatoki sang, running into Tsukiakari's arms.
"My, you two haven't changed a bit!" Tsukiakari giggled, hugging Omagatoki. "How have you been?"
"Good!" Omagatoki cheered. "It's been a little boring, but Sis and I have been making friends recently!"
"We've mostly been stuck in Heaven or helping exorcists recover old artifacts." Akatsuki explained. "It's been a tedious century."
"Man, this is like a dream, isn't it?" Tsukiakari sang. "It's like the gang is getting back together. Myself, Izanami, you two, and even my Dad are all here. Hey, speaking of which, you guys haven't seen Inari or Kagutsuchi, have you?"
Akatsuki shook her head. "I'm afraid not."
"No developments there." Omagatoki frowned. "We haven't seen either of them since they originally went missing."
Izanami released a saddened sigh. "I see. I wish they could be here with us. Then we'd really have the whole crew back together."
"It's alright. If you haven't tended to their souls recently, then we know that they're out there somewhere." Akatsuki encouraged. "We'll find them both someday."
"Mama 'Nami, who's he?" Omagatoki questioned, pointing towards Osamu.
"Oh! Please, introduce yourself, Osa!" Izanami urged.
"Uh, my name is Osamu Ashikaga. I'm a friend of Izanami and Gekko. It's a real pleasure to meet you two!"
"Friends? We're a little more than that." Izanami pouted.
Thinking back to his little threesome with Gekko and Izanami, Osamu nervously averted his eyes from Omagatoki's. Akatsuki walked up to him, staring deep into his soul with her radiant, golden eyes. Her oppressive stare began to make Osamu sweat beneath his robes until she reached out her little hand for a handshake.
"I'm Akatsuki Nisshoku, and that's my sister, Omagatoki Gesshoku. We're the Shoku Twins. We've known Izanami and Gekko a long time as well. Thank you for befriending them both."
Osamu breathed a sigh of relief knowing that Akatsuki meant no harm, and gladly shook her hand. "We'll be in your care from now on. Thanks for coming out to help us."
Tsukuyomi softly chuckled. "Glad to see the old Shoku Twins are finally making friends."
Akatsuki's cheeks reddened while her expression remained rigidly apathetic. "Tsukuyomi is our old master. We pledged ourselves to him a while ago as a favor to Gekko, so that he'd stay alive. Izanami is our current master."
"Ah, I think I get it. Sort of." Osamu laughed.
"So, while we're here recovering, what are you going to do, Izanami?" Tsukuyomi asked.
"I'll continue my business as usual. I won't be on earth as often anymore, not until all of this is over. The gods will expect me to be in the world of the dead tending to the souls that were lost in the fight, and that is what I plan to do. Any inconsistencies in my behavior and activities will most likely build up suspicion. So, I'm leaving everything to the Shoku Twins until you're all healed."
"I'll spend that time putting together a plan of action against Bishamon." Tsukiakari said. "Though, I should warn you all that any action taken against Bishamon could be considered a provocation against all of Heaven. We'd be picking a fight with the entire Shinto pantheon. We might end up dying all over again if we're not careful."
"Sis and I are prepared for that. We're on your side as usual, Gekko." Akatsuki assured.
"Yeah, what Sis said!" Omagatoki cheered. "We'll help you take Bishamon down, no matter what!"
"You don't even have to ask me. If it's you against the world, I'll side with my daughter." Tsukuyomi declared.
"Thanks, guys. You're the best." Tsukiakari said. "And you, Osamu? This is going to be very dangerous, so I won't force you. Don't go around thinking you have anything to prove to me anymore. You've already shown me how much you truly love me. You don't get much more serious than dying alongside the girl you love."
"Yeah you do." Osamu smiled. "I'll take it a step further and help that girl lay siege to Heaven itself. I'll do it for you and for Izanami. If we've got a fight on our hands, I want to help in every way I can. I've got a score to settle with Bishamon too, after all."
"Well then, we're all in agreement." Izanami declared. "Let's give it a year's time and come up with an operation to take Bishamon down!"
The stained glass reverted back to normal.
"At first, Osamu was unsure of whether or not he wanted to see you or anyone." Hidetaka said. "So much time had passed, he thought you may have already moved on with your life. He sent me and the Shoku Twins to observe you until he finally decided that we should make contact. So, I sent the twins to you, along with the letter, and here we are."
"Where is he now?" Yoko asked. "He was awake for more than half a year and still..."
"Osamu and I were in Hokkaido, remember? He may have woken up, but neither he nor Tsukiakari were fully ready to go back. They worked their stamina back up, and then we began destroying Bishamon's shrines in the area, along with the komainu that guarded them. It was deadly and heavy work. I had the pleasure of fighting alongside him and my daughter many times while we were in Hokkaido. He's a strong man. He definitely earned my respect."
Yoko flashed a proud grin. "That's Osamu alright. That's why I love him so much."
"We made the journey back to Kyoto and had to remain cautious about being discovered. That's when I was told to contact you." Hidetaka explained.
"May I ask why you were destroying Bishamon's shrines? What was the purpose of that?" Yoko questioned.
Hidetaka softly chuckled. "Simple. Osamu, Tsukiakari, Izanami, the Shoku Twins, and myself...Are going to overthrow Bishamonten, the god of war."