Death by Ex-Girlfriend: War Cloud
(Hello there! It's Osamu! I'm back! Did you miss me? Hopefully Yoko took good care of you while I was gone. Sorry for dying on you there, but I had to do that. You could even say I had a duty to die alongside my ex-girlfriend. At least, that's what it felt like at the time. Oh, and don't worry, Gekko's doing perfectly fine. We've actually made up in the past year! I guess it was about time one of my exes actually ended up killing me, huh? Anyway, shall we get this show on the road?)
Yoko, Isabella, and Osamu returned to the house, the two girls almost unable to believe Osamu was really walking right next to them. Neither Yoko nor Isabella could stop crying as they gathered in the moonlit kitchen, showering him with hugs and words of elation of his return. After a long year in hiding, Osamu sat down at the kitchen island, taking in the interior of the house as if it was the first time he'd ever been there. He released a nostalgic sigh as he brushed aside his lion's mane of curly hair.
"I'm sorry it's been so long." he said. "And I'm sorry for you too, Isabella. I had no idea the fight rendered you unable to walk. Have you been alright?"
Isabella wiped her tears away and spoke with a broken, yet relieved voice. "It's okay, dummy. We all missed you."
Osamu smiled. "I missed you guys too"
"Did Tsukiakari survive too?" Yoko asked.
"Well, survive isn't the right word for either of us. We both really died back then." Osamu explained. "It was only thanks to Izanami and Tsukuyomi that we were pulled out before we could both have our souls obliterated. Which brings me to my next point. It was Bishamon who incorrectly told the Shinigami to have my soul obliterated along with Gekko's. I guess he was trying to settle the score with her, once and for all."
"Bishamon did that? He wanted you both dead that badly, huh?" Isabella huffed.
Osamu nodded. "Those two last fought several centuries ago, when the Warring States era was nearing its end. They came close to killing each other, but they both lived through the fight. Their grudge has only festered since then. Gekko may have been able to move on to some extent, but she could never forget. Who would? Scars like hers would serve as an eternal reminder of what transpired all those years ago. It gets even creepier though. Gekko told me she has several dozen fragments of bone and teeth embedded in her body."
"What?! Bone and teeth? Like, shrapnel wounds?" Isabella asked.
"Yeah. They belong to one of her friends from the Senkumo clan. When I realized that Gekko carried the remains of her comrades in her own body, I became determined to help her finish this quarrel with Bishamon. Thankfully, the tiresome part of our task is already completed. By destroying Bishamon's shrines across the country, we've cut off his line of prayers. That's going to shorten his powers for a good while. Tomorrow, we're going to go to heaven and settle this."
"You say it like it's just that easy! This is the god of war you're talking about, Osa! What will we do if you die again?!" Isabella cautioned.
Osamu scoffed. "Don't worry, Izzy. I won't be dying again. Our hope is to present the memories stored within Tsukiakari and myself to the elder gods as proof of Bishamon's crimes. If civility doesn't work, and we are attacked regardless, Tsukiakari, Tsukuyomi, Izanami, and myself will just have to fight our way out of heaven. A true war of the gods. However, that's only the worst case scenario. Destroying the shrines was preparation for that. By now, Tsukiakari should actually be more powerful than Bishamon. Until his shrines are rebuilt, that is."
Yoko's eyes, burning with love, met with Osamu's. "How could I allow you to do something that risky after I've already lost you? I would fight all of heaven and earth if it means there's a greater chance of you surviving. God, human, spirit, devil, it doesn't matter to me."
"You two know I had a terrible habit." Osamu said. "I'd take on burdens by myself. It's a habit I still fall prey to, even now. But this time is different. I have the help of three gods and a cute pair of twins. We're doing this together, so have some faith in us, Yoko."
"I've been wondering something..." Isabella began. "Izanami freed Tsukuyomi from his prison so he could revive you and Gekko, right?"
"Yeah, that's right. Why?" Osamu asked.
"Well, the reason she did that is because she would die if she reincarnated you both. But that's the thing. I thought Izanami couldn't die." Isabella said. "I mean, there was that time I emptied a few rounds in her when she teleported in the house and spooked us both. Yoko also sliced her head clean off that other time, after Aika moved back to her place. It just doesn't really make any sense. She can't die, but she was scared she'd die if she reincarnated you?"
"That...that's a good point. What's up with that?" Yoko questioned. "Maybe it's different if you're reincarnating someone, versus, you know, losing a limb."
"But she did it before with Aika, didn't she?" Isabella recalled.
Osamu shook his head. "No, that was different. The shinigami themselves were willing to make an exception to return Aika's soul to her body, in exchange for erasing the memories that drove her to suicide in the first place. We don't know how godliness works, right? Maybe it is different to losing a limb."
"I just can't shake the feeling that Izanami isn't telling us something." Isabella muttered.
The Shoku Twins appeared right outside the glass door leading to the backyard. Or rather, they had been there for a while but were only noticed by Yoko and Isabella just now. Osamu got up from his seat and flipped the hood of his cloak over his head.
"Looks like it's time." Osamu said. "Don't worry about a thing, guys. This will all be over tomorrow. Gekko will have her name cleared and justice will be served. For every child that died in the Senkumo clan. For Tsukuyomi, who had to have his daughter go through hell. And for you two as well."
Osamu flung open the glass door, prompting cuddly greetings from Omagatoki, who was practically bursting with joy seeing Osamu again.
"Big Brother Osamu!" Omagatoki sang.
As if she wasn't cute enough, Omagatoki was always excited when Osamu was around. She leaped into his harms and had him hoist her up into the air, resulting in her unleashing an infectious barrage of giggles. Akatsuki was more reserved, but the feelings were mutual. She preferred to hold Osamu's hand wherever they went.
"Omagatoki!" Osamu cheered.
"He can say such a creepy name so gleefully?" Yoko questioned.
"You're both so cute! I could just adopt you!" Osamu said, completely enamored by the twins.
"Awwww!" Isabella swooned. "Kinda makes you think Osamu would make a great father, huh?"
"Or an excellent pedophile." Yoko muttered.
"Is that jealousy I hear?" Isabella teased with a snicker.
Yoko crossed her arms. "Do you really want to know?"
Osamu set Omagatoki down and returned his attention to Yoko and Isabella.
"Alright, guys. We're off. Wish us luck." Osamu said.
Yoko and Isabella both blew Osamu kisses as he disappeared with the twins. Especially for Yoko, their hearts swooned as if it were the first time they fell in love all over again.
"That's my man. My Osamu." Yoko said.
"Let's hope he wins, and he comes home." Isabella encouraged.
"What about you? If Osamu comes home..." Yoko began.
"Will I come back too?" Isabella said, finishing her thought.
"Osamu and Tsukiakari are both still alive. We can really rebuild our home, Izzy. It's not just Osamu that I love. I want to take care of as many people as I can. I don't want you, Tsukiakari, or Izanami to be lonely."
It didn't take long for Isabella to make her decision. Her fiery spirit could never be doused. "You know, when those two died and I lost my ability to walk, it really put a dent on my heart. I thought that maybe I can't be the wild and energetic Isabella I usually am. Maybe it's time to grow up and go home. Drop the childish act. Find a new boyfriend, get a good place to live. When you can walk again, have some kids, grow old, and die. Just a normal life, you know? But those two are back. So, I'm going to stay. And god damn it, I don't care how long it takes me. I'm going to walk again!"
Yoko could see the happiness restored in Isabella's crying eyes. Yoko knew Isabella long enough to know that if she put her mind to something, she'd chase after it as stubbornly as she possibly could. If she truly wanted to, Yoko thought it was possible that she might even be able to walk again someday.
"I'm really happy to hear that, Izzy."
The Shoku Twins took Osamu back with them to Arashiyama, on the western outskirts of Kyoto. Tsukiakari and Tsukuyomi had set up a hidden camp nestled among the trees, close to the bank of the wide, but shallow Oi river. The area was surrounded by tree-veiled mountains, their summits occulted by pale clouds of fog. The gentle purl of the Oi river gave a natural soundtrack to the general area, making it seem like a slice of paradise not yet dominated by modern civilization.
Tsukiakari washed her hair in the moonlit river as her father stood by, both of them waiting for Osamu's return. It didn't take long before Osamu and the Shoku Twins emerged from the tree line.
"Welcome back, Osamu. It must've been good to see them again." Tsukuyomi said.
"Yeah, it was." Osamu replied. "Everything is set. I'm ready to go whenever you are."
Tsukiakari stood up and wrung out her long, raven hair. She set her eyes upon the shimmering waters, fireworks of anxiety going off in her stomach. "It's been ages since I last saw my mother. I don't know what either of us will do when we see each other again."
"I'm sure she'll be more shocked to see me than you." Tsukuyomi quipped. "Though, I imagine the bigger shock will be seeing a mortal in Heaven. Osamu, you're about to see what no mortal has ever seen before. Bishamon sent you all the way down to the Underworld, and you're about to ascend up to Heaven for your revenge."
"It will be our revenge too, Osamu." Akatsuki said, tugging at Osamu's sleeve.
Omagatoki tugged harder to get his attention. "Sis and I have been waiting centuries for this day! Give him the beating of his life, Osa! Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!"
"Bishamon is only a war god. It's no pressure, really." Akatsuki joked with her usual stone-face.
"Of course not..." Osamu laughed in despair. "I beat up war gods all the time. Th-this is no problem..."
"Are you sure you want to bring the twins along, Gekko?" Tsukuyomi asked.
Tsukiakari nodded. "Positive. In fact, it's essential that we do. The truth is, if we go in there and end up fighting all of the gods, we'll just get killed all over again. We won't stand a chance against all of them at once. However, if we have a little deterrence, we can avoid an all-out war with the pantheon. I reckon we'll only have to fight Heaven's guardians before fighting Bishamon himself."
"Deterrence? Like how two countries with nukes very rarely go to war with each other?" Osamu asked.
"Exactly like that." Tsukiakari confirmed. "Those two little girls clinging to your sleeves are perhaps the ultimate super weapon in our pantheon. They've got destructive power you couldn't even imagine. They control and regulate the flow of time, after all. Not only that, but their power to control solar and lunar eclipses greatly affects the supernatural world on Earth."
"I think I get it!" Osamu gasped. "You two are like really valuable assets to the gods."
"Don't make it sound like such a happy occasion." Akatsuki said. "They burdened us with these responsibilities long ago."
"Buuut, that's also the reason we were able to meet you, Osa!" Omagatoki sang. "I think all of our trouble has already been paid off, right Sis?"
"I suppose we'll have to see." Akatsuki replied with a nod. "As of now, Osamu has mostly proven his trustworthiness through his relationships with Izanami and Gekko. Furthering our friendship with him should reveal if he's truly a good man or a sick, necrophiliac lolicon."
"I'm not a necrophiliac or a lolicon!" Osamu protested.
(Though...I did sleep with Izanami, who is technically a walking corpse...)
"That reminds me, Isabella said something earlier that was kind of interesting.” Osamu began. "If Izanami can't die, why was she concerned about whether or not she'd be able to reincarnate us? Bodily injury doesn't seem to do anything to her. Is it different if she expends energy bringing the dead back to life? But, if that's the case, how come I was able to kill Gekko with a sword, but Izanami survived Yoko slicing her head clean off?"
Tsukuyomi and Tsukiakari were silent for a moment, as if they were thinking carefully about their responses.
"I wasn't going to question any of it, since Izanami did help me save my little girl." Tsukuyomi said, cradling his chin between his thumb and curled index finger. "But as far as I'm aware, Izanami did die from bodily injury before. It was very long ago, before Japan was even really a country. Izanami and Izanagi had many children during the course of their marriage, but she died soon after she birthed her final daughter, Kagutsuchi."
"Oh yeah, I read about this tale before." Osamu recalled. "Izanami was scorched to the bone when she gave birth to Kagutsuchi, and died as a result. That really happened? Then, the story of her waking up in the Underworld and her divorce from Izanagi is true too?"
Tsukuyomi crossed his arms and nodded. "That's what happened. Amaterasu rescued her from the Underworld not long after that, and fixed up her deathly appearance as much as she could. She was a pile of maggots and fetid guts back then, but all that's left to suggest she had died is her pale skin. It's strange that she wouldn't die to bodily injury, given that it's happened to her before. Contrary to what you humans might think, gods are immortal, but not invulnerable. If we get our heads cut off, we die. If we're even a halfway decently popular god, we're reincarnated. So, not dying when you get your head cut off is...strange, to say the least."
"Perhaps the author left a gaping plot hole in the story." Akatsuki muttered, tempting said author to erase her existence altogether.
"Do you know anything about it, Gekko?" Osamu asked.
Tsukiakari closed her eyes, mentally shutting the subject out from her mind. "Who cares? It's not important. We should be focusing on Bishamon, not Izanami."
"Oh, yeah...you're right." Osamu mumbled, a tad bit embarrassed he got so side-tracked.
"Tomorrow is the day, everyone. Get some good rest." Tsukiakari announced. "We're all going to need it. I’ll join you in just a bit.”
“Hmm? Where are you going?” Osamu asked.
“I’ve got to take care of something before we go. I won’t be gone long.” Tsukiakari answered.
“Just don’t stay up too late, Gekko.” Tsukuyomi urged.
“Don’t be such a dad, Dad.” Tsukiakari sighed. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
While Tsukuyomi and Osamu prepared to sleep, Omagatoki and Akatsuki sat by the riverbank, watching the water flow by to pass the time. Since they didn't sleep, the twins had to stay awake until it was time to bring about the sunrise. So, with a long thread of red yarn, the twins spent their hours playing Cat's Cradle.
Tsukiakari marched into the depths of the woods in complete silence. The wind combed through the trees, filling the air with the sound of swishing leaves and creaking branches. Her raven hair yielded to the wind’s caress, lifting in its direction before falling again. Spears of moonlight slashed through the gaps in the canopy of leaves above her head.
Once she was certain she was alone, she stood still and closed her eyes. She focused only on the feeling of the frigid wind against her skin, how cold and refreshing it felt. Despite the tremendous weight pulling her heart down to her pit of her stomach, Tsukiakari remained calm. The scars covering her body ached and pulsated, the pain reminding her of all the people that died by Bishamon’s hand.
The voices of her friends and comrades of centuries past echoed around her. At long last, all of their suffering and pain would be brought to light. She’d be able to give them justice. She opened her eyes, immediately noticing the sound of crackling flames up ahead. A lone man in tattered, black clothes sat before his campfire. He clasped his hands, the fire’s light revealing his pallid skin. His black, wide-brimmed hat concealed his pale, disfigured face.
Tsukiakari took a deep breath and slowly approached him. She slowly sat down across from him, noticing she could feel no warmth from the fire.
“It’s been a long time, Gekko.” The man said.
“Yes it has…Satoru.”
The ghostly man raised his head, the fire’s light shining against his pale face and white, waxy eyes. The man looked far more like a phantom than a flesh and blood person.
“You nearly had him last time. It was quite the fight. I remember it even still.” Satoru said. “And now, here you are, about to finish it once and for all. At long last, you’re about to have your revenge.”
“No.” Tsukiakari replied. “This is not for revenge. Not anymore.”
Satoru chuckled. “Who are you trying to fool? Bishamon took everything from you. He murdered your comrades and the love of your life. He made you believe in him, trust in him. In return, he ruined you.”
Tsukiakari shook her head, her lips flat with disgust. “I’ve had a taste of revenge before. It’s foul. I can stomach it no longer.”
Satoru stood up, his hands slowly clenching into fists. “Look at you. You really have gone soft. You’re nothing like the Tsukiakari of the past.”
Tsukiakari stood as well, keeping her gaze focused on Satoru. “Good. I’ve risen above that foolish girl. And because of that, I’ve also risen above you. You will haunt me no longer.”
The two slowly began to circle around the fire. Tsukiakari kept her right hand on the hilt of her sheathed blade as the flames danced and crackled between them.
“You have no choice in the matter.” Satoru growled. “I will always be a part of you.”
“That ends tonight, Satoru.” Tsukiakari stated. “The hatred…the pain we both inflicted on each other…I don’t feel it anymore. I don’t have to.”
Satoru kicked the dirt at his feet, extinguishing the fire. “Liar! Revenge isn’t the reason? Then what is, war goddess, if not hatred? A sense of justice? No…is it love? You think you’ve found love with that boy you murdered?”
“Someone like you would never understand.” Tsukiakari said. “As hard as you tried, you failed to change me. ‘That boy’ has proven to be far more powerful than you have ever been.”
“Then why am I still here?!” Satoru screamed.
Tsukiakari’s fingers tightened around the hilt of her sword. “So you can finally be destroyed.”
Satoru erupted into laughter. “Destroy me? As long as I live, you will never know love. Everything you touch will die and every love you find will end in agony.”
Tsukiakari drew her sword, the blade glimmering in the moonlight. She kept her arms low so the blade pointed towards Satoru’s feet. At the same time, Satoru reached beneath his black robes, taking out a tanto. He unsheathed the blade and cast its scabbard aside, pointing it directly at Tsukiakari.
The trees swayed in the wind, raining their leaves down upon Tsukiakari and Satoru. They remained still as mother nature danced around them, the moonlight casting their shadows upon the soil. Tsukiakari’s expression hardened and her grip tightened around her sword’s handle. Satoru kept his tanto raised above his head, taking a high stance with the blade.
They locked eyes, staring each other down with unflinching attention. All other sounds, sights, and sensations faded away. It was just the two of them, all alone.
Satoru lunged and brought his tanto downwards in a vertical swing. Tsukiakari swiftly raised her arms and held her blade horizontally, blocking his attack. While Satoru winded his arm back for a stabbing attack, Tsukiakari shuffled her left leg backwards as she rotated her wrists. In one swift movement, she had put a bit more distance between herself and Satoru, and then swung her sword diagonally, slashing him through his neck and chest before he could reach her.
In mere seconds, the fight was over. Tsukiakari immediately sheathed her blade again, knowing there was no reason to clean the blood off first. That was because there was no blood, no indication that she had slashed Satoru. Satoru dropped his tanto as he fell over to the side. Tsukiakari caught him before he hit the ground, cradling him in her arms.
The dying Satoru gasped for air as he scanned Tsukiakari’s face, his eyes glistening with terror. Hoping to ease his pain, Tsukiakari clenched Satoru’s right hand into her own.
“Tsukiakari…” Satoru whispered.
Tsukiakari shook her head. “People like us…we don’t have to become worse than him in order to win.”
Satoru smiled as the moon shined down upon him, the wind caressing his cold body. “That young man…he’s with you?”
Tsukiakari nodded. “Yeah, we’re doing this together.”
“Your clan…myself…Noriko…” Satoru wheezed. “Avenge us…”
Tsukiakari closed her eyes as Satoru took his last breath. She laid him down on the ground, moving his hands over his chest. She closed his eyelids and bowed her head in respect for her fallen enemy. When she opened her eyes again, Satoru was gone along with the embered remains of his campfire. No trace of him remained, for he was never really there at all.
The memory of him survived for all those years since the era of warring states. Years after his death, his lingering will haunted Tsukiakari like a ghost. Tonight, that came to an end. Her enemy had entrusted her with a crucial task, to defeat Bishamon.
For as much hatred Tsukiakari once had for Satoru, they were ultimately both victims of Bishamon’s foul schemes. Even Satoru was once just an ordinary human being. He lived trying to do right by others as well as himself. It was the war that stole his humanity, turning him into the ghost of a man that would haunt Tsukiakari years after his death.
For her fallen allies, for Osamu and the girls back home, and even for her vanquished foes, Tsukiakari was determined to kill Bishamon.
Her secret task completed, Tsukiakari turned back towards her camp with more resolve than ever. It finally felt like centuries of bad blood, pain, and agony were about to be resolved. Bishamon’s death would be the final chapter of that horrific part of her life.
(We could always count on Akatsuki to bring the morning upon us.)
Omagatoki jumped on Osamu's stomach repeatedly to wake him up the moment the sun rose above the horizon. "Wakey wakey Osa Osa!"
"Okay, I'm up! I'm up! Geez, Oma..." Osamu groaned.
Omagatoki's face was suddenly stricken with worry and regret. "I-I'm sorry! Did I hurt you?"
"No. I'm all good. Thank you for waking me, and thanks for the beautiful sunrise, Akatsuki."
"It's nothing." Akatsuki said, looking away to hide her reddening cheeks.
The twins woke Tsukuyomi and Tsukiakari up as well. It was the fated day of their assault on Heaven. With everyone up, the group held hands with each other and mentally prepared themselves.
"Ready? The Shoku Twins are going to take us right at Heaven's doorstep. We may not be able go there without some sort of fight." Tsukuyomi warned.
"I'm ready. We're finally gonna settle the score after everything he did. Let's make that bastard pay!" Tsukiakari roared.
"Take us away, ladies." Osamu said, nodding to the Shoku Twins.
"Gladly!" Omagatoki chirped.
The twins teleported everyone to gates of Heaven, which was a massive palace built along a mountain range hidden in the clouds, in a world available only to gods and their servants. The palace was much like Fushimi Inari shrine, in the sense that it was a massive super shrine housing the gods. Its golden rooftop and marble pillars glimmered in the sunlight. Though, heaven didn't really have a sun. Rather, it was Amaterasu's glory giving the place light. Among the towering pagodas surrounding the palace were bell towers, their roofs decorated with stones and jewels. The surrounding area felt much like Arashiyama, with tree-coated mountains pitting the palace and its surrounding village in a natural bowl-shaped valley.
Osamu stood with his mouth agape at the sight of Heaven, how the clouds surrounded the valley, and the valley in turn surrounded the massive palace ahead. Though he knew he was there on a mission, he couldn't help but twirl around in circles as he scanned his surroundings. Tsukiakari and Tsukuyomi's reactions appeared to be more internal, for their expressions remained rather stoic as they stared daggers at the palace.
"Home, sweet home." Tsukiakari muttered.
"It's as shallow as ever. The vanity of the gods never ceases to amaze me." Tsukuyomi added.
"Amaterasu has spent a lot of time over the centuries renovating the area." Akatsuki said. "She wanted the palace to be the ultimate Shinto shrine, so to speak."
"You seriously lived here, Gekko?!" Osamu asked, completely awed.
"Don't let the grandeur get to your head, Osa." Tsukiakari replied. "It may look nice to you, but this place houses some of the most heartless beings in existence. Bishamon is a fine example of that. Despite everything he did to me and to my clan, he has a throne here among his fellow gods. The others knew exactly what he did, but they didn't care. They value prayers and lifelines above human life and autonomy."
Hearing that, Osamu felt guilty by his initial reaction to seeing Heaven. "Sorry. I got excited and forgot about that for a moment."
Tsukiakari shrugged. "You're only human, right? Anyway, let's go. We've got no choice but to just walk up to the front gate."
"Alright. Let's do this! Payback time!" Osamu cheered.
With the Shoku Twins in tow, Osamu, Tsukiakari, and Tsukuyomi marched to the first, red torii gate at the base of village. A long, steep line of stairs stretched from the base of the hill all the way up to the village entrance. Perched at opposite sides of the torii gate were two, stone Komainu, the lion-like dogs and guardians of Heaven.
Upon seeing them, Tsukiakari stopped dead in her tracks, extending her hand to signal the others to the same. Tsukuyomi and Osamu kept close to the Shoku Twins to protect them.
"I knew it. There are komainu here, too." Tsukiakari said. "Everyone's gonna know we're here from the get-go. Are you ready, Osamu? If you were good enough to kill me at some point, I'm eager to see what else you can do."
Osamu unsheathed Bishamon's golden sword, which he kept hidden beneath his black robe. "Oh, I'm ready alright."
"Alright then. Time to kick the hornet's nest." Tsukiakari said with a smile.
She drew her blade and raised it skywards, using her power to bring the sea of clouds into the valley. The clouds occulted the sun, benighting all of Heaven in their oppressive shade.
.Tsukiakari's lion-like voice almost shook the very foundation of heaven itself. "Bishamon! Come out and face me, you coward! Come out now, and face the phantom you've failed twice now to kill!"
Inside the palace itself, all of the gods trembled as her voice rang out. Among the dozens of minor gods, whispers and fearful chatter circulated around the rooms. But for Bishamon, who sat on a throne of swords and shields, he knew exactly whose voice that was. His hands shivered upon the throne's arm rests.
"It can't be..." Bishamon muttered, sweat rolling down his temple. "Izanami...this must be your doing!"
A battle of gods was on its way to tear heaven asunder.