Notes: This story was inspired by a popular image of Enma Ai ferrying Makoto to hell. It's well-drawn, but let's face it... that's not how things would really go, is it?

The story takes place just before the end of School Days episode 11 and during Jigoku Shoujo's second season. The characters belong to 0verflow and Studio DEEN respectively. Japanese name order is used purely because I don't like how "Ai Enma" sounds.


HELL DAYS


"I... I never wanted it to end this way..."

Saionji Sekai watched from around the corner as Makoto left school for the day. He was chatting with some girl from one of the other classes. Sekai didn't even recognize her, and that was no longer a surprise. She had lost count of the girls who had set their sights on her boyfriend... girls that Makoto never turned away.

"You said you wanted me. You said I was your girlfriend."

Sekai took a last look at the fateful messages on her cellphone. Makoto had sent them to her while he was still dating Katsura. In retrospect, Sekai knew that should have been a warning to her. If he'd been willing to leave his girlfriend for her, how could she trust him herself? But she had wanted him too badly, ignored all the reasons to stay away. And there had been so many. She had no one to blame but --

No. This wasn't her fault. Sekai put back her cellphone and took out the other... thing she was carrying.

"You drove me to this, Makoto."

The thing looked and felt perfectly normal. Anyone else who saw it would probably not bat an eye. But Sekai knew what it really was -- the overwhelming evil it represented. And more than that, it felt alive in some strange way. Sekai didn't even want to look at it.

She hesitated. It wasn't too late to get rid of the thing and go on with her life. Makoto had hurt her, but could she really do this to him? Wasn't it enough to know he would inevitably regret this life he'd chosen? He couldn't silence the good inside himself forever. Someday this awful phase would end, and then maybe... maybe they could still...

A shock. Sekai winced and looked at her chest. She had felt something. Had it just been a sudden pain, or... or something moving? Was it beginning so soon?

Sekai closed her eyes. She saw the candid shot of Makoto and Otome. She saw the indicator strip that had changed her life forever. She saw the cold, forgotten Christmas dinner on her table.

"No. I can never forgive you."

Sekai raised the thing in her trembling hands and held it before her. Evil and hatred pulsed outward from it, flooding into her mind. The thing was ready. Silently, intensely, it urged her to release it from its fragile chain. I will make everything right, it seemed to say. I will do for you what you dare not do for yourself. He betrayed your trust. I will not.

She blinked the tears out of her eyes. Shaking, she reached for the red string...

"MAKOTOOO!"

...and pulled.

Wind howled around Sekai. In her hands, the blood-red straw doll dissolved and drifted away. A woman's voice filled her ears, saying "I hear and deliver this vengeance."

The wind stopped, and Sekai was alone with the red string in her hands. It was over.

Walking away, Sekai could already feel the regret flooding in. What she had done was unforgivable, she knew. She would hate herself as long as she lived for this desperate act of cowardice. But she could never take it back... and even if she could, she knew she would end up doing it all over again.

"Sayonara", she said to Makoto, wherever he was.


Sekai was almost late for class the next morning. Terrible nightmares had haunted her all night... when she could sleep at all. She had nearly stayed home today, but as hard as it would be to deal with others, being alone with what she'd done was worse. She walked into the classroom -- and froze.

Makoto was sitting in his usual seat, absent-mindedly staring out the window.

She blinked. He was still there. After a moment he noticed her and cringed a bit, clearly assuming she was mad at him.

He didn't know the half of it. Sekai ran up to him and screamed "What are you DOING here?"

"This is my class," said Makoto. "Don't make a scene."

She grabbed him by the collar and shook him. "You're DEAD! You're supposed to be in hell!"

"What are you talking about?"

"I pulled the string! I... I..."

Sekai dropped Makoto. He dusted himself off and sat back down, saying, "If you're here for class, better stop making trouble. You're lucky the teacher isn't here yet."

Too shocked and confused to answer, Sekai ran down the steps. Makoto watched her leave, then shrugged and took out his notebook. A cute girl in the front row winked at him. He made a mental note to meet her at lunchtime.


"I don't understand. What did I do wrong?" Sekai stared into the mirror in the washroom, trying to make sense of things. Hadn't that girl said the one Sekai hated would be taken immediately to hell? Had she been cheated?

As her mind raced, she noticed something odd about her reflection. What was that under her shirt? Something caught in the wash? Sekai reached for it, but didn't feel anything. She pulled her shirt out of the way.

There, on her breast, was a black mark. A wisp of hellfire in a circle, branded on her like a tattoo.

The mark of Hell Girl.

"I'm going to hell," whispered Sekai. "So why... why is he..."

Bursting into tears, Sekai fell to the floor. How had this happened?


"The rest is for you to decide," said the black-haired girl as she disappeared. The surreal vision of sunset dissolved, leaving the real world behind.

"I have already decided," said Katsura Kotonoha. In her hands was the straw doll the girl had handed her. She turned it over, taking a good look at it. It seemed perfectly ordinary in every way... except for the evil power she could feel flowing through it.

Kotonoha had no problem with that. She knew the nature of the bargain she was going to make. And it was exactly what she wanted.

Makoto and Sekai had betrayed her. She had been his girlfriend and her friend, and they had chosen each other over her. Kotonoha hadn't believed it at first -- or perhaps she had simply hoped that acting like nothing had changed would make it so. But there was no use denying it any longer.

Kotonoha wasn't angry at Makoto. She knew he still loved her. It wasn't his fault that Sekai had seduced him. Under the thrall of that wicked, deceitful girl, he was as much a victim as Kotonoha was. There seemed no way to save Makoto from her control. Even worse, she'd weakened his defenses, making him easy prey for the hordes of loose girls at the school.

There was only one way to free the one she loved: Kotonoha would send Makoto to hell. Then she would kill herself and join him. She would have preferred a romantic joint suicide, but she couldn't be sure they'd end up in the same place after death. The contract with Hell Girl guaranteed that she and Makoto would be together forever, away from the sirens who had corrupted him.

"See you soon, my love," whispered Kotonoha, and she pulled the red string.

The doll blew away leaving only the string behind, and the words "I hear and deliver this vengeance" echoed in Kotonoha's ears. She smiled; it was just a matter of time now. She would join Makoto soon, but first she would take her revenge. She would kill herself right in front of Sekai, humiliating and traumatizing the harlot who had ruined everything.

After checking that the sawblade she'd chosen was in her bag, Kotonoha lay down to sleep, dreaming of her future with Makoto.


Kotonoha stopped short in the door of her rival's classroom. Sekai wasn't there. But Makoto was.

Had she made some mistake? Kotonoha came closer; no, that was definitely Makoto. She approached him to talk.

"Huh. Kotonoha?" said Makoto. "Aren't you in the wrong class? Don't start following me around again."

"Did anything happen to you at midnight last night, Makoto?"

"Not really. Hey, what's that in your bag? Better be careful, it looks sharp."

"...Yes. Thank you." Kotonoha turned away. This made no sense. She'd pulled the string. She'd found Hell Girl's mark on her body. How could Makoto still be here?


Deep down, Kiyoura Setsuna had known it would come to this.

She had seen Makoto succumb to temptation repeatedly before she'd left. Once, she had even been the temptation. Setsuna winced at the memory -- she had never wanted it to happen under those circumstances. When Sekai had begun dating Makoto, Setsuna had given up on her own love for him, but she still felt it.

It had been clear from the start that Makoto would either make Sekai happier than she'd ever been or wreck her completely. Setsuna had hoped desperately that he could keep his word and be faithful. But judging by Sekai's heartbroken messages, the boy they had known was simply gone, carried away in a sea of promiscuity. That reduced Setsuna's options to one.

Sekai's happiness was all that mattered. If Makoto couldn't provide it, he had to go.

Setsuna finished typing a short message on her phone. It was a simple farewell to Makoto -- considering what she was about to do, he deserved that much from her. After a moment's pause, she pressed Send.

She had made sure to do this at lunchtime when he would be able to read the message. She gave him a few minutes to do so.

And now it was time. Setsuna took the string in one hand. Even now, the temptation to turn back was strong, but she closed her eyes and thought of Sekai. This was the only way.

She pulled. When she opened her eyes, the doll was gone. A voice from nowhere said "I hear and deliver this vengeance," and then all was quiet.

Alone in the stillness, Setsuna sat thinking about the friend she'd saved and the one she'd damned. Soon she began to feel something funny on her chest. She didn't have to look at it to know what it was. The horror of her actions began to overwhelm Setsuna, and she stared helplessly at her hands, at the wall, at the phone...

Wait. Was that a new message? Setsuna picked up the phone and read.

"Good to hear from you, Setsuna. Are you okay? You sound depressed. Makoto"

...What?


Kuroda Hikari knew a thing or two about Makoto's habits. There were several places in the school he might choose for a rendezvous, and lately it had been no secret that he was having at least one a day. Hikari chose his favourite -- a seldom-used equipment shed -- and hid around the corner to wait.

She wasn't waiting long. Makoto soon came into view with a girl on his arm... looked like Todokoro Ayako. Hikari scoffed. She'd always known that girl was easy.

Hikari wasn't looking forward to what she was about to do. She didn't hate Makoto. But it was Taisuke she desperately wanted to be with, and this was her best chance to make it happen. She hadn't meant to sleep with Makoto; she'd just been so frustrated, and he'd been willing. If she sent him to hell now, Taisuke would never find out about her mistake.

And with a little luck, losing her beloved Makoto would send that bitch Katsura around the bend completely -- getting rid of the competition.

Makoto was reaching for the door. It was time. With one hand on the string, Hikari leapt from her hiding place.

"Goodbye, Makoto! I'm --"

She paused. They weren't looking at her. In fact, they were facing the other way.

"Geez, pay attention!" Hikari gave Makoto a shove...

...and saw Otome on the other side of him, panting with emotion. Between her fingers, a red string fluttered in the breeze.

From out of nowhere came a voice announcing "I hear and deliver this vengeance." Hikari didn't even notice. She stared at Otome, aghast. "You were hiding too?"

Otome looked up, her anger replaced with confusion as she finally noticed Hikari. "You were on the other side of the --?"

Makoto looked from one girl to the other, then back. He was too perplexed to be embarrassed.

Ayako, on the other hand, was just irritated. This wasn't what she'd signed up for. "What are you two doing here? Leave us alone! And -- hey!" she shouted, suddenly noticing the object in Hikari's hands. "Is that another Hell Girl doll?"

"Huh?" Startled, Hikari dropped it.

The doll fell, pulling the red string with it. Before Hikari could let go, it had pulled itself loose. The doll vanished before it could hit the ground.

A deep sigh resonated, and then a different voice said "I hear and deliver this vengeance."

Silence fell as everyone processed what had just happened. Hikari raised her head, horror beginning to overtake her.

Otome stared at Hikari. Hikari stared back at Otome.

Makoto blinked.

As one, they spun on him and yelled "WHY AREN'T YOU DEAD?"


Sweat rolled down Sawanaga Taisuke's forehead. His hand was shaking as he held the end of a red string, and he stared at it like it was the only thing in the world.

"He's my best friend," said Taisuke. "And it's my soul we're talking about."

Hikari put a hand on his shoulder. "This is for the best," she said in her most soothing voice. "He has to be punished for how he treated me, right?"

Taisuke didn't answer.

Hikari sighed. "Katsura. He upset Katsura, remember?"

Something clicked, audibly, in Taisuke's head. His eyes narrowed. His grip tightened. Summoning up all his willpower, he yanked the string loose.

"I hear and deliver this vengeance... again," said a voice from nowhere.

The doll dissolved in Taisuke's hands. His willpower collapsed. "What have I done? MAKOTO!" he shouted, bursting into tears. Hikari put a hand around him, cooing something that sounded like "dere-dere".

Otome raised an eyebrow at the emotional display. She knew some boys made strong friendships, but if she were Hikari, she'd be... careful, was all.

On the other side of the table, Sekai turned to Kotonoha. "What's he even doing here?" she muttered. "Didn't he rape you or something?"

"That was not rape," Kotonoha replied firmly. She thought for a moment and added, "But it was very impolite."

Sekai tried to decide how to answer that one, then remembered that she didn't care. She turned to the others. "Well, how many does that make? Nine?"

"Maybe it worked this time," said Otome hopefully.

Her hopes were dashed immediately as Kotonoha pointed to the door on the other side of the cafeteria. Makoto had just entered with one of the Onegai twins on each arm.

"Skanks," muttered Sekai.

Taisuke stared in disbelief. "What's he --? Didn't I just...?"

"We have some bad news for you," said Otome with a sigh. "When Hikari asked you to do this, she didn't tell you that we had all tried it before."

"What? You mean I just gave up my soul for nothing?"

"Not nothing," said Hikari, wrapping her arms around him. "You have my undying gratitude!"

Taisuke screamed and ran out of the room.

"Great," said Sekai. "Now what? We're all out of souls again."

"We'll just find someone else," said Minami, sitting at the end of the table with her two inseparable allies Natsumi and Kumi. They nodded in unison.

"Like who?" spat Hikari, sulking.

Otome looked around. "Nanami!" she called, seeing her friend nearby. "Come sit here. We have a --"

"No," said Nanami sternly.

"Let me finish!"

"You're not just being friendly. You people have all been using Hell Girl dolls, and you're going to ask me to do it. Screw off." Nanami went to sit at a far-off table.

"She hasn't been the same lately," said Kumi.

"Gee, you think that might have something to do with your little voyeur show?" demanded Otome, who had been waiting for a reason to yell at the trio. Kumi cowered behind Minami.

"There must be someone else who would be willing," said Sekai. She pondered. After a moment, she began staring at Kotonoha.

"I hope," said Kotonoha without turning her head, "that you do not intend to ask about my little sister."

Something in Kotonoha's tone, or possibly in her bag, told Sekai this would be a bad move. Out of ideas, she slumped her head on the table.

The girls brooded in silence until the lunch bell rang. Saying their goodbyes with varying degrees of politeness, the others all headed for class.

Sekai didn't go. She was past caring about school. She opened up her phone to re-read the confused message Setsuna had sent her.

The list of phone messages stared at Sekai. Her eyes wandered, as they always did, to the ones Makoto had sent. Anger and heartbreak rose up in her again, now coupled with despair. Even crazy last resorts had utterly failed her.

Or had they? For the first time, a thought entered Sekai's head.

When appealing to dark powers failed... there was always the old-fashioned way...


That night in bed, Makoto smoked a cigarette.

"I do not understand," said the raven-haired girl lying next to him.

"Don't understand what?" he asked.

"Why does this happen every time I come to collect you?"

Makoto smiled. She always said that.

He sat back and took a moment to savour the gorgeous view. He knew an inordinate number of cute girls, but Enma Ai was in a whole different category. Her beauty was somehow intangible, unearthly; the black of her hair was deeper than darkness itself. Only her blank, unchanging expression spoiled the picture, but Makoto was used to it by now.

"I have a duty to ferry you to hell," she said.

A few seconds passed. Makoto wondered if this would be the time she was serious.

"But I do not want to," said Ai. "For some reason, I would rather continue these activities."

Makoto grinned. He flicked the cigarette away.

"Which one is usually next?" she asked.

"Hey," said Makoto with a smirk, "the rest is for you to decide."

END


Epilogue:

On the street corner, unnoticed by the public, four supernatural beings shared a frustrated silence.

"Again?" asked Hone-Onna.

Ichimoku Ren closed his remote eye and nodded. "Again."

Wanyuudou frowned deeply.

The silence returned.

After a while, Kikuri's annoyance reached critical mass. She threw away the rock she had been using to crush ants and confronted the trio. "Kikuri is bored! Why do we keep coming here? What's that Ai doing?"

The three agents exchanged rueful glances. Each gestured to the others to answer her. Finally, Ichimoku Ren sighed.

"We'll tell you when you're older," he said.