T'was darkness amongst the night, in the forgotten center of the old world, summoned by a madman driven to insanity by love unrequited that wreaked havoc like an epidemic in the rumbling menace of drowning air, which embraced and hounded the lone pilgrim. To Purgatorio's summit he sought, trudging against the steep watery slope, boots slathered in encumbering mud. Every step a Herculean effort, every breath bled the strength of his aching bones, but onward the pilgrim pushed, cinching his cowled cloak tighter against the cold fury of the elements.

The storm had not abated since he began the journey from the respite of a cave hollowed out into the flank of the mighty mountain, once domain of God's chosen, now descended into the auspice's of Hell. Any ordinary soul would dare not brave its treacherous slopes in such wretched conditions, a powerful deterrence that has sent the pilgrim careening in a dervish failing limbs more than once. They were not worthy, so Purgatorio appeared to howl, turning away all who had washed upon its shores to throw them back into the raging whirlpool where Hell may claim them.

Ushiromiya Battler though could not be more different from the plebeian. He was woefully ignorant of the consequences, glorious and heretical. God and the Devil could shut up and stay the hell out of his business for all the nano- of a second he would spare them. Neither of them ever did a damn thing for him, and they probably never will because he had a score to settle with: a "Witch".

Every step he took was in defiance of Her. It was not pain he felt nor weariness of body, but a euphoria of joy that with every centimeter he fought for, oft on his hands and knees, he brought himself that much closer to the object of his revenge---and salvation. Only the powerless lay powerless, quivering in fright under their beds waiting to be "saved" by some miraculous deliverance, but not him. Battler understood better now.

There was no miracle other than what is made by a human's own two hands; this maxim he believed! Therefore, Battler would not tire, would not give in, until his enemy lay driven at his feet and his family saved at long last. He would prove himself worthy of such a chance here on this very mountain, which sought to throw him back into the sea of blackness. It was a passionate decree that lit the fires in the embers of his wavering heart brightly, yet...

...a part of him only looked on in reserved silence.

The air was cold and harsh, adding to the misery of having a constant barrage of icy rain batter him to and fro, with the whimsy of the typhoon's gales, who could turn violent at a moment's notice. He would be forced to ground himself into the slurry of mud and rock as best as he could, waiting out the worst, before trudging on into the unknown. Illumination came only in harsh glimpses of lightning that would show his path for a time, before being swallowed up in the dark.

Next time he met Virgilia, Battler swore he would ask for a lantern, or whatever, to light his way and make the going a little easier. Hey, it was not as if he was asking for a flashlight, right? That would be just insulting for his hostess! Iihihihihihi!

Though speaking of the going, Battler admitted it was slow (and tough), but progress was progress, and he doubted his "opponents" would keep him waiting forever. Beatrice and her fantastical train of demons and servants were not the kind of folks, who followed a human's writ of common sense. After all, they were fighting tooth and nail behind all that suave bluster and trickery to prove their own existence. Shocking, bombastic, an ironic revelation; they would make the first move soon enough...

But I bet they'd be mad as hell, if I slipped by all of them and reached Beatrice's bedroom first, so thought Battler with a wry grin, because they spent too long thinking how to surprise me. Ihihihihi!

Naturally, the irony of which would occur to the young man later in hindsight, his roving gloved hands struck "gold" then, quite sharply, eliciting a roaring oath. He recoiled away on reflex, lurching back onto his rear with an undignified flop. Thank goodness, Virgilia had been generous in the length of her selection, or else Battler figured he would have to deal with the unpleasant feeling of having wet mud up in his boxers. Just appalling really!

Caught up in the throbbing ache of his hand, it took him a moment to take stock of his immediate surroundings. He had arrived at a dead end evidently with only three choices laid out before him: 1. Go back down the slope from this landing. 2. Go jump off the cliff face here and into the ocean. 3. Give that golden gateway in front of him a shot, which was very helpfully giving off its own shimmering light.

Battler supposed he only had himself to blame for his blunder, looking down all the time and not paying attention to what was in front of him. He would bet his socks that the demons were keeling over in laughter right about now, having scored their first petty victory. As for the present, they left for him, well...

"Now, isn't this a piece of work?" Battler whistled in appreciation, rising up to his feet.

The "gate" of gold standing about as high and wide as the main double doors to the Ushiromiya Head's mansion, yet it did not "stand" in the mud per say, but was levitating just off the ground, lest its Gothic dignity be sullied. The gold work was wrought with all manner of ostentation, and graced in thorned vines crawling up its length, like arteries and veins, blossoming into roses. As for the "way", it literally was a glowing portal shaped like a doorway that "hung" in midair of its own accord, visible only from one direction; hence, Battler's allegory of a "gateway".

How fantastical but it was also the sort of snobbish display he had come to expect. There was no point to get hung up over a little absurdity like it though, he had bigger fish to fry, so Battler strode forth confidently and touched the gate. Warm to the touch, like the rays of the sun, despite what his common sense expected, the priceless gold work came to life with an earthly groan, shifting its composition about to open the way for him. What was once a gateway soon melded into an archway, following the same theme of roses and butterflies prior to its transformations.

The light shining through was even brighter now, bathing the irreverent pilgrim in gold that seemed to soothe away his weariness, but before he would step through, Battler took note of a curiosity. Words had appeared in the arch, first in English, a script he professed he did not have a strength in, and as if sensing his distress, they changed to his familiar native tongue.

"Through me is the way to redemption; through me is the way into the righteous fire; through me is the way amongst the woeful sheep gone astray. O' Noble soul moved my lofty maker: the divine, the supreme, and the primal made me. Before me were no things created, unless eternal, and I eternal last. May thy sin be forgiven, ye who enter!"

So did Ushiromiya Battler read aloud to utter disbelief, a cold shock running him through like a sword, and his jaw slackened as the phlegm in his throat ran dry. He gaped and shuddered, hands balling into fists. His blood was----boiling! He could not believe it. The nerve. The audacity!

"What kind of a sick joke is this, Beatrice!?" he hissed, eyes flashing with outrage. "Who gave you the right to judge these people, my family, huh? You think you're some kind of clean and innocent angel sent by God to do His oh-so-filthy work?!"

The Golden Witch, of course, did not answer, even though she was watching him, surely, from some rose scented tearoom, having a good laugh over his face.

"Don't screw with me! You're no freaking avenging angel or whatever-spirit! I won't be fooled. You're a weak human, just like me, and I'll prove it. I'll break through your delusions! All of it. Just. YOU. WATCH. BEATRICE!"

With those words, the Lion of Red charged through the Gates of Purgatorio and....

Sojourn on Mount Purgatory

Endless 1-4:

Down the Rabbit Hole

A When They Cry 3 fanfic by James "Ray" Edwards

T'was a moonless night that greeted Ushiromiya Battler. Gone was the raging typhoon, and its wrath diluted to an ominous drizzle for indeed he had found himself in a precarious place. Here was a dark forest, mired in fog and wrangled with horrific gnarled trees, as if making to rake at him with their wizened, claw-like branches. Sapping cold hung in the starless air like a miasma that stole warmth from his lungs in a fine vapor mist. There were no paths here and all was veiled in the secrets of shadow.

More disturbing, perhaps, he could hear a dreadful choir singing in the distance, below the constant pitter-patter of hard rain. They were sighs, laments, and deep wailing that resounded in the farthest depths his soul, which threatened to make him weep. Strange tongues, suffering cries, words of woe, accents of anger, voice high and hoarse, and sounds of bodies with them sublimated into a tumultuous symphony, as if the very earth were breath, whirling forever in that air blighted without change, like a virus clinging to life in a whirlwind of moisture from a dying cough.

These were not the cries of the vanquished. Oh, no... It was the penitent cry of the wretched wanting for mercy and forgiveness.

Battler swooned terribly, a hand clutching at his face as vertigo seeped into his anguished body and soul, the strength bereft from his legs. Tears had come to the fore, an awful sadness that he feared he would never overcome, a sadness that would enslave and drag him down forever. He was-!

"Ho, there! Steady now, man," an unexpected presence intervened on his behalf, suave and magnificent, breaking his fall in its---His subtly powerful limbs.

The man's cologne shook Battler awake, an unusually complex masculine scent that spoke of eminent dignity and an impish elegance. There in his vision the shadow of a person began to fuzzily appear of a familiar youthful gentleman, wearing a regal butler's uniform embroidered with the One-winged Eagle crest.

"R-Ronove?!" Battler choked at the sight of Beatrice's incomprehensible demon butler.

Naturally, his stupefied astonishment was reflected right back at him in the lurid blue eyes of Ronove, the 27th highest demon in Hell, for whom capturing swooning maidens (and sometimes young boys) in the nude was child's play (but that is a story for another time).

"Why, Battler-sama, what an unexpected surprise that we have met here!"

It was then the fact dawned on the young man that That Ronove was leaning in uncomfortably close to his face and person in general, having caught up him in some ridiculous theatrical flourish. Battler was totally not enjoying the idea of another man, much less a demon, having an arm around the small of his back. That. Sort of. Thing. Was like some fangirl's wet dream, dammit!

"Pu ku ku ku, doth I displease thee, Mi'lord?" Ronove baited him, delighting no doubt at seeing the rose coloring his cheeks. The demon had likely put two and two together long before he came to the same conclusion. Cheeky bastard. Thank goodness, his other white gloved hand was occupied with an umbrella.

"R...Ro-No-Ve," Battler seethed venomously, the cowl of his cloak largely failing to hide his blush, much to his private chagrin. "Personal. Space."

"But, Battler-sama!" the handsome demon feigned hurt, "have I not saved you from unwarranted harm on your person? Am I, your stalwart Ronove, not at least deserving of a word of thanks?"

On impulse, Battler pushed against Ronove in irritation with all his strength, despite not having regained his footing. Alas, he was no match for the demon butler, whose expression merely widened into a catty smile.

"Now, now, Battler-sama, there is no need for that. If I cannot have your thanks, then surely we can compromise on a different manner of---appreciation, yes?"

Red flashing alarms going off in his head, young Battler began to beat against his roguish benefactor's chest, again to no avail. Ronove was positively radiating an impish demeanor just like a cat that finally ate the canary, who had found solace in a gilded cage for so long.

"Ro-No-Ve! You...! You bastard!"

"Tsk, tsk, language, Battler-sama; language. ...though I admit your lack of refinement is one of your charms."

"L-Let go o'me! Y-You! YOU!"

"Come to think of it, this atmosphere reminds me of a conversation we had not long ago. To shake hands with you, Battler-sama...is that not right?"

"Sh-shaking hands?" Battler spluttered in reply. The sinking feeling in his stomach had ebbed into a cold knot at those words. "Ii-ihihihihi! Wh-what are you-"

"Yes, you did say you were a fan of those sort of situations in adolescent dramas and directed I engrave it into my heart. Therefore, to shake hands with you, Battler-sama, requires that I create a fitting atmosphere in a suitable location, and exchange sweet words and physical language with you that rings true to your heart. Though I have not prepared such a location, it appears the Demon's Roulette favors me this day, no?"

Battler paled and Ronove's smile curled into a scandalizing smirk, as the latter brought his face closer that their noses were almost touching, a taunting husky chuckle at his lips.

"Did I not warn you, Battler-sama, that I, Ronove, also lo~ve those kinds of situations? Pu ku ku ku...!"

Battler shied away into the cowl of his cloak as best he could, but there was no escape to be had from the demon butler's infernal grasp. Oh, Hell and damnation! What had he done to deserve this?

"Y-You... You creepy bastard! I didn't ask for this kind of atmosphere! L-Lem'me go, dammit! No way. No way. No way I'm shaking hands with you!"

"Ah, you honor me so with your spite, Mi'lord, but I must confess: Mi'lord, doth protest too much. Pu ku ku ku...! Shall I kiss thee, instead, to seal our everlasting friendship?"

"HIIIIIIIiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii! NO WAY! NO FRIGGIN' WAY! LEM'ME GO! Ah...h-hey, what are you doing with that other hand? AAAGHHHHH~hhhhhhhhhhhhhh!"

(O Mama mia, mama mia) Mama Mia, let him go...

To be continued...