"What is this place?" Ren's voice bounced and echoed in the seemingly unfathomable cavern. He couldn't see a floor nor walls encasing them in any sort of structure yet the spider scuttled on.
"Another level of my domain," The spider answered after a moment. "There is a special place for breakers of my coda like Ai Enma."
He didn't like the sound of that nor the feel of the place as they descended further in. He began to regret waiting those days when Ai had been alone in Hell. Though he could feel no walls, no hindrance, there was a cloying, claustrophobic sensation pressing against his arms and legs. Ren absently brushed at the sleeve of his sweater, finding silken strands clinging to his fingertips. "What the heck-?" His eye widened, glancing sharply to the spider, he found it had vanished into the darkness.
"Hey! Hey, what is this? Where is she?" He called, attempting to move forward but suddenly finding himself incapable of it as his legs lifted, arms spreading apart. Ren thrashed weakly, becoming even more entangled in the sticky threads. His ascent halted an interminable distance height upward, the peculiar clicking sounds of pincers getting louder from the left side. Ren turned as best he could, staring the many-eyed creature in the face.
A shudder rippled through him.
His image was reflected in all its eyes.
"Look across, Tsukumogami." The spider intoned. With effort, he turned from it to far across the void where a tiny figure hung suspended from many silken strands of web. She wore a white yukata, feet bare, dark luxurious strands of hair streaming down her shoulders, framing her pale white face when her chin lifted.
"..Ren?" There was recognition in her ruby-red eyes.
"Mistress Ai!" He called frantically, the soft sound of amusement from the spider sending chills to dance across his skin. "I-I'm sorry! I..." never meant for any of this to happen. Liquid glistened, trickling down his cheek tentative like a feathery touch.
"Don't be." Ai's calm, deep voice filled with wisdom beyond her outer facade of childish youth silenced him. "It was my...choice to never shut you out."
"I accept my punishment." She called softly, resolutely. "Merely I ask for his return to the mortal world."
"No! You-you're condemning yourself to Hell! I won't let that happen! You can't decide this on your own!"
The spider chuckled, pincers clicking eerily. "Precisely. What was the reason, Tsukumogami, that I brought you here? That I warned you for days past of the consequences of your...unusual attachment to the Hell girl?"
He was stunned, "it-it was you? You were the one who made me dream those things?"
"Of course. Did you not realize the crack in Ai Enma's sealed up emotions was because of you? The fissure began with her remembrance of rage directed toward the descendants of Shibata. I'm sure you recall that time and the mess that resulted...after that I kept tighter watch over the Hell girl, only to find you...the soul of a sword had committed the unforgivable. To love the instrument of Hell's vengeance is a sin beyond comprehension."
He grinned because there wasn't anything else left. "That bad, huh?"
"For that," the spider ignored his levity. "Ai Enma desires to go to Hell in your stead."
Ren paled, his grin dipped.
"But, you...you can choose instead to go in her place. Anything of what she feels for you, erased forever along with memory...that way she will live on for eternity as a perfect, emotionless doll while you on the other hand will burn forever. What say you, Tsukumogami, Ai Enma?"
He thought of the countless visions shown to the contractees, of the boiling pits themselves and clawing, grasping hands begging for redemption. Ren looked across to the perfect, pale face of the Hell girl caught between adolescence and adulthood and knew deep down that for all his selfishness, he could not let her take that fall.
Sentaro had and shattered her soul.
But there was no comparison between he and her first love whom had betrayed her.
If it'll save her- then, I must...!
"I accept your-"
"No, Ren. I forbid it." Her voice with such quiet force halted him like before. The spider's laugh echoed all around them. "Such a grandiose tragedy! Lovers willing to sacrifice for the other!"
Ren shot a glare at it, hating the hideous thing even more for playing with souls.
Suddenly the fine strands of silk tautened then slackened, his feet shot out arms flailing uselessly.
Its tone changed. "Perhaps, there is one offer...mortality and in the bargain the souls of Ai Enma and you, Ren Ichimoku to descend to Hell. One cannot be condemned without the other...so shall we say...the question is, can you have the joy of happiness in your heart even knowing once you die your soul will never know the joys of Heaven?"
He fell fast, unable to grasp at the darkness.
Far, far away, Ai's large crimson eyes followed him.
As long as I'm with you.
There can be.
The spider released her.
The crimson red of her eyes bled to light brown. Ren opened his arms, catching her spiraling downward body heavily. She was so slight, so frail, clutching onto his jacket, burying her raven head in his chest.
The Lord of Hell's voice raised in condemnation all around them.
"A new Hell girl has been chosen. For the period of Ai Enma's lifespan, I release her as well as you."
The world around them lightened to ashen grey.
"We will not meet again...until your entrance to this land of agony where you will then stay for all eternity."
Sinister laughter followed them but he shut his hearing to it and grasped the tiny human in his arms.
"You're no longer the Hell girl, Ai." He kissed the top of her head. "You're mortal again as I never was."
Across Japan in a room wrapped in shadow, Yuzuki Mikage stared at her computer screen until her eyes blurred.
The web page flickered, a message in red type spilling across the bottom. Was that normal? What it said?
"Invitation to...Hell?" She murmured, a cool chill dancing across her skin. Suddenly Yuzuki realized she was no longer alone and turned to the far corner of her room where a woman in a kimono and an old man stepped forward.
Hone onna smiled, extending her hand. "So, you are our new Mistress."
AN: thanks for reading! :)
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