The Gates of Hell.

Standard disclaimers

Thanks to JP for Betaing.

Notes; this is part of a longer fic, but seems to have taken on a life of it own. Never mind.

Haruka has been claimed by Lacryma. The Dragon Knights are trying to teach her how to use the Dragon Torc fully. This is painful and traumatic for all parties...

While you are at it, you might like to look up the term WORMHOLE on wiki. (Some `very` good visuals in the external links.)

The Dragon Torc was having an `I'm going to sulk on the Surface Day. `

Fukuro and Kosagi had been given the thankless task of rounding her up.

Kosagi was in the air, "When I lay my hands upon that little monster, I'll kick her into next week, and she won't need the Transporter for that!" She growled to herself, as she quartered the ruins.

Fukuro was on ground support. He was cursing and grumbling, having been called out of a rest period. This seemed to happen a lot now the Dragon Torc was in Lacryma, causing no end of trouble for the Knights. Not for the first time did he wonder just what the Rulers saw in the brat.

There was a sound of tumbling rubble. Fukuro whipped round to see the layze clad form of his quarry disappear behind a wall. "I see her! Seventy metres nor-nor west! "Fukuro called.

Kosagi swooped over. She tried to flush Haruka from the rubble pile she had gone to ground under.

A Lightning bolt came arching up and hit Kosagi.

Fukuro pounced; Kosagi made an uncontrolled landing. Right on the shoulder she had been potted on.

Kosagi screamed in pain; Fukuro gripped Haruka by the arm and hauled her out.

"Let go of me you one eyed bastard!" Haruka shouted.

"Stop being such a pest. Haruka," Fukuro pleaded. "If we have to report this act of disobedience to the Rulers..."

"I know, I know." Haruka pointed to the bruises on her arms.

Lacryma was full of painful experiences.

The big Knight shook his head in sadness. "I don't want to see you whipped."

Fukuro received a fist on his damaged side. He went down.

Kosagi tried to rugby tackle her prey but Haruka jinked at the last second. Kosagi went sprawling.

On her injured side.

Haruka's tormentors struggled to their feet.

A light began to flash on the Knights wrists.

"Oh no!" Moaned Kosagi. "That's `all` we need."

"Shit!" cursed Fukuro. "How long have we got?"

Kosagi called up her three dimensional readout, "forty two seconds!" She turned to Haruka. "Come with me, Dragon Torc!"

"Like hell I am," Haruka began to run.

"Haruka come here you little bitch!" Yelled Kosagi.

Fukuro breathed deeply. "It would have to be now. Call `everyone`, Kosagi," He said, trying to keep calm. "I'll try to catch Haruka."

Fukuro raced after Haruka.

The Ouroboros formed in front of her. Haruka stopped dead in amazement.

"Come with us to safety! Shangrila attacks!" Fukuro yelled.

Haruka turned around. Fukuro was looking pale. A few steps behind him was Kosagi.

The female Knight was materialising her Reizu bow. "Don't make me do something that will get me into trouble."

Deciding that the spin weaponry was for her, Haruka decided to take her chances with the alternative dimension. Anything was better than this nightmare.

"Haruka!" Kosagi screamed with genuine terror in her voice.

Haruka stopped. She knew it took something really nasty to make an implacable woman like Kosagi scream like Miho finding Clara with a frog in her mouth. (There really was one thing worse than finding Clara with a frog in her mouth; Which was finding Clara with half a frog in her mouth...)

She looked about.

Haruka was on the threshold of the warpgate. She paused.

Behind her was the desert of Lacryma.

In front were the grassy lands and blue skies of Shangrila.

Haruka looked about herself. The Ouroboros was the vision of Lacryma twisting and warping into Shangrila. It was fascinating.

She knew if she was to walk any further she would be in Shangrila...and Lacryma would be seen though the warpgate.

"`Never` has anyone stood upon the threshold of Heaven and Hell. Which do `you` choose, Haruka? The Dimension of Tears, or the Happy Place of Shangrila?"

"Noein!" Haruka looked around. She could hear him. Noein was nowhere to be seen.

Haruka looked behind her. Stood like statues in this ruined city were Fukuro and Kosagi...Kuina behind them.

There was a look of utter horror on all of their faces.

Atori, Tobi and Karasu teleported nearby.

"Holy cow!" Atori assessed the situation instantly.

Tobi was shaking like a leaf; he summoned his sensors. "No Destructors...Then that means..."

Karasu stepped forwards. He was sweating. "Come to me, Haruka! Don't go in there!"

"Do you want to stay in that miserable place, Haruka?" Noein wheedled. "You are not well treated; I can see where they have been beating you."

Haruka looked back at the Knights. Just one look at their terrified faces told her all she needed to know about Shangrila.

"I won't hurt you. I'll give you all your favourite foods." Noein continued.

Haruka turned back to Shangrila; Nice as the place looked; there was something unpleasant about it. Haruka could sense this was not a human world.

"It's a trap, Dragon Torc," Kuina said bluntly.

Haruka was silent.

She did, in fact, intend entering Shangrila.

And, once the Dragon Knights and all her tormentors down below had been given a sufficient chance to miss her, coming back to Lacryma. Haruka knew that the Ouroboros was opened regularly for a Destructor attack. It might be a few days (And what would she do for food in that time? But Haruka was getting used to fasting.) But she would return.

"Give her a chance to decide." Noein snarled, still invisible.

She had been told Noein was the ruler of Shangrila...A problem. Haruka did not trust Noein; she did not trust the Dragon Knights.

These days she did not trust herself...Or the Dragon Torc.

"Don't do it, Haruka!" Tobi was in tears. "If you leave us for Shangrila, we are all doomed."

Haruka did do it. She bolted into Shangrila.

"Oh, we really are in for it now." groaned Fukuro.

All looked at each other; No Knight dared enter Shangrila.

Kuina gave a deep breath. "Leave this to me."

Haruka sprinted over the waving grass, the Ouroboros with its view of Lacryma falling far behind. Anguished shouts came from the Dragon Knights; Haruka laughed to herself; the cowards did not dare cross the threshold.

Only to find a study metal hand gripping her scruff and forcibly dragging her back to the gate.

Oh shit.

Haruka twisted and turned. "Let me go you bastard!"

There was no one behind her.

She came to the realisation that Kuina had teleported his artificial arm into Shangrila...And nabbed her.

Haruka fought as hard as she could.

Haruka teleported five metres to the right...

...Only to find Kuina still holding her layze.

She teleported to the left, breathing deeply. Haruka was not yet used to using the Dragon Torc for travel.

But Kuina had a grip of iron...Rather unsurprisingly.

She was hauled back though the Ouroboros and into the waiting hands of the Dragon Knights.

Fukuro, Karasu and Kosagi secured the Dragon Torc by sitting on it.

Kuina sank down, breathing deeply.

His metal arm lay by his side; disintegrating into powder as the Warp took it.

"Looks like I'm going to have to put in an application for another prosthetic limb." He said to no one in particular.

Tobi was busy examining his sensors. "Nothing." He said. "I see no Destructors." Tobi looked up. "That gate is stable."

"Not if I have anything to do with it." Atori gave a scream of rage. He transformed to his Reizu Beast.

"Oh, no, not that." Kosagi groaned; muscular arm around Haruka's throat.

Tobi shook his head. "Relax; Atoris being sane." Was all he said.

Atori headbutted the warpgate shut.

A Correction cell was the best thing now, Haruka ruefully reflected. Gave her time to think. Haruka did a lot of thinking; in fact, she could not move nor see or hear anything beyond the static of the forcefield.

(And it was good she was in a force fielded cell, instead of an ordinary one. It showed the Rulers were starting to take the Dragon Torc seriously.)

So that place was Shangrila? The place that all her dark spirited tormentors spoke of in such hushy horrified tones?

Of course, if Noein came from there...Haruka thought that had been a big tactical error of his; revealing himself at the Ouroboros; Haruka had little trust of Noein, even though he had tried to protect her from the Knights.

Trusting Noein was like trusting people here...Haruka had learned too much in the last few months...Like Lacryma was prepared to be nice to her as long as she played along with their dodgy games.

She knew Noein's games were just as dodgy.

This was why she played along with Lady Amamiku and her nefarious underlings...And the Dragon Knights. Lacryma was not only a `relatively` safe place; it was the place she could learn to use the Dragon Torc.

So Haruka had come to terms with the Quantum Realm...She was granted a layze habit and `mostly` tried to fit in in the Underworld.

The outer door drew back with a hiss of hydraulics.

Haruka would have jumped if the forcefield had allowed it. But she was caught like one of Tobis specimens in ether.

It was Kosagi.

Haruka decided to open. "I see you gave Noein a good thrashing."

Kosagi gestured angrily, "be glad you are in here, Haruka," she snarled, "it's you need a good thrashing."

Haruka sniffed disdainfully. "Jolly good thing, eh? When I'm in a correction cell, I cannot use the Dragon Torc." She paused, "isn't that nice?" Haruka grunted, "and you lot cannot hit me!"

The door slammed shut.

The next visitor was Kuina. He regarded Haruka for an insolently long minute; Haruka scowled back.

"If you think Shangrilas so dreadful why don't you come with me? You're evidently are very attached to Lacryma. Shangrila can't be worse than this hole."

"You don't understand!" Kuina pulled aside his habit. Underneath his right arm was missing.

"I still haven't been granted a new arm...The Rulers are being tardy. `This` is what happens to people who stray, or deliberately enter the Ouroboros; they disintegrate." he gave a slight laugh, "It's lucky for `you` I have a detachable limb."

Haruka gave a big breath inward. She had not realised this.

"And it's lucky I'm prepared to sacrifice an extremely expensive piece of cybernetics to haul your sorry ass out of the fire!"

"I'm very sorry about your arm, Kuina," Haruka said and she was sincere.

"Yes, I sacrificed my `arm`...There's been a whole lot of Dragon Knights who have sacrificed `everything` in order to get a fix on your position and bring you safe to Lacryma." Kuina shouted.

"Oh bugger off!" Haruka advised. She wasn't about to get `this` lecture again, was she?

Kuina retreated.

The next tormentor was Fukuro.

Haruka knew how to deal with the likes of `him`.

"Piss off, Isami, go play with Ai." Haruka said sulkily.

Fukuros normally cheery face went dull. "You know what shes like." He told his nemesis.

"Yes I do...It's a wonder `you` haven't cottoned onto Ais wily ways." Haruka scolded. "Ai is an expert at getting other people into trouble."

"It's not like that." Fukuro was grim. "The Lady Amamiku has the best interests of everyone at heart."

"Or she could implant me with a set of pipeline sockets, that way you can stick a Reizu pipeline into me, haul me back to your filthy dimension wherever I travel in the Multiverse." Haruka said thoughtfully. "I'd really belong to you then. She sniffed, isn't that what both you and Noein want? To own me? Same as she owns you?"

Fukuro turned away.

Tobi stepped into Haruka's field of view. "We almost lost you!" He wailed.

"I would have come back." Haruka like to be nice to Tobi. Tobi could be won over with kind words. He also was small and weak enough for Haruka to beat up.

"You don't understand!" Tobi said. Haruka rolled her eyes insolently; she had heard this too much of late.

"Aren't you the one who told me `No one` understands the Quantum Realm? Even `you`?" She told Tobi sternly.

"Do you think Noein would `let` you return? He wants to invade Lacryma, steal the Reizu simulator!

Haruka smiled; Tobi was fanatically protective of the cursed machine. He would bristle like a Lacryman fighting bantam if anyone ever dared to critise the quantum computer or his work in programming.

Several times she had seen the piddling little wretch turn upon Atori (Who was his best friend...Haruka could not understand why Tobi put up with Atori, whose main input in the relationship seemed to be to smack him around.) If he questioned his data.

"And why is Noein so interested in this dump? You are no threat to him; you dislike sunlight and lack the technology to be a nuisance."

"This is an Artificial Reality! We need the computer to act as an Observer and fix it!"

"Tobi, can't you programme it so we get a decent place to live in?"

No sooner than Haruka got her eyes shut when the door hissed back again.

"Karasu, oh, Karasu." Haruka couldn't see very well but there was no mistaking that white shock of hair.

She found it hard to hate Karasu. And yet it was him who had brought her to `His` reality.

"Tell me one thing, Karasu". Haruka was in a bad mood...Or at least a badder mood than usual.

"Yes? What it is it? "Karasu replied in a neutral manner.

"What `is` the difference between Shangrila and Lacryma...Aside from `sunshine`!"

"Noein wants to inflict his own version of Reality on the Multiverse. And he is aiming to use the Dragon Torc to do that."

"Ohho." Haruka had been forced to listen to this lecture before.

"We don't want to conquer the Multiverse; all we want to do is live in peace."

"In peace in your very own cess pit! Yes, I'm sure there's a market for that!" Growled Haruka.

Haruka had been counting the Knights...One was missing.

Atori was probably the worst of the Knights...Yet Haruka was sure that there was a possibility that it would be him who would help her escape. Atori really did not like having the Dragon Torc in Lacryma.

Sure enough Atori turned up. Haruka decided to be civil.

"You did a pretty good job on that warpgate."

Atori nodded, an evil smile playing over his lips. "I like things orderly. The white robed bastard interfering is not to my likes."

"Me too." Haruka agreed.

Atori pointed a shaking figure at his charge. "And `you` ran `though` the Ouroboros! You must be mad! "

Haruka would have shrugged if she had been able. "Well, I gave into temptation."

Atori sank to the floor, weeping.

Over the next twenty four hours various knights came and scolded Haruka. For someone who was supposed to be in solitary confinement she seemed to get a lot of visitors.

No sooner had Haruka shut her eyes for a bout of the unconsciousness that passed for sleep in here; some pest would open the outer door and start haranguing her.

Haruka got hungrier and hungrier; The penologists had taken `some` care with her; she had a drip in her arm and a catheter in ...well, Haruka didn't like to think about that. It felt like there was a tube the size of the Dragon Knights pipeline in there. No one seemed to be interested in feeding her.

"So this is why the Knights are so angsty;" she said to the nothingness that surrounded her, "they have a black hole in them that is never filled."

Kosagi opened the door. "Just had tea." She announced.

Haruka would have dribbled if her mouth wasn't so dry.

"The Rulers decided to reward us for destroying the incursion. We were actually allowed to eat `solids! `" Kosagi pulled aside her habit and rubbed her layze armoured belly for emphasis. "We were given a `whole` pan of watered down gruel to ourselves!"

"That's nice." Haruka said weakly. "I hope you get indigestion. And wind. And heartburn. And the runs."

The cell door burst in a shower of sparks as Kosagi punched the forcefield.

"Seems I was right;" Haruka sniffed. "Or Wrong. You are constipated, aren't you, Kosagi?"

The forcefield powered down; Haruka collapsed. Atori caught her.

"The Rulers have forgiven you." Kuina told the Dragon Torc, "Don't try to run away again. Least not to Shangrila."

"Humph!" Haruka said into Atoris habit.

Fukuro pulled her upright. "We were worried sick."

The Knights surrounded Haruka in a mass of Layze. She was gathered up in a smelly group hug.

Tobi wriggled under Kosagis arm. "Please don't give us such a scare. You frightened me out of a whole year's growth."

"We are so glad you are here; you are Lacrymas last hope." Karasu murmured.

Haruka accepted their hugs. "I love you rogues too, you know."