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Affiliates: The Sheath :: The Crouching Tiger's Realm

Blood and Snow
Chapter 20: Into The Hell

by: Yasai-chan

           They rode north, as he had said, and bypassed the port cities going further inland. They reached the mountains Enishi had mentioned by nightfall and quietly camped in front of them, no words exchanged between.

           At dawn the forged over the mountains, the travel was hard, and the weather cold. Kaoru clasped her cloak about her, hoping to ward of the chills. She glanced over at Enishi who seemed to be having no problem and winced. She was still weak comparatively.

           It was days before they got over the mountain range, and Kaoru lost track of the time. She supposed it didn't really matter anyhow; she wasn't in a hurry to get anywhere although she was curious as to this "hellhole" Enishi spoke of, almost afraid to see it at the same time.

           Enishi looked forward the whole time, knowing Kaoru would follow him wherever they went was a comforting thought. But how long would it last? This was where he had grown up. He had lived there from the age of thirteen to nineteen, six years. A long time to have lost your humanity.

           It had, in it's way driven him insane. He had left there as a leader of the syndicate, saved by his predecessor, who he'd resented at the time. He babbled incessantly after his sister's smile, an image that had brought him though that hell, distorted once it was no longer useful.

           He'd finally gotten it straitened out, much to his relief. He knew his sister was dead and her smile didn't matter, but for years after he was out, he had been mentally unstable. He winced a how Kaoru had seen him that night he tried to strangle her. It definitely wasn't his intention.

           Kaoru looked about her in wonder, the land was starting to look harsher, despite the fact that they were clearing the mountain range. The land was speckled with a thin layer of snow and stubborn spurts of grass. Beyond a great plain reached across the land as far as she could see, a desperate and cold land.

           What was here? She wondered. It was only an empty wasteland. Enishi seemed to anticipate her question as he supplied the answer when they reached the bottom of the mountain and a little ways beyond.

           "It's a four day ride from here," he said "conserve your supplies, they'll be needed from now on." Kaoru nodded.

           They rode onwards even through the night. Enishi said it wasn't safe to camp, but she couldn't imagine what could possibly be out here. The second day out she nodded off on the horse. When she awoke she was on Enishi's horse in front of him. She looked up at him, wondering if he planned to stay awake the full four days. Enishi looked down at her.

           "Awake?" he asked. She nodded, he whistled and her horse trotted up from behind. "Tell me next time you get tired," he admonished her "You almost fell off your horse." Kaoru bit her lip as he lifted her onto her horse, nodding to him. Enishi resisted the urge to run his hand down her cheek and across that lip. He turned around abruptly riding ahead of her once more, and Kaoru was left to stare at his back.

           Kaoru was asleep in his arms again as they arrived at the entrance. It was a nice feeling, having her cuddled to his chest, her hair starting to fall out of the buns in strands. He wanted to leave her lying there peacefully, but they'd arrived.

           He shook her gently, hoping it would wake her up. Nothing happened. He shook her a little harder, it had no effect. He called her name, frowning, as it didn't work either. He'd never noticed her to be a heavy sleeper, but then again he'd never had to wake her up. He grinned as he got an idea and leaned over.

           Kaoru was slowly being dragged from her pleasant warm dream when she thought she heard someone calling her name. She shut her eyes tighter, not wanting to waken from her dream. She was dreaming that someone was holding her, close to their chest, and she didn't want to give it up to the biting cold she knew was out there.

           Then she felt someone's warm breath on her face, and realized it likely wasn't a part of the dream. She opened her eyes abruptly as she felt something brush her lips, and she found herself looking up at Enishi.

           "Interesting how such as small thing will wake a person up, when it's obvious they would sleep through an earthquake" He said looking down at her amused, his face still not far from hers. Kaoru blushed, realizing it must have been his voice she had heard, and his breath she had felt. She turned redder as she realized that cuddling to someone's chest was also not a dream.

           Luckily Enishi didn't seem to notice her embarrassment as he was looking forward at a man-made cave ahead of them that seemed to plunge into the earth beneath the gently sloping hills ahead. She must have been sleeping for a while because last time she had been awake the land had still been flat all about her.

           "Where here" he said, looking into the darkness ahead. He made no move to replace her on her horse as they rode forward into the cave.

           The cave turned out to be more of a tunnel, lined on the side by a string of torches that Enishi lit one by one as they went by. Kaoru wondered why he bothered when all they were doing was lighting the pathway behind him, but felt it wasn't important enough to inquire about. He finally started telling her about the place they were going, although it was more his history there.

           "I killed the people who took care of me and brought me here to china" he started out. Kaoru nodded, she had heard that part before. "Although I took off afterwards, I got caught, although not by the law." Kaoru looked at him curiously, wondering where the story would go next.

           "A man by the name of Man Lai Mao, had heard of me, and thought I would be an excellent addition to his 'games' as he called them" Enishi said bitterly. "I learned most of my fighting here out of necessity, but I didn't have the one I used against Kenshin until after I got out of this hell pit." He said, growing silent for a few minutes as they continued through the tunnel. "I was here for six years" he rasped, more to himself than to her.

           At that moment the cave opened out to light, revealing a vast stone fortress ahead of them. The design was unlike anything she'd ever seen, made of round tube like spires, and as they dismounted their horses, someone came out and led them to a stable on the side.

           When they entered the inside, the ceilings were high arches that seemed to reach up to the heavens. Kaoru stuck close to Enishi, Feeling dwarfed in the building. Enishi kept a hand on her shoulder and walked behind her as they climbed up the stairs. They entered a smaller room at the top of seemingly endless stairs, and there was a small man in the room with long black hair and feral green eyes.

           "Fang Quyen" Enishi said nodding at the man

           "Is this the one?" the man replied after nodding to Enishi. Enishi smiled in response. Fang Quyen looked at Kaoru for a moment and smiled himself. Kaoru shivered, something wasn't right about this man "I owe you a favor, for killing my father for me so I suppose it's ok. I can't guarantee anything though"

           "It's not decided for sure" Enishi responded, Fang nodded.

           "Well then I'll show you around," he said folding one arm behind his back and gesturing ahead of him with the other. Enishi made no move to walk ahead of him and Fang laughed, leading the way.

           He led them out on a balcony, and Kaoru gasped as she peered down. They were overlooking a great pit in the earth that looked to be lined with stone. The sides of the pit were surrounded by cliffs that sloped inward, making them impossible to climb, other than the fact they were also carved of smooth stone. The castle rested on one of these cliffs and overlooked the pit.

           Inside there were all sorts of people scurrying about, some just lounging, but most were fighting and squabbling over something or another. Kaoru couldn't tell from this distance but some even seemed to be eating other people. Bile rose to her throat but she forced it down.

           "You see" fang began "This is what my father built. It took hundreds of people and almost ten years to do it, but my father was young then." He grinned over at Kaoru, she looked at him warily, and he seemed to grin wider "although the workers didn't know it, they were building their own grave. He threw them in there after they had completed it and left them to starve. He wished to see what they would do and although there was nothing for days on end, finally they started fighting.

           He was extremely amused when they finally killed one and fought over the flesh of their fallen comrade, adding more to the bodies. After a while though, they seemed to calm down and regulate who would die when and he grew bored.

           He started searching out strong people, and people who had lost portions of their sanity. Eventually it turned into this" He spread his arms out, motioning to the crowd below.

           "The pit is over three miles wide and now there are around five thousand seven hundred and three people in there. No longer are unfortunates and crazies sent in there, we have enough of those as it is, I get my supply directly from the police" Fang grinned; he seemed to do that a lot. He laughed afterwards before he continued.

           "This isn't the only place to watch" he said, "There are many tunnels that go behind the rock surface and overlook from the cliffs. You can watch from there if you wish before you make your decision." He said, looking at Kaoru curiously.

           "Decision?" she asked, looking over at Enishi. Enishi clenched his jaw as he looked over the pit.

           "The former syndicate leader brought me out of here" Enishi said "Before that I thought I was doomed to die when my strength wore out and I was too old or injured to fight." He looked over at Kaoru "Will you willingly put yourself in there?" He asked, something in his eyes that Kaoru didn't understand. This wasn't a simple question of training. Her answer would hold a higher meaning.

           From his face she knew that he wouldn't condemn her for answering no. Even expected her to. She looked at him in silence, measuring his expression further, but not knowing what to look for. Fang cleared his throat, interrupting them

           "You will only be in there for six months" Fang said. "Afterwards… why, we'll take you out, and you can go on to your cozy revenge scheme" he said with a lopsided grin. Kaoru ignored him, still entranced by Enishi's face, which as the minutes passed seemed to loose hope, although what that hope was for she didn't know. Kaoru decided to take the risk.

           "I'll go" she said seriously, never flinching in her gaze. Enishi was the first to look away. If his expression showed anything Kaoru couldn't tell as when he turned around to face her again, his face showed nothing.

           "You will have an advantage over everyone else" he spoke to her. "Your sword, and what supplies you still have. Don't let anyone take that from you" Kaoru nodded, looking over her shoulder at him as Fang led her away.

           "Sleep well tonight Princess" Fang said with a chuckle "For tomorrow you'll be in hell"

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