Letters From Hell.

Chapter 2: Hell-Bound

Letter# 2, Dear Rosette,

Do you remember the way the wind used to moan in the monastery? How it used to hiss and cry? How we said it sounded wounded? It sounded jubilant. Here, the wind screams cold and wailing, through every corridor, cave and cranny. It never, ever ceases and you're almost always walking into it. It rattles, howling death through every grain of you're being, until you can't remember any other sound, until you don't even bother trying to talk over it, until your soul is eroded into dust and whisked away in a reeking dieing wheeze. Was there a time without screaming wind? Was there? I can't remember anymore, everything's so faded. I think I'm going insane. I won't be the first if I am. Really, it's the only sanctuary. I miss you. I think the only reason I'm not a raving idiot by this point is you. These letters are my sanctuary, letting me cling, however temporarily to you. Of course, knowing my luck, you probably don't get them, and all the Heaven Guard's are getting a good laugh. I don't care. So long as there's a chance you're getting this paper, even if you don't read it, it's a connection of sorts, and that's enough to keep me going. Sorry for whining again.

My Heart Forever Yours,

Chrono the Sinner

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

The sky above them glittered, swirling, a vibrant dusk blue, but before that…

"What on earth!"

"Not on earth." Ewan too was gaping up, up, up, the letter forgotten in his fingers.

The sky above was dusk blue, but the city was glowing in citrus sunset: oranges, yellows, golden reds. Huge stone towers leapt to touch the sky, the moon, the tittering stars. Each tower stretched its finger to the sky, twining higher and higher, held together by hundreds of thousands of arching, lacy bridges, shining and shining and shining as blazing sunlight glanced off a billion stained-glass windows.

Kate squinted as little birds flitted from bridge to bridge, tower to tower, cast golden like the city. One honey coloured bird heading for a cylindrical tower with a domed top swung around, shooting back over the city towards the crowd of Newly Dead passengers who were huddled about the gate.

It was huge.

It wasn't a bird.

"Welcome to Heaven." Kate gasped as the angel lit before them, curtsying, her loose curls tumbling over her shoulders. "You have all returned home."

Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

"And stay down there, bastard!" The sound of grating metal against frozen stone didn't pause or miss a beat as the guard threw the demon back into the stope, and stalked back to his post. "Pathetic Hell-spawn." A human, stretched and lanky like a sun starved willow, waited until the guard had gone before raising a pale brow at the demon. "Went that well did it? That's going to leave a nice one." The demon grunted in response, staggering up and catching the pick a second, brawnier human tossed him.

"I suspect he's aware of that." A small woman padded over, tapping the lanky human's pick with her shovel before turning to the demon. "You hurt- oh not again!" The demon didn't look at her as she fussed over his shoulder, instead jarring his gaunt frame with a hefty strike to the frosty wall.

"No b'y Uma, he's dandy. He only got his flipping eye bashed in."

"Men." The woman sighed, stepping away back to her portion on the other side of the man who'd tossed the pick. " 'Scuse me Ivan." The brute shrugged.

G-tink. G-tink. G-tink. Clang. G-tink.

"Anyway, more importantly, did your sweetheart get her love note?" The lanky man's mouth stretched into a loose grin.

"Marty!"

"Oh lay off, you want to know too Uma!" He could feel them, Uma, Marty, Ivan, looking expectantly at him, and he ignored them, the thin piece of paper tucked against his dripping side a burning reminder. He pressed his lips together.

Chrono the Sinner closed his eyes and jerked his head, left, right: no; stared at the ground. He knew what he'd see beyond dank red rock. He heard it as they turned back, silent, to their work.

He hacked at the wall again.

G-tink. The sounds echoed like the other strikes around them, over and over and over, the scraping picks screeching their call to join the wind that screamed, remorselessly, unceasing through the caverns. His ears rang, bleeding the sound as it swooped through the putrid corridors, blowing and blowing until it blew them all away; howling into every corner and cranny until there was nowhere to avoid it, no time it hadn't ground itself into your head, rattling every thought and feeling you ever had and ripping them away like so many fallen leaves. Like so many broken dreams.

He'd failed, yet again.

G-tink. G-tink. G-tink.

Failed, failed, failed.

"Nobody stopped." He croaked finally, throat still raw from calling. Calling and calling and calling. "Not one." He stopped, leaning on his pick, his chest jerking uneven with gasps that once would've been wet. Instead, he wiped sweat from his face, shouldering his pick as the gong echoed through them, their shift over. A few hours reprise before they descended back into the shaft.

"Aw, come on. You probably just got a bunch of snot-nosed school kids who died in a bus crash! Someone will take it next time!" Marty grinned, bounding backward ahead of the group, his long blonde bangs flopping over his face. "C'mon, you got them up top before! Why should now be any different?"

"Comrades, we cannot let this continue!" Uma stopped as they stumbled into the half-light of the cafeteria, her large eyes narrowing.

"That's why." Across the long, low cavern and fog of smoke and frosty breath, a man stood on the squat stone stage, his voice ringing through the room.

"For thousands of years, friends, we have been cursed: waiting in shadows as in the lands above, the angels, the righteous, the worthy pass their days in leisure and sunlight! Now, friends, who are the worthy? The good and the kind? Those who are "good and Kind"- no one is "good", they disobey their own law! They have done wrong, for no one can live without doing so. The "Just". "Is it "just" to leave us here? Withering to dust in the howls of souls? What about the honest? Is it wrong to shield some from the pain of the truth? "Enemies", "Murderers", "Thieves", "Oppressors", all these terms are a matter of dates! A few days later or before and we would be considered "Heroes", "Defenders of Justice", "Liberators"! Why should we be punished for dates, when we have no control over time? Is that just I ask you? Is it?

"By hiding us away, are they not destroying our hopes? Killing our souls? Does that not make THEM the murderers? Are they not, by forcing us into this hole, these tunnels, oppressing us? Does that not make THEM the oppressors? Aren't they, by not allowing us freedom, stealing that right from us? That then, fellow Hell-Bound, makes THEM the thieves! Yet it is WE who are in Hell! We, who are victims of nothing less then time! I ask you, is that right? Is that just?!" Alexander Delacroix raised his hands as the Hellions cheered, stomping on the low stone tables that lined the room. "We deserve life after death as much as they! Let us live! Life after Death!"

"Life after Death! Life after Death!" Around the room, Hellions in various stages of dining yelled the refrain.

"Ug." Uma rolled her eyes and stomped over to the line up for the canteen, red hair bouncing. "You'd think they could control themselves."

"Oh, because you just love it down here too, don't you." Marty grumbled, the group traipsing after her. "Oh yes, I just love this cool temperature, it's such a saviour for my skin!"

"Can it Marty!" Uma glared at him, her cheeks a heavy red.

"Life after Death! Life after Death!" The cheering was growing into a frenzy. Chrono cast a quick glance at the Heaven Guard, the Red-robed angels sent below to keep the Hellions from getting out of hand. One, the black haired one who'd thrown him back into the tunnels earlier, grinned, raising a cup in mock salute as he returned to laughing with the other guards and Alexander, lounging against the wall and guzzling wine. He could smell it; they'd been at it awhile. Swallowing, he turned away, stumbling as the floor shook, feet on shale and mud, palms slapping on limestone and flesh.

"Life after Death! Life after Death!" His ears rang as a gust of wind carried the words around the cavern.

"Life after Death, Life after Death, Life after Death!"

"I'm going to bed." Chrono shivered, nudging Marty's shoulder. Uma's face darkened and she dodged around Ivan's broad form to catch the demon's arm.

"Chrono, you need to eat something today." Chrono paused, glancing from under shaggy bangs to peer from Uma to Marty and Ivan, two identical pictures of exasperation and arms-folded concern if you excused the size difference: Marty barely reached Ivan's shoulder. Hell, he barely reached Ivan's shoulder! Uma smiled encouragingly, as bright as ever, even here.

"Life after death! Life after death!"

He couldn't listen to this.

"I'm going to bed." He shrugged her off, skirting the stomping, shouting, screaming Hell-bound and ducking into the tunnels leading to the sleeping chambers. Behind him, he could still hear it, rattling in the wind: "Life after Death! Life after death! Life after Death!" Heart sloshing about in his chest, he blocked it out, ragged nails biting palms grown wide and rough and red from stone and wooden handles.

How long had it been? Since they'd died? The letter at his side crackled. He knew if he looked it would say #98 in his own neat hand writing across the top, a death sentence in his own words. Maybe that was the reason they'd allowed him to have the letters. Rosette probably didn't get them. It was probably to build false hope.

He still wrote. Everyday. He didn't send them all. He edited. He edited the parts that were about fears. Anything about darkness. Anything he'd written on those nights, the nights he couldn't think straight, the one's when his words came jumbled and fast between hard coughs and the splatter of blood on stone. He edited, but he wrote. He wondered, as always, what she was doing, how she was doing, had she gotten in trouble as frequently as he? Did she have friends? He hoped so, because even he'd managed that, it hadn't even taken him that long, what with Uma being so persistent and Marty's goofing around. Ivan just sort of appeared and whether he'd planned to or not, he was included. The same went for Tzi, when she was around. If Rosette was getting the letters, she'd know them pretty well by now, he talked about them often enough. But tonight-

"How's the East branch? Are any of them almost through?" Chrono jumped, cramming himself into the nearest alcove as two guards stumble past, reeking of alcohol and shadow-stained sunlight.

"The West bank face, yes. About damn time too. Still waiting on the Eastern cavern." His captor from earlier, the first guard who'd spoken, belched and the other chuckled, patting him on the head as he relieved himself on the tunnel wall. "Oy, Lucky, yer sloshed. Don't let God hear yeh talkin' like that."

"Beh!" Lucky slurred, failing a thin hand. "Won' matter soon anyway. Once them bastards kick the dirt outta them tunnels, we won' have to listen t' anyone." Chrono held his breath, leaning in as close as he dared. The Heaven's Guard were…

"Yes, well, just don't lay out too fast, or we'll be caught. Then we git tossed down here without a return ticket." They turned a corner, still swaying, Lucky's voice meandering into the air as he yowled a song. Slowly, their footsteps died off and another gong shook the floor as the next round of Hellions made for the lower tunnels.

Tunnels through to where? Chrono sank to the floor, wincing as his back brushed stone. He'd never questioned the tunnels, where they were going. Well, he had asked, once, but he hadn't gotten an answer, so he'd just assumed they were something to keep the Hell-bound occupied, or to make more room. The tunnels went every where- he'd been living in them for ages, and he still didn't know where any beyond the basic one's went. So…the Heaven's Guard knew where the new branches went- why would they know? Why would they want too? He shifted further into the little cave as hundreds of noisy bodies pressed through the narrow passage.

"Life after Death!" They were still yelling Delacroix's –

"We deserve life after death as much as they! Let us live! Life after Death!"

"Aren't they, by not allowing us freedom, stealing that right from us?"

Freedom maybe? For the Hellions anyway. But how? Where? There was nowhere to go outside of Hell, if they were trying to gain freedom- they were dead! They couldn't go to Earth, and the angels would stop them from going to Heaven.

Heaven…

Could they go to Heaven? That was the only other place for the spirits of the dead, but was it possible? Sunlight burned them. So that wouldn't work. But why the tunnels, and why rile all the hellions up? And what had the guards meant about not having to answer to anyone? Were they getting rid of God? If they got rid of God, could they go to heaven? But the Hellions hated angels. They wouldn't be able to live along side of them…so would they get rid of them? But they'd never be able to do that, right?

Chrono groaned, drawing the letter out of his pocket, his head aching. "God damned idiot!" he scrounged in his small pouch for his small quill tip and scanned the letter, spreading one large hand beneath it. Why the hell did he have to be so slow? He was probably over reacting- he was sure he was: the idea that Heaven's Guard would want to have anything to do with Hell was ludicrous! But some how, some way, Rosette was in trouble- his gut told him that- he was just too damned stupid to be able to figure out why or how or what.

Still, the Heaven's Guard was showing no interest in keeping the Hellions quiet, and the Hellions didn't seem too eager to remain silent, and that couldn't be good. The Guard seemed to think that the "West bank face" was almost through to somewhere, meaning some part of their plan had to be going well, because they were frustrated with the other "East Cavern". The Guard also seemed to be waiting on them, the Hellions to do something…

"…too many 'somethings'."

Chewing his lip, he pierced the paper a few time, hoping she'd notice- there were only two more chances after this- and shoved the letter back under his clothes, wriggling into the packed corridor between a hulking, blue-skinned reptilian demon and a thin human male struggling to keep from being mashed against the wall. Chrono shifted, double stepping as he stumbled in between them, twisting to stop from squishing the human as he scooted around him, slowing to a trot- he could've just stopped, and still would've kept moving. He winced as a figure up ahead fell and was trampled as the group roared by, the wind tearing the hair on their scalps- he kept moving, pushing through the fog, up and up and up.

Chrono squinted, trying to gauge where he was along the drive- it was hard to tell. Up ahead, the tunnel diverged, splitting cleanly into two dripping mouths, one spiralling into the ground toward Cold Lake, the other twisting away to the left. He glanced at the Heaven Guards, two of them, posted at the entranceway. Unfortunately neither seemed drunk: shoving dawdlers along with their staffs and kicking those who were closer to them. He slid his eyes along the tunnel walls, then back to the split tunnels, ice flickering red in the pale candlelight and black everywhere else. Light to darkness, light to dark. Between lanterns, the Hellions appeared pale shadows, illuminated by soft puffs of white breath. He couldn't hide in the open and- he flicked his eyes towards the left branch.

He could make a run for it. It would easy- just plough on through the guards… but that would get him caught. Groaning, he let himself be swept past them, glancing back as they tailed the group down to the cavern. He held his breath as they neared the sump, the temperature dropping and dropping until his heart felt like it would freeze in his chest- it probably would, but it wouldn't really matter. Besides, it was warming up now as another group of hell-bound unfolded themselves from a crosscut, following a guard carrying a lantern.

Crosscut?

Chrono narrowed his eyes: It might work. He squeezed between cursing demons, slipping on the smooth ground and grabbing the nearest lantern bracket. Sucking a yelp as his skin sizzled, he let the crowd shove past him, knocking him into the welcome dark of the candle-less passage. Quickly, he scuttled further into the darkness, lying flat as the last stragglers and the two guards pounded past, beating their way to one of the lower faces. A moment. Two… he crawled to mouth of the narrow corridor, crouching there and watching the guard's red coats bob away. Clop, clop, clop, their boots snapped over the ground, echoing and echoing.

Eventually, keeping low, he scrambled back into the main tunnel and lurched to his feet, darting towards the top of the slope and the other corridor, his heart roaring. From there it was just- he slammed closer to the wall; "Shit."; the two drunken guards from earlier were standing at the top of the shaft, blocking his way, Lucky still wavering a little.

"Lucky! Jeez man, sshnap outta it!" the other guard slurred, slapping Lucky's shoulder and hiccupping. Lucky giggled back, stumbling in a rouge blast of wind and falling. Chrono licked his chapped lips, inching along the wall, slowly dropping closer and closer to the ground, never taking his eyes off the bright figures.

"Sho whys we gots t'shtay here Cobalt?" Lucky whined. "It's cold."

"It's about to get colder." Cobalt muttered and Chrono froze as two sets of unsteady footsteps grew louder.

They were coming down to hall! Frantically, he looked back at the crosscut, too far away to hide in this time, then to the shadows, more abundant here, but his pale skin would still show through the holes in his shirt in the sputtering light. Light… he grit his teeth, pressing against the wall and wrapping his hand around the nearest lantern, turning his face from the light.

Just like fighting exorcizing demons.

Focus on the task at hand.

Block out all the rest.

"Ug. I can't wait to see all the others shquirming about when we win." His hand tightened on the handle- hot!- and he bit his tongue. He couldn't say anything-

"He-" He wrenched the lamp from the wall, flinging it towards their faces. As he'd hoped, it shattered on the stone in a small explosion of oily glass and light. The guards yelled, covering their faces and ducking, yelling, blinded.

He dove past them, barrelling up the hall and down the left corridor even as the yells grew louder behind him. "Damn it!" Brilliant move! He ranted, swinging into another set of branching tunnels, the hard pounding of feet growing in his ears. Left tunnel, third right, up, up, up!

"Up ahead!"

"Making a break for it!"

"Check the exterior tunnels!" He was staggering by the time his feet were scrabbling on yellow brick of the entrance adit, his lungs burning, but he didn't stop, clawing his way up to the top of the shaft and the gate as a flock of Newly Dead were clearing the area, having opened their boxes.

"Wait." He croaked, cursing his traitor voice, faint and broken. His lungs screamed as he gouged them open, hauling in a breath and screaming: "Wait!" Damn it. He could hear the guards below, swarming at the base of the shaft; he was cornered. Once they came up… his legs gave out. "Please wait! Please!" What if no one stopped…then Rosette…he shook his head, clearing the though and his prickling eyes, drawing another painful breath. "Someone wait!" He couldn't fail her again! He wouldn't.

The crossroads were barren.

"He's up there!"

"Go on up then, idiot!"

Fail, fail, fail.

Crunch.

Two pairs of feet stopped before him, a pair of worn leather loafers and a pair of black, high heeled shoes; two scents he recognised, but the sky was too bright to see them clearly; he had to squint at their shadows.

"Chrono." They knew him?

"Please, sir, miss," he couldn't remember their names. It all seemed so grainy; hazy memories, so far away. "Would you take this?" He shoved the letter towards them, pain searing through him as the light touched his singed hand, his foot. The gong was ringing, below, calling him back, not that he wasn't trouble anyway. The voices of the guards rose to shouts. "Please deliver this!" he jumped up, a familiar rattling of chains harassing his ears. "Please deliver this!" Somewhere beyond the light overwhelming his eyes, the gates to Heaven would be closing soon, and then they would be cast down with him. "Hurry- you won't- you-" The Chains of the Damned swooped around him, cold metal on his chest, his arms, his legs, a web of ice and rage, dragging him back into frozen non-existence, and he offered no fight- he was so tired… the darkness….

He'd delivered the letter, despite that… Hands grabbed him by the neck, the collar, shoving him against a cold stone wall. He blinked: a shadow red and dark...green cat eyes… horns? Why did a Heaven's Guard have horns? "I've got him!" His back hurt. A boot hit his side, his shoulder. "God damned idiot."

He hadn't failed this time, had he? Had he?

Darkness…

Rosette.

The wind wailed.

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A/N:

Terms: These are terms that may or may not be used in this story. They may make things clearer. They are mainly mining terms. I apologise if I used them in the wrong context, but the situation is a little different than their earthly meaning- so it is an approximation. When only part of the definition applied, I have underlined it. Also, I am not indicating that all miners go to Hell.

Face: a mining term meaning the end of a tunnel where work is progressing.

Shaft: A vertical or inclined excavation for the purpose of opening and servicing a mine. It usually has a hoist at the top.

Portal: the surface entrance to a tunnel or adit

Adit: A passageway or opening driven horizontally into the side of a hill. It is open to the atmosphere at one end or a tunnel at both ends. It is loosely referred to as a tunnel, and is what is referred to as a tunnel here.

Tunnel: A horizontal passage open at both ends. It is loosely used in place of adit.

Crosscut: A horizontal opening driven across the course of a vein or structure, or in general across the strike of the rock formation; a connection from a shaft to an ore structure.

Drive/ Drift: A horizontal passage underground that follow along the length of a vein or rock formation as opposed to a crosscut which crosses the rock formation

Fissure: An extensive crack, break or fracture in the rocks

Sump: An excavation underground for the purpose of catching or storing water; the bottom of a shaft is commonly used for this purpose.

Stope: An excavation in a mine from which ore is being or has been extracted. Used here to mean the working end of the adit/ tunnel