In which we visit the lowest hell, and Sasuke is afraid.
He could have constructed his hideout somewhere inconspicuous above ground, but instead he chose to build it in a network of passages and caverns underground. He could have wired up electrical lighting, but instead he chose to light perpetually-burning fires within cracks in the walls.
It is a full underground village, where the light is always red and flickering. Neither shadows nor light ever solidify here. It is a half-world.
It is a full underground village, peopled by those who have lost any other homes they might once have had. He finds them when they have broken all the ties that once defined them, and he offers them something new to be. He teaches them how to break apart the world around them.
It is a full underground village, populated only by his soldiers. They have no families. They aren't allowed families. He does this for their own good, he says, because he of all people knows that friends and family cause nothing but pain.
It is a full underground village, or he thinks it is, because he has no idea what really makes a village. He calls it Mugenjigoku: the lowest hell.
The steps down to the very bottom of Mugenjigoku are not as broken and jagged as Sasuke wishes they could be. He accepts that, though. Even he has to acknowledge that some matters are too important to be inflated with melodrama.
(Once, he didn't feel the need for so much pretension. Once, he knew that there were many things more important than melodrama. Everything is kind of faded now. Sometimes he feels like he's reaching for the world, trying to bring it back to him. Then he forces himself to stop. The world is his enemy now, he reminds himself.)
He used to make this visit only once a month. Then he moved up to once every two weeks. Now he walks down the stairs every two days. He thinks he might have to make it a daily event soon.
Sasuke reaches the bottom of the stairs. The only thing there is a stone door with a heavy metal plate in the center. He slides up the plate to reveal a sturdy grille.
Something rustles and rasps behind the door. Peering through the steel mesh of the grille, Sasuke can't make out a definite form, only shadows like sheafs of black paper being shuffled around. He leans a little closer, until his forehead rests against the cool stone of the door.
"How much longer?" he asks.
Even if someone else were down here with him, Sasuke would be the only one to hear the response from behind the door.
You should let me out.
"Not yet." He sits back, and after a moment he stands up again. He's glad he doesn't bring others down with him to the door. They might see that it scares him more than it should. He shouldn't be frightened of anything anymore. Down here in the darkness, he shouldn't see his dead brother standing before him again whenever he closes his eyes.
Sasuke slides the plate back down over the grille. He is about to turn and start back up the stairs when he hears it: a loud scratching sound.
The door trembles slightly. Sasuke can imagine all too clearly the something raking sharp points (claws? Or weapons?) down its other side.
He has to suppress the urge to flee at a run. He almost doesn't succeed.