Title: Ashes, Ashes
Fandom(s): Yume Nikki/ Ao Oni
Character(s)/Pairing(s): In this chapter, characters are: Takeshi, Urotsuki, Sabitsuki,Hatsuki and Chie.
Rating: M for implied child abuse, death, murder and some swearing.
Theme: Table 2 theme #31 Haunted
Summary: Takeshi and Sabitsuki find the Rose Garden.
Note: This is actually chapter 18. This is part of the second story arc. A list of chapters for the first arc is here This story is typically updated once a month.
Takeshi stumbled as he hit the ground. He managed to regain himself enough to catch Sabitsuki before she crashed face-first into the dirt. Her body shook with adrenaline, but after some deep breathing she seemed alright. They both glanced around, trying to gauge where they had landed. All they could see around them were gigantic trees that were so tall they seemed to swallow the sky.
“Where is this place?” Sabitsuki asked. “Some kind of forest?”
Takeshi looked around. Hidden amongst the large, red and orange trees leaves was a dark building. Upon closer inspection, it looked like it had seen some rough times. The red bricks were dull in color and showed obvious cracks. The gate was rusted. He wondered if they’d even be able to open it. The bronze plaque on the side of the brick wall was so scratched up that Takeshi had to squint to make out the letters. The bright-colored, childish graffiti over it didn’t help, either.
“The Rose Garden Orphanage for Girls; founded in 1930, formally the —something—- Prison.” he read aloud. “An orphanage, huh? This must be where U-chan and Chie grew up. At least, I hope it is.” He glanced around. The leaves were pretty as they danced gently in the wind and the birds above were softly singing. It didn’t seem so bad, aside from the whole once-was-a-prison thing.
Sabitsuki looked down at the ground. She was sweating and looked as though she might throw up.
“Are you doing okay, Sabi?” he asked. “You look really pale.”
“That mirror trip was kind of jerky. And I’m not really… allowed outside much… you know? Hospital patient and all that,” she said through heavy gulps of air. “Ugh, Takeshi, could you look away for a sec?”
Takeshi turned his back as Sabitsuki made the unladylike sounds of losing her lunch. He bounced on his toes and wrung his hands together as he waited for her to finish. Looking back on it, she’d seemed sick earlier as well. Just how bad was her condition? He really hoped she didn’t die on him before they found U-chan. She wouldn’t like that at all, not after coming this far.
“Do you want me to go in and look around while you catch your breath?” he asked. It was awkward to talk while facing away from her, but the silence was worse.
“I want… to look… for U-chan,” Sabi heaved.
He expected her to say that. “Are you sure you can handle that?”
He heard her take a deep breath. “I can… if you let me lean on you for a bit.”
“Sure. I guess the first challenge is getting the gate open. It looks pretty rusted.”
SabitsukI gauged the rusted gate. “Hmm. I wonder…” She kicked it hard with her foot. Nothing happened at first, but then the gate creaked slowly. A few moments later the whole thing came crashing down.
Takeshi did his best to keep his mouth closed. “How did you do that? Aren’t you supposed to be sickly?”
Sabitsuki grinned. “I’m actually pretty strong when I don’t feel like shit. I feel better now, so let’s go inside.”
He’d be sure to keep that in mind. He held tightly to her arm as they stepped over the large metal bars. He felt his foot catch and she pulled him back up. He wasn’t sure who was balancing who, but they both laughed over it. The further in they went, the browner the grass became. Weeds were littered everywhere. It didn’t look like anyone had tended it for years. When they reached the door, it opened with a large, slow creak. Even with it open, they were met with almost complete darkness. He felt himself grip tighter to Sabitsuki’s arm.
“You scared?” she asked. He could have sworn he saw her crack a smile.
“Maybe a little,” he admitted. “The last time we went into a building like this there were monsters everywhere and you were…”
abitsuki thought for a moment, recalling their first meeting. “Oh yeah, that. I’m sorry if I scared you back then.”
Takeshi smiled nervously. “It’s okay. You had your reasons for killing those people, right?”
Sabitsuki looked horrified. “People? I was killing monsters!”
Takeshi paused. “Monsters? They looked like monsters to you?”
She nodded slowly. “What if they really were people? I hope I didn’t hurt Miss Yoshie back there! Takeshi. You’ll tell me if they’re really people, won’t you? My head’s kind of messed up…”
“Yeah, I’ll tell you, Sabi. I promise. Let’s go get U-chan.”
Slowly, they moved forward until they saw a little bit of light.
A figure was crouched under the large stairwell in the middle of the room. Her hair and clothing were covered in ashes. She was surrounded by the bodies of small children, all of them were sleeping. He noticed the children were giving off a faint blue glow. It illuminated part of the room.
“U-chan!” they said together.
Urotsuki looked up at them and smiled. “Sabi! Takeshi!” she said quietly. “How did you two find me?”
“I called a friend,” Sabitsuki said with a shrug.
Takeshi grinned to himself. Sabi had an air of coolness about her now that they’d actually found U-chan.
“It was so weird! Sabi’s friend took us to this really creepy circus and then went through a magic mirror and here we are,” Takeshi said, his hands failing to accurately mime the story as he spoke.
Urotsuki’s smile got wider as he told it. “Wow, Takeshi that sounds like fun! Thank you both for coming to get me.”
“U-chan, who are those girls sleeping all around you?” Sabitsuki asked.
Urotsuki stroked the hair of the girl sleeping on her lap. “They’re my friends from my childhood. I use to live in this place!”
“Was it always this, um, ashy?” Takeshi asked.
Urotsuki thought for a moment. “It was always pretty dirty, but no. It caught fire about a year ago. The whole thing burned to the ground. I never knew what started it or how many of us got out.”
“Then these girls are- are…?” Takeshi sputtered as he drew back sharply.
Urotsuki put her finger to her lips, shushing him. “I don’t know. This place seems to be a cross of my memory and something else. Like I said, it burned to the ground a year ago. It shouldn’t be standing here right now. For all I know, they could be ghosts who haunt this place or just be fragments of my memory. They haven’t aged like I have; they’re still little kids and they never glowed in the dark before, either. If they are ghosts, they don’t seem to be the scary kind. They just want to be near me right now. Still, it’d be best not to mention it to them. I don’t want any of them to turn into vengeful spirits if they are dead. That’s just too sad. We were such good friends.”
“Have you seen Chie at all?” Sabitsuki asked as she looked around.
Urotsuki shook her head. “Not since I followed her in here, no. The others don’t want me to go looking for her. They pull me back if I try to get up.” Urotsuki looked to the side. Curled into a small ball was a tiny girl with short brown hair and a simple white dress. Unlike the rest, she didn’t glow at all. She looked to be about six-years old. “You want to look for Chie too, don’t you, Hatsu?” Urotsuki looked back at Takeshi. “You’ll take her, won’t you? She’s scared to go by herself.”
“Ah, are you Hatsuki?” Takeshi asked the little girl with a friendly grin.
The girl fidgeted when she was called, but got up all the same. “Yes. W-who are you?”
“I’m Takeshi. I’m a friend of U-chan and Takuro.”
At the mention of Takuro’s name, she became much more animated. “Ah! You know Tak-kun?” Hatsuki turned back. “U-chan, he’s a good person, right?”
Urotsuki nodded vigorously. “Yep! Takeshi’s a really good person, Hatsu!”
Hatsuki smiled at him. “If U-chan and Tak-kun like you, then I guess I can trust you. I can lead you around to look for Chie. I know all her usual hiding places.”
“That’d be great! Thanks Hatsuki. U-chan, you and Sabi stay here with the others. Sabi, you’ll protect her, right?”
Sabitsuki looked very happy where she was. She was like the little ghost girls, content to lay by U-chan’s side. Kicking in that gate must have taken more energy out of her than she let on, but for the moment, Sabitsuki looked smug. “Of course I will.”
“Okie-dokie, Takeshi!” Urotsuki said with a wave.
He offered Hatsuki his hand. “Let’s go.”
She nodded and took it. “Okay!”
For once, he felt confidant! If only his classmates could see him now! He used to be afraid of dark corners because his classmates made a habit of jumping out in front of him causing him to drop the bucket, or broom, or his schoolbag. If a teacher was watching, he’d get scolded for overreacting. Then the pranksters would laugh at him as he tried to gather his nerves, but even when the teasing was at its worst, he had his friend Mochida for support. Together, they were the class cowards.
Even now, in a place like this, thoughts of his friend encouraged him. Sure, Mochida was as scared as he was a lot of the time, but when it mattered, he pulled himself together. Right now, he had to do the same.
He followed Hatsuki’s vigorous steps down the dark stone stairs. When he groped around the walls, they were slimy and smelled funny. “Where is this place?”
“Umm, this is the Isolation Room. The Warden makes us sit here all alone when we’re really bad,” she said. She continued to descend down the stairs.
The lower room was small and damp. A rhythmic dripping beat down from the ceiling. The further down they went, the colder it got. By the last step, he was hugging himself in an effort to keep warm. “I-it’s freezing in here.”
Hatsuki nodded. “Last time I was sent down here, it was overnight and I got really sick. I don’t know how Chie stands it.”
“D-does she get sent here often?”
Hatsuki nodded again. “Yeah.”
“I don’t really know. A lot of things, I guess. She’s kind of clumsy with her chores and if she doesn’t like you, she doesn’t really talk. The others like to prank her, too. It gets her into trouble because it always seems like she’s lying to cover up her mistakes. The Warden never believes her.”
For a second, he though he saw a shadow of a smaller Chie. She was sitting alone on the single stool. She was muttering something he couldn’t make out.
Hatsuki hurried back up the stairs and skillfully turned the hall. “Uh, this is Chie’s room.”
This dump was supposed to be a child’s room? There wasn’t even real bedding on it, just a pile of ragged blankets on a bed frame in the corner. Even those were covered with leaves. The floor was filthy. His footprints were easy to follow, immortalized by the dust. Bugs were crawling everywhere and through the corner of his eye, he thought he saw a rat the size of a kitten.
This was too sad. Chie seemed like a good girl. Had she really grown up in a place like this? What about U-chan and Hatsuki? Were they treated the same way?
Hatsuki finished inspecting the blankets for any sign of her. She shook out a few stray bugs and a dead rat. “She’s not here.”
They continued searching the various rooms. He noticed sometimes there would be scribbles on the wall. Dogs, stick figures, flowers, and…
“What was this red pyramid thing I keep seeing?” he asked.
Hatsuki fidgeted. “Eh, that’s the boogieman.” She shook her head vigorously. “I don’t like him! Yomika says he comes after kids who don’t do their chores or eat their vegetables… He attacks you with a nail bat and drags you away…”
That was an awfully scary monster, but children were often cruel to one another, weren’t they?
“This next room makes me sick,” Hatsuki remarked as they headed up to the attic.
He was surprised. It seemed like a pleasant enough room. It had dolls in chairs and nice crayon drawings on the wall. He noticed a stuffed cat and a stuffed rabbit were sitting in chairs side by side. Their hands tied together by a red string. It even had a small tea set setup.
“What’s wrong with this room?” he asked.
“It’s the Aristocrats’ room,” she said.
She nodded. “It’s a game. We all have ranks. Chie and I were the lowest. I was allowed to play with them sometimes, but Chie was never allowed to play their games at all. Usually, any time they wanted to do anything with her, it was because of a dare. They’d do things like put her clean clothes in the rain or put live worms or dead rats in her bed. It was to test the other members’ courage.”
Takeshi felt sick. “How come they picked on her like that?”
“She’s got a curse on her back,” Hatsuki said.
“That’s what they all say. And then the Warden calls her cursed a lot, too.” Hatsuki plugged her nose. “I hate it because it smells funny. It’s too sweet-smelling.”
She was right; the room had a heavy, almost floral perfume to it. It was making him light-headed too.
“Do you want me to carry you, Hatsu? I don’t mind at all.”
She nodded. “Thanks.”
He was surprised to find that she was very, very light. It was easy to pick her up and place her on his shoulders. “Where else might she have gone?”
“The garden. She likes to go there when she’s upset. You can get to it through the back door down the next hallway.”
The garden was probably the prettiest area in the whole place. The grass was actually green and the red, pink, yellow, and white roses were all lovingly tended. He saw Chie hunched over in the shade of a large tree.
“Chie!” he called.
His voice seemed to startle her into attention.
“Huh? Oh, hi, Takeshi.”
“I’m so glad you’re safe! You’re not hurt anywhere, are you?”
“Nah, I’ve got thick skin,” Chie said with a slight smile.
When he looked at her, really looked at her, he could see that she had scars that poked out under her shirt and below her skirt. Her long sleeves probably hid a lot of them, too. She kept looking at the wall as if she expected something to happen.
“Chie, are you looking for Uuji?” Hatsuki asked.
Chie’s cheeks turned a slight pink. “No.”
Hatsuki smiled. “There’s no need to lie. It’s the same for me and Tak-kun.”
Takeshi thought for a moment. Uuji… had he heard that name before? Takuro sometimes mentioned a Uu-somebody- or-other who went to his school.
Chie felt her hair.
“Oh no,” she said. She suddenly began to grope around on the ground.
“Are you looking for something?” Takeshi asked.
“My hair clip. I think I dropped it somewhere around here….”
“Here, let me help you.”
“I’ll help too!” Hatsuki said.
They looked all around the garden, but couldn’t find a trace of it.
Chie clenched her fists open and closed. “Oh no! My one bit of luck is… shit…”
“Chie, are you okay?” Takeshi asked. “I you’re upset, we can always look again. I don’t mind.”
Chie looked down for a moment, but smiled at him when she spoke. “I’ll be fine. It’s just a dumb trinket anyway…”
“Chie…” Hatsuki began. She glanced into the bushes. She stifled a scream.
“What’s wrong?” Chie asked.
“I-Isn’t that…Sir Peter?” Hatsuki whispered as she pointed to the bushes.
A rabbit’s severed head was poking out of the dirt in the flower bed. It was missing one of its ears. The wound was open and festering maggots were crawling all over its rotting flesh. Its eyes hung loosely in their sockets. Beside it was a note written in red crayon that had been tied together using a leather dog collar.
hie took the note. “Yeah, he was Sir Peter to you, but his name’s U-tarou! Those monsters! “How could they? What did he do to deserve something like that?”
Takeshi turned to see what had the two girls so upset. He didn’t understand. It was just a stuffed rabbit. Its button eyes were loose, that was easily fixed, right? If they found the body, the head could be put back. He wasn’t sure what had happened to the missing ear, though.
After Chie read the note, she crumpled it up. He picked it up and tried to make out the scribbles.
Demons don’t deserve friends. The order has been broken. A sacrifice had to be paid to restore it.
What did that mean?
“Chie, are you alright, you don’t look so good.” Takeshi reached out his hand. “It’s just a doll, right? It can be fixed, right?”
She smacked his hand away. “Don’t touch me! Get away from me!” She took off running towards that large tree. He got up and ran after her. She was reaching for something behind the tree.
Why was she doing that? What could she possibly find that threatening?
“Chie! Wait!” he called.
“Don’t come any closer! I’m not like you! I’m not a monster!”
When the blade of the axe hit him in the chest he was too stunned to do anything other than slump to the ground.
Hatsuki screamed. “Chie, don’t!”
“Why did you… do that, Chie? I wanted to help… you.”
“Don’t lie to me monster! You were just acting nice to me! You were going to eat me like you ate Takeshi, weren’t you? But I was too smart for you, wasn’t I? Ha! See, I’m not dumb… I only wish… I could have protected him from you.”
Poor Chie. She sounded somewhere between prideful, and terrified. He wanted to reach out to her and tell her it would be okay, that he was still right here beside her, but his chest hurt so much he could barely open his mouth. All he could do was look at her.
“Why are you looking at me like that? I don’t need a monster’s pity! Get away from me! Get away!”
Her axe came down on him again and again.
It hurt so much…
Takeshi turned his head weakly. “Hatsu… tell U-chan and Sabi to run away, please?”
Hatsuki ran quickly as Chie’s axe came down again, chopping off his head.