New Concept – NC

Chapter Three - Cobblestone of the Dead


Light sky blue eyes looked over her bare shoulder as the young girl tore her way down the empty hallway, white walls making the clap of her sandals echo through the long way. She was about 15 in appearance, with beautiful blue eyes, thick eye lashes and a deep rich brown colour for her medium length hair. She had it all up in a loose bun, except her long bangs, but normally it fell to a few inches below her shoulders. She breathed heavily, starting to feel a bit more out of breath than before. Slowing down her pace she came to a stop and leaned forward, resting her hands on her knees.

"A-ha!" Her eyes widened and she looked back once more as a young man came barrelling down the hallway. His light brown-blonde, like a very creamy chocolate and French vanilla swirl, bounced slightly with his movements. Green emerald eyes narrowed in determination, "I found you!"

Alarm showed in her face and she pushed off the ground again, hurrying into a sprint once more and pushing herself as fast as she could go, though doubting she'd be able to outrun this particular male. Hooking her fingers on the edge of the wall she turned swiftly around the corner into a shorter hallway. And older man holding a small tower of books and papers gasped in surprised as he suddenly saw her come into view so unexpectedly. She froze up for a second, wanting her feet to halt as to not hit him, which was exactly what she thought was going to happen. Her weight shifted slightly and she pushed herself off the wall forcefully, managing to clear his way with a mix of leap and self given shove.

"Sorry!" She shouted back as she kept running, looking over her shoulder to offer a sheepish grin, happy disaster had been averted. He looked to her with a somewhat disgruntle expression, but was rather relieved as well at the result. As she was turning the next corner, she caught sight of the light haired young man turning the first, less gracefully realizing the older man's presence. He tried to stop, but wound up ploughed into the other man head on. A mess of flailing limbs and papers scattered through the air. She stopped to watch, wincing for them as she heard the thuds. A small chuckle escaped her lips when she saw how her chaser was splayed across the other.

He looked up, hearing her and pushed himself up in turn pushing the other man's chest back down unintentionally but liberally. Practically tumbling off him and slipping on some papers as he tried to get back into a run. "Akatsuki!"

The young girl perked up more as she heard his shout and pulled her head in from around the corner, deciding it was a good time to run again. He chased still, rounding the corner quickly, feet sliding slightly, and he looked back momentarily to yell out, "Sorry Demitren!"

The older man, Demitren, furrowed his brow and looked at the chaos as he sat up, a growl rising from his throat. "Argh! Jairlaw!"

Akatsuki looked back as she heard the echo of the enraged shout, and smirked slightly. Oh, Jairlaw, she couldn't outrun the boy nor could she believe how silent he was on his feet sometimes, but he could be so clumsy! Suddenly the chasing had become running away though and he caught up, and started to pass her. She reached out her hand, his took it and he ran with her, leading them both on. A few corridors later both entirely out of breath, they leaned against a wall, something between laughing and gasping for air occupying them.

"Poor Demitren." Akatsuki stuttered out.

Jairlaw tried to stifle his amusement, "He shouldn't carry so much!"

"You shouldn't tackle him over!" Silence suddenly hit them and both looked at each other in realization. Neither moved for a moment, waiting. Akatsuki broke that and turned swiftly, feet pushing her back into a run.

"No way!" Jairlaw quickly followed and grabbed hold of her, wrapping both arms around her. Akatsuki's gaze widened and her sandaled feet lost their grip with the new weight Jairlaw put against her, yelping as she started to topple forward. Jairlaw hadn't quite been expecting that, but he threw his weight around, turning them both and they landed on his back. "See…? Got you." He said out tiredly.

"Uh… yeah." She accepted defeat and he released her. Turning over she pushed herself up on his chest, finding the position similar to his one with Demitren. Sitting on his stomach she let out a small laugh, finding it hard still to do that when she was so worn out. Her hands lifted but quickly slammed down on either side of his head, and she grinned, "Wait, who has who again?" She looked down to him, so tired that she even felt like resting her forehead against his shoulder and just waiting until her lungs didn't hurt so much. She realized then though, that she really hoped he wasn't going to get in trouble later from Demitren. She really appreciated the way he made training a lot more fun than usual, though he probably didn't realize it. He always pushed her hard and did what needed to be done, but today they had progressed quicker and then it had turned into a big game of tag in the end.

"Oh-ho, aren't you tricky?" He smiled back and took in deeper breaths to help ease his chest. Looking up at Akatsuki made his smile easy to keep and not just because she was getting easier and easier on the eyes as she grew, but because of her progress and the hell she had put him through just to 'tag' her. She advanced with all obstacles well and he normally was only truly amused when he was with her. No one else really allowed themselves to be so loose… naturally that was.

"We should probably get off the floor, eh?"

"Huh?" It clicked, "Oh yeah, definitely."

She pulled herself off and took to sitting against the wall, wiping at her face with her sleeve, he joined her there and rubbed at his shoulder, sore from the fall…s. "Think that's enough for today?"

"Hm? I guess so. I'll worker you harder next time." A smirk creasing his lips as he looked over.

"Oh gee. Thanks." She responded sarcastically and got up, pulling him up too when he stuck up his hands, "What now?"

"I don't know, we could ask permission to go somewhere. Let's go to the donkey town!"

"Donkey town? Oye, just 'cause you saw a donkey outside the bar sitting like a dog doesn't mean its donkey town."

"Yeah…" He raised a pointed finger and smirked as though he had won, "But you still knew what place I was talking about! So, let's go. That donkey was awesome anyhow."

"I can't Xolsan wants me to do some meditation thing after dinner, and you know Demitren's going to find you sooner rather than later."

"All the more reason to vanish for a bit."

"Oye!" She pulled at his sleeve to get him walking again.

"And since when do you go to training with Xolsan at night?"

"I know it's weird, but what am I supposed to do? Say no?"

Jairlaw laughed, the image of that and Xolsan awe-stricken was severely amusing. "You'd probably have time to hide while his jaw comes up from the floor."

"Oh please, his face would probably break I it showed that much emotion."

"I don't know… I'd say that's Sable's face, I've seen Xolsan get angry before, it's kind of… really scary."

"He's always pissy, like perma-frown." She furrowed her brow slightly and gave Jairlaw a shot in the arm, "And hey! Leave Sable alone he's… he's just reserved is all."

"Right right." He winced and rubbed the new sore spot on his arm, "Of course… And I meant like roaring anger. It was freaky. It's always the silent ones."

"Silent one's, eh? I guess we should consider you harmless then/"

His brow furrowed and he looked over to her in a harmlessly unamused way. "Oh, ha-ha." It had been a good one, actually but he wasn't going to admit that. "Why don't we go to the dead garden? We're almost there anyhow."

"And Demitren wouldn't think of looking there?"

"It's a bonus."

"Fine fine." She nodded in agreement and they walked now with direction. It was true they were near one of the main back exits of the bastion. The place was such a maze, and some days she swore it changed, but over time she had gotten used to it, that and the vast amounts of glaring white walls. She hesitated for a second as she heard what she thought was the echo of laughter, then hurried to stay in pace with Jairlaw, trying to think of it as nothing. She stopped though, when she heard it again, louder this time as though straight from the source. It was young and fresh… it sounded like a child's laugh. She looked around this time, but saw no one but Jairlaw in the hall of white, "Hey… did you hear that?"

"Hm?" He looked back, unsure of what she was referring to. "Hear what now?"

She shook her head, "I guess… it was nothing." Nothing… yeah. It had to be nothing; there hadn't been children in the bastion since... well, since she was a child. Despite that, she peered down the hallways one last time just to make sure then turned back to him to continue on, but Jairlaw was gone. He no longer stood near her, this struck her first and then the walls… they were different, a smooth cream colour with white moulding and white anchored columns which had remained the same. Along the some parts of the walls, red fabric was draped and there were small busts and statues in some places. She heard the laughter again, only this time it wasn't as though it were from everywhere, it had a position and from there two young children ran out from around the far corner. One chasing the other, but both were smiling and laughing. They had nice clothing and seemed well-kept, but very child-like still, one even seemed somehow familiar. They ran by, making her step back as to not be hit, however they acted as though she wasn't there. Am I? The hall was the same but as though from another time. She watched closely as the boys went on.

"Tsuki…uh, Tsuki?" One of the boys' glanced back over his shoulder. "Hello…?" A hand touched her shoulder and she jumped a bit, "Is something wrong?" A voice she knew, pale blue eyes looked back to Jairlaw, his vivid pine green eyes watching her closely, "You were just staring down the hall." She's not worried about Demitren that much, is she? It seemed unlikely, but he wasn't sure of any other reasons.

She smiled slightly, though awkwardly, "No… it's fine." She glance down the hall again, walls white and bare. "C'mon, let's get to the garden before it's suddenly supper, I don't want to be last to get anything again! That was slim pickings." She took hold of his wrist again and persisted he kept on walking.

"Yeah they're animals."

"Look who's talking, you'd eat it all were there not people to scare you away from it."

"I just have a healthy appetite, what's your excuse?"

"I'm a growing girl!"

"Sure sure."

"Who's cooking tonight anyhow?"

"I think it's Ceros."

"Ugh…" Akatsuki slumped her shoulders forward and stuck out her tongue, "Hell, he burns everything."

"Hey, he's been better lately, ever since Heslin made him eat the burnt leftovers instead of throwing it to the beasts."

"Right, I remember that. His tongue was still black the next day." She chuckled and turned the last hall, finding the door looked no different from the last time she had seen it, it's thick dark wood was still polished and it had gold hinges and strips to support the beams, all in all it did not seem to fit the rest of the building, maybe that's why she liked it so much. It was like a portal to a different place. Jairlaw pulled at the door, its weight evident in how he anchored his feet.

She went through, bringing up a hand to brush against the edge of the smooth wood as she went by, and then waited for him to join her. This place though she hadn't been there for a long while was no different either. The cobblestone paths led around the once garden and bushes were now blackened and grey, the area dusty as if strong gusts might sweep it all away, but they never did, it sat as if stilled in time and decay. The only flowers she had actually ever found were black roses and still their stems were grey. The things without leaves were thin and weak, but sometimes reminded her of claws. She walked on down the path and Jairlaw followed at her heels, looking around as well though he'd seen it all before. He even knew her favourite were the spiralling plants, whose stems grew in small continuing loops. Those plants' bark was a dull grey, but its leaves were a dusty blue, and there was normally drifting ash around their trunks. His favourite… did not exist, the ground here was tainted and cold, so he put an intangible barrier between himself and this place. It was bitter and distant like its tiny voices were scarred and never seized soft sounds of pain. So he only let his eyes lay witness.

Akatsuki kept walking, gaze drifting down to the cobblestone walkway, she enjoyed travelling it because it was different from the rest. No once beautiful flowers or symmetry. Its stones were all different shapes and sizes, even different dull colours from time to time, but all put together in an unpredictable pattern to make a whole. She lifted her gaze, in the distance an older wooden arbour, where she could imagine people having sat to drink tea. It was just before the start of the trees; darkened willows hung their dry leaves in different sections of garden, but farther off a thick outcrop of tree began. She'd never gone into them, not sure why not exactly, but there seemed to be this heavy feeling in her stomach when the thought crossed her mind. They seemed to distil a sense of past that was not hers to know. Over closer to the other side of the bastion there was an old maze of hedges that she had wandered for brief times before, despite its patches of decay, but never the trees. She glanced back to Jairlaw who was letting his eyes roam over the plants, his hands in his pants pockets and shoulders slumped forward. Although he had suggested this place, he didn't seem entirely comfortable, he never did while they were there, as though he were walking on ice, though strong enough to hold them it was different to travel on. It was a curious thing.

She had stopped to look at him now; his eyes drew over to her as he realized this, and seemed ever so slightly surprised. He raised a hand and put it against the back of his neck and smiled uneasily before breaking his gaze and glancing downward. Curious, indeed. She smiled in a comforting way in return and he kept walking along the path coming to her side, thinking she'd continue then as well. Her brilliant eyes, like how the sky here should have been, kept on him from the corner of her eyes and she lifted up her own hand. Holding it out to him. He analyzed her hand for a second and then looked away, eyes thoughtful but a more genuine smile came to his lips and he lowered his hand from his neck and took hold of hers.

She showed her teeth happily and started walking again, then even jogged pulling him with her along the cobblestone pathway. A chuckle rose from her throat and she glanced over to her side where he had easily kept pace. She slowed again as they came under the arbour and released his hand, he stopped and she moved past the small cement table, ascending two of the three steps of the old stone belvedere. It looked out into a small pond whose waters were now dark, and embellished with the plants of grey around it, beyond that was the beginning of the trees.

A sound… of birds. She blinked. That didn't exist here. "Jair…" She turned back, he was gone again, but there were colours… so many different ones. She'd never seen so many all together before. All the flowers weaving in and out of the arbour were all blooming, and shade was cast down refreshing all the area underneath. Everything glowed slightly from the sun's light and it seemed like such a beautiful paradise. She was stopped from stepping down as she saw movement. She stood still, as a young boy stepped around the corner of the arbour. He had been the young one chasing the other in the hallway. The one… who didn't exist.

He walked forward, lifting up a hand to pluck one of the flowers from its stem, and held it in his hands, looking down at it with violet eyes, fingers feeling the softness of its petal with gentle strokes. He looked back up and stopped. Those deep eyes looking straight to Akatsuki, he seemed to become uneasy. "Can you…?" She watched him in awe and leaned forward slightly, "Can you see me…?" She asked.

The boy did not answer for what felt like an eternity to wait for such a simple 'yes'. He still remained silent, lowering his head slightly. She sighed and turned back towards the porch of the belvedere, and then she heard his voice, one which she imagined would fit his laughter very well, "You should run now…"

"Huh?" She turned back quickly, eyes searching for the boy, rather she found Jairlaw leaning against the cement table now, looking at her with an arched brow. She gave him a feigned smile and looked to the gnarly plants, no blossoms or beauty, rather drained of their colours and stringy and like bent and curled wires. She lowered her gaze and slumped her shoulders, suddenly feeling rather tired once again. She sat down on the step and put her chin into her palm.

"Mm… What's wrong Akatsuki?" She had seemed so happy before, and then during the silence she had seemed somehow preoccupied, now… he mentally sighed, he didn't understand.

"This place is so… dark."

"It is the dead garden, after all."

"I know… but it used to be so beautiful. So… I figure." She didn't look up to him; rather she kept her gaze very far away.

"It's been like this for as long as I can remember."

Run…

Akatsuki lifted her chin quickly, something felt wrong. A low growling came to her awareness and then a dull scratching, she stepped quickly away from the steps, pushing up with her hands and turned around.