CHAPTER 1: HOWLING HOLLOWS
A small ripple, a disturbance in their world. He looked up briefly, his eyes narrowing before a voice broke through his concentration.
"Your highness, your highness, what an awfully long time it's been." The dreadful sarcasm in the male's voice stopped him from turning around. He knew all too well who it was; a damned nuisance. "Oh? How rude you are, Hyuuga-kun," The voice laughed. "Didn't you miss me?"
"I missed the silence." Natsume bit back steadily, closing his eyes and inhaling the scent of the changed wind.
"Odd smell, is it not?" The dark blue haired male came to stand beside Natsume on the balcony and looked up at the stars. "Almost tastes like an...,"
"Outworlder." Natsume finished for him. "Jinta, please prepare my bedding. I'll need some time to process my next move." With a nod, Jinta turned and began to rummage through the linen cupboard in the corner of the room. He was straightening out the duvet when a middle aged woman strode into the room.
"What are you to do my boy?" She asked silently, peering at Natsume who turned around at her entrance. She was a majestic looking woman with long black hair that flowed down to her knees, her kimono a pale blue with dragons dancing across the satin, her face as young as it had been so many years ago.
"I'll never be able to do any good in this darkness, mother. I'll wait 'till morning." His mother frowned at him.
"I do hope you have this under control. I needn't remind you of what happened the last time-,"
"Silence!' His loud voice boomed through the room and the woman winced at his tone. Natsume turned back to the city that stretched beyond his balcony. His city. His people. His world. "You may leave." With a pained closing of her eyes, the woman bowed low and left the room.
"You're as harsh as ever my king." Jinta said solemnly. King. That wasn't his title to bear. It was no one's.
"Call me king again and I'll slit your throat in your sleep. Do you understand Jinta?" He turned on him sharply. Jinta bowed just a little higher than Natsume's mother had, his mischievous eyes clicking with the young boy's.
"But of course."
She was blind. That was the first thing she thought when she awoke, still seeing white. But then the whiteness moved. It moved. She then realised that she had merely just been resting her face against Hood's fur. Sitting bolt upright, she gasped.
"W-where am I?" She looked around the room. It was rather small and homely with a book case along the left wall. There was a desk in the right hand corner of the room and a table on a beige rug in the middle. Straight in front of her was an open door in which she couldn't make out anything beyond. She looked down and noticed that she and Hood were on a quilted bed, illuminated by the moonlight pooling through a large hole in the roof.
"So you're awake are you dear?" Mikan jumped at the sound of a friendly young woman in the doorway. She had waist long blonde hair and she wore a flowing purple dress that split to reveal her long snow-white legs, a matching pair of purple satin flats on her feet. But the oddest thing of all was that she was wore a purple rimmed black witch hat. She came to sit beside Mikan and smiled at her sudden movement to touch Hood for comfort.
"Who are you?" Mikan asked, watching as her violet eyes sparkled.
"My name is Artemis." She replied smoothly.
"How did I get here?" It was a good thing that Artemis looked like a patient soul. She pointed to the hole in the roof.
"That wasn't here before darling,"
"I-I fell through your roof!? Oh, I'm so sorry for that." Mikan blinked up at the hole she and Hood had made upon their landing. Where on Earth was she? Flashes of the book came back to mind and she flicked her eyes around the room desperately. "Have you per chance seen my book?"
"A book?" Artemis hummed to herself. "I believe this fox is the only thing you brought with you."
"How can that be?" Mikan whispered. She had depended on her book. It was like an anchor to her. "Oh yes, Artemis-san, where am I?"
"Just Artemis is fine," She smiled. "And you're in WitchChester Lane." She said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
"W-WitchChester... what?" She watched as Artemis inhaled the air around them.
"Hmm, as I thought, you're not from here. What's your name little one?"
"Mikan. Sakura Mikan."
"We as the council can not and will not allow the presence of an Outworlder. She will be executed on the spot. That is all. If anyone has any complaints or problems with this, speak now." The leader of the council spoke without hesitation and without fear of having to kill. Amongst the twenty others that stood in the circular room, only one dared to raise his hand. "Tatsuya. You may speak."
"On behalf of both Sayuri and myself," Tatsuya began. "I would like to volunteer. We'll kill the girl."
"That's not fair!" A small girl with pink pigtails screeched from the other side of the room, her partner a mature figured girl in blue denim shorts and a black crop top, her long red hair tied in a high ponytail. "I want her!" Her partner put a hand on her shoulder.
"Calm down Mitsuko. Screaming irrationally isn't going to help us out here." Mitsuko shoved her hand off of her shoulder.
"You don't have to tell me that Yuki." She muttered moodily.
"If pigtails can have her then surely we have a chance here," Another voice spoke. It was a white haired man with razor sharp teeth, his partner a hooded man in a cloak, his eyes covered by his hood, black tattoos scrawled across his face. Though, unlike Yuki, he remained silent at his partner's outburst. "Oh, come on Kouta. At least talk!" He demanded in a crazed voice. Kouta raised his hand.
"I agree with Nabuki." He said roughly, his voice dark and deep.
"Silence! All of you," The council leader boomed. "I, Cross, will decide all matters brought to mind in this council room." His voice had a tone that left for no arguments. Mitsuko pouted next to Yuki and Nabuki's eyes glinted as he licked his sharp canines. He pointed to Nabuki and Kouta. "You two shall go directly for the girl. The rest of you, make use of yourselves in what ever way you can. Mitsuko, don't be rash." And with that, Cross turned and strode out of the room, leaving all his ten leaders and their chiefs alone in the ring.
"You'll regret this Nabuki you freak," Mitsuko hissed. "Come Yuki, we're leaving." The rest of them followed in the two girl's wakes until it was only Nabuki and Kouta left in the room.
"I'm coming Mikan." Kouta murmured under his breath.
"Did you say something?" Nabuki grinned viciously.
"Not a word." And they retreated with hollow footsteps.
"Artemis, what exactly is WitchChester lane?" Mikan asked as Artemis brought her a glass of frosty blue liquid. Cautiously, Mikan took the glass. "Oh, thank you," She murmured. Artemis laughed at her caution.
"It's just frosted blueberry juice." She explained, which made Mikan release a sigh of relief and take a sip. It was actually rather nice. Artemis sat beside her with her own glass of the odd drink in her hands, watching the young girl that had previously come tumbling through her bedroom roof. "WitchChester lane, huh? Well, it's pretty much what it sounds like. One of the lanes that runs from the main city, a lane filled with anything from blossoming to fully experienced witches." Mikan nearly choked on her drink.
"Witches?" She thought the hat had just been for show. But then again, she thought, that wouldn't have really made sense. "What is this world?"
"Well, I probably can't explain everything, but just know that in this world, witches aren't the scariest things. This world is called Howling Hollows," Artemis explained. Howling Hollows. She'd heard of that name before, but she couldn't put her finger on it. Artemis stood and grabbed a book from her bookshelf. She came back to the bed and flipped it open to a page where a picture of a young king stood. "This is who you should be looking out for-," But before she could tell the young girl his name, Mikan spoke up without thinking.
"King Natsume!" Artemis looked down at her, puzzled.
"Yes, that's right. How did you know that?" Mikan's eyes widened and it all hit her at once. This was her story book. I'm trapped in here, she thought to herself, what do I do?
"Ah," Mikan stuttered and to her relief, there was a caption at the bottom of the page that read "King Natsume of Howling Hollows." "I, uh, I read the caption." Artemis blinked.
"Oh. That makes sense then," She smiled.
"But why should I stay clear of him? He's just a kid." Mikan wondered aloud and Artemis's face became hard and worried.
"You needn't an explanation. Just promise me that you'll stay away from him Mikan." Mikan nodded slowly.
"O-okay. I promise."
"Good girl," Artemis sounded relieved. "Good girl. Now get some rest."
Natsume awoke to the rising sun the next morning, an impatient knock sounding at his door.
"Your highness, Council leader Cross wishes to speak with you." One of his maids informed him.
"Let him in." Natsume called, sitting up in his king sized, four poster bed. The door clicked open and Cross entered the room.
"I'm sure you're aware of the intruder, your highness."
"Then I'm sure you won't mind that my subjects are doing everything that they can to destroy her." Natsume's eyes burned like flames.
"Stop them. This is my responsibility." Cross bowed low, hiding a murderous smile.
"Unfortunately, your highness, they have already been released. The girl should be dead in a matter of minutes." Natsume practically jumped out of his bed, grabbing Cross's collar.
"Cross you bastard!"
"What will you do, your highness? It's your move."