CHAPTER 3: RESCUED BY HIS MAJESTY THE KING OF HOWLING HOLLOWS
Mikan was starting to doubt her casual presence in front of Artemis. There was no mistake that she was a very kind and generous person, just that Mikan had her worries and insecurities. She'd grown up abandoned in a place where bullies roamed free with no consequences. So for her to suddenly meet someone so nice was a very big thing. Maybe it was the initial shock finally working its way into her system that had her so worried and scared all of a sudden. And she wasn't with Hood either, that didn't help. He'd gone wandering around the house and it seemed as if he knew the place inside and out. Though that couldn't be true. She wondered briefly if Artemis might cook her in a cauldron if she said something out of line or got to curious about Howling Hollows. The idea scared her more than she would've liked it too and she found herself feeling unsure about everything. She slipped out of the bed that Artemis had so very kindly made up for her and padded around the wooden house in her bare feet, going down the hallway to stop in front of Artemis's room. She knocked on the door cautiously, for fear that it may burst open and she'd be swept into the darkness of some other world. Though she was very happy to escape her previous life, she had her reasons for believing that maybe she was in fact just dreaming and that it would all end soon. Maybe that was what scared her more, she wasn't really sure.
"Artemis? Are you in there?" Mikan asked quietly.
"I'm in here dear, come on in why don't you." When she pushed open the door she was surprised to find Hood curled up on Artemis's lap. Hood never went near other people. "He really seems to like me, doesn't he?" Artemis smiled, following Mikan's gaze to the sleeping fox. Mikan nodded dumbly.
"I wish he could talk to me." Mikan murmured and a small burst of white light illuminated the room for a moment and Hood was raised into the air, startled out of his sleep, his eyes wide. Mikan and Artemis covered their eyes from the light and when it finally died down, both girls were more than shocked. Before them no longer stood Hood but a boy around Mikan's age, his white hair tousled, his black eyes shimmering as he looked at his human hands, feet and clothing.
"Mikan, you changed me back! How did you do that?" Hood asked and Mikan took a step back slowly.
"H-Hood? Is that you?" Hood nodded. "I-I don't know. What's going on?" She looked over to Artemis who eyes were all but glued to Hood. Her eyes filled with tears and Mikan watched as Hood turned to her and threw his arms around her.
"I'm so sorry Artemis." He murmured into her hair as she sat still, her arms frozen at her sides.
"K-Kikuo? Is it really you?"
"I don't understand," Mikan spoke up, swallowing. "That's Hood, my fox." Hood let Artemis go and walked over to Mikan, brushing his fingers softly through her hair.
"It was only a matter of time before one of you broke the spell. You see, when you found me five years ago, I had just been transported into your world. And I know you're confused and I know that you've had countless doubts about this place and about Artemis. But let me tell you as not the Kikuo of this land but as your best friend Hood that you can trust Artemis with your life. I always have," He turned to smile fondly at Artemis and his hand dropped from Mikan's hair. "You have to trust me Mikan," The front door to Artemis's house blew open in a shattering crack.
"Artemis!" Came a sing-song voice from the entrance of the house. A rather crazed voice if Mikan listened closely. "I know you have the girl!" Artemis jumped up and rushed both Mikan and Kikuo to the closet.
"Use this Kikuo, take Mikan far away from here. I trust you remember how to use it?" Kikuo nodded and grabbed for Artemis's arm before she closed the door completely. Much to his and Mikan's surprise, she pressed her lips to his and swept her hand quickly through his hair. "I believe in you Kikuo. Now go." And with that, she shut the closet door on the both of them. An overwhelmed Mikan and a dazed Kikuo.
"Should we send all the guards out your highness?" Jinta asked the young boy who was strapping a small dagger in its sheath to his belt. He grabbed his sword and hung it around his small frame, looking up Jinta.
"I can take care of this all on my own. I'll bring the girl here." Jinta watched Natsume as he went for the door.
"Remember your highness, she's an Outworlder." And those were their parting words as Natsume slammed his bedroom door shut and ran out of the palace. Jinta knew nothing about who she really was. He smelled the air to determine where she was and her scent was strong around WitchChester lane.
"Artemis." He thought aloud as he began running across the kingdom's front courtyards and across the draw bridge that led out into the main city. Artemis was the only one that would've taken an Outworlder in, for the sake of Kikuo he supposed, though he couldn't think of how she had found the intruder that quickly. With a swift shake of his head to clear his mind, Natsume weaved through the busy streets of the main city and headed towards WitchChester lane. He followed her scent all the way to Artemis's house where he found the door blown in and Nabuki and Kouta, two of the council members, fighting Artemis in the hallway. "Stop!" He commanded loudly, his voice echoing around the room as the clashing sounds of silver off silver ceased and both parties turned to face their king.
"Your highness," Artemis bowed low and hesitantly, so did the two council members.
"Your highness," Nabuki began in his sickening voice. "This one was hiding the Outworlder."
"I don't know if Cross told you, but I ordered this to cease." Natsume snapped. Kouta remained silent but he dropped his sword and it clattered against the ground.
"Kouta! What are you doing? Pick up your sword, it's Cross's orders. We take orders from him, not this child!" Nabuki hissed, passing Kouta his sword. Kouta took it back without hesitation and nodded.
"Sorry." He really wasn't a man of many words.
"I am not a child!" Natsume seethed through his teeth, drawing his sword. Nabuki let out a psychotic laugh and licked his teeth. "Now get out and stop hunting the girl before I kill you myself!" With a mischievous look at his partner, Nabuki and Kouta vanished and Natsume watched as Artemis, drained of her powers, dropped to her knees. "Where is she?" He asked, not bothering to help her to her feet as he sheathed his sword.
"I don't know. Kikuo took her." Artemis said weakly, popping open a potion bottle and downing the liquid.
"Kikuo? That boy you loved so long ago? Blasphemy, no one comes back to Howling Hollows once they're up there."
"Do not doubt him your highness," Artemis snapped. "He came back with the girl, as a fox."
"So what good is he now then?" Artemis rose to her feet and grinned up at Natsume.
"That girl, she's a lot more powerful than you realise your highness. Even more powerful than you maybe. You'd better watch where you step because I've already warned her about you." Natsume's eyes widened momentarily and then narrowed darkly.
"What did you tell her Artemis?" He spoke to her like they had been old friends gone wrong.
"That you weren't everything you claim to be. That you're only the king for one sinister reason. Yes, I believe those were the words. Though, she doesn't know the reason like I do, it was enough to shake her scared whenever your name appeared in a conversation." There seemed to be a battle fire in her violet eyes and Natsume walked right up to her and walked her back until she was against the back wall of her hallway. He poked roughly at her collar bone with his finger.
"You better watch your mouth Artemis, it may well get you killed sooner or later." He disappeared and Artemis let out a sigh.
"What happened to you Natsume?"
"Quick, through the back door!" Kikuo ushered Mikan through the back door of a tree house.
"Are we allowed in here!?" Mikan hissed quietly, sick of being dragged around without knowing the reason behind it.
"Who's there?" A young voice called and suddenly footsteps could be heard coming down a ladder in the centre of the room. A girl that looked exactly like Kikuo stopped just short of them, her mouth agape. "Kikuo?" She stared wide eyed at Kikuo and took a small step backwards. "H-how?"
"It's a long story Shiro, and right now we don't have the time. Help me get Mikan up to the floor just below the attic. You'll be safe there Mikan." Kikuo explained.
"No, I don't want to be here." Mikan spoke up from beside Kikuo. Both he and the girl looked at her.
"What do you mean Mikan?" Kikuo asked in disbelief.
"I'm saying that whoever those people were, they were after me. Not you. I got you back home so please don't jeopardize that. If it's me they want, then it's me they shall get." She opened the back door and Kikuo caught her arm.
"Mikan, you can't! They'll destroy you!"
"Not on my watch." A dark voice sounded from the open doorway. Suddenly, she was being swept off of her feet, into the arms of a raven haired boy with scorching red eyes.
"Your majesty," Kikuo and Shiro said in unison, bowing down.
"Put. Me. Down!" Mikan protested sharply, hitting against his chest. Royalty or not, he wasn't her king. She didn't have to follow his rules. Natsume glared down at the wriggling girl in his arms.
"You're a rude child aren't you? Anyone with half a brain could see that I'm helping you escape your death." He bit back.
"Child? You're probably younger than I am! Just let me go you stingy king!" Mikan hit his chest again as hard as she could but it had no effect. He lifted her up and slung her over his shoulder which just infuriated her more.
"Kikuo, I'm taking this brat off of your hands. Enjoy the time you have with your family. Who knows how long it will last."
"But I vowed to protect her!" Kikuo yelled.
"And now you don't have to. You're job is finished Kikuo. Don't make me take you away again."
"A-Again? What do you mean your majesty?" Shiro piped up from the corner. Natsume shot her a glare.
"I hope your sister keeps her innocence." He scoffed. And with that, he disappeared, taking Mikan along with him.
Natsume laid a sleeping Mikan down on his bed. The teleporting must have taken it's toll on her already tired body. She had used magic to turn Kikuo back, that he knew for sure. She was pretty good for what she had become. He rubbed his face tiredly with both hands and sat down beside her, stroking his hand through her brown locks.
"I wish you remembered me Mikan. I knew it was you, the second you got here. You've come back home. I'm so glad." But her shallow breathing was the only reply he got. He leaned forward and gently kissed her forehead. "I missed you so much." He watched her with such love and admiration in his eyes that no one in the palace would have recognised him. "I'll take care of the council members for you Mikan, I promise. But until then, you can't know who you were here so long ago. I'm really sorry Mikan. I love you."