(AN: I am just reposting this story since the previous editing job sucked. For anyone stumbling across this story for the first time: sorry! Everyone is a bit ooc (more than i usually allow) especially Meilin. This is actually a rewrite of a story I wrote a long time ago with the CCS characters stuck in. Enjoy!)
The Boarding House
The trees seemed black as they whipped past her in an endless blur. She must seem insane to be running through the woods at night, but in her small world of consciousness at the moment she really didn't care. Running was what she was meant to do at that moment. She had originally hopped onto a bus when she had run from her home earlier that morning. It seemed like days ago rather than most of a single day that her step-brother had tried to rape her. She gave him what for and stopped in her room long enough to get a few changes of clothes, money and the book she had been reading. That proves what idiocy lies in the heart of a frantic person. She grabbed a book. In what way that was going to help her survive a life without a job or financial support aside of the few hundred dollars she had kept in savings she had no clue.
But she hopped a bus and got off when the driver told her she had to. She didn't know where she was nor did she care. She held out her hand and hitchhiked until the man who picked her up gave similar advances as her step-brother. At that point she opened the door of the still moving truck and dove out. She might have lost consciousness if not for her desperation and will to run. And run she did. She had been running for hours now. In the back of her head it really didn't make sense that her body, which before had taken no liking to athletics of any kind would allow her to run like she did but that same thought figured it for adrenaline which she had aplenty.
And that was why she found herself in the middle of a forest in the middle of the night long after rain had started to pour down on her head. Somewhere distant she thought she could hear the ocean. Living on a series of islands made that sound common place. She wondered how many times she had come to the shoreline that day. But now suddenly, she wanted to see the sea more than anything.
With that thought in mind she started running harder which proved her folly when she tripped over a stray branch and tumbled down an incline. In her already tired mind it felt like forever but it couldn't have been more than a few minutes that she was falling through the endless dark and trees. When she finally came to a stop she just laid there for awhile longer taking solace in her first break in running in hours, if not the new bruises she would have on the morrow.
After a few minutes she sat up and wiped the wet hair, mud and leaves from her face. At that moment lightning struck and suddenly she could see the clearing in front of her. In the middle, with light barely shining from it, she saw what looked like a huge house with gardens all around it. Her first thought was, "Why is there a house in the middle of the forest?" but it was quickly superceded by, "I wonder if they would let me stay for the rest of the night..." After a moments hesitation she laughed at herself. Everything else that she had done that day was bold and audacious without second thought or fears. Why should asking for help be any different? She'd survived everything else.
Dusting off her no-longer-dark-blue day dress off as much as she could, which was pretty pointless as it was now firmly the colour of mud, she checked to see if her bag had survived and then made across the field with purpose in her stride, despite the torrential rain that still poured upon her. She strode right up the steps and knocked right on the front door. She would have normally feared about being too late at night but they had lights on and she really didn't care.
After a moment she heard noises and the door opened. At that moment lightning flashed, revealing to her a tall woman dressed in black with equally inky long tresses tied up on either side of her head in what was popularly called 'odangos', little buns that left a good portion of hair to hang down. Her skin in comparison was almost snow white and her appearance was in fact so dramatic that it took a moment for it to register that she could only be in her twenties.
The tall woman looked her up and down with sparkling ruby eyes and for the first time that day she felt ragged and not worth looking at. But it was only for a moment because then the woman smiled. "You must be soaked through. Why don't you come in and tell me your story."
For some reason it sounded so tempting and the woman sounded so inviting that, without hesitation, she followed the woman. The house was beautiful and gave off the impression of warmth and home as she wandered down the halls. Her bag was taken from her and she was whisked into a small bathroom where she might tidy up a bit and a fuzzy black bathrobe for her to wear until her clothes were cleaned and dried or something else suitable be found. Normally, all this would seem strange to the poor girl, but her mind was so tired that she meekly followed the tall woman's orders without so much as saying a word. Besides, she welcomed the hot shower and clean clothes and really wouldn't have wanted to turn it down if she were in a proper state of mind.
After she was clean and warm and dry she joined the tall woman in a small sitting room. The woman smiled at her with every sense of welcome, and perhaps some mischief, and offered her some tea. She just smiled and accepted it meekly.
"Well, now that you are warm and dry, I hope you feel more the thing. You looked half dead on my door step."
"Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry to be an inconvenience." She paused a moment and sipped her tea. "Actually, no I'm not. I am very grateful for your troubles and don't know what I would have done without them."
The woman laughed. "I figured as much. You are welcome to anything I might provide, with one condition."
"My first born child?"
"What would I do with that?" the woman chuckled, making a face. "No, rather your story."
"I'm sure you really would find it boring ma'am," she blushed. While her story was horrifying to her, it was common enough and definitely not worth being treated like she was.
"I disagree. I find stories are what makes my day interesting. I am as uncommon as they come and I love to hear about those people who are far more normal."
"How are you so uncommon?"
"Ah, ah! I asked your story. But perhaps I'll tell you what you will get in exchange if you tell me,...what is your name dear?"
"Tomoyo," she whispered softly. She kept her last name back, due to the infamous nature of it.
"A beautiful name. Now, Tomoyo, this is a boarding house. It is however not an ordinary boarding house because, as I said before, I am nothing but uncommon. Rather, I take in only those who have a story to tell. Runaway's, fugitives, those without money, those who are accused of all sorts of things. Wrongly accused mind you. I don't want to be murdered in my bed. Though I'm pretty sure I can take care of myself." She paused long enough to smile at Tomoyo with amusement and reassurance. "And here they stay, free of charge, provided they tell me their story, go to school, if they are of age, and don't mind my oddities."
"May I ask what your oddities are, ma'am, before I agree to tell you my story?"
"No fair!" she huffed jokingly before settling back into her chair a little. The woman looked at her with a considering, judging kind of look. When she finished it was with a touch of admiration in her eyes. "You are very wise for a girl so young. Much more than I was at your age."
"Hardly, ma'am, if I am in a position to need your help."
The woman just waved her hand in dismissal. "Nonsense. People who are wise just as often must run from bad situations as find themselves in good ones. You were smart enough to leave." She took a sip of her own tea, and then continued. "As you asked I have quite a few oddities. One of the first is that I take in such oddities for house guests. While at present I only have two, they have both been her for some duration and there are surely more that will come. Second of all, except for the young girl who is with us now, you must wear black at all times while in the house."
Tomoyo looked down at her bath robe and the woman's own ensemble. She shrugged in acquiescence. Black was good on everyone. "And?"
"Lastly, my dear girl, this is a place of magick."
Tomoyo blinked. "Pardon? You mean that seriously don't you?"
"Another educated answer. You are no fun. But, I think we will do along quite well. Yes, I mean real magick. I myself am a sorceress and the two staying here are no stranger to magick themselves. There are also all sorts of weird things around the house that have been enchanted or make magick or all sorts of things. They don't react unless they sense that they need to so you should be safe. I also promise that you will not find me doing any spells on you or such. Unless you give consent that is." She smiled ingratiatingly. "You may find that some of what we do is intriguing and quite entertaining and want to participate. If so, you may join in at any time. You may also take whatever chance you have to learn what you will."
Tomoyo sat back and sipped her tea. She knew the lady was both quite serious and quite sane. There WAS something about this place that cried out that it was different. Did she trust this place though? In her head she knew that there was something askance of someone who gave so much with so little in return. But, she also knew that this was as good as she was going to get at the moment. After a moment's consideration she sat up and looked at the lady.
"My father died when I was barely born. My mother was a brilliant woman and started her own company soon after his death. It became very popular and made a lot of money. But despite all the comforts money could buy, mother was lonely and thought I needed a father figure in my life. So right after I turned twelve she remarried a man by the name of Yamaguchi. He was a widower with two children. His son was older than me by a couple years and his daughter younger by a few more.
"My mother died only a few days after my thirteenth birthday. She left almost her entire fortune and the mansion to me. After that my step-father grew bitter towards me, feeling somewhat betrayed that after a short marriage he now had a child who had everything and he didn't get anything. His son however took a slightly different view of it.
"He began flirting with me even then. At first it was barely noticeable but in the passing years he got more and more adamant about it. Often he would caress my knee under the table, or corner me alone to find some way to touch me. However it wasn't until this morning, or is it tomorrow yet? That he tried to rape me. After that I immediately ran, and have been running, until I appeared on your door step an hour ago."
The woman looked at her for a long while. Tomoyo knew that she had sealed the deal and that there was something more she would have to do in coming days, but for now it was a roof over her head, food and some way to continue school, something she hadn't even considered when she ran. It was a bargain she was fully willing to keep. And so the lady judged. She stood up and walked over to Tomoyo. She stretched out her hand.
"You can call me Mistress Mei Lin. It sounds a bit formal, but it's another one of those oddities. Shall I show you to your room?"
Tomoyo stood up and put her tea cup on the table in front of her. She followed the Mistress through the surprisingly large house. It was even bigger than she had first imagined and put her in mind of those English manors that her mother had so often talked about. After some time they reached a door at the end of one hallway.
"This is your room. It may seem ridiculous to put you so far away from the main part of the house when it is so large, but, as I mentioned before, there are parts of this house which even I do not trust to act as they should. And seeing as you have no known magick, it would best to have you out of harm's way."
She looked at the pendant she wore, a clock, briefly. "It is just past midnight, which makes this Sunday. Hopefully by Tuesday we will have you settled with the nearby school. That will also give you a full two days to accustom yourself to the house. You will meet your fellow boarders tomorrow at breakfast."
She began to walk away before she paused and turned back. "Sorry, Tomoyo dear, I forgot to ask how old you are."
"I'm sixteen, Mistress Mei Lin. My birthday is half a year away."
Tomoyo thought she heard the ruby eyed lady say, "What a good age to be initiated," but she felt she must be mistaken. She opened her door and took a look around her room. As she halfway expected, it was more of a suite rather than a room. It had three rooms total: A bedroom, a dressing room and a bathroom. Quickly making use of the facilities and the night rail she found in the armoire, she slipped between the sheets of the large four-poster and fell into a dreamless sleep.
She woke up the next morning at 7:30 on the dot. She felt completely and utterly rested but was still at a loss to why she had woken up so early. She had never been someone who woke up naturally early. She thanked her alarm clock many a time for that fact. Still she shrugged it off and rose from bed. After inspecting the bathroom she found a brand new tooth brush with tooth paste, face wash and all the other things a girl might need to prepare for the day.
When she was finished in the bath room a cursory look around her room revealed a that a black dress had been laid across the back of a chair, along with her now clean bra and some black house shoes, which really looked more like silk shoes than anything she had seen in the slipper section of her local department store.
Tomoyo dressed quickly, admiring the long flowing dress with its high-waisted, and wondered if the dress shouldn't be more suited to a formal event than something to be worn around the house. Then again, this house was ten times nicer than hers had been. She fixed up her long wavy black hair into a neat bun, mentally laughing that she landed from one rich house to another, and poked her head out the door. The long hall way was empty except, she noted, a black cat that was pointedly staring at her. Tomoyo, an intuitive and wise girl, knew almost instinctively that this cat was definitely sent to guide her through the house.
"After you, if you please," she said with a small bow. After all, you must always be polite to a cat or else they think you are not worth the effort. However the cat seemed pleased enough and rose from its sitting position and made its way through the house. She slowly followed, taking in more of her surroundings than she had the night previous. There were beautiful stone carvings everywhere and gorgeous paintings.
Everything seemed both elegant and welcoming. However there was still an unmistakable air of something that was not quite normal that filled the hallways and passages. It did not feel threatening, just unsettling. Just as unsettling as the Mistress, Tomoyo figured to herself. Or following a cat through the enormous structure she was to call home.
After some few minutes the cat stopped and sat in the hall, facing a double door way. It was quite obvious that she was to enter and so she did after thanking the cat most graciously for its time. As it trundled off in some dark direction she poked her head through the large mahogany double doors. She found a dining room with a long beautiful cherry table and chairs. To one side there was a sideboard with food set upon it.
Tomoyo was beginning to wonder just how far she had traveled in a single day when the door was pulled from her grasp and fully opened. Startled she glanced around to see if there was another person there of if there was yet again some magical force at work. To her relief she found a little boy with dark hair and a pale face, like everyone else in this place she assumed, who couldn't have been more than ten at max.
"I'm sorry. I didn't see anyone else in the room," she apologized, coming more fully into the room. "Are you one of the other boarders?"
He smiled at her, a smile which seemed to be much older than someone his age should give. "It's no worry, miss. With everything as dark as it is its no surprise that you didn't see someone dressed entirely in black. Especially one as small as me. But then, you get used to it."
"I hope so," she replied, fiddling with her own black gown. "I'm beginning to fear that I will look like a relief painting before too long. But I'm guessing that might be another rule of the house as well?"
He laughed softly and moved to pull out a chair for her. In the space before it was a cup of tea and a biscuit with jam and butter to one side. She sat down, thanking him softly and watched as the surprisingly mature little boy took a seat opposite her.
"You are correct on both assumptions, miss. I am one of the oldest boarders she has, in more ways than one, and yes I do fear that Mistress is looking to make us all into one gigantic relief painting that she can convince someone to sketch one day. She tells everyone that she is great at, well, everything. No one's ever seen anything she's drawn though so perhaps it isn't fiction. We'll have to see though."
She chewed on her biscuit for a moment before asking another question. "You mean the other boarder is even younger than you? You can't be more than ten or so, so how old are they?"
"Sakura -that is her name, and a very fitting one it is too- is nine years old. She is very quiet and keeps to herself most of the time. You probably won't meet her till dinner time. However, she does love people and company. Her personality may be a bit weird but I'm sure you'll like her."
"And what is your name?"
"I am Kyogi Mikkoku. Feel free to call me Mikkoku."
"I'm Tomoyo," she replied with a soft smile. There was something about this boy that made her feel just barely not at ease. She wasn't afraid of him but he did feel just a bit unnatural. Perhaps it was his maturity, or, as Mistress mentioned last night, the fact that he was associated with the magic.
"Ah, yes. Mistress charged me with getting your last name so we could settle you in with the high school."
She carefully avoided the question by posing one of her own. "What school will that be? The local public school? For that matter where are we, I'm not quite sure which direction I was going, I just went."
Mikkoku took a long sip of what appeared to be coffee before answering. "Where we are is hard to explain. This mansion, boarding house, whatever you want to call it, shows up where it is needed. When I found it, it was sitting on a cliff. Sakura says that when she found it, it was just down the street from her. However I get the impression from Mistress that you were closest to finding it in its natural surroundings."
"A moving house? Now I've heard everything."
His eyes glimmered for a second. "No, Tomoyo, you haven't yet."
Something inside of Tomoyo made her withdraw into the insides of her mind after hearing that statement. She knew better than to ask what else she would hear or see now that she had come to such a place, because she was not likely to get a straight answer. But on the other hand, she didn't know if she wanted to have one.
"As to your other question, you will be going to a small private school. You will be comfortable there, Mistress thinks, rather than at a public school. You will be registered tomorrow and Mistress is out right now procuring your uniform and school books."
Tomoyo frowned. "I actually have enough money to pay, but not immediately. I more or less ran away from home and can't get to my funds until I am 18."
"Don't worry about money, Tomoyo. Mistress is loaded and has more fun looking after new boarders than anything else. If you want you can pay her back when possible, but for now just rest at ease."
She found it very hard to do so but went back to her breakfast, nibbling on the biscuit bit by bit as she processed everything through her head. So much had happened in twenty-four hours that she barely new herself anymore. She also had the very uncomfortable feeling that these people surrounding her knew her intimately already. More so than she herself did. Tomoyo found it very hard to suppress her shudder.
That is until she noticed that Mikkoku was swinging his feet under the table. It was that very small childish movement that made her feel more at home and comfortable. It made him seem more human and less like some thing from an anime. She smiled as she sipped her tea.
"Now that I have answered your questions, will you return the favour?"
She sighed deeply. "I don't think I should be registered under my real name. It is more or less infamous."
"So that's why you are so reluctant to give it to Mistress. Well, why don't you just make one up?"
"I'd never thought of that before. What would you suggest?" she asked pouring more tea into her cup.
He seemed to stop and consider the question for a moment. "It has to be a name that sounds good with Tomoyo. How bout Hayashi Tomoyo?"
Tomoyo barely managed to bite back a giggle. "That sounds a little silly."
"I think I'll take that as a compliment rather than an insult. However, if Hayashi won't do how bout...Ah I know. Do you mind Western names?"
"Not really. Why?"
"How does Madison sound? I understand it is both a first name and last name."
"I guess it fits. Tomoyo Madison. I will parade myself as a Westerner. It will be amusing and people will think I'm exotic and mystical. It fits. Especially since Mistress wants to turn me into a witch." She sipped her tea and adjusted herself to her new name.
"Got that impression did you?"
"Oh, just vaguely." She had to smile. He seemed to be friendlier by the moment, if not exactly like a normal child.
"If you are done with your breakfast, shall I show you around the place?'
She put down her tea cup. "Actually I would be very grateful if you would, if it's not too much trouble. I'm afraid of getting too lost despite the cat."
"Ah yes, Spinel Sun seems to like you. She will always show up if you have problems, never fear, but it is a good idea for you to get adjusted to where things are." He rose, placing his napkin on the table beside his cup. "If you will follow me?"
She spent the next couple of hours getting acquainted with the enormous house. There were more rooms than she had even guessed at first, but then everything was more than she had first imagined. There was a ballroom, a library, several studies, armories, sports rooms, dojo settings. The whole place seemed like a jumble of the outside world into one place so that you would never have to leave if you didn't want to. There was even a school room to one side.
"But Mistress prefers that we leave for schooling purposes. It encourages social interaction."
Also during their expedition he explained to her some of the oddities that just came with the house, no matter who lived in it. The waking up at 7:30am was one of those. Even if you only slept for five seconds before hand you would wake up at 7:30 and feel completely refreshed. The only catch is if you just didn't go to sleep that night you would feel as tired as ever. The boarding house also had a way of noticing its occupants and living up to them. The fresh toothbrush and face cleaners in her bathroom were note of this, as well as the black dress which had fit her perfectly. It was a very old enchantment on the house that made it so and one that to this day didn't cause a single bit of harm to its occupants.
Mikkoku also pointed out some trouble areas where furniture would move and the library bookshelf that would rearrange itself randomly, often sending books off of its shelves at breakneck speeds. Most things were harmless but he did warn her never to go into the basement by herself. She took that warning to heart. In fact, so engrossed with all the information she was learning she was hardly aware of the time until Mikkoku pulled out his pocket watch, which looked rather odd for a ten year old, no matter how mature, and pointed out that if they weren't in the dining room by six they might miss dinner.
He led her back to her room and left her with the assurance that if she needed assistance Spinel Sun would know and show up. With that he disappeared into the darkness of the long passageway. In her room she found a moderately more formal black gown to one side with a silver hair band and necklace lying on top of it. She quickly changed and brushed her hair out, putting on the jewelry as an after thought. When she opened the door, Spinel Sun was sitting there waiting for her.
"I think I can make it alone, Spinel, but would you walk with me all the same?"
The cat made an unmistakable nod and walked beside Tomoyo all the long way to the dining room. When they reached the doors, she reached down and pet the beautiful feline under her chin before rising again and turning towards the large doors. She felt nervous for some unknown reason and knew instinctively that she was being judged by those in this house around her. Even the little girl would be judging her. Taking a deep breath, Tomoyo straightened her shoulders and opened the doors with self confidence.
Inside she was met by Mistress who guided her to the table. Mikkoku was already seated where he had been earlier that morning and beside him was a little girl. Somewhere in the back of her head she connected the name to the national flower, cherry blossoms. And that is what this girl was, a delicate cherry blossom. Her hair was a beautiful honeyed brown cut short to reach just under her chin and her skin was porcelain with a delicate flush of pink at her cheeks. She was also dressed in a beautiful pink dress with lace and a pretty hair ribbon. Tomoyo recalled Mistress' previous words about everyone but one wearing black and understood that it would be a crime to make this girl wear black which would make her look insipid rather than radiant. And yet, despite the unexpected brilliance of this little girl, something in her struck a familiar cord.
"I see you noticed Sakura, Tomoyo."
Shaken from what must have been a rude stare, Tomoyo smiled. "I'm sorry for being rude, Sakura. You just remind me of a little girl I once knew."
Sakura looked at Tomoyo for a long moment in silence with sparkling jade eyes, as if gauging her trustworthiness. But at long last she smiled. "It's alright, Miss Tomoyo. You remind me of someone too. Perhaps you and I can play tomorrow."
"Sakura, you have school tomorrow. Did you forget?" Mistress reminded her with a shake of her head as she sat down at the head of the table beside Tomoyo and Mikkoku. "But perhaps when you get home?"
Tomoyo smiled. "I'd love to, Sakura. Just tell me when."
The young girl smiled back with such unadulterated innocence and purity that it almost hurt to look at. Somewhere in Tomoyo's mind and heart she felt as if she should call this fragile young girl 'princess' or 'lady' and perhaps with good reason.
Dinner continued with little talk except some questions from Mistress about Tomoyo's interests and what classes she had been in before so that when Mistress talked to the school on the next day she would be able to tell them where she should be placed. Tomoyo answered each question succinctly and polietely and enjoyed her dinner. She also listened to Mistress as she explained the different aspects of the school and some of the things that Mikkoku had failed to explain.
"Breakfast is served from 8am to 9:30 so you needn't rush from your room in the morning. Lunch, when you are here for it, is served from Noon to 1:30 and dinner is served promptly at 6pm. If you are late you will be refused as we try to keep it social. I will have no problem with shutting the door in your face. It is in my nature to be rude. The only exception is if you are feeling unwell and at that point you can have any meal in your room so that you might get more rest.
"There are several gardens around here, all enchanted to look their best no matter what the season, so don't be surprised when you find the roses in the Rose garden to still be in bloom even if it is October already. There is even a sakura grove that you can sit at. It tends to be everyone's favourite place. You are welcome to enter any of them at any time and there is no time restriction on anything in the house except of course when food is concerned. Oh and we will be having a ball on the 31st."
Tomoyo tried to take all that in and when the last few words finally reached that special part of her brain that made things make sense she sat forward. "A ball? Really?"
"I'd hardly lie to you about something like that, Tomoyo," she replied, rolling her eyes. "Why do you sound so incredulous?"
"It's not that. It's just never been to one without my mother. The last one I attended was at least five years ago."
"Oh well then we will have to make a special treat of it for you then, I'm sure." She glanced at her clock pendant. "Now if you will excuse me, I need to force Sakura to bed and you might do well to get to bed early. Yesterday was trying for you and you did a lot today as well. You need to be fit as a fiddle for school on Tuesday."
Saying as much she left the room with Sakura in tow. Tomoyo stared after them for a moment then turned to Mikkoku who was looking at her carefully. "What?"
"Oh nothing. I just think Mistress likes you."
"Is that good or bad?"
"I don't know. Mistress doesn't like many people so I don't have much experience with it."
"She seems to like you two."
"In that you are wrong. Me she tolerates because she has no choice and Sakura she respects. Which is vaguely different. But it is of little matter. We will know soon enough what her liking you will do." He put his napkin beside his plate. "Would you like to finish the tour?"
She followed him from the room wondering just what she had gotten herself into.