Chapter 1: A New Stage of Life

And so the day has come, May 2nd, graduation day at Iris Academy for the Senior class. Ashley Briar, a particularly typical senior (which, coming from a school of magic, is saying something) dressed in the traditional robes of Snake Hall, was one of the first ones out of the academy, the graduation party for the class was going strong, but she didn't care. She had few friends that still remained at Iris Academy that managed to graduate with her.

Ashley was fairly tall, standing at about 5'9'' or so, her short ink-black hair was chopped short, at its longest ending around the middle of her neck; her sharp and perceptive, yet still kind and friendly eyes were deep violet in color, a slightly darker purple shade than her Snake Hall robes, which were more of a purple-pink hue, but her eyes matched perfectly to her gem amulet that hung on an exquisite golden bead necklace loosely around her neck, and engraved with a 6-pointed star. Ashley's overall frame was quite light and slender, not very muscular, but not overweight or underweight by any means.

One last slight detail, that all but the most perceptive wouldn't have noticed- a small gold ring on her finger, the universal sign of marriage (well, that wasn't entirely true... yet. But the message certainly was crystal-clear).

Ashley wasted no time in departing from the academy, the last few years have had little enjoyment in them, so the first question she asked Professor Potsdam when she had the chance to ask about graduation: how soon after graduation can I leave? Her answer: The minute after, if that is your wish.

Ashley had already packed up all her things the night before, and after a quick trip to Snake Hall to her room- not hers much longer- to collect her things and abruptly leave. An outside perspective might confuse her haste for wanting to see her family again, but that was not the case. Ashley had no family anymore, she asked Potsdam to erase their memory of her when she came back from summer vacation after her Junior year, as their comments about her schooling- of which they truly knew nothing of, so they made their own assumptions- their chastising her of not having a boyfriend yet- which she did, more than they could ever know- and just the disparity between her and them was too much for her to bear, so she cut all ties with them. Them, and now everyone else. But not him, of course.

"How was graduation, love?" Damien greeted warmly in their usual spot in the forest the moment she arrived. Damien had changed so little since he was expelled 3 years ago. So little, and yet so much. He had grown a bit taller, standing just a hair above Ashley, his hairstyle unchanged, his physique seemingly unchanged, but he was much stronger underneath his plain-looking robes, which were very similar in design to his Falcon Hall school clothes that he had grown fond of during his years at school, minus the Falcon Hall Crest, of course. The big change, however, was how Damien composed himself. In school, he had a more of a confident ladies' man sort of position, leaning a bit to the side a bit and remaining elusive in his speech to keep a mysterious air about him, always thinking of the next eloquent bit to say; now, however, his position was more authorative and direct (which was significantly culled when it came to Ashley, of course), keeping himself centered and focused, nothing 'mysterious' about him, now it was more of a 'You WILL do as I say!' position, just without the need to say it.

Before answering, Ashley strode up to him and embraced him closely and gave him a long greeting kiss. Oh, how she had missed him so since she had last seen him an eternity ago on spring break, and even then it was a hasted meeting, since as an expelled student, Damien wasn't allowed on school grounds. After what he did, Potsdam or Grabiner would likely try to kill him if they found him. Add to that, Ashley had no one to talk to in school that would understand her and Damien, they only remembered the Freshmen year and... those horrible events. Yes, they were truly horrible, but it was in the past, but no one else could understand that, only she and Damien.

"I swear, it couldn't have gone on longer and more tediously..." Ashley said, her arms still wrapped around his chest, and his hers.

"I know how hard it's been for you, these last few years. I apologize profusely that I couldn't make it better for you-"

"I know... I know... but at least it's over, and I'm with you again..." Ashley rested her head against his chest. There they stood, for a long, silent moment. There was no rush now, now they had all of eternity to spend together.

"So how was school, dear? Did you enjoy your last years as a student wizard?" Damien asked finally, breaking their close embrace first, he moved himself to her side, keeping her hand in his own.

"Horrible, but you know that already..." Ashley started, she was glad she was FINALLY going to be able to get everything off her chest that had been brewing in her for the last 3 years. Since Ashley had only fleeting meetings with Damien since the May Day ball during her Freshmen year, there was so much to discuss with him. But that, unfortunately, would have to wait. As Damien was departing during their last visit- in haste- he said he had a 'surprise' for her for when she graduated. No amount of pleading would make him tell her what this surprise was, so for the last few months, she had to just live with her own imagination.

"I'm so sorry I couldn't not help you more... but come with me, I want to show you something that I'm certain will make things much better..." Damien said softly, his excitement made it feel like he was about to burst. Damien had been waiting for what seemed like 10 eternities for this moment, the anticipation was killing him.

"What is it? You said you had a 'surprise' all that time ago, but you haven't told me a thing! Not even a hint!" Ashley whined, allowing herself to follow his lead.

"Well here's a hint, I know you're going to love it. And it's a BIG surprise." Damien chuckled, and so did Ashley. "BUT, you have to close your eyes. I want it to be a surprise to the very last second."

"Ok, ok. Whatever you say... but it better be good!" Ashley said amidst a flurry of giggles, she obediently closed her eyes as he had told her to, and she felt a blindfold being tightened over her eyes. "Hey!" Ashley chirped. Did he not trust her to do something as simple as keep her eyes closed?

"Just a reassurance, you're going to have to keep them closed for a while, and I want the surprise to be perfect." Damien chuckled softly, the blindfold only provoking Ashley's imagination.

What is he planning? Some kind of... secret social event or secret society thing? I have no idea... and he doesn't seem too keen on spoiling the surprise... Well, I suppose I'll find out...

Ashley kept her eyes closed for what seemed like forever, and Damien kept silent the entire time, so the only hints she could go by were smells and ambient sounds. They were walking in the forest for a while, birds chirping, soft grass cushioning every step. It felt like they had been walking for a while before Damien spoke up again, and as much as Ashley could tell, they never left the forest.

"Hold on tight now, ok?" Damien said finally, Ashley wrapped her arms around his arm tighter, feeling his muscles for the first time in much too long, unfortunately it didn't last long.

Ashley felt a wave of magic wash over her, gentle magic, nothing dangerous, but it did send a tingling sensation up and down her spine, soon after, she felt the ground leave her feet, but she didn't feel herself falling anywhere, she just held onto Damien tighter and kept up her blind trust. What was going on? Was he using magic to reveal something big to her? Were they teleporting? Were they flying? It could be any number of things, and the anticipation was killing her, it took a monumental effort not to open her eyes, but she remained resolute.

After a minute or so, finally she felt a floor underneath her feet. To satiate her curiosity a bit, Ashley hopped once, the clack her shoes made told her it was stone, or something similar in texture. And she could hear... cheering? A LOT of cheering... like what one would expect at a rock concert or something. WHAT WAS GOING ON?

"Ok, open your eyes." Damien said finally, Ashley wasted no time in removing the blindfold and opening her eyes- and then recoiling slightly, the sharp adjustment to light was disorienting at first, but she quickly recovered. What she saw... well, she certainly wasn't expecting.

The first thing Ashley noticed was that the sky was black. Just... black. No sun, no stars, no moon, there was... nothing. And yet it appeared to be daytime... or something, it was easy to see for a long distance as if it was daytime and the sun was out, but with no sun and a black sky... the feeling was eerie.

Ashley appeared to be standing on a small stone balcony, about 30 or 40 feet from the ground or so, in front of her was what appeared to be thousands of... people? They certainly weren't human, none of them. Some looked human-esque, two arms, two legs, one head, but that's usually where the similarity ended, and that was at its closest. There were winged people, some with bat-like wings, some with angel-like wings, and everything in between. There were what appeared to be amorphous blob creatures, some that seemed to be holding a defined shape, some just appeared to be a pile of jelly that moved on its own- and that was just the people.

As Ashley looked around, other things of interest practically jumped out at Ashley. The balcony she was standing on was part of a larger structure- very large. It was a castle. It had to be at least 3 stories tall, with a big stone wall below surrounding the castle, the balcony was overlooking the front gate, and in front of that, the mass of 'people'.

The appearance of the people didn't startle Ashley, nor did the sky, for Ashley had come across these things before- this was Otherworld, Ashley had been here before for school functions on what could be called 'field trips', in a sense. It was mostly for research, both times she came with a fellow student- her roommate in Snake Hall, Raven Darkstar, both times- and Professor Potsdam; once it was for White Magic class during her Junior year to study the inhabitants, and the second was for Green Magic class, to study the various flora and non-sentient fauna of Otherworld.

But the cheering people? And the castle? That was new.

"Wh-what's going on?" Ashley asked Damien quickly, almost in shock. What kind of surprise was this?

"This, my dear, is Otherworld; and these people, your people. As of today, you are Otherworld royalty."