A girl with pink hair walked into a hallway with an unusually high ceiling. The walls and floor and ceiling were all stone and marble and tile, greys and whites and all carrying the pristine yet comfortingly aged glow of fantasy. There were three desks before her, with a line of other students in front of each. The girl took her place in the back of one of them and felt apprehension growing within herself. An older boy she'd once looked up to was somewhere...here, on this island. The only connection she had left in this world was here, somewhere on this campus.
The words they had last spoken echoed in her ears: "So long as even a single soul believes in you, you can be a hero." She had been so powerless, her entire life, and all of her comrades had expired or left her. She shuffled forward slowly with the line. Her eyes rose to look at the impressive stained glass windows that disrupted the building's walls. They depicted knights, princes and princesses. The two biggest were side by side on the far wall, placed side by side with one another. The one on the left portrayed an apple and a snake, and on the other there was a woman sitting up from a coffin.
The girl was at the front of the line. A boy said something that she didn't completely catch. She had him repeat himself. "Your name, please."
"Maria," she answered, "Maria Night."
"Very well," he said without much emotion. "Your hand, please, so I can stamp it." She rested her hand on the boy's desk. He procured a stamp which glowed with some kind of magic, and pressed it into the back of her hand. She was vaguely aware that she was feeling something, but her dreamlike wonder at everything going on diluted it. Words appeared on the back of that hand, then on the back of her left. She couldn't see it, but an image formed on her forehead as well.
The girl almost stumbled past him out to the far wall. She paused to admire the two windows for a moment. The way that the sunlight trickled in through them, split and changed into almost magical colors, captivated her. It gave the building an air of majesty and made it feel almost...fantastical. She wrapped her hand around a strangely modern, abnormally normal door that served as the hall's exit. Then, she opened the door and walked through it.
It was like taking the first new steps into a different world. The grass was lush and soft and beautiful. Cool, crisp air flew in a gentle spring breeze. Some of the other buildings of the campus were big and strange and impressive, while others just looked like school buildings. Maria walked on long, toned legs into her new life.
"As a youth, I always loved fairy tales," she mouthed to herself, remembering when she'd said this to that boy in their encounter just over two years ago. "But I always wanted to be a prince, or a knight, and rescue princesses from wicked men. But as I grew up...I learned I was powerless. The wicked are everywhere, and the kings of the world shield them to the last." She retrieved a small toy horse from her pocket. He had given it to her that fateful day, and told her that he believed in her. That so long as even one soul, even just the imprint a loyal friend left on a toy horse, believed in her…
"I can be a hero." She clutched the toy against her breast and felt hopeful.
Maria entered the chamber where the duel was set to take place. Something inside of her warned that this was a terrible idea. She was on her first day, after all; better to use the grace period afforded to those first arriving at the school, than to cast it so eagerly aside. She ignored its pleas and insisted on standing her ground. She didn't have her gloves, or her uniform, or the matching wand- or any wand- but she wasn't going to stand by and let something like she'd seen earlier happen.
The memory of that boy backhanding a girl stung at her heart with the ferocity of an enraged wasp. In the heat of the moment Maria had been all too eager to throw her fist through his face, but the girl of all people had tackled her to protect him. The thought of that terrible injustice burned her like acid. The boy standing over her, sneering, telling her that if she really wanted to help the girl then the only option was to duel him for her. That she was weak, that it was plainly evident to all who saw her face, that a lamb had no business trying to bite a wolf. His condescension filled her now, as it had then, with white hot fury. She had challenged him to a duel on the spot. The audacity of such a thing had shaken him, but only for a moment. She would do worse in the actual fight.
She looked down at her hands. In glowing energy that resembled neon pink paint, the word "PRINCESS" adorned the back of her right hand, and "SHE/HER" her left. She couldn't see her forehead, but she knew that there was a grey design circling it that resembled a tattoo of a thin chain.
Attending a Magic Academy was the only surefire way to accrue power or safety in this world without natural fire or electricity. This one, the Academia Utopia, was oft-ridiculed by certain critics for its name and its open-armed acceptance of queer students. She herself, having grown up penniless after her family threw her out, was attending on an outreach program. The irony of the word on her right hand did not escape her. A poor girl, labeled "princess" the instant the school stamped her hand to give her an identity? Perhaps it foreshadowed a life of comfort and ease, or else one of power. She would accept either.
Maria whipped around and was greeted by the sight of a girl with empty, glassy eyes. She wore a poofy yellow gown and her hair was a dark brown color. Her eyes weren't pointed in Maria's direction in the slightest. Instead she stood in the center of the room, staring blankly out the enormous glass window that was its wall. All of this chamber's walls were made of glass. It had no ceiling.
"H-hi," Maria answered. Had they come to watch the altercation? "Who are you?"
What…? A lump formed in Maria's throat. What did the girl mean by that…?
"H-hi," she repeated awkwardly, "Ms. No-"
"No. No isn't my name."
"Gee, you don't even know what she is? I know it's your first day here but come on lady, read your summer reading for fuck's sake." Maria turned to face the voice. A confident blonde boy in a black polo swaggered in like he owned the place, accompanied by two shy girls. "Let me fill you in, then. That-"
"THAT, right there, is a Sunflower Widow."
"A…?" The boy laughed and shrugged.
"It's not my job to explain things to ya, dame. Hey, Carol, Sunday, you two ready?" Both girls nodded at him and turned to face Maria. One of them mouthed an "I'm sorry" and then stepped forward. "Lemme guess, you didn't bring a wand either?" Maria shook her head and bared her teeth a bit. "Oh look at you, being all defiant! It's CUTE. Tell you what, you can fight Carol in my place. My treat. Widow!"
The girl in the gown nodded and reached into her hair with both hands. A shimmering mass of silvery light and glitter appeared in each one, which she then pulled out and brought to hang from her fingers at shoulder height. There, the light took the shape of silvery ghostlike scrolls. She walked first to Maria and gave her one, then to the boy. Then she returned to her spot.
"You're not a domme so I don't know why you'd accept this," the boy laughed, "You don't even have a partner!" He lifted up the shimmering paper. "Easiest match I'll ever win. Now, state your terms. Don't worry if you forgot," he grinned, "she can remind you."
"I," the girl in front of her started. That must make her Carol, Maria reasoned, which made the one next to her Sunday. "Maria, First Year Submissive, relinquish my grace period and extend a challenge, wagering ownership of myself." Those were the magic words, huh?
"I," she started. Something held her back, but only for a moment. "I, Maria, First Year Submissive, relinquish my grace period-" a sound like a sticker peeling away. Her head went fuzzy momentarily. She shook it off. "-and extend a challenge, wagering ownership of myself!"
"Now you kiss the parchment," said the boy. Maria rolled her eyes but did as he said. "Mmhmhm," the boy smirked.
"I, Carol, Second Year Submissive," said the girl who stood between Maria and the boy in the polo, "accept your challenge on behalf of my owner, wagering ownership of his second familiar." Hearing her describe herself so cruelly stung at Maria's heart. Carol's face suggested, too, that she didn't like it. The boy kissed his paper too, and both burst into silvery fire. Something about the air changed.
A rose appeared in each girl's hair.
"The first to destroy the other's flower or take it from her hair wins," the boy said smugly. "Now kick her ass, Carol."
The second-year girl pointed forward with the wand she'd borrowed from the boy who owned her. The poor girl she was to face in this duel had no weapon, no magic, nor even it seemed, any understanding of magic at all. Something inside of her bled at the thought of hurting this girl, but she had no choice. Her orders were absolute.
"Please don't take it personally," the girl with the wand tried to say through a mouth that allowed no sound to escape. She sent a jet of flames in the first-year's direction. They dove to the side and evaded it. She tracked the girl with her wand and flicked it upward. A block of ice shot out of the ground and hit her opponent in the upper chest, which knocked her back. There was an additional layer of cruelty here, beyond the intrinsically unfair terms of the duel. An adversary with no ability to use magic couldn't be subdued by depleting her mana, which was the least painful way to win these contests. This particular match's win condition mitigated it, but…
The first year zipped forward and serpentined. The second year flicked her wrist twice. It discharged a weak bolt of electric energy each time, but her command of magic couldn't keep them in line. They both arced wildly and neither one struck its target. She heard cursing from behind her and was distracted for just a second-
The first year was reaching for her flower. The second year twisted her entire upper arm to the side and called a gust of wind to knock her attacker away. It worked and the first year was sent rolling along the floor. She came to a stop just in time to scramble to her feet and tumble out of the way from a bolt of flame. If the first year could be kept evading, she could be worn down through attrition until the second year could simply pluck the flower with her hand. A merciful victory, even if its end results were anything but. This became the second year's plan.
The first year made another dash for her opponent. The second year grimaced and called vines up to grasp at her adversary's ankles. The first year was too fast to be ensnared, but not fast enough to avoid it entirely. She lost her footing and fell forward. She landed in a forward roll and was back on her feet instantly, having lost little momentum. How-? The second year fired a shotgun blast of small icy pellets from her wand. They struck the first year and pushed her back, her arms flailing and her balance disrupted.
This was the chance!
The second year dashed for her target. Her hand shot forward towards the first year's head. But then, something was different. The first year's eyes became a piercing red, some of their pink hair burned away and the rest became blonde and messy. The face that the second year was reaching for grew sharper. A hand snatched hers by the wrist. The words "HE/THEY/ITS" decorated the hand grasping her. Wait, her opponent's hand said "SHE/HER" before, she was sure of-
Suddenly the first year returned to normal. She pulled the second year's arm wide and, with her free hand, plucked the rose from the second year's hair. The crackling magic on the ends of the room recollected into contracts, flew together into a single contract, then bathed both of them in a baptism of white magical fire.
The connection to the boy...burned up from the second year's mind. Into it there came another influence. It was...new, gentle, soft. She could feel that this was the se-
This was Maria.
She cried. So many feelings she hadn't wanted to let go of came flooding back to her. Who was she? What was she? She clinged to her new Owner with all her might. "Aaaaa, I'm scared," she felt tumbling from her mouth. The words were overdue. "Please help me!" They were...stale.
"Shhhh, shhh," cooed her new owner. She grabbed the second year and held her close. This owner's grasp was softer, kinder than the last one. The magical light spelling the word "WOLF" vanished from across the second year's neck, and was replaced by "PRINCESS." This, this word...it was her new owner's, it was HERS, she could feel herself instinctively starting to love it.
"I'm s-so sorry I hurt you," the second year pleaded. She could feel herself being rocked slowly back and forth.
"It's okay, dear. Your new owner forgives you. You'll forgive yourself won't you?"
"B-but I hurt you!" Wailed the second year, "don't you-"
"You will forgive yourself."
That was it. Her first order.
"Yes, Owner! Yes, of course, I love you!" Something sliced into the second year's being. A layer of static, built around and over it, began to crumble. The new presence was stronger, fiercer. The old stood no chance.
"You will love me, that's a good girl," spoke the essence of Maria's self-spoke, that is to say, PRINCESS.
"I will love you!" Repeated the second year. A glow took root in her chest like the sun's light. The blocks of static burned and disintegrated. WOLF was gone. The second year housed PRINCESS now. "I will love you!"
"Good girl," purred PRINCESS. "You will adore me and heal for me. You will be mine, and I will take VERY GOOD care of you."
"YES, YES!" Cried the second year. She could feel her future ahead of her, bright and beautiful, like the hands holding her against her owner. Like...her owner.
"I LOVE YOU, OWNER!" The second year repeated. Rays of warmth spread through her. They animated her limbs, her muscles.
"And you will learn to love yourself, too, darling," PRINCESS assured her, "you will be my darling little pet, beloved by all...including yourself."
"B-but," the second year faltered. Even as the fuzzy prison turned to ash and became a distant memory, shadows lurked in places she didn't like. In places...Owner wouldn't like. She retreated subconsciously. "But I love YOU, you're my Owner after all-"
"Now, now, darling," PRINCESS purred. "It will be hard. I know it will. But I will heal you, and I will heal others, and you will HELP me, my precious little Carol, and you will yearn for the sight of other girls basking in the same light I gave you."
The same image as described came barreling through Carol's mind. She pictured sad, broken girls, letting PRINCESS into their lives and growing...warm, and cozy, and happy, and sharing in her ability to understand her gentle owner's love. The word "unworthy" tried to form in her mind but the power of her owner's- of PRINCESS's- adoring rays seared it until nothing remained. She could feel a collar closing around her neck.
"Now, about that body of yours…"
An image floated into Carol's head of herself, as she wanted to look if she could. Coated head to toe in silky light grey fur, with a a long soft tail to curl around her loved ones and keep them warm. The light on her right hand, previously suppressed, came clear into view: "dog." It was cracked in places, scarred by association.
"That's okay," PRINCESS reassured her. "You're hurt. It's only natural that your Self would be weak and chipped after that. But that's okay. Your Owner is here now."
The white fire faded away. Carol, now naked and in the shape of a humanoid anthropomorphic wolf, was on the floor clinging to Maria. Maria glared up at the boy.
"You have two. Give me the other." He rolled his eyes.
"Then fight for her."
"Damn right. I will!" Maria got up. Carol whimpered and clung for her, the claws on her new paw-hands scratching Maria's arm as she escaped from Carol's grip and took an angry, unyielding step forward.
"No, fuck that. I'm out." The boy turned and walked towards the exit.
"Rejecting a challenge from another mage is prohibited, dipshit!" Screamed Maria angrily. "And the rules aren't enforced by human beings you can just sweet talk out of doing their jobs!" The boy stopped, turned, and sneered at her.
"And you're not a mage yet. You just gave up your only protection until then. Watch your back." He turned and grumbled. "Come on, Sunday!"
Sunday cast a longing look at Maria. She hesitantly took a step backward, but her gaze didn't leave the girl who had saved Carol. Maria ran to her and took her hand. Sunday seemed to flinch before as Maria's hands reached for hers, but the instant the two girls' skin made contact she leaned towards Maria and stared sadly, longingly, into her eyes. The foot which had moved backwards slid forward slightly, as if to defy the boy's orders.
"I'll rescue you too," Maria insisted. "I promise."
"Sunday!" The boy's voice rang angrily through the room. Whatever held Sunday spellbound popped and she slipped her hands out of Maria's fingers. Her eyes glossy with tears, she hung her head low. Sunday turned and ran after the boy, leaving a worried Maria to stew in anger. She was snapped out of her fit of righteous fury a moment later, by the sound of Carol whimpering. Right, she realized, she had to attend to them. Maria turned and hurried back to where Carol was on the floor, visibly weak and greatly distressed. Maria took a seat and scooped Carol up into her arms. Carol's new coat of fur was soft and silky and felt nice to the touch. It seemed more like the fur of a small kitten than that of a predator that did its hunting in cold forests and snowy hills, but that only made the wolf girl more unique.
"Heyyyy, darling, it's okay." Maria petted her new companion on her cute head. Carol's new ears were spectacularly triangular, again more reminiscent of a cat's than a wolf's. Her face was a long snout now, too, and shaped in somewhat of a rectangular fashion. "I've got you now."
"Please don't leave me," pleaded Carol. She clung to Maria's arms desperately.
"Darling," cooed Maria. She smiled down at the wolf in her arms with a great big smile, patient and sweet and delicate. She squeezed Carol against herself. Their chests squished together. Maria planted a handful of light, airy kisses on Carol's face. She felt something inside of her, something magical, stir. "Relax. You're safe now, I'll keep you safe no matter what, and I'm not going to leave you, and that's that."