The SCHOOL for GOOD AND EVIL (THE LAST EVER AFTER) - Soman Chanani

'How do you turn your back on your best friend? How do you leave them behind?'

Sophie and Agatha thought their ending was sealed when they went their separate ways. But will their story be rewritten?
With the girls apart, Evil has taken over. The villains of the past have come back with a vengeance and the forces of Good are in deathly peril. Can anyone stand in the way of Evil's deadly reign - and the Last Ever After of all?
Action, adventure, laughter, romance and more twists then ever before in this extraordinary conclusion to the School for Good and Evil series.

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2. After Ever After

"You don't know the first thing about me," Tedros spat, and clubbed his princess in the face with a musty pillow. Agatha coughed and bashed him with a pillow right back, knocking him against her black bed frame, as feathers burst all over him. Reaper leapt onto Tedros' face, trying to eat them. "I know too much about you is the problem," Agatha snarled and grabbed at the poorly set bandage under her prince's blue collar. Tedros shoved her away - Agatha tackled him back, before Tedros snatched Reaper and three the cat at her head. Agatha ducked and Reaper sailed into the bathroom, flailing bald, wrinkled paws, before landing headfirst in the toilet. "If you knew me, you'd know I do things myself," Tedros huffed, tightening his shirt laces.

"You threw my cat at me?" Agatha yelled, launching to her feet. "Because I'm trying to save you from gangrene?"

"That cat is Satan," Tedros hissed, watching Reaper try to climb out of the toilet bowl and slide back down. "And if you knew me, you'd know I hate cats."

"No doubt you like dogs - wet-mouthed, simple, and now that I think about it, a lot like you."

Tedros glowered at her. "Getting personal over a bandage, are we?"

"Three weeks and the wound isn't healing, Tedros," Agatha pressed, scooping Reaper up and toweling him off with her sleeve. "It'll fester if I don't treat it-"

"Maybe they do it differently in graveyards, but where I come from, a bandage does the trick."

"A bandage that looks like it was made by a two-year-old?" Agatha mocked.

"You try getting stabbed with your own sword as you're vanishing," said Tedros. "You're lucky I'm even alive - one more second and he'd have run me through-"

"One more second and I'd have remembered what an ape you are and left you behind."

"As if you could find a boy in this rat trap town better than me."

"At this point, I'd trade you for a little space and quiet-"

"I'd trade you for a decent meal and a warm bath!" Tedros boomed.

Agatha glared at him, Reaper shivering in her arms. Finally Tedros exhaled, looking ashamed. He stripped off his shirt, spread out his arms, and sat on the bed. "Have at it, princess."

For the next ten minutes, neither spoke as Agatha rinsed the four-inch gash across her prince's chest with rose oil, witch hazel, and a dash of white peony from her mother's cart of herbal potions. Thinking about how Tedros earned the wound, a hairbreadth from his heart, made Agatha's stomach chill, and she forced her focus back to her task. She didn't need to think about it - not when the screaming nightmares did the job of reminding her well enough. The School Master turning young . . . grinning at Tedros, bound to a tree . . . eyes flashing red as he stabbed . . . How Tedros didn't have nightmares about their last moments at school, Agatha couldn't grasp, but maybe that was the difference between a prince and a Reader. To a boy from the Woods, every day that didn't end in death was a good one.

Agatha sprinkled boiled turmeric on his wound and Tedros clenched with low moans. "Told you it wasn't healing," she murmured.

Tedros gave her a lion's growl and turned away. "Your mother hates me. That's why she's never home."

"She's busy looking for patients," said Agatha, rubbing the yellow powder in. "Have to eat, don't we?"

"Then why does she leave her medicine cart here?"

Agatha's hand paused on Tedros' chest. She'd been asking herself the same question about her mother's long disappearances. Agatha rubbed harder and her prince winced. "Look, for the last time, she doesn't hate you."

"We've been trapped in this house for three weeks, Agatha. I eat all her food, am crap at cleaning, tend to clog the toilet, and she keeps seeing us fighting. If she doesn't hate me, she will soon."

"She just thinks you're a complication to an already complicated situation."

"Agatha, there is an entire town out there that will kill us on sight. There's nothing complicated about it," Tedros argued, sitting up on his knees. "Listen, I'll be sixteen in a month. That means I take over Camelot as king from my father's council. Sure, the kingdom's broke, half the people are gone, and the place is in shambles, but we'll change all that! That's where we belong, Agatha. Why can't we go back-"

"You know why, Tedros."

"Right. Because you don't want to leave your mother forever. Because I don't have a family anymore and you do," he said, looking away. 

Agatha's neck rashed red. "Tedros-"

"You don't need to explain," her prince said quietly. "If my father was still alive, I'd never leave him either."

Agatha moved closer to him. He still didn't look at her. "Tedros, if your kingdom needs you . . . you should go back," she forced herself to say.

Her prince sighed. "I'd never leave you, Agatha." He pulled at a thread in his dirty socks. "Couldn't even if I wanted to. Only way back into the Woods is to make the wish together."

Agatha went rigid. He'd thought about leaving her behind? She swallowed hard and grasped his arm. "I can't go back, Tedros. Terrible things happen to us in the Woods," she rasped anxiously. "We were lucky to escape-"

"You call this 'lucky'?" He finally looked at her. "How long can we stay trapped in this house, Agatha? How long can we be prisoners?"

Agatha tensed. She knew he deserved answers, but she still didn't have them. "It doesn't matter where your Ever After is, does it? It just matters who you're with," she said, trying to sound hopeful. "Surely a teacher said that once."

Tedros didn't smile. Agatha lurched up and ripped a strip from a clean towel hanging on the bedpost. Tedros flopped back onto the bed, arms splayed cactus-style, and lapsed into silence, as Agatha bound his wound tight with the cloth.

"Sometimes I miss Filip," he said softly.

Agatha looked at him, startled. Tedros turned pink and picked at his nails. "It's stupid, given all he did to us - or she . . . or whatever. I should hate him - her, I mean. But boys get each other in a way girls can't. Even if he wasn't really a boy." Tedros say Agatha's face. "Forget it."

"You really think I don't know you?" Agatha asked, hurt.

Tedros held his breath a moment, as if contemplating whether to be honest or to lie. "It's just . . . those first two years, we were chasing the idea of being together, rather than actually being together. I got to know Filip better than I ever got to know you: staying up past curfew together, stealing lamb chops from the Supper Hall, or ever just sitting on a rooftop and talking - you know, about our families or what we're afraid of or what kind of pie we like. Doesn't matter how it all turned out, really . . . He was my first real friend." Tedros couldn't look at Agatha. "You and I never even got to be friends. Don't even have nicknames for each other. With you, it was always stolen moments and faith that love would somehow be enough. And now, here we are, three weeks cooped up in a house, no time alone or room to go for a walk or a hunt or a swim, and then sleeping, eating, breathing with the other person hovering around like a keeper, and still we feel like strangers. I've never felt so old." He glimpsed at Agatha's face. "Oh come on, surely you feel it too. We're like fusty married saps. Every tiny thing that bothers you about me must be magnified a thousand times."

Agatha tried to look understanding. "What bothers you about me?"

"Oh let's not play this game," Tedros puffed, rolling onto his stomach.

"I want to know. What bothers you about me?"

Her prince didn't answer. Agatha flicked hot turmeric onto his back.

Tedros flipped over angrily. "First off, you treat me like I'm an idiot."

"That's not true-"

Tedros frowned at her. "Do you want to know or not?"

Agatha folded her arms.

"You treat me like I'm an idiot," Tedros repeated. "You pretend to be busy every time I attempt conversation. You act like it's easy for me to give up my home, even though a princess is supposed to follow her prince. You clump around the house in those horrible shoes like an elephant, you leave the floor wet after your baths, you never even try to smile these days, and if I question anything you say or do, you give me this attitude that I shouldn't dare challenge you because you're so . . . so . . ."

"So what?" Agatha glared.

"Good," said Tedros.

"My turn," said Agatha. "First off, you act like you're my captive, as if I kidnapped you away from your best friend, who doesn't even exist-"

"Now you're just being spiteful-"

"You make me feel guilty for bringing you here, as if I shouldn't have saved your life. You act like you're all sensitive and chivalrous and then declare things like a princess should 'follow' her prince. You're impulsive, you sweat too much, you make sweeping generalizations about the things you know nothing about, and whenever you knock things over, which is often, you blame my house instead of yourself-"

"There's barely any room to walk-"

"You're used to living in a castle! With west wings and throne rooms and pretty little maids," Agatha snapped. "Well, we're not in a castle, of princely one - we're in real life. Have you thought that maybe I'm spending all my time worrying about keeping is alive? Have you thought that maybe I'm trying to figure out how to make our happy ending happy and that's why I'm not spending my time smiling like a clown and having deep conversations over cappuccino. Of course not, because you're Tedros of Camelot, handsomest boy in the Woods and god forbid he feel old!"

Tedros cocked a grin. "That handsome, am I?"

"Even Sophie was more tolerable than you!" Agatha yelled into a pillow. "And she tried to kill me! Twice!"

"So go into the Woods and get your Sophie back!" Tedros retorted.

"Why don't you go and get your Filip back!" Agatha barked-

Then slowly, they blushed to silence, realizing they were talking about the same person.

Tedros slid next to his princess and put his arms around her waist. Agatha gave in to his tight, warm hug, trying not to cry.

"What happened to us?" she whispered.

 

When Agatha rescued Tedros from the School Master, she thought she'd found the way out of her fairy tale. She'd escaped death, saved her prince, and left the Woods behind, with her lying, betraying best friend still in it. As she clutched her true love, haloed by the white light between worlds, Agatha breathed in the relief of Ever After. She had Tedros at last - Tedros who loved her as much as she loved him . . . Tedros whose kiss she could still taste . . . Tedros who would make her happy forever . . . 

Agatha smashed face-first into a wall of dirt.

Dazed, she'd opened her eyes to pitch darkness, her body on top of her prince's in Gavaldon's snowy cemetery. In an instant, she remembered all she'd once left behind in this tiny village: a broken promise to Stefan to bring his daughter home, the Elders' threat to kill her, the storied of witches oncer burned in a square. . . . Relax. This is our happy ending, she'd soothed herself, her breath settling. Nothing bad can happen anymore.

Agatha squinted and saw the slope of a roof atop the snowcapped hill, shaped like a witch's hat. Her heart had swelled at the thought of being home once and for all, of seeing her mother euphoric face. . . . She looked down at her prince with an impish grin. If she foesn;t have a stroke first.

"Tedros, wake up," she'd whispered. He'd stayed limp in her arms in his black Trial cloak, the only sounds coming from a few crows pecking at grave worms and a weak torch crackling over the gate. She grabbed her prince by the shirt strings to shake him, but her hands were flecked with something warm and sticky. Slowly Agatha raised them into the torchlight.

Blood.

She'd dashed frantically between jagged graves and sharp-edged weed, clumps crunching through powdery snow, before she saw the house ahea, none of its usual candles lit over the porch. Agatha turned the doorknob slowly, but the hinges squeaked and a body bolted out of bed, tangled in sheets like a bumbling ghost. Finally Callis' head poked through, her big bug eyes blinking wide. For a split second, she colored with happiness, reunited with her daughter who's been gone for so long. Then she saw the panic in Agatha's face and went pale. "D-d-did anyone see you?" Callis stammered. Agatha shook her head. Her mother smiled with relief and rushed to embrace her, before she saw her daughter's face hadn't changed. Callis froze, her smile gone. "What have you done?" she gasped.

Together, they'd fumbled down Graves Hill, Callis in her saggy black nightgown, Agatha leading her back to Tedros. Plowing through the snow, they lugged him home, each grappling one of his arms. Agatha peeked up at her mother, just an older version of herself with helmet-black hair and pasty skin, waiting for her to balk at the sight of a real-life prince - but Callis' pupils stayed locked on the darkened town below. Agatha couldn't worry to ask why. Right now, saving her prince was the only thing that mattered.

As soon as they pulled him through the door, her mother lay Tedros on the rug and slit open his wet shirt, the prince unconscious and covered with cockleburs, while Agatha lit the fireplace. When Agatha turned back, she nearly fainted. The sword wound in Tedros' chest was so deep she could almost see the pulsing of his heart.

Agatha's eyes filled with tears. "H-h-he'll be okay, won't he? He has to be-"

"Too late to numb him," said Callis, rifling through drawers for thread.

"I had to bring him, Mother - I couldn't lose him-"

"We'll talk later," Callis said so sharply Agatha shrank to the wall. Crouched over the prince, her mother made it five stitches in, barely closing the wound, before Tedros roused suddenly with a cry of pain, saw the needle in a stranger's hand, and grabbed the nearest broomstick, threatening to bash her head in if she got an inch closer.

He and Callis had never quite seen eye to eye after that.

Somehow Agatha sweet-talked Tedros into sleeping, and that next morning, while he snuffled shallow breaths, his stitches half-done, Callis took her daughter into the kitchen, hanging a black sheet to close off the bedroom. Agatha had sensed the tension immediately.

"Look, first time we met, he threatened to kill me too," she'd cracked, pulling two iron plates from the cupboard. "He'll grow on you, I promise."

Callis ladled foggy stew from the cauldron into a bowl. "I'll sew him a new shirt before he leaves."

"Uh, Mother, there's a real-life prince from magical fairy land sleeping on our floor and you're worrying about his shirt?" Agatha said, perching on a creaky stool. "Forget that the sight of me within a hundred feet of a boy should be cause for a town parade or that you've been telling me fairy tales are real from the day I was born. Don't you want to know who he is-" Agatha's eyes widened. "Wait. Before he leaves? Tedros is staying in Gavaldon . . . forever."

Callis out the bowl in front of Agatha. "No one likes toad soup cold."

Agatha bucked up. "Look, I know it's crowded with him here. But Tedros and I can get work in the village. Think about it, if we save up enough, maybe we can all move to a bigger house, maybe even something in the cottage lanes." Agatha grinned. "Imagine, Mother, we could actually have living neighbors-"

Callis fixed her with a cold, brown stare and Agatha stopped talking. She followed her mother's eyes to the small, slime-crusted window over the sink. Agatah pushed out of her chair, bowl untouched, and grabbed a wet dishtowel from the rack. Pressing against the glass, she scraped at the gray smear of dust, grease, and mildew, until  stream of sunlight pierced through. Agatha backed away in surprise.

Down the snow-coated hill, bright red flags billowed from every lamppost in the square:

WANTED:
WITCHES

(picture of Sophie) (picture of Agatha)

GOLD REWARD
By Order of
ELDERS

"Witch?" Agatha chocked, gaping at a hundred reflections of her own face. Beyond the square, the colorful storybook houses, decimated by attacks from the Woods, had been rebuilt as monotonous stone bunkers. A phalanx of guards in long black cloaks and black-iron masks carried spears, patrolling the cottage lanes and forest perimeter. Dread rising, Agatha's eyes slowly feel on the spot where her and Sophie's statues once glistened near the crooked clock tower. Now there was only a raised wooden stage, with a giant pyre made of birches, two flaming torches fixed to the scaffolding, and a banner of her and Sophie's faces hanging between them.

Agatha's stomach dropped. She'd escaped a public execution at school only to find one at home.

"I warned you, Agatha," her mother said behinds her. "The Elders believed Sophie a witch who brought the attacks from the Woods. They ordered you not to go after her the night they surrendered her to the attackers. The moment you disobeyed them, you became a witch too."

Agatha turned, her legs jellying. "So they want to burn me?"

"If you'd come back alone, the Elders might have spared you." Callis was sitting at the table, head in hands. "You could have taken punishment, like I did for letting you escape."

A chill went up Agatha's spine. She looked at her mother, but there were no wounds or marks on her hooked-nose face or gangly arms; all her fingers and toes were intact. "What did they do to you?" Agatha asked, terrified.

"Nothing that compares to what they'll do to you both when they find him." Callis looked up, eyelids raw. "The Elders always despised us, Agatha. How could you be so stupid to bring someone back from the Woods?"

"The s-s-storybook said 'The End,'" Agatha stuttered. "You said it yourself - if our book says 'The End,' this has to be our happy ending-"

"Happy ending? With him?" Callis blurted, jolting to her feet. "There is a reason the worlds are separate, Agatha. There is a reason the worlds must be separate. He will never be happy here! You are a Reader and he is a-"

Callis stopped and Agatha stared at her. Callis quickly turned to the sink and pumped water into a kettle.

"Mother . . . ," Agatha said, suddenly felling cold. "How do you know what a Reader is?"

"Mmm, can't hear you, dear."

"A Reader," Agatha stretched over the strident cranks. "How do you know that word-"

Callis pumped louder. "Must have seen it in a book, I'm sure . . ."

"Book? What book-"

"One of the storybooks, dear."

Of course, Agatha sighed, trying to relax. Her mother had always seemed yo know things about the fairy-tale world - like all parents in Gavaldon who had feverishly bought storybooks from Mr. Deauville's Storybook Shop, hinting for clues about the children kidnapped by the School Master. One of the books must have mentioned it, Agatha told herself. That's why she called me a Reader. That's why she wasn't surprised by a prince.

But as Agatha glanced up at Callis, back to her, pumping water into the kettle, Agatha noticed that the pot was already full and overflowing into the sink. She watched her mother staring off into space, hands clenched, pumping water faster, faster, as if pumping memories away with it. Slowly Agatha's heart started to constrict in her chest, until she felt that cold sensation deepening . . . whispering that the reason her mother wasn't fazed by Tedros' appearance wasn't because she'd read storybooks . . . but because she knew what it was like to live through one . . .

"He returns to the Woods as soon as he waked," Callis said, releasing the pump.

Agatha wrenched out of her thoughts. "The Woods? Tedros and I barely escaped alive - and you want us to go back?"

"Not you," said Callis, still turned. "Him."

Agatha flared in shock. "Only someone who's never experienced true love could say such a thing."

Callis froze. The skeleton clock ticked through the loaded silence.

"You really believe this is your happy ending, Agatha?" Callis said, not looking at her.

"It has to be, Mother. Because I won't leave him again. And I won't leave you," Agatha begged. 
I thought maybe I could be happy in the Woods, that I could run away from real life . . . but I can't I never wanted a fairy tale. All I ever wanted was to wake up every day, right here, knowing I had my mother and my best friend. How could I know that friend would end up being a prince?" Agatha dabbed at her eyes. "You don't know what we've been through to find each other. You don't know the Evil that we left behind. I don't care if Tedros and I have to stay trapped in this house for a hundred years. At least we're together. At least we'll be happy. You just have to give us the chance."

Quiet fell in the sooty kitchen.

Callis turned to her daughter. "And Sophie?"

Agatha's voice went cold. "Gone."

Her mother gazed at her. The town clock tolled faintly from the square, before the wind drowned it out. Callis picked up the kettle and moved to the wooden stove. Agatha held hr breath, watching her spark a flame beneath the pot and stew a few wormroot leaves in, circling her ladle again and again, long after the leaves had dissolved.

"I suppose we'll need eggs," said her mother at last. "Princes don't eat toads."

Agatha almost collapsed with relief. "Oh thank you thank you thank you-"

"I'll lock you both in when I go to town each morning. The guards won't come here as long as we're careful."

"You'll love him like a son, Mother, you'll see-" Agatha grimaced. "Into town? You said you had no patients."

"Don't light the fireplace or open the windows," ordered Callis, pouring two cups of tea.

"Why won't the guards come here?" Agatha pushed. "Wouldn't it be the first place they'd check?"

"And don't answer the door for a soul."

"Wait - what about Stefan?" Agatha asked, brightening. "Surely he can talk to the Elders for us-"

Callis whirled. "Especially not Stefan."

Mother and daughter locked stares across the kitchen.

"Your prince will never belong here, Agatha," said Callis softly. "No one can hide from their fate without a price."

There was a fear in her mother's big owl eyes that Agatha had never seen before, as if she was no longer talking about a prince.

Agatha crossed the kitchen and wrapped her mother in a deep, comforting hug. "I promise you. Tedros will be as happy as I am," she whispered. "And you'll wonder how you ever could have doubted two people so in love."

A clang and a clatter echoed from the bedroom. The curtain drew back behind than before collapsing entirely, and Tedros lumbered through, groggy, red-eyed, and half-naked with a torn, bloodied piece of bedsheet stuck haplessly over his wound. He sat down at the counter, smelled the soup and gagged, shoving it aside. "We'll need a sturdy horse, steel-edged sword, and enough bread and meat for a three-day journey." He looked up at Agatha with a sleepy smile. "Hope you said your goodbyes, princess. Time to ride to my castle."

 

That first week, Agatha believed this was just another test in their story. It was only a matter of time before the pyre came down, the death sentence lifted, and Tedros felt at ease with ordinary life. Looking at her handsome, teddy-bear prince who she loves so much, she knew that no matter how long they stayed in this house, they would still find a way to be happy.

Bu the second week, however, the house had started to feel smaller. There was never enough food or cups or towels; Reaper and Tedros fought like demented sibling; Agatha began to notice her prince's irritating habits (using all the soap, drinking milk out of the jug, exercising every second of the day, breathing through his mouth); and Callis had the burden of supporting two teenagers who didn't like to be supported at all. ("School was better than this," Tedros carped, bored to tears "Let's ho back and you can finish getting stabbed," Agatha replied.) By the third week, Tedros had taken to playing rugby against himself, dodging invisible opponents, whispering play-by-play, and flinging about like a caged animal, while Agatha lay in bed, a pillow over her head, clinging to the hope that happiness would fall like a fairy godmother from a star. Instead, it was Tedros who fell on her head one day while catching a ball, reopening his stitches in the process. Agatha belted him hard with her pillow, Tedros clocked her with his, and soon the cat was in the toilet. As they lay on the bed, covered in feathers, Reaper dripping in the corner, Agatha's question hung in the air unanswered.

"What happened to us?"

As the fourth week went on, Tedros and Agatha stopped spending time together. Tedros ceased his manic workouts and sat hunched at the kitchen window, unshaven and dirty, silently looking out at the Endless Woods. He was homesick, Agatha told herself, just as she'd once been in his world. But it was deeper than homesickness - it was the guilt of knowing that somewhere out there, in a land far away, there would soon be no new king to take the crown from the old. But Agatha had nothing to say to make him feel better, nothing that didn't sound self-serving or trite, and hid beneath her bedcovers, reading her old storybooks again and again.

Gazing at beautiful princesses kissing dashing princes, she wondered how her Ever After had gone rancid. All these fairy tales had tied up so neatly and satisfyingly . . . while the more she thought about her own, the more loose ends seemed to appear. What had happened to her friends: to Dot, Hester, Anadil, who had risked their lives for her during the Trial? What had happened to the Girls, charging into war against Aric and the Boys? Or to Lady Lesso and Professor Dovey, now faced with the School Master's return? Agatha's chest clamped. What if the School Master started kidnapping children from Gavaldon again? She thought about the parents who would lose more daughters and sons . . . about Tristan and how his parents would learn about his death . . . about the balance in the Woods, tilting to death and Evil . . . about her once Evil best friend, left to find for herself . . . 

Sophie.

This time no anger came at the name. Only an echo, like the password to her heart's cave.

Sophie.

Sophie, who she'd loved through Good and Evil. Sophie, who she'd loved through Boys and Girls. Sophie, who she vowed to protect forever, young or old, until death did them part.

How do you turn your back on your best friend? How do you leave them behind?

For a boy.

Shame colored her cheeks.

For a boy who can barely stand the sight of me anymore.

Agatha's heart shrank as small and hard as a pebble. All this time, she thought she had to choose between Sophie and Tedros to find a happy ending. And yet, each time she picked one over the other, the story twisted back upon itself and the world fell out of balance more than before. Every thought of Sophie, alone in a tower with a deadly villain, brought on more guilt, more pregnant fear, as if she was trapped in a purgatory of her own making, as if she hadn't failed by choosing a prince over her best friend . . . but in making that choice at all.

"I think about her too."

She turned and saw Tedros at the window, watching her, his mouth trembling. "About how we just left her," he rasped, eyes welling. "I know she's a bad friend, I know she's Evil, I know Filip was a lie . . . but we just left her . . . with that monster. We left all of them. The whole school . . . just to save ourselves. What kind of prince is that, Agatha? What would my father think of me?" Tears spilled down his stubbled cheeks. "I don't want you to leave your mother. I really don't. But we're not happy, Agatha. Because the villain's still alive. Because we're not heroes at all. We're . . . cowards."

Agatha looked into her prince's messy, earnest face, and remembered why she loves him. "This isn't our happy ending, is it?" she breathed.

Tedros smiled, his old glow returning.

And for the first time since they came home, Agatha smiled too.

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