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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3. The New or the Old

"Maybe we have to close our eyes," said Tedros.

"Or do a rain dance in pajamas while singing 'Ring Around the Rosie,'" Agatha grumped, Reaper fast asleep in her lap. "It's past dinnertime and I'm starving. How many times can we try this?"

"Oh I'm sorry. Do you have somewhere better to be at the moment?"

Agatha watched a roach mosey by, cram under the double-locked front door, and disappear. "You have a point," she said, and shut her eyes.

"All right," Tedros sucked in, closing his eyes. "One . . . two . . . three!"

Agatha scrunched up her face, Tedros did too, and both of them thrust their index fingers at the other. They exhaled at the same time and opened their eyes.

Neither of their fingertips was glowing.

Tedros peered closely at Agatha's. "You bite your nails too much."

"Oh for crying out loud. We can't get into the Woods unless our magic comes back," she barked, shoving her hand in her pocket. "Magic follows emotion. That's what we learned at school. You said it yourself! If we both make the wish at the same time, the gates should open-"

"Unless one of us is having doubts," said Tedros.

"Then I suggest you get over them," Agatha huffed, standing up. "Let's try in the morning. Mother's never this late. She'll be here any second-"

"Agatha."

She saw Tedros giving her that lopsided grin . . . the one that said he knew exactly what she was thinking, even if she was doing everything she could to keep it from him.

"You're smarter than you look," she groused, sitting back down.

"And you're the one famous for not judging books by their covers." He scooted next to her. "Look, if you want to say goodbye to your mother first-"

"That'll just make the doubts worse," mumbled Agatha. "How do you tell your mother you're leaving her forever?"

"Wouldn't know. My mother left me without saying goodbye," Tedros replied.

Agatha looked at him, suddenly feeling very stupid. Tedros slid closer. “What is it, my love?” he asked. “What are you really afraid of?”

Agatha felt panic rising, something coming up she couldn’t keep down—

“What if I’m the problem?” she blurted. “Every time I try to be happy, it goes wrong. First with Sophie, then with you, and all I can think of is that it’s not us who’s broken . . . it’s me. The girl who ruins everyone’s story. The girl who’s meant to be alone. That’s why I’m afraid to leave my mother. Because what if I’m not supposed to be with you, Tedros? What if I’m supposed to end here, just like her, never finding love at all?”

Slowly Agatha felt the air return to her lungs, as if a boulder had lifted off her chest.

Her prince traced his finger between bricks in the floor. “We only see the finished storybooks, Agatha. How do we know every Ever After doesn’t take a few tries? Think about it. Each time you left the Woods, you tried to come back to your old life. But this time is different, isn’t it? When we get to our true ending, you’ll have a new life with me. We’ll have my kingdom to protect, until we’re old ourselves and it’s time to pass it on. Just like my father did and his father and all who came before.”

Looking at him, Agatha realized how selfish and small-hearted she’d been by keeping her prince here.

“I promise,” he said, squeezing her hand. “This time, we will be happy.”

“All right, say we do get back to the School for Good and Evil,” Agatha allowed. “What’s our plan?”

“Make things right, of course,” Tedros puffed. “Rescue Sophie, kill the School Master, take back Excalibur, free the other students, and you and I go to Camelot in time for my sixteenth birthday, and coronation as king. The End.” He paused. “The real End.”

Agatha made a sound halfway between a cough and a sneeze.

“All right, Sophie can come too, if you’re going to be difficult about it,” he sighed.

“Tedros, my love,” said Agatha cuttingly. “You think we can just waltz through the school gates and kill the School Master like we’re buying bonbons from the bakery?”

“I think buying anything from the bakery would pose far more obstacles at the moment,” said Tedros, eyeing the triple-locked door.

Agatha let go of him and braced for a fight. “First off, the School Master is an all-powerful sorcerer who last we saw came back from death, turned young again, and stabbed you with your own sword. Second, for all we know, he’s killed the Evers and has everyone on his side. And third, you don’t think he’ll have guards and traps and—”

“Merlin had a saying: ‘Worrying doesn’t solve problems. Just gives you gas,’” Tedros yawned.

“I take back the smarter than you look thing,” Agatha groaned. Her cat stirred and staggered out of her arms, but not before spitting in Tedros’ lap. The prince backhanded it and Reaper fled, throwing Agatha a horrible scowl at her choice of mate.

“He used to love me,” Agatha said, watching her cat gnaw the head off a dead canary.

“Agatha, look at me.”

“Tedros, you don’t even have your sword, let alone a plan. We’re going to die.”

“Agatha, please look at me.”

She did, with folded arms.

“You can’t plan your story any more than you can plan who you’re going to fall in love with. That’s the point of a story,” said Tedros. “And even if you could, what’s the fun of living through it if you know what’s going to happen? All we know is that Good always wins, right? So if Good hasn’t beaten Evil yet, our fairy tale can’t be over. As soon as we make our wish, we’ll be back where we belong, chasing our happy ending. Trust our story, Agatha. We’ll know what to do when the time comes.”

“And what about Sophie?” Agatha asked. “What if she hasn’t forgiven us?”

Tedros thought for a moment. “Everything Sophie did, she did to get closer to you or me. We’ve all made mistakes, that’s for sure. But Good or Evil, Boy or Girl, the three of us are in this tale together.” He leveled eyes with her. “So how can Sophie be happy until we are?”

Agatha fell quiet, aware of the dark room hemming her in with her prince and yet keeping them apart.

Long before she ever met her best friend, she’d secretly read storybooks from Mr. Deauville’s, buying them right after the shop opened, when no one else was inside, and paying for them with the coins her mother had given her for sweets. She drank in the lesson of those fairy-tale books more than any hot cream or fudge, that same lesson told and retold: you didn’t need a hundred true loves to find Ever After . . . you just needed one. It didn’t matter if an entire town called her a freak or a witch or a vampire. If she could just find that one person who loved her—one measly soul—then she’d have everything a princess did, minus the horrific pink dress, obnoxious blond hair, and moony-eyed face.

From the moment she met Sophie, Sophie was that soul: the friend who made her feel normal, who made her feel needed, who so clearly cared about her, despite all her efforts to disguise it. Back then, Agatha had done everything she could to ensure they’d end up together forever, rather than let her best friend be stolen away by a boy . . . until Agatha somehow fell in love with that boy herself. And so the story had turned on its head, this time Sophie doing everything she could to keep a boy and her best friend apart. It was a wicked love triangle, with Sophie the point that had to be removed, until finally Agatha and Tedros had rid themselves of her, turning that triangle into a straight line between them—prince and princess united at last, just like in the storybooks buried under her bed. But now, as Agatha sat in darkness, feeling more and more like the graveyard girl of old, she wondered if the reason she missed her best friend was the simplest of all. What if Sophie wasn’t the force that kept her and Tedros apart? What if Sophie was the force that brought them together?

 

Without Sophie, she never could have opened up her heart.

“Princess? What is it?”

Agatha slowly looked up at her prince, new life in her eyes. “Let’s go find our best friend.”

Tedros blinked at her, stunned. His cheeked pinked and his Adam’s apple bobbed, words swallowed by emotion. He placed his hand behind his back. “Wish to reopen our story, then?”

Agatha smiled and hid her hand. “Wish to reopen our story.”

Tedros closed his eyes. “One . . .”

“Two . . . ,” said Agatha, closing hers.

They took a joint breath and thrust out their fingers. “Three—”

The door slammed open to a sharp heel-crack of boots. Agatha lurched to her feet.

There was an Elderguard in the doorway, the outlines of a black cloak and slatted iron mask blending into the night.

Tedros instantly clasped Agatha and yanked her to the kitchen wall. He grabbed a meat knife from the sink and brandished it at the guard, blocking his princess’s body with his. “Move another inch and I’ll cut your throat!” Tedros spat.

The guard threw the door shut and hissed back at them. “Hide! Both of you!”

Agatha squinted at the big brown eyes glinting through the guard’s mask. “Mother?

“Hide now!” Callis shrieked, shoring her body against the door.

Agatha couldn’t move, trying to process what was happening, gaping at her mother in the same uniform as the town guards ordered to execute her. “I d-d-don’t under—”

But then Agatha heard them coming . . . footsteps . . . voices . . .

She tackled Tedros to the ground. Stunned, the prince lost his grip on the knife and flailed to reach it as Agathayanked him by the belt buckle under the bed. Tedros lunged over her and snatched the knife—

The door flung open and Agatha spun to see Callis seized from behind and shoved to the wall by two guards.

“No!” Agatha gasped, leaping out, but Tedros pulled her down under the bed, fumbling his knife at the same time. He stabbed his hand for it, only to see Agatha’s hip knock it away. In horror, they both watched the blade skid across the floor and halt beneath the heel of a muddy leather boot. Slowly their eyes traced up.

A tall guard prowled into the house, teeth bared through his mask. From his pocket, he pulled a fistful of eggs, rolling them around in his big hand like marbles.

“First time I saw her stealing them, I thought maybe she can’t afford to pay. Second time, I thought maybe she’s gone hungry. But the third time . . .” He let the eggs drop and splatter at Callis’ feet. “I wonder who’s she stealing ’em for.”

He spun and kicked aside the bed, revealing Tedros, unarmed and fists up. The guard’s brutal blue eyes honed in on the prince.

“You and I can duel like men,” Tedros threatened. “But leave my princess alone.”

The guard stared at him strangely . . . then lifted his gaze. His pupils froze, reflecting Agatha behind Tedros, prostrate on the floor.

In a flash, he threw Tedros aside, knocking the prince to the floorboards. But the guard’s eyes stayed on Agatha.

She trembled as his boots crackled through the bleeding eggs, step by step, until he placed his sharp, filthy shoe tip upon her neck.

He took off his mask.

“So much for promises,” Stefan snarled.

 

The cage was meant for only one prisoner, not three, so Agatha had to stand with her mother, Reaper curled in Callis’ arms, while Tedros crouched in a daze, clutching his black eye. Back at the house, Agatha told him not to resist, but Tedros assured her Camelot’s future king could flatten six armed guards with his bare hands.

He’d been wrong.

Agatha held on to the rusty bars, tottering for balance, as the horse dragged the cage through the darkenedcemetery, Stefan at the reins. She could see a crowd forming in front of the torchlit pyre, watching the guards march down the hill ahead of the prisoners.

“That was your punishment for letting me escape, wasn’t it? The Elders made you a guard,” Agatha said, turning to her mother. “That’s why they never searched the house. Because you were with them, protecting the town from your own daughter.”

Callis paled as she saw the distant pyre, two fiery torches hanging from its scaffolding. “When the people blamed you and Sophie for the attacks, the Elders named me and Stefan leaders of a new patrol, responsible for catching you two if you ever dared return. It was a test of our loyalty, of course. Either we saw our own children as traitors and vowed to make them burn or we’d be burned as traitors ourselves.” She looked at Agatha. “The difference between Stefan and me is that he took the vow seriously.”

“How could Stefan betray his own daughter? It was the Elders who gave Sophie to the attackers. They’re the Evil ones! Why would he obey them—”

But as the cage creaked into the moonlit square, Agatha saw the answer to her question. The widow Honora and her two young boys, Jacob and Adam, huddled near the back of the growing crowd, watching Stefan lead in the prisoners. Agatha knew how much the two boys meant to Sophie’s father, who seemed to love them far more than his own daughter. But it wasn’t the boys that Agatha fixed on. It was the gold band, gleaming on the ring finger of Honora’s left hand.

“He had to obey them,” Callis said quietly. “Because the Elders made Stefan choose between his old and new family.”

Agatha looked at her, stunned.

"Leave it to me," a voice groused under them.

Tedros careened to his feet between Agatha and her mother, knocking both of them against the bars. “They’ve woken the beast,” he boiled, struggling to blink his swollen eye. “No one’s laying a hand on us.”

The cage door swung open behind him and two guards gagged Tedros with a mucky cloth and hoisted him out by his armpits, before roughly nabbing Callis too. Before Agatha could react, Stefan leapt into the cage and took her for himself.

“Stefan, listen to me—Sophie needs our help—” Agatha appealed as he pulled her through the crowd, who was abusing her with cries of “witch” and “traitor” along with chunks of spoiled food. “I know you have a new family, but you can’t give up on her—”

“Give up? You think I gave up? On my own child?” he seethed, pulling her up the stairs to the pyre behind Tedros, who kicked at his guards with muffled yells. “You promised me, Agatha. You promised you’d save her. And instead you left her there to die. Now you’ll see how it feels.”

“Stefan, we can still save her!” sputtered Agatha. “Tedros and me!”

“I always thought one day my daughter would abandon you for a boy,” said Stefan. “Turns out I had the story all wrong.”

He bound her to the pyre with a long rope around her belly, as two guards shoved Tedros in next to her. Agathacould feel the heat of the flaming torches above her.

“Stefan, you have to believe me! We’re Sophie’s only hope—”

He gagged her with a black cloth, but just as he cinched it, Agatha managed one last breath—

“The School Master has her!”

Stefan’s hands froze and his blue eyes met hers, big and wide. Then a hush swept over the crowd and Agathaknew her time was up.

The Elders had come.

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