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Iris might not have been nice, or good, or right, in her life, but she was learning. The School for Good and Evil wasn’t teaching her, though. Iris was born to be in the magical realm of the Woods; the reason being that she had powers unlike anyone, if you weren’t counting the generic breed of sorcerers a little ways north. She had won the genetic lottery, like any chosen one. Reasonably, she was disappointed when, year after year, other kids were chosen and not her. They weren’t brilliant enough to land themselves into a big-shot fairytale, she thought. She looked at Galvadon and gagged. No outhumbling the children of Galvadon; they were dirty and shallow-minded and plainly juvenile.

Iris, in her mind, was the perfect candidate. Except… she’d aged out of the system. She was a real adult, but not really.

She decided to take matters into her own hands.
Never a good idea, the villagers warned. Challenge fucking accepted. She got off on challenge.

First step to get what you want, by Iris:
Build a magical portal to Woods, going absolutely mental, and try to go through it without hurting yourself, at least 46 times. Buy a spell book specifically for it, because you’re probably incompetent. Survive on nothing but coffee and the occasional granola bar. Practice spells on various animals such as frogs and rabbits and try your best not to kill them (but yeah, you’re going to kill most of them). You are never going to be ready in time. You are going to be stressed out. You are not going to show it.

Iris wasn’t ready, right around the season when the kidnappings begin. She found her target, one of many kids who only worried about dying in a sweatshop at 16 or planting enough crops to feed their family in the winter. Didn’t they know there was life out there? Didn’t they want to have fun?

Her name was Marie. She was smaller than Iris in every way; she was soft-spoken and conservative and humble. They had been friends before Iris had gone clinically insane and became a recluse, but that wasn’t relevant. A little out-of-place for Good, but nonetheless, the best choice. That part about Marie would wait.

Iris had to say goodbye to her parents — it was the right thing to do. What kind of person would she be?
She stepped into a house of Galvadon’s suburban dreams. Suddenly, she was invigorated with the desire to cook pasta and string up fairy lights and grow peas in the backyard. This house was such a growing-up place, stuffed with paintings and plants and mismatched furniture.

“Uh, by the way, I’m moving out.” Iris announced.

“What? What are you talking about?” said her mother from the living room.

Iris lied. “I’m going to work out of town for a while.”

“Really? By yourself?” her mother replied. “I didn’t do that until I was 25.”

“Life was different back then.” Iris said, which always cut the conversation in half. Iris’s mother could never argue with that.

“Hey, did you ever think about telling us? You know, the people who raised you?” her father piped up from the office.

“Nah,” said Iris, smiling a little. “You guys aren’t worth telling.”

“Okay, well, call me if you need-“ her father started.

Iris closed the door behind her when she left. Her heart was supposed to sink, her throat was supposed to knot, she was supposed to run from the house in tears. She didn’t. Remorse was not on her mind. Instead, she thought seriously of visiting a church, just to make sure she wasn’t a psychopath. No one tells their parents that they’re leaving for forever and just… leaves. But churches were boring. And no matter what, even if Iris loved her parents (which, yes, she did) she would always choose herself. Was that fucked up?

 

At dusk, Iris waited beneath Marie’s window, listening.

11:37 pm, a shadow slithered into the small girl’s bedroom.

11:38 pm, she was gone.

Iris heard the screams at 11:39 pm. Earth-shattering, ocean-freezing screams.

She ran for her damn life. Down the hill, weaving in and out of empty streets. Lights flicked on languidly, resentfully, pitifully, too late for anyone to save her. It was the children’s fault now, and Galvadon didn’t care. They had condemned themselves.

“Marie! MARIE! MARIEMARIEMARIEMARIE!” Iris shrieked.

She heard a faint sobbing in the dark of the woods and followed it. This was her chance. This was her time. No inhibition, no hesitation. She found Marie cowering in a cage of vines. It was barely big enough for her to fit.

“Hey! Uh, I’m here, and I’ll get you out” Iris whispered to her.

Marie nodded through her trembling. Iris revealed a knife from her coat and began slicing away.

Unfortunately, it was midnight now. The eleventh day of the eleventh month.
12:00 am. A stymph crowed overhead and swooped down, diving for its prey. Iris cursed to herself. She stabbed the knife into a vine knot and gripped the handle as the stymph casually carried them off, like a harpy eagle snatching monkeys right off the canopy of the jungle. Marie shrieked and thrashed.

“Damn, calm down,” Iris thought. “At least you have a basket to hold you, I’m just dangling here.”

She had to poke Marie’s eye to get her attention.

“I don’t like this either, but shut up. I’m going to push you off.” Iris said, teeth gritted.

“Please don’t,” Marie begged. “Please. Weren’t we friends? I don’t want to die.”

This was the most adventure Marie ever had, and she was scared like a kitten. Iris wasn’t very sympathetic.

“You’re not going to die.” Iris sighed.

Iris lashed a loose vine around the stymph’s vertebrae and climbed up. She smashed her knees into the ribs for support and belly-flopped on his back. The skeleton bird knew something was up. He shot up high and crashed purposely into the trees. Her grip tight, Iris wrested her knife free. She slashed. The stymph felt a weight drop. He nosedived into the brambles again. Between the tangle of thorns, Marie plummeted through the black hole. The hopeless eyes of a fallen angel looked up. Her god simply beamed back in triumph.

Now that went alright. Marie had been done away with.

The stymph bucked and flailed in confusion and madness. This is wrong, it cried. Iris brandished her knife in retaliation. Beneath her weapon, she commanded it to turn straight around and enter her portal, a gleaming ring of cold, icy fire. If the School Master was watching now, he turned a blind eye.

Iris was dropped off in a beautiful, serene meadow, much like Agatha and the other Readers before her. She knew what was to happen next.

The girls arrived, prancing in their flower-petal dresses, jeweled purses and new friends on their arms. Iris went up to them.

“Excuse me, do you know if there’s an exit?” she asked.

Iris got blank stares and dust in her face as one girl practically flew away. Well, that wasn’t ideal. She asked the next girl, who looked like she wouldn’t pretend not to understand English.

“I mean, you can’t leave. You’re here until you graduate or drop out.” she informed.

Iris thanked her and plopped dramatically on the grass. After all it took to get here, she wasn’t interested in school. Iris was seventeen, anyway. She preferred the dangerous, magical sense of the Woods. The School for Good and Evil was just part of it, she wanted everything. Iris wanted the world.

Iris snapped her fingers and the stymph came back, jerking involuntarily into existence beside her.

“I’m sorry for everything before, but I need to get to Camelot.” she half-assed apologized. The bony brute stood his ground.

Iris practically begged. “Please. I won’t hurt you. Just hear me out.”

The stymph hesitated.

“I don’t belong in the School for Good, or the School for Evil. I’m here because of Agatha. Queen Agatha. I…” Iris took a deep breath. “I’m her cousin. And she needs to know.”