But yeah, I spent most of my classes with Jyrus until last year. He wasn’t a Grand Scholar, but he knew his stuff in arcane studies. And arcane studies just happened to be my major! Funny how that works out. Jyrus was this tall, attractive young cleric, crazy hot, but with a gentle heart and healing hands that I totes saw firsthand. A life spent by the sickbeds had marked him with perpetually shadowed, smouldering eyes. Jyrus was such a socially awkward cutie with us, and when he tried to be frienly with me, it always came off as unintentional flirting. Much to his chagrin, poor guy got red as a tomato. But a lot of fun.

Before the…incident…anyway.

Oh, you wanna know about the incident? You sure your tummy is fortified enough? It’s totally not for the squeamish.

So to, like, tell you about the incident, you need to know first about the Ordeal. All students and teachers must eventually undergo the Ordeal order to become Grand Scholars. Queen Nevra doesn’t want a bunch of Grand Scholars resting on their laurels either, so she had a room of nightmares created to test her finest and brightest. We call it the Dark Room, and it deffo earns the name. It’s a mystery that no one’s been able to unravel in, like centuries. And that’s not for lack of trying either, kiddos.

So! Let’s say you wish to become a Grand Scholar, a prized jewel in the crown of the queen. Easy peasy lemon breezy! All you gotta do is survive an hour within the Dark Room. Nobody knows what is in this room, but like hundreds have been killed inside of it. How do I know? Well, for one thing, we students get to see their mangled, fear-petrified corpses get fetched and delivered to Richenda as fodder for her necromancy afterwards. It’s a swell time.

So one time, we tricked Jyrus into going in there. We were bored, so one night me and the girls decided to throw this socially hopeless but smokin’ hot fellow a bone, and invited him to drink with us. He was a bashful and oddly charming diversion from our usual shenanigans. The night took a nasty turn, though, when the Ordeal was brought up.

By Missy of course, before she was a marmoset. And dead. “Why don’t you try it Professor?” she said. “How can we respect you if you always act like a coward?”

Jyrus laughed it off at first. “I just wish to continue teaching at the academy. I have no desire of proving myself by going through the Ordeal. I have nothing to prove.” Pretty sure he didn’t drink too often, and everything we said kinda struck him as charming and funny when he was buzzed. Plus, we were always fixated on the Dark Room. Cuz when a teacher, beloved or not, got their butt taken by the Ordeal, it would mean canceled classes for weeks until Nevra could find a sub.

But then the girls came up with an idea while I was out on the balcony. Had to make room, you know? So when I came back, the girls were kindly offering to escort Jyrus back to his room, since the castle was rather dark at night and he was clearly soused off his butt. He walked arm in arm with the girls on either side. I followed along, feeling kinda silly, plus I was totally just-this-side of drunk myself. Two sheets to the wind, I guess.

Anyway, it was far too late for me to be able to do anything by the time I started realizing the direction we were being led. All I remember is Jyrus suddenly going totally pale and his eyes becoming just these big round discs as the door to the Dark Room was shut on him. I made the mistake of looking. The other girls knew to look away but she I tardy to the proverbial party. I hadn’t been in on the “joke.” So I saw what was inside the Dark Room. I totally had the chilling privilege of watching the room devour my professor.

What did I see? Hell if I know. I could’ve sworn she saw a disembodied head floating in the doorway behind him. Was it my own head that was smiling at me? What was it? Why did-

No, I’m not thinking about that anymore. Nope.

The whole castle was woken by the manic screams and pounding at the door. Jyrus was rescued from the room by Harper the Annihilator, who just came sweeping down the hallway as fast as a storm wind. He burst open the door and retrieved Jyrus’s convulsing body. He survived, somehow, but his life is a haunting imitation of what it once was. Ever since, Jyrus is too frightened to look me, or any of the students, in the eye. He’s haunted by ghosts that we students could never comprehend.

Yeah, so I know all about the Dark Room and, for now, I totally avoid it. It feels like a far-off monster that lurks beyond the horizon, but in the furthest corners of my heart I know that my academic career at the Mercura Academy will eventually lead me to the Dark Room. The room awaits everyone that sets foot in the Academy. But the thing that keeps me up at night isn’t the fate of poor hot Jyrus. No, it’s the things that I think I saw inside the Dark Room. I have no interest in trifling with it again. The Dark Room isn’t for me. Nevra’s love and favor aren’t the things I’m after.

No, beauty eternal and everlasting, the kind that leaves men and women breathless, flushed and longing, is my dearest dream. I totally bide my time quietly within the castle walls, surrounded by backstabbers and walking ghosts. It will all be mine one day; the wealth, the youth, the power of the Witch Queen.

I can wait out all of them.

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