The Chaos Witch Darkovkar hurled six thousand magical lightning bolts and two fire orbs at the Magical Wizard Army that was trying their very best to stop her.  Countless lives were obliterated in an instant.  The Elder Dragons wept, powerless to tip the scales in the favor of mankind, for that horrible witch had in her possession the Big Cup. To face her now at the peak of her power would surely be dragon suicide.

“You will not defeat me, probably!!!” the Chaos Witch Darkovkar cackled, tossing a wizard grenade at an unlucky band of Magical Wizard Soldiers. “You see this Big Cup that I have?  It’s mine and now I will never be defeated!”

“We’ll stop you!” cried the bravest little soldier, pointing a big knife in her direction.

“ARACHNO TURNINTOBULO” she replied, casting a spell that turned the soldier into spiders.  Several of his fellow troops threw down their weapons and fled in terror as a handful of spiders crawled all over.

“This ends now, Darkovkar!” cried a young beauty with silky white hair and a BIG eyepatch, wand pointed threateningly at the Chaos Witch.  It was General Krishmiss Snowbell, the most powerful wizard of her generation.  “We will never surrender!”

“Don’t be foolish!” cried some of Snowbell’s most loyal and dedicated followers, who were crying SO MUCH.

“Don’t worry…” Snowbell smiled, giving them a reassuring thumbs up.  “As long as we hold onto hope, we won’t be frightened by the most evil witch of all time!”  She resumed her gaze on Darkovkar.  “You hear me, Chaos Witch!?  We’ll never surrender!”

Darkovkar shot a rock with magic and it exploded.

“Aaaahh!! We surrender!” Snowbell cried.  “You’re definitely too powerful, I didn’t know you could do that!” She turned back to her troops.  “I didn’t know she could do that!”

“AND NOW!” said the Chaos Witch, waving the Big Cup around threateningly and shooting more magical explosions into the sky.  “MY MOST DEVIOUS TRICK OF ALL!”

“No!” repeated Snowbell.  “Stop, and don’t do that! You win!”


“We already stopped!”




“Don’t drink from the Big Cup, Chaos Witch!”

The Chaos Witch Darkovkar took a long swig from the Big Cup.  The Big Cup did not hold any liquid but the way you activate it is that you drink from it like you would from a cup that has a drink in it. So that’s why she did that.

“BOOOOO BOO BOO!!!” cried the Elder Dragons as the world was surely about to end.

But the world did not end.  On the contrary, the moments that immediately followed that fateful sip had been the most peaceful the Wizard World had seen in the eighty thousand years since the Chaos Witch Darkovkar first came to power.  General Snowbell stared wide-eyed as the sizeable  drinking vessel of unknowable magical potential landed harmlessly on the ground with a sharp clank.  The self-proclaimed Queen of Nocturne Shadows (nobody else called her that) had vanished entirely.  The storm clouds parted and the sun shone bright and everything was okay now.

“Oh,” said Snowbell, stepping forward to pick up the Big Cup.  She looked inside and underneath and inside again but the Chaos Witch wasn’t there.  She turned to face the shambles of her army that remained standing and shrugged her shoulders.  “What a mystery!”

Her troops agreed that it was a very good and interesting mystery.

“We’ll have to keep this Big Cup locked away somewhere safe,” she said.  “Somewhere no little magic boy will ever find it or be able to solve the big mystery, which would honestly just be the worst case scenario.”

“I know of a wizarding school!” chimed an elderly dwarf of a man supported by his magical cane with a bleeding skull as the handle.  His nose was hooked like a beak and his eyes were perpetually bloodshot.  With his free hand, he tenderly shook what must have been twenty or thirty dice. “It houses a great many dangerous and mysterious secrets, many of which have never been discovered by the children who inhabit it!”

“Who are you?” Snowbell asked, confused.  She looked to her fellow soldiers.  “Who is that?”

“Montgomery Murderdeath,” he grinned, offering a polite curtsy.  “You can always trust me!”

“Okay that’s fine,” said Snowbell, delicately passing the Big Cup to her new friend, Montgomery Murderdeath.

“Yessss… Goooood…” Murderdeath hissed, carressing the cup and licking his lips lustfully.  “You’ve made the right choice, indeed!”

“I’m just happy to know that the cup will be safe and protected and will never be used for evil again,” Snowbell nodded.  “Just where is this magical school, anyway?  What do people call it?”

With some frightful outburst that was something between a cough and cackle, Montgomery abruptly flung his dice into the air.  They glimmered in the sunlight for a breathless moment as they rained back onto the ground in perfect synchronization.  Like a machine, Montgomery Murderdeath’s eyes darted rapidly between each cube, and within three hours he had finished counting.  Fifty nine.  With a gleeful laugh, he clasped his hands together delightfully and, with a surprisingly booming voice, named the cup’s new home:

“The Douglas P. Wilson Memorial Wizard Educational Institution (Shelbyville Campus)!”


As the tale came to its conclusion, tiny little Joshua Milton frowned.  He liked this story even less every time it was told to him.

“Uncle, why do you keep telling me this awful story? This is the fifth time today, and I feel perhaps one time would suffice.”

Uncle Horbert glared at Joshua from the top of the cellar stairs. “Because I know you HATE it. I want to remind you of how your father died.”

“But my father isn’t mentioned in your story at all,” Joshua said.

“Yes he is!” Horbert spat. “He was the bravest soldier with the big knife!”

“He was?” Joshua scratched his head. “Oh. Geez. You should’ve mentioned him by name then.”

“He was turned into hundreds of spiders!!”

Joshua groaned. “Yes, I know! You told that part already. I wish you would stop. It has become very annoying.”

“Listen here, you little shit! I don’t need your sass! You’ve been nothing but a burden for me ever since both of your parents died in gruesome and mysterious ways! I have done my best to raise you, and have received no compensation for it besides all of your enormous inheritance!”

“Sorry uncle,” Joshua said, feeling bad about how hard it must be for Horbert. “I didn’t mean to upset you. If I behave, may I go outside today to play?”

“No!!” Horbert said, shattering his glass of expensive wine on the floor. “Get back to work! You must dig up more diamonds for me! Lots more! Bring me enough that I may bathe in them, or else no more food for the week!”

“Okay uncle Horbert,” Joshua said. “I love you.”

Uncle Horbert slammed the door and set multiple deadbolts, and reset the retinal and handprint scanners. Joshua felt good knowing that his uncle was upstairs to protect him. He strapped on his mining helmet and toddled off dragging his pickaxe into the sprawling diamond mine located beneath his uncle’s solid gold mansion. Every day Joshua tried his best to dig up as many diamonds as he could for his uncle, but it was very difficult because Joshua was so tiny. His little arms could barely lift his pick axe, and his legs were so short he couldn’t reach the gas pedal for the fusion powered drill tank. Still, Joshua did his best because if his uncle Horbert did not receive a steady supply of fresh diamonds, he would not be able to afford to keep Joshua.

Joshua hoped that one day, if he worked hard, his muscles would get strong enough that he could become the bravest soldier like his father, or like his mother, who was the world’s most muscular lawyer. Thinking about this, Joshua wondered if drinking from the Big Cup from his uncle’s dumbass story would make him strong like his mother and father. It was Joshua’s dearest wish to be just like his parents. Although he hoped he would never get turned into hundreds of spiders like his father, or be sealed inside the Orb of Screams like his mother.

Wanting to make his dead parents proud, Joshua summoned all his strength to lift his pickaxe into the air, and slam it against the wall. With a crack, the wall burst open and flawless rubies poured out all over the floor.

“No!” Joshua yelled. His uncle needed diamonds, not useless rubies. Frustrated by how useless and weak he was, he curled up on the floor to weep.

“I’m free!!” said an unfamiliar voice. Joshua wiped away his tears, and saw a demon crawl out of the hole he’d made in the wall. He had scaly purple skin, long pointed teeth, and a cool dragon tattoo on his chest. “Tiny, miniature Joshua Milton! I am Bothersnatch, the demon! I have been sealed inside that prison of rubies for thousands of years for committing terrible hell crimes! Because you have released me from my torment, I will grant you any wish you desire!”

“I wish to drink from the Big Cup!” Joshua said. “That way I can have big muscles and make my parents proud!”

“Oh.” Bothersnatch said. “You… Wow. You didn’t even hesitate. Didn’t even pause to think if that was the optimal way to get big muscles. Okay.”

Joshua felt embarrassed. “Was that a bad wish?”

“No, no!” The demon held his hands up. “It’s just… I could’ve just given you big muscles right now by snapping my fingers. But I guess we’re both committed to this whole Big Cup thing with hell magic because you didn’t even want to discuss it first. Whatever. Hold on, let me figure out how we’re gonna do this.”

Bothersnatch whipped out his phone, and paced around the mine trying to get a cellular signal.

“What’s the wifi password here?” he asked.

“Diamonds,” Joshua said. “All caps.”

After a couple minutes, Bothersnatch had a plan. “Okay, so, the Big Cup is at some dumb school for wizards. We’re going to have to murder your uncle to escape and get there.”

“What?!” Joshua said. “But I love my uncle!”

“Well, too bad.” Bothersnatch looked super annoyed. “The only way to destroy the force field around this mansion is to kill him! It’s tied to his life force. And we got to get this wish granted in a few weeks or else both of our souls will be swallowed by hell magic!”

“This sucks,” Joshua said because he didn’t want his soul to be consumed by the powers of hell.

“Yeah! Well, if SOMEONE had put two seconds of thought into their wish, it wouldn’t be a problem.” The demon was scrolling through his social media feed. “Oh! One more thing. You’re the one that has to kill him. I’m still too weak.” He gestured at the gemstones on the floor. “Because of the rubies.”

Today was shaping up to be a really weird day for Joshua.


“And then she cast a spell that turned him into spiders!!”  Uncle Horbert cackled between heaping mouthfuls of foie gras.  He paused for a moment in deep thought, and continued with a coy smile.  “Also, an addendum regarding that soldier; he was Henrick Milton!!”  He laughed mightily and signaled to the creaky wooden bench where Joshua was seated.  “The boy’s father!!”

“Our brother-in-law!!!” joined Uncle Plart, waving filet mignons in the air with great fervor.  He was a short man who, with the exception of monstrous caterpillar eyebrows, possessed not a single hair on his entire head.  He wore a gaudy mustard-colored suit encrusted with diamonds.

“HA! What a jerk!” screamed Aunt Crickery, stabbing a knife into one of her sixteen lobster tails.  “Ooh, I’m a big hero!  Oh no, now I’m spiders!!”  Aunt Crickery was as thin as a skeleton and wore a literal taxidermied peacock draped over her shoulders.

The three cackled merrily as the tale was revisited for the twelfth time that evening.  Spilling aged rum all over his meal in his uproarious laughter, Uncle Horbert shot a glance towards his tiny, tiny nephew.

But Joshua hadn’t seemed to have heard Horbert’s new contribution to the story, as he was lost in thought, picking at his paper plate of uncooked rice.

“Hmph, yes!” Horbert cleared his throat, thoroughly disappointed.  “Perhaps we shall resume the tale after dinner.”

“Horby, my dear brother,” Aunt Crickery said with a smile, revealing an entire top row of diamond teeth.  “How is the diamond mine faring these days?”

Horbert stood at the table, proud to make his big announcement.  “My dearest siblings, I realize we’ve been just barely scraping by for the past several years…”  He wiped a bit of caviar from his moustache with a napkin made of fine China silk.  “But our worries shall soon be over!  Tomorrow, a representative from Good Diamonds Incorporated will be coming by to inspect our diamonds!”  He grinned and bowed as the other two applauded.  “If all goes well, he’ll be purchasing every last diamond in the vault!”

“Whoopie!” Uncle Plart cheered, throwing diamonds into the air like confetti.  Everyone winced as the sharp gemstones rained back on top of them.

Joshua continued poking at his meal, trying to come up with a plan.  He felt a sudden tug at the hem of his trousers, and Bothersnatch poked his head from underneath the tablecloth.  He was nudging an ornate crossbow excitedly towards Josh.

“Get out of here!” hissed Joshua, kicking the demon back. When he looked up, he saw that this little stir had drawn the attention of his uncles and aunt.  “Uh, sorry. I’ve just got… diarrhea.”

Uncle Horbert stared him down, red in the face.  “Most importantly,” he said through gritted teeth.  “We shan’t have any meddlesome little boys ruining it for us!”

“I won’t interfere,” Joshua assured him.  “I can see this is very important to you and I really hope it goes well!”

“I shall make SURE of it!” Uncle Horbert decreed, slamming his fist onto the table and sending several pieces of fancy china crashing to the floor.  “I’m keeping you locked in the mines until we have this deal signed in ink!  Not a peep out of you until then, you hear me!?”

“Sounds perfectly reasonable,” Joshua agreed, ignoring the bottle of cyanide an anxious demon was fervently shaking at his feet.

“Good!” Uncle Horbert said, pointing a stern finger at Josh.  “In fact, your very presence is spoiling this monumental occasion!  Take your dinner and get back to the cellar this instant!”

“And dig us some more of those diamonds!” Aunt Crickery giggled.

“I enjoy diamonds a lot!” said Uncle Plart.


As the final locks securely fastened behind him, Joshua entered the cellar to find an impatient Bothersnatch tapping his phone with enormous concentration.  He heaved a heavy sigh as soon as the tiny child approached.

“I don’t think you understand the gravity of our situation,” Bothersnatch growled.

“Listen, I can’t just–”

“Hang on, kid,” the demon interrupted.  “I’m going for a Full Combo here, hang on.”

Josh waited anxiously.  The cellar was silent except for the peppy J-Pop song playing from Bothersnatch’s mobile device.  About thirty seconds passed.

“Damn, lost it,” Bothersnatch complained.  “Okay, what were you saying?”

“Listen, I can’t just murder my uncle!” Joshua protested.

“Of course you can just murder your uncle!” Bothersnatch turned off his phone and hopped to his feet, pointing the crossbow at Joshua.  “What are ya, some kind of pacifist? I thought you wanted to be a soldier or something?”

“My father was a soldier,” Joshua clarified.  “And even if I follow in his footsteps, it’s not like I can just go around killing people! I think I can reason with him!”

Bothersnatch bit down into his own arm and let out a muffled scream.  He shot Josh a frustrated and confused look.  “What is wrong with you humans?  Demons kill each other all the time! It’s GREAT!!”

“I can just tell him I want to go to wizard school,” Joshua suggested.  “If he knows it’s important to me, he can let down the force field, and-”

“Okay, let me stop ya right there, kiddo,” the purple demon whipped out his phone and scrolled through some websites.  “I did a little Googling, okay?  So let me just clue you in so you know what we’re dealin’ with here.  Registration for this particular magic school closes in TWO DAYS!  We miss that window, we’re screwed! Tiny skeletons eating your eyeballs forever because YOU made the world’s stupidest wish!”

“You said it was a good little wish!”

“I was bein’ COURTEOUS!!” Bothersnatch caught himself projecting.  He paused, put his hands out, and breathed a heavy sigh.  “Tell ya what… Okay, yeah, fine, you can try to convince this uncle of yours to enroll you in this school before tomorrow’s up… But if you don’t!”  He handed Joshua the butt of the crossbow.  “We gotta bust out in a blaze of gory death!”


Oxwald Manderlie worked for Good Diamonds Incorporated and was the number two ranked diamond inspector in the greater Shelbyville city area. He took enormous pride in his skill as an inspector, but was haunted each and every day by the fact that he wasn’t ranked number one. That honor was reserved for his arch nemesis, Bernard Crowley, who was the renowned throughout the county for his sales acumen and garish taste in ties. Oxwald hated Bernard with every fiber of his being, but he took comfort knowing that things were about to change. If the purchase of the Milton family diamond vault went without issue, he would become the number one ranked inspector. Soon that asshole Reginald would be put in his place, and have to deal with the humiliation of being second best.

“Thank you for coming on such short notice,” said Plart, as he ushered

Oxwald deeper into the mansion. “We have so many diamonds, and we need you to buy all of them!”

“Yes, obviously.” Oxwald rolled his eyes. “But only after a fully certified inspection of quality.”

“Do not worry!” Horbert said, wringing his hands. “We would never take advantage of someone with so much money!”

Crickery ran ahead of them and threw open the vault. Hundreds of thousands of diamonds flooded out the door, burying Oxwald up to the waist. He fanned his fingers and selected a specimen from the top at random. He gave it a good sniff, a little lick, weighed it is hand, and then nodded approvingly.

“Yes,” he said. “This is definitely a diamond.”

Crickery, Horbert, and Plart all smiled, cackled, and huddled together licking their lips with excitement. This was all behavior Oxwald was accustomed to seeing in his diamond suppliers.

“So you’ll buy ALL of the diamonds??” Crickery said.

“I see no reason not to, barring any last minute crisis.”

A klaxon alarm went off. The entire mansion went to emergency backup power, with flashing lights. A panel reading DIAMOND EMERGENCY lit up on the wall.

“Is something wrong?” Oxwald asked, wondering what this might mean.

Horbert looked terrified. “It’s nothing!” He rushed over to a control console and slammed the intercom button.

“Joshua! You disgusting, awful child! I told you not to make a peep! What is going on?! Why did you sound the alarm??”

“Uncle!” The voice coming out of speaker must’ve belonged to an extremely tiny child. “There’s something wrong sir! With the diamonds!”

“What did he just say?” Oxwald stepped over. “There’s a problem with the diamonds? This could impact our deal.”

“Don’t listen to him!” Plart shrieked. “His parents are dead!!”

Oxwald considered this. “While that does throw his credibility into question, I cannot risk my reputation as a diamond inspector. I must insist that you show me your diamond mine so I can verify this is a false alarm.”

The three of them exchanged nervous glances. Hesitating, they hurried over to the entrance to the mine and disengaged the numerous locks. At the bottom of a long stair well, they found the tiniest little boy Oxwald had ever seen.

“Uncle Horbert! Aunt Crickery! Uncle Plart! It’s terrible! Oh! It’s dreadful! Please come quick!”

Horbert was so angry he could hardly breathe. “I swear on your dead parents, if you’ve done anything to the diamonds, I will strangle you!”

Concerned, Oxwald bent down to meet the delightfully miniature child. “Tell me what’s happened. You can trust me. I’m the second highest ranked diamond inspector in the Shelbyville area.”

“Sir! There diamonds are being haunted! By ghosts!”

Something came out from around the corner. At first glance, it appeared to be a tall and skinny purple man with a sheet draped over him. Plart, Crickery and Horbert all recoiled in fear at the sight of it, and cowered behind Oxwald. His companions being paralyzed with fright, Oxwald had no choice but to summon his courage and take a bold step forward.

“Apparition!” He said. “What are you! What are you doing here.”

“This plan is stupid,” the ghost said.

“Come on,” the little boy said. “You promised to try.”

Groaning, the ghost shrugged its shoulders. “Yeah. I’m a ghost. I’m haunting the diamonds.”

It was all Oxwald could do to stop himself from fainting. “If the diamonds are haunted, that means I won’t be able to go through on the deal!”

“No!!” Crickery clawed at her face. “You must! We need the money!!”

“But wait!” Joshua said. “There’s a way we can fix this!” He waited, as if expecting someone to speak. Then he nudged the ghost with his elbow.

“Oh.” The ghost said, and cleared his throat. “If a young boy, like the one that happens to be before you, were to become a powerful wizard, then surely he would be able to banish back to the Chaos Realm forever.” The horrid specter pulled out a touch screen cell phone, and read something off it. “But he has to trained specifically at the Douglas P. Wilson Memorial Wizard Educational Intuition here in Shelbyville.”

“Fine!” Horbert said, and grabbed Oxwald by the lapels. “If we exorcise this ghost, will you buy our diamonds?”

“Yes,” Oxwald said. “I believe that would be reasonable.”

Horbert spat on the tiny boy. “Joshua, you horrible orphan! I have decided you will attend this wizarding school immediately! You must learn to vanquish this revenant to save us from financial ruin!”

“Yipee!” said the little boy.

“I can’t believe this is working,” said the ghost.


“An education,” Horbert grumped, straightening his bright magenta necktie that was covered in dollar signs.  “The stupid orphan boy is getting an education!”  He applied a full jar of wax to each half of his moustache, the unruly hairs submitting themselves into an elegant curl.  “Never thought we’d stoop so low!”

“But Horby, think of the diamonds!” Crickery said shakily, adding another cigarette to the three already jutting out of her mouth.

Horbert mumbled some profanity under his breath, fastening his lime green trousers that he wears all the time. He straightened his top hat, affixed his monocle, dusted off his suit jacket, and filled his diamond fanny pack with some road snacks in case he got hungry on the way.

Oxwald knelt very, very, very low to meet Joshua’s gaze.  “Not to worry, my boy!  Dougie P. Wilkins is an excellent school, and they’ll take very good care of you!  As a matter of fact, I have three wonderful daughters entering their first year as well!  I’ll make sure they treat you with utmost kindness, because I really need this deal to work out!”  Oxwald could already hear Bernard’s stupid condescending chuckle.  He visibly shuddered at the thought.

“You’re very kind, Mr. Manderlie,” Joshua said gratefully.

“Oh, by all means, call me Oxwald!” the diamond-purchaser insisted with a smile.  “I really hate being called Mr. Manderlie. I just… Man, I hate it so much. Don’t ever call me that again.”  There was an awkward moment.   “Oh, and, uh… Word of advice, Josh…” He leaned down close, a great challenge for an average-sized man like Oxwald. “Stay away from the Snakeothies.”

“Boy!” Horbert interrupted, striking the ground with his cane that, of COURSE, had a comically-oversized diamond as a handle.  “Let’s get this over with!”

Joshua straightened up his backpack, pocketed the single penny his uncles and aunt had given him for supplies, and looked up at Uncle Horbert, beaming.  “Ready when you are!”

Before Horbert could extend his bright magenta glove to reach for the doorknob, a horrific scream echoed from the kitchen.

“Uncle Plart!?” Joshua yelled, panicked.

The group ran to the kitchen to find Plart cowering on the floor, having dropped the giant wheel of fresh parmesan he’d hoped to enjoy privately.

“It’s… it’s the thing!” Plart muttered.  “The g-g-g-g-ghost!!!”  He pointed a shaking finger at the ghost, who was attempting to sneak a casserole dish of lasagna.

“This, uh…” Bothersnatch stammered, darting his eyes for a window to escape to.  “This ain’t what it looks like.”

Crickery fainted on the spot, landing at the last second into Oxwald’s agile diamond-buyin’ arms.

Uncle Horbert, on the other hand, was anything but afraid.  He narrowed his eyes, stepped forward slowly, and clutched his cane tight.  “Ghosts. Don’t. Like. Italian.”  He growled, glowing red like a Christmas tree light.  “Everyone knows that, don’t they?”

Bothersnatch dropped the lasagna, which shattered on the ground and made a huge mess. “Oh, I mean, yeah, gross!  Didn’t want anything to do with that cheesy, garlicky goodness! Wait, shit, I mean… Boo!”

“AAAAHHHH!!!” said Uncle Plart.

Horbert did not slow down.  “Ghosts. Don’t. LIKE.  Italian!”  He gripped his cane so hard that the diamond handle exploded into bits.  “So if you’re no ghost… Then what the hell are you!?”  He lunged towards Bothersnatch and ripped off his sheet.  To Horbert’s surprise, there was no man underneath; only a purple mouse scurrying away into some hidey-hole.

“What the devil just happened?” Oxwald asked, mouth agape.

“A RUSE!!!” Horbert screamed, bearing down on poor, tiny, Joshua.  Before the boy could react, he was hoisted over his uncle’s head like one of the turnips from Super Mario Bros. 2.

“No, wait!”  Joshua pleaded.  “Let me explain!”

“Really now!” Oxwald called out, following as Horbert carried Joshua into the cellar.  “There’s no need to be so rough on the boy!”

Uncle Horbert rolled Joshua into the mine like a bowling ball.  “What kind of idiots do you take us for!?”  he roared, stomping steadily towards him.  “Haunted diamonds!?  Heavens, what were we THINKING!?”

As Joshua struggled to get up, the mouse scurried up to him, holding a large knife in his teeth, which he laid next to the boy.  “Sorry, kinda shat the bed on that one,” it said.  “Time for Plan B.”

“What, were you trying to ESCAPE?” Horbert yelled, almost laughing.  “Did we not love you enough!?  Did we not provide you exactly enough food for you to not starve to death!?  Did we not go through trials and tribulation to make sure you had no boring free time!?”

“I’m… I’m sorry, uncle…” Joshua cried.

“Look here!” Horbert rushed back to Oxwald, grinning a demented grin and digging a fistful of diamonds out of his front pocket.  “My diamonds aren’t haunted a bit!  My diamonds are perfect!!!”  He pressed the diamonds into Oxwald’s face, who recoiled in horror.  “YOU SEE!?  YOU SEE ANY BLOODY GHOSTS IN THERE!?!?! BECAUSE I SURE DON’T!! HA HA HA HA HA!!!”

“P-please, sir,” Oxwald said, crawling back from the madman.  “Let’s all settle down and discuss this over tea, yes?”

Horbert didn’t seem to have heard him.  He was still giggling like a small child, drunk with diamond mania.  “SO HOW ABOUT IT!?” he yelled into the open air of the sprawling mines.  “ANY OTHER GHOSTS HIDING IN HERE!?  ANY SPOOKY SKELETONS OR GHASTLY GHOULS PEEPING AROUND THE CORNER!?”  He was hyperventilating.  “NOT A SINGLE ONE, EH!?  THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT!!”  He turned to face the others again just as Plart and Crickery were fumbling their way downstairs to join them.  Both froze on the spot, pale in the face, wide-eyed, and visibly shivering.  “What’s wrong with you two!?” he yelled to them, waving his diamonds in the air.  “We’re gonna be RICH!! MONEY MONEY MONEY!!!”

“What… the devil…” Plart whimpered.

“…is THAAAAT!?” Crickery pointed and shrieked.

Horbert turned around to find a gigantic skeletal abomination hovering over them.  Inky black tendrils spread throughout the room and the temperature dropped to near-freezing.  Its eyes sparkled brilliantly like diamonds and blood drooled steadily from its gaping maw. 

It was the scariest fucking thing Joshua had ever seen.


Bothersnatch hated transforming into giant skeletons. It always wore him out and he had only just woken up from his ruby jail a couple hours ago. He almost wished the stupid kid hadn’t set him free.

“HEY,” he said, his voice modulated by the screams of the damned. “I’M A GHOST. ALL THIS STUFF? REALLY GHOST LIKE. THIS MINE IS HAUNTED. SO, YEAH.”

Oxwald stepped forward and adjusted his waistcoat. “Well, I think that settles the matter, Horbert. The mine appears to be haunted after all.”

“Are you joking?!” Horbert shrieked. “You can SMELL the garlic on that things breath! This is a trick!”

Bothersnatch cursed his personal weakness for a well baked lasagna. It was really throwing a wrench in their escape. He tried spraying them with gallons of ectoplasm through his nose holes, but the kid’s uncle still wasn’t buying it.

“Now that you mention it…” Oxwald wiped his face with a handkerchief. “This spectral slime does have a distinct ricotta cheese flavor to it.”

“Hold on!” Joshua said. “I know this looks weird, I’m sure if we all calm down, we can talk this out and come to an agreement that the giant ethereal skeleton monster is definitely the result of ghost haunting.”

“Like hell!” Horbert said, and punted Joshua across the mine. He pulled out a gold plated magnum and cocked it. “I don’t know what this thing is, but I’m not letting it affect our stock performance! Hands where I can see them!”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Bothersnatch held up his huge, skeletal palms. “Let’s not get crazy here! I didn’t mean to upset you!”

“Shut up!” Horbert fired off a diamond bullet and grazed Bothersnatch’s enormous skull. “Get out of my mine or I’ll kill you with my extremely expensive gun!”

Bothersnatch had never been more scared in his entire life. Being this close to death made him wish he had made different choices. He should’ve told Kate he loved her. He should’ve gone to vocational school like his mom said. Maybe if he’d just stuck with his dream to be a professional wedding photographer, he never would’ve been jailed for hell crimes.

A minecart barreled down the mineshaft and collided with Horbert. With a gargling shriek, the corpulent old human tumbled across the mine onto his back.

“Oh no!” Joshua said, sprinting from the minecart control panel. “Uncle Horbert has been struck by a mine cart possessed by ghosts!”

Crickery, Plart, and the Oxwald all gathered around the body of Horbert.

“Is he dead?” Crickery said, horrified.

Oxwald bent down, and prodded Horbert’s leg with a finger. “Hello?” he said, and received no response. “HELLO?” Again, nothing. He stood up. “I’m sorry. It appears Horbert is dead and is beyond the point of being saved by all medical science. Furthermore, it appears the mine is definitely haunted, for real this time.”

Plart and Crickery gasped, covering their faces and wailed in grief. Oxwald ambled over to Joshua, who seemed visibly upset.

“If I’m going to be buying any diamonds from this mine, I will need you to exorcise this giant spectral skeleton nonsense like we previously discussed. Otherwise I’ll never show up that fuckhead Bernard.”

Joshua sniffled. “Is my uncle going to be okay?”

“What?” Oxwald said. “No! He’s extremely dead, and nothing will ever change that. Now run along and gather some things. I’ll drive you to the school myself. There’s no time to lose!”

Bothersnatch shrank away into the shadows, and met Joshua in his bedroom, which was just a corner of the mine with a blow up pool floaty for a bed and a box with some clothes in it. Joshua was cramming what he had into a grocery bag.

“Hey! Good job killing that guy!” Bothersnatch said. “Really showed that jerk who’s dead.”

The kid was in tears. “I didn’t want to kill my uncle! I just wanted him to stop threatening you! You’re my only friend in the whole world, and I was scared he might shoot you.”

Bothersnatch looked at Joshua with surprise. “Your only friend?” He put a hand on his shoulder. “Wow. That’s so pathetic.”

Oxwald came ambling over, and Bothersnatch threw his sheet back over his head before he was discovered.

“Are we ready to go now?” Oxwald said.

“Yes…” Joshua said, hanging his head.

“Hey, uh.” Bothersnatch leaned in. “Can I catch a ride too?”

“I don’t see any reason why not,” Oxwald said.

Together they left the Milton family estate, and piled into Oxwald’s beat up old minivan. Without further ado, they drove off toward the Douglas P. Wilson Memorial Wizard Educational Institution.


Now is the part where we get to talk about Wizard Traffic.  It is, in a word… zooky.  Confident in their magical abilities, magic people eschewed rules and regulations and encouraged creativity when it came to reaching one’s destination in a timely manner.  While unaugmented automobiles were still used on rare occasion, most preferred to ride fantastical magical creatures, enchant objects into sprouting legs and jogging, pilot magnificent dirigibles and flying machines at street level, fly around on broomsticks creating horrible magical obstacles for fellow commuters to overcome, and so, so much more.

Oxwald was old-fashioned.  He would not budge an inch until every seatbelt was fastened, he frequently used his turn signal even though nobody was looking at it, and was perhaps the last wizard in existence to regard road signs as more than weaponry in impromptu “Road Wars Like in Mad Max”, to which they were commonly referred.  Commuting to work was a daily gamble with his own life, but he took great pride in how inconceivably lucky he’d thus far been in driving a motor vehicle at exactly the speed limit amid the chaos.

“Your aunt was impressively quick to sign the necessary paperwork for your enrollment,” Oxwald said, turning a slight left to avoid crossfire as an ice dragon and fire dragon dueled for highway superiority.  “Said that selling the diamonds is what your uncle… er, the dead one, that is… would have wanted.”  He paused for a moment.  “Terribly unfortunate, him dying, and all.”  He pondered for another moment.  “Rip.”

Joshua had been uncomfortably silent during the ride, as he was reminiscing over a photograph of his lost uncle signing a deal that ultimately cheated several small businesses into bankruptcy for his personal gain.  He was a pretty okay caretaker at least, Joshua reasoned.

Bothersnatch watched silently out the window, plugged into his Bluetooth earbuds.  Like Joshua, he was failing to provide stimulating conversation.

After a few daring leaps over demolished bridges and Tokyo-drift style swerves to avoid wanton lightning bolts, Oxwald finally paralleled his minivan neatly between a snoozing manticore and a bona fide rocket ship.  They had arrived at an unassuming warehouse in a shady part of town where an enormous crowd of paparazzi were gathered, with some fans holding up posters with drawings of diamonds.

“Now Joshua, this, er… Isn’t the school, but you will be taken there via fantastical and mind-boggling means,” he explained.  “It’s really incredible and whimsical and amazing,” he promised.  “An unforgettable experience for any child!”

“What’s with these losers?” Bothersnatch asked of the crowd, finally removing himself from an enrapturing podcast detailing the accomplishments of each of the Wizard Presidents throughout history.

Oxwald blushed and adjusted himself in the rearview mirror. “Ah, well, I’m something of a local celebrity, you know?”  He pointed to a silver badge he wore on his jacket, a diamond engraved with the number two.  “For my inspection skills!”

The three exited the vehicle and Oxwald approached the fans tenderly.  “Settle down, now!  Oxwald Manderlie has arrived, one at a time!  One at a time!”

“Oxwhat Manlywho?” said a man with a big camera.

“You know!” Oxwald said, taken aback.  “The diamond guy!”

“Sorry, bub,” the camera man gruffed.  “We ain’t here for you.”

“What!?” Oxwald said, glancing nervously at Bothersnatch and the tiny, tiny child.  Neither were impressed.  “Who the devil could be more famous than the second-best diamond inspector in the Greater Shelbyville Area!?”

“Well good afternoon there, Mr. Manderlie,” came a wretchedly familiar voice that induced a physical cringe on Oxwald’s face.  “Busy day carrying on a sub-par performance inspecting diamonds, yes?”

Oxwald wretched as the crowd parted and a beautiful blonde gentleman adorning an enormous golden diamond badge on his chest stepped forward to greet the three of them.  Though he and Oxwald were of the same age, this stranger looked to be at least twenty or thirty years younger.

“I’ve just purchased one billion diamonds on behalf of the company,” the beautiful man bragged with a subtle smirk.  “Have you purchased one billion diamonds as well, Mr. Manderlie?”

“Hello, Bernard,” Oxwald grumbled, not making direct eye contact.

“And then,” Bernard Crowley continued, lavishing in the disgust of his counterpart.  “I became acquainted with several beautiful women, in the biblical sense.  How many women this entire year have you been acquainted with, Mr. Manderlie?”  He chuckled to himself.  “In the biblical sense.

“Thought that spoiled brat of yours was already moved in,” Oxwald said, crossing his arms.  “Have you been waiting here to make fun of me?”

“No, no, my dear second-rate friend,” Bernard smiled, shaking his head so subtly.  “It’s actually a wonderful twist of fate that we’ve met like this.  I’ve now the opportunity to congratulate you personally.”

“Congratulate me?” Oxwald narrowed his eyes.  “What for?”

With a heavy sigh, Bernard removed the golden diamond and tucked it delicately into Oxwald’s front pocket.  “For being the number one diamond-inspector.  Well done, old friend!”

Oxwald took the badge out and threw it on the ground.  “What sort of prank is this?” he said, making a big show out of stomping the badge.  “What happened to selling one billion diamonds?”

“My dear Mr. Manderlie, you’ve earned this title by default,” Bernard explained, watching Oxwald’s childish outburst with great amusement.  “As of this day I’m retiring as a diamond inspector, you see.  I’ve sort of…” He looked up to the sky, searching for the words.  “…completed that job.”

“No!” Oxwald yelled, falling to his knees and pulling at his face.  “I can’t become number one and never get the satisfaction of defeating you!  Arrrgh!”

Joshua finally chimed in.  “And what will you be doing now, Mr… Bernard?”

Bernard knelt down and smiled sinisterly at the child.  “Now, let’s use proper manners, you very small, impressionable young mind.”  He extended a hand to Joshua.  “From henceforth you shall refer to me as Professor Crowley.”


CHAPTER TWO: First Day Orientation

Oxwald pulled Joshua up the stairs of the Transportation Ziggurat, fuming. How could Bernard just quit the diamond inspection business? Did their rivalry mean nothing, after all these years? What was so special about teaching that he would throw away everything before Oxwald had the chance to defeat him once and for all with this enormous diamond purchase?

“Mr. Oxwald, sir, you are crushing my hand.”

He stopped. “It cannot be helped. Your hands are just so small and brittle that it is impossible not to. Anyway, we are here.”

Pushing the automated handicap door opener, the gates of the pyramid swung open to reveal a massive complex filled with every wacky form of transportation imaginable. There were buses, cars, bicycles, hang gliders, subway cars, magic carpets, riding griffins, and maybe like five other things. Joshua seemed too preoccupied with his crushed hand to notice how impressive it was, so Oxwald decided to explain.

“Welcome, Joshua, to the central artery of all movement within Shelbyville! Here we have every magical form of transportation known to mankind! This is where you will make the final leg of your journey to your new school.”

Joshua stopped being a wuss long enough to be amazed. “Wow. Why are there so many different ways to travel?”

“Well,” the terrifying ghost said as it followed them inside, “wizards are extremely faddish and they have to come up with a new zooky way to get around every couple weeks or they get bored.”

Oxwald glared. “Okay. That’s rude.”

“Which method am I going to use?” Joshua asked.

Oxwald ushered the child onto a cat walk overlooking a giant furnace. He pointed into the towering flames spewing out the top.

“This is the latest and greatest form of magical teleportation!” He ignored a snide look from the ghost. “I will simply hurl your miniature body into the flames, and you will be whisked away to the school.”

“That sounds really scary and dangerous,” Joshua said.

“Nonsense!” Oxwald said, picking Joshua up over his head. “All that will happen is that the flames will burn your body down to tiny molecules, which will twirl through the air all the way to the Dougie P. Wilson, where all the little burnt pieces will reassemble into your body again. I think, anyway. I don’t know how it works exactly, but I’ve been assured it’s extremely scientific.”

“I don’t like this!” Joshua said. “Please, can we go a different way?”

“Stop whining! I need you to get to the school already so I can get around to buying those diamonds! In you go!”

“Uh, hey, diamond guy?” The ghost pointed at a sign, which in small print requested that no one jump inside of the fire. “This isn’t the transport furnace. This is the trash incinerator.”

“It is?” Oxwald was terribly embarrassed. “Oh my. I almost made a tragic mistake. Then where’s the one for traveling?”

They turned around and found an identical flame pit on the other side of the cat walk. This one had a big sign with a pictograph of a man jumping inside the fire with a smile on his face and a big thumbs up.

“Oh. There it is.” Oxwald hurled Joshua into the fire before he had a chance to complain. The kid screamed like he’d never had his flesh melted before, and exploded into a shining assortment of whimsical floating motes which escaped through the ventilation system on their way to the school.

The more Oxwald thought about the school, the more he imagined Bernard being the best teacher on the campus. The notion made his skin crawl. He realized there was only one logical choice to make.

“I’m going too,” he said. “I will not let Bernard go uncontested! I will become number one teacher at the school, and then that smug bastard will finally be put in his place!”

“Oh.” The host looked up from his phone. “So you’re going to jump in too?”

“What?” Oxwald said. “No! I hate this thing. It is extremely painful! I’m just going to drive there. It’s only like two blocks away.”

“Can I catch another ride?”

“Yes, obviously.” Oxwald marched back toward the entrance. “It would hardly be courteous to refuse.”


Joshua Milton strained to open his eyes.  It was very bright and very warm. So warm, in fact, that Joshua felt as though his flesh were melting off of his bones. It was very uncomfortable indeed!  In between uncontrollable screams, Joshua managed to catch a glimpse of the world around him.  It was very bright and orange, but there was a distinctive figure very close by.

“Hello Joshua,” it called in a calm, soothing voice.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!” Joshua responded, curiously.

“Who am I?” the stranger replied with a chuckle.  “Think of me as your guardian spirit, Joshua.  I’ve been watching over you for a long time and it’s time to pursue your incredible destiny.”

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!??” Joshua asked skeptically.

“Why, because I have to bestow upon you my great wisdom!” the stranger answered.  “We only have a short time, so I’ll make it brief.  I’m going to teach you about the Founding Principles of True Strength.  Are you ready, Joshua?”

“AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!” Joshua said with great determination.

“Good!  Now, the first Founding Principle of True Strength is the principle of big muscles.  One must have big muscles to be truly strong, Joshua.”

Joshua nodded, waiting for his guardian to continue.

“Well, that’s all of the Founding Principles of True Strength,” the guardian said, probably nodding sagely.  “Armed with this knowledge, you will go on to destroy the Chaos Witch Darkovkar for good!  Good luck, it’ll be really hard!”

“AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!” Joshua said, suddenly bolting upright to find three raven-haired girls hovering over him.  In an instant, they scattered clumsily in every direction.  It was difficult to tell, but they all seemed to be identical.  Triplets, perhaps.  Before he could size up the situation, an elderly woman with glasses that made her eyes appear to bug out approached him at an alarming speed and pressed a magnifying glass up to Joshua’s face.

“Hmmm!!” she hemmed, methodically prodding, poking, shaking, and inspecting the tiny boy.  “Only a few second-degrees, you’ll be fine!”  She decided, pulling Joshua up to his feet (an astoundingly easy task for even such a frail lady as herself).  “Move along now!”  She scampered away to some children who were still on fire, shaking her head disapprovingly.

Joshua looked around to find a sea of young magic children proceeding up the gigantic staircase that lead to the golden gateway that lead to the esteemed Dougie P. Williams (Shelbyville Campus).  While some had taken the same horrible route he’d chosen, Joshua observed griffins dropping students from their incredible beaks, students appearing in clouds of ninja smoke, and several clambering out of Cold War-era nuclear submarine that had emerged from the nearby river.  It was very whimsical.

“Hello!” called a voice belonging to a young boy.  Joshua turned to find exactly that, a child with puffy brunette hair, freckles on his cheeks, bright green eyes, and a respectable number of squirrels frantically scampering on his person.  “You look confused! Are you a first-year as well?”

“Oh, yes, I am,” Joshua replied, scanning the area for any sign of the girls he’d awoken to.

“Aha!” the boy said, lifting one of his furry friends and holding it in front of him.  “Thaddeus sniffed you out!  He has a sixth-sense for weakness, it’s really amazing!”

Joshua caved to this unwanted distraction.  “I’m sorry, what?  What are you talking about?”

“I’m a first year too!” the boy said proudly, tucking a frothing and screaming Thaddeus safely into his front pocket.  “The name’s Wilfrit!  Wilfrit Pippers!  You look like you could use a BEST FRIEND!!  Would you like to accompany me to get Orientated?”  He gave a little thumbs up.

“Oh, I, uh…” Joshua stammered as the boy enthusiastically extended a fur-covered hand for shaking.  “Okay… Okay, yeah, hi, I’m Joshua Milton.” As he grabbed Wilfrit’s hand, one of the squirrels immediately darted onto Joshua and fumbled its way into his pants.

“Oh my!” Wilfrit gasped.  “It seems Mischievia has taken a liking to you!  Would you like to carry her around for a while?  She’s very friendly!”

Joshua frowned at the extremely uncomfortable sensation of a rodent twitching about his undergarments, but decided to entertain this new stranger all the same.  “Did you take the horrible furnace thing as well?  It was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“Oh, that?” Wilfrit said, looking horrorstruck as the unconscious figures of three more children erupted out of the furnace.  “Oh, Jesus, no!  I took the Kitten Carriage!”  He motioned towards a bright pink carriage that had just arrived.  The doors opened and a young girl tumbled out, covered in adorable kittens.  She was red in the face from laughter.

“Oh,” Joshua said, ignoring the creature now crawling up along his ribcage.  He looked around for something else to take his mind off of it.  Then he saw one of the girls from before, staring curiously at him from the golden gates of Dougie P.  Who were they?  What did they want with him?  Were they a part of his magical destiny or whatever the hell?  She and Joshua made eye contact for a brief moment before she took off further into campus.  “Wilfrit, did you see those girls who were staring over me?”

“Oh, yeah, them…” Pippers replied, breaking eye contact.  “I, uh… I think you were robbed?”

“What?” Joshua, confused, dug around in his pockets.  Then he froze.  The single penny he’d be gifted by his dead uncle was missing.


Oxwald snatched his freshly printed resume out of the library printer, and proof read it to be certain the font was pleasing enough for the job he was applying for. He grimaced at how much he embellished his credentials. In truth, Oxwald only had 40 years of experience in the diamond inspecting industry as opposed to 70. Normally Oxwald was morally opposed to lying under any circumstance, but this was an emergency. He just couldn’t fucking stand the idea of Bernad being a success at an entirely new career without any competition.

Storming across the school campus, Oxwald burst into the principal’s office waving his resume. “I demand a job!”

The principal awoke with a snort and sat up at his desk. “Oh. Hello.” He wiped the crust from his eyes. He looked ancient, with a snow white beard pouring all over the place and so many wrinkles it was difficult to discern where his actual facial features were. “I don’t believe we’ve met. My name is Maynard Jaffles, I’m in charge of this dump. Is there something I can do to help you?”

Oxwald slammed his resume down on the desk with a flourish. “You are going to hire me for your best and most important sounding teaching position!”

Principal Jaffles put on a pair of spectacles and squinted at the resume. “I thought we already filled the advertised position,” he said. “That dashing Bernard fellow earlier this week. That’s right.”

“Well, surely there are other positions that need to be filled!” Oxwald said.

“Well, now that you mention it, there is.” The old man stroked his beard. “Just this morning, our Magical Self-Defense instructor was brutally murdered by a mysterious and unknown assailant.”

“What luck!” Oxwald said. “The cosmos have aligned in my favor.”

“Well, not really,” Jaffles said. “We go through Self Defense teachers like popcorn. Seems like every month we have to hire a new one. You’d think given the job description that they’d be better at defending themselves against the forces of evil. Are you any good at fighting the legions of evil?”

Oxwald hesitated. It had been a long time since he’d been in wizarding school. “Is it anything like assessing the relative value and quality of large diamonds?”

“Oh no! Not at all!” Jaffles laughed. “Quite the opposite, actually. There’s nothing the Chaos Witch and her demon hordes like quite as much as large diamonds. It’s the source of their power, after all.”

“I definitely knew that already,” Oxwald said, sweating bullets. “Because I am exceedingly qualified for this job.” He was confident that, if he had to, he could leaf through a textbook and pick up the general idea in an afternoon. 

The principal nodded. “That’s good to hear. I really didn’t want to have to interview anybody for a job that is basically a death sentence anyway. The job is yours if you want it. Can you start today?”

“You got it!” Oxwald said, and they shook on it. “Flawless sale!” He added, which was his catchphrase whenever he cinched a diamond deal.

The burst burst open a second time, startling both Oxwald and the principal this time. In charged a disheveled looking man in a diamond studded suit.

“Horbert?!” Oxwald said. “I thought you were dead!”

“No, you blithering idiot!” Horbert shouted. “I was slightly bruised, is all! And for your information, there aren’t any ghosts in my diamond mine! It was just a demon, which is a totally normal thing for a diamond mine to have! I demand you buy all of my diamonds right now!”

Oxwald scratched his chin. “I’m afraid I’m no longer in a position to do that. I just changed jobs. I’m now a teacher here at D.P.W.S.C.”

“Whaaat?!” Horbert lashed his cane around the office, knocking over a fax machine and spilling paperclips everywhere. “Then I demand you return my slave nephew to me this instant! I can’t have him here learning things when he should be at home working!”

Oxwald felt superbad about this mix up. “I’m sorry, old friend. I already faxed the paperwork over for his admission.”

“Oh!” Jaffles said. “Is this about that Milton boy? I already stamped off on his enrollment. I’m afraid he’s now fully enrolled and it will be literally impossible for him to leave. Because of magic.”

Horbert screamed, and kicked over filing cabinets and tore portraits off the walls. After he winded himself from his tantrum, he paused long enough to think of something. “Then I have no choice! I will have to enroll in classes alongside him and make every day of his life a living hell! I will make that child pay for what he did to me with blood and tears!”

“Okay,” Jaffles said. “I’ll get you an enrollment application. Your timing is impeccable. If you hurry, we can get you into the sorting ceremony and we can assign you a school house.”


The moment Greedy Unky Horby finished signing his wicked name in golden ink from his magical golden quill, the three men were brought to their knees by a piercing scream.  Somewhere nearby, Wilfrit’s squirrels joined the screams in some sort of twisted disharmony while Joshua felt an abrupt stinging pain in his ears.  Because it was loud.


Just as suddenly as it had started, the screaming stopped.  While Horbert and Oxwald were left shaking in terror, Principal Jaffles merely rolled his eyes and allowed his lips to flutter as he breathed out a heavy sigh.

“Okay, so, that’s been a thing,” he shrugged.  “Professor…”  He squinted at Oxwald’s application.  “M… Mandy? Mandy, you’d better come along with me.  As the Self Defense teacher you are solely responsible for the protection and wellbeing of every living thing on campus.  As for you, little Horbert,” Jaffles smiled as Uncle Horbert wiped the sweat off of his brow.  “You’d better run along to orientation!  The faculty will take care of this!”

Uncle Horbert didn’t hesitate to obey, waving his arms in the air screaming something to the tune of “I’ll get that little orphan boy yet!”

“Er, before we go,” Oxwald interrupted, awkwardly.  “Is it alright if my assistant comes along?”  He whistled to the door.

Bothersnatch entered the room.  In compliance with the school’s very strict KILL ALL GHOSTS Policy, Oxwald and Bothersnatch had fashioned a clever disguise;  on top of the spooky ghost’s head was an awkwardly-fitted top hat, and a moustachioed face had been crudely drawn onto the sheet with a Sharpie.  “Uh… Heya, my name is… Um… GREG?” Bothersnatch mumbled with a bow, careful to hold tightly onto the hat so as not to give away their ruse.

Jaffles furrowed his brow and studied GREG very, very carefully.  “I’d hardly expect you to teach about the dark arts without an assistant,” he agreed.  “Come along then, GREG.”

Principal Jaffles lead the two down a long, dusty corridor, gliding on his Razor scooter deep in thought.  Oxwald and GREG giggled and high-fived at how clever their little scheme was.

“What’s the plan, J-man?” said Rodney the Magical Talking Razor Scooter.  “That witch’s screams were quite a fright!  The kids will be kept up all night!”

“I know, Rodney,” Jaffles said with a sigh.  “We’ll figure something out.”

“So where’s your money on this year’s HOUSE WAR?” Rodney asked as the four delved deep into the magical hedge maze.  “Snakeothy always wins, what a bore!”

“Actually,” Jaffles smiled, expertly solving a 9×9 sliding panel puzzle of a choo choo train.  “I’ve got my eye on Funbuncher this year.  I’ve got a good feeling about their odds.”  A secret chamber opened up.  Oxwald and his loyal assistant GREG followed silently, basking in the mystery of the garden’s numerous block puzzles and segmented statues that had been rotated in the incorrect order.

As they approached the Top Secret Treasure Chamber, a figure wrestled in the darkness in front of them.

“Uh oh, that fuckhead Murderdeath is here,” Rodney scowled, dropping his fun rhyming quirk.

Before them stood a slender man shrouded in a black cape, with locks of hair as shiny and black as oil draped over his shoulders.  His goatee was trimmed to a sharp point and he had eyeliner liberally applied.  The man was attempting to shove a writhing hand back into a big cup with the blunt end of a broomstick, shouting obscenities as he did so.

“Morning, Murderdeath!” Jaffles greeted, ringing the tiny pink bell affixed to Rodney’s handlebars.

Murderdeath groaned as he finally popped the wicked hand back into the Big Cup. “Sir, I implore you,” he said a low, smooth tone.  “You must allow me to teach the children how to protect themselves against dark magicks. You’ve no idea what’s at stake!”

“Calm yourself, Betrayus!” Jaffles chuckled, doing some donuts on his cool scooter friend.  “I must have you here as my vice principal, so you can make sure that I am protected personally!”

“She smelled diamonds,” Betrayus Murderdeath growled, displaying the Big Cup to his audience.  “I’ve told you, Maynard, time and time again, we must not allow one single ounce of that wretched gemstone to breach these walls!”

“Oh,” Jaffles muttered.  “Hmm, yes, I think there might be diamonds on campus.”

Oxwald was nervous, because literally every pocket on his person contained a sizeable quantity of diamonds at all times.  “I… I believe one of the students had a diamond suit,” he stammered, smiling nervously as Murderdeath stared daggers into him.  “Must have… you know, set the old bat off! Perhaps I shall go seize his assets!”

A bell tolled.  Crows were startled out of position and flocked off into the the horizon in a loud cacophony.  A tense wind disturbed the hems of Oxwald’s pantlegs and commanded Murderdeath’s cloak to dance around him.  Betrayus’ gaze remained steady, and Oxwald felt a terror even his lifelong rival Bernard could never had instilled in him.

“The bell means that orientation draws near!” Jaffles laughed, clapping his hands in delight.  “Betrayus, do not worry yourself with the Big Cup!  Mandy and his friend who looks a lot like a scary ghost and a little bit like a demon will take care of that.  Off we go! Wheeeeee!” Rodney left behind a magical rainbow trail as he rocketed off to the ceremony.

Betrayus Murderdeath flung his cape over his shoulder and began walking towards the exit.  He stopped for a moment as he passed Oxwald Manderlie, not making eye contact.  “I hope you’ve accepted death.”  And then he ran out of the chamber with his arms behind his back like Naruto.


Joshua gave chased the three shadows down the winding corridors of the school. Faint giggles echoed off the hallways as they continued to run much faster than Joshua’s tiny legs could carry him.

“I don’t like this,” said Wilfrit, huffing. “We’re going to be late for the ceremony if we keep chasing these girls. Let’s just forget about it.”

“No!” Joshua shouted. “Not until I get my penny back.”

“Dude, bro, as your official best friend for life, I have to tell you this is a stupid,” Wilfrit said. “I can just spot you tenner if you want. That is literally ten thousand times as much money as you lost.”

“That’s not the point!” Joshua said, tracking the grimy footprints of the girls who robbed him. “That penny was given to me by my dear, late uncle. It’s the only thing I have to remember him by. I won’t be able to live with myself if I let them take it!”

Wilfrit watched as Joshua struggled to push open the door to the next room, his tiny muscles straining to nudge the hinges wide enough to squeeze through the frame. The door snapped open when Wilfrit pressed the wheelchair accessibility button, and Joshua tumbled through face first.

“Whoa!” Wilfrit said, stepping over Joshua. “What the heck is all this stuff?”

Sitting up, Joshua saw that they were at the top of a huge crystalline obstacle course, with giant buzz-saw blades, laser beams, flame throwers, and automated turrets all situated across a long corridor with bottomless pits and precarious skateboard grind rails to traverse. At the very end of this onslaught of navigational challenges was a tower, and at the top of the tower was a locked glass case containing an enormous cup. One might even say it was a Big cup.

“This is just like my favorite video game,” Wilfrit said. “Madden 2013 for the X-box 360.”

There was a scream. They both looked and saw three black-haired girls trapped in a magic force field while a stone slab above them was inching closer to crush them.

“Oh no!” Joshua said. “If I don’t do something, my penny will be squished and ruined! I have to get in there!”

Wilfrit grabbed Joshua by the sleeve. “The hell you are! Do you see all these death traps? You’ll get obliterated!”

Joshua hesitated. The weird squirrel boy was right. Any one of these mechanisms could turn him into into an especially tiny corpse. The smart thing to do would be to turn back, but seeing the big cup reminded him that wasn’t how strong men behaved. He needed to be brave if he ever hoped to have huge muscles. He yanked his arm free from Wilfrit, closed his eyes, and charged headlong into the obstacle course.

After a few moments he opened his eyes. He was surprised to realize that all of the buzz saws and firearm traps were keyed up to kill someone of significantly taller stature. He was able to walk around pretty freely underneath all of it without being at any real danger. It was actually kind of disappointing.

“What are you doing?!” one of the girls said. “Help us!” another said.

“Give me back my penny first!” Joshua demanded.

“There’s a forcefield in the way, you dingus!” The third girl said as they all stooped to avoid being squashed. “We can’t give you anything!” The first girl held the coin out. “You can have it back if you deactivate the trap! The switch is up there!”

They pointed. At the top of a spire rising out of a bottomless pit was a lever. Joshua scrambled as close to the edge as he could, but found the gap far too great for a boy as small as him to leap.

“Hurry, shrimp! We’re gonna die!”

Thinking as hard as he could, Joshua pulled Mischievia the squirrel out of his pants and hurled her across the pit. She landed on the switch and it lowered with a loud thunk. The barrier around the girls dissipated, the crushing slab receded back into the ceiling, confetti sprayed everywhere, and several robot arms distributed freshly whipped milkshakes to all in the room.

“Smooth moves kid,” one of the girls said, and flicked him the penny. “You’ve got makings of a master thief.”

“I’m not a thief!” Joshua shouted. “You are! Why did you steal my penny?!”

“For the thrill,” one said, shrugging. The others nodded. “It’s kind of our thing. Let us introduce ourselves. We’re the Manderlie triplets. I’m April…”

“…I’m May…”

“And I’m Courtney!”

They each struck a pose. The three of them looked the same in their school uniforms, each one more identical than the last. “We’re all students in house Rad Lion, with all the cool brave kids who do all the extreme stunts.”

“Hey, you’re a first year, right?” April said. “You should try and get into our House. That way you can help us steal the Big Cup!”

“We kind of bit off more than we could chew with this one,” May sighed. “But with someone tiny like you on our side, we might be able to get all the way to the tower!”

“I don’t need the helps of villainous scum like you!” Joshua said. “I’m going to get the Big Cup all on my own!”

Courtney scoffed. “Good luck with that, pipsqueek. You see that grind rail over there? The one above the crocodile tank?” She gestured.

Joshua had to admit he’d never seen quite so many crocodiles in one place before.

“You’d have to pull off a pretty sick ollie to clear that jump. Only a member of Rad lion has any hope of getting in there.”

“Josh!” Wilfrit shouted from across the room. “Did you get your dumbass coin?! We’re going to be late for the house naming ceremony!”

“I don’t care how sick a trick I have to pull!” Joshua told the triplets. “I’m not going to let any of you criminals get to the cup first, because it’s got my name on it!”

“Ooo. Big words coming from such a little boy,” April said, cooing. “We look forward to seeing you pull that off. But we’re coming back tomorrow with skateboards, so we’re gonna beat you to it!”

The three girls made their way back toward the exit doors, back-flipping around obstacles, doing parkour and wall running around death traps. Joshua felt really lame strolling back to the exit like normal.


“Scoundrels,” Joshua scoffed, polishing his relinquished penny with his dirty old orphan T-shirt.  “The whole lot of them, just an absolute menace.”

“You don’t care much for thieves, huh?” Wilfrit asked, looking back and forth between two impossibly long corridors, trying to decide which one led to the ceremony.

“I hate thieves!” Joshua yelled, stomping his angry little foot into the stone floor with a sound that could almost be compared to a squeak toy. “Every day, one billion diamonds are stolen somewhere in the world!  Do you know how hard it is to dig up a single one?”

“Well, Josh–”

“It’s very hard!!!”

“…Well, Josh, aren’t you planning on stealing the Big Cup yourself?”  Wilfrit snacked on a pocketful of acorns as a literal skeleton crew (because they were skeletons) hoisted a rope pulley that lifted the platform beneath them.  “Aren’t you kind of… you know, doing a thing that thieves do?”

“I’m just going to borrow it!” Joshua said, folding his arms like an unhappy toddler.  “I just need to drink from it once to see if that can get me big muscles!”

They slid four stories down a rainbow slide and landed in a bed of thorny roses. Ouch.

“Well, your muscles are awfully small,” Wilfrit muttered, attempting to calm his panicked woodland friends.

“Be quiet!” Joshua snapped.

“But they are really, really small!”

“No, hush!” Joshua said again in a harsh whisper.  “Somebody’s talking!”

The two listened and, sure enough, heard a low, oddly-soothing voice chastising somebody nearby.

“…Do you understand what you must do, Ricard?”

“You want me to… steal the Big Cup?” replied a voice that must have belonged to a child around Joshua’s age, quite high and quite pompous.

“Ricard…” the first voice answered.  “This is an extraordinarily simple request.  Yes, I want you to steal the Big Cup.  You don’t have to keep repeating it back to me.”

“You hear that!?” Wilfrit gasped under his breath.  “Someone else wants to steal the Big Cup too!  Maybe we can team up!”

“I do NOT want to steal it!”  Joshua corrected, kicking Wilfrit in the ankle.  “I’ll not associate with anyone who engages in thievery of any sort, do you understand?

“Geez, okay,” Wilfrit said.

“Grrrrrrrrrr,” said the Bengal Tiger that was pounced to strike mere feet behind the two tasty children.

Joshua and Wilfrit looked at each other, blinked twice, and looked behind their shoulders at the member of the largest cat species on the planet. They turned back towards each other, gulped, and broke into a sprint waving their arms in the air while screaming. In their panic, the two rounded the corner and slammed headfirst into Betrayus Murderdeath and a young magic boy.

“What the hell?” Murderdeath yelled, stumbling back as the three children crumpled into a little kid pile.  “What are you two doing here!?  You should be at the ceremony!”

“Tiger!” Joshua gasped, scrambling to his feet. “In the halls, a big, scary tiger!”

Murderdeath rolled his eyes and shook his head.  “Are you stupid?  There are no tigers in the school!  Not a single one!”

“But…” Joshua muttered, turning behind him to see that nothing was chasing them.

“Wait…  You’re first-years, aren’t you?” Murderdeath noticed, putting his palm to his temple.  “You haven’t even been assigned a team yet.”  He pulled the third boy up to his feet by his silvery blonde hair.  To Joshua’s shock, the boy was exactly as small in stature as he was, though he had one key distinction; muscles.  This eleven-year-old boy was cut like a fucking diamond.  “You’re just as dull as Prissleworth here,” Murderdeath growled.  “All three of you, get going to the ceremony this instant!”  He flung his cape dramatically over his shoulder and ran off with his arms behind his back like Naruto.

“I’m Ricard!”  the muscular child announced proudly as he led Joshua and Wilfrit through the labyrinthian passages of Dee Pee Wilks. “Ricard Prissleworth, the smartest student to ever grace this halls!  My father is the richest and most powerful wizard in the world!”

“Okay,” said Joshua.

“I already know which team I’m going to be on,” he said.  “I’m going to be a Snakeothy, just like every great wizard in the history of everything. Think of any famous wizard you know, not a single one of them was on any other team!”

“Toady Adams,” Wilfrit said immediately.  “He was a Rad Lion.  Uh, Julietta Gillensdale, the movie star?  Also Rad Lion. General Snowbell was a Puzzle Pal. Hell, Principal Jaffles was a Funbuncher.  That’s just off the top of my head, so I mean, your claim is objectively false.”

“Yeah, well,” Ricard smiled, at last approaching the door to the Magical Gymnasium.  “I’m much stronger than you are.”

Wilfrit shut up and scratched one of his squirrels behind the ears.  Ricard was correct.  There was no retort.

“Hey, kid,” Ricard hissed to Joshua, hands on the door. “Snakeothy can make you strong, too. Really.”  He eyed Joshua’s tiny physique condescendingly.  “You look like someone in need of… gains.  I can teach you. I can give you an easy-to-follow twelve-week program involving resistance training three days a week, light cardio in between, and, most importantly, a carefully-measured diet focused mainly on lean protein sources taken within a four-to-six hour eating window.”

“Not interested,” Joshua spat back, remembering that Ricard was as much a thieving low-life as Oxwald’s stupid daughters.  “I’m going to get my gains the old-fashioned way, by exploiting forbidden magical powers to achieve my goal instantaneously and with minimal effort.”

“Have it your way, shrimp,” Ricard Prissleworth scoffed, though he seemed a little disappointed.  “Better get used to relying on everyone else to do your work for you!”  He smirked, and paused for an awkward moment.  “Uh, squirrel kid… I can’t reach the handle. “

“Oh, sure,” Wilfrit said, opening the door.

As soon as the three children set foot in the Magical Gymnasium, one thing became immediately apparent to Joshua; they were most definitely late.


The entire gymnasium was staring at Joshua, their eyes wide and desperate.

“There they are!” a nearby kid said.

“Oh thank God!” a teacher shouted from the stage.

“We’ve been waiting for over an hour!”

Their new classmates piled on Joshua, Ricard and Wilfrit, hefting them into the air.

“What is the meaning of this?!” Ricard said. “Unhand me you degenerate paupers!”

The three of them were hurled onto a crude plywood stage in the center of the room.

“Hurry up and get your teams assigned, idiots!” Shouted a rando in the mob.

Sitting up, Joshua saw the old woman with the bulbous eyes who had greeted him on his arrival to the school. “Hello. Why is everyone angry at us?”

“All three of you are extremely late,” she said. “Principal Jaffles has placed an elaborate curse on the gymnasium that prevents anyone from leaving until all registered students are assigned teams. Anyone who tries to sneak out early for supper is fatally electrocuted.”

“It’s all here in the school brochure,” Wilfrit said. He handed Joshua a pamphlet, which had excellent graphic design. “D.P.W. Shelbyville takes its team building exercises way serious.”

“Get on with it!” Various starving students demanded.

The woman cleared her throat. “My name is Professor Bridget Sixowls, and this is like the fourth time I’ve had to explain all this for you lollygagging ingrates. Before our school’s namesake, Douglas P. Wilson, was sentenced to spend eternity inside the Orb of Screams, he expressed that he felt the most important part of any education. He said that intense, bitter competition and rivalry was all that really matters. So we’ve divided all of you up into teams and you earn point for doing school crap. Earn the most points, and your team gets bragging rights and you can redeem the points for school branded merchandise.”

“I want to be on team Rad lions!” Joshua said.

“That’s not how we roll,” Professor Sixowls said. She yanked Joshua by the scruff and slammed a VR helmet onto his head. All at once, Joshua was sucked into an immersive 3D polygonal fantasy realm with full range of motion and photo-realistic centaurs.

“We’ve got you on the overhead projector,” the professor’s voice boomed. “This test is designed to decide which team suits your personality. There’s the lame and harmless Fun Bunchers, the literally evil Snakeothies, the musclehead Rad Lions, or the legitimately good team Puzzle Pals.”

A computer operating system GUI window popped up over the fantasy world, and loaded a quiz website with lots of ads. Joshua had to move various pop ups out of the way to find a list of questions of multiple choice questions, with such selections as:

What do you like doing in your spare time?

A) Being really rad and brave with big muscles.

B) Plotting the demise of those around me.

C) Solving lots of riddles and getting smart.

D) I don’t know, probably being nice or whatever.

Trying not to get preoccupied with how obvious the test was, Joshua was glad the test was transparent enough that he could just pick what he wanted. He tapped the option that he loved being rad, and a the entire fantasy world flashed red.


The option for being nice or whatever turned green and the next page loaded.

“What?! No! That’s not what I picked!”

The next question popped up: What’s your animal?

A) Poisonous, deceitful serpents

B) Massive, powerful lions

C) Something soft, cuddling, and dumb.

D) Solving riddles

Joshua knew the answer he wanted, but every time he slammed a fist into the choice to be cool and rad, the quiz auto-selected the choice for Fun Bunchers. Pounding his arms against the screen, Joshua was horrified as he cycled through dozens of pages choosing the lamest options possible.

Professor Sixowls pulled the VR set off Joshua’s head with a sweaty pop.

“What is even the point of making it a test if I don’t get to pick what I want?!” Joshua said.

“Look kid.” The professor tucked a goofy Fun Buncher ballcap onto Joshua’s head. “I’m not to one lying to himself. The app is magical. It knows when you’re fibbing. Now go sit down with the rest of the rejects.”

Furious, Joshua stomped all the way over to the bleachers under the Fun Buncher banner. Everyone had big goofy grins, and unicorn t-shirts and bad hair. Of course Wilfrit was waiting for him with an empty seat saved. Joshua fell into the seat and brooded over his fate. Across the aisle, he spotted Ricard exchanging high-fives with the snakeothies. Why the fuck did he get the school team he wanted?

“Can we go eat now?” Asked Wilfrit.

“Yes, sure, go,” Professor Sixowls waved them away.

The children sprang to their feet and sprinted towards the exit. The first one there was electrocuted and exploded into a fine spray of ash.

“Oh,” the professor said. “I guess we’re still waiting on someone.”

“That’s right!” The door at the back of the auditorium burst open. Joshua’s jaw fell open as he watched Uncle Horbert stride through the door, wearing a freshly purchased Douglas P. Wilson branded sweatshirt hoodie.


CHAPTER THREE: The Exploding Professor

Uncle Horbert lit up a handful of cigars, sucked them generously, and bellowed out an imposing cloud of smoke shaped like a dollar sign. He was beaming at a petrified Joshua.

“Mwahaha!! Don’t act so surprised to see-”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake!!!” cried Sixowls, flicking out a long, thin twig that had a maple leaf still hanging from it. In an instant, five glowing spectral owls lifted Uncle Horbert by his trousers and struggled to hoist him onto the stage.

“WOWIE!! REAL MAGIC!!!” exclaimed a gaggle of the Fun Bunchers whose ranks Joshua was dreadfully forced to count himself among.

“Before Douglas P. Wilson  got locked up in the Orb of Screams,” Sixowls yelled at nearly a screech, plopping Horbert down on his rich hiney. “He decided that competition was great, and so, FOUR TEAMS.”  She pointed fiercely at the headsets while Uncle Horbert rubbed his tender behind, much to the bemusement of Team Snakeothy.  “Therefore, put on the stupid helmet so we can eat!”

“Now wait just a MINUTE here!!” Horbert yelled, swatting away the owls as they attempted to place the VR helmet on his head.  “I’m just here for that small child over there!”  He pointed directly at Joshua.  Several students had to lean forward and squint their eyes to catch a glimpse of tiny child Horbert was addressing.  “You will place me with Joshua Milton so that I may torment him for the rest of his days!”

“You?  A Fun Buncher?” Sixowls gasped, shaking her head.  “I positively forbid it!  They are our most tender and fragile students and I fear that your being in their proximity would drive them to an early grave!”

Joshua noted that at least one Fun Buncher was already crying due to Horbert’s rudeness.

“Nonsense!!” Horbert yelled, reaching into his pockets.  “If you won’t make me a… Fun Buncher… I shall bribe you for it!”  He pulled out a fistful of diamonds.  “I brought so many diamonds!  How many would you like?”

Gasps of horror echoed as panic set in among the students. Sixowls let out an audible scream and kicked Horbert in the shin, causing him to fling the diamonds into the air.  Everyone was horrorstruck as the diamonds were sucked into the ventilation unit and scattered all over the campus.

“What have you done!?” Professor Sixowls screamed, clawing at her face.  “We must retrieve each and every one of the missing diamonds at once!”  She flicked her magical twig at Horbert dramatically, but it broke in half.  “Shit, hold on.”  She awkwardly scrambled to the storage closet and came out with a second one.  This time she would be more careful.  After taking her place once more, she flicked the twig dramatically at Uncle Horbert and a spectral owl slapped some handcuffs on him.

“What is the meaning of this!?” Horbert yelled.  “Joshua, you stupid little brat!!  Look what you’ve done!!”

“Uncle Horbert!” Joshua yelled, standing from his seat.

“You’ve violated the school rules and will have to spend a week in the dungeon!” Sixowls declared as a miniature police cruiser entered the room, a high-pitched siren blaring.

“Wait!  What about his team?”  Wilfrit called out.

“He’s a Snakeothy, obviously,” Sixowls rolled her eyes as a couple of tiny goblins dressed in adorable little police uniforms attempted to fit the gigantic man into the back seat of their very small vehicle.  “We can pretty much tell from looking at students where they’re supposed to be.”

Having failed their initial plan, the goblins tied a rope to Horbert’s foot and opted to drag him behind their car.

“AS SOON AS I GET OUT!!!” Horbert yelled as he was dragged away very slowly by the struggling engine of the goblin cruiser.  “I’M COMING AFTER YOU, BOY!! JUST YOU WAIT!!”

“Uncle Horbert!” Joshua called after him.  “I’ll find a way to free you, I promise!”

“Now, all of you!  Get to the cafeteria!  Your food is very cold by now but you are expected to eat every last crumb!”  Sixowls yelled, prompting the entire body of first years to pile chaotically out of the gym in complete disorder.  The bug-eyed witch pointed a long, pointed finger directly at Joshua.  “Except for you!”  she yelled.  “You’re going to help us sort out your uncle’s mess!”

Wilfrit shrugged at Joshua.  “I’ll save you a plate, I guess.”

Joshua waited as everyone else went to eat.  The Manderlie triplets soared past him on their Converses that doubled as roller skates.  May stopped short in front of Joshua and popped a bright pink bubble.

“Fun Buncher, huh?” she smiled.  “That’s a pretty bad look, tiny man.”  She snorted with laughter and glided off to rejoin her sisters.

Professor Sixowls grabbed Joshua by his tiny hand, nearly crushing it.   “Come this way, now.  I’ll have you work with our new Magical Defense professor to figure out how we’re going to solve this mess.”

A complete stranger stepped out of Oxwald’s office. He was a tall man with a moustache, a big smile, and a rather charming little tophat.  He wore what appeared to be a large white sheet and had distinct purple demon-like feet sticking out from under it.

“Yo, uh,” the stranger said.  “Professor Manderlie’s takin’ care of some Big Cup stuff.  I can hold onto the kid for the moment until he gets back.”

“We have a diamond emergency, GREG!” Sixowls said, handing Joshua off.  “I’ve got to meet with Jaffles in the cafeteria for the three hours of Pre-Dinner Speeches.  There are diamonds on this campus and you must find them all, do you understand!?”

“Oh, yeah, okay,” GREG said.  “Yeah, me and little tiny Joshua here will have a little pow-wow.  Come up with a real good game plan.”  This total stranger gave Joshua a thumbs up, which just confused the boy.

“Good!” she said, being carried away by her five owls.  “And make sure he’s back at Fun Buncher House by curfew!”


Oxwald Manderlie rounded the corner of the labyrinthine treasure chamber, pointing his bo staff at any potential enemies in the dark. He had gotten very lost, and was confused about what he was supposed to be doing exactly. The principal and his creepy friend Betrayus were worried about there being diamonds on the school grounds, which struck him as absurd. Diamonds were great and served many practical purposes. They could be used in jewelry, decoration, cooking… the possibilities were endless. The fact that they could be used to fuel demon magic was just evidence of their versatility.

On the wall there was a lightswitch with a label reading DEATH TRAPS, flipped to the on position. That sounded rather dangerous, so Oxwald decided to turn it off so no one got hurt.

There was a loud clang several corridors back. Oxwald wandered back in that direction, and found that the Big Cup had fallen off its pedestal onto the floor. A withered, gross looking arm was reaching out the top and dragging the cup along the floor by its fingernails.

“Stop that,” Oxwald said, and prodded the arm with his bo staff. “Stay on your little satin pillow. I’m supposed to be protecting you or something.”

“DIAMONDS!!” shrieked the voice of the Chaos Witch Darkovkar from inside the Big Cup. “JUST ONE DIAMOND AND I WILL BE RESTORED TO MY TRUE POWER!!”

“Stop shouting!” Oxwald said. “I can hear you just fine.”

“Sorry,” she said, now using her inside voice. “I’m just so excited about the diamonds.”

“That’s understandable,” Oxwald said. “I know what that’s like. I was technically the number one diamond inspector in the Shelbyville district before I switched careers today, you know. Sometimes I had a hard time going to sleep because I would think about all the diamonds I would buy the next day.” He sighed. “But those days are behind me now. I need to learn how to be a professor so I can put that damned Bernard in his place.”

The temperature dropped 10 degrees, and a shiver ran up Oxwald’s spine. The Big Cup righted itself, and the arm shrank back inside. The contents  of the cup began to glow a luminous green.

“Young man,” the Chaos Witch said, her voice like a thousand whispers scraping at the inside of Oxwald’s skull. “Peer inside the Big Cup.”

“Sure, okay,” Oxwald said, bending over to take a peek.

“What do you see?”

It churned with a phantasmagoria of every nightmare he had ever experienced. Prismatic light danced across his face, while his skin crawled as if countless spiders were spreading to cover his entire body. Oxwald parted his lips to speak, afraid something might creep inside.

“Like, okay. There’s like a lot of weird spooky fog. Is it supposed to look like something?”

“Focus,” the Chaos Witch whispered. “What is it you desire most in this world?”

The miasma took shape. Inside the cup, Oxwald saw Bernard Crowley, being awarded a certificate for being the best and most important professor in the school’s history. Of course he had this enormous shit eating grin, and it made Oxwald so mad. But before Principal Jaffles could hand him the award, Bernard recoiled in pain.

“Oh no!” The little Bernard said. “I appear to be exploding!”

And then he exploded. The entire auditorium inside the Big cup applauded and cheered, and Oxwald saw himself climb onto the stage where he was given all of the awards instead. Then all three of his daughters, April, May, and Courtney, appeared next to him to tell him that they respected him. Finally, a surprise pizza party was announced.

The dream dissipated, and Oxwald was left with his jaw hanging open. A whirlpool of ether was knotting inside the Big cup.

“Bring me a single diamond,” the Chaos Witch said, “And I will make it so.”

Oxwald hesitated. “Hold on. Weren’t you saying something earlier about wanting to kill all of the children once you’re free?”

“What?” Darkovkar said. “That was just a funny joke. Ha ha.”

“Well, I suppose that’s alright then,” Oxwald said. “I can’t imagine getting you one little diamond would hurt. Just promise me you won’t kill any of the children.”

There was a long pause. “Alright, how about I only kill most of the children?” she said.

“What, like half?” Oxwald scartched his chin.

“I’m thinking eighty percent.”

He stood up, frowning. “No, that’s an awful lot of dead children.”

“Now hold on!” She held up a gruesome corpse hand from the cup. “New offer. Sixty percent of the children die.”

“Listen.” Oxwald was starting to lose his patience. “I have three daughters attending this school. I can’t come home with one and one fifth daughters. My wife would have a fit.”

Groaning with exasperation, Darkovkar hopped the Big cup closer to Oxwald. “Listen big guy. I’m kind of it a bind here, and you’re twisting my arm. Here’s my final offer. I don’t kill you, any of your daughters, I make this Bernard guy explode, and then I kill only twenty percent of the children. Will that make you happy?”

Oxwald beamed. His diamond bartering skills were really paying off.


Bothersnatch concluded a rigorous session of banging his forehead against the chalkboard and cursed his own existence under his breath.  He had overturned each and every desk in the classroom except for the occupied by tiny Joshua Milton.  He almost broke out a window as well, but Bothersnatch the demon felt that would be extremely unprofessional.

“Help me to understand our situation, here,” he said, finally calmed back to a point of speaking.  “There are four, not one, FOUR other children lookin’ to get their grubby little touch-beans on this Big Cup.  Three ladies capable of extreme death-defying stunts and a kid so strong he could probably bench press a school bus.”

“Yes,” Joshua said, his arms crossed defiantly.  It was hard for Joshua to maintain this confidence knowing that he had to be propped up by all twenty-nine volumes of Doing the Right Thing – The Life and Times of Count Dracula just to see over the desk.

“And you…” the demon growled, trying to resist kicking over the waste bin.  “You got yourself on the bad side of each and everyone one of ‘em!?”  He could take it no further.  He kicked over that waste bin with reckless abandon.

“The girls stole from me!” the tiny orphan boy protested.  “And one of them is a no-good Snakeothy! I’ve been told by no less than two casual acquaintances that that’s a bad thing!”

“We have less than two weeks!!” Bothersnatch cried, sinking into the professor’s chair and burying his face in his hands.  “You can’t possibly pull this off by yourself!  You’re very small!”

“I have… a friend!” Joshua yelled back.  “He’s very supportive, he owns a lot of squirrels, and has some very compelling arguments in favor of horses being allowed to run for Congress!”

“Alright, that settles it!” Bothersnatch sat bolt upright in the chair.  “I didn’t want to resort to this, but we’re gonna need that diamond freak OxBALD to help us out here.”

“That’s a terrible nickname,” Joshua complained.  “He’s got lots of hair.”

Ignoring this, Bothersnatch continued. “He’s got more authority over that cup than anyone else here, and since he appears to be the only one you haven’t pissed off yet, we might be able to convince him to get it for us.  If THAT doesn’t work, we could probably just kill him.”  He briefly entertained the mental image of Oxwald exploding in front of a classroom of students, followed by thunderous applause and an impromptu pizza party.  “Nice.”

At that moment, Oxwald Manderlie flung the door open.  Bothersnatch was quick to throw on his white sheet so as not to give away his secret identity.

“What happened to your secret identity!?” Oxwald yelled, grabbing the top hat from the coat rack and placing it on top of the spooky ghost’s head.  “Listen, if they find out I’ve let a very scary ghost onto school grounds, they’ll have both of our heads!”

“Hello… Er, Professor Manderlie,” Joshua waved.

“What?” Oxwald wretched.  “Please, continue to call me Oxwald.  My strategy for defeating Bernard BALDY hinges on being a cool enough professor to be referred to by first name!” He smirked at his clever nickname, despite the fact that Bernard had long beautiful locks.

“Professor, could you show us the Big Cup?” Joshua asked outright.

“What!?” Oxwald panicked, tugging at the collar of his shirt.  “The big WHAT?  I’ve, uh, never heard of that!  Ha ha ha!”  He put on a horrifying fake grin, turned red in the face, and began rapidly twiddling his thumbs.  “No, Joshua.  The Big Cup is a very powerful artifact with a long, dark history of unspeakable terror and it would probably be irresponsible of me to let you or any other tiny children ever come near the thing.”  He stopped, and blinked.  “Wait a second, Joshua, what the hell are you doing in my office?”

“Oh, yeah,” GREG the friendly assistant said.  “There’s diamonds scattered all over the campus or something?  We gotta find them or else the Chaos Witch is gonna… I don’t know, kill a guy, I assume? I haven’t been paying that much attention.”

“Diamonds, you say?” Oxwald grinned, stroking his chin.  “Perfect!”  He giggled and made an exploding noise under his breath, much to the confusion of Joshua and Bothersnatch.  “Er, yes, we must find those diamonds!  And make sure you bring them to me, so that I can make sure that they are kept in a safe place and NOT used to empower the greatest terror the world has ever known for the sake of ending a petty feud!” Oxwald could not have planned this any better. Bernard Crowley was straight up fucked.

“There were hundreds of them,” Joshua explained.  “How are we going to find so many tiny little diamonds?”

“Easiest thing ever!” Oxwald announced, reaching in his coat pocket.  “To locate the best and strongest diamonds, one must develop a keen sense of smell!”  He pulled out a very short wand, holding it as if it were a piece of chalk.  “Hold still there, little Josh.  FOLLOWUS YOURNOSIUM!!” He shouted, flicking Joshua on the tip of his nose.

In an instant, Joshua Milton’s nose grew three times bigger and turned bright green. It looked very stupid.

“This should get you started!” Oxwald smiled, tucking his wand back into his pocket.  “Your sense of smell has been improved by 2%!”

“This is… very uncomfortable!” Joshua complained, struggling to hold up the weight of his own head.

“Oh, it’ll wear off in a day!  Well, hopefully.  Anyway, run off to dinner, and remember…” He poked his own nose with a wink.  “Keep your nose open!”

“And don’t forget your objective,” GREG growled.

Oxwald scratched his head.  “Er, yes, to collect diamonds!  I think that has been well-established!”

“I’ll see you in class then, I suppose,” Joshua said, cringing at the nasally sound of his own voice.  He left the office, not an inch closer to the big muscles he so desired.


Professor Murderdeath swung through the deepest bowels of the school using his twin ninja grappling hooks. He arched gracefully through the air like the world’s blackest and most brutal dolphin, and landed without a sound on top of an ancient gargoyle statue hanging high over a secluded hallway.

“Took you long enough to get here.”

Murderdeath scanned the darkness. Where had that voice come from? Had someone mastered the shadows as well as he had? Impossible, or so he thought. A cloaked figure emerged from the darkness, standing atop the gargoyle across from his own. He removed his hood to reveal himself as none other than Bernard Crowley.

“Long time no see, Betrayus,” Bernard said.

Murderdeath sneered. “You have no right to call me by my true name! You will address me as Montgomery Murderdeath. Only my truest, dearest, most fam B.F.F.s may call me Betrayus.”

Bernard rolled a quarter across his knuckles. “Does that include Principal Jaffles?”

Murderdeath froze. He had to choose his words carefully, or risk tipping his hand too soon. “The old man is a fool,” he said. “I think we both know what this job means to me.”

“Oh, that I do my good fellow.” Bernard’s smile was carnivorous. “Which is why I’ve come to take it for myself. You see, Jaffles only needs one shadowy adviser of ambiguous allegiance. That’s going to be me from now on.”

“Oh, fuck off Bernard,” Murderdeath said. “Me and Maynard go way back. Do you have a secret handshake with him? I don’t think so.”

“Actually,” Bernard said, clearly waiting all day to say this, “Just this morning, during the job interview, he and I developed three separate special handshakes, each one more secret than the last.”

“What?!” Murderdeath was sure he had, at most, only developed two secret handshakes with the Principal.

“Not only that but, as it happens, I’m a better teacher than you as well. Classes haven’t even started yet and all of MY students have already completed their midterms!”

Murderdeath began to sweat. “You think you can get that man to trust you more than he trusts me?! Were you even at the final battle to seal the Chaos Witch Darkovkar?”

“Probably.” Bernard shrugged.

“You don’t even know!”

“Well, it’s just I participate in so many cataclysmic end of the world battles that I’ve lost track of all of them,” Bernard said. “You probably haven’t even heard of all of them.”

“Listen here you lanky prick!” Murderdeath said, losing his composure. He fanned three shuriken throwing stars in his hand. “I’m the shadowy adviser around here! Step off or I’ll stomp that smirk off your face!”

“I wouldn’t try that if I were you.” Bernard revealed a flashing remote control from his pocket. “I have buried explosives all throughout the school. You try and cross me, and I detonate them all with the push of this button.” He laughed. “How do you like that? All of your plans ruined in the blink of an eye.”

Murderdeath couldn’t help but laugh as he pulled his own remote control out from his robes. Bernard had walked right into his trap. “I saw through your plans the moment you set foot in this school, Crowley! That’s why I had my own explosives installed over your explosives. All I need to do is pull this tiny lever, and then my bombs will destroy yours before they even have the chance to explode!”

“Then it’s a good thing I had explosion proof force-fields installed around my bombs,” Bernard said.

Murderdeath narrowed his eyes. “You’re bluffing.”

“Am I?” Bernard chuckled. He rolled his coin between his thumb and forefinger. “How about a little game. If this coin lands heads, we detonate our bombs and see who planned the best. Or, if it lands tails, we settle this like gentlemen one on one. What do you say, old man?”

Swallowing his anxiety, Murderdeath knew there was no backing down. “Let’s do this.”

Bernard flicked the quarter into the air. It twirled, and both men held their breath. Murderdeath kept one hand on the remote for his bomb, while the other reached inside his robes for his two magic wands that doubled as nunchuku.

Before the coin was halfway to the ground, something darted through the air and snatched it. A squirrel scrambled up the stone walls and onto a third stone gargoyle that neither of them had noticed until now. The darkness rippled, and a normal sized boy appeared who was covered from head to toe in squirrels.

“Who the devil are you?!” Bernard said, taken aback for what seemed like the first time in his life.

“Willfrit Pippers,” the boy said. The squirrel carrying the coin in its mouth rejoined its master. It chirred happily in his arms. “You both are proving very, very amusing. It’s sad to think you are both just pawns in the greater game.”

Squirrels appeared on all sides of them, each one on a smaller gargoyle perch. Murderdeath gasped when he realized each squirrel was holding a bomb component in their mouth, which they promptly dumped on top of him.

“Ouch!” Murderdeath said, as bomb parts rained on his head. “How dare you touch my beautiful bombs!”

“I can’t afford to have either of you nut-jobs interfering with my plans just yet,” Willfrit said.

“And if we do?” Bernard said.

“Then my friends will have something to say about it.” Willfrit snapped his fingers and the squirrels shifted into attack mode, hissing and flashing their sharp teeth. Bernard and Murderdeath both scooted along their respective gargoyles to keep their distance. “I’m here to make sure that everything goes according to the prophecy.”

It was all Murderdeath could do not to shit himself. “The d-dragon prophecy?!”

“The very same,” Willfrit said.

“You monster!” Bernard spat. “You think we’re going to let you get away with this?!” He raised his magic wand, only for a squirrel to bite it in half.

“Oh, I know you won’t.” Willfrit flashed a smile. “I’ve controlled every variable to make sure things unfold just as planned.”

Murderdeath was disappointed. Ten minutes ago he was certain that HE had every variable under control. This sucked.

“Play nice with each other boys,” Willfrit said before disappearing in a cloud of squirrels. “And stay out of my way!!”


Joshua ambled into the cafeteria, keeping his head down as he was met with laughter and wolf whistles from the crowd on account of his goofy nose situation.  “Oh, brother!” came a voice that must have belonged to Prisselworth or one among his rotten Snakeothy pals. He found his best buddy, Wilfrit Pippers the funny Funbuncher squirrel boy, beaming and unmoving as he stared at the untouched rack of lamb in front of him.

“What a mess,” Joshua grumbled, taking a seat next to Wilfrit.  “All I care about is finding this stupid cup and I keep getting roped into these other shenanigans!  I’m just a little magic boy!”

Wilfrit said nothing, but continued smiling at his meal.

“Err, are you going to eat that?” Joshua asked of the meat.  “You… look like you’re very excited to eat it.  Wait, where are your squirrels?”

Wilfrit fell over, and Joshua was beginning to notice that his friend appeared to be thin like cardboard.

“That’s rude,” Joshua muttered, making a grab for the meal.  He couldn’t remember the last time he was allowed fully cooked food, but his enhanced sense of smell nearly knocked him out of his seat.  The flesh was seared to perfection, shining globes of golden fat glittered across its surface, and the overwhelming scent of garlic and peppercorn invaded his every sensation.  It was such an incredible and beautiful hunk of meat that tears were now beginning to form in the tiny boy’s eyes.

A dinging from the front of the cafeteria grabbed everyone’s attention as Principal Jaffles tapped a wine glass with a tiny little spoon.  “Well, wasn’t that delicious! Meal time’s over!”

Just as Joshua sank his teeth into flesh, it turned to ash, sending him into a coughing fit.  Through his tears and his overwhelming sadness, he noticed the head table was full of teaching staff.  On either side of the principal were Professor Crowley and a terrifying man with oily black hair and a sharp goatee.  Both had big smiles and encouraging thumbs up, but were otherwise completely still and silent and also as thin as cardboard.  Curious, Joshua thought.  Very curious.

“Alright, now that everyone is settled in, it’s time to get down to business,” Jaffles said, tilting his head downward so that his glasses reflected the bright light from the miniature sun that floated dangerously above the cafeteria at all times.  “We’re all hear to learn magic, and that’s all well and good, but the real reason any of you are here… Kukukuku….”  He pulled a rope and the wall behind him collapsed into rubble, revealing an endless supply of armaments from swords and knives to ornate battle axes and scary whips.  Along the walls were shelves and shelves of poisons and venoms harvested from every manner of horrible magical creature.

Slowly, chanting began around Joshua and the sun above them glowed a blood red color.  Stomping the ground as they shouted, their words became audible.  “House war!  House war! House war!”  In mere moments, students were standing on their tables, banging cups together, and somewhere a great distance away, a war horn sounded.  Joshua suddenly felt one hundred times smaller, and turned to his best friend for support.

“Wilfrit, maybe we should get out of here!” he said, uprighting the squirrel boy, whose head broke off and fell to the floor.  “What the-”

“Kukukuku! Settle down, children!” Jaffles called out, swiveling a glass of brandy.  “Yes, yes, it is time once again to begin our traditional House War!  Truly the only reason anybody comes to Douglas P. Willikers!” He smiled sinisterly at the bloodthirsty students.  “Indeed, we all remember Douglas’s famous catch phrase!”

“You can die at any moment!” everybody said.

“Famously spoken the moment before he died!” Jaffles said, kukuing quietly to himself.  “Oh, Douglas, my poor, dead cousin!  How fortunate that I am still here to carry on your legacy!” He motioned towards an enormous portrait of a terrified-looking middle-aged man with a cowboy hat and a pencil moustache, holding a very small pistol.  “Yes, this is definitely what you envisioned for this school, I’m pretty sure!”

A few seats next to him, a rough-looking tabby cat with an eyepatch and a cigar hopped up onto the table.  “Listen up, you little rats,” he snarled, standing on his hind legs and scanning the student body with a single, judging eye.  “I’m Professor Muffin, and I am proud to serve as the official arbiter for this unspeakable bloodbath.  You got some kind of issue or some little shit decides to break the rules…” He growled, fixed upon the Snakeothies.  “You answer to me.”

“Don’t call him cute,” whispered a redheaded Funbuncher girl next to Joshua.  “He can set you on fire with a slow, adorable blink of his eye!”

Professor Muffin continued, marching across the head table like a military general.  “The rules are simple.  You act like good little boys and girls, make good grades, make great demonstrations of the bonds you’re forming with fellow students… You’ll get points.  At the end of the school year, the team whose members have accrued the most points will get bragging rights, T-shirts, and a pizza party.  If you’re a model student, you can become a very valuable asset to your team.”  He smiled, taking a slow draw of his cigar.  “That can be a problem for the other teams.”

Joshua was really annoyed now.  On top of everything else, now he had to make sure his fellow students didn’t murder him for his juicy points that he was certain to accumulate, for Joshua was a good boy through and through.  With his only friend being totally weak and definitely useless in a fight, Joshua Milton failed to see how his odds were anything but terrible.

“There are a few rules, however,” Professor Muffin explained, purring as Sixowls began to scratch him being his ear.  “Listen to them very carefully!  They may just save your sorry little behinds!”

Joshua leaned forward, ears open, wanting very much to survive.

“Rule numero uno!” Professor Muffin said, marching across the table. “Don’t die! Screw that up, and you WILL be expelled!”

Joshua halted his frantic note-taking, and wondered how useful these rules would actually be.

“Don’t even THINK about coming back as a ghost,” the cat said. “We have a strict KILL ALL GHOSTS policy. No exceptions!”

“He’s not joking,” Professor Sixowls said. “Not even Douglas P. Wilson got away with that. We had to put his soul in the Orb of Screams.” She paused. “I want to say God rest his soul, but God can’t hear you if you’re in there. It’s just round the clock, nonstop suffering.”

“That’s what happens to cheaters!” Professor Muffin shouted. “Speaking of: Second rule! Tail pulling is officially banned! Do you hear that, Nicholas? I swear to the dragons, you try that shit this year and I will personally feed your scrawny ass into the orb myself!”

There was a distant, disappointed “aw man” which came from the back of the cafeteria. Joshua raised his hand.

“You got a question, shorty?” Muffin said.

“Yes, thank you.” Joshua scrambled to climb up onto the table to be speak. “I wanted to ask, are there any rules I can use to make sure I am not maimed or killed?”

The other school teams burst into uncontrollable laughter at Joshua’s expense. “What a Fun Buncher!”

The feline teacher raised his one surviving eyebrow. “Uh, well. Most of the rules pertain to stuff you’re not allowed to use to protect yourself. No invisibility cloaks, no hiding in cupboards, no camouflage, and no protective amulets. Shields are straight up forbidden. If you have any sort of fancy blood powers from being half vampire or leprechaun or whatever, you gotta report it so we can give you a handicap.”

“Oh.” Joshua began to sweat. Carrying around a big shield was the first and only plan that had occurred to him. “What should I do if I am very small and die very easily?”

Professor Muffin glanced back at Principal Jaffles, who did a big shrug. The cat struggled to think of what to say. “Okay, uh, here’s a protip. Don’t try too hard. If you earn lots and lots of points, you’ll make yourself a target. If you get too few points, we’ll expel you forever. Safest thing is just to shoot for mediocrity.”

Joshua felt as if something was amiss. “So you’re saying strategy for attending this school should be to coast by doing the bare minimum effort?”

“Yeah!” Muffin said. “Sounds about right. I think that captures the spirit of Douglas P. Wilson perfectly! Not literally, though – His actual spirit is already captured forever in a nightmarish extra dimensional prison of endless puzzles and unspeakable torment.”

“Those were all fantastic questions!” Principal Jaffles said. “That deserves some recognition. I award Team Fun Buncher one thousand points!”

A leader board appeared magically on the wall, graphing the scores of each team. The Fun Bunchers rocketed way ahead of everyone else, with a big portrait of Joshua as the MVP.

“No!” Joshua said. “My questions weren’t that good! I don’t want this! Please stop!”

“Oooh!” The principal said. “How modest of you! Twenty more points for you!”

The score jerked even further ahead of the other teams, and the rest of the students turned to glare at Joshua, who had managed to secure an insane number of points before the game had even started.

Professor Muffin yawned. “Well, I think we’ve covered all the important rules,” Professor Muffin, rolling onto his side to take a nap. He puffed adorable little rings on his cigar as he started to drift off. “Everyone grab a weapon. House War starts… now.”

The cafeteria broke into complete pandemonium as the children shoved, screamed, and kicked their way through one another toward the towering arsenal of weapons. The Manderlie sisters twirled through the air like trapeze artists and got into the stash of katana swords and hand grenades before anyone else. Ricard Prisselworth sprayed a flamethrower into the first wave of Fun Bunchers that made it to the front. Joshua backed away. There was no way he stood a chance to arm himself, let alone fight. Those grenades were especially dangerous because they could make any, even a professor, explode. Joshua picked up Wilfrit’s flat, severed head. “Well, Pippers, I think our only hope is to run!”

Wilfrit said nothing. His face frozen, staring in judgment.

“Don’t give me that look!” Joshua said. “I’m not a coward! If I had big muscles, I’d be up there like the rest of them! But I’m not! I’m just a tiny boy and I’m scared!”

“You can die at anytime!” bellowed an older student, revving a chainsaw and barreling towards Joshua.

Moments from death, Joshua grabbed the rest of Wilfrit’s body, and made a break for the exit. Three-fourths of the student were out for his blood, he needed to find all the diamonds on the campus, his uncle was in the dungeon, and he was no closer to drinking from the Big cup. Joshua’s first day of school was shaping up to be really very crummy.


A lone traveler heaved himself up the great staircase so iconic of Dougie P’s, struggling to survive against the torrential lightning/meteor storm that had kicked up at the very end of his years long journey.  At long last, he had made it.  At long last, he could stop the prophecy before it was too late.

Faced with the gigantic golden double doors of the front offices, the traveler found that he hadn’t the strength to push them open, in part because they were so heavy that it often took twenty to thirty children working together to get them to budge. Nonetheless, he threw the entirety of his incredible weight against them and with a belabored scream, he felt give. Slowly, so slowly, he wedged himself through the door and plopped helplessly on the ground, soaked, singed, and at death’s door.

Attending the front desk was a seventh year girl with silvery blonde hair and an enormous pair of rounded, yellow-tinted glasses.  Up to this point she had been absent-mindedly playing on an original Gameboy, but screamed for just a moment upon witnessing this near-dead blob falling to the ground before her. Promptly she paused her game and skipped over to help the poor man to his feet.

“Oh no!  Oh dear, oh my, but you’re a mess, poor stranger!” she cried, heaving at his shivering palm until at last he stood towering above her.  “You really ought to mind the weather forecast!  Or purchase an umbrella!  Or use magic, or… well, there are lots of things you could have done!”

“Is that… is that you, Floria?” the stranger coughed, wringing out his fedora.  “Floria Maplehorse, the cleverest puzzle-solver to ever grace these halls?”

Floria gasped, and blinked four times.  “P… Professor… Sweats!?  It’s really you, isn’t it!?” She blinked a fifth time.

“Not a professor anymore,” Sweats laughed, sinking his massive weight into the nearest sofa and conjuring up lots and lots of paper towels to dry himself.  “They forbade me from teaching after I tried to throw Murderdeath into a volcano.”

“He deserved it!” Floria cried, her fists clenched.  “That man is truly an insufferable dickleberry!”  She frowned.  “We’ve all missed you… We used to call you the Exploding Professor!  Because you frequently blew our minds with knowledge!”


“The exploding professor!”

“You called me the exploding professor?”

“That’s right! Chumford Sweats, the exploding professor!”


Floria pointed her littlest finger at an empty glass, cast a spell that sprayed it liberally with purple Kool-aid, and handed it, dripping everywhere, to her guest.  “I’m afraid the timing of your visit is rather awkward, Professor.  The House War has just begun, and we cannot permit anybody to enter or leave the school!”  She broke eye contact with a heavy sigh.  “Not even you.”

Sweats suddenly became very serious.  “Floria, my little prodigy, I’m afraid my business is rather urgent.”  He fished in his pockets for a list.  IT WAS WRITTEN IN BLOOD!  “This school has become a great danger to the world, and I must confiscate a number of magical and mysterious relics from its halls before things get out of hand!”

Floria attempted to laugh this off, but saw that her former sensei was serious.  “Well, I’m afraid I don’t understand!”

Sweats put on his magical reading glasses and read from the list.  “One Orb of Screams.  One Danger Trident.  One Jade Dagger of Fate.  TWO Inferno Gauntlets.  And, lastly…” he glanced from his list and met Floria Maplehorse’s eyes.  “One Big Cup.”

“You must be mistaken!” the young girl smiled, twirling her hair around her Kool-aid finger.  “Magical relics?  Inferno Gauntlets?  In my school? No!”

Professor Sweats hopped to his feet with alarming speed, bolted over to Floria, and flashed a badge in her face.  “I’m not going to play games with you,” he glanced into his open palm, which contained an emblem of a shrugging business suit with a large question mark where the head would be.  “You know this school’s dark secrets better than anyone else here, and I don’t want my organization to know that you’re a liability.  We will stop at nothing to see our vision realized!”

“Organization Enigma!” Floria gasped, stealing panicked glances in both directions.

“Please, Floria… “ Sweats begged.  “Cooperate with me, here.  This is bigger than us and I won’t hesitate to remove any obstacle in my way. Not even…” the exploding professor’s lip quivered for just a moment.  “Not even… if it’s an old friend…”

“I understand,” Floria nodded, flipping a light switch that removed the impenetrable magical forcefield protecting to the school.  “I know where to find what you seek.  Follow me, and be very quiet.”

She lead Sweats down a series of staircases, solved a light-reflection puzzle with such grace and mastery that it brought tears to the professor’s eyes, and lead him to an empty room in the darkest dungeon with a lone treasure chest in the middle.

“They’re all in there,” Floria explained.  “The Big Cup, the Dangerous Trident, the… Silver Knife of… Death?  All of the things you said.”

Professor Sweats smiled and gave his star pupil a sweaty hug.  “I’m so proud of what you’ve become,” he said.  “You’ve saved countless lives today.”  He wobbled over to the treasure chest, twiddled his fingers anxiously, and slowly creaked it open.

Inside was a large bomb, its fuse lit and angrily fizzling away towards a fiery climax.  Professor Sweats leapt back and pulled at his hair.  “What the!?  Oh no!  Floria, it’s a bomb!  Floria, help, it’s a bomb!”  He turned back and saw that she had locked the door behind him.  “Floria, get me out of here!  There’s a bomb in here!  FLORIA!!!”

As she walked back to her post, she couldn’t help but deliver one final message to her old professor.  “Organization Seventeen sends their regards,” she said with a smirk.  She raised a hand in the air and snapped her finger, and several seconds later, heard the professor explode.


CHAPTER FOUR: Dirge of Douglas

Bothersnatch the terrible demon awoke from his mid-evening nap with a snort just as a giant fireball burned through the wall to his left. Ash and splinters fell around him as the fire spread, revealing a hole into the hallway outside Oxwald’s office. Kids ran by, screaming and wielding swords and firearms. Bothersnatch tried to go back to sleep, but they were just making too much noise. Grunting, he forced himself out of Oxwald’s ergonomic swivel chair, and padded out into the hallway to get an idea of what was going on.

It was a disaster zone. The parts of the school that weren’t on fire were riddled with bullets. Bothersnatch spotted Principal Jaffles sitting in the rafters, watching and eating a big bowl of jelly beans. Seeing as he was the only adult nearby, Bothersnatch levitated up and sat down beside him.

“Oh! Hello GREG,” Jaffles said. “On the hunt for those diamonds?”

Bothersnatch had forgotten he was in disguise, and tried to get back into character. “Uh. Yeah. Totally.” GREG said, having also forgotten about that whole waste of time side quest. “Almost got ‘em. Just takin’ a little break. …You mind telling me what’s with all the violence?”

“This? Why, this is the House War! We assign all the students to special teams, and then they compete for points!” He kicked his legs with excitement. “Then, at the end of the school yard, one of the teams will have the more points than the others! It’s wonderful!”

“Looks pretty dangerous,” GREG said.

The principal waved him away. “Oh, don’t be such a wet toad. It’s fine! The school magically repairs itself.”

“Does it repair the kids too?” It occurred to GREG that if that Joshua kid died, he would die too. Because of hell magic.

“Well no,” Jaffles said. “But it’s only this bad the first day. Trust me. Once they get the blood lust out of their system, they’ll start playing the long game. That’s when they launch calculated campaigns to sabotage and double cross one another to come out on top. All in the name of training them to become skilled and elite warriors for the Magical Wizard Army, of course. I am like eighty percent sure that’s what my dear, departed cousin would’ve wanted.”

“Okay,” GREG said.

“Would you like some jelly beans?” Maynard Jaffles let the colorful candies run through his fingers. “They’re all perfectly edible fruit flavors!”

“That’s okay.” GREG started inching away. “Gotta get back to work. Looking for rupees or whatever the hell.”

“Suit yourself!” The principal said, shoveling entire handfuls into his mouth at once.

GREG let himself drift like a dandelion seed back down to the ground. He needed to find Joshua before some punk preteen with a halberd chopped him in two. Marching down the hallways, he kept an eye out amidst the various explosions for any children who were especially short. It didn’t take long to find him. He raced past with an entire mob on his tail. Joshua made a break for the entrance, but found the doors locked tight. Dozens of grizzled children cornered him.

“Please don’t hurt me!” Joshua said. “I’m very small and I haven’t got any muscles!”

The biggest of the kids stepped forward, with mohawk, leather armor road warrior armor, and a sick dragon tattoo over his eye. “Should’ve thought of that before you earned all those points, new kid.” He bounced a tire iron in his free palm, and smirked.

“Alright, break it up!” GREG waded into the crowd, punting middle schoolers left and right.

“It’s a teaching assistant!” The crowd screamed and scattered. “Run!!”

The mohawk kid spun to face GREG. “Back off old man! I’m taking this joker’s points for the Puzzle Pals!”

GREG snapped his fingers, and the mohawk kid turned into dozens of spiders. It would’ve been more impressive if he had been hundreds of spiders, but GREG was out of practice.

It took Joshua a moment to get over the horrifying curse that the other kid was subjected to, but once he did he ran up and hugged GREG. “You saved me! Thank you!”

GREG looked down at his tiny friend. A gentle smile he hadn’t meant to give crept into his face, before breaking into an uncontrollable snicker. “I forgot how stupid you look with that giant schnoze Oxwald gave you!”

“Don’t make fun of me!” Joshua said, failing to hide the nose with his hands.

“That ship has sailed kid.” He said. “Listen. I can’t have you dying on me or I die too. Let’s find somewhere safe to stow you and pick this mission up in the morning when things calm down.” He looked around the room for an idea, and noticed the ventilation vent. He tore off the grate and stuffed Joshua inside.

“Oh wow!” Joshua said. “Good idea! The diamonds were all sucked up in the air duct, so that means I can use my big nose to track them all down for Oxwald!”

“No!” GREG said. “Don’t bother with the stupid diamonds! All we need is the Big Cup!”

“I think I smell them now!” Joshua said, and scampered deeper inside.

GREG panicked. He reached inside to pull Joshua out again, but it was too late. The brat was too fast.

“Damn it!” GREG said, and wondered what to do now.


For all the wacky magical quirks that infested every last aspect of magical society, Joshua felt some comfort in the fact that Dougie P’s ventilation system was absolutely plain and unremarkable.  It was dark, dusty, and cramped, but definitely not zooky.  As he crawled his way through the shaft, following his nose wherever it go’d, he heard clanging weapons, bloodthirsty battle cries, and dulled explosions coming from beneath him.  Joshua was thankful to be where he was, and that he was perhaps the only student capable of getting there in the first place.

At last, he saw a glimmer ahead.  As he crawled ever closer, it was unmistakeable; a beautiful diamond teetering on the edge of a sheer drop within the vents. Thank heavens, thought Joshua!  Oxwald’s stupid nose spell turned out to be useful after all.

Just as the tiny child came within nabbing range the diamond, an incredible explosion shook the entire school like a giant earthquake.  Joshua heard yells of confusion from the brawling student body beneath him, but only let out a tiny scream of his own when the shaking knocked the diamond over the edge, dropping it into the shaft.  Without thinking, Joshua scrambled after it and quickly found himself falling. It was not the boy’s brightest moment.

For probably fifty minutes, Joshua tumbled and screamed down a long series of drops and slopes, rolling at last to a stop on top of a grating.  “OW!!!” Joshua yelled as the shock of the fall wore off.

“Boy!?” came a comforting and familiar voice.  “Boy, is that you!?”

“Uncle Horbert!”  Joshua peered through the grating to find he was directly above the dungeon.  His uncle was suspended in a gigantic floating crystal.  He was being guarded on all sides by goblin cops with tiny nunchucks.

“Get me out of this crystal prison, you stupid child!!” Uncle Horbert cried.  “So that I can kick you in the butt!”

“Let me think!” replied the little magic boy, wondering how he could possibly free his uncle without getting nunchucked into an early grave.  Perhaps he could find a big gun that would scare the guards enough that he wouldn’t have to hurt anybody.  Even if he dispatched the guards however, he couldn’t begin to know how to address the whole crystal situation.

Then, Joshua saw that glimmer once again.  That pesky diamond had landed at the end of a long corridor.  He couldn’t waste any more time, but his uncle was right there below him!

“What are you doing!?”  Uncle Horbert yelled.  “Every second I spend in this crystal prison makes me angrier and angrier, which means my fists will become stronger and stronger when I finally get out!”

“I’ll come back for you, I promise!” Joshua said, finally making up his mind.  “Please do not punch me when I do, okay? Stay strong, Uncle Horbert!”

“NO!!!” Horbert screamed.  “I will punch you one million times if you abandon me!  Boy!  BOY!!!”

His uncle’s screams became fainter and fainter as the boy scurried away towards the diamond.  It had landed on the other side of another grating.  Joshua crawled over it and snatched the diamond.

“Gotcha!” he whispered.


“This is going to be more complicated than we thought,” came a voice from underneath.  “That child’s combat level is insanely high.”

It was Bernard Crowley.  Joshua pressed his eyes into the grating to see a pleasant, carpeted lounge where the professor stood, shakily holding a glass of wine.  From where he lay, Joshua could not tell who else was in the room.

“We’ll need more bombs,” Bernard continued, now pacing.  “No, no, forget bombs, bombs are stupid! I’ve always said bombs were stupid!  I have a much better plan!  We just need the amulet!”  He held up a polaroid of a bright, sparkling amulet.  “Yes, if we could get our hands on this, that fool Turderdeath couldn’t lay a finger on us!  That boy, though… He’s the only problem…”

Something tapped Joshua on his shoulder. Jumping from shock, he looked up.  In front of him was a big cup.  In fact, it was the same big cup that he’d seen when he freed Oxwald’s horrible daughters from a deadly trap earlier that day.  His mouth sank open, but before he could grab at it, a scary hand rose out of it like a charmed snake.

As Bernard carried on a rant about backhanded schemes and long-winded Chess analogies, the hand gestured towards Joshua’s closed palm and followed it up with a beckoning motion.  Joshua furrowed his brow and shook his head.  The hand clenched into a fist, flipped the boy off, and repeated the gesture with added fervor.  Joshua responded by pocketing the diamond and crossing his arms defiantly.

The hand was clearly annoyed by this because it began charging a deadly lightning spell. Joshua toppled backwards in fright.

“Did you hear something?” came Bernard’s voice below.

Before the Chaos Witch could delete the boy from existence, however, yet another mighty explosion shook the school.  Covering his head instinctively, Joshua abruptly felt the ground fall beneath him as the grating gave way under the stress of it all.  As the witch’s lightning blast soared by and clipped the tip of his hair, Joshua Milton tumbled directly on top of an unsuspecting Bernard Crowley.


It was known by all Secret Agents of Good Diamonds Incorporated that Bernard Crowley was unflappable. He was fluent in seven languages, had an IQ of 170, and super PHD diplomas in martial arts, diamond analysis, business, demolitions, teaching, and marine biology. No matter what Bernard did, he always rocketed straight to the top. Which is why it had been so unnerving for him that he had been upstaged for the first time in his life, and by a mere child at that. 

Given this preposterous circumstance, Bernard forgave himself for briefly losing all composure when an entirely different child fell on top of him. Although he screamed, flailed his arms, and urinated just a little, he would later assure himself that this was only because he thought that the squirrel boy had pounced on him from the shadows. Fearing for his life, he yanked the child from his luxurious blonde hair and spiked him onto the floor. It was only after he’d done this that he realized that the child in question was much too small, and with a nose much too large, to be mistaken for Wilfrit Pippers.

“What the…?!” Bernard said. “Why, your power level is miniscule! I can barely sense it! I’ve met sleeping puppies more dangerous than you!”

“Sorry,” the child said. 

“Our secret meeting has been compromised!” said Rodney the Magical Talking Razor Scooter. “Our secrets are being stolen by a kid who is pint-sized!”

“No, I meant for this to happen,” Bernard said. It was, after all, impossible for him to have made a mistake. “I allowed this spy to sneak up me to lure him out. Now he is at our mercy.”

Rodney honked the bicycle horn attached to his handlebars with delight. “Now you’ll tell us who you for, or else we’ll crush your skull against the floor!”

“I don’t work for anyone, sir,” the miniature student said. “Sometimes my uncle asks me to operate industrial mining equipment as part of my daily chores. I suppose I came down here as a favor for my friend Oxwald, if that counts.”

“Oxwald?!” Bernard scoffed. “That buffoon sent you? Ridiculous. I’ve watched the man struggle to tie his own shoes. He’s far too stupid to know anything about or machinations.” Thinking about it, Bernard remembered he’d seen this child before. “Wait, you were with him this morning. Only your nose was less stupid looking at the time.”

“Tell us your name,” Rodney said. “Or we’ll cripple you lame.”

“I’m Joshua Milton! I’m going to drink from the big cup and get big muscles!”

Bernard stepped back. “Milton? As in, the Milton Family Diamond Mine? …There should not be anyone left of that accursed bloodline. Good Diamonds Incorporated made sure of that.”

“What are you talking about?” Joshua said. 

“Well…” Bernard knew he shouldn’t say anything, but could never resist delivering exposition to dullards. “During the war against the Chaos Witch, the value of diamonds was through the roof. Fantastic profit margins, and fiscal quarters like you wouldn’t believe! All because Darkovkar kept buying up everything we sold to fuel her demon armies. The Miltons were our primary supplier of diamonds, at least until they developed a guilt complex about the whole thing. We had no choice but to get rid of them.”

Joshua looked ready to cry. “Is that why I’m an orphan?”

“Probably.” Bernard shrugged. “Statistically speaking, even if you’re not a Milton, Good Diamonds Incorporated is responsible for the majority of orphans in this country. On a related note, now you know too much and I have to kill you.”

Adopting the Taekwondo Tiger Stance, Bernard prepared to decapitate Joshua with a powerful chopping attack. The boy tried to get away, but there was nowhere to run. 

“Wait!” Said Rodney the Magical Talking Razor Scooter. “Hold your attack! This child can help us obtain what we lack!”

“He’s a liability!” Bernard said. “Better we kill him now than risk our plan being exposed!”

Rodney unleashed his chi, sending shockwaves of powerful energy pulsing through the air. “Did you forget who is your master? Cross me again and you will meet with disaster!”

At once, Bernard fell to his knees. He could not bear to witness such strength. “Forgive me, sensei. I know better than to question your wisdom. What should we do with him?”

The whirlwind of Rodney’s unbridled power died down. The ancient scooter rolled closer toward the boy. “The Amulet of Douglas is hidden far below, to the treasure vault you both shall go. If Milton blood runs through his veins, then he has what we need to break the chains.”

“Excuse me,” Joshua said. “I have like three other missions going already, so I would prefer not to do this.”

“Shut the fuck up,” said Rodney. 


Joshua sighed as he was pulled through the dark, musty dungeons, tied up with rope to Rodney’s steering column and pulled along by Bernard.  He had hoped his first day would lead to forging new friendships, cozying up by the Funchbuncher fire, discovering new and exciting parts of magic society he’d never been exposed to from a childhood in a culturally-deprived diamond mine, or at the very least, being surprised by funny candy.

“Professor Crowley, sir?” Joshua piped.  “Is this going to hurt?”

“Yes, obviously,” Bernard laughed.  “This ritual requires a lot of Milton blood!  Honestly, I’m worried you don’t have enough flowing in your tiny little baby body for it to work.  We’ll need the whole lot of it, no question.”

“That’s… not great,” Joshua frowned.  “If I’m going to be sacrificed, then, is there anything you can tell me about my father, Henrick Milton? He was a soldier and I think he carried around a big knife sometimes.”

“Henrick…” Bernard mumbled.  “Hmm… Nope, must have been extremely unimportant and forgettable.”

Rodney the Magical Talking Razor Scooter suddenly hit the brakes, tugging Bernard off of his feet, which he managed to turn into a cool backflip thing the moment before he would have hit the ground.

“Uh… sir?” the tiny boy asked of Rodney.  “Did you know my father?”

After a moment of contemplation, the two-wheeled sage replied.  “Never heard of that traitorous clown, I’ve only stopped ‘cause it’s here we go down.”

Joshua noticed that they had stopped in front of an elaborate marble-carved fountain, a memorial to Douglas P. Wilson.  The most striking feature of such was an enormous statue of Douglas, tiny pistol drawn in his left hand with the amulet dangling from his right.  His face was contorted as though he were crying, with streams of water flowing from both eyes and both nostrils.  His pants were at his ankles, exposing boxer briefs dotted liberally with tiny little hearts.  All around this centerpiece were smaller statues of chickens and feathers flying in every direction.  A plaque at the bottom read as follows:





Joshua was confused.  “What exactly is this?”

“A crypt,” Bernard explained.  “Depicting the last moments before Douglas’s unfortunate and hilarious death at the hands of the Chaos Witch Darkovkar.  He thought he could control the darkness,” he scoffed.  “In reality, he couldn’t control the darkness.”  Bernard looked at Joshua.  “I can control the darkness, if I want. It’s really easy.”

“Okay,” said Joshua.

“Many secrets are hidden below. If entry you seek, his song you must know,” Rodney explained.  “There are three verses, known only to few.  As your death draws near, we shall sing them for you.”

Bernard Crowley and Rodney the Magical Talking Razor Scooter took opposite sides of the fountain, clearing their throats and doing some scales to warm up their voices.  Joshua Milton listened very carefully, as he figured this super secret dirge might be important to know.  As Rodney counted them in, they began to sing the first verse:

Doo doo dooo doo doo doo

Doo doo dooo doo doo

Doo doo dooo doo doo doo

Doo doo dooo doo doo


Somebody interrupted.  Bernard Crowley let out a tiny scream and leapt into the fountain.  Rodney immediately pivoted a 180 on his back tire, his perfectly-aligned chakras glowing threateningly.  Joshua turned his head and his mouth went wide.

It was a child.  Unkempt, scraggly, and covered with stray strands of squirrel fur.  Indeed, it was Joshua’s new best friend, Wilfrit Pippers.

“RUN!” Joshua yelled.  “It’s dangerous here!  Go get Principal Jaffles!”

“Dangerous?” Wilfrit asked with great confusion, feeding an acorn to Mischievia, who purred affectionately.  “Oh no, I believe you’re mistaken!  You’re safer now than you’ve ever been in your life!”  He looked to Professor Crowley, his face lighting up with a wide grin.  “Wouldn’t you say so, Professor?”

Bernard was pale as a whale.  He stammered for a moment, but failed to get any words out.  Instead, he shot a panicked look to his compatriot for support.

Rodney held his position for a long moment, his handlebars fixed in the direction of Wilfrit’s charming smile. Then, his chakras faded once more, and he began rolling back the way they came.  “It’s awfully late for you kids to be out,” he said stoically.  “You should return to Funbuncher House.”

“Rodney!” the perfect professor called, clambering out of the fountain and crawling pathetically to his friend.  “The amulet!” he hissed to the terror on two wheels in a hushed whisper.

“Patience is a virtue,” Rodney said calmly as Wilfrit threw an arm around Joshua, who was very fucking confused.  “Opportunity will knock again, I assure you.”  He continued rolling until he was out of sight.

Bernard Crowley got to his feet, wringed water from his tie, and made some attempt to compose himself.  “This is just ridiculous,” he said, folding his arms.  He looked at the children with a bitter, constrained rage.  “You heard the old man!  Get back to your house!  And don’t you dare get yourself killed, you tiny little Milton!”  He disappeared in a puff of smoke, which seemed kind of ridiculous since Joshua now knew that his office was a very short walk away.

“Wilfrit,” Joshua explained.  “They want my blood!  Everyone wants my blood!  What am I going to do?”

“You worry too much,” Wilfrit replied, raising his brow.  “It’s like I said, Josh.  You’re absolutely safe.”

Joshua took a long look at the tribute to Douglas’s embarrassing downfall.  Although he had plenty of secrets to occupy him already, he couldn’t help but wonder how many more secrets awaited those who knew the full song.

“You’ve had a long day, my dude,” the squirrel boy said, tugging at his good buddy.  “Come on, let me introduce you to your fellow Funbunchers!  They’re all pretty swell!”

Joshua Milton put it behind him and smiled at his reassuring friend.  With a nod, he followed him to the safety and comfort of their new home.


Wilfrit guided Joshua through the maze of hallways which comprised the school with a surprising ease. He led Joshua through a secret passage behind a revolving fireplace, pulled an array of switches so that a set of moving staircases aligned and allowed them to climb to the third floor, and expertly disarmed a poisonous spike trap which was a clear violation of child safety laws. Given that this was the first day of school for both of them, Joshua was forced to assume that Wilfrit had attended a guided tour of the school prior to enrolling.

“The Fun Buncher Dormitory is through here,” Pippers said, pointing at what appeared to be a bank vault repurposed into a bomb shelter. He pressed a call button on an intercom panel bolted to the wall, and a scratchy voice came out of the speaker.

“Sorry! No one gets in without the password! I apologize if that’s rude. Sorry!”

Wilfrit cleared his throat. “It’s ‘Oh God! I don’t want to die! Why can’t we all just be friends instead?!'”

The wheel sealing the bank vault door spun open, and teen boy in a knitted turtleneck sweater leaned out. “Inside! Quick! Before anyone sees us!”

The door shut behind them. The turtleneck kid set eighteen deadbolt locks, did some deep breathing exercises, and turned back to Joshua with trembling hands. “I get SO scared every time I have to open this thing. I’m so glad it turned out okay! Hey! Everyone! We have a new friend!”

“Friend?” Children peeked out from beneath the bedsheets. Tidy bunk beds filled the dorm like a military barracks, most of them occupied with smiling faces. “Did he say a new friend?” Some said. “I love making new friends!” Said others. “Golly!”

A few dozen children of various shapes and sizes hopped out of bed to greet Joshua. They were all rosy cheeked, with well-combed hair, and wore freshly ironed footie pajamas. Most were pudgy, and there were quite a few who had braces. Not a single person in the room seemed capable of wielding a sword or doing a sick BMX stunt. 

“Welcome to the Fun Buncher Family!” They said, before piling onto Joshua in a massive group hug. The uninvited affection was actually super uncomfortable for Josh. 

“It’s good to meet you!” Sweater kid said, giving Joshua a constant stream of reassuring pats on the back. “My name is Seymor Tickle. I’m the Student President of team Fun Buncher! Let’s get you set up with a cozy bed so you can set sail on the sea of sweet dreams!”

“Thanks,” Joshua said, prying himself from the crushing embrace. “But I don’t think I can stay.  There’s lots of things I need to do, like break my uncle out of the dungeon, collect all of the diamonds, and drink from the Big Cup.”

“Oh no!” Seymor said. “You can’t do that! All those things sound awful and dangerous! You should stay here instead, where it’s safe, at least until the House War is over!”

Joshua furrowed his brow. “Isn’t the House War something that’s going on every day of school year?”

“Precisely!” Seymor said. “If you can hold out here long enough, you can make it to the end of the school year without ever leaving this room!”

“Aren’t we supposed to attend classes, or whatever?” Joshua said.

The other Fun Bunchers looked at each other with concern. Seymor folded his arms. 

“Listen rookie,” he said. “You’re new, so I’ll cut you some slack, but having adventures and going to classes is not how we Fun Bunchers do things. Every year I see a bunch of funky fresh new Fun Bunchers, and they got it in their heads to get good grades. It’s natural! We’re good boys and nice girls here! But leaving the dorm, ever, is how you get yourself killed. Even if you can survive the House War, going to classes and doing your homework runs the risk that you’ll graduate!”

“That’s… That’s the point of school,” Joshua said. “You’re supposed to graduate.” He looked around, feeling helpless. “Right?” He had never actually attended a school before. 

Seymor shook his head. “Graduating with good grades just means you’ll be conscripted into the Magical Wizard Army. Then you get to die invading a foreign land in the name of expanding the Imperium. No thank you! Flunking out is way safer. You can get a job as a diamond inspector or something instead.”

Joshua frowned and stuck out his chin. “Well, I’m not going to spend all year cowering in a bunker! I’m going to get big muscles, just like my father and mother!”

A massive explosion outside the dorm rocked the school, and sent all the timid Fun Bunchers scattering except for Seymor.

“Nope,” the Team President said. He picked Joshua up like a small dog, and tucked him into the nearest free bed. “Not losing another one.”

“Let me go!” Joshua said. He tried to escape from the covers, but found he was tucked in too tight to break free. His little arms were just too weak. “Wilfrit! Help me!”

“Nah,” Wilfrit said. “I think it’s best if you stay right there until things cool down a bit.”

“You’re just going to go to sleep then?” Joshua said, feeling betrayed.

“I don’t sleep,” Wilfrit said, and left. 

Joshua thought that was rather odd. He tried to think about why Wilfrit didn’t sleep, but thinking about that made him sleepy. This was the first time he had ever lied down on a real bed, and it was more comfortable than he had ever imagined. He felt himself drifting off, and tried to fight it.

“No!” He said, trying to stay awake. His uncle was suffering in the dungeon. He needed to rescue him, but that wouldn’t happen if Joshua let himself set sail for the dream zone. His mind fogged, ready to slumber, while he tried everything in his power to stay conscious.


Oxwald sipped his chamomile as he stared blankly at the first page of FUNdamentals of Magical Defense – An Essential Guide to Not Dying.  He had spent the past hour re-reading the text of the author’s preface, thus far failing to process any of the information therewithin.  The only meaningful wisdom he’d be able to impart during the following day’s classes was that Bumbo D. Wimperton had written a book entitled FUNdamentals of Magical Defense – An Essential Guide to Not Dying.  Oxwald was confident, however, in his ability to drag out this single point into an hour-long lesson.

The door swung open and a young raven-haired girl strode in.  She was dressed in a suit and tie and carried a sheathed katana on her back.  She plopped into a chair at the front of the classroom, kicked her legs up on the desk, and folded her arms.

“Oh, good evening, May!  You’re a spitting image of your mother carrying around that deadly weapon!” Oxwald smiled, closing his boring book.  “Where are your sisters?”

The Manderlie triplet sighed.  “First of all, I’m Courtney.”

Her father frowned.  “I’m so sorry, sweetums!  You know the three of you are perfectly indistinguishable!”

“We’re really not.  April is the leader, she has a fighting spirit and a passionate fire in her eyes,” Courtney explained, letting her head droop behind her chair.  “May is the sensitive one and has a soft spot for animals.”

“That’s right!” Oxwald nodded.  “And what’s your thing again?’

“I have a fighting spirit and a soft spot for animals,” Courtney shrugged.  “Now what did you want?  You’ve got five minutes.  We’re in the middle of negotiations with the Puzzle Pals and if I’m seen with you for too long our collective street cred will plummet.”

“Come now, Courtney, I just wanted to catch up with my little angels,” Oxwald smiled.  “Would you like a cup of tea?”

“Got coffee?”

“Er… no.”

Courtney blew a raspberry.

“Okay,” Oxwald sighed, fixing himself a second cup.  “So what are your sisters up to?  Exciting House War stuff, I presume?”

“May is working alongside the Team President to draft a treaty establishing borders between Rad Lion and Puzzle Pal territory.  You have to be careful negotiating with these people, they’re tricky.”  She leaned in.  “One year, they snuck a hidden message into the first letter of every paragraph.  It was a secret clause that forfeited all of our points to the Puzzle Pals at the end of the semester.”

Oxwald couldn’t begin to understand what she was talking about, but nodded his head vigorously all the same.

Courtney continued.  “April is stationed at the de-militarized zone until we can get this sorted out.  It’s likely we’ll end up working together to stand a chance against Snakeothy, but at the moment tensions are still pretty high.”

Oxwald stared blankly at his daughter.  “I understand.”

Courtney sat up straight, rubbing her temple.  “Dad, what are you doing here?  It was bad enough that your little boyfriend decided to teach here, but we didn’t think you’d actually change careers for him.  I thought you were “dizzy for diamonds” like you used to say literally every morning.”

“I am dizzy for diamonds!” Oxwald slammed his desk, quite offended at this attack on his love for flawless gemstones.  “Which actually brings me to my next point! There’s this little Funbuncher boy, Joshua Milton.  He’s out hunting for diamonds on campus and I just worry about him out there.  So tiny.  So alone.”

Courtney snorted.  “Joshua?”  She couldn’t help cracking up.  “Come on, Dad, nobody ever sees Funbunchers after orientation.  If he does wander out into the school grounds, the Snakeothies will be on him like an army of hawks tearing apart a baby squirrel.”  She contemplated for a moment.  “Although come to think of it, I guess we do sort of owe him one. He’s not the lamest Funbuncher we’ve ever seen.”

“So you’ll team up with him!” Oxwald beamed.  “You four can work together to collect diamonds and not participate in any other ulterior objectives regarding the Big Cup or any other magical artifacts!”

“Never gonna happen,” Courtney shrugged.  “I mean, we offered our friendship, but he was kind of a huge dick about it and I’m pretty sure he hates us.  The most I can promise is that if he does have the balls to show his face, we won’t kill him.”

Oxwald pondered in silence for a long moment.  “Well, if you find any diamonds, could you bring them to me?”

Courtney checked her wristwatch and pulled out a grappling hook.  “Look, Dad, there’s more to life than diamonds.  I really don’t want to have a part enabling your little obsession.”  She shot the hook into the rafters and slowly began ascending.  “And you should really get over this Crowley thing.  Honestly, you talk about him more than you talk about Mom.”

“But I have to beat him!” Oxwald stamped his foot as his teenaged daughter continued to rise up towards the ceiling.  “Bernard thinks he’s better than me, and I have to prove to everyone that I am actually the one who is better than him!”

“Whatever,” Courtney sighed as she disappeared into the shadows.  “See you in class.”

“Love you, dear!” Oxwald waved.  “Good luck with your… diamond… negotiations!”  He sighed and plopped back down into his swivel chair.  Why couldn’t fatherhood be as simple as diamond assessment?  Diamonds were perfect, predictable, and consistent.  Daughters were complicated, temperamental, and impossible to understand.

“That was pretty awkward,” said GREG, who had been listening from the hallway. “Your kid sounds way cooler than you.”

“And what have you been up to?” Oxwald grouched, sipping his now-cold tea.

“Completely lost track of the kid,” GREG shrugged.  “No big deal.”


Joshua Milton finished eating the last bite of the moist chocolate cake on his plate. Each mouthful had been sweeter than the last. 

“Uncle,” Joshua said, still licking his lips. “Would it be okay if I had another slice?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, nephew! Of course you may!” Horbert said with a soft smile. “I made the cake special, just for you!”

Aunt Crickery tussled Joshua’s hair. “Just be sure to clean your plate afterward, dear.”

“I will! Thank you!” Joshua said, helping himself to another helping from the kitchen table. 

“I’m sorry we are so rude you all the time,” said Uncle Plart. “It’s just hard articulatin’ our true feelings about you.”

“It’s okay. I know you all love me. We’re family!” Said Joshua. 

“This cake is a symbol of our gratitude,” Horbert said. “It’s not much, but I hope it lets you know just how much all your hard work means to us.”

This moment made all the hardship worthwhile for Joshua. Wiping the frosting from his chin, he rushed to get his family the biggest hug his tiny body could manage.

The kitchen door burst open. Joshua was so startled he forgot how to hug. He turned and noticed a glowing man in a big cowboy hat glaring at him.

“What in blazes are you doing?!” He said. “Why haven’t you defeated the Chaos Witch Darkovkar yet??”

Horbert, Crickery and Plart all stood up to put themselves between the strange man and Joshua. “I won’t have you shouting at my beloved nephew like that!” Horbert said. “His ears are much too small for big noises!” 

Sighing, the man in the cowboy hat drew a tiny pistol from a belt holster, and shot all three of Joshua’s family members. Each popped like a balloon, one right after the other. Joshua, horrified by this, started to scream, and then kept screaming.

“Stop that,” the man said.

“Sorry,” Joshua said. “I’m just upset, because killed my aunt and uncles.”

He holstered his gun. “There’s no reason to get so riled up. You’re asleep. That wasn’t your REAL family, you silly-billy. Just made up dream people.” He frowned. “…Although the pain they just felt was extremely real.”

Joshua wiped away his tears. “I don’t understand. Who are you?”

The cowboy looked insulted. “Don’t you remember? It’s me! Your guardian spirit! I taught you the Founding Principles of True Strength just this afternoon!”

“Oh!” Joshua said, recalling that time he was on fire. “That’s right! Big muscles!”

“Well you haven’t done anything with the information! It’s been HOURS and you still haven’t fulfilled your destiny to destroy the Chaos Witch! What’s the hold up?”

“I’m not sure that’s a very good destiny for me,” Joshua said. “It sounds like a lot of responsibility, and I’m just a little boy.”

The guardian frowned. “Don’t give me that excuse. Your mom says you can do it, and our whole plan is riding on you beating Darkovka once and for all.”

“Wait,” Joshua said. “You know my mom?”

“Anastasia Milton? Absolutely! We go way back. She’s a total fox.” He paused, then added: “Don’t tell her I said that.”

This was all so confusing for Joshua. “But Uncle Horbert, the normal real one that is, told me my mother was sealed inside the Orb of Screams for defying the will of the dragons.”

“That’s right!” The guardian said. “And neither of us are getting OUT of the Orb unless you start fulfilling your gat danged destiny!” He bent down next to Joshua. “Listen, little buckaroo, it takes a whole lot of hell magic to talk to you like this, so let me get to the point. You need to beat the Chaos Witch ASAP. She’s weak right now, but if she gets ahold of one of those there diamonds your evil uncle brought into the school then she’s gonna break free of the Big Cup! And then we’re all in the bone zone! Comprende?”

“I’m still not clear on how I’m supposed to do any of this,” Joshua said. 

Groaning, the guardian spirit massaged his forehead. “Fine. Okay. I didn’t want to resort to this, but your mom is a solid nine out of ten, so I’m trusting you, alright? Just use my amulet. It’s got loads of dark power inside it. You’ll find it on my body buried inside my crypt.”

“Wait,” Joshua said, putting the pieces of the puzzle together. “You’re Douglas P. Wilson! The guy they named this school after!”

“Yes, obviously,” the spirit said, pointing at his iconic pencil mustache. “Anyway, you’re going to need to sing my favorite dirge to get inside.”

“I know the first verse of the dirge already!” Joshua said, feeling like a detective.

“That’s weird, but okay,” Douglas P. Wilson said. “I’ll sing the second verse for you.” He cleared his throat.

La la la la

La la la la la la

La la la la  


“You got that?” Douglas said.

“Yes!” Joshua said. “What about the last verse?”

“Alright. I’m going to sing the last verse for you,” Douglas said.

“Okay, go ahead,” Joshua said.

“Real quick, before I do,” Douglas said, “I want to stress that’s important that you don’t forget them.”

“I know,” Joshua said.

“The crypt won’t open unless you sing all three verses. So, if you forget one, you won’t be able to get inside at all. You have to do all of them.”

“I understand that!” Joshua said, growing annoyed.

“A lot depends on you making sure you can remember all three,” Douglas said. “Everyone could die in awful and painful ways.”

“Okay! Please sing the rest of the dirge!”

“Alright. Geez. No need to be rude.” Douglas said. “Fine. Here’s the last verse…”

“WAKE UP JOSHUA!!” Oxwald said, shaking the little boy until he sat up in bed. “WAKE UP RIGHT NOW!” 

“Huh??” Joshua could barely see straight. He wiped the crust from his eyes. “What’s going on?”

“You were supposed to locate all of the diamonds!” Oxwald said, mopping his forehead with a handkerchief. “I think you might’ve missed one!”

Booming, cackling laughter shook the school like thunder. “I’M FREE!” A voice shrieked. “AT LONG LAST I AM FREE, AND NOW I WILL DESTROY ALL OF THE CHILDREN!!”

A moment later, the school’s P.A. system screeched on. “Attention all students,” said the voice of Professor Sixowls. “I regret to inform all of you that it appears that the Chaos Witch Darkovka has been restored to her full and terrible power. However, I would like to clarify that this will not be affecting today’s schedule. I repeat, classes will not be canceled. For your safety, helpful survival tips will be posted on the bulletin board in the hallway later this afternoon. I look forward to seeing you all in class today. Thank you.”


CHAPTER FIVE: Fun Buncher Rising

Joshua wondered if he should feel more anxious upon learning that the meanest and most unpopular witch in history had not only returned to the world, but was freely roaming the very school in which his classic Milton lack-of-foresight had landed him and was, as the saying goes, “sorely achin’ for some sweet life-takin.’”  Instead, he could think only of his weird fucking dream and of the fleeting hope that his mother’s spirit may still be alive… or, at the very least, whatever qualifies as alive for a woman who played Victim in the most dramatic and unsolvable courtroom drama to ever air all over Wizard Television.

“Okay,” said Joshua, rubbing his eyes.  “That’s, uh… The Chaos Witch thing, that sucks. Sir, do you know anything about the Dirge of Douglas?”

“Who cares about that!?” Oxwald yelled, pulling at his hair.  “Listen to me, Joshua, it’s far too dangerous out there.  We need to stay hidden or else every one of us is going to turned into hundreds of spiders, which I’ve been told is an entirely unpleasant experience to go through!”

“Wait,” Joshua said, wriggling out of his immovable blanket prison.  “Did you come here to tell me this or to hide from the Chaos Witch?”

There was a long silence. Oxwald didn’t answer, but instead nodded and wandered to the opposite end of the room, stroking his chin.

Joshua briefly entertained the idea of hiding out in the Fun Buncher dormitory until this whole thing blew over. But then he remember his Uncle Horbert, trapped in a crystal of anger. He remembered his mother, trapped in a labyrinthian hellscape of diabolical mind games.  He remembered the Big Cup and his blood pact with Bothersnatch.  Wait.  The Big Cup.  If Darkovkar was now free, where was it?  Was it possible she’d left it abandoned in some random corridor, free for the taking?  His hell reckoning drew nearer by the day, and certainly he could not prevent it by waiting for the Big Cup to miraculously appear in the Fun Buncher vault.

“Guys, look,” Joshua sighed.  “I get that it’s really scary and dangerous out there, but I couldn’t stay here if I wanted to!  There are far too many good and interesting mysteries waiting for me and also there’s some Hell Magic involved, so I’ve no choice but to actively participate in this school year. If any of you want to come along and help me to not die, I’d certainly appreciate it.”

“Nobody will help you!” Seymor laughed, trying to look intimidating in his bright pink bunny pajamas with footies.  “We’re all committed to the whole hiding and cowering lifestyle, and nothing will ever change that!”

“What do you even do in here?” Joshua groaned.  “Don’t you guys get bored?”

“Yes, extremely!” Seymor replied.  “We like to pretend, sometimes.  Here, let me show you.”  Seymor rolled up his sleeve, pulled out a magic wand, and pointed it threateningly at the red headed girl who’d briefly spoken to him earlier.  “Big fireball!! FWOOOM!!! IT’S HUGE!!!” He waved his wand around wildly like he’d never actually seen anybody use one.

“Oh!  I’m on fire!” the girl screamed, dropping to the floor.  “SHIT!!! AAAAAH!!! IT BURNS, IT BURNS SO MUCH!!! MY SKIN, OH NO, IT IS ON FIRE, AS IS MY HAIR AND MY TEETH!! OH NO!! SHIT!!!”

Seymor smirked proudly.  “Miriam’s one of the best,” he explained as she continued convulsing and rolling around on the ground.  “She always makes strong choices.”

“None of you actually know any real magic, do you?” Joshua frowned.

There was a ton of silence, and some of the Fun Bunchers kicked dirt.  Miriam’s performance awkwardly lost fervor until she was shamefully lying on the ground in silence like the rest.

“Okay,” Joshua sighed.  “I’ve got class in thirty minutes.”  He glared at Oxwald, who was trying to make himself hidden behind a mountain of stuffed animals.  “Class that you’re supposed to teach!”  Joshua walked over to the exit and held his hand defiantly over the wheelchair accessibility button.  “If anyone would like to spend this year actually learning how to shoot real fireballs and cool lightning bolts, this is your chance to follow me!  Yes, we might be killed by Snakeothies or the most powerful supervillain to ever roam this Earth, but it’s better than being cooped up in here.

“Well said!” came Wilfrit’s voice, directly behind him.  Joshua could swear that he’d been entirely absent this whole time. “I’m down for school adventures, count me in!”

“That’s two of us!” Joshua smiled.  For all the ways Wilfrit Pippers was weird and off-putting, he was at least reliable, and this was comforting to Josh.  “Anybody else?”

There was silence.  Awkward shuffling.  Seymor was tisking condescendingly as Joshua held his breath for a response.  It was no use.  These students were not strong and brave.

Except for one.  A small, ghostly-pale hand quietly trembled up from the corner of the room.  Amid gasps and whispers, the Fun Buncher masses stepped aside to reveal a small blonde girl tightly clutching onto a stuffed ghost plushie.  Joshua could see his own face reflected in her wide, terrified eyes.

“No!!” Seymor cried out, sweating bullets.  “Boo, don’t be foolish!  Your power level is lower than the rest of ours combined!”

“Wow,” Joshua said. “Okay. That’s rude.”

“No, it’s true,” Wilfrit said. “I’m sizing up her battle aura right now and it’s really rather pathetic.”

“You don’t just TALK about people power levels!” Joshua threw his hands into the air. “It’s impolite! Besides. How do you know that she’s not, like, concealing her true ability until the right moment?”

“I’d know,” Wilfrit said, with bizarre certainty. “She’s not.” 

Boo puffed up her cheeks, annoyed. “I don’t care if I’m the weakest student here! I came to this school to learn how to shoot lightning bolts and fireballs!” She squeezed her plush toy tighter. “I don’t want to hide here all year. I want to get stronger, even if that means risking my life!”

“Well, I think that’s wonderful!” Joshua said. “I’d be proud if you came with us. We can go on adventures together, bond, and whimsically defeat the chaos witch against all odds! They can call us the Three Wizardly Chums!”

Wilfrit cringed, and the fur on all his squirrels stood on end. “That’s… not a good idea, Josh. I get what you’re trying to do here: inspiring these timid sweet peas to seize their destiny? That’s cute. Adorable even. The problem is, she’s a dud. And that’s by Fun Buncher standards, which are already pretty bad.”

“What the heck is your problem??” Joshua said. “It’s not like either of us are going to win a magical boxing tournament. We’re all misfits here, so if she’s brave enough to come with us, I say she’s worth taking with us!”

“Thank you,” Boo said, marching up to him and locking arms with him. “I’m glad someone here understands.”

“You’re really going?” Seymor Tickle said. “Even though there’s a whole entire Chaos witch out there?”

She nodded. 

“But what about, y’know, us?” Seymor wrung his fingers anxiously. “I thought we had some real chemistry going, what with us both liking make believe pretend games so much.”

“Sorry, Seymor,” Boo said, staring into the distance. “We had a lot of fun, but I think it’s time I stopped pretending to be a badass sorceress, and started living like one.”

Seymor looked at the floor, and sighed. Defeated, he walked over to the entrance of the Fun Buncher Bunker, and started undoing the three hundred door chains sealing the vault shut. 

“Oxwald, you should come with us too,” Joshua said. “That way you can teach us hot to shoot fireballs and lightning bolts.”

“Yes,” Oxwald said, loosening his shirt collar. “Those are definitely both things that I know how to do!” 

Wilfrit rolled his eyes. “Alright, alright. Since Milton here is so dead set on dragging all this dead weight around, I want you all to stay behind me, okay? It’s going to get hairy out there.”

“So, Boo,” Joshua said, only half listening to Wilfrit while they waited for Seymor to finishing opening the door. “What’s your deal? You like ghosts a whole lot? That’s pretty weird and also beautiful.”

“Yes,” Boo said. “Ghosts are wonderful. Nature’s most precious gift to us. Each one is a poem, written in blood. Nothing makes my heart sing like imagining a soul ripped from its flesh. Then, at last, it is free to wander through wretched world for an eternity, mourning the warmth of sensation. It is unbearable that each of us must endure until that state of transcendent grief. Only then are we made perfect. That is why I must become powerful, so I might free souls from their prisons of sinew with the purity of fire.”

“Okay,” Joshua said. He was now reconsidering whether he ought to have a romantic subplot with Boo. “That’s… cool.”

The last door chain fell loose, and the door to the Fun Buncher dormitory swung open to reveal an entire horde of demons standing on the other side.

“Oh my,” Joshua said. He had never seen quite so many demons before in his life. They all looked an awful lot like Bothersnatch, which made Joshua worry that maybe he was racist. These demons were blue though, and not purple like his friend. Also, none of them had a cool dragon tattoo, and none of them were disguised as a ghost disguised as a teaching assistant. 

“CAPTURE ALL OF THE CHILDREN!” Shrieked the biggest of the demons. “SACRIFICE THEM ALL TO OUR QUEEN!!”

“Let me handle this!” Wilfrit said, striking a cool action pose. His squirrels spread out and engaged the front lines of the demons in a brutal melee. 

“Hold on!” Joshua said. “I think we should let Boo try instead.”

“Josh, that’s a really bad idea and I don’t think we should,” Wilfrit said, his squirrels just barely keeping the horde at bay. 

“But she should have a chance to prove herself now that she’s part of the group,” Joshua said.

“No, that’s fine,” Boo said. “I don’t know how to fight yet. Only how to pretend.”

“It’s okay!” Joshua said.  “I think you should try anyway. You can do it! I believe in you!”

Wilfrit watched as Seymor and Oxwald were carried off by demons, screaming. “Josh, you need to let me take care of this!”

“Listen here, Pippers.” Joshua folded his arms. “I know I’m new to this whole having friends thing, but I’m pretty sure I know how it works.” He thought back to the time his uncle Horbert had left the television on by accident and Joshua had gotten to watch an entire episode of an anime. “If you want to be my friend, you need to let Boo have a crack at saving the day!”

Wilfrit clenched his teeth, and called back his squirrels. Immediately, hundreds of demons flooded into the room and started nabbing kids left and right. Joshua stared at Boo expectantly.

“Um.” She mimed waving a magic wand. “Fwoom. Fire ball!”

The demons, unaccustomed to playing pretend, were unaffected by the attack. One of the demons grabbed her, and then with its other hand it grabbed Joshua before carrying them out the door. It was at this point Joshua was willing to consider that perhaps he had made a dumbass mistake. 


GREG the helpful teaching assistant poked his head out of the cupboard in which he’d chosen to hide his body.  If the night before had been chaos, the hubbub around the school this morning was super chaos.  He watched as a murder of orange demons hefted what appeared to be game show set pieces down the halls while some gun-metal grey demons wheeled cages of screaming children in the opposite direction.

“Demons everywhere,” Bothersnatch growled as he ducked back into his cover.  “Looks like the Chaos Bitch Darkovbald really came back after all.  Kid, you know anything about standing your ground against legions of evil demons?”

The young boy Nicholas whimpered and sniffled unintelligibly from the corner of the cupboard.

“Uh… okay, so… yes?” Bothersnatch scratched his head.  Humans were so weird and confusing.  “We’re gonna have to stay hidden, but we might just find a way to escape to a safer hideout if you stick with me and listen to my instructions carefully.  First of all, we want to remain absolutely quiet.  Demons have excellent hearing.”

“Somebody’s whispering in the cupboard, over there!” a demon immediately yelled.

“Shit nevermind,” Bothersnatch sighed.  He placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I fucked up, Nicholas.  I really fucked up and I’m sorry.”

The cupboard doors flung open and the screaming child was immediately seized and hauled away by probably like a hundred burnt sienna demons.  Before GREG could make his daring escape, he was confronted by a hot pink demon with an enormous red bow on her head.  She was pointing a gun at her new captive, who was frozen in stunned silence.

“Teaching staff, yeah?” she asked, one hand fixed on GREG and the other frantically conjuring up texts on her smartphone.  “You’ll come with me, don’t try resisting or, you know, gun.” She waggled her firearm as a reminder.

“Kate!” GREG gasped.

Kate the demon stepped back, red in the face.  “Um… It’s very uncomfortable and weird that you know my name!  Anyway, you need to come with-”

“No, no, it’s me!” GREG ripped off the disguise.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!” said Kate as the teaching assistant was revealed to be a scary ghost.

“Dammit, wait!” the ghost snapped in frustration, ripping the sheet off from over his head.  “Kate, it’s me! Bothersnatch!”

Kate dropped her phone and gun at the same time, mouth agape.  “Oh my GOD!  You’re… you’re supposed to be in… what- what are you doing here!?”

“A little magic boy freed me from my ruby prison,” Bothersnatch explained, taking his old flame by the hands.  “Kate, listen, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I’ve done.  You were right, Kate, that bank heist was a big mistake from the start, and I should have listened!”

“Bothersnatch, wait-” Kate said, trying to pull herself away.

“Kate, I should have made different choices!” Bothersnatch continued.  “That night we had at the combination KFC and Taco Bell, I had… I had so many things I thought I was gonna say.  So many things I was planning to say.”

“Please, we can’t do this now!” Kate panicked.

“But now I’m stronger, and have more muscles!  I’m going to tell you all the things I should have told you before, right now!”

“Heya doll, what’s the hold up?” came a third voice.  Entering the room was a buff turquoise demon in a letterman jacket, tossing a football from one hand to the other.

“Sorry, Chad!  I got a bit tied up!”  Kate skipped over happily to Chad the demon and the two made out for thirty minutes.  When they broke, Kate looked nervously at Bothersnatch.  “Er… Chad, this is Bothersnatch.  He’s… an old friend.”

“Whoa!  A purple demon!?” Chad laughed uproariously.  “What a freak!”

Bothersnatch was accustomed to receiving ridicule from his fellow demons in regard to his grotesque birth defect.  It had haunted him his entire life, but spending so much time in isolation had almost been enough for him to forget that he was different.

“Chad!” Kate slapped her boyfriend on the back of his neck.  “Please, he’s very sensitive!”

“Ha ha, sorry there, guy!”  Chad said, pulling Bothersnatch to his feet with a single Herculean yank.  “Yeah, like she said, I’m Chad.  Kind of a demon Football star, not a big deal.”  He passed the football to Bothersnatch, who failed to catch it entirely and ended up slapping it out the window.  Chad was sad.

Putting aside his confusion and frustration, Bothersnatch got to the point.  “Hey, just what the hell’s going on around here anyway?  Did that old bat really return to this realm?”

“Oh, yeah, her Chaos Majesty finally got out of the Big Cup,” Kate nodded, taking a frowning Chad by the arm.  “Except now we’re stuck inside this school until the school year is over.  There’s this really nasty girl outside who’s refusing to switch off the barrier and is generally being very unreasonable about the whole thing,” she grumbled.

“So, you know how her Chaos Majesty is,” Chad shrugged.  “Instead of killing the children outright, she’s gonna make it a whole production.  Dougie P’s already got this crazy survival game going on, so we’re kind of building off of that.  The teaching staff has actually been extremely cooperative and enthusiastic about the whole takeover.”

“So what if, theoretically, I was hell bound to one of the kids,” Bothersnatch asked.

“Jesus, are you still making Hell Wishes?” Kate scoffed.

“Don’t worry about it,” Bothersnatch said, looking away embarrassed.  “But like, I really need to make sure this one particular kid survives at least for a couple of weeks.”

“Well,” Chad said, searching the room for a replacement sports ball.  “As long as they’re really smart and powerful with huge muscles, your odds might not be that bad.”

“Her Chaos Majesty’s about to hold this big re-orientation ceremony,” Kate explained, leading a disappointed Chad out of the room.  “Your kid will be there. They have no choice.  We’ve gotta get going, so good luck with that Hell Wish thing!”

Bothersnatch was now depressed and fucked.


The Chaos Witch Darkovkar shifted around in her seat, trying to get a feel for her newly constructed throne. It was a massive rune covered stone edifice, towering high in the school gymnasium. The velveteen cushions were comfortable, but something was still wrong.

“IT’S NOT SCARY ENOUGH!!” Darkovkar said, her voice a vengeful wind howling in the darkest of storms. Even sitting, she was gigantic, though her body was bent like a sickle. Her chalk white skin gave her face an otherworldly glow. She stared down at her new slaves with piercing silver eyes. “MY THRONE IS SUPPOSED TO BE REALLY SCARY, LIKE ME.”

“You don’t have to shout all the time!” Said Bridget Sixowls, the impudent mortal worm. 

“Sorry,” Darkovkar said. She had a problem with getting over excited sometimes. “I just think that if I’m going to be the overlord of a whole school, my throne ought to be just as scary as me.”

Bridget let out a big sigh. “Look. It’s the best our goblins could throw together on short notice. Stop complaining!”

“It would be scarier if you made it out of skulls,” Darkovkar said, trying her best to be constructive. “Just saying.”

“We haven’t got a lot of skulls lying around,” Maynard Jaffles, the former overlord of the school, said. He was wringing his hands and groveling like a good slave. “What are we supposed to do?”

“You could go dig up a graveyard or two,” Darkovkar suggested.

“No, we can’t!” Bridget said, stomping around the gym. “General Snowbell is using the school’s forcefield to keep you trapped! Now none of us can leave!”

This recap of Darkovkar’s annoying predicament made her grumble. Bridget was always such a downer. “It’s fine. It’ll wear out eventually.”

“Not until it wears out at the end of the school year, you stupid old cow!!”

The Chaos Witch stood up. “DO NOT GET SNIPPY WITH ME, WRETCH!” Inky tendrils escaped the folds of her coal black robe, burrowing through the seams of reality like cancerous veins, each burning like a solar eclipse. “I COULD END YOU WITH A THOUGHT.”

“Knock it off, Eliza,” Bridget said, rolling her eyes. “No one’s impressed.”

“I am!” Maynard Jaffles said, who was cowering behind her.  

“Nothing matters,” Bridget said. “Snowbell is not going to risk you getting loose again. As soon as the barrier goes down, she’s just going to throw the whole Magical Wizard Army at you so she can keep you pinned down. If she can’t kill you, she’ll stall you long enough to throw the barrier back up. We’re never getting out of here.”

Darkovkar smiled. “DO NOT WORRY.” She retracted her chaos tendrils and sat down again, making sure to adjust her butt for maximum comfort. “I HAVE A PLAN. ISN’T THAT RIGHT, GRIZZLEWICK?”

A demon in full battle armor stepped out of the shadows, dribbling a basketball with a steady, ominous, thunk against the gym floor. “Yes, mistress. As we speak, our demon forces are gathering along the outer rim of the forcefield and taunting the human general. We are making all sorts of mean and cutting remarks about how she has no hair, even though she actually has quite a lot of bright red hair. It won’t be long before she gets so mad that she has to drop the forcefield and come inside to fight us.”

Jaffles gasped. “That’s genius!”

“AND THAT’S NOT ALL!” Darkovkar said, clicking her jagged fingernails together. “IF THAT DOESN’T WORK, WE’LL THREATEN THE HOSTAGES!”

“What hostages?” Sixowls said.

The gymnasium doors burst open, and troops of demons marched inside carrying whole bushels of children.

“You said if we surrendered that you wouldn’t hurt the children!” Sixowls said.

The chaos witch did a big shrug. “GUESS I’M EVIL.”

All the demons dumped the kids all over the floor. Bridget Sixowls waded into the mess and helped children to their feet. “Please tell me you all read the safety guidelines!” She said. “It is VERY IMPORTANT that ALL OF YOU read the safety guidelines CAREFULLY.”

Darkovkar thought that that Bridget was using really weird emphasis in her sentence just now. It was probably not important. Bridget always was a weirdo, even way back during marching band. 

“LISTEN UP CHUMP NUGGETS.” Darkovkar hopped off her throne and tap danced her way down the steps to the bottom. “I HEAR YOU LIKE TEAM BUILDING COMPETITIONS HERE, SO I GOT A GAME WE’RE GONNA PLAY.”

“What happens if my team loses?” Asked an extremely tiny and nervous young boy who did not appear to be at all thrilled about this predicament. 


The little magic boy was even less enthused than before. “What… what kind of game are we playing?”



Legends of the Hidden Temple was a gameshow that aired on American kids’ television from 1993 to 1995.  In the show, children were placed onto teams and challenged with conquering the various puzzles and feats of athleticism that the enigmatic temple demanded of them.  The centerpiece of the whole production was a large stone funny head named Olmec, who narrated the adventure while providing historical fun facts and biting political commentary.

Darkovkar’s new plan wasn’t dissimilar to the original that is now so universally recognized and beloved by all True 90’s Kids.  The only significant difference is that in the original, Olmec was a fictional puppet voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, whereas in the universe of The Little Magic Boy, he was as real as you and me and was considered a highly decorated and respected figure of authority.

“Too bad they couldn’t get the real Olmec,” Wilfrit sighed as Grizzlewick clambered inside the very fake and poorly-made puppet head the Chaos Witch had cobbled together with their limited time and resources.

Joshua looked down at the grossly oversized purple T-shirt he’d been given to represent his allegiance.  “This is stupid.  We’re already Fun Bunchers, now we’re also the purple birds?”

“THE PURPLE PARROTS!!!” Darkovkar slammed her fist on the arm of her throne.  “GOD!”


Ricard Prisselworth, now decorated in a Green Monkey shirt and a golden helmet for safety, folded his arms.  “Hey, Chaos Witch!  Why can’t Snakeothy be the Silver Snakes?  That just seems… I don’t know, logical?”


“Then why are we the Blue Snakes?” one of the Manderlie triplets questioned as her sisters drilled skateboard stunts behind her.  “That’s not even a team in the original!”


“I want to be the Purple Snakes,” Boo raised her hand.  “I don’t like that every other team has some kind of snake thing except us.”

“Children,” Jaffles said with a gentle smile as Darkovkar was too busy steaming like a tea kettle to respond.  “It’s best not to question the Chaos Witch’s mysterious tactics.  She could remove your skeletal structure with a determined blink of her eyes.”  He cringed, as if recalling an unpleasant memory. 

“Ho ho ho!” the fake bullshit Olmec roared to life, his jaw bouncing in an unnatural way.  “Welcome, children, to my Hidden Temple!  Are you ready for the thrills, the chills, the kills of an elaborate team-building adventure?”

“No,” said most of the kids.

“Oh!” Olmec said.  “Oh no!  Well, here’s out it works!  Two from your team will be sent into the Hidden Temple in search of a mysterious relic!  Whichever team manages to retrieve it has exclusive access to that relic’s powers and a distinct advantage over the other teams!”  The light in Olmec’s left eye burnt out and a bunch of swearing yellow demons scrambled to replace it as he continued talking.  “If you get caught using a relic seized by a team that isn’t your own, her Chaos Majesty will fucking kill you!”

The Chaos Witch snapped her fingers and a BIG GUN materialized in her hand.

Joshua felt somebody fiddling in his back pocket. He bolted his neck around behind him and saw the silhouette of a razor scooter slinking into the shadows.  He reached into the problem pocket and found a small booklet titled RULES AND SAFETY.  “Hey, guys,” he whispered to Wilfrit and Boo.

“Hm,” Boo frowned, taking the booklet from him.  “Safety guidelines?  I think it’s more exciting not to know anything going in.  Like, you never know whether the next step will lead to success and glory or a slow death at the bottom of a spike pit.  What a delicious dilemma!”

Wilfrit grabbed the safety manual from her and took an extra step of distance between them.  “Let me just take a look.”  He folded it open and briefly perused its contents.  He frowned for a long time.

“Well?” Joshua said impatiently.  “Anything useful? It sounded like there might be some sort of-”

“No,” Wilfrit said, and the manual burst immediately into purple flames. “Nothing you need to see.  Don’t worry about it.”


“Joshua!” Wilfrit snapped, his squirrels beginning to hiss angrily at his tiny friend. “Don’t worry about the stupid pamphlet. Friends are all the safety you need.”

“I guess, but…” Joshua trailed off.

“…the Big Cup!” Olmec’s voice grabbed Joshua’s attention once again.  “That’s right, kids, her Chaos Majesty’s home away from home for the past several decades can be yours, if you can successfully avoid Temple Guards and swing on ropes and overcome other fun challenges!”

“Oh no!” Joshua yelled.  “Guys, I’ve gotta have my cup!”

Bernard Crowley appeared before them, a sinister smile on his face.  “Now, let’s see here!  Who among your ranks would be best suited to challenge the temple first?”

“Sir,” Joshua raised his hand, trying to put out of his mind that the professor was actively conspiring to sacrifice him for personal gain.  “Please, let me challenge the temple!  I need that cup!”

Bernard raised an eyebrow.  “Very interesting,” he brushed his hand through his own gorgeous locks.  “Clearly this is very important to you, tiny little Milton.”  He walked over to Joshua and swiftly plucked up Wilfrit and Boo by their hair like Pikmin.  “These two will do!”

“Hey!” Joshua yelled.  “Please, you have to let me do it!”

“The teams have been chosen!”  Olmec’s voice boomed, knocking the children to their feet.  “The decision is final, and nothing will ever change it!”


Joshua stood with the other hostages, arms crossed with his hands tucked in his armpits. He watched as the demons filled the school’s indoor swimming pool with live sharks in preparation for the first of the Temple Games.

“This is stupid,” Joshua said. “I’d be a much more exciting contestant for this thrilling blood sport!”

Seymor Tickle wrung his sweater sleeves, eyeing the burly demons watching them. “I hope we live long enough to see our parents again.”

“Must be nice to have parents!” Joshua said, who was maybe a bit too eager to play the orphan card. “Ones that aren’t spiders and/or trapped in magical orbs!”

“Geez, Josh. Sorry,” Seymor said. “This is just a really scary situation. If Wilfrit and Boo don’t at least place in this kooky 90s nostalgic gameshow throwback, we’re all going to die!“

Joshua had to admit that the Fun Buncher class president had a point. On the other hand, Joshua was as good as dead anyway if he didn’t get his hands on that cup. Even if Wilfrit won it, he’d probably just give it to a squirrel or something.

“First team to cross the moat wins the first Pendent of Chaos!” Fake Olmec announced. “Go!!”

“Wait, we’re starting?” Ricard said. “Shouldn’t it be on three or something?”

 Wilfrit did a perfect swan dive into the pool and swam past all of the sharks in a matter of seconds. He leapt onto the far side like a dolphin, where a team of squirrels were waiting with towels and a hair dryer. 

“Come on, Boo!” He called across the pool. “Swim!”

“I can’t!” Boo said.

“Yes you can!” Wilfrit said. “Sharks are not actually as aggressive as popular media leads people to believe! As long as you don’t antagonize them, you should actually be relatively safe!” 

Hearing this, the other children leapt into the water to swim across and claim victory. Boo hesitated at the edge of the pool, still scared.

“Hurry up!” Wilfrit said, as Ricard Prisselworth and April Manderlie joined him on the other side.

Boo stepped into the pool and sank like a rock. A moment later, she surfaced with a platoon of squirrels with adorable scuba gear outfits carrying her across. It still wasn’t enough, as she was the last one to make it to the other side.

“OUGHT OH!!” Olmec said, as a slide whistle and sad trombone played over an instant replay of Boo’s pathetic performance. “Looks like the Purple Parrots are the losers for this round! If they don’t pick up the slack, it looks like the Fun Bunchers are going to get e-e-e-eliminated!!”

“That wouldn’t have happened if I was playing,” Joshua said. “I am much smaller and it would be easier for those squirrels to carry me.”


A solitary demon wearing a lab coat raised a sheepish hand. Darkovkar pointed a finger at him, and he popped like a balloon filled with grape jelly.


The demons began prodding children with cattle prods to herd them to the next event arena. Joshua toddled along, still insufferably salty.

“Psst! Hey! Kid!” 

Joshua turned around to see a surprisingly tall, purple student who was wearing a T-shirt with the words ‘child hostage’ written on it with permanent marker. 

“Hello?” Joshua said. “Do I know you?”

“It’s me! Bothersnatch!” The giant child said. “I’m in disguise!”

Joshua gasped. “Why, it is you! What happened to your other disguises?”

“Never mind that,” Bothersnatch said. “I need your help. My ex-girlfriend is seeing this new douchebag named Chad. I think if you help me trash his bedroom, Kate will come around and realize that I’m the better catch.”

“I think we got more important things to do!” Joshua said. “The winner of this dumb game show gets the Big Cup!!”

Bothersnatch stopped in his tracks. “Whoa crap, really? That’s way more important than my thing. Let’s steal it while everyone’s distracted.”

“Are you two CRAZY?!” Seymor hissed at them, swiveling his head to see if the demon guards were paying attention. “You can’t pull a stunt like that! They’ll kill you!”

“Shut up, Seymor!” Joshua said. “Do you think the Fun Bunchers actually stand a chance of placing anything but dead last?”

“Well… No.” He said.

“And do you think the Chaos Witch is actually going to let ANY of us live in the long run?”

“…Probably not…” Seymor said. “B-but I would like to delay my gruesome death for as long as possible!”

“That’s not good enough for me!” Joshua said. “I’m going to drink from the Big cup, and then I’m going to use my big muscles to stop the Chaos Witch and save everyone! Unless you’ve got a better plan, either help me, or stay out of my way!”

Seymor Tickle looked taken aback by Joshua’s words. He stared at the floor, humbled, before looking up at him again. “I want to help, but I don’t think I can. I’m not brave enough.”

Joshua groaned in frustration. “This whole team is worthless! Aren’t you good at ANYTHING?”

“We’re good at pretending,” Seymor said.

“Well, how about you pretend to be brave then!” Joshua said. “How about that?!”

Seymor Tickle went very quiet. He seemed to think about what Joshua had said, and then something strange happened. His eyes glazed over. His back straightened. His chin rose, and a look of deadly determination spread across his face.

“Alright,” he said, cracking his knuckles. “Let’s do this.”


Chad the demon looked up from the latest issue of Sports Illustrated.  Three children were shuffling towards the exit.  With a heavy sigh, he approached them.  “Come on, guys.  This is how you get punched in the face.”

With a glimmer in his eye and a dream in his heart, Seymor Tickle clenched a fist and thrust it hard into Chad’s jaw with a mighty shoryuken dragon punch.  Chad rocketed upward, his head burying itself in the acoustical ceiling tiles.  Bothersnatch laughed out loud, beckoning the attention of the rest of the demon guards.

“Go, Josh,” Seymor commanded, radiating a manly bravado like Joshua had never seen before.  “Find your cup.”

“Are you sure you’ll be okay by yourself?” Josh asked, worried about how long his friend’s imagination would last him.

Seymor cracked his knuckles and rolled his neck around, smirking at the demons scrambling to grab their oversized child-smashing mallets.  “Don’t worry about me,” he assumed a brave fighting stance.  “Oh, hey, is Boo watching me?”

“No, she’s busy failing horrifically at the Steps of Knowledge,” Bothersnatch said, slightly disappointed he’d be missing important moments of the exciting event.

“Shit,” Seymor sighed, launching himself into the oncoming assailants.

“Alright kid, let’s get moving,” Bothersnatch whispered as he led Joshua by the hand into the hallway.

“Wait, where are we going?”  Joshua asked, darting in both directions.  “The Big Cup’s inside the gym, right?  Backstage in the temple thing”

“Oh,” Bothersnatch stopped.  “Yeah, um.”  Bothersnatch scratched his head.  “Maybe there’s like, a backdoor… to the gym? I don’t really know how schools work.”

“HEY, I HEAR CHILDREN!!” yelled a demon from around the corner.  “LET’S BREAK THEIR KNEECAPS!”

“Jesus, Grumbletooth, they’re children,” replied another demon.  “We’re just going to escort them back to their seats with a First Warning.  We have a system, Grumbletooth.”

“Uh oh, we need a plan, fast!” Bothersnatch cowered.

Joshua glanced in every direction except up, and found no way out.  Then he looked up and saw another air vent.  “Throw me up there!  I’ll see if I can find the temple!”

“Oh, throw you, huh?” Bothersnatch looked up.  “I don’t know, kiddo… Throwin’ ain’t really my strongest suit.  If I could throw, like, even a Sportball, then heck, maybe she would’ve… I don’t know…”

“What are you talking about?” Joshua said as the sounds of a million patrol demons’ footsteps became SO MUCH CLOSER.  “It’s like ten feet upwards and I weigh like an ounce!  Anyone could do it!”

“I DON’T KNOW KID!” Bothersnatch folded his arms and looked away.  “I just… I don’t know!  I don’t know if I can do it!  I don’t know if I have the confidence to throw something, man, I don’t know!”

The patrol demons were so close to the corner that it wasn’t even funny.  “Just try!!!” Joshua yelled, thoroughly exhausted.  “Seriously, this is not a big deal!”

Bothersnatch heaved a heavy sigh.  He remembered that game.  He remembered unexpectedly catching the Sportball in the Final Inning with five seconds to go.  Cuddlebutt was wide open.  It was the perfect opening and the crowd was roaring.  He remembered Kate, jumping up in down in her cheerleader outfit, screaming his name.

“Bothersnatch!” she screamed.  “You can win this!”

“Do it, kiddo!” yelled Coach McDie, giving a thumbs up from the sidelines.  “It’s all ridin’ on you!”

“I’M WIDE OPEN!!!” screamed Cuddlebutt.

Bothersnatch the little teen demon took a deep breath, pulled back his arm, closed his eyes, and screamed as he Hail Mary’d the shit out of that Sportball.

It plopped into the mud exactly one foot in front of him.  The entire audience booed and the entire opposing team tackled him all at once as the buzzer signaled the end of the game.  Cuddlebutt was crying.

“What are you doing!?” Joshua slapped Bothersnatch in the face.  “Will stop spacing out and throw me already!?  Those demons are JUST ABOUT TO TURN THE CORNER ANY SECOND NOW!!”

“Almost there!” yelled the demons.

“Alright,” Bothersnatch sighed.  “Alright, I’ll give it a shot.  Climb up on my arms.”

Without a second to spare, Bothersnatch set aside his traumatic backstory and tossed tiny Joshua Milton up into vent.  It was extremely easy.

As the tiny boy smashed through the grate, he saw his friend with an enormous smile giving a thumbs up as he was carried off by one million demons.  “Find your cup, Josh!”

There was no time to lose.  Joshua scurried like crazy through the vents, following the sounds the crowd cheering and the Chaos Witch’s screaming.  It was all directly beneath him now.  The rest of the temple should be just ahead.  With everyone focused on the current events, he could hop in, take a sip from the cup, and be done with it!

Sooner than he’d anticipated, he crawled right over it.  Kicking out the grating beneath him, the tiny child saw his coveted cup sitting atop a dimly lit pedestal.  He crawled out, careful not to make a noise, and noticed the cup was set on top of the Aggro Crag from Nickelodeon GUTS.  Apparently the Chaos Witch had no problem intermingling her nostalgic kids’ programming.

The Big Cup was right in front of him.  Joshua could hardly believe it.  Without a second’s hesitation, he grabbed it and drank from it like you would from a cup that has a drink in it.  And he waited.  He waited for a sign that magic was happening.  He waited for his muscles to grow like Popeye.  He waited for his mom to come back to life, or something magical like that.  But nothing of the sort happened.

“What are you doing here?” came a girl’s voice.  Joshua whipped around to see one of the Manderlie triplets tucking a big cup into a backpack.  Given that April and May were participating in the game, he surmised that this one was Courtney.

“It’s you!” Joshua yelled in a hushed whisper.  “What are you doing!?”

“Asked you first,” she said, pulling the straps of the backpack over her shoulders.  “You’re drinking out of a fake cup.  You know that, right?  Well, I guess it’s a real cup, but it’s not a real magical cup…”

It suddenly occurred to Joshua that this “Big Cup” he had acquired was a bright pink plastic sippy cup like a baby would drink from, and not the cup he had seen before.



Rodney the Magical Talking Razor scooter never asked very much from life. He was created in a manufacturing plant located in Cerritos, California in 2003, during the third Great American Ghost War. This was a simpler time, long before the Chaos Witch Darkovkar awoke to her nascent power and rose out of the Stygian Pool with her demon pals. Indeed. Ghost War III was one of those good, fun, wholesome wars like they don’t make anymore. 

“Shit!” Maynard Jaffles shouted, as he hocked grenades over the ramparts of the haunted castle. He was way younger in this flashback. His snow-white beard dangled only down to his waist, as opposed to all the way down to his ankles. The grenades exploded into sprays of shimmering green electricity, evaporating any ghost caught in the blast, but it was no use. No many how many they took down, more came floating out of the woods. They wailed, rattled chains, and moved to surround the castle.

“There’s too many of them!” Betrayus Murderdeath said, whose military robes had been torn to shreds revealing his chiseled physique. “Every time they kill one of our dudes, they add to their number! I think we’re next!”

The last grenade popped. “I won’t let that happen, best friend!” Maynard pushed Betrayus off the gun turret. “We got what we came for! You call in an evac, I’ll keep them busy!” 

Murderdeath looked at his commanding officer, inspired by his bravery. “S-sempai…!”

“Go!” He said, as he revved up both machine guns. He spun the turret to face the oncoming hordes. “Undead?” He quipped. “More like DUMBdead.”

With wrathful scream, Maynard unloaded what remained of their anti-ghost rounds into the oncoming waves of enraged specters.

“Command?” Murderdeath tuned the squelch on the two-way radio. When that didn’t work, he called them on his cellphone. “This is Private Second Class Murderdeath with the Magical Wizard Army! We have the package, but we’re surrounded! Requesting extraction!”

“Negative M.D.,” command squawked back. “It’s too hot to land the chopper. Head to the landing pad and we’ll pull you out.”

“There’s too many of them!” Murderdeath shouted. The roar of the machine guns died down to empty clicks as the ammunition belt ran dry, and the sound of bullets flying was replaced with the moans of the dead. 

“Understood. Sending supplies.”

Wind swept across the faces of Maynard and Betrayus as the helicopter appeared overhead. A crate fell from overhead, shattering against the castle battlements. Sgt. Jaffles threw aside the debris to reveal a sick ass Razor Scooter. 

Rodney opened his eyes for the first time. Like every Magical Talking Razor Scooter, he was given one purpose in life: To entertain and delight children and tweens, and to complete complex military operations when necessary. To accomplish these goals, each Magical Talking Razor Scooter is imbued with the soul of a powerful ghost captured during wartime. 

“Hey there new best friend!” Rodney said with a guffaw. “What sort of help can I lend?”

“Oh, this is so rad,” Maynard said, climbing aboard Rodney. “I always wanted one of these.”

“Get us out of here!” Betrayus shouted as the ghosts started shooting ghost lightning all over the place. He hopped on and held onto his commander’s waist.

Rodney sprang to life, zipping over the ledge and grinding down the buttresses, slicing through any ghosts in their way. Maynard spun the handle bars in midair, which was a cool stunt. 

The extraction helicopter hovered above extraction point. Douglas P. Wilson leaned out the bay door with big cowboy hat and his tiny pistol, firing even tinier bullets that burst like grenades in the mobbing ghosts. Rodney ramped off a loading ramp, did a 1080 midair, and landed inside the helicopter bay with a loud thunk. 

“We’re done!” Douglas pounded on the hull. “Let’s go!” 

The pilot gave a thumbs up. The bay doors closed, and the anti-ghost forcefield went up, zapping any of the phantoms dumb enough to get close. 

“This thing is so damn cool.” Maynard could just not get enough of Rodney. “Looks like I have a new best friend!” 

“I thought I was your best friend,” Betrayus said, looking sad and pathetic. 

Commander Douglas P. Wilson sat down with a macho grunt. “You boys get me my amulet?”

Maynard tossed a small draw-string bag over to their boss. Douglas pulled out an amulet, and the whole cabin of the helicopter grew darker just by exposing it. Bernard stared at the amulet, and felt a strange longing well up in him, something he would not find the words to describe for years to come filled with blood and strife.

“I hope that thing is worth it,” Maynard said. “We pissed off a whole lotta ghosts.”

Laughing, Douglas put the amulet away. “Don’t you worry, buckaroos. If we get anymore trouble from them there ghosts, we’ll stick them in the Orb of Screams with the rest. We’ll need this thing if we’re gonna beat Darkovkar when she gets back.”

“Are you sure you can control it?” Betrayus said. 

“I know I can,” Douglas said. “I can totally control the Darkness. One-hundred percent. I guarantee it’s going to be really super easy. Nothing is going to go wrong. The plan is going to go perfect, and everything will work out. There is zero chance of any ironic twist spelling doom for all of us. Everything is smooth sailing from here on. I can totally control the darkness. Yes.”

The rest flashed before Rodney’s eyes. The return of the Chaos Witch. The fall of the dragons. Hordes of demons without end. Blood and screams and Douglas at the center, his pants around his ankles, as Darkovkar bore down on him. Now she was back again, and every moment that passed changed whether the Dragon Prophecy would come to fruition. 

“Sensei?” Bernard said.

Rodney snapped from his revelry. He was parked inside the locker room. “What is it?”

“I don’t think the Milton boy is coming.”

“He will come when he reads the note,” Rodney said. “We promised to save his uncle, if he did, that’s what you wrote.”

Bernard grimaced. “I believe that child, the one from Organization Seventeen, he intercepted our message.”

Rodney shook his handlebars. This would not do. He had not come this far, acquired all the verses of the dirge, just to be stymied by some squirrel boy. They needed that amulet. Someone needed to unleash its power. Someone who had the discipline, the training, the chi, and the raw strength of will to control the darkness inside and finish the mission they’d all started together.

“Find him.”


Uncle Horbert floated in his crystal prison.  The room was completely empty and silent, as it had been for the past twenty four hours.

“Hello?” said Uncle Horbert. “Could somebody break me out of this crystal prison?”


“Oxwald Manderlie!” Bernard called out as he kicked down the double doors. The DIAMOND EMERGENCY sirens roared and paper-pushing goblins ran around screaming in a frenzied panic.

“Yes, dear!  I’ll have to call you back!” Oxwald said, his shoulder clenching a telephone, his left hand filling out diamond paperwork at lightning speed, and his right hand prodding through what remained of an instant ramen bowl.  “I’m sorry, it’s an emergency!  Yes, I know this is my eleventh consecutive overtime shift in a row, I…  Yes, honey, yes, I realize the terrible magical powers you wield, most of us wield similarly terrible magical powers!  Yes, sweetums, I-”

Bernard Crowley removed the telephone from Oxwald’s shoulder and spiked it hard onto the carpet, where it promptly exploded.  “For god’s sake, Mr. Manderlie, look at the state of this desk!  Is it any surprise that you are the lowest ranked diamond inspector in the entire world?”

“But someday I’ll be number one!” rookie diamond-inspector Oxwald declared, shielding his paperwork from the sprinkler system that activated in response to the numerous fires that ignited amid the chaos.

“What, in the world?” Bernard smirked, opening an umbrella.

“No, that’s too hard.  Just in the greater Shelbyville area.”

“Okay”, Bernard said, and slammed a folder on Oxwald’s desk.  “It looks like you’ve got a chance to prove you’re worth something, though you’d never get me to believe it.”

“What is this?”  Oxwald raised an eyebrow.  The folder was labeled “SUPER CLASSIFIED” in blood red color.  The folder itself was black like Shadow the Hedgehog and looked very evil and scary. “And what’s with all of this chaos?” Oxwald asked as well, just now noticing that the office was absolute chaos.

“It’s that damned Henrick Milton!”  Bernard growled, picking up Oxwald’s favourite coffee mug and smashing it against the wall.  “He’s caught wind that we’re fueling the Chaos Witch Darkovkar’s evil campaign of murder and bloodshed and now he’s trying to pull out of our deal!”

“Wait, what?” Oxwald blinked, mouth agape.  “We’re doing what?”

“Uh,” Bernard said.  “Don’t worry about it.  Anyway, the Milton Family Diamond Mine is our BIGGEST and BEST diamond vendor and if we lose them, it’s goodbye to Good Diamonds! …Inc!”

“I heard that place was haunted,” whispered Bill from IT.

“Fuck you, Bill from IT!” Bernard said.  “It’s not haunted! It’s as flawless an operation as the very stones that flow endlessly from its labyrinthian tunnels, and we desperately need it!”

“So what are we supposed to do?”  Oxwald scratched his head and tapped the envelope curiously.  “Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his diamond mine?”

“NO!!!” said Bernard, unplugging Oxwald’s computer monitor and hoisting it out of the twentieth story window with the help of some goblins.  “Not this man!  We have a contract and he has absolutely no right to grow a conscience about this whole thing now!”

Bill from IT sipped his cone of water.  “But man, that dude’s loaded,” he muttered.  “It’d take a really strong defense to win a case against his legal team.”

“Bill you’re really not supposed to be hearing this,” Bernard growled, rubbing his temple.  “Can you just… go home or something?”


“Anyway,” Bernard sighed, hovering over Oxwald with his arms crossed.  “The boss wants you to go out and convince the strongest lawyer in the world to take our case.  Frankly, I think you’re going to fuck it up so hard, but I’ll be busy meditating under a cherry blossom with Rodney-sensei for the next five days.  You are, sadly the only one available.”

“I can do it!” Oxwald decried, slamming his fist on the desk and accidentally spilling ramen broth all over the mission briefing.  “Ah, shit!”

Bernard rolled his eyes.  “Listen, Mr. Manderlie, the address is in the file, assuming it’s still legible.  If you pull this off, you might actually manage to get a promotion.  This could even bump you up to second-highest, maybe?  I don’t know.  Maybe.”  He folded his arms and began to walk away, but stopped and let out a heavy sigh.  “We’re all counting on you, Mr. Manderlie.”

Oxwald promptly set to work skimming through the classified documents, getting more or less a general gist of what was meant to be doing, and sliding twenty stories down the fireman’s pole into his spankin’ new minivan.  “Let’s go, minivan!”  He cracked his knuckles, adjusted his rear view mirror, clicked his seatbelt on, turned on the ignition, straightened up an empty coffee container that remained in the cupholder, put the car into reverse, waited for an incoming car to pass by, waved off a friendly co-commuter who decided to let him exit, backed up his vehicle, put it into drive, and rocketed at a blazing 55 miles per hour towards his destination.

The ride over there was crazy and whimsical, if you remember how wizard traffic works, but it’s not really important to the plot so suffice it to say that Oxwald experienced many dramatic brushes with death and eventually wound up at his destination.

Oxwald the little diamond inspector straightened up his necktie, took a deep breath, and entered the premises.  Inside, he found a cozy lounge with a corner full of toys for children.  A receptionist smiled and greeted him.

“Hello!  If you’re looking to hire an attorney, I’m very sorry to say that Ms. Ripofski and Mr. Sweats are all booked up!”

“Please!” Oxwald pleaded.  “It’s a diamond emergency!”

“Sorry, no can do,” the receptionist smiled.  “Please go away!”

“Rats! We’re caput!” the failure of a diamond-professional cried, throwing the folder onto the ground in an act of passion, causing a photograph of Henrick Milton to slide out fully visible.  “Ah, that’s classified!  Do not look at that man!”

“Wait.  Is this Henrick Milton?” came the most powerful and commanding voice Oxwald had ever heard in his life.

Suddenly very nervous, he saw entering the room an impossibly muscular woman in a well-pressed business suit, reading the Magna Carta with one hand and lifting an old-timey spherical barbell with the other.

“Why, yes it is,” Oxwald said. “Assuming you mean Henrick Milton the Bravest Solider, fabulously wealthy diamond mine operator, and no-good lousy diamond deal welcher, that is.”

After finishing her fiftieth rep, the lawyer dropped her barbel onto the floor, where it crashed through the floor like tissue paper. She picked up the photo to admire it. 

“He’s cuter than I thought,” she said. “Maybe a little short, but I like how big his knife is.” She showed the photo to the receptionist. “Do you think he’s cute?”

“Yes, his raw, sexual magnetism is undeniable!” Oxwald said, growing impatient. “Are you the attorney of this establishment?”

“Anastasia Ripofski.” She fanned a handful of business cards. “At your service.”

Not wanting to appear rude, Oxwald took all of the offered business cards. “I need the world’s STRONGEST lawyer to destroy this man!”

“Well, I’m the world’s most muscular lawyer,” Anastasia explained, flexing a bicep. “Is that what you’re wanting? If you’re looking for the most skilled attorney on the planet, that would be my mentor: Chumford Sweats.”

If Oxwald were honest with himself, he had forgotten exactly what Bernard had asked for. He had meant to do some research on the computer before he left the office, but he couldn’t because Bernard had thrown his monitor out the window. 

“No, I am certain only YOUR assistance will do, Ms. Ripofski,” Oxwald said. 

Anastasia smirked. “Well, color me intrigued. Maybe I can find a way to squeeze your case into our workload. Tell me more.”

Oxwald panicked. He had not actually bothered to read the file, and it would be super awkward to start now. Terrified of seeming silly, he tried to think about why he would need the help of a crazy buff lawyer to deal with the Bravest Soldier.

“I need you to, like… beat him up.” He wracked his brain as hard as he could. “But you have to do it in as legal a way as possible.”

She furrowed her brow. “You want me to fight him in a duel?” 

“Yes, exactly!” Oxwald said, relieved to know that must be it. “I want you to humiliate him. That way, his self-esteem will be lowered to the point that he’ll HAVE to sell us all of his diamonds!”

“It sounds like what you’re looking for is a mercenary, not a lawyer.”

“No, no, no!” Oxwald said. “It has to be a lawyer!” Bernard had definitely requested a lawyer, there was no mistake about that. 

Anastasia looked at the photo of the villainous Milton again. “You know what? My lunch hour is coming up, and I could do with a change of pace. A fight sounds exciting right about now. I think I’ll help you.”

“Wonderful!” Oxwald said, certain that this course of events would not result in a whirlwind romance that would shape the course of current events in staggering and irrevocable ways.

The flashback cut off there. Oxwald was not exactly sure why he had a flashback of that particular event in his life. It was not especially pertinent to his present situation, which was being locked in a smelly goblin dungeon by demons. But Oxwald supposed he shouldn’t complain. It was very boring in his dungeon cell. Sometimes, when it was very boring or he had a lot of work to do, he enjoyed having flashbacks to entertain himself. He decided he ought to have another flashback to take his mind off of his predicament, but discovered that he had depleted all of his Imagination Points with the last one and would have to wait a while before he could start another.

“Hello?!” Someone called from somewhere outside Oxwald’s cell. “Let me out of this damned crystal prison!!”

Curious, Oxwald leaned out the barred window of his cell which overlooked a massive crystalline structure that sealed away all of the most dangerous delinquent students of Douglas P. Wilson Memorial. The exterior of the crystal, directly below the school itself, was housed in a cavernous shaft that plunged hundreds of meters deep below the Earth’s crust. Demons on hover scooters zipped by in every direction. Squinting, Oxwald peered out and recognized the man imprisoned in the top most floor.

“Oh my heavens,” Oxwald called. “Mr. Horbert Ripofski? Is that you?”

“Of course it’s me you imbecile!” Horbert shouted back. “Get me out of here!”

“Were you captured by demons as well? …Why are you in a crystal prison?” He paused, feeling a sting of jealousy. “I didn’t get a crystal prison.”

“Probably because you are a useless, blithering idiot!” Horbert shrieked. 

“No, I don’t think that’s why.” Oxwald said, contemplating. “Maybe they don’t know how dangerous I am.”

“Are you going to help me or not, you oaf?!”

Oxwald pursed his lips. “Well, I would like to, but it seems that I am also imprisoned. Perhaps if you helped me escape, I could come up with a scheme to help you!”

“No!!” Horbert said, rattling around in his shard. “l would never help you escape! Never, never, never!!”

Since it was clear they weren’t getting anywhere, Oxwald allowed his mind to wander.

“Do you suppose if I free us both, the demons will realize how dangerous I am and upgrade me to a crystal cell?”

Horbert was too busy shouting obscenities to reply, but that did not matter. Oxwald felt a rush of determination. He had to do everything in his power to prove he was worthy of a crystal prison.


For an hour, Oxwald tried things like violently shaking his bonds, attempting to cast spells without access to his tiny baby wand, and doing nothing for extended periods of time.  He was beginning to realize that sheer will and determination sometimes didn’t actually amount to much, if we’re being realistic.

A goblin nervously shuffled past Oxwald, carefully balancing a styrofoam cup that was filled to the brim with piping hot coffee, prepared lovingly for one of her thousands of demon supervisors.

“You there!  Goblin!” Oxwald called out, startling the goblin into spilling the slightest bit of coffee over the edge, mildly singing her hand.  She winced, endured the pain, sighed with utter exasperation, and fired an angry glare at the noisy man hanging from the wall.

“Goodness, I apologize wholeheartedly!”  he said, blushing.  “Er, no, I mean… Listen, you!  These bonds are not enough to contain me! Let me assure you, I am one rough customer.  It is only a matter of time until my top-notch diamond-inspecting skills empower me to abscond from these holdings and cause quite a ruckus indeed!”

The goblin stared blankly at Oxwald.

“So, um…” Oxwald tried to think of some more tough-sounding things to say.  “I will definitely stir up some amount of mischief, if allowed the chance to do so!  I am a rabble rouser who deserves a crystal prison and you should probably go ahead and put me in one, if it’s not too much trouble!”

The goblin cleared some guck out of her throat for a moment, but otherwise gave no meaningful reaction.

“Please?” Oxwald said, running out of ideas.  “What say you to that, you… you… nitwit!”

After another moment of blank-faced staring, the goblin’s lip subtly began to tremble.  Abruptly, she broke into a series of phlegmy sniffs and streams of tears.  She threw down her coffee, buried her face in her hands, and began to walk away from Oxwald with a series of pitiful creaky whimpers.

“Aw, geez,” Oxwald said, feeling horrible.  “Hey, goblin!  I’m sorry!  Hey, come here!  It’s okay!”

The goblin snorted, wiped her face, and approached Oxwald, not meeting his eyes.

“I was out of line,” he sighed.  “You’re not a nitwit.  Probably.  I don’t actually know you, so you very well may be one, but I’ve no hard evidence on which to base that claim.  I’ve been quite stressed out lately and it was wrong of me to take it out on you.”

The goblin sighed and nodded ever so slightly.

“Everything’s just kind of a mess in my life, you know?”  he continued.  “My daughters think I’m lame, my wife treats me like a house pet, and that fucking piece of shit Bernard is always one step ahead of me… Let’s face it, little goblin friend, I deserve this half-baked afterthought of an imprisonment.”

“GODDAMNIT!” Horbert yelled from his crystal. “Listening to you has already become the worst part of this god-forsaken crystal prison!!”

“Okay, that’s rude,” Oxwald said.  “You don’t have to listen if it’s such a bother.”

“Yes I do!” Horbert yelled.  “I’m completely immobile and have no means of blocking sound!  I need to get my hands on that rotten, awful child so I can take out all of my anger on him!”

“Hey, you know what?” the diamond-inspector snapped, now losing his patience.  “Since you can’t help but listen, how about we talk about you for a moment?  What’s your deal?  Why are you such an asshole to that poor child?”

“Mind your own business!” Horbert spat.  “Do you realize how many diamonds have been left rotting in the ground when they could’ve been dug up by that worthless little magic boy!?  A great deal, I assure you!”

“A fair point,” Oxwald admitted.  “It’s just that you’re so unnecessarily cruel to him.  Are diamonds truly the only thing you care about?”

“YES!!!” Horbert grinned, though Oxwald couldn’t tell from his current perspective.  “Diamonds and the profits they rake in are literally the only happiness I have in this world!  You’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head!”

“What about your family?” Oxwald Manderlie asked, now with a genuine curiosity.  “You live with those siblings of yours, wouldn’t you do anything for either of them?”

“Who?” Horbert asked.  “Oh, Plart and Crickery, yeah.  They’re fine, I guess.  I guess I think of them as coworkers more than anything.  I don’t really know that much about them.”

“You… you grew up with them.  You’ve been living in that solid gold mansion with them for eleven years,” Oxwald said with a bewildered blink.  “Nobody in this town has ever seen the three of you apart.”

“Yeah, I mean, we do see each other a lot,” Horbert shrugged.  “That doesn’t mean we’re close or anything, I don’t know if I’d even consider them friends.  They’re just… people who are there, most of the time.”

“What?” Oxwald was extremely confused.

The goblin, meanwhile, quickly became surrounded by her co-minions, goblin and demon alike, who were all completely invested in this exchange and listened in on bated breath.

“What about before the Milton Estate landed in your lap?” he continued to pry.  “What did you care about before everything that happened with Henrick and your sister? Er, the dead one, that is.”

A pulse of energy emanated from the crystal prison and rattled every corner of the musty dungeon.  Tiny amounts of stones and debris fell from the ceiling and some among the small audience were knocked off balance.

“Don’t. Say. His. Name.” Horbert growled, suddenly very serious.  “That miserable welp is thousands of spiders now, and he deserves to be every last one of them.

“Well, I’m saying it anyhow!” Oxwald said, defiant.  “When did you become such a nasty slimeball?  Why do you hate Henrick and his child so much?”

Another pulse, stronger this time. With a slow creak, a fault line disrupted the perfect surface of the crystal prison.

“I’m… Warning you…” Horbert growled like a cornered blood hound.

“Tell me, damn you!” Oxwald demanded.  “What did Henrick Milton do to you!?”


Oxwald Manderlie’s eyes went wide as he witnessed the flash of blinding light that accompanied the incredible explosion of black chi (the evil version of regular chi) that sent an eruption of crystal shards showering every surface of the cell.  The goblins and demons scrambled to their feet and fled in terror as the school around them quaked violently from the aftershock.

At last, the chaos died down, and through his coughing fit, Oxwald could make out a figure standing before him as the smoke cleared.  It was Uncle Horbert Ripofski, bulging with muscles and eyes glowing red.  A being of pure rage.

Slowly approaching the cowering man hanging before him, Horbert grinned sinisterly and uttered two terrible words:

“Horbert Unleashed.”


A commercial bumper plays wherein Montgomery Murderdeath stands atop a gargoyle brooding over the school.  He notices the camera, smirks knowingly, and flings his cloak over it, which becomes a screen wipe to the text “The Little Magic Boy and the Big Cup will be right back!”


Because you are listening to this amazing true story hundreds of thousands of years after it was originally broadcast within the whimsical but EXTREMELY REAL parallel universe of Little Magic Boy, all commercials have been removed. Instead, you are taken directly to an eye-catch of Joshua and Bothersnatch standing back-to-back wearing cool sunglasses and hoodies with katana swords strapped to their backs, while a totally sick three second punk metal musical riff plays, just like it does in the DVD release. 


Plart Ripofski stood on the veranda of the Milton mansion as the wind swept across his smooth, bare head. He shrugged his dowdy mustard-colored shawl tighter to keep warm against the chill. Staring out across the vast acreage of the estate, he could not help but feel as if something was wrong. It was as if his dear brother Horbert were in danger, and he were once again powerless to do anything.

“Plart?!” Crickery called, creeping out the diamond-studded side door her brother had left ajar. “What on Earth are you doing?! Come inside before you catch your death! From cold!” She wore a kitschy cocktail dress made from the skins of exactly 99 dalmatian puppies. 

“It’s Horbert,” Plart said, arching his thick caterpillar eyebrows. “He’s been gone for almost two days now. I’m scared something might’ve happened. Like maybe he unleashed his Chaos Blood form.”

“Don’t be an imbecile!” She snapped. “Our brother would NEVER unleash his dark chi. That would require for him to be at least a tiny bit angry, and you know as well as I do that he has the sweetest temper of any of us!” 

“Yeah,” he said, trying to believe that were true but still feeling as if something were very wrong. “I suppose you are right.” 

“Don’t you worry about good ol’ Horby!” Crickery clenched a reassuring handful of bony fingers into Plart’s corpulent shoulder. “He’ll wring that little magic boy’s throat for tricking us! Then he’ll come back and find a way to sell all of our diamonds!”

“I hope so,” Plart said. He was terrified that, at some point, he might be expected to do something proactive about their increasingly perilous financial situation. 

Crickery ushered her brother back inside the Northwestern foyer, where stacks and stacks of pizza delivery boxes and Chinese takeout containers filling every corner. Without the infusion of fresh cash from a diamond sale, the Ripofski’s could no longer afford to hire celebrity personal chefs to cook their every meal. Now they lived like savages.

Plart let out a crooning sigh. “I just don’t know what to do with myself without a little magic boy to bully.”

“Why don’t you go and distract yourself with a nice flashback?” Crickery said, stroking his head. “That will get your mind off things.”

There was nothing Plart hated more than using his imagination, but he was too despondent to argue. Heaving himself into a luxury recliner, he sat back and began to pretend it was the past until it was. 

“What the hell did you just say to me?!” Horbert shouted, only it was young Horbert, with his cool sunglasses and a katana sword strapped to his back. “If you have a problem with this family being evil, you tell me that to my face!”

“I don’t have a problem with evil people!” Henrick Milton said. He was short, but with muscles, a strong chin, a rakish pompadour, and a big knife he carried with him wherever he went. “I don’t see moral alignment! I just see people! All I’m saying is that what Darkovkar is doing goes beyond regular evil. We should do something.”

“Oh, so one evil lady blows up a continent and now she’s a threat to society?!” Horbert said. “What if *I* want to blow up a continent? Would you try to stop me too?!”

Henrick hesitated. “…Well, yes.”

Horbert gasped, stammered, puffed, and stuttered with indignation. 

“Everyone stop shouting!” Crickery shouted. “You’re making Plart cry!” 

“I’m crying all over the place!” Plart said, distressed by how much trouble he was having wiping away all the tears pouring out of his face. All four of them were standing inside the Milton family diamond vault. 

“See what you’ve done?!” Horbert said, shouting even louder. “First you get Anastasia killed, and now you’ve made Plart cry! You are tearing this family apart! I wished my sister had never married you!”

The bravest soldier went very quiet for a moment. “I loved Anastasia.” There was a tremor in his voice. “If I could bring her back, I would, but I can’t. Ghosts are against the law. All I can do is put a stop to the war that killed her. If you just let me use your family’s Chaos Blood Egg, I can use it to stop Darkovkar and avenge your sister!” 

Horbert sneered. “I’d rather DIE than let that priceless heirloom be used by the man that let her die!!”

Heinrick made a move for the egg pedestal, but Horbert leapt to it first and snatched it up.

“Please!!” Heinrick said, trying to reach up and wrestle Horbert for it. “It’s our only hope!” 

Horbert tossed the egg to Crickery, and then Crickery tossed to Horbert. They played keep away, and it was very easy and very funny because the bravest soldier was so little. 

“Guys! Come on!” He said. Jumping he leapt onto Horbert’s chest and fought him for the egg. Horbert, being the incredible genius that Plart knew he was, swallowed the egg. 

“Hahaha!” Horbert laughed in Heinrick’s face. “Hurk!” He grapsed at his chest. Painful veins popped under his skins, and dark chi began to pour off him in every direction.

“Oh no,” Milton said, looking at Crickery and Plart with fear in his eyes. “It’s not supposed to be taken orally!” 

Horbert staggered, muscles bulging, screaming waves of purple energy that shook the walls. He hurled a mine-cart with diamonds with a swing of his arms. He was looking pretty unleashed. His sunglasses fell to the floor and shattered into a million pieces, which symbolized that things would never be the same.

“What do we do?!” Crickery said.

“Close the vault!” Heinrick said. 

The three fled as Horbert tore through shelves and forklifts, tearing a swathe of havok. Plart, Crickery and Heinrick pushed the vault door shut and sealed Horbert inside before he could escape. They slumped against the door, exhausted, while on the other side they could hear their brother rage.

“What now??” Plart said, still scared.

Heinrick stared at Plart, his mind racing. Upstairs, baby Joshua was crying. The Chaos Blood Egg was unusable, and Darkovkar’s demons marched through the streets. “I think we’re doomed.”


Darkovkar drew out an exaggerated sigh as May Manderlie and Ricard Prisselworth clashed lightsabers in a brilliant light show that delighted and captivated all who were present to see it.  The Fun Buncher and Puzzle Pal players sat on the losers’ bench, Wilfrit Pippers with his face firmly palmed.

“This is so dumb,” the Chaos Witch complained.  “I don’t know who these kids are and I’m totally not invested in the outcome of these events.”

“What were you expecting?” Sixowls shook her head.  “Once the nostalgia wears off it’s just a bunch of kids having a good time.”

“THE THING I HATE MOST OF ALL!” Darkovkar pounded her fist.  “I want some real action!  I want these dumb children to fear for their young and precious lives!”

A nervous demon tugged at the hem of Darkovkar’s spider robes (woven with thread made of 80% spider and 20% cotton).

“WHAT!!!!!” she screamed and waved her hands in the air.

“Hey, so, FYI, we’re missing at least like, two children,” the demon explained awkwardly.  “Evidently our guards are extraordinarily incompetent.”

“OH, SWEET!” the Chaos Witch Darkovkar said, turning her balled fist into hot lava with magic.  “I’LL GO KILL THEM MYSELF, THAT’LL BE A LOT OF FUN!”  All among the present demons, children, and teaching staff awkwardly pretended not to notice her conversation, which was spoken at a volume that assaulted the ear like nails on a chalkboard.

“Hoo boy, this ain’t good,” Bothersnatch said very quietly to himself, quickly whipping up a warning text message for Joshua. “Hope she doesn’t think to check the Big Cup.”


“Oop!” said Bothersnatch.

“DID SOMEBODY OUT IN THE AUDIENCE SAY OOP?” she asked as well.  “I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO MAKE OF THAT, BUT ANYWAY HERE I GO TO CHECK ON THE BIG CUP!” She turned to Ricard and May, whose sabers were locked in an exhausted stalemate.  “YOU TWO KEEP FIGHTING UNTIL ONE OF YOU IS DEAD! I’LL BRB!!”

“Dear, oh dear,” Jaffles said as she floated off to kill some kids for real this time.  “Seems events are now moving forward in quite a dramatic way.  The time to dwell on past events has passed and we appear to be definitively progressing towards an exciting climax. No more stalling for time now.  We are about to find out what happens next.”

“This isn’t the first time you’ve said that,” Sixowls sighed and closed her eyes and began to remember.

“Dear, oh dear,” Jaffles said as Douglas P. Wilson rode off on his horse to kill the Chaos Witch for real this time.  “Seems events are now moving forward in quite a dramatic way.  The time to dwell on past events has passed and we appear to be definitively progressing towards an exciting climax. No more stalling for time now.  We are about to find out what happens next.”

“Are you sure he can control the darkness?” Bridget said with incredible skepticism and vibrant, curly red hair.  “Eliza is better at Darkness than anybody I’ve ever met in my life.  If Doug can’t control that amulet, he hasn’t got a chance!”

“Dougie P. will win the day, that wicked witch he’ll surely slay,” Rodney assured her, although secretly he knew that Douglas wouldn’t be returning from this mission because he was the traitor.  “You can trust me because I am a magical talking razor scooter.”

“Yes, obviously,” Jaffles nodded while doing an ollie.  “We trust you 100% all the time and that was pointless thing to say.”

“Hmph…” said Betrayus Murderdeath, arms folded in the corner of the room, inky black hair draped so as to obscure half of his face.  “You used to trust me 100% all the time… Do you still, Maynard? Doubt it…” He sighed and zipped up all thirty zippers spread throughout his black leather hoodie and went to calm himself down.

The Vacant Tomb was Betrayus Murderdeath’s favorite place in the school and also in the whole world.  It was essentially a fountain crowning an enormous slab of marble placed in the dungeon in case any major players like Jaffles or Douglas P. Wilson kicked the bucket and needed to be commemorated, though probably it would never have to be used for that.  It was here that they held a number of forbidden secrets, kept secure by Douglas’s very favorite song.  Betrayus aka Montgomery Murderdeath knelt before his favorite relic of them all, a glowing emerald orb that emitted a soothing cacophony of terror-stricken wails mixed in with an undertone of unanswered pleas for mercy.  It was so ASMR to him and was the only thing that could calm him down anymore.

“Betrayus, are you down here?” Bridget Sixowls called.  “Are you sulking again?”

“Yes, I’m very sad today!” Murderdeath scoffed.  “Nothing will calm me down!”

“Oh, come now,” Sixowls glided down standing atop four magnificent spectral owls.  “You’ve been moping all the time ever since that stupid razor scooter joined our ranks. Methinks somebody is jealous.”

“I AM NOT JEALOUS!!!” Murderdeath screamed and punched a hole in the stone wall.  “I am sad for no reason! Now begone!”

“I know what’ll cheer you up,” Sixowls sneered.  “You need a mission. We can even give you a fun disguise!”

Betrayus rolled his eyes super hard.  “Only if I get to be an elderly dwarf of a man with a hook for a hand.”

Bridget bit her lip.  “Hmm… Would you settle for a hooked beak-like nose instead?”

Betrayus rolled his eyes EVEN HARDER than the first time.  “Fine. What’s the mission?”

Sixowls looked through the briefing as her four diligent owls swiftly dressed the young beautiful man in a creepy old disguise and gave him fun props like a creepy cane and a bunch of dice.  “There’s one more relic we’d like to add to our little collection. The most devious one of all,” she explained in sinister tones.

The old crone snapped back to reality. Realizing how long it had been since all of those things happened, she suddenly felt very old.


“Mr. Ripofski!!” Oxwald yelled as loud as he could over the sound of Horbert unleashing a devastating 46 hit ultra combo on the closest demon jailer. “PLEASE be careful! You mustn’t do anything that could damage the crystal prison!”

“ARRRGHAGH!” Horbert responded. Black chi poured out of his every orifice as he punched the demon through a crystal wall, severely damaging its structural integrity. 

“No!” Oxwald said, mopping his brow with his silk handkerchief. “That is actually the opposite of what I requested that you do!”

“HORBERT UNLEASHED!!” Horbert screamed, sending shockwaves of evil energy rippling through the school’s foundations. 

“Stop saying that!” Oxwald said, but it appeared that Horbert Ripofski was beyond listening. Another team of brave demons barged into the crystalline stockade, doing everything they could to delay the diamond tycoon’s advance. It made no difference. Horbert launched into an expertly choreographed onslaught of punches, kicks, haymakers, and German suplexes that laid waste to every living creature that came within arm’s reach. 

Running out of ideas, one of the goblins zoomed up riding on a hover scooter, and spritzed Horbert in the face with a water bottle to discourage all this bad behavior. Horbert sneezed and hissed, and then he snatched the scooter right out of the air. Spinning, he built up speed and then hurled the goblin and scooter through the air at a total velocity that Oxwald observed to be thirty-two point eighty-two kilometers per second. The scooter and Goblin shot across the dungeon chasm and sliced through the wall of Oxwald’s cell, creating a massive hole and coming within a meter of killing Oxwald.

“Oh my,” Oxwald said, wiping even more sweat off of his forehead. “This really has got out of hand. If I’m to have any hope of being transferred to a crystal prison, I must take action!” 

Dragging the battered hover scooter off of the goblin’s mangled body, Oxwald checked to make sure the imagination engine was still intact. Finding the machine operable, he climbed on, fastened the safety belt, and used it to putter through the air across the cavernous pit. 

“You’re being ridiculous,” Oxwald told Mr. Ripofski. “I’m going to alert the school administration of your careless behavior! I’m sure they will have our cells swapped to reward me and punish you, and then maybe you’ll learn to appreciate the things you have!”

Oxwald went to do a mid-air u-turn. Before he could leave, Horbert leapt into ten point six meters into the air and clung to the rear vent of the scooter. The miniature airship whined to stay airborne under their combined weight.

“Hey now! Let go!” Oxwald said.

“HORBERT UNLEASHED!” Horbert snarled, reaching to crush Oxwald’s bones.

“I really do regret asking you about that whole Heinrick Milton business.” Oxwald sighed. “If I had known you would react this poorly, I wouldn’t have bothered.”

Before a Horbert could get a good grip on any of Oxwald’s bones, Oxwald slammed his foot on the accelerator. The whole scooter launched forward much faster than Oxwald had anticipated. The two of them slammed through the roof of the dungeon, and exploded through floor of the gymnasium, spinning out of control in a spray of plaster and plumbing, until they crashed head-on into a giant replica puppet of Olmec, beloved television iconic and respected figure of authority. 

Under most circumstances, such a speculator and traumatic crash should have killed Oxwald Manderlie. However, because he had remembered to put on his safety belt he was completely fine and there was no problem at all. 


The ground beneath the Aggro Crag shook, nearly knocking Joshua Milton and Courtney Manderlie off their feet. 

“What the hell was that?!” Courtney said, clutching the Big Cup tighter. 

“I don’t care!” Joshua said, throwing the decoy cup into the ground. “Listen! I need you to let me have that cup or else!”

“Oh yeah?” Courtney smirked. “Or else what?”

“Or else me and my BDFF,” which stood for bestest demon friend forever, “Are both going to get killed my hell magic!!”

Courtney looked at him, seeming to weigh whether Joshua was making stuff up or not. She looked at the cup, then at the little boy at her feet, going through some sort of internal conflict. Just when you thought it couldn’t get anymore suspenseful, something else happened!

The Chaos Witch Darkovkar drop kicked the door to the sound stage open with a thunderous bang. She marched inside, and a colorful platoon of demon henchmen fanned out around her. 


Joshua was in a pickle. He was in danger, and things were getting really exciting and dramatic, which was too bad because the chapter was over because too much time was spent on all those flashbacks earlier.



CHAPTER SEVEN: The Little Magic Boy

Joshua’s eyes met Darkovkar’s.  In that terrifying moment, the boy could swear that time and space around them had inexplicably slowed to a halt.  After a moment or two, he came to realize that this time distortion was not a remark of cheap narrative flourish, but was a thing that was literally happening around him.  He blinked his eyes, but was otherwise unable to move from his position.

“Joshua,” the Chaos Witch said with a twisted smile.  Though she was definitely pretty scary standing before him with a Wizard’s Crossbow in one hand and a Wizard’s Flamethrower in the other surrounded by several thousand demons armed with Wizard’s Brass Knuckles and a little black one with a single Wizard’s Grenade, Joshua observed that she and her posse were subject to the same temporal anomaly and all were frozen in anticipation.

“What’s going on?” he asked, his voice taking on a cool and mysterious echoing effect..  “Why do you know my name?  Why can’t we move?”

“It’s because we have a very special bond that was secret until this moment,” she explained. “Are you surprised!? Did you know!?”

“I didn’t know.”

“EEH HEE HEE HEE!!!” Darkovkar cackled, very proud of how good she was at secrets.  “But for realsies, everything I’ve been planning and scheming has led to this exact scenario, Aggro Crag and all.  I’m pretty fucking hyped right about now.”

“Can I ask you some questions, Chaos Witch Darkovarkar?” Joshua asked.  “I have a staggering number of them.”

The Chaos Witch Darkovkar thought for a moment, then shrugged.  “Sure, I think you’re entitled to a quick Q&A sesh.  This little anomaly is going to wear off pretty soon, though, so make it quick.”  She closed her eyes and groaned for just a moment.  “Uh, and you can probably just call me Eliza.  The whole Darkovkar thing just feels weird coming from you.”

“Why are you such an evil monster?” he began.  “Killing people is such a rotten thing to do. I just don’t really get your whole lifestyle in general.”

“MOST PEOPLE DON’T!” she smiled.  “Anyway, that one’s a little complicated and you’re not ready to know that whole truth.  Suffice it to say that if you went through the terrible and tragic magic backstory I did, you’d also be an evil murdering psychopath.”

“I see,” Joshua frowned, observing the frantic scene frozen around him.  He noticed Grizzlewick the Demon had leapt out of his stone head and was presently frozen in the middle of sick slam dunk on the nearest Basketball net.  “So what’s our relationship then, Chaos… er, sorry, Eliza? Are we… family?”

Eliza sighed with great exacerbation.  “Okay, that’s… ALSO really complicated.  I didn’t know you were just gonna come right out with all the Big Questions! Come on, Joshua, I can’t tip my whole hand to you just yet!”

“Am I going to die?” he followed up.  “From this, I mean. I know death is an inevitability for all of us,” he clarified and suddenly felt pretty bummed.

“NO!” Darkovkar shrieked.  “No, Joshua, I’m quite certain you will escape from this pickle without a scratch. You’re a very clever little magic boy, after all.”

“How am I going to do that?” the little magic boy said with a frown.  “I feel like I’m kind of screwed here.”

“FIGURE IT OUT!!!” she screamed at him, though she couldn’t help but be delighted at her inadvertent reference to another classic Nickelodeon program.  “One more question!  We’re almost out of time!” As she said this, Joshua noticed the grenade demon begin to pull the pin in very, very slow motion.

He thought hard about what his last question should be.  Up until yesterday, he had spent all of his days laboring away underground.  His only impression of the world outside came from his uncle’s awful stories and from brief glimmers of sunlight he’d happened to catch on his way to the dinner table.  His Hell Wish with Bothersnatch the Demon changed all of that.  It was through his planning and initiative that Joshua found his life tumbling towards chaos.  It was also Bothersnatch who encouraged Joshua to ignore the threat of the Chaos Witch, and who suggested Joshua sneak onto this Mountain of Nostalgia in the first place.

Joshua felt a deep, sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, though he couldn’t put his finger on the exact cause.  It came on as a sudden wave of anxiety, like he had overlooked something that should have been completely obvious.

“What’s the matter?” Darkovar hissed.  “You look as if some terrible realization has just dawned on you!!!”

His heart racing, Joshua felt time slowly returning to normal around him.  Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Courtney Manderlie slowly beginning to take a step back.  He could barely make out the terrified faces of the student body witnessing this incredible spectacle.  Then, he noticed someone else.  In the rafters behind Darkovkar, barely visible outside of a glowing reflection from its eyes.  It was a tiger.  But it did not appear to be aggressive.  Instead, it was frozen with its paw held up in the air, as if drinking from an imaginary vessel.  All at once, Joshua snapped back to his present dilemma.

“No more questions?” Eliza frowned, disappointed.  “Damn, I’d expected this to be more exciting-”

“What does the Big Cup do?” Joshua asked sternly.

The Chaos Witch did not answer immediately.  She thought a moment, then her face broke into a sinister smile.  As movement slowly began returning to the world around them, she met his eyes once again, and answered his question.

“Why don’t you find out?”


Botchersnatch pushed and shoved through the crowding demons, needing to get to the frontlines before something happened to Joshua. He goofed up real bad when he blurted out that the kid was trying to nab the Big Cup. Now every demon in the school was going to punch him to death and it was all his fault.

It’s not like he cared about Josh or anything. There was a hell wish to grant, and if he botched that they’d both be stuck in the hell zone. Saving the only friend he’d known since before he got stuck in that ruby prison had nothing to do with any, stupid. 

Something was wrong. He was pushing and shoving everyone he could as fast as he could but wasn’t getting anywhere. His demon feetsies were just slipping and sliding in place on the gym floor. When the crowd cleared, Bothersnatch saw why. A buff turquoise colored demon in a burnt letterman jacket was holding him in place. 

“Going somewhere?” Chad said.

“Uh, no. No.” Bothersnatch gestured towards his disguise: A pastel unicorn sweater he’d stolen from a Fun Buncher. “As you can see, I am just a hapless human child, blundering into danger. Don’t mind me!”

Chad ripped the sweater to tatters with a swipe of his clawed hand, revealing Bothersnatch’s cool dragon tattoo underneath.

“Oh,” Bothersnatch said. “Ah. Hey Chad! Weird meeting you here! Is that a new facial scar?”

Chad ran his hand over the burn marks covering his whole face. “Yeah. It is. …A kid snuck up on me and did a flaming uppercut on my face. Now I’m disfigured for life.”

“Oh yeah! I saw that!” Bothersnatch laughed. “That was HILARIOUS! Oh man. You shoulda seen the look on your dumbass face!” He tried his best to mime how stupid Chad looked and started laughing again.

Chad’s grip tightened, becoming painful. “I don’t think you get the problem, broseph. That was an imagination technique. Kids aren’t supposed to know about those. It’s too dangerous. They’re loaded with more imagination than anybody! If this spreads, the school might start fighting back, and then we’re in trouble.”

“You mean YOU’RE in trouble!” Bothersnatch tried to knock Chad’s hand away, but wasn’t strong enough. “I’m not one of you!”

Chad flicked Bothersnatch across the chest and sent him crashing backward onto the floor. He bent down over him, sneering.

“You mean that?” He pointed at Bothersnatch’s dragon tattoo. “Do you think believing in the dragons means ANYTHING? You think that changes what you are? You’re a demon, jackass. You were created to serve the Chaos Witch, and that’s what you’re going to do.”

“Fuck you!” Bothersnatch scrambled to his feet, terrified of getting into a real fight with a turquoise. “I’ll do what I want! I’m going to go back to school and be a wedding photographer and you can eat shit!” 

Chad slugged Bothersnatch in the gut and made him spit up a handful of purple blood. 

“Think whatever you like,” Chad said. “At the end of the day, you can’t escape your nature. You are, after all, a puppet.”

The room was spinning. It was all Bothersnatch could do to stay on his feet. “What are you talking about…?”

“Figures that a broken purple like you can’t put the pieces together.” Chad shrugged. “You ever wonder why a nobody like you got a ruby prison? For one measley bank heist? Kate put that idea in your head. She set everything up so we’d have a guy on the surface. Someone weak enough not to trip all the demon sensors. That way we could steer things the way we needed when the time came.”

Bothersnatch stared at him, feeling hollow. He remembered the night he robbed the bank, thousands of years ago. Kate wanted to run away, just like he did. If only they had enough money to escape and start fresh, it wouldn’t be a problem. The thought that maybe Kate was waiting for him was the only thing keeping him going in all that time he was buried under all those rubies. 

“You’re lying,” Bothersnatch said. “Kate wouldn’t do that.”

Chad pulled a lump of stone crystal from his pocket. It was a hell gem. He squeezed it in his fingers and whispered into it.

“Stop hitting yourself.”

Without meaning to, Bothersnatch slapped himself in the face. 

“Stop hitting yourself.”

He hit himself again, and again. Bothersnatch staggered back as Chad repeated the command until his face was bloodied.

“Fun, right?” Chad said. “Kate put this together. Smart girl. Smartest in the whole Black Ops division. She even found a use for a defect like you. If hell wins this war, it’ll all be ’cause of her.”

Bothersnatch spat. “What do you want from me?”

“Hmm?” Chad hummed. “Oh. Nothing. By all means, keep doing what you’re doing. Grant that hell wish. Help the little magic boy drink from the Big Cup. I just thought it would be more interesting if you knew you didn’t have a choice in the matter. You never did. Maybe after the ritual is done I’ll have you kill the kid. That’ll teach you for looking at my girl.”

Bothersnatch reeled back to throw a punch, but his arm froze mid swing. Chad pocketed the hell gem with a smirk.

“Anyway, I gotta get going. A real demon like me always has lots of responsibilities to take care of.”

Chad turned on his heel to march off. Bothersnatch struggled to move but couldn’t budge. More than ever before in his life he was helpless. There was nothing he could do. He muttered a prayer to the dragons, asking them to help if they hadn’t truly abandoned him.

That’s when Horbert and Oxwald Manderlie exploded through the floor of the gym on a hover scooter, knocking Chad on his ass and freeing Bothersnatch from paralysis. 


“AH-WOOOOOOOOGAH!!!” Horbert roared as blindsided demons flew in all directions.  “HORBERT UNLEASHED!!!!”  He leapt off of the scooter, fist engulfed in a glowing red aura of pure rage (and a pinch of black chi), and brought it thundering down upon a horde of First Rank Special Op Ninja Demons, wringing the earth clean from beneath their feet and casting the entire lot without mercy into the fiercest depths of Hell itself.

Oxwald clumsily readied his bo staff, tripped on his way out of the scooter, and flailed pathetically as he haphazardly flung his prized weapon across the room and landed directly on his face. “Nobody move!” he commanded, muffled by rubble.


“Uncle Horbert!” Joshua yelled.

“Dad!?” Courtney groaned.

“JOSHUA!!!” yelled the voices of Horbert, Oxwald, and Bothersnatch in tandem.

“Mr. Manderlie!?” Bernard shouted.

“Bernard!” Oxwald called back, hopping to his feet.

“Bernard,” Rodney said calmly, urging his pupil to back down.

“CHAD!” Kate yelled suddenly, running to her unconscious boy toy.

“Josh!” Wilfrit called, a twister made of squirrels building up steam around him.

“Wilfrit!?” Joshua called back.

“Sis!” May yelled, pulling away just as she was about to deliver the killing blow to a defeated Ricard.

“RICARD!!” Montgomery Murderdeath shouted, pointing dramatically at the Big Cup.

“BOO!!!” Seymor yelled, tied up with rope and guarded carefully by a gaggle of anxious goblins.


“What are you doing?”

“I’m watching all of the chaos unfold around us.”


“JESUS, EVERYBODY SHUT UP!!!” Darkovkar yelled, firing a real gun into the air, instantaneously commanding the entire gymnasium into a deafening silence.  “SERIOUSLY, WHY ARE THERE SO MANY PEOPLE IN HERE!? I’M LOSING TRACK OF WHAT’S EVEN HAPPENING!”

“Uncle Horbert has come to rescue me!” Joshua explained, attempting to nonchalantly swipe the cup from the girl next to him. She slapped him away like a territorial house cat.




Joshua Milton’s jaw dropped.  He couldn’t bring himself to believe that his uncle, who had only ever displayed to him love and support and the bare necessities like in the Jungle Book song, would pull a heel face turn at the eleventh hour and bump elbows with the nastiest supervillain who ever lived.  “Uncle… Uncle Horbert!” He teared up.  “You can’t be serious! She’s a horrible witch, you can’t possibly be taking her side!”

“OKAY, THAT’S RUDE…” the Chaos Witch interjected.

“I WARNED YOU, BOY!!!” Horbert yelled, cracking his knuckles and sending sparks flying as he did so.  “YOU’LL REGRET HAVING EVER ABANDONED ME IN THAT SHITTY CRYSTAL PRISON!!!”

“That prison was really cool,” Oxwald mumbled, ferreting through the horde of jaw-dropped children in search of his beloved staff.

“AND YOU!” Darkovkar yelled, pointing at Courtney.  “PUT THAT DOWN! IT’S NOT YOURS!!”

“Yes it is!” Courtney called back, holding the Big Cup snug against her chest.

The Chaos Witch didn’t even know what to say in response to that.  Was it actually Courtney’s cup?  The young girl had said so with such confidence that Darkovkar wasn’t actually sure.

“Joshua!” Bothersnatch yelled suddenly.  “Drink, you idiot!!”

Joshua Milton froze.  Everybody was so thirsty to see him drink from this stupid cup, but none had proven thirstier than the thirsty demon thirsting before him now.  “Bothersnatch…” He called.  “Tell me something.  Are you really and truly my friend?”

“Of course I am!” the purple demon called back, insulted by the accusation.  “Goddamnit, you might be the only real friend I’ve ever had in my life!” He looked away to hide the tears forming in his eyes.

The little magic boy could feel the demon’s authenticity.  In the crowd, a few “aww”s droned out from students, goblins, and demons alike.  Quite unexpectedly, Joshua felt himself beginning to tear up as well.  “And I can trust you, right?” He wiped an eye.  “You’re not going to betray me, right?”

Bothersnatch tried to ignore his former lover cradling Chad’s unconscious body in his peripheral vision.  “Losers like us gotta believe in each other.  Cause Hell knows that nobody else is gonna!”  Bothersnatch the Demon let the tears roll down his cheeks.  He wasn’t afraid to cry anymore. “Once you drink from that cup, our Hell Wish is over.  But that…” He clenched his fists and beamed.  “That doesn’t have to stop us from having each other’s backs!”

“I trust you, Bothersnatch!” Joshua called out. “I’m going to drink from the Big Cup!”

“No!” Murderdeath called out, but suddenly fell to the floor completely petrified.

“Silly Monty, you’re bringing down the mood!” Floria Maplehorse whispered to the immobile professor, dragging him stealthily into the shadows and whistling a merry tune as she did so.

“ENOUGH OF THIS!!!” Horbert roared, raising his fist into the air and charging it with an energy that shook the school such that it seemed to risk collapsing entirely.  “THIS IS MY FINAL PUNCH, YOU UNGRATEFUL CHILD!!  THIS IS THE POWER OF CHAOS!!!”

“Courtney!” Joshua yelled.  “We need to drink, it’s the only way!”

Courtney Manderlie darted her panicked eyes in every direction and found herself starting to lose footing due to the imminent punch.  “Are you sure about this!?”

Massive chunks of the mountain began to crack off and fall to the ground below.  Joshua grabbed her by the hand.  “You can trust me!”

“TIME’S UP!!!” Horbert yelled, unleashing every last ounce of legendary Ripofski fury that had ever flowed through his veins.

The Aggrocrag crumbled, and Joshua fell. He clung to Courtney as they plunged thousands of feet towards the floor of the gymnasium soundstage. 

“Aw geez!” Joshua remarked. “This is a bad!”

Courtney fired her grappling hook gun to zipline to safety, but it fell short of connecting with any of the billions of stone gargoyles decorating the walls. 

“Welp,” she said as she discarded her grapple-gun. “Looks like we’re gonna die.”

“Not if we drink from the Big Cup!” Joshua said.

“I dunno Squirt. The Chaos Witch was pretty psyched for you to do that. Probably not a good sign.”

“My demon bestie told me it’s fine!” Joshua said, growing annoyed. “That’s good enough for me!”

Courtney glanced at the ground, which threatened to splatter them sometime in the next minute or so. “Ugh! Fine! I guess there’s nothing to lose.”

Exasperated, the Manderlie triplet tossed back a swig of the Big Cup. It was a couple seconds before she started screaming. Tendrils of eldritch void reached out and pulled every molecule of her body into the cup, leaving only silence.

Joshua made a face, having no idea what he expected. He whipped around in the air to glare at his demon bestie. “Bothersnatch!! What the heck!!”

“I don’t know, man! Geez!” He said. “This whole cup thing was your idea!”

The ground rushed closer. Joshua swam through the air to grab at the Big Cup as it pinwheeled in free-fall. He stared at the floor as it rushed toward him. At this rate, the gravitational impact would no doubt smash his little boy body into itsy magic bits. He peered inside the cup.  Somehow, a mouthful of ichor was still pooling at its bottom. 

There was no telling what just happened to Courtney. Maybe it was worse than hitting the ground real hard. Joshua looked at Bothersnatch one last time, thinking about the Hell Wish that still threatened to harm his only friend, and he drank from the Big Cup. 


If Joshua were asked to describe what it was like to be sucked inside the Big Cup, he would compare it to the time Uncle Plart ran him over with the vacuum cleaner. He got jammed somewhere between the rotating bristles and the filter. They didn’t find him until the next day when Horbert grew concerned about why it was taking Joshua so long to prepare breakfast.

Also, contrary to what the name suggests, Joshua felt that the Big Cup was actually rather small considering how much it hurt to squeeze every one of his atoms to fit inside. 

It wasn’t much better once he was all the way in. The pain stopped, but then it got weird. He found himself standing in a maze of mirrors, facing an infinite kaleidoscope of Joshuas. Most of them were shouting over one another, imploring Joshua to do something he could not understand. One by one they aged, growing wrinkled and hairy and decrepit. Joshua looked down at his hands and watched his entire body crumble to ash. The wind swept him up and scattered him across the breadth of the universe.

With no body, there was nothing to do but wait for the heat death of the universe. It grew so cold the universe contracted. All the little bits of Joshua were mushed back together, crushed with the rest of the cosmos into one compact little magic boy. Then he got dumped on the floor.

“Ow!” Joshua said. 

“Hey, there he is,” Courtney said. She was sitting in a bean bag chair and eating caramel popcorn out of a big Christmas tin. “Took him long enough.”

Joshua blinked. He was standing in what appeared to be someone’s messy apartment. A small purple dragon in an apron and sweatpants was sorting clothes out of a laundry basket.

“Uh,” Joshua said. “Where am I?”

“Inside the Big Cup,” Courtney said with her mouth full. “Duh.”

“What’s with the dragon?” He said. 

Courtney shrugged. “I think he lives here.”

“How very astute, dear child!” The dragon said. “My name is Expositonio! I was chosen by my people to abide inside the Big Cup to act as guide for whomever ventured inside! I am here to answer all of your questions, heehee!” 

“Oh. Cool.” Joshua felt like he had accumulated a lot of questions in a short amount of time. “Okay. First question: What the fuck?”

Expositonio puffed up his scaly chest. “Well, as you know, the Big Cup is a very important relic because it contains all the magic power of the Elder Dragons. It was meant only to grant those purest of heart with strength in times of great need…”

“Oh God.” Courtney groaned. “You got him started again.”

“When the Chaos Witch Darkovkar ascended, we knew it was only a matter of time until she attempted to claim our power as well! Thus, my people, crafty as they are, set a trap! We changed the magic of the Cup so that it would act as a prison for whomever was stupid enough to drink from it! And thus, we captured Darkovkar and saved everyone from her tyranny forever!”

“But she got out,” Joshua said. “It didn’t work.”

“Well, nobody likes a smartass!” Expoistonio said. “Did you think of that? Huh?! If you’re so great at criticizing other people’s plans, how about YOU come up something better!!” He picked up his basket and stormed off in a huff. “Then I can have a turn at telling YOU how BAD you are at saving the world!” He slammed the front door of the apartment, knocking a family picture from the wall. There was one last muffled shout of ‘asshole!’ from the hall, and he was gone. 


An initial search of the apartment yielded nothing that would likely interest the layperson, but Joshua Milton was anything but lay. Every detail, from the cream-colored carpeting to the gratuitous wall posters of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and Cowboy Bebop, was captivating to him.  He never dared to dream he’d see himself in a real air-conditioned room, but there he stood, curious and excited.

Courtney finished an hour-long shower and came out in one of the dragon’s finest silk bathrobes just as Joshua pried open the refrigerator to get a glimpse of what was surely real, edible food. “Already looked in there, it’s all gone bad,” she said, plopping down on Expositonio’s favorite recliner.

She was right.  Somewhere in the sea of Chinese takeout containers and tupperware filled with terrors to which no man should have to bear witness, there came an unspeakably foul odor.  Quickly slamming the door shut again, Joshua staggered back and fought the urge to vom all over the place.

“So what’s the plan now?” Courtney asked, grabbing a handful of M&M’s from the tiny bowl on the mahogany side table.

“What do you mean?” Joshua asked.  “We’re safe, aren’t we?”

“As far as we know,” she said.  “But you’ve been whining about this thing ever since we met.  What exactly was your plan for when you actually got here?”

“I thought it would give me huge muscles,” Joshua explained, delicately running his fingers across every pieces bit of silverware in the drawer.  “But now that we’re here, I’m actually a little worried it won’t give me huge muscles at all.”

“Hold on,” she said, reclining backwards so far that her head dangled behind her and she could meet Joshua’s gaze.  “You just assumed this thing would give you muscles?  Did you have any idea what this cup actually did?”

“Listen, it’s complicated!” he moped.  “I made a very impulsive wish and I didn’t have much of a choice at that point!  But yes, if I’m being honest, I really didn’t know very much about the Big Cup except that it imprisoned the Chaos Witch for several decades.”

There was a long pause.

“Joshua.” Courtney said very sternly. “How and when are we planning to get out of here?”

The little magic boy found that he had no answer for her.  According to Expositonio, this place had been designed to entrap the most powerful witch in existence for all eternity. That wasn’t still the case, was it?  Surely it wasn’t so complicated that a resourceful pair of magical children couldn’t puzzle their way out.  “I… I don’t know.”

“But I do!” The door flung open and Douglas P. Wilson did a Cosmo Kramer slide into the apartment.  The studio audience cheered uproariously and gave wolf whistles as Douglas smiled and tipped his ten gallon hat in acknowledgement.

“Douglas P. Wilson!” Joshua and Courtney yelled in perfect unison.

“Folks, I got good news and bad news,” he announced, resting his thumbs behind his gun holsters like a cowboy does.  “Good news is, you’ve successfully evaded the Chaos Witch’s evil clutches.”

“See? We’re safe!” Joshua said with crossed arms.

“Bad news is, this is honestly just the worst case scenario,” Douglas continued and lit up a cigar.  “I’ve only got a limited time here, so you folks better listen good.”

“Wait, how are you here?” Courtney Manderlie asked, thoroughly confused.  “I thought you were dead?”

“Oh, geez,” Dougie P. said, scratching his head. “Look, this little doggie can fill you in on the nuances later, I’m really blowin’ a lot of magic talkin’ to ya like this.”

“Are you a ghost?” she asked anyway.  “Were you in the cup all along? Does Principal Jaffles know about this? I have so many questions!!!”

Checking his watch nervously, Douglas P. Wilson gave in and gave a full and detailed explanation of his telepathic abilities and the situation regarding Joshua’s mother and even recapped some of those flashbacks from the last chapter even though it wasn’t really relevant now.

“Do you get it now, little lady?” he finished, thoroughly exhausted.

“Yes, I now have a full and complete grasp of the situation,” Courtney nodded.  “I don’t know who Plart or Crickery are though, so that whole segment went a little over my head.”

“Well anyhow,” Douglas said.  “Now I’ve got even less time to explain things, so please listen carefully.  First off, I gotta teach you the last verse of my dirge.  It’s my favorite verse of them all.”

“Oh, that’s right!” Joshua piped up.  “This way I can get into your tomb and get that amulet or whatever!”

“It ain’t gonna be that easy, now.” Douglas sighed.

“Why?  It’s just in the dungeon, right?”

“It’s… Look, just remember this verse, alright? Ain’t got time to explain!”

He cleared his throat and the room dimmed as a spotlight lit up on the school founder. He pulled out a microphone as a beautiful piano melody played him in.

My name is Doug Wilson and I’m here to say,

This has gotta be the sickest dirge ever made,

Three verses, crackin’ curses, makin’ Darkovkar pay,

Now open up ya fuckin’ tomb ‘cause now we’re fixin’ to slay!


He dropped the microphone which made an awful noise.

“Thank you,” said Joshua, immediately committing it to memory.

“Anyway, y’all gotta find a way out of here,” Douglas continued.  “Ya got the smarts fer it, that’s fer sure, but make sure y’all don’t trust a word that dragon says.  He ain’t what he seems.”

“You mean that grape dragon freak?  Expo… what’s his face?” Courtney asked with great curiosity.  “What do you mean by that?”

“What I’m sayin’ is- GRAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGHHH!!!!!!” With a horrific scream, Douglas P. Wilson’s spirit was banished back from whence he came.  Joshua and Courtney’s jaw dropped as their purple dragon friend returned, hoisting his laundry basket in one arm and holding out a palm full of eggplant parmesan in the other.

“Damned ghosts,” he sighed.  “Sorry about that, friends!  Now, let’s talk about getting you home, shall we?”


“You kids should be more careful,” Expositonio said as he ushered them out into the apartment hallway. “That ghost almost got you! It’s a good thing I came back when I did. This is why I always keep a big pouch filled with delicious eggplant parmesan on my body at all times. Ghosts hate Italian food, you know.”

“I don’t think we were in any danger,” Joshua said. “The ghost of Douglas P. Wilson is one of the many wonderful friends I have made since I started attending this school.”

“That’s just what he WANTS you to think.” The dragon fumbled with his keys and locked his apartment. “You can’t trust ghosts! They’re dangerous!”

“Yeah. He told us not to trust you,” Courtney said. 

Joshua felt a rush of panic. “Don’t tell him that!”

Courtney shrugged. “Why not?”

“Because Doug told us not to trust him!” Joshua said, exasperated. “We could have bided our time to subvert his scheme and escape! But now he knows that we know not to trust him!” 

Expositonio gave Joshua a wounded look. “That’s exactly the sort of nasty rumor a ghost would spread. I would hope a bright, tiny child like you would know better than to listen to it!”

“I’m just going to lay this out, Josh,” Courtney said as she pushed the elevator call button. “I’m siding with the dragon.”

“Why?!” Joshua said. “What’s wrong with ghosts??”

The elevator dinged open and they all walked inside. 

“They’re scary, for one thing.” Expositonio started counting off his claws. “They remember all sorts of bad things about the past and never shut up about it. Don’t you think it’s better to focus on the future? No use crying over spilt milk, I say! …OH, and they control that shadowy Organization Enigma. Doesn’t that sound really bad and ominous?”

Joshua’s stomach lurched as the elevator descended. It felt like it was going much too fast.  

“Dragons are way cooler,” Courtney said. “They run the government. They created the Magical Wizard Army. We worship them at church. If you can’t trust a dragon, you might as well start questioning a lot of basic assumptions we make about society.”

“And no one wants that!” The dragon laughed. “It’s much better not to think too much about any of those things.”

Joshua felt frustrated. He liked Douglas P. Wilson. He wore a large cowboy hat and taught him about the Principles of True strength. Plus, he knew Joshua’s mom. Maybe there was a chance Joshua would get to see his mom again if he listened to Doug. It sucked to have his faith in a weird cowboy ghost challenged like this. Every time Joshua felt like he was getting a handle on life outside of his uncle’s mansion it felt like it got more convoluted and silly. 

The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. The three of them entered what appeared to be an ancient temple. Massive stone reliefs depicting over-sized cups was a running decorative theme.  

“What is this place?” Joshua wondered. He had never spent much time inside of magical cups before, and this looked even more bullshit than usual. 

“Oh, this?” Expositonio swept his arm with a flourish. “THIS is the inner sanctum. It was designed to protect the souls of the Elder Dragons from Darkovkar while she was trapped inside the Big cup. The only way to escape to the outside world is to venture inside and ask my ancestors to release you.”

“What’s with all the skeletons?” Courtney said, kicking a stray rib cage across the floor. 

“Now that you mention it,” Joshua said. “There DO appear to be an awful lot of skulls and bones lying around.”

“Uh.” Expositonio frowned. “Well, there’s this whole Dragon Prophecy thing. The only one intended to get to the end is the predestined Chosen One of purest heart. If you don’t fit the bill there’s a good chance you’ll die.”

“So it’s like a video game,” Courtney said. “Sick.” 

“Wait,” Joshua said. “How many other kids died in here? How many others drank from the cup before we got here?!”

Expositiono retreated into the elevator. “Anyway, good luck!” He pointed a key fob at the temple doors and beeped it. The massive stone slab doors began to rumble and grind open, crushing the bones of the dead. An elaborate multi-layered dungeon was revealed beyond. 

Courtney cracked her knuckles. “I bet I’m the Chosen one,” she said. “I’m TOTALLY pure of heart. Well. Purer than you, anyway, Pipsqueek.”


The two children beheld the incredible gauntlet of extreme physical challenges that unfeld before them.  There were swinging vines, shifting stone blocks, alligator pits, at least twenty-seven laser grids, and a large slide adored with a sign that said “This Slide Will Kill You Unless You Collect 100 Coins”.  It all looked very challenging.

“This is a bit nostalgic, eh?” Courtney remarked, stretching her calves.  “That first time you hobbled up to us, it was just all kinds of wacky obstacles.”

“Right, except I don’t feel any more equipped to deal with this than I did then,” Joshua admitted, kneeling to inspect the miles-long grind rail they were meant to traverse in order to even begin tackling the challenge.  “I can’t possibly imagine a scenario wherein I survive this hell.”

“Geez, Debbie Downer over here,” Courtney rolled her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Joshua pouted, and curled into a ball.  “I’m supposed to be some kind of big hero, and I’d really like to be, but instead I’m just scared and confused.”

Taken off-guard by the sudden melodramatic tone the small boy had taken, Courtney Manderlie heaved a sigh and leaned down to put a hand on the tiny child’s puffy wittle head.  “Dude, relax.  First of all, I totally got this.  Second of all, you gotta stop putting all this pressure on yourself to have big muscles or whatever the hell.”

“It’s not just me,” Joshua mumbled with his face buried in his legs.  “My mom and dad were pretty much the coolest people ever, and everyone keeps telling me I’m some kind of chosen hero.  I’m pretty sure if you solve this challenge you’ll die a whole lot.”

“Who the hell keeps calling you a big hero?”

“JOSH THE HERO!!!” yelled an unstable, shaky skeleton with a cowboy hat.  “It’s me, Dougie P!  Possessing  a skeleton!  See?” He pointed to his big cowboy hat.

“Mr. P, why don’t you let Courtney be the Big Hero instead?” Joshua muttered.  “She’s way more cut out for it than I am. She’s a badass and does rad stunts and has way more muscles than I do.”

“She ain’t the one destiny-bound to the Chaos Witch, ya goofus doofus!”  Douglas shouted through clattering teeth.  “Listen, you gotta stop cryin’ like a lost piglet an’ get yerself up that obstacle course!  Every second you spend in here is–”

He was interrupted by Courtney roundhouse kicking his skull into the alligators, who were all too happy to devour the ghost-flavored ball of bones.

“Fuck that guy,” Courtney said.  “Josh, you’re a very brave, very small boy, and there’s probably a lot you’re capable of that doesn’t involve big muscles or cool Ninja Warrior stunts or fantastical magical powers.  You can’t let just let some deado tell you you’re supposed to be something you clearly don’t want to be.”

Joshua Milton hadn’t considered the possibility that he didn’t have to listen to all of these adults telling him how to do everything.  Why should Uncle Horbert disallow him from attending the family playthrough of Final Fantasy IX?  Why should Oxwald make him run around looking for diamonds?  Why should a weird cowboy guy coax him into throwing himself at mortal danger?  Why should Darkovkar have anything to do with him at all?

“As for the family thing?” she continued, idly doing kick flips with her skateboard.  “Screw that, too.  My mom’s a big celebrity and my dad’s… well, you know. Lovably incompetent, you might say.  But me?  I just do whatever I feel like.  If you obsess over copying someone, you’ll just be living the exact same life as somebody else.”  She folded her arms and stared into space.  “And what the hell would be the point of that?”

Joshua sat in silence for a long, awkward moment.  Expositonio nearly entered the room with some refreshing breadsticks and some of his world-renowned homemade marinara sauce, but read that the mood wasn’t right for it, so he slowly retreated to snack on them from a safe viewing distance.

“It was always my dearest wish to be just like my parents,” Joshua said.  “That’s how I’ve always lived my life.  That’s what kept me sane while I spent every waking moment of my childhood mining diamonds.”

“Well, what if you could be anything you wanted?” Courtney submitted.  “What if you didn’t have a legacy to follow?  What would you want to be then?”

“I have no idea.”

Courtney smirked and strapped on her helmet (because every Rad Lion knows that safety is the most important).  “Well hey, you took a little step forward.  Anyway, what I want to be is someone who’s conquered the shit out of this playground they call a temple.  Wouldja mind keeping time for me?”  She tossed Joshua her smart phone, who very nearly slapped it onto the stone floor in his panic to catch it in time.

“You’re not afraid of dying or whatever?” Joshua asked, opening the appropriate App for the job.

“You said it yourself,” she laughed and went pink in the face just a bit.  “I’d make a killer chosen one.  Why not act like I already am?”  She rolled up to the rail and poised herself to grind.

“Wait!” Joshua hollered.

Courtney sighed.  “What now, pipsqueak?”

Joshua Milton gave his friend a reassuring thumbs up.  “Good luck!”

She stared for a moment, raised a brow, and then broke out into a nasally laugh that echoed through the temple as she began her descent into the obstacle course.  Joshua spectated, suddenly very content to be sitting on the sidelines once again and to be sharing greasy breadsticks with a dragon man.


Murderdeath lay on the ground in a bloody heap.  His breathing was slow and raspy.  “I can’t believe you’ve done this…” He said, coughing up blood.  “To think… Organization Seventeen had slithered this deep into the school…”

“Oh, quit your pouting,” Professor Muffin chuckled in his tiny black robe, extinguishing his cigar on Montgomery’s hand to anguished screams while purring sadistically.  “The prophecy was always meant to come to fruition and you were an absolute fool to try and oppose it.”

“We’ve nearly finished preparations for Phase 2, your Chaos Majesty,” said Floria Maplehorse, similarly adorned and sealing a cardboard box with duct tape.  “Things are about to get fucking crazy!”

“Excellent!” Darkovkar giggled, kicking her feet enthusiastically.  “I’ve been excited for this chapter of the Dragon Prophecy since first I laid my evil little eyeballs on it!”

“Bridget will find out about this,” Betrayus threatened through clenched teeth.  “She’ll expose the whole lot of you traitorous bastards!  She and Enigma will put an end to your god-forsaken prophecy!”

“Bridget is totally clueless,” Professor Jaffles chuckled, filling out an evil shipping label.  “By the time she suspects any of us, the Big Cup will be far, far away and the world will already be bending to our whim.”

“It’s not… too late…”  Murderdeath growled, slowly reaching for his nunchakku wands.  “I can still… end this…”  Before he could reach them, a squirrel leapt onto his hand and bit it clean off.  “AAAAAAAGGGGHHH!!!”

“What a fucking troublemaker,” Wilfrit Pippers said, emerging from the shadows. Mischievia faithfully delivered the severed hand to her master. “I think it’s about time to put an end to the insufferable dickleberry’s sad little story.  Would you like to do the honors, Number Three?”

Another hooded figure stepped forward holding an enormous wooden mallet.  Montgomery Murderdeath’s eyes went wide and his jaw dropped to the floor.  “You… even you!?”

The figure removed her cloak.  Beneath it was a young beauty with silky white hair and a BIG eyepatch.  It was General Krishmiss Snowbell, the leader of the Magical Wizard Army and supposedly the Chaos Witch’s mortal enemy.

“What does this mean?” Murderdeath coughed.  “Why… why would you do this!?”

Snowbell smiled in Darkovkar’s direction and shrugged.  The Chaos Witch chuckled delightfully in response.

“Guess she’s evil, too!” 

With one decisive strike to the skull, Montgomery Murderdeath’s story came to its tragic conclusion.


CHAPTER EIGHT: What the hell is Organization XVII even

The soul of Betrayus Murderdeath shot across the cosmos to unite with the heart of existence. There, on the other side of eternity, an afterlife awaited to reward him for a lifetime of charity and community service.

“Wait,” a voice said.

Professor Murderdeath hesitated. He looked back, just for a moment, and found himself standing in a small tatami room like he had seen in so many of his favorite Japanese animes. The panel door slid open and a man with long silvery hair and wearing a kimono stepped inside. It was Chumford Sweats, the renowned Exploding Professor. 

“Sweats?” Betrayus could not believe his eyes. “What are you doing here?”

Chumford gestured towards a small cushion on the floor. “Sit. There is much to discuss.”

Betrayus knelt. “The last I heard you were on sabbatical to study ancient dragon archeology. When did you die?”

Professor Sweats gestured for him to wait. He bent over a small table and cleaned the components of a tea set. When he finished he took six scoops of matcha into a bowl and poured hot water from a kettle. He mixed the matcha into a paste with a bamboo whisk and then added the rest of the water. Chumford did not speak until both of them drank from the ceremonial bowl. 

“I was killed yesterday,” he said. “I discovered something during my research. Something horrible. I rushed to the school as fast as I could, but a member of Organization 17 killed me to prevent me from sharing what I had learned.”

Betrayus furrowed his brow. “You, uh, you came all the way from the Stygian Pool to tell us something?”

“Yeah! It was like a sixteen-hour drive. It sucked balls!”

“…You probably could have just sent us an e-mail,” Betrayus said. 

“What?” Chumford stood up, banging his knee on the table and spilling matcha powder all over everything. “Shit! That would have been way faster than what I did!” 

“You’ve got everybody on group chat too,” Betrayus added. 

Chumford paced around the room. “Oh geez. That would’ve been even easier. I really botched it this time! I got way too excited again!”

“It’s fine,” Betrayus said, trying to be nice about Chumford’s huge fuck up. “Just tell me what you found out.”

“It’s about the Dragon Prophecy,” he said. “The government is lying to us about it!”

Professor Murderdeath sighed. “Please tell me you didn’t stop me from going to heaven just because you wanted to talk about your conspiracy theory.”

“I’m not crazy!!” Chumford said. “The dragons put Anastasia in the Orb of Screams to stop her from investigating this! She wouldn’t lie about something like this. That’s why I tracked down the original prophecy tablets to show everyone!”

“Sounds fake but okay,” Betrayus said. 

“I have proof!” Professor Sweats whipped out his phone. “I took pictures. Luckily the explosion that killed me also destroyed my phone, so it’s a ghost too.”

Betrayus flipped through the album. There were dozens of pictures of an ancient Draconian temple wall inscribed with prophetic verse. It took him a minute to translate the ominous passage. It was longer than the version the dragon president told everyone about in his State of the Empire address. That version just said that Darkovkar would return and do battle with a Chosen One. This one went on to explain what would happen after that. 

 “This… is a doomsday prophecy,” Betrayus said.

Professor Sweats nodded. “The dragons know that fighting Darkovkar won’t work. That’s why they’re stalling for as long as possible. They know they’re going to be overthrown. That’s what Organization 17 wants. But if that happens, the dragons are going to pull their trump card. They’ll destroy the planet before they let anyone find out their secret.”

“Well, now I REALLY wish you had sent an e-mail,” Betrayus said. “Too bad we can’t DO anything about it now that we’re both dead.”

“But there is something you can do,” Chumford said. “That’s why I’m here. You need to come back as a ghost and help me and the others in Organization Enigma.”

“Are you insane?!” Betrayus shouted. “Do you know how many ghosts I’ve killed? I’m not coming back as one! They’re illegal!”

“If you don’t, even the whole world will end,” Chumford said.

“Come on, man.” Professor Murderdeath opened the sliding door to reveal the cosmos. “Heaven is literally RIGHT OVER THERE.” You could see a bitchin’ water slide and everything. 

“Don’t you have some unfinished business? With Principal Jaffles?”

Betrayus broke eye contact. It still stung that Maynard was a secret member of Organization 17 and just stood there to watch him die. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Chumford smirked. “I know you, Murderdeath. You think you’re a bad boy but no one else is buying it. I know you’re not going to turn your back on us now. If anyone can talk sense into Jaffles, it’s you.”

Betrayus looked out at heaven. He could see a tilt-a-whirl and an aqua-loop and even bumper cars. All he had to do was float on over there and he’d never have to worry about anything ever again.

He sighed and shut the door.

“What do you need me to do?”


Maynard Jaffles forced himself to view the whole thing.  The hammer came down and flattened Betrayus Murderdeath’s head like a big floppy pancake.  Quietly, he pulled a jelly bean out of his back pocket and nibbled on it. Its flavor was blood.

“Cool, we’ve finally killed someone!” Darkovkar shouted, pumping her fists into the air.  “Rest in pieces, Murderdork!  Eee hee hee hee hee!!!”

“You’re not going to go sentimental on us, are you?” Wilfrit asked coldly of Jaffles, stuffing Murderdeath’s lifeless corpse into an enormous sack.  “He was once your best bro for life, if I’m not mistaken.”

“I have no best bro for life,” Jaffles responded, disallowing himself from expressing emotion.  “I trust none but my brothers and sisters in the Organization.”

“Maynard isn’t going to betray us any time soon,” vouched Snowbell, wiping off her wooden mallet with a wet wipe.  “Were it not for him, we would never have been able to manipulate the Elder Dragons into absolute docility.  He is a true blue Number Two.”

“A real dreamboat,” Muffin whispered sarcastically to Floria, who chuckled.

The door flung open and Grizzlewick the demon marched in with one hand behind his back an the other spinning a Basketball Globetrotter-style.  “We have him.  The little demon you requested.”

“Excellent!” Darkovkar cackled, reclining back into her throne.  “Bring the little rascal in here!  We have so very much to talk about!”

After a few seconds of yelling and clambering, a squad of 200 or so bright yellow demons entered the room hoisting a single purple demon over their heads.  It was just like in the video game Pikmin, a visual that did not go unnoticed by the Chaos Witch or her subordinates.  They flung him into the air, where he screamed and waggled his arms around helplessly, landing directly on his buttocks at the feet of Darkovkar’s imposing figure.

“Hello!” she shouted, tapping her fingers together evilly.  “Welcome to my New World Order, disgusting Groovy Grape demon Bothersnatch!”

“Where’s Joshua!?” Bothersnatch yelled, scrambling to his feet.  “What have you done with him!?”  He put up his fists, readying himself for a Big Fight.

“Oh Snatchy, relax, would ya?” said Kate the demon as she sauntered into the throne room.

Immediately, Bothersnatch’s inner fury dwindled.  He felt his muscles relax as if he had been drugged, his fists lowered to his sides, and his heartbeats (because demons have two hearts) slowed to a reasonable tempo.  Turning around, he saw his high school flame dressed in a black hooded robe, holding up a Hell Gem.

“Fuck, I forgot about the crystal,” Bothersnatch said in a low, mellow cadence. “Shit.”

“Yeah, that crystal’s fucking great!” the Chaos Witch said.  “I’d expect nothing less from an absolute genius like Number Twelve.”

Kate blushed.  “Aw, Elizaaaa, you’re such a sweetie!”

“GOD, YOU’RE SO CUTE!” Darkovkar slammed her fist.  “You’re my favorite member, definitely.  Sorry guys.”

The rest of the Organization XVII members shrugged, though Jaffles was silently upset that he was not considered the cutest.

“And what can I do for you nasty bastards?” Bothersnatch asked politely, his anger contained by an overpowering magical influence.

“Let’s just say… We’ve got a job opportunity available…” Darkovkar leaned forward and grinned.  “A position I believe you’re uniquely qualified for.”

“Yo, Jaffles,” Wilfrit whispered elbowing the old man with surprising force.  “Go get rid of this body, will ya?  It’s throwing off the mood.”

“But I want to stay and see what the Chaos Witch has in mind for Bothersnatch!” Jaffles protested.

Wilfrit looked dead into the camera as he spoke.  “I guess you’ll have to find out in a later chapter.”

Thoroughly confused, Jaffles nodded his head and set to work hoisting his former Best Bro for Life’s corpse sack over his shoulder.  As very interesting and exciting developments unfolded behind him, he set forth into the torrential downpour.

It was a slow, unforgiving march to his destination.  As Maynard Jaffles bore the weight of Murderdeath’s corpse, all of their pleasant memories crept into his subconscious.  Dougie P’s birthday party where him and Murderdeath jumped out of a cake together.  The time they sat on an old park bench and licked ice cream cones to a catchy acoustic whistling tune.  The time they went on the Big Roller Coaster and Jaffles was afraid it would be too scary but Murderdeath convinced him it would be okay so they went on together and held hands at the top of the Big Hill and it turned out that Jaffles liked roller coasters all along he just had to be brave enough.  They had a lot of memories together, as it turns out.

But even then, Jaffles knew to whom he had pledged his real and true allegiance.  He knew this friendship would be short-lived if Montgomery couldn’t get on board with Darkovkar’s sinister intentions. And when it became clear on which side of the line Montgomery Murderdeath stood, Maynard Jaffles knew he had to distance himself.  Difficult as it was, he allowed himself to drift away.  He began spending more time with a razor scooter, knowing that it tore Murderdeath up inside.  But it was the only way.  It was the only way to dull the sting of his complete friend’s eventual undoing.

At last, he arrived at the Body Pit. It was massive, bottomless hole in the ground where they threw any and all who embraced death within school grounds.  How far down it went, nobody knew, but one thing he could say for certain was that the bottom was probably a gross corpsey mess.

“Well… It was nice knowin’ ya…” Jaffles said, tossing the corpse into the pit. And just like that, it was over.  He turned to make his way back and catch the tail end of what was surely an interesting and heart racing conversation, but stopped when he felt a chill up his spine.  It couldn’t be.  There was no way Betrayus had actually done it, the absolute madman.

But he did.

“You’re looking well, you traitorous bitch!”

Jaffles snapped back towards the pit and fell to his feet.  Rising dramatically amid a sea of scary ghost fog were the ghastly figures of Betrayus Murderdeath and Chumford Sweats.


Oxwald Manderlie mopped his forehead with a handkerchief and wondered what to do. It took every ounce of his ingenuity to escape from the vast dungeon hidden underneath the Douglas P. Wilson school for small magical children. Now, not even an hour later, he was in an entirely different sort of prison. It was really rather exhausting.

What was worse than being jailed all over again was the fact that his new cell was a clear downgrade. The last cell was a spacious single shaped with ancient stone blocks and guarded by a fleet of goblins on flying scooters. This one was made from chintzy bamboo and there was an unconscious Fun Buncher bleeding on the floor. 

“Excuse me.” Oxwald waved to gain the attention of the malnourished demon guarding him. “Would it be possible for you to ask your evil masters if I could be moved into a crystal prison?”

“Why?” The demon said.

“I am very powerful,” Oxwald said, still mopping his brow. “I could escape at any moment.”

“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to ask,” the demon said. “Better safe than sorry.” He ambled out of the room, leaving Oxwald unattended. 

Bernard Crowley dropped from the ceiling the moment the door closed. He dusted off his pinstripe business suit and regarded Oxwald with begrudging surprise. 

“Nicely done,” Bernard said. “And here I thought I’d have to rescue you. I never IMAGINED you’d make a show of competence. I would’ve gotten rid of him instantly, of course, but that was remarkable by your standards.”

“Get lost Bernard!” Oxwald said. “I don’t want your help!”

Bernard sighed. “I’m not here for your sake, Manderlie. It pains me to say this, but I’m the one that needs YOUR help.”

“Oh yeah?” Oxwald puffed up his chest and stuck out his chin. He always knew this day would come but he couldn’t help but feel giddy. “I suppose I can hear you out, for old time’s sake. But just so we’re clear I’m not making any promises. My schedule is packed these days, what with all the parties, award ceremonies, and what-have-you.”

“I need you to call your wife,” Bernard said. “You need to tell her everything that’s happened.”

Oxwald stared. “What do you mean?”

“The Chaos Witch Darkovkar has risen and has allied with Organization XVII.”

Oxwald furrowed his brow. “What’s Organization XVII?”

“It’s a secret cabal of powerful anarchists who want to overthrow the dragon government,” Bernard said. 

“They sound very exclusive,” Oxwald said.

“Yes,” Bernard said. “Their ranks include fabulous celebrities such as General Snowbell and Principal Jaffles. 

Oxwald felt a tingle. “Are they accepting new members?”

“They are a dangerous cult bent on fulfilling a prophecy that will bring about the end of the world.”

“Answer the question, Bernard!” 

“No,” Bernard said. “From what I’ve been able to discern, they were founded by seventeen individuals and have no need to recruit more.”

“Are you a member?” Oxwald said.

Bernard grimaced. “I have no more love for the dragons than they do, but I am not enough of a FOOL to ally myself with the Chaos Witch. Their plan can only lead to death and ruin.”

“I bet they’d make me a member if I introduced myself,” Oxwald said, thinking. “Hold on. If Maynard Jaffles is a member, why did he send me on a mission to collect diamonds to prevent Darkovkar’s release? Couldn’t he have released her any time he wanted? And why did Snowbell surround the school with a magical force field to prevent Darkovkar from escaping?”

“Uh.” Benard looked embarrassed by the question to a degree that was out of character. “It appears that both of them were operating under aloof facades to fool the dragons until the time was right to strike.”

“Oh.” Oxwald said, accepting the retcon immediately and feeling no need to press the matter further. “Alright.”

“We’re wasting time,” Benard said. “Will you call your wife are not?”

Oxwald scratched his head. “I don’t understand what Tyranna has to do with any of this.”

“She is one of the most powerful surviving dragons on the planet,” Bernard said. 

“She is??” Oxwald was startled by this new information.

Bernard buried his face in his hand and groaned. “Yes, Oxwald. She’s a dragon.”

The more Oxwald thought about this the more sense it made. She was quite large and in command of unthinkable cosmic forces. Part of him had always suspected there was something strange about her but the relationship had progressed to the point where it was too awkward to ask. 

“Listen to me, Manderlie,” Bernard said. “I wouldn’t debase myself asking if this weren’t important. You’re the only one here with a direct line to a dragon. If she can break through the forcefield and start a big fight it will buy us some time to stop the prophecy. The fate of the world depends on this! If you don’t want to ask her, at least give ME the number so I can ask her!”

Oxwald squeezed through the bamboo bars of his cell and fished through his pockets for his smartphone. “Geez! Calm down! I’ll do it! Relax!” He fiddled, trying to remember how to open his contacts list. 

“And tell her about how one of your kids got sucked into the Big cup!” Bernard said. 

“Which one, again?” Oxwald said.

Bernard ground his teeth. “Courtney.”

Oxwald accidentally opened the Candy Crush Saga app on his phone and had to close out of it just after the theme music started blaring. 

“Give me the phone and let me do it!” Bernard said.

“I’ve got it!” Oxwald said, leaning away from Bernard’s reach. “I know what I’m doing. It’s ringing now, see?”

There was a click, and Oxwald heard the guttural roar of Tyranna Manderlie on the other end of the line.

“Hi, honey?” Oxwald cradled the phone to his ear. “We need to talk. Something’s come up. You might want to sit down for this.”


“Now, let’s see… Where should I begin?” Oxwald took a deep breath.

“Over one decade ago, the world was at war with the Chaos Witch Darkovkar and her evil legions of demons.  Empowered by diamonds primarily mined from the Milton Family Diamond Mine and distributed via my former employer, Good Diamonds Incorporated, she lead many crusades to plunge the world into chaos.  Among those who stood against her was the teaching staff of a school here in Shelbyville.  What none of us could have guessed was that the majority of these instructors had already fallen under Darkovkar’s evil influence, acting as spies within a mysterious group known as Organization XVII.

“During their adventures, they acquired an amulet, later named the Amulet of Douglas, that allowed the user to control the darkness. Douglas P. Wilson, armed with this amulet, thought he would be strong enough to defeat the Chaos Witch by himself.  However, he was betrayed by a magical razor scooter named Rodney and presumably his fellow teaching staff, and thus died a horrific and embarrassing death at her wicked hands.  Although he would later return to continue the fight as a ghost, he was sealed inside the Orb of Screams in compliance with his school’s very strict Kill All Ghosts policy.  The amulet was buried within the school grounds and, for reasons unknown, requires Milton blood to recover.

“Meanwhile, I played a part in involving the world’s most muscular lawyer, Anastasia Ripofski, in this whole fandango.  She fell in love, after a horrifically violent misunderstanding, with Henrick Milton, the owner of the aforementioned diamond mine, and bore a child with him.  All the while, she and her legal prodige, Chumford Sweats, were investigating the hidden truth behind the Dragon Prophecy; a secret verse that foretold the end of the world.  During her investigation, however, she was mysteriously killed.  When she predictably returned as a ghost, the dragons silenced her by sealing her in the Orb of Screams.

“Soon after, Henrick Milton turned face and joined General Snowbell’s Magical Wizard Army in the last stand against Darkovkar.  Tragically, he was turned into hundreds of spiders.  At the climax of the battle, the Chaos Witch drank from the Big Cup and disappeared for over a decade.  Montgomery Murderdeath, one of the few members of the teaching staff who hadn’t joined Darkovkar’s cause, offered to bring the cup back to the school, now named the Douglas P. Wilson Memorial Education Institution: Shelbyville Campus.  Seeing as how Snowbell was also secretly a member of Organization XVII, this was likely playing right into their hands.

“Anastasia’s cruel and greedy siblings elected to take care of her orphaned son, Joshua, but forced him to spend his childhood singlehandedly digging diamonds from the mine.  Just a few days ago, he uncovered a ruby prison and freed a purple demon named Bothersnatch.  The scrappy young demon had been imprisoned after unknowingly being manipulated by his love interest and higher up within Darkovkar’s ranks, Kate, into botching a bank heist.  As an expression of gratitude, he offered Joshua one Hell Wish.  The tiny child wished to drink from the Big Cup, which would require them to escape and make their way to my current location, the previously mentioned magical school.

“Are you still listening, dear?”

He heard Tyranna nod silently on the other side of the phone, so he continued.

“Joshua had the demon disguise himself as a ghost in a clever ploy to trick me into escorting the two of them to the school.  When we arrived, I learned that my bitter rival, my greatest enemy, the insufferable prick Bernard Crowley, had elected to abandon his job as a diamond inspector to be a professor at the school.  In my impulsive rage, I too abandoned my career to continue competing with him in a show of childish machismo.  Bothersnatch, in need of an excuse to hang around the school, offered to be my teaching assistant, although at the time I thought he was a ghost and helped him fashion a clever disguise so he would not be thrown into the Orb of Screams.

“The boy’s uncle, Horbert Ripofski, swiftly followed us so as to continue tormenting Joshua.  During the opening ceremony, he unwittingly released hundreds of diamonds all over the school campus, only one of which would enable the Chaos Witch Darkovkar to escape from her bindings.  During this time, I ran into her and agreed to sacrifice a large portion of the student body and a single diamond in exchange for a vague promise of personal wish-fulfillment and protection for my loved ones specifically.”

“What?” Bernard said, who was listening.  “What the fuck, Oxwald.”

“It didn’t work out so it’s okay!”

“Yeah, but still, what the fuck.”

“A-anyway, despite my best efforts, Darkovkar found a diamond on her own and immediately thrust the school into a series of life or death game shows.  With Horbert Ripofski’s help, I escaped my own imprisonment and intruded on the climax of these events.  However, before I could intervene, I witnessed one of our daughters, who I’m maybe 70% sure was Courtney, drink from the Big Cup along with that Joshua Milton!  Now the two of them have disappeared from existence entirely, which I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit hot and bothered about!”

“As we speak, Organization XVII is plotting to see the Dragon Prophecy through to its completion, which would be bad because it would mean the end of the dragons and also the entire world.  Bernard here thinks we should do something about that.  Thinks he knows everything.  What a tool!”

Bernard rolled his eyes as Oxwald listened on the phone with a series of “uh-huh”s and “I see”s.  Soon, Oxwald pocketed the device and clasped his hands together.  “Alright, that settles it!”

“Mr. Manderlie… How did you KNOW all of that stuff?” Bernard was taken aback at how much information this absolute fool had become privy to.

“Oh, I was just making up most of the backstory stuff on the spot, I don’t actually know,” Oxwald explained.  “Why?  Did I guess any of it right?”

Bernard stood with his mouth agape for an entire five minutes.  Then he shook it off and got back to business.  “That aside, Tyranna is on her way, then?” Bernard clenched his fists, hopeful that the tide could finally turn in their favor.

“Oh, no, she has a yoga class at 6 and can’t make it.” Oxwald shrugged. “Do you have any other ideas?”


The spooky ghost fog thickened, growing spookier and more festive by the second. The undead specter of Betrayus “Montgomery” Murderdeath hovered in mid-air, feeling angrier than he ever had in life. He glared at the man in front of him, the man who had stood by and watched him die. The man who Betrayus knew as his one and only BFF. But the truth was now plain as day. Maynard Jaffles wasn’t a Best Friend Forever. He was a Bad Fucking Friend. 

“Well, this is interesting,” Maynard stroked his beard with a smirk. “Did you know that the other Organization XVII members and I had a pool going about whether or not you’d try to come back from the dead?” His smirk slumped into a frown. “I told them you wouldn’t DARE go through with it. We spent too long fighting the dead together. Brothers in Arms, blasting one soul after another into the void so that there might be a better life for the living. A man of integrity, I said. Looks like I was wrong.”

“Shut the hell up!” Betrayus shouted. He was so mad he was getting ectoplasm all over the place. “You think you have the right to lecture me?! You allied with the Chaos Witch!”

Maynard let out a weary sigh. “I know what this looks like.” Had he been dreading this conversation? “But the Organization knows how to handle Darkovkar. It’s for the greater good.”

“Greater good?!” Betrayus spat. (It was ghost spit.) “Are you insane?! She’s the most evil and dangerous person in the universe!”

“Which is exactly why we need her: She’s the only one who stands any chance of overthrowing the dragons!” 

Betrayus shook his head. “Do you even hear yourself? Overthrowing the dragons?! That’s ludicrous! That’s coocoo bananas!”

“I knew you wouldn’t understand,” Maynard said, and then turned away with a cold finality. 

“Maybe I would have if you had just talked to me! If you trusted me!” Betrayus felt his eyes sting as hot spectral tears dribbled down his translucent face. “But you lied and kept everything a secret from me!” All the grief and pain of the years of growing distance between them welled up inside him. It was in that moment his heart finally broke. “Why…?” He said, weeping. 

“Uh.” Chumford Sweats was starting to look uncomfortable. “Oh geez. This is getting awkward. I was kind of hoping we could just kick his ass.”

Principal Jaffles swung back around to face them, his organization cloak billowing. “Why, you ask?” He cracked his knuckles. “Because you lack imagination. Because it would never even OCCUR to you to turn against an oppressive master. No. Even when I snubbed you, all you could do was beg and scrape for my approval.” His lip curled into a sneer. “Pathetic.”

Betrayus was speechless. In all the years they had known one another, Maynard never before spoke to him with such contempt. Was this the truth hidden all this time behind his delightful smile?

“I thought…” he heard himself quaver, “I thought I was being loyal.”

“Kukuku!” Laughed Maynard. “Do you think that makes you special? Don’t be a fool. I train every student who comes through these halls to become a ruthless and obedient killing machine. I don’t need a puppet: I have plenty.”

Principal Jaffles threw open his cloak, revealing his massive two-handed magic wand. It was as thick as a tree trunk, but Maynard was so cut and ripped that he could lift it with one hand. He smashed it into the ground, casting a spell so hard that the whole room erupted into white light.

A troop of perfect uniformed soldiers now stood between Maynard and Betrayus. 

“Puzzle Pal Platoon #451 reporting for duty, Jaffles, summoned for duty sir!” said the commanding officer. 

Maynard balanced his wand over his shoulders. “Do you see this? This is what the dragons want. Soldiers to serve in the Magical Wizard Army. Humans bred to die as in their wars. But not for much longer. That’s why I usurped control of the school from my cousin. It’s why I invented the House War. To identify the children with the strongest wills, blackest chi, and most powerful imaginations. To recruit them into the Organization and use them to destroy the dragon regime from the inside.”

The children aimed their magic wands at the ghosts, forcing them both into a defensive combat stance. 

“You’re making a mistake,” Chumford said. “We all hate the dragons, but Darkovkar is worse. If she fulfills the prophecy nothing will matter. Everyone will die!”

Principal Jaffles shrugged. “Maybe.” There was a hint of his old impish self. “That’s a chance I’m willing to take. Live free or die, I say.” He turned his head. “Speaking of which. Hey kids. What’s the school policy about ghosts?”

“Douglas P. Wilson Memorial has a strict Kill All Ghosts policy, SIR!”

“Oh…! That’s right,” Maynard said, pretending to have forgotten. “Well. Hop to it then.”

Chumford and Betrayus leapt out of the way as the platoon of soldiers all open fired with a barrage of ghost-killing rainbow-colored magical laser beams. In the blink of an eye, the room erupted into a violent orgy of chaos.

Chumford Sweats sighed, and brought the fresh cup of ghost tea to his face. He blew away the steam tenderly and slowly brought the Darjeeling in contact with his lips.  Fresh.  Soothing.  Healing.  He took a deep breath to calm down from all that had transpired earlier in the day.  At long last, a moment to rest.  Only a moment, perhaps, but it was enough-

“STOP DRINKING TEA WE’RE FIGHTING!!!” Murderdeath screamed at his ghost colleague, doing Starfox-style ghost barrel rolls out of the way of several Ghost-Seeking Missiles.

“Oops, sorry, I was thirsty,” Chumford apologized, pouring the tea into his pocket for later.  “What should I do?  I’m really not much of a fighter!”

“You should die!” Maynard cackled, crushing a fistful of jelly beans and tossing the clump of mush into his mouth.  “Again, I mean!” he appended, sending loose flecks of sugary spit. Hey, don’t talk with your mouth full, Jaffles!

“Enough of this!” Murderdeath stopped, assuming a cool ninja pose.  “I’ll blow away the whole lot of you with one attack!”

Hearing this, the soldiers immediately focused fire on Montgomery Murderdeath and he got shot like three times and fell down.

“OUCH!!!” Betrayus said, pulling back.  “This sucks!  They won’t let me do any of my powerful new ghost ninja attacks! Their ghost-killing laser weapons are too fast!”

“Oof,” said Chumford Sweats.

“Can you PLEASE contribute something here!?” Murderdeath yelled, diving through a pile of rubble while at the same time knocking out (but not killing) dozens of children with his passive ability that throws out exploding poison shurikens every five seconds or so.  “I feel like I’m sort of carrying us through this!”

“I was a lawyer and a professor!” Chumford Sweats panicked.  “Why would I know anything about how to fight soldiers!?”

“Create a distraction, I don’t know!!!” Murderdeath roared as Maynard’s kukukus and the sound of hundreds of combat boots marching in perfect unison both became ever louder.  “Use some of your lawyer tricks!”

Sweats had been ruthless in court and was once feared worldwide for his unbelievable ability to solve impossible murder cases.  His methodology had involved conducting full personal investigations, a practice which was legally dubious.  Nonetheless, his name was feared worldwide in the legal world.  When you heard the sweat dripping to the floor as he entered the courtroom, it was not unlike a fanfare announcing an assured Not Guilty verdict.  (Sweats was also a peerless contract negotiator and produced some legal documentation MYTHICAL in its masterful architecture, but that shit’s kinda boring so we will not be discussing it further in The Little Magic Boy and the Big Cup)

He was not, however, a fighter.  He had a young understudy for that.  A most trusted sidekick who would easily have been able to dispatch a thousand magical soldier kids.  His lip trembled as he could hear her voice, stepping in front of him to take care of business.

“Don’t worry, Old Chum!” she would say, cracking her knuckles and sizing up their enemy with a confident smile.  “I’ll take care of things here, so we can get back to lawyering!”

But she did not step forward this time.  That was because she had been gone for over a decade now.  Never again would she piledrive evil criminals into submission because she was dead and her ghost sealed away.  Chumford’s lip began to tremble, the marching sounds dulling into a quiet ambience.  It was his fault.  He should have stood with her against Darkovkar instead of wussing out like he ultimately ended up doing. If only things had been different.  If only.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!!” Murderdeath screamed again, lobbing back a Ghost-Killing Grenade that had been thrown his way.  “We’ve got to get out of here before they kill our ghosts, at which point I’ll never get to experience all the cool heaven parties with cool heaven babes!”

“Oops, sorry, I was very sad,” Chumford apologized, bottling up his baggage to be fleshed out later in what would surely be a riveting series of flashbacks.  “I think I can distract them so you can fight back!”

“OH, WOW, THAT’S A GREAT IDEA!!!” Murderdeath roared with a fury like he’d never known in his life.  “YEAH MAYBE GO AHEAD AND FUCKING DO THAT!!!”

“Thanks, I will!” Sweats smiled and nodded.  “Wish me luck!”


“Here I go!”  Chumford Sweats announced. He took a deep breath and popped up in front of the soldiers.  “OBJECTION!!!” he yelled, pointed directly at Principal Jaffles, who raised a curious eyebrow.

“What’s this, now?” Jaffles chuckled.  “Someone’s been playing Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney on their Nintendo Dual Screen Entertainment System.”

“I didn’t play it until the Wii version, actually,” Sweats admitted.  “Maynard Jaffles, I find you GUILTY of conspiring with the Chaos Witch and attempting to overthrow the dragons!  And I have evidence to prove it!  What do you say to that!?” He slammed the air, an action which, had there been a desk beneath him, would have been very dramatic and exciting.

“That’s correct,” Maynard nodded. “I just explained everything, so yes, I freely admit to all of that.”

Chumford Sweats began to sweat.  “I see!”  He twiddled his fingers a bit.  “Well, you should go to jail!”


“BETRAYUS HELP ME!!!” Sweats shouted, tugging at his collar. “This is really hard!”

“Spectral Ninjitsu! AKUMA NO KAZE!!!” Murderdeath announced, unleashing a hellish demonic wind the lifted the soldiers off of their feet.  Jaffles stood his ground and managed to not be moved because he had the foresight to put some magic glue on his shoes before the fight.  In an instant, the Puzzle Pal Platoon was swept in its entirety into the Body Pit where they fell five thousand miles and were knocked unconscious at the bottom (but none of them died).

“Oh beans!” Jaffles said, dropping jelly beans everywhere.

“How do you like me now, Maynard!?” Murderdeath growled, grinning sadistically at his old friend.  “Perfect timing on the distraction, Sweats!” He waited for a response, but heard none.  “Chumford?”

He turned to face his ally, but instantly recoiled in horror.  Instead of an old friend, there was a young boy in a dark mysterious cloak.  A legion of dangerous-looking squirrels clung tightly to it as it fluttered in the wind.  He was holding up a glowing green orb, within which Betrayus saw the screaming face of Chumford Sweats as the orb sucked him into an endless labyrinth of puzzles and fuckery.

“I’m surprised you didn’t betray us, Jaffles,” Wilfrit smirked, and kicked the Orb of Screams over to his partner like a Soccer Ball.  “Now finish this one off so we can move on to the next part of our plan.”

Maynard Jaffles reached down to pick up the Orb of Screams.

“It really is a shame.” He bounced the relic in his palm as he stepped toward Betrayus. “If you had only stayed dead like you were supposed to, none of this would have happened.”

Ghost sweat dribbled down Professor Murderdeath’s face. He glanced around at the mob of angry squirrels and child soldiers closing in around him. Without Sweats around to provide a distraction, there was no way Betrayus could pull off any rad super moves. There was no way out. If he tried to run, he would be overwhelmed and vaporized by anti-ghost weaponry. If he tried to fight, Jaffles would seal himself inside the Orb of Screams and he would be stuck a pocket dimension solving puzzles forever. That was all there was to it. This was the end. 

Betrayus looked his old friend in the eye and realized something. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t going to heaven. That was never what he wanted. His throat tightened as he opened his lips. The words spilled out. Words he had held back for years and years became he was always too afraid to admit the truth: “All I ever wanted was to be loved by you,” 

Maynard stopped. A pained mix of emotions flashed across the old man’s face, and he clutched his orb tight.

“What are you waiting for?!” Wilfrit Pippers shouted. “Trap him! You’re putting the entire prophecy at risk!”

“Yes,” Maynard said, relaxing. “In the end, that’s all that matters. I’ve come too far to hesitate now.”

He held out the Orb of Screams. Betrayus felt the relic bite into his ectoplasm, pulling him closer, sucking him up like a pasta noodles that all ghosts hated by instinct. He closed his eyes. 

There was the unmistakable sound of a chi blast. Professor Murderdeath’s eyes snapped open and he saw the Orb of Screams fly from Maynard’s hand and fly across the room, knocked aside.

“What?!” Maynard said.

Something smashed through the wall of soldiers, breaking bones and sending them tumbling. Before Betrayus knew what was happening, he found himself riding on the back of Rodney the Magical.

“You??” Betrayus had never expected to be saved by Rodney. “Why are YOU helping me?!”

“There isn’t much time,” Rodney said as he sped down the hallway. You could tell he was serious because he wasn’t bothering to rhyme. “You may be our only hope.”

“The orb!!” Wilfrit shouted. His squirrels scrambled to collect it as it rolled across the floor. All the child soldiers did comical pratfalls chasing after it. “Get the orb you dum-dums!’

“Right now,” Rodney went on, “There is a little magical boy inside the Big Cup. According to the prophecy, only a child with a pure heart can open the way to the deepest level of the Cup. That’s where the souls of the Ancient Dragons are. They have been waiting for centuries for a worthy vessel that they can use to return to our world. But that’s what Darkovkar wants. From the start her plan has been to drink those souls and inherit their control of the mortal plane.”

“What?” Betrayus said, distracted. “Sorry, I zoned out for a second there. Did you say something important?” He squeezed Rodney’s handlebars. It was really weird riding on him. They were supposed to be rivals.

“TLDR,” Rodney said, annoyed, “I need you to go inside the Big cup and protect Joshua Milton. We need his blood to get the Amulet. I’d ask Douglas to do it, but he keeps FUCKING UP and wasting all our hell magic.”

“You’re my enemy,” Betrayus hissed. “Why should I trust you?”

“You shouldn’t.”

Rodney rolled to a halt. Then, as if pulled against his will, he began to scoot back the way he came.

“What?” Betrayus said.

“I’m a ghost too,” Rodney said. “The dragons sealed by soul in this razor scooter and made me a slave. I can’t resist the will of my owner for much longer. You have to help Organization Enigma. The dead hold the secrets the dragons want to keep buried! They’re our only hope to save this world!”

Professor Murderdeath glanced back. Rodney was picking up speed and racing faster and faster back toward a grinning Maynard Jaffles.

“That man is a hypocrite,” Rodney said. “He talks about freedom and liberty but he uses people just the same as the dragons. He ordered me to assassinate Douglas so he could take control of the school. He manipulates the minds of children to serve as his private army. You need to get out of here! I can’t resist him any longer!”

Betrayus stared at the man he thought he loved, wondering how much of it was a lie. He narrowed his eyes, and lowered his head to whisper to Rodney.

“Can you go faster?”


Maynard Jaffles held out his arm. He willed Rodney to return to him, and the toy had no choice but to obey. The scooter had become willful, spending more and more time away from him and talking to that man Bernard. It was suspicious. He would have to send Rodney back to the manufacturer to have his mind wiped again.

It was a shame that Betrayus could not be fixed in the same easy way. There was no keeping his old friend in the dark now. No doubt his mind was already poisoned by the ghostly propaganda of Organization Enigma. Maynard sighed. He wished fate had not forced him to exorcise the soul of his old friend. But, it seemed, fate always deemed that he should be the one to make the hard but necessary choices. The world needed people like him, people like the members of Organization XVII, to shepherd them toward the brightest possible future. 

Maynard squinted. Rodney was getting close. Shouldn’t he be slowing down?

The scooter hit him, hard, handlebar first, straight in the chest. There was enough force in the collision to send Maynard flying, sailing through the air. He tumbled through the still open doors of the Corpse Pit and fell.

It was dark inside the pit. The air rushed over his ears, whistling. He smelled the bottom before he landed on it. A putrid stink of long rotten flesh. His bones shattered when he collided with the cadavers, but he did not die. It was too soft. Mushy. The smell filled his every orifice and left him coughing and retching. He tried to move but couldn’t.

“It’s him.”

Maynard’s eyes darted. He saw a ghost. One of the countless students who had died in the Hosue Wars. His specter glowed and illuminated the pit, revealing the grim truth of cumulative crimes.

“Ghosts aren’t…” He wheezed. Something was wrong with his body, but the shock of the fall was still too great for him to feel it. “Ghosts aren’t allowed in this school.”

But there were. The pit lit up as more and more of them rose to look at him. Of course there were ghosts in the corpse pit. It was the one place in the school no one would want to look for them.

“Stop looking at me!“ Maynard shouted. But they did. Maynard tried to move and felt himself start to sink. The dead children gathered around to watch as the man responsible for orchestrating their deaths began to slip deeper and deeper into the mess he created. The mess he pushed from his mind. It wasn’t supposed to matter. The only thing that mattered was freedom for mankind, right?

His vision blurred. Tears mingled with the viscera on his face. He wanted to look away but could not.

Before disappearing beneath the surface, he managed to mutter two final words.

“I’m sorry.”