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!”
“FUCKING DO IT, JESUS!!!!”
“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?”
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.
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.