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.”

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