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Ash ran through the halls of Legends Primary as though his life depended on it, which was very possible. If his plans headed south, Domino Charming was sure to have him strung up by his shoelaces. However, Ash would not entertain thoughts of failure.

He fingered the secret weapon in his jacket as he smuggled it into the cafeteria and through the sterile dining hall, avoiding eye contact with the other students. This was the gauntlet. If he could make it to his table at the back of the hall without attracting attention from the Odd Kids, the Valiants, or the Charmings, he would be home free.

Ash kept his eyes to the floor as he passed the Weird table, a motley crew of frightening students who kept to themselves. If you were unlucky enough to anger them, their ringleader, The Wicked Kid, would stick you in a trashcan and be done with you. Ash breathed easier once he passed them, though they were the least of Ash’s worries. Bruises were easily suffered—it was the public ridicule the Charmings loved to dole out that he couldn’t handle.

Out of the corner of his eye, Ash spotted the Valiants’ table. They were the children of the Valiant brothers, a soldiering family whose great deeds had earned them lands, titles, and fair maidens. They were stuck-­‐‑up and stern, but kept to themselves when not in competition with the Charmings. He stifled a gasp as he caught a glimpse of Samba Valiant, his long-­‐‑time crush. He had never actually spoken to the girl, but would someday have the courage to ask her out.


Ash passed the table, ignoring the snickering comments the children of the Valiant brothers made under their breath. Now, he began to sweat. If he got past his abusive cousins, the Charmings, all would be well. The Charmings were the children of those princes who won fair damsels and defeated magnificent monsters. Their renown and desirability was of mythical proportions.

The only benefits Ash had gained from being a Charming were a square jaw and a head of thick hair. No premature balding for him. It was his mother’s side of the family that had provided the bad skin and gangly structure. Puberty was not being kind. “Ugly Duckling Syndrome,” his mother had called it. Privately, he called it the "ʺOnly-Half-Charming Syndrome.”

He was bitter toward his cousins. They were rich— filthy rich—members of the richest family in the Kingdom. Ash'ʹs parents on the other hand, though holding the title, had no fortune to speak of. His father, Sue Charming, had rebelled from the Charming family, refusing to take part in their deeds, lands, and sizable fortune. He married Ash’s mother, Cindy Rella, and though Cindy was a beauty, she had no dowry to speak of.

Ash continued past his horrible relatives to sanctuary, the table at the back of the hall where his childhood friend, Harper Beanington, and their sometimes lunch buddies, Hattie and Horatio Hatter, were already halfway through their meals. Ash slid into the seat across from Harper and looked over his shoulder to make sure he hadn’t awoken any suspicions.

“Where have you been? Lunch is nearly half over,” Harper asked, genuinely concerned. Being Ash'ʹs best friend, she knew the abuses he faced at the hands of his cousins.

Ash changed the subject. "Where’s Rayne?"

"She's camping with her dad, you know that. Now why are you looking so guilty?"ʺ Harper asked.

“Yeah, Ashley, why are you hunched over the table and what are you hiding in your jacket?” Hattie asked, her inquiries born more from curiosity than concern.

“It’s a secret, and I told you before, don’t call me Ashley.”

“You’re keeping a secret?” Harper asked doubtfully as she swept her thick golden hair out of her bronze face.

“Not from you, from them,” Ash replied, nodding back at the Charming table. “Today, my friends, is the day I exact revenge on Domino for all the pranks he’s played on me."

“What, like the time in the locker room when he replaced your shampoo with a coloring spell?” Horatio offered.

Harper sighed. “It was such a lovely shade of violet.”

“Or the time Domino wedgied you in front of Samba.” Hattie laughed.

“Or when he knocked you in the fountain.”


“Yes.” Ash cut them off. ʺAll that. Thanks for the reminders.”

“Okay then, what’s the plan this time?” Horatio asked. “Exploding potatoes like last week? Or attack pixies like the week before?”

“The pixies were adorable.” Harper smiled reminiscently.

“Yes, but they just danced around, stealing everyone’s breadcrumbs. Not much of an attack.” Hattie giggled.

Ash smiled as he set a small box wrapped in polka-dot paper on the table before them.

“You’re going to give him a present?” Harper asked confused.

“It’s not really a present. It's a trick,” he whispered. “Soon as Domino opens this, it’s going to release pigment bugs.”

“Pigment bugs? Where did you get those?”

“You know how Mom is. She keeps all sorts of creatures around the house. Found them when we were cleaning out the shed. Anyway, it’ll be amazing. Domino will open the box, the bugs will get all over him, and they’ll eat away that tan he works so hard on. He’ll be white as a ghost for weeks!"

“That’s it?” Harper asked. “You’re going to ruin his tan?”

“It’s perfect,” Ash insisted. “Diamond and Domino have skin white as snow like their mom. He has to tan every other day to keep his color. He complained about it every time our parents made us play together. It’s the perfect revenge for the purple hair.”

“Violet,” Harper corrected.

“Yeah that’s great, Ash. Just one problem,” Horatio replied. “How are you going to get him to open it?”

This stopped Ash short. “I was going to hand it to him.”

“Don’t you think that’s a bit suspicious?” Harper asked.

“Well, how else do I get it to him?”

“I don’t know.” Horatio chuckled. “It’s your master plan.”

Ash sat stumped. Domino not opening the box had never factored in. “Well,” Ash told them, “If he doesn’t want to open it, I could put it in his locker.”

“The anonymous package thing is probably a better route,” Hattie replied.

“Plan B if he doesn’t open it,” Ash affirmed.

Harper shook her head. “But then he’ll know it’s from you and the second plan won’t work either.”

“I’ll rewrap it!”

“Domino is pretty dumb, but even he’s not going to fall for that,” Horatio scoffed doubtfully.

“Ash isn’t going to listen.” Harper chuckled. “He’s got it in his head. Go exact your revenge. We're watching.”

Ash looked like he would explode with excitement at any moment. Quickly he took his dastardly present and headed toward the Charmings’ table. Every step felt like an eternity as he advanced on his nemesis.

After about a year, he found himself at the edge of his cousins’ table.

“Can I help you?” Diamond asked coldly.

Ash had planned something witty to say upon handing over the box, but his mind was a blank as he held the box toward Domino.

Domino looked up at it, a disbelieving sneer on his face. “Is that supposed to be for me?”

Ash nodded, praying he would take the package and let him go back to his table to watch the mayhem from a safe distance. Domino continued to sneer, but reluctantly took the package.

Ash quickly turned to leave.

“Aren’t you going to at least watch him open it?” Diamond asked suspiciously.

“I can see fine from my table.”

“I insist you stay,” Domino replied. In an instant, his larger cousins, Zed and Ted, towered on either side of Ash.

Ash could only stand stunned. He was going to be beaten to a pulp in front of the entire school, but it would be worth it to get back at Domino. He had nearly opened one side of the package, when his sister stopped him.

Ash’s heart sank.

“I would hate to think that our dear cousin Ashley might give you something harmful, but we should take a precaution,” she smiled cunningly.

“Precaution?” Ash choked.

“Just a simple spell,” Diamond replied and placed her hand on the package where she mumbled a few words. ʺThere.” she smiled.

“Thanks, Sis,” Domino replied and continued opening the package.

As soon as he opened it, tiny white bugs streamed toward Domino’s hands. Ash watched excitedly. But something was wrong. The bugs suddenly changed direction and headed back to Ash.

“I love the ‘Return to Sender’ spell.” Diamond laughed as the bugs crawled up Ash’s leg. “It repels malicious deeds, sending them back on whoever dispatched them.”

Ash tried to back away, but Ted and Zed held him in place as the bugs burrowed into his pores.

“Pssst,” Ash called to the chipmunks on the branch next to him. "Come chew these laces will you?”

The chipmunks just laughed and ran deeper into the tree. He hung from his shoelaces dismally. He could talk to animals, sure, but getting them to do what he wanted was another thing altogether.

There you are,” Harper called. Ash looked down at her from the tree in the center of the courtyard. “Next time, just put the box in his locker,” she told him, scaling the tree.

“Duly noted,” he groaned.

“So how long is your skin going to stay white?” she asked as she unknotted his laces.

“About a week.”

“That’s not so bad.” Harper’s voice was cheerful. “They tied these things pretty good though. I’m going to have to cut them.” She sighed as she rifled through the art supplies in her bag.

“Alright,” Ash groaned. “Just let me know when you’re about to—” Before he could finish, his laces snapped and he plummeted to the courtyard.

“So, have you learned your lesson?” Harper asked as she came down the tree and helped him to his feet.

“Yes,” Ash replied. “Next time I’ll use a long-range surprise attack. Up close and personal clearly doesn’t work.”

Harper shook her head as she escorted her albino friend to their next class. “Well, Rayne and her dad had to cut their trip short, so at least we’ll have a good story for her when we get to Round Table Café.”

“Yea, I’m sure she’ll love it,” he replied distractedly as he began spinning new schemes to get back at Domino.

The mist cleared from Patrick’s eyes as the husks dissolved into dust.

“Such strange people reside in your land,” Angus observed.

“They are called pubescent males and I believe they exist everywhere. You are more removed from the world than I thought.” Patrick could not help but chuckle.

“Yes, yes. I understand I need to leave my home now and again. Banon,” he called turning the conversation away from himself. “Do we have another from your navigator?”

“I certainly do, but I am running out of my prepared offerings. Let us hope Conner shows soon.” With that, Banon removed a thin piece of wood from his coat pocket, the kind used for constructing cargo crates, and held it before the dark eye. “I offer this old tale of a young man who can find his way on a starless night, yet finds himself hopelessly lost to a world of dark creatures."ʺ

Banon placed the wood upon the old oak where it began to warp and puff.

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