Authors: Stephanie S. Sanders
For Mom, who gave me my creativity.
For Dad, who taught me about hard work.
It takes both to write a book.
Boiling hot water bubbled a few inches from my head as I hung upside down over the cauldron. It had been a rotten day.
The Detention Dungeon at Master Dreadthorn's School for Wayward Villains looked pretty much the same as the last time I'd been in it. That was a few days ago, when our weapons trainer, Mistress Helga, said I threw knives like a sissy, and I'd retaliated by asking if that thing over her eyes was a unibrow or if someone had stapled a dead rat to her forehead.
It was dark, except for the fires beneath the cauldrons. The cave had zero airflow, and the steam from the boiling water was making the room hot and stuffy. And making four villains extremely cranky.
“All this steam is ruining my hair,” said one of my allies from the cauldron next to mine.
“Your hair?” asked Wolf Junior, who hung directly across from me. “You should see what it does to fur!” Wolf was, well, a wolf. But if you could get past the drool and the tail, he wasn't too bad.
“My dad is
going to hear about this!” said Countess Jezebel, who was dangling on my other side. Jezebel was one of my oldest allies. She was also Dracula's daughter, and her bite was worse than Wolf's bark.
It had been a rotten day for all of us. We'd gotten ourselves in hot water.
It all started with the arrival of my new roommate â¦
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
“Rune Drexler to the office, please.”
I was nodding off in History of Villainy class when Miss Salem's tinny voice rang out from the hole in the wall that served as an intercom. I jerked my head up.
“What?” I said a little too loudly. A thin string of drool dangled from my mouth, connecting to a small puddle on my desk.
At the front of the classcave, Master Dreadthorn stopped writing on the blackboard. He lowered his hand, then turned around in a way that only
good villains can manage. You know, like his feet weren't even moving and he was standing on some kind of turntable. Slow. Menacing. Creepy.
The Dread Master's black eyes fell on me, and for a minute I worried he would ask me a riddle and give me detention. It had happened before. Instead, he just stared at me.
“That's you, Rune,” he said finally, his eyes never blinking.
“Oh. Right.” I wiped my slobbery chin with my sleeve, gathered up my books, and scurried out the door.
Some kids might be scared to get called to the office. Not me. When the school Master is your dad, and you are leaving him safely behind, going to the office is like going to recess.
I hurried through the series of caves and dungeons that served as our school, past the Great Clock, past torches glowing green with dragonfire, and down another corridor leading to the office. It was a small cave with a little fireplace and wooden desk where Miss Salem, the school secretary, pretty much lived. She was about a bazillion years old and all wrinkly with white, wiry hair. She looked like a mummified potato and was about as much fun.
“You called me?” I said.
“Rune Drexler?” she asked, as if she didn't recognize me. Maybe she didn't. I don't know. She was pretty forgetful.
“Yes. It's me, Miss Salem. What's going on?”
“New roommate,” she said, nodding toward the corner.
I hadn't noticed him when I'd walked in, but now I saw there was a kid with a suitcase sitting on a bench by the door. And he wasn't alone. Standing next to him was Morgana from Mistress Morgana's School for Exemplary Villains. She'd hatched an evil scheme against Master Dreadthorn's school a few months earlier, so I pretty much loathed her. There she was, looking all gorgeous and kind of fake, too, with her long red nails, perfect blond curls, and the scent of her evilness filling the room. Or maybe it was just her perfume.
She smiled at me and waved like we were friends or something. I just scowled back.
“Rune Drexler,” she said, walking toward me. “I haven't seen you sinceâ”
“Since I ruined your Plot to take over our school using my half brother, Chad?” I said.
The forced little smile on her face faltered for a minute, and her green eyes narrowed, then she recovered herself and was all smiles again.
“Let's not dwell on the past, Rune. I'm here with a new student, and it looks as though you two will be roommates. How delightful!”
My eyes flickered to the kid, then back to Morgana.
I didn't trust her. As a villain, I actually didn't trust anybody, but Morgana I
“Does Master Dreadthorn know about this?” I asked.
“Of course,” Morgana said silkily in her fake British accent. “This young man here is a transfer student. He's polite, thoughtful, and hasn't been making any trouble at my school. I don't know if there's any hope for him. I thought he could use a little time here, you know, to whip him into shape.”
“Hey,” said the kid, walking over to me. “Name's Dodge. Dodge VonDoe.”
He held out his hand. I checked it for hidden wires, needles, and poison hand cream, then I shook it.
“Rune Drexler,” I said.
It's hard to describe my first impression of Dodge VonDoe. He had brown hair, hazel eyes, tan skin, and a small scar across his left eyebrow. He looked like an average kid. But there was also something a little
about him. I couldn't quite figure out what it was. Maybe the tan should've alerted me. I mean, most villains don't get to the beach very often. And his handshake. It was really firm and confident. He didn't seem wary or suspicious like most new villains.
“Well, I can see you two are going to get along fabulously!” said Morgana in her phony cheery voice.
“Dodge, I expect to see some deplorable behavior from you. I'll review your progress reports in a few weeks and then decide if you're fit to return to a school for
She looked right at me when she said that last part. I wanted to kick her in the shin but decided it probably wouldn't help.
“Ta!” Morgana said with a flourish of her hand as she drifted out the door. A cloud of perfume floated behind, making me gag.
“C'mon,” I said to Dodge. “Follow me.”
Our first stop was my room. I didn't realize how dirty it'd gotten since my old roommate and half brother, Chad, disappeared in a deluge of red frosting. Long story.
I scooped my dirty laundry off Chad's old bunk bed to clear a space for the new kid. Then I introduced him to Eye of Newt, my one-eyed pet salamander. Once Dodge had unpacked, we started talking.
“So, which parent is the villain?” I asked. The new kid looked kind of confused, so I elaborated. “You're a halfsie, right? Half villain, half human? So, is your mom the villain or your dad?”
Pretty much every villain was a halfsie: one villain parent and one regular old human parent. For instance, I was half-warlock. Jez was half-vampire, and Wolf
Junior was only half-wolf. Once they realized we were villains, our human parents didn't tend to stick around. Go figure.
“Oh, uh, my dad. He's a doctor.”
“Cool! Like a mad doctor? Or an evil scientist?” I asked.
“Yeah, something like that.”
Maybe this kid wasn't so bad. I started to think of all the ways he could help me in Mad Science class. We had just finished up the unit on poisons and potions and were starting a lab where everyone had to build their own doomsday devices. So far, mine looked like the deformed child of a toaster and a teakettle â¦ and was just about as useful for wiping out humanity.
Instead of going back to class, I decided to show the new kid around. Master Dreadthorn's school had been built beneath the ruins of an old castle. I took Dodge down our corridor and to a main intersection where lots of hallways met. Here, at this central hub, was the monstrosity known as the Great Clockâa towering machine surrounded by carvings of fanged and clawed beasts all smiling hideously. The clock's harsh chimes were less like bells and more like the honk of a gooseâa dying one, being kicked repeatedly.
To the right of the Great Clock was the hallway leading to the girls' dorms. I explained to Dodge how the
girls' corridors were guarded by a set of elaborate traps and obstacles. They had been specifically built for a female villain's mind. No boy had ever successfully navigated them all. Dodge raised one eyebrow with keen interest.
“Really?” he asked, peering curiously down the corridor. I knew that tone of voice. Many a new kid had assumed that same confidence before being dragged from the girls' corridor in tattered, singed, half-chewed pieces.
“Don't even try, man,” I said. “There's, like â¦ poisonous snakes and flamethrowers and stuff.”
“Doesn't sound like something built for a girl villain's mind,” said Dodge.
“You obviously haven't met many girl villains,” I said.
The girls' dorms were mostly empty, anyway, because it was nighttime, and all classes at Master Dreadthorn's school were held at night. We passed some classcaves where all the villain kids were still having lessons and continued our tour down the torch-lit corridors, past the bathrooms and through the cafeteria cave to the lower dungeons to meet the dragons, Fafnir and Custard.
They were chained near a natural spring in a colossal cavern. Fafnir was kind of old. He'd been green
once, but his scales were a dull gray now. He didn't have many teeth left in his sunken mouth, and getting him to blow fire for the torches was nearly impossible. All he wanted to do was sleep with his tattered wings folded over his eyes.
Custard, on the other hand, was a vibrant golden dragonâa young hatchling who took every opportunity to pester Fafnir, blowing fire at him and nipping at his spiked tail. That was a mistake, because Fafnir's tail wasn't as weak as the rest of him. I guess you could call it his “business end.” Whenever Custard was being particularly pestering, Fafnir would smack her upside the head with his spiked tail. It usually put her in her place, buying Fafnir an hour or two of peace before Custard started up again.
“You won't have to worry about them for a while,” I said to Dodge. “You don't deal with the dragons much unless you're a Fiend like me. You're just a Crook.” Yeah, I outranked him. And yeah, I was rubbing it in. Villains always rub stuff in.
“Well, I guess that's it,” I said.
“Aren't you forgetting something?” Dodge asked.
“Let's see, the office, dorms, cafeteria cave, bathrooms, dragons â¦ what am I missing?”
“Master Dreadthorn's study, of course,” he said. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to tell him he was crazy,
that nobody goes to Dreadthorn's study on purpose! But he looked dead serious, and
was I going to look like a big chicken in front of the new kid.