School Daze

Jimmy Lightning ollied onto the hand rail and then grinded down it before dropping to the ground. Extreme! He swerved in between the other students and ducked to avoid a cafeteria diner's tray. "Sorry!" he called out, as he whizzed past the kid.

He turned back around just in time to see Master Hu, who was standing in the middle of the hallway and looking very grumpy. Jimmy was so startled that he fell off his board and went sliding down the hallway, stopping just short of Master Hu's feet. His board went rolling off in the other direction.

"Mr. Lightning!" Master Hu said. "What have I told you about skateboarding in school?"

"Not to do it?" Jimmy replied, looking up at his teacher.

"Then perhaps you can explain why I just caught you skateboarding in school?"

"Er..." Jimmy said, stalling as he picked himself off the ground. "You didn't?"

"You're suggesting I don't remember what I saw?"

"Er... Yes?"

Master Hu put a wing to his chin and stroked his feathers. "Yes. Perhaps I am confusing the actual reality with reality as I remember it. How could any person ever truly know which events have conspired and which events one merely possesses the memory of? Perhaps it is impossible."

Jimmy smiled. Another detention dodged at the Peggle Institute. He trotted over to pick up his skateboard, hoping the Master would be so lost in meditative contemplation that he would forget the entire matter. He walked to school, holding his board in one of his paws, and hoped the rest of the day would go as well as the beginning of it.

An Uninvited Guest

Master Hu was still thinking about the duality of perception and reality when he walked into his office and his secretary Tula told him he had a guest. Tula was a flower that was alive in more ways than flowers usually were. She could think and talk and organize better than Master Hu thought was possible, in this world or any other. It was a necessary impossibility, what she did, and yet she did it anyway.

"You have a guest" was how she told him.

"Who?" Master Hu asked. He sniffed the air. It had an unusual smell, something he couldn't place. It smelled a bit like sulfur. He hated elusive smells like that because the source was often difficult to discover, and then it was difficult to remove the smell entirely. Still, something was familiar about that scent. It was something he had smelled before.

Tula shrugged. "He wouldn't give me his name."

"What did he look like?"

"Big, red, giant wings and firey breath."

Master Hu furrowed his feathery brow. "Why would Lord Cinderbottom be visiting me?" He didn't like the sound of this. Not one bit. Lord Cinderbottom was the patron of the Peggle Institute, but he rarely dropped by. His interests were of a more carnal nature than education.

No, something was wrong. Master Hu was sure of it. Lord Cinderbottom meant trouble.

But at least that explained the smell.

A Tournament So Soon

Master Hu shook his head. "It's impossible. Not so soon after the last!"

"Yes, I know," Lord Cinderbottom said. He snorted, and two little flames bobbed out of his nostrils, then receded back inside. "But, nevertheless, we have been challenged."

"The entire state?"


"For what?"

"For everything."

"What do you mean, for everything?"

"For all of it. For the whole shebang. Our best man against their best man for King and Country. Winner takes all."

"By whom?! Who could wager such a thing? Who could match your dominions, or our reserves of talent? We have the entire alumni body for the Peggle Academy on our side!"

Lord Cinderbottom sat for a moment, looking regal and powerful and contemplative, before he answered the Master's question. "I'm afraid the challenge was issued by Kat Tut."

"Oh, no," Master Hu replied. "Oh, no."

"Yes, I'm afraid so. She, of course, has the lands with which to wager."

"Yes," Master Hu said, nodding. "Of course. But..."

"Yes?" Lord Cindebottom said.

"Why does she think he possesses talent to match our own? Surely, she would be easily beaten in standard play by you or me, and dozens others, as well." Master Hu chuckled. "I believe even my secretary Tula could defeat him, and she only played in Tournament once!"

"Well," Lord Cinderbottom said, "that is the problem. You see, she has placed an additional constraint upon the match: no one who has previously participatd in the Tournament can play."

Master Hu's eyes widened. "Even one match?"

Lord Cinderbottom shook his head. "Even one."

Master Hu buried his head in his wings. "Who? Who? Who could we find to meet this challenge?"

A Meeting with Lord Cinderbottom

Master Hu had barely settled onto his roost when Lord Cinderbottom began.

"I bet you're wondering why I'm here."

Master Hu nodded.

"I bet you think it's bad news."

Master Hu nodded again.

"Well, you're right."

Master Hu nodded a third time, realized that he had just gotten in a routine and it was not actually a good time to nod, and shook his head instead. "What is it this time?"

"There is unrest in the Southern Provinces."

"Yes, I have heard of things."

"It is worse than we have feared. I have been contacted."

"What do you mean?" But then it dawned on Master Hu what Lord Cinderbottom meant, and his lower beak dropped. "Bjorn."

Lord Cinderbottom nodded. "I am afraid there will be a tournament."

An Unlikely Hero

As soon as the bell started ringing, Jimmy Lightning was on his skateboard, and by the time the last ring died away, he was shooting through the front doors of the high school, already on his way to the skate park.

Jimmy's mind wasn't as clear as one would think, though. He was in the middle of a dilemma. He couldn't decide whether he'd rather be a professional skateboarder, surfer, or snowboarder, and the indecision was eating him away on the inside.

On one hand, he liked the universality of skateboarding. He could take his skateboard anywhere and skate anywhere (on land, that was), and he liked that. He could skate to school. He could skate home. It was useful.

On the other hand, snowboarding was fast. And the place you visit to snowboard, they're so beautiful they're extremely beautiful. Unfortunately, they're also extremely expensive. He was going to be making a lot of prize money in his prime, of course, but he still didn't want to widdle that away on lift tickets and high-class-hotel stays.

Surfing had a lot of stuff in the Pro category. Like snowboarding, it took place in beautiful places. (However, with surfing, it was also warm!) And like skateboarding, it was free: nobody owned the Ocean. It was everybody's, man.

One draw-back, though: he didn't know how to surf. Had never done it. Didn't know the first thing about it.

And so not only was his mind troubled, but his soul was crowded with that secret. Jimmy Lightning, the most extreme student at Peggle University, didn't know how to surf.

The Lair of Kat Tut

Kat Tut reclined back on her enormous sofa and dropped pieces of kitty kibble into her mouth. They bounced off her teeth and into the bucket that was her open maw, and she smiled to herself and thought Extra Ball, though soon they would not earn her Extra Balls, but rather Bucket Bonuses. She was okay with this. It would mean competition, and she lived for competition.

Kat Tut chuckled. "It's a perfect plan, isn't it, my advisor?"

"Yes, Pharaoh."

"It will work, won't it?"

"Yes, Pharaoh.

"I have challenged them, and put a condition into the contract which prohibits Master Hu or Lord Cinderbottom from playing, and they were the only two that ever could have beaten me, and only those two if they got lucky."

"Yes, Pharaoh. No one else, and hardly them," the advisor said, though he knew this wasn't true. Kat Tut was a good player, but nothing close to Master Hu or Lord Cinderbottom. There were others that could have defeated her, too, like the magician, but he had disappeared years ago and no one had heard from him since, ever since the last tournament...

Still, it was good to humor the Pharaoh. Disagreeing with her could get you killed.

"And now, with your help, with your knowledge, plus my own natural skill, I shall defeat whatever measly opponent they could bring against me."

"Yes, Pharaoh."

"It really is an amazing plan, isn't it? I'm glad I thought of it."

She did not think of it! the advisor raged. I thought of it! But, no matter. Go along with what she says and wait until the time is right...

"With my Pyramid Power, plus the strength of your... what was it called?"

Renfield Pumpkin stepped out of the darkness. "Spooky Ball, Pharaoh."

"Yes, with your Spooky Ball plus my own abilities, I shall be UNSTOPPABLE!"

Kat Tut began to laugh, and the laughs turned into hissing and hacking, which continued until she was able to expell a hairball. "Sorry," she said. "I hate it when that happens."

"It is forgotten, Pharaoh."

A Rude Awakening...

He was surfing! He had finally done it! Jimmy Lightning had learned to surf! He was goo, too. Unstoppable on the waves. He was doing tricks up there, grinding on the crest of the wave and waving to his fans on the shore.

He jumped into the air and grabbed onto his board during the aerial. The crowd went wild! He surfed in the rest of the way and came up smoothly to the sandy beach. He ran off the board and into the arms of another beautiful chipmunk, and they began to make out pretty hard. Then, she started shaking him and asking, "Are you all right? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine!" he mumbled, as he opened his eyes and stared up into the face of Master Hu and about ten strangers. "Where am I?" he asked, still mumbling. "Where's that chipmunkess?"

"I don't know who you're talking about," Master Hu replied. "Though it is possible that is because we do not share the same set of experiences. The world is subjective, you know! All I am aware of, and it is very little, is that the moment you saw me coming, you seemed to panic and then tumbled off your board. You struck your head pretty hard against the ground."

"Oh," Jimmy replied. So it had just been a dream. Rats. He climbed to his feet, but it was difficult. As soon as his head was above the rest of his body, the entire world began to wobble and Jimmy had to sit down to get it to stop. "Whoah," he said. He was sitting in a bench, and the people who had gathered around his unconscious body began to disperse back into the skateboarding crowd. If there was no death or grevious injury, we aren't interested. Call us when something breaks.

"Are you okay?" the Master asked.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just need a few moments." He took a few breaths, trying to get back into the routine of consciousness, and then asked, "What brought you here?"

"I'm afraid bad news."

"I'm in trouble for something."

"Oh, no, no, no. I'm afraid it is far worse than that."

Jimmy Lightning nodded. He had known this moment was coming for many weeks now, but he was okay with it. "I'm being expelled from the Peggle Institute," he said, nodding. It was no biggie. He needed to get away from that place anyway. Needed the extra time it would give him to practice his skills, maybe even get into surfing.

"No, I'm afraid it's worse than that."

"What do you mean? What could be worse than that?" Jimmy's imagination was racing, thinking of one extreme possibility after another, each more extreme and horrific than the last.

Finally, his guessing was cut-off, and completely topped, by Master Hu's pronouncement, "We need you to play in the Peggle Tournament for all of the Empire."

Jimmy Lightning's jaw dropped.

Now that was extreme.

The Stage of Denial

Jimmy Lightning said the first thing that popped into his extreme skull: "What?"

Master Hu replied, "You are to represent the entire Empire in a Peggle Tournament against Kat Tut. If he wins, all of the Empire shall be his. If you win, the land of the Great Empire will double in size. Also, we'll gain some nice pyramids, too. Very nice for burials. Very intimidating, too. I know I'm intimidated, just looking at him."


"Did you not hear what I said, or is it difficult to grasp?"


"I shall assume the latter."

"Why me?"

"Why you? Because there are no others. Those who have participated in the Tournament before cannot be chosen this time. You are the best hope we have."

"But I... But I... I'm not even that good. I'm a C-student! You should ask Cynthia! She's way better than I am! I don't want this kind of pressure."

"Cynthia is good, but you are better. I have been watching you. I see what is inside of you. The stars and the cards tell me that you shall be the next great Peggle legend." Master Hu put a wing on Jimmy Lightning. "You shall be victorious, and you shall bring great glory to the Empire."

"I... I don't know."

"Will you help us, Jimmy Lightning? You are our only hope."

"I... I... I'm gonna need some time to think about it."

"Suit yourself, Jimmy Lightning. But you will participate in the tournament. It is your destiny."

"I don't know..."

A River Called Da Nile

Kat Tut closed her eyes and focused. She knew where she wanted the metal ball to go, and it would go where she wanted. She threw it.

It richocheted off an orange peg and smashed into a purple one. It bounced off the purple one and went careening into the air, toward a large cluster of blues. It bounced around in there for a bit, racking up points, before dropping onto another orance and bouncing off the rim of the bucket.

It hit another orange and then a green and shot downward. It was going to fall a few feet to the left of the bucket, and Kat Tut threw her arms into the air and screamed, "PYRAMID POWER!"

The bucket transformed into a pyramid. It covered half the playing field, and the ball bounced off its inclined stone side and smashed into another green.

This was the moment.

Kat Tut closed her eyes. Just like her advisor Renfield had said, now. Focus. Call upon the darkness of your soul and channel it toward the ball, possess the ball with this energy, control the ball, own the ball.

"SPOOKY BALL!" Kat Tut shouted.

Nothing happened.

The metal ball ricocheted off another peg and plummetted downward, missing the pyramid and splashing into the Nile River. "Zounds!" Kat Tut exclaimed. "Foiled again."

She turned and walked away from the river and her personal Peggle playing field. This was hopeless. She had been trying to conjure the Spooky Ball for weeks, with absolutely no results. Perhaps it was as the others said, and one could not channel another's special, even with their blessing and instruction. Perhaps this was futile. Perhaps she had deluded herself into thinking that she could win at all. Maybe she had made a horrible mistake, challenging the Empire above. Maybe she was about to lose her whole kingdom. Would they let her rescind her challenge? No, that was against the rules.

She was going to fail. All was lost.

Just then, a glowing green ball fell out of the sky and conked her in the head, knocking her unconscious. As she lay in the sands, staring up with her eyes open and blank, a grin crawled across her face: she had done it. She had called forth the Spooky Ball.

The Empire would be hers.