The Short Reign of Excellence
Excellence Caldwell becomes Queen of Darkwood High, and everyone, from teachers and principal Black down to Juliet and the yearbook club, consider that perfectly normal. Alexandra’s a little annoyed that SHE didn’t get to be Queen, but doesn’t question the whole concept of monarchy.
But Billy Boucher and Harmon Creel don’t get it. Billy phones Dr. Armitage, who believes in high school royalty but does a spell to test whether he’s under a spell, and whaddya know – he is! He counsels Billy that anyone powerful enough to cloud the minds of the entire town is a serious customer, and not to face them alone. Billy is then chased by the school’s football team, who have become a sort of campus brute squad, and the cops.
Acting on Billy’s warning that all is not as it should be, Juliet and her friends find and rescue two pretenders to the throne – class flirt Prudence Powell and Goth poet Olivia Hackshaw – from an oubliette and escape, after beating up some brutes who bar their way. At Dilgence’s house, they experiment with removing the circlets everyone seems to be wearing, and when they do, their normal attitudes return. The longer they wear them, the more they start talking in blank verse, too, which gets seriously weird after a while.
Billy, meanwhile, finds there are roadblocks on the bridges, so he can’t get to Diligence’s house. He takes the long way around to Harmon’s, finds out the Creels haven’t been affected (Harmon attributes his resistance to his amulet of disguise, but Billy thinks it’s because they share part-animal characteristics. If Billy’s right, Walker the werewolf is probably immune as well.) Harmon swims them back to town using a Mason jar full of bubbling gelid gook which obeys his commands, and Billy develops a reasonable fear of the water.
At the Sadie Hawkins dance, held in Excellence’s new castle (the former Miskatonic University campus, done over with tall towers, battlements and a drawbridge), Juliet invites Walker and Alexandra invites Marcus. Diligence, in a fool’s cap and bells, pretends to be part of the entertainment along with “storyteller” Armitage, and Billy just sneaks in. Diligence and Armitage confront Queen Excellence, who wears a large and elaborate version of the circlets, and Diligence knocks the crown from her head with a pair of bolt cutters. The crown morphs into its true form, an eight-legged metallic spider-centaur, and attacks.
Outside the audience chamber, Alexandra and Billy take out some of the Six, Excellence’s elite guards, who disappear when struck. Then, of course, every brute in the world is summoned, and while Billy holds the hall door shut on an army of angry jocks (literally an army, with guns and armor) Alexandra tries burning through the throne room door.
Juliet and Walker try grabbing the circlets off the jocks’ heads, snapping them out of it. They follow behind the procession and try to get the rearmost, amassing a group of a dozen or so recovered brutes before the rest catch on and turn on them in a wild melee. This gives Alexandra time to get inside and burn the Crown Demon, who is very unhappy and starts whacking around indiscriminately. Diligence faints, Marcus gets knocked out and fullback Buck Bradshaw is killed.
Billy, Juliet and Walker charge in at the head of a mob of armed jocks, who open fire, spraying bullets all around. The demon is bulletproof, but Excellence, hidden behind a drapery, isn’t, and she catches several bullets and goes down. The demon stops fighting and rushes over to reach right into her wounds and repair them from within, a process more painful than the wounds themselves but which nevertheless saves Excellence from certain death. Juliet uses the Crusader sword to behead the demon, and all is well, with everyone forgetting all about the reign of Queen Excellence the First.