Episode 1 Chapter 1

Little Theodore dragged his heavy training sword along the mossy ground, stopping at the dark mouth of the cave. He was seven and hoped to see eight.

“I don’t want to. I’m scared.”

His father towered over him in his armored uniform, arms folded, grinning. “Scared?” He was massive and loud. His skin and hair were dark, his nose pointed, and his eyes fierce. “You’re the son of Lance Grayweather. You aren’t allowed to be scared.”

Theo hesitated, the rocky ground pressing into his shoes. His father slapped him across the back, knocking him off balance.

“Go on,” Lance urged. “If you’re to be a knight, you have to face danger head on!”

Theo was not sure he wanted to be a knight. He was born small, and at his mother’s expense. He was nearsighted and prone to startle. His hobbies included alphabetizing his toys, completing school work, composing numbered lists, memorizing facts from books, and shuffling stacks of paper so the edges lined up. Knights were large, liked to get into wars and shout a lot. Theo thought this meant he would make a very bad knight, but his father always got mad when he said this.

The shadows shifted. Something large moved just out of sight, and Theo felt his knees buckle. He wished with all his heart that he was back at home with his books, that his father would stop dragging him out into the miserable and muddy outdoors for hunting trips, wilderness survival lessons, and combat training.

Theo looked back at his father, who pointed at the cave. His smile was waning. Theo reminded himself that he was a good boy, and swallowed his fear. He pushed up his spectacles and dragged his sword across the threshold of the cave.

A moment later, Theo rushed back out of the cave screaming as a massive creature tore after him. It was covered in scales, and lumbered with a gorilla’s gait. Within a few meters it caught up, seized Theo by the ankles, and swallowed him whole.

Lance dashed up behind the creature and bashed it upside the head with the pommel of his sword. The beast toppled like a sack of potatoes. It took Lance a moment to roll the creature over and pry its jaws open. He reached in and pulled out his son, who at no point stopped screaming.

“What am I supposed to do with you?” He sat Theo down and shoved his sword back in his hands. “It was just a guard troll. You didn’t even try to fight it!”

Theo was slick with spittle and not yet over the trauma of getting stuck in a troll esophagus. His father pushed him back through the cave entrance.

“Stop it. A knight doesn’t snivel. You’re better than that.”

“I don’t want to be a knight!” Theo snapped back, wiping snot, saliva and tears from his face. “I want to go home!”

Lance hushed his son. “We aren’t done here. There are wicked fairies about. We leave when they’re captured.”

Theo threw down his sword. It clattered against the cave floor. “No! I don’t want to! I hate this!”

His father stood in the mouth of the cave, blocking him. Theo backed away. Without thinking, he ran off deeper into the cave.


Episode 1 Chapter 2

Theo stumbled through the pitch dark and winding tunnels of the old mine, tears in his eyes. He could hear the rattle of his father’s armor as he stormed after him. Lantern light peeked from around a corner and Theo hurried, scraping his hands against the rough-cut walls as he tried to get away.

Gravel gave way underneath Theo and he lost his footing. With a yelp he spilled down a stony shaft, collecting bruises as he slid. He was spat out into a wide chamber and bounced off something big and hairy.

“Huh?” A hairy, burly wolf man with bad posture turned around to look at what hit him. Theo strained to stand up, groaning. Stacks of crates and barrels surrounded him. The room was lit by veins of luminescent ore running through the cavern walls. Theo knew from his textbooks that it was fossilized magic. He was mesmerized long enough to forget about the werewolf staring down at him.

“What’re you supposed to be?” It snarled. Theo tried to back away as it snorted a noseful of him. “Some kind of giant gnome?”

“Hah!” a woman laughed. Theo looked. No, not a woman. Her eyes had no pupils. Her skin was a mottle of greens and blue. It was a nymph, draped in a shawl of black feathers. “Imbecile. That’s a human child. You’d know that if you left the Hollows once in a while.”

“What’s a human doing here?” The wolf man scratched his snout. “Edmund is supposed to be guarding the entrance.”

“He’s probably asleep again.” The nymph cradled her temple and sighed. “You get what you pay for.”

“Um.” Theo backed up against the wall. “A-are you the criminals? Are you going to hurt me?”

The creatures exchanged a glance. “It knows something,” the werewolf said. “The Fair Lady won’t like this.”

“Bring him here.” The nymph’s face twisted into a hungry smile. “I’ll take his voice. Turn him into a tasty toad.”

“Like hell!” The wolf shouted. “I found it first!” He lifted Theo by the collar and leaned into his face.

“Listen pup.” His breath was wet and foul. “We’re gonna play a game. I count to three. You run, and I chase you. If I catch you, I win, and I get to rip you apart.”

Normally, Theo loved games. They had lots of rules and everybody waited their turn. This did not sound like one of those. “H-h-how do I win?”

The creature snapped its jaws. “One.” He threw Theo to the cave floor. Theo hurried to his feet. “Two…” He looked for somewhere to run in the room of boxes. “Three!”

Lunging from nowhere, Lance tackled the werewolf to the ground. The beast roared and fought back with a flurry of clawed slashes. Sir Grayweather wrestled it down with one arm and used his off hand to plunge a shining silver dagger into the creature’s chest. The wolf man let out an agonized shriek as he shriveled, collapsing in on himself.

“Fenrus!” The nymph watched in horror as she watched the body turn to ash. “Damn you humans! I’ll kill you both!” She reared back, her legs twisting into tree roots. Her shawl exploded into a spray of feathers and she towered over them, now half tree. She thrust an arm, now a spearing stake, only for Lance to leap onto the limb. With one swing of his iron longsword, he cleaved the nymph’s head from her shoulders. Her body writhed in agony, before freezing in place as lifeless wood.

Lance ran to his son. “Theo! Are you hurt? Look at me!”

Theo stared at the severed head of the fairy nymph as the amber blood pooled. Lance shook him and Theo turned to look up at his father. His face was bloody with scratches, his armor was battered, and death surrounded him. This was what a knight looked like. The sort of knight Theo was expected to become.

He burst into wailing tears.


Episode 1 Chapter 3

Theodore Grayweather’s hand trembled. He sat hunched over his desk with an ink quill hovering over the enrollment form. His heart pounded with excitement. Double checking the bank statement that he brought home that day, he verified for the tenth time that the numbers were correct. After working for years and saving every last coin he could, he had at last scrimped together enough money to attend the University.

Taking a deep breath, he got to work. Theodore went line by line and column by column, filling the application with writing so tight and precise it appeared to have been made by typewriter. When he was done he still had so much energy left over that he could not help but fill out the second application he picked up in case he made a mistake. He triple checked to make sure everything was in compliance with enrollment policy and then sealed the paperwork into a stamped envelope. After six years of patience, it felt as if the world would end if he failed to find a post office that very minute.

Theodore rushed across his garret apartment to get ready for work. Apart from the battered second-hand furniture, it would be barren if not for the tidy stacks of library books. Most of the volumes were study material for the entrance exam, but it was impossible for Theodore not to come home without five more textbooks than he intended when the world was so full of things to learn. He pulled one of his work suits from the wardrobe hanger and pinned back his long ash-brown hair in the mirror.

No one would guess at a glance that Theodore was a Grayweather, which pleased him. His father, when he was alive, was a mountain of a man with amber skin and slick black hair. At age twenty-two, Theodore was rail thin by comparison. Puberty made him tall but paid him no other favor. He remained slight, scrawny, angular, and pale, with eyeglasses masking bright green eyes. The only thing that betrayed his heritage was his damned nose, which was long and pointed and led people to ask if by some chance he were related to the Hero Champion.

None of that mattered now. Lance was dead, and the only thing standing in Theodore’s way from a life of study at the greatest university on the continent was the delivery of an envelope. Careful to navigate around his landlord’s eight cats while fixing his tie, he stepped out into the streets of Laien and hurried to the nearest post office.

“Inside city limits?” said the Post Master, who was a talking pigeon wearing a tiny hat. The whole building was an aviary, and smelled like a chicken coop. He watched the envelope balance on the scale. “Express delivery will cost eight thalers.”

Theodore had exact change in hand before he stepped through the door. A courier bird launched from a wall-mounted rail perch, snatched up the letter and zipped out the window. Theodore lingered to watch the letter disappear, wishing he could deliver it by hand but knowing there was no more time before work.

The 7:25AM trolley glided across the brickwork roadways of the capital city, propelled by magic. Theodore sat through his commute, watching the familiar slanted roofs, street lamps and monuments pass, when he was seized by a panic. Had he been too hasty? Did he really have enough money put aside after only six years? Something could go wrong. He might be injured. His apartment could catch fire. Monsters from the valley could break in and put a magic curse on him. The train of thought disturbed him so much he almost missed his stop. He resolved to review his budget the moment he got home to be sure he accounted for every possibility.

Theodore stepped off the trolley and made his way across the government plaza to climb the imposing steps of the Laien kingdom’s central downtown Bureaucracy Dome. There, on the tenth floor, he clocked in and entered a labyrinth of filing cabinets.

“Thank the Mother you’re here!” Randall Silverpin looked more disheveled than usual, with his shirt tail loose and his hair unkempt. “I don’t know what to do! There’s someone asking to look at the documents!”

Theodore blinked at him, and then glanced around at the filing cabinets surrounding them. “Well, yes. That’s what the records department is here for.”

“I know that!” Randall said in a hiss, looking over his shoulder. “I just don’t know where anything is! This woman just waltzed in and started asking for help! I have to keep telling her it will be just a few more minutes!” His shoulders slumped. “I wish she would go away.”

“What is she looking for?”

Relief washed over his co-worker’s face. “Floor plans for the king’s castle.”

“Does she have clearance to look at that?” Theodore said.

“She’s the Governor’s secretary! Of course she does!”

Theodore made a beeline straight to the cabinet they needed. He fingered through the files, searching for the exact department code. “I can’t keep doing this for you. I’m leaving to start university soon. You need to memorize the filing system without me.”

“Not if they reject your application,” Randall said, hopeful. “Right?”

Snatching the blueprints, Theodore slammed the filing cabinet shut and swept toward the front desk. There, he found a prim but unremarkable woman waiting for them.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Theodore said.

“It’s fine.” She feigned a smile as she took the file from him. Her eyes focused on his nose, and Theodore dreaded the question that followed. “Pardon me, do you happen to be Mr. Grayweather?”

“Yeah he is,” Randall said. “But he doesn’t like talking about it.”

Theodore shot his subordinate an icy look. “My name is Theodore Grayweather. What of it?”

 “I have something for you, from the Governor,” she said.

“If you need something filed, it needs to go through acquisitions and claims first.”

“Nothing like that.” She offered him a piece of paper. “Here.”

Feeling uneasy, Theodore took the parchment from her and unfolded it. His hand trembled as he read. In one moment all his plans for the future fell apart.


Whirlwood Illustrations by Max

I’ve had the tremendous fortune to be married to a talented artist who has indulged my by doing illustrations of my story. Below are a series of illustrations Maxwell Kinne was kind enough to do for my story.

You can check out other art by Max on his twitter or his Fur Affinity.


Whirlwood Concept Art by Max

Feather and Zither concepts
Gnome concept
Sylph concept
Gnome concept
Lance and Margaretta concepts
Fife concept
Sylph concept
Conrad concept
Bassoon concept
Beira concept
Conrad concept
Conrad and Myra concepts
Feather concept
Silas and the Tall Man concept
Claire concept
Myra concept
Myra concept
Governor Farbend and Myra concepts
Myra concept
Governor Farbend concept
Pooka concept
Gnome concept
Gnome concept
Silas concept
Fife concept
Henry Greenveil concept

The Tall Man concept


Episode 1 Chapter 4

“You can’t do this to me!” Theodore said, grabbing at air, needing to strangle something. “I’ve done nothing wrong!” He wanted to knock over a stack of papers for dramatic effect, but could not muster the gall to go through with it.

Gregory Farbend sat at his desk with his hands folded. He was a large and mild man, with dark red skin and a face composed mostly of jowls interrupted by a mustache. As Governor, his job was to manage city affairs on behalf of the king. It was clear by his puzzled expression that he had not expected anyone to barge into his office today and shout about being wrongfully promoted.

“I’m not sure I understand the problem,” he said. “This position comes with a doubling of your salary and a field office to live in and operate out of. You should be pleased.”

“The problem is I’m a clerk!” Theodore crumpled the transfer notice and tossed it onto the desk. “I organize paperwork for a living! And you are reassigning me to law enforcement? Are you out of your mind?!”

Mr. Farbend chuckled. “I wouldn’t assign just anyone to this. Can you imagine my surprise when I heard there was a Grayweather working here at the Dome this whole time? I couldn’t have asked for a better candidate.”

Theodore paced, rubbing his forehead, wondering who talked. He had been so careful for so long. Randall was the most likely suspect, but he swore to Theodore he wouldn’t gossip. “My family name doesn’t matter! I’m not qualified for this!”

“Nonsense,” Governor Farbend said. “I was well acquainted with your father. He trained some of the finest knights of this generation, and I know for a fact he was grooming his son to be the best of them.”

Memories flashed through Theodore’s mind, one after another: torn away from his books, dragged by the arm to fencing lessons. Endless lectures on form and technique. Falling from horseback into filth. Arms sore from archery drills from noon to dusk. Bruises, scrapes, sweat and blood. A severed head screaming through the air. His breathing grew shallow.

“I am not a knight,” he said. “I don’t care what my father told you.”

Mr. Farbend scoffed. “The Grayweathers have always been knights.”

“And that’s why they’re all dead!” Theodore said. It would take only a passing glance into the family history to see the grisly truth. Whether they were torn apart by creatures, chopped to pieces by bandits, or killed in honorable duels, every last one of them met an early end. “I’m the only one left!”

“You’re getting too worked up over this,” Mr. Farbend said. “At least look at the benefits package we’re offering!”

Theodore remembered standing at his father’s funeral: a closed casket hinting at the gruesome fate Lance met but no one would describe. The reality of what happened was buried under flowers and incense and fancy speeches. Lance was the Hero Champion of the Kingdom of Laien. He was the greatest knight in living memory, and his maimed corpse was found dumped on the side of the road.

“I gave up everything to get away from that life.” Theodore turned to leave. “Find someone else to do your thug work.”

Mr. Farbend stood up. He pulled open a drawer and slid a document across the desk.

“I trust you know what this is,” he said.

Theodore let go of the doorknob as he looked back. His eyes went wide. He did know. “That’s a royal appointment form.” He picked up the document, adjusting his glasses to be certain. “This is signed by the king.” He looked up, his knees ready to give out. ” …You’re conscripting me.”

He let out a snort. “Well, I couldn’t risk some knight order snatching you up! I’ve needed to fill this position for months!”

Theodore collapsed into a chair. A royal appointment wasn’t something he could ignore. Refusing to comply with a decree of this nature was grounds for exile. The Governor snatched the paper away from Theodore’s limp grip.

“This really has been no end of trouble for me.” Mr. Farbend put the form away and straightened his vest. “I can’t just assign some no-name, but it’s not like anyone wants the job.” He sighed. “Whether you like it or not, the matter is settled. You start next week. Maybe now the fairies and ghasts will stop breathing down my neck about this…”

Theodore sat straight at the mention of creatures. “Wait,” he said. “Fairies? Ghasts? Just where are sending me?!”

Governor Farbend froze. It appeared there was one last nasty surprise he had hoped to put off as long as possible.

“…You’ve been assigned to the Whirlwood Valley,” he said. “As the Ranger Deputy, you’re to keep the peace among the magical creatures there and oversee the harvest of wild magic.”

Theodore gripped the edges of his seat, feeling his whole world careening into the abyss. Things were far worse than he could’ve imagined.


Episode 1 Chapter 5

Theodore bent over the sink to splash himself with cold water. He stared into his reflection in the mirror, mortified by the uniform he was wearing. A heavy khaki shirt and olive breeches, tailored to endure the rugged outdoors. The Ranger Deputy badge, an eight-pointed star cast in silver and iron, was pinned to his chest. It all made his skin itch. These were the clothes of a brute, paid to patrol the Whirlwood Valley and keep monsters in their place. He added a tie to hold onto some trace of humanity, but it wasn’t enough. He looked at his pointed nose, his face, and saw a shade of his father looking back.

How many times had his father dragged him deep into the Whirlwood to train? It was a place so rich with wild magic it attracted every manner of fairy, witch, and ghast. Even if the kingdom made peace with those creatures a long time ago, there was a reason stone walls stood between them and the city. He still remembered the nymph and werewolf that tried to kill him. Theodore wanted no part of that world, but there was no choice. Refusing a royal appointment was treason, it meant banishment from his home.

Theodore tried to imagine himself fleeing to live anywhere else. Grappling to learn the clicky language of Feymire, with its forty-seven vowels and two consonants. The people of Red Spire had yet to discover plumbing, let alone library science. It would not be safe to cross the border into the Sun Meadows on account of his skin tone. The Cloudwell had just started another of its protracted land wars with the empire of Korveil. Every alternative was impossible.

Marching out of the bathroom, Theodore wrestled with a stuck window long enough to crack it open. The capital’s skyline stretched ahead of him, with old cobblestone homes and towers standing alongside the sleek and bulbous steel factories. Laien was a masterpiece, the pride and power of the continent, a grid of streets and numbered buildings parceled into elegant postal codes, and at its heart sat the prize: The sprawling campus of the University. It was right there and yet farther than it had ever been before.

Theodore stomped up the stairs to his apartment, startling his land-lord’s cats along the way. The room was barren now that the library books were returned. He hurled what precious little he owned into a pair of suitcases, his mind racing. There was a way out of this. There had to be. Laien’s legal system was complex, with loopholes and exceptions for everything. When the packing was nearly done, he found room for two heavy tomes on law. If there was a way out of this assignment, if there was some way he could still go to the University, he would find it. He would just have to bide his time for now.

After paying the last of his rent, he uprooted himself and boarded a trolley bound to the Western Gate station. He stepped off on the edge of the city, where the walls towered overhead: centuries old stone erected and warded to repel invaders and every manner of creature. Outside the sanctuary of the capital, civilization faltered. Nervous, he made his way.

“Oi!” a watchman flagged him down. His eyes were dull, like his mind was elsewhere. He had short curly blond locks and wore a tabard over chainmail, checkered green and white. “You the new Ranger Deputy?”

Theodore made eye contact and paused. He withdrew his pocket watch and waited ten additional seconds for the time to tick over to precisely 7:30 a.m., his scheduled arrival time.

“Yes, hello. That is correct.” He snapped the timepiece shut. “I was instructed to meet with the leading officer at the Gate. Is that you?”

“Nah. I’m just Fritz.” The badge on his chest marked him as Lieutenant. He excavated something from his nose and flicked it away. “The captain will be down in the train yard prepping for the harvest. This way, please.”

Fritz led Theodore to the gate, wide enough to allow a whole trade caravan through but barred by portcullis. The Lieutenant picked a small rock off the ground and chucked it at one of tower windows. A man in a plumed helmet leaned out.

“What?!” he called down, annoyed.

“New dep’s here! Open her up, Gary!”

The tower guard disappeared back into the interior. After a few moments, the wall rumbled as the portcullis clattered open. Theodore followed and passed through. Beyond the gate, the roads rolled down into the distant valley where vast tracks of trees spilled out into the horizon all curled together like a briar patch. The capital city overlooked the Whirlwood from the upper rim. From here, Theodore could see a maze of trails running through the forest sprawl like veins. Teetering stone spires and old ruins peeked through the canopy of trees. Islands of rock, soaked in wild magic, floated on the horizon while unseasonal snow fell in pockets. It was a place he had not seen since he was a child and had hoped to never see again.

Fritz glanced back at Theodore. “You’re braver than you look.”

Theodore felt a new unease. “What do you mean?”

“I hear the pay is good, but the last guy that had your job up and vanished.” Fritz shrugged. “Probably got himself eaten. Or cursed. The usual. Anyway, follow me.”