Episode 1 Chapter 16

The fun part was designing a system to assign turn order. Theodore corralled the creatures into the yard, and set to work cutting out numbered slips of paper. He set up a table outside with the tickets and a pitcher of lemonade, and announced turns would be assigned by lottery.

After calling out numbers, it was clear after the first few that most of the monsters simply needed to fill out and submit appropriate forms. Soon the office was filled with creatures, many hunched over tables and corners filling out forms while Theodore floated between them answering questions.

“Hey!” A pooka flagged him down. He was a small rabbit man, with black fur and golden eyes. “What am I supposed to do if I haven’t got a mailing address? I live in a hole. I dug it in the dirt. Mail isn’t a thing that happens.”

Theodore pointed to section C of the application. “Indicate here that you want the visa delivered to this office. You’ll have to come back in a month to pick up your visa.”

“Umm!” The werewolf stuck his long arm straight up to the ceiling, holding it up with his free hand. His face was a shaggy mop of hair and teeth.”Mr. Deputy! I need help please!”

“What is it now, Barghest?” Theodore asked, careful to step over the gnomes.

“Can you check that I’m doing this right??” He held up a permit renewal decorated in careful chicken scratch. “I have to do these two pages as well, right?”

“No. Remember, you are just asking for an extension of your permit. Those pages are only for new applications.” He scanned the document for errors, and nodded. “You’re doing fine. There’s no need to get so worked up.”

“If I don’t get this submitted on time, they’ll take away my haunting ground!” He squirmed in his seat, tugging at his neck hair. “I can’t lose it! I’ll die!”

Theodore hovered closer. “It’s okay. Breathe. If it’s so important, why did you wait so long to renew?”

“I couldn’t! There’s been no Ranger Deputy in months, and I’m not allowed in the city! It expires in two weeks! Are you sure it’s going to get submitted on time?!”

Theodore hesitated to touch Barghest, but gave the werewolf a reassuring pat. “I’ll notarize it so they know you filed today. You won’t lose your claim even if your paperwork lapses, alright?”

The wolf man breathed in and out until he calmed. “Okay,” he said. “And you’ll double check for mistakes before I leave, right?”

“Yes, of course.”

“…Thank you.” Barghest pressed his face back up to the paper, squeezing the tip of his pencil.

Theodore glanced around the room and found a rare moment where everyone was at work but no one was looking for help. The sound of scribbling filled him with a sense of gratification. He drifted through the room, and noticed a fox struggling in the corner. She gripped the pencil with her teeth and scraped it across the paper in slow and nervous strokes. The fox had been toiling over the first sheet of the city visa application for the past half hour.

Theodore stepped closer. “Would… you like me to help you with that?”

“Wo hoo bant elp!”


She spat out the pencil.

“I said don’t help me! You can’t! Last time they turned me down because I didn’t do all of the paperwork myself!”

Theodore backed off. She was, of course, correct about the policy. He just felt bad to watch her. “I’m sorry.”

The fox looked down at the remaining ten pages of demographic forms, with budding tears. “I just want to eat at a nice restaurant.”

Theodore felt a pang of sympathy. “I’ll let you work in peace. Pardon me.”

She nipped at the pencil, picking it up back up with her teeth and resumed her laborious task. Before Theodore could move away, he was cornered by a half dozen sylph.

“We are next!” they announced, and maneuvered to surround him. They were bug people, the size of human children. Their bodies were bulbous like lady bugs, with shrill nasal voices, two pairs of eyes all glaring, and antennae dangling off their shelled heads. “You will attend to us, human!”

“One at a time, please!” Theodore said.

“Impossible!” the lead speaker said. “This matter concerns our whole Hive of Commerce!”

“We have submitted our applications for trade visas,” another said. “Yet we have not yet received them!”

This was ridiculous. “That was less than an hour ago,” Theodore said. “You have to wait three to four weeks for them to arrive.”

“Unacceptable!” The sylph vibrated their wings in anger. “We cannot lose profit just because your government was too useless to assign a new worker!”

“There are deliveries to make!” another said. “Your university depends on our spell weaves, and our wares bring in trade from across the sea! It is in your interest to help us!”

Theodore pondered this puzzle. “If you have your expired papers, I can stamp them for emergency extension.”

The sylph broke formation and huddled, exchanging chirping whispers until consensus was reached. “We will retrieve our documents. Do not die before we return!”  Theodore retreated into the kitchen to brew an additional 170 milliliters of coffee. There was still a dozen more creatures waiting in the yard. It was going to be a long day, yet Theodore was surprised by how much he was enjoying it.


Episode 1 Chapter 17

The eldest gnome yelled as two of her sons made a production to hoist her onto the desk. She harrumphed and straightened out her many flowing shawls. Her hair spines were tied up in a floral headscarf.

“It’s about time you got to me!” Her fanged snout scrunched in a scowl. “Finally have time for ol’ widow Mahala, eh?”

Theodore moved his papers to make room as Mahala stamped across the desk with her cane. “It’s been busy. How can I help you?”

“You’re going to get my son back, is what!” She said, glaring at him with button eyes.

“Pardon me?”

“You heard me!” she said. “I need you to perform a rescue! The Red Caps kidnapped my oldest and you’re going to save him!”

Theodore searched through his stacks of forms, as if there was a sheet pertaining to this sort of request. Mahala smacked his wrist with her cane.

“I ain’t doing any scribbling! You need to haul your furless butt out into the woods and bring back Lemmy before something awful happens!”

“I…” Theodore glanced around the room for help that was not there. Oboe met his eyes with a smile and a wave. “I suppose I could make a report at least.” He fumbled with his pencils.

“Oh yeah?” She rose to her full height, coming up to Theodore’s chin. “What’s that gonna do? Is your report going to rescue my son?”

Theodore broke into a cold sweat. Things were going so well until this moment. “There likely isn’t much more I can do right now. If he’s been kidnapped, he could be anywhere.”

“I know!” Oboe said, tripping over her own hooves rushing to the desk. “I saw Lemmy! Just the other day! I was there! I can help!”

Theodore snapped his pencil in half. “Haha. Did you? Is that so? Really?”

“Yeah!” She pulled Theodore out of his seat by the arm. “It was right before they stuck me in that cage! I can show you right now!”

“That won’t be necessary!” He yanked his arm away. “I couldn’t dream of endangering a civilian.”

“Please let me help!” Oboe said. “If it weren’t for you, I’d have died in that cage.”

Theodore wracked his brain for excuses. “I’ve a great deal of filing to do, and there are still others waiting for help. Perhaps later.”

“Not later, now!” Mahalla said. She whipped out her numbered ticket. “It’s my turn! I’ve been waiting all day! It’s me! Now get out there and find my son!”

She leapt off the desk and rapped Theodore about the ankles with her cane with surprising strength until he fled out the door. “Go on! Get!”

Theodore stood in front of the handful of creatures he had yet to assist, including a few goblins and a deer buck that had fallen asleep. He cleared his throat.

“I apologize, but I will have to ask the rest of you to come back another day. It seems I am being called away on business and will most likely die shortly. Thank you for your patience.”


Episode 1 Chapter 18

Theodore stopped to gasp for breath, struggling to keep up as Oboe led him uphill. “Where are you taking me?”

“The Gnome Boroughs!” Pebbles tinkled down the hillside as the faun leapt between rocks with ease. “It’s just over this rise! C’mon!”

Stones jutted from the stony slope like hungry teeth. Theodore looked down the steep drop, thinking of how many bones he could break if he slipped. “Isn’t there a safer way?”

“Yeah!” Oboe said. “But I wanted to take you the fun way!”

Theodore grimaced. “There is nothing more fun than workplace safety. We should turn back.”

“No!!” She bent down and offered her hand. “I promise I’ll keep you safe. We’re almost there!”

Theodore looked at the long trek back and decided he might as well see it through to the top. He took Oboe’s hand and she pulled him up into the air like a ragdoll, until he caught his footing on the ledge.

“So, what’s your name?” She said.


“I told you my name. We haven’t really met if you don’t tell me yours.”

He hesitated, wondering if it were safer to withhold that information. It was common sense to beware of fairies, but there was nothing but warmth in her face.

“…Theodore.” He offered a handshake. “My name is Theodore.”

Oboe hopped to the next ledge. “Theodore? That’s a weird name. Why is it so long?”

He lowered his hand. “It’s just my name.”

“Oh!” She kicked a fallen log to make a ramp for him. “You know what would be cooler?? If you went by Theo! That’d make for a good knight name!”

Theodore almost fell. “No!” He steadied himself against the hill. “Don’t call me that. A name is only proper if it utilizes all of its syllables. You will address me as Theodore, and I am not a knight.”

“We made it!” Oboe clambered up to the summit. “Look! Look!” She beckoned for him to hurry. “You can see the whole North side from here!”

Sore from the climb, and from being ignored, Theodore made the last push to the top. There, he found a nice flat stretch of solid ground and collapsed. Oboe took the liberty of tilting his head towards the view.

“You can see the Upside Hills from here, and Fishmen lake! Oh, and the Fount too! If we were a little higher we might be able to see the Twilight Grotto, but if you squint you can see where the Farbend starts!”

Theodore felt the wind on his face and sat up. It was odd for him to realize the valley contained so much. The Whirlwood had always just been a vague blob on a map. It was a notion, more than a place. “You really know your way around,” he said.

“Yeah. I have a lot of time to wander.” Her gaze dropped, and the excitement drained from her face. “…I found this spot ‘cause I thought I might be able to see the Fairy Circle if I climbed high enough, but that was stupid. You can’t. There’s too many spells on it.”

They lapsed into a moment of quiet. Oboe shook her head. “Sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?” Theodore said.

“I’m wasting your time. You’re important.” She trotted toward the trees. “The Boroughs are this way!”

Theodore wanted to rest a bit longer, but before he could object she raced off into the trees. He rolled onto his feet to follow.

They entered a grove and Theodore stopped dead in his tracks. All around the trees were gutted, just like the ones where he found Oboe. Dozens were torn open to splinters, knocked down, or stripped bare.

“Here we are!” Oboe said. “This is where I saw Lemmy!”

Theodore stared. Something large and angry had come through, and Theodore had a sense that this would not be the last time.


Episode 1 Chapter 19

Theodore wandered through the grove, finding carnage in every direction. Inside the trees he could see little bedrooms, kitchens, and homes carved out and bisected.

“What happened here?” Theodore said, running his hand over the opening.

“Trolls.” Oboe said, picking a tiny teapot off the ground and placing it on the little kitchen table. “The Red Caps came through here looking for recruits. If anybody didn’t want to join, they started smashing their home up. Most of the gnomes ran.”

Theodore imagined a creature with the strength to split a tree in half and winced. “They were the ones that kidnapped this gnome kid?”

Oboe nodded.

“I… I can’t do this.” Theodore said. “I can’t fight something this strong. I don’t even stand a chance.”

She tilted her head. “I thought you weren’t gonna fight anyone at all?”

“I don’t want to!” He pointed at the tree. “Am I supposed to reason with the monsters who did this?! What do you expect me to do?”

Oboe shrugged. “I’m not the Ranger Deputy. They put you in charge to figure this sort of thing out, right? That’s your job.”

Theodore stood straight again. “I suppose you’re right.” He loathed admitting it. Until he found a way out of the job, he had an obligation to see this through. There was no clocking out until every last form had been filed. “Fine. Which way did they go?”

Oboe gave a bigger shrug. “I dunno.”

“What?! I thought you said you saw what happened!”

“Yeah!” She said. “…Well, most of it. I remember Lemmy being here. He’s the one that smells like mud and walnuts, and he was almost my friend once. When the Red Caps started smashing stuff, I got upset and told them to stop. That’s why Silas had the trolls stuff me in that awful iron cage. I couldn’t change shape or anything!”

Theodore rubbed his face. “…So you have no idea what happened after that.”

Oboe struggled to produce an even bigger shrug.

“This is hopeless!” He said. “How am I going to find them? Were there any other witnesses?”

Before she could attempt a shrug beyond her physical capacity, she stopped. “Oh! I know! We can ask the birds!”


Oboe hopped into a sprint, leading Theodore to the edge of the borough. There, she cupped her hands around her mouth to shout.

“Hey birds! Birds! Get out here! Hey!!”

A cascade of sparrows and finches wheeled out of the trees and settled in rows on hanging branches. They glanced in every direction, trilling, chirping, and preening.

“Hello! Hello!” One said. “What do you want??”

“Uh. Good afternoon.” Theodore stepped up. “I am Ranger Deputy Theodore Grayweather. I’m investigating the disappearance of a gnome. Did any of you happen to see anything?”

“Ya. We see lots of stuff.” The others chimed in after. “Trees.” “Grass.” “A faun, a human.” “Clouds?”  “There’s a big rock over there.” “Trees!” the first insisted again.

“Incredible.” Theodore shot Oboe a scowl. “These are witnesses? Are these even real birds? Or are they magic like you?”

Oboe looked offended. “These are normal talking birds.”

“I’m actually a gnome.” The leftmost finch said.

She pointed. “Except him.”

Theodore pushed up his glasses to fully bury his face in his palms. After he fully consigned himself to his fate, he resumed questioning.

“A young gnome was carried off from here the other day by a pack of trolls. They wore red caps. Did any of see where they might have gone?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah! They trashed this joint and ran off to the caves. Yeah.”

Theodore opened his eyes. “What caves? Where?”

The flock broke into a frenzy of warbles. “Crookhole Mine!”


Episode 1 Chapter 20

Theodore froze, staring at the gaping mouth of the mine. It sat up at the end of the trail, nestled among the foothills, waiting for him. The sight sent his heart pounding and reminded him of a long time ago when he was small and trapped.

“I’ve been here before,” he said.

“You have?” Oboe looked surprised. “Do you do a lot of smuggling?”

Theodore raised an eyebrow. “What’re you talking about?”

“All sorts of sneaky, crimey creatures LOVE Crookhole Mine.” She wiggled her fingers, presumably to mime being a criminal. “There’s all this fossilized magic in the ground, and it makes it hard to find anybody. It’s hard to smell anything, and human gizmos get all confused.”

“I see.” No doubt the mine was abandoned once the University discovered how to purify wild magic from the Fount. “And now it’s being used by the Red Caps.”

Flags flew over the entrance. Scraps and torn rags ripped from knight uniforms were sewn together and dyed red. Theodore crossed the threshold and into the dark, wondering why life had conspired to bring him here again.

The memory of falling urged Theodore to creep forward with careful footing, with Oboe following right behind. They stepped over snarled minecart tracks, and the shadows grew deeper as they strayed farther from daylight. The quiet heightened every sound; the crunch of their own footsteps put Theodore on edge. He wanted an excuse to turn back, to say they had delved deep enough and nothing could be done, but a job left half done did not sit right with him.

The path forked. Cart rails dipped into the dark one way, and along the other there were bright lanterns strung along the tunnels walls. The lamps were new, burning magic with a faint hum. If anyone was to be found down here, it would be this way.

The lights led them into a wide chamber. Upturned minecarts were stripped of their wheels and repurposed into tables. Bedding of various sizes was padded over the hard ground. A single gnome was slumped across a pillow, drooling.

“Is this him?” Theodore said, whispering.

Oboe sniffed. “Hard to tell. I think so, but I can’t get his scent. Gnomes all look the same to me. Just cute little blobs.”

“He might be one of the Red Caps,” Theodore said. “What do we do?”

“Let’s try asking him,” Oboe said, and started shaking the gnome. “Hey! Wake up!”

Theodore choked back a scream as the gnome plopped off his pillow onto the cave floor. It yawned, rolled onto its butt, and blinked at them.

“Are you Lemmy?” Oboe said.

“Yeah.” He rubbed the sleep from his eyes. His quills were cream colored, and one of his fangs was chipped. He wore a little mantle embroidered with a molehill.

Theodore was astounded by their luck. “Your mother sent us! We’re here to save you.”

“Save me?” Lemmy said. “I don’t need any saving.”

“What are you talking about?” Oboe lifted him by the scruff. “You got kidnapped by the Red Caps, so we’re here to rescue you!”

The gnome wriggled free and dropped to the floor. “Nobody kidnapped me! I joined ’cause I wanted! Silas told me we’re gonna get rid of the humans! It’s gonna be awesome.” It was at this point the gnome was awake enough to really look at Theodore. “Oh hey. I remember you. You’re that string bean human who got in the way when we were attacking the train!”

Theodore pinched at his brewing headache. It seemed Mahala neglected to mention some key details. “Lemmy. I’m not just any human. I’m the Ranger Deputy, and you’re in a heap of trouble. You joined a group of wanted outlaws!”

“So?” Lemmy crossed his arms. “Silas said that won’t matter once the humans are gone. It’s going to be way better without you around.”

Theodore scoffed. “What’s wrong with humans?”

“You think you’re so much better than us creatures ’cause you’ve got your city and your jobs and your money. Lots of us here in the Whirl need jobs. We want it nice like you’ve got it or how the Circle’s got it. You don’t care. You don’t want to help us. All you do is make it harder all the time! Well, after we kick all you out we’ll take all the jobs and money and then you’ll be sorry!”

Theodore felt a strange discomfort. He thought about all the creatures who’d come through the office needing work visas, license renewals, and other essential documents needed to enter the capital. “I see,” he said. This was a problem, but it did not excuse violence. It did not make attacking the train the right thing to do.

“So, what happens if this plan doesn’t work?” Theodore said. “What if you get arrested instead?”

Lemmy stared at him. This outcome had apparently never crossed his mind.

“I’ll tell you what will happen,” Theodore said. “You’ll get hauled before the court with a charge of treason. You’ll be labeled wicked, and be jailed or executed. Then your mother is going to stop talking about you, like she does with your uncle.”

There was a long pause. Uncertainty crept into the gnome’s face. “Is mom mad?” Panic set in. “…I don’t want her to be mad at me. Do you have any idea what she’s like?”

Something huge dropped from the ceiling and shook the ground. Theodore turned around to find a massive spider-like creature looming over them, covered in dangling locks of ragged hair. Its mouth opened, two thirds of its body and lined with giant molars. It smiled.

“What’ve we got here?”


Episode 1 Chapter 21

Theodore backed away as the massive creature stalked closer. Its eight legs, each ending with a hand filled with long and bony fingers, brushed alone the ground until it leaned over him. It watched Theodore with cat-like eyes, pupils widening.

“Hey Glut!” Lemmy said, waving.

“I see that we have visitors,” Glut said. His voice was a cloying rasp. “What’re they doing here, Lemmy?”

“He wants me to quit the Red Caps. He says I’ll get in big trouble if I keep attacking humans.”

Glut chuckled. “You know what I think? I think you’ll be in bigger trouble if you try to desert.” He swiveled one of his eyes to focus on Oboe. “Isn’t that right, little faun? Want to tell him about that cage we put you in?”

Oboe gave him a dirty look.

“Wait.” Theodore turned toward her, alarmed. “You’re one of the Red Caps?!”

She was careful to avoid his eyes, ashamed. “No!” She said. “Not anymore! I quit!”

Glut licked his teeth. “Is that so? You didn’t beg the boss for forgiveness? That’s disappointing. Guess I’ll have to give you a permanent punishment.” He looked down at the gnome. “Watch close, Lemmy. You’ll get worse if you try to run.”

Oboe stepped between them. “Don’t listen to this jerk! He’s not a real friend! Real friends don’t threaten you or hit you!” She whipped around and pointed at Glut. “You stuck me in a cage thinking no one would ever let me out! Well, you were wrong!” She grabbed Theodore and pulled him forward. “Theo here is the Ranger Deputy! And he’s going to put a stop to all of you!

Theodore squirmed in the center of attention. Glut eyed his uniform up and down. “So he is.”

The spider-beast smacked Theodore away, sending him flying across the chamber and crashing through a stack of old rotting barrels. Theodore struggled to move, dazed. Had he broken any bones? He could hear Oboe shouting. He had to do something or he would be killed. Pulling himself onto his feet, he saw Oboe grappling hand in hand with Glut. The two strained against one another’s brute strength.

“Stay away from him!” Oboe screamed.

Glut grabbed her with one of his other hands, and Oboe shrank, slipping through his fingers as a tiny mouse before leaping onto his face. She ballooned into a grizzly bear and tore into him, biting and scratching.

Theodore’s fingers trembled over Fritz’s knife, still at his belt. His mind raced. Could he bring himself to do anything with it? He’d be killed. This was a fool’s errand from the start. Oboe was one of them. He needed to run while the monsters were distracted. He staggered towards the exit.

“Lemmy!!” Glut shouted, struggling to pull Oboe off his face, “Don’t let the human escape! Get him!”

Theodore and Lemmy met each other in the eye. Doubt was etched in the gnome’s face, but he raised his arms.

“Is this who you want to be?” Theodore said. “Your mom wanted me to help you.”

“What do you care?!” The gnome said. “At least the Red Caps want to make things better for creatures!”

“It doesn’t have to be like this!” Theodore said, desperate. “We can fix things together!”

Lemmy’s arms fell limp. “…Do you promise?”

“You little…” Glut spiked Oboe into the ground and she snapped back to her normal form. Glut scrambled across the chamber to block the exit. “I’m going to kill the lot of you!”

Theodore moved to help Oboe up. She teetered in his arms. “Are you okay?! Can you still fight?”

“Yeah, I… Let me… at’em.” Her eyes blinked out of synch and out of focus. “Just tell the cave to quit spinning.”

Behind them, Glut was plugging the way out with rocks. He turned back with a hungry grin once they were sealed inside.

“We’ve got to run,” Theodore said, slinging Oboe’s arm over his shoulder. He helped her into one of the smaller tunnels, too narrow for Glut to fit inside, and Lemmy scrambled in after him.

“Come here you little morsels!” He reached through the opening to grab at them. “There’s nowhere to go!”

They tried to back away, and almost tipped over into a pit.

“Is there another way out?” Theodore said.

Lemmy shook his head. “There’s just pits this way! It’s a dead end!”

Theodore remembered falling down a dark pit as a child. He swallowed. What were the odds this was the same hole? Behind them, Glut’s long arm snaked around rocks to snatch him up.

“We’re going down,” he said. He grabbed Lemmy, took hold of Oboe, braced himself, and jumped.


Episode 1 Chapter 22

Theodore tumbled into darkness with Oboe in his arms and Lemmy clinging to his face. They bounced down the clefts of the shaft, collecting bruises, until they landed like a heap of laundry at the bottom.

Sore, but alive, Theodore pulled Lemmy off his face. He looked around to see the cavern lit up in streaks of azure and violet. Veins of old magic ore veined through the walls, glowing bright.

Theodore was relieved to find that the frames of his spectacles were bent but not broken. He looked up the shaft, hoping there was no way for Glut to follow them.

“How’d you know this was down here?” Lemmy said. His voice echoed off the walls.

Theodore pressed a fresh crink out of his spine. “It’s a hard fall to forget.” He checked to make sure Oboe was breathing. “Are you okay?”

Her eyes popped open. “Yeah!” She rolled over and sprang onto her hooves. Up and alert, she marveled at the fossilized magic around them. “It’s pretty down here!”

“Nevermind that,” Theodore said. “You owe me an explanation. You didn’t tell me you were one of the Red Caps!”

“Oh.” Her ears drooped. “Is it okay if I tell you now? I was a member of the Red Caps.”

Theodore could not believe this. “So you were a criminal the whole time.”

“No!” She said. “I’m not wicked! I only joined for a little bit.”

“And that makes it okay? Why would you join a band of outlaws?!”

Looking down, she shuffled her hooves. “I didn’t know they were bad. It was all these different creatures, acting like a family. They said they wanted to make the Whirlwood a better place, and didn’t care who I was. It was nice. I thought I could make some friends.” She wiped her snout and looked up. “Then they asked me to use my magic to hurt humans and got mad when I said I wouldn’t. They wouldn’t let me leave after that.”

Theodore grabbed a handful of his own hair in frustration. “What you’re telling me is you joined without realizing what you were joining. …Are you an idiot?”

Lemmy punched Theodore in the shin. “Hey!” He said. “Lay off!”

Theodore looked down at the gnome.

“The faun didn’t do anything wrong,” Lemmy said. “Lots of creatures join the Red Caps wanting to fix things. It’s not her fault they turned nasty. I saw what happened. She stood up to Silas and Glut and five whole trolls even though she didn’t stand a chance. I say that makes her real brave!”

“What does that make you?” Theodore said, pointing. “The Red Caps attack your village and you join them? What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m just a gnome,” he said. “If a faun couldn’t win, I wasn’t about to try.” He shrugged. “Joining meant he’d leave mom alone, and maybe I could be part of something big. Silas needs numbers if he’s going to turn things around.”

Theodore scoffed. “And your solution is fighting humans?

Lemmy bared his teeth. “The only thing you humans care about is harvesting magic! You forgot about us. Maybe fighting is the only thing that’ll make you pay attention!”

“It doesn’t have to be like that anymore,” Oboe put herself between them. “If Theo is the new Ranger Deputy, that means he can talk to the humans and we can work things out. …Right?”

Theodore had no argument. It was clear from the number of creatures swarming the office for help that things had gotten out of hand. “…There hasn’t been a Ranger Deputy in months. Maybe if there had been, this wouldn’t have happened.”

The little hedgehog man looked him dead in the eye. “Did you mean what you said earlier? Are you really going to help us?”

Theodore hesitated. There was no way he was the right person for this task, but it wasn’t something he could turn his back on either.

“I’m going to do what I can,” he said. “The governor needs to know about this. Maybe the King. Something needs to happen.”

Lemmy’s face softened. Looking down, he nodded. “Okay,” he said. “I don’t want to be wicked. This just felt like the only thing I could do. If there’s another way, if I can count on you, I think I made the right call.”

Like that, the argument was over. Theodore felt uneasy, like he was saddled with more than he bargained for, but at least now they could move on.

“What do we do now?” Oboe said.

“Well, first thing we need to do is find a way out of here,” Theodore said.

Oboe glanced around the chamber. There were five different tunnels heading in every direction. “Which way is out?”

Theodore had no idea, but both creatures stared at him and waited. It appeared the Ranger Deputy was expected to lead them out of trouble. He sighed. There was nothing to do but start looking.


Episode 1 Chapter 23

Traipsing up and down the mine, Theodore wracked his brain trying to remember how his father escaped. The memory was bitter and foggy. He was crying, and his father ordered him to be quiet. They were both speckled with blood, and Theodore recalled feeling as scared of his father as he was of the creatures. Lance pulled him along by the arm, feeling his way along a trail of light.

Theodore traced his hand over the vein of fossilized magic. He scraped at the filth that crusted the top and followed the glow underneath.

“There!” He said, recalling his father’s excitement. “The mine cart tracks! They should connect to the outside! We can follow them!”

“Good thinking!” Oboe said.

“Uh, guys?” Lemmy started to bristle. “…Do you hear that?”

Theodore stopped to listen. A sound was swelling through the lower chambers. A mournful melody rang on strings, echoing off the tunnel walls. “What is that?”

Oboe flicked her ears. “Sounds like a violin to me.”

Lemmy scrunched his face. “I don’t know a lot about exploring caves, so I my might be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure that’s a cello.”

“You’re right,” Oboe said. “Definitely a cello.”

There was little chance of the musician being friendly. “We can sneak by if we keep silent,” Theodore said. “Come on.”

The music only grew louder as they followed the rails. It was a dirge, bleak and slow, and each note echoed through the tunnels around them to linger.

Oboe kicked a stone by mistake. It clattered along the cave floor, and the music was gone.

“Sorry!” Oboe said. Theodore hushed her and leaned against the wall. After a few moments of perfect silence, he motioned for the others to follow him as he crept along the wall. Rounding the corner, Theodore peeked and discovered a bedroom.

A cello was propped up against a wall but the musician was absent. A long hammock stretched overhead between rocks. Books were strewn about in a messy, irritating manner alongside dirty dishes.

Whoever was here had gone but was no doubt nearby. Theodore entered with caution. In the center of the room was a stalagmite cut across to form a table. A map of the country was draped over it, with white tokens spread over the valley and black ones piled on top of the capital city.

Scraps of paper were strewn everywhere. Some were crumpled, most were torn to pieces, but one in particular appeared to have been flattened back out. Theodore bent over to look. It was filled with scratched out sentences and short blurbs. A few scattered phrases were circled, underlined and re-written over again.

Fount is the key. Choke the city. Starve them out. Like they did w/Scarlett. Justice.

Devil damn them. parasites

There was a crude drawing of the Fount, with sketches of possible fortifications.

Low ground. awful position. Perimeter huge. Open/Vulnerable.

Need more recruits to hold.

Countess sends money. need SOLDIERS

Need army. How?Force them? I can’t Greater Good

Hollows = cowards. toadies. useless.

Fair Lady = no support. Recruit from Whirl


Theodore put the note back, feeling faint. He found a first draft for a revolt. “This is the leader’s room.” He scanned the shadows for the vanished musician. “We need to leave.”

Oboe struggled to climb back out of the hammock. “Okay! Which way do we go from here?”

“Uh. Not that way.” Lemmy said, pointing.

Theodore looked and saw a black fog rolling into the room from one of the tunnels. Beyond the bend of the passage, a sound could be heard. The noise of claws scraping along the rock wall grew louder, until the figure appeared. Silas Jack lurched through the shroud of vapor, his eyes shining bright red.

“Pardon us, we were just passing through!” Theodore said. He snatched Lemmy off the ground and pointed Oboe and himself in the opposite direction. Fog chased them as they raced blind through the passages.

Gloom swirled after them, filling the cavern faster than they could move. Theodore’s heart pounded as he heard the thundering laugh of Silas closing in behind them. He was so panicked that he almost missed the forking path.

“Wait!” Theodore grabbed Oboe by the arm to halt her and was almost dragged off his feet.


“The tracks!” He waved his arm toward them which ramped up the branching tunnel.

It took a precious moment for Oboe to catch his point. Dark mist swamped around their ankles. She changed herself into a large goat.

“Get on my back!” She said.

There was no time to argue. Theodore climbed on, with Lemmy clinging to his shoulder. Oboe sprang forward along the path of the tracks, bounding as fast as she could while rolling black smoke chased them up the shaft. Theodore held on for dear life, terrified of falling off. Silas reached through the thick fog behind them, his hands and face growing larger. His jaws opened, and sparks of fire licked across his teeth. Theodore grabbed Oboe by the horns and steered her away as Silas spat a spray of flames. Oboe sprinted up and up along the tracks until, with one final leap, they burst through into open daylight.

Theodore peered back, jostled as Oboe bounced down the hillside and into the trees. Black fog exploded out the mouth of the mine. It slowed, spreading in every direction now. If Silas was fast out in the open, Oboe was faster. She darted through the trees, home free.


Episode 1 Chapter 24

“Idiot!” Mahala struck her son over the head with her cane. “Fool!”

“Ow!” Lemmy pawed at the fresh bump on his bowed head. “Aw ma. Don’t make such a big deal about this. It was just one train heist!”

“I don’t care what it was! You could’ve died! You ought to be ashamed of yourself. This is the biggest embarrassment to have ever befallen the Molehill family name!”

“What about Uncle Lanny?”

Mahala struck her son a second time. Theodore wondered whether he had paid the gnome any favor by bringing him home to the Boroughs. She reeled back for a third go, but Oboe caught the cane before it connected and lifted the old gnome into the air by the stick.

“Don’t be mean,” Oboe said. “Everybody makes mistakes. What matters is what he does from now on.”

Mahala glared at Oboe but said nothing. She let go and dropped to the ground, where she turned her attention to Theodore. “Thank you for returning my good-for-nothing son. You’ve no idea what this means to me.”

“Just… er, doing my job,” Theodore said, for lack of a better response. “But it wasn’t just me. You ought to thank Oboe as well. I couldn’t have done this without her help.”

Oboe held a gasp. “Really? I thought you were mad at me!”

Part of him was. She had been a Red Cap and withheld that information, but there had been time to reflect and Theodore needed to be fair. “I don’t think you or Lemmy are wicked. You got caught up in something you shouldn’t have, but you also put yourself in danger to set things right. I think that deserves recognition.”

“…Very well,” Mahala said. “If the Ranger Deputy says I should, then I must. …Thank you, faun, for bringing my son home.”

Oboe beamed with pride, smiling ear to ear. She bent down to hand the elder fairy back her walking stick. Mahala snatched it back, grumbling.

Theodore turned toward the ruined grove of trees. “Will you two be okay? The Red Caps wrecked your home. What will you do now?”

“Eh, it’s fine.” Lemmy strolled toward the torn-up trunk. “Lots of us gnomes have growth magic. The hard part will be carving new furniture. Give it time and the Boroughs will be better than new.”

“How about you get to work if it’s so easy!” Mahala said.

Lemmy sighed and pressed his hands against the tree. He eyed Theodore sideways. “You see what I have to put up with? She’s way scarier than Silas.”

Mahala shook her cane. “Less talking, more fixing!”

With his eyes closed, Lemmy concentrated. The tree creaked and budded with fresh life, growing right before their eyes. It was the same sort of magic that halted the train. It reminded Theodore that Lemmy was part of the assault. He was guilty of treason, and the law dictated he should be sent to the Court to be judged.

Precedent suggested Lemmy’s reason for becoming a Red Cap did not matter. A court Justice did not offer mercy to a creature guilty of attacking humans. After all the trouble they’d gone through to save the gnome, a death sentence seemed a poor end for the fairy creature.

Theodore decided it didn’t need to be a problem. He was bruised and sore and aching for sleep, and this mess had sidetracked him from researching a loophole out of this job.

“I’m glad things turned out well,” Theodore said. “I’ve other matters to attend to, so I must be on my way.”

Lemmy pulled his hands away from the tree, worn out and panting. “Wait! Mr. Deputy!”

Theodore paused long enough for the gnome to catch his breath.

“I know I said a lot of crap about humans, but you seem okay. I didn’t think you lot cared about us fair folk, but you went to a lot of trouble for me. …Mom has the right of it. Odds are I would’ve wound up dead if I stayed with the Red Caps. I’m still real worried about how things are, but I think with you around it might be okay. Thanks for pulling me out of there.”

“You were so cool!” Oboe said. “You snuck in there and saved him and you didn’t even hurt anybody! Just like you said you would!”

Theodore felt a tingle at the praise. It was foolish, but for a moment being the Ranger Deputy didn’t feel so bad. He offered them a half-hearted salute and turned toward home.


Episode 1 Chapter 25

There was a loud bang, and Theodore woke with a start. Half asleep, he reached off the wrong side of bed to feel for his glasses. It took him a bleary moment to realize he was not in his old apartment. His skin crawled as he remembered he was miles from the city, deep inside the Whirlwood.

Heart racing, Theodore put on his glasses. Had he imagined the noise? It sounded like something large and heavy had fallen somewhere downstairs. He promised himself it was nothing. He rolled over to go back to sleep, only to notice the window hanging open. A draft chilled the room, and moonlight pooled through the hole. He was certain he had latched the lock before bed. It was impossible for him to sleep without checking at least twice.

He hurried, stubbing toes and fumbling in the dark, to get a lantern lit. A silhouette scrambled out the window the moment light filled the room.

Theodore slammed the shutters and locked them, as if it made a difference. Whatever that was had gotten in before. He wheeled around, assessing the room, but found nothing but a toppled chair.

There was another loud bang below, setting Theodore’s hair on end. This was no dream. He pondered what to do. Perhaps he could barricade himself in this room and hope for the best.

The Ranger Deputy badge sat on the nightstand. He took it and turned it over in his hand. Taking a deep breath, he pinned the badge to his pajamas and tried to hold onto whatever bravery he had left over from yesterday. The bedroom door creaked when he opened it, but not as much as the stairs. Each step made an impossible amount of noise until he reached the bottom.

He spotted something in the office, just beyond the glow of his lantern. A figure sitting at his desk, motionless.

Theodore forced himself to speak. “Who goes there?” He steadied his hand and puffed out his chest. “I will have you know that we are well beyond normal operating hours! Show yourself!”

An eternity passed. Theodore held his breath as the sitting figure failed to stir. He took a step closer, and the metal in the chair squeaked as it turned to face him.

“Good morning, sunshine.” Silas Jack smiled at him with rows of pointed teeth. His waxy skin was bright against the shadows. His nose was hooked, and his hair was wild beneath his stained red cap.

“What are you doing here?” Theodore said, trying to sound the part of Ranger Deputy.

Silas leaned forward. “Did I wake you?” He slammed a fist into the metal filing cabinet. Theodore flinched when it rang like thunder. “Good. Sit down. You and I need to have a little chat.”

Theodore glanced at the door. He knew he could not outrun him without Oboe. “You… You need to leave. You are trespassing on government property.”

“We can do much worse than that,” Silas said.

The door opened from the outside. A troll with a squashed face leaned in through the frame.

“You want a hand with this one, boss?” She said. Her voice was deep and rasping.

Silas waved her away. “I can handle the pipsqueak, Dina. Leave us.” The door shut, and he turned his attention back to Theodore. “I told you to sit down, human.”

No good could come of this. “You’re in my chair.” Theodore said, stalling.

Silas sat back, amused. “I was here first.” He glanced toward the window as something crawled along the outside of the cottage. “You know how long these woods have been here? How many ages have come and gone since it was kissed by the Mother’s magic?” His face stiffened, his expression souring. “You think you can just settle down, build some walls, and decide how everyone else gets to live?” He banged his fist like a gavel. “We were here first! All of us! You don’t belong here! You don’t get to tell me where to sit!” He raked his claws across the desk, peeling varnish off the wood. “I’m the boss around here, and I’m telling you to sit!”

Theodore sat down, eyes wide.

The show of obedience calmed Silas. He looked down at Theodore from the far side of the desk, his smile creeping back.

“That’s right,” Silas said, sitting down again. “Now that we understand who’s in charge, do you know what I want to talk about?”

Theodore squirmed, wondering whether he would die tonight. “What?”

“Yesterday you trespassed on my land, rifled through my things, and kidnapped a member of my group.” Silas steepled his fingers. “Tell me, Deputy. You’re a lawman. How should such crimes be punished?”

Theodore said nothing. He held his breath and kept still.

“We don’t need trouble makers around here,” Silas said. “We don’t need humans either. Which is why they have a habit of… disappearing.”

“Listen,” Theodore said. “I don’t want to cause any problems.”

“You are a problem.” Silas rose to his full height. “You’re getting in my way.”

Theodore held up his hands. “I’m sorry! I was just doing my job! I don’t want to be here! They put me here against my will! We can work something out!”

“Human deals are worthless,” Silas said. Black smoke poured out from his coat as he moved closer. “All I want is your life.”

Theodore knocked his chair back trying to get away. “I leave you alone, you leave me alone! I just want enough time to get out of this assignment! Please! I don’t want anything to do with this place! Just let me go! I don’t want to die!”

There was nowhere to run. There were more monsters outside. Theodore’s back was up against the wall. Silas sauntered closer, sawing his claws together, and smiled.

“Alright, human,” he said. “I accept your truce. Do you know why?”

“Tell me,” Theodore said, hoping not to push his luck.

“Because you know your place, and because I can kill you at any time.” Silas leaned into Theodore’s face. “Do not cross me again.”

With a gesture of magic from Silas, the door of the office snapped open. His smoke curled through the air as he glided into the night, laughing. As he faded from view, Dina the troll peeked through the door way.

“Uh. Looks like you’re off the hook. Have a good evening I guess.” She said, then reached inside and shut the door.

Theodore slumped against the wall, unsure of whether he had been spared. He rubbed the sweat from his face and pushed himself back onto shaky legs. His nerves were so fried he felt he might never sleep again.

At his feet, Theodore found his badge. He bent to pick it up and weighed it in his hand. He wasn’t a knight. The job of Ranger Deputy was forced on him. The problems in the Whirlwood were too big for him to fix, and he wasn’t going to die like his father. Theodore clenched the badge tight and then hurled it across the room.

He wasn’t staying another night in this damned valley. Stomping across the office, he piled every last law book he could find onto the desk. Somewhere in the fine print there was a loophole that would let him wriggle free of this nightmare assignment. There had to be. All he needed to do was find it. He settled in, notepad and ink pen in hand, knowing he could not afford to fail.