Episode 2 Chapter 1

“A man is dead!” The Alderman slammed his fists into Theodore’s desk, rattling the quills and documents. He did it again for emphasis. “Dead!”

Theodore straightened and leveled his papers and writing utensils. After three weeks serving as Ranger Deputy of the Whirlwood Valley he had grown accustomed to strange creatures barging into his office with odd demands. That morning he helped a flock of mockingbirds apply for citizenship, settled an argument over cave ownership, and spoke to the owner of a bakery about a troll who wanted his job back.

This was different. This was a homicide report.

Alaric Pearce was a huge man, callused and muscled from a lifetime of manual labor. A ragged beard and brush of long brown hair made him look wild. His face was taut like a mousetrap ready to snap. He was the appointed Alderman of the Southern farming manor, and he was a bit worked up about his duties.

“I will have blood for blood!” he said, pouring Theodore’s pencil cup out for effect. Everything bounced and scattered. Theodore strained to maintain his poker face.

“I need you to stay calm,” Theodore said, seizing the cup from him and replacing the pencils. “I’m sorry to hear you’ve lost a worker, but I can only help if you explain what happened. Please, sit.”

Pearce plopped into the seat. The wood groaned in protest.

“He’s not just some laborer!” Pearce said. “His name was Anthony Willow. He was a good man. A friend, even! They found him floating face down in the river Wander. Now we’re left with an empty seat in the dining hall, not to mention his widows.”

Theodore took notes, rubbing his jaw with his free hand. “I see. Is there a reason you’re reporting this to me instead of the city watch?”

The Alderman pressed his finger hard into the desk. “You’re in charge of the valley, right? Had to have been one of your ghasts that did it.”

Theodore stopped writing as his blood ran cold. “A ghast?” The scar on his chest ached. The stitches were gone but the memory remained. He remembered Silas lunging in the dark, clawing and kicking and screaming in fury. It was the closest Theodore had ever come to death, and it was only thanks to the bravery of Oboe and the knights of the city watch that he lived. Was there another like him on the loose?

Perhaps there was a mistake. “Is there… any evidence it was a ghast?”

“Evidence??” He pounded the desk again. “It’s the only explanation! You’d have to be a monster to attack a man like Anthony! Ghasts feed on fear! They waged war on us! They’re dangerous!”

This was historically true. Ghasts, as a class of magical creature, fed on negative human emotion. The Kingdom of Laien was founded following a war against them centuries ago. However, things were different now. Humans and ghasts lived in peace, and it was Theodore’s job to make sure that peace continued.

“Ghasts are citizens of Laien, same as anyone else,” he said to remind them both. “The treaties ensure this. It isn’t normal for them to turn wicked.”

“Bullshit!” Pearce said, tightening his sneer. “The Red Caps attack humans all the time!”

Theodore shook his head. “Not anymore. The Red Caps are gone.”

“Are they?” Pearce hunched over the desk. “How I hear it, you let them all run free. It’s only natural one would start killing again!”

It was the sort of thought that kept Theodore up at night. “There are other possibilities,” he said. The Alderman still hadn’t provided any proof a ghast was the culprit. “I’ll look into it.”

“Huh!” Pearce said. “‘Look into it!?’ A man is dead! You’re just blowing me off!”

“No.” Theodore started composing a letter. “I’ll send a request for a mortician to come and examine the body. I’ll investigate the crime scene and speak to your villagers. If enough evidence exists to isolate a perpetrator, there will be a trial.”

Pearce slammed his palm again, warping the wood. “A trial!? Monsters don’t deserve trials! Listen, if you can’t get us justice, I’ll just round up my men and go the creature ourselves!”

Theodore cringed at the thought of a mob tearing through the valley accusing whoever appeared suspicious. That kind of anarchy was beneath his countrymen, even if they were after a killer. He set down his quill and met the Alderman in the eye.

“If you are loyal to King Stonewall, I would advise against it. If there’s justice to be found, it will be found by the King’s Law or not at all.”

Pearce snorted. “Fine. Do your little investigation. But mark my words: If you can’t get justice for Anthony, we’ll make it ourselves. You hear me?” He stood up and stomped out of the cottage, without bothering to shut the door.

Theodore sat in silence. It felt like a hurricane had swept through his office. He took a deep breath and looked over his notes. He underlined the word ‘ghast’ and wondered what sort of storm lied ahead.


Episode 2 Chapter 2

Theodore paced the office, gathering tools and documents for his investigation. The words of the Alderman lingered in his mind. He dropped a hard-bound copy of Assorted Abominations vol. II onto his desk and flipped through. Inside were illustrations of ghouls, goblins, gargoyles, and other upsetting alliterations. A lump formed in his throat. The most terrifying species of magical creature were ghasts. What was he up against?

“What’cha doin’?”

Theodore jumped. He spun to find his assistant Oboe watching him. “Oh!” He said, relieved. “It’s just you.” He pressed at his chest to calm his pounding heart. “You shouldn’t sneak up on someone who’s researching! It is intense work!”

Oboe offered a sheepish grin. “Sorry!” She said, then leaned to peek at what he was doing. “What’re you up to?”

The office was cluttered with things scavenged from the cellar. Theodore had taken stock of all the things left behind by his predecessor and piled the useful items on his desk. There was a set of wooden stakes, a rusted crossbow, binoculars, and emergency rations. From his own possessions he added the knife Watchmen Fritz had given him the day he arrived in the valley.

Oboe gasped. “Are you going camping? Can I come?!”

“No. What?” Theodore said. “Why would you want to go camping? You live in a tree.”

“Yeah! Sleeping in a tent looks so weird! I want to try it!”

Theodore shook his head. “None of this is for camping.” He wished that was what he was doing. “I’ve received word that a ghast has gone wicked and killed a villager at South Manor. They found him floating in the river.” His throat tightened. “There’s a chance he was killed by one of the Red Caps I let go. It might be my fault.”

Oboe gave him a funny look. “Why? You didn’t hurt anybody. All you did was give everyone a second chance. It’s not your fault if they refuse to change.”

Was it not? “I took a risk and someone else paid for it.” He picked up the knife and stared at it. “If I’m going to be Ranger Deputy, that means I need to keep the peace between man and creature. I need to fix this before anyone else gets hurt.”

Oboe frowned at the weapon. “…Are you going to fight them?”

He cringed. His arm fell limp. Memories flashed of Silas Jack: Fire, screams and blood. He glanced back at the glossary of ghasts he’d left open and saw a sketch of some shapeless thing made of teeth and claws and eyes.

“I don’t want to.” He didn’t stand a chance. “But I have to do something.”

Oboe smiled. “Then let’s go find the ghast and talk to them. If we make them see that hurting humans is bad, then everyone can be friends again.”

Theodore raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think it will be that easy.” There was no way the death of a civilian could go unpunished. “I tried talking to Silas and he almost killed me.”

“Not everyone is Silas!” She said. “We don’t know until we try!”

It would be nice if things worked the way Oboe thought. “We’re dealing with a killer,” Theodore said. “I’d like to solve this without violence but we need to be careful. Ghasts are dangerous.”

“So?” She shrugged. “Anybody can be dangerous if they believe and try hard enough!”

Theodore chuckled despite himself. “I suppose that’s true.”

“I know we gotta stop them if they’re wicked.” She shifted on her hooves. “I’m just worried. What if they just made a mistake? What if they feel really bad? Why did this happen?”

“We don’t know anything yet.” Theodore reminded himself that his duty was to presume innocence in all Laien citizens, ghasts included, until he found solid evidence to suggest otherwise. “I need you to take me to the South farming manor. After we investigate we can decide the best course of action.”

Oboe puffed herself up. “Okay! I’ll do my best to help!” She bolted out the front door only to pop back in after realizing she’d left without him. “C’mon! Let’s go!”

Theodore lingered a moment longer, pondering what equipment to take with him. He looked at the knife again and imagined what sort of danger they would face. His heart started to pound. He didn’t know what sort of creature they were chasing. All he knew was that they were a murderer.

He strapped a holster to his belt and slipped the knife inside. 


Episode 2 Chapter 3

Crop fields sprawled as far as the eye could see. The sight of the vast sea of grain stopped Theodore dead in his tracks. He had a general idea where his food came from thanks to his books, but this was his first time seeing it himself.

He shook his head. “It’s just corn,” he said.

The South Manor farms sat on the outskirts of the Whirlwood. It was far enough away that there was little risk of livestock gaining sentience, but close enough to use the river Wander to water crops. The manor house stood like a fort, with looming silos and homesteads radiating out.

“There’s something going on at the gate,” Oboe said, playing with the binoculars.

They found a crowd of workers gathered outside the main village. A slim man in a suit and cape was speaking, pacing the bed of a wagon like a stage while waving a showman’s cane.

“…For a limited time only! With protection like this you can look tragedy right in the eye and say with confidence: ‘No thanks, buster!’ “

His smile was as curled as his bright red hair. He stepped to the side with a flowering gesture to reveal an old trunk. He banged on it with his cane and it sprang open to reveal a display of ornate talismans.

“Finest silver enchanted by hand to repel any ghast! Defend yourself against the marauding forces of the dark! Be the envy of all your friends! ‘Wow!’ they will say as ghasts tear them limb from limb, ‘I wish I had bought one of those!”

“I’ll take two!” an older woman said, hurling coins into the wagon.

“A smart woman if ever I saw one!” The showman bent down and pinned two talismans to her sleeve. “There you are!”

A fatter man spoke up. “Will these things keep me from gettin’ elf-shot?”

The peddler snapped his heels together. “Silver is used to defeat ghasts my good man, not fairies. Iron is their bane! I’ve plenty of those as well if you fear the mischief of the fey. Only nine-hundred thalers!”

“Why is all this stuff so expensive?” A teenager said.

“No price is too great to insure the safety of you and your loved ones! Let me remind you all that I have only a few talismans left! I implore you all, do not miss this exclusive chance to avoid certain death!”

“I’ll buy them all!” a panicked woman said.

“No!” An older man jumped in front of her. “I’ll pay double!”

“I’ve got kids!” Said a concerned parent, shoving his neighbor into the dirt. “You’ve got to sell them to me!”

Theodore stepped back in alarm as the crowd mobbed the wagon, fighting to buy the last of the merchandise.

“There’s something wrong,” he said. “I need to get up there.”

Oboe glanced between him and the wagon. “Okay,” She said and grabbed him by the waist.

Before Theodore had a chance to object, Oboe chucked him over the crowd and onto the stage. He landed on his feet and was about as startled as the crowd by the event. Now that he was the center of attention, he took the opportunity to clear his throat.

“Ranger Deputy Theodore Grayweather,” he said. “Merchant, do you have a license to be selling enchanted wares?”

The salesman offered a toothy grin. “Why, sure. I’m fully authenticated to sell whatever, wherever I like. Of course, I didn’t think to bring any of my many permits with me today.”

Theodore pulled out his citation booklet. “What is your name?”

“Oh, are we doing introductions?” He gave a mocking curtsy. “I go by Flip. Purveyor of wonders at rock bottom prices!”

“Flip, you are in violation of king’s law,” Theodore said. “The sale of all magical apparatuses is restricted to the grounds of the University.”

“The university.” Flip chuckled. “Should we really trust the protection of these good people to an institution with a monopoly on such product?” He turned, addressing the crowd more than Theodore. “With a killer on the loose, should we expect these citizens to travel all the way to the capital when they’ve so much work to do here? I came out of respect to offer them the means to defend their loves ones. Talismans made with pure, organic magic fresh from nature! Nothing like the processed, industrial poison that ‘university’ uses. Am I right?”

The crowd booed. “The university sucks!”

Theodore realized his mistake. “You’re not a licensed mage at all. You’re a witch!”

Flip spread his arms wide. “If that is the label you must apply to a man who refuses to accept a corrupt system, then yes. In truth I am only a humble tradesman come to offer my much-needed services at never-before-seen prices.”

This was a bigger mess than Theodore realized. “You’re an unregistered mage selling illegal merchandise.” He penciled in the details into the citation form. “I’ll have to hand you over to the City Watch. You can argue your case in the courts.”

Flip used his cane to knock the citation book out of Theodore’s hands and spun to face the crowd. “Good people, does this seem right? I came here to help, in the midst of a plague of wicked ghasts, and you patronize me of your own free will. Are you going to let this man lock me up for that?”

The crowd erupted into louder boos. Theodore grabbed his citation book only to be pulled off the stage by angry villagers.

“Stop!” Theodore struggled as he was restrained. “I need to finish writing this subpoena!!”

“Theo!” Oboe tried to push through the crowd and was pushed back. Flip took the opportunity to sell the last few of his talismans. 

“Until next time!” Flip made a theatric bow and cast a spell on his horseless wagon. It lurched to life, wheeling off toward the valley. The crowd cheered. Theodore fought to fill in the last few lines of his paperwork but it was too late. The witch escaped.

“Alright! That’s enough!” Alaric Pearce swaggered out from the manor yard. The alderman stood a head taller than anyone else. “Let the man go!”

The farmers complied, and Theodore fell flat on his face. Pearce yanked Theodore up by the scruff and set him back on his feet.

“You know you came here to find a killer ghast, not to harass a merchant, right?”

Theodore watched with irritation as Flip’s wagon disappeared into the Whirlwood. “I am aware,” he said.

“Well, it seems we’ve beaten you to the punch,” Pearce said. “I just got word we’ve captured the killer.”


Episode 2 Chapter 4

Theodore and Oboe followed the Alderman into the manor yard and onlookers swarmed after them. They found a smirking woman standing outside a barred cottage. Her hair was curled in a brown bun and she was dressed in a black mourning gown.

“Giselle!” Pearce hurried to meet her. “I’ve brought the Deputy. Is what I’m told true?”

“I’ve captured the monster!” She gestured toward a door braced with a gardening hoe.

“Really?” Oboe said. “Does that mean we can go home?”

“Start from the beginning,” Theodore said. “What happened?”

The woman looked insulted. “Well, no need to thank me or anything.” She folded her arms. “My husband is dead and here I am being interrogated on how I go about avenging him!”

Theodore grimaced at his carelessness. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were the widow. Please, if you can, tell me what you know.”

Her glare softened a little. “This is where they’re keeping my husband’s body. I came to help with the dressing and to pray for the passage of his soul. We were interrupted by a knock at the door. Wendy went to answer it and there was this horrible, awful ghoul! The murderer returning to the scene of the crime!”

That did not sound correct. “I thought the crime occurred on the river Wander?”

“The scene of the funeral, then!” Giselle said. “Whatever! A monster waltzed into our village to kill again and you’re arguing over details!”

“The creature is trapped inside?” The Alderman said.

Giselle beamed. “Wendy lured it in with the promise of tea and then I ran out and locked the door before it realized what I was doing! Now we have the bastard right where we want!”

“Wait. Where’s Wendy?” Pearce glanced around, panicked. “Why isn’t she with you?! Where is my love?!

“Over here.” A muffled, mousey voice came from the small cottage window. It belonged to a short and pudgy blonde woman. “Hello. I’m locked inside.”

“Don’t open the door!” Giselle said. “We have to keep the monster quarantined!”

Pearce ignored Giselle. He wrenched the door open and pulled the little woman into his arms. “Are you hurt??” He patted her all over checking for wounds.

“Oh, I’m fine,” Wendy said. “It took me a while to find the tea for our guest, though.”

Theodore pushed his way into the cottage. Inside he found a ghoul. Its face was deformed, lopsided, with pallid blue skin, patchy white hair, and sharp teeth. It wore a well ironed pinstripe suit and was seated with a fresh cup of tea.

“Good morning,” the ghoul said. “Deputy Grayweather, I presume?”

“Yes. Hello.” Theodore was taken off guard. “You have me at a disadvantage.”

He set the teacup down and stood. “Ashby,” he said. “I am the coroner you requested to assist with the autopsy.”

“Hi!” Oboe waved.

“You’re a ghast,” Theodore said with more disbelief than he intended.

Ashby sighed. “Very astute.” He cleared his throat to deliver a well-rehearsed explanation. “Many ghasts choose to live in the capital. Often, when allowed, we find work doing what humans find distasteful. Most people are uncomfortable with mortuary work, and so I have found a useful niche for myself.”

Giselle poked her head through the door. “So you admit to killing my husband, then!”

Theodore felt hot with embarrassment. “Pearce, could you close the door? Thank you.”

“Hey!” Giselle said as the Alderman nudged the door shut.

Theodore turned back to Ashby. “I apologize. The villagers believe a ghast committed the murder. I didn’t anticipate this reaction.”

“I am used to it,” Ashby said with measured annoyance. He swept toward the back room. “Would you mind if we got started? I would prefer to keep this brief. I’ve examined the body already and there are a few points I believe you will find interesting.”


Episode 2 Chapter 5

The air in the backroom was thick with smell of cinnamon. The body of Anthony Willow was lain on a table with a veil draped over its head. A censer burned to mask the cloying scent of death.

Theodore stiffened as Ashby pulled the veil away. The face was frozen, gaping, eyes wide in horror. He knew a man was dead, but the reality did not hit him until that moment. Anthony died in terror.

“Theo. Hey, psst,” Oboe said, startling him. “Does something bother you about that woman?”

“What?” Theodore collected himself. “You mean Gisselle?”

Oboe kept her voice low. “Yeah. You think maybe she killed this guy?”

“What are you talking about?” He furrowed his brow.

“She was real eager to find someone to blame,” she said. “Maybe she’s trying to hide that she did it?”

The thought had not occurred to him. “That’s absurd,” he said. “Oboe, she was married to him! A wife wouldn’t do something like that.” Marriage certificates provided very specific guidelines about proper care of the licensed spouse. There was no room in the legal language to allow for homicide.

“Are you sure?” She said. “If I were a human, I would’ve killed and eaten dozens of husbands by now.”

“What?!” Theodore did a double take. “Why would you do that?!”

Oboe looked confused. “Wait. Not humans. What am I thinking of? Don’t tell me.” She thought very hard for a moment. “…Oh! Spiders!” Oboe started laughing. “I’m sorry! I was thinking of spiders!”

Theodore glowered at her. “Oboe, a man is dead. That woman is grieving because she lost someone she cared about. I think some misplaced anger is to be expected.”

Oboe shrank back. “Sorry.”

“If you would come closer.” There was a note of impatience in Ashby’s voice.

Theodore stepped forward to examine the body. The Alderman followed behind, eyeing the ghoul warily.

“As you can see by the wrinkling of the skin, the body is waterlogged.” Ashby gestured. “Though it is slight enough that it is unlikely the victim was left floating for an entire day. I wondered at first if this man merely drowned and this talk of a killer is hasty…”

“Yeah!” Oboe said. “I bet he fell in the river and forgot how to swim!”

“…I regret to say the villagers are right. If you look here…” Ashby moved the cadaver’s neck with two fingers. “Discoloration around the throat. Gray and black, with lesions. This is a sign of violent ghast-based magic. The victim was strangled to death before he had a chance to drown.”

“Oh.” Oboe said.

The Alderman scoffed. “There’s your proof. A ghast, just like I said.”

Theodore took notes. The killer being a ghast was not much to go on. “Are there any other clues as to who the perpetrator might be?”

“Before we dressed him for burial, his clothes were torn to tatters with claw marks,” Pearce said.

“Odd, considering those are no lacerations on the body.” Ashby wiped his hands with a sanitized handkerchief. “There is nothing else I can tell you. I suggest you investigate the crime scene to learn more.

“Good idea,” Theodore said. 

“I’ll have my fiancé show you where she found the body,” Pearce said. “I’ve other duties to see to.”

Wendy was called to escort them. Giselle insisted on following to make sure the murder was investigated properly. Once they were far outside the village, Ashby parted ways with them.

“I hope you find the culprit soon, Deputy,” Ashby said. “It is not good for a wicked ghast to go unpunished. Your people begin to suspect the rest of us, and that puts us all at risk.”

Theodore noticed how Giselle glared. The villagers were volatile. It was clear if Theodore failed to catch the criminal that it was only a matter of time until they acted out of anger. All he could do is hope there was something left at the crime scene to point him in the right direction.


Episode 2 Chapter 6

Wendy led the group to a shady spot on the edge of the Whirlwood. The River Wander flowed, curving out of the forest and through the manor fields. It was a quiet place that did nothing to betray the violence that occurred there.

“…I came the other day to start the morning washing,” Wendy said. She tensed while talking about it. “Anthony was floating in the water. I was so scared! The men had to pull his body from the water.”

“Did you see anyone?” Theodore said.

“No. I think it was just me,” she said. “I didn’t stay long, though. I didn’t want to be by myself when I saw he was dead.”

Anthony was likely dead for a while. There was no chance of an eye-witness account. Theodore and Oboe set about searching the scene for clues. He discovered a mess of boot prints in the mud upstream showing signs of a struggle. No claw or paw prints, though. It was possible they were dealing with a flying creature or something with no feet to leave a trail.

“I found something!” Oboe shouted from the middle of the river. She wrestled a wriggling fish from the water and tried to keep it from flopping free.

Theodore adjusted his spectacles from the shore. “That is a trout. It has nothing to do with our investigation.”

She looked deflated. “…It’s still neat, though.”

“Deputy,” Giselle said in a pointed tone. “Are you absolutely sure that ghoul wasn’t the killer?” She was still angry Theodore had allowed Ashby to walk free. “It’s not too late to recapture him!”

“I am quite certain!” Theodore was growing sick of assuring her of the creature’s innocence. “His business references were immaculate. Please, let me investigate.”

She scowled. “Okay.” It was a relief to hear her at least humor the possibility she was mistaken. She squeezed her fingers over her wedding band. “Forgive me. I just… is there anything I can do to help? Tell me.”

Theodore stared. Was there anything she could do? He was having enough trouble figuring out what he needed to do himself to solve this case.

Oboe surfaced, gasped for breath, and dived to continue searching the riverbed. Giselle waited.

“Just answer some questions,” he said. “When did you last see him before he turned up dead?”

Giselle burst into tears. Theodore felt like an ass for being so blunt. He moved to comfort her but she waved him away. She composed herself with a shudder and uncovered her face.

“…We were having an argument,” she said, rubbing her tears away with a sleeve. “He kept going out at night to gather moon herbs from the Whirlwood. I bought him a talisman to keep him safe but he refused to wear it! The sweet idiot said he made friends with a ghast. It’s probably the same one that killed him.”

“I’m sorry,” Theodore said. “I know this is difficult. Can you tell me anything about the ghast he was meeting? Who it was, where, when they met?”

“I don’t know!” She said. “All I wanted was for him to promise not to go, but he wouldn’t! He kept saying he was fine without protection!” She clenched her hands. “Well! He was wrong! He’s gone and died and left me all alone! Now what am I supposed to do?!”

Theodore felt helpless. This woman’s life was turned upside down by an act of violence. She was counting on him to make things right and he wasn’t even qualified to be Ranger Deputy.

Oboe burst out of the river, gasping and splashing and spitting up water. “I found it! A thing! Not a fish this time!” She waded and tripped onto dry land. “Look! The biggest clue!”

Theodore peered into her cupped hands. It was a bright orange topaz gem seated on a plain copper band.

“Oh!” Giselle said. “That’s Anthony’s ring!”

Theodore turned. “You recognize it?” It did not look like a wedding band.

“Yes!” Her tears began to well again. “Give it to me! Something to remember him! Please!”

“Hold on,” Oboe said, sniffing at the jewelry. “…There’s a lot of magic on it. It’s not a fairy spell, though.” She gave it a long, analytical lick. “Doesn’t taste like human magic either.”

That meant it had to be a ghast hex. “Giselle, where did your husband get this ring?” Theodore said.

The widow wasn’t prepared to answer. “I… don’t know. He’s always wore it. He never took it off and I never thought to ask about it.”

“He had it since before he came to work at the manor,” Wendy said.

“We need to have this enchantment analyzed.” Theodore took the ring and turned it over in his hand. Knowing it was enchanted made him nervous, so he wrapped it in a handkerchief. “I’m sorry Giselle, but I have to hang onto this. It might help us find your husband’s killer.”

Giselle touched the silver talisman around her neck. “You should see the witch, Flip. He can figure out what sort of dark magic was placed on my husband’s ring!  You can find him in the valley ruins. He’ll help you hunt the monster!”   

Theodore made a mental note of where to find that criminal. “That won’t be necessary. There are experts at the university who will offer better assistance.”

“That’s a bunch of manure.” Giselle sneered. “Flip is an expert at fighting the forces of evil! Those city wizards won’t give you half the help!”

“Naw!” Oboe said. “He’s a crook. Theo and I will go talk to the good guys and figure it out!”

“If I see Flip again I’ll have to arrest him,” Theodore said. “He’s breaking the law.”

Giselle scowled. “Fine. Do what you want.” She pulled the talisman off from around her neck. She took hold of Theodore’s hand and pressed the medallion into his palm: the same sort Flip was selling. “But take this. Anthony was too stubborn to use it. Now he’s dead. Don’t let what happened to my husband happen to you or anyone else! Promise me you’ll get the monster who did this!”

Theodore should have refused it but he did not have the heart. Tears were welling up in Giselle’s eyes again. He nodded and pocketed the talisman.

“I’ll make this right,” he said. He turned toward the university. “I promise.”


Episode 2 Chapter 7

“The ring appears to be cursed.”

Kirkwin Millstone looked up from the eyepiece of his apparatus: a box of mirrors, lenses, and ethereal refractions. He was a younger faculty wizard with a wispy mustache, trim red hair, and burgundy robes. He was gracious enough to invite Theodore and Oboe into his workshop and help them analyze the spell.

“What kind of curse? Let me see!” Oboe pushed past Kirkwin to peek into the eyepiece. “I don’t get it. It’s just a bunch of smoke and waves.”

“You’d need a doctorate in aura interpretation to understand the readings,” Kirkwin said.

“I don’t have time for that! We’re investigating a murder! Ugh!”

Theodore ushered Oboe back to her seat. “We’re very interested to hear your findings.”

“It is a ghast hex, definitely,” Kirkwin said. “If the ring is worn by a human then it cannot be removed until death. It allows the caster to sense the exact location of the victim and vice versa.”

“Then it’s a type of tracking spell?” Theodore imagined a ghast stalking its prey through the shadows. “But why make it work both ways…?”

Kirkwin opened the machine to wipe down the lenses. “When humans experience intense emotion, like fear or anxiety, our auras bleed energy. Ghasts feed on that energy. If the spell allows the victim to sense when the ghast is nearby, that means the ghast could create fear just by approaching. My hypothesis is that it’s a feeding tactic.”

Theodore could not imagine even sleeping with the knowledge that such a creature could find you any time. “Is there a way to determine who placed the curse on the ring?”

“If we had a skin or hair sample we could track them by aura.” The wizard pulled a thin glass plate from the machine. “Since we don’t, we’ll use the next best thing. Spells like this leave a fingerprint. Every aura form is unique to the soul.” He dipped the plate in a tray of solution and bright psychedelic splashes of color formed on the surface: Purples, blacks, and golds.

Theodore’s eyes lit up. “Yes. Yes! And the census archive here has a complete record of creature aura forms!”

Kirkwin led them down to the dustiest lower floor of the university’s library. Towering banks of filing cabinets filled the back wall. “This might take more time than we have. Everyone hates this system and it takes undergraduates YEARS to-“

Theodore wheeled a shelf-ladder into place before the wizard could finish. It was clear the files were sorted by primary print colors. He pulled open the correct cabinets and piled a stack of relevant folders onto a worktable. Each contained an aura film print. Kirkwin gawked while Theodore compared each print to the plate they created until he discovered a match.

“Here,” Theodore said, breathless. “Name: The Tall Man. Species: bogeyman. Lives in the Hollows. It even specifies a last known address.”

Kirkwin blinked. “…That was quick.”

“He’s into this sort of thing,” Oboe said.

“This is perfect.” Theodore was ecstatic. This was exactly the sort of lead they needed. Now all they needed was to prepare. “Who can I talk to about fighting a bogeyman?”

Kirkwin furrowed his brow. “Excuse me?”

“This creature will no doubt attack us,” Theodore said. “We’ll need a magic weapon or defensive tool to protect us. Who can I talk to?”

Kirkwin held up a hand. “Mr. Grayweather, let me stop you. What you’re asking for is illegal. The construction of anti-ghast tools was outlawed during the peace treaties centuries ago! Any wizard who’d agree to make that sort of thing would lose his credentials and be branded a witch.”

Theodore’s excitement melted into fright. The silver talisman tucked under his shirt suddenly felt very cold against his skin.

“I’m afraid, Deputy,” Kirkwin said, “That you will have to speak to this creature as you are.”


Episode 2 Chapter 8

Oboe knew where the Hollows were, more or less, but she was never brave enough to go there by herself. She didn’t want Theo to know that, though. It made her feel good to help him find weird places. If they ran out of weird places, she hoped he would still let her come along.

“Almost there!” she said, scared he would notice they’d walked in a big circle.  

Her ears perked at a strange noise. Glancing, she saw something small and fast zooming through the air towards them. 

“HEEEEELP!” It screamed, orbiting them. It was a pesky: a noisy bug-sized fairy with flower petal wings and twiggy little limbs. It was a male: females had plain wings like tree leaves. 

“What’s wrong??” Oboe said.

“AHHHHHHH!!” The pesky said, zipping around in panic.

“It’s okay,” Theo said, doing his best to soothe it. “Breathe. I’m the Ranger Deputy. Tell me what’s going on and maybe I can help.”

The pesky slowed its zig-zagging just enough to enunciate.

“A human!” He said. “It pounced! Got my friend! Stomp! Smash! Stomp! Rip! Rip! Rip! AHH!!”

Oboe covered her mouth in alarm. Theo kept his calm like he always did.

“Show me,” Theo said.

The pesky rocketed back the way it came and Theo followed at a sprint. Oboe stumbled trying to keep up. The teeny fairy brought them to the river side, where a burly farmer was kicking a creature on the ground.

Theo didn’t hesitate. “Stop!” He pulled the man off his prey.

The other human wheeled around and shoved Theo off. He stood a head taller than Theo and was three times as wide. He glared down through narrowed eyes.  

“Eh? What’s your deal?” He said.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” Theo said. “This is assault!” He looked back at Oboe. “Check to see if they’re okay.”

Oboe bristled and hurried to the creature’s side. It was a leshy: a fairy tree creature. His skin like furrowed wood and the branches of his hair were snapped from the scuffle. She raised his head and he coughed. He was battered, but a prod revealed no broken bones.

The farmer folded his arms. “You got a problem with a man defending himself? We got ghasts running around killing people. This one looked like it was fixing to hex me.”

“He’s not a ghast!” Oboe said. “He’s a leshy fairy!” He was ugly enough to look like a ghast, but still. “Their magic helps plants grow. He wouldn’t hurt you.”

“Says the devil goat.” The human sneered. “You’re probably a ghast too! Not that it matters. Fairies ain’t much better if you ask me. Only thing you can trust is humans.”

Theo put himself between them. “Show me your gate visa,” he said, pointing his badge 

The bad human spat. “Why should I?”

“I’m charging you with attacking another Laien citizen,” Theo said. “You will present to the count to account for your actions.”

The larger man leaned closer. “And if I don’t?” 

Theo stiffened. “The watch will have warrant for your arre-”

The other human kicked Theo’s legs out from under him and he toppled to the ground.

“You think you’re a big man, punishing me?”

“I’m the Ranger Deputy!” Theo shouted back. “It’s my job to uphold the law!”

Oboe held her breath. She wanted to jump in, keep the bully from hurting Theo or anyone else, but she was scared. Fighting a human wasn’t like fighting a creature. The laws were different. Creatures were killed for attacking humans. 

The farmer shoved Theo to the ground. “Your job is keeping ghasts in line! But what’d you do? You let all the Red Caps run free! They’re killing people because of you!”

“That…” Theo fell quiet. Whatever he meant to say was gone. He did not stand back up.

The farmer stormed off “If you aren’t going to protect us, we’ll do it ourselves! Stay out of it!”

He disappeared into the forest. Once the human was gone, the pesky fluttered down to hug the face of its friend.

“Thank you,” the leshy managed to say in a wheeze. 

Theo stared in the direction the farmer went and sighed.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“Don’t be sorry!” Oboe said. “You got him to stop. That’s what matters!”

“I didn’t fix anything,” he said. “What happens next time this happens? And after that?” He shook his head. “The manor workers are all on edge from the murder. If I don’t get to the bottom of this case then more creatures are going to get hurt. I don’t know if I can stop it.”

Oboe didn’t know what to say. They helped the leshy get home but a powerless feeling clung to them. She shook herself.

“We can do this,” she said and pointed them back to the task at hand. “I know we can.”


Episode 2 Chapter 9

Theodore felt a creeping unease as they approached the memorial. The wind was still and the summer crickets grew quiet. The evening sky burned and would soon grow dim, but Theodore knew he did not have the time to put this off until tomorrow.

The trees gave way to a clearing. Hundreds and hundreds of long copper spikes dotted the ground all around and peeked through the weeds and growth. They were bent and worn and greened from time but each marked the grave of a soldier who fought in the Great War against the Devil King.

Theodore’s skin prickled as they passed rows and rows of grave markers. At the heart of the burial ground stood their destination: A massive stone crypt with doors wide open. 

There was no sound but the crunch of their footsteps. Somewhere below them was the Hollow, an underground township teeming with ghasts. Theodore wished Oboe would say something. Her silence only made him more nervous.

“You’ve been down here before, right?” Theodore said. “…It’s safe?”

Oboe looked embarrassed. “I’ve never gone inside before. It looks so dark and gloomy that I was too scared to go by myself.” She glanced back. “I’ve only ever met ghasts who like to hang out on the surface.”

This was not comforting. Theodore depended on Oboe’s knowledge of the Whirlwood and its creatures more than he cared to admit. He did not like going into a place like this blind.

They stopped on the threshold of the tomb. Weathered stone steps descended into dark below. On the interior walls and ceiling there was an engraved mural illustrating the Great War: The rise of the Devil King, the hordes falling upon the eight tribes, the hero Laien rising to unite the humans into one nation, and the peace treaties that banished the ghasts below the surface. It was elementary history Theodore took for granted. Here, the reality of the past felt real for the first time. He looked up at the towering image of the Devil King, all sharp angles, etched in gold and black amidst his army of the wicked. Theodore took a shallow breath.

“Why do they have to live under all these dead bodies?” Oboe said.

Theodore bent down to unpack the lantern. He lit it and handed it to Oboe.

“They lost the war. It’s a sort of punishment, I suppose.” He tried to recall the wording of the original decree. “Something about being beneath the lowliest of the fallen.” It wasn’t a topic he spent much time thinking about. Thinking about it now was odd. The treaties must’ve changed everything about how ghasts used to live. It made him think of Silas and how angry he was about how humans treated creatures. How many other ghasts resented humans enough to want to hurt them?

Oboe held out the lantern, casting shadows all around. Her hooves clacked against the stone steps as she led the way down. The murals gave way to bare stone as the stairs plunged deeper and deeper.

Oboe gasped.

The lantern light pooled at the foot of the stairs. Bones were strewn at the foot of the stairs. Skulls, femurs and ribs, all human and all scattered floor of the chamber. Theodore felt his throat tighten. Were these victims? Was it a warning? What was waiting further inside?


Episode 2 Chapter 10

Theodore backed away from the bones. They were surrounded by the sealed caskets and vaults of the ancient generals and tribe leaders. Did someone desecrate the tomb? The bones looked too clean to be a recent kill but it was possible the meat was stripped and eaten.

A bone twitched. Theodore jumped. Confused, he leaned closer and saw the bones begin to shake and clatter.

“What is going on?!” Theodore said.

A mass of bones shot across the floor stuck together. They lurched into the air and assembled into a full skeleton standing upright.

“Crap!” The skeleton shrieked in a shrill man’s voice. “A visitor!!” He kicked wildly at the other bones on the floor. “Wake up! WAKE UP! Guys! A human’s here! A human’s come to visit!!”

The other bones fit together with reluctance. A stockier set of bones let out a big yawn.

“I’m up, I’m up…” he said.

The third was tall and was missing half its skull. “This had better be important, Burt!” She said. “I can never get back to sleep once I’ve woke!”

“A human!” Burt thrust both arms at Theodore. “A real live human’s come to visit!”

The short one scratched its hip bone. “So?”

“What do you mean ‘So!?’” Burt clawed at his own skull. “You’re on the welcoming committee! Get to work or you’re going to get fired!!”

The short and tall skeletons muttered complaints as they rattled off into the dark. Their movements were floaty and strange, like marionettes. Theodore squinted at Burt, thinking for a moment he saw spectral tendons operating the bones.

“I am SO sorry!” Burt said. “This doesn’t normally happen, I promise! It’s just so rare that we get any visitors to…” He caught himself. “I mean, we get lots of tourists all the time! This is the hottest place to be in Laien! You’ll want to tell all your human friends about how fun it is here!” He wrung his palms, laughing. “Just wait right there and we’ll get the show ready for you!”

Burt ran off, leaving Theodore baffled.

“They seem nice,” Oboe said.

“Do you understand what’s going on?” Theodore said.

She shrugged.

Flames erupted in the air in front of them. They floated in the air, burning green and casting a neon carnival glow down the length of the crypt hall. Theodore adjusted his glasses to examine them.

“You’re supposed to follow the lights!” Shouted a skeleton further in.

This whole situation made Theodore feel like the unwitting accessory to a comedy sketch. They proceeded against his better judgement. Strange noises came from the branching corridors, noises that did not fit the space: Hollowing winds, thunderclaps, wolf howls, and melodramatic cackling.

“Booga, Booga!” The tall skeleton leapt out from around the corner wearing a goblin mask. “Did that frighten you? There’s more to discover here than just chills and thrills.” She did not sound enthused. “We’re also home to many artisan small businesses offering unique gift ideas. You’re sure to find a bargain that’s downright SCARY.”

Theodore stared. “Are you… advertising at me?”

She retreated back down the corridor. The short skeleton leapt out at the next corner draped under a sheet.

“Witness countless historic exhibits celebrating the Great War!” He waved his arms. “One thousand years of culture all in one place!”

“RICHARD!!” Burt yelled from down the hall.

The short skeleton lifted his sheet. “What?”

“You didn’t let the wisps out!”

“I forgot,” Richard said.

“You CAN’T forget! The guests have to have the best experience possible!!”

The third skeleton slouched out in a vampire mask. “Do you want me to do it?”

“NO!!” Burt said. “Mother of Magic! I’ll do it! Both of you just stay on script!”

A flock of Will’O’Wisps swirled out from around the corner They were shimmering balls of light that bobbed and danced around them. Some perched on Richard’s head.   

“Pretty!” Oboe said.

“Uh.” Richard tried to remember his line. “Hungry? Don’t forget to sample the local ghast delicacies before you leave. Our restaurants are clean with friendly staff.”

Theodore shooed the wisps away. “Okay, I’ve heard enough. Burt!” He marched ahead. “It’s Burt, isn’t it? BURT!”

Burt emerged from the shadows. He was half way in the middle of wrestling himself into a werewolf costume.

“You can stop whatever this is you’re doing,” Theodore said.

“Now hold on!” Burt was indignant. “This is an official welcome to the Hollows sponsored by the ghast Chamber of Commerce! You can’t just skip it!!”

Sighing, Theodore pointed his badge. “I’m the Ranger Deputy of the Whirlwood. I’m ordering you to terminate this performance.”

“Fine!” Burt dropped his werewolf pants to the floor. “But I hope you know that the tourism board is going to give me hell for this!”