Voices bickered on the edge of hearing.
“What’d you do to him?! Is he alright??”
“Don’t yell. I’m sorry! I thought I was being cordial!”
“You better not have broken ‘em. He only just got here and my permits still need renewing!”
Reality gripped Theodore with a nasty headache. His vision was a blur of color.
“He’s supposed to wear these!” a familiar voice said.
“Stay away from him, you nameless wretch! If you enchant him I’ll make sure the Circle hears of it!”
Theodore’s glasses were forced onto his face, and the world came into sharp focus. He found himself lying on the kitchen table. Squirming, he sat up, and saw the room crowded with fairies, monsters and animals. It was a profound disappointment to realize the past few days had not been an elaborate nightmare.
“He’s okay!” The beasts burst into cheers of delight and as much dancing as the floor space would allow. Theodore watched, reconsidering whether what he was seeing was the result of a concussion.
“Excuse me!” He held out a hand, bringing the celebration to a halt. “What is going on? Are you here to kill me?”
“Kill you?” The werewolf laughed, then furrowed his brow at the crowd. “Does he think we’re wicked or something?”
Theodore felt a sharp stab. He looked to find a gnome, dressed in layered shawls, jabbing him with a tiny cane.
“Don’t you insult us by saying we’re something we ain’t! I’ll have you know that no one in my whole family’s history has ever turned wicked! And that’s counting my late husband’s side. Honestly!”
One of the other gnomes spoke up. “Didn’t Uncle Lanny try to steal that baby once?”
“I didn’t ask you, Lyle! We don’t talk about Lanny! It doesn’t count!”
Whatever was going on, the creatures did not seem to mean any harm. Theodore didn’t feel enchanted, not that he had any idea what that felt like, and couldn’t even locate any bite marks. He slid off the table onto his feet, and the creatures made room.
“What’s going on?” Theodore asked. “Why are you all here?”
A faun shoved her way to the front. It was the one he met yesterday, Oboe. “I went to tell everybody about you! You’re welcome!”
Theodore stiffened. “Why would you do that?”
“Um.” Doubt dripped across her face. “Everybody’s been waiting for a new Ranger Deputy for months. I thought I’d help and let them know you arrived!”
“Yeah!” a goblin said. “I need to get my visa renewed so I can work in the city again!”
“Me too!” said the troll leaning in the doorway.
“Is getting a visitor’s pass easier?” a talking fox asked. “I’ve wanted to go inside the walls all my life.”
The werewolf raised his hand. “My haunting license is almost expired.”
“I have questions about starting a small business!!” a boar said, pushing others out of the way for attention.
“So…” Theodore started to understand. “You’re all needing help with paperwork and documentation?”
There was a collective murmur of agreement. “I guess so.” “Yeah.” “Pretty much.”
Today had not gone as expected. Theodore was annoyed that he’d been sidetracked from his research. However, the work was at least to his taste. There was no harm in him assisting with a few permit applications and renewals.
“You’ve caught me unprepared. Let me set up my desk and papers and we can get started. Who’s first?”
The entire room exploded into argument. Creatures on every side started shouting that they were first. They pulled at Theodore’s clothes, bellowed and started fighting and shoving. Theodore had to climb back onto the table to avoid getting pulled into the skirmish.
“Stop!” he said, but his voice was lost in the noise. “KNOCK IT OFF!”
The room froze mid-brawl. Theodore was shocked by how readily they responded to his command. He cleared his throat and straightened his uniform.
“There is no need for violence,” he said. “If we’re going to do this, we’re going to have to get organized.”