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.

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