Episode 1 Chapter 7

Theodore was sandwiched between rows of knights, canned in full plate mail regalia like a flock of steel coated peacocks. Myra and Fritz sat opposite of him inside the train, with Theodore seated by the window.

“Where are the university staff and sorcerers?” Theodore said.

“The stuffed shirts get their own cars up front,” Fritz said. Theodore opted not to express how much he’d rather be sitting with them.

The train whistle shrieked, and the locomotive rumbled to life. The city walls drifted out of sight to give way to farmland, manors, and country villages. They picked up speed as the tracks dipped downhill. The train roared as it plunged into the woodland, tearing through branches and overgrowth in a blur of greens and browns. They slowed to a safer clip, trundling through a parade of trees.

“How far do we need to travel?” Theodore’s sense of dread grew as he watched the capital fade into the distance.

“We’ll arrive at the center. It’s not too long,” Myra said. “We’ll overshoot your office, but it’s safer than walking the whole route on foot.”

This did not put Theodore at ease. He studied the forest through the window and contemplated his plan. Barricade himself indoors until he found a loophole. Then he would somehow need to get back to the city unharmed.

The train lurched to a hissing halt, and Theodore was nearly thrown from his seat.

“We’ve stopped,” Theodore said.

Fritz offered a look of mock surprise. “Not on the job yet and already you’re a detective.”

A strong wind howled across the trail, rattling the train on its tracks. Theodore twisted in his seat and pressed his nose against the cold window. All he could see was tangled tree limbs and fog.

Myra pulled the car bay door open, and knights lined up to disembark. She pounded a fist and her troops piled out onto the ground.

 “Check the front.” Myra ordered. “With any luck it’s just a unicorn on the tracks again.”

There was another blast of wind, forcing everyone to brace themselves against the hull of the train car. The mist, drifting among the trees, began to pour out from the woods. It turned dark and heavy, swamping around the ankles of the knights and covering every inch of ground in dancing black vapor.

“Is that… normal?” Theodore asked, panic rising in his voice. “That doesn’t seem normal!”

“Well, it’s fairly routine at this point,” Myra said.

 Theodore eased in his seat. “Then we’re safe.”

“I didn’t say that.” She pulled out her sword and tossed the scabbard aside. “Stay close to me so you don’t get yourself killed.”


She leapt outside to join her men. Theodore leaned out the door, looking down at the rising soup of gloom as if it were boiling lava.

Fritz sighed. “It’s harmless, you oaf. Ghasts are obsessed with theatrics. Get down here!”

Theodore climbed down the railing, goose pimples rolling over his skin. “You know what’s causing this?”

“Repeat trouble maker,” Myra said before turning to her men. “You know the drill! Buddy up and spread out! If you’ve got a silver sword, make sure you’ve got someone at your side with iron, and vice versa! Eyes open!” She waved, and they dispersed.

Fritz glanced at Theodore’s belt. “Did you even bring a weapon?”

“Ah…” Theodore had not planned to stay long enough to need one, but now felt a fool. “They were supposed to furnish me on site?”

The lieutenant scoffed and offered the hilt of a hunting knife. Theodore hesitated. He couldn’t imagine using it but could not bring himself to argue.

“Come on, then.” Fritz said. Theodore followed behind as they ambled along the length of the train, eyes scanning the fog. Theodore clutched the knife and stumbled, unable to see his footing. When they reached the front, it was clear why they had come to a stop: tree roots had somehow sprung from the ground and entangled the wheels of the engine car. The conductor was already hard at work hacking the growths away with a hatchet.

Something moved and caught Theodore’s eye. He squinted and wiped his glasses on his sleeve. It was a man. Only it wasn’t. It was hunched over, with arms and legs too long, draped in ragged cloth. Heart racing, he struggled out the words: “What is that?!”

The party turned to face the creature. Fog swirled and rippled around it. It jerked closer, its fingers slender, bladed, its skin gnarled like tree bark.

“Turn… back…” It spoke like a ghost someone pushed down a well. “You… are not welcome. Leave, and never befoul this seat of magic again…!”

The Captain rolled her eyes and mimed a yapping mouth with her hand. A few knights snickered.

The creature let out a piercing shriek. “Do not mock me!”

“Cut the stage show, Silas!” Myra said. “We’ve a right to harvest magic! If you’ve got a problem with it, talk to your chieftain. Now clear off. We’ve got a schedule to keep!”

The creature, Silas, pointed a clawed hand. “Kill the humans!”

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