Episode 2 Chapter 17

According to Giselle, the witch lived somewhere in the valley ruins. Theodore knew they were getting close when they spotted wagon tracks running through the Western gully. Flip was nearby. 

Theodore wandered amid the ragweed, marveling at the strange stone structures scattered across the field. There were stairs leading nowhere, teetering monoliths, broken sculptures of reaching hands, and haphazard stacks of odd cubes. None of it made any sense.

“Oboe,” Theodore said. “What are these ruins of, exactly?”

“Huh?” She looked puzzled.

“What was all this before it was abandoned?” He said.

“Oh!” She laughed. “No. These aren’t real ruins. A bunch of creatures got together years back and made all this so the Valley would feel more mysterious. It’s just for fun!”

“I see.” Theodore wondered how much work it would take to erect a few placards and rope barriers for exhibits. He preferred some of these pieces to what was on display in the capital’s art gallery.

They found what they were looking for at the far end of the clearing. One of the boxier structures had been repurposed. Thatching was used to plug up the holes and render it just misshapen. A huge, garish sign hung over the front announcing ‘Flip’s Discount Bewitching and Payday Loans’ with an illustration of a winking wizard.

“So, what’s the plan?” Oboe rubbed her palms together. “We kick the door down and tackle him before he gets any spells off? Oh! How about we sneak in the back and then punch him?”

Theodore wanted to arrest Flip. He was an unregistered magic user selling illegal enchantments. But there was a more dangerous criminal at large. The mutilated throat of Anthony Willow flashed in Theodore’s mind, and he imagined the Tall Man stalking through alleyways. The widow begged him to use Flip to avenge her husband.

“I want to talk to him,” Theodore said. “He might be able to help us.”

Oboe looked at him like he’d slandered the king. “What? We’re going to arrest him, right? You said yourself he’s breaking the law!”

“I know.” He pinched his eyes shut tight. “You’re right. But that doesn’t mean we should get violent. Maybe we can talk him into turning himself in. That way he faces fines instead of dungeon time.”

“But he’s a bad guy!” She said.

“It’s not that simple,” Theodore said. “What if he can change? Everyone deserves a second chance, right?”

Oboe went silent. The argument stopped dead in her throat.

“Let’s just see how this plays out,” Theodore said.

She gave him a grudging nod. “Okay.”

The door tinkled went they opened it. The walls of the shop were crammed with oddities. There were monstrous masks, shrunken heads, human effigies, and corked bottles of florescent potion. A sign advertised a discount on palm readings with purchase of a tattoo.

There was a burst of smoke before they could browse further. Flip leapt out from the back room dressed in a velvet bathrobe and top hat.

“Welcome thrill seekers, to Flip’s world of affordable enchantments!” He said, spinning his cane and smiling ear-to-ear. He released a flurry of magical fireworks from his free hand and then posed for applause.

Theodore let the moment linger. “Flip, you are the proprietor of this small business?”

“None other!” Flip snapped his cane to the floor. “Let me guess. You two are star-crossed lovers and wish to be transformed to suit the other. What will it be? Faun to woman? Man to satyr? If you want to just swap, I’m not in the business to judge. I offer a bulk discount for transmogrifications!”

Theodore raised an eyebrow. “You do realize that transformation of humans is forbidden by law, don’t you?”

“That’s right, bozo!” Oboe said. “Remember us?! You’re doing all this wizard stuff when you’re not supposed to! Now you’re in big trouble!”

Theodore shot an annoyed look at Oboe before turning his attention back to Flip. “A glance at your wares shows you are in violation of more laws than I care to count. Do you have anything to say in your defense?”

Flip’s expression did not shift from bemusement. “I take it you’re here to arrest me because some blowhards in a tower decided only they get to play with the useful spells.”

 “Yeah!” Oboe said, fists ready.

“I applaud your righteous fury,” Flip said. “Very noble. Heroic, even! But let me ask you, what happens when I’m locked up? There’s a killer ghast on the loose and those farmers depend on my magic for protection.” He eyed the talisman around Theodore’s neck. “And it appears they’re not the only ones.”

Theodore tucked the charm back under his shirt. “Protecting the villagers is our responsibility. I admit your warding spell is effective, but that doesn’t mean you get to ignore King’s Law.”

Flip stepped closer. “You’re after a ghast gone wicked. An unlicensed peddler is the least of your concerns. If you’re going to use my handwork anyway, then perhaps we can come to some sort of arrangement.”

“We don’t need your help!” Oboe said.

“Hear me out!” Flip said. “All I am asking for is some discretion. I’m not causing any harm. Leave me and my business alone and I can be a serious asset to your investigation. Stopping ghasts is my area of expertise. Think about it!”

Theodore maintained his poker face. “What I can offer you is probation. Register with the university, pay the fines, and you can avoid arrest.”

Flip curled his lips in revulsion. “You insult me. My help is worth more than that!”

“The law is the law,” Theodore said.

“Rules are made to be bent,” Flip said. “Do you HONESTLY think I can do any good if I have to abide by every last one of the University’s thousand and one regulations? Let me remind of that ghasts are devils. Literal devils! You think conventional weapons are worth a damn against them? If you really care about protecting this community you will let me help you!”

Theodore hated to agree with the witch, but he was right. What mattered right now was solving the case. If Theodore was going to serve the greater good he needed to compromise.

“Tell me what you can offer,” he said.

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