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?
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.