Oboe knew where the Hollows were, more or less, but she was never brave enough to go there by herself. She didn’t want Theo to know that, though. It made her feel good to help him find weird places. If they ran out of weird places, she hoped he would still let her come along.
“Almost there!” she said, scared he would notice they’d walked in a big circle.
Her ears perked at a strange noise. Glancing, she saw something small and fast zooming through the air towards them.
“HEEEEELP!” It screamed, orbiting them. It was a pesky: a noisy bug-sized fairy with flower petal wings and twiggy little limbs. It was a male: females had plain wings like tree leaves.
“What’s wrong??” Oboe said.
“AHHHHHHH!!” The pesky said, zipping around in panic.
“It’s okay,” Theo said, doing his best to soothe it. “Breathe. I’m the Ranger Deputy. Tell me what’s going on and maybe I can help.”
The pesky slowed its zig-zagging just enough to enunciate.
“A human!” He said. “It pounced! Got my friend! Stomp! Smash! Stomp! Rip! Rip! Rip! AHH!!”
Oboe covered her mouth in alarm. Theo kept his calm like he always did.
“Show me,” Theo said.
The pesky rocketed back the way it came and Theo followed at a sprint. Oboe stumbled trying to keep up. The teeny fairy brought them to the river side, where a burly farmer was kicking a creature on the ground.
Theo didn’t hesitate. “Stop!” He pulled the man off his prey.
The other human wheeled around and shoved Theo off. He stood a head taller than Theo and was three times as wide. He glared down through narrowed eyes.
“Eh? What’s your deal?” He said.
“What do you think you’re doing?!” Theo said. “This is assault!” He looked back at Oboe. “Check to see if they’re okay.”
Oboe bristled and hurried to the creature’s side. It was a leshy: a fairy tree creature. His skin like furrowed wood and the branches of his hair were snapped from the scuffle. She raised his head and he coughed. He was battered, but a prod revealed no broken bones.
The farmer folded his arms. “You got a problem with a man defending himself? We got ghasts running around killing people. This one looked like it was fixing to hex me.”
“He’s not a ghast!” Oboe said. “He’s a leshy fairy!” He was ugly enough to look like a ghast, but still. “Their magic helps plants grow. He wouldn’t hurt you.”
“Says the devil goat.” The human sneered. “You’re probably a ghast too! Not that it matters. Fairies ain’t much better if you ask me. Only thing you can trust is humans.”
Theo put himself between them. “Show me your gate visa,” he said, pointing his badge
The bad human spat. “Why should I?”
“I’m charging you with attacking another Laien citizen,” Theo said. “You will present to the count to account for your actions.”
The larger man leaned closer. “And if I don’t?”
Theo stiffened. “The watch will have warrant for your arre-”
The other human kicked Theo’s legs out from under him and he toppled to the ground.
“You think you’re a big man, punishing me?”
“I’m the Ranger Deputy!” Theo shouted back. “It’s my job to uphold the law!”
Oboe held her breath. She wanted to jump in, keep the bully from hurting Theo or anyone else, but she was scared. Fighting a human wasn’t like fighting a creature. The laws were different. Creatures were killed for attacking humans.
The farmer shoved Theo to the ground. “Your job is keeping ghasts in line! But what’d you do? You let all the Red Caps run free! They’re killing people because of you!”
“That…” Theo fell quiet. Whatever he meant to say was gone. He did not stand back up.
The farmer stormed off “If you aren’t going to protect us, we’ll do it ourselves! Stay out of it!”
He disappeared into the forest. Once the human was gone, the pesky fluttered down to hug the face of its friend.
“Thank you,” the leshy managed to say in a wheeze.
Theo stared in the direction the farmer went and sighed.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Don’t be sorry!” Oboe said. “You got him to stop. That’s what matters!”
“I didn’t fix anything,” he said. “What happens next time this happens? And after that?” He shook his head. “The manor workers are all on edge from the murder. If I don’t get to the bottom of this case then more creatures are going to get hurt. I don’t know if I can stop it.”
Oboe didn’t know what to say. They helped the leshy get home but a powerless feeling clung to them. She shook herself.
“We can do this,” she said and pointed them back to the task at hand. “I know we can.”