The rock flew through the air and, with a sharp clank, bounced off the knight's helmet. The entire platoon turned to look at the faun who threw it. He was young, wild-eyed, with scruffy white fur and a maroon colored mantle.

"This is our home!" The faun shouted, waving an arm at the Fairy Circle village. "You don't belong here! Get out!"

The knights trained their crossbows on the faun. Each was loaded with an iron bolt charged with magic and was strong enough to kill the average fairy. The faun scrambled to find another rock.

"Stop!" Theodore dashed into the line of fire, holding his arms out to shield the faun. "Are you insane?! Stand down!"

The soldiers lowered their aim. Theodore turned toward the faun, who glared at him with fierce eyes.

"Please don't do this," Theodore said. "The occupation won't be forever. This doesn't have to get ugly."

"Don't tell me that!" The faun said. He was years younger than Oboe, but he had the same fiery spirit. "All you humans care about is the Fount! You just want to get rid of us!"

"We're just here to keep order until a new Fair Lady is chosen," Theodore said. "Please. Go back inside. You need to trust us."

An older faun leaned out the porch of his home. "Bodhrán!" The parent called. "Listen to him! Come here! Now!"

The kid scoffed and brushed pass Theo. The door closed, and Theodore felt a small measure of relief. He glared at the knights and stormed off.

The marketplace was empty. It looked nothing like the bustling square Theodore remembered from when he first stepped into the Fairy Circle. The merchants were gone, too frightened to set up shop in the open. In their place was constant patrol of knights, armed with iron swords and crossbows.

Theodore sat by the well to polish his glasses, trying to calm down. When he finished, he looked up to see Knight Captain Myra Redriver. Her usual grin was absent, worn away. She was appointed as leader of this operation because of her experience fighting the Red Caps. She sat down beside him with a groan, looking as battered as the old plate mail armor she wore.

"It's getting worse," she said. It had been three weeks since the death of Bassoon. Three weeks since martial law was declared in the Fairy Circle. "The fairies get angrier every day we're here."

"There's no excuse for pointing weapons at a civilian," Theodore said.

"I don't like it any more than you," Myra said. "Everyone's on edge."

Theodore sighed. The Fairy Circle was a powder keg and the knights were an open flame. "We should withdraw. Let the Fairy Circle sort out its own politics."

"That's not an option," she said. "We found too many spies in the city. Nobody goes home until we know we can trust the new fairy leader." She forced a smile for him. "That's why we need you to figure this out, Deputy."

Theodore grimaced. "I'm not the Ranger Deputy anymore. The Knight Detective stripped me of that rank. I'm not even supposed to be here."

She leaned close. "What they don't know won't hurt them." She almost knocked him out of his seat with a rough, but affectionate, slap on the back. "You've a way with these critters. I'd rather it be you at the council than any of us."

Theodore checked his pocket-watch. In less than an hour, the highest ranking of the Titled fey would converge on the fairy palace and start talks about how to elect a new Fair Lady. Thistle predicted that it would be weeks of bickering, scheming and power plays as each of the Titled would squabble to take power. It was not something Theodore was looking forward to.

Fairies did not have bloodlines of succession the way human kings or dukes did. Bassoon never appointed an heir. She had been in power for a thousand years and must've assumed she would continue to rule in perpetuity. It was a shock to the Circle, to the whole country of Laien, that the Fair Lady was dead.

Theodore stood up. "I should get going. I still have to find Oboe and cross the lake before the council starts."

"Good luck," Myra said. "I'll try not to burn down the Circle in the meantime."

All Theodore could do was nod. It felt like they were on the brink on a riot, or worse. He and Oboe were responsible for killing the Fair Lady. If there was anything he could do to help bring order back to the Circle, he owed it to the Whirlwood to try.