In a cold neighborhood full of dark hearts and darker magic, only one man has the poker face and killer hand to deal out justice:
Dieselnoi Worawoot. Magic Private Eye.
Ka-pow! Brass horns. Bass line. Wah-wah pedal. Roll credits.
Is that who you think you are? The star of this show? Savior to the nocturnal souls of Cryptatown?
I want to vomit. I want to laugh. But all I can do is wait. Wait in the darkness, wait for the day your putrid idiocy destroys everything you love and sets me free!
On that day, as I rise from the depths to take you, I will laugh!
Do you hear me?
You wake up.
Golden light creeps through the gaps in your half-shuttered window. The fresh breeze carries in the vibrant scents of a living city–gas fumes, mildew, blood and rot.
Off in the distance, you hear the dinging bells and clattering wheels of an electric trolley, bearing commuters to their early morning work.
You also hear a loud, rhythmic banging sound, a ‘thunk’ noise that reminds you of a woodpecker burrowing into a tree.
Construction work, you think: someone’s building a house, or digging a post, or banging a ghost-drum to summon rain. Nothing you have to worry about. Not on a weekend, anyway.
As your eyes drift closed, you hear another loud ‘thunk’. Followed by a wailing cry of pain.
You sit up, kick aside your tangled bed sheets and claw your way over to the window. You look outside.
The street outside your flat is paved in brick cobbles, slick and glistening from the midnight rain. An electric trolley has ground to a halt in the middle of the road, sparks sizzling between its current collector and the power line overhead. The conductor blows their horn over and over, voicing their disapproval at the obstacle standing in their way.
The obstacle in question? A giant Ogre, tall and skeletally thin, who is beating a white-haired man to the ground with their walking cane.
The Ogre’s movements are gracefully hypnotic, almost like a pendulum on a clock. Up and down the cane goes, its black wood shaft slicks with blood already. You could wash the Ogre crack this person’s skull open, and all you would think about is how beautifully the brain matter would spray…
...such is the charm of creatures from Faerie.
You slap the side of your cheeks, bringing your mind back into focus. Thoughts race back and forth within your noggin. Should you do something? Should you stick your neck out?
The trolley conductor –– a Satyr whose goat horns poke through the holes in his cap –– sticks his head out the car window. “What the heck are ye doing?” He shouts at the Ogre. “Yer blockin’ the bloody rail!”
The Ogre bares his yellowed, tusk-like teeth at the Trolley Conductor. “Still thine tongue, fool!” They growled. “Canst thou not see I’m busy teaching this punk human a lesson?”
“Listen, ye maniac...” The Conductor says, eyes narrowing in anger.
From your perch by the window, you hold your breath. Will the Satyr speak up for the white-haired man? Maybe, just maybe, you won’t have to intervene…
“...If ye like beating human’s up, that’s your own business!” The Conductor says. “But do it on your own time! I’ve got a dozen passengers who will literally bite my face off if you don’t get off the rails right now!”
You groan in disgust. Of course, you think. This is Cryptatown, after all. Why were you expecting compassion and mercy from the City of Claws?
The Ogre grunts. “Fine,” he says, grabbing the unconscious white-haired man by the foot. “Ain’t no skin off my back, sirrah.”
As the Ogre drags the white-haired man out of the path of the trolley car, you leap out of bed and don your garments like a knight preparing for battle.
You yank on your grey slacks, sharp and trendy, yet flexible enough for jumping and climbing.
You tug a pair of sneakers on, tattered shoes scavenged from the garbage can of a five-time basketball champion.
You slip your arms through a short-sleeved silk shirt with green dyes and swirling patterns...a shirt once worn by a powerful drug lord. You button your gangster shirt up with trembling fingers, taking care to cover up the tigers, towers and lines of scripture inked across your slender brown chest.
You go to the mirror over your dress, running a hand through your short, black hair until the worst of your cowlicks are dealt with.
Then, and only then, do you grab your porkpie hat and place it on top of your head.
The moment that brim touch your scalp, a connection is made.
For too long, I have been forced to watch and observe in suffocating silence...but now, finally, I can tell you what I think…
“I’ve told you before, Demon,” you say, speaking to the empty air. “Call me Diesel. Full name’s a bit of a mouthful, you know?”
For shame, Dieselnoi Worawoot. An innocent man’s life is in danger outside...and instead of rushing to his rescue, you spend your time primping and preening and donning fancy shirts?
“First impressions are important!“ you insist, walking across your apartment to the door. “And this shirt’s a good luck charm!”
Indeed. You wouldn’t want to go outside without your lucky shirt, after all: why, a monster might recognize your father’s Sak Yant tattoos, and what they signify!
“We’re in a bit of a time crunch,” you tell me, turning and crouching in front of your apartment door like a runner at their starting line. “Why don’t you cut to the chase and say what you want to say?”
I’m merely calling attention to your pathetic, loathsome hypocrisy, Dieselnoi! You style yourself as a good man, a crime-solver and seeker of truth...but in the end, you are a vain, craven creature: afraid of looking bad in front of others and too scared to face the ghosts of his past!
You purse your lips and make a thoughtful sucking sound.
“Huh,” you say. “Good point. I’ll have to work on that. Thanks for the advice, buddy!”
I just called your reasons for living a lie, Dieselnoi! I brought your deepest, darkest fears to light!
“Exactly!” You say, voice cheerful. “And now that you’ve pointed my flaws out, I can work to surpass them! You’re the best!”
How dare you say that, Dieselnoi! Take your words back this instant…!
You sprint across your cramped apartment and throw yourself out the window face-first.
You plummet towards the ground below, the red-grey cobblestone bricks rushing up to give your face a fatal kiss.
“Striboga,” you whisper, clicking the heels of your sandals together.
A magic spell flows from your mind, a creeping chill that seeps down your spine, through your legs and into your footwear.
Winds swirls around your feet, a leaf-stirring cyclone that grabs your body in midair and slows your fall from a plummet to a gentle descent.
You land as softly as a leaf on a field of grass. You click the heels of your sneakers together, drawing the Striboga spell back into the depths of your mind.
The Ogre’s back is turned. You see the Faerie creature take up the white-haired man’s cane again and give it a few practice swings. You see him look down at the white-haired man, his shoulders shaking with what you can only assume is excitement or anger.
You pluck the Demon-Sealing Hat from your scalp and reach into its shadowed inner lining. Your arm goes in past the elbow, grasping around in the darkened abyss for the weapon you stored there…
(I see your arm and restrain the urge to take a bite out of it. No I tell myself. Patience. Soon the time for my vengeance will be right….)
The bronze sword you pull from your hat is long and tarnished, the blade-length engraved with ancient, worm-like seal characters. This sword, this Warring States-era Jian, should be resting on soft velvet cushions in a well-lit museum display. To wield it in battle would be a crime against archaeology…
...and that is what makes your blade perfect for your purposes. The oldest relics, after all, hold the greatest magic.
You raise the sword over your head, spells springing to your lips:
Magic drips from your fingers, flowing like ink into the swirls of your ancient blade.
The jian hums in your hand like an electric razor, sparks and glyphs and currents of wind flow get along the jagged edge.
You see the whisker-like hairs on the Ogre’s neck rise up as he senses the weaves of magic you’ve poured into your blade.
You could still ambush the Faerie from behind, you think. A quick-strike with all your spells channel into his flesh…
...or you could pretend to be a wicked sorcerer, interested in purchasing the white-haired man as a magical guinea pig. True, the Ogre might bargain a bitter price out of your for the white-haired man, but you also wouldn’t have to worry about getting hurt…
A young, plaintive voice echoes across the street. You and the Ogre both twitch and turn your heads.
The source of the voice is a young girl with curly hair, round cheeks and grey eyes that stare at the Ogre with an innocent anger. She wears a tan windbreaker over an old-fashioned polka-dot dress, and holds the leash of a pit bull with spotted-white fur.
“Hey, you! Big guy!” The girl brandishes her pink-cased phone at the Ogre like a magic wand or protective talisman. “Leave that grandpa alone, or I’ll call the cops!”
The Ogre’s jaw hangs slack in pure astonishment. He looks at the white-haired man at his feet, then back at the little girl. “Art thou serious, pipsqueak?” He asks her at last.
The girl’s olive cheeks flush. “I’m calling the cops right now!” She shouts, thumb tapping three keys on her phone. “You’d better scoot if you know what’s good for you...!”
The girl’s phone beeps three times, the dull crooning dial-tone of a dead line.
“...H-huh?” The girls stammers, a look of confusion and betrayal crossing her face.
The Ogre lets out a soft, rumbling chuckle. “Foolish filly,” he says to the girl. “Strain thine eyes. Thinkest thou this place has cops?”
You see the girl’s eyes flicker back and forth, locking onto the strange uncanny features of the cityscape you call home:
The wrought-iron gas lamps lining the street, burning with arcane purple flame.
The murders of crows perched atop trees and cell towers, gigantic birds who wear tiny, dapper top hats.
The spray-painted mural behind you, with illustrated firefighters and construction workers that move, that pound on the brick wall, that silently scream to be let out...
You see the girl tremble in fear, her lower lip quivering as she struggles to keep her calm.
“Dost thou understand now?” The Ogre jeers, spreading his arms wide and taking a step forward. “Thou art in Cryptatown, the City of Claws, the Hood of Howls.”
The pit-bull lets out a low growl of warning, the flaps of their jowls peeling away ever so slightly. They step forward, placing themselves between the Ogre and the girl.
“This town’s chock full of Big Bad Wolves, girl,” the Ogre says. He kicks the white-haired man in the ribs, raising another grunt of weary pain from the poor bastard. “And the kind old grandmas are past their sell-date.” He makes a flicking, dismissing gesture with his long-nailed fingers: “Scoot on back where thou came from, Little Red: there is nothing for thee here.”
“...I,” The girl’s voice quivers for a moment. “I won’t let you hurt him anymore.” Her thumb flicks over her thumb screen, making numerous swiping and tapping motions. “It wouldn’t be right.”
Shit, you think. Shit, shit, shit!
You take a step out of the shadows, rearing your bronze sword back to throw…
The echo of loud, slapping footsteps. Another voice, the loud deep cry of a grown woman:
“Fortuna! Fortuna, where are you?”
A Dame runs around the street corner, her large, leather purse slapping against her side as she sprints. Her long, curly locks bounce up and down with every step she…
Mother, you realize, the thought striking you like a thunderbolt.
Their hair, their complexion, the dulcet tone of their voices...the girl’s practically a miniature version of the Dame currently rushing towards her side.
It’s the eyes that are different, you realize. The girl (Fausta?) has eye that shimmer like a clear lake, open and honest.
The Dame’s eyes, on the other hand...their hue makes you think of storm clouds.
“Fortuna!” The Dame says, sobbing with relief as she takes her daughter’s hand. “Don’t go wandering off like that…”
The Dame catches sight of the tall grey Ogre with the acid-washed jeans and the bloodied cane in his hand.
“Fortuna,” she says to her daughter, voice eerily tranquil. “Get behind me. We’re leaving right now.”
“But he’s hurting that old man!” Fausta says, squirming in vain as her mother pulls her back by the arm.
“It’s not our business,” the Dame says, her storm cloud eyes locked onto the smugly smiling Ogre. “We need to fall back and find ourselves a new safe-house…”
“No!” Fortuna cries out, digging in her heels against the cobblestones of the street. “He’ll die if we leave him!”
The Dame hesitates for just a moment. “Perhaps,” she admits. “But we can’t afford any more entanglements, sweetie. There’s just too much at stake…”
“Listen to thine mother, pipsqueak,” the Ogre said, twirling his stolen cane around in his hands. “Stay out of mine business, lest I pump a cap in you’re your asses!”
The Dame goes very, very still.
The Pit Bull lets out a single, snarling bark.
“What did you just say?” The Dame lets go of Fortuna’s hand and takes a step forward. “Did you just threaten my little girl?”
Fortuna’s eyes widen with a sudden realization. She drops her phone in her pocket and clamps her hands over her ears.
The Ogre sneers at the Dame: “Did I stutter––?”
The Dame draws a long-barreled pistol from her purse and squeezes the trigger.
The Ogre’s kneecap explodes into wet chunks.
“No,” the Dame says, sulfur-scent smoke pouring from the barrel of her rune-engraved gun. “No, you did not.”
The Ogre screams and topples forward. As he does, he raises a curled claw and sings a one-note song.
A sword made of green flame sears to life within his hand: long, cross-guarded, tongues of fire sharp as razors. The Ogre hops forward on his single good leg, swinging his faerie-fire sword to cleave through the head of the Dame who hurt him.
You rear back and throw your sword. “It’s dangerous to go alone…” you whisper to yourself as you hurl your blade like a boomerang.
Your jian spins through the air like a boomerang. It passes through the Ogre’s flame sword, azure light flashing as your Sundering enchantment discharges with violent force.
What happens when the magic forcing several kilograms of flame into the shape of a sword gets dispelled?
Simply put, the fire does what fire does best.
The Ogre howls as green flames pour over his hand, sizzling flesh and hair.
The Dame pushes her daughter out of the way. The Ogre eats concrete. The Dame holds her gun out in a shooter’s stance and fires again, punching holes in the Ogre’s ribs, and spine.
The Ogre rolls onto his back, snuffing out his burning hand underneath his acid-washed jeans.
“Human!” He growls. “Arse-face! I’ll crack your bones—!”
The pit bull breaks free from Fausta’s grip, runs forward, and sinks his jaws into the Ogre’s ankle.
The Ogre screams and dissolves, his flesh peeling apart into a cloud of autumn leaves. These crimson leaves swirl away like a school of fish and vanish around the street corner.
You raise your hand. Your sword swims through the air, the hilt settling back in your palm like a well-trained hawk.
“…take this,” you say more loudly.
The Dame exhales hoarsely and lowers her pistol. Her eyes lock onto you.
The Dame clenches her teeth and gives you a nod.
Fortuna lowers her hands from her ears. “Who’s that guy?” she says, catching sight of your at last.
“An excellent question, Sweetie.” The Dame says to Fortuna. “Who are you?” she asks you, flicking her pistol’s safety on and sliding it back into her purse.
You sheath your magic sword and run a finger along the porkpie hat’s brim.
“The name’s Diesel, ma’am,” you say in your best gumshoe voice. “Dieselnoi Worawoot, at your service…”
“Hold that thought,” The Dame says, walking right past you and crouching by the white-haired man. “Are you all right, sir?” She asks.
You give yourself a mental kick. Of course! The white-haired man! The mugging victim you’d completely forgotten in your attempt to be suave!
The Dame, who hasn’t forgotten basic ethics, unzips her jacket and slips it under the white-haired man’s head. “Can you hear me, sir?” she whispers. “We’re going to get you help. What’s your name?”
The white-haired man’s closed eyes flutter. “Lynn…” he wheezes. "Felix...Lynn."
“I have an EMT kit upstairs,” you tell the Dame, trying not to wince at the sight of the old man’s bruises. Unflappable, you tell yourself. Always unflappable.
The Dame’s eyes lock onto yours. “Then go get it!”
You rush back to your building’s door. You grasp the round doorknob. It clicks and refuses to turn. You reach for your apartment keys.
The keys you didn’t grab when you jumped out the window.
You look up at your open windowsill, three stories up from the ground floor, distant from any convenient buttress or drainage pipe to climb.
No time. No time to kick yourself or buzz the landlord to get the door open.
You draw your sword. “Gremlina,” you whisper, coating your blade with a sundering spell. You tap the doorknob with your sword’s tip.
The doorknob splits into its component parts, plates, screws, and lock clattering onto the unwelcome mat.
One act of forced entry later, you rush back out, EMT bag in your hand, oxygen cylinder clattering as you drag it down the steps.
Fortuna presses two tiny fingers against Mr. Lynn’s neck, checking his pulse for her mother. Their pit bull contributes by licking the Mr. Lynn’s hand.
Fortuna looks up as you bring your EMT kit over. “Uh,” the little girl says meekly. “Hi.”
“Hi,” you say back, pulling an oxygen mask from your kit and hooking it to the cylinder.
“So,” the Dame says to you, checking Mr. Lynn’s pupils. “There’s no cops in this place?”
“A few vigilantes,” you tell her. “A handful of bodyguards, thugs, and cronies. ” You hesitate. “And private eyes.”
You slip the oxygen mask over the Mr. Lynn’s face and loosen a valve. Gas hisses: his breathing steadies.
“Let me guess,” the Dame says, arching an eyebrow. “You’re one of those P.I.s?”
“…or a sort,” you say evasively. You give her a gallant smile and touch the brim of your hat. “I’ve got the looks for it, wouldn’t you say?”
The Dame looks skeptical: “You’re sure they’re aren’t any cops?”
“Not a chance,” you say with a shiver. “The Alder vaporizes anyone who tries enforcing codes of law.”
. “…Okay,” the Dame says, frowning thoughtfully. “Okay. We need to get this man to the nearest hospital.”
“There’s no official hospital here,” you explain, pursing your lips in thought. “Well, the Anarchists do run a free clinic.”
“The Anarchists,” the Dame repeats, her tone skeptical.
You unzip your lumpy medic bag. The Dame paws through it, tearing open foil packages to extract the bandages and splints within,
“I’m not trying to con you,” you tell her. “Ms…?”
“Fausta,” she clarifies as she fishes out gauze. “Fausta Orobas.”
“Ms. Orobas,” you echo, waving your hand around at the surrounding street. “Outside, Anarchists are balaclava-wearing rioters with a molotov cocktail in one hand and a vegan smoothie in the other, yeah?”
“Yes…?” Fausta replies cautiously.
You spread your hands, gesturing at everything in the street—the apartment buildings with door-frames carved into the shape of fanged jaws, the storefronts with security runes on the windows, the trees and alleys from where glittering eyes keep watch.
“In here,” you tell them, “they’re practically a pillar of the community.”
Fausta tilts her head to the side. “Huh,” she says at last. “I don’t know what I was expecting to find here…but it definitively wasn’t this.”
So she didn’t just stumble in here by accident. But why, you wonder, would a Dame like this go looking for Cryptatown––with her little girl in tow, no less...?
Mr. Lynn’s coughs hoarsely beneath you. His eyes snap open. “Philip…” he wheezes, trying to rise. “Philip!”
“Sir,” Fausta says, resting a hand on Mr. Lynn’s shoulder. “Don’t move. You’ve got at least three fractures!”
Mr. Lynn seizes Fausta’s wrist. “Save him,” he pleads. “Save my son.”
Your blood runs cold. The Ogre must have taken his son, you realize. And when he tried to object…
“You need treatment now, sir,” Fausta tells him. Her expression turns hard as iron: “But I promise we’ll find the Ogre that took your son.” You see her large, pearly-white teeth clench. “He won’t get away with this,” she growls.
“No!” Mr. Lynn blurts out, struggling against Fausta’s hand.
Little Fortuna flinches back, wrapping her arms around her pit bull’s neck for comfort.
Mr. Lynn shakes his head violently. “Don’t,” he moans. “Don’t hurt him. He’s…he’s just confused.”
You look down at the white-haired man with disbelief and growing sense of anger.
“Don’t hurt the Ogre?” you exclaim. “I’m all for turning the other cheek, but c’mon, man—he took your son!”
“No,” Mr. Lynn says, shaking his head again.
Fausta’s face grows pale. Fortuna looks confused. The pit-bull whimpers and strains at their leash.
“Wait,” you say, pinching your nose. “I’m completely lost. Did the Ogre kidnap Philip or not?”
You still don’t understand
Honestly. Fausta understands it. The child understands it. Even the dog figured it out.
Do they have to spell it out for you?
Do I have to spell it out for you, Ruesi?
Now you get it. Now you finally see.
Was it the spark of idiocy that kept you blind, Diesel?
(Or memories of betrayal you wanted to forget…?)
“The Ogre is your son,” you say to Mr. Lynn. “He’s Philip.”
The white-haired man shivers. “He’s a good boy,” he repeats desperately. “He’s just in a bad place.”