The Oddmire, Book 3: Deepest, Darkest


By William Ritter

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The third adventure in the beloved fantasy series full of folklore and mayhem, from the creator of Jackaby.
Brothers Cole and Tinn are determined to solve a mystery almost as old as they are: What happened to their long-missing father?
Joseph Burton vanished without a trace, leaving the babies’ mother to raise them—one human, one a goblin changeling—alone. Some say Joseph abandoned his family, others that he met foul play looking for a way to get rid of the changeling imposter. Cole is determined to learn his father’s true fate, so he and Tinn set out on a dangerous quest to the deepest, most deadly limits of the Oddmire—with the help of Evie, expert on the creatures of the Wild Wood, and Fable, the indomitable half human, half fairy.

Meanwhile a shudder runs through the forest. Increasingly powerful earthquakes shake the land, sinkholes form, and the spriggans, trolls, and other creatures along their path speak of an ancient evil on the rise . . .

In the third book of the Oddmire series, New York Times bestselling author William Ritter takes readers on an unforgettable journey of family, fate, and a dangerous, magical forest.



“I'm going down,” said Cole.

“Watch your step,” Tinn whispered.

The shaft was pitch-black and cold, and even the air felt heavy with the weight of the whole world pressing down on the twins. The yellow halo from the lantern bounced and bobbed as Cole eased himself down the stony slope, its light fading away a hundred feet or so into the fathomless dark. He held out a hand to brush the walls of the tunnel as he pressed forward. His feet shuffled as he slid down the path.

“It levels out again down here,” he called up once he had found his footing. “Ow!”

“What happened? Are you okay?” Tinn skidded down after his brother. The crunch of his shoes and the skittering of loose pebbles resonated like an avalanche as they echoed all around him.

“I'm fine.” Cole rubbed his head. “Watch the ceiling. It's low in here.”

Tinn found his footing and put a hand on his brother's shoulder as they inched farther into the gloom. The flickering light danced across the broken handle of a pickax, abandoned against the tunnel wall. “That could have been his,” whispered Cole. “Who knows how long this tunnel has been closed. He might have been the last person in here. We could be walking where he walked.”

Tinn said nothing. He knew who Cole was talking about. It was all Cole wanted to talk about lately. Their father was more of a legend to the boys than a real person.

Joseph Burton had vanished nearly thirteen years earlier, when the twins were only babies. Popular rumor around Endsborough was that the man had run away because he knew one of his boys was a goblin in disguise. Old Jim had let slip that the last time they spoke, all those years ago, Joseph had been looking for a way to get rid of the imposter—to get rid of the changeling. Tinn's throat tightened. To get rid of him.

Tinn had known the story his whole life, but he had only known he was the changeling for the past year. Knowing the truth cast a long shadow over Tinn's memories, and it twisted the thought of reuniting with the long-lost Joseph Burton into a complicated ball of feelings in his chest.

“I don't know if we should keep going,” said Tinn. “They close tunnels like these for a reason.”

“Just a little farther,” said Cole.

“We'll be in huge trouble if Mom finds out we snuck down here.”

“Who's gonna tell?” Cole answered. “If there's anybody working in the mines today, they're definitely not working in this one.”

“Shh.” Tinn put a finger to his lips. “You hear that?”

They both fell silent.

“Hear what?” whispered Cole.

Tinn closed his eyes, straining his ears for a few more seconds. “Nothing, I guess,” he said at length. “I thought I heard footsteps or something tapping.”

Cole shrugged. “It's called Echo Point for a reason.”

He started forward again, watching his step and hunching low to avoid stalactites and rocky outcrops. Tinn followed suit.

“What if it's a knocker?” Tinn whispered. “We should really head back.”

“What's a knocker?” asked Cole, still pressing forward.

“A Tommyknocker,” said Tinn. “Evie has a whole page about them in her journal of creatures. She says all the miners know about knockers. They're spirits or ghosts who dress up like miners and hide in mines to cause trouble. Or sometimes they're nice, I think.”

“Ow!” Cole lurched to a stop and rubbed his forehead with one hand. “Stupid tunnel.”

“They say if you hear Tommy banging around in the caves ahead, there's going to be a collapse.”

“That's just a superstition,” said Cole. “She probably heard it from her uncle Jim.”

“We heard about the Witch of the Wood from Old Jim, too,” Tinn reminded him, “and we all thought she was just a superstition right up until we met her.”

“That's different,” said Cole.

“It's creepy down here. Let's go meet Evie and Fable like we said we were gonna.”

“Just a little farther.”

Tinn rubbed the back of his neck, but he kept up. “Kull told me a goblin legend about a group of explorers who dug too deep into the earth once,” he said. “They got greedy looking for gold and gems and cut right into the heart of some sacred mountain. Instead of finding treasure, they unleashed a monster.”

“You told me that one already,” said Cole.

“No I didn't. I just learned it last week. You're thinking about the goblins who accidentally woke up a rock giant.”

“Sorry. I can't keep it all in my head. You tell me a lot of goblin stuff.”

“Actually, there's one more goblin thing I've been wanting to talk to you about—” Tinn began.

“Listen,” said Cole, cutting him off. “I'm glad you like the stories. They're fun and all, but they're just not my thing. They're yours. I want to focus on finding Dad right now.”

“Oh,” said Tinn. “That's fine. I just thought you wanted me to tell you stuff I learn in lessons. I think it's neat that we get to know about this whole other world that we're a part of.”

You're a part of it,” said Cole. “Not me. The goblins have made that very clear. I can't set foot in the horde without getting a spear pointed at my nose. Watch your step, there's a dip there.”

“You're still a part of it. That's just the old-fashioned goblins, and they'll come around eventually. Kull and Chief Nudd aren't like that.”

Cole chuckled. “Kull would probably be just as happy to make a stew out of me if he didn't know it would make you mad.”

“Kull's not like that. He looked out for us from the shadows—both of us—for our whole lives.”

“Sure, that's fair. It's super creepy, but it's fair. C'mon. I know Kull cares about you, and he's basically like your goblin dad. Nobody's taking that away—but our real dad is still out there.”

“Kull is real,” said Tinn. “He's more real than a stupid picture on a fireplace.”

Cole glanced back over his shoulder with a scowl. “I don't get it. We spent all these years wondering what happened to him, and now that we finally might have a chance to find our actual dad, why are you acting all weird?”

“Because he's not my actual dad!” Tinn hadn't meant to raise his voice. He hadn't meant to say it out loud at all, but he had been thinking it for weeks, and now he found it tumbling out of his mouth before he could stop it.

“Oh, shut up.” Cole rolled his eyes and turned to trudge deeper into the tunnel. “Of course he's your dad. Just because you came from somewhere else—you should know better than anyone that family isn't just about blood.”

“It's not about blood. You don't get it. Maybe he was your dad before he left, and maybe he loved you and cared about you—but the only relationship that man ever had with me was trying to figure out how to get rid of me.”

“That's not—” Cole began.

“It's true.” Tinn stopped walking, and after a few paces, Cole turned to look at him. “I'll always be your brother—and I'm not backing out of finding him. I want to help you see your dad again, I really do. But when we do . . . I just . . . I just don't know where I'm gonna fit into it.”

“With me. With us. A part of it. Like always. Nothing has to change.”

Tinn sighed. “Right,” he said, unconvincingly.

“Looks like we'll be heading back after all.” Cole held the lantern up. The tunnel's ceiling slanted gradually downward for about ten more feet and then ended abruptly when it met a wall of craggy rocks. “Another dead end.”

“Good,” said Tinn. “Let's go home.”

“Wait. Hold on just a second.” Cole lowered the lantern. He tapped the floor ahead of him with his boot. It clunked.

“Boards?” said Tinn.

Cole looked up, and the lamplight glinted wild in his eyes. “They're covering a gap in the rocks. I can feel air, too,” he said. “I bet there's another shaft or a cavern or something right below us.”

Tinn knelt next to him and brushed dust from the ancient wood.

“It's hard to get a good angle,” said Cole. He clambered out onto the boards, turning the lantern this way and that. He hunkered down on his hands and knees, prying at the beams.

“Be quiet a second,” said Tinn. “There it is again! I think it's getting louder. You can't hear that?”

Cole raised his head. “I don't hear anyth—”

But a noise cut him off. It was a creaking, groaning sound that tapered off into tapping, like the settling of an old house on a cold night. It was impossible to gauge where it came from—the noise echoed through the narrow tunnel, chasing and doubling over itself until it gradually faded away.

Tinn didn't breathe for several seconds. “Ghost?” he whispered.

“That's no ghost,” said Cole at last. “That's just the sound old wood makes when it's straining.”

Tinn glanced down. “You mean like old wooden planks with a couple of kids climbing all over them?”

Cole hesitated. He shifted his weight. The timbers beneath his knees groaned loudly. He gulped. “Sorta like that.”

And then there was a crack.

“Move!” yelled Tinn. “Get off it!”

The platform splintered.

The board under Cole's right knee went first, and as he tried to catch himself, the one under his left snapped, too. His legs kicked as they found themselves suddenly hanging over empty air.

Cole dropped the lantern, clutching with both hands for a hold that wouldn't give way. The light clattered against the crumbling wood and then slid down through a crack into heavy darkness. It fell for a long time before it struck the ground with the distant crunch of breaking glass. The flare of the oil catching fire all at once painted the shaft in golden light, illuminating Cole's terrified face from below.

“I'm slipping!” Cole gasped.

Tinn planted his feet at the edge of the gap and grabbed Cole's hand just as the whole platform sagged. Cole clung to his brother with both hands as bits of broken boards clattered against the side of the shaft, tumbling twenty, fifty, a hundred feet down to land with distant bangs against the rocky floor.

Cole's fingers tightened. “Don't let go!” he cried.

Tinn could feel himself losing the tug-of-war as, against his desperate efforts to fight it, his brother's weight tipped him slowly forward.

Tinn's stomach felt strange. Time slowed. The world seemed clearer somehow, as if light were flooding the darkness of the tunnel around them. And then, just as Tinn felt his weight shift past the final tipping point—moments before he and his brother plummeted down the rocky shaft—a hand grabbed his shirt collar from behind and jerked him back to solid ground.

He felt his brother's hand ripped away, but the dusty figure caught Cole's arm as well. With another heave, they were safely free of the pit, panting and rubbing their bruises.

The boys turned their eyes to their rescuer. He wore faded coveralls and a dust-brown coat. On his head was clipped a lantern, which swiveled from one boy to the other. They squinted into the bright light.

“Thank you for saving us,” panted Tinn.

“Dang,” the figure grunted. “You look just like him.” His voice was deep and dry.

“Sir?” said Cole.

“Reckless like him, too,” the man said.

“We look like who?” asked Cole.

“Like the last fool I had to pull outta this mine shaft. Yer old man, if I'm not very much mistaken.”

The figure tipped his helmet up so that the light flooded the ceiling instead of their eyes, and at last the boys could see the face of their savior. Peppery stubble swept the man's chin and hard wrinkles creased his forehead, but his eyes were soft.

“You are Joseph Burton's boys, I presume?” the man said.

Cole's breath caught in his throat. “You knew our dad?” he managed.

The man nodded solemnly. “Might be the last person ever saw him alive, sad to say.”

Cole's mouth opened, but no words came out.

The tunnel was quiet except for the muffled sputtering of the lamp and the faint crackle of flames in the distance. The fires below had begun to consume the fallen boards, and in the faint orange glow, shadows fluttered like phantoms on the ceiling above the hole.

“Could we maybe talk somewhere else?” suggested Tinn. “Somewhere a little less horrifying and life-threatening?”


Fable swung gently back and forth in a hammock of vines. It was a good day. Evie Warner had finally gotten permission to spend an afternoon exploring the Wild Wood, and Fable had been doing her best to show Evie everything before it was time for her to go home. Evie hung on Fable's every word, writing furiously in her notebook with a fancy new fountain pen her mother had sent her from the city.

Already the two of them had skipped across the salamander flats and rustled brownie thistles, and Fable had told Evie which of the shiny violet berries were tasty snacks and which ones made you barf sparkles. Evie could not have wished for a better guide. Fable had been raised in this forest. Her mother was the infamous Queen of the Deep Dark and resident Witch of the Wild Wood—and the forest had begun to accept Fable as the heir to that magical mantle. Fable could have crossed every hill and valley of the Wild Wood with her eyes closed.

“Do you think we'll see any trolls today?” Evie asked. “Or nymphs? Cole told me you know one who can tell the future.”

“Kallra? She's more of a water spirit,” said Fable. “And mostly she just swims around and turns into frogs and stuff.”

“Is that a spriggan?” Evie peeked into the underbrush. “Hello, there!”

“It's probably not a spriggan,” said Fable. “You almost never see spriggans unless they want to be seen. I don't think anybody's spotted them around since the big battle at the Grandmother Tree.”

“We have been attending to our own concerns,” rasped a voice from the bushes.

Fable nearly tumbled out of the hammock. “Whoa. You are a spriggan.”

“We are,” said the voice. The figure who emerged from the brush barely came up to Evie's ankle, and its whole body was armored in something that looked like rough tree bark with a dusting of lichen. The girls both knew well enough not to let its appearance deceive them—spriggans were one of the most notoriously dangerous factions in the whole forest. “And you are correct. You are seeing us now because we wish to be seen. Scouts informed us of your location in the wood, and we were sent directly from the Oddmire Burrow to request an audience.”

“Oh, jeez,” said Fable. “I know a lot of forest folk have been calling me Little Queen, but my mom's still the one you want to talk to about official stuff.”

“We do not wish to speak to your mother. We do not wish to speak to you, either,” rasped the spriggan. “But you may remain, if you like, while we discuss matters with the human emissary.”

Fable turned to Evie.

Evie's eyes widened. “Me?”

“You were the first to broker peace on behalf of your people,” the spriggan said. “When the forest folk and humans clashed, you demonstrated courage on the battlefield and aided our nest in the retrieval of irreplaceable, sacred artifacts—all in spite of great disrespect shown to you by our kind.”

“You did try to kill her,” Fable added, helpfully.

“As I said—disrespect,” answered the spriggan.

“I was just trying to put things right,” said Evie. “I'm nobody special. I'm not an emissary.”

“By the traditions of the nest—you are,” said the spriggan. “The merits of your deeds have been weighed and considered. A ruling has been made. We are most displeased to find ourselves indebted to you. This is unacceptable. You are therefore to receive a requital immediately.”

“I . . . don't even know what that is,” said Evie.

“I think you're getting a reward,” said Fable. “How come I didn't get a reward? I'm the one who caught the bad guy.”

“The merits of your deeds were measured and found . . . balanced.” The spriggan glared at Fable. “Barely. The nest does not currently wish you harm—but we have not forgotten the pudding incident at the Western Burrow.”

“Pssh. Fine.” Fable crossed her arms. “So what does Evie get?”

“I really don't need any reward,” said Evie.

“You refuse our offering?” the spriggan said. “Such a blunt discourtesy will be met as a declaration of contempt and treated as an act of war.”

“No, no! I would very much like to accept your gift.”


The spriggan chirruped and made a motion with one hand, and three more spriggans materialized from the bushes. The one in the middle was holding a bottle no bigger than one of Evie's fingernails. Within it swirled a purple liquid.

“What is it?” asked Evie.

“It has been observed,” said the spriggan, “that the emissary wishes to learn about the many creatures who dwell in the Wild Wood. It has also been observed that, unlike most humans, she is possessed of a rare integrity to do so without intent to do harm.”

“Yeah,” said Evie. “That's true.”

“We also value knowledge. We watch. We learn. We speak the tongues of over a thousand beings. On the rare occasion when we encounter a beast with whom we cannot communicate, we employ the Elixir of Melampus. One drop on the tongue grants the drinker the temporary ability to use and understand the language of any sentient being or savage beast. It will not give you power over them—you will not command them to follow your will—it will merely grant you a few moments of communication so that you might learn from each other.”

“Y-you're giving me . . . my very own magic ability to talk to animals?” Evie stammered. “You mean it? For real?”

“You are being allotted a single draft—enough to employ its power one time and one time only. In my lifetime, the Elixir of Melampus has never been shared outside the nest. Do not take this offering for granted.”

“I won't! I promise! I'll keep it super safe.”

Satisfied, the spriggan nodded, and the other three trotted forward and held up the tiny bottle. Evie took the elixir as if it were a precious snowflake that might melt away at any moment.

“Thank you,” she whispered, but by the time she looked up, the spriggans had already vanished into the trees.

“Well, that's neat!” said Fable, coming to peek at the bottle. “Too bad it's just one dose.”

Evie looked like she might cry. “Is it real, do you think? It's real magic?”

“Duh. Spriggans can be jerks, but they never lie,” said Fable. “What do you think you'll use it on? I'd ask a dog why they like to sleep with their noses in their butts.”

Evie just stared at the swirling purple liquid. “I . . . I don't know. I'll have to save it. It has to be for something really special. What does it feel like?” She tore her eyes off of the bottle long enough to turn them, sparkling with wonder, to Fable. “When you do magic?”

“What kind of magic?” Fable said.

“Any magic. Do different magics feel different? I bet it feels awesome.”

“I guess.” Fable had never given it much thought. She had been doing magic of one sort or another her whole life. Her mother was the Witch of the Wood, so magic lessons had been delivered with no more pomp than math or reading. “I don't really think about how magic feels. I just do it.” She considered for a moment. “Slappy sparks feels kinda hot. Oh, and when I compel vines I get a sort of lifty-uppy feeling behind my ears.”

“That's so neat.”

“Isn't it?” Fable smiled broadly and swung a little wider in her vine hammock. It was a good vine hammock. Probably her best one yet.

“Can you speak any other languages?” said Evie. “Like Pixie or Gnomish or anything?”

“Just the common tongue, but everyone speaks a little of that,” said Fable. “Plus I can do people words. And bear. Being able to understand any animal would be pretty handy, though. You've got yourself an honest-to-goodness magic power that even I can't do. There was a while when my mama tried teaching me how to say I'm sorry in as many dialects as possible, but it never seemed to stick. Gnomes mostly talk human words anyway, so they're easy.”

“Are they good guys?”

“The gnomes?”

“Yeah. Uncle Jim says gnomes are mischievous and like to cause trouble—but he says that about pretty much everything that lives in the Wild Wood. And about most kids. And a few adults. Mrs. Grouse says gnomes are good, actually. She says they do things for people sometimes, like fixing fences and stuff.”

“I don't know what all gnomes are like—but I've met Bram Hobblebrooke a buncha times. He's a gnome. He gave my mom rare flowers once.”

“That's sweet.”

“Yeah. They were poison flowers.”

“Wait. What?”

“Poison flowers. You know. The kind that moms like to smoosh up and keep in little black jars. So Mr. Hobblebrooke is okay, I guess. If you were drowning in the mire he probably wouldn't jump in to save you, but he wouldn't throw rocks at you either. He might poke a stick at you.”

“To rescue you?” Evie asked. “Or just to poke you?”

“Definitely one of those reasons,” said Fable. She shrugged. “Gnomes do get treated kinda crummy sometimes by the other forest folk. I don't know why.”

“Maybe because they're small?” suggested Evie. At twelve years old, Evie was still just under four feet tall, even when she wore her thickest boots and stood up her straightest. She knew better than most how many people liked to pick on someone just for being little.

“Maybe,” said Fable. “But there's lots of forest folk much smaller than gnomes. Sometimes I think folks just pick on other folks because they want to feel like they're better than somebody.”

“Being a worse person is a pretty stupid way to make yourself feel like you're a better person,” said Evie.

The ground beneath Evie's feet suddenly shuddered, and a cloud of finches took flight from the bushes behind her. Fable sat up as her hammock rocked. Evie's lips moved silently as she counted the seconds. Slowly, the rumbling eased and died away.

“Almost thirty seconds that time,” Evie said when the earth was still again.

Fable scowled. “Mama says not to worry about the quakes,” she said.

A frightened screech pierced the calm of the forest. Evie spun around, and Fable flipped out of her hammock and landed beside her in a tense crouch.

“What is that?” Evie whispered, but Fable was already racing into the brush toward the source of the noise.

The Wild Wood bent to Fable's will as she ran, branches bending out of the way and knotty roots flattening to form an even path. Evie took a deep breath and hurried after her. She kept up as best she could, but found the forest much less hospitable to her.

When she emerged from a patch of ferns into a slim clearing, Evie froze. The landscape was all wrong. A broad maple had tipped nearly sideways ahead of her and was slipping by slow degrees into a great gaping hole in the forest floor. Evie blinked. A thick clump of grassy sod broke free and tumbled into a widening gap. All around it, the earth sloped down toward the rift, like the dip in a sink before the drain. Evie took an involuntary step backward as she caught her breath.

Fable stood at the edge of the sinkhole. Her fists were clenched and her arms were shaking with effort. Evie watched in awe as, ever so slowly, the maple began to right itself. One thick, curly root rose up out of the chasm, and there—clinging to it for dear life—was a terrified opossum. The creature squealed pitifully as it slipped.

Fable only had one chance to get the timing right. She released her mental hold on the tree and put all of her energy into whipping a bright green vine across the gap. She could do this. She could catch the terrified creature out of the air and pull it back to safety. The opossum fell. The vine whipped.

Fable missed.

The opossum's squeal of fear hit Fable's stomach like a lump of ice. And then, abruptly, the squeal became a squeak of surprise. The ground beneath Fable slithered as every plant around the gaping hole came to life.


  • “In a lovely, successful inversion of expectation, the boys and their friends bring protective adult family along on their dangerous adventure . . . Cinematic adventure and hope amid darkness, flavored with silliness: a winner.”
    Kirkus Reviews, starred review

    “Populated by a variety of folkloric beings such as spriggans, elves, nymphs, goblins, kobbolds, and fairies, along with a few humans, Ritter’s fantasy offers plenty of playful interest as a world of its own. Black-and-white spot illustrations enhance the immersive qualities of setting and action.”
    The Horn Book Magazine

    Praise for The Oddmire, Book 2: The Unready Queen

    "The Oddmire series' memorable, inspiring characters are full of heart and, combined with the enchanting magic surrounding them, form the strong core of a burgeoning fantasy classic."
    Booklist, starred review

    “In another brilliantly written visit to Oddmire, Ritter returns to an already magical place filled with danger and intrigue, and adds a new chapter to an outstanding series. VERDICT Those who loved book one will adore book two. A wonderful addition to the series and to young fantasy collections.”
    School Library Journal, starred review

    "Ritter deftly executes the all-too-timely theme of racist demagoguery—and profiting from it—in a way that is realistic yet hopeful. He also leavens it with humor: Fable, particularly, is a reliable source of silliness and fart jokes . . . Captivating adventure, magical friendship, and just the right amount of goofiness."
    --Kirkus Reviews


On Sale
Jun 21, 2022
Page Count
320 pages

William Ritter

About the Author

William Ritter is an Oregon educator and the New York Times bestselling author of the Jackaby series, which received glowing trade and national reviews and was named to many state lists. He is the proud father of the two bravest boys in the Wild Wood, and husband to the indomitable Queen of the Deep Dark. Visit him online at and find him on Twitter: @Willothewords.

Learn more about this author