Episode 3 Chapter 24

Theodore tried to stay on his feet.  The wind howled around him, whipping his face with hot sand. He couldn’t see anything through the roar of the sandstorm. It was all he could do to cover his face and move forward.

His head felt like a doll with its stuffing ripped out. He knew he needed to go somewhere, to do something. Something terrible would happen if he didn’t. It hurt to think and to hold onto the thought. He doubled his effort to push through the storm. 

The dust cleared. Theodore looked down and jumped back. He was one step away from walking off the edge of a rooftop. The tiles under his feet gave ever so slightly. He realized, as his vision cleared, that the building he stood on was made of sand. It was the same in the streets below and beyond. A whole city stretched ahead of him, the shape of its skyline and building familiar but made again with fine grit and dust. It was Laien, home, and yet not. At the center was a structure he did not recognize: an impossible tower made of steel that pierced the sky.

Vertigo hit Theodore. It was a long fall to the ground and the roof he walked on was crumbling with each step. He needed to get to somewhere safe. Stepping lightly, he searched for a regulation fire escape to climb down to ground level. Preferably one that wasn’t also made of sand. The wind kicked up again before he could locate one. Theodore turned to look where the storm was coming from. That’s when he saw it.

A face hung in the red sky like a constellation. He knew it. Curling horns and a notched goat ear. The name was on the tip of his tongue. Zither. That was right. A faun that he had wanted to help. What was he doing? His mouth was open, lips pursed as he sucked up air and dust until his cheeks were full. Then, holding it all for just a moment, he blew it out again. A great squall tore through the buildings, scattering them to nothing.

Theodore’s heart jumped in panic. He needed to get down before it reached him. Bounding forward, he looked for anywhere he could jump down to safety. The roof was too weak. His leg punched through, trapping him. Twisting around, he saw the gust ripping towards him. He tried to pull himself free, but it was no use. There was no choice. He slammed his fist into the tile under him and the rooftop crumbled. He fell, slamming into one interior floor after another, each one slowing his fall with a rough grainy slap, until he hit the ground. The storm rushed over his head, burying him in dust.

Theodore had the foresight to hold his breath. He lurched, trying to free himself from the heavy piles of sand he was trapped under. As soon as he wormed his way to the surface, he gasped for air. The storm had subsided.

He got up and took in the path of destruction Zither had created. A line straight through the city to the tower was toppled, but the tower stood the blast. The giant faced glared in the distance. It hovered across the sky at glacial pace and looked for another angle of attack.

Theodore brushed himself off and wracked his brain trying to remember what was going on. This was all wrong. Zither shouldn’t be doing this. Why was the city like this?

He remembered something despite the headache. He needed Oboe’s toy soldier. It was important, like a bright beacon in his mind, but why? Somehow knowing he needed it was enough. He knew where to find it. The toyshop.

There was no point in going to the trolley station. If it was made of sand it wouldn’t be operational. So, Theodore steered himself to try and find the streets he had explored with Oboe. His boots slipped on the even ground as he marched across the loose sand. He stopped to take refuge when he heard Zither readying another windstorm and kept clear of the attack.

When he reached the toyshop he grabbed the doorknob, only for it to fall apart in his hand. Feeling stupid, Theodore kicked an opening through the door and stooped to climb inside.

He remembered Oboe’s excitement over the toy store. All of the model trains and toy puzzles were mirrored here, sculpted in fragile grains. Only one object in the whole shop was made of something else. Theodore picked the little wooden knight off the shelf and everything come back to him in a rush. Zither had betrayed them. This was the duke’s dream. He was trapped inside with him, needing to save him before the news got out of what had happened. Theodore needed to find the duke and make him confront the dream.

Another wind blast shook the city. Theodore ran out of the toy store before it collapsed on top of him. After the sand settled, Theodore looked and saw the iron tower was still standing in the distance. The duke could be anywhere, but that seemed the obvious place to start looking.

Theodore got moving, but almost tripped. There was something clamped tight around his wrist. A shackle, with a taut chain trailing off it. Turning around, Theodore saw there was something on the other end holding his chain.

“Where do you think you’re going, son?”


Episode 3 Chapter 1

Theodore emerged from a fog, rain sluicing down the rooftops and trailing down the bend of the street. The wet and the cold sent a shiver through his skin. He hurried up the steps towards the University, its windows bright beacons in the gloom. Warmth washed over as he pushed open the door and stepped into the glow inside.

“There you are!” Adjunct Kirkwin said as he took his sopping coat. Theodore was surprised to find himself wearing a teacher’s robe underneath, tailored perfect to fit him. “The students are waiting! I was terrified I’d have to stand in for you!”

Theodore checked his pocket watch, saw numbers, and was mortified. “Forgive me,” he said. “The storm kept me.”

“It doesn’t matter, you’re here now!” Kirkwin said, pulling him forward. “Go!”

Theodore’s footsteps echoed off the golden halls of the University. Monuments to the founding Scholars towered over him, each rendered in a pose of inspiration or study. He passed into the library, where endless shelves stretched into the horizon. It was alive with students putting that wisdom to work.

Theodore was awestruck. It was all he could do to keep moving. When did the University become so large? A suspicion that something was wrong crept over him, but then he remembered renovations were completed last week. Satisfied, he pushed the matter out of his thoughts.

The auditorium was packed with young minds eager to learn. Their eyes lit up when they saw Theodore. They whispered about how excited they were to take and how dignified Theodore looked. The rain pattered against the window glass but could not get inside. Theodore took his place at the lectern.

“I apologize for my tardiness,” Theodore said. “I promise to set a better example for you all in the future.”

He uncovered the chalkboard to reveal a diagram of a human, a faun, and a bogeyman. Each body was charted with flowing lines.

“If you completed the assigned reading, you should now be familiar with the difference between raw wild magic, its fossilized form, and the sterilized man-made crystals that we use here on campus. Today we will be discussing how these types of thaumaturgical energy interact with the biology of various forms of life. Would any of you like to start us off by explaining why we need to purify before use?”

Every student in the auditorium raised a hand. Drowning in choices, Theodore selected a young woman in the third aisle to speak. She stood up.

“According to Dr. Thomas Redfetter’s Ruminations of Sorcery and Health, revised volume two, pages three-hundred twenty-one through three-hundred twenty-two, given the human body cannot naturally separate thaumaturgy from ether, ether will erode the circulatory system and create crippling inflammation if exposed in greater volume than the liver can remove in time. Calcification of magic separates ether from thaumaturgy, and allows us to harness its energy safely.”

“Precisely!” Theodore said, choosing not to mention that she used an improper citation form. “The primary thing that distinguishes fairies and ghasts from humans and ferals is that their bodies operate on an ether based circulatory system. While ether is toxic to us, it is necessary for the magical creature’s survival. A fairy, for example, that lives outside a place of ambient magic such as the Whirlwood will suffer stunted growth.”

“Wow!” One of the students leapt to his feet. “That’s incredible! I’m learning so much in this class!!”

Theodore frowned. “I appreciate your passion, but we have a lot of material to cover, so please calm down.”

“I can’t!” Another student was hyperventilating. “You’re blowing my mind over here! I’m freaking out!”

The rain grew louder. Wind rattled the window panes, but Theodore knew he mustn’t look at it. He focused his attention on his students.

“Learning is a journey, not a race,” he said. “Soothe yourself and we may continue.”

They did not calm down. The muttering spread through the class. The students grew loud, their voices rising and breathless. They spoke over one another, saying nothing, filling the room with noise.

“Stop that!” Theodore said. “I know this class is exciting, but this is getting out of hand!”

Thunder shook the classroom. Students screamed and then screamed louder. Theodore covered his ears but it was not enough. Lightning tore through the ceiling and let in a torrent of rain. The lamps went out and the students vanished. In their place, at the door of the classroom, was a man Theodore knew to be dead. Through the raging storm, Theodore saw the corpse of his father, Lance Grayweather, staring at him.

Theodore woke from his nightmare. He searched for his glasses in panic and tried to make sense of his situation. The first ember glow of dawn peeked through the window. He was alone, sitting in bed. His mind cleared. He was at home at the Ranger Deputy cottage, deep in the Whirlwood forest, right where he was supposed to be. A chill reached up his arm. He climbed out of bed and found the window hanging open. He must’ve left it unlatched again. The nightmare was a fairy dream, and nothing more.


Episode 3 Chapter 2

Oboe hadn’t slept. She was too excited to wake up and go to work. Sitting in her tree, she waited for the sun to finish rising so she could go to the Ranger Deputy office without waking Theo up this time. If she wasn’t careful she’d get on his nerves and then he would have to fire her, and then she’d be all alone again, and then she’d die of loneliness without ever having fulfilled a purpose with her sad and worthless life. That would suck. It was important to be careful.

She squeezed the tree branch under her and thought about all the other ways she could mess up. Theo could have her banished for spilling coffee on paperwork, or thrown in the dungeon for talking too much. She took a deep breath and reminded herself Theo wasn’t like that. It was scary when she told him he was wrong about the Tall Man but afterwards he thanked her for doing it. Theo was good.

She dropped onto the grass. The sun was taking forever to come up. Antsy, she tried to think of the sorts of things she did before Theo came to the Whirlwood. She was already stewing in anxiety, so that was out. It was too cold to swim. The only other thing she was good at was wandering around aimlessly. There was plenty of time to forage for food, though she wasn’t really hungry. Maybe she could bring something for Theo to eat instead. Humans liked meat best, right? It was hard to catch animals in the Whirlwood who couldn’t talk, though.

Something else she spent a lot of time doing was trying to make friends, but that never went well. Other creatures always got cold and distant the moment they realized what she was. That’s why it was nice being around Theo. Other creatures had to talk to her then. She wished they would just do that all the time.

At least she had Thistle. Thistle was a good best friend, but he hadn’t been home the past few days. Maybe he needed space. He got grumpy when she visited too much.

Oboe looked up, and realized the sun was up. She had spent so much time wondering what to do that it was almost time for the office to open. Giddiness welled up inside her. If she took her time walking there, she would arrive just in time to start work.

Sprinting the whole way, she wondered what kind of adventures they would have today. Would they stop a militant Red Cap uprising? Help squirrels fill out pages of paperwork? Fight some trolls, just because? She burst through the front door of the cottage, too excited to find out.

“I’m here!” Oboe said, out of breath. “I’m ready to start working!!”

Theo stared at her. He was wearing his bed clothes, sitting with a book on his lap, in the middle of sipping some coffee. He set the mug down.

“Uh, good morning Oboe,” he said. “What are you doing here?”

She blinked. “Huh? What do you mean? The sun is over the trees! That means the office is open and it’s time to help all the Whirlwood creatures!”

He slipped a bookmark into the volume he was reading and gave her a sheepish smile. “You do know that it’s our day off, don’t you?”

Oboe stood there, dumbstruck. “What?”

“There’s no work today. You can relax.”

“What??” This was a catastrophe. “Then what am I supposed to do all day?”

“Whatever you like,” Theo said.

All the anxiety Oboe felt that morning came rushing back. She could not imagine anything more boring and awful than spending the day by herself. “If I can do whatever I want, can’t I just work here instead?”

Theo raised an eyebrow. “That’s not how it works. Everyone needs time to rest, it’s mandated by the state.”

Oboe didn’t want to rest. She wanted to help Theo do important things. This job made her feel better about herself than anything before in her life. “If I can’t work, can I at least hang out here with you?”

Theo made a face, and Oboe’s heart sank. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d like time to catch up on my reading. I’m sure there are plenty of other creatures you can spend time with.”

She stopped herself from saying something. There had to be a way for her to avoid another lonely day off. “Are you sure we can’t just work anyway?”

“Unless there’s an emergency, there’s no reason for us to do anything but take it easy.”

There was hope after all. “How do we know there’s not an emergency?? Did you check the mailbox?”

“I haven’t finished my coffee yet,” he said. “Besides, it would have to be a big deal for a letter to be delivered on the day of rest.”

“Emergencies are a big deal!” Oboe said. “We should check right now!”

With a reluctant sigh, Theo took another swig of his coffee and got up. “Fine, if it will satisfy you. But if there isn’t anything, you need to leave so I can finish my book.”

Theo checked to make sure all of his buttons were looped correctly, before padding out into the yard. Oboe scrambled to get to the mailbox first, but it was locked. There was a slot for courier birds to fit letters through and a cover to keep the rain out. She waited, watching Theo take his time to undo the lock. He reached in and pulled out a bright red envelope with the governor’s office.

“Oh no,” he said.

Oboe was bouncing on her hooves. It was a miracle.


Episode 3 Chapter 3

Theo removed the wax seal like it was surgery, like he expected it might explode. Oboe sat on the other side of the desk, waiting for him to finish reading the letter. 

“What’s up?” Oboe said, unable to wait any longer.

“Governor Farbend wants me to speak to a Dr. Stillwell at the University as soon as possible.”

“The university?” She was confused. “What’s that got to do with your job here?”

Theo looked disturbed. “It says there’s a strange disease spreading in the city.” He scanned the letter again in more detail. “It’s believed Red Caps may be involved. This sounds dire. I was hoping it could wait until tomorrow, but it can’t.” He pulled his grocery list off the bulletin board. “Not how I wanted to spend today, but at least I’ll be able to run my errands while I’m out.” He sighed. “I should get going. But before I go, there’s something I want to discuss with you.”

“Wait!” Oboe almost jumped. “I should go with you!”

“That’s not necessary,” Theo said. ” That wouldn’t be fair to you. It’s your day off, remember?”

Oboe screamed inside her head. Why did this have to be so hard?

“Anyway,” Theo said before she had a chance to argue. “I wanted to remind you that you still haven’t picked up your back pay.”

“My what?”

Opening a cabinet, Theo fished out a hefty drawstring purse and handed it to her. “Five thousand thalers. All the wages you earned for the last month and a half.”

Oboe sniffed at it with suspicion. “What am I supposed to do with this?”

“It’s money,” Theo said, exasperated. “You buy things with it.”

She frowned at the heavy coin-filled bag, feeling helpless.

“Please take it,” he said. “You can’t just keep letting this pile up. I made a point to budget for your salary. You’re a servant of the crown and entitled to fair compensation.”

Oboe tried to hand it back, but Theo was ready. He backed off, arms folded. She set the pouch on his head.

“You can keep it,” she said. “I’ve got nowhere to spend it. I just want to help you make the Whirlwood better.”

Grumbling, Theo rolled the bag back into his hand. “There’s plenty of things for you to buy in the capital.”

 “But you’re leaving without me!”

“You don’t need me to go to the city,” Theo said, holding out the purse. “You have a visa. You know how to use the trolleys now. There’s a lot to see and do in the capital! Not all creatures make this kind of money. You should enjoy it.”

Oboe scowled at the bag of money. She thought about going to the city alone and it just felt sad.  “I’ll make you a deal,” she said. “I’ll keep the money if you take me with you.”

“You’re being ridiculous,” he said.

“Why won’t you take me with you??” Oboe said, feeling hurt.

Theo pinched the bridge of his nose. “It’s just… we’re co-workers, right? I’m your boss. It’s not proper for us to fraternize during our time off.”

“Why not?”

“Administrative guidelines say it’s a bad idea,” Theo said.

“But WHY is it a bad idea?” Oboe said.

“I don’t know!” Theo said. “It just makes things more complicated.”

“I’m okay with that.” He was the one making things complicated. “Please let me come with you! Laien is big and scary and I feel a lot better with you there. I like helping you. I don’t want to stop just because it’s the wrong day of the week.”

Theo’s arms sagged and his eyes softened. “Alright,” he said. “Fine. You can come. Just, please take your pay. I don’t want the Governor to think I’m embezzling.”

Oboe snatched the bag and looped it over her shoulder. Dancing out the front door, she could not wait to get started.


Episode 3 Chapter 4

“I wanna see what’s this way!” Oboe said, hurrying through the streets. The city was livelier on the day of rest, with humans of all shapes and sizes. There were the fancy breeds dressed in their flouncy gowns and suits, and the scrappy mutts who were plain and threadbare. The air was a mix of tastes both bitter and savory, from the smog of the factories washed by the sea breeze, the scent of spiced meat roasting over wood fires and the faint stink wafting from the sewers. It was different every time she came.

“You act like you’ve never seen the city before,” Theo said as he ambled after her.

“I never get to enjoy it!” She said. “We’re always running around and doing things. Oh! Wow!” She pointed at a big pointy building in the distance. It stood out like a palace, with a great dome and well-tended gardens. “What’s that??”

“That?” He was surprised. “It’s just the First Cathedral of Laien.”

Oboe admired all its colored windows. “It’s pretty.” It wasn’t as big as where grandmother lived, but it was beautiful in its own way. “Can we go inside?”

He hummed. “Well, it’s the day of rest, so I think they’ll only let us in to worship.”

“Oh.” Her heart sank. “I don’t think I’m allowed to anymore.”

Theo raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

Realizing what she’d said, Oboe looked for anything she could use to change the subject. “Hey! Look at all this stuff!” She ran over to a little open-air storefront on the end of the street, with pots and pans piled up on wagons. She looked back to see Theo join her. “Wow! Pans!” She said. 

The shopkeeper welcomed them, leering while Theo scrutinized the skillets.

“No,” he said as he put one back. “Uneven metal work. It’ll just warp after real use.”

Oboe picked up a pair of tea kettles, weighing one in each hand. One was etched with a gold illustration of a kitten and the other had a marbled swirl of blues.

Theo came over. He was done browsing. “Can’t decide what you want?”

She shook her head. “I don’t want either of them! I haven’t got a kitchen to use them in!”

“You don’t have to buy anything,” he said.

“But I have all this money!” She said, frustrated. “You said I should do something with it.”

“There’s no rush!” He said. “Take your time to think of something you actually want.”

“Like what?”

He blinked, unprepared for the question. “Well, you don’t wear clothes, but there’s all sorts of food. Like the restaurants, or the exotic goods the caravan trains bring in. At the very least, you could set up a bank account. That way, you’re at least drawing interest from what you have.”

“No!” The idea of having even more money was too stressful. It had been so many years since she even had the opportunity to buy anything that she had gotten comfortable doing without.

“Alright,” he said. “How about this: You’re living in a tree, aren’t you? If you want, you could pay to have a proper home built, like mine.”

Her mouth hung open. “Really?” She liked Theo’s cottage, and it amazed her to think she could have one just like it. “That’s a great idea! Can we do that now??”

A bell tolled in the distance. Theo checked his pocket watch and snapped it shut. “Actually, we should get moving. I’m expected at the university and we’ll miss our trolley if we dawdle much longer.”

“Do we have to?” She said.

He gave her a stern look. “The governor would not have sent that letter today if it weren’t important. If you want to pay to have a house built, you’re welcome to do it without me.”

“No, wait for me!” Oboe dumped the kettles, rattling the table and perturbing the shop owner. “Sorry!”

They excused themselves from the store and hurried toward the station several blocks away. Oboe tried to stay close as he made a beeline through the streets.

“Halt!” A city knight in a bright checkered tabard held out an arm and blocked Oboe’s path. “Stop right there. You aren’t allowed here, fairy!”

Oboe stumbled. “Huh? What’d I do wrong now?”

Theo doubled back and waved for the man’s attention. “Pardon me, there has to be a mistake. She’s fully certified. Show him your visa, Oboe.”

She fished it out of her pouch. It took a little bit of effort to get all the wrinkles and crinkles out so it could be read. “Yeah, here it is!”

The knight didn’t bother looking at it. “Doesn’t matter. There’s a fey ban in this district of the city.”

“That’s absurd,” Theo said. “That document proves she’s a citizen and cleared for travel in the capital.”

The knight grimaced. “I don’t make the rules, just enforce them. If the silk shirts say no fairies, that’s how it is. No exceptions.”

“…I see.” Theo looked skeptical. “First I’ve heard of this. How far does this ban extend?”

“Through to Redwand avenue.”

Theo seemed startled. “That far?” It took him a minute to work out another way to go. He gestured for Oboe to follow and led her across four blocks, cutting through alleyways and side streets.

“Come on!” Theo said.

She tried to keep up, but he kept changing directions. The clocktower chimed again and Theo moved even faster. They pushed their way through a big crowd pouring out of the station, just in time to watch their trolley leave without them.

“Damn it,” he said, trying to catch his breath.

“I guess we’ll have to wait for the next one,” Oboe said.

“No, we won’t,” Theo said, studying the schedule posted to the wall. “This is the day of rest. There’s not going to be another trolley running through here for three hours.”

“…Oh.” She felt a knot in her stomach. All she wanted was to spend the day helping Theo. Instead she’d ruined everything.


Episode 3 Chapter 5

Oboe sat on a station bench and waited while Theo stared at a map of the trolley routes. He was trying to puzzle out if any of the other stations would get them to the university on time.

“It’s no use,” he said. “It’ll be faster to walk.”

Oboe slumped over in her seat. “I’m sorry. It’s my fault you’re going to be late.”

“It’s fine,” he said, his tone gruff. “I let us get distracted. I should’ve been more mindful.”

“It’s not okay,” she said. “You’re mad. You should yell at me so you feel better.”

Theo held his eyes shut, long enough to make his scowl go away. “That won’t solve anything. Let’s just get going.”

“But you’re upset!” Oboe said.

“Drop it,” Theo said with a glare. “It’s not a problem. We have a mission to worry about, so let’s focus on that instead. Alright?”

She backed off. “O-okay.” That said, they left.

 Oboe was grateful Theo didn’t blame her, but it worried her how cold he was being. He told her it was not a problem, but it still felt like one. There had to be a way to make it up to him, but she wasn’t sure how.

A train of merchant wagons came rumbling through the streets. Hundreds of humans and a few scattered creatures helped to drive its goods to market, blocking the way through. Oboe and Theo waited, sharing a stiff silence.

“Theo,” Oboe said, not even really sure of what she wanted to say but wanting to break the quiet. “Do you miss living here? …In the capital?”

He shook off whatever thought he was having. “What do you mean?”

“It’s so exciting here!” She said. “There’s something always happening. It makes the valley seem so boring.”

“I wish it were boring,” Theo said. “Every day I have to deal with strange new problems. I never know what to expect. Things are better here because everything has a pattern to it. My old job required me to do the same thing every day. I liked that it let me focus on doing everything perfectly.”

Oboe leaned against a lamp post. Before Theo came to the Whirlwood, almost every day was the same for her. Wake up, look for food, maybe go for a swim, and bother Thistle if he wasn’t mad at her. If Thistle didn’t want to deal with her, she was just lonely.

“Do you miss your friends in the city?” Oboe asked.

He furrowed his brow, thinking. “I’m not sure I had any.”

Oboe almost fell over. “What?!”

He counted off his fingers, as if running through all the people he knew in his head. “I don’t think my co-workers qualify. Never really spoke to them unless I had to. I was cordial with my landlord, but I believe he preferred talking to his cats. I can’t think of anyone else.”

“There are people everywhere here!” Oboe said, gesturing wildly at the throng of people in front of them. “You could be friends with every single one of them! Why aren’t you??”

He laughed, which startled Oboe. He was always so serious. “I don’t know,” he said. “It’s not like that here. Everyone has their own routine, and they don’t always crossover. I worked, and then I went home and studied books. I spent all my time trying to save up to go to university. I guess I didn’t think about it.”

“But you didn’t get to go to university,” Oboe said. “That’s sad.”

Theo didn’t say anything. He watched the wagons pass. Oboe panicked. She’d made things worse again. She tried to think of something else to talk about, but before she thought of anything Theo found his voice.

“I got a letter,” he said, staring off. “The university approved my application. I’m supposed to go in for an entrance exam. But I can’t.”

Oboe squeezed her fingers. “Why not?”

“I got roped into being a knight instead.” His eyes were sad, not angry. “It’s the last thing in the world I wanted.”

The moment grew heavy. “Then maybe you should quit.”

“I can’t just abandon the Whirlwood creatures,” he said. “They need help.”

“Why can’t you do both?” Oboe said, growing anxious.

“I thought about that a lot,” Theo said. “But the city is too far and I’m too busy. It won’t work. I have to accept that.”

The traffic cleared. The way forward was open but neither of them moved. They were stuck.

“Are you okay?” She said.

He shook his head, and gathered himself. “I’m fine. Just thinking.” They crossed the street together. “Oboe, I apologize for snapping at you earlier. It wasn’t professional. I’m sure the university staff will understand the delay. It’s my day off, after all. It’s just important to me that I take my work seriously.”

“You don’t have to be sorry,” Oboe said. “I’m the one that messed up.”

They kept moving. The spires of the university rose in the distance. Theo seemed in better spirits now. Were things fixed? It looked that way, but didn’t feel that way. Oboe wondered what Theo was feeling inside. Why didn’t he like talking about it? She told herself to leave it alone. She didn’t want to ruin anything else.


Episode 3 Chapter 6

Walking into the University was harder for Theodore this time. The sight of the library tower, with its three stories of books amassed from the world over, filled him with a bitter jealousy. He put it from his mind. Life had stuck him with other responsibilities.

The governor’s letter instructed him to present himself to the medical research wing. Crossing the school’s ramparts, and a woman was shouting at them the moment they set foot in the lobby.

“Get out!” She said. Her pastel green robes marked her as a graduate of healing magic studies. “No fairies allowed in the medical ward! You need to leave!”

Oboe didn’t say anything. She’d been quiet since they left the market district.  Her eyebrows arched and she looked at Theodore to tell her what to do.

“My name is Theodore Grayweather, the Ranger Deputy, and this is my assistant Oboe.” He handed the woman his badge and the letter. “We’re here by special request of the Governor.”

She scrutinized both items thoroughly before returning them. “I see. Good.” She pointed towards the stairs. “Dr. Stillwell will be expecting you. Proceed to the Research Quarantine on the third floor.” She glanced at Oboe. “I think it would be best if you left the animal down here in the lobby. They’ll have a fit if you come in with that thing.”

This was the second time today this was a problem. “Why aren’t fairies allowed inside?” Theodore said.

“Stillwell’s orders. No outside magic is to be let in until the epidemic is over.”

“I’ll be good,” Oboe said. She sat stiff in one of the lobby chairs to demonstrate. “I’ll wait here.”

“Hopefully this will be quick,” Theodore said.

Two flights of stairs later, the graduate led Theodore into Research Quarantine. He’d read and heard the word epidemic, but the reality had not clicked until he stepped into the ward. An entire laboratory, the space of a warehouse, had been cleared to make room for a sea of white hospital beds arranged in a grid. Every last one was filled. The patients looked drained of color, miserable and languid. The healthiest of the subjects had machinery looming over them. A smoldering haze of shifting light poured out of lamps on the machines onto the patients.

 Doctor Stillwell was lording over one of these machines, adjusting and tuning it. He had a wild shock of graying brown hair, and a jaw like a boulder. His eyes were sharp and he was dressed in pastel green robes.

“Ranger Deputy is here to see you, Doctor,” the graduate said before marching off.

“Sorry for arriving so late,” Theodore said. “I missed my trolley.”

Stillwell’s handshake was firm. “If this is indicative of your performance in general, we are both in trouble.” He wheeled the machine around to face another bed. The patient in the original bed reached out to grab the doctor.

“Wait!” He said, hoarse. “Not yet! I need more! Please!”

He pulled the hand off his robes with care. “You need to trust us. We aren’t going to let you die. Other people need this as well.”

The patient gave a pitiful, desperate look while Dr. Stillwell ignited the lamp of the machine over the next bed.

“What is this illness?” Theodore said.

The doctor motioned for Theodore to follow him to the relative privacy of a workbench.

“Before you ask, no, it’s not contagious.” He sighed, looking more exhausted now that they were away from the patients. “Not in any typical sense, anyway. These people are suffering from a deficit of magic.”

That didn’t make any sense. “Magic is toxic to the human body.”

Stillwell rolled his eyes. “Yes. Wild, raw magic is poisonous to human beings. You can drown in the sea, that doesn’t mean you don’t need fresh water to live. All life needs at least a trace amount of magic to exist. What’s happening here is that these people have had the magic they need drained out of them.”

“How is that possible?” Theodore said.

“The first reported case was from a Duke Ambergrail. His symptoms developed a little over six months ago, shortly after a fairy broke into his home. The fairy in question was dealt with but the damage was done. The duke’s condition has only worsened with time.”

Theodore connected the dots. “That’s why you won’t let fairies into the medical ward. …And why there’s a ban on fairies in the city?”

Stillwell nodded. “Ambergrail banned fairy creatures from entering his district of the city and a few of the neighboring dukes followed his example. Not that it helped. The number of cases has only exploded since then.”

Something bothered Theodore about this story. He remembered the hunt for the Tall Man, and how Flip had profited by feeding into mistrust towards magical creatures. “If fairies aren’t allowed inside, how do you know that they’re even the cause of this?”

“From what I understand, the city watch has already jailed a half-dozen fairies violating the ban,” the doctor said. “I’m told the attacks appear to be organized. They’re enchanting people while they are unaware.”

This didn’t make sense. “Fairies are made out of magic,” Theodore said. “Why would they drain humans of it?”

Stillwell grimaced. “I’m not going to pretend I understand what these creatures are thinking.  If you want to know more about the attacks, you should speak to the duke. We need you to get to the bottom of why these attacks are happening before it gets any worse.” He swept an arm out toward the vast room of patients. “We can’t keep up with this. We can treat the magic deficiency by beaming ambient magic into the body, but we don’t have enough machines to treat everyone.”

“What if you brought people into the Whirlwood Valley?” Theodore said. “It’s overflowing with ambient magic there.”

“You’re suggesting I take these sick people into a place crawling with Red Caps after they’ve been victimized? Ridiculous. It’s too risky.”

“I’ve lived safe there for well over a month,” Theodore said. “The Red Caps are gone.”

“These attacks suggest otherwise,” Stillwell said. “Look. I’m the healer here. Leave treating the patients to me. You’re a knight. What I need you to do is get to the bottom of this mess and put a stop to it.”

Theodore cringed to be called a knight, but could not argue. There were more than a hundred sick faces here. His duty was clear.


Episode 3 Chapter 7

Oboe fidgeted in her seat in the lobby. Students passed in a hurry, clutching their books tighter as their eyes darted over her. They were so nervous having her here. As much as she liked the city, it ultimately wasn’t that different. She wished she could’ve stayed with Theo so she wouldn’t feel so out of place.

The students in this tower all wore the same color robes, and it made Oboe think they were all part of one human family. She knew that wasn’t how it worked, but the thought made sense to her. No wonder Theo wanted to come to the university so bad. Having a place to belong was worth anything.

She heard Theo coming down the stairs and jumped to her feet.

“What’s wrong?” She said. His brow was pinched like they weren’t done. “How’d it go?”

“I found out why there’s a ban,” Theo said. “There have been fairy attacks in the capital in the past several weeks. They’re making people sick. There’s an entire floor filled with victims up there.”

“They’re enchanting the humans?” Humans had lots of rules about when it was okay to use magic on humans, but wicked creatures didn’t care. “If it’s a magic spell, can’t the wizards here just undo it?”

Theo shook his head. “It’s not an enchantment, exactly. Dr. Stillwell says fairies are draining people of magic.”

“What?” She said. “That’s weird. The valley is overflowing with magic! Why would they steal more from humans?”

“I don’t know. There might be some Red Caps out for revenge, but they’ve been quiet for well over a month.” He started toward the door. “Something about this doesn’t add up. We need to find out more about these alleged attacks.”

“How do we do that?” Oboe said.

“The Watch apparently captured a few of the fairies responsible. I think it’d be best to start there. We should also talk to the duke who ordered the ban and get his side of the story.”

They left the big school with its sprawling campus, and made their way back into the dense and busy parts of the city. Oboe tried to follow Theo’s lead but something was weird. His head swiveled on street corners, he kept doubling back, and every few turns he would pause for a long time.

“What’s wrong?” She said.

“I need to get my bearings,” he said. “I’m not familiar with this part of the city.”

 “I thought you knew everything about the city!” Oboe said.

“Well, I normally take the trolley, but that’s not an option. I’ve never had to come this way before. …I’m lost.”

Oboe gasped and grabbed him. “That’s wonderful!”

“What?” He leaned back. “Why?”

“That means you get to explore!!”

Theo did not seem to be bubbling with the excitement he ought to be. “This investigation is important. We can’t just go wandering around.”

“But we don’t know how to get where we’re going,” Oboe said. “The best way to stop being lost is to explore until you know where everything’s at. That’s how I learned not to be scared of the Whirlwood!”

“I suppose there’s some sense to that,” Theo said. “Still, we shouldn’t get distracted.”

Oboe frowned. “Even though it’s your day off? You should be allowed to have a little fun.”

Theo considered this, relaxing enough to smile. “Okay,” he said. “But only a little.”

She ran ahead, excited. “Let’s try this way!”

“Hold on! Wait for me!”


Episode 3 Chapter 8

Theodore tried to keep up with Oboe as she darted ahead. Streets forked in odd directions through unfamiliar neighborhoods. Before he had a chance to agonize over which way to go, she picked a path for him.

The afternoon sun filtered through laundry strung up across apartments overhead, clothes lines looped around old statues and rusted fire escapes. The buildings and roads looked more worn and weathered than the well-funded districts of the city’s center. Theodore worried that they were getting off track, but was also relieved to be moving.

“Come on, slowpoke!” Oboe said. “You got snails for legs?”

“No.” It would be absurd for any part of his body to be a gastropod. “Are you sure we’re heading in the right direction?”

“You said we want to go East, right? This feels like East to me.”

A quick glance at the sun told him something else. “This road is pointing North.”

“Well, it still feels like East,” Oboe said. “Don’t worry about all the little turns. They take you any which way, but they’re part of the big turns that take you the right way. I’ll show you!”

She led him up a winding hill, lined with slanted roofs and faded archways, and then down stairs into a cobblestone tunnel that bent at right angles. After a few dead ends, but before Theodore lost his patience, they found their way out. They had stumbled onto a secluded park. It was enclosed, overgrown with ivy, and decorated with unkempt shrubs, statues, and stone benches. A handful of people were lounging, some reading. An artist worked to set up an easel to paint nearby.

“Why didn’t you tell me this was here??” Oboe said.

“I can’t tell you about something I didn’t know about,” he said. Although he could’ve guessed there might be something like it. City ordinance required a minimum of one place of respite for every square mile. He had to admit it was lovely.

“Who’s this guy?” Oboe said, pointing at a statue of a regal man in ornate armor.

Theodore adjusted his glasses. “The inscription is faded, but there’s three to one odds it’s meant to be the hero Laien.” Tributes to the man were everywhere in the capital. “He ended the war with the Devil King, brokered the peace treaties with the fairies and ghasts, and founded this country. All of which make him a popular subject of public art.”

“I like his beard,” Oboe said.

“There’s no historic consensus that he actually ever had a beard,” Theodore said. “The tribes only had oral histories before he united us, so the details are muddy.”

Oboe frowned. “He should have a beard if it looks cool.”

Theodore supposed that was one way to look at it. She moved on, leading him toward the next diversion.

“Hold on,” he said. She turned back. He thought to steer them back on track, but realized after assessing the skyline that they were already heading East. “Never mind,” he said. They left the park, and found themselves wandering through a shopping arcade. Obscure boutiques lined the way through out to the main roads. It would be easy to navigate from here. Somehow, Oboe had led them where they needed to go.

“Theo, look at all this!” She pressed her face up against the glass of a storefront. The window display was filled with marionettes, dolls and board games. Theodore shouldn’t have been surprised that this caught her attention. He wanted to pull her away, tell them to keep moving, but there was something in her excitement that made it hard. He opened the door instead.

“You want to go inside?” He said. “There might be something you actually want to buy here.”

“Can we?” She said, wide eyed. 

 The shelves were lined with carved figurines in bright paint, wooden swords, ornate doll houses, and every kind of wind up novelty. A plump clerk looked up from his book when they entered.

“Theo! Theo! It’s a train!” Oboe pointed him at an expensive model set. “Just like the one that goes through the Whirlwood!” She removed the roof of one of the train cars with the care of handling a museum artifact. “And there’s tiny wooden people inside!!”

Theodore felt the asking price was a bit high for an unpainted set, but hated to step on her enthusiasm. “Amazing,” he said.

Oboe turned to the clerk. “You made all these things yourself??”

“Most of it is contract work from the wood workers guild,” he said. “I do have imports from the Hook and Red Spire if are looking for hand carved, though.”

Theodore busied himself by examining the workmanship of the chess boards, but doubted he’d get any use out of one.

“This is perfect!” Oboe said, bringing something to the counter. “I’m getting this, please! How much?”

“Fifty thalers,” the clerk said.

Theodore tried to look at what she selected, only for her to push him back. “Don’t look yet!” She said. “It’s a surprise!”

“For who?” He said. “You’re supposed to be finding something for yourself.”

Oboe kept her hands clasped around the item until they were outside the shop, where she revealed her surprise. A little wooden figurine of a knight, with a grim angry face and a sword outstretched. “It looks just like you!” She said. “I want you to have it!”

Theodore said nothing. He stared at the ugly little toy, wondering what about it reminded Oboe of him. Maybe it was the pointed nose, or maybe it was because it was a soldier. A brute knight like the one that harassed them earlier. Like the ones that killed Silas. Like his father. Theodore felt his skin prickle as she tried to put the thing in his hands. He let it fall to the ground.

“I don’t want it,” he said. “You shouldn’t have bought it.”

“Why not?” She picked it back off the ground. “What’s wrong with it?”

“This is what you see when you look at me? An angry little man with a sword?”

She cradled the overpriced garbage. “It’s a knight. You’re a knight too, aren’t you?”

“I guess I am.” Theodore felt a wave of resentment. All his life the world conspired to make sure that was all he would ever be. “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

“I’m sorry,” Oboe said, ears drooping. “I thought it would make you smile. I didn’t mean to make you mad.”

“It’s not important,” he said, trying to be fine. He knew she didn’t mean any harm, but the sight of the toy made it hard to stay calm. He needed to get away. “I think that’s enough fun for one day. I’m going to go talk to the duke. He’s in the banned district, so go do something else for a while.”

“I thought we were going to do the jail first?” Oboe said.

“I changed my mind,” Theodore said. “I’ll meet you at the park afterwards, alright?” 

Oboe tucked the toy into her pouch, looking sad. “Okay.”

 Theodore stormed off onto the main road. If he had to be a knight, he wanted to get the work over with. Weaving through the crowd, he beat a path toward the estate of the Duke.


Episode 3 Chapter 9

The door opened. On the other side was a man dressed like a butler but built like a bouncer. His broad shoulders blocked the width of the door frame. He offered a mute sneer in lieu of a greeting.

“Hello,” Theodore said. “I’m Ranger Deputy Grayweather. I’m here to speak to Duke Ambergrail.”

“Let the man in, Mort,” a voice called from inside. “He’s expected.”

The servant stepped back, allowing Theodore to enter the foyer. It was a well-built manor, but it was very old and smaller than modern ones. Theodore guessed it was made after the Redsea Revolt, when the nobles were more practical and money was tighter. He wanted to call the carpentry beautiful, but every wall, floor and archway was scarred with runes carved deep into them. Glowing glyphs were everywhere, empowered to protect this place from fairies.

Theodore was ushered into a study. The room was cramped with antique furniture, busts, and portraiture of regal old men. Theodore was impressed with the tall and fully loaded bookshelves, until he noticed they were filled with dusty and redundant encyclopedia volumes.

Mort turned a wheelchair toward Theodore. The man seated was far younger than expected, no older than Theodore himself, but the steep nose and light hair matched subjects of nearby paintings.

“You must be the district duke,” Theodore said.

“Felix Ambergrail,” he said. “Sixth one to the name. Probably the last, while we’re at it.” He leered, his skin even more pallid and his eyes more sunken than the victims in the medical ward. “You’re the one they called in to hunt down the fey responsible for this blight? Great. Fantastic. Seems my time would be better spent shopping for a tombstone.”

Theodore paid no attention to the insult. “I’m gathering information about the attacks. Stillwell told me you were the first victim.”

“That’s right. It was about six months back. One of those creatures broke into my home and tried to enchant me. Mort here managed to kill the devil, but it looks like he magicked me first.” He held up a shriveled hand. “Been getting weaker by the day. Doesn’t seem to matter how damn long I spend under those magic lamps. I’m dying.”

“I’m sorry,” Theodore said, but noted the peculiarity. “The creature died, but you believe it is responsible for your illness?”

“The healers say it’s no natural sickness,” the duke said. “I was in perfect health before the bastard broke in. Now I can’t even stand on my own. You can’t tell me that is a coincidence!”

It was still conjecture. “The courts wouldn’t consider an assumption like this evidence. You felt it was basis to ban lawful citizens from an entire district of the city?”

Duke Ambergrail grit his teeth at him. “Did you come here to help people or to question my reasoning? Whatever you think about my decision, it was the right call! Every day more people are getting sick. I don’t want to think about how much worse it would be if I hadn’t taken action when I did.”

Jotting down more notes, Theodore flipped back to review what he’d learned at the university. “Stillwell told me the affliction isn’t any kind of spell. If it were, we could identify its effect and aura. How can we be sure it’s being caused by fairies?”

“The watch has captured more than a couple fey sneaking past the ban, breaking into homes. Not what I would call lawful behavior. Got them caged downtown, if you need to see for yourself.”

Theodore pocketed his pencil. “I’ll make that my next stop. Hopefully one of them will come clean, and then I can get to the bottom of this. Thank you for your time, lordship.”

“Hold a moment, Deputy,” Felix said before Theodore could leave. Mort obstructed the door, being the perfect shape for it. “I’m not sure when knight training got so lax that pointing a finger at beasts is cause to raise your eyebrows at me, so let me set something straight. Fairies are dangerous.”

“They’ve been our allies for hundreds of years,” Theodore said.

“That’s no reason to trust them,” the duke said, tapping the rings on his fingers. “Do you know the first thing about the fey? They’ll say and do anything to use their magic on us. That’s how they survive. Every spell they cast on us gives them Fates. You get that? Doesn’t matter what laws we pass, what treaties they sign. We’re prey to them, and if a man in your profession doesn’t keep that in mind then you’re going to wind up dead!”

“I’ve lived with fairies and ghasts for some time now,” Theodore said. “Maybe some are dangerous, but not all. Not most. I don’t understand where this attitude of yours is coming from.”

Felix clenched the arm of his wheelchair tight. Mort poured the duke a shot of bourbon, which seemed to soothe him. They offered Theodore a glass but he waved it away. Cradling the small, empty cup, the duke tried to find his voice again.

“Six years ago, the fey took my father. …Felix the fifth, if you’re keeping track. I didn’t see it happen, but I heard it. They kidnapped him in the middle of the night.” Mort poured him another glass. “Never found out why. I’m told important people are more valuable to them. They can draw more power out of them. All I know is that I never saw him again, and then I had to grow up fast enough to take his place.”

“That’s terrible,” Theodore said. The pain was clear in the man’s face. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m not saying this so you can pity me,” he said. “I’m telling you so you step lightly. The fey are dangerous, Grayweather. Don’t let them take advantage of you.”