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.