Theodore turned back to the priestess Feather. “What is this illness? Are these fairies being drained of magic?”
“We fey are magic made flesh,” she said, mortified. “We would sooner survive if you tore out our blood and bones. No. This is something far simpler. They are all starving for Fates.”
“I don’t understand,” Theodore said. The duke had mentioned the term before. “What do you mean by Fates? That they’re hungry for a future?”
Feather strained to force a smile, which Theodore took to mean he was ignorant of something so basic it was embarrassing. “Let me try to explain. Are you familiar with the story of how the fey were created?”
He stopped himself from launching into a summary of the leading scientific theories. She was talking about the religious story. It took him a moment to dig through his dustier memories to remember.
“Allegedly,” he said. “Sometime before our oldest surviving historical records, humans were able to use magic the way fairies and ghasts can. …We used it to wage wars against one another, which angered the Mother of Magic. So, She came down from the sky and separated our magic from our bodies, and it transformed into all the different lifeforms which use thaumaturgical energy as the basis for their biology. According to the story, fairies and ghasts were created to punish us for our mistakes.”
Feather nodded. “We tell it differently. When the First Born misused their gifts, the Mother’s anger and mercy descended as burning rings of silver and iron. Her anger took the gift of magic from them, but Her mercy decided you were not without hope. She created us, the Second and Third Born, so that we could guide you and other forms of life as well. To ensure we did not stray from our purpose, the Mother made it so each of us had a basic need to use our magic to affect change and growth on the world. When a fairy uses her magic to enchant a human, and the enchantment affects lasting change in the direction of that human’s life, she gains Fates from the human.”
She gestured towards the sick fey lying in the flowerbeds. “We need Fates to sustain us. Magic aches to find purpose, and any fairy that cannot find an expression for her magic will grow weak and die.”
“Why can’t these fairies use their magic?” Theodore said.
“Because of the ban, you idiot!” Thistle came wading out into the flowers, shoving and punching blossoms out of his way. “These saps are dream sowers. It’s their job to plant dreams in human heads to survive, but you lot made it the law that they can only do that in certain parts of the city if they’ve got a special piece of paper.” He glared at Theodore, as if he was personally responsible for this. “Guess what happens when you ban a bunch of fairies from the one place they’re allowed to use their magic!”
This was a major regulatory oversight. “The city wouldn’t make a mistake like this without reason,” Theodore said. “The ban is in effect because of fairy attacks against humans.”
“That’s not fair!” Oboe shouted from outside the flowerbed. “Only wicked fairies use their magic to hurt people! You shouldn’t make the good ones suffer too!”
Feather turned to look at her. She shrank away at the attention, turning into a mouse to hide. This was strange behavior for Oboe. Why was she keeping her distance?
“I cannot speak in defense of all fey,” Feather said to Theodore. “The fact remains that these ones are in pain. They need humans to experience the dreams they make, or else they will perish. Let me confess the truth to you, Deputy. Members of this ring of worship volunteered to sneak past the ban to deliver dreams to humans. Most of them were caught and imprisoned. I did nothing to stop them from breaking these laws, but I promise you they meant no harm to any human.”
“Was that why you were in jail, Thistle?” Theodore said.
The short bug man glowered. “None of your business what I choose to do.”
Theodore looked at the array of afflicted fairies spread out across the flowerbed. He squeezed the ring on his finger, wondering if he was blinding himself again. The laws of the kingdom of Laien brought necessary order, but he knew first hand that they were not always fair. He knew that there was a chance that these fairies could be dangerous, that what they were telling him was a lie, but that’s not what he felt.
“If I dreamed for these fairies, will that cure them?” He said. “Can I help them?”