The crystals swayed and tinkled in the machine above. Dr. Stillwell adjusted dials to focus the instruments and better read the spell cast over the sleeping duke.
“How is he?” Theodore said, feeling helpless.
“His condition is bad,” Stillwell said. He moved to take the duke’s pulse. “He’s alive, but the enchantment is severe. Nothing I’ve tried seems to wake him. I don’t understand.”
Thistle folded his arms. “I can tell you exactly what that idiot did!” His slender sylphan wrists were too small to be shackled, so Mort chose instead to tie an iron chain around his waist to block him from casting spells. “He bound that human to a night terror.”
“What does that mean?” Theodore said.
“All this fancy equipment and you clowns can’t figure it out?” Thistle rolled his eyes. “He’s stuck in a nightmare he can’t wake up from.”
Stillwell studied the array of gauges on the console of the augur machine. At the center of it, a glass ball interpreted the magic aura surrounding the duke with a swirl of red and black color. “That… makes sense, given these readings. If that’s the case, maybe we can dissolve the spell.” He stared into the crystal ball. “…But with an enchantment this heavy, that could take months.”
“Months?!” Oboe stood up, only to be pushed back to the floor by Mort and the campus security. “It shouldn’t take that long! You have a dream sower right here! Thistle can dig the spell out. Let him help!”
“You fairies have done enough damage already!” The doctor said. “We will fix this mess you’ve made on our own!”
Theodore wrung his hands. There was more at stake here than how quickly the duke recovered. If news of this attack got out, Laien’s fear of fairies would be reinforced. Other districts might adopt the ban and both fairies and humans would suffer because of it. “If there’s a chance Thistle can save Felix Ambergrail right now, we owe it to the duke to try.”
Mort looked up. “Hey doc? Not that I get a say here, but I’d rather my boss be awake enough to sign my paychecks. Just saying.”
Stillwell scowled at his captives, his face tight with the burden of making a choice. He peered back at the blackening crystal ball, and sighed. “And what, praytell, does the sylph propose we do?”
“Oh? Now you WANT my help?” Thistle laughed. “Good. About time one of you grew a brain. Real quick, as a favor, can I ask you not throw me back in jail if I clean this up?”
“Don’t help them, you old roach!” Zither shouted. “This is what they deserve!”
Mort kicked Zither onto his back and prodded his underbelly with the tip of his sword. “Shut your mouth or I’ll gut you right here!”
“Then do it!” Zither said. “I’d rather die than spend another second under your bootheel! Kill me!”
Thistle stood up. “You know what? Do you what you want with me. I’m helping out of spite now.” He dragged his chain as far as it would reach. “Here’s the deal. All fairy magic longs to find a purpose. Even if it’s misused, like it was by that idiot behind me, it will resolve if the dream expresses whatever it thinks the dreamer needs. I can’t pull him out of the dream. That’s not how it works. But if this man confronts whatever the nightmare is tormenting him with, that’s when he’ll wake up.”
“How does that help us?” Stillwell said. “We can’t affect what Ambergrail does inside the dream!”
“Yeah, well. What I can do is I can insert someone else inside the dream to help him. How’s that?”
A look of horror seized the doctor’s face. “You’re suggesting we connect another person to the spell? Are you out of your mind?!”
“Well, I can’t go inside,” Thistle said. “The dream only works on humans.”
“Let me do it,” Theodore said, standing up. “This is my responsibility. I should be the one to make it better.”
“Out of the question! I’m not risking another life to this dangerous magic!” The doctor said.
“Do you want to try and dissolve the spell?!” Theodore said. “You told me the duke has less than a month to live. He doesn’t have enough time! But if I do this, there’s a chance I can fix this. This is my life, and I trust these fairies with it!”
Dr. Stillwell stared through Theodore, his eyes narrowing. Theodore met the gaze, breath held.
“I wash my hands of this foolishness,” Stillwell said, walking away. “Do what you want.”
Mort unwrapped Thistle from his chains, anxious about his job security. Oboe looked frightened.
“Theo, you already had three fairy dreams yesterday,” she said. “This might be too much magic for your body. Are you sure this is a good idea?”
It was four dreams, if he counted the one from the other morning. Theodore had no idea what he was doing. His brain was mush of anxiety, thinking of all the ways this could go wrong. “Yes,” he said.
Thistle finished stretching. “Before I stick you in there, there’s something we need to do first. The dream is gonna screw with your memory. For you to pull this off, we need an anchor to the real world. Something small I can enchant. Something that makes you feel intense emotion. That’s your connection to reality, and how we make sure you remember what you need to do.”
Theodore searched his pockets. He didn’t bring much of anything with him. “I don’t think I have anything like that.”
“Wait!” Oboe said. She opened her pouch and produced the little toy soldier. “Would this work?”
Theodore frowned. “You kept that?” He had forgotten about his outburst at the toyshop. He felt ashamed for having blown up at her, and a thorny mix of other emotions about where his life had gone. “Why?”
Thistle looked at Theodore’s face, and snatched the toy from Oboe. “Yeah, that’ll do.” He gave it a flick, and it started to glow, and then he waved it around in Theodore face. “Remember this, okay? You’ll be trapped in a nightmare forever if you don’t.”
“Alright, alright!” Theodore save, pushing it away. “I’m ready.”
They moved Theodore’s chair to the bedside. Thistle climbed on top of a nearby counter, and placed four grubby bug hands on Theodore’s face.
“Hey, no pressure, but if you screw this up, these humans are probably going to kill us.”
Before Theodore could say anything, the world around him erupted into blinding white.