I guess we should say we’re sorry. We don’t want to make you worry, and we certainly don’t want to leave you. But we won’t be gone long, and it’s for the best. It’s for Leo. We won’t fail, mother, I promise. It will be difficult, I’m sure, and there will be times when we’re lost or frightened or discouraged, but I won’t give up until we’ve succeeded. And then we can come home safely to you. I know the last thing you want is for Leo to leave right now. You want to spend time with him before it’s too late. But if we do this, it will never be too late! We can all live a happy life together, the three of us, no worries anymore. Remember I have the pendant, so we have plenty of protection. I’m sure you think Leo ought to stay in bed, but he won’t need to if we take this journey. He’ll be himself again, and everything will be the way it once was. Don’t worry yourself sick or anything, mother. We’ve got each other, and that’s all we need to make it. We’ll come back soon, we promise. And we’ll come back better than ever.
Little water droplets dotted the paper, and Ana dropped it on the table where she found it, wiping the tears from her cheeks. A part of her wanted desperately to find her boys and tell them not to go, to come home and stay safely with her until the tragic day arrived; at least they would have spent a few loving years together before the end. And yet, something beating within her heart kept her in place. She was well aware of her sons’ potential, of their strength and determination, and even with all her doubts she couldn’t help but hope that they really would succeed. And if there was any chance at all, she must let them take it.
“My dear boys...” She gazed at the letter, stained with her own tears. “Please return to me alive and well. Please...”
It was almost like a desert, with such dry earth and high temperatures, hot wind hitting their faces and kicking up dirt. In short, it was just about the least pleasant atmosphere they could imagine. Under average circumstances, nothing would stop the older boy from complaining until his voice gave out, but just now, all was silent. They trod along without a word, staring straight ahead with only one goal in mind, their focus solely on that prize. Nothing else really mattered. And if they had to face harsh desert winds or icy snow or a lunatic with a butcher’s cleaver it didn’t even matter. What mattered was what happened and how it needed to be fixed, or they would die trying. The older one put a hand to the pendant around his neck, turning to glance at the younger. It would be worth it, without a doubt. They would be victorious, if only because they had to, without exception.
One Month Earlier
June 14th, 1880
“Are you sure we’re in the right place? I’d hate to trespass on someone’s property for no reason at all.”
“Don’t worry so much, I did my research. Of course this is the right place.”
“Oh. But what if we get caught? What will we do?”
“I thought I told you not to worry. We won’t get caught, okay? Trust me.”
“I trust you.”
“Good. Then let’s get on with it.”
Echo Eden, a clever and ill-tempered fifteen-year-old with a constant drive for success. No doubt he wasn’t frightened in the least as he climbed the rocky wall of the manor, heading straight for the window.
“All right, but please be careful. Don’t get hurt or anything.”
Leo Eden, the cautious and polite brother, three years younger than Echo. Far too innocent and kind-hearted for the misadventures his brother led him on.
“Me? Hurt? I’d like to see the day. Now stop slacking, Leo, we have to make this quick.”
Leo bit his lip, a bit frightened but without the desire to admit it. Still, he always went along with Echo, trusting him wholeheartedly. And that’s why he swallowed his fear and climbed up the wall after his brother. When they reached the window, Echo tried and failed to open it, finding after a bit of fiddling that it was locked. This certainly wasn’t a problem for him, however; almost effortlessly, he pulled a pin from his hair and twisted it into the lock until it popped open. Smiling proudly to himself, he pushed up the sash and tumbled in, Leo just behind him. Upon a scan of the room, it appeared to be a study of some kind, dimly lit and cramped with a writing desk in one corner and a bookcase in the corner perpendicular to it. Leo stayed by the window, apprehensive, while Echo crept quietly forward to examine the books. There were a few novels and plays here and there, but nearly every one of the thick volumes was a book on magic. Echo’s eyes lit up, gleaming with rapture. How easily they’d stumbled upon their destination! They would certainly be successful now.
Moving quickly, he searched the titles until he discovered a book of spells, which he flipped open and turned to the table of contents. There it was—healing spells!
“Leo! Leo, I found it!”
“Wonderful! Then take the book and let’s go, before we get caught.”
Echo nodded and tucked the spellbook under his arm, making his way back to the window and carefully hoisting himself over the edge. He had just barely begun to climb down the wall when a door creaked open, and he felt his heart stop. Leo, still lifting one leg over the windowsill, turned at the sound, suddenly overcome with worry. There in the doorway was a tall, elderly man, bald aside from his scraggly grey beard, wearing a long cloak the color of the early night sky and a string around his neck with a sparkling blue pendant attached. He spotted Leo right away, his features hardening into a frown.
“You! What are you doing here, child?”
The words were spat out, not in the least bit friendly, and Leo gasped, throwing himself from the window.
“Leo!” Thankfully, Echo was already on the ground, and he was able to catch his brother before he could crack his head open.
“The...sorcerer!” Leo was shaking like a freezing stray cat in the rain. “He saw...he saw me!”
Echo’s eyes widened and he gazed up at the window. The old man had appeared there, eyes searching the manor grounds for the boys.
“Run, Leo!” Echo grabbed his brother’s hand and the two raced for their lives, praying the sorcerer would not find them. It wasn’t a far run, over a hill or two and through the streets of the village until they came to the remote outskirts at the end of the main road.Their hearts beat with intensity and hope when they saw their cottage up ahead, warm yellow light from the fire within.
Mother! It’s all worth it for mother!
Echo and Leo burst through the door, panting and overcome with relief, collapsing on the floor by the fireplace. Their mother, Ana, had been calmly cooking stew over the fire, and the last thing she’d expected was for her sons to come crashing through the door like wild dogs on the loose.
“Boys, what is going on? Are you all right?”
“Perfect, Mama!” Echo sat up instantly, all energy restored at the joyful prospects ahead of him. They’d escaped the sorcerer and they had the healing spell. Everything would turn out fantastic.
“I found this.” Echo held up the book, and Ana stood and reached for her cane, moving beside him to take a closer look. “There are healing spells in here, Mama. We can fix your leg! You won’t have to use the cane anymore! You can run and dance and finally live your life the way you’re meant to, with two legs! Isn’t it amazing, Mama?”
“Don’t be mad, mama,” Leo interjected. “We’re only borrowing the book, just long enough to make you feel better. Then we’ll give it right back.”
“But Leo, Echo, my dears, where did you get this book?”
Echo bit his lip and looked down sheepishly. “Well...we borrowed from that sorcerer who lives on the other side of the village. I mean, we sort of took it, but it’s like Leo said, we’ll give it back!”
Ana stepped backward, her eyes wide with concern and fear. “The sorcerer...on the other side of the village. Please, you don’t mean Fercard, do you?”
“That’s the one.” Echo smiled proudly, oblivious to his mother’s worry.
“Boys, you don’t understand. Fercard won’t harm anyone if he isn’t provoked, but trespassing and stealing...my God, what if he finds you? You shouldn’t underestimate a sorcerer, Echo.”
“We won’t get caught!” Echo insisted. “We just need to heal you, and then we’ll politely return the book. No worries.”
“Mama.” Leo gazed at her, eyes round, still shivering with fright. “What will happen if he does find us?”
She never got the chance to answer, for her response was lost in the the sound of the front door being flung open, a rush of wind blowing in. And there stood Fercard the sorcerer, infuriated.
“You inferior little rats.” Fercard stepped forward, grand and menacing. “What were you doing in my manor?” He caught sight of the spellbook on the ground, and his sneer became ever more vicious. “Stealing from me, hm? I see you children think it wise to worm your way into my private home, take something of mine, and run off like a couple of train robbers. It’s unfortunate, I know, but I cannot let such deeds go unpunished.”
“Please, Fercard, sir,” Ana pleaded. “They’re just children, they didn’t mean anything by it. They only stole your book to help me, they didn’t mean any harm!”
Fercard scoffed at the woman, not swayed in the least. “Dreadful, these boys, perpetrating such foolish crimes. I don’t care in the least what reason they had for doing it, but you’ll all suffer in no small way.” His eyes landed on Leo then, and just that glare caused tears to run down the boy’s face.
“It’s you that I saw there in my window, and it’s you that will face the consequences. Your idiot brother and oblivious mother will suffer too, in dealing with your pain, boy.” Without any warning, any room for them to beg his mercy, Fercard tapped the pendant hanging from the string around his neck, and stretched out his arm at Leo. There was a flash of white-blue light, and then nothing.
“You can’t see it, but you will soon feel it. This boy is cursed with a disease that will weaken him, beginning this very moment. It is an excruciatingly slow and painful process, but every day he will grow weaker. It may take a few years at the most, but soon enough he will be weakened to the point of death. And until the day he dies, he will be worthless.”
“You villainous beast!” Ana cried, dropping to her knees. “How dare you! He’s just a child, just a little boy...how could you kill someone so young and innocent? I won’t say what my sons did was right, but how can you be so cruel as to make him suffer and kill him this way?” She was sobbing then, her arms wrapped tightly around her son. “How can you be so cold hearted? How...”
Without pretense, the sorcerer fell to the ground. All went silent as Ana and Leo watched Fercard lie there, unmoving, eyes suddenly empty. It was a moment later that they saw the blood dripping from his back and onto the floor, a crimson pool like a dark hole in the wood. Standing behind the sorcerer’s body was Echo, a kitchen knife in his hand, his expression a sober one.
“Echo...” Ana gazed at her son with both disappoint and wonder, all at once.
“I’m sorry, mother, I didn’t want to kill him.” Echo dropped the blood-drenched knife, and it hit the floor with a deafening clang. “But I can’t control the rage I feel when someone dares to hurt my brother.”
But that rage had since vanished, leaving only sorrow and defeat in its wake. Echo fell to the floor beside his mother, embracing Leo as tightly as he could. All three wept then, holding onto the cursed boy for dear life.
“Leo...Leo...” Echo murmured tearfully. His heart was sore with sadness. I’m sorry, Leo. I will make it up to you, no matter what the cost.
Magical creatures are bizarre things, and this is what Leo thought when he looked up and murmured, “He’s gone.”
Indeed the body had vanished entirely, leaving only a puddle of blood, a pile of dust, and a dark blue cloak behind. Echo had heard once that sorcerers, wizards, and other magicians turned to ash when they died. Crawling forward on his knees, Echo lifted the cloak to reveal the shining blue pendant, still hanging from the chain. He held it up to the light, examining it.
“I wonder...” he whispered, then glanced at the spellbook, cast aside on the floor. “Wait...wait! Healing spells! Leo, you won’t die! All I have to do is figure this out...”
“Echo, you don’t understand.” Ana was stricken, her eyes cold with pain. “Leo is not suffering from any ordinary disease; the sorcerer Fercard cursed him. It cannot be undone.”
Echo refused to listen, however, as he was already paging through the healing spells with desperation. “Mama, Leo...it’s right here! The weakening disease! It says...” His expression instantly went from excited to utterly crestfallen. “There is no cure.”
Defeated, Echo tossed the book aside.
“Echo...” Leo’s voice was thin and quiet, sounding as though it were coming from a mile away.
“There’s nothing we can do...nothing...” He shut his eyes tight, then opened them wide, his expression one of pure rage and determination. “No. This can’t go without consequence. That wicked sorcerer cannot steal my brother’s life for nothing.”
“What can we do, Echo?” Leo whispered. “There’s no sense in overworking yourself for revenge. We should...we should spend time together while we can...”
As usual in most situations, Echo wasn’t listening. Instead, he looked his mother in the eye and raised the pendant for her to see. “Mama, tell me. Do you know if this has significance?”
“Absolutely. I’ve heard of Fercard’s source of magical power, and it all comes straight from that gem. It’s known as the Sapphire Crystal, one of the greatest pieces of magical paraphernalia in the world. That’s why Fercard was so famous and powerful; he was born in a family of sorcerers that were Keepers of the Crystal, and it was passed down to him.”
“Then...then if I take it...” Echo slowly placed it around his neck, feeling much like that very moment was a turning point in his life. “...I’ll acquire the Crystal’s magic.”
“Echo, no!” Ana shot forward, reaching for her son’s hand. “Please, you don’t understand its power! You could get hurt!”
“Mother, listen to me.” Echo’s tone was so somber and firm, Ana couldn’t help but hear him out. “I can go back to Fercard’s manor and take the rest of his books. I can learn the spells and the magic that goes along with the Sapphire Crystal. I can harness its power and then...then I’ll find a way to cure Leo.”
“It’s not worth it, Echo,” Ana begged him. “Please, please, just let it be...magic is not something to be taken so lightly.”
“What if there’s a chance to save Leo’s life? This book may not list a cure, but if I gain the same magic that Fercard once had, then surely I can deactivate his curse. Please, mother, let me do this. For Leo. For my brother.”
Ana glanced at her younger son, sitting by the fire with wide eyes. He was not experiencing pain and sickness just yet, but certainly by morning the disease would begin to take affect. She pictured young Leo dying well before he even turned sixteen, his last few years full of suffering and illness. And all for nothing. That despicable sorcerer punished the boy for a practically harmless crime, and the Eden family was being forced to pay for it. She faced Echo again, his eyes brimming with courage and hope. If any child could master magic, it was this one.
“Echo...you may use Fercard’s magic. However, if you get hurt in any way, then I’m taking the Crystal away and you will give up magic entirely. Understand?”
“Yes, Mama. I understand.” Echo stood, strength and optimism renewed. “I’m going back to the manor right now, so I can practice magic immediately.”
“Be careful, Echo,” Leo warned, and Echo nodded resolutely.
“Don’t worry, Leo. You won’t die. I promise.”