Emery leaned forward and said, “Warden Hassett, if you don’t mind, can you stop at the bank?”

“The bank?” Hassett repeated. “It’s a little out of our way but since it’s snowy out I’ll take you. I don’t like the thought of you going out on these streets with that bike of yours.”

“Thanks,” Emery said. “It’s about time we read that letter Mom left us,” he added softly to Miles. He smiled wanly and squeezed his brothers hand.

“What do you think she wanted to tell us that she couldn’t say?” Miles asked softly.

“She was dying and she knew it,” Emery said just as quietly. “She had a lot to say and it wasn’t just you two need to take care of each other. It’s been a couple years and I think we’re ready.”

“Ready or not, we should have done this a while ago, Brother,” Miles said. He settled back against the seat.

“We had to get back to school,” Emery said softly. “They hardly let us stay long enough to stay for the funeral and reception afterwards.”

“They, as in the school officials?” Hassett asked.

“Yes,” Emery snapped. “We had to get back and take our exams after all. We didn’t have time to stop in Piedmont to look in the safe deposit box and read Mom’s last letter to us.” He leaned back and stared out the window.

“Here it is,” Hassett said. “You have the key?”

Emery nodded and climbed out of the car. He paused and let Miles catch up. “Ready to find out what Mom had to say?” he whispered.

Miles only nodded and followed Emery into the building. Hassett also followed. The bank manager met them in the lobby. He smiled at the trio and said, “How may I help you.”

“Our mother left something for us in her safe deposit box,” Emery said. “We have her key. She left it to us… when she died.”

“Her name?” the man said solemnly.

“Margery Ellis Ballard,” Emery replied.

The manager nodded and led the way toward the back of the bank. “I remember when she and her husband came to the bank to open a safe deposit box. They left all their important papers here – birth certificates, the deed to their homestead and later a letter arrived by courier. I figured that you’d come sooner or later.”

“Schooling,” Emery said softly.

“Miss Margery was very proud that her boys were attending the Academy in North Lake,” the man said with a grin. He stopped in front of the cage door for the safe deposit box and unlocked it. Emery and Miles followed him inside. Moments later they emerged with Emery holding a folded envelope.

After they were once more seated in the back of Hassett’s cruiser, the warden pulled away from the curb. “Well,” he said. “Planning on opening it now or will you wait until you’re home?”

Emery shook his head. “There will always be something to wait for. Niether of us really wants to open it. It had better be now.”

“You don’t want to know what she had to say?” Hassett asked, peeking at the boys through the rearview mirror.

“Yeah, but I’m not sure why. It just seems like it’s probably bad,” Miles said.

“Something she couldn’t say out loud, even though she knew she was dying. Something she didn’t want to be the last thing she said to us… bad about covers it,” Emery agreed. He broke the seal and pulled the letter open.

“Dearest Miles and Emery,” he read. “My darling boys. I hope you can forgive your father. Even though I can’t tell you what they are, he has very good reasons for what he did. He never meant any harm and he loved us more than anything in this world.”

He looked up at Miles and shrugged. “She always defended him.” Anger colored his tone. He loved his mother and a part of him still blamed their absent father for her death.

“Keep reading, Brother,” Miles said.

Emery nodded and continued with the letter. “By now the doctors or your granny will have told you what is wrong with me. My aura is disintegrating. I have an illness known as Auric Decay Syndrome. It is the self-same thing that took your older sister’s life on the day she was born.”

“You had a sister?” Hassett asked.

“Yeah, but she was stillborn,” Miles said. “Mama and Dad never spoke about her or what she’d died of. All we knew was that we were born in hospitals because they were afraid the same thing would happen to us. Mama was fragile. That was all we were told.”

“It pains me to say this, my boys,” Emery continued. “It pains me and it frightens me. Emery, it is likely that you too have Auric… Decay…” he trailed off and handed the letter to Miles. He was pale and looked terrified.

“Chief?” Hassett asked softly. “You alright?”

“Our sister and Mama died of this… and I might have it?” he said.

“Mama says you need to see an auric specialist, Brother. She says that you had an attack on the day you were born but then the illness seemed to go into remission. She and Dad kept an eye on you, made sure that you had auric stabilizers and such. But since you’ll be a practicing magician now, you might come out of remission.”

“Right,” Emery said, his voice distant. “An auric specialist.”

“Brother?” Miles said softly, catching Emery’s shoulder. “We’ll get through this the same way we’ve always gotten through everything else… together.”

“Right,” Emery replied. He smiled tremulously at Miles but shook his head. “I… have been feeling a little off lately,” he whispered. “Little dizzy spells and such. I just brushed them off.”

“Don’t borrow trouble, Brother,” Miles said.

“You won’t add a moment to your life with worrying, my mother used to tell me,” Hassett said. “Want to stop by the clinic before we leave town?”

Emery nodded and caught Miles by the hand. “You’ll stay with me?” he asked.

“Always, Brother,” Miles promised.

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