They were things he’d heard his brother say a thousand times.  Imagination is the most powerful magic of all.  Music has magic all it’s own.  Nothing is more powerful than love.  It’s a very special kind of magic.  Daniel had even teased about how scary the three would be if you somehow combined them.  Lukas had agreed in all seriousness.

It had started slowly; innocently enough.  Magic was outlawed.  The phony psychics who bilked people out of their life-savings saw jail time.  People who claimed to talk to ghosts in order to make a quick buck suffered likewise.  Fortunetellers and charlatans all fell to the new laws.  The streets were safer, the law-bringers said.  Magic was a dangerous thing.

Then they’d started rounding up seemingly normal people who were just a little odd.  They’re a danger to themselves, the neighbors who asked were told.  It’s for their own safety.  No one actually believed in magic so if they did they must be mad.  A woman mixing herbs in her kitchen might just as likely poison someone as cure them.  It was only right that such practices were stopped.

Lukas told Emil to stay close to home at that point.  “People see things where they shouldn’t,” he’d said.  “They might mistake the fact that you’re special for something that they think is dangerous.”

Emil was special.  Lukas was the same way, but not so obvious.  There was no mistaking the fact that Emil’s hair was almost white, nor that his eyes were so pale a blue as to be almost lavender.  He was an albino.  People did attach a certain set of beliefs to such things.  Lukas could hide it better.  His hair was blonde and his eyes were blue.  He was fair, like their brother Daniel.  Both brothers got around alright.  Their vision was bad but they weren’t completely blind.

Emil looked up when the law-givers came to their cottage.  He didn’t recognize them.  He couldn’t see well enough to.  He knew them by their long red coats and high black boots.  “Get inside,” Daniel growled.  “Stay with Lukas.”

Emil dropped the ball he’d been playing with and dashed inside.  “Law-givers,” he said in a high tight voice.  “Brother?” he called, his voice soft with tension.

“Here,” Lukas said.  “Into the basement,” he added.

Emil followed his older brother down the steep stairs.  He heard the soft padding footsteps as his kitten followed him.  He sat on the soft ground at the bottom of the stairs and caught his cat in one hand and his brother’s hand in the other.

There was the scuffling of footsteps above them.  Then Daniel’s voice, surprisingly loud.  “You see, they aren’t even here.  They went visiting in the next village.”

“Search the house,” one of the law-givers shouted.  There was a great deal of shouting and scuffling then and a single thunderous crash.  Emil felt his brother’s other hand cover his.

“Stay put,” he whispered.  “China can be replaced, little brothers cannot.”

“They came for me?  Why?” Emil whispered.  “I’m not magic.  If I was… If I had magic, why would I let myself stay nearly blind?  Magic fixes everything… or it does in the old stories.”

“What am I always saying… the most powerful magic?” Lukas said.

“Imagination… Music… and – and Love,” Emil whispered.

“Do you believe?” Lukas asked.  “Do you really believe in that magic – true magic?”

Emil shook his head and then winced at another thunderous crash.  “Hey now,” Daniel shouted.  “Be careful in there.  We need some dishes to eat off of, you know.”

“When they return, you tell us,” one of the law-givers growled.

“Yeah, sure,” Daniel replied, his tone sullen.  Then there was the stomping of boots and the slamming of the front door.  After several moments, Daniel peeked down the stairs.  “Sooner rather than later,” was all he said.  Then he pushed the door shut once again.

“Daniel will pack for us,” Lukas said, his voice soft and urgent.  “We leave tonight, Emil.  Can you be strong and brave for your brothers?”

“We leave for where?” Emil asked.  Lukas stood and moved away then.  Emil stood and followed him, suddenly terribly frightened.  His brother was leaning on the wall, whispering to himself.  Then Emil heard it… his voice rising and falling, like a song.  He couldn’t understand the words but he could feel them.

“Close your eyes, Emil,” Lukas said.  “Trust me and believe that I will keep you safe.”

“I do,” Emil whispered.  He closed his eyes and then he felt a hand on his back, guiding him.  Their footsteps echoed – it seemed that they echoed across time.  There was no way that there was a tunnel like this in their basement.

“Believe, Emil,” Lukas’s voice said firmly from somewhere in front of him.

“It’s alright,” Daniel’s voice said from directly behind him.  “Trust us.  We’re your older brothers and we’ve never yet led you astray.”

Emil nodded.  There was a tunnel in the basement.  With his eyes closed, he could imagine how it might look, if his eyes could see properly instead of blurry.  Perhaps there would be little crystals like in the picture books of the dwarven mines.  Perhaps there would be wondrous glowing mushrooms.  Those were in his picture books too.

“Are you doing that?” Daniel asked, his voice hushed with wonder.

“He reads a lot of picture books.  Such things help make his imagination stronger.  Keep your eyes closed, Emil.  We’re nearly there.”  Lukas’s voice sounded so calm, so confident

They seemed to walk forever.  When Emil’s feet started dragging, Daniel picked him up and carried him along on his back.  Still they continued on.  Emil snuggled against his oldest brother’s broad back and soon he slept.

While he slept he dreamed of a wondrous tunnel.  There were enormous crystals, as large as Daniel, mushroom that you could sit on like a stool and helpful dwarves that would peek their heads out and direct the way.  There was a beautiful white boat that moved by itself across a perfectly still underground lake.

Then he was being shaken awake.  Without thinking about his brother’s continual admonitions to keep his eyes shut, Emil opened his eyes and looked up.  Daniel’s face swam into view and then Lukas’s.  “You can stop imagining the tunnel now,” he said.  “We’re out.”

Emil sat up and looked behind him.  A neatly carved hole in the wall was sealing itself up.  Emil watched in amazement as a cheerfully smiling dwarf waved a hand in farewell.  Then he realized something, something remarkable.

“I… see… I saw that,” he whispered.  He turned to look at Daniel and realized that he couldn’t see his brother.  He frowned and looked at Lukas in confusion.  “Everything is blurry but that was clear.”

“The magic is always clear,” his brother whispered.  “For us, it’s the only thing that is.”

“We are magic?” he whispered.  “We are magic!  They weren’t there for just me.  They came for you too.  What would they have done with us?”

“I really don’t know and we might still find out.  That tunnel could only take us so far.  We’ll have to go the rest of the way on foot,” Lukas said.  “That’s why I said you’d have to be brave.”

Emil looked up at the sky.  Night had fallen but the moon was bright.  He pulled his cloak around him and realized that Daniel must have brought it and wrapped him in it while he’d been sleeping.  “Will they be looking for us?” he asked, his voice tremulous.

“You can be sure that they will,” Daniel said.  “They’ll be watching the roads and the house.  That’s why I left the lights burning.”

Emil looked down and gasped as he saw a little white bundle of fur beside his ankle.  His kitten had somehow followed them the whole way.  He lifted up the little cat and then fell into step behind his brothers.