A withered hand and a sleeping love. Those were the things left to him after the curse.

It was not a curse wrought of malicious intent, but a wild and fretful magic that clung to two souls with a life of its own, unheeding of its originator.

The instability of Zoe's magic was no secret. It was clear from the time they first developed that controlling them would be a life-long struggle for the eager girl. Zoe was only a year younger than Brak, but when her emotions got the best of her, there was no deflection spell to protect him from the onslaught of his sister's unbridled magic.

Until the curse, she'd never done more than splintered a goblet, or froze a budding tree by mistake. Most of the village children refused to play with her, but she always had Brak. Patient, cheerful, understanding Brak. As a child, she was convinced there was nothing in the world that could lessen the strength of their familial bond. As a young woman, she had never been given reason to change such a notion.

Then there was Raine.

Everything about her echoed her name. Her hair flowed with a gentle wave down her back and past shoulders that arched smooth as a creek bend. Her eyes were the sort of blue you could see in the sky between patches of clouds during the wet season. The footfalls she made were pitter-patters, mere droplets against the floor. Her voice was refreshing as spring, although thoughts sometimes rushed out of her mouth like a hurricane. She eased onto couches and chairs as if weighing less than a garden pail and even her clothes were a light current of fabrics against her skin.

Worst of all she had no magic.

Brak was disenchanted with the—paradoxically—ordinary mirage of what could be accomplished with spells and potions while a beauty of such natural grace saw fit to give him her time. And she was a friend to Zoe, which only complicated the curse.

It all came about because of a slight. An accidental one, but the case of it being accidental did not curb the sting.

They were in the glade, herding river gnats into a jar for Mizzy's spell practice. Brak had developed a system for it; he hunted out their plant of choice and once a reasonably sized nest was discovered, Raine would swoosh them up in a frenzy for Mizzy to try and catch.

Zoe's hands were clenched and her forehead troubled when she found them.

It was her birthday, and Brak had forgotten.

The shouting was level. Wholly unexpected. It still didn't surprise them.

It did frighten Mizzy home who was none too fond of river gnats and thought a stilling spell useful for nothing.

"You!" Zoe spoke to each of them in turn—both at once. "You're half asleep to the rest of the world when he's near! And you're half a person in her company!"

The tears prickled behind her eyes and threatened to spill. "It's my birthday and you couldn't even think to invite me to join you. Mizzy doesn't like the river. I like the river. What is it about her," pointing to Raine, "that makes you forget? And," to Raine, "why does your brain turn to sludge with him?"

Brak could feel the bitter magic pulsing in the air. He readied an apology, but his mouth refused to open. It was like their skin—Raine's and his—was breathing smoke and wanted to gag. His eyes begged Zoe to be careful, but it was past the point of no return. She would not—or could not withdraw.

"You'll never be whole apart." It was said in disappointment, a slew of regret.

The magic took hold of them, squeezing tightly like they were fruits to be juiced and not made up of bone, sinew, and flesh like people.

They stared at each other, wide-eyed.

She collapsed over the grass.

His face distorted.

She remained unmoving.

His hand aged.

Zoe hadn't the presence of mind to do anything but stare. Brak had recovered his voice and he shouted for her to let Raine down, only, Zoe wasn't holding her up! Somehow her unconscious body hovered several feet over the grass, the backs of her fingertips touching a few blades as her arms fell behind her.

She knew it was cowardly, but Zoe ran. She didn't know where she was going, simply that it was away.

Brak carried Raine to his mother's house; struggling terribly, for his right hand was all but useless. Once, during the hard trek, he dropped her. He cried out and tried to cast a catching spell, but he was too late.

And still she didn't hit the ground. Her body floated above it, repelling all present danger to her still form.

She hovered like a cloud over the bed; feet arched forward like a dancer's, neck arched back while her hands and hair seemed the only part of her susceptible to gravity's pull, sweeping down, brushing against the white sheets. The folds of her wispy skirt followed in like manner, and Brak wondered if her position was in any way a clue as to what could reverse the terrible curse.

Every day he tried a new undoing spell—sometimes up to four or five if the effort didn't exhaust him too soon. What he learned wasn't much, but each failure taught him something new. He was confident nothing could harm her. He was certain she slept peacefully. He had an inkling that none of his spells would awaken her, though he'd never stop trying. As a personal curse wrought by emotional turmoil, most probably only the caster could undo it.

At first, Zoe wouldn't visit. She was too devastated, too ashamed, and she avoided the room and other persons like they were flesh-eating beasts. But as time wore on and Brak's begging became irresistible, she relented. She tried.

So far she'd been unsuccessful, though every attempt was appreciated.

Brak tried to show a brave face through it all, but Zoe knew how heartbroken he was. She wished she could ignore the muffled sobbing that occurred several nights a week when their tries of undoing had been especially powerful, and just as useless as their weakest charms.

Sometimes when Brak put his hand near Raine, he could feel the vibrations of their shared curse stirring between them, and something like a fog curled between his withered hand and her body. He would think to grasp the mist with a netting spell… a dry charm… anything! but all to no end.

But hope remained, so long as she the rise and fall of her chest continued at its comforting pace, and Zoe battled the disenchanting effects of the curse with every fiber of her being.

And Zoe would.

And Zoe did.

I feel I rushed this one. Which is silly, since it took me probably a month to write it. Well, you tell me if it's any good and I'll take your word for it. I have 1,300 more words to write for another story chapter, so this didn't get repeatedly self-Betaed like most of my stories do.

Done (very, very late) for another one of Mara's writing challenges.

This one was inspired by Nika Fadul's The Illusionist on Flickr.
http:/www(dot)flickr(dot)com/photos/ nika_fadul/2803199121/