Quest

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“In the kingdom to the north, the people can move mountains. In the south, they crackle like the sky in a storm. And in our kingdom, we can spread out like fine mist.

“The relationship between our three kingdoms has been one of mutual spying and careful civility. This was not always so. When the world was young, we were unified. There was a small island in the midst of an endless sea. The people there lived in shining palaces of molten sun- and moonlight, and their king and queen, whose names have been lost to time, were wise and fair–”

“–wise and fair royalty? Yeah, right–” someone heckled.

“–those palaces sound structurally unstable–” another joked.

Lazily, I cast a smirk across the fire at my counterpart, Marcus, leader of the Grav team. We shared the smile of those who have realized they are two of a kind.

We were what was known as the left hands of our respective monarchies.

“–Shh!” The storyteller cleared his throat and firmly put his airs back in place. “Ahem. This was the grand kingdom of Singularity. At its heart was an artifact of great, unifying power. The king and queen had no heir, and their three barons fought bitterly and bloodily for the crown. They colluded only once, and that was to kill the king.

“By the grace of the heavens, the queen escaped, fled to the mountains, and entrusted the artifact to an order of star-gazing monks. In her grief and rage, the queen cursed the land. There was a colossal bang, new earth rose from the sea, and the shining palaces collapsed.

“From that day forth, our powers have been as divided as were the three barons: Gravs, Kuantums, and Lektromags. It’s believed, though, that if we can find the artifact of the nameless royalty, we can once again be unified.” The storyteller set his pipe between teeth and raised both his hands. “Of course, this was so long ago, nobody knows what the artifact is or what it did!”

“Could be a law code.”

“I heard it was a ball of string.”

The storyteller grinned. The archaeologists around the fire began animatedly discussing different versions and interpretations of the story.

***

Presently, representatives from our kingdoms, the Gravs and the Kuantums, were on a joint expedition to find the lost artifact of the kingdom of Singularity before the volatile Lektromags could.

“Do you think the artifact is real?” Marcus asked me.

“I think my queen asked me to find it. You?”

“I don’t know if it’s possible for our kingdoms to be unified.”

I rested my hand on my travel-sized Fiziks set. ”Do you play?”

“I’m an educated person from a civilized nation, Diana. Of course I play.”

My smile grew. I suspected that, like me, he wasn’t used to losing.

We were barely five moves into the game before he accused me of cheating.

“That is a perfectly legal move!” I protested.

“No, it’s not.”

As it turned out, even though Fiziks was wildly popular in both our kingdoms, we played by very different rules.

Marcus let loose a bark of laughter, startling the others. “I think this a metaphor.”

“How come my spies never bring back these interesting tidbits about you lot?” I sighed.

“Why does a humble archaeologist have spies?”

“Oh, are we pretending we’re stupid? Is that what we’re doing? Because if it is, this is going to be a long trip.”

***

“So, why,” I asked the chief archaeologist, “are we searching this mountain?”

“Well, um, with our kingdoms collaborating, we deduced that the artifact must be hidden there.”

He pointed at the map.

“But we’re way over here.” I pointed at the opposite side.

“Well, this mountain here used to be over there. During border conflicts between us and, um, you guys, we moved it, and we’ve recently been able to pinpoint its location.”

“You misplaced a mountain?”

“I think the important thing is that we found it again.”

“Marcus, are you with us?”

Marcus was staring at the land below. “I see lights. The Lektromags are catching up.”

***

Weeks passed. It was bitterly cold, our supplies ran low, and we slept less with every successive day. The mountain was behemoth–even with half our party flying, it was an undertaking to scout.

I searched in Duality, my leftmost self about thirty meters from my rightmost. To an observer, I’d look like a blur.

Marcus dropped out of the sky. He tapped me, forcing me to collapse. I went shooting off in a random direction, mercifully avoided trees, and came to a halt.

“That was rude,” I told him.

His eyes were bright. “I think I found it.”

***

There was an entryway into the mountain. It was like nothing I’d ever seen, all moving parts, and when it turned and rotated, I was sure it would tangle upon itself.

“It’s a Half-Spin,” the chief archaeologists said. “You have to spin it twice to come out the other side.”

“If you have to spin it twice, why is it called a Half-Spin?” Marcus asked.

“Because the ones you spin half-way are Two-Spins.”

“Right . . . Obviously.”

The spider-infested tunnels, which could only be the former sanctum of the star-gazing monks, were cluttered with artifacts as odd as the entrance: a clock that ticked slower when you moved it, a set of double-doors that had to be entered simultaneously, and a chemical-filled urn that could be used to magnetize a bit of metal.

At the heart of the mountain, at the tunnels’ end, was a room with a sturdy and well-worn chest on a pedestal–the hiding place of the lost artifact that could possibly unify us all.

I nodded at the box and held out my hand. “Together?”

Marcus laced his fingers through mine.

With our free hands, we opened the box. We turned to each other and smiled.