2: The Quest

Twin humans walked on the same street, heading towards the same large building made of stone bricks splotched from years between sun and shade. The street was crowded and loud, voices and hands intertwining as people bartered and traded each other’s items against the wooden stalls and in the small shops lining the dirt path. At noon, with the sun bleaching the sky to a mint green, there were nearly no dark grey or brown shadows in the entire Middle Territory, even in the thin forest that covered half of it. Those who lived close enough—and thus, farther from human headquarters—would now be seeing the wall that protected them from the other species inhabiting this world, made entirely of bone, practically glowing pale yellow and grey. Middle Territory was inhabited by Midlings, the closest of the living species that resembled humans, despite the small ranges of magic many held and their several-hundred-year lifespans. It was directed by two leaders, Rachel and Kalev, whose balance kept the people strong and ready to fight for their home, but kept their temper in check.

One twin walked in the middle of the street with her blue eyes sweeping in every detail from her high held head, looking like all the regality and intensity she was known for. Kezia, daughter of Rachel, was the spitting image of her mother inside and out. Assessing the street and her path to the building she’d grown up in, Kezia calculated every possible threat, alternative route, sudden events others would find “unexpected”. She saw men talking and yelling, their bodies sporting muscle that had been developed by manual work but could–and, in most cases, were–trained to move as purposefully and quickly as panthers and slit the throat of an ugly, bloodthirsty demon, or slash the wings of an arrogant, cunning angel, or sever the power-twisting hands of faeries and other creatures who feasted on hearts as if they were delicacies. Her shoulders were straight and her red hair was woven tightly against her head, the elegant structure of her face even more so as her expression remained carefully untelling.

Her twin brother, however, walked against the walls behind the people and small animals dancing about, his long, sure steps never faltering as if he’d already memorized where every basket or rock was placed and where every person or chicken or cat would suddenly step. Keinan, son of Rachel, was identical to his sister and mother in every way except those which counted. He too held the deep, intelligent cobalt eyes, russet hair, and aristocratic structure, but that seemed as far as his leadership qualities went. Kalev was chosen as leader because he balanced Rachel, his level-headedness and diplomatic mind moderating her boldness. Both shared a burning pride and devotion to defending humanity. Keinan showed no such promise, he was not even Kalev. He hated the thought of bloodshed, and had no interest in attempting to outwit the other inhabitants of this world in politics. He watched his sister stride through, the people parting for the woman who, even in her youth of less than a century, radiated strength and commanded a following.

The large door to headquarters, made up of so many separate pieces of iron twisted together so intricately that it formed a solid wall, swung open and Kezia’s stride never changed, not to wait for people to move in the street or the door to fully open, or even to take a breath before ascending the three flights of stone stairs. And Keinan followed quietly, slipping through the door and taking the smaller, hidden stairways and hollow walls reserved for emergencies. He stood behind the wall of the council room, where Kalev, Rachel, and their advisors sat around a long stone table covered in maps, handwritten notes, and sketches. Keinan knew this meeting was for Kezia, and could sense his sister standing with her hands clasped at the far end, watching every minute detail quizzically.

“Squabbles with the Atayharans and the Kelaani demons do nothing.” Havila, the General of the Midling army, the only woman who could rival Rachel’s and Kezia’s bellicose outlooks. “But a complete, head-to-head war would either harm us, or decimate us, unfortunately.”

“You have another solution,” Kalev spoke evenly, but Keinan recognized his tone. It was not a question, but an observation of Havila’s own tone.

“It is outlandish,” a male scoffed, as though he’d already heard of whatever Havila was about to say. Benjon, Keinan grinned, no one else scoffed at everything quite like the ever-skeptical advisor did.

“Yes, but it is the only option we’ve come up with,” the third advisor and council member, Eian, leveled. Keinan frowned in interest, envious of Kezia’s position in the room seeing their faces and bodies whereas he had only their voices to analyze. A sigh.

“We think we should deploy a search for the Seraphim.”

Silence.

“The Seraphim are believed to be a myth,” Kezia said quietly, though her tone betrayed nothing of her thoughts. “Are you sure of this course?”

It did strike Keinan as odd though. He’d expected a lot more arguing from her.

“The angels and demons used to live in realms unreachable from our own,” Rachel spoke up, her tone faraway. Keinan unconsciously leaned closer against the wall, his temple pressed against the cool, dusty stone. It was rumored that Rachel had taken the last known copy of a book, titled the Bible, from Angel territory, which apparently held the history of the other species and had originally been written by a human who had spoken to angels. Only she and Kalev had seen it, but she had told the twins stories from it when they were children. It was just stories, however, or so most believed.

“As of now, we have no other strategies in place,” Havila said sadly. “Perhaps these are truly enemies we cannot strike down on our own. Those things that call themselves angels would never lend us their hands, and if they did, they would ensure that we are forever enslaved in their debt,” she sneered.

“So you would chase fairytales?” Benjon argued. “Would you like our only heir to leadership in a pink gown sauntering up to–”

“This woman is arguably our best soldier, trained and smart, and would be our wisest choice in scouts,” Eian cut him off, the words warped enough that Keinan knew he spoke with gritted teeth. Keinan felt his own metaphorical tail shrink towards his legs. When he continued, he was only slightly gentler. “We do not expect a full civilization leisurely camping out in the forest. The imagination is powerful, the shadow of doubt can grow to fold over entire cities. Even if there is some remnant, a hint of past existence or possibility, that doubt could work in our favor.”

Silence.

Keinan waited.

He found it difficult to believe that no one had further argument. Either Kalev had raised his hand, bidding silence, or Kezia had shifted her stance in front of the room of leaders and they awaited her voice.

“I will leave tomorrow at first light. Alone.”

Keinan bit back his scoff at that. Too bad, princess, he thought, already planning what to pack in his bag.