Zuva’Sai and the Mind Lock


An Agemonia story by Mike Pohjola

“I give my head and heart to the Creators and thank them for giving us jobs and meaning. Our most sacred and undeniable truth is that all Korallians have equal rights to pursue prosperity. I solemnly swear hard work and genius shall always be justly rewarded, parasites harshly punished, and property firmly protected. May Bekora bless the Creators and may their success flow down on us all.”
Zuva’Sai recited the words of the Pledge of Prosperity along with everyone else as he did every morning. He was floating in the great hall of the House of Truth with his colleagues.
“May you work hard,” said his neighbor Nessor, whose work was to write celebrity news for the Truthgivers to tell the smacks. An important task, since the smacks needed distractions to keep them focused on their work.
“Work hard and prosper,” replied Zuva’Sai as was the custom. Then he swam to his desk in the big office. He was one of the many Korallians in charge of examining foreign papers. Difficult work since most foreign documents would be ruined on touching water, which was why half of his department worked in the surface districts of Vann’ti Marshakr. However, there were parchments, petrograms, stone tablets, and agura devices which they could also examine in the more natural underwater environment.
For the past few weeks Zuva’Sai had been reading old parchments acquired from the library of the Council of Eight from where the larva peoples lived. First he looked for something the Creator might be able to use to advance his projects or create even more jobs for the smacks: chemical formulae, machine blueprints, gossip on their foreign trade partners, information on how to acquire more agura crystals. Those parchments he forwarded to be evaluated again by people closer to the Creator.
Second, he looked for material to be published by other Truthgivers. This might be anything from history to biology, from poetry to religion. Anything that would keep the smacks more docile. After he found something suitable, he would mark down the parts to be removed or changed, and pass it on to Truthgivers in Nessor’s department.
Third, he looked for material harmful to the Creators such as parasitic manifestos, political statements, detailed information on how wealth was divided among the larva peoples, stories of dry korallians who had found success, or parables of animals that were too greedy and met an unhappy end. All of those he would send to be destroyed by the smacks specializing in such things.
The rest, and that was most of the documents, would simply be archived somewhere for possible future use.
It was vital work to keep Vann’ti Marshakr running. Or so he kept telling himself. It was a great privilege to be allowed to read the harmful material before it was destroyed. The Creators trusted him. He was a good Truthgiver, he was better than the smacks, and certainly much better than the dry korallians.
Ssepor, his boss, approached his work station, sipping an urchin she held in her webbed hand.
“I need you to do something for me, Zuva’Sai,” said Ssepor.
“Sure thing, Boss.”
“The Tridents have captured a parasite, and I need you to question him.”
“Would that not be a job more suitable for the Shiver?” The Shiver were Vann’ti Marshakr’s telepathic secret police, who were very good at finding out secrets.
Ssepor pressed her tentacles against the urchin, and drew a long, slow sip. “Yeah, so, anyway. I need you to question the parasite. This is a good thing for me, you know. And that means it’s a good thing for you, too.”
Zuva’Sai understood that well enough. He did not want to get on the Shiver’s bad side, but these small internal intrigues were quite common in Vann’ti Marshakr, since everyone wanted to impress the Creator. If the parasite yielded information useful enough, Ssepor might be promoted, and Zuva’Sai might replace her as department head.
Zuva’Sai accepted his new assignment. He would have to meet with a pirate named Melussa who would know the whereabouts of the Staff of Bekora, a powerful artifact which might give The Creator unknown powers or knowledge.
The parasite pirate was confined in a small coral cell on the very top floor of the House of Truth where Zuva’Sai worked. As the tide ebbed, part of the cell would fill with air. Korallians could breathe air if they needed to, but for most, it was not a pleasant experience. Only the dry korallians were used to it, and some even preferred air to water. The pirate was not one of them.
Zuva’Sai floated outside the cell and looked in. Melussa the pirate looked surprisingly respectable. No tattoos, scars, or eye patches. She had large, yellow eyes, braided tentacles, brown trousers and a red jacket. And large manacles around her wrists and ankles.
“Poor you,” she said to Zuva’Sai.
“Poor me?” he replied. “You’re the one in chains.”
“My chains are made of iron and iron rusts in the sea. Your chains are inside your mind.”
Zuva’Sai had never before spoken to a parasite in private, but this sort of rhetoric was common enough in the leaflets he often sent to be destroyed. He knew he should just let it go.
“I’m here to interrogate you,” he said.
“Go ahead then,” the parasite replied.
“Right.” Zuva’Sai pretended to be stupid and cleared his gills with a nervous bubble. “Tell me where it is.”
“What’s that then?”
“Come on. I know you know where it is.”
“You only think you know I know.”
Clearly she thought herself very clever and loved the sound of her own voice. Perhaps that could be used against her. She wanted to propagandize. Let her.
“What do you mean?” asked Zuva’Sai. “I have read everything you people have written.”
“Oh! Then you do already know something. And you know you are in chains.”
“At least I’m not a parasite.”
“Parasite? You think I’m here to take away the fruits of your labor? Steal your catch? Attach myself to you and live off your blood?”
“Isn’t that what you people do?”
“No. There’s only one type of person who does that.”
“Don’t say the Creators!”
“The Creators.” She was getting started on a good rant, not playing coy anymore. Now it was just a matter of guiding the conversation in the right direction.
“Whatever can you mean?”
“Don’t you see it? The Creators use you. All of you. They are the ones who take the fruits of your labor and leave you with nothing but comfortable lies. The sea is rich and there would be plenty for everyone if you divided your possessions more equally. But no! The Creator takes everything.”
“But he works so hard that he deserves it!”
“He doesn’t work at all! He is the parasite!”
“Is that why you’re here? To blaspheme?”
“I’m here to help you, our oppressed brethren.”
“Help us how?”
“We want to set you free!”
“But how? The Trident and the Shiver are more powerful than a hundred of your pirate fleets.”
The pirate hesitated. This was it, Zuva’Sai realized. She had come to find the Staff of Bekora to destroy Vann’ti Marshakr society with it. And now she was pondering whether she could trust Zuva’Sai or not. The Staff of Bekora, and perhaps its location, were at the forefront of her mind.
Zuva’Sai relaxed his gills, closed his eyes, and concentrated. Time slowed down, and the gentle movement of particles in the water came almost to a halt. Her scales disappeared, her flesh became but a vessel for her thoughts and dreams. He could move amongst her secret memories and hidden desires like a fish in a reef. The baroque and organic shapes of her thoughts formed a mobile and multicolored labyrinth for him to explore.
Because he had already made her think about the staff, he did not have to explore for very long. Amongst feelings of fear and hope, distrust and curiosity, it was right there. A staff of driftwood and coral, but broken into many parts. Attached to it were a number of other thoughts, one particularly promising. She had come here to find a part of it. But where?
And then Zuva’Sai saw the location with perfect clarity.
Zuva’Sai explained his discoveries to Ssepor, who praised him accordingly.
“Now, Zuva’Sai, I need you to go there yourself, and bring the artifact to me.”
“I’m not much of an archaeologist, I’m afraid. But the Creator …”
“No time for that now,” snapped Ssepor unexpectedly. “The Creator is far too busy to be troubled with minutiae like this.” Ssepor forced a smile. “Now Zuva’Sai, I know you are a true korallian. Not one to shrink away from your responsibilities. Not a lazy no-good parasite. No! You do what I need you to do, don’t you?”
Ssepor was acting very suspiciously. She had a double motive, perhaps she was even planning to overthrow the Creator. But Zuva’Sai did not really have any other choice, other than to talk to the Shiver about his boss. And any plan that involved the Shiver was just as likely to backfire horribly.
So he said yes.
Zuva’Sai swam through Kelp Park to the shallowest part of the city. The buildings here were almost completely on the surface, bathing in air. They were not korallian, of course. Like most of the city, they were built by the Ancients millennia ago. Most districts of the city were more or less underwater, but this part had been built on solid rock which defied the lure of the sea even still.
The buildings there had been taken over by the Amethyst Order and other foreign traders, or the dry Korallians who dealt with them. Zuva’Sai had only been there a couple of times, and never in this building.
The Surface Quarter was surrounded by underwater warehouses and factories with goods being constantly transported up and down by the Mysklo Company. Zuva’Sai swam towards the light, following several smacks towing consignments of goods.
He broke the surface with his webbed hand, and his head soon followed. He closed his gills and drew breath with his mouth. The water was not deep enough for swimming, so he had to walk like one of the larva peoples. It felt stupid, walking in water. Walking out of the water did not feel any less stupid. But here he was, in the Surface Quarter.
He walked up to the Amethyst Order airdock. Airships big and small flew in the air around him to and from the floating station. Further on he could see waterships sailing back and forth. You could live in Vann’ti Marshakr all your life and never see a larva person. But here there were ignisaurs, nihteegris, quothians, and other larva peoples going about their business. Alongside dry korallians, of course.
Zuva’Sai tried to pay them no heed and instead looked for the place he had seen in Melussa’s mind. The pirate had never been there so she had no image of what it looked like, only the location on an old map. The Surface Quarter had changed a lot since then, but at least Melussa had seemed convinced it would still be there.
Sure enough, cramped between a quothian silk warehouse and an Amethyst Order bank, there was a small building of white marble. It was in a partially submerged pit with a walking bridge over it, clearly just waiting to be demolished to make way for some new highrise.
He approached the building. Was it an old temple? Hard to tell. As he got closer, the sounds of industry around him joined with the angry cries of leather-winged lessamut. He peered in a window on the first floor. The house seemed to be home to a whole community of seabirds and shrieking lessamut, protective of their young.
There were some of them in the pool of water surrounding the building too, but not so many as to bother him. Zuva’Sai let himself sink a little until he was underwater. There were two floors visible down here, and if what he remembered of the Ancients’ architecture was right, the floor closest to the bottom would be the entrance. He found a doorway and swam through it. There were no fish at all, which was not surprising considering how many predators called this water home.
He swam inside. The floor, ceiling, and walls of the lobby were covered in barnacles and corals. In some places the white marble was still visible, in other places it had been ground into silvery sand. He did not know exactly what he was looking for, but he had seen an incantation in Melussa’s mind that he would need to get there. Wherever he could not proceed without that would be where he was going.
The lobby had stairways leading up and down. He first swam up until he reached the surface where the lessamut nested. To protect his ears from the shrieks, he decided to examine that part last, and swam back down. He had found only doorways leading to small rooms with decayed furniture. In one room was a trace of a magicanism whose agura had long since been taken by some previous graverobber.
Zuva’Sai dived deeper into the cellars of the building, and there he came across something interesting. Instead of open doorways, he saw big marble doors, the cracks emanating the same sort of bluish light you might see at midday near the surface. This was probably what he was looking for.
He swam to the first door, placed his webbed hand on the marble, and spoke the incantation. He could feel a weak effect, as if the door was thinking. But soon the sensation passed, and the door stayed closed. He tried the next door, and the next.
Just before he moved on to the penultimate door, he heard a sound from above, like metal hitting stone. Was there someone else here? He had to be fast. Zuva’Sai tried the door, and this time the incantation worked. The glow grew brighter for a second, and the door unlocked. He had to paddle hard with his webbed feet, but he managed to push the heavy door open.
Beyond was a cube-shaped cave, mostly untouched by time or the creatures of the sea. A vault with a white chest that had a glowing green agura crystal on it. This was where the light was coming from. The chest was too big for him to carry so he would have to open it right now. He tried the same incantation, but it did not work. The feeling was different than with the doors. It was as if this lock could not be opened by a spell at all but by something else.
He heard the waves of speech coming from somewhere within the building. Whoever it was, they were obviously also looking for the Staff of Bekora, and would soon find their way here. Zuva’Sai decided to give himself just one more try before he would have to flee.
There were no buttons, handles or levers, but from the old texts he knew the magicanisms of the Ancients might be manipulated telepathically.
It was difficult to relax when he knew he was in a hurry, but Zuva’Sai tried his best. He could not relax his gills completely, but he managed to concentrate enough that time slowed down, and he could enter the mind of the magicanism, such as it was.
He was inside another mind. There were no desires or dreams, no organic shapes or bubbles of memory. Instead there were sharp corridors and rectangular objects, precise memories and exact pieces of knowledge, some secret and some open, even the colors seemed brighter and more contrasting.
“What do you desire?” came a low voice which echoed in the angular labyrinth. He was startled at first, thinking it came from outside. But then he realized the device was speaking to him telepathically.
“I command you to open,” Zuva’Sai replied.
“You have no authority here,” the device spoke. True enough, but perhaps Zuva’Sai could force his way in.
“Grant me full authority,” he said.
“Only the worthy may be given authority.”
Some things never change, thought Zuva’Sai. “I have given my head and heart to the Creators and thank them for giving me a job and meaning.” That should do it.
“You are not worthy.”
It wanted more? “I believe in equal rights to pursue prosperity and that parasites should be harshly punished.”
“You are not worthy.”
He did not have much time, but he recited the entire Pledge of Prosperity to the device, verbatim. If that did not convince it, nothing would.
There was a pause, as if the magicanism was considering his words. Then it whirred a little, and said again: “You are not worthy.”
“Bekora!” he cursed. Perhaps it could sense his anxiety. He would have to try again later when there was more time.
Zuva’Sai broke the connection and let his mind return to the cube-shaped cave. He could hear the others approaching. He quickly swam out of the vault, pushed the door shut, and hid behind a bend in the corridor.
The water in the basement was mostly still, but he could sense the thoughts and the mild waves caused by a bunch of swimming korallians. There were maybe half a dozen of them. He heard their voices. Stressed, no-nonsense commands and softer soothing replies. Wait a minute, he recognized the latter voice! It was that of Melussa, the parasite the Truthgivers had captured.
Were the other swimmers Truthgivers, or at least sent by Ssepor? Were they here to assist him?
Zuva’Sai was planning to reach out telepathically when he felt someone else’s mind probing him. Had the powers of his mind been any less, his thoughts and dreams would have been an open book for whoever it was. As it was, he managed to hide from the probing mind, just as he physically hid behind the bend.
Such mental powers were not common amongst the Truthgivers, and they would not be used preemptively. This reeked of the Shiver, the korallian secret police! They had discovered Ssepor’s little ruse, taken custody of Melussa, and were now seeking the Staff of Bekora for themselves.
He heard Melussa look for the right door by speaking the words again and again. The Shivertroops guarding her were getting impatient. Then, just as it had moments before, the vault door opened, and showed them the white chest.
The Shivertroops moved inside with Melussa. At least most of them. It was hard to tell without looking or probing. If they were all in the cave, this might be his best chance of escaping. On the other hand, he might be better off hiding until they left.
He was not stupid enough to probe the Shiver, so he focused on listening instead. The frustrated grunts indicated they had no more success than he had had. Some of the Shivertroops blamed Melussa but she rightly explained she did not know any more about the device than they did.
After a while the Shiver gave up. Their leader ordered the Shivertroops to carry the chest to their headquarters.
“Someone has already tried to access the mind lock,” said the leader. “Search this place.”
Zuva’Sai was hiding behind a bend at the end of the corridor. There was no door there, only what looked like a rusty cupboard. He pulled it open and discovered a small chute leading up. A service tube of some sort, perhaps?
The hatch was not meant for a korallian, but he managed to climb in anyway, not minding the scratches and tears he suffered. He was floating in the barnacled stale water, looking up. The water was dirty and the chute was dark so he would have to rely on luck. Zuva’Sai pushed with his feet, put his hands up to protect himself and swam.
Behind, he could hear the sounds of the Shiver looking around, and perhaps finding the chute door, but they could not see him anymore.
The chute was tall and unchanging. Apparently every floor had a hatch like the one he had entered from. He kept swimming up, up, up, until he reached the surface. The chute went further up, but now he knew he was above the lobby where he, and probably the Shiver, had entered.
He had to climb a little in the tunnel to reach the hatch. He pushed it open and forced himself through it. He entered a colony of angry lessamut protecting their nests.
The flying lizards shrieked and cried, flying near him threateningly and nearly forcing him back into the chute. He tried to cover his head with his clothes as he ran through the corridor into the stairway leading to the lobby.
He welcomed the sight of water, and quickly jumped in. He swam out of the building only to see the Shiver exit some time after him, too far away to capture him. One of the Shivertroops threw a spear which missed him by several arms’ lengths.
He could easily swim off and hide before they could catch him. He was safe!
He waved goodbye and turned to swim off.
Just then he felt a telepathic probe, way too powerful to ward off. His brain froze, his limbs went dead, and he floated in the water immobile. “I should not have messed with the Shiver,” he told himself as they manacled him and dragged him over to join Melussa. The parasite opened her gills in a friendly if ironic gesture.
Zuva’Sai failed to see the humor in the situation. Being captured by the Shiver meant telepathic questioning and nightmarish torture, no matter if he had only been following orders.
They were dragged out of the Surface Quarter and towards the scary Shiver Towers.
Zuva’Sai had worked hard all his life, but had never achieved much success. He was not very physical so he had to rely on his wits. Nor was he charismatic or well liked, but he had always understood people.
Growing up from a larva to a mature korallian, everyone had to undergo tests. Many failed at these tests, and died or became a dry korallian. Later on in life there were other kinds of tests that determined one’s station. Most ended up as smacks, toiling in the mines or the fish and kelp farms. The strong ones ended up as soldiers in the Trident. Some were smart enough to become Truthgivers or telepathic enough to join the Shiver.
Once or twice in a generation, some exceptional individual possessed all these qualities and the sheer force of will to make them rise above everyone else, to create jobs and to give meaning to others, to lead and to own. They were the Creators. They controlled korallian society and gave everyone their liberty. As the hardest working korallians, the Creators obviously also reaped the most benefits. Clearly, Ssepor dreamed of gaining the Creators’ favor by procuring the Staff of Bekora. The plan had backfired, and now Zuva’Sai would pay the price.
He had often dreamed of becoming a Creator himself. Of using his smarts to come up with some new industry, of creating thousands of jobs, and being a respected leader of his people. Working in the Truthgiver’s office had done very little to help him reach his dream.
Perhaps he just was not cut out for that. He was not strong enough or ruthless enough. Even if the Shiver released him, he would live the rest of his days as a low-level Truthgiver.
Zuva’Sai and Melussa shared a cell in the Shiver Towers. Zuva’Sai’s limbs worked again, but he had little use for them now.
“I’m not cut out for this,” Zuva’Sai said aloud. “I’m not a fighter.”
“Neither was Bekora,” said Melussa.
“Huh? What do you know of him?”
“I’m a korallian, the same as you. Of course I know of him. He was the forefather of us all. He was a great explorer and philosopher, but not a fighter.”
“Why do you need his staff in the first place?”
“My people need it. They say it can control the water. Create torrents, pacify waves, cause tsunamis, that kind of thing.”
“You don’t have a Creator. So who sent you? Your boss?”
“We all work for the community as best we can,” the parasite said. “And then we share the fruits of our labor so that everyone gets their needs met. The strong of body and mind work a lot, the weak are helped. And if the weak become strong, they help out in turn.”
“Sounds chaotic.”
“Let’s say you are a fisherman,” the pirate Melussa said. “You catch five fish, and you must give four of them to the Creator. You only get to keep one. But what if instead you got to keep two and then the other three were given to those who are hungriest?”
“Oh, but that would never work here,” Zuva’Sai explained, “because the fishing equipment, the sea, and even the fish are owned by the Creators. We work at their pleasure. It would be a great privilege to be allowed to have even one fish out of five as a reward for just catching the fish.”
The parasite leaned in closer, and spoke in a conspiratorial tone. “What if… What if you all owned the fish together?”
Zuva’Sai had read these arguments several times, and made damn sure they never reached the smacks.
But what if Melussa was right? What if long ago, when Bekora and the Ancients ruled these waters, there were no Creators? They would predate the Pledge of Prosperity and its beautiful ideals. Which meant the mind lock in the white chest also predated them. It would be useless to try to convince it with concepts too advanced for it. How foolish of him!
Instead he would have to try another approach. What would a parasite do? Melussa had said something about sharing the fruits of the Staff among their whole community. Would that be the key?
Shivertroops guarded them carefully, physical and mental violence ready to be used at the blink of an eye. The prisoners were transported to a vault where they saw the familiar white chest.
“Open it,” commanded an officer.
“I can’t,” Melussa said. “I think you have to be a telepath to open it. Can’t you do it?”
“Don’t try to be clever,” the officer said, and hit her in the face.
“Please, I’m a loyal citizen of Vann’ti Marshakr,” pleaded Zuva’Sai, “I work in the House of Truth, I make the Pledge every morning, I believe in rewarding the Creator’s hard work and genius. I want to help you!”
“Go ahead,” the officer said. She motioned at some Shivertroops to keep an eye on Zuva’Sai. He paid them no heed as he telepathically re-entered the angular labyrinth. “What do you desire?” the mind lock asked him.
“Grant me full authority,” Zuva’Sai said.
“Only the worthy may be given authority.”
“I wish to set my friend Melussa free and use the Staff of Bekora to help all korallians everywhere,” he lied.
The mind lock was silent. He could feel the walls of the labyrinth closing in on him as the lock tried to figure out if he was lying. Fortunately, hiding his own candid lies from telepathic probing was something he had practiced his entire life.
“You have full authority,” the low voice spoke eventually. The labyrinth walls flowed further away.
“If I command you to open, will you do so?” Zuva’Sai asked.
He did not. Not yet. He was surrounded by Shiver agents, ready to capture him again.
“Here’s what I want you to do…”
Zuva’Sai exited the labyrinth and was again standing in the Shiver vault, surrounded by armed agents and the chained Melussa.
“Well?” asked the Shiver officer in charge.
“I suggest you try the mind lock for yourself,” Zuva’Sai said. “I think you will like the results.”
The officer eyed him skeptically, but relaxed her gills, and closed her eyes.
Zuva’Sai said, “Now!”
Several things happened at once. The white chest opened revealing an object the size of a large conch, the handle of the Staff of Bekora. The officer’s eyes opened, but glowed pearly white, as her thoughts remained trapped inside the mind lock. A burst of telepathic energy splashed from the mind lock incapacitating all the korallians in the room for a second. All except for Zuva’Sai.
That gave him just enough time to grab the handle of the staff from the chest. He let his thoughts flow through his hand into the artifact, and could feel how he was suddenly one with the mild currents inside the room. He pushed with his thoughts and could feel a small force flowing from the staff, moving the water according to his will.
“Seize him!” cried the Shiver’s second-in-command. The Shivertroops approached him, their lances ready, their minds stretching. Only the officer remained immobile.
He was in considerable trouble, and without the Staff handle he would have been in a hopeless situation. As it was, he concentrated his thoughts to create strong local currents inside the room. One current threw the Shivertroops against the back wall, pummeling them and keeping them in place. The other current pulled him and Melussa out of the room and into the shaft leading to the top floor and out of the tower.
Once outside he knew he did not have long. He would have to find Ssepor and the Creator, and bring the Staff of Bekora to them. They could protect him from the Shiver.
The worrying thought broke his concentration and the supernatural current soon dissipated. They had to swim using their own webbed feet.
“My thanks,” Melussa said. “Now are you going to use the staff to free your people? Or will you try to become a Creator yourself?”
Zuva’Sai did not reply. He had no choice. The Staff might have power enough for him to try to become a Creator if fate had been kinder to him, but not enough to permanently fight off the Shiver.
“That’s just one part of the Staff of Bekora, you know,” offered the parasite. “No one knows where the other parts are. But their whereabouts were written down long ago, and are held by larva warlocks in the Library of the Council of Eight.”
“I’d say you were lying, but I saw all of this when I questioned you.”
“Broke into my mind, you mean?”
“I guess,” Zuva’Sai said sheepishly.
They were at the House of Truth, and quickly swam inside to the great hall. High above them Ssepor was talking to someone surrounded by a group of armed Tridents.
“Ah, here is Zuva’Sai. He’s the one I sent to get the Staff of Bekora for you.”
Then Zuva’Sai realized who the other korallian was. His robes were rich and decorated with pearls, his wrists heavy with rings of rare metals. He had thick, free-flowing face tentacles, deep-set yellow eyes, and some sort of agura-powered device attached to his neck. It seemed to pulse gently at the rhythm of his breathing. Behind him swam a giant mysklo, a tentacled conch big enough to fill an entire room. The symbol of the most powerful corporation in the city.
“You’re the Creator!”
“Please, call me Pezana,” the Creator said and smiled reassuringly. “I’ve heard great things about you, Zuva’Sai.”
“Yeah, I hand picked him for the job,” Ssepor said.
“What exactly was the job?” asked the Creator.
“To question the parasite about the location of the artifact, and then obtain it for you, of course!”
“Strange,” said the Creator almost to himself. “See, I thought you were a Truthgiver manager.”
“I am, Creator,” Ssepor replied in earnest.
“Yet, interrogation is the job of the Shiver and archaeology is not exactly your department either.”
Ssepor said nothing. If she was trying not to look guilty, she was failing.
The Creator turned towards Zuva’Sai. “Do you have the Staff of Bekora?”
“Just the handle,” Zuva’Sai said.
“Hand it over. Hand it over, and I will make you a Truthgiver manager to replace Ssepor here.”
Zuva’Sai was about to give the handle to the Creator when Ssepor cried out, “What? I have served you well for decades! How dare you fire me?” She swam full speed towards the Creator, gills erect with anger.
The Creator pulled back a little, but before Ssepor was within touching distance, several Tridents attacked her. There were quick thrusts and cries. Purple blood formed a dark cloud around Ssepor who was now floating lifelessly, and slowly turning belly up.
Some of the Tridents approached Zuva’Sai, the blades of their weapons still covered in blood. His boss of eleven years had just been killed. Now he felt he, too, was being threatened.
“Hand over the Staff,” said the Creator, smiling as if nothing had happened.
Zuva’Sai had no other option. He stole a quick glance at Melussa who had said nothing during all of this. Zuva’Sai wondered how the parasite might comment on their way of doing business in Vann’ti Marshakr. But as he was looking at Melussa, he saw movement behind her. Shivertroops! They had followed him here and were now about to attack.
That is when he made up his mind.
Defeated, Zuva’Sai took Melussa’s hand and squeezed it. He reached out with his other hand, the one that held the handle of the Staff of Bekora, and moved it towards the Creator Pezana.
He was faster than the Tridents and faster than the approaching Shivertroops. But like before, he could feel the Shiver agents probing his mind with their psionic powers. This time, however, he felt he could easily close his mind against the attacks. It was as if the staff was helping him concentrate. Whatever it was, he was glad to be able to escape the Shiver.
As they approached the skylight at the roof of the great hall, he saw something squirm in between him and the blue waters above. Shadowy tentacles blocked almost the entire exit, but it was too late to stop. The Creator had two mysklo, and this was the bigger one.
Its tentacles were strong and long, like snakes with suckers, and they coiled around Melussa.
Expelled through the skylight by the force of the staff, Zuva’Sai looked behind him, and saw the creature drag Melussa back to the Creator and the Shiver waited for her.
As he rode the magnificent current out of the House of Truth to the surface and then surfed the waves towards the Surface Quarter, he pondered where he would go next.
He realized he was holding in his hands his one chance at power. The handle alone made him stand out, but if he assembled the entire staff, he could return home strong enough to withstand the Creators, the Shiver and the Tridents. First, he would have to find the library of the Council of Eight in Ambergate.
He boarded a parasite airship Melussa had told him about. A normal ship would have taken hours to get ready but they were used to quick departures. The light of agura crystals seemed bluer out of the water, but they did the trick just the same. The ship lifted out of the water and into the air, salt water pouring out from the holes in the railing.
He stood on the deck looking down on the Tridents, Shivertroops, and a mysklo who had all just emerged from the water, trying to locate him. He waved at them.
“I will return!” Zuva’Sai yelled at them.
As a conqueror, he wondered, or as a liberator?
The airship sailed towards the northern horizon.

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