Zuhaira was thrust down to her knees, the guards behind her grasping her shoulders and lakhir, and savagely using their shins to pin her legs to the ground. They held her in this vice but her face showed no sign of the pain.
She knelt in the centre of a grand plaza, carefully carved from volcanic ocean rock. The waves in the surface shimmered by the light of thousands of chemiluminescent lanterns, and the plaza was ringed with rows of stone benches, upon which the high-ranking members of the Upper Houses now sat. Between the plaza and the benches was a shallow trench, filled with brightly coloured coral. Members of the lower houses swam above the plaza, watching from above.
The Heads of the Tethyos Houses sat in front of her, dressed in their shining stately armour. The High Caliph, Za’ab IV stood, and his voice echoed across the plaza.
“Zuhaira bin Kale’el, you stand accused of breaking your vows and shaming your kin in an act defying the Concordat of the Tethyos Houses. According to his testimony, you actively seduced your master. As you know, the union between master and apprentice is taboo and as such, we have been forced to declare you Wa’ahim.”
Zuhaira’s stomach fell through her legs, but her expression did not change. She was outcast, and had until the rise of the next sunrise to leave Tethyos City. If another largos crossed her path, she was fair game.
“Leave the city, Zuhaira.” Za’ab turned, and swam out the door behind him. The Caliphs followed suit. She was released, the guards immediately brandishing their steels. She held her head high, and swam upwards, out of the sunroof. The other largos jeered, some even throwing sand and coral at her, but she continued her swim, flanked by the guards. She was escorted to the gates of the city. By now, the citizens had lost interest in her, and had returned to their lives, leaving the gates almost deserted. As she swam near them, a dark figure emerged from the shadows.
“You two are dismissed”. Za’ab flicked his wrist and the guards sheathed their sword. They saluted, and swam away. Zuhaira gave him a dead look.
“Father.” She said.
Za’ab slapped her clean across the face, his gauntlet drawing blood.
“How dare you!” Za’ab’s eyes were full of rage and hatred. “You’re a Princess of the Tethyos Houses!” He put his head in his hands. “How could you do this to us?”
“I did not do this to you father.” Zuhaira reached up, and waved the blood into the water. Za’ab’s eyes hardened again.
“No. I have saved our house further embarrassment. But you know the current situation. The al’Rajihds are positioning themselves to take over the position as High Caliphs, as we speak. If they come to cleanse our house, your kin may be massacred, and that will be on your head!” He was inches away from her face, his speech creating clouds of bubbles to form in the water.
Zuhaira steeled her gaze again. “It does not matter to me. I am Wa’ahim. Kinless. Outcast. You made me so, father.”
Za’ab kicked savagely, but Zuhaira was prepared this time, and she twisted, drawing her knife. She plunged it into his leg and he let out a scream. She twisted the knife, driving it deeper. His blood began to cloud the water, and she pulled the High Caliph of the Tethyos Houses out of the city, dragging him by his now ruined leg. The bull sharks began flocking to them, their hunger never satiated.
“Please!” Za’ab begged his daughter, as the sharks drew nearer.
“Your steps have faltered, father.” Zuhaira drew his life force into herself, gaining superspeed and slipped into stealth. She swam away from the city, not looking back as her father was eaten alive.
She swam for an hour before she reached the rendezvous point. The cave was hidden deep within the Gargantuan Trench, and she dodged thundershrimp and deep-sea scorpions to reach it. Inside there was a small pocket of air and a sandy beach. A volcanic vent fed the underwater cave with gas, and enough oxygen to survive, but she dared not remove her mask due to the toxic sulphur. She climbed onto the beach, and found the shell pack.
Inside was a small portion of food, some rope, a seaweed blanket and a note. As she read it, her heart sank. He was not coming. Her heart began pounding in her chest. Hatred, rage, loss, grief, all rolled into one. It was excruciating, but she sat still, unmoving.
Water dripped from the roof in slow, methodical splashes. She slowed her heart, and concentrated her thoughts. She was largos, and her emotions were in her control. She threw the note into the water, watching it sink lazily into the volcanic vent. She did not cry, but sat in silence for hours before her stomach rumbled.
She stood, strapped the pack to her back between her lakhir, and dove into the water. She paused a moment, feeling the current, and began moving through the water, slowly at first and gathering speed. She emerged from the cave and looked skywards. It was nighttime, and the moon was just barely visible through the waves. She turned left, northwards, and swam as fast as she could.
Sae’ed would regret what he did to her. She would test her skills, honing her abilities, before she was ready. But one day, his steps would falter, as they all do. She was patient.
She swam until her lakhir gave out, and she hauled herself ashore, dragging herself onto the sandy beach by her hands. In the moonlight the Tengu city was as beautiful as it was deadly. She stealthed, and found a hollow of a tree. She unpacked the seaweed blanket and wrapped her lakhir around herself, slipping into restless sleep.