Estril 447 of the Telan Nar Pool was thinking, as they often did. They’d gotten good at filtering out the chatter of their large pool over the last few years; it had been quite some time since any of it had been relevant. The local Sub-Vissers and their assistants had concluded that Estril wasn’t aggressive enough and that their skill in geometry wasn’t particularly valuable to the Empire at the moment—and had said as much to them. So, they waited and thought.
Estril still sometimes dreamed of the promised final glory of the Empire, where every Yeerk would have a host and even the Andalites would be their subjects, but it had been five years since they realized they needed to wait, and the dream had faded. It really didn’t help that, from what they managed to overhear from the back of the pool, things weren’t going particularly well. The Andalite Bandits kept getting in the way of operations on Earth, and a lot of experimental voyages seemed to mysteriously go missing or fail.
Estril sighed with a brief burst of chemical signals. They just wanted to be useful and helpful and do some good, but they weren’t getting the chance.
To make the brooding worse, the nagging question of whether everything the Empire was doing was good came back. They hadn’t thought about that much until recently, when they’d overheard a very quiet discussion about whether it wouldn’t be better to only take voluntary hosts. They even considered that maybe, like the person had said, the Yeerks would do fine if they just relied on people who wanted to help.
Estril had to admit this made some sense to them. They considered trying to find the person they’d overheard to discuss these thoughts further, but that seemed like a spectacularly dangerous plan. You couldn’t go around asking after someone who’d just proposed the Empire stop fighting. That was a great way to get slowly executed for treason and to get whoever you'd decided to ask subjected to a very intense interrogation, at the very least, because there had to be some reason the traitor chose to ask them.
Suddenly, all the noise of the pool faded away. The voices, the summonses to the infestation pier, all of it just … quieted, even though Estril couldn’t feel anyone move.
Just as suddenly, Estril 447 of the Telan Nar Pool was surrounded by a voice that filled the space around them and seemed to be coming from far above. The Voice of the Karadona, they thought. The stories, they remembered, painted the Voice as a trickster that lured in Yeerks with promises of knowledge and access to the universe, but then left them subject to the whims of inferior species.
“Those stories distort the truth.”
Estril froze. If this was the Voice, somehow, they shouldn’t be listening to It at all, but they decided a bit more treasonous listening couldn’t hurt with how their life was going. The worst thing that could happen would be that they’d get executed, which would at least be something.
“I have come to offer you a different path.” said the Voice. “The service of Life.”
“Isn’t the service of life what we’re already doing?” Estril said. “We need to advance ourselves.”
Is it? Estril thought. Well, we do need hosts, but—well, I can’t say this, just in case someone hears—do we really need involuntary hosts? They’re life, too, and we’re taking them over to help ourselves … which is what we have to do.
<Do you?> asked the Voice. It began speaking more directly to Estril, becoming another voice in their thoughts. The noise of the pool became less quiet.
<You can hear my thoughts!>
<When you want me to hear them.>
<It’s safer than talking.>
<Maybe we could only have voluntary hosts, like the radical said.>
The Voice didn’t say anything.
<But why would someone volunteer to serve under Visser 3? And what would we be doing for them?>
The Voice stayed silent.
<Are you there?> Estril thought at the Voice. <Answer me!>
<I am here, but I will let you draw your own conclusions. I do not dictate, only advise.>
<Well, from what I remember, the Gedd were weak and were the best we could get … did the Gedd need us as much as we needed them?>
<Yes. You and they evolved together—they gave you senses, and you gave them more intelligence and help controlling their bodies.>
<But then, with the Empire … the humans don’t really need us. We’re stealing … but there really isn’t any other way. Not unless we want to be stuck on our homeworld.>
<Some humans would welcome Yeerk help,> the Voice said, <and there can be sources of bodies that aren’t hosts.>
<That was an Andalite lie!> Estril shouted at the Voice. <You just want to trick me!>
<There were plans,> the Voice said. <They were interrupted by the attack.>
Estril took a moment to consider this, trying to keep their thoughts from the Voice. <Even if you’re right, there’s nothing to be done. We’ve made our choice, and we’re at war. All I can do is help how I can.>
<The water cannot be unfouled, but it can be filtered.>
<How?> Estril asked. <What do you want?>
<To fight for Life, and against Death.>
<What do I have to do with that?> Estril asked. <I’m a hostless nobody!>
In a much different cultural context, the Voice would have replied with “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” In this one, however, They went with <Antlis, scorned by the others, ventured away and returned with great treasures.>
<How am I supposed to do that? I can’t even leave here, let alone do anything!>
<What I offer you is wizardry—the power to speak and have the universe listen, so you can work against entropy.>
<I’ve heard stories of this sort of thing—people tempted with offers of their own bodies. There was always a price.>
<I cannot deny,> the Voice explained softly, <that there are costs to the Art. Yes, there is power, but it is power meant for service, even though it can help you. You may be injured or killed.>
<That’s always been a risk,> Estril said quietly.
<True, but I do need to warn you.>
<Well, so, what does the power you’re offering give me?> Estril asked. <I still don’t see what I can do.>
<You will be able to speak to anyone and anything: the water, your body, aliens, even the fabric of space itself. You will be heard and, in many cases, obeyed. And yes, you would be able to build a body for yourself if you needed it. I would teach you.>
<Couldn’t I abuse this?> Estril asked. <I could, hypothetically, take this power and use it to get on the Council of Thirteen and ignore the whole business of fighting for Life.>
<We, the Warm Ones, would not be offering this to you if we thought you would do that.> replied the Voice. <In any case, if you do turn to such ends, the Art will be taken from you.>
Estril swam around a little bit, pondering this. As they did so, the silence faded away and was replaced by the daily business of the pool—comings, goings, gossip and all that. No one seemed to have noticed anything remotely odd had been going on.
Estril noticed something interesting about the Voice. <Excuse me,> they said as quietly as they could, trying to resume their conversation with the Voice.
<Yes?> the Voice replied.
<You mentioned the Warm Ones. Does that mean that the Shaker is real also? The one who bravely rebelled and brought change to the world so we could become better?>
<Yes, that one—Ground-Shaker, Parent of Yeerk-Eaters, and all the other titles they have gained throughout the worlds. We often call them the Lone Power. They have gained across the words—is the enemy you would fight.>
<But …> Estril stopped thinking at the Voice and gathered their thoughts. Then, they continued <Change is good, right? It drives us forward.>
<Some change is good, yes, but pain and suffering are not. As a wizard, you would be responsible for encouraging good changes and preventing bad ones, as much as you can.>
<The Shaker doesn’t have much to do with death, though,> Estril replied. <Not the way I’ve heard about it.>
<Think about the stories again, and remember their source.>
Estril started thinking back to all the legends they’d heard, all the great advances the Shaker was said to have produced. They went through and noticed how some rather terrible things—cave-ins, deaths, and the like—were glossed over. It was rather like…rather like what they’d noticed the Visserarchy doing with less-favorable war news a few times.
<So, like you said earlier, the stories I grew up with were …> They couldn’t bring themself to complete the sentence.
<Distorted? Propagandized? Twisted? Altered to serve someone’s purposes?> the Voice suggested.
<… Those things, yeah.> Estril said. <Um, can I take some time to think things over? Finding out everything might be even more off than I thought it was is a lot to process, and I’m still not sure that I agree with what you’re saying.>
<Go ahead,> replied the Voice. <I will be here when you decide, or if you have questions.>
Over the next few days, Estril’s behavior didn’t seem to change much. They still wandered around the back of the pool, lost in thought. On top of that, almost no one was paying attention to them. They were just some random, failed, hostless nobody who would eventually get a meaningless position when the Empire ran out of better options for filling it.
For Estril, however, a lot had changed. They didn’t spend those days in contemplation. Instead, they listened. They listened to what people were saying around them, and, more importantly, to what their words meant. They listened to the flow of the Yeerk Empire around them, and considered, in a way they hadn’t before, what the glorious struggle for liberation on everyone’s palps actually constituted.
They didn’t like what they heard.
They heard the lives of people, people just like them aside from their eyes, arms, and legs, being destroyed, twisted, and taken over to serve the whims of the Empire, and that destruction being discussed as if it were no more important than the weather.
They heard talk of breaking hosts, no, people, as if they were an inconvenient rock on the pool floor.
They heard of countless deaths, or, as people liked to call them, “sacrifices.” The host involved was at best completely unmentioned; at worst an inconvenient obstacle.
Almost no one seemed to realize what they were doing—or worse, they realized and didn’t care.
Sure, a few radicals did their best to quietly make things just a small bit better, but that was nowhere near enough.
Estril 447 of the Telan Nar Pool resolved to do something. Their people were creating the same oppression they sought to escape, and weren’t even hiding it. All one had to do was listen and think, and it was clear how misguided the Empire was.
This couldn’t go on.
They’d known that in their heart for some time, but there had always obviously been nothing to be done.
But now …
<Voice?> they thought. They knew that what they were thinking about, let alone what they were planning, was treason, and no longer cared. This was the chance they’d been looking for; the chance to make a difference.
<What do I have to do to accept your offer? This can’t go on.>
<Before you accept, there is one more thing you need to know. Every wizard, when they receive the Art, will be tested in an Ordeal. This Ordeal is a situation they, and, in some cases, those with them, are the right ones to handle. It will require you to face some significant work of the Lone One, or sometimes, that Power itself.>
<It will be difficult,> the Voice continued. <You may even die. But I will tell you what you need to know as best as I can, so that you do not face this test unprepared.>
<I understand,> Estril declared. <So, what do I do?>
<You must swear the Oath. I will tell it to you.>
The Voice told Estril the Oath. As They did so, the noise of the pool receded away, just as it had when Estril was first contacted by Them. The words of the Oath echoed in the water, and Estril repeated them:
“In all Life’s name, and for Life’s sake, I swear that I will employ the Art that is its gift for Life’s service alone, rejecting all other usages. I will guard growth and ease pain. I will fight to preserve what lives and grows well in its own way, and change no object or creature unless its growth and life, or that of the system of which it is part, are threatened. To these ends, in the practice of my Art, I will put aside fear for courage, and death for life, when it is right to do so, until Universe’s end.”
As Estril 447 of the Telan Nar Pool finished speaking this Oath, the world seemed to press in around them.
“Now what?” Estril asked. The silence began to fade away.
“Now, I must tell you how to practice the Art, and what it means,” replied the Voice.
The noise of the pool came back. Nothing seemed different, and yet, to Estril, everything was.
Over the next two weeks, the Voice told Estril many things.
Estril learned of history: of the Powers and their deeds, and of great Yeerk wizards from before the Empire, and what they had done, both alone and in partnership with other species.
They learned of the Speech and what it could do: spells to bend light, to translocate, to make artificial eyes and ears and arms, spells for force fields or pockets in space, and many other things besides. They learned of the many modes of the Speech: how to speak to the world with their words, secretions, and movements, or how to do the same things with a mouth and hands. Estril wasn’t sure they’d need that second part, but the Voice insisted it was important.
They learned of the many worlds and the peoples that inhabited them, from the Rirhait who maintained the Crossings to rats.
They learned of the great dangers of psychotropic wizardry, and the dire consequences that would come from misusing it, but also of how to perform it, since they might be more suited than most for such work.
They learned of the importance of names, and what could result from changing them.
They learned of many of the works of the Lone Power, and how to confront them.
They learned all these things, and more, but didn’t try to put them to use. It was too risky. Someone might notice, and that would be the end of the first Yeerk wizard in quite some time.
Even this learning couldn’t be hidden forever, though. The conversations with no one every once in a while that made absolutely no sense were noticed by someone, eventually. That someone decided to angle for a promotion, er, “contribute to the functioning of the Empire,” by reporting this clearly unstable person who might eventually cause some problems.
And so, two weeks after they’d sworn the Oath, Estril was approached by a few assistants to some Sub-Visser. “Estril 447,” one of them said, “we have a few questions about your behavior.”
Estril felt a brief flash of panic. Then, they came to a decision: Well, if they suspect, might as well …
“This is a class-5 translocation spell,” they shouted in the direction of their inquisitors. The silence Estril had remembered from his Oath surrounded them again.
The Voice came into the silence, prompting Estril with the parts of the spell they didn’t remember.
They called out their name, and the volume of pool liquid they wanted to take with them.
For their destination, they simply said “Somewhere I can be helpful.”
As Estril neared the conclusion of their first spell, their interrogators decided they should do something about this crazy person.
They rushed in to pin down Estril, but, as they were closing in on them, Estril tied off their spell.
The water of the pool rushed in to fill in the place Estril used to be, creating a wave that rippled out into the area. The interrogators slammed into each other, pulled along by the vortex, and were very confused. After quickly recovering from the impact, they quietly decided not to mention this to anyone, since they didn't want any questions about their recent behavior. Estril's absence therefore went generally unnoticed and unremarked on, and life continued on as usual at the Telan Nar Pool.