In the biblical understanding, sin is systemic. It’s not just bad things that someone does. It’s the way the bad things affect their life and the lives of the people around them, and then the way that the effects of sin spread out—often necessitating more sin, like a lie necessitates other lies to keep it plausible. This is why God hates sin. It’s a pain in the arse.

Salvation, conversely, isn’t really just about avoiding hell. In fact, the best biblical definition of salvation includes removing not only the consequences of sin but also the effects: the systemic corruption of sin, the root cause of sin, and the desire to sin itself. When preachers say, “We’re saved from sin,” they don’t just mean, “We’re not going to hell,” but also, “Life doesn’t have to suck as much as it does.”

Life sucks right now in Atlantis. The spinefish toxin is an ecological manifestation of their sin. The selfishness of the priests and the disregard of the leaders has led to a disruption in the food chain and a corruption of the ecosystem. Salvation for Zebulon will have to be holistic,. starting with a spinefish antidote, but also requiring a change in leadership and the restoration of peace and harmony.

“You tell,” Iara began. She looked passionate. Not the good kind, either. She was mad. Lithe shook his head.

“No.” It was one of only three English words he’d learned.

“What is it, Iara?” Pincoy asked, before slipping back into Zebulani. The three of them cooed at each other like angry birds for a few minutes. The raspiness became more pronounced from time to time, especially when Iara would raise her voice. Listening to them was kind of like watching soaps on TeleMundo.

Finally, Iara threw up her hands and pushed Lithe back. Her gesture wasn’t violent, but I did get the impression she was done arguing. Lithe stood away from the other two while Iara animated her way through a long story, with Pincoy looking like he’d just seen Star Wars for the first time.

“Well?” I asked, when all the cooing was done.

“Iara…” The Consort began, then faltered.

I prompted him to continue. “Yes?”

“You saw Chayot? You went to Mollaitia?” Pincoy had a theophany. “You have spoken with the historian of seas.”

I couldn’t believe I had forgotten about that. “Yes,” I said, and then proceeded to fill him in on all the details of our underwater excursion. We had gone to kill the Atar’Atah, but found Chayot instead. In coming face-to-face with this aquatic oracle, we had learned the truth about the nature of the spinefish profusion and the problems at the heart of Zebulon.

“Heqet set you up,” Pincoy began, shaking. “You are not the first to be troubled by her schemes. It saddens me, for I love her very much, but when the people you love choose to do wrong, those who love them most truly must intervene.”

“I think we’ve reached that point, Pink.”

“Our people are divided, David. Some of us want to preserve the old ways, and some advocate for a new way; but all of us want to live. The ones you call Pharisees and Sadducees, the priests and ambassadors, most want to resume the old ways–the sacrifices and the offerings–but some are convinced that even that will not likely restore balance in the water. And a few don’t want a better life, they only want salvation. They want to play with the spinefish like toys.

“Happily, the blood-thirsty are losing credibility. They are trying to take, when Zebulon itself is a gift. We have freedom to give and permission to receive. Taking is wrong. Our society is beginning to tear, like a great curtain torn from top to bottom. Nothing can stay the same.”

“Don’t they know the story? From the Mollai?” I asked.

“You have to see the story, David. My people will not see. Even were Chayot to show them, they would not see. It is a great thing that you have seen, and a great thing for Glaucus.”

It was still hard for me to hear Lithe’s Zebulani name. “Does this have special significance for him?”

“He is king,” Iara chimed in. “Not Heqet.”

“Glaucus has decided something,” Pincoy began. “He sees Heqet has lost herself. She takes from you, and as she does, she corrupts Zebulon.”

“Yeah, I get it. She’s a bad queen.”

“Glaucus has only one choice now. He will be king,” said Iara.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

Pincoy answered for her. “It means the waters have selected him. He is a king who can right the balance between water and spirit and government.”

That made sense to me. In the old stories, a king was always more than a politician. He was a priest and a judge. He was a savior.

Lithe grabbed my arm, yanking me close to him. I could see his fury. It wasn’t just about Jonah, but that was part of it. It wasn’t just that my son had been taken. It was that all the sons of Atlantis had been criminalized in the process.  He spoke one word. “Akhoya.”

Pincoy translated. “It means brother,” and I realized we were. Our fates were entwined. In order for me to get my son, my brother–akhoya–had to take care of his mother.

Iara looked at me then, still mourning but brave. “I will help. Elisabeth. Jonah. I will help.”

“Will you tell Heqet?” I asked Pincoy.

He considered this for a moment. “Glaucus must do this. But she will take his water. It is a dangerous thing to disrupt Zebulon.”

Yeah. I had thought about that too. But if there was going to be any chance for Lithe and Iara, for Zebulon, and for Liz and Jonah, then it must start with a temple cleansing.