The City of Phae was in the southern region of Naiaca, nestled in a valley at the edge of a jungle. A river upstream fed the freshwater lake. It was hot and muggy, even inside the lodgings they stayed at, and Scarlett was unable to wear her beloved leather jacket.
Aleander looked and fared better than ever. His tan had returned, and his hair glistened from the moisture clinging to the air.
“W-We should eat at the Agora.”
Agoras were open markets for shopping and eating. Scarlett had never tried authentic southern food before. She squeezed her small belly and looked up at her colleague. “You have the best ideas, Aleander.”
Southern food was spicy, the meat oily, the bread dense. For reasons unknown to Scarlett, the people of the south believed that a person should consume hot and spicy food during the hottest months. Red pepper, chili flakes, and spicy mustard sprouts were heaped into every dish.
Scarlett couldn’t agree less with the southern custom. Hot food made her sweat. Spicy food made her sweat. The climate made her sweat. All she wanted was to stop sweating.
Aleander took her to a special place only locals knew of. There, they had one dish on the menu: cold noodles with cold pork in an icy broth. It swiftly became Scarlett’s favorite meal.
“Best,” she said, slurping up a mouthful of noodles. “Your ideas are the best.”
While Aleander was off documenting the artifacts Keelan and his team had pulled from the water, Scarlett was at the beach completing her underwater training. There was more to it than she thought but by the end of the week, she was ready for her first dive. They took her to the river–where the water was less calm–and she practiced falling off the boat and swimming upstream. She had to learn how to use her new waterproof flasher on her own, but that took her a day.
“We’re ready for the real dive tomorrow,” said Aleander’s former manager. Keelan was twice as old as Aleander and twice as thin. “This is going to be great!”
“T-They’ve never been able to caption the p-palace,” Aleander told her over cold noodles that evening. “No one’s trained f-for it.”
Scarlett thought of her underwater suit and snorted some of the broth up her nose. “You’ll see why that is tomorrow.”
They put her in a heavy metal-and-leather waterproof suit that weighed more than she did. Oxygen tanks floated behind her, tethered by a hollow cord that siphoned air into the suit on command. Though she had flippers on her feet – long, rubber fins – her legs were still short and unmuscled. Swimming tired her out quickly. Sassi would have been ideal, but cruisers have the funny tendency to not work when they’re submerged in water.
“You look like a v-vehicle,” Aleander said the first moment he saw her.
“The smallest vehicle you’ll ever see,” she joked.
And she was small. So small, in fact, they had to custom make her suit. “To fit a child,” Aleander’s old manager had told the watersuit company. When Elektra found out, she made Hub Publishing purchase it. “In case we need Scarlett to take captions underwater again,” she had reasoned over the radio. Hub Publishing had also purchased the waterproof flasher and its more expensive plates of film.
Scarlett decided she really liked Elektra Penzier.
Though it was fresh water, the lake became steadily murkier the lower she swam. Keelan told her that would happen. Aleander’s former manager joined the dive, donning his own suit that he said he, “practically lived in these past few years.”
Scarlett was happy for the company. They’d told her where the ruins were and where to go, but hearing it was one thing. Seeing it was another. When the first stone pillar came into view, with their torches–an engineered light–illuminating the way, Scarlett could tell she would have been immediately lost without Keelan to guide her. The palace was far too spread for a novice to search.
They waited for the murkiness to disappear some, and then Scarlett took a caption. There was a bright flash of light. For half a second, they were able to see beyond the first pillar in greater detail before the flash of extra light faded and the rest of the palace returned to a dark outline in the murky distance.
Keelan motioned for her to follow. They swam slowly. Now and then he would stop, point, and wait for the murkiness to clear enough for Scarlett to take a caption, and then he would be off again. They hadn’t made it past what had once been a vast front courtyard before Keelan signaled them to rise.
“This,” Keelan panted once back aboard the boat, “is why it’s taken me so long to prove it’s the Palace of Phaedria. We have much to caption and very little time.”
Scarlett wiggled out of the suit. The surface of the lake looked clean and undisturbed, but she had seen for herself that the water had not always been there. Time had concealed the palace, and it had taken thousands of years of searching to find it again.
“Time,” she said, “is a worthy adversary.”
The next day, Keelan took her to an area with a sunken floor. A round stone table was in the center, and fallen metal and clay items littered the floor. Scarlett assumed it was the alter Keelan had said he wanted her to caption next. “Human sacrifices were popular with the Phaedrians,” he had said almost gleefully on the boat.
It was her twelfth dive. Even she could tell she was getting better at it the more she did it, and once in the water, the heavy suit wasn’t such a terrible thing to wear.
They ran out of oxygen shortly after Scarlett took her captions of the altar, and once aboard the boat and out of their suits, Keelan launched into his plans for tomorrow.
“We should go to the kitchen next. There is a lot of ancient pottery we haven’t brought to the surface. Those must be documented. We can learn so much about the Phaedrian diet. Maybe they were cannibals!”
Scarlett shared a look with Aleander before pinching her burgeoning stomach. “You’ll never see me diet.”
They swam deeper inside the palace and were approaching what Scarlett assumed was the kitchen when an undercurrent swept through the palace. Undercurrents weren’t unheard of in large lakes, but it was the first one they encountered since Scarlett began diving with the team. Keelan seemed surprised by it as well but was quick to grab on to something.
Scarlett was not so quick. The current enveloped her in a swirl of thick, murky water, and swept her down a labyrinth of hallways and rooms. Her back banged against something hard. She gripped her new underwater flasher and the torch tightly and waited for the current to release her.
When the swirl spit her out, Scarlett was left floating, dizzy and slightly nauseous. It wasn’t until she tried to find her way back to Keelan that she realized the current had been so strong the tether had detached from her suit.
She was on her own.
Scarlett swam the wrong way. Before she knew it, she found herself inside an apparently bottomless room. The murkiness was less severe, but enough to disguise the way she entered with several other possible passageways.
She rested in place, too tired to swim any further, and checked her oxygen. There was less than half left.
Her trainers had told her to breathe slowly to conserve air, so that was what she did, but if she didn’t find a way out and up soon, she would suffocate. That wasn’t the way she thought she’d go. Kat would say something asinine like, “I knew this would happen,” at her funeral. Resolved to not let that happen, Scarlett spun in place to search for any hint of a window–and, thankfully, the sunken palace had been built with many of those–only to find an enormous face staring back.
The colossal statue stood erect in murky green water, with a feminine face and a halo crown adorning it. The style was uniquely Phaedrian. Keelan had mentioned a room with a large statue. “That’s a difficult room to find,” he had said, later adding with clear uneasiness, “and leave.”
Scarlett checked her oxygen levels again. There was plenty left, and she didn’t feel like she was in any real danger. What was the harm?
Mind made up, she began taking captions of the statue. This would be one less room to document. As she swam to the bottom of the statue, where the feet were concealed by the stone-carved dress, she saw a knob covered in algae. She captioned it, filling the room with a flash of bright light that made the water glow an eerie green. In the fading light of the flash, Scarlett touched the knob.
The algae fell away and revealed a handle shaped in a half moon. Her gentle touch was all it took to make the moon knob wiggle and unscrew. A doorway opened like a dam bursting. Water pushed Scarlett through hard and fast, filling a corridor that had only seconds before been filled with air.
This wasn’t the first time Scarlett Burn thought she was going to die.
Category: Adventure, Fantasy, Self-Publishing, Uncategorized, WritingTags: Adventure, archaeology, diving, exploration, Fantasy, femaleprotagonist, motorcycle, New Author, peopleofcolor, personofcolor, photography, Self-Publishing, teen, Writing
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