Rounding the building, a clear way led to the first of the Dragons.
“Get a picture,” Karen said, hushed with awe.
“I already am.” Miyuki held the camera in front of her.
Ahead, the pyramid’s crown towered twenty meters above the waves. Eighteen terraced steps climbed from the sea, each a meter tall, leading to the flat plateau on top. Morning sunlight blazed on the partially tumbled summit temple, a small structure composed of flat slabs.
As they neared, a flock of white cranes took flight at their noisy approach. Turtles, basking on the steps, plopped into the surf. Karen circled the pyramid. On the far side, the second Dragon appeared. It was a twin of the first, except its flat-topped summit was empty of any sign of a temple.
“Let’s take a closer look.” Karen aimed their boat toward the first pyramid, bringing the craft up to the lowest step. A short basalt pillar at the northeast corner was a good place to tie a rope and secure their boat.
“Hold the wheel,” Karen said as she throttled down. The waves bobbled the craft. Grabbing the aft mooring line, she crossed to the rail and used it to boost herself over the open water. Landing on the step of the pyramid, she slipped on algae and damp weed.
“Careful!” Miyuki yelled as Karen cartwheeled her arms.
Recovering her balance, she swiped a few strands of hair away from her eyes and gave Miyuki an embarrassed grin. “Safe and sound.”
With more care, Karen crossed to the meter-tall pillar, rope in hand. As she knelt she realized that the pillar was actually a sculpted figure of a robed man, its details eroded away by sand and sea, the nose gone, the eyes no more than shadowed depressions.
Karen hauled on the mooring rope until the boat’s hull bumped the lower step, then she secured the line to the statue’s base, cinching the hitch knot tight.
“Could you help me with my bag?” Miyuki asked, holding out her satchel filled with the photography gear. Karen relieved her of the bag so the petite professor could clamber over the rail.
Miyuki scrunched up her face as her heel squashed something bulbous and slimy. “You’re buying me new shoes when we’re through here.”
“New Ferragamos, I promise,” Karen quipped. “Direct from Italy.”
Miyuki bit back a smile, still refusing to admit she was enjoying the adventure. “Well, then that’s okay I guess.”
“C’mon. I want to check out the ruined temple on the top.”
Miyuki craned her neck. “That’s a long climb.”
“We’ll take it slow.” Karen pulled up onto the first step, then reached back to help Miyuki, who waved away her hand and clambered up on her own. But once up, she fingered a long strand of seaweed from her knee and tossed it aside in disgust, glowering at Karen.
“Okay, so we’ll visit Nordstrom, too, when we get back. We’ll buy you a new pantsuit.”
This earned a true smile from Miyuki. “New shoes, new suit. Let’s keep going. Before we’re done here, you’ll be financing my whole new spring wardrobe.”
Karen patted her friend’s arm and led the way up the steps, but she soon outpaced her companion. Halfway up, she stopped to give Miyuki time to close the distance, and meanwhile stared out at the spread of the drowned city. By now the sun had fully risen, a bright globe in the east. The columns and buildings cast long shadows across the blue water. From that height, she could see it had to be at least two kilometers until the ruins faded away. The surprising size of the city suggested it may have housed a population in the tens of thousands. So where did they all go?
Karen moved aside as Miyuki made her way up. “It’s not much further,” she assured her.
Miyuki, breathing hard, just flapped a hand. “I’m fine. Let’s keep moving.”
“We’d better rest,” Karen said, though in truth she wanted to rush forward. “We should pace ourselves.”
Miyuki sank down, ignoring the algae under her. “If you insist.”
Karen dug out a water bottle and passed it over. Miyuki flipped the cap and drank greedily, but her eyes remained locked on the view. “It’s so extensive. I would never have imagined it.”
Settling next to her, Karen took a swig from the water bottle, too. “How could all this have been hidden for so long?”
“The water here is…or was very deep, the currents tricky. Only experienced divers could explore out here. But now! Once word gets out about this place, it’ll be swamped.”
“And trampled,” Karen added. “Now’s the best time to study the city.”
Miyuki scooted up. “If you’re ready to go on, so am I.”
“We could rest a little longer. These ruins have waited centuries to be explored. A few more minutes won’t make any difference.”
Miyuki settled back.
Karen did, too. She stared out over the amazing view. “I appreciate your help, Miyuki. I couldn’t ask for a better friend.”
“Me, too,” Miyuki said softly.
The two women had met at a Ryukyu University social function. Both were single, about the same age, and working in a male-dominated environment. They had begun socializing—trips to a local karaoke bar, late dinners while grading midterms, matinee movies on Saturdays—and had become close companions.
Miyuki said, “Did I tell you I heard from Hiroshi yesterday?”
“No! You didn’t!” Karen sat straighter. Hiroshi Takata, a fellow university professor, had been engaged to Miyuki, but her success in her field had raised some professional jealousy and driven a wedge into their relationship. Two years ago he had abruptly broken off the engagement and transferred to Kobe. “The bastard! What did he want?”
Miyuki rolled her eyes. “He wanted me to know he was okay after the quakes. He didn’t even bother to ask how I was doing.”
“Do you think he wants to reconcile?”
“In his dreams,” Miyuki snorted.
Karen laughed. “We do seem to attract the most obnoxious men.”
“Spineless, more like.”
Karen nodded knowingly. In Canada she had run through her own long series of bad relationships, from cold to abusive. And she was in no hurry to continue the pattern. It was one of the reasons she accepted the four-year position here on Okinawa. New city, new future.
“So what do you make of all this?” Miyuki asked, changing the subject. “Could this be a part of your great-grandfather’s lost Atlantis?”
“You mean the lost continent of Mu?” she said slowly. “I doubt it. Hundreds of other megalithic ruins dot the Pacific: the statues of Easter Island, the canal city of Nan Madol, the Latte stones of Guam, the Burden of Tonga. All of them predate the oral histories of these islands. No one has been able to connect them together.” She warmed with the mystery.
“And you hope to do that?”
“Who knows what answers may be found here?”
Miyuki gave her a crooked grin and pushed up. “There is only one way to find out.”
Karen shoved to her feet, matching her friend’s grin. “I should say so.”
The pair continued their climb, staying together, each helping the other up the high steps. In twenty minutes, with the sun climbing higher, they reached the summit. Karen scrambled up first, breathing heavily.
The plateau was a single monstrous slab. A long crack traversed the surface, but the split was clearly due to more recent damage, most likely from the seismic activity. Karen guessed that when the pyramid was built, the slab must have been lifted intact atop this structure. She slowly turned. Ten meters on each side, she estimated. The meter-thick slab had to weigh hundreds of tons. How did these ancient builders get it up here?
Miyuki clambered up behind her, then turned in a slow circle, appreciating the view, her eyes shining. “Simply amazing.”
Karen nodded, too awestruck to speak yet. She crossed to the tumbled temple in the center of the roof. It had once been constructed of slabs and basalt logs. She could imagine how it must have looked. A squat, low building surmounted by a slab roof. She edged around it, viewing it from all angles.
Miyuki dogged her steps, video camera in hand.
Karen examined the temple. It was unadorned. Or perhaps any decorative carving had been worn away long ago. She straightened. “I’m going in.”
“What?” Miyuki lowered her camera. “What are you talking about?”
Karen pointed to a pair of wall slabs that had fallen and were tilting against each other. A narrow crawl space lay between them, descending at a slant.
“Are you crazy? You don’t know how stable those stones are!”
Karen chipped some coral that had taken root between the two slabs. Like living cement. “For coral to grow here, it means they haven’t moved in ages. Besides, I’m just going to take a quick peek. If there’s any carving or petroglyphs, they’ll be inside. Sheltered from erosion.” She slipped out of her embroidered jacket and dropped to her knees. “It’s gonna be a tight squeeze.”
She yanked off her belt so the buckle wouldn’t snag, then shrugged out of her shoulder harness, lowering her holstered pistol to the stones.
“Is that penlight still in your bag?” she asked.
Miyuki shuffled through her pack and pulled out a tiny fluorescent purple flashlight. Karen took it, twisted it on, then put the handle in her mouth as she lay flat on her belly.
“Are you sure you should do this?”
As answer, Karen snuggled into the hole head first, penlight pointed forward. Worming her way inside, she used her fingers to find imperfections in the rock to help pull her forward, but mostly it was her toes that edged her inch by inch into the crawlway. She ignored the thick slabs hanging over her. She had done some caving in her past, but nothing this tight. She kept her breathing calm, told herself to just keep moving, don’t stop.
“There go your feet!” Miyuki called to her.
Her friend’s voice was muffled. Karen’s body fit snugly within the tunnel. She found it harder to breathe with the walls compressing her chest. An edge of panic set in, but she bit it back. She took quicker, shallower breaths. She would not suffocate.