Shadow of Atlantis

The story of Atlantis has long held a place in the minds of humanity, the mystery of whether or not it truly exists a burning question still unanswered. And if it does where is it, and what awaits us?
Perhaps finding it is not the wonderful discovery we believe it may be...

Cover art: https://matty17art.deviantart.com/art/ATLANTIS-297634862

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1. I: The Discovery

I
The Discovery

 

I’d heard it said time and time again that we know more about space than we do about the depths of our oceans. Such a possibility awakened in me a curiosity that, even now, following an illustrious career in marine exploration, remains unsated. To express all that I have seen would take a lifetime, for I have seen a great many wondrous things, some of which even in my deepest imagination I would not, could not, have fathomed.

To say that all I saw was wondrous would be, to all extents, a lie. Some of what I witnessed was of the most dull and uninspiring content, whilst some was so deathly terrifying that I almost ended my career. You must understand that what I write here remains classified in documents long hidden from common knowledge, for as my career progressed I found myself contracted by agencies that, for my protection and yours, had best remain unnamed. To say these agencies hold power and wealth beyond imagining is enough to excite the imagination, and the technologies to which they gave me access were beyond anything I had ever encountered before. Therefore hold close what you read here, and speak little of it, for to speak of it to the wrong ears would most certainly result in the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of your person, and likely the persons to whom you spoke.

What I wish to express to you here is the most triumphant of my discoveries, yet in some ways also the most terrible. It is, indeed, what drove me to cease my career and hang up my diving suit, scuppering my beloved submarine so that none would witness what I uncovered and confront such fear as I felt.

The machine that served to aid my exploration was, I am sure, the only of its kind (unless such agencies I have alluded to have since replicated the technology), and was therefore the only earthly vehicle that could plunge so far down into the murky, mysterious waters of our limitless seas. It was a further miracle that this craft could be piloted and maintained by only one hand, but such was the nature of my work, and of these contracts. To allow extra eyes into these undertakings would likely compromise all that was done, for greed and fear are both powerful entities that drive men to do mad, often selfish things.

Already I have mentioned how some of my journeys took me to places uninspiring, where nothing but silt and maddeningly common fish could be found, and on this last exploration I had become convinced that that was all I would see, and yet I pushed onward, the whirring of my submarine’s electronics surrounding me, the sound soothingly familiar. Such calmness as the vehicle provoked in me allowed me to keep my focus, unhindered by the frustration that would have otherwise filled me. The bright lights flooded the ground ahead of me, disturbing those fish and crustaceans that had developed to prefer darker locales and sending them thrashing and scuttling away, when I noticed ahead a strange glint within the sandy surface. Gliding through the water I came to rest before an unusual monument, no more than a foot in height, upon which sat a resplendent jewel.

In all my years never had I come across such an unusual object, for it was by no means a natural formation. I had come across old ruins before, settled off the coasts of thriving cities, but never had I found something that appeared quite so ancient so far out to sea. My first assumption was that this small structure had been transported many centuries before and that its ship had sunk below the waves, depositing it here, yet I quickly thought otherwise. It struck me as unlikely that a ship would transport only this small object; a clearing of the earth around it, though clouding me in a mist of dust and silt, did not reveal any further artefacts. That there was no sign of a ship did not surprise me, as I considered any wood would have long since decayed, but the longer I thought on the matter the more I considered how strange it was that this object stood so prominently out on the seabed when, especially if it were centuries old, it should have been long covered.

I floated there for some time, curious, pondering the significance of this jewel and its pedestal. I rested there so long, in fact, that the fish became accustomed to my presence, swimming close by, occasionally obscuring my view, but as I watched I noticed how they did not go near the structure. I could quite safely say that they went no closer than six feet to it, and it was this curious behaviour that drove me to push the craft forward within that unusual exclusion zone and, with one mechanical arm, reach for the shining gem.

This, I can say, was the worst decision I had made in all my career; to disturb an object that even animals dare not approach went against every instinct in my body, yet I was doing it, the feelings in my body more akin to excitement than fear. Had I known what this action would unleash I would have left that site and forgotten it, returning to the surface stating that there was nothing of interest to be found here. Instead I touched the jewel.

An accurate description of what followed is difficult; the ground shifted so suddenly and violently that not only was I surrounded by a thick cloud of sand, much of which clung to my craft, but I found myself spiralling away from that site. I could hear muffled movement all around, such as a great upheaval of earth or a landslide down a mountain, and beyond my obscured window I could make out the shifting of colossal shadows that, when all was done and the deafening noise had ceased, I saw had been great rocks opening out of the ground to reveal what could only be called a passageway, for its surfaces were too smooth to be formed by nature.

Down this passageway I saw many of the fish that had surrounded me rushing along some unseen current, and though shaken by the sudden change in my surroundings I was still driven by curiosity and, foolishly, I took chase, manoeuvring my sub into the hole. The passage was not particularly spacious, and in many places it grew dark, illuminated only by the lights of my craft, but on I went, adjusting my trajectory gently so as not to collide with anything until, after what felt like an eternity, it began to open out. No longer did this tunnel feel so claustrophobic, and I found myself breathing a breath I did not realise I was holding.

This breath became I gasp as I emerged, entering a deep blue landscape of such stunning splendour I believed myself dead or dreaming. Though it was within a magnificent undersea cave one could almost believe it sat but a few fathoms beneath the surface, such was the magnitude to which the light spread here. Far above, lining the rocky ceiling, were thousands upon thousands of gigantic, glowing corals, with many dotted about the walls and floor. The most wonderfully awesome of all I saw, however, was not in the natural formations but in the marvel of perfectly preserved Greco-Roman architecture that stretched about me for miles and miles; stunning columns of white marble towered above, reaching from floor to roof, and buildings I had only seen in illustrations stood before me. Upon seeing all this stretched before me, an entire metropolis far beneath the waves in a state of perfect preservation, I knew instantly that I had found that ancient city of Atlantis, for what other lost city could it be?

My exploration was a slow, calculated one, as I drifted over the red, tiled rooftops, studying that architecture as best I could, seeing in some places recreations of ancient Rome, and in others the splendour of Athens. I shone my lights into the temples, illuminating statues of gods older even than those of the Greeks, most of them human-like though in some, unsettling way, completely alien. From what I could see within the houses many appeared perfectly preserved, with tables laid out with plates and cutlery, and those without were quite simply empty, as though they had never been lived in. As I floated along ancient roads I marvelled at how clean it all was; not a single building had been touched by marine vegetation, and though this seemed strange I felt satisfied that such a wonder had not fallen victim to nature.

The longer I remained, however, the more uneasy I began to feel; I noted how the fish that had entered before me remained far from the city, weaving between the coral rather than the columns, and became curious as to the lack of skeletal remains, considering that if an entire city had sunk to the bottom of the ocean then it would have taken thousands, if not millions, of lives with it. Even my attempted explanation that the bones had washed away or been covered did not settle my nerves, for where could they have gone? All of the city was laid bare, unblemished by the silt or sand of the sea bed. It was as I pondered this new conundrum that I began to feel the sensation of eyes upon me, watching from some hidden place. It drove me to repeat my survey of the city, looking into every building I had studied before, yet all appeared unchanged and, more importantly, uninhabited.

Encased in my craft, despite the growing unease, I felt safe; it had withstood attacks from sharks and giant squid in the past, so what could harm me here? Comforting myself with this thought I took it upward, returning to the temple that housed the strange, forgotten gods, and rested. I entertained the thought of leaving the submarine for a short time, donning my diving suit and stepping out into this lost, forgotten world, and perhaps I would have done so were it not for the growing feeling of eyes all around me. Whatever was out there, real or imagined, felt closer now, and I found myself pressing my face against the glass to get a better look beyond my craft. Still I could see nothing, and I attempted to convince myself that I was imagining things; perhaps I was suffering symptoms of some deep sea fever, brought on by whatever water pressure surrounded me in this cave. Indeed, the longer I had remained the more a headache had been developing, and so I leant back in my seat and rested my eyes for a time.

How long I slept I cannot accurately say, only that I did not sleep so long that my oxygen supply ran low – a craft such as mine came well stocked with such a necessary resource. Such was not my immediate concern, however, for looking beyond my glass capsule, the headache still burning in my mind, I noticed that the temple was now absent of those majestic statues, their pedestals empty, as though nothing had ever sat upon them. All the unease I had pushed aside hit me in a wave, freezing my muscles and driving the breath out of my body; I fought to calm myself, telling myself that their absence must have some logical explanation, but such reassurance was quickly taken from me by the unexpected sound of knocking upon my craft.

This knocking was quickly followed by a shrill scraping that circled me, reverberating in every panel of the metal that encased me, my ears complaining so violently that I thought they would bleed. My first instinct was to cover them, but I quickly recognised the importance of escape and brought my submarine to life, pulling it away from the temple, climbing high up above the lost city; the scraping did not cease, and instead seemed to increase in intensity. What creature could make such noise I dared not to think, and moments later I no longer had to for, as I ascended toward the roof of that cursed cave, a swarm of horrendous beasts flowed out of the buildings below, human in shape yet like nothing I had ever seen before; even Hollywood could scarce conjure what I saw swimming up towards me, caked in grime and trailing behind them remnants of tattered clothing, protrusions of bone and fin piercing their skin, each of them a unique amalgamation of man and sea creature. The very sight in them dragged out of me the most horrendous scream, and with the fervour of a madman I pushed my craft forward, slamming into them, propelling myself as fast as I could towards that tunnel through which I had made my entrance, praying to God it would still be open.

As I barrelled through the bloodthirsty monstrosities I heard around me a terrible noise of creaking metal and realised the dreadful reality that one was moments from breaking in, seconds from flooding my craft with water so that I would be drowned or consumed; or perhaps it was that my craft could take the strain no longer and, in mere moments, would become little more than a glorified casket. The more comforting thought to me was the former, for I could still entertain some hope of escape if I could just shake it off.

I dared to look back as I plunged into the passage, and saw behind not only the monsters that sought my doom, but also a great shape akin to those statues that had so unnerved me, little more than a shadow yet all the more terrible for it; and then, as I gave my poor suffering vehicle a final push, scraping along the narrow walls of that dreadful tunnel, I saw for my shell a great arm of cracking marble from which yet more creatures spilled forth, all grasping hungrily for me. It was the greatest relief I have ever felt when I saw that the strange entrance to this forgotten and evil place remained open, and as I broke through I noticed the monsters fall back to their domain, abandoning the chase; with a great crash, in the instant that the last of those beasts returned from whence it had come, the rocks fell over the passage once again.

Climbing back to the surface I saw far below me the glint of that damned jewel; I spat out a curse as, with all the speed my poor submarine could muster, its frame groaning and creaking in a pained cacophony, I broke the surface and landed amongst the crashing waves, a dark sky above me yet feeling safer than ever before. It took some time for me to calm my heart, believing myself moments from cardiac arrest, yet somehow, through sheer will, I pulled through and, pledging to myself in that moment never to descend beneath the waves again, I set a course for the home and never looked back.

What had become of Atlantis in the millennia since its sinking I dare not think, for whatever it was brought ruin to all who resided there; my only hope is that none return to it. Though the representatives of the agencies tell me it was all the result of a pressure-induced hallucination I know different. One does not imagine that kind of fear, and nor does one simply imagine the grotesque corpse that found itself caught beneath my craft, its terrible claws piercing the hull of the submarine that nearly marked my grave.

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