Tomb of Atlantis

Tomb of Atlantis

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The Atlantis series:

There are 3 books in the Atlantis series: Hidden Courage, Tomb of Atlantis and Curse of Atlantis. Please see recommended order of reading below.

Hidden Courage: is the prequel in the Atlantis series (not essential)
Tomb of Atlantis: is book 2
Curse of Atlantis: is book 3 (sequel)

Tomb of Atlantis synopsis:
Young Jack Roberts is an adventurer. While flying up through the Caribbean many years ago, he spotted what he believed was a golden artifact resting on the ocean’s floor. Without the resources to investigate further, he snapped some photos and flew home.
Years later, he makes a startling discovery. While watching an interview on TV, he sees an exact duplicate of the symbol he photographed now displayed on a set of ancient tablets reported to be 7,000 years old. With his curiosity piqued, he knows he must return.
Jack’s new adventure leads him back to the Caribbean Sea in search of the golden artifact. While diving, he finds other ancient relics that point to the first real evidence of Atlantis. Excited and energized, he returns to the dive zone once more.
Tragedy strikes and Jack is now forced to fight for his life. Violent storms and vicious predators force him beyond even his own endurance as he clings to an improvised raft, driven not just to survive, but to solve the 7,000-year-old mystery of Atlantis.

(78,000 words)

Sample Chapter

Chapter 1:

THE ATLANTIC OCEAN: 10,000 B.C.

His hand was moist with sweat as he nervously grasped the tiller. Shaking it out, he wiped the offending moisture on his sleeve, then quickly returned his hand to the rudder. Looking over his shoulder, fear and apprehension broke free of its restraints and began to escape from its exile. His eyes shifted and his posture softened as his mind toyed and deceived his logic. Like a ravaging cancer, desperation flooded his conscious and he now began to consider defeat. “Blast!” he called out in disgust, and he banished the offending emotions to their asylum.

Narrowing his eyes, he summoned his courage deep from within. Like a Greek god, he stood bold and statuesque as he returned his stare to the expansive seas in front of him.

Sophocles, captain of his vessel and admiral of his fleet, scanned the horizon. A warrior by trade and sailor by passion, he spent most of his forty-seven years at sea. Tall and muscular, yet weathered and gray, he was considered an enigma to most warriors half his age. Having survived tragedies, battles and storms, he was called upon once more to push the limits of his courage and skill as he attempted to cross the Atlantic.

Sophocles searched the horizon and surrounding waters for signs of land. There were none: no distant gray shadows on the horizon that distinguished land, no birds flying to their nearby destinations and no floating plant or human debris that signaled a civilization just beyond their line of sight.

Disappointment spread through him as he realized there was no safe haven to be found.

Sophocles turned around and stared at the Egyptian armada that trailed only a few hundred yards behind him. Spread out over a quarter mile to each side, there were more than a hundred ships in his hot pursuit. Over the course of two weeks, Sophocles’ slower, less skilled ships were picked off one by one, and now his fleet consisted of only a handful of his most skilled and fastest sailors.

Sophocles squinted hard at the lead ship, trailing directly behind him. Standing triumphantly on its bow was Lempithius, captain of all the Egyptian fleet. The two admirals locked stares upon each other and for a moment, no one else in the world existed. Even with the distance between them, Sophocles could see the deep hatred and anger that seethed from Lempithius as he stood with clenched fists. Lempithius’ time had come and he would fully enjoy his revenge.

“He’s gaining on us, sir,” called a voice from behind Sophocles.

“Indeed,” Sophocles replied without breaking his stare.

“The men are rowing at maximum capacity. I fear they cannot keep up this pace much longer,” called the familiar voice once more.

Sophocles turned to face his first mate. His eyes burned with an intensity that seemed to intimidate his first officer, Zotikos. Realizing his unintentional action, he reached out and placed his hand on Zotikos’ shoulder.

“Zotikos, you are my finest. I am confident you have done your best. We are now in the hands of fate and destiny,” Sophocles said.

“Lempithius chases us alone. All other ships he has cast aside. Surely, he has reserved the harshest of executions for us,” Zotikos replied, his face betraying his fears.

Sophocles’ face reddened and his eyes furrowed.

“We are descendants of the mighty Zeus. He will pay for his insolence,” Sophocles spat.

“Sir?” Zotikos asked.

“I trust you have finished your accounting?” Sophocles asked.

“Yes, sir, all provisions accounted for,” Zotikos replied, still confused, “enough for three more days, then we’ll need to turn back for home.”

Sophocles eyes turned cold and black as he stared back at Zotikos.

“Our home is gone, devastated by the great wall of water. Our people are dead and we are all that is left. There will be no turning back for home,” Sophocles stated bluntly.

Zotikos gazed back at Sophocles, reading his face for further clues. Slowly, almost imperceptivity, his eyes became preoccupied. Zotikos now appeared to be looking through Sophocles.

“What is it Zotikos? I see distraction in your eyes,” Sophocles asked.

Suddenly, Zotikos lunged at Sophocles, wrapping his arms around his commander’s waist and knocking them both to the deck. Moments later, a flaming arrow embedded into the wood where they both had just stood. Shock and surprise were quickly replaced by instinct.

Rising to his feet, Sophocles quickly called out the order, “All men to their stations!”

As Zotikos jumped to his feet, Sophocles continued his orders, “Take six oarsmen and load the provisions on deck as quickly as you can. And bring me your finest archer.”

“Yes sir,” Zotikos acknowledged.

“And Zotikos…” Sophocles started.

Reaching out, he grabbed Zotikos’ shoulder as he brushed passed him. “I owe you a life.”

Zotikos smiled and said simply, “Yes sir.”

—– —– —– —–

Anxious and excited, Lempithius watched over his best archer as he attempted to repeat the near impossible shot far out in front of them. Heron dipped his arrow into the cask of oil and mounted it in his bow as another soldier lit the mixture of fabric and oil. With great strength and skill, he drew back the arrow and pointed it toward the sky, his muscles straining against the force of the bow string. Quickly, he mentally calculated the distance, wind direction and speed, then released the flaming arrow.

The glowing projectile flew through the air with great speed, traveling in an arc trajectory toward its target. Lempithius held his breath momentarily as he watched the arrow close on Sophocles’ boat. As seconds passed, the winds aloft acted on the arrow and pushed it from its course. Lempithius’ heart sank as he once again watched the arrow miss its mark, splashing into the ocean several feet behind the boat.

“Again, quickly,” Lempithius ordered. “We’re getting closer.”

Nervously, Heron restrung another arrow and waited for it to be lit.

“Don’t keep me waiting, if you value your life,” Lempithius spat out to both men.

Heron’s next arrow was lit and released within seconds. Moments later, the flaming arrow plunged into the sea several yards off course and far behind.

Lempithius pulled his knife from his scabbard and blurted loudly, “If you cannot keep a simple arrow on course, then you are of no use to me.”

He glanced to Sophocles’ boat, then back to Heron. Anger welled deep inside him. Years of living in oppression fueled his frustration. With vengeance so close, those in his way paid dearly. In a moment of rage, he plunged his knife into Heron’s neck, severing his carotid artery and killing him almost instantly.

“Now, bring me your next best archer. Don’t disappoint me,” Lempithius scowled to his first officer. “And remove this waste from my sight,” he added.

With a savage kick, he pushed the lifeless body from his path and stood at the bow, his eyes focused on his prey.

—– —– —– —–

“Zotikos, we don’t have much time. Lempithius will be within striking distance shortly. Position your archers and wait for my signal,” Sophocles ordered.

“Yes sir,” Zotikos responded simply.

Moments later, the deck flooded with archers at the ready. Positioned in pairs along each side of the boat, they crouched low to present a smaller target. Sophocles stood in the middle of the boat and called out his orders.

“Momentarily, Lempithius will be within full archer range. He will unleash volleys of arrows in an attempt to burn our ship. Next, he will expect return volleys from our own archers in retaliation. He will expect to see us fight a brave fight, all the while, allowing our ship to burn to the water line. We will not be following the plan as he expects.”

Sophocles paused for effect, then continued, “Each man holds a shield. This will be your weapon for the time being. When Captain Lempithius launches his attack, you must hold firm. Do not return volley. Use your shield to protect yourself. This will be your most important asset. As the arrows penetrate the deck, extinguish the fires. This is our best defense. If we can keep our ship from burning, we stand a fair chance at survival. Without the ship, we will all surely suffer capture and an agonizing death at the hands of Lempithius.”

Sophocles turned toward the enemy and calculated the distance between them. With Lempithius’ boat nearly within range, he quickly finished his orders.

“Without return fire, Lempithius’ archers will launch volleys freely. They will be frenzied in the belief that they are defeating us. Only too late will they realize that they have run out of arrows. It is at this time, that we will launch our own attack. You will fire your arrows, but only at the targets I designate. With fewer arrows from the enemy, you will be able to fire freely and accurately.”

Sophocles was about to speak, but suddenly spotted an arrow streaming in. It penetrated an open space on the deck and he quickly grabbed a small bucket of water and doused the fire.

Turning to his men again, he called out loudly, “Lempithius is within range. Prepare your shields.”

Quiet fell over the length of the ship as they waited for the rain of arrows to ensue. With great intensity, each man scanned the sky for any signs of movement. Several regripped their shields as the sweat from their hands made the leather straps more difficult to hold. Others repositioned their shields above them, trying to second guess the trajectory of the impending volley.

“Arrows!” Sophocles announced.

High in the mid-day sky, tiny dots of light seemed to float innocently toward them. As the arrows neared, their plumes of fire became brighter and more menacing. Sophocles stood behind several large wooden casks and watched the rain of death descend upon his crew.

In an instant, the deck of the ship became a cacophony of screams and confusion. Flaming arrows poured in and struck the open deck, penetrating the wood and erupting in balls of flames as the oil-soaked cloth separated from the arrow and spread out over the wooden surface. Several unlucky crewmen felt the agony of their fate as the flaming arrows penetrated flesh, broke bones and caused severe burns. Through their screams, others leapt to their feet and raced for buckets of water, only to be struck down by the next volley of arrows.

Sophocles watched as his ship began to burn. Ignoring danger, he grabbed a shield from a dead soldier and raced toward a cask of water. Immediately, he saw a flaming arrow heading for him. Instinctively, he reacted and deflected it with his shield.

“Put out the fires,” Sophocles yelled to his men.

Leading by example, he grabbed a bucket of water and threw it on a small fire only feet from him. As the next volley of arrows sailed in, he crouched with his shield, deflected an arrow, then stood up to fight the fires. Seeing their commander in harm’s way, others followed his lead.

The fight to save their ship was intense. Each man fought the fiery death from above and raging flames from below. With great courage and determination, they soon had the fires under control.

—– —– —– —–

From mid ship, Lempithius watched with great anticipation as the archers unleashed their flaming volleys of death. A great smile crossed his face as he observed the first of many plumes of smoke rise up in the sky. He felt great satisfaction as he envisioned the violent deaths of his enemy, as well as the terrible suffering from those who were only wounded.

“Now they will pay. Now they will realize their folly. The great Lempithius is not a man to trifle with. They will learn their lesson in blood,” Lempithius boasted.

He watched the thick black smoke rise from the distant ship and mocked their circumstance.

“Ha! Do you all see what becomes of those who cross the great Lempithius. Let this be a lesson for all,” he shouted loudly.

As he basked in his triumph, he spat out orders with indifference.

“Oh, the terrible punishment they must be suffering on that miserable ship. Just look at them attempting to extinguish the fires. They’re like old women, too scared to ever return fire,” Lempithius mocked with great joy, then added, “Increase your firing or I’ll cut off you heads and feed them to the sharks.”

Lempithius closely monitored his men. He kept the pressure on for both archer and oarsman alike. An hour after the fighting began, his ship had moved within two hundred yards of the enemy and he was now delirious with revenge. Every arrow, every stroke of an oar, only served to increase the intensity of his rage.

Suddenly, Lempithius began to notice something disturbing. The great plume of smoke from the ship had grown smaller and lighter in color.

How could this be? Lempithius thought to himself. Surely by now, most of them must be dead or wounded. How could the fires be receding?

The sight of the surviving ship sent rage throughout his body. He would have his revenge.

“Increase firing you lousy dogs!” Lempithius commanded. “Any man caught slowing his pace will find himself on the wrong end of his own arrow!”

“Sir, we’re running out of arrows,” Lempithius heard an archer reply.

Instantly, Lempithius pulled his knife and lunged at the archer, embedding the stone blade all the way to the handle. With several more savage blows, the archer slumped to the ground, his eyes glazed over as death overtook him.

“Not another word from you mangy camels,” Lempithius scowled.

As commanded, each archer continued to launch their few remaining arrows.

—– —– —– —–

“Sir, they’re slowing. The arrows seem to be slowing,” Zitokos yelled to Sophocles.

Sophocles peered over the top of his shield. With a knowing smile, he ran to the front of the ship where all the provisions had been stacked earlier.

“Zitokos, your six best archers. Ready them at the stern,” Sophocles shouted.

“Yes sir,” Zitokos replied.

Quickly, Sophocles ordered a dozen of his men to the side.

“Men, we have more than two dozen casks of oil. I want you to pull their corks and pour a quarter of it into the water, then dump the casks after it. We must do this nearly simultaneously. After that, we’ll be jettisoning the rest of these provisions. Is that clear?” Sophocles ordered.

“Sir, if we throw our provisions overboard, how will we get home?” said a voice from within the small band of soldiers.

“We won’t,” Sophocles said bluntly, “Now, start tossing them overboard.”

— — — — — —

Lempithius looked on as Sophocles jettisoned his cargo. He found great satisfaction in this act and considered it the last effort from the desperate leader. Soon, his revenge would be complete.

“Fools! They think they can outrun the great Lempithius? I think not!” Lempithius shouted out triumphantly. “More arrows! Increase speed!”

“Sir, begging your pardon, we have the strongest slaves in the fleet. They are working at their greatest capacity. I fear any further demands will cause injury to their hands and shoulders, an event that will most certainly reduce our speed. May I suggest we also jettison some of our supplies?” the first officer reasoned.

Lempithius’ anger raged inside. He was the supreme naval leader of all Egypt and his word was not to be challenged. He drew his knife and lunged for his first officer…

“Sir, I am sorry, but we have run out of arrows,” announced an archer to Lempithius’ first officer.

Lempithius broke off his attack on his first officer and advanced toward the archer. With a quick swipe of his knife, he sliced through the throat of the unsuspecting man. The archer recoiled in shock, not yet comprehending the extent of his injury. As blood began to flow from his neck, Lempithius grabbed his shoulders and unceremoniously, shoved him overboard.

Lempithius turned to his now-frightened first officer. In a low deliberate voice, he growled, “More speed, now and prepare the men to board.”

—– —– —– —–

Sophocles watched as the barrels of oil floated toward Lempithius’ ship. He could see the sheen from the oil slick as the barrels continued to leak their contents. Closer in, he watched the last of his food and water slowly disappearing below the surface. A wave of fear broke over him as he realized this act marked the almost certain death of his crew. Without food or water, they would all certainly perish.

“Better to die of hunger and thirst as free men, than to die from torture as captives,” he reasoned quietly to himself.

With his finest archers standing at the stern of the ship, he stood with them and readied his orders.

“On my signal, you will shoot those barrels. All your practice, all your experience was for these next few minutes. You must succeed. We are all counting on your accuracy,” Sophocles announced.

With a simple nod of their heads, the archers acknowledged their orders and turned to face their destiny.

Sophocles watched the debris field float ever closer to Lempithius’ ship. The first of three barrels went wide, missing the path of the ship by a hundred feet. Nervously, he watched two more barrels slip past the ship on the opposite side. Sophocles looked on and saw Lempithius’ crew lining the deck, preparing for battle. The arrows had ceased just moments before and now they stood ready with knifes, clubs and spears.

Sophocles’ plan had worked. Without archers, Lempithius’ men were at a disadvantage. When they attacked, they would be overrun by greater weaponry. Sophocles breathed a small sigh of relief. His chances for survival had just dramatically increased.

—– —– —– —–

Lempithius stood proudly at the bow of his ship and watched the debris float by. He thought about snaring a few of the barrels as they passed, but thought better of it, realizing they would only slow him down. He noted the open barrels and the oil that seeped out of them, mocking futility of Sophocles’ actions. He noticed the oil as it clung to the hull of his ship and the mess it caused angered him.

“Fool, pouring his oil into the sea so I can’t have it… making a foul mess of my ship. Why would I want his silly oil anyway? He must know I have my own. He must realize I don’t need his stupid oil. He must…”

Lempithius cut himself off in mid-sentence, the reality of his own words finally registering in his mind.

“No!” he yelled out at the top of his lungs. “I am the great Lempithius. You cannot do this to me.”

— — — —

“Shoot!” Sophocles ordered loudly. “Shoot now!”

The six archers release their flaming arrows into the sky. For a moment, all stood motionless and watched the streaming arc of the arrows as they converged on their target. The tiny flames had reached their apex and were now descending. Sophocles could feel his heart pounding through his toga. The intensity of his focus caused his eyes to sear, and he blinked hard to clear the pain.

The first two arrows missed their mark, immediately extinguished as they plunged into the sea. A second later, three more missed their targets, suffering the same fate as the first two. The sixth arrow caught an air current and streamed long. Flying over the barrels, it flew headlong into Lempithius’ men. Instantly, screams erupted as it pierced one man and embedded in another.

While the arrows were still in flight, Sophocles ordered the archers to continue their barrage. Two more sets of arrows were underway. With the first round of arrows used to gage distance, the second and third round were now far more accurate. Sophocles watched as two arrows struck one barrel floating just in front of Lempithius’ ship.

The leaking oil instantly burst into flames. Quickly, the fire streamed to its source: the contents inside the barrel. Instantly, the barrel exploded sending volumes of burning oil up and over the top of Lempithius’ ship, coming to rest on the crew. Screams of agony could be heard as the searing oil stripped flesh from the crew’s body.

Like a repeat of the first, two more barrels floating close by exploded into balls of fiery liquid, spraying the sides and decking of Lempithius’ ship. With the third volley of arrows came more explosions. Lempithius’ ship was now fully engulfed in flames and Sophocles watched as its errant leader stood at the bow of his boat, on fire, as he leapt to his death.

A loud cheer roared from the crew of Sophocles’ ship. For the moment, they had beaten their foe and were free to escape. With great pride and gratitude, the crew let out a loud salute to their leader.

“Viva Sophocles!”

SIX WEEKS LATER:

Sophocles stood in a weakened state, leaning against his tiller for support. Weeks had passed since they had narrowly escaped the battle with Lempithius. Except for a few fish they had been lucky enough to catch and some rain water they had managed to collect during an occasional storm, Sophocles and his crew had almost nothing to eat or drink in weeks. Some had died, others were dying. The oarsman could no longer row and the remaining crew could no longer maintain the ship. Most found a spot, lay down and waited to die.

Sailing across the Atlantic, Sophocles had called upon every bit of knowledge he had learned since he began sailing more than forty years before. He was in uncharted waters. No man had ever sailed this deep into the Atlantic and survived. Navigating by stars, wind and waves, he had kept an easterly course and was certain at some point, they would find land. But day after day, the endless seascape stretched out before them, unrelenting and featureless.

Sophocles closed his eyes involuntarily. His mind ceased to function long before his eyes shut. Propped up against the tiller, his body swayed with the rocking of the boat. As time passed, the soft gentle breezes that had lulled him to sleep, picked up in intensity, causing the waves to build.

Suddenly, a large wave rocked the boat and Sophocles tumbled across the deck, waking up several feet away. He rolled onto his knees, grasped the side of the boat and pulled himself to a standing position.

Working his way back to the tiller, Sophocles scanned the horizon behind his ship. At first his mind refused to register the event, but instinct and self-preservation worked its way into his conscious thinking. Another storm was developing, this one ever more ominous and menacing than anything he had witnessed before.

Sophocles’ tongue had swollen from dehydration, making speech a laborious and painful task, but he overcame his condition and called to his first officer.

“Zotikos… Zotikos, wake up. We’re in trouble,” he called to his first officer several feet away.

He waited momentarily, took a deep breath and called out in a louder tone.

“Zotikos… you must wake up. We’re in great danger.”

Barely conscious, Zotikos sat up and tried to steady himself with his hands on the deck.

“Yes, sir,” Zotikos answered, his voice barely audible.

“Zotikos my friend, look behind us. We are in great danger,” Sophocles replied.

Zotikos’ eyes snapped open. In all his years sailing under Sophocles, he had never referred to Zotikos as his friend. The simple statement brought a sense of warmth and contentment at a time he felt the most despair. Zotikos smiled at his captain and slowly stood.

Pointing out behind the ship, Sophocles gestured to the advancing storm.

“Zotikos, I fear this will be the end,” Sophocles began.

Zotikos scanned the horizon. His body was swept with dread at the sight of the approaching storm.

“Zotikos, I’m not afraid to die… you know that,” Sophocles began. “But, I am afraid to pass on without righting an injustice. You have sailed with me since you were a boy. You have been as loyal, brave and intelligent as any man I have ever met. It has been a privilege to have sailed with you. I’d be honored to know you as my friend.”

Zotikos stood stunned for a moment. Never had he heard Sophocles speak of anyone with such emotion. He felt the honor and gratitude of a lifetime of friendship.

“Thank you, sir, you have been like a father to me. If I am to die, it would be an honor to die with you,” Zotikos replied.

The two stood for a moment and acknowledged each other, not for their rank, but as good friends.

“So what do we do now, sir?” Zotikos asked.

“We can’t outrun it. The best we can do is steer through the waves and hold on,” Sophocles replied.

Zotikos shuffled along the edge of the boat, and stood next to his captain.

“Sure could use a taste of wine,” Zotikos said, matter-of-factly.

“Hmm, yes, Egyptian wine,” Sophocles replied.

Zotikos turned and smiled at Sophocles, amused by his answer.

“What?” Sophocles said rhetorically, then added, “They’re good for something, I guess.”

Zotikos smiled again, then turned his attention to the horizon out in front of them.

“Sailing from one and into another,” Zotikos said out loud to no one in particular.

Sophocles thought about Zotikos’ statement. In his weakened and confused state, he couldn’t figure out the meaning of it.

Finally, he asked, “What do you mean by ‘into another’?”

“Another storm, sir… one behind us and the other straight ahead. Maybe we should try to steer around it,” Zotikos replied.

Sophocles looked out on the horizon. He squinted hard, wiped his eye and squinted again. A small smile crossed his face.

“Great sons of Zeus! That’s no storm, my boy. That’s land!” Sophocles blurted out, his voice becoming strong and clear.

Zotikos stared for a moment the said, matter-of-factly, “I do believe you’re right. So close, yet so far away.”

“Don’t give up just yet, Zotikos. We’re not dead yet. Rouse the men. There’s no time to lose. Assemble them here immediately,” Sophocles ordered.

“Yes sir,” Zotikos replied.

Within minutes, the crew assembled on deck and listened to their captain’s instructions. With little time to spare, he made his order short.

“Gentlemen. Out there in front of us is life. Behind us is death. We are decedents of the mighty Zeus and were born to greatness. On that piece of land there on the horizon, we will carry on our line. We will thrive and rebuild our great nation once more. But, before we can rebuild, I need all your strength. You can do it… one last effort. Do you want to live or do you want to die?” Sophocles bellowed.

In one loud unanimous roar, the crew shouted, “Live!”

As the crew made their way to their rower’s stations, Sophocles called out to Zotikos.

“Zotikos, a word, sir,” Sophocles asked.

“Yes sir.”

“Inscribe one last entry, then stow it with the crystal key in my quarters,” Sophocles ordered.

“If we sink, will it matter?” Zotikos asked.

“It is the only record of our existence. Someone will find it,” Sophocles replied confidently.

With a quick nod of acknowledgement, Zotikos turned to perform his duties.

—– —– —– —–

Deep in the hold of the ship, the oarsmen strained against starvation, dehydration and fatigue. Seated on benches that held two oarsmen per oar, they rowed to the cadence of the striker who drummed the speed of rowing with each blow of his mallet. They worked in perfection unison and propelled the ship to a blistering speed of eight knots per hour. Racing against time, they needed to travel the fifteen miles it would take to reach land before the much faster storm overtook them. With the storm moving at nearly five times their speed, it would be a near impossible task.

On deck, Sophocles ordered his men to tighten the sail and throw overboard all ropes, anchor and anything deemed non-essential to their immediate sail. As the men worked, the winds intensified and the seas began to rage, tossing the ship from crest to trough as Sophocles feebly tried to negotiate the waves. Far in the distance, the land loomed and grew larger and more distinct with each passing minute.

Sophocles didn’t need to look behind him to know the storm was close. The crests of the waves were now nearly as tall as the mast and the winds streamed in, ripping at the sail, nearly tearing them from their rigging. Over the roar of the storm, he could hear his ship bending and creaking as the violent waves and winds punished his boat. Looking up at his taught sail, he wondered nervously if the mast would hold.

Sophocles felt continuous moisture on his arms and face. At first he ignored it, considering it just the spray from the ocean swells. As the drops of water began to build in momentum, he realized the rain had begun. Seconds later, the sky opened up and the light rain turned to a powerful deluge of water that at times, moved sideways across the ocean, driven by the wind.

Sophocles was now in battle with the elements. As the ship rolled up the crest of waves, the oarsmen could no longer make contact with the water, losing control of their forward momentum. The winds caught the sail and thrust the ship from the crest to the trough, out of control and nearly capsizing with each downward plunge into the valley of unforgiving water. Sophocles worked the rudder wildly as he clung to it in desperation.

Suddenly, a rogue wave slammed the side of the boat, crashing over the top and washing a man overboard.

“Throw him a line,” Sophocles screamed over the roar of the wind.

He watched as the man passed by the boat, struggling to stay afloat, then disappeared under the white, frothy waves.

Zotikos looked over in sad desperation, nodded to his captain in sympathy, then continued his work.

Another large wave struck the front of the boat as it floundered in the trough, dousing the deck with a tremendous plume of water. This time, the men grabbed whatever they could and held on. The force of the water ripped several men from their grasp and rolled them down the rear of the deck toward Sophocles. Instinctively, he let go of the rudder and grabbed one of the men before he was launched over the side. Both men grabbed the rudder, held on as another violent wave rolled over the top of them from the other side. As the water cleared the deck, Sophocles looked around him. Three more men were gone.

Deep in the hold, the oarsmen continued their work. Although tied to their benches, they could not maintain balance, and toppled over with each violent wave that broadsided the ship. Great walls of water rushed in, flooded the hold and momentarily threatened to drown the inhabitants. Still continuing to row, they held their breath and hoped for air, as the water slowly drained out the side ports and back into the sea.

As time passed, the men weakened and so, too, did the ship. Sophocles began to hear the unmistakable sound of wood cracking. Through the loud roar of the storm, he tried to pinpoint the location of the sound.

Suddenly, a wild and violent gust of wind burst through them, knocking men off their feet and sending them rolling toward the side. Sophocles watched in horror as the sail twisted beyond its constraints and cracked the mast.

“Zotikos, cut the ropes. Release the sail!” Sophocles screamed over the wind.

Zotikos raced for the ropes and began to cut. On the other side, other men were attempting to do the same.

Sophocles battled the rudder as he anxiously looked on.

Moments later, another gust charged in and snapped the mast at its base. Sophocles looked on in horror as the long wooden pole toppled into the sea, dragging another man with it.

“Quickly, cut the ropes. It’s dragging us under!” Sophocles screamed out again.

As the mast began to sink, its weight and size acted as an anchor and began to overcome the effects of the rudder. It quickly began to pull the ship sideways in the water. Sophocles had now lost control of his ship. Clinging to the rudder, he watched Zotikos desperately sawing through the last of the ropes.

Without warning, another violent wave broadsided ship, capsizing it momentarily and snapping the rope to the sunken mast. A great wall of water rushed across the deck and Sophocles watched helplessly, as Zotikos was wash away.

“Nooo!” Sophocles cried out in angst.

As the boat righted itself, Sophocles searched the seas in desperation. His shipmate, his friend was gone.

Sophocles wept openly as the pain was too much to bear. He clutched the rudder in one hand and rubbed his eyes with the other. Holding his tears in his hand, he lifted his head in sadness and searched once again for his friend.

Through his blurred and teary vision, he spotted a hand, then an arm on the edge of the boat. Quickly, a leg was thrown up over the side and Zotikos pulled himself to safety. He rolled to the middle of the deck, stood and clung to the shattered base of the mast. He flashed Sophocles a humble grin and raced off to help the other men.

Sophocles roared a triumphant laugh, relieved by the saving of his friend. He watched Zotikos for a moment, then refocused on controlling what was left of his ship.

As the hours passed, the land that had been a gray shadow, turned into a lush green mass of land. Less than a half mile from shore, they could see the white sandy beaches that lined its shores. They were almost there. The feeling that they were going to make it sent a steady rush of adrenaline through their bodies, invigorating them, giving them the energy to go on.

Sophocles began to feel relief. Although they were still fighting for their lives, he was almost certain the fight was about to end.

Abruptly, the ship came to a violent halt. All men were flung forward, including Sophocles. The oarsmen in the hold were ripped from their benches and piled on top of each other as they, too, were launched forward. A large wave rolled in and slammed the side of the ship, spinning it around and now positioning it broadside for further punishment.

“Abandon ship! Abandon ship!” Sophocles screamed.

He ran to Zotikos and gave further instructions.

“Zotikos, we’ve run aground. The waves are going to tear this ship apart. Get everyone off the ship… Now!” Sophocles ordered.

“Yes, sir,” Zotikos shouted.

The waves rolled in as the evacuation unfolded. One by one, the men reluctantly jumped into the water and began to fight the savage waves as they swam towards shore. Those that could not swim, drowned. As the last oarsman jumped into the sea, Zotikos and Sophocles took one last look at their jewel that carried them to safety.

“She was a good ship, tough, strong. I have no complaints,” Sophocles said with sadness.

Just then, another large wave crashed over the deck, knocking the two into the sea. The force of the wave rushed through them and carried them away from the ship. Zotikos popped up out of the water first. Searching for Sophocles, he bumped into something hard. Instantly, Sophocles popped up above the surface next to him.

“Sir, you made it,” Zotikos said, smiling.

“Not yet my friend. It’s a long swim to shore,” Sophocles grinned.

A worried look came over Zotikos. Looking into Sophocles’ eyes, he said, “The crystal key, the scrolls… I have to go back.”

“Zotikos, it’s too dangerous. You have to save your strength. We need to swim now or we won’t make it,” Sophocles responded.

“But sir, it’s all we have left,” Zotikos replied.

“No, Zotikos, what is left is what we make of it. Let’s swim,” Sophocles ordered.

FOURTEEN HOURS LATER:

The day broke bright and clear. The great storm had past and all but four of the crew had made it to shore. Sophocles stood on the sandy beach and scanned the horizon. He breathed in a deep breath of air and exhale deep satisfaction. He had made it.

“Any sign of it,” Zotikos called out from behind Sophocles.

Sophocles turned and greeted his first officer.

“Well, good morning, Zotikos. Good to see you’re in fine spirits,” Sophocles teased, then continued. “No sign. The ship’s gone.”

“Do you think it could still be stuck on that sandbar?” Zotikos asked.

“It’s possible. It could have broken up and sank right there or it could have sailed out to sea during the storm,” Sophocles replied.

“Hmm, sad. It would have been nice to carry on with our treasures,” Zotikos said in saddened tone.

Sophocles put his hand on Zotikos’ shoulder and replied, “There will be more.”

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THE ATLANTIC OCEAN: 10,000 B.C.

His hand was moist with sweat as he nervously grasped the tiller. Shaking it out, he wiped the offending moisture on his sleeve, then quickly returned his hand to the rudder. Looking over his shoulder, fear and apprehension broke free of its restraints and began to escape from its exile. His eyes shifted and his posture softened as his mind toyed and deceived his logic. Like a ravaging cancer, desperation flooded his conscious and he now began to consider defeat. “Blast!” he called out in disgust, and he banished the offending emotions to their asylum.

Narrowing his eyes, he summoned his courage deep from within. Like a Greek god, he stood bold and statuesque as he returned his stare to the expansive seas in front of him.

Sophocles, captain of his vessel and admiral of his fleet, scanned the horizon. A warrior by trade and sailor by passion, he spent most of his forty-seven years at sea. Tall and muscular, yet weathered and gray, he was considered an enigma to most warriors half his age. Having survived tragedies, battles and storms, he was called upon once more to push the limits of his courage and skill as he attempted to cross the Atlantic.

Sophocles searched the horizon and surrounding waters for signs of land. There were none: no distant gray shadows on the horizon that distinguished land, no birds flying to their nearby destinations and no floating plant or human debris that signaled a civilization just beyond their line of sight.

Disappointment spread through him as he realized there was no safe haven to be found.

Sophocles turned around and stared at the Egyptian armada that trailed only a few hundred yards behind him. Spread out over a quarter mile to each side, there were more than a hundred ships in his hot pursuit. Over the course of two weeks, Sophocles’ slower, less skilled ships were picked off one by one, and now his fleet consisted of only a handful of his most skilled and fastest sailors.

Sophocles squinted hard at the lead ship, trailing directly behind him. Standing triumphantly on its bow was Lempithius, captain of all the Egyptian fleet. The two admirals locked stares upon each other and for a moment, no one else in the world existed. Even with the distance between them, Sophocles could see the deep hatred and anger that seethed from Lempithius as he stood with clenched fists. Lempithius’ time had come and he would fully enjoy his revenge.

“He’s gaining on us, sir,” called a voice from behind Sophocles.

“Indeed,” Sophocles replied without breaking his stare.

“The men are rowing at maximum capacity. I fear they cannot keep up this pace much longer,” called the familiar voice once more.

Sophocles turned to face his first mate. His eyes burned with an intensity that seemed to intimidate his first officer, Zotikos. Realizing his unintentional action, he reached out and placed his hand on Zotikos’ shoulder.

“Zotikos, you are my finest. I am confident you have done your best. We are now in the hands of fate and destiny,” Sophocles said.

“Lempithius chases us alone. All other ships he has cast aside. Surely, he has reserved the harshest of executions for us,” Zotikos replied, his face betraying his fears.

Sophocles’ face reddened and his eyes furrowed.

“We are descendants of the mighty Zeus. He will pay for his insolence,” Sophocles spat.

“Sir?” Zotikos asked.

“I trust you have finished your accounting?” Sophocles asked.

“Yes, sir, all provisions accounted for,” Zotikos replied, still confused, “enough for three more days, then we’ll need to turn back for home.”

Sophocles eyes turned cold and black as he stared back at Zotikos.

“Our home is gone, devastated by the great wall of water. Our people are dead and we are all that is left. There will be no turning back for home,” Sophocles stated bluntly.

Zotikos gazed back at Sophocles, reading his face for further clues. Slowly, almost imperceptivity, his eyes became preoccupied. Zotikos now appeared to be looking through Sophocles.

“What is it Zotikos? I see distraction in your eyes,” Sophocles asked.

Suddenly, Zotikos lunged at Sophocles, wrapping his arms around his commander’s waist and knocking them both to the deck. Moments later, a flaming arrow embedded into the wood where they both had just stood. Shock and surprise were quickly replaced by instinct.

Rising to his feet, Sophocles quickly called out the order, “All men to their stations!”

As Zotikos jumped to his feet, Sophocles continued his orders, “Take six oarsmen and load the provisions on deck as quickly as you can. And bring me your finest archer.”

“Yes sir,” Zotikos acknowledged.

“And Zotikos…” Sophocles started.

Reaching out, he grabbed Zotikos’ shoulder as he brushed passed him. “I owe you a life.”

Zotikos smiled and said simply, “Yes sir.”

—– —– —– —–

Anxious and excited, Lempithius watched over his best archer as he attempted to repeat the near impossible shot far out in front of them. Heron dipped his arrow into the cask of oil and mounted it in his bow as another soldier lit the mixture of fabric and oil. With great strength and skill, he drew back the arrow and pointed it toward the sky, his muscles straining against the force of the bow string. Quickly, he mentally calculated the distance, wind direction and speed, then released the flaming arrow.

The glowing projectile flew through the air with great speed, traveling in an arc trajectory toward its target. Lempithius held his breath momentarily as he watched the arrow close on Sophocles’ boat. As seconds passed, the winds aloft acted on the arrow and pushed it from its course. Lempithius’ heart sank as he once again watched the arrow miss its mark, splashing into the ocean several feet behind the boat.

“Again, quickly,” Lempithius ordered. “We’re getting closer.”

Nervously, Heron restrung another arrow and waited for it to be lit.

“Don’t keep me waiting, if you value your life,” Lempithius spat out to both men.

Heron’s next arrow was lit and released within seconds. Moments later, the flaming arrow plunged into the sea several yards off course and far behind.

Lempithius pulled his knife from his scabbard and blurted loudly, “If you cannot keep a simple arrow on course, then you are of no use to me.”

He glanced to Sophocles’ boat, then back to Heron. Anger welled deep inside him. Years of living in oppression fueled his frustration. With vengeance so close, those in his way paid dearly. In a moment of rage, he plunged his knife into Heron’s neck, severing his carotid artery and killing him almost instantly.

“Now, bring me your next best archer. Don’t disappoint me,” Lempithius scowled to his first officer. “And remove this waste from my sight,” he added.

With a savage kick, he pushed the lifeless body from his path and stood at the bow, his eyes focused on his prey.

—– —– —– —–

“Zotikos, we don’t have much time. Lempithius will be within striking distance shortly. Position your archers and wait for my signal,” Sophocles ordered.

“Yes sir,” Zotikos responded simply.

Moments later, the deck flooded with archers at the ready. Positioned in pairs along each side of the boat, they crouched low to present a smaller target. Sophocles stood in the middle of the boat and called out his orders.

“Momentarily, Lempithius will be within full archer range. He will unleash volleys of arrows in an attempt to burn our ship. Next, he will expect return volleys from our own archers in retaliation. He will expect to see us fight a brave fight, all the while, allowing our ship to burn to the water line. We will not be following the plan as he expects.”

Sophocles paused for effect, then continued, “Each man holds a shield. This will be your weapon for the time being. When Captain Lempithius launches his attack, you must hold firm. Do not return volley. Use your shield to protect yourself. This will be your most important asset. As the arrows penetrate the deck, extinguish the fires. This is our best defense. If we can keep our ship from burning, we stand a fair chance at survival. Without the ship, we will all surely suffer capture and an agonizing death at the hands of Lempithius.”

Sophocles turned toward the enemy and calculated the distance between them. With Lempithius’ boat nearly within range, he quickly finished his orders.

“Without return fire, Lempithius’ archers will launch volleys freely. They will be frenzied in the belief that they are defeating us. Only too late will they realize that they have run out of arrows. It is at this time, that we will launch our own attack. You will fire your arrows, but only at the targets I designate. With fewer arrows from the enemy, you will be able to fire freely and accurately.”

Sophocles was about to speak, but suddenly spotted an arrow streaming in. It penetrated an open space on the deck and he quickly grabbed a small bucket of water and doused the fire.

Turning to his men again, he called out loudly, “Lempithius is within range. Prepare your shields.”

Quiet fell over the length of the ship as they waited for the rain of arrows to ensue. With great intensity, each man scanned the sky for any signs of movement. Several regripped their shields as the sweat from their hands made the leather straps more difficult to hold. Others repositioned their shields above them, trying to second guess the trajectory of the impending volley.

“Arrows!” Sophocles announced.

High in the mid-day sky, tiny dots of light seemed to float innocently toward them. As the arrows neared, their plumes of fire became brighter and more menacing. Sophocles stood behind several large wooden casks and watched the rain of death descend upon his crew.

In an instant, the deck of the ship became a cacophony of screams and confusion. Flaming arrows poured in and struck the open deck, penetrating the wood and erupting in balls of flames as the oil-soaked cloth separated from the arrow and spread out over the wooden surface. Several unlucky crewmen felt the agony of their fate as the flaming arrows penetrated flesh, broke bones and caused severe burns. Through their screams, others leapt to their feet and raced for buckets of water, only to be struck down by the next volley of arrows.

Sophocles watched as his ship began to burn. Ignoring danger, he grabbed a shield from a dead soldier and raced toward a cask of water. Immediately, he saw a flaming arrow heading for him. Instinctively, he reacted and deflected it with his shield.

“Put out the fires,” Sophocles yelled to his men.

Leading by example, he grabbed a bucket of water and threw it on a small fire only feet from him. As the next volley of arrows sailed in, he crouched with his shield, deflected an arrow, then stood up to fight the fires. Seeing their commander in harm’s way, others followed his lead.

The fight to save their ship was intense. Each man fought the fiery death from above and raging flames from below. With great courage and determination, they soon had the fires under control.

—– —– —– —–

From mid ship, Lempithius watched with great anticipation as the archers unleashed their flaming volleys of death. A great smile crossed his face as he observed the first of many plumes of smoke rise up in the sky. He felt great satisfaction as he envisioned the violent deaths of his enemy, as well as the terrible suffering from those who were only wounded.

“Now they will pay. Now they will realize their folly. The great Lempithius is not a man to trifle with. They will learn their lesson in blood,” Lempithius boasted.

He watched the thick black smoke rise from the distant ship and mocked their circumstance.

“Ha! Do you all see what becomes of those who cross the great Lempithius. Let this be a lesson for all,” he shouted loudly.

As he basked in his triumph, he spat out orders with indifference.

“Oh, the terrible punishment they must be suffering on that miserable ship. Just look at them attempting to extinguish the fires. They’re like old women, too scared to ever return fire,” Lempithius mocked with great joy, then added, “Increase your firing or I’ll cut off you heads and feed them to the sharks.”

Lempithius closely monitored his men. He kept the pressure on for both archer and oarsman alike. An hour after the fighting began, his ship had moved within two hundred yards of the enemy and he was now delirious with revenge. Every arrow, every stroke of an oar, only served to increase the intensity of his rage.

Suddenly, Lempithius began to notice something disturbing. The great plume of smoke from the ship had grown smaller and lighter in color.

How could this be? Lempithius thought to himself. Surely by now, most of them must be dead or wounded. How could the fires be receding?

The sight of the surviving ship sent rage throughout his body. He would have his revenge.

“Increase firing you lousy dogs!” Lempithius commanded. “Any man caught slowing his pace will find himself on the wrong end of his own arrow!”

“Sir, we’re running out of arrows,” Lempithius heard an archer reply.

Instantly, Lempithius pulled his knife and lunged at the archer, embedding the stone blade all the way to the handle. With several more savage blows, the archer slumped to the ground, his eyes glazed over as death overtook him.

“Not another word from you mangy camels,” Lempithius scowled.

As commanded, each archer continued to launch their few remaining arrows.

—– —– —– —–

“Sir, they’re slowing. The arrows seem to be slowing,” Zitokos yelled to Sophocles.

Sophocles peered over the top of his shield. With a knowing smile, he ran to the front of the ship where all the provisions had been stacked earlier.

“Zitokos, your six best archers. Ready them at the stern,” Sophocles shouted.

“Yes sir,” Zitokos replied.

Quickly, Sophocles ordered a dozen of his men to the side.

“Men, we have more than two dozen casks of oil. I want you to pull their corks and pour a quarter of it into the water, then dump the casks after it. We must do this nearly simultaneously. After that, we’ll be jettisoning the rest of these provisions. Is that clear?” Sophocles ordered.

“Sir, if we throw our provisions overboard, how will we get home?” said a voice from within the small band of soldiers.

“We won’t,” Sophocles said bluntly, “Now, start tossing them overboard.”

— — — — — —

Lempithius looked on as Sophocles jettisoned his cargo. He found great satisfaction in this act and considered it the last effort from the desperate leader. Soon, his revenge would be complete.

“Fools! They think they can outrun the great Lempithius? I think not!” Lempithius shouted out triumphantly. “More arrows! Increase speed!”

“Sir, begging your pardon, we have the strongest slaves in the fleet. They are working at their greatest capacity. I fear any further demands will cause injury to their hands and shoulders, an event that will most certainly reduce our speed. May I suggest we also jettison some of our supplies?” the first officer reasoned.

Lempithius’ anger raged inside. He was the supreme naval leader of all Egypt and his word was not to be challenged. He drew his knife and lunged for his first officer…

“Sir, I am sorry, but we have run out of arrows,” announced an archer to Lempithius’ first officer.

Lempithius broke off his attack on his first officer and advanced toward the archer. With a quick swipe of his knife, he sliced through the throat of the unsuspecting man. The archer recoiled in shock, not yet comprehending the extent of his injury. As blood began to flow from his neck, Lempithius grabbed his shoulders and unceremoniously, shoved him overboard.

Lempithius turned to his now-frightened first officer. In a low deliberate voice, he growled, “More speed, now and prepare the men to board.”

—– —– —– —–

Sophocles watched as the barrels of oil floated toward Lempithius’ ship. He could see the sheen from the oil slick as the barrels continued to leak their contents. Closer in, he watched the last of his food and water slowly disappearing below the surface. A wave of fear broke over him as he realized this act marked the almost certain death of his crew. Without food or water, they would all certainly perish.

“Better to die of hunger and thirst as free men, than to die from torture as captives,” he reasoned quietly to himself.

With his finest archers standing at the stern of the ship, he stood with them and readied his orders.

“On my signal, you will shoot those barrels. All your practice, all your experience was for these next few minutes. You must succeed. We are all counting on your accuracy,” Sophocles announced.

With a simple nod of their heads, the archers acknowledged their orders and turned to face their destiny.

Sophocles watched the debris field float ever closer to Lempithius’ ship. The first of three barrels went wide, missing the path of the ship by a hundred feet. Nervously, he watched two more barrels slip past the ship on the opposite side. Sophocles looked on and saw Lempithius’ crew lining the deck, preparing for battle. The arrows had ceased just moments before and now they stood ready with knifes, clubs and spears.

Sophocles’ plan had worked. Without archers, Lempithius’ men were at a disadvantage. When they attacked, they would be overrun by greater weaponry. Sophocles breathed a small sigh of relief. His chances for survival had just dramatically increased.

—– —– —– —–

Lempithius stood proudly at the bow of his ship and watched the debris float by. He thought about snaring a few of the barrels as they passed, but thought better of it, realizing they would only slow him down. He noted the open barrels and the oil that seeped out of them, mocking futility of Sophocles’ actions. He noticed the oil as it clung to the hull of his ship and the mess it caused angered him.

“Fool, pouring his oil into the sea so I can’t have it… making a foul mess of my ship. Why would I want his silly oil anyway? He must know I have my own. He must realize I don’t need his stupid oil. He must…”

Lempithius cut himself off in mid-sentence, the reality of his own words finally registering in his mind.

“No!” he yelled out at the top of his lungs. “I am the great Lempithius. You cannot do this to me.”

— — — —

“Shoot!” Sophocles ordered loudly. “Shoot now!”

The six archers release their flaming arrows into the sky. For a moment, all stood motionless and watched the streaming arc of the arrows as they converged on their target. The tiny flames had reached their apex and were now descending. Sophocles could feel his heart pounding through his toga. The intensity of his focus caused his eyes to sear, and he blinked hard to clear the pain.

The first two arrows missed their mark, immediately extinguished as they plunged into the sea. A second later, three more missed their targets, suffering the same fate as the first two. The sixth arrow caught an air current and streamed long. Flying over the barrels, it flew headlong into Lempithius’ men. Instantly, screams erupted as it pierced one man and embedded in another.

While the arrows were still in flight, Sophocles ordered the archers to continue their barrage. Two more sets of arrows were underway. With the first round of arrows used to gage distance, the second and third round were now far more accurate. Sophocles watched as two arrows struck one barrel floating just in front of Lempithius’ ship.

The leaking oil instantly burst into flames. Quickly, the fire streamed to its source: the contents inside the barrel. Instantly, the barrel exploded sending volumes of burning oil up and over the top of Lempithius’ ship, coming to rest on the crew. Screams of agony could be heard as the searing oil stripped flesh from the crew’s body.

Like a repeat of the first, two more barrels floating close by exploded into balls of fiery liquid, spraying the sides and decking of Lempithius’ ship. With the third volley of arrows came more explosions. Lempithius’ ship was now fully engulfed in flames and Sophocles watched as its errant leader stood at the bow of his boat, on fire, as he leapt to his death.

A loud cheer roared from the crew of Sophocles’ ship. For the moment, they had beaten their foe and were free to escape. With great pride and gratitude, the crew let out a loud salute to their leader.

“Viva Sophocles!”

SIX WEEKS LATER:

Sophocles stood in a weakened state, leaning against his tiller for support. Weeks had passed since they had narrowly escaped the battle with Lempithius. Except for a few fish they had been lucky enough to catch and some rain water they had managed to collect during an occasional storm, Sophocles and his crew had almost nothing to eat or drink in weeks. Some had died, others were dying. The oarsman could no longer row and the remaining crew could no longer maintain the ship. Most found a spot, lay down and waited to die.

Sailing across the Atlantic, Sophocles had called upon every bit of knowledge he had learned since he began sailing more than forty years before. He was in uncharted waters. No man had ever sailed this deep into the Atlantic and survived. Navigating by stars, wind and waves, he had kept an easterly course and was certain at some point, they would find land. But day after day, the endless seascape stretched out before them, unrelenting and featureless.

Sophocles closed his eyes involuntarily. His mind ceased to function long before his eyes shut. Propped up against the tiller, his body swayed with the rocking of the boat. As time passed, the soft gentle breezes that had lulled him to sleep, picked up in intensity, causing the waves to build.

Suddenly, a large wave rocked the boat and Sophocles tumbled across the deck, waking up several feet away. He rolled onto his knees, grasped the side of the boat and pulled himself to a standing position.

Working his way back to the tiller, Sophocles scanned the horizon behind his ship. At first his mind refused to register the event, but instinct and self-preservation worked its way into his conscious thinking. Another storm was developing, this one ever more ominous and menacing than anything he had witnessed before.

Sophocles’ tongue had swollen from dehydration, making speech a laborious and painful task, but he overcame his condition and called to his first officer.

“Zotikos… Zotikos, wake up. We’re in trouble,” he called to his first officer several feet away.

He waited momentarily, took a deep breath and called out in a louder tone.

“Zotikos… you must wake up. We’re in great danger.”

Barely conscious, Zotikos sat up and tried to steady himself with his hands on the deck.

“Yes, sir,” Zotikos answered, his voice barely audible.

“Zotikos my friend, look behind us. We are in great danger,” Sophocles replied.

Zotikos’ eyes snapped open. In all his years sailing under Sophocles, he had never referred to Zotikos as his friend. The simple statement brought a sense of warmth and contentment at a time he felt the most despair. Zotikos smiled at his captain and slowly stood.

Pointing out behind the ship, Sophocles gestured to the advancing storm.

“Zotikos, I fear this will be the end,” Sophocles began.

Zotikos scanned the horizon. His body was swept with dread at the sight of the approaching storm.

“Zotikos, I’m not afraid to die… you know that,” Sophocles began. “But, I am afraid to pass on without righting an injustice. You have sailed with me since you were a boy. You have been as loyal, brave and intelligent as any man I have ever met. It has been a privilege to have sailed with you. I’d be honored to know you as my friend.”

Zotikos stood stunned for a moment. Never had he heard Sophocles speak of anyone with such emotion. He felt the honor and gratitude of a lifetime of friendship.

“Thank you, sir, you have been like a father to me. If I am to die, it would be an honor to die with you,” Zotikos replied.

The two stood for a moment and acknowledged each other, not for their rank, but as good friends.

“So what do we do now, sir?” Zotikos asked.

“We can’t outrun it. The best we can do is steer through the waves and hold on,” Sophocles replied.

Zotikos shuffled along the edge of the boat, and stood next to his captain.

“Sure could use a taste of wine,” Zotikos said, matter-of-factly.

“Hmm, yes, Egyptian wine,” Sophocles replied.

Zotikos turned and smiled at Sophocles, amused by his answer.

“What?” Sophocles said rhetorically, then added, “They’re good for something, I guess.”

Zotikos smiled again, then turned his attention to the horizon out in front of them.

“Sailing from one and into another,” Zotikos said out loud to no one in particular.

Sophocles thought about Zotikos’ statement. In his weakened and confused state, he couldn’t figure out the meaning of it.

Finally, he asked, “What do you mean by ‘into another’?”

“Another storm, sir… one behind us and the other straight ahead. Maybe we should try to steer around it,” Zotikos replied.

Sophocles looked out on the horizon. He squinted hard, wiped his eye and squinted again. A small smile crossed his face.

“Great sons of Zeus! That’s no storm, my boy. That’s land!” Sophocles blurted out, his voice becoming strong and clear.

Zotikos stared for a moment the said, matter-of-factly, “I do believe you’re right. So close, yet so far away.”

“Don’t give up just yet, Zotikos. We’re not dead yet. Rouse the men. There’s no time to lose. Assemble them here immediately,” Sophocles ordered.

“Yes sir,” Zotikos replied.

Within minutes, the crew assembled on deck and listened to their captain’s instructions. With little time to spare, he made his order short.

“Gentlemen. Out there in front of us is life. Behind us is death. We are decedents of the mighty Zeus and were born to greatness. On that piece of land there on the horizon, we will carry on our line. We will thrive and rebuild our great nation once more. But, before we can rebuild, I need all your strength. You can do it… one last effort. Do you want to live or do you want to die?” Sophocles bellowed.

In one loud unanimous roar, the crew shouted, “Live!”

As the crew made their way to their rower’s stations, Sophocles called out to Zotikos.

“Zotikos, a word, sir,” Sophocles asked.

“Yes sir.”

“Inscribe one last entry, then stow it with the crystal key in my quarters,” Sophocles ordered.

“If we sink, will it matter?” Zotikos asked.

“It is the only record of our existence. Someone will find it,” Sophocles replied confidently.

With a quick nod of acknowledgement, Zotikos turned to perform his duties.

—– —– —– —–

Deep in the hold of the ship, the oarsmen strained against starvation, dehydration and fatigue. Seated on benches that held two oarsmen per oar, they rowed to the cadence of the striker who drummed the speed of rowing with each blow of his mallet. They worked in perfection unison and propelled the ship to a blistering speed of eight knots per hour. Racing against time, they needed to travel the fifteen miles it would take to reach land before the much faster storm overtook them. With the storm moving at nearly five times their speed, it would be a near impossible task.

On deck, Sophocles ordered his men to tighten the sail and throw overboard all ropes, anchor and anything deemed non-essential to their immediate sail. As the men worked, the winds intensified and the seas began to rage, tossing the ship from crest to trough as Sophocles feebly tried to negotiate the waves. Far in the distance, the land loomed and grew larger and more distinct with each passing minute.

Sophocles didn’t need to look behind him to know the storm was close. The crests of the waves were now nearly as tall as the mast and the winds streamed in, ripping at the sail, nearly tearing them from their rigging. Over the roar of the storm, he could hear his ship bending and creaking as the violent waves and winds punished his boat. Looking up at his taught sail, he wondered nervously if the mast would hold.

Sophocles felt continuous moisture on his arms and face. At first he ignored it, considering it just the spray from the ocean swells. As the drops of water began to build in momentum, he realized the rain had begun. Seconds later, the sky opened up and the light rain turned to a powerful deluge of water that at times, moved sideways across the ocean, driven by the wind.

Sophocles was now in battle with the elements. As the ship rolled up the crest of waves, the oarsmen could no longer make contact with the water, losing control of their forward momentum. The winds caught the sail and thrust the ship from the crest to the trough, out of control and nearly capsizing with each downward plunge into the valley of unforgiving water. Sophocles worked the rudder wildly as he clung to it in desperation.

Suddenly, a rogue wave slammed the side of the boat, crashing over the top and washing a man overboard.

“Throw him a line,” Sophocles screamed over the roar of the wind.

He watched as the man passed by the boat, struggling to stay afloat, then disappeared under the white, frothy waves.

Zotikos looked over in sad desperation, nodded to his captain in sympathy, then continued his work.

Another large wave struck the front of the boat as it floundered in the trough, dousing the deck with a tremendous plume of water. This time, the men grabbed whatever they could and held on. The force of the water ripped several men from their grasp and rolled them down the rear of the deck toward Sophocles. Instinctively, he let go of the rudder and grabbed one of the men before he was launched over the side. Both men grabbed the rudder, held on as another violent wave rolled over the top of them from the other side. As the water cleared the deck, Sophocles looked around him. Three more men were gone.

Deep in the hold, the oarsmen continued their work. Although tied to their benches, they could not maintain balance, and toppled over with each violent wave that broadsided the ship. Great walls of water rushed in, flooded the hold and momentarily threatened to drown the inhabitants. Still continuing to row, they held their breath and hoped for air, as the water slowly drained out the side ports and back into the sea.

As time passed, the men weakened and so, too, did the ship. Sophocles began to hear the unmistakable sound of wood cracking. Through the loud roar of the storm, he tried to pinpoint the location of the sound.

Suddenly, a wild and violent gust of wind burst through them, knocking men off their feet and sending them rolling toward the side. Sophocles watched in horror as the sail twisted beyond its constraints and cracked the mast.

“Zotikos, cut the ropes. Release the sail!” Sophocles screamed over the wind.

Zotikos raced for the ropes and began to cut. On the other side, other men were attempting to do the same.

Sophocles battled the rudder as he anxiously looked on.

Moments later, another gust charged in and snapped the mast at its base. Sophocles looked on in horror as the long wooden pole toppled into the sea, dragging another man with it.

“Quickly, cut the ropes. It’s dragging us under!” Sophocles screamed out again.

As the mast began to sink, its weight and size acted as an anchor and began to overcome the effects of the rudder. It quickly began to pull the ship sideways in the water. Sophocles had now lost control of his ship. Clinging to the rudder, he watched Zotikos desperately sawing through the last of the ropes.

Without warning, another violent wave broadsided ship, capsizing it momentarily and snapping the rope to the sunken mast. A great wall of water rushed across the deck and Sophocles watched helplessly, as Zotikos was wash away.

“Nooo!” Sophocles cried out in angst.

As the boat righted itself, Sophocles searched the seas in desperation. His shipmate, his friend was gone.

Sophocles wept openly as the pain was too much to bear. He clutched the rudder in one hand and rubbed his eyes with the other. Holding his tears in his hand, he lifted his head in sadness and searched once again for his friend.

Through his blurred and teary vision, he spotted a hand, then an arm on the edge of the boat. Quickly, a leg was thrown up over the side and Zotikos pulled himself to safety. He rolled to the middle of the deck, stood and clung to the shattered base of the mast. He flashed Sophocles a humble grin and raced off to help the other men.

Sophocles roared a triumphant laugh, relieved by the saving of his friend. He watched Zotikos for a moment, then refocused on controlling what was left of his ship.

As the hours passed, the land that had been a gray shadow, turned into a lush green mass of land. Less than a half mile from shore, they could see the white sandy beaches that lined its shores. They were almost there. The feeling that they were going to make it sent a steady rush of adrenaline through their bodies, invigorating them, giving them the energy to go on.

Sophocles began to feel relief. Although they were still fighting for their lives, he was almost certain the fight was about to end.

Abruptly, the ship came to a violent halt. All men were flung forward, including Sophocles. The oarsmen in the hold were ripped from their benches and piled on top of each other as they, too, were launched forward. A large wave rolled in and slammed the side of the ship, spinning it around and now positioning it broadside for further punishment.

“Abandon ship! Abandon ship!” Sophocles screamed.

He ran to Zotikos and gave further instructions.

“Zotikos, we’ve run aground. The waves are going to tear this ship apart. Get everyone off the ship… Now!” Sophocles ordered.

“Yes, sir,” Zotikos shouted.

The waves rolled in as the evacuation unfolded. One by one, the men reluctantly jumped into the water and began to fight the savage waves as they swam towards shore. Those that could not swim, drowned. As the last oarsman jumped into the sea, Zotikos and Sophocles took one last look at their jewel that carried them to safety.

“She was a good ship, tough, strong. I have no complaints,” Sophocles said with sadness.

Just then, another large wave crashed over the deck, knocking the two into the sea. The force of the wave rushed through them and carried them away from the ship. Zotikos popped up out of the water first. Searching for Sophocles, he bumped into something hard. Instantly, Sophocles popped up above the surface next to him.

“Sir, you made it,” Zotikos said, smiling.

“Not yet my friend. It’s a long swim to shore,” Sophocles grinned.

A worried look came over Zotikos. Looking into Sophocles’ eyes, he said, “The crystal key, the scrolls… I have to go back.”

“Zotikos, it’s too dangerous. You have to save your strength. We need to swim now or we won’t make it,” Sophocles responded.

“But sir, it’s all we have left,” Zotikos replied.

“No, Zotikos, what is left is what we make of it. Let’s swim,” Sophocles ordered.

FOURTEEN HOURS LATER:

The day broke bright and clear. The great storm had past and all but four of the crew had made it to shore. Sophocles stood on the sandy beach and scanned the horizon. He breathed in a deep breath of air and exhale deep satisfaction. He had made it.

“Any sign of it,” Zotikos called out from behind Sophocles.

Sophocles turned and greeted his first officer.

“Well, good morning, Zotikos. Good to see you’re in fine spirits,” Sophocles teased, then continued. “No sign. The ship’s gone.”

“Do you think it could still be stuck on that sandbar?” Zotikos asked.

“It’s possible. It could have broken up and sank right there or it could have sailed out to sea during the storm,” Sophocles replied.

“Hmm, sad. It would have been nice to carry on with our treasures,” Zotikos said in saddened tone.

Sophocles put his hand on Zotikos’ shoulder and replied, “There will be more.”

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