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PROLOGUE. COMPLETELY MOTIONLESS, MEGEARA SAATSAKIS STOOD ON the edge of a cliff looking out on waters so perfectly blue they were almost painful to behold
SANTORINI. GREECE, 1990
COMPLETELY MOTIONLESS, MEGEARA SAATSAKIS STOOD ON the edge of a cliff looking out on waters so perfectly blue they were almost painful to behold. The air was fragrant with sea salt, olive oil from the merchant carts, and bright sunlight in a homey scent that was completely unique to this region. The hot sun caressed her tanned skin while the fierce breeze whipped her plain white dress against her body. Boats glided over the gentle waves in a surreal manner that took her back to the days of her childhood when she'd walked these cliffs and shore with her father and mother while they'd done their best to instill in her what it meant to be Greek.
It was truly one of the most beautiful scenes in all the world, and any other twenty-four-year-old would love to be here.
She only wished she were one of them.
Instead she hated this place with an unreasoning fervor. To her, Greece was death and sorrow, utter misery, and she would rather have fishhooks pounded into her body than ever step foot on this land again.
Her long blond hair that she had swept back in a ponytail slapped against her skin as she sought some peace for her troubled thoughts. But there was none to be had.
Only bottled-up rage met her.
Her estranged father was dead. He'd died as he'd lived… in pursuit of a stupid, reckless dream that had taken not only his life but also that of her mother, her brother, her aunt, and her uncle.
"Atlantis is real, Geary. I can feel it radiating out to me even as I speak. It sits in the Aegean just below us, like a lost, glittering gem, waiting for us to find it and show the world what beauty it once held." Even now she could hear her father's hypnotic voice as he held her hand on top of the water for her to feel the softness of the waves as they whispered against her tiny palm. She could still see his handsome, enthusiastic face as he first told her why they spent so much time in Greece.
"We're going to find Atlantis and show the wonder of it to everyone else. Mark my words, babe. It's there and our family is the one that's been chosen to uncover its magic."
That had been his lunatic dream. One he'd spent a lifetime trying to give to her, but unlike the rest of her kookie family, she wasn't stupid enough to buy into it.
Atlantis was a bogus myth made up by Plato as a metaphor for what happened when man turned against the gods. Like Lovecraft's Necronomicon, it was only a fictional invention that people wanted to believe in so badly they were willing to sacrifice everything to find it.
Now her father lay in his grave on the island he'd loved so much. He'd died broken and bitter, a shell of a man who'd buried his beloved brother, his son, his wife…
And for what? Everyone had laughed at him. Ridiculed him. He'd lost his job, along with his respectability, as a professor years ago, and the only way he'd been able to have his research published was in vanity presses.
Hell, even the vanity publishers had laughed at him and several had turned him down, refusing to even take his money to publish his ridiculous work. Still he'd carried on in his feverish desire to give people even more reason to laugh at him, which they'd done with relish.
But even with that, at least she'd seen him one more time before he passed and he hadn't died alone as he'd feared. Somehow, against the doctor's prognosis, her father had managed to hold on until she caught a plane from the U.S. and made it to his hospital room to see him. Though their meeting was brief, it had been enough to make peace with him so that he could die without guilt over abandoning her for his search.
If only she could have found a bit of that peace for herself. There still was no such forgiveness inside her where he was concerned. No matter how much her grandfather had tried to explain her father to her, she knew the truth. The only thing that man had ever loved had been his dream, and he had sacrificed his entire family… her entire family for it.
Now at twenty-four, because of him, she had no brother and no parents.
She was utterly alone in the world.
And her deathbed promise to her father to carry on his work burned inside her like a rampaging fire. It was one of the few times in her life that she'd been weak. But the sight of him as a frail, troubled man lying on a cold hospital bed while he desperately clung to life had torn her apart, and even though they'd barely spoken these last eight years, she hadn't had the heart to hurt him when all he wanted was to die forgiven.
She curled her lip as she watched the waves roll against the white shore. "Find Atlantis, my ass. I won't ruin myself like you did, Dad. I'm not that stupid."
She turned at the sound of a heavily accented Greek voice to find a short, rotund man in his mid-fifties staring at her. A cousin to her father, Cosmo Tsiaris had been their family attorney here in Greece. A pseudo-partner in her father's salvage company, Cosmo had been instrumental in helping her father gain permits and investors for his antediluvian quest.
Although she'd known Cosmo all her life, she cringed at his greeting. Kafieri had been her father's name—one she'd cast off years ago after her applications to college had been rejected even though she more than met the requirements for admission. No self-respecting classics, history, or anthropology department would ever accept a Kafieri into its ranks for fear of the taint. So she'd learned to use her mother's maiden name to save her credibility and reputation.
Like the rest of her immediate family, Geary Kafieri had died on these shores.
"I'm Dr. Megeara Saatsakis."
A bright smile curved his lips. "You married!"
"No," she said simply, which made him literally deflate before her eyes. "I legally changed my name from Kafieri eight years ago when I went back to the States and sued for emancipation from my father."
She could tell by Cosmo's face that he didn't understand her reasoning, and that was fine by her. With his patriarchal mind-set, he'd never comprehend it.
Frowning, he didn't comment on her words as he held a small box toward her. "I told Eneas that in the event of his death, I would make sure this was given to his daughter. That would still be you, yes?"
"Yes," she said, ignoring his sarcasm. Who else would be dumb enough to claim a laughingstock as her progenitor?
Megeara flinched at that thought. In all honesty, she loved her father. Even when his grief and quest had robbed him of everything, even his sanity and health, she'd still loved him. How could she not? He'd been a kind, caring father to her when she'd been a girl. It'd only been after she'd hit her teens and started questioning his research and fervor that they'd grown apart.
"Atlantis is bullshit, Dad. All this research is. I don't want to be on this stupid boat anymore. I'm young and I want friends. I want to go to school and be normal. You're wasting your time and my life!" He'd slapped her so hard on her fifteenth birthday that she swore she could still feel the sting of it.
"Don't you dare spit on your mother's memory. On my brother's memory. They gave their lives for this."
Six months later, so had Megeara's brother when his diving line had tangled, and his tank had run out of oxygen. That had been the final straw between her and her father. She wasn't going to be Jason. She wasn't going to give up her life for someone else's dreams… ever.
So what if she'd promised her father? He was dead now. He'd never know she reneged. He'd died happy and she could finally put the past to rest and carry on with her life in America.
Like her grandfather, she intended to leave this country and never step foot on it again.
Cosmo handed her the plain white box, then left her alone to open it.
Megeara stared at it for several minutes, afraid of what she might find. Would it be some personal memento that would reduce her back to tears? She honestly didn't want to cry anymore for a man who'd broken her heart so many times that she couldn't even begin to count them all.
But in the end, her curiosity got the better of her and she opened the box. At first, there appeared to be nothing but crinkled acid-free tissue paper. She had to dig to the bottom of it all to find what it contained.
And what she found there floored her. She stared at her palm in the bright sunlight, unable to even fathom it.
There were two items. One appeared to be a komboloi—a string of worry beads similar in style to a small rosary that some Greeks used when stressed, only she'd never seen anything like this before. The age and design of it appeared to predate any form of komboloi she'd ever heard of. It had fifteen iridescent green beads made of some unknown stone that had been carved with tiny intricate family scenes of people wearing clothes unlike any she'd seen before in her research. The carvings were interspersed with five gold beads that were engraved with three lightning bolts piercing a sun. Where a komboloi might hold a small Greek piece such as a dime-sized medal, this one held a circle with writing that was similar to ancient Greek and yet very different. So much so that not even she who had been bred on ancient Greek could decipher it.
Like most artifacts fresh from a dig, the komboloi had a small white tag attached to it by a red thread where her father had written finding notes:
sixty inches down from datum (see pg. 42)
absolute dating: 9529 B.C.
green stone unknown/unverified
The anthropologist in her leapt to the forefront of what this could mean historically. If this date was truly absolute…
It showed a sophistication and metallurgy previously unknown. At that time, the Greeks shouldn't have had this level of skill. In fact, the precision of the carvings and engraving looked as if they were done by machine and not by hand. Eleven thousand years ago, mankind simply did not possess the tools it would take to create something this intricate.
How could this be?
Intrigued, she turned her attention to the small leather pouch that lay in the bottom of the box. It, too, was tagged.
absolute dating: 9581 B.C.
Frowning, she opened the pouch to find five coins of varying sizes. They were old… very old and heavily coated with patina. Again, there weren't coins this old. They just hadn't existed at that period in time and especially not in Greece. Like the komboloi, the coins held that same peculiar writing, but beneath said writing was something she could understand. It was the ancient Greek words for "Atlantean Province of Kirebar."
Again, the coins didn't appear to be handmade, nor was their metal composite typical of anything she'd ever seen before. They were an orangish color, not silver, not gold, not bronze, copper, or iron—maybe a weird combination of those metals and yet that didn't seem right, either.
What the hell was it?
Even with the patina coating them, the images and writing were as crisp, clear, and precise as those on a modern coin.
Her heart pounding, she turned the largest coin over to look at the back. There was the same foreign symbol that marked the komboloi, A sun pierced by three lightning bolts. And with it were the unknown words on top of the Greek: "May Apollymi protect us."
Megeara stared at it in disbelief. Apollymi? Who was that?
She'd never heard that name before.
"It's a forgery." It had to be, and yet as she looked at it, she knew the truth. These weren't forged. Her father must have excavated them from one of his many digs in the Aegean.
This was what had kept her father going even while the rest of the world had laughed at him. He had known a truth she'd denied.
Atlantis was real.
And if it was, then her father had been doubted by everyone… even her. Grief and pain tore through her as she recalled all the arguments they'd had over the years. She'd been no better than any of the others.
God, the fights the two of them had had over this. Why had he never told her? Why would he keep a discovery of this magnitude from her?
Unfortunately, she knew the answer. Because I wouldn't have believed it. Even if he'd shown it to me right in the ground where he'd found it. I would have laughed at him, too, then thrown it in his face.
No doubt he'd wanted to save himself the pain of facing her ridicule.
Closing the box, Megeara held it next to her heart as she regretted every nasty word and criticism she'd ever even thought about him. How much had those words hurt? She who should have had faith in him had been as cruel as everyone else.
Now it was too late to make amends.
"I'm so sorry, Daddy," she breathed through her fresh tears. Like everyone else, she'd assumed he was crazy. Misguided. Stupid.
But somehow he'd found these artifacts. Somehow they were real.
Atlantis is real. The words chased themselves through her mind. Staring out across the blue sea, she tightened her grip on the box as she remembered her final words to him. "Yeah, yeah, I promise. I'll look for Atlantis, too. Don't worry about it, Dad. It's in good hands." Those words had been rushed and passionless, and still they'd comforted him.
"It's there, Geary. I know you'll find it and you'll see. You. Will. See. You will know me for what I am, not for what you thought me to be." Then he'd slept for a time and he'd died only a few hours later while she'd held his hand.
In that moment of his quiet passing, she hadn't been a grown woman, she'd been a little girl all over again. One who only wanted her daddy back. One who craved someone to comfort her and tell her everything would be all right.
But there was no one in her life who could do that. And now that ludicrous, hasty promise meant something to her after all.
"I hear you, Daddy," she whispered to the olive-oil-laden breeze that she hoped would carry her voice to wherever he'd gone, "and I won't let you die in vain. I'm going to prove Atlantis exists. For you. For Mom and for Uncle Theron and Aunt Athena… for Jason. If it takes me the rest of my life, I'm going to fulfill my word to you. We will find Atlantis. I swear it."
But even as she spoke those words that were filled with her conviction, she couldn't help wondering if she'd be able to withstand the ridicule her father had borne all of his professional life. Just six weeks ago she'd been granted her doctorate from Yale and she was supposed to begin teaching in New York this fall. She was young to have attained so much, and great things were expected of her… by her and by the institutions and professors who'd bestowed that doctorate on her.
To walk this course would be nine kinds of stupid. She would lose everything. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. It was a massive step she was about to take. One from which she'd never recover.
My father believed it.
And her uncle and mother.
They had given their lives for this even while the entire world had laughed at them. Now a second generation of fools was about to follow the first down the road to ruin.
Megeara only hoped that in the end she would meet a better fate than that which had greeted the first.
Like father, like daughter.
She had no choice except to complete his quest because until she did, her name would be as worthless as his.
"Let the floggings begin…"
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