Over Mount Fuji – Chapter 32 –

An Epic NovelWulfstein’s shoulders slumped. His head ached while the sub’s twin engines churned in a soul-searching rhythm. His instinct urged him to flee, but reflex was his only guardian. The long hour had taken its toll as they traveled through a labyrinth of tunnels. Having fled the battle scene, the crew’s fate lay in his hands. His better judgment screamed at him to return to the surface, but when he tried, the cave’s roof stopped him from rising.

The light beams illuminated the ceiling, which loomed like an inverted mountain that might collapse at any moment. Before the sub, a maze of interconnecting caverns awaited them.

With the resonating sound still echoing in his ears, Wulfstein pressed forward, straining over the nooks and crannies for any sign of an exit route. Confusion swamped him, and frustration replaced terror. As a dull anxiety nibbled at his senses, he closed his eyes, hearing only the hypnotic hum of the motors. When he opened his eyes again, the endless passages faded into deeper blackness. Surrounded by volcanic vents and fissures of every shape and size, the loss of direction compounded by eerie images in his mind conveyed a frightful feeling wherever Keiko’s lights failed to plumb the depths.

“Look!” Wulfstein pointed to the compass. “The needle is flickering.”

“How can this be?” Yoshino said, his voice filled with elation.

Wulfstein exchanged expectant looks with Eileen as a succession of arches appeared, looking like the vaults over the nave of a Gothic cathedral. He strained to see the floating sediment fogging the path. When the view cleared, he could see three boulders teetered precariously, and two had already fallen onto the seafloor behind a rocky formation.

Eileen raised her eyebrows. “Look at the damage!”

“This is a faultline,” Wulfstein said. “An earthquake must have hit this place recently.” Darkness greeted the sub as it groped and surged. His tension rose with every moment of eager anticipation once Keiko crept over the dark and broken terrain.

Wulfstein blinked, trying to focus on the towering stone bastions and fortifications that surrounded the wrecked cavern. More confusion crept in; they appeared like the remains of a crumbled building. Gliding another twenty yards, the sub passed between some rock formations that resembled a shattered gateway. A few looked like hewn rocks that had fallen on the floor, as if once guarding the entrance.

His heart jumped. A chamber of spectacular artifacts in the midst of ruins lay before him. About the size of a coffee table, an opened stone chest framed by amethysts reflected light from myriad facets. A string of precious stones in the shape of cashew nuts rested inside the luminous chest, guarding a sword. The blades of this sword pulsed, like a stream of beam radiating rhythmically from a lighthouse.

“The Kusanagi Sword!” Yoshino exclaimed.

“That’s the real Imperial Insignia,” Nishihara said.

Awestruck, Wulfstein stared. A sword! He’d heard legend suggesting this special sword had the power to initiate fatal storms out in the ocean in days gone by. But such legends came from a black box of fables.

“Our Imperial Treasure!” Kiichi cried from the floor. He seemed to have recovered slightly. After some struggles, he hoisted himself up and tears trickled down his cheeks as he strode to the porthole. “We should take this with us.”

“We do,” Nishihara said. “The one at Atsuta Shrine is only a replica.”

“No! We shouldn’t,” Yoshino said. “It belongs to the sea.”

“That’s what we’re here for,” Kiichi said, frowning. And just as he was about to collapse, he turned back and demanded. “We must take this with us.”

“It stays here,” Yoshino insisted.

Nishihara grabbed Yoshino’s arm and shoulder, and with a strong jerk, shoved the Sensei to the floor. “Give me the helm.”

“You’re just plain stubborn,” Yoshino said as he struggled to get up. “Anybody who tried to take it wrongfully could be cursed.”

“I’m under Imperial Order, Sir,” Nishihara said. “Once we have this Insignia, the entire world will be illuminated by its brightness.”

Nishihara rushed over to the helm. “Now, let me take over the sub,” he said. When Wulfstein resisted, Nishihara jostled the Professor away in the cramped space.

“Stop that!” Byron moved toward Nishihara from the porthole. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

Nishihara scowled as he grabbed Byron’s shirt, pushing at him.

Byron shoved him away, but Nishihara punched him in the face, knocking Byron back.

“Mind your damned business,” he hissed.
     
SHEER STUPIDITY! BYRON thought. He’d read of mutiny, and they happened for a good reason, but not this one. He lunged forward, still stunned by the sudden punch.

As Nishihara threw more punches, Byron ducked and landed a fist at Nishihara’s chest. Then, another landed right on his jaw, knocking him to the floor.

Whipping a dagger from the belt of his trousers, Nishihara stood and charged, pushing away Yoshino who tried to stop him. Byron ducked, stepped back and lunged at him with a sidekick. Nishihara fell, caught his breath, and struggled to his feet. He charged, but Byron punched his cheek, then grabbed Nishihara’s right arm, twisting it around his back.

“Give me that,” Byron said as he snatched the dagger away.

Yoshino took a rope from a locker at the stern and rushed back. “Bind him.”

Byron restrained Nishihara as the Sensei bound his hands.

Still stunned at the sudden turn of events, Byron shook his head, suddenly realizing of a hidden danger that might have killed him. Were they supposed to be looking for mysterious beasts, or precursor to an imminent quake? Why was such an artifact so important to some of his Japanese colleague?

“This Sword is our Imperial Insignia!” Nishihara pleaded; his face contorted with anguish. “The one at Atsuta temple is faked.”

Once Yoshino had tied Nishihara, Byron dragged him to a seat and bound him there.

Nishihara groaned. “We’ve missed an opportunity to bring the Insignia back.”

“The Insignia has no bearing to our destiny,” Yoshino said. “And worse, we might awake the Dragon King to our presence.”

“We’re here only to collect data and to witness,” Wulfstein said, back at the console. Over the long hours, his expression appeared more like that of a prowling creature. His shirt and bristly hair bore the grime of a long journey. His unshaven chin now jutted. Sorrow weighted his eyes. “Byron, can you take over?”

Byron hesitated for a moment, then his face lit up. He had been waiting to be more involved, and now he had a chance. “Sure can, Professor.” He rushed to the helm and waited.

“The joy of exploration is in not following a map,” Wulfstein said. “You are not exploring if you’re not creatively lost.”

Byron took his seat. “We are not lost.” In his excitement, he hit the accelerator too fast, causing the sub to jerk.

“Take your time and be cautious,” Wulfstein said. “The motors may blow up if put under too much stress.”

Byron knew he needed to be careful. Still, confidence permeated him. Over more ruins and jumbled rocks, the sub plunged forward in the cavern. He stared out, not knowing which direction he should take. As he pressed on, his spine throbbed. After what they had seen, they had come too far to fail now.

Nobuko came forward and applied a Band-Aid over Byron’s injured jaw. “Are we on our way out?”

Byron nodded, peering out the porthole and then at the monitors. As the sub entered a maze of foggy twists and turns, the passage narrowed.

“Slow down, Byron,” Wulfstein cautioned again.

The new pilot complied, straining his eyes as the sub veered at acute angles that caused strange ricocheting reflections from its own beams. In the silence, a sense of anticipation mixed with fear loomed ahead. Lights appeared in the distance, and the skipper steered toward them. Keiko almost hit a gigantic boulder as the sub squeezed by.

After another hundred yards, the gloom cleared and the beams strengthened. Byron shook his head. Tall rocky cones fused into columns and broke the monotonous seascape. The sub floated into a chamber so expansive he could hardly see the ceiling or the extent of its walls.

Byron halted Keiko for a moment. He marveled at a vestibule standing before them. Stark and fearsome, the facade stood in solitary, like sentinels at attention. Looking splendid and mysterious, the entrance forged a dark passage into a sea of rugged caverns. Awesome and like the Sphinx, it guarded an underwater kingdom.

“What a sight!” Nobuko gasped as Byron nudged Keiko through the entrance into another section of the cavern. Columns linked floor to roof, their facades carved in intricate designs like those of ancient man. Embedded in granite, gold and silver reflected the sub’s headlights. Ecstasy lit her eyes. “This is awesome!”

©) Joel Huan, author of Over Mount Fuji (available from Amazon and Barnes&Noble)

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~ by Joel on December 11, 2009.

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