By Samantha Graves
Warner Forever Copyright © 2007 C. J. Barry
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-0-446-61838-0
Chapter One God, I love this part.
Raven smiled as she peered through her scuba mask.
With one hand, she steadied herself in the water while gently prying the gold medallion from lava stone with her knife. She kicked slowly in the tiny phone-booth-sized alcove, careful not to stir up any silt or bump her gear against the low rock ceiling. The caving dive light attached to her mask penetrated the inky darkness and gleamed off the golden treasure before her.
"Do you have it yet? You've been down there for thirty minutes," a high-pitched, anxiety-induced voice asked in her earpiece.
She grinned at her colleague's typical impatience, which was why he was in the boat, and she handled the acquisitions.
"Relax, Paulie. This thing's been set in rock for fourteen hundred years. Cut me a little slack," she replied. "You got a hot date or something?"
"No, but we have company up top."
Raven stilled. They weren't exactly in the main shipping lines, five miles off the Yucatán Peninsula coast. "What kind of company?"
"Looks like a luxury yacht, but you know, it's raining up here. Who goes for a joy ride in the rain?"
Nosy tourists, that's who. Or worse. An uneasy feeling prickled in her mind. Seventh sense maybe, but it had kept her alive all these years and she wasn't about to ignore it now. "Watch them. I'm almost done here."
She finished running the knife around the edge of the round medallion, liberating sea-crusted lichens. Slipping the blade in a gap, she gently freed the gold disc from its ancient berth and into her hand. A low groan echoed through the narrow passage. Raven turned her head, scanning the cave with her dive light and the sound dissipated.
She shrugged and turned the artifact over. It was in superb condition, which was amazing considering the elements it had been exposed to. The markings were clearly Mayan and matched the design she was looking for. But there was only one way to make sure it was authentic.
She pulled off her dive glove and held the metal with her bare hand. Her fingers tingled. A flash of light behind her eyes signaled a familiar journey into the past. Her physical world faded for a moment as her mind focused on the man who wore this amulet. Gold glinting in the sun and a man, his demeanor analytical, decisive, powerful. Through his eyes, she saw costumed followers, intricate ceremonies, and fervent chants. He was the king.
"The yacht just stopped a hundred feet from me. I think you better get up here." Paulie's statement wrenched her out of the past. She moved the amulet to her gloved hand and worked to get her bearings. Her psychic foray confirmed it was the genuine article. A fake would have registered a whisper of existence.
"Heading up now," she told Paulie.
After carefully securing her prize in a pocket of the dry suit and her knife to her belt, Raven backed out of the tiny grotto and into the main passageway of a cave system with no name. She picked up the reel that connected to a guideline, her only link to the entrance.
Black water permeated the undersea cave a hundred feet below the surface. Her light flashed off small silver fish darting out of her way. As she reeled in the line, following it through the complex network of catacombs, she wondered how someone could have embedded the medallion down here a thousand years ago. Even with her specialized dive equipment, it was extremely dangerous.
There were times when the sheer will of man and his reverence for the trinkets of the past boggled her mind. Why anyone would go to so much trouble for a single object-
A hand slashed out from the darkness, knocking off her face mask and taking her light, air, and comm with it. Precious gas free-flowed around her as she struck blindly at her assailant with the reel. A massive fist shoved her in the chest, smashing her against the cave wall as the reel was ripped from her hand.
Raven brought her legs up and drew her knife from its sheath to defend herself. Eyes closed, muscles coiled, she waited. A hard flow of water came from the left, grazing her head as she ducked. She slashed out, snagging something solid, and heard a muffled cry. Pressure buffeted her as she sliced through the water around her, then everything was calm again.
Long seconds ticked by with no movement. With her lungs begging for relief, she fumbled for her mask and found it at the end of its safety tether. She pulled it on and blew air into it to clear the seawater. Cold gas mix filled her lungs, easing the burning.
Her eyes opened to pitch-black-her dive light was gone. Raven retrieved the spare from a pocket and turned it on, which didn't improve the view much. The struggle had kicked up silt from the floor, and visibility was near zero.
As the silt settled, she swept the cave with her light. No sign of the attacker ... or her reel. However, there was a distinct red tinge that confirmed a hit. Good. She hoped the sharks got him. On the other hand, she was still in the water as well. Sharks weren't picky about their prey.
"Paulie, can you hear me?"
"Yup," his voice crackled in her ear while rock-and-roll music blared in the background. "How's it going?"
She patted the medallion in her pocket with relief. "Well, I was just mugged. How's things with you?"
"Holy shit, are you okay?"
She checked her gas levels-they were in the red. "I have a major problem."
"I knew it. The legend is true. That thing is cursed."
Raven shone her light on two passageways, trying to remember which one she'd come through. If she had a god, she would have prayed. Instead she kicked toward an opening, hoping she picked the right one.
"Trust me. That wasn't a curse that stole my lifeline."
"Oh crap. Oh crap. Are you kidding me? You don't have the line? Jesus, Raven," Paulie sputtered.
She could tell he was about ten seconds away from a nervous breakdown. Rough coral snagged her tank and arms as she squeezed through the narrow tunnel.
"Paulie, shut the hell up and listen to me." She took a breath. "I have next to no air left. I want you to drop a tank, mask and all, over the side of the boat. Open up the regulator full blast."
"What? There's no way-"
She breathed, watching the gauge drop. Two breaths, maybe three left. Not enough to argue with. "Just do it."
"Okay, okay. I'll be right back."
The line went silent except for her tank scraping rock. Stay calm.
Right. Her heart was pounding out of her chest. Breathe. Relief pumped through her as her lungs filled.
"The tank is dropped," Paulie's frantic voice came back. "Can you get to it in time?"
She didn't want to answer and waste precious air, but Paulie would throw himself overboard if she didn't. "No problem. Now get out of here."
"No way. No way am I leaving you. And just so you know, next time you get a dive partner," he said. "I don't give a damn how much you hate that. I don't care. Nothing is worth this."
Jeez, you'd think Paulie was the one in trouble. She pulled herself through around a corner and saw light. Hallelujah.
Breathe. The gauge dropped to empty.
Last call on life.
Her lungs ached already from holding her breath during the exertion of swimming, but she worked through the pain as she cleared the cave and entered open water. With a powerful kick, she headed for the surface.
Breathe- Air cut off halfway through.
Oh hell. Don't panic, body. We'll get through this.
Water flowed around her as her legs pumped. Eyes upward, flashlight scanning, she watched and listened. It had to be close.
"Raven? You got it yet?"
She didn't answer this time. Seconds passed like eternity. Her lungs screamed. Her head pounded. And then she heard it-bubbles.
She moved to the right. Pain radiated through her body. The sound drew closer, and she scanned the sea with her light. Thirty feet above her, a white cloud plummeted toward the ocean floor. She kicked once more for position. She'd only get one shot at this. If she missed the tank, she'd be dead. Just about the best motivation she could think of.
"Raven!" Paulie yelled, as if shouting louder would make her answer.
Black started crowding her vision as she grabbed for the tank, missing it but snagging a strap. The force jerked her downward, and she fumbled for the mask shooting bubbles.
The rest was a blur as she yanked off her own mask and shoved the new one over her face. Just before the darkness took her, she purged the seawater and inhaled.
"Did you get it? Did you get it?"
Paulie's voice in her ear drew her out of the fog that threatened to swallow her up. She was floating downward toward the sea bottom. Cold oxygen filled her starved lungs.
She checked the depth-120 feet and falling. She shook off the stars and shrugged out of her spent tank. It floated off as she pulled on the new gear and headed to the surface. Heavy legs took her up.
Damn, that was close.
"Raven!" Paulie screamed in her ear. She wished she had a volume control on the earpiece, but this was good. If the attacker was listening, he'd think she was dead and hopefully leave Paulie alone up top. If not, they would probably go after her boat, too.
Eighty feet from the surface, she pulled up short. No divers within visual range, and Paulie was still hyperventilating, so he was safe enough. A low rumble permeated the water as the party boat churned up the sea and headed back to the coast. She'd like to be here to give them the surprise of their lives when they came back looking for her body in that cave. Not today.
"I'm here, Paulie."
"Thank God," Paulie replied. "You scared the crap out of me." She could almost hear his blood pressure dropping. "Did you get an ID on that party barge?"
"No, I was a little busy freaking out over you. Besides, the yacht just left."
"Any other boats in the vicinity?"
"Nope." A pause. "Oh hell. They were the ones who mugged you, weren't they?"
Five miles from the coastline. That diver didn't swim all the way out here by himself. "Most definitely."
"Damn scavengers," he sputtered. "Want me to call them in to the authorities?"
"For what? They didn't get anything."
"Oh, right. Maybe we can follow them."
"Forget it, we'll never catch up." She turned toward the surface and kicked. "Unless you mounted a rocket launcher on the deck while I was gone?"
He laughed nervously as if he thought she might actually be serious.
"Too bad. That would have really made my day. I'll be up after I decompress."
Paulie was hovering like a mother hen by the time she pulled herself onto the swim platform and into the boat. Twentysomething with glasses, a shaved head beneath his Cardinals cap and thin frame under his Aerosmith T-shirt, he could have been any geek on the planet. Luckily, he was her geek.
"I mean it," he muttered, helping her with the gear. "I'm not doing this again unless you get a dive buddy."
She leaned back against the gunwale, unzipped her dive suit, and let the rain trickle inside. These near-death experiences took a lot out of her.
"Save it, Paulie. You know I don't play well with others."
He mounted the cockpit seat and revved the engine. "I don't care.
This is absolutely the last time."
While he rattled on, she extracted the medallion from her pocket. Even in the gray rain, it was superb, depicting the Mayan sacred calendar in gold relief. And more than that, it was the real deal. Another artifact unearthed for the world to worship with giddy reverence and kill for. She wondered how many people had died for this one. She was just grateful she wasn't one of them.
The boat lurched forward, drowning out Paulie's lecture. She tucked the medallion into her suit, and a shiver of victory went through her. She'd won the game despite the attack. It'd been too long since she'd had a good adrenaline rush.
She smiled. She really did love this part.
Excerpted from Sight Unseen by Samantha Graves Copyright © 2007 by C. J. Barry. Excerpted by permission.
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