Sam and Remi Fargo search for a legendary lost city in this thrilling adventure from the #1 New York Times–bestselling author.
Husband-and-wife treasure-hunting team Sam and Remi Fargo have heard many rumors about the bay off Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Some say it was the site of the vanished empire of the Solomon king and that great treasure lies beneath the waters. Others say terrible things happened here, atrocities and disappearances at the hands of cannibal giants, and those who venture there do not return. It is cursed.
The Fargos can’t resist the mystery, but their exploration takes a turn when islanders start disappearing. Soon the pair learn there may be truth behind the fables. Clues and whispers lead them on a hunt from the Solomons to Australia to Japan, and what they find at the end of the trail is both wonderful and monstrous—and like nothing they have ever seen before.
Release date: September 1, 2015
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Print pages: 400
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The Solomon Curse
Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, 1170 AD
Dawn’s glow shimmered off the flat ocean as a column of islanders marched along a jungle track, their voices hushed as they neared the coast, their destination, the new city said to have been built on the very surface of the sea.
At the head of the group was the chief holy man, decked out in a colorful robe in defiance of the ever-present heat. His skin was the color of jerky, and a sheen of sweat coated his face. One of the few to have already made the pilgrimage to the just-completed palace near the western tip of Guadalcanal, he was now leading his flock to the site. He gazed back at the procession with satisfaction – he’d collected the most important men in the kingdom for the journey, many of whom were newly arrived from the surrounding islands, for the ceremony and festivities that were to last the remainder of the week.
Slivers of light filtered through the overhead canopy of tropical trees as the group moved along the faint game trail, surrounded on all sides by dense jungle. The islands were untamed, and the majority of the Guadalcanal tribes lived within a hundred yards of the shore, avoiding the inland areas that abounded with predators both real and imagined. Legends of giants, ferocious creatures more than twice the size of a man who traversed the island through a series of underground caves, and satisfied their thirst for human blood by attacking the unwary or the careless. Besides, there was no reason to brave the unknown in the interior of the island when a generous bounty from the sea could be had for the asking.
The shaman halted at the top of a rise. The miracle beyond now jutted from the bay – buildings rising from the waves where before had only been water. He pointed at the impossible spectacle with his staff, ornately carved with reliefs of deities, and murmured the king’s name in a tone reserved for prayer to the gods. Indeed, the king seemed like he’d descended from heaven, so unlike ordinary men that he had become a legend during his lifetime.
This – King Loc’s greatest achievement – made all his others pale in comparison. Loc’s vision of a series of man-made islets had been realized using local rock in the relative shallow of the half-moon-shaped harbor. After the celebration, the buildings would be used as the royal residence.
The island’s holy men considered the compound sacred, evidence of Loc’s divine superiority. His builders had spent a decade creating it, with thousands of men quarrying and transporting the rock to the shore. Nothing like it had ever been seen, and the king had assured his counselors that its completion signaled the beginning of a new era.
Nobody doubted his word – Loc was a ruler who had transformed his island from a humble trading collective to a wealthy kingdom, an empire with untold riches legendary among his people. By organizing the primitive mining effort and focusing on locating gemstones and gold, he’d made the island’s fortunes. What had been just another stop on a lackluster trade route had become a hub of wealth whispered about on distant shores.
Over the years, the islanders had grown to appreciate the value of their legacy. Traders from other islands and as far away as Japan came to exchange goods for the treasures the natives amassed. Gold was especially prized, and now there were whole tribes devoted to mining the precious metal in the mountains. Their existence had evolved into one of relative prosperity, all under the watchful eye and encouragement of their benevolent ruler.
The shaman and his followers shuffled forward and filled the clearing at the top of the hill, surrounding the holy man with murmurs of awe and disbelief. A stocky chieftain from the large island to the south moved to the shaman’s side and pointed at a platform on the nearest islet, where a group of figures emerged slowly from an ornately crafted stone temple.
“Is that Loc?” he asked, squinting at the tallest of the men, whose tunic’s gemstones and gold adornments glinted in the sunlight.
The holy man answered. “Yes. It is he.”
“The temple is magnificent,” the chieftain said. “It symbolizes the beginning of our thousand-year ascension as foretold in the prophecy.”
It was widely held that Loc’s reign symbolized the start of a golden era for the islands, a time when the kingdom would become the region’s power center, revered by all, and prophesied to last twenty lifetimes. The oral traditions spoke of a powerful magic that would accompany the appearance of the “chosen one,” the earthly embodiment of celestial power. It was believed that Loc was that being. The massive treasure he had accumulated only solidified his position, as if the earth were validating his dominance by offering its riches to its new master.
The chieftain nodded. Who could doubt that this was no ordinary man, given the strides he had made since taking the throne? Any skepticism the chieftain might have harbored vanished at the spectacle before him. When he returned to his island, he would bring with him miraculous news.
A flock of birds flapped noisily into the sky, sharp cries piercing the morning stillness and reverberating through the rainforest. The shaman looked around at the assembly, a puzzled expression on his face, and then the ground began to tremble. The shaking was accompanied by a dull roar. His breath caught in his throat as the vibrations intensified, and then the earth began pitching like the deck of a ship in a storm as he groped for a nearby vine to steady himself.
A man screamed as the ground split beneath him, and he disappeared into a steaming fissure. His companions scattered as more rents in the earth’s crust tore open. The world tilted and the shaman dropped to his knees, a prayer frozen on his lips as he gazed out at where the new city had stood.
The temple and islet where the king had been moments before were gone. The water had pulled back from the shore as though sucking out to sea any trace of the impudent king’s puny attempts to conquer nature. What had taken ten years to build was erased in a moment as the earthquake intensified, and the entire coastline dropped into nothingness as the bottom of the bay collapsed.
The holy man’s eyes widened in terror as the ocean rushed to fill the chasm that had been the shallow bay, and then as suddenly as the nightmare had started, it was over. The island lay still. The hiss of vapor from the new cracks in the earth’s crust was the only sound beside the moan of injured and terrified tribesmen. The survivors were on their knees, looking to the holy man for guidance. His panicked gaze roamed over the sea, and then he forced himself to his feet.
“Run. Get to higher ground. Now,” he cried, clambering up the trail as fast as his shaky legs would carry him. He had heard stories of moving walls of water from the elders of the dim past, when the gods of earth and sea had fought for dominance, and some primitive part of his brain understood that when the ocean returned, sucked into the new trench that was even now filling, it would do so with a vengeance.
The men ran in confused flight to a safe elevation, but only a few made it. When the tsunami attacked the island, the wave was a hundred feet high. The surge as it crashed against the unyielding rock carried half a mile inland, wiping the ground clean like the swipe of the sea god’s hand.
That night, the shaman and a handful of the survivors huddled around a campfire, well away from the shore, the ocean no longer their benevolent provider.
“It is the end of days,” the holy man said, with the conviction of the true believer. “Our ruler has angered the giant gods. There is no other explanation for what we endured. We have been cursed for our arrogance, and all we can do is pray for forgiveness and return to lives of humility.”
The men nodded. Their king had put himself on the same level as the giant gods, and had been punished for his insufferable sin of pride. His temples and palace were gone, and he with them, erased as though he’d never existed.
In the following days, the survivors gathered and spoke in hushed tones of the day the gods’ harsh justice had been meted out. The holy men gathered for a summit, and after three nights emerged from their sacred grove to counsel the islanders. The king’s name must never be spoken again, and any reference to his kingdom, his temples to his own glory, would be erased from their collective memory. The only hope was that by banishing his existence from the island’s lore, the giants would be appeased and forgive the islanders for his actions.
The stretch of coast where the city had once stood was considered cursed by those who lived through the disaster. Over time the precise reason was forgotten, as were the events of the dark times that ended the island’s prosperity. Eventually the cove that looked out over the placid bay became an encampment of the diseased and the dying, a place of suffering colored by a reputation for misfortune that grew hazier over the years.
Occasionally the king’s name could be heard as a muttered curse, but beyond that, his thousand-year legacy faded into obscurity, and within a few lifetimes he was only remembered in forbidden stories told in whispers by the rebellious. The legend of his divine palace and its riches diminished with each successive generation, until finally it was considered to be folklore, ignored by the young, who had no time for the fearful stories of the past.
Solomon Sea, February 8th, 1943
Gale force winds churned the heavy seas into white foam as the Japanese destroyer Konami plowed southeast of Bougainville Island. The ship was running without lights in the predawn gloom as it bucked through the massive waves. Engines strained as forty- and fifty-foot breaking cliffs of black water slammed into the bow.
Conditions aboard were miserable. The vessel rolled ominously as it pursued a course well away from the calm straights to the west, where the naval force evacuating the last of the soldiers stationed on Guadalcanal was steaming through flat ocean.
The Yūgumo-class destroyer, with a long waterline and sleek engineering, was capable of over thirty-five knots wide open. But tonight it was crawling along at less than a third of that speed, and the power plants throbbed steadily below decks as the weather slowed its progress to a crawl.
The sudden squall had hit unexpectedly, and the exhausted and emaciated soldiers being transported home were hard-pressed to keep their rations of rice down. Even the seasoned faces of the sailors were strained at the pounding they were receiving. One of the seamen moved along the cots, dispensing water to the passengers, offering what limited comfort he could. Their uniforms were little more than rags now, their bodies in the final throes of starvation.
On the bridge, Captain Hashimoto watched as the helmsman tried to meet the chaotic swells to soften the worst of them. There seemed to be no rhythm or direction to the confused seas, and the ship was battling to stay on course. He’d briefly considered deviating to flatter water, but had chosen to keep forging north toward Japan. His schedule allowed no time for detours, whatever the reason.
The destroyer had been conscripted on a top-secret mission under cover of darkness, capitalizing on the confusion caused by the Japanese final evacuation of the island. The officer they had taken aboard had been deemed too important to the war effort to be risked in the main evacuation, so he and his elite staff had been spirited away aboard the Konami, which had veered east while the rest of the force proceeded on a more westerly tack, running the customary gauntlet from Guadalcanal to Bougainville Island.
Hashimoto didn’t know what was so special about the army officer who required the dispatch of a destroyer for his transport. He didn’t care. He was accustomed to following orders, often seemingly in conflict of common sense. As a Japanese destroyer commander, his role wasn’t to second-guess the high command – if the powers in Tokyo wanted him to take his crew to hell and back, his only question would be how soon they wanted him to leave.
A monster of a wave appeared on the port side from out of nowhere and slammed into the ship with such force the entire vessel shuddered, jarring Hashimoto from his position. He grabbed the console for support, and the helmsman glanced at him with a worried look. Hashimoto’s scowl matched the storm’s ferocity as he debated giving the order he hated. He sighed and grunted as another mammoth roller approached.
“Back off to ten knots,” he grumbled, the lines in his face deepening with the words.
“Aye, aye, sir,” the helmsman acknowledged.
Both men watched as the next cliff of water rose out of the night and blasted over the bow, for a moment submerging it before passing over the ship’s length. The vessel keeled dangerously to starboard but then righted itself as it continued its assault on the angry seas.
Captain Hashimoto was no stranger to rough weather, having guided his vessel through some of the worst the oceans could throw at the ship since her christening a year earlier. He’d been through two typhoons, survived every type of adversity, and come out alive. But tonight’s freak storm was pushing the limits of the ship’s handling, and he knew it.
When morning came he’d be faced with an even greater danger – the possibility of being hit by a carrier-launched Allied plane equipped with a torpedo. Night was his cloak and usually his friend – with light came vulnerability and the ever-present threat of breaking the streak of good fortune that had marked his short wartime career.
He understood that at some point his number would be up, but not tonight, and not from a little wind and a few waves. Could it be that the war was lost now that the their occupation of Guadalcanal was over? If so he would do his duty to the end and die a courageous death that would do justice to his rank and family name. That was a given, and he would follow the course of so many of his fellow combatants, in the best samurai tradition.
The army officer they’d rescued from the island entered the bridge from below. His face was sallow and drawn, but his bearing ramrod stiff. He nodded to Hashimoto with a curt economy of motion and eyed the frothing sea through the windshields.
“We’ve slowed?” he asked, his sandpaper voice hushed.
“Yes. Better to proceed with caution than race to the bottom in this weather.”
The man grunted as though disagreeing, and studied the glowing instruments. “Anything on radar?”
Hashimoto shook his head and then braced himself for another jolt as a big wave reared out of the darkness and broke against the bow with startling ferocity. He stole a glance at the army officer’s face and saw nothing but fatigue and determination – and something else, in the depth of his eyes. Something dark that caused Hashimoto a flutter of anxiety, an unfamiliar sensation for the battle-hardened veteran. The man’s eyes looked like one of the classical illustrations of an oni, a demon, from his childhood. The thought sprang to mind unbidden and he shrugged it off. He was no longer seven years old and had seen real-world devils since the war had started; he had no need for belief in the mythical past.
He was turning to ask the officer what he could do for him when the ship shuddered like it had run aground, and then everyone on the bridge was yelling as alarms sounded.
“What’s going on?” the officer demanded.
“I don’t know.” The captain didn’t want to speak his darkest fear out loud.
“Did we hit something?”
Hashimoto hesitated. “There’s nothing to hit. We’re in nine thousand feet of water.” He paused as a junior officer approached with a pallid face and gave a grim report. Hashimoto nodded and issued a terse instruction, then turned back to the army man. “I’m afraid we must prepare for an unpleasant possibility. I need to ask you to go below and follow the emergency instructions that are issued.”
Hashimoto sighed. “It appears that a repaired area of the hull has split open. We’re going to do everything we can, but it’s uncertain whether the pumps can keep up. If not, we may have to abandon ship.”
The officer’s face went deathly white. “In this?” He stared through the glass at the storm.
“We’ll know soon enough. Hopefully we can control the damage.” He looked away. “Please. Leave me to my duty.”
The army officer nodded grimly. He turned and moved to the stairs and barely kept his feet when another big wave crashed into the port bow, causing the ship to list alarmingly.
Hashimoto went through the motions, directing his crew to take all possible measures as the helmsman struggled to keep the ship right, but in the end the fury of the sea proved too much. As the dark waves continued their assault and the last of the bridge lights flickered off, the vessel’s heavy steel hull now an anchor as it sank, his thoughts drifted to his wife, Yuki, and his one-year-old son – the son he’d never see grow into a man, and with whom he’d only spent a few short hours while on leave.
But even that vision couldn’t erase the shame he felt at having failed in his mission. He vowed that he would die with dignity, going down with his ship rather than struggling to survive like a coward.
Three hours later the seas flattened as the storm moved north. The depths had swallowed the four-hundred-foot-long ship without a trace. With no record of its journey and no escort or other vessels within hailing distance, its demise would go unremarked, its existence scrubbed from the official record, taking its final secret to the bottom with it.
Only four survivors were eventually rescued by an Allied ship; sharks and heavy weather killed the rest. The Allied command showed no interest in what a Japanese ship was doing so far off the beaten path, and the men pulled from the ocean had nothing to offer but stoic silence. Their part in the war was over, their disgrace a fate worse than death.
Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, present day
Three fiberglass skiffs tugged at the lines that secured their bows to palm trees as the cobalt blue water surrounding them sparkled in the afternoon sun. Sam and Remi Fargo sat in the shade of one of the palms, the fronds stirring in the light breeze of the balmy air. Remi shielded her eyes from the glare with a manicured hand and watched the heads of divers bob to the surface near a fourth boat ninety yards offshore.
Sam shifted and brushed his fingers through his medium-brown hair and glanced at his wife and partner for life. Refined features bereft of makeup were framed by long auburn hair, and her smooth skin glowed from the sun’s caress. His gaze traced down her athletic form, and he reached out a hand to her. She took it with a smile and sighed. Even after countless globe-trotting adventures in search of archeological treasures, they were still inseparable, a testimony to the strength of their bond.
“I could get used to lying on this beach, Sam,” she said, closing her eyes.
“It’s gorgeous, I’ll give you that,” he agreed.
“If only they had a Bloomingdale’s…”
“Or a decent dive shop.”
“To each their own.” Remi slipped a Valentino flip-flop off her heel and dangled it by her toe.
They hadn’t been sure what to expect when they’d agreed to fly to Guadalcanal, and were relieved to find themselves in a tropical paradise of warm water and blue sky.
A tall, lanky man in his fifties approached from down the spit of sand, with a face that was red from sunburn, a pair of battered steel-rimmed spectacles perched on his hawk-like nose. His scuffed hiking boots threw up a cloud of white with each step. A group of islanders lounged nearby, watching the divers, laughing among themselves at some private joke. The man’s shadow stretched long on the shore as he neared them. Sam looked up at the new arrival, and a grin lit his ruggedly handsome face.
“Well, Leonid, what do you make of all this?” Sam asked.
“It’s definitely unlike anything else on the island,” Leonid said in his slight Russian accent. “Looks man-made. But as I said on the phone, that’s impossible. It’s in eighty feet of water.”
“Maybe you found Atlantis,” Remi offered brightly, teasing Sam’s longtime friend. “Although you’re about five thousand miles off the mark, if the traditional accounts are to be believed.”
Leonid frowned, his expression conveying nothing but his usual disapproval of everything and anything. An academic on a three-year sabbatical from Moscow, Leonid Vasyev was an unhappy man even when freed from the Russian winter to roam the globe in search of lost civilizations – his passion, made possible by a grant from the Fargo Foundation.
When Sam and Remi had gotten his call about reports of a sunken find in the Solomon Islands, they hadn’t hesitated to travel halfway around the world to join him on his quest. They’d landed that morning, arriving too late to secure diving gear until the following day, and had contented themselves with reading the background matter he supplied while enjoying the tranquility of the beach.
Two weeks earlier, a baffled Guadalcanal teacher had called her former professor in Australia with an odd story. Her husband and son had registered unusual readings on their new fish finder and had turned to her for help. The Australian had been too busy with classes to do anything besides refer her to Leonid, a colleague she knew was footloose and fully funded.
After a series of long-distance discussions, the reluctant Russian had flown in to see for himself what the teacher was describing. Over the past few days he’d grown increasingly puzzled by the formations his divers reported. The fishermen had thought that the irregularities might have been war wreckage, but they were mistaken. Their fish finder, one of the first on the island, had spotted something unexplainable – what appeared to be man-made structures jutting up from the bottom of the sea.
That was when Leonid decided to seek out reinforcements. He was an academic, not a deep-water diver, and he knew that he needed help. Since the Fargos were his benefactors and friends, he decided to go straight to the top, and after a long-distance conference call, they’d agreed to come to join him on Guadalcanal.
“Your underwater camera system could use some fine-tuning,” Sam said, eyeing a blurry photograph taken the prior day. “And couldn’t you get some photo paper? This looks like someone spilled wine on a newspaper.”
“You’re lucky I found a place with a color printer. In case you haven’t noticed, Guadalcanal isn’t La Jolla,” Leonid said dryly. He considered the image Sam was studying. “Come on. What do you think?”
“It could be just about anything. We’ll have to wait until I suit up and dive. This might as well be a Rorschach test for all the detail it’s showing.”
“Do you see your mother’s angry face?” Remi asked innocently.
Leonid eyed them like they were insects in a jar. “I see the infamous Fargo sense of humor hasn’t melted in the heat. That’s quite a relief.”
“Lighten up, Leonid. We’re in paradise, and this seems like it might be exactly the kind of mystery we love. We’ll get to the bottom of it,” Sam said. “Although Mom did look kind of annoyed in that last snapshot.” He looked over at the divers. “You sure I can’t borrow some gear from one of the locals?”
Leonid shook his head. “I already asked. They’re fiercely protective of their stuff. Sorry. We’ll reserve some for tomorrow once we’re back in town.” Because of the limited amount of equipment, during high season most of the island’s reliable gear was already claimed by the local dive tour companies.
“That’ll work,” Sam said.
“I’m going to check on what the divers found this time around,” Leonid said, wiping his brow with the back of his hand.
They watched him trudge down the beach, ungainly as a stork in his long khaki pants and tropical-weight long-sleeve shirt. Remi leaned in to Sam. “What do you make of this?”
Sam shook his head. “I have no clue. I’ll reserve judgment until we know more. But it’s definitely intriguing.”
“What baffles me is how anything could remain undiscovered this close to shore.”
Sam looked around the desolate bay. “Well, there isn’t a lot going on here, is there?”
Remi nodded. “I think we agreed on that a few minutes ago.” She shook out her auburn hair, and Sam noted that she was already getting tanned. He eyed her reclining form and slid closer.
They watched Leonid bark at the lounging islanders, who reluctantly rose and pulled one of the skiffs to the beach so he could board. A small wiry man wearing cutoffs and a dark brown T-shirt splashed to the stern and hoisted himself over the side. After three energetic pulls on the starter cord, the old motor roared to life, and they backed away from shore and cut a beeline to the dive boat.
Remi glanced down the beach to where several of the islanders were dozing in the shade near the water’s edge, and sighed.
“You have to admit the place is idyllic. I mean, blue sky, warm water, trade winds…what more could you ask for?”
Sam grinned. “Cold beer?”
“The one-track Fargo mind surfaces again.”
“Not entirely one-track,” Sam said.
Remi laughed. “We’ll have to try out a track or two tonight.”
Leonid’s boat returned several minutes later, and when he disembarked, the frown lines on his face were etched deeper than ever. He glared at the loafing natives and stomped back to where the Fargos were sitting. “They confirmed that there are a number of mounds covered with marine growth. They think they’re structures.”
Remi’s eyes narrowed. “Structures? What kind of structures?”
“They aren’t sure, but they appear to be the ruins of buildings.”
Sam gazed off at a line of storm clouds on the horizon. “Curiouser and curiouser.”
“They have to be ancient,” Leonid said and then glared at the boat. “Damned locals and their superstitions…”
Remi’s brow furrowed. “Why do you say that?”
“Oh, the head of the local team’s giving me problems. Says after this he doesn’t want to dive on the site any longer. That he remembers his great-grandfather saying something about this bay being bad juju or some such idiocy.” Leonid snorted and wiped his brow with a soiled red bandanna. “Trying to get more money out of me, the crook. Old gods indeed.”
“What did you tell him?”
“That if he wants to get paid at all he’ll finish out today’s dives, and then based on what he’s able to find, I’ll decide whether to hire him again. I won’t be extorted. I’m already paying well over top dollar. That shut him up.”
Sam studied the Russian. “Leonid, while it warms my heart to see you so tightfisted with our budget, from what you’ve described, these guys are the only game in town, right? If you don’t use them, what’s plan B?”
“I’ll get my own people to fly in.”
“With all their own gear?” Sam asked skeptically.
“Sure,” Leonid said, but his look conveyed less confidence than his words.
“If there are really ruins down there, maybe we should try to locate an expedition ship? Something self-contained that can go the long haul?” Remi suggested. “Who do we know in this part of the world?”
Sam thought for a moment. “Nobody springs to mind. Leonid?”
The Russian shook his head. “I can ask around.”
“We’ll give Selma a call. She’ll find someone.”
Remi nodded. “Too bad there’s no handy cell tower nearby.”
Sam smiled. “Not a problem. I packed the sat phone,” he said and rooted in his backpack. He retrieved an old but reliable Iridium Extreme satellite phone, powered it on, and then checked the time. “She should be around.”
Leonid shifted from foot to foot, obviously antsy. Sam wande
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