Shades told them that they wouldn’t be able to land on the fourth island, Kimbar, but they could make a close pass anyway. As they sailed around Kon Aru, they again saw what Shades had taken to referring to as the “Tiki Gods”— this time from out at sea— from whence they now looked like some grim, foreboding welcoming committee gathered on the cliffs, a barrage of hands calling approaching ships to a halt. Almost a prelude to the somewhat more recent ruins they saw next.
While the first places they visited looked rather quaint, though reasonably prosperous for such an obscure locale, the shanties on the far side of Aru, on the other hand, looked as if they were rather run-down even before they were abandoned. Consisting of several clusters of crudely tossed-together structures, standing near the beach and scattered across the side of the small mountain from which most of the island was formed, drab and stark in the late afternoon sun. At least half of the docks having rotted to the point of collapse, now mostly submerged, with what looked like the remains of an abandoned ship sitting near the middle, and the rest of it leaned haphazardly as if it might fall over with the next puff of breeze.
“What the hell happened here?” Justin asked.
“That’s the old shantytown,” Shades told them. “It used to be the main mining town, but that was way before our time. Now no one lives here anymore.”
“Why?” Max wondered aloud.
“You see,” Shades replied, “Many years ago, some explorers came to these islands, and, like others who had passed through in ages past, did some trading and stuff. Unfortunately, they started spreading word that they found gold here, and that was when the trouble began. Later visitors started building gold mines, and tried to force the Kona to leave. Who knows how long the fighting would have continued, but it turns out there wasn’t that much gold here to begin with, so when it all dried up, the mining company cut their losses and ran. Eventually, they shut this place down, and everybody moved over to the other side of the island.”
“Why didn’t they just stay here?” To Justin, this place— the whole mining business— gave him bad memories; at the mere mention of a mining operation, he felt as if someone just walked on his grave. But that was no reason for them to leave.
“It’s the water,” Shades said quietly. “Even after the mines folded, people started getting sick. Turns out that gold wasn’t the only metal in the ground here, and heavy metals contaminated all of the water on this side of the island. You’ll also notice there are no fishing boats out this way, either.”
In fact, aside from the Maximum, there was a marked absence of any kind of boat out this way. Through his binoculars, Shades could see that even the vegetation looked stunted and sickly. Forlorn, as he imagined the locals’ grandparents must have felt, abandoned by the mining company, stranded in the same boat as the indigenous population after years of slaving away. Likely joining forces just to survive…
Justin, though, having seen the Authority’s mining practices, could see how far this place had come from there. For him, this was like pushing fast-forward on history as Shades did on some of the ship’s small video library. A glimpse of what the Triangle State might look like after the crystals ran out.
“After that, those who remained formed the Joint Council,” Shades elaborated, “to protect the people, and the Islands’ natural beauty. And charming atmosphere, I would imagine.” Noting, as he did what seemed to be a deliberate effort on their part to not end up as some tourist trap.
“I guess that makes sense,” Justin replied.
“There’s also another reason,” Shades informed them cryptically, “and it’s why I’ve been careful to stay near the coast. The other answer is right under our feet.”
Everyone’s attention was previously held by first the Tiki Gods, then the decrepit shanties, that neither of them ever noticed what a sight lay beyond the railing in the shallow waters below.
Shimmering beneath the tide was a collection of structures that looked hauntingly like buildings. Most likely made of stone, originally, though now grown over with a blanket of coral and seaweed. The fish swimming in and out among them only served to complete the otherworldly look.
Shades had glimpsed it now and then, couldn’t help himself, but had mainly focused on guiding the ship so he could view it with his friends. It was his guess that this place must have existed above sea level, once upon a time, yet somehow managed to sink to this depth largely in one piece. A mystery in and of itself. It made him wish he had a camera.
“Unreal…” Justin breathed, watching a flat, round, brightly colored fish drift in and out of what was likely once a window.
Max absently patted Bandit’s head, silence saying it all for what he lacked the words to convey.
“We drift on sacred waters,” Shades spoke quietly, almost reverently, breaking the eerie silence that hung over this place even more heavily than it had over the stone hands. “The Kona call it Koha na’Chindi, the City of the Dead. It is an ancient custom to bury their dead at sea out here, that their spirits might dwell in the city under the sea, from which the Koha supposedly came, to watch over the islands.”
“An undersea graveyard…” Max understood it was a cross between his own people’s custom of burial at sea, and the common Outlander custom of burying the dead in graveyards.
“I asked Corrick,” Shades said, “and though there’s no law against it, this place is avoided by general custom, not to be disturbed by the activities of the living.
“Of course, he also told me once that he came out here late at night years ago, and saw the true City of the Dead.” His voice becoming more and more hushed as he continued his account. “He said there was a bluish, greenish light under the water, and he saw the ghosts of the Koha walking around in the city below…”
“Yeah right,” Justin remarked. Then stopped himself. After spending so much of his childhood in the shadowy corridors of the Ruins, he had developed a reflexive tendency to scoff at any suggestion of the supernatural. But after some of his more recent experiences, he found he wasn’t so sure anymore.
As they drifted along, their course brought them nearer to Kon Kimbar. Shades explained that the mining was even more extensive there, and so too was the heavy metal contamination. As a result, the entire population was forced to migrate into the other islands.
“In fact,” he told them, “aside from some of the Kona elders, only one person lives out this way. A guy named Mr Larson, who I guess helps watch over the City of the Dead.”
“Didn’t Mr Corrick say he’s been missing since the storm?” Max asked, remembering Shan’s question about that.
“Yeah, that’s what I heard, but Corrick said the search party sill hadn’t re—”
Shades stopped abruptly, snapping his head around at Kimbar Island.
The others looked at him curiously.
“Anyone else see that?” Shades asked.
“See what?” Justin demanded. Then, “Hey! You’re not gettin’ me with some ghost prank.”
“No,” Shades replied, “it’s nothing like that. I just thought I saw a flicker of light over there.” Up on a cliff was a house, with a porch on stilts, presumably the residence of this Mr Larson. “Eh, probably just the sun reflecting off the windows or something.”
Sure enough, they watched, but nothing else happened, so they headed back for dinner, chalking it up to the atmosphere of these history-haunted waters.