7/5

After 124 hours and 58 minutes of gameplay, I’ve returned to the Cavern of the Gods.

I forgo taking a tour there—this is a family affair, no vacationing bonds traders or rockstars need apply. We will, however, take salvage requests, and a nice lady in a pink and brown wet suit is seeking a gold watch somewhere in the inner chambers of the temple.  This mission is pure exploration, but while we’re exploring, we can turn the multisensor on from time to time and help her find it.

Together with GG, we dive off the Super Dropoff and head west. The water’s murkier than I remember; it takes a while to find the box-shaped slot called the Echoing Terrace that leads into the temple porch. There we find the Stone Cavern Entrance on the left side, magically thrown open. Tingling with excitement, I turn on first-person view and plunge forward.

What do I remember about this place? The last time we were here, all hell was in the process of breaking loose. A white whale, the Singing Dragon of our long quest, was going berserk, slamming its head against the columns holding up the roof of the temple. Rocks were tumbling around our ears and we were almost out of oxygen, trying open escape doors by solving complicated riddles as the clock was running down on our lives. Beyond that, there was a confusing maze of passageways, with a dead end or a sudden current or a goblin shark waiting around the corner. I was simply too panicked to pay attention to my surroundings. When we finally escaped and the entrance filled in with rubble and silt, it was like a curtain going down on my memory. I will barely know what to expect once we get back in.

Inside the entrance, we turn to the right to head north, beginning a counter-clockwise survey of the temple. What immediately greets us is an opah, an immense round fish with silver flanks and red fins. Shaped like sunfish but more closely related to oarfish, pictures can’t convey how large, splendid and doofy-looking these are.

Opah!

 After rounding a corner, on our left is a vast doorway. We descend a wide stone staircase into the first of the large chambers, the Altar of Osiris. At the far end, there’s a huge statue of the god, gazing benevolently on a roomful of worshipful ribbonfish.

Osiris

Turning around to exit, we find a pale Japanese horseshoe crab, lying there on the stairs like Cinderella’s cast-off slipper (if, y’know, Cinderella had really weird feet).

Next we come to the Altar of Horus, which looks identical to the other altar, except that here there’s a trapdoor hidden behind the statue leading into the Subterranean Reception Room. Guarding the passageway is one of the creatures I’d always hoped to see—the ancient chambered nautilus! Common in gift shops but rarely found alive in the sea, I’d been fascinated by this evolutionary throwback ever since I saw a Cousteau special about them. (Now I sound like my tour clients!) Although I’m anxious to see what’s beyond the door, there’s no way I’m going to pass up this moment without swimming around the nautilus, taking pictures of this living fossil from multiple angles.

Chambered nautilus

Through the door and down, our subterranean reception committee consists of two ghostly Japanese spider crabs, waving their claws (invitingly?) at us.

There’s another trap door at the far end of this chamber. Passing up through it, we enter the floor of the Altar of Isis. According to the map, it’s roughly here that we should find the gold watch. But before I can search for it, I see a shadow pass over us. This is Kraken Jr., the son of the giant squid that lives at the bottom of the Zahhab Region depths. I guess he couldn’t handle living by dad’s rules, so he got his own place.

Kraken, Jr.

Finding the gold watch proves to be a bit difficult, but we eventually find it just on the threshold of the trapdoor that lead us into the altar. Leaving the chamber and turning right, there’s another staircase that leads up to a loft area called the Pillar of Shadow. Here are the coelacanths I remember from before. According to the map, this should lead into the Celestial Mausoleum, but I can’t find an entrance. I’d explore further, but I’m out of pictures and nearly out of air.

I promised myself that we were going to swim out of the cavern—no beaming back to the Enterprise this time. There’s a shortcut to the southern gallery that leads us straight out of the temple, but it’s blocked by rubble, apparently in the whale-quake that brought the temple crashing down many months ago. Other attempts to find a quick way out are met with obstacles. There’s nothing left to do but retrace our path through the trapdoors to the northern gallery. As notch after notch of precious air evaporates, I begin to get that closed-in, panicky feeling in my gut that I last felt when we all dashed out of this ancient Egyptian death trap.

Eventually, we gain the exit and power swim out of the temple, out of the cavern to the open sea. My head breaks the surface just as the alarm starts to clang. Again we’ve cheated death and escaped the Cavern of the Gods, but we still have another half to explore.

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