They had come three times to what seemed a dead end only to discover hidden doorways, and twice they had descended secret stairways into lower levels of the labyrinth. Sometimes it felt as if they were traveling far from their origin point, and at others it seemed to Drake they were going in ever diminishing circles.
The diamonds or lack thereof had not failed them yet. Not once had they had to retrace their steps. Yet Drake had wondered if the trail without diamonds was leading them to the center of the labyrinth or to some trap for fools who thought they were clever and ended up instead broken after a fall through a shaft in the floor.
There had been dozens of shafts. After Drake had come around a corner and had to hurl himself across one, nearly tumbling into it, they were taking corners more carefully now. The air that came up from the shafts was warm enough that each of them had built up a sheen of sweat. The deeper they descended, the more the temperature increased.
“I guess this is what comes from digging into the skin of a volcanic island,” Jada had said the first time she touched a wall and pulled her hand away, surprised at the heat.
But it didn’t slow her down. If anything, it spurred her on so that half the time she was in the lead, though they didn’t let her get too far ahead. There was no telling when some hidden trap might be sprung.
They worked their way through a series of narrow openings, nearly missed a turn made invisible by the placement and coloration of stone, and had to backtrack when they discovered they had entered a tunnel marked with a diamond. When they had righted themselves, they found a tunnel so low that they were forced to crouch to pass through.
Once they had reached a place where they could stand again, they found themselves at a fork where both tunnels sloped downward at steep angles, the first time they had encountered such a significant drop without stairs.
“How deep are we?” Jada asked as she looked for the markings inside each of the doorways, shining her flashlight into the darkened passages.
“Good question,” Sully replied, studying the walls inside the left passage. “Look at this.”
Drake crouched to get a closer look at the engraving. Near the floor, just inside the door, was an octagon inside a circle like the ones they had found in Crocodilopolis. Just one, which made sense given that only in the worship chambers had they encountered that triple-octagon design that seemed to represent the three labyrinths designed by Daedalus. But this one was different in another way. Etched inside the octagon was the same flower design they had seen all through this labyrinth.
“What the hell is that flower?” Drake asked, but it was a rhetorical question. None of them knew the answer.
“No diamond here,” Sully said, shining his light on the stone above the door.
“Jada, come on,” Drake said. “It’s this one.”
He poked his head out and saw her standing just inside the entrance to the right-hand passage of the fork. She wore a puzzled expression.
“Hey,” he said. “What’s up?”
Jada looked at him. “I hear water.”
Drake went to join her, Sully hurrying to catch up. He gestured for Jada to take the lead, and she did, making her way cautiously down the sloping tunnel, using her flashlight to study the floor in front of them before taking a step. The incline grew steeper until only the roughness of the surface gave them enough traction to avoid sliding down into the dark.
The noise of the surf grew louder as they descended, and Drake wondered if they possibly could have gone so far from the hill. Granted, Akrotiri village was a stone’s throw from the cliffs overlooking the ocean, but how far had they gone underground? The question seemed moot as the sound of the crashing water increased.
“Anyone notice the temperature difference down here?” Sully asked.
“I made the mistake of touching the wall,” Jada replied.
Drake tested it, placing his palm against the stone. Though it was not hot enough to burn him, the temperature had risen. When the floor began to level out, they found themselves in a small chamber whose floor was shot through with circular vents. Unlike the shafts they had seen on the upper levels of the labyrinth, these seemed natural. Steam rose from the openings.
“Kill the lights,” Drake said.
Jada cast an odd glance his way, but when Sully shut his flashlight off, she complied as well. He heard her small gasp. Though dim, each of the vents gave off a reddish glow.
“We really are on top of a volcano,” Jada said softly.
“Did you think it was an urban legend?” Drake asked.
She clicked her flashlight back on. “No. It’s just so hard to imagine how anyone can live here, knowing that it might all be obliterated at any time.”
“People will give up a lot for paradise,” Sully rumbled.
Drake glanced at him. “That may be just about the smartest thing you’ve ever said. Seriously.”
“Inside this grizzled exterior is a great philosopher,” Sully advised him.
“I’ll try to remember that,” Drake replied.
They continued through the small chamber and into a series of short zags and switchbacks, the water growing louder. Only a minute or so later, their flashlight beams were swallowed by vast gray nothing. Sully grabbed Drake’s arm as Jada came to a startled halt. They swept the lights back and found the precipice half a dozen feet ahead. Part of the labyrinth had collapsed, opening up a cavern thirty feet above them and at least sixty feet wide. Stone blocks and what looked like the remnants of walls painted with frescoes were amid the rubble strewn far below, picked out by the flashlight beams as Sully and Jada investigated.
They were in a sea cave, but no light came from outside. Perhaps at low tide there might have been an opening, but the entrance to the cave was submerged. The water crashed on the rocks not in waves but in a churning ebb and flow that reminded Drake of breathing, in and out, filling and emptying. If this had been the path to the center of the labyrinth and the worship chambers, they would have been out of luck.
“The earthquake must have shaken this wing of the labyrinth apart,” Jada said.
“Some earthquake,” Sully said. “I’m sure there’ve been a hell of a lot of them since the island blew up in the first place.”
For several seconds, they just stared at the sea cave and the salt water washing over the rubble far below the precipice. Drake thought he could make out some of the details on the shattered frescoes down there. There were images of flowers yet again, but another caught his eye: a veiled woman kneeling before a horned figure, offering a chalice. He would not have been able to make out the image if not for the fact that he’d seen one quite like it in the labyrinth of Sobek. Then the water washed over it, falling against the debris, and he reminded himself that whatever they were supposed to find, it would await them at the heart of the labyrinth.
“Come on,” he said. “We’re wasting time. Don’t want to miss our taxi.”
Sully took point as they retraced their steps. After the small cave with its steaming volcanic vents, the three of them had to make their way up the steep tunnel. Bent into the effort, sometimes using their hands to steady themselves on the severe incline, they climbed back toward the fork in the maze.
“Damn, I need to cut back on the Oreos,” Drake muttered as he hiked after Sully. The heat of the labyrinth had begun to affect him more, and he wished they had brought more water.
They ascended for several seconds in silence before Jada chuckled.
“Wow,” she said. “Uncle Vic doesn’t even have the energy to be snarky.”
“I’m taking the high road,” Sully rasped tiredly.
Drake chose not to comment. Either they both were taking the high road or they both were too busy clambering up through the steep tunnel to bicker. As they reached the fork, where the labyrinth leveled out again, Sully sighed in relief. But as Drake looked up, seeing Sully illuminated by the golden glow of the flashlight, which threw strange shadows all around the labyrinth corridor ahead, he saw a figure dart from the right and strike Sully across the head.
Sully cried out in pain and went to his knees, clutching his skull where he’d been struck.
Tyr Henriksen stood over him, brandishing a blue-black pistol with cruel confidence. He stepped back so that Sully couldn’t lash out at him but kept his gun aimed at Sully’s head.
“I know you’re armed,” Henriksen said. “But I’ve got kind of a head start, and bullets travel fast.”
Drake took the warning, keeping his hands where Henriksen could see them as he emerged from the steep tunnel. He could vaguely hear the sound of water behind him, but that sea cave seemed distant and beautiful now, like some forgotten grotto.
“Leave him alone, you son of a bitch,” Jada said, pushing past Drake and hurrying toward Sully. She knelt by him protectively, and Henriksen did nothing to stop her, though he kept the gun on them both.
Others began to emerge into the split corridor. From the other sloping tunnel in the fork came two gunmen, one short but powerfully built and the other the kind of dead-eyed, buzz-cut mercenary whose very aura suggested a military career gone wrong. Three others appeared from the tunnel Drake, Jada, and Sully had used to get this far. By their complexion and the curiosity in their eyes, Drake decided they must be local talent: homegrown Greek thugs. One had long since gone gray, and his skin was taut and weathered so that it looked almost like tree bark. The other two looked enough like him to be his sons. They were also armed. Counting Henriksen, that made six guns against three, but Henriksen and his goons had theirs drawn already, which made the odds moot.
“You followed us,” Drake said.
“Of course,” Henriksen said, giving a small shrug, blue eyes shining in the illumination from the flashlights. Several of the thugs carried them, and the corridor was lit up brightly now.
“You had a chance to talk to Welch before our mysterious hooded men snatched him away,” he went on. “And we knew you had Luka’s notes. The Russo woman was helpful at the Temple of Sobek, but she had to bring in others to interpret the writing there, and we couldn’t wait for her and track you at the same time. It was a gamble, but we put all of our faith in you.”
His smile made Drake’s hands ball into fists.
“I’m glad we could help,” Sully said, voice dripping with sarcasm. “You want to point that thing somewhere else?”
Henriksen glanced down at his gun as if he’d forgotten it was there. “This? Not just yet.” He gestured with the barrel. “What I’d like is for the three of you to take out your own weapons and set them on the floor, then back away slowly. We wouldn’t want anyone to get shot.”
Drake frowned. Something in the man’s tone surprised him. It almost sounded as if Henriksen meant it. Quickly glancing around, Drake noticed the easy stance of the other men. They might be thugs and even—particularly in the case of the one with the buzz cut and the stumpy musclehead—killers, but they didn’t look ready to kill. Not at this moment. Certainly, if Drake went for his gun, that would change, but these guys seemed way too relaxed for men who had tracked down prey.
For the first time, he wondered if they had somehow gotten it all wrong.
“Guns,” Henriksen repeated, because none of them had moved.
As Jada reached delicately for hers, Drake stopped her, a hand on her arm. Every one of the gunmen shifted to aim at him.
“I don’t think so,” he said, studying Henriksen’s face. “If you’re going to kill us all the same, you might as well get it over with.”
Henriksen arched an eyebrow. “You’re an enigmatic man, Mr. Drake. Most people don’t volunteer to be shot.”
“I’ve been shot before. I’m still alive. Not that I really like the idea. The food on this island is amazing, and I had my heart set on the lamb special tonight.”
With a grim smile, Henriksen nodded. “That does sound enticing. And truth be told, I have difficulty with the idea of murder. You’ve all been so useful in helping me reach my goals. I wonder, perhaps, if you could be trusted to continue that usefulness under a more formal arrangement.”
“I’d rather die,” Jada said, and this time when she reached for her gun, it was not to surrender.
Drake grappled with her for a second, stripping the pistol from her hand.
“Whoa, whoa,” Sully said, standing up to fill the space between Jada and the gunmen, putting himself between his goddaughter and death. Then he glanced at Drake. “What’s your play here, Nate?”
“I’m working on it,” Drake replied.
“Are you kidding me?” Jada shouted. “There’s nothing to work on. This son of a bitch murdered my father.”
Henriksen looked affronted. “I did no such thing.”
“Then you paid to have it done,” Sully said.
The gunmen shuffled aside to make room as another figure emerged from the darkness of the left-hand fork. Olivia looked lovely as ever, her hair golden in the electric light. She gazed at Jada with something resembling true sadness.
“He’s telling the truth,” Olivia said.
“Where the hell were you hiding?” Sully asked.
“It’s a little crowded in here,” she said, and then dropped her gaze. “I don’t like any of this. Guns and tight places. This isn’t a life I ever dreamed for myself.”
“You’ve been in on this from the start,” Jada said. “Admit it! You show up at our restaurant in Egypt playing damsel in distress. The grieving widow—”
“I am grieving!” Olivia shouted, tears springing to her eyes. She wiped at them. “I loved your father. He had his suspicions about this research, and he withdrew from the project. He might’ve ruined everything, and I know how it looks. But I can promise you, Tyr had nothing to do with his death and neither did I. Who does that? The way he was—mutilated …”