“He’s as good as dead,” Henriksen snapped.
“No,” Jada said. “They took him! They didn’t kill him!”
Drake snatched the light from Henriksen. “I’m going after him.”
He started down into the forgotten heart of the labyrinth, and when he sensed Jada behind him, heard her footsteps, and saw her flashlight beam merging with his to illuminate the darkness below, he didn’t argue. With her father dead, Sully was the closest thing either one of them had to a father. They would save him together or not at all.
Drake stood in total darkness, his forehead pressed against hot stone, trying to contain the urge to scream. He could hear the rustle and click of Jada going through her pack nearby, putting a fresh set of batteries into her flashlight. She spoke in a low voice, but he barely heard the words. Was she trying to comfort him or herself? He couldn’t be sure. Probably both.
How much time had passed since the hooded men had dragged Sully away? An hour and a half? Two?
At first it had felt as if Drake and Jada were giving chase, and he had believed they could catch up with the murderous bastards. He had reminded himself that if they’d wanted Sully dead, they could have killed him right there in the tunnel, and they hadn’t done it. But still the image of Sully struggling with the hooded men as they hauled him into the shadows haunted Drake. Would it be the last time he would see his friend and mentor alive? After a time, he forced himself not to think about it, focusing entirely on the pursuit.
But soon the chase gave way to something more closely resembling a search. They had followed the twists of the labyrinth, ignoring blind alleys thanks to the diamond markings that indicated the proper path. They stopped from time to time to listen for the sounds of scuffling or any hint that the killers were up ahead. Sully would call out, Drake had told himself. But the only scuffling they heard was the sound of their own shoes on the stone floor, and the loudest sound was the pounding of Drake’s heart inside his chest.
After fifteen minutes, Drake had begun to fear that they had been wrong in assuming the hooded men would have taken the marked route toward the center of the maze, and they had backtracked to search the side tunnels and blind alleys. With no trace of the killers and no shout from Sully, they’d had no choice. Some of the tunnels led to dead ends, though in a couple of places Drake thought there might be some mechanism that would lead them to a secret chamber. Other avenues ended in a collapsed section of the maze, and twice they came to places where the labyrinth had given way and the underground caverns had opened up enough that the sea had made its way into the subterranean world. Turgid water ebbed back and forth.
Those sunken rooms were full of water, but Drake saw a glimpse of the split at the top of a cave entrance in one, and he thought the tide must be going out.
There had been more shafts as well, and Drake had rounded a corner too fast and plunged into one, barely catching himself on the edge. He had managed to haul himself up, bathed in the heat and glow coming from the volcanic vents down below, but the flashlight he had taken from Henriksen had been lost—sacrificed to the volcano.
Eventually they had given up on dead ends. They had begun searching not for a secret passage where the killers might have taken Sully but for the center of the labyrinth. Drake thought they might try sacrificing him to Poseidon or whoever else this temple had been dedicated to, and if that were to happen, it would be in the worship chamber.
And now they had found it.
“Damn it,” Jada muttered.
Drake heard a soft thunk and realized she had dropped one of the batteries. He froze, thinking they were going to be trapped down there in the dark and wondering how they would ever find their way out, and then the light snapped on, so bright that he had to shield his eyes.
“Sorry,” she said, moving the beam from his face.
“I thought you’d dropped a battery.”
“I did. One of the dead ones.”
Drake only nodded. Neither of them smiled. They had lost the heart for the banter that had kept them going for the past few days and allowed her to focus on something besides her father’s murder. Now neither of them could think of anything but Sully meeting the same fate, a head and torso in a steamer trunk left on a train platform somewhere.
Jada looked tired and pale. They still had water and food in their packs, but Drake wasn’t hungry. It was all he could do to stop himself from shaking with fury, though he knew the rage only masked his fear for Sully and the sadness he felt in his bones. More than once before he had been convinced Sully had died, only to discover otherwise, and they had been in dozens of tight scrapes. He liked to tell himself this was because Sully was a tough son of a bitch, but he knew there had been just as much luck involved as toughness or determination.
They had to get him back.
“Come on,” he said. “We’re not going to find them just waiting around.”
Jada shone the light around the worship chamber. The flash had flickered out while they were descending the three steps down into the room, and she had stumbled and fallen to her knees. It was only sheer luck that she hadn’t broken the flashlight. They were going to have to be more careful; their only flashlight might be more important to their survival than the water bottles they carried.
As the light swept across the walls and the octagonal altar and found the antechamber where the Mistress of the Labyrinth would have prepared for the rituals that took place there, Drake knew there could be no doubt that Daedalus had designed this chamber as well as its Egyptian counterpart, but there were no hieroglyphics here. Jada’s light illuminated frescoes painted on the altar depicting the Mistress of the Labyrinth receiving honey from kneeling worshippers, along with images of Minotaurs, but the writing on the walls was the same ancient dialect that had been on the jar Ian Welch had found in the Atlantean chamber in Egypt. Some variation on Greek. If Welch had been there, he could have read it.
“It’s exactly like the one in Egypt,” Jada said.
“Let’s hope so,” Drake replied, striding directly into the anteroom. The details of this chamber didn’t interest him. All he cared about were the true worship chambers below, the ones dedicated to each of the gods of the three labyrinths: Dionysus, Sobek, and Poseidon. If this labyrinth truly had the same design, there would be stone doors in those chambers that led into secret recesses, and he would find a way to get them open somehow.
In the glow of Jada’s light, he went straight to the corner where he expected to find the false stone block that would trigger the altar to slide back. Yet the stones along the bottom of the wall did not move when he tried to push them, and when Jada came closer with the light, they saw no symbol engraved there. The chill that had clutched at Drake’s heart for the last two hours turned to ice. Had they reached their last dead end?
“Look around?” he said.
But Jada didn’t need his urging. She had begun to search the anteroom for the octagon with a circle symbol that had indicated the trigger in the labyrinth of Sobek. There were symbols everywhere that he could only imagine must be some Atlantean arcanum. Shelves held painted jars, just as in Egypt, and a side shelf had a shaft built into it, hot air wafting up from below.
“Here!” Jada said.
He turned to see her pushing a spot on the wall between two shelves, and they both heard the grinding of stone as hidden weights and balances shifted. Wiping sweat from his brow, he rushed from the anteroom and saw that the altar had moved several inches. The mechanism that locked it in place had released, and Drake ran to it and threw his weight against it. It slid back easily so that even as Jada joined him, the huge stone octagon rolled away to reveal the stairs beneath. No skeleton awaited them this time, and Drake started down.
He’d reached only the third step when he heard Jada gasp.
“Nate, look at this.”
“Jada, come on,” he urged, looking up to see her shining the flashlight on the top of the altar.
Her eyes were wide with surprise. Reluctantly, he went back to the top of the steps and stood beside her. The moment he saw the symbol engraved on the top of the altar, he understood her reaction. In the Temple of Sobek, they had found a pattern of three octagons within circles, all interlinked.
Here there were four.
Drake looked up at Jada. A sheen of sweat made her face almost luminescent in the glow from the flashlight. It brought home to him how truly hot it had become inside the labyrinth and reminded him of the danger they were in. Volcanic vents, collapsed corridors, caverns where the sea had flooded in, and killers who would not hesitate to cut their throats or drag them off through secret passages to some unknown fate.
But they had found what they had been looking for all along.
“There really is a fourth labyrinth,” Drake said.
Jada’s lower lip quivered a moment, and he could only imagine the emotions flooding through her.
“I knew there had to be,” she said. “My father knew.”
At the mention of her father, Drake felt the ice in him melt in the renewed heat of his anger and his fear for Sully.
“Come on,” he said, leading her to the stairs.
They descended together, Jada guiding their steps with her flashlight. At the bottom, they hustled along the corridor. Drake kept an eye out for open doorways but was certain that the only ones that mattered would be the ones that led into what he now knew would be four worship chambers at the end of the hall.
Their footfalls echoed off the walls. Drake felt his hands clenching into fists. A thousand images of Sully strobed through his mind, memories of the man laughing at one of his own jokes, smoking his cigars, or looking up in triumph from some discovery, face covered in grime but eyes alight with childlike excitement. Sully had been like a kid on Christmas morning every time they found something the rest of the world had told them would never be found or didn’t exist at all. He often behaved as though the money was all he cared for, but Drake knew him better than anyone alive. Sully appreciated all kinds of treasure.
Where are you, old man? Drake thought.
But the only way to answer that question was to figure out who the hooded men were. Who were they working for? They had murdered Luka and Maynard Cheney and many others since to keep the location of the fourth labyrinth secret. That seemed clear. Drake had believed Henriksen’s denials—about those killings, at least. But the hooded men had taken Welch and now Sully. In both instances, the abductions had occurred only when the killers had realized they were about to be defeated. They had retreated to fight another day, apparently, and taken prisoners.
Though it did not slow him, he had the terrible feeling that the chambers ahead of them were empty and that even if they were able to find a way to open those recessed doors at the back of the chambers, the passages beyond also would echo with the stillness of the ages.
They heard the shush of water even before they reached the turn in the corridor. Dread curled tightly in Drake’s gut.
“Nate—” Jada began.
“No!” he said, sprinting the last twenty feet, almost outpacing the flashlight beam.
He rounded the corner, slowing before he would have entered the darkness ahead. He could feel the vastness, the emptiness of the cavern ahead and heard the ripple and wash of water, and then Jada appeared behind him and the scene illuminated by her flashlight surprised him. To the right, the labyrinth had collapsed. All that remained of whatever worship chambers had been there had fallen into a massive rift that had opened in the rock. Only the upper arch of a doorway was still visible to indicate that anything had ever been there.
But to the left, two worship chambers remained.
Drake ran to the nearest door and darted inside, taking care on the three steps to the chamber floor.
“Jada, the light!” he called, though she was right behind him.
She flashed the beam around the room, dispersing ancient shadows, and Drake realized he had been holding his breath. Now he swore. The writing on the walls was in Greek, the engravings of grapes immediately signifying Dionysus to him. He glanced at the massive slab of a door at the back of the chamber, tempted to test it, but instead he spun toward Jada.
“Let’s check the other one.”
The symbol on the altar upstairs had included four octagons inside four circles. That had to mean four labyrinths and one chamber down here dedicated to the primary gods of each. Two of those chambers had caved in and been eroded by seawater for more than half a century. The clues they needed might be lost forever.
Outside the last worship chamber, Drake hesitated a moment. As Jada entered, descending the three entry stairs, the shadows closed around him. He put a hand on the hot stone wall and watched her. For a moment, he thought he heard a rustle of whispers back in the corridor, but it might have been the undulating sea washing against the ruins down in the collapsed cavern.
Then he saw Jada turn toward him, a look of wonder on her face, and the only thoughts in his mind were of Sully. They had found it.
He ran down the three steps and joined Jada. Side by side they examined the walls of the worship chamber. The style of the painting on the walls was entirely different from anything they’d seen thus far, and he recognized the Far East influence instantly. The Minotaurs were there, but the most frequently repeated image was that of the flower that they had seen upon entering the labyrinth this morning. All around the images, on columns in the chamber, and on the octagonal altar at the center of the room were ancient Chinese characters.
“The fourth labyrinth—” Jada began.
“Is in China,” Drake finished.
They looked at each other and swore, sharing a chorus of profanity.
Drake followed Jada’s light as it traveled across the walls, and what he saw disturbed him profoundly. There were images of men being hung from wooden braces and skinned alive, being burned, and having long spikes hammered into their bodies. They were horrifying, all the more so for the paintings of the same flowers and other plants and tree branches decorating the hideous imagery.