“What if he was?” Olivia asked.
“Seriously?” Drake scoffed. “You are an entire jar of nuts.”
Henriksen started to speak up, but he hadn’t gotten half a word out when there came a boom and rumble from far above them and the whole chamber began to shake. A jagged crack raced across the ceiling. Dust and debris rained down, and a jar fell to shatter on the floor.
Olivia screamed and pressed herself against the wall as Drake grabbed Jada and ran toward the doorway. Nico’s son looked around in fear and surprise but did nothing to stop them as they joined him in the corridor. They froze there, unsure what to do. The rumbling continued, a grinding roar from far off but loud enough that the muffled noise reached them despite how far they had come into the subterranean maze.
Olivia staggered toward Henriksen, and he put a protective arm around her.
“Is it the volcano?” Olivia shouted, looking at Nico.
The old Greek did not move. He seemed resigned to whatever fate held in store for him. His eyes were narrowed as he tried to make sense of the noise from above.
Then the rumbling subsided and the last bits of grit rained down from the ceiling. Whatever had happened, it was over as abruptly as it had begun.
“If it was the volcano, we’d be dead already,” the short, stocky thug muttered. “It’s the fortress.”
Henriksen flashed him a dark look. “Corelli?”
The stocky man—Corelli—looked at him, dark certainty in his eyes. “Explosives, Mr. Henriksen. The assholes brought the whole place down on top of us. We’re not going anywhere.”
“Oh, my God,” Olivia whispered. Her gaze turned haunted. “I can’t die down here.” She looked around at the walls as if they were about to start closing in.
Drake frowned, shaking his head. No way. He couldn’t even let himself wrap his mind around it. The hooded men had used explosives to destroy the rest of the fortress ruins, trapping them down here? They used daggers. They were killers from another era, all about stealth and secrecy. Explosives?
But there was no other answer. It wasn’t as if Henriksen would have trapped himself down here voluntarily.
“What do we do?” Nico’s son said, his Greek accent think and frantic. He stared not at Drake or Henriksen but at his father. “What are we going to do?”
“There are other ways out,” Jada said, turning to Henriksen. “Those hooded men—they got out with my godfather, and they didn’t go back the way we came in.”
Henriksen trembled, gaze shifting around the room. Drake thought others, watching him, might have thought he shook in fear, but he understood that the man was filled with anger at having been trapped like this—at having his will thwarted. At length, Henriksen aimed his flashlight at the huge stone slab of the door to the secret passage at the rear of the chamber.
“We figure out how to open that door.”
“And what if we can’t figure it out in time?” Olivia demanded.
“There’s another way,” Drake said. As they all turned to him, he pointed at Olivia. “Please tell me that camera is waterproof.”
Drake raced out of the Chinese worship chamber ahead of them. A crack had appeared in the wall of the corridor outside and chunks of stone had broken off the support pillars in the hall, but he knew that would be nothing compared with the damage they would encounter if they attempted to retrace their steps. They had only one chance of getting out of the labyrinth quickly—perhaps at all.
There had been four worship chambers in Daedalus’s original design for this junction in the secret heart of this labyrinth. Two of them had been destroyed, collapsing into the cavern formed by the earthquake of 1954. Now even more of the stone floor had calved off into the large cavern. The others followed Drake with their flashlights as he led them to the sheer ledge. Below, the sea churned in and out like a watery bellows.
“You can’t be serious,” Corelli said. “And you thought Olivia was nuts?”
Henriksen shot him a dark look. “Shut your mouth, idiot. We could all die down here.”
“Yeah. I’d like to avoid that,” Drake said.
Jada stood on the verge of the chasm. Drake took her arm and pulled her back a foot or two. Part of that ledge had given way already. After the explosion, cracks might have formed to make it even more unstable.
She did not try to pull her arm away but glanced up at him.
“How far do you think we’d have to swim underwater?”
Nico and his son were back in the entrance to the Chinese worship chamber, whispering quietly to each other. Corelli shook his head, scratching the back of his skull in doubt. But Henriksen’s eyes were lit with anticipation. Drake had to hand it to him; the man was motivated.
“There’s no way to tell,” Drake said.
“I don’t know how long I can hold my breath,” Olivia said, walking up to the edge and looking down into the roiling water.
“Look, the tide is low,” Drake said. “It could still be going out; I don’t know. But we’re not going to get a better shot than this for another twenty-four hours.”
Jada, Olivia, and Corelli all looked dubious. But Drake noticed the Greeks watching him and thought he saw interest and encouragement in their gazes. They were locals, and they looked as though they thought he might not be entirely crazy, after all.
“The camera,” Drake said, looking at Olivia. “I asked you before, is it waterproof?”
Olivia nodded. “Supposedly.”
“And there’s a waterproof pouch in my pack,” Henriksen said, gesturing to the backpack Corelli carried. With his wound, Henriksen apparently had given up the burden. “We can double up protection.”
“And if the camera’s ruined?” Olivia complained. “What then?”
“Then we come back,” Henriksen said sharply. “Or I do, with or without you.”
“We could try through those stone doors,” Corelli argued. “There’s gotta be a way to trigger them open.”
“If there were any easy way, we’d have found it in the Temple of Sobek,” Henriksen argued. He looked at Drake and nodded. “We go.”
Drake shook his head. “No. I go.” He made his way to the edge and sat down, taking off his boots and then stripping his khakis off. He balled up the trousers and stowed them in his pack, hesitated, and then decided to put the boots back on. The climb down would be jagged, and even underwater he’d hesitate to be barefoot. Despite their weight, he decided he was better with the boots than without them, although he knew he looked ridiculous in his boxer briefs and boots.
He swung his legs over the edge of the broken floor, then turned back to Henriksen. “You’re filthy rich, right?”
Henriksen nodded gravely. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
Of course, Drake thought. The guy wants treasure. The rich want to get richer.
“You’re a man who wants the best of everything. Who spares no expense?”
Drake smiled. “Good for you. Give me your flashlight. If you’re that particular, I’m guessing it’s waterproof.”
Henriksen walked over and handed his flashlight to Drake. His boot shifted and a piece of the cliff broke off, but he scrambled backward in time.
Drake turned to Jada. “I’m going to see if there’s a way through. It may not be far to the outside, or if it is, there may be air pockets along the way, even open caverns. I figure no more than half an hour. If I’m not back, you’ll have to move to plan B.”
“What’s plan B?” Corelli asked.
“Anything but dying,” Drake replied.
He checked that his pack was tightly zipped and then turned around and slipped over the edge of the shattered floor. There were handholds, but halfway down a chunk of stone broke off under his fingers, and he slid the last ten feet, turning as he fell. He turned his ankle on the debris below as he landed in the churning water at the edge of the cavern, and he bit his lip to keep from crying out.
“Are you all right?” Jada yelled, her voice throwing haunted house echoes all across the cavern.
Drake tested his ankle and found it only a little sore. He shone his flashlight upward to find the entire group, including the Greeks, staring down at him.
“I’m good,” he said with a wave. “I’ll be back.”
He told himself that they wouldn’t hurt Jada, that if they had any intention of doing so, they would have done it already. And then he dived into the water, surfacing a moment later. The flashlight beam illuminated a patch of the water, unaffected by being submerged, and he felt a sliver of relief. He shifted over to the left side of the cavern, where he could scrabble along the wall and his boots would not drag him down.
Drake kept his head above water all the way to the other side of the cavern. He kept his breathing steady, calming his heart, and then he ran out of room. The tide had lowered the water level in the cavern, but it wasn’t low enough that he wouldn’t have to swim underwater to find an exit.
He took a deep breath and went under, stepping away from the wall and letting his boots drag him down. With the flashlight out in front of him, he kicked forward, swimming as best he could despite the light in his hand and the weight of his clothes and boots. He blinked his eyes against the sting of the salt water, and only then did he realize how hot the water was. It came from the sea, pushing in and dragging back out again, but the volcanic vents underwater heated it while it churned in these caves.
As long as he didn’t boil or drown, he figured he’d be fine.
Kicking off the walls and bottom of the crevasse he had entered, Drake waved the flashlight left and right. Cave fish, unused to the light, darted away from the beam. He saw silver eels rippling in the ebb and flow of the current that tugged him along. For once, fortune was with him. The tide was still going out. He only hoped it did not turn before he went back to get the others.
What are you thinking? Just hope you make it back to them.
He could almost hear Sully’s gruff voice in his head, telling him to focus. His anger returned full force, and he had to tamp it down to stay calm and hold his breath.
Ahead, the dark water seemed to lighten, and he let himself hope. Clicking off the flashlight for a moment, he confirmed the glow, but as he swam toward it, he saw the gloomy luminescence came not from daylight but from cracks in the floor of the cave. As he swam over the pair of volcanic vents, he could feel the heat from below, and again he wondered how the people of Santorini could knowingly make their lives on the rim of an active volcano.
His lungs began to burn. Clicking the light back on, he kept swimming even as he began to realize that he would have no choice but to turn around. Searching upward with his free hand, he hoped to find an air pocket where he could get a sip of oxygen, but there was no space between water and stone.
Drake cursed the weight of his boots, wishing he had risked taking them off. They had slowed him, and now they felt heavier than ever. He wondered if they would be the death of him, if he would be able to make it back even if he turned around now. Though his thoughts had turned sluggish, he tried to figure out how far he had come, how far the cavern with the ruined worship chambers might be from the outside, but he knew it was foolish even to wonder. Any guess would be nothing more than that.
The pressure built in his head, and he felt his chest constricting with the need for air, and suddenly he understood that he’d come too far, that turning back was no longer an option. Forward was his only chance.
Even as the thought struck him, he saw light ahead yet again. It might have been more vents, but this time, when he clicked off his flashlight, he realized the glow luring him forward came not from below but above. Desperate for air, he swam another ten feet, then fifteen, and finally twenty-five, and then he could stand it no longer.
Chest burning, mind screaming, he kicked for the surface and emerged with a wheezing gasp into a much narrower cavern, perhaps as little as eight or nine feet in width. The afternoon sunlight that streamed in came from a crevice another twenty yards ahead, but beyond it, he could see a sliver of deep blue sky.
A grin split his face.
And then he realized he had to swim back and let Jada and the others know and then lead them through the underwater passage. His lungs hurt just from thinking about it. But they would be out, and that meant the real search could start. He would find Sully, and together they would expose the secrets of the hooded men to the world so that the murderous bastards couldn’t get their hands on anyone else. He thought about the paintings in the Chinese worship chamber, the hellish images of torment in Diyu, and he felt more determined than ever.
Drake clung to the wall, catching his breath for the swim back.
This time he would take off his boots.
He couldn’t help but wonder if, when they finally got back up to Akrotiri village, the taxi driver would be waiting.
Turbulence jostled Drake from an unsettling dream. He had been standing in the rain at Sully’s funeral, the only person without a black umbrella. Among the sea of faces he could see through the veil of dream and rain were many of the less savory characters he and Sully had encountered over the years. Thieves and cutthroats, smugglers and corrupt politicians—all of them had gathered to pay their respects. Jada stood by the grave, her magenta bangs now dyed a bloody crimson, and the priest who stood at the head of the gathering, one hand on the coffin, was Luka Hzujak.
The priest had looked at him, dry beneath his huge black umbrella.
“When you lie down with snakes, you’ve gotta learn to hiss,” the priestly Luka had said, his voice like a whisper in Drake’s ear. “But that doesn’t mean you have to slither.”
He had laughed then, and the entire gathering of mourners had laughed with him, their voices the shush of rain pattering on umbrellas. Drake, soaked to the skin, had not found it funny. Sully had used that line about snakes with him ten years earlier, the morning they had paid a ship’s captain in Valparaiso to carry them and their cargo home to the States. The man had had a huge cache of drugs on board, also headed for the USA, and Drake had needed to be persuaded not to throw them overboard. Sully had reminded him that if they didn’t want the captain to interfere in their business, they couldn’t interfere with his.