“You can’t know that,” Olivia sniffed.
“Sure we can,” Drake said. “It makes sense. Dionysus, Poseidon—Sobek? The crocodile god? Daedalus would dedicate his labyrinth to whichever god was best loved where he wanted to build. Real estate developers do basically the same thing every damn day.”
Olivia and Henriksen studied each other a moment, and then Henriksen nodded. Once again, Drake felt sure they were hiding something. Not all of this stuff about Daedalus, because he sensed their excitement about the revelations that Yablonski’s translations had turned up. But they had a piece of the puzzle they weren’t sharing.
“It could be,” Olivia said.
“What else did your supergeek turn up?” Drake asked.
Corelli hit another key. More of the flowers that had been a part of the design throughout the labyrinth under the fortress and the Minotaur.
“There are about a dozen flowers this could be,” Corelli said. “The research team thinks it’s most likely something called false hellebore or white hellebore. They’re poisonous.”
Drake had been wondering why he’d take an interest until Corelli mentioned poison, and then he saw the thug’s eyes light up. The information had stuck with him because he had a fascination with ways to hurt and kill people. Drake had met his kind before and didn’t like the unpredictable quality they brought to the table.
Olivia typed a couple of things. Images flashed by, ending with the large painting of the Chinese hell—Diyu—that they’d found in the chamber.
“Obviously the labyrinth on Thera was begun later than the other three,” Olivia said. “It may be that Daedalus was moving his hoard from one to the next, abandoning the kingdoms he had duped. By the time the construction of the worship chambers on Thera had begun, he had obviously found a new sucker and a location where he could break ground on a fourth labyrinth. It would’ve been under construction while the labyrinth on Thera was still being completed.
“By the time of the eruption on Thera—which destroyed the Minoan offshoot colony there—”
“Atlantis,” Drake put in just to irritate her.
“—the fourth labyrinth was being built in a place called Yiajiang in southern China,” Olivia continued. “Yiajiang was a tiny settlement that grew and later became known as Yecheng.”
“It doesn’t really ring a bell,” Drake said.
Olivia turned to Henriksen. “Today we know it as the city of Nanjing.”
“That’s nuts,” Drake said. “I’ve been to Nanjing. The original city wasn’t built until—what, fifth century B.C. That’s a thousand years after Thera exploded.”
Olivia nodded. “That was my first reaction, too. But Yablonski confirms there were tribal settlements in the area all through that period. And would you care to guess what myth is consistent with every one of those settlements?”
Drake sat back in his chair, letting it sink in. He glanced at the hideous painting on the screen.
“You’re not as dumb as you look,” Corelli muttered.
Henriksen had his phone out. He punched a couple of keys, and a moment later he was barking orders. It took Drake a minute to realize that he must have a whole new batch of hired thugs either already in China or on their way and had just instructed them to rendezvous in Nanjing. A second later, Henriksen hit an intercom switch and the pilot answered. Henriksen gave him their new destination and then signed off, turning his attention back to the conversation.
“The gold was on Thera during the eruption,” Jada said, eyes narrowed as she worked it out. “Had to be. The labyrinth there was unstable but only partially destroyed. Once they’d finished the fourth labyrinth, they would’ve moved Daedalus’s hoard there. But what about Daedalus?”
Olivia clicked past several other images and stopped on one of the ceremonial jars, which showed the Mistress of the Labyrinth, a Minotaur, and what Drake realized was a funeral pyre.
“They burned him?” Drake asked.
“He died,” Olivia said. “His nephew, Talos, finished the design for the fourth labyrinth and altered it considerably. Beneath the painting of Diyu in the chamber, it is written that Talos wanted an army of slaves to build the labyrinth for him, and that would require overseers and protectors.”
“The Minotaur was supposed to be the protector,” Drake said.
“Of the labyrinth, yes,” Olivia replied. “But the Minotaur would’ve been like a guard dog. They’d have selected the biggest, most frightening warrior they could find.”
“So, not Corelli, then,” Drake said.
Corelli made a rude gesture but said nothing.
“Talos wanted what Yablonski translated as ‘Protectors of the Hidden Word,’ ” Olivia finished.
Henriksen looked at her. “Tell me about Diyu. What did the research team find?”
Olivia glanced at her laptop screen. “According to the myth—as opposed to the writings we found—the labyrinth was ruled by Yan Luo, sort of a god himself. Yablonski’s translations confirm that the Chinese worship chamber was dedicated to Yan Luo, the king of hell. On Thera, Daedalus had started to expand more with the idea of underground, multilevel labyrinths, and that matches up with the myth of Diyu, which was a maze of levels and chambers where souls were supposed to be brought and punished for their earthly sins. Once they had redeemed themselves, they could be given the Drink of Forgetfulness and return to the world, or so they were promised.”
Drake felt something unlocking in his mind, tumblers clicking into place. Jada must have sensed a change in him, because she gave him an odd look.
“Nate? What is it?” she asked.
Corelli, Olivia, and Henriksen were all looking at him. The airplane’s engine seemed louder than ever. Sudden turbulence shook them hard enough that his teeth clacked together, and it felt like the plane veered to the right. Drake chalked it up to the pilot correcting their course for Nanjing.
“Daedalus’s nephew wanted slaves. The people believed in hell. What if that’s the reason they chose this location and the reason they changed the design? What if they built hell and then abducted people, maybe drugged them and pulled them down there and made them think they were in Diyu? Who knows, maybe there really was some kind of Drink of Forgetfulness. When they grew too old to be useful, they’d drug them again and return them to the surface.”
Drake glanced around, the plane taking a bounce that jarred his knees against the underside of the table. He grimaced, then threw up his hands.
“Am I crazy?”
Henriksen frowned and cast a dark look toward the front of the plane, apparently irritated at the pilot. But then he turned back to Drake.
“That may not be as far-fetched as it sounds,” he said.
Jada rolled her eyes. “Everything about this is far-fetched. But all the pieces fit together too neatly not to be true.”
“Nanjing has a long history of stories about people vanishing. Three Jin princes and their courts went missing in the third century. During the Ming Dynasty, when Nanjing was the capital of China, hundreds of thousands of workers were brought in to rebuild the city, and there were stories that a demon lived under the old city gates and would eat the workers if it caught them out at night. Many of them supposedly vanished.”
“The Minotaur?” Jada asked. “Or whoever the Mistress of the Labyrinth made up to look like a Minotaur?”
“Could be,” Drake said.
“These guys in the hoods,” Corelli said. “If they’re still down there, how many do we think there are?”
Drake could see he was thinking in terms of combat. How many guns would they need to get past the hooded killers of the labyrinth, the Protectors of the Hidden Word?
“Are there still slaves?” Olivia wondered aloud.
Drake thought of Sully and Ian Welch, and he knew the answer. It enraged him to think what Sully might be going through—he didn’t want to think about the images of torture in Diyu—but it reassured him as well. If all of their conjecture held together, it meant that Sully was still alive.
Henriksen looked contemplative. “There’s a famous story about an army detachment—three hundred men—who disappeared while returning to Nanjing in 1939. They were expected, but they never arrived.”
“Maybe they did,” Drake said. “But they hit a detour.”
Olivia cried out as the plane shook violently. The laptop slid from the table. Corelli made a grab for it, but the aircraft pitched to starboard and he toppled after the computer to the floor. The large screen winked out as the laptop landed with a crack, Corelli sprawling on top of it.
Jada slid into Drake, who held on to the table to keep from falling from his chair. Henriksen stood, but the pitch of the plane threw him into the wall. He made his way to the door and flung it open. Drake could see into the vacant passenger cabin, and his stomach lurched as he got a better view of just how badly they were listing.
“What the hell is going on?” Drake asked, following Henriksen into the passenger cabin. They leaned on seats and braced themselves on the overhead compartments as they struggled toward the cockpit. The tall man had a small spot of blood seeping through his shirt where his knife wound had been bandaged.
“I don’t know,” Henriksen replied, eyes dark with resignation. “But this isn’t turbulence.”
They reached the front of the cabin. Henriksen began pounding on the door to the cockpit, shouting for the pilot or the copilot to let him in. Drake shifted his stance and felt something sticky under his boot. When he glanced down, he swore under his breath and tapped Henriksen, pointing out the narrow pool of blood trickling out from underneath the door.
“Back up!” Drake shouted, drawing his gun.
Henriksen moved aside, eyes wide, and covered his ears against the boom a gunshot would make in such a closed space. Drake tried not to think about the possibility of a ricochet and what would happen to the plane at this altitude if a bullet ripped through the aircraft’s skin.
Then he pulled the trigger three times, blowing apart the cockpit’s lock.
Drake kicked the door in, Henriksen right behind him.
The pilot lay dead on the floor, his slashed throat gaping like a bloody, mocking grin. The copilot held a disturbingly familiar curved blade, the same sort used by the Protectors of the Hidden Word. The guy looked Greek; he sure as hell wasn’t Chinese. For a second, Drake wondered if everything they had been assuming was wrong, if they really knew nothing at all about the threat they were facing and the people trying to keep them from finding the fourth labyrinth. Then he noticed the glazed look in the copilot’s eyes, his lost and distant gaze, and he knew the man was not in his right mind.
“Drop the knife or I will shoot you,” Drake said.
The copilot didn’t even acknowledge them. Instead, at the mention of the knife, he glanced down at the gleaming blood-streaked blade, eyes wide with recognition. His face slack and expressionless, he slashed his own throat.
“No, damn it!” Drake shouted, reaching for the copilot with his free hand.
The man crumpled to the ground, twitching, blood pulsing from his wound. The cut was deep and long, blood vessels severed. There would be no saving him.
Henriksen stared slack-jawed at the two dead men even as the hull of the plane screamed around them, air currents twisting the craft, dipping it even harder to starboard. Any second, the plane would begin to dive.
Drake tucked away his gun and dived for the pilot’s seat. He grabbed the stick and held on, trying to keep the plane from shaking apart around them.
“Please tell me you know how to fly an airplane,” Henriksen said.
Drake didn’t spare him a glance as he replied. “Does ‘sort of’ count?”
Tyr Henriksen seemed capable of wielding his wealth like a scalpel or like a club, depending on the circumstances. Either way, the man clearly was used to smoothing the path of his life with money. But no matter how rich he was, he could do nothing to hurry the Nanjing police. When a handful of Americans and a filthy rich Norwegian made an emergency landing at the local airport with two dead men on board, the cops were going to have questions.
Any other day, the boredom drilling into Drake’s brain would have had him on the verge of screaming. But considering that a couple of hours earlier he had landed a jet, talked in to the runway by air traffic controllers whose entire English vocabulary seemed to have been learned from old Tom Cruise movies, all he really wanted was a beer. Not that he blamed the air traffic controllers for not speaking his language—he was in their country, after all. But the first time one of them called him “Maverick,” he had pretty much assumed he was going to die.
Not dying, in contrast, had made his day.
They’d left Santorini just after eight p.m.—two in the morning, Nanjing time—and the flight had taken just under twelve hours even with the unfortunate murder/suicide interruption. Now looking out the windows of the airport security office, Drake could see the shadows growing long as the daylight turned late afternoon gold. The clock read just after five p.m.
Jada had curled up on a sofa and fallen asleep—adrenaline hangover, he figured. Corelli sat on an uncomfortable-looking plastic and metal chair across from Drake, hands in his lap. He looked like a waxwork dummy of a 1940s movie gangster, Jimmy Cagney’s bulkier brother. Or a robot someone had shifted into the idle position.
Through a glass partition, Drake could see Henriksen and Olivia standing in sullen silence as Nanjing police, airport security, and a dark-suited representative of the Chinese government argued with representatives from the Norwegian and American embassies. The copilot had been a paid assassin or a terrorist, the diplomats were insisting, bent on the murder of a prominent and wealthy businessman. Henriksen and his people were lucky to be alive; they shouldn’t be treated as victims.