At the sight of that symbol, Henriksen could not hide his elation. Olivia did not smile, but Drake thought she looked flushed and heard her exhale as if she were trying to steady her breathing. Corelli’s face gleamed with anticipation. Drake worried that they were allowing themselves to be distracted and were letting their guard down. But as long as Perkins and his goon squad were with them, he figured someone was making sure they weren’t going to get dragged into the shadows and have their throats cut.
He nudged Jada. “You all right?”
“Is that a joke?” she asked, one eyebrow arched.
“I’m not in a joking mood.”
“That’s a first,” she said.
After a few more steps, Jada bumped lightly against him. “I’m just wondering how it all got turned around.”
She didn’t have to explain what she meant. Right about then, he figured she must be wondering what her father would have said if he could have seen her exploring the fourth labyrinth with his traitorous wife and his rival.
“It’s not over yet,” he said. “What matters is how it all turns out.”
Jada nodded, but her knitted brow showed she was still troubled. “That’s not all that matters.”
He knew she was right, but it would give her no comfort for him to agree with her, so he said nothing. At the bottom of the steps, a tunnel opened to the left, and they entered a complex series of alleys, forks, corners, and dead ends that vexed them for nearly half an hour until Jada forced them all to stop and just listen. It wasn’t what they heard that showed them the right path, however, but what they felt. Air moved through the labyrinth—this strange combination of natural caverns and man-made maze—and by following the drafts they found a side passage off what they’d thought was a dead end and were on their way again.
When they reached a sloping tunnel that seemed more crevice than passage, the path downward nothing but jagged edges of stone that would barely function as steps, there was some doubt that they had chosen the right path, but they forged ahead nevertheless. They had to descend as if climbing down a ladder, seeking footholds among the sharp striations of stone. Drake clutched his flashlight in one hand and used the other to steady himself, knowing a fall would mean torn flesh and broken bones. He scraped his left knee and right forearm and nearly shattered his flashlight when he momentarily lost his footing.
“Where the hell are they?” Henriksen asked aloud as they clambered down through the treacherous terrain.
No one asked who “they” were. Henriksen wasn’t the only one who had expected to fall under attack by now, but Drake didn’t let himself surrender to the temptation to think that the Protectors of the Hidden Word had abandoned their duty. Unlike the others, which had the dry stillness of age, this labyrinth felt alive to him. Aware. They were there, he felt sure.
In the narrow confines of that tunnel, clambering on the sharp, jutting stones, he felt almost alone in spite of the string of people ahead of and behind him. Drake had rarely suffered from claustrophobia—being trapped beneath tons of earth in the cave-in of an Aztec tomb seven years earlier had been a rare exception—but his heart began to hammer in his chest, an edge of panic gnawing at him. His body ached for open sky and fresh air the way it did when he went diving and stayed under the water too long, and he didn’t like being jammed into a place so vulnerable to attack with no way to defend himself.
When he heard the commotion ahead and below—the thump of boots and clatter of slides being racked back on assault weapons—his need to get out of that sharp-toothed tunnel only grew. He could hear the soldiers muttering, and when he glanced down, he realized he was almost there. Olivia had been right in front of him, and he saw her carefully extricating herself from the jagged rocks and stepping into an open chamber. Corelli and Henriksen and the mercenaries on point were already out of the tunnel.
“What is it?” Jada asked from behind him.
Below, he heard Olivia suck in a harsh breath, and he glanced down again, watching as she swung her flashlight around.
“Diyu,” she said, almost to herself.
“It’s hell,” Drake replied.
But it wasn’t until he reached the bottom safely and emerged into the chamber—a natural cave with jagged walls and a peaked ceiling like some kind of primeval chapel—that the reality of it struck him. There were stone altars with the carved faces of Chinese demons, and along one pitted wall, massive iron hooks had been driven into the rock face. The wall and floor were stained a horrid copper brown, caked with centuries of spilled blood and viscera. The place breathed with the anguish of tortured souls. If it was not quite an abattoir, it was the nearest to such a place Drake had ever entered.
“Oh, my God,” Jada said as she came in behind him.
Drake flinched at the sound of her voice. The other mercenaries came behind her, some of them voicing their own surprise but most too hardened to the worst cruelties of humanity to react. Drake hoped he never became so callous.
“Look at this,” Corelli said, pointing to a sacrificial altar.
Sluices had been carved around the edges of the table to carry blood away. It ran like a gutter down the side of the altar and across the floor, into a spill-off cut into the far wall, next to the cave’s exit.
Horrified as he was, Drake felt ice fill his veins as he remembered the map on the wall in the Chinese worship chamber on Thera.
“This is just one room,” he said. “There are others—maybe a lot of others.”
“Nate, look at this,” Jada said.
He turned to find her shining her flashlight on a wall painted with horrible images of demons and torture. There were hulking men with horns and brutish faces—Minotaurs—and a woman with a veil over her face who had to be Diyu’s version of the Mistress of the Labyrinth. Despite the Chinese characters painted on the wall and the difference in visual style, the most significant difference Drake noticed between these images and those they’d seen before had to do with the huge chalice or vase in the mistress’s hands. Seven slaves knelt in a semicircle before her as if awaiting an anointment. They were all reaching for the chalice, and she seemed to be extending it, as though willing to hand it over.
Henriksen and Olivia came up behind them. He glanced back at them and saw Olivia nod once, as if she’d just confirmed an earlier suspicion, and then she turned away, uninterested. Henriksen lasted only a moment longer before he, too, had moved on.
The mural hadn’t surprised them at all.
“Is that supposed to be Daedalus’s honey?” Drake asked.
“That was my thought,” Jada said.
Massarsky sidled up next to them. “Come on. We’re moving out.”
Drake spun to see that he was right; Perkins had ordered his people forward. Henriksen and Corelli were vanishing through the exit from the torture chamber already, and Olivia followed. Like the soldiers, she had her gun drawn and now held it at her side. He wondered if seeing this bit of Diyu had unnerved her. She didn’t seem easily shaken.
“Thanks,” Jada said.
Massarsky nodded, but he wasn’t paying any attention to them. He and Garza and a few others were covering the flank, which meant they couldn’t proceed until Jada and Drake got moving. Drake reached for his own weapon—a ten-millimeter Glock that carried fifteen rounds—and unsnapped the guard on the holster. He hesitated only a moment and then drew the gun.
“What are you doing?” Jada whispered.
“Making sure I’m ready when the moment comes.”
“You’re certain there’s going to be a ‘moment’?”
Drake nodded. “There always is.”
He and Jada hurried after Olivia, ducking through the low exit. The others had gotten a distance ahead, and only the scuff of their boots and the bouncing beams of their flashlights gave away their location in the long tunnel. Drake picked up the pace. He heard Massarsky and the others behind them, equipment jostling as they, too, made better time.
The tunnel ended at a narrow ravine perhaps a dozen feet across at its narrowest and four times that at the widest. Its walls rose precipitously. High above, a glimmer of moonlight showed through, and when they shone their flashlights upward, they could just make out the shapes of thick roots that had burrowed their way through the stone. The walls a hundred feet above them were caked with moss and vines and dotted with the white blossoms Drake thought of as cave hellebore.
Narrow ledges had been carved into the walls above and below, walkways that zigzagged up toward those blossoms and down toward the dark depths of the ravine. The flashlights picked out jagged rocks far below.
“There was a bridge here,” Corelli said.
Flashlight beams illuminated the remnants of wooden supports that once had held up a footbridge that must have spanned the gap.
“Are you kidding me?” Olivia said. “We have to walk all the way down and then up the other side. On that?”
She pointed out the rocky ledge with her flashlight. The walkway couldn’t have been more than three feet wide.
“How do we do that?” she continued.
“Carefully?” Jada suggested.
Her stepmother cast her the darkest glance Drake had ever seen pass between the two women.
Drake glanced across the ravine, where a wide, diagonal split in the wall showed what he assumed was the door into the rest of the labyrinth. There were probably other torture chambers in the warren of tunnels that he presumed they would find on various levels as they climbed down into the ravine and up again, but the fact that a bridge once had existed suggested that their path lay ahead.
“We could jump,” he said.
Henriksen scoffed. “It’s too far.”
Drake wasn’t sure about that. The ledge on the other side looked wider, and it was a good six feet lower. If it weren’t for the fact that a fall onto the rocks below almost certainly would kill them, he would have been willing to gamble that with the right footing and trajectory, he could have made it.
“So we walk,” Drake said.
Olivia gave a pensive sigh and then raised her gun and took aim at Drake’s chest.
“Well, we do,” she said.
As Jada reached for her holstered weapon, Drake started to bring his Glock up to shoot her. All over the ledge there was movement, guns coming up, flashlight beams dancing around. Corelli let out a cry that sounded like a celebration.
Tyr Henriksen stepped between Olivia and Drake.
“Olivia, what do you think you’re doing?”
It seemed to Drake that she had removed her mask at last. The smile that lifted the corners of her mouth was cruel and lovely and tinged with madness.
“Finally disabusing you of the notion that you’re in charge here,” she said, raising the pistol and aiming it at Henriksen’s face.
Drake blinked in surprise even as Jada let out a small gasp. Neither of them had seen this coming. Apparently, Henriksen hadn’t, either. He stiffened, lifted his chin, and glared at her, then tilted his head toward his bodyguard.
“Corelli,” he said. “Try not to kill her.”
With a laugh, Corelli shuffled over beside Olivia, but his gun was trained on Drake and Jada. “Nothing to worry about on that score, boss.”
Even as Henriksen absorbed this shock, the mercenaries took aim as if they were a firing squad, but all the guns were pointed at Henriksen, Drake, and Jada.
“You incredible bitch,” Jada said. “You killed my dad, after all, didn’t you?”
Olivia gazed at her with regret. “I know you’d like to believe that, but I actually really liked Luka. Sweet man. In the end, he was too innocent for me. I wanted him to be a part of this, but when he went off on his little crusade—well, somebody was going to kill him. It just didn’t end up being me. The protectors got to him first.”
“You knew they existed?” Drake asked.
“Not until Luka turned up dead. Then when I heard about Dr. Cheney, well, it was obvious someone didn’t want us to find this place.”
“Us,” Drake echoed.
Corelli smiled. “Us.”
Drake narrowed his eyes, feeling his hand tighten on the grip of his gun. “You came after us in New York. In the van. You set Luka’s apartment on fire.”
“I coordinated,” Corelli said, correcting him. He glanced at Perkins. “You can hire anyone to do anything if you know who to call.”
Drake turned to Perkins. “If those were your guys, they were pretty sloppy.”
“Not my people,” Perkins said. “This is my first time working for Mrs. Hzujak.”
Henriksen winced at the words, this confirmation that Perkins was taking orders from Olivia instead of from him.
“I’m the one who hired you, damn it!” Henriksen snapped at the mercenary commander. “How the hell is she paying you?”
“What you offered them is nothing compared to a cut of what’s waiting for us in the treasure chamber,” Olivia said, her eyes alight with greed and zealotry.
“It’s a calculated risk,” Perkins admitted. “We consider it an investment.”
Massarsky shifted uncomfortably. When Drake glanced at him, the huge ex-soldier shrugged.
“Yeah.” Drake laughed drily. “No hard feelings.”
“Enough,” Olivia said, tilting her head toward Jada. “Get the girl’s pack.”
When Corelli came forward, keeping his weapon trained on Drake, Jada started to shuffle away from him, dangerously close to the edge of the ravine.
“Give it to him,” Drake said. “She wants your father’s journal and the maps. They’re useless to us down here. Luka never made it this far. If he guessed the fourth labyrinth was in China, he didn’t write it down. There’s nothing in there that can help us.”
Olivia laughed. “Nothing can help you.”