Jack climbed onto the fountain’s edge with me. “There’s a crack here. It’s man-made, not natural.” He touched where the woman connected to the fountain. “I wonder whether we have to remove the statue.”
“Be careful,” I said.
He pulled on the top, and nothing happened. Then he twisted.
There was a click, and a groan. And then a screech from the far side of the fountain. We all hurried to it to find a trapdoor opened to a set of rough-hewn steps into the ground.
“Merde,” Elodie said in a hushed voice. The rest of our faces reflected the same sentiment.
“Do you really think it’s possible that the tomb of Alexander the Great has just been sitting right under here this whole time? Right in the middle of this huge city?” I whispered.
“If it’s this close to the water, that might be why radar hasn’t found it,” Jack said.
“If it’s this close to the water, whatever was under there might have been washed away,” Stellan countered, but he peered inside. He and Jack and Elodie had put aside their argument in the square when I made the discovery about the gardens, but I could still feel the hair trigger.
Stellan started down the steps. Elodie stopped him. “We’re still your Keepers. At least let the two of us go first. It could be dangerous.”
Stellan’s jaw twitched. I wasn’t sure whether it was because he was still annoyed at anything Elodie said, or because he still wasn’t used to being the protected rather than the protector. But he stepped back and gestured expansively toward the hole.
Jack and Elodie clicked on their flashlights and disappeared down the stairs.
“Anything?” I called after a minute.
“Not dead yet,” Elodie replied, her voice reverberating out of the tunnel.
Stellan glanced at me and I nodded, then slung my bag around my back. We took the first step down into what might very well be the biggest archaeological discovery of all time.
We assembled at the bottom of the stairs. I skirted a mud pit, and looked around as Jack shined his flashlight on the walls. We were in a wide dirt tunnel, stretching as far as we could see in either direction.
Elodie jogged off far enough that I couldn’t see her flashlight anymore, and came back reporting more of the same.
I scraped my feet along a patch of dry ground to dislodge some of the mud, and clicked on the flashlight app on my phone. “Should we split up?” I said. “Cover more ground?”
Elodie shined her flashlight on the walls. “Splitting up in the creepy underground tomb is how horror movies start.” We set out together, the only sound the tramping of our feet on packed earth.
I wondered how long this tunnel had been here. Had Napoleon left it just as he’d found it, from Alexander’s time? Was the dirt we were walking on first packed down by Order members two thousand years ago? I touched the cool, damp wall and rubbed the soil between my fingers..
Jack had walked ahead, running his light over the walls and ceiling of the tunnel. Stellan followed his lead. Elodie and I brought up the back, watching for anything they might have missed.
Elodie coughed again, and I couldn’t help but swing my flashlight onto her. “There’s two thousand years of mold down here,” she said, squinting against my light. I lowered it. “Stop looking at me like that.”
I fell into step beside her. “You’re not feeling any different, though? I know we thought—”
“If I have some strain of the virus that takes nearly a day to manifest, there’s nothing to be done other than finding the cure. So as I said outside, less worrying, more questing.”
“I’m just trying— Never mind.” I was trying to not feel like we were running out of time, in one way or another. Breathe, I reminded myself.
Elodie glanced down at me and sighed. “Listen. Everyone’s tense.”
“I know. You all have as much reason to panic as I do, and you’re not and I need to get it together.”
Elodie held up a finger. “No. I’m saying we’ve had years to learn to deal with all this. You’re new at it, and you’re doing fine.”
“I—” It had almost sounded like respect in her voice. “Still.”
Elodie sighed again, like the conversation pained her. “I heard what you said up there. None of this is your fault. Not the virus. Not what happened to your mother. I thought you should hear someone say it out loud, just in case that’s what the panic attacks are about.”
I winced and tried to hide it. “Besides that it’s my blood, I’m the one who had the chance to kill Lydia and Cole, and I was stupid and let them go. And then I spent the next few days not concentrating hard enough on protecting my mom. She wanted to leave. If we’d left, she’d still be alive. But I didn’t see what was coming. Probably because half my brain was too busy thinking about—” I glanced up at Stellan’s back, and past him, barely visible in the dark, Jack’s. I shivered with disgust at myself and lowered my voice more, even though they were far enough ahead they wouldn’t be able to make out what we were saying. “So yeah. It’s nice of you to say, but everything that happened is pretty directly my fault.”
Elodie touched tree roots snaking across the wall next to us. “You want to know why your mom died? Because Cole Saxon killed her.”
Our lights danced ahead of us. My hand felt sweaty around my phone. “Yeah, because I—”
“No.” Her voice was firm. “Because you nothing. It was because. He. Killed. Her. It was not your fault. You let the Saxons go because despite it all, you wanted to see the good in them. You spent some time brooding over which of those two you’d rather kiss because you’re human and your brain was exhausted thinking about dying all the time when up until now the only thing you’ve had to worry about is school exams. I mean—” She gestured ahead at Stellan. He bent to inspect something then stood again, his lanky form in a white shirt and his blond hair bright spots in the dark. “Whose brain wouldn’t prefer that to sorting out who your psycho family is planning to kill next?”