Drake padded quietly toward the door, gun at the ready. Sully used his flashlight to wave Welch back. The archaeologist shuffled backward past the altar, looking faintly ridiculous with his unruly hair and glasses.

Drake wondered if he held the vase because of its value or for comfort, the way a toddler clutches a stuffed animal.

That rustle of cloth came again. Drake frowned, all his attention on the open doorway now. He and Sully moved in, one on either side of the three stairs that led up into the darkened antechamber. They had guns in one hand and flashlights in the other, trying to figure out if there was anything for them to shoot at or if they had been spooked by nothing. They kept their flashlights aimed away from the opening, hoping that whoever lurked out there would show themselves. Jada hung back, just in front of the altar, her gun and flashlight both pointed at the floor.

Drake glanced at her, on the verge of issuing a snarky remark about how useless it would be to shoot a bullet into the floor. But when he glanced back at the doorway, he caught the shadows moving, one separating from the others, and whipped his flashlight beam up to spotlight the open doorway.

Something dashed by. Someone. No question now. They weren’t alone.

“Sully,” Drake said.

“Yeah.”

More motion, deeper into the antechamber, shadows within shadows. Drake whipped his flashlight beam up, illuminating the man dashing across the opening so quietly that he might have been a ghost. Only he wasn’t a ghost; they had seen him before. He was one of the killers who had stopped Jada from being abducted and killed by the hit squad Henriksen had sent to do it. Hooded and veiled, the man froze, glancing into the worship chamber at them.

They told us to go home, Drake had time to think.

The assassin narrowed his eyes and then leaped into the room, drawing a short curved blade as he raced at Sully. Drake and Sully fired at the same time. Though Drake’s bullet missed, Sully’s shot took the assassin in the chest, and he staggered backward, wheeling toward the steps. For a second, Drake thought he would run out of there as fast as he’d jumped in, but then the wounded, bleeding man spun and lifted his blade, about to hurl it at Drake.

Jada shot the assassin twice, once in the thigh and once in the abdomen. The blade whickered out of his hand with the speed of a boomerang, but she’d ruined his aim and the curved dagger clanged off the altar inches from her. He fell on his back, rolled, and began to drag himself out of the worship chamber.

“Don’t let him get out!” Sully barked.

“Him? I’m worried about us getting out,” Drake said.

“Where did he come from?” Jada asked.

Other rustling noises came from the anteroom, and Drake swore loudly, pressing himself against the wall beside the stairs.

“There are others!” he said. “Of course there are others!” It was their luck.

A scraping noise came from behind him. For a second he thought Jada was the cause, but then his mind sorted out the distance and the weight of stone on stone and realized the sound came from farther back. He glanced over his shoulder and saw that Welch’s flashlight had died. In the gloom at the back of the chamber he saw shadows that did not belong, then heard the scuffle of a struggle. He swung his flashlight beam over in time to see another of the hooded assassins dragging Ian Welch through the partially open stone door at the rear of the room.

The archaeologist’s hands twitched and dropped the jar, which shattered on impact.

“Welch!” Drake shouted, turning to Sully. “They’re getting in through the other door!”

Jada rushed toward the stone door, beating Drake there. He wanted to tell her to back off, afraid they’d drag her in as well, but she wouldn’t have listened and he didn’t have time to get the words out before she was already there. She aimed her flashlight and gun together, not firing for fear of hitting Welch, and started to take a step through the gap in the door.

“Dr. Welch!” Jada called. “Ian!”

A hooded figure rushed from the darkness and grappled with her, pushing her gun away, trying to twist it from her grasp. Drake shot him in the shoulder. The attacker spun, blood spraying from the wound, and staggered back against the wall. In the shadows where Welch had vanished, others were moving. Welch was gone—maybe dead—and they had to get the hell out of the labyrinth before they joined him.

“Come on!” Drake shouted. “Jada, let’s go!”

They bolted, racing around the altar on either side and then toward Sully and the three steps to the exit together. Sully had his back to the wall on the left, but when he saw them coming, he led the charge, rushing up the stairs into the antechamber.

Drake heard the first shot but didn’t see it. Then he and Jada were out of the Thera worship chamber. The assassin they’d shot lay on the floor of the anteroom, bleeding but alive, but he was the least of their concerns. Two others were in the anteroom, and Drake saw motion off to his right. Several other hooded men were emerging from the darkness of the other doors.

“Look, if you want us to go home that bad, we’ll go home!” he shouted, swinging his aim over to cover them.

Loud footfalls came echoing along the tunnel through which Drake and his companions had arrived. A glance showed flashlight beams bouncing off the walls. They were about to have even more company.

A woman’s voice shouted in Italian and then in English.

“Who’s there? Ian, what the hell is going on down here?” she called angrily.

Hilary Russo, Drake thought. But her deputy, Welch, wasn’t going to answer. He was a captive of those hooded men or had become just another part of the labyrinth’s history, another thing that needed to be excavated from this place.

There were a lot of voices and a lot of footfalls, and Drake had the idea that at least a dozen people were headed their way. Maybe that was more people than the assassins were ready to kill at the moment or more people than they could risk letting live after having seen them down there in the secret corridors under the labyrinth. Drake and Sully and Jada weren’t even supposed to be there. Who would believe them?

One of the hooded men Sully and Jada were aiming at lunged, and Sully shot him.

“Go!” Sully shouted, and started to run.

Trust saved Drake. He couldn’t see if the way was open, couldn’t tell if Sully had done any real damage to the guy he’d shot or if they had the second or two they needed to get clear, but he and Sully had been friends since Drake was a kid. They might not have always gotten along and sometimes they frustrated the hell out of each other, but Sully had been his mentor for almost twenty years. In a moment like this, they had to trust each other or they’d both have been killed years ago.

Jada rushed into the tunnel, Drake right on her heels. He flashed his light ahead of them with his left hand even as he covered the assassins coming from the Knossos and Sobek chambers with the other, arms spread wide.

He could hear Sully to his left, muttering, “Go, go, go.” A swift glance showed him that the one Sully had shot had fallen but still lived, and Sully had his gun aimed at the face of the other assassin, who gazed back coolly in the semidarkness of the anteroom. The only light remaining in that junction room came from Sully’s flashlight, and Drake wondered how the assassins could see so well in the dark.

It occurred to him that these were not ordinary men. He thought of the swiftness with which they killed Jada’s would-be abductors in the parking lot the night before and realized that the assassins were no longer trying very hard. As he glanced back and saw Sully racing after him into the tunnel—Sully fired a bullet into the darkness as if for punctuation—he understood that they were not following. It might have been the number of people or the possibility of defeat that made them vanish back into the secret heart of the labyrinth, but whatever their reason, Drake thought they would be all right now. They would be safe, for the moment at least.

The brunette woman running toward them had to be Hilary Russo.

“Sully, gun,” Drake murmured, noticing that Jada already had put hers away as she saw the people running toward them, waving flashlights in their faces.

“Who are you people?” Hilary, the dig’s chief archaeologist, demanded. “Was that gunfire?”

Jada collapsed into her arms and hugged her tightly, then pushed her back and stared at her. The look on Hilary’s face could only be shock.

“There are—there are people back there!” Jada said, glancing frantically from Hilary to the dark length of tunnel behind them and back.

“That’s not possible! Where’s Ian Welch?” Hilary demanded.

Drake and Sully surveyed the others. Past the brightness of the flashlights it was difficult to make out faces, but he was sure he’d caught a glimpse of Olivia Hzujak’s hair, and the tall blond silhouette had to be Henriksen. But there was no cameraman, and most of the people seemed to be workers from the dig.

“He was with them,” Guillermo said, stepping forward. “He came down here with them.” He pointed. “She’s supposedly Luka Hzujak’s daughter.”

Hilary glanced behind her, and now it was clear who she was looking at. “What about it, Mrs. Hzujak? Is this your stepdaughter?”

“Olivia!” Jada cried, and rushed to her stepmother’s embrace. She hugged the older woman tightly, and the beautiful mask of concern Olivia wore cracked with surprise.

That was when Drake realized he’d underestimated Jada. He had thought that she had snapped, that panic and hysteria were setting in. But the whole thing was an act. The girl was hustling them all. He wanted to kiss her. If Sully wouldn’t have frowned on it, he might have. Though at this point it would have been more like kissing his sister.

“Jada, are you all right?” Olivia asked, and if she was feigning concern, her acting skills were as good as her stepdaughter’s. Olivia pushed her back and stared at her face and shirt, which were dappled red from when Drake had shot her attacker. “Whose blood is that?”

“Where is Ian?” Hilary demanded. “Who was shooting?” She glared at Sully and Drake. “And who are you two? Not from the damned Smithsonian, I know that much!”

“Dr. Russo,” Drake said, hoping for profound sincerity even as he tried to remember the false name he’d been using. “I’m Nathan Merrill. We’re friends of Jada’s, trying to help her figure out if there’s any connection between her father’s recent trip to Egypt and his murder.”

“Murder? Oh, my God!” Hilary said, and she snapped an incredulous glance at Olivia, wondering why she hadn’t been told of this before.

“You’ve got three worship chambers at the end of this corridor,” Sully said. “There are stone doors on the other side of each. When we found the secret passage, Dr. Welch let us investigate it with him, but we weren’t alone down here. There were other people here.”

“That’s impossible!” a voice piped up from the back.

Sheepish but worried now, ginger-haired Melissa moved forward, pushing past the towering blond statue that was Tyr Henriksen. They were clustered together now, and his face was illuminated. He stared at Drake with ice blue eyes, but he said nothing. If he wanted Jada, Sully, and Drake dead, he’d have to kill everyone else there as well and then everyone up top. He might be a vicious son of a bitch, but he still had an international corporation to run, and covering up a mass murder could have gotten messy—but he sure looked like he wanted to shed some blood.

“No one else went down,” Melissa said. “I was by the entrance the whole time.”

“There’s gotta be another way in, then,” Sully said. “Those doors in the worship chambers—people came out of them and attacked us. They’ve taken Dr. Welch.”

Hilary Russo stared at him in obvious disbelief. “That’s a lie.”

“I’m sorry, but it’s not,” Drake said. “They dragged him through one of the doors, and—”

But she wasn’t listening anymore. Hilary rushed along the corridor, picking up speed, with Guillermo and a couple of others behind her. Drake wished they could stay and help look for Ian Welch, but if the man was there to be found, his colleagues would find him. Drake, Sully, and Jada needed to get the hell out of Crocodilopolis before things got even messier for them, at which point they would not be allowed to leave. Drake didn’t relish the idea of spending time in an Egyptian prison.

“We need to get Jada some air,” Sully said to Olivia. “You understand.”

Olivia seemed to be practically vibrating with indecision. She glanced at Henriksen, who had his hands clenched into fists. Melissa and a couple of other dig employees had stayed with them, and Drake thought it was touch and go for a moment as to whether he might start breaking people’s necks with his massive hands.

“Of course,” Olivia said, but her eyes were on Henriksen, keeping him in check with her pleading gaze. “I’ll come up with you.”

“No,” Henriksen snapped, the first time they’d heard him speak in his crisp, deep voice. “I need you here.”

Olivia hesitated. Drake studied her, hating that he couldn’t read her. Was she really a victim in Henriksen’s thrall, or was she in on the whole thing and simply trying to prevent him from doing anything stupid? Did she care about Jada at all or care that her husband had been murdered? Had she helped murder him?

“Fine,” Olivia said. She gave Jada a little push. “See you outside. Don’t go far.”

“Yeah,” Drake said, glancing at Henriksen. “We’ll stick close.”

Drake held Henriksen’s icy stare as he backed away, cognizant of the weight of the gun he’d tucked into the back of his waistband and hoping he didn’t have to use it in such close quarters.

“What did you find?” Melissa asked as they walked past her. “What’s down there?”

P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com

***