The second and third hours found them peering beneath fallen stairs and investigating darkened alcoves. Throughout the fortress there were cracks in the walls, and in some places the floor had given way. They treaded carefully there, warily creeping through rooms Drake wouldn’t ever have dared to enter by choice. They all carried their guns, and Sully and Jada each had one of the industrial flashlights they’d stashed in their duffels before boarding the ship from Egypt. Sully’s kept flickering, the battery threatening to die, but so far it worked well enough.
Many of the breaks in the walls and floor opened into jagged nooks, and they examined those holes carefully, searching for any indication that there might be more open space below. In one of the less damaged corners of the fortress, Drake found a doorway with stairs leading downward.
“Jada, I need a light,” he called.
She and Sully abandoned their searches to join him, shining their flashlight beams down into the dark of the old stone stairwell. One part of the left-hand wall had fallen in, but Drake started down, careful not to get ahead of the pool of illumination. They managed to pick their way over the debris on the stairs and found a bit of hallway at the bottom. Only a bit, however, as the corridor to the left had been entirely blocked by a rockfall from above. The ceiling had given way there, and whatever lay in that direction was closed to them.
The right-hand side held much more promise.
If the door had been made of metal, they’d never have gotten through. The earthquake had shifted and buckled the frame enough that the lintel pressed down on the door from above. The whole frame seemed off kilter, slanted to the left, and the door was tightly jammed within the new angles of the frame, squeezed from the top and sides. But the pressure had been enough to split the wood down the middle. The boards were thick planks, but they had splintered and now the two sides of the door were held together only by thin iron bands on the top and bottom.
“I’m a little worried the whole thing’s going to come down on top of us if we try to break through,” Jada said.
Drake and Sully studied the doorway. Sully ran his fingers along the top of the broken door, where the ceiling pressed down onto it.
“I can’t promise you it won’t,” he said.
Drake scoffed. “Come on. You think this piece of wood is holding up the thousands of tons of rock above us?”
“No,” Sully said, frowning as he looked at the door. “But if it’s what kept the doorway from collapsing—”
He shrugged—“Ah, screw it”—and put all his weight behind a kick that made the wood shriek and dust sift down from above. Sully kicked the door twice more in rapid succession and then winced, backing away. He massaged his knee.
“You all right, old man?” Drake asked, smiling.
“Why don’t you give it a shot, wise guy?” Sully growled.
“I would’ve been happy to if you’d let me know before you started unleashing all your righteous kung-fu fury on the mean old door.”
Sully sighed heavily and stood, preparing to kick the door again. Jada covered her mouth, trying not to let him see her laugh.
“All right, grumpy,” Drake said. “Let me give it a shot before we end up having to carry your geriatric butt out of here.”
“My geriatric butt is still young enough to knock you unconscious,” Sully warned. Then he stretched his leg, still trying to work the kinks out of his knee. “But yeah. Have at it.”
Drake smiled, knowing it was a cocky grin but unable to help himself. He stared at the door, determined, and shot a hard kick at the split in the wood. It shrieked, the crack widening, but the thin iron straps were not going to give so easily. The impact on the door had shot up his leg hard enough to rattle his teeth, but he wasn’t going to let Sully know that. Drake kicked again, and it might have been that the stone lintel shifted a little, or it might have been the door frame. It was hard to tell.
He glanced at Jada, wondering if she was right to be concerned. If they hadn’t run out of fortress to search, he would have suggested that they keep looking, but this room was their dead end. If they found nothing beyond the door, they would have to start over. Drake would go over the various chambers and sublevels of the fortress even more carefully, and Jada would go with Sully into the village to start asking around about the earthquake and what might have been on the hill before the fortress was built.
“This is turning out to be a waste of a day,” he said.
Jada had her hair back in a ponytail, and when she frowned and crossed her arms, she looked like someone’s recalcitrant teenage daughter.
“Are you giving up?” she asked.
“Nah,” Drake said, deciding this was not the moment to suggest they call the taxi back and head somewhere for a drink. He slid the gun from the back of his waistband and handed it to her. “Hang on to that for a second, will you?”
As she took it, he drew a deep breath, glanced at the door, then ran at it. Even as he launched himself off the ground, he knew what a stupid idea it was. Trying to be Action Man always ended in bruised ribs and a bruised ego. His regret lasted a millisecond, and then his feet struck the crack in the door and it burst inward in a shriek of metal and wood.
Drake tried to put a hand down to break his fall but still rapped his knee hard when he struck the ground. He grimaced, sucking air between his teeth, and got up slowly, massaging the same knee Sully had been nursing a minute before.
“You’re no Bruce Lee,” Sully muttered.
“I got the damn door open,” Drake countered, dusting off his trousers.
“Do you two ever not bicker like children?” Jada asked.
Drake and Sully exchanged a look, and then both of them grinned.
“Not really,” Sully said.
“It’s always his fault,” Drake said. “I’m innocent.”
Sully rolled his eyes. “How is it I’ve let you tag along with me so many times over the years?” he asked, stepping through the wreckage of the door, shining his flashlight around a room that had been closed up for more than half a century.
“You? I’m the one who lets you tag along. But that’s going to change, trust me. Grumpy old man with stinky cigars.”
“Enough with the cigars,” Sully called back to them, his voice echoing off the walls of what seemed like a fairly large room.
“I agree,” Jada whispered to Drake. “Enough with the cigars.”
“I heard that,” Sully said.
“Good,” she shot back.
Jada handed the gun back to Drake, who returned it to his waistband as they followed Sully through the shattered door. As they passed over the threshold, Drake looked up at the buckled frame. He said nothing to Jada, but he didn’t like the look of it. The split door had been acting as a massive support beam, just as she had feared. Grit sifted down from cracks in the stone above the ruptured wooden frame. But it was only a single room and the last one open to them. If they left without examining it, they would always wonder.
“Suddenly I’m thirsty,” Sully said, waving his flashlight around.
As Jada swept her light across the ceiling and then aimed it forward, Drake understood the joke. They were in a medieval wine cellar. Unlike the rest of the fortress, this room had been carved right out of a section of ancient stone, part of the hilltop. The curved ceiling was built of stone blocks, and arched alcoves lined the walls. Old casks were stacked in several of the alcoves, but over time the wood had dried so badly that the seals had opened and the wine had long since drained away and evaporated, leaving only stains and a dull but distinctive odor.
“Nice. How come I don’t have one of these?” Drake asked.
No one answered. Jada and Sully had both begun searching the room. He figured they were checking the alcoves for secret passages, since there was no obvious sign of cracks or breaks in the cavern floor. The fortress had been built eons after the labyrinth would have been abandoned, but if this was the location of Daedalus’s third maze, it was entirely possible that whoever had built the fortress would have known about the labyrinth and constructed some kind of hidden access. And given that the wine cellar had been carved out—or plugged into an existing split in the rock—it made sense that if there were any kind of access, it would be through here. But with a single circuit of the room, half in darkness since he didn’t have a flashlight, Drake could tell that the builder of the fortress had given this room only one purpose, and that was storing wine.
“Guys, this isn’t the place,” he said.
“Maybe not,” Sully allowed.
But Jada kept looking, trying to haul a cask out of the way so she could shine her light behind it.
“Jada,” Drake began.
“Hang on,” she said.
He shoved his hands into his pockets. If she wanted him to wait, he would wait. She had more riding on solving this puzzle than he did. Drake glanced at Sully, who had started to examine the ceiling with his flashlight. There were cracks there that Drake hadn’t noticed upon entering, and he didn’t like the look of them at all.
“We should get out of here,” he said.
Sully kept searching. In the far corner of the wine cellar, a long, jagged crack—several inches across at its widest—had opened in the ceiling. Drake followed the beam, walking over for a closer look. He didn’t like it at all.
“Do you hear that?” Sully asked.
They all paused to listen. Jada had given up her search behind the cask and now stood at rapt attention. At first, Drake couldn’t make out any particular sound. In the cellar of the abandoned fortress, all noise seemed so far away, and he expected the keening of the wind or some muffled cry or perhaps footfalls in the hallway. Then he realized that the sound Sully had heard existed on a different level, a low groaning that seemed to come almost from inside his own skull.
No. It’s not in your head. It’s coming up through you. And it was. The groaning, grinding noise traveled up his legs from the floor, his bones vibrating almost imperceptibly.
He stared at his feet, anxiety rising, but then he noticed something that distracted him from his alarm. The wine casks in the alcove right behind him had long since given up their contents, and a small river of wine must have flowed across the floor, leaving a dark bloody stain on the stone when it dried up. Drake followed the zigzag course of the trickling wine stain with his gaze and realized it ended against the back wall.
“Sully, give me your flashlight,” he said.
“Nate, we’ve gotta go,” Sully said.
“Just for a second.”
Sully complied, and Drake used the beam of the flashlight to follow the dry river of wine to the wall. The floor had been slightly canted at the time the casks gave way. But there was no large stain near the wall to indicate the wine had pooled there, which made no sense at all.
Drake dropped to his knees, following the wine with the light, and then he saw where the wine had gone. Along the seam where wall met floor, though the wine cellar was mostly carved out of the rock, a split had occurred at the juncture of floor and wall. The spilled wine had not puddled there because it had poured into that crack and down into the hill below.
“Look at this,” Drake said.
“Nate,” Jada said worriedly, studying the cracks Sully had found in the ceiling.
“Just for a second,” Drake insisted. “The wine went somewhere. I know it could just be a fissure, that it doesn’t necessarily mean Luka was right about the labyrinth being here, but—”
“Of course he was right,” Jada said. “I mean, fathers think they’re right about everything, but when it came to his research, mine didn’t like to guess. He would hypothesize, sure, but if we found that reference in the journal, it’s safe to assume there were other clues and bits of evidence he gathered that we don’t know about. Maybe there’s even stuff in the journal but we just don’t know how to interpret it.”
Sully went rigid. A second later, Drake felt the tremor that had frightened him.
“Know what?” Drake said. “If there’s a way down there, it isn’t from this room. I vote we—”
The crack was so loud that it shut him up. The whole room began to rumble, and that was enough for Drake.
“Go!” he shouted, shoving Jada ahead of him.
Drake led the way with Sully’s flashlight. Jada twisted as she ran, shining the flashlight above them, and Drake couldn’t keep himself from glancing up to see the long cracks racing across the ceiling, opening wide spaces between the rows of stones that had been laid there centuries ago.
The noise grew so loud that it drowned out his thoughts, and just as he was about to shout for Sully to run faster, the roof of the wine cellar started to cave in. A piece of stone hit his shoulder, and again he shoved Jada, but harder this time. She careened into Sully, and the two of them fell through the open door, sprawling on the floor in the corridor, near the bottom of the stairs.
Drake swore as he saw the wooden door frame buckling further as the weight of the ruin above them shifted and the frame began to give way.
He dived through the opening just as the frame splintered and a huge slab of rock crashed down, barely missing his legs. The three of them scrambled backward, rising unsteadily, the corridor pitching around them. The slab seemed for a moment as if it would block the wine cellar from view, but then it tilted away from them, and they watched in astonishment as it fell into a hole where the floor of the wine cellar had been.
An entire section of the fortress above collapsed into the room and crashed through the floor, smashing it open in two places, rubble sliding down to half fill the gaping openness of the broad corridor beneath them.
Rubble shifted, and they coughed, covering their mouths and noses until the dust had begun to settle.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Sully murmured, shining his flashlight across the holes in the shattered floor.
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