“We almost died,” Jada said, unsteady on her feet.
“Yeah,” Drake said. “On the other hand—”
Jada shone her light into the rubble and the ancient corridor below them. “Yeah. The labyrinth of Thera.”
“It better be,” Sully said. “Or we’ve done all this damage for nothing.”
“All we did was open a door,” Drake reasoned.
“Says Captain Dropkick,” Sully rasped.
“Guys, can we just find out if this is the labyrinth, please?” Jada asked.
Sully put an arm around her. “Come on, kid. You know we entertain you. It’s like going on a Mediterranean adventure with a couple of vaudeville stars.”
“Or the bickering brothers I never had,” Jada mused.
Drake crouched at the edge of the pit that had opened where the wine cellar had been moments before. Dust still lingered, a low cloud misting above the rubble. The huge piece of masonry that had been above the door made a sort of ramp down into the more treacherous wreckage, but the fortress had ceased its trembling. The rubble shifted a little, bits of rock sliding down to find a new resting place.
“Jada, can I ask you a question?” he said.
Drake turned from the rubble and arched a mischievous brow. “Are you old enough to even know what vaudeville is?”
“Hey. Don’t knock vaudeville,” Sully protested.
“I’m not. I’m saying you’re old.”
Sully sat down beside him and slid his legs over the shattered edge of the floor. “I’m not old. I’m seasoned. And for your information, I wasn’t alive in the vaudeville era. I’ve just seen a lot of old movies.”
Drake smiled but said nothing more. He couldn’t really tease Sully about old movies because he loved them, too.
“Are we really doing this?” Jada asked.
For a second, Drake thought she was still talking about their bickering. Then he saw that she’d come up to stand behind him and Sully and was staring down into the pit. So much of the roof had come down that in places they could see the blue Aegean sky. But Drake was much less interested in what had been opened above than he was in what had been revealed below.
Sully pushed off the edge of the floor.
“Damn it, Uncle Vic, be careful!” Jada said.
Drake figured all three of them were holding their breath, but the huge slab of stone did not shift as Sully slid down it. When he reached the rubble, he waited as Drake slid down after him. The stone was warm under Drake’s steadying hands. At the bottom, he glanced up at Jada.
“This is really stupid,” she said as she sat down on the shattered edge of stone that had once been the wine cellar’s threshold.
Drake and Sully grinned at each other.
“We’ve never let that stop us before,” Drake said.
Jada slid the length of the slab, and Drake caught her at the bottom. The three of them exchanged weighted glances, none of them wanting to admit just how dangerous their next step would be. Under their feet was hundreds of tons of stone both from the part of the fortress that had given way and from the buckled floor of the wine cellar. But the opening at the far end of the debris called to them. There were secrets there, and that was what they’d come for. None of them would have turned back now.
They picked their way carefully across the rubble. Several times, the stone shifted under Drake’s feet, and he nearly toppled over before Sully or Jada grabbed him. He did the same for them, and soon they were sliding down a slope of debris, loose stone cascading around and beneath them.
Drake pitched forward and jumped the last few feet down into the ancient corridor below. As Jada and Sully followed suit, he glanced up into the ruin that once had been the wine cellar, peered through the openings above into the blue sky, and wondered how difficult it was going to be to climb back up the rock pile with it all giving way beneath them. He thought it might be like Sisyphus trying to roll his stone uphill. He figured they had four or five hours before the taxi driver returned. He hoped that would be enough time to figure a way out of the ruins.
“All set?” Sully asked.
Jada took a deep breath, tested her flashlight, and shone it down the throat of the dark corridor ahead. “Set.”
Drake would have been happier if he’d had a flashlight, too. But the ones Sully and Jada were carrying provided plenty of illumination. He had a lighter with him in case he needed to make a torch in an emergency.
“Follow the yellow brick road,” Drake said softly, his words slipping down the corridor and coming back in a whispery echo.
The stones rustled behind them, settling further. It occurred to him that as unstable as it was, the rest of the fortress might collapse while they were underground, trapping them. He tried to push the thought away, but it lingered in the back of his head, haunting him.
The corridor led them north about a hundred paces, sloping downward the whole way, and then turned west, where it ended abruptly in a steep set of stairs. Small cups had been carved into the stone at intervals. Drake rubbed the inside of the bowl and then licked his finger. His nose wrinkled with distaste.
“Lamp oil,” he said. “Nothing left, but these were lights.”
As they descended the stairs, Jada and Sully used their beams to illuminate the walls and ceiling, searching for any art or ornament and finding nothing. They had found some kind of subterranean complex built into the hill beneath the Akrotiri fortress but no indication they were in a labyrinth.
That did not come until they were deeper.
There were flowers over the door. Not actual flowers but an engraving in the stone depicting a small array of large-petaled blossoms. Sully kept his light on the engraving, and they all studied the flowers for several long seconds.
“What are they?” Drake asked.
Sully grunted. “I look like a florist?”
They both looked at Jada.
“What?” she said, shrugging. “Because I’m a girl I’m supposed to know botany? I have no idea what they’re supposed to be, aside from flowers.”
Drake tried to play off their presumption, ready to make some excuse, but Jada gave him a look that warned him not to try and then went through the arched doorway.
“What?” Sully said. “Girls like flowers.”
Drake shook his head. “You’re such a Neanderthal.”
“And you’re what, Mr. Sensitive?”
“Come on!” Jada snapped at them.
Their bickering was really starting to get to her, which amused Drake no end. It was also, he hoped, distracting her from her grief and from the danger they were in and from the burden of guilt they all felt for Ian Welch’s abduction and possible murder. They were all on edge, aware that they had to at least accept the possibility that the hooded men who had been waiting for them in the labyrinth of Sobek might be lurking down here already.
“She loves us,” Drake whispered to Sully.
Sully nodded sagely. “How could she not?”
The corridor jagged to the left, then to the right, and in a dozen steps they came to a junction with three possible avenues ahead.
“Looks like we’re in the right place,” Drake said.
Jada stared at the three doorways, shaking her head. “This isn’t going to work. We need rope—something better than bread crumbs to leave a trail. Otherwise we could be down here forever. We could get so lost, we might die before we found our way out.”
Drake shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
“How do you figure?” Sully asked.
Drake lifted his shirt and tugged a cloth packet from his waistband. He unwrapped the cloth napkin he had taken from a room service tray left in the hotel corridor to reveal Luka Hzujak’s journal and maps, folded tightly and all tied together with shoelaces he’d purchased in the small store in the lobby.
“I didn’t think we should leave this in the room for sneaky ninja guys or Henriksen’s thugs to find if they searched it. Also, y’ know, maps.”
Sully frowned. “What the hell good will those do us? None of them are for this place. No one’s been here in forever.”
“He’s right,” Jada said. “My father was working with Maynard Cheney, studying labyrinths in general, including the design of what had already been uncovered at Crocodilopolis. His sketches in the journal refer to the maps in some places. It might not tell us every turn to take, but it could be the Rosetta Stone as far as figuring out the logic of this place.”
Sully shone his light on the journal while Drake flipped pages. Jada unfolded a map and then a second, finding what she wanted.
“Here,” she said, pointing to a junction in the labyrinth map that mirrored the one they were standing in. “It’s not the middle door. That’s going to double back into one of the other two. We’d be going in a circle.”
“If you’re right,” Sully told her.
Drake flipped another page, then went back three. “She’s right,” he said. “Luka has half a dozen variations on this, and only one of them has the middle door being the right one.”
“How do we know this isn’t one of those instances?” Sully asked.
“I don’t have all the answers,” Drake replied. “And neither did Luka. If it’s gotta be trial and error, then that’s what it’ll be.”
Sully nodded. “Okay.” He went over to the corner of the right-hand door, where the stone seemed worn by time, and kicked at the rough edge of the frame, knocking several chunks of rock to the floor.
“Just in case,” he said, holding up the biggest shard of stone. “Which way?”
“Let’s try this one first,” Jada said, shining her light into the left side tunnel.
Holding the journal open in his hands, Drake followed her. Sully seemed thoughtful but said nothing as he took up the rear. Drake studied the doorway, then looked along the corridor, which seemed to turn left again just ahead. Behind him, Sully paused to scratch something into the wall just inside the doorway.
“Your initials?” Drake asked.
“Hey, at least I didn’t write ‘Sully was here.’ ”
“But you were tempted.”
Sully shrugged. “Of course.”
Drake started to turn, but something caught his eye. He reached out for Sully’s arm and pulled him over, making him shine the flashlight beam at the wall just above the door. Something else had been inscribed there, and it wasn’t Sully’s initials.
“Jada!” Drake called.
She hurried back to join them, merging her light with Sully’s. In the bright splash of illumination, they could all see the small diamond shape engraved into the stone above the door.
“Do you think that means we chose right?” Jada asked.
Sully stepped back out into the junction, but Drake had a glimmer of memory. In the light from Jada’s flash, he scanned pages of Luka’s journal again, and a smile crept across his face. He tapped the same page he’d looked at before, showing several variations on the three-choice junction. In each instance, Luka had drawn a small diamond shape on two of the possible avenues but not the third.
“Look at the map,” Drake said quickly.
Jada set it on the floor and unfolded it. They huddled over it, studying it in the light.
“The middle path isn’t marked,” Sully called from the junction.
“He’s drawn them here, too,” Jada said, tapping a fingernail on the map, where her father had inscribed tiny diamond shapes in many places.
Drake got up and went out to the junction with Sully. He snatched the flashlight away and went into the middle tunnel, searching the wall above the door. Then he went into the third tunnel.
“Yes!” he shouted in triumph.
Sully and Jada stood in the junction watching him.
“So the diamond marks the path?” Sully asked.
“No,” Drake said, gesturing to the stone above the doorway. “It’s here, too. Only on the inside. No way to see it from out there.”
“But if it’s on two of them, how do you—” Sully began, and then he grinned, nodding. “Oh, I like that. The right way is the one that isn’t marked.”
“Exactly,” Drake said, glancing excitedly at Jada. “Your father had it figured out. But we never would’ve realized it if we’d only run into forks in the labyrinth. If it was one or the other, the diamonds wouldn’t have helped. But this has three choices, and if two are marked, that’s gotta mean that the absence of a diamond is what shows the right path. Which means we were wrong. It’s the middle door.”
The three of them stared at one another, smiling in triumph.
They hurried through the middle door and had gone about twenty feet when Sully halted abruptly.
“Wait, wait,” he said, running back to the entrance and scrawling his initials just inside the door. “Just in case we’re idiots.”
Though the difference was gradual and subtle, there could be no mistaking the fact that their travels through the labyrinth were taking them deeper. Drake had the impression they were also moving farther away from the fortress. In Egypt, they had explored only a small section of a sprawling maze that might have been the size of a town. The temple at Knossos had thousands of rooms, and he suspected that they were inside a structure just as vast as that one. There were small chambers off the tunnels and corridors; some apparently were for storage, whereas others appeared to have been used for rituals. Several had frescoes on the walls that were neither Egyptian nor Greek in style but a merging of both. Those rooms surprised them, as did the presence of the flower motif they had encountered at the entrance, which was repeated in many of the small rooms.
In the tunnels, however, there were no decorations, no frescoes, nothing that might be used as a landmark for those lost in the maze. Only those side chambers might have given an intruder clues, but although their contents might be different, their design was consistent from one to the next.
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