“Nate? This is a surprise. Are you in London?”
“No, Maggie, listen—Sully’s in trouble,” Drake said. “I know you two ended kind of messy, but I need your help.”
He heard a deep intake of breath, and when she spoke again, there was a tremor in her voice.
“This isn’t cheating-at-cards sort of trouble, is it?”
“Would I be calling you if it was?”
“I guess not,” Maggie said softly. “You’re right, Nate. It ended messy between Victor and me. In fact, messy probably doesn’t begin to cover it. I wish he was a different sort of man, but I can’t blame him for that. How can I help?”
Drake let out a breath, relieved. He gave a slight nod to Jada.
“Nanjing,” he said. “Something old. Maybe underground. Catacombs, maybe, or a fortress or palace.”
“You’re in China?” Maggie said. “What are you doing in—”
“Now’s not the time. When it’s all over, I’ll call you and tell you everything. Right now I just need to know what you can tell me.”
Maggie hesitated, thinking. “Well, you’re not going to find real catacombs there. The rest—I mean, fortresses, palaces—there are all sorts of things. But underground, the only thing that comes immediately to mind is the palace of Zhu Yuanzhang, who you might know as the Hongwu Emperor. He was the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty. The palace is supposed to be under the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, inside the Treasure Mound.”
Drake froze, his heart thrumming in his chest along with the limousine’s engine. “Treasure Mound,” he repeated, wanting to be sure he’d heard her right.
“Well, there isn’t any actual treasure there,” Maggie explained. “It’s a reference to the emperor’s tomb and whatever might have been buried with him.”
“Why do you say it’s supposed to be there? Don’t you know?” Drake asked.
“Nobody does for sure. The mausoleum is a complex of twenty buildings that took decades to complete. The Treasure Mound is a hill in the midst of the complex, which is east of the city. Archaeologists have used geomagnetic surveying equipment to confirm the presence of tunnels under the mound. Turned out the whole mound was covered with large bricks from the Six Dynasties, dated to the fifth century, which suggests there was another structure there at some point.
“In any case, the team analyzing the Treasure Mound found tunnels that go right to its heart. Part of the mausoleum complex is a structure called the Soul Tower, the base of which goes fairly deep into the mound. They were able to map the tunnel, and it leads to the base of the Soul Tower and some kind of opening, but couldn’t go any further.”
Drake frowned. “What do you mean they couldn’t go any further? Was there a cave-in?”
“I’m not clear on some of the details,” Maggie said. “I found the research fascinating, but I haven’t written about it or taught it in class, so I can only tell you what I remember, which is that some kind of room was found but no real entrance. Still, the archaeologists working at the mound were convinced they’d found the actual burial site of Zhu Yuanzhang.”
Drake gazed out at the glittering lights of Nanjing. “I don’t get it. Why didn’t they excavate?” he asked.
“It’s against the law.”
“The only one of the Thirteen Imperial Tombs of the Ming Dynasty that’s been excavated is the tomb of Emperor Wanli in Beijing, and that was back in the 1950s. After that, the government forbade the excavation of any of the other ‘underground palaces.’ ”
Drake was silent as he felt puzzle pieces clicking into place in his mind. He glanced at Jada and Olivia, then at Henriksen.
“Nate, are you still there?” Maggie asked.
“I’m here. But I should go now.”
“Is that helpful at all?”
An image flashed through Drake’s mind of the hooded men dragging Sully down into the darkness of the labyrinth of Thera.
“I sure as hell hope so,” he said.
“So do I,” Maggie replied. “When you catch up to Victor—”
“Give him my love.”
Drake could feel years of regret in those four words, but he could offer her no comfort other than to promise that he would pass the message on. In a way, it was a promise to himself as well, a vow that he would see Sully again and be able to tell him that Margaret Xin sent her love.
He reiterated his assurance that he would tell her the whole story when he could and then ended the call and handed the phone back to Henriksen.
“What was all of that?” Henriksen asked.
“What’s this ‘Treasure Mound’?” Olivia added.
Drake leaned back in his seat, feeling the soft leather crinkle beneath him. “What would you say if I told you the tomb of the first Ming emperor is under a hill not far from here but archaeologists have never been inside it because the Chinese government has forbidden them to excavate it?”
Henriksen and Olivia stared at him. In the front seat, Corelli swore.
Jada smiled. “I’d say somebody in the government is either well paid to keep a secret or too afraid not to.”
“I don’t know,” Olivia said. “It doesn’t prove anything.”
“Maybe not, but it’s a start,” Drake said. “And you can bet there’s no subway underneath it.”
Henriksen seemed reluctant to go along with Drake and Jada’s insistence that his men not kill the guards at the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum. Corelli, in contrast, seemed actively disappointed.
Seven hours had passed since Drake’s phone conversation with Margaret Xin, and Henriksen had used the intervening time wisely. Two separate mercenary groups had arrived to report for duty, a total of sixteen men and women willing to take orders without questioning things such as morality and legality. They were introduced to Drake and Jada as employees of private security firms on loan to Phoenix Innovations, but that was just a fancy way of saying they were ex-military personnel willing to put their training to use in the service of whoever could afford to pay.
Henriksen’s latest thugs came complete with an arsenal of weapons that would have made the Nanjing police officers who’d questioned them at the airport go into cardiac arrest. When Drake had asked for guns for himself and Jada, Henriksen had started to speak up, on the verge of telling Perkins, the ranking officer, not to give them weapons. Then he apparently had remembered that they were all still pretending to be on the same side and gave Perkins the nod.
It had underscored the question that had been on Drake’s mind for a while. Henriksen knew they weren’t looking for the same result from this mission. Yes, Drake’s first priority was Sully’s safety, but he and Sully had promised Jada that they would follow through on Luka’s last wish and make sure the world learned the secrets of the fourth labyrinth. If Henriksen planned to loot Daedalus’s hoard, how did he expect to hide that theft from the public?
The obvious answer was that he didn’t. That meant, of course, that he also didn’t intend to let the secrets of the labyrinth get out. To prevent that, he’d have to kill Drake, Jada, and Sully, and what better place to do it than down in the labyrinth, where they probably would never be found?
But if Henriksen hadn’t killed Luka and Cheney, was he a killer? Did he really intend to come to some compromise with them? Drake knew only one way to find out. It gave him a small sliver of hope when Henriksen ordered his people not to kill the mausoleum guards. They were bound and gagged and several were knocked unconscious, but in the morning they’d still be alive, and that boded well.
They were almost certainly in the right place. In addition to their suspicions after what Margaret Xin had told Drake, Yablonski had come through with another small fact that solidified their belief: the three hundred soldiers who had vanished near Nanjing in the 1940s had been camped on Dulongfu, a hill at the foot of the Zijin Shan Mountains.
The site of the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum.
Now in the moonlight, they raced north through the grounds of the mausoleum toward the Soul Tower and the Treasure Mound beyond. On a curving path, they passed carved stone figures of animals both real and mythical and then figures of humans. Crossing several small bridges, they reached a red stone gate and then hurried across an open plateau where the bases of temple pillars were all that remained of one of the original buildings. Another bridge and then a tunnel, and at last they approached the Soul Tower, an enormous stone structure that abutted the Treasure Mound.
Yablonski’s research team had dug up articles and reports from the archaeology team that had confirmed the location of the tomb, so they didn’t have to scour the mound for the location of the tunnel. Henriksen had a map that pinpointed it exactly, and Corelli and Perkins led them all directly to it. The hired guns were stealthy; Drake had to give them that. They moved in relative silence even carrying weapons and packs, and the wind was the only sound up there on the hill. With the trees all around the perimeter of the mausoleum complex, even the late night noises of the city could not reach them. It felt to him as if the night were holding its breath.
A chain-link gate had been installed to block the tunnel entrance. Perkins gestured to a grim-faced brunette woman, who hurried forward, slid off her pack, and pulled out a set of folding bolt cutters. In thirty seconds, she had the chain cut, and Perkins caught it so that it wouldn’t clank when it hit the ground. The gates screeched a little as they were dragged open, and then they were pouring two by two into the tunnel.
Absent the wind, they were swallowed by the ancient stillness of the place. Footfalls, no matter how stealthy, seemed to scrape the walls all around them, echoing off the floor. Drake glanced at Jada and saw the anticipation on her face. His heart raced, and he knew that hers must be hammering. It was still possible that they might be wrong, that the labyrinth would not be found beneath the emperor’s tomb, but he felt the rightness of it and a certain menace in the air. It might have been the menace that truly convinced him they had reached their goal.
Flashlights searched the darkness at the end of the tunnel, where it ran into the base of the Soul Tower, underground. Four of the mercenaries guarded their flank, lights and guns aimed back toward the entrance.
“Mr. Drake,” Henriksen said, gesturing for him to come forward.
Drake and Jada joined Henriksen and Olivia at the horn-shaped opening in the base of the Soul Tower, then slipped through and into a small oval chamber. The walls were constructed of stone blocks, unmarred by paintings or engravings, and the chamber was small enough that with the four of them inside it felt claustrophobic.
Flashlight in one hand, Drake started testing every block with the other hand. He pressed edges and crevices, and Henriksen followed suit. Jada and Olivia joined in. Olivia tried setting her shoulder against a wall, perhaps thinking the whole thing might move. They found no trace of the genius that had gone into using counterweights and perfect balance to create hidden doors and secret passages in the other labyrinths. Unless they were missing something, it was just a room.
“Damn it,” Olivia muttered. “I was so sure.”
“We all were,” Henriksen said.
Jada shook her head. “No. We’ve got to be missing something. Otherwise what purpose does this chamber serve? It’s no ritual space. They built a tunnel to get to it. It’s absurd to think there isn’t something we’re missing.”
“The geomagnetic survey showed crevices in the mound and in this tunnel,” Henriksen said. “Maybe there’s an entrance near one of those. Whether the labyrinth is here or not, there’s no question the emperor’s tomb is, so we’ve got to find a way in.”
Drake shined his flashlight along the base of the wall, all around the chamber, frowning deeply. He examined the floor, which had been made of the same stone blocks as the walls. Some of the stones seemed to go beneath the walls, as though they continued on the other side, which made sense if the entrance was in one of the walls.
He got on his hands and knees and ran his fingers along the crease between floor and wall on the north side of the small room. The wall definitely sat on top of the stone blocks that made up the floor. Flashing his light around, he realized that the same was true on the eastern and southern walls.
“You’ve got something,” Jada said. “What is it?”
Drake stood and rushed from the tiny chamber, nearly colliding with Corelli, who had been standing just outside, watching the proceedings.
“Watch yourself, moron,” Corelli growled.
“Back up,” Drake snapped at him. He waved his light at Perkins and the goon squad. “All of you, give me room.”
They obliged, and he stood just outside the room, using the flashlight to study the horn-shaped entry and the walls around it. The stones just above the point of the horn were a variety of shapes, as if they were remnants of quarried rock put into place solely because they would fit together. But six inches above the point was a stone that had a roughly octagonal shape. It wasn’t perfect, but studying it now, he felt sure the shape could not be an accident. At first none of them had noticed because they had been searching for an engraving, as they’d found in the other labyrinths.
Drake looked into the chamber again, stared at the floor, and gestured toward Jada.
“Come out of there,” he said. “All of you.”
Jada and Henriksen did as he asked, and he stood aside to let them pass. Olivia frowned. She didn’t seem to like the idea of Drake telling her what to do. After a moment, though, she followed her boss out of the chamber. For the moment, they were all still sharing the same goal.
He turned to Perkins and Corelli.
“Give me a boost?”
Corelli sneered. “I’ll give you a boost, all right.”
P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com