“God, when did you become so cold-blooded?” Henriksen asked.
“Says the man who’d stab his own brother in the back to get what he wants,” Olivia said.
“Never literally,” Henriksen said. “I’ve never killed anyone.”
“Too bad you missed your chance,” Olivia said.
Perkins cleared his throat. “Can we just get on with this? It’s a long climb down and up again, and we’ve gotta do it again coming back.”
Olivia shot him an irritated look, then gestured to Corelli.
Corelli lifted his gun and pressed the barrel against Drake’s temple. “Drop the gun, dumbass. You’re slightly outnumbered.”
He snickered. That, more than anything, was what flipped the switch inside Drake.
“Dropping it,” he said. “Just don’t talk anymore. Your breath is terrible.”
Corelli shoved the gun against his temple. Drake held his gun away from him and bent down slowly, lowering it to the ground.
“This guy,” Corelli said, glancing over at Olivia. “Can I kill him now or what?”
The second his gaze shifted away, Drake knocked his arm back, throwing off his aim, and kicked him in the chest. Corelli staggered backward, arms pinwheeling, right over the edge of the ravine. He screamed on the way down and pulled the trigger twice, but the bullets vanished in the darkness above them.
“Son of a bitch!” Olivia shrieked, striding toward him, leaving Garza and another mercenary to cover Henriksen.
Perkins and Massarsky were on Drake instantly, guns pointed at his head, but Drake wasn’t stupid. He didn’t try picking up his weapon, just laced his fingers at the back of his neck.
“Come on, guys,” he said. “Tell me you weren’t tempted to do that yourself. I mean, I know you’re going to shoot us, but that clown had to go first.”
“Nate?” Jada said quietly.
His bravado failed when he heard the crack in her voice. But he didn’t regret what he’d done. Corelli had been about to kill him, which meant he’d bought them a couple of extra minutes of life. And now Olivia had no sidekick, no one to share her plan, no one else who knew where to find what they were looking for. Perkins had just become her best friend, but he cared only about the gold. Olivia was alone, and she deserved that.
“What are you waiting for?” Olivia snapped, glancing at Perkins even as she kept her weapon aimed at Henriksen.
“What’s wrong, Olivia?” Henriksen said. “Afraid to get blood on your own hands?”
Drake had been fighting his instinct to like the guy. But since they were both about to be shot, he figured that put them on the same side, and he couldn’t help but admire the big Norwegian’s fearlessness.
“Just waiting for your order,” Perkins said.
Fourteen mercenaries and one coldhearted witch, all with guns aimed at them. Drake felt a terrible sadness grip his heart as he thought about Sully and realized that whenever they caught up with him, they were going to kill him, too.
He stood, ignoring the mercenaries who shouted at him not to move, and reached out to take Jada’s hand. Hell, they were family. She squeezed, and he glanced at her.
“Now I know how Butch and Sundance felt,” she whispered, but her smile was strained and her eyes were damp with unshed tears.
“Do it,” Olivia said. “Kill—”
Massarsky shouted and backed away from the ravine, swinging his assault rifle around to aim at the edge.
“What the hell?” Garza yelled, and pulled the trigger.
All eyes turned toward the ravine as hooded men clutching metal claws dragged themselves onto the ledge, moving inhumanly fast. Garza’s bullets punched through one of them, sending blood spraying out into the gap, the body tumbling down onto the rocks below. Gunfire echoed off the walls of the ravine, mercenaries shouted, but the Protectors of the Hidden Word were silent as they attacked, killing and dying in equal measure.
One of them lunged at Drake, his blade whistling through the shadows in a wide arc, aimed for his throat.
The gunshot made Drake flinch even as he tried to dodge the killer’s knife. But the hooded man fell short, his lunge losing momentum, and he crashed to the rocky ledge at Drake’s feet and twitched once, then went still.
Jada stood behind him, gun in hand, looking like she might throw up. Her weapon was still holstered; she had managed to pick up his Glock. Amid the chaos of gunfire and voices, bloodshed and brutality, he darted forward and snatched the gun away from her. A hooded woman—one of the first females he’d seen among them—raced up, metal climbing claws like brass knuckles on her hands, ready to slash him to ribbons. Drake held his breath when he took aim and shot her in the chest.
They had no time for hesitation, but it would haunt him. Even in self-defense, killing haunted him. Almost always, he thought. Corelli might have been an exception.
With a glance around, he spotted Olivia up against the wall of the ravine, gun held out in front of her, firing at the hooded killers still swarming up from over the ledge. But Perkins and Garza were nearby, and they had firepower to spare. The semiautomatic weapons’ fire ripped at the air, the echoes punishingly loud.
Drake grabbed Jada’s hand and dragged her back into the tunnel that led back up to the torture chamber. For a moment, they were out of sight of both sets of killers. Drake turned to her, put a hand under her chin, and forced her to look up at him. Her gaze was far away, and he worried that she was in shock.
“Jada, listen to me.”
“I shot that man.”
“If you hadn’t, he’d have gutted me,” Drake said. “You saved my life. But we’re both on borrowed time here. Whoever wins out there, they’re going to kill us, so we’ve gotta run for it.”
She blinked as if coming awake. “If we try to go back, they’ll catch us. We’ll never make it to the surface.”
Drake shook his head. “No, no. I don’t want to go back.”
Jada glanced at the end of the tunnel and saw one of the hooded men straddling a mercenary on the ledge, slashing at the ex-soldier’s throat with a curved blade. Arterial blood sprayed in an arc.
“We can’t walk down the cliff paths. We’ll never get past them, and even if we did—”
“There isn’t time,” Drake said, his heart like a tiger trying to smash free of its cage. He thought his chest might burst, it was hammering so hard. “There’s only one way we’re surviving the next hundred seconds or so.”
One of the hooded men slipped into the tunnel, spotted them, and cocked back a hand in which he clutched a throwing knife. Drake shot him twice. Twelve shots left in the Glock’s magazine before he’d have to reload. The killer and his blade hit the rock floor at the same time. The man dragged himself to his knees, blood raining from his chest, and reached for the knife.
It was Jada who put the third bullet in him.
She had her own gun out now, the two of them staring at that opening, waiting for more of the killers to come for them. But through the opening, they could see the flashlight beams slashing the darkness, and enough of that light bounced off the walls that they could make out the dim outline of the tunnel across the ravine.
Jada stiffened and then spun toward him. “You can’t be serious. If we fall short, we’re dead.”
Drake holstered his gun. “We don’t jump for it, we die anyway.” He shoved his flashlight into his backpack, working fast, zipped it, and slipped it back on. “Sully’s waiting for us, kid.”
Jada swore, snapping her gun back into its holster. She kept swearing over and over again, the profanity like a mantra as she jammed her flashlight into her backpack and then turned to look at him defiantly.
“It’s gonna be—” he began.
Jada punched him in the arm. “Just shut up and run.”
Drake felt a strange, mad surrender then. Not to death but to fate. An old song floated into his mind, one Sully played from time to time: Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. He’d never understood just how true that was until this moment. Free, exhilarated by his terror and hope, he took Jada’s hand, and they ran to the tunnel’s end and onto the ledge. Their hands unclasped just as they reached the edge, and then they launched themselves full speed across the twelve-foot gap.
For an eyeblink, Drake felt weightless, with the jagged rocks below and the slivers of moonlight high above. Then gravity took hold, and they began to fall. He windmilled his arms to keep balanced in the air, and then he slammed into the far wall, cracking his head against it. He slid to the ledge, then spun around and saw Jada land on her belly, legs hanging out over the yawning darkness below. Her fingers scrabbled for purchase and found none, and he knew she was going over, knew she would die broken and bloody.
He caught her wrist, throwing himself backward so he wouldn’t be pulled along with her. He slammed the heel of his boot against the remains of a support that once had held up this end of the missing bridge. The rocky ledge scraped his back and legs as he dragged her up on top of him, and for a moment they lay there, hearts racing together. Then a stray bullet struck the wall above them, sending tiny shards of rock flying, and they were in motion. Drake rolled Jada off him, and the two got to their knees and turned to look at the scene playing out across the ravine.
Half a dozen hooded men were still scaling the wall below the opposite ledge. Many lay dead, crumpled in bloody heaps around the mercenaries and protectors who were still trying desperately to murder one another. Olivia remained pinned against the wall, with Perkins putting himself between her and the hooded men. At least five of the mercenaries were down, wounded or dead—he figured probably the latter. The Protectors of the Hidden Word didn’t seem like the wounding kind.
Henriksen let out a primitive, furious roar and grabbed hold of the hooded man who’d been trying to cut him open. The big Norwegian, a blond silhouette captured in the illumination from someone else’s flashlight, slammed the hooded man against the wall twice, then a third time. The echo of cracking bone mixed with the sounds of death and battle, and then Henriksen hurled the man into the ravine.
Then he spun and stared right at Drake.
“He’s looking at—” Jada started.
“Us,” Drake agreed, standing up and waving. “Jump! It’s your only shot!”
“What are you doing?” Jada demanded.
But even as she spoke, Henriksen stooped and snatched the gun from a dead mercenary, slung it across his back, and retreated a couple of steps before sprinting for the edge.
Olivia screamed and pushed past Perkins, taking aim and firing while Henriksen was airborne.
The Norwegian crashed into the wall and almost fell backward into the ravine before Drake steadied him. Only then did Drake realize that Olivia had missed. Across the gap, she shrieked in anger and started shooting at the three of them. There were still hooded men trying to get to her, to cut her throat, but she was more concerned with trying to make sure they died first.
Perkins knocked her back against the wall, saving her from a blade that whistled through the air and would have caught her in the chest. But the action cost him, and as he turned to take aim, two of the hooded men descended on him, their blades rising and falling, blood spattering the lens of his flashlight so that its beam was darkened with spots of shadow that had been his life, now extinguished.
Still, the odds had changed. Assault rifles tended to have that effect. The last few hooded men came over the ledge and were shot before they could make it a handful of feet. The mercenaries were going to win this, but either way, Drake knew that he, Jada, and Henriksen needed to be gone.
“We can’t stay here,” he said.
Henriksen risked one last hate-filled glance at Olivia, and then all three of them rushed for the tunnel entrance near the supports of the long-ruined bridge.
“Go get them!” Olivia screamed at someone. “Get over there and kill them!”
As Drake ducked through the tunnel entrance, he thought it was Massarsky’s voice he heard behind him.
“You’re out of your mind, lady. No one’s jumping that. You’d have to be crazy or out of choices, and we’re neither. They can’t get out without going past us.”
There was more, but as Drake, Jada, and Henriksen hurried into the twisted knot of tunnels on the other side of the ravine, the voices were muffled and they could hear only gunshots.
Henriksen had no flashlight, but Drake and Jada lit the way ahead. They made wordless progress, coming to junctions and doors, narrow passages and dead ends, as they had before, but they had become veritable experts in navigating through labyrinths by now, and when they chose the wrong direction, it was never for very long.
Soon they had left the echoes of gunshots and murder behind, but Drake knew the danger would catch up to them eventually and hadn’t a clue what they would do when it did.
In another piece of hell—these torture rooms like the chambers of this diabolical labyrinth’s heart—they stopped to catch their breath. Drake and Jada leaned against the edges of the entry passage while Henriksen walked around the hideous cavern, plunging unwisely into the shadows.
“Throw some light over here?” he asked.
Jada ignored him, so Drake raised his flashlight. Henriksen had his back to them, staring at an enormous mechanism composed of a huge stone wheel with hooks jutting from the rock. The wheel had been stained dark with ancient blood, yet Drake thought he detected the scent of copper in the air. He wondered if pain could have a ghost, if the stink of human suffering could haunt a place when even the most tenacious souls had long since departed.
He wanted out of the fourth labyrinth. Out of Diyu. He didn’t care about gold or treasure. From the moment Sully had been dragged off, this job had been about getting his best friend back alive, but the sense of adventure and the promise of gold had maintained a certain secondary allure in the back of his head. No more.
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