“ ‘Bride’ could mean many things,” Welch said. “She could simply have been devoted to him, as a priestess, for instance.”
“Like the Mistress of the Labyrinth?” Drake suggested.
Welch nodded thoughtfully. “Possibly. But you’re all missing the point. The first chamber explicitly refers to Crocodilopolis, and this one to Knossos and the island of Crete.”
Drake stared at him, eyebrows shooting up.
Sully chomped on his cigar and growled, “What the hell are you standing there for?”
Welch stood aside as they rushed out of the worship chamber corresponding to the labyrinth at Knossos. Jada led the way down the few steps into the third room, her flashlight beam bouncing around in front of her.
“Greek!” she said, turning to face them as they followed. “This one’s in Greek, too.”
But as Drake studied the octagonal altar, noticing the triple-octagon symbol in the center, he thought something looked different about the inscriptions on the base. He flashed his light at the walls and at the vases, and his suspicion increased.
“Are you sure—”
“It’s Hellenic, without question,” Welch said, picking up one of the jars and peering more closely at the writing. “But it isn’t any variation on ancient Greek I’ve ever seen. Doubtless a dialect, but something rare.”
He looked over at Sully. “This might be a lost language,” he said excitedly.
“That’s nice, Ian. Really,” Sully said. “I’m sure you and your lost language will be very happy together. But the clock is ticking.”
“Can you tell what god the chamber’s devoted to?” Drake asked.
“Oh, that’s easy enough,” Welch said, moving his flashlight beam across the paintings on the walls. Drake spotted a trident. “The third labyrinth was built in worship of Poseidon. Or some aspect of Poseidon native to—wherever this language comes from.”
“And?” Jada asked, frustrated. “Any idea where that might be?”
A chill went up the back of Drake’s neck, and he felt a shiver. Frowning, he glanced around. Had he heard a whisper?
The four of them moved through the chamber with the flashlights, though Welch concentrated mostly on the jars. Some things required no explanation. There were images on each altar base that showed the same scene as the one upstairs of the Mistress of the Labyrinth, and there were others that depicted the Minotaur. There were labrys, the symbol for a labyrinth, carved into stone and painted on jars. He had noticed in the second chamber that there were paintings clearly showing a throne made of gold and other objects that had been painted that color and might have indicated the presence of treasure. There were similar images here. But the rest of it was unreadable to him.
A shadow moved in his peripheral vision, and he thought he heard the rustle of cloth. He glanced at the entrance to the room and thought the darkness seemed a bit darker than before.
“Did you guys hear something?” Drake asked.
“Just you,” Sully said, gnawing the end of his cigar.
Jada glanced at Drake and shook her head. She hadn’t heard a thing.
Welch was crouched at a lower shelf, one of the jars—or honey pots, if that was really what they were—in his hand.
“Here we go,” he muttered.
Drake and the others turned to stare at him. Welch whispered to himself, translating under his breath and nodding.
He gave no warning before his legs went out from under him and he sat down hard, the jar slipping into his lap, protected from breaking by the loose cotton of his shirt.
“Thera,” he said.
“Never heard of—” Sully began, but then his eyes lit up.
“Thera as in Santorini?” Drake asked.
Welch’s face had gone slack. Drake thought he’d had too much revelation and epiphany for a single day and his archaeology geek brain might have blown a circuit.
“I’ve been there,” Jada said. “It’s beautiful.”
Drake agreed. The whitewashed buildings and blue domes, the multicolored boats and shutters, the bells, the ocean, the wine. There was nothing about Santorini he did not love, though he’d been there only once. But he had a feeling Welch wasn’t thinking about vacation spots.
“Talk to us, Ian,” Drake prodded.
Welch looked up at him. “Daedalus built the third labyrinth on Thera.”
“Santorini,” Jada said, apparently trying to clarify that they were talking about the same place.
But Welch shook his head. “No.”
“The whole thing’s an active volcano,” Sully said.
“Right,” Jada said, snapping her fingers as she recalled. “There are a bunch of little islands that make up the rim. So you’re talking Thera before it exploded or whatever?”
Welch smiled. “Oh, yeah.”
Drake frowned, not sure what he was getting so excited about. In modern times, Thera was an archipelago, but really the string of islands formed a circle around the deepest spot in the Mediterranean. The islands were all that remained of the much larger Thera as it had been before the massive eruption in—he thought it was the fourteenth century B.C., but it might have been the fifteenth. He didn’t remember any lava flowing on Santorini, but he knew that some of the smaller islands in the archipelago had volcanic vents and were still active.
“Minoan civilization collapsed around the same time as the destruction of Thera,” Welch said.
Jada threw up her hands in frustration. “Well, that’s great. So if the third labyrinth was there, we’ve lost any clues we might’ve found in a volcanic eruption thousands of years in the past.”
“Maybe and maybe not,” Sully said quickly, jabbing at the air with his unlit cigar to emphasize the point. He turned to Welch. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
Welch grinned. “I think I am.”
“Would the two of you stop talking in riddles!” Drake snapped. “It hurts my head.”
Sully arched an eyebrow and shook his head. “Oh, Nate, you’re going to kick yourself for not getting this one. You’ve been to Santorini. There’s only one archaeological dig going on there that’s of any consequence.”
“Yeah,” Drake said, shrugging, the beam of his flashlight bouncing on the wall. “Akrotiri.”
“Which was a Minoan settlement,” Welch said. “One that many modern scholars believe once went under a different name.”
Drake heard the strange rustling again but barely noticed. He stared at Welch and Sully and grinned.
“You can’t be serious.”
“It all fits, Nate,” Sully said.
Jada punched Drake in the arm to get his attention. When he shot her an angry look, she hit him again.
“Hit him!” Drake said, pointing at Sully.
“Tell me!” she demanded.
Drake gestured at the other two men. “These two—they think this language was lost because all of the people who spoke it were killed in that volcanic eruption. They think the third labyrinth was in Akrotiri, on Thera.”
“So?” Jada asked.
Drake smiled. “They’re talking about Atlantis.”
She hit him a third time. “I’m serious. Tell me.”
“Ow!” Drake shouted. “I just did.”
Jada turned to Sully. “Tell me he’s kidding.”
“You didn’t hear the stories about the dig at Akrotiri when you went to Santorini?” Sully asked.
“I went shopping and to the beach. I flirted with guys and drank too much ouzo and rode bicycles with my friends,” she said. “We didn’t have the kind of fun time I seem to have with you, Uncle Vic.”
“Sarcasm? Now?” Drake asked.
“Seems like it’s always time for sarcasm with you,” she said.
“Okay. That’s mostly true,” he replied. “But a lot of people think Akrotiri is what remains of Atlantis—that Atlantis was a branch of Minoan culture—the perfection of it, really. And whether that’s true or not, if the third labyrinth was on Thera, the only chance we have of finding any trace of it or any records of it would be in Akrotiri.”
Welch gazed at the jar, studying it closely. He spoke without looking up.
“It can’t be Akrotiri. They’ve been excavating there since the sixties and have they found any hint of a labyrinth? I don’t think so. If there’s any trace of it left, it has to be somewhere else on the caldera.”
The caldera—the cauldron—was how the locals referred to the part of the deep circle of water ringed by the islands of Thera.
“So we’re going to Santorini,” Sully said, wearing a dubious expression, “and we’re going to search every crevice in each of those islands for the ruins of a labyrinth that no one—in thousands of years—has stumbled across before?”
Jada gave a small shrug, refusing to be defeated. “No one’s ever known what they were looking for.”
But Drake had been watching Welch and could see the man’s lips moving while he studied the jar.
“You’re reading,” Drake said.
Welch nodded, a smile stealing across his face. “Yeah.” He gestured in the direction of the other chambers. “The room dedicated to Dionysus—the writing in there is Linear B, an ancient syllabic script used primarily by the Mycenaean Greeks. Now that I’ve had a minute to look at this, it’s really not very different. Linear B-2, let’s call it.”
“So?” Sully asked. “You got a point?”
“Oh, yes,” Welch said happily. He lifted the jar as if it were a trophy. “Here’s your link. I should’ve thought of this immediately, but I’m a little overwhelmed today, y’ know?”
Jada smiled at him. “We know.”
Welch looked grateful. “Anyway, there were texts found in the excavation of the temple at Knossos, written in Linear B, that decreed that all the gods were secondary to something called qe-ra-si-ja. Scholars have argued whether or not this was a god or a king or a kingdom. One school of thought translates qe-ra-si-ja as Therasia, a settlement on the precataclysm island of Thera.”
The archaeologist looked up, inspired. “But Therasia still exists. It’s small, and the side facing the caldera is all cliffs. Only a few hundred people live there.”
Drake felt an old, familiar excitement building. Whatever perils they had faced, whatever tragedies had led them here, they were on the trail of a secret.
“So we’re headed to Therasia,” he said.
“I’m coming with you,” Welch said quickly. “After Melissa’s done telling Hilary what went on today, I’ll be fired anyway.”
“First we have to get out of here without Henriksen’s goons killing us,” Sully said.
Jada scoffed. “He’s not going to shoot you with the expedition staff and workers around as witnesses. Rich people can get away with almost anything, pay off anyone, but it’d be pretty damn hard to cover up killing the entire crew up there.”
“I hope you’re right,” Sully said. “Still, we need to go.”
Welch held the jar he’d taken from the shelf as he stood. “All right. But I’m taking this with us. I want to have a closer look, and if we don’t have time now—”
“Where’s the gold?” Drake asked suddenly.
They all looked at him.
“The gold,” Drake went on. “Midas or Minos or whoever was supposed to be an alchemist, right? Daedalus paid the workers in gold. The cult of Sobek put gold crests on crocodiles.”
“We found some of those already,” Welch said.
“Yeah, okay,” Drake replied. “But if the mistress took the offering of honey from the worshippers and fed it to the Minotaur and the Minotaur was here to protect the gold, then where is the gold?”
“Gone, apparently,” Welch said thoughtfully.
“From here,” Jada said. “But if Daedalus and his people moved the gold from here—maybe from all three of these chambers—the logical place for them to have moved it is to one of the other labyrinths. Maybe they moved it around to keep it safe. It could have been on Thera, maybe destroyed in the eruption.”
Drake nodded. “Maybe. Or maybe it’s in the fourth labyrinth.”
“Look around you,” Welch said, gesturing at the walls and the altar. “Do you see any reference to a fourth?”
“I can’t read this,” Drake replied. “And no one alive is exactly fluent in ancient Atlantean.”
“I told you, it’s a variation on Linear B,” Welch said. “I could muddle my way through a basic translation, but so far I haven’t seen any indication of a fourth labyrinth. And the three-labyrinth symbol is everywhere.”
“So the fourth one came later,” Drake said. “Companies change their logos all the time. Daedalus didn’t get a chance to do the rebranding he needed down here before he died. The point is, Jada’s father thought there was a fourth one, and somebody killed him because he was investigating the possibility. That’s evidence right there, as far as I’m concerned.”
Welch cradled the jar against his chest, looking like he was in the mood to argue. Not too bright, Drake thought, considering how urgent it was that they get out of there.
When Sully drew his gun, whatever Welch had been about to say was forgotten.
“Nate. Did you say you heard something?” Sully asked, the question almost a snarl around the cigar clamped in his teeth.
Drake reached for his gun, turning to face the entrance to the Thera worship chamber. “I did, yeah.”
Both weapons were trained on the doorway. Drake narrowed his eyes and peered at the darkness out in the antechamber. Jada looked at them in confusion and then reluctantly pulled out her pistol. Welch wore a worried expression but didn’t ask them about the guns, smart enough not to want to tip off whoever might be out there listening to their conversation. Drake figured if it was Henriksen or the dig director, Hilary Russo, they would have been interrupted already.