Fandom: Uncharted Series
Summary: Every great monument succumbs to ruin in time, but relationships decay far faster than any temple. Chloe and Flynn search for the ships in Borneo while Nate is safely locked away. But Marco Polo’s forgotten treasure isn’t the only thing they discover.
For most people, getting into the car after a hard day’s work was a relief. The day was over, and they were ready to go home and relax. For Chloe Frazer, it was never like that. That may have had something to do with what her job was.
Shifting the van into gear, the dark-haired getaway driver crept quietly along the road to the rendezvous point. Once there, she switched off her headlights and waited. Things had gone perfectly on her end. All she had to do now was pick up the other two and this heist would be a success. She had observed their entry into the tower through her binoculars. She had not been able to stick around long enough to see them exit, but she wasn’t worried. After all, Drake had said that they wouldn’t make any mistakes.
After a few moments, Chloe heard something like a distant wailing. She could not pinpoint it at first. It sounded like….
“An alarm,” she deduced after a moment. “Shit.”
A few seconds later, she spotted one person running toward her. One. Not two. Opening the door on the van, she switched the headlights back on and shifted into gear. Flynn clambered in a moment later.
“And just where in the hell is Nate?” she demanded after the door was shut.
“What, you mean I’m not good enough for you?” Flynn replied with a smirk. She glared, and he turned more serious. “He’s not coming.”
“Does it have something to do with that alarm?”
He nodded. “Yes. Now drive or we’re next.”
Chloe floored it. She didn’t want to leave Nate behind, but there was no sense in getting all of them captured. They could just break him out later once they found out where he was. Looking over at Flynn, she realized what he was carrying in his right hand.
“Where did you get a Desert Eagle?”
“Oh, this?” He held it up and shook it a bit. “I had it commissioned, actually. Same fellow who made Eddy Raja’s gun. I didn’t go for the gold plating, though. Too eccentric.”
She glared. “I mean, why didn’t you mention you had it earlier?”
“Well I didn’t want to give Drake the wrong idea,” he answered, stuffing the gun in his backpack, which he had just removed. “He didn’t want to kill anybody.”
“He didn’t want to attract any unnecessary attention,” she corrected, turning hard at the intersection they had just reached. The van skidded a little but they stayed upright. “There’s a difference. He’s actually killed quite a lot of people.”
Flynn raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Well, it was all self-defense. He’s not a cold-blooded murderer like our client.”
“Real one man army, isn’t he?”
Chloe laughed. “You could say that.” A thought suddenly struck her and she almost slammed on the brakes. She stopped herself, because that would be silly. This wasn’t some dramatic scene in a movie or anything. “What did you need that gun for?” she asked cautiously. “Is that why…?”
He shook his head. “No, I didn’t use it on Drake.”
“I wasn’t asking if you did.”
“Yes you were,” he accused. “Don’t pretend like that’s not the first thing that popped into your head once you saw I brought a gun.”
“Fine,” she replied. “Then what did you do with it?”
“Just shot out a couple of the cases. Summoned the guards.”
This time Chloe did slam on the brakes. Flynn, not having bothered to put on his seatbelt, had his nose introduced to the glove compartment. “You did what?”
“Ow!” He pinched the bridge of his nose to stop the sudden bleeding. “What the hell was that for?”
“You set off the alarm on purpose?”
“Well yeah.” He dug a handkerchief out of his backpack and put it over his nose. “Couldn’t have Drake following me after I double-crossed him like that. It was just to give the guards a head start.”
The fact that his nose was already bleeding made punching him a pointless exercise. “And why did you double-cross him?”
“Because,” he said, dabbing his face with the handkerchief, “he would have done the same to me.”
Chloe did her best to look skeptical.
“Oh, don’t give me that look. You know just as well as I do what happens when he gets obsessed with something. Everyone else just stops mattering to him.”
She raised an eyebrow “And how would I know that?”
Flynn lowered the handkerchief and gave her a wicked grin. “I know our little rendezvous in the Bahamas wasn’t the first time you met him. I know what you two used to be.”
“Is that what this is about?” Chloe threw her hands in the air. “You’re jealous of me and Nate?”
“So there is still something going on, then.” He smirked.
Chloe cursed herself for slipping like that. She had to cover it up, quick. “No, I’m asking if you’re jealous of what we ‘used to be.’ Note the past tense.”
“For your information, no.” After wiping off the last of the blood, he stuffed the handkerchief in his backpack. “Are we going to drive again anytime soon? Those guards aren’t going to be satisfied with just one intruder.”
She started accelerating again. “If you’re not jealous, then why did you double-cross him like that?” Another thought occurred to her. “And why did you tell me about it?”
“I wanted to test you,” he answered, smirking. “See, I didn’t know whether you were still involved with him or not. And since you’re not at this moment trying to rescue him from being carried off to a Turkish prison, I think I’m pretty safe assuming you’re on my side.”
‘You would.’ She pressed the gas a little harder to emphasize how committed she was to getting away. “So what’s our plan now?”
“Well, there’s been a slight change,” he said, fishing something out of his pocket. “We’re not going to be bringing an oil lamp back to Lazarevic.”
“You mean you didn’t even get it? After all this trouble?”
Flynn smirked. “Oh, I got it alright. This is what was inside.” He held it up for her to see.
“A blank piece of parchment.” She didn’t even try to hide her disappointment. “That’s it?”
“The light of the Great Khan shelters the fate of the Thirteen,” he recited, stuffing it back in his pocket. “We’ll need to stop at a novelty shop on our way to Lazarevic.”
“And pick up what?”
He smiled. “A black light.”
“And do what, have a glow in the dark party?”
“Just wait,” he answered, smirking again. “You’ll see.”
Sounds of gunfire provided the soundtrack for the long drive through some god-forsaken city in Eastern Europe. Smoke and burning rubble surrounded them, which made Chloe wish she had gotten a covered jeep instead of an open-top model. At least there weren’t that many bumps.
“And here we are again, in yet another war-torn country the world forgot,” Chloe deadpanned as they neared their destination. “Why are we heading for a mansion instead of a camp again?”
“Lazarevic just got himself a great deal on a new house,” Flynn answered. “It’s a pity the old residents still haven’t moved out, though. I mean, I know I’ve got a few skeletons in my closet, but….”
“Oh, quit with the morbid humor, Harry. You’re not that good at it.”
“Fair enough. As long as you quit with the complaining. I told you, I’ve got a plan.”
“Yes, Drake’s plan. I’ve yet to see you carry out one of those without mucking it up.”
“I don’t muck up, I give it my own personal touch,” he insisted. “Are you still mad about what happened at the museum?”
“As a matter of fact, yes. Dealing with Drake is much easier than dealing with this lunatic.”
“Oh please, like Nate could ever finance an expedition on his own.” He leaned back in his seat. “Every time he goes after a treasure it ends up being him versus every living thing. I’d prefer having a personal army to protect me.”
“Even if Lazarevic had pockets as deep as the Marianas Trench, Nate would still be more resourceful,” Chloe argued. “Nobody can figure a way out of a tricky situation better than him.”
“Well, he wasn’t resourceful enough back in Istanbul,” he reminded her.
“I still don’t see why you betrayed him like that. You’re asking for trouble.”
“I had to,” he insisted. “I know he was planning to betray me as well. I just beat him to the punch.”
“Whatever. We’re here.” She brought the jeep to a stop just outside the gates, which had been completely demolished when Lazarevic acquired the mansion. Neither of them bothered to open the old, rusted doors of the jeep, hopping over them instead. They started heading for the mansion.
They were about halfway across the courtyard when they heard a series of loud clicks. “Don’t move!”
“Okay, seriously, do they keep their rounds unchambered just so they can do that?” Flynn muttered while putting his hands up.
“It’s a common intimidation tactic among security forces,” Chloe answered calmly while raising her hands as well. “So many people see it in the movies that it’s just as effective as a warning shot.”
“Get your hands up!”
“They’re already up, you idiot!” Flynn shouted. “We’re just here to see Lazarevic.”
“We know. We are under orders to bring you to him.”
“So we can be executed by firing squad, no doubt,” muttered Chloe. She turned to Flynn. “What did you do to upset him this time?”
“How should I know?” The soldiers poked them with their rifles and they started walking forward. “He’s a pretty upsettable fellow.”
“Well, you had better figure it out quick,” she replied. “Maybe if you get down on your knees and beg he’ll let you suck his dick instead of killing you.”
“You have such a filthy imagination,” Flynn scolded. “It’s not going to come to that, believe me.”
“I suppose you have a plan?”
“Yes, I do. I’m going to tell him our plan.”
Chloe let out an exasperated sigh. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
It was silent the rest of the way. Just as the gates had been demolished, so had the door. They stepped through the gigantic hole, and the guards led them up a staircase. Flynn lowered his arms after a minute and the guards said nothing, so Chloe brought hers down as well. Not that she was getting tired or anything.
The stairs parted to reveal two separate paths, both of which led to the same floor. They took the stairs on the right, then turned right again when they reached the top. Another left turn later and they had reached Lazarevic’s new office. He stood with his back to them, observing the ruined city outside through a massive window.
“Sir!” one of the guards called, and Lazarevic turned around. Chloe could see the scar on his face and had to stop herself from cringing. Normally it would be rude to classify a man as a monster based entirely on his appearance, but she had seen the way his actions backed it up and she knew that such an assertion was accurate. His arm was hidden by the pitch black suit coat he wore, but she knew that it was heavily scarred as well.
“So,” he began in an eerily calm voice that turned Chloe’s spine to ice, “the two thieves return. You had better have stolen what I asked for, and not more of my private files.”
Flynn stepped forward. “Now Zoran, I can explain.” The guards raised their guns and cocked them again, and Chloe had to stifle a laugh when she saw the formerly chambered rounds fall on the floor. It was only effective once.
Lazarevic held up a hand, and the guards lowered their weapons. “I am listening.”
“Er, right.” It took him a moment to regain his composure. He seemed to be having trouble thinking of what to say. “The reason I stole one of your files is because we needed three people to do the museum job. I knew the file I took would be enough to catch that person’s interest.”
“Really? And who is this third person you decided to let in on a job that I specifically hired you for?”
Lazarevic chuckled quietly and smirked. “Ah, Drake. The man who found El Dorado. A pity he did not keep it.”
“Right. He’s the only man I know who ever made it into that museum and escaped. Until I did it, that is.”
“And where is Drake now?”
Flynn smirked. “Rotting in a Turkish prison. I only needed him to help get the item and figure out what it was really for. After that I sent the guards after him.”
“I am glad it was not me you double-crossed,” Lazarevic replied. “You would have deeply regretted that.”
“Which is exactly why I didn’t do it,” he said. “Now, I suppose you’ll be wanting this.” He reached into his pocket, and the guards cocked their guns again. The rounds fell to the floor and Lazarevic growled.
“Quit cocking your weapons!” he shouted, and they lowered them. “It is only practical if the round is not already in the chamber! Otherwise you are just shitting on the floor of my office!” The guards looked suitably terrified and nodded to show they understood. “Now,” he continued, turning back to Flynn. “Did you get what I sent you to steal?”
“Sure did,” he answered, pulling out the parchment and handing it to Lazarevic. He did not look impressed.
“I sent you to steal a Mongolian oil lamp,” he said in the same eerily calm tone with which he had greeted them. “And you return to me with a blank piece of paper? Are you completely brain dead, or do you have enough common sense left to understand why I am strongly considering letting my guards shoot you?”
“It’s what was inside the lamp,” Flynn explained. “Do you think you could draw the curtains in here, make it darker?”
Lazarevic raised an eyebrow.
“Just do it,” Chloe urged, and they both turned to her. “It’s Drake who explained all this to him. I don’t fully get it either, but I know Nate is really good at figuring these things out.”
“Then perhaps I should have hired him,” Lazarevic said as he glowered at Flynn.
“Wouldn’t have done you much good,” he replied, trying very hard not to seem worried. “This is the guy who let El Dorado sink to the bottom of the ocean, remember? He’s got a thing against crazy schemes.”
Lazarevic chuckled. “We will see who is the crazy one,” he said, then shouted something at his guards in what Chloe thought was Russian. The curtains shut, and the room became significantly darker.
“Right,” Flynn began, digging a UV flashlight out of his backpack. “Now if I could just see that parchment again….”
“I do not trust you with it,” Lazarevic said, then turned to Chloe. “Ms. Frazer, if you would be so kind.”
She walked forward and grabbed it. “Hold it up,” ordered Flynn. She did so and he flicked the flashlight on, shining it on the paper.
Lazarevic stood there, the white of his shirt glowing brilliantly under the UV light. “What are you doing?”
He moved the flashlight closer to the parchment, as if trying to reveal something. But still nothing happened. “Damn. I need a stronger light.”
Lazarevic snapped at his guards in Russian and one of them went out of the room. The guard returned a few moments later and handed something to him. He offered it to Flynn. “Perhaps this will be of some use. Unlike you.”
“Forensic light, excellent.” He took it and turned it on. “Set the paper down on the desk,” he told her.
The desk took on a bluish tint as Flynn raised the light high over his head. Suddenly the ink on the parchment became visible, and several of the guards gasped.
“Not quite as impressive as when Nate did it, but it works,” Flynn remarked.
“What does it say?” Chloe asked.
“Something about the thirteen ships being hit with a tidal wave off the west coast of Borneo,” he answered. “And something else about a treasure they were carrying.” He pointed to a rough sketch that looked like a mountain. “That must have been the closest landmark when they crashed. If we find that, we find the ships.”
“And what were the ships carrying that was so important?”
“That’s the other thing it says,” Flynn explained. “It says they were carrying treasure from Shambhala.”
Chloe’s eyes went wide. “Wait, Shambhala? The lost city of Shangri-La?”
“It is more of a valley, actually,” Lazarevic corrected. “And I have been searching for it for years.”
“Marco Polo found Shambhala?” she repeated, just to be clear. “And then his men got shipwrecked because of it? What the hell kind of treasure were they carrying?”
“The Cintimani Stone,” answered Lazarevic.
“The wish-fulfilling gem. It is a treasure unlike any other.”
“And I’ve just given you the means to find it, old friend,” Flynn said, switching off the light. The guards opened the curtains again. “So are we square?”
Lazarevic regarded him evenly. “For now. But do not test my patience again. You get me the treasure, or I will hire someone else who can. And I will not hesitate to kill you first.”
“Right sir, of course sir.” Flynn looked very uncomfortable and relieved at the same time. He looked at Chloe. “I suppose we’re headed to Borneo.”
The muffled hum of the helicopter filtered into Chloe’s earphones and pulled her deeper into a relaxed state. She closed her eyes and focused on the sound, trying to forget the world. Flynn’s voice ruined the illusion, and she opened her eyes again.
“I said we’re here. Were you dozing off again?”
“Just resting my eyes.”
“Well I hope they’ve rested enough,” he said, “because you’re not going to be able to close them once you get a load of this.”
Chloe shifted in her seat and looked out the cockpit. She was less than impressed. “You’ve seen one jungle, you’ve seen them all,” she replied, bored. “We didn’t come here for a tropical vacation anyway.”
“You’re no fun.”
They rode in silence for several more minutes before the helicopter started its descent. The landing went smoothly enough that she wasn’t forced to cling to something for dear life, and it comforted her to know that Lazarevic had sprung for mercenaries who were actually competent, unlike a lot of warlords she’d encountered. Chloe removed her earphones and grabbed her gear, then hopped out the open door.
“Did you bring a map?” Flynn shouted over the helicopter as he landed beside her.
“Actually, I brought something better.” She produced a GPS and began walking. Once they were far enough away from the overwhelming roar of the blades to speak normally, she continued: “Now, if Marco Polo is to be believed, the ships crashed somewhere near Mount Kinabalu.” She circled that region with her finger. “Which means we just need to keep heading toward it. Once we find the ships, we check our coordinates and radio back to Lazarevic.”
“Well then what are we waiting for?” He started running into the forest. Chloe chuckled, then put away the GPS and followed.
The brush was not very thick, given their altitude. She caught up to Flynn without a problem, and kept pace for a few meters before they both slowed down. She pulled out the GPS again.
“We should be no further than a few kilometers from the base of the mountain,” she said, focusing on the screen. “So if we just keep going we should be able to—whoa!” The ground beneath her disappeared and Chloe started to tip forward. A hand grabbed her waist just in time to stop her from plummeting a good five meters. The GPS was not so lucky. She saw it shatter against the hard stone below and winced. “Well that’s not good.”
“No worries,” Flynn said, pulling her back up. He dug something out of his pocket. “Because I brought a map.”
“We already know where we are, genius,” Chloe snapped. “The GPS was so we wouldn’t have to do advanced mathematics to determine our coordinates.”
“Well lucky for you, I happen to know some old school mapping techniques,” he replied with a smirk.
“I’m going back to the helicopter.”
He grabbed her arm to stop her from leaving. “Look, I took a few courses on geography in Uni and I learned how to determine geographic coordinates. Mount Kinabalu is located at six degrees, five feet zero zero inches north, one hundred sixteen degrees, thirty three feet zero zero inches east.”
“That supposed to mean something?”
“To a navigator, yes. You should never rely too much on your equipment.”
Chloe crossed her arms. “This from a man who brought a backpack full of supplies to a museum heist while his partner brought only his wits.”
“And look who came out on top. Although now that you mention it, this might help too.” From somewhere in his pockets, he produced a flare gun.
“Okay, that does make things a bit easier.”
He smirked. “Now are you coming or not?”
“Lead the way, Tarzan.”
Flynn chuckled, then put away the map and flare gun before stepping off the cliff, turning around quickly to grab the ledge. He started climbing down.
“Shouldn’t we be using a rope or something?”
“Left it back on the ship,” he called, still descending. “Besides, who would collect it once we’re done climbing down?”
“I was thinking we might need a way back up.”
Flynn let go once he reached the bottom, landing on his feet with a grunt. “Oh, shut up and jump, Tinkerbell. I’ll catch you.”
“I can climb too, you idiot!” she shouted. “I’m just trying to think of how we’re going to get back.”
“We don’t need to. Lazarevic will be bringing his helicopter to wherever the ships are. Now come on, jump. It’ll be faster.”
“I swear, if you drop me….”
“I won’t. Now come on!”
Chloe grumbled before leaping off the edge. She landed in Flynn’s arms a moment later, and just as promised, he didn’t drop her. He didn’t release her at all, actually.
“Alright, you can let go now,” she told him, glaring. He just smirked. She grumbled a second time and put her feet on the ground. “Let’s get moving.”
The ground was fairly flat down here, without much in the way of underbrush, and they were still at a high enough altitude that they didn’t have to wade through any swamps. The trees were also fairly far apart, which made navigation very easy. She could see the peak of the mountain from here. After about a kilometer or two, they faced another cliff.
“Oh, don’t be so down,” said Flynn. “We can climb this.”
“Maybe with a rope, which you forgot to bring. There’s no handholds down here.”
“There’s one over there,” he replied, pointing to the right. “And there’s a few leading up from there. You should be able to reach it if I give you a boost.”
“Well how are you going to get up?”
“You see that tree over there?” He pointed to a tree with a large branch that seemed wide enough for a man to stand on. “How much you want to bet I can jump from that branch over to the cliff?”
Chloe crossed her arms. “You can’t be serious.”
“You’re really high maintenance, you know that? Drake never complained this much.”
“Then perhaps you shouldn’t have left him behind,” she snapped.
He scowled. “Just let me boost you up there.” He walked over so that he was underneath the handhold, and held out his arms. She placed her foot in his hands, and he hefted her up. She grabbed onto the handhold. “You got it?”
He let go. Chloe scrambled to get her legs against the cliff face and held on tight. She started climbing.
“Alright, I’m going to climb this tree over here.” She heard him moving away from her, followed by grunting a few seconds later.
She continued to climb. Once she reached the top, she pulled herself up and turned around, trying to find Flynn. He was still on the branch. “Are you coming or what?”
“Slight problem here.” She followed his eyes to the other end of the branch and saw what he meant.
“What is that?”
“Bornean Clouded Leopard,” he answered, not moving. Across from him stood the animal in question, with its teeth bared and heckles raised. “Apparently I just woke it up from its nap.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“You have a gun, don’t you?”
Chloe pulled her .45 out of its holster. “Well yes, but it’s designed for people, not leopards.”
He rolled his eyes. “You don’t have to kill it, just scare it away!”
“Right.” She aimed at the tree branch just below the leopard and fired. It flinched, but did not back down. She fired again, and the same thing happened. “It’s not doing anything!”
“Well then hit it! Give it a few wounds before it does the same to me!”
“Okay!” She adjusted her aim and fired a few slugs into the leopard’s body. It gave a fierce yowl, but it still did not retreat. In fact, it started heading towards…. “Harry!”
“What the hell did you do?”
“I don’t know! Just jump!”
“Right!” He turned and leaped from the branch, just barely avoiding the leopard’s pounce. He managed to grab the handhold with one hand, struggling for a few seconds before he managed to bring up the other one. He started climbing.
Meanwhile, the leopard was preparing to leap at him again. “Harry, look out!”
“Wha?” his eyes widened as he realized what was happening. “Shoot it again!”
She fired a few more shots at the leopard, but missed most of them in her panic. Flynn scrambled up the cliff. The leopard jumped after him, catching one of his pant legs. The fabric gave way almost immediately and the leopard fell back down to the ground, where it landed on its feet. It started to pace.
By this time Flynn had reached the top of the cliff, and Chloe clasped a hand around his wrist and helped pull him up. Once there, he collapsed on the ground.
“Are you okay?” she asked, kneeling over him. “Did it get you?”
He winced and pulled up his shredded pant leg, and Chloe saw where the leopard’s claws had made several cuts. She cringed.
“Okay, it’s not that bad. Good thing one of us remembered to bring bandages, huh?” She began rooting through the pack on her hip, producing styptic, antiseptic and the aforementioned bandages. She applied the styptic first. “Okay, this is to stop the bleeding. Keep your leg elevated.”
He waved a hand. “Like you said, it’s not…” He winced as she spread the styptic over the wound. “…that bad.”
“All the same, you don’t want to lose any blood out here. Otherwise you’ll attract more of those things.” Once she finished applying it, she grabbed the antiseptic. “Now, this is to prevent any infection she might have given you.”
Flynn hissed when it touched his skin. “What makes you think that thing was a female?”
“Look.” She pointed to the base of the cliff. Two cubs had come out of hiding to join the leopard. “That explains why she was so persistent. She was protecting her young.”
“Well how very good for her,” Flynn deadpanned. “Now would you finish patching me up?”
“Always impatient,” she sighed, grabbing the bandages. She started wrapping them around his calf.
“Well that was fun,” he said breathlessly, collapsing onto the ground. “Let’s not do that again.”
“I agree.” She pinned the bandages in place and pulled his pant leg back down. “Are you going to be able to walk?”
“Yeah.” He stood up without her help. “Just a scratch.”
“Okay. Now let’s keep moving, but we need to do it slowly. I don’t want you putting too much stress on that leg.”
“You worry too much,” he insisted. “I’m fine.”
“For now, maybe. But let’s try and avoid any more run-ins like that.”
“Don’t need to tell me twice.” He started walking.
“Yeah,” Chloe muttered once he was out of earshot. “You’re welcome.”
It was about half an hour later when Chloe finally started to realize that she had no idea where they were. Flynn had produced a compass in addition to the map and they were following that, but she had gotten so reliant on GPS technology that it was difficult for her to follow. Now she understood why school teachers taught children how to do math instead of just handing them calculators.
“Are we there yet?” she muttered.
“Hard to say,” Flynn deadpanned. “Do you want me to pull over to a rest stop?”
“Very funny.” She looked around them. “I just feel as if we’re missing something.”
“We probably are. Good news is we’re close to the mountain.”
Chloe decided to voice a doubt she had been having for the last half hour. “You know what’s strange?”
“That parchment we got said that Marco Polo was stranded on the west coast, and I’m pretty sure there was an X on the map where they went aground dozens of miles from here. Maybe we’re looking in the wrong spot?”
Flynn shook his head. “No. The drawing was obviously St. John’s Peak. That’s on Mount Kinabalu. We’re in the right place.”
“Must have been one hell of a tidal wave.”
“Or they traveled this far after being shipwrecked,” he suggested. “All I know is that he put that landmark on there for a reason. I just can’t figure out what it is.”
“Maybe we could ask Nate,” she replied. “Oh wait, we can’t! That was a real smart move, leaving him to get captured like that.”
Flynn stopped so abruptly that she almost bumped into him. He turned around with a scowl on his face. “What are you trying to say?”
“I’m saying that maybe you should have kept him around a little bit longer. He’s the one who told you about the ships in the first place. We’re lost without his input.”
“Oh please, I knew about the ships from the beginning. Any idiot could have figured that out. I only needed him to get into the museum. He was the only one who’d ever gotten in and out of that place.”
Chloe crossed her arms. “Come on, Harry, you know that’s not the truth. Drake’s always been better at solving puzzles than either of us. With him here we probably would have found the ships by now.”
“And Lazarevic would be after our heads!” he shouted, pointing in the direction of the sea. “I had to double-cross somebody, and I was not going to take my chances with that raving lunatic!”
“See, that’s your problem!” she yelled back, throwing her arms in the air. “You always assume that everybody’s either going to betray you or murder you and you think you have to beat them to it! You won’t let yourself trust anybody!”
“And it’s kept me alive so far,” Flynn rebutted. “Don’t pretend like you’re any less shrewd. You always have to watch your own back in this line of work.”
“Yes, and you also have to know when to let somebody else watch it,” she said. “Or do you not trust me either?”
He looked utterly shocked that she would ask that. He didn’t answer.
“Just like the old saying, isn’t it?” she continued. “No honor among thieves.”
He scowled again. “I’d trust you more if you weren’t acting like the head of Drake’s bloody fan club.”
She glared back. “Just forget I mentioned it. Now let’s get going. We have some ships to find.” She started walking past him.
Flynn caught her arm, and she glared at him again. He held up the map and shook it. “I’m leading, remember?”
“Fine.” She jerked her arm out of his grip and waited for him to move before she followed. “I just hope you know where you’re going.”
“Oh, I do,” he answered, pulling out the compass as well. “Trust me.”
“This is the last time I let you lead me anywhere.”
“Oh, quit complaining. It’s just a momentary setback.”
“It’s a hundred meter cliff!” she shouted, gesturing downward. “There is no way in hell we’re going to be able to climb that far, even if you had thought to bring a rope! There’s no way around, either!”
“I know that!” He looked down at the map again. “We don’t need to climb down here, we just need to find the ships. This is a vantage point.”
“Well I don’t see any damn ships,” she said. “I’m starting to think they’re not even here. What the hell is so important about this mountain?”
“I don’t know!” He continued staring at the map. “I’m trying to make sense of it, I just need some time to think!”
“Fine.” She crossed her arms and leaned against a nearby tree. “Take your time.”
They stood in silence for a few minutes. Chloe looked out over the jungle, hoping to spot the ships. Nothing.
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” she revealed eventually, having abandoned her search.
“Be out with it, then,” he replied, not looking up from his map.
“Lazarevic was willing to pay us a lot of money just to get him that clue. We could have just taken the money after we gave it to him. We didn’t have to come here at all.”
Flynn looked up and stared at her, but said nothing.
“And then you insisted that the two of us scout ahead for the ships instead of bringing the rest of his crew with us. I mean, we could have just stayed in the helicopter. We didn’t have to search for them on foot.”
“You’re forgetting about the Bornean government,” Flynn replied. “Lazarevic is still a wanted war criminal. This way we can sneak past the border defenses and search for the ships without anybody knowing.”
“Except that NATO already thinks he’s dead and nobody ever comes this far in the jungle. There are a number of easier ways we could have searched for the ships. Why are you insisting on doing things the old fashioned way?”
He didn’t answer.
Chloe had to cover her mouth to stop her laughter when she realized the truth. “Oh my God. You’re trying to prove you’re better than Drake.”
He raised an eyebrow and looked confused. Either he was trying very hard to deny it or he hadn’t even realized it himself. “What?”
“That’s what this whole thing’s been about, hasn’t it?” she continued. “You left Nate behind in the museum because you wanted to prove you could outsmart him. Then you brought us out here so you could find the ships without him in order to show the world that you’re better. Only that’s not happening.”
Flynn stepped forward and jabbed at her accusingly with his finger, causing her to stumble back. “Do you honestly think I’m so insecure that I feel the need to prove I’m better than that whiny piece of shit?” She tried to regain her balance but only succeeded in pushing herself further towards the edge. “I’m here because I want a share of the treasure. That’s worth way more than whatever Lazarevic was going to pay us. So just shut your mouth and—”
She missed his next words as she tumbled off the edge.
It took about two meters for Chloe to reach out and grab a handhold, by which point she had no means of returning to her previous position. She felt her shoulder jerk as her fingers found purchase, grunting with effort as she brought up her other arm. Her feet dangled helplessly for several seconds before she found a place to put them as well.
“Chloe, are you alright?” she heard Flynn shout from above.
Tapping on her headset, she answered: “No thanks to you.”
She heard a sigh of relief on the other end. “Sorry about that. Got a little angry.”
“Well, it’s a good thing I’m such a great rock climber,” she quipped, still annoyed. “And might I just point out what a fine idea it was for you to leave the damn rope behind.”
“Again, I’m sorry about that. Can you climb back up?”
“Don’t think so.” She looked around for a few seconds, spotting something of interest. “I think I see a cave entrance a little further down. Might lead somewhere.” She started moving toward it.
“That wouldn’t happen to be the same cave I noticed just before we started arguing, would it?”
Chloe rolled her eyes. “You mean I could have avoided tumbling off a mountain and still ended up in the same place? Good to know.”
“Look, I said I was sorry. I think I can get to where you are from here. Just meet me there.”
She clicked off her headset and continued heading for the opening. “Fucking idiot.”
It took a couple of minutes for Chloe to work her way down to the cave entrance. She let go of the cliff, landing on the small ledge below. It immediately gave way beneath her.
“Shit!” she yelled, pushing off the crumbling rock towards safety. She struck the floor belly-first, then pushed herself up and patted the dust off her clothes. ‘Well, no way to go but forward.’
Switching on her flashlight, Chloe ventured further into the cave. A few meters in she had to duck to avoid a flurry of wings, taking a sharp breath and holding it as she reminded herself that they were just bats, not subterranean demons here to chop her in half and carry her torso off into eternal darkness. Once they had passed, she squeezed her body through a small opening just barely wider than her, which the bats had been using as a nest. Her hands pressed against something moist. “Ugh, guano.”
After using her trousers as a makeshift napkin, she scanned around for a way out, but saw only rock. “Great. Trapped in here with no one to talk to but myself.” She rolled her eyes. “Now what would Nate do to get out of this?”
She sighed. Nate. That was the last thing she wanted to think about right now. Even locked up in a Turkish prison he was still making her life more complicated than it had any reason to be. Sure, she had gotten herself into this mess, but it was as if his involvement had escalated it into a catastrophe. Chloe knew from experience that it was only going to get worse. She’d been through it before.
Chloe shook her head. That was another thing she didn’t want to remember right now.
Growling at nobody in particular, she brought her foot up and kicked the nearest wall with all her might, as though taking out her frustrations would actually solve her problem. A few pebbles fell from above, and she looked up.
Above her was a loose collection of crumbling stones, presumably left there to trap intruders in this chamber. She barely leaped back in time to avoid the debris as it crashed down to the floor. As the light from above started to leak into the tiny cave, she smirked to herself.
“Now who said brute force never solved anything?”
Leaping forward, she kicked off the wall in front of her, turning around in midair to grab the ledge above. She pulled herself up with little effort, then looked around. She was in the middle of a long corridor, the walls of which were considerably straighter than she had expected. The sconces on the wall had been lit, suggesting someone came through here recently. Clicking off her flashlight, Chloe stepped over the hole she’d made and continued moving further into the mountain.
As she walked, Chloe took note of the walls around her. They were almost completely straight, and she noticed a set of stairs just ahead. It wasn’t in very good condition, but everything suggested that this was man-made. She proceeded further down the hallway, eventually coming out into a larger room. As the details started to arrive at her brain, her feet were rooted to the spot and all she could do was stare in amazement. “Whoa.”
The room was enormous. Resting on a high pedestal in the center was a giant tree, kept nourished by a complex irrigation system as well as the strategically placed windows to outside, which presumably also functioned as the temple’s ventilation. The tree itself was unreachable from here, suspended high above the floor in order to soak up the light. However, it looked as though the irrigation channels that watered the tree could be used to reach it.
The cold gray of the stones gave the room a somewhat bittersweet atmosphere, as though more than just the temple had been ruined by time. At the same time, the still-running water combined with the vegetation that was almost as lush as the jungle surrounding them filled the place with a different sort of liveliness, suggesting that nature was slowly prevailing.
Chloe groaned out loud at the flowery symbolism her mind was creating. This wasn’t an adventure novel.
Looking to her right, Chloe spied a series of ledges that seemed to have been put there to allow maintenance to the system, though several hundred years had left them slightly decayed. Surprisingly, the irrigation channels themselves were still in magnificent shape, despite logic dictating that the water should have eaten away at them long ago. A number of plants had started to grow from the sides of them—mostly various forms of algae, though there were a few species of vine as well. None of them had particularly strong roots, which Chloe suspected was the reason the channels were still intact.
Water ran in channels along the floor as well, collecting in a reservoir to be recycled. There were several exposed gears located throughout the room, at various levels. Chloe was at a loss as to what they actually did, but supposed that she could figure it out given enough time.
“Impressive, isn’t it?”
Without even pausing to gasp in shock, Chloe spun around and punched Flynn directly in the face, knocking him to the floor. He had the audacity to look surprised.
“Chloe, it’s me!” he shouted, holding up his hands as he supported himself with his elbows.
“I know it’s you!” she hollered back, infuriated that he hadn’t understood why he deserved that punch. “That was for knocking me off a bloody cliff!”
Flynn rolled his eyes. “You’re still on about that?”
“It was less than ten minutes ago!”
“Oh, well then I guess I should apologize a fourth time.”
“You only apologized twice,” she corrected. “The third time was you telling me you already apologized.” She stamped her foot. “And that’s not the point! I could have died!”
He looked hurt. “You think I don’t realize that? I would never want to lose you. I just forgot we were next to a cliff is all.”
“Oh, you just forgot that I was only inches away from falling to my death,” she echoed, throwing her arms into the air and beginning to pace. “I’m sure that would have meant a lot at my funeral.”
“Look, I already apologized, and you already got your revenge. Can we please move on?”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine. What do you make of this place?”
“Well,” he replied, grunting as he lifted himself off the floor, “The tree is obviously the centerpiece. That means it’s important somehow. We should probably have a closer look at it.”
“I already figured that out,” she remarked. “If we can reach those channels, we should be able to walk right over to it.”
“Easier said than done. How are we supposed to get to those?”
She pointed to the right. “Those ledges seem like a good place to start.” They walked over and climbed to the next level.
“Hold on.” A hand moved in front of her to halt her progression, and she resisted the urge to shove it aside and keep walking. “What’s that there?”
Using her hand as an impromptu sun visor, Chloe peered up to where he was pointing. “It looks like a lever.”
“Exactly. Think I should climb up there and pull it?”
“Just don’t get mauled by any leopards this time.”
“Ha,” he deadpanned. “Give me a boost, will you?”
“Are you sure it shouldn’t be the other way around?”
“What?” He smirked. “Don’t think you can lift me?”
“No, I’m just concerned about you getting attacked by various forest creatures. You never know what could be up there.”
“Well, better me than you, right?”
Chloe chuckled and held out her hands, then hoisted him up to the next ledge. He pulled himself up with little difficulty, which didn’t surprise her in the slightest. After a few more leaps, he reached the lever.
“Here goes nothing!” he called before pulling with all his might.
The room immediately sprang to life, and the gears let loose a powerful series of percussions as the elevated channels rearranged themselves. At the same time, the water flow increased dramatically, sending a torrent into one of four basins that ran along the side of the center pillar. The pressure caused the entire structure to lower a few meters, though it was still nowhere close enough to make her way to from here.
The last step in the overly intricate reaction brought a channel to rest directly in front of where she stood, and she followed it with her eyes to see that it led to a ledge with yet another lever. “I think I see how this works!” she shouted, then walked along the channel like a balance beam.
“Don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall,” she muttered to herself, since she clearly couldn’t refrain from looking down. After a few moments she arrived at the next lever. “Let’s see what this one does.”
The gears exploded into motion again, and the pillar was brought lower once more by yet another powerful stream. This time the bridge was extended to Flynn, who hesitated for only a moment before crossing it to the next lever.
“I like this puzzle!” he shouted. “Bring the tree to us instead of going to it for a change!”
“You don’t have to explain everything like there’s a bloody camera crew following you around!” she hollered back, more out of a pathological need to tease him than anything else.
“Maybe I’ll just start hosting my own television show after I get rich! Call it ‘Man versus Temple!’”
“I don’t think there’s a very wide market for that sort of thing!”
“Whatever!” He pulled the lever, which set off yet another unnecessarily complicated chain of events that ended with a bridge in front of her.
“Looks like we’re almost there!” she called as she began to cross. “Stay where you are!”
“Not like I can really go anywhere, sweetheart!”
The final lever produced the most exciting spectacle, which culminated in the tree being brought down to ground level. All four channels beat down on the pillar, two of which ran directly below the ledges on which they currently stood. Chloe tread carefully down hers, while Flynn simply exploded into a full gallop and executed a swift shoulder roll when he reached the bottom. Her eyes followed his example for what seemed like the millionth time.
“This had better be good,” she muttered as she approached the tree.
“It’s just a sodding tree,” Flynn remarked with barely concealed disappointment. “We did all that just to get a closer look at the local vegetation. Stupid tribespeople and their rituals.”
“I don’t think a tribal society could have built this,” she corrected, gesturing at the vast temple surrounding them. “It had to have been more organized. I mean, those mechanisms are still in working order today. That takes some serious engineering power.”
“Yeah, well all it got us was a close-up of some tree bark. So pointless.”
“I wouldn’t say it’s a total waste of time. For one thing, the bark isn’t very thick on this tree, which is probably what led them to carve those symbols on it.”
Flynn blinked and took a closer look at the tree he’d merely glanced toward before dismissing. “What symbols?”
“I said the bark wasn’t very thick. That doesn’t mean several hundred years of growth won’t affect it just a little bit.”
He groaned out loud. “Great. Maybe if we’d gotten here a few centuries earlier we could have read what it says.”
“It’s not impossible to figure out,” she insisted, leaning closer. “Just have to look at it the right way.” She squinted but could not discern what was written despite her protests to the contrary.
“Wait a minute,” Flynn muttered, turning his attention to the two metal torches that flanked the tree. Bending down, he scooped what appeared to be a few handfuls of blue resin and placed them in each before pulling out his lighter. “Let’s see if this helps.”
“I don’t really think we need more light,” she deadpanned, gesturing to the massive windows above them.
“I don’t think you understand,” he insisted, pushing the fire closer. “This is what I would have done in Lazarevic’s office if I’d only thought to take some with me.” She saw what he meant when the resin burst into flame, casting a bluish tint over the immediate area. He repeated the process with the other torch, and then the most remarkable thing happened.
“Incredible,” she breathed, watching the symbols blaze like burning sapphires.
“Isn’t it? This is much more impressive than a stupid map.” He squinted. “Though I still can’t make heads or tails of this rubbish.”
Chloe sighed. “Can you read any foreign languages at all? How do you stay ahead in this game?”
“By backstabbing translators,” he replied dryly. “Can you read it?”
“Are you kidding? I’m from Australia, remember? The South Pacific is where I got my start.”
“So you can read it?”
“Of course. Just stand in front of me while I do it.” She smirked when he looked at her in disbelief.
“I didn’t mean—”
“Of course you didn’t.” She leaned closer. “It’s written in script used by the Kadazan.”
“The who now?”
“It’s a basic Malaysian language,” she clarified. “It’s a little harder to read in this format since it’s gotten so many loan words in recent years, but I think I can work out what it’s saying.” She chuckled. “Actually, that language is where Mount Kinabalu gets its name.”
“Historians think it came from the phrase ‘Aki Nabalu,’ which means ‘revered place of the dead.’”
“Sounds pretty foreboding.”
“Well, it’s not the only theory,” she admitted while continuing to decipher. “The other one is…” She paused as she started to recognize that the words were telling her a story she’d heard before.
“The other one is what?”
“Carved into this tree,” she finished, somewhat numbly.
“Okay, you’ve lost me.”
“Just listen to what it says: ‘Long ago, there was a great storm. It brought a wave of vengeance upon the land, but when the water departed, it left behind something far more terrible.’”
“Are you embellishing or does it seriously say that?”
“Please, since when have I ever been dramatic about anything?”
“My nose seems to recall a certain incident not ten minutes ago.”
“Well, you deserved that,” she replied. “Now shut up so I can keep reading.”
He said nothing.
“‘A man arrived in a village one day soon after the storm. He had been a sailor, and the wave had carried his ship inland. The people asked for his name, but he would not tell them what it was; only that he had been treated as a Prince in China.’” She paused for a long time while she let that sink in. “Oh my God.”
Chloe chuckled as she explained: “This is talking about Marco Polo.”
“Okay, now you’ve really lost me. Since when does it say that?”
“Marco Polo’s fleet was washed inland by a giant tsunami,” she reminded him. “And he was an official in Kublai Khan’s court.”
“So? That says he was a Prince.”
“Well, you know how legends change over time. Besides, Marco was well-known for embellishing things.”
“Yes, so well-known for it that most historians think his book is just fiction and he never travelled to those places at all.”
“Except we’ve got several journals and a map that say otherwise,” she pointed out, then continued. “‘The Prince was nursed back to health by the kind people of the village, and was eventually accepted as one of their own. He married a local woman and they lived happily for several years.’”
“Oh, how very sweet. What does that have to do with anything?”
She ignored him. “‘Eventually the Prince grew homesick and wished to return to China. So he set off to reclaim his title. Once there, his parents forbade him from bringing his Bornean wife with him, and set him up with the Princess of a neighboring kingdom.’”
“That, or he spun some carefully crafted bullshit so she wouldn’t find out what a huge liar he was,” Flynn suggested.
Even though she agreed with that sentiment, Chloe still rolled her eyes at his knee-jerk cynicism. “‘The wife had supreme faith in her husband, and often watched the shore to await his return. It soon proved troublesome to make such a journey every day, since he had left her with several children. So instead she decided to climb to the top of the tallest mountain, where she could easily see all the ships that returned.’”
“Yes, because that’s easier.”
“‘But her husband never returned. She perished on the top of the cold mountain after many years. The spirit of the mountain was touched by her devotion and turned her body into the highest peak, so that she could forever await her husband’s return. The people heard this and were touched, naming the mountain ‘Kinabalu,’ or ‘Chinese widow.’ She stands today as a symbol of the loyalty and devotion that should be taken as an example by all women.’”
“Well, that’s a very cute story but what the hell does it have to do with the damn ships?”
Chloe sighed and shook her head. “Always impatient. ‘Before he left, the Prince entrusted the people with this temple, and the treasure it contains.’”
“Treasure?” He started looking around. “What treasure? I don’t see any bloody treasure.”
“‘We have left you with this record so that the treasure may go undisturbed. Just as the widow awaits her husband, the spirit of the mountain will forever keep watch over this root of Shambhala.’”
“It’s talking about the tree, then? The tree is the fucking treasure?”
“Well, it doesn’t seem to be a breed that grows naturally in Borneo,” she admitted.
“Does it say anything else? About the ships, maybe?”
“Nope.” She stood up straight. “If the tsunami was that big they probably got annihilated. They might not even be recognizable.”
“Well, it’s good to know we wasted this entire trip for nothing.”
As if that was the cue for some impossible coincidence to happen, the torches chose that exact moment to stop burning. Not a moment afterward, some unseen mechanism was triggered and the water ceased its flow. The ground beneath them started to shake as they rocketed towards the roof of the temple.
“Oh, of course!” Flynn called out sarcastically. “Now it’s going to smash us against the ceiling. Can’t let anybody find out a secret like that and live to tell about it.” He shrugged. “Although I suppose Zoran would have killed us anyway.”
“How many times do I have to tell you to quit being morbid, Harry?” she mumbled. “Look.”
The ceiling of the temple was opening above them like the doors of a nuclear silo, revealing nothing but the sky. The pillar slid into place as soon as it breached the mountain, leaving them with a perfect view of the valley below.
“There they are,” Flynn announced as he looked through his binoculars. “Right there.”
Chloe felt a sudden urge to kiss the man in celebration, but her frustration with him allowed her to restrain herself. It would only encourage him anyway. “So that’s it, then. We’ve done it.”
“Yes we have.”
“So now we walk all the way down there?”
“Oh, hell no.” He reached into his pocket and produced the flare gun. “After a hard day’s work, I think we deserve to arrive at our destination in style.”
He raised the gun in the air and pulled the trigger, sending a single red beacon rocketing into the sky.
Chloe swatted at various insects as she stepped outside her tent. Walking along the planks, she saw several men at work unearthing artifacts in search of the Cintimani Stone, whatever that was. That wasn’t what interested her.
She found Flynn closer to the jungle, crouched under a tree near one of the dig sites. He was looking for something. She came up behind him and announced her intent.
Flynn stood up rapidly from where he had been searching in the underbrush, bumping his head against a branch. He put a hand there and fell to his knees again, getting up more slowly this time. He turned around. “You’re what?”
“Don’t act like that tree branch gave you amnesia,” she replied, crossing her arms. “You heard what I said.”
“You can’t leave! We’re so close to the treasure. I can feel it!”
“Harry, it’s been two months and we haven’t found any stone. We haven’t even found the bodies of the men who were shipwrecked. I’m getting devoured by mosquitoes every night, and if I catch one more of Lazarevic’s men staring at my ass I swear I’m going to castrate them!”
The worried expression disappeared from his face and Flynn assumed his usual smirk. “See, that’s why you only attract fellows like Drake and I. No man in his right mind wants a damn Amazon.”
“So you admit that you’re not in your right mind?” she jabbed, adopting a more playful expression as well.
“Why else would I stay out here in the jungle for two months when I could be at home tossing back a pint?”
“At least the benefits aren’t bad,” he said, moving closer. “Although if you left, I’d have to demand a much larger paycheck.” He grabbed her waist and pulled her in close.
Chloe turned her head to the side so that his lips hit her cheek. He opened his eyes and narrowed them, then released her. “I know why you’re leaving.”
“Oh really?” she challenged, crossing her arms. “And what have you deduced, oh wise one?”
“You’re going after Drake.”
She glared at him. “That’s absurd.”
“Is it?” He crossed his own arms. “You’ve reminded me at every possible opportunity that Drake would have had this figured out by now. You practically have a shrine built to the fellow. Just because he found El Dorado does not mean that I am any less capable.”
“No, but the fact that we’ve been here two months and even Lazarevic has figured out more than you does.”
Flynn just scowled at her.
“Look, I’m just getting tired of coming up empty-handed. Not to mention dealing with Lazarevic. Thank God he doesn’t seem to have any sort of sex drive or I would have never agreed to work for that ugly bastard in the first place.”
“He puts all his energy into being insane,” Flynn quipped, and they both chuckled. After a moment, he grew more serious. “Speaking of your womanly charms, how much of what we had was an act?”
Chloe laughed at that. “Oh, don’t act like you weren’t just in it for the fun either, Harry. I mean seriously, can you imagine us together?”
He didn’t laugh. He actually looked a little hurt. Chloe stopped smiling. “Yes,” he answered very quietly. “I can.”
And suddenly she understood. Everything he’d done was to impress her. It was jealousy that drove him, jealousy of Nate and the way she admired him despite his tendency to leave her behind. He didn’t just want to outdo Nate—he aimed to replace him in her life.
“Oh God, Harry, I’m sorry….”
“No you’re not,” he snapped. The vulnerability that was so clearly visible on his face just a moment ago had suddenly disappeared behind a mask of hate. “You never are.”
“That’s not true,” she told him. “I didn’t know you really felt that way about all this. I thought we were just having fun.”
“It’s never ‘just fun’ with someone as beautiful as you,” he rebutted. “In fact, it’s never ‘just fun,’ period. Free love is just another way of saying you don’t give a fuck.”
“I gave you plenty of fucks.”
“Yeah, and I’ll bet you enjoyed it.” He crossed his arms again, defending himself by refusing to let her in. “This is why you can never trust a woman. You really don’t care if you hurt anyone, do you?”
“You don’t either. Or did you even consider how Nate might feel when you left him there to get caught?”
He glared at her. “I did what I had to do.”
“Don’t lie, Harry.” She crossed her arms, raising her own defenses. They had become like archers on opposite walls, firing at each other from a distance. “You did it because you were jealous. You didn’t like that he had me before you.”
“Yeah, well I doubt he was your bloody first,” he snapped, lowering his arms so he could point at her accusingly. He started walking in a semicircle, moving to her right. “I wonder if you even cared when you left him.”
“For your information, Nate walked out on me,” she informed him, pointing to herself. “Now he had a very good reason for doing so, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about. I already told you I’m leaving.”
“Well then get to it.” He turned around and walked away.
Chloe felt just a tiny bit of pain in her chest. It grew progressively bigger the further he got. Steeling herself, she ignored the wound and set her features into a glare.
“I suppose I will.”
“You are being unbelievably stupid,” Chloe told herself as she headed for the first normal-sized door she had seen in a while. “There’s no way he’s going to want to help you. You’ll just end up making a fool out of yourself.”
Despite her out-loud chiding of herself, Chloe continued toward the door. Once there, she pressed the doorbell and waited.
And then waited some more.
It took a full five minutes for her to press the button again, this time with her ear against the door to hear if it made any sound. She heard it, and wondered if the old man’s ears had just gone out. He’d certainly fired that revolver enough times in his life to make most normal people go deaf.
Grumbling, Chloe reached above the door sill, trying to find a spare key. Nothing. She leaned over into one of the many potted plants and started to root around. Just when she thought she might be getting somewhere, the door opened. She froze.
“Now there’s an ass I haven’t seen in a while.”
She rolled her eyes. ‘Ever the charmer.’ She stood up and dusted herself off. “Hello, Victor. May I come in?”
“Sure, why the hell not?” Sullivan stepped out of the way and allowed her to pass. As she did, she noticed his eyes were still watching her behind. She decided kicking him would not exactly be the most polite course of action and decided to indulge him. She was trying to make a good impression, after all. “If you’re lookin’ for Nate, he’s not here. I think he went to the Bahamas or something.”
“Actually, he’s in a Turkish prison,” she revealed as they entered the study.
“Again? What the hell did he do this time?”
She sat down in one of the many expensive leather chairs. “Tried to lift a thirteenth century Mongolian oil lamp from a museum. Apparently it belonged to Marco Polo.”
Sullivan took a seat as well, picking up the cigar he had apparently been smoking before he answered the door. “This wouldn’t happen to be the same museum that he barely made it out of last time, would it? The one in Istanbul?”
“The same. Harry Flynn and I talked him into it.”
“Flynn? What the hell were you doin’ workin’ with him? The guy’s a backstabbing, no good son of a—”
“Yes, and Drake knows that now. He deliberately set off the alarm so that the guards would catch him. I’ve recently cut ties with him. He doesn’t know I’m here right now.”
“Well what the hell was so important about an oil lamp that you’d track down Nate? You know he’d never go into that museum again unless it was somethin’ really big.”
She smiled and crossed her legs. “Actually, it was pretty big. The lamp held a clue as to where to find Marco Polo’s lost fleet.”
Sullivan’s eyes widened. “You gotta be shittin’ me.”
“Nope, no shit here.” She held up her hands. “Flynn and I delivered the map to the client who requested it, Zoran Lazarevic.”
He stood up. “Lazarevic? You mean that fugitive war criminal the news has been talkin’ about? I thought he was dead!”
“So does the UN, which is why he was able to go to Borneo without any trouble. We found the ships there.”
“Damn.” He looked away for a moment, then pointed his cigar at her. “You didn’t have anything to do with Nate getting thrown in that shithole, did you? Because I swear to God, I’ll….”
Chloe stood up and walked closer to him. “You’ll what?”
He sputtered for a few seconds before shrugging. “Ah, I got nothin’.”
“Don’t worry, I had nothing to do with it.” She walked past him and over to one of the many bookcases. “Flynn actually bragged about how he had managed to outsmart the legendary Nathan Drake.”
Sullivan raised an eyebrow.
“Okay, so he didn’t phrase it like a super villain but he was still pretty damn proud about pulling off that big of a double-cross. I wanted to punch him in the face.”
“Why didn’t you?”
Chloe shrugged and leaned back against the books. “His nose was already bleeding. He wasn’t wearing his seatbelt when I slammed on the brakes.”
He laughed and took another drag from his cigar.
“Anyway, I came to see you because I need your help getting Nate out of prison.”
Sullivan blew the smoke out of his mouth slowly, and regarded her with a very serious expression. “Now you know I’d do anything for Nate,” he said, gesturing with the cigar. “But where do you stand in all this? I mean you two haven’t been together since—”
She raised a hand, and he stopped talking. “Don’t bring it up, Victor; we both know what happened. We don’t need to talk about it.”
“Fair enough. Is he suddenly interested in you again?”
“Well, the feeling was mutual until he got thrown into that so-called ‘shithole.’ Which I think is an understatement, by the way.”
He shrugged. “I’m with ya there.”
“I guess you could say that I’m concerned for him. He isn’t just a loose end in all this mess. He’s the key.”
“So that’s it, then.” He took another puff of the cigar, then exhaled. “You got the first part of the puzzle figured out and you want Nate’s help deciphering the rest.”
Chloe nodded. “Pretty much.”
He shrugged again. “Sounds good to me. It’s gonna be pretty expensive, though.”
“We could just sneak in and bust him out, you know.”
“And risk endin’ up in there ourselves? I don’t think so. I’d prefer to keep this one legal, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course not.” She stood up straight and walked closer to him. “You’ll help me talk to him, though? Keep him from trying to kill me?”
Sullivan laughed. “Like he actually could.”
She smirked. “I know. I just don’t want him to get filth all over my clothes.”
“I don’t think you’re gonna be able to avoid that,” he said, dragging from his cigar one more time. “Especially if he hugs you.”
“I don’t think I’m in any danger of that, either,” she rebutted. “I just want him calm long enough for us to explain everything to him.”
He sighed and pushed the nose of the cigar against one of the posts, snuffing it and leaving a black circle on the wood. He took out a silver case from his pocket and placed the cigar in there. “I’ll do what I can,” he said after he was finished putting it away. “But you know what his temper’s like. You’d better have one hell of a plan for him to still be interested after what he’s been through.”
“Well, I think the opportunity to go on another adventure with old friends will be enough incentive,” Chloe replied, smiling. “Although I suppose the Cintimani Stone is another.”
He raised an eyebrow. “The what?”
“I’ll let him explain that to you,” she said, then held out her hand. “So do we have a deal?”
Sullivan hesitated for a moment, then shook her hand. “You bet.”