Chapter 32

Not of Cobblestones

Jeanne snapped the book shut and raised a hand to rattle the rusted iron gate that stood before her, slowly so as not to alert the nearby crowd of tourists or the black-suited guards who patrolled the underground along a slow, meandering route intended to discourage visitors from stealing any of the bones.

Or doing what she was about to do.

She fished a set of lock picks from the inside pocket of her windbreaker and, after one last glancing search of the shadows, slipped the picks into the lock and began jiggling them. Jeanne had been picking locks since long before her days as a professional smuggler. Come to think of it, she could count on one hand the number of times that she had put this particular skill set to an illegal use. As a teen it had merely been one of many hobbies, picked up while attending a Maker Faire in her hometown, and she had mainly used it to entertain her friends and confound her parents by breaking into the locked liquor cabinet.

The rusty lock clicked. Jeanne shot one more glance around the gloomy cavern, then shoved the gate open, cringing in anticipation of the rusted hinges squealing her trespass to the guards, but then the gate swung open smoothly, and without a sound as she slipped through into the darkness beyond. She pushed the gate nearly shut and, trusting the shadows between the bars to hide disjuncture of the locking plates, slunk into a narrow gap between two piles of bones.

She took a single, tentative step forward, then paused and felt ahead of her with cautious fingertips. Another step, testing the floor with her toes to ensure that it did not drop away. The surface beneath her feet remained solid, though after what Jeanne judged to be ten or fifteen feet it took on an odd, lumpy feeling, as if she were walking on a particularly uneven cobblestone street. She continued in this way for what seemed an eternity in the blind dark as tightly stacked walls of bone gave way to brickwork, then rough-hewn stone. Only when her searching fingers had guided her through a wide leftward turn did she risk pulling a small flashlight from the pocket of her jeans and angling the beam to illuminate the floor of the passage ahead of her.

The uneven surface was comprised not of cobblestones, but the tops of hundreds of skulls, each buried up to just above the eyebrow ridge in a bed of fine black sand.

Once more she consulted the small leather-bound journal that had been passed down to her by her father, and to him by his father, and so on back to the ancestor who had fated all of his descendants to search for a lost treasure. None of her predecessors had come this far. All that Jeanne had to go on was the clues that she had gathered from journals and letters in the fifteen years since she had inherited the journal and learned the truth about her ancestry.