But they were headed up, not down.
A ramp continued from here, wide enough to accommodate a Humvee. They climbed up into a cavernous space. Light streamed through an open set of steel doors in the roof. It looked like the warehouse of a commercial airfield: cranes, forklifts, heavy equipment. And in the center rested a pair of A-Star Ecuriel helicopters, one black, one white, both shaped like angry hornets, made for high-altitude flying.
Klaus, the hulking Sonnekonige guard, noted their entrance and marched up to them, favoring his weak side. He ignored everyone except Anna. "All is secure," he said in crisp German.
He nodded to a line of men and women off to the side. A good dozen stood under the watchful eyes of a phalanx of armed guards.
"No one slipped past you?" Anna asked.
"Nein. We were ready."
Anna had positioned four Sonnekonige in each main quadrant of the castle, ready to lock down whichever region Painter pinpointed with his device. But what if he had made a mistake? The commotion here would surely alert the saboteur. He or she would go even deeper into hiding. This was their one chance.
Anna knew it, too. She moved stiffly as she crossed the space. "Have you found—?"
She stumbled a step, weaving a bit. Gunther caught her arm, steadying her, his face worried.
"I'm fine," she whispered to him and continued on her own.
"We've searched everyone," Klaus said, doing his best to ignore her misstep. "We've found no phone or device. We were about to start searching the helipad."
Anna's frown deepened. It was what they had feared. Rather than carrying the phone, the saboteur might easily have stashed it somewhere after the call.
Or then again, Painter might have miscalculated.
In which case, he would have to redeem himself.
Painter stepped to Anna's side. He lifted his makeshift device. "I might be able to accelerate the search for the phone."
She eyed him suspiciously, but their choices were few. She nodded.
Gunther kept to his shoulder.
Painter lifted the satellite phone, turned it on, and punched in the number he had memorized. Nine digits. Nothing happened. Eyes were fixed on him.
He scrunched in concentration and punched them in again.
Had he got the number wrong?
"Was ist os?" Anna asked.p>
Painter stared at the line of digits on the phone's small screen. He read through them again and saw his error. "I mixed up the last two numbers. Transposed them."
He shook his head and typed them in again, concentrating hard, going slow. He finally entered the right sequence. Anna met his eyes when he glanced up. His error was more than stress. She knew it, too. Keypad punching was often used as a test of mental acuity.
And this had only been a simple telephone number.
But an important one.
Painter's signal net had acquired the saboteur's sat-phone number. He pressed the transmit button and glanced up.
After a millisecond, a phone rang in the chamber, trilling loudly.
All eyes turned.
The Sonnekonig backed up a step.
"Your saboteur…" Painter said.
Klaus opened his mouth, ready to deny—but instead he yanked out his handgun, his face going hard.
Gunther reacted a second faster, his MK23 pistol already in hand.
A blast of muzzle fire.
Klaus's weapon flew from his fingertips with a ricocheted spark.
Gunther lunged forward, pressing his pistol's smoking barrel against Klaus's cheek. Cold flesh sizzled, branded by the hot muzzle. Klaus didn't even wince. They needed the saboteur alive, to answer questions. Gunther asked the foremost one.
"Warum?"he growled. Why?
Klaus glared out of his one good eye. The other's lid drooped along with his half-paralyzed face, turning his sneer into something more dreadful. He spat on the ground. "To put an end to the humiliating reign of the Leprakonige."
A long-suppressed hatred shone from his twisted face. Painter could only imagine the years of anger smoldering in the man's bones, years of ridicule while his body deteriorated. Once a prince, now a leper. But Painter sensed it was more than mere revenge. Someone had turned the man into a mole.
"Brother," Klaus said to Gunther, "it doesn't have to be this way. A life of the living dead. There is a cure." A keening edge of hope and pleading entered the man's voice. "We can be kings among men again."
So there was the man's forty pieces of silver.
Promise of a cure.
Gunther was not swayed. "I am not your brother," he answered from deep in his chest. "And I was nevera king."
Painter sensed the true difference between these two Sonnekonige. Klaus was a decade older. As such, he had grown up as a prince here, only to have it all taken away. Gunther, on the other hand, had been born at the end of the test run, when the reality of the debilitation and madness had become known. He had always been a leper, knowing no other life.
And there was another critical difference between them.
"You sentenced Anna to death with your betrayal," Gunther said. "I will make you and anyone who supported you suffer for it."
Klaus did not retreat but became more earnest. "She can be cured, too. It can be arranged."
Gunther's eyes narrowed.
Klaus sensed the hesitation, the hope in his adversary. Not for himself, but his sister. "She doesn't have to die."
Painter remembered Gunther's words earlier. I will not let this happen to Anna. I will do anything to stop it. Did that include betraying everyone else? Even defying his sister's wishes?
"Who promised you this cure?" Anna asked in a hard voice.
Klaus laughed gutturally. "Men far greater than the sniveling things you have become here. It is only right that you should be cast aside. You have served your purpose. But no longer."
A loud pop exploded in Painter's hands. The satellite phone he'd used to expose the saboteur shattered as the battery detonated, short-circuited by his amplifier. Fingers stinging, he dropped the smoking remains of the sat-phone and glanced skyward, toward the helipad bay doors. He prayed the amplifier had lasted long enough.
He was not the only one distracted. All eyes had swung toward him when the phone blew up. Including Gunther's.
Using the momentary inattention, Klaus freed a hunting knife and leaped at the other Sonnekonig. Gunther fired, catching his attacker in the gut with the large slug. Still, Klaus's blade grazed through the meat of Gunther's shoulder as he fell.
Gasping, Gunther twisted and threw Klaus to the floor.
The man crashed hard, sprawled out. Still, he managed to roll up on his side, his good arm clutching his belly. Blood poured heavily out of the stomach wound. Klaus coughed. More blood. Bright red. Arterial. Gunther's wild shot had struck something vital.