Piazza Navona. Fountain of the Four Rivers.
Nights in Rome, like those in the desert, can be surprisingly cool, even after a warm day. Langdon was huddled now on the fringes of Piazza Navona, pulling his jacket around him. Like the distant white noise of traffic, a cacophony of news reports echoed across the city. He checked his watch. Fifteen minutes. He was grateful for a few moments of rest.
The piazza was deserted. Bernini's masterful fountain sizzled before him with a fearful sorcery. The foaming pool sent a magical mist upward, lit from beneath by underwater floodlights. Langdon sensed a cool electricity in the air.
The fountain's most arresting quality was its height. The central core alone was over twenty feet tall - a rugged mountain of travertine marble riddled with caves and grottoes through which the water churned. The entire mound was draped with pagan figures. Atop this stood an obelisk that climbed another forty feet. Langdon let his eyes climb. On the obelisk's tip, a faint shadow blotted the sky, a lone pigeon perched silently.
A cross, Langdon thought, still amazed by the arrangement of the markers across Rome. Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers was the last altar of science. Only hours ago Langdon had been standing in the Pantheon convinced the Path of Illumination had been broken and he would never get this far. It had been a foolish blunder. In fact, the entire path was intact. Earth, Air, Fire, Water. And Langdon had followed it... from beginning to end.
Not quite to the end, he reminded himself. The path had five stops, not four. This fourth marker fountain somehow pointed to the ultimate destiny - the Illuminati's sacred lair - the Church of Illumination. Langdon wondered if the lair were still standing. He wondered if that was where the Hassassin had taken Vittoria.
Langdon found his eyes probing the figures in the fountain, looking for any clue as to the direction of the lair. Let angels guide you on your lofty quest. Almost immediately, though, he was overcome by an unsettling awareness. This fountain contained no angels whatsoever. It certainly contained none Langdon could see from where he was standing... and none he had ever seen in the past. The Fountain of the Four Rivers was a pagan work. The carvings were all profane - humans, animals, even an awkward armadillo. An angel here would stick out like a sore thumb.
Is this the wrong place? He considered the cruciform arrangement of the four obelisks. He clenched his fists. This fountain is perfect.
It was only 10:46 P.M. when a black van emerged from the alleyway on the far side of the piazza. Langdon would not have given it a second look except that the van drove with no headlights. Like a shark patrolling a moonlit bay, the vehicle circled the perimeter of the piazza.
Langdon hunkered lower, crouched in the shadows beside the huge stairway leading up to the Church of St. Agnes in Agony. He gazed out at the piazza, his pulse climbing.
After making two complete circuits, the van banked inward toward Bernini's fountain. It pulled abreast of the basin, moving laterally along the rim until its side was flush with the fountain. Then it parked, its sliding door positioned only inches above the churning water.
Langdon felt an uneasy premonition. Had the Hassassin arrived early? Had he come in a van? Langdon had imagined the killer escorting his last victim across the piazza on foot, like he had at St. Peter's, giving Langdon an open shot. But if the Hassassin had arrived in a van, the rules had just changed.
Suddenly, the van's side door slid open.
On the floor of the van, contorted in agony, lay a naked man. The man was wrapped in yards of heavy chains. He thrashed against the iron links, but the chains were too heavy. One of the links bisected the man's mouth like a horse's bit, stifling his cries for help. It was then that Langdon saw the second figure, moving around behind the prisoner in the dark, as though making final preparations.
Langdon knew he had only seconds to act.
Taking the gun, he slipped off his jacket and dropped it on the ground. He didn't want the added encumbrance of a tweed jacket, nor did he have any intention of taking Galileo's Diagramma anywhere near the water. The document would stay here where it was safe and dry.
Langdon scrambled to his right. Circling the perimeter of the fountain, he positioned himself directly opposite the van. The fountain's massive centerpiece obscured his view. Standing, he ran directly toward the basin. He hoped the thundering water was drowning his footsteps. When he reached the fountain, he climbed over the rim and dropped into the foaming pool.
The water was waist deep and like ice. Langdon grit his teeth and plowed through the water. The bottom was slippery, made doubly treacherous by a stratum of coins thrown for good luck. Langdon sensed he would need more than good luck. As the mist rose all around him, he wondered if it was the cold or the fear that was causing the gun in his hand to shake.
He reached the interior of the fountain and circled back to his left. He waded hard, clinging to the cover of the marble forms. Hiding himself behind the huge carved form of a horse, Langdon peered out. The van was only fifteen feet away. The Hassassin was crouched on the floor of the van, hands planted on the cardinal's chain-clad body, preparing to roll him out the open door into the fountain.
Waist-deep in water, Robert Langdon raised his gun and stepped out of the mist, feeling like some sort of aquatic cowboy making a final stand. "Don't move." His voice was steadier than the gun.
The Hassassin looked up. For a moment he seemed confused, as though he had seen a ghost. Then his lips curled into an evil smile. He raised his arms in submission. "And so it goes."
"Get out of the van."
"You look wet."
"I am eager to return to my prize."
Langdon leveled the gun. "I won't hesitate to shoot."
"You've already hesitated."
Langdon felt his finger tighten on the trigger. The cardinal lay motionless now. He looked exhausted, moribund. "Untie him."
"Forget him. You've come for the woman. Do not pretend otherwise."
Langdon fought the urge to end it right there. "Where is she?"
"Somewhere safe. Awaiting my return."
She's alive. Langdon felt a ray of hope. "At the Church of Illumination?"
The killer smiled. "You will never find its location."
Langdon was incredulous. The lair is still standing. He aimed the gun. "Where?"
"The location has remained secret for centuries. Even to me it was only revealed recently. I would die before I break that trust."
"I can find it without you."
"An arrogant thought."
Langdon motioned to the fountain. "I've come this far."
"So have many. The final step is the hardest."
Langdon stepped closer, his footing tentative beneath the water. The Hassassin looked remarkably calm, squatting there in the back of the van with his arms raised over his head. Langdon aimed at his chest, wondering if he should simply shoot and be done with it. No. He knows where Vittoria is. He knows where the antimatter is. I need information!
From the darkness of the van the Hassassin gazed out at his aggressor and couldn't help but feel an amused pity. The American was brave, that he had proven. But he was also untrained. That he had also proven. Valor without expertise was suicide. There were rules of survival. Ancient rules. And the American was breaking all of them.
You had the advantage - the element of surprise. You squandered it.
The American was indecisive... hoping for backup most likely... or perhaps a slip of the tongue that would reveal critical information.
Never interrogate before you disable your prey. A cornered enemy is a deadly enemy.
The American was talking again. Probing. Maneuvering.
The killer almost laughed aloud. This is not one of your Hollywood movies... there will be no long discussions at gunpoint before the final shoot-out. This is the end. Now.
Without breaking eye contact, the killer inched his hands across the ceiling of the van until he found what he was looking for. Staring dead ahead, he grasped it.
Then he made his play.
The motion was utterly unexpected. For an instant, Langdon thought the laws of physics had ceased to exist. The killer seemed to hang weightless in the air as his legs shot out from beneath him, his boots driving into the cardinal's side and launching the chain-laden body out the door. The cardinal splashed down, sending up a sheet of spray.
Water dousing his face, Langdon realized too late what had happened. The killer had grasped one of the van's roll bars and used it to swing outward. Now the Hassassin was sailing toward him, feet-first through the spray.
Langdon pulled the trigger, and the silencer spat. The bullet exploded through the toe of the Hassassin's left boot. Instantly Langdon felt the soles of the Hassassin's boots connect with his chest, driving him back with a crushing kick.
The two men splashed down in a spray of blood and water.
As the icy liquid engulfed Langdon's body, his first cognition was pain. Survival instinct came next. He realized he was no longer holding his weapon. It had been knocked away. Diving deep, he groped along the slimy bottom. His hand gripped metal. A handful of coins. He dropped them. Opening his eyes, Langdon scanned the glowing basin. The water churned around him like a frigid Jacuzzi.
Despite the instinct to breathe, fear kept him on the bottom. Always moving. He did not know from where the next assault would come. He needed to find the gun! His hands groped desperately in front of him.
You have the advantage, he told himself. You are in your element. Even in a soaked turtleneck Langdon was an agile swimmer. Water is your element.
When Langdon's fingers found metal a second time, he was certain his luck had changed. The object in his hand was no handful of coins. He gripped it and tried to pull it toward him, but when he did, he found himself gliding through the water. The object was stationary.
Langdon realized even before he coasted over the cardinal's writhing body that he had grasped part of the metal chain that was weighing the man down. Langdon hovered a moment, immobilized by the sight of the terrified face staring up at him from the floor of the fountain.
Jolted by the life in the man's eyes, Langdon reached down and grabbed the chains, trying to heave him toward the surface. The body came slowly... like an anchor. Langdon pulled harder. When the cardinal's head broke the surface, the old man gasped a few sucking, desperate breaths. Then, violently, his body rolled, causing Langdon to lose his grip on the slippery chains. Like a stone, Baggia went down again and disappeared beneath the foaming water.
Langdon dove, eyes wide in the liquid murkiness. He found the cardinal. This time, when Langdon grabbed on, the chains across Baggia's chest shifted... parting to reveal a further wickedness... a word stamped in seared flesh.
Angels & Demons
An instant later, two boots strode into view. One was gushing blood.
As a water polo player, Robert Langdon had endured more than his fair share of underwater battles. The competitive savagery that raged beneath the surface of a water polo pool, away from the eyes of the referees, could rival even the ugliest wrestling match. Langdon had been kicked, scratched, held, and even bitten once by a frustrated defenseman from whom Langdon had continuously twisted away.
Now, though, thrashing in the frigid water of Bernini's fountain, Langdon knew he was a long way from the Harvard pool. He was fighting not for a game, but for his life. This was the second time they had battled. No referees here. No rematches. The arms driving his face toward the bottom of the basin thrust with a force that left no doubt that it intended to kill.
Langdon instinctively spun like a torpedo. Break the hold! But the grip torqued him back, his attacker enjoying an advantage no water polo defenseman ever had - two feet on solid ground. Langdon contorted, trying to get his own feet beneath him. The Hassassin seemed to be favoring one arm... but nonetheless, his grip held firm.
It was then that Langdon knew he was not coming up. He did the only thing he could think of to do. He stopped trying to surface. If you can't go north, go east. Marshalling the last of his strength, Langdon dolphin-kicked his legs and pulled his arms beneath him in an awkward butterfly stroke. His body lurched forward.
The sudden switch in direction seemed to take the Hassassin off guard. Langdon's lateral motion dragged his captor's arms sideways, compromising his balance. The man's grip faltered, and Langdon kicked again. The sensation felt like a towline had snapped. Suddenly Langdon was free. Blowing the stale air from his lungs, Langdon clawed for the surface. A single breath was all he got. With crashing force the Hassassin was on top of him again, palms on his shoulders, all of his weight bearing down. Langdon scrambled to plant his feet beneath him but the Hassassin's leg swung out, cutting Langdon down.
He went under again.
Langdon's muscles burned as he twisted beneath the water. This time his maneuvers were in vain. Through the bubbling water, Langdon scanned the bottom, looking for the gun. Everything was blurred. The bubbles were denser here. A blinding light flashed in his face as the killer wrestled him deeper, toward a submerged spotlight bolted on the floor of the fountain. Langdon reached out, grabbing the canister. It was hot. Langdon tried to pull himself free, but the contraption was mounted on hinges and pivoted in his hand. His leverage was instantly lost.
The Hassassin drove him deeper still.
It was then Langdon saw it. Poking out from under the coins directly beneath his face. A narrow, black cylinder. The silencer of Olivetti's gun! Langdon reached out, but as his fingers wrapped around the cylinder, he did not feel metal, he felt plastic. When he pulled, the flexible rubber hose came flopping toward him like a flimsy snake. It was about two feet long with a jet of bubbles surging from the end. Langdon had not found the gun at all. It was one of the fountain's many harmless spumanti... bubble makers.
Only a few feet away, Cardinal Baggia felt his soul straining to leave his body. Although he had prepared for this moment his entire life, he had never imagined the end would be like this. His physical shell was in agony... burned, bruised, and held underwater by an immovable weight. He reminded himself that this suffering was nothing compared to what Jesus had endured.
He died for my sins...
Baggia could hear the thrashing of a battle raging nearby. He could not bear the thought of it. His captor was about to extinguish yet another life... the man with kind eyes, the man who had tried to help.
As the pain mounted, Baggia lay on his back and stared up through the water at the black sky above him. For a moment he thought he saw stars.
It was time.
Releasing all fear and doubt, Baggia opened his mouth and expelled what he knew would be his final breath. He watched his spirit gurgle heavenward in a burst of transparent bubbles. Then, reflexively, he gasped. The water poured in like icy daggers to his sides. The pain lasted only a few seconds.
The Hassassin ignored the burning in his foot and focused on the drowning American, whom he now held pinned beneath him in the churning water. Finish it fully. He tightened his grip, knowing this time Robert Langdon would not survive. As he predicted, his victim's struggling became weaker and weaker.
Suddenly Langdon's body went rigid. He began to shake wildly.
Yes, the Hassassin mused. The rigors. When the water first hits the lungs. The rigors, he knew, would last about five seconds.
They lasted six.
Then, exactly as the Hassassin expected, his victim went suddenly flaccid. Like a great deflating balloon, Robert Langdon fell limp. It was over. The Hassassin held him down for another thirty seconds to let the water flood all of his pulmonary tissue. Gradually, he felt Langdon's body sink, on its own accord, to the bottom. Finally, the Hassassin let go. The media would find a double surprise in the Fountain of the Four Rivers.
"Tabban!" the Hassassin swore, clambering out of the fountain and looking at his bleeding toe. The tip of his boot was shredded, and the front of his big toe had been sheared off. Angry at his own carelessness, he tore the cuff from his pant leg and rammed the fabric into the toe of his boot. Pain shot up his leg. "Ibn al-kalb!" He clenched his fists and rammed the cloth deeper. The bleeding slowed until it was only a trickle.
Turning his thoughts from pain to pleasure, the Hassassin got into his van. His work in Rome was done. He knew exactly what would soothe his discomfort. Vittoria Vetra was bound and waiting. The Hassassin, even cold and wet, felt himself stiffen.
I have earned my reward.
Across town Vittoria awoke in pain. She was on her back. All of her muscles felt like stone. Tight. Brittle. Her arms hurt. When she tried to move, she felt spasms in her shoulders. It took her a moment to comprehend her hands were tied behind her back. Her initial reaction was confusion. Am I dreaming? But when she tried to lift her head, the pain at the base of her skull informed her of her wakefulness.
Confusion transforming to fear, she scanned her surroundings. She was in a crude, stone room - large and well-furnished, lit by torches. Some kind of ancient meeting hall. Old-fashioned benches sat in a circle nearby.
Vittoria felt a breeze, cold now on her skin. Nearby, a set of double doors stood open, beyond them a balcony. Through the slits in the balustrade, Vittoria could have sworn she saw the Vatican.
Robert Langdon lay on a bed of coins at the bottom of the Fountain of the Four Rivers. His mouth was still wrapped around the plastic hose. The air being pumped through the spumanti tube to froth the fountain had been polluted by the pump, and his throat burned. He was not complaining, though. He was alive.
He was not sure how accurate his imitation of a drowning man had been, but having been around water his entire life, Langdon had certainly heard accounts. He had done his best. Near the end, he had even blown all the air from his lungs and stopped breathing so that his muscle mass would carry his body to the floor.
Thankfully, the Hassassin had bought it and let go.
Now, resting on the bottom of the fountain, Langdon had waited as long as he could wait. He was about to start choking. He wondered if the Hassassin was still out there. Taking an acrid breath from the tube, Langdon let go and swam across the bottom of the fountain until he found the smooth swell of the central core. Silently, he followed it upward, surfacing out of sight, in the shadows beneath the huge marble figures.
The van was gone.
That was all Langdon needed to see. Pulling a long breath of fresh air back into his lungs, he scrambled back toward where Cardinal Baggia had gone down. Langdon knew the man would be unconscious now, and chances of revival were slim, but he had to try. When Langdon found the body, he planted his feet on either side, reached down, and grabbed the chains wrapped around the cardinal. Then Langdon pulled. When the cardinal broke water, Langdon could see the eyes were already rolled upward, bulging. Not a good sign. There was no breath or pulse.
Knowing he could never get the body up and over the fountain rim, Langdon lugged Cardinal Baggia through the water and into the hollow beneath the central mound of marble. Here the water became shallow, and there was an inclined ledge. Langdon dragged the naked body up onto the ledge as far as he could. Not far.
Then he went to work. Compressing the cardinal's chain-clad chest, Langdon pumped the water from his lungs. Then he began CPR. Counting carefully. Deliberately. Resisting the instinct to blow too hard and too fast. For three minutes Langdon tried to revive the old man. After five minutes, Langdon knew it was over.
Il preferito. The man who would be Pope. Lying dead before him.
Somehow, even now, prostrate in the shadows on the semisubmerged ledge, Cardinal Baggia retained an air of quiet dignity. The water lapped softly across his chest, seeming almost remorseful... as if asking forgiveness for being the man's ultimate killer... as if trying to cleanse the scalded wound that bore its name.
Gently, Langdon ran a hand across the man's face and closed his upturned eyes. As he did, he felt an exhausted shudder of tears well from within. It startled him. Then, for the first time in years, Langdon cried.
The fog of weary emotion lifted slowly as Langdon waded away from the dead cardinal, back into deep water. Depleted and alone in the fountain, Langdon half-expected to collapse. But instead, he felt a new compulsion rising within him. Undeniable. Frantic. He sensed his muscles hardening with an unexpected grit. His mind, as though ignoring the pain in his heart, forced aside the past and brought into focus the single, desperate task ahead.
Find the Illuminati lair. Help Vittoria.
Turning now to the mountainous core of Bernini's fountain, Langdon summoned hope and launched himself into his quest for the final Illuminati marker. He knew somewhere on this gnarled mass of figures was a clue that pointed to the lair. As Langdon scanned the fountain, though, his hope withered quickly. The words of the segno seemed to gurgle mockingly all around him. Let angels guide you on your lofty quest. Langdon glared at the carved forms before him. The fountain is pagan! It has no damn angels anywhere!
When Langdon completed his fruitless search of the core, his eyes instinctively climbed the towering stone pillar. Four markers, he thought, spread across Rome in a giant cross.
Scanning the hieroglyphics covering the obelisk, he wondered if perhaps there were a clue hidden in the Egyptian symbology. He immediately dismissed the idea. The hieroglyphs predated Bernini by centuries, and hieroglyphs had not even been decipherable until the Rosetta Stone was discovered. Still, Langdon ventured, maybe Bernini had carved an additional symbol? One that would go unnoticed among all the hieroglyphs?
Feeling a shimmer of hope, Langdon circumnavigated the fountain one more time and studied all four façades of the obelisk. It took him two minutes, and when he reached the end of the final face, his hopes sank. Nothing in the hieroglyphs stood out as any kind of addition. Certainly no angels.
Langdon checked his watch. It was eleven on the dot. He couldn't tell whether time was flying or crawling. Images of Vittoria and the Hassassin started to swirl hauntingly as Langdon clambered his way around the fountain, the frustration mounting as he frantically completed yet another fruitless circle. Beaten and exhausted, Langdon felt ready to collapse. He threw back his head to scream into the night.
The sound jammed in his throat.
Langdon was staring straight up the obelisk. The object perched at the very top was one he had seen earlier and ignored. Now, however, it stopped him short. It was not an angel. Far from it. In fact, he had not even perceived it as part of Bernini's fountain. He thought it was a living creature, another one of the city's scavengers perched on a lofty tower.
Langdon squinted skyward at the object, his vision blurred by the glowing mist around him. It was a pigeon, wasn't it? He could clearly see the head and beak silhouetted against a cluster of stars. And yet the bird had not budged since Langdon's arrival, even with the battle below. The bird sat now exactly as it had been when Langdon entered the square. It was perched high atop the obelisk, gazing calmly westward.
Langdon stared at it a moment and then plunged his hand into the fountain and grabbed a fistful of coins. He hurled the coins skyward. They clattered across the upper levels of the granite obelisk. The bird did not budge. He tried again. This time, one of the coins hit the mark. A faint sound of metal on metal clanged across the square.
The damned pigeon was bronze.
You're looking for an angel, not a pigeon, a voice reminded him. But it was too late. Langdon had made the connection. He realized the bird was not a pigeon at all.
It was a dove.
Barely aware of his own actions, Langdon splashed toward the center of the fountain and began scrambling up the travertine mountain, clambering over huge arms and heads, pulling himself higher. Halfway to the base of the obelisk, he emerged from the mist and could see the head of the bird more clearly.
There was no doubt. It was a dove. The bird's deceptively dark color was the result of Rome's pollution tarnishing the original bronze. Then the significance hit him. He had seen a pair of doves earlier today at the Pantheon. A pair of doves carried no meaning. This dove, however, was alone.
The lone dove is the pagan symbol for the Angel of Peace.
The truth almost lifted Langdon the rest of the way to the obelisk. Bernini had chosen the pagan symbol for the angel so he could disguise it in a pagan fountain. Let angels guide you on your lofty quest. The dove is the angel! Langdon could think of no more lofty perch for the Illuminati's final marker than atop this obelisk.
The bird was looking west. Langdon tried to follow its gaze, but he could not see over the buildings. He climbed higher. A quote from St. Gregory of Nyssa emerged from his memory most unexpectedly. As the soul becomes enlightened... it takes the beautiful shape of the dove.
Langdon rose heavenward. Toward the dove. He was almost flying now. He reached the platform from which the obelisk rose and could climb no higher. With one look around, though, he knew he didn't have to. All of Rome spread out before him. The view was stunning.
To his left, the chaotic media lights surrounding St. Peter's. To his right, the smoking cupola of Santa Maria della Vittoria. In front of him in the distance, Piazza del Popolo. Beneath him, the fourth and final point. A giant cross of obelisks.
Trembling, Langdon looked to the dove overhead. He turned and faced the proper direction, and then he lowered his eyes to the skyline.
In an instant he saw it.
So obvious. So clear. So deviously simple.
Staring at it now, Langdon could not believe the Illuminati lair had stayed hidden for so many years. The entire city seemed to fade away as he looked out at the monstrous stone structure across the river in front of him. The building was as famous as any in Rome. It stood on the banks of the Tiber River diagonally adjacent to the Vatican. The building's geometry was stark - a circular castle, within a square fortress, and then, outside its walls, surrounding the entire structure, a park in the shape of a pentagram.
The ancient stone ramparts before him were dramatically lit by soft floodlights. High atop the castle stood the mammoth bronze angel. The angel pointed his sword downward at the exact center of the castle. And as if that were not enough, leading solely and directly to the castle's main entrance stood the famous Bridge of Angels... a dramatic approachway adorned by twelve towering angels carved by none other than Bernini himself.
In a final breathtaking revelation, Langdon realized Bernini's city-wide cross of obelisks marked the fortress in perfect Illuminati fashion; the cross's central arm passed directly through the center of the castle's bridge, dividing it into two equal halves.
Langdon retrieved his tweed coat, holding it away from his dripping body. Then he jumped into the stolen sedan and rammed his soggy shoe into the accelerator, speeding off into the night.