Something was wrong.
Lieutenant Chartrand stood outside the Pope's office and sensed in the uneasy stance of the soldier standing with him that they shared the same anxiety. The private meeting they were shielding, Rocher had said, could save the Vatican from destruction. So Chartrand wondered why his protective instincts were tingling. And why was Rocher acting so strangely?
Something definitely was awry.
Captain Rocher stood to Chartrand's right, staring dead ahead, his sharp gaze uncharacteristically distant. Chartrand barely recognized the captain. Rocher had not been himself in the last hour. His decisions made no sense.
Someone should be present inside this meeting! Chartrand thought. He had heard Maximilian Kohler bolt the door after he entered. Why had Rocher permitted this?
But there was so much more bothering Chartrand. The cardinals. The cardinals were still locked in the Sistine Chapel. This was absolute insanity. The camerlegno had wanted them evacuated fifteen minutes ago! Rocher had overruled the decision and not informed the camerlegno. Chartrand had expressed concern, and Rocher had almost taken off his head. Chain of command was never questioned in the Swiss Guard, and Rocher was now top dog.
Half an hour, Rocher thought, discreetly checking his Swiss chronometer in the dim light of the candelabra lighting the hall. Please hurry.
Chartrand wished he could hear what was happening on the other side of the doors. Still, he knew there was no one he would rather have handling this crisis than the camerlegno. The man had been tested beyond reason tonight, and he had not flinched. He had confronted the problem head-on... truthful, candid, shining like an example to all. Chartrand felt proud right now to be a Catholic. The Illuminati had made a mistake when they challenged Camerlegno Ventresca.
At that moment, however, Chartrand's thoughts were jolted by an unexpected sound. A banging. It was coming from down the hall. The pounding was distant and muffled, but incessant. Rocher looked up. The captain turned to Chartrand and motioned down the hall. Chartrand understood. He turned on his flashlight and took off to investigate.
The banging was more desperate now. Chartrand ran thirty yards down the corridor to an intersection. The noise seemed to be coming from around the corner, beyond the Sala Clementina. Chartrand felt perplexed. There was only one room back there - the Pope's private library. His Holiness's private library had been locked since the Pope's death. Nobody could possibly be in there!
Chartrand hurried down the second corridor, turned another corner, and rushed to the library door. The wooden portico was diminutive, but it stood in the dark like a dour sentinel. The banging was coming from somewhere inside. Chartrand hesitated. He had never been inside the private library. Few had. No one was allowed in without an escort by the Pope himself.
Tentatively, Chartrand reached for the doorknob and turned. As he had imagined, the door was locked. He put his ear to the door. The banging was louder. Then he heard something else. Voices! Someone calling out!
He could not make out the words, but he could hear the panic in their shouts. Was someone trapped in the library? Had the Swiss Guard not properly evacuated the building? Chartrand hesitated, wondering if he should go back and consult Rocher. The hell with that. Chartrand had been trained to make decisions, and he would make one now. He pulled out his side arm and fired a single shot into the door latch. The wood exploded, and the door swung open.
Beyond the threshold Chartrand saw nothing but blackness. He shone his flashlight. The room was rectangular - oriental carpets, high oak shelves packed with books, a stitched leather couch, and a marble fireplace. Chartrand had heard stories of this place - three thousand ancient volumes side by side with hundreds of current magazines and periodicals, anything His Holiness requested. The coffee table was covered with journals of science and politics.
The banging was clearer now. Chartrand shone his light across the room toward the sound. On the far wall, beyond the sitting area, was a huge door made of iron. It looked impenetrable as a vault. It had four mammoth locks. The tiny etched letters dead center of the door took Chartrand's breath away.
Chartrand stared. The Pope's secret escape route! Chartrand had certainly heard of Il Passetto, and he had even heard rumors that it had once had an entrance here in the library, but the tunnel had not been used in ages! Who could be banging on the other side?
Chartrand took his flashlight and rapped on the door. There was a muffled exultation from the other side. The banging stopped, and the voices yelled louder. Chartrand could barely make out their words through the barricade.
"... Kohler... lie... camerlegno..."
"Who is that?" Chartrand yelled.
"... ert Langdon... Vittoria Ve..."
Chartrand understood enough to be confused. I thought you were dead!
"... the door," the voices yelled. "Open...!"
Chartrand looked at the iron barrier and knew he would need dynamite to get through there. "Impossible!" he yelled. "Too thick!"
"... meeting... stop... erlegno... danger..."
Despite his training on the hazards of panic, Chartrand felt a sudden rush of fear at the last few words. Had he understood correctly? Heart pounding, he turned to run back to the office. As he turned, though, he stalled. His gaze had fallen to something on the door... something more shocking even than the message coming from beyond it. Emerging from the keyholes of each of the door's massive locks were keys. Chartrand stared. The keys were here? He blinked in disbelief. The keys to this door were supposed to be in a vault someplace! This passage was never used - not for centuries!
Chartrand dropped his flashlight on the floor. He grabbed the first key and turned. The mechanism was rusted and stiff, but it still worked. Someone had opened it recently. Chartrand worked the next lock. And the next. When the last bolt slid aside, Chartrand pulled. The slab of iron creaked open. He grabbed his light and shone it into the passage.
Robert Langdon and Vittoria Vetra looked like apparitions as they staggered into the library. Both were ragged and tired, but they were very much alive.
"What is this!" Chartrand demanded. "What's going on! Where did you come from?"
"Where's Max Kohler?" Langdon demanded.
Chartrand pointed. "In a private meeting with the camer - "
Langdon and Vittoria pushed past him and ran down the darkened hall. Chartrand turned, instinctively raising his gun at their backs. He quickly lowered it and ran after them. Rocher apparently heard them coming, because as they arrived outside the Pope's office, Rocher had spread his legs in a protective stance and was leveling his gun at them. "Alt!"
"The camerlegno is in danger!" Langdon yelled, raising his arms in surrender as he slid to a stop. "Open the door! Max Kohler is going to kill the camerlegno!"
Rocher looked angry.
"Open the door!" Vittoria said. "Hurry!"
But it was too late.
From inside the Pope's office came a bloodcurdling scream. It was the camerlegno.
The confrontation lasted only seconds.
Camerlegno Ventresca was still screaming when Chartrand stepped past Rocher and blew open the door of the Pope's office. The guards dashed in. Langdon and Vittoria ran in behind them.
The scene before them was staggering.
The chamber was lit only by candlelight and a dying fire. Kohler was near the fireplace, standing awkwardly in front of his wheelchair. He brandished a pistol, aimed at the camerlegno, who lay on the floor at his feet, writhing in agony. The camerlegno's cassock was torn open, and his bare chest was seared black. Langdon could not make out the symbol from across the room, but a large, square brand lay on the floor near Kohler. The metal still glowed red.
Two of the Swiss Guards acted without hesitation. They opened fire. The bullets smashed into Kohler's chest, driving him backward. Kohler collapsed into his wheelchair, his chest gurgling blood. His gun went skittering across the floor.
Langdon stood stunned in the doorway.
Vittoria seemed paralyzed. "Max..." she whispered.
The camerlegno, still twisting on the floor, rolled toward Rocher, and with the trancelike terror of the early witch hunts, pointed his index finger at Rocher and yelled a single word. "ILLUMINATUS!"
"You bastard," Rocher said, running at him. "You sanctimonious bas - "
This time it was Chartrand who reacted on instinct, putting three bullets in Rocher's back. The captain fell face first on the tile floor and slid lifeless through his own blood. Chartrand and the guards dashed immediately to the camerlegno, who lay clutching himself, convulsing in pain.
Both guards let out exclamations of horror when they saw the symbol seared on the camerlegno's chest. The second guard saw the brand upside down and immediately staggered backward with fear in his eyes. Chartrand, looking equally overwhelmed by the symbol, pulled the camerlegno's torn cassock up over the burn, shielding it from view.
Langdon felt delirious as he moved across the room. Through a mist of insanity and violence, he tried to make sense of what he was seeing. A crippled scientist, in a final act of symbolic dominance, had flown into Vatican City and branded the church's highest official. Some things are worth dying for, the Hassassin had said. Langdon wondered how a handicapped man could possibly have overpowered the camerlegno. Then again, Kohler had a gun. It doesn't matter how he did it! Kohler accomplished his mission!
Langdon moved toward the gruesome scene. The camerlegno was being attended, and Langdon felt himself drawn toward the smoking brand on the floor near Kohler's wheelchair. The sixth brand? The closer Langdon got, the more confused he became. The brand seemed to be a perfect square, quite large, and had obviously come from the sacred center compartment of the chest in the Illuminati Lair. A sixth and final brand, the Hassassin had said. The most brilliant of all.
Langdon knelt beside Kohler and reached for the object. The metal still radiated heat. Grasping the wooden handle, Langdon picked it up. He was not sure what he expected to see, but it most certainly was not this.
Angels & Demons
Langdon stared a long, confused moment. Nothing was making sense. Why had the guards cried out in horror when they saw this? It was a square of meaningless squiggles. The most brilliant of all? It was symmetrical, Langdon could tell as he rotated it in his hand, but it was gibberish.
When he felt a hand on his shoulder, Langdon looked up, expecting Vittoria. The hand, however, was covered with blood. It belonged to Maximilian Kohler, who was reaching out from his wheelchair.
Langdon dropped the brand and staggered to his feet. Kohler's still alive!
Slumped in his wheelchair, the dying director was still breathing, albeit barely, sucking in sputtering gasps. Kohler's eyes met Langdon's, and it was the same stony gaze that had greeted Langdon at CERN earlier that day. The eyes looked even harder in death, the loathing and enmity rising to the surface.
The scientist's body quivered, and Langdon sensed he was trying to move. Everyone else in the room was focused on the camerlegno, and Langdon wanted to call out, but he could not react. He was transfixed by the intensity radiating from Kohler in these final seconds of his life. The director, with tremulous effort, lifted his arm and pulled a small device off the arm of his wheelchair. It was the size of a matchbox. He held it out, quivering. For an instant, Langdon feared Kohler had a weapon. But it was something else.
"G-give..." Kohler's final words were a gurgling whisper. "G-give this... to the m-media." Kohler collapsed motionless, and the device fell in his lap.
Shocked, Langdon stared at the device. It was electronic. The words SONY RUVI were printed across the front. Langdon recognized it as one of those new ultraminiature, palm-held camcorders. The balls on this guy! he thought. Kohler had apparently recorded some sort of final suicide message he wanted the media to broadcast... no doubt some sermon about the importance of science and the evils of religion. Langdon decided he had done enough for this man's cause tonight. Before Chartrand saw Kohler's camcorder, Langdon slipped it into his deepest jacket pocket. Kohler's final message can rot in hell!
It was the voice of the camerlegno that broke the silence. He was trying to sit up. "The cardinals," he gasped to Chartrand.
"Still in the Sistine Chapel!" Chartrand exclaimed. "Captain Rocher ordered - "
"Evacuate... now. Everyone."
Chartrand sent one of the other guards running off to let the cardinals out.
The camerlegno grimaced in pain. "Helicopter... out front... get me to a hospital."
In St. Peter's Square, the Swiss Guard pilot sat in the cockpit of the parked Vatican helicopter and rubbed his temples. The chaos in the square around him was so loud that it drowned out the sound of his idling rotors. This was no solemn candlelight vigil. He was amazed a riot had not broken out yet.
With less than twenty-five minutes left until midnight, the people were still packed together, some praying, some weeping for the church, others screaming obscenities and proclaiming that this was what the church deserved, still others chanting apocalyptic Bible verses.
The pilot's head pounded as the media lights glinted off his windshield. He squinted out at the clamorous masses. Banners waved over the crowd.
Antimatter is the Antichrist!
Where is your God now?
The pilot groaned, his headache worsening. He half considered grabbing the windshield's vinyl covering and putting it up so he wouldn't have to watch, but he knew he would be airborne in a matter of minutes. Lieutenant Chartrand had just radioed with terrible news. The camerlegno had been attacked by Maximilian Kohler and seriously injured. Chartrand, the American, and the woman were carrying the camerlegno out now so he could be evacuated to a hospital.
The pilot felt personally responsible for the attack. He reprimanded himself for not acting on his gut. Earlier, when he had picked up Kohler at the airport, he had sensed something in the scientist's dead eyes. He couldn't place it, but he didn't like it. Not that it mattered. Rocher was running the show, and Rocher insisted this was the guy. Rocher had apparently been wrong.
A new clamor arose from the crowd, and the pilot looked over to see a line of cardinals processing solemnly out of the Vatican onto St. Peter's Square. The cardinals' relief to be leaving ground zero seemed to be quickly overcome by looks of bewilderment at the spectacle now going on outside the church.
The crowd noise intensified yet again. The pilot's head pounded. He needed an aspirin. Maybe three. He didn't like to fly on medication, but a few aspirin would certainly be less debilitating than this raging headache. He reached for the first-aid kit, kept with assorted maps and manuals in a cargo box bolted between the two front seats. When he tried to open the box, though, he found it locked. He looked around for the key and then finally gave up. Tonight was clearly not his lucky night. He went back to massaging his temples.
Inside the darkened basilica, Langdon, Vittoria, and the two guards strained breathlessly toward the main exit. Unable to find anything more suitable, the four of them were transporting the wounded camerlegno on a narrow table, balancing the inert body between them as though on a stretcher. Outside the doors, the faint roar of human chaos was now audible. The camerlegno teetered on the brink of unconsciousness.
Time was running out.
It was 11:39 P.M. when Langdon stepped with the others from St. Peter's Basilica. The glare that hit his eyes was searing. The media lights shone off the white marble like sunlight off a snowy tundra. Langdon squinted, trying to find refuge behind the façade's enormous columns, but the light came from all directions. In front of him, a collage of massive video screens rose above the crowd.
Standing there atop the magnificent stairs that spilled down to the piazza below, Langdon felt like a reluctant player on the world's biggest stage. Somewhere beyond the glaring lights, Langdon heard an idling helicopter and the roar of a hundred thousand voices. To their left, a procession of cardinals was now evacuating onto the square. They all stopped in apparent distress to see the scene now unfolding on the staircase.
"Careful now," Chartrand urged, sounding focused as the group began descending the stairs toward the helicopter.
Langdon felt like they were moving underwater. His arms ached from the weight of the camerlegno and the table. He wondered how the moment could get much less dignified. Then he saw the answer. The two BBC reporters had apparently been crossing the open square on their way back to the press area. But now, with the roar of the crowd, they had turned. Glick and Macri were now running back toward them. Macri's camera was raised and rolling. Here come the vultures, Langdon thought.
"Alt!" Chartrand yelled. "Get back!"
But the reporters kept coming. Langdon guessed the other networks would take about six seconds to pick up this live BBC feed again. He was wrong. They took two. As if connected by some sort of universal consciousness, every last media screen in the piazza cut away from their countdown clocks and their Vatican experts and began transmitting the same picture - a jiggling action footage swooping up the Vatican stairs. Now, everywhere Langdon looked, he saw the camerlegno's limp body in a Technicolor close-up.
This is wrong! Langdon thought. He wanted to run down the stairs and interfere, but he could not. It wouldn't have helped anyway. Whether it was the roar of the crowd or the cool night air that caused it, Langdon would never know, but at that moment, the inconceivable occurred.
Like a man awakening from a nightmare, the camerlegno's eyes shot open and he sat bolt upright. Taken entirely by surprise, Langdon and the others fumbled with the shifting weight. The front of the table dipped. The camerlegno began to slide. They tried to recover by setting the table down, but it was too late. The camerlegno slid off the front. Incredibly, he did not fall. His feet hit the marble, and he swayed upright. He stood a moment, looking disoriented, and then, before anyone could stop him, he lurched forward, staggering down the stairs toward Macri.
"No!" Langdon screamed.
Chartrand rushed forward, trying to reign in the camerlegno. But the camerlegno turned on him, wild-eyed, crazed. "Leave me!"
Chartrand jumped back.
The scene went from bad to worse. The camerlegno's torn cassock, having been only laid over his chest by Chartrand, began to slip lower. For a moment, Langdon thought the garment might hold, but that moment passed. The cassock let go, sliding off his shoulders down around his waist.
The gasp that went up from the crowd seemed to travel around the globe and back in an instant. Cameras rolled, flashbulbs exploded. On media screens everywhere, the image of the camerlegno's branded chest was projected, towering and in grisly detail. Some screens were even freezing the image and rotating it 180 degrees.
The ultimate Illuminati victory.
Langdon stared at the brand on the screens. Although it was the imprint of the square brand he had held earlier, the symbol now made sense. Perfect sense. The marking's awesome power hit Langdon like a train.
Orientation. Langdon had forgotten the first rule of symbology. When is a square not a square? He had also forgotten that iron brands, just like rubber stamps, never looked like their imprints. They were in reverse. Langdon had been looking at the brand's negative!
As the chaos grew, an old Illuminati quote echoed with new meaning: "A flawless diamond, born of the ancient elements with such perfection that all those who saw it could only stare in wonder."
Langdon knew now the myth was true.
Earth, Air, Fire, Water.
The Illuminati Diamond.
Angels & Demons
Robert Langdon had little doubt that the chaos and hysteria coursing through St. Peter's Square at this very instant exceeded anything Vatican Hill had ever witnessed. No battle, no crucifixion, no pilgrimage, no mystical vision... nothing in the shrine's 2,000-year history could possibly match the scope and drama of this very moment.
As the tragedy unfolded, Langdon felt oddly separate, as if hovering there beside Vittoria at the top of the stairs. The action seemed to distend, as if in a time warp, all the insanity slowing to a crawl...
The branded camerlegno... raving for the world to see...
The Illuminati Diamond... unveiled in its diabolical genius...
The countdown clock registering the final twenty minutes of Vatican history...
The drama, however, had only just begun.
The camerlegno, as if in some sort of post-traumatic trance, seemed suddenly puissant, possessed by demons. He began babbling, whispering to unseen spirits, looking up at the sky and raising his arms to God.
"Speak!" the camerlegno yelled to the heavens. "Yes, I hear you!"
In that moment, Langdon understood. His heart dropped like a rock.
Vittoria apparently understood too. She went white. "He's in shock," she said. "He's hallucinating. He thinks he's talking to God!"
Somebody's got to stop this, Langdon thought. It was a wretched and embarrassing end. Get this man to a hospital!
Below them on the stairs, Chinita Macri was poised and filming, apparently having located her ideal vantage point. The images she filmed appeared instantly across the square behind her on media screens... like endless drive-in movies all playing the same grisly tragedy.
The whole scene felt epic. The camerlegno, in his torn cassock, with the scorched brand on his chest, looked like some sort of battered champion who had overcome the rings of hell for this one moment of revelation. He bellowed to the heavens.
"Ti sento, Dio! I hear you, God!"
Chartrand backed off, a look of awe on his face.
The hush that fell across the crowd was instant and absolute. For a moment it was as if the silence had fallen across the entire planet... everyone in front of their TVs rigid, a communal holding of breath.
The camerlegno stood on the stairs, before the world, and held out his arms. He looked almost Christlike, bare and wounded before the world. He raised his arms to the heavens and, looking up, exclaimed, "Grazie! Grazie, Dio!"
The silence of the masses never broke.
"Grazie, Dio!" the camerlegno cried out again. Like the sun breaking through a stormy sky, a look of joy spread across his face. "Grazie, Dio!"
Thank you, God? Langdon stared in wonder.
The camerlegno was radiant now, his eerie transformation complete. He looked up at the sky, still nodding furiously. He shouted to the heavens, "Upon this rock I will build my church!"
Langdon knew the words, but he had no idea why the camerlegno could possibly be shouting them.
The camerlegno turned back to the crowd and bellowed again into the night. "Upon this rock I will build my church!" Then he raised his hands to the sky and laughed out loud. "Grazie, Dio! Grazie!"
The man had clearly gone mad.
The world watched, spellbound.
The culmination, however, was something no one expected.
With a final joyous exultation, the camerlegno turned and dashed back into St. Peter's Basilica.