INFERNO 12 - Welcome to My Woven Words


Corridor—was designed by Giorgio
Vasari in 1564 under orders of the Medici ruler, Grand Duke Cosimo I, to provide safe passage from his residence at the Pitti Palace to his administrative offices, across the Arno River in the Palazzo Vecchio.
Similar to Vatican City’s famed Passetto, the Vasari Corridor was the quintessential secret passageway. It stretched nearly a full kilometer from the eastern corner of the Boboli
Gardens to the heart of the old palace itself, crossing the Ponte Vecchio and snaking through the
Uffizi Gallery in between.
Nowadays, the Vasari Corridor still served as a safe haven, although not for Medici aristocrats but for artwork; with its seemingly endless expanse of secure wall space, the corridor was home to countless rare paintings— overflow from the world-famous Uffizi Gallery, through which the corridor passed.
Langdon had traveled the passageway a few years before as part of a leisurely private tour. On that afternoon, he had paused to admire the corridor’s mind-boggling array of paintings—including the most extensive collection of selfportraits in the world. He had also stopped several times to peer out of the corridor’s occasional viewing portals, which permitted travelers to gauge their progress along the elevated walkway.
This morning, however, Langdon and Sienna were moving through the corridor at a run, eager to put as much distance as possible between themselves and their pursuers at the other end. Langdon wondered how long it would take for the bound guard to be discovered. As the tunnel stretched out before them, Langdon sensed it leading them closer with every step to what they were searching for.
Cerca trova … the eyes of death … and an answer as to who is chasing me.
The distant whine of the surveillance drone was far behind t h e m now. The farther they progressed into the tunnel, the more Langdon was reminded of just how ambitious an architectural feat this passageway had been. Elevated above the city for nearly its entire length, the Vasari Corridor was like a broad serpent, snaking through the buildings, all the way from the Pitti Palace, across the Arno, into the heart of old Florence. The narrow, whitewashed passageway seemed to stretch for eternity, occasionally turning briefly left or right to avoid an obstacle, but always moving east … across the Arno.
The sudden sound of voices echoed ahead of them in the corridor, and Sienna skidded to a stop. Langdon halted, too, and immediately placed a calm hand on her shoulder, motioning to a nearby viewing portal.
Tourists down below.
Langdon and Sienna moved to the portal and peered out, seeing that they were currently perched above the Ponte Vecchio—the medieval stone bridge that serves as a pedestrian walkway into the old city.
Below them, the day’s first tourists were enjoying the market that has been held on the bridge since the 1400s. Today the vendors are mostly goldsmiths and jewelers, but that has not always been the case. Originally, the bridge had been home to Florence’s vast, open-air meat market, but the butchers were banished in 1593 after the rancid odor of spoiled meat had wafted up into the Vasari Corridor and assaulted the delicate nostrils of the grand duke.
Down there on the bridge somewhere, Langdon recalled, was the precise spot where one of
Florence’s most infamous crimes had been committed. In 1216, a young nobleman named Buondelmonte had rejected his family’s arranged marriage for the sake of his true love, and for that decision he was brutally killed on this very bridge.
His death, long considered
“Florence’s bloodiest murder,” was so named because it had triggered a rift between two powerful political factions—the Guelphs and Ghibellines —who had then waged war ruthlessly for centuries against each other. Because the ensuing political feud had brought about Dante’s exile from Florence, the poet had bitterly immortalized the event in his Divine
Comedy: O Buondelmonte, through another’s counsel, you fled your wedding pledge, and brought such evil!
To this day, three separate plaques—each quoting a different line from Canto 16 of Dante’s Paradiso—could be found near the murder site. One of them was situated at the mouth of the Ponte Vecchio and ominously declared:
Langdon raised his eyes now from the bridge to the murky waters it spanned. Off to the east, the lone spire of the Palazzo Vecchio beckoned.
Even though Langdon and Sienna were only halfway across the Arno River, he had no doubt they had long since passed the point of no return.

Thirty feet below, on the cobblestones of the Ponte Vecchio, Vayentha anxiously scanned the oncoming crowd, never imagining that her only redemption had, just moments before, passed directly overhead.

DEEP IN THE bowels of the anchored vessel The Mendacium, facilitator Knowlton sat alone in his cubicle and tried in vain to focus on his work. Filled with trepidation, he had gone back to viewing the video and, for the past hour, had been analyzing the nine-minute soliloquy that hovered somewhere between genius and madness.
Knowlton fast-forwarded from the beginning, looking for any clue he might have missed. He skipped past the submerged plaque … past the suspended bag of murky yellowbrown liquid … and found the moment that the beak-nosed shadow appeared—a deformed silhouette cast upon a dripping cavern wall … illuminated by a soft red glow.
Knowlton listened to the muffled voice, attempting to decipher the elaborate language. About halfway through the speech, the shadow on the wall suddenly loomed larger and the sound of the voice intensified.
Dante’s hell is not fiction … it is prophecy!
Wretched misery. Torturous woe.
This is the landscape of tomorrow.
Mankind, if unchecked, functions like a plague, a cancer … our numbers intensifying with each successive generation until the earthly comforts that once nourished our virtue and brotherhood have dwindled to nothing … unveiling the monsters within us … fighting to the death to feed our young.
This is Dante’s nine-ringed hell.
This is what awaits.
As the future hurls herself toward us, fueled by the unyielding mathematics of Malthus, we teeter above the first ring of hell … preparing to plummet faster than we ever fathomed.
Knowlton paused the video. The mathematics of Malthus? A quick Internet search led him to information about a prominent nineteenth-century English mathematician and demographist named Thomas Robert Malthus, who had famously predicted an eventual global collapse due to overpopulation.
Malthus’s biography, much to Knowlton’s alarm, included a harrowing excerpt from his book An Essay on the Principle of Population:
The power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction; and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague, advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and ten thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.
With his heart pounding, Knowlton glanced back at the paused image of the beak-nosed shadow.
Mankind, if unchecked, functions like a cancer.
Unchecked. Knowlton did not like the sound of that.
With a hesitant finger, he started the video again.
The muffled voice continued.
To do nothing is to welcome
Dante’s hell … cramped and starving, weltering in Sin.
And so boldly I have taken action.
Some will recoil in horror, but all salvation comes at a price.
One day the world will grasp the beauty of my sacrifice.
For I am your Salvation.
I am the Shade.
I am the gateway to the
Posthuman age.

THE PALAZZO VECCHIO resembles a giant chess piece. With its robust quadrangular facade and rusticated square-cut battlements, the massive rooklike building is aptly situated, guarding the southeast corner of the Piazza della Signoria.
The building’s unusual single spire, rising off center from within the square fortress, cuts a distinctive profile against the skyline and has become an inimitable symbol of
Built as a potent seat of Italian government, the building imposes on its arriving visitors an intimidating array of masculine statuary. Ammannati’s muscular Neptune
stands naked atop four sea horses, a symbol of Florence’s dominance in the sea. A replica of Michelangelo’s David—arguably the world’s most admired male nude—stands in all his glory at the palazzo entrance. David is joined by Hercules and Cacus—two more colossal naked men—who, in concert with a host of Neptune’s satyrs, bring to more than a dozen the total number of exposed penises that greet visitors to the palazzo.
Normally, Langdon’s visits to the
Palazzo Vecchio had begun here on the Piazza della Signoria, which, despite its overabundance of phalluses, had always been one of his favorite plazas in all of Europe. No trip to the piazza was complete without sipping an espresso at Caffè Rivoire, followed by a visit to the Medici lions in the Loggia dei Lanzi— the piazza’s open-air sculpture gallery.
Today, however, Langdon and his companion planned to enter the Palazzo Vecchio via the Vasari Corridor, much as Medici dukes might have done in their day—bypassing the famous Uffizi Gallery and following the corridor as it snaked above bridges, over roads, and through buildings, leading directly into the heart of the old palace. Thus far, they had heard no trace of footsteps behind them, but Langdon was still anxious to exit the corridor.
And now we’ve arrived, Langdon realized, eyeing the heavy wooden door before them. The entrance to
the old palace.
The door, despite its substantial locking mechanism, was equipped with a horizontal push bar, which provided emergency-exit capability while preventing anyone on the other side from entering the Vasari Corridor without a key card.
Langdon placed his ear to the door and listened. Hearing nothing on the other side, he put his hands against the bar and pushed gently.
The lock clicked.
As the wooden portal creaked open a few inches, Langdon peered into the world beyond. A small alcove.
Empty. Silent.
With a small sigh of relief, Langdon stepped through and motioned for Sienna to follow.
We’re in.
Standing in a quiet alcove somewhere inside the Palazzo Vecchio, Langdon waited a moment and tried to get his bearings. In front of them, a long hallway ran
perpendicular to the alcove. To their left, in the distance, voices echoed up the corridor, calm and jovial. The Palazzo Vecchio, much like the United States Capitol Building, was both a tourist attraction and a governmental office. At this hour, the voices they heard were most likely those of civic employees bustling in and out of offices, getting ready for the day.
Langdon and Sienna inched toward the hallway and peered around the corner. Sure enough, at the end of the hallway was an atrium in which a dozen or so government employees stood around sipping morning espressi and chatting with colleagues before work.
“The Vasari mural,” Sienna whispered, “you said it’s in the Hall of the Five Hundred?”
Langdon nodded and pointed across the crowded atrium toward a portico that opened into a stone hallway. “Unfortunately, it’s through that atrium.”
“You’re sure?”
Langdon nodded. “We’ll never make it through without being seen.”
“They’re government workers. They’ll have no interest in us. Just walk like you belong here.”
Sienna reached up and gently smoothed out Langdon’s Brioni suit jacket and adjusted his collar. “You look very presentable, Robert.” She gave him a demure smile, adjusted her own sweater, and set out.
Langdon hurried after her, both of them striding purposefully toward the atrium. As they entered, Sienna began talking to him in rapid Italian —something about farm subsidies— gesticulating passionately as she spoke. They kept to the outer wall, maintaining their distance from the others. To Langdon’s amazement, not one single employee gave them a second glance.
When they were beyond the atrium, they quickly pressed onward toward the hallway. Langdon recalled the Shakespeare playbill. Mischievous Puck. “You’re quite an actress,” he whispered.
“I’ve had to be,” she said reflexively, her voice strangely distant.
Once again, Langdon sensed there was more heartache in this young woman’s past than he knew, and he felt a deepening sense of remorse for having entangled her in his dangerous predicament. He reminded himself that there was nothing to be done now, except to see it through.
Keep swimming through the tunnel … and pray for light.
As they neared their portico, Langdon was relieved to see that his memory had served him well. A small plaque with an arrow pointed around the corner into the hallway and announced: IL SALONE DEI CINQUECENTO.
The Hall of the Five Hundred, Langdon thought, wondering what answers awaited within. The truth
can be glimpsed only through the eyes of death. What could this mean?
“The room may still be locked,” Langdon warned as they neared the corner. Although the Hall of the Five Hundred was a popular tourist destination, the palazzo did not appear to be open yet to tourists this morning.
“Do you hear that?” Sienna asked, stopping short.
Langdon heard it. A loud humming noise was coming from just around
the corner. Please tell me it’s not an
indoor drone. Cautiously, Langdon peered around the corner of the portico. Thirty yards away stood the surprisingly simple wooden door that opened into the Hall of the Five Hundred. Regrettably, directly between them stood a portly custodian pushing an electric floorbuffing machine in weary circles.
Guardian of the gate.
Langdon’s attention shifted to three symbols on a plastic sign outside the door. Decipherable to even the least experienced of symbologists, these universal icons were: a video camera with an X through it; a drinking cup with an X through it; and a pair of boxy stick figures, one female, one male.
Langdon took charge, striding swiftly toward the custodian, breaking into a jog as he drew nearer. Sienna rushed behind him to keep up.
The custodian glanced up, looking startled. “Signori?!” He held out his arms for Langdon and Sienna to stop.
Langdon gave the man a pained smile—more of a wince—and motioned apologetically toward the symbols near the door. “Toilette,” he declared, his voice pinched. It was not a question.
The custodian hesitated a moment, looking ready to deny their request, and then finally, watching Langdon shift uncomfortably before him, he gave a sympathetic nod and waved them through.
When they reached the door,
Langdon gave Sienna a quick wink. “Compassion is a universal

AT ONE TIME, the Hall of the Five Hundred was the largest room in the world. It had been built in 1494 to provide a meeting hall for the entire Consiglio Maggiore—the republic’s Grand Council of precisely five hundred members—from which the hall drew its name. Some years later, at the behest of Cosimo I, the room was renovated and enlarged
substantially. Cosimo I, the most powerful man in Italy, chose as the project’s overseer and architect the great Giorgio Vasari.
In an exceptional feat of
engineering, Vasari had raised the original roof substantially and permitted natural light to flow in through high transoms on all four sides of the room, resulting in an elegant showroom for some of Florence’s finest architecture, sculpture, and painting.
For Langdon, it was always the floor of this room that first drew his eye, immediately announcing that this was no ordinary space. The crimson stone parquet was overlaid with a black grid, giving the twelvethousand-square-foot expanse an air of solidity, depth, and balance.
Langdon raised his eyes slowly to the far side of the room, where six dynamic sculptures—The Labors of Hercules—lined the wall like a phalanx of soldiers. Langdon intentionally ignored the oftmaligned Hercules and Diomedes, whose naked bodies were locked in an awkward-looking wrestling match, which included a creative “penile grip” that always made Langdon cringe.
Far easier on the eyes was Michelangelo’s breathtaking Genius of Victory, which stood to the right, dominating the central niche in the south wall. At nearly nine feet tall, this sculpture had been intended for the tomb of the ultraconservative pope Julius II—Il Papa Terribile—a commission Langdon had always found ironic, considering the Vatican’s stance on homosexuality.
The statue depicted Tommaso dei
Cavalieri, the young man with whom Michelangelo had been in love for much of his life and to whom he composed over three hundred sonnets.
“I can’t believe I’ve never been here,” Sienna whispered beside him, her voice suddenly quiet and
reverent. “This is … beautiful.”
Langdon nodded, recalling his first visit to this space—on the occasion of a spectacular concert of classical music featuring the world-renowned pianist Mariele Keymel. Although this grand hall was originally intended for private political meetings and audiences with the grand duke, nowadays it more commonly featured popular musicians, lecturers, and gala dinners—from art historian Maurizio Seracini to the Gucci Museum’s star-studded, black-andwhite gala opening. Langdon sometimes wondered how Cosimo I would feel about sharing his austere private hall with CEOs and fashion models.
Langdon lifted his gaze now to the enormous murals adorning the walls. Their bizarre history included a failed experimental painting technique by Leonardo da Vinci, which resulted in a “melting masterpiece.” There had also been an artistic “showdown” spearheaded by Piero Soderini and Machiavelli, which pitted against each other two titans of the Renaissance—Michelangelo and Leonardo—commanding them to create murals on opposite walls of the same room.
Today, however, Langdon was
more interested in one of the room’s other historical oddities.
Cerca trova.
“Which one is the Vasari?” Sienna asked, scanning the murals.
“Nearly all of them,” Langdon replied, knowing that as part of the room’s renovation, Vasari and his assistants had repainted almost everything in it, from the original wall murals to the thirty-nine coffered panels adorning its famed “hanging” ceiling.
“But that mural there,” Langdon said, pointing to the mural on their far right, “is the one we came to see —Vasari’s Battle of Marciano.”
The military confrontation was absolutely massive—fifty-five feet long and more than three stories tall. It was rendered in ruddy shades of brown and green—a violent panorama of soldiers, horses, spears, and banners all colliding on a pastoral hillside.
“Vasari, Vasari,” Sienna whispered. “And hidden in there somewhere is his secret message?”
Langdon nodded as he squinted toward the top of the huge mural, trying to locate the particular green battle flag on which Vasari had painted his mysterious message
—CERCA TROVA. “It’s almost impossible to see from down here without binoculars,” Langdon said, pointing, “but in the top middle section, if you look just below the two farmhouses on the hillside, there’s a tiny, tilted
green flag and—”
“I see it!” Sienna said, pointing to the upper-right quadrant, precisely in the right spot.
Langdon wished he had younger eyes.
The two walked closer to the towering mural, and Langdon gazed up at its splendor. Finally, they were here. The only problem now was that Langdon was not sure why they were here. He stood in silence for several long moments, staring up at the details of Vasari’s masterpiece.
If I fail … then all is death.
A door creaked open behind them, and the custodian with the floor buffer peered in, looking uncertain. Sienna gave a friendly wave. The custodian eyed them a moment and then closed the door.
“We don’t have much time, Robert,” Sienna urged. “You need to think. Does the painting ring any bells for you? Any memories at all?”
Langdon scrutinized the chaotic battle scene above them.
The truth can be glimpsed only through the eyes of death.
Langdon had thought perhaps the mural included a corpse whose dead eyes were gazing blankly off toward some other clue in the painting … or perhaps even elsewhere in the room. Unfortunately, Langdon now saw that there were dozens of dead bodies in the mural, none of them particularly noteworthy and none with dead eyes directed anywhere in particular.
The truth can be glimpsed only through the eyes of death?
He tried to envision connecting lines from one corpse to another, wondering if a shape might emerge, but he saw nothing.
Langdon’s head was throbbing again as he frantically plumbed the depths of his memory. Somewhere down there, the voice of the silverhaired woman kept whispering: Seek
and ye shall find.
“Find what?!” Langdon wanted to shout.
He forced himself to close his eyes and exhale slowly. He rolled his shoulders a few times and tried to free himself from all conscious thought, hoping to tap into his gut instinct.
Very sorry.
Cerca trova.
The truth can be glimpsed only through the eyes of death.
His gut told him, without a doubt, that he was standing in the right location. And while he was not yet sure why, he had the distinct sense that he was moments away from finding what he had come here seeking.

Agent Brüder stared blankly at the red velvet pantaloons and tunic in the display case before him and cursed under his breath. His SRS t e a m had searched the entire costume gallery, and Langdon and Sienna Brooks were nowhere to be found.
Surveillance and Response
Support, he thought angrily. Since when does a college professor elude SRS? Where the hell did they go!
“Every exit was sealed,” one of his men insisted. “The only possibility is that they are still in the gardens.”
While this seemed logical, Brüder had the sinking sensation that Langdon and Sienna Brooks had found some other way out.
“Get the drone back in the air,”
Brüder snapped. “And tell the local authorities to widen the search area outside the walls.” Goddamn it!
As his men dashed off, Brüder grabbed his phone and called the person in charge. “It’s Brüder,” he said. “I’m afraid we’ve got a serious problem. A number of them actually.”

Dan Brown

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