INFERNO 19 - Welcome to My Woven Words

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“ ‘POSSESSED’?” SIENNA DEMANDED. “I don’t understand.”
I’m not sure I do either. Langdon studied        the     text     that    had materialized beneath the seven Ps— a single word emblazoned across the inside of Dante’s forehead. possessed
“As in … possessed by the devil?” Sienna asked.
Possibly. Langdon turned his gaze overhead to the mosaic of Satan consuming the wretched souls who had never been able to purge themselves of sin. Dante …
possessed? It didn’t seem to make much sense.
“There’s got to be more,” Sienna contended, taking the mask from Langdon’s hands and studying it more closely. After a moment she began nodding. “Yes, look at the ends of the word … there’s more text on either side.”
Langdon looked again, now seeing the faint shadow of additional text showing through the moist gesso at either end of the word possessed.
Eagerly, Sienna grabbed the cloth and continued dabbing around the word until more text materialized, written on a gentle curve.
O you possessed of sturdy intellect
Langdon let out a low whistle. “ ‘O, you possessed of sturdy intellect … observe the teachings hidden here … beneath the veil of verses so obscure.’ ”
Sienna stared at him. “I’m sorry?”
“It’s taken from one of the most famous stanzas of Dante’s Inferno,” Langdon said excitedly. “It’s Dante urging his smartest readers to seek the wisdom hidden within his cryptic verse.”
Langdon often cited this exact line when teaching literary symbolism; the line was as close an example as existed to an author waving his arms wildly and shouting: “Hey, readers! There is a symbolic double meaning here!”
Sienna began rubbing the back of the mask, more vigorously now.
“Careful with that!” Langdon urged.
“You’re right,” Sienna announced, zealously wiping away gesso. “The rest of Dante’s quote is here—just as you recalled it.” She paused to dip the cloth back in the font and rinse it out.
Langdon looked on in dismay as the water in the baptismal font turned cloudy with dissolved gesso.
Our apologies to San Giovanni, he thought, uneasy that this sacred font was being used as a sink.
When Sienna raised the cloth from the water, it was dripping. She barely wrung it out before placing the soggy cloth in the center of the mask and swishing it around as if she were cleaning a soup bowl.
“Sienna!” Langdon admonished. “That’s an ancient—”
“The whole back side has text!” she announced as she scoured the inside of the mask. “And it’s written in …” She paused, cocking her head to the left and rotating the mask to the right, as if trying to read sideways.
“Written in what?” Langdon demanded, unable to see.
Sienna finished cleaning the mask and dried it off with a fresh cloth. Then she set it down in front of him so they could both study the result.
When Langdon saw the inside of the mask, he did a double take. The entire concave surface was covered in text, what had to be nearly a hundred words. Beginning at the top with the line O you possessed of sturdy intellect, the text continued in a single, unbroken line … curling down the right side of the mask to the bottom, where it turned upside down and continued back across the bottom, returning up the left side of the mask to the beginning, where it repeated a similar path in a slightly smaller loop.
The path of the text was eerily reminiscent of Mount Purgatory’s spiraling pathway to paradise. The symbologist in Langdon instantly identified the precise spiral.
Symmetrical clockwise Archimedean. He had also noted that the number of revolutions from the first word, O, to the final period in the center was a familiar number.
Barely breathing, Langdon turned the mask in slow circles, reading the text as it curled ever inward around the concave bowl, funneling toward the center.

“The first stanza is Dante, almost verbatim,” Langdon said. “ ‘O you possessed of sturdy intellect, observe the teaching that is hidden here … beneath the veil of verses so obscure.’ ”
“And the rest?” Sienna pressed.
Langdon shook his head. “I don’t think so. It’s written in a similar verse pattern, but I don’t recognize the text as Dante’s. It looks like someone is
imitating his style.”
“Zobrist,” Sienna whispered. “It has to be.”
Langdon nodded. It was as good a guess as any. Zobrist, after all, by
altering                                 Botticelli’s Mappa
dell’Inferno, had already revealed his proclivity for collaborating with the masters and modifying great works of art to suit his needs.
“The rest of the text is very strange,” Langdon said, again rotating the mask and reading inward. “It talks about … severing the heads from horses … plucking up the bones of the blind.” He skimmed ahead to the final line, which was written in a tight circle at the very center of the mask. He drew a startled breath. “It also mentions
‘bloodred waters.’ ”
Sienna’s eyebrows arched. “Just like your visions of the silver-haired woman?”
Langdon nodded, puzzling over the
text. The bloodred waters … of the
lagoon that reflects no stars?
“Look,” she whispered, reading over his shoulder and pointing to a single word partway through the
spiral. “A specific location.”
Langdon’s eyes found the word, which he had skimmed over on his first pass. It was the name of one of the most spectacular and unique cities in the world. Langdon felt a chill, knowing it also happened to be the city in which Dante Alighieri famously became infected with the deadly disease that killed him.
Langdon and Sienna studied the cryptic verses in silence for several moments. The poem was disturbing and macabre, and hard to decipher. Use of the words doge and lagoon confirmed for Langdon beyond any doubt that the poem was indeed referencing Venice—a unique Italian water-world city made up of hundreds of interconnected lagoons and ruled for centuries by a Venetian head of state known as a doge.
At a glance, Langdon could not discern exactly where in Venice this poem was pointing, but it definitely seemed to be urging the reader to follow its directions.
Place thine ear to the ground, listening for the sounds of trickling water.
“It’s pointing underground,” Sienna said, reading along with him.
Langdon gave an uneasy nod as he read the next line.
Follow deep into the sunken palace … for here, in the darkness, the chthonic monster waits.
“Robert?” Sienna asked uneasily.
“What kind of monster?”
“Chthonic,” Langdon replied. “The c-h is silent. It means ‘dwelling beneath the earth.’ ”
Before Langdon could continue, the loud clunk of a dead bolt echoed across the baptistry. The tourist entrance had apparently just been unlocked from outside.
“Grazie mille,” said the man with the rash on his face. A thousand thanks.
The baptistry docent nodded nervously as he pocketed the five hundred dollars cash and glanced around to make sure nobody was watching.
“Cinque minuti,” the docent reminded, discreetly swinging open the unbolted door just wide enough for the man with the rash to slip inside. The docent closed the door, sealing the man inside and blocking out all sound from outside. Five
Initially the docent had refused to take pity on the man who claimed to have come all the way from America to pray at the Baptistry of San Giovanni in hopes of curing his terrible skin disease. Eventually, though, he had been inspired to become sympathetic, aided no doubt by an offer of five hundred dollars for five minutes alone in the baptistry … combined with the growing fear that this contagious-looking person would stand there beside him for the next three hours until the building opened.
Now, as he moved stealthily into the octagonal sanctuary, the man felt his eyes drawn reflexively upward. Holy shit. The ceiling was like nothing he’d ever seen. A threeheaded demon stared down directly at him, and he quickly lowered his gaze to the floor.
The space appeared to be deserted.
Where the hell are they?
As the man scanned the room, his eyes fell on the main altar. It was a massive rectangular block of marble, set back in a niche, behind a barrier of stanchions and swags to keep spectators away.
The altar appeared to be the only hiding place in the entire room. Moreover, one of the swags was
swinging slightly … as if it had just been disturbed.
Behind the altar, Langdon and Sienna crouched in silence. They had barely had time to collect the dirty towels and straighten the font cover before diving out of sight behind the main altar, with the death mask carefully in tow. The plan was to hide here until the room filled up with tourists, and then discreetly exit among the crowd.
The baptistry’s north door had definitely just been opened—at least for a moment—because Langdon had heard sounds emanating from the piazza, but then just as abruptly, the door had been closed, and all had gone quiet again.
Now, back in the silence, Langdon heard a single set of footsteps moving across the stone floor.
A docent? Checking the room before opening it to tourists later today?
He had not had time to extinguish the spotlight over the baptismal font and wondered if the docent would notice. Apparently not. The footsteps were moving briskly in their direction, pausing just in front of the altar at the swag that Langdon and Sienna had just vaulted over.
There was a long silence.
“Robert, it’s me,” a man’s voice said angrily. “I know you’re back
there. Get the hell out here and explain yourself.”

THERE’S NO POINT in pretending I’m not here.
Langdon motioned for Sienna to remain crouched safely out of sight, holding the Dante death mask, which he had resealed in the Ziploc bag.
Then, slowly, Langdon rose to his feet. Standing like a priest behind the altar of the baptistry, Langdon gazed out at his congregation of one. The stranger facing him had sandy-brown hair, designer glasses, and a terrible rash on his face and neck. He scratched nervously at his irritated neck, his swollen eyes flashing daggers of confusion and anger.
“You want to tell me what the hell you’re doing, Robert?!” he demanded, stepping over the swag and advancing toward Langdon. His accent was American.
“Sure,” Langdon replied politely.
“But first, tell me who you are.”
The man stopped short, looking incredulous. “What did you say?!”
          Langdon            sensed               something
vaguely familiar in the man’s eyes … his voice, too, maybe. I’ve met him … somehow, somewhere. Langdon repeated his question calmly. “Please tell me who you are and how I know you.”
The man threw up his hands in disbelief. “Jonathan Ferris? World Health Organization? The guy who flew to Harvard University and picked you up!?”
Langdon tried to process what he was hearing.
“Why haven’t you called in?!” the man demanded, still scratching at his neck and cheeks, which looked red and blistered. “And who the hell is the woman I saw you come in here with?! Is she the one you’re working for now?”
Sienna scrambled to her feet beside Langdon and immediately took charge. “Dr. Ferris? I’m Sienna Brooks. I’m also a doctor. I work here in Florence. Professor Langdon was shot in the head last night. He has retrograde amnesia, and he doesn’t know who you are or what happened to him over the last two days. I’m here because I’m helping him.”
As Sienna’s words echoed through the empty baptistry, the man cocked his head, puzzled, as if her meaning had not quite registered. After a dazed beat, he staggered back a step, steadying himself on one of the stanchions.
“Oh … my God,” he stammered.
“That explains everything.”
Langdon watched the anger drain from the man’s face.
“Robert,”       the      newcomer whispered, “we thought you had …” He shook his head as if trying to get the pieces to fall into place. “We thought you had switched sides … that maybe they had paid you off … or threatened you … We just didn’t know!”
“I’m the only one he’s spoken to,” Sienna said. “All he knows is he woke up last night in my hospital with people trying to kill him. Also, he’s been having terrible visions—dead bodies, plague victims, and some woman with silver hair and a serpent amulet telling him—”
           “Elizabeth!”        the       man          blurted.
“That’s Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey! Robert, she’s the person who recruited you to help us!”
“Well, if that’s her,” Sienna said, “I hope you know that she’s in trouble. We saw her trapped in the back of a van full of soldiers, and she looked like she’d been drugged or
The man nodded slowly, closing his eyes. His eyelids looked puffy and red.
“What’s wrong with your face?” Sienna demanded.
He opened his eyes. “I’m sorry?”
“Your skin? It looks like you contracted something. Are you ill?”
The man looked taken aback, and while Sienna’s question was certainly blunt to the point of rudeness, Langdon had wondered the same thing. Considering the number of plague references he’d encountered today, the sight of red, blistering skin was unsettling.
“I’m fine,” the man said. “It was the damned hotel soap. I’m deathly allergic to soy, and most of these perfumed Italian soaps are soybased. Stupid me for not checking.”
Sienna heaved a sigh of relief, her shoulders relaxing now. “Thank God you didn’t eat it. Contact dermatitis beats anaphylactic shock.”
They shared an awkward laugh.
“Tell me,” Sienna ventured, “does the name Bertrand Zobrist mean anything to you?”
The man froze, looking as if he’d just come face-to-face with the three-headed devil.
“We believe we just found a message from him,” Sienna said. “It points to someplace in Venice. Does that make any sense to you?”
The man’s eyes were wild now. “Jesus, yes! Absolutely! Where is it pointing!?”
Sienna drew a breath, clearly prepared to tell this man everything about the spiraling poem she and Langdon had just discovered on the mask, but Langdon instinctively placed a quieting hand on hers. The man certainly appeared to be an ally, but after today’s events, Langdon’s gut told him to trust no one.
Moreover, the man’s tie rang a bell, and he sensed he might very well be the same man he had seen praying in the small Dante church earlier.
Was he following us?
“How did you find us in here?” Langdon demanded.
The man still looked puzzled that Langdon was not recalling things. “Robert, you called me last night to say you had set up a meeting with a museum director named Ignazio Busoni. Then you disappeared. You never called in. When I heard Ignazio Busoni had been found dead, I got worried. I’ve been over here looking for you all morning. I saw the police activity outside the Palazzo Vecchio, and while waiting to find out what happened, by chance I saw you crawling out of a tiny door with …”
He glanced over at Sienna, apparently drawing a blank.
“Sienna,” she prompted. “Brooks.”
“I’m sorry … with Dr. Brooks. I followed you hoping to learn what
the hell you were doing.”
“I saw you in the Cerchi church, praying, didn’t I?”
“Yes! I was trying to figure out what you were doing, but it made no sense! You seemed to leave the church like a man on a mission, and so I followed you. When I saw you sneak into the baptistry, I decided it was time to confront you. I paid off the docent for a couple minutes alone in here.”
“Gutsy move,” Langdon noted, “if you thought I had turned on you.”
        The       man        shook       his          head.
“Something told me you would never do that. Professor Robert Langdon? I knew there had to be some other explanation. But amnesia? Incredible. I never would have guessed.”
The man with the rash began scratching nervously again. “Listen, I was given only five minutes. We need to get out of here, now. If I found you, then the people trying to kill you might find you, too. There is a lot going on that you don’t understand. We need to get to Venice. Immediately. The trick will be getting out of Florence unseen. The people who have Dr. Sinskey … the ones chasing you … they have eyes everywhere.” He motioned toward the door.
Langdon held his ground, finally feeling like he was about to get some answers. “Who are the soldiers in black suits? Why are they trying to kill me?”
“Long story,” the man said. “I’ll explain on the way.”
Langdon frowned, not entirely liking this answer. He motioned to Sienna and ushered her off to one side, talking to her in hushed tones. “Do you trust him? What do you think?”
Sienna looked at Langdon like he was crazy for asking. “What do I think? I think he’s with the World Health Organization! I think he’s our best bet for getting answers!”
“And the rash?”
Sienna shrugged. “It’s exactly what he says—severe contact dermatitis.”
“And if it’s not what he says?” Langdon whispered. “If it’s … something else?”
“Something else?” She gave him an incredulous look. “Robert, it’s not the plague, if that’s what you’re asking. He’s a doctor, for heaven’s sake. If he had a deadly disease and knew he was contagious, he wouldn’t be reckless enough to be out
infecting the world.”
“What if he didn’t realize he had the plague?”
Sienna pursed her lips, thinking a moment. “Then I’m afraid you and I are already screwed … along with everyone in the general area.”
“You know, your bedside manner could use some work.”
“Just being honest.” Sienna handed Langdon the Ziploc bag containing
the death mask. “You can carry our little friend.”
As the two returned to Dr. Ferris, they could see that he was just ending a quiet phone call.
“I just called my driver,” the man said. “He’ll meet us out in front by the—” Dr. Ferris stopped short, staring down at Langdon’s hand and seeing, for the first time, the dead face of Dante Alighieri.
“Christ!” Ferris said, recoiling.
“What the hell is that?!”
“Long story,” Langdon replied. “I’ll explain on the way.”

NEW YORK EDITOR Jonas Faukman awoke to the sound of his homeoffice line ringing. He rolled over and checked the clock: 4:28 A.M.
In the world of book publishing, late-night emergencies were as rare as overnight success. Unnerved, Faukman slipped out of bed and hurried down the hall into his office.
“Hello?” The voice on the line was a familiar deep baritone. “Jonas, thank heaven you’re home. It’s
Robert. I hope I didn’t wake you.”
“Of course you woke me! It’s four o’clock in the morning!”
“Sorry, I’m overseas.”
They don’t teach time zones at Harvard?
“I’m in some trouble, Jonas, and I need a favor.” Langdon’s voice sounded tense. “It involves your
corporate NetJets card.”
“NetJets?” Faukman gave an incredulous laugh. “Robert, we’re in
book publishing. We don’t have
access to private jets.”
“We both know you’re lying, my friend.”
Faukman sighed. “Okay, let me rephrase that. We don’t have access to private jets for authors of tomes about religious history. If you want to
write Fifty Shades of Iconography, we can talk.”
“Jonas, whatever the flight costs, I’ll pay you back. You have my word. Have I ever broken a promise to you?”
Other than missing your last deadline by three years?
Nevertheless Faukman sensed the urgency in Langdon’s tone. “Tell me what’s going on. I’ll try to help.”
“I don’t have time to explain, but I really need you to do this for me. It’s a matter of life and death.”
          Faukman         had         worked           with
Langdon long enough to be familiar with his wry sense of humor, but he heard no trace of joking in Langdon’s anxious tone at that moment. The
man is dead serious. Faukman exhaled, and made up his mind. My finance manager is going to crucify me. Thirty seconds later, Faukman had written down the details of
Langdon’s specific flight request.
“Is everything okay?” Langdon asked, apparently sensing his editor’s hesitation and surprise over the details of the flight request.
“Yeah, I just thought you were in the States,” Faukman said. “I’m
surprised to learn you’re in Italy.”
“You and me both,” Langdon said. “Thanks again, Jonas. I’m heading for the airport now.”
NetJets’ U.S. operations center is located in Columbus, Ohio, with a flight support team on call around the clock.
Owner services representative Deb Kier had just received a call from a corporate fractional owner in New York. “One moment, sir,” she said, adjusting her headset and typing at her terminal. “Technically that would be a NetJets Europe flight, but I can help you with it.” She quickly patched into the NetJets Europe system, centered in Paço de Arcos, Portugal, and checked the current positioning of their jets in and around Italy.
“Okay, sir,” she said, “it looks like we have a Citation Excel positioned in Monaco, which we could have routed to Florence in just under an hour. Would that be adequate for Mr.
“Let’s hope so,” the man from the publishing company replied, sounding exhausted and a bit annoyed. “We do appreciate it.”
“Entirely our pleasure,” Deb said.
“And Mr. Langdon would like to fly to
Deb kept typing. “All set,” she finally said. “Mr. Langdon is confirmed out of Tassignano FBO in Lucca, which is about fifty miles west of Florence. He will be departing at eleven-twenty A.M. local time. Mr.
Langdon needs to be at the FBO ten minutes before wheels up. You’ve requested no ground transportation, no catering, and you’ve given me his passport information, so we’re all set.
Will there be anything else?”
“A new job?” he said with a laugh.
“Thanks. You’ve been very helpful.”
“Our pleasure. Have a nice night.” Deb ended the call and turned back to her screen to complete the reservation. She entered Robert Langdon’s passport information and was about to continue when her screen began flashing a red alert box. Deb read the message, her eyes widening.
This must be a mistake.
She tried entering Langdon’s passport again. The blinking warning came up again. This same alert would have shown up on any airline computer in the world had Langdon tried to book a flight.
Deb Kier stared a long moment in disbelief. She knew NetJets took customer privacy very seriously, and yet this alert trumped all of their corporate privacy regulations.
Deb Kier immediately called the authorities.
Agent Brüder snapped his mobile phone shut and began herding his men back into the vans.
“Langdon’s on the move,” he announced. “He’s taking a private jet to Geneva. Wheels up in just under an hour out of Lucca FBO, fifty miles west. If we move, we can get there before he takes off.”
At that same moment a hired Fiat sedan was racing northward along the Via dei Panzani, leaving the Piazza del Duomo behind and making its way toward Florence’s Santa
Maria Novella train station.
In the backseat, Langdon and Sienna huddled low while Dr. Ferris sat in front with the driver. The reservation with NetJets had been Sienna’s idea. With luck, it would provide enough misdirection to allow the three of them to pass safely through the Florence train station, which undoubtedly would otherwise have been packed with police. Fortunately, Venice was only two hours away by train, and domestic train travel required no passport.
Langdon looked to Sienna, who seemed to be studying Dr. Ferris with concern. The man was in obvious pain, his breathing labored, as if it hurt every time he inhaled.
I hope she’s right about his ailment, Langdon thought, eyeing the man’s rash and picturing all the germs floating around in the cramped little car. Even his fingertips looked like they were puffy and red. Langdon pushed the concern from his mind and looked out the window.
As they approached the train station, they passed the Grand Hotel Baglioni, which often hosted events for an art conference Langdon attended every year. Seeing it, Langdon realized he was about to do something he had never before done in his life.
I’m leaving Florence without visiting the David.
        With          quiet           apologies            to
Michelangelo, Langdon turned his eyes to the train station ahead … and his thoughts to Venice.

By Dan Brown

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