INFERNO 20 - Welcome to My Woven Words

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     Dr.      Elizabeth       Sinskey        felt
increasingly ill as she rocked groggily in the backseat of the van, which was now racing out of Florence, heading west toward a private airfield outside of the city.
Geneva makes no sense, Sinskey told herself.
The only relevant connection to Geneva was that it was the site of the WHO’s world headquarters. Is Langdon looking for me there? It seemed nonsensical considering that Langdon knew Sinskey was here in Florence.
Another thought now struck her.
My God … is Zobrist targeting Geneva?
Zobrist was a man who was attuned to symbolism, and creating a
“ground zero” at the World Health Organization’s headquarters admittedly had some elegance to it, considering his yearlong battle with Sinskey. Then again, if Zobrist was looking for a receptive flash point for a plague, Geneva was a poor choice. Relative to other metropolises, the city was geographically isolated and was rather cold this time of year.
Most plagues     took root   in overcrowded, warmer environments. Geneva was more than a thousand feet above sea level, and hardly a suitable place to start a pandemic. No matter how much Zobrist despises me.
So the question remained—why was Langdon going there? The
American professor’s bizarre travel destination was yet another entry in the growing list of his inexplicable behaviors that began last night, and despite her best efforts, Sinskey was having a very hard time coming up with any rational explanation for them.
Whose side is he on?
Admittedly, Sinskey had known Langdon only a few days, but she was usually a good judge of
character, and she refused to believe that a man like Robert Langdon could be seduced with money. And yet, he
broke contact with us last night. Now he seemed to be running around like some kind of rogue operative. Was he somehow persuaded to think that Zobrist’s actions make some kind of twisted sense?
The thought gave her a chill.
No, she assured herself. I know his reputation too well; he’s better than that.
Sinskey had first met Robert Langdon four nights before in the gutted hull of a retasked C-130 transport plane, which served as the World Health Organization’s mobile coordination center.
It had been just past seven when the plane landed at Hanscom Field, less than fifteen miles from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Sinskey was not sure what to expect from the celebrated academic whom she had contacted by phone, but she was pleasantly surprised when he strode confidently up the gangplank into the rear of the plane and greeted her with a carefree smile.
“Dr. Sinskey, I presume?” Langdon firmly shook her hand.
“Professor, it’s an honor to meet you.”
“The honor’s mine. Thanks for all you do.”
Langdon was a tall man, with urbane good looks and a deep voice. His clothing at the moment, Sinskey had to assume, was his classroom attire—a tweed jacket, khaki slacks, and loafers—which made sense considering the man had essentially been scooped off his campus with no warning. He also looked younger and far more fit than she’d imagined, which only served to remind Elizabeth of her own age. I could almost be his mother.
She gave him a tired smile. “Thank you for coming, Professor.”
Langdon    motioned   to     the humorless associate whom Sinskey had sent to collect him. “Your friend here didn’t give me much chance to reconsider.”
“Good. That’s what I pay him for.”
     “Nice     amulet,”    Langdon      said,
eyeing her necklace. “Lapis lazuli?”
Sinskey nodded and glanced down at her blue stone amulet, fashioned into the iconic symbol of a snake wrapped around a vertical rod. “The modern symbol for medicine. As I’m
sure you   know,        it’s    called        a caduceus.”
Langdon glanced up suddenly, as if there was something he wanted to say.
She waited. Yes?
Apparently thinking better of his impulse, he gave a polite smile and changed the subject. “So why am I here?”
Elizabeth motioned to a makeshift conference area around a stainlesssteel table. “Please, sit. I have something I need you to look at.”
Langdon ambled toward the table, and Elizabeth noted that while the professor seemed intrigued by the prospect of a secret meeting, he did not appear at all unsettled by it. Here is a man comfortable in his own skin. She wondered if he would appear as relaxed once he found out why he had been brought here.
Elizabeth got Langdon settled and then, with no preamble, she presented the object she and her team had confiscated from a Florence safe-deposit box less than twelve hours earlier.
Langdon studied the small carved cylinder for a long moment before giving her a quick synopsis of what she already knew. The object was an ancient cylinder seal that could be used for printmaking. It bore a particularly gruesome image of a three-headed Satan along with a single word: saligia.
“Saligia,” Langdon said, “is a Latin mnemonic for—”
“The Seven Deadly Sins,” Elizabeth said. “Yes, we looked it up.”
“Okay …” Langdon sounded puzzled. “Is there some reason you
wanted me to look at this?”
“Actually, yes.” Sinskey took the cylinder back and began shaking it violently, the agitator ball rattling back and forth.
Langdon looked puzzled by her action, but before he could ask what she was doing, the end of the cylinder began to glow, and she pointed it at a smooth patch of insulation on the wall of the gutted plane.
Langdon let out a low whistle and moved toward the projected image.
“Botticelli’s Map of Hell,” Langdon announced. “Based on Dante’s Inferno. Although I’m guessing you probably already know that.”
Elizabeth nodded. She and her team had used the Internet to identify the painting, which Sinskey had been surprised to learn was a Botticelli, a painter best known for his bright, idealized masterpieces Birth of Venus and Springtime. Sinskey loved both of those works despite the fact that they portrayed fertility and the creation of life, which only served to remind her of her own tragic inability to conceive—the lone significant regret in her otherwise very productive life.
“I was hoping,” Sinskey said, “that you could tell me about the symbolism hidden in this painting.”
Langdon looked irritated for the first time all night. “Is that why you called me in? I thought you said it was an emergency.”
“Humor me.”
Langdon heaved a patient sigh. “Dr. Sinskey, generally speaking, if you want to know about a specific painting, you should contact the museum that contains the original. In this case, that would be the Vatican’s Biblioteca Apostolica. The Vatican has a number of superb
iconographers who—”
“The Vatican hates me.”
Langdon gave her a startled look.
“You, too? I thought I was the only one.”
She smiled sadly. “The WHO feels strongly that the widespread availability of contraception is one of the keys to global health—both to combat sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS and also for general
population control.”
“And the Vatican feels differently.”
“Quite. They have spent enormous amounts of energy and money indoctrinating third-world countries into a belief in the evils of
“Ah, yes,” Langdon said with a knowing smile. “Who better than a bunch of celibate male octogenarians to tell the world how to have sex?” Sinskey was liking the professor more and more every second.
She shook the cylinder to recharge it and then projected the image on the wall again. “Professor, take a closer look.”
Langdon walked toward the image, studying it, still moving closer. Suddenly he stopped short. “That’s strange. It’s been altered.”
That didn’t take him long. “Yes, it has, and I want you to tell me what the alterations mean.”
Langdon fell silent, scanning the entire image, pausing to take in the ten letters that spelled catrovacer … and then the plague mask … and also the strange quote around the border about “the eyes of death.”
“Who did this?” Langdon demanded. “Where did it come from?”
“Actually, the less you know right now the better. What I’m hoping is that you’ll be able to analyze these alterations and tell us what they mean.” She motioned to a desk in the corner.
“Here? Right now?”
She nodded. “I know it’s an imposition, but I can’t stress enough how important this is to us.” She paused. “It could well be a matter of life and death.”
Langdon studied her with concern. “Deciphering this may take a while, but I suppose if it’s that important to you—”
“Thank you,” Sinskey interjected before he could change his mind. “Is there anyone you need to call?”
Langdon shook his head and told her he had been planning on a quiet weekend alone.
Perfect. Sinskey got him settled at his desk with the projector, paper, pencil, and a laptop with a secure satellite connection. Langdon looked deeply puzzled about why the WHO would be interested in a modified painting by Botticelli, but he dutifully set to work.
Dr. Sinskey imagined he might end up studying the image for hours with no breakthrough, and so she settled in to get some work of her own done. From time to time she could hear him shaking the projector and scribbling on his notepad. Barely ten minutes had passed when Langdon set down his pencil and announced, “Cerca
Sinskey glanced over. “What?”
“Cerca trova,” he repeated. “Seek and ye shall find. That’s what this code says.”
Sinskey hurried over and sat down close beside him, listening with fascination as Langdon explained how the levels of Dante’s inferno had been scrambled, and that, when they were replaced in their proper sequence, they spelled the Italian phrase cerca trova.
Seek and find? Sinskey wondered.
That’s this lunatic’s message to me? The phrase sounded like a direct challenge. The disturbing memory of the madman’s final words to her during their meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations replayed in her mind: Then it appears our dance has
“You just went white,” Langdon said, studying her thoughtfully. “I take it this is not the message you were hoping for?”
Sinskey gathered herself, straightening the amulet on her neck.
“Not exactly. Tell me … do you believe this map of hell is suggesting
I seek something?”
“Yes. Cerca trova.”
“And does it suggest where I seek?”
Langdon stroked his chin as other WHO staff began gathering around, looking eager for information. “Not overtly … no, although I’ve got a pretty good idea where you’ll want to start.”
“Tell me,” Sinskey demanded, more forcefully than Langdon would have expected.
“Well, how do you feel about
Florence, Italy?”
Sinskey set her jaw, doing her best not to react. Her staff members, however, were less controlled. All of them exchanged startled glances. One grabbed a phone and placed a call. Another hurried through a door toward the front of the plane.
Langdon looked bewildered. “Was it something I said?”
Absolutely, Sinskey thought. “What makes you say Florence?”
“Cerca trova,” he replied, quickly recounting a long-standing mystery involving a Vasari fresco at the Palazzo Vecchio.
Florence it is, Sinskey thought, having heard enough. Obviously, it could not be mere coincidence that her nemesis had jumped to his death not more than three blocks from the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.
“Professor,” she said, “when I showed you my amulet earlier and called it a caduceus, you paused, as if you wanted to say something, but then you hesitated and seemed to change your mind. What were you going to say?”
Langdon shook his head. “Nothing. It’s foolish. Sometimes the professor in me can be a little overbearing.”
Sinskey stared into his eyes. “I ask because I need to know I can trust you. What were you going to say?”
Langdon swallowed and cleared his throat. “Not that it matters, but you said your amulet is the ancient symbol of medicine, which is correct.
But when you called it a caduceus, you made a very common mistake. The caduceus has two snakes on the staff and wings at the top. Your amulet has a single snake and no wings. Your symbol is called—”
“The Rod of Asclepius.”
Langdon cocked his head in
surprise. “Yes. Exactly.”
“I know. I was testing your
“I’m sorry?”
“I was curious to know if you would tell me the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it might make me.”
“Sounds like I failed.”
“Don’t do it again. Total honesty is the only way you and I will be able to work together on this.”
“Work together? Aren’t we done here?”
“No, Professor, we’re not done. I need you to come to Florence to help me find something.”
     Langdon     stared     in      disbelief.
“I’m afraid so. I have yet to tell you about the truly critical nature of this situation.”
Langdon shook his head. “It doesn’t matter what you tell me. I
don’t want to fly to Florence.”
“Neither do I,” she said grimly. “But unfortunately our time is running out.”

THE NOON SUN glinted off the sleek roof of Italy’s high-velocity Frecciargento train as it raced northward, cutting a graceful arc across the Tuscan countryside. Despite traveling away from Florence at 174 miles per hour, the “silver arrow” train made almost no noise, its soft repetitive clicking and gently swaying motion having an almost soothing effect on those who rode it.
For Robert Langdon, the last hour had been a blur.
Now, aboard the high-speed train, Langdon, Sienna, and Dr. Ferris were seated in one of the Frecciargento’s private salottini—a small, executiveclass berth with four leather seats and a foldout table. Ferris had rented the entire cabin using his credit card, along with an assortment of
sandwiches and mineral water, which Langdon and Sienna had ravenously consumed after cleaning up in the restroom next to their private berth.
As the three of them settled in for the two-hour train ride to Venice, Dr. Ferris immediately turned his gaze to the Dante death mask, which sat on the table between them in its Ziploc bag. “We need to figure out precisely where in Venice this mask is leading us.”
“And quickly,” Sienna added, urgency in her voice. “It’s probably our only hope of preventing Zobrist’s plague.”
“Hold on,” Langdon said, placing a defensive hand atop the mask. “You promised that once we were safely aboard this train you would give me some answers about the last few days. So far, all I know is that the WHO recruited me in Cambridge to help decipher Zobrist’s version of La Mappa. Other than that, you’ve told me nothing.”
Dr. Ferris shifted uncomfortably and began scratching again at the rash on his face and neck. “I can see you’re frustrated,” he said. “I’m sure it’s unsettling not to remember what happened, but medically speaking …” He glanced over at Sienna for confirmation and then continued. “I strongly recommend you not expend energy trying to recall specifics you can’t remember. With amnesia victims, it’s best just to let the forgotten past remain forgotten.”
“Let it be?!” Langdon felt his anger rising. “The hell with that! I need some answers! Your organization brought me to Italy, where I was shot and lost several days of my life!
I want to know how it happened!”
“Robert,” Sienna intervened, speaking softly in a clear attempt to calm him down. “Dr. Ferris is right. It definitely would not be healthy for you to be overwhelmed by a deluge of information all at once. Think about the tiny snippets you do remember—the silver-haired woman, ‘seek and find,’ the writhing bodies f r o m La Mappa—those images flooded into your mind in a series of jumbled, uncontrollable flashbacks that left you nearly incapacitated. If Dr. Ferris starts recounting the past few days, he will almost certainly dislodge other memories, and your hallucinations could start all over again. Retrograde amnesia is a serious condition. Triggering misplaced memories can be extremely disruptive to the psyche.”
The thought had not occurred to Langdon.
“You must feel quite disoriented,” Ferris added, “but at the moment we need your psyche intact so we can move forward. It’s imperative that we figure out what this mask is trying to tell us.”
Sienna nodded.
The doctors, Langdon noted silently, seemed to agree.
Langdon sat quietly, trying to overcome his feelings of uncertainty. It was a strange sensation to meet a total stranger and realize you had actually known him for several days.
Then again, Langdon thought, there
is something vaguely familiar about his eyes.
     “Professor,”          Ferris            said
sympathetically, “I can see that you’re not sure you trust me, and this is understandable considering all you’ve been through. One of the common side effects of amnesia is mild paranoia and distrust.”
That makes sense,                 Langdon
thought, considering I can’t even
trust my own mind.
“Speaking of paranoia,” Sienna joked, clearly trying to lighten the mood, “Robert saw your rash and thought you’d been stricken with the
Black Plague.”
Ferris’s puffy eyes widened, and he laughed out loud. “This rash? Believe me, Professor, if I had the plague, I would not be treating it with an overthe-counter antihistamine.” He pulled a small tube of medicine from his pocket and tossed it to Langdon. Sure enough, it was a half-empty tube of anti-itch cream for allergic reactions.
“Sorry about that,” Langdon said, feeling foolish. “Long day.”
“No worries,” Ferris said.
Langdon turned toward the window, watching the muted hues of the Italian countryside blur together in a peaceful collage. The vineyards and farms were becoming scarcer now as the flatlands gave way to the foothills of the Apennines. Soon the train would navigate the sinuous mountain pass and then descend again, powering eastward toward the Adriatic Sea.
I’m headed for Venice, he thought. To look for a plague.
This strange day had left Langdon feeling as if he were moving through a landscape composed of nothing but vague shapes with no particular details. Like a dream. Ironically, nightmares usually woke people up … but Langdon felt as if he had awoken into one.
“Lira for your thoughts,” Sienna whispered beside him.
Langdon    glanced     up,    smiling wearily. “I keep thinking I’ll wake up at home and discover this was all a bad dream.”
Sienna cocked her head, looking demure. “You wouldn’t miss me if you woke up and found out I wasn’t real?”
     Langdon     had    to    grin.     “Yes,
actually, I would miss you a little.”
She patted his knee. “Stop daydreaming, Professor, and get to work.”
Langdon reluctantly turned his eyes to the crinkled face of Dante Alighieri, which stared blankly up from the table before him. Gently, Langdon picked up the plaster mask and turned it over in his hands, gazing down into the concave interior at the first line of spiral text:
O you possessed of sturdy intellect …
Langdon doubted he qualified at the moment.
Nonetheless, he set to work.
Two hundred miles ahead of the speeding train, The Mendacium remained anchored in the Adriatic. Belowdecks, facilitator Laurence Knowlton heard the soft rap of knuckles on his glass cubicle and touched a button beneath his desk, turning the opaque wall into a transparent one. Outside, a small, tanned form materialized.
The provost.
He looked grim.
Without a word, he entered, locked the cubicle door, and threw the switch that turned the glass room opaque again. He smelled of alcohol.
“The video that Zobrist left us,” the provost said.
“Yes, sir?”
“I want to see it. Now.”

ROBERT LANGDON HAD now finished transcribing the spiral text from the death mask onto paper so they could analyze it more closely. Sienna and Dr. Ferris huddled in close to help, and Langdon did his best to ignore Ferris’s ongoing scratching and labored breathing.
He’s fine, Langdon told himself, forcing his attention to the verse before him.
O you possessed of sturdy intellect, observe the teaching that is hidden here …
beneath the veil of verses so obscure.
“As I mentioned earlier,” Langdon began, “the opening stanza of Zobrist’s poem is taken verbatim from Dante’s Inferno—an admonition to the reader that the words carry a deeper meaning.”
Dante’s allegorical work was so replete with veiled commentary on religion, politics, and philosophy that Langdon often suggested to his students that the Italian poet be studied much as one might study the Bible—reading between the lines in an effort to understand the deeper meaning.
“Scholars of medieval allegory,” Langdon continued, “generally divide their analyses into two categories —‘text’ and ‘image’ … text being the literal content of the work, and image being the symbolic message.”
“Okay,” Ferris said eagerly. “So the fact that the poem begins with this line—”
“Suggests,” Sienna interjected, “that our superficial reading may reveal only part of the story. The true
meaning may be hidden.”
“Something like that, yes.” Langdon returned his gaze to the text and continued reading aloud.
Seek the treacherous doge of Venice
who severed the heads from horses
and plucked up the bones of the blind.
“Well,” Langdon said, “I’m not sure about headless horses and the bones of the blind, but it sounds like we’re supposed to locate a specific doge.”
“I assume … a doge’s grave?” Sienna asked. “Or a statue or portrait?” Langdon replied. “There haven’t been doges for centuries.”
The doges of Venice were similar to the dukes of the other Italian citystates, and more than a hundred of them had ruled Venice over the course of a thousand years,
beginning in A.D. 697. Their lineage had ended in the late eighteenth century with Napoleon’s conquest, but their glory and power still remain subjects of intense fascination for historians.
“As you may know,” Langdon said, “Venice’s two most popular tourist attractions—the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica—were built by the doges, for the doges. Many of them
are buried right there.”
“And do you know,” Sienna asked, eyeing the poem, “if there was a doge who was considered to be
particularly dangerous?”
Langdon glanced down at the line in question. Seek the treacherous doge of Venice. “None that I know of, but the poem doesn’t use the word ‘dangerous’; it uses the word
‘treacherous.’ There’s a difference, at least in the world of Dante.
Treachery is one of the Seven Deadly Sins—the worst of them, actually— punished in the ninth and final ring of hell.”
Treachery, as defined by Dante, was the act of betraying a loved one. History’s most notorious example of the sin had been Judas’s betrayal of his beloved Jesus, an act Dante considered so vile that he had Judas banished to the inferno’s innermost core—a region named Judecca, after its most dishonorable resident.
“Okay,” Ferris said, “so we’re looking for a doge who committed an act of treachery.”
Sienna nodded her agreement. “That will help us limit the list of possibilities.” She paused, eyeing the text. “But this next line … a doge who ‘severed the heads from horses’?” She raised her eyes to Langdon. “Is there a doge who cut off horses’ heads?”
The image Sienna evoked in his mind reminded Langdon of the gruesome scene from The Godfather. “Doesn’t ring a bell. But according to this, he also ‘plucked up the bones of the blind.’ ” He glanced over at Ferris. “Your phone has Internet, right?”
Ferris quickly pulled out his phone and held up his swollen, rashy fingertips. “The buttons might be
difficult for me to manage.”
“I’ve got it,” Sienna said, taking his phone. “I’ll run a search for Venetian doges, cross-referenced with
headless horses and the bones of the blind.” She began typing rapidly on the tiny keyboard.
Langdon skimmed the poem another time, and then continued reading aloud.
Kneel within the gilded mouseion of holy wisdom,
and place thine ear to the ground, listening for the sounds of trickling water.
“I’ve never heard of a mouseion,” Ferris said.
“It’s an ancient word meaning a temple protected by muses,”
Langdon replied. “In the days of the early Greeks, a mouseion was a place where the enlightened gathered to share ideas, and discuss literature, music, and art. The first mouseion was built by Ptolemy at the Library of Alexandria centuries before the birth of Christ, and then hundreds more cropped up around the world.”
“Dr. Brooks,” Ferris said, glancing hopefully at Sienna. “Can you look and see if there’s a mouseion in Venice?”
“Actually there are dozens of them,” Langdon said with a playful smile. “Now they’re called museums.”
“Ahhh …” Ferris replied. “I guess we’ll have to cast a wider net.” Sienna kept typing into the phone, having no trouble multitasking as she calmly took inventory. “Okay, so we’re looking for a museum where we can find a doge who severed the heads from horses and plucked up the bones of the blind. Robert, is there a particular museum that might be a good place to look?”
Langdon was already considering all of Venice’s best-known museums —the Gallerie dell’Accademia, the Ca’
Rezzonico, the Palazzo Grassi, the
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the Museo Correr—but none of them seemed to fit the description.
He glanced back at the text.
Kneel within the gilded mouseion of holy wisdom …
Langdon smiled wryly. “Venice does    have one   museum    that perfectly qualifies as a ‘gilded mouseion of holy wisdom.’ ”
Both Ferris and Sienna looked at him expectantly.
“St. Mark’s Basilica,” he declared.
“The largest church in Venice.”
Ferris looked uncertain. “The church is a museum?”
Langdon nodded. “Much like the Vatican Museum. And what’s more, the interior of St. Mark’s is famous for being adorned, in its entirety, in solid gold tiles.”
“A gilded mouseion,” Sienna said, sounding genuinely excited.
Langdon nodded, having no doubt that St. Mark’s was the gilded temple referenced in the poem. For centuries, the Venetians had called St. Mark’s La Chiesa d’Oro—the Church of Gold—and Langdon considered its interior the most dazzling of any church in the world.
“The poem says to ‘kneel’ there,” Ferris added. “And a church is a logical place to kneel.”
Sienna was typing furiously again. “I’ll add St. Mark’s to the search. That must be where we need to look for the doge.”
Langdon knew they would find no shortage of doges in St. Mark’s— which was, quite literally, the basilica of the doges. He felt encouraged as he returned his eyes to the poem.
Kneel within the gilded mouseion of holy wisdom,
and place thine ear to the ground, listening for the sounds of trickling water.
            Trickling water?             Langdon
wondered. Is there water under St. Mark’s? The question, he realized, was foolish. There was water under the entire city. Every building in Venice was slowly sinking and leaking. Langdon pictured the basilica and tried to imagine where inside one might kneel to listen for trickling water. And once we hear it … what do we do?
Langdon returned to the poem and finished reading aloud.
Follow deep into the sunken palace
for here, in the darkness, the
chthonic monster waits,
submerged in the bloodred waters … of the lagoon that reflects no stars.
“Okay,” Langdon said, disturbed by the image, “apparently, we follow the sounds of trickling water … to some kind of sunken palace.”
Ferris scratched at his face, looking unnerved. “What’s a chthonic monster?”
“Subterranean,” Sienna offered, her fingers still working the phone. “
‘Chthonic’ means ‘beneath the earth.’ ”
“Partly, yes,” Langdon said. “Although the word has a further historic implication—one commonly associated with myths and monsters. Chthonics are an entire category of mythical gods and monsters— Erinyes, Hecate, and Medusa, for example. They’re called chthonics because they reside in the underworld and are associated with hell.” Langdon paused. “Historically, they emerge from the earth and come aboveground to wreak havoc in the human world.”
There was a long silence, and Langdon sensed they were all thinking the same thing. This chthonic monster … could only be Zobrist’s plague.
for here, in the darkness, the
chthonic monster waits,
submerged in the bloodred waters … of the lagoon that reflects no stars.
“Anyway,” Langdon said, trying to stay on track, “we’re obviously looking for an underground location, which at least explains the last line of the poem referencing ‘the lagoon
that reflects no stars.’ ”
“Good point,” Sienna said, glancing up now from Ferris’s phone. “If a lagoon is subterranean, it couldn’t reflect the sky. But does Venice have subterranean lagoons?”
“None that I know of,” Langdon replied. “But in a city built on water, there are probably endless possibilities.”
“What if the lagoon is indoors?” Sienna asked suddenly, eyeing them both. “The poem refers to ‘the darkness’ of ‘the sunken palace.’ You mentioned earlier that the Doge’s Palace is connected to the basilica, right? That means those structures have a lot of what the poem mentions—a mouseion of holy wisdom, a palace, relevance to doges —and it’s all located right there on
Venice’s main lagoon, at sea level.”
Langdon considered this. “You think the poem’s ‘sunken palace’ is the Doge’s Palace?”
“Why not? The poem tells us first to kneel at St. Mark’s Basilica, then to follow the sounds of trickling water. Maybe the sounds of water lead next door to the Doge’s Palace.
It     could     have     a      submerged
foundation or something.”
Langdon had visited the Doge’s Palace many times and knew that it was absolutely massive. A sprawling complex of buildings, the palace housed a grand-scale museum, a veritable labyrinth of institutional chambers, apartments, and courtyards, and a prison network so vast that it was housed in multiple buildings.
“You may be right,” Langdon said, “but a blind search of that palace would take days. I suggest we do exactly as the poem tells us. First, we go to St. Mark’s Basilica and find the tomb or statue of this treacherous doge, and then we kneel down.”
“And then?” Sienna asked.
“And then,” Langdon said with a sigh, “we pray like hell that we hear trickling water … and it leads us somewhere.”
In the silence that followed, Langdon pictured the anxious face of Elizabeth Sinskey as he had seen it in his hallucinations, calling to him across the water. Time is short. Seek and find! He wondered where
Sinskey was now … and if she was all right. The soldiers in black had no doubt realized by now that Langdon and Sienna had escaped. How long
until they come after us?
As Langdon returned his eyes to the poem, he fought off a wave of exhaustion. He eyed the final line of verse, and another thought occurred to him. He wondered if it was even worth mentioning. The lagoon that
reflects no stars. It was probably irrelevant to their search, but he decided to share it nonetheless. “There’s another point I should mention.”
Sienna glanced up from the cell phone.
“The three sections of Dante’s Divine Comedy,” Langdon said.
“Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. They all end with the exact same word.”
Sienna looked surprised.
“What word is that?” Ferris asked.
Langdon pointed to the bottom of the text he had transcribed. “The same word that ends this poem —‘stars.’ ” He picked up Dante’s death mask and pointed to the very center of the spiral text.
The lagoon that reflects no stars.
“What’s more,” Langdon continued,
“in the finale of the Inferno, we find Dante listening to the sound of trickling water inside a chasm and following it through an opening … which leads him out of hell.”
Ferris blanched slightly. “Jesus.”
Just then, a deafening rush of air filled the cabin as the Frecciargento plunged into a mountain tunnel.
In the darkness, Langdon closed his eyes and tried to allow his mind to relax. Zobrist may have been a lunatic, he thought, but he certainly
had a sophisticated grasp of Dante.

By Dan Brown

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