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His heart pounded as he circled the body, reading the word upside down, reaffirming the genius of the symmetry. The symbol seemed even less conceivable now that he was staring at it.

  “Mr. Langdon?”

  Langdon did not hear. He was in another world… his world, his element, a world where history, myth, and fact collided, flooding his senses. The gears turned.

  “Mr. Langdon?” Kohler’s eyes probed expectantly.

  Langdon did not look up. His disposition now intensified, his focus total. “How much do you already know?”

  “Only what I had time to read on your website. The word Illuminati means ‘the enlightened ones.’ It is the name of some sort of ancient brotherhood.”

  Langdon nodded. “Had you heard the name before?”

  “Not until I saw it branded on Mr. Vetra.”

  “So you ran a web search for it?”

  “Yes.”

  “And the word returned hundreds of references, no doubt.”

  “Thousands,” Kohler said. “Yours, however, contained references to Harvard, Oxford, a reputable publisher, as well as a list of related publications. As a scientist I have come to learn that information is only as valuable as its source. Your credentials seemed authentic.”

  Langdon’s eyes were still riveted on the body.

  Kohler said nothing more. He simply stared, apparently waiting for Langdon to shed some light on the scene before them.

  Langdon looked up, glancing around the frozen flat. “Perhaps we should discuss this in a warmer place?”

  “This room is fine.” Kohler seemed oblivious to the cold. “We’ll talk here.”

  Langdon frowned. The Illuminati history was by no means a simple one. I’ll freeze to death trying to explain it. He gazed again at the brand, feeling a renewed sense of awe.

  Although accounts of the Illuminati emblem were legendary in modern symbology, no academic had ever actually seen it. Ancient documents described the symbol as an ambigram—ambi meaning “both”—signifying it was legible both ways. And although ambigrams were common in symbology—swastikas, yin yang, Jewish stars, simple crosses—the idea that a word could be crafted into an ambigram seemed utterly impossible. Modern symbologists had tried for years to forge the word “Illuminati” into a perfectly symmetrical style, but they had failed miserably. Most academics had now decided the symbol’s existence was a myth.

  “So who are the Illuminati?” Kohler demanded.

  Yes, Langdon thought, who indeed? He began his tale.

  “Since the beginning of history,” Langdon explained, “a deep rift has existed between science and religion. Outspoken scientists like Copernicus—”

  “Were murdered,” Kohler interjected. “Murdered by the church for revealing scientific truths. Religion has always persecuted science.”

  “Yes. But in the 1500s, a group of men in Rome fought back against the church. Some of Italy’s most enlightened men—physicists, mathematicians, astronomers—began meeting secretly to share their concerns about the church’s inaccurate teachings. They feared that the church’s monopoly on ‘truth’ threatened academic enlightenment around the world. They founded the world’s first scientific think tank, calling themselves ‘the enlightened ones.’ ”

  “The Illuminati.”

  “Yes,” Langdon said. “Europe’s most learned minds… dedicated to the quest for scientific truth.”

  Kohler fell silent.

  “Of course, the Illuminati were hunted ruthlessly by the Catholic Church. Only through rites of extreme secrecy did the scientists remain safe. Word spread through the academic underground, and the Illuminati brotherhood grew to include academics from all over Europe. The scientists met regularly in Rome at an ultrasecret lair they called the Church of Illumination.”

  Kohler coughed and shifted in his chair.

  “Many of the Illuminati,” Langdon continued, “wanted to combat the church’s tyranny with acts of violence, but their most revered member persuaded them against it. He was a pacifist, as well as one of history’s most famous scientists.”

  Langdon was certain Kohler would recognize the name. Even nonscientists were familiar with the ill-fated astronomer who had been arrested and almost executed by the church for proclaiming that the sun, and not the earth, was the center of the solar system. Although his data were incontrovertible, the astronomer was severely punished for implying that God had placed mankind somewhere other than at the center of His universe.

  “His name was Galileo Galilei,” Langdon said.

  Kohler looked up. “Galileo?”

  “Yes. Galileo was an Illuminatus. And he was also a devout Catholic. He tried to soften the church’s position on science by proclaiming that science did not undermine the existence of God, but rather reinforced it. He wrote once that when he looked through his telescope at the spinning planets, he could hear God’s voice in the music of the spheres. He held that science and religion were not enemies, but rather allies–two different languages telling the same story, a story of symmetry and balance… heaven and hell, night and day, hot and cold, God and Satan. Both science and religion rejoiced in God’s symmetry… the endless contest of light and dark.” Langdon paused, stamping his feet to stay warm.

  Kohler simply sat in his wheelchair and stared.

  “Unfortunately,” Langdon added, “the unification of science and religion was not what the church wanted.”

  “Of course not,” Kohler interrupted. “The union would have nullified the church’s claim as the sole vessel through which man could understand God. So the church tried Galileo as a heretic, found him guilty, and put him under permanent house arrest. I am quite aware of scientific history, Mr. Langdon. But this was all centuries ago. What does it have to do with Leonardo Vetra?”

  The million dollar question. Langdon cut to the chase. “Galileo’s arrest threw the Illuminati into upheaval. Mistakes were made, and the church discovered the identities of four members, whom they captured and interrogated. But the four scientists revealed nothing… even under torture.”

  “Torture?”

  Langdon nodded. “They were branded alive. On the chest. With the symbol of a cross.”

  Kohler’s eyes widened, and he shot an uneasy glance at Vetra’s body.

  “Then the scientists were brutally murdered, their dead bodies dropped in the streets of Rome as a warning to others thinking of joining the Illuminati. With the church closing in, the remaining Illuminati fled Italy.”

  Langdon paused to make his point. He looked directly into Kohler’s dead eyes. “The Illuminati went deep underground, where they began mixing with other refugee groups fleeing the Catholic purges—mystics, alchemists, occultists, Muslims, Jews. Over the years, the Illuminati began absorbing new members. A new Illuminati emerged. A darker Illuminati. A deeply anti-Christian Illuminati. They grew very powerful, employing mysterious rites, deadly secrecy, vowing someday to rise again and take revenge on the Catholic Church. Their power grew to the point where the church considered them the single most dangerous anti-Christian force on earth. The Vatican denounced the brotherhood as Shaitan.”

  “Shaitan?”

  “It’s Islamic. It means ‘adversary’… God’s adversary. The church chose Islam for the name because it was a language they considered dirty.” Langdon hesitated. “Shaitan is the root of an English word…Satan.”

  An uneasiness crossed Kohler’s face.

  Langdon’s voice was grim. “Mr. Kohler, I do not know how this marking appeared on this man’s chest… or why… but you are looking at the long-lost symbol of the world’s oldest and most powerful satanic cult.”

  10

  The alley was narrow and deserted. The Hassassin strode quickly now, his black eyes filling with anticipation. As he approached his destination, Janus’s parting words echoed in his mind. Phase two begins shortly. Get some rest.

  The Hassassin smirked. He had been awake all night, but sleep was the last thing on his mind. Sleep was for the weak. He was a warrior like his ancestors before him, and his people never slept once a battle had begun. This battle had most definitely begun, and he had been given the honor of spilling first blood. Now he had two hours to celebrate his glory before going back to work.

  Sleep? There are far better ways to relax…

  An appetite for hedonistic pleasure was something bred into him by his ancestors. His ascendants had indulged in hashish, but he preferred a different kind of gratification. He took pride in his body—a well-tuned, lethal machine, which, despite his heritage, he refused to pollute with narcotics. He had developed a more nourishing addiction than drugs… a far more healthy and satisfying reward.

  Feeling a familiar anticipation swelling within him, the Hassassin moved faster down the alley. He arrived at the nondescript door and rang the bell. A view slit in the door opened, and two soft brown eyes studied him appraisingly. Then the door swung open.

  “Welcome,” the well-dressed woman said. She ushered him into an impeccably furnished sitting room where the lights were low. The air was laced with expensive perfume and musk. “Whenever you are ready.” She handed him a book of photographs. “Ring me when you have made your choice.” Then she disappeared.

  The Hassassin smiled.

  As he sat on the plush divan and positioned the photo album on his lap, he felt a carnal hunger stir. Although his people did not celebrate Christmas, he imagined that this is what it must feel like to be a Christian child, sitting before a stack of Christmas presents, about to discover the miracles inside. He opened the album and examined the photos. A lifetime of sexual fantasies stared back at him.

  Marisa. An Italian goddess. Fiery. A young Sophia Loren.

  Sachiko. A Japanese geisha. Lithe. No doubt skilled.

  Kanara. A stunning black vision. Muscular. Exotic.

  He examined the entire album twice and made his choice. He pressed a button on the table beside him. A minute later the woman who had greeted him reappeared. He indicated his selection. She smiled. “Follow me.”

  After handling the financial arrangements, the woman made a hushed phone call. She waited a few minutes and then led him up a winding marble staircase to a luxurious hallway. “It’s the gold door on the end,” she said. “You have expensive taste.”

  I should, he thought. I am a connoisseur.

  The Hassassin padded the length of the hallway like a panther anticipating a long overdue meal. When he reached the doorway he smiled to himself. It was already ajar… welcoming him in. He pushed, and the door swung noiselessly open.

  When he saw his selection, he knew he had chosen well. She was exactly as he had requested… nude, lying on her back, her arms tied to the bedposts with thick velvet cords.

  He crossed the room and ran a dark finger across her ivory abdomen. I killed last night, he thought. You are my reward.

  11

  “Satanic?” Kohler wiped his mouth and shifted uncomfortably. “This is the symbol of a satanic cult?”

  Langdon paced the frozen room to keep warm. “The Illuminati were satanic. But not in the modern sense.”

  Langdon quickly explained how most people pictured satanic cults as devil-worshiping fiends, and yet Satanists historically were educated men who stood as adversaries to the church. Shaitan. The rumors of satanic black-magic animal sacrifices and the pentagram ritual were nothing but lies spread by the church as a smear campaign against their adversaries. Over time, opponents of the church, wanting to emulate the Illuminati, began believing the lies and acting them out. Thus, modern Satanism was born.

  Kohler grunted abruptly. “This is all ancient history. I want to know how this symbol got here.”

  Langdon took a deep breath. “The symbol itself was created by an anonymous sixteenth-century Illuminati artist as a tribute to Galileo’s love of symmetry—a kind of sacred Illuminati logo. The brotherhood kept the design secret, allegedly planning to reveal it only when they had amassed enough power to resurface and carry out their final goal.”

  Kohler looked unsettled. “So this symbol means the Illuminati brotherhood is resurfacing?”

  Langdon frowned. “That would be impossible. There is one chapter of Illuminati history that I have not yet explained.”

  Kohler’s voice intensified. “Enlighten me.”

  Langdon rubbed his palms together, mentally sorting through the hundreds of documents he’d read or written on the Illuminati. “The Illuminati were survivors,” he explained. “When they fled Rome, they traveled across Europe looking for a safe place to regroup. They were taken in by another secret society… a brotherhood of wealthy Bavarian stone craftsmen called the Freemasons.”

  Kohler looked startled. “The Masons?”

  Langdon nodded, not at all surprised that Kohler had heard of the group. The brotherhood of the Masons currently had over five million members worldwide, half of them residing in the United States, and over one million of them in Europe.

  “Certainly the Masons are not satanic,” Kohler declared, sounding suddenly skeptical.

  “Absolutely not. The Masons fell victim of their own benevolence. After harboring the fleeing scientists in the 1700s, the Masons unknowingly became a front for the Illuminati. The Illuminati grew within their ranks, gradually taking over positions of power within the lodges. They quietly reestablished their scientific brotherhood deep within the Masons—a kind of secret society within a secret society. Then the Illuminati used the worldwide connection of Masonic lodges to spread their influence.”

  Langdon drew a cold breath before racing on. “Obliteration of Catholicism was the Illuminati’s central covenant. The brotherhood held that the superstitious dogma spewed forth by the church was mankind’s greatest enemy. They feared that if religion continued to promote pious myth as absolute fact, scientific progress would halt, and mankind would be doomed to an ignorant future of senseless holy wars.”

  “Much like we see today.”

  Langdon frowned. Kohler was right. Holy wars were still making headlines. My God is better than your God. It seemed there was always close correlation between true believers and high body counts.

  “Go on,” Kohler said.

  Langdon gathered his thoughts and continued. “The Illuminati grew more powerful in Europe and set their sights on America, a fledgling government many of whose leaders were Masons—George Washington, Ben Franklin—honest, God-fearing men who were unaware of the Illuminati stronghold on the Masons. The Illuminati took advantage of the infiltration and helped found banks, universities, and industry to finance their ultimate quest.” Langdon paused. “The creation of a single unified world state—a kind of secular New World Order.”

  Kohler did not move.

  “A New World Order,” Langdon repeated, “based on scientific enlightenment. They called it their Luciferian Doctrine. The church claimed Lucifer was a reference to the devil, but the brotherhood insisted Lucifer was intended in its literal Latin meaning—bringer of light. Or Illuminator.”

  Kohler sighed, and his voice grew suddenly solemn. “Mr. Langdon, please sit down.”

  Langdon sat tentatively on a frost-covered chair.

  Kohler moved his wheelchair closer. “I am not sure I understand everything you have just told me, but I do understand this. Leonardo Vetra was one of CERN’s greatest assets. He was also a friend. I need you to help me locate the Illuminati.”

  Langdon didn’t know how to respond. “Locate the Illuminati?” He’s kidding, right? “I’m afraid, sir, that will be utterly impossible.”

  Kohler’s brow creased. “What do you mean? You won’t—”

  “Mr. Kohler.” Langdon leaned toward his host, uncertain how to make him understand what he was about to say. “I did not finish my story. Despite appearances, it is extremely unlikely that this brand was put here by the Illuminati. There has been no evidence of their existence for over half a century, and most scholars agree the Illuminati have been defunct for many years.”

  The words hit silence. Kohler stared through the fog with a look somewhere between stupefaction and anger. “How the hell can you tell me this group is extinct when their name is seared into this man!”

  Langdon had been asking himself that question all morning. The appearance of the Illuminati ambigram was astonishing. Symbologists worldwide would be dazzled. And yet, the academic in Langdon understood that the brand’s reemergence proved absolutely nothing about the Illuminati.

  “Symbols,” Langdon said, “in no way confirm the presence of their original creators.”

  “What is that supposed to mean?”

  “It means that when organized philosophies like the Illuminati go out of existence, their symbols remain… available for adoption by other groups. It’s called transference. It’s very common in symbology. The Nazis took the swastika from the Hindus, the Christians adopted the cruciform from the Egyptians, the—”

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