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Then she was gone.

Langdon handed the phone back to the guard. “Ignazio Busoni is dead,” he said to Sienna. “He died of a heart attack last night after leaving this museum.” Langdon paused. “The mask is safe. Ignazio hid it before he died. And I think he left me a clue about where to find it.” Paradise 25.

Hope flashed in Sienna’s eyes, but when Langdon turned back to Marta, she looked skeptical.

“Marta,” Langdon said. “I can retrieve Dante’s mask for you, but you’ll need to let us go. Immediately.”

Marta laughed out loud. “I will do no such thing! You’re the one who stole the mask! The police are arriving—”

“Signora Alvarez,” Sienna interrupted loudly. “Mi dispiace, ma non le abbiamo detto la verità.”

Langdon did a double take. What is Sienna doing?! He had understood her words. Mrs. Alvarez, I’m sorry, but we have not been honest with you.

Marta looked equally startled by Sienna’s words, although much of her shock seemed to be over the fact that Sienna was suddenly speaking fluent, unaccented Italian.

“Innanzitutto, non sono la sorella di Robert Langdon,” Sienna declared in an apologetic tone. First off, I am not Robert Langdon’s sister.

CHAPTER 44

Marta Alvarez took an unsteady step backward and folded her arms, studying the young blond woman before her.

“Mi dispiace,” Sienna continued, still speaking fluent Italian. “Le abbiamo mentito su molte cose.” We have lied to you about many things.

The guard looked as perplexed as Marta, although he held his position.

Sienna spoke rapidly now, still in Italian, telling Marta that she worked at a Florence hospital where Langdon had arrived the previous night with a bullet wound to the head. She explained that Langdon recalled nothing of the events that had brought him there, and that he was as surprised by the security video as Marta had been.

“Show her your wound,” Sienna ordered Langdon.

When Marta saw the stitches beneath Langdon’s matted hair, she sat down on the windowsill and held her face in her hands for several seconds.

In the past ten minutes, Marta had learned not only that the Dante death mask had been stolen during her watch, but that the two thieves had been a respected American professor and her trusted Florentine colleague, who was now dead. Furthermore, the young Sienna Brooks, whom Marta had imagined to be the wide-eyed American sister of Robert Langdon, turned out to be a doctor, admitting to a lie … and doing so in fluent Italian.

“Marta,” Langdon said, his voice deep and understanding. “I know it must be hard to believe, but I truly don’t remember last night at all. I have no idea why Ignazio and I took the mask.”

Marta sensed from his eyes that he was telling the truth.

“I’ll return the mask to you,” Langdon said. “You have my word. But I can’t retrieve it unless you let us go. The situation is complicated. You need to let us go, right away.”

Despite wanting the priceless mask returned, Marta had no intention of letting anyone go. Where are the police?! She looked down at the lone police car in the Piazza della Signoria. It seemed strange that the officers had not yet reached the museum. Marta also heard a strange buzzing noise in the distance—it sounded like someone was using a power saw. And it was getting louder.

What is that?

Langdon’s tone was beseeching now. “Marta, you know Ignazio. He would never have removed the mask without a good reason. There’s a bigger picture here. The owner of the mask, Bertrand Zobrist, was a very confused man. We think he may be involved in something terrible. I don’t have time to explain it all, but I’m begging you to trust us.”

Marta could only stare. None of this seemed to make any sense at all.

“Mrs. Alvarez,” Sienna said, fixing Marta with a stony look. “If you care about your future, and that of your baby, then you need to let us leave, right now.”

Marta folded her hands protectively across her abdomen, not at all pleased by the veiled threat to her unborn child.

The high-pitched buzz outside was definitely getting louder, and when Marta peered out the window, she couldn’t see the source of the noise, but she did see something else.

The guard saw it, too, his eyes widening.

Down in the Piazza della Signoria, the crowds had parted to make way for a long line of police cars that were arriving without sirens, led by two black vans, which now skidded to a stop outside the palace doors. Soldiers in black uniforms jumped out, carrying large guns, and ran into the palace.

Marta felt a surge of fear. Who the hell is that?!

The security guard looked equally alarmed.

The high-pitched buzzing sound grew suddenly piercing, and Marta withdrew in distress as she glimpsed a small helicopter rising into view just outside the window.

The machine hovered no more than ten yards away, almost as if it were staring in at the people in the room. It was a small craft, maybe a yard long, with a long black cylinder mounted on the front. The cylinder was pointed directly at them.

“It’s going to shoot!” Sienna shouted. “Sta per sparare! Everybody down! Tutti a terra!” She dropped to her knees beneath the windowsill, and Marta went cold with terror as she instinctively followed suit. The guard dropped down, too, reflexively aiming his gun at the little machine.

From Marta’s awkward crouch below the windowsill, she could see that Langdon was still standing, staring at Sienna with an odd look, clearly not believing there was any danger. Sienna was on the ground for only an instant before she bounded back up, grabbed Langdon by the wrist, and began pulling him in the direction of the hallway. An instant later, they were fleeing together toward the main entrance of the building.

The guard spun on his knees and crouched like a sniper—raising his weapon down the hallway in the direction of the departing duo.

“Non spari!” Marta ordered him. “Non possono scappare.” Don’t shoot! They can’t possibly escape!

Langdon and Sienna disappeared around a corner, and Marta knew it would be only a matter of seconds before the duo collided with the authorities coming in the other way.

“Faster!” Sienna urged, rushing with Langdon back the way they’d come in. She was hoping they could make it to the main entrance before running into the police head-on, but she now realized the chances of this were close to zero.

Langdon apparently had similar doubts. Without warning, he skidded to a full stop in a wide intersection of hallways. “We’ll never make it out this way.”

“Come on!” Sienna motioned urgently for him to follow. “Robert, we can’t just stand here!”

Langdon seemed distracted, gazing to his left, down a short corridor that appeared to dead-end in a small, dimly lit chamber. The walls of the room were covered with antique maps, and at the center of the room stood a massive iron globe. Langdon eyed the huge metal sphere and began nodding slowly, and then more vigorously.

“This way,” Langdon declared, dashing off toward the iron globe.

Robert! Sienna followed against her better judgment. The corridor clearly led deeper into the museum, away from the exit.

“Robert?” she gasped, finally catching up to him. “Where are you taking us?!”

“Through Armenia,” he replied.

“What?!”

“Armenia,” Langdon repeated, his eyes dead ahead. “Trust me.”

One story below, hidden among frightened tourists on the balcony of the Hall of the Five Hundred, Vayentha kept her head down as Brüder’s SRS team thundered past her into the museum. Downstairs, the sound of slamming doors resonated through the hall as police sealed the area.

If Langdon were indeed here, he was trapped.

Unfortunately, Vayentha was, too.

CHAPTER 45

With its warm oak wainscoting and coffered wooden ceilings, the Hall of Geographical Maps feels a world away from the stark stone and plaster interior of the Palazzo Vecchio. Originally the building’s cloakroom, this grand space contains dozens of closets and cabinets once used to store the portable assets of the grand duke. On this day, the walls were adorned with maps—fifty-three illuminations hand-painted on leather—depicting the world as it was known in the 1550s.

The hall’s dramatic collection of cartography is dominated by the presence of a massive globe that stands in the center of the room. Known as the Mappa Mundi, the six-foot-tall sphere had been the largest rotating globe of its era and was said to spin almost effortlessly with just the touch of a finger. Today the globe serves as more of a final stop for tourists who have threaded their way through the long succession of gallery rooms and reached a dead end, where they circle the globe and depart the way they came.

Langdon and Sienna arrived breathless in the Hall of Maps. Before them, the Mappa Mundi rose majestically, but Langdon didn’t even glance at it, his eyes moving instead to the outer walls of the room.

“We need to find Armenia!” Langdon said. “The map of Armenia!”

Clearly nonplussed by his request, Sienna hurried off to the room’s right-hand wall in search of a map of Armenia.

Langdon immediately began a similar search along the left-hand wall, tracing his way around the perimeter of the room.

Arabia, Spain, Greece …

Each country was portrayed in remarkable detail, considering that the drawings had been made more than five hundred years ago, at a time when much of the world had yet to be mapped or explored.

Where is Armenia?

Compared to his usually vivid eidetic memories, Langdon’s recollections of his “secret passages tour” here several years ago felt cloudy, due in no small part to the second glass of Gaja Nebbiolo he’d enjoyed with lunch prior to the tour. Fittingly, the word nebbiolo meant “little fog.” Even so, Langdon now distinctly recalled being shown a single map in this room—Armenia—a map that possessed a unique property.

I know it’s in here, Langdon thought, continuing to scan the seemingly endless line of maps.

“Armenia!” Sienna announced. “Over here!”

Langdon spun toward where she was standing in the deep right-hand corner of the room. He rushed over, and Sienna pointed to the map of Armenia with an expression that seemed to say, “We found Armenia—so what?”

Langdon knew they didn’t have time for explanations. Instead, he simply reached out, grabbed the map’s massive wooden frame, and heaved it toward him. The entire map swung into the room, along with a large section of the wall and wainscoting, revealing a hidden passageway.

“All right, then,” Sienna said, sounding impressed. “Armenia it is.”

Without hesitation, Sienna hurried through the opening, moving fearlessly into the dim space beyond. Langdon followed her and quickly pulled the wall closed behind them.

Despite his foggy recollections of the secret passages tour, Langdon recalled this passageway clearly. He and Sienna had just passed, as it were, through the looking glass into the Palazzo Invisibile—the clandestine world that existed behind the walls of the Palazzo Vecchio—a secret domain that had been accessible solely to the then-reigning duke and those closest to him.

Langdon paused a moment inside the doorway and took in their new surroundings—a pale stone hallway lit only by faint natural light that filtered through a series of leaded windows. The passageway descended fifty yards or so to a wooden door.

He turned now to his left, where a narrow ascending staircase was blocked by a chain swag. A sign above the stairs warned: USCITA VIETATA.

Langdon headed for the stairs.

“No!” Sienna warned. “It says ‘No Exit.’ ”

“Thanks,” Langdon said with a wry smile. “I can read the Italian.”

He unhooked the chain swag, carried it back to the secret door, and quickly used it to immobilize the rotating wall—threading the chain through the door handle and around a nearby fixture so the door could not be pulled open from the other side.

“Oh,” Sienna said sheepishly. “Good thinking.”

“It won’t keep them out for long,” Langdon said. “But we won’t need much time. Follow me.”

When the map of Armenia finally crashed open, Agent Brüder and his men streamed down the narrow corridor in pursuit, heading for the wooden door at the far end. When they burst through, Brüder felt a blast of cold air hit him head-on, and was momentarily blinded by bright sunlight.

He had arrived on an exterior walkway, which threaded along the rooftop of the palazzo. His eye traced the path, which led directly to another door, some fifty yards away, and reentered the building.

Brüder glanced to the left of the walkway, where the high, vaulted roof of the Hall of the Five Hundred rose like a mountain. Impossible to traverse. Brüder turned now to his right, where the walkway was bordered by a sheer cliff that plummeted down into a deep light well. Instant death.

His eyes refocused straight ahead. “This way!”

Brüder and his men dashed along the walkway toward the second door while the surveillance drone circled like a vulture overhead.

When Brüder and his men burst through the doorway, they all slid to an abrupt stop, nearly piling up on one another.

They were standing in a tiny stone chamber that had no exit other than the door through which they had just come. A lone wooden desk stood against the wall. Overhead, the grotesque figures depicted in the chamber’s ceiling frescoes seemed to stare down at them mockingly.

It was a dead end.

One of Brüder’s men hurried over and scanned the informational placard on the wall. “Hold on,” he said. “This says there’s a finestra in here—some kind of secret window?”

Brüder looked around but saw no secret window. He marched over and read the placard himself.

Apparently this space had once been the private study of Duchess Bianca Cappello and included a secret window—una finestra segrata—through which Bianca could covertly watch her husband deliver speeches down below in the Hall of the Five Hundred.

Brüder’s eyes searched the room again, now locating a small lattice-covered opening discreetly hidden in the sidewall. Did they escape through there?

He stalked over and examined the opening, which appeared to be too small for someone of Langdon’s size to get through. Brüder pressed his face to the grid and peered through, confirming for certain that nobody had escaped this way; on the other side of the lattice was a sheer drop, straight down several stories, to the floor of the Hall of the Five Hundred.

So where the hell did they go?!

As Brüder turned back in to the tiny stone chamber, he felt all of the day’s frustration mounting within him. In a rare moment of unrestrained emotion, Agent Brüder threw back his head and let out a bellow of rage.

The noise was deafening in the tiny space.

Far below, in the Hall of the Five Hundred, tourists and police officers all spun and stared up at the latticed opening high on the wall. From the sounds of things, the duchess’s secret study was now being used to cage a wild animal.

Sienna Brooks and Robert Langdon stood in total darkness.

Minutes earlier, Sienna had watched Langdon cleverly use the chain to seal the rotating map of Armenia, then turn and flee.

To her surprise, however, instead of heading down the corridor, Langdon had gone up the steep staircase that had been marked USCITA VIETATA.

“Robert!” she whispered in confusion. “The sign said ‘No Exit’! And besides, I thought we wanted to go down!”

“We do,” Langdon said, glancing over his shoulder. “But sometimes you need to go up … to go down.” He gave her an encouraging wink. “Remember Satan’s navel?”

What is he talking about? Sienna bounded after him, feeling lost.

“Did you ever read Inferno?” Langdon asked.

Yes … but I think I was seven.

An instant later, it dawned on her. “Oh, Satan’s navel!” she said. “Now I remember.”

It had taken a moment, but Sienna now realized that Langdon was referring to the finale of Dante’s Inferno. In these cantos, in order to escape hell, Dante has to climb down the hairy stomach of the massive Satan, and when he reaches Satan’s navel—the alleged center of the earth—the earth’s gravity suddenly switches directions, and Dante, in order to continue climbing down to purgatory … suddenly has to start climbing up.

Sienna remembered little of the Inferno other than her disappointment in witnessing the absurd actions of gravity at the center of the earth; apparently Dante’s genius did not include a grasp of the physics of vector forces.

They reached the top of the stairs, and Langdon opened the lone door they found there; on it was written: SALA DEI MODELLI DI ARCHITETTURA.

Langdon ushered her inside, closing and bolting the door behind them.

The room was small and plain, containing a series of cases that displayed wooden models of Vasari’s architectural designs for the interior of the palazzo. Sienna barely noticed the models. She did, however, notice that the room had no doors, no windows, and, as advertised … no exit.

“In the mid-1300s,” Langdon whispered, “the Duke of Athens assumed power in the palace and built this secret escape route in case he was attacked. It’s called the Duke of Athens Stairway, and it descends to a tiny escape hatch on a side street. If we can get there, nobody will see us exit.” He pointed to one of the models. “Look. See it there on the side?”

He brought me up here to show me models?

Sienna shot an anxious glance at the miniature and saw the secret staircase descending all the way from the top of the palace down to street level, stealthily hidden between the inner and outer walls of the building.

“I can see the stairs, Robert,” Sienna said testily, “but they are on the complete opposite side of the palace. We’ll never get over there!”

“A little faith,” he said with a lopsided grin.

A sudden crash emanating from downstairs told them that the map of Armenia had just been breached. They stood stone-still as they listened to the footfalls of soldiers departing down the corridor, none of them ever thinking that their quarry would climb higher still … especially up a tiny staircase marked NO EXIT.

When the sounds below had subsided, Langdon strode with confidence across the exhibit room, snaking through the displays, heading directly for what looked like a large cupboard in the far wall. The cupboard was about one yard square and positioned three feet off the floor. Without hesitation, Langdon grabbed the handle and heaved open the door.

Sienna recoiled with surprise.

The space within appeared to be a cavernous void … as if the cupboard door were a portal into another world. Beyond was only blackness.

“Follow me,” Langdon said.

He grabbed a lone flashlight that was hanging on the wall beside the opening. Then, with surprising agility and strength, the professor hoisted himself up through the opening and disappeared into the rabbit hole.

CHAPTER 46

La soffitta, Langdon thought. The most dramatic attic on earth.

The air inside the void smelled musty and ancient, as if centuries of plaster dust had now become so fine and light that it refused to settle and instead hung suspended in the atmosphere. The vast space creaked and groaned, giving Langdon the sense that he had just climbed into the belly of a living beast.

Once he had found solid footing on a broad horizontal truss chord, he raised his flashlight, letting the beam pierce the darkness.

Spreading out before him was a seemingly endless tunnel, crisscrossed by a wooden web of triangles and rectangles formed by the intersections of posts, beams, chords, and other structural elements that made up the invisible skeleton of the Hall of the Five Hundred.

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