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Ambra was already crouched down, her face an inch from the glass. She quietly skimmed the poem, pausing to read one of the lines out loud. “‘And Man walks forth from midst of the fires, the evil is all consum’d.'” She turned to Langdon. “The evil is all consumed?”
Langdon considered it, nodding vaguely. “I believe Blake is referring to the eradication of corrupt religion. A religionless future was one of his recurring prophecies.”
Ambra looked hopeful. “Edmond said his favorite line of poetry was a prophecy that he hoped would come true.”
“Well,” Langdon said, “a future without religion is certainly something Edmond wanted. How many letters in that line?”
Ambra began counting but shook her head. “Over fifty.”
She returned to skimming the poem, pausing a moment later. “How about this one? ‘The Expanding eyes of Man behold the depths of wondrous worlds.’ ”
“Possible,” Langdon said, pondering its meaning. Human intellect will continue to grow and evolve over time, enabling us to see more deeply into the truth.
“Too many letters again,” Ambra said. “I’ll keep going.”
As she continued down the page, Langdon began pacing pensively behind her. The lines she’d already read echoed in his mind and conjured a distant memory of his reading Blake in a Princeton “Brit lit” class.
Images began forming, as sometimes happened with Langdon’s eidetic memory. These images conjured new images, in endless succession. Suddenly, standing in the crypt, Langdon flashed on his professor, who, upon the class’s completion of The Four Zoas, stood before them and asked the age-old questions: Which would you choose? A world without religion? Or a world without science? Then the professor had added: Clearly, William Blake had a preference, and nowhere is his hope for the future better summarized than in the final line of this epic poem.
Langdon drew a startled breath and spun toward Ambra, who was still poring over Blake’s text.
“Ambra–skip down to the end of the poem!” he said, now recalling the poem’s final line.
Ambra looked to the end of the poem. After focusing a moment, she turned back to him with an expression of wide-eyed disbelief.
Langdon joined her at the book, peering down at the text. Now that he knew the line, he was able to make out the faint handwritten letters:
The dark religions are departed & sweet science reigns.
“‘The dark religions are departed,'” Ambra read aloud. “‘And sweet science reigns.'”
The line was not only a prophecy that Edmond would endorse, it was essentially a synopsis of his presentation earlier tonight.
Religions will fade … and science will rule.
Ambra began carefully counting the letters in the line, but Langdon knew it was unnecessary. This is it. No doubt. His mind had already turned to accessing Winston and launching Edmond’s presentation. Langdon’s plan for how to make that happen was something he would need to explain to Ambra in private.
He turned to Father Bena, who was just returning. “Father?” he asked. “We’re almost done here. Would you mind going upstairs and telling the Guardia agents to summon the helicopter? We’ll need to leave at once.”
“Of course,” Bena said, and headed up the stairs. “I hope you found what you came for. I’ll see you upstairs in a moment.”
As the priest disappeared up the stairs, Ambra turned away from the book with a look of sudden alarm.
“Robert,” she said. “This line is too short. I counted it twice. It’s only forty-six letters. We need forty-seven.”
“What?” Langdon walked over to her, squinting at the text and carefully counting each handwritten letter. “The dark religions are departed & sweet science reigns.” Sure enough, he arrived at forty-six. Baffled, he studied the line again. “Edmond definitely said forty-seven, not forty-six?”
Langdon reread the line. But this must be it, he thought. What am I missing?
Carefully, he scanned every letter in the final line of Blake’s poem. He was almost to the end when he saw it.
… & sweet science reigns.
“The ampersand,” Langdon blurted. “The symbol Blake used instead of writing out the word ‘and.'”
Ambra eyed him strangely and then shook her head. “Robert, if we substitute the word ‘and’ … then the line has forty-eight letters. Too many.”
Not true. Langdon smiled. It’s a code within a code.
Langdon marveled at Edmond’s cunning little twist. The paranoid genius had used a simple typographic trick to ensure that even if someone discovered which line of poetry was his favorite, they would still not be able to type it correctly.
The ampersand code, Langdon thought. Edmond remembered it.
The origin of the ampersand was always one of the first things Langdon taught his symbology classes. The symbol “&” was a logogram–literally a picture representing a word. While many people assumed the symbol derived from the English word “and,” it actually derived from the Latin word et. The ampersand’s unusual design “&” was a typographical fusion of the letters E and T–the ligature still visible today in computer fonts like Trebuchet, whose ampersand “&” clearly echoed its Latin origin.
Langdon would never forget that the week after he had taught Edmond’s class about the ampersand, the young genius had shown up wearing a T-shirt printed with the message–Ampersand phone home!–a playful allusion to the Spielberg movie about an extraterrestrial named “ET” who was trying to find his way home.
Now, standing over Blake’s poem, Langdon was able to picture Edmond’s forty-seven-letter password perfectly in his mind.
Quintessential Edmond, Langdon thought, quickly sharing with Ambra the clever trick Edmond had used to add a level of security to his password.
As the truth dawned on her, Ambra began smiling as broadly as Langdon had seen her smile since they met. “Well,” she said, “I guess if we ever had any doubts that Edmond Kirsch was a geek …”
The two of them laughed together, taking the moment to exhale in the solitude of the crypt.
“You found the password,” she said, sounding grateful. “And I feel sorrier than ever that I lost Edmond’s phone. If we still had it, we could trigger Edmond’s presentation right now.”
“Not your fault,” he said reassuringly. “And, as I told you, I know how to find Winston.”
At least I think I do, he mused, hoping he was right.
As Langdon pictured the aerial view of Barcelona, and the unusual puzzle that lay ahead, the silence of the crypt was shattered by a jarring sound echoing down the stairwell.
Upstairs, Father Bena was screaming and calling their names.
“HURRY! MS. VIDAL … Professor Langdon … come up here quickly!” Langdon and Ambra bounded up the crypt stairs as Father Bena’s desperate shouts continued. When they reached the top step, Langdon rushed out onto the sanctuary floor but was immediately lost in a curtain of blackness.
I can’t see!
As he inched forward in the darkness, his eyes strained to adjust from the glow of the oil lamps below. Ambra arrived beside him, squinting as well.
“Over here!” Bena shouted with desperation.
They moved toward the sound, finally spotting the priest on the murky fringes of light that spilled from the stairwell. Father Bena was on his knees, crouched over the dark silhouette of a body.
They were at Bena’s side in a moment, and Langdon recoiled to see the body of Agent Diaz lying on the floor, his head twisted grotesquely. Diaz was flat on his stomach, but his head had been wrenched 180 degrees backward, so his lifeless eyes aimed up at the cathedral ceiling. Langdon cringed in horror, now understanding the panic in Father Bena’s screams.
A cold rush of fear coursed through him, and he stood abruptly, probing the darkness for any sign of movement in the cavernous church.
“His gun,” Ambra whispered, pointing to Diaz’s empty holster. “It’s gone.” She peered into the darkness around them and called out, “Agent Fonseca?!”
In the blackness nearby, there was a sudden shuffling of footsteps on tile and the sound of bodies colliding in a fierce struggle. Then, with startling abruptness, the deafening explosion of a gunshot rang out at close range. Langdon, Ambra, and Bena all jolted backward, and as the gunshot echoed across the sanctuary, they heard a pained voice urging–“!Corre!” Run!
A second gunshot exploded, followed by a heavy thud–the unmistakable sound of a body hitting the floor.
Langdon had already grabbed Ambra’s hand and was pulling her toward the deep shadows near the sidewall of the sanctuary. Father Bena arrived a step behind them, all three now cowering in rigid silence against the cold stone.
Langdon’s eyes probed the darkness as he struggled to make sense of what was going on.
Someone just killed Diaz and Fonseca! Who’s in here with us? And what do they want?
Langdon could imagine only one logical answer: the killer lurking in the darkness of Sagrada Familia had not come here to murder two random Guardia agents … he had come for Ambra and Langdon.
Someone is still trying to silence Edmond’s discovery.
Suddenly a bright flashlight flared in the middle of the sanctuary floor, the beam swinging back and forth in a wide arc, moving in their direction. Langdon knew they had only seconds before the beam reached them.
“This way,” Bena whispered, pulling Ambra along the wall in the opposite direction. Langdon followed as the light swung closer. Bena and Ambra suddenly cut hard to the right, disappearing into an opening in the stone, and Langdon plunged in after them–immediately stumbling on an unseen set of stairs. Ambra and Bena climbed onward as Langdon regained his footing and continued after them, looking back to see the beam of light appear just beneath him, illuminating the bottom steps.
Langdon froze in the darkness, waiting.
The light remained there a long moment, and then it began growing brighter.
He’s coming this way!
Langdon could hear Ambra and Bena ascending the stairs above him as stealthily as possible. He spun and launched himself after them, but again stumbled, colliding with a wall and realizing that the staircase was not straight, but curved. Pressing a hand against the wall for guidance, Langdon began circling upward in a tight spiral, quickly understanding where he was.
Sagrada Familia’s infamously treacherous spiral staircase.
He raised his eyes and saw a very faint glow filtering down from the light wells above, just enough illumination to reveal the narrow shaft that enclosed him. Langdon felt his legs tighten, and he stalled on the stairs, overcome by claustrophobia in the crushingly small passage.
Keep climbing! His rational mind urged him upward but his muscles cramped in fear.
Somewhere beneath him, Langdon could hear the sound of heavy footsteps approaching from the sanctuary. He forced himself to keep moving, following the spiraling steps upward as fast as he could. Above him, the faint light grew brighter as Langdon passed an opening in the wall–a wide slit through which he briefly glimpsed the city lights. A blast of cool air hit him as he dashed past this light well, and he plunged back into darkness as he circled higher.
Footsteps entered the staircase below, and the flashlight probed erratically up the center shaft. Langdon passed another light well as the pursuing footsteps grew louder, his assailant now charging faster up the stairs behind him.
Langdon caught up with Ambra and Father Bena, who was now gasping for breath. Langdon peered over the inner edge of the stairwell into the plunging center shaft. The drop was dizzying–a narrow, circular hole that plummeted through the eye of what looked like a giant spiraling nautilus. There was virtually no barrier, just an ankle-high inner lip that provided no protection whatsoever. Langdon had to fight off a wave of nausea.
He turned his eyes back to the darkness of the shaft overhead. Langdon had heard that there were more than four hundred stairs in this structure; if so, there was no way they would reach the top before the armed man below caught up with them.
“Both of you … go!” Bena gasped, stepping aside and urging Langdon and Ambra to pass him.
“There’s no chance of that, Father,” Ambra said, reaching down to help the old priest.
Langdon admired her protective instinct, but he also knew that fleeing up these stairs was suicide, most likely ending with bullets in their backs. Of the two animal instincts for survival–fight or flight–flight was no longer an option.
We’ll never make it.
Letting Ambra and Father Bena press on, Langdon turned, planted his feet, and faced down the spiral staircase. Below him, the flashlight beam tracked closer. He backed against the wall and crouched in the shadows, waiting until the light hit the stairs beneath him. The killer suddenly rounded the curve into view–a dark form running with both hands outstretched, one clutching the flashlight and the other a handgun.
Langdon reacted on instinct, exploding from his crouch and launching himself through the air, feetfirst. The man saw him and began to raise his gun just as Langdon’s heels drove into his chest with a powerful thrust, driving the man back into the wall of the stairwell.
The next few seconds were a blur.
Langdon fell, landing hard on his side, pain erupting in his hip, as his attacker crumpled backward, tumbling down several stairs and landing in a groaning heap. The flashlight bounced down the stairs and rolled to a stop, sending an oblique wash of light up the sidewall and illuminating a metal object on the stairs halfway between Langdon and his attacker.
Both men lunged for it at the same moment, but Langdon had the high ground and got there first, grasping the handle and pointing the weapon at his attacker, who stopped short just beneath him, staring defiantly into the barrel of the gun.
In the glow of the flashlight, Langdon could see the man’s salt-and-pepper beard and stark white pants … and in an instant, he knew who it was.
The navy officer from the Guggenheim …
Langdon leveled the gun at the man’s head, feeling his index finger on the trigger. “You killed my friend Edmond Kirsch.”
The man was out of breath, but his reply was immediate, his voice like ice. “I settled a score. Your friend Edmond Kirsch killed my family.”
LANGDON BROKE MY ribs.
Admiral Avila felt sharp stabs each time he inhaled, wincing in pain as his chest heaved desperately, trying to restore oxygen to his body. Crouched on the stairs above him, Robert Langdon stared down, aiming the pistol awkwardly at Avila’s midsection.
Avila’s military training instantly kicked in, and he began assessing his situation. In the negative column, his enemy held both the weapon and the high ground. In the positive column, judging from the professor’s unusual grip on the gun, he had very little experience with firearms.
He has no intention of shooting me, Avila decided. He will hold me and wait for the security guards. From all the shouting outside, it was clear that Sagrada Familia’s security officers had heard the gunshots and were now hurrying into the building.
I must act quickly.
Keeping his hands raised in surrender, Avila shifted slowly onto his knees, conveying full compliance and submission.
Give Langdon the sense that he is in total control.
Despite his fall down the stairs, Avila could feel that the object he had lodged in the back of his belt was still there–the ceramic pistol with which he had killed Kirsch inside the Guggenheim. He had chambered the last remaining bullet before entering the church but had not needed to use it, killing one of the guards silently and stealing his far more efficient gun, which, unfortunately, Langdon was now aiming at him. Avila wished he had left the safety engaged, guessing Langdon probably would have had no idea how to release it.
Avila considered making a move to grab the ceramic gun from his belt to fire on Langdon first, but even if he were successful, Avila estimated his chances of survival at about fifty-fifty. One of the perils of inexperienced gun users was their tendency to fire by mistake.
If I move too quickly …
The sounds of the yelling guards were growing closer, and Avila knew that if he were taken into custody, the “victor” tattoo on his palm would ensure his release–or at least that’s what the Regent had assured him. At the moment, however, having killed two of the king’s Guardia Real agents, Avila was not so sure that the Regent’s influence could save him.
I came here to carry out a mission, Avila reminded himself. And I need to complete it. Eliminate Robert Langdon and Ambra Vidal.
The Regent had told Avila to enter the church via the east service gate, but Avila had decided to jump a security fence instead. I spotted police lurking near the east gate … and so I improvised.
Langdon spoke forcefully, glaring down over the gun at Avila. “You said Edmond Kirsch killed your family. That’s a lie. Edmond was no killer.”
You’re right, Avila thought. He was worse.
The dark truth about Kirsch was a secret Avila had learned only a week ago during a phone call from the Regent. Our pope is asking you to target the famous futurist Edmond Kirsch, the Regent had said. His Holiness’s motivations are many, but he would like for you to undertake this mission personally.
Why me? Avila asked.
Admiral, the Regent whispered. I’m sorry to tell you this, but Edmond Kirsch was responsible for the cathedral bombing that killed your family.
Avila’s first reaction was complete disbelief. He could see no reason whatsoever for a well-known computer scientist to bomb a church.
You are a military man, Admiral, the Regent had explained to him, and so you know better than anyone: the young soldier who pulls the trigger in battle is not the actual killer. He is a pawn, doing the work of those more powerful–governments, generals, religious leaders–those who have either paid him or convinced him that a cause is worthy at all costs.
Avila had indeed witnessed this situation.
The same rules apply to terrorism, the Regent continued. The most vicious terrorists are not the people who build the bombs, but the influential leaders who fuel hatred among desperate masses, inspiring their foot soldiers to commit acts of violence. It takes only one powerful dark soul to wreak havoc in the world by inspiring spiritual intolerance, nationalism, or loathing in the minds of the vulnerable.
Avila had to agree.