Vitamins, Supplements, Sport Nutrition

105

The fog of weary emotion lifted slowly as Langdon waded away from the dead cardinal, back into deep water. Depleted and alone in the fountain, Langdon half‑expected to collapse. But instead, he felt a new compulsion rising within him. Undeniable. Frantic. He sensed his muscles hardening with an unexpected grit. His mind, as though ignoring the pain in his heart, forced aside the past and brought into focus the single, desperate task ahead.

Find the Illuminati lair. Help Vittoria.

Turning now to the mountainous core of Bernini’s fountain, Langdon summoned hope and launched himself into his quest for the final Illuminati marker. He knew somewhere on this gnarled mass of figures was a clue that pointed to the lair. As Langdon scanned the fountain, though, his hope withered quickly. The words of the segno seemed to gurgle mockingly all around him. Let angels guide you on your lofty quest. Langdon glared at the carved forms before him. The fountain is pagan! It has no damn angels anywhere!

When Langdon completed his fruitless search of the core, his eyes instinctively climbed the towering stone pillar. Four markers, he thought, spread across Rome in a giant cross.

Scanning the hieroglyphics covering the obelisk, he wondered if perhaps there were a clue hidden in the Egyptian symbology. He immediately dismissed the idea. The hieroglyphs predated Bernini by centuries, and hieroglyphs had not even been decipherable until the Rosetta Stone was discovered. Still, Langdon ventured, maybe Bernini had carved an additional symbol? One that would go unnoticed among all the hieroglyphs?

Feeling a shimmer of hope, Langdon circumnavigated the fountain one more time and studied all four façades of the obelisk. It took him two minutes, and when he reached the end of the final face, his hopes sank. Nothing in the hieroglyphs stood out as any kind of addition. Certainly no angels.

Langdon checked his watch. It was eleven on the dot. He couldn’t tell whether time was flying or crawling. Images of Vittoria and the Hassassin started to swirl hauntingly as Langdon clambered his way around the fountain, the frustration mounting as he frantically completed yet another fruitless circle. Beaten and exhausted, Langdon felt ready to collapse. He threw back his head to scream into the night.

The sound jammed in his throat.

Langdon was staring straight up the obelisk. The object perched at the very top was one he had seen earlier and ignored. Now, however, it stopped him short. It was not an angel. Far from it. In fact, he had not even perceived it as part of Bernini’s fountain. He thought it was a living creature, another one of the city’s scavengers perched on a lofty tower.

A pigeon.

Langdon squinted skyward at the object, his vision blurred by the glowing mist around him. It was a pigeon, wasn’t it? He could clearly see the head and beak silhouetted against a cluster of stars. And yet the bird had not budged since Langdon’s arrival, even with the battle below. The bird sat now exactly as it had been when Langdon entered the square. It was perched high atop the obelisk, gazing calmly westward.

Langdon stared at it a moment and then plunged his hand into the fountain and grabbed a fistful of coins. He hurled the coins skyward. They clattered across the upper levels of the granite obelisk. The bird did not budge. He tried again. This time, one of the coins hit the mark. A faint sound of metal on metal clanged across the square.

The damned pigeon was bronze.

You’re looking for an angel, not a pigeon, a voice reminded him. But it was too late. Langdon had made the connection. He realized the bird was not a pigeon at all.

It was a dove.

Barely aware of his own actions, Langdon splashed toward the center of the fountain and began scrambling up the travertine mountain, clambering over huge arms and heads, pulling himself higher. Halfway to the base of the obelisk, he emerged from the mist and could see the head of the bird more clearly.

There was no doubt. It was a dove. The bird’s deceptively dark color was the result of Rome’s pollution tarnishing the original bronze. Then the significance hit him. He had seen a pair of doves earlier today at the Pantheon. A pair of doves carried no meaning. This dove, however, was alone.

The lone dove is the pagan symbol for the Angel of Peace.

The truth almost lifted Langdon the rest of the way to the obelisk. Bernini had chosen the pagan symbol for the angel so he could disguise it in a pagan fountain. Let angels guide you on your lofty quest. The dove is the angel! Langdon could think of no more lofty perch for the Illuminati’s final marker than atop this obelisk.

The bird was looking west. Langdon tried to follow its gaze, but he could not see over the buildings. He climbed higher. A quote from St. Gregory of Nyssa emerged from his memory most unexpectedly. As the soul becomes enlightened . . . it takes the beautiful shape of the dove.

Langdon rose heavenward. Toward the dove. He was almost flying now. He reached the platform from which the obelisk rose and could climb no higher. With one look around, though, he knew he didn’t have to. All of Rome spread out before him. The view was stunning.

To his left, the chaotic media lights surrounding St. Peter’s. To his right, the smoking cupola of Santa Maria della Vittoria. In front of him in the distance, Piazza del Popolo. Beneath him, the fourth and final point. A giant cross of obelisks.

Trembling, Langdon looked to the dove overhead. He turned and faced the proper direction, and then he lowered his eyes to the skyline.

In an instant he saw it.

So obvious. So clear. So deviously simple.

Staring at it now, Langdon could not believe the Illuminati lair had stayed hidden for so many years. The entire city seemed to fade away as he looked out at the monstrous stone structure across the river in front of him. The building was as famous as any in Rome. It stood on the banks of the Tiber River diagonally adjacent to the Vatican. The building’s geometry was stark—a circular castle, within a square fortress, and then, outside its walls, surrounding the entire structure, a park in the shape of a pentagram.

The ancient stone ramparts before him were dramatically lit by soft floodlights. High atop the castle stood the mammoth bronze angel. The angel pointed his sword downward at the exact center of the castle. And as if that were not enough, leading solely and directly to the castle’s main entrance stood the famous Bridge of Angels . . . a dramatic approachway adorned by twelve towering angels carved by none other than Bernini himself.

In a final breathtaking revelation, Langdon realized Bernini’s city‑wide cross of obelisks marked the fortress in perfect Illuminati fashion; the cross’s central arm passed directly through the center of the castle’s bridge, dividing it into two equal halves.

Langdon retrieved his tweed coat, holding it away from his dripping body. Then he jumped into the stolen sedan and rammed his soggy shoe into the accelerator, speeding off into the night.