Vittoria stood trembling on the balcony of Castle St. Angelo, staring out across Rome, her eyes moist with tears. She wanted badly to embrace Robert Langdon, but she could not. Her body felt anesthetized. Readjusting. Taking stock. The man who had killed her father lay far below, dead, and she had almost been a victim as well.
When Langdon’s hand touched her shoulder, the infusion of warmth seemed to magically shatter the ice. Her body shuddered back to life. The fog lifted, and she turned. Robert looked like hell—wet and matted—he had obviously been through purgatory to come rescue her.
“Thank you . . .” she whispered.
Langdon gave an exhausted smile and reminded her that it was she who deserved thanks—her ability to practically dislocate her shoulders had just saved them both. Vittoria wiped her eyes. She could have stood there forever with him, but the reprieve was short‑lived.
“We need to get out of here,” Langdon said.
Vittoria’s mind was elsewhere. She was staring out toward the Vatican. The world’s smallest country looked unsettlingly close, glowing white under a barrage of media lights. To her shock, much of St. Peter’s Square was still packed with people! The Swiss Guard had apparently been able to clear only about a hundred and fifty feet back—the area directly in front of the basilica—less than one‑third of the square. The shell of congestion encompassing the square was compacted now, those at the safer distances pressing for a closer look, trapping the others inside. They are too close! Vittoria thought. Much too close!
“I’m going back in,” Langdon said flatly.
Vittoria turned, incredulous. “Into the Vatican ?”
Langdon told her about the Samaritan, and how it was a ploy. The Illuminati leader, a man named Janus, was actually coming himself to brand the camerlegno. A final Illuminati act of domination.
“Nobody in Vatican City knows,” Langdon said. “I have no way to contact them, and this guy is arriving any minute. I have to warn the guards before they let him in.”
“But you’ll never get through the crowd!”
Langdon’s voice was confident. “There’s a way. Trust me.”
Vittoria sensed once again that the historian knew something she did not. “I’m coming.”
“No. Why risk both—”
“I have to find a way to get those people out of there! They’re in incredible dange—”
Just then, the balcony they were standing on began to shake. A deafening rumble shook the whole castle. Then a white light from the direction of St. Peter’s blinded them. Vittoria had only one thought. Oh my God! The antimatter annihilated early!
But instead of an explosion, a huge cheer went up from the crowd. Vittoria squinted into the light. It was a barrage of media lights from the square, now trained, it seemed, on them! Everyone was turned their way, hollering and pointing. The rumble grew louder. The air in the square seemed suddenly joyous.
Langdon looked baffled. “What the devil—”
The sky overhead roared.
Emerging from behind the tower, without warning, came the papal helicopter. It thundered fifty feet above them, on a beeline for Vatican City. As it passed overhead, radiant in the media lights, the castle trembled. The lights followed the helicopter as it passed by, and Langdon and Vittoria were suddenly again in the dark.
Vittoria had the uneasy feeling they were too late as they watched the mammoth machine slow to a stop over St. Peter’s Square. Kicking up a cloud of dust, the chopper dropped onto the open portion of the square between the crowd and the basilica, touching down at the bottom of the basilica’s staircase.
“Talk about an entrance,” Vittoria said. Against the white marble, she could see a tiny speck of a person emerge from the Vatican and move toward the chopper. She would never have recognized the figure except for the bright red beret on his head. “Red carpet greeting. That’s Rocher.”
Langdon pounded his fist on the banister. “Somebody’s got to warn them!” He turned to go.
Vittoria caught his arm. “Wait!” She had just seen something else, something her eyes refused to believe. Fingers trembling, she pointed toward the chopper. Even from this distance, there was no mistaking. Descending the gangplank was another figure . . . a figure who moved so uniquely that it could only be one man. Although the figure was seated, he accelerated across the open square with effortless control and startling speed.
A king on an electric throne.
It was Maximilian Kohler.