It was 11:39 P.M. when Langdon stepped with the others from St. Peter’s Basilica. The glare that hit his eyes was searing. The media lights shone off the white marble like sunlight off a snowy tundra. Langdon squinted, trying to find refuge behind the façade’s enormous columns, but the light came from all directions. In front of him, a collage of massive video screens rose above the crowd.
Standing there atop the magnificent stairs that spilled down to the piazza below, Langdon felt like a reluctant player on the world’s biggest stage. Somewhere beyond the glaring lights, Langdon heard an idling helicopter and the roar of a hundred thousand voices. To their left, a procession of cardinals was now evacuating onto the square. They all stopped in apparent distress to see the scene now unfolding on the staircase.
“Careful now,” Chartrand urged, sounding focused as the group began descending the stairs toward the helicopter.
Langdon felt like they were moving underwater. His arms ached from the weight of the camerlegno and the table. He wondered how the moment could get much less dignified. Then he saw the answer. The two BBC reporters had apparently been crossing the open square on their way back to the press area. But now, with the roar of the crowd, they had turned. Glick and Macri were now running back toward them. Macri’s camera was raised and rolling. Here come the vultures, Langdon thought.
“Alt! “Chartrand yelled. “Get back!”
But the reporters kept coming. Langdon guessed the other networks would take about six seconds to pick up this live BBC feed again. He was wrong. They took two. As if connected by some sort of universal consciousness, every last media screen in the piazza cut away from their countdown clocks and their Vatican experts and began transmitting the same picture—a jiggling action footage swooping up the Vatican stairs. Now, everywhere Langdon looked, he saw the camerlegno’s limp body in a Technicolor close‑up.
This is wrong! Langdon thought. He wanted to run down the stairs and interfere, but he could not. It wouldn’t have helped anyway. Whether it was the roar of the crowd or the cool night air that caused it, Langdon would never know, but at that moment, the inconceivable occurred.
Like a man awakening from a nightmare, the camerlegno’s eyes shot open and he sat bolt upright. Taken entirely by surprise, Langdon and the others fumbled with the shifting weight. The front of the table dipped. The camerlegno began to slide. They tried to recover by setting the table down, but it was too late. The camerlegno slid off the front. Incredibly, he did not fall. His feet hit the marble, and he swayed upright. He stood a moment, looking disoriented, and then, before anyone could stop him, he lurched forward, staggering down the stairs toward Macri.
“No! “Langdon screamed.
Chartrand rushed forward, trying to reign in the camerlegno. But the camerlegno turned on him, wild‑eyed, crazed. “Leave me!”
Chartrand jumped back.
The scene went from bad to worse. The camerlegno’s torn cassock, having been only laid over his chest by Chartrand, began to slip lower. For a moment, Langdon thought the garment might hold, but that moment passed. The cassock let go, sliding off his shoulders down around his waist.
The gasp that went up from the crowd seemed to travel around the globe and back in an instant. Cameras rolled, flashbulbs exploded. On media screens everywhere, the image of the camerlegno’s branded chest was projected, towering and in grisly detail. Some screens were even freezing the image and rotating it 180 degrees.
The ultimate Illuminati victory.
Langdon stared at the brand on the screens. Although it was the imprint of the square brand he had held earlier, the symbol now made sense. Perfect sense. The marking’s awesome power hit Langdon like a train.
Orientation. Langdon had forgotten the first rule of symbology. When is a square not a square? He had also forgotten that iron brands, just like rubber stamps, never looked like their imprints. They were in reverse. Langdon had been looking at the brand’s negative !
As the chaos grew, an old Illuminati quote echoed with new meaning: “A flawless diamond, born of the ancient elements with such perfection that all those who saw it could only stare in wonder.”
Langdon knew now the myth was true.
Earth, Air, Fire, Water.
The Illuminati Diamond.