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Three ballotings. No Pope.

Inside the Sistine Chapel, Cardinal Mortati had begun praying for a miracle. Send us the candidates! The delay had gone long enough. A single missing candidate, Mortati could understand. But all four? It left no options. Under these conditions, achieving a two‑thirds majority would take an act of God Himself.

When the bolts on the outer door began to grind open, Mortati and the entire College of Cardinals wheeled in unison toward the entrance. Mortati knew this unsealing could mean only one thing. By law, the chapel door could only be unsealed for two reasons—to remove the very ill, or to admit late cardinals.

The preferiti are coming!

Mortati’s heart soared. Conclave had been saved.

But when the door opened, the gasp that echoed through the chapel was not one of joy. Mortati stared in incredulous shock as the man walked in. For the first time in Vatican history, a camerlegno had just crossed the sacred threshold of conclave after sealing the doors.

What is he thinking!

The camerlegno strode to the altar and turned to address the thunderstruck audience. “Signori,” he said, “I have waited as long as I can. There is something you have a right to know.”