Sienna jumped back. “What are you doing!?”
Still shaking the tube, Langdon walked over to the light switch and flipped it off, plunging the kitchen into relative darkness. “It’s not a test tube inside,” he said, still shaking as hard as he could. “It’s a Faraday pointer.”
Langdon had once been given a similar device by one of his students—a laser pointer for lecturers who disliked wasting endless AAA batteries and didn’t mind the effort of shaking their pointer for a few seconds in order to transform their own kinetic energy into electricity on demand. When the device was agitated, a metal ball inside sailed back and forth across a series of paddles and powered a tiny generator. Apparently someone had decided to slide this particular pointer into a hollow, carved bone—an ancient skin to sheathe a modern electronic toy.
The tip of the pointer in his hand was now glowing intensely, and Langdon gave Sienna an uneasy grin. “Showtime.”
He aimed the bone-sheathed pointer at a bare space on the kitchen wall. When the wall lit up, Sienna drew a startled breath. It was Langdon, however, who physically recoiled in surprise.
The light that appeared on the wall was not a little red laser dot. It was a vivid, high-definition photograph that emanated from the tube as if from an old-fashioned slide projector.
My God! Langdon’s hand trembled slightly as he absorbed the macabre scene projected on the wall before him. No wonder I’ve been seeing images of death.
At his side, Sienna covered her mouth and took a tentative step forward, clearly entranced by what she was seeing.
The scene projected out of the carved bone was a grim oil painting of human suffering—thousands of souls undergoing wretched tortures in various levels of hell. The underworld was portrayed as a cutaway cross section of the earth into which plunged a cavernous funnel-shaped pit of unfathomable depth. This pit of hell was divided into descending terraces of increasing misery, each level populated by tormented sinners of every kind.
Langdon recognized the image at once.
The masterpiece before him—La Mappa dell’Inferno—had been painted by one of the true giants of the Italian Renaissance, Sandro Botticelli. An elaborate blueprint of the underworld, The Map of Hell was one of the most frightening visions of the afterlife ever created. Dark, grim, and terrifying, the painting stopped people in their tracks even today. Unlike his vibrant and colorful Primavera or Birth of Venus, Botticelli had crafted his Map of Hell with a depressing palate of reds, sepias, and browns.
Langdon’s crashing headache had suddenly returned, and yet for the first time since waking up in a strange hospital, he felt a piece of the puzzle tumble into place. His grim hallucinations obviously had been stirred by seeing this famous painting.
I must have been studying Botticelli’s Map of Hell, he thought, although he had no recollection of why.
While the image itself was disturbing, it was the painting’s provenance that was now causing Langdon an increasing disquiet. Langdon was well aware that the inspiration for this foreboding masterpiece had originated not in the mind of Botticelli himself … but rather in the mind of someone who had lived two hundred years before him.
One great work of art inspired by another.
Botticelli’s Map of Hell was in fact a tribute to a fourteenth-century work of literature that had become one of history’s most celebrated writings … a notoriously macabre vision of hell that resonated to this day.
Across the street, Vayentha quietly climbed a service staircase and concealed herself on the rooftop terrace of the sleepy little Pensione la Fiorentina. Langdon had provided a nonexistent room number and a fake meeting place to his consulate contact—a “mirrored meet,” as it was called in her business—a common tradecraft technique that would enable him to assess the situation before revealing his own location. Invariably, the fake or “mirrored” location was selected because it lay in perfect view of his actual location.
Vayentha found a concealed vantage point on the rooftop from which she had a bird’s-eye view of the entire area. Slowly, she let her eyes climb the apartment building across the street.
Your move, Mr. Langdon.
At that moment, on board The Mendacium, the provost stepped out onto the mahogany deck and inhaled deeply, savoring the salty air of the Adriatic. This vessel had been his home for years, and yet now, the series of events transpiring in Florence threatened to destroy everything he had built.
His field agent Vayentha had put everything at risk, and while she would face an inquiry when this mission was over, right now the provost still needed her.
She damned well better regain control of this mess.
Brisk footsteps approached behind him, and the provost turned to see one of his female analysts arriving at a jog.
“Sir?” the analyst said, breathless. “We have new information.” Her voice cut the morning air with a rare intensity. “It appears Robert Langdon just accessed his Harvard e-mail account from an unmasked IP address.” She paused, locking eyes with the provost. “Langdon’s precise location is now traceable.”
The provost was stunned that anyone could be so foolish. This changes everything. He steepled his hands and stared out at the coastline, considering the implications. “Do we know the status of the SRS team?”
“Yes, sir. Less than two miles away from Langdon’s position.”
The provost needed only a moment to make the decision.
“L’inferno di Dante,” Sienna whispered, her expression rapt as she inched closer to the stark image of the underworld now projected on her kitchen wall.