The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.
All artwork, literature, science, and historical references in this novel are real.
"The Consortium" is a private organization with offices in seven countries. Its name has been changed for considerations of security and privacy.
Inferno is the underworld as described in Dante Alighieri's epic poem The Divine Comedy, which portrays hell as an elaborately structured realm populated by entities known as "shades"—bodiless souls trapped between life and death.
I am the Shade.
Through the dolent city, I flee.
Through the eternal woe, I take flight.
Along the banks of the river Arno, I scramble, breathless ... turning left onto Via dei Castellani, making my way northward, huddling in the shadows of the Uffizi.
And still they pursue me.
Their footsteps grow louder now as they hunt with relentless determination.
For years they have pursued me. Their persistence has kept me underground ... forced me to live in purgatory ... laboring beneath the earth like a chthonic monster.
I am the Shade.
Here aboveground, I raise my eyes to the north, but I am unable to find a direct path to salvation ... for the Apennine Mountains are blotting out the first light of dawn.
I pass behind the palazzo with its crenellated tower and one-handed clock ... snaking through the early-morning vendors in Piazza di San Firenze with their hoarse voices smelling of lampredotto and roasted olives. Crossing before the Bargello, I cut west toward the spire of the Badia and come up hard against the iron gate at the base of the stairs.
Here all hesitation must be left behind.
I turn the handle and step into the passage from which I know there will be no return. I urge my leaden legs up the narrow staircase ... spiraling skyward on soft marble treads, pitted and worn.
The voices echo from below. Beseeching.
They are behind me, unyielding, closing in.
They do not understand what is coming ... nor what I have done for them!
As I climb, the visions come hard ... the lustful bodies writhing in fiery rain, the gluttonous souls floating in excrement, the treacherous villains frozen in Satan's icy grasp.
I climb the final stairs and arrive at the top, staggering near dead into the damp morning air. I rush to the head-high wall, peering through the slits. Far below is the blessed city that I have made my sanctuary from those who exiled me.
The voices call out, arriving close behind me. "What you've done is madness!"
Madness breeds madness.
"For the love of God," they shout, "tell us where you've hidden it!"
For precisely the love of God, I will not.
I stand now, cornered, my back to the cold stone. They stare deep into my clear green eyes, and their expressions darken, no longer cajoling, but threatening. "You know we have our methods. We can force you to tell us where it is."
For that reason, I have climbed halfway to heaven.
Without warning, I turn and reach up, curling my fingers onto the high ledge, pulling myself up, scrambling onto my knees, then standing ... unsteady at the precipice. Guide me, dear Virgil, across the void.
They rush forward in disbelief, wanting to grab at my feet, but fearing they will upset my balance and knock me off. They beg now, in quiet desperation, but I have turned my back. I know what I must do.