The memories materialized slowly ... like bubbles surfacing from the darkness of a bottomless well.
A veiled woman.
Robert Langdon gazed at her across a river whose churning waters ran red with blood. On the far bank, the woman stood facing him, motionless, solemn, her face hidden by a shroud. In her hand she gripped a blue tainia cloth, which she now raised in honor of the sea of corpses at her feet. The smell of death hung everywhere.
Seek, the woman whispered. And ye shall find.
Langdon heard the words as if she had spoken them inside his head. "Who are you?" he called out, but his voice made no sound.
Time grows short, she whispered. Seek and find.
Langdon took a step toward the river, but he could see the waters were bloodred and too deep to traverse. When Langdon raised his eyes again to the veiled woman, the bodies at her feet had multiplied. There were hundreds of them now, maybe thousands, some still alive, writhing in agony, dying unthinkable deaths ... consumed by fire, buried in feces, devouring one another. He could hear the mournful cries of human suffering echoing across the water.
The woman moved toward him, holding out her slender hands, as if beckoning for help.
"Who are you?!" Langdon again shouted.
In response, the woman reached up and slowly lifted the veil from her face. She was strikingly beautiful, and yet older than Langdon had imagined—in her sixties perhaps, stately and strong, like a timeless statue. She had a sternly set jaw, deep soulful eyes, and long, silver-gray hair that cascaded over her shoulders in ringlets. An amulet of lapis lazuli hung around her neck—a single snake coiled around a staff.
Langdon sensed he knew her ... trusted her. But how? Why?
She pointed now to a writhing pair of legs, which protruded upside down from the earth, apparently belonging to some poor soul who had been buried headfirst to his waist. The man's pale thigh bore a single letter—written in mud—R.
R? Langdon thought, uncertain. As in ... Robert? "Is that ... me?"
The woman's face revealed nothing. Seek and find, she repeated.
Without warning, she began radiating a white light ... brighter and brighter. Her entire body started vibrating intensely, and then, in a rush of thunder, she exploded into a thousand splintering shards of light.
Langdon bolted awake, shouting.
The room was bright. He was alone. The sharp smell of medicinal alcohol hung in the air, and somewhere a machine pinged in quiet rhythm with his heart. Langdon tried to move his right arm, but a sharp pain restrained him. He looked down and saw an IV tugging at the skin of his forearm.
His pulse quickened, and the machines kept pace, pinging more rapidly.
Where am I? What happened?
The back of Langdon's head throbbed, a gnawing pain. Gingerly, he reached up with his free arm and touched his scalp, trying to locate the source of his headache. Beneath his matted hair, he found the hard nubs of a dozen or so stitches caked with dried blood.
He closed his eyes, trying to remember an accident.
Nothing. A total blank.
A man in scrubs hurried in, apparently alerted by Langdon's racing heart monitor. He had a shaggy beard, bushy mustache, and gentle eyes that radiated a thoughtful calm beneath his overgrown eyebrows.
"What ... happened?" Langdon managed. "Did I have an accident?"
The bearded man put a finger to his lips and then rushed out, calling for someone down the hall.
Langdon turned his head, but the movement sent a spike of pain radiating through his skull. He took deep breaths and let the pain pass. Then, very gently and methodically, he surveyed his sterile surroundings.
The hospital room had a single bed. No flowers. No cards. Langdon saw his clothes on a nearby counter, folded inside a clear plastic bag. They were covered with blood.
My God. It must have been bad.
Now Langdon rotated his head very slowly toward the window beside his bed. It was dark outside. Night. All Langdon could see in the glass was his own reflection—an ashen stranger, pale and weary, attached to tubes and wires, surrounded by medical equipment.
Voices approached in the hall, and Langdon turned his gaze back toward the room. The doctor returned, now accompanied by a woman.
She appeared to be in her early thirties. She wore blue scrubs and had tied her blond hair back in a thick ponytail that swung behind her as she walked.
"I'm Dr. Sienna Brooks," she said, giving Langdon a smile as she entered. "I'll be working with Dr. Marconi tonight."
Langdon nodded weakly.
Tall and lissome, Dr. Brooks moved with the assertive gait of an athlete. Even in shapeless scrubs, she had a willowy elegance about her. Despite the absence of any makeup that Langdon could see, her complexion appeared unusually smooth, the only blemish a tiny beauty mark just above her lips. Her eyes, though a gentle brown, seemed unusually penetrating, as if they had witnessed a profundity of experience rarely encountered by a person her age.
"Dr. Marconi doesn't speak much English," she said, sitting down beside him, "and he asked me to fill out your admittance form." She gave him another smile.
"Thanks," Langdon croaked.
"Okay," she began, her tone businesslike. "What is your name?"
It took him a moment. "Robert ... Langdon."
She shone a penlight in Langdon's eyes. "Occupation?"
This information surfaced even more slowly. "Professor. Art history ... and symbology. Harvard University."
Dr. Brooks lowered the light, looking startled. The doctor with the bushy eyebrows looked equally surprised.
"You're ... an American?"
Langdon gave her a confused look.