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CHAPTER 74

“HURRY! MS. VIDAL … Professor Langdon … come up here quickly!” Langdon and Ambra bounded up the crypt stairs as Father Beña’s desperate shouts continued. When they reached the top step, Langdon rushed out onto the sanctuary floor but was immediately lost in a curtain of blackness.

I can’t see!

As he inched forward in the darkness, his eyes strained to adjust from the glow of the oil lamps below. Ambra arrived beside him, squinting as well.

“Over here!” Beña shouted with desperation.

They moved toward the sound, finally spotting the priest on the murky fringes of light that spilled from the stairwell. Father Beña was on his knees, crouched over the dark silhouette of a body.

They were at Beña’s side in a moment, and Langdon recoiled to see the body of Agent Díaz lying on the floor, his head twisted grotesquely. Díaz was flat on his stomach, but his head had been wrenched 180 degrees backward, so his lifeless eyes aimed up at the cathedral ceiling. Langdon cringed in horror, now understanding the panic in Father Beña’s screams.

A cold rush of fear coursed through him, and he stood abruptly, probing the darkness for any sign of movement in the cavernous church.

“His gun,” Ambra whispered, pointing to Díaz’s empty holster. “It’s gone.” She peered into the darkness around them and called out, “Agent Fonseca?!”

In the blackness nearby, there was a sudden shuffling of footsteps on tile and the sound of bodies colliding in a fierce struggle. Then, with startling abruptness, the deafening explosion of a gunshot rang out at close range. Langdon, Ambra, and Beña all jolted backward, and as the gunshot echoed across the sanctuary, they heard a pained voice urging—“¡Corre!Run!

A second gunshot exploded, followed by a heavy thud—the unmistakable sound of a body hitting the floor.

Langdon had already grabbed Ambra’s hand and was pulling her toward the deep shadows near the sidewall of the sanctuary. Father Beña arrived a step behind them, all three now cowering in rigid silence against the cold stone.

Langdon’s eyes probed the darkness as he struggled to make sense of what was going on.

Someone just killed Díaz and Fonseca! Who’s in here with us? And what do they want?

Langdon could imagine only one logical answer: the killer lurking in the darkness of Sagrada Família had not come here to murder two random Guardia agents … he had come for Ambra and Langdon.

Someone is still trying to silence Edmond’s discovery.

Suddenly a bright flashlight flared in the middle of the sanctuary floor, the beam swinging back and forth in a wide arc, moving in their direction. Langdon knew they had only seconds before the beam reached them.

“This way,” Beña whispered, pulling Ambra along the wall in the opposite direction. Langdon followed as the light swung closer. Beña and Ambra suddenly cut hard to the right, disappearing into an opening in the stone, and Langdon plunged in after them—immediately stumbling on an unseen set of stairs. Ambra and Beña climbed onward as Langdon regained his footing and continued after them, looking back to see the beam of light appear just beneath him, illuminating the bottom steps.

Langdon froze in the darkness, waiting.

The light remained there a long moment, and then it began growing brighter.

He’s coming this way!

Langdon could hear Ambra and Beña ascending the stairs above him as stealthily as possible. He spun and launched himself after them, but again stumbled, colliding with a wall and realizing that the staircase was not straight, but curved. Pressing a hand against the wall for guidance, Langdon began circling upward in a tight spiral, quickly understanding where he was.

Sagrada Família’s infamously treacherous spiral staircase.

He raised his eyes and saw a very faint glow filtering down from the light wells above, just enough illumination to reveal the narrow shaft that enclosed him. Langdon felt his legs tighten, and he stalled on the stairs, overcome by claustrophobia in the crushingly small passage.

Keep climbing! His rational mind urged him upward but his muscles cramped in fear.

Somewhere beneath him, Langdon could hear the sound of heavy footsteps approaching from the sanctuary. He forced himself to keep moving, following the spiraling steps upward as fast as he could. Above him, the faint light grew brighter as Langdon passed an opening in the wall—a wide slit through which he briefly glimpsed the city lights. A blast of cool air hit him as he dashed past this light well, and he plunged back into darkness as he circled higher.

Footsteps entered the staircase below, and the flashlight probed erratically up the center shaft. Langdon passed another light well as the pursuing footsteps grew louder, his assailant now charging faster up the stairs behind him.

Langdon caught up with Ambra and Father Beña, who was now gasping for breath. Langdon peered over the inner edge of the stairwell into the plunging center shaft. The drop was dizzying—a narrow, circular hole that plummeted through the eye of what looked like a giant spiraling nautilus. There was virtually no barrier, just an ankle-high inner lip that provided no protection whatsoever. Langdon had to fight off a wave of nausea.

He turned his eyes back to the darkness of the shaft overhead. Langdon had heard that there were more than four hundred stairs in this structure; if so, there was no way they would reach the top before the armed man below caught up with them.

“Both of you … go!” Beña gasped, stepping aside and urging Langdon and Ambra to pass him.

“There’s no chance of that, Father,” Ambra said, reaching down to help the old priest.

Langdon admired her protective instinct, but he also knew that fleeing up these stairs was suicide, most likely ending with bullets in their backs. Of the two animal instincts for survival—fight or flight—flight was no longer an option.

We’ll never make it.

Letting Ambra and Father Beña press on, Langdon turned, planted his feet, and faced down the spiral staircase. Below him, the flashlight beam tracked closer. He backed against the wall and crouched in the shadows, waiting until the light hit the stairs beneath him. The killer suddenly rounded the curve into view—a dark form running with both hands outstretched, one clutching the flashlight and the other a handgun.

Langdon reacted on instinct, exploding from his crouch and launching himself through the air, feetfirst. The man saw him and began to raise his gun just as Langdon’s heels drove into his chest with a powerful thrust, driving the man back into the wall of the stairwell.

The next few seconds were a blur.

Langdon fell, landing hard on his side, pain erupting in his hip, as his attacker crumpled backward, tumbling down several stairs and landing in a groaning heap. The flashlight bounced down the stairs and rolled to a stop, sending an oblique wash of light up the sidewall and illuminating a metal object on the stairs halfway between Langdon and his attacker.

The gun.

Both men lunged for it at the same moment, but Langdon had the high ground and got there first, grasping the handle and pointing the weapon at his attacker, who stopped short just beneath him, staring defiantly into the barrel of the gun.

In the glow of the flashlight, Langdon could see the man’s salt-and-pepper beard and stark white pants … and in an instant, he knew who it was.

The navy officer from the Guggenheim …

Langdon leveled the gun at the man’s head, feeling his index finger on the trigger. “You killed my friend Edmond Kirsch.”

The man was out of breath, but his reply was immediate, his voice like ice. “I settled a score. Your friend Edmond Kirsch killed my family.”

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