In the darkness of the garret, Langdon and Sienna were now separated by a twenty-foot expanse of open air. Eight feet beneath them, the fallen plank had come to rest across the wooden framing that supported the canvas bearing Vasari's Apotheosis. The large flashlight, still glowing, was resting on the canvas itself, creating a small indentation, like a stone on a trampoline.
"The plank behind you," Langdon whispered. "Can you drag it across to reach this strut?"
Sienna eyed the plank. "Not without the other end falling into the canvas."
Langdon had feared as much; the last thing they needed now was to send a two-by-six crashing through a Vasari canvas.
"I've got an idea," Sienna said, now moving sideways along the strut, heading for the sidewall. Langdon followed on his beam, the footing becoming more treacherous with each step as they ventured away from the flashlight beam. By the time they reached the sidewall, they were almost entirely in darkness.
"Down there," Sienna whispered, pointing into the obscurity below them. "At the edge of the frame. It's got to be mounted to the wall. It should hold me."
Before Langdon could protest, Sienna was climbing down off the strut, using a series of supporting beams as a ladder. She eased herself down onto the edge of the wooden lacunar. It creaked once, but held. Then, inching along the wall, Sienna began moving in Langdon's direction as if she were inching across the ledge of a high building. The lacunar creaked again.
Thin ice, Langdon thought. Stay near shore.
As Sienna reached the halfway point, approaching the strut on which he stood in the darkness, Langdon felt a sudden renewed hope that they might indeed get out of here in time.
Suddenly, somewhere in the darkness ahead, a door slammed and he heard fast-moving footsteps approaching along the walkway. The beam of a flashlight now appeared, sweeping the area, getting closer every second. Langdon felt his hopes sink. Someone was coming their way-moving along the main walkway and cutting off their escape route.
"Sienna, keep going," he whispered, reacting on instinct. "Continue the entire length of the wall. There's an exit at the far end. I'll run interference."
"No!" Sienna whispered urgently. "Robert, come back!"
But Langdon was already on the move, heading back along the strut toward the central spine of the garret, leaving Sienna in the darkness, inching across the sidewall, eight feet below him.
When Langdon arrived at the center of the garret, a faceless silhouette with a flashlight had just arrived on the raised viewing platform. The person halted at the low guardrail and aimed the flashlight beam down into Langdon's eyes.
The glare was blinding, and Langdon immediately raised his arms in surrender. He could not have felt more vulnerable-balanced high above the Hall of the Five Hundred, blinded by a bright light.
Langdon waited for a gunshot or for an authoritative command, but there was only silence. After a moment the beam swung away from his face and began probing the darkness behind him, apparently looking for something ... or someone else. As the beam left his eyes, Langdon could just make out the silhouette of the person now blocking his escape route. It was a woman, lean and dressed all in black. He had no doubt that beneath her baseball cap was a head of spiked hair.
Langdon's muscles tightened instinctively as his mind flooded with images of Dr. Marconi dying on the hospital floor.
She found me. She's here to finish the job.
Langdon flashed on an image of Greek free divers swimming deep into a tunnel, far past the point of no return, and then colliding with a stony dead end.
The assassin swung her flashlight beam back down into Langdon's eyes.
"Mr. Langdon," she whispered. "Where is your friend?"
Langdon felt a chill. This killer is here for both of us.
Langdon made a show of glancing away from Sienna, over his shoulder into the darkness from which they'd come. "She has nothing to do with this. You want me."
Langdon prayed that Sienna was now making progress along the wall. If she could sneak beyond the viewing platform, she could then quietly cross back to the central boardwalk, behind the spike-haired woman, and move toward the door.
The assassin again raised her light and scanned the empty garret behind him. With the glare momentarily out of his eyes, Langdon caught a sudden glimpse of a form in the darkness behind her.
Oh God, no!
Sienna was indeed making her way across a strut in the direction of the central boardwalk, but unfortunately, she was only ten yards behind their attacker.
Sienna, no! You're too close! She'll hear you!
The beam returned to Langdon's eyes again.
"Listen carefully, Professor," the assassin whispered. "If you want to live, I suggest you trust me. My mission has been terminated. I have no reason to harm you. You and I are on the same team now, and I may know how to help you."
Langdon was barely listening, his thoughts focused squarely on Sienna, who was now faintly visible in profile, climbing deftly up onto the walkway behind the viewing platform, entirely too close to the woman with the gun
Run! he willed her. Get the hell out of here!
Sienna, however, to Langdon's alarm, held her ground, crouching low in the shadows and watching in silence.
Vayentha's eyes probed the darkness behind Langdon. Where the hell did she go? Did they separate?
Vayentha had to find a way to keep the fleeing couple out of Brüder's hands. It's my only hope.
"Sienna?!" Vayentha ventured in a throaty whisper. "If you can hear me, listen carefully. You do not want to be captured by the men downstairs. They will not be lenient. I know an escape route. I can help you. Trust me."
"Trust you?" Langdon challenged, his voice suddenly loud enough that anyone nearby could hear him. "You're a killer!"
Sienna is nearby, Vayentha realized. Langdon is talking to her ... trying to warn her.
Vayentha tried again. "Sienna, the situation is complicated, but I can get you out of here. Consider your options. You're trapped. You have no choice."
"She has a choice," Langdon called out loudly. "And she's smart enough to run as far from you as possible."
"Everything's changed," Vayentha insisted. "I have no reason to hurt either of you."
"You killed Dr. Marconi! And I'm guessing you're also the one who shot me in the head!"
Vayentha knew that the man was never going to believe she had no intention of killing him.
The time for talking is over. There's nothing I can say to convince him.
Without hesitation, she reached into her leather jacket and extracted the silenced handgun.
Motionless in the shadows, Sienna remained crouched on the walkway no more than ten yards behind the woman who had just confronted Langdon. Even in the dark, the woman's silhouette was unmistakable. To Sienna's horror, she was brandishing the same weapon she had used on Dr. Marconi.
She's going to fire, Sienna knew, sensing the woman's body language.
Sure enough, the woman took two threatening steps toward Langdon, stopping at the low railing that enclosed the viewing platform above Vasari's Apotheosis. The assassin was now as close to Langdon as she could get. She raised the gun and pointed it directly at Langdon's chest.
"This will only hurt for an instant," she said, "but it's my only choice."
Sienna reacted on instinct.
The unexpected vibration in the boards beneath Vayentha's feet was just enough to cause her to turn slightly as she was firing. Even as her weapon discharged, she knew it was no longer pointed at Langdon.
Something was approaching behind her.
Vayentha spun in place, swinging her weapon 180 degrees toward her attacker, and a flash of blond hair glinted in the darkness as someone collided with Vayentha at full speed. The gun hissed again, but the person had crouched below barrel level in order to apply a forceful upward body check.
Vayentha's feet left the floor and her midsection crashed hard into the low railing of the viewing platform. As her torso was propelled out over the railing, she flailed her arms, trying to grab onto anything to stop her fall, but it was too late. She went over the edge.
Vayentha fell through the darkness, bracing herself for the collision with the dusty floor that lay eight feet beneath the platform. Strangely, though, her landing was softer than she'd imagined ... as if she had been caught by a cloth hammock, which now sagged beneath her weight.
Disoriented, Vayentha lay on her back and stared up at her attacker. Sienna Brooks was looking down at her over the railing. Stunned, Vayentha opened her mouth to speak, but suddenly, just beneath her, there was a loud ripping sound.
The cloth that was supporting her weight tore open.
Vayentha was falling again.
This time she fell for three very long seconds, during which she found herself staring upward at a ceiling that was covered with beautiful paintings. The painting directly above her-a massive circular canvas depicting Cosimo I encircled by cherubs on a heavenly cloud-now showed a jagged dark tear that cut through its center.
Then, with a sudden crash, Vayentha's entire world vanished into blackness.
High above, frozen in disbelief, Robert Langdon peered through the torn Apotheosis into the cavernous space below. On the stone floor of the Hall of the Five Hundred, the spike-haired woman lay motionless, a dark pool of blood quickly spreading from her head. She still had the gun clutched in her hand.
Langdon raised his eyes to Sienna, who was also staring down, transfixed by the grim scene below. Sienna's expression was one of utter shock. "I didn't mean to ..."
"You reacted on instinct," Langdon whispered. "She was about to kill me."
From down below, shouts of alarm filtered up through the torn canvas.
Gently, Langdon guided Sienna away from the railing. "We need to keep moving."