CHAPTER 122

The secret is how to die.

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Mal'akh knew it had all gone wrong. There was no brilliant light. No wondrous reception. Only darkness and excruciating pain. Even in his eyes. He could see nothing, and yet he sensed movement all around him. There were voices . . . human voices . . . one of them, strangely, belonging to Robert Langdon. How can this be?

"She's okay," Langdon kept repeating. "Katherine is fine, Peter. Your sister is okay."

No, Mal'akh thought. Katherine is dead. She must be.

Mal'akh could no longer see, could not tell if his eyes were even open, but he heard the helicopter banking away. An abrupt calm settled through the Temple Room. Mal'akh could feel the smooth rhythms of the earth becoming uneven . . . as if the ocean's natural tides were being disrupted by a gathering storm.

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Chao ab ordo.

Unfamiliar voices were shouting now, talking urgently with Langdon about the laptop and video file. It's too late, Mal'akh knew. The damage is done. By now the video was spreading like wildfire into every corner of a shocked world, destroying the future of the brotherhood. Those most capable of spreading the wisdom must be destroyed. The ignorance of mankind is what helped the chaos grow. The absence of Light on earth is what nourished the Darkness that awaited Mal'akh.

I have done great deeds, and soon I will be received as a king.

Mal'akh sensed that a lone individual had quietly approached. He knew who it was. He could smell the sacred oils he had rubbed into his father's shaved body.

"I don't know if you can hear me," Peter Solomon whispered in his ear. "But I want you to know something." He touched a finger to the sacred spot atop Mal'akh's skull. "What you wrote here . . ." He paused. "This is not the Lost Word."

Of course it is, Mal'akh thought. You convinced me of that beyond a doubt.

According to legend, the Lost Word was written in a language so ancient and arcane that mankind had all but forgotten how to read it. This mysterious language, Peter had revealed, was in fact the oldest language on earth.

The language of symbols.

In the idiom of symbology, there was one symbol that reigned supreme above all others. The oldest and most universal, this symbol fused all the ancient traditions in a single solitary image that represented the illumination of the Egyptian sun god, the triumph of alchemical gold, the wisdom of the Philosopher's Stone, the purity of the Rosicrucian Rose, the moment of Creation, the All, the dominance of the astrological sun, and even the omniscient all-seeing eye that hovered atop the unfinished pyramid.

The circumpunct. The symbol of the Source. The origin of all things.

This is what Peter had told him moments ago. Mal'akh had been skeptical at first, but then he had looked again at the grid, realizing that the image of the pyramid was pointing directly at the lone symbol of the circumpunct--a circle with a dot in its center. The Masonic Pyramid is a map, he thought, recalling the legend, which points to the Lost Word. It seemed his father was telling the truth after all.

All great truths are simple.

The Lost Word is not a word . . . it is a symbol.

Eagerly, Mal'akh had inscribed the great symbol of the circumpunct on his scalp. As he did so, he felt an upwelling of power and satisfaction. My masterpiece and offering are complete. The forces of darkness were waiting for him now. He would be rewarded for his work. This was to be his moment of glory . . .

And yet, at the last instant, everything had gone horribly wrong.

Peter was still behind him now, speaking words that Mal'akh could barely fathom. "I lied to you," he was saying. "You left me no choice. If I had revealed to you the true Lost Word, you would not have believed me, nor would you have understood."

The Lost Word is . . . not the circumpunct?

"The truth is," said Peter, "the Lost Word is known to all . . . but recognized by very few."

The words echoed in Mal'akh's mind.

"You remain incomplete," Peter said, gently placing his palm on top of Mal'akh's head. "Your work is not yet done. But wherever you are going, please know this . . . you were loved."

For some reason, the gentle touch of his father's hand felt like it was burning through him like a potent catalyst that was initiating a chemical reaction inside Mal'akh's body. Without warning, he felt a rush of blistering energy surging through his physical shell, as if every cell in his body were now dissolving.

In an instant, all of his worldly pain evaporated.

Transformation. It's happening. I am gazing down upon myself, a wreck of bloody flesh on the sacred slab of granite. My father is kneeling behind me, holding my lifeless head with his one remaining hand.

I feel an upwelling of rage . . . and confusion.

This is not a moment for compassion . . . it is for revenge, for transformation . . . and yet still my father refuses to submit, refuses to fulfill his role, refuses to channel his pain and anger through the knife blade and into my heart.

I am trapped here, hovering . . . tethered to my earthly shell.

My father gently runs a soft palm across my face to close my fading eyes.

I feel the tether release.

A billowing veil materializes around me, thickening and dimming the light, hiding the world from view. Suddenly time accelerates, and I am plunging into an abyss far darker than any I have ever imagined. Here, in the barren void, I hear a whispering . . . I sense a gathering force. It strengthens, mounting at a startling rate, surrounding me. Ominous and powerful. Dark and commanding.

I am not alone here.

This is my triumph, my grand reception. And yet, for some reason, I am filled not with joy, but rather with boundless fear.

It is nothing like I expect.

The force is churning now, swirling around me with commanding strength, threatening to tear me apart. Suddenly, without warning, the blackness gathers itself like a great prehistoric beast and rears up before me.

I am facing all the dark souls who have gone before.

I am screaming in infinite terror . . . as the darkness swallows me whole.

CHAPTER 123

Inside the National Cathedral, Dean Galloway sensed a strange change in the air. He was not sure why, but he felt as if a ghostly shadow had evaporated . . . as if a weight had been lifted . . . far away and yet right here.

Alone at his desk, he was deep in thought. He was not sure how many minutes had passed when his phone rang. It was Warren Bellamy.

"Peter's alive," his Masonic brother said. "I just heard the news. I knew you'd want to know immediately. He's going to be okay."

"Thank God." Galloway exhaled. "Where is he?"

Galloway listened as Bellamy recounted the extraordinary tale of what had transpired after they had left Cathedral College.

"But all of you are okay?"

"Recuperating, yes," Bellamy said. "There is one thing, though." He paused.

"Yes?"

"The Masonic Pyramid . . . I think Langdon may have solved it."

Galloway had to smile. Somehow he was not surprised. "And tell me, did Langdon discover whether or not the pyramid kept its promise? Whether or not it revealed what legend always claimed it would reveal?"

"I don't know yet."

It will, Galloway thought. "You need to rest."

"As do you."

No, I need to pray.

CHAPTER 124

When the elevator door opened, the lights in the Temple Room were all ablaze.

Katherine Solomon's legs still felt rubbery as she hurried in to find her brother. The air in this enormous chamber was cold and smelled of incense. The scene that greeted her stopped her in her tracks. In the center of this magnificent room, on a low stone altar, lay a bloody, tattooed corpse, a body perforated by spears of broken glass. High above, a gaping hole in the ceiling opened to the heavens.

My God. Katherine immediately looked away, her eyes scanning for Peter. She found her brother sitting on the other side of the room, being tended to by a medic while talking with Langdon and Director Sato.

"Peter!" Katherine called, running over. "Peter!"

Her brother glanced up, his expression filling with relief. He was on his feet at once, moving toward her. He was wearing a simple white shirt and dark slacks, which someone had probably gotten for him from his office downstairs. His right arm was in a sling, and their gentle embrace was awkward, but Katherine barely noticed. A familiar comfort surrounded her like a cocoon, as it always had, even in childhood, when her protective older brother embraced her.

They held each other in silence.

Finally Katherine whispered, "Are you okay? I mean . . . really?" She released him, looking down at the sling and bandage where his right hand used to be. Tears welled again in her eyes. "I'm so . . . so sorry."

Peter shrugged as if it were nothing of consequence. "Mortal flesh. Bodies don't last forever. The important thing is that you're okay."

Peter's lighthearted response tore at her emotions, reminding her of all the reasons she loved him. She stroked his head, feeling the unbreakable bonds of family . . . the shared blood that flowed in their veins.

Tragically, she knew there was a third Solomon in the room tonight. The corpse on the altar drew her gaze, and Katherine shuddered deeply, trying to block out the photos she had seen.

She looked away, her eyes now finding Robert Langdon's. There was compassion there, deep and perceptive, as if Langdon somehow knew exactly what she was thinking. Peter knows. Raw emotion gripped Katherine--relief, sympathy, despair. She felt her brother's body begin trembling like a child's. It was something she had never witnessed in her entire life.

"Just let it go," she whispered. "It's okay. Just let it go."

Peter's trembling grew deeper.

She held him again, stroking the back of his head. "Peter, you've always been the strong one . . . you've always been there for me. But I'm here for you now. It's okay. I'm right here."

Katherine eased his head gently onto her shoulder . . . and the great Peter Solomon collapsed sobbing in her arms.

Director Sato stepped away to take an incoming call.

It was Nola Kaye. Her news, for a change, was good.

"Still no signs of distribution, ma'am." She sounded hopeful. "I'm confident we would have seen something by now. It looks like you contained it."

Thanks to you, Nola, Sato thought, glancing down at the laptop, which Langdon had seen complete its transmission. A very close call.

At Nola's suggestion, the agent searching the mansion had checked the garbage cans, discovering packaging for a newly purchased cellular modem. With the exact model number, Nola had been able to cross-reference compatible carriers, bandwidths, and service grids, isolating the laptop's most likely access node--a small transmitter on the corner of Sixteenth and Corcoran--three blocks from the Temple.

Nola quickly relayed the information to Sato in the helicopter. On approach toward the House of the Temple, the pilot had performed a low-altitude flyover and pulsed the relay node with a blast of electromagnetic radiation, knocking it off-line only seconds before the laptop completed its transfer.

"Great work tonight," Sato said. "Now get some sleep. You've earned it."

"Thank you, ma'am." Nola hesitated.

"Was there something else?"

Nola was silent a long moment, apparently considering whether or not to speak. "Nothing that can't wait till morning, ma'am. Have a good night."

CHAPTER 125

In the silence of an elegant bathroom on the ground floor of the House of the Temple, Robert Langdon ran warm water into a tile sink and eyed himself in the mirror. Even in the muted light, he looked like he felt . . . utterly spent.

His daybag was on his shoulder again, much lighter now . . . empty except for his personal items and some crumpled lecture notes. He had to chuckle. His visit to D.C. tonight to give a lecture had turned out a bit more grueling than he'd anticipated.

Even so, Langdon had a lot to be grateful for.

Peter is alive.

And the video was contained.

As Langdon scooped handfuls of warm water onto his face, he gradually felt himself coming back to life. Everything was still a blur, but the adrenaline in his body was finally dissipating . . . and he was feeling like himself again. After drying his hands, he checked his Mickey Mouse watch.

My God, it's late.

Langdon exited the bathroom and wound his way along the curved wall of the Hall of Honor--a gracefully arched passageway, lined with portraits of accomplished Masons . . . U.S. presidents, philanthropists, luminaries, and other influential Americans. He paused at an oil painting of Harry S. Truman and tried to imagine the man undergoing the rites, rituals, and studies required to become a Mason.

There is a hidden world behind the one we all see. For all of us.

"You slipped away," a voice said down the hall.

Langdon turned.

It was Katherine. She'd been through hell tonight, and yet she looked suddenly radiant . . . rejuvenated somehow.

Langdon gave a tired smile. "How's he doing?"

Katherine walked up and embraced him warmly. "How can I ever thank you?"

He laughed. "You know I didn't do anything, right?"

Katherine held him for a long time. "Peter's going to be fine . . ." She let go and looked deep into Langdon's eyes. "And he just told me something incredible . . . something wonderful." Her voice trembled with anticipation. "I need to go see it for myself. I'll be back in a bit."

"What? Where are you going?"

"I won't be long. Right now, Peter wants to speak with you . . . alone. He's waiting in the library."

"Did he say why?" Katherine chuckled and shook her head. "You know Peter and his secrets."

"But--"

"I'll see you in a bit."

Then she was gone.

Langdon sighed heavily. He felt like he'd had enough secrets for one night. There were unanswered questions, of course--the Masonic Pyramid and the Lost Word among them--but he sensed that the answers, if they even existed, were not for him. Not as a non-Mason.

Mustering the last of his energy, Langdon made his way to the Masonic library. When he arrived, Peter was sitting all alone at a table with the stone pyramid before him.

"Robert?" Peter smiled and waved him in. "I'd like a word."

Langdon managed a grin. "Yes, I hear you lost one."

CHAPTER 126

The library in the House of the Temple was D.C.'s oldest public reading room. Its elegant stacks burgeoned with over a quarter of a million volumes, including a rare copy of the Ahiman Rezon, The Secrets of a Prepared Brother. In addition, the library displayed precious Masonic jewels, ritual artifacts, and even a rare volume that had been hand-printed by Benjamin Franklin.

Langdon's favorite library treasure, however, was one few ever noticed.

The illusion.

Solomon had shown him long ago that from the proper vantage point, the library's reading desk and golden table lamp created an unmistakable optical illusion . . . that of a pyramid and shining golden capstone. Solomon said he always considered the illusion a silent reminder that the mysteries of Freemasonry were perfectly visible to anyone and everyone if they were seen from the proper perspective.

Tonight, however, the mysteries of Freemasonry had materialized front and center. Langdon now sat opposite the Worshipful Master Peter Solomon and the Masonic Pyramid. Peter was smiling. "The `word' you refer to, Robert, is not a legend. It is a reality."

Langdon stared across the table and finally spoke. "But . . . I don't understand. How is that possible?"

"What is so difficult to accept?"

All of it! Langdon wanted to say, searching his old friend's eyes for any hint of common sense. "You're saying you believe the Lost Word is real . . . and that it has actual power?"

"Enormous power," Peter said. "It has the power to transform human kind by unlocking the Ancient Mysteries."

"A word?" Langdon challenged. "Peter, I can't possibly believe a word--"

"You will believe," Peter stated calmly.

Langdon stared in silence.

"As you know," Solomon continued, standing now and pacing around the table, "it has long been prophesied that there will come a day when the Lost Word will be rediscovered . . . a day when it will be unearthed . . . and mankind will once again have access to its forgotten power."

Langdon flashed on Peter's lecture about the Apocalypse. Although many people erroneously interpreted apocalypse as a cataclysmic end of the world, the word literally signified an "unveiling," predicted by the ancients to be that of great wisdom. The coming age of enlightenment. Even so, Langdon could not imagine such a vast change being ushered in by . . . a word.

Peter motioned to the stone pyramid, which sat on the table beside its golden capstone. "The Masonic Pyramid," he said. "The legendary symbolon. Tonight it stands unified . . . and complete." Reverently, he lifted the golden capstone and set it atop the pyramid. The heavy gold piece clicked softly into place.

"Tonight, my friend, you have done what has never been done before. You have assembled the Masonic Pyramid, deciphered all of its codes, and in the end, unveiled . . . this."

Solomon produced a sheet of paper and laid it on the table. Langdon recognized the grid of symbols that had been reorganized using the Order Eight Franklin Square. He had studied it briefly in the Temple Room.

Peter said, "I am curious to know if you can read this array of symbols. After all, you are the specialist."

Langdon eyed the grid. Heredom, circumpunct, pyramid, staircase . . .

Langdon sighed. "Well, Peter, as you can probably see, this is an allegorical pictogram. Clearly its language is metaphorical and symbolic rather than literal."

Solomon chuckled. "Ask a symbologist a simple question . . . Okay, tell me what you see."

Peter really wants to hear this? Langdon pulled the page toward him. "Well, I looked at it earlier, and, in simple terms, I see that this grid is a picture . . . depicting heaven and earth."

Peter arched his eyebrows, looking surprised. "Oh?"

"Sure. At the top of the image, we have the word Heredom--the `Holy House'--which I interpret as the House of God . . . or heaven."

"Okay."

"The downward-facing arrow after Heredom signifies that the rest of the pictogram clearly lies in the realm beneath heaven . . . that being . . . earth." Langdon's eyes glided now to the bottom of the grid. "The lowest two rows, those beneath the pyramid, represent the earth itself--terra firma--the lowest of all the realms. Fittingly, these lower realms contain the twelve ancient astrological signs, which represent the primordial religion of those first human souls who looked to the heavens and saw the hand of God in the movement of the stars and planets."

Solomon slid his chair closer and studied the grid. "Okay, what else?"

"On a foundation of astrology," Langdon continued, "the great pyramid rises from the earth . . . stretching toward heaven . . . the enduring symbol of lost wisdom. It is filled with history's great philosophies and religions . . . Egyptian, Pythagorean, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Judeo-Christian, and on and on . . . all flowing upward, merging together, funneling themselves up through the transformative gateway of the pyramid . . . where they finally fuse into a single, unified human philosophy." He paused. "A single universal consciousness . . . a shared global vision of God . . . represented by the ancient symbol that hovers over the capstone."

"The circumpunct," Peter said. "A universal symbol for God."

"Right. Throughout history, the circumpunct has been all things to all people--it is the sun god Ra, alchemical gold, the all-seeing eye, the singularity point before the Big Bang, the--"

"The Great Architect of the Universe."

Langdon nodded, sensing this was probably the same argument Peter had used in the Temple Room to sell the idea of the circumpunct as the Lost Word.

"And finally?" Peter asked. "What about the staircase?"

Langdon glanced down at the image of the stairs beneath the pyramid. "Peter, I'm sure you know as well as anyone, this symbolizes the Winding Staircase of Freemasonry . . . leading upward out of the earthly darkness into the light . . . like Jacob's ladder climbing to heaven . . . or the tiered human spine that connects man's mortal body to his eternal mind." He paused. "As for the rest of the symbols, they appear to be a blend of celestial, Masonic, and scientific, all lending support to the Ancient Mysteries."

Solomon stroked his chin. "An elegant interpretation, Professor. I agree, of course, that this grid can be read as allegory, and yet . . ." His eyes flashed with deepening mystery. "This collection of symbols tells another story as well. A story that is far more revealing."

"Oh?"

Solomon began pacing again, circling the table. "Earlier tonight, inside the Temple Room, when I believed I was going to die, I looked at this grid, and somehow I saw past the metaphor, past the allegory, into the very heart of what these symbols are telling us." He paused, turning abruptly to Langdon. "This grid reveals the exact location where the Lost Word is buried."

"Come again?" Langdon shifted uneasily in his chair, suddenly fearing that the trauma of the evening had left Peter disorientated and confused.

"Robert, legend has always described the Masonic Pyramid as a map--a very specific map--a map that could guide the worthy to the secret location of the Lost Word." Solomon tapped the grid of symbols in front of Langdon. "I guarantee you, these symbols are exactly what legend says they are . . . a map. A specific diagram that reveals exactly where we will find the staircase that leads down to the Lost Word."

Langdon gave an uneasy laugh, treading carefully now. "Even if I believed the Legend of the Masonic Pyramid, this grid of symbols can't possibly be a map. Look at it. It looks nothing like a map."

Solomon smiled. "Sometimes all it takes is a tiny shift of perspective to see something familiar in a totally new light."

Langdon looked again but saw nothing new.

"Let me ask you a question," Peter said. "When Masons lay cornerstones, do you know why we lay them in the northeast corner of a building?"

"Sure, because the northeast corner receives the first rays of morning light. It is symbolic of the power of architecture to climb out of the earth into the light."

"Right," Peter said. "So perhaps you should look there for the first rays of light." He motioned to the grid. "In the northeast corner."

Langdon returned his eyes to the page, moving his gaze to the upper right or northeast corner. The symbol in that corner was .

"A downward-pointing arrow," Langdon said, trying to grasp Solomon's point. "Which means . . . beneath Heredom."

"No, Robert, not beneath," Solomon replied. "Think. This grid is not a metaphorical maze. It's a map. And on a map, a directional arrow that points down means--"

"South," Langdon exclaimed, startled.

"Exactly!" Solomon replied, grinning now with excitement. "Due south! On a map, down is south. Moreover, on a map, the word Heredom would not be a metaphor for heaven, it would be the name of a geographic location."

"The House of the Temple? You're saying this map is pointing . . . due south of this building?"

"Praise God!" Solomon said, laughing. "Light dawns at last."

Langdon studied the grid. "But, Peter . . . even if you're right, due south of this building could be anywhere on a longitude that's over twenty-four thousand miles long."

"No, Robert. You are ignoring the legend, which claims the Lost Word is buried in D.C. That shortens the line substantially. In addition, legend also claims that a large stone sits atop the opening of the staircase . . . and that this stone is engraved with a message in an ancient language . . . as a kind of marker so the worthy can find it."

Langdon was having trouble taking any of this seriously, and while he didn't know D.C. well enough to picture what was due south of their current location, he was pretty certain there was no huge engraved stone atop a buried staircase.

"The message inscribed on the stone," Peter said, "is right here before our eyes." He tapped the third row of the grid before Langdon. "This is the inscription, Robert! You've solved the puzzle!"

Dumbfounded, Langdon studied the seven symbols.

Solved? Langdon had no idea whatsoever what these seven disparate symbols could possibly mean, and he was damned sure they were not engraved anywhere in the nation's capital . . . particularly on a giant stone over a staircase.

"Peter," he said, "I don't see how this sheds any light at all. I know of no stone in D.C. engraved with this . . . message."

Solomon patted him on the shoulder. "You have walked past it and never seen it. We all have. It is sitting in plain view, like the mysteries themselves. And tonight, when I saw these seven symbols, I realized in an instant that the legend was true. The Lost Word is buried in D.C. . . . and it does rest at the bottom of a long staircase beneath an enormous engraved stone."

Mystified, Langdon remained silent.

"Robert, tonight I believe you have earned the right to know the truth."

Langdon stared at Peter, trying to process what he had just heard. "You're going to tell me where the Lost Word is buried?"

"No," Solomon said, standing up with a smile. "I'm going to show you."

Five minutes later, Langdon was buckling himself into the backseat of the Escalade beside Peter Solomon. Simkins climbed in behind the wheel as Sato approached across the parking lot.

"Mr. Solomon?" the director said, lighting a cigarette as she arrived. "I've just made the call you requested."

"And?" Peter asked through his open window.

"I ordered them to give you access. Briefly."

"Thank you."

Sato studied him, looking curious. "I must say, it's a most unusual request."

Solomon gave an enigmatic shrug.

Sato let it go, circling around to Langdon's window and rapping with her knuckles.

Langdon lowered the window.

"Professor," she said, with no hint of warmth. "Your assistance tonight, while reluctant, was critical to our success . . . and for that, I thank you." She took a long drag on her cigarette and blew it sideways. "However, one final bit of advice. The next time a senior administrator of the CIA tells you she has a national-security crisis . . ." Her eyes flashed black. "Leave the bullshit in Cambridge."

Langdon opened his mouth to speak, but Director Inoue Sato had already turned and was headed off across the parking lot toward a waiting helicopter.

Simkins glanced over his shoulder, stone-faced. "Are you gentlemen ready?"

"Actually," Solomon said, "just one moment." He produced a small, folded piece of dark fabric and handed it to Langdon. "Robert, I'd like you to put this on before we go anywhere."

Puzzled, Langdon examined the cloth. It was black velvet. As he unfolded it, he realized he was holding a Masonic hoodwink--the traditional blindfold of a first-degree initiate. What the hell?

Peter said, "I'd prefer you not see where we're going."

Langdon turned to Peter. "You want to blindfold me for the journey?"

Solomon grinned. "My secret. My rules."

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