Wrapped in wool blankets, Langdon stood on wobbly legs and stared down at the open tank of liquid. His body had returned to him, although he wished it had not. His throat and lungs burned. This world felt hard and cruel.
Sato had just explained the sensory-deprivation tank . . . adding that if she had not pulled him out, he would have died of starvation, or worse. Langdon had little doubt that Peter had endured a similar experience. Peter is in the in-between, the tattooed man had told him earlier tonight. He is in purgatory . . . Hamistagan. If Peter had endured more than one of those birthing processes, Langdon would not have been surprised if Peter had told his captor anything he had wanted to know.
Sato motioned for Langdon to follow her, and he did, trudging slowly down a narrow hall, deeper into this bizarre lair that he was now seeing for the first time. They entered a square room with a stone table and eerie-colored lighting. Katherine was here, and Langdon heaved a sigh of relief. Even so, the scene was worrisome.
Katherine was lying on her back on a stone table. Blood-soaked towels lay on the floor. A CIA agent was holding an IV bag above her, the tube connected to her arm.
She was sobbing quietly.
"Katherine?" Langdon croaked, barely able to speak.
She turned her head, looking disorientated and confused. "Robert?!" Her eyes widened with disbelief and then joy. "But I . . . saw you drown!"
He moved toward the stone table.
Katherine pulled herself to a seated position, ignoring her IV tube and the medical objections of the agent. Langdon reached the table, and Katherine reached out, wrapping her arms around his blanket-clad body, holding him close. "Thank God," she whispered, kissing his cheek. Then she kissed him again, squeezing him as though she didn't believe he was real. "I don't understand . . . how . . ."
Sato began saying something about sensory-deprivation tanks and oxygenated perfluorocarbons, but Katherine clearly wasn't listening. She just held Langdon close.
"Robert," she said, "Peter's alive." Her voice wavered as she recounted her horrifying reunion with Peter. She described his physical condition--the wheelchair, the strange knife, the allusions to some kind of "sacrifice," and how she had been left bleeding as a human hourglass to persuade Peter to cooperate quickly.
Langdon could barely speak. "Do you . . . have any idea where . . . they went?!"
"He said he was taking Peter to the sacred mountain."
Langdon pulled away and stared at her.
Katherine had tears in her eyes. "He said he had deciphered the grid on the bottom of the pyramid, and that the pyramid told him to go to the sacred mountain."
"Professor," Sato pressed, "does that mean anything to you?"
Langdon shook his head. "Not at all." Still, he felt a surge of hope. "But if he got the information off the bottom of the pyramid, we can get it, too." I told him how to solve it.
Sato shook her head. "The pyramid's gone. We've looked. He took it with him."
Langdon remained silent a moment, closing his eyes and trying to recall what he had seen on the base of the pyramid. The grid of symbols had been one of the last images he had seen before drowning, and trauma had a way of burning memories deeper into the mind. He could recall some of the grid, definitely not all of it, but maybe enough?
He turned to Sato and said hurriedly, "I may be able to remember enough, but I need you to look up something on the Internet."
She pulled out her BlackBerry.
"Run a search for `The Order Eight Franklin Square.' "
Sato gave him a startled look but began typing without questions.
Langdon's vision was still blurry, and he was only now starting to process his strange surroundings. He realized that the stone table on which they were leaning was covered with old bloodstains, and the wall to his right was entirely plastered with pages of text, photos, drawings, maps, and a giant web of strings interconnecting them.
Langdon moved toward the strange collage, still clutching the blankets around his body. Tacked on the wall was an utterly bizarre collection of information--pages from ancient texts ranging from black magic to Christian Scripture, drawings of symbols and sigils, pages of conspiracy- theory Web sites, and satellite photos of Washington, D.C., scrawled with notes and question marks. One of the sheets was a long list of words in many languages. He recognized some of them as sacred Masonic words, others as ancient magic words, and others from ceremonial incantations.
Is that what he's looking for?
Is it that simple?
Langdon's long-standing skepticism about the Masonic Pyramid was based largely on what it allegedly revealed--the location of the Ancient Mysteries. This discovery would have to involve an enormous vault filled with thousands upon thousands of volumes that had somehow survived the long-lost ancient libraries in which they had once been stored. It all seemed impossible. A vault that big? Beneath D.C.? Now, however, his recollection of Peter's lecture at Phillips Exeter, combined with these lists of magic words, had opened another startling possibility.
Langdon most definitely did not believe in the power of magic words . . . and yet it seemed pretty clear that the tattooed man did. His pulse quickened as he again scanned the scrawled notes, the maps, the texts, the printouts, and all the interconnected strings and sticky notes.
Sure enough, there was one recurring theme. My God, he's looking for the verbum significatium . . . the Lost Word. Langdon let the thought take shape, recalling fragments of Peter's lecture. The Lost Word is what he's looking for! That's what he believes is buried here in Washington.
Sato arrived beside him. "Is this what you asked for?" She handed him her BlackBerry.
Langdon looked at the eight-by-eight grid of numbers on the screen. "Exactly." He grabbed a piece of scrap paper. "I'll need a pen."
Sato handed him one from her pocket. "Please hurry."
Inside the basement office of the Directorate of Science and Technology, Nola Kaye was once again studying the redacted document brought to her by sys-sec Rick Parrish. What the hell is the CIA director doing with a file about ancient pyramids and secret underground locations?
She grabbed the phone and dialed.
Sato answered instantly, sounding tense. "Nola, I was just about to call you."
"I have new information," Nola said. "I'm not sure how this fits, but I've discovered there's a redacted--"
"Forget it, whatever it is," Sato interrupted. "We're out of time. We failed to apprehend the target, and I have every reason to believe he's about to carry out his threat."
Nola felt a chill.
"The good news is we know exactly where he's going." Sato took a deep breath. "The bad news is that he's carrying a laptop with him."
Less than ten miles away, Mal'akh tucked the blanket around Peter Solomon and wheeled him across a moonlit parking lot into the shadow of an enormous building. The structure had exactly thirty-three outer columns . . . each precisely thirty-three feet tall. The mountainous structure was deserted at this hour, and nobody would ever see them back here. Not that it mattered. From a distance, no one would think twice about a tall, kindly-looking man in a long black coat taking a bald invalid for an evening stroll.
When they reached the rear entrance, Mal'akh wheeled Peter up close to the security keypad. Peter stared at it defiantly, clearly having no intention of entering the code.
Mal'akh laughed. "You think you're here to let me in? Have you forgotten so soon that I am one of your brethren?" He reached out and typed the access code that he had been given after his initiation to the thirty-third degree.
The heavy door clicked open.
Peter groaned and began struggling in the wheelchair.
"Peter, Peter," Mal'akh cooed. "Picture Katherine. Be cooperative, and she will live. You can save her. I give you my word."
Mal'akh wheeled his captive inside and relocked the door behind them, his heart racing now with anticipation. He pushed Peter through some hallways to an elevator and pressed the call button. The doors opened, and Mal'akh backed in, pulling the wheelchair along with him. Then, making sure Peter could see what he was doing, he reached out and pressed the uppermost button.
A look of deepening dread crossed Peter's tortured face.
"Shh . . ." Mal'akh whispered, gently stroking Peter's shaved head as the elevator doors closed. "As you well know . . . the secret is how to die."
I can't remember all the symbols!
Langdon closed his eyes, doing his best to recall the precise locations of the symbols on the bottom of the stone pyramid, but even his eidetic memory did not have that degree of recall. He wrote down the few symbols he could remember, placing each one in the location indicated by Franklin's magic square.
So far, however, he saw nothing that made any sense. "Look!" Katherine urged. "You must be on the right track. The first row is all Greek letters--the same kinds of symbols are being arranged together!"
Langdon had noticed this, too, but he could not think of any Greek word that fit that configuration of letters and spaces. I need the first letter. He glanced again at the magic square, trying to recall the letter that had been in the number one spot near the lower left corner. Think! He closed his eyes, trying to picture the base of the pyramid. The bottom row . . . next to the left- hand corner . . . what letter was there?
For an instant, Langdon was back in the tank, racked with terror, staring up through the Plexiglas at the bottom of the pyramid.
Now, suddenly, he saw it. He opened his eyes, breathing heavily. "The first letter is H!"
Langdon turned back to the grid and wrote in the first letter. The word was still incomplete, but he had seen enough. Suddenly he realized what the word might be.
Pulse pounding, Langdon typed a new search into the BlackBerry. He entered the English equivalent of this well-known Greek word. The first hit that appeared was an encyclopedia entry. He read it and knew it had to be right. HEREDOM n. a significant word in "high degree" Freemasonry, from French Rose Croix rituals, where it refers to a mythical mountain in Scotland, the legendary site of the first such Chapter. From the Greek originating from Hieros-domos, Greek for Holy House.
"That's it!" Langdon exclaimed, incredulous. "That's where they went!"
Sato had been reading over his shoulder and looked lost. "To a mythical mountain in Scotland?!"
Langdon shook his head. "No, to a building in Washington whose code name is Heredom."
The House of the Temple--known among its brethren as Heredom--had always been the crown jewel of the Masonic Scottish Rite in America. With its steeply sloped, pyramidical roof, the building was named for an imaginary Scottish mountain. Mal'akh knew, however, there was nothing imaginary about the treasure hidden here.
This is the place, he knew. The Masonic Pyramid has shown the way.
As the old elevator slowly made its way to the third floor, Mal'akh took out the piece of paper on which he had reorganized the grid of symbols using the Franklin Square. All the Greek letters had now shifted to the first row . . . along with one simple symbol.
The message could not have been more clear.
Beneath the House of the Temple.
The Lost Word is here . . . somewhere.
Although Mal'akh did not know precisely how to locate it, he was confident that the answer lay in the remaining symbols on the grid. Conveniently, when it came to unlocking the secrets of the Masonic Pyramid and of this building, no one was more qualified to help than Peter Solomon. The Worshipful Master himself.
Peter continued to struggle in the wheelchair, making muffled sounds through his gag.
"I know you're worried about Katherine," Mal'akh said. "But it's almost over."
For Mal'akh, the end felt like it had arrived very suddenly. After all the years of pain and planning, waiting and searching . . . the moment had now arrived.
The elevator began to slow, and he felt a rush of excitement.
The carriage jolted to a stop.
The bronze doors slid open, and Mal'akh gazed out at the glorious chamber before them. The massive square room was adorned with symbols and bathed in moonlight, which shone down through the oculus at the pinnacle of the ceiling high above.
I have come full circle, Mal'akh thought.
The Temple Room was the same place in which Peter Solomon and his brethren had so foolishly initiated Mal'akh as one of their own. Now the Masons' most sublime secret--something that most of the brethren did not even believe existed--was about to be unearthed.
"He won't find anything," Langdon said, still feeling groggy and disorientated as he followed Sato and the others up the wooden ramp out of the basement. "There is no actual Word. It's all a metaphor--a symbol of the Ancient Mysteries."
Katherine followed, with two agents assisting her weakened body up the ramp.
As the group moved gingerly through the wreckage of the steel door, through the rotating painting, and into the living room, Langdon explained to Sato that the Lost Word was one of Freemasonry's most enduring symbols--a single word, written in an arcane language that man could no longer decipher. The Word, like the Mysteries themselves, promised to unveil its hidden power only to those enlightened enough to decrypt it. "It is said," Langdon concluded, "that if you can possess and understand the Lost Word . . . then the Ancient Mysteries will become clear to you."
Sato glanced over. "So you believe this man is looking for a word?"
Langdon had to admit it sounded absurd at face value, and yet it answered a lot of questions. "Look, I'm no specialist in ceremonial magic," he said, "but from the documents on his basement walls . . . and from Katherine's description of the untattooed flesh on his head . . . I'd say he's hoping to find the Lost Word and inscribe it on his body."
Sato moved the group toward the dining room. Outside, the helicopter was warming up, its blades thundering louder and louder.
Langdon kept talking, thinking aloud. "If this guy truly believes he is about to unlock the power of the Ancient Mysteries, no symbol would be more potent in his mind than the Lost Word. If he could find it and inscribe it on the top of his head--a sacred location in itself--then he would no doubt consider himself perfectly adorned and ritualistically prepared to . . ." He paused, seeing Katherine blanch at the thought of Peter's impending fate.
"But, Robert," she said weakly, her voice barely audible over the helicopter blades. "This is good news, right? If he wants to inscribe the Lost Word on the top of his head before he sacrifices Peter, then we have time. He won't kill Peter until he finds the Word. And, if there is no Word . . ."
Langdon tried to look hopeful as the agents helped Katherine into a chair. "Unfortunately, Peter still thinks you're bleeding to death. He thinks the only way to save you is to cooperate with this lunatic . . .probably to help him find the Lost Word."
"So what?" she insisted. "If the Word doesn't exist--"
"Katherine," Langdon said, staring deeply into her eyes. "If I believed you were dying, and if someone promised me I could save you by finding the Lost Word, then I would find this man a word--any word--and then I'd pray to God he kept his promise."
"Director Sato!" an agent shouted from the next room. "You'd better see this!"
Sato hurried out of the dining room and saw one of her agents coming down the stairs from the bedroom. He was carrying a blond wig. What the hell?
"Man's hairpiece," he said, handing it to her. "Found it in the dressing room. Have a close look."
The blond wig was much heavier than Sato expected. The skullcap seemed to be molded of a thick gel. Strangely, the underside of the wig had a wire protruding from it.
"Gel-pack battery that molds to your scalp," the agent said. "Powers a fiber-optic pinpoint camera hidden in the hair."
"What?" Sato felt around with her fingers until she found the tiny camera lens nestled invisibly within the blond bangs. "This thing's a hidden camera?"
"Video camera," the agent said. "Stores footage on this tiny solid-state card." He pointed to a stamp-size square of silicon embedded in the skullcap. "Probably motion activated."
Jesus, she thought. So that's how he did it.
This sleek version of the "flower in the lapel" secret camera had played a key role in the crisis the OS director was facing tonight. She glared at it a moment longer and then handed it back to the agent.
"Keep searching the house," she said. "I want every bit of information you can find on this guy. We know his laptop is missing, and I want to know exactly how he plans to connect it to the outside world while he's on the move. Search his study for manuals, cables, anything at all that might give us a clue about his hardware."
"Yes, ma'am." The agent hurried off.
Time to move out. Sato could hear the whine of the helicopter blades at full pitch. She hurried back to the dining room, where Simkins had now ushered Warren Bellamy in from the helicopter and was gathering intel from him about the building to which they believed their target had gone.
House of the Temple.
"The front doors are sealed from within," Bellamy was saying, still wrapped in a foil blanket and shivering visibly from his time outside in Franklin Square. "The building's rear entrance is your only way in. It's got a keypad with an access PIN known only to the brothers."
"What's the PIN?" Simkins demanded, taking notes.
Bellamy sat down, looking too feeble to stand. Through chattering teeth, he recited his access code and then added, "The address is 1733 Sixteenth, but you'll want the access drive and parking area, behind the building. Kind of tricky to find, but--"
"I know exactly where it is," Langdon said. "I'll show you when we get there."
Simkins shook his head. "You're not coming, Professor. This is a military--"
"The hell I'm not!" Langdon fired back. "Peter's in there! And that building's a labyrinth! Without someone to lead you in, you'll take ten minutes to find your way up to the Temple Room!"
"He's right," Bellamy said. "It's a maze. There is an elevator, but it's old and loud and opens in full view of the Temple Room. If you hope to move in quietly, you'll need to ascend on foot."
"You'll never find your way," Langdon warned. "From that rear entrance, you're navigating through the Hall of Regalia, the Hall of Honor, the middle landing, the Atrium, the Grand Stair-- "
"Enough," Sato said. "Langdon's coming."
The energy was growing.
Mal'akh could feel it pulsing within him, moving up and down his body as he wheeled Peter Solomon toward the altar. I will exit this building infinitely more powerful than when I entered. All that remained now was to locate the final ingredient.
"Verbum significatium," he whispered to himself. "Verbum omnificum."
Mal'akh parked Peter's wheelchair beside the altar and then circled around and unzipped the heavy daybag that sat on Peter's lap. Reaching inside, he lifted out the stone pyramid and held it up in the moonlight, directly in front of Peter's eyes, showing him the grid of symbols engraved on the bottom. "All these years," he taunted, "and you never knew how the pyramid kept her secrets." Mal'akh set the pyramid carefully on the corner of the altar and returned to the bag. "And this talisman," he continued, extracting the golden capstone, "did indeed bring order from chaos, exactly as promised." He placed the metal capstone carefully atop the stone pyramid, and then stepped back to give Peter a clear view. "Behold, your symbolon is complete."
Peter's face contorted, and he tried in vain to speak.
"Good. I can see you have something you'd like to tell me." Mal'akh roughly yanked out the gag.
Peter Solomon coughed and gasped for several seconds before he finally managed to speak. "Katherine . . ."
"Katherine's time is short. If you want to save her, I suggest you do exactly as I say." Mal'akh suspected she was probably already dead, or if not, very close. It made no difference. She was lucky to have lived long enough to say good-bye to her brother.
"Please," Peter begged, his voice ragged. "Send an ambulance for her . . ."
"I will do exactly that. But first you must tell me how to access the secret staircase."
Peter's expression turned to one of disbelief. "What?!"
"The staircase. Masonic legend speaks of stairs that descend hundreds of feet to the secret location where the Lost Word is buried."
Peter now looked panicked.
"You know the legend," Mal'akh baited. "A secret staircase hidden beneath a stone." He pointed to the central altar--a huge block of granite with a gilded inscription in Hebrew: GOD SAID, "LET THERE BE LIGHT" AND THERE WAS LIGHT. "Obviously, this is the right place. The entrance to the staircase must be hidden on one of the floors beneath us."
"There is no secret staircase in this building!" Peter shouted.
Mal'akh smiled patiently and motioned upward. "This building is shaped like a pyramid." He pointed to the four-sided vaulted ceiling that angled up to the square oculus in the center.
"Yes, the House of the Temple is a pyramid, but what does--"
"Peter, I have all night." Mal'akh smoothed his white silk robe over his perfect body. "Katherine, however, does not. If you want her to live, you will tell me how to access the staircase."
"I already told you," he declared, "there is no secret staircase in this building!"
"No?" Mal'akh calmly produced the sheet of paper on which he had reorganized the grid of symbols from the base of the pyramid. "This is the Masonic Pyramid's final message. Your friend Robert Langdon helped me decipher it."
Mal'akh raised the paper and held it in front of Peter's eyes. The Worshipful Master inhaled sharply when he saw it. Not only had the sixty-four symbols been organized into clearly meaningful groups . . . but an actual image had materialized out of the chaos.
An image of a staircase . . . beneath a pyramid.
Peter Solomon stared in disbelief at the grid of symbols before him. The Masonic Pyramid had kept its secret for generations. Now, suddenly, it was being unveiled, and he felt a cold sense of foreboding in the pit of his stomach.
The pyramid's final code.
At a glance, the true meaning of these symbols remained a mystery to Peter, and yet he could immediately understand why the tattooed man believed what he believed.
He thinks there is a hidden staircase beneath the pyramid called Heredom. He misunderstands these symbols. "Where is it?" the tattooed man demanded. "Tell me how to find the staircase, and I will save Katherine."
I wish I could do that, Peter thought. But the staircase is not real. The myth of the staircase was purely symbolic . . . part of the great allegories of Masonry. The Winding Staircase, as it was known, appeared on the second-degree tracing boards. It represented man's intellectual climb toward the Divine Truth. Like Jacob's ladder, the Winding Staircase was a symbol of the pathway to heaven . . . the journey of man toward God . . . the connection between the earthly and spiritual realms. Its steps represented the many virtues of the mind.
He should know that, Peter thought. He endured all the initiations.
Every Masonic initiate learned of the symbolic staircase that he could ascend, enabling him "to participate in the mysteries of human science." Freemasonry, like Noetic Science and the Ancient Mysteries, revered the untapped potential of the human mind, and many of Masonry's symbols related to human physiology.
The mind sits like a golden capstone atop the physical body. The Philosopher's Stone. Through the staircase of the spine, energy ascends and descends, circulating, connecting the heavenly mind to the physical body.
Peter knew it was no coincidence that the spine was made up of exactly thirty-three vertebrae. Thirty-three are the degrees of Masonry. The base of the spine, or sacrum, literally meant "sacred bone." The body is indeed a temple. The human science that Masons revered was the ancient understanding of how to use that temple for its most potent and noble purpose.
Unfortunately, explaining the truth to this man was not going to help Katherine at all. Peter gazed down at the grid of symbols and gave a defeated sigh. "You're right," he lied. "There is indeed a secret staircase beneath this building. And as soon as you send help to Katherine, I'll take you to it."
The man with the tattoos simply stared at him.
Solomon glared back, eyes defiant. "Either save my sister and learn the truth . . . or kill us both and remain ignorant forever!"
The man quietly lowered the paper and shook his head. "I'm not happy with you, Peter. You failed your test. You still take me for a fool. Do you truly believe I don't understand what it is I seek? Do you think I have not yet grasped my true potential?"
With that, the man turned his back and slipped off his robe. As the white silk fluttered to the floor, Peter saw for the first time the long tattoo running up the man's spine.
Dear God . . .
Winding up from the man's white loincloth, an elegant spiral staircase ascended the middle of his muscular back. Each stair was positioned on a different vertebra. Speechless, Peter let his eyes ascend the staircase, all the way up to the base of the man's skull.
Peter could only stare.
The tattooed man now tipped his shaved head backward, revealing the circle of bare flesh on the pinnacle of his skull. The virgin skin was bordered by a single snake, looped in a circle, consuming itself.
Slowly now, the man lowered his head and turned to face Peter. The massive double-headed phoenix on his chest stared out through dead eyes.
"I am looking for the Lost Word," the man said. "Are you going to help me . . . or are you and your sister going to die?"
You know how to find it, Mal'akh thought. You know something you're not telling me.
Peter Solomon had revealed things under interrogation that he probably didn't even recall now. The repeated sessions in and out of the deprivation tank had left him delirious and compliant. Incredibly, when he spilled his guts, everything he told Mal'akh had been consistent with the legend of the Lost Word. The Lost Word is not a metaphor . . . it is real. The Word is written in an ancient language . . . and has been hidden for ages. The Word is capable of bringing unfathomable power to anyone who grasps its true meaning. The Word remains hidden to this day . . . and the Masonic Pyramid has the power to unveil it.
"Peter," Mal'akh now said, staring into his captive's eyes, "when you looked at that grid of symbols . . . you saw something. You had a revelation. This grid means something to you. Tell me."
"I will tell you nothing until you send help to Katherine!"
Mal'akh smiled at him. "Believe me, the prospect of losing your sister is the least of your worries right now." Without another word, he turned to Langdon's daybag and started removing the items he had packed in his basement. Then he began meticulously arranging them on the sacrificial altar.
A folded silk cloth. Pure white.
A silver censer. Egyptian myrrh.
A vial of Peter's blood. Mixed with ash.
A black crow's feather. His sacred stylus.
The sacrificial knife. Forged of iron from a meteorite in the desert of Canaan.
"You think I am afraid to die?" Peter shouted, his voice racked with anguish. "If Katherine is gone, I have nothing left! You've murdered my entire family! You've taken everything from me!"
"Not everything," Mal'akh replied. "Not yet." He reached into the day-bag and pulled out the laptop from his study. He turned it on and looked over at his captive. "I'm afraid you have not yet grasped the true nature of your predicament."