Robert Langdon awoke slowly.

Faces gazed down at him. Where am I?

A moment later, he recalled where he was. He sat up slowly beneath the Apotheosis. His back felt stiff from lying on the hard catwalk.

Where's Katherine?

Langdon checked his Mickey Mouse watch. It's almost time. He pulled himself to his feet, peering cautiously over the banister into the gaping space below.

"Katherine?" he called out.

The word echoed back in the silence of the deserted Rotunda. Retrieving his tweed jacket from the floor, he brushed it off and put it back on. He checked his pockets. The iron key the Architect had given him was gone.

Making his way back around the walkway, Langdon headed for the opening the Architect had shown them . . . steep metal stairs ascending into cramped darkness. He began to climb. Higher and higher he ascended. Gradually the stairway became more narrow and more inclined. Still Langdon pushed on.

Just a little farther.

The steps had become almost ladderlike now, the passage frighteningly constricted. Finally, the stairs ended, and Langdon stepped up onto a small landing. Before him was a heavy metal door. The iron key was in the lock, and the door hung slightly ajar. He pushed, and the door creaked open. The air beyond felt cold. As Langdon stepped across the threshold into murky darkness, he realized he was now outside.

"I was just coming to get you," Katherine said, smiling at him. "It's almost time."

When Langdon recognized his surroundings, he drew a startled breath. He was standing on a tiny skywalk that encircled the pinnacle of the U.S. Capitol Dome. Directly above him, the bronze Statue of Freedom gazed out over the sleeping capital city. She faced the east, where the first crimson splashes of dawn had begun to paint the horizon.

Katherine guided Langdon around the balcony until they were facing west, perfectly aligned with the National Mall. In the distance, the silhouette of the Washington Monument stood in the early-morning light. From this vantage point, the towering obelisk looked even more impressive than it had before.

"When it was built," Katherine whispered, "it was the tallest structure on the entire planet."

Langdon pictured the old sepia photographs of stonemasons on scaffolding, more than five hundred feet in the air, laying each block by hand, one by one.

We are builders, he thought. We are creators.

Since the beginning of time, man had sensed there was something special about himself . . . something more. He had longed for powers he did not possess. He had dreamed of flying, of healing, and of transforming his world in every way imaginable.

And he had done just that.

Today, the shrines to man's accomplishments adorned the National Mall. The Smithsonian museums burgeoned with our inventions, our art, our science, and the ideas of our great thinkers. They told the history of man as creator--from the stone tools in the Native American History Museum to the jets and rockets in the National Air and Space Museum. If our ancestors could see us today, surely they would think us gods.

As Langdon peered through the predawn mist at the sprawling geometry of museums and monuments before him, his eyes returned to the Washington Monument. He pictured the lone Bible in the buried cornerstone and thought of how the Word of God was really the word of man.

He thought about the great circumpunct, and how it had been embedded in the circular plaza beneath the monument at the crossroads of America. Langdon thought suddenly of the little stone box Peter had entrusted to him. The cube, he now realized, had unhinged and opened to form the same exact geometrical form--a cross with a circumpunct at its center. Langdon had to laugh. Even that little box was hinting at this crossroads.

"Robert, look!" Katherine pointed to the top of the monument.

Langdon lifted his gaze but saw nothing.

Then, staring more intently, he glimpsed it.

Across the Mall, a tiny speck of golden sunlight was glinting off the highest tip of the towering obelisk. The shining pinpoint grew quickly brighter, more radiant, gleaming on the capstone's aluminum peak. Langdon watched in wonder as the light transformed into a beacon that hovered above the shadowed city. He pictured the tiny engraving on the east-facing side of the aluminum tip and realized to his amazement that the first ray of sunlight to hit the nation's capital, every single day, did so by illuminating two words:

Laus Deo.

"Robert," Katherine whispered. "Nobody ever gets to come up here at sunrise. This is what Peter wanted us to witness."

Langdon could feel his pulse quickening as the glow atop the monument intensified.

"He said he believes this is why the forefathers built the monument so tall. I don't know if that's true, but I do know this--there's a very old law decreeing that nothing taller can be built in our capital city. Ever."

The light inched farther down the capstone as the sun crept over the horizon behind them. As Langdon watched, he could almost sense, all around him, the celestial spheres tracing their eternal orbits through the void of space. He thought of the Great Architect of the Universe and how Peter had said specifically that the treasure he wanted to show Langdon could be unveiled only by the Architect. Langdon had assumed this meant Warren Bellamy. Wrong Architect.

As the rays of sunlight strengthened, the golden glow engulfed the entirety of the thirty-three- hundred-pound capstone. The mind of man . . . receiving enlightenment. The light then began inching down the monument, commencing the same descent it performed every morning. Heaven moving toward earth . . . God connecting to man. This process, Langdon realized, would reverse come evening. The sun would dip in the west, and the light would climb again from earth back to heaven . . . preparing for a new day.

Beside him, Katherine shivered and inched closer. Langdon put his arm around her. As the two of them stood side by side in silence, Langdon thought about all he had learned tonight. He thought of Katherine's belief that everything was about to change. He thought of Peter's faith that an age of enlightenment was imminent. And he thought of the words of a great prophet who had boldly declared: Nothing is hidden that will not be made known; nothing is secret that will not come to light.

As the sun rose over Washington, Langdon looked to the heavens, where the last of the nighttime stars were fading out. He thought about science, about faith, about man. He thought about how every culture, in every country, in every time, had always shared one thing. We all had the Creator. We used different names, different faces, and different prayers, but God was the universal constant for man. God was the symbol we all shared . . . the symbol of all the mysteries of life that we could not understand. The ancients had praised God as a symbol of our limitless human potential, but that ancient symbol had been lost over time. Until now.

In that moment, standing atop the Capitol, with the warmth of the sun streaming down all around him, Robert Langdon felt a powerful upwelling deep within himself. It was an emotion he had never felt this profoundly in his entire life.


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