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CHAPTER 69

The Hawker 731’s twin Garrett TFE-731 engines thundered, powering the plane skyward with gut- wrenching force. Outside the window, Le Bourget Airfield dropped away with startling speed.

I ’ m fleeing the country , Sophie thought, her body forced back into the leather seat. Until this moment, she had believed her game of cat and mouse with Fache would be somehow justifiable to the Ministry of Defense. I was attempting to protect an innocent man.I was trying to fulfill my grandfather’s dying wishes.That window of opportunity, Sophie knew, had just closed. She was leaving the country, without documentation, accompanying a wanted man, and transporting abound hostage. If a» line of reason» had ever existed, she had just crossed it. At almost the speed of sound.

Sophie was seated with Langdon and Teabing near the front of the cabin – the Fan Jet ExecutiveElite Design, according to the gold medallion on the door. Their plush swivel chairs were bolted to tracks on the floor and could be repositioned and locked around a rectangular hardwood table. A mini-boardroom. The dignified surroundings, however, did little to camouflage the less than dignified state of affairs in the rear of the plane where, in a separate seating area near the rest room, Teabing’s manservant Rémy sat with the pistol in hand, begrudgingly carrying out Teabing’s orders to stand guard over the bloody monk who lay trussed at his feet like a piece of luggage.

«Before we turn our attention to the keystone,» Teabing said,» I was wondering if you would permit me a few words.» He sounded apprehensive, like a father about to give the birds-and-the-bees lecture to his children. «My friends, I realize I am but a guest on this journey, and I am honored as such. And yet, as someone who has spent his life in search of the Grail, I feel it is my duty to warn you that you are about to step onto a path from which there is no return, regardless of the dangers involved.» He turned to Sophie. «Miss Neveu, your grandfather gave you this cryptex in hopes you would keep the secret of the Holy Grail alive.»

«Yes.»

«Understandably, you feel obliged to follow the trail wherever it leads.»

Sophie nodded, although she felt a second motivation still burning within her. The truth about my family.Despite Langdon’s assurances that the keystone had nothing to do with her past, Sophie still sensed something deeply personal entwined within this mystery, as if this cryptex, forged by her grandfather’s own hands, were trying to speak to her and offer some kind of resolution to the emptiness that had haunted her all these years.

«Your grandfather and three others died tonight,» Teabing continued,» and they did so to keep this keystone away from the Church. Opus Dei came within inches tonight of possessing it. You understand, I hope, that this puts you in a position of exceptional responsibility. You have been handed a torch. A two-thousand-year-old flame that cannot be allowed to go out. This torch cannot fall into the wrong hands.» He paused, glancing at the rosewood box. «I realize you have been given no choice in this matter, Miss Neveu, but considering what is at stake here, you must either fully embrace this responsibility… or you must pass that responsibility to someone else.» «My grandfather gave the cryptex to me. I’m sure he thought I could handle the responsibility.» Teabing looked encouraged but unconvinced. «Good. A strong will is necessary. And yet, I amcurious if you understand that successfully unlocking the keystone will bring with it a far greatertrial.» «How so?» «My dear, imagine that you are suddenly holding a map that reveals the location of the Holy Grail. In that moment, you will be in possession of a truth capable of altering history forever. You will be the keeper of a truth that man has sought for centuries. You will be faced with the responsibility of revealing that truth to the world. The individual who does so will be revered by many and despised by many. The question is whether you will have the necessary strength to carry out that task.»

Sophie paused. «I’m not sure that is my decision to make.»

Teabing’s eyebrows arched. «No? If not the possessor of the keystone, then who?» «The brotherhood who has successfully protected the secret for so long.» «The Priory?» Teabing looked skeptical. «But how? The brotherhood was shattered tonight. Decapitated, as you so aptly put it. Whether they were infiltrated by some kind of eavesdropping or by a spy within their ranks, we will never know, but the fact remains that someone got to them and uncovered the identities of their four top members. I would not trust anyone who stepped forward from the brotherhood at this point.»

«So what do you suggest?» Langdon asked.

«Robert, you know as well as I do that the Priory has not protected the truth all these years to have it gather dust until eternity. They have been waiting for the right moment in history to share their secret. A time when the world is ready to handle the truth.»

«And you believe that moment has arrived?» Langdon asked.

«Absolutely. It could not be more obvious. All the historical signs are in place, and if the Priory did not intend to make their secret known very soon, why has the Church now attacked?» Sophie argued,» The monk has not yet told us his purpose.» «The monk’s purpose is the Church’s purpose,» Teabing replied,» to destroy the documents that reveal the great deception. The Church came closer tonight than they have ever come, and the Priory has put its trust in you, Miss Neveu. The task of saving the Holy Grail clearly includes carrying out the Priory’s final wishes of sharing the truth with the world.»

Langdon intervened. «Leigh, asking Sophie to make that decision is quite a load to drop on someone who only an hour ago learned the Sangreal documents exist.»

Teabing sighed. «I apologize if I am pressing, Miss Neveu. Clearly I have always believed these documents should be made public, but in the end the decision belongs to you. I simply feel it is important that you begin to think about what happens should we succeed in opening the keystone.»

«Gentlemen,» Sophie said, her voice firm. «To quote your words, ‘You do not find the Grail, the Grail finds you.‘ I am going to trust that the Grail has found me for a reason, and when the time comes, I will know what to do.»

Both of them looked startled.

«So then,» she said, motioning to the rosewood box. «Let’s move on.»

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