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Mal’akh was driving only between his garage and his front yard, where he had left several of his myriad cars parked askew with the headlights on and the engines running.
The deception had worked perfectly.
The only wrinkle was the bloody black-clad heap in the foyer with a screwdriver protruding from his neck. Mal’akh searched the corpse and had to chuckle when he found a high-tech transceiver and cell phone with a CIA logo. It seems even they are aware of my power. He removed the batteries and crushed both devices with a heavy bronze doorstop.
Mal’akh knew he had to move quickly now, especially if the CIA was involved. He strode back over to Langdon. The professor was out cold and would be for a while. Mal’akh’s eyes moved with trepidation now to the stone pyramid on the floor beside the professor’s open bag. His breath caught, and his heart pounded.
I have waited for years…
His hands trembled slightly as he reached down and picked up the Masonic Pyramid. As he ran his fingers slowly across the engravings, he felt awed by their promise. Before he became too entranced, he put the pyramid back in Langdon’s bag with the capstone and zipped it up.
I will assemble the pyramid soon… in a much safer location.
He threw Langdon’s bag over his shoulder and then tried to hoist Langdon himself, but the professor’s toned physique weighed much more than anticipated. Mal’akh settled on grabbing him beneath the armpits and dragging him across the floor. He’s not going to like where he ends up, Mal’akh thought.
As he dragged Langdon off, the television in the kitchen blared. The sound of voices from the TV had been part of the deception, and Mal’akh had yet to turn it off. The station was now broadcasting a televangelist leading his congregation in the Lord’s Prayer. Mal’akh wondered if any of his hypnotized viewers had any idea where this prayer really came from.
“… On earth as it is in heaven…” the group intoned.
Yes, Mal’akh thought. As above, so below.
“… And lead us not into temptation…”
Help us master the weakness of our flesh.
“… Deliver us from evil…” they all beseeched.
Mal’akh smiled. That could be difficult. The darkness is growing. Even so, he had to give them credit for trying. Humans who spoke to invisible forces and requested help were a dying breed in this modern world.
Mal’akh was dragging Langdon across the living room when the congregation declared, “Amen!”
Amon, Mal’akh corrected. Egypt is the cradle of your religion. The god Amon was the prototype for Zeus… for Jupiter… and for every modern face of God. To this day, every religion on earth shouted out a variation of his name. Amen! Amin! Aum!
The televangelist began quoting verses from the Bible describing hierarchies of angels, demons, and spirits that ruled in heaven and hell. “Protect your souls from evil forces!” he warned them. “Lift your hearts in prayer! God and his angels will hear you!”
He’s right, Mal’akh knew. But so will the demons.
Mal’akh had learned long ago that through proper application of the Art, a practitioner could open a portal to the spiritual realm. The invisible forces that existed there, much like man himself, came in many forms, both good and evil. Those of Light healed, protected, and sought to bring order to the universe. Those of Dark functioned oppositely… bringing destruction and chaos.
If properly summoned, the invisible forces could be persuaded to do a practitioner’s bidding on earth… thus instilling him with seemingly supernatural power. In exchange for helping the summoner, these forces required offerings — prayers and praise for those of Light… and the spilling of blood for those of Dark.
The greater the sacrifice, the greater the power that is transferred. Mal’akh had begun his practice with the blood of inconsequential animals. Over time, however, his choices for sacrifice had become more bold. Tonight, I take the final step.
“Beware!” the preacher shouted, warning of the coming Apocalypse. “The final battle for the souls of man will soon be fought!”
Indeed, Mal’akh thought. And I shall become its greatest warrior.
This battle, of course, had begun long, long ago. In ancient Egypt, those who perfected the Art had become the great Adepts of history, evolving beyond the masses to become true practitioners of Light. They moved as gods on earth. They built great temples of initiation to which neophytes traveled from around the world to partake of the wisdom. There arose a race of golden men. For a brief span of time, mankind seemed poised to elevate himself and transcend his earthly bonds.
The golden age of the Ancient Mysteries.
And yet man, being of the flesh, was susceptible to the sins of hubris, hatred, impatience, and greed. Over time, there were those who corrupted the Art, perverting it and abusing its power for personal gain. They began using this perverted version to summon dark forces. A different Art evolved… a more potent, immediate, and intoxicating influence.
Such is my Art.
Such is my Great Work.
The illuminated Adepts and their esoteric fraternities witnessed the rising evil and saw that man was not using his newfound knowledge for the good of his species. And so they hid their wisdom to keep it from the eyes of the unworthy. Eventually, it was lost to history.
With this came the Great Fall of Man.
And a lasting darkness.
To this day, the noble descendants of the Adepts soldiered on, grasping blindly for the Light, trying to recapture the lost power of their past, trying to keep the darkness at bay. They were the priests and priestesses of the churches, temples, and shrines of all the religions on earth. Time had erased the memories… detached them from their past. They no longer knew the Source from which their potent wisdom had once flowed. When they were asked about the divine mysteries of their forebears, the new custodians of faith vociferously disowned them, condemning them as heresy.
Have they truly forgotten? Mal’akh wondered.
Echoes of the ancient Art still resonated in every corner of the globe, from the mystical Kabbalists of Judaism to the esoteric Sufis of Islam. Vestiges remained in the arcane rituals of Christianity, in its god-eating rites of Holy Communion, its hierarchies of saints, angels, and demons, its chanting and incantation, its holy calendar’s astrological underpinnings, its consecrated robes, and in its promise of everlasting life. Even now, its priests dispelled evil spirits by swinging smoke-filled censers, ringing sacred bells, and sprinkling holy water. Christians still practiced the supernatural craft of exorcism — an early practice of their faith that required the ability not only to cast out demons but to summon them.
And yet they cannot see their past?
Nowhere was the church’s mystical past more evident than at her epicenter. In Vatican City, at the heart of St. Peter’s Square, stood the great Egyptian obelisk. Carved thirteen hundred years before Jesus took his first breath — this numinous monolith had no relevance there, no link to modern Christianity. And yet there it was. At the core of Christ’s church. A stone beacon, screaming to be heard. A reminder to those few sages who remembered where it all began. This church, born of the womb of the Ancient Mysteries, still bore her rites and symbols.
One symbol above all.
Adorning her altars, vestments, spires, and Scripture was the singular image of Christianity — that of a precious, sacrificed human being. Christianity, more than any other faith, understood the transformative power of sacrifice. Even now, to honor the sacrifice made by Jesus, his followers proffered their own feeble gestures of personal sacrifice… fasting, Lenten renunciation, tithing.
All of those offerings are impotent, of course. Without blood… there is no true sacrifice.
The powers of darkness had long embraced blood sacrifice, and in doing so, they had grown so strong that the powers of goodness now struggled to keep them in check. Soon the Light would be entirely consumed, and the practitioners of darkness would move freely through the minds of men.
“Eight Franklin Square must exist,” Sato insisted. “Look it up again!”
Nola Kaye sat at her desk and adjusted her headset. “Ma’am, I’ve checked everywhere… that address doesn’t exist in D.C.”
“But I’m on the roof of One Franklin Square,” Sato said. “There has to be an Eight!”
Director Sato’s on a roof? “Hold on.” Nola began running a new search. She was considering telling the OS director about the hacker, but Sato seemed fixated on Eight Franklin Square at the moment. Besides, Nola still didn’t have all the information. Where’s that damned sys-sec, anyway?
“Okay,” Nola said, eyeing her screen, “I see the problem. One Franklin Square is the name of the building… not the address. The address is actually 1301 K Street.”
The news seemed to confound the director. “Nola, I don’t have time to explain — the pyramid clearly points to the address Eight Franklin Square.”
Nola sat bolt upright. The pyramid points to a specific location?
“The inscription,” Sato continued, “reads: ‘The secret hides within The Order — Eight Franklin Square.’”
Nola could scarcely imagine. “An order like… a Masonic or fraternal order?”
“I assume so,” Sato replied.
Nola thought a moment, and then began typing again. “Ma’am, maybe the street numbers on the square changed over the years? I mean, if this pyramid is as old as legend claims, maybe the numbers on Franklin Square were different when the pyramid was built? I’m now running a search without the number eight… for… ‘the order’… ‘Franklin Square’… and ‘Washington, D.C.’… and this way, we might get some idea if there’s —” She stalled midsentence as the search results appeared.
“What have you got?” Sato demanded.
Nola stared at the first result on the list — a spectacular image of the Great Pyramid of Egypt — which served as the thematic backdrop for the home page dedicated to a building on Franklin Square. The building was unlike any other building on the square.
Or in the entire city, for that matter.
What stopped Nola cold was not the building’s bizarre architecture, but rather the description of its purpose. According to the Web site, this unusual edifice was built as a sacred mystical shrine, designed by… and designed for… an ancient secret order.
Robert Langdon regained consciousness with a crippling headache.
Where am I?
Wherever he was, it was dark. Deep-cave dark, and deathly silent.
He was lying on his back with his arms at his side. Confused, he tried moving his fingers and toes, relieved to find they moved freely with no pain. What happened? With the exception of his headache and the profound darkness, everything seemed more or less normal.
Langdon realized he was lying on a hard floor that felt unusually smooth, like a sheet of glass. Stranger still, he could feel that the slick surface was in direct contact with his bare flesh… shoulders, back, buttocks, thighs, calves. Am I naked? Puzzled, he ran his hands over his body.
Jesus! Where the hell are my clothes?
In the darkness, the cobwebs began to lift, and Langdon saw flashes of memory… frightening snapshots… a dead CIA agent… the face of a tattooed beast… Langdon’s head smashing into the floor. The images came faster… and now he recalled the sickening image of Katherine Solomon bound and gagged on the dining-room floor.
Langdon sat bolt upright, and as he did, his forehead smashed into something suspended only inches above him. Pain exploded through his skull and he fell back, teetering near unconsciousness. Groggy, he reached up with his hands, groping in the darkness to find the obstacle. What he found made no sense to him. It seemed this room’s ceiling was less than a foot above him. What in the world? As he spread his arms to his sides in an attempt to roll over, both of his hands hit sidewalls.
The truth now dawned on him. Robert Langdon was not in a room at all.
I’m in a box!
In the darkness of his small, coffinlike container, Langdon began pounding wildly with his fist. He shouted over and over for help. The terror that gripped him deepened with each passing instant until it was intolerable.
I have been buried alive.
The lid of Langdon’s strange coffin refused to budge, even with the full force of his arms and legs pushing upward in wild panic. The box, from all he could tell, was made of heavy fiberglass. Airtight. Soundproof. Lightproof. Escape-proof.
I am going to suffocate alone in this box.
He thought of the deep well into which he had fallen as a young boy, and of the terrifying night he spent treading water alone in the darkness of a bottomless pit. That trauma had scarred Langdon’s psyche, burdening him with an overwhelming phobia of enclosed spaces.
Tonight, buried alive, Robert Langdon was living his ultimate nightmare.
Katherine Solomon trembled in silence on the floor of Mal’akh’s dining room. The sharp wire around her wrists and ankles had already cut into her, and the slightest movements seemed only to tighten her bonds.
The tattooed man had brutally knocked Langdon unconscious and dragged his limp body across the floor along with his leather bag and the stone pyramid. Where they had gone, Katherine had no idea. The agent who had accompanied them was dead. She had not heard a sound in many minutes, and she wondered if the tattooed man and Langdon were still inside the house. She had been trying to scream for help, but with each attempt, the rag in her mouth crept back dangerously closer to her windpipe.
Now she felt approaching footsteps on the floor, and she turned her head, hoping against hope that someone was coming to help. The massive silhouette of her captor materialized in the hallway. Katherine recoiled as she flashed on the image of him standing in her family home ten years earlier.
He killed my family.
Now he strode toward her. Langdon was nowhere to be seen. The man crouched down and gripped her around the waist, hoisting her roughly onto his shoulder. The wire sliced into her wrists, and the rag muffled her muted cries of pain. He carried her down the hallway toward the living room, where, earlier today, the two of them had calmly sipped tea together.
Where is he taking me?!
He carried Katherine across the living room and stopped directly in front of the large oil painting of the Three Graces that she had admired this afternoon.
“You mentioned you liked this painting,” the man whispered, his lips practically touching her ear. “I’m glad. It may be the last thing of beauty you see.”
With that, he reached out and pressed his palm into the right side of the enormous frame. To Katherine’s shock, the painting rotated into the wall, turning on a central pivot like a revolving door. A hidden doorway.
Katherine tried to wriggle free, but the man held her firmly, carrying her through the opening behind the canvas. As the Three Graces pivoted shut behind them, she could see heavy insulation on the back of the canvas. Whatever sounds were made back here were apparently not meant to be heard by the outside world.
The space behind the painting was cramped, more like a hallway than a room. The man carried her to the far side and opened a heavy door, carrying her through it onto a small landing. Katherine found herself looking down a narrow ramp into a deep basement. She drew a breath to scream, but the rag was choking her.
The incline was steep and narrow. The walls on either side were made of cement, awash in a bluish light that seemed to emanate from below. The air that wafted up was warm and pungent, laden with an eerie blend of smells… the sharp bite of chemicals, the smooth calm of incense, the earthy musk of human sweat, and, pervading it all, a distinct aura of visceral, animal fear.
“Your science impressed me,” the man whispered as they reached the bottom of the ramp. “I hope mine impresses you.”
CIA field agent Turner Simkins crouched in the darkness of Franklin Park and kept his steady gaze on Warren Bellamy. Nobody had taken the bait yet, but it was still early.
Simkins’s transceiver beeped, and he activated it, hoping one of his men had spotted something. But it was Sato. She had new information.
Simkins listened and agreed with her concern. “Hold on,” he said. “I’ll see if I can get a visual.” He crawled through the bushes in which he was hiding and peered back in the direction from which he had entered the square. After some maneuvering, he finally opened a sight line.
He was staring at a building that looked like an Old World mosque. Nestled between two much larger buildings, the Moorish facade was made of gleaming terra-cotta tile laid in intricate multicolored designs. Above the three massive doors, two tiers of lancet windows looked as if Arabian archers might appear and open fire if anyone approached uninvited.
“I see it,” Simkins said.
“Good. I need you to reposition and watch it very carefully. It’s called the Almas Shrine Temple, and it’s the headquarters of a mystical order.”
Simkins had worked in the D.C. area for a long time but was not familiar with this temple or any ancient mystical order headquartered on Franklin Square.
“This building,” Sato said, “belongs to a group called the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.”
“Never heard of them.”
“I think you have,” Sato said. “They’re an appendant body of the Masons, more commonly known as the Shriners.”
Simkins shot a dubious glance at the ornate building. The Shriners? The guys who build hospitals for kids? He could imagine no “order” less ominous sounding than a fraternity of philanthropists who wore little red fezzes and marched in parades.
Even so, Sato’s concerns were valid. “Ma’am, if our target realizes that this building is in fact ‘The Order’ on Franklin Square, he won’t need the address. He’ll simply bypass the rendezvous and go directly to the correct location.”
“My thoughts exactly. Keep an eye on the entrance.”
“Any word from Agent Hartmann in Kalorama Heights?”
“No, ma’am. You asked him to phone you directly.”
“Well, he hasn’t.”
Odd, Simkins thought, checking his watch. He’s overdue.
Robert Langdon lay shivering, naked and alone in total blackness. Paralyzed by fear, he was no longer pounding or shouting. Instead, he had closed his eyes and was doing his best to control his hammering heart and his panicked breathing.
You are lying beneath a vast, nighttime sky, he tried to convince himself. There is nothing above you but miles of wide-open space.
This calming visualization had been the only way he had managed to survive a recent stint in an enclosed MRI machine… that and a triple dose of Valium. Tonight, however, the visualization was having no effect whatsoever.
The rag in Katherine Solomon’s mouth had shifted backward and was all but choking her. Her captor had carried her down a narrow ramp and into a dark basement corridor. At the far end of the hall, she had glimpsed a room lit with an eerie reddish-purple light, but they’d never made it that far. The man had stopped instead at a small side room, carried her inside, and placed her on a wooden chair. He had set her down with her bound wrists behind the chair back so she could not move.
Now Katherine could feel the wire on her wrists slicing deeper into her