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flesh. The pain barely registered next to the rising panic she was feeling over being unable to breathe. The cloth in her mouth was slipping deeper into her throat, and she felt herself gagging reflexively. Her vision started to tunnel.
Behind her, the tattooed man closed the room’s lone door and flipped on the light. Katherine’s eyes were watering profusely now, and she could no longer differentiate objects in her immediate surroundings. Everything had become a blur.
A distorted vision of colorful flesh appeared before her, and Katherine felt her eyes starting to flutter as she teetered on the brink of unconsciousness. A scale-covered arm reached out and yanked the rag from her mouth.
Katherine gasped, inhaling deep breaths, coughing and choking as her lungs flooded with precious air. Slowly, her vision began to clear, and she found herself looking into the demon’s face. The visage was barely human. Blanketing his neck, face, and shaved head was an astounding pattern of bizarre tattooed symbols. With the exception of a small circle on top of his head, every inch of his body appeared to be decorated. A massive double-headed phoenix on his chest glared at her through nipple eyes like some kind of ravenous vulture, patiently waiting for her death.
“Open your mouth,” the man whispered.
Katherine stared at the monster with total revulsion. What?
“Open your mouth,” the man repeated. “Or the cloth goes back in.”
Trembling, Katherine opened her mouth. The man extended his thick, tattooed index finger, inserting it between her lips. When he touched her tongue, Katherine thought she would vomit. He extracted his wet finger and raised it to the top of his shaved head. Closing his eyes, he massaged her saliva into his small circular patch of untattooed flesh.
Repulsed, Katherine looked away.
The room in which she was sitting appeared to be a boiler room of some sort — pipes on the walls, gurgling sounds, fluorescent lights. Before she could take in her surroundings, though, her gaze stopped dead on something beside her on the floor. A pile of clothing — turtleneck, tweed sport coat, loafers, Mickey Mouse watch.
“My God!” She wheeled back to the tattooed animal before her. “What have you done with Robert?!”
“Shh,” the man whispered. “Or he’ll hear you.” He stepped to one side and motioned behind him.
Langdon was not there. All Katherine saw was a huge black fiberglass box. Its shape bore an unsettling resemblance to the heavy crates in which corpses were shipped back from war. Two massive clasps firmly locked the box shut.
“He’s inside?!” Katherine blurted. “But… he’ll suffocate!”
“No, he won’t,” the man said, pointing to a series of transparent pipes that ran along the wall into the bottom of the crate. “He’ll only wish he could.”
In total darkness, Langdon listened intently to the muffled vibrations he now heard from the outside world. Voices? He began pounding on the box and shouting at the top of his lungs. “Help! Can anyone hear me?!”
Far off, a muted voice called out. “Robert! My God, no! NO!”
He knew the voice. It was Katherine, and she sounded terrified. Even so, it was a welcome sound. Langdon drew a breath to call out to her, but he stopped short, feeling an unexpected sensation at the back of his neck. A faint breeze seemed to be emanating from the bottom of the box. How is that possible? He lay very still, taking stock. Yes, definitely. He could feel the tiny hairs on the back of his neck being tickled by air movement.
Instinctively, Langdon began feeling along the floor of the box, searching for the source of the air. It took only a moment to locate. There’s a tiny vent! The small perforated opening felt similar to a drain plate on a sink or tub, except that a soft, steady breeze was now coming up through it.
He’s pumping air in for me. He doesn’t want me to suffocate.
Langdon’s relief was short-lived. A terrifying sound was now emanating up through the holes in the vent. It was the unmistakable gurgle of flowing liquid… coming his way.
Katherine stared in disbelief at the clear shaft of liquid that was progressing down one of the pipes toward Langdon’s crate. The scene looked like some kind of twisted stage magician’s act.
He’s pumping water into the crate?!
Katherine strained at her bonds, ignoring the deep bite of the wires around her wrists. All she could do was look on in panic. She could hear Langdon pounding in desperation, but as the water reached the underside of the container, the pounding stopped. There was a moment of terrified silence. Then the pounding started again with renewed desperation.
“Let him out!” Katherine begged. “Please! You can’t do this!”
“Drowning is a terrible death, you know.” The man spoke calmly as he paced around her in circles. “Your assistant, Trish, could tell you that.”
Katherine heard his words, but she could barely process them.
“You may remember that I almost drowned once,” the man whispered. “It was on your family’s estate in Potomac. Your brother shot me, and I fell through the ice, out at Zach’s bridge.”
Katherine glared at him, filled with loathing. The night you killed my mother.
“The gods protected me that night,” he said. “And they showed me the way… to become one of them.”
The water gurgling into the box behind Langdon’s head felt warm… body temperature. The fluid was already several inches deep and had completely swallowed the back of his naked body. As it began creeping up his rib cage, Langdon felt a stark reality closing in fast.
I’m going to die.
With renewed panic, he raised his arms and began pounding wildly again.
“You’ve got to let him out!” Katherine begged, crying now. “We’ll do whatever you want!” She could hear Langdon pounding more frantically as the water flowed into his container.
The tattooed man just smiled. “You’re easier than your brother. The things I had to do to get Peter to tell me his secrets…”
“Where is he?!” she demanded. “Where is Peter?! Tell me! We did exactly what you wanted! We solved the pyramid and —”
“No, you did not solve the pyramid. You played a game. You withheld information and brought a government agent to my home. Hardly behavior I intend to reward.”
“We didn’t have a choice,” she replied, choking back the tears. “The CIA is looking for you. They made us travel with an agent. I’ll tell you everything. Just let Robert out!” Katherine could hear Langdon shouting and pounding in the crate, and she could see the water flowing through the pipe. She knew he didn’t have a lot of time.
In front of her, the tattooed man spoke calmly, stroking his chin. “I assume there are agents waiting for me at Franklin Square?”
Katherine said nothing, and the man placed his massive palms on her shoulders, slowly pulling her forward. With her arms still wire-bound be hind the chair back, her shoulders strained, burning with pain, threatening to dislocate.
“Yes!” Katherine said. “There are agents at Franklin Square!”
He pulled harder. “What is the address on the capstone?”
The pain in her wrists and shoulders grew unbearable, but Katherine said nothing.
“You can tell me now, Katherine, or I’ll break your arms and ask you again.”
“Eight!” she gasped in pain. “The missing number is eight! The capstone says: ‘The secret hides within The Order — Eight Franklin Square!’ I swear it. I don’t know what else to tell you! It’s Eight Franklin Square!”
The man still did not release her shoulders.
“That’s all I know!” Katherine said. “That’s the address! Let go of me! Let Robert out of that tank!”
“I would…” the man said, “but there’s one problem. I can’t go to Eight Franklin Square without being caught. Tell me, what’s at that address?”
“I don’t know!”
“And the symbols on the base of the pyramid? On the underside? Do you know their meaning?”
“What symbols on the base?” Katherine had no idea what he was talking about. “The bottom has no symbols. It’s smooth, blank stone!”
Apparently immune to the muffled cries for help emanating from the coffinlike crate, the tattooed man calmly padded over to Langdon’s day-bag and retrieved the stone pyramid. Then he returned to Katherine and held it up before her eyes so she could see the base.
When Katherine saw the engraved symbols, she gasped in bewilderment.
But… that’s impossible!
The bottom of the pyramid was entirely covered with intricate carvings. There was nothing there before! I’m sure of it! She had no idea what these symbols could possibly mean. They seemed to span every mystical tradition, including many she could not even place.
“I… have no idea what this means,” she said.
“Nor do I,” her captor said. “Fortunately, we have a specialist at our disposal.” He glanced at the crate. “Let’s ask him, shall we?” He carried the pyramid toward the crate.
For a brief instant of hope, Katherine thought he was going to unclasp the lid. Instead, he sat calmly on top of the box, reached down, and slid a small panel to one side, revealing a Plexiglas window in the top of the tank.
Langdon covered his eyes, squinting into the ray of light that now streamed in from above. As his eyes adjusted, hope turned to confusion. He was looking up through what appeared to be a window in the top of his crate. Through the window, he saw a white ceiling and a fluorescent light.
Without warning, the tattooed face appeared above him, peering down.
“Where is Katherine?!” Langdon shouted. “Let me out!”
The man smiled. “Your friend Katherine is here with me,” the man said. “I have the power to spare her life. Your life as well. But your time is short, so I suggest you listen carefully.”
Langdon could barely hear him through the glass, and the water had risen higher, creeping across his chest.
“Are you aware,” the man asked, “that there are symbols on the base of the pyramid?”
“Yes!” Langdon shouted, having seen the extensive array of symbols when the pyramid had lain on the floor upstairs. “But I have no idea what they mean! You need to go to Eight Franklin Square! The answer is there! That’s what the capstone —”
“Professor, you and I both know the CIA is waiting for me there. I have no intention of walking into a trap. Besides, I didn’t need the street number. There is only one building on that square that could possibly be relevant — the Almas Shrine Temple.” He paused, staring down at Langdon. “The Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.”
Langdon was confused. He was familiar with the Almas Temple, but he had forgotten it was on Franklin Square. The Shriners are… “The Order”? Their temple sits atop a secret staircase? It made no historical sense whatsoever, but Langdon was in no position at the moment to debate history. “Yes!” he shouted. “That must be it! The secret hides within The Order!”
“You’re familiar with the building?”
“Absolutely!” Langdon raised his throbbing head to keep his ears above the quickly rising liquid. “I can help you! Let me out!”
“So you believe you can tell me what this temple has to do with the symbols on the base of the pyramid?”
“Yes! Let me just look at the symbols!”
“Very well, then. Let’s see what you come up with.”
Hurry! With the warm liquid rising around him, Langdon pushed up on the lid, willing the man to unclasp it. Please! Hurry! But the lid never opened. Instead, the base of the pyramid suddenly appeared, hovering above the Plexiglas window.
Langdon stared up in panic.
“I trust this view is close enough for you?” The man held the pyramid in his tattooed hands. “Think fast, Professor. I’m guessing you have less than sixty seconds.”
Robert Langdon had often heard it said that an animal, when cornered, was capable of miraculous feats of strength. Nonetheless, when he threw his full force into the underside of his crate, nothing budged at all. Around him, the liquid continued rising steadily. With no more than six inches of breathing room left, Langdon had lifted his head into the pocket of air that remained. He was now face-to-face with the Plexiglas window, his eyes only inches away from the underside of the stone pyramid whose baffling engraving hovered above him.
I have no idea what this means.
Concealed for over a century beneath a hardened mixture of wax and stone dust, the Masonic Pyramid’s final inscription was now laid bare. The engraving was a perfectly square grid of symbols from every tradition imaginable — alchemical, astrological, heraldic, angelic, magical, numeric, sigilic, Greek, Latin. As a totality, this was symbolic anarchy — a bowl of alphabet soup whose letters came from dozens of different languages, cultures, and time periods.
Symbologist Robert Langdon, in his wildest academic interpretations, could not fathom how this grid of symbols could be deciphered to mean anything at all. Order from this chaos? Impossible.
The liquid was now creeping over his Adam’s apple, and Langdon could feel his level of terror rising along with it. He continued banging on the tank. The pyramid stared back at him tauntingly.
In frantic desperation, Langdon focused every bit of his mental energy on the chessboard of symbols. What could they possibly mean? Unfortunately, the assortment seemed so disparate that he could not even imagine where to begin. They’re not even from the same eras in history!
Outside the tank, her voice muffled but audible, Katherine could be heard tearfully begging for Langdon’s release. Despite his failure to see a solution, the prospect of death seemed to motivate every cell in his body to find one. He felt a strange clarity of mind, unlike anything he had ever experienced. Think! He scanned the grid intensely, searching for some clue — a pattern, a hidden word, a special icon, anything at all — but he saw only a grid of unrelated symbols. Chaos.
With each passing second, Langdon had begun to feel an eerie numbness overtaking his body. It was as if his very flesh were preparing to shield his mind from the pain of death. The water was now threatening to pour into his ears, and he lifted his head as far as he could, pushing it against the top of the crate. Frightening images began flashing before his eyes. A boy in New England treading water at the bottom of a dark well. A man in Rome trapped beneath a skeleton in an overturned coffin.
Katherine’s shouts were growing more frantic. From all Langdon could hear, she was trying to reason with a madman — insisting that Langdon could not be expected to decipher the pyramid without going to visit the Almas Temple. “That building obviously holds the missing piece to this puzzle! How can Robert decipher the pyramid without all the information?!”
Langdon appreciated her efforts, and yet he felt certain that “Eight Franklin Square” was not pointing to the Almas Temple. The time line is all wrong! According to legend, the Masonic Pyramid was created in the mid-1800s, decades before the Shriners even existed. In fact, Langdon realized, it was probably before the square was even called Franklin Square. The capstone could not possibly have been pointing to an unbuilt building at a nonexistent address. Whatever “Eight Franklin Square” was pointing to… it had to exist in 1850.
Unfortunately, Langdon was drawing a total blank.
He probed his memory banks for anything that could possibly fit the time line. Eight Franklin Square? Something that was in existence in 1850? Langdon came up with nothing. The liquid was trickling into his ears now. Fighting his terror, he stared up at the grid of symbols on the glass. I don’t understand the connection! In a petrified frenzy, his mind began spewing all the far-flung parallels it could generate.
Eight Franklin Square… squares… this grid of symbols is a square… the square and the compass are Masonic symbols… Masonic altars are square… squares have ninety-degree angles. The water kept rising, but Langdon blocked it out. Eight Franklin… eight… this grid is eight-by-eight… Franklin has eight letters… “The Order” has eight letters… 8 is the rotated symbol ∞ for infinity… eight is the number of destruction in numerology…
Langdon had no idea.
Outside the tank, Katherine was still pleading, but Langdon’s hearing was now intermittent as the water was sloshing around his head.
“… impossible without knowing… capstone’s message clearly… the secret hides within —”
Then she was gone.
Water poured into Langdon’s ears, blotting out the last of Katherine’s voice. A sudden womblike silence engulfed him, and Langdon realized he truly was going to die.
The secret hides within —
Katherine’s final words echoed through the hush of his tomb.
The secret hides within…
Strangely, Langdon realized he had heard these exact words many times before.
The secret hides… within.
Even now, it seemed, the Ancient Mysteries were taunting him. “The secret hides within” was the core tenet of the mysteries, urging man kind to seek God not in the heavens above… but rather within himself. The secret hides within. It was the message of all the great mystical teachers.
The kingdom of God is within you, said Jesus Christ.
Know thyself, said Pythagoras.
Know ye not that ye are gods, said Hermes Trismegistus.
The list went on and on…
All the mystical teachings of the ages had attempted to convey this one idea. The secret hides within. Even so, mankind continued looking to the heavens for the face of God.
This realization, for Langdon, now became an ultimate irony. Right now, with his eyes facing the heavens like all the blind men who preceded him, Robert Langdon suddenly saw the light.
It hit him like a bolt from above.
within The Order
Eight Franklin Square
In a flash he understood.
The message on the capstone was suddenly crystal clear. Its meaning had been staring him in the face all night. The text on the capstone, like the Masonic Pyramid itself, was a symbolon — a code in pieces — a message written in parts. The capstone’s meaning was camouflaged in so simple a manner that Langdon could scarcely believe he and Katherine had not spotted it.
More astonishing still, Langdon now realized that the message on the capstone did indeed reveal exactly how to decipher the grid of symbols on the base of the pyramid. It was so very simple. Exactly as Peter Solomon had promised, the golden capstone was a potent talisman with the power to bring order from chaos.
Langdon began pounding on the lid and shouting, “I know! I know!”
Above him, the stone pyramid lifted off and hovered away. In its place, the tattooed face reappeared, its chilling visage staring down through the small window.
“I solved it!” Langdon shouted. “Let me out!”
When the tattooed man spoke, Langdon’s submerged ears heard nothing. His eyes, however, saw the lips speak two words. “Tell me.”
“I will!” Langdon screamed, the water almost to his eyes. “Let me out! I’ll explain everything!” It’s so simple.
The man’s lips moved again. “Tell me now… or die.”
With the water rising through the final inch of air space, Langdon tipped his head back to keep his mouth above the waterline. As he did so, warm liquid poured into his eyes, blurring his vision. Arching his back, he pressed his mouth against the Plexiglas window.