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A Masonic initiate… preparing to enter the first degree.

The man was very muscular and tall, with a familiar blond hairpiece and deeply tanned skin. Langdon recognized his features at once. The man’s tattoos had obviously been concealed beneath bronzing makeup. He was standing before a full-length mirror videotaping his reflection through the camera concealed in his wig.

But… why?

The screen faded to black.

New footage appeared. A small, dimly lit, rectangular chamber. A dramatic chessboard floor of black-and-white tile. A low wooden altar, flanked on three sides by pillars, atop which burned flickering candles.

Langdon felt a sudden apprehension.

Oh my God.

Filming in the erratic style of an amateur home video, the camera now panned up to the periphery of the room to reveal a small group of men observing the initiate. The men were dressed in ritual Masonic regalia. In the darkness, Langdon could not make out their faces, but he had no doubt where this ritual was taking place.

The traditional layout of this Lodge Room could have been anywhere in the world, but the powder-blue triangular pediment above the master’s chair revealed it as the oldest Masonic lodge in D.C. — Potomac Lodge No. 5 — home of George Washington and the Masonic forefathers who laid the cornerstone for the White House and the Capitol Building.

The lodge was still active today.

Peter Solomon, in addition to overseeing the House of the Temple, was the master of his local lodge. And it was at lodges like this one that a Masonic initiate’s journey always began… where he underwent the first three degrees of Freemasonry.

“Brethren,” Peter’s familiar voice declared, “in the name of the Great Architect of the Universe, I open this lodge for the practice of Masonry in the first degree!”

A gavel rapped loudly.

Langdon watched in utter disbelief as the video progressed through a quick series of dissolves featuring Peter Solomon performing some of the ritual’s starker moments.

Pressing a shining dagger to the initiate’s bare chest… threatening impalement should the initiate “inappropriately reveal the Mysteries of Masonry”… describing the black-and-white floor as representing “the living and the dead”… outlining punishments that included “having one’s throat cut across, one’s tongue torn out by its roots, and one’s body buried in the rough sands of the sea…”

Langdon stared. Am I really witnessing this? Masonic initiation rites had remained shrouded in secrecy for centuries. The only descriptions that had ever been leaked were written by a handful of estranged brothers. Langdon had read those accounts, of course, and yet to see an initiation with his own eyes… this was a much different story.

Especially edited this way. Langdon could already tell that the video was an unfair piece of propaganda, omitting all the noblest aspects of the initiation and highlighting only the most disconcerting. If this video were released, Langdon knew it would become an Internet sensation over night. The anti-Masonic conspiracy theorists would feed on this like sharks. The Masonic organization, and especially Peter Solomon, would find themselves embroiled in a firestorm of controversy and a desperate effort at damage control… even though the ritual was innocuous and purely symbolic.

Eerily, the video included a biblical reference to human sacrifice… “the submission of Abraham to the Supreme Being by proffering Isaac, his firstborn son.” Langdon thought of Peter and willed the helicopter to fly faster.

The video footage shifted now.

Same room. Different night. A larger group of Masons looking on. Peter Solomon was observing from the master’s chair. This was the second degree. More intense now. Kneeling at the altar… vowing to “forever conceal the enigmas existing within Freemasonry”… consenting to the penalty of “having one’s chest cavity ripped open and pulsing heart cast upon the surface of the earth as offal for the ravenous beasts”…

Langdon’s own heart was pulsing wildly now as the video shifted yet again. Another night. A much larger crowd. A coffin-shaped “tracing board” on the floor.

The third degree.

This was the death ritual — the most rigorous of all the degrees — the moment in which the initiate was forced “to face the final challenge of personal extinction.” This grueling interrogation was in fact the source of the common phrase to give someone the third degree. And although Langdon was very familiar with academic accounts of it, he was in no way prepared for what he now saw.

The murder.

In violent, rapid intercuts, the video displayed a chilling, victim’s point-of-view account of the initiate’s brutal murder. There were simulated blows to his head, including one with a Mason’s stone maul. All the while, a deacon mournfully told the story of “the widow’s son” — Hiram Abiff — the master Architect of King Solomon’s temple, who chose to die rather than reveal the secret wisdom he possessed.

The attack was mimed, of course, and yet its effect on camera was bloodcurdling. After the deathblow, the initiate — now “dead to his former self” — was lowered into his symbolic coffin, where his eyes were shut and his arms were crossed like those of a corpse. The Masonic brothers rose and mournfully circled his dead body while a pipe organ played a march of the dead.

The macabre scene was deeply disturbing.

And it only got worse.

As the men gathered around their slain brother, the hidden camera clearly displayed their faces. Langdon now realized that Solomon was not the only famous man in the room. One of the men peering down at the initiate in his coffin was on television almost daily.

A prominent U.S. senator.

Oh God…

The scene changed yet again. Outside now… nighttime… the same jumpy video footage… the man was walking down a city street… strands of blond hair blowing in front of the camera… turning a corner…the camera angle lowering to something in the man’s hand… a dollar bill… a close-up focusing on the Great Seal… the all-seeing eye… the unfinished pyramid… and then, abruptly, pulling away to reveal a similar shape in the distance… a massive pyramidical building… with sloping sides rising to a truncated top.

The House of the Temple.

A soul-deep dread swelled within him.

The video kept moving… the man hurrying toward the building now… up the multitiered staircase… toward the giant bronze doors… between the two seventeen-ton sphinx guardians.

A neophyte entering the pyramid of initiation.

Darkness now.

A powerful pipe organ played in the distance… and a new image materialized.

The Temple Room.

Langdon swallowed hard.

On-screen, the cavernous space was alive with electricity. Beneath the oculus, the black marble altar shone in the moonlight. Assembled around it, seated on hand-tooled pigskin chairs, awaited a somber council of distinguished thirty-third-degree Masons, present to bear witness. The video now panned across their faces with slow and deliberate intention.

Langdon stared in horror.

Although he had not seen this coming, what he was looking at made perfect sense. A gathering of the most decorated and accomplished Masons in the most powerful city on earth would logically include many influential and well-known individuals. Sure enough, seated around the altar, adorned in their long silk gloves, Masonic aprons, and glistening jewels, were some of the country’s most powerful men.

Two Supreme Court justices…

The secretary of defense…

The speaker of the House…

Langdon felt ill as the video continued panning across the faces of those in attendance.

Three prominent senators… including the majority leader…

The secretary of homeland security…

And…

The director of the CIA…

Langdon wanted only to look away, but he could not. The scene was utterly mesmerizing, alarming even to him. In an instant, he had come to understand the source of Sato’s anxiety and concern.

Now, on-screen, the shot dissolved into a single shocking image.

A human skull… filled with dark crimson liquid. The famed caput mortuum was being offered forth to the initiate by the slender hands of Peter Solomon, whose gold Masonic ring glinted in the candlelight. The red liquid was wine… and yet it shimmered like blood. The visual effect was frightful.

The Fifth Libation, Langdon realized, having read firsthand accounts of this sacrament in John Quincy Adams’s Letters on the Masonic Institution. Even so, to see it happen… to see it calmly witnessed by America’s most powerful men… this was as arresting an image as any Langdon had ever seen.

The initiate took the skull in his hands… his face reflected in the calm surface of the wine. “May this wine I now drink become a deadly poison to me,” he declared, “should I ever knowingly or willfully violate my oath.”

Obviously, this initiate had intended to violate his oath beyond all imagination.

Langdon could barely get his mind around what would happen if this video were made public. No one would understand. The government would be thrown into upheaval. The airwaves would be filled with the voices of anti-Masonic groups, fundamentalists, and conspiracy theorists spewing hatred and fear, launching a Puritan witch hunt all over again.

The truth will be twisted, Langdon knew. As it always is with the Masons.

The truth was that the brotherhood’s focus on death was in fact a bold celebration of life. Masonic ritual was designed to awaken the slumbering man inside, lifting him from his dark coffin of ignorance, raising him into the light, and giving him eyes to see. Only through the death experience could man fully understand his life experience. Only through the realization that his days on earth were finite could he grasp the importance of living those days with honor, integrity, and service to his fellow man.

Masonic initiations were startling because they were meant to be transformative. Masonic vows were unforgiving because they were meant to be reminders that man’s honor and his “word” were all he could take from this world. Masonic teachings were arcane because they were meant to be universal… taught through a common language of symbols and metaphors that transcended religions, cultures, and races… creating a unified “worldwide consciousness” of brotherly love.

For a brief instant, Langdon felt a glimmer of hope. He tried to assure himself that if this video were to leak out, the public would be open-minded and tolerant, realizing that all spiritual rituals included aspects that would seem frightening if taken out of context — crucifixion reenactments, Jewish circumcision rites, Mormon baptisms of the dead, Catholic exorcisms, Islamic niqab, shamanic trance healing, the Jewish Kaparot ceremony, even the eating of the figurative body and blood of Christ.

I’m dreaming, Langdon knew. This video will create chaos. He could imagine what would happen if the prominent leaders of Russia or the Islamic world were seen in a video, pressing knives to bare chests, swearing violent oaths, performing mock murders, lying in symbolic coffins, and drinking wine from a human skull. The global outcry would be instantaneous and overwhelming.

God help us…

On-screen now, the initiate was raising the skull to his lips. He tipped it backward… draining the blood-red wine… sealing his oath. Then he lowered the skull and gazed out at the assembly around him. America’s most powerful and trusted men gave contented nods of acceptance.

“Welcome, brother,” Peter Solomon said.

As the image faded to black, Langdon realized he had stopped breathing.

Without a word, Sato reached over, closed the briefcase, and lifted it off his lap. Langdon turned to her trying to speak, but he could find no words. It didn’t matter. Understanding was written all over his face. Sato was right. Tonight was a national-security crisis… of unimaginable proportions.

CHAPTER 118

Dressed in his loincloth, Mal’akh padded back and forth in front of Peter Solomon’s wheelchair. “Peter,” he whispered, enjoying every moment of his captive’s horror, “you forgot you have a second family… your Masonic brothers. And I will destroy them, too… unless you help me.”

Solomon looked almost catatonic in the glow of the laptop sitting atop his thighs. “Please,” he finally stammered, glancing up. “If this video gets out…”

“If?” Mal’akh laughed. “If it gets out?” He motioned to the small cellular modem plugged into the side of his laptop. “I’m connected to the world.”

“You wouldn’t…”

I will, Mal’akh thought, enjoying Solomon’s horror. “You have the power to stop me,” he said. “And to save your sister. But you have to tell me what I want to know. The Lost Word is hidden somewhere, Peter, and I know this grid reveals exactly where to find it.”

Peter glanced at the grid of symbols again, his eyes revealing nothing.

“Perhaps this will help to inspire you.” Mal’akh reached over Peter’s shoulders and hit a few keys on the laptop. An e-mail program launched on the screen, and Peter stiffened visibly. The screen now displayed an e-mail that Mal’akh had cued earlier tonight — a video file addressed to a long list of major media networks.

Mal’akh smiled. “I think it’s time we share, don’t you?”

“Don’t!”

Mal’akh reached down and clicked the send button on the program. Peter jerked against his bonds, trying unsuccessfully to knock the laptop to the floor.

“Relax, Peter,” Mal’akh whispered. “It’s a massive file. It will take a few minutes to go out.” He pointed to the progress bar:

SENDING MESSAGE: 2 % COMPLETE

“If you tell me what I want to know, I’ll stop the e-mail, and nobody will ever see this.”

Peter was ashen as the task bar inched forward.

SENDING MESSAGE: 4 % COMPLETE

Mal’akh now lifted the computer from Peter’s lap and set it on one of the nearby pigskin chairs, turning the screen so the other man could watch the progress. Then he returned to Peter’s side and laid the page of symbols in his lap. “The legends say the Masonic Pyramid will unveil the Lost Word. This is the pyramid’s final code. I believe you know how to read it.”

Mal’akh glanced over at the laptop.

SENDING MESSAGE: 8 % COMPLETE

Mal’akh returned his eyes to Peter. Solomon was staring at him, his gray eyes blazing now with hatred.

Hate me, Mal’akh thought. The greater the emotion, the more potent the energy that will be released when the ritual is completed.

At Langley, Nola Kaye pressed the phone to her ear, barely able to hear Sato over the noise of the helicopter.

“They said it’s impossible to stop the file transfer!” Nola shouted. “To shut down local ISPs would take at least an hour, and if he’s got access to a wireless provider, killing the ground-based Internet won’t stop him from sending it anyway.”

Nowadays, stopping the flow of digital information had become nearly impossible. There were too many access routes to the Internet. Between hard lines, Wi-Fi hot spots, cellular modems, SAT phones, superphones, and e-mail-equipped PDAs, the only way to isolate a potential data leak was by destroying the source machine.

“I pulled the spec sheet on the UH-60 you’re flying,” Nola said, “and it looks like you’re equipped with EMP.”

Electromagnetic-pulse or EMP guns were now commonplace among law enforcement agencies, which used them primarily to stop car chases from a safe distance. By firing a highly concentrated pulse of electromagnetic radiation, an EMP gun could effectively fry the electronics of any device it targeted — cars, cell phones, computers. According to Nola’s spec sheet, the UH-60 had a chassis-mounted, laser-sighted, six-gigahertz magnetron with a fifty-dB-gain horn that yielded a ten-gigawatt pulse. Discharged directly at a laptop, the pulse would fry the computer’s motherboard and instantly erase the hard drive.

“EMP will be useless,” Sato yelled back. “Target is inside a stone building. No sight lines and thick EM shielding. Do you have any indication yet if the video has gone out?”

Nola glanced at a second monitor, which was running a continuous search for breaking news stories about the Masons. “Not yet, ma’am. But if it goes public, we’ll know within seconds.”

“Keep me posted.” Sato signed off.

Langdon held his breath as the helicopter dropped from the sky toward Dupont Circle. A handful of pedestrians scattered as the aircraft descended through an opening in the trees and landed hard on the lawn just south of the famous two-tiered fountain designed by the same two men who created the Lincoln Memorial.

Thirty seconds later, Langdon was riding shotgun in a commandeered Lexus SUV, tearing up New Hampshire Avenue toward the House of the Temple.

Peter Solomon was desperately trying to figure out what to do. All he could see in his mind were the images of Katherine bleeding in the basement… and of the video he had just witnessed. He turned his head slowly toward the laptop on the pigskin chair several yards away. The progress bar was almost a third of the way filled.

SENDING MESSAGE: 29 % COMPLETE

The tattooed man was now walking slow circles around the square altar, swinging a lit censer and chanting to himself. Thick puffs of white smoke swirled up toward the skylight. The man’s eyes were wide now, and he seemed to be in a demonic trance. Peter turned his gaze to the ancient knife that sat waiting on the white silk cloth spread across the altar.

Peter Solomon had no doubt that he would die in this temple tonight. The question was how to die. Would he find a way to save his sister and his brotherhood… or would his death be entirely in vain?

He glanced down at the grid of symbols. When he had first laid eyes on the grid, the shock of the moment had blinded him… preventing his vision from piercing the veil of chaos… to glimpse the startling truth. Now, however, the real significance of these symbols had become crystal clear to him. He had seen the grid in an entirely new light.

Peter Solomon knew exactly what he needed to do.

Taking a deep breath, he gazed up at the moon through the oculus above. Then he began to speak.

All great truths are simple.

Mal’akh had learned that long ago.

The solution that Peter Solomon was now explaining was so graceful and pure that Mal’akh was sure that it could only be true. Incredibly, the solution to the pyramid’s final code was far simpler than he had ever imagined.

The Lost Word was right before my eyes.

In an instant, a bright ray of light pierced the murkiness of the history and myth surrounding the Lost Word. As promised, the Lost Word was indeed written in an ancient language and bore mystical power in every philosophy, religion, and science ever known to man. Alchemy, astrology, Kabbalah, Christianity, Buddhism, Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, astronomy, physics, Noetics…

Standing now in this initiation chamber atop the great pyramid of Heredom, Mal’akh gazed upon the treasure he had sought all these years, and he knew he could not have prepared himself more perfectly.

Soon I am complete.

The Lost Word is found.

In Kalorama Heights, a lone CIA agent stood amid a sea of garbage that he had dumped out of the trash bins that had been found in the garage.

“Ms. Kaye?” he said, speaking to Sato’s analyst on the phone. “Good thinking to search his garbage. I think I just found something.”

Inside the house, Katherine Solomon was feeling stronger with every passing moment. The infusion of lactated Ringer’s solution had successfully raised her blood pressure and quelled her throbbing headache. She was resting now, seated in the dining room, with explicit instructions to remain still. Her nerves felt frayed, and she was increasingly anxious for news about her brother.

Where is everybody? The CIA’s forensics team had not yet arrived, and the agent who had stayed behind was still off searching the premises. Bellamy had been sitting with her in the dining room, still wrapped in a foil blanket, but he, too, had wandered off to look for any information that might help the CIA save Peter.

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