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Standing over Mal’akh, Peter Solomon was trembling. His tear-soaked eyes shone with desperation, indecision, anguish. He looked one last time toward the modem and laptop across the room.

“Make the choice,” Mal’akh whispered. “Release me from my flesh. God wants this. You want this.” He laid his arms at his side and arched his chest forward, offering up his magnificent double-headed phoenix. Help me shed the body that clothes my soul.

Peter’s tearful eyes seemed to be staring through Mal’akh now, not even seeing him.

“I killed your mother!” Mal’akh whispered. “I killed Robert Langdon! I’m murdering your sister! I’m destroying your brotherhood! Do what you have to do!”

Peter Solomon’s visage now contorted into a mask of absolute grief and regret. He threw his head back and screamed in anguish as he raised the knife.

Robert Langdon and Agent Simkins arrived breathless outside the Temple Room doors as a bloodcurdling scream erupted from within. It was Peter’s voice. Langdon was certain.

Peter’s cry was one of absolute agony.

I’m too late!

Ignoring Simkins, Langdon seized the handles and yanked open the doors. The horrific scene before him confirmed his worst fears. There, in the center of the dimly lit chamber, the silhouette of a man with a shaved head stood at the great altar. He wore a black robe, and his hand was clutching a large blade.

Before Langdon could move, the man was driving the knife down toward the body that lay outstretched on the altar.

Mal’akh had closed his eyes.

So beautiful. So perfect.

The ancient blade of the Akedah knife had glinted in the moonlight as it arched over him. Scented wisps of smoke had spiraled upward above him, preparing a pathway for his soon-to-be-liberated soul. His killer’s lone scream of torment and desperation still rang through the sacred space as the knife came down.

I am besmeared with the blood of human sacrifice and parents’ tears.

Mal’akh braced for the glorious impact.

His moment of transformation had arrived.

Incredibly, he felt no pain.

A thunderous vibration filled his body, deafening and deep. The room began shaking, and a brilliant white light blinded him from above. The heavens roared.

And Mal’akh knew it had happened.

Exactly as he had planned.

Langdon did not remember sprinting toward the altar as the helicopter appeared overhead. Nor did he remember leaping with his arms out-stretched… soaring toward the man in the black robe… trying desperately to tackle him before he could plunge the knife down a second time.

Their bodies collided, and Langdon saw a bright light sweep down through the oculus and illuminate the altar. He expected to see the bloody body of Peter Solomon on the altar, but the naked chest that shone in the light had no blood on it at all… only a tapestry of tattoos. The knife lay broken beside him, apparently having been driven into the stone altar rather than into flesh.

As he and the man in the black robe crashed together onto the hard stone floor, Langdon saw the bandaged nub on the end of the man’s right arm, and he realized to his bewilderment that he had just tackled Peter Solomon.

As they slid together across the stone floor, the helicopter’s searchlights blazed down from above. The chopper thundered in low, its skids practically touching the expansive wall of glass.

On the front of the helicopter, a strange-looking gun rotated, aiming downward through the glass. The red beam of its laser scope sliced through the skylight and danced across the floor, directly toward Langdon and Solomon.

No!

But there was no gunfire from above… only the sound of the helicopter blades.

Langdon felt nothing but an eerie ripple of energy that shimmered through his cells. Behind his head, on the pigskin chair, the laptop hissed strangely. He spun in time to see its screen suddenly flash to black. Unfortunately, the last visible message had been clear.

SENDING MESSAGE: 100 % COMPLETE

Pull up! Damn it! Up!

The UH-60 pilot threw his rotors into overdrive, trying to keep his skids from touching any part of the large glass skylight. He knew the six thousand pounds of lift force that surged downward from his rotors was already straining the glass to its breaking point. Unfortunately, the incline of the pyramid beneath the helicopter was efficiently shedding the thrust sideways, robbing him of lift.

Up! Now!

He tipped the nose, trying to skim away, but the left strut hit the center of the glass. It was only for an instant, but that was all it took.

The Temple Room’s massive oculus exploded in a swirl of glass and wind… sending a torrent of jagged shards plummeting into the room below.

Stars falling from heaven.

Mal’akh stared up into the beautiful white light and saw a veil of shimmering jewels fluttering toward him… accelerating… as if racing to shroud him in their splendor.

Suddenly there was pain.

Everywhere.

Stabbing. Searing. Slashing. Razor-sharp knives piercing soft flesh. Chest, neck, thighs, face. His body tightened all at once, recoiling. His blood-filled mouth cried out as the pain ripped him from his trance. The white light above transformed itself, and suddenly, as if by magic, a dark helicopter was suspended above him, its thundering blades driving an icy wind down into the Temple Room, chilling Mal’akh to the core and dispersing the wisps of incense to the distant corners of the room.

Mal’akh turned his head and saw the Akedah knife lying broken by his side, smashed upon the granite altar, which was covered in a blanket of shattered glass. Even after everything I did to him… Peter Solomon averted the knife. He refused to spill my blood.

With welling horror, Mal’akh raised his head and peered down along the length of his own body. This living artifact was to have been his great offering. But it lay in tatters. His body was drenched in blood… huge shards of glass protruding from his flesh in all directions.

Weakly, Mal’akh lowered his head back to the granite altar and stared up through the open space in the roof. The helicopter was gone now, in its place a silent, wintry moon.

Wide-eyed, Mal’akh lay gasping for breath… all alone on the great altar.

CHAPTER 122

The secret is how to die.

Mal’akh knew it had all gone wrong. There was no brilliant light. No wondrous reception. Only darkness and excruciating pain. Even in his eyes. He could see nothing, and yet he sensed movement all around him. There were voices… human voices… one of them, strangely, belonging to Robert Langdon. How can this be?

“She’s okay,” Langdon kept repeating. “Katherine is fine, Peter. Your sister is okay.”

No, Mal’akh thought. Katherine is dead. She must be.

Mal’akh could no longer see, could not tell if his eyes were even open, but he heard the helicopter banking away. An abrupt calm settled through the Temple Room. Mal’akh could feel the smooth rhythms of the earth becoming uneven… as if the ocean’s natural tides were being disrupted by a gathering storm.

Chao ab ordo.

Unfamiliar voices were shouting now, talking urgently with Langdon about the laptop and video file. It’s too late, Mal’akh knew. The damage is done. By now the video was spreading like wildfire into every corner of a shocked world, destroying the future of the brotherhood. Those most capable of spreading the wisdom must be destroyed. The ignorance of mankind is what helped the chaos grow. The absence of Light on earth is what nourished the Darkness that awaited Mal’akh.

I have done great deeds, and soon I will be received as a king.

Mal’akh sensed that a lone individual had quietly approached. He knew who it was. He could smell the sacred oils he had rubbed into his father’s shaved body.

“I don’t know if you can hear me,” Peter Solomon whispered in his ear. “But I want you to know something.” He touched a finger to the sacred spot atop Mal’akh’s skull. “What you wrote here…” He paused. “This is not the Lost Word.”

Of course it is, Mal’akh thought. You convinced me of that beyond a doubt.

According to legend, the Lost Word was written in a language so ancient and arcane that mankind had all but forgotten how to read it. This mysterious language, Peter had revealed, was in fact the oldest language on earth.

The language of symbols.

In the idiom of symbology, there was one symbol that reigned supreme above all others. The oldest and most universal, this symbol fused all the ancient traditions in a single solitary image that represented the illumination of the Egyptian sun god, the triumph of alchemical gold, the wisdom of the Philosopher’s Stone, the purity of the Rosicrucian Rose, the moment of Creation, the All, the dominance of the astrological sun, and even the omniscient all-seeing eye that hovered atop the unfinished pyramid.

The circumpunct. The symbol of the Source. The origin of all things.

This is what Peter had told him moments ago. Mal’akh had been skeptical at first, but then he had looked again at the grid, realizing that the image of the pyramid was pointing directly at the lone symbol of the circumpunct — a circle with a dot in its center. The Masonic Pyramid is a map, he thought, recalling the legend, which points to the Lost Word. It seemed his father was telling the truth after all.

All great truths are simple.

The Lost Word is not a word… it is a symbol.

Eagerly, Mal’akh had inscribed the great symbol of the circumpunct on his scalp. As he did so, he felt an upwelling of power and satisfaction. My masterpiece and offering are complete. The forces of darkness were waiting for him now. He would be rewarded for his work. This was to be his moment of glory…

And yet, at the last instant, everything had gone horribly wrong.

Peter was still behind him now, speaking words that Mal’akh could barely fathom. “I lied to you,” he was saying. “You left me no choice. If I had revealed to you the true Lost Word, you would not have believed me, nor would you have understood.”

The Lost Word is… not the circumpunct?

“The truth is,” said Peter, “the Lost Word is known to all… but recognized by very few.”

The words echoed in Mal’akh’s mind.

“You remain incomplete,” Peter said, gently placing his palm on top of Mal’akh’s head. “Your work is not yet done. But wherever you are going, please know this… you were loved.”

For some reason, the gentle touch of his father’s hand felt like it was burning through him like a potent catalyst that was initiating a chemical reaction inside Mal’akh’s body. Without warning, he felt a rush of blistering energy surging through his physical shell, as if every cell in his body were now dissolving.

In an instant, all of his worldly pain evaporated.

Transformation. It’s happening.

I am gazing down upon myself, a wreck of bloody flesh on the sacred slab of granite. My father is kneeling behind me, holding my lifeless head with his one remaining hand.

I feel an upwelling of rage… and confusion.

This is not a moment for compassion… it is for revenge, for transformation… and yet still my father refuses to submit, refuses to fulfill his role, refuses to channel his pain and anger through the knife blade and into my heart.

I am trapped here, hovering… tethered to my earthly shell.

My father gently runs a soft palm across my face to close my fading eyes.

I feel the tether release.

A billowing veil materializes around me, thickening and dimming the light, hiding the world from view. Suddenly time accelerates, and I am plunging into an abyss far darker than any I have ever imagined. Here, in the barren void, I hear a whispering… I sense a gathering force. It strengthens, mounting at a startling rate, surrounding me. Ominous and powerful. Dark and commanding.

I am not alone here.

This is my triumph, my grand reception. And yet, for some reason, I am filled not with joy, but rather with boundless fear.

It is nothing like I expect.

The force is churning now, swirling around me with commanding strength, threatening to tear me apart. Suddenly, without warning, the blackness gathers itself like a great prehistoric beast and rears up before me.

I am facing all the dark souls who have gone before.

I am screaming in infinite terror… as the darkness swallows me whole.

CHAPTER 123

Inside the National Cathedral, Dean Galloway sensed a strange change in the air. He was not sure why, but he felt as if a ghostly shadow had evaporated… as if a weight had been lifted… far away and yet right here.

Alone at his desk, he was deep in thought. He was not sure how many minutes had passed when his phone rang. It was Warren Bellamy.

“Peter’s alive,” his Masonic brother said. “I just heard the news. I knew you’d want to know immediately. He’s going to be okay.”

“Thank God.” Galloway exhaled. “Where is he?”

Galloway listened as Bellamy recounted the extraordinary tale of what had transpired after they had left Cathedral College.

“But all of you are okay?”

“Recuperating, yes,” Bellamy said. “There is one thing, though.” He paused.

“Yes?”

“The Masonic Pyramid… I think Langdon may have solved it.”

Galloway had to smile. Somehow he was not surprised. “And tell me, did Langdon discover whether or not the pyramid kept its promise? Whether or not it revealed what legend always claimed it would reveal?”

“I don’t know yet.”

It will, Galloway thought. “You need to rest.”

“As do you.”

No, I need to pray.

CHAPTER 124

When the elevator door opened, the lights in the Temple Room were all ablaze.

Katherine Solomon’s legs still felt rubbery as she hurried in to find her brother. The air in this enormous chamber was cold and smelled of incense. The scene that greeted her stopped her in her tracks.

In the center of this magnificent room, on a low stone altar, lay a bloody, tattooed corpse, a body perforated by spears of broken glass. High above, a gaping hole in the ceiling opened to the heavens.

My God. Katherine immediately looked away, her eyes scanning for Peter. She found her brother sitting on the other side of the room, being tended to by a medic while talking with Langdon and Director Sato.

“Peter!” Katherine called, running over. “Peter!”

Her brother glanced up, his expression filling with relief. He was on his feet at once, moving toward her. He was wearing a simple white shirt and dark slacks, which someone had probably gotten for him from his office downstairs. His right arm was in a sling, and their gentle embrace was awkward, but Katherine barely noticed. A familiar comfort surrounded her like a cocoon, as it always had, even in childhood, when her protective older brother embraced her.

They held each other in silence.

Finally Katherine whispered, “Are you okay? I mean… really?” She released him, looking down at the sling and bandage where his right hand used to be. Tears welled again in her eyes. “I’m so… so sorry.”

Peter shrugged as if it were nothing of consequence. “Mortal flesh. Bodies don’t last forever. The important thing is that you’re okay.”

Peter’s lighthearted response tore at her emotions, reminding her of all the reasons she loved him. She stroked his head, feeling the unbreakable bonds of family… the shared blood that flowed in their veins.

Tragically, she knew there was a third Solomon in the room tonight. The corpse on the altar drew her gaze, and Katherine shuddered deeply, trying to block out the photos she had seen.

She looked away, her eyes now finding Robert Langdon’s. There was compassion there, deep and perceptive, as if Langdon somehow knew exactly what she was thinking. Peter knows. Raw emotion gripped Katherine — relief, sympathy, despair. She felt her brother’s body begin trembling like a child’s. It was something she had never witnessed in her entire life.

“Just let it go,” she whispered. “It’s okay. Just let it go.”

Peter’s trembling grew deeper.

She held him again, stroking the back of his head. “Peter, you’ve always been the strong one… you’ve always been there for me. But I’m here for you now. It’s okay. I’m right here.”

Katherine eased his head gently onto her shoulder… and the great Peter Solomon collapsed sobbing in her arms.

Director Sato stepped away to take an incoming call.

It was Nola Kaye. Her news, for a change, was good.

“Still no signs of distribution, ma’am.” She sounded hopeful. “I’m confident we would have seen something by now. It looks like you contained it.”

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