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Thanks to you, Nola, Sato thought, glancing down at the laptop, which Langdon had seen complete its transmission. A very close call.

At Nola’s suggestion, the agent searching the mansion had checked the garbage cans, discovering packaging for a newly purchased cellular modem. With the exact model number, Nola had been able to cross-reference compatible carriers, bandwidths, and service grids, isolating the laptop’s most likely access node — a small transmitter on the corner of Sixteenth and Corcoran — three blocks from the Temple.

Nola quickly relayed the information to Sato in the helicopter. On approach toward the House of the Temple, the pilot had performed a low-altitude flyover and pulsed the relay node with a blast of electromagnetic radiation, knocking it off-line only seconds before the laptop completed its transfer.

“Great work tonight,” Sato said. “Now get some sleep. You’ve earned it.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Nola hesitated.

“Was there something else?”

Nola was silent a long moment, apparently considering whether or not to speak. “Nothing that can’t wait till morning, ma’am. Have a good night.”

CHAPTER 125

In the silence of an elegant bathroom on the ground floor of the House of the Temple, Robert Langdon ran warm water into a tile sink and eyed himself in the mirror. Even in the muted light, he looked like he felt… utterly spent.

His daybag was on his shoulder again, much lighter now… empty except for his personal items and some crumpled lecture notes. He had to chuckle. His visit to D.C. tonight to give a lecture had turned out a bit more grueling than he’d anticipated.

Even so, Langdon had a lot to be grateful for.

Peter is alive.

And the video was contained.

As Langdon scooped handfuls of warm water onto his face, he gradually felt himself coming back to life. Everything was still a blur, but the adrenaline in his body was finally dissipating… and he was feeling like himself again. After drying his hands, he checked his Mickey Mouse watch.

My God, it’s late.

Langdon exited the bathroom and wound his way along the curved wall of the Hall of Honor — a gracefully arched passageway, lined with portraits of accomplished Masons… U.S. presidents, philanthropists, luminaries, and other influential Americans. He paused at an oil painting of Harry S. Truman and tried to imagine the man undergoing the rites, rituals, and studies required to become a Mason.

There is a hidden world behind the one we all see. For all of us.

“You slipped away,” a voice said down the hall.

Langdon turned.

It was Katherine. She’d been through hell tonight, and yet she looked suddenly radiant… rejuvenated somehow.

Langdon gave a tired smile. “How’s he doing?”

Katherine walked up and embraced him warmly. “How can I ever thank you?”

He laughed. “You know I didn’t do anything, right?”

Katherine held him for a long time. “Peter’s going to be fine…” She let go and looked deep into Langdon’s eyes. “And he just told me something incredible… something wonderful.” Her voice trembled with anticipation. “I need to go see it for myself. I’ll be back in a bit.”

“What? Where are you going?”

“I won’t be long. Right now, Peter wants to speak with you… alone. He’s waiting in the library.”

“Did he say why?”

Katherine chuckled and shook her head. “You know Peter and his secrets.”

“But —”

“I’ll see you in a bit.”

Then she was gone.

Langdon sighed heavily. He felt like he’d had enough secrets for one night. There were unanswered questions, of course — the Masonic Pyramid and the Lost Word among them — but he sensed that the answers, if they even existed, were not for him. Not as a non-Mason.

Mustering the last of his energy, Langdon made his way to the Masonic library. When he arrived, Peter was sitting all alone at a table with the stone pyramid before him.

“Robert?” Peter smiled and waved him in. “I’d like a word.”

Langdon managed a grin. “Yes, I hear you lost one.”

CHAPTER 126

The library in the House of the Temple was D.C.’s oldest public reading room. Its elegant stacks burgeoned with over a quarter of a million volumes, including a rare copy of the Ahiman Rezon, The Secrets of a Prepared Brother. In addition, the library displayed precious Masonic jewels, ritual artifacts, and even a rare volume that had been hand-printed by Benjamin Franklin.

Langdon’s favorite library treasure, however, was one few ever noticed.

The illusion.

Solomon had shown him long ago that from the proper vantage point, the library’s reading desk and golden table lamp created an unmistakable optical illusion… that of a pyramid and shining golden capstone. Solomon said he always considered the illusion a silent reminder that the mysteries of Freemasonry were perfectly visible to anyone and everyone if they were seen from the proper perspective.

Tonight, however, the mysteries of Freemasonry had materialized front and center. Langdon now sat opposite the Worshipful Master Peter Solomon and the Masonic Pyramid.

Peter was smiling. “The ‘word’ you refer to, Robert, is not a legend. It is a reality.”

Langdon stared across the table and finally spoke. “But… I don’t understand. How is that possible?”

“What is so difficult to accept?”

All of it! Langdon wanted to say, searching his old friend’s eyes for any hint of common sense. “You’re saying you believe the Lost Word is real… and that it has actual power?”

“Enormous power,” Peter said. “It has the power to transform human kind by unlocking the Ancient Mysteries.”

“A word?” Langdon challenged. “Peter, I can’t possibly believe a word —”

“You will believe,” Peter stated calmly.

Langdon stared in silence.

“As you know,” Solomon continued, standing now and pacing around the table, “it has long been prophesied that there will come a day when the Lost Word will be rediscovered… a day when it will be unearthed… and mankind will once again have access to its forgotten power.”

Langdon flashed on Peter’s lecture about the Apocalypse. Although many people erroneously interpreted apocalypse as a cataclysmic end of the world, the word literally signified an “unveiling,” predicted by the ancients to be that of great wisdom. The coming age of enlightenment. Even so, Langdon could not imagine such a vast change being ushered in by… a word.

Peter motioned to the stone pyramid, which sat on the table beside its golden capstone. “The Masonic Pyramid,” he said. “The legendary symbolon. Tonight it stands unified… and complete.” Reverently, he lifted the golden capstone and set it atop the pyramid. The heavy gold piece clicked softly into place.

“Tonight, my friend, you have done what has never been done before. You have assembled the Masonic Pyramid, deciphered all of its codes, and in the end, unveiled… this.”

Solomon produced a sheet of paper and laid it on the table. Langdon recognized the grid of symbols that had been reorganized using the Order Eight Franklin Square. He had studied it briefly in the Temple Room.

Peter said, “I am curious to know if you can read this array of symbols. After all, you are the specialist.”

Langdon eyed the grid.

Heredom, circumpunct, pyramid, staircase…

Langdon sighed. “Well, Peter, as you can probably see, this is an allegorical pictogram. Clearly its language is metaphorical and symbolic rather than literal.”

Solomon chuckled. “Ask a symbologist a simple question… Okay, tell me what you see.”

Peter really wants to hear this? Langdon pulled the page toward him. “Well, I looked at it earlier, and, in simple terms, I see that this grid is a picture… depicting heaven and earth.”

Peter arched his eyebrows, looking surprised. “Oh?”

“Sure. At the top of the image, we have the word Heredom — the ‘Holy House’ — which I interpret as the House of God… or heaven.”

“Okay.”

“The downward-facing arrow after Heredom signifies that the rest of the pictogram clearly lies in the realm beneath heaven… that being… earth.” Langdon’s eyes glided now to the bottom of the grid. “The lowest two rows, those beneath the pyramid, represent the earth itself — terra firma — the lowest of all the realms. Fittingly, these lower realms contain the twelve ancient astrological signs, which represent the primordial religion of those first human souls who looked to the heavens and saw the hand of God in the movement of the stars and planets.”

Solomon slid his chair closer and studied the grid. “Okay, what else?”

“On a foundation of astrology,” Langdon continued, “the great pyramid rises from the earth… stretching toward heaven… the enduring symbol of lost wisdom. It is filled with history’s great philosophies and religions… Egyptian, Pythagorean, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Judeo-Christian, and on and on… all flowing upward, merging together, funneling themselves up through the transformative gateway of the pyramid… where they finally fuse into a single, unified human philosophy.” He paused. “A single universal consciousness… a shared global vision of God… represented by the ancient symbol that hovers over the capstone.”

“The circumpunct,” Peter said. “A universal symbol for God.”

“Right. Throughout history, the circumpunct has been all things to all people — it is the sun god Ra, alchemical gold, the all-seeing eye, the singularity point before the Big Bang, the —”

“The Great Architect of the Universe.”

Langdon nodded, sensing this was probably the same argument Peter had used in the Temple Room to sell the idea of the circumpunct as the Lost Word.

“And finally?” Peter asked. “What about the staircase?”

Langdon glanced down at the image of the stairs beneath the pyramid. “Peter, I’m sure you know as well as anyone, this symbolizes the Winding Staircase of Freemasonry… leading upward out of the earthly darkness into the light… like Jacob’s ladder climbing to heaven… or the tiered human spine that connects man’s mortal body to his eternal mind.” He paused. “As for the rest of the symbols, they appear to be a blend of celestial, Masonic, and scientific, all lending support to the Ancient Mysteries.”

Solomon stroked his chin. “An elegant interpretation, Professor. I agree, of course, that this grid can be read as allegory, and yet…” His eyes flashed with deepening mystery. “This collection of symbols tells another story as well. A story that is far more revealing.”

“Oh?”

Solomon began pacing again, circling the table. “Earlier tonight, inside the Temple Room, when I believed I was going to die, I looked at this grid, and somehow I saw past the metaphor, past the allegory, into the very heart of what these symbols are telling us.” He paused, turning abruptly to Langdon. “This grid reveals the exact location where the Lost Word is buried.”

“Come again?” Langdon shifted uneasily in his chair, suddenly fearing that the trauma of the evening had left Peter disorientated and confused.

“Robert, legend has always described the Masonic Pyramid as a map — a very specific map — a map that could guide the worthy to the secret location of the Lost Word.” Solomon tapped the grid of symbols in front of Langdon. “I guarantee you, these symbols are exactly what legend says they are… a map. A specific diagram that reveals exactly where we will find the staircase that leads down to the Lost Word.”

Langdon gave an uneasy laugh, treading carefully now. “Even if I believed the Legend of the Masonic Pyramid, this grid of symbols can’t possibly be a map. Look at it. It looks nothing like a map.”

Solomon smiled. “Sometimes all it takes is a tiny shift of perspective to see something familiar in a totally new light.”

Langdon looked again but saw nothing new.

“Let me ask you a question,” Peter said. “When Masons lay cornerstones, do you know why we lay them in the northeast corner of a building?”

“Sure, because the northeast corner receives the first rays of morning light. It is symbolic of the power of architecture to climb out of the earth into the light.”

“Right,” Peter said. “So perhaps you should look there for the first rays of light.” He motioned to the grid. “In the northeast corner.”

Langdon returned his eyes to the page, moving his gaze to the upper right or northeast corner. The symbol in that corner was ↓.

“A downward-pointing arrow,” Langdon said, trying to grasp Solomon’s point. “Which means… beneath Heredom.”

“No, Robert, not beneath,” Solomon replied. “Think. This grid is not a metaphorical maze. It’s a map. And on a map, a directional arrow that points down means —”

“South,” Langdon exclaimed, startled.

“Exactly!” Solomon replied, grinning now with excitement. “Due south! On a map, down is south. Moreover, on a map, the word Heredom would not be a metaphor for heaven, it would be the name of a geographic location.”

“The House of the Temple? You’re saying this map is pointing… due south of this building?”

“Praise God!” Solomon said, laughing. “Light dawns at last.”

Langdon studied the grid. “But, Peter… even if you’re right, due south of this building could be anywhere on a longitude that’s over twenty-four thousand miles long.”

“No, Robert. You are ignoring the legend, which claims the Lost Word is buried in D.C. That shortens the line substantially. In addition, legend also claims that a large stone sits atop the opening of the staircase… and that this stone is engraved with a message in an ancient language… as a kind of marker so the worthy can find it.”

Langdon was having trouble taking any of this seriously, and while he didn’t know D.C. well enough to picture what was due south of their current location, he was pretty certain there was no huge engraved stone atop a buried staircase.

“The message inscribed on the stone,” Peter said, “is right here before our eyes.” He tapped the third row of the grid before Langdon. “This is the inscription, Robert! You’ve solved the puzzle!”

Dumbfounded, Langdon studied the seven symbols.

Solved? Langdon had no idea whatsoever what these seven disparate symbols could possibly mean, and he was damned sure they were not engraved anywhere in the nation’s capital… particularly on a giant stone over a staircase.

“Peter,” he said, “I don’t see how this sheds any light at all. I know of no stone in D.C. engraved with this… message.”

Solomon patted him on the shoulder. “You have walked past it and never seen it. We all have. It is sitting in plain view, like the mysteries themselves. And tonight, when I saw these seven symbols, I realized in an instant that the legend was true. The Lost Word is buried in D.C.… and it does rest at the bottom of a long staircase beneath an enormous engraved stone.”

Mystified, Langdon remained silent.

“Robert, tonight I believe you have earned the right to know the truth.”

Langdon stared at Peter, trying to process what he had just heard. “You’re going to tell me where the Lost Word is buried?”

“No,” Solomon said, standing up with a smile. “I’m going to show you.”

Five minutes later, Langdon was buckling himself into the backseat of the Escalade beside Peter Solomon. Simkins climbed in behind the wheel as Sato approached across the parking lot.

“Mr. Solomon?” the director said, lighting a cigarette as she arrived. “I’ve just made the call you requested.”

“And?” Peter asked through his open window.

“I ordered them to give you access. Briefly.”

“Thank you.”

Sato studied him, looking curious. “I must say, it’s a most unusual request.”

Solomon gave an enigmatic shrug.

Sato let it go, circling around to Langdon’s window and rapping with her knuckles.

Langdon lowered the window.

“Professor,” she said, with no hint of warmth. “Your assistance tonight, while reluctant, was critical to our success… and for that, I thank you.” She took a long drag on her cigarette and blew it sideways. “However, one final bit of advice. The next time a senior administrator of the CIA tells you she has a national-security crisis…” Her eyes flashed black. “Leave the bullshit in Cambridge.”

Langdon opened his mouth to speak, but Director Inoue Sato had already turned and was headed off across the parking lot toward a waiting helicopter.

Simkins glanced over his shoulder, stone-faced. “Are you gentlemen ready?”

“Actually,” Solomon said, “just one moment.” He produced a small, folded piece of dark fabric and handed it to Langdon. “Robert, I’d like you to put this on before we go anywhere.”

Puzzled, Langdon examined the cloth. It was black velvet. As he unfolded it, he realized he was holding a Masonic hoodwink — the traditional blindfold of a first-degree initiate. What the hell?

Peter said, “I’d prefer you not see where we’re going.”

Langdon turned to Peter. “You want to blindfold me for the journey?”

Solomon grinned. “My secret. My rules.”

CHAPTER 127

The breeze felt cold outside CIA headquarters in Langley. Nola Kaye was shivering as she followed sys-sec Rick Parrish across the agency’s moonlit central courtyard.

Where is Rick taking me?

The crisis of the Masonic video had been averted, thank God, but Nola still felt uneasy. The redacted file on the CIA director’s partition remained a mystery, and it was nagging at her. She and Sato would debrief in the morning, and Nola wanted all the facts. Finally, she had called Rick Parrish and demanded his help.

Now, as she followed Rick to some unknown location outside, Nola could not push the bizarre phrases from her memory:

Secret location underground where the… somewhere in Washington, D.C., the coordinates… uncovered an ancient portal that led… warning the pyramid holds dangerous… decipher this engraved symbolon to unveil…

“You and I agree,” Parrish said as they walked, “that the hacker who spidered those keywords was definitely searching for information about the Masonic Pyramid.”

Obviously, Nola thought.

“It turns out, though, the hacker stumbled onto a facet of the Masonic mystery I don’t think he expected.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nola, you know how the CIA director sponsors an internal discussion forum for Agency employees to share their ideas about all kinds of things?”

“Of course.” The forums provided Agency personnel a safe place to chat online about various topics and gave the director a kind of virtual gateway to his staff.

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