Like any parent who had lost a child, Peter Solomon had often imagined how old his boy would be now . . . what he would look like . . . and what he would have become.
Peter Solomon now had his answers.
The massive tattooed creature before him had begun life as a tiny, precious infant . . . baby Zach curled up in a wicker bassinette . . . taking his first fumbling steps across Peters study . . . learning to speak his first words. The fact that evil could spring from an innocent child in a loving family remained one of the paradoxes of the human soul. Peter had been forced to accept early on that although his own blood flowed in his sons veins, the heart pumping that blood was his sons own. Unique and singular . . . as if randomly chosen from the universe.
My son . . . he killed my mother, my friend Robert Langdon, and possibly my sister.
An icy numbness flooded Peters heart as he searched his sons eyes for any connection . . . anything familiar. The mans eyes, however, although gray like Peters, were those of a total stranger, filled with a hatred and a vengefulness that were almost otherworldly.
Are you strong enough? his son taunted, glancing at the Akedah knife gripped in Peters hand. Can you finish what you started all those years ago?
Son . . . Solomon barely recognized his own voice. I . . . I loved . . . you.
Twice you tried to kill me. You abandoned me in prison. You shot me on Zachs bridge. Now finish it!
For an instant, Solomon felt like he was floating outside his own body. He no longer recognized himself. He was missing a hand, was totally bald, dressed in a black robe, sitting in a wheelchair, and clutching an ancient knife.
Finish it! the man shouted again, the tattoos on his naked chest rippling. Killing me is the only way you can save Katherine . . . the only way to save your brotherhood!
Solomon felt his gaze move to the laptop and cellular modem on the pigskin chair.
SENDING MESSAGE: 92% COMPLETE
His mind could not shake the images of Katherine bleeding to death . . . or of his Masonic brothers.
There is still time, the man whispered. You know its the only choice. Release me from my mortal shell.
Please, Solomon said. Dont do this . . .
You did this! the man hissed. You forced your child to make an impossible choice! Do you remember that night? Wealth or wisdom? That was the night you pushed me away forever. But Ive returned, Father . . . and tonight it is your turn to choose. Zachary or Katherine? Which will it be? Will you kill your son to save your sister? Will you kill your son to save your brotherhood? Your country? Or will you wait until its too late? Until Katherine is dead . . . until the video is public . . . until you must live the rest of your life knowing you could have stopped these tragedies. Time is running out. You know what must be done.
Peters heart ached. You are not Zachary, he told himself. Zachary died long, long ago. Whatever you are . . . and wherever you came from . . . you are not of me. And although Peter Solomon did not believe his own words, he knew he had to make a choice.
He was out of time.
Find the Grand Staircase!
Robert Langdon dashed through darkened hallways, winding his way toward the center of the building. Turner Simkins remained close on his heels. As Langdon had hoped, he burst out into the buildings main atrium.
Dominated by eight Doric columns of green granite, the atrium looked like a hybrid sepulcher Greco-Roman-Egyptianwith black marble statues, chandelier fire bowls, Teutonic crosses, double-headed phoenix medallions, and sconces bearing the head of Hermes.
Langdon turned and ran toward the sweeping marble staircase at the far end of the atrium. This leads directly to the Temple Room, he whispered as the two men ascended as quickly and quietly as possible.
On the first landing, Langdon came face-to-face with a bronze bust of Masonic luminary Albert Pike, along with the engraving of his most famous quote: WHAT WE HAVE DONE FOR OURSELVES ALONE DIES WITH US; WHAT WE HAVE DONE FOR OTHERS AND THE WORLD REMAINS AND IS IMMORTAL.
Malakh had sensed a palpable shift in the atmosphere of the Temple Room, as if all the frustration and pain Peter Solomon had ever felt was now boiling to the surface . . . focusing itself like a laser on Malakh.
Yes . . . it is time.
Peter Solomon had risen from his wheelchair and was standing now, facing the altar, gripping the knife.
Save Katherine, Malakh coaxed, luring him toward the altar, backing up, and finally laying his own body down on the white shroud he had prepared. Do what you need to do.
As if moving through a nightmare, Peter inched forward.
Malakh reclined fully now onto his back, gazing up through the oculus at the wintry moon. The secret is how to die. This moment could not be any more perfect. Adorned with the Lost Word of the ages, I offer myself by the left hand of my father.
Malakh drew a deep breath.
Receive me, demons, for this is my body, which is offered for you.
Standing over Malakh, Peter Solomon was trembling. His tear-soaked eyes shone with desperation, indecision, anguish. He looked one last time toward the modem and laptop across
Make the choice, Malakh 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.
Peters tearful eyes seemed to be staring through Malakh now, not even seeing him.
I killed your mother! Malakh whispered. I killed Robert Langdon! Im murdering your sister! Im destroying your brotherhood! Do what you have to do!
Peter Solomons 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 Peters voice. Langdon was certain.
Peters cry was one of absolute agony.
Im 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.
Malakh 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 killers 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.
Malakh 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 Malakh 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 mans right arm, and he realized to his bewilderment that he had just tackled Peter Solomon.
As they slid together across the stone floor, the helicopters 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.
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
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 Rooms 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.
Malakh 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.
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 Malakh to the core and dispersing the wisps of incense to the distant corners of the room.
Malakh 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, Malakh 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, Malakh 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, Malakh lay gasping for breath . . . all alone on the great altar.