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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.