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The African American man leading Langdon through the Capitol’s subterranean maze was clearly someone of power. Beyond knowing his way through all the side corridors and back rooms, the elegant stranger carried a key ring that seemed to unlock every door that blocked their way.

Langdon followed, quickly running up an unfamiliar staircase. As they climbed, he felt the leather strap of his daybag cutting hard into his shoulder. The stone pyramid was so heavy that Langdon feared the bag’s strap might break.

The past few minutes defied all logic, and now Langdon found himself moving on instinct alone. His gut told him to trust this stranger. Beyond saving Langdon from Sato’s arrest, the man had taken dangerous action to protect Peter Solomon’s mysterious pyramid. Whatever the pyramid may be. While his motivation remained a mystery, Langdon had glimpsed a telltale shimmer of gold on the man’s hand—a Masonic ring—the double-headed phoenix and the number 33. This man and Peter Solomon were more than trusted friends. They were Masonic brothers of the highest degree.

Langdon followed him to the top of the stairs, into another corridor, and then through an unmarked door into a utilitarian hallway. They ran past supply boxes and bags of garbage, veering off suddenly through a service door that deposited them in an utterly unexpected world—a plush movie theater of some sort. The older man led the way up the side aisle and out the main doors into the light of a large atrium. Langdon now realized they were in the visitor center through which he had entered earlier tonight.

Unfortunately, so was a Capitol police officer.

As they came face-to-face with the officer, all three men stopped, staring at one another. Langdon recognized the young Hispanic officer from the X-ray machine earlier tonight.

“Officer Nuñez,” the African American man said. “Not a word. Follow me.”

The guard looked uneasy but obeyed without question.

Who is this guy?

The three of them hurried toward the southeast corner of the visitor center, where they arrived at a small foyer and a set of heavy doors blocked with orange pylons. The doors were sealed with masking tape, apparently to keep the dust of whatever was happening beyond out of the visitor center. The man reached up and peeled off the tape on the door. Then he flipped through his key ring as he spoke to the guard. “Our friend Chief Anderson is in the subbasement. He may be injured. You’ll want to check on him.”

“Yes, sir.” Nuñez looked as baffled as he did alarmed.

“Most important, you did not see us.” The man found a key, took it off the key ring, and used it to turn the heavy dead bolt. He pulled open the steel door and tossed the key to the guard. “Lock this door behind us. Put the tape back on as best as you can. Pocket the key and say nothing. To anyone. Including the chief. Is that clear, Officer Nuñez?”

The guard eyed the key as if he’d just been entrusted with a precious gem. “It is, sir.”

The man hurried through the door, and Langdon followed. The guard locked the heavy bolt behind them, and Langdon could hear him re-applying the masking tape.

“Professor Langdon,” the man said as they strode briskly down a modern-looking corridor that was obviously under construction. “My name is Warren Bellamy. Peter Solomon is a dear friend of mine.”

Langdon shot a startled glance at the stately man. You’re Warren Bellamy? Langdon had never met the Architect of the Capitol, but he certainly knew the man’s name.

“Peter speaks very highly of you,” Bellamy said, “and I’m sorry we are meeting under these dreadful circumstances.”

“Peter is in terrible trouble. His hand . . .”

“I know.” Bellamy sounded grim. “That’s not the half of it, I’m afraid.”

They reached the end of the lit section of corridor, and the passageway took an abrupt left. The remaining length of corridor, wherever it went, was pitch-black.

“Hold on,” Bellamy said, disappearing into a nearby electrical room from which a tangle of heavy-duty orange extension cords snaked out, running away from them into the darkness of the corridor. Langdon waited while Bellamy rooted around inside. The Architect must have located the switch that sent power to the extension cords, because suddenly the route before them became illuminated.

Langdon could only stare.

Washington, D.C.—like Rome—was a city laced with secret passageways and underground tunnels. The passage before them now reminded Langdon of the passetto tunnel connecting the Vatican to Castel Sant’Angelo. Long. Dark. Narrow. Unlike the ancient passetto, however, this passage was modern and not yet complete. It was a slender construction zone that was so long it seemed to narrow to nothing at its distant end. The only lighting was a string of intermittent construction bulbs that did little more than accentuate the tunnel’s impossible length.

Bellamy was already heading down the passage. “Follow me. Watch your step.”

Langdon felt himself fall into step behind Bellamy, wondering where on earth this tunnel led.

At that moment, Mal’akh stepped out of Pod 3 and strode briskly down the deserted main corridor of the SMSC toward Pod 5. He clutched Trish’s key card in his hand and quietly whispered, “Zero-eight-zero-four.”

Something else was cycling through his mind as well. Mal’akh had just received an urgent message from the Capitol Building. My contact has run into unforeseen difficulties. Even so, the news remained encouraging: Robert Langdon now possessed both the pyramid and the capstone. Despite the unexpected way in which it had happened, the crucial pieces were falling into place. It was almost as if destiny itself were guiding tonight’s events, ensuring Mal’akh’s victory.