The memory always began the same way.
He was falling . . . plummeting backward toward an ice-covered river at the bottom of a deep ravine. Above him, the merciless gray eyes of Peter Solomon stared down over the barrel of Andross handgun. As he fell, the world above him receded, everything disappearing as he was enveloped by the cloud of billowing mist from the waterfall upstream.
For an instant, everything was white, like heaven.
Then he hit the ice.
Cold. Black. Pain.
He was tumbling . . . being dragged by a powerful force that pounded him relentlessly across rocks in an impossibly cold void. His lungs ached for air, and yet his chest muscles had contracted so violently in the cold that he was unable even to inhale.
Im under the ice.
The ice near the waterfall was apparently thin on account of the turbulent water, and Andros had broken directly through it. Now he was being washed downstream, trapped beneath a transparent
ceiling. He clawed at the underside of the ice, trying to break out, but he had no leverage. The searing pain from the bullet hole in his shoulder was evaporating, as was the sting of the bird shot; both were blotted out now by the crippling throb of his body going numb.
The current was accelerating, slingshotting him around a bend in the river. His body screamed for oxygen. Suddenly he was tangled in branches, lodged against a tree that had fallen into the water. Think! He groped wildly at the branch, working his way toward the surface, finding the spot where the branch pierced up through the ice. His fingertips found the tiny space of open water surrounding the branch, and he pulled at the edges, trying to break the hole wider; once, twice, the opening was growing, now several inches across.
Propping himself against the branch, he tipped his head back and pressed his mouth against the small opening. The winter air that poured into his lungs felt warm. The sudden burst of oxygen fueled his hope. He planted his feet on the tree trunk and pressed his back and shoulders forcefully upward. The ice around the fallen tree, perforated by branches and debris, was weakened already, and as he drove his powerful legs into the trunk, his head and shoulders broke through the ice, crashing up into the winter night. Air poured into his lungs. Still mostly submerged, he wriggled desperately upward, pushing with his legs, pulling with his arms, until finally he was out of the water, lying breathless on the bare ice.
Andros tore off his soaked ski mask and pocketed it, glancing back upstream for Peter Solomon. The bend in the river obscured his view. His chest was burning again. Quietly, he dragged a small branch over the hole in the ice in order to hide it. The hole would be frozen again by morning.
As Andros staggered into the woods, it began to snow. He had no idea how far he had run when he stumbled out of the woods onto an embankment beside a small highway. He was delirious and hypothermic. The snow was falling harder now, and a single set of headlights approached in the distance. Andros waved wildly, and the lone pickup truck immediately pulled over. It had Vermont plates. An old man in a red plaid shirt jumped out.
Andros staggered toward him, holding his bleeding chest. A hunter . . . shot me! I need a . . . hospital!
Without hesitation, the old man helped Andros up into the passenger seat of the truck and turned up the heater. Wheres the nearest hospital?!
Andros had no idea, but he pointed south. Next exit. Were not going to a hospital.
The old man from Vermont was reported missing the next day, but nobody had any idea where on his journey from Vermont he might have disappeared in the blinding snowstorm. Nor did anyone link his disappearance to the other news story that dominated the headlines the next daythe shocking murder of Isabel Solomon.
When Andros awoke, he was lying in a desolate bedroom of a cheap motel that had been boarded up for the season. He recalled breaking in and binding his wounds with torn bedsheets, and then
burrowing into a flimsy bed beneath a pile of musty blankets. He was famished.
He limped to the bathroom and saw the pile of bloody bird-shot pellets in the sink. He vaguely recalled prying them out of his chest. Raising his eyes to the dirty mirror, he reluctantly unwrapped his bloody bandages to survey the damage. The hard muscles of his chest and abdomen had stopped the bird shot from penetrating too deep, and yet his body, once perfect, was now ruined with wounds. The single bullet fired by Peter Solomon had apparently gone cleanly through his shoulder, leaving a bloody crater.
Making matters worse, Andros had failed to obtain that for which he had traveled all this distance. The pyramid. His stomach growled, and he limped outside to the mans truck, hoping maybe to find food. The pickup was now covered with heavy snow, and Andros wondered how long he had been sleeping in this old motel. Thank God I woke up. Andros found no food anywhere in the front seat, but he did find some arthritis painkillers in the glove compartment. He took a handful, washing them down with several mouthfuls of snow.
I need food.
A few hours later, the pickup that pulled out from behind the old motel looked nothing like the truck that had pulled in two days earlier. The cab cap was missing, as were the hubcaps, bumper stickers, and all of the trim. The Vermont plates were gone, replaced by those from an old maintenance truck Andros had found parked by the motel Dumpster, into which he had thrown all the bloody sheets, bird shot, and other evidence that he had ever been at the motel.
Andros had not given up on the pyramid, but for the moment it would have to wait. He needed to hide, heal, and above all, eat. He found a roadside diner where he gorged himself on eggs, bacon, hash browns, and three glasses of orange juice. When he was done, he ordered more food to go. Back on the road, Andros listened to the trucks old radio. He had not seen a television or newspaper since his ordeal, and when he finally heard a local news station, the report stunned him.
FBI investigators, a news announcer said, continue their search for the armed intruder who murdered Isabel Solomon in her Potomac home two days ago. The murderer is believed to have fallen through the ice and been washed out to sea.
Andros froze. Murdered Isabel Solomon? He drove on in bewildered silence, listening to the full report.
It was time to get far, far away from this place.
The Upper West Side apartment offered breathtaking views of Central Park. Andros had chosen it because the sea of green outside his window reminded him of his lost view of the Adriatic. Although he knew he should be happy to be alive, he was not. The emptiness had never left him, and he found himself fixated on his failed attempt to steal Peter Solomons pyramid.
Andros had spent long hours researching the Legend of the Masonic Pyramid, and although
nobody seemed to agree on whether or not the pyramid was real, they all concurred on its famous promise of vast wisdom and power. The Masonic Pyramid is real, Andros told himself. My inside information is irrefutable.
Fate had placed the pyramid within Andross reach, and he knew that ignoring it was like holding a winning lottery ticket and never cashing it in. I am the only non-Mason alive who knows the pyramid is real . . . as well as the identity of the man who guards it.
Months had passed, and although his body had healed, Andros was no longer the cocky specimen he had been in Greece. He had stopped working out, and he had stopped admiring himself naked in the mirror. He felt as if his body were beginning to show signs of age. His once-perfect skin was a patchwork of scars, and this only depressed him further. He still relied on the painkillers that had nursed him through his recovery, and he felt himself slipping back to the lifestyle that had put him in Soganlik Prison. He didnt care. The body craves what the body craves.
One night, he was in Greenwich Village buying drugs from a man whose forearm had been tattooed with a long, jagged lightning bolt. Andros asked him about it, and the man told him the tattoo was covering a long scar he had gotten in a car accident. Seeing the scar every day reminded me of the accident, the dealer said, and so I tattooed over it with a symbol of personal power. I took back control.
That night, high on his new stash of drugs, Andros staggered into a local tattoo parlor and took off his shirt. I want to hide these scars, he announced. I want to take back control.
Hide them? The tattoo artist eyed his chest. With what?
Yes . . . I mean tattoos of what?
Andros shrugged, wanting nothing more than to hide the ugly reminders of his past. I dont know. You choose.
The artist shook his head and handed Andros a pamphlet on the ancient and sacred tradition of tattooing. Come back when youre ready.
Andros discovered that the New York Public Library had in its collection fifty-three books on tattooing, and within a few weeks, he had read them all. Having rediscovered his passion for reading, he began carrying entire backpacks of books back and forth between the library and his apartment, where he voraciously devoured them while overlooking Central Park.
These books on tattoos had opened a door to a strange world Andros had never known existeda world of symbols, mysticism, mythology, and the magical arts. The more he read, the more he realized how blind he had been. He began keeping notebooks of his ideas, his sketches, and his strange dreams. When he could no longer find what he wanted at the
library, he paid rare-book dealers to purchase for him some of the most esoteric texts on earth.
De Praestigiis Daemonum . . . Lemegeton . . . Ars Almadel . . . Grimorium Verum . . . Ars Notoria . . . and on and on. He read them all, becoming more and more certain that the world still had many treasures yet to offer him. There are secrets out there that transcend human understanding.
Then he discovered the writings of Aleister Crowleya visionary mystic from the early 1900s whom the church had deemed the most evil man who ever lived. Great minds are always feared by lesser minds. Andros learned about the power of ritual and incantation. He learned that sacred words, if properly spoken, functioned like keys that opened gateways to other worlds. There is a shadow universe beyond this one . . . a world from which I can draw power. And although Andros longed to harness that power, he knew there were rules and tasks to be completed beforehand.
Become something holy, Crowley wrote. Make yourself sacred.
The ancient rite of sacred making had once been the law of the land. From the early Hebrews who made burnt offerings at the Temple, to the Mayans who beheaded humans atop the pyramids of Chichén Itzá, to Jesus Christ, who offered his body on the cross, the ancients understood Gods requirement for sacrifice. Sacrifice was the original ritual by which humans drew favor from the gods and made themselves holy.
Even though the rite of sacrifice had been abandoned eons ago, its power remained. There had been a handful of modern mystics, including Aleister Crowley, who practiced the Art, perfecting it over time, and transforming themselves gradually into something more. Andros craved to transform himself as they had. And yet he knew he would have to cross a dangerous bridge to do so.
Blood is all that separates the light from the dark.
One night, a crow flew through Andross open bathroom window and got trapped in his apartment. Andros watched the bird flutter around for a while and then finally stop, apparently accepting its inability to escape. Andros had learned enough to recognize a sign. I am being urged onward.
Clutching the bird in one hand, he stood at the makeshift altar in his
kitchen and raised a sharp knife, speaking aloud the incantation he had memorized.
Camiach, Eomiahe, Emial, Macbal, Emoii, Zazean . . . by the most holy names of the angels in the Book of Assamaian, I conjure thee that thou assist me in this operation by the power of the One True God.
Andros now lowered the knife and carefully pierced the large vein on the right wing of the panicked bird. The crow began to bleed. As he watched the stream of red liquid flowing down into the metal cup he had placed as a receptacle, he felt an unexpected chill in the air. Nonetheless, he continued.
Almighty Adonai, Arathron, Ashai, Elohim, Elohi, Elion, Asher Eheieh, Shaddai . . . be my aid, so that this blood may have power and efficacy in all wherein I shall wish, and in all that I shall demand.
That night, he dreamed of birds . . . of a giant phoenix rising from a billowing fire. The next morning, he awoke with an energy he had not felt since childhood. He went running in the park, faster and farther than hed imagined possible. When he could run no longer, he stopped to do pushups and sit-ups. Countless repetitions. Still he had energy.
That night, again, he dreamed of the phoenix.
Autumn had fallen again on Central Park, and the wildlife were scurrying about searching for food for winter. Andros despised the cold, and yet his carefully hidden traps were now overflowing with live rats and squirrels. He took them home in his backpack, performing rituals of increasing complexity.
Emanual, Massiach, Yod, He, Vaud . . . please find me worthy.
The blood rituals fueled his vitality. Andros felt younger every day. He continued to read day and nightancient mystical texts, epic medieval poems, the early philosophersand the more he learned about the true nature of things, the more he realized that all hope for mankind was lost. They are blind . . . wandering aimlessly in a world they will never understand.
Andros was still a man, but he sensed he was evolving into something else. Something greater. Something sacred. His massive physique had emerged from dormancy, more powerful now than ever before. He finally understood its true purpose. My body is but a vessel for my most potent treasure . . . my mind.
Andros knew his true potential had not yet been realized, and he delved deeper. What is my destiny? All the ancient texts spoke of good and evil . . . and of mans need to choose between them. I made my choice long ago, he knew, and yet he felt no remorse. What is evil, if not a natural law? Darkness followed light. Chaos followed order. Entropy was fundamental. Everything decayed. The perfectly ordered crystal eventually turned into random particles of dust.
There are those who create . . . and those who destroy.
It was not until Andros read John Miltons Paradise Lost that he saw his destiny materialize before him. He read of the great fallen angel . . . the warrior demon who fought against the light . . . the valiant one . . . the angel called Moloch.
Moloch walked the earth as a god. The angels name, Andros later learned, when translated to the ancient tongue, became Malakh.
And so shall I.
Like all great transformations, this one had to begin with a sacrifice . . . but not of rats, nor birds. No, this transformation required a true sacrifice.
There is but one worthy sacrifice.
Suddenly he had a sense of clarity unlike anything he had ever experienced in his life. His entire destiny had materialized. For three straight days he sketched on an enormous sheet of paper. When he was done, he had created a blueprint of what he would become.
He hung the life-size sketch on his wall and gazed into it as if into a mirror.
I am a masterpiece.
The next day, he took his drawing to the tattoo parlor.
He was ready.