Chapter no 19

The Lost Symbol

DIRECTOR INOUE SATO stood with her arms folded, her eyes locked skeptically on Langdon as she processed what he had just told her. “He said he wants you to unlock an ancient portal? What am I supposed to do with that, Professor?”

Langdon shrugged weakly. He was feeling ill again and tried not to look down at his friend’s severed hand. “That’s exactly what he told me. An ancient portal … hidden somewhere in this building. I told him I knew of no portal.”

“Then why does he think you can find it?”

“Obviously, he’s insane.” He said Peter would point the way. Langdon looked down at Peter’s upstretched finger, again feeling repulsed by his captor’s sadistic play on words. Peter will point the way. Langdon had already permitted his eyes to follow the pointing finger up to the dome overhead. A portal? Up there? Insane.

“This man who called me,” Langdon told Sato, “was the only one who knew I was coming to the Capitol tonight, so whoever informed you I was here tonight, that’s your man. I recommend—”

“Where I got my information is not your concern,” Sato interrupted, voice sharpening. “My top priority at the moment is to cooperate with this man, and I have information suggesting you are the only one who can give him what he wants.”

“And my top priority is to find my friend,” Langdon replied, frustrated.

Sato inhaled deeply, her patience clearly being tested. “If we want to find Mr. Solomon, we have one course of action, Professor—to start cooperating with the one person who seems to know where he is.” Sato checked her watch. “Our time is limited. I can assure you it is imperative we comply with this man’s demands quickly.”

“How?” Langdon asked, incredulous. “By locating and unlocking an ancient portal?

There is no portal, Director Sato. This guy’s a lunatic.”

Sato stepped close, less than a foot from Langdon. “If I may point this out … your lunatic deftly manipulated two fairly smart individuals already this morning.” She stared directly at Langdon and then glanced at Anderson. “In my business, one learns there is a fine line between insanity and genius. We would be wise to give this man a little respect.”

“He cut off a man’s hand!”

“My point exactly. That is hardly the act of an uncommitted or uncertain individual. More important, Professor, this man obviously believes you can help him. He brought you all the way to Washington—and he must have done it for a reason.”

“He said the only reason he thinks I can unlock this ‘portal is that Peter told him I can unlock it,” Langdon countered.

“And why would Peter Solomon say that if it weren’t true?”

“I’m sure Peter said no such thing. And if he did, then he did so under duress. He was confused … or frightened.”

“Yes. It’s called interrogational torture, and it’s quite effective. All the more reason Mr. Solomon would tell the truth.” Sato spoke as if she’d had personal experience with this technique. “Did he explain why Peter thinks you alone can unlock the portal?”

Langdon shook his head.

“Professor, if your reputations are correct, then you and Peter Solomon both share an interest in this sort of thing—secrets, historical esoterica, mysticism, and so on. In all of your discussions with Peter, he never once mentioned to you anything about a secret portal in Washington, D.C.?”

Langdon could scarcely believe he was being asked this question by a high-ranking officer of the CIA. “I’m certain of it. Peter and I talk about some pretty arcane things, but believe me, I’d tell him to get his head examined if he ever told me there was an ancient portal hidden anywhere at all. Particularly one that leads to the Ancient Mysteries.”

She glanced up. “I’m sorry? The man told you specifically what this portal leads to?” “Yes, but he didn’t have to.” Langdon motioned to the hand. “The Hand of the

Mysteries is a formal invitation to pass through a mystical gateway and acquire ancient secret knowledge—powerful wisdom known as the Ancient Mysteries … or the lost wisdom of all the ages.”

“So you’ve heard of the secret he believes is hidden here.” “A lot of historians have heard of it.”

“Then how can you say the portal does not exist?”

“With respect, ma’am, we’ve all heard of the Fountain of Youth and Shangri-la, but that does not mean they exist.”




    1. : Biblioteca Estense Universitaria, Modena, Italy/The Bridgeman Art Library

      The loud squawk of Anderson’s radio interrupted them.

      “Chief?” the voice on the radio said. Anderson snatched his radio from his belt. “Anderson here.”

      “Sir, we’ve completed a search of the grounds. There’s no one here that fits the description. Any further orders, sir?”

      Anderson shot a quick glance at Sato, clearly expecting a reprimand, but Director Sato seemed uninterested. Anderson moved away from Langdon and Sato, speaking quietly into his radio.

      Sato’s unwavering focus remained on Langdon. “You’re saying the secret he believes is hidden in Washington … is a fantasy?”

      Langdon nodded. “A very old myth. The secret of the Ancient Mysteries is pre-Christian, actually. Thousands of years old.”

      “And yet it’s still around?”

      “As are many equally improbable beliefs.” Langdon often reminded his students that most modern religions included stories that did not hold up to scientific scrutiny: everything from Moses parting the Red Sea … to Joseph Smith using magic eyeglasses to translate the Book of Mormon from a series of gold plates he found buried in upstate New York. Wide acceptance of an idea is not proof of its validity.




    2. : Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, France/The Bridgeman Art Library

      “I see. So what exactly are these … Ancient Mysteries?”

      Langdon exhaled. Have you got a few weeks? “In short, the Ancient Mysteries refer to a body of secret knowledge that was amassed long ago. One intriguing aspect of this knowledge is that it allegedly enables its practitioners to access powerful abilities that lie dormant in the human mind. The enlightened Adepts who possessed this knowledge vowed to keep it veiled from the masses because it was considered far too potent and dangerous for the uninitiated.”

      “Dangerous in what way?”

      “The information was kept hidden for the same reason we keep matches from children. In the correct hands, fire can provide illumination … but in the wrong hands, fire can be highly destructive.”

      Sato took off her glasses and studied him. “Tell me, Professor, do you believe such powerful information could truly exist?”

      Langdon was not sure how to respond. The Ancient Mysteries had always been the greatest paradox of his academic career. Virtually every mystical tradition on earth revolved around the idea that there existed arcane knowledge capable of imbuing humans with mystical, almost godlike, powers: tarot and I Ching gave men the ability to see the future; alchemy gave men immortality through the fabled Philosopher’s Stone; Wicca permitted advanced practitioners to cast powerful spells. The list went on and on.




    3. : Topham/The Image Works

      As an academic, Langdon could not deny the historical record of these traditions— troves of documents, artifacts, and artwork that, indeed, clearly suggested the ancients had a powerful wisdom that they shared only through allegory, myths, and symbols, ensuring that only those properly initiated could access its power. Nonetheless, as a realist and a skeptic, Langdon remained unconvinced.

      “Let’s just say I’m a skeptic,” he told Sato. “I have never seen anything in the real world to suggest the Ancient Mysteries are anything other than legend—a recurring mythological archetype. It seems to me that if it were possible for humans to acquire miraculous powers, there would be evidence. And yet, so far, history has given us no men with superhuman powers.”

      Sato arched her eyebrows. “That’s not entirely true.”

      Langdon hesitated, realizing that for many religious people, there was indeed a precedent for human gods, Jesus being the most obvious. “Admittedly,” he said, “there are plenty of educated people who believe this empowering wisdom truly exists, but I’m not yet convinced.”

      “Is Peter Solomon one of those people?” Sato asked, glancing toward the hand on the floor.

      Langdon could not bring himself to look at the hand. “Peter comes from a family lineage that has always had a passion for all things ancient and mystical.”

      “Was that a yes?” Sato asked.

      “I can assure you that even if Peter believes the Ancient Mysteries are real, he does not believe they are accessible through some kind of portal hidden in Washington, D.C. He understands metaphorical symbolism, which is something his captor apparently does not.”

      Sato nodded. “So you believe this portal is a metaphor.”

      “Of course,” Langdon said. “In theory, anyway. It’s a very common metaphor—a mystical portal through which one must travel to become enlightened. Portals and doorways are common symbolic constructs that represent transformative rites of passage. To look for a literal portal would be like trying to locate the actual Gates of Heaven.”

      Sato seemed to consider this momentarily. “But it sounds like Mr. Solomon’s captor believes you can unlock an actual portal.”

      Langdon exhaled. “He’s made the same error many zealots make—confusing metaphor with a literal reality.” Similarly, early alchemists had toiled in vain to transform lead into gold, never realizing that lead-to-gold was nothing but a metaphor for tapping into true human potential—that of taking a dull, ignorant mind and transforming it into a bright, enlightened one.




    4. : V&A Images, London/Art Resource, NY

Sato motioned to the hand. “If this man wants you to locate some kind of portal for

him, why wouldn’t he simply tell you how to find it? Why all the dramatics? Why give you a tattooed hand?”

Langdon had asked himself the same question and the answer was unsettling. “Well, it seems the man we are dealing with, in addition to being mentally unstable, is also highly educated. This hand is proof that he is well versed in the Mysteries as well as their codes of secrecy. Not to mention with the history of this room.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Everything he has done tonight was done in perfect accordance with ancient protocols. Traditionally, the Hand of the Mysteries is a sacred invitation, and therefore it must be presented in a sacred place.”

Sato’s eyes narrowed. “This is the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building, Professor, not some sacred shrine to ancient mystical secrets.”

“Actually, ma’am,” Langdon said, “I know a great number of historians who would disagree with you.”



At that moment, across town, Trish Dunne was seated in the glow of the plasma wall inside the Cube. She finished preparing her search spider and typed in the five key phrases Katherine had given her.

Here goes nothing.

Feeling little optimism, she launched the spider, effectively commencing a worldwide game of Go Fish. At blinding speed, the phrases were now being compared to texts all over the world … looking for a perfect match.

Trish couldn’t help but wonder what this was all about, but she had come to accept that working with the Solomons meant never quite knowing the entire story.

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