Robert Langdon awoke slowly.
Faces gazed down at him. Where am I?
A moment later, he recalled where he was. He sat up slowly beneath the Apotheosis. His back felt stiff from lying on the hard catwalk.
Langdon checked his Mickey Mouse watch. It’s almost time. He pulled himself to his feet, peering cautiously over the banister into the gaping space below.
“Katherine?” he called out.
The word echoed back in the silence of the deserted Rotunda. Retrieving his tweed jacket from the floor, he brushed it off and put it back on. He checked his pockets. The iron key the Architect had given him was gone.
Making his way back around the walkway, Langdon headed for the opening the Architect had shown them . . . steep metal stairs ascending into cramped darkness. He began to climb. Higher and higher he ascended. Gradually the stairway became more narrow and more inclined. Still Langdon pushed on.
Just a little farther.
The steps had become almost ladderlike now, the passage frighteningly constricted. Finally, the stairs ended, and Langdon stepped up onto a small landing. Before him was a heavy metal door. The iron key was in the lock, and the door hung slightly ajar. He pushed, and the door creaked open. The air beyond felt cold. As Langdon stepped across the threshold into murky darkness, he realized he was now outside.
“I was just coming to get you,” Katherine said, smiling at him. “It’s almost time.”
When Langdon recognized his surroundings, he drew a startled breath. He was standing on a tiny skywalk that encircled the pinnacle of the U.S. Capitol Dome. Directly above him, the bronze Statue of Freedom gazed out over the sleeping capital city. She faced the east, where the first crimson splashes of dawn had begun to paint the horizon.
Katherine guided Langdon around the balcony until they were facing west, perfectly aligned with the National Mall. In the distance, the silhouette of the Washington Monument stood in the early-morning light. From this vantage point, the towering obelisk looked even more impressive than it had before.
“When it was built,” Katherine whispered, “it was the tallest structure on the entire planet.”
Langdon pictured the old sepia photographs of stonemasons on scaffolding, more than five hundred feet in the air, laying each block by hand, one by one.
We are builders, he thought. We are creators.
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