I’m fleeing the country, Sophie thought, her body forced back into the leather seat. Until this moment, she had believed her game of cat and mouse with Fache would be somehow justifiable to the Ministry of Defense. I was attempting to protect an innocent man. I was trying to fulftll my grandfather’s dying wishes. That window of opportunity, Sophie knew, had just closed. She was leaving the country, without documentation, accompanying a wanted man, and transporting a bound hostage. If a “line of reason” had ever existed, she had just crossed it. At almost the speed of sound.

Sophie was seated with Langdon and Teabing near the front of the cabin—the Fan Jet Executive Elite Design, according to the gold medallion on the door. Their plush swivel chairs were bolted to tracks on the floor and could be repositioned and locked around a rectangular hardwood table. A mini-boardroom. The dignified surroundings, however, did little to camouflage the less than dignified state of affairs in the rear of the plane where, in a separate seating area near the rest room, Teabing’s manservant Rémy sat with the pistol in hand, begrudgingly carrying out Teabing’s orders to stand guard over the bloody monk who lay trussed at his feet like a piece of luggage.

“Before we turn our attention to the keystone,” Teabing said, “I was wondering if you would permit me a few words.” He sounded apprehensive, like a father about to give the birds-and-the-bees lecture to his children. “My friends, I realize I am but a guest on this journey, and I am honored as such. And yet, as someone who has spent his life in search of the Grail, I feel it is my duty to warn you that you are about to step onto a path from which there is no return, regardless of the dangers involved.” He turned to Sophie. “Miss

Neveu, your grandfather gave you this cryptex in hopes you would keep the secret of the Holy Grail alive.”

“Yes.”

“Understandably, you feel obliged to follow the trail wherever it leads.”

Sophie nodded, although she felt a second motivation still burning within her. The truth about my family. Despite Langdon’s assurances that the keystone had nothing to do with her past, Sophie still sensed something deeply personal entwined within this mystery, as if this cryptex, forged by her grandfather’s own hands, were trying to speak to her and offer some kind of resolution to the emptiness that had haunted her all these years.

“Your grandfather and three others died tonight,” Teabing continued, “and they did so to keep this keystone away from the Church. Opus Dei came within inches tonight of possessing it. You understand, I hope, that this puts you in a position of exceptional responsibility. You have been handed a torch. A two-thousand-year- old flame that cannot be allowed to go out. This torch cannot fall into the wrong hands.” He paused, glancing at the rosewood box. “I realize you have been given no choice in this matter, Miss Neveu, but considering what is at stake here, you must either fully embrace this responsibility … or you must pass that responsibility to someone else.”

“My grandfather gave the cryptex to me. I’m sure he thought I could handle the responsibility.”

Teabing looked encouraged but unconvinced. “Good. A strong will is necessary. And yet, I am curious if you understand that successfully unlocking the keystone will bring with it a far greater trial.”

“How so?”

“My dear, imagine that you are suddenly holding a map that reveals the location of the Holy Grail. In that moment, you will be in possession of a truth capable of altering history forever. You will be the keeper of a truth that man has sought for centuries. You will be faced with the responsibility of revealing that truth to the world. The individual who does so will be revered by many and despised

by many. The question is whether you will have the necessary strength to carry out that task.”

Sophie paused. “I’m not sure that is my decision to make.”

Teabing’s eyebrows arched. “No? If not the possessor of the keystone, then who?”

“The brotherhood who has successfully protected the secret for so long.”

“The Priory?” Teabing looked skeptical. “But how? The brotherhood was shattered tonight. Decapitated, as you so aptly put it. Whether they were infiltrated by some kind of eavesdropping or by a spy within their ranks, we will never know, but the fact remains that someone got to them and uncovered the identities of their four top members. I would not trust anyone who stepped forward from the brotherhood at this point.”

“So what do you suggest?” Langdon asked.

“Robert, you know as well as I do that the Priory has not protected the truth all these years to have it gather dust until eternity. They have been waiting for the right moment in history to share their secret. A time when the world is ready to handle the truth.”

“And you believe that moment has arrived?” Langdon asked. “Absolutely. It could not be more obvious. All the historical signs

are in place, and if the Priory did not intend to make their secret known very soon, why has the Church now attacked?”

Sophie argued, “The monk has not yet told us his purpose.”

“The monk’s purpose is the Church’s purpose,” Teabing replied, “to destroy the documents that reveal the great deception. The Church came closer tonight than they have ever come, and the Priory has put its trust in you, Miss Neveu. The task of saving the Holy Grail clearly includes carrying out the Priory’s final wishes of sharing the truth with the world.”

Langdon intervened. “Leigh, asking Sophie to make that decision is quite a load to drop on someone who only an hour ago learned the Sangreal documents exist.”

Teabing sighed. “I apologize if I am pressing, Miss Neveu. Clearly I have always believed these documents should be made public, but in the end the decision belongs to you. I simply feel it is important

that you begin to think about what happens should we succeed in opening the keystone.”

“Gentlemen,” Sophie said, her voice firm. “To quote your words, ‘You do not find the Grail, the Grail finds you.’ I am going to trust that the Grail has found me for a reason, and when the time comes, I will know what to do.”

Both of them looked startled.

“So then,” she said, motioning to the rosewood box. “Let’s move on.”

CHAPTER 70

Standing in the drawing room of Château Villette, Lieutenant Collet watched the dying fire and felt despondent. Captain Fache had arrived moments earlier and was now in the next room, yelling into the phone, trying to coordinate the failed attempt to locate the missing Range Rover.

It could be anywhere by now, Collet thought.

Having disobeyed Fache’s direct orders and lost Langdon for a second time, Collet was grateful that PTS had located a bullet hole in the floor, which at least corroborated Collet’s claims that a shot had been fired. Still, Fache’s mood was sour, and Collet sensed there would be dire repercussions when the dust settled.

Unfortunately, the clues they were turning up here seemed to shed no light at all on what was going on or who was involved. The black Audi outside had been rented in a false name with false credit card numbers, and the prints in the car matched nothing in the Interpol database.

Another agent hurried into the living room, his eyes urgent. “Where’s Captain Fache?”

Collet barely looked up from the burning embers. “He’s on the phone.”

“I’m off the phone,” Fache snapped, stalking into the room. “What have you got?”

The second agent said, “Sir, Central just heard from André Vernet at the Depository Bank of Zurich. He wants to talk to you privately. He is changing his story.”

“Oh?” Fache said. Now Collet looked up.

“Vernet is admitting that Langdon and Neveu spent time inside his bank tonight.”

“We figured that out,” Fache said. “Why did Vernet lie about it?” “He said he’ll talk only to you, but he’s agreed to cooperate fully.” “In exchange for what?”

“For our keeping his bank’s name out of the news and also for helping him recover some stolen property. It sounds like Langdon and Neveu stole something from Saunière’s account.”

“What?” Collet blurted. “How?”

Fache never flinched, his eyes riveted on the second agent. “What did they steal?”

“Vernet didn’t elaborate, but he sounds like he’s willing to do anything to get it back.”

Collet tried to imagine how this could happen. Maybe Langdon and Neveu had held a bank employee at gunpoint? Maybe they forced Vernet to open Saunière’s account and facilitate an escape in the armored truck. As feasible as it was, Collet was having trouble believing Sophie Neveu could be involved in anything like that.

From the kitchen, another agent yelled to Fache. “Captain? I’m going through Mr. Teabing’s speed dial numbers, and I’m on the phone with Le Bourget Airfield. I’ve got some bad news.”

Thirty seconds later, Fache was packing up and preparing to leave Château Villette. He had just learned that Teabing kept a private jet nearby at Le Bourget Airfield and that the plane had taken off about a half hour ago.

The Bourget representative on the phone had claimed not to know who was on the plane or where it was headed. The takeoff had been unscheduled, and no flight plan had been logged. Highly illegal, even for a small airfield. Fache was certain that by applying the right pressure, he could get the answers he was looking for.

“Lieutenant Collet,” Fache barked, heading for the door. “I have no choice but to leave you in charge of the PTS investigation here. Try to do something right for a change.”

CHAPTER 71

As the Hawker leveled off, with its nose aimed for England, Langdon carefully lifted the rosewood box from his lap, where he had been protecting it during takeoff. Now, as he set the box on the table, he could sense Sophie and Teabing leaning forward with anticipation.

Unlatching the lid and opening the box, Langdon turned his attention not to the lettered dials of the cryptex, but rather to the tiny hole on the underside of the box lid. Using the tip of a pen, he carefully removed the inlaid Rose on top and revealed the text beneath it. Sub Rosa, he mused, hoping a fresh look at the text would bring clarity. Focusing all his energies, Langdon studied the strange text.

After several seconds, he began to feel the initial frustration resurfacing. “Leigh, I just can’t seem to place it.”

From where Sophie was seated across the table, she could not yet see the text, but Langdon’s inability to immediately identify the language surprised her. My grandfather spoke a language so obscure that even a symbologist can’t identify it? She quickly realized she should not find this surprising. This would not be the first secret Jacques Saunière had kept from his granddaughter.

Opposite Sophie, Leigh Teabing felt ready to burst. Eager for his chance to see the text, he quivered with excitement, leaning in, trying to see around Langdon, who was still hunched over the box.

“I don’t know,” Langdon whispered intently. “My first guess is a Semitic, but now I’m not so sure. Most primary Semitics include nekkudot. This has none.”

“Probably ancient,” Teabing offered.

“Nekkudot?” Sophie inquired.

Teabing never took his eyes from the box. “Most modern Semitic alphabets have no vowels and use nekkudot—tiny dots and dashes written either below or within the consonants—to indicate what vowel sound accompanies them. Historically speaking, nekkudot are a relatively modern addition to language.”

Langdon was still hovering over the script. “A Sephardic transliteration, perhaps …?”

Teabing could bear it no longer. “Perhaps if I just …” Reaching over, he edged the box away from Langdon and pulled it toward himself. No doubt Langdon had a solid familiarity with the standard ancients—Greek, Latin, the Romances—but from the fleeting glance Teabing had of this language, he thought it looked more specialized, possibly a Rashi script or a STA”M with crowns.

Taking a deep breath, Teabing feasted his eyes upon the engraving. He said nothing for a very long time. With each passing second, Teabing felt his confidence deflating. “I’m astonished,” he said. “This language looks like nothing I’ve ever seen!”

Langdon slumped.

“Might I see it?” Sophie asked.

Teabing pretended not to hear her. “Robert, you said earlier that you thought you’d seen something like this before?”

Langdon looked vexed. “I thought so. I’m not sure. The script looks familiar somehow.”

“Leigh?” Sophie repeated, clearly not appreciating being left out of the discussion. “Might I have a look at the box my grandfather made?”

“Of course, dear,” Teabing said, pushing it over to her. He hadn’t meant to sound belittling, and yet Sophie Neveu was light-years out

of her league. If a British Royal Historian and a Harvard symbologist could not even identify the language—

“Aah,” Sophie said, seconds after examining the box. “I should have guessed.”

Teabing and Langdon turned in unison, staring at her. “Guessed what?” Teabing demanded.

Sophie shrugged. “Guessed that this would be the language my grandfather would have used.”

“You’re saying you can read this text?” Teabing exclaimed.

“Quite easily,” Sophie chimed, obviously enjoying herself now. “My grandfather taught me this language when I was only six years old. I’m fluent.” She leaned across the table and fixed Teabing with an admonishing glare. “And frankly, sir, considering your allegiance to the Crown, I’m a little surprised you didn’t recognize it.”

In a flash, Langdon knew.

No wonder the script looks so damned familiar!

Several years ago, Langdon had attended an event at Harvard’s Fogg Museum. Harvard dropout Bill Gates had returned to his alma mater to lend to the museum one of his priceless acquisitions— eighteen sheets of paper he had recently purchased at auction from the Armand Hammar Estate.

His winning bid—a cool $30.8 million.

The author of the pages—Leonardo da Vinci.

The eighteen folios—now known as Leonardo’s Codex Leicester after their famous owner, the Earl of Leicester—were all that remained of one of Leonardo’s most fascinating notebooks: essays and drawings outlining Da Vinci’s progressive theories on astronomy, geology, archaeology, and hydrology.

Langdon would never forget his reaction after waiting in line and finally viewing the priceless parchment. Utter letdown. The pages were unintelligible. Despite being beautifully preserved and written in an impeccably neat penmanship—crimson ink on cream paper— the codex looked like gibberish. At first Langdon thought he could not read them because Da Vinci wrote his notebooks in an archaic Italian. But after studying them more closely, he realized he could not identify a single Italian word, or even one letter.

“Try this, sir,” whispered the female docent at the display case. She motioned to a hand mirror affixed to the display on a chain. Langdon picked it up and examined the text in the mirror’s surface.