The Chronicle of Belthaeous
by John W. Steele
Rodney Neumann, a brilliant student of mathematics, has earned a scholarship at Columbia University. After years of spiritual struggle he has adopted materialism as his personal philosophy. In graduate school, he studies under, Dr. Adrian Nacroanus, an eccentric scientist who heads the Department of Genetic Engineering. The doctor’s advancements in biotechnology have earned him a reputation as a near-mythological being. In time, he and Rodney form a master-student relationship based on deep theosophical insights that Nacroanus reveals to him.
Dr. Nacroanus has developed a serum called Eternulum that he claims will increase human longevity. But before he can bestow his gift on humanity he must retrieve a mummified angel named Belthaeous, who has lain entombed in the Cave of the Ancients for thousands of years.
Rodney and Nacroanus journey to the Himalayas to find the hidden entity. Deep in the mountains, Rodney witnesses miracles that shatter his understanding of reality and confront him with forces of ultimate malevolence.
Chapter 2: Ascent to the Cave of the Ancients
Twenty Years Later
We trudged along ice slopes on the Path of Secrets in a range of mountains somewhere in the western Himalayas. Before us a steady incline ascended into the heavens, unwinding like a two-dimensional universe where earth and sky were one.
Ice-strewn ledges ran along the walls of the abyss. Some of the trails were less than a yard wide and opened to a yawning crevasse that fell to a jagged boulder-strewn valley three miles below.
The sheer magnitude of the mountains often produced extreme vertigo. I learned to focus my gaze on my feet or stare at the ice sheet directly in front of me. Already one in our party, an engineer named Raul, had fallen to his death, a victim of anoxia and the rapture of the hypnotic vastness that surrounded us like an ocean.
I didn’t know the name of the peak, and it did not appear on our maps. Our head Sherpa, Thrangu, claimed the mountain was sacred, and only the highest lamas knew the mantra that was its name.
According to Thrangu, knowledge of the mantra could summon the deity that dwelled there. He warned me to guard my thoughts because the mountain could see a mind’s interiors, and it sometimes killed people it found worthy as an offering. Though I was not a man of faith, I prayed beneath my breath that the mountain would spare me.
At the summit of the towering snowcap lay the treasure we were seeking: the avatar known as Belthaeous. Thrangu claimed that Belthaeous had been hidden in the Cave of the Ancients for over a thousand years, and that his resurrection from oblivion would usher in the new age for mankind, forever changing the destiny of the world.
I’d met Thrangu a year earlier when Genibolic Pharmaceutical brought him and a party of several dozen Sherpa guides to Canada to train on the equipment that would be used on the expedition. He was a likeable sort, and even though I didn’t understand his ways or his beliefs, we hit it off immediately.
Though I found him fascinating, I sensed he was just another eccentric heathen that dwelled in this impoverished pocket of desolation at the top of the world. But I humored him because of his hypnotic sincerity and his uncanny feats of magic.
According to Thrangu, the Avatar Belthaeous would exert great influence over the hearts and minds of men. Thrangu claimed the Avatar was benevolent, but I’d seen enough of what power does to people, and I didn’t believe it. In my experience, great authority and depravity were synonymous, regardless of the culture where it thrived.
Despite his peculiar nature, I’d learned many things from Thrangu. I looked to him for guidance about the teachings and customs I encountered in this inhospitable wilderness. Thrangu possessed awareness beyond the rigid borders of intellect, and his instincts were deadly accurate.
The frigid air at this altitude scorched the inside of my nose. Each labored breath felt like inhaling fumes of acid. I stopped checking my thermometer at twenty-one thousand feet. I spit, and it froze in mid air, landing on the ice floor like a tiny ivory pebble. Because of this, I knew we’d surpassed fifty degrees below zero.
The cold seeped into my boots, and my feet burned. I was deathly afraid of hypothermia; I’d seen what it can do. Extreme cold can cause hallucinations. Thrangu told me about a climber who suffered from severe exposure. The man chewed off his frostbitten fingers because he thought they were chocolate bars.
I could not understand why this area of the mountains had remained pristine, as if untouched by the hand of civilized man. The ranges we’d crossed to get here were littered with trash and the remnants of previous climbing expeditions. I didn’t blame the mountains for being angry. Empty canisters of oxygen, discarded clothing, food containers, and even raw garbage abounded in the other places we’d seen.
The debris reminded me of the aftermath I’d witnessed in the mud-caked fields of Woodstock years ago. But here no trash could be found. The snow flowed as smoothly as glass, as if it had never been tread upon. This area appeared to be inaccessible to Westerners.
It mattered little to me, though. If you’ve seen one peak, you’ve seen them all. I couldn’t wait to escape from this ice-crusted hell and return to a warm bed with my arms and legs wrapped around Heidi’s naked body.
Thrangu asserted this place was the home of the Super Bliss deities. Despite the awesome panorama displayed when the clouds dissipated, I shuddered to think what kind of mind would find this airless environment precious. Then I remembered what Thrangu said about consciousness: In eating, sleeping, fearing, and copulating, beasts, men, and gods are alike. Heaven, earth, and hell are one, the only difference is perception.
Of course, this proverb came from a man who never imagined indoor plumbing. He’d lived his entire life on a diet of yak butter and barley, so I wasn’t convinced he had the experience to make such a statement. But supposedly these natives possessed an esoteric knowledge unknown to the rest of the world. The fact that he and his kind had been able to survive here was a tribute to something, but I wondered if it wasn’t stupidity.
Dr. Nacroanus referred to the Sherpas as “ice monkeys,” and he didn’t think much of them. Of course he didn’t think much of anyone but himself.
I’d seen a good deal of the world, and thus far I’d determined that this ungodly place had no parallel on the planet. It existed as an inhospitable pocket of wonder and hardship beyond civilized understanding. The rules of logic and reason had no meaning here. Hidden laws and mysteries abounded in the sky, the ice, the crevasses, and the superstitious natives that called this place the road to awe.
A naked truth permeated every atom that formed the landscape, a brutal force that would squash you like a fly if you failed to acknowledge it.
Regardless of the discomfort, Dr. Nacroanus did not appear distressed by the conditions. The Sherpa had hitched him to a stout lanyard and several of the powerful guides all but carried him up the pass.
His gait was guarded and unsteady like a drunkard struggling to walk on a tightrope, but he couldn’t fall if he wanted to. The guides surrounding him had been chosen for their strength and endurance. Seven of them were assigned to care for and assist Adrian on the journey, and they hovered around him like bees guarding a queen.
The Sherpas carried Adrian’s oxygen canister and all of our scientific instruments. His only responsibility was to supervise the expedition and ensure the safe return of the mummified angel Belthaeous.
Five days into the journey, and I wondered if I had the stamina to survive the assault, but Dr. Nacroanus seemed oblivious to the harsh conditions. I’d never known anyone so frail and yet so determined.
It bothered me that he wouldn’t trust me to retrieve the Avatar... if there was an Avatar. His lack of faith in my judgment created in me a sense of humiliation. He claimed I depended too much on hope, and that someday my lack of commitment would destroy me.
I warned him that this ice-littered Hades was no place for a man his age. But he insisted the entire experiment depended on his understanding of cryogenics and the secrets he’d unlocked regarding the biochemical processes involved in nerve cell physiology. Of course he was right; he was always right. He was probably right about me as well.
When I tried to reason with him about the dangers we’d face, he grew angry. “The body of the Avatar must not be tampered with in any way or my life’s purpose will be destroyed,” he said.
I dared not pursue the issue. I’d seen his mood swings grow more violent over the years, and I’d learned to fear them.
The wind grew colder and the darkness gained intensity. Since the start of our trek to the summit, a feeling of anxiety had been gnawing persistently in my guts. I didn’t like this place. I didn’t like the cold or the brutally honest spirit of the environment. I didn’t like the ice crystals that formed in my nostrils and clung like plaster to my scratchy beard. I didn’t like the deity that dwelled here, and I certainly didn’t like the idea that it might hurl my body into the gorge as a sacrifice.
The icy wind bored into the marrow of my bones with agonizing malevolence. I cinched tight the drawstring of my parka, and we trudged onward.
Copyright © 2014 by John W. Steele