The Chronicle of Belthaeous
by John W. Steele
Chapter 3: Our Sherpa Guides
The fading sunlight cast grayscale shadows on the landscape, giving it a surreal appearance like the contrast in a photo negative. Perhaps a mile in the distance, the portal to the Cave of the Ancients peered from the apex of the natural stone pyramid that formed the summit.
I gazed at the formidable buttress leading to the cliff, and a feeling of dread tingled in my nerves. Something imperceptible changed, and an intangible pall now hung in the air like an aura portending the onset of an epileptic seizure. The wind began to howl, and ice crystals blasted my face.
Without warning, the sky transformed into an ominous shade of black pearl. Thrangu warned me of this, and he claimed an omen of this nature was a sure sign the mountain had acknowledged us.
I feared a blizzard would materialize on the narrow ridge. I’d been though several of these episodes, and they were never less than terrifying.
From out of nowhere, raging tempests roared down the slope in a fit of wrathful delirium. Whirlwinds spun like small tornadoes, flinging ice crystals with such velocity they could scrape the skin from unprotected flesh or seize a person like a kite and hurl him into the sky. Thrangu halted the caravan, and we huddled against the fury.
Then with the mercurial temperament of a premenstrual harpy, the storm lost its anger. The skies opened to reveal a stunning golden moon. The lunar surface shone resplendent with craters so well defined that the contours of their rims could be counted like the splines of an ancient galleon.
Deserts of rust-tinged sand spilled across the moonscape, and the hulking carapace of an extinct volcano lay in a footprint of silver magma.
Solar rays reflected from the moon, illuminating the terrestrial ice field below like a glowing mesa made of phosphorus. The mountain shone with supernal beauty, and I grew spellbound by the awesome display.
Like the cornea of a colossal eye, the haunting moon gazed upon us. But there was something missing in the cosmic theater: nothing but a black velvet emptiness surrounded this moon, and the heavens held no other celestial bodies. It appeared that the entire cosmos had withered away, leaving only an infinite vacuum absent of light. Why were there no stars in this paranormal wasteland?
Thrangu stood like an effigy of stone, his eyes transfixed on the cave.
The name Thrangu means “soaring vulture,” and somehow the moniker fit him like spandex. He was an anomaly in the world of men, and I’d never met anyone like him. He possessed a natural self-assurance, like a person mildly retarded and unencumbered by the hang-ups inherent in an overdeveloped ego. Inside and outside were the same in him, and I trusted him completely.
Thrangu could not be intimidated, and I’d never sensed any anxiety in him. But tonight he seemed edgy. His eyes held a spark of fear entirely out of character for this primitive Tibetan lama. I’d always drawn strength from his quiet courage, but here, as he stood in the shadow of the summit, I knew he felt anxious over something only he could see.
I dug my crampons into the ice and trudged the rutted incline to speak with him. At my approach, he pointed at Dr. Nacroanus and then gestured to his men. The Sherpa unloaded the sled that held much of our scientific equipment. With the coordinated performance of a finely tuned machine, they began to assemble the insulated nylon structures that would form our final camp.
When I drew closer, he bowed.
Thrangu was big as these natives go and stood nearly a fathom tall. His shoulders were broad and his neck squat and thick. His legs reminded me of tree stumps, stout tubes of muscle that pumped like the pistons of a diesel engine. They propelled his powerful body up the jagged ice field with the strength and agility of a mountain goat.
Beneath his hooded yak-wool parka, his shaven skull housed a force so robust that it defied anything the Western mind can imagine. I admired his tenacity and the natural confidence he revealed in the face of adversity. Thrangu was a species of humanity capable of surviving where not even the strongest animal can endure.
I knew he’d found a personal god; and though the divinity he adored was foreign to me, I sensed the power of this force inside him. He’d discovered something beyond the confines of this sorry world, and the evidence of his knowledge shone in his eyes.
Though I could not accept the outrageous claims of his mystical experiences, I knew he held a great secret. He’d been trained as a monk in the Potala since he was abandoned at the gate of the lamasery when a toddler.
For reasons he never revealed, he gave up his vows after forty years of deep spiritual practice and returned to the world of men... and women. Nevertheless, Thrangu was venerated by the others as a direct descendent of the Dharma, a living embodiment of the Lord Buddha.
I’d seen plenty of freaked-out egos in my travels. Adrian was one of them. But there is something about a genuine personality that cannot be imitated, a character that is unique. Thrangu was one of these nuggets that show up only a few times in a person’s life, and I’d grown to admire him deeply.
His face was a crowning evolutionary achievement, a mask of flesh cut with furrows like the bark of an ancient oak tree. His rutted forehead held creases and deep fissures. Yet the wrinkles weren’t like those of an old man. It was more like he’d been born with the crevices that lined his weathered face. The impressions were graceful and defined, like the etchings of a celestial artist. The haggard lines mirrored the character of his spirit.
The deepest furrow sat in the middle of his forehead, a gaping vertical indentation shaped like an almond. The crater looked as if at one time it contained an eye that had been plucked from the socket, leaving an empty healed-over gouge in his brow.
He claimed a high Mongol lama had drilled a hole in his forehead with a sliver of wood that had been hardened by fire and treated with herbs. According to him, this incident took place when he was quite young. He said the procedure augmented and expanded the awareness of his vestigial eye. I had no reason to doubt this, because he possessed amazing abilities.
Thrangu looked through me as though I were a pane of glass. He raised his arm and pointed at the dot on the rock face.
“That is temple of Belthaeous, and this as far as I go, Dr. Neuma,” he said in his broken Nepalese dialect. “I eat much dark energy to bring you here. I fear go any closer.”
“What do you mean, ‘eat dark energy?’” I asked. “The Archon has been dead for centuries, some say a thousands of years. I don’t fear the dead, Thrangu. They can’t harm you. Their hatred left this planet with them. But there’s always new stock to replace them.”
His breath flowed white in the air, and he hung his head. “Belthaeous live many years and bring much compassion on Earth. Not wise to disturb teacher like this... very bad magic. Stars respect Cave of Ancients. Stars have much pride, but they know someday they die. Avatar never die, so stars humbled and not shine here.”
I looked down at the simple barbarian. “Nonsense, the body is a nine-holed sack of meat. When the biochemical process expires, the carcass rots like any other pile of organic matter. The only evidence that it ever existed is what it leaves behind. I plan on leaving plenty. If you’re afraid, why did you agree to help us?”
His face drooped, and he stared into the snow. He kicked a stone of ice, and it bounced down into the gorge. I saw him shudder.
“Not so, Dr. Neuma, only soul is real, everything else imagination. I suffer all my life. Soon, I die. My body becomes garbage. One time, I want to taste sweet comfort of materialism and sensation. I know what I do. In this place, when man do wrong and know it, his deed grow by ten.”
“What makes you think you’re doing anything wrong?” I asked.
“Man knows when he wrong, just as bird knows how to fly. Nobody can tell. Avatar ancient and precious, I betray him for gold.”
I felt a twinge of pity for my innocent friend. “Well, if it’s any consolation, Thrangu, your sins will be forgiven.”
He looked up from the snow, a streak of silver light reflected from deep in his eyes, a sharp penetrating light as vivid as thunderbolt. “It not like West here. No sin ever forgiven. No god strong enough to forgive. That is why West irresponsible: no consequence for deed. Here we become what we do. Nothing save us from ourselves. In this place, life in all realms follow deed.”
I measured his words. “How do you know there is a life after death?”
“Many Aeons in next density, Dr. Neuma, telepath thought to us. I see them.”
“You’re not making any sense,” I said.
“That is why I do what I do,” Thrangu replied. “Do not envy the power of a sage, Dr. Neuma. They can see death. Great knowledge bring great suffering.”
I’d grown tired of debating with Thrangu. I’d learned that our words, even when identical, seldom meant the same thing. The biting cold caused my eyes to water, and my feet felt numb. “Why have we stopped? We’re only a few hours from the cave.”
“Not safe to travel in moonlight, Dr. Neuma. Moonbeams feed wrathful ghosts. We rest tonight. When morning, I send you to tomb of Belthaeous with my best boys. They find Belthaeous and bring him back to earth. Then our business finish. Nothing left but gold... and black energy.”
The light dimmed in Thrangu’s eyes, and his face hung like raw clay. A tear froze on his cheek, and twinkled in the moonlight, like a tiny crystal bead.
Copyright © 2014 by John W. Steele