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 10: To What Does ‘One’ Reduce?
Chapter 10: To What Does ‘One’ Reduce?
The Guardian lay sprawled on the desert floor. His breathing stilled, and the light of his countenance dimmed to chalk. A nasty premonition gnawed in my guts, and I feared what Adrian had done.
Like an effigy turned to flint, the Shaman’s robe began to petrify. Fissures opened on its surface, and the air trembled. A scream like the shattering of plate glass pierced the emptiness, and the priest burst into shards that spilled across the floor.
Nacroanus stared at the fragments. He laughed and kicked a splinter of chert at his feet. “Well, that takes care of that! Not much of a Guardian was he?”
He spat on the mound of rubble, then reloaded and slid the pistol into his holster. “We need to find Belthaeous. Go rouse the guides. They’re not getting paid to sit in a trance.”
A feeling of impending disaster hung in the air. Despite Adrian’s cocksure indifference, I knew the worst was yet to come.
A crater formed in the center of the mound, and the fragments began to swirl. A whirlpool appeared and the shards emptied into its maw. From deep in the vortex a gnarled fist arose, followed by a brawny arm and a powerful shoulder covered with scales.
With the strength of a volcano, a figure of terrifying design burst from the crater. Before us stood a mighty Titan, its armor glimmering like sunshine on water.
The monster looked down upon us. Its neck was the neck of a great bear, and its face, the face of a lion. One glaring orange eye sat in the center of its brow, and the horns of a bull protruded from the sides of its skull. Its feet were like the claws of an eagle armed with stout, fierce talons.
Four mighty arms shielded with brass gauntlets extended from the monster’s torso, and upon his skull sat a chromed Valsgard helmet.
The monster flexed and extended its arms, their tendons embossed like steel cables. In one hand, it held its saber; in another, a shield; in the third, a balance; and, in the fourth, it cupped a snow-white dove.
The Guardian growled its voice the roar of an ocean.
My throat felt dry, and my knees quaked, I stepped back, feeling sorely afraid.
The Titan gazed upon us, its mouth agape and its jaws rutted with double rows of sharp, crooked teeth. In a voice that rumbled through the vastness, it cried, “Who among you is worthy to behold the Avatar? For it is written that only those of one mind may approach him.”
Nacroanus did not retreat. He went for his gun, but the monster swung his shield and slapped the pistol from Adrian’s hands, knocking him to the ground.
“One should not be punished twice for the same offense, demon,” the monster roared. “I am not like you. I will give you a chance to defeat me in mortal combat. We will battle as equals, unlike cowards who engage only in battles they cannot lose. I have pledged to protect Belthaeous with my life, and I will fight to the death to honor my vow. But I warn you: if you cannot defeat me, your death is assured.”
The Guardian hid the dove behind his back, protecting the bird like the fragile thing it was.
Nacroanus rubbed his arm and grimaced. He rose to his knees and cradled his arm to his chest. “The Angel is destined to leave this place just as the scrolls predicted. Why do you stand in our way? By what power do you claim the authority to possess the Avatar?”
Jerus turned and pointed his sword at a wall along the perimeter of the arena. He uttered the word Suskichiwa, and the rock barrier opened. “Behold, demon, the Archive of Man.”
Before us a library of boundless dimension sat in the cavern. The archive extended deep into the mountain. Within the grotto were shelves and cases, and a vast accumulation of books. Stacked about like cordwood lay parchments and scrolls. Tables cluttered with maps and documents of every description lined the interior.
“This, demon, is the chronicle of man’s devolution from a perfected being to a sack of meat. Every scrap of wisdom ever recorded by men of any vision can be found here. This archive contains the knowledge of the ages. Many of these documents were rescued from the Library at Alexandria before the demons torched it to the ground.
“For a thousand years, I have studied the contents of this domain, poring over the scriptures and seeking their meaning. But after an age of contemplation, I have learned that the path to freedom cannot be found in words or letters. A transmission outside the testament of the ancients is the flame that lights the lamp.”
Nacroanus rose to his feet, his face tense with fear. “Knowledge is wisdom,” he snarled. “Knowledge of the mechanics of mind, and the manipulation of thought brings power and glory to those who rule in Hell.”
The Guardian’s face contorted, and its eye grew ferocious. “Knowledge is not wisdom, demon, nor is there salvation in words. For much wisdom brings much suffering. And in the tribulation, words fail to bring aegis. What the ancients left behind is but the skeleton of their ideas now bleached and lifeless on the desert of mortality. Knowledge begets wisdom only through trial.
“Gird up thy loins, demon, for an accounting is required of thee. Thou shalt face me in combat, and I shall rend thee to shreds and grind thy bones to powder.”
Nacroanus swallowed hard, and I saw him shudder. “Surely you’re a liar, Jerus. You said you would fight me fairly. But you’re ten times my size, and your strength is abominable.”
“The greatest strength is the power of will, demon. Because you are pathetic, I will engage you in Dharma combat. But fail the test, and you and the acolytes will die a violent and merciless death.”
The monster raised his sword and pointed it at the vast expanse. “Behold the corpses of those who trod before thee, all of them valiant, all of them deluded, all of them convinced they held the key to unlock the gate to the sacred one. But not one in their ranks understood the ultimate cause, and for their insolence they paid with their lives.
“Your understanding of the Chronicle is distorted. Belthaeous has decreed that only one worthy to answer his koan is destined to receive the canon. Prepare to die, demon.
“Here is the challenge, your only opportunity to defeat me for possession of the Avatar: All things reduce to one. To what does ‘one’ reduce?”
The blood drained from Adrian’s face. He looked down at the sand, then rubbed his brow and began to tremble. “What kind of nonsense is that fool? One can be reduced no further. It’s intellectually infeasible and mathematically impossible.”
“Wrong!” the giant bellowed. Jerus raised his sword, and I felt certain we were about to be cut to chunks like pigs in a stockyard.
Nacroanus dropped to his knees and buried his head in his arms.
A glimmer of light reflected from the saber of the towering Cyclops. Thoughts of Heidi tore through my mind, and great sorrow that I would not see her again consumed me. I tried to pray, but the words stuck in my throat.
From behind us a voice rang through the silence. “Oh, priest. All things reduce to one. And one reduces to infinity.” The words became form and the form sped towards the Guardian like an angry wasp.
Copyright © 2014 by John W. Steele