The Chronicle of Belthaeous
by John W. Steele
Chapter 11: The Koan Defeated
I knew the voice but not the man. I felt a presence, and I glanced over my shoulder. Jigme stood behind me, a defiant grin curled in his lips. He looked different now, his face bolder and his eyes lifeless. Broken yellow teeth peered from behind his smile and furrows lined his forehead. Scars I’d never noticed were etched in his features, and he looked much older. I marveled that he now spoke in perfect English and I realized somehow he’d cloaked his true identity.
The Guardian stood as though dumbstruck, and the electric intensity drained from his eye. He gazed at Jigme and lowered his sword. “There are traces of ego in your voice, demon. You have fathomed I but you do not understand who.”
Jigme swaggered forward. In a scathing voice he spat, “It matters not whether my understanding is worthy, Jerus. I know the answer to this koan is permitted.
“Belthaeous conceived the question over a thousand years ago. The koan has been passed orally from master to student for ages. Three high lamas held the flame to the Lamp of Mammon. Before they passed into the Astral, they imparted the illumination to selected demonic chelas. The priests were then murdered, and the newly enlightened monks were ordained as high lamas. I was last in this lineage, and that is how the koan endured.”
The Guardian swung his saber, and it whistled in the air like the thong of a bullwhip. He frowned and held the weapon before him. “Lies and treachery, traitor! The Dharma will not be defiled! I challenged Nacroanus to answer the koan. The demon could not fathom the Dharma. Therefore you all must die.”
Jigme pointed his finger at the monster. “Lies and treachery sustain this dimension, priest. Wisdom holds no power in Mammon’s domain. You did not say the challenger must understand the koan. You said he must answer it.”
Jigme turned and faced Nacroanus. They shared a long, sustained look, their eyes twinkling like thieves’. “To what does ‘one’ reduce, Dr. Nacroanus?”
“Infinity,” Adrian replied, and they shook with laughter.
With the speed of a viper, the Guardian shot forth his hand and snatched up the wasp buzzing at his brow. He glared at his fist, and a sound like the crackle of cellophane cut the air. He raised a scale and placed the hornet in the balance pan. The pointer measured even, and he lowered his head.
“My master would not have accepted a tip-of-the-tongue taste of awakening such as you offer, but your answer cannot be discarded. There is nothing I can do. Belthaeous designed the scale. When measured on the balance, the words hold authority. Alas, it was all a lie.”
The warrior opened his arms to the arena. “Behold the bones of those who have preceded thee, demon. For honor, I slay them all. But I see now that I killed them for nothing. Belthaeous did not fully interpret the treachery of the discursive mind. The will of Mammon must reign forever supreme in the virtual reality. All laws in his domain are based on appearances and are perceived as truth.”
“And because of your transgression you must deliver the Avatar to us, priest. It is the law.” Jigme raised his right hand and covered his eye, to mock him.
When he spoke, his tongue darted like a serpent’s. “You’re a fool, Jerus. You answered the koan through the power of your Zazen. That is why you were the one deemed worthy to protect the angel. But those destined to inherit Mammon’s empire were granted the answer for nothing. They did not struggle nor did they perceive, for Light is an abomination to us.
“Because you are one mind, Belthaeous placed his inka upon you and formally acknowledged that you were the true heir to the Dharma. That made you dangerous.
“The Vulpeculans placed you in the center of power, where they could keep an eye on you. In time, your vestigial eye developed until you were capable of great magic. Even the Lord of Death feared you. Such is your attention that you’ve remained here untouched by the Aeon of Time.”
Jigme laughed aloud. “Despite the depth of your Light, we marvel at the gullibility of your kind priest. Even when the truth lies naked and exposed before them, they cling to our lies and curse anyone who defies us.
“You’re a freak, Jerus. Your heart is courageous, noble, and sincere, qualities Mammon abhors. You’ve guarded Belthaeous with your life, and for your loyalty, you will lose your life and the Avatar. It will be as written in the scrolls:
Whosoever shall defeat the Guardian will claim favor with darkness. And I will place in his command the Shadow of Life, and they will dwell with me in the realm of illusion forever and ever.
A single silver tear dripped from the monster’s eye, and fell to the emerald sea, where it formed a diamond. Jerus removed his helmet and cast it onto the sand. “At last I understand, demon. You have revealed to me the power of treachery, but you will never understand the power of Light.
“The world of Mammon exists as an extension of his consciousness, an illusion without substance. In this dimension of shadows, no truth can survive. It is corrupted the moment it enters the maw of the hologram.”
He raised the balance and measured it once again, then frowned and cast it to the desert, where it landed with a clang. “All is well, demon. I have grown weary. My body is broken and covered with scars from battles fought and vigils endured. My wounds no longer heal, and all my bones are out of joint.
“I have honored the Light, and my heart is clean. One more duty and my labors here will be finished. Belthaeous is yours. He will come to you when I have completed my purpose and my service in this hell has expired.
“But remember, demon, the Chronicle of Belthaeous is indiscernible for those without conscience. Not all of the scrolls have been revealed. And I have studied for a long time... a very long time.”
The Guardian fell to one knee, he raised his eyes to the heavens and proclaimed. “O my Creator, in my darkest hour you will not abandon me. All you have shown me, and in my final moments I at last understand:
Words do little
Who they are
Or what they feel.
The sky grew black as pitch, and the portal overhead transformed to a prison door with all exits blocked.
The Guardian gazed at the vaulted paradise and laughed. “It is good that I am now outcast from Nirvana, for the Astral cannot hold one who can see. Done is all that needed to be done. The causes have cycled to an end. After an eternity of doubt I will transcend all fetters, both human and holy.
“Of my own volition I have loosed the shackle of birth and death. At last I am extinct and freed from the bondage of this evil dimension.”
In a voice that transcended heaven and earth the monster cried:
Forever a bird in a cage,
A heart too blind to see.
Through endless tears
And endless trials,
At last a soul set free.
The mighty one rose to his feet and loosed a poniard from the sheath at his waist. He placed the tine to his throat. In a voice that caused my ears to ring, he cried, “Katsu!”
With a flick of his arm, the giant drew the razor from ear to ear.
The monster’s head fell forward, and the air leaked from his lungs. The world stopped spinning, and all was silent.
From behind him, the snow-white dove arose and ascended into the sky. The bird sailed ever higher until it entered a shimmering cosmic wormhole that had been prepared for it.
Adrian exploded with laughter. He opened wide his arms and proclaimed, “It’s all mine. The earth and its bounty of Light are mine to command.”
I sensed the passing of the Guardian held a greater significance. We’d entered the eye of the hurricane, and I knew it.
The body of the martyr remained erect. A golden mist seeped from the roof of its skull and gradually its body coagulated to wax. Without warning, a burst of flame ignited at its feet and the corpse transformed to a raging pillar of fire.
The flame singed our hair and we recoiled from the searing pyre.
I watched the Shaman’s flesh stream like lava to the desert floor. The spectacle enthralled us, and we gaped at the cremation for a long time. When, at last, the fire died, all but a tiny cone of bone-white ash remained.
I turned to Adrian. “What do we do now?”
He said nothing his face fixed with an impish grin.
Far to the north, a gale hissed down from the mountain. A tornado arose and stormed across the desert. The force drew nigh and devoured the dust in its vortex.
The whirlwind raged about us like some kind of angry deity and then lifted the ashes and carried them into the desert. I stared in awe and watched the twister return to the mountain, where it merged with the snow-capped peaks. When it was over, not a trace of the Guardian could be found. It was as though he had never existed.
With no warning, a great thunder shook the heavens, and lightning filled the sky. The desert trembled, and fissures opened wide on its surface. A terrifying earthquake surrounded us, and I feared for my life.
Like some kind of surreal nightmare, the flaming sun flickered and collapsed like an imploding star. The great luminary tumbled from the firmament and crashed on the distant horizon. The sky dissolved, and a nameless darkness descended over us.
I cried out to Adrian and reached for his hand. “How will we ever find our way out of here?”
“Fear not, my son,” he said. “In time, our truth will become yours. Surrender your will to Mammon, and darkness will become your light. Soon the Shadow of Life will awaken. The power of Mammon will deliver us, and we shall surrender Belthaeous to the struggling masses.”
Adrian fell to his knees. He pulled me to the sand and cried, “Repeat after me, Rodney. Mammon will hear our prayer.”
I echoed his words, and we worshipped the beast in fear and in darkness for a long time.
Copyright © 2014 by John W. Steele