It was the shaman.

“You had better follow me,” he told Angell. “The other way is a death trap.”

“Who are they? Who tossed the grenade at us? Al Qaeda? Taliban?”

The shaman pulled at Angell’s sleeve, leading him down a separate tunnel running roughly perpendicular to the main tunnel system.

“You might as well ask ‘Christians? Muslims? Buddhists? Maybe even the Jews?’ What difference does the uniform make? They are all fighting for the same side.”

“What side? God, or the Devil?”

The shaman turned on him, nearly screaming in his face:

“There is no God! Don’t you understand? There is no God! There is no Devil! There is only us and them!”

From the cave entrance they could hear shots being fired. Angell froze, thinking of his friend standing there all alone with a limited supply of ammunition and no one coming to help him.

“We’ve got to go back. We’ve got to find help!”

“There is no help the other way. You have to trust me.”

He dragged the confused professor down the tunnel. They seemed to be descending. There was dampness on the walls and floor, water seeping into the cave structure.

“If there is no God or Devil, then who are you? What are you? What is a shaman or a priest without Gods and Devils?”

The shaman considered how to answer the college professor in a way he would understand, but eventually gave that up as hopeless. Training, even academic training, creates a kind of worldview that is difficult to dislodge, even with the challenge of living experience of the world.

They descended a few more feet, the angle of descent becoming uncomfortably steep, requiring them to hold onto the wall for support to keep from tipping over. The sound of their footsteps echoed ahead of them. “It is not about the gods and devils that populate the storybooks we give children. And when it comes to God, we are all children. There is no mature way of understanding the concept of God, except maybe total disbelief. The problem is that disbelief does not proceed from knowledge

but from suspicion.”

The distant sound of another round fired made Angell sick to his stomach, and this pontificating old shaman was not helping.

“I have read all your atheists. Dawkins, Hitchins, even the French. What do they have in common, all these atheists? They complain about religion because of religious wars. As if you could separate violence from men by removing religion. They do not write as scientists, but as jilted lovers. Dawkins, Hitchins … they are schoolgirls whose boyfriends have dumped them. They have seen only one aspect of God, the fact that he has abandoned them. So they say he does not exist, because he does not exist where they are. Just like schoolgirls who cover their ears, or who cross out

their boyfriend’s name from their notebooks. Abandonment does not mean non-existence.”

That word again. Abandonment. Al-Qhadhulu: the Abandoner. “So what do you believe?”

“Believe? Nothing. There are things that I know, and things that I suspect. As what you call a shaman my job is to keep looking.”

“And who are you looking for?”

“The King of the World,” he replied, as they turned a corner in the tunnel they were in and came upon a large area in which they could stand upright. The shaman took a match from a pocket in his padded tunic and lit a lantern, casting a soft glow of light around the tunnel walls.

“And the King of the World is here.”

At the cave entrance, Adnan has made every shot count.

Two men are on the ground at the entrance, either dead or dying. The leaders of the assault know that they cannot afford an all-out attack without blowing up the entire cave entrance, an option they don’t really have because they need to get into the cave. They discussed simply blowing up the huge rock that stands in front of the entrance, thus allowing them to rush the shooter. They know they would lose a few men in the process but they would eventually gain access.

As for Adnan, he cannot afford to get too close to the entrance in case they have a sniper good enough to pick him off. He is much safer staying where he is, but he can’t help wondering what has happened to Angell and the reinforcements he desperately needs.

He checks his ammunition. He still has seven bullets. In a moment, he will carefully approach the two bodies in the entrance and see if he can relieve them of their weapons. He can use every gun, every round of ammunition.

He tries to slow down his breathing and calm himself, knowing he needs a steady hand now more than ever before in his entire life.

“The King of the World?” asks Angell in disbelief. The situation is dire, and the fate of everyone is in the hands of this maniac.

“He is everywhere.”

“And still you can’t find him?”

“You don’t find him. He finds you.”

Angell shrugged his shoulders in impatience. “That sounds like a fortune cookie.”

“The King of the World is everywhere, you understand? The surface of the Earth is quite big,” he moved his hands out from his body, indicating the girth of the world. Then he drew his hands together in a single fist. “The center of the Earth is quite small. Every point on the surface of the Earth can be connected to the center, to Aghartta. Aghartta is the hidden country, the beyul, of the other world—just as Shambhala is the center of this world.”

What the hell does that mean? thought Angell.

For the first time, as his eyes grew accustomed to the dim light in the shaman’s cavern, he saw words written in gold letters at the top of one wall:

“What does that mean?” he asked the shaman. The man looked up, and back to Angell.

“It means ‘the Cavern of Treasures.’” “Is that what this place is?”

“Not exactly. It’s where a terma was found. The Cavern of Treasures is a Bön text, a terma, and a critical one for it is written in both the Tibetan language and the language of Zhang-Zhung: the land of origin of our ancestors and their ancestral tongue. Another ‘hidden country.’ It was discovered in the eleventh century.”

“Is that why we’re here?”

“Oh, no. This is just one of many entrances to the sleeping place of the High Priest, the one you call Kutulu.”

“So … Kutulu is the King of the World?” Angell was by now thoroughly confused. It seemed no one was defining his terms, and if you didn’t agree on definitions then what sounded profound was most likely nonsense, and vice versa.

“From the point of view of certain European mystics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, yes. He is.”

“What about from your point of view?”

“We have a history, as human beings, of having kings who routinely destroy their kingdoms. In that sense then, yes, Kutulu is the King of the World. He is certainly its Destroyer.”

“Then … then why do these others call him? Why summon a King if the King can destroy them?”

“From fear, perhaps. They fear his power and rush to appease him, swear to him their allegiance, hoping to escape his wrath. From love, also. Some of his devotees truly love him and the destruction he represents. They want to see an end … and end … to all this.” He gestured to the cavern, the tunnels, the entire world.

“And they have a point. We are a failed experiment, a genetic mistake. The Neanderthals should have conquered us, not the other way around. The human race would have stayed stupid and naïve. Instead, we ate the forbidden fruit, started to think for ourselves, and here we are.”

It was silent outside the cavern. No longer any sound of gunfire. Angell was hoping this was a good sign, but he wondered where the others had gone to. Had they not heard the firefight?

“The place of Kusu-lu is the palace of Death. The Underworld. In the language of the old people, the people from before Babylon, he was called the Man of the Underworld. Kutulu.

“In our language he is a tulku. A tulku of darkness and hatred, to be sure, but a tulku nonetheless. He has had many names, was known to many tribes, all over the world. Some called him a god. Others, a devil. You know about the asuras and the devas?”

Angell nodded, wearily. “Of course. In India, a deva is a god and the asuras are demons. In Persia, asuras were gods and the devas were demons. That is where the English word devil comes from. From the Persian word for demon, from the Sanskrit word for god. Devil, and divinity. Same root, opposite meanings.”

“So you see. It is all a matter of a point of view. Which side you are on, which side you oppose. In the end it matters little.

“The book you seek is what we call a terma, as I said. A buried treasure, a sacred writing that has been hidden for centuries. For millennia. Until the right time comes for it to be revealed. Many of Buddhism’s most important texts began as termas. But there are termas of evil as well as of good, just as there are evil tulkus. There are treasures whose burial place is a well of

serpents rather than the gems and flowers of the Pure Land. They have been hidden by the tulkus so they will not be destroyed. As evil as they are, they are still sacred because they reveal spiritual truths, and in a world with so many lies even an evil truth is something to treasure.

“This text, this evil terma, what you call the Necronomicon, calls upon the High Priest of the Great Old Ones. It can be discovered by high initiates, it is true, but only by those who have been summoned by the High Priest himself.”

“How does he summon followers if he is dead and buried?” The old Asian pointed to his own skull with a boney forefinger.

“With dreams. With visions. He calls upon them with his mind. He is a master of dreams. When the stars are right and when the number of his followers is great enough, they can raise the High Priest from his underworld sarcophagus.”

“With the Book.”

“Yes, with the Book. It contains formulas human beings require in order to communicate with the High Priest. With Kutulu. While the High Priest can forge the dreams of the unconscious or sleeping mortal, the mortal needs the formulas in the Book to open the Gates and awaken the Priest. He who does this, he who discovers not only the Book but understands its formulas, is what we call a terton: a discoverer of a terma. In other words, a kind of guru or teacher but more than that. Prophet, maybe.” He looks pointedly at Angell.

“But you said ‘when the stars are right.’ Is this some kind of astrological

…”

“This calculation of the stars is not astrology. It is pure astronomy. But it is not our astronomy, not a science of the Earth from the perspective of the Earth. The astronomy of the Great Old Ones is an arcane method that betrays its origins … how do you say this? … Out of space, out of time.”

Angell felt his heart sinking. The old guy was insane. This whole thing was insane. And now a decent human being, a brave man who is risking his life for him and for his mission, was in danger of dying a horrible death in an empty cave in the middle of nowhere. And what was he doing? Standing there, trying to reason with a madman.

The time was up. He had to go. He had to do something to salvage the mission and save his friends. He had no weapons, didn’t speak the local

language, had no contacts in this part of the world, and didn’t believe a blessed thing this guy was telling him. But he had to do something.

He turned to leave.

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

EXTRAORDINARY RENDITION

The shaman is the man who knows and remembers

—Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation

Jason Miller was on his way to the same location, but from a different approach.

He was running a penetration of the caverns below Khembalung from the Sino-Tibetan border side. The Chinese had been constructing a clandestine tunnel complex from the Tibetan side of the Himalayas, using a pre-existing tunnel system that had been known to only a few Bön priests in the past. Using a map that had been drawn long ago by the Chinese adventurers who had first come upon it in the days before the Boxer Rebellion, and amplified by details picked up during more recent interrogation sessions of Bön initiates, the Chinese had found the tunnel and had proceeded to enlarge the opening as well as dig deeper into the complex than even the Bön priests had before. So, while the JSOC team was penetrating deeply below the mountain on foot and by flashlight, Miller’s group was riding a rail car supplied with electric lighting. They were making good time. Their intelligence had shown them that the Keepers of the Book—whoever and whatever they were supposed to be— had preceded them into the caverns but they were sure there was no easy way for them to escape except through Miller’s tunnel.

The men accompanying Miller were members of a Tibetan underground movement with whom he had made contact years before when he was still working for the US military. If they were caught by Chinese security forces they would all be executed on the spot. Miller knew they were taking a terrible risk, but they knew the risk would be much greater should

they fail. The Tibetan calendar was showing some of the same details as those he had obtained from his own research and that of the astronomers at the Indian observatory at Mount Saraswati at Ladakh. His calculations showed that he—and the Keepers of the Book—had only a few hours before the alignment of stars and supernovae in the Great Bear signaled the time of the opening of the Gate. Miller’s intention is to make certain the Gate remains closed, and in order to do that he must seize the Book before Monroe’s people get hold of it. He believeed Monroe’s intentions were sinister, and that if his people have the Book or get it in time, they could— deliberately or accidentally—open the Gate themselves.

He recalled a moment shortly before he went AWOL. It was during the time of the Arab Spring. North Africa was being overrun by “mad Arabs.” Miller was getting messages through his remote viewing sessions that he was keeping from Monroe, Aubrey, and the rest. Messages he thought were for him, personally. When Monroe got wind of this, he went ballistic.