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The Dragons Of Bhutan

“John Dee,” intoned the hawk faced man reading a letter of introduction.

“At your service,” replied the Englishman, presenting his calling card.

Commodore Braxton took it with interest.

“You are Queen Elizabeth’s astrologer?” he asked.

Doctor Dee gave him the cold stare of a Victorian gentleman.

“Just making small talk,” added Braxton, “We are to meet your colleagues in Tibet, I understand. They are Doctor Paschal Beverly Randolph and his associate Emperor Norton I.”

“Please,” said Dee, tersely, “do not diminish me further with your foolish squabble.”

Commodore Braxton was an American and John Dee loathed Americans, especially when he found them outside of America. That an American was called the best muleskinner in Nepal was an insult to British intelligence. He signed the contract anyway and the two of them, with their Sherpa guides, set out for Tibet.

The going was slow, expensive and dangerous.

“Get on up there!” shouted the commodore, “Hah!”

“Why don’t you use the whip?” suggested Doctor Dee.

“If I used it on you would you go any faster?”

“I am not a mule!” answered the doctor.

“How fortunate for the mules,” remarked the commodore.

“I’ll have no more of your insults!”

“Then shut up and let me drive!”

All of John Dee’s prized possessions, but one, were in the hands of a rude American muleskinner and it caused him no end of misery. It was the one way to get his instruments to the Potala Palace. To find the lost city of Shambala he might need them all.

“You won’t need any of them,” Braxton had said, “Why don’t we just take the train?”

It was Braxton’s opinion that mule trains were a much safer way over the mountains.

“Are you mad?” Dee had replied, “Trains of thieves and murderers is what I say.”

They were climbing along the cliffs. The mules found it slow going and would soon be useless. High in the Himalayas the air was too thin, trails too narrow and mountains too steep. Braxton figured that in three or four days they would have to switch to Yaks. Until then the mules made a faster trek.

His first idea was to use Kiangs, a local breed, but cultural mores and the animal’s skittishness forced him to consider American bred mules. He’d built a prosperous business, which gave him a visible means of support and an excuse to be nosing around while seeking entrance to the lost city of Shambala.

“That’s why I have my instruments,” said Dee with satisfaction, “I will succeed where scores, nay hundreds, possibly thousands have failed.”

“I’m curious,” asked the commodore, “Once you find the entrance to the underworld, assuming that you do, how will you find Shambala?”

“I will see it in my mirror,” replied the good doctor.

“Understood,” answered Braxton, “but how will you know where to look?”

“You are an intelligent man fearless in the extreme,” replied Doctor Dee, “These are admirable qualities but they do not rectify the imbalances of the soul. You are not at fault for the circumstance of your birth, though it is no excuse for overreaching that for which you were born. The sooner you learn your place in the order of things the sooner you will be blessed with a vision of Shambala.”

“In other words, you don’t know,” answered Braxton.

“Knowledge springs from a pure heart, “replied Dee, “Your heart is all but pure!”

“Is that what you have against me?” asked the commodore.

“You are an American,” replied Doctor Dee, “a ruffian by birth with the pedigree of a convict. You are rude, uneducated, uncouth and devoid of respect for your betters!”

“You got me there,” answered Braxton and he led them higher into the mountains.

Lozang Gyatso, the fifth Dalai Lama of Tibet, built the White Palace. It was the seat of Tibetan government from sixteen forty-nine until Tenzin Gyatso, who was the fourteenth Dalai Lama, relocated the government to India in nineteen fifty-nine.

For all of those three hundred and ten years the palace sat atop the only accessible entrance to the underworld and the lost city of Shambala.

It had long been rumored, but no one knew the palace secrets, at least not Europeans. Many thought they knew, or imagined they knew, and even swore they new how to find the entrance to the caves that tunneled the Tibetan plateau. Commodore Braxton had spent much of his life looking for such an entrance and he only wished he knew.

He had debunked several possible locations. The North Pole: too wet and impossible to find. The South Pole: Robert Scott’s tragic death proved the hubris of trying to beat Antarctica. The Great Pyramid of Giza: perhaps for a cat but surely not a human. The Gobi Desert: no amount of looking ever found it, nor did he heed the tales of some super race and their super technology rendering the entrance invisible.

Other places were suggested as well. Mount Shasta: interesting choice, but California is about as far away from Tibet as one can get. Iguazu Falls, Brazil: you’ve got to be kidding. The Lost Continent of Atlantis: find one and you find the other? Even the White House, said some, was built atop the gates of perdition. Commodore Braxton thought it rather unlikely. Beyond that it was far too risky to attempt a discovery so the White Palace was it, by default.

The White Palace is an old part of the Potala Palace. It stands on the Marpo Ri, a tall mountain in the Lhasa Valley. It is intimidating like a fortress. It is over twelve thousand feet high. Braxton, John Dee and their Sherpa guides arrived there in the last week of September, eighteen sixty-two; one day before the first winter storm.

Doctor Randolph and Emperor Norton were already there. Dee was appalled to be the last to arrive and he let Braxton know it.

“Mules, you said! The fleetest feet in Nepal you said! We nearly met a tragic end on the fierce, remorseless trail. I shall not be needing your services in the future!” he railed.

“Good man!” admonished the emperor, rising in his umbrage, “Show your respect for the greatest adventurer the world has ever known.”

Dee looked warily at Commodore Braxton.

“Not him, you idiot, me! I will not have you insulting our guide,” declared Norton.

“We have no need for a guide,” scoffed Dee, “Certainly not for the likes of him! This muleskinner has not the Karmic weight to make such a journey!”

“And you do?” answered Norton, “Have you any idea how to find the lost city.”

“It is not lost to those who know the way,” replied Dee.

“You are not one of them,” said Norton.

“Angels shall guide my every step,” answered Dee, “By means of my scrying mirror I see their faces and they speak their words to me.”

“Gentlemen,” spoke Braxton, changing the subject, “I trust dinner was sumptuous.”

“If you call beetle soup and fry cakes sumptuous,” replied Randolph.

“Randolph is being extraordinarily unfair,” remarked Norton, “They were not beetles, they were fried dumplings. I have it on good account they are a favorite of His Holiness, the Dalia Lama himself.”

“A mendicants dish, I’m sure,” answered Braxton.

He removed a leather satchel from the floor and took from within it a parchment.

It was rolled onto a pair of teakwood scrolls engraved in Vietnamese.

As he unrolled the parchment the commodore weighed the souls of each of them.

Doctor Randolph was a mystic in search of a truth. Norton was an idealist with no doubt whatsoever of the inherent rightness of himself. John Dee was a shepherd in search of a flock and as caring as a country preacher with a bible in his hand.

The unrolled parchment revealed a map.

“This is the entrance,” said Braxton, referring to a drawing of what looked like steps.

“Where is this entrance, exactly?” wondered Dee.

“Across the courtyard, John, through the window there. It is called the Dragon Gate.”

“That’s it?” gasped Dee.

“I do believe so,” replied the commodore, “Tonight under cover of a storm we shall attempt to enter inside.”

“How can you be certain it will storm?” wondered Randolph.

“It always storms on nights like this,” replied Braxton.

The waiting provided an opportunity for further debate, a hobby for which Norton had an enormous appetite.

“It was a land built under ice!” he insisted, “Hyperborea has absolutely nothing to do with Shambala!”

“I say they are the same place!” declared Dee.

“Show me your proof!” challenged Norton.

“Gentlemen, there is room in the underworld for all wonders,” admonished Braxton.

“You have admitted that you have not been to Shambala,” reminded Dee.

“Though I have been to the underworld,” insisted Braxton, “and Shambala is not such a long way from Hyperborea if one knows how best to travel.”

“Suppose that at one time it did exist, but on the ice,” suggested Randolph, “We must not forget that Hyperboreans are said to live for a thousand years or more. If so, is it not possible that they relocated themselves when the ice began to recede?”

“It has not receded!” insisted Norton.

“You cannot know that,” scoffed Dee.

“There must have been a time when the ice was not as thick,” reasoned Randolph.

“Perhaps,” agreed Braxton, “In the future it will be possible to sail a submersible over the North Pole.”

“Which is exactly how the Hyperboreans did it,” added Emperor Norton, “It proves what I’ve been saying.”

“You claim to have visited the future?” asked Dee, ignoring Norton’s excellent point.

“You know as well as I that time is not what it seems to be,” replied Braxton, though the answer was a puzzle to Dee because he thought of himself as the timeliest man alive.

“How many fantastic lands may exist north of the mountains?” asked Dee, “Ancient Greeks called their own Hyperborea. They located it north of Thrace and beyond the land of the griffins. The Norse called it Asgard; they said it was doomed to destruction on the day of Ragnarok, yet to the Dalai Lama it may be found in the Himalayas by the deserving few who journey there. Need I go on?”

“These places are but entrances to a world that lies beneath our feet,” replied Norton, “One does not first need to agree that all entrances are the same entrance before agreeing that the lost worlds of Shambala, Asgard and Agartha may or may not be the same place. Good heavens, Asgard even sounds like Agartha and I doubt it is mere coincidence.”

“You are making my point, sir!” declared Dee.

“Nonsense,” countered Norton, “Your confusion results from your refusal to see that there are a score of entrances to the underworld and that they have a common destination: the city built by the survivors of the Titan Wars!

Adam Weishaupt Braxton, known to some as the commodore, wanted to believe that he alone knew what happened at the end of the Titan Wars. He wondered how the eccentric San Franciscan had come by his certain knowledge so Braxton was uncharacteristically silent.

The Dragon Gate stood closed, a sentinel in the thunderous night. Braxton approached it with a jangling set of keys. He had not let Dee bring his instruments, which was easy to do because Dee had somehow assumed that Braxton would be carrying them for him. Moments later the menacing gate swung wide with a shriek and a groan.

The gate was imposing, but to those who knew it’s history it was even more so. One could look through the iron bars and see only the garden within, but if one should open the gate and go through it one would not enter the garden. Instead, one would find oneself on a gently sloping path leading downwards into the earth, but one has to have the key. Merely scaling the gate deposits one in the garden and likewise if one finds a convenient way around.

Braxton learned of the key’s whereabouts in an unusual way: he took the information from the mind of a monk. He did not expect the gate to shriek upon swinging open. He could only hope it’s cry was masked by a growing storm.

“Gentlemen!” warned the commodore, “The road to Shambala is perilous. Demons great and small stalk these ways and care is of the utmost importance!”

“Yet you had me leave my precious instruments behind, knowing full well the dangers we would encounter; instruments designed to thwart such peril,” accused Doctor Dee.

“I am not your mule,” Braxton said wearily.

“And I was intending to record a history of this environment,” added Dee.

“Unless you wish to become one with this environment you will go quietly!”

The commodore’s advise was underlined by a pathetic moan that came from ahead.

“It is a sentinel in the dark,” said Braxton, “It is the first of many dangers.”

“Help me!” cried the tortured voice.

Randolph ran ahead, oblivious to Braxton’s warning.

The moaning man was chained to a stone. Upon seeing his predicament Doctor Randolph went swiftly to the man’s rescue. Before he got three steps further the commodore drew his Colt .36-caliber revolver and blew the sentinel’s head off.

Randolph was aghast.

“You murderer!” he cried.

“I did not bleach the bones at your feet,” declared Braxton, “Nor would I eat you from your neck on down. The fact that it was speaking English should have tipped you off.”

Randolph went many shades paler than his normal Malagasi brown. He was standing on a pile of bones.

“So much for the sentinel in the dark,” chuckled Norton, “Good riddance.”

“You think so?” wondered Braxton, holstering his weapon.

“One would hope so at the very least,” answered Randolph.

John Dee had seen it all in his scrying mirror.

“If I had my instruments…” he began.

“Shut up!” admonished the commodore.

“That was uncalled for,” remarked the emperor.

“Was it?” answered Braxton, “Do you know what lurks on the road to Shambala?”

Norton was silent.

“I thought not,” said the commodore, “From here we take a middle path. Do not help the guilty nor hinder the righteous. In the presence of evil we must be true to ourselves. Refuse help to anyone unless you are sure they are in trouble.”

“Understood,” agreed Doctor Randolph. They proceeded with caution.

The way through the underworld began as gentle descent peopled by demons. They had been warned not to enter but Braxton had not seen fit to forward the warnings. Their descent became steeper the farther they ventured into the caves. For light they had kerosene lamps which made malodorous smells in enclosed spaces, though Braxton was sure they would be rendered unnecessary as soon as they fell into Agartha.

In all they were six persons: Emperor Norton, Doctor Randolph, Doctor Dee, himself and two monks hiding in shadows. The monks thought they went unseen but Braxton knew they were there.

Through twists, turns and terrors of the caves they stayed with Braxton and his party. Every so often Norton, Randolph or Dee caught a glimpse of them, though none was as sure as Braxton that they meant no harm; indeed, that they were incapable of it.

“We are being followed,” Norton said at last, softly so as not to be overheard.

“Two persons,” said Braxton, as loud as you please, “One is the keeper of the Dragon Gate. He is Hinjari Lamasing and he is seventy-eight years old. He has seen every part of these caves but he has not found the way to Agartha. His companion is his twelve year old apprentice, Tashi Gyatso. They are no threat to us. One hopes we may find the way down and the other wishes he was back in bed. If they had any sense they would quit their secrecy and join us on our adventure.”

After which the commodore said quite a few words in Tibetan until Hinjari Lamasing stepped from the shadows. He spoke no English so they conversed in a Sikkimese dialect. Their companions, including young Tashi Gyatso, did not know what passed between them.

“You have taken the path of folly,” Hinjari told him.

“Only the foolish would venture into Agartha,” explained the commodore.

“You should have taken the path of truth,” Hinjari replied.

“Truth is what we perceive it to be,” answered Braxton, “It is the proper path if one wishes to walk in circles.”

Hinjari considered and understood.

“Have you a token for the gatekeeper?” he asked at last.

“I do,” said Braxton, eying the boy.

Hinjari avoided looking at his apprentice.

“He is already promised to them,” advised the monk.

“Splendid!” exclaimed the commodore.

The monk smiled and his apprentice smiled as well.

After many hours of walking down a steep incline they came to a sheer rock wall. The bones of unfortunates crunched beneath their feet.

“This is the door,” announced Braxton, “Stand aside!”

When the others were safely sheltered he approached the stone.

Running his hands over the rock Braxton inspected all parts of it. After brushing the dust aside he used his nails to find the crevices he knew must be there. Five minutes later a door was revealed, perfectly set in the stone.

“Aaahh!” said the old monk touching the door. It was warm to the touch.

As he stood there, contemplating the rock, it turned to dust before their eyes.

Hinjari Lamasing fell to the ground in mortal fear as Braxton stared at the being on the other side of the wall.

“Have you brought the boy?” asked the old one standing before them.

Hinjari lifted his face from the dirt to call for Tashi.

The boy came hesitantly, but with each step he was less afraid. Moments later the old one fell in a heap of flesh and bone. Tashi turned to face them, and though he was a boy his eyes were the eyes of an old one.

“You must have planned this!” accused Randolph, “How did you arrange for us to be met at the door?”

The commodore did not answer.

“Follow me,” said the old one who was now in Tashi’s body.

The boy was no longer a boy. It was a boy’s body, though Randolph knew an old one was inside it. What happened to the boy’s soul he cared not to guess.

“I demand to know what happened to his essence!” cried Randolph.

“Tashi is free to seek another incarnation,” answered Braxton.

Hinjari looked here and there, as if by looking he could hide from the truth.

“You condone such depravity?” demanded Doctor Randolph.

Hinjari didn’t answer, but he did understand; Randolph’s words were clear to anyone with an empathetic bone in their body.

“Am I to believe we shall kill our way to Shambala?” asked Emperor Norton.

“Seeking enlightenment in another man’s death is the oldest tradition on the face of this earth,” answered Braxton.

“I shall have no part of it!” declared Randolph.

“This is your part!” replied the commodore, “You alone care for the boy. If you turn back who will speak for him in the Halls of Shambala?”

The old one in the body of the boy walked on as if their words meant nothing at all.

It soon became apparent that the underworld glowed from within. Dee could not find one ray of the central sun he expected to see, though he had no problem seeing to the far wall of a cavern that fell to an abyss and rose to a ceiling hundreds of feet overhead.

They stayed to the middle of a wide bridge they did not recognize as one until they learned to judge distance. They saw they were crossing an immense ditch, beyond which there was no return, and they found it ever more difficult to put one foot in front of the other.

“Seekers of truth are often troubled by their entrance here,” encouraged Braxton, “yet knowledge is a just reward for the fearsome passage so the way is kept guarded.”

“There have been two deaths already,” reminded Randolph.

“Would you rather have been eaten by a sentinel in the dark?” asked Braxton, “The demon who would have tricked you is beyond the reach of death. By my counting we are one less fallen than we ought to be and you are the lucky one.”

Randolph could say nothing to that so he walked in silence, preferring to be awed by the spectacular vistas of the underworld.

Mile after mile of glowing rock marked their steps. A fire in the distance appeared to grow cold as they approached, becoming a soft light casting shadows as they left the bridge for a trail that cut like a furrow across the giant face of rock.

Recalling the legend, Dee took a last look back the way he had come. The path was falling away and the bridge was no longer there.

Hinjari was not Tibetan, he was Indian, and he was thought by some to be no better than an Englishman. India was tainted by Englishness so Hinjari was made gatekeeper of the Dragon Gate. In times of intrigue it was the most fatal of offices.

The Americans were unlike the Englishman, he thought. He wanted to run from John Dee because of his eyes, which were scryers searching his soul for it’s secrets. He was more comfortable with Randolph who had respect for the spirit of life, but the emperor was the man in charge. He rarely spoke, but when he did he had their rapt attention.

Braxton scared him half to death. It would be a mistake not to be scared like the others who obviously did not know that the American with the gun was the spirit of evil, and that he had come to feed on the souls of the old ones, and that he would betray them all.

It must be great magic, thought Hinjari, to require the sacrifice of four healthy men. He wondered how the others did not know they were going to die and he felt Braxton smile at the thought. It made him all the more afraid.

Hinjari was afraid because he had been warned. A great griffon had come to tell him.

One morning at dawn, while making his prayers, it landed on the sill of his window.

Two stories high it was, and there on the sill it glared at him with it’s dinosaur eyes as if to say ‘I’ll be back’, and it was back, every morning, until a nest was made under the eaves of Hinjari’s little cell. It laid it’s egg and left, never to return.

Days later Hinjari stole the egg. He meant to cook and eat it though it was light in his hand, and when he cracked it open maggots and other vermin came out of the shell. Since that day he had been preparing to die.

“I am not he you should fear,” said Braxton, in the dialect that only they understood.

Hinjari, upon hearing his thoughts spoken back to him, began to consider suicide.

“You fear the gods because their realm is beyond the boundary of space and time,” Braxton said in English, suddenly unconcerned that Hinjari would not understand.

“Boundaries,” corrected Emperor Norton.

“Excuse me?” said Braxton, suddenly knocked off his soapbox.

“Boundaries,” repeated the emperor, “You said boundary of space and time, as if they were one thing.”

“They are one thing, emperor.”

Doctor Randolph said nothing because he suspected it. Dee, however, was adamantly opposed to the idea.

“Space and time cannot be the same thing,” he said, “It is in factual opposition to the forces of nature.”

“How so?” wondered the commodore.

“The forces of nature are most potent when tended to in the perfect fashion that is the ideal of all that lives,” insisted Dee, “One look at an English garden illustrates this principle exactly. Where hedges are laid out in the best fashion, with geometrical complexity and a pleasing cast to the trained eye, even a hedge hog complies with the new order of things.”

“Mannerism, doctor, and discredited as you know,” chided Braxton, “I daresay, even your namesake, the real John Dee, astrologer to Queen Bess, sees the folly therein!”

Commodore Braxton stopped to examine evidence of human habitation.

He glanced around and up as well, to the ceiling of the underworld, though it couldn’t be seen through a florescent haze that obscured all distances.

“Ant people,” he said at last, “We must go with caution.”

The old one in the body of the Tashi Gyatso was fidgeting impatiently.

“When you see their signs they are already gone,” said the old one.

“Yet we are being watched,” observed the commodore.

“One is always being watched in Agartha,” the old one replied, “We are not far from New Lemuria.”

Not far is a relative term and John Dee, not knowing they had miles yet to travel, was already tasting a feast he knew must be set for them.

“Not so,” said Braxton, ending his reverie, “though I did bring a supply of jerky.”

“New Lemuria is somehow connected to Old Lemuria?” wondered Doctor Randolph.

“By geography alone,” answered Braxton, “The waves of a golden sea lap against her walls though she is not the city of old. Lemuria was laid to waste to end the Titan Wars. It was a tragedy of immense degree, but a blessing compared to what might have been.”

Already they saw the reach of her hand. Roads immune to the vagaries of time still stretched their way to a nothingness that remained buried even then. Whole worlds dropped like flies to an abyss so deep none knew, not even the old ones, what lay at the bottom, save fire, and that it must consume all who go there.

Braxton stopped and took a journal from his pocket.

“Good man, what you have there?” asked Norton, “Good heavens, it looks old. Is it a palimpsest? What ancient author was desecrated in the pursuit of heavenly chains?”

“It is the journal of Snorri Sturluson,” replied Braxton, not looking up.

“Your notes, sir! They are in the same hand as the author’s,” observed the emperor, “Identical as the case may be.”

“Perhaps he was an ancestor of mine,” Braxton replied.

“Perhaps,” agreed Norton, though he had come to another conclusion, “For whose eyes do you write? Runic Norse is not a well known tongue.”

“For a colleague,” answered the commodore, “Professor Lidenbrock of Hamburg. He will be most interested, I’m sure.”

“You are betraying a trust!” accused Norton, indignantly and devoid of doubt.

“I would be if I was telling the truth,” agreed Braxton.

He showed him the drawings he’d made to fool the foolish; pages and pages of them.

“I see no fossilized mushrooms,” said Norton, “nor do dinosaurs run rampant.”

Braxton returned the volume to his shirt pocket and said, “Shall we be getting on?”

The old one in the boy’s body led them further into darkness. The coronal glow of the underworld had long ago faded to a glimmer above their heads. Signs of the ant people were few but terrifying. More than once they came across unfortunate surface dwellers, eternally bound by roots in the soil. Down to the depths they were taken, drawn by the trees themselves in some gross facsimile of justice; feeding them and infusing them with a sort of sentience, but at the cost of human souls.

Braxton and his group could hardly close their ears to the laments of the sufferers in Hades, or Elfland, or Tarturus, or whatever they called their Hell.

“By what justice do these souls suffer?” wondered Doctor Randolph.

“It is not justice,” answered Braxton, “nor can you help. When they know a mouthful of soil is the all they will ever taste they will have accepted their fate.”

“That is the most despicable, the most disingenuous, the most utterly mad theology I have ever encountered,” spoke the doctor.

“It is the theology of the Earth,” said Braxton, “Here, her mind rules, not yours.”

“It is amiss,” judged Randolph, “Life feeds on life so without death it cannot be.”

“Enough!” barked the commodore, “We must not disadvantage ourselves before we get to Shambala.”

“And once we are there?” queried Randolph.

“Proceed as you see fit,” replied the commodore, “but remember: in Shambala you are on your own. It is the law of the land.”

“In Shambala,” agreed the old one, “no one speaks for another. In Shambala there are no secrets. You are completely on your own.”

Coming from the mouth of a child the words lacked gravitas. Nevertheless, a curious light enveloped the boy. It was that way for all young ones until they could acquire senses of the dark. The luminance of youth was their means of discovery. Braxton knew it and was taking advantage of it. It was part of the bargain he’d made with the old ones.

Agartha is vast. It underlies all the continents and by those who have returned it is said to underlie the sea as well. How deep in the depths life has made a home, no one knows. The farther down one goes, the older the life that is there, until one reaches the abode of the nearly eternal. Beyond that is a reckoning.

“Ant people!” warned the old one, “Get down!”

But they were already seen.

“Will you put this in your journal?” whispered Norton.

“No,” Braxton whispered back, “My lies are meant to discourage adventurous folly, not hasten it.”

“Quickly,” said the old one in the boy’s body.

Ahead was a tunnel. It was to be expected; the ant people knew where to find a steady meal. Fortunately their diet consisted of rodents, weasels, dogs and an occasional cat. They had not the means nor the strength to take down five healthy men.

Braxton was the last one down the tunnel. As he waited for others to be swallowed by darkness he held his thirty-six revolver in the steadiest hand that side of the wild west.

If one had of photograph of Commodore Braxton posing for posterity at the edge of the underworld one would see the epitome of the adventurer: self-sufficient, well-endowed and in control of his environment, or as much of it as can reasonably be expected.

Standing under the shadows of the earth, deeper than any European had gone before, he was not just a picture of bravery. He was a portrait in style.

With his khaki hat tipped to the right, it’s keeper stowed behind his head and his stockings swallowed by calf-high boots, Commodore Braxton might have been a poster for a Victorian revolution. Instead it was a passing moment, just one among many, and then he was fleeing down the tunnel like a mole.

Moments later he emerged into another world and the shouts of his compatriots.

“Hinjari!” cried Randolph.

“Hinjari!” cried Norton.

“He is no longer among us,” said the boy, devoid of emotion.

“What do you mean?” asked Randolph.

The old one replied by drawing his finger across his neck.

“He is lunch, I’m afraid,” agreed the commodore.

“How could you let this happen?” denounced the emperor.

“Veins of magnesium,” replied Braxton, “I could not use my weapon.”

“You let him die?” Randolph demanded to know.

“I bid him come,” answered the commodore, “He preferred a lesser evil.”

His sarcasm precluded further debate, as he knew it would.

“Great gods!” exclaimed Norton, “I do not believe what I see before me!”

Dee was climbing in the ruins, pacing and counting; turning, pacing and counting.

“What have you found, John?” cried Randolph.

“The Citadel of Beelzebub,” he replied, “Exact to measurements etched in the floor of the papal office in Florence.”

“There is no such floor and certainly no such citadel!” declared Braxton.

“I have secret knowledge,” Dee replied. Then he went back to pacing and counting.

The citadel, as he called it, was a pile of rocks at the edge of a golden sea where water lapped against a pebbled beach. A broken dock went a short distance and ended in a row of naked poles. Remains of a wall lay all around. Their shards made a beach where they stood.

Randolph stared across water so still a whole world was reflected in it’s surface. High to the west hung a yellow sun that was hot to the far shore of the sea.

“Come,” said the old one, “We have a long way to go.”

“What of New Lemuria?” wondered Randolph, and Dee was still pacing in the rocks.

“It is gone,” replied the old one, “They come and go, the homes of the aged. We have finite time to find a new host. When the time is past the old ones sicken and die.”

“Is that what happened to the New Lemurians?” asked Braxton.

“No,” replied the old one, “We have found new hosts, one and all.”

“Each of you?” pressed the commodore.

“All but four,” smiled the old one.

Again, Randolph went shades lighter than Malagasi brown.

“Fear not, doctor,” said Braxton, suppressing a laugh, “None of us is a child.”

The ruins of Lemuria went on for miles. At their edge was a forest of trees as tall as one might find on the surface, but they were unlike trees any had seen before. Their bark was smooth and hard as rock.

“A petrified forest,” reasoned Norton, “fallen by the weight of ash deposited upon it.”

“Do you suppose it grew on the surface before resting here at the waterside?” asked Braxton. It was a novel idea bearing a ring of truth. Did Norton just ascertain these things by means of osmosis?

“Where do trees go once covered by rock?” asked Norton, “The weight of the ground is often the maximum load of a cave. If this was not true cave-ins would be improbable, yet they are the greatest bane of miners. Ergo, the earth is incapable of traction beyond the weight it can support. Holes in the ground are the inevitable result. Is it a difficult logic to follow?”

The trek through the forest yielded another opportunity for Braxton to sully the facts.

“That formation,” he asked Doctor Dee, “Does it not look like an ape-man to you?”

“Don’t be preposterous,” Dee replied, “The ape-man would be twelve feet high and it would most assuredly not be an ape-man, but some man-like ape incapable of the arts which separate humans from the lower species of the earth.”

“As you say,” smiled Braxton and he wrote it into the journal of Snorri Sturluson.

At the edge of the forest they again found the underground sea.

“I had no idea the River Styx was actually an ocean,” announced Braxton.

Coming closer was Charon the boatman.

“Waters combine,” replied the old one, “Wherever one enters the underworld, Charon is compelled to attend. From here you will be led by the boatman.”

The water lapped in tiny waves at their feet. The ground below them fell gently under the surface. One could see the rocky bottom a hundred yards from shore.

Behind them was a wall of stone pocked with holes. Each led to a system of caves. It looked as if no one had walked that way for hundreds of years.

“A coin for the boatman,” said Charon.

“We have come through the Dragon Gate,” announced Braxton.

The boatman looked up. He drew back his cowl.

“You are not dead so you must answer four questions. The first is for Commodore Braxton. Who’s is the Power of Marduk?”

“The Power of Marduk is mine,” replied the commodore.

“The Power of Marduk belongs to no man!” said Charon and he let him pass because laboring mightily in Braxton’s soul was the light and power of the most chastened of the gods.

“Very well,” said the boatman, “This question is for Emperor Norton. When did the great San Francisco Earthquake occur?”

“That is hardly fair,” complained the emperor, “It is forty-four years from what I call today on a world I call mine, and with these parameters in mind I say with confidence it will happen, or happens as the case may be, in the year nineteen hundred and six.”

The boatman’s face fell as Norton stepped aboard.

“As for you,” Charon said to Randolph, “What goes on two legs in the morning, four legs in the afternoon and three legs in the evening?”

“I know that!” cried Randolph, “Deoxyribonucleic acid, the building blocks of life.”

Charon scowled as Randolph boarded. His little boat was so overloaded it was close to being swamped. The boatman eyed John Dee. He couldn’t take all four to Shambala. All he could do was ask a question so difficult, so mysterious and so utterly unknowable that no one could possibly answer it correctly.

“Doctor Dee,” he said, “Who is the Bearer of Light?”

Even without his scrying mirror John Dee suspected the truth. With the boatman’s question he was blessed with the epiphany.

“Commodore Braxton!” he shouted.

The boatman looked aghast. “I cannot take you all!” he wailed.

“Then I suppose that you will be staying behind,” said the commodore, “We shall get ourselves to Shambala.”

So it was that Commodore Braxton with great caution set sail upon the golden sea of the underworld. With him went Emperor Norton, Doctor Randolph and Doctor Dee.

The Golden Sea of the Underworld is not really gold. It just looks that way because of a yellow sun hanging in the sky and a rocky bottom seen through water so clear one cannot tell how deep it is. The sun is not a star. It is a living thing and one of many of it’s kind. It is the Jewel of Shamash, a colony of bioluminescent organisms evolved for one purpose: to create warm light. Without it the underworld would not exist. The immortals who created the Jewel from the stuff of life and caused it to be hung in the sky are not legends by accident.

Whatever one might think of the science of Agartha, it cannot be disputed that a crust of rock rides atop an increasingly viscous collection of elements as measured to the center of the earth. Lest anyone think, as some have said, that underworlds are linked thereby creating a vast, worldwide, covert catacomb of complicity, think again. Commodore Braxton knew what he was doing when he chose as his entrance the Dragon Gate in the Lhasa Valley of Tibet.

In time they arrived at Shambala. It was a city of light on the floor of a deep mountain valley. After the dark glow of the caves and the luminous glow of the lake, the sky was a revelation. Braxton saw how both legends were true. Shambala was indeed an underground city built at the bottom of the deepest rift valley in the Himalayas. For those who knew the way a detour through the underworld was unnecessary.

Braxton did not know the way so he took the one possible path and his arrival was decried throughout the city as the work of demons.

Commodore Braxton threw his gaze to the sky and the mountains climbed to heaven along with it. They made a white ring under the blue and were high enough be impenetrable. It was no wonder that Shambala had stayed lost.

The commodore and his party were met at the dock by a committee of elders.

“You were to come alone,” reminded the eldest.

Braxton smiled to reassure them and replied, “Actually, I did not agree to that.”

The elders met each other’s eyes. Deciding it was a minor matter they moved on.

“What knowledge do you seek?” asked another.

“I have come for the Jewel of Shamash,” he told them.

“Why have you brought these men?” asked a third.

“They have what I lack,” replied Braxton, “Randolph is pure of spirit and a stranger to selfish thought. Norton is pure of mind and knows truths that are hidden to others. Dee is pure of heart and has looked upon the faces of angels. It is said that without these humilities a man may not enter Shambala so I saw fit to bring them with me.”

“You defile us with your presence!” accused the eldest, “Shambala is not for the you!”

Braxton rose to a great height, and towering over the little gray men with big eyes and hands he was even greater.

“What am I if not a man?” asked the commodore, “This is my domain! I am Marduk!”

He spoke like an immortal with words unheard in Shambala for an age. The old ones scattered in fear.

Braxton led them along the waterside toward some cliffs in the distance. They were not harried but they were watched. They felt like intruders in the land of the blessed; all but Braxton. Something shiny caught his eye and he bent to retrieve it.

“Commodore!” declared Norton, “You have betrayed my trust in you. Never have I been so foully used…what is that? Is it a diamond?”

“It is the Jewel of Shamash,” replied Braxton, “though it is a dead one. If it were alive it would be hot with the life that lights this underground world.”

“How can the Jewel of Shamash be a dead Jewel of Shamash?” asked Doctor Dee.

“There are many The Jewel of Shamash’s if it pleases you, though why you insist upon a cumbersome burden such as proper Elizabethan elocution is a mystery far greater than the creation of such a jewel,” said the commodore.

“It would be folly to suppose that an American might be blessed with precision in the choice of his words,” countered Dee, “Speech is a window to a man’s intellect and the degree to which he has tended it’s development. Vulgar speech marks vulgar men, common in birth, un-extraordinary, incapable of the distinctions that inform the logic of more reasonable men.”

“You’ve just said a mouthful, doctor, and I don’t think I got a word of it,” he replied.

“That is the stuff of life?” asked Randolph.

“It was the stuff of life,” replied Braxton, “It is alive no longer.”

“Is it dead?”

“A fair question,” answered the commodore, “It is spent. Used up if you will. The life once contained here-in has been expended in heat and light.”

“That is a most horrifying condition,” said the Rosicrucian.

“Not much down here passes your muster, does it Doctor Randolph? You are pure in spirit. It’s why I brought you.”

“The purity of my intellect,” declared Norton, “Informs me that you are attempting to remedy the imbalances of your present condition by incorporating into yourself a source of life not unlike the Power of Marduk.”

“Your are pure of mind, emperor, that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

“That is the most cynical, the most arrogant, and the most egregiously cunning scheme I have ever had the misfortune to overhear!” insisted Dee.

“Of course it is, John, you are pure of heart. Without friends like you, people like me would never get into places like this,” smiled the commodore.

“Where do we find one?” asked Randolph.

“They are all around us, doctor. What you mean to ask is how do we catch one?”

“They somehow know danger lurks and instinctively scurry away?” asked Norton.

“They are alive, emperor,” reminded Braxton.

“Yes, of course,” agreed Norton, “How do we catch one?”

“Quite simply, we need the right box,” said the commodore.

“A box? That is all?”

“A special box, emperor, such as Pandora’s Box.”

“And where do we find such a special box?” asked Randolph.

“Another fair question,” admitted Braxton, “I have the proper utensil here in my bag.”

He rummaged through his rucksack a withdrew a small, plain wooden box.

“That is a special box?” asked Norton.

“It is, in fact, Pandora’s Box,” the commodore assured them.

“What of hope?” asked John, “Does it no longer have a home amongst the living?”

“I gave hope it’s freedom,” he replied, “Pandora did us no favor by loosing the evils of the world and keeping hope locked up in a box.”

“So you addressed the situation in your own dubious way?” asked the Rosicrucian.

“What else was I to do?” he replied, “And as soon as I did it, things started looking up. Anyway, it was ages ago. Now the box may serve a new purpose.”

“The Jewel of Shamash appears quite large,” observed Norton, “I suppose you have a method for stuffing it into a vessel so small.”

“The light from the jewel is large,” agreed the commodore, “but the jewel is no bigger than the palm of my hand. It is a wonder!”

“How long have you been planning this journey?” asked Randolph.

“For as long as it has taken me to find three living men who are the likes of you,” replied the commodore.

Behind them the fabled city reflected a light that seldom passed overhead. Braxton had taken them deep into the folds of the earth and there in one of the deepest folds they found the Well of the Sun. They were at the bottom of that well and a little off to one side so that Braxton could see the city of Shambala reflected in all of it’s glory.

“We are extremely fortunate,” said the commodore, as excited as a boy on the Fourth of July, “We are about to see a rare sight. Shambala shines like quartz in a granite case. The peaks part to give her glory to the gods. In moments she will be transformed into millions of glittering diamonds seeming to have fallen from heaven.”

Soon after he said it the rays of the sun touched the delicately spired tip of the city. Mushroom domed towers in the city’s canopy seemed to burst into golden flames. Dusty gray buildings became as bright as silver and as smooth as glass as the full light of the sun passed directly overhead.

Shambala scattered the light like a thousand prisms sending rainbows in all directions. For a few minutes she was the most beautiful thing ever made by man.

Randolph pulled his gaze away, just for a moment, to look at the commodore. He was in bliss, and Emperor Norton was fighting back tears. Dee walked forward, step by step, not caring where he put his feet, in reverie of the most glorious sight he had ever seen.

When it was done the silver turned to gray, the glass became stone, the domed towers dimmed and the spired tip of the city was erased from the bottom up. Half-heartedly they hunted the Jewel of Shamash, knowing that if caught they would have no reason to stay and many to leave.

“Ant people!” warned the commodore.

Voices proved him right as did a fleeing jewel hurtling his way.

Can it be as easy as this, he thought to himself, holding Pandora’s Box like a baseball glove. He caught the jewel and snapped the lid shut before the others new it had happened.

“That’s got it then,” he said.

“What’s got it?” asked Doctor Dee.

“I beg you to keep your voice down,” warned the emperor.

“I have what I came for,” said Braxton, “Our welcome here is about to expire.”

“Because you have stolen a jewel, no doubt,” deduced Norton.

“Precisely, emperor. I suggest a quick right turn into the shadows. Shall we?”

“After you,” replied Norton and they scurried into the caves like lizards.

Not daring to use the jewel Braxton guided his clients by mineral light. By claiming to have arcane knowledge of the underworld he more or less kept discipline, but not without the help of Emperor Norton.

“Does the loss of a jewel occasion a fatal response from the immortals,” asked Doctor Randolph.

“Immortals are not who you should be worrying about,” answered Braxton, “Worry about those who can never be like them, though they waste the lives of countless innocents in the attempt. The immortals who built this city had no need of children to possess and destroy. It is only they who seek that immortality who have reason to bind us.”

“Bind us?” asked Randolph, “How do you mean?”

“Life begets life, doctor, and living life is infinitely more powerful than life created by the immortals, which is an artificial thing like the Jewel of Shamash. Do not wonder why the old ones would bind a living man and avail themselves of the life there-in. Pray it does not happen, for the end will come slowly and madness take root in the mind.”

“Can we not appeal to the immortals?” asked Doctor Dee.

“They are gone from this place,” replied the commodore, “The eldest here were born after they came, and now that they are gone the old ones have become a plague in the abyss.”

“Quiet,” whispered Norton, “Ant people.”

“I know that sound,” said Braxton, advancing warily.

“They are not ant people?” wondered Norton.

“They are dragons,” informed the commodore, “What passes for dragons, anyway.”

“When is a dragon not a dragon?” asked Randolph.

“Quiet,” warned Braxton, “They may be small but they’re smart,” and then he added, “After a fashion.”

They had found the wild lands of Agartha. The lost city of Shambala no longer shone like a jewel in the distance. It was completely gone from view and lost in the twists and turns of the underground world. A ceiling so high as to be a sky rained sand upon them and shale-like stones mortared by sand rocked beneath their feet. The moaning of the wind passing through deeper parts of the caves was an an unearthly wail.

“Dragons,” scoffed Doctor Dee, “It is but the wind.”

“Then what is it we are standing within?” asked the commodore.

All around were bones, but that was not uncommon in Agartha. This particular bone encircled them. It was a giant oval with sharp points on three sides.

“A dragon’s jaw,” gasped Norton, “complete with the teeth!”

“How small did you say they were?” asked trembling Doctor Randolph.

“You haven’t found one have you?” answered Braxton, “Oh my. You have.”

The commodore aimed his thirty-six caliber revolver and fired.

The dragon took a few steps back and fell on it’s side.

“Did you kill it?” asked Randolph.

“An elephant gun wouldn’t have killed him,” Braxton replied, “We’ve got to go. He’ll be himself again soon and twice as ornery.”

Doctor Randolph backed away in horror.

“Dee! Norton!” shouted Braxton, “Let’s move!”

It didn’t matter now if the ant people heard them. The gunshot was sure to bring every living thing within miles.

Braxton ran as fast as he could run dumping everything but his revolver, his rucksack and his mineral light. Tossing his bedroll from his back he let it fall to oblivion. Ditto for his fire kit, his digging tools, his change of clothes, everything that might weigh him down that was not absolutely necessary, and of course he still had Pandora’s Box.

Seeing the commodore behave so Randolph did the same, and Norton as well, but Dee would not part with his precious mirror and so he began to fall behind.

“Dragons!” shouted Braxton.

They came like bombers from above. Their ferocious screams were a terrible sound, and the flapping of their wings was like a wind, and their eyes were like windows to a soul so dark that no goodness could reside there-in.

Braxton ran for the shadows. Norton curled himself up like a cannonball rolling down a battlefield, leaving nothing for the dragons to grab onto. Randolph ran headlong into danger and was blessedly saved each time it bared it’s teeth, but poor Doctor Dee fared badly.

“Throw away the mirror, John!” shouted Braxton, “They’re attracted to shiny things.”

Finally understanding, Dee tossed away his scrying mirror and with a hideous shriek the dragon dove into the darkness to follow the light.

“Quickly!” shouted Braxton, “He’ll be back!”

Dee ran on to where Braxton had been, but the commodore was already gone.

“Dee!” whispered Norton, “This way.”

“Chrysophylax Dives!” they heard Braxton say, “I heard you were in perdition.”

“Sated is a word that more describes my condition,” answered the dragon.

His voice was deep and it shook the ground, and he was as tall as ten men.

“Farmer Giles was not kind in his description of you,” recalled the commodore.

“And yet he was the proper meat for my stew,” replied the dragon, “He who burps last burps best.”

“Farmer Giles is no longer with us?” deduced the commodore.

“Farmer Giles was absolutely delicious,” replied the dragon, “Do you recall what I told you the last time I saw you?”

“That you would use me as a candle to light your lair,” smiled the commodore.

“And I would use as a wick your silly lock of hair,” added the dragon, “but you’ve cut it off. No matter. All parts of a man are flammable, provided you have a hot enough heart.”

“Your heart burns cold,” said Braxton, shaking his head sympathetically, “Where is the fire that once burned in your belly? Did Farmer Giles put it out on his way down.”

“Rrrrrrrrrroooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!” roared the dragon.

“Puhleeez,” shouted the commodore, “Civilized people do not roar their discontent at perfect strangers!”

“Who are these men you have brought to my lair?”

“What? No more poetry! I must have hit a nerve.”

“Stand aside, little man, or you’ll get what you deserve.”

A blast of hot air scorched the ground where Braxton had been standing.

“As I said, they are perfect strangers,” added the commodore, “If you want to stay on the good side of my brother you will refrain from people burning.”

“There you go playing the Father Time card again,” replied the dragon, “One of these days someone’s going to call your bluff.”

“Randolph! Tell Chrysophylax Dives what happens to people who call my bluff.”

“Father Time kicks them from here to eternity,” answered Randolph, still shaking.

“Well then,” said the dragon, “As you have never lied to me before, you may pass.”

“Not so fast. Dee wants his mirror back,” said the commodore.

“How can I give him a thing that I lack?”

“Then you must part with something of equal worth,” said Braxton.

“How about something of equal girth?” asked the dragon.

He fiddled with the lock on his treasure room door, and poking inside he rummaged through his piles of gold, silver and shiny objects, “This is about the same size, isn’t it?”

“Doctor Dee has no need of a bed pan,” replied Braxton, “I’m afraid nothing will do but for you to retrieve his mirror from the abyss.”

“You’ll wait here?” asked the dragon.

“Of course we’ll wait here,” replied Braxton.

“Why should I trust you?”

“Because I’ve never lied to you before,” answered Braxton.

“Well then,” said the dragon, “Don’t go near my treasure door!”

Chrysophylax Dives dove into the abyss to look for Doctor Dee’s mirror.

“Splendid!” smiled Braxton. Watching him go, he inched closer to dragon’s wealth.

“Braxton!” barked Randolph, “You heard Chrysophylax Dives.”

“Never trust a dragon,” replied the commodore, “Care for a trinket.”

“I could never!”

“Suit yourself,” said Braxton, stuffing his pockets with centuries old coins and jewels.

“We should be going,” announced Norton, puffing out his chest and seeming above the looting going on before his eyes.

“What about my mirror?” asked John.

“Dear doctor, Chrysophylax Dives, if he finds it, will not give it back,” said Braxton.

“It was a ploy?”

“And a clever one at that,” answered the emperor, “Let us go! NOW!”

“But my mirror!”

“Do you wish you’d lost something else?” asked Braxton, “You’re a miserable man.”

Dee said nothing as they left the dragon’s lair and climbed down into darkness.

The dragon’s lair was a hole in the earth. One side overlooked the dragon bone yard they had traversed. The other fell thousands of feet to an unseen floor, though access was gained by a dragon sized trail scraped into the cliff face.

Though rocky and broken in places the trail was serviceable and wide. No one felt as if they could suddenly fall off the edge of the underworld.

They were creeping along one wall of the largest room Braxton had ever seen. It was twice, nay three times, maybe four times as large as any cathedral. There was no way to tell. The cave ended in darkness but for the brightly flying Jewels of Shamash that ever so seldom cast a ray across the void. The far wall was far indeed and the ceiling unseen, and the floor gave access to a world even less hospitable.

“What lies at the bottom of this endless cave?” asked the emperor.

“Do you feel the heat, your highness?” replied Braxton.

“And I detect a faint odor of sulfur as well,” added Norton, “Do pools of magma exist so far down that their light does not reach us here?”

“A fair question, emperor,” he replied, “In places I judge it must be true. Below is a world of dreams. Pray you do not fall victim to the nightmares there-in, and pray you do not fall in body and soul to the lifeless abode of the dead.”

“Cheering thought,” replied Norton.

It is difficult to describe the immensity of that chamber.

Readers should not imagine themselves as insects; it will never do. By reducing one’s stature one necessarily reduces one’s environment as well, thereby collapsing reality to a state that bears not the weight of it’s existence in the real world. It becomes a phantasm derived from the senses, and when these senses become overwhelmed the reduction occurs forthwith, rendering rational thought incapable of deducing it’s surroundings. This may impart an idea of the place that Braxton and his company found themselves.

In celebration of the fact the commodore was singing.

“If all the world were paper and all the seas were ink / If all the trees were bread and cheese what would we have to drink?”

“Braxton, have you gone mad?” scolded the emperor, “What of the dragons? What of the ant people?”

“What of them? Come now, your highness, join me in song!”

Braxton raised his voice much louder this time.

“If all the bottles leak-ed and none had but a crack / and Spanish apes ate all the grapes what would we do for sack?”

“…what would we do for sack,” came the first repeat.

“…do for sack,” came the second.

“…for sack.”

“…sack.”

“Gentleman, please,” he said, “Help to raise the roof from this place! Randolph, sing! John, give good use to your oft pained voice!”

“If all the world were paper…”

As they sang an echo built in the chamber.

“Louder!” shouted Braxton, “Bring down the very walls!”

“If all the bottles leak-ed…”

Echo built upon echo, and they amplified each other, and in a hurry Randolph figured out what Braxton was doing.

“Sing to the walls, men!” he shouted, “Sing to the abyss! Sing so no part of this hall is absent our voices.”

“This is madness!” shouted Dee, but his voice was unheard in the deafening crescendo that built and kept on building.

Suddenly more voices were added. Great sleeping dragons fell shrieking, awakened from their hibernation and disoriented by the god awful singing.

“Dragons!” yelled Dee, as they fell past, unable even to flap their wings.

“Sing, gentlemen, sing for your lives!” shouted Braxton, and as they sang he began to walk faster, and then he ran as fast as he could run down the wide dragon trail. The others ran after as rocks fell from overhead. Their spinning song could no longer be understood but their echoing voices had a power a chorus of shrieking dragon’s could not obscure.

Braxton was no longer singing. As dragons fell helplessly from their lairs he kept his eyes fixed on a rock wall that was quickly coming into view.

Jewels of Shamash were fleeing the destruction as the dragon’s lair collapsed, lighting the way for Braxton and his company down the shaking, disintegrating trail. The cave walls heaved and plunged to the darkness and muffled sounds of boulders crashing to the magma below gave way to geysers of hot rock splashing on the trail behind.

The Jewels of Shamash were leaving by dozens of ways from the dragon’s cave.

“Follow me!” shouted Braxton.

The ground beneath his feet was shaking. Randolph was close behind and the emperor on his heels. John struggled to keep up and the jewels of light flying past him did nothing to ease his panic.

As the mouth ahead started to crumble Braxton redoubled his speed, finding there a surge which carried him through to other side. Randolph was next and then Norton, huffing and puffing, covered in dust, tarnished epaulets and all.

“Dee!” shouted Braxton, “Dee!”

The shattered cave mouth was shedding rock, and jewels flew like bats from within.

“Dee!”

“Braxton!” he shouted.

Dazed and confused, John Dee stumbled to the ledge where they were standing.

“Great gods,” shouted Randolph, for he was bleeding from his scalp and the blood ran in rivers down his face.

“There is blood on your hands,” observed the emperor.

“Dragon’s blood,” agreed Braxton.

“It came at me,” said Dee, “I didn’t know…”

“You killed it?” asked Norton.

“It came at me,” Dee said again.

“You broke it’s neck?” asked the commodore.

“I did,” Dee replied.

“Has no one told you not to take a bath in dragon’s blood?” asked Braxton, rubbing the poor man with dust and dirt. It was then that Dee noticed his face and hands were stinging, “Did anyone see you kill it?”

“Perhaps,” he replied, “I may have seen ant people.”

“Ridiculous,” judged Norton.

“Not so, your highness,” countered Braxton, “We are near to Bhutan.”

The shaking was easing and the flight of jewels had passed. Far below they heard the sounds of water, like a river meeting a lake.

“Few people know of the dragons of Bhutan,” said Braxton, “Stories are told, but they are glimpses of a world so old it is erased from memory. It was under Himalayan peaks that men beat back the greatest threat to mankind. Thank the people of Bhutan for driving the beasts into the earth though the world knows it not. They wish for it not to know so they build monasteries and forsake comforts of civilization. They are the keepers of the dragon’s lair and we may have rendered them obsolete.”

“Commodore Braxton,” addressed the emperor, “Would our current predicament have anything to do with our choice of entrance to the underworld? Are we influenced by entering the Dragon Gate in the Potala Palace?”

“Your insights continue to be astounding, your highness,” praised Braxton.

“Did we further complicate our position by taking the route of folly, as the unfortunate Hinjari Lamasing has said?”

“Again, your mental prowess is to be admired,” agreed the commodore.

“And we did this because it was the only way to acquire the creative properties of the Jewel of Shamash?”

“Your highness, I stand in awe of your talents,” remarked the commodore, “though I do not expect you to have reasoned the purpose of my acquisition.”

“It is clear,” announced Norton, “By creating an artificial vessel for the stuff of life you will render your own heart as obsolete as the dragon masters who hold this place. By so doing you will make an opportunity to vacate the body of this Commodore Braxton and take your place among the pantheon of living gods.”

The chamber they found themselves in showed evidence of habitation.

“I knew it!” declared Braxton, “Gentlemen, behold the deepest city that is the abode of men. Shangri-la!”

“Good commodore, Shambala and Shangri-la are one in the same,” insisted Norton.

“There is some confusion, I will admit,” Braxton replied, “but a world traveler such as yourself will see the advantage for Shangri-la if she claims to be the fabled city. She does not match the glory of Shambala, but see how her spires mimic the art of the immortals.”

“Yet there is no sun overhead,” added Randolph, “and there is light all around.”

“When Gilgamesh roamed the plains of Mesopotamia,” explained Braxton, “he and his sidekick Endiku killed a monster called Humbaba.”

“They carried his head in a basket,” he continued, “Some say a satchel but I say it was a basket, and took it to the priests of Enlil, some say to Enlil himself but I say Father Time did not accept them into his house because of the head of Humbaba, who as you might not know, was the keeper of the forest where he was murdered for being a monster.”

“Humbaba wasn’t just any monster. He was my brother’s own personal monster so you can imagine how angry it made him. Maybe you cannot. Let’s just say that Father Time stripped the head of Humbaba of it’s seven auras and the seventh he gave to Nungal, the goddess of the underworld. It is by that radiance that light shines in Shangri-la.”

“Come, gentlemen,” finished the commodore, “I must bargain for a way home.”

- Mikkel McDow 2008

Copyright 2008 Mikkel McDow all rights reserved.