The frigid cold left Timothy with little movement in his arms and legs, and even less in his face. Ice crystals had formed throughout his two-week-old beard, and along the inside of his nose, chilling each inhale of icy mountain air.
This is where I’m going to die.
He knew it was inevitable. The freezing temperatures on the top of Killora’s Peak were the culprit for many deaths over the years, leading Timothy to want to scale it in spite of its harsh climate, steep walls, and uncanny religious ties.
The way up Killora’s Peak had been treacherous enough. There were two times a landslide nearly wiped out Timothy and his team. Luckily, one of their guides took them through a lesser known path that moved through the holy shrines carved in the side of the mountain.
Timothy and his team had come upon one particular shrine that had been dug out of the side of the largest face of Killora’s Peak. Though the shrine’s walls were made of mountain stone, the inhabitants of Killora’s Peak -the monks, as they were called – had carved beautiful pillars out of glorious white alabaster, and cut perfectly square tiles out of black marble. Timothy had no idea how the monks could have hauled such heavy materials up this way, but he did appreciate the beauty of their creations.
The shrine was a single room, roughly the size of a three-bedroom apartment in New York City. Fine mahogany pews filled up half the space, all facing toward a raised dais made of three solid slabs of granite overlapped one another. Atop the granite stood a silver-plated altar where animals and incense were customarily sacrificed to appease the three-headed demon god, Amnul, who graced large banners upon the walls of the shrine. It was said that the sacrifices kept Amnul in their good graces, and that it also protected the shrines from other dark gods who roamed the mountain territories.
These weren’t beliefs Timothy could ever embrace. Most of the climb, he had avoided spinning the copper-cast prayer wheels and neglected to light the incense at the various makeshift dedications scattered around the mountain. But he did have an appreciation for their fervor and the fact that they could go through so much trouble in carving out their little existence so far from his own civilization.
The followers of Amnul, the monks – men and women who dressed in white robes and shaved every square inch of hair from their bodies – met Timothy and his team when they reached the small shrine. They welcomed Timothy, embraced his team, and showed a great deal of hospitality toward them by supplying them with a fattened goat and goats milk. The meal was one Timothy had enjoyed many years before, when he climbed the Rorosty Summit thousands of miles away on the other side of the planet.
It wasn’t until Timothy’s team was asked to hold special incense cones that everything turned dark and disturbing. The incense cones burned out red smoke that smelled like cinnamon and sulfur. But one cone released blue smoke, and that individual was then grabbed by the monks of Amnul and customarily slaughtered there on the altar, so quickly in fact that Timothy and the rest of his team had no time to stop the bloodshed before Anna – their guide – was taken and butchered right in front of them.
After the initial shock of the event, Timothy and the remaining three members of his team tried to overpower the monks, but to no avail. Gene, Timothy’s accountant and fellow mountain climber, was stabbed to death eight times when three monks cornered him. Regina, Timothy’s high school sweetheart-but-now-friend, was carried out of the shrine and tossed off the side of the mountain.
Timothy and Robert ran, but there was nowhere to go that high up on the mountain.
Robert was captured.
Timothy jumped down the side of a cliff face in hopes that his rappelling gear would save him. It did, but he broke his leg when he landed on the outcropping. The monks were oblivious to where he had gone, and he doubted anyone would think to look below.
Why would anyone be crazy enough to jump to their doom? The cold will kill me off. I’m not sure if it’s more merciful than being slaughtered upon an altar, but I’ll take it.
The prayer wheel someone had installed on the outcropping sat like an unused antique left behind at a garage sale, deliberately taunting Timothy to spin it.
I won’t. I don’t believe in that nonsense about a dark god or human sacrifice.
Timothy reached his hand into his pocket. He could barely move now that the snow had covered half his body, and his brain began to feel sluggish. He grabbed hold of a cylinder in his back pocket, slid it out, and scooted it in front of his face.
If I can activate the black cylinder, I might be able to signal the emergency plane to come and get me before it’s too late. Of course, the smoke from the flare might be seen by the monks. But I doubt they really care about me now. And how would they get down here? He couldn’t remember seeing any rappelling gear in their shrine.
Timothy snapped off the front of the cylinder and pushed the flare through the freshly fallen snow until it was teetering near the edge of the outcropping. The view from this height was breathtaking: mountains as far as the eye could see, snow, and the sun barely peaking over the horizon as it started its descent below the horizon in a ritual to give way to night and even colder temperatures.
A hiss poured out of the flare, and then it billowed smoke.
Timothy heard movement to his left and turned his head to see the prayer wheel spinning vigorously.