“Sweet Mother of Chaos,” Cinnamal Hext exclaimed loudly as he stepped out of the TARDIS into a wind that took his breath away. His booted feet sank into at least a foot of loose snow and he could tell that there was more hard packed snow beneath it. “What are we doing here, Chrístõ? WHERE is here?”

“Here is northern Tibet,” Chrístõ replied. “On planet Earth.”

“This is Earth?” Axyl sounded disappointed as he looked around the snow-covered valley. “I didn’t think it looked like this.”

“Not all of it does,” Chrístõ assured him. “This is just one part of it. I’m going to show you some more populated areas another time, but this is part of your character building programme. We’re leaving the TARDIS here and taking a short afternoon’s hike up the side of this mountain to the monastery on that ridge.”

“What monastery?” Cinnamal demanded, squinting up what looked like a sheer cliff of ice and snow. In fact he was being slightly facetious. He could see the building easily enough. But the sight wasn’t inspiring him with confidence. It was a flat, grey edifice with very few windows. It had to be a good ten miles away, and most of that distance was along steep, narrow, snow covered mountain paths. The indolent side of Cinnamal baulked at the thought of that much exercise with so little reward at the end of it.

But Diol and Axyl Malcannan were already shouldering their packs ready for the journey, and anything two Caretakers were game for an Oldblood couldn’t shirk without dishonour. He had no choice but to make the best of it.

They started walking. It wasn’t actually snowing and it was only just after midday. There was plenty of daylight to accomplish the trek in. The wind blew down the steep valley and for the most part missed them in the lee of the mountain itself. For a group of healthy young Gallifreyans it was a straightforward test of stamina and endurance, as well as establishing that they all had a head for heights. Looking either up at the mountain or down into the valley below was not for the faint-hearted when they were on a path wide enough only for walking single file.

“The air is thin,” Diol noted when they had been walking for a good hour. “Our bodies have adapted. We are able to take in deeper breaths and extract enough oxygen from it, but wouldn’t humans be light-headed at this altitude?”

“Those who have not acclimatised certainly would,” Chrístõ replied. “The monks have lived in the mountains all their lives.”

“They are men of contemplation, such as the Brothers of Mount Lœng on the southern continent of Gallifrey are?” Axyl asked.

“They are,” Chrístõ responded. “Buddhism, as practiced by these human devotees has much in common with the contemplative arts the Brothers adhere to, though in many ways the former is a richer and more complex philosophical discipline. We are staying only a few days. It is nowhere near long enough to come to a full understanding of those complexities. But I think the experience will be useful to you all.”

“You have studied with the Brotherhood, haven’t you?” Diol asked. “Is it true that they are capable of such perfect meditation that they can watch a flower grow from a seed to a full bloom without moving and yet be aware of every single moment of the growth?”

“They can. I never had the patience for such a meditation. I would be tempted to use a temporal accelerator to speed the process up. That’s why they never let me become a full member of their community. My impatience.”

His students laughed, but it was literally true that, despite embracing many of the disciplines of the Mount Lœng brothers, he found their lifestyle too contemplative, too quiet, too inactive. He belonged in the wide universe, not in a cloister.

“I wouldn’t mind,” Axyl commented. “I think I would enjoy the peace of such a life.”

“Well, then you will appreciate Det-tSen,” Chrístõ told him, and then went on to explain that the monastery they were striving to reach was so named in honour of the eighth century king of Tibet, Trisong Detsen who established Buddhism as the official religion of the country.

“This is the early twentieth century,” he added. “Before Tibet’s annexation by China. At least, it is by the western calendar of Earth, which was the one I learnt. I’m really not sure what system of dates they use here in the east.”

“There is no standard method of counting the years on earth?” Diol asked curiously. “Isn’t that confusing? How do people from one part of the planet communicate with the other?”

“They don’t,” Chrístõ replied. “At least not at this time in their history. Earth is a complex planet, and Human beings a complex species. Even with our caste system and perceived differences, we are a far more homogenous society on Gallifrey, which in my opinion, at least, makes us much less interesting than Humans.”

Diol and Axyl were fully prepared to agree with him on that point. Cinnamal Hext was too proud of his Oldblood Gallifreyan heritage to admit that any other world, any other species, was superior to his in any way, shape or form.

“These humans at Det-tSen will surprise you,” Chrístõ assured him. “They are remarkable people.”

“Um… maybe not that one,” Diol said, pointing to a splash of red in the snow. Christo sprinted forward and bent to examine the body. The eyes were fixed and staring. The flesh was cold. The neck was broken. So were many other bones, but the snapping of the vertebrae was almost certainly what killed him.

His students stood a few feet away, watching solemnly. Though young, they had all become accustomed to sudden death during the Mallus invasion of their world. This was a fragile Human whose death had occurred in a landscape that was a hostile one. It was a shock, but not particularly mysterious.

Chrístõ looked up. They were directly below the outer walls of the monastery now, on top of a cliff that was at least three times as high as the dome of the Prydonian Academy Library.

“He didn’t fall from up there,” Chrístõ said. “His body would have reached terminal velocity.” His students looked at him blankly. They had obviously never heard the expression before. “He would be falling so fast that his brain would have fallen out of his skull and hit the ground before his body,” he explained.

The man HAD fallen, he thought. But by no means from as far as that. It was puzzling, and puzzles always nagged at him like sore teeth. But he knew there was nothing he could do for the poor man except report the location of his body to his fellow monks.

“We’ll press on,” he said to his students. They walked on again, quietly now, subdued by the sad discovery. When they reached the imposing door to the monastery they were glad to reach a place where they could rest out of the wind and snow, but they weren’t sure what kind of welcome would greet them bearing such news.

A postern door was opened in the huge door by a short man dressed in the same sort of red robe that the dead man was in. He bowed with his hands pressed together. Chrístõ did the same. Diol, Axyl and Cinnamal were a beat behind him. Of course, they were used to paying obeisance to their elders, their masters at the Prydonian Academy, even their own fathers, but they didn’t expect to have to bow to a doorman.

“Respect – mutual respect – is a tenet of the Buddhist discipline,” Chrístõ told them telepathically. “Bear that in minds, and you’re off to a good start.” Then he addressed the monk at the door. “I am teacher to these three disciples. We each seek the wisdom of Buddha within your walls. May we enter?”

“You may,” the monk said and stepped aside. They entered into a wide high, but sparsely furnished room. As the door was closed, they were all aware of the quiet as the wind was cut off. They had found a sanctuary.

“I will need to speak to your Abbot,” Chrístõ said at once. “I have an urgent matter to report.”

“I will send for him,” the monk who had admitted them said. “Come to the Mandala room while you wait.”

The students wondered immediately what a Mandala was, or why it needed a room. Christo knew but chose not to tell them. They followed the monk to a high ceilinged chamber with a wide railed balcony running all around it. On the floor that was some four feet lower than the balcony was a great, geometric design which a group of monks were patiently working upon.

“What is it made of?” Diol asked, watching the monks pour colours into the design from jars. “Paint?”

“Sand,” Christo replied. “Coloured sand, sometimes crushed rocks with natural colours, crushed semi-precious stones like lapis lazuli or amethysts. The mandala is a focus for meditation. When it’s finished, it is destroyed again according to a strict ritual, as a symbol of the transience of all existence.”

“Destroyed?” all of his students were shocked by that idea. Then they remembered the dead man on the path below. Existence was, indeed, transient. Perhaps it made sense, after all.

A man entered the Mandala room and came towards them. He was dressed in a red robe like the other monks, but with a curious headpiece of saffron yellow. Chrístõ felt his students suppress their amusement at the shape of the Abbot’s headgear and adopt suitably solemn outward aspects.

Chrístõ bowed to the Abbot. The Abbot returned the gesture.

“I am Jampo, Abbot of Det-Sen,” he said. “I welcome you and your disciples. But I sense a disharmony within you. What is it?”

Chrístõ quickly related what he had found on the mountain path. The Abbot nodded gravely.

“The loss will be felt by us all,” he said. “It is as a void in the Mandala. But all men are born to die. It is a thing that is natural.”

“I beg to differ,” Christo told him. “This man’s death was not natural. He fell from a height and broke his neck. At best it was a tragic accident. At worst….”

He stopped. He was going to suggest that it could have been murder. The thought occurred to him as he was walking up to the monastery. The more he thought about it, the less he understood how the man could have been found where he was if it was merely accidental.

But to say so to the Abbot was disrespectful.

“I will send some of his brothers to bring the body back. We will lay his body in our hall of meditations tonight and the funeral pyre will be made in the morning. But now, let me take you and your disciples to a quieter place where you may rest after your journey. I will have refreshments brought.”

The Abbot brought them to another room, smaller, quieter. There were mats on the floor for sitting or lying. They sat. Christo adopted a straight backed position taught to him by the Monks of Malvoria. His students were more casual.

“The Abbot wasn’t telling the truth,” Diol said when they were alone. His brother and Cinnamal nodded in agreement.

“You all felt it, too?” Christo asked. “Good. Your empathic senses are well developed.”

“Why would a holy man lie to us?” Cinnamal asked.

“I don’t know. But he knew the man was dead before I told him. He was scared… of us being here. We pose some kind of unperceived danger. But he’s scared of something else, too. I don’t know what, yet.”

“They’re good people,” Axyl said. “I feel that. I felt it strongly in the Mandala Room. They are good souls. They will not knowingly harm us. But they are troubled by something that they dare not reveal to us.”

“We can’t leave them to their fate,” Diol insisted. “We must help them if we can.”

“Why?” Cinnamal asked. “It’s none of our business. We came here to learn about meditation, not to get involved in some mystery.”

“I can never resist a mystery,” Chrístõ said. “Besides, Axyl is right. They are good people, and they are troubled. You boys… I won’t involve you in anything dangerous. But I intend to find out what is happening, here and if it is within my power I will help them.”

“You can count on me,” Diol immediately said. His brother was a beat away from saying the same. Cinnamal looked at them both and shrugged.

“All right, I suppose we’re getting involved,” he said.

The door opened. Two monks brought in food – saffron coloured fragrant rice – and drink – bowls of green tea. Chrístõ showed his students how to use the chopsticks that came with the food but advised them to test a small amount of the food before ingesting.

“You said they were good people,” Cinnamal pointed out. “Would they poison us?”

“They are good people with something to hide, I’m not taking any chances,” Chrístõ replied before analysing the chemical content of his rice and tea. “We’re ok. We can eat this.”

When they had finished eating a man came to the room. He bowed and then sat cross-legged on one of the mats.

“I am Ho-Den,” he said to Chrístõ. “You are Keun-tshen Gyal-tso All knowing ocean of enlightened qualities.”

“My thanks,” Chrístõ replied. He smiled softly as Ho-Den turned to his students.

“Lobsang Cheu-den,” he said to Diol. “The devout disciple.”

Diol accepted that without protest as Ho-Den addressed his brother.

“Lobsang Rab Ten – the steadfast disciple.”

Axyl nodded and said nothing.

“Lobsang Je-tsun – the high born disciple,” Ho-Den said to Cinnamal. “For you it is hardest, for your pride keeps you from the true path of one with much to learn.”

Cinnamal was too surprised to say anything out loud, but Christo felt his thoughts.

Ho-Den bowed once again to them all and then left the room once more.

“What was that about?” Cinnamal demanded. “These are humans. They have no telepathic powers. How can they possibly know anything about us?”

“They are men who spend their days in contemplative meditation,” Chrístõ replied. “Their minds are expanded beyond the cluttered thoughts of most humans. They understand many things that would surprise even us.”

“All knowing ocean of enlightened qualities?” Diol looked at Chrístõ and smiled. “Yes, that suits you. Am I especially devout?”

“You’re an attentive student,” Christo told him. “Perhaps devotion is something you will come to in time. And you, steadfast Axyl. Those are good qualities that they see in you.”

“They are Caretaker qualities,” Cinnamal pointed out. “They will both make excellent butlers.”

“At least they are set on their path,” Chrístõ replied. “You have much to learn. Ho-Den saw that in you, Cinn. Humility is the first thing you need to learn. And this is a good place to do it. The Abbot is the senior monk only because of age and experience. In all else, each of them is equal. They all believe there is no end to learning and are students until the day they die, always ready to be enlightened by a new experience. That’s not a bad philosophy for life, even for those of us who will live such long lives. To always be ready to learn something new.”

“Even when you are an all knowing ocean of enlightened qualities?” Diol asked him.

“If I am, there will always be somebody ready to remind me that I am also Theta Sigma, The Outcast,” Chrístõ replied. Diol and Axyl were surprised by that epithet applied to their teacher. Cinnamal Hext wasn’t. Chrístõ knew that he was aware of the scar that covered the symbols of the Outcast One on the back of his neck, and how they got there.

When they had rested, He-Den returned. He seemed to know exactly how long they needed before they were bored with the plain walls of that room. He brought red robes for them to change into so that they were the same, outwardly at least, as the other monks, then he brought them to the great meditation hall. It was a wide, long, high room with sacred prayer wheels set along each side. Monks sat with small fabric mandalas before them and chanted their mantras in low voices that formed a gestalt sound that was immediately calming. It reminded Chrístõ of the way the Brothers of Mount Lœng meditated, except they didn’t use chants or mandalas.

“We are not Buddhists,” he reminded his students. “To try to copy them would be blasphemous. We will form a circle of our own and meditate in our own way.”

They found a space and did just that, putting themselves into a light first level trance. They were fully aware of their surroundings, of the tranquil chanting of the monks around them, but they were able to reach a level of calm stillness of their own.

They were aware when the monks were disturbed in their meditations. They let themselves resurface from their trance, but kept still and quiet as the body of the dead man was brought into the meditation room. They reached out and felt the emotions of those around them. Grief, yes. But not shock. They all knew he was dead. They were prepared for this. The body was placed upon a mat. The eyes were closed. The hands were placed together in an attitude of prayer. Four of the monks knelt in vigil at the four cardinal points of the compass. Christo noted without surprise that they knew the points instinctively. Slowly the other monks returned to their meditations, or at least an appearance of it.

“Chrístõ,” Axyl said telepathically. “He’s not the first. There have been many accidents here in recent weeks.”

“Yes, I get that from their thoughts,” he answered. At least a dozen monks were missing from their numbers. The term ‘accident’ hardly applied even if there seemed no obvious foul play involved. He was surprised to learn from the thoughts of those around him that Jampo had only been abbot for a little over a month. An elderly and learned man called Rin-Sen was the first to die. He seemed to have had a heart attack late one night in the Mandala Room. Jampo was the next in seniority.

A heart attack, falls, all perfectly plausible accidents, especially on a permanently snow covered mountain side. But so many in such a short time? Chrístõ was ready to believe there WAS foul play involved. But why?

And what was it that they were afraid of? It was more than just an ordinary human foe. It was not, he thought, one of them with some jealous motive. Jealousy was hardly an emotion Christo would ascribe to their communal life. They had no possessions to covet. There was no ladder of promotion to ascend. That was not what it was.

For now, all he could truly ascertain was that there had been too many unexplained deaths and that the monks were frightened that there would be more.

Their internal body clocks told the Gallifreyans that the day was coming to a close even within this room without windows to let in natural light. The monks must have had some human instinct that told them the same. The meditation hall emptied except for the four men keeping vigil over their dead friend. The others went to another large hall where mats were placed in concentric circles with bowls before them. Monks with large cauldrons filled the bowls with rice and tea while others distributed bread and fruit. This was the main substantial meal of the day.

Before they ate, Chrístõ again warned his students to test the food. This time they were aware of something unusual in the saffron rice.

“It’s a sleeping drug,” Axyl said. “A powerful one. It would affect our constitutions as readily as theirs.”

“We were all served from the same cauldron,” Cinnamal noted. “They’re not trying to do anything to us. They’re all being given the drug.”

“Yes,” Chrístõ noted. “We will have to eat. It will look strange if we do not. You DO all know how to expel harmful substances from your body?”

They all did. Chrístõ took the lead. He ate the rice with the chopsticks, but when enough of the drug had entered his stomach he carefully looked within his own body. He found the molecules of the substance and expelled them through the pores of his skin. For a brief moment his face and arms looked chalky white before the stuff evaporated. Cinnamal, Diol and Axyl did the same.

The tea, bread and fruit were unadulterated. They finished their meal and waited to see what would happen next.

What happened next was that the monks started to fall asleep all around them. They lay down on their mats and very soon they were sleeping soundly.

“Pretend to do the same,” Chrístõ told his students. “Let’s see what this is all about.”

Nothing happened for an hour. The only sound was the shallow breathing of men under a drugged sleep. When they reached out telepathically the Gallifreyans didn’t even detect dreams. The minds of the monks were still and quiet, and, Chrístõ noted, properly at peace for a little while.

Then they detected a change. The brain patterns were still those of men who were asleep, but the monks rose from their mats. They filed out of the room silently.

“They’re sleep-walking,” Axyl noted.

“Yes, they are,” Chrístõ agreed. “Rise, quietly, and fall into line behind them. Let’s find out what’s going on here.”

They slipped easily into the line, moving in the same slow but determined way of people who know where they’re going even in their sleep. They came, presently, to the Mandala Room, where the monks gathered on the balcony around the edges. They were quiet at first then they began a chant that was very different from those they had used in meditation.

“What or who is Dor-je Shu gDen?” Diol asked telepathically.

“He is the reincarnation of a holy man called Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen who died in the mid seventeenth century,” Chrístõ answered. “Regarded as a Dharma protector or Guardian Angel.”

“Protector? Guardian… that sounds all right,” Axyl pointed out.

“He’s not protecting them very well,” Cinnamal contradicted. “All those deaths….”

“Quite so,” Chrístõ noted. “I don’t think Dor-je Shu gDen has anything to do with this.”

Something was happening that set his telepathic nerves tingling. He looked down at the mandala and saw that it was moving. The sand was being rearranged as if by an invisible hand, forming new patterns.

Patterns that had nothing to do with harmony and the flow of life. He stared at the image that was formed in the re-arranged sand and tried to recall where he had seen something like that before.

Then the two dimensional image in the coloured sand rose up into a three dimensional if insubstantial figure that towered above the monks. Sleep-walking, hypnotised, deluded as they were, they knelt in awe and fear as the demonic manifestation writhed around, raising arms made of grains of sand and smoke and pointing to individual monks who stood on shaking feet among their kneeling brethren – four of them in all.

“These will satisfy my need this night,” said a hollow voice. “Come forward, disciples of Dor-je Shu gDen and give me sustenance.”

The monks stepped forward and stood at the cardinal points around the mandala. The manifestation span faster and the demonic shape expanded, encompassing them. The four monks screamed in agony for more than five minutes before the manifestation released them. They collapsed to the ground and lay ominously still. The manifestation shrank back to its merely huge size again.

“I am satisfied by the sacrifices made. You will continue to have my protection and patronage. But anger me by refusals, by disharmony or disagreement and you shall know my wrath.”

The manifestation spoke in Tibetan, of course. Chrístõ and his students heard it in Gallifreyan, automatically translated for them by the TARDIS’s low-level psychic radiation that infused them. Gallifreyan, like English, had only one pronoun ‘you’ in both singular and plural. But in Tibetan there were separate pronouns. The manifestation was not talking to the monks as a whole when it talked of protection, patronage and anger and wrath. It used the singular pronoun, and it was looking at Abbot Jampo when it did so.

That was interesting.

The manifestation circled around again several more times, getting gradually smaller as it did so until the sands were back in the mandala. It swirled a little more and then was still.

And it was then that the monks woke up. They murmured in consternation at finding themselves in the mandala hall having gone to sleep elsewhere. Then they murmured even more loudly when they saw their four brethren still lying on the floor.

Chrístõ moved quickly, jumping over the railing and landing on the mandala floor. He bent to examine the first of the four men. He was dead. Christo had left his sonic screwdriver in the TARDIS before beginning this trip. He didn’t want to disturb the monks with his futuristic technology. He sincerely wished he had it now. It would have made an analysis of the cause of death easier. As it was, he would have to guess severe shock. The expression on the man’s face was distressing to behold.

He reached to close the staring eyes of the dead monk, and as he did he felt something unexpected – a faint echo of the last moments of his life, a snatch of electricity from the brain that had not yet dissipated.

That brief snatch was enough for him to understand what had been taken from him to ‘sustain’ the manifestation.

“Please,” Abbot Jampo said to him. “You are new among us. This is not your concern. Let us take our brothers to the meditation hall and make the necessary preparations.”

“You mean you’re not going to drop their bodies down the mountainside and pretend they died in a fall?” Christo answered in a cold voice. “This IS my concern. I am making it my concern.”

“Then when we have done what must be done for these, come to my inner meditation room.” Jampo put his hand on Chrístõ’s arm and spoke not in words, but in his thoughts. He wasn’t telepathic, but he seemed to know that Christo would get the message.

“Very well,” Chrístõ replied out loud. He stood back and let the monks take their dead comrades to the meditation hall where four of them already knelt in vigil over the earlier victim. Jampo saw that the proper rites were observed then he headed towards a small door to the right of the main hall. Christo and his students followed. Jampo very deliberately closed the door.

The four Gallifreyans were immediately aware of a difference. It was like the sudden relief when a buzzing noise stops – one that had been going on so long that the ears had become accustomed to it. Within this room they were cut off from the low level telepathic equivalent of white noise that they must have been sensing without really knowing it ever since they stepped into the monastery.

Chrístõ looked around at the walls. There were no electronic shields or lead linings such as they had in the Committee rooms of the Gallifreyan High Council or in the Examination Halls of the Academies. The only thing protecting this room was a series of woven wall hangings with symbols of peace and harmony on them. They were on the walls, the door, the ceiling. The floor was a great painted mandala. The Abbot knelt in the middle of it. Chrístõ took up the north compass point. His students took his lead and knelt at the other three points.

“That is NOT the incarnation of a Dharma Protector,” Chrístõ said. “You know that, don’t you?”

“I know,” the Abbot admitted in a shamed and humiliated tone. “It is a Gyalpo that took the name of Dor-je Shu gDen and came first to Abbot Rin-Sen, promising him enlightenment in return for the devotion of all the souls within these walls.”

“What’s a Gyalpo?” Chrístõ felt one of his students ask the question.

“It is a demonic spirit in Buddhist tradition,” he answered. “This is nothing of the sort, but the term will do for now.” He turned his attention back to Jampo. “Enlightenment is the goal of all Buddhists, of course. But to seek it by the selling of one’s soul to a Gyalpo is hardly in keeping with the teachings.”

“To the shame of us all, that is true. Rin-Sen allowed ambition to overrule his head. He agreed to all the Gyalpo asked, including the sleeping draught in the nightly food in order to make the brothers easy to influence. At first… the men it chose… it took only a little from them. They were tired afterwards, but food replenished them. But then it wanted more. It took Gel-Sen. He was an elder, too, equal to me in age, but a wiser man, and Rin-Sen’s natural successor. He was chosen to sustain the Gyalpo… it took so much of him that he was reduced to the mind of an infant. All his wisdom was stripped away. We tried to care for him, but he wandered one morning and fell to his death. That was after Jampo himself died. I didn’t see what happened. He was found in the mandala room. I think… I believe he challenged the Gyalpo because of what it had done to that good man, and it destroyed him.”

“So you became Abbot. Do you understand the phrase ‘dead men’s shoes’?”

“I have not heard it before, but I think I understand your meaning. I did not seek power. My failing is that I did not have the strength or the courage to do as Abbot Rin-Sen did. I did not challenge the evil intent of the Gyalpo.”

“So you continued to pacify it with sacrifices.” Chrístõ wasn’t sure what to say about that. It seemed like cowardice and self-preservation. Of course, Buddhism was a pacifist philosophy. And that was fine. He was a pacifist himself when he was allowed to be. But that was the point. Pacifism in the face of tyranny was simply regarded as weakness by the tyrant.

On the other hand, standing up to the Gyalpo was clearly suicidal. Jampo’s death would have left the brethren leaderless again and even more helpless in the face of a creature that would not be satisfied until it had devoured them all.

And devour was exactly what he meant. It didn’t eat their physical bodies. It had no interest in human meat. What it wanted was human minds, the intellect of these men. That was why Gel-Sen had been reduced to the infant state. His mind had been devoured by the Gyalpo. The man he examined in the mandala room had fought against it. That last moment of intelligence Christo had detected was the remnants of the Tibetan alphabet. The man had tried reciting it as a mantra in his head to prevent the Gyalpo from invading his mind. It might even have worked for a little while. But ultimately the Gyalpo was stronger.

“You said it wasn’t a Gyalpo,” Diol pointed out to him telepathically.

“It’s not,” he answered. “It’s an Agorian mind-eater. It belongs in the wild, uncharted regions of the Agorian Maelstrom, on the very outer edges of the Milky Way galaxy. The area is so unstable no organic lifeform of any sentience dares go near it. It is called the Home of the Nightmare Children. Sometimes it flings one of those children out into the galaxy and wherever it turns up mayhem ensues - as you can see from the plight of these men.”

“Can it be stopped?” Axyl asked.

“It must be,” Chrístõ answered. “Because it won’t be satisfied with these few men in the monastery. Not when the population of this world numbers in the billions. When it has gained strength from devouring this monastery it will move on. China, with its teeming multitudes lies a mere thousand miles away. And when it is done with that, it could devour the whole planet at once.”

“And then it would be unstoppable,” Cinnamal Hext noted. “Even Gallifrey would not be safe. We must do something.”

“Now you decide that,” Diol responded. “With the prospect of our home world being attacked? We should do something to save this world, to save these men, here in this one place. But what CAN we do? I felt that entity. It is powerful.”

“Yes, it is,” Christo said. “But so are we. We have all faced the Untempered Schism. We have looked infinity square in the face. The Gyalpo has not.”

“You have a plan?” Axyl asked him.

Chrístõ smiled inscrutably. Their conversation, of course, had been telepathic. He was not going to share the extra-terrestrial nature of either the Gyalpo or themselves with Jampo. He had enough to worry about.

“We must destroy the mandala,” he said out loud. “The Gyalpo has manifested itself through the mandala. If it is destroyed, according to the proper ritual, the Gyalpo will be destroyed with it.”

Jampo nodded. His worried face cleared a little. He understood what was proposed.

“But the Gyalpo will fight back,” he said. “What man here is capable of withstanding its power until the destruction is complete? The ritual takes many hours.”

“We are,” Christo said. “We four. We have the power, and I have the knowledge to perform the ritual of destruction accordingly.”

“You would do this? Strangers to our community? You would do what we lack the strength to do?”

“We would,” Chrístõ assured him. Go out to the great hall, now. Gather your people there. Keep a vigil for the dead. Chant your mantras of protection. Call upon your true Dharma Protectors for the strength you need. But none of you try to come into the Mandala Room once we begin. That is important.”

“You are only four,” Jampo pointed out. “Five are needed to complete the ritual of destruction. I will come with you. Even if it costs me my life… I have already lived too long in my cowardice.”

“You are no coward,” Chrístõ told him. “We will do what we can to protect you from the Gyalpo until the ritual is complete.”

“We will need the Holy Ghanta,” Jampo said. He went to one of the wall hangings and pushed it aside. Behind was a niche in the stone wall. He took from it a bell made of grey, heavy-looking metal. He brought it reverently to Chrístõ who took it equally reverently. He carried it very carefully back through the meditation hall where Jampo’s brethren gathered.

At the Mandala Room they took up positions as they did in Jampo’s inner sanctum, the four Galliferyans at the cardinal points while the Abbot knelt at the edge of the mandala and began the destruction by taking a stick and rubbing out the letters forming the names of the Buddhist deities around the edge of the geometric pattern. As each letter was obliterated Christo rang the Ghanta. In ordinary rituals of destruction any bell could be used, but this one was more important and the Holy Ghanta’s sonorous tone was needed.

Even before the first of the deities was rubbed out and the sand placed into a special jar, they could see and feel the Gyalpo fighting back. The mandala heaved and shuddered and they felt the mind pressing upon them.

“Recite the Gallifreyan alphabet backwards,” Chrístõ told his students. Fill your mind with it. Concentrate all your efforts on remembering the alphabet.”

The unfamiliar characters of the one hundred and sixty-eight character alphabet used in their native language became the mantra that accompanied the ritual of destruction. Chrístõ joined in it, but only with one part of his mind. With the rest he was trying to form a mental shield for Jampo. He was only human. His mind was strong for a Human. Many years of meditative discipline had strengthened it, but the deaths of the former abbot and his successor proved that the Gyalpo was stronger. He had to protect him for as long as he could.

It meant that the Gyalpo was attacking him on two fronts – trying to get to his own mind and Jampo’s. It was painful, very painful. His head felt as if it might burst before the long, precise ritual was over.

“You’re not alone, Chrístõ,” his students told him. He felt a little relief as they joined their minds with his.

“We’re beating it,” Cinnamal said. “I can feel it weakening.”

He was right. The Gyalpo was losing its grip on them the more of the sacred geometry of the mandala was broken down and taken apart by Jampo. It no longer had the power to agitate the sand.

It had one last, desperate action. Jampo cried out in surprise as the sand that was left exploded into the air. When it came down again he was covered, head to foot, in multi-coloured sand. So were the four Gallifreyans. As the sand settled and their vision cleared they saw something else in the air – a silvery glow that writhed around much as the gyalpo had done before streaking towards Chrístõ.

“No,” he said. “My mind could not contain it. I have already looked upon infinity.”

The silver light hovered over him, and then moved again and settled over Jampo. The Abbot gave a startled cry as it enveloped him and slowly dissipated.

“What is it?” Cinnamal asked.

“It’s the released intellect, wisdom, of those taken by the Gyalpo – Rin-Sen and Gel-Sen and all the others. They looked for a new mind to contain them.”

“You could have,” Axyl told him. “Your mind as plenty of room within it.”

“But it would be more use to him,” Chrístõ replied. He watched Jampo stand up in the middle of the destroyed mandala, covered in the multi-coloured sand, still, but his eyes shining with the light of wisdom and knowledge, as well as the relief that he and his brethren were free of a terrible burden.

“Let us all return to the meditation hall and give thanks for our deliverance,” Abbot Jampo said. “Then in the dawn we shall light the last funeral pyres there shall be as a result of the evil that came upon us. The ashes shall be placed in sacred stupas. And after that… may we all return to the pursuit of enlightenment.”

“May we do just that,” Chrístõ echoed.

They stayed four weeks in the now tranquil monastery, long enough to see two new mandalas made and destroyed as life itself is made and is a transient thing that will come to an end in its proper time. Chrístõ enjoyed the company of men of contemplation and learning. His students enjoyed the experience of being students in a place where even the oldest and wisest knew there was always something new to learn.

When they finally went on their way, Chrístõ was surprised by Abbot Jampo who brought to him the Holy Ghanta that had been instrumental in defeating the Gyalpo.

“You want me to take it?” he asked.

“You, Keun-tshen Gyal-tso All-knowing ocean of enlightened qualities, are the Dharma Protector of Det-Sen. Take the Holy Ghanta and return it when we have need of you again. I think you will know when that is.”

“I think I shall,” Chrístõ answered. He let Diol take the Ghanta from his hands while he bowed to the Abbot.

“Goodbye, Keun-tshen Gyal-tso,” Jampo told him. “May you have long life and much enlightenment.”