At the Mountain of Souls
Thistley's next step had lagged for a time while she gazed up at
the marvel that transfixed her. She'd journeyed beyond even the
Hallowed Growthes of Old to reach this site. The mountain before her
was not especially impressive in size, but that reduced none of it's
majesty. It was formed from countless shelves of gray stone stacked
upon one another. Like a rambling mound of mammoth books, forgotten and
uncared for by the gods. Erosion had cleaved away jagged chunks from
the rock-shelves exposed fringes, granting the entire mountain's surface
an uncanny topography of ... Faces, thousands of grim Stone Faces
sternly noting the world. Stone Souls. It was easy to see how this
place had earned it's name.
Thistley's gaze followed the small, well worn road she stood upon
as it continued, from here at the mountains base, and ascended in a
zigzag course, all the way to the summit. At each turn in the path a
particular Face, a particular soul, waited patiently. It was quite a
climb overall, but the first turn wasn't really that far from here
anyway. With a soft inner sigh she straightened her stalk, smoothed her
thistles confidently, and at last took the next step of her journey.
Sitting serenely within the giant mouth of the first grim
countenance, a small and ancient Sophist waited. He beckoned her with
his nimble shoots, held out his gourd for the tribute, and once Thistley
had paid, he smiled slowly.
"I'd very much like to know w--" Thistley began to blurt out.
"Hush!" The ancient Sophist scolded, "I don't answer your
questions, I answer my questions! I am a path! You either choose me...
or you choose another."
"Sorry." Thistley said abashedly.
A playful smile blossom instantly on that shriveled face, and he
told her; "Now, ask me... ask me why I am a Animalerian, ask me why I
eat only animal flesh."
"Why?" Thistley repeated intensely, exhilarated suddenly at
finally being here.
"Because I am wise enough to abhor killing in any way."
"But aren't animals alive? Aren't they beings too?"
"Animals are NOT beings, only we are beings, and while they may
have a crude kind of life, they are not like us! They are
unintelligent! It is a superior morality to eat only the
Thistley thought about that a long moment. "Why is intelligence so
superior?" She asked finally.
"Hmmm, Good question! Maybe someone else knows." And the ancient
man closed his eyes and would say no more.
As she continued up the mountain, Thistley was frequently
disappointed to discover that most of the Stone Souls had no Sophists
waiting at their lips. Most had only signs that read "Out of Poignance"
or "Thinking It Over". When she finally reached an occupied Soul, she
was almost a third of the way up the mountain. This next Sophist was
not nearly so old as the last. Once Thistley had filled his waiting
gourd with tribute, the middle aged Sophist rooted himself languidly and
said, "I'm sorry if I seem a bit unimpressive today, but I'm not feeling
very leafy and the dry season takes a lot out of me. So ... go on, ask
me why intelligence is so superior."
"Why?" Thistley repeated earnestly.
The middle aged Sophist smiled knowingly. "Because we are
intelligent. Intelligence is the most important talent of our whole
species. It distinguishes us."
Thistley shifted about as she considered this. "So... Animalerians
have superior morals..." She struggled with these new ideas, "because
they eat only things lacking our intelligence?"
"Yup," he said.
"Because intelligent is more important than unintelligent--"
"Say, your pretty good at this," remarked the middle aged Sophist.
Thistley asked suddenly. "Who says that our talents are better
than the talents other kinds of life have?"
"We do." He said. "Our whole race agrees on that. Isn't it
"But why? Why do we all think this?"
The middle aged Sophist, however, only shrugged and would say no
The next occupied Soul rested as a profile, more than two thirds
the way up the mountain. This was a rather young Sophist, in fact he
was hardly older than Thistley herself. He greeted her with an
energetic hop from the profile's lower lip. She filled his gourd and he
laughed with delight at the clinking sound the silver made. "Okay,
your the customer, how can I be of service? I got wares of all sizes!"
Thistley was a bit taken aback by this young Sophists enthusiasm,
but eventually she found her words. "I-- I don't understand why we all
agree that our talent is the most important talent. How does it make
one morally superior to make supper out of only that which one has the
least in common with?"
"Oh, that's easy for every wise man!" The young Sophist intoned
His smile faded a notch. "You see--"
"I came here to learn something!" Thistley was becoming more and
more distraught as she spoke. "I expected to be shown some awakening.
I walked up this mountain and I paid your stupid tributes and all I've
found is a bushel of unsupported opinions. Where's the wisdom?
Where's the TRUTH?" As she shouted her last, Thistley had slowly
settled herself to the ground, there she sat with her thistles crossed,
bitterly scowling up at the young Sophist.
He grinned compassionately down at her. "Do you know why they call
this mountain what they do?" He asked softly.
"Yes." Thistley answered gruffly, "Because it has thousands of
Faces on it."
"No it doesn't"
"What do you mean?" She sniffled uncertainly.
"I mean there isn't a single face on this entire mountain. It's
all just rocks. Randomly set, meaningless rocks. But we see faces,
because we all look for meaning in the world around us, and often we see
Thistley sniffed and smiled a bit. "Mirrors-- like.... when we
assume that it is OURSELVES we see, when we look at something random or
meaningless enough to interpret. You mean, that... people are more vain
than they realize." And she looked carefully around the mountainside
then, studying it with new eyes. "So... Animalerians claim superior
morals, because they eat only things lacking our intelligence, because
intelligent is more important than unintelligent, because our whole race
thinks it's obvious, because... well, because we often confuse what's
important with our own unconscious self-admiration."
The young Sophist rattled his gourd playfully at her and leaned
close, "The core of wisdom," he said softly, "is knowing the core of
every wise man, where the fool endures."
"Are we all really that confused," She asked as she lifted herself
upright again. "Are we all really that vain?"
"Hey, now that you mention it, I sure am!" He smiled with
self-mocking triumph. "Huh, and here I thought I was serving out the
"Y'know," Thistley cocked her head sideways, grinning slightly,
"You're alot different than the other Sophists I talked to on this
The young Sophist's smiled broadly. "Me? I'm no sophist, I just
sell these gourds!" And he rattled the container in his hand again.
"HUGE gourd market on this mountain."
"But..." Thistley began.
"Y'know you ARE pretty good at this stuff yourself!" He
interrupted, "are you looking to be assigned a spot on this mountain for
your own? Tips are pretty good and the NOT-Faces make great houses. I
hear there's a vacancy in that one right there." And he gestured to the
colossal stone profile that he had originally come from. "I know the
owner. I bet I could talk to him for you!"
"...I bet." Thistley began to grin again. "Maybe next time,
though. Okay? I think I'm all done for today."
"Well, journeys can be like that, sometimes," He said. And he
smiled as he gently took her thistles in his own green fronds, and began
to lead her back down the mountain.
© 1996 Rich A Magyar