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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 
unintelligent."
     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 
obvious?"
     "But why?  Why do we all think this?"

	    The middle aged Sophist, however,  only shrugged and would say no 
more.

     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!"  
he said.
     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 
delightedly
     "What?"
     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 
only mirrors."
     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 
insights!"
     "Y'know," Thistley cocked her head sideways, grinning slightly, 
"You're alot different than the other Sophists I talked to on this 
mountain."
     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