Truth and Fallacy in Enlightenment
She trudged the last few paces along the steep, ill-used path, avoiding any loose footing that could tumble her over the edge to plummet the thousands of feet to the lush valley below. The climb had been more difficult and time consuming than she had originally thought, taking several weeks instead of the several days that she had allotted on this leg of her journey.
Her breath came in short puffs in the cool mountain air, leaving wisps of vapor in her wake. Though chilled from the high altitude air, sweat clung to her arms, her cheeks, and the exposed gooseflesh of her ample bosom, which rose and fell with each labored breath. Finally, she crested the last rise to the plateau. Sensing the culmination of her climb in reach, she paused, forcing herself to stop, turning to view the lay of the land below, to contemplate where her journeys had taken her thus far.
Below, the land stretched off in all directions, extending even beyond the hazy limits of her vision several hundred miles away. She could see desert, swamp, hills, valleys, farmland, towns, cities, and forest, all intercut with roads and waterways, each region as dissimilar as they could be, and yet each part of a cohesive whole that she was only now beginning to comprehend.
Out there, beyond the limits of sight, lay the many stopover points of her quest, housing all the knowledge and experience that she had come across in her trek. Satisfied that they had taught her all they could during her brief stay in each locale, in each case, she had moved on, taking their advice and knowledge with her, each precious in their own unique way. Once she had learned all she could, she had continued on her way, selecting each new destination from a variety of alternate paths laid out in front of her. These choices had ultimately led her to this pinnacle, this next step in her journey. Content that her choices had been sound, she finally turned to contemplate this way station on her path to enlightenment.
Ahead of her lay the peak of the mountain, a flattened and barren plateau upon which a few hearty shrubs and lichen precariously meted out a bleak existence. The flattened rise she stood upon was surprisingly level, extending in a rough semicircle of about 50 meters.
In the center of the rise stood a majestic edifice of stone, rising out of the earth like a beacon, extending high above to disappear into the thick cloud cover. It no more belonged here on this peak of the world than she did; though, like her, it seemed a seamless facet of this fabric of reality somehow, fitting an obvious need and yet hidden from the view of mere mortals. It appeared to be a stone tower, approximately 20 meters in diameter, joined together of dark and blackened stone and mortar. Although vines and creeping plants clung to it’s ancient surface, it appeared solid, as though it could survive all manner of natural disasters — and quite a few unnatural as well. Along its curving exterior she could see the occasional narrow window, too narrow to do her much good, though no light shone from any of them, nor could she discern any movement. Aside from these windows, the only other entrance to the tower’s interior was a solid, plain wooden door set in the side closest to her.
Who had manufactured it atop this desolate place? She could only surmise: gods, dragons, aliens, forgotten civilizations, or a bored writer seeking a story hook, it could have been any manner of fantastical builder who had placed this curiosity here in her path.
Avoiding the obvious for now, she instead chose to explore her immediate surroundings for options. Walking around the perimeter of the peak, she searched for alternate paths toward the next step to her goal. To the north and south, the mountain continued as far as the eye could see, a knife-edge of desolate, barren rock, no clear path in view. To the west lay the way to where she had come, stretching out for miles and miles. To the east lay her ultimate destination; however, there were no obvious paths to the valley below, which stretched off toward the darkened horizon. Instead, the edge of the mountain dropped off sharply, with no way down in sight. Sighing, and hating the lack of choices, she returned to the tower to take the only path left to her.
Standing before the door, she considered. Should she go back, return the way she came, content in the knowledge gleaned so far… and thus giving up? Or should she go forward, into the unknown, possibly opening more doors of opportunity?
She sighed, chiding herself for the inner conflict. Now was not the time for self-doubt, for fear of the unknown. Now was the time for forging ahead, for forgetting one’s anxiety and one’s past failures, for focusing on the possibilities of discovery. Steeling her resolve, she reached forward to turn the knob and enter the dark tower.
But the knob wouldn’t turn. Grasping the ancient brass ball, worn with years of exposure to the elements, she first turned it one way then the other, applying increasing pressure and even putting her shoulder to the ancient wood for better leverage. No matter how much force she applied, she could not open the door.
Laughing in frustration, she stepped back to consider.
After a moment, she did the only thing that came to mind.
She knocked on the door.
Inside, she heard the reverberations of the knock receding, as though in a deep cavern. She waited, the echoes fading until they were lost in the background noise of the wind rustling through the vines and across the plateau. After a few moments, just as she was about to give up, she heard a faint CLICK and saw the door swing open ever so slightly to reveal a sliver of light within. Taking this as an open invitation, she took a deep breath, steadied her resolve, and pushed ahead, opening the door and stepping inside.
As she crossed the threshold, her first thought was, Impossible… this just can’t be.