In a far away and foreign land, a Gelivan monk by the name of Lan-Bo was traveling on a pilgrimage across an expansive plain to visit a fabled village that lay at the base of a great mountain. A thick blanket of clouds shrouded the summit and the slopes were so steep and unyielding that the sight from afar looked not unlike a jagged spear piercing the very heavens themselves. The people of the region had long ago forgotten the name of the spire that rose up above them; they referred to it only as Dimburghast.
Word of Dimburghast and a massive fortune to anyone who managed to reach the top had spread like fire among would-be treasure hunters. They would travel to the mountain seeking a king’s fortune, only never to return. As Gelivan monks do, Lan-Bo was interested to discover why.
For weeks, Lan-Bo traveled across the bitter, dried up plain in the shadow of the great foggy mountain. As he walked, men would often ride past him on their swift horses with adventure and excitement in their eyes. Not one stopped or slowed at the monk’s presence; no one ever returned either.
When at last Lan-Bo entered the village streets at the base of Dimburghast, he was surprised to find it almost entirely abandoned. The homes were empty and the streets were virtually bare. Land vehicles lay abandoned and forgotten, showing their age with layers of dust and debris. There was no sign of any of the men who had passed the pilgrim during his trek, but as the pilgrim wandered past the eerie derelict buildings, he eventually came across one lone, poor farmer.
“Hello farmer,” Lan-Bo greeted the man. “Are you the only other person in this village?”
“I’m afraid so,” replied the farmer, aged and tired. “Everyone else left years ago.”
“Why did they leave?” asked the monk.
“They were afraid of the mountain,” grumbled the farmer somewhat dismissively.
The monk was puzzled as his gaze turned up to those surreal black cliffs, not unlike the foreboding teeth of a balagore. A skilled looking traveler with a large pack upon his shoulders soon rode up upon an animal. The monk was very interested to see such a man, somewhat familiar in appearance, but the farmer seemed far less surprised to see another traveler if not a little sad.
“Do you understand the price?” the farmer asked the mounted fellow.
“Indeed I do!” the man boasted before pulling a gold coin from his belt and handing it to the farmer. The farmer took the coin with little regard and turned from the rider who then immediately set off towards the foot of the mountain.
The farmer saw that the monk was confused about the transaction.
“He’s here to climb the mountain,” the farmer explained, “just like all the others.”
“I thought people were afraid of the mountain,” the monk replied.
“They are, or at least the smart ones are that is.”
The monk watched as the traveler disappeared towards the base of the towering monolith before gazing back up at those rocky crags and unyielding peaks, a mountain the likes of which could strike a chord of terror and despair in the unclouded heart.
“My name is Illumept by the way,” said the farmer, extending a friendly hand to the monk.
“Thank you Illumept. My name is Lan-Bo,” replied the pilgrim returning the gesture. “I am a Gelivan monk.”
“Ah,” said Illumept, though he was not surprised. “That certainly explains the dress.”
Lan-Bo did not find the farmer’s humor amusing.
“Illumept, what is it that lies atop this mountain that these men are so desperate to find?” the monk asked gazing up at the clouds overhead.
“A great treasure!” said the old man, adding a sarcastic twirl of his hand. “It’s said the treasure has no end and increases with each passing day.”
“And the fare you require?”
“Burial fee,” the old man replied with a little snarl of disdain. “You see, if a man fails to conquer Dimburghast, he sometimes falls all the way down. And we can’t have bodies lying around everywhere. This place is already miserable enough as it is! Someone, meaning me, needs to put the dead in the ground to keep this place from stinking up.”
They both stood there silently for a moment.
“Gold for the ferryman I guess,” Illumept grimly added, spitting upon the dusty ground.
A loud crash came from a building not far from where the pair stood. Lan-Bo immediately began to rush off in that direction to see if he could help, but the farmer just sighed and grabbed his shovel.
A cloud of dust rose from a fresh hole in the roof of a long-abandoned home. The monk hastily made his way inside, but he was too late. Lan-Bo frowned when he saw that the man was already dead, the same man he had seen with fire and excitement in his eyes only the day before. The monk calmly adjusted the ragged figure to the floor and said a Gelivan prayer.
The farmer waited patiently until after Lan-Bo had finished his words before entering the room from behind the monk and dragging the body unceremoniously into the street.
“That was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for these poor slags,” sighed the farmer. “I’ll bury him this afternoon.”
The monk looked about the village; he could see dozens of holes covering many of the roofs throughout the village. The monk then lowered his head and prayed once more.
“What’s wrong monk?” asked the farmer as he folded up the body. “I thought you Gelivan types were used to death. No offense, but don’t you believe that death is part of a cycle? The great wheel and such?”
“We understand that death is inevitable if that’s what you mean,” replied Lan-Bo solemnly. “But we also believe that life is too precious a gift to be squandered.”
“Heh, I think I know some guys that would disagree with you there,” Illumept chuckled with a suggestive gesture to the corpse lying at their feet.
Lan-Bo looked up to the mountain again and stared at it in silence. His eyes moved across the harsh, unforgiving surface as if studying the way it seemed to reach up past the dense clouds into the unknown beyond.
“I wish to climb this mountain,” the monk told the farmer.
“I’d rather you didn’t,” Illumept shook his lowered head. “I was starting to like you, but it’ll cost you one gold coin just the same.”
The monk nodded respectfully and retrieved a single coin from his belt before handing it to the farmer.
“Tell you what,” said the farmer, taking pity on the poor monk. “If you decide to come back down once you’ve started, I won’t judge. I’ll let you have this back.”
“That is fair,” replied the monk and then set off towards the foot of the mountain.
Lan-Bo had no protection from the wind and cold, so he paused often to build small fires and keep warm. He had never climbed a mountain before, so he patiently observed the area and took his time with each challenge presented to him. He learned from each mistake and got better at it as he went. Moreover, as he went, unlike those who had tried to master the unforgiving slopes that lay before him, Lan-Bo climbed very slowly up the sides of Dimburghast.
After three day’s climb, the monk finally reached the top. However, instead of the rush of success, Lan-Bo felt only remorse and sadness.
At the feet of Lan-Bo, thereupon the foggy the summit laid the bodies thousands of men.
They painted an eerie portrait of the mountain’s bitter history, of those who would give their lives to be the first to reach the top only to find it riddled with the despair of those who had come before them. For a moment, the monk feared some great beast, but as he took a deep breath, Lan-Bo could feel the thin air, the frigid cold and even the soreness of his own tired body.
“Greed had blinded these men,” whispered Lan-Bo as he stood there examining the haunting expressions of dismay. “They did not know they were dying until it was too late.”
Even though he was cold and tired, Lan-Bo began to bury each of the bodies on that narrow peak. After praying for a full day, the monk finally began to descend the mountain to return to the village below.
When Lan-Bo finally reached the village streets once again, the shocked Illumept came running up to the monk with gleeful surprise in his wide eyes.
“You!?” the farmer exclaimed. “I gave up hope! Never have I seen someone go to Dimburghast and come back alive! Please Gelivan monk, tell me, did you reach the summit? Where is the treasure?”
As the farmer squirmed with anticipation, the monk paused and reflected on what he had seen.
“Yes, I did reach the summit,” Lan-Bo replied, the chill of the ghastly scene seemed to hang on his words. “May I ask, do you keep track of all the money you receive and the number of men you bury?” added the monk.
“Yes I do,” replied Illumept, his smile starting to fade.
The monk paused, turned to the man and then coldly replied, “Gold for the ferryman.”