The journey was long but now the mountain was fully in view.
We were already climbing its lower slopes. Unfortunately this also meant the most difficult part of our journey was before us, though shortest in distance. The incline quickly became steep and jagged, and we were soon measuring our progress in feet rather than miles.
It was not so much a dangerous terrain though, but the number of others before us, who got lost, could be counted by the millions. Many simply gave up, not out of fear or frustration, but rather out of self-satisfaction, feeling like they had already climbed enough of the slope and moved to other things.
The higher we got, the colder it got, but it was not a life-threatening cold, but rather a thing of such beauty that so many have stopped in their tracks to admire the view, and many have never left. Some even settled down, building homes in the snow.
We trudged on.
Further on, we began to hear the rumblings of thunder, not a foreboding sound, but a soothing one, a comforting one, almost tempting us to sit down and enjoy its features. We would not be deterred and forced ourselves up and forward, determined to reach our goal.
We had already met many who were on their way down, feeling as if they were already satiated with what the mountain had to offer, without having to reach the end. Soon it darkened and we could see the flashes of lightning, beautiful in their forked brilliance rather than frightful in their power. It was around that time that we began to see returning climbers who claimed they had actually been struck by the lightning, telling non-stop of their life-changing experiences on the mountain, as if now lit inside by an internal nuclear reactor, raving almost as if in delirium.
Soon we could see the lightning approach us. Many of our own were lost in those moments. Some just could not go on, not due to injury, but because they too had felt sufficiently enlightened that they no longer felt they needed to be part of our caravan. We left them behind in the snow, knowing that some would turn back, while others would wander the nooks and crannies of the mountain for a while longer, but having no fear that anything terrible would befall them - if anything, they were better equipped now to deal with the world than those who had turned back earlier.
Some of those who were struck, despite feeling like their minds were on fire, did not turn back or stay behind. Through some mysterious exercise of will, they continued to stay with us. By the time the summit was within view, the air was crackling with electricity, and we could see only by the light of the flashes from the summit.
It was at that time we regularly encountered other climbing parties. We struck up conversations, shared stories, and encouraged one another. By then, these bands were beginning to merge, often due to the similarities of our now shared journeys, and in the ways we had begun to think.
When we finally saw the figure at the top, it was a bit of a shock. I suppose we all had our own preconceptions of what the end would look like, but our imagined visions could never match the specific details of the actual reality. By then, all of us had been struck at least once, and when the figure caught sight of us, it began to lob bolts specifically in our direction.
It turned out to be a woman, her hair swirling wildly in the wind. In her hands was some kind of contraption that generated the lightning. We hailed her, and by then, we all knew one another to be friendly, yet she ignored us, appearing to prefer to communicate only with electricity. We lost almost our entire party in the last steps towards her. They had seen enough, experienced enough, and felt they would be able to tell stories enough for multiple lifetimes. There was no more they felt they could want from the final steps.
Yet a few of us did remain, undeterred by the bright but exhilarating energy that was now constantly shooting through our heads and bodies. One of us raised his hand in a friendly gesture, she smiled, he walked the last step and placed his hand on her shoulder. In that final moment, a brief smile suddenly took both their faces, and they both vanished. Those of us left behind nodded at one another knowingly. We all knew where the two went, yet each of us would tell a different story about it later, equally comforting.
Her electric contraption was gone. In its place was a box of lightning bolts, or at least that's what I saw when I looked where she once stood. The few others remaining each described something different, some in ways I could not understand. I reached in to pick up the box. The others were doing it too. There was no rush. It seemed we were all getting what we came here for, copies of what she had, yet different copies.
It was then that we knew we would probably never see one another ever again. We would all walk down the mountain with our treasures, but no matter how far we walked or in which direction, the summit would follow each of us.