Dedicated to all those who help me climb, each and every day.
It was what he kept telling himself, over and over again. That one simple word, which yesterday had meant nothing. Today, it was his mantra. He looked up at the steep mountain face before him, towering as it reached into the clouds until it became one with the sky.
He glanced downward and shuddered. He was already nearer to the summit than he was to the ground. There was no conceivable way he could turn back now, much as he wanted to. With desperation he grasped another small ledge, heaving himself up a few more inches.
His paws ached. They had been right, all of them. Gnorbu were not built for climbing mountains. However, he had gone anyway, too stubborn to listen. They had nothing left to offer him anyway. The only path left for him was up. The mountain was his last hope. Higher he went, a few more inches.
As he climbed, he remembered their reaction when he told them he was leaving. They had been unable to believe him at first, and the Gnorbu supposed he could not blame them. For the last twenty years he had watched the sun rise over hazy mountains and set on the glimmering western sea. It had been his life, all of theirs. He'd never wanted to leave before- and if he had, they'd never known it. But in spite of all this, it took very little convincing for them to believe that he could, and would, climb the mountain.
He felt his limbs steadily grow heavier. Even as he bid them farewell all those hours ago, they still had trusted him to accomplish this. He had not expected them to. They had even come to the foot of the mountain to bid him farewell. Each one had each given him a trinket, a small token to remember them by. Erton, the silver Aisha, had given him a Cheery Tomato plushie. The brown Gnorbu chuckled. He had always loved Cheery Tomatoes, but Erton could never stand them.
Celene, his Blue Chia friend, had given him her Mipsys Charm Bracelet. He knew it must have been hard for her to part with it. She wore it everywhere, ever since she had purchased it from a traveling merchant second-hand.
Rait, his dear older brother, had placed a polished crystal in his paw.
“Legend says it was made from a Kazeriu's teardrop,” Rait had said. “For luck.”
The Gnorbu did not know if the legend was true or not, but he did not care. It was a gift from a friend- a friend who believed he could reach the summit; even now, when he was not sure he himself believed he could.
He looked up once more. High up in the distance he could see the mountain peak, a bright spot of green grass peeking over the edge of the steep rock face that he was climbing. It was so far away. It would take him hours to reach it, if indeed he ever did. Already his limbs felt like they were on fire from sheer overexertion. How could he ever make it?
He had been a fool, he realized then, to ever entertain the idea of climbing the mountain. A silly dream, it had been. A pretty little dream of moonlight. Why had he allowed it to overtake him in this way, enough that he would actually climb a mountain for it? Silly and, he knew now, a trick. There was no way he could reach the summit. He'd been climbing for hours, and it was still so far away. His paws hurt, and his pockets weighed him down. He clung to the rock for dear life.
His lungs, too, were beginning to hurt; the air at that height was more difficult to breathe than he was used to. But more than that, more than any of the pains he felt on his body, he felt something else aching.
It was something within him, something that was rising in intensity with every moment he remained there, latched on to the rock. He didn't know at first, what it was. It had been born from his despair and, as such, had done a good job of disguising itself as such. The longer he clung there, however, the more apparent it became to him that the only thing that hurt him more than not reaching the summit was not trying.
His mantra began playing itself over in his mind once again. Climb. Gone was his hope of reaching the summit. He could barely remember why he had ever wanted to reach it in the first place. But if he had to fail, he was going to fail on his own terms. And his own terms, he knew with certainty, did not include hugging a rock until someone came and rescued him. No, he had started this climb with confidence and determination, and he was going to climb for as long as he could. For himself, and for the friends who had believed in him.
Obstinacy was all he had left, and while in many pets it would have already been used up, in this particular Gnorbu it was a surprisingly effective fuel. With each new step he took, he grew more determined to take another. The higher he got, the less the hot sun beat down on him. As his body cooled, he actually felt some of his energy flowing back into his limbs. Up he went, more and more. He did not look up, nor did he look down. He kept his eyes and his entire consciousness focused on the step ahead of him, one at a time. He grew numb to the pain in his paws, deaf to the nagging voice in the back of his mind telling him to give up now. He grew oblivious to all the world around him; only he and the mountain existed. Again and again he reached above him, feeling craggy rock and using it to haul himself up just a few more inches.
Except one time, when he reached up for another handhold, he did not feel rock. Something soft and cool met his paw, something that tickled when he touched it. Even after he looked up and saw it, it took him a moment to truly believe what he was feeling.
He had reached the top of the mountain.
In a state of shock he heaved himself up, collapsing on the soft plateau. The ache in his limbs had come back, and his lungs were paining him from sheer overexertion. He stared up at the sky, trying to make himself believe what had just happened. He had reached the top of the mountain. He had made it.
It took some time before his legs began feeling like themselves again enough that he could stand. He examined the mountaintop and was taken aback by its beauty. Most of the ground was relatively flat and covered in a long, pale grass. A single cherry tree stood at the edge, blossoming with tiny pink flowers exactly like the ones that grew down in Shenkuu.
Shenkuu. The Gnorbu walked slowly to the edge of the mountaintop and looked out over his beautiful hometown. What he saw made him gasp.
His grand, beautiful town- it was so small! The lavish marketplace, whose vastness had always intimidated him, looked tiny from where he stood now. The great pagoda, pride of all the city, looked no more magnificent than a toy. The cafe where he had spent the days with his old comrades was among the smaller buildings, but somehow it gleamed with a strange beauty that he failed to see among the larger ones. The ocean stretched out beyond it in a shimmering plane of blue and silver.
Over the water, Kreludor was rising. He remembered his dream then, that vision of moonrise that had left him wanting with all his heart to be near it. He had never seen anything more beautiful in all his life. This had been his wish, his secret hope. He needed to be near it, to see it, to know all he could about it. And now he was going to. All disbelief fled him at that moment; he knew who he was, where he was meant to be. And he knew he was never alone. As he sat on the plateau for the first night of his new life, he felt a sense of warmth and contentment as he had never found down in the busy streets of Shenkuu. The evening air chilled him, but he felt the unwavering faith of his friends come over him, and it warmed him. No matter where he went, he would always have his true friends there with him- and now, as he finally reached his dreams, he felt their friendship stronger than ever.
This, he knew, was why he climbed.