Ethan smiled to himself as he walked and reflected on that summer.  His paranoia and depression might have won that battle, destroyed his chance for happiness in his relationship with Faith, but it was losing the war.  He had withdrawn after that seemingly crippling blow, and had been quiet and sombre when he reached his university, but he wasn’t beaten.  He was healing, and eventually recognized that Faith had been right.

            So long as he looked to someone else to make him happy, to give him purpose and define who he was, he wasn’t really himself.  He was merely a smaller part of someone else.  Ethan had to be himself for his own sake, or it didn’t count.  She taught him that.  It had been a hard lesson to learn, and he was sure that it had been just as hard on her to have to teach it, but it was the one weapon he needed to begin fighting back against the darkness in his mind.  He had set his sights on believing in himself, and his indomitable will, which refused to give up on him even during the worst of times, meant that he could do it if he tried hard enough.

            That’s why he couldn’t mourn losing her, because breaking up with him had quite possibly been the best thing anyone ever did for him.  He had been living in a prison for years, a prison of fear and doubt and self-hatred, and she had given him what could quite possibly be the key to freedom.

            That was why Ethan was so happy despite being stranded in the middle of an endless wasteland, because here he was free of his fears and doubts.  For the first time in his life since he had begun school, his mind was free of those paranoid voices, those dark demons of his soul.  He wanted to thank Faith for that.

            He had the strangest feeling that, somewhere on this journey, he was going to be able to.

***

 

I sat casually on a boulder and waited for Ethan to arrive.  I could see him, a figure on the horizon trotting along, and I suspected that he could see me.  His senses had been sharpening as he journeyed, and his body had been strengthening.  His training was going very well.

            Ethan was jogging now, headed directly for my boulder seat.  If I had wondered whether he had seen me before, I knew it now.  He covered the last hundred metres between us quickly, at a pace that would have had him breathing hard once upon a time.  Now, he looked ready to go another thousand miles before needing to rest.

            “Greetings, Ethan.”  I said warmly.

            “Greetings, Archangel.”  He said, smiling through his thick beard wryly.  Ethan’s smile had always pulled a little to the left when he was thinking, and it did so now.  I wondered if he was amused by something.

            “Why do you smile so, pilgrim?”  I asked.

            “Like what?”  He said, the smile curving even further left.  Yes, he was laughing inwardly about something. 

            “You only smile like that when you’re amused, Ethan.  I should know, I’ve been watching you your whole life.”

            He laughed.  “I suspected that, sooner or later, you’d show up again, and I was right.  I never understand my intuitions, but they always make me smile when they prove true.”

            I nodded, understanding.  “Does your intuition tell you why I’m here?”

            “No, sir.  But I suspect that it’s probably to tell me more about my journey.”

            “An angel isn’t allowed to just stop by and say hello?”  I asked jokingly.

            “In my experience, sir, no.”  He said in all seriousness.

            “Well, unfortunately, you’re right.  I wish that I did have time to make such friendly visits, but I have too many responsibilities for that.  No, I’m here to tell you about the next phase of your journey.”

            “Go ahead.”  Ethan prompted.

            “Actually, before I can, I’m supposed to find out if you’re ready to.”  I said.  “Are you ready to go on?”

            “Of course I am.”  He said.  “I’ve come this far, haven’t I?”

            “Yes, Ethan, but why?  Why have you come this far, and why should you go on?  Why are you on this quest?  Surely not just because we’ve told you to?”

            This question was the real reason I was out here.  I had to learn if he truly believed in his quest, if he felt it as his cause in his heart and soul and mind.  If he was doing it simply because it was duty, because he had been asked, he would fail.  It had to be as much for himself as it was for God, his heart had to be in it, or he would never survive.

            He began to speak, low and solemn, and I realized how much time he had to think out here, and how much he had grown up on the journey.

            “I have had a lot of time to think, out here.  I’ve finally noticed that the driving force in my life is this need to find….  Someone.  I used to think I knew who it was.  Who she was, rather.  But now I see that I was wrong.  Not about the search, just about the perceived goal.  I was always looking for the right thing, just in all the wrong places.” 

            He looked around at the desert, still grinning.

            ” I want to give up this empty life as an isolated island, and join the rest of the world and be a part of the greater whole.  It took being alone in a desert to make me realize that sometimes you need other people, but I learned it. 

            “So, that is the force driving me on my journey, that is my quest…  Not just to find this cross because I’ve been told to.  I’m here to find myself, and to find her, and, hopefully, to find God.  I went on this journey because there was no other way to go, at first.  But now, I’ll see it through because of what I hope to find at the journey’s end.”

As he finished speaking, Ethan stared directly into my eyes with his cool, icy blue gaze.  He smiled again.

            “Is that reason enough, Raphael?  Is that what you wanted to hear?  Because I’d like to get going.  Say whatever you have to say, I’d like you to get it over with so I can get a move on.”

            I nodded.  “It’s reason enough.  We had to be sure that you believed in your quest, you understand?  It’s not a question of faith in you, you were chosen for a reason, but we had to be sure that you were ready.  There’s too much riding on this for you to fail because you weren’t prepared.”

            “I’m ready.”  He said simply.

            “Good.  The next leg of the journey begins now.  Soon, you will meet someone.  Someone who will answer some of your questions, and tell you some of what comes next.  But be on your guard, Ethan,” I admonished, “for the Adversary has His minions, too, and they may try to stop you, or deceive you.  Be on your guard.”

            He nodded, and then walked on.

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