Ethan walked on, huddling in his cloak with the hood up as a harsh wind blew down from the mountaintops.  It bit at the skin like hungry wolves, and howled in the heights of stone.  He missed Mara, but he was used to journeying alone by now.  He picked his way along the precarious path as it passed through rocky places, crevices and corners.  The mountains grew ever higher, the path narrower, the air colder, but he persevered.  Idly he wondered about the change in weather.

            If this place was supposed to be a physical representation of a spiritual reality, and not the physical world he knew, then what could this represent?  The desert was a major Biblical symbol, after all, with Israel’s journey from Egypt to the Promised Land being an obvious example.  It was a place of testing.  Spiritually, Mara had said people’s faith was drying up.  That made sense, but what was the meaning of the winter cold now?

            The desert is a place of dying, a place where things wither…  He thought as he struggled through snowdrifts as high as his knees.  The desert is a place where things struggle to grow…  But if faith were strong, there would be more green growthGwen and Genevieve made things grow.  He edged his way over a precipice, his hands holding to the mountain face, shivering in the cold air.  Winter kills plants, the cold destroys life…  I’m nearing a place that kills faith.

            He heard a strange tone in the wind, like the howl had grown hungrier, and instinctively flung himself forward, narrowly escaping the claws of the demon that whistled overhead.  Ethan scrambled to extricate himself from the pile of snow he landed in, and rushed up the path, staying close to the rocky face.  He hoped to find a more defensible position, knowing that the creature was bound to return, perhaps with reinforcements.  He heard it scream in anger, sounding worse than nails on a chalkboard combined with the dying keens of wounded animals.  Ethan realized it was a call to arms when other voices answered from further away.

            Having nowhere else to go, he rushed up the pathway, having difficulty as he had to struggle through drifts of snow and be sure of his footsteps on the uncertain high ledges.  Ethan came to a particularly tight corner, where he was forced to keep only the tips of his toes on the edge of the path as he hugged the cliff-face and inched his way along, the cold rock grating against his cheek.  The wind threatened at every step to blow him off the mountain, and he knew that if the demons arrived now he was an easy target.  He strained to get over the curve of the rock, straining to find a handhold.  He could not see further ahead, the wind carried too much snow and the outthrust cliff-face prevented him from seeing around it.  Just as he had stretched his fingers out to their limit, while his legs were trembling as his toes barely kept him on the ledge, he found his grip on the rock-face and pulled himself around the curve with all the force he could muster.

            At that same moment a demon rushed past, tearing with its claws.  Had Ethan hesitated for only a moment the snarling beast would have torn through his spine, but the torque with which he had rotated around the rock had spun him out of harm’s way, and the vile monster only ripped through the edge of his flapping cloak.  Ethan landed safely on the other side, where the path actually went through a crack in the mountain face, causing a small pass through.  In this close-walled tunnel that stretched up to the sky, Ethan was safe from wind and demon.  He caught his breath and walked on, hurrying along the narrow corridor through the rock.

            He came out the other side and found the path wider, and the sky clear.  On the other side it had been filled with angry clouds and wind, but here the sky was a startlingly clear blue that forced him to shade his eyes.  Ethan found the air crisp, but not as dangerously, bitingly cold as before.  The snow was packed down on the path and easy to walk.  He almost strolled along, though his senses were all on guard, scanning for further demonic attacks.  He came over a rolling rise in the path and beneath him saw that the path divided.  On the left, it continued in a gradual easy slope with this same packed snow that was as easy to walk on as a sidewalk.  It curved around a bend and went out of sight.  The other fork, to the right, grew narrower and rocky once again, leading higher up the mountain face.

            Ethan made his choice quickly and approached the two forking paths.  As he reached the point where he would have to turn, a flock of screaming demons burst from over the mountaintop behind him, swirling down on outstretched wings with claws at the ready.  They prepared to strike.

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