I would not say that it was fear that gripped me those first few steps from the Encampment. It was more petrifying terror mixed with curiosity tinged with slight joy. Yes, I realize that makes little sense, but I was full of many conflicting emotions. Immediately after setting out from the Encampment, I was in what was called the Valley of Hunger. The Encampment sat on the westernmost part of this area of the Desert. The Monks of the Encampment of Mercy told me that the Valley of Hunger stretched for three days or more depending on my pace. As I walked, the light grew slightly lower (because I was marching closer to the cliffs), but the heat began to rise. I flipped my hood to block out the heat on my skin.

As I walked, the heat began to make the sores on my back and forearms and everywhere else itch with pain. I picked a small hill on the horizon east of me and kept it in front of me. I walked in the heat. I passed some small shrubs that dotted the landscape, but other than those small shrubs, I saw only brown and tan rock mixed with dull sand. I walked the whole first day at a good pace without incident. I sang to myself. I hummed some nursery tunes I remember from my youth.

As I walked that first day, I got out the Map Brother Pede had given me and read some parts of the Map as I walked. It gave instructions on how to find the Highlands. This particular map also had some of Brother Pede’s notes in it. I appreciated that and felt honored that he had given me his copy of the Map. In the portion of the Map which covered the Valley of Hunger, I noted some instructions:
“The Ancient of Days wants to feed humbleness in you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with His spiritual food, which neither you nor your fathers have known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Ancient of Days.”

I thought a lot about those words as I walked. It is interesting that at the beginning of the Map towards the Highlands it points out the need for humbleness. Why humbleness? What does humbleness have to do with this journey? I soon realized as I thought about the words that unless I am humble (me… myself… all myself) I will crowd out the Ancient of Days with my own will. I suppose He could force His will upon me, but nothing I have been told thus far shows that the Ancient of Days forces anything. Not that He can’t, but He won’t. Once I empty myself of myself, then there is room for all that the Ancient of Days wants to give me.

About mid-day I got some provisions out of my pack and kept walking. I did not stop moving. I had reached the small rise just after mid-day and picked another landmark out in the east. It seemed to be some kind of column rising in the distance, and the landmark was on the Map. I just kept the column in front of me as I walked. I reached that column towards the end of the day and decided to stop. The column looked to be man-made and was some kind of ruin left over from an old building. It looked like the top of some kind of tower. I saw no other parts of the building but this column rising out of the ground.

I noticed that others had also stopped in this place as there was wood for a fire and a circle of rocks with which to make a fire. Where would firewood come from in such a place? There were no trees for miles!

I felt fortunate for the wood and built a fire. My fire was the only light on the landscape that I could see. Far far in the distance to the west, I could see the glow of the Encampment. This gave me comfort. I sat next to the fire and pulled out my pack. I had walked at a good pace my first day and worked up quite an appetite. I rationed out my evening meal and then ate it with due haste. “Haste” is a nice word for how I ate. I ate like a ravenous lykos cub fresh from the den. After I ate, I looked at the Map lit by firelight. From what I could tell, I indeed had two more days of travel through the Valley of Hunger. The column I was sitting near was on the Map. After I looked over the Map some more, I remember drifting off to sleep in the silent air with the crackling fire.

I do not know how long I was asleep, but I awoke to find the fire down to smoldering embers. What awoke me? I had hunger pangs like I had never felt before! My stomach growled and tossed and turned. I grabbed my pack and broke out some more provisions. It tasted so good going down… like celebration cake at the inn near my home in Receding. The more I ate the thirstier I got. I drank much from my water skin. I ate. I drank. The hunger pangs died down but did not go away. My stomach settled and I again drifted to sleep.

I awoke the next morning well rested and ready for my second day in the Desert. There seemed to be a scent like cinnamon in the air. I saw no trees or bushes around which might be the source of this scent. It just kind of drifted on the wind. I broke out some provisions and ate. I ate a little more than usual in anticipation of having a good pace for the day through the Desert. As I ate, I bet myself that I could make it across the Valley of Hunger in two days rather than three. There was a cave that was my destination. Definitely two days.
I set out and left the column. The wind picked up, and sand began to blow. Not too bad, but I did put on my desert goggles given to me by the brothers and buttoned my coat all the way up. I realized soon after I set out that I was again getting hungry. I was tempted to stop and eat. Should I stop? Should I eat? My provisions were going fast. As I was contemplating these questions, the wind and sand died down.

I could stop and eat, but I knew that I should keep moving. I broke out a few provisions and kept on walking. I looked at the Map and noted I was heading in the right direction. I was heading for a cave marked on the Map. A cave would be a nice respite from the open sand drenched country I was currently walking through. I noticed as I was walking that I kept pulling out provisions from my pack. I was so very hungry.

I arrived at the cave at the end of a long day of walking and eating. The cave was not above ground, but more of a large fissure in the ground. The Map showed that this cave-ish way-station was the place to stop if I were not trodding on. I was not sure what I would find as I walked down into the fissure. It seemed natural at points, but at others like it was man-made. As I walked, downward, I kept my hand on the wall of the fissure. Smooth. Completely smooth. In the fading light, as I walked, I could see the wall of the fissure getting darker in color from the bland sand above. I had walked a little when I again stumbled on a circle of rocks and some wood. I again felt grateful.

I started the fire.
I grabbed my pack.
No food.

I must have eaten more than I thought. I was again ravenously hungry. The hunger pangs were growing in my belly. Worse than before. Anger flared in my heart, and I began to break sticks and throw them in the fire one after another. The fire grew. I broke some more sticks in anger. I beat the ground with the sticks. Threw them in the blaze. The fire grew. As the flame grew, a deliberate carving was lit on the wall of the cave. I squinted. There were words on the wall!

I wrote them down so I would not forget them. Someone had taken this journey and shared these words with all others who traveled after them:
“I see a light in my journey shinning bright ahead,
But it has been so dim for so long and so heavily dark at times.
I doubt that I can reach the light.
I can faintly see light’s arms reaching out across the sky,
But it’s been so dim for so long and now is so grimly dark.
My lungs and vision are full of dust;
I can barely see the hand of light to draw me in,
I am just afraid if it grows darker yet
I will lose sight.
I will lose sight and never see light’s hand before me again.”

As I read, the hunger pangs felt like darkness pulling me in. Maybe I should quit and go back to the Encampment. Maybe I would die of starvation. Maybe I would get lost in the Desert and the Patrol would find my dehydrated remains years from now. Maybe I would not make it to the Highlands. Doubt married the darkness and honeymooned in my soul.

I stared into the firelight.
I pulled out the Map and consulted it.
One other part of the Map in the Valley of Hunger had these words:
“The wanderer’s appetite works for him; his hunger drives him on.”

I looked at the words on the Map. I looked at the words on the wall lit by firelight. I realized that my hunger had been mastering me and not the other way around. My hunger had driven me to abuse my provisions and had not driven me forward. I stared into the firelight. Even though I felt hunger pangs increasing, I resolved to complete my third day in the Valley of Hunger no matter what. My hunger for the Ancient of Days was more than my physical hunger. I would make it so with each and every step forward in this journey.

I did not sleep that night.
I stared into the firelight.
I stared into the firelight until it slowed to embers.

Once the embers died to a cool gray, I put on my mostly empty pack and headed for the surface. A slight wind was kicking up just a little sand. I consulted the Map and noted that further east from the cave was what looked like a formation of rocks. I could not tell how far. It might take me all day to reach them. I decided I would not quit and set my feet east and walked.

As I walked, I decided to make up a story. It was sort of one I heard about one of my great grandparents who helped build some sections of Receding. I was thinking about it, changed it a little, and tried to give it some meaning. My thought was that making up a story would pass the time and occupy my mind. This story took me all day. I know a story has to have a point. I have written it here as much as I can remember. I was delirious with hunger most of the time:

Once upon a time, there was a master stone carver (my great grandfather) who had a large seven-foot square piece of stone outside of his shop in East Receding. It was a perfect square block of marble that the stone carver always said would be his masterwork. He always said that when it was finished, it would represent him totally. Most days he was busy in town helping build some building or repairing another. He worked on a little each day and mostly found time in the evenings.

He began by etching into the marble scenes from his childhood. He wanted to preserve the memories of his life. He carved a scene on one side at the top, of the bad winter. When his sister died of starvation, and his mother could not stop crying. He would always remember that winter even though he was very young. He carved on another side at the top the time he got a new dog named Prince. He loved that dog. He grew up with that dog. There was not a memory from his childhood which did not have that scraggly old dog.

One day my grandfather was in town working on the newest addition to the town… a building that would be the new courthouse. The town had asked him to form large columns and to make the building an impressive structure for any who walked through the doors. He had meticulously carved each and every column. He had crafted scenes for the top of the building as well. As he was working, he saw smoke and dust rising in the air from down the street.

Soon a town worker came running breathlessly to him. “Did you see the smoke and dust?” the man asked between labored breaths pointing back the way he had come. The master stone carver nodded and wondered what the emergency must be. The man was covered in dust and certainly had come to find him. “The Amphitheater is starting to collapse. Your dear friend, the foreman, sent me to find you!” With those words, both men began to run down the street. The stone carver outran the town worker all the way to the scene of the impending disaster. The Amphitheater was in peril. If it fell, it would be a disaster. Many could die. Many would lose either a home or a business.

The master stone carver arrived to see town workers led by his friend the foreman bracing the side of the building with large wood beams. They were successful, but the engineering experience of the stone carver told him that such efforts would not last. The building would topple. He stood and watched and analyzed what was going on. The town workers saw him and were relieved that he was there.

My grandfather approached the foreman in charge of the workers. “What is needed is a large stone to provide strength to the foundation.” The foreman agreed and asked where they would ever find a large square stone in such a short amount of time. The two friends began to throw around ideas quickly as the building needed immediate foundation help. Wood beams creaked under the stress of the building. Just then, the eyes of the master stone carver grew large. He turned and sprinted back to his work area. “I know what to do!” he called out to the foreman as he ran. The carver got into his wagon and drove carelessly to his shop. He arrived at his shop and there outside his shop was his pride and joy. There stood his in-process 7-foot square masterpiece. Without thinking, he loaded the large block onto his wagon and drove off towards the Amphitheater.

The large marble stone was installed. It took much effort, blood, a few broken bones, digging, and many hours, but the large marble stone was put in place at the foundation of the building, and the toppling was averted. The Amphitheater had been saved. The stone carver and the town foreman stood back after the great labor was complete. The two friends basked in their labor and success. The building was straight and firm in the foundation. All emergency wood beams had been removed. Each worker came by and thanked the stone carver for his quick thinking.

Both men looked at the building and said in unison, “The foundation matters.”

After I fashioned this phenomenal classic work (the ending needs a little work I think, but the moral of the story is sound), I arrived at the formation of rocks. The rocks seemed to be naturally placed and man-placed… much like the cave the night before. The rocks formed a protective C with one lone stone in the middle. I pulled out the Map. On the part of the Map with the rock formation it said:
“In their hunger and thirst You gave them water from the rock; You told them to go in and take possession of the land You had sworn with uplifted Hand to give them.”
I sat at the base of the rock in the middle of the C formation. The C formation would block the winds and keep me safe for the night, but my pack was still empty. My stomach was empty. I decided to walk around the formation before I lost the last of the light. I noticed no carvings as in the fissure. I saw no wood for a fire.

What I did notice was the rock on the center of the formation. It was a strange rock as I would soon discover. It looked normal except for the very top of the rock which was waist high. It dipped with a depression like a bowl. Around the top of the rock were indentations that looked like the rock had been struck again and again. I looked at the rock. My stomach growled. I looked at my walking stick. I realized that the indentations on the rock had been made by a staff similar to mine.

I tapped my walking stick on the top of the rock.
Nothing happened.
I rapped my walking stick on the top of the rock.
Nothing happened.
I hit my walking stick on the top of the rock.
Nothing happened.
I slammed my walking stick on the top of the rock.
Nothing happ…

… The bowl top of the rock began to bubble and gurgle. The top of the stone filled with water. I drank. It was so refreshing. I noticed as I was drinking that little tubers were bobbing in the stone bowl. Without thinking, I grabbed a tuber and shoved it in my mouth. I don’t think I chewed it. Or the second. Or the third.
I struck the rock and water came forth.
I struck the rock and food came forth.

After my belly was full and I even felt a little sick from all that I had eaten, I got out Brother Pede’s copy of the Map and looked at what was next. Next was the part of the Desert called the Sand Pit of Serpent Winds. It looked to me to be about a day’s journey. That was a short distance considering it was three days across the Valley of Hunger. I noticed on the Map that rocks along the way were indicated. Based on what I was told in the Encampment, they were horizon rocks to mark the way. Follow the rocks. Got it. When I set out tomorrow, I would need to look for them.

I read some of the writing on the Map near the part depicting the Serpent Winds. One portion read:
“The tempest comes out from its chamber, the heat and cold from the driving winds. The breath of Prince-Nachash produces lies and death. At his direction, they swirl around over the face of the whole desert to do whatever he commands them.”

Another portion read:
“Only in this place does he make the winds his messengers of lies and death. He leads us not to Truth, but to lies which lead to death. Beware of the sins that lead to death.”

I noticed in Brother Pede’s handwriting he wrote simply:
“From here to there do not go there, but stay here.”
Nice and clear.
I drifted off to sleep in the protection of the rocks. I felt protected in this place.

The next day I set out with a waterskin full of water from the rock and a pack full of the strange tubers. As I walked east, I noticed the horizon stones. They did, in fact, mark my path. I walked all morning up a small rise and then down a small rise. I sipped my water carefully. I noticed the unusual hunger and thirst pangs of the Valley of Hunger were gone. I was thankful for that. Up a small rise of sand and then down a small rise of sand. The horizon stones kept my direction steady towards the east.

As I walked, the land was full of dull tan sand as far as I could see. Only sand. No shrubbery. No rocks. To the left, sand. To the right, sand dunes reached into the sky. Ahead of me, sand. The sand in this part of the desert was not normal. I looked all around me, and the whole ground seemed to move. I know logically it was blowing in the wind, but all the sand around me was moving as if alive and moved in ‘s’ patterns like snakes would. It was unnerving to walk upon constant slithering moving sand. I found that if I walked and stared at the sand for too long that I became dizzy and nauseous because of the movement.

As I walked, I thought back on the conversations I had at the Encampment. I had so many conversations and lectures and question sessions with the brothers. I also did with my Uncle Kalo. As I was walking, one, in particular, bubbled to the surface of the pool of my mind. I think it came to mind because I was struggling and wrestling with staying on the path through this Desert. It was not easy. He said one day:
“Blessings come from the Ancient of Days. Even when we wrestle in this life, we who are believers cling to the blessings that come from the Ancient of Days. He rules. We, believers, trust in the Ancient of Days. When testing comes, His blessings seem to disconnect from us. They don’t really, but that is what we perceive. We who believe must keep wrestling. So, come what may, we hold on to the Ancient of Days. We don’t let go! We trust Him! We have faith! He then blesses us who humble ourselves before Him. Our wresting reveals genuine faith by not letting go of Him.”

I walked to about mid-day, and I caught a scent on the air. It seemed to be blowing from the south where the dunes dotted the horizon. It smelled like water. How can you smell water you ask? You know, it is that strange smell or humid sensation right before it rains. You know it will rain because your nose tells you. That is what I smelled.
I was to go east.
I wanted to go south. Just for a stop.
Then I would continue.
It couldn’t be too far.
East could wait.
The heat was unbearable. Water would be nice.

After I decided to ignore the temptation to go south, the wind picked up. The wind gusted from all directions it seemed. Some of the wind blew hot. Other gusts were ice cold. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to any of it or any logic to the blowing. My steps were becoming labored. The wind was blowing strongly and did so in such a manner that I could barely see the horizon stones. Sand kicked and twisted and twirled in the wind. The wind gusts were pushing me south towards the smell of the water. I was glad for the goggles and protection the brothers gave me. I needed it.
It did look calmer south.
Maybe I could walk around the strange storm.

I remembered the words from the Map that I read the night before. “The breath of Prince-Nachash produces lies and death.” I also remember Brother Pede’s useless comment: “From here to there do not go there but stay here.” Not so useless after all.

I also remembered another conversation I had with Uncle Kalo:
“The Host tells us that the Ancient of Days commands all. The evil things of the world including Prince-Nachash tremble before Him. They don’t tremble because He exists. They tremble because of His power and character and essence. He has all authority. It was He who created all the cosmos and is above all. They bow to His will.”

Reminded of this I asserted my own will in the midst of the wind that was driving my feet. I shouted at the top of my lungs as I walked in defiance of what the winds were trying to push me to do. This was freeing. This also means I ingested much sand as I went.
“You will not tempt me from the path!”
“I know you are not the hero, but a liar!”
“I want to be a servant of the Ancient of Days!”
“I am guided by the Map and will not stray!”
“Bring your worst!”

The last yell was probably over the top, but I made it through. I made it through a whole day of moving slithering sand, strong wind, and temptations to go another way. Towards the end of the day, as I traveled, I noticed the wind was dying down. I relied less on my walking stick to trudge forward.

I arrived at my destination in the early evening. My destination was what looked like a huge crater. It looked as though something large had dropped from the skies and cratered out the land. I marched up the side of the crater which was rock mixed with sand and went over the lip. As soon as I made it over the crest of the rise, the wind lost power. I realized that the wind was howling and spinning outside the crater, but did not flow into the crater at all. The crater was a calm place. At the center of the crater was another C rock formation like the previous night. I would be safe here.

I was thankful for being in a place of calm. I judged that the wind violently wailing above me had turned cold because the temperature dropped uncomfortably. I got out my bedroll in the cleft of the rock. I got the stones the Patrol had given me and slammed them together. They again came to life with warmth. I sipped from my water skin. I ate well of miracle tubers from the night before.

I again got out the Map to preview the next day’s journey. I was surprised to see that my destination was not far. I knew I was getting close to the way up the cliffs for the light was growing dimmer each day as I walked to the base of the shadow-casting formation. I had maybe a half-day. I might have let out a celebratory whoop as I looked over the Map.

The Abode of Vision was next. I remember the trio from the Patrol telling me that this third and final part of the Desert offered people their deepest desires. The Abode of Vision was unknown to the people in the Map Society. The Monks at the Encampment did indeed know more, but not too much more.

My uncle had me visit all of the monks and write down the advice from each of them about the Abode of Vision. So I didn’t write them down at the time, but here are the things I could remember from what they said:
“Ask the Ancient of Days to deliver you from the evil one.”
“You must be watchful so that you do not fall.”
“The Ancient of Days always provides a way out.”
“Get up and stand up under it.”
“Traps are foolish and harmful desires that lead to ruin.”
“Traps are foolish and harmful desires that lead to destruction.” (Brother Sofos changed his a little when I told him what Brother Sef said.)
“Lack of self-control is played upon.”4

I don’t recall anymore. To be honest, as I sat there that night half warm and wholly unsure, I wished that I could walk back to the Encampment of Mercy and ask again about this part of the journey. I should have paid more attention to the instructions my uncle gave me.

The next morning, I marched up the opposite side of the crater to which I entered and walked over the crest of the bank. My eyes set upon my destination which indeed was not far. I spotted an oasis in the desert at the base of the cliffs. The oasis was where I would start my ascent up the cliffs to the gate and enter the Highlands. To get there, I would need to follow a winding path from the crater to the oasis.

I nodded my head in confidence and put one foot in front of the other and set upon the winding path. Isn’t that the way of all journeys… one foot in front of the other? I had not walked too far when I noticed baca berry bushes growing wild along the path. Their sweet aroma drifted on the breeze. I found a rather large bush and began to pluck the juicy baca berries from their home. So good. So tasty. They tasted amazing. The taste reminded me of the Market and a stolen pie.
I stopped eating. All at once they tasted sour in my mouth.

A small clear voice came upon the wind, “Not worthy.”

I moved on from the baca berry bushes again tinged with guilt for having stolen the pie. I wound my way on the path to the cliffs. The path was such that there were no shortcuts. I looked. I came upon a small rest area along the path. It was just to the side.
There was a bench.
There was a statue.

The statue was a beautiful glass sculpture of a woman. Her lightly clothed curves delighted my eyes. I looked at the statue in amazement. How was that statue in this place? How did the artist catch the figure so perfectly? I looked and realized that I had seen this figure before, but not in this manner. It was Cleric Koritsi von Sollemne from South Rim Neighborhood! I quickly looked away and remembered my wrong of oogling her in her presence.

A small clear voice came upon the wind which was now mixed with sand, “Not worthy.”

What was going on in this place?
Where was that voice coming from?
Was it in my head?
Was it real?
Was any of this real?

I would like to say that I rushed from that place and continued on, but I sat on the bench and put my head in my hands. I took off my pack and set it beside the bench. I sat there dejected. Sand seemed to slither into the bench area and began to make the ground look like it was moving. No sooner had I sat then small puffs of smoke began to come up from the ground all around me in between the mounds of long slithering sand. At first, it was small puffs. Then larger ones. Very quickly the air was filled with the smoke and lingered around me. I inhaled the smoke as I sat for it was unavoidable. Very quickly I started to feel strange, but it was a familiar feeling. I tried to stand, but my legs felt like were made of rubber. I sat roughly back on the bench, and it creaked under my weight and the suddenness of my return to its wooden planks. I felt strange, but I liked it. Oh, did I like it! I looked around me and the world was colored with blues and greens and some colors I could not even identify. No. Not again! I struggled to rise and made my way struggling to make it down the path.

The cloud of smoke seemed to stay at the rest area. It was hard to walk as the ground was constantly moving. I dropped to one knee. I got up and struggled to continue. My head was swimming because the ground made me feel dizzy. I was making my way out of the haze when I began to cough, and smoke jumped from my mouth into the air from my lungs.

A small clear voice came upon the wind and sand as it began to swirl around me, “Not worthy.”

Was I to face all of my wrongs in this place?

I did not want to continue. My body was fine as were my legs now, but my will to continue was diminishing rapidly. I did not want to continue. My heart was wracked with a strong desire to return to the Encampment. Even more than that… I just wanted to go home.

What was the point?

As I walked on my environment seemed to come to a calm, though my mind did not.
“I am not worthy of going to the Highlands” stayed fresh in my thought.
“I am not worthy of learning anything about the Host” laid sour in my gut.

“I also stole and liked it!” I screamed as I walked along the winding path.
I stood still and wobbled on my feet.
“I have lied!” I screamed as I walked along the winding path.
I stood still and wobbled on my feet.
“In my life, I have been selfish and foolish!” I screamed even louder as I walked along the path.

The patrol tried to warn me. They were right! It was death out there, and anxiety poured over my mind like rain. Still, I kept moving forward and trying not to think, though the relentless anxiety was like fear set free in my mind. Time seemed to pass very slowly. I just focused in front of me on nothing but my next step.

I do not understand what happened next.
I can only relate to you what I remember.

I began I see an oasis before me and with it came hope and as hope came, I began to feel a pressing in. A force on both my left and right. The more I moved in either direction, the more the force I felt until I came into a walkway of no resistance, a very narrow path. The oasis visually was in front of me like a gateway to bliss. I continued forward. I tried not to be overcome by how odd the unnatural force felt around me. I kept moving forward because I could smell the freshness of the oasis pouring through the opening and the echo of running water through this invisible hedged path.

Then abruptly, I could feel a narrowing of the path once more to the point I found it very hard to move forward at all. I inched myself to one side. I felt pressed in and was pressed down to a slow side shuffle. All of it impossible and I must admit I thought I was losing my mind, but even if I was going mad, I was not ready to stop moving forward. I kept my eyes fixed on the oasis.

The sands surrounding me at this point were apparently not under the same restriction as my pressed body. The sands began to rage in a storm. The Serpent Winds were gathering at this place and were now pressing me back the way I came. The slithering sand caught up to me and was enfolding my feet. I could not move. I looked down, and the sand was reflecting the light from above and glowed in certain places. Not only was the sand keeping me from moving, but the sand was coalescing in front of me in the opening between me and the oasis.

It was forming from the ground into something. The light reflected off the sand into my eyes, and I could not quite make out the form. Something large. Something that looked like the shape of a serpent. A serpent? The form of a serpent was forming up from the reflecting sands. As the winds blew, the grains of sands slightly shifting randomly, began to glimmer more and more. It was all reflecting light somehow. This serpentine figure gathering before me had skin that shined with radiance. This reminded me of the tales of Prince-Nachash and the play I had seen at the Lake Amphitheater.

It was a frighteningly unnatural manipulation of nature. I instantly knew I was dealing with real power. A voice reached my ear. The voice made me feel apathetic about moving forward. I felt like a puppet. I heard the low voice clearly: “Bow! You are in the presence of divine royalty! Bow! I am the Lord of Receding. You may have left my town, but you are still in my domain. Bow! I own you.” Each time the voice said “Bow!” I felt like I had been stung. I felt like I had been bitten as the voice filled my mind with poison.

I was terrified.
I was terrified, but I was not about to bow!

Lifting myself back up on my feet, I knew this voice was one with the voice from the Serpent Winds earlier in the Desert. The voice I thought may have just been in my head was here, and it was coming from this vision in the Desert. From this barrier to the oasis, the voice of a serpent, PrinceNachash, commanded me.

It awaited my response.
Was this it? Was this as far as I could go?
How was I to pass to the oasis?

It continued to speak to me: “You are not worthy to pass into the Highlands. You are of my children. Receding is in you! You are a lying thief whose heart is not prepared for the Highlands. You are not worthy. You shall not pass.”

It was all too much to hear. I turned to go. I wasn’t worthy. I knew that in the core of my being. I was a liar and a thief and someone whose eyes wandered around the curves of women. I had gambled and smoked and liked it. I was not worthy to pass. I knew it. I knew it way down deep in my bones. If there is a place deeper than that, I knew it there as well. I was not worthy to pass.

I took three steps back, and the Serpent Winds pressed in surrounding me.

The wind then entered my ear like the breath of a creature. And it spoke again:
“You are leaving already? Will you not even try to buy your way in? Perhaps you can give me some kind of gift to show your devotion. Have you anything worthy of me?”

I turned around but did not move.
“I have nothing to purchase passage,” I said honestly. I had left my pack in the haze of smoke earlier and had nothing with me. I think Prince-Nachash knew this and wanted to just grind such truth into me. I asked a question, “Is there anything that can buy my passage?”

“No. You are not worthy no matter your wealth or trinkets.”

The force surrounding me let loose. His point was clear, and he had made me feel feeble indeed.
I again I turned to leave. As soon as I turned my back, the Nachash spoke again tauntingly:
“If you want to enter the Highlands, why don’t you kneel and pledge your heart to me. Pledge your loyalty to me, and I will let you pass. Just bend your knee.”

I looked at the Serpent figure. The sand was in his control. I was as well it seemed. My heart pulled in two ways. I wanted to move forward into the oasis and then to the Highlands. I did not want to pledge anything to Prince-Nachash. I considered the authority within the sands of glimmering light before me. My knees began to bend in my weakness.

Then the voice again came to my ears and said in an accusing tone, “You are no more than your great grandfather.” With that vile dig, I understood my great grandfather. I realized he had tried to journey through the Desert. I understood how he found a hymn fragment in a cave. It could have just been a lie to crush my head. Lie or not, it was meant to rush me. In an instant, a bond was formed with my ancestor who had tried and failed to pass on some kind of awareness of faith to his family. This vile arrow backfired.
I would finish what great grandfather started!
I would move on from what Receding had to offer!
I would resist this monster before me no matter what!

I rose in wholehearted resistance whatever the consequence.
One moment. Then another. Then another. Then nothing. Prince-Nachash just went away.
The sand fell flat.
The wind died down.
All within a moment, it was gone.
He fled.

I felt like I had been given a free gift. Fresh air buffeted my skin.
I felt accepted even though I was unacceptable. I smelled fresh flowers on the air.
I walked into the oasis unhindered.

I knew in my heart, I was moving forward.

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