The Kinds of Wildernesses

Now it is said that wildernesses are of five kinds: robber wildernesses, wild-beast wildernesses, drought wildernesses, famine wildernesses, and demon wildernesses.

The first wilderness is when the way is beset by robbers; to defend against robbers, you must hire soldiers or other men with weapons to protect you from them, should they fall upon you. A show of force may discourage a small band of highwaymen; but if the robbers be desperate, they may attack you in order to save themselves from perishing in the wilderness. Or they may be so successful at their profession that they fear no one; the only protection against such robbers is to carry nothing worth taking the trouble to steal. This, of course, is not always possible — for example, when fleeing for refuge to another land; in this case, it is necessary to conceal or disguise the treasure that must be conveyed through the wilderness so that the robbers will believe you bear nothing of worth.

The second wilderness is when the region is afflicted by lions or wolves or other wild beasts; to defend against these, a troop of soldiers is best, but most wild beasts can be kept off by fire, which will need to be tended with care and vigilance. It must be remembered, however, that although beasts avoid fire, men are attracted to it.

The third wilderness is when there is no water to be got, for drinking or for bathing; no other remedy avails but to bear drinking water with you, and to hire a guide who knows where oases are located and the path to follow to get to them. Bathing may need to be forgone until the journey's end.

The fourth wilderness is when no roots or other food are to be found; as with water, you must bear victuals along with you, which may be dried, or salted, or smoked beforehand, in order not to spoil. Or you may hunt, if you are able, and there is game to be found.

And the fifth wilderness is when the road is beset by demons. Demons are harmful beings from the spirit world that are full of rage and hatred towards us and are bent on our destruction. They are very powerful, and ordinary means are insufficient to defend against them. Some say that demons are unable to kill outright, and must rely on human agents to carry out this ultimate of evil intents. Not everyone believes this; as the Remnant say, it is better to be proved a credulous fool than to scoff and then be shown your mistake. And for some, death may be preferable to the torment that demons are capable of inflicting upon them.

Now demons are of five kinds: violence demons, madness demons, temptation demons, mirage demons, and argument demons. Violence demons attack the body, madness demons attack the mind, temptation demons attack the desires, mirage demons attack the senses, and argument demons attack the understanding. The first four kinds of demons may be warded off with magic garments, talismans, spells, and the like; if obtainable, such safeguards may be hired or bought outright, and sometimes, for a considerable fee, a magician may be persuaded to join the company on the journey through a demon wilderness.

The fifth kind of demon, the argument demon, will never attack a group, since its only business is with the lone seeker. Indeed, it is said that a seeker cannot complete his quest until he meets his demon and conquers it.

The argument demon, as has been said, attacks the understanding — that is, the sense a person has of how life works. If, for example, one believes that this world is a place where justice prevails, then the argument demon may confront him with images or stories of the death of children, the suffering of the blameless poor, the triumph of iniquitous men. In this way the argument demon lures its victim into debate, from which the demon draws energy, while the seeker becomes exhausted.

Although it is possible to steel [or compose] oneself for such an encounter beforehand, once the argument demon is engaged, no other person or object will be of any help. And the outcome is determined as with every other fight to the death: one is stronger, or possesses superior weapons, or more endurance, or better luck, and prevails; the other is destroyed, and is never seen again.

The story is told that a company traveling through the wilderness was attacked first by robbers, who made away with all their provisions, and then by wild beasts, who ripped to pieces all but one of the members of the party. This person could only stay alive in the wilderness by feeding off what the wild beasts left behind, beset the whole time by madness demons which took the form of the spirits of those who had been slaughtered.

When at last this lone survivor was rescued by another company of travelers, he showed them scraps of dried skin and splintered bone with strange markings upon them, saying that they contained the voices of his companions. When asked how this could be, he took up one of the scraps, and, gazing at its markings intently, began to speak in a different voice, telling the story of the person to whom that remainder of flesh had once belonged. Many in the company were revolted by this recital, and demanded that the poor lunatic be [put out of his misery] at once.

But others felt a weird reverence for the man and for the objects he had preserved out of his appalling ordeal. They questioned him further, and he taught them how he had captured his lost companions' voices by transferring their utterance from his memory to the inscriptions on the remnants of their presence. And his rescuers in turn taught others this magical practice as they continued on their journey, and in this way it spread throughout the world.

In doing so, some say, they created a new wilderness, the wilderness of text. Once entered, the wilderness of text permits no return.