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Parker’s expensive gear lasts him about a third of the way up on his trip to meet the Bearded Man of the Winding Test. He makes the next mile up on berries and boots that grow increasingly thin, until he’s clawing near-vertical slopes with fingers long since nailless and fighting mountain wolves bare-handed for a sleeping niche. At last, gaunt and bled out, he collapses on the summit.

“Master,” he says, “I come seeking wisdom.”

“Life is an illusion,” says the Bearded Man, “and struggle is meaningless.”

Parker throws him off a cliff and grows his own damn beard.