While Astarte chatted to him in a flirtatious, friendly way, Ethan thought.  He thought back to high school English in OAC, his senior year symbolism class with Mr. Gould.  The class had its central focus on archetypes, the symbolic tools authors used to get universal messages across.  It was Gould’s passion, because the layers of symbolism in a book or play enriched it for him even beyond the theme and plot of the story, and this passion came out in his teaching.  It was Ethan’s all-time favourite class as a result.

            At the beginning of the year the classes were focussed on explaining these archetypes, describing their identifying characteristics.  The rest of the year they would be reading novels and plays with these symbols in them, so the students could see how different authors utilized the different symbols.  Ethan was now remembering one particular class, where two vital types of archetypal characters were explained.

            “Many of the symbols we study in literature are derived from the Bible, for it is a book that most people are familiar with and know at least a little about.  If you have a character that acts in a similar fashion as a Biblical figure, it helps the reader understand that character’s role. One of the most important figures in literature is the Christ figure, so named because of characteristics shared with Jesus, as He is described in the New Testament.”  Gould had lectured.

            “Christ is a healer, and a teacher, and a leader.  He sacrifices Himself for others, and dies, and is reborn.   An easy parallel is in the movie E.T., for symbols show up in film just as often as they do in literature.  More so, perhaps, because film is inherently symbolic, as it uses images to portray a story, and that is what symbols do, paint a picture for the reader to see what the author wants them to see.  E.T. comes from above, he appears to children, has special powers, heals wounds, seems to die, only to make a miraculous recovery and return to his home in the stars.  The film contains all the classic elements of a Christ story, put in a contemporary form.”

            Gould was listing the characteristics of the Christ figure on the blackboard in his usual scraggly handwriting.  He then turned back to the class.

            “The second figure that is vitally important to this class is the tempter figure.  The seducer.  Based on the serpent in the Book of Genesis, often associated with Satan, the tempter figure uses words to deceive, may blaspheme, tempt a person with their desires, and is often associated with the colour red.  The forbidden fruit in the Bible is often an apple in films or contemporary versions of the story, but historically it is thought to have been a pomegranate.  Either way, the fruit was red.  Such characters in literature are often still associated with that colour.”

            He was listing these features on the blackboard.  “One example is Dracula, the vampire Bram Stoker writes about.  We will be studying that story later in the year.  But for now, think of what you know.  Dracula drinks blood, which is red, but his action is blasphemous in a way, as it is a parallel to the act of communion, where people symbolically drink the blood of Christ to be nearer to Him.  When Dracula drinks blood, it is inherently sinful, not holy, for it damns the person he victimizes to a life like his own.”

            Ethan remembered Gould’s words and then he looked again at Astarte, sitting at the head of the table in her rich scarlet gown, eating a ripe red strawberry.  He looked at her and smiled.

Astarte smiled back, and stood.  Ethan immediately rose as well, for it was rude to remain sitting while a lady stood.  Even if you suspected that the lady wasn’t quite what she seemed.

            “Come,” she said, her voice inviting and sweet.  “Come bathe in the pool.  After so long in the desert, it should be a luxurious pleasure.  You can wash the dust of your journey away, and relax for once.  Come.”

            “Really, milady, I should continue on my journey.  Your offer is most gracious, but I have a great distance to travel yet.”  He declined.  “If you’ll forgive me, I must be on my way…”

            “Oh, please stay.”  She said, and he smiled to himself.  She was so predictable she was transparent.  “We still must talk about your journey, where it may lead you next.  That is why I am here.  The meal and the offer of a bath are simply gifts, for you have travelled far and deserve to be treated well for your dedication.  Please, stay, and I will tell you where you must go next.”

            He conceded, and allowed himself to be led to the pool.  The smell of sulphur was strong, but the warmth was akin to a sauna or a hot tub, and was very inviting.  She stood beside him, just at the edge of his peripheral vision, and slid her gown off in one fluid motion.  The angle was such that nothing would be quite seen, but everything would be hinted at.  Astarte stepped into the water daintily, and then completely immersed herself.

            When her head came up for air, she pushed her wet hair back and smiled at him, urging him to join her.  Ethan knew that the game was growing more serious now, perhaps even approaching her inevitable attempt to checkmate him, but he thought that he could handle it.  She was so completely obvious, how she could have thought that this ploy would ensnare him completely bewildered him.  Perhaps she had underestimated him.

            Ethan smiled to himself again.  Underestimating him was a mistake people often made.  Few people suspected the inner strength he possessed, and even he was unaware of its depths.  He would show her how big a mistake she had made as soon as she made her move.

Ethan divested himself of his dusty robes and then slid into the water.  Its heat kissed his skin, immersing him in warmth that encouraged him to rest, to relax, to forget…  He knew that it was intended to dispel his suspicions so that he would let his guard down.  Although he had prepared himself for that, Ethan still found that the pool did suck away his strength, almost forcing him to let his guard down.  It was only through an effort of his supremely strong will that he managed to hold on to his need to remain on his guard.  He needed to be ready when she made her move.

            “Let me wash you,” she said, appearing behind him with a splash of water.  She began lathering his hair with soap.  “I’m sure it’s been awhile since you’ve had a bath.”

            “You’d be right about that,” he grinned, pretending to be as friendly as she was.  “I’ve been in a few streams, and scoured myself with sand, but soap and hot water are distant memories.”

            She massaged his scalp, and then his shoulders.  “You’re very strong.”

            “It’s because of the journey.”  He said, which was true for both his physical and mental powers.  The journey had been his whole life, he saw that now, and it had made him strong in both body and spirit.   While they talked, she raised warm water up to his head in her cupped hands and rinsed the soap out of his hair.

            “It has been long, hasn’t it?  Don’t you ever get tired of it?”  She asked, her fingers lingering on his arms in a soft caress.

            “Sometimes.  It gets lonely, and when I was younger I used to ask myself why I even bothered.”  Ethan agreed, referring to his troubled youth.

            “But no longer?”  She prompted.

            “Things change.  I know that this is my purpose, and I am content with that.”

            “But it’s lonely.”

            “Yes.  I can’t remember the last time I saw another human being.”

            “Well, we’ve been with you for a long time.”  She said kindly, wrapping her arms around his shoulders in a comforting embrace.  He could feel her chin in the crook between his shoulder and neck.  It was a gentle, touching thing for her to do, and it reminded him of Faith, the way she had cuddled him sometimes.  For a moment, he considered the idea that he may have been wrong.  She might not be the threat he perceived her to be.  She may indeed be the help I had told him of, and more, she might be the figure from his dreams.

            This idea stuck in his mind like glue.  She had referred to herself as Star, his name for Hope, and her words made it sound like she had known him for a long time.  I, Raphael, had indicated to him that we were always watching, so his quick mind put together a hypothesis.  What if she was the one who saved him in the cemetery?  What if she was the one who had been providing food and water every day, watching over him?  One alarming thought occurred to him, one that sent powerful waves of hopeful emotion throughout his body:  What if she was Faith?

            If he had been on guard before, now he was almost defenceless, his shields destroyed by that wave of hope.  His desire to see Faith was most of the reason why Ethan bothered to continue the journey.  That his journey could be partially fulfilled right here, right now, was his utmost dream and wish.  It was too good to be true.

            “Come,” she said, moving in front of him and swimming backwards.  As she pulled away, she raised one of her hands, beckoning for him to follow.  “Come and play.”

            The gesture, and the smile on her face, so inviting and playful, reminded Ethan of Faith, making him ache with longing at the memory.  They had gone swimming in the pool at a resort nearby, and she had made a similar gesture as she led him in.  They had played like children, laughing as they splashed each other, and then she dove under the water.  He had looked around, laughing in spite of himself at her antics.  She reappeared in a sudden splash directly in front of him, and wrapped her arms around his neck to kiss him.  It had been one of their sweetest kisses, as they had been almost skin to skin, separated only by swim-suits, wrapped up in each other like lovers.

            Now, Astarte was motioning that he play with her the same way.  Instead of following, Ethan stood still, swept away with the memory, not really there at all.  He was in Faith’s arms again, revelling in her touch and in her kiss.  He saw her, and that summer, as the greatest of all the blessings God had ever bestowed, and the memories owned a special place in his heart. 

            “Ethan, come play!”  Astarte said playfully, swimming back to him.  She dove under the water with the grace of a dolphin, and then reappeared to stand nose to nose with him.  He was staring into space, totally oblivious to her presence.  She put her hands behind his neck, resting her forearms on his shoulders, and looked up at him with her deep eyes, so dark they were almost black.  She lifted herself up on her toes, raising her ample bosom out of the water, sure that it would get his attention, and then leaned into him.  She put her cheek beside his, her breath sweet and warm on his neck, and then softly, sensuously, opened her mouth and nibbled his ear.

            “Come play,” she whispered into it, her voice seductive and inviting.  It was an invitation most men would have been unable to refuse.  It was delivered in a way that would have sent shivers of pleasure through most men, obliterating their ability to think for themselves.

            Ethan Keaton Pitney was not most men.

Her hand was sliding down his muscled chest slowly, tracing a path with one finger, and Ethan was suddenly aware of where it was headed.  He had been lost in memory for a moment, and it had taken him far away, but her love-bite on his ear had restored Ethan to himself with the same suddenness as a cold bucket of water used to revive an unconscious athlete. 

            “Did you just bite my ear?”  He asked, his voice laced with his deep steel.

            She looked up at him playfully, her tongue touching her lips as she smiled. 

            “I sure did.”  She said.  “Did you like it?”      

            In answer, he gripped her by the shoulders and heaved her away from him with all his strength.  She flew across the pool and landed with a great splash in its deeper end, the water rippling and frothing as she disappeared beneath it.

            The water immediately began to churn and bubble in that spot, becoming increasingly more violent.  Soon the whole steaming pool was rolling with waves, and they threatened to upend Ethan.  The water where Astarte had disappeared suddenly burst upwards in a fountain, streams of it splashing everywhere, striking the sand and Ethan.  It went up like a geyser, at least thirty feet into the air.  Within it, Ethan could see a figure.

            “OH, YOU BASTARD!!!!”  She screamed as she rose above the water.  As the fount fell back into the pool, sending ripples everywhere, some of the water splashing over the sides, it revealed that Astarte had been transformed.

            She was no longer a demure little coquette, just slightly shorter than Ethan.  Now she was nearly nine feet tall, and her naked body was now covered by armour and thick robes, robes the colour of rust.  Or dried blood.  Great flapping wings had sprouted from her back, with feathers the deep burgundy colour of an evening sky after the sunset, and on her head was a helm.  From its back sprouted her hair in a tail, whipping fiercely in the wind kicked up by her flapping wings.  Sand was rising behind her in the updraft of every flap, and it was beginning to fly everywhere.  Ethan could feel it begin to sting his eyes, and he raised a hand to block it.

            She hefted a huge sword, pointing it at him with one hand.  “YOU WILL DIE, PILGRIM!” She promised, “AND I GUARANTEE THAT IT WILL BE PAINFUL!”

            Ethan knew that Astarte had underestimated him, but as he saw this dark angel of death rising before him, he had the sinking feeling that he had made the same mistake with her.     

Astarte raised her sword and it began to emanate a black energy, similar to the red force which Azazel had used against Michael and Ethan one fateful night.  Ethan, seeing the sword shimmer with power and understanding what it meant, immediately began to move.  He leaped with all the strength in his legs, clearing the side of the pool and then rolling in the sand.

            His move came just in time to evade the blast that struck the pool and blew it apart.  Water and rock flew in every direction, and Ethan felt hot water and small stones hit his back as he rolled.  He got to his feet and ran, leaving behind his clothes, his sticks, his canteen.  He knew that if he slowed to get those things, it would give Astarte time to swoop down on him.

            Even now, with his head start, Ethan suspected she could easily overtake him.  His only hope was that, among the hills, he could find some cover.  If he could reach them in time.  He fervently wished for a way to evade her, because he was still several metres from the hills and could hear the steady beat of Astarte’s wings growing closer behind him.

            Just as she swooped down to eviscerate him, Ethan’s wish was answered.  He found himself falling, and then all was black.                                                  

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