Ethan emerged from the tunnel on hands and knees, as it had grown smaller and smaller as he crawled.  His body was smeared with dirt and blood from innumerable tiny scrapes where his bare skin had met relentless rock.  He blinked in the bright light of day and was momentarily blinded by the sun.  Having spent an indefinite age in the tunnel, he had forgotten everything, even himself, and remembered nothing save an intense need to leave its dark interior.

            When his eyes finally adjusted and he could remember that he was a person, and not simply a will intent on escaping darkness, Ethan realized he was thirsty.  His lips were a desert unto themselves, cracked rubble like the face of the arid Moon.  There was no hope for him if he did not find water soon.

            The loud cry of a hawk echoed across the sky, startling him beyond measure.  It was the first sound of a life beyond his own in ages, the dark shadow of its wings across the mesa reminding him of Astarte and her deadly anger.  He cringed for a moment in the dust before realizing it was a bird winging overhead.  A moment later he realized that a living thing in this lifeless place meant water somewhere, and he was up and running after its shadow despite his wounds and tired muscles.

            The sun beat down on his skin like a hot wind, pushing him along.  Every muscle aching under the strain, he pushed onward.  Ethan ceased to exist again, becoming only a white-hot will crying out for water from a place of longing so deep that it was not a thought or even a feeling, but simply the core of his life, his essence.  That solitary life-force pushed the body it carried forward, running until it could only crawl, tumbling over the crest of a rocky hill and rolling in the dirt and sand until it touched wet mud.  The will-for-water reached out with limbs it no longer recognized as arms and pulled itself forward, opened the crevice it could not call a mouth and drank in life, kneeling in the mud and coughing as it was filled with cool refreshment, its dry places soaking up moisture like a sponge.

            He drank too fast, vomiting and retching, his body unused to so much abundance.  The coughing fit brought him back to himself, so when the voice said “Ethan,” he knew whom it meant.

            “Guhh??” He moaned, his mouth not yet having recalled how to make words.  He swept his long hair out of his eyes, and saw nothing but the hawk, sitting on a branch of a dead tree that overhung the pool of water at the bottom of a small valley between the hills.

            “Sip it slower.”  The hawk said to him, “Or it will make you sick.”

            Ethan fell back on his rear-end, soaking in the muddy bottom of the desert-spring, utterly shocked.  His mouth hung open and water dripped from his beard.  He had not heard a human voice in God-knew how long, and now the first he had encountered was coming from a bird.  What’s more, it sounded just like him.

            “Stupid, I am you.  Or, a part of you, anyway.”  The hawk said, its eyes meeting his.  “Ever hear of a totem?  A spirit animal?  Weren’t you paying attention during your world religion class when they studied Native spirituality?”

            “Juhh??”  Ethan grunted, sweeping water across his face, cleaning off dirt and rubbing his eyes. 

            “You aren’t hallucinating.  You’ve seen enough remarkable things so far that I really shouldn’t surprise you all that much.  Now, come on, start drinking.  Slowly.”  The predatory bird gestured at the water with one wing, impatient.  Ethan obeyed, shaking his head in disbelief but unable to come up with a rebuttal.  He sipped slowly, savouring the feeling of his body coming back to life under the sweet blessing of water.

            When he finished, he crawled out of the pool, his body clean, his wounds healed.  He didn’t notice, never having noticed the cuts and scrapes themselves when they were caused, as all human concern had fallen away in the dark into only a need for light, and the need for water had likewise obliterated pain.  He rested for a moment before speaking to the unlikely talking bird.

            “Why are you here?  Where’s Raphael?”

            “You think archangels don’t have more responsibilities than just you?”  The hawk laughed, an odd sound coming from an animal.  What was even more unsettling was that it was his own laugh.  Being mocked by your own voice was just downright odd. “Totems guide you on vision quests.  In other words, I’m leading you through the next stage of your journey.”

            “Huh?”  Ethan said, this time grunting in confusion and not from lack of spit.

            The hawk shook its head, exasperated.  “Look into the pool.”

Ethan looked.  And looked.  And looked some more.  He stared intently at the placid pool of water for quite some time, and then he heard a disgusted snort from the bird.

            “Aw, geeze, can’t you do anything right?”  The hawk said as he looked over his shoulder at it.  “Trust you to mess up something as simple as looking at a pool of water.  Stop concentrating.  Just let yourself go.”

            “What?” 

            “Okay, listen.”  The hawk said, flapping down to the ground and walking over with a shuffling step, its wings tucked in.  “What am I?”

            “A bird?”  Ethan said, wrinkling his brow.  He didn’t know where the hawk was going with this.  He was only beginning to come back to his senses, after all, but the hawk’s cryptic words weren’t helping things.

            “Master of the obvious.  Is that all I am?  I might as well have been a pigeon.”

            “Pigeons aren’t birds, they’re rats with wings.”  Ethan smiled.  The hawk laughed again, which still struck the man as bizarre.

            “So what am I then?” The hawk asked again, and Ethan thought that maybe it was in a better humour now.

            “A hawk…”

            “And what’s special about hawks?”

            “Hawks… fly higher than most birds, and faster, see farther… hunt better?”

            “Finally, some progress.  Now, why would your spirit animal be a hawk?”

            Ethan thought about it, staring at his feet, his brow still wrinkled.

            “Well, ordinarily, I think faster.  Not today, obviously,” he said wryly, eliciting another chuckle from the hawk, “But usually.  And I let my imagination lead me, my head in the clouds, giving me a way of looking at the world that is different from everyone else.  I let it lead me towards the things I’m searching for.”

            “Good.  Good!”  The hawk laughed again.  “So look at the pool, and let that visionary capability do its thing, rather than concentrating.  Let your mind wander.”

            Ethan looked out over the water again, and just let himself think.  He realized that he hadn’t sat still in a long time, having spent almost every day walking through this wilderness.  Just relaxing was actually hard after so many days on the move.  He remembered how Genevieve had always made fun of him for being a busybody, finding tasks to do even on weekends and vacations, instead of sitting down and taking it easy.

            Suddenly, he could see his sister’s face in the pool.  He sat up with a start, glancing at the hawk, which only nodded.  Ethan looked again, and this time he could see her quite clearly, riding on horseback across a field with several other figures.  Genevieve was wearing a cloak, the hood blown back by the wind as she rode.  Her dark hair streamed back from her face.

            “Evie?”  He said.  “She’s older…  What is this?”

            “Consider it a window to the world.  You’ve spent a long time journeying inwards, finding things within yourself.  Now you can look out again.  Actually, you could always do it.  There were moments in the desert where you could almost see your friends, couldn’t you?”  Ethan nodded as the bird continued speaking, “Well, you let your mind wander off them, so it didn’t last.  The pool was just a way to make you focus, like a lens that makes things clearer.”

            “What am I supposed to see?”  Ethan asked.  “Why am I here?”

            “You’re asking me?  I told you, I’m you.  Think of me like a symbol, representing your imaginative capacity.  I’m just here to remind you to follow your dreams.  I can lead you where you’re supposed to go, but I can’t just give you answers.”

            “So lead me.  Help me to see.”  Ethan said, holding out his hand.

            “Lead yourself.  I’m you, remember?”  The hawk held his gaze, and Ethan realized its eyes were the same colour as his.  He stared into them, lost in the blue, until he was seeing through them, past them, into the pool and out into the world.

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