In the next moment came unexpected relief; for during a momentary lull in the phantom’s assault, my face suddenly broke the surface of the water and I looked up to see the Firebird blazing in the sky directly above me. At the sight I coughed up the water that filled my mouth and throat and cried out in despair. “Firebird!” I screamed, “Firebird! Help me!”
The great Bird descended like the sun itself falling from heaven. At its approach the Old Self released its grip on me and looked up, dumb with terror. I saw the red glow of the flames flickering over the ghost’s pale features and flashing in its glassy eyes. Instantly the phantom rose and fled over the tips of the waves until I could see it no more.
Then the Firebird seized me in its huge talons. Its flaming pinions whipped, snapped, and roared around me as it lifted me out of the water and set me on my feet once again. For a while I stood there dripping and shaking and staring after my Old Self. At length I heard the voice of the small gray bird at my ear.
“Well done,” it said.
I turned and looked fearfully into his deep blue eyes. “Will it come back?” I asked. “Why didn’t you destroy it?”
“It can always come back,” was his answer, “this side of the sunset. “Once you have passed through the sun’s circle and arrived on the other side, then it will no longer be able to trouble you. To that place the Old Self can never come.”
Again I looked off in the direction of the ghost’s flight. “That’s some comfort, anyhow,” I said slowly. “But I still don’t understand why you didn’t simply destroy it.”
To this he made no answer; and when I turned, he had gone. A moment later the Firebird suddenly reappeared in the sky just ahead, leading me onward, straight into the sunset’s rosy red glow. I shuffled my feet a little just below the surface of the water and found that my footing was still firm. Then, book in hand, I set myself to trudge after him once more.