“I received your letter and came with haste.”
Wakiza’s concerned and frightened eyes glanced from the dark confides on his old friend. “Dhanvatori, I am glad you came.” He shifted his eyes left and saw the traveling companion.
“This is Gideon,” Dhanvatori introduced. “I brought him to help.”
Gideon’s lips pressed in a smile, barely visible behind the thick red facial hair.
“Gideon’s an expert on certain,” he paused. “Paranormal elements.”
Wakiza’s heart fluttered. He swallowed.
“My apologies, please come in.”
The wood floorboards squeaked under their weighty feet, and Wakiza slammed the door. The chill left his face as he slid the deadbolt with a loud clang.
“Where is the child?” Dhanvatori wasted no time.
Wakiza led them through a narrow hall to a room where the glow from the fireplace spilled into the hall’s darkness. They entered and stood still. The child, a girl no older than nine years, lay on a low framed bed near the fireplace. “Here she is,” Wakazi announced. A blanket of sorrow weighed heavily on his sloping shoulders. He buried his face in hand and sniffed.
“I wish you had called me first,” Dhanvatori spoke and walked toward the child. “Instead of that, exorcist.” He reached for the crucifix nailed to the wall over the child’s head and removed it. “Where is your wife?”
“Away,” Wakiza checked that his face was clear of tears. “She’ll return in a fortnight.”
“Then we have little time,” he motioned to Gideon with a nod.
“We’ll need more blankets for the ride,” Gideon’s voice was gentle, and empathy dulled his eyes.
“Where are you taking her?”
“From what I read in your letter; the child’s soul is in grave danger.”
Dhanvatori tossed the crucifix into the flames and pushed his way into the hall. “I’ll find the blankets.”
“I’ll do my best to explain along the way, but if I must appease you for cooperation, I will say that the exorcist did not help.”
Wakiza shifted his eyes to his daughter. “She’s been like this for two days.”
“I suspect that her ability to read thoughts was not a curse or a demonic possession. It was a gabamnoteh.”
Wakiza’s eyes widened, and the lines across his forehead became thick.
“A gabamnoteh is a fragment of some ancient soul that travels from one to another. It cannot be exorcised. Think of it as a cyst on the soul.”
Dhanvatori scampered into the room, returning with blankets. With quivering hands, he covered the child from head to foot.
Gideon helped. He stood at the child’s head.
“Are you saying that my daughter’s soul is diseased?”
“He’s saying that something is attached to it.” They lifted the child, holding on to the blanket ends. “When the priest tried to exorcise the demon, he subjected your daughter to something deadly. He believes it took your daughter’s soul.” He paused and his eyes glowed with trepidation. “If we delay, we may miss the chance to free her soul.”
They exited the bedroom.
“I don’t understand.” Wakiza’s voice shook. They reached the exit, and he opened the door. The cold air chilled his face.
Dhanvatori tried to explain. “The spirit, Hafta’el often comes at the summoning of an exorcism. He captures and binds the wicked spirits in the pit of sorrows.”
“In this case,” Gideon added as they approached the waiting carriage. “There was no soul to capture aside from your daughter’s.”
They placed the daughter inside the carriage, and Dhanvatori climbed in after.
Gideon raced to the front to take the bridles. “Come,” Dhanvatori called. “We haven’t much time.”
“Let’s hope he waits for us if we’re late,” Gideon called for the horses to pull.
They trotted, and the carriage bounced over the uneven ground. “Where are you taking us?” Wakiza asked. He bit his knuckles.
“There is a pub, a little more than half a day’s journey from here. Inside of it waits a chair.” He paused and shifted his eyes ahead. Gideon looked back and gave an approving nod. “It’s called the Devil’s armchair.”
“Are you insane?” Wakazi screamed and tightened his arms around the child. His heart raced, and his skin crawled. “Turn us around. I’ll have no parts of this.”
Dhanvatori took his friend by the shoulder and peered into his eyes. “My friend.” His pled like a beggar. “You tried the priest already. You exorcised your daughter’s soul. We are here to help recover it before it’s too late.”
Wakazi lowered his eyes. Desperation over-rode his morality.
“What people name this chair is irrelevant to what it can do for us.” He released the shoulder. “It has a direct connection to a world, parallel to ours. In that world is another chair.”
His hand moved to the child’s head and stroked the auburn strands. “If we sit her in the first chair, and her soul sits in the second, the link between chairs can unite the two.”
Gideon made a grunt that suggested doubt. He glanced back, and Wakazi’s frightened eyes peered at him. “Provided Kabeir is successful.”
Wakazi turned to Dhanvatori for an explanation.
“Kabeir is a spirit,” he paused, then swallowed and took a deep breath. “As I said. Gideon specializes in more than normal science.”
“Once there were twin spirits, Idoth and Kabeir,” Gideon yelled. The sound of the carriage wheels tumbling over the gravel path made it difficult to hear. His voice shook. “They were part of a satanic ritual. During which, their spiritual bodies were separated into these gabamnoteh.” He looked back to catch Wakazi’s glare. “Idoth was clairvoyant.”
Wakazi shook his head and started to rock his daughter.
“Judging from everything you put in your letter, a piece of her spirit is part of your little girl.”
Dhanvatori injected. “The spirits summoned in the exorcism would not differentiate from the gabamnoteh or your daughter’s soul.”
“This is all my doing,” Wakazi whispered. “I suggested the priest.”
“Don’t worry, my friend,” Gideon yelled. “He will find her.”
Kabeir was no different from his sister in that he was not whole. The host that Kabeir used was a teen whose eagle vision scouted the narrow passage between two stone mountains. The slow watchful movements of two marids caught his attention. The marids circled the brim of a crater. Their unvaried motions around the moat hinted that they were guards. Kabeir prodded his host. The host’s appetite for adventure made prodding easy. He slipped through the narrow passage. In his hand, he carried a two-bladed ax. It was still, at his side, the coolness of the handle warming with each step he made closer to the pit.
“Oh, you powerful pair of marid guardians.” He flattered. “Are you Hafta’el’s servants?”
The two spirits towered over him on either side. With cold blue eyes of spiraling fire, they peered at him curiously. “What is this?” one asked.
“It vibrates like a malkash, yet human in form.” The partner answered, her voice vibrated.
“I am not as beautiful and deadly as you,” spoke the host.
“We are no servants,” the first marid answered.
“Do you mean to insult and flatter us?” asked the second.
“Not at all,” the host was apologetic. “It is just that I expected to see Hafta’el’s servants here at guard.” He turned his back to them and sat. His eyes glared into the passage as it disappeared into the darkness. “I’ll have to wait for them to deliver my message.”
The two marids stepped from the water and stood beside him. He saw their talons glisten. “We are the guards,” the first spoke. “we are here to grant favors to Hafta’el.”
“What is the meaning of your visit?” The second one demanded.
“I’m not sure that I may say. I expected hinn guardians, not marids.”
“You have come to insult us!”
The host stood and faced the giant spirits. His face was humble, and his head lowered. “I have special instructions. I was told that the hinn with their enhanced perception could sniff out the deceivers.”
“You cannot deceive us.”
“We will bind you to the depts of this pit. There you will wait for a hundred years. Then your suffering will begin.”
“An ice coffin will by your home,” threatened the next. Her voice saturated with disdain. “We will condemn you to eternity at the fjord of Ice Flames. Then you will learn reverence.” The first reached for the host who moved away.
“If there is an insult to my message, it is not from me.” He was desperate. “I will tell it all to you. If you spare me.”
“If we like what we here,” the other spirit’s voice rumbled deeply.
“I am here to tell the hinn guardians that one inside this prison is free of guilt. A shape-shifting ghoul deceived Hafta’el. When the angel came to the exorcism, it captured an innocent soul. The guilty ghoul roams free in these mountains, laughing.”
The first spirit stood erect. Her shoulders slid back, and she lifted her chin. “Hafta’el insults us. No hinn can is better than we.”
“Yes,” the second one held her eyes on the host. “We will search these mountains and find the deceiver.”
“You will wait here,” demanded the first of the host. “You will guard this pit with your weapon until we return.”
Beyond the moat, the gaping pit called to him. Determined to reach it before the guards returned, the host crossed the neck-high water. He struggled to walk as the current veered him to the right and, at other times, stopped him altogether. When he reached the other side, he stood at the ledge and peered into the crater. There were a thousand souls fastened to the walls like ornaments.
He saw that he could leap on the rocky ledges inside. They were layered close enough that the host believed he could jump from one to the next. When he entered, there were more souls than he had imagined. He feared finding her would prove impossible. Kabeir hoped that Idoth’s clairvoyant senses had not dulled. He hoped that her mental energy would pull him to her.
The host sat like a perched eagle and peered into the pit. From deep within it, he heard a droning noise that rose and fell. He imagined what torchers befell the souls deeper inside. Their cries grew louder, some wails, some sobs, and others terrified screams. He hoped that Idoth would make her presence known before the marids realized there was no ghoul. Remembering the dearth of time, he slipped from the ledge and dropped to another.
In arms reach, he saw a pair of reptilian eyes open – sliding to the side. “Release me,” it bade. The forked tongue visible when it spoke.
The host moved forward.
The creature screamed louder. “Release me.”
The host noticed a presence behind him and turned to see it. A winged figure came at him and stopped halfway across the pit.
It fluttered and pulled against the chain around its feet. The host paused to see the white feather wings flapping in desperation. But the creature could move no further. “Release me,” its soft voice spoke like a dozen whispers, then it vanished in a puff of pale smoke.
The pit grew frightfully quiet. Kabeir warned his host that something unfriendly had become aware of their presence.
His eyes scanned the wall below, and he saw the shadow come alive. It formed into slithering objects that moved up the sides, climbing from one ledge to the next.
Where are you?
“Here,” she heard him. Her consciousness projected, like a beacon from the child host.
Relief washed over him for just a moment. Kabeir pressed, and his host raced forward. He circled the interior and dropped another level. He saw the child soul cuffed to the wall. The ax was enough to break through the chains that bound her wrist to the wall.
She fell forward into his arm and clenched his neck. She squeezed tightly, and he pried apart the iron plate around her ankle.
“How did you find me?”
The host, inundated with Kabeir’s emotion, answered, “You’ll never get beyond me.” He pried the second latch from the stone wall. It fell into the darkness. He watched it fall and saw the shadows slithering toward him, sniffing for his sent.
He heard another cry from far away. “Release me.”
The noise grew loud and pressed against his consciousness. He needed to escape the pleas as much as the marids, who, he expected, had finished their fruitless search. “Hold me tight,” he said as he dropped his ax into the pit.
She squeezed and wrapped her thin legs around his chest. His legs coiled, and he leaped to the ledge above. The slithering shadows reached the same ridge, and he jumped forward to the pit opening.
A shadow creature reached for him and latched to his foot. The host dangled from the ledge. “Climb,” he said to the child.
She slid around him and to his back. Then she reached the ledge and stepped her warm feet on his shoulders. Her final push onto the ledge caused his hand to slipped inches. He was inches away from the devastating plummet.
He kicked his feet until the shadow’s grip loosened. Then like an acrobat, he swung his feet forward and threw his body atop the ledge. He stared at the water ahead. Kabeir prodded him to move quickly. Jump.
The host darted with the child cuddled in his arms. When he reached the water, he imagined himself leaping over the stream. With one forceful bound, the host and child were in the air. Something pushed at his back from within as if to boar its way free. He noticed a gush of air under his armpits. Then, as he dipped to the water surface, a pair of butterfly-shaped wings lifted them over the stream. He was not aware of the wings until reaching the other side. They fascinated him. The child, however, seemed unimpressed. When he heard the marids, he anticipated they’d pursue him.
“We have to go,” he said to the child.
He looked around, partly noticing the wings fading away. No sign of the marids – they were still far off. He heard rumbling and a frustrated scream. Placing the child on his back, he moved forward through the narrow passage.
He looked above and left, then right; still no sign of them. He ran.
“Where are we going?”
“I’m getting you back,” he answered softly as if his speech would compromise his position.
There was another frustrating wail – this time from behind. Kabeir knew the marids had returned to the pit and had noticed his escape with the child. The two fugitives reached the end of the passage and turned to the north end of the mountainside. The host’s fingertip brightened as he reached for the surface. The air around him thinned as if it all moved away from him into the passage. Kabeir understood the marids’ strategy. Pulling at the air around him would enhance their tracking abilities. He needed to move faster.
“Are you drawing a picture?” the child soul asked.
“I’m opening a door,” he answered, carving a Lemurian glyph on the mountain. Like putty, the rocks gave way to his fingertip. As it gave way, a warm tingle came over him. He looked back. The marids raced at him.
“Atufi santam’ il,” he activated the glyph, and it opened the gateway. The Marids were ten paces away when he slipped through into the portal with the child. “Santam’ il detat.” The gateway closed.
Gideon pulled the reigns, and the carriage halted. He tossed the strap of his satchel over his shoulders and circled to the carriage. Reaching for the child, he noticed Wakazi’s unwillingness to release her. The father’s heart throbbed. He insisted that he carry his daughter alone into the pub. Exiting the carriage, Dhanvatori whispered something to Gideon. Wakazi did not hear it. Gideon turned, and Wakazi followed his friend’s speculative eyes to a pair of men pretending not to notice him. They wore peasant garments, but their shaved faces told another story. Dhanvatori touched Wakazi’s elbow and hurried him inside.
The pub was virtually empty. Three men sat together at a table drinking from wooden cups. Two others sat in the corner, near the fireplace, their faces covered by the shadow. Wakazi sensed Dhanvatori’s apprehension.
“Dhanvatori,” the owner wiped his hands on the apron. “I thought I told you to stay away from here.”
“Keep your voice down,” Dhanvatori demanded. His eyes shifted to the men in the corner. “Who are they?”
“Six months, I said. I needed six months for things to calm down.”
“Yes, my friend, I know.” He placed his hand on the owner’s trembling arm. “I would not be here if I had another option.”
“We need the chair,” Gideon cut to the chase.
The owner shook his head and walked away. Gideon and Dhanvatori followed him closely.
“We have a little girl. Her soul snatched from her,” Dhanvatori whispered. “For the sake of the brotherhood, show us to the chair.”
The owner’s face was red. He moved away from them into a corner. “Were you followed?”
“I don’t know?”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know.” Dhanvatori reiterated. “I want to say no, but I cannot be certain. Marcus, we need the chair now.”
Marcus nodded and reached in his pocket for a key ring. “Okay, but after this, you must stay away.”
“Agreed,” he called to Wakazi with his hand, and they disappeared around the corner.
Wakazi joined them at a heavy wooden door that Marcus opened. His hands shook as he held it for them. Dhanvatori was last to enter. He held his gaze on the two men in the corner. They stood and sauntered to the exit.
Marcus closed the door and locked them inside. A single candle supplied light for the room. It rested on a mantle behind and to the left of the chair.
A shadow extended from the chair to the wooden floor and stretched into the darkness.
Gideon opened his satchel. His hands searched for candles inside of it. There were three that he placed in a triangle in front of the chair. He spoke words that Wakazi thought were Latin but later knew differently.
Dhanvatori reached to him. His hand warmly patted Wakazi’s shoulder blade. “It will be okay,” he promised.
When Gideon finished his mantra, he turned to Wakazi as if to seek permission.
Dhanvatori nodded and said again. “It’s okay.”
Gideon stepped to the desperate dad who clutched his daughter. This time, Wakazi did not resist. He watched as the strange red-haired man pulled the child away from her father. Repeating the mantra, Gideon crept to the chair and sat the child in it. He spoke more words. Wakazi wanted to protest. Everything within him warned against Gideon’s ritual. Yet there was hope and an incredible desire to hear his daughter’s laughter. For this, he’d swore to spare no sacrifice. He hoped that whatever spirt could bring back his daughter to him, would do it expeditiously.
But Kabeir had problems. He passed through the gateway and into a vestibule where five doors waited for his choice. Entering through one, he found himself inside of a large throne room. Three steps inside, he noticed the translucent ceiling. It was as if he walked underwater, peering up at the bright disoriented sunlight. But the light he saw was no light. It was the fiery bodies of the two marids he hoped to escape.
“Clever little mortal,” spoke the first marid descending. She floated toward him. Her eyes flamed with fury, “You tried to deceive us.”
Kabeir’s host stood in front of the child’s soul. “I had no choice,” he backed away from them, pushing her along. “Please let us leave this room. I tried to escape you and came here by mistake. Please give us mercy, allow us to leave this room. That chair will be this soul’s destruction.”
The marids spied the ebony and gold chair mounted on a platform. “The chair is nothing compared to the torture we will inflict on you.” The second spoke spitefully. “And the soul you stole from us.”
“Okay,” he held his hands up in surrender. “I submit to any torture you wish, so long as you don’t put me in that chair. Please,” his voice was desperate. “Let’s leave this place.”
“We will bind you at the depths of our pit. The icy waters will submerge you, and you will know a new meaning of pain.
You will lose your voice in it.”
The second marid circled behind, and the host tried to keep his body between the spirit and the child.
“Then the fire will boil you, and you will find your voice in a scream that will shake the walls of the pit.”
“Yes, certainly, I accept that torture just the same,” the host said. “Anything, but please let us leave this place, I cannot bear the presence of that chair.”
The marid reached for him and lifted him by the arms. She pulled him close and peered into his face. He looked away, refusing to make eye contact.
“Please,” he said. “All you say is a mercy that I willingly accept.”
“What is it about this chair?” asked the second marid. She turned and walked toward it. There were six steps to the top of the platform. Each significantly designed for something taller than a man. The chair was not of human proportions. “It smells like an ifrit.”
The host whispered, “It may have died in that chair.”
“Ifrits cannot die, without the will to do so.” The second marid informed.
“There are things worse than death.” He replied. His voice bore his defeat. “Please. I beg you. Take me to your pit.”
The marid hesitated. The flame in her eyes cooled with the onset of thought more devious than the original. “No,” she dropped the host to the floor and then reached for the child.
The host screamed his protest when it was clear that the second marid intended to put the child in the chair. “No. Please, that is my sister.”
The marid laughed. “We will take you to the pit, but first, we will watch the torture the chair offers.”
“Take me,” he stepped forward. “Do it to me… please.”
“Your torture begins with hers. You will watch.”
The host screamed, and the marid laughed. As she approached the chair, with the child in hand, the chair awakened with a golden aura. The aura lifted from the platform and brightened when the marid reached the top step.
Seeing the chair come to life with the glow, the host prostrated and sobbed with inaudible pleas. But the marid sneered and seemingly satisfied with the host’s cries, dropped the child in the seat of the chair.
The host smiled a sinister grin when he saw the chair brighten, and in a flash of light and smoke, the child vanished. Then the marids voices shook the ballroom walls. Wake up, Kabeir said to his host. The marids ran toward him. But they were too slow. Kabeir and his host teleported away – back to the material world.