Near Ambilobe, Madagascar, March 1995
The eight-year old child in the dirt, crying. “Mother! … Father! … ” The night soaking up his tears. The stars looking down indifferently, as if nothing has happened, but some of them covered by the black smoke coming out of the church.
A grey, hooded figure turned around at the crying noise, and John could see the dark chin and black lips of a strong and stern looking man beneath the hood. He cowered below the bush he was hiding behind, desperately hoping that the man wouldn’t see him.
But the strong man came rushing towards him now, so he was forced to make for the nearby precipice, under the cover of bushes and the night. Sliding down the slope on his backside, he soon lost his balance and continued the descent on his tummy. At the bottom, John was weak from sorrow and injury, but he pushed himself up using his arms and spat out leaves and dirt. He quickly threw himself behind a large tree.
Peeking up the slope, John could make out the grey cloak, dimly lit, the hood slowly turning while the man scanned the area with his evil eyes. John was certain that he couldn’t see him, but was afraid that his sobbing might be heard.
Before long, the sound of hooves on dirt. They must be sweeping the area.
With a final dose of courage, the little boy gave up his hiding place and, as fast as he could, dashed towards the Mahavay river which bent around the hill on which the church was located. In the background, he thought he heard voices calling and yelling, and gunshots. But all was a blur, and he didn’t care to hold back his sobs anymore. He cried aloud while running and diving into the rushing and pulling stream.
The cold water engulfed him, flooded his throat and lungs and choked him. He struggled for air but it felt coarse and dry to his mouth. On the shore, he saw mounted horses, dogs, and men with torches, and on the top of the hill the church which was now brightly burning and the fire ascending far into the night sky.
Mother! Father! … They were in there. I don’t know what happened to them … The smell of their ashes is in the air. John mourned loudly so that it was heard in the surrounding jungle, while more and more water entered his lungs and the cries slowly died out as he was swept in the direction of the city.
Todd, the former Satanist, and Pastor Mindy were standing outside Jonah’s hospital room and waited for the doctor to come out.
“The sixth rib on his left seems to be fractured in two places, but that’s nothing we won’t have fixed up in no time”, the doctor said, exiting the room. “Don’t you worry about him. Now, is there anything else you need?”
“No, but thank you very much”, Pastor Mindy answered.
“Could I get something to eat, like, eh, a sandwich, or a bar of chocolate or something? I’m really hungry, I’m sorry to say”, Todd asked.
“Sure thing, sir. I’ll have the nurse bring you a sandwich. Well then, I’ll leave you two here. Feel free to go in and sit by him, but”, and he put his finger to his lips and spoke quieter: “please be quiet. The patient needs to sleep and rest for the moment.”
With those words the doctor left Mindy and Todd alone, so they went inside the hospital room and sat down at a table near Jonah’s bed. Then Todd told her everything that had happened at the Satanist gathering near Maplewood. “… And then, he, he just shot fire out of his arms, or if he didn’t then I’m seeing things, but I swear to God I’ve been clean, eh, oh sorry, I know you told me not to swear to God anymore, eh, but I swear I’ve been clean for two months straight now. I ain’t seeing things, I know that. Or maybe somebody’s playing tricks on my mind. But I swear I saw him shooting some fire out of his arms. But it didn’t burn the other guys, the fire always went out again right after it hit them. And these guys, I mean, Jonah just swept them away like they were leaves in the fall, if you know what I mean, and they even had knives and stuff … Your friend here was fighting like, eh, I don’t know, a ninja I guess …”
Mindy looked astounded at the tale, but at the same time it was evident that she didn’t believe a word of it, or at least needed some kind of proof.
“Anyhow”, Todd continued, “afterwards we noticed someone was buried underground, and we barely managed to free her, and it turned out to be a very skinny looking girl. At last when she was out of the ground, she turned out to be a witch or something. And Jonah was hugging her for whatever reason, which is when she revealed herself and almost squished Jonah half to death, and then she just disappeared.”
“And that’s when you brought him to this hospital?”
“Yeah, and after that I called you right away.”
Mindy didn’t quite know how to react to this extraordinary story. “Well, I don’t know …”, she started.
“He shoots fire out of his arms, man! I don’t know myself yet if I believe it … But if it’s true, then who knows what else he can maybe do?”
“I can do a great many other things”, a faint voice from the hospital bed sounded. “But fire is something I am permitted to use only in the utmost of emergencies, and it doesn’t always have the same form.”
“Jonah!”, Mindy exclaimed, rose and went to his side immediately. “You’re awake. How are you feeling?”
“I think I’m alright”, he answered and tried to sit up, but immediately sacked back down again. “Ow, my side hurts.”
“Your rib is fractured in two places. But the doctor said you’ll be fine in no time. But for now you should rest.”
“That’s a comfort.”
Pastor Mindy wanted to get to the bottom of Todd’s and Jonah’s nightly dealings, so she wasted no time in asking: “Todd’s been saying some unbelievable things about what happened this night. Would you care to explain what you two were doing?”
Jonah turned his eyes to the ceiling in a contemplative manner. “You shouldn’t have brought Mindy into this, Todd.”
Todd replied: “I … I’m sorry, man. You were unconscious and I, frankly I didn’t know who else to call … I … I thought she was in on the whole thing, I did.”
“You thought wrong.”
“Well, it’s all the same now”, Mindy interrupted, “I need answers.”
“You’re right”, Jonah said and paused for thought. “I owe you some answers. To both of you.” Todd and Mindy looked excited. “But it won’t be easy for you to believe. Well, I’ll try. As you, Mindy, know, I was raised in a Catholic monastery in Madagascar.” Mindy nodded. “But there is something I haven’t told anybody until now: When I turned twenty, a Catholic monk, Lukasz is his name, turned up and confronted me with a destiny which I, unbeknownst to me and even to my Pater and to all of the priests, had been secretly trained to fulfil. Lukasz told me that I was destined to be one of the so-called Spirit Warriors, one of nine worldwide who are specially chosen to fight the realm of darkness, not just by word and prayer – but if need be also by physical force.
“Now, I know this sounds strange to you, and I am aware that the Bible forbids killing and that Jesus told us to turn the other cheek rather than to fight back. But hear me out: I am not fighting against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers and spiritual hosts … unless all other options have run out and the spirits and the body have become inseparable from one another. In those cases, sometimes physical weapons must be used.
“However, I rejected my responsibility to become a Spirit Warrior and turned away from the faith. You, Mindy, know the rest of that story and how I ended up at your doorstep broken, hopeless, mistreated and alone. I spent three precious years at your Pentecostal church, but after that I received a vision from the Lord and was finally ready and willing to take up my calling. That is when I left you with such short notice and journeyed to Europe, and in Europe I have remained except for these last few days.”
“I don’t believe it”, Mindy said in unbelief. She had never imagined that demons could possess people to such an extent that they became inseparable from them. “I have encountered many demon-possessed people, and without exception the demons were all driven out by prayer and fasting.”
“Without exception?”, Jonah retorted. “Or were there some you were unable to drive out?”
Mindy looked down.
“The vast majority, yes, can be overcome by saints who fast and intercede”, Jonah continued. “But once in a while there are people so power-hungry, so disillusioned, that they don’t want the demons to leave, not even if all the Christians in the world would pray for them. Some of them become as horribly disfigured as the demons themselves as a result of this. But that’s why we, the Spirit Warriors, exist. We try all means possible to free the possessed person, but if that proves unfeasible, we must protect the people around them, by all means necessary.”
“That sounds horrible!”, Mindy exclaimed. “And where’s your proof of this anyway, Jonah? I trust you, Jonah, I really do. And I’m trying to now. But I am disappointed that you never told me about this secret calling of yours, even in all those years.”
“I’m sorry, Mindy. I had to keep it a secret from everyone but myself and my mentor, because we are a secret order. And while I was with you I didn’t expect that anyone would believe me. Everyone would have thought I was crazy. Even I thought I might be crazy. And I must disappoint you: Unfortunately, I have nothing here with me that would prove my story. You would have to join me on my next investigation and see for yourself. But that would be a very bad idea.”
“There’s no way out of this now, Jonah. I care about you. I am not leaving you alone anymore”, Mindy proclaimed.
“I’m kinda curious about what the other stuff is that you can do, to be honest”, Todd added shyly. “And I would like to see it again, just to be sure, you know, to be sure I’m not out of my mind. What with the fire and the martial arts and things. I guess you oughta count me in, too.”
Jonah mustered the two of them, then burst out laughing, just to cringe with pain as his rib cage contracted. “A Spirit Warrior, a black preacher and a former Satanist, setting out to fight evil together. Well, I’ll be saved!”
His grin slowly turned to a contemplative smile. “Actually, you could be right. It might not be such a bad idea after all. I have some personal issues on this particular investigation which may cloud my own judgement, and a bit of additional backbone could prove useful.”
“It’s settled then”, Todd ventured.
“Indeed it is”, Mindy closed.
The three of them approached the concert hall on the third night after the hospital. No stars were visible, if because of cloud cover or light pollution Jonah could not tell.
“So, what else can you do?”, Todd asked.
“I can sometimes see into the spiritual world, if God wants me to”, Jonah replied.
“And then you see demons and angels and everything?”
“Are you like John Constantine?”
“Not exactly. And the spiritual world isn’t like in the comics.”
“Ok, and what are the physical weapons you talked about?”, Todd followed up.
“Well, I usually have my Sword, but at the moment it is lost. Apart from that, bread and wine – and my golden Book. And any other powers the Holy Spirit chooses to bestow on me.”
“I would love to believe you”, Mindy said. “But I can’t. It doesn’t match my theology.”
They slowly closed in on the building and already heard the bass pumping inside. “So, eh, this is that popular meeting place for Satanists during the night”, Todd reminded them. “Chances are high we’ll meet one of them that we fought in that forest, eh, but it just as well might be a fool’s errand.”
“Before we go in”, Jonah said, “we need to be clear on one thing: We are here only for Melchek.”
“Huh, that’s the evil half-brother you mentioned, right?”, Todd remarked.
“Exactly”, Jonah replied. “Everything else is secondary. If we see one of those Satanists, we will only question him. But we won’t rouse any suspicion, and we will do our best to blend in with the people.”
“That’s gonna be hard”, Mindy said under her breath as two young and muscular skinheads with tattoos and piercings and leather all over their bodies entered the building.
When the three arrived at the door, the security guard briefly mustered them, but let them pass without further inspection. They had indeed chosen their disguises well enough – lots of black and lots of leather. They paid the entrance fee inside as the music grew ever louder. Mindy already felt pain in her ears, but Todd had no problems in this environment.
Jonah purchased beers for all of them, and they marched into the hall.
Lights flashing. Bodies vibrating. Smoke, heavy rock riffs and the stench of sweat in the air. Beer spilled on the floor. A voice growling like thunder from the stage. Stan Tanasa was written in bold red letters across it – a double anagram of “Satan” as they quickly noticed. According to the poster it was a local band.
The concert hall was about twenty times thirty metres large – a not too spacious local, but more than big enough to host the relatively small circle of habitués. That night, the concert was well attended, yet it was not packed.
At the far end of the hall was the stage, which offered ample space for probably up to ten musicians with their instruments, and the five people currently playing were jumping and running around as if they had a whole football stadium. At the rear end was the bar, and a fan shop which merely consisted of a few tables and a cashier, and of course the entrance. But on the sides of the hall were two narrow aisles with small round tables and circular lounge couches which were attached to the walls. At these tables many dubious figures were seated.
Todd noticed him first. A thin bald man sitting in the rear right corner with two pretty women and a person in a grey, hooded cloak. They couldn’t see the face of the person under the hood, but the bald man was clearly the one who had poured the blood into the other’s cups at the Satanist gathering three nights ago. Todd inconspicuously pointed him out to the others. Jonah noticed that the two women were probably slaves. An instant urge to free them came over him, but he cooled down quickly, not wanting to blow their cover, at least not yet.
The three of them bode their time for about half an hour and acted as if they were enjoying the concert (Todd was the most convincing), until the hooded figure finally departed from the bald man and they saw it no more. After about another fifteen minutes they were confident that the bald man was alone apart from the two women that were sitting with him. They quickly but quietly made their way to the table where he sat.
The bald man noticed them when they were only two or three metres away, and gave a short surprised shriek when he recognised Jonah, but he was already encircled and could not flee.
Jonah, Mindy and Todd sat down with him. “Make a sound and you will regret it”, Jonah warned him.
The man swallowed empty, the memory of his beating at Maplewood still fresh in his mind. “W… W… What do you want from me?”, he asked, shaking.
“Firstly, I want you to calm down and not rouse any suspicion. Here, take another sip from your, ah …”, Jonah picked up the glass in front of him and smelled, “vodka martini?”
The man reached for the glass and took a sip.
“Now”, Jonah continued, “I already crashed one of your parties. I’d hate to repeat the favour. For now there is only one thing I want to know: Where is your boss?”
The bald man first was still intimidated, but then gradually relaxed, and after a while began to giggle softly.
“What’s so funny?”, asked Mindy harshly.
Now the man laughed out loud. “Haha, my boss? You are no match for my boss, hahaha. Not even with your fancy fighting skills or that flamethrower trick of yours. Hahaha, you will all die when you face her!”
“Her?”, Jonah inquired, getting angry. “Quit with the games, I know that Melchek is your boss, and that his name formerly was Leon! Tell me where he is.”
“Melchek? Oh, yeah he was our boss alright. But she has taken over now. And she will kill the three of you, hahahahaha!”
“Why do you hesitate to tell us where she is, if you want her to kill us so badly?”, Mindy pressed on.
At that, the man burst out into full laughter, and his eyes began to tear. He pointed behind them, and then sank his head onto the table, laughing in quiet sobs.
Jonah and his companions immediately rose and turned around. There the cloaked figure from before was standing. From underneath the grey hood two pale red eyes glinted in the flashing light.
Jonah stumbled backwards into the couch. “Who are you?”, he asked weakly.
“You know me”, a coarse, resounding, female voice answered from beneath the cloak.
Jonah was suddenly taken back twenty-three years to that day in Madagascar. The strong man was standing before him in his grey, hooded cloak, scanning the area for him with his evil eyes. In the background, a large fire rising into the sky.
Yet this here was different. The figure was smaller, more slender, and the eyes were glowing eerily. “My mission is to drive back …”, Jonah stuttered, but at once a fist catapulted him away across the concert hall.
The music stopped at once. The grey figure was immediately in front of him again and, even though she was shorter than him, she grabbed his chin with one hand and pulled him up into the air.
Everyone was looking at them now. The grey figure looked around herself and said, in a deeper, almost male sounding, thunderous voice to everyone: “This one here is an enemy of us. Any who want a part in his demise may stay and watch!”
“Hey, over here”, Todd shouted from behind, and both Todd and Mindy started throwing chairs at her.
The grey figure didn’t budge. “Seize them!”, she shouted. Six of the nearest people took hold of them while others stared and watched. But about half of the people present slowly and quietly made their way to the exit, not wanting any part in this quarrel.
The cloaked figure removed her hood and revealed a once pretty, yet now oddly disfigured and partly decomposed face. It was Azel, the girl they had dug free in the forest near Maplewood. Their help had come weeks too late for her.
“It’s her!”, Todd exclaimed to Mindy. “It’s that girl we dug up and who turned into a witch! What do we do? What do we do?”
“We can’t do anything now but pray”, Mindy answered, closing her eyes and bowing her head. Todd did the same.
At that moment, Jonah’s fists and eyes filled with fire, and there was a sudden firmness in his voice again: “Azel, my quarrel is not with you. I am here for Melchek. Just tell me where he is and I will leave you be for now.”
The witch grunted and chuckled, but was visibly confused by Jonah’s change of attitude. “So you wish to escape? It is denied!”
Jonah spoke again: “It is you who would have escaped! But I will speak to whoever is still buried underneath your mask. I cannot imagine that the girl you once were still lives, but if she does, I address her now: I offer you the chance to be free from this demon possession once and for all!”
Azel laughed. “You come too late, there is nothing of her left except this rotting body!”
“Then it is as I thought”, Jonah said, and with that both his hands and eyes shot fire at Azel, and she was hurled to the other side of the hall. The fire extinguished itself as quickly as it had burst out.
But Azel had magic of her own, and she had followers. From all sides Jonah was attacked by strong, muscular men, and some of them had knives or other weapons.
Two of the band members jumped off the stage to join the fray, but two of them made their way backstage where they hoped to escape. Only the singer remained on stage and grinned menacingly while giving strange comments and vague commands. “Get him!”, he shouted, and then gave a deep growl. “Oh, he’s jumped up to the spotlights. Woo-hoo! Stilton, throw your knife at him!”
Jonah evaded flying knives and broken bottles with a few swift movements, but then Azel shot a red beam of light at him. It caught him unaware and threw him onto the ground.
Strong kicks from the surrounding men almost incapacitated him, but he released fire from his hands and created an impenetrable burning wall around him.
Jonah got up, for a short moment he felt safe, but soon enough a black circle formed in the wall and the witch entered through it unscathed. Jonah drew a golden Book out of his mantle.
The witch stretched out her fingers and shot red light towards him, but it reflected off the golden Book and splayed into all directions.
Azel shouted and reinforced her attack, so that a strong beam of light now came out of each one of her fingertips. “Die!”, she cried out.
Jonah was pressed back and fell down by the sheer force of the red rays. Azel jumped on top of him and pressed her hands against Jonah’s face. His visage was soon covered by the red spells, and he cried out in agony, eventually passing almost into unconsciousness.
“Why won’t you die?”, complained Azel.
Fire sprang out of Jonah like a fountain in his defence, but the witch now seemed immune to it. She drew a long, curved, green knife and aimed it at his heart.
With his last bit of strength, Jonah deflected the stab with the Book, and the knife whirled away into the dark.
“That’s it”, she cried out. “If magic can’t kill you, the building will!” She pointed at the bar, and bottles came flying towards them and smashed to the ground around them. The alcohol caught fire, and with the help of Jonah’s fire, it quickly spread across the room. Azel aimed more red bolts of light at the walls, pillars and ceiling to destabilise the building. After a while she let go of him and disappeared, but now everything was on fire and Jonah was weak and hurt. Apart from him, only Mindy and Todd were left in the building, and they had been knocked out and tied to one of the tables.
When Jonah came to himself again, he was blackened and weakened from the smoke and heat and barely managed to roll away from some falling wreckage at the last moment. That witch! She used my own power against me!
Then he spotted his two tied-up friends. “Mindy! Todd!”, he cried and crept towards them. He untied them as quickly as he could, fighting against his own advancing drowsiness. He pulled out a small wooden box and flask from inside his mantle. He opened the box, grabbed a small piece of bread and ate it. After unscrewing the lid of the flask, he took a short sip of red wine. “May this bread and this wine give me the strength I need”, he muttered under his breath.
Mustering up his newfound strength, he bore Pastor Mindy under his left arm, and Todd under his right, and standing up he carried them towards the exit. Just as he had passed through the opening, it collapsed behind him.
Jonah sacked to the floor and watched the rest of the building gradually tumble to the ground. Fire engines could be heard in the background. He turned to his friends and forced a piece of bread and a sip of wine down each of their throats. Slowly, their strength returned to them.
“Where am I?”, moaned Todd. “What happened?”, groaned Mindy.
But Jonah did not manage to answer. He looked only at the fiery pyre burning high into the night sky, and remembered the burning church and the deaths it had caused. The strong, grey, hooded man crept into his mind again and tormented him. I hope those two slave women managed to get out, Jonah caught himself thinking. He closed his eyes and cried.
“Ah, there you are, my brother. Why are you so sad?”, a familiar voice rang behind him.