AD 664

        Umar trembled as he lifted himself from the sand-covered floor of the cave. His quarterstaff lay shredded and beyond his reach. Blood trickled from his nose and from a cut on his cheek. He pivoted on his knees to face the inimical figure poised upon a stone ledge behind him. She sat as before, her posture betraying little evidence of the speed and power with which she had struck him. He shook his head to clear the ringing sound from his ears and the flickering spots before his eyes.
         "Don't try that again. You'll not survive another attempt."
         She spoke in flawless Arabic, true even to the dialect of the Bene Kenana. He bent his neck and wiped his face with his sleeve. Fear mingled with his anger, but he remained unrepentant.
         "Abomination! Allah will destroy you, even if his servant cannot."
         She sighed, unmoved by his fervor. "Why have you returned, if you feel that way? Why bother to come at all?"
         "I know who you are. I've come to cast you out in Allah's name. I will call you by your name and you will become powerless before the One, True God."
         "If you could incapacitate me with words, why try to split my skull with your staff?"
         "You're an abomination to my eyes."
         "So you've said already. Have you learned that you cannot injure me?"
         "I've discovered that I cannot overpower a demon by my own hand."
         For the first time, she showed impatience. With a shake of her head and a motion of dismissal, she replied, "You tire me. I thought you were an educated man, one who had learned to think."
         "I am a learned man. I have the wisdom of the ages, passed to me from the great libraries of Alexandria." "You have nothing. You know nothing. You and your kind have scarcely progressed beyond the caves of your forebears."         Umar, stung by her disparaging tone, retaliated with increased volume and at a higher pitch. "I know who you are! I call you Bast! Bastet! Ubasti! Go now from this place! Be thou forever gone from the land of the True God!"
         She smiled, showing her fangs. "I've not heard that name in two thousand years. You have indeed, discovered something new."
         She reached into the folds of her garment and withdrew a small but lustrous object. "Are you willing to learn more?"
         Almost against his will, he nodded. Words would not come to him.
         She stretched out her hand to her left, a pellet of polished obsidian visible in her fingers. "Then open your mind to this," she hissed.
         With a crackling sizzle that deepened into a soft and throaty roar, a pillar of violaceous light erupted from the floor of the cave. It towered to the ceiling, where it spread like the flame from a monstrous torch. There was no heat, no smoke.         Umar quailed with fear as he fell back upon his heels. Has Allah abandoned me? To call a demon by its name should nullify its power. He raised his hands before his face, certain that the violet fire would consume him. She laughed in that soft sibilance he had come to know so well.
         "Control your fear. Had I planned your demise, you would be dead already."
         "What is it? Will it burn me?"
         "It's a simulacrum."
         "A what?"
         She hesitated, then replied, "A servant. I must depart but this will become an advocate to continue your education until I return."
         "Then I have been successful. You are cast out."
         Her amber eyes flashed, highlighted by the violet light from the pillar of flame. "Don't try my patience. Have you forgotten my earlier lessons?"
         Umar swallowed, regained a measure of humility. "I remember them."
         She smiled again, nodding. "For your sake, do not press me further."
         He licked his lips, his throat dry. "I must be true to Islam."
         "By all means, be true. The Koran is truth. Have I ever said otherwise?"
         "No! Butyou... You are…
         "I am inexplicable."
         She tossed the gleaming black pellet toward him. When it left her hand, the shimmering pillar vanished. The pellet struck the floor of the cave within a foot of where he knelt. It lay motionless, half buried in the sand. Unconsciously, Umar edged away from it.
         "When will you return?" he asked without taking his eyes from the almond-sized, obsidian stone.
         "In four hundred years."
         He could not repeat her words, astounded by the idea. He raised his eyes from the stone as his mouth worked. Finally, he choked out his objection.
         "I will be as dust!"
         She stood, pointed at the object in the sand and said, "My servant will keep you whole and firm." She turned to the smooth and featureless iron door of her inner chamber. As he had seen so many times previously, the door disappeared with a rush of air. Just before she stepped through, he called out.
         She turned to face him.
         "What do I call this…" he gestured at the smooth small stone, "your servant?"
         "Appeal to Illumi if your need is truly great."
         Umar sensed that she was leaving, that he still lacked understanding. He felt panic nibble at the edges of his mind. "What do I do with this stone?"
         She smiled again, her ferocity focused fully upon him. "If you find the courage, you'll swallow it."
         She disappeared within the chamber of lights; the metal door scything shut a moment later. He never saw her again.
         For many minutes, Umar remained motionless, half-expecting, half dreading her return. Finally, he reached out his hand and prodded with a tentative finger the artifact she had left. Apart from slight warmth, it appeared to be inert, harmless. Eventually, he lifted and bounced it in his palm. He shrugged and placed it to his lips. A tendril of fear slipped amongst his thoughts, and he hesitated. The decision to accept or reject her final challenge was not yet due. He stood and shuffled out of the cave.
         Rising above the eastern dunes, a florid sphere vanquished his dread. Warm winds swept in from the desert, dispelling the unreality of his experience in the cave no less surely than the brightening glare chased away the shadows of night. In the wadi, he heard the call to Shurooq.
         Umar tumbled the small black stone within his palm. He lifted it to his nose, inhaling the tangy scent of cinnamon. In a moment of fateful decision, he drew back his arm and hurled it skyward. He watched its dwindling shape until he lost sight of it against the mosaic of the field below. He sauntered past the field then increased his stride when he approached the mosque. In his prayers, he vowed to expel his personal devil, just as he had cast away her gift.