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Other novels by Keith Pyeatt:              Dark Knowledge                     Struck                     Above Haldis Notch

Sample of DAEVA
by Keith Pyeatt

Prologue
August 1560

Rothsirge crouched in a dark corner of the barn and waited. He excelled at waiting, having had centuries of practice, but tonight didn't test his patience. Only a few minutes passed before Fineena's slight silhouette appeared in the open doorway. Backlit by the moon, her blond hair glowed, but darkness hid her expression.

"Hello?" Her thin voice was scarcely more than a whisper. "Are you there?"

"I'm here," he said, rising to his full height, "just as I promised."

She made a soft sound he couldn't interpret, but when she glanced over her shoulder toward her house, Rothsirge knew she was trying to decide if meeting him here was a mistake. He watched her closely. He could chase her if she ran, of course, but she'd scream as only young girls can, alerting everyone in her house. He'd end up either fleeing the area or abandoning this body before her family could get their hands on it.

She glanced at her house again and shuffled back a step. He was about to lose her, and there was little he could do about it from inside this host. The simple mind gave him control of the body but limited use of his power. Maybe it would be enough. After all, he'd enchanted her easily enough this afternoon, and she'd come this far. He only needed to charm her a few more steps forward.

He moved into the moonlight and bowed theatrically. "At your service."

Fineena giggled and entered the barn.

Rothsirge smiled. Tomorrow he would leave this host behind and resume his long search for a mind capable of setting him free, but tonight was for satisfying physical pleasures. This might be his last opportunity for years. He would savor it.

"Did your parents hear you leave the house?" he asked, pleased his voice quivered only slightly with anticipation.

Fineena shook her head. Her fine hair shimmered moonlight with the movement. "You promised more magic, remember?"

"I remember. This way." Rothsirge turned away from her, now confident she would follow. His desire surged as he led her deep into the barn. She seemed as gullible as she had in the village market, gathered with other children to watch his simple acts of magic. Her large eyes had shone with the kind of excitement that overpowered caution when he’d asked her name and repeated it in a loud, showman's voice for the crowd. He’d knelt to her level and leaned close, and she had gasped when he reached beside her head, pulled an egg-sized stone from her ear, and held the stone high. As the children and adult onlookers clapped and cheered, he’d quietly promised Fineena that he'd show her more magic tonight, away from the crowd, but only if she promised to keep it a secret. She'd laughed and whispered where she lived.

Now she had fulfilled her promise. It was time for Rothsirge to do the same. He owed her a private performance.

Fineena's steps hesitated beside him. "It's too dark to see your tricks," she complained.

"Sit near me while your eyes adjust to the light then." He moved between the girl and the door and sat on a thin pile of hay. Fineena sat just within his reach, her innocent scent mingling with the dry odor of grain and the wet smell of animals. A horse near the back of the barn snorted and bumped against the rails that restrained it.

"Better now?" Rothsirge asked a moment later.

"I think so, but..." She looked back the way they'd come. "It's still too dark."

Was that a trace of apprehension in her voice? Had she decided meeting him was a mistake after all? His passion swelled at the thought of her fear, and his breathing grew loud. He tried to control his excitement, but she stood and inched away. Rothsirge let his hand drift toward her right ankle, planning to grab her before she noticed the movement, but she jerked her leg back with a gasp.

Then she hesitated.

Rothsirge leapt to his feet, intending to catch her in indecision, but Fineena was too quick. She darted around him and raced for the door. He cursed and sprinted after her, gaining ground when she tripped in the dark. She'd made it just outside the barn when he caught her hair in one hand and jerked. She uttered a short, high shriek before he covered her mouth, wrapped both hands around her head, and flung her into the barn. She landed hard on her back, too stunned, shaken, and hurt to scream.

His heart raced. Rothsirge savored the feel of blood surging through this body. He dropped his pants.

Fineena kicked and tried to crawl away, but her panicked movements were awkward. Very good, Rothsirge thought as he yanked his pants off over his boots. He knew how to gauge fear. Her resistance would be limited, exciting but not tiresome. He approached her, carefully positioning himself so he didn't block the moonlight illuminating her face. Terror suited her.

Then a shadow moved over the girl. "Papa!" Fineena cried.

Rothsirge turned and reached out toward a blur of motion. He staggered backwards. Hot pain pierced his chest, fire and crushing pressure. His hands grasped the long handle of a hay fork sticking out from his host's chest. Two tines penetrated the body, one through the racing heart. Resignation to his fate hurt worse than the pain. There would be no escaping this host. A low growl rumbled through the barn as Rothsirge fell, trapped inside a dead mind.

###


From a shallow, remote grave, Rothsirge felt his host body decompose and return to the earth. Saplings sprung up around him and grew into towering trees, only to die and decay, readying the soil for the next generation.

Weakening with each cycle of life, his thoughts losing meaning, his quest forgotten, noises no longer natural to Rothsirge jarred him alert. The sounds rose and fell in a repeating rhythm, like the trees' cycle of growth and death, but with decades compressed into seconds.

He didn't recognize the human voices at first, but something familiar resonated in the cadence of their chant. Then he remembered. He'd once waited, straining to hear these words, ready to respond, to be the spirit the chant would resurrect. His thoughts cleared.

The ground around him seemed to move, but it was Rothsirge's presence that lifted, ripping itself free from a plot of earth that refused to yield, as if dirt and stone would choose to deny him this chance if they could. Night's light burned his vision. Fresh air ate into his ethereal being. The sensations thrilled him. He was still alive.

From a place in the sky, he looked down on fourteen chanting women. His hopes soared as his returning memory made the ancient ritual familiar. He thought the chant in time with the women who recited it.

"Kadesh hatabelah, Daeva. Kadesh hatabelah..."

Rothsirge searched for the glow of fire but it wasn't visible. His surging hopes crashed.

No! No, you must have a sacrifice.

He watched helplessly, desperate to instruct them, powerless to do so. Without the sacrifice, he would be returned to the ground. He wouldn't survive there much longer.

You must sacrifice!

The women, all wearing black hooded garments, converged into a tight circle and knelt. They appeared as a single black dot from where Rothsirge's consciousness hovered above them. They fell silent. Then undefined movement stirred within the tight cluster. The chanting began again, louder.

"Kadesh hatabelah, Brighid. Kadesh hatabelah, Daeva..."

The circle expanded then tightened again as the women rocked on their knees. Then they stood. Twelve women lifted the thirteenth above their heads. A sudden wind roared through Rothsirge. It angled down and struck the coven, flapping their loose clothing. The chanting softened, hesitated. He smelled their fear of success. The wind weakened. The woman who was raised above the others shrieked out the chant, and the others followed her lead. The wind increased again, this time inciting the coven. Yelps and shrieks punctuated their rhythm. Brighid was accented more heavily with each repetition.

The coven, still suspending the woman above them, marched northward. Rothsirge now saw the pyre, unlit, fifty yards away. Brighid didn't struggle as they lashed her into place over the dry wood. Ten witches formed a circle around the pyre. One stood within the circle, holding a torch. The last, a round woman so large her black flowing clothes couldn't disguise her bulk, struggled to climb over the wood and stood, gasping for air, next to the sacrifice.

The frenzied chanting died, and with it, the wind. Labored breathing from the round woman near the sacrifice became the only sound, then her panting quieted too. The ring of witches circled counter-clockwise, shuffling sideways to face the pyre. Their scraping footsteps and the rustling of their robes filled the void of silence.

Brighid sang out in a pure clear voice, chanting for her own death. "Kadesh hatabelah..."

The round woman studied Brighid. They exchanged an intimate look.

"Do it," he urged.

Brighid closed her eyes. "Kadesh hatabelah, Daeva," she chanted more strongly.

A fat hand darted out from under folds of black cloth. A blade caught the glow of the torch just before slicing through Brighid's throat. The chant became a wet, gargling sound, then stopped. Blood poured from Brighid's wound, quickly saturating the front of her robe.

With speed and agility not shown on her climb, the round woman descended the pyre to join the circle. The woman holding the torch ignited the dry wood. Twelve women circled hungry flames. They threw back their hoods in unison, lifted their faces into the night sky, and danced.

Rothsirge felt the heat of each drop of blood as it fell sizzling into the fire. He learned the bloodline of the family offered him.

The chant rose again on one voice, as clear as a child's. Others joined in as Brighid's robe caught fire.

He knew the coven expected him to redeem their leader and then reside within her, serving them according to her wishes. They were fools, capable of executing the ritual but unaware they offered more than Brighid. Once accepted by a host, Rothsirge could move freely within the family. Her bloodline was his.

He entered Brighid's panicked mind as death rushed to greet her. Hope as pure as mother's milk surged inside her when she sensed him. For a moment, he fed her elation with soothing thoughts whispered directly into her mind.

Then he revealed her mistake.

Rothsirge stayed only long enough to feel renewed terror pump a rush of Brighid's blood into the fire. He felt her die from his new home in the mind of her timid sister. He had a second chance, and he would not waste it. Rothsirge would begin at once, searching, as before, for a host mind capable of fulfilling his destiny.



WHEN EVIL OWNS YOUR MIND,

FIGHT IT WITH YOUR HEART.


Trapped for centuries inside mortal minds, a manipulative daeva with a grudge against humanity finally finds a host he can use to set himself free into the world. Sharon, the host's sister, works tirelessly to help her brother resist the daeva's influence, but by the time she fully understands the threat to mankind, she's become the key to the daeva's success. Her death will either empower the daeva or destroy him.