"How could you have missssed the clear sign, Lilith? This newssss should come as no surprisssse to you." His voice, eerily quiet but unyielding, mocking, shook her. "You. Have. Failed. Me." With each word, he sent a jolt of pain out that racked through her being.
Her head snapped back. She fell to the floor, groaning, then stumbled back to her feet. "I don't understand! How could the child live? What sign?" She faltered. "How could I have known?"
He laughed, but there was no humor in it. "I fear I have given you too much. Promissssed you too much. Been too eeeeassssy on you. Perhapssss I should bide my time and choose another—a better woman—another day."
The air grew thick with smoke.
"I have waited too long to let you stand in my way. I cannot grant power and immortality to a failure. I cannot allow you to lead if you are inept."
Lilith struggled for air. "No, tell me! How could I have known?"
Daeva tilted his head. His red eyes burned into hers. "Think," he sneered. "Rowena was to die before she releassssed her power. What ssssign would accompany that change?" Each word he spoke was drawn out, the whole having the quality of a hissing snake.
She struggled for breath. She had to concentrate. What was the sign to which he referred? She fought for control over her thoughts. What was the sign? What was the sign? "Oh!" she cried. "Oh, no! How could I have missed it?"
"How indeed?" Again fire flashed from his eyes, narrowly missing her tangled hair. She pulled it back and wiped her stinging brow. "Sssso," he inquired, condescendingly, "what have you ssssurmissssed?"
"I would have received her magic power."
"Exxxxactly. We have planned this ever ssssince Rowena became the ranking member. Do you remember the day, my pet? Do you remember when you first turned to me?"
How could she forget? She'd been distraught over her sister's position. Finally, in desperation, she vowed she'd do anything to keep Rowena from successfully leading the Select. To her glorious surprise, Daeva had visited her. "Lilith," he'd purred. "Do you mean what you pray?"
At first his presence startled her, but she longed to believe her plea might be answered. "Are you asking if I'd do anything to keep Rowena from being successful? To become the ranking member myself? Yes. Anything!"
Daeva laid out his plan. Lilith could pretend to back Rowena, but she was to dispose of her sister before she released her power to her offspring. Then the power of the Select would revert to Lilith. Once done, Daeva would grant her even greater power—dark power.
Putting aside her reminiscing, she turned to Daeva. "Yes, I remember."
"You knew Rowena vowed to wait until after she bore her sssseventh child to release her power—and you knew you needed to dessstroy her before that happened."
"Sssso, my pet, where issss that power? Hmmm? Where?"
She bowed. How could she have missed the obvious sign? In her excitement over her sister's death, she'd never given it a thought. "I didn't think," she whispered.
"Heh, heh, heh," Daeva chortled mirthlessly. "I cannot support one so shortssssighted." As if to emphasize his words, he increased the wave of searing pain.
"Ahhhhh!" she cried in agony.
"Had you 'thought,'" he continued, "you would have pressssed Dixon for information about the child when you found him in Polessssk. If you had done so, you might already have her in your grassssp."
"Yes, I failed. But I can do better. I beg you to give me another chance."
Again he increased the pain.
Lilith's back arched and her mouth opened in a silent scream. When he reduced the anguish, she slumped in relief.
"Perhapssss," he said, "perhapssss, there is a way."
"What can I do? I'll do anything!"
"Yessss, I know. You have sworn your allegiancccce to me, my pet. You no longer have the option of exercissssing choicccce. You are mine," he whispered. "You will do whatever I assssk."
"Yes." How could this have happened? How could I have lost control? In her zeal for power, she had allowed Daeva to trick her, and now he would use her however he chose. Still, she would get what she wanted . . . eventually. "What can I do?"
"I have jusssst the plan. There is sssstill a way . . ."
"Firsssst, you shall find out all that you can from Dixon."
"Yes!" He would pay.
"Then," Daeva continued, his voice dripping with venom, "you shall kill him."
"Gladly." She envisioned Dixon conceding information he hoped would save him from torture, begging for mercy, lying dead at her feet. Oh, yes! "But how will I accomplish this? I've no power over him except the power to band and to hold him."
"I shall endow you with sufficient power."
She smiled. An onlooker would have seen the resemblance between her smile and Daeva's own.
"When? When will I receive power?" She'd won him over. She was on the verge of becoming the most powerful leader of the Select ever to exist. But this leader will not exercise the power of the Good One or pursue his simplistic goals for the people. No, this leader will use the power of Sinespe, the underworld.
The sound of Daeva's laughter rippled about the room. "Now!" he said as the flame of his presence rushed upon her, invading and enveloping her.
Lilith dropped to the floor, panting, burning. The flames licked at her head, her mouth, her hands. Engulfed in a torrent of agony, her body steamed.
The screeching flames seared down her back and legs. She couldn't breathe. After what seemed an eternity, but could not have been more than mere moments, he reduced the torture.
Finally able to pull in some air, she gasped. "Stop! I'll be consumed!"
"But Lilith, my chossssen," he taunted, "you have already been conssssumed . . . by me."
"I beg you to stop. I'll die!"
"You will not die, though you may wish you would." He pulled back most of the remaining pain.
"Take the rest away. Please, take it away!"
"Hah ha ha ha ha," he laughed. "The remaining pain will never go away."
"Becausssse it will remind you of what I will do if you displeasssse me. What is more, it will be a consssstant reminder that I am now a part of you."
She sat up, one hip against the floor. "Please, Daeva . . ."
"Oh, Lilith, trussst me. You will come to appreciate it—to enjoy it even. It will drive you to do better. It will remind you of the goal you seek—because you have some detailssss to attend to. You musssst find that child. And then, here'ssss what you must do . . ."
***Thank you for taking time with Oathtaker. I sincerely appreciate your votes and welcome your comments.***
Oathtaker is an award-winner in the 2014 Readers' Favorite International Book Award contest. A completed work, it is currently available in print form at CreateSpace at createspace.com/4767727, in print and for your Kindle on Amazon (see the link) and from Barnes and Noble for your Nook.
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An Oath Sworn. A Struggle Engaged. A Sacrifice Required. When Mara, a trained Oathtaker, is drawn by the scent of the Select to battle underworld beasts summoned by powers of evil to destroy the guardians of life, she swears a life oath for the prot...