Chapter 1 The rite began an hour after sunset. The circle had been prepared long ago, a perfect nine feet, by the clearing of trees and young saplings. The ground had been sprinkled with consecrated earth. Clouds, dark and secretive, danced over the pale moon. Thirteen figures, in black cowls and cloaks, stood inside the protective circle. In the woods beyond, a lone owl began to scream, in lament or in sympathy. When the gong sounded, even he was silenced. For a moment, there was only the murmur of the wind through the early spring leaves. In the pit at the left side of the circle, the fire already smoldered. Soon the flames would rise up, called by that same wind or other forces. It was May Day Eve, the Sabbat of Roodmas. On this night of high spring, both celebration and sacrifice would be given for the fertility of crops and for the power of men. Two women dressed in red robes stepped into the circle. Their faces were not hooded and were very white, with a slash of scarlet over their lips. Like vampires who had already feasted. One, following the careful instructions she had been given, shed her robe and stood naked in the light of a dozen black candles, then draped herself over a raised slab of polished wood. She would be their altar of living flesh, the virgin on which they would worship. The fact that she was a prostitute and far from pure disturbed some of them. Others simply relished her lush curves and generously spread thighs. The high priest, having donned his mask of the Goat of Mendes, began to chant in bastardized Latin. When he had finished his recitation, he raised his arms high toward the inverted pentagram above the altar. A bell was rung to purify the air. From her hiding place in the brush, a young girl watched, her eyes wide with curiosity. There was a burning smell coming from the pit where flames crackled, sending sparks shooting high. Odd shapes had been carved in the trunks of the circling trees. The young girl began wondering where her father was. She had hidden in his car, giggling to herself at the trick she was playing on him. When she had followed him through the woods, she hadn't been afraid of the dark. She'd never been afraid. She had hidden, waiting for the right time to jump out and into his arms. But he had put on a long, dark coat, like the others, and now she wasn't sure which one was Daddy. Though the naked woman both embarrassed and fascinated her, what the grown-ups were doing no longer seemed like a game. She felt her heart beating in her throat when the man in the mask began to chant again. "We call on Ammon, the god of life and reproduction. On Pan, the god of lust." After the calling of each name, the others repeated it. The list was long. The group was swaying now, a deep hum rising up among them while the high priest drank from a silver chalice. Finished, he set the cup down between the breasts of the altar. He took up a sword and pointing it south, east, north, and west, called up the four princes of hell. Satan, lord of fire Lucifer, bringer of light Belial, who has no master Leviathan, serpent of the deep In the brush, the young girl shuddered and was afraid. "Ave, Satan." "I call upon you, Master, Prince of Darkness, King of the Night, throw wide the Gates of Hell and hear us." The high priest shouted the words, not like a prayer, but a demand. As his voice rang out, he held up a parchment. The lights from the greedy flames washed through it like blood. "We ask that our crops be bountiful, our cattle fruitful. Destroy our enemies, bring sickness and pain to those who would harm us. We, your faithful, demand fortune and pleasure." He placed a hand on the breast of the altar. "We take what we wish, in your name, Lord of the Flies. In your name,Roberts, Nora is the author of 'Divine Evil', published 2004 under ISBN 9780553803266 and ISBN 0553803263.