A Gift of Butterflies - Prologue
The knock on the High Priest's office door was apologetic, not demanding. That was how it should be. He tossed his pen aside and glanced at the wall-clock above the massive stone fireplace. The minute hand clicked to the vertical. She was precisely on time. They always were.
He'd seen the girl around the campus numerous times and her erotic charms had impressed him on every occasion. She'd requested this audience. That didn't surprise him either. The celebration of the equinox was to take place that evening, and there always seemed to be at least one novice who would do anything for a place in the circle on such a day.
"Come." He pictured her long raven-black hair, looked down at his hands and moved them in slow circles; his mind coiling that hair around them and pulling her onto him.
The door swung inward. His mouth curled into a smile.
She'd tied her hair back into a severe bun. His smile faltered. Her clothes too, were wrong, sloppy crew-neck sweatshirt and baggy running pants. It was always plunging necklines and mini-skirts. She'd made no effort at all. He felt a flush of anger, but forced his smile back into place. The body beneath the shapeless garments would be the same and her sensuous, full lips just craved…
"Come in, my dear."
She bowed her head. "I thank the High Priest for granting me audience."
That was better, but his anger still smouldered. He'd let her buy her place in the circle, but her pain would balance his pleasure. "So what can I do for you, my dear?" He beckoned her across the room, but did not invite her to sit.
She raised her head as she advanced across the ornate Persian carpet. Her eyes held his. She didn't look as if she'd come to beg favours. A touch of disquiet tickled the back of his neck. "Well?"
"Shahanshah came to me. He spoke to me." Her gaze didn't falter.
His did. This couldn't be true . "Shahanshah, King of Kings, Ahriman himself, to a novice. He'd been High Priest for twenty years and he'd never been blessed as this mere girl claimed to have been. She must be mistaken. She wouldn't lie, not about this; no one would dare. He stood, rounded the desk and faced her. She was a foot shorter than he was. He placed a finger under the chin, lifted her face to look into his, and stared into her eyes; their faces only inches apart. He concentrated on the pupils of her eyes until his vision began to blur and they merged into one. Swirling, red smoke and flickering flames appeared then, behind these, the head of a goat: long curled horns, piercing green eyes. He blinked and pulled his head back. Something was there, but not Ahriman, not the Master himself. He was sure of it.
The girl's lips parted, begging a kiss. She wanted him to know the truth of it. He slipped his hand behind her head and pulled her mouth onto his. The tip of his tongue circled the tip of hers and he tasted flesh, rotting flesh.
He pulled his head away. She was smiling up at him. He needed time to think. Not the Master, he was sure of that now, but one of his demons, and a powerful one. "Please sit down, my dear…I'm sorry…Angela." He returned to his seat at the other side of the desk, using the few seconds it took to reach the high-back chair, to regain his composure. This didn't mean that it hadn't been Ahriman who spoke to her. He could simply have left one of his lieutenants behind.
"Now, think carefully, what exactly did Shahanshah say to you? His exact words."
She cocked her head, watching him, not as if she was picking her words carefully, but as if she was preparing to register his reaction to them.
"He said, four will come, two and two. You must gift them what I have gifted you and they will carry death into the world."
The High Priest relaxed. He could still have his fun. Ahriman had visited her, and it was the Master's gift to her, his lieutenant, that she would pass on. Her pain would be food and wine to the demon whose temporary home she had become. He chuckled. She would be granted access to the circle without even grovelling. She would be honoured at the invitation, then she would be dead. She must also remain a virgin, but that still left him plenty of scope. "Come here," he said, grinning and adjusting his robe to ease the discomfort of his growing anticipation.
She bowed her head and obeyed. They always did.