The Sacrifice by Jessica Gadziala


To Anne.

Who believed in this even more than I did.

Chapter One


The Sacrifice was something spoken of in whispers, lips quivering behind closed doors.

It was the phrase thrown at children to secure good behavior.

Do your studies; You don't want to become The Sacrifice, do you?

Watch your tongue; I don't want you to be the next Sacrifice.

Unfortunately for my mother—and, as it turned out, myself—I had always been a headstrong child. I was a girl with far too many opinions, and far too few inhibitions. I was always running when told to walk, singing when I was told to be silent, proud when I was told to be humble.

See, The Sacrifice was both a verb and a noun.

An action.

And a person.

In this generation, that person was me. That action to be taken was my life would be handed over.

There was nothing to be done.

Nothing my mother could say.

Nothing I could do to prevent it.

The day began before dawn, my door creaking open, a dozen sets of footsteps quietly filing in, trying not to wake me. As if I had been able to sleep the night before. Which was when they'd told me I was the Chosen One. I was to be this generation's Sacrifice.

I only got one night's notice because they didn't want to risk me trying to run off. As it was, our small cottage was surrounded by guards to prevent any temptation to take my chances with the woods I had known as my home my entire life.

Our little village was far away from the ugly outside world, with its superficiality and cruelty.

I would never see this village again.

That was a thought that had plagued my mind the night before as I walked numbly back to my room, dropped down on my bed.

This place, these people, this way of life.

It was all being taken away from me.

I tried to block out the sounds of my mother's muffled weeping in the other room.

The only daughter of an only daughter of an only daughter, our family had been cursed for generations. While other mothers enjoyed three to six little girls pulling at their skirts, sitting at the tables learning the meanings of the cards, the names of the gems, my mother had only me.

And now she was losing me.

My heart ached for her.

But it raced for myself.

Because no one knew what happened to the Sacrifice once she was handed over. Assumptions ran rampant, of course, as they would in any small community. The more creative of the girls invented tales to be told around a campfire, like normal children might do with ghost stories.

Except there was a very good chance that these stories might be real.

That I might be stripped bare and gang-raped every day for the next few decades.

That I might be strung up and bled dry slowly over time.

That I might be cut to bits and eaten piece by piece while I was still alive.

No one knew.

The not knowing was the worst part.

I had no idea what to mentally prepare myself for.

I suddenly wished I had been a better student, that I had sat quietly and let my mind drift away for hours during meditation. Had I applied myself, I might have become one of the star pupils, one of the young women who could endure beatings during meditation without feeling a thing. I could have been one of the Transcendent Ones, meant to be one of the leaders of the coven.

I could have avoided this all together if I had been a better daughter, a better student, a better member of our community.

It was too late to change now, though.

As I heard the women's hushed whispers beginning a chant I had seen in our family grimoire on the table in the living space, something I had pored over at the table when I was younger—so curious about darker things, convinced there was no way they could ever happen to me, I could feel my empty stomach churning.

I knew this was it.

It was the end.

I had so naively thought I had so much life left to live, so much more to experience.

Now, it was all being taken from me.

The chanting grew louder as the moments passed, meant—I imagined—to gently wake me.

As if sleep was ever possible for the Sacrifice.

As I lay there, I suddenly remembered the tale of Avia, a supposed Sacrifice from eighty years past, who had learned of her situation, and had convinced one of the guards to sneak her a handful of the belladonna hidden in the Poison Garden, allowing her to end her life before she had to be Sacrificed.

She'd saved herself.