The Sacrifice by Jessica Gadziala



I was the least useful member of the coven.

I was expendable.

My pride might have hurt with that realization, but there was no denying its truth.

And there was no stopping my fate.

Once my hair was braided, the sun was casting golden fingertips across the sky, and the small girls were walking into the circle dressed all in white, carrying hand-woven baskets brimming with flowers they each took turns placing in my hair, their soft little voices humming a lullaby we had all been sung as babes.

When they were finished, they each took a turn standing in front of me, clasping their hands in prayer position and pressing them against the top and centermost parts of their forehead where I had—and they would eventually have—a dark blue crescent moon tattoo: the symbol of our goddess—the pointy tips disappearing into my hairline.

I opened my eyes for them, taking in their innocent faces, reminding myself that I was saving them from terrible fates.

It was a salve over my resentment.

Because I knew that, should some man with ill intentions break into our paradise, I would throw myself in front of each one of them to save them.

This was no different.

It was simply far less dramatic.

A noble Sacrifice.

That was what I could be.

"Lenore," Marianne said, voice deep and firm as it often was when she addressed me. "It is time."

My heart darted around in my chest—a rabbit in the gaze of a predator—but I nodded to her as I reached for my mother's hands, giving them one last squeeze, offering her a smile I didn't feel, then falling into step behind Marianne.

We made our way through the woods in silence.

Marianne and I had never been close. On a good day, I never knew what to say to her.

Today was not a good day.

We reached the road an hour later, finding a single black van waiting, the back doors thrown open. The driver was nothing but the back of a head obscured by a hat.

My stomach flip-flopped as Marianne walked me to the van, climbed inside, then reached to help me in as well.

My gaze fell on the box there.

Pine wood.

Plain.

A line of air holes drilled into the top.

A coffin, of sorts.

My gaze skittered to Marianne, finding nothing on her face that betrayed her true feelings.

But that was the way of the High Priestess.

It was about the coven, not herself.

And, in a way, I finally understood what that meant.

Marianne pulled open the lid, revealing nothing but the inside but a strong wooden box.

Taking a deep breath, I stepped inside, lowering myself down into the space, folding my arms over my chest, and watching as Marianne lowered the lid.

The hammering came next, nails into place, trapping me in my coffin prison.

Doors slammed.

The van lurched to life.

And I was off to become a Sacrifice.

Come what may.





Chapter Two





Lycus





"This fucking rain," Ace grumbled, waving a hand out at the window where the yard was steadily forming pools of water after five full days of nonstop, unrelenting rain. The wet was seeping in through the house's stone, making all the fabrics inside start to feel damp, chilling all of us through.

We'd been around for longer than any of us cared to count anymore, but not a single one of us had gotten used to the cold and wet. It went against our nature.

What can I say? We spent most of our immortal lives in a very warm climate.

We all missed it.

Especially on days like this.

Ace—all six-foot-four of him—was pacing along the wall of windows. Dressed all in black, he looked paler than usual, something that made his red-flecked ice blue eyes even more dominant a feature. His blond hair was messier than he was typically known for, proof of the weather wearing on him.

"Have a drink," Drex suggested, already holding a glass of whiskey in his hand at two in the afternoon. The answer to everything, in Drex's opinion, was to have a drink.

Unlike Ace, if you came across Drex on the street, you would place him as the biker that he was. Six-two, wide-shouldered, and dark-haired, he was dressed in worn black jeans, a wrinkled white tee, and a leather jacket. His beard was a prominent feature of his face, obscuring the bone structure we'd all been looking at for generations. He also had blue eyes, but a darker, stormier color than Ace, with only a small fleck of red that looked like a small birthmark in his iris.

"I don't want a drink. I want this shit to stop," Ace grumbled, pausing his pacing to stare at the relentless rain for another moment. "Sounds like Seven is back," he said a moment later.