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The Sacrifice

The Sacrifice

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The Sacrifice

Length:
218 pages
2 hours
Publisher:
Released:
May 7, 2021
ISBN:
9781005898854
Format:
Book

Description

A malevolent god demands regular sacrifices from many realms, but Shysera is unlike any offering he’s seen before. Her gifts will earn her great favor, but her strength and cunning may be enough to end his reign of terror if she can convince the people of the other realms – and one stubborn Prince – to fight with her.

Publisher:
Released:
May 7, 2021
ISBN:
9781005898854
Format:
Book

About the author

Britt DeLaney lives and writes near Philadelphia. In her spare time she watches too much Netflix, eats too many Pop-Tarts, and is currently writing her ass off.


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The Sacrifice - Britt DeLaney

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THE SACRIFICE

by Britt DeLaney

© 2021 Britt DeLaney

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. 

gaze pub tsp-200X200

Philadelphia, PA

www.gazepublishing.com

The Sacrifice/Britt DeLaney. —1st ed.

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Dedication

This book is dedicated to Jen, who eats souls for breakfast.

You motivate me whether you like it or not.

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1

SHYSERA RAISED HER head from her knees at the sound of retching. It wasn’t a new sound, but at least it wasn’t accompanied by sobbing, or moans of pain. In between the splashes of vomit hitting the stone floor came the curses, shouted at full volume. The amount of rage contained in each word reverberated around the circular room, bouncing off the stone walls. She could nearly feel them vibrating the bars of each cage.

The two guards half dragged, half pushed the man into his cell hard enough to send him reeling into the opposite wall, then they slammed the door behind him. There was no key needed to lock it. Whatever magic was in place to keep all of them from accessing their powers, it also worked to seal them in.

She arrived yesterday—at least Shysera thought it was yesterday. With no windows, no clocks, and a steady low-lit level of illumination, it was hard to mark the passage of time. They’d only given her one meal, and she did manage a short period of fitful sleep on the hard stone floor. At least the temperature was moderate, but the floor felt cold anyway.

The man leaned over again in the corner of his cell, splashing the last of his sick upon the stones, until it was nothing but bile coming up. He swiped at his mouth angrily with the back of his arm, then pulled back his fist and punched the stone wall again and again and again before slumping down to the floor, his hands spearing through his long, dark hair.

He looked around at all of them, and his eyes widened for the briefest moment when they landed on her. Then he tilted his head back, and closed his eyes, his mouth twisted in a tight grimace. From the way his arms were wrapped around his stomach, Shysera was sure he was in a lot of pain. 

He was a large man, with eyes of deepest blue. Shysera was tall among her people, but he dwarfed her by at least the span of two hands. His shoulders were very broad, and his arms, legs, and torso thickly muscled. He wore soiled and tattered breeches, but no shirt. There were no fresh bloodstains visible, so whatever was done to him did not involve knives. She could see the purpling on his side from where she sat. He was beaten, then.

She decided to do as he did, and study the rest of those imprisoned here with her. None of them had spoken to her since her arrival, though they all eyed her warily. It was likely they had never seen her kind. She knew who they were from stories, but no one from the other continents visited the Fire Islands, where she made her home. If the volcanoes and predatory water beasts didn’t scare them away, the legends certainly did. On rare occasion, they’d have a tradesman from the Southern Lands brave the journey, but when what became known as the Little Cataclysm took half the island chain ten years ago, the journeys ceased. The merchants were too afraid of angry gods to visit.

The man must be from the Southern Lands—he didn’t have the markings of someone from the Wilds. Unlike Shysera’s people, no one from either of those lands had wings. Those of the Wilds had the ability to shift, becoming great panthers, tigers, jaguars, or even lions. Those of the Southern Lands remained as men and women, but they were very strong and extremely fast, with heightened senses that let them smell, hear and see much more acutely.

The girl caged on her right side was also wingless, and young. She couldn’t have seen more than nine years. She was thin, her green eyes hollow with faint gill slits beneath her ears and a cloud of matted silvery-blue hair. She was of the Waters, able to breathe and hear as easily in the sea as she could on land.

The girl sniffled as she crouched over the hole in the corner of her cell to relieve herself. Shysera had not yet done so, and she wasn’t going to be able to fight it off much longer. Her cheeks burned with shame at the thought of it.

To her left was a man from the Summits—she recognized him by the shock of white hair, pale skin and bright-white wings, all necessary camouflage in a land of ice and snow. The span of his wings was impressive, giving him the strength necessary to glide the updrafts and gusting winds between mountain peaks. He was humming to himself, and the song felt strangely soothing. Shysera wondered if the song had words, and what it was about. She wished he would sing it out loud.

Next to him was an empty cage, and Shysera’s eyes moved quickly past it, as if she could un-see the large bloodstain on the floor, un-remember the sight of the female being dragged, barely conscious and thrown inside. It had been mere minutes after Shysera’s arrival. She had only just adjusted to the shock of her surroundings when the guards dragged another prisoner in.

The female’s golden hair was matted with sweat and vomit. Her skin looked as though it had been burned, ranging from angry red marks to weeping blisters overlapping the ceremonial markings inked on her body. She shook uncontrollably, and her scream of pain as they dropped her to the stones of her cell floor was filled with such agony, Shysera’s breath caught with it. She had walked over to the door of her cell, trying it again, shaking it. Someone needed to help the woman.

But none of them did. Their eyes ranged from bleak to simmering fury as they watched the her suffer. None of them helped her. None of them could. The dark-skinned female with the burnished copper hair—several shades darker than Shysera’s deep red tresses—who was trapped in the cell next to the wounded woman on the other side looked on in helpless rage. Her dappled brown and green wings—marking her as an inhabitant of the Skylands—twitched as she watched the injured female try to push up to her elbows, only to collapse again on the stones. She lay there, taking deep, shuddering breaths as her body shook with pain. And they all watched. They could only watch.

After a time, she quieted, her breathing grew shallower, and she stopped moaning. Stopped crying. Her eyes were open, but unfocused, as if it took every ounce of her strength to deal with what was happening to her body. Then suddenly she let out a horrible, rattling sound and began vomiting again, choking with it as her body brought up buckets of blood. She convulsed, lying on her side as her insides emptied out of her in long racking spasms. Then she was still. She did not breathe again. The guards came in a short time later, grabbing her body by the ankles and dragging her out through the doorway, her blood painting the floor behind them.

Shysera’s eyes returned to that patch of blood, and she cleared her throat, raising her voice slightly to be heard—though it wasn’t really necessary. The cells were small, and with all of them in a circle looking at each other, every shuffle and whisper was easily audible.

Do any of you know her name? She asked. The female who died?

No one answered. The female from the Skylands turned her head away. The young girl from the Waters finally replied.

Her name was Ezbera, the girl said softly. She seemed nice. From the Wilds.

Six cells. Six cages to hold a member of each of the people on the planet. That meant the woman had been a shifter, most likely a lioness, with that mane of golden hair. Shysera wondered what it had looked like when it was clean, and she had been healthy and strong.

How long was she here? Shysera asked.

How long are any of us here? The male from the Summits asked flatly. Time doesn’t have any meaning in this place.

I’ve been counting the meals, the young girl from the Waters said. Since they come only once a day. I’ve had twenty-six meals. She was here before me.

Shysera gave her a small, approving smile. That’s very smart.

The girl returned the smile, a bit wanly. My father says I’m smartest in our family. Her eyes welled with tears, and she buried her face into her skinny, scabby knees, trying to hide her sniffles.

Shysera looked out at the rest of them. Do we know anything else about her? Her village? Her family? What her place was within her clan?

Nobody’s here for conversation. The big man from the Southern Lands snapped. So you can just shut it.

We’re all in here together, Shysera said. Doesn’t it make sense to—

None of this makes sense, the female from the Skylands said. She pulled her wing up over her face and curled into the wall. The male from the Summits did the same. The girl from the Waters was turned away as well, weeping softly. Southern Lands man just glared at her. Conversation over.

She had a story, Shysera said softly. A life. A family. People that she loved and people that loved her. She needs to be remembered. Please—you were all here with her. Someone must know something?

What good will any of that do her? She’s dead. The male from the Summits answered her.

If we can find a way out of this place, Shysera said, one of us can take her story to her people. So they know how fiercely she fought, and how bravely she suffered.

You think her family wants to hear that? The female from the Skylands snapped. How badly she suffered?

She has a story, Shysera repeated. It needs to be told, and remembered.

No one is going to remember her, or any of us, the big man from the Southern Lands said. His voice carried no rage, only a flat certainty chilled her to her bones. And none of us have a story anymore.

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2

THEY CAME FOR her before the next meal. Shysera tried to fight the guards at first, but the creatures were hellishly strong—not like men, or even shifters. They were more like the combined strength and endurance of the two. They had arms and legs like men but were much bigger, even bigger than the man from the Southern Lands. Their skin was mottled, like that of some sea creatures, with a slimy quality to it. They smelled like a corpse gone to rot. Their faces were too uniform to discern one from another, with an overly-large mouth full of razor-sharp teeth on top, and a lower jaw that featured two prominent tusks jutting from it. 

One guard was especially vicious, and she could only tell him from the other one because one of his tusks was broken. He was the one who stepped in to pull her from the cage. She slapped and clawed and kicked, but she might as well have been an insect for all the effect it had upon the creature. When the other guard slipped in behind him to hold her wings, it sent her into a true frenzy. She fought them like a demon as they dragged her out of the room and through the doorway into nothingness.

It was utterly and completely black. Not even the slightest speck of light could tell her if they were moving through rock or across open land. There was an echoing silence around them, and despite the lack of light, the creatures had no problem navigating. At last, she was pushed through a doorway, into a light so bright she would’ve put up in arms to shield her eyes if she could. Instead she blinked rapidly, trying to make sense of what she was seeing as her eyes adjusted.

The room was large and cavernous, with a ceiling so tall she could not see it. The walls were smooth around her and could’ve been stone or possibly metal—she’d never seen anything like them before. There was a table in the middle of the room made of the same material, solid all the way to the floor, like an altar. A pedestal stood nearby, and atop it was a circle of colourful, shining lights. They weren’t stones, exactly—just lights—and she couldn’t tell what held them together, as they appeared suspended in mid-air. They pulsed, and even from a short distance away, she could feel the power coming off of them. Something within her answered it, and for a moment she was filled with hope as she felt her own power swelling response, but it stopped just short of manifesting itself, blocked again by whatever damper was on this place.

The guards pulled her down to the altar, and once her body made contact, she was immobilized. Shysera’s heart raced with panic at her useless limbs. She couldn’t even raise her head. She was breathing so rapidly, she was in danger of passing out—and she wondered briefly if that wouldn’t be a kindness. Then she forced herself to breathe slowly, and evenly. Whoever or whatever held her, she needed to see it and face it to know what she was up against.

They left her, and she waited. Every sense was on high alert, straining to hear every sound, nose twitching for an identifiable scent, eyes straining to discern her periphery even though she was unable to turn her head. They left her waiting for a very long time. Perhaps that was part of the torture—the fear and anticipation of what was coming. Perhaps her captor like to play with his toys.

She would have shifted her position if she could. The table beneath her was cold and uncomfortable, and she still hadn’t relieved herself—something she was becoming acutely more aware of. Her thoughts began to drift eventually, replaying again the moment that she stepped through the Veil and into this place.

The Veil had first appeared—according to the legends

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