Sacrifice (The Gryphon Series Book 3)(95)

By: Stacey Rourke

“Not like it,” she corrected with a soft smile. “But that very thing.”

“Is … is it safe?”

She rose from the table and strode to the cast iron fireplace on the opposite side of the room. Pulling open the hatch, she stoked the flames with the fanciest poker I’d ever seen. The handle had been intricately molded to the shape of a dragon, the other end was a continuous swirl. “It will hurt at first, I promise you that. However, once the pain passes no man alive will be able to strike out at you in any form.” She glanced at me over her delicate shoulder. “You would even have the power to avenge the death of your father, if you so choose.”

I stood up so fast my chair crashed to the ground. “Yes! I’ll do it! Whatever it takes!”

Staring back into the fire, she rolled the dragon handle slowly one way and then the other. “How old are you, Rowan?”

I puffed my chest up to look as grown and manly as my thin frame would allow. “Ten years old.”

“So very young,” she murmured sadly. “If you are willing, and able to endure the pain, I will anoint you with the blood of a very special, very strong, breed of demon.”

“Demons? Real demons?”

“Demon blood is hard to come by. Lucky for me I have willing donors. Once the ritual is complete, you will be able to control the mind of any human.”

A thousand different scenarios and possibilities swirled in my mind. I could be anything—have anything.

“But there’s a catch …”

All my dreams deflated. Here came the part where she would demand my soul in exchange. That was a trade I could not make. “What is it?”

Only when she pulled the object from the fire did I realize it wasn’t a poker at all, but a red hot branding iron. “Your power will lay dormant in you until you choose to activate it. The second you make the decision to use it you will bind yourself to me. You will become a member of my army and serve me until I declare your term is up.” She held the poker out for me to see. “These are the stipulations and this is the price. Every step of this is completely your choice, Rowan, a choice I often don’t give. I’m only giving it to you because I pity the awful circumstances that you’ve found yourself in.”

I fought to keep my voice steady despite its attempts to betray me. “And my soul. It’s mine to keep?”

“I’m not a devil, Rowan. I don’t want your soul, just your servitude.”

With my gaze locked on her, I thumbed the buttons free from my shirt and let the soiled garment fall to the floor. “For my father, and for his Marie Ann, I will do it.”

She gave me no preemptive warning, but strode forward with deliberate strides and pressed the iron to my chest, directly over my heart. Tears welled in my eyes as the skin sizzled and scorched. Fear of waking the crew made me bite the inside of my cheek to prevent from screaming. The rusty taste of blood filled my mouth.

“Good boy.” She smiled and pulled the iron away. I peered down at the swirling circle scar that puffed out red and angry from my skin.

Other than the hot pain radiating through my chest, I felt no change. “Is that it?”

She cocked her head and eyed me with amusement. “That’s it. The power is there. If you so choose all you have to do is concentrate on what you want your chosen victim to do. You should know, if you never, ever use it you will lead a normal, mortal life with no obligation to me. Plus, there is one other way you can get the revenge you so desire. I gave Klaus dominion over the sea, but had to ensure he wouldn’t use this power to rise up against me. Because of that, he must stay near water at all times; his very essence depends on it. Distance from it will cause him to dry up and turn to dust. You could use this knowledge to your advantage without ever having to accept my … gift.”

“If I can make it off this ship alive,” I scoffed.

A pounding at the door interrupted our conversation. Quickly I scanned the room for a place to hide and scrambled to put my shirt back on. Before I could accomplish either task, the door flung open.

“Sorry, Countess, but we heard a noise … you!” Klaus’s face morphed in anger at the sight of me. “Were you hiding him from me, witch?”