Published on 2011/06/12

Light and Dark of the Blood Moon

Jill Valuet

The legend of the blood moon required me to slit the throat of my best friend. On the eve of the last night, demons would run loose on the land, killing all they met. Villagers would be huddled securely in their homes. Animals would be bolted in the barns. On the eve of the last night, the Temple of the Dying God would perform their yearly sacrifice. If the Dying God died, the demons would overrun the land. If one of his own died in his place, the land would survive.

Or so the rumors said. Along with the folklore, legends and superstitions. But no one knew if it was true or not. No one knew if the world would truly end or if it was a story the Temple perpetuated to keep their coffers full and ranks swelling.

Our village feared the temple that had held back the darkness for a millennium was a fraud. They feared there was no perpetual darkness and that our yearly sacrifice of men and women was in vain. Our crops failed year after year. Our trades dwindled and supplies ran out. We needed to send farther and farther away for basic necessities and could not afford to keep the temple’s demands. Jarek and I were sent to find the truth, to become full initiates no matter the cost and discover once and for all.

“You have to do it Kyra.” Jarek whispered to me early that day. “It’s what we came here for.”

“I can’t.” I replied, speaking as softly as I could. We were on the outer grounds of the temple, but they had ears everywhere. I couldn’t stop from shaking.

“Don’t think about it. We knew it might come to this.” He was the one who was going to die yet he comforted me. Typical Jarek. Stupid jerk never could keep his priorities straight.

I glanced at the sky. Already the blood moon hung low, swelling gluttonously. I could hear the cries of the demons, even though I knew they wouldn’t be out for another few hours. The rituals would begin soon. Months of preparation, all leading up to the grand event: me killing him. “It’s a pointless ritual. You shouldn’t have to die for it.”

“We don’t know that.”

I wanted to argue, but he was right. We infiltrated the temple’s priests a year ago, hoping to discover if this ritual was necessary or a brutal sham. We’d gone through the lengthy process of becoming initiates to search the libraries and talk to the priests. The fateful night approached, Jarek became the chosen sacrifice and we still had no answers.

“You know the only way we’ll know is to go through with it. You being the officiator of the ceremony puts you in the ideal spot to know for sure. You know all this.” He grabbed my icy hands to force me to look at him. I couldn’t meet his eyes though. Guilt and fear gnawed at me. I heard him sigh. “They’ll come for us soon. Don’t be like this.”

“I can’t help it.” I did look at him and immediately wished I hadn’t. There was so much I wanted to say, but didn’t know where to begin. Not that he didn’t know it already. We’d been friends too long for there to be anything unsaid. “Why us?”

Jarek shrugged. “Does it matter?” He glanced behind me and frowned. That could only mean they were coming for us. He squeezed my hands. “You can do this.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I know.”

Two of the priests approached us. I couldn’t tell who they were because they wore the ceremonial death masks already. One of them took Jarek by the arm and gently led him away. The other took my hand. I had no choice but to follow his lead. The priest didn’t speak a word, as was custom. I knew the ritual. I had studied it every waking moment for the last month in preparation.

I glanced over my shoulder as we walked, hoping for one last glimpse of Jarek. He was already gone. If the priest noticed, he didn’t say anything, though any breach of protocol would be punished.

I was led into the smaller of the main temple rooms. This one functioned as a more intimate ritual space. I would the rest of the day in this room with all needs provided for me. I sighed, ignoring the sinking weight in my chest. I had chosen this path. I had to see it through. The fate of my village depended on it.

The altar had been set up according to tradition. It faced the east, the direction in which the Dying God rose every year. A black cloth embroidered with silver thread covered altar. Five items sat on the altar, the silver thread forming a pentacle between them. Two thick beeswax candles glowed, one white for birth and one black for death. Below them sat a cauldron. Behind it stood a bell and a rattle. The sweet scents of black resin and frankincense filled my nose, though I could not see their source. I knelt before the altar, my head bowed.

Two priestesses entered the room, one life and one death. I could not identify them even though I knew everyone in the temple. The death priestess wore a simple black robe with a silver belt around her waist. A black mask with an elaborate black feather mantle covered her head. The life priestess stood her opposite, same costume but all white and gold. They knelt on either side of me.

We prayed for a long time. I could hear them chanting the mantras to the Dying God. I remained silent, as was my role. I was supposed to be using the time to clear my head of all thoughts and doubts. I breathed deep to still my shaking. I had to do this. I had to find the truth.

“It’s time.” The priestesses said in unison.

I lifted my head, staring at the altar. The life priestess produced a simple pewter cup, which she dipped into the cauldron. The death priestess helped me to my feet and pulled the initiate robe off my body. She replaced it with a soft red robe; the only one of its kind worn in the temple. It felt too big for me.

The life priestess handed me the cup. “Drink sister.”

I lifted the cup to my lips. The concoction smelled of spicy herbs. It reminded me of the harvest mulling ale my family made. This one, I knew, would contain costly spices. I took a sip. The warm liquid felt like gold on my tongue. I tasted wine and something more. Ritual said it was the blood of the Dying God.

“Drink it all.” The life priestess urged. I did as she said and handed her the goblet. She refilled it and handed it to me again. Three times I had to drain the goblet. Then she filled it a fourth time for the death priestess to drink and a fifth time to drink herself. Five times total.

I knew the priestesses chanted around me, but I couldn’t hear their words. The wine went straight to me head. I hadn’t eaten since the day before, per the protocol. The red robe felt warm against my skin. I struggled to hear their words, knowing I had a role to play and words to speak.

“We know why you’re here Kyra.” One of them whispered.

“You seek the truth.” Said the other. “You search as we did.”

“You ask if he’s real. If the demons are real.”

“You wonder if we’ve lost our way. Forgotten our purpose.”

“Fill our coffers on the blood of your families.”

My head spun. I couldn’t see straight. The masks took on surreal forms, merging to their skins, becoming their faces. The eyes behind the masks began to glow a dark blood red. Feathers sprouted down their backs, off their arms. I tried to kneel before them, but couldn’t find the ground.

“You think our temple a lie.”

“You think the demons false.”

“Ours is not to answer you. You shall find your own truth. Decide and do as you see fit, little sister.”

Angels wept before me: one light and one dark. The curled their wings under each arm, pulling me to my feet. Blood red eyes bore down on me, seeing through me, cutting my soul out of my body. I cried at the pain.

“Come little sister.” Their voices pulled my soul upwards. “See for yourself.”

Into the night sky we flew, my soul separated. They carried me on their mirrored wings, soaring through the night under the light of the blood moon. Shadows raced across the landscape. I could see the five villages surrounded the temple, five points of light in a dying land. The temple itself sat a dark ruby in the center, pulsing light outwards. The light pulsed in time with my heartbeat, pushing outwards towards the villages, chasing shadows.

Laughter echoed around us, above and below. Eyes darker than midnight swirled us. My celestial companions sheltered me with their wings, but I heard whispered harsh words in a foul language of darkness and death. The midnight eyes laughed and screeched and screamed my name.

Demons. The creatures that walked the nightmares of all my people. I could see them in all shapes: mist, animals, creatures of the night, nightmares, mockeries, horrors and more. They crowded the sky and the land. They laughed at the moon and sneered at the points of light. They ripped the world to pieces tree by tree, stone by stone. They crowded around us, mocking me.

The angels sighed, expecting this. With no more words, they opened their wings and let me fall.

My breath caught in my throat as the ground hurried to meet me. I closed my eyes, fearing my own death, but hands caught me. Not my angel companions, but demons. I could feel their breath upon my soul. Their claws, teeth and tails raked me, pulled me apart piece by piece. I was nothing to them. An amusement. A snack.

My soul bled out. The demons laughed and cast me aside, searching for the next feast. They devoured the land, inch by inch, leaving sorrow and death. I saw disease walking on four legs, famine on two, blight on six. Death came last on wounded feet, staggering to keep up with the demands of the demons.

Following death walked something ruby bright. The sudden light hurt my eyes. I couldn’t watch, but I didn’t have the strength to look away. The light came to me, a bright red against the black world.

“You have to live, Kyra.” The red light whispered. “You promised me.”

“Jarek?”

“We have to get you back to your body.”

“Is it really you?”

“Were you expecting someone else?” He gathered all the shattered pieces of my soul, cupping them gently in his glowing red hands. I couldn’t see him, but could feel his heartbeat. He felt like a part of me, a second skin. He placed all of my soul into his heart, keeping me safe from the demons. I could hear them laughing around us, taunting him. He ignored them all and walked across the land.

“Is this a dream?” I asked.

“Is it?”

We walked through the darkness. Since I was part of him now, I could see through his eyes. The land took on a red glow, bathed in the blood of the moon. We walked to the North pointing light, the first of the villages. We walked through the desolate streets. Its inhabitants huddled in their homes, invisible to the demons, but stood out as bright points of white light to our blood soaked eyes. The weight of their light settled upon us, our burden to carry.

We walked out of the town, heading southwest. We passed by our hometown, ignoring all calls of demons that trailed our steps. The weight of the bright lights sat heavily on me, making it hard to keep focus.

“Breathe Kyra.” Jarek whispered.

“I have no body.”

“You do. If you do not breathe, your body will die. Breathe.”

“Is this real?” I asked.

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“No.”

We walked into the second village. Again, the silver lights of the humans settled upon us. The demons howled around us, clawing at our feet. They wanted the souls. I could feel their hunger, their fiery rage. We walked through the village, gathering up all the light we could find.

We left no one behind and headed to the northwest. Some of the demons called to us with sweet voices.

“Lay down your burden. We will carry it for you.”

“We bring you sweet peace.”

“We bring you rest.”

I cried. The weight of the light bore down on me. I wanted to close my non-existent eyes and stop walking.

“We can’t Kyra.” Jarek whispered.

“I know.”

We walked through the third village, gathering silver light. It felt like a star burning in our chest, weighed down by the universe. Our steps slowed, faltering. We waked directly east, towards our own village.

“You have to help me, Kyra.” Jarek whispered.

“I’m trying.”

“Try harder.”

Demons clawed harder at us, grasping towards the light within us. I could feel their hunger washing over us, their desire. Some whispered seductions, others screamed obscenities. All craved what we were and what we held. They tripped us. The lashed out at us. They tried to blind us and turn us from our path.

Each step shot daggers through my tattered soul. I could not imagine what Jarek felt. I could see his red light grow brighter with every step, but his energy lagged.

“We can do this.” I whispered.

“We have to.”

“For our families.”

“For the world.”

“Is this real?”

“I don’t know.”

We walked silently into our own village, walking streets so familiar yet so empty. We gathered the lights from our families and friends and headed southwest.

I wept bitter tears through his eyes. I knew Jarek wanted to console me, but could not take his concentration away from our task. Through the last village we walked, gathering up all the light until we held the hope and life of all five villages within our chest.

Jarek slowed his step, overcome by the burden. Demons crowded around us, anticipating, preparing to attack. I could feel their malice washing over us, beating our skin.

I reached for Jarek, or rather my soul spread out to cover his. I imagined holding him in my arms, pouring my strength into him. I imagined the burden of the light upon my shoulders solely, relieving him.

“No Kyra. It’s my burden.” He whispered weakly.

“You’re not strong enough.”

“We only have to walk to the temple.”

I glanced ahead of us, to the pulsing red light that beckoned. It called to us, pulling us, demanding our presence without offer of hope. We had to put one foot in front of the other. Take one step at a time. Hold the demons back. Keep the light within.

“I’m ready to rest Kyra.”

“We’re almost there.”

The light weighed us both down. We fell to our knees and crawled on all fours. The demons laughed at us, mimicking us and offering to take our place.

“If we do that, they kill the light.” Jarek whispered.

“I know. We can make it.”

Demons screeched around us, fearing our completion and their banishment from the world yet again. They clawed us and sat on our back. They pulled our hair and spit in our face. They pushed us backwards, hissing and cursing.

We crawled to the edge of the temple grounds. Angels, one light and one dark, descended on us. Demons scrambled away from their approach. They brandished their white and black energies, forcing the demons away from sacred ground. They came to either side of us, gently pulling us to our feet.

“It’s time to let go.” They said in unison. “Your places await.”

“Why does he have to die?”

“It’s the only way or the world will be swallowed.” One angel replied.

“Blood must spill to hold back the tide.” Said the other.

“I’m ready.” Jarek and I whispered together.

The angels placed their hands on either shoulder and ripped us in two. The shoved me backward, down and away. Jarek fell forward, weighed down by the light of the villagers. His ruby light faded from my eyes. I watched him pulsing before me, alternating ruby and bright light. I knew he was the vessel for our survival. His blood, our blood, our life all mingled into one purpose. His eyes met mine, understanding.

The angels pushed me away before we could speak. My head spun and darkness sprang up all around me to grab me and pull me away.

“Kyra! You wake up this instant.”

I opened my eyes and glanced down. Yes, I was back firmly in my own skin.

“What were you thinking?” The priestess dressed in black hissed at my side. She sounded so much like the demons that I flinched.

On the other side of me, the white priestess grabbed my arm and tried to pull me to my feet. “I can’t believe you would do that! It’s a disgrace!”

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“What’s wrong?” the white priestess shrieked.

“You fell asleep!” the black priestess hissed. “Great honor is bestowed on you and this is how you repay us? You sleep? Kyra this is unheard of.”

“I wasn’t sleeping.”

“Yes, you were.”

“No, you drugged me. I was on a journey.”

Both priestesses stared at me through their light and dark masks. I didn’t need words to hear their scorn. “The cup is nothing but wine. You know that. There are no such drugs involved.”

“You’re wrong!” I stood, shaking off their arms. “Aren’t you? I was gathering the light to keep the demons back.”

Neither priestess said a word for a few heartbeats. They just stared at me.

“You’ve gone mad.” The white priestess said.

“Insane.” The black priestess agreed.

“Luckily there is still time. No one else knows of this transgression.”

“Do we dare keep it secret?” the black priestess asked.

“What choice do we have? The blood moon is upon us.” The white priestess replied.

Confusion settled on my shoulders, making my head spin. Did I dream? Was it real? It felt real. I wanted to talk to Jarek and ask him, but couldn’t.

The priestesses ushered me into the great hall of the temple. All of the temple inhabitants from the priests to the servants filled the room. In the center stood a large altar adorned much like the previous room, only in this one Jarek lay on a stone altar. His eyes were closed. He lacked the glow of my dream.

The white and black priestess escorted me to the front of the altar. They said the ancient ceremonial words. I couldn’t hear what they said. My heart beat too loud. I stared at Jarek, searching for some sort of sign. He lay still. I resisted the urge to check to see if he breathed, but saw his chest rise and fall ever so slightly.

The ceremony droned on. I didn’t hear a word. I glanced upward at the open ceiling. The blood moon hung directly overhead, bathing the temple in its light. The ruby light looked the exact same as Jarek had in the dream. Had the angels taken his light and covered the moon?

I felt the priestesses put the knife in my hand. Now or never. Was it real or was it a dream? If I hallucinated it all then I killed my friend for nothing. If it was real, I had to do it to save the world. I closed my eyes, blinking back tears. Ruby light flooded my eyelids, pulsing with white light, waiting for release.

I bent down to him, heedless of ceremony, and kissed his forehead. “I’m sorry. I wish I knew for sure. I can’t risk it.”

I placed the knife on his throat.


Jill has been reading, writing and enjoying fantasy for longer than she cares to admit. She lives in Michigan with her boyfriend and dog. When not writing, she enjoys traveling, going to concerts and looking in hidden corners for new story ideas. This is her debut publication.