It was the first night of the blood moon.
Juda could already feel the hunger curling at the pit of his stomach.
He was trembling. Juda balled his fists, holding his hands behind his back to hide his fear. He joined the rest of House Arezo as they turned toward the bleeding sky.
It was the first time he would join his Asitaari and Arinaaha for the ritual. It was the first time he would join them as they flew through the night sky.
Juda looked to either side of him. The rest of Arezo remained focused on the moon, as though they were mesmerised. Juda fidgeted, letting his hands fall to his sides before he mirrored his brothers and sisters.
At the corner of his eye, he saw the oldest member of House Arezo begin the ritual.
On nights such as this, when the moon was full and stained red, their hunger grew worse. Juda had heard of what happened when one of their Arinaaha failed to reach into the ground, seeking the earth’s grounding power. Her hunger grew too strong. Her hunger flew out of her control until she was only a husk fuelled by the desire for blood and flesh.
Juda watched at the corner of his eye as the eldest Arezo closed his eyes and reached into the ground, a thin sheen of sweat gathering on his brow. Juda hissed when his stomach coiled. He closed his eyes, swallowing against the coarseness in his throat.
The hunger was near.
The hunger was rearing its head.
Juda opened his eyes when he heard the first scream.
He watched as the eldest Arezo’s face contorted in pain. When he turned around, Juda saw hunger.
Something was wrong.
Another scream tore through the red night.
Juda staggered backwards as he saw the first transformation, the first breaking of skin and the rush of blood-soaked feathers spraying the night red.
Someone grabbed his shoulders. It was Arrossa, their Naairee.
His eyes were wild and blood red.
“You need to get out of here,” he rasped, sharp fingers digging into Juda’s shoulders. Juda flinched, tried to pull away. “Take Jihan and Ariyana. You need to go.”
“Now, Juda!” he shouted, before pushing Juda away.
Juda turned and ran. He did not look back.
He ran to the House, dodging members of Arezo as they tore through each other, eyes red and teeth too sharp.
Juda knew that the youngest of their family remained in their rooms during these rituals. They needn’t participate. They were too young.
Juda found Jihan in his room, slumped against the wall. Ariyana stood before him, brandishing a broken shard of a mirror against one of their Asitaari, bearing his teeth and inching closer toward the trembling Nesmete.
Juda did not hesitate. Within moments he had pulled the Arezo dagger from his waist and into the Naairee’s back. Juda stepped over the body, sheathing the dagger back into its scabbard.
Ariyana was crying. She was saying something over and over under her breath but all Juda saw was the blood staining Jihan’s night shirt, where his heart hid.
Juda smelled the smoke before he saw the flames.
Juda pulled Ariyana upright, wiping tears off her bloodstained face, murmuring reassurances under his breath before he turned to Jihan. He hooked an arm around the youngest’s still frame, settling him against his chest. Jihan did not move.
Ariyana swallowed down her sobs, pushing the door open. She ignored the flames licking up the sides of the house, clearing the way for Juda.
“Don’t look back,” Juda said. He saw Ariyana nod as they exited the falling House.
And then they ran.