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The dead gather beneath the dull red moon, watching, waiting.

Moonlight calls their restless bones to walk. Moonlight fills their empty ribs with strength. Moonlight shines into their eyeless sockets, burning through their silent dreams.

They wait, and watch, and hope for an ending.

-

The temple has lain abandoned in the forest for many years, but its altar is untouched by time, by wild growth.

This is the Temple of Ending.

The rituals were easy enough to find. The dagger, lifted from the belt of a priest, took some doing: Jaden loosened him with drinks and took it from his waist while they danced, and made himself scarce before the scorned cleric could call down a curse.

The waiting was worse. The moon’s strength is too great to darken it unless it is already in shadow. This night, this hour, is the best and only chance he will have.

And as for the sacrifice –

He took the child from the streets. No one will miss them: they have the gaunt and filthy look of an orphan, and were by themself in a strange land. Their words are strange to him. But they understand ropes around their wrists, knives behind their back, threats whose words they do not know.

“Your death will bring an end to moonlight,” he tells them, for the sake of his conscience. “Your blood will stop the dead from walking this earth. Your dying breath will call in a new era of darkness, and the nights will be safe again no matter the time of the month.”

It makes no difference what he tells them. Their eyes are wide and fearful, brimming with tears, and without any understanding.

He ties them to the altar, spills the wine of oblation, and strikes up the chant in the silent tongue of the dead. Hear me, Great Mother of Ending. Your son and servant brings you this offering, and may it please you well. Mother of Ending, mother of all, I thank you for your blessings; I beg a single boon…

The child struggles, pulling against the ropes. Tears run down into their hair. They scream, words he cannot understand, but the sound of them cuts deep into his heart.

This is worth it. It is. It must be.

He pulls the ritual dagger from its sheath.

Great Mother of Ending, your child the moon calls the dead from their rest when she shines. They cannot sleep in her light. She keeps them from ending. Bring them darkness, bring them rest: by the blood of this child’s ending I conjure you…

The blade barely gleams in the shadowed red moonlight. He raises it above the child’s heart, and nearly falters when he sees their eyes: fearful, despairing, but somehow still defiant. He can’t end them. He can’t.

He has to.

He thinks of his brother, torn apart by the dead when they both were young. He thinks of his grandmother, who after her illness was made to walk again in the moonlight. He thinks of the children who fear the forest at night when the moon is full.

Great Mother of Ending…

He brings down the blade.

The child gasps, twitching and shuddering, and finally lies still. Blood runs down their arms, black as star-void, and lands dripping on the barren ground.

Jaden drops the dagger, trying to banish their last wet choking breaths from his mind. It’s done. The Mother of Ending heard him. The darkness will come, and the dead will finally stay still.

He waits. He watches. The moon is a dying ember in the sky.

Then there is a sliver of light at its left edge, bright as silver, and Jaden cries aloud in despair.

He killed the child for nothing.

-

The dead sigh silently as the shadow passes. The moonlight is strong again, waking them, calling them.

This time, again, there was no ending.

They turn away from the growing moon, and wait for the shadow to come again.
Written for Flash Fiction Month 2018, day 28, challenge 13: write a story of 555, 666, or 777 words featuring a religion created for this challenge, a moral quandary, a crisis of faith, and a character who speaks in a foreign language. This year I'm also fulfilling a challenge by an anonymous contributor - every character must be queer - as well as one by Teague-Drydan: At least half of the month needs to be fairy tale re-writes. Bonus if they aren't well known fairy tales. Fairy tale count: 15/16.

I wasn't going to do a fairy tale today, but this one coincidentally ended up referencing "The Moon", so here we are. Mostly this was inspired by yesterday's lunar eclipse.

The rest of today's stories can be found here.

Wordcount: 666.

If you've enjoyed this story, you may be interested in the collection of all my FFM stories this year: Beyond Dreams. You may also enjoy my FFM collections from the previous four years: Borrowed Strength, Ephemeron, Palalgia, and Changeling.
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:iconsquanpie:
squanpie Featured By Owner Sep 27, 2018  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I like the theme of ending in the religion - and how it's gone wrong somehow to turn that on its head and have things not end... The eclipse was a very handy event too, for this one! 
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:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Sep 27, 2018   Writer
Thank you! The eclipse was incredibly inspirational.
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:iconwizardandgalaxy:
WizardandGalaxy Featured By Owner Aug 3, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
The emotion and imagery and tone are all just so good.  You can feel the weight to every single action taken, and the consequences.  Very well done.

This is totally a good thing to read at 12 AM...
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:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Aug 4, 2018   Writer
I'm glad to hear it - thank you! :D

(I think it was after 12 AM when I was writing it... ;p)
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:iconteague-drydan:
Teague-Drydan Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2018  Student Writer
oh, creepy.

The number of children being sacrificed gets a little weird sometimes.  I get that yo're using "they/their" because we don't know the gender of the child(ren), but otehr parts it seems as if you're speaking plural and other parts there's only one.
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:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2018   Writer
Always the tricky thing with they-pronouns. There's only one child throughout - I'll have to look over this again and see if I can make that more obvious.
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:iconteague-drydan:
Teague-Drydan Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2018  Student Writer
If I have time tomorrow, and remember, I'll try to pinpoint areas where I was sure.
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:iconscfrankles:
SCFrankles Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2018  Hobbyist Writer
What I most admire about this is that though I felt the child's fear intensely and loathed the narrator at those moments, I also felt and understood the narrator's desperation and almost wanted him to go through with the sacrifice. I admire that balance so much - showing us both sides simultaneously. I also admire you didn't shrink from showing the results of Jaden's decision - just how terrible the child's death was. Not an easy read but a worthwhile one. 
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:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2018   Writer
Thank you so much - I'm extremely glad to hear that, especially because I was honestly worried that in taking away the child's words, I'd turned them into more of a plot device than a character. It's relieving to hear that their emotions got through to you, and that this balance worked out!
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:iconilyilaice:
ilyilaice Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2018
The worship of red moons is an intriguing religion indeed. I like all the worldbuilding here, and how the protagonist has to make some truly meaningful decisions in the course of the story.
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:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2018   Writer
Thank you - I'm especially glad you enjoyed the worldbuilding!
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