The trees were wearing gold halos from blocking the afternoon sun. Mataios thought he could hear bits of the leaves' prayers delivered by the gentle wind. As he set foot on the stone floor of the hall, he felt under the mercy of the high columns looking down on him. Although the windows were large, they did not seem to invite freedom through the glasses. On the sides, all the noble families and high-ranking soldiers of Lunacia were gathering in classes: Aqua, Bird, Beast, Plant, Reptile, and Bug. There could have been three more classes—the Dusk, Dawn, and Mech. However, Lunacian law forbade their existence as they are hybrids of two different classes. The Lunacians loathed them for they are, as they said, unnatural. The axies believed them to be the curse of the land inviting disaster and punishment from the gods. Whatever the class, being impure was as good as being dead.
As Mataios reached the final step to the Queen's dais, he imagined how that moment could have been different: his head mighty and high, his parents’ voices echoed to the high ceiling cheering for him, his eyes looking straight ahead bearing full witness of their ruler's majesty. Queen Ananka emitted a glow impossible to worship while standing, so he let his knees kiss the floor. The subtle sound of the impact took Mataios back to his final hours.
He was dropped by the guards. One was a beast axie and the other was a bird. They both had the same marking behind their right ears. It was a full moon with half of its face white and the other red. The queen was sitting on her throne. It was difficult to spot a blemish on her pink skin. A golden eggshell was resting on her head. Her eyes were the wholeness of the sky, but they were not as clear. There was a storm forming somewhere in them.
Mataios was facing the Queen for endangering Lunacia. He was an impure-bred axie. Most of the eyes that were looking at him saw him as someone as hideous if not more than the monsters that try to invade the land. The high priest, a bug wearing circular glasses, came in. His little transparent wings cut through his white chasuble. He whispered to the queen, “The ritual is ready.” The Queen stood and her long lavender royal mantle flowed behind. There was a heaviness in her steps. Each echo of her crystal shoes told everyone in the hall she was with a burdened heart. He and Queen Ananka had the same look in their eyes. The light could enter but it cannot tell whether there was hope inside. Mataios seemed to spot a tear in her, but before it could find a place on the ground, the Queen ordered the soldiers to bring Mataios to the Wall.
“I beg of you, my Queen! I did not do anything. Please spare me. I did not hurt anyone!”, Mataios pled while enduring the grip of the rope around his neck. The queen was about to spit a word but she looked to the crowd and suddenly turned away. Almost like a whisper, she said, “May the Blood Moon have mercy on you.” The audience broke into a roar and eventually built up to a unanimous "Feed the Blood Moon, feed the Blood Moon!"
Wishing to change the Lunacians’ minds was collecting Red Hydrangea for lavender dye. Time was beginning to run slow and he was swept back to a hurtful past.
"How could you live after this?", Mataios' mother asked the axie in a black cloak.
"I do not know, but I am certain I do not want to live with that", he put his hood down to reveal a disgusted look onto Mataios.
In the dim yellow light from a broken candle, Mataios could see this axie had the same fuzzy body as his. They also both looked like bread almost in the brick of burning. Mataios thought they look very similar but there was one difference. The resentful axie had a cone horn washed with a dull cream color. Mataios had a bamboo shoot horn just like her mother's.
"Are you sure you want to do this to me... to your son?", her voice was breaking and Mataios could tell she already dropped a tear or two. She is trying so hard to not let out a cry or even a noticeable noise.
"I am sorry but this is not worth it", he walked away and his cloak blended with the darkness.
For a long time, they lived in the most secluded part of Savannah, the outermost land of Lunacia. They had no neighbors and no friends. No matter the situation, they only had each other. Once there came a chimera the color of the night with teeth like broken glasses stuck to its mouth. With just the two of them, they were doomed to die, but with both their horns they were able to summon the protective power of the Bamboo Clan. Still, after that attack, her mother never considered asking for help from others for protection. They remained away and unnoticed like droplets beside a roaring waterfall. This confused Mataios growing up. He started questioning everything. His mother's answers never satisfied his confusion. He eventually rebelled and took a journey alone leaving their house trying to find the nearest residence. More than finding other axies to interact with, he was looking to find safety and hope in living as a normal one.
He rested on ruined structures along the way. When he was out of food, cactus fruit saved him. In the night, crystals were visible as they reflect light from the moon. Everything that he found in his journey made him hungrier for the world. After three days, he finally spotted a house. It has stone walls on all four corners. On the side, there was a window that revealed few tribal shields. An old beast axie came out and chopped some wood. Mataios decided to approach the old axie while making sure his horn was not showing. The axie was friendly contrary to what his mother told him. She said everyone will do everything to hurt an impure like him. He was offered a meal and while he was waiting, the old axie's son came.
"Look at you, poor soul. I'm sure you will meet your mother soon. People often lose their way and end up separating from their company because of those big ruin shards. They whisper gibberish to anyone close to them and get you to follow mindlessly."
"I guess I'm one of their victims," Mataios lied with a forced laugh.
"Why don't you look around while you are here. See those shields? The family had them since the Third King Lathos. Most of the men in my family are soldiers protecting Lunacia".
"I don’t realize something would be such a threat to Lunacia these days”.
"You, silly. Sometimes there are monsters who try to ruin the peace in our land. However, there is one that Lunacia with all its best soldiers could not dare to fight-- the Blood Moon. You could say, boy, that its power extends from the land of gods to our humble Lunacia”.
"I’m afraid I have never heard of that, sir".
"Why not, lad? Well, it is the moon in its fullest but its face is covered in blood. You could say the blood was from those who tried to play god. When it appears, the life in all creatures of Lunacia is sucked out of them. You are lucky if you are still alive until the Blood Moon ends."
"D--do you know when it will come?"
"Even the high priest has received no revelation from the gods about the time the Blood Moon will return. However, there has been a stern law since the first Blood Moon to prevent its arrival", the axie proceeded to retell the story of the first recorded Blood Moon.
It once came a hundred years back. The reason for its arrival was not known, but the ancestors believed it was to punish them for letting an aqua and a bird give life to an impure axie. The night before the Blood Moon was so bright. Then suddenly, a burning red crept up and engulfed the white moon. For a while, the axies were amazed and stood staring at the mysterious event, but soon after everyone felt hostile energy from it. The axies were robbed of their energies and their health dropped in an instant. The bells were rung signaling everyone to take shelter in their homes. The panic spread as some reported the river and other water resources drying up. In few hours, the crops withered leaving nothing but their waterless corpses. The soldiers line up in defense, but they were no match against an unreachable foe. When the sun rose the next day, half of the lives in Lunacia were already gone. That was when they all started to hunt impure axies and throw them outside Lunacia letting the Blood Moon decide whether to feed on their lives or give them back to start afresh. For hundreds of years, none of all those who were banished came back. Everyone believed the Blood Moon will not bring such horror again as long as the land is free of crossbreds.
"There was no evidence, right? Everyone just decided that it was the impure's fault. Why does Lunacia want to kill axies who possibly have nothing to do with the Blood Moon?", Mataios' voice raised and everyone was shocked to see this reaction.
"Then tell me, young soul. Would you save one impure and risk the lives of all the rest?"
“M--- Maybe find a way to—to save everyone?”
“A hero, eh? Even a hero cannot save everyone, so we pick who shall be saved. Those impure monsters are never going to make it to the list. They are filthy and useless! What could they do with mixed powers? They are weak! They are just embarrassment!”
“Good sir, don’t you think that is kind of—unfair?”, Mataois looked down as the sun drowned in the steel-gray sky. “What if—what if this is all wrong and they-- died for nothing?”
“If the Queen and the Priest believe it, you believe it, boy”, the axie stood up and slowly brushed his orange tail on the tribal spear near the door. “You haven't talked about your family. Where did you say you live again? I know of an axie who sometimes crosses this path. But oh my, memory can't fail me... that axie is not a beast like you. Was that plant axie your mother? And your father tell me, what and where is he?"
Mataios did not have any chance to find a good lie. He was not going to at all. Weakness conquered his entire being. He wanted to run straight out of the place, but he could see hideous faces forming from the tribal shields laughing and mocking him. He was left with frozen legs.
"Uncover yourself and show us you are one of us true Lunacians. Aren't you willing to prove you are worthy of Lunacia’s protection or even being Lunacia’s hero? Come on, boy! Show your horn!"
Before Mataios could clench his fist to tighten his grip on his cloak, a blade made a swift way through the narrow space between the cloth and his head. His hood tore and dropped like leaves in windless autumn. There exposed his bamboo shoot horn and he never felt that desperate to pull it out of his forehead. He met the next day in a prison cell.
His heart experienced pain but it was not for him anymore. He regretted not listening to his mother. He regretted hoping that he could be accepted by anyone other than her. If only he followed what he was ordered he would not be in that place and break his mother’s heart. She was the only one on his side but he left her. How would she accept knowing one day his son is gone and the next he is dead? As he approached a greater view of the axies gathering below he desperately searched for his mother who might have gotten the word already. He could not see any mouth free of yelling or cursing. He kept looking around while trying to protect himself from the rocks thrown at him. He was hit in the face and blood flowed down his eyes. Despite the bleary sight, he caught a glimpse of her mother’s face.
“Mother?”, he whispered.
Her mother was there in the crowd covering herself with her brown cloak hiding behind the statue of the first high priest.
“Mother! I’m sorry. I should have listened to you. Help me, mother! Please! Take me away from here.”, Mataios stopped walking and pushed himself out the stair. He could have fallen if the guards were a second later. He was hit in the head so he no longer had the strength to struggle. “Mother...rescue me.”
“Find his mother. She is somewhere in the crowd,” one of the soldiers ordered.
Mataios could still see his mother. She was shaking and her eyes wide with horror. All the time she was there she never spoke a word back to Mataios. When the guards started to move in her direction, she left Mataios with one last terrified stare and turned her back blending in the crowd.
All at once, Mataios’ emotions left his body, and there he was an abandoned empty bottle. The last steps were silent for him. He drowned his consciousness underwater and every voice muffled in the distance. When he reached the top of the wall, the burning light of the sunset welcomed him with both arms. His body is bare and everyone could see his bamboo shoot horn. It was light without the weight of the hood. Suddenly, he gave in to the warmth, finally free and alive.
The high priest followed to the top holding a massive book of gold and crystal cover, “Behold the sinful presence of this impurity! We are blessed to have captured this creature who from the start should not have a place in our land. His kind will rob us of life itself! They are no different from the monsters who lurk in the darkness waiting to strike. Are you willing to lose your family for this monstrosity?”
“Feed him to the Blood Moon!”
“Then let us not wait any longer,” the priest opened the book like it was glass. When he found the right passage, he looked up to the peeking moon in its thin and incomplete whiteness. It was going to be a full moon.
“We have sinned and we have let our kin sin. We are unworthy to bathe in your gleam. We subject to you this violation. An impurity in our midst is blasphemy against your pure white light. Oh, Luna. Destroy this sin and spare us of your punishment. But if you forgive this soiled soul and deliver him back to the feet of our fortress, then we will, by all means, receive him like a new pure child.”
Some dust shook off from the book as the priest closed it. Immediately, the guards were stamping their spears to the ground in the manner of heartbeats. The head soldier turned his spear around and push Mataios with the shaft. Mataios embraced the cushions of wind on his face as he was falling hundreds of feet down outside the stone wall, then the stamping stopped.
Nobody seemed to speak a word while dispersing and finding their way home. The sky already turned purple and the moon let no cloud hinder its glory. It lit their roads and showered sparkles over their rivers and lakes. Young axies gathered on the river bank and threw pebbles to the frogs resting on lilies. Their laughter echoed like the ripples of water until one axie witness the change in the moon’s reflection. He looked above and saw how rust was covering the face of Luna. Somebody behind him shook his back and he turned.
“Poor frogs. The lilies are dying.”