Amaranth fled through the frozen forest, frost nipping at her toes a wintery wind tugging at her hair. The adlet were behind her, she could sense them more than hear them. She’d heard stories—stories of blood and terror. A mix of dog and human, insatiable in their appetite, and cunning in the hunt. There was no chance that she could escape them, but Amaranth hoped…
She could hear their calls shiver through the forest, shatter the solitude and peace of the surrounding trees. Her heart raced; her feet cold and tired. She wished she hadn’t left her bed that night, she wished she’d listened to her mother and stayed inside. Her mother was sure the adlet were hunting, and she told her daughters to never go out at night when the moon was red.
But Amaranth just wanted to see their blood rite. Though the blood rite scared most of the villagers, Amaranth was fascinated by it. Another race of beings that lived in the deep parts of the forest. She’d hoped to catch site of the adlet many times before, and she’d brought her sister with her on numerous hunts during the day, but had found nothing.
When her mother told her to stay in that night because the blood moon called the adlet out, Amaranth had been too curious to stay put.
Stupid, she scolded herself. There was no way she was going to get out of this. The thought chilled her more than the frozen air of late autumn. Thought of defeat drained the fight from her body. She slowed to a stop, a frightened sob escaping her lips.
The adlet chortled behind her, their wicked giggles echoed around her. She was surrounded. Fear shivered through her body. She shook with little control over her muscles.
“What do you want?” She called out.
Silence fell. In the distance she heard the moan of an ancient tree in a breeze.
She gasped for air, her breath ragged and huffing out of her lungs in a cold vapor. She rubbed her arms, though her shivering had little to do with the cold. She flexed feeling back into her toes and waited for any kind of sound.
A twig cracked to her right; her head snapped toward the sound. Was that a shape she saw in the shadows? A glint of moonlight on an eye?
She couldn’t play this off as a phantom thought, a fantastical musing. The adlet were real, and she was their blood rite. Amaranth wasn’t ready for death. She never thought her life would end so soon. She didn’t want to cry, but tears spilled hot and free down her cheeks, steaming in the cold.
A yip to her left made her jump. One yip, followed by several others. Yipping and barking surrounded her and Amaranth sobbed, unable to hold the tears back.
“Stop…stop,” she moaned. There was nowhere to run now.
“But you’ve wanted to see us,” a grating voice said before her.
Howls sounded through the trees around her, loud and haunting, as if she were in the middle of a raging storm. The howls dissolved into high-pitched giggling that made her moan in defeat.
“You’ve come looking for the adlet,” the voice said. A naked woman stepped from the shadows, but she was unlike any woman Amaranth had ever seen. She was pale as snow, her hair black as coal. Her eyes were fathomless pits of shadows, as if there weren’t eyes there at all, but gaping holes that peered into the darkness of the underworld.
Ivory hands were clasped before her waist, her fingernails so black they seemed to drink in the shimmer of frost which clung to the trees around them. As Amaranth had been told, the adlet didn’t have human legs, but the legs of a dog. The adlet stepped forward.
“Why so curious?” she wondered, her hand going to Amaranth’s soft blond curls. “Most mortals don’t wonder so much about us.”
Amaranth tried to speak, but her fear left her mute.
“Is it fear you crave? Blood?” The adlet’s hand was cold against her cheek. “Brotherhood?”
More giggling around her. Amaranth shivered.
“Brotherhood?” The adlet asked again. “Do you crave to be a half breed, driven by the moon?”
“Yes!” Amaranth said before she realized she was speaking. It was a truth she didn’t realize she harbored until she said it. “Yes, I want to be adlet!”
Her shivering stopped. A warmth seemed to infuse her, chasing away the shiver of fear.
The adlet smiled at her. “And why should we accept you into our pack?”
Amaranth looked to her feet. She had no answer.
“As good a response as any,” the adlet said.
Powerful hands grabbed her from behind, jerking her arms behind her back and holding her fast. Amaranth gasped and looked up. Sharp teeth flicked down from the roof of the adlet’s mouth and she struck faster than any snake.
Pain shot through Amaranth and blood flowed. The adlet crushed Amaranth to her frozen chest and she drank deep of her blood. She weakened, her legs going slack, but the arms behind her held her fast, the adlet before her bore her weight with ease.
Amaranth sagged against the might of the adlet, and the rite of blood chased her down into oblivion.