The walls in the cell pressed in upon the three royal naming consultants left alive, as far as anyone knew, in the kingdom. Their naked skin was lightly blue and well-puckered with goose bumps from the chill in the air. The torch the captain of the royal guards had left outside their prison seemed to mock them with the lack of warmth. It was by their own choice that they were away from the lavish comforts of the court. They had thought they would be able to escape the naming ceremony that was less than twenty-four hours away if they broke free from their captors. They were out of options and it seemed out of time. The oldest of the seers spit out, "What do we do now?"
Huddled inside the prison yet physically apart, they all looked at each other with venom-laced eyes. It was definitely their own faults that they were inside not outside enjoying the temptations of the royal court. They were joined together by their own greed and inability to find the prince a name, as they sat silently not finding words but still despising the others as weaker. That was the whole problem. At this point nobody had come up with one name for the prince, much less the two now required for both of the king's recently-announced boys. Instead of working on the solution in the past few years, all of the court mystics and seers that had come to the kingdom with vague ideas to make a name for them failed their task. So they had all come hungry and filled with greed and unable to function as a team or even individually. Before finding a name, they all had tasted from the golden trough and danced the nights away with courtesans, fine food and luxurious dwellings. The three remaining had thought they would escape the naming day on the morrow, but they'd been outwitted. The taunting torch, reminding them of the captain of the guards' knowledge of their attempt to flee their lives as well as the king's wrath, as if reading their hearts the torch flared up and the shadows on the walls swayed rhythmically and with a seeming purpose that was so far going unnoticed by the men.
The younger man finally uttered in total despair, "What are we to do?"
A shadow appeared on the wall and answered with a hiss, "Freely give your souls to me."
The three men jumped to their feet at hearing the voice. None of them had noticed the shadowed figure on the wall. "Who goes there? We aren't to be interrupted!" The older man bit out with fear-filled words that fell flat of the menace he'd intended to use, and instead landed firmly on pathetic and terrified. Not a good start.
What followed wasn't precisely a chuckle, but a disturbing combination of humor scented with death. No other words could describe the sound as well as the odor that suddenly permeated the iron barred cage. A slight keening came from deep within the middle man's throat adding to the oddness of what was happening inside the locked cell. The torch flared again, and a chill raced over their bodies while lingering on their spines with an eerie frozen bite of death's promise.
Deeper-voiced than the keening from the middle man, the unseen creature said, "Promise me your souls. I know you have forsaken your gods and goddesses. But if you promise me your loyalty, in blood naturally, I can assure you that they will have nothing to do with you any more in this life or in what follows."
Looking at each other the three men were wide-eyed and stunned. Finally the younger one pointed to the dancing shadow in the cell and hissed softly to the other two, "That shadow is speaking."
The urge to dash their heads against the hard walls was suddenly fixated in each of their confused minds. The youngest even went so far as to look at the wall while swaying and begin to step towards the rock hard surface, barely resisting the impulse with little more than a hint of frenzied passion to complete the thought.
The middle one went to the man's side and pulled him around and said, "No. You can't."
Actually he quite easily could have dashed his head, possibly fatally, against the wall but with his cohort's interruption his basic self-preservation instinct kicked in and he didn't give into the pulsating impulse riding his thoughts and very wishes. For now. Ducking his head, he looked away from them and waited with his hands dropped in front of his body shamefully. Disgustedly both of them looked away automatically without thought to their own faults. That the youngest had been so suicidal hadn't surprised them, but instead bolstered their own self-absorbed thoughts of their own superiority and intelligence.
The younger man had again made them look worthy of mention in the stories all of them were currently writing in their minds. All three had taken to scribbling in hidden books their own majestic autobiographies that had absolutely no relationship with anything remotely to do with any of them, but were rather well-crafted fairy tales and overblown adventure stories. The three had long concluded that they would be wildly famous once the princes were named and one survived to become the king. They had not been able to bring their journals for the hour and were missing the calming motion of scrawling down their epic stories. Each had written of the possibilities of death that evening, but now that it was literally breathing the very air they were currently enjoying, it gave them more than a little concern about their personal survival.
They all turned to the shaped shadow on the wall and each of them paused in their dark thoughts of self-destruction, while carefully holding their breath as if that would give them more of an opportunity to change what was happening. A tick of time and then the shadow of what they all knew to be death began to shift and reform to a large beast. Each saw their own idea of the beast, which was neither true nor false. The whisper of evil quickly threaded through each of them, but none of them were repulsed enough by the notion, after having been given the guarantee that their own chosen gods and goddesses would definitely punish them for their personal failings, but that this new creature was saying he would intervene. When drowning and offered a life preserver, most creatures don't over-think the situation; and the men all nodded as one, agreeing with the shadow monster's ill-explained offer of what seemed to be salvation.
"I can't do what?" There was a push and they all felt the anger and the passion of the shadow beast.
With a deep gulp the middle man said, "I didn't mean you. I was speaking to him." His hand shook, palsied by the dread now running through him, as he pointed out the youngest seer.
They all turned to the weaker seer who'd failed to come up with a name. The young man paled and ducked his head, falling to his knees while a thin stream of urine run down his bare leg.
A rolling chuckle and the shadow spoke, "I knew that, fool. You are all so simple."
Nobody offered any reply, feeling exposed and frail -- quite rightly.
"Where is my blood?" The shadow beast asked while the three men trembled not having a single blade between them.
Naked and desperate, the older man scratched a welt into his forearm and the blood pooled quickly in his fingernail wound. Seeing the injury that he'd inflicted, the other two tore at their pale skinny arms and soon the blood was flowing. Bewildered, they didn't have any idea where they were to offer their blood and waited for the shadow to tell them where to let their offering be accepted. Having been denied their temples they saw no bowls or cups they were conditioned to fill. Puzzled, their eyes kept darting about as if such a vessel would instantly appear.
The laughter filled the cell and ripped at their very souls. The shadow beast was amused and commented dryly, "You didn't need to slice open your arms. I would have taken what I needed quite easily."
The beast they each thought they saw pulsed in the shadows, and grew larger with each pump of the hearts of the men. They were terrified, as the shadow of the beast was growing to encompass the entire cell. Their blood was rapidly falling with spatters into the brick flooring and the cinder blocks seemed to suck down the dark offering.
The shadow beast chuckled with that odd scent of death coupled with the chilling icy fingers of impending doom racing down their spines. All three seers stopped leaking out their blood and instead tried to press their skin together to seal their wounds. Not that it worked. Without anything to actually clot their open slashes they failed. The creature laughed and waved a clawed or hoofed hand over them (depending on their viewpoint of the shadow). The injuries disappeared and stunned, they looked to their new best friend. Hollowed out by their growing fears, they waited to see what was going to happen. The blood that had dripped to the floor was gone with along with their gashes, and that made them all pause in horrified fear.