By Claire Davon
The candles flickered, once, twice and then burst to life, surging up in a synchronized flare of yellow and sulfur. They cast their shadows across the altar in forms that to the untrained eye appeared random.
They were not.
The flame sought the stale air, using it to gutter higher. Although it had no eyes, it could see; no ears but it could hear. No mouth but it knew the taste of flesh.
A human was coming from the heavy slap of feet, one after the other; after so long another being had found this place of worship. It had been that human once, come to make offerings to the terrible, magnificent altar of skulls and smoke and power. It had dared to invade this sanctuary and had paid this price. Then it had waited for the next one to come. It had not expected the decades that followed.
There was a faint squeak, a terrified high pitched noise. The human did not come alone. A paltry offering, to bring only a rat, but it would serve.
Yes, the altar called and the candle that was more than a candle felt that terrible power surge through it, making its flames dance, casting shadows on the wall. Come closer. For a moment there was a form against the stone, a shadow moving as no shadow could move, beautiful and dreadful, claws and horns shaping the air until it flickered and was gone in the inadequate candle flame.
The door creaked and the stone room was momentarily cast in light from the sun. It was cut off when the door, protesting its use after such a long time, was shut.
The candles dipped their tips to the human as sibilant whispers edged with screams beckoned him closer. The human’s face was not visible in the glow of the torch, but it did not matter. Age or sex was irrelevant. The candle would soon be inside this human, entering the world with a body that would do the altar’s bidding.
Next to the human was a small cage with a creature slamming into the bars, its claws scrabbling against them. There was no escape for the luckless thing, just as there would be no escape for the human who had foolishly dared to sully the sanctuary.
The human glanced at the skull resting on the altar, its bone horns gleaming even in the incomplete light. The candle made its flame dance over the long-dead thing, filling the holes with shadows. The woven corners of the tapestry lining the front of the altar blew in a breeze that did not exist.
The man set the cage down and approached the altar. Capering with delight, the candles flared madly, taking advantage of the human’s movements to shoot upward. They bent to the man, lengthening as they neared him.
The man looked up. He screamed.