His soldiers leaned in with interest as he passed through the small camp. Some teetered, stumbling a step before they found balance on unfamiliar legs. Xantos grumbled, watching their heads loll. Acclimating to vessels of bone, meat, and viscous organs was one thing, swiftly mastering a host took age and practice. But the soldiers’ bloated bellies, reddened eyes, and thick movements told Xantos that they were acclimating to mortal drink, powders, and food with more haste.
It was hard to be too upset. Their little conquest was successful. The small contingent of human soldiers had drowned under Xantos’ wave, their bodies either destroyed or taken. But calling this mess a camp stretched the term. The only tents and campfires were those leftover from its previous occupants. His kin had torn apart the supplies, eager to taste, feel, and consume in ways their base forms did not. The hem of his cloak brushed the singed ground as he surveyed the task ahead of him, say what would about humans, but at least they knew how to dig a latrine. .
More troubling were the unused bodies that had expired before they could be put to proper use as hosts. Instead of being disposed of, burned or buried, whatever the humans’ particular custom was here, they’d been put to other… perhaps more creative, but alarming uses.
Xantos saw a few going into cookpots, he turned those over barking orders. The hosts would get sick eating their own. Other corpses had been dragged closer to the fires and were being laid upon, used for pillows and chairs. It was already starting to smell of rot, and Xantos snapped his fingers towards the pits where the dead humans could be placed. Their new hosts would get sick around the dead. These were rules the young had to learn, not just to maintain their new bodies, but to keep them.
Humans for all their blindness to the roiling black beneath their feet, were fairly perceptive when it came to the small social niceties and trivialities they exchanged. Discovery in such early stages would be disastrous.
Xantos stopped at a particular ring of soldiers. All looked up at his trimmed and straight backed countenance, their new eyes not yet knowing how to show the quavering deference they would normally give an elder. One of the blinking soldiers drew Xantos’ glare. Red human blood covered his shirtfront from several knives stuck in his chest and black oozed at the wound, sucking at the knife blades.
“Explain this to me.” Xantos pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Figured I might need them later, so I left them in,” the soldier said with a thick tongue and a shrug. He looked almost fondly down at the knives protruding from his new body.
Xantos closed his eyes and let himself broil internally. When Xantos opened his eyes, he leaned down and ripped the first knife free with an angry slurping sound. The second caused the soldier to gasp, black dripping tentacles flailing from the chest while his eyes rolled back into his head white and sightless.
Xantos stepped back, drew his sword and cut the head from the body with a lazy swing. The body crumpled forward as the head bounced away, leaving black shuddering splotches as it rolled. Black jelly poured from the neck wound, rising up in futile little tentacles that waved at the air in pain. The puddle of demon screamed, exposed and grasping at Xantos boots.
“There is going to be a discussion on the proper storage practices for knives; mainly that leaving them in people is not a good plan. A host is a privilege, one that can be taken away. Understood?” He addressed the remaining soldiers. Shied and stumbled back in horror, they had enough control to nod.
The dead demon at his feet was already dissolving into black dust, mingling with the dirt and drifting into the air. Xantos cleaned his sword, sheathed it, and walked away to continue the camp inspection.
A thief, but also a cheat this week. I stole CC‘s first line and changed it slightly to make my own story as part of the Legal Theft Project.