A Host Privilege

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. 

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Gentlemen Demons

The thieves hit the Neptune Playhouse during the third act of a particularly affecting rendition of Doctor Faustus.  As the doctor bargained with his demonic muse on stage, three guests left their seats to find their way deep into the labyrinthian bowels of the building.

Once below, the downed lights and scuttle of unseen stagehands covered their steps. In the narrow corridors, the dark swaddled men were shadows amidst other, more innocent, shadows.  No stagehand, costumer, or actor felt an undeserved bite of blade that evening. Wanton violence was the mark of brutes and amateurs, the thieves who slipped smoothly from open dressing room to waiting wings did so with long-collected practice.

Tension grew on stage and lapped over the audience as the fate of Doctor Faustus drew ever nearer. The damned doctor, still arrogant, and now frightened, stared upwards at Lucifer’s puppeted mouthpiece. Faustus realized his stalemate with the infernal forces was broken.

The thieves, now clothed in flashing crimson and twisted masks, waited for the diabolical crow of the lead devil on stage. Crackling laughter rose from the carved mouthpieces, working in tandem with the puppeteer’s cackling voice. At the cue, the thieves sprang onto the stage, cavorting and snarling like the demons whose faces they wore.

They descended on the ruined Faustus, one on each arm, and the last to clear the way to hell, red and black strips of cloth fluttering like wings from their shoulders. The audience leaned back as the thieves dragged the pleading doctor towards the edge of the stage.

The actors behind the mouthpiece missed their counts as their hellish minions began to carry the doctor up the aisle and through their enraptured audience, the maniacal devil at a loss for words. The doctor in comparison writhed and screamed in the most convincing manner as he was hauled up the velvet path by seemingly his fellow cast members. The audience loved the turn and the engaging conflict inches away from their seats. A critic in attendance would write a glowing review of the lead’s performance in tomorrow’s paper.

The third thief, the one with his hands free of the struggling lead, flourished a deep bow to the rows of seats and the distant stage. Faced with the attention of the grinning demon the audience shrank back and more than a few giggled nervously, entirely caught up in the drama. The effect successful, the third thief kicked open the lobby doors for his fellows.

The kidnappers’ impish masks grinned at each other as they dragged their victim past the shocked concessions attendants and into the street outside. No one at the theater managed to form much response, torn between the desire to maintain the audiences apparent glee, the time worn tradition of show perseverance, and the now glaring absence of their lead and titular character. They performed the final bow without him, which confused the crowd as all would have liked to see Doctor Faustus and the cavorting yet gentlemanly demons from only moments before.

It took too many precious moments before anyone realized how truly wrong the situation was, but by that time, the people thieves were long gone.

The above it a result of this Wordle Prompt by Mindlovesmisery Menagerie.

Replacements

Kerrith swept into the room, hand upon the sheath of his curved sword. As promised, Cerina had cleared the chambers for him. Unattended pillows and divans covered the crimson stone of the floor and a shallow gilded pool sparkled in the open air. For only a moment he thought back to his younger days and the hours and eternities he’d spent here.

He exhaled, letting the memories go. Those times were many decades past and his business here was very different now. Someone slipped from the side rooms. “Everything is prepared.” She said glancing back through the curtains she’d stepped from. Kerrith ignored her state of undress, her smooth curves covered only by the silken sheet held across her chest.

“Cerina?” Kerrith asked.

Something dark and amused sparkled in the depths of the girl’s eyes before it was blinked away. “The mistress is in the gardens with the girls. She’s keeping them occupied. As ordered.”

Kerrith had asked nothing of the sort. It meant Cerina was avoiding him again. A shame, he liked her help with matters like this. Better than the shark eyed thing in front of him. “Of course. Come then. You remember the words?”

“Like it was a moment ago.” The words had an edge and the girl’s smile was sharp. She pulled aside the curtain and ducked her head in a gesture of respect, though not low enough in his opinion. Inside his subject waited. The room was decorated with the same sheer blankets and wide cushions as the main chamber.  On a low set divan a young man stirred briefly in unconsciousness, hands bound to the delicate rosewood backing. Hardly into adulthood and already coming to visit these chambers daily if Kerrith’s reports were accurate.

A life, especially one so blessed, on a path to waste. Kerrith shook his head. If ever he needed a reminder, this was it.  Kerrith withdrew a small black book from his pocket and passed it to the girl without taking his eyes from the boy.

The ritual was short, especially with two. The girls murmured words were precise as she half read from the twisting script of Kerrith’s notes, Kerrith chanting the same from memory. Finally the boy groaned and opened his eyes. They were the blue of a winter night. He was handsome and young, as usual they all possessed such promise.

“Wha—“ The question choked off as the young man’s body strained against the bonds, his muscles twitching, fighting themselves. Neither Kerrith nor the girl stopped the calm dark words.

Finally with one last silent scream, eyes bulging against his sockets, it ended. The boy collapsed; limbs hanging over the edges of the cushions. The girl snapped the book closed and leaned forward.

Kerrith sighed, feeling exhaustion settle into his shoulders. Successful or not, these things wore on a person. The young man stirred. He groaned and then paused. It was with a cautious air the youth opened his eyes and looked up at them. “Mortal fool.” The boy hissed, the words slurred. It was still feeling its way around having a tongue. His eyes flicked to the girl next to Kerrith and his expression softened.

“What is your name?” Kerrith asked, impatient. He had other matters to attend to. The gods below knew you could only keep a harem closed for so long.

The boy’s eyes, now a cloudy black haze over the azure of before, narrowed violently in defiance. “Release me and I will tell you.”

The common ploy elicited a rare snort from Kerrith. “Yes yes, in time. I know your name Qehr. I placed you in that body with it. But your name now, your new one.”

The boy cocked his head back considering the much older man in front of him. Finally his mouth twitched into a vicious smile. “I’m royalty. Prince Ulhim. Though the tenth son, so very nearly not.” The prince’s smile twisted, displeased at his new station. Kerris still marveled how quickly the things fell into the mannerisms and personalities of their deceased hosts. Even the prince’s blue eyes had returned to their normal azure state. Kerris could feel the girl next to him smiling; she’d been one of the first he’d placed in palace.

“Reika will explain your duties and responsibilities. For your sake I pray you do a better job than the real Ulhim.” Kerrith said flatly. He glanced at Reika as he left, Kerrith had very little knowledge of the things internal politics, or how they interacted with each other, but Reika had never failed Cerina since Kerris had placed her in the harem. It was an odd sort of trust, knowing the things would act as they should, and as they’re predecessors should have.

Kerrith left the harem, the murmur of the thing’s voices following him from it.