Simon Wiesinger had only ever known anxiety in terms of the stock market and numbers. He had been fretful during the crash of 2008, but it had only been for his businesses and the planned expansion of his many economic fiefdoms. He had lost sleep for a few nights when he wasn’t sure if the board of directors would vote his way or not after a rough quarter, and he had had a few close calls with his bookkeeping and a few annoying government queries during tax time.

But he had never been afraid for himself.

Not for his life.

Not for his flesh.

Until now.

Until something had slaughtered his bodyguards and stalked towards him with implacable purpose through the rivers of blood on his front walkway. Until it had pointed at him with a barbed finger and something had slashed open the side of his head and left a shallow but bloody cut in his scalp.

Simon fled to his safe room, a flippant purchase he had made without any real intent of ever using it. He’d gotten the best he could, of course. Over five million dollars for a tiny steel box at the center of his home. He slammed the thick metal door closed and sighed with relief as he heard the locks click into place, each of the five bolts thicker than his wrist.

Simon whimpered as he searched the small cabinet of supplies nearby for the first-aid kit. His blood dribbled onto the floor around him as he fumbled with bandages and wrapped them around his cut. When he was sure he wasn’t in danger of losing any more blood, he turned his attention to a control console and a bank of dark screens and flicked a switch on.

The security monitors all flickered to life and showed him what he already knew: his home had become a charnal house. Limbs were scattered around his entryway and living room with the same careless disdain of throw pillows: an arm on the couch, a leg over the back of a chaise lounge, fingers littered over a coffee table.

And walking calmly among all the flayed meat was a figure. A red nightmare spoke his name as it split one of his guards in two from crown to crotch with a gleaming crimson blade that appeared and disappeared in his grasp in a heartbeat.

The figure was in the shape of a man of average height, and wore dark red, archaic clothing of leather and armor plating, and a low-hanging hood that concealed its face. Its hands were covered in cruel gauntlets, their fingers tipped with bladed points.

As it stepped through the vast lakes of blood it had created, the crimson pools drew toward the figure as if by some gruesome and carnal magnetism. By the time it exited a room, it was clean of blood despite the vast amounts of mutilated flesh left behind in its wake.

The monitors showed Simon that the figure had stopped outside his safe room’s vault door. The door was hidden behind a large painting and shouldn’t have been easy to find, but Simon had left a trail of his own blood straight to it. He cursed, but his security had managed to call the police before they had died, so Simon only had to wait a few minutes at most before they arrived. It would take somebody hours to cut their way through the door, and explosives would do nothing but rattle the room (and damage his house, but Simon could just buy another one).

“Simon Wiesinger,” the figure said in a low voice as it looked up at the camera outside the panic room. Its hood was an empty maw of shadows.

“The police are on their way!” Simon said into the microphone near the command console and his voice echoed out of speakers in his house. “I don’t know what you want but you’re not getting it!”

“I want you,” the thing said. “And you’re already mine.”

“What are you——” Simon said and his voice trailed off as he stared at the monitor. The red figure extended its hand and blood seeped out of it onto the ground. The blood swirled of its own accord until it formed a wide puddle around the feet of the figure, and then the figure descended into the puddle, sank beneath its carmine surface, and vanished.

“What in god’s name?” Simon breathed.

He did not notice his own blood on the floor of the panic room swirl and come together in a second puddle. He did not see the figure rise up silently behind him from his blood. He only turned when it took a weighty step out of the puddle and said his name once more.

“Simon Wiesinger,” it said and Simon had just enough time to turn around and start to scream before the figure grabbed him by his thick, doughy throat. He stared in horror and confusion at the figure and let out a gargling gasp of disbelief. How could it be here? How had it just appeared in a sealed room?

“You have spent your life surrounded by wealth you did not earn. You have devoted yourself to hoarding riches while others languished in poverty. You have found the suffering and starvation of millions of people to be an acceptable exchange for billions of Euros,” a voice emanated from the depths of the hood, deep and steady. The grip tightened on Simon’s throat and the metal barbs of the gauntlet pierced the rolls of fat around his neck and Simon thrashed in pain.

Simon swung a meaty fist at the face within the hood, but only managed to knock the garment back. For a moment, the head beneath the hood remained covered in darkness, but then the shadows slid away like a veil and revealed…

A man. Just a man. Simon had begun to fear it was some kind of demon or ghost, but it was just a plain-looking man. He was unshaven, probably in his thirties, had black hair with gray at the temples, and tan skin. He could have been Greek, Italian, Turkish, maybe, or something else. His only remarkable feature were his eyes, which blazed a deep red.

“How many houses do you own while others sleep on the streets?” the man asked. “How fat did you get while others starved?”

The man made a motion with his other hand and Simon tried to scream. His guts roiled in his belly, his intestines squirming like a bag full of furious serpents.

“You won’t take it with you, Simon,” the man said and his eyes turned entirely red. Simon’s body went stiff with pain as his veins began to squirm and pull away from his muscles.

“You’ll burn in Hell the same as everyone else I’ve visited, and your indulgences will have meant nothing but an eternity of suffering. And even that is too good for you,” the man said and made a yanking gesture with his free hand.

Simon’s veins tore out of his body with the sound of shredding wet paper. Simon was unable to emit a final scream as the man tore his throat out. Simon gargled and fell onto the floor of his panic room, his body spasming and twitching as it was overloaded with the damage done to it.

Simon’s pain was so great that he welcomed whatever hell there might be. He had already met the devil, and nothing could hurt worse than this. When the darkness came for Simon, he embraced it.

The Red Man looked down at the corpulent corpse at his feet. Another one down, how many more to go? The man shook his head as he put his hood back up. There were hundreds, thousands of men like Simon, but were only a fraction of a percent of the world. Such a tiny demographic that caused so much suffering.

After he ate Simon’s brain and learned his secrets, he would take his wealth, just as he had the others. It would be redistributed to various charities, and the man would go on to the next. He had to keep moving, stay ahead of those creatures that sought him as he sought his own prey. That was fine. There was no reason to stay in one place. Not anymore.

The Red Man squatted down over Simon’s body and sliced the top of his head off with ease. He scooped the gray twisting mass of the man’s brain out of Simon’s skull and devoured it in a few bites. He shuddered. The texture was awful, the taste foul, but the results made it necessary. His Carnophage and Memory Absorption skills worked together well, even at the lower levels. He could only take in the most well-worn neural pathways of his victims, but with men such as Simon, their wealth and how to access it were always the most well-trod memory lanes.

The man shuddered as a list of banks, passwords, routing numbers, and more flooded into his head.

That would do.

He made to re-enter the blood puddle at his feet and emerge at another he had left well outside Simon’s property when the bank of security monitors flickered in front of him. They showed a seated man clad in some kind of robotic helmet with a reflective gold faceplate and wearing a long white coat with purple and gold highlights. A beautiful woman in her twenties with fair skin and short, spiked sea-green hair stood beside him. She wore some kind of loose robes over sleek armor and the wide grin a cat watching a cornered mouse.

Both of the figures had tiny,chubby glowing figures with plant-shaped heads on their shoulders, and the Red Man froze.

They were hosts, the same as him.

“Got another one, hmm?” the man in the helmet asked in English, a French accent tinging the edges of his voice. “I wasn’t sure if you were going after Wiesinger there, that oil tycoon in Greece, or the real-estate woman in Monaco. I’ve been keeping my eye on all three. I hope you’ll forgive the intrusion?”

The Red Man said nothing.

“He’s shy,” the woman said, her posh British accent obvious even in just that short sentence, and her grin spread. Tiny, sharp fangs appeared at the edges of her mouth, their points dimpling her full lips.

“No, he’s cautious. Don’t worry, friend, I’m not here to stop your campaign. It’s actually why I contacted you. Do you have a few minutes to talk now, or would you rather speak at another time?”

The Red Man paused for a long moment, then said, “The police are coming. But they won’t break into the panic room for some time. Speak.”

“Thank you. You can call me Renn, and this is Mona. I’m sure you’re aware of the aliens hunting people like us?” the man in the reflective helmet asked.

“Yes,” The Red Man replied.

“Have you killed any?”


“On your own? Impressive,” Renn said when the Red Man nodded. “And despite being hunted by those things, you carry on with this crusade of yours against the rich? May I ask why?”

“Because it needs to be done. Because after this invasion, the world will still be in peril because of creatures like this,” the Red Man said and gestured at the drained pile of meat on the floor.

“A very admirable work ethic,” Mona said and grinned.

“Conviction,” Renn said. “And that’s what we need. There are a few others I’ve been trying to find and have a chat with. Like you, they can combat the invasion, but they also see beyond it. They think of what comes long after, not just in the next few moments.”

“Get to your point,” the Red Man said. He felt new blood approaching the mansion’s main gate: pumping hot and ready for a fight. The police had arrived.

“We have to stop these aliens, obviously. I’d like to meet with you, decide what to do next and how best to clean up the alien mess. Mona and I have had some close calls and there’s safety in numbers. After that…well, the world is already taking notice that something is amiss. I have information that China already has a host in their military and are taking full advantage of the menu’s store and technology. The world’s changed and it’s going to change even more in the coming days and weeks. There will need to be people with conviction to steer it in a direction that benefits the many, and not just the privileged few.”

The Red Man stared at the security monitors from beneath his hood for several moments. Footsteps pounded outside the panic room, terse commands barked between officers as they swept the mansion.

“You’re aware that we, hosts, are now the privileged few? Power and potential beyond measure, and no accountability to speak of yet. What happened in Belarus…” the Red Man said.

“Is exactly what I’m talking about,” Renn interjected. “We will need to watch each other as much as the world. And that is no task for any one person. If there are self-serving hosts after the invasion, they will not be as easy a target as fat Austrian business men. So, will you meet with us? At the very least we can watch each other’s backs until the invasion is defeated.”

“You sound pretty confident,” the Red Man said.

“You have your conviction. I have my faith, as well as a few other things,” Renn said and the Red Man had the impression that he was smiling beneath his reflective helmet.

“If it helps any, we’ve killed six aliens between the two of us,” Mona said. The Red Man grunted.

“Where do you want to meet?” he asked.

“The sight of your first human kill,” Renn said.

“If this is a trick, you’ll regret it,” the Red Man said.

“No tricks. I look forward to meeting you in person,” Renn said. Mona winked at him and the monitors all went black. The Red Man shook his head. He had been planning on going after the oil tycoon in Greece next, but if what this Renn person was offering was on the level, it would be more than he could do alone. If he was just another self-serving pig, then he would fall with the rest.

The Red Man stepped into the puddle of blood and sank into it. The puddle shrank after him until it vanished just as surely as he did. When the police cut their way into the panic room hours later, they found only a mummified corpse with its veins ripped out, and the coppery aroma of blood that that had long since disappeared.

ARC 01.Invasion//VOLUME 02.Hosts//END

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