21.2 Challenges

There was not enough blood.  Jason had seen enough dismembered bodies to recognize that much.  He also remembered Hector’s statements about Robert Grave.  He did not need to breathe and his strength -no, his power level- was comparable to Jason’s.  That was why Jason was only mildly surprised when the man continued his attack despite being cut in two.

The lower portion, containing one arm, part of his torso and his legs, flailed wildly.  The legs kicked out while the arm waved back and forth, resulting in the body rolling over and contorting oddly.  It reminded Jason of someone subjected to a severe seizure or a strong, sustained electrical current.

“Think we should step in?” Hector asked.

“No.”  Grave had ordered them to stay back unless he lost or civilian lives were endangered.  Neither had occurred, yet.

Hector nodded.  He had probably noticed the same thing as Jason.  Not only was the upper portion of Grave’s body still fighting, it had clutched the challenger’s robe and used that leverage to drag itself close enough to begin biting the figure’s leg, but the lower portion’s movements were less random than Jason had first thought.  Periodically, it dug its hand into the wound left by that over-sized scythe.  Its flailing motions served to fling Grave’s blood about the immediate area.

Two copies of Hector stepped back, one to his left and one to his right.  The motion was sufficient to fully separate them from the original.  Both turned and left the area, circling around.  The remaining Hector began turning his head from side to side, possibly examining the area.

Ah, Jason had been mistaken.  Grave had not been trying to bite his opponent’s leg.  He was using his teeth to gain a hold on the figure’s robe, pulling himself up with his arm then repeating the process.  He was literally climbing the Battlegrounder with a single limb.

The shrouded figure had raised its scythe, still held in a single hand, and was attempting to use the weapon to dislodge Grave.  It was alternating between shoving at the operative and poking at him with the base of the scythe.

One of those pokes, -Jason was reluctant to call them stabs, they lacked the dignity for the term- connected with Grave’s head, visibly deforming his face.  The force was not enough to deter Grave but the robe he was gripping tore.

The operative reacted immediately.  Releasing his hold on the cloth, his arm plunged forward and found purchase within the robe.  Beneath the hooded robe was a large white skeleton.  Again, Jason was not terribly surprised.

“Something’s not right.” Hector said.

“Yes.  I had expected him to be more powerful than this. I find it surprising he has been able to hold the city alone.” Jason agreed.

“Huh?  No, not that.  He’s holding back.  I meant Reaper; something’s wrong.”

Rather than answer verbally, Jason cocked his head to the side.  The gesture should indicate his willingness to listen and encourage Hector to continue.

“The bone, it’s too white.  Ach look, where Grave’s grabbing its ribs?  They’re bent.”

Jason looked closer and saw that Hector was correct.  “What does it mean?” he asked.

“I think… yeah, look at the way he’s holding that scythe.”

The skeleton had lost all pretense of dignity and was simply pummeling Grave in its attempt to dislodge him.

“He’s holding it right in the idle of the handle.  With the size of the blade… it’s not moving right.  I don’t think that’s Reaper, not the real him.  He’s controlling that thing with- I don’t know, telekinesis or something similar.”

The ‘ribs’ he was gripping bent further and Grave fell to the ground.  His hooded enemy continued striking at him, using the blade of his weapon now.  It cut into the operative but little to deter him.  The man was trying to grab the scythe’s blade each time it came down, seemingly without care for the damage it was doing.

“Okay, use your power, see if you can kill the big guy.”

Jason did as his friend had requested.  There was no effect.  “No.  It is as if I am trying to take the life from a rock.”

Hector nodded.  “Okay, good enough for me.  I’m looking for the real Reaper but I don’t-”

Grave twisted what little of his upper torso there was to the side just as the scythe blade struck down.  It seemed to trap the blade within him, parallel to his spine, while his lower half lashed out in a kick that was far more coordinated than anything it had used yet to bend the blade.  The upper half manage to grab the blade and was picked up along with it when the robed figure raised its weapon again.

The operative’s lower half stood up, smearing blood from its side onto its hand again.  The upper released the scythe and dropped, tearing the hood away to reveal a skull beneath it.  The lower flung the blood in its hand, clearly aiming this time.  If Jason was correct, it would have collided with one of the windows on the second story of the capitol building.  The skeletal figure moved to interpose itself.

“Yeah, that does it.”  Hector said.  “The window he was aiming at,” he said, pointing, “can you see the guy watching from it?”

Jason could.  “Do you mean the man with green jacket?” he asked to confirm that they were speaking of the same individual.

“Yep.  Kill him.”

Jason did so.  The hooded figure fell to the ground, even as the man in the jacket dropped from his view and a single life was added to his current total.  It was too little to make an appreciable difference in his current level but it felt good.  It always did, when his target was human, something he had not realized until he used his power on Kelly during their challenge match.

There was a moment of stillness, the handful of other observers he could see did not move, nor did the two halves of Robert Grave.  After a moment, a few civilians began moving forward, perhaps to better see if Grave was alive?  They were restrained by police officers that had apparently been in nearby locations.  Jason watched as the two halves went through a curious procedure.

The top half pushed itself free from the tangled remnants of the decoy Reaper and then lay on its back, what little of it there was.  The bottom half, walking smoothly now, approached it, turned to ‘face’ away from it, then lay down on its back as well.  Both made a number of minor adjustments then lay still.

After a few moments, apparently satisfied with whatever he had been doing, Grave gestured towards Jason and the nearest Hector.  Both approached him, joined by at least a dozen other Hectors.

“Careful.” the prone operative said to them.  His voice was accompanied by an odd whistling noise.  “There shouldn’t be much near you but there is blood on the ground and I promise you don’t want to touch it.”

Jason heeded the warning and watched his step.  The blood was odd.  Not quite clotted but closer than it should be from the time it had been spilled.  Again, there was nowhere near enough of it for the wounds Grave had sustained or the way he had moved afterwards.

“Now,” he said as Jason and some of the Hectors arrived, “would you like to explain to me why you just disobeyed your superior’s orders in a combat situation?”

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