On some level, Jason knew his actions were foolish. He should have gone for the bags, absorbed the lives within, and continued the fight with the additional power that granted him. Alternatively, he could have gone for one of Hectors’ bags. It was still possible that one of the weapons among his conventional equipment could prove effective. Failing that, Jason knew what Hector kept in his other bag. He did not have the training to use it properly, but it would still be a better approach than this.
He didn’t care. Jason screamed his rage at the man before him, lost in the unfamiliar sensation as he pounded on the emerald armored figure with all his strength. Each blow shattered his hand and arm, cost him some of his store of lives. Taker’s glow grew brighter and brighter, peaking with another shockwave that cast Jason back. It cost him another life and created another copy of the Lord who had somehow killed his friend but he didn’t care about that.
Jason howled and flung himself at the target of his anger yet again only to be snatched out of the air by something. He turned to look and saw an unfamiliar group of four. There were four of them, three men and a woman. A large man with orange skin held him by one of his ankles, left him dangling upside down in the air. The woman was surrounded by ripples in the air. One of the men was surrounded by flickering blue flames. There was nothing fantastic or remarkable about the last stranger.
He didn’t care about them. Jason used his power, tried to kill them. Whether that was to increase his strength, defend himself from the four unusual strangers or simply to get free, he could not have said. It didn’t work. He struck out at the orange man in frustration. All he cared about was hurting the man who had- had taken his friend from him.
Jason struggled against his captor as he was pinned to the ground. He didn’t pay any attention to what the voice in his ear said, or what the orange one said. He didn’t notice the disturbed graves between the road and the Circle. That the other three went on to fight Taker or that the orange face bent over his own was lined with grey-black veins or had clouded, dead-white eyes meant nothing to him. He wanted his friend back.
Failing that, Jason wanted to hurt the world that had taken something precious from him.
“You should’ve listened to me dammit.”
Starve ignored the outsider’s complaint. Viral might have had a useful power, might have been part of the reason the Four were so feared, but he wasn’t a real Lord. He was from the Weak Cities.
“We could’ve gotten away if we’d just made a break for it after we sent the idiots out.” Viral said, gesturing towards their minions. Some of them clustered around the two while the rest attacked the newly arrived Lord in purple.
“Fool, it doesn’t matter what his power is. I can shut it down and you can make him ours, the same way we got our replacement Reaper.” The idiots nearest the purple man were screaming in fear in pain, convulsing on the ground. She turned her head and raised her hand. The cloud of blood, bullets and scrap metal that surrounded the man broke apart and fell to the ground.
The man in purple stepped down from metal wreckage, maintaining his imperial air. He paid no attention to the dying men around him, their veins bulging at black as they screamed and clawed at themselves. She saw that he had the same discolorations himself, along with clouded eyes and missing patches of skin. To stand unafraid amidst such carnage when his power had been stripped from him, this man really would make a fine Reaper.
“Stop it, all of you. Harm him and you’ll wish you had just died screaming.” she called out. Her surviving servants stopped fighting and pulled back, clustering around her and Viral. The men in blue that served as the local Lord’s enforcers and stopped firing. “Surrender and you can join us, be one of the Four and rule in this city alongside us.” she offered him.
He continued walking, stopped just beyond the half circle of men and women who’d died screaming just after his arrival. “This city is under my protection and I will not stand down. But, if you disable that one first, I’m willing to accept your surrender and promise that no harm will come to you.”
Yes, this was doubtless the feared Grave, a true Lord.
Ester wasn’t worried when she heard her mirror break, simply confused. She turned back towards her son, saw the traces of blood on his knuckles and the shard of glass in his hand. Ester didn’t panic then, even when she saw Hector slash his own throat with that piece of the mirror. She didn’t know what was happening or, more to the point, why. All she knew was what she had to do.
It was the smell of rot that first broke Starve’s composure. The stench struck her like a hammer and it was all she could do not to retch. Before she’d recovered, the corpses were standing up. Viral was cursing and Starve was just beginning to panic when the moving corpses ran forward and attacked her remaining men. The living didn’t stand a chance. The dead bit and clawed with animalistic fury and the slightest injury sent black death racing through the veins of their victims, who fell to the ground convulsing in screaming agony as they clawed at their wounds.
The first of the newly fallen were just beginning to rise again as the wave of dead men broke through her guards and fell upon her. She was dimly aware of Viral saying-
GeT oFf Me!!
-something she couldn’t understand as she franticly tried to use her power and- and it failed. These things weren’t Lords. They were dead and-
Elsewhere, Robert Grave smiled as one of his assets sank its teeth into Starve and another plunged its thumbs into Viral’s now ruined eye sockets. Their screams were short lived but intensely satisfying. He’d been rather fond of Hector and thought Jason had a great deal of potential. Too soon to be sure, but he-
Another of his assets extended its finger, thinned down to the point of being just a little thicker than a hair. Taker’s helmet wasn’t airtight and this was more than sufficient to allow him access. The man’s screams soon joined the other two of the Four. Hopefully, this would be enough to free Jason from whatever they’d done to him.
Down the stairs and into the kitchen, into the kitchen and through the concealed entrance to the basement, all of it at a pace she couldn’t even have imagined moving just a month ago. Without panic, with the sort of swift calm found in the best paramedics or firefighters, Ester moved into the darkened basement and located the sealed box- so very like a coffin- that she’d never seen but only heard described. Hurried searching revealed a pair of clasps. Moments later she was struggling against the weight of the lid and the bit of resistance added by the watertight seal.
The first hints of fear began to impinge on her movements as Ester’s hands ran over her son’s first body, struggled against him when she found the breathing mask and its tube dislodged. Hector tried to stay under the water, the water that was exactly the same temperature as his skin. Against most of his bodies, after the intensive exercise and training from the Citadel, she wouldn’t have stood a chance. She forced his head up, heard him instinctively take a breath.
She couldn’t see the fear in his face but she heard it in his voice.
“Mom- Mom you don’t understand. I’ve gotta- Viral, he can make me-”
“What? What can he do!” she demanded.
“I think I got most of myselves in time, but…” his struggles slowed, “Mom, if he gave me the right command, he could send me on a killing spree. Do you know how much damage I’m capable of doing? It… it’d be worse than…”
Chemo. Her boy was comparing himself to Chemo and the thought terrified him. “Hector, you said… you said you got to yourself in time. What did you do?”
He wasn’t fighting back any more. She felt him look away from her, even though it was the next best thing to pitch black. “I killed myself Mom.”
Ester felt her lips pull back in a snarl of hate at the thought. It wasn’t directed at her son. No, that hate was for the one who’d done this to him. “Your other bodies, are there any of them left?”
She thought he nodded. “Just one. I was… was on a date with Liz. She managed to stop me, before-”
“Good.” This girl might just be good enough for her boy. “And this Viral, is he anywhere near you? Or us?”
“No, he… No.”
“Then how is he a threat? What can he make you do now?”
The room was completely silent for a time after that.
“You’re right. I’m… I’m safe. There’s no reason to…”
There was something in his voice. Fear, relief, it was all tangled up in a way she couldn’t understand. But. She understood that he was safe now. That was enough.