Jason woke to the sensation of… peace. That was the only word he could think of to explain it. He was also aware of a hand, resting over his still closed eyes. He knew the stranger was not a threat. Jason had just been helpless, had no lives stored to heal him from injury. An enemy would have killed him. Jason was unharmed. No, not unharmed, but he was no worse off than he remembered.
The peace began to fade, slowly. He grew more and more aware of the damage to his body, pain in his arms, the burning sensation that covered his face and a frightening numbness below his waist.
“Jason, you’re safe.” He did not recognize the voice. “Brother Jonas, I think you should back away now.” No, it was faintly familiar, but…
“Just a second, I’ve-” And the burning sensation was gone, just a dull ache left behind. The hand withdrew.
“Jason, stay calm. I want you to reach out, use your power. It’s very important that you take only plants to recover. You’re surrounded by allies.”
He did as instructed, took enough to heal and then some. Judging by their size and number, he had just killed someone’s lawn. Jason opened his eyes, blinked.
“Where are my glasses?” he asked.
A stranger in a paramedic uniform handed him a formless lump of melted plastic. Jason nodded and accepted them but did not know what to do with them. He set it on the ground. This was one of the briefing rooms at the police station. He knew them well enough to recognize that but not to determine which one, that was more Hector’s territory than his own.
A man crouched nearby, wore the strange clothing favored by the Crowley Lodge. There were two paramedics, gloved and bloodstained. At first, he thought there were three Hectors present but, though they all wore similar armor and helmets, one was all in white. He thought it unlikely his friend had been promoted while Jason was unconscious so this must be Bruce Richards.
The man in question spoke, addressing the Lodge member. “Was I right, can you feel the connection?”
“I… I think so.” The Lodge member was hesitant, a confusing mix of emotions played across his face. “It’s… different though, doesn’t feel right. I think… I can weaken it but not break it.”
Senior Operative Richards shook his head. “No, don’t weaken it.” Jason could not see his face or read his body language well enough to tell what the man was thinking. “I need you to strengthen it.”
“No.” It was one of the Hectors, his friend. “You don’t- God, it’s awful. You can’t ask him to do that.”
“I’m not asking anything. Operative Grim, this is an order.” Jason recognized the tone of command, of absolute confidence, and he respected it. “I want you to take every nonhuman life in your range. Once, you’re done, Brother Jonas will strengthen the connection between you and Skinthief. I am as aware of the dangers and the discomfort of this as it’s possible to be without going through it myself. Immediately after Jonas is finished, I want you to touch Operative Grave’s asset with your left hand.”
Jason did not pause to consider, simply did as he was told. It required only a moment’s concentration to sort the lives available to him. He took all but the ones in the room with him then nodded. He was ready.
Brother Jonas muttered something that Jason could not understand and made a strange hand gesture. Jason felt… strange, wrong. He was in so many could see so much was doing fighting writing speaking waiting…
He screamed. It hurt and he didn’t like it and he screamed. Jason was barely aware of it when the dead woman with grey skin and white-filmed eyes bent over him.
Liz was curled into a ball, had been for… for awhile. That thing that was wearing her boyfriend’s face, that had ripped away a piece of him and used it to steal his essence… she didn’t want it to know she knew. She was afraid. Why was it just standing there, pretending to be him when it could just kill them all? Liz knew it had done it before, could see that it was wearing all of some people and what it must have done to get it.
Without warning, the imposter screamed. It was thrashing around on the ground and it had just torn right through the people standing next to it… the children… oh God..
“Get away! Give him space!” Liz didn’t think about it, just moved. She forced her way through the crowd that was pushing back, trying to get away from him. It was just a moment but that was too much. She didn’t look at the ones she couldn’t help, tried to focus on the ones that weren’t hurt, weren’t dead. She was pulling and shouting and ordering people to move.
She got them back and made them all stay there, cleared a little space around the imposter. Its arm was covered in a creeping grey rot, the veins black and distended. It took effort not to smile. She knew what that was, recognized the effect and knew what it was doing. That fucking monster deserved this, deserved worse. The thing that looked like Hector rolled around on the ground, helpless and in pain. Its stolen healing was enough to hold the killing rot at bay but not to fight it off. After… maybe a minute? Probably less. Too soon, the thing stopped. It just lay there, unmoving save for its frantic breathing.
Liz went through the stolen powers it had wrapped around itself. Most of them were similar but a few stood out. Strength. Heat. Hector. Healing. One of them was gone now, the one that she thought was probably the most dangerous. It had stripped itself of Jason’s power.
Smiling now, Liz watched the imposter cut the connection that kept this version of itself intact. The thing in front of her stopped breathing, slowly crumbled away and vanished. Just before it went, it looked at her.
Was that… Why did it look satisfied?