The few remaining revenants pushed onward up the marble staircase, their bayonets running red and black with fetid blood. Casimir, Charles-Henri, and Emblem carrying an unconscious Ravilious followed in their wake. Charles-Henri swung the cast iron pan that he'd stolen from the kitchen and his military saber with equal effectiveness, while Emblem bayoneted any zombie that had survived the onslaught, despite the burden that he carried.
And judging by the look on his face oblivious to the world around him, Casimir thought. Emblem's eyes drooped and a small string of drool connected his mouth to his grimy stubble.
Soon the revenants had led the group into the Grand Hall. It was a magnificent sight: the rays of the sun streamed in through the massive skylights covered in lattices of delicate metalwork. They illuminated rare treasures, both natural and man-made, from the famed Sitting Stones of the Weeklehgs to a trio of Great Matted Mammoths.
A young woman leaned over the edge. She was around Casimir's age, and held a long, blood spear in her hands. A patchwork of shiny scars from long-healed burns traced her face, partly hidden by her long black hair hanging down over the balcony like Rapunzel's goth sister. Casimir wished that her hair really was long enough to clamber up, his attention torn away as he watched a dozen zombies rent the flesh from a revenant's bones. Its bayonet clattered to the ground
"We're still getting the ropes together! Try to hold on!" the young woman yelled.
"Quickly, mademoiselle!" Charles-Henri said. He leapt between a zombie and a revenant, splattering zombie brains all over the marble floor with a clanging swing of his cast iron pan.
Casimir watched as Charles-Henri slipped on the brains, into a small cluster of zombies with Australian flag patches sewn to their backpacks.
"Connards!" Charles-Henri yelled, as the zombies raked him with their claws, trying to find purchase in his flesh for their exposed fingerbones.
"Nooooo," Emblem muttered, swinging and swaying his way towards Charles-Henri. He stabbed with his icepick.
"You are going to stab me!" Charles-Henri said, dodging both Emblem's icepick as well as the attacks of the zombies.
"Nooooo," Emblem muttered again.
Casimir felt an iron grip close on his shoulder from behind. As he tried spin, another cold, clammy hand closed around his good wrist.
"Argh!" Casimir said, trying to push away from his assailant. The rubber grips on the bottom of his hospital socks tried their best, but his feet slid around too much in his socks. He had no choice. He twisted, bringing his wounded hand towards the zombie like a club.
It sailed into the mouth of the zombie, cracking a few teeth. The zombie chomped down onto Casimir's hand.
Casimir panicked. He tugged. The zombie's jaw didn't budge. Neither did his bandages. But his hand did. It slipped out of the bundle of gauze and left a lump of white fabric and absorbent cloth in the zombie's mouth.
It was the first time that he'd seen his hand since it was bitten last night. The flesh from the base of his pinky to his wrist was torn away, exposing the bone and tendon beneath. Green and black splotches covered the remaining skin. He'd never realized how foreign a body part could feel. Bile rose in his mouth, interrupted by the zombie lunging for him again.
Casimir swung his wounded hand at the zombie. What was the worst that could happen? So what if it bit him again?
The hand went upside the zombie's head. It paused, as if it had just heard someone calling its name. Then the cold, steel-like grip that it had on Casimir went rubbery. The zombie crumpled like a tissue in a hurricane.
Another zombie lunged at him.
He swung his hand into the zombie's head.
"Hey, did you guys see that?" Casimir asked, turning to the rest of the survivors. They were mobbed. Four zombies gnawed at Charles-Henri's peg leg while he used it to bash at their faces. Emblem had taken Charles-Henri's saber and was rattling it around inside the ribcage of a zombie, which hadn't taken the time to notice. Its jaw snapped at Emblem. Ravilious bounced on his back.
Only one of the revenants remained, Pierre. And as Casimir watched, a pack of zombies wrenched Pierre's head from his neck while he bayoneted holes in their guts.
"Adieu, Casimir!" he cried before his lungs were disconnected from his mouth.
"Help us, mon fils!" Charles-Henri cried. "Forget the dead! But not me! Forget the deader than me!"
Casimir ran over to him. He began slapping at the zombies with his rotten hand. Slap, thud. The first was his hand hitting the zombie, and the second was the zombie hitting the floor. Soon, Charles-Henri was back on his foot, having replaced his peg leg.
"We're lowering the rope, grab on!" the young woman yelled from the balcony. A multi-colored streamer of fine cloth tied together draped to the marble floor.
"That looks like part of a magician's handkerchief trick!" Casimir yelled back up. "That doesn't look safe!"
"Safer than were you are now," the young woman retorted.
Emblem tied the clothes into a sling and placed Ravilious into it.
"Uuuuuuppp," he said.
The sling began to rise while Casimir, Charles-Henri and Emblem fought off the zombies. The rope fell back down.
"Gooo," Emblem said, shoving Charles-Henri into the sling.
As it rose, Charles-Henri grabbed a zombie around waist.
"What're you doing, you moron?" the young woman yelled.
After he was almost to the balcony, Charles-Henri dropped the zombie with a chortle. It splattered on the marble.
"Bastard!" he shouted.
The rope fell again. Although Casimir's slapping seemed to put the zombies down for good, dozens more zombies had been attracted by the commotion and he had to spin around to keep them at bay.
Emblem threw Casimir into the bundle.
"Uuuuupppp," he said, and Casimir rose. The fabric robe swung in the air, and as the knots in the garments tightened, it made Casimir feel like he was about to plummet onto the marble below. He came up to the edge of the balcony.
"He's infected!" a voice said.
Now the rope did drop, five feet, while the half dozen people winching it up let it fall out of arm's reach of the balcony.
"Send 'em back down at get the other one!" said a voice from the balcony.
"Let the rope go and let him pop like the crazy Frenchman did to that other zombie!"
"I'm not a zombie!" Casimir said.
"That ain't the hand of a living person!" someone called.
"He's not infected! You've seen how fast they turn," said the young woman from earlier. She watched over the edge of the balcony.
"We can't take that risk! Not in a survival situation!"
"I'm the one who thought of the rope, and I say haul it up!"
"He is not a zombie!" Charles-Henri called. "No more than I am!"
"Great, we got one zombie vouching for another!"
"How dare you!" Charles-Henri said. "I challenge you to a duel!"
"Cram it, haul him up, we'll sort it up! Emblem is down there, and he's in trouble!"
Casimir glanced down. The zombies had surrounded Emblem. He was spinning in place, with the arm that held the saber extended. Blood sailed into the air as it bounced against zombie parts. Casimir heard him humming to himself. His eyes were closed. Casimir wasn't sure that he could find his way onto the rope.
"Lower me back down, I need to get him!" Casimir said.
"The rope can't hold two people!" the young woman said.
"Have you tested it?" Casimir asked.
The rope gang, only too eager to get the zombie boy away from them, lowered him back down.
"Emblem! It's Casimir, please stop swinging the saber and get into the sling."
"Uuuuppp," Emblem said, not stopping. The rope still fell.
"Stop lowering him!" the young woman yelled. The rope stopped with a taut bounce, the saber sailing only a few inches below him. If the saber took a bad skip, it could cut up the sling. And Casimir's leg.
"Emblem, we have to get you up on the balcony."
Emblem stopped spinning, opened his eyes, and jammed the saber straight into the face of a zombie with a splortch.
"Why didn't you say so?" Emblem said. He climbed in and they rose. Below them, hundreds of zombies went hungry.