Codex Nekromantia: Section 31

"I just have to drag him out of there."

"No, Casimir, you can't. He's dead."

"You don't know that!"

"Yes, I do, and you do to."

"No, I don't. I've seen a lot of fucked-up things. I knew that nightmares weren't real, either."

"There's nightmares and then there's the things that are worse than nightmares," Amy said, her voice even.

"Why can't I go get him?"

"Because I need your help to find my brother. I wanted Emblem to help me but he's dead and my brother is still alive. So now it's fallen to you."

"Oh yeah? How do you know your brother's still alive?" Casimir asked. He could sense that he was going too far, but the numbers on the clock shook with his sobs and his anger.

"I just do, okay? Drop it," Amy said.

"You know your brother is alive just like I know that Emblem's still alive. If that were my brother you'd be telling me that he's dead, and you know what? You'd be right. Except for the Museum there hasn't been anybody alive. Everybody in the city is dead. Your brother's dead and now Emblem's with him. So cram your speeches about how I can't get Emblem's corpse, because that's all this trip to find your brother is about. To go save a corpse."

Casimir got out of his seat and tried to find the door. All he felt was Amy's fist slamming into his stomach. He reeled backwards and tripped over the chair. His back collided with the sharp corner of a piece of office furniture.

"Shut the fuck up. Dominic is alive, you understand? We saw Emblem die. Just because you're too thick to realize the difference between fact and hope, don't dump that shit on me."

Casimir stood up and tried to find Amy to fight back. He felt her grab his arm, and he took the opportunity to try to shove her out of the way. But in the dark, his hands went wide and he felt something hot and wet beneath his good hand.

"Are you bleeding?" Casimir asked.

"No," Amy said. And that's when Casimir heard the control in her voice for what it was. The warm fluid wasn't blood. She was crying. He'd slid a hand across her face.

Casimir felt for her again, but this time pulled her towards him without thinking about what he was doing. She didn't resist, and after a moment he felt her put her face against his shoulder and soon the hot tears soaked patches in his shirt. He patted her back with his good hand. Despite the grim situation, he couldn't help but notice that he liked the smell of her shampoo.

"He can't be dead. I can't have let him die," Amy said. "I owe him my life."

"I'm sorry for what I said," Casimir said.

"Me too," Amy said into his chest. "Without somebody else there, the echo chamber is easier. He's alive, he's alive, I just kept saying it to myself. And to my Aunt Ivy, too, but she's easy to convince of anything. But what if he's not alive?"

"I'm sure it is. You said that he's an athlete?" Casimir said.

"Athletes die all the time," Amy said.

"But he is, isn't he?"

He felt her nod her head.

"Then that's one point in his favor. And he knows the school grounds?"

She nodded again.

"Another point in his favor. And he's your brother?"

"What's that got to do with anything?"

"One hundred percent of the Occams that I've met have survived the zombie apocalypse. I'd say that those odds are pretty good in his favor," Casimir said.

Amy let out a sound that may have been a sob, may have been a chuckle, but she pulled away and sniffed.

"We should go look for him," Amy said.

"I won't go try to get Emblem. But on our way back I think that we should check on him," Casimir said. "But right now, time is for the living."

"Yeah," Amy said, sounding more like her usual self. "But there's a sniper out there. We don't know where he is - maybe he's watching more than this building."

"We just can't go out in the open. Say, do you know what kind of heat these buildings have? How old they are?" Casimir asked.

"Steam heat, maybe? Beyond that, I don't know."

"The way to beat a sniper is to sneak up where he can't see you. I'm wondering if the school has steam tunnels beneath them. The community college that I went to back near Chicago was of a similar vintage, at least going by smell, as this campus. The campus had a main boiler, a big, ugly coal furnace, in a big, squat building with a big, dirty chimney sticking out the top. Tunnels that carry the steam pipes ran beneath most of the buildings. I remember that my friends and I used to go explore them. Security never came down there. I doubt that they even remembered their existence. Maybe the University of Constantinople has the same set up, or at least the tunnels might still exist."

"It's worth a shot," Amy said.

They began to leave the room but scurred back inside when they heard footsteps. Zombies didn't make footsteps, they made footdrags. Somebody was coming. Somebody with a pulse and functional knee ligaments.

Amy left the door open a crack. Both she and Casimir pressed their faces against the slit and held their breath.

The footsteps came closer and soon the beam of a flashlight lit the darkened hallway. Around the corner stepped a young man, about Casimir's age, dressed in grey urban camouflage. He carried a handgun but he held it loosely with one hand, as if it might turn into a snake at any moment. Casimir could tell that the man's movements were inspired more by action movies than by tactical training. As he prepared to round a corner, he pushed himself against the wall, held his gun up, and then leapt out of his hiding position.

Casimir felt Amy's hair brush against his throat as she shook her head.

The man walked further down the corridor. As he got closer to the doors that led to the overpass, his footsteps slowed. He stopped with his hand on the door lever.

Casimir and Amy heard him sigh and mutter something to himself before pushing through the doors. The flash light moved in two horizontal arcs, then two vertical arcs.

"A signal to the sniper," Casimir whispered. He felt Amy nod.

The man didn't let the door close behind him. He left one booted foot in the way while he stepped forward with the other leg. Casimir saw his flashlight beam bounce around the glass hallway, and heard him speak.

"Oh, god," the man said. The flashlight recoiled and looked like it might have swung straight towards them. Casimir felt Amy push him backwards into the room but held the door steady in case its movement caught his attention.

Casimir landed on his butt, and sat there for a moment. He heard an odd sound coming from the man in the hallway. It sounded like sobbing. Then Casimir realized that it was the sound of the man working on a thorough fear vomit. A few moments later the retching stopped, the man grunted, and the flashlight flared through the crack in the door. The footsteps receded back the way that they came.

An impulse shot out of the deepest, reptilian parts of Casimir's brain, triggering neural chain reactions along the way. It bounced around the regulating parts of his conscious brain, which decided to throw their support behind the proposal. Enough was enough. He'd lost his girlfriend, his job, and his surety that magic didn't exist. Now he'd lost the only person who'd bothered working on preservation instead of destruction. Emblem had risen from a drug-induced stupor to save Casimir's life, and now some goddamn bastard had killed him.

Casimir sprang from his ass to his feet in one lurch of his body. He slithered past Amy.

"Where are you going?" Amy hissed.

"Following him," Casimir shot behind him as he moved.

He heard the faint scuffle of Amy on his heels.

"That's stupid. We have to save my brother," Amy said.

"We do. We will. But this may be our only chance of seeing where that sniper is."

Amy didn't argue, but followed Casimir as he padded after the dancing flashlight. The man moved quickly, and had obviously given up stealth in his haste. He brushed past zombies as he clattered down the hallway. The zombies turned just as Casimir and Amy pulled up to them. Casimir buried his disgust and slapped the zombies with his wounded hand as he went. Each collapsed at his touch, just as they had at the Museum.

Amy let out a low whistle behind him.

"Why did we bother with the guns when we've got you?"

"Emblem didn't expect us to use the guns on the dead," Casimir said, his grip on his pistol tightening.

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