Amy walked with Casimir while John and Dominic brought up the rear. Dominic rolled backwards with his javelins jangling in their quiver, making sure that no stragglers got too close whenever the group stopped to figure out which way to go.
They stuck mostly to alleys. While alleys were narrower and potentially more lethal because they afforded less manueverability, that was true for the zombies as well. And when it came to plugs of zombies, Casimir was the ultimate plunger.
Casimir tripped over a piece of debris as they entered Jane's neighborhood, Emerald Park. Emmy Park, as it was known to the more annoying breed of local, was an enclave of trend followers that was so much more well-known than the trendsetters to whom they devoted themselves that many media outlets mistakenly got them confused.
After he'd recovered, Casimir looked to see what had tripped him. The stiff loop of a designer purse had entangled his foot. After he'd kicked it into the street, he slapped a zombie that had approached him.
"Our hero, so graceful," Amy said with a sneer.
"What's your problem?" Casimir said.
"My problem is that you're dragging my brother to his death," Amy said.
"I'm not doing anything of the sort," Casimir said. He slapped a zombie that was approaching Amy.
"Yes, you are. You're directly responsible," Amy said, dropping her voice so that neither Dominic nor John could overhear. She took careful aim with her rifle and it cracked once. A zombie with a fancy new hole in its head collapsed. "When you came to save him on my behalf you sealed his fate. He's a good guy. He's a great guy. Not a selfish atom in his body. Which inevitably puts him in dangerous fucking situations when blunt idiots like you don't understand his nature."
"Hey now, I didn't force him. He made a choice," Casimir said. He slapped two adventerous zombies. It was beginning to get crowded; Casimir saw that several dozen moved in their general direction, no doubt attracted by the crack of the gun.
"Tell yourself that. If you were stuck in a hole, he'd jump in after you without a second thought."
"He sounds like a great guy," Casimir said. "And I appreciate his help, just as I appreciate your help and John's help."
"That's not enough. Your appreciation isn't enough. Dom's been through enough shit in his life. I told you why he's in that wheelchair."
"So you think that you get to boss him around for the rest of his life to keep him safe?" Casimir said.
Amy's mouth became a thin line and a veil dropped behind her eyes, extinguishing her anger.
"You don't understand. You can't understand, you privileged fuck," Amy said. She pushed past Casimir, dropped to a knee, and the methodical report of her bolt-action rifle began as she mowed a path ahead of them. Crack, snap, ping, said her gun, the action and the empty shell hitting the pavement, interrupted after every fifth count with the clack of her ramming a new clip home.
"I'm sorry," Casimir said.
Amy ignored him. She was out of ammunition. She dropped the empty clips onto the concrete and affixed her bayonet. She marched forward, skewering zombies as she went. Their clotted blood lay in runny chunks on the sidewalk.
Dom bumped into Casimir's back.
"You better get up there and help her," Dominic said. "Sometimes her anger gets her in trouble. That's not true. Her anger often gets her in trouble."
"We could just go back to the Museum," John said.
Casimir ran up to Amy and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her. He slapped a half dozen zombies.
"I don't need your help," Amy said, after several minutes of silent slaughter.
"I know," Casimir said. "But we'll get Jane faster this way."
As they neared the front of Jane's apartment building, the zombies had come on thicker and heavier than before. The unrelenting press of their attack had fatigued Casimir, Amy, John and Dominic. Without fervor they scrambled brains, each movement increasingly labored. Even Casimir's slapping muscles felt the burn.
After John had kicked in the door to Jane's apartment building and he had helped Amy drag furniture in front of it, they all took a breather.
"I'll be right back," he said, hurling himself towards the stairs.
"Hang on," Dominic said, "we'll come with you."
John put his hand on Dominic's shoulder and squeezed.
"I'll go with him. You and Amy wait here, make sure that they don't come in," John said.
Casimir had already made the second floor. The building smelled so familiar, so comforting, after the metallic tang of the Constantinople streets in autumn. The hundred-year-old stairs creaked and his footsteps kicked up tiny puffs of dust as he took the stairs three at a time. He was running on fumes. Each lunge sent gouts of flame up and down his legs. Far from the long, lean look of a gazelle, he had the careless flailing of a marathon runner after he'd crossed the finish line.
He threw himself against Jane's door.
"Jane! Jane! It's me, Casimir!"
He had slumped against the cracked paint of her door, ignoring the showers of flakes elicited by his slapping the door with his open hand.
"Open up, I'm here to save you!"
John came up to Casimir.
"Do you have a key?"
"I do!" Casimir said. He fumbled with sore fingers and jammed the key into the lock.
Casimir pushed the door open. He was briefly overcome by the smell of Jane's perfume as he ran from room to room. She wasn't in the hallway, living room, kitchen or either bedroom. She must have locked herself in the bathroom. He put his hand on the knob. It wouldn't budge.
"Jane, it's okay, it's Casimir. I'm here to rescue you! We have a safe place that we can go while this blows over!"
Casimir turned to see John standing in the doorway to the hall. Tears ran down his cheeks.
"What's wrong? Why isn't she answering?"
It wasn't until the pregnant pause after he asked the question that Casimir heard the moaning. And the scratching of rotting fingernails against the cheap door that Jane had always had on her bathroom.
The floor beneath him turned into a great, sucking maw that pulled him beneath the surface as the undertow of despair kicked in. John grabbed Casimir into a bear hug and, distantly, Casimir could feel the man's hot tears, and hear him speaking, in a language that Casimir could barely understand.
"I knew Jane better than I let on. We were never lovers, of course, but she pulled me into her life. She was like an injured animal. I wanted to take care of her but she did nothing but bite. She left a drunken voicemail for me last night. She must have been bit while she was out, because by time I got here she was gone, and that monster was in her place. I managed to lock her in her room. I should have told you earlier, Casimir, please forgive me. But I thought that it would make it easier if you could see her and when I saw what you could do with your hand...I thought that it would be some kind of closure if you could end it for her," John said.
Casimir felt John's body go limp and collapse.
The faint part of Casimir that remained in the world felt the air go cold. He looked through the hallway and out of the window of Jane's bedroom. He knew why John had collapsed.
Outside of the window floated the bloated visage of Cazgivicus. Several of its greasy faces grinned.
"Nothing like the fresh taste of recently lost love. It makes me tingle!" burbled the fiend.
The fiend deflated enough to float through the window, guiding itself along the frame with its cadaverous, withered limbs. It came into the hallway, where it expanded until it nearly touched Casimir. The stench made Casimir's eyes water. Casimir knew this because he was watching himself very carefully to see what he would do next.
"Glad to meet again. You're always worth a joysuck," Cazgivicus said. "Although you'll be less delicious to me now that love has lost its flower. She's gone quite moldy, I'm afraid." Two of his mouths chuckled. Another vomited, then bared its effluvium-flecked teeth in a nominal smile.
Cazgivicus' body turned slightly, as if it had heard a faint sound.
"Oh, there's another, your heart says. That is the problem with hearts, they're always betraying themselves. Ah, much like a flower! They attract friendly pollinators and less savory elements alike. And the new blossom is quite near! Indeed, I believe that I'm acquainted with her! I shall have to float down into the lobby and investigate."
Casimir picked up his withered hand.
"Oh, delightful! Rot sets in where you'd least expect it, it's quite pleasant like that!"
"It is very surprising," Casimir said. He took his rotten hand and slapped Cazgivicus across the nearest mouth.
The mark of the hand burned bright red, then burst into flames before quickly dying into ash and flecks of ember.
Casimir smiled. He touched Cazgivicus again. Red, fire, embers, ash. Cazgivicus screamed and squeezed its bulk through the doorway back into the bedroom, not bothering to shrink itself in its haste.
"I'll see you flayed for this!" Cazgivicus said. "I'll see your skin peeled off and used to record the most hateful incantations in the vilest tongues!"
Casimir realized that he was able to ball up his fist, which meant that he could hold things in it. With a grin eviler than any that Cazgivicus would ever be able to muster, he reached out and seized one of Cazgivicus' small, spindly arms. The fiend howled as its flesh sizzled.
"No, you won't," Casimir said, summoning all that he'd felt and been put through over the last twenty-four hours. "If you trouble me, or so much as think of Amy ever again, I will see to it that you are popped like a balloon and your deflated hide left to rot in an unmarked grave. And when you go scraping back to your master, remember to tell him who it was."
With a final, cruel twist of the fiend's arm, Casimir let go. Cazgivicus floated away, leaving behind a stream of curses that fouled the air around them.
Casimir went over to John and offered him a hand. John got to his feet, wobbled, and leaned against the wall.
"A nobody," Casimir said. His fatigue remained, but it lay beneath an anodized layer of badassry. "Could you help me get this door down? I owe Jane a final favor."
John nodded. He helped Casimir rip down the door and Casimir stood before Jane a final time. She was still dressed from the evening before and, except for the tears of blood, she looked much like she usually did the day after a big night out. Pangs of familiarity welled up in Casimir, until she came at him. That's something that she never did when she had a hangover.
"I'm sorry that I couldn't have been a better boyfriend, but I'm also sorry that you weren't a better girlfriend," Casimir said. "But I always loved you."
He pressed the palm of his dead hand against her chest over her heart. It was as still as the grave. Her eyes flashed for a moment, as if in recognition, then rolled back and whatever was left of Jane was gone.