Codex Nekromantia: Section 39

Amy and Casimir climbed into the back of Emblem's car.

"I'm making us a path through the zombies," Ravilious said, after he'd hurled himself into the passenger seat. He muttered a few words that Casimir couldn't quite catch, and waved his hands as if a particularly persistent gnat was attempting to mate with his cornea. A faint green aura glowed in the air near his hands and flowed from his mouth like condensation on a cold day.

To Casimir's surprise, the zombies in front of the car immediately shuffled out of the way.

"Nice job," Emblem said. He immediately reversed into a dozen zombies, pulled forward into a few more, then completed the three-point turn by punching one in the gut before he dropped his boot onto the gas pedal. They bounced across the lawn through a neat path of zombies, then onto a concrete path, and finally pulled straight up to the entrance of the Museum.

A number of survivors milled about on the marble steps: smoking, chatting or simply bathing in the pink-tinged morning light.

As the group climbed out of the car, one of the figures at the top of the steps detached from the crowd and dove down the stairs, a smart bomb on target for Amy. Ivy thudded into her so hard that she fell backwards into the side of the car.

"Amy! You're okay!"

"Yes, Aunt Ivy. Except for a few scrapes I'm fine. Dom is also fine. We found him at the gym, but he lost his wheelchair," Amy said, wheezing as she tried to get air back into her lungs.

"Ravioli said that you were being attacked by zombies! He called them off as soon as he could!"

"Ravilious, ma'am," he said.

"Yes, they were about to overwhelm us when the cavalry arrived," Amy said. She caught Casimir's eye, for the first time without a sarcastic look in her eye or a sardonic smile tugging at her lips.

"He's quite a marvelous young man!" Aunt Ivy said, stepping back from Amy and wiping her eyes. "We put him in the library with his things, because it was quieter there. When I went in to check on him, he was awake and reading."

"Unfortunately, not the Codex Nekromantia," Ravilious said, his voice sour. "I can feel the power seeping out of it. I can use the power to help me control the zombies - if not for that, I couldn't handle all of them around the Museum. But it won't let me read it."

"What do you mean, it won't let you read it?" Amy asked.

"It won't let me read it," Ravilious said.

Amy snatched it away from Ravilious, as much as anybody can snatch away something that made the phonebook look like an anemic pamphlet. She opened it up.

"Why's it describing the feeding habits of porpoises?" she asked.

"Fucking porpoises," Ravilious said, his voice flat and without rancor towards the cetaceans.

Casimir had a hunch.

"May I see that?"

Amy shrugged and handed it to him.

"Heavy," Casimir said. He closed the book and, cradling the spine with his good arm, he opened it with his bad hand.

"I have a table of contents," Casimir said.

Ravilious' head swung towards Casimir. He lunged towards the Codex Nekromantia and his eyes goggled like a motorcycle courier from the 1920s as they absorbed the page.

"Look at this...'of the Nature of Corpse Revival, Clothe Rot and Publick Decency'...'Methods to Keep Awaie Vultures, the Sillie Buggers of the Air.'...'Forget Locksmythes: Methods of Portal Opening.'" This is amazing," Ravilious said, his mouth hanging open. "I don't believe it. The Codex keeps its secrets safe with a complex knot of literary spells that allow it to pick and choose what to show, when to show it, and to whom. How'd you do it?"

Casimir grinned and held up his rotten hand.

"It lets me do all sorts of neat things. Well, until now, just the one: knock out zombies with a touch."

"That was what I felt before Emblem and I came to get you," Ravilious said. "It's an uncanny feeling, like suddenly losing a finger but without feeling any pain or knowing the cause. The zombie would just be...hang on."

His eyes glazed over for a moment.

"Speaking of which, we have company. Incoming, towards the south," Ravilious said, his eyes still not focusing. "They've just torched several dozens of my zombies."

Emblem turned to Ivy.

"Get everybody inside and onto the mezzanine. Keep them away from the railings, post guards at the top of the staircases. Tell them to conceal themselves. We don't know who we're dealing with," he said, then turned to Ravilious. "Show us where."

Ravilious, huffing and puffing from the effort of carrying the Codex, led the way through the Museum. He looked down the staircase where Branks had lured the zombies away. Casimir saw where he'd been hauled up the railing to relatively safety two days ago. The broken bodies of the zombies still littered the floor - and why shouldn't they? The survivors had better things to do than worry about the cleanliness. Besides, it was a museum. Their one military airplane had made more corpses than now littered the floor, and the skeletons of the dinosaurs seemed impassive about the dead mammals scattered about their feet.

That's what Casimir's brain asserted. His skin still crawled.

They left the Grand Hall. The southern lawn stretched out before them, bathed in the full light of morning. Another thing that was bathed were the zombies. In flames. Spat out of the mouths of enormous tanks, rolling towards the Museum. Waves of heat shimmered in the air. Zombies, however, are simple creatures and continued to shuffle towards their immolators without any hope of reaching the metal flanks.

"No!" Ravilious said. He began to speak as he had earlier in the car, with unintelligible words and green breath emanating from his mouth. The zombies began to turn their backs on the tanks and shamble away. This was very unzombie-like behavior. The tanks stopping spitting flame and did not give chase.

No longer obscured by any hellish camouflage, Casimir could see the top of the tanks. And so he could see when the hatch on one of them flew open and a head of tightly curled salt-and-pepper hair emerged, followed by the rest of of the man. Even from a distance, Casimir could make out that the man's jaw worked on a cigar.

"What in the damned hell is going on with these zombies?" he bellowed, with a voice used to volume.

"Don't torch them!" Ravilious shouted, with a voice that was not. It cracked in the middle of his sentence and he began coughing. Emblem flew down Museum's steps three at a time and began to make across the lawn towards the tanks. "He said, don't torch them! He's terrible at shouting but great at controlling zombies! He's a necromancer!"

"A whatomancer? Hang on now, I'm coming out of the tank so that I don't have to bellow no I'll be alright I don't need any backup that is an order!" he said in one flowing breath, some of it directed towards the tank's crew. With agility betraying his years he heaved himself out of the hatch of the tank and onto the ground. He approached Emblem and offered a handshake.

"General Radcliffe, United States Army," he said, clutching Emblem's hand and bellowing into his face.

"Emblem, pleased to meet you," Emblem replied.

"Listen, young man," General Radcliffe said, and continued talking over Emblem's bark of laughter. "The military is evacuating Constantinople. The official route to the south is, unofficially speaking, entirely Fucked Up Beyond All Repair. We have, however, softened the hostiles during our excursion into the city."

Casimir, Ravilious and Amy had joined General Radcliffe and Emblem on the lawn.

"No offense, sir, but I've been dragged all over this city in the past two days," Casimir said. "I've seen what has happened to it. I think that we'll be safer if we all stay here."

"Besides, my brother isn't with us. He's still on the north side of the city," Amy said, struggling to keep her voice even.

"The evacuation is mandatory," General Radcliffe said. "We are authorized to use force in order to protect the civilian population. Even from themselves. Do you understand me?"

"Do you understand that we're perfectly safe here?" Emblem asked. "We have a necromancer. We have a zombie killer. Well, zombie slapper, but that seems to do the trick." Emblem gestured at Casimir's hand.

General Radcliffe grunted, and without a muscle on his face so much as flickering he slid a hand to his hip, retrieved his revolver and lightly touched its barrel to Casimir's nose. Nobody moved. Even the cigar, normally bobbing up and down as General Radcliffe chewed it like a dog worrying the edge of a couch, paused. General Radcliffe looked down the barrel straight into Casimir's eye.

"Son, I'm going to ask you only one question, and I shan't repeat myself. If you answer me yes, then I will take responsibility for commending your immortal spirit to O Father Who Art in Heaven Up Above With All of the Happy, Fat Little Angels; or back onto that great spinning wheel of dharma like a spoke bead crashing into the rim, or off into the sweet tall grass of the E-lie-zhee-ann Fields where no cow hooky interrupts the footfalls of the virtuous. None of your friends need have your blood on their hands. If you answer me no, then I won't blast your face off. Do you understand?"

Casimir frowned.

"Wait, was that the one question?" he asked.

General Radcliffe put his gun back into his holster and resumed chewing his cigar.

"You've passed the test," he said.

"What the fuck?" Casimir asked General Radcliffe.

Emblem explained how Casimir's hand worked to disable the zombies.

"That'll be very useful for your travels. Now gather your people up," General Radcliffe said. "You have to leave."

"No, we can't leave yet. We have to get the other survivors," Amy said.

"I am authorized, in the exact words of my commanding officer, to 'do whatever is necessary to enforce the evacuation order.'"

"That's not a very good reason," Casimir said.

"That's not the reason. It is, however, the reason that I am disclosing very sensitive knowledge known only to a handful of people. There has been a secret directive to authorize the use of nuclear force against the city of Constantinople. It will be passed off as an accident at Constantinople's nuclear reactor. A warhead will soon be on its way. If you leave now, you may still have time to make it to safety," General Radcliffe said.

For the first time, they were speechless.

"A nuclear bomb? Here?" Casimir choked out.

"No. A missile," General Radcliffe said.

They all jumped at a sudden, sharp clatter like hooves.

Something slithered onto the stairs of the museum. It had a shape similar to a centipede's and moved like one, with an undulating motion. It bony legs had caused the clattering noise as they tapped against the marble steps. As it slowed to a stop, Casimir realized that its legs were actual bones. Specifically, spines: rows and rows of them marching together. A collar of long, needle-sharp bones framed a nightmarish, deformed skull. A set of pincers erupted from beneath its cheekbones. A viscous layer of reddish-grey fluid disguised their true color, although the jagged, broken ends that shivered in the air like questing antennae betrayed that their skeletal provenance.

"I don't believe it," Ravilious said.

A young man Casimir's age hobbled out from behind the abomination, carrying two large obsidian knives. He grimaced, as if in great pain.

"Dan!" Ravilious said.

"Found you, Ravioli," Dan said. He tried to smile, but it quickly melted back into the grimace. "We finished summoning the Four Fiends of Ict Lihis. Behold your doom, Ossemander the Spinelord."

"Hey, how's your dead fucking aunt, you piece of shit?" Amy yelled at Dan.

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