General Radcliffe did not waste any time.
"Get behind the tanks," he said, then ran towards his own while bellowing to his troops. "Pretend that we just got indoor plumbing and its an old wooden shithouse. Burn it to the ground!"
The hatch slammed shut with a clang and the tanks rolled towards Ossemander. It wriggled backwards and prepared to pounce. Dan hobbled towards the doors to the Museum.
"Who is that?" Casimir asked.
"An old acquaintenance and a new enemy," Ravilious said. "We have to stop him!"
Emblem nodded. He unstrapped a short shotgun from his leg holster and began to move towards the Museum, keeping well to the side of the tanks. The rest followed him.
General Radcliffe's tank rolled up to the Fiend and licked it with flames. Ossemander hissed. Uncoiling like a spring, it shot through the air, lengthening as it did so, and landed like a javelin on top of a tank. The top caved in from the impact even as two sharp legs pierced its metal skin. As it retracted them to leap again, Casimir saw that they were streaked with blood. It let out a hideous, rattling cry as it sprang into the air again.
All of the tanks suddenly jerked into motion to avoid its trajectory. Ossemander hit the grass and rolled as it landed, using the force to roll between jets of flame.
Casimir had to tear his eyes away from the battle, as they had reached the relative safety of the museum and now he needed them to search for Dan.
Who was nowhere to be seen in the Grand Hall.
"Spread out a little," Emblem instructed.
"Not too far," Ravilious said . "We're dealing with a lunatic. I've watched him dissect his victims to retrieve their spines, just so that he could summon that abomination on the lawn. Be careful."
They swept the Grand Hall and did not find a trace of Dan. Emblem spoke with the guards hiding at the tops of the staircases and they reported that nobody had come past them.
"He must have either gone out of the front door," Emblem said, "or slipped into one of the-"
"Wait!" Ravilious said. He appeared to be listening to something. "Dan went out the other door. He's heading towards the the Lac!"
Ravilious bolted towards the door. The Codex rose and fell against his chest as he sprinted, beating a sick rhythm against his sternum. Casimir and the rest followed as he plunged through the doors and out onto the lawn, parting zombies as he went. The grounds of the Museum swept gracefully down to the edge of the Lac and a boat launch. As the zombies shuffled out of the way, they could see Dan approaching the docks.
"Where's he going?" Casimir asked.
"The Plug...between Earth and...the magic world of Orb...is on the other side...of the Lac," Ravilious panted. "But I'm not sure...how he plans...to open it...Arkephalous wanted...to cast a spell...powerful enough...to suck it open as...the magic from Orb...was drawn to the incantation...like a vacuum...but where would he...find a spell so powerful?"
As they ran, Casimir reached over and tapped the Codex
"How would we...find the spell..oh," Ravilious said, skidding to a stop. He handed the tome to Casimir, who opened it up and found the table of contents as Dan untied a boat and shoved off into the Lac.
"The only section listed that appears to be relevant is about Locks, that sounds like as good a place as ever to start," Casimir said. They flipped to the section. It was one sentence long, in fat cursive letters.
"If one encounters an impassable portal, then kick, ram or stab it open," Casimir read aloud. "That doesn't sound as elaborate as a bigass spell."
"You jackasses!" Dan called out. "Don't you see that the Codex Nekromantia lied to Arkephalous, too? He hid himself in the Codex for the past hundred years, believing himself to be learning arcane wisdom, when all he'd been doing was studying lies! The lies that it fed him!"
"How do you know?" Casimir called out.
"Because it told me so!"
Casimir started laughing. Dan's eyes narrowed.
"We shall see," he said, waving Gorgel's Ulna in the air. Far from glinting in the sunshine, it typed a hyphen of blackness in the air as it absorbed the light.
"Fuck this guy," Emblem said. He stepped forward and took a shot at Dan with a pistol. The bullet went wide and clanged off of a hull. Dan glared back up at Emblem.
"Kid's got no sense of self-preservation, he really ought to duck," Emblem began as he re-aimed, but was interrupted by Ravilious headbutting him in the stomach and knocking him backwards. He sprawled in the grass. Casimir turned and saw why Ravilious had leapt from his side into Emblem's abdomen.
The spear-like shape of Ossemander fell from the sky like an ivory lightning bolt from the hand of a vengeful god. And, as if true to that source, it struck down someone undeserving of such colossal wrath. Two jagged legs that the armor plating on the tanks could not stop impaled Ravilious' frail body just before the full weight of the Fiend crushed him. Ravilious' body collapsed. The Spinelord easily bounced onwards towards its master - with the Codex pinched carefully between two bones. Dan finally mustered a proper grin as he received the tome from the abomination.
"Should have done that a while ago!" Dan called out to them. He then sat at the oars and continued to row out into the Lac, while Ossemander dove into the water behind the boat to help push.
Casimir ran to Ravilious' side. Or rather, what was left of Ravilious' side. Despite the violence and bloodshed all around him, Casimir had never seen someone die - Emblem apparently didn't count. Now it looked inevitable - Ravilious was too flat in some places and too crinkled in others, like an accordian hit by a bus. He was broken.
Casimir took Ravilious' hand in his. Against the odds, Ravilious' lungs raised his chest as he pulled in what air he could. Ravilious' eyes were still open. Casimir suddenly noticed the sadness in them as the life drained away. He tried not to look down at the shattered remains of the body, all ribcage and ill-defined patches of organs tangled up in shreds of black cloth.
"It doesn't hurt," Ravilious said.
Amy crouched next to Casimir and patted Ravilious' arm. Emblem had fallen to his knees and muttered what sounded like a prayer in an exotic tongue.
Ravilious' eyes unfocused and he slipped away. Emblem reached out and closed his eyes.
Casimir stood up and looked out over the Lac, partly so that Emblem and Amy wouldn't see him cry.
"Goddammit!" he yelled out over the water at Dan's back. "Fuck your fiend! Fuck your Plug! Fuck your magic and fuck your necromancy and fuck you!"
He watched the water for what seemed like an eternity, until long after Dan had blended in with the distant cliff faces on the other side of the Lac.
Why shouldn't he stand here and stare until he starved to death? Where did he have to be? What did it matter? He should have been dead already. At least then he could have avoided all of this shit. That zombie bite two days ago didn't kill him, but it sure as hell cursed him. It let him see Jane dead and reanimated. It let him gain new friends and watch them die. Who was next?
Amy hugged Casimir from behind.
It let him help people. Maybe Amy had survived because of him. Maybe Dom was able to escape the gym only because he was around. After all, he'd revived Emblem and brought him to the Museum. And besides, he'd slapped more than his fair share of zombies - maybe an unknown stranger had survived because of a simple assault.
"The zombies still aren't attacking us," Emblem said. "This kid must have been talented. Even though zombies stay zombies and don't revert to corpses when released from the thrall of a necromancer, they normally return to aimless hunger."
Casimir suddenly felt a strong gale nearly knock him over. He smelled the sweet tang of new rubber mixed with citrus and black pepper. All of the hairs on his arm stood at attention and tiny crackles of static electricity danced between them.
A moment later, a speck bobbing on the horizon began to resolve into a tall ship with its sails unfurled and swollen with air. Which is why it didn't make any sense for their to be a plume of smoke streaming from the center of the ship, yet there it was.
As the ship approached the docks, Casimir could see its deck swarming with men in stereotypical pirate garb. Each sailor had either an eyepatch, a hook for a hand, or a peg leg. The ostensible captain appeared to have all three, and a parrot perched on his shoulder and helped bark orders.
The sailors threw out a gangplank and swarmed the deck, making the ship fast with fat ropes. Then they hustled out of the way while another motley crew disembarked.
A dozen men and women crossed onto the decks. Each wore a burnt red robe. Great, black-edged holes pockmarked the fabric. The ones in front appeared to be wearing lace, which allowed Casimir to see that their legs, chest, arms and heads were hairless. They didn't have any grey hairs to betray their age but the number of scars that they sported told the tale.
They saw Casimir, Amy and Emblem standing on the shore and approached.
"Bonjour!" said the man in the lead. He was as large and red as a boiled lobster, as if he'd been recently cooked.
"I don't speak French," Casimir said.
"Strange for this part of the world. Good Evening!"
Casimir frowned. One of the other visitors poked the man in the ribs and whispered something to him.
"Ah! My name is Ignatius, and we are pyromancers from the city of Wick, on the other side of the Path Fantastic. My colleague informs me that it is, in fact, morning here on Globe. Apologies. Our wizards believe that when the Plug was opened, the magical energy flow disrupted the regular passage of time."
His eyes drifted among the wall of zombies.
"Are you aware that you are surrounded by the undead?" Ignatius asked, the same way that strangers asked if Casimir knew that he had a bit of fluff on his shirt collar.
"Oy, mate, are you going to put out this fire on the ship?" shouted one of the sailors.
"Ah! Yes," Ignatius said. He reached a hand out towards the ship. A small ball of flame leapt from the ship into his palm. With a flick of his wrist, he threw it into the Lac where it sizzled as it drowned.
"As I was asking, do you need any assistance? So far we've only had one person from Globe come through asking for help."
The other pyromancer poked him in the ribs and whispered something again.
"Hhhmmm? Oh, I'm sorry. Earth. Yes, of course, must use the local name for the place."
"One person?" Casimir asked. "Was he dressed in black robes? Arrived by boat? Was he an evil motherfucker determined to spread hate and pestilence?"
"And an unrepentant liar who abuses other peoples' emotions?" Amy asked.
"And summons the Lesser Children of Calamignon, that they might assist him in his harvest of tears?" Emblem asked.
"We didn't specifically ask after those qualities, no. But he seemed quite alright," Ignatius said. "Just a bit dazed, just a bit sad. Said his aunt was dying in some sort of zombie plague. None of the other wizards would risk a trip. I guess pyromancers are just made of tougher stuff than the rest."
"And not a bit of disregard for life and limb," said a singed pyromancer.
"Quite right, Pyrus," Ignatius said, swelling with pride.
"We can discuss him later," Emblem said. "You're a pyromancer, eh? Is old Jeppers still knocking around in the Grey Council?"
Ignatius' eyes popped open.
"Why, yes, but how would you know Jeppers? Friends with your grandfather?"
"Nope, I used to take him around to the park and push him on the swing," Emblem replied.
"Magic must be doing stranger things to the flow of time than we had expected."
"Anyway, we may need some assistance. Just a small amount, really. Not much effort. There's a nuclear missile about to incinerate Constantinople. And you're just the wizards for the job," Emblem said.
The pyromancers perked up at the mention of flame.
Casimir turned as he heard the tanks rolling. They had finally made their way around the Museum and rolled up to the edge of the Lac. General Radcliffe popped out.
"The slimy toad in the ointment leapt over the building!" General Radcliffe said.
"And here's the man who can explain the problem," Emblem said. "General Radcliffe, this is Ignatius. He is our own personal anti-ballistic missile system. If you could describe a nuclear warhead, that would be grand."
"May as well. We don't have time to leave. No time to evacuate more citizens. Mr. Ignatius, how familiar are you with the concept of nuclear instability?"
Several minutes later, Ignatius and the rest of the pyromancers were grinning like pigs wallowing in a buffet.