Codex Nekromantia: Section 9

Casimir pushed against the driver's door of the ambulance, but with no shoes and only hospital socks, could not brace himself well enough to push it open.

"Monkeys make it look so easy to grab things with their toes," Casimir grumbled.

"That they do," Emblem said.

Casimir took a breather. The hospital gown that he wore stuck to his sweaty back and he tried to peel it from his skin without tearing the flimsy material. "You're back among the living."

"I never left. Looks like there are quite a few out there who couldn't say the same thing," Emblem said. He pointed out of the sideways windshield, now in portrait orientation rather than landscape. The zombies stumbled across Le Jardin. The manicured lawns that were once strewn with tourists and dotted with pencil-sized holes from wine glass holders that had been staked into the ground were now strewn with the living dead in various degrees of verticality and pock-marked with what looked like mortar holes.

A short young man in a filthy black robe appeared in front of the window, dragging a shovel behind him. Red circles were easily visible around his eyes as his lids drooped like flags in a steady drizzle.

"Help us!" Casimir shouted.

"Kid looks like he could use some help himself," Emblem said.

"Get us out of here!" Casimir yelled.

The boy squinted at them. Before they could say anything, he'd swung the shovel at the safety glass. It bounced off and the shock knocked the boy down, spreading more mud around his robe. He stood up and stared at them.

"Is he a zombie?" Casimir asked, pointing at the door above them. "His eyes look pretty dead to me."

The boy's eyes lit up, they soon heard his foot falls above them. Skittering showers of mudballs from his boots rained down on the other side of the windshield. Emblem helped brace Casimir and, between them and the boy's help, they swung the heavy door open.

"Ah!" Casimir said, after Emblem had climbed out and helped him. He lay down on the smooth white side of the ambulance.

"Just give me a second," Casimir said.

"How are you doing that, kid?" Emblem said.

"Doing what?" he said, in a weak voice that sounded like it came from the other end of cardboard tube.

"Hanging around out here, without the zombies attacking you. Us. The closest one is at least thirty feet away."

The boy shrugged.

"What's your name?"

The boy stared at his shoes. "Ravilious," he mumbled.

Casimir watched as Emblem grabbed fistfuls of the boy's collar and lifted him off of his feet. He pulled him close enough that Emblem's stubble grazed Ravilious' hairless chin.

"Ravilious, you wouldn't happen to be the necromancer behind this fucking zombie nightmare, would you? A general whose heart is as chill as the graves of the dead men that he conscripts into his army of the damned? A lump of mucus hawked from the nose of a forsaken god to desecrate the bodies of innocent men and women by making them get up out of their fucking graves and drag more innocents to their deaths?"

Ravilious began to hyperventilate.

"Let him down, Emblem!" Casimir said, horrified at how fast Emblem's attitude had changed. "He just helped us out!"

"After digging these holes all over Le Jardin. Didn't you, Mr. Ravioli? Weren't you exhuming the buried corpses under Le Jardin to enslave them for your army?"

Ravilious shook his head, still wheezing like a bagpipe that had recently visited the pin factory.

Casimir got to his feet. "Set the poor kid down," Casimir said.

Emblem dropped Ravilious, who collapsed to the side of the ambulance.

His wheeze had turned to the full brassy honk of a goose.

"Ravioli, is it?"

"Ravilious," he said.

"Yes, Ravilious, sorry. It's alright. Seriously, it's cool. Emblem is more bark than bite," Casimir said.

"Not when you come round to the gravesite of my friends and start digging them up!" Emblem said. His veins bulged on his forehead beneath the curtain of his stringy tangle of hair. "Then I'm all teeth and growls and - fuck it." Emblem said. He hopped down off of the ambulance.

"I wasn't digging up your friends!" Ravilious called after him.

"And I believe him, Emblem," Casimir added. "Ravioli - sorry, Ravilious - may have been digging people up, but not your friends. Look at those corpses. They're at least four hundred years old. Look at the fellow over there. Thomas Jefferson would've thought that hat was out of style."

"Not even three hundred," Emblem said from next to the ambulance. "Not even two hundred and fifty. Well, I'll be fucked backwards. Bonjour!"

Casimir stood up to get a better view. Emblem had walked several paces away from the ambulance, away from the epicenter zone of exclusion that the zombies seemed to honor. A zombie shambled towards him, toddling on one rotten flesh leg and one rotten wood peg leg. He held his arms up in a gesture of attack.

"Emblem! Comment allez-vous?" asked the zombie, dirt falling out holes in his face around his jaw as he spoke.

Or his arms were up in a gesture of friendship. Casimir watched them embrace with no signs of brain munching, chewing or any other sort of masticating. Emblem and the zombie embraced, then the zombie pushed Emblem away and gazed at him with empty eye sockets.

"Je suis mauvais! Terrible! Et vous?" Emblem replied.

"La terre est froide, mon frere. La terre est très froide," said the zombie. The two conferred for a moment before they turned to face Casimir and Ravilious.

"Casimir, Ravioli, I'd like you both to meet Charles-Henri, the founder of Constantinople and an old friend of mine," Emblem said. "And you, Ravioli, have some explaining to do."

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