Inside a small monastery, somewhere near Bourg-en-Bresse – France
The village, two miles from the crumbling farmhouse and outbuildings (home to two monks, a donkey, and a truly staggering amount of cheese), had a name. But given Sal's circumstances—back-to-back with Liam, fighting off shuffling, undead monks—she couldn’t be bothered to remember such an unimportant detail. Hell, she barely had breath to share important tactical updates with her comrades in the field. Vital information like:
Liam answered her between punches. “Animated remains, not zombies.”
“What are you talking about?” Sal swung a long broom handle like it was a baseball bat and knocked out the knees of the decayed thing coming up on her. It fell to the floor and kept coming, crawling forward on its hands and stumps. Sal turned the push broom around and clubbed it on the head. The undead monk collapsed and went still. “They rose from the graveyard and only go down from a head shot. They’re zombies.”
“Duck,” said Liam. Sal did, and Liam’s fist went flying over her head, right into the skull of a shambler. The cemetery near the monastery hadn’t been used in recent centuries and the brittle bones of the long-dead monk caved in around Liam’s fist, sending up a plume of moldy dust. The remains crumpled at Sal’s feet. “If these were zombies, do you think I’d be dumb enough to hit them with my bare hands?”
“I don’t know. Apparently I don’t know you as well as I thought.”
“Maybe if you had waited before you jumped my—”
“Do not put your Catholic guilt on me—”
A blast from the doorway left Sal’s ears ringing. A shotgun was really not designed to be used anywhere near enclosed spaces. On the other hand, it was an efficient zombie deterrent. Sal wondered where Grace had found it.
“Work out your personal issues on your own time,” said Grace, leveling them both with a withering stare. “We’ve got another six incoming.”
Unfortunately, lack of personal time was exactly the problem. Even the most amicable breakup required a certain amount of emotional negotiating, and Team Three had been lucky to put together twenty hours at a stretch between calls for the last two weeks. Mr. Norse had stepped up his search for the Codex Umbra and the Orb was going nuts. Which meant Sal and Liam had been spending their scant downtime eating, sleeping, tending to their wounds, and not working out their “personal issues.” If they’d had the time, they totally would have been acting like mature adults about the fact that they were no longer sleeping together, and not busily finding other ways to avoid each other. Totally.
But since Sal and Liam were definitely not using work as a way to back-burner their feelings, the only silver lining to their current schedule was that the constant magical flare-ups probably meant that they were still on the trail of Mr. Norse and his goons in their pursuit of the Codex Umbra. Unfortunately, every lead Team Three had followed from the Orb so far had been a dead end. Or, rather, a previously pillaged end. And more often than not, the elusive billionaire left behind a little surprise to keep them occupied while he moved another step closer to the mysterious Codex. Asanti still wasn’t sure what exactly the book did, but it seemed a safe bet that anything a man like Mr. Norse wanted that badly wasn’t something he should be allowed to have.
Which was why Sal, Liam, and Grace were currently holding the line against a horde of zombies/animated remains in an anteroom outside the monastery’s small archive of medieval manuscripts while, inside the archive, Asanti and Father Menchú searched for clues as to the location of the Codex. Sal’s ears had just stopped ringing when the second blast from Grace’s shotgun went off, taking Sal’s hearing and another two zombies with it. Out of ammo, Grace shifted her grip and commenced using the rifle stock as a club.
Sal risked a glance behind her. There weren’t that many documents in the small archive. How much time did Menchú and Asanti need?
“Is it a good sign that they’re still in there?” she asked no one in particular.
“Probably not. If they’d found something, they’d be back,” said Liam.
“Maybe they found more than they were expecting,” said Sal before she could stop herself. Disagreeing with Liam felt like a spinal reflex lately. “Or Asanti is milking it because she wants to stay in the field.”
Grace and Liam both scoffed at that suggestion, which, Sal had to admit, was probably deserved. It wasn’t that Asanti wasn't allowed to do field work. In terms of actual hierarchy, she was the head of Team Three, outranking...