Rianne hadn’t dodged time on the wall, per se. It was just sort of understood that adepts’ community service time was better served in Conservation or Reclamation. Long before being chosen to be the Greybeard’s apprentice, Rianne had first made a name for herself on the Conservation crews. She was a master at the seeking of minds and could root out one person’s subversive or illegal thoughts in a crowd of hundreds. The skill had won her some prestige in the magical community and ensured that she’d never have to actually sit the wall with the common folk.
And that remained the case up until this week. Now she found herself atop the wall, looking away as a charred and whimpering zombie clawed and thrashed through the last convulsions before it finally gave up and died.
“You can look now. It’s not any easier on the eyes, really, but it is less squirmy.”
Rianne did turn and look. The creature’s corpse remained unsettling. Almost equally as unsettling, though, was the boy standing over it, brandishing a flamethrower and grinning broadly.
The only thing she could think to say was, “I suppose I really should have expected this, but zombies smell pretty bad.”
Py laughed. He used his flamethrower to shoot a great stream of fire up into the night sky like a flare. “Hey zombies!” hey yelled into the darkness, “There’s fresh meat over here!” He eyed Rianne briefly, then added, “And it’s magically delicious!”
Rianne glared at him. “That isn’t funny.”
“You’re wrong. It’s hilarious.” The boy dropped his flamethrower in the supply crate at their checkpoint and donned a pair of heavy gloves. “What isn’t funny is that you’ve got to be pretty close to eighteen and have never sat the wall before.” He prodded the charred remains of a zombie with his foot. Apparently satisfied that it was dead, he bent down and grabbed it under the shoulders. “Mind helping me?”
The dead zombie was revolting. Rianne looked down at the blackened remains of a creature that had already been a desiccated husk of a human being before Py’s flamethrower charred it. The zombie’s burned and malformed jaw hung open in a silent scream. Now, standing just over the creature, the smell was overpowering.
Rianne’s insides lurched and she found no appeal in the prospect of touching the dead monster. Still, she didn’t intend to give this boy—and he was a boy, clearly no older than fifteen—an excuse to mock her for being timid in addition to being inexperienced. She crossed to the supply crate and dug around for some gloves.
After a moment, Py voiced his impatience. “Don’t hurry or anything. I mean, we’re just getting along famously over here.” Rianne shot him an irritated glance. He was looking at the dead zombie with big, affectionate eyes. “He likes to cuddle,” Py said.
“There aren’t any more gloves in here.”
Py sighed and heaved the carcass with all his strength. The dead zombie moved about a foot. He shot a determined look at the catapult all the way on the other side of the checkpoint and heaved again. Another foot.
“I want to help you,” Rianne said, thinking about how easily she could levitate the carcass over to the catapult. “I wish I could.”
“You can,” Py said between grunts.
“I know the rules, even if I’ve never been out here before. I’m not allowed to use magic on the wall. It’ll stir up every zombie in the area.”
Py stood up and dropped the zombie’s torso, which landed atop the wall with a heavy thud. “I didn’t say use magic. I said you can help me.”
Rianne cursed, but she didn’t hesitate. She bent down, grabbed the zombie’s other side and started to pull, trying hard not to think about what she was doing. Even with the both of them, they still couldn’t lift charred monster, but they were able to drag him the last thirty or so feet to the catapult.
They both took a break, leaning against the catapult and breathing hard. It was a cool night, but the exertion had them both sweating by the time they finally managed the last push they needed to load the carcass into the catapult. Py launched the dead zombie out into the docks, and Rianne listened to the sound of it crashing through a long-abandoned building.
“I still can’t believe they eat their own dead,” Rianne said, looking out into the darkness of the dock and leaning forward against the rail that ran the top of the wall.
“They’ll eat anything,” Py said, joining her against the rail. “I figure that fellow we just tossed is a step up from the garbage that we usually throw out there. At least we cooked him first.”
Rianne tried to decide whether to be revolted or to laugh. She opted for laughing, figuring that was likely to be the only way that she would survive the rest of the week with this boy. She continued to laugh, almost hysterically, until she wiped her brow with her hand and remembered what the grime on her hands, and now her face, actually was.
Py had removed his gloves and produced a clean cloth from one of the many pockets of his tunic. He offered it to Rianne. “I’ve got to admit, I’m impressed. I’ve chased green robes off of this wall by just suggesting that they touch a zombie. But a red robe actually getting her hands dirty—I never thought I’d see it happen.” Py took a deep breath and watched the reflections of the stars shimmer on the water beyond the docks. Rianne stood silently beside him, wiping the charred flesh residue from her hands and face.
“Of course,” Py added, “I still expect you’ll bail on wall duty before the week is out. You are a red robe, after all.”