Dan pulled the spine from another victim. He screwed up his face and looked at the empty eye sockets of Arkephalous, who sat in a folding chair nearby with the Codex Nekromantia balanced on his knees. The scratch of his vulture quill pen was the only sound that penetrated the oppressive silence of the basement besides the squelching of Dan's grisly work.
"This isn't very efficient, is it, my lord?" Dan asked, holding the spine from his victim in one hand, and Gorgel's Radius in the other. "Is there an easier way to summon the Four Fiends of Ict Lihis? I've only just finished the third body. Spines don't come out easily - couldn't we just use femurs or something?"
Arkephalous glanced up from his writing. He smiled. Or at least he probably smiled - his lips had rotted away hundreds of years before, but he tilted his head back to make his teeth more prominent.
"To summon Ossemander the Spinelord requires the backbones from five victims," Arkephalous said. "If you don't have the stomach for that, then perhaps you don't have the stomach for my great purpose."
"It's not that," Dan said, throwing the bone into the growing pile within an evil sigil that Arkephalous had painted on the concrete floor. "Just tiring."
"That it is," Arkephalous said. "Perhaps you could let your assistant take a turn?"
Ravilious, who had spent the past several hours throwing up in a corner of the basement, was too weak to shake his head. He slumped against the wall. All of his remaining strength was spent keeping his whimpering supressed.
"I don't think that he's worth much except maybe as a sacrifice," Dan said. He grinned and slashed Gorgel's Radius through the air at Ravilious.
"Now, now, my apprentice, we do not torment anybody," Arkephalous said. "We aim to end suffering, not increase it. Our sacrifices must be quick unless prolonged suffering is necessary for a ritual. Do not forget that Ravilious found the Codex Nekromantia in the first place."
"But we don't really need him anymore," Dan said. "I'm the one doing all the work"
Arkephalous raised the decaying muscle above his empty eyesocket. "Come here, my apprentice," Arkephalous said to Ravilious.
Ravilious stood up, swaying like a ship in a hurricane. He steadied himself against the wall and, forcing himself to keep his eyes locked on Arkephalous rather than Dan's project, made his way over to Arkephalous. Dan sneered at him as he went.
"My apprentice, while Dan works on summoning Ossemander the Spinelord, you shall take a shovel and go dig up the burial grounds of Fort Rigaud."
"Where is Fort Rigaud?"
"What Lord Arkephalous means is Le Jardin, in front of the Constantinople Museum of Natural History. The Museum was built on the site of the original Fort Rigaud and what is now Le Jardin used to be its cemetary," Dan said, rolling his eyes. "See what I mean, my lord? Useless."
"Get back to work on those bones!" Arkephalous hissed. He turned to Ravilious.
"Raise them as zombies. Your zombies shall come from the east, while the zombies that we raised earlier here on the campus shall come from the west. There will be no place to hide and soon all of Constantinople shall be overrun, while we will be able to take our time to open the Plug without interference from the city guard or the army of a lord," Arkephalous said.
"Sorry, my lord, but shouldn't we work faster rather than slower? If we take too long we're going to run out of magic before we can get the Plug open to restore the-"
"Don't question me again," Arkephalous said. "Return to your work and do not interrupt. I have spent many times your short life planning my return so do not presume to have any insights that I have not already seen. Now, Ravilious, go."
Dan returned to butchering the corpses with such anger that the sound of Gorgel's Radius scraping bone barely drowned out the sound of Dan grinding his teeth. Ravilious left the basement and into the lobby of the dorm, lit by the dim light of the dawn. A broken arcade cabinet sat in the corner and vomited out a shower of sparks onto the stained carpet. Shards of broken window glass dusted piles of shattered chairs, all wood splinters and chunks of yellow foam the same color as a rich pus.
Ravilious looked closely for any signs of the zombies that they had released earlier, but didn't notice any until he walked past the booth where the night guard sat. He heard a low moan and turned to see the night guard bumping into the door to the booth over and over again.
Through the broken windows Ravilious watched zombies as they shuffled around the quad, randomly distributed according to some principle of math that he didn't understand. He couldn't believe how fast the curse had spread. The movies always got it wrong, Ravilious thought: fast zombies couldn't be created with a communicable curse, and slow zombies were infeasible vectors to spread a slow-acting curse. A slow zombie plus a slow-burn curse meant the majority of barricades stayed intact.
Away he went into the abstract world of zombie distribution while he tried to ignore the carnage and suffering around him. He found an abandoned university vehicle that had plowed into a wall. In the back were several shovels. He slung them over his shoulder and was so far lost in his thoughts that he stood at the bus stop for twenty minutes until he realized that it wouldn't come.
The world intruded into Ravilious' thoughts like the ocean through a hole in the bottom of a cardboard boat and he sank to his knees. A woman's scream snapped him out of his shoegaze and he sprang to his feet. Whoever it was screamed again, and Ravilious went running towards the sound. He skidded to a halt when he saw what was happening.
A young woman was trying to climb a tree across the quad. Ravilious recognized her as Amy, the girl that Dan had been preying on. A ring of zombies had surrounded her, with more closing in on the source of fresh meat. One of the zombies had its fingers tangled in her shoelaces and had already half-dragged her from the tree with its weight.
Ravilious considered running across the quad and chopping his way through the crowd with a shovel, but suspected that he not only wouldn't make it in time, but that he also didn't have the raw strength necessary to dig his way through a crowd of zombies.
Then he remembered what he studied in his off time.
He focused his mind and called a command to his lips, repeating it more angrily and faster each time as it took effect and the crowd began to disperse. With only one zombie to contend with, the woman dropped her other leg and viciously heel-stomped the zombie in the head. She let herself from the tree, pulled the zombie's fingers from her shoelace, and bolted away from the quad.
Ravilious wasn't quite sure why, but he dropped his shovel and ran after her. Between ragged breaths he was able to gasp commands at the zombies in her way to keep her safe.