Ravilious lounged on his Cthulhu and Friends bedspread, his books strewn across the applique tentacles of the Ancient One. A quiet strain of the composer Haydn drifted out of his aging laptop speakers while he flipped through a history of the Order of Oculus. His lips moved as he read.
"The group was founded in Constantinople, Illinois by Herbert Malinox, following the thread of spiritualism established in his youth by his parents' association with theosophy."
Ravilious licked his lips. That's why, out of all of the universities where he'd been accepted, including the hated Crumper School of Business, where his parents sent an application without his permission, he'd demanded to go to the University of Constantinople, and in whose dorms he now studied.
Ravilious had actually been surprised that he'd been able to bully his parents into sending him to the UofC rather than Crumper. Then again, he had a higher purpose for going here, so the resolve hadn't been all his own. Who knows what dark secrets lurked in the library, rumored to be one of the biggest collections of occult literature between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Perhaps their voices had given him the strength to stand up to his parents.
That and perhaps his parents realized that a diploma from the University of Constantinople had a certain cachet. Ddn't they know plenty of people who'd gone from unproductive careers like fine arts or engineering into productive ones like hedge fund managers and day traders?
Somebody knocked on the door. Ravilious' eyes wandered to the empty bed in his dorm room. A nagging dread tugged at his mind.
I requested a single, Ravilious thought. I checked all the right boxes. I play loud music. I stay up all night. I am a loud snorer. I wear all black and am one of those freaky kids that everybody hates.
Ravilious got up and opened the door.
Ravilious liked black. He wore black quite religiously. So religiously, in fact, that most of his had faded to grey. The boy that stood before him was in new black. It sucked all the light out from Ravilious' eyeballs and stank of new fabric.
"Who are you?" Ravilious asked.
"What are you doing in my room?" the boy said. He was a few years older than Ravilious and while Ravilious knew that his chin could only muster a handful of whiskers and shaved them off, this boy either didn't know or didn't care.
He brushed past Ravilious and dropped his bags in the middle of the floor.
"Who are you?" Ravilious asked again.
"I'm apparently your roommate. Room 665. Not sure how that happened since I play loud music and stay up all night." He pulled out a compass. "Move your stuff to the other side of the room. I have to sleep in the eastern most bed."
"I checked the ley lines, thaumatic charts, and cast a series of obsidian stones that informed me that I must be towards the east," the boy said. "Also, the window looks like it'll just blast the sun into my eyes if I'm on the other side of the room. C'mon, chip chop, move your stuff."
"Why should I have to move?"
"Because I have to have the easternmost bed. And I'm older than you." He sneered at Ravilious' bedsheets. "Cthulhu and Friends? Are you twelve?"
Ravilious' face flushed and, thoroughly embarrassed by this stranger, moved all of his things over to the other side of the room. He tried not to look at the stain on the mattress and hoped that it was only mustard.
The next morning, Ravilious left the room bleary-eyed. He'd gotten two non-consecutive minutes of sleep. The boy did, indeed, play extremely loud music. He preferred the Musty Kids and Slippery Cellar Stairs, two decent bands, but at the end he threw some Coffins Slamming on Fingers in the stereo, which was a noisecore goth metal band that made the echoing rasp emanating from the boy'y nose when he finally nodded off at dawn sound like Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
Ravilious marched into the Housing Department.
"We matched you with a young man by the name of Dan Knight due to your matched musical preferences and sleep schedules."
"Oh, is that his name? He never even introduced himself. He just waltzed into the room and made me switch sides and-"
"Well, give it a try. The semester hasn't even started yet. If he continues to generate friction see your RA. That's what they're there for."
Later that day, while Dan was busy on his sleek black computer, covered in skull stickers, Ravilious tried to make small talk.
"So, Dan, what do you study here?"
Dan whirled in his chair like he was an out-of-control record and narrowed his eyes.
"What difference does it make?" he asked.
"Well, just that if we're going to be in the same room together, we could at least be friends."
"Friends?" Dan said. "I don't have friends. I have minions."
Somebody knocked on the door.
"Ah, there's one now."
Dan removed the smirk on his face and replaced it with a look that, if placed next to that of a sad orphan puppy sitting in the rain outside of a biscuit store, would've resulted in a large pile of soggy biscuits in front of Dan and none in front of the puppy.
"Oh Dan, what's wrong?" asked a girl as she walked into the room. She was about as tall as Ravilious, but rather than a weedy sort of shortness like Ravilious, she had a glow about her unlike Ravilious had ever seen. Bright blue eyes shone from beneath the silky blonde ringlets of her hair.
Dan heaved a sigh.
"Hi, Amy. My aunt died last week."
"Oh, Dan!" she said, flinging herself at him. Dan winked at Ravilious over her shoulder while he pointed a finger at her bra strap. A tiny flash of green flickered from his fingertip.
Amy pushed away from Dan and he instantly had the sad face again. "I'm sorry, what did you just do?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Amy eyed him suspiciously, but then her face relaxed. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Dan, I'm so sorry. Will you be okay while I run back home?"
"I think so," Dan said, his voice quivering. After Amy had left, Dan grinned at Ravilious.
"So," Ravilious said, "are you going to show me the finger trick or am I going to have to tell Amy what a shithead you are?"
Dan's face turned into a frown.
"What are you talking about?"
"Your aunt didn't actually die."
"Oh yes she did," Dan said.
"Yeah. That's why I was late to school. It's kind of ironic that I was delayed because of a death," Dan replied.
"Oh, nothing," Dan said, sitting back down at his computer.
"My gerbil died," Ravilious said. "It was ironic because his name was Thantos."
Dan spun in his chair. "You had a gerbil named after the Greek god of death?"
"You're a weirdo," Dan said, then paused. "But I guess I am too for knowing that. Why did you name him Thantos?"
"Because when I got him, and you'll think that this sounds silly, I was really interested in necromancy. You know, the magic of death."
Dan rolled his eyes and turned back to his computer.
"But I was able to resurrect him."
Dan's typing paused. He spun back around. Ravilious pointed to a small gerbil cage on his desk.
"I'll bet you don't believe me," Ravilious said.
"I do," Dan said, gesturing at his books, which Ravilious hadn't really noticed before. He scanned the titles.
"You have a copy of the Mortis Noctum?" Ravilious said, unable to keep the surprise from his voice.
Dan spun around and plucked the bland, unlabelled volume from the shelf. The only way that Ravilious could recognize it was from the brown symbol on the tan canvas - purportedly colored by the blood of a printer who fell into the ink vat. He handed it to Ravilious, who took it with the sort of reverence usually held for much less vile texts.
"It is the Mortis Noctum!" Ravilious said, carefully flipping the pages. He set it down on his bedspread. "I should get some gloves or something so that my hand oils don't ruin it."
Dan waved his hand. "Don't worry about it. I have two other copies."
Ravlious goggled. "I thought they were all in museums."
"Is this where you learned that finger trick?"
Dan shook his head. "The Mortis Noctum is fascinating enough for theory, but it doesn't really have any of the pragmatics. Moreover, it doesn't have the power. I've been doing research into necromancy," Dan said. "The reason some of this stuff works and some of it doesn't is because only a few of the books have any power left in them."
Ravilious' ears pricked up. Dan had obviously spent at least as much time with this stuff as he had - maybe more.
"The magic all used to leak into our world through portals into an alternate Earth named Orb. It seems like there was something like a pressure differential that forced the magic into our world. One of the main portals was named The Path Fantastic and existed near Constantinople. I'm not sure where exactly, but it was sealed after the Corpse Wars, when the great and terrible Arkephalous fielded an army to conquer Earth, known as Globe among the learned."
"Arkephalous disappeared as the forces of Globe mechanized their armies and brought tanks and airplanes to bear on his forces, for he expected an infantry-based land war. The soldiers that entered his fortress at Ict Lihis found no sign of him. The Council of the Gray - not necessary the most powerful wizards in Orb, but definitely the most political - deliberated for some time until they decided that the Path Fantastic, and all portals like it between Globe and Orb would be sealed off after his books, artifacts, equipment and even the stones of his fortress were broken and deposited onto Globe, where they've festered for this long."
"There are signs that the seal on the path is weakening, despite the assurances of the Council of the Gray that it would remain permanent. I've found the Mortis Noctum. I've read the secret tracts of Alastair Crowley describing his battles with the necromancers who pretended to be denizens of Globe and who assembled the shattered pieces of Arkephalous' empire. They all point to Arkephalous hiding himself inside of a book."
"The Codex Nekromantia," Ravilious breathed.
Dan's ears pricked up and Ravilious realized that Dan had probably come to the University of Constantinople for the same reasons that he had: to find the Codex. Ravilious willed his eyes not to jump to the backpack sitting next to his bed. Every fiber of his being had been taut with the desire to read it since he'd found it in a hidden corner of the library and now he had to conceal it from his roommate.
"Yes, the Codex Nekromantia, the greatest tome of necromantic power ever written by human hands. Quite frankly, I'm surprised that Arkephalous used that to hide in and not a book with a lower profile, but then he was the most feared necromancer in known history. To cower wouldn't have been his style. Do you know where the Codex is reputed to be?"
Dan pointed at the floor. "Right here. At the University of Constantinople. I've searched high and low. I've hung out with those weirdos in the urban exploration club and almost been caught in the abandoned steam tunnels searching for it. That's why I had to learn these parlor tricks, to keep from being expelled. Lugging these books for their meager scraps of magical power wasn't very good use of my time, but necessary."
"It's supposed to be here?" Ravilious asked, trying to act for the first time since he played a tree in an over-ambitious production of Hamlet in third grade.
"Yes. The last owner was the provost. Of course, he was a loon, but a loon with a terrific book collection. Tobias T. Bosefelt."
"The namesake of the library?"
"Yes. Donated his entire collection, including his autographed copy of Mein Kampf. I found that - it's in one of the sub-basements, in a locked vault. Although the lock isn't much. You wouldn't believe how far down those basements go. I think I made it down to the 7th sub basement. The library's like an iceberg, most of it's beneath the surface. In fact, how would you like to go looking for the Codex? I'd be a lot more comfortable taking someone else with me, and the rest of these Globies don't understand what I'm doing."
"The small-minded turds that live on Globe. Do we have a deal?"
"Absolutely," Ravilious said.