Ravilious stared at the pavement in the center of a mob of zombies that clogged the intersection of Maison Avenue and Arkle Street. He couldn't keep pace with Amy. He'd have been busy kicking himself, but that would require the breath that he was working to catch. For a moment, he wondered if he might die. Maybe he was so out of breath that the contractions of his diaphragm were gobbling up the oxygen in his blood just as much as his legs, which burned as hotly and felt like they contained as much rubber as a tire fire.
Each time the zombies would close in, he'd freak out enough to gasp the word of command to keep them away.
Amy was fast. The intersection of Maison and Arkle sat next to one of the arterial expressways that engorged Constantinople with workers every weekday morning. Arkle normally crossed the expressway by a short span of bridge, but the bridge was being renovated. She'd been in the intersection while Ravilious was still coming out of the alley that he'd chased her down, a block away, and by time he caught up she'd run down the onramp, hopped over the zombies and flaming cars on the expressway, and he'd seen her running up the other side.
Ravilious put his hand over his heart and felt it beating through his black robes. He'd dropped the shovel some distance back.
So much for following directions.
At least he wouldn't have an impact on the spread of the zombie curse. Arkephalous had wanted him to dig up corpses on the eastern most side of the city, in Le Jardin, as a way to form a decayed pincer on the populace. With the density of the population and the burn rate of the curse his task was useless.
Plus, neither Dan nor Arkephalous would realize that he was too scared to follow through. This way he was a good member of the team - he wanted to put his effort to good use, not go mucking about with a shovel.
Ravilious trekked back to the University of Constantinople at a much more moderate pace than he'd left it. He made his way back to the Bosefelt Library, dodging the zombies that struggled with the stairs.
Arkephalous and Dan were emerging from the stairs to the sub-basement, where they had summoned Arkephalous. The pair argued with the intensity of a pair of rival academics. They stopped when they saw the sweaty, disheveled form of Ravilious at the top of the stairs.
"You're a better digger than you are a necromancer if you're back that quickly," Dan said.
Ravilious scowled. He turned to Arkephalous. "The zombies have already penetrated the city, my lord. I don't think that there is a need for me to waste my talents on exhuming a set of long-rotten corpses."
Arkephalous considered this. "But if a rescue is mounted by way of Le Lac, we will want to have our forces arrayed to meet them."
"But the only way into Le Lac was the Constantinople River, and that is no more, my lord," Dan said. "It dried up over a century ago. The other side of the shore are sheer cliffs."
"There is the Plug to consider," Arkephalous said. "We will open the Path Fantastic between Earth and Orb, and they will no doubt send a crowd of emissaries with pikes and crossbows."
"There is plenty to be had here on earth. Plenty of people, plenty of wealth, plenty of power. Do you really consider it worthwhile to open the Plug?" Dan asked. "My lord," he added, as an afterthought.
"My apprentice," Arkephalous said, his voice rattling from his dry lungs like a stiff wind blowing a skull over pointy rocks, "my magic, our magic, will eventually wither and die if the Plug is not opened. Our supply here is finite. Already I feel choked and suffocated, not like it used to be back in the days before the Plug sealed us off. The magic wants to be let in, and this universe wants to consume it. Entropy. Earth sits in the only universe with entropy. I can sense the Plug, the increasing vacuum pulling against it, and the pressure on the other side pushing against it."
"We should be able to just rip it open, right?" Ravilious asked, his curiosity piqued despite the ends to which the answers would be used.
"The Council of the Gray may be filled with my enemies, but any enemy of mine that still draws breath cannot be stupid," Arkephalous said. "From within my prison, I was still able to sense their spells. They have made it impervious to my most powerful necromantic spells. My words of power that can make entire armies of men senesce before they assume battle formation and be crushed beneath the weight of their armor, that can turn the flower of youthful vigor to the twilight of life, that can wither the very timbers of any ship of the line, they are useless against the Plug."
Arkephalous ran his tongue, gray and stiff from decay, over his green, patchy lips.
"But they did not consider breaking the Plug by using up theambient magic on of Earth so that the pressure from Orb would have no choice but to break through the Plug as the magic levels attempted to equalize," Arkephalous said.
"That's amazing," Ravilious said, who hadn't blinked while Arkephalous spoke. Arkephalous nodded. Dan rolled his eyes behind Arkephalous' back.
"But please, my apprentice, we have left our equipment down in the cellar. Please fetch it for us," Arkephalous said, "then join us in the, what did you call it?" Arkephalous asked Dan.
"The food court over in the student union," Dan said. "And don't drop any of my shit, worm," he hissed at Ravilious.
Ravilious' head swam. He might be able to see Orb! All of the magical tomes that he'd read over the years referenced it. Despite the bad attitudes of many of the necromancers who authored the tomes, the beauty of the vistas in Orb demanded proper reverence, even from those who would seek to despoil them. Dragons on the wing over the crystal crags of the western mountains fluttered in front of Ravilious' eyes as he entered the sub-basement where the ritual had taken place.
The stench hit Ravilious and smacked him out of his trance. He almost slipped on a pancreas. Or what he thought was a pancreas - he'd had to leave the room when his biology class had gotten to animal anatomy.
Bits and pieces of the goth kids, some still wrapped in tattered cloth, littered the floor. Blood had been splashed on the walls and dripped down the concrete in long, thin lines. Dan had been quite busy while Ravilious had been chasing Amy.
Ravilious struggled to keep his eyes on the books that had been put on the table. Even Dan hadn't been careless enough to splash gore across the ancient tomes. He grabbed a bag and turned to the top tome.
It was the Codex Nekromantia.
Ravilious looked from the body parts, some still leaking blood, to the Codex.
What if he got to Orb and this was all that he saw?
After a moment of hesitation, he put the Codex into the bag and ran out of the sub-basement so fast that if he'd done it earlier, he would've easily out-paced Amy.
Over in the student union, Arkephalous set down a plastic forkful of soggy fried chicken on top of a piece of unenthusiastic lettuce.
Dan continued to talk, and he didn't even notice when Arkephalous tilted one of his tattered ears into the air as if he heard a distant noise on the wind.