Ravilious and Dan walked across the campus and up the grand, sweeping entranceway to the Bosefelt Library. It was a limestone monstrosity built in the Gothic mode. Hideous gargoyles perched on gutters, their skin bearing a green copper patina. Tall, narrow windows build like arrow slits girded the towers that stretched towards a disappointingly blue, clear sky.
Ravilious had intended to break into the library after-hours, but Dan had pointed out that there was no need.
"We'll go in before closing and hide in one of the sub-basements. The librarians can't possibly check the whole place every night. The library would re-open before they finished."
So instead of wearing tight-fitting black clothes in the mode of a ninja or super secret agent, Ravilious just wore his normal baggy black clothes that looked like melting black wax puddled around his legs and hands.
Dan led them through the grand entrance way of the library. A long, spiky chandelier that looked like the architect had swiped it off the spear of a titan hung overhead. As the pair descended down the marble steps that took them into the archives, Ravilious shivered. Their footsteps fell in time with his heart, and their hollow, soprano ticking against the cold stone mimicked each shallow beat. Ravilious had a fleeting sensation of being swallowed.
They found a corridor that had been abandoned long ago, sandwiched at an awkward angle between two stacks, and sat down in the thick dust to wait. They waited. And waited. And waited somemore.
"Five minutes," Dan said, checking his jet black pocket watch. As he said this, a librarian appeared from out of the stacks. She wore a pile of jangly jewelry, and despite the oppressive silence they had heard her make a sound until she'd opened her mouth to chastize Dan and Ravilious.
"It is closing time in ten minutes," the librarian said.
"We're just finishing up, may we have a few more minutes?" Dan asked.
"You have five. I'll be back."
The librarian didn't walk away so much as dematerialize.
"Come on, let's go deeper into the library. They'll be keeping an eye on us now."
"I don't know," Ravilious said, his palms sweating wildly. "I don't want to get in trouble."
"It'll be fine," Dan said. He led them down several flights of stairs. The books became dustier and their colors paler. The ceilings descended from high and vaulted to low and shambling. Ravilious had the uncomfortable sensation that he was being swallowed by the library as they'd gone into the first set of sub-basements. Now he felt as if he was surfing along the duodenum. The shelving material changed from Eisenhower steel to Wilson wood. Dan sat down in front of a shelf devoted to phrenology textbooks.
"There. They won't come down this far to find-"
"Hello, gentlemen," said the librarian from earlier, emerging from a row of stacks. Ravilious, startled, would've leapt into the air if there'd been enough room. Dan looked bored. Together, they were hustled out of the library and expelled into the humid October night. It clung to them the same way that the ambient bugs clung to the unexpected extensions to their lives as the Midwest continued to cook with the residual heat of summer.
"Dammit," Dan said, as they walked back to their dorm.
"How did she do that?" Ravilious asked.
"Remnants of magic are still trapped in the books. It's like on gigantic battery. It's discharging, but that much energy takes a looooong time to cash itself. The woman doesn't even realize that she's tapping in."
As they walked away from the library, the air cooled.
"See?" Dan said. "Did you ever wonder why the library wasn't covered in snow except during the coldest winter days?"
"No, I haven't been here over the winter yet," Ravilious replied.
"Oh. Right. Freshman. Well, it doesn't get covered in snow. It results in some bigass bugs lurking in the bushes, though, since the frost doesn't kill them. I'm glad we didn't encounter any in those sub-basements." Dan shuddered. "We're going to have to do our searching during the day and hope that we can sneak the Codex Nekromantia out somehow."
Ravilious was glad that he'd found it so easily.
"And of course, we'll only find it if the Codex wants to be found. It's a wily tome, some say it is sentient and self-aware. If it contains the instructions to summon Arkephalous from his self-imposed prison, I suppose it would have to. It's the only one of its kind and Arkephalous wouldn't want it to be burned by some overzealous fearmongers who are terrified of what he represents. He represents freedom from death, why would you be afraid of that?"
"Yes! Freedom from the tyranny of death."
"No, I meant regular tyranny. Didn't he conquer a vast empire with his undead servants?"
"Yeah, but he didn't kill a soul. Well, he didn't kill a soul that he didn't proceed to revive."
Ravilious wondered whether it was really worthwhile to be revived as an eviscerated corpse, or as a deformed, rotting ghoul bound to service Arkephalous for eternity, but those thoughts rapidly decayed as they went into the dorm elevator and they ran into Amy, the girl from earlier.
"Oh, hello, Amy," Dan said. "Looking for me?"
"No, I'm meeting a friend for help on that biology lab. My specimens keep dying so she's going to let me copy her results."
"I could let you copy my results," Dan said.
"Thanks, but didn't you miss that lab because of, you know, your aunt?" Amy asked.
"Oh. Right, of course."
"Anyway, she's got me covered. Thanks, though," Amy said. The elevator stopped, and Amy stepped off into the hallway.
"So, do you want to get together later on? Maybe watch a movie? Take your mind off of, you know, your aunt?"
"Absolutely. Just come by my room."
When they got back to the room, Dan flopped on his bed.
"It's a shame that we couldn't get it tonight," he said.
"Definitely. I feel like that would have everything that we need in it," Ravilious said, self-consciously fighting to keep from glancing at his bag.
Dan reached under his bed and pulled out a box as long as Ravilious' arm. It was covered in a bright red leather. Or Ravilious thought it was leather, it didn't really look like any kind that he had seen before.
"Do you know what this is?" he asked.
Ravilious shook his head.
"It's quite a fascinating artifact," Dan said. He opened the box to reveal a silk lining the color of flesh. The weaver had even included threads that looked like veins and arteries. Sitting in the center were two sharpened pieces of obsidian lashed to handles of bone. Dan picked up the larger of the two and set the box aside. He hefted it.
The instrument looked evil, and Ravilious gulped.
"That isn't a box," Dan continued, gesturing with his hand while he kept his eyes focused on the shiny black blade that shone with flecks of white as a million facets caught and released the photons from the flourescent lights overhead. "It's Gorgel's Forearm."
"I don't believe you," Ravilious said. "You've gotta be lying to me."
"Come take a look if you don't believe me," Dan said.
Ravilious stood up and went to the box. The leather - actually, living skin - was warm. He opened the box and did not feel metal hinges, but instead flaps of stiff, demon leather skin. The veins and arteries in the box throbbed.
"Oh my god," Ravilious said.
"That's right. Gorgel, the only demon to ever master the craft of necromancy. Gorgel, the demon who was shunned from his family for his power. Gorgel, the demon who, upon death, had his remains turned into weapons and distributed to his lieutenants so that they may continue to wage war upon the demons who exiled him. Obsidian, which means "our bones" in the demonic tongues. It's the only common word that the dialects have. And I'm afraid that has exhausted my knowledge of demon society and also my patience with you for hiding the Codex from me."
Dan's hand shot out and seized Ravilious by the collar. He pressed the edge of Gorgel's Ulna against Ravilious' neck. Ravilious tried to yell out in surprise but it forced his skin against the blade even harder, so he choked it back.
"Listen, you piece of shit," Dan said, his eyes suddenly wide and bloodshot like those of a wounded animal. "When we were in the library I availed myself of the ambience, shall we say, of the built-up magical energy and cast a little spell that I cooked up to detect when shitbags lie to me. It told me that you are a shitbag that is lying to me. Where's the Codex?"
Ravilious struggled to talk without the ragged edge biting further into his skin. It didn't hurt - the adrenaline had taken care of that. But the adrenaline had also sent his imagination out of control with scenes of decapitation if Dan so much as sneezed. Ravilious wished for a split second that it would hurt so that he'd have a nice pleasant distraction from what scurried through his head.
"Bullshit!" Dan screamed, pushing his whole body forward towards Ravilious. Ravilious' vision filled with a furious Dan and a trickle of warm blood leaked out from behind the knife.
"In the bag under my bed," Ravilious said, and Dan immediately flew to Ravilious' bed while Ravilious himself sagged in defeat, a hand clamped on his neck.
Dan pulled the bag out and dumped it on the bed and there fell the Codex.
"Years of searching," he whispered, "to find the Master's tome, the trove of his greatest secrets."
Ravilious slumped to the floor and held a dirty sock to his neck.
"What are you looking so glum about?" Dan asked, noticing Ravilious.
Ravilious squinted at Dan.
"What? That scratch on your neck? Listen, you win some, you lose some. You just have to be a bigger bastard than the other guy. That's how you climb to the top: on the heads of your inferiors."
Someone knocked on the door.
"Goddammit," Dan whispered. He shot a look of warning at Ravilious. Then he grabbed his nose between his thumb and forefinger and tried to blow air through it, making his face ruddy and his eyes puffy. A moment later a tear ran down his cheek. He answered the door.
"Oh my!" said Amy from the hallway.
"I-i-i don't think that I can hang out tonight," Ravilious heard Dan say.
"Are you sure?"
"Y-y-yes. I'm talking to my family back home."
"Oh, okay. Sorry to bother you. Please feel better."
Ravilious heard the smack of a kiss. He wanted to hear the smack of his fist on Dan's nose, but that thought melted as soon as Dan returned.
Ravilious pushed himself up onto his bed while Dan paged through the Codex, uttering small squeaks of surprise and delight. Ravilious wanted to leave, but the necromancer in him wanted to stay. The Codex had been confusing to read. Some pages gave thorough explanations of necromantic principles, like the steps to make a Hand of Glory or categories of graveyards and the proper methods of desecration for each, but other pages would read like they were pulled out of a different book and jabbed into the center of the tome.
Ravilious piped up. "Did you get to the recipe on shortbread biscuits?"
Dan frowned. "How much blood did you lose?"
"I mean, when I was reading that it would show me incongruous pages. I found five pages from a Jane Austen novel in there. Pride and Prejudice turned out to be good when I read it afterwards, but at the time Mr. Darcy just seemed like a bastard."
Dan laughed, a high-pitched and hollow staccato.
"The Codex won't divulge its secrets to any old globie that walks along. As you judge a book, so the Codex judges you back, and conceals its secrets from the unworthy."
"I saw some of the secrets," Ravilious mumbled.
"Indicating that you are walking the necessary path, but are still are not very advanced. I will teach you what is necessary if you agree to apprentice yourself to me."
Ravilious scowled and crossed his arms.
"But you tried to kill me," he said.
"No," Dan said, all concern and patience, "I tried to scare you. If I had wanted to kill you then we would've be having this conversation. Now, I have to study the Codex. Go get me a orange soda, apprentice."
"But I can help you-"
"...by getting me an orange soda!"
Ravilious wavered for a moment, then stood up.
"I'll get you your orange soda, but I'm not your apprentice," Ravilious said, sticking out his chin as he left.