Ravilious shot bolt upright. The grey light of dawn streamed through the institutional windows of his dorm room. He'd fallen asleep on top of his Cthulhu and Friends bedspread, around which were spread a half dozen tomes of necromancy. Dan had insisted, for the past seventy-two hours, that the pair try to figure out how to summon Arkephalous from within the pages of the Codex Nekromantia. The shivers of sleep deprivation wracked his frame as he realized what had woken him up.
Dan was laughing.
It wasn't his friendly, false laugh that he used on Amy.
Then Casimir realized that he wasn't shivering from the sleep deprivation, it was because of the coldness of Dan's laugh, like the blast of a blackened ram's horn over the prostrate, bleeding form of a fallen hero.
Dan saw that Casimir had woken up, and bounded over to him. Dan smiled, baring his teeth. None of his joy touched his eyes. He seized Ravilious by the baggy collar of his black Skull Death Guys band t-shirt.
"I found it!" Dan yelled. "I found out how to summon Arkephalous!"
"Howzzat?" Ravilious asked.
"I was flipping through the Codex and every page seemed to show me irrelevant information. I don't care how corpses are turned to skeletons by maggots spontaneously generating in the flesh! But I found it!"
Dan seized the enormous book and thrust it at Ravilious. He read.
"How to Make a Spookie Candle in Sevene Easie Steppes," Ravilious said.
"What?" Dan said. He looked at it. "No! This is exactly what it was doing earlier!"
He flipped to a random page and read the title aloud.
"On the Uselessnesse of Hippopatomus as Skeletal Steed. Thou shalt fall throughe the beast's ribcayge," Dan said. "No! Fuck!" he yelled. He threw the book down and punched a wall.
Ravilious picked it up.
"Careful now, if we wreck the book then we'll never get him out," Ravilious said.
"We'll never get him out now, either!" Dan wailed.
Ravilious turned the page.
"On the Summoning of the Book's Master, Lord Arkephalous, Master of Necromancy whose Returne is Heralded by Zombified Angels," Ravilious said aloud.
Dan stopped moaning and rolling around on his bed. He jumped at Ravilious.
"You've found it! You've found it! Give it to me!" Dan snatched the book away from Ravilious, stuck his thumb in it and ran towards his desk. He pulled out a raven's wing and flopped the book open to bookmark it. His face fell.
"What the shit?" he said. "Combatting the Free-spyrited Zombie. Where'd that other page go? The one about summoning Arkephalous? I didn't take my thumb out or anything."
"Perhaps the book will only reveal its secrets to a worthy reader," Ravilious said, as smugly as he dared.
Dan's eyes bulged out of his head.
"But I have amassed one of the greatest collections of necromantic artifacts that has been known since Deargle the Magpie moved his match collection too close to his explosive barrel collection! I have plunged into the cavernous, chilly depths of the art of death! And yet you suggest that the Codex Nekromantia would reveal its secrets to you, the shoddy tagalong, rather than myself? It would be laughable if it wasn't so insulting."
"Show me the book," Ravilious said.
Dan handed it to Ravilious along with a sneer that could've curdled the ethereal milk of an undead sow.
Ravilious removed the raven feather, closed the Codex, and re-opened it. He grinned and showed the page to Dan.
"Bullshit," Dan said.
"What's it say?" Ravilious asked.
"On the Summoning of the Book's Master, Lord Arkephalous, Master of Necromancy whose Returne is Heralded by Zombified Angels," Dan said, now looking bored. "Enough child's play. How do we do it?"
"It says: 'Take three leaves of itchy ivy, a coin stolen from a dead man's eye and a fistful of still-warm muskrat entrails, and mix the ingredients together in the skull of a man hanged. Pour in a count of sour wine. This will be the Necrotic Chalice. Stir the concoction with a rusty nail that was used to crucify a martyr. Place nine animal skulls in a circle and at the center place the Necrotic Chalice. Both necromancers will link hands over the Necrotic Chalice and chant the following incantation at the stroke of midnight on October 4th, Gregorian Calendar, in the ritual chamber prepared by Arkephalous' loyal apprentice Tobias Bosefelt. The chamber is located in one of the sub-basements of the Tobias Bosefelt Library at the University of Constantinople.' Then it has some symbols that I don't recognize," Ravilious said.
Dan glanced over Ravilious' shoulder.
"Oh, that's Ghoulish. That'll be easy. October 4th, though? That's tomorrow!" Dan said.
"Do you know where to get muskrat entrails?" Ravilious asked. "Or the coin stolen from a dead man's eye?"
"I wonder if muskrats are like raccoons," Dan said. "I used to capture and kill raccoons all the time, I probably haven't lost my skill."
Ravilious looked aghast.
"Well, nevermind, raccoon entrails aren't the hard part," Dan said, running his finger down the list. "And except for the itchy ivy I have the rest of this lot in my trunk," he said. He opened it and pulled out a human skull that hadn't been cleaned very well. He handed it to Ravilious, who hastily put it down on Dan's bed. Dan then handed Ravilious an ancient, corroded penny and a small bag full of raccoon skulls.
"Should be nine in there. I have more if we need them," Dan said. "We'll need fresh entrails still. And I assume that he means poison ivy. There's a nice big thicket of that in the garden next to the biology annex. I should know," he said, scratching his arm.
"What about the wine?" Ravilious asked.
"That will be a problem."
"I can't believe that you don't have any. Aren't you twenty-one?"
Dan shook his head. "My birthday is in November. Do you know anybody who would buy you some?"
"No, I don't go out to parties," he said. "I've been working on my craft!"
"Well, no matter," Dan said. "I'll go out and find some chick to buy us some tonight. Meanwhile, you catch the muskrats. Or raccoons. I think raccoons will be okay."
Ravilious paused. "I don't want to go catch raccoons," he said, thinking of the raccoon that he used to watch from his bedroom window instead of focusing on whatever necromantic tome had happened to be open in front of him.
"You think that you could go seduce us a girl to buy some wine?" Dan asked. "We're running on a tight deadline. Listen, go out to Beefy Joe's, buy a barbecue beef sandwich and put part of it into a few traps. I'd try near the student union dumpsters."
Ravilious found himself lugging a large cage behind the student union, feeling sick in his stomach as he baited the trap and feeling sick to his heart as he heard the rustles of its victim enjoying its last meal. As the first rays of the sun rose, he carried the cages back to the dorm and smuggled it up past the snoring guard. Dan rolled into the room a little while later. He tossed a bottle of wine on the bed.
"Only seventeen hours until we change the world! I gotta take a shower," Dan said, winking at Ravilious. Ravilious didn't reply, he just sat on the edge of his bed and gave more of the barbecue beef sandwich to the raccoon. He glanced at Thantos, who seemed to judge him with his shiny black eyes.
"I'm sorry, but what can I do? It's for my craft!" Ravilious said, convincing the gerbil about as well as he'd convinced himself.
"Talking to yourself is the first sign of madness," Dan said.
"I was talking to Thantos," Ravilious said.
Dan snorted and headed out of the room to take his shower. He returned, toweling off his short hair.
"So where are we going to slaughter the raccoon?"
"In the library. But first, do you know how to read Ghoulish?" Dan asked, smiling. Ravilious was beginning to hate it when Dan smiled.
"No," Ravilious asked.
"Neither do I," Dan said, his eyes twinkling. "No living man can."
"Then how are we supposed to chant the incantation?" Ravilious asked. He would never admit it to anybody besides Thantos, but he was feeling hopeful that their task might be impossible to complete.
"We won't. We will use a surrogate. Ghoulish can be chanted on behalf of a living necromancer if he kills a man, cuts out the victim's eyes, places them on a page with the written incantation, and then pushes air into and out of his lungs. So all we have to do before midnight tonight is kill a man," Dan said.