Monday, February 11, 2019

Enjoy Chapter Three of The Cheapery St. Heroes!

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The Necromancer

LORD KRIRANKOS ZANNIX descended the tower stairs like the spectre of death. He glided more than stepped, his footfalls inaudible. At the bottom waited his assistant, Ajax.
“Did you sleep well, Master?” asked the small man, offering a simpering smile.
“Very good, Master, very good.”
He made his way toward the dining hall. Ajax tagged annoyingly along.
“Do you not have duties to perform?” he asked more politely than he usually would. But he had slept well last night, and he enjoyed his work, and was looking forward to getting back to it. A little leeway to his underling seemed apropos.
“There … there is a small problem, Master …” said Ajax in a voice to match his stature.
Krirankos stopped. He glowered down at the little man, who shrank even more.
What problem?” he demanded. The emphasis on “what” made his assistant squirm.
“The zombies, Master … they … well, some … it’s hard to say … some … that is to say … Gjojerius says …”
“Out with it!”
His bright mood was gone.
Ajax cowered.
“Brains … they’re very high in calories, Master. Gjojerius says … well, some of the zombies are … well, they’re getting quite fat, Master.”
He ate his breakfast, snarling the entire time. His household staff worked quietly around him, seeing to his needs, until he roared at them to leave him alone, whereupon they scampered out of the vast dining room.
As he stared down the long table, he considered the many problems he’d faced raising a zombie army.
First was the matter of finding a sufficient number of corpses to reanimate. He started by offering money to living relatives of the interred by means of signs posted on the doors to churches at surrounding villages:
He had some takers, but not nearly enough, which surprised him, for most villagers were quite poor, even destitute. He thought they’d jump at the chance to earn easy money.
Bribing the villages’ officials came next. When that didn’t work, he tried reasoning with them. “Reasoning with them” meant, of course, the threat of horrific death.
Those tactics proved much more successful.
When the villagers who’d chosen to remain poor instead of getting paid learned that their relatives’ bodies were removed anyway, they strung up the officials and, wielding torches and pitchforks, came to burn his castle to the ground.
He tried to reassure them that their dearly departed were being treated respectfully. But mobs, as mobs are wont to do, wouldn’t listen.
Which was a mixed blessing. Because he was still quite short of bodies, and mobs by definition are full of them, albeit in the wrong condition.
Which was remedied shortly after.
Not that he enjoyed taking life, he considered as he shoveled scrambled eggs into his mouth. But they were more than willing to end his, not to mention his innocent household staff and his not so innocent but hardworking assistants. He took umbrage at that. After all, what was their actual beef? He’d returned any personal effects the corpses had on their persons; he needed only their bodies! No one ever visited their dead relatives anyway, so what was the big deal?
He snorted in derision and took an impatient sip of orange juice.
He got nothing for his efforts at civility and kindness but those angry torch-wielding mobs.
In the end it was six of one, half a dozen of the other, so in a way it all worked out. He sent Ajax and Gjojerius to retrieve the bodies of the mob-executed officials, which was a small consolation bonus.
He had the unanimated corpses preserved and stacked in the dungeon, where the still cold served to keep them fresh. Over many months he garnered enough of them to constitute a small army of the undead. Things started looking up.
The means for reanimating dead flesh were ready to go. So were the means to grow a constant supply of brains in an adjacent lab. He’d worked on that formula for years.
One by one he began zombifying the corpses. As per his unheard but oft-repeated promise to the villagers, he kept them (many of whom were former villagers) in large, spacious cages deeper down, ones built specially for them, with padding over the cold stone walls and fresh straw at their feet, which made clean-up easy if one dropped a body part, which occasionally happened. Occasionally one would simply fall apart completely, and Ajax or Gjojerius would have to wade in there and get it, armored against attack. The phenomenon came to be known as LHS: “loose hamburger syndrome,” a term he dreaded hearing, for it meant that another undead soldier had been lost.
And now this problem. Fat zombies.
Was there a way to grow a fat-free brain, one that could still deliver the necessary calories to the zombies without taking away from the taste? Would they know the difference?
He finished his toast, wiped his mouth, and stood. He angrily tossed his napkin on the table.
A fat zombie army simply would not do. If he wanted to rain a horrifying and ravenous zombie apocalypse down upon his enemies, then his undead throngs would have to be trim and fit.
He made his way down the steps towards the dungeon, resolve firmly in hand. He was determined to make this a good day, despite this latest challenge.
It turned out to a much bigger challenge than he expected.
The zombies refused at first to eat the products of his efforts. He managed to grow brains with only half the calories and fat as normal ones, but they had a weird industrial smell and were a bit runny and green to boot. The undead would sniff at them with interest, then heave them at the wall, moaning and groaning and stumbling about in anguish. No good.
He managed to remove all the fat, but to make up for the lost calories he had to add various expeller-pressed oils and something Gjojerius came up with called “xanthan gum,” along with processed salts, dyes, monosodium glutamate, and corn syrup. Many of the province’s farmers were more than happy to sell him the corn syrup, making a pretty penny in the bargain.
At first it appeared he had met with great success. The zombies loved the fat-free brains, despite the fact that they looked plastic. But against all his studies proclaiming otherwise, they got even fatter. Some started looking like undead bowling balls. Loose hamburger syndrome became more commonplace. Some got so fat that instead of falling apart they exploded, wiping out many others in the process. This came to be known as catastrophic hamburger syndrome (CHS). It took days to clean up the mess. Several zombies exploded on a single night in the same pen, a chain reaction that ended up wiping out almost a hundred undead and compromising the castle’s foundation, which had to be shored up at enormous expense.
He needed to find a solution quickly.
He started using all-natural ingredients and removing the corn syrup, which greatly upset the farmers, who showed up wielding torches and pitchforks, which worked out nicely, as it made it easy for him to replenish the lost stock. The new farmers he bought the all-natural ingredients from appreciated his business, and he liked them better. They treated their livestock like he endeavored to treat his zombies: not as production units in a faceless factory, but as living (or, in his case, unliving) beings worthy of at least a modicum of respect.
He found that if he sliced his all-natural brains thinly and baked them at a high temperature, then gave them a light coating of sea salt (another new and profitable alliance formed with the sea salt miners on the coast), the brains became very light and crispy, which overcame another hurdle, as brains in their natural state were heavy and spoiled very quickly, making them difficult to transport into battle.
The zombies loved them. He put his organic brain-chips in colorful bags, which they tore apart with moaning, stumbling glee. Eventually he flavored them further and gave them exciting names: “Zesty BBQ,” “Nacho Cheese,” “Luscious Lime and Pepper,” “Jalapeno Cortex,” and, just the other day, a new one: “Cinnamon Synapse Sinfulness.” He knew the zombies didn’t bother to read the bags (could they read? That might suggest a future experiment!) before tearing them open, but that didn’t concern him. He took data on their favorite—either “Nacho Cheese” or “Zesty BBQ”—and then had Ajax and Gjojerius weigh them.
Success! The zombies weren’t gaining weight. Some were actually losing weight! He investigated and found that those who were consuming the most of “Jalapeno Cortex” were the ones losing weight. He started adding hot spices to the other blends.
Ajax and Gjojerius complained that the zombies were now getting diarrhea and farting endlessly, but he ignored them. He was finally achieving success. To reward their patience and hard work, he hired several out-of-work locals to help keep the pens clean.
Things were coming together for Krirankos Zannix. He was finally ready to mobilize his zombie army.