The Lord Baltrog was happy. He was standing on the Seatorn lighthouse watching the hated city being torn apart by its own dead. The kraken attack had been wonderful, really a great display of destruction, but hearing the screams of terror echo across the water to where he was standing was fulfilling in a way that even he had not expected.
And it would only get better. The sun was beginning to set. The darkness would bring new terror to the citizens of Seatorn. And as the undead claimed more victims, those victims themselves would become undead. The growth of zombies would be exponential. In a couple of hours, virtually the entire city would be peopled with the undead. And then Baltrog would cease to animate them and they could collapse to the ground. The only sound he expected to hear from the city come the morning would be the happy cawing of crows feasting on corpses. Then he would walk through the city, dispatching any survivors who happened to make it through the night, and finally he would burn the place to the ground. And finally he would collapse the entire city in upon itself, eradicating it from the earth.
The only thing that stopped Baltrog from being completely happy was Grimestoke. The gnome was whimpering about the wound in his hand. It was really very selfish. Baltrog had waited ten years for this day, and now his pleasure was being tempered by the whining of his factotum. If he did not need the little man to run the augmenter, well, he would have kicked him off the lighthouse some hours ago. But as it was, the snivelling creature had to be endured. It was his machine that made it possible for Baltrog to animate so many dead. But really, he could be quiet.
The gnome shuffled over to Baltrog, clutching his wounded hand.
“Perhaps a healing spell, my lord?” asked Grimestoke, his face shiny with the sweat of pain.
Baltrog sighed. “I don’t do healing,” he said. “Just grin and bear it. In silence.”
Grimestoke gave Baltrog a dark look that the sorcerer did not deign to acknowledge, then went back to work on the augmenter. It was a surprisingly small machine that focused Baltrog’s necromantic powers and spread them over a wide geographic area. With it Baltrog could animate hundreds, perhaps thousands, of corpses, and do it with the nonchalant ease that he would animate single corpse.
Yes, it was a marvelous invention, and yes, Grimestoke had been a valuable assistant, but after Seatorn was destroyed, would he really need the gnome at all? He did get on one’s nerves. So self-interested. And so fussy. Perhaps he should just be chucked headlong into the sea, or blasted with some spell. It wasn’t that Baltrog wanted him to suffer, just cease to be.
But that could wait. There was a night of fun ahead and he would not let the gnome ruin it. If Grimestoke whimpered again, Baltrog would seal his mouth shut with a spell.
Tinder stood in the shallow water of the first of the Necklace islands armed with a piece of driftwood. The tide was coming in, but not fast enough, and one zombie was wading towards her and the wounded she had brought to the island. It was the Seaguard who had been attacked in the rubble of the collapsed building. He was so newly dead that he had the strength to ford the tidal waters that were rising around the island.
Tinder realized she had only one chance to defend her charges. As the zombie drew closer she would have to hit it in the head with the heavy piece of wood she was carrying. A solid blow might take its head right off. The thing’s neck was so torn that she could it spinal cord through its throat. Or she could knock it off its feet and hope that it would be carried away by the tide that pulled at her own calves.
The undead Seaguard was past the deepest part of channel that separated the island from the mainland. The water was just above its waist, and Tinder had hoped that it might slip and float away. But instead it kept coming, now rising out of the water some fifteen feet from her.
Behind her several children began to cry.
The stonemason called out encouragement. “Knock it down, missus! Kill the bloody thing!”
The zombie stumbled closer. It raised its arms to grab at her. It was within reach.
Tinder took a step back and swung the driftwood at the thing. She hit its right arm and was rewarded with a satisfying crack of breaking bone. The thing swung at her with its other arm and she found herself falling backward to avoid the blow. She tripped and fell into the shallow water, dropping her piece of wood. A cry of alarm went up from the people huddle on the island. Tinder crab-walked backward through the water until she was on the dry land of the island. She stood up and looked around frantically for another weapon.
“Here missus!” shouted the mason. He stumbled forward, clutching at the wound in his side. He had a hammer in his other hand.
Tinder grabbed the tool. It was heavy.
The zombie was almost out of the water.
Tinder took the hammer firmly by the handle and calculated her move. When the zombie took another step, she dodged to the right, coming in on the creature’s left where its broken arm hung useless. The zombie started to turn towards her and raise its other arm, but before it could she hit it square in the forehead with the hammer. The blow snapped the creature’s head right back as though it were on a hinge. It hung onto the neck by a flap of skin. The spine had severed neatly just below the jaw.
The creature stood for a moment, its sightless eyes staring straight up, then fell backwards into the water. The tidal current pulled the body away from the island.
The ragged crowd of survivors on the island let out a cheer.
“That’s how you do it, missus!” said stonemason. “Right on the noggin!” He turned to others and shouted, “Hip hip hooray!” They all joined in the cheer and Tinder found herself, for all the pain and fear, happier than she had in years.