Baldahr Seltro didn’t mean to cause The Great Undead Uprising of the third century.
But cause it he did.
To understand how Mr Seltro did this, we must understand the difference between intelligence and wisdom. You see, Baldahr possessed plenty of the former — bucketloads, in fact — but almost none of the latter. To be intelligent, they say, is to know a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable. To be wise, the saying goes, is to know a tomato doesn’t go in a fruit salad. (Not that it has any impact on this story, but Baldahr was fond of fruit salads with tomatoes.)
Baldahr was a researcher, a historian, and somewhat of a part-time scientist. He also thought himself to be a linguist, a cartographer, a journalist, an interviewer, and plenty of other things. He was well-versed in most of the major religions and, whenever necessary, could pass as a practising whatever. Most of all, he was a writer. He liked to tell whoever would listen — particularly after he’d quaffed an ale or three — that to be a writer, you had to understand everything. So, he found it to be his professional duty to get a taste of as many things as he could.
Mr Seltro found titbits people might not know, which they might want to know. He researched all he could about these topics, wrote them down and sold the books. Mr Seltro already had several books under his belt, several of them quite popular. There was Mountain Trolls: A Comprehensive Guide on Not Becoming Their Lunch. Who could forget Gods and Goddesses — Find Which One Suits Your Personality! He’d also written Spice up Your Life with Herbs and Ointments, which was only popular for the sordid chapter on aphrodisiacs. After all, they do say sex sells.
His first success had been Fae and Their Folk: Mysterious Denizens of the Glade and Forest. His publisher persuaded him to keep the section on the Night-Dwelling Nymphomaniacs of Nysh-Gar. Much to the chagrin of the men of the local village, and a few of the women. Voiced anonymously, and never to husbands, wives, or sweethearts. They believed it was one of the forest’s best-kept secrets, and felt tourists would ruin such a quaint area. The publisher convinced Nysh-Gar’s mayor the publicity would bring wealth — to his pockets. So, the section had remained in the book and the book had flown off the shelves.
It’s clear to understand, Mr Seltro was rather popular with his publisher. He had a good track record and a marvellous knack for unearthing hidden gems people wanted to read about. He was rather good at making them sound even more exotic. In the hands of lesser writers, the topics could bore. But from Baldahr, they riveted. It was for this reason his publisher gave him free rein on the topic of his next novel.
Baldahr knew exactly which subject he wanted to tackle when given the choice.
“What’s sexier than the forbidden arts?” he’d posed to the publisher, a man whose gut betrayed his comfortable lifestyle. The older man raised his eyebrows, eyes pointed away in thought. He tapped his chubby lower lip in contemplation. Baldahr heard the gold coins clink together in the man’s mind. In the end, he’d given Baldahr what he wanted; of course he did, he wasn’t an idiot and he liked money. Who didn’t?
And so, Mr Seltro went on his way. He had an allotted length of time to research the topic, write the thing, and have it out on shelves for Christmas. Or whichever particular holiday you happened to celebrate at the end of the year. If, indeed, you believed that the 12th month was when the year ended. Or if, indeed, you believed there were 12 months. Or if, indeed, you even believed in the concepts of months and years and year’s end. Baldahr didn’t mind what views his fans subscribed to as long as his book sold copies and he stayed in a job.
Baldahr spent weeks in archives and libraries as he gathered various and — occasionally — conflicting pieces of information. Once he’d gotten as far as was necessary, he then when to religious groups and interviewed them on their opinions and thoughts on “the dark arts”. Some were happy to talk — they welcomed and said goodbye on good terms. Others less so. Some eyed him and gave cold, closed off answers. Others accused him of being a warlock or wizard, which would have been hilarious had the threat of torture and execution not been a possibility. Religious killings were, of course, illegal, but each sect had their private land. As long as they didn’t bother the local law enforcement too much, they were allowed to do as they saw fit within their walls.
After he’d finished with the religious leaders, Mr Seltro then went to universities and interviewed professors on the subject. These were much more affable than the assortment of priests and holy fathers and vicars he’d met — if somewhat more awkward. Several chin-scratching theories and ideas were posed to him. Many over a fine glass of port in personal libraries bedecked with rich oak and old leather.
And finally, once all the dull stuff was done and dusted, Baldahr got ready for the real meat of the novel. The next part was a bit trickier and riskier.
He had to find a necromancer.
Necromancy was — at the time of Baldahr’s book — against the law. So, this was easier said than done. Mr Seltro had experience in finding those who wished to not be found. Or, at least, to not be found by anyone they didn’t want to find them. After all, had he not spoken with both troll hunter and semi-tame troll? Had he not found out various peddlers of illegal substances? Had he not discussed — at great length — the effects and efficacies of various romantic potions with many lovers, both of the starry-eyed and the financial kind? Had he not had conversations with distrustful faeries and their kin, deep in the hearts of their hidey-holes?
To cut a long story short: he discovered such a person. The individual in question resided in an old wooden shack on the outskirts of a half-dead village, itself on the outskirts of The Forest of Decay. The forest wasn’t actually called that. I mean, if you named a forest The Forest of Decay, what did you expect the place to do? No, the real name of the forest was long forgotten by the common tongue. The more accepted nomenclature came from the fact that everything was now rotted through and blackened. Not a single thing abided there, and those within passed through on their way to somewhere else. And nothing — neither bird nor dog nor man — lingered within the reaches of its charred, skeletal branches after the light had died.
How, exactly, Baldahr found the man remains one of the writer’s best-kept secrets. If you spend enough time around the rougher parts of town — in the dark recesses of the seedy drinking holes — the insects will crawl out of the woodwork. Regardless of whichever vice you lust to please.
Mr Seltro spent months with the dark wizard and never learned his real name. “Call me… Nessie.” He smiled and his grey eyes sparkled in the candlelight. For all the reputation necromancers have earned, Nessie welcomed Baldahr greater warmth than any of the “holy” men he’d encountered. He even offered the writer room and board for free, so charmed was he that someone should take such an interest in his chosen profession.
Not only was Nessie a friendly person, but he was also intelligent and had a pitch-black sense of humour. It’s only right, I s’pose, the writer had reasoned. I guess you’ve got to be able to see the absurdity and hilarity of things if you deal with death every day. Furthermore, he was a good teacher. Baldahr soon came to grips with actual necromancy, and Nessie dispelled the urban legends and myths — pun intended.
By the time autumn rolled around, Baldahr had more than enough material for a book. He even thought he could release a sequel — provided the first sold well.
Isn’t It (Nec)romantic? was released to critical acclaim and commercial success. It seemed the common folk had a deep-seated interest in all things dark and forbidden. Baldahr was right; the badness of the subject made it all the more exciting. It was sexy, it was dangerous.
It was dangerous.
Baldahr had researched the topic to the finest detail and was accurate in his descriptions and depictions. Unfortunately, he had researched the topic to the finest detail and was accurate in his descriptions and depictions. This fact — which had earned him his reputation as an excellent author and the golden boy of his publishing house — would be the cause of the problem.
“Bally—” Baldahr hated the nickname his publisher used, but could never quite bring himself to say so “—any publicity is good publicity, you gotta remember that.”
“Nup.” His published raised a chubby hand. “Sales is sales.” Mr Seltro winced. “Money is money. If it sells, it’s good.”
“But the dead—”
“I asked you to write me a bestseller, and — boy! — did you deliver! I love it! People love it! The money’s rolling in! Listen — Bally — I am not recalling the book.” He jabbed a copy of the book with his pudgy fingers. “This thing is solid gold.”
Baldahr had written out ancient incantations. This gave power to dark forces. These spells were then printed out thousands of times. Which gave even further power to the aforementioned dark forces. These words were then read by a sizeable percentage of the population. Which afforded more strength to the empowered dark forces. They were often quoted aloud to friends and family — “Hey, honey, listen to this!” — which gave even more power to the dark forces, now in full bloom.
This had a cumulative effect across the lands.
Coffins splintered apart. Tombs pushed open. Mausoleum gates creaked on hinges. Stone slid against stone in deep, grating cacophonies. Choruses of post-demise groans filled the air. Rotten lips and tattered lungs expelled the air they no longer needed to breathe to live.
And still — still — Baldahr’s publisher wouldn’t pull the book. As they say, money talks. Gad Berladat wouldn’t have pulled the tome even his mother had succumbed to a horde of the ravenous flesh-eaters. He would have only considered doing so if the throngs of undead were at his walls and bayed for his skin and blood. And even then, only after he’d eyed his profit reports and scribbled some calculations and predictions.
In the end, Baldahr rectified the issue in the only way he knew how.
With a book.
A sequel, of sorts.
So, the Dead Have Risen: A No-Fuss Companion to Navigating the Revenants was released a year to the day after Isn’t It (Nec)romantic? Mr Seltro felt a twinge of guilt. He made a profit through the sale of the solution to a problem he had caused. His ever-overweight publisher failed to see this as an issue. And Nessie hadn’t seemed particularly upset by the outcome, either. He found the whole thing rather hilarious. But he did agree to give further insights into the dark arts; particularly ways to address the undead problem.
“So, ya sold ‘em the cure, big deal, Bally. You gave ‘em a year to sweat, then were kind enough to fix the problem. Every salesperson does it: ‘Oh, you need to hunt deer to eat — you don’t wanna starve, do ya? — so here’s a bow I made,’ and ‘Ah, you want something to boil water in? Everyone needs boiled water. Here’s a pot I sell!’ and ‘Oh no, you’re going grey! Nobody likes grey hair. Here’s some hair dye I made — can’t just leave your natural hair as is, gotta buy my product!’ and so on, and so on.”
“I guess…” Baldahr was not quite convinced, but no longer not not convinced, either. In truth, he was somewhere between.
“And we made some pretty sweet moolah out of it, didn’t we?” His round face shined.
Baldahr didn’t argue with that.
“And you get to write more books.” Gad’s tiny eyes sparkled in his doughy face.
That got his attention.
“What’s gon’ be your next topic?” The publisher rubbed his hands together. “Something good, I hope!”
“Well, I did have one idea,” said Mr Seltro, as he came around to Gad’s point of view.
“Yeah?” The published salivated.
“Paths to Hell: 101 Places in the Eternal Fire to See Before You Die.”
So, the Dead Have Risen received even greater praise than its predecessor. Critics hailed it as “the only answer we’ve got to this modern apocalypse, skip buying this at your own peril — Seltro’s best since Fae and Their Folk” and “oh god, if only this had come out last year, they ate my wife. Five stars” and so on.
More people bought the sequel than Isn’t It (Nec)romantic? A large percentage of the population had succumbed to what would be known as “the shufflin’ biteys” — so it was impressive there were enough people left around to buy the book. The public bought the first one out of interest and curiosity, which still resulted in a healthy amount of sales.
They bought So, the Dead Have Risen out of necessity.
Mr Seltro’s latest work pleased Gad Berladat. Money and fame rolled in. His happiness was only slightly dampened by the zombies who at him alive one afternoon when he forgot to lock the backdoor.
As for Baldahr, he felt a marginal weight on his heart for the pain he had caused, but this abated. Particularly with the excitement of his next project, which was well underway. He wasn’t worried about the death of his publisher. He could now his name on just about anything — although he was far too principled to ever stoop to that.
Nessie introduced him to a charming man with black eyes and a deep monotone voice. It sounded an awful lot like the groan of a coffin lid. That everything he touched died — be it a bug, bird, or, indeed, human — did not concern Baldahr. Nor did the realisation he cast no shadow. The man, who did not give a proper name but instead mystified with a riddle(“I am the end and the beginning of everything, I am the shadow of man’s soul, I am the eternal night, I am the obsidian flame, I am the darkness, I am the absence of light…” etc. etc.), was knowledgeable on all things satanic and demonic. He claimed to know how to get to and from Hell itself.
“I’ll be damned if I don’t get a literary prize for this one!” he told Nessie and The Obsidian Flame over a pint of ale in the pub. He scribbled in his notebook as the landlords fought off a wave of undead at the house’s walls.
The other two seemed to agree.