Zombie Nation: Part Four
The word had barely left the mind of Mr. Jennings all night.
The very concept of it unsettled him. He’d dabbled in it, once... long ago.
It had come back to hurt him. Witches had sought him out. He’d been imprisoned.
Since then, he’d stayed well clear of magic. Even Kauvara’s protection money was less than the other shopkeepers as a mark of respect. He was a man of action and strategy. Magic messed everything up. It was so unpredictable. It broke all the rules.
But here it was. Magic, back again. There was no avoiding it this time. He’d have to face it. He was the only one capable, he knew.
The carriage rattled on through the early morning streets as Mr. Jennings read the paper.
Unsurprisingly, the headline was dire.
‘ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US’
‘The worst fears of many were confirmed late last afternoon, as Zombie hordes rampaged through the streets of Neopia Central. What began as a peaceful demonstration quickly escalated into violence. Despite the best efforts of the Defenders of Neopia, a small group of trouble makers was allowed to break free of the Marketplace. Pro and anti Zombie Rights protesters clashed in the streets near the Old Quarter.
In a surprising turn of events, the Zombie populace elected a leader, calling himself Baron Friday-Lunchtime. This leader erected a wall around the Quarter, which in recent weeks has become locally known as the Zombie District. Zombies caught within the Quarter when the wall was raised have failed to report to work this morning.
There are fears in the city that this may lead to work shortages in key industries. When the Neopian Times went to press this morning, there were already three sewer blockages in Kensington Avenue, the Old Shambles, and Wide Street. A spokesman for the Neopia Central Sewer Company this morning said that blockages were “under control”. This of course will not help the growing gold shortage at the National Neopian.
Local businessman Mr. Seth Vargo was quoted this morning as saying, “It’s a good thing, the honest hard working people of Neopia Central can finally reclaim the jobs these sponging dead people have been stealing”. A spokesman for the Zombie populace was unavailable.’
Jennings smiled to himself. It would get far worse than just the sewage system. Zombies kept most of the key industries of Neopia Central working. They did the jobs no one else wanted to do. If they stopped working, so would the city. It would only be a matter of days until chaos ruled.
The carriage came to a halt and Mr. Black opened the door.
“You think they will have answers, sir?” he asked as Jennings climbed out.
Jennings took in the great marble building in front of them.
“If anyone will, I should think so,” he replied, before starting up the steps and passing under the large banner that read ‘Neopia Central Natural History Museum’.
The Neopia Central Museum was a dusty old place that was rarely used by anyone who was not either a tourist or on a school trip. An elderly and half deaf Bruce on reception pointed them to where they wanted to go.
It was past the skeletons of giant Maraquan Petpets, Tyrannian missing links, and stuffed Lost Desert creatures.
In the furthest corner of the museum, there was a little back room, filled to the brim with ancient scrolls and paintings. A small yellow Nimmo who looked older than much of the room’s contents was pouring over a tablet in the corner.
Jennings coughed, but there was no response. He coughed a little louder.
“Excuse me,” he said eventually.
The old Nimmo nearly jumped out of his skin in shock.
“Who are you?” he asked in a croaky voice.
“My name is Mr. Jennings,” Jennings introduced himself. “This is my associate, Mr. Black. You are Professor Higgins, are you not? We have come to see you.”
The two shook hands.
“A student of history, are you?” Higgins asked.
“I am a student of many things,” Jennings replied. “However, today I have come to speak to you about one subject in particular.”
“Oh really?” Higgins asked.
“I understand you are something of an expert on Haunted Woods lore?” Jennings asked as he sat down.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert.” Higgins blushed. “I was on Queen Fyora’s personal staff for a while, but I’m sure that there’s people out there who know more about it than I. If you’re interested in the Haunted Woods, you might like this tablet. It’s inscribed with Werelupe symbols.”
The Nimmo gestured to the tablet he had been studying.
“Thank you,” Jennings replied diplomatically. “However, today I have come to ask you about a specific inhabitant of the Haunted Woods. Can you by any chance tell me the legend of Baron Friday-Lunchtime?”
The old Nimmo chuckled to himself. “That old one, is it?”
He took a seat and cleared his throat before continuing, “Baron Friday-Lunchtime lived eons ago, in the place we now know as the Haunted Woods. He was the son of Victor Friday and Gertrude Lunchtime, two of the richest Neopets of their day. When they died, he inherited their estate, which consisted of most of the modern day woods. The Baron met a lady, a Kyrii by the name of Esmeralda. They planned to live together... but healthcare was not what it is today. Baron Friday-Lunchtime died.”
“Yet he rose again?” Jennings asked.
“Indeed,” Higgins continued. “Back then, Zombies were unheard of, as were magical Neopets of any description. No one knows quite why she did it, perhaps it was grief from losing the Baron, but Esmeralda stole magic from the Faeries. She became the first witch, and used her powers to bring the Baron back from the grave as the first ever Zombie.
“Death, however, is not kind to everyone. It is a second chance, and the Baron chose to waste his on the finer things in life, or death. He neglected Esmeralda... and some say she was driven insane by it. Either way, the Faeries came after her, and there was a bitter war. Esmeralda was struck down, and the Baron was cursed to walk Neopia forever... alone.”
“And this makes him the Lord of all Zombies?” Jennings asked.
“Ah, now that’s mainly just an old tale to scare kids away from graveyards,” Higgins pointed out. “The legend goes that Esmeralda, on her death bed, gave the Baron an object that would help him raise more of his kind. He could make anyone he liked into a Zombie. Her plan was for the Baron to raise her... but for one reason or another, that never happened. The legend goes that the Baron roams the graveyards of the Haunted Woods at night, picking the newly dead and claiming them as his own using the power of his amulet, in the hopes of one day finding Esmeralda. They say his merest words can control the dead.”
Jennings nodded, pulling apart every scrap of information in his mind.
“Are you aware of any of the current advised methods of permanently disposing of Zombies, Professor?” he asked.
The Nimmo chuckled. “Of course, you can’t kill a Zombie... they’re already dead, you see? Current theories suggest that they’re a lot like ghosts. They stay behind because they think they have unfinished business. Resolve whatever that is, and they’ll likely move on. That’s more biology stuff, though; I deal with history and lore. Why’s an upstanding gentleman like you so interested in myths anyway?”
Jennings cocked an eyebrow at the Professor.
“Have you not read today’s paper?” he asked.
“No... no, I’ve been cooped up in here with this tablet... haven’t left the office in... oh, three days?”
“Then it may surprise you to learn that the myth from the Haunted Woods is parading through the streets of Neopia Central, incapacitating the Zombie populace and bringing the entire city to a grinding halt.”
The Nimmo looked shocked.
“The Baron?” he gasped. “Here? In the city?”
“In the rotting flesh,” Jennings replied. “Whilst normally this would be something of a historical bonanza, if this situation continues, Neopia Central’s economy will be brought to its knees. I cannot allow this to happen. This Baron must be stopped.”
“You’re pulling my leg.” Higgins chuckled.
“I can assure you I am not pulling any of your extremities,” Jennings told him. “Now, you mentioned that resolving unfinished business will rid us of a Zombie, yes? What is the Baron’s unfinished business?”
“Oh, I couldn’t say, of course... but I’d imagine, if the legends are true, that he’s here because he’s still searching for Esmeralda,” Higgins guessed.
“Who is of course long dead by now.” Jennings nodded. “You wouldn’t happen to know where she’s buried, would you?”
Higgins seemed to hesitate.
“She isn’t, not anymore,” he answered eventually, before drawing Jennings in closer to whisper. “What I’m about to tell you is top secret; I found out about it back in Faerieland and well... let’s just say that’s the reason I’m no longer at the academy. Esmeralda wasn’t dead; the Faeries just sealed her away. Last year some witches woke her up or something. They killed her, properly as well, no body was left behind.”
Jennings massaged his temple. Witches had interfered with his plans again.
Magic was always a pain to deal with.
“If there is no hope of the Baron ever finding and raising Esmeralda from the dead, then surely the Baron’s purpose for staying behind is now null and void?” Jennings asked. “Presumably the Baron need only be informed of this and he will cease to be?”
Higgins shrugged. “It could work, I suppose...”
Jennings smiled broadly. “Thank you for your assistance, Professor.”
Jennings got up and excused himself, leaving the Professor to return to his studies of the tablet.
Mr. Black trailed behind his employer as they made their way back through the museum.
“It should be relatively simple then, sir?” the Grarrl asked.
“If only, Mr. Black, if only...” Jennings replied, keeping a brisk pace despite the cane he walked with. “We need only to talk to this Baron... yet he is sealed in the Old Quarter, behind a magical wall that even the Defenders of Neopia have not been able to breach.”
“Do you have any ideas, sir?” Black asked.
“I shall need to sleep on it,” Jennings answered in a tone that carried certain finality.
There was something else bothering Jennings, though, and he wasn’t quite sure what it was. It was something important, something causing him to hesitate.
Jennings stopped in his tracks, and the bulky frame of Mr. Black almost walked into him.
“Sir?” Black questioned.
“This is a lot more complicated than telling the Baron some home truths,” Jennings sighed. “I shall definitely need to sleep on this.”
He began his brisk walk again, faster than before. His black cane struck the marble floor of the museum as he marched with purpose.
“The Baron holds a magical amulet,” Jennings continued. “It is a unique object that controls and maintains the Zombie populace of Neopia. It is quite possibly the magic of that device that keeps the Zombies functioning.”
“Sir?” Black repeated.
“If the Baron disappears, the amulet will undoubtedly go with him,” Jennings explained. “The Zombies will... well... die. We can’t allow that to happen. Neopia Central needs them to function.”
“So we need the Baron alive? Or, undead?” Black asked.
“Yes,” Jennings confirmed as they emerged back out into the Neopia Central air. “But we also need him properly dead. We have been caught between a rock and a hard place, Mr. Black.”
Black nodded, and opened the door to the carriage so Jennings could climb inside.
“Magic,” Jennings spat as he leaned back in his seat.
To be continued...