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A Shopping Guide for Enterprising Necromancers

So, say you’re interested in raising yourself an army of the undead. They have a variety of uses (as indicated here) and can be seen as a good investment if you have the proper materials and instruction in the unholy arts. I’ll decline to speculate on where you might get your necromantic training for a reasonable rate, but I think we can have a practical discussion on where one might acquire the dead people to get yourself started. Believe it or not, this is harder than it might seem.

Now, a novice might assume the obvious answer to your dead-body acquisition needs would be a graveyard. Well,

Warning: These results should not be considered typical.

unless you have a backhoe, a lot of time, and are only interested in a small handful of undead minions, graveyards make poor locations to start. Why? Well, consider this: all your prospective servants are buried under 6-ish feet of packed earth (which is hard enough to dig out of to begin with, even for the undead), but are also usually encased in coffins. Coffins are very often made of steel, at least in this country. So, before you can actually use your new undead friends for scaring the neighbors, walking the dog, or conquering the local Wal Mart for your exclusive use, you’ve got to dig them up and spring them from a steel box. I don’t care how strong you think your undead buddies are, or even if the coffin is made of simple pine – that is no mean feat. You’ll be lucky if the undead make it out of the earth at all, let alone in any kind of useful condition or in a timely manner.

Okay, so no graveyards. Impractical and, hey, if it’s one of those consecrated deals, it might not even be possible to work your fiendish magic on the site, and todays marketplace is all about convenience, right? But where else can a guy with an itch for ghoulish minions find large supplies of the dead?

The next place on the list would be hospital morgues. These places have a number of advantages – the bodies are usually fresh, the conditions sanitary, and there are probably a few dozen bodies available on hand at any given time. In some places, there could be several hundred (though that is probably rare). There are a couple problems, though. Firstly, most morgue drawers lock closed like an old refrigerator door – you’d need to go around opening all the doors to let your minions out. Secondly, and probably more problematic, is that hospitals usually have a lot of personnel and security on hand to stop things like would-be necromancers running in and snatching their dead bodies (well, maybe not precisely that, but close enough). If you’re the black-hearted necromancer type, then maybe you don’t mind staging a bloody heist or some kind of clever theft, but this article presumes you’re more of the warm-hearted philanthropic necromancer which, I feel, ought to be more common.

Okay, so hospitals are good, but not ideal. What is, then? How can you get the stereotypical masses of zombies and skeletons emerging from the earth to do your bidding? Well, you pretty much need to find battlefields or mass graves. These, thankfully, aren’t all that common and this means not every necromancer in every corner of the Earth is going to have unfettered access to such things. Also, you can usually assume bodies that were dumped in mass graves will be in the worst condition possible and the longevity of their usefulness will likely be limited. You can’t have everything, can you?

Now, of course, there’s always trawling for bodies in rivers (optimally near high bridges), robbing funeral homes, or (God forbid) making your own dead bodies, but all of these methods are either obviously cruel and immoral or extremely inefficient. If you plan on committing a grave robbery, at least make sure you get more than one zombie out of the deal. Necromancy, as you no doubt are realizing, is a tough racket. Don’t despair, however – despair is something your enemies ought to feel, as your shambling horde descends upon them in the dead of a moonless night.

My Army of the Undead

A workforce where the words 'retirement plan' are more of an inside joke than anything else...

The world is a frustrating place. There are times, when in the midst of shaking my fist in rage at some perceived inequity, that I wish I had the god-like force to make things right. At these times, I am prone to mutter “If I had an army of the undead…”

Let’s face it: once you get past the ‘ick’ factor, there are few underlings more reliable than the undead. Granted, they aren’t much for improvisation or abstract thought, but they follow orders, they require relatively little upkeep (you know, provided you get the ones that don’t eat brains), are hard workers, and are even recyclable, provided you’re a necromancer of passing talent.

See, I don’t think of the undead as some inherently evil plague to be visited upon mankind. The dead are just dead–they don’t hate the living or wish to destroy life or anything. Dead things have no opinions; they are precisely as good or as bad as their master makes them be. Just imagine if you could marshal a large force of undead minions and put them to work for the public good! Think of it: legions of brightly clad, well-perfumed skeletal creatures on every street corner, insuring public safety and guarding the public trust. Ahhhh…utopia.

Stay back! This lawn is still being seeded!

Here would be some of the tasks to which my army of undead would be routinely assigned:

  • An auxiliary of zombies clad in flame-resistant shrink wrap would be on hand for the fire department to dispatch into burning buildings judged too dangerous for living firefighters to enter. Rescues would go up, firefighter injuries would go down!
  • Much of the staff of the MBTA (bus routes excepted) could be quickly and easily replaced by skeletons with, I imagine, little notable loss in the quality of service.
  • I would employ wraiths and other ethereal creatures to serve warrants and pursue fugitives. The odds of folks running when they know the cold, dead hand of death is liable to follow them would be rather low, I imagine.
  • Need a lot of volunteers to systematically search an area for a missing person or body? Hmmmm…I seem to have a couple thousand zombies sitting around with nothing better to do…
  • Disaster relief? Well, seems to me my legions of skeletons can carry plenty of water and supplies just about anywhere, given enough time. They don’t mind much if they’re getting electrocuted by downed power lines or covered over by sewage-filled water.
  • Bomb squads suddenly have anthropomorphic bomb-defusers that can be commanded via remote. If the bomb goes off, who cares?
  • Need Witness Protection? Want to secure your property from vandals? Want to scare the crap out of those punks painting swastikas on your synagogue? Boy, have I got the ghouls for you!

Sure, sure, I can hear all the negative nellies now–something is bound to go wrong! What if the dead get hungry? Stuff and nonsense. I know exactly what I’m doing, okay? Nothing is going to go wrong, and when a zombie pulls you out of your burning car wreck because I had thoughtfully stationed a team of them on the shoulder of the Mass Pike, picking up litter, you can thank me later.

(Or, for that matter, you can thank your Great Aunt Patrice, whose corpse I reanimated and put to work)

Notes from the Red Necromancer

The following was excised from a KGB black ops facility by CIA deep cover operatives in the winter of 1971. It is an incomplete fragment of what is apparently a much longer work, and it is uncertain how, if at all, the Soviets intended to use or had used its contents or, indeed, who the author is. It is the advice of this translator that this file is some kind of fiction or the rantings of a lunatic. There is, however, far too much associated KGB and CIA documentation to discount it entirely. Something was going on here, though what is terrible to contemplate.

What is often misunderstood is this: all sorcery is black sorcery. There is no other type. The flashy tricks and dramatic swoops of the stage illusionist are charades, nothing more. Likewise, the mentalist and the so-called psychic are nothing but talented charlatans and liars. Sorcery—true sorcery—is dirty and abhorrent to so-called cultured men. This I know.

            The irony of black sorcery is that it is as old as God Himself. Its power derives from His own, at least in part. We may not cast back the waters of the Red Sea, nor may we transmute staff into snake; these miracles are beyond us, just as they were beyond Pharaoh. We know, however, a deeper secret. It is one more subtle and every bit as powerful.

            Sorcery is the power of Life and Death.

            The great Gift given to the world by the Almighty and wielded by Jesus over the body of Lazarus is the power which we manipulate, though to a much lesser degree. If Eden were the great bonfire that began it all, that which we toy with is but the sputtering embers and errant sparks of that great conflagration. Still, with sparks one may do much, if one is clever.

            Sorcery involves the viscera and fluids of living creatures to be enacted. If you are opposed to shedding of blood and disturbed by the touch of dead flesh, you will never be a sorcerer. Indeed, one should not wish to be a sorcerer at all; it is no blessing. Perhaps in the courts of ancient Egypt our skills were esteemed, but now we are reviled, abhorred, or simply denied. Only upon the tiny island of Hispaniola can you find members of our order practicing their art openly, and even then they are met with derision. The societies of mankind deny what they know is true—life is a power beyond the simple physics of anatomy. Were it not, every doctor could bring life where there is death; every scientist would have a Monster like Victor Frankenstien’s.

            I am one of the last, true necromancers. I write this to explain myself and my work, but I do not seek your forgiveness or pardon. I have done nothing wrong. Raising the dead is no crime if the cause for which they are raised is just, and I am a just man. Or I was a just man until recently.

            My captors—these wretched, drab bureaucrats who fawn in Stalin’s wake and worship the fiction of their Party—they have made me do what I would not have done otherwise. I have created things for them and I know that they will be misused. I have given eternal life to the unworthy and the vicious; I have raised the innocent to obey the guilty. These are crimes, but I will make amends. I have all the time in the world, though they refuse to believe it. I was old when Tsar Nicholas II was a boy, so what do they know, these children of Lenin?

            It may come to pass, however, that they will somehow destroy me. If this were to happen, it would be unwise for me to leave this world without laying out the weaknesses of those things which I have created. Heed me well:

            Your enemy is not the servants—what the bokor of dark Haiti call zombi—for, while they have many uses, their power is brief and worthless without direction. No, it is the masters you must fear—those who have never passed the lychgate or similar after their deaths, those bodies that still live. They are the lych [editor’s note: this word originally written in the Latin alphabet; it is presumed the author was not satisfied with its Cyrillic equivalent for reasons I can only infer. It should be noted that the word is most probably derived from the Old English ‘lic,’ meaning ‘corpse’ or ‘body’ and nothing more], and they are the only ones besides our Lord and those who have passed into His Kingdom who have achieved eternal life. This life, though, is a shadow of its former self.

            The lych persist in this world in full possession of their mind and willpower (so long as the one can maintain the other), but they rest within a body that is physically dead. They are sorcerers almost without exception or, at the very least, they know something of sorcery otherwise they will not be long for this world. They should not be underestimated under any circumstances.

            You cannot murder a lych. They are already dead. Stab them and they will only bleed insofar as their blood is still present. Shoot them and you create a hole and nothing more. Cut off their head and their body and their head will seek to find one another. They do not feel pain, or at least not strongly—many come to miss the sensation; it drives some mad. Break their bones and you damage their vessel, but you do not harm their resolve or their intelligence.

            It has been suggested that the lych may be killed by fire or by utterly obliterating their body. This is only partially true. Destroy the body and you rob the lych of his vessel, but his spirit will not dissipate. He will lurk and fester in the place where he was struck dead—for an eternity, if need be—until he is either truly released from this life or a new vessel presents itself. This is most easily accomplished with another dead body. It may be accomplished otherwise, as well. Possession is a very risky endeavor for the lych, but bears with it proportional benefits. I digress, however—more about possession later.

            The lych is sustained by the captured essence of his life force. This is contained in his phylactery or phylacteries, known also as zombi to the bokor of West Africa, though this should not be confused with the servants the lych often employs. The process for preparing a phylactery is long and complex and requires much blood. It is a process I will not share with you, nor with my captors. What is important is that the phylactery or phylacteries are the only true weakness of the lych and their only bond to mortality. If it cannot be found and destroyed utterly, the lych can never truly depart this world for his final reward or punishment, as is appropriate to his actions.

            The weapons of the lych are numerous and mysterious, and vary according to individual. To list them all here would be pointless—there are always exceptions. I have mentioned their sorcery, and that is enough for you to know their power. They have spent many mortal lifetimes perfecting their arts, and they are more skilled in them than any other save another of their kind. In general, it is enough to know that the lych have power over the dead and the living, the spiritual and the physical, and can learn and do much with the simple application of certain rituals. Their intelligence is their weapon, and it is a potent one.

            Of their weaknesses, however, I can speak more directly. I have already mentioned the phylactery, but this is as much advantage as it is weakness—a lych may hide his phylactery anywhere on the Earth, even many thousands of miles from himself, and make his foes despair in hoping to defeat him. There are those lych who have buried theirs deep in the darkness of continental forests and jungles, never to be found again, and lived for ages without fear of compromise. The lych who wears his phylactery about his neck is a fool, but few of them are fools.

            The greatest weakness of the lych is his body. It is dead, rotting, and weakening with every passing day. If they sustain injuries, they never heal. If they contract diseases, their body falls away to rot around them. This is of great concern to the lych, as he is then less able to blend into society and also less physically capable of interacting with the world. The ancient Egyptians embalmed their immortal high priests so that this rotting process would slow itself, and most modern lych do so as well. This, however, leaves them gaunt and thin—very corpselike in appearance and physically weak—but enables them to live in relative stability for long periods. They will cover up their gaunt appearance with make-up and wigs (the lych loses his hair very quickly) and wear concealing clothing. They will also seek to avoid infection and exposure to bacteria with ruthless attention, as the simple germs common mortals encounter on a daily basis are sufficient to devour the lych’s body. They will need to moisten their eyes and tongues often to prevent them from drying out and withering (though it should be noted they do not need these organs to see or be heard). Finally, they will avoid bright sunlight, as even minor burning from the sun is irreversible and leads to further complications. The lych values his body, even though he does not need it to persist—it is his primary tool for interacting with the world, and he spends much of his time caring for it.

            There are those lych who seek to maintain some of their vitality through the consumption of fresh blood. This has its uses for a lych, as he is typically in need of fresh blood to engage in sorcery (which can, in turn, be used to delay his gradual decay). This habit among some is undoubtedly the origin of the so-called vampyr, but the lych is considerably more dangerous, if physically less potent.

            Another important weakness of the lych lies with purified salt. Salt is an element that connects humanity with God and is a symbol of His various covenants with the faithful throughout time. Salt, particularly if pure and consecrated, interferes with the connection between the lych and his phylactery. If you were to make a ring of pure salt around a lych, the body would fall inert and the spirit banished back to his phylactery, as the link cannot pass a barrier of pure salt. Likewise, a lych may not pass onto consecrated ground. It should be noted to the fanatical that this is not an indication of the wickedness of the lych, but rather a regrettable fact of their existence. Throwing salt on them does not hurt them anymore than it would hurt a mortal person.

            As a final caution, those who would combat the unrighteous lych must be made aware of certain misconceptions about the living dead. Holy water and holy symbols are of no worth against them, except perhaps as psychological weapons. Running water does not stop them anymore than it stops another man (though the embalmed lych is a poor swimmer and usually too weak to cross any great breadth of water). Burning them destroys their body, but has no effect on their spirit (though it should be mentioned that those lych that are embalmed with certain alcohol-based chemicals will occasionally explode as much as burn—be warned). With proper sun protection, a lych has no compunction walking about during the day, and even direct sunlight, though bad for their body’s long-term duration, does not harm them. To rely upon these superstitions in your battle against the lych is to court your own death.

            That is enough for today. My captors are coming—I can smell them. I am interested in how they will choose to motivate me this time; they have given up on torture, of course. There are still things they cannot make me do. What evil they have compelled me to commit is only a fraction of my potential; I only hope they do not suspect this. I hope I am strong enough to endure longer than this new Union of theirs. I must be, even if I must live on as a spirit in this dismal place forever.

Where Have All the Wizards Gone?

The undead are in-vogue of late. Vampires, Zombies, Ghosts and so-on are all pretty popular in movies, TV, books, and so on. One thing I’ve found odd, however, is that more and more of these critters are the result of either technology or religion to almost the exclusion of all else, and I’ve been thinking about that idea vis-a-vis the undead, and I’m not sure I love the idea.

The Undead and Science

Apparently this is supposed to make you both dead and alive…right…

The science-creating-the-undead thing is much, much more recent than the religious angle and, for my money, also more ridiculous. Science – even pseudoscience – is poorly applied to things that are ostensibly dead. Just think about it for a few minutes and much of the scientific explanations for werewolves, zombies, vampires, and the rest of our popular monsters rapidly fall apart.

I’ve already explored why this idea is nonsense for zombies (if you don’t recall, check out my anti-zombie manifesto), but let’s take Vampires, instead. The Blade franchise, in addition to others, have maintained that Vampires are essentially people who (1) don’t grow old, (2) drink blood, (3) are ‘allergic’ to silver, (4) have poor defenses against sunlight, and so on. You watch Blade devising new technogadgets to combat them, they rationalize things like ‘UV light works like sunlight’ and ‘the vampires can wear sunblock, so…’ and on and on and on. Thing is, they very rarely take it all the way, which is what I find annoying. I ask lots and lots of questions like ‘why can’t the metabolize regular food instead of drinking blood?’ or, ‘if they can’t make their own blood, why don’t they get transfusions instead of drinking it – wouldn’t that be faster?’ or ‘if they’re dead, how come they don’t rot?’ and so on and so forth until I just get so frustrated with the damn thing and start yelling ‘why didn’t you just call it magic? MAGIC!’

The Undead and Religion

Help! We made poor life choices! Find Jennifer Love Hewitt!

The other common origin for the undead comes from religious or spiritual material. Now, this I don’t really have a problem with, per se, in that this is from antiquity. Usually used in reference to ghosts more than any other kind of undead, the religious/spiritual angle is a story with lots of dramatic potential and is firmly based in our collective human canon – everybody’s got their stories of demons, ghosts, vampires, and so on who had something terrible happen to them and they linger on in this world, waiting for something to either destroy them or show them how to ‘cross over’, so to speak.The only issue I have with this particular version of the tale is that it’s so, well, wishy-washy. There aren’t any rules, really, and it’s the rules that make monsters fun. Vampires are the most popular not because they are inherently the coolest, but because they have the most lore built up around them in the form of rules, laws, and ‘gubbins’, if you will, that give the protagonists in stories involving vampires more to ‘sink their teeth into’, if you’ll pardon the pun. Without these rules, we’re stuck with talking about our feelings and trying to ‘make things right’. This can be interesting, but it doesn’t lend itself to rip-roaring adventure, exactly.

The Middle Ground

What I’d like to see more of (and it’s out there, mind you, just I want more) are monster stories that (1) acknowledge we’re working magically here and (2) have set rules in place to keep things crunchy. Buffy/Angel tended to do this, I think Supernatural has done this to some extent, and of course their are Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, but it hasn’t seemed to propagate.

Perhaps that’s just me, anyway, from my position on the periphery of the Urban Fantasy subgenre. Perhaps this is just my knee-jerk reaction to zombie mania, which I find aggrevating, and to the wussing-down of vampires from ‘fearsome monsters’ to basically plain old supervillains/heroes (if that). I want me some scary-ass new monsters, or old ones dredged up, preferably created by wizards or, better yet, are wizards themselves.

Yeah, I’m talking about the lich.

Liches, Bitches!

You know what I mean – the oldest, nastiest, most badass undead creature in Dungeons and Dragons, brought back into a new housing. The most recent incarnation of this fella was Voldemort, really, but I’d like to see more done with the idea. Heck, I plan on doing more with it myself, provided I ever get around to it. I want an intelligent, powerful, sorcerous monster who is neither attractive nor numerous to kick some mortal ass. I think much could be done with these wizards-turned-immortal undead, and I’m hoping it happens.

I’m also hoping I can contribute. Perhaps I’ll introduce the character I have in mind here on this blog sometime. Maybe I’ll discuss the Rules of the Lich. In any event, I really want to see fewer plots involving monster-making viruses or demonic possession.