The Career of Zulk the Explodomancer in Six Short Episodes
Episode 1: The Arrest of Zulk, Goblin Engineer
People did not object to Zulk’s inventions on the grounds that they were unoriginal—they weren’t. Nor did they find his work unreliable—he always delivered his products on time. No, what people really had problems with was the exploding. To his credit, not a single one of Zulk’s customers ever complained about the tendency of his products to combust. It was more the next of kin who had a problem with Zulk. So did their lawyers and the city guard. These were the people who formed a crowd outside Zulk’s shop one Monday morning. Finally, business is improving, Zulk thought as he opened the door. Business was not improving. These people were there to arrest him, not buy his inventions.
Episode 2: Zulk’s Sentencing
The Empire’s penal system believed strongly in criminal rehabilitation. It did not, however, believe in criminal rehabilitation for goblins. You might as well try teaching a fire not to burn was the general consensus. Thus, the minimum sentence a goblin could be given was a life of hard labor. This sentence could be extended if the precinct’s necromancers had extra time on their hands. Noting that Zulk’s crime was, “Creating exploding merchandise” the judge realized that Zulk clearly had skills that the Empire could not afford to waste. Rather than sending him to the silver mines like most of the goblins, the judge sentenced him to a life of bomb construction.
Episode 3: The Early Career of Zulk, Explodomancer
The very worst thing that can happen to most inventors is that their invention explodes and kills dozens of people. For bomb makers, the very best thing that can happen is that their invention explodes and kills dozens of people. As such, Zulk felt surprisingly at home in his new court-mandated profession. He could now let his tendencies towards the combustive run wild. While becoming bomb-certified at the Imperial Bombardier Academy, he attended apprentice bombmaking workshops. Each student was required to submit one new bomb design every week. Upon observing the effects of one another’s bombs, you would then offer your fellow students criticism. Such criticisms included phrases like, “Highly derivative of the early percussives,” “It could have made more clever use of shrapnel,” and “I liked the part where it went BOOM.” That last comment came from Zulk himself, who was always quite plainspoken.
Zulk had one primary problem at Bombardier Academy: units of measurement. Despite being an engineer, Zulk could not have told you how tall he was. Being a self-taught engineer, he had come up with his own measurement system: the Zulk. He himself was 1 Zulk tall. The average man or woman would have come to 2 or 2.5 Zulks tall. For smaller measurements he would use the unit Zulk Fingernails and for time he would use Zulk Blinks. Despite his unorthodox measurement practices, Zulk excelled in his studies. Even before he graduated, Zulk found himself being contracted by the Master Bombardiers to do work on the side, freelance.
The emperor had plenty of enemies whose limbs he would like to disunite from their torsos. This meant that there were plenty of assignments for a burgeoning young explodomancer like Zulk. The emperor needed shrapnel grenades to shred up the Dorians, bright cracklers to shock the Toralese, and tiny pepper bombs to surprise the Rutilians. One day, Zulk heard a town crier reporting about the success of one of his very own inventions. It had recently been used on an enemy armory. The explosion—which had left a curious cinnamon scent—had destroyed everything that wasn’t nailed to the floor. And everything that was nailed to the floor. And the nails. And the floor. The citizens around him considered this a victory for the Empire. Zulk considered it a rave review. They noticed the cinnamon!, he thought.
Episode 4: The Siege of Zenalia
Soon after he achieved his Masters in Explodomancy, Zulk was sent on a business trip. The siege of Zenalia had hit a roadblock and needed the attention of a bombardier. Zulk’s services were required because Zenalia had a force field around it. The field would only open to allow citizens of the city through. It stopped everything else in its tracks. Cannonballs bounced off. Battering rams shattered against it. Soldiers broke their axes trying to hack through it.
The solution Zulk devised was as gruesome as it was elegant. He began by locating a Zenalian citizen among the prisoners. Zulk then strapped a bomb to his chest, placed him in a cannon, and fired. When the prisoner hit the aura, it opened to let him pass through and the bomb came with him. When he landed inside, the bomb detonated and blasted off a good chunk of the city wall. The plan was a success. Now they could fire as many bombs in the city as they had Zenalians. They had many Zenalians. Zulk went alphabetically by last name through the prisoners. By the time they were preparing to load Mork Callicks into the cannon, the city had surrendered.
Episode 5: The Feast
When they returned, there was to be an outdoor feast to celebrate the victory. Zulk would be at the table of honor as a reward for his contribution. It was frowned upon for goblins of any kind to be near the person of the emperor. Thus, the Imperial handlers decided that Zulk would, at the very least, be a comely goblin. They began by giving him a new set of tailored Bombardier’s robes. They followed this with several baths, a nail trimming, half a gallon of cologne, and a trim for Zulk’s single shock of hair. Sitting at the feast, Zulk came to dislike his new getup. The robes were hot under the sun and the cologne attracted flies. The proximity of flies would usually be a good thing, but he’d been instructed not to eat any bugs at dinner.
This discomfort, however, was nothing compared to the rage Zulk felt upon hearing the Emperor’s congratulatory speech at the feast. He said, “We have many to thank for this momentous victory. The soldiers who blockaded the city. The soldiers who frightened its inhabitants. The soldiers who accepted the enemy’s surrender. Without these people the city of Zenalia would still be enjoying peace and prosperity.”
That’s it??? Zulk thought. The Emperor thanks everyone else but not me? How dare he! I’ll get my revenge right now. Zulk excused himself from the table, snagging a horsefly from the air as a snack as he did so. It was hardly a surprise to the other guests that Zulk was leaving the table. It was common knowledge that goblins always leave halfway through meals. Their tiny bladders couldn’t last that long.
Back at his lab, Zulk gathered together a whole conglomeration of fuses and bombs. His bomb recipe went like this: 5 fingernails worth of fuse, 2 or 3 Zulk handfuls of powder, 1 Zulk pinch of coloring to make sure that he’d be able to see the blasts from all the way up on the castle wall. These bombs would show everyone what the price was for ignoring Zulk. He’d use them to blow the emperor’s picnic to bits. Zulk waited until it got dark before lugging his basket of bombs to the city’s cannon battery. People would talk about this act of rebellion for years to come.
His first shot went high into the air and hung there for a second. Long before it could land, however, it exploded into an enormous purple blast. Zulk cursed his luck: the bomb had gone off too early. He then fired another one. Again, the bomb arced into the night sky and harmlessly exploded into a crackle of green. What was the problem? He had included the usual amount of fuse: 5 Zulk fingers. Then he realized—he’d gotten a manicure before the feast. They’d cut his fingernails shorter than they ever had been before. That meant his fuses were too short also. All of his bombs would explode before they landed. What an awful mistake he’d made. He imagined the disgraceful headlines that would be printed the next day: CANNON ATTACK POORLY EXECUTED, HUNDREDS OF MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN LEFT ALIVE. “How dreadful,” Zulk thought as he fled the scene of the crime, “I couldn’t even manage to maim anyone.” The only thing left to do was to was hide and hope they never discovered him.
Episode 6: The Fate of Zulk
When the Imperial soldiers found him the next day, Zulk was curled up in an empty wine barrel. “Where have you been?” a soldier said. “The Emperor has demanded your appearance in court posthaste.” Zulk looked up at the helmeted face. This was the end. At best he would be sent to work in the mine. At worst, they would kill him now and send his reanimated body to work in the mine. Then the soldier continued. “The Emperor loved the display you put on for everyone last night. He wants to know if you can arrange another show like that for his daughter’s wedding next month.”
“Also,” another guard said, “I noticed the cinnamon smell you added to your explosions. Could you do lavender next time? I love lavender.”
And that is how Zulk became the Emperor’s first Master of Fireworks.