(Sorry for the amount of time this took for me to complete. I've been working on research projects with one of my professors and I've either been busy or tired. Plus, this came out a little longer than I expected.)
It had barely been daybreak when Barley Soup had wandered up to the village. Many citizens were finishing breaking their fast or dressing themselves, preparing for a long yet leisurely day. A few fishermen had been up early enough to try and get to their boats for a lazy session of pre-dawn recreational fishing before the actual work began. Children and wives were running around, doing chores and spreading gossip. A faint, erratic beat could be heard throughout the town; the sort of music you only hear from a settlement working perfectly through an idyllic routine.
Funny how zombie stories always seem to start in places like this, yeah?
It had been a group of children who had noticed Barley Soup first. A tall, thick, pale man had emerged from the trees, following the coast. He hadn't spoke, barely moving quicker upon viewing the children. The reason behind his slow pace was apparent, with one of his legs was being all but drug behind him. The man was dressed in full leather armor, with his dark hair matted and greasy underneath his leather cap and his tired, sunken eyes barely acknowledging anything. His boots were covered in sand and mud and something that had a smell vaguely reminiscent of fish guts and skin rot; a smell all too familiar with the many sons and daughters of fishermen in these parts.
So when the tired, lumbering man had came upon the village, the obvious choice was to harass him. The children had run around picking up stones and sticks to pelt at the man. Words quickly followed. “Ya stupid drunk!” “Have a fun night, you lame urchin?” “You look like you could use a bath! Sea's the other way, gimp!” The man attempted to reach out to grab the children, but he was just far too slow and clumsy. After a few attempts, the man stumbled and fell down. The children, proud in their defense of the town, nodded at each other and took off, prepared to save the world in other fictional ways.
Barley Soup worked to pick himself back up. He wasn't in the greatest condition right now. It had only been a few hours since he was risen, and everything was still settling in. The magic animating him, lacking a master to direct it, was proving to be rather unreliable, and his own rotten muscles and nerves didn't help. He was feeling slow, he was feeling weak...
He was feeling hungry.
It had been hours since his last meal. That man of the cloth he had eaten had been oddly filling and comforting, and now Barley was starting to feel his stomach clench up in annoyance. It was time to eat, it screamed. Find me a meal now.
Barley had finally managed to make it into the town's borders, staring blankly at all the people running about. Something about them didn't feel as... filling. The priest from earlier definitely had less meat, Barley's brain was barely able to reason, but he had this feeling of being much more appetizing. Trying to piece this inconsistency together was more academically rigorous than anything Barley had been forced into since his raising, and as such he had been forgetting to move.
The villagers, however, had not. Many looked at the odd, sickly man with worry or concern, hoping that his disease didn't spread. Many of the children looked at Barley, planning their next raid on the newcomer. Almost five minutes had passed before one of the men walked by.
This man was a fairly recent arrival to the town, having found it on his many journeys. He had once been an adventurer of minor renown and warrior of basic skill, exceptional only in the amount of travel he had put into his life. As such, he was extremely worldly, knowing much of foreign lands and obscure magics. Often, the children would crowd him, asking for stories of old kings, bloody wars, insane wizards and magic swords. In a town such as this, magic was almost unheard of. That's why it took this one man to look at Barley Soup before shouting.
“THE RISEN DEAD! MEN, TO ARMS!”
He had taken off, back to his hovel in hopes of grabbing his weapon and shield from the hiding place under the floorboards. Unfortunately, his yell had roused Barley Soup from his thought-inspired trance. Worse, it had given him a target.
Barley took off after the man, but it became immediately apparent to the zombie that his speed was much lower than this warrior's. His rotten leg was slowing him down, and his stiff joints weren't helping. Groaning in hunger, his pure instinct yelled at his legs, insisting they give up more speed. And they answered.
Mid step, Barley's leg surged with tainted power; magic that would normally animate flesh and bone instead reinforcing it, and he ended up flying through the air, landing with a crash onto the escaping man. The entire ordeal had lasted scant more than half a minute, and still the villagers stood in shocked silence. That soon ended with Barley Soup's first bite.
Sweet, sweet bliss. Warm and moist, chewy and hearty. Every area of the body was a new meal. The satisfying sound of snapping and crunching accompanied Barley's search through the man's chest, eventually finding some of the best organs. The liver was first, then the stomach, then the...
Barley's head was shoved deeper into the man's mutilated chest as a club was raised once more, followed by another downswing. Men had been visiting their homes, gathering what meager weapons they had at their disposal. Women gathered their children, elders, and whatever things of value they could carry. Screams and vomit filled the air, some quieting as they noticed a savior bashing the head of the fleshie.
After a half-dozen swings, the hero relaxed his arm, peering down at the monster from behind his wooden shield. It had stopped moving, not even a single twitch from its arms and legs. It simply lay face down, head nestled somewhere in the bloody mess of his first victim. The brave man closer, giving the corpse a little kick in the side. Maybe he would be the village hero now, he though. Maybe this would qualify him as a seasoned warrior, enough at least to brag about how he had conquered a man who Death itself could not.
He was halfway through his smirk when Barley Soup reached over, grabbed his leg, and snapped it clear in half.
Half an hour later, the village was mostly deserted. A few had chosen to barricade themselves in their homes where most had run. Many sailors had taken boats had taken out of port and sailed off, in hopes of waiting out the threat or getting to a nearby town to ask for help. The dozen men who had stayed behind to fight Barley had done admirably, landing blow after blow on the undead menace. Eventually, though, the zombie had outlasted them and feasted.
It was then that Infineon had showed up, just as Barley had started into the twelfth man. Through the sound of his own loud eating, Infineon's words had only insignificantly buzzed in his ear. He shrugged it off and went back to his meal.
"A hungry man is not a free man." -Adlai E. Stevenson