So I’ve been summoned by Norman the Warlock. I’m obliged to serve him until he releases me or dies. Having your own demon is a big responsibility. Most people use a demon for sensible things like slaying their enemies, hording riches, learning forbidden secrets of the universe, enslaving the weak, and impressing people they want to have sex with. That kind of thing. But Norman has decided to use his demon to help other people. The goof.
We’re working for Marshal McBride, head of the local militia. We just killed eight Kobolds for him and then he asked us to kill eight Kobolds for him. No, I didn’t say those in the wrong order. He asked us to do it again after we did it the first time.
“He’s having us kill different Kobolds this time,” Norman explains when we get to the Kobold camp behind the church.
“I should hope so. It would be impossible for us to kill those other ones a second time,” I reply.
“No, I mean we’re here to kill a different kind of Kobold this time. Last time we killed these little Kobold vermin. This time McBride wants us to kill the Kobold workers. The bigger ones.”
“Yes. We don’t get credit if we kill the little ones.”
And with that I summon a big ol’ wad of infernal fire and chuck it at the nearest Kobold. Norman casts some sort of lame shadow bolt that he probably picked up in Warlock school. I go easy on the fire so he can feel like he’s helping out.
“So what do I call you?” Norman asks after the Kobold stops screaming and goes still.
“Whatever you want. You’re the boss, remember? Some warlocks like to personalize us with a cool-sounding name. One guy I used to work for – you wouldn’t know him, ‘nother plane of existence – used to call me ‘Direflame, The Devourer of Worlds.'”
“You devoured worlds?”
“Nah. The name was for show,” I shout over the death cries and crackling flames.
Norman begins beating a Kobold with his staff. “So what’s your actual name?” he asks once it stops moving.
“You want to know my real name?”
“Mother says it’s polite to use people’s names,” Norman says through clenched teeth as he rips a Kobold’s soul apart with a bolt of shadow magic.
“Demons aren’t really picky when it comes to manners, but if you really want to know I’ll tell you,” I say. Then I tell him my name:
After I’ve said it he makes a face. Did you say, “Ghaxxxxb (wheeze) sssssshtaaaaaahbt?”
I shake my head, “Ugh. Your pronunciation is terrible. You should try to gargle a little pitch in the back of your throat near the end.”
“I don’t think I have pitch,” he says as he slams his staff down on the head of a burning Kobold.
“Or spit. Whatever you got in there.”
“You also need to hiss more during the middle part. Try to vent a little steam out of your neck holes.”
“I don’t have any … Look, is that big long thing really your name, are are you pulling my leg?”
“Well, my full name is thirteen stanzas long and chanting the whole thing would boil your heart. But that bit I gave you is what my friends call me.”
“So your friends call you Ghoxbstabt?” He coughs a bit at the end of butchering my name. Partly because he’s not doing the gargle right, and partly because of all the smoke from the Kobols we’re roasting.
“Terrible,” I tell him. “You know what might help? If you punctured the front of your throat and then tried to say it.”
“I don’t think that’s necessary.”
“I think the vendor over by the church there sells knives.”
“How about I just call you Gobstab?”
“Sure. If you want to wuss out on me.”
I take a look around the pile of dead bodies, “McBride says these Kobolds are different, but I gotta say they smell exactly the same when you roast them. Exactly.”
“You should let up on that guy. He’s a respected servant of the people.”
“He’s a slacker who has just conned you into doing his guard-type duties for him.”
“He’s staying at his post! He’s faithful!” Norman says indignantly.
“He’s screwing you.”
“You’ll see. You demons think that the servants of Light are just like you except we wear white.”
“You’re wearing red.”
“You know what I mean! We’re different from you! You see people helping each other and assume it’s just tricks and lies. You don’t understand about people caring for each other. Our way is different.”
“I never said we were the same. Your way is a huge pain in the ass.”
“Come on. You’ll see.”
So Norman goes back to the church to get paid and I wait outside because I don’t want to get Paladin cooties.
He’s in there a while. I hear raised voices. Now I kinda wish I’d gone with him. Eventually he comes back out and heads for the fields behind the church again.
“So what’s the word, boss? Did we save the kingdom yet?”
He mumbles something under his breath.
“What’s that? I couldn’t catch that. I think sometimes your mustache muffles things a bit.”
He draws in a deep breath, “We’re going to kill 8 more Kobolds.”
“Sounds like a big job. Are any of the other half-dozen guards around here going to pitch in?”
He shakes his head.
“You’re not crying, are you?”
He doesn’t say anything.
“So what does he want us to kill this time around?”
“He wants us to kill 8 Kobold laborers.”
“We just did that.”
“No, we killed Kobold workers.”
“Worker. Means. Laborer.”
“Well these are just … different. Somehow.”
“Why didn’t he just ask us to kill these all in one go? Or why doesn’t he move his dumb ass over here? Why make us walk back over and over? He’s doing this to laugh at you. I’m telling you. He’s probably got a bet going with the other guards to see how many times he can get you to do this.”
“Marshal McBride is not playing a trick on me! He just didn’t realize how bad the problem was until I told him about how many there were.”
“I think I see how the forces of Good and Light work now. You’re right. You’re very different from evil.”
“If McBride were evil, his lies would be way less insulting.”
“He’s not lying! He’s just being … thorough.”
“But he doesn’t have any idea what’s going on right behind the building his men are supposed to be guarding.”
We reach a yawning mine entrance and come to a stop. Finally I ask, “So how do we tell the workers from the laborers? Since, you know, they’re the same-“
“The laborers are inside the mine.”
“A mine. Infested with Kobolds. And they didn’t know this until you told them? Didn’t any miners happen to mention that their dig site was completely overrun this morning? How did all these Kobolds get in here?”
“Maybe they …” Norman trails off as he looks back to the main gate, which is the only way in or out of this boxed-in valley.
“Maybe they what? Maybe the Kobolds marched past all the guards who were asleep at their posts? Is that what you’re thinking? Because that’s what I’m thinking.”
“Marshal McBride would never fall asleep at his post!”
“You’re right. He probably just let these rats in here. They probably bribed him with a few coins and a bottle of cheap booze.”
“You stop speaking ill of him right now!”
“I’ll bet that’s what he’s paying you with. He’s paying you a cut of the bribe money he took to betray his people. Now he’s having you kill them so that-“
“No! Stop it! As your master I command you to say something nice about Marshal McBride right now!”
I clear my throat and announce, “Marshal McBride is incredibly talented at screwing you.”
Norman goes red in the face. For a minute I’m wondering if he’s going to banish me (like I would care) but instead he raises his voice an octave. “You are such a … a … mean jerk!”
So we clean out the mine. Norman doesn’t say anything on the way back. When he comes out of the church he looks down at the coppers in his hand.
“Okay,” he says taking a deep breath. “You were right about McBride not being … helpful. But he’s just an exception.”
“Kid, you’re going to take this from me or you’re going to learn it the hard, painful, and hilarious-to-watch way, but that’s how people are. Mean. Selfish. Stupid. They’d let you kill yourself defending them and then feed you to their pigs because it’s cheaper than a funeral.”
“You’re wrong about people.”
“You summoned me, so you’ve got talent. Don’t waste it saving these losers.”
“I’ll show you. Come on. Just watch and keep your mouth shut.”
“You don’t want me killing things?”
“Oh do that. But don’t talk.”
“You’re the boss.”
Around the side of the church we meet Eagan Peltskinner.
Eagan explains things to the Boss, “I’m glad you’re here to help. The wolves here in Northshire Valley are being affected by some kind of disease. Each day that passes brings forth more sick wolves. It pains me to ask anyone to kill nature’s beasts, but we must destroy the diseased young wolves before this little outbreak turns into an epidemic.”
They shake hands and then we go a few steps out into the field to take out 8 wolves.
“Why is it always eight?” I ask.
“I said no talking!”
We kill the wolves, and then Norman skins them and brings the pelts back to Eagan.
“T’was a grim task, friend,” Eagan says. “But you held up your part of the bargain.” He hands Norman a pair of shoes and we go on our way.
“You see!” Norman says when we’ve moved a polite distance away. “Someone was genuinely worried about the lands. Not just his own lands – but all the lands. He paid money-“
“Shoes.”, I correct him.
“Ok, shoes. The point is, he paid out of his own pocket to have the disease dealt with. He paid us, we helped him, he helped everyone. Everybody wins. That’s what being the good guys is all about. Get it now?”
I smile big enough that all three rows of teeth are showing. “A guy named Eagan Peltskinner asked you to kill him some wolves and you didn’t think that was at all odd?”
“No … ?”
“And what did he ask you to do with the wolves?”
“Well, he had us bring him the pelts. To prove that we did the job.”
“He was looking right at us the whole time. He was twenty paces away. Why does he need proof?”
Norman looks back towards Eagan doubtfully. “Maybe he …”
“Maybe he’s named Peltskinner because his family business is collecting animal pelts for sale. And he just tricked you into fighting some dangerous wolves and skinning them for him.”
“That’s why he asked you to kill just eight. If you killed them all it might actually stop the disease and he wouldn’t be able to pull this trick on the next dunce that comes along.”
“And he didn’t even pay you money. He paid you shoes! How much will those shoes be worth when you unload them?”
“I won’t! I … I want these shoes. This was a fine payment!” He sits down on the ground and starts pulling them on right there. It takes a while. The shoes seem a little small.
“What if Eagan had said to you straight up, ‘I collect animal pelts for a living. If you’ll bring me the pelts of eight dangerous, disease-ridden wolves I’ll give you these tiny shoes.’ Would you have agreed to that?”
“Maybe!” he says in a tone of voice which indicates he knows just lost this argument.
“So. Are we done wasting our time being good guys now? Or do you want to keep on questing for new ways to get reamed by the locals?”
“I summoned you so I could help people, and that’s what we’re doing!”
“Fine. Pay’s the same for me either way. So who can we find to screw you next?”
“I don’t know. Let’s ask around.”
“That’s the spirit!”
Next Week: Norman tells the tale of when he sacrificed a virgin! No really.