We’re out behind the church. In the graveyard. Norman is looking around like he’s afraid he’s being followed.
I nod, “Nice. I like this. Lotta room for more dead people here, though. What say we fill this place up?”
Norman turns to me, “Look. This is a bit tricky, but warlocks are sort of outlawed a bit.”
“Explain that to me.”
“Technically it’s more frowned upon than outlawed. But the point is, people might give me a hard time about being a warlock if word gets around.”
“Ah. Gotcha. But wait. How do you explain me? You’ve got a demon by your side. That’s gotta be some kind of giveaway.”
“Everyone sort of thinks I’m a mage. It’s a long story. The point is, if anyone asks I’ll just say you’re an elemental or something.”
“This still doesn’t explain why we’re in the graveyard.”
“That’s the other problem. Drusilla over there is my warlock instructor. She doesn’t know I’m good.”
“Buddy, I’ve seen your magic in action. Nobody is going to think you’re any good.”
“No, I mean they don’t know I serve the Light. They think I’m evil just like them.”
“And they think this because … ?”
He sighs and looks over towards his teachers. Then he lowers his voice, “Part of the initiation is you have to do some … stuff. Bad stuff.”
“I don’t want to talk about it. The point is, these guys think I’m evil and I don’t want to mess that up or they won’t teach me anymore. So I order you not to say anything.”
“You don’t have to be like that. Believe me, the last thing I want is to do something that will make you less powerful.”
Norman gets few lessons in sucking 1.3% less, and then we head back out to the front of the church. Back to Marshal McBride and his team of decorative town guards.
I nod towards the deputy, “So we’re back to getting screwed by the these guys? What job will they give us this time? Polish their armor? Fetch them ale? Fight off an invasion while they supervise?”
“Look,” Norman says defensively. “These guys might be a little lazy, but if there was real trouble they would be ready for it.”
“The Kobolds weren’t real trouble?”
“Kobolds are beneath them. But if there was something bad … “
“Yes! Exactly. If bandits came around these guys would be on the job.”
“Wanna bet on it?”
“Bet?” he says suspiciously.
“Here’s the deal: If these guards have sensible work for us, then I’ll tell you a secret about myself that I’ve never told any mortal before. If they have us do something crazy – like kill bandits – then you gotta tell me what you did to get into the warlock’s union.”
Norman stands up straight, “Mother always says that gambling is wrong.”
“It’s not gambling if you really believe you’re right. Are you saying you think these guys are just as shiftless and corrupt as they seem to be?”
“No! These are good men. Decent men. I’ll take your bet, demon.”
I’ve been around for thousands of years, and in all those years I’ve come across three images I will cherish forever:
1) The time the High Priestess of Gool-Udana called forth a dragon to repel this demonic invasion we were doing, but she forgot to do the binding spell so all she had was a pissed off dragon. It ate her on the spot, and we had to call off the invasion for a couple of centuries until the thing calmed down. The place was ruined anyway by the time we got back, but the burp that guy gave after he ate her was pure comedy gold.
2) The time we swiped the clothing from the Paladins of some world. I forget the name. Anyway, these guys had to come out and fight us naked. All they had were shields and weapons. Their faces were all red and the whole time they kept trying not to look at each other. And they kept apologizing to each other if they bumped. They still kicked our asses, but it was worth it for that battle alone. I hate paladins.
3) Right now, when this guard looked Norman right in the eye and told him to go out to the nearby vineyard and kill eight bandits.
“Well met!” the guard says in his helmet-muffled voice. “Recently, a new group of thieves has been hanging around Northshire. They call themselves the Defias Brotherhood.”
“Oh,” is all Norman can say. He looks down at me in horror. I’m trying to stifle my laughter, but it just makes flame come out my nose.
“I don’t know what they’re up to,” the guard continues.
“Well … you said yourself that they’re thieves. So I would guess they’re up to some sort of thievery.”
“Well whatever it is, I’m sure it’s no good!” The guard seems to be nodding his head but the helmet doesn’t move much. It’s too big for him.
“Yes. Thievery. I’m sure that’s just the sort of thing that you could arrest them for.”
“Bring me eight of the bandanas they wear.”
Norman shuffles away, crushed. He leads us over to the vineyard where the bandits are milling around. I laugh the whole way there.
“You … you knew!” he says accusingly.
“Of course I knew!” I say when I’ve caught my breath. “I saw these idiots when we were at the graveyard.”
“The best part? You knew it was stupid to bet me, and you did it anyway. Now pay up.”
Norman takes a deep breath, “Okay, in order to get into the warlock union you have to … sacrifice a virgin. And then drink her blood. That last step is semi-optional, though.”
“You sacrificed a virgin?!?”
“More or less.”
“You can do better than that. Come on. Who’d you kill?”
“That’s all I’m saying for now.”
“Pardon me, madam”, Norman says clearing his throat, “But could I get that red bandana from you?”
The thug ignores him.
“I’ll pay you for it, of course,” he says hopefully. “How much do you think…?”
She doesn’t even make eye contact. It’s like he’s not even there.
“Hey genius,” I say to him. “When the guard asked you for the bandanas, he was asking you to kill these guys.”
“No!” he says, horrified.
“It’s proof. Like the Peltskinner guy earlier.”
Norman looks around the field in dismay, “But … killing? People? Shouldn’t I try to arrest them first? Or something? I don’t know. We haven’t even seen them committing any crimes!”
“So you’re saying the town guards here are corrupt and would ask you to kill these people in cold blood?
“No,” he says uneasily.
“Then these folks must be guilty of something punishable by death.”
“All of them?”
“Either that or the guard is sending you to murder people. For no reason.”
So Norman has a little nervous breakdown, recovers, snivels a little, pouts under a tree, gets angry, throws a fit, calms down, and finally gets his act together. We go out and start killing bandits.
Like all mortals, he gets a little freaked out by the first time he kills someone. But by the eighth one he’s perked back up and is throwing shadow bolts right at their bandana-wearing faces.
We return to Deputy Buckethead and Norm turns in his bandanas.
“There,” he says. “Eight of them. You know, there are still a lot of them over there. Just please don’t ask me to do any more messy stuff.”
The guard looks down at a little to-do list he’s written down. Just about everything on it has been checked off. His head nods somewhere inside of his cavernous helmet, “Right. Last job. Garrick Padfoot is a cutthroat who has plagued our farmers and merchants for weeks.”
Norman smiles, “Ah! You want me to use my supernatural powers to locate him so you can bring him to justice! Do you have any clues to get me-“
“Actually, we know right where he is. He’s standing around in the vineyard.”
“You mean … where I just was a minute ago?”
“That’s the place! Just go over there and bring me his head to collect the bounty.”
Norman goes white. “His … head? Do you mean that figuratively, or are you really suggesting that I-“
The guard gives him a little shove in the direction of the vineyard, “Off you go now. Good luck.”
“Soooo. Hi there,” Norman says to Padfoot after we’ve effortlessly strolled by his men and up to his not-very-secret hideout.
“Don’t chat him up,” I say, “Just set his ass on fire and let’s go get paid.”
“I don’t know. I mean. He’s just standing here.”
“He’ll get moving once he’s on fire.”
Norman sighs. “Fine.”
Once Garrick is face-down Norman turns to me, “Would you mind?”
“Getting the … head.” He sounds like he’s going to throw up.
“Okay I can’t take it anymore,” I say, “How in the name of Arthas’ frozen nipples did you ever manage to get up the nerve to drink the blood of a sacrificed virgin?”
“Well”, he says looking sideways, “I didn’t do the messy part myself.”
“Which messy bit? The kidnapping, the killing, or the blood-drinking?”
“I paid someone else to do the actual killing bit for me.”
“So what, you hired someone to kill the virgin? That means you didn’t sacrifice a virgin, you assassinated one.”
“Yes. The butcher. I mean, he kills sheep all the time so it was no big deal for him.”
“Your ‘virgin’ was a sheep?”
“I’m pretty sure she was a virgin. Although, the guy I bought her from was really creeped out when I started asking him about the virginity of the sheep. He nearly called the constable on me.”
“But … a SHEEP?”
He shrugs, “The rules never said the virgin had to be human. Everyone hears ‘virgin’ and assumes ‘young, attractive female human’. But lots of other things are virgins too.”
I pause to think about this for a minute. “One thing I don’t get, is why you did all of this in the first place?”
Norman shrugs, “They require it for membership in the Warlock Union.”
“And they really accepted a sheep sacrifice?”
“Not as such, no. They asked if I had sacrificed a virgin, and I said yes.”
“But why bother with the sheep at all? Why not just claim you killed one?”
“You mean lie to them? I could never do that!”, he says incredulously.
I slap a leathery claw over my forehead. “And I suppose rather than drinking the blood the way you’re supposed to, you just made sheep into soup and drank that?”, I ask him.
“That’s something, at least.”
“I’m a vegetarian.”
There is a long pause. Finally I tell him, “You sir, are a devious cheat.”
“Sorry,” he shrugs.
“No, no. See, that’s a compliment.”
“Coming from a demon, yeah. We care about getting the job done. The other side cares about how you do stuff. Demons care about results, not rules. You wanted the power that comes with being in the warlock union but you didn’t want to pay the price, so you found a loophole. I can respect that.”
Norman looks down, thoughtful.
“Still,” I tell him. “If you change your mind and want to knock back a cup of virgin blood, the first round’s on me.”
“Uh … thanks. I think.”
“Don’t mention it,” I say as I rip the guy’s head off. His spine is a toughie. I gotta gnaw it a bit to get the head loose. Once I get the head free I hold it up, “You you wanna carry it, or should I?”
“Fine. I’ll carry it. Wuss.”
The Deputy accepts the head and checks off the last item on his checklist. “Very good, citizen. You should go see Marshal McBride and see if he has any more work for you.”
Norman goes into the church to talk to McBride. When he comes back out he’s looking pale.
“More head-chopping?” I ask him.
“Worse,” he says mournfully. “He’s sending us to Goldshire.”
Next Time: Dun dun DUN!