We’re back at the MacLure farmstead. We come upon their worn, doorless, barely-furnished farmhouse. Just inside we see a young girl on the verge of womanhood. Her face is downcast. He eyes are reddened from tears. She paces around the room fitfully. Norman sees her and nudges me with his foot. “This right here,” he whispers, “This is our big chance to help! Mother always says that when it comes to doing good, helping the poor is second only to punishing bad people.”
I sigh and reply with a shrug. Whatever. Let’s get this over with.
Norman knocks, introduces himself, and skirts around the question of why he has a two-foot-tall (but astoundingly fearsome) demon by his side. The girl introduces herself as Maybell Maclure.
Norman bows and offers the girl his magical adventuring services.
She seems somewhat encouraged. She looks out the door to make sure her words don’t find their way to other ears, and then tells her story, “Oh, I’m cursed! My heart belongs to Tommy Joe Stonefield, but our families are feuding. So I can’t see him, even though my eyes ache to gaze upon that handsome face!”
“Feuding?” Norman says hesitantly.
I speak up, “Sure. You know, boss. That feud you just got done making worse?”
“Oh,” Norman says as he silences me with a kick, “I’m not sure how we can help with that.”
“Please, take this letter and give it to Tommy Joe!”, she says as she presses a delicately folded slip of paper into Norman’s open hand. “He’s usually at the river to the west of the Stonefield Farm, which is due west of here.”
He closes his hand on the offered note, saying, “Yeah, okay. I guess we can deliver a letter for you.”
“Open that sucker up and let’s see what it says!” I say as soon as we’re outside.
“I’m not reading her mail,” he huffs.
“Their families are feuding. This could be a trick.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Think about it. Maybe this is an attempt to provoke a fight? Or set a trap? You’d be taking part. Think of it: A nice honest warlock like you, duped into fueling the violence. Again.”
“She is not trying to do any such thing! She’s a sweet, innocent girl.”
“Remember that one time when you thought the town guards were all noble, honest guys who wanted to protect the people?”
“You mean … yesterday?”
“Yeah! And remember when you realized they were a bunch of f–“
“Fine! I’ll read it!” he snaps. He unfolds the paper. There is a whiff of perfume as he does so. He smooths the page out a bit. It is covered in words written in curly script and adorned with tiny hearts. He reads …
Tommy Joe –
With each passing hour, my heart withers from your absence. Oh, if only our folks could see beyond the silly crimes they have done to each other, and know that the only true crime is hate. Hate consumes, and I fear in these dimming times that hate will take hold of more than just our families.
If they realized this then we could, at long last, be together. It is for that day I hope, and for that day I live.
Your love, Maybell
I sniff and dab my eyes a bit.
Norman looks down in surprise, “Gobstab? I had no idea you were such a romantic!”
“I can’t help it boss,” I say with a heavy sigh, “It just really gets to me to see two families with such passionate hatred for one another. And if they hate each other enough to keep these two kids apart, then they have a rare and beautiful hate.”
Norman is disappointed, “So … you don’t really care about these two lovebirds?”
“Care! Are you kidding? They’re crucial. If I was the caseworker for this feud I’d make sure those two got together.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Look, you get these two idiots to sneak out of the house at night in the bandit-infested woods and then just let nature run its course. Sooner or later one of them will turn up dead and that would push this feud right over the top. They’ll be burning each other’s crops and poaching livestock before the end of the day, and there would be murder by the end of the week. This romance is a golden opportunity.”
“Aren’t you worried that having them both get killed would cause the families to see the error of their ways?”
“Very observant! You know, you might make a decent agent of evil yourself.”
“It was just a compliment. No need to get all touchy about it. Anyway, that’s why you make sure you only kill one of them! With only one lovebird dead, one family will want to mourn and the other will want revenge. If you’re lucky they’ll attack during the funeral. Something like that can keep a fight going for a couple of generations, at least.”
“That is truly depraved,” Norman observes.
“Thanks. But I can’t really take credit. That’s standard procedure, right there.”
“Standard? The Burning Legion never went in for that sort of thing when they attacked. They just … attacked.”
I shake my head, “Ugh. The Burning Legion. What a bunch of losers. Don’t get me started.”
We walk a little further through the woods between the two farms. Something seems to be bothering Norman.
Finally he gives up and asks, “What’s wrong with the Burning Legion? I mean, I hate them, but they tried to destroy my world. Shouldn’t you like them?”
“Forget I said anything,” I say with a shrug, “Demon politics would bore you.”
“No, really. I want to know.”
“No, really. Forget it.”
“No, as your master I order you to explain it to me,” he says, stamping his foot.
This is my big chance. “I don’t have to tell you about the demon realms, remember?” I tell him, “But I’ll make you a deal. I’ll tell you about the Burning Legion if you tell me what the deal is with your mum.”
“Fair enough,” Norman says. “But you first.”
“Fine,” I sigh heavily. A puff of green flame spurts out, “You know the old saying that ‘Ninety percent of everything is crap’? Well it goes for demons, too. Ninety percent of all demons are no-talent hacks, and those hacks call themselves ‘The Burning Legion.'”
“I wouldn’t say they had no talent. They nearly destroyed this entire world!”
“Yes, nearly. They had this place handed to them on a silver platter and they pissed it all away in, what? A year? Managed to get themselves spanked by a bunch of mortals. Think about what this place was like before the Bumbling Legion showed up. How was it? Nice and quiet?”
“Gosh no,” Norman admits. “The Horde and the Alliance were always fighting.”
“And after the Legion showed up?”
“Well, everyone joined forces against the common threat. I think I see what you mean. You’re saying if they had left us alone we might have eventually destroyed ourselves?”
I let out another long sigh of green flame and smoke, “Sadly, it’s not quite as simple as that. You gotta work on both sides. Offer them power, then offer more power to the other side. Keep escalating things. Keep them coming back, asking for more and more demonic power. Takes a few generations, but eventually it’s the only kind of power they know, and they will fight to the death to keep it. Even if it means destroying everything they had originally set out to save.” I pause for a moment as I begin to choke up, thinking back to the time we got all the priests of Umana’gaboth to cast a fireball spell larger than their actual planet. I smile as a tear of blackened pitch slides down my cheek. “It’s beautiful.”
“So the Burning Legion is just in too much of a hurry?” Norman asks.
“Any idiot can burn down a man’s house, but a true demon can sell him the torch, get him to light the fire himself, and then jump in afterwards.”
“Any demon worth his horns will have an angle. But what happened here? The Legion of Stupid came in head-first, and suddenly everybody was all united. People started praying to and serving ‘the Light.’ And now we’re up to our armpits in paladins. This world should have been a pushover.”
“The Alliance and Horde are fighting again. Killing each other left and right,” he points out.
“Thanks. I can see you’re trying to cheer me up, and I appreciate that. But all it would take is for one guy to show up and say he’s with the Burning Legion and peace would break out again and we demons would end up getting tenderized by ten thousand paladin hammers. We’d get hit with so many smite spells we’d be farting holy light. No, this place is a bust, and the only way we’re ever going to get another crack at it is by making sure the Buffoon Legion stays out of it.”
We pass by the Fargodeep mine again, and stop for a minute to look down into the valley where Kobolds are running around and shouting nonsense to each other about candles.
Finally I observe, “Can you imagine how much those two families must hate each other to continue a feud when there is a Kobold city between them?”
“Yeah,” Norman admits. “They never really mention the Kobolds, do they?”
We reach the bank of the river and find Tommy Joe Stonefield standing by the water and scratching his nose like a man who has forgotten his fishing pole.
Norman introduces himself and explains that he has a love letter from Maybell. Tommy gets a little upset by this and for a moment I think Tommy is going to start a fight. But then Norman explains that he has a love letter from Maybell, for Tommy. It takes the boy a minute to get it, but then he calms down. Norman hands him the note.
Tommy spends the better part of a minute moving his lips and scanning over the letter. Finally he looks up. “That does it!” he says as he slams his fist into his open palm. “I won’t stand it any longer! I must be with my darling.” A change comes over his face. A look of determination. He pulls himself up straight and takes a deep breath, “I’m a grown man. I’m through letting this feud interfere with our relationship. Now is the time for action! I know just what to do!”
Norman gets into the spirit of the thing, “I’ll help any way I can. Do you need a weapon?”
“The first thing to do…” Tommy says as he looks out over the farmlands with narrowed eyes, “…is ask Grammy to fix it.”
“Who?” Norman asks.
“My grandmum. I’ll ask her to make it all better. She’s good at fixing tricky problems.”
“Oh,” Norman says with disappointment. There is a long pause. Finally he says, “I guess I’ll leave you to it then. Good luck.”
“Actually,” Tommy says, “She’s way over there on the other side of the field and I’m kind of enjoying this spot by the river. “Perhaps you can talk to her for me?”
“He’s not a shining example of humans,” Norman admits as we march all the way back to the other side of the farm.
“He’s proof that what I said about the Burning Legion is true. Demons should not lose against people who, as the ultimate expression of passion, would ask their gandmother for help if it wasn’t such a bother. You aren’t doing your species any favors by helping that guy breed.”
Next Week: We’re going to help this guy breed. Also… Norman tells us about his Mother!