Once upon a time, there was a Goblin King who wanted to turn good.
This was no easy proposition, for he lived in a world where Good and Evil were quite clearly defined, and anyone peering in from another Universe would have been able to tell, within the span of a two or three minute montage, which side was heroic and liked adorable babies and rescued kittens from trees, and which side would have made penguin-kicking the official national sport of their kingdom, if only their kingdom had penguins.
He called unto him his Court Shaman. She arrived in a dignified hurry. (A Shaman answers only to the Gods and is thus above the King. On the other hand, the King had a habit of removing the heads of those who made him wait too long, and despite her close relationship with divinity, the Shaman had no real desire to meet the Gods early, nor felt overly comforted by the thought that, if her ruler had her executed, there’d be a lot of smiting taking place around her dead body, because while revenge is sweet, corpses, technically, can’t taste anything.)
“I wish to become Good,” the King said without preamble.
“At what?” the Shaman replied, slightly perplexed.
“Not at anything. I wish to become Good. You know. Compassion for others. Liking pretty, delicate stuff. Doing nice things for the heck of it.”
The Shaman blinked. “Empathy is a reasonable survival trait. And delicate things are most definitely not aligned with any particular moral value. As for doing nice things for the heck of it, you don’t particularly need m help for that. You could, you know, just do nice things.”
The King shook his head. “No, no. I’ve been reading these novels from other worlds. Goblins are obviously evil by their very nature. We’re just monsters. I need you to brew me up a potion that will change my internal alignment and make me Good.”
Goblins have very long necks, which mean that when the Shaman turned her head to one side, it gave her the same sort of lopsided look you’d get if a gigantic German shepherd were very, very confused.
“Sire, there are a number of logistical problems involved in this enterprise—”
“MAKE ME GOOD, OR I WILL SEVER YOUR CRANIUM WITH AN AXE AND USE IT AS A BASKETBALL!”
“Unwise. Axes make terrible basketballs.”
“YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN!”
“And also, I’m pretty sure that having me killed for not doing what you wanted would be fairly evil, and thus self-defeating. And that’s before we get to the part where if you slay me, you don’t have anyone who can make that potion, seeing as how we’ve conquered all of the neighboring Goblin tribes and I’ve either slain all of my rivals, or made them swear allegiance to me.”
The King’s face took on an ugly expression, which was, to be fair, its normal position in the first place. “Loyal to you and not me?”
“Shaman answer only to the Gods,” she replied primly. “If they’re loyal to me, I can try to make sure they don’t do anything the Gods would really hate. If they were loyal to you, you could go around me, and you’d get the whole kingdom smote. Besides, you know I can’t unseat you.”
They both stood in silence for a moment, remembering Queen Deathbydeath, the only being in recent history to be both earthly and spiritual leader of Goblinkind. It turns out that if the Goblin high-priest is also the ruler, she can speak to the Gods directly, as if they were neighbors. It also turns out that the Gods really, really, really hate that. She became living proof that not only can lightning strike the same place twice, it can strike the same place one hundred eighty-seven times, all in rapid succession.
“Very well,” the Goblin King said at last. “I’ll take the potion.”
“No problem,” said the Shaman. “First, I’ll need the blood of a dozen babies, and—”
The Shaman’s shrug was enigmatic. “It’s one of those cosmic irony things. I think the theory is that you could try to do so much good, after you’ve changed, that it doesn’t matter anymore.”
“That’s a lot of pressure.”
“Being Good isn’t easy.”
The Goblin King looked at his throne, made from the skulls of several dozen enemies, and replenished frequently because skulls are really a terrible building material. “Evil’s not exactly a bed of roses either, you know.”
“More like a bed of thorns,” the Shaman agreed. “Now, before we begin, I’d like to know: What’s your plan for dealing with the whole problem of motive?”
“What do you mean?”
The Shaman turned her palm up, in an isn’t-this-obvious gesture. “If becoming intrinsically good is important to you, then your reasons for doing so also matter. Are you becoming good for entirely selfless reasons, purely because it’s the only good thing to do?”
The King hesitated. “I…don’t think so? I want to be good because, you know, Good is Good. It does the right things. It wins in the end. It eventually defeats Evil and things turn out okay.”
“So…sort of a cynicism thing? If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em? You just want to be good for your own selfish advantage?”
“What if I want it altruistically for all Goblins?”
“Well, all Goblins are, apparently, all evil. And wanting good outcomes for evil creatures is definitely evil.”
“You mean, I could drink the potion that turns me good, be good, and do good things, and still be evil?”
“Of course. The only way to truly become good by drinking a potion to begin with is to already be so good that you can’t possibly be trying to become good through the use of magic or other enhancements.”
The Goblin King sat back heavily on his throne, which was (if he had to admit it) quite comfortable, even if bits of it did occasionally crunch. He called out to the Lord Chamberlain: “What’s my agenda for today?”
“Beheading some enemies of state, quaffing mead, playing golf, sir.”
He looked over at the Shaman. “What do you suppose would be different if I were Good?”
“You’d be beheading a lot more enemies. Good is very talented at finding people who need to be killed. So you’d probably have to skip the golf.”
The Goblin King sighed. “All right, Shaman. Thanks for coming by on short notice. I think we’re done here.”
The Shaman nodded. “I wish I could help, but the metaphysics around this stuff are pretty poorly designed.” She then yelped, as a very small lightning bolt slipped through a window and narrowly missed her, disintegrating a small plant. She glowered out the window and up at the sky. “Some help YOU are!”
The last rays of the sun died peacefully on the sharp shards of the mountains of the West. The moon began to rise. It was going to be a lovely night.
My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities, put on events, and make stories come into being. I also tweet a lot over @darklordjournal.