Ask the Trope Fairy: Take the Weight Off Your Shoulders
Ask the Trope Fairy is an advice column for characters navigating science fiction and fantasy realms. In this dimension, advice is published on alternate Fridays.
Dear Trope Fairy,
I work for the second in command to an emperor who’s not the best guy. Neither is she really. To be honest, I don’t know why they don’t get along better. They both don’t care about the people. She threatens them for starving, he evicts them to build [redacted]topia. But the emperor fired my boss, his top advisor, and I might have, well I was talking and I seem to have, given her the idea to go after him.
I didn’t think about it at the time, because suddenly we were down in her lab and picking out a poison. I can’t say I objected at the time, but I did mess it up. Between running to the kitchen for my spinach puffs and having to put the poison in all of our goblets when I lost track of it, I made a real mess of killing [redacted] the first time. In my defense, dinner was excellent. I got one thing right that night, and it was definitely the spinach puffs. And dessert was so tempting that even [redacted] agreed we could wait to dispose of the body. The body wasn’t dead you see. It was alive. An alive llama to be precise.
So after dessert, I go out to dispose of the llama, and my shoulder angel and shoulder devil show up. I don’t know why they weren’t there before. In retrospect, they really should have been on the whole poisoned dinner thing. I think they were distracted by the spinach puffs nearly burning. To be honest, they’re not very helpful. Every time they show up, they are more interested in trash talking each other than helping me navigate a moral quandary. So on my own, I put [redacted] the llama on a cart and just hoped for the best.
My boss took over the kingdom, and everything seemed fine until I had to tell her about the llama still being alive. The trip wasn’t what I’d call pleasant, but it was a nice bonding experience for us. I think [redacted] might have had an even better time than we did camping in the woods, because when we bumped into the emperor in the diner (which I just had to take over, the kitchen was a mess and they were in dire straights), he was still pushy but he had a peasant friend. Which is unlike him.
We’re nearing the final showdown, and my shoulder angel isn’t even showing up on time anymore, so I’m a little lost. No one missed [redacted] when they thought he died. But I couldn’t kill him as a llama. Is that different? Should I not have poisoned him? What do I do now? I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed and [redacted] has always done the thinking for me?
Dear Asking For a Guide,
I don’t usually engage with minions to villains, unless I feel that they are being misled or gaslit into morally gray (or black) territory in a way that suggests they genuinely mean no harm. I’m not sure how much deception is actually happening here — you seem clear-eyed on what your boss is asking you to do and fully capable of repeating it honestly back to her and me.
But your description of the Shoulder Angel and Shoulder Devil worries me a great deal.
Typically, the people with Shoulder Angels and Shoulder Devils are gentle but simple souls that require help with the often complicated moral world around them. The idea that yours have gone astray and are lost in their own petty vendetta rather than assisting with your needs is deeply distressing to me. The purpose of Shoulder Angels is to clarify often difficult situations into simpler moral choices, in order that simple, gentle souls may know if they are doing right. The purpose of Should Devils is to show the advantage to be gained by evil actions. This was the bargain struck, to guide the naive without denying them a true choice that could lead to their advantage.
So for a Fairy Guide like myself, that means that top priority is helping you avoid complex moral situations until your Shoulder Angel and Shoulder Devil can once again develop a healthy, combative working relationship. Because your moral center is compromised (as evidenced by your cheerful willingness to murder by poison but inability to kill by other means), it is imperative that you remove yourself from court politics.
You need to find yourself a new job, a quiet situation with few moral quandaries, at least until your Shoulder Guides are functional again. The good news is that you are apparently capable of gaining another job — on a whim in the midst of an evil mission! So, could you be happy leaving your boss and the emperor behind and going back to run that diner? The moral quandaries there are simpler, so even if Shoulder Angel and Shoulder Devil are busy working out their own issues, you should be able to deal with these smaller scale problems.
Your letter reads with the simple sweetness veering toward jolly amorality that I’ve come to expect from misled henchmen. Often such people stay in the employ of evil for lack of other options. But you have other options. Some that might appeal to you much more than your current stressful employment. Be honest, wouldn’t you rather open your own restaurant someday? Even in their addled state, I suspect your Shoulder Duo would agree.
But until they are back on line, I will issue a clear ruling: don’t poison any more dinners. As your Shoulder Angel should point out in such situations, all forms of murder are wrong, not just the violent ones. As your Shoulder Devil should point out, you are clearly bad at it.
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Transcribed and annotated by Katy Mulvaney with permission from the League of Fairy Surrogates and the Interdimensional Meta — Fantasy Council. The Trope Fairy can be reached by offering a delicious nutty treat to the local squirrels. Do not present it as an exchange, but simply a gift. Then offer your letter. If they are pleased, they will do you a kindness in turn, but Worlds Tree Squirrels of the line of Ratatosk do not enter straight exchange deals. Offer freely, request humbly.