It only took a few minutes for Saeter to come back. After shooing Geralhd and Varhs away from his campsite, the old scout led Blacknail off into the bush again. Herad wanted them to watch the enemy and make sure they didn’t circle around, so that was what they were going to do.
The hobgoblin and his master took the path at the back of the camp and then circled around through the woods towards Werrick’s flanks. They moved stealthily through the trees. With the enemy so close, the green maze of trees that encircled them was even more dangerous than usual.
“It’s not just enemy scouts or war parties we need to worry about. All this human activity and blood will have scared away some creature but attracted others,” Saeter told Blacknail as they stopped at a lookout point.
Below the shallow rocky overhang they were standing on, they could see a large stretch of thick vegetation. Neither of them saw any movement down there, so they both moved on.
It quickly became apparent that the enemy seemed to have little interest in moving off the road. They only ran into a single scout that had ventured into the forest. They trailed him carefully for a few minutes as he circled his own camp, but he never approached Herad’s base.
Other than that one man, they only saw a few bandits that had obviously been posted as sentries. They were positioned out among the trees and around Werrick’s army to warn them of attack. All and all, the enemy seemed more concerned with Herad’s band attacking them from ambush than entering the forest themselves.
“Let’s get a closer look at their encampment before we head back,” Saeter announced.
The pair were crouched down behind a fallen tree. A gully lay before them and it wound its way through the forest toward the road. They had just watched from concealment as a pair of sentries had made their way along it and back to their camp. Many of Werrick’s men were obviously using the gully as a path because its banks were covered in muddy footprints.
“There will be people watching,” Blacknail pointed out hopefully.
“You will just have to deal with them,” Saeter replied dryly.
“Good! Sounds like fun,” Blacknail exclaimed as he grinned and rubbed his hands together gleefully.
The hobgoblin then popped out of hiding and looked around. He didn’t see or hear anything, so he crept over to the path Werrick’s men had trampled. Saeter was right behind him, and together, they headed towards the road.
It was a few minutes before they spotted any sentries. Blacknail noticed them first. A woman with short curly brown hair and a black haired man were standing next to a large rock.
Blacknail signalled to Saeter and then slid up next to a tree. He peeked out from behind it, as he observed the humans. The enemy sentries had a good view of the surroundings. It would be difficult to sneak past them without having to circle quite a distance around.
“I’ll take care of them,” Blacknail said as he stepped forward.
“No bodies,” Saeter ordered him sternly.
A sigh of disappointment escaped Blacknail’s lips. That made things more complicated, but he still had an idea that could work. Why was his master so against having fun?
The hobgoblin made sure no one was looking in his direction, before dashing over to a clump of nearby bushes. He withdrew a stone from one of his pouches and threw it towards the sentries.
The small rock arced silently over the enemies’ heads and hit the bushes on the other side of them. The resulting rustling sound drew the sentries’ attention. While they were distracted, Blacknail slipped around to the side and behind another tree.
“Huh, it was probably just a bird,” one of the sentries told the other.
While they were still looking in the opposite direction, Blacknail threw another stone. This one hit the woman in the back of the head.
“Ow, did you just hit me with a rock?” she exclaimed angrily at the man as she rubbed the back of her head.
“What, no?” he replied in surprise.
“You’re the only one here,” she pointed out as she scowled at him.
“I didn’t hit you. I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the man answered.
“Fine, forget about it,” the woman huffed as she turned back to survey the forest in front of her.
The man did likewise. A few moments later, they both happened to look away from Blacknail’s hiding spot again. The hobgoblin threw another rock. This time it hit the man in the back of the head.
“Ow, shit. You hit me!” he growled at his companion. “I told you that I didn’t touch you! Don’t fucking hit me for no reason, bitch!”
The woman stiffened and then whirled towards the man. Her face was red with anger as she shoved a finger in his face.
“I didn’t do anything to you. You’re the one that hit me!” she hissed back.
“I fucking didn’t hit you, stop lying,” the man replied as he straightened up and glared at her.
As the two stupid humans argued among themselves, Blacknail signalled for Saeter to move. The old scout swiftly made his way over to the hobgoblin undetected. Neither of the sentries so much as glanced in his direction.
Once out of sight, Saeter led the way up the hill until the forest ended abruptly at the top of it. A stretch of bushes and a shallow ditch was all that lay between them, the road, and Werrick’s army.
Carefully, Blacknail stalked over to a thick bit of brush that would conceal him. Then, he nudged a branch aside and peeked out. Saeter moved up beside him.
Werrick’s men were everywhere. Some of them were only a dozen feet away. Troops stomped around as they performed their duties. A maze of blue tents filled the road and all the clear ground around it, until they stretched out of sight. There were hundreds of them.
Saeter tapped Blacknail to get his attention and pointed out a group of wagons. Half a dozen of them stood off to one side of the camp. Next to them, a line of horses were tied up. Blacknail eyed them suspiciously for a few seconds before moving on.
The next thing he saw that stood out was a huge pavilion. Its peaked tip towered over the other tents. And it looked wide enough to hold over a dozen men.
It was common sense that the biggest and fanciest quarters belonged to the chieftain, so the tent probably belonged to Werrick. The huge wolf head banner that flapped in the wind above it was also a clue.
There was no sign of anyone that fit Werrick’s description around, though. Blacknail frowned regretfully. He had wanted to catch a glimpse of the enemy chieftain he had heard so much about.
Another tap from Saeter drew the hobgoblin’s attention. This time the old scout pointed back the way they had come, so without wasting another moment, the pair withdrew. They slipped past the still arguing sentries and headed back to Herad to report.
Before they got halfway back, Blacknail caught an unsettling scent and froze in shock. His master immediately noticed his reaction and reached for his sword, but he stopped short of drawing it.
“What is it?” Saeter asked softly.
“I smell a troll,” Blacknail answered just as quietly.
The hobgoblin sniffed the air again and took a moment to mull it over. The forest was full of animal and plant smells that he had to sort.
“A few hours,” he answered.
“It was probably attracted by the blood earlier. There’s no real need to worry, but let’s hurry back,” Saeter explained.
Blacknail nodded and started moving again. There was a new urgency in both his and Saeter’s steps as they walked, and they watched the forest around them more intently.
At their quicker pace, it didn’t take them very long to make their way back to Herad’s base. After greeting their own sentries, the pair headed directly over to talk to their chieftain. Blacknail wanted to take a nap, but his master was in a hurry for some reason.
Herad was resting in her cabin after the battle. As usual, two large guards stood outside the door. They immediately recognized Saeter and greeted him.
“She knows you’re here and will be out soon,” the closer one told the old scout.
Saeter nodded in reply as Blacknail took a seat on the ground. He didn’t feel like standing; Herad might be a while. Saeter threw the hobgoblin a disapproving look but didn’t say anything.
Before too long, the door of the cabin swung open with a creak and Herad stepped out. She was wearing a loose white shirt that was obviously fresh and her dark eyes looked tired as she glanced their way.
“What is it, old man? This had better be important,” she asked crankily.
“While out scouting, I got a good look at Werrick’s camp,” Saeter explained carefully.
“Oh?” Herad remarked with obvious interest.
“He has most his supplies loaded up onto several wagons that are parked next to each other. They’re only a few dozen feet from the edge of the forest. Obviously, his lookouts are sloppy too, since Blacknail and I got so close,” Saeter told her.
“You want to hit them,” Herad finished for him.
The bandit chieftain seemed intrigued by the idea but not convinced.
“I can lead a group through the forest before it gets dark. We’ll hit the wagons and set them ablaze before high-tailing it out of there. They won’t have time to react,” Saeter explained to her.
Herad considered the old scout’s words carefully for a few moments.
“I can give you twenty or thirty men, of which only half a dozen can be woodsmen,” she told the old scout.
“That will be fine. Blacknail and I can clear the way,” he replied.
“Do you need anything else?” Herad asked him.
“It would be nice to have some magic on this raid,” Saeter suggested. “There is no better or faster way to get things burning.”
“No, I’m not risking Mahedium,” Herad replied. “It’s not worth any of the possible gains.”
“Things will be a lot slower if we have to depend on torches and fire arrows. We might lose more men,” Saeter pointed out.
“Then, that’s what will happen,” Herad told him coldly as she leveled a heavy gaze his way.
Saeter sighed but nodded in compliance. Herad relaxed a little in response to his submission and her expression softened slightly. Blacknail smiled to himself. His master was actually doing the right thing for once!
“Let’s just bring Scamp, then,” the hobgoblin mused aloud.
“What?” both Saeter and Herad replied in surprise at the same time.
They threw each other a quick glance before turning back to the hobgoblin.
“Scamp can use magic. We could just take him,” Blacknail explained.
“The goblin can set things off, that doesn’t make him a mage,” Herad replied.
“All he needs to do is make some-ss crystals explode. We can just throw him at the wagons. It worked against the snake,” Blacknail suggested to his chief.
He was careful not to challenge her in any way or give her an excuse to take offence. Herad was both very violent and quite dangerous.
“We probably don’t need to actually throw the goblin,” Saeter pointed out.
“No, but it would be more fun,” Blacknail countered.
“Don’t remind me about that,” Herad said as her eyes narrowed. “If you want to consider this Saeter, then feel free, as long as Mahedium agrees. You can run the mission your way. I don’t want to hear anything more about exploding goblins.”
“As you wish,” Saeter quickly replied.
“Exactly. Now, is there anything else you want to bother me about?” she asked him.
“No, that’s everything,” the old scout responded.
“Good. Talk to Vorscha about getting any of the gear you need. I’ll make sure she knows to give it to you,” Herad said as she dismissed them with a wave of her hand.
The bandit chieftain then turned around, opened her cabin’s door, walked through, and slammed it shut in everyone’s faces. The guards to either side of it flinched at the unexpected noise.
“Well, that went a lot better than I thought it would,” Saeter told them.
The hobgoblin and his master then started over to talk to Mahedium. It didn’t take much to convince him. He was more than willing to give them some crystals, as long as he didn’t have to go anywhere near combat.
After that, they met with Varhs. He had no problem with Scamp joining their raid as long as he came as well. That was probably for the best, and Saeter readily agreed to it.
Finally, they talked to Vorscha about rounding up the men and equipment. This wasn’t a simple or quick process so Blacknail left it to Saeter. He went to find something to eat instead.
A couple of hours later, the raid was about to begin, but Blacknail had one more task to complete beforehand. The now sated hobgoblin got up and began sniffing around. He was looking for his lost minion.
It didn’t take him long to pick up a trail. Elyias seemed to wander around the camp a lot for some reason. The hobgoblin followed his scent over to a cluster of small ramshackle buildings. Behind them, Elyias was having a conversation with three other men. It didn't look like he was having fun.
“We would like our money,” the first man said menacingly.
He was the tallest and most physically imposing of the group. His posture was both confident and aggressive, and the other two men beside him were obviously following his lead.
“Come one, fellows! It was just a few friendly games of dice!” Elyias replied nervously as he backed away. “You shouldn’t take it so seriously.”
“The money, now!” the man asked again.
His voice was cold and completely without camaraderie. Elyias grin stiffened and he paled upon hearing it.
“Just calm down, fellows. There’s an army attacking us right now! What good would money do you? You can’t spend it until we win, and then I’ll get paid and have more than enough to pay you back. There will be plenty of spoils for everyone!”
“You owe us now, not later. If you don’t have the metal then you can pay us back with labor. If we ask around I’m sure someone can find some way for you to work your debts off,” the large man replied with a dark chuckle as he gave Elyias an appraising look.
Elyias clearly found the attention uncomfortable and he gulped in fear. Sensing weakness, the large man began to reach for him, but he stopped at an unexpected noise.
“He’s busy,” Blacknail told the men as he smiled pleasantly.
His agreeable demeanor was somewhat ruined by the fact that he was standing less than a foot behind them, and they hadn’t heard him approach. All three men jumped in shock and whirled around. They flinched again when they took in the sight of the hobgoblin’s toothy grin.
“Hells, it’s the hobgoblin!” one of the men swore.
“What do we do?” another asked.
However, the leader quickly regained his composure. His look of surprise became an angry glare that he levelled at Blacknail. The hobgoblin could tell that this human considered himself to be an alpha, and that he was unlikely to back down. Joy!
“Listen, we’re going to get our money...” the man started to say, before his speech was interrupted by a high pitched squeak that whistled forth from between his own lips.
Blacknail continued smiling as he stared into the man’s wide trembling eyes. No one spoke. After a few tense moments, the hobgoblin loosened his grip on the man’s groin. His sharp claws slid free from flesh as he relaxed them slightly.
“Mine,” Blacknail explained as he pointed towards Elyias.
“Go away,” he added a second later. “Or would-ss you rather lose all the little bits of meat I can take without killing you?”
Blacknail let completely go of the man’s privates. A hasty moment later, all three men were flat out running away. The hobgoblin watched them for a second before turning to his minion.
“Ha, thanks, I guess,” Elyias told him as he smiled in relief. “That was just a small misunderstanding.”
“Come with me,” Blacknail replied as he began to walk away.
His minion frowned and bit his lip. It didn’t look like he wanted to come, but he wasn’t stupid enough to believe he had a choice either.
“What are we doing?” he asked uncertainly as he hurried after Blacknail.
“A mission,” the hobgoblin replied pleasantly.
With his minion in tow, Blacknail walked over to the corner of the camp where Saeter was preparing to leave. The old scout had over twenty men around him and they were all armed and ready for a fight. Dusk had started to fall so the nearby forest was dark and ominous.
“Why is there a greenhorn following you around?” Saeter asked the hobgoblin as he approached.
“I volunteer him for the mission. He should be in the front,” Blacknail told his master.
“Sure,” Saeter replied indifferently as he turned to face Elyias.
“Try not to die, lad,” the old scout told him before turning away.
“I will do that...” Elyias replied uncertainly.
No one was listening, though. Both Saeter and Blacknail had already otherwise preoccupied themselves. Elyias groaned and threw longing look back towards the way he had come. He stayed put, though, reluctantly.
“Where are we going?” Elyias asked as he looked around.
It took a few seconds for one of the bandits to reply.
“We’re launching an attack on the enemy,” a man with savage scar across his face answered.
Elyias paled. He looked around again and counted the nearby bandits. It didn’t take him long, although he paused for a second when he noticed Scamp sitting next to Varhs.
“By ourselves?” he asked.