It didn’t take long for the sound of footsteps to reach Blacknail’s pointy green ears. He listened with patient excitement as he crouched in his hiding spot between a boulder and a clump of bushes. It was almost time to begin the game.
Blacknail peeked out from behind a screen of leaves as three enemies walked into view. The trio was moving carefully and keeping an eye out for their quarry. At least one of them was a trained scout because they were easily following the trail that Blacknail’s group had left.
All three of the men looked like Werrick’s minions. They had rough dirty armor and they were armed to the teeth. Their faces were weathered and hard looking. These were men who had seen more than their fair share of fighting and were looking for more.
However, only one of them had a bow and it wasn’t strung. As he studied his prey, Blacknail could hear more enemies approaching from behind. These first three men were just the enemies’ vanguard.
“Have you noticed anything weird about some of the tracks?” one of the scouts asked his fellows.
“No, why?” the lead man replied as he looked down at the ground.
“I uh... I’ve heard that the Killer of Men might be in among the group we’re tracking,” the first speaker admitted nervously.
“The hobgoblin? He’s just a tall tale meant to frighten townies. You don’t really believe in magic talking hobgoblins, do you?” the third man interjected scornfully.
“No, of course not... I’m just telling you what I heard.”
“Well, there’s nothing strange about any of the signs I’ve seen. They all look human to me, although if the Killer of Men is wearing boots then it might be hard to tell,” the lead man joked.
All three of the enemy bandits chuckled among themselves, although the one man still looked more than a little anxious. Nearby, Blacknail joined in the laughter and cackled gleefully. It was funny because it was true.
“Um, who is that?” the nervous man asked.
His eyes had gone wide with fear as soon as he realized someone else was there. Before either of his companions could respond though, Blacknail rose from his hiding place and shot the lead scout in the chest. There was a hollow thump as the arrow sunk into flesh.
As the other men jerked backwards in shock, Blacknail swirled around and dashed away with startling speed. The hobgoblin used the bushes as cover and swerved behind a tree. Instead of trying to catch up with Geralhd and the others, he took off to the side.
The hobgoblin’s plan was to distract and delay the enemy. He knew he could run much faster through the forest than a bunch of clumsy humans. He would lead them on a futile chase for a while before circling back.
Once out of sight, Blacknail couldn’t help but start laughing. The hunt was on! The thought caused excitement to course through the hobgoblin and it quickened his blood. The hobgoblin’s laugh twisted into a chilling inhuman howl.
The dreadful sound echoed through the forest. Blacknail could only imagine the sweet fear it was stirring inside the hearts of the humans who thought they were chasing him. Soon, they would know how very wrong they were.
After a few seconds, Blacknail started to grow red in the face. Unfortunately, it was hard to breathe and laugh at the same time. He had to stop and focus on running.
To his surprise, just as he fell silent, an answering howl rose above the forest from off in the distance. Was it an echo, or had something answered his challenge? Well, whatever it was, it would have to wait. The angry humans chasing him were the priority now.
Soon, the sound of his own heavy breathing filled Blacknail’s ears as he ran through the forest. After almost half an hour of running and stopping, he was beginning to tire out.
Somewhere close behind him, the enemy bandits were still in hot pursuit. That was the point though; he wanted them to chase him. He could have lost the enemy a long time ago if he had wanted to. They were only human.
Blacknail came to a stop again and turned to look over his shoulder. Off in the distance, he saw a small swarm of enemies running towards him through the trees. They looked sort of mad. Maybe it was because he had purposely led them through several thick clumps of thorn bushes and more than a few large mud pits?
After catching his breath for a moment, Blacknail decided that he was far enough away now. It would be a bad idea to leave his minions leaderless for too long, so he should probably turn back. Who knew what trouble they would get into without him?
“Goodbye, smelly humans. Thanks for chasing me!” Blacknail yelled before dashing away.
Instead of goofing around like before, he immediately went full out. With startling speed, the hobgoblin ran back towards his minions, and left his pursuers behind.
Trees zipped by as Blacknail sprinted through the forest. A small creek appeared in front of him and he effortlessly jumped right across it without slowing down. He kept up the hurried pace until he stumbled upon the first sign of his allies passing.
After stopping for a single moment to make sure he was going in the right direction, he took off again and headed deeper into the woods. Hopefully, his minions had kept going straight. He had specifically ordered them to, but then again they were all a bunch of morons.
In front of Blacknail, the ground began to slop upwards and grow rockier. He had to swerve around several large grey rocks that jutted forth from the earth. Eventually, after several more minutes of running, he spotted Geralhd and the others.
A rocky cliff face loomed up ahead. It was almost a hundred feet high and incredibly steep. Only a few stunted bushes grew on its face, but it was crowned by a line of trees where the forest continued up above. A single winding path ran up to the top. It looked like a difficult climb.
Geralhd and others had stopped near the base of the cliff and were arguing amongst each other. Scamp and Imp were sitting off to one side and they looked bored.
“We need to hurry up and start climbing. We have no time to waste!” Geralhd exclaimed angrily.
“I’m not climbing that; we’d be easy targets, like frogs on a log! We should go around,” a large bandit countered.
“Get climbing, now!” Blacknail shouted sternly as he jogged up behind them.
Everyone flinched and turned to look Blacknail’s way. When they saw the angry look on his face, they all immediately started moving. The hobgoblin took up the rear as they formed a line, so that he could punish any stragglers. They needed to hurry!
As they ascended, rocks were knocked loose by people’s boots. The stones made a lot of noise as they rolled down the cliff. Blacknail looked down. It was already quite a ways to the ground. Falling would be bad.
Around two-thirds of the way to the top, the bandits’ progress suddenly stopped. There was a break in the path that couldn’t be walked over. The next section could be reached via a short climb, but only one person could do it at a time.
As Blacknail watched impatiently, Geralhd reached out for a handhold and began pulling himself up. Everyone else was forced to wait for him.
Geralhd reached the top and Khita started climbing, but Blacknail grew frustrated by the sluggish pace. Even humans should be faster than this. They didn’t have all day!
“Climb faster!” he hissed at the man in front of him.
“I can’t; it’s not even my turn yet,” the man replied angrily.
This statement of the obvious annoyed Blacknail. He knew that, but why did his minions have to make everything so complicated? They should just do as they were told.
Movement down below at the base of the incline drew the hobgoblin’s attention. People were stepping out of the trees and gathering at the bottom of the cliff. There were at least three dozen of them and they were obviously Werrick’s men. Why would anyone else be out in this part of the woods?
“Slimy harpy spit,” Blacknail swore.
His plan had been for his party to be on top of the cliff when the enemy showed up. That way they could just throw rocks down on anyone chasing them. The hobgoblin’s lazy minions had ruined that great idea, though.
Down below, a black-haired man of medium build raised a hand and signalled towards Blacknail’s location. He had a goatee and his hair was slicked back with grease. A few seconds later, he shouted something and led a charge up the cliff path.
“Damnation, what do we do?” one of Blacknail’s men asked.
There were still a dozen men stuck on the lower part of the cliff path and the enemy would be upon them in under a minute. There was nowhere they could escape to, and down below three of Werrick’s men held back and started stringing bows.
“Don’t just stand there. At least throw something at them!” Blacknail hissed as he pulled his own bow off his back.
A few of the bandits next to Blacknail immediately leaped to obey. They grabbed large rocks from off the ground and hurled them down at the attackers charging up the path. It barely slowed the enemy, but it was better than nothing.
Meanwhile, Blacknail had already nocked an arrow and let it loose. The projectile whirred through the air and into one of the unsuspecting archer’s chests. He had been busy prepping his own weapon and hadn’t even been looking up.
As the wounded archer collapsed, Blacknail was already pulling out another arrow from the quiver one of his minions was carrying. He nocked it and took aim again. He fired off his second shot just as the enemy archers let loose. The arrows zoomed past each other as they flew through the air.
“Eep,” Blacknail cried as he covered his head and ducked low. The ugly pink bastards had both aimed at him!
The enemy’s two projectiles buzzed over his head and slammed into the cliff face behind him. There was a loud cracking sound as one of them bounced off a rock and then hit his leg. The impact stung but it didn’t draw blood.
Blacknail ignored the pain and glanced back towards the archers. The hobgoblin grinned when he saw that one of them had fallen on his ass and had an arrow sticking out of his arm. That left only one still standing, but the hobgoblin didn’t have time to worry about him. He dropped his bow and drew his sword.
He was just in time; the goateed enemy leader was approaching quickly. With startling speed, he dashed ahead of his comrades and raised his blade up above his head. Before anyone but Blacknail could react, the man then slashed at the bandit standing next to the hobgoblin.
There was a loud metallic clang as Blacknail extended his own weapon and blocked the attack. The hobgoblins’ hands shook under the force of the blow, and he gritted his teeth. The goateed man’s strength and speed were too high for a normal human; he had to be a Slosher.
“Stinky troll piss,” Blackail cursed as he eyed his new opponent.
The man looked surprised for a second and then smiled as he stepped back. The smug taunting grin on his face irritated Blacknail. The hobgoblin hated fighting Sloshers. In a fair fight, human swordsmen were already a pain to deal with, even when they didn’t use Elixir.
“So, you can talk. I hadn’t thought that was true,” the goateed man remarked as he raised his sword and took a defensive stance.
As he was doing this, the rest of the enemy fighters caught up to him. The cliff path they were all standing on was only wide enough for three or four people and the footing was treacherous, so most of them held back. Only a few of them could engage the closest of Blacknail’s minions.
“No, you’re stupid,” Blacknail replied as fighting broke out around him.
It was a terrible rebuttal, but it was the only thing that had come to mind. He was under a lot of pressure! The comment certainly didn’t impress the enemy Slosher. The man smirked and gave the hobgoblin a condescending look.
When Blacknail hissed angrily back, the Vessel attacked with a whip-like slash at his face. The hobgoblin was startled but barely managed to dodge to the side.
The man attacked again, and as Blacknail blocked the blow with his own sword he growled hatefully. Attacking while the enemy was distracted was his thing! The hobgoblin was going to enjoy killing this man. He was infuriating!
The hobgoblin snarled and slashed at his opponent. He wished he’d taken the time to drink some Elixir. He only had one vial left, but it wouldn’t do him any good if he was dead.
The two fighters exchanged blows and manoeuvred around as much as their tight surroundings would allow. Neither one of them wanted to collide with the other bandits who were fighting nearby or to stumble and fall off the ledge. It was a long way down and the rocks looked pointy.
It soon became apparent that the goateed Slosher was stronger than Blacknail, even if their speed was almost the same. His blows were forcing the hobgoblin on the defensive, and there was nowhere to fall back to.
“Is this all you got? I’m disappointed!” the Slosher remarked as he pressed his advantage.
“Just wait. I’ve killed many Vessels like you,” Blacknail hissed back as he defended himself.
This was true, but ignored the fact that none of those men had been killed in fair fights, and this contest was looking to be way too even for the hobgoblin’s comfort. He had to think up some way to cheat!
To Blacknail’s left, one of the attackers fell off the ledge and began to roll down the cliff. The man had been locked in a sword fight until he’d lost his balance. Now, he screamed as he hit jagged rocks and they tore into him.
Blacknail ducked under a slash aimed at his head and counterattacked. His blade sliced through the air towards his opponent’s front foot, but the man stepped back out of the way.
Someone bumped into Blacknail from behind, and he was forced to take an awkward step forward to catch his balance. The goateed man was quick to take advantage of this stumble. He lunged forward and slashed at Blacknail’s exposed arm.
The hobgoblin could only lean back clumsily out of the way, and it wasn’t enough. The man’s blade caught on Blacknail’s sleeve and sliced through it. It cut into the flesh beneath and drew blood before coming free.
Hissing in pain, Blacknail flinched and stepped back. He forced his throbbing arm to keep a steady grip on his sword’s hilt, and he quickly raised his blade defensively again. He couldn’t afford a moment of weakness. A single mistake would lead to his death.
To either side, other bandits were fighting, even if the thin pathway meant everyone was pressed tightly together. Most of Werrick’s troops couldn’t get near the melee. They formed several ranks as they waited for an opening. Behind Blacknail, around ten of his companions were still waiting to climb across the break in the path. Even when Blacknail’s turn came, he couldn't cross while under attack. The next time anything like this happened Blacknail was going to make sure the leader got to escape first!
“I’d heard you were a tricky fighter, but you honestly don’t seem like anything special,” his opponent observed condescendingly. “You’re just an ugly green beast waving around a bit of metal in imitation of a person.”
The tone of the man’s voice caused anger to roar to life within Blacknail’s guts. Screw escaping, he really wanted to kill this guy! He just needed an opening, a good one.
“At least I’m not pink and fat!” Blacknail hissed back.
The goateed Slosher attacked again with a flurry of strikes. Blacknail tried to slip past and get a blow of his own in, but he was forced to block an attack and was knocked back.
As he was scheming his next move, Blacknail noticed a green blur out of the corner of his eye. Both he and his opponent glanced down to see a goblin jump up onto a nearby rock. It was Imp, and there was something in his hand.
“What’s this?” the Slosher mumbled in confusion as he kept one eye on Blacknail.
As they watched, the goblin hurled something up into the air over their heads. It was a crystal, and odd light flickered out from it as it landed in the middle of the enemy’s ranks.
“Oh, shit,” the goateed man remarked as he realized what he had just seen.
Blacknail didn’t bother to respond. He swirled around, crouched down low, and pulled his cloak tightly about himself. The hobgoblin recognized magic when he saw it, and there was only one possible outcome of it when goblins were involved.
He was just in time. There was a deafening boom as the crystal exploded. A wave of force washed over everyone and a storm of dark crystal shards quickly followed. The crystalline blades sliced into anyone in their path, and more than a dozen of Werrick’s men were thrown over the ledge by the blast.
Screams filled the air as bodies fell and flesh was torn. Blood splattered against the rocks and its tangy scent filled the air. In just over a second, the enemy formation had been smashed. Bodies littered the ground. Blacknail smiled as he climbed back to his feet.
“Ha, I always have a trick, even if I don’t know about it yet,” he then bragged smugly.
There was a smile on Blacknail’s face as he took in the sight before him. Who was laughing now! He had shown them! Imp had also helped a little.
“I always win!” the hobgoblin laughed.
However, the grin slipped from Blacknails lips as the enemy Vessel stood back up and glared at him. What was this? The explosion hadn’t done more than stun the man. That wasn’t fair.
The goateed man wasn’t alone either; almost half the enemies on the ledge started to climb to their feet. As impressive as the explosion and crystal shrapnel had been, the enemies closest to the blast had absorbed most of the damage.
Blacknail’s group was still outnumbered and cornered. Also, the enemy Vessel looked really mad now. Maybe Imp had another crystal?
The hobgoblin threw a look over his shoulder. Imp had taken advantage of the confusion to cut in line and climb up over the break in the path. The little traitor had run away!
“What in all the burning hells was that? Never mind, you die now,” the enemy Slosher suddenly spat as he leapt forward to cross swords with Blacknail again.