The swarm of feral goblins glared at Blacknail with hate-filled eyes. More and more of them were slipping into sight from behind rocky hills and grey boulders. Most of them gathered up behind their leader, the yellow eyed hobgoblin, until there were almost forty of them. They shook and fidgeted as they worked themselves into a fury and glared at the intruders. In the center of the group, their hobgoblin chieftain watched Blacknail with his bright yellow eyes. He stood confidently but seemed willing to wait.
“Let’s run away,” Scamp said as he cowered behind Blacknail. He clearly regretted coming out of the bushes that bordered the forest behind him.
“Run and I’ll make you into a loincloth,” Blacknail hissed in reply as he studied the enemy.
This wasn’t a small tribe at all, and they far outnumbered Blacknail’s own paltry force. Even with another hobgoblin to back him up they would quickly be swarmed over by the mob in a straight up fight. Even a good sword wouldn’t stop an angry green wave. Blacknail wasn’t too worried, though. It wouldn’t come to that, because that wasn’t how goblins acted. They were only slightly smarter than humans, but they were far less likely to commit suicide for no real reason. Still, it would be a terrible idea to let the enemy have time or let them think they had the advantage. If they sensed weakness then the wild goblins would attack all together.
“We’re going to charge. Follow me or I’ll rip your guts out,” Blacknail ordered his followers. He then eyed Gob and made an aggressive gesture that he hoped conveyed his meaning. The other hobgoblin didn’t have a great understanding of how to talk.
“What?” Scamp asked disbelievingly.
Instead of responding, Blacknail drew his sword and launched himself forward. Another roar echoed out from his throat as he closed the distance between himself and his target.
“Die, you snotty runts!” he yelled at the top of his lungs.
The enemy goblins flinched in surprise. Instinctively, they huddled closer together for a moment for safety. The yellow eyed hobgoblin froze for a split second but then quickly raised his axe. This didn’t faze Blacknail. He grinned savagely as he dove forward. Meanwhile, the massed goblins realized who Blacknail’s target was. The sudden noise and the attack startled them. Caught off guard, they didn’t have time to do anything but react. Screeching filled the air as the goblins dove away from the charging hobgoblin. It was one thing for them to seek safety in numbers from an enemy but it was something completely different to place themselves directly between two fighting hobgoblins.
Blacknail didn’t waste this opportunity. He attacked the exposed enemy leader. However, one of the fleeing goblins was too slow, and didn’t manage to get out of the way in time. Blacknail kicked him aside before stepping forward and slashing at the yellow eyed hobgoblin. There was a loud thud as the hobgoblin pivoted away from the attack and knocked the sword blade aside with a swing of his axe. The blade bit into the wooden shaft but didn’t do much damage and bounced back.
The startled mass of goblins flinched away from the fighting like rippling water and dissolved into chaos. They didn’t know what to do. Their leader tried to step back and strike at Blacknail, but he was too slow. Blacknail growled and lunged forward at the same moment. Both their weapons were still locked together. A shimmer of fear flashed in the hobgoblin’s yellow eyes and he was forced to step back as Blacknail leaned forward and snapped at him. Blacknail’s teeth closed on empty air but the action startled everyone.
“You’re a big fish in a small pond, very small,” Blacknail hissed through his teeth as he stared at his surprised opponent.
A few enemy goblins that Blacknail had scattered decided to act despite their fear. Three of them jumped at him from the side, but that was when Gob joined the fight. With fists swinging wildly he waded into the fight and assaulted any of the goblins that tried to get close to Blacknail. The smaller fighters screeched as they were pushed aside by this new threat and then Gob’s own minions rushed in to support him. The melee descended into chaos.
One goblin did manage to get through, and Blacknail had to take a second to kick it away. This gave the enemy hobgoblin time to recover but Blacknail didn’t care. He just laughed manically as he turned back to face his opponent. The fearful goblins tried to stay out of their way.
“You have no idea what I am. You don’t know how afraid you should be!” Blacknail laughed as he raised his blade. The cloak draped over his shoulders rippled as he moved. It felt good to let his emotions out after controlling himself around humans for so long. Out here their rules no longer applied to him. He was free.
The uncomprehending feral hobgoblin simply hissed and sputtered angrily in response. He didn’t know what Blacknail had just said but the confidence he was projecting appeared to worry him. A shimmer of fear had appeared in his eyes, but instead of trying to retreat he attacked again. The yellow-eyed hobgoblin raised his axe up and swung it straight down at Blacknail.
The blow didn’t connect. A metallic ringing noise rang out as Blacknail parried the attack. He then stepped forward and slugged his yellow-eyed opponent in the face. There was a wet crack as the hobgoblin fell over backwards. His long green nose was now bent at an awkward angle and his eyes were wide with pain and surprise.
A nearby goblin saw an opportunity and jumped at Blacknail from behind. He was gripping a large sharp rock in one hand. Blacknail saw him coming, turned, grabbed his arm, and then used the goblin’s own momentum to toss him through the air and over a nearby pile of rock. Several other nearby goblins watched with impressed looks on their faces.
The yellow-eyed hobgoblin once again tried to catch Blacknail off guard. From where he had fallen on the ground, he whistled sharply, and then a goblin that had been hanging back out of the fight rushed forward and tossed something his way. The yellow-eyed hobgoblin caught the javelin out of the air, and then he whipped it at Blacknail’s head as he jumped to his feet.
The projectile zoomed past Blacknail’s face as he leaned out of the way. It all happened in a single instant, but Blacknail noticed that something had been smeared across the tip of the weapon. It was probably some sort of poison, and Blacknail made a mental note to watch out for such tricks. The enemy hobgoblin hissed in disappointment when his surprise attack failed. He reached down to pick up his fallen axe, but Blacknail didn’t give him time to take a defensive stance. He extended the momentum of his dodge into a quick spin that ended with a slash of his sword.
“I’m bloody magic!” Blacknail hissed as his blade sliced into his opponents shoulder. “I have killed beasts and men far more dangerous than you!”
The cut wasn’t that deep but the pain made the enemy hobgoblin gasp and waver. Blacknail had no mercy. It was time to end this farce of a fight. He unleashed a flurry of attacks that leapt past his enemy’s defenses and drew blood. His opponent stumbled again so Blacknail slashed at his eyes. The enemy immediately ducked down out of the way but the attack had been a feint. As the yellow-eyed hobgoblin dropped, Blacknail’s booted foot smashed into his groin.
There was a shrill squeak and a pop as the enemy hobgoblin’s eyes crossed and he collapsed. He looked like he was in a lot of pain so Blacknail helped him out. Before he had even hit the ground, Blacknail swung his sword around in an arc and the tip of his blade ripped the hobgoblin’s throat out.
“Ouchie,” Scamp remarked from the edge of the fighting. There were groans and gasps of shock from many of the other goblins and all of them immediately stopped fighting. They all stared at the victor of the duel uncertainly.
Blacknail took a moment to stomp on his fallen opponent’s body and end the annoying gargling sound it was making before turning to meet the gaze of the onlookers.
“All of you. Big goblins and small ones, you have no idea what lurks outside your territory, the things I have seen. You are all so petty and stupid, just beasts that live in the dirt,” Blacknail said as sneered at the nearby goblins. They cowered and shifted nervously under his vicious gaze. Their fear amused Blacknail.
“That’s kind of mean,” Scamp remarked. Blacknail ignored him since he was too far away to kick and that would ruin his moment.
The joy of victory had lifted Blacknail’s spirits. All his previous doubts were as nothing. Why had he even cared about such stupid things? He was full of confidence and energy. He could do anything.
“I am the greatest of hobgoblins! A chief among chiefs!” Blacknail screamed triumphantly as he stomped on his fallen foe's body a few more times. Conquest felt good. A lot of Herad’s old actions made more sense now. He should do this more often.
No one interrupted Blacknail, but after a few minutes standing around and gloating to a bunch of goblins got boring, so Blacknail stepped away from the yellow-eyed goblin’s corpse and looked around. An eager Gob walked over to Blacknail and gibbered something before motioning towards the nearby hills. He was practically vibrating with energy and his eyes were wide with excitement.
“You’re right, Gob. Let’s go see what I’ve conquered,” Blacknail replied as he began to walk over to the nearest hill. There had to be a lair around here somewhere.
As he searched the hills for a cave or crevice, the defeated goblins began to disperse. It was clear now that Blacknail wasn’t going to try and slaughter them all right this instant so they had things to do. One smallish local goblin with a bluish tint to her skin hesitantly wandered over to one hill and called out to Blacknail. When the hobgoblin looked over she pointed towards an opening. She was obviously trying to get on Blacknail’s good side by being his guide. That was fine with Blacknail.
Closer inspection of the opening revealed a dark crevice that the yellow-eyed hobgoblin had apparently been using as his personal chamber. It was big enough to hold a dozen goblins but it looked and smelled like only the hobgoblin had slept here. There were few items stashed around the place, but nothing more interesting than a few yellow rocks.
Once he was done looking that cave over, Blacknail’s guide led him to several other small caves that were being used by the goblins. None of them caught Blacknail’s attention, but as they were walking, other local goblins approached him to offer the conquering hobgoblin tribute. Blacknail took most the berries and fresh meat for himself but passed the shiny stones and other such things to Gob. He had enough of that sort of stuff already.
The last cave he was led to was different from the others. The entrance was at the bottom of a hole near the post, and it took a second to climb down. This cave was much larger than all the others and didn’t look like the goblins had used it much. It was wide and extended deep into the ground until it ended at a pile of rubble. It looked like there had been a cave-in at some point. Unfortunately, it was hard to make out the details since it was too dark even for goblin eyes to see clearly inside. One small section of the wall did contain a bit of the yellow metal that humans liked, though.
Once Blacknail had completed his inspection, he walked over to the tallest hill and took a seat atop of it. From there he could see everything in the rocky area and the forest beyond it. He was no longer feeling quite so euphoric but his mind felt clearer than it had during the march North. Gob and several goblins waited for him at the bottom as Blacknail began to think. Gob knelt there reverently and a few of the goblins copied him, although most of them just sat down.
Now Blacknail was the chieftain of another bunch of goblins. Did that matter? Was that what he wanted? The joy of shedding blood and destroying his enemies had begun to fade. Taking this place had been fun but staying here seemed boring. It couldn’t compare to being a part of Herad’s band. These were just goblins. There was no Saeter here, no sense of home. Blacknail’s memories still tugged at his heart. He had things to do; even if he didn’t know exactly what it was he had to do or how to do it.
The sky overhead had begun to darken as the sun fell toward the western horizon, and Blacknail sighed. It was time to get back to the human village and the bandits. Who knew what sort of trouble they had gotten themselves into without him around? Blacknail took a few moments to explain to Gob that he was now in charge of everything while Blacknail was gone and that he didn’t want to be followed. Gob appeared to reluctantly accept this command, so Blacknail left everyone behind and sprinted off into the woods.
Blacknail ran at a fast pace that soon left him out of breath, because he didn’t want to take too long or be out in the forest when darkness fell. That was when things got truly dangerous. As he ran, Blacknail realized that he could just leave Gob and the others behind now and they would never bother him again. That was an idea worth considering. The goblins were more than a little annoying.
After about half an hour, the hobgoblin reached the village and its tall wooden walls came into sight. No ravenous beasts or monsters blocked his way. After waiting a few more aggravating minutes for the sun to set a little more and for the night to grow darker, Blacknail crept out of the bushes at the edge of the clearing and stalked across the empty fields. He reached the wall without incident and listened carefully for any sign of watchers before choosing a deserted-looking section of the wall to climb over. He took off his boots and his claws made the ascent simple. They dug into the soft wood and easily found purchase.
The village was largely quiet. Before proceeding, Blacknail took a moment to pull his hood up and put his boots back on. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of late afternoon activity here, unlike in larger human settlements such as Daggerpoint. Blacknail moved cautiously and kept to the shadows as he searched for Geralhd and the others. He hoped they hadn’t all been killed. He already had enough dead humans to avenge, more important ones.
The village only had thirty or forty buildings of various sizes, so it didn’t take the hobgoblin too long to find his first clue to his quarry’s location. Several armed villagers were standing out in the middle of one section of the street and watching three nearby homes. Blacknail was pretty sure he knew what that meant, so he slipped into an alley and circled around to the back of the buildings.
Once in the dark and tight space between the homes where no one could see him, the sound of conversation drew Blacknail’s attention. He snuck up to a ground story window and listened.
“Thank you again for your hospitality, master Tannin,” Geralhd said.
“Ha, there is no need for stuffy titles out here, lad. I’m just another villager, and not a master of anything but myself,” Tannin replied.
“Still I’m grateful.”
“Feel free, graciousness is never unwanted; however let’s talk about something more important. You seem like a bright young man, so I bet you’re wondering why I let you all in. You’re clearly not just a bunch of lost travelers, not armed like that you’re not.”
“We have no intention of causing trouble.”
“I’m not saying you do. The truth of the matter is that you’re hardly the first bunch of miscreants to wander by, although you’re the largest yet.”
Blacknail took a chance and peered through the window for a second. There was a small room on the other side, and no one was looking his way. Tannin and Geralhd were both seated at a small table across from each other.
“Er.. and what happened to those people, may I ask?” Geralhd asked nervously.
Tannin laughed loudly in amusement and slapped his thighs. “Nothing too terrible, lad. I’m one of them. Anyone who wanders out in this direction has reasons to want to stay out of sight, and this settlement is always looking for more manpower.”
“If that’s an invitation to take up residence here we will have to decline. Several of our group are looking forward to getting back to civilization.”
“Ah, that’s too bad. You seem like a useful person to have around. I’ll let you think about it overnight and discuss it with your companions,” Tannin replied jovially as he stood up and pushed his chair aside.
As Blacknail squatted in the alley and listened, a realization crystallized in his head. It had been nagging at him for weeks but only now was it clear. He didn’t want to go to Daggerpoint. There was nothing for him there. Events had been forcing Blacknail to react and do what other people wanted. That was going to end. It was time he figured out what he really wanted and how he was going to get it. In the shadows, the hobgoblin began to plan...