Of course, the problem was all the humans. Their weird mental issues really complicated Blacknail’s plans. The tight alley was dark and shadowy as the hobgoblin leaned against the side of the building he had just been spying into. It seemed unlikely that anyone would stumble his way, so he had plenty of time to think.
What did Blacknail want for himself? Food? Shiny things? No, he wanted to kill Werrick. Blacknail’s mouth began to water whenever he thought about it. The memories of Saeter’s last moments were still fresh in Blacknail’s mind, and they demanded action. Blood had to be paid with blood, but killing Werrick would be very difficult and dangerous.
None of the survivors of Herad’s camp were anything like Saeter. Blacknail had travelled with the humans for a while now but it hadn’t filled the hole in his heart. Going to Daggerpoint wouldn’t satisfy him at all. His master couldn’t be replaced by anyone else. It was pointless to try. Only vengeance was left to him.
Werrick would be difficult to kill, though. He was a powerful Vessel and he had a horde of minions. Being sneaky wouldn’t be enough, which meant Blacknail needed more power, and the easiest way to get that was by increasing the size of his tribe. Werrick had a large army so Blacknail needed one too. Unfortunately, while that idea was very appealing, it would be hard to actually accomplish.
After observing his human minions for a while Blacknail had come to the troubling conclusion that most of them didn’t like having him in charge. Even though he had done such a great job as their leader and saved their lives too many times to count they didn’t trust him, and it was obviously because he was a hobgoblin. What a bunch of stupid herd animals.
Blacknail sighed as doubt clouded his mind. There was no way he was ever going to build a human army the way Herad or Werrick had. Being the strongest wasn’t enough. Did that mean his goal was impossible? Maybe he was just thinking about this the wrong way. What if he thought about this like it was… a hunt? Yes, that could work. He had certain tools available and it was all about using them correctly in order to corner his quarry. Most of the tools were humans, and they were defined by their fear and their greed. Controlling them was simply a matter of introducing the right type of motivation at the right time. He also had some other tools available, like the goblins, even if they were useless for anything that required an attention span of over a minute.
After going over his options for a while Blacknail was forced to take a break. The pieces weren’t falling into place. He had hit a mental wall and while he had been thinking night had fallen around him. It was almost pitch black outside now. The only noise was from far off night birds and the occasionally rustle of a rat moving through the garbage behind the hobgoblin.
“Time to sleep. I can think later,” Blacknail yawned. He then turned and climbed through the nearby window that led into the home Geralhd was using.
The room on the other side was lit by a single flickering candle. Geralhd was still sitting in his chair at the table, but it looked like he had fallen asleep. He was slumped over and his chest rose and fell slowly as a quiet whistling sound issued forth from his mouth. Blacknail walked over and poked him on the cheek.
“Ah, what?” the man exclaimed in surprise as his now wide open eyes jerked around the room before focusing on Blacknail.
“It’s just me, be quiet,” the hobgoblin replied as Geralhd visibly relaxed.
“Oh, Blacknail, it’s you. I was waiting for you, but I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to show up tonight.”
“I had stuff to do,” Blacknail said as he looked around the room and then peered through a doorway into the bedroom beyond.
“Well, I was talking to Tannin, this village’s headsman, and it doesn’t seem like they’re going to trick or attack us.”
“Yes, I heard.”
“If you were there then why didn’t you come in earlier?”
“There was someone coming so I had to leave,” Blacknail lied smoothly as he walked into the bedroom and stared down at the bed that was up against the far wall. He walked over to it and began ruffling up the blankets.
“Actually, I was planning on sleeping there…” Geralhd muttered after getting up and talking to the doorway.
Blacknail ignored him and sat down on the bed. The hobgoblin’s mouth stretched wide open as he yawned.
“I guess I’ll just use the smaller bed in the next room,” Geralhd said. He sounded quite annoyed but Blacknail didn’t care.
“Did anything important happen while I was gone? You humans keep getting into trouble.”
“Nothing much, except what I already told you. The plan is that we take a day off to buy whatever we can and rest our feet. We can leave for Daggerpoint the next day.”
There was a creaking noise from the bed as Blacknail leaned over sideways so he was lying down. He kept his eyes on Geralhd and scowled slightly out of irritation. He was still the leader so he was the one who got to decide when they would leave , although another day to think up his own plan would probably be enough. While Geralhd was here, Blacknail decided to ask him some questions. He had heard the man discuss something interesting with Tannin, and maybe a human’s point of view would help the hobgoblin. Geralhd was the most human-like human Blacknail knew. He was slow to react, confused about everything, and loved saying pointless things that barely made sense.
“I give you all permission to do that, but I have some questions.”
“Oh, what do you want to know?”
“Tannin asked you if you wanted to stay out here in this village,” Blacknail pointed out.
“Ah, that. You don’t have to worry about any of us wanting to stay out here. Only a few of our band would ever be open to that. Staying out here in the wilds isn’t a very appealing choice. This place is just a bunch of dirty shacks. I’m a city man myself and I can’t wait to get back to civilization, where people bathe and women have less facial hair.”
“Hmm, what’s the first thing you want to do when you get to the city?” Blacknail asked. He wanted to understand the humans’ motivations a little better.
“Ha, that’s easy. I want to hit up a tavern and purchase a hot meal and a hot bath. It will cost more than few coins but it will be worth it. That’s probably what most the band will do. We still have a fair bit of silver between us but we can’t spend it out here,” Geralhd laughed.
This answer greatly interested Blacknail. There was a new cheery shine to his eyes as he replied. “Which minions do you think want to get back to a human city the most?”
Geralhd laughed again before replying. He seemed to enjoy discussing the topic and thinking about civilization. While he was talking, Blacknail took a second to match names to faces and remember how much he liked those people.
The hobgoblin and the man talked for a few more minutes before Blacknail yawned again and let Geralhd go. By that time, Blacknail had gotten the inspiration he had wanted. When he was alone, Blacknail took off his boots and coat. He curled up on his bed and smiled to himself before closing his eyes. He had a plan now. The hunt was on.
The next morning Blacknail got up before the sunrise. He got dressed and slipped out of the house before Geralhd was awake. While the other bandits where exploring the village and getting ready to the next day, he was making his own preparations. He ran through the forest and back to the goblins’ lair where Gob was.
When the rocky hills that concealed the caves below came into sight, several goblins that were climbing over them immediately noticed Blacknail and one of them let out a trumpeting screech. A few seconds later, Gob hurried into sight and approached Blacknail.
“You are back, great chief! Command me,” Gob said as he gave a quick respectful bow.
“Yes, your amazing leader is here,” Blacknail replied as he stared appraisingly at Gob. Having another hobgoblin around had originally annoyed Blacknail to no end. There was just something wrong and dangerous about it, but after careful consideration he had decided that the advantages outweighed the disadvantages.
Blacknail turned to look at the nearby goblins who were wandering around the clearing. This tribe was a lot bigger than Gob’s old one. Blacknail wasn’t even sure how many of them there were, but there were at least fifty. Several different groups of various sizes lived in the nearby caves.
The plan Blacknail had come up with last night would only work if he could somehow turn this chaotic goblin tribe into a useful force that would follow orders. It was going to be very hard, but Blacknail had a few good ideas that might work, and since he was the smartest hobgoblin in the entire world, if anyone could do it then it was him.
After collecting his thoughts for a moment, Blacknail began giving orders to Gob. A primitive camp like the one here wouldn’t do. A more secure base had to be built and provided with a steady supply of food. In order for all that to happen the goblins here had to be brought to heel, so the first thing Blacknail ordered Gob to do was to select a group of loyal followers he could stalk and force into obedience. Once they had been beaten into submission they were to be taught how to use traps and stone tools. Loyal lieutenants could be selected from their ranks which in turn would bring more goblins under Blacknail’s control. Blacknail was too busy and important to do that himself.
“Can I rejoin the humans now? I want to see Geralhd,” Scamp whined as he wandered over and interrupted Blacknail’s conversation. Imp was right behind Scamp but he just watched the proceedings with his usual inscrutable expression.
“No, they don’t want you,” Blacknail replied scornfully.
“That’s not true. They pet me and give me tons of treats!”
“They are with other humans who don’t like goblins, so you have to stay here,”
“Shut up before I throw a rock at you,” Blacknail threatened as he glared at the goblin.
“I hate it here, everyone is so mean and the food sucks,” Scamp muttered as he turned to leave.
“I didn’t say you could go,” Blacknail added as he reached down and grabbed Scamp’s shoulder.
“Eh?” the surprised goblin said as he stared at Blacknail in confusion.
“You know a lot of human tricks, so help out or I’ll string your puny body up from a tree by your slobbery little tongue.”
Herding goblins was a difficult task, and before Blacknail had accomplished all that much the day began to approach its end. That meant it was time to get back to Geralhd and the others. Blacknail took a moment to stretch himself out before heading back into the forest. As he ran, the hobgoblin considered the next step of his plan.
About an hour later he arrived back at the village. He got there without a problem and easily snuck back inside. Going over the wall was easy in the dark. However, instead of visiting Geralhd again Blacknail snuck around the town and met up with a few of the other bandits. He talked to them for several hours before slipping back into the house Geralhd was using and going to sleep.
The morning of departure came and found Blacknail leading the way towards Daggerpoint. The sky was still dark overhead and the forest was a maze of shadows. They had left the village at the break of dawn to avoid unnecessary attention. There was no wind but the early morning storm of bird song was at full force.
“Ha, I can’t wait to get to Daggerpoint. I know we still have a long way to go, but it seems like we’re almost there to me,” a short bandit with dark hair and a moustache announced happily. He was following right behind Blacknail.
“Don’t say that. Now you just know some horrible beast is going to jump out of the bushes and attack,” a taller bandit with fair hair replied.
“Oh, don’t worry. That’s not going to happen,” Blacknail replied before chuckling to himself.
There was a brief pause before the fair-haired bandit spoke up. “You’re unusually talkative today, Blacknail.”
“It’s a good day. Don’t you agree?” the hobgoblin asked as he smiled at the man.
“I can’t argue against that. It’s certainly seems like it’s going to be better than I thought it would. I’m definitely richer than yesterday.”
There were only four men and Blacknail within sight. The hobgoblin was leading the way as they walked between a maze of tall trees. The earth was dark and soft where it was visible between the short broad-leaved plants that dotted the ground.
“Are you sure no one is going to catch up to us?” Elyias asked nervously as he looked back over his shoulder.
“Yes, we aren’t following the same path as before and none of them are trackers,” Blacknail answered.
“Some of the villagers could be half decent woodsmen,” the mustached bandit pointed out.
“They’re just humans, and I would hear them if they got close. As long as you’re with me you don’t need to worry about anything else,” Blacknail replied.
“That’s right, they’re just a dumb bunch of peasants. The inbred dirt famers probably never leave their shacks, and we’ve got Blacknail with us. He has proven that he knows what he’s doing.”
“I definitely have a plan,” Blacknail agreed. It was nice to finally get some proper appreciation.
The group of five bandits hiked through the forest for several hours. The sun rose in the sky until its light shone straight noon through the branches overhead. Up ahead, Blacknail spotted a hill through the trees. It wasn’t a particularly tall mound but there was plenty of room to sit on top of it and it was nice and dry. A small creek with a rocky bottom ran through the trees and passed by the bottom of the hill. The bubbling water looked clear and clean.
“This looks like a good place to stop. There’s a creek right there. I’ll make stew,” Blacknail announced as he put his pack down.
“Do we have time for that? We should probably keep moving,” the mustached bandit replied.
“It will be quick. I have everything already prepared. I just need to heat the water,”
“Still, we should save the large meal for supper. We can just eat a quick bite of dried trail food right now.”
“I wasn’t asking for your advice,” Blacknail hissed. He stopped unpacking his bag for a second so that he could glare at the man. “I’m stopping to make stew. You can walk off into the woods by yourself if you want. Are you going to do that?”
“No… I’m not. You’re the boss, so let’s eat,” the man admitted reluctantly. He looked more than a little angry at being forced to concede. Normally, this would have annoyed Blacknail but the hobgoblin was in a forgiving mood.
“Yep, that’s me. I’m the leader,” the hobgoblin agreed cheerfully as he tried to get a fire started. He had brought a bit of dried firewood with him for this exact purpose.
The other bandits settled down to rest as Blacknail began cooking. The hobgoblin took his time and enjoyed the process. He liked the process of throwing ingredients into a pot and boiling it.
“I have to admit that I was skeptical of your plan when you met with me last night, but it’s going perfectly,” the fair-haired bandit said. “We might actually come out of this horrible trek through the woods with some real gains. I thought that when Herad fell we were doomed.”
“Damn right,” another bandit agreed. “I just regret not being there to see that whinny wimp Geralhd’s face when he realized that we’d run off with everyone’s coin and valuables!”
“Split between just the five of us there is enough coin to have a proper good time when we get to Daggerpoint. This is a plan worthy of a hobgoblin. It’s cunning and merciless! I like it,” the mustached man added as he grinned.
“I’m very smart, and I didn’t get anything out of guiding a bunch of idiots to Daggerpoint. So why would I do it?” Blacknail said as he returned their smiles. He was practically blushing now from the unexpected compliments.
Elyias was silent as Blacknail passed out bowls of stew. He looked uncomfortable but also too nervous to talk. When Blacknail had recruited him for this betrayal it had been less of an offer and more of a threat to disembowel him and choke him to death with his own guts. It was only when Blacknail went back to stirring the pot without handing him any food that he finally spoke up.
“Um, where’s my bowl?” he asked.
“You don’t get any,” Blacknail replied as one of the other bandits began coughing.
“What? Why not?”
“Because I poisoned it, you pink idiot,” Blacknail answered as he stood up.
The other two bandits were both coughing as well now. All three were struggling to breath and their eyes were wide with fear. They grasped at their necks in a vain attempt to gasp down some air. One of them managed to struggle to his feet but the other two were writhing on the ground. Blacknail drew a knife and walked over to the man who was standing. The bandit desperately flailed in an attempt to keep Blacknail away but the hobgoblin easily dodged the blow and cut the man’s throat.
“That’s part one of the plan complete. Now for part two,” Blacknail exclaimed happily as the bandits died and Elyias watched on with horror.