“Are we almost there yet?” Khita asked Blacknail as she ducked under a low hanging branch.
“Yes, I already told you that!” the hobgoblin hissed in response. This was the third time he had answered her annoying question.
“Then how come we haven’t gotten there yet? We should have if we were actually close.”
“Because that’s not how it works! Shut up and walk.”
It hadn’t even been an hour yet and Blacknail already wanted to kill Khita. He really wished Gerahld hadn’t explained all the reason he couldn’t. Tannin would be highly suspicious if she disappeared and that would ruin all of Blacknail’s plans. Why was he never allowed to kill Khita? It was if the world was trying to keep her alive just to annoy him.
“We’re here,” Blacknail hissed as he stepped out of the bushes at the edge of the forest.
The rocky hills that made up the local goblins’ lair lay in front of them. Khita took a moment to look around after pushing a bush aside. The young redhead was wearing tall slim boots that went up to her knees and a leather vest over her long green shirt. It was the same outfit she had worn during the trek North but it had been washed and patched.
“This is a terrible secret base. It’s just a bunch of rock piles,” Khita replied as they began walking toward the hill. They had attracted the attention of quite a few goblins but they all recognized Blacknail and kept their distance. None of them wanted to attract his attention. Khita also didn’t seem too disturbed to see the goblins either. Blacknail had to speed up his pace in order to prevent her from walking ahead.
“I just conquered it. It will get better soon,” Blacknail replied defensively. What did she expect? A fortress?
They passed through a pair of hills and the center of the clearly came into sight. Gob was standing on a flat patch of rocky earth there. The hobgoblin was surrounded by a squad of goblins. Each of these goblins was holding a spear and standing straight. Gob noticed the newcomers but after glancing at Blacknail to make sure he didn’t need anything he turned back to the goblins he was teaching and went back to work.
“Wow, you didn’t waste any time before rounding up the local goblins. There sure are a lot of them,” Khita remarked as she looked around. She didn’t seem scared at all, even though she was among so many unfamiliar goblins.
“They started it.”
“But you ended it, like the bloodthirsty boss you are,” Khita laughed. “So what are you scheming? I know you, Blacknail. There’s no way you weren’t involved in everything that’s happened. You’re up to something. It looks like you’re building a goblin army here, and I don’t think Geralhd would approve.”
“I'm not plotting anything. That’s dumb. You’re dumb. Shut up,” Blacknail quickly replied as he tried to look innocent. “I’m just hanging out in the forest and doing normal hobgoblin things like… umm sleeping?”
“Ha, I don’t believe that for a sharp sliver of a second. You’re plotting something. You’re like me. You’re a scrapper and you can’t stop until you’re the king of the heap.”
“Nope, I’m lazy and want to sleep all the time. It’s all I do.”
“Really? So you haven’t lied to anyone and you aren’t planning anything?”
“I just told you so. I’m completely trustworthy.”
“Then why is Elyias right over there, when he’s supposed to be with the deserters?” Khita replied.
Blacknail turned to look in the direction she was pointing. Elyias was indeed right there. He was surrounded by another small squad of goblins with spears that appeared to be herding him towards Blacknail. Scamp was leading the group as they headed towards Blacknail. His chest was puffed up proudly as he swaggered forward, and it looked like he was in charge.
“Oh, it’s you. Did you get yourself kidnapped as well?” Elyias called out when he noticed Khita. He sounded depressed but he looked fine. The goblins hadn’t hurt him.
“No, I asked to come here. The village was boring and full of mud-brained bumpkins,” Khita answered.
“Really? Then you’re the dumbest person I’ve ever met. I knew you weren’t the straightest of arrows but that’s just crazy.”
“I’m not the one that’s being pushed around by a bunch of naked goblins,” she replied scornfully.
Scamp smiled and waved at Khita and she returned the friendly gesture. The little goblin looked quite happy to see Khita. He ran over to her side and Khita gave him a pat on the head.
“Khita!” Scamp exclaimed cheerfully as he hugged her leg. “I missed you!”
“I missed you too,” the young redhead replied.
“I knew you would. Do you have any food?” Scamp asked as he looked up at her with a sad begging expression on his face.
Before anyone else could distract him, Blacknail spoke up in a commanding voice. “I think Elyias should be quiet. If he talks those goblins will probably poke him painfully with their spears. Goblins do that.” The hobgoblin emphasized certain words to get his meaning across.
“Huh?” Elyias said as a goblin suddenly poked him in the ribs. “Ow, stop that. Ow.”
The stone tipped spears didn’t penetrate his shirt, but the goblins kept poking him every time he gasped in pain. It seemed like it was going to be an endless cycle.
“No, only if he talks,” Blacknail hissed in frustration.
“He is saying ow,” Scamp pointed out from where he was watching.
“That doesn’t count.”
Scamp shrugged and then made several grunting noises. The other goblins lowered their weapons. Elyias glared at them but kept his mouth shut.
“Take him away for now. I’ll talk to him later,” Blacknail told the goblins. “Right now there are more important things I have to do.”
“Sure thing, boss,” Scamp replied. He then walked over and gave the nearest goblin a forceful push before leading the other goblins away. He seemed very proud and happy to have assumed a leadership position within the tribe, even if he was only really a translator.
“Let’s get back to what we were talking about before. You were explaining your plan,” Khita said when Elyias’ group had disappeared behind one of the nearby hills.
“No, I wasn’t,” Blacknail replied. He wasn’t going to fall for that. He was too smart.
“So you admit to having one?”
“No, I don’t! I have never admitted anything. You have the wrong person.”
Khita rolled her eyes. She didn’t seem convinced. She was obviously too stupid to understand him properly.
“You’re right. You’re not sharp enough to come up with a good plan. I bet your plan is really stupid.”
“That’s not true. My plan is the best ever!”
“Oh, what is it?”
“I’m going to… Wait, this is another trick,” Blacknail replied uncertainly.
“You may as well tell me. I already know about Elyias and you just confessed to having a scheme in motion.”
“Elyias proves nothing. He got separated from the others and lost in the woods when they left. Some goblins found him and brought him here. I’m hiding him because the others are angry and I’m such a great loving leader,” Blacknail growled in explanation. He had known the two humans would probably meet if Khita followed him, so he had come up with an excuse earlier.
“I don’t believe that for a moment. You’d bleed him dry if he betrayed you. There isn’t a shred of mercy in your body, Blacknail. You may have the others fooled but not me.”
She had a point about his lack of mercy. It was also clear that Khita was not going to believe his lies, no matter how convincing and well thought out they were. That was alright, though. He had a backup plan for dealing with her and it was more fun anyway.
Blacknail took a sudden step towards Khita. The unexpected movement caught her off guard and she flinched. The hobgoblin grabbed the front of Khita’s vest and pulled her forward. His strong grip kept her off balance as he glared at her. Their faces were only a few inches apart.
“What?” she exclaimed. She sounded mad but also nervous. Blacknail didn’t reply right away. Instead, he growled for several long seconds. His lips rose to reveal his long jagged teeth. Fear shone in Khita’s eyes but instead of trying to pull away she went perfectly still. Her reaction satisfied Blacknail. It was time to scare this girl into line. He was the great Blacknail and she would do was she was told.
“Listen, little human. I am the leader here, the chieftain,” Blacknail hissed as he stared into her eyes. His face was twisted up into the most menacing visage he could muster. “If you tell anyone anything about my plans I will hunt you down. I will pry your eyes from your skull and slurp them down while I cut off your delicate fingers and chubby little toes. Obey me or suffer.”
Khita didn’t move. Her face was so pale it seemed almost frozen, but as Blacknail watched it came back to life. The fear faded and Khita smiled excitedly. This… wasn’t the reaction he had been hoping for.
“Anything you want, Blacknail. You can trust me. It’ll be just like before the battle, except now you’re the big boss.”
The urge to groan and throw his hands up in frustration welled up in Blacknail, but he resisted it. He just gripped Khita’s shirt tighter and shook her a bit. “No, I’m not trusting you with anything! I’m just scaring you into silence. Be scared!”
“Meh, it’s all the same. You’re just like my brother. All his yelling and threats were just to toughen me up so I would get stronger. That’s how I knew he cared.”
Her response flabbergasted the hobgoblin so much he wanted to claw at his own eyes. Blacknail was beginning to suspect Khita’s relationship with her brother had been more than a little abnormal. The hobgoblin tried to think up some way he could get his point across without leaving any incriminating marks on her, but nothing occurred to him. He let out a frustrated hiss as he let Khita go. The young redhead caught herself and then casually brushed the front of her shirt off.
“So, are you going to tell me your plan now? I want to help.”
“Fine, as long as it will shut you up,” Blacknail hissed in reply. He had given up. There was no way he was going to tell the redhead all the details of his scheme but she could probably be trusted with some of it. Her particular type of crazy stupid meant she was unlikely to betray him.
“You’re building a goblin army aren’t you? You’re going unleash a horde of green killers and conquer the North!”
“What? No, that’s stupid. Goblins make terrible fighters. They’re too small and cowardly.”
“Gob is training a bunch of goblins to fight right over there. I can see them.”
Blacknail snorted and waved dismissively. “That’s just discipline training so they will work harder and smarter.”
“Then what is your plan?” Khita asked. She sounded disappointed that there would be no screaming goblin horde invading the North.
“I will kill Werrick. Herad and him fought over territory. My mistress lost but I will fulfill her wish and take everything from Werrick.” Blacknail explained proudly. Although he hid it, the hobgoblin felt a twinge of embarrassment saying all that aloud.
“Ha, I knew it! There was no way you were going to run away from the Wolf. You’re not a spineless wimp like the others. So what’s the plan if you aren’t using goblins?”
“I do want a few goblins and hobgoblins, but not an army. I want a group that can move faster and sneakier than humans. Then I will strike at Werrick from the shadows and prey upon his minions,” Blacknail answered as he grinned savagely. He was really looking forward to it.
“You won’t beat him that way. He can afford to lose a lot of men. He’s the top dog around these parts so all the weaklings flock to his side.”
“I’m not stupid; I know. That’s just the first part of the plan. Once I’m famous I will use other humans against him.”
“How will you do that?”
“I will tell you later if you behave,” Blacknail replied. Hopefully, that would motivate her to keep her mouth shut.
“Fine, then at least tell me what you doing here in this camp right now so that I can help out. Oh, I should get a tour!”
Blacknail shrugged in response. That actually didn’t seem like a terrible idea. He might even be able to find some make-work for her to do that would keep her out of trouble while he told Elyias what he was allowed to say. He didn’t want Khita learning everything. Blacknail led the way and they walked around the camp. He showed her the highlights and most important parts.
“And this is another cave. It’s not the biggest one but it’s very dry.”
“Is there anything here but rocks and caves?”
“Goblins, lots of goblins,” Blacknail answered.
Khita groaned. “Well, I’ve seen enough damned caves. What is Gob up to?”
“I have him training goblins how to hunt using traps,”
“Then why are most the goblins he is talking with holding spears?”
“Those are to use against other goblins. The stupid runts need to keep the stupider runts in line or they will steal from the traps.” Dealing with goblins was as frustrating as dealing with humans but in a completely different way.
As they walked over to Gob, Blacknail explained that he was building a core of loyal goblins that would keep the others in line. That was almost as important as training trappers, since goblins weren’t very diligent workers unless they were being threatened with physical punishment or they were the ones that got to deal out the physical punishment. He also told Khita about the foragers he had sent out to gather materials. Gob was planning on building a longhouse like the one he had built at his old lair. Poles made from young trees would be tied together using rope. Thankfully, several of the goblins that had come with Gob knew how to make rope from plant fibers and they were teaching others. The ropes were also an important part of making traps and tools.
The pair stopped a few feet away from the circle of goblins around Gob. They watched the goblins working at their tasks. None of them seemed to be doing exactly the same thing. Some were clearing making tools of various kinds while others were simply watching as Gob hissed at their companions. Blacknail let out a nostalgic sigh as he watched. He himself was a master of rope-making. He had spent a long time learning such skills under Saeter, and he was planning on putting that knowledge to good use now. Everything he had been taught would help him get his vengeance.
“What are those goblins over there doing?” Khita asked as she pointed to Blacknail’s left.
The hobgoblin turned to see what she was talking about. Someone had built a fire pit at the base of one of the nearby hills. Two goblins sat next to a ring of stones that contained a small fire. A large flat-sided rock jutted out of the hill behind them. It formed a small cliff like wall, and there was a pile of branches piled next to it. Blacknail instantly recognized one of the goblins. It was Imp.
“What are you doing?” Blacknail asked as he walked over.
Imp looked up and gave Blacknail a blank look before answering. “I’m helping burn things.”
This piece of information didn’t clarify anything. Imp had always made Blacknail uncomfortable. He was a weird little goblin and Blacknail really didn’t understand what went though his head. He was always watching silently from somewhere or doing inexplicable things.
“Why are you burning things?” Blacknail asked.
“Practice,” the other goblin beside Imp replied as he turned to smile at Blacknail.
This new goblin’s eyes glowed with feverish excitement as they reflected light from the fire. He was an average sized goblin that Blacknail had never seen before. His body was slightly on the skinny side and his skin had a pale grey cast to it. He had messy reddish brown hair that covered the top of his head and orange irises. If anything this new goblin looked even weirder than Imp. Blacknail hoped he wasn’t a mage. That wouldn’t likely end well.
“I like your hair! It’s a great color,” Khita remarked cheerfully as she studied the goblin. She then reached down to pat him on the head and mess up his hair. The goblin didn’t appear to know how to react to this. He flinched and threw Imp and Blacknail confused looks. Blacknail just shrugged in response. He didn't know how to deal with Khita either.
“I bet he doesn’t have a name! Can I name him?” Khita asked Blacknail. She didn’t wait for an answer. “I think it should be… Ferrar!”
Blacknail opened his mouth and started to ask her why she had chosen that name, but he stopped when he realized he didn’t really care. Khita answered anyway. “It means fire or something in Old Imperial, so it matches the color of your hair!”
“Why are you two really making fire?” Blacknail asked the goblins. He still found them suspicious even though Khita had distracted him.
“They are probably cooking or something,” Khita said.
“It’s not time to eat yet.”
“We will need it later. Fire is important.” Imp answered matter-of-factly. Blacknail didn’t disagree, but he wasn’t sure they were thinking of the same things.
An idea suddenly popped into Blacknail’s head. While it wasn’t time to eat quite yet, it would be soon. A large part of his plan was to feed the goblins a lot so that they would stick around even when he made them work, but he didn’t have a pot to make stew. Sending Khita to get one would get her out of the way for a while so he could talk to Elyias and get some work done.
“I need you to go get a big pot from the village so I can cook. Geralhd owes me, and I will send some goblins to help you,” Blacknail told her.
“Fine, this tour has been boring anyway, but I want to take Ferrar with me,” Khita replied. Blacknail turned to look at the goblin in question. He was poking the fire with a stick and giggling as sparks shot up into the air. In his other hand he was holding a steel fire striker that Imp had probably given him.
“Alright, but don’t burn the village down,” Blacknail replied warily. “I need those humans.”