Imp was easy enough to find. The newly transformed hobgoblin was hanging out near the clay pits. He always seemed to be there, working on something that Blacknail didn’t understand. It was almost like he enjoyed it, which was unsettling. Why would he enjoy working? It was weird behavior for a hobgoblin. Even Gob spent most his time bossing goblins around instead of doing chores himself. Blacknail had considered making Imp work somewhere else, but he was too productive to waste. With Imp there, the clay pits were producing over twice as much as before.
On the other hand, Scamp was much more difficult to track down. Blacknail had to look around the base for a while before he found him. He wasn’t in the longhouse or the larder. Eventually, he located Scamp napping over by some rocks on the far side of the camp.
After a swift kick to the ribs, the sleeping hobgoblin yelped and jumped to his feet. When he calmed down and recognized Blacknail, Scamp smiled nervously and greeted his chieftain. Blacknail just snorted and told him to follow. He led Scamp over towards the center of the base, where Imp was waiting. Khita and Elyias were also lounging nearby and sitting in the shade at the base of a hill. Both of them had their swords at their hips, but they only looked up as the new arrivals approached and didn’t move.
“Well, this ought to be an amusing show. It’s usually very boring around here.” Elyias remarked as he grinned nastily at the hobgoblins.
“Now I will teach you how to use a blade,” Blacknail told the other two hobgoblins as he tossed them wooden practice blades. He picked up one for himself and took up position in front of his minions.
Imp didn’t look that impressed. He studied the sword for a second and then looked back towards where he had been working. Scamp smiled excitedly and waved his new weapon around a few times experimentally.
“I always wanted to get a shiny sword. When I learn this, will I get one?” Scamp asked. He looked hopeful, which amused Blacknail.
“Yes, when your training is done,” Blacknail told him. He had a small stash of extra blades he had taken from people who were incapable of using them anymore.
“Now, stand like this and hold the blade up,” Blacknail ordered Scamp and Imp as he showed them the proper stance and technique.
Both of the hobgoblins studied him and shifted their stances, but neither of them copied it correctly. They both looked off balance and open to attack. Blacknail showed them a few different techniques and watched them try them. Imp seemed to just be going through the motions without any real interest, and Scamp was goofing around instead of learning properly.
That was alright. Blacknail had a plan for motivating them. He ordered Scamp forward and told him to take up a defensive stance. Scamp obeyed and sloppily raised his blade up. A moment later, it was bashed aside and Blacknail’s wooden sword smashed into his shoulder.
“Ugh, that hurt!” Scamp yelped as he was knocked over sideways.
"Too slow,” Blacknail hissed coldly. “It was also weak. Are you a real hob or an overgrown goblin?”
“I’m a hobgoblin!” Scamp whined as he got back up. He was wincing from the pain and rubbing his shoulder.
“Then act like it, you runt. Step back and let Imp come over here.”
Both the hobgoblins quickly obeyed. Imp didn’t look very excited about taking his turn. He wasn’t stupid, so he’d already figured out what was coming next.
“Take a defensive stance,” Blacknail told him.
“Can you just show me how to do it?” Imp asked hopefully. “I don’t think I know the right way, but I’m sure a great teacher like you could show me.”
There was a nervous smile on his face as he met his instructor’s gaze. Blacknail grinned back, but it wasn’t a pleasant expression.
“Nope,” he laughed as he swung his blade. The weapon hit Imp in the stomach. He crumpled and fell to his knees.
“Ow,” Imp groaned.
“Pay attention next time, you arrogant runt. You aren’t smarter than anyone else. You’re just an arrogant prick of a hobgoblin,” Blacknail told him. His voice and expression were both harsh and unyielding.
That was how the rest of the training went. Blacknail would explain a technique to them, they would try to copy him, and then they would be tested.
Failure always resulted in pain, and neither of the hobgoblins ever passed a single one of Blacknail’s tests. His blade slipped through their defenses or pushed their own weapon aside every time.
Going on easy on them would defy the entire point of the exercise. It also wouldn’t be any fun. Blacknail was having a great time!
“Why are Khita and Elyias here?” Scamp asked as he stepped forward again. He was obviously trying to distract Blacknail and buy himself a few minutes of rest.
“To watch and prevent you from doing something stupid,” Blacknail replied as he glanced at Imp. “They are also here to remind you of all the people who could stab you to death, because you suck.”
The other hobgoblin glared back. He was seething with rage and red in the face. Clearly, the training was working. Blacknail was a great teacher!
“I can take over the training if you want, Scamp. I think I’d like a chance to knock a hobgoblin around, and I think Blacknail is going a little easy on you,” Khita said from over where she was sitting.
Scamp paused and looked uncertain. He clearly hadn’t expected Khita to say such a thing. However, before he could make up his mind, Blacknail spoke up.
“Not today, but maybe another time. I got this,” he said as he motioned Scamp forward again.
They continued to train for half an hour until Blacknail eventually stopped and addressed his tired out minions. “Alright, that’s enough for today.”
“Really?” Scamp asked hesitantly. He was favoring one leg and he had developed a few purple bruises. Imp was in a similar sorry state.
“Yes, unless either of you want a chance to hit me back.”
“What do you mean?” Imp asked. The hobgoblin sounded intrigued but also cautious. He suspected a trap. It had been that kind of day.
“We could spar,” Blacknail told him.
Imp’s beady red eyes stared intently at Blacknail for several long seconds. His hands were gripping the wooden practice blade so tightly they almost seemed to be shaking. He looked really tempted to give into his rage and take up the offer. Scamp quickly shook his head to signal he wasn’t interested. He was a coward, so that wasn’t surprising.
“No, I would never want to hurt you, wise leader,” Imp eventually hissed in reply. He didn’t sound like he really meant it.
“Too bad, because now your wise leader feels like sparring with you. We will keep going until I say so or you hit me. Maybe you will learn some of my wisdom,” Blacknail replied smugly as he grinned from ear to ear.
There was a hateful hiss from Imp as he raised his blade up in front of his face. It was an aggressive stance, but instead of charging, Imp cautiously inched forward.
Blacknail didn’t feel like waiting for him. He lunged, battered Imp’s sword aside, and then smashed his sword into the other hobgoblin’s ribs. Imp flinched but gritted his teeth and tried to strike back. However he aimed too high and Blacknail easily ducked under his slash.
Over the next few minutes, Blacknail demolished Imp. The newly transformed hobgoblin quickly descended into a blind rage and began swinging wildly.
“Hold still!” he screeched as Blacknail stepped back away from one of his attacks.
Imp continued to attack over and over again, but none of his attacks hit. Blacknail dodged and parried them all, while occasionally slipping in his own attacks. Imp’s complete loss of self control was deeply satisfying. Blacknail couldn’t stop himself from grinning widely in delight. Imp had been far too self-controlled as a goblin, so Blacknail had always wanted to beat the smugness out of him. He wasn’t so smart now was he!
Eventually, Imp screamed hatefully at the top of his lungs, dove forward, and was promptly smacked down. The flat of Blacknail’s blade crashed into the top of his head and knocked him down into the dirt. He coughed and didn’t get back up. Instead, Imp just lay there on the ground.
“Do you give up?” Blacknail asked the prone hobgoblin. Instead of replying, Imp let out a defeated groan that Blacknail assumed meant yes.
“Remember this lesson, weakling. Strength comes from obedience; not from rage,” Blacknail told Imp as he leaned down over him. “Defy me and you will stay weak and pathetic, and weakness leads to pain.”
It was important that Blacknail’s new hobgoblin minions not only learned to fight but also to fear him. Unquestioning obedience born from hopelessness was required. Blacknail couldn’t have disobedient hobgoblins running around. That would be too dangerous.
“Tomorrow will be your turn to spar,” Blacknail told Scamp as he turned and gave him a meaningful look. Scamp gulped in fear and Elyias laughed.
“That sure was interesting,” the young man remarked as he got up and walked over to Scamp. “I always wondered how Saeter trained you, so that you wouldn’t kill him in his sleep or anything.”
“I was a better learner than these two,” Blacknail told him. Memories of hanging from a tree and being beaten up by Saeter rose up in his mind, but he suppressed them.
“Come on, you look like shit. Let’s get you something to eat,” Elyias told Scamp as the pair walked away.
Khita followed Blacknail back over to where the wall was under construction. They left Imp alone on the ground.
The training continued over the next two days. For a few hours every afternoon, Blacknail taught Scamp and Imp how to use a sword and how to control their emotions. They weren’t very good at either yet, but Blacknail was having fun, so he wasn’t in too much of a hurry.
Over and over again, he showed them the basics of sword fighting and hit them when they failed to impress him. The objective was not only to motivate them to succeed but also to enrage them. During the sparring, when they lost control and tried to hit him, Blacknail simply countered using his vastly superior skills and then humiliated them. The point was to condition them to not give into their anger. The hobgoblins' violent instincts had to be suppressed, and Blacknail wanted them to know he was in charge. He was the leader, and he didn’t plan on stepping down or letting himself get killed.
He also took an hour every day to teach Gob, who he didn’t beat black and purple. However, Gob spent most of his time overseeing the construction of the wall around the base. The goblins needed to be watched at all times or they would slack off. Blacknail was fairly sure that most of them were only pretending to work anyway, but there wasn’t much he could do about it.
Still, the wall was starting to take form. Its rickety wooden length looked like garbage, but it would do its job and keep out most the nasty wildlife. Gangs of goblins led by overseers were constantly dragging timber out of the forest. Even goblins with stone axes could cut down slender young trees fairly easily, and there were a lot of goblins around. It was a good thing the larder was full of food because everyone was too busy to hunt or forage.
On the third morning, Blacknail decided to head back to the human village. He had grown bored of hanging around the goblin lair and wanted to talk to some other people. He was also out of cheese. Going without cheese for a few days was unthinkable.
“We need some supplies, so I’m going to lead a mission back to Shelter. It will be dangerous but I can handle it, no problem,” Blacknail told Gob as he smiled confidently.
“Thank you, most powerful of chiefs. Surely, only you could do this,” Gob replied as he gave a little bow.
“Pretty much,” Blacknail agreed as he nodded along happily in agreement. Gob sure said it like it was.
“I want to come,” Ferrar said as he scampered up to Blacknail’s side. The hobgoblin chief looked down at him and frowned thoughtfully.
“Why? All the things you want to burn are here. You’re not allowed to burn things there.”
“I need to learn something from humans,” Ferrar explained. “Humans know a lot about fire and clay that Imp and I want to know too.”
The idea didn’t immediately appeal to Blacknail. The creepy little goblin wanted to go and talk to some humans? That didn’t sound like a good idea. They’d probably kill him and then hunt down every other goblin they could find. Blacknail could barely resist the urge to do that himself.
“It will allow us to cook new tastier foods,” Ferrar added as he noticed his chieftain’s reluctance.
“Alright, let’s go!” Blacknail replied excitedly. He had grown tired of the simple fare available at the goblin camp. Good food made everything better!
“The goblin’s coming with us now?” Khita asked from where she was standing nearby. Half a dozen goblins were beside her. They had been chosen to join the mission.
“Yes, he has a very important task,” Blacknail told her.
“I wish I could go back to Shelter. It’s a pile of dung full of peasants, but I’m really getting sick of staying out here in the forest. The gods know I would do anything to get back to civilization,” Elyias whined.
The young man was also nearby, although he wasn’t joining the mission. He simply had nowhere better to be. Lately, he had been working under Gob a lot and helping out with the wall. Blacknail wasn’t sure if it was by choice or if Gob had conscripted him, and he didn’t really care.
“I told them you stole their coins and deserted so you can’t go back, but you can be the second in command while we’re gone. That’s a promotion for working so hard lately!” Blacknail told him.
“Oh, good,” Elyias replied as he scowled. He didn’t seem all happy about the wonderful promotion he’d just been given. Blacknail decided not to take that as an insult. Elyias had always been a miserable person. That was why annoying him was so fun.
“Just watch for Scamp and Imp while I’m gone,” Blacknail warned him. “They might go insane and start killing people at any time. If that happens you need to help Gob fight them off.”
“What? Is that a real possibility? You must be joking,” Elyias asked in alarm. He looked concerned and more than a little afraid. It was unbecoming of a second-in-command.
“That’s always a possibility with hobgoblins, even me,” Blacknail laughed as he walked away. Elyias was a funny guy.
Without wasting any more time, the group set off. Blacknail took the lead as they trudged through the forest. The mixed group passed between rows of towering trees and up and down rocky hills as they approached their destination. The familiar journey took them about an hour. Once they were near the village, they stopped among a thick clump of bushes at the edge of the fields.
“Can you sneak past the walls and rejoin us?” Blacknail asked Ferrar.
“Sure, I sneak in there all the time,” Ferrar replied with a confident smile and a excited nod.
This reply caught Blacknail off guard. What was this now? When did Ferrar have the time visit the humans? Why would he want to? After a few seconds of furious thinking Blacknail decided to let it go. This didn’t sound like it was his problem. As the leader, he needed to focus on the important things, like getting his cheese.
Khita and Blacknail left the goblins behind. They crossed the fields and went in through Shelter’s gate. The one old farmer that was serving as the guard let them in without any concern. They were familiar visitors now. The hooded hobgoblin even gave the man a friendly nod. Being polite was important.
The pair wandered through the streets until they got to where Geralhd had taken up residence. It was a small home that looked like it had seen better days, but it was clean and serviceable. Compared to Blacknail’s cave it was a mansion. Khita walked up to the door and called out, but no one answered.
“He doesn’t seem to be home,” she told Blacknail.
“I’m right here. I heard you’d come to visit my humble abode and decided to cut you off,” Geralhd answered from behind them. The both turned to see him walking towards them from down the street.
“Oh, where were you? I hope we aren’t interrupting anything,” Khita asked.
“I was simply out and about. It was nothing important. Now, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?” he asked in return. Blacknail was fairly sure it was question. Geralhd sometimes had a problem speaking clearly.
“I bet you were with a woman,” Khita laughed. There was an amused grin on her face.
“In this village? I prefer having relationships with less strings attached,” Geralhd replied with a grimace of distaste.
“Oh, like with Vorscha,” Blacknail observed. Geralhd and Vorscha had done everything together until Werrick’s attack. They had been forced to leave her behind when they fled the battle and she had died horribly. It was too bad. She had been strong and useful.
“Yes…” Geralhd replied with obvious awkwardness. He suddenly looked a little sad.
“That was utterly thoughtless. You don’t say things like that,” Khita quietly hissed at the hobgoblin.
Blacknail sighed and rolled his eyes. He had no idea what she was talking about. It must be a stupid human thing. Every time he thought he had them figured out he was proven wrong.
“Well, let’s not stand out here on the public street and under the sun. Come in and have some tea. It’s dreadful herbal stuff but it’s still better than the local swill,” Geralhd said as he walked over to the entrance of his home.
Blacknail didn’t think Geralhd looked too hurt by his words. Khita was probably being overdramatic. She did that a lot.