“Do you remember what you have to do?” Blacknail asked.
“Ya, it’s not that complicated, just stupid. Why are you doing this?” Elyias countered.
The hobgoblin and the young man were standing outside of a small inn. Blacknail was hooded to conceal his unnaturally good looks, so that he wouldn’t attract attention. After trudging back along the route through the forest they had taken to Shelter, the pair had eventually found a major human road, which had led them here to this inn. The journey had taken a week and all of it had been long and boring. Blacknail had spent the entire time annoying Elyias and making him do chores, most of which had been utterly pointless, but fun to watch.
“You don’t need to know why I’m doing this. Just repeat your orders. It’s important,” Blacknail hissed at Elyias.
“Fine, I’m supposed to find some of Werrick’s men and tell them about Shelter. I’m not supposed to mention you or any of Herad’s old minions, but I have to tell them about there being heaps of gold there.”
“Good, and do you remember what will happen if you don’t obey my orders or mess this up by doing some stupid human thing?”
“I remember. You promised to gut me like a fish and hang my nude corpse from a village gate,” Elyias replied dryly.
“You make me sound so mean! I’m just trying to help you remember everything properly. Motivation is important!” Blacknail protested. “Also, on that topic, don’t think I won’t find you if you try to run. I can follow you through a city. Herad’s enemies weren’t safe from me in Daggerpoint. I hunted them down like rats.”
“Rats? What? Agh, never mind. I thought I was finally going to be free of you,” Elyias muttered under his breath as he turned towards the inn door.
Blacknail’s ears were sensitive enough to pick up his words, but he just smiled to himself. He didn’t say anything as Elyias disappeared through the door, leaving Blacknail alone on the long dusty road.
The inn was an isolated building that served as a safe house for travelers. It was a solidly built structure that looked like it had been designed with defense in mind. There was a stable off to one side, and Blacknail could hear several horses neighing and whinnying inside it. The hobgoblin had to resist the urge to burn the whole thing down. Killing a few disgusting and obnoxious horses wasn’t worth messing up his amazing plan. The stable did look really flammable though. There was hay everywhere…
“I paid for a good bed. I demand better than this!” a woman yelled from inside the inn. The noise derailed Blacknail’s train of thought.
“Well, Elyias is finally back among his own kind, whiny people, so I should get moving,” the hobgoblin told himself before turning and starting to walk away.
He had a long journey ahead of himself. Without stopping , he travelled down the road for the rest for the day. By the time the sun was starting to set he had almost driven himself crazy.
He was so bored! He hated being alone. He wasn’t used to it anymore. Blacknail hissed in frustration as he looked down the road. Being the leader was pointless if there was no one to brag to or boss around. He already regretted leaving Elyias behind, but he’d had no choice. The plan was more important than anything else. He would just have to find another human that was even more fun to torment.
Boredom was one of the main reasons he hadn’t become a feral hobgoblin after Saeter had died. It had been tempting to leave the whiny humans behind, but if he’d obeyed his instincts and ran off into the woods then there wouldn’t be anyone for him to agonize or lord-over. Being around stupid humans and shifty-eyed hobgoblins he couldn’t trust was dangerous, but there was more to life than just living, like cheese.
When night came, Blacknail pulled off his pack and unrolled his blanket. He was always able to find some sort of crevice or nook to sleep in. The forest was full of predators, but only a few of them hunted during the blackest part of the night, and fewer still would dare prey on a hobgoblin.
By the third day, hiking along the dusty road past all the trees was really starting to get old. If he looked up, there were some clouds and some mountains on the horizon, but those weren’t exactly riveting either. Blacknail found himself talking to random birds that were up in the trees. They chirped a lot but they didn’t talk back.
When Blacknail finally drew close to his destination, several more days had passed, and he was desperate for company. All the hobgoblins had been too busy to come with him, every goblin was worthless, and he’d rather swallow a spiny toad than spend so much time alone with Khita. However, he should have forced at least one of the hobgoblins to come along. There was several hours worth of hiking left until he got home, and they were going to be excruciatingly dull.
Letting out a deep sigh, Blacknail passed underneath a huge slanted tree that overshadowed the path. The giant had partially fallen over some time ago, but it was still alive. The forest around the hobgoblin was quiet. The short leafy bushes and tall tree trunks around him were still.
Suddenly, an uncomfortable tingle spread across Blacknail’s back and up his neck. Was it perhaps too quiet? Wasn’t there usually more birdsong and scurrying noises? Blacknail stopped walking. He turned to look around. Nothing seemed out of place, but he still felt on edge.
Cautiously, Blacknail began walking again. He couldn’t just wait around all day. He had places to be. If he was walking a little quicker than before it wasn’t because he was afraid. Ha, that would be ridiculous. He was the hunter, not the hunted.
Just then, Blacknail heard a rustling. It sounded like something was in the bushes, and creeping closer to him. He kept walking as if he hadn’t heard anything, but he also surreptitiously glanced over his shoulder towards the noise. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a patch of grey fur. Blacknail began to walk a little faster and one of his hands grasped the hilt of his blade. He really should have brought someone else along.
As he hustled along the path, Blacknail was careful to keep his eyes open and to walk close to tree trunks so one of his sides was covered. A snapping sound from behind him - like a twig breaking - reminded him that he was being followed. He needed to do something about that, but first he needed to figure out exactly what sort of situation he was in. Proper tactics were important.
There was a huge tree up ahead. The giant stood alone; no bushes or other trees were within two dozen feet of it. Its trunk was wider than Blacknail’s arms and covered in pale smooth bark. Most importantly, there was a pair of low hanging branches on it. Blacknail dashed forward towards the tree. When he reached it, he planted his feet, and drew his blade as he spun around. The sword whirred through the air until it came to a stop up in a guard position in front of Blacknail’s face. The hobgoblin grimaced in determination as he took a defensive stance and prepared himself for combat.
Immediately, there was an explosion of leaves, as several low shapes burst out from the underbrush. Four of them were normal wolves, while the fifth was much larger and had a small crystalline horn on its head. It was the mutant wolf that attacked Blacknail’s base! The alpha snarled as it led its pack mates in a charge towards the hobgoblin warrior. The beast’s eyes shone with mad hunger.
“Nope, bye,” Blacknail exclaimed as he dropped his sword.
The hobgoblin then turned and leaped towards the closest branch on the tree behind him. There was no way he was going to fight so many wolves by himself. As he grabbed the branch and began pulling himself up, one of the wolves jumped after him.
“Ah, my butt! I need that,” Blacknail screeched as a set of teeth grazed his ass and tore through his pants.
The hanging hobgoblin flinched and quickly threw himself up out of the way. He landed on top of a solid branch, and then immediately jumped up to the next one, just in case. Only then did he stop and take a second to glance at the seat of his pants. There was a long gash through them, although the skin beneath had only been scratched. The wound hurt, though. His butt was a tender area, and the damage to his trousers annoyed Blacknail. He didn’t have a lot of spare pairs of pants. They were difficult to loot unless you didn’t mind them smelling really bad. In battle, humans leaked quite a few different fluids, none of which were fragrant.
Beneath him, the alpha wolf leaped up onto the side of the tree and began scrambling up the bark. It growled as its jaws snapped on empty air. Up on his branch, Blacknail flinched again and leaned back away. However, the huge beast quickly lost its grip. It slipped back down to the ground and landed on all fours.
“Ha, you’re just a stupid mutt without any hands. Grow some thumbs, loser,” Blacknail laughed as he stuck his tongue out.
The alpha stared up at the hobgoblin. Its yellow eyes were narrowed hatefully. Blacknail spat down at it, but his wet projectile missed completely, and the alpha growled again.
“Just wait, I got a present for you!” Blacknail said as he rummaged around in his pouches for his sling.
The wolf seemed to recognize the weapon, because as Blacknail began loading it, the beast let out a quick howl and then darted off back into the bushes. Its companions followed it, leaving Blacknail up the tree with nothing to shoot at. Several minutes passed.
“Are they gone?” Blacknail muttered darkly to himself as he tried to peer through the undergrowth below.
The wolves weren’t visible, but that didn’t mean they were really gone. They might be laying in ambush, waiting for Blacknail to come down so they could tear him to bits. The alpha had seemed like a cunning beast with a twisty mind. It wasn’t truly intelligent, of course, but it was the next best thing, sort of like a human.
Everything was quiet for several more minutes as Blacknail waited up in the tree. The longer he waited the more frustrated he grew. This was not how a great hobgoblin chieftain was supposed to spend his time. He was a hunter without equal, not a squirrel. He should be doing hobgoblin chieftain things, like um… sitting on a pile of skulls? Why didn’t he have a pile of skulls? That sounded amazing.
Wait, that was a problem for another time. He should focus on the situation at hand, the wolves. Blacknail thought over his options. He really only had two. Sit in the tree or climb down.
“They are probably gone. The dumb mutts probably lost interest and went to find something less dangerous to attack,” Blacknail reassured himself before jumping down to the lower branch.
He then carefully studied the nearby bushes before making the last leap down to the ground. When no slavering wolves jumped out at him he picked his sword off the ground and resumed heading down the trail that led him back towards Shelter. It wasn’t like he had much choice.
Before he had gone more than a few feet, a loud crash and a squeal echoed through the trees. He tensed, but it sounded like it was coming from far away. Was it the wolves?
After stopping and listening, Blacknail decided to check it out. If the wolves were really making all the noise he wanted to know what they were doing. He might be losing a chance to put some distance between himself and the beasts, but he much preferred being the hunter over the hunted. He wasn’t about to let a bunch of arrogant dogs chase him all the way home.
There was another loud squeal. Blacknail turned and began creeping towards the sound. He kept low and skulked through the bushes as he moved. His long green ears were erect as they listened for even the slightest sound. The tiniest warning could save him if this was a trick.
Blacknail soon found what he was looking for. As he peered out from behind a tree, the hobgoblin saw an unfolding battle. There was a steep rocky cliff up ahead. At the base of the hill, the alpha wolf and several of its pack mates were circling around a herd of boars.
One of the boars was a gigantic beast. It had dark brown fur with subtle black stripes and long pointy tusks. The giant towered over even the alpha wolf by two or three feet. The normal wolves looked small and harmless next to its huge girth. Around half a dozen smaller pigs were hiding behind their larger companion. They looked to be sticking close to a small crevice in the side of the hill and trying to keep out of the fight.
With the support of his pack mates, the alpha was darting in to bite at the large boar’s heels and exposed flank. It was smaller than its prey but its speed and strength were unnatural. The alpha was having no trouble getting past the boars’ defenses. It showed no fear, and its teeth were already wet with blood.
Since no one and nothing was looking in his direction, Blacknail decided to circle around and get a better view. He headed up towards the hill. That seemed like a defensible spot and he would definitely get a good view up there. The sounds of battle continued behind him as he moved.
There were several large rocks on top of the hill. Blacknail crept up behind the one closest to the edge and looked down. At the bottom of the rocky ridge, one of the smaller wolves dove into the melee. It lunged at the back of one of the boars as the alpha distracted it, but it was too slow. The boar turned and head-butted the wolf before it could pull back. The wolf whined in pain as it was sent flying and hit a tree.
This enraged the alpha wolf. It growled angrily, jumped on the boar’s back, and sank its long sharp teeth into the beast’s neck. Another loud squeal filled the air as the boar bucked and tried to shake itself free. The other wolves took the opportunity to jump in and began harassing the smaller pigs. A ragged din of high-pitched squealing and hungry growls quickly filled the air.
As Blacknail watched all this, he weighed his options. It certainly seemed like the wolves were going to win, and that wasn’t good for him. They had already attacked both him and his tribe. Briefly, he considered stringing his bow and taking a shot at the alpha, but it would probably take more than an arrow or two to hurt a mutant like that.
Blacknail’s attention was drawn back to the fight, when the boar finally managed to dislodge its attacker. It spun itself around in tight circle and the alpha came loose and hit the ground. The wolf rolled a few times before getting back to its feet, but the boar was already charging. The wolf tried to jump out of the way, but the huge pig managed to graze its foe. Its tusks cut into the wolf’s side and drew blood.
However, the now bloodied mutant was far from out of the fight. It calmly landed and began circling the boar again. Its yellow eyes were alive with excitement, not pain. The boar was the one that seemed to be on its last legs. It was huffing and puffing fitfully as it limped around. It looked ready to collapse at any second.
Up above, Blacknail frowned to himself. The alpha was wounded and its pack mates were hurt and distracted. Blacknail knew he would likely never have a better chance than this to even the score. He needed to come up with a plan, one that would actually work.
The rock Blacknail was leaning on suddenly shifted ever so slightly, and a new idea occurred to the hobgoblin. He grinned maliciously to himself as he looked around for a branch. He quickly found one he could use, so he jammed it under the large rock and began pushing. There was a low crack as the boulder came loose and began rolling down the hill. It hit several smaller stones on the way down and a small rockslide formed.
The wave of jagged rock hurtled downwards at the beasts below. Blacknail laughed joyfully at the sight and rubbed his hands together in glee. Down below, the alpha finally looked up and away from his lagging foe. The noise from all the fighting animals had been drowning out the sound of the rocks until they got closer. Blacknail was sure he saw a terrified expression appear on the wolf’s face for a moment, before it howled fearfully and turned to run away.
“Too late! You’re going to get smooshed flat,” Blacknail yelled down at the mutant. There was a savage victorious grin on his face. No dog was ever going to get away with hurting him!
That grin faltered though, when the ground beneath Blacknail’s feet suddenly shifted. He lost his balance. There was a loud grinding noise from below, and then the part of the hill Blacknail was standing on began to come apart and slide down the slope.
“Ah, harpy shit,” the hobgoblin cursed as he fell.