The brown cloth of Blacknail’s hood fell down to his shoulders. He then pulled off the scarf covering the front of his face. This meant the hobgoblin’s green visage was plain for everyone to see. His long pointy ears and nose were clearly inhuman, and there were two short horns rising from his bald head. He sure was handsome.
There were gasps of surprise and horror from some of the nearby residents of Shelter. The closest villagers stepped back and some of the militia raised their weapons defensively. Blacknail gave them his best friendly smile, but made an effort not to show his teeth. Some humans found them intimidating.
“What in the deepest of hells is this?” Tannin cursed. He looked shocked and more than a little angry.
“It’s my face,” Blacknail replied matter-of-factly.
“Why are you green?” one of the villagers asked. He sounded shocked.
“Ugh, Really? Stupid ignorant hicks,” one of the bandits with Geralhd mumbled.
“I’m a hobgoblin,” Blackanil explained for the people that didn’t get it. Humans sometimes needed a few moments for their brains to start working.
There were more murmurs now, and they sounded angrier. A lot of the villagers were glaring at him with hate in their eyes. That wasn’t good, but things were going the way Blacknail had expected them to. The sudden appearance of a hobgoblin in their midst had shocked and scared the villagers. They were reacting defensively and working themselves up into a state of uncontrolled anger and fear, not that there was much difference for humans. Luckily, Blacknail had a plan in action to counter this. Magic.
Before coming here, Blacknail had met with Imp and asked about making Elixir. The fight with the alpha had used up his supply. Imp couldn’t do it, however it turned out that the hobgoblin mage did have a vial of Blacknail’s Elixir on hand. He had taken it from Mahedium’s lair after Werrick’s attack. Blacknail had ingested a quarter of the vial on the spot. Thus, the hobgoblin squinted and focused his attention on Tannin and the villagers. He tried to recreate the feeling from his fight with the wolves. It was sort of a weird floaty feeling, like he was thinking about loosening some string, except mint flavored.
Since the arrival of the scavengers, Blacknail had been using his new found Vessel ability to tweak the emotions of the people around him. He could only affect their fear but that was still very useful. Fear seemed to affect everything humans did. When the raiders had arrived, Blacknail had played up the peoples’ fears to make them more desperate and open to suggestion. Now he was doing the opposite, stifling their fears so they would be more accepting. The slight headache meant it was working, that or he wasn’t getting enough air. Maybe he should focus more on breathing.
“Did you know about this?” Tannin asked Geralhd in a sharp accusatory tone. “I can’t see how you couldn’t have.”
“I knew about it. Blacknail is my friend,” Khita interjected. The redhead had been standing behind Geralhd but now she stepped up beside Blacknail and put a hand on his shoulder. The hobgoblin had to suppress the urge to bite her fingers. Now was not the time for that, so instead he just kept smiling.
“Yes, we all knew,” Geralhd replied reluctantly. Meanwhile, Beardy took a step away from him and tried to look innocent and unrelated. He didn’t really blend in with the villagers, though.
“How can this be possible? Why would you travel with a hobgoblin?” Tannin asked. He was clearly upset.
Blacknail tried to focus his magic on the village elder’s mind for a moment. He wasn’t sure if it was working. He was very new at this and it was very weird. He couldn’t really sense peoples' thought or anything, but if he really concentrated, it felt he could feel their minds, or something. They were like piles of squirming worms. What Blacknail had to do was use his power to sort of calm the worms down or make them more agitated. It was actually much easier just to flare the Elixir and send out a wave of fear that hit everyone, like he had with the wolf. All this thinking about worms and brains was making him hungry.
“Umm, that’s a rather complicated tale,” Geralhd explained to Tannin. “When he was just a little goblin he was picked up and raised by one of our companions, Saeter. Since then he has never really done anything wrong and he has been rather helpful actually. We grew used to having him around.”
“See, I’m helpful and I’ve never done anything wrong. Nothing, ever,” Blacknail crowed proudly.
“Ya!” Khita agreed. “Just like me.” Everyone ignored her.
“Well, he has always obeyed orders, anyway,” Beardy clarified.
“They would have died so many times without my help, just like you right now,” Blacknail pointed out.
“You shouldn’t have let this creature inside our village without permission! He could have hurt someone,” Tannin yelled at Geralhd.
“They needed me to get home and I was their companion. They knew they could trust me, but they knew nothing about you,” Blacknail countered.
“Um, that’s actually a good point. You’re rather smart aren’t you?” Tannin admitted as he studied Blacknail again. He seemed to be rethinking some things and getting his thoughts in order now. The worms that made up his brain were flopping around less.
“We’ve talked over a dozen times. You know how smart I am,” Blacknail pointed out. He was the smartest person here, or maybe anywhere. He was also magic.
“Right… that’s also a good point,” Tannin replied before falling silent. He seemed momentarily at a loss for words.
“This is why I hid my face. I get asked so many dumb questions by angry people who know nothing,” Blacknail hissed. There were also a lot of other reasons. It certainly made sneaking up on people easier.
“Why are you talking to the beast? We need to drive it out of town now!” a member of the militia suddenly yelled. He was a pudgy man with a balding head.
“Shut your pie hole, Aster,” Tannin told the speaker as he spun to face him. “We can’t afford to lose our heads now.”
“Yes, if you try and chase me away then I won’t be able to help you,” Blacknail told them as he tried to magic their brains.
“You expect us to accept help from the likes of you? You’re a monster! Why would we ever do that?” the man yelled in defiance of Tannin. His brain worms were practically dancing about.
“Because you need me,” Blacknail replied in as soothing a voice as he could muster. It wasn’t very soothing. “I have never done anything but help you, and without my aid you and all your families will die, all of them. These invaders will slit their throats and burn you from your homes. I alone can save everything you hold dear.”
There was silence from all the nearby villagers now. They seemed unsure.
“Just what sort of price are you demanding?” Tannin asked. He sounded apprehensive, like he wasn’t sure he wanted to learn the answer.
Several nearby villagers began whispering among themselves and guessing. Blacknail heard people mention babies, human blood, and women. The hobgoblin had no idea what he’d do with two of those three, and eating the other would get him in trouble.
“I just want a few simple things. Nothing bad!” Blacknail said.
“Like what?” Tannin asked.
“First, I want to be your friend, to come and go from the village, as before. I want to trade with you so I can get supplies. This would help us both.”
“That sounds… fine,” Tannin answered reluctantly. This led to angry muttering from some of the villagers so he added, “We can keep an eye on you easily enough.”
“Second, I want the stuff in your heads, your secret knowledge.”
“Our secret knowledge?”
“Yes, the way you make things. I want that. You will teach me the secret of making cheese!”
There was silence of a different kind from the villagers.
“Is that everything?” Tannin asked after moment.
“Um, alright. You have a deal.”
“Huh,” Blacknail muttered to himself. He was beginning to think he should have asked for more. Well, whatever. He could always trade them some yellow rocks for whatever he wanted later.
“So how do you plan on dealing with our uninvited guests?” Tannin asked.
“I’ll kill them,” Blacknail responded.
“There are a lot of them.”
“I know that. It won’t matter. I have minions and magic. Come morning you will see how helpful I can be!”
“I don’t think we have much of a choice. If you do actually manage to save Shelter from the raiders then on my word as the village Elder we will welcome you back regardless of your um… skin color.”
“…and teeth, those things are horrifying,” one of the militiamen muttered under his breath. He and most the militia were still staring at Blacknail suspiciously but they no longer seemed like they were considering preemptive violence.
“Hey, Blacknail. Step over this way for a moment,” Geralhd quietly asked as he motioned for the hobgoblin to come closer. Blacknail did as he was asked and walked over to Geralhd’s side. Several of the nearby former bandits leaned in closer as well so they could hear.
“I’m glad that you’ve managed to tell Tannin the truth, but are you sure this is the best idea?” Geralhd asked Blacknail quietly so that the villager’s couldn’t overhear. “The minions you were talking about are Gob and the goblins, right? I don’t think any of the old band are going to want to do anything too dangerous right now.”
“That’s alright. As your leader, I want you all right here where you can help protect the village, in case the raiders attack before night. I have enough hobgoblin minions for the rest,” Blacknail replied.
“Wait, you have more hobgoblins now? How? And how many are we talking about?” Beardy asked in shock.
“Pff, too many. It’s annoying. I don’t know what I’m going to do with them all. There are more every day,” Blacknail told him.
“That’s certainly an interesting bit of information,” Geralhd remarked.
“Red Dog was right about everything,” Beardy cursed. “We’ve doomed ourselves.”
“Stop being such a cry baby,” Khita told him. “How can a grown man be so pathetic? Are you going to go cry alone in a corner somewhere now? The new hobgoblins aren’t so bad. Scamp and Imp are two of them.”
“Of course, you must have known about this all along. You’ve been spending half your time out in the forest with Blacknail. Seriously, what is wrong with your mind? Did you get dropped on your head as a child? Why did you keep this from us?” Beardy shot back.
“You never asked. Goblins turn into hobgoblins, that’s what they do,” Khita replied with an indifferent shrug of her shoulders. This remark made Beardy’s eyes bug out and his face grow red. He raised a clenched fist and started to open his mouth, but Blacknail smiled and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“We should all just get along. Getting mad can be very bad for a human’s health. I’ve seen it many times,” Blacknail told Beardy helpfully. Most the humans Blacknail had seen die had been rather upset before the end.
Beardy didn’t seem to know how to respond to this. He looked flustered and grunted sourly before shaking his head.
“See? That’s better!” Blacknail told him cheerfully.
There was wasn’t much more to say, so after answering a few more questions, Blacknail began his preparations to leave. A pair of militia men escorted the hobgoblin to the far side of the village, where Blacknail found a gap in the wall he could squeeze through. Khita had wanted to come too but Blacknail had quickly ditched her. Once outside, he made a dash for the forest. It didn’t seem likely that the scavengers had set up a ring of sentries yet, but it was better safe than sorry.
No enemies appeared at the edge of the forest to stop him, so Blacknail slipped into the trees without a problem. He immediately headed for the goblin settlement at a quick run. If he wanted to be ready before it got dark he needed to get things organized fast, and the upcoming fight was making him more than a little excited. This would be a hunt unlike any other.
He was out of breath by the time the walls of the goblin camp came into sight through the thick greenery of the forest, but he had made very good time. Blacknail slowed down to a walk as he stepped through the gate. He needed to recover so that he could do some screaming. That was the best way to get attention.
“To me! Gob, hobgoblins, your chief is calling you,” Blacknail yelled at the top of his lungs as he stomped into the camp. Goblins scattered before him and fled from the sound, in case he was angry or looking to assign them work.
Almost immediately, Gob came running. The senior hobgoblin ran out from behind a hill and practically fell at Blacknail’s feet as he kneeled submissively. Blacknail had to jerk back to prevent himself from tripping over the other hobgoblin. Gob could move surprisingly fast at the weirdest times.
“Great master of the tribe, I am yours to command,” Gob exclaimed proudly as he thumped his chest with a closed fist. “What is it you desire, warrior king?”
“Stand, war master. Our tribe is going to war!” Blacknail told him. The title had slipped off his tongue. Something about Gob's use of them was contagious.
“Who dares threaten our territory and challenge Blacknail the Undefeated?” Gob hissed furiously.
By this time, a few more hobgoblins had appeared. They were standing back a bit and watching with great interest. At the mention of war they grew visibly more excited. Their eyes began to shine with bloodlust and a few of them licked their lips. Blacknail saw Twig, Bones, and Herah among them.
“A tribe of humans from afar has come to claim our land. They want the shiny stones that lay beneath the ground here,” Blacknail shouted loudly enough for everyone to hear. “But they shall not have them. We shall rend the flesh from their bones and tear them limb from limb instead!”
“Yes, I will kill at your command with great joy,” Gob hissed as the other hobgoblins made excited noises.
“They won’t take our shinnies!” Bones yelled.
Blacknail cleared his throat and then raised his voice to an even higher volume. It was time to set the mood. “These humans are many but they are still prey. We shall hunt them through the dark and descend upon them unaware. We will slit their throats as they sleep and pull the ground out from beneath their feet. I will lead us to victory! There will be loot for us all, too much shiny human things for us to carry!”
The hobgoblins roared their approval and pumped their fists up into the air excitedly. There were around two dozen of them now, but Blacknail still saw some faces missing. The talk of loot had really got them going, which was good. Blacknail needed his minions to be brave, and that wasn’t what hobgoblins and goblins were known for. However, it didn’t seem like he would have to influence them using magic, yet.
“Now go my minions. Gather up your weapons, return here to obey War Master Gob, and then together we shall hunt!” Blacknail yelled. The cheering hobgoblins immediately roared their approval again and then dispersed to prepare.
As the hobgoblins ran off, Blacknail turned back to Gob and began filling him in. There were a lot of tasks that needed to be completed quickly. When the other hobgoblin knew what to do, Blacknail hurried off to find Imp. The hobgoblin shaman had been missing from the gathering and Blacknail needed to speak to him. It was time to find out exactly what the mage was capable of.
Predictably, Imp was in his hut. He was working away at some sort of project, and completely focused on a small glass beaker full of cloudy grey liquid. Blacknail noticed a few other oddities lying around that drew his interest as well.
“Imp, stop what you are doing. The tribe is going to war! I need you to prepare your magics for battle,” Blacknail told him.
The hobgoblin shaman looked up and blinked a few times in confusion before managing to focus on Blacknail. “This is very important. Maybe I should stay here?”
“What is it?” Blacknail asked. He normally didn’t appreciate disrespect or disobedience but he didn’t want to mess around with magic either.
“I don’t know, but it occasionally bubbles,” Imp replied as he turned back to stare at the beaker.
“You’re coming with us,” Blacknail ordered him coldly. What was it with some hobgoblins and weird obsessions?
“What do you expect me to do in a fight?” Imp asked.
“Magic. Make things explode, like boom and kablam!”
“I can do that. It’s the stopping the boom that is hard.”
“Great!” Blacknail replied as he grinned and rubbed his hands together gleefully. It had been too long since he had seen anything explode. Pottery and furnaces didn’t count.
“Also, one more thing. Why do you have two goblins in cages?” Blacknail asked as he turned to look at the wooden cages in question. They were made of lashed together branches that had been hardened in fire, and inside of them sat two small goblins who were watching the hobgoblins’ conversation with great interest.
“So I can use their blood. They have the magic in their blood. I cut them and extract it for my potions,” Imp explained.
“Can’t they get out of them?” Blacknail asked curiously. A goblin could easily escape from a wooden cage given time.
“Of course, but why would they want to?” Imp responded as he blinked in surprise.
“Nevermind,” Blacknail told him. He was too busy to think about this right now. He had a battle to win. Hopefully one where lots of things exploded.