The dusk raid on the raiders’ camp had only yielded one small piece of cheese. It hadn’t even tasted all that good, too plain. What was the point of cheese too weak to water your eyes or burn your nose? That seemed like a waste to Blacknail. All in all, the raid had been somewhat of a disappointment. That was more because of other factors, but the cheese thing was still disappointing.
It seemed like that after killing the sentries most the hobgoblins had avoided combat and focused on stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down, which had been everything but the tents, and even then an enterprising hobgoblin had found a way to grab one. That meant the raid had only resulted in the deaths of less than two dozen humans. They did however gain a whole bunch more weapons, a pile of pots, several sacks of food, and a lot of other random knickknacks.
“I found some new knives! I can’t wait to show Khita,” Herah exclaimed happily as she followed after Blacknail.
“Do you want one, boss?” she asked him. “I’ll give you one for a favor!”
“No, thanks,” Blacknail replied as he kept on walking. He was lost in thought.
“Are you sure? You might like it!”
Instead of replying, Blacknail picked up the pace a little. Being dragged into this conversation seemed like a bad idea.
The hobgoblins were headed back to the forward base they had set up. The main goblin encampment was too far away. Blacknail wanted to keep close to Shelter so he could keep an eye on things. The new camp was only about two minutes away from Shelter, but Blacknail was willing to bet the raiders wouldn’t be doing too much exploring now. The Green could be a terrifying and dangerous place even under normal circumstances.
“I got a whole bunch of human hair! It’s all mine now,” a bald hobgoblin announced as he proudly showed off the tufts of various colors that were in his hands.
“Why did you waste your time on hair? That’s useless. I got pants!” another hobgoblin responded as he held up his loot. He was currently wearing just a loincloth so Blacknail didn’t blame him for being so excited.
As the group of hobgoblins walked through some bushes, their temporary camp came into sight. Some time ago, a huge tree had fallen over and slammed into another giant. This had resulted in a small clearing where there was no canopy overhead. The massive tree trunk’s fall had been broken by the other tree so now the entire thing lay on an angle. Near the base, there was enough room under it for hobgoblins to stand, and they had covered the open sides with long branches and green bushels of leaves to make walls.
After all the hobgoblins had taken a moment to pile their ill-gotten gains somewhere, Blacknail called them over for a meeting.
“You were all terrible. I did all the hard work,” Blacknail told his minions. “You didn’t kill enough people. That was the entire point of this attack!”
There was some assorted muttering from the assembled hobgoblins and they looked away from their chief, usually toward their loot. However, they didn’t seem all that remorseful.
“Scamp, take two other hobs and watch the enemy. Send me someone if they do anything,” Blacknail ordered his subordinate.
“I want to rest! I just finished fighting,” Scamp protested. “Send someone else less deserving!”
“There is no one else less deserving, anywhere,” Blacknail countered. “I’ll be sending replacements to find you after a while, and if you’re napping they will have orders to beat you silly.”
Since there was no way he could argue with Blacknail, Scamp picked out two other hobgoblins and headed back to watch the fields. Imp was standing off to one side of the main group of hobgoblins so Blacknail turned to face him.
“I didn’t see you doing anything. Why were there no big booms?” Blacknail asked him crossly. He had wanted some big booms.
“I saw no good targets. It’s hard to use magic stones,” Imp replied with a shrug. He had been one of the hobgoblins assigned to guard the campfires.
Blacknail sighed. He should have probably asked about this before. Why were all his minions such terrible subordinates? They needed to do better.
“What do your magics do, exactly?” he enquired of the mage. “Mahedium had staffs that shot fire and necklaces that sucked things up.”
Imp took a second to process the question. He titled his head to the side and licked his lips.
“I have rocks that give off glow and others that burn a lot,” he responded slowly as if unsure of himself.
“You can’t shoot fire or anything?”
“No, I have the magic fire but I don’t have a staff to push the flames away. After I set the crystal alight they explode after a few seconds,” Imp explained. Blacknail found these magics to be less than impressive.
“So how do you use them to fight?”
“I throw them.”
Blacknail sighed. “You don’t have anything else?”
“I do have some other stones that explode in other interesting ways. Some of them are green or make whistling noises! The problem is that they sometimes go boom in your hand, which is bad.”
“That is a problem,” Blacknail admitted. One hobgoblin mage throwing mana crystals that exploded into flame wasn’t going to be all that useful. He would have to think about this. He wanted magic, and if anyone could come up with a solution it would be him, the greatest hobgoblin genius ever.
After a little more conversation, the hobgoblin warband settled down and prepared to wait out the night. Hobgoblins had great low light vision, but even they couldn’t see through the black of night. They set up cots in the crude structure they had built under the fallen tree, and they even built a small fire off to one side where it was shielded from view. When he wasn’t dealing with complaints about who deserved what loot, Blacknail caught some sleep.
When morning was just beginning to spring to life, Blacknail was up and waiting for it. In the dark of early dawn, he led his warband back to Shelter. From atop a tall tree at the edge of the fields he surveyed the raiders’ camp. The leafy branch he was perched on swayed ever so slightly beneath him as he counted the tents and men. Blacknail wasn’t great at counting but he believed there were still around a hundred raiders left.
“That’s too many smelly humans,” Blacknail muttered to himself. He would have to work on cutting them down more.
The tree trembled a bit more as Blacknail climbed down and rejoined his minions. It was still dark out enough that hobgoblins would have the advantage. The sun hadn’t quite appeared on the horizon.
“It’s time to hunt again!” he excitedly informed his minions.
Another raid like their last would go a long way towards breaking their opponents, especially if the hobgoblins actually kept on task this time. Once the raiders realized that the hobgoblins could attack with impunity at any time they would be consumed by their terror and become easy prey.
At his command, Blacknail’s minions split into three groups and slipped out of the forest to launch a new attack. Their targets were the groups of sentries that Blacknail had picked out from up above in the tree. Carefully, the hobgoblins crept across the gloomy fields towards their prey.
This time however, things didn’t go to plan. Before any of the hobgoblins had reached the sentries, a cry of warning reverberated through the air. Blacknail froze where he was crouched down low against the earth. He looked up to see that the sentries ahead of him were alert and scanning the ground around him. The man beside him had a strung bow in his hands, and there was noise from deeper within the enemy camp.
“Reinforce the perimeter now! Secondary squads move into position,” a sentry yelled.
“Are the attackers human? You know what some of the others were saying,” another raider asked fearfully. The only answer he got was an order from his sergeant to shut up.
“Miserable slimy slugs,” Blacknail cursed. It seemed that the raiders had learned their lesson. They had been caught unaware the first time, but now they were ready for another sneak attack.
Frowning furiously, Blacknail signaled to the hobgoblin next to him. His minion nodded, rose up, nocked an arrow to his bow, and then took a shot at the sentry with the bow. The projectile flew straight and true. It whirred through the air and slammed into the archer’s chest, knocking him over. Blacknail could have totally made that shot if he had wanted to, but he didn’t need to, since he was the leader.
“Retreat!” Blacknail yelled as he rose to his feet. He didn’t need to worry about being shot now that the archer was down.
As more armed humans appeared to reinforce the sentries, Blacknail and his minions ran back to forest. An arrow flew past them and sank into the ground with a twang, but it missed by several feet. When Blacknail reached the trees he turned back to see that this time the enemy was giving chase. Eight armed and armored raiders were chasing him.
“Follow me,” Blacknail hissed at his minions as he picked up the pace and dove deeper into the forest.
The raiders stopped at the edge of the forest and didn’t follow, but Blacknail kept going. The humans soon disappeared from sight, and Blacknail veered off towards the base camp. Once he got there, he began pacing back and forth furiously as he waited for the other squads to return. The other hobgoblins avoided him. This mission had not gone well. After a few minutes had passed, Scamp and Gob finally showed up with their minions in tow. One of them was visibly wounded and bleeding from a gash on his arm.
“What happened?” Blacknail hissed as he stomped over to Scamp’s side. He highly suspected that if anyone had messed up that it would be Scamp.
“They saw Fingers coming and shot him, not my fault,” Scamp replied warily. He wouldn’t meet Blacknail’s eyes.
“And then they shot me,” the wounded hobgoblin added.
“Where is Fingers?” Blacknail asked.
“He dead,” Scamp answered matter-of-factly.
A sigh escaped Blacknail’s lips. Of course he was. The raid had gone even worse than he had thought. They had only killed one human and they lost a hobgoblin. To make matters worse, it was clear that sneak attacks weren’t going to work anymore. Blacknail was going to have to come up with an entirely new plan. He really needed to find a subordinate to do this type of thinking for him. He was the leader, so it was beneath him.
After helping sew the wounded hobgoblin’s cut shut and applying some herbs to prevent infection – that was another thing he needed to find a competent minion to do - Blacknail sent scouts back to watch the enemy camp. He then took a seat up on top of the huge fallen tree they were camping under. Once up there, he brooded and tried to come up with some ideas. He had promised to take care of the raiders, but it was proving harder than he had thought it would be. When you wanted humans alive they got themselves killed doing something stupid, and when you wanted them dead they defended themselves. It was frustrating.
The problem had to be the quality of his minions. The entire point of them was so that Blacknail didn’t have to do everything himself, and yet here he was, basically doing everything himself.
The sky overhead grew brighter quickly as an hour passed, and then the bushes rustled as one of the scouts returned.
“Boss, the enemy tribe is moving!” the hobgoblin scout shouted as he ran to below Blacknail’s perch.
The hobgoblin chieftain immediately dropped down and landed on the ground. He shouted out a quick series of orders, grabbed his weapons, and then dashed back over to the fields around Shelter. His minions followed right behind him.
When he reached the fields he was greeted by the sight of fighting. The enemy had copied Blacknail’s idea. They had split into three and attacked Shelter early in the morning before most people got up. Three different sections of the wall around Shelter were under attack by groups of twenty to thirty heavily armed men. Men with axes were trying to chop their way inside through the wooden palisade while their companions covered them. It looked like they weren’t meeting all that much resistance and would soon get inside.
“Quick, which spot seems weakest?” Blacknail asked Scamp.
“Um, that one?” the other hobgoblin replied uncertainly as he pointed to the closest squad of enemies. Blacknail took moment to study his choice. The men with the axes there had already cut through one post and were in the process of pulling it out of the way so they could climb inside.
“Alright, you better not be wrong,” Blacknail said as he motioned for his minions to form up around him. It was time for Blacknail to save the day, again.
“What is it you wish, wise leader?” Gob asked as he stepped up beside him.
“We’re going to run down those outside humans.”
“But it’s bright out and they will see us coming. You told us not to fight humans unless we could ambush them,” Bones pointed out.
“The rules change! This will be an entirely new type of surprise. They won’t suspect that we will charge right at them,” Blacknail replied
There were murmurs of conversation as the hobgoblins thought this over. They didn’t sound convinced or enthusiastic.
“If you don’t fight them then you will have to fight me,” Blacknail said as he gave his minions a harsh glare. He was the leader; other people’s opinions didn’t matter.
“And me!” Gob added in support.
“Now charge!” Blacknail yelled as he drew his sword and pointed it towards Shelter.
The hobgoblins hesitated for a moment, but then they all broke out into a run. Blacknail waited a second and then followed after them. He wanted to keep an eye on them so he stuck to the back, where he could motivate them to run faster.
The mob of hobgoblins raced across he fields towards the walls of Shelter. Ahead of them, the raiders had hacked their way through the palisade and were starting to climb through. The attackers were slightly outnumbered by the hobgoblins, but Blacknail still didn’t consider that great odds for his side.
The enemy wasn’t looking behind themselves. They were focused on getting inside the wall, so they didn’t see the hobgoblins coming until the last second. One larger man who was waiting his turn happened to look over his shoulder.
“Bloody shits, we’ve got incoming,” he yelled in a panic. His nearby companions turned as well, spotted the hobgoblins, and raised their weapons.
“Demon spawn! They’re real,” another man babbled.
Right before the two groups met, Blacknail sped up and dashed to the front of his minions. With inhuman speed, he lunged at the enemy before they were ready. His sword sliced into a man’s belly as he ducked under a hurried blow. Another man swung at him. Blacknail parried the blow and kicked the man in the knee. There was a crunch as the limb gave out. Still reeling from Blacknail’s assault, the other raiders were unprepared for the wave of hobgoblins behind him, and the hobgoblins knew it. They grinned and growled fiercely as they pounced on the raiders.
“Form up on me!” a bearded man with blonde hair yelled as he swung at a hobgoblin with an axe. In response to his voice, the raiders still facing the wall turned and stepped into position next to their compatriots. Together they formed a tight defensive line and began pushing the hobgoblins back.
A sword sliced through the air next to Blacknail’s head. He twisted around and slashed at the face of the sword’s wielder. The man jumped back but the edge of the sword grazed his cheek and drew blood as he fell over backward. That was when Blacknail saw one of the raiders stumble out of the hole in the wall. As Blacknail unleashed a flurry of blows at another raider that had been about to strike down a hobgoblin, the man hurried over to the blonde raider’s side.
“We’re being pushed out of the village, captain,” the raider yelled at his commander as another man popped through the wall. “The fighting here made too much noise and the peasants swamped us before we were ready for them.”
“Then we’re retreating,” the commander replied. He raised his voice and ordered his men to fall back. All together, the raiders stepped back while keeping their defensive line strong.
Seeing this, Blacknail instantly yelled for his own minions to let them go. Within seconds, the two sides were completely disentangled and the raiders began falling back. They kept close to the wall as they headed to meet up with the other raider squads.
“Do we have dead or wounded?” Blacknail asked as he watched the humans go.
“Two dead and several wounded,” Gob replied.
“Good,” Blacknail said as he thought about his next move.
“I’m still alive!” Scamp added, in case anyone cared.
The raiders disappeared around the curve in the wall so Blacknail decided that now was a good time for his force to leave. Trying to enter the village and helping out there would probably be a bad idea, and he’d lost enough minions for one day. They were replaceable but annoying to train. Blacknail was just about to order the withdrawal when he heard a familiar voice.
“Blacknail, over here,” Geralhd yelled as he leaned out of the hole the raiders had knocked in the wall.
“Oh, hello,” Blacknail replied as he blinked in surprise.
“Is this one of those humans we’re not supposed to kill?” Bones asked as he looked between the sword in his hand and Geralhd.
“Yes, that one belongs to our chief,” Gob told him.
“He has snacks!” Scamp added.
“Thank the gods I found you!” Geralhd continued yelling. “When the raiders attacked we had no idea what was going on and if anything had happened to you. Also, by all that is divine, those are a lot of hobgoblins.”
“It’s me, Scamp,” Scamp explained as he walked over to Gerahld. “Do you have any food?”
“Wow, you sure have grown,” Geralhd remarked in surprise. “You’re barely recognizable after your metamorphosis.”
“We need to leave,” Blacknail interjected. The last thing he wanted to do was listen to Scamp and Geralhd catch up. He could only take so much stupid. “The enemy could show up at any second, but don’t worry. I have a great plan and everything is going the way I expected it to.”
“Do you mind filling me in quickly?” Geralhd asked.
“Sorry, I got to go!” Blacknail told him as he motioned for his minions to head back to the forest. He then took off and joined them. Scamp was obviously reluctant to move, but Gob gave him a shove.
Geralhd called after them but Blacknail didn’t stop. He had lied. He had no plan, and he needed to come up with a new one, quick. The raiders had seen what Blacknail had done and countered it. He needed to counter their counter without getting countered in return, simple. It shouldn’t be that hard. Humans were nothing but predictable. Unfortunately, one mistake could ruin everything, and he didn’t have much time. Eventually the raiders would find their way inside Shelter or call for reinforcements. Blacknail had to deal with them quickly or his plans to avenge Saeter would fall apart. He couldn’t let that happen. Now that his master was dead and he was alone, vengeance was everything. Nothing else gave him purpose.