Magic radiated out from Blacknail as he charged out of the forest. The dread power writhed like a frenzied snake and lashed out at the minds of the thirty or so raiders before him. They had been ready for an attack but not for what confronted them now. With startling speed, Blacknail crossed the ground between him and the raiders. He snarled as he swung his blade and leapt upon the first human that dared to stand in his way.
A raider cursed as Blacknail brutally slashed the face of his first victim. “By all that is divine, what is this thing! It’s not natural!”
“Oh, gods. It’s a demon from the deepest hells!” another man shouted as he flinched away from the violence.
Enemies that should have stood their ground stumbled and jerked away from the monster in their midst. A haze of raw magic streamed from Blacknail’s skin, distorting people’s vision, even as terror twisted their perceptions and dulled their wits. Blacknail’s blade flashed as he cut down everyone near him. He twisted and danced around the sluggish counterattacks of his enemies. There were over two dozen raiders facing Blacknail, but none of them had even managed to land a blow on him yet.
Blacknail flowed and fought with the savage abandon of Herad. Instinctively, he copied her style as best he could. Sword fighting was one of the many things Blacknail had been taught by Saeter, but he had also learned a thing or two from his old chieftain. She had been a Vessel, the fiercest fighter he had ever seen, and a ruthless leader worthy of his reverence.
“Don’t retreat! Surround the beast and don’t let it slip away,” a furious sergeant screamed.
Several raiders were too shocked or afraid to attack. They focused on protecting themselves and stood their ground or stepped back away from Blacknail when he advanced. This gave him space to maneuver and blocked other raiders from joining the fight. Blacknail ruthlessly used this advantage. He dodged to the side of an attack and then sliced the leg of a man to his left. The raider fell but was almost instantly replaced by another. This didn’t faze Blacknail. The odds didn’t matter. There was only the fight and the blood.
His master had believed in things. Blacknail had never really understood that until now. The liquid ice that was churning within him was bringing new thoughts with it. He felt bloated, but suddenly he knew what it was to be carried along by something greater than himself. Vengeance was personal. Bloodthirst was personal, but this wasn’t about him. He was going to kill these raiders because they were in the way of what he was building. He was part of something greater. Saeter would have approved.
“You useless toads, kill it!” someone screamed.
Annoyed, Blacknail took a moment to look for the speaker. As their eyes met, Blacknail’s magic ripped into the man’s mind. There was a gasp as the raider’s eyes went wide. He then convulsed and collapsed.
A sword sliced toward Blacknail’s side, but he easily parried the blow and then struck back. As the attacker fell, the hobgoblin vaulted over his body and pressed forward toward his goal. At the back of the squad of raiders was the enemy mage. She was staring at Blacknail and clenching her protective amulet tight.
Someone cursed as Blacknail cut another raider down. “Gods above, what is this thing?”
“It must be a mutant, cut it down!” the mage ordered her minions.
There was an annoyed grunt from a bulky bandit with long black hair beside her. He had engaged Blacknail earlier but had taken a slash across his arm and been forced to retreat. “You’re our magic expert, you deal with it!”
“Anything strong enough to hurt it would splash back on us, but don’t worry. I’m sure you can take it down,” the mage replied. She herself was hanging back far away from the action.
At the command of their leader, several fresh raiders stepped forward to attack. Blacknail had already killed or disabled seven enemies, and wounded several more, but there were still over a dozen left, and the mage was keeping out of reach. Exhaustion was also finally starting to set in. Blacknail’s frantic pace was pushing him to his limit. The power within hadn’t diminished, but it felt like his body was starting to rebel and go numb.
Two raiders moved to attack Blacknail from opposite sides at the same time. He stepped forward to block one blow as he twisted out of the way of the other, but he didn’t quite manage it. The blade grazed his side and drew blood. It wasn’t a serious wound so Blacknail ignored it and kept fighting. He couldn’t even feel the wound beneath his pulsing rage.
Blacknail hissed as he launched a flurry of blows. “Die humans. All the Wolf’s men will die.”
A shorter raider jerked back away from Blacknail when he spoke. “The thing can talk!”
“Get out of the way, you coward!” the sergeant yelled as he pushed his way past the other raider. He was a big man with a scar under his left eye and a bit of flesh missing from the tip of his nose.
Blacknail was forced back when the ugly man took a swing at him. He had to scramble to catch his balance and avoid stumbling into an enemy. Reassured by their sergeant, other raiders were pressing in closer. Blacknail hissed and took a few swings at them to keep them away. He had lost his momentum and was now on the defensive. If he didn’t regain it then he would be overwhelmed.
Suddenly, a flock of arrows flew out of the forest and hit the edge of the raider formation. Several men screamed and fell as the projectiles drew blood or sank into soft flesh. In the nick of time, Blacknail’s minions had come to his aid. It seemed like the hobgoblins had retaken control of the forest and were regrouping, although they hadn’t worked up the courage or the numbers to rush to Blacknail’s side yet.
Blacknail dodged to the side of a swing by a distracted raider, and sent a blast of fear forward. As the magic pulse washed over them, the raiders in front of Blacknail froze or jumped back. One raider fell and clenched his chest before beginning to spasm on the ground.
Ignoring the wounded and the weak, Blacknail surged forward through the now open path before him with supernatural speed. He dodged around a surprised swordsman and then the mage stood before him. She was a tall woman with short blonde hair, and she had a hawkish look to her face because of her sharp nose and chin. Unlike most the other raiders, she was dressed in recognizable armor including a metal cap and breastplate. As Blacknail closed in, her face went white and her eyes widened in fear. Hurriedly, she raised a hand and thrust forth her amulet at the hobgoblin. Blacknail immediately reacted. He dove to the side and through the legs of a surprised raider, just as the wave of force exploded around him. Raiders were thrown backward as the mage’s spell hit her allies.
Low to the ground, Blacknail weathered the blast. A foot hit him in the back as a raider flew past him, but Blacknail grimaced and prepared himself. He flipped over and crouched on all fours. When the magic died down and there were no raiders still standing near him, Blacknail uncoiled and launched himself at the mage again. The woman yelped and swung her amulet around, but Blacknail caught her arm and pushed it up so that the blast was sent harmlessly up into the sky. A loud boom shook the air.
“You’re mine!” Blacknail growled as dust blew all around him.
“Monster!” the mage gibbered.
She dropped her staff as she tried to pull her arm free, but Blacknail held it firm. He growled as their eye met and the woman froze in terror. This gave Blacknail the chance to pull her closer and smash the back of her head with the pommel of his sword. There was a thud and she slid bonelessly to the ground.
“Ha, I win! No one can defeat me. I’m magic,” Blacknail crowed as he stood over her unconscious body. Mages were magic too… but that wasn’t important right now.
The hobgoblin’s reflection was interrupted by the sound of someone yelling. “Quick, get the creature before he finishes her off!”
Blacknail looked over to see several humans with wicked looking blades getting ready to attack him. Oh, right. Those guys. He had somehow forgotten about them. His head felt funny.
Now that the mage was down, Blacknail still had to deal with the dozen raiders that had picked themselves off the ground or were still standing. The hulking humans had him surrounded. Bereft of other options, Blacknail turned to face the nearest one and growled menacingly. The low throaty sound passed escaped past his teeth and out into the air. The raiders flinched. It had waned a little, but magic was still flowing through Blacknail’s body. However, the mysterious chill energy had begun to make him lightheaded. Wait, had he just charged the enemy alone? That didn’t sound like something he would do. Now wasn’t the time to question himself, though. He needed to keep killing.
Blacknail steadied himself and he shifted his grip on his sword as he brought it up into an aggressive position. The raiders spread out to surround him. A hint of fatigue began to sap Blacknail’s strength. Now that he had lost his momentum he didn’t feel quite so unstoppable. A tall raider with a red beard signaled to his fellows with a hand gesture and stepped forward. The other raiders advanced as well. Suddenly concerned, Blacknail looked for a way to escape their confinement. He wasn’t blade proof.
That was when a small fireball hit the ground off to one side. There was heavy thud as it landed and everyone looked over to see what it was. A moment later, the flaming crystal exploded. A wave of heat washed over Blacknail and the raiders. They all shielded their eyes and braced themselves, but the explosion wasn’t close enough to hurt any of them. However, it definitely got their attention.
“Ya, fuck this! I’m getting out of here,” a shorter raider with an axe cursed. “I don’t know what in damnation is going on here, but this place is crazy, and I don’t want to die fighting this thing.”
The man then threw his axe aside and began sprinting away. There was a moment of hesitation, and then was soon followed by the rest of his companions. As Blacknail watched, the raiders fled away from the forest. He was soon left standing alone at the edge of the field, except for the bodies of the fallen.
“Huh, I win for real this time,” he remarked to himself. He hadn’t meant to sound surprised but he had. He also felt kind of dizzy.
A rustling noise drew Blacknail’s attention, and he looked over to see the bushes at the edge of the forest shake. He hoped it wasn’t a troll. It had been one of those days. Much to Blacknail’s relief, it wasn’t a troll. Several hobgoblins stepped out onto the fields and began walking over toward him. All of them looked a little worse for wear. Their mismatched clothes were dirty and most of them had new cuts and bruises. Despite that, they looked proud of themselves and were carrying new weapons. It seemed like they had taken the time to loot some of the fallen raiders. One of the hobgoblins was even carrying a decapitated human head. He had it gripped by the hair and its mouth was hanging open as it dripped blood.
At the head of the group was Gob. Blacknail also noticed Herah, Imp, and Scamp among them. When the hobgoblins reached his side, they immediately dropped to their knees and began prostrating themselves. Blacknail watched numbly as they waved their hands up and down repetitively. They looked stupid.
“What’s this now?” he asked his collected minions.
Gob was the one to immediately reply. “Bless us with your presence, great one. You are as a god!”
“You defeated the humans almost all by yourself! You charged them and struck down their maker of magics. They fled before you!” Herah added as her eyes shone with wonder. She crawled forward to hug Blacknail's leg but he shook her off.
“Yes, I did do that…” Blacknail replied thoughtfully.
What would have Herad have thought of his actions? It was almost something she would have done. Saeter would have thought it was moronic, and Blacknail agreed. So why had he done it? He could have died a dozen times or more. Whatever his motivations, it didn’t change the fact that his head hurt a lot. Ouch.
The hobgoblins continued their bowing and adoration. Blacknail found it super annoying. He usually enjoyed being complimented and praised, but this naked worship was sort of creepy. It was also a waste of precious time, and it was distracting him when he was trying to think. He had a nagging feeling that there were important things he was forgetting.
“Get up! There are things that need done still,” Blacknail ordered his minions. They could worship his amazingness later, on their own time.
The enemy still had some forces left. The survivors from the battle would rejoin the raiders that had been left behind at their camp. Blacknail forgot the name of the raiders' leader, but he might also still be alive. If so, then there might be another battle in the near future. He had to round up the rest of his forces before they dispersed.
“Whatever you wish, it shall be done!” Gob exclaimed as all the hobgoblins got up.
Instead of answering right away, Blacknail took a few more moments to continue thinking. There was also the situation with Shelter. He had to make sure the talk with them went well. They needed to know that they owed him for saving them. They owed him a lot. Also, um… he should check on Khita. For some reason he had just charged a small army to keep her alive, so he would feel really stupid if she was lying dead back there in the forest.
“I want…” Blacknail began to reply before wavering and stopping. What did he want again?
His tongue felt thick and stiff all of a sudden. He blinked at Gob, who stared back expectantly.
“Make sure Khita gets help,” Blacknail managed to say.
The power of the Elixir suddenly stopped. Blacknail felt his body weaken as the fire within went out. Stabs of pain sliced through his body and he stumbled. The chill occupying his mind disappeared as well. He had a moment of clarity, and then his legs buckled and he began to fall over backward. The sky overhead was very blue. Blacknail stared at it until darkness rushed in to fill his vision. A second later, he hit the ground. There was a soft thud, but Blacknail didn’t feel a thing. He was already unconscious.
There was something sharp digging into the middle of his spine. Since his back was already sore in several places, he decided to do something about it. Blacknail opened his eyes, shifted his posture, and then grunted in satisfaction. With that done, he remembered who he was and everything that had happened. It was a lot to take in at once.
Quickly, Blacknail sat up and looked around. The movement hurt more than a little and a wave of dizziness washed over him, but that wasn’t important. What had happened to him while he had been out? It looked like someone had carried him back to the forward base. He was laying on a stretcher inside the makeshift structure under the tree, and he wasn’t alone. Scamp was sitting on the ground off to one side. The stupid hobgoblin was napping as he leaned back against a wall.
“Wake up, you dumb slug!” Blacknail yelled.
Jerkily, Scamp sat up and his now open eyes focused on Blacknail. “I wasn’t asleep. I was listening for danger, to keep you safe, boss.”
“How long have I been out and where are the others?”
“It has only been an hour or so. Some of the tribe are outside resting, or watching the enemy. Gob is out tracking down a lot of the tribe. Some cowardly hobgoblins fled into the forest, but not me! I’m brave and loyal, boss.”
Blacknail grunted. Scamp had probably been watching from a safe distance or something. “What are the raiders doing?”
“The humans that you have yet to kill have all gone back to their camp. It looks like they are packing up to flee away from your territory!”
A bit of Blacknail’s unease vanished upon hearing that. It sounded like nothing catastrophic had gone wrong while he was asleep. If the raiders were running then he had time to rest. Everything else could wait a bit. Of course, he still didn’t like the idea of being weak or unconscious near other hobgoblins. The very idea made his skin crawl. He was simply going to have to hope that he’d trained them sufficiently, and that they hated each other more than him.
“What happened to Khita?”
“She is alive, boss. We sent her to Shelter.”
“Oh, good,” Blacknail replied. He definitely didn’t want to be stuck in the same room with her as they both recovered. That would be terrible.
With all the pressing matters dealt with, Blacknail took a few moments to examine his own thoughts. He felt like himself again, mostly. He still felt light headed, but there were no more alien emotions or cold forces rushing through his mind, which was good. He had been doing some crazy shit lately. That was going to stop right now. He had minions for a reason.
A yawn suddenly escaped from Blacknail’s mouth. He still felt tired and sore. The dizziness was just getting worse, so he decided to rest for a while more.
“Wake me up if anything important happens,” Blacknail muttered as he lay back down and swiftly fell asleep. His tribe couldn’t do anything without him…