While he was waiting for his minions to return, Blacknail began laying the groundwork for his next move. The first thing he did was explore Avorlus’ mansion more thoroughly. The huge building was full of grandly decorated rooms and lavish furniture, but that didn’t interest the hobgoblins. However, they did make some interesting discoveries. The building had a kitchen of course, and so now that most of the others had left, Blacknail and the remaining hobgoblins raided it for snacks. Since it didn’t seem like anyone had been around for a few days, most of the food was a little stale, but that didn’t matter too much to the hobgoblins. A little age made most human foods taste better anyway. Mold added both color and flavor.
After eating their way through the cabinets, the searchers moved on to examine and loot the rest of the place. One of them stumbled upon a hidden doorway in a wall. It opened to reveal a stairway going down, so the searcher immediately ran to fetch Blacknail.
“Where do you think it goes?” he asked when everyone had gathered to study the stairway.
“To a place that the mage wanted hidden, a place where he keeps his most prized possessions,” Blacknail replied.
“A hidden food store?” the hobgoblin guessed as he leaned forward and peered eagerly down the passage.
Blacknail shook his head. “No, a mage values his magic more than anything else.”
After a brief search for a torch to light the way, Blacknail led the way down the stairs. There were light crystals on the walls but none of the hobgoblins could activate them, since they didn’t have mage blood. Scamp could have done it, so Blacknail sort of regretted sending him away. However, on the other hand, if there was any explosive magic down here then Blacknail didn’t want Scamp anywhere near it.
Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, the hobgoblins found themselves in a fair sized room with rough stone walls. Tables, shelves, and complex looking contraptions filled the space. Light from the torch Blacknail was holding shone out into the room but it wasn’t strong enough to dispel most of the shadows that filled the chamber’s corners. Most evidently of all though, everything reeked of human blood. The smell was practically suffocating.
“Ew, it smells like a pinky exploded down here,” a hobgoblin remarked as his lips curled up in disgust.
“What are those metal cages for?” another minion asked as he stepped up to examine one of the objects in question. There were three empty cages with iron bars up against the nearest wall. They were more than large enough to hold people and piles of chains lay inside them.
Blacknail pinched his nose close. “They are for holding people. You can smell it.”
“Oh, we should get one for our base. They seem super useful!”
“Maybe later,” Blacknail replied absently as he went to investigate a shelf.
The tall wooden shelf contained a lot of the items that Blacknail had come to associate with mages, such as glass bottles and delicate looking metal tools. All the beakers and vials were empty, though. Judging from all the stained glass shards on the ground, it looked like someone had hastily swept the one that had been full of liquid off the shelf and onto the ground. None of the remaining items were of any use to Blacknail so he moved on.
The table off to one side looked like it had once been covered in piles of papers and books, but now there was only a black stain, fragments of burnt paper, and a small pile of ashes atop it.
“This bed isn’t very comfortable,” a hobgoblin remarked.
Blacknail looked over to see that the speaker was lying down on a wooden platform in the middle of the room. It was slightly slanted and looked to be adjustable. It also had several straps on its surface, and next to it was a little table that held various small knives, a pair of scissors, and a large saw with jagged teeth.
“That’s because no one lays down on it by choice,” Blacknail replied. “It’s for butchering people.”
The hobgoblin quickly rolled to his feet and backed away from the table. “I didn’t think humans ate other humans. Even we don’t eat humans.”
“The meat and blood aren’t for eating. They are for the mage’s experiments.”
“Magic sounds very icky.”
“It is, when it’s not exploding,” Blacknail replied as it dawned on him that he had no idea what the Elixir he drank was actually made out of. It was probably best not to think about it.
Further exploration of the room failed to yield any useful discoveries. All the beakers were broken or empty, and there were no mana crystals lying around. There also wasn’t a map to Avorlus’ location sitting out anywhere, which would have been useful. Disappointed, Blacknail headed back up the stairs and into the main part of the mansion. All the other hobgoblins were forced to follow him since he was the one holding the torch.
The entire mansion had had been completely searched now that the hidden basement had been explored, and Blacknail hadn’t found any clues to Avorlus’ location. That meant he had to go back to his first plan and prepare an ambush.
Blacknail had been doing a lot of travelling lately, so he’d had plenty of time to think about a pet project of his, building a better human trap. Now was his opportunity to put his ideas into action. What fun. He couldn’t wait to see the look on his preys' faces when the trap was sprung! Right away, Blacknail went about gathering up supplies and materials. He was going to need a lot of rope, some bait, and a large frying pan.
Humming with excitement, Blacknail went to work. Once he had the tools he needed, he looked around for the best spot to put his ingenious design together. The key was to think like a human so that you could predict exactly what they were going to do. You had to know what they liked, what they couldn’t resist, what they hated, and what they feared. Although, it was almost more useful to know what they didn’t fear, since humans seemed terrified of basically everything. Not like hobgoblins, which were only afraid of things that made sense, like… giant green things with teeth. There were just an uncomfortably large amount of those in the North.
“Why are you putting those shiny bits on the ground?” one of the hobgoblins asked as Blacknail was working.
“They are bait. The humans will see them sparkle and investigate,” Blacknail explained as he did his best human voice. “They will be like, look silver coins! They are super useful if I want to do pointless human things. I can never have enough money, so I should pick them up and not think at all about how suspicious they are.”
“Is that what a human would really say?”
“It is what they will think as they pick the coins up.”
“That sounds really dumb, but then again they are very shiny. Can I have one?”
“No, these are mine. Get your own.”
Another hobgoblin walked over. “Why don’t we just sneak up and grab them when they show up?”
Blacknail glowered at his minion. “This will be safer and… more fun. Just shut your jaw and do as I say. We are doing it my way. I’m the leader.”
When the trap had been set up, Blacknail ordered one of his minions to pull his hood up and go hang around outside the front gate of the complex. He was to stay by the gate and within sight of the street so that he would attract attention, but he was ordered to disappear back inside if the city guard showed up or anyone tried to approach him. Another hobgoblin was to watch from concealment and report everything that happened. Nothing was likely to happen right away, so Blacknail went to stuff his face and take a nap while he waited. All this planning had made him hungry and the great big bed in Avorlus’ room was both comfy and empty.
Blacknail hadn’t quite drifted off yet when he heard the sound of someone approaching. He was curled up atop a pile of blankets and feeling quite comfortable, but he fought off his drowsiness and looked up towards the source of the noise. It was one of his hobgoblin minions, which meant that this probably wasn’t an attempt on his life. Although, Blacknail wasn’t completely sure since hobgoblins were so deceitful and vicious, except for himself. He was loyal and honest at all times. Even when he lied he was being honest in spirit, since it was probably for their own good. He was caring like that.
“A stranger has come,” the hobgoblin announced when Blacknail looked his way.
A human had arrived to test the trap! Blacknail immediately jumped up and motioned for his minion to lead the way. The hobgoblin nodded and together they raced across the mansion to one of the back doors. They then slipped outside and stalked through the bushes until they were looking out at the front entrance from a concealed position behind a tree.
At first Blacknail didn’t see anyone, but then he saw motion along the path from the front gate. Someone was creeping carefully along the other side of the hedge, where it would be harder to see them from the house. It was a figure in a long brown cloak. They weren’t doing a very good job of moving stealthily, but their jerky and tense movements certainly made them look like they were trying hard at it.
From his hiding spot, Blacknail watched the figure get closer with building excitement. He smiled as the man got close enough for him to get a good look at. It was definitely an unfamiliar human! Under his hood, he had dark eyes that made him look tired and an unshaven face. The man crouched at the edge of the hedge and leaned out to look around. He scanned the front of the house and the nearby greenery, but his eyes slipped right past Blacknail and the hobgoblin beside him. The man obviously wasn’t much of a tracker or hunter.
When he didn’t see anyone else around, the intruder got up and hurried over to the front door. As he was crossing the grounds, he happened to look over to one side and see something on the ground. He stopped and took a quick second to pick up the item that had caught his attention. It was silver coin. Blacknail giggled quietly to himself from his hiding place.
Just as he was about to start moving again, the intruder saw another coin in the grass and hesitated. A moment later, he shuffled over to pick up this coin as well. That was when he noticed the open pouch of coins next to a nearby tree. The bag was open so that the coins were clearly visible.
The man hesitated again. He looked confused and hesitant as he turned to scan his surroundings, but once again he didn’t see anything dangerous, so he shrugged and slipped the coin he was holding into one of his pockets as he moved towards the tree. He took several steps and then his boot hit something. There was a crack as a twig snapped somewhere nearby. The man flinched and stood up straight to look around again, but he didn’t see the trip wire he had just set off. The trap was in motion, and a moment later a dark object descended from the leafy branches hanging overhead. The frying pan smashed into the top of the intruder’s head. There was a thud and a clank as the iron skillet bounced off bone. The man swayed, regained his balance, and then crumpled bonelessly onto the ground like an empty set of clothes.
“Huh, it worked,” the hobgoblin next to Blacknail muttered in surprise.
“Ha, it worked!” Blacknail shouted excitedly as he burst from concealment.
The two hobgoblins then ran over to examine the fallen human. They were quickly joined by several other hobgoblins that had been hiding and watching.
“Hmmm, very nice. Good timing. It was a little boring, though. I need to make the next one have more whiz and crack. Some boom wouldn’t hurt,” Blacknail mused to himself as he examined the remains of the trap. “Maybe I can do something with forks...”
“Now what?” a minion asked.
“We bring him inside, put him somewhere nice and comfy, and then threaten to cut him into pieces until he tells me what I want to know.”
“What if he doesn’t know anything?”
“Then at least I will have fun.”
At Blacknail’s command, two hobgoblins dragged the unconscious man inside the mansion and plopped him into one of the chairs there. Hobgoblins then tied him to the back of the chair with a loop of rope, while Blacknail grabbed another chair and sat down in front of the captive. When a slap failed to wake the man up, a minion went to fetch a bucket of water. Blacknail made a mental note to maybe use a smaller frying pan next time.
“Ah, gods above!” the man screamed as cold water splashed across his face and soaked into his clothes. He jerked forward but the rope held him down, and his eyes shot wide open but they didn’t focus on anything for a few moments. However, when the captive did get a good look at the person seated in front of him his eyes went even wider than before. He gasped and looked terrified out of his mind.
Blacknail just smiled and leaned forward so he could meet the man’s eyes. “Hello!”
The captive’s mouth fell open and he stared back uncomprehendingly. “What?”
“I’m the one who is going to be asking the questions,” Blacknail replied. “You just need to worry about answering them.”
“Hells, what are you?” the man gasped in terror.
“What did I just say?” Blacknail replied as he glowered in annoyance. He was really getting sick of how stupid people could be. Maybe a few pokes with a knife would help this human learn.
“Are you a demon? Am I dead?”
Blacknail paused and took a moment to think. “Er, yes… Yes, you are. I’m a demon and this is the hells, so there is no point in not answering all my questions.”
“Oh, gods. No, I can’t believe it. I prayed to Cor-Dius constantly and tried not to commit too many crimes a day! How could this happen to me?”
“Believe it. Now answer my questions,” Blacknail hissed as he raised a dagger threateningly. That seemed like fairly demon-like behavior to him.
The man immediately began spilling his guts. In fact, he was talking way too much. Blacknail didn’t really care about his reasons for sleeping with his neighbor’s wife or that time he had stolen his brother’s golden ring and sold it.
“Focus on the stuff that happened right before you… um died,” Blacknail told him.
The frantic man quickly began explaining about how he’d been hired to watch the house for signs of activity by a group of men who had assaulted it a few days earlier.
“Who where they?”
“They didn’t tell me, foul one. I was just paid to help them find the place, but they must have been from a mage guild. They were too organized and packing too much magic for them to be anyone else. I have no idea which one. Please don’t devour my soul.”
Blacknail really didn’t like being called foul by a smelly human, but that wasn’t important right now. He had heard of the mage guilds many times, although he knew little about them, except they were a group of powerful mages. Mahedium had been on the run from them, and now it seemed like they were after Avorlus.
“What did they want with Avorlus?” Blacknail asked his mortally confused captive.
“I don’t know, great defiler. I just know they wanted him alive.”
That was interesting, and good news. It meant there was a solid chance Avorlus was still alive. Blacknail asked the man a few more questions but didn’t get any more interesting information out of him, except for the location of what the captive swore was the best cheese shop in the city. Since the man was no longer of any use, Blacknail got up, walked around, and cut his throat from behind. He did it without warning so that the man barely had time to react. One moment he was whining about how he’d been forced to kill that dog because it wouldn’t shut up, and then the next he was choking on his own blood. The frothy gurgling was much more pleasant to listen to.
Alive, the man would undoubtedly have tried to warn his companions about the hobgoblins’ presence, and Blacknail had no way of stopping him. Two hobgoblins then carried the man’s body over to the deep pit in the hallway and dropped it down into the dark. Blacknail didn’t want to leave Avorlus’ house a mess. He was a guest here after all.
Before Blacknail could wander back to the bedroom and start napping again, a hobgoblin ran over with news.
“One of the scouts has returned, boss,” the excited minion reported. “He found the mage you are looking for, but so have the people that attacked this place. It looks like there is about to be a big fight.”