After taking a second to listen and make sure that no one was hanging out in the hallway, Blacknail crept out of the room where he had just killed the sentry. Two hobgoblin minions followed after him, and one remained behind to serve as a lookout. He had been ordered to imitate the sentry if anyone came looking, kill any humans that weren’t fooled, and whistle sharply if he was found out. That would be Blacknail’s cue to break for the closest exit.
Having followed the guild soldiers that had abducted him, Blacknail knew that Avorlus was somewhere in this building, and he needed to find the mage without being detected by those same soldiers. Blacknail doubted he could fight his way to the mage. There were dozens of heavily armed human soldiers inside and at least two combat mages as well. Blacknail had just seen a demonstration of the firepower those combat mages wielded, and he had no desire to go head to head with them. On top of their unbelievable power, mages could be very tricky. They didn’t play by the same rules as other people, and Blacknail had no idea what the rules of magic were. It might be a good idea to learn sometime. He would have to remember to ask.
A long carpet stretched down the hallway and muffled the sound of the hobgoblins' steps. One end of the hallway ended at a door, and at the other end was a staircase that led down. Blacknail headed for the stairs. As he walked, he heard voices from behind the closed door of one of the adjacent rooms.
“With the target captured we should head back at first light,” a man said.
“It might be better to interrogate him here,” someone else replied.
Blacknail grinned in relief as he walked past the door. It sounded like Avorlus was still alive. He had been fairly sure that the guild wouldn’t kill him yet, but not completely certain. Humans could be unpredictable in their stupidity.
When he reached the stairs, Blacknail took a moment to sniff around. He didn’t detect any signs of Avorlus, and this seemed like the only way up to the second floor. That meant that Avorlus wasn’t up here. Cautiously, Blacknail leaned over and peaked at the floor below. It was another empty hallway, although this one was much better lit, so with his minions in tow, Blacknail got up and carefully crept down the stairs. The steps creaked a bit, but no one showed up to check out the noise.
The hallway at the bottom branched off in several direction. Blacknail walked forward a bit and peered down a side passage. He was immediately greeted by the sight of the front door. Two enemy soldiers in chainmail were guarding it. Since there was nothing for him there, Blacknail waited until he was sure they were both looking away, and then he and his followers slipped past the doorway and further down the hallway. The scent of Avorlus reached Blacknail’s nose as he moved deeper into the building. The rogue mage had been brought in through the front door and then been carried this way.
There was a door to Blacknail’s right, and it was hanging slightly open. A quick look inside revealed a large dark room that was full of people. Blacknail had found most of the soldiers, but they weren’t currently a threat. Most of them looked to be asleep on makeshift hammocks or the floor. The room was obviously an impromptu barracks and judging by the smell Avorlus wasn’t inside. Moving on, the hobgoblins passed several closed doors, but none of them were the way Avorlus had gone.
Suddenly, Blacknail heard the creak of floorboards from behind him. He froze. Someone was about to walk out into the hallway, and there was no way he would miss the hobgoblins there. Quickly, Blacknail tested the closest door. It opened to reveal a linen closet. Blacknail wasted no time, and jumped inside. His two minions were right behind him, and the door snapped shut after them. No one moved or spoke for several long moments as the hobgoblins waited in the darkness of the closet for the sound of footsteps to pass, but then Blacknail spoke up.
“Get your foot away from my nose. You’re crushing it,” he hissed as he stared at the offending hobgoblin’s boot, or at least he was fairly sure that it was a boot that was pressed up against his face. It was difficult to see in the gloom.
The closet was rather small and the hobgoblins had been in a hurry when they had jumped inside, so they had ended up bunched together in a messy ball of awkwardly placed limbs.
There was a grunt of exertion as someone tried to wiggle around, but then it stopped. “Sorry, boss. I can’t move.”
Blacknail hissed and tried to get free but one of his arms was jammed between someone’s legs and both his feet were immobile as well.
“I’m stuck too,” the other minion added unhelpfully.
Annoyed, Blacknail kicked someone in the stomach. He wasn’t sure who, but both his minions deserved it so it didn’t really matter. A few moments later, and after a bit of trial and error, the hobgoblins managed to roll themselves out of the closet by shifting their weight all at once. They fell apart once they were free, and Blacknail climbed to his feet. He really wanted to smack his stupid minions around, but now wasn’t the time. He needed their help to complete the mission. After that he could smack all he wanted.
A turn in the hallway revealed another staircase that led downward. A quick sniff around proved that Avorlus had definitely been carried down them, so Blacknail followed after him. These stairs were less creaky, which was good because the basement wasn’t empty. A quick glance around revealed that there were two guards standing next to a door across the room.
Blacknail studied the two soldiers carefully for a few seconds, and then when he was sure they weren’t looking his way, he dropped down the stairs then rolled to the side in one smooth motion. The basement room below was full of crates and barrels, and Blacknail came to stop behind a trio of barrels that concealed him from the guards’ view. The entire chamber was obviously used for storage. It was lit by a series of oil lamps on the walls, but the room was far from bright. The piles of materials cast shadows everywhere, and there was a draft in the room that was causing some of the lamps to flicker ever so slightly.
Blacknail was quickly joined by his two followers, as they copied the maneuver he had used to descend the stairs. One of the hobgoblins opened his mouth to say something, but Blacknail shushed him. The storage room had a stone floor and stone walls, so echoes could be unpredictable and any speech might alert the guards no matter how quiet it was. Blacknail signaled to his minions using hand gestures that he wanted them to follow and then he started moving. He dashed out from behind the barrels and over to a pile of crates. From there, he crawled across the ground until he reached another bunch of barrels, and then he peeked out to look around. The guards didn’t react at all. They hadn’t seen him or heard anything suspicious yet.
There was a problem, though. The doorway the soldiers were guarding had a large open space around it, and there was no way the guards wouldn’t see anyone approaching. Thus, a more complex plan was needed. Blacknail withdrew a pair of small round stones from a pouch on his waist. He then explained the general outline of his plan to his minions using hand signals. Once they got the idea, Blacknail tossed a rock. It flew close to the ground before hitting a crate on the far side of the room. There was a thud as it bounced off the wood and then clattered noisily against the stones of the floor.
“What was that?” one of the guards asked as he looked over towards the noise.
The other man shrugged. “It was probably a rat or something. I’m sure there are heaps of the nasty beasts in this disgusting excuse for a city. I can’t wait to leave this crap hole behind.”
“I’m going to check it out.”
“Why? We’re not here to protect some merchant’s stock from vermin. Our orders are too make sure the prisoner doesn’t go anywhere.”
“I know, but I still want to check it out. The rats get huge in these parts, and it might be something else,” the first guard said as he stared suspiciously at the source of the noise.
“Like what, a goblin? I think the rat would be more dangerous.”
“I won’t know until I look, but with a blood mage having been loose in this city for years I don’t want to take any chances.”
This argument seemed to resonate with the second guard. He grimaced sourly. “Gods forsaken blood mages. We should have already killed this one. They are vile.”
“Not our call,” the first man replied as he walked carefully away from the door and toward the pile of crates the noise had come from. He had a wary hand placed on the sword hilt at his waist.
His companion watched him move forward, and thus they were both looking directly away from the hobgoblin’s position. Blacknail flashed his minions the go signal and then launched himself into action. He jumped over the crates he was hiding behind and when his boots hit the basement floor he was already sprinting forward. As Blacknail dashed towards the guard at the door, he pulled his sword loose.
Both men were still looking the other way so they saw nothing, but the guard by the door heard something and turned to look Blacknail’s way. He froze for a second at the sight of three running hobgoblins and didn’t seem to know what to do, as if he doubted his eyes. A brief instant later, he opened his mouth to shout something, but Blacknail had already closed the distance between them. His sword sliced through the air and towards his target’s neck.
“What?” The guard gasped as he managed to jump backwards out of the way of the attack. However, the hurried action left him off balance.
Blacknail adjusted his stance and turned his slash into a thrust. The tip of his blade cut into the man’s throat and silenced him. However, the brief scuffle had made more than enough noise to draw the attention of the second guard. He turned to see what was going on, only to be tackled by the other two hobgoblins. Their momentum sent him sprawling over sideways, and there was a loud crack as his helmeted head smacked against the stone floor. The blow stunned the guard for a moment, and that was all the time the hobgoblins needed. Knives appeared in their hands and almost instantly sank deep into his exposed flesh. He was dead within seconds, without having managed to shout or give any warning.
The man Blacknail had stabbed in the neck was also no longer among the living. Blood was slowly seeping out of the guards’ bodies as Blacknail walked over the corpse in front of him and inspected the door. It was a thick wooden barrier with a cast iron doorknob and keyhole. He turned the handle, but it didn’t budge. It was locked.
“Look for a key,” he ordered his minions as he turned to look at them.
Almost immediately one of the hobgoblins held up a thick iron key and gave Blacknail a happy grin. Since they had started looting the fallen guard’s body the second it had hit the floor it hadn’t taken them long to find it. Blacknail took the key and inserted it into the lock.
“Watch this carefully. It is very difficult and you may need to explain it to the others,” he explained as he showed the watching hobgoblins how to unlock a door.
“And that means it will open now?” one of the minions asked as the lock clicked.
Blacknail turned the handle again and pushed the door open ever so slightly before responding. “Yes, but you need the right key. They are not all the same.”
A push caused the door to swing fully open, and the hobgoblins were greeted by the sight of a small windowless room that had been completely dark until the door had been opened. In the center of the room was a small table that was just big enough to sit two people, and there were in fact two chairs on opposite sides of it, and in one of those chairs was Avorlus. The mage was tied to the back of the seat and there was a cloth gag stuffed into his mouth. Blacknail could hear the mage breathing ever so quietly but he didn’t move or look up at the intrusion into his chamber. He seemed to still be unconscious.
“This human smells like the person we are looking for,” one of the minions remarked as they wall walked into the room.
“It’s him. He is the mage I’m hunting,” Blacknail answered as he smirked triumphantly. He had found the maker of Elixirs. Now he just had to get out of here with him intact.
At Blacknail’s order, one hobgoblin grabbed Avorlus’ feet and the other grabbed his torso. They then flipped him into their shoulders where they could carry him with ease. The jostling failed to wake him up, but there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with him.
“Can we leave now?” one of the hobgoblins asked.
“Yes, let’s do that,” Blacknail replied. He didn’t feel the need to stick around either.
With Blacknail in the lead and their cargo safely acquired, the hobgoblins hurried back out of the side room and then over to the stairs. Blacknail went up first to make sure the hallway was empty, and then they rushed through the building and upstairs.
“Who is that? I hear a lot of movement,” one of the guards at the entrance asked after the hobgoblins had run past.
The hobgoblins ignored them as they raced through the upstairs hallway to the room where they had entered. The sentry they had left behind was waiting for them there, and the shop was coming alive behind them. They didn’t have much time before someone investigated this room. A lot of people were now moving down below and talking amongst themselves. The hornet nest had been well and truly kicked now, so Blacknail wasted no time. He leaned out the window and whistled. Right away, several hobgoblins stepped out of the shadows on the street below.
“Catch the human,” he told them as he signaled the minions behind him forward.
The two hobgoblins holding Avorlus immediately dumped the unconscious mage out of the window. He plummeted down to the ground, but right before he hit, three hobgoblins managed to dive forward and catch him.
“Good work!” Blacknail laughed as he jumped out the window. He landed on the cobblestones below feet first and then rolled to reduce his impact.
Without waiting for orders, the hobgoblins still up in the room jumped out after him as well. They were just in time. Light flared out of the second story window as someone with a lamp or light stone stormed into the room.
“Someone just jumped out the window. They’re on the street below!” an irate sounding woman yelled from up above.
“Run, and don’t forget the mage!” Blacknail shouted as he followed his own advice.
He took off at a sprint away from the shop and deeper into the twisting alleys of Daggerpoint. His minions, including two that had picked up Avorlus, were right behind him. Together, they slipped away into the shadows as the front entrance to the shop burst open and human soldiers began pouring out.
“Don’t let them get away!” someone roared.
Blacknail laughed gleefully as he turned a street corner. The sound echoed off the buildings and back toward the shop, where it undoubtedly reached the ears of the guild soldiers. There was no way any humans were going to catch him now. It was still so early in the morning that it was dark out, and he had too much of a head start. Avorlus was his, and that meant that the power at Blacknail’s fingertips would soon grow stronger than ever, and power was meant to be used.