The hobgoblins under Blacknail’s command carried Avorlus through the back alleys of Daggerpoint. At first they heard shouts and the stomp of boots as guild soldiers tried to follow them, but they soon lost any sign of pursuit. Blacknail led the way out of the merchant quarter and into a rundown residential section. The slum’s streets were narrow and dirty, and many of the small homes here were obviously derelict.
Daggerpoint had a huge human population, but it wasn’t overflowing with people. It seemed like its population had shrunk over time, although Blacknail had no idea why. It wasn’t the sort of thing that he usually thought about, but as he led his minions past an old abandoned wagon that was missing a wheel, several notions flashed through his mind. Maybe it was because the city humans had gotten lazy and couldn’t protect themselves from the beasts in the forest anymore?
The sun was coming up, so before too many people started taking to the streets, Blacknail chose an isolated building on an empty block. The door had fallen off so the hobgoblins just marched inside. The small home had been stripped clean of furniture and was obviously water damaged because of a leak in the ceiling. It also didn’t smell great inside, but this was Daggerpoint, so that wasn’t a surprise. Blacknail expected that some of his hobgoblin minions would suffer permanent damage to their ability to smell before they left, especially if they kept sniffing spices.
Once Avorlus had been thrown inside, Blacknail got his minions busy doing work. He needed some items, and he wasn’t going to go get them himself. That wasn’t what leaders did. Minions were also sent out to form a perimeter. If the guild soldiers showed up anywhere nearby Blacknail wanted to know about it, before they started raining down fire and blowing up buildings. Those hobgoblins that had good disguises and half decent acting skills were also given orders to gently but firmly send away any approaching citizens, under threat of pain and death.
Soon, the hobgoblins had acquired most of the things Blacknail wanted. A blanket was hung over the door, two simple wooden chairs were acquired from nearby, and someone fetched a bucket of water. Blacknail took a seat in one chair while two of his minions picked Avorlus off the ground and sat him down in the other. A third minion then dumped the bucket of water over Avorlus’ face, while the other hobgoblins stood back behind him.
As the water washed over him and then splashed down onto the floor, the mage came awake. It had been very cold water, and it got a strong reaction. Avorlus’ eyes snapped open and he jerked forward in what looked like an attempt to stand. However, he was still tied up and a hobgoblin was standing behind him and holding him in place, so he didn’t get very far. All Avorlus could do was flop back onto the chair and look around. There wasn’t much to see in the dark room so he quickly noticed Blacknail sitting in front of him. His eyes narrowed as he stared hatefully at the form before him.
“You may as well kill me. I won’t tell you anything! You have no right to the secrets I have discovered. You are parasites and vermin that feed upon the wonders of magic! You guilds exist only to stifle the works of your betters and hoard power you don’t deserve,” he cursed. “One day real seekers of knowledge will rise up and destroy you!”
What? Blacknail considered his words for a moment before carefully replying. “I think you’re confused. I’m obviously not with the guilds.”
“You’re not?” Avorlus remarked in surprise as he stared at Blacknail. He seemed to be having trouble seeing.
“No, I’m a hobgoblin. I don’t think your mage guilds have many of us.”
Avorlus froze and one of his eyes twitched. “What?”
“I’m green and I have pointy ears,” Blacknail explained as he pointed to the tips of his ears.
“Oh, um… its dark in here and my vision is still a little blurry. I think someone bashed me over the head…”
Blacknail looked around. It was fairly dark in here. He had forgotten how bad human eyesight could be in dim lighting.
“I can help you with the light,” Blacknail replied as he motioned for a minion to go remove the blanket from the door. He had just put it there to make sure no one could see inside, but it probably wasn’t necessary.
With the sheet gone a lot more light streamed into the room. Avorlus looked around and gulped nervously. He didn’t seem all that happy to be out of the clutches of the guild. “I see that you’re all hobgoblins. That’s interesting…”
“I’m the leader,” Blacknail told him. It was important that everyone knew that.
Suddenly, Avorlus sat up straighter and his eye narrowed in understanding as a realization hit him. “You must be that hobgoblin of Mahedium’s. I can’t think of any other reason you would want to abduct me, and I don’t know of any other hobgoblin that can… talk and such.”
“I can talk just fine,” Scamp interjected, before Blacknail shut him up with angry look.
Blacknail then turned back to Avorlus and hissed angrily. “I never served that traitor. I was Herad’s favourite.”
A neutral expression overcame Avorlus’ face and he leaned back. “Ah, sorry. That was a slip of the tongue. I apologize.”
“Don’t do it again.”
“I won’t. Do you mind answering some questions? Like where am I and how I got here? I must admit to being rather confused. The last thing I remember is the guild assault on my hideout,” Avrolus asked in a careful tone.
“I rescued you from those guild people after they had caught you. Now, we are hiding in Daggerpoint.”
“Ah, and why did you do that?”
“Because we’re friends!” Blacknail explained as he smiled cheerfully. “You helped Herad and me out before so I helped you.”
“So you’re going to let me leave?”
“Of course, but as your friend and ally I can’t let you walk back into danger. That’s not what a true friend would do.”
“I see, so if I said I would like to meet with some people?”
“Too dangerous. Those guild soldiers could be anywhere.”
“And if I said I wanted to join a caravan leaving the city?”
“So I’m your prisoner,” Avorlus stated flatly.
“No, that’s silly. I’m just going to send you to a safe place where the bad guild people won’t be able to find you. As your friend, it is the least I can do!”
“I can’t say I like this development all that much, but at least it seems like I’m not going to be tortured to death today. That’s an improvement anyway.”
“Everything becomes better when I show up!” Blacknail agreed.
Avorlus sighed. “I’ve avoided the guild and becoming anyone’s servant for almost forty years, and now this. I’ve lost everything and been kidnapped by primitives.”
“Not kidnapped, I liberated you!” Blacknail replied. He was mildly annoyed that Avorlus wasn’t understanding the difference.
“Well if you want me to stay that way there is something you should know. The guild will probably be able to track my location using magic, so we need to get moving right away.”
“How will they do that?” Blacknail had never heard of magic that could be used to find things. That was what noses were for.
“My attackers had ample opportunity to collect some of my blood, and I undoubtedly bled somewhere they can access. With that and the right mana stone they can make a blood compass, which will point in my direction. The technique is common among guild hunters.”
“That’s not good,” Blacknail remarked as he began to think. If it pointed in Avorlus’ direction… “The city isn’t safe. It’s too easy to sneak up and surround us. I will have to send you out into the Green.”
“You want to send me out into the forest?” Avorlus asked in alarm. “The Green is full of dangerous beasts and who knows what other terrors!”
“It will be safer for you there. My minions live out there and know how to survive, unlike the men chasing you. You will be fine.”
“You have a point,” Avorlus remarked reluctantly.
“I have several, and I keep them sharp,” Blacknail replied as he stroked the hilt of a dagger at his waist. It was one of his favorites.
“I don’t doubt that,” Avorlus said as he frowned thoughtfully and looked up. “I’m more curious about what you want with me, though. What is it that you're up to and how can I help you with it? Last I heard, Herad was dead and her forces had been scattered.”
Blacknail met Avorlus’ gaze with a steely look of his own. “I want to kill those that destroyed my old tribe, including the traitor Mahedium. You know how to make my Elixir, and I need more of it, lots more of it.”
“I suppose I don’t mind helping you with that. It’s actually in my own interest, although I clearly don’t have much choice,” Avorlus huffed as he looked down at the ropes encircling his torso. “The timing of the Fiery Eye’s sudden interest in me is highly suspicious. I’d just turned down an invite from Mahedium and his backers. They wanted me to join them in creating a sort of… secret guild that answered to them. I said no – I serve no one but myself - and then all sorts of troubles began cropping up to hinder me. They weren’t subtle, but they were obviously too afraid to face me and my allies here in Daggerpoint directly, so I underestimated how far they would go to monopolize magical knowledge in the North.”
“Our enemies are the same,” Blacknail agreed. “Mahedium betrayed Herad so that he could join up with the Wolf.”
“And the merchants that support the Wolf, the Broken Wheel.”
“Yes, them. They were the ones that gave the Wolf’s minions gold when Herad was here in Daggerpoint. They used it to buy troops.”
“They’ve done a lot more than that. The Broken Wheel and Werrick control everything in the North now, either directly or from behind the scenes. These are very powerful people that you’ve decided to raise your blade against. What makes you think you stand a chance?”
“I have my minions here, and many more of them as well.”
“You will need more than hobgoblins.”
“I have a lot of human minions, and a vast territory I control,” Blacknail bragged. It wasn’t his fault that most of the humans that worked for him were too stupid to realize that they did, and he did control a vast territory, even if it was almost all empty forest on the edge of the frontier that no one else wanted.
“But do you have somewhere that I can do my work safely?”
“Yes, I even have a minion that knows many of Mahedium’s secrets. He makes crystals for me.”
“Do you now…” Avorlus replied with obvious interest.
“Yes, I do,” Blacknail told him. Avorlus would undoubtedly be surprised when he learned who Blacknail was talking about, but it was the truth.
Avorlus grinned. “It seems we can help each other. I’m curious about something, though. When you ‘liberated’ me, did the hunters ever see your faces?”
“I think so. They probably saw something. We had to kill a few of them. Why do you want to know?” Blacknail asked. Was this a bad magic thing? Could they be tracked somehow?
Avorlus smirked evilly. “No real reason. I just wish I could see the look on their superior’s face when they hand that report in.”
If Avorlus was telling the truth about the blood compass then unwanted company was probably going to arrive soon, so Blacknail ordered several of his minions to take the mage out into the forest right away. They had a campsite out in the Green nearby that they had used on the way here, and it would be impossible for the guild to get close to it without being seen.
“You’re not coming with us, boss?” Scamp asked. He had been selected to lead Avorlus’ guards, because Blacknail didn’t want him around.
Blacknail grimaced. “No, I have to meet with a human, a very dangerous one.”
“Oh, they must be very super scary,” Herah remarked in surprise. She had also been personally selected to guard the mage. Blacknail had a strong feeling that things would be much simpler if she were out of the way for this next part, and he trusted his instincts.
“They are. Be very grateful you don’t have to meet them,” Blacknail replied as he sent his minions on their way.
When they were gone, Blacknail sighed and rubbed his eyes. He had been putting this part of his mission off, but he didn’t have any more excuses. He needed information on Werrick and this Broken Wheel company. More than that, he needed to understand a lot of things about human, their society, and their lands that were mysteries to him right now. Such things hadn’t concerned him before, but ever since the battle at Shelter he had come to realize how ignorant he was. That had to change.
Blacknail hissed in frustration. As much as he wished that he could just attack some random important looking humans for information that was unlikely to work. He knew of only one person that would know about Werrick and all the other stuff he needed. He was going to have to visit Luphera.
“You stay here and guard this place. I will be back soon,” Blacknail told the dozen hobgoblins that hadn’t gone with Avorlus. He expected some of them to sneak out and explore the city the second he left, but hopefully they would at least organize some sort of watch. Right now, he was too distracted to care, though.
“You don’t want anyone to go with you?” one of the guards asked.
“I really don’t,” Blacknail answered grimly. There was no way he wanted any of his minions around when he visited Luphera. Not that he cared what they thought, but they would be putty in her hands, unlike him. Blacknail was known for his iron self-control.
After leaving the other hobgoblins behind, Blacknail walked out onto the street and began making his way to Luphera’s home. He hoped she still lived in the same place. Having to search for her would be annoying.
The sun had fully risen above the horizon now, but Blacknail didn’t bother sulking through the shadows. With his hood up he was just another private individual. In the slums, the few people he passed ignored him. This wasn’t surprising since half of them looked even more suspicious than he did. One man in dirty brown clothes was dragging a sack that made a coughing noise as Blacknail walked by. The hobgoblin was tempted to seize the sack and see what was inside, but he had to prioritize.
The street he was on led him past rows of small homes and onto a larger road lined by stalls and shops. This still wasn’t the best part of the city but it was an improvement. There were a lot more people milling around here, but no one gave Blacknail trouble. He looked down to hide his face, stepped into the crowd, and made his way through them. He passed by colorful peddlers, confident thugs, and tired-looking workers as merchants hawked their wares from nearby stalls. Blacknail made sure he kept an eye out for children so he could avoid them. Almost all the small humans were thieves out to steal his shinnies, but they weren’t the biggest hazard. The real danger was the carts or horses being led around. Blacknail distrusted horses. They were vile creatures that stank like death and their eyes shone with hatred. He made sure he didn’t go anywhere near them so they couldn’t kick or bite him.
Eventually Blacknail passed through several different sections of the city and found himself standing outside the large building that Luphera shared with lots of other scantily clad women. There was a bald man in a red vest guarding the door. He was taller and much more muscular than most human men, and he probably weighed three times as much as a hobgoblin. Blacknail considered walking up and beating him to a pulp, just to prove that he could. However, Luphera had reacted badly the last time he had hurt one of her employees. Should he just go up and ask to see her? She would undoubtedly want to see him, but would they actually tell her that he was here?
Blacknail decided to just sneak in through the back. That was what he had done every other time and it had worked out fine, even though he’d had to fight his way through a small army of assassins once. It was unlikely to happen twice though, so Blacknail headed around to the alley behind the building and climbed inside the window that led to Luphera’s bedroom. It was empty. The fancy looking room with its ornate furniture and huge four post bed looked much the same, but it smelled very different. Not only was the scent of Luphera’s unique perfume gone, but the woman’s own scent had been replaced by that of an unfamiliar woman.
“This isn’t good,” Blacknail mused to himself as he examined the room. He didn’t find any treats or signs of Luphera, just lots of silky clothes.
As Blacknail was examining a particularly frilly piece of clothing he had found in a drawer, someone knocked on the suite’s door. The hobgoblin sat up. The bedroom door that led to the sitting room was open, so Blacknail got ready to hide.
“Blacknail, the mistress invites you to join her,” a man politely announced from outside the suite.
“How?” Blacknail hissed to himself in confusion. They knew he was here? What? That didn’t make any sense. There was no way some lazy city humans had seen him! He was a master sneaker of peerless skill.
Slowly, Blacknail got up and made his way over to the suite door. He could hear relaxed breathing from the other side but that was it. The man there wasn’t moving and seemed perfectly willing to wait for him.
The hobgoblin hesitated and then opened the door. It swung open to reveal a thin older man with a neatly trimmed grey mustache who nodded respectfully in welcome. He was wearing a tidy outfit with black pants, a white shirt, and a red vest.
“Er, hello.” Blacknail greeted him.
“Hello to you as well. This way please. The mistress is waiting,” the servant replied as he gestured down the hall. He was wearing white gloves and he didn’t seem surprised in the slightest by Blacknail’s appearance.
Blacknail shrugged and began walking in the indicated direction. It wasn’t like he had any better options, and he was used to being confused and irritated whenever Luphera was involved.