When Blacknail got back to the inn everyone was waiting for him. Geralhd, Khita, and Beardy were standing beside the table he’d been sitting at, and they looked upset. There was a scowl on Geralhd’s face and Beardy was grimacing. Blacknail walked over and nodded in greeting.
“Where did you go?” Khita asked. She only sounded slightly annoyed.
“I needed to follow some people and then kill one of them,” Blacknail explained.
Geralhd winced. “Uh, who?”
“Are you kidding?” Beardy asked as he threw his hands up in exasperation. “You’re supposed to be staying out of trouble.”
Blacknail shrugged. “He was a spy for someone who wanted to kill all of you.”
“What? Why would anyone want to kill us?” Beardy asked. He sounded like he didn’t believe Blacknail.
“That’s what I wanted to find out. When I asked, they said a whole bunch of Werrick’s men got themselves murdered and chopped up into little bits. They were looking for the people who did it, and someone saw you and remembered that you were Werrick’s enemy.”
“We’re not his enemies! Herad is dead and we don’t work for her anymore. We’re just minding our own business now. We certainly didn’t kill any of the Wolf’s men!”
“That doesn’t matter. They thought you were involved and were going to gather some friends so they could capture you for questioning,” Blacknail told him.
“It sounds like you had your reasons for wandering off, but I have to ask, did you kill Werrick’s followers,” Geralhd asked the hobgoblin.
Blacknail shook his head. “I’m just one small hobgoblin, smaller than a human. I don’t even have Elixir anymore, and almost a hundred men were killed. I couldn’t do that alone.”
Khita gave Blacknail a knowing look, but Geralhd and Beardy nodded along. On the way to the city, Blacknail’s hobgoblin minions had stayed back and out of sight of the human bandits. They had no idea that he’d brought them with him.
“Then who did do it?” Geralhd mused aloud.
Blacknail shrugged and suppressed a smirk. “Who knows? It’s a mystery.”
“The important thing to focus on is how this affects us,” Beardy pointed out. “If people think we’re involved in that mess then they are going to be come after us like hungry wolves.”
Geralhd nodded. “You’re right, of course. I don’t think we can just explain this away, no matter our innocence, especially now that Blacknail has intervened so aggressively.”
“I saved you,” Blacknail pointed out. He didn’t want there to be any confusion about that.
“Well, whatever happened, we can’t stay here,” Beardy remarked. “We need to get everyone up and leave this inn immediately, before anyone else comes to look for us.”
“Where will we go? Is anywhere in the city going to be safe?” Khita asked.
“I don’t know this city very well,” Geralhd admitted.
Blacknail perked up. “I do, I know this city very well! I’ve even met most the important people in it, some of them are even still alive. It’s the information dealers we need to watch out for. They know everyone and have eyes everywhere.”
“Is there anywhere we can hide from them?”
“I know a lot of abandoned houses we could hide in. There are a lot of dark places people never go in this city. They are dirty but dry,” Blacknail offered. He knew the humans were too picky to take him up on his offer. Geralhd in particular was a wimp.
As if to prove Blacknail right, Geralhd grimaced in disgust. “No thanks. It seems like we have no choice but to leave Daggerpoint.”
There was thud as Beardy slammed the table with a closed fist. “What! Where will we go? Werrick controls all the cities and towns around here. If he is looking for us then we’re screwed!”
Khita winked at Blacknail and then turned to Beardy. “He doesn’t even know about Shelter, let alone control it.”
“You want to go back to that mud pit? We just left! They probably don’t even want us there.”
“I don’t want to go back there anymore than you, the people there are a bunch of nosy hicks, but do we have a choice? There is nowhere else we can lay low until this blows over,” Khita shot back.
“We have money. We could buy proper supplies and gifts for them,” Blacknail suggested. “They would like us if we did that.”
“Some good wine would make the stay there much more tolerable,” Geralhd mused as he rubbed his chin. He sounded like he was considering the idea and warming up to it.
“I suppose it might not be a terrible place to hide out, as long as we bring our own supplies,” Beardy admitted.
“Tannin was always saying he needed a lot of metal tools. Bringing him some would make the villagers happy,” Blacknail pointed out. They would also serve his own purposes.
“True, but for a haul of that size we will need pack animals to carry it, like some horses,” Geralhd pointed out.
“No!” Blacknail hissed loudly. His voice was full of fury and disgust.
Khita rolled her eyes and Geralhd frowned.
“Why not?” Beardy asked in surprise.
“Horses can’t be trusted. They are vile smelly beasts. No horses will be going with us to Shelter!” Blacknail replied.
Geralhd sighed and gave Blacknail a confused look. “Your animosity towards simple animals is misplaced. Why do you hate them so much?”
Blacknail growled softly before replying. “When I look into their big stupid eyes I see their spirit, it is black and vile. They’re selfish beasts full of evil thoughts that enjoy peoples' pain.”
“That’s probably your reflection,” Khita remarked with a roll of her eyes.
Blacknail glared at her. “Nuh uh, no it’s not. You humans are just blind and stupid.”
There was a tired sigh from Beardy. “Fine whatever, we will use donkeys instead. You don’t have a problem with them, do you?”
“No?” Blacknail replied hesitantly. He had no idea what a donkey was, but he wasn’t going to admit it.
“If we’re going to be bringing donkeys we may as well grab some other animals,” Geralhd suggested. “I’m sure Tannin would appreciate some new stock, and it would improve the local menu as well.”
“Good idea, but this is starting to sound expensive. Can we afford all this?” Beardy asked.
“I have some money that I stumbled upon. You humans leave it everywhere,” Blacknail said as he placed a pouch on the table. The coins inside jingled as they moved. Blacknail hated parting with so many shiny bits, but he didn’t really use them for anything. He usually just ended up hiding them under rocks and stuff.
Geralhd opened up the bag and looked inside. “This will help a lot, but we will still have to watch what we buy.”
“I also have this,” Blacknail said as he placed a fist-sized object on the table. It was nugget of pure gold. There was silence as everyone stared at it.
“Where in all the hells did you get that?” Beardy asked. He sounded awed. Yellow rocks sure had a weird effect on humans.
“I found it in cave near Shelter,” Blacknail explained with shrug. It was a rock. Where did the humans think those came from?
“And you didn’t tell us?” Geralhd asked.
“It didn’t seem that important,” Blacknail explained.
Beardy gave Blacknail a greedy look and stroked his beard thoughtfully. “Was there more gold there?”
Khita sighed and spoke up. “We need to focus on leaving right now, remember? There are people after us.”
“Are we sure we couldn’t just buy all our enemies off?” Beardy asked as stared at the gold nugget.
Geralhd shook his head unhappily. “That probably wouldn’t work.”
“It really wouldn’t,” Blacknail agreed. It didn’t even make sense. Why wouldn’t they just take the money and then kill them for the rest?
“Fine, then that settles things. We need to get moving before anyone else shows up to look for us,” Geralhd remarked as he picked up the coin pouch and gold.
“Meet me at our last campsite outside the city at dusk,” Blacknail told everyone before turning to leave.
“Where are you going?” Geralhd asked.
“I need to meet with some people and cover our tracks,” Blacknail told them as he walked away.
As the door shut behind him, Blacknail smiled to himself. That had gone well. He hadn’t even really needed to convince them to do anything. With a little help from Khita, they had agreed on going back to Shelter without any input from him that might have seemed suspicious. Unfortunately, he had more unpleasant duties to attend to now.
After looking around the street to make sure there wasn’t anyone suspicious around, Blacknail headed off towards Luphera’s domicile. It had been her scent he’d detected on the letter, and the thugs had mentioned learning about him from an information broker. Luphera was a seller of secrets, and she probably knew more about him than any others that might be in the city. Blacknail growled as he stepped past a mother and child walking down the street. The conclusion was obvious, Luphera had betrayed him. She had put him and his friends in danger, and she had almost ruined his plans. That meant that Blacknail needed to deal with her. He couldn’t let anyone get away with betraying him, and even more importantly, she knew too much. If Luphera told Werrick everything she knew it would be a disaster. Blacknail had made sure not to tell her any of his plans, but he’d accidently let a few things slip. She had to be silenced.
As Blacknail walked down the street, he tried to figure out the best way of accomplishing his goal. Obviously, he needed to confront Luphera, however the last time he had tried to sneak into her place it hadn’t gone so well for him. She also had lots of guards, so fighting his way inside seemed like a lot of work. With Elixir a few humans wouldn’t be much of problem for him, but he didn’t have any more of it. Could he just walk in? Luphera’s servants might still have instructions to let him inside. That might be a trap, though. It was possible that she would lead him right into a room full of enemy soldiers. He wasn’t going to underestimate her. Should he go gather up some reinforcements? No, he didn’t have time for that.
Since all his other options seemed worse, Blacknail decided to take the risk and just ask to see Luphera. During his last visit, Luphera had given him instructions on how to meet with her, since he would make a scene if he went in through the front door. She had told him to go to the back door and knock, so that was what he did. He calmly sauntered around the building and into the empty alley behind it. There was no one around so he walked over to the door at the back of the building and knocked. After a few long seconds, the door swung open to reveal the older mustached man from his last visit. Both his clothes and his expression looked as unruffled as before as he quickly looked Blacknail over.
“I’m here to see Luphera,” Blacknail explained. He tried to sound friendly, but his rage made that difficult, and the man’s smug face annoyed him.
“Welcome. I will check and see if she is available. Please follow me,” the servant replied with a polite nod before turning around.
Blacknail cautiously followed the man deeper into the building. Neither of them said anything as they walked, and they kept to empty hallways and back rooms that were obviously used by servants and for storage. Only a single uniformed servant passed them by, and he gave Blacknail a quick glance and then hurried on his way. Eventually Blacknail’s guide stopped at a door.
“Please wait here a moment. I will be right back,” the man said with an apologetic smile. Blacknail nodded civilly back. He’d cooled down somewhat.
The mustached man then stepped through the doorway. Blacknail got a quick look at a larger and more lavish hallway on the other side before the door closed and he was left alone in the servant’s passage. He waited there for a minute or two until the door opened again.
“Just this way. The mistress is ready to see you,” his guide announced as he held the door open for Blacknail.
“Thank you,” the hobgoblin replied cheerfully as he stepped through the frame and out into the brightly lit and lavish hallway on the other side.
From there, it was only a few steps to another familiar door. Blacknail recognized it as the room where he’d met Luphera during his last visit. He tensed up as the mustached man glided over and opened the room’s door for him, as he had the others. Blacknail had been listening carefully and sniffing the air, but he sensed no signs of ambush. However, that didn’t mean there wasn’t one. Luphera had managed to surprise him more than once.
Gritting his teeth, Blacknail stepped through the door. He had come this far and wasn’t going to back down without a good reason. The room in front of him hadn’t changed at all. It was still warm, luxurious, and inviting. As before, Luphera was seated on a couch by the low table, but this time she gave off a more business-like impression. Her silk outfit had been exchanged for a proper blue dress that had long sleeves and went down to her ankles. The outfit still highlighted her bosom and the contours of her body, but it wasn’t at all playful looking.
“Blacknail, this is a surprise. I wasn’t expecting you back so soon,” Luphera remarked. Her back was straight and her hands were resting on her lap, so that she looked calm and collected.
“Good,” the hobgoblin replied as he looked around the room. He took a second to stare at the room that led off to the side, but nothing seemed out of place.
The unique flowery scent that Luphera wore still filled the room. After a few breaths Blacknail could feel it began to clog up his mind and quicken his pulse. However this time the scent had a slightly different result. His hidden yet roiling emotions skewed the perfume’s effects. His fury was only enhanced by lust. He wanted to taste blood, to rend flesh between his fingers and bite bone. Sex and violence weren’t so different if done right.
“Why don’t you come sit down and tell me why you’re here?” Luphera asked.
“One second. I’m just here to ask a quick question,” Blacknail replied as he turned back to look at the door he had come in through. The mustached man that had guided him here was still standing beside it.
Before anyone could react Blacknail lunged forward. He reached out, placed a hand on the servant’s head, and then pushed. Crack. The man’s head smashed into the wall behind him and he crumpled down to the ground. Blacknail smirked. Ah, that had been very satisfying. Gutting him would have felt even better, but Blacknail wasn’t sure he wanted to go that far yet.
“What! How dare you?” Luphera hissed as she jumped to her feet.
“He was annoying, but don’t worry. He will live, probably,” Blacknail replied as he turned to face her.
Luphera’s face was red with fury as she glared at the hobgoblin, but she flinched when he took a step towards her. There was a mad grin on Blacknail’s face that highlighted his bared teeth.
“What is the meaning of this?” Luphera stuttered as she fought to remain calm.
Blacknail pulled the note he had taken from the thugs out of his pocket and took another step forward. “You’ve been telling tales.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The hobgoblin simply held the note out until Luphera took it.
“I see…” Luphera muttered as she read it. “And you think I had something to do with this?”
Blacknail growled softly as he met her gaze and stared intently into her eyes. “Did you?”
There was silence for several long seconds. Luphera was still, except for her eyes which moved as if she was thinking hard. Eventually she grimaced in distaste and looked away.
“Yes, I did. A powerful client came asking for information and I had to offer them something. I couldn’t just ignore them.”
“You betrayed me,” Blacknail hissed as he stepped forward and grabbed her wrist. She didn’t try to pull away. That and the fact that she hadn’t lied about her involvement allowed Blacknail to prevent himself from lashing out. Rage was still boiling beneath his skin. He didn’t like traitors, especially ones that targeted the people close to him.
“I don’t remember forming an alliance with you, and I’m certainly not your servant,” Luphera replied as she straightened up and her expression grew steely. “Our relationship is a mutually beneficial one, but also ultimately transactional.”
“You put my friends and minions in danger by telling my enemies where they were. If you are going to be working against me why shouldn’t I kill you?”
“I didn’t reveal anything you told me in confidence. You never even mentioned where your friends were staying to me. I learned of them through my own means, just as I would have learned who was responsible for Cedric’s death if I hadn’t already known you were the culprit. Little happens in this city that I don’t know about. Just because we are close that doesn’t mean I can afford to never work against you in any way. I’m running a business here after all, and I have duties to my other clients.”
Blacknail scowled and loosened his grip on Luphera’s arm slightly. This was confusing. Was she an enemy or not? Blackanil was fairly sure that she didn’t want him dead. She hadn’t revealed everything she knew about him, and she could have undoubtedly sent much more dangerous people after him than the two incompetents he had run into.
“What should I do with you then?” Blacknail mused softly to himself.
Luphera shrugged and gave Blacknail an annoyed look. It was an impressive display of bravery considering her position. The hobgoblin’s long nails were digging into her arm and his teeth were practically in her face.
“Nothing. Aside from all the fun we’ve had together, if you harm me in any way I won’t work with you ever again. I’m your best source of information and have helped you several times. You need me. So what if we sometimes work at cross purposes? You’re a big boy. I’m sure you can handle yourself.”
Luphera was making a weird sort of sense. It wasn’t like she had ever promised to be his ally. They had simply exchanged information. Still, Blacknail knew she was twisting the truth. He could see it in her eyes. There was something about this situation that he wasn’t seeing. Giving bits of information about him to his enemies had been part of a plan of some sort. But what had it been? Had she been trying to separate him from his allies? Maybe she wanted to force him out of town for her own reasons? Blacknail didn’t know. He wished he had some Elixir. If he could taste her fear then he might be able to figure out what she was playing at.
“If you’re just going to stand there all day, why don’t we relax a little?” Luphera remarked as she slowly stepped forward so that one of her legs went through Blacknail’s legs and brushed up gently against his groin.
Blacknail twitched and let her arm go before stepping back. “No, you’ve answered my question, and your advice is as good as ever. I’ll be leaving.”
The hobgoblin turned and stalked out the room, past the unconscious servant on the floor. Luphera was a confusing distraction right now. Killing her would be a waste, and anything short of that would be... unproductive. The only option seemed to be to be more careful of her in the future.
Right now, he needed to meet up with Geralhd and the others and head back to Shelter, where he was beyond Luphera's reach. The tools they were bringing would be very useful, and with the information Blacknail had learned here in Daggerpoint he could begin the next phase of his plan to defeat the Wolf.