"We should give our foes a chance to surrender,” Geralhd said as walked over to Blacknail. “There is no point in starting a needless fight if there is a chance of avoiding bloodshed.”
“I like bloodshed, a lot,” Blacknail replied as he glanced at the man. Why did Geralhd feel the need to ruin this for him?
Blacknail’s forces had just arrived in front of the walled town of Aldhara. It lay just beyond the eastern edge of Blacknail’s territory, and it had been garrisoned by a group of Werrick’s men. The road behind Blacknail was packed with his hobgoblin and human troops. They were waiting for orders and the atmosphere was heavy with the anticipation that came before a battle.
Geralhd grimaced. “Unless they have a far more fighters manning those walls than it appears, they stand no chance of victory. We should give them an opportunity to prevent a slaughter.”
Blacknail rolled his eyes. “Why? I like slaughter and they’re the enemy. I don’t want them to live. They work for Werrick. Killing them is the entire point!”
“It’s normal civilized behavior for humans. Having mercy and restraint is important or we’d be killing each other constantly.”
Blacknail frowned and thought back to all the battles he’d been a part of. “No, that’s not true at all. Herad didn’t let people surrender and no one ever really offered it to her.”
Geralhd hesitated, but before he could come up with a reply, a messenger arrived. He was one of the hobgoblins Blacknail had sent out into the forest to surround the town and watch it.
“It’s all quiet in the trees, boss. The stupid humans have no scouts out, just watchers on the walls. The walls look strong though. They’ve been all fixed up recently and all holes in them have been plugged so that we can’t sneak through. Climbing in unseen would also be hard.”
After listening to the report, Blacknail sighed. He’d been hoping there would be a way to sneak in. With a small force at his back, he could probably cut his way to the gate and open it, and he liked being sneaky and clever. Now it seemed like he would have to assault the gate. He could build a ram and batter it open, but blasting it open with magic would probably be easier. Magic was just so convenient.
As Blacknail thought his options over, Geralhd took the opportunity to speak up. “See. There is no easy way to take the town, and you don’t want to lose minions if it’s not necessary. That would weaken you before you face Werrick again. Give me a chance to ask them to lay down their arms.”
“Fine. Whatever! Make it quick,” Blacknail told him. There would other opportunities to kill Werrick’s men.
With a pleased nod, Geralhd immediately began walking down the road toward the gate. When he was close enough to easily be heard, he began yelling. “Heil the town! I’ve come brining a peaceful proposition.”
“We’ve no interest in talking to any man in service to evil beasts,” someone yelled back a moment later.
This response seemed to startle Geralhd, because he froze. It took him a several seconds to come up with a reply, which was unusual for him. “Then you should have no problem talking to me. I’ve come in peace and good faith to prevent unnecessary violence.”
“We have nothing to say to you. You won’t be getting us to lower our guards while that host of inhuman creatures lurks out there. We’re not fools. The second we drop out weapons they’ll be on us like highland wolves on sheep. The Blacknail has a reputation.”
“Indeed he does, one of mercy and honoring his word. He has no interest in murder, and many of the men you see in his army were once his enemies. And I say, anyone under the employ of a brigand such as the Wolf has little ground to stand on there. He is not known for his mercy.”
“At least he is human. Besides, betraying Werrick is a sure way to earn a hard death. We’d rather take our chances with a battle. At least then we’d die on our feet, like men.”
“Come now. You must be able to see the force assembled against you. It is mighty, and you are far outnumbered. Surrender, there is no shame in it. Needless battle would serve no purpose but to feed the crows,” Geralhd yelled. He was starting to sound rather exasperated.
“We’ve rallied the locals and every good human is worth three little hobgoblins. We don’t fear little green savages.”
Blacknail snorted. Stupid humans. Under favorable conditions, a human might be worth one and a half hobgoblins. However, not only did Blacknail have more than that, but he wasn’t going to give them that kind of fight. He wasn’t stupid enough to go head to head with them, where humans could use their greater weight and muscle against hobgoblins. Then there was Blacknail’s own presence. He was worth a good hundred humans anyway!
Growing frustrated, Gerlahd tried for several more minutes to convince the enemy to surrender. They eventually grew tired of his nonsense though.
“Still your tongue already. We won’t be surrendering anything to that stupid green monster that you call master!” the enemy leader yelled.
This annoyed Blacknail. As a mutant he might sort of be a monster, but he definitely wasn’t stupid, and he didn’t appreciate being called that by some humans. With their bizarre instincts, it was amazing most humans survived to adulthood.
Blacknail wasn’t too annoyed though. There was easy way prove his great intellect and show the enemy who was smarter. He’d simply slaughter the fools. They’d really look dumb then, when they were corpses.
Grinning, Blacknail walked up behind Geralhd and put a hand on his shoulder. “You tried. Now, it’s my turn.”
Geralhd sighed in disappointment as he looked back at Blacknail. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to attack them,” Blacknail replied as he turned to begin barking orders at his troops. He already had a plan, a great one. They were constantly popping into his head, because he was a genius.
It didn’t take long for Blacknail to get things moving. Soon, he was leading a large squad of his toughest warriors straight for the gate while the rest of his army followed behind in support. Herah was right beside him, leading his bodyguard, while Imp was in the center of the group. All the hobgoblins were grinning in anticipation of an easy fight. There were few things they liked better than the chance to shed some human blood. For most of them, there was no malice involved; humans and other prey were just fun to torment and kill. It was instinct. How would they react when the hobgoblins broke in to the town? Blacknail licked his lips. Chasing them as they ran around screaming would very amusing.
As he marched forward, Blacknail shook his head to clear his thoughts. He needed to focus on the task at hand. He wasn’t far from the gate now.
A few scattered arrows flew out from behind the wall, but none of them landed anywhere near Blacknail, so he ignored them and turned to Imp. “Open the gate.”
The hobgoblin mage nodded and raised his mechanical staff. Around him, the other hobgoblins came to a stop. There were more subtle ways of getting into the town, but Blacknail didn’t feel like waiting. The humans here had insulted him and had to be shown the error of their ways. He still wanted the town intact, but gates could be repaired.
As Blacknail and the warriors watched, a rippling blast of transparent power shot out of Imp’s staff. It tore through the air before hitting the center of the town’s gate. There was a loud boom and the air shuddered as the magic exploded. The gates shook under the power of the explosion and then the wood bent and splintered. With a loud crack, the gate on the right came loose and partially collapsed, creating a gap in the center of the doorway that was wide enough for two people to walk through.
“I can hit it again,” Imp offered.
“No, that’s fine,” Blacknail replied as he motioned his troops forward and began running. The wooden doors looked wrecked and jammed now. Further blasts might widen the gap, but they might also do nothing or even make it smaller, and Imp didn’t have unlimited mana crystals to power his staff.
Picking up speed, Blacknail charged straight for the gate. The enemy on the other side of it quickly began to react as well. Several armed men who looked like Werrick’s troops took up position to block his entrance. Blacknail just licked his lips and drew his blade from its sheathe. It came free with an eager sounding hiss that was music to the hobgoblin’s ears.
The sight of Blacknail barreling toward them made the troops guarding the hole in the gate blanch. He was noticeably taller than a normal hobgoblin, even more than most humans, and his antler-like horns made him look taller still. His second transformation had also made Blacknail bulkier, with thicker limbs and muscles, and this was also emphasized by his black leather armor. All in all, there was no way the humans could mistake Blacknail for an average hobgoblin.
Fear was obvious on the human guards’ faces but Blacknail could also sense it using his magic, and he could use that. Gathering up his own power from his core, Blacknail fed the power up into his head and then sent it out. The magic washed forth like a wave, igniting the fear within the enemy and twisting it into numbing terror.
There were three men blocking Blacknail’s way into the town, and all three of them stumbled back as he fell upon them. Without mercy, Blacknail lunged through the hole in the gate and slashed at the closest man. His blade sliced through the air with stunning speed and tore into the man’s arm. The blow almost cut the limb right off, and the man screamed in pain as Blacknail grabbed his shoulder and tossed him aside so he could get at his next target. The invigorating heat of magic was still rising up from Blacknail’s core, but now it was feeding his muscles and trickling into his blood.
The guard to Blacknail’s left overcame his terror and slashed at Blacknail with a clumsy overhead swing. Blacknail just snorted dismissively as he spun his blade around and stabbed the man in the chest. He then kicked the man away and tugged his sword free.
The last nearby guard turned to run, so Blacknail grabbed his collar, pulled him close, and then slit his throat with a flick of his blade. As his victim collapsed, Blacknail studied his new surroundings. He was on the other side of the gate now. The town lay before him, and there were lots more armed humans around, at least two dozen.
However, instead of retreating, Blacknail just grinned and began stomping forward. Behind him, hobgoblins began pushing through the gap in the gate and entering the town. For several moments, Werrick’s men stared at Blacknail in shock. In response, Blacknail burned his power. The fear inciting magic boiled off him like an invisible cloud and visibly slammed into the humans. They flinched or stumbled back.
Their weakness thrilled Blacknail, sending shivers down his spine. Practically purring, he threw himself at the biggest clump of men and lashed out with his long blade. His magically enhanced blows crashed through defenses and hacked through flesh with ease, sending blood flying in every direction. Pain filled screams filled the air.
Instead of rallying and trying to counterattack, the enemy hesitated. This allowed time for more hobgoblins to spill into the town and form a mob of their own. As Blacknail finished off the last nearby human with a bone crunching stomp to the man’s chest, the mob of hobgoblin spearmen threw themselves into combat.
There were still lots of enemy soldiers around, so Blacknail spun around and ran over to cover his minions’ flanks as they fought. On his way he cut down two more enemies who tried to stop him.
More of Werrick’s troops began to arrive. Desperately, they threw themselves into combat in an attempt to prevent the hobgoblins from spilling into the town. The enemy commander had held troops in reserve and stationed guards all along the walls, but now he threw everything he had at Blacknail.
It didn’t work. Blacknail crushed every human in his way as he cut his way deeper into the town. Human after human was brutally dispatched by swings of his blade, and his minions surged forward in a growing wave of spears and green.
The scent of blood grew strong as the dead piled up, and Blacknail began to notice some different looking humans mingled among the others. They were dressed in plain clothes instead of leather armor and many of them wielded tools such as axes and pitchforks instead of real weapons. Blacknail just laughed and cut them down regardless. They were even easier to kill.
Laughing joyfully over the screams, Blacknail continued to throw himself into the press. However, the enemy ranks quickly began to grow thin, and then they broke. As he stopped to watch, the nearby human began to turn and flee into the town. Some of his nearby minions started to give chase, but Blacknail stopped them with a yell and told them to stay together. The enemy didn’t have anywhere to flee to, except into the Green, so there was no rush. Seizing the gate was the priority anyway.
Soon, many more of Blacknail’s minions had entered through the broken gate, including some humans. So, Blacknail left a strong force behind to hold it, and then took about a hundred hobgoblins deeper into the town, toward the largest homes in sight. That was where he’d find the leaders, or at least the best loot. This was turning into a great day!
The front door of the biggest house in town was locked, of course. However, it was shut by a simple wooden latch, which Blacknail easily broke by slamming the door with his shoulder. He then stepped inside and looked around. It seemed like he was in the right place. Everything in sight was more lavish looking than the contents of an average villager’s home, which were usually dirty and dim.
There was no one in sight, but Blacknail heard creaks from upstairs, so he followed his nose over to the kitchen and told the minions that had followed him inside to round up the residents and bring them to him.
After a quick raid of the pantry for anything that smelled tasty, Blacknail wandered over to a couch in the sitting room and waited. That was when Geralhd hurried in. The young man was out of breath, but he looked relieved to have caught up. Blacknail offered him some of the worse tasting pie, but the man shook his head and concentrated on catching his breath. His lose.
As Blacknail ate, there was a brief scuffle upstairs and some yelling, but nothing major. Soon, his minions dragged everyone in the house in front of him. He studied them as he finished off some blue cheese. There were three adult women, one man, and two children. One of the women was much better dressed than the others, so Blacknail assumed the other two were servants of some kind. That meant the remaining humans were the leader and his family. They gazed at the hobgoblins with unconcealed terror, even though Blacknail wasn’t doing anything with his magic anymore.
One of the children was female and the other was male. The female looked to be older than the male, but Blacknail didn’t pay them much attention. They weren’t important. He also dismissed the two female servants in their plain black dresses.
“I’m in charge now. Who are you?” Blacknail asked the town leader. He was a short man with a curly moustache that made Blacknail want to pull on it. Humans weren’t supposed to have whiskers like rats.
The man paled and hesitated before answering. “I’m… I mean, I was the mayor. What are you going to do with me? Please don’t kill me. I haven’t done anything wrong!”
His wife threw him a nasty look, as if annoyed that he hadn’t asked about her. She was taller than her husband and had a proud demeanor he lacked. The children just hugged one of the maids, like she was the only thing preventing them from drowning. Ha, they were stupid little critters. Amusing though.
“Your people attacked me,” Blacknail pointed out. “I even sent someone over to offer you a nice surrender, but you helped Werrick’s men instead. I think that was wrong.”
The mayor flinched. “Those bandits seized this town! They didn’t ask me for permission. If some poor fools from here tried to fight you, it wasn’t because I told them to do anything.”
Blacknail nodded. “Maybe, but you’re still the leader, I should probably kill…”
There was loud cough from Geralhd, who until now had stayed in the background. He hurried over to Blacknail’s side, leaned down, and began whispering. “You shouldn’t kill the mayor yet. You don’t actually know if he has done anything wrong.”
Blacknail sighed. “He’s the boss, so he’s responsible and needs to be punished. That’s how things work. He lost, so he dies and I take over.”
“That’s not how it works with humans. Well, not usually. It’s quite possible he had nothing to do with the villagers that fought against us. They could have been going against his wishes or been forced to do it by the bandits.”
“So? What do you want me do? He’ll lie if I ask him anything,” Blacknail pointed out.
“Let me take some men and question the townsfolk. That way I’ll be able to figure out what happened. We could even have a trial, which should keep the people placated. If you kill their mayor without justification, they might get angry.”
Blacknail wasn’t sure if he cared if the people here were angry or not. This wasn’t Shelter. He didn’t need anything from them, only that they stay out of his way. Still, Geralhd seemed to be offering to do all the work. Annoying human nonsense like this was also why he’d brought Geralhd along. He’d put a lot of effort into recruiting Geralhd into his force, so he may as well listen to him.
“Fine, do it your way. I’ll tell my hobs to let you take charge. You need to find me someone to blame for everything though. Someone is guilty. No being annoying and saying the people responsible are already dead or I’m killing the mayor.”
Geralhd grimaced but nodded. Blacknail was satisfied, so as the mayor and his family trembled and watched, he remained sitting on the couch and began finishing off the last bits of food he’d taken from the kitchen. The town was his, and he had lots of good food, so any more killing could wait.