With every shred of speed he could muster and every bit of magic he could pull out of his core, Blacknail launched himself toward the ghoul. Like a striking snake, his blade flew out of his sheath and sliced through the air toward the ghoul’s neck. The creature’s mouth was already wide open as it sucked in the air necessary for it to scream and alert its pack. However, just as a shrill screech began to echo out of the ghoul’s throat, Blacknail’s blade slammed into the side of its neck. The blade cleaved through the deathly pale flesh effortlessly and sent black blood flying as it decapitated the ghoul in one powerful strike. There was a wet plop sound as the ghoul’s body fell over, and its head hit the ground a moment later.
Blacknail stared at the body for a moment, before looking around for something to clean his blade off with. Ghouls were weird, but he was fairly certain that decapitation killed them, so he wasn’t too worried about it getting back up. He really didn’t want to leave any black stains on his sword though. Ghoul blood smelled foul, and there was the small matter of it spreading the plague.
“Good job, boss! You’re the fastest ever,” Herah congratulated her chief. Blacknail gave her a nod, because she was right.
“Did you get him in time?” Khita asked. She sounded a little shocked.
“I think so,” Blacknail answered as he used a nearby rag to clean his blade. “The plan can continue without change.”
The redhead nodded. “Right, so I’m staying out here, away from the haunted building full of ghouls.”
“Whatever. Just make sure you don’t let any fleeing ghouls get past you,” Blacknail told her before turning to his hob minions and selecting the ones who would be entering the abandoned workshop with him.
The building loomed ahead of the group. Its wood was so rotten there was a large gaping hole in the roof, and its stone foundation was stained with dirt and other fouler substances. The windows were all uncovered, but there was nothing but impenetrable darkness to be seen within them. Blacknail thought it was rather inviting and comfy looking. It would have made a great hideout for hobgoblins if it hadn’t already been taken by ghouls. Also, he didn’t really need a hideout, since he was a glorious leader these days. Mansions were more his thing now.
“Alright, let’s go,” Blacknail told Herah and his guards as he started walking toward the building’s front door. Behind him, Khita and his other minions began to spread out to form a perimeter around the target.
Moving carefully and quietly, Blacknail and his minions approached the entrance to the abandoned workshop. The door had fallen off its hinges long ago, and only a small pile of wooden scrap on the ground was left of it. Blacknail’s hobgoblin eyes could pierce the heavy darkness that lay beyond the entrance, but there wasn’t much to see, just more rotten wood and shadows.
Blacknail moved in complete silence as he stepped through the door and looked around. The building’s interior was eerily quiet, even to his sensitive hobgoblin ears. There was a hallway to his left and a vast workshop full of junk to his right. It was hard to make out any details in the dark though. A multitude of ghouls could be hiding nearby. The creatures were stealthy and prone to concealing themselves and sleeping during the day. Although, Blacknail wasn’t sure ghouls really slept like normal animals. It was more like they lurked unmoving for long periods of time, conserving their strength as they waited for a chance to strike.
Frowning thoughtfully, Blacknail decided to head into the workshop, and ignore the hallway for now. He drew his sword as he began to creep forward, and his guards followed carefully after him.
The large room had once contained rows of shelves and lines of tables. Now, all the shelves were broken scrap and most the tables had collapsed. A bit of late afternoon light got in through some small windows on the walls, but not a lot. The room was very dark and shadowy, and the remains of machinery had been piled up in one corner. Thus, there were plenty of places where ghouls could be hiding.
As Blacknail moved further into the room, he had to move very cautiously. The floor beneath his feet was rotten and weak. Not only was there the danger of making a loud noise, but it wasn’t impossible that placing his foot in the wrong spot would send him falling down through a new hole in the floor.
Blacknail’s magical senses weren’t registering the presence of anything alive. They weren’t the most consistent way to find enemies, but they usually gave him at least a little warning that he wasn’t alone. Blacknail was sure there were ghouls here though. He could smell them for one thing. Their corrupt oily stench filled the air. Ghouls probably didn’t trigger his magical senses because they didn’t feel fear. Blacknail thought this was because their brains were so rotten. Any part of their mind that didn’t help them spread their foul infection was long gone.
Unfortunately, not all of Blacknail’s minions were masters of stealth like him. After the group had made it about twelve feet into the room, a misplaced foot by one of the hobgoblins made the floor creak loudly. Blacknail froze and glanced back over his shoulder. All of his minions had frozen as well. It wasn’t clear who had messed up and made the noise, so Blacknail gave them all an angry glare before turning to scan his gloomy surroundings. Had they given themselves away?
At first, Blacknail detected no change in the environment. Everything was still. Then, his ears twitched as a subtle new sound reached them. It was very quiet, but it was there. Blacknail heard the rustling of cloth and something scrapping against wood. Even worse, it wasn’t all coming from the same direction. Several similar noises were coming from all around the workshop.
Resolved, Blacknail raised his blade and peered around the gloomy room. He was no human, so he feared neither the darkness nor the touch of ghouls. Hobgoblins such as him were predators and the shadows were their home. These ghouls were rivals and were trying to prey on humans that belonged to him.
Suddenly, all at once, four figures rose up from out of sight and turned toward Blacknail. Their features were difficult to make out in the darkness, but their bodies were thin, and their clothes were ragged. Ghouls. The unnatural creatures seemed to study Blacknail for a moment, and then they all screeched simultaneously and threw themselves at him.
“Kill them all. Hack them to bits!” Blacknail roared as he planted his feet on solid parts of the floor and got ready to meet his attackers.
Even as the first few ghouls closed in, Blacknail could hear other ghouls began to move in other parts of the workshop. Soon, they would all flood into this room as well.
A ghoul in stained rags hissed furiously as it threw itself at Blacknail. It reached out to gore him with its jagged claws, which were caked in grime. Unimpressed, Blacknail cut the creature’s arm right off with a swing of his sword and then kicked it in the chest, sending it flying backward. However, almost immediately, two more ghouls attacked him, and these ones were armed. One swung at him with a long club made from broken wood and the other had a rusty axe that looked like it had once been used to cut firewood. At the same time, Blacknail could hear several of his minions shout from behind him as more ghouls engaged them.
Lashing out, Blacknail sliced the rusty axe being swung at his chest in half with his blade. He then ducked under the club, brought his weapon around, and gutted the ghoul holding the broken axe shaft. Black oily entrails spilled out of the ghoul as it screamed furiously and fell over sideways. Blacknail’s blow had cut deep enough to damage the creature’s spine, but it didn’t sound in pain, just very angry.
The ghoul with the club swung at Blacknail again, but the hobgoblin chieftain blocked the blow and then punched the monster in the face. Its head snapped back from the impact, but it recovered almost instantly. Dropping its club, it lunged at Blacknail with both of its claws outstretched. Even a magic empowered blow to the head from a mutant wasn’t enough to overcome the ghoul’s immunity to pain and shock.
The ghoul was in too close for Blacknail to hit him with his sword, so he let his blade fall. At the same time, he reached down to his waist with one hand and drew a dagger. Stepping to the side and away from the ghoul’s sharp claws, Blacknail then jammed the dagger up through the bottom of the ghoul’s jaw and into its brain. Despite the way the transformation into a ghoul twisted a human’s flesh and fingers, their bones were basically the same and had the same weaknesses.
Glancing back, Blacknail saw that his minions were holding their own against half a dozen ghouls that were trying to overrun them. Herah in particular was fighting viciously to hold her ground. As he watched, she savagely hacked apart a ghoul that tried to jump on her. It was good thing Blacknail had trained his minions so well.
Blacknail didn’t have time to watch other people’s fights for long though. Two more hideous ghouls emerged from a side room and charged him. One of these new assailants was actually clutching a pitchfork. They hissed as they threw themselves forward, so Blacknail hissed right back, before swinging his sword with such force that it sent the pitchfork flying away. That didn’t deter the ghouls, so Blacknail stabbed one of them in the gut. His blade sank deep, but then he realized his mistake. That would have been a killing blow against a human or hob, but the ghoul simply ignored the blade lodged in its stomach and tried to claw at Blacknail.
Grunting, Blacknail kicked the ghoul away, which deprived him of his own weapon. That gave plenty of time for the second ghoul to throw himself atop the hobgoblin. Blacknail felt claws rake across his coat and the unprotected back of his head, drawing blood. Thankfully, it felt like the ghoul’s claw had gotten entangled in Blacknail’s horns before they could do too much damage.
Although the hot rage of battle was burning within Blacknail, the wound still hurt, enflaming the hobgoblin more. Roaring in fury, Blacknail grabbed the offending ghoul and slammed him into the floor. There was a crack from the rotten wood, but that didn’t stop Blacknail from following up his throw with a powerful stomp to the ghoul’s head. There was a louder crack as the force of the blow drove the ghoul’s skull right through the rotten floorboards. The creature also stopped moving. It looked like the hobgoblin had broken its neck.
Still angry and looking to take his wrath out on his enemies, Blacknail stepped over to the ghoul which had his blade stuck in it. He gave it several heavy kicks that cracked bones, and then ripped his blade out of the creature’s gut and decapitated it.
That done, Blacknail turned and went to the aid of his allies. Although there were a lot of dead ghouls surrounding them, the hobgoblins were still fighting over half a dozen of the creatures. More ghouls had swarmed in from other areas of the workshop to join the fight as it dragged on, and despite the ease with which Blacknail had dispatched them, ghouls were not easy opponents. The creatures attacked without any regard for their own safety and had no mercy. They also had startling speed and strength to match that of the most dangerous humans. Most dangerous of all though, they completely ignored any wound that didn’t outright kill them. Their only weaknesses were their lack of martial skill and inability to make complex plans. Even ghouls that had once been warriors seemed to lose their weapon skills, even if they could still wave around simple tools.
Blacknail could understand how these things were such a threat to human cities. If his minions hadn’t been immune to the creatures’ infection, this fight would have been a nightmare.
Herah was warding off two unarmed ghouls with her sword, so Blacknail stepped forward and struck down one of them down with a sword slash to the chest that knocked the creature sideways and ripped open its ribcage. This gave Herah a chance to finish off the other ghoul with a series of quick slices that disabled its limbs and then tore its throat open. After that, the hobgoblins began eliminating the ghouls one-by-one with their chieftain’s help. The last two tried to disengage and run back into the shadows, but Blacknail bounded after them and cut them down from behind before they got far.
“What now, boss?” Herah asked when the last ghoul stopped moving.
Blacknail grunted and looked around. “Now, I think the humans are going to have to burn this entire building down.” They’d sort of gotten black blood everywhere and that stuff stained. The hobs’ clothes would also probably need to be burned too. Oh well, some considerate humans had probably left some clothes around somewhere.
“I meant, what should we do next?”
Blacknail thought about that for a moment. “We should do some exploring before the Governor gets here. I want to see the basement.”
“You think there will be more ghouls?” Herah asked.
Blacknail shook his head. “Something else.”
A quick exploration of the rest of the building revealed the stairs leading to the basement. They were behind a door in a back hallway. Blacknail and his minions stood at the top and stared down into pitch black darkness at the bottom.
“So, did anyone bring a light?” Blacknail asked his hobs. There was a quick chorus of nos.
Blacknail sighed. He really needed to remember to get better minions that would remember this sort of stuff. This wasn’t the first time this had happened.
Since Blacknail didn’t really want to go down into the basement without a light, he decided to station some guards outside it and head back outside to wait for the humans. Hopefully, they would bring a lamp or something.
This proved to be a good idea, because when Blacknail left the workshop and found Khita, she was standing next to several men in the Governor’s colors, and two of them were holding lanterns, probably because it was getting dark out. Apparently, the Governor moved quickly and efficiently when ghoul infestations were involved.
“Only one ghoul tried to escape, and some of your hobs got it. They’re standing guard over its body now,” Khita yelled his way when she saw him.
“Good, we’re almost done inside.”
All the guards in red tensed as Blacknail approached, but he ignored it and held out a hand toward the nearest one. “Give me your lantern.”
The man froze from fear instead of replying, which annoyed Blacknail. He didn’t have time for all this constant human stupidity. Khita was also apparently very unimpressed.
“Geez, what a coward,” she announced as she reached out to grab the lantern from the man’s hand.
Once she had it, the redhead handed the lantern to Blacknail, who immediately took it. The hobgoblin then gave her a grateful nod and hurried back to the stairs inside. It was nice to be reminded that there actually were more useless humans than Khita. It was hard to imagine, but he could have been stuck with someone worse.
As Blacknail arrived back at the stairs, his hobs gave him a bunch of mistimed salutes. That was a little random, but whatever.
“Come down after me,” he told them as he held the lit lamp up with one hand and drew his sword with the other.
“At your order, boss!” one of the hobgoblins answered.
“I’ll never leave you,” Herah added. Blacknail chose not to dwell too much on her choice of wording.
The old wooden stairs creaked ominously as the hobgoblin descended. His lantern pushed back the darkness, revealing grimy walls made of loose stones and disintegrating mortar. The floor was packed dirt and there was rubble everywhere. There were also lots of cobwebs. Idly, Blacknail wondered if they were made by the crunchy type of spider or the poisonous type. It was important to know the difference if you didn’t want your tongue inflating to three time its normal size.
There was more creaking from the stairs as Blacknail’s minions and Herah descended to join their chief. Blacknail quickly glanced their way before turning back around.
Most of the rubble in the basement wasn’t nearly big enough to hide a ghoul, no matter how sneaky they were. Blacknail also checked the ceiling, just in case, but there were no ghouls hanging up there either. There were footprints in the dirt, but it seemed like all the ghouls that had been hiding down here had come up during the fighting.
Blacknail wasn’t here to look for ghouls though. Lifting his lantern high, he began to walk around the room and inspect the walls. He soon found what he was looking for, a spot where the dirt was very loose, as if it had recently been dug up.
After taking a moment to sniff the air, Blacknail handed his sword to one of his minions to hold, and then dug up the dirt a little. It soon became obvious that something had tunneled in under this wall, so Blacknail stopped playing around in the dirt and instead kicked the bottom of the wall as hard as he could. The stones gave way and collapsed outwards, to reveal a hidden passage. Blacknail kept kicking, and soon the entrance had been widened to the full size of the passage beyond it.
The newly discovered tunnel was wide and tall enough for a man or a hobgoblin to walk through, and it seemed to have been dug through the dirt. It didn’t look natural though, the walls were too regular.
“What dug this? It doesn’t look like human work,” one of Blacknail’s minions asked as he peered past his chief.
Blacknail didn’t need to answer him. Instead, there was a familiar hiss from the darkness of the tunnel and the shadows began to shift. A moment later, a swarm of angry boggarts emerged from the darkness and threw themselves at the hobgoblins.