None of the deserters did more than glance briefly Blacknail’s way as he walked up behind them. They were preoccupied by the bandits in front of them, and the hobgoblin was still wearing the cloak he had won from the sentry. Winning something from a fight was very different from stealing it.
No one found anything odd about another straggler joining the group now and that’s exactly what Blacknail looked like. Most the deserters wore the same cloak as him, and he wasn’t even the only one in the group with his hood up.
The hobgoblin stretched himself as tall as possible and walked on his toes as he entered the crowd of deserters. He hoped his somewhat awkward gait wouldn’t attract attention but he was short for a human so he had to do something. He avoided directly looking at anyone and tilted his head down so that his green skin was hidden within the shadows of his cloak.
Blacknail saw his target; he was rather hard to miss actually. The man loomed over the other deserters like a solitary mountain over the forest.
Quickly, but without seeming hurried the hobgoblin walked up behind the large man. Luckily for him, the rest of the men had had taken a few steps back from their leader and given him space.
“You’ve had all the time you need. If you don’t surrender right this second I’m going to kill every last one of you!” the enemy leader yelled.
“Hmmm,” Blacknail muttered thoughtfully to himself.
He wasn’t sure what his next move was going to be. Things seemed more complicated now that he was actually in the middle of the enemy tribe. His target was definitely very big!
Even from the back he towered over the hobgoblin. Blacknail would have trouble just reaching his throat and that the shiny shirt protected his chest. The hobgoblin needed to adjust his plan, and quickly, or it wouldn’t work.
A tall man with a sword in his hand turned towards Blacknail and looked him over. He was standing only a few feet away.
“Ha, I’ll bet you two silver that those spineless dogs are going to surrender any second now. No one sane would pick a fight with Basghus,” the swordsman told Blacknail.
The hobgoblin gave a vague grunt of acknowledgement and ignored the man. He still needed to come up with a better plan.
The disguised hobgoblin perked up as an idea suddenly occurred to him. He sure hoped he could pull it off. Stupid Red Dog, his insane plan had put Blacknail’s master in danger. Blacknail idly wondered how the man had survived so long without someone around to clean up his messes.
The hobgoblin drew his dagger as he stood in the very middle of his tribe’s enemies. He sighed in relief when his action failed to raise anyone’s suspicion. Everyone around him was still focused on Red Dog’s group.
Then, with a vicious snarl, Blacknail pounced onto the back of the enemy tribe’s leader. As everyone around him reacted in shock, Blacknail got a firm grip on the neck of big man’s chain shirt and pulled himself up higher.
“What the holy fucks!?” the giant yelled as he jumped in surprise.
He dropped his sword and the vial he was holding, spun around, and reached back to try and grab the freaky thing that was climbing his back.
Blacknail wasted no time. As the man flinched and tried to grab him, the hobgoblin reached around and cut the man’s exposed throat. The dagger dug deep as Blacknail put as much force as possible into it. He wouldn’t get a second chance at this. He felt warm blood wash over his hand, and the scent of wet iron filled the air.
As the man choked and began to topple forward like a felled tree, Blacknail flipped himself over the man’s shoulders. He landed on the ground, and rolled straight towards the bandits and safety. His hood slipped off as he moved.
Blacknail didn’t even notice; he was completely focused on sprinting like mad towards his master. He had a feeling there was about to be a whole bunch of very angry humans behind him.
He cut through the wind and tore the dirt up behind him as he ran. He pushed himself faster and faster, and he didn’t even think of stopping until he had hurtled past the bandits. He was going so fast he had to drop and roll wildly across the ground to reduce his momentum so he could stop. Once safe behind Red Dog and the others, he climbed back to his feet.
As Blacknail brushed some of the dirt from the roll off of himself, he noticed that everyone was staring at him. The bandits had all turned away from their opponents and were looking at him. Their mouths were open and eyes were wide with shock.
“What?” Blacknail asked.
Then he threw a nervous glance behind himself, just in case. There was nothing there, but you could never be sure in this accursed forest.
“Messa-Mien’s mercy! Where did you come from?” Red Dog exclaimed.
Blacknail considered the question for a second.
“From the sewers?” he replied uncertainly.
Saeter broke out laughing so loudly and joyfully that it echoed through the camp.
“So much for the Slosher,” he cackled.
“We still have to worry about that combat mage,” Red Dog reminded him, but a big half crazy smile was plastered across his face as he said it.
Saeter gave the other man an even bigger grin, which almost didn’t seem possible. His normally lined face looked practically cragged as he smiled uncharacteristically. Then Blacknail’s master turned and faced the deserters.
They were still recovering from the shock of seeing the hobgoblin murder their supposedly invincible leader right in front of them. Not a single one of them had even started after Blacknail. They were still staring wide eyed at each other and the corpse on the ground in front of them.
“Surrender now, or we’ll send more hobgoblins after you!” Saeter yelled.
No one answered for a few seconds.
“We surrender, as long as your offer to join Herad is still good” someone eventually called out.
It was the staff carrying mage that answered. He was still staring in shock at the corpse of the vessel. No one among the deserters challenged his decision.
“It is,” Red Dog yelled back.
“I guess we won then,” Saeter announced with satisfaction.
Red Dog just blinked blankly at him.
“Good, Blacknail. I’m feeding you as much as you can eat when we get back.” Saeter told the hobgoblin.
“And I’m buying you a beer,” another bandit added. He had a faraway look in his eyes.
A chorus of agreements and offers of treats flowed from the rest of the bandits. Blacknail smiled at them. Even Red Dog gave him an approving nod.
“I protect my band-ss. It’s what warriors do,” the hobgoblin lied through his sharp pointy teeth.
He had only really cared about saving Saeter, but he was more than happy to take the opportunity to suck up and make some new allies.
It took a few seconds for everyone to remember that they were still in hostile territory and sober up. When they did, Red Dog straightened up and walked a few steps towards the defeated deserters. They were just standing there looking unsure of what to do, or even of what had just happened.
“Hey! You guys drop your weapons, and that goes double for the mage. You’re now our captives until you officially join up with the Black Snake,” he yelled at them.
Blacknail walked up beside the bandit lieutenant, and gave him another toothy smile.
“I get the big one’s shiny hat,” he told Red Dog.
Red Dog let him take the helmet.
As Saeter and other bandits organized the aftermath of the fight, Blacknail wandered around the camp and explored. Since everyone else in his band was busy rounding up the deserters he had the camp almost to himself.
The clearing the deserters had made their home in was filled with the army equipment they had taken with them and the goods they had stolen. A very crude wooden shelter had been set up under the ledge of an overhanging cliff, and over a dozen similar small blue tents were scattered around. The far end of the camp was marked by a small muddy stream.
As Blacknail wandered about he tried on his new helmet. It didn’t fit. It was far too large and it rattled as he walked. His large green nose also poked out and the helmet pinched it painfully. With a sad sigh, Blacknail packed it away for later and then continued riffling through the nearby tents and supplies.
Everything he found that peaked his interest, like random pieces of clothes and shiny things, ended up shoved into his pouches or pack. Everything that smelled tasty ended up shoved into his mouth.
As Blacknail was chewing a piece of cheese, which he had recently acquired a taste for, he heard an unexpected rustling from a nearby tent. Curious but wary, he crept over to check it out.
Something was definitely moving within the blue tent ahead! The sounds were quiet, as if someone or something was trying to make as little noise as possible. The idea of something hiding from Blacknail triggered his predator instincts. Surely, it wouldn’t be hiding if it didn’t have something to hide? Something Blacknail wanted…
Silently, the hobgoblin approached the entrance to the tent. He carefully grabbed the entrance flap, and then he ripped it open so he could peer inside.
He had a brief glimpse of a naked woman huddled among a pile of blankets and holding one to her chest, before the tin plate she had thrown smashed into his face. Blacknail hissed in pain and staggered back from the tent.
The woman began to scream fearfully. Outside the tent, Blacknail hopped around in pain. Blacknail’s nose had taken the brunt of the hit, and had started to throb painfully. It hurt a lot. He rubbed his nose, and then pinched the end. Neither of which really helped at all. The woman continued screaming shrilly, which on top of everything else hurt his ears.
The commotion attracted Saeter and several other bandits. His master calmly took in the sight of the obviously pained hobgoblin and the screams from the tent.
“Well, what do we have here?” Saeter asked.
“Sounds like a woman to me,” one of the other bandits replied eagerly.
“She hit me!” Blacknail whined pitifully to his master.
“Some man slaying monster you are. I’m glad none of our prisoners are here to see this. They’re terrified of our killer hobgoblin,” Saeter remarked as he smirked.
A few of the other bandits chuckled as well. Blacknail gave them a hostile glare, but that only made them chuckle more. Saeter turned to the tent and addressed the occupant.
“Come out now and you won’t be harmed. Stay in there and you won’t like what happens next,” Saeter commanded.
Nothing happened for a few seconds. Then there was a brief ruffling noise, and the woman who had assaulted Blacknail stepped out of the tent.
Her hair was long and blonde, and her eyes were light blue. Her thin but mature figure and large breasts were covered only by blanket she had wrapped around herself. One of the bandits whistled appreciatively.
Blacknail rubbed his sore nose, and glared at her. He thought she was ugly, smelly and, stupid.
The woman was pale and shivering ever so slightly with fear. Her eyes were wet and glossy as she met the stares of the bandits, but she did meet them. She only flinched when she noticed Blacknail glaring at her hatefully. She seemed determined not to let her fear show.
“And who might you be?” Saeter asked her politely. There was a silly smile on his face that Blacknail didn’t recognize.
“My name is Erissa, sir. I was travelling to Riverdown with some merchants, when they were killed by Basghus. He took me prisoner and used me to warm his bed,” she answered with a slight tremor in her voice. “May I ask who you are?”
She appeared afraid, and smelled of fear as well, but Blacknail noticed her give every bandit a brief appraising look. This woman wasn’t helpless.
“Ah, we’re bandits as well, but of a less crude sort. Who’s this Basghus you speak of?” Saeter replied carefully.
The blonde looked weary but replied quickly.
“He’s the big leader of the bandits here,” she stuttered with evident confusion.
She seemed to have disregarded the other bandits and was now focusing on Saeter. She stepped towards him until she was within an easy arm’s reach. Then, she looked up and met his gaze.
“Ah, him. He’s dead, so you don’t need to worry,” Saeter told her as he fidgeted and looked uncomfortable.
“Wha… what are you going to do to me?” Erissa asked.
“Nothing you haven’t been through before I’m sure,” one bandit joked.
Saeter tore his gaze away from Erissa and gave him a brief disapproving look.
“You’re our prisoner for now, but behave yourself and we’ll drop you off at Riverdown,” he told her.
Erissa looked somewhat, but far from completely, relieved at the older man’s words.
“Thank you,” she simpered gratefully as she held the blanket to her chest and Saeter smiled at her.
“Wait a second, I just realized something,” A shorter bandit suddenly blurted out.
“What?” Saeter asked impatiently.
“According to Herad’s rules she goes to whoever found her, but that wasn’t you. Blacknail was the one that found her…” he explained.
Everyone, including the woman, turned to look at the hobgoblin. Startled at all the unexpected attention Blacknail gave them a flat uncomprehending look back.
“Then she’s mine until we find somewhere to get rid of her,” Saeter told everyone.
“Um, how do you know Blacknail doesn’t want her? I mean, there are stories about hobgoblins and women who get lost in the woods,” another bandit asked.
Erissa suddenly looked terrified. She took another step towards Saeter until she was practically pressed against him. Blacknail’s master reached over and smacked the bandit that has just spoken across the side of the head.
“You’re definitely not a farm boy, or you’d know why those are tall tales. I’m not going to explain the birds and the bees to you, but you should know it doesn’t work that way. If it did we would be up to our eyeballs in forest nymphs and frog knights,” Saeter answered him scathingly.
“I was just saying,” the red faced bandit muttered as he massaged the side of his head.
Several of his fellows were smiling or chuckling at his expense. Erissa just looked really relieved, and Blacknail didn’t quite understand what was going on. Did they expect him to eat her?
“She smells bad,” Blacknail said.
Several bandits broke out into laughter. Even Saeter looked amused. The blonde woman’s one eye twitched and she scowled at Blacknail. The hobgoblin was now even more confused. Did the stupid woman want to be eaten? He scowled back at her.
“I’m leaving,” Blacknail muttered as he began to walk away.
There were still places in the camp he hadn’t explored yet, and his master was acting all weird. Being alone right now sounded like a great idea.
Eventually, after the hobgoblin had claimed a few more trophies for himself, the deserters were released. After all their weapons where collected they were allowed to start packing up. Red Dog planned to sleep over at the camp and then head back with the new recruits in the morning.
They set up all their own gear in one corner of the camp and put several men on watch. Both Red Dog and Saeter thought the deserters were sincere in their surrender and desire to join Herad, but neither of them was willing to put themselves at risk to test it either.
As night fell, everyone began to lie up for the night. Several of Red Dog’s men were seated around a fire in the center of their encampment. A pale waxing moon had risen in the sky. Every once and a while a pale cloud would float past and hide it from view.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve had army rations,” one of the men around the fire told his companions.
“Me too. I didn’t miss them,” another replied with a scowl of distaste.
Blacknail was sitting in the shadows, and observing them. He could have joined them but didn’t feel like it. He was in a foul mood. His master had retired to his tent along with the stupid blond woman.
At first they had talked for awhile and Saeter had acted all weird. Now, Blacknail could hear them mating and it was disgusting. Mating among goblins was simple. A female went into heat and then the last male standing got to claim her. All the weird talking they were doing was disturbing.
“Forget about the food. What I want is chance with that bountiful blonde we picked up today!” a taller black haired bandit interjected.
“Ha, good luck with that. By Herad’s rules she belongs to Saeter. He was the second to find her, even if you don’t count Blacknail as the first. No way is he going to give her up now. She’s got her hooks into him good,” the sole female bandit in the group responded.
“Grr, why him? He’s an old crusty bastard,” the taller bandit asked.
“Ha, he may not normally seem like it these days, but Saeter used to be a famous lady killer. He was a regular master of seduction,” a shorter bandit told him.
“Besides, he was clearly in charge and Blondie could see it. She’s not stupid and obviously knows what’s what,” the outlaw woman added.
“Ya, I have a hard time seeing Saeter as a lady killer,” someone else replied.
“I don’t know, if he were a dozen years younger, and didn’t scowl so much, I think he would be fairly handsome. He’s certainly got the tall, dark, and handsome thing down,” the woman mused.
“Well, damn that bastard anyway, and his stupid pet too. We’re supposed to be bandits, not gentleman bloody thieves. He could at least share!” the taller bandit exclaimed.
He stopped ranting suddenly when he noticed everyone else at the fire was staring slightly behind him. He froze then grimaced regretfully.
“Saeter’s behind me isn’t he,” the man groaned.
“It’s worse than that,” the man to his left told him.
As if on cue, Blacknail leaned down over the short man’s shoulder and glared at him. The bandit froze. Their eyes remained locked for a few seconds, as Blacknail reached down and took the man’s plate of food from his hand.
He stared hard into the other man eyes as if challenging him to say something about it. The man didn’t so much as breathe. Smugly, the hobgoblin then walked back over to the shadows and started eating. A chorus of quiet chuckles broke out behind him. Blacknail felt a little better now.
As he was eating he saw Red Dog emerge from his tent. He walked over to the fire and started talking quietly to one of the men beside the fire. The man responded and then got up and walked away from the fire and out into the darkness. He was headed across the camp to where the deserters were.
Blacknail watched with interest. What was Red Dog doing? The bandit lieutenant was now just standing beside the fire and waiting. The hobgoblin stared out into the darkness that encircled them for any sign of activity. A few minutes later, a sudden clanging noise off in the night drew his attention.
Then, without warning, Blacknail was blinded by a searing white light. It flashed into existence across the camp and illuminated the entire area. Its radiance poured over Blacknail, and he hissed in distress as he tried to shield his eyes from the light that burned them.
What was this unnatural light? It was unlike anything he had ever seen! Sounds of surprise and confusion rung out from the bandit camp. Alarmed, the hobgoblin rolled behind the crate he was sitting on and sheltered in the shadows behind it.
From his hiding spot he heard the sound of approaching footsteps. Still somewhat blinded by the white afterimages that filled his eye sight, a nervous Blacknail drew his dagger. Just what was going on?