The morning sunlight shone down gently on Blacknail as he jogged. He’d been very busy yesterday. The hobgoblin had been so busy he hadn’t even had time to hunt. Instead he’d made the goblins he’d been staying with bring him food and water, while he was busying.
A satisfied grin was plastered across his face as he headed down the road, and he was feeling quite cheerful. This was despite the fact that he had no idea where he was going or what he was going to do when he got there. It sure was a nice day out though!
Herad and her men’s trail had long since faded, and it wasn’t like he could stop and ask for directions either. His clothes had been torn apart by his recent scuffles and didn’t serve as much of a disguise anymore. Unless he was trying to disguise himself as a hobgoblin wearing rags.
This left him with two options. Turn back towards camp and hang out with Red Dog, or continue on down the road and hope it led him to Herad before winter came. He chose the latter. Red Dog was no fun, and he was pretty sure that if he just followed the sound of screams that Herad would be close by. She was funny like that.
Whenever Blacknail heard or saw someone approaching he would slip into the woods and hide among the trees. He didn’t want to draw any attention to himself or get delayed any more than he already had been.
It wasn’t like the passing humans had anything he wanted anyway. He hadn’t wasted the time he had spent recuperating with the goblin tribe. His backpack was stuffed full of fresh supplies. Before leaving them he had had smoked quite a few strips of meat and collected several handfuls of nuts and berries.
This meant he wouldn’t need to stop to restock for quite awhile, and could thus keep moving the entire day. Hopefully, that would help him make up for some of the time he had lost.
The forest on both sides of the road was full of birdsong and the occasional sound of creatures scurrying through the underbrush. The trees were mostly the triangular needle covered kind instead of the ones with leaves. The ground itself was uneven and rocky. It had only the thinnest amount of soil on it and large sections of stone were exposed.
As Blacknail jogged around the next corner he was presented with a rather serious problem.
“Harpy teeth-ss and damnation!” he growled angrily as he took in the sight before him.
The road forked; it split in two and both parts went in completely different directions. Blacknail had no idea which one he was supposed to go down. He tried to find some sign or scent of his tribe’s passing, but was unsurprised when he discovered nothing.
As he circled the crossroads for what must have been the tenth time he suddenly detected a noise. It sounded a lot like heavy footsteps, especially those of horses. Quickly, Blacknail slipped into the nearby bushes before he could be seen.
As he watched from his hiding place a group of humans came down the road. There were about three dozen of them and they all wore heavy packs. Their clothing was more than a little faded but it still seemed oddly colorful to Blacknail. Red and blue of various shades decorated their outfits.
Among their number there were three men and two women on horseback. Blacknail could already smell the foul beasts, the horses not the men. Their mounts also seemed to be carrying a lot of baggage. He had seen their like before on missions for Herad. These humans were traders.
When they got to the fork in the road they started heading South the way Blacknail had just come from. The hobgoblin eyed them carefully. They seemed to know where they were going. Perhaps he could somehow arrange to get this useful bit of information from them?
The hobgoblin waited until they had passed him by, and then began to stalk after them. It wasn’t hard since they weren’t exactly moving quickly, or being all that observant. Blacknail easily slipped through the bushes behind them unseen. Seriously what was up with their colorful clothing?
None of the human merchants seemed too dangerous, but there were way too many of them for Blacknail to overcome alone. In broad daylight his torn up clothes wouldn’t disguise him so approaching them was also out.
That left him with only one option. He had to somehow get one of them away from the rest of the herd. That way he could get some answers out of them. How could he do that though? Humans such as these tended to stick together.
The hobgoblin picked up speed and moved up ahead of the traders. A plan was starting to form in his head. When you baited animals you used food. So what did humans value instead of food? The answer was shiny coins, and Blacknail had some of those.
Once he was a fair bit ahead of the human party the grinning hobgoblin broke from cover. He raced to the edge of the road and placed his open coin pouch beside a patch of thick bushes. He then hid himself nearby, and smiled eagerly in anticipation as he waited for someone to fall into his clever trap.
It didn’t happen. The stupid bloody humans were obviously blind because not one of them noticed the pouch. Not a single one of them! After they had all passed by, the grumbling hobgoblin emerged from hiding and started running ahead of the humans so he could try again.
This time Blacknail placed the pouch somewhere more obvious, and scattered a few coins around it decoratively. Then, after a second of thought he tied the pouch to a bit of string. That way he could draw his prey in even closer.
With his trap set the hobgoblin once again hid himself nearby and waited. A human had better notice the pouch this time or he was going to get really mad!
As the travelling merchants were passing him by for the second time a man at the back of the group happened to glance in the right direction. His eyes went wide in surprise as he noticed the pouch, but then he quickly looked away. Nonchalantly, the man began to slow his pace and fall to the back of the group.
Blacknail smiled excitedly from his hiding spot; that was perfect! Some suitable prey had noticed the bait.
Once the rest of the merchants had moved past the coin sack the man hurriedly walked off the road and towards the pouch. With a wary glance back over his shoulder to make sure none of the other merchants were looking in his direction the man made his way over to the bushes. He then smiled greedily as he reached down to pick up the unexpected windfall.
Right before he could pick it up however the pouch seemed to slide deeper into the shrubs. The man frowned and took a step after it. Then he froze as his eyes went wide in realization. Coin pouches didn’t usually move themselves.
It was however much too late for him. Off to one side Blacknail suddenly lunged from out of the bushes. Before his prey could even blink the hobgoblin was behind him with a dagger pressed firmly against his throat.
“Don’t-ss fight or talk-ss,” Blacknail whispered as he pulled the terrified man into the bushes and completely out of sight of anyone on the road.
“What… oh gods, you’re not human,” the man whispered with obvious terror as he visibly paled.
“Stupid man-ss, that’s obvious. I ask will ask-ss questions here, not you,” Blacknail replied viciously as he pushed the now shaking man into the woods.
Once they had gone a few feet further in Blacknail stopped and looked the trader directly in the eyes. The man flinched and whimpered. Blacknail had to fight a sudden urge to smack some sense into his prisoner. Then he had to fight the urge to stab him.
“Which way is Daggerpoint?” the hobgoblin asked the man as he pulled the knife tighter.
“What, you can talk?” the stunned man replied.
Blacknail sighed. Why was this man so stupid? With his free hand Blacknail grabbed the man’s shoulder and squeezed until his sharp nails drew blood. His prisoner whimpered in pain before gasping.
“Still obvious, answer-ss my question!” Blacknail growled.
“It’s North! Daggerpoint is North of here,” the man whimpered.
“Again, that’s obvious. Back the way-ss you came, which road would you take?” the hobgoblin asked scornfully.
“Uh, the left! It’s the left road,” was the trader’s frantic reply.
Blacknail considered this answer for a second. How did he know the man wasn’t lying?
“I’m going to tie you up, and go-ss capture another human. If he says different from you-ss then you will both die,” Blacknail explained untruthfully. That would be way too much work.
“It’s left I swear!” the man repeated.
Blacknail thought he was probably telling the truth. The whimpering man was obviously a coward and he had no reason to lie anyway.
“Take off your clothes then lay face down on the ground,” Blacknail commanded as he took a step back and drew his sword.
The man just stood there for a second with a startled expression, but when Blacknail waved his sword at him he immediately began getting undressed.
When the whimpering man was naked and laying on his stomach, Blacknail picked up his clothes and addressed him.
“Look up and I stab you,” Blacknail warned him.
Then the hobgoblin immediately began creeping silently away. After he was a fair distance away he broke out into a run. Honestly, he had really wanted to stab the dumb human, but it would have broken Herad’s rules.
The man was a merchant, and he had been told to rob but not kill them. That way he could rob them again later. That made perfect sense to Blacknail. That human merchant had been so stupid he could probably rob him several more times the same way.
In fact, Blacknail was already considering several ways to improve his human trap. He could place the pouch over a covered pit. That would mean a lot of digging though. Oh, he could place it beside a giant snare like the one Saeter had used on him! No, that would be way too noisy. He obviously needed to knock them unconscious somehow…
With a new set of clothes and another pouch of shiny human bait to add to his own Blacknail headed towards the left fork in the road. He was relieved that he had managed to get back on his tribe’s trail without too much of a problem. It had even been more than a little fun. He was certainly a genius among hobgoblins!
A few hours later after heading down the left road he had to stop again. He had arrived at yet another crossroads. He growled in frustration. How many bloody roads did humans need? He probably should have asked the man about the entire way to Daggerpoint…
Blacknail spent quite a while circling the area futilely. The time he was wasting frustrated him, and he began to growl and hiss to himself. He couldn’t just choose a path and follow it though, he could end up anywhere. He had no choice but to wait for someone to come by, hopefully before tomorrow.
It grew dark before any other travelers appeared, but much to Blacknail’s relief eventually some did. Disguised by the darkness and his new outfit Blacknail was able to simply approach this group and ask directions.
The humans turned out to be a pair of hunters returning to their camp. When he asked them directions they were more than happy to help him out, but they warned him Daggerpoint was a vile den of thieves and murderers. For his own good they didn’t want to tell him how to get there.
After a brief conversation he managed to convince them though. He told them he needed to find some of his tribe, or family as human’s called it, who had headed there and who needed his protection. Khita was likely dragging Saeter into danger right this moment. What would they do without him to look out for them?
The huntsmen thus gave him detailed instructions on how to get to Daggerpoint, and wished him luck in finding his family. Their instructions were rather long. Apparently, there were more than a few crossroads between the hobgoblin and the city. The world sure was a large place.
After a heartfelt thanks and friendly wave goodbye to the two helpful men Blacknail wandered off to find somewhere to hole up for the night. The huntsman had offered to let him camp with them, but Blacknail hadn’t thought that would be a good idea. They seemed far more observant than the last pair of humans he had spent the night with, and also more dangerous.
The hobgoblin eventually found a good hollow tree to sleep in, and drifted off. The next morning he was up and on his way to Daggerpoint. The hobgoblin travelled that way for several days, and actually made fairly good time. The mountains in the distance grew larger and larger as he followed the road North.
Then at last the hobgoblin arrived outside the city of Daggerpoint, or at least he hoped it was Daggerpoint. He didn’t see any actual dagger, with or without a point.
Blacknail stood upon a hill that looked down at the valley below.
The city stretched out through the valley below him. It was an ugly place and noticeably smaller than most the other cities Blacknail had seen before. Both the city he had grown up in and Riverdown had been much bigger. Of course he had only seen Riverdown from a distance.
Other than that, the first thing he noticed about the city was that they used a lot of wood, forests worth of the stuff. The wall that encircled the city was made completely from lumber and practically every building he could see was as well. The stone most other cities used to make buildings was almost nowhere to be seen.
Near the center of the settlement there was one large fancy looking house that stood on the largest hill in the area. It was much larger than any of the other buildings, and stood entirely alone. At the base of the hill was what looked like some sort of fence, and the only greenery in the entire city lay within it.
Blacknail thought the large house would be a good place to look for Herad. She always took the largest building as her own whenever she moved somewhere.
All the other homes and other structures seemed to be placed haphazardly. Blacknail couldn’t see a single straight road that lasted more than a few hundred feet. Everything seemed randomly placed and hastily built.
All this combined to make Blacknail think the entire place could be set aflame by one well placed fire, he was even briefly tempted to try it. He should probably find Herad and Saeter first though. The fun stuff would have to wait until later.
The hobgoblin scanned the city walls as he looked for a way in. The road he was on ran down the hill and through a gate in the wall. Two men stood outside the gate and briefly looked over everyone who entered. They didn’t appear to be checking everyone too carefully or going through their stuff.
Blacknail briefly considered just walking through, but decided not to risk it. It wasn’t like he would be able to casually walk the streets during the day anyway. He would instead just wait for night and scale the walls. They didn’t seem very hobgoblin proof, but then again few things were.
Blacknail sat down to relax as he snacked and watched the city from his hillside lookout. He could be patient when the reward was great enough. Several hours passed and the sky above him darkened.
For awhile light shone out of most the buildings in the city, but soon most of them died until only a few remained and the valley grew dark. The hobgoblin looked on as the city gates were closed and the guards withdrew.
The night air was crisp and the moon was high in the sky when Blacknail finally descended the hill and approached the walls. As he strolled along their lengths he ran his fingers over their rough dry exterior, and then he smiled as his claws found purchase in the timbers.
He continued walking though until he found a spot where the other side of the barrier was both dark and silent. Then, with an eager smile he dug his nails into the wood and began to climb. His lean but muscled body made it hardly any effort at all.
Soon, the hobgoblin was perched atop the wall. His cloak rippled in the wind as the breeze blew in from over the dark forest behind him. He looked down to see several squat ramshackle buildings separated by a dark alley. Beyond them stretched a seemingly endless maze of wood and stone.
Despite its rundown appearance even at night the city was alive with noise. Off in the distance he heard a chorus comprised of the clatter of footsteps and human voices raised in both fear and joy. As he listened a shriek of pain filled the air from only a few streets away.
It sure sounded like the people inside were having a lot of fun. The hobgoblin couldn’t wait to join in.
Blacknail smiled as he began to climb down into the alley. He was very glad he had made the journey North and not stayed in the camp. This place seemed like it was going to be a very enjoyable place to visit. There were so many wonderful treats just waiting to be plucked and trapped here. It made him feel all tingly inside just thinking about it.
He reached the ground and began walking out towards the street. The alley around him was piled high with refuse, but he didn’t mind. Ahead of him flashes of warm light could be seen as doors and shutters were opened and closed off in the distance.
The hobgoblin scanned the nearby buildings. Several of them seemed in bad repair and probably abandoned. Humans sure liked abandoning buildings. Well, it made it easy for him to find somewhere safe to sleep though.
Blacknail laughed at the very idea of someone finding him in this twisted wooden human hive. It would be like trying to search for a single mimic in an entire forest, and just as dangerous for the searchers.
Also, unlike out in the forest there were no dangerous beasts here. The wooden wall and the thick human stench behind it kept them out. In this city there were just blind, deaf, and stupid humans. Blacknail chuckled darkly in amusement.
Well, there had been no dangerous beasts in the city. Now there was him.