“No, I don’t want to,” Blacknail whined.
“Seriously, don’t make me get down there and drag you out,” Blacknail’s master added.
The goblin sniffled miserably and groaned in pain and humiliation. Herad’s lessons had gone on for hours! She’d beat him black and blue, and then purple and green. It had been so much worse than even his first lesson with Saeter.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Saeter mumbled to himself.
The old scout crossed his arms and scowled in annoyance, as he glanced around the room. There was no one around to see his expression though, so a few seconds later he sighed in defeat and turned back to where the hobgoblin was hiding.
“What are you doing? You can’t be all that scared of Herad,” Saeter asked.
Blacknail stifled another whimper. Getting beaten up by the chief had crushed his ego into pulp. Why did she hate him so much? He’d thought he was the chief’s favorite! He’d killed her enemies for her and everything.
There was no way he was ever going to show his face in public ever again. He’d just never leave this hiding spot, and slowly fade away.
“The chief hates me, and made me look bad in front of you,” Blacknail whined in response.
Saeter sighed again, and then looked thoughtful.
“She doesn’t hate you, Blacknail. That’s just how Herad is. No matter how much she acts like it sometimes, she isn’t a hobgoblin. She wasn’t punishing you, in fact in her own weird way she was actually helping you out,” he explained, while managing to keep a straight face.
“Really? ” Blacknail asked hopefully.
“Yep, do you know how many men, er people, she’s ever agreed to train personally?” Saeter asked.
“No,” Blacknail replied.
“None, which means you really are her favorite. Now come out from under there, and I’ll buy you all the meat pies you can eat,” Saeter offered reluctantly.
Blacknail’s ears perked up. Now that his master had mentioned food, the hobgoblin realized that he was hungry. He hadn’t had breakfast yet, and meat pies sounded like just the thing. Blacknail reluctantly got up and crawled out from under his bed.
It had been getting kind of stuffy under there anyway.
“Fine, let’s go eat. I want some cheese,” he told his master.
“I offered meat pies, so if you want cheese you’ll have to get it yourself,” Saeter replied.
“Fine-ss, I know a place I can take some from, anyway,” Blacknail muttered.
“You know you have money, right? You could just buy some bloody cheese; you don’t have to steal it,” his master pointed out.
The hobgoblin gave Saeter an uncomprehending look. What was this now?
“Buying means taking, doesn’t it?” he asked in confusion.
“No, it doesn’t; buying means trading. Humans trade money for other things they want. It’s why we get paid, and want coins,” Saeter explained.
That was stupid! Why would Blacknail give his shiny coins away, when everything he wanted was just lying around?
“Why not just pick up the things you want-ss?” he asked his master.
Saeter gave the hobgoblin a questioning look. Blacknail returned it.
“Because you can’t steal everything you want, and it’s often a lot more work than just buying stuff,” Saeter answered gruffly.
Who said anything about stealing? Blacknail wasn’t a thief. His master sure got confused sometimes. Good thing he had Blacknail around to help him out!
“But I like my coins. I want-ss to keep them,” the hobgoblin explained.
“Ha, you don’t even use them for anything! In fact, you lose half of them,” Saeter replied.
Blacknail hissed in annoyance. That wasn’t true at all; he didn’t lose them. He just put them somewhere safe and hidden, and then forgot about them… Okay, he kind of lost them.
“When we get to the market I’ll show you how to buy stuff. In fact, we won’t be coming back until you purchase some stuff for yourself. Think of it as a skill I’m teaching you,” Saeter told him.
Together, the two of them headed out of Herad’s compound and towards the market. As usual the city was bustling with life, and the streets were full of people. Merchants were calling out to customers from their colorful stalls, and their wares were piled up in front of them.
Saeter went over to one, and after a brief exchange with its owner he walked away with several delicious smelling meat pies. He handed them to Blacknail, and then grimaced in disgust as the hobgoblin inhaled them down within seconds.
“Thanks, master,” Blacknail told him, right before burping.
“Slow down, you don’t need to eat so quickly, or while I’m looking. Anyway, now it’s time for you to buy some stuff, so we’re going to wander around until you find something you like,” he told the hobgoblin.
Blacknail sighed, and tried to think up some excuse to keep his coins. He couldn’t think of anything though, so he reluctantly nodded his assent. He still thought it would be much smarter to just take something no one else was using…
“Where’s the cheese?” he asked Saeter.
Several minutes later, after some bargaining with a confused, and more than slightly frightened, shop keeper the two of them headed back to base. As he walked Blacknail was twitching with anticipation and hugging a huge wheel of stinking cheese to his chest, while trying to resist the powerful urge to immediately bite into it. He wanted to taste it so bad!
“You’re so tasty and delicious. I will hide you away in my room, and eat you for days,” Blacknail told the cheese.
This caused Saeter to give him a concerned look.
“You’re not taking that back to your room. It would stink up the entire floor,” Saeter told him.
Blacknail wasn’t sure why that was something people would complain about. The cheese smelled great to him, almost like meat that had spoiled only the tinniest bit. The hobgoblin licked his lips in anticipation.
Blacknail tore his gaze away from the tasty treat he was holding in order to see where he was going. As he was looking around his eyes wandered across a nearby stall, and the false faces it was selling.
The merchant that was running the small shop didn’t seem to be doing a lot of business, but the occasional person stopped to take a look at his wares. His booth was covered in wooden carvings, including several of the masks that had caught the hobgoblin’s attention. Most intriguingly, like Blacknail the shopkeeper wore a long hooded cloak that concealed his features.
Blacknail knew the merchant wasn’t a hobgoblin though, because he was large even for a human. He also would have noticed the smell of another hobgoblin immediately if there was one so close by, and the idea of a one selling wooden carvings was just silly.
However, the hobgoblin really liked the look of some of the work, so he wandered over. Most the little statues were of animals, but a few were of people going about their everyday business. Blacknail didn’t see one of someone being mugged though, which was a pretty common part of life in Daggerpoint.
The cloaked man looked up as Blacknail approached, yet remained silent as the hobgoblin examined his wares. Blacknail was most interested in the masks; he liked how fierce they looked. One was of a snarling wolf, and another beaked mask bore the image of a tyrant turtle. The turtle one was so life-like that Blacknail hesitated to pick it up; he was afraid it would bite him.
Saeter walked up beside him and examined one of the small figures. It was perfectly crafted statue of a harpy in flight. He stared at it for a few seconds before saying anything.
“This doesn’t look like normal wood to me,” he whispered as he turned to look at the seller.
“You are a craftsman yourself, then?” the other man asked.
The merchant’s voice was smooth and clear, so much so that its uniqueness drew Blacknail’s attention. He couldn’t make out any of the man’s features though. His clothing concealed everything. Blacknail tried sniffing the air for his scent, but could only smell the wooden figurines. They reminded him of something…
“I dabble in wood carving sometimes, yes. Nothing like this, though,” Saeter told the man respectfully.
Blacknail’s master was gazing at the man inquisitively, and seemed off guard. His posture was tight and his eyes were slightly wide, as if something had startled him.
“Indeed, you obviously know something of my work. I hadn’t expected to find anyone here with such knowledge,” the cloaked man replied slowly.
Blacknail shuffled over a bit and bent down to examine another figurine. Then, when he thought no one was looking he tried to look up into the man’s hood. He ended up disappointed though, because all he managed to glimpse were the edges of a wooden mask, like the ones on sale.
The merchant turned to Blacknail, and the hobgoblin quickly looked away. If the other man was going to conceal his face, Blacknail sure wasn’t going to let him see his! Wearing clothing like that was kind of rude.
“And you travel in very interesting company, forest walker,” the large robed shopkeeper said.
Saeter stiffened, but then nodded reluctantly.
“I want a mask too. I like the turtle,” Blacknail interjected as he waved a hand in front of the merchant’s face.
This man sure was slow. The other shopkeeper had practically shoved his goods into Blacknail’s hands.
Saeter winced at the hobgoblin’s behavior, and reached over to grab his shoulder. He was interrupted though, when the shop keeper stood up.
“Then you shall have one, but not of a turtle. I have something more fitting for you,” he replied as he reached under his stall.
A second later the shopkeeper pulled out several items. First, he handed Blacknail a new mask that was different from the ones on display, and then he set two long poles on the stand in front of him.
Blacknail stared at the mask for a second. He wasn’t sure what it was supposed to be. It most resembled a smiling human, but the proportions were all wrong. He liked it though. It was intimidating in its own way, and the mask looked like it was having fun.
“What’s it supposed to be?” he asked.
“The spirit of hunger,” the man explained.
The shopkeeper than turned to Saeter and handed him the two poles. Saeter’s eyes widened in surprise when he got a good look at them.
“These are bow staves. I didn’t think you made those,” he replied in shock.
“Ignorance is the root of knowledge. Everything grows, or it dies. Remember that,” the cloaked merchant replied.
Saeter nodded and then reached into his money pouch to withdraw a gold coin, which he handed to the man. The man took it and nodded in thanks before sitting back down, and turning away from both his customers to watch his surroundings. It was clearly a dismissal, and Blacknail found it more than a little rude. No wonder the man had so few customers; he was kind of a jerk.
Blacknail wasn’t sure if he wanted this mask; he liked it, but the turtle was also pretty frightening. He reached over to pick the turtle mask up again, but Saeter grabbed his arm and pulled him away.
“Hey, I’m not done buying stuff!” Blacknail exclaimed.
“You’re done now; we need to get back,” Saeter told him as he dragged the hobgoblin down the street.
Blacknail frowned in annoyance, but followed his master.
It didn’t take them long to get back to Herad’s base. Blacknail got more than few stares from the other bandits as he carried his massive wheel of cheese inside.
“Just put the cheese in that cupboard,” Saeter told the hobgoblin as they entered the main building.
“What if someone steals it? I need to hide-ss it somewhere close, were no one will look. I need to watch-ss over it always, it’s mine!” Blacknail argued in concern, as he hugged it close.
“No one is going to steal it; it’s a huge lump of foul smelling cheese,” Saeter replied in exasperation.
“Exactly!” Blacknail exclaimed, as he gave one of the bandits walking past them a suspicious glare.
There was no way he was going to leave his precious treat where other people could steal it. Humans were all thieves…
Just then Khita appeared from around the corner and saw them.
“Herad’s looking for you two, and I wouldn’t keep her waiting,” she told them.
“Oh, why?” Saeter asked curiously, while Blacknail tried to hide behind the huge snack he was carrying.
The hobgoblin wanted to meet with Herad right now about as much as he wanted to try and swallow his sword. He shivered shamefully at the very thought of talking to her again. He still hadn’t completely gotten over the humiliation of their last meeting.
“I think she wants to train with Blacknail again. I can’t believe he’s being taught by Herad personally. I’m just so jealous of him! I bet she’s a much better teacher than Vorscha; all she does is tell me to do drills,” Khita complained bitterly.
Blacknail glared maliciously at Khita. She was such a foolish human; Blacknail would gladly let her take his place. There was no way he could face Herad right now. The very thought made him queasy and gaseous.
“Well...” Saeter responded.
He probably would have said more, but he was interrupted. There was a wet thud as a large wheel of cheese hit the floor. Saeter whirled around just in time to catch Blacknail before the hobgoblin could make a run for it.
“You’ll be fine, except for all the bruises,” he told Blacknail reassuringly.
The hobgoblin didn’t believe him. He whined as he tried to pull away, but Saeter kept a solid grip on him. Briefly, Blacknail considered cutting his own arm off, so he could escape.
“The boss is up in her room,” Khita told them, as she stared in confusion at Blacknail’s response.
“Right,” Saeter grunted.
He then dragged the whimpering hobgoblin up the stairs and to Herad’s chamber.
“Now, don’t be a bloody coward!” Saeter hissed as he shoved Blacknail through her door.
Herad looked up from her desk as the two of them entered. Blacknail smiled nervously as he fought down his panic, and Saeter gave her a respectful nod.
“Ah, I was just looking for you two,” she told them, said as she looked back down and scribbled something across a piece of paper in front of her.
“Well, here we are. What do you need?” Saeter responded.
“Galive has become a thorn in my side. He’s taken over a lot of Fang’s gang, and is obviously under Zelena’s thumb. All those men make him the biggest threat to me right now, and I would prefer not to have to fight him directly,” Herad explained.
“What would you like us to do about it?” Saeter asked.
“I need him dead,” Herad said, before dropping her pen and looking up at them.
“Sure,” Blacknail answered happily.
He grinned happily at Herad, and his earlier queasiness disappeared. This was much better than another round of training. He’d rather fight the entire city than go through that again.
“He’s not ready,” Saeter responded sternly.
“Oh relax, Saeter. You’re like an old mother hen fussing over its chicks. The hobgoblin can take care of himself. It’s not like I’m throwing him away without preparation. I wouldn’t risk such a useful asset, if I didn’t think he could succeed,” Herad said with a dangerous grin.
“You’re asking him to try and fight a Vessel with a small army of killers at his disposal,” Saeter told her.
“No, I’m not asking. Now let’s go over the details,” she responded coldly.
Blacknail sighed, and took a step away from Saeter. His master really needed to stop trying to argue with the chieftain. That never worked.
“Now, I can’t have my favorite assassin going out unprepared, or anyone learning his true identity. So, I had some gear prepared for you,” Herad explained as she gave the hobgoblin a comradely smile.
Blacknail straightened up proudly at Herad’s words. So he was her favorite after all! He felt all giddy inside. He’d show her that he deserved such an honor.
Herad picked up a small sack from her desk and handed it to Saeter. The old scout reached inside and withdrew a glass vial of Elixir, which he then passed to the goblin. Next, he pulled out a large roll of bandages.
“To hide his skin, it’s rather distinctive,” Herad explained as Saeter gave it a dubious look.
“If you’re worried about people figuring out he’s a hobgoblin then I guess he could use the mask he just got as well,” Saeter remarked.
Blacknail thought that was a great idea. He reached into his cloak, and then held the wooden mask up in front of his face. Herad stared at its stretched features and the intricate patterns of lines that decorated it.
“That’s an interesting mask. Where did you get it?” she asked curiously.
“I bought-ss it, with money,” Blacknail replied cheerfully.
Saeter hesitated before responding. He looked like he couldn’t decide what to say.
“From a stall at the market,” he explained after a second.
Herad eyed him doubtfully, but chose not to pry. She turned away from the old scout and looked at Blacknail instead.
“Now he looks like a real assassin, and one worthy of being in my service,” Herad observed with a vicious grin.
“He’s still not ready,” Saeter muttered.
“Well, one of you is going to do it. So decide amongst yourselves, because I don’t really care. Now get out of here, and I don’t want to see either of you until the job is done,” Herad told them with an annoyed scowl.
Saeter marched out of the room. Blacknail followed him out.
“I want to do it, you can stay-ss here,” Blacknail told his master as they walked through the hallway.
“We’re both going to do it. I’m not letting you mess this up!” Saeter responded as he ground his teeth in frustration.
That sounded like even more fun than going alone! With both of them working together, and his new but foul tasting Elixir, this job was going to be too easy! Blacknail grinned in anticipation, and his smile matched that of the mask exactly.