A huge rectangular stone building rose before them. Its walls were straight and decorated with intricate carvings of people and animals. Stone pillars several times taller than a man surrounded the building. They supported a wide peaked roof, which extended past the walls. At one point it looked like there had been statues between the pillars as well, but all that remained of them now were ruins and rubble.
Saeter’s arms were crossed in front of him, and he scowled in disgust as he looked it over.
“A few years ago, Galive appointed himself a priest of Cor-Dius. I’ve met few people in my life less priest-like than him, even by the shadow god’s lax standards. It’s hard to argue against a man with a small army though. Anyway, every priest needs a temple so Galive commandeered this one. He’ll be in there somewhere, all we have to do is find him,” the grey haired scout told the hobgoblin.
Blacknail nodded sagely as he considered Saeter’s words. Before leaving Herad’s lair, the hobgoblin had donned his new and improved disguise. Under his usual hood his face was covered by the wooden mask, and his skin was wrapped in bandages that concealed its color.
What’s a priest?” he asked a few seconds later with obvious confusion.
Whenever the hobgoblin thought he’d learned all the humans’ words, they came up with new ones. Saeter let out a frustrated sigh before responding.
“Someone who thinks they can talk to the gods,” Saeter explained
“Everyone can talk to spirits. You do all the time, like after you had that fight with Red Dog, and you asked them to make a spine toad crawl up his butt,” Blacknail pointed out.
“Um, sort of. The thing is priests think the spirits talk back to them,” Saeter replied with a smile.
“Do they?” the hobgoblin asked curiously.
“No, I’ve yet to meet anyone who has heard the voice of a god. If the gods communicate with us then it’s through the world around us. Perhaps, the rustling of the leaves in the wind are their whispers,” Saeter replied seriously, as he looked up at the clear blue sky.
“So, that means that you do think the gods talk to people?” Blacknail asked uncertainly.
Saeter turned towards him and gave him an annoyed glare.
“Shut up, you’re just a hobgoblin; what do you know?” the old scout growled irritably, as he absentmindedly tried to swat Blacknail across the side of his head,
The hobgoblin saw it coming though, and easily ducked out of the way. What had he said to annoy his master? Humans could be so confusing sometimes.
“I’m morbidly curious about what your plan for getting to Galive is,” Saeter asked a few seconds later.
“I have a great plan, and it’s a very nice and tricky one! I’m going to sneak inside his home, wait until no one else is around, and then stab him-ss a whole bunch of times. Maybe I’ll wait-ss until he’s asleep; humans are stupid and like to sleep in the same place at the same time every day,” Blacknail answered excitedly.
“That’s pretty much what I thought,” Saeter grunted disdainfully.
“It’s a perfect plan,” Blacknail responded irritably.
“Sure it is, let’s just work on the details a little,” Saeter told him sarcastically. “For instance, how do you plan to get in? Also, do you even know what Galive looks like?”
Blacknail looked back across the street at the bandit’s lair. It was a large sprawling structure with plenty of places to hide. A small stone wall circled around what had once been the temple’s grounds. Blacknail wouldn’t have any problem scaling it, but doing so would make him very visible to any watchers.
The center portion that used to be a temple was stone, but a large wooden addition had been constructed beside it. Only, a few parts of it had a second floor, and as a result most the windows were small and barred.
It certainly looked to be a larger challenge than Fang’s lair had been, and then he’d known where to go. Blacknail had just sort of assumed it would be obvious which human was Galive, and which room belonged to him. It usually wasn’t that hard to figure out. Couldn’t he just go after the loudest person with the fanciest room?
“I’ll go-ss in a window,” Blacknail told Saeter hesitantly.
Saeter snorted in disbelief and eyed the hobgoblin critically.
“Even if you managed that, how would you find Galive? You have no idea where his room is,” Saeter told the hobgoblin cynically.
“It worked last time,” Blacknail whined.
“It almost didn’t, and you got lucky!” Saeter sternly pointed out.
Blacknail scrunched up his face as he scowled in irritation. He had so not gotten lucky; it had been all skill!
“Do you know a better way?” he asked grumpily.
“I think I just might. It’s like hunting; you have to know your prey,” Saeter remarked, as he gave the hobgoblin a knowing glance.
Several hours later after the sky overhead had grown darker, and evening had set in, Blacknail found himself following Saeter through Galive’s front door. They weren’t alone; dozens of other men and women were all around them. The rhythm and roil of many different conversations surrounded them as they walked calmly into their enemies stronghold.
A dozen men wearing long black cloaks stood guard around the building, one of which looked directly at the pair for a second before turning away. Saeter and Blacknail apparently didn’t stand out.
“Look at those idiots. Thanks the gods Herad doesn’t make us wear a uniform,” Saeter muttered to himself as he walked.
Torches and been placed around the yard and up the walkway that led into the old temple, and their wavering orange light threw back the darkness of the night. Blacknail didn’t like it; he preferred the dark. With all the stone pillars around, the torches cast a host of shifting shadows that was actually harder to see through.
“Why is our prey just letting us, and all-ss these other people, just walk-ss into his home? It’s so stupid!” Blacknail asked his master uncertainly.
The hobgoblin was very confused; was this bandit chieftain suicidal, or was this a trap? It sort of seemed like a trap to him.
“Like I said, Galive thinks he’s a priest. And what’s a priest without a congregation?”
“I dunno, what’s a congregation?” Blacknail whispered back nervously.
Saeter snorted in amusement before responding.
“In this case, it’s a big party. Galive throws a feast every week. Supposedly it’s in Cor-Dius’ honor, but really it’s just so he can show off,” Saeter told the hobgoblin with obvious disapproval.
“Oh!” Blacknail replied excitedly. A feast meant that there would be food!
The pair made their way through the crowd that was entering the building, and then down a wide stone hallway. Blacknail froze as the guards gave them a brief look over, but after seeing that the pair had no obvious weapons they waved them through. A few seconds later Saeter and Blacknail walked into a huge round chamber.
Crude wooden tables and benches filled the center of the floor, and a long counter ran along the far wall. A lot of humans were sitting down, or moving about the room. Quite a few of them were also crowded around the counter to get drinks.
Long simple black tapestries and quite a few lamps hung from the walls, and a raised platform stood in along another of the walls. More black tapestries hung around the stage, and a large bronze statue stood at the back of it. The statue was of a man in a hood, and he was holding a dagger in one hand and a flaming brazier in the other.
Blacknail’s eyes were wide open in surprise as he looked around. The room was actually quite impressive. It didn’t even seem like the inside of a building to him, but more like a large cave.
He wanted one of his own just like it, except he’d replace the statue with an even bigger one of himself! If he killed Galive would Herad let him keep this one? Would the statue look better with him holding a sword or Galive’s severed head?
Saeter saw Blacknail staring off into the distance, and whacked him across the back of the head to get his attention.
“Just stay close to me and don’t make a scene. For now we just have to wait,” Saeter told Blacknail, as they pushed their way towards a relatively empty corner of the room.
Up against the wall was an unused wooden bench. Saeter took a seat along its length, as far from anyone else as possible, and Blacknail sat down beside him. The old scout then leaned forward and scanned the throng of people around them.
“We’ll just stay here until Galive shows himself…” Saeter told Blacknail, or he would have if the hobgoblin had still been there.
Blacknail had smelled something delicious, and wandered off to find it.
“Bloody damnation,” the hobgoblin heard Saeter swear, as he slipped through the crowds and out of sight of his master.
Blacknail’s stomach was grumbling and there was no way he was going to pass up an opportunity to fill it. Besides, there was really no reason for him to stay there, and he’d get back to his master in just a few minutes anyway.
As he weaved through the crowds, the hobgoblin observed the people around him. He made sure to avoid walking into the direct line of sight of anyone who looked threatening, and he also kept an eye out for conveniently unattended food.
Almost all the humans had drinks, but most of the ones with food were sitting down. Blacknail wanted nothing to do with the crazy human liquid that made them even crazier, but he definitely wanted something to eat. It would be hard to sneak food from the people sitting down though; they were kind of eating it…
He also couldn’t take food from the people walking around with it. It was busy enough in the hall that people were watching where they were going, and making sure they didn’t drop their food if they bumped into someone.
So Blacknail decided to head towards the smell of cooking meat, that was where the freshest morsels would be anyway. After sniffing and looking around for a few seconds, he noticed that most the humans were getting their food from a man behind a counter. Blacknail headed that way.
How would he get the food, though? It seemed to be kept out of sight until someone arrived to take it. The other men behind the counter were probably making it…
After giving it some thought, Blacknail decided to simply wander over to the counter, and loiter around until an opportunity presented itself. The drooling hobgoblin thus casually walked over to it and leaned against the counter in a totally unremarkable manner.
Now he just had to wait, and the tasty smelling meat would be his. Yep, he was just another human doing stupid human things. There was absolutely no reason to look his way!
Much to the hobgoblin’s alarm his plan almost immediately went wrong. The man behind the counter noticed his approach and turned his way. He gave Blacknail a frown as he looked him over.
“Well?” the man grunted.
Blacknail flinched and panicked at the unexpected question. What had he done wrong, and what did the human want? He didn’t understand!
“I’m human,” he blurted out, before cringing at his own stupidity.
“What? It’s three copper for chicken and bread, and it’s four for pork. Ale is extra. What do you want?” the bearded man asked Blacknail.
The hobgoblin stared blankly at the speaker in surprise. Right… he could just buy the food. That made things simpler.
“Chicken,” Blacknail responded, as he leaned back and attempted to look calm and collected.
A few seconds later the plate of food was placed in front of him, and Blacknail gave the nice man three coppers. It wasn’t his money though; he’d somehow acquired it from someone’s pocket on the way over.
The roast chicken smelled so nice, and its flesh looked soft and juicy. Blacknail wanted to start eating it right away, but he couldn’t until he took off his mask. With a frustrated sigh he wandered back over to where Saeter was sitting.
“Where in all the hells have you been, and where’d you get the grub?” Saeter asked angrily as the hobgoblin approached.
“I bought some food, I was hungry, and I stayed out of trouble,” Blacknail replied smugly, as he took off his mask and chewed a bird leg.
Saeter stared at him for a few seconds; he didn’t seem to know what to say.
“Bah, whatever. Just don’t wander off again. We have a mission,” he told the hobgoblin.
“I have food now-ss anyway,” Blacknail replied without concern.
“You sure have been getting uppity lately. Remind me to schedule you more sword practice,” Saeter told the hobgoblin.
Blacknail opened his mouth to reply, but froze when the atmosphere around him suddenly changed. The formerly loud and wild sounding room had grown completely quiet. The unnatural suddenness of it unnerved him, and he hissed in alarm as he looked up.
“And here’s the man himself; that’s Galive,” Saeter remarked calmly.
The steady and sure sound of his master’s voice reassured Blacknail somewhat. The hobgoblin swiftly found the source of the disturbance as he looked around the temple antechamber.
Everyone was now facing the same direction and focused on the same thing. A man had walked out onto the raised stage across the room, and he was the center of attention. This new arrival was alone on the platform, but quite a few of the black cloaked men ringed the stage and kept people away from him.
Blacknail instantly knew that this had to be Galive. Not only did he have an air of authority, but the warriors were clearly protecting him.
Herad’s enemy was tall, and muscled. Long black hair fell down his back, and he was dressed in dark expensive looking clothes. Like the guards below him he also wore a long black cloak, but his was lined with silver. He was rather similar to Herad actually, except for the friendly smile on his face.
“Welcome, my fellow bandits and dwellers in darkness to this blessed festival. Tonight we gather together to worship our divine patron Cor-Dius, he who keeps watch over those who move in secret. So, feast, rejoice, and drink to your heart’s content, for how better to show our appreciation than in revelry!” Galive announced enthusiastically, as he raised his hands dramatically above his head.
His voice was loud and clear as it echoed throughout the stone chamber. As soon as he was done speaking, the crowd burst out into cheers and joyous laughter. Ale splashed up into the air as it escaped from people’s raised mugs. Blacknail grimaced in distaste at what he saw; the humans were getting that stuff everywhere…
Galive was basking in the crowd’s adoration, but after a few minutes he stepped down from the stage. As the guards moved to protect him, he walked over an empty table that had been set aside and took a seat.
Immediately, a few other figures detached themselves from the crowd and moved towards him.
Most of these people were turned away by the black cloaked guards, but a few were let through.
Among these was a group of three women wearing next to no clothing, and several tough looking men. Galive smiled and invited the women to sit next to him, and they were soon draped around him. The men took seats across the table from Galive and started talking amongst themselves.
“What now, master?” Blacknail asked as he watched.
He didn’t think it would be a good idea to go after the man now. He had a lot guards around to protect him.
“Take a second to memorize his face. When they retire for the night you can go over there and catch his scent, and then you can track him to his room when things quiet down,” Saeter explained.
Blacknail sighed; he didn’t feel much like waiting around. Normally, he would enjoy lying in wait for the perfect time to strike, but all the movement and noise in the room had him at the edge of his seat and bursting with energy. He wanted to do something now!
“I could-ss go over there and listen in. They wouldn’t suspect it, since humans are-ss terrible listeners with tiny little ears,” Blacknail remarked.
“That’s pointless. They won’t be saying anything important, and you’d only be drawing attention to yourself,” Saeter replied.
Blacknail groaned and leaned back against the wall. His master sure knew how to take all the fun out of assassination…
The hobgoblin impatiently started looking around for something interesting to watch. Mostly, all he saw was humans staggering around, shouting, and making fools of themselves. It would be so easy to stab some of them…
The minutes passed and Blacknail grew more and more frustrated. Eventually, with an annoyed hiss he sprung to his feet and tried to find something to do. This time though, Saeter reached out and grabbed his shoulder before he could getaway.
“Sit back down and wait,” the old scout told him as he pulled the hobgoblin back onto the bench.
Blacknail grunted as he sat back down. He was so bored! Why couldn’t he just wander around a bit?
Several hours passed, and they seemed like an eternity. Saeter only allowed him up to purchase more food and drinks, and even then he accompanied the hobgoblin to the counter.
Well, at least he got to eat as much as he wanted…
Eventually, the celebration started to die down, and things quieted down. Some of the noisy humans began to leave and others simply collapsed onto tables, chairs, and even the floor.
As Blacknail was throwing another bored look around the room, he noticed movement from his prey. The hobgoblin immediately sat up and focused completely on Galive; his eyes narrowed behind his mask and his ears perked up as he stared.
The man had gotten up, and was headed for a doorway that led further into the building. He had two of the women from earlier on each of his arms, and his guards were pulling back and following him as well.
Saeter had noticed this as well.
“Let’s go,” he grunted to the hobgoblin as he stood up.
Finally! Blacknail smiled as he and his master walked across the room towards the now deserted table. They made their way past drunken humans, and the garbage they had left behind. Bodies and empty tankards littered the floor.
When they reached the now deserted table Blacknail immediately started sniffing around. He could detect the scent of several distinct humans. So, he quickly leaned down over where Galive had been sitting and started smelling it.
He was so engrossed in this that he didn’t notice the man approach him from behind.
“What in all the hells do you two think you’re doing?” one of Galive’s guards asked them.
The huge muscled thug had drawn his sword, and was standing behind Blacknail while glaring suspiciously at the masked hobgoblin and his master. Blacknail stiffened in alarm, and his hand crept towards one of his daggers.
Out of the corner of his eye he quickly glanced around the room, and noticed several other guards looking their way as well. That wasn't good; if it came down to a fight then things were going to get messy quickly.