“There are only two of them. I hear no one behind us,” Blacknail told his master.
Saeter nodded and turned back to watch the pair of thugs who were approaching. He eyed the two men warily.
“We’re running. Follow me,” he whispered a second later.
Blacknail’s eyes widened slightly in surprise, that was not what he had expected Saeter to say.
“They’ll be fast-ss runners,” he warned his master.
Blacknail really hoped his master had a plan. Normally he was all for running away from danger, but he wasn’t sure Saeter was fast enough to escape.
“Now!” his master grunted a second later, as he started running.
Instantly, Blacknail turned and sprinted away as well, and he shoved his sword back into its sheath. Within a few short seconds he pulled ahead of the old scout.
“Blasted cowards, don’t let them escape!” one of the Vessels yelled from behind them.
The pounding of heavy footsteps then reached Blacknail’s ears as the two thugs gave chase. The hobgoblin looked over his shoulder, and winced when he saw how fast their pursuers were running down the alley towards them. The men were moving at a pace a non-boosted human would have a very hard time matching.
At this rate they would catch up within seconds. Blacknail could increase his own pace, but Saeter probably couldn’t. Desperately, the hobgoblin searched his pouches for something useful as he ran. If only he had been a mage, then he could have used magic or something against them!
One of Blacknail’s hands came to rest against his coin pouch, and he let out a resigned sigh as a annoying idea occurred to him. The hobgoblin quickly reached inside, scooped the coins into his hand, and the whipped them back at their pursuers.
“Eat-ss this, pinkies!” Blacknail yelled as the swarm of glittering projectiles flew through the air.
The two Vessels barely had time to react before the coins showered over them. They both raised their hands to protect their faces, but not in time to stop the first few projectiles.
“Fuck,” one of them swore, as a coin smashed into his forehead and drew blood.
He stumbled and slowed momentarily to wipe the blood from his face. The second pursuer winced in pain as a coin bounced off his knee cap, and he slowed as well. Behind his mask Blacknail smirked smugly at them.
Idly, he wondered if this counted as charity. The two thugs had certainly needed the money, thrown at their ugly faces, more than he had. He would have to ask Saeter later, after they finished running for their lives.
Just ahead of Blacknail, Saeter rounded a corner and momentarily disappeared out of sight. When the hobgoblin caught up he noticed that his master was emptying the pouch he’d been holding onto the ground. It had been full of little spiky pieces of metal.
“Keep running,” Saeter told him, as he finished and picked up speed again.
“I never stopped! You’re-ss the slow one, you run!” Blacknail hissed back.
“Bah, whatever,” Saeter grunted in reply, and the annoyed hobgoblin had to suppress an urge to kick his master in the ass.
The two of them only managed to run a short distance, before their pursuers rounded the corner as well. The thugs were moving very quickly, and thus they didn’t have time to notice the presents Saeter had left behind for them.
“Ugh, bloody hells! My foot,” one of them screamed, as he stepped on a spike.
The other man instantly looked down, and his eyes widened in surprise at what he saw.
“Fuck, caltrops!” he exclaimed.
The first man stumbled, and then quickly hopped out of the way. He was limping and his face was scrunched up in pain, so he was clearly no longer in any shape to continue the chase. However, the second man had been warned. He was managing to awkwardly hop across the caltrops without stepping on any, so Blacknail picked up a rock off the alley floor, and launched it at his face.
The thug was looking down at his own feet, so he didn’t see it coming at all. There was a thud as the heavy stone bounced off the side of his head. He stumbled and stepped on a caltrop. As the hobgoblin watched, his leg gave out and tipped over sideways to land on his side. As he hit the ground several more spikes were driven into his body.
“Damn you to all the hells forever!” the man screamed shrilly in pain.
Ouch, Blacknail was fairly sure that guy was no longer a problem either. Maybe he should go back there and finish them off…
“It’s not worth it, keep running,” Saeter suddenly remarked, between heavy breaths.
The old scout had clearly understood the hobgoblin’s hesitation and body language. Blacknail sighed in regret, and continued running. He’d been hoping to at least go back and get his coins, and he wouldn’t have said no to having some fun with the two men who’d attacked them.
The pair burst out of the alley and onto one of the main streets. Without slowing Saeter led Blacknail right into the middle of the crowds. Men and women pressed against the hobgoblin from all sides, but he ignored them. Several minutes later, after it was clear no one was still following them, Saeter slowed down to a walk, and moved off to the side of the road.
He was huffing and breathing heavily. His face was red and looked exhausted, but the hobgoblin had barely broken a sweat. All this easy city living was clearly making him weak.
“I think we lost them,” the grey haired scout told Blacknail. “Now, we need to get back and have a talk with Herad, though.”
It didn’t take them long to reach Herad’s compound. They passed the guards and stepped inside without a problem. Blacknail eyed his master warily as he walked. Saeter seemed to be growing more and more animated the closer they got to Herad, and that made the hobgoblin nervous.
Saeter burst through the entrance to Herad’s room, and the door slammed into the wall behind him with a loud crash. His eyes burned with rage, as he stomped into the chamber on the other side.
Blacknail stayed out in the hallway, and cowered behind the two startled looking guards that Saeter had just blown past. All three of them gave each other shocked looks, and then peered wide eyed through the doorway to see what happened next.
Herad looked up from her desk. There was a look half way between annoyance and amusement on her face. She was also reaching under her desk for something that was probably a weapon, but she relaxed and smirked when she recognized Saeter.
“Down boy,” she ordered him loudly.
Saeter stopped a few feet from her desk, and then grimaced as he realized he’d unintentionally obeyed her. Herad smiled mockingly at him.
“Good boy,” she remarked as her eyes glittered with amusement.
Saeter’s scowl deepened and he gave her an irritated look. Blacknail let out a relieved breath. It didn’t seem like they were going to fight, or that his master was about to be killed.
“I’m not a dog,” Saeter grunted.
“Then don’t act like one, old man. Knock on the door before you enter, and don’t slam it,” she told him condescendingly.
Blacknail could hear Saeter grinding his teeth as he tried to hold in his anger. Luckily, this just seemed to amuse Herad.
“I’m here because there’s something you need to know,” he said, a few seconds later.
One of Herad’s eyebrows rose as she gave Saeter an unsurprised look.
“Well, I didn’t think you stormed in here to invite me to dinner, so please go on and tell me what bug has gotten up your butt this time,” she remarked disdainfully, as she leaned back in her chair.
“Avorlus is a blood mage,” Saeter announced gravely.
The old scout met Herad’s eyes and stared her down. Herad’s mouth opened slightly and she looked momentarily lost for words. Blacknail had no idea what a blood mage was, but it sure sounded serious!
“Well… that certainly makes sense, and is useful to know. How exactly did you figure this out?” Herad calmly asked, after a moment or two of thought.
“That’s it? I just revealed there’s blood mage in our midst, and that’s all you have to say?” Saeter growled angrily.
“What is it you expect me to say?” she asked.
“I expect you to do something about it!” he replied.
“He’s useful, so I don’t really care all that much,” Herad explained emotionlessly, as her dark eyes narrowed.
“He’s a blood mage!” Saeter exclaimed in outraged disbelief.
“And now that I know what he is I can hold it over him to guarantee his cooperation, so thanks for telling me. Now shut your trap; you’re not to discuss this with anyone,” Herad ordered as she glared coldly at him.
Blacknail heard footsteps, so he turned to see Mahedium approaching the room. Herad’s guards straightened and tried to look like they hadn’t just been listening in, but the hobgoblin just gave the mage a friendly wave before peering back through the doorway.
“Don’t you know how dangerous it is to be around blood mages? Not to mention, they kill people and harvest their blood! ” Saeter pointed out.
Before Herad could answer, their conversation was interrupted as Mahedium walked into the room. They both scowled at him as he entered, but the mage didn’t seem disturbed.
“I heard you wanted me, Saeter,” the mage calmly said, as he approached Herad’s desk.
“Yes, I did! I wanted to discuss your friend Master Avorlus. Did you know he’s a blood mage?” Saeter replied angrily.
“That’s a very serious accusation. I take it you have proof?” Mahedium asked.
The young mage was still calm and composed. He held his staff in one hand, and stood straight with military discipline. With his plain face, hazel eyes, and short brown hair he looked as unremarkable as usual.
“I know he’s been abducting people off the streets, and that his home reeks of people’s blood,” Saeter replied darkly.
“He’s probably a blood mage then,” Mahedium admitted with a frown.
“Did you know?” Saeter asked threateningly.
“I had some suspicions, but nothing more,” the mage replied without concern.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” the old scout exclaimed angrily.
“It’s not something I care to accuse people of without proof,” Mahedium answered coldly.
“More like you didn’t care…” Blacknail’s master grumbled to himself.
The mage met Saeter’s angry stare without flinching. The old scout turned away from him after a second, and looked back at Herad.
“You two aren’t taking this seriously enough. Blood mages pollute the very earth, and they twist beasts into monsters!” he announced in frustration.
His face was red and he was breathing heavier than normal. This was the most worked up Blacknail had ever seen him. However, Herad just gave Saeter a flat uncaring stare.
“As far as I’m concerned, blood mages aren’t much worse than any other type of mage. I’ve never met a combat mage that didn’t have the blood of dozens of men on their hands. All that garbage about blood magic causing mutants to appear is just superstition,” Herad told him dismissively.
“That’s different, combat mages are soldiers. Blood mages prey on people for their own ends,” Saeter replied.
“I also believe there’s an important distinction there,” Mahedium added. “Also, Saeter isn’t completely wrong about the relationship between blood magic and crystal hosts.”
A triumphant look appeared on Saeter’s face, and he opened his mouth to say something, but Herad cut him off.
“Explain,” she ordered the mage.
“Blood magic comes in several forms, but it’s actually very simple. In fact, the first mages probably all used blood magic, before modern alchemical magic was created. The type I imagine Avorlus is doing, simply involves harvesting the blood of people who didn’t survive the transformation into a Vessel, and maybe some that did. He’s probably dosing the people he’s abducted, and then distilling their blood to create Elixir,” the mage explained.
“Why would he do that, and what does it have to do with mutants?” Herad asked.
“It’s a way to create more of an Elixir, even if you don’t know the formula for it. With such an endless supply of samples it also becomes much easier to study an Elixir and discover its recipe. Unfortunately, refining the blood also creates a lot of waste products that contain active crystals. It’s unlikely, but possible, that exposure to this waste could cause a creature to become a host,” Mahedium admitted.
“So, a horde of savage mutants isn’t about to tear its way through the city,” Herad said, as she glared at Saeter.
“No, most likely exposure would just kill the creatures it comes into contact with. It’s very dangerous stuff to anyone not already a mage or Vessel. I wonder how Avorlus is disposing of it,” Mahedium replied.
“One mutant would be too many. We need to stop him before it’s too late!” Saeter said.
“Your paranoid fear of mutants is getting annoying; they die like everything else,” Herad replied scornfully.
“You’ve never seen the havoc a truly dangerous crystal host can create. No man can stand against them, the empty ruins of Coroulis’ should be proof enough of that,” Saeter countered.
His face was still red from being so worked up, and he waved his hands as he talked. This clearly wasn’t an argument he was willing to lose. Of course, Herad wasn’t usually one to care what other people thought, only that they obeyed.
“Even if I wanted to do something about him, and I don’t, I’m not in a position where I can throw away such a useful ally. Perhaps, over your rather long and eventful career as a thief and murderer you’ve noticed that people who play at being a hero, and who involve themselves in events that aren’t any of their damn business, end up dead or as failures. That’s not a mistake I intend to make,” she replied harshly, and with obvious scorn.
“Some things are more important than petty gains, and worth sacrificing for. Maybe, becoming murder queen of the cutthroats shouldn’t be your first priority,” Saeter told her.
Herad’s chair slid back across the floor with shrill screech. A dangerous look appeared on her face as she rose to her feet. Her dark eyes narrowed as she regarded Saeter with hostility. Both Saeter and Mahedium took a step back away from her, as she walked towards them.
“You overstep yourself, Saeter! Remember that I’m the chief here, and that you work for me. You will do as I say, and nothing more, or I’ll dispose of you like so much trash,” she snarled, as she stood in front of him.
The old scout stiffened and his face went slightly pale, but he held her gaze, and his eyes were full of defiance. Blacknail hissed quietly in alarm. Why wasn’t his master backing down? He was going to get himself killed after all!
The hobgoblin held his breath as Saeter and Herad glared at each other. Blacknail’s master seemed unwilling to submit and look away, and Herad’s left hand began to creep closer towards the hilt of a dagger on her hip.
The hobgoblin began seriously considering creating a distraction, and then dragging his master away in the chaos. Maybe he could pretend there was an attack or start a fire?
Just as Herad’s fingers closed around her dagger’s pommel, Saeter finally spoke up.
“It’s as you say; you’re the boss,” he answered flatly.
Blacknail sighed in relief. Saeter then started to turn away from Herad, and head towards the door, but the bandit chieftain stopped him.
“Where do you think you’re going? I didn’t give you permission to leave,” she hissed.
Saeter froze and grimaced. It looked like he wanted to say something unwise. Blacknail held his breath again. If his master said anything stupid, and suicidal, then Blacknail was going to bash him over the head and apologize to Herad for him.
“I’m… going to go get a drink,” Saeter grunted reluctantly a second later. The hobgoblin relaxed.
“Very well; go ahead. Just remember that I meant what I said about keeping this quiet,” Herad replied smugly.
The old scout didn’t respond, he just immediately walked out of the room. Mahedium threw Saeter a concerned look but he also chose to keep his mouth shut.
Saeter walked out the door, and past the two guards and one hobgoblin who were now trying hard to look like they hadn’t been listening. Blacknail moved to follow his master as soon Saeter stomped out into the hallway, but he hesitated when he heard Herad address him.
“Blacknail, make sure the old fool behaves, or you’ll both regret it,” she told him coldly.
“Yes, mistress,” Blacknail answered , as he turned and lowered his head submissively.
“At least one of them knows who is in charge around here,” the hobgoblin heard his chieftain mutter, as he scurried quickly after Saeter.
Why couldn’t Saeter just keep his mouth shut? If he kept this up one of these days Herad was going take offense at his actions and kill him. He’d come awfully close just now, and Blacknail would rather that didn’t happen.
Saeter’s feet thudded against the wooden floorboards as he stomped through the building. He was obviously still furious, so Blacknail hesitated to approach him. He should probably try to cheer his master up, though.
“I could just kill Avorlus for you, or we could do it together, master. I’ve gotten very good at the sneaking and stabbing,” Blacknail offered hopefully, as he walked up beside Saeter.
“You’re not helping, Blacknail. I’ve done a lot of immoral things in my life, but I’m not an assassin,” the old scout replied.
“I am, so I’ll do it for you!” the hobgoblin cheerfully pointed out.
“No,” his master sternly replied. “Stay here, I need to be alone for awhile.”
As Blacknail looked on, his master sighed tiredly and walked out the front door of Herad’s base. The hobgoblin would normally have been more than happy to let him go, but Herad had commanded him to keep an eye on Saeter. With an exasperated sigh, Blacknail stealthily crept after his master.
Things would be much easier if Saeter would just not resist the chief, or if he would at least launch a proper challenge. Of course, if he did challenge Herad he would most likely be cut to pieces, but if Herad did spare him then he would at least learn his place.
There wasn’t much chance of Saeter winning. His master really needed to realize that Herad was a lot tougher than him, so he should just do as she said. That was simply the natural order of things after all.