The old scout had to speak loudly in order to be heard over all the background noise. Bandits were still stomping around and cheering their victory as the remains of the wooden barricade burned. All in all it put Blacknail in a festive mood. It certainly smelled like a party, the air was thick with smoke and the iron scent of blood.
The cackling flames of the burning wall also prevented the enemy for launching another attack, for now. The fire wouldn’t last all that much longer though.
“Zelena’s a sly one. She’ll have saved her best tricks for last. Werrick’s regulars will be harder to deal with than the others,” Saeter added.
“If they’re so tough, why did she need-ss to hire so many other fighters?” Blacknail scoffed.
“To wear us down so that we’re easier to take out,” Saeter replied.
“Ha, they didn’t-ss do all that much, and they probably-ss cost a ton of coins,” the hobgoblin countered.
“She doesn’t have to pay them if they all die,” his master explained darkly.
“Oh, that’s tricksy. This Zelena lady is smart. Who is she again-ss?” Blacknail remarked in surprise.
“You don’t know who Zelena is?” his master asked in surprise.
“The enemy. I have-ss enough trouble keeping track of all you humans’ names without worrying-ss about the ones I’m going to kill soon anyway,” the hobgoblin replied with an indifferent shrug.
“Do you know who Werrick is?” Saeter asked.
“The enemy,” the hobgoblin replied with another indifferent shrug.
Saeter sighed in frustration before replying. The lines on his face under his grey bangs looked deeper than usual.
“Most people consider Werrick to be the most powerful of the northern bandit chieftains because he has the most men, and Zelena is one of his lieutenants. Awhile back people started calling him the Wolf because of the ruthless way he raided caravans,” he explained.
“Why are we-ss fighting him?” Blacknail asked curiously. It didn’t seem very smart to pick a fight with the strongest enemy possible, but maybe it was just a Herad thing.
“Herad and Werrick hate each other. They’ve met here in Daggerpoint a few times and Herad ended up killing one of his lieutenants in a duel. The arrogant prick thought Werrick’s name would allow him to do anything he wanted, but it didn’t,” the old scout answered.
“Ah, makes sense,” the hobgoblin replied with a knowing nod.
The same type of thing could happen if there were rival gangs of goblins in an area, just with less walking about and more poo throwing. Humans were weirdly indirect some times.
“The battle isn’t going too badly, though. Herad thought Werrick would be too busy to come to Daggerpoint for the winter this year, and she was right, but he sent Zelena in his place. Zelena’s forces are smaller than Herad’s and even without the barricade we still have a strong defensive advantage,” Saeter explained.
The hobgoblin rubbed his chin as he thought his master’s words over carefully. From what he’d just heard it seemed likely that Zelena would attack soon, so he needed a plan.
“Let’s go join the archers on-ss the roofs. Once there we can just shoot all of Zelena’s men-ss because they don’t have shields,” Blacknail suggested. That seemed like the safest plan.
Before Saeter could reply, there was a scream of pain and a hollow thud as something fell from the top of nearby building and hit the ground. Blacknail looked over to see a twisted corpse lying there, and it had a crossbow bolt sticking out from its chest.
A quick flash of movement drew the hobgoblin’s eye upwards and he glimpsed a familiarly dressed figure dash across the roof and then disappear. It had been one of Malthus’ assassins…
“Or maybe we should just stay here,” the hobgoblin remarked warily as he scanned the nearby roof tops.
“Blacknail get over here, now!” Herad suddenly roared from across the street.
“That doesn’t seem to be an option,” Saeter remarked dryly in amusement.
The hobgoblin winced in reluctance. He had a feeling that he knew where this was going and he didn’t like it one bit.
“You’d better do as she says,” Saeter told him.
Blacknail sighed and started dragging himself over to where his mistress was waiting. There was another scream of pain from across the street and the hobgoblin sighed as the sound of running footsteps on a nearby roof reached his ears.
Herad was yelling at a pair of nervous looking subordinates and gesturing towards where the first archer had fallen from, but when Blacknail approached she looked over and the rage in her eyes died down slightly. She still looked very angry though. The hobgoblin just hoped she wouldn’t direct that anger at him. He was still her favorite, right?
“There you are! You’re supposed to be taking care of those assassins, so go over there and kill them,” she commanded Blacknail.
The hobgoblin grunted vaguely in acknowledgement. She made it sound so simple…
“What are you whining about? I thought you had a plan all worked out so that mere humans wouldn’t stand a chance,” Herad told him impatiently.
“I do, and it’s a great plan. There’s no way it will fail,” Blacknail replied crossly.
“Then go do it before I lose anymore of my men,” the chieftain ordered him.
“Ugh fine, but don’t forget my blue cheese,” the hobgoblin muttered darkly in reply.
Herad eyes narrowed dangerously at being talked back to, but she nodded in acknowledgement.
“Don’t worry about that. Do as I say and you’ll have all the rewards you could ever want,” she answered.
It was Blacknail’s turn to nod now. He then slipped away towards his new targets and disappeared into a nearby crowd of bandits.
Saeter walked up to Herad. The old scout had a concerned look on his age-lined face as he confronted his boss.
“You’re depending on Blacknail for quite a bit. He might be in over his head, you know,” Saeter told her with obvious concern on his face and in his voice.
Herad’s reaction was to laugh in his face. Her sharp barking laughter unsettled the old scout and he shuffled nervously. He wasn’t the only one either. Most of the other nearby bandits threw her surprised or anxious looks.
“You just can’t see it, can you? I’m not betting on your pet or your partner, old man; I’m betting on the monster we created, one the likes of which has never walked the North before,” she explained with vicious amusement.
“That’s a tad dramatic. He’s just a hobgoblin, and not a terribly old one at that,” Saeter countered.
“There has never been a goblin like him, and you know it. He will kill those men because that’s what he is, a predator. Wolves need not fear the lamb,” Herad replied coldly.
“Those are some well armed sheep,” Saeter muttered as he turned and looked in the direction Blacknail had gone.
The hobgoblin himself was now walking towards the fallen archer and scanning the rooftops for any sign of enemies. He slipped between squads of Herad’s men as he moved in order to keep out of sight of any watchers.
When he was sure no one hostile was looking he dashed off the main drag and into a shadowy alley that was squeezed between two large warehouses. Once there he started creeping further in as he listened for any signs of his prey.
He might not know where the enemy was, how many of them there were, or what they were planning but he did know where he needed to go. He had made a perfect plan of his own earlier for dealing with the assassins after all.
Now, he just had to adjust the plan slightly and figure out how not to get shot by the assassins’ crossbows. They were an unwelcome addition to his scheme but one he was sure he could work around, or at least dodge at the last second.
Blacknail decided to head towards the closest location Herad had placed archers. Trying to chase down assassins through these dark side streets seemed like a lot of work, but if the enemy was here to get rid of the archers then they would serve as the perfect bait. The suddenly eager hobgoblin rushed through the dirty alleyways towards his target.
It only took him a few moments to find one of his tribes’ archer stations. From behind a pile of crates he observed five men who were standing on a rooftop above him. Two of them were on watch while the other three were resting.
However, Blacknail immediately noticed several blind spots that he, or an assassin, could use to approach them unseen. The hobgoblin shook his head in disapproval. These members of his tribe weren’t very good sentries. It was a good thing Blacknail was here to protect them, or most of them anyway...
The hobgoblin circled around the area until he found somewhere he could watch the two best ways to sneak up to the archers. The building was right on the edge of the battlefield, and a large section of it had been collapsed to serve as part of the barrier that funneled attackers towards the main street. The northern side was still standing though, and it made a good lookout spot. Blacknail climbed up and perched at a window on the second floor.
If he waited there he was sure the assassins would soon show themselves. They were after Herad’s isolated archers and this group had made them themselves vulnerable. These enemies moved like predators, if not very good ones, so they would without a doubt be drawn to weakness, and that made them predictable.
As Blacknail waited among the rubble and shadows the voices of the archers reached his long green ears.
“Are you sure we're just supposed to be sitting around here?” one of them asked.
“Do you see anymore enemies coming down the main street? No? Then that’s what Herad told us to do,” another bandit replied.
On one hand Blacknail wanted to smack them for being so loud and drawing attention to themselves, but on the other hand that was exactly what he wanted them to do. Maybe he could smack the survivors after the battle was over.
The hobgoblin’s thoughts were interrupted by a rustling noise, like heavy cloth rubbing up against something. A second later a trio of cloaked figures pulled themselves up onto a nearby roof. They crouched there for a few seconds to make sure no one had noticed them and then started to slowly and quietly make their way across the shingled roof.
Blacknail smiled wickedly as he watched them from his perch. It was time for him to get moving. He quickly turned away from the window and climbed down the pile of rubble that he’d used to get to the second floor.
The assassins were using one of the routes he had scouted out earlier to approach the archers so he knew exactly what he had to do. It was too bad that he hadn’t had time to set any traps…
Silently, Blacknail dashed across the street and started climbing up the side of an ivy covered building. The thick vines allowed him to easily make his way up to the roof. He was then positioned perfectly to ambush the assassins.
As Malthus’ men crossed the last stretch of roof Blacknail peeked around a brick chimney and observed them. They were focused on sneaking up on their targets. The idea that someone might be stalking them in turn didn’t seem to have occurred to them, and that made Blacknail feel all tingly inside.
The slate rooftops in this part of the city were squeezed close together. It was easy enough to jump from some of them to others. Any trace of the morning’s dampness had been erased by the hot rays of the midday sun that hung overhead.
The squad of five archers was still positioned on a rooftop that overlooked the battlefield and the now smoldering remains of Herad’s barricade. On the roof next to them the trio of assassins were creeping ever closer by using the slant of the roof to conceal themselves. On the next building over a hobgoblin lurked behind a chimney stack and was eagerly awaiting the fun that was about to start.
One of the assassins had a crossbow strapped to his back. He looked up over the peak of the roof at his targets, and then pulled the weapon off his back and began loading it. His two companions began unsheathing their blades.
The first assassin rose and sighted on the back of one of the archers’ lookouts. He didn’t take the shot though; instead the other two men crept out of hiding and started creeping closer. In just a few moments the two swordsmen would be upon the archers. They might have been outnumbered but with the element of surprise on their side they would make quick work of Herad’s men.
Blacknail would almost have been impressed by the maneuver if they hadn’t left themselves completely open to a counter ambush. That was undoubtedly all you could expect from a bunch of fat city humans.
The hobgoblin quickly pulled his own bow off his back and drew an arrow. He then aimed at the crossbowman. Just as the first of the enemy swordsmen made the long step over to the other roof Blacknail let the string go. There was a sharp tang as the arrow zoomed through the air and slammed into the back of the crossbowman. As the man gasped and crumpled the hobgoblin yelled out a warning to his unprepared tribesman.
“Oh no-ss, the enemy is attacking. Quickly, protect-ss yourselves!” he screamed shrilly at the top of lungs.
The two swordsmen instantly froze and threw startled looks back at Blacknail and the corpse of their companion. The sentry also spun around and his eyes widened in surprise when he saw Blacknail. He quickly noticed the attacking assassins as well.
“Hells, an attack!” he cursed loudly.
At the sound of his voice the two swordsmen jumped back into action and charged the sentry. The bandit took a scared step backwards and tried to draw his sword. He didn’t have enough time though, and he had to give up and dodge out of the way of a slash from the lead assassin.
However, the sudden evasive movement caused the lookout to lose his balance, and Blacknail winced as he toppled over the side of the roof and disappeared from sight. That was going to hurt…
The attackers didn’t waste any time in racing after the other archers. They clearly wanted to reach them before they were ready.
Blacknail dashed carefully across the tiled roof after them. The tiles threatened to come loose beneath his feet, but he had to keep the enemy in sight or they might get away. The sounds of fighting rose from the other rooftop as he moved.
He jumped across the gap between the buildings and ran up the side of the roof. Below him on the opposite slope the two assassins who were left were fighting the three remaining members of Herad’s band. Judging by the bleeding corpse lying prone on the roof one of the archers had already fallen.
Now though, the remaining archers had discarded their useless bows and drawn their close combat weapons. Two of them had short swords and one had a small hand axe. Unfortunately for them they didn’t seem very good at using them.
The two assassins still clearly had the upper hand in the fight. Their blades flashed through the air and forced the bandits back. It was all the archers could do to defend themselves as they flailed about with their own weapons. The clay tiles of the roof also made the footing treacherous so it was a sloppy mess of a fight.
As hobgoblin ran towards the closest enemy, he jumped over the tip of the roof and then kicked out with both feet. His boots slammed into the shoulder of one of the assassins and the impact knocked him sideways with more than enough force to send him right over the edge.
There was a surprised yell and a smacking noise from below as the man hit the ground. This was quickly followed by a series of crashes as a section of clay tiles came loose and slid of the roof.
Blacknail landed next to the last remaining attacker, but the tiles below him came loose from the impact and started to slide. The hobgoblin scrambled to find his balance and get a solid grip on the roof.
“Oopsie,” Blacknail hissed in annoyance as his footing shifted beneath him. This wasn’t good.
The last enemy was startled but quick to react. He lurched around and swung down at Blacknail’s head with his sword. The hobgoblin’s eyes widened in alarm as the silver flash descended towards his face.
A surge of panic jolted through him and Blacknail instinctevely reached deep inside himself to burn a bit of residual Elixir. With lightning speed he twisted to the side, found solid footing, and drew his own blade to parry the blow.
The impact knocked the assassin off balance for a second, and he didn’t get time to recover. An axe slammed into his back and the man’s eyes went wide with shock. His legs gave out a second later and he toppled over.
“Thank you,” Blacknail told the bandit who had finished the last assassin off.
“Ha, we’re the ones that should be thanking you. If you hadn’t yelled out that warning they would have gone through us like Ritchet Oil through a sick sheep,” the axe wielder replied.
Blacknail gave him a blank stare. Like what through a what? What was this crazy human talking about?
“Er, no problem,” the hobgoblin replied as he brushed himself off.
All that fighting had gotten his clothes dirty. Stupid assassins, and their running around on unsafe rooftops! He snorted in annoyance and kicked the corpse of the assassin off the roof. It fell in a clatter of shattering tiles. Why did humans put such dangerous things on their roofs?
Anyway, the first part of Blacknail’s amazing plan was complete. The second part was for him to get the rest of the assassins’ attention. The third was for him to kill Malthus and all his annoying cloaked minions. He wasn’t quite at the third step yet, but he was getting there, and he was really looking forward to it.
The hobgoblin walked over to the peak of the roof and coughed to clear his throat.
“Malthus, you stupid-ss fat pink bastard! I just killed three of your little friends and I’m going-ss keep killing more of them until you fight me! So come here and face me, unless you’re-ss as cowardly as you are ugly!” he yelled shrilly at the top of his lungs.
The sound of his voice echoed over the city. The remaining archers that were standing beside him gave the hobgoblin shocked looks. They seemed more than a little nervous.
“Oh right-ss, you may want to find somewhere-ss else to hang out. Things are probably going-ss to get-ss exciting here soon,” Blacknail told them thoughtfully.