Werrick approached with his blade held out aggressively and its gleaming tip pointed right at Blacknail. There was silence from all the nearby human warriors as they watched, although some of their mounts neighed and snorted softly.
Even Khita stepped back out of the way of the combatants, although she didn’t stay silent. “Kick his ass and cut out his liver! He’d not so tough. You got this!”
Readying himself and ignoring the redhead, Blacknail raised his own longsword up defensively and grimaced sourly as he eyed his mortal enemy. He didn’t like this situation at all. He’d been waiting for a chance at Werrick forever, but this wasn’t how he’d wanted it to happen. His position was even worse than it had been during their last fight, which he’d lost. The hobgoblin knew he was tired and out of mana, while his enemy was in much better condition. Cheating would also be difficult, since Werrick was the one with backup nearby. Zelena was already watching him like a hawk. This entire situation sucked. He’d put a lot of effort into making sure his next battle with Werrick was nothing like a fair fight, but it had all gone to waste. Somehow, this was Khita’s fault.
“You won’t be able to escape me now,” Werick laughed as stepped forward.
Blacknail watched him warily. “I’m not running, pink face. You’re the one that will die here.”
He was totally planning on running the first chance he got. If Khita couldn’t keep up, that was too bad for her.
Werrick’s blade lashed out, catching sunlight as it sliced toward Blacknail’s shoulder. The hobgoblin quickly side-stepped and countered with a slash of his own, which was dodged just as easily. Testing each other, the combatants exchanged a flurry of light attacks. Neither gave ground nor pressed the attack, but they kept their guards up.
Blacknail was more than happy to keep things at a standstill for as long as possible, but after a minute or two, Werrick grew confident and impatient. The bandit lord ducked under a high slash and grinned smugly as he pressed the attack. Stepping forward into Blacknail’s personal space, he stabbed at the hobgoblin’s chest.
Dodging to the side, Blacknail countered with a heavy downward blow, but Werrick simply rose to meet the attack and parried it before surging forward, right into the off-balanced hobgoblin’s face. He was going for a shoulder blow. Eyes wide with surprise, Blacknail hesitated for a brief moment, but then his instincts kicked in. Rage and mana swirled through his body as he growled and opened his mouth wide to reveal his long teeth. Leaning down, Blacknail attempted to gore his foe’s neck.
Now it was Werrick’s turn to flinch in surprise, before abandoning his attack completely and throwing himself to the side. After recovering his balance and getting back into a proper stance, he threw Blacknail a dark look.
“I forgot how much of a savage you are,” Werrick said before spitting on the ground.
Blacknail glared at him. “You’re the one that tried to cheap-shot me first! What was that?”
“There’s a vast difference between my attack and biting like a rabid animal,” Werrick replied angrily before approaching again. “You’re nothing like a true warrior.”
Blacknail snorted. He didn’t care about being a true warrior at all. Survival was what mattered to him.
“You almost had him. Try it again and tear his throat out!” Khita cheered, earning her a lot of glares from Werrick and his men. Blacknail was sure his enemy wasn’t going to try to tackle him again, so the redhead’s advice was characteristically useless.
There was a loud metallic clang as the combatants’ blades met again. Werrick unleashed a flurry of skillful blows that tore through the air with shocking speed, but Blacknail managed to counter and keep him back with several powerful slashes of his own. The two fighters then stepped back and eyed each other warily. Blacknail was finding it noticeably easier to match his mortal foe now that he was a mutant. His longer arms and stronger muscles allowed him to use his new longsword to keep Werrick back much easier.
“What’s wrong? Are you getting tired?” Blacknail taunted his opponent.
Werrick chuckled grimly. “Not even a little. In fact, I believe it’s time for me to stop messing around and end this little charade.”
The Wolf’s sword sliced through the air as he brought it around and fell into a more aggressive stance. Blacknail raised his own guard, but Werrick’s move was more than it first appeared. A thin wave of force slid off his blade and cut through the air as it flew toward Blacknail. Only the hobgoblin’s familiarity with the technique allowed him to recognize what was happening in time to dodge the attack. Werrick was using his unique Vessel abilities and channeling them through his sword.
However, as Blacknail stepped to the side, Werrick launched himself forward and hacked at him with a wild swing. Blacknail’s arms vibrated from the force of the blow after he was forced to block it, but he kept his stance solid and used an internal burst of mana to strengthen himself and push the big human warrior back.
Frowning, Werrick stepped back and shot another two air blades at the hobgoblin, before following right after them. The two magical slashes travelled on slightly different trajectories, making dodging them difficult, but Blacknail managed to twist out of the way of the first and then duck under the edge of the other without losing his solid stance. Thus, he met Werrick’s attack with a powerful slash of his own that sliced through the air and toward the bandit lord’s head.
Werrick tried to parry the blow and use his momentum to barrel over the hobgoblin, but Blacknail was having none of that. He met the attack head on, blocking Werrick’s blade with his own. Their swords met with a crash that vibrated down both their arms and then the weapons locked together. Both fighters struggled to push the other back. Using some of the mana that was slowly gathering in his core, Blacknail managed to break the deadlock. His muscles strained as he pushed Werrick’s weapon away.
Grunting with effort, Werrick tried to turn his retreat into a sidestep and counter, but the pressure from Blacknail caused him to stumble instead. Sensing weakness, the hobgoblin felt a surge of excitement burn through his body as he lunged forward. His sword lashed out with lightning speed and bashed Werrick’s weapon aside. Unimpeded, his blade then clanged as it hit the man’s shoulder and was deflected off his chainmail shirt. Werrick let out a pain-filled shout as he fell back. His arm now hung stiffly as if wounded, although it wasn’t visibly bleeding.
Mercilessly, Blacknail pressed his advantage and leaped after his injured opponent, but he didn’t get a chance to attack again. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Zelena raise a hand and point it in his direction. He’d been keeping an eye on her, and he instantly knew she was up to no good.
As Blacknail watched, a small blast of nigh-invisible power shot out of the crystal in Zelena’s palm. It streaked through the air, forcing the hobgoblin the abandon his attack and jump back to avoid the magical projectile.
“Hey, I saw that!” Khita yelled as she pointed at the mage woman. “That’s cheating, you bitch! Come over here and try that. I’ll cut slice open your throat.”
Everyone ignored her.
“I don’t know what foul trick you used to injure me, but this dishonor won’t stand!” Werrick shouted proudly as he backed away like a coward. He was obviously playing to the crowd.
Snarling, Blacknail considered going after him, but he was getting quite a few glares from the knights and mages around him. “What trick? I hit you with my sword. That’s what you were doing too!”
“If you have no honor then this duel is over,” Werrick announced before turning to his companions. “Take him down. I injured him before he forfeited the match.”
Shouting their acknowledgement, a dozen knights urged their mounts into motion and began riding toward Blacknail. The hobgoblin eyed them with deep concern as he backed up. Unfortunately, there was nowhere for him to run now.
“You cheating son of a harpy! Get over here and die.” Blacknail yelled at Werrick as he gave him the evil eye. The bandit lord didn’t reply or even turn around. He just kept walking over to Zelena’s side as if unconcerned by Blacknail’s fate.
“What do we do now?” Khita asked as she drew her sword and ran over to the hobgoblin.
Blacknail eyed her. Why did she think he had the answers? That was kind of unreasonable. “Um…”
As the knight’s closed in, Blacknail’s long green ears twitched. He heard rocks clatter behind him. While in front of him, the knights suddenly began slowing their mounts down.
Werrick glanced at something behind the hobgoblin and then turned to the male mage in his group. “Quickly, blast the fiend.”
The mage quickly moved to obey and levelled his staff at his target, Blacknail, but before he could activate his magic, a glowing blue barrier appeared in front of Blacknail, shielding him. At the same time, the sound of clattering stones grew louder and Blacknail glanced over his shoulder to see six hobgoblins slide down the hill at his back and land behind him. Looking up, he saw that there were many more hobgoblins standing atop the hill as well. Far more than he’d brought on Sir Masnin’s expedition. Imp stood in their midst, holding an amulet that was the source of the shield.
“Oh good, you’re finally here. I thought you got lost,” Blacknail said before sighing in relief. They’d really left it to the last second. Either his minions were far too lazy, or someone had been plotting. Well, at least they were here now.
Scamp frowned nervously as he looked down at his chieftain. “You weren’t easy to find, boss. We only got here so quickly because of all the noise you were making.”
Blacknail was unconvinced and still more than a little suspicious. “I signaled you a while ago. You knew I was here, so what took you so long?
That was when the bushes off to Blacknail’s left rustled and another dozen hobgoblins with spears appeared to flank the knights. A moment later, another twenty hobgoblins stepped out of the tree on the other side of Werrick’s force. They were boxed in now, with no easy retreat routes.
“We waited until we had Werrick surrounded before showing ourselves. You told me to make sure Werrick didn’t get away, no matter what, or you’d feed my guts to the pigs, remember?” Scamp told him.
Now that he mentioned it, Blacknail did remember that. “Right, and it worked. Good job me. I’m very smart.”
Blacknail had known all along that Werrick would have several schemes in motion and that he would try to seize control of the other humans. He’d had little choice after Blacknail had forced him to come on this expedition. Control of silver was far too important for the bandit lords to share it, and they hated each other with a passion anyway. If he’d been allowed to stay behind, Werrick could have used his forces to ambush the silver and seize control of the city once it was found, but out in the Green, he was at Blacknail’s mercy and cut off from most of his troops. Thus, Werrick had no other option but to kill Blacknail before Blacknail killed him. The exact method of his betrayal had caught the hobgoblin off guard – he’d assumed that Werrick would at least wait until after Myagnoir was dead – but his vulnerability had been temporary.
Fair fights were not Blacknail’s specialty. Long before coming on Sir Masnin’s expedition, Blacknail had secretly ordered a force of fifty of his hobgoblins to shadow the expedition from a safe distance. It was a feat that no human army could possibly hope to match, but his minions were far more comfortable in the Green. Thus, Blacknail had been prepared for any betrayal Werrick had planned and he could make sure the Wolf never left the Green alive. It was such a great plan. Blacknail knew he was amazingly smart for having thought of it, despite the slight problems he’d run into before his reinforcements had arrived, like almost dying half a dozen times.
Scamp hadn’t been Blacknail’s first choice as leader of the reinforcements, but he was a skilled ranger, and everyone smarter had been busy.
Most of the enemy force seemed unsure of what to do now that they faced a serious threat that they didn’t have massively outnumbered. Their mounts shuffled uneasily as the riders watched the newly arrived hobgoblins with obvious fear and concern. However, Werrick simply looked furious. Stomping forward, he levelled an accusatory finger at Blacknail and glared at him venomously.
“I was right. This is proof that the hobgoblin was always trying to ambush us on the way back and take the silver for himself!” Werrick shouted. “He’s brought an entire army here in secret to make sure none of us survive to reveal his treachery.”
Blacknail glared back at him. Really? Human political nonsense, now? “Stop lying. I just knew that you we’re going to betray me, like you did, so I made plans to be ready to kill you and all your allies first. I didn’t want anyone but you dead.”
This argument didn’t appear to sway anyone to Blacknail’s side. The knights were still pointing their weapons in the hobgoblin’s direction and had hostile expressions on their faces. Stupid humans. Sure, he’d explained that badly, but he still made a lot more sense than Werrick had. Well, whatever. Once they were dead it wouldn’t matter. Getting his words through their thick skulls would probably be much harder than getting his blade through their soft bits.
“Form up and prepare to fight!” Werrick ordered all the nearby riders as he jumped back on his own horse.
“I only want Werrick and his men. Anyone else that surrenders will make it back South alive,” Blacknail shouted.
“Don’t listen to the treacherous creature! He’s just trying to get us to turn on each other so that he can slaughter us piecemeal. If we fight side-by-side, then we can crush these pitiful savages beneath our valiant steeds’ hooves!”
None of the humans rode over to throw themselves at Blacknail and his hobgoblin’s mercy, so the hobgoblin chieftain didn’t see the point in wasting anymore time. He finally had Werrick right where he wanted him! He was outnumbered and stranded out in the Green, where running was impossible.
“Kill them all!” Blacknail ordered his minions as a vicious hunger rose up from within him. He grinned savagely at Werrick as he fantasized about finally hacking his master’s killer apart with his own hands. He’d taste Werrick’s blood and watch with glee as the light faded from his eyes.
At their master’s command, the hobgoblins surged forward, closing in on the knights from multiple directions. Only about half a dozen hobs stayed back on top of the hill. Imp and two of his mage assistants were among them, and they seemed to be preparing spells. Scamp also made no move to leave the top of the hill.
“To me! We must escape the savage’s entrapment,” Werrick roared as he guided his mount to the left.
The bandit lord was attempting to strike where the hobgoblins were thinnest and smash through them to reach safety. Blacknail couldn’t let that happen. Even outnumbered, if the knights got free, they could maneuver around the hobgoblins and trample them one group at a time.
“Charge! Follow me. The first to attack get the first pick of the loot!” Blacknail yelled at his minions before rushing ahead to cut off Werrick’s retreat. He wasn’t letting him get away now.
Dashing forward at full speed, Blacknail ran over to where the melee was thickest, around some knights fighting from horseback. Several hobgoblins and Khita followed him. Up ahead, Werrick was cutting down two hobgoblins that had been unfortunate enough to be in his way. Over on the other side of the melee, there was a fiery explosion as the mages began dueling.
Upon reaching the fighting, Blacknail wasted no time in throwing himself at Werrick, who was still mounted. Pushing past an unresisting hobgoblin that was glad to let him pass, he unleashed a wicked slash at his mortal foe’s leg.
Reaching down, Werrick easily deflected Blacknail’s attack with his own blade. He then wheeled his mount around and the huge beast reared up to kick at Blacknail. Jumping back away from the horse’s dangerous looking hooves, Blacknail weighed his options. Attacking mounted warriors was still super annoying. He really hated horses. They were more evil made flesh than real animals.
Werrick immediately pressed his advantage and cut down another hobgoblin in the melee, so Blacknail threw himself back into the fight. He only had so many minions that he could afford to lose. Lacking any real plan, he went with his instincts.
Blacknail lashed out at the horse’s flank with his blade, however the vile beast managed to take most the strength out of the blow by sidestepping, so the sword inflicted only a shallow cut. Looking over, Blacknail saw that one of the horse’s eyes was glaring right at him. The beast looked enraged and mad in the way of all its deranged kin. That gave Blacknail an idea. Horses seemed to hate and fear hobgoblins just as much as hobgoblins hated them.
Sheathing his weapon, Blacknail ducked under another swing from Werrick and leaped at the ass end of the horse. It tried to move away but he dashed after it. A moment later, he was jumping onto its side, and his claws drew blood, giving him purchase and allowing him to pull himself up higher. The creature’s brown flanks were impressively tall. Also, very sweaty and smelly.
Ignoring the stench that was right below his nose, Blacknail continued to cling to the horse and climb up onto its back. The beast didn’t like that one bit, and quickly began bucking and flailing around in an attempt to throw him off.
“What are you doing? Get off, you cretin!” Werrick yelled as he glanced back at Blacknail.
The bandit lord tried to take a swing at the hobgoblin, but the bucking of the horse threw his aim off, and Blacknail managed to climb up and entangle the blade in his antler-like horns. Werrick struggled to keep control of his mount and free his sword as his horse neighed frantically, but Blacknail’s presence finally broke its control. It went berserk and began flailing about with complete abandon in a desperate attempt to dislodge the predator on its back.
Both Werrick and Blacknail were thrown off and tumbled into the melee.
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