After staring at Myagnoir’s unmoving head for several long moments, Blacknail eventually worked up the courage to go over and examine it. The beast didn’t appear to be breathing, so he poked it in the eye with his sword. The massive mutant drake didn’t lurch back to life and devour him in one bite. In fact, it didn’t move at all. The beast seemed very dead.
“I killed Myagnoir!” Blacknail announced to the world as he turned to grin at his allies. He’d done it! He’d slain the toughest monster in the North and somehow survived!
Ilisti just nodded and looked tired, before dropping his lance. However, Khita grinned back at him. “We all worked together. I was fighting the entire time.”
Blacknail frowned at her. “I got the finishing blow in though.”
“It was still a team effort.”
“That’s not what you said after you stabbed Werrick in the back. You went around bragging about how you killed him. You didn’t mention me or teamwork.”
“So? What are you getting at?” the redhead asked as she scowled suspiciously at the hobgoblin.
Blacknail smiled smugly. “Myagnoir was a lot tougher than Werrick. The drake was also way more famous and feared. It had like six names! I wonder if I’m the Doom now. That’s how it works, right? That’s a great bandit name. You can be called the Wolf Killing Cat or whatever, if you want.”
This led to increasingly loud argument with Khita, but eventually Ilisti reminded the hobgoblin that there were still things to do. Thus, Blacknail squashed the unusual exuberance he felt after his unexpected triumph and went to yell orders at his scattered minions. Most of the lazy fools were laying around on the ground. They could moan and groan later.
Soon, Blacknail managed to gather up his dispersed minions and reform them into something like and organized group again. Quite a few of them were injured, which was annoying since it reduced his manpower, but they’d brought medicine and healers along so must of them would probably live. Hobgoblins were tough, and also easily replaced.
With Maygnoir dead at Blacknail’s hands, Coroulis was probably empty of any more threats. Drakes were quite territorial. Thus, Blacknail felt secure in sending his minions out to search the ruins of the city. They needed to find the silver after all, and he didn’t want to stay here longer than necessary. It was important to get the silver back to the human lands quickly so that they could fight the plague and the boggarts. If they didn’t do it, then he would have to, and he really wasn’t looking for more work to do.
Thankfully, it only took two hours for some lucky scouts to stumble upon a horde of silver. Blacknail spent that time laughing at Khita and proudly posing next to Myagnoir’s dead body.
It turned out that the keep Myagnoir had made its lair in contained a large stockpile of silver bars from the old mines outside Coroulis. The drake must have chosen the keep as its lair for that reason. Apparently, even drakes loved collecting shiny stuff. Hmm, maybe Blacknail would keep some of the shiniest bits of silver for himself. He was sure he could find somewhere to stash them.
There was enough silver in the keep to make transporting it all at once impossible, and there was undoubtedly much more stashed around the city. Coroulis had been famous for its iron and silver mines after all. Getting the silver south would be the hard part, but even that was manageable. The human nobles were already throwing resources at the problem. Roads could be rebuilt and barges could carry silver downstream.
Even if they did somehow run out of loose silver, the mines were still there. It should be easy enough for Blacknail to re-open them, although that would require a more permanent presence. Hmmm, that wouldn’t be a terrible idea. Having conquered Coroulis by defeating its old ruler in a legendary battle to the death, Blacknail didn’t really plan on giving the city up. Coroulis was his now. Yes, it was going to take a while for them to gather up all the silver and transport it south, and the city was far too important to leave unguarded, so he’d need to leave a large force here anyway. Otherwise, some stupid human noble might try and seize it.
Hmm, it wasn’t like he was going to be short on minions any time soon. Most of his local enemies were dead, and more and more goblins and hobgoblins kept appearing to take his food. Coroulis was as good a place for them to live as any now that Myagnoir was dead. The place had a lot of… space and materials laying around. It had also been Saeter’s old home, so he’d probably have liked it to be rebuilt. Maybe he’d rename the place Saeterville or Saeterhome.
Regardless of his long-term plans, the next thing Blacknail had to do was lead his minions back south with as much silver as they could carry. All the dead humans and left behind a quite a few horses, and the hobs had brought some boars to carry their own supplies, so they should able to move a fair amount of silver in the first trip.
As Blacknail was getting the silver loaded up and everyone ready to move, Khita walked up beside him. “I wonder if Gob has sent Werrick’s remaining men fleeing for their lives yet. I want a chance to go at them and see them flee before me, but we’ll probably be too late. All of the Wolf’s camps and towns will probably fall before we get back. Without Werrick, I doubt they have much steel in their spines.”
“Sure,” Blacknail replied vaguely. It was usually best not to think too much about what Khita said.
“I suppose that means we’ve conquered the North. No one will dare fight us now. You’ve got your hobgoblin armies and I’m an invincible swordswoman.”
What? Blacknail gave her an incredulous look. That was a very ridiculous thing to say, even or her. He’d conquered the North, not her. Also, she was an average swordsman at best.
“So, what are we going to do next?” Khita asked. “I know you. You’ve always got a scheme!”
“I would be curious to hear of this as well,” Ilisti announced as he walked over to join them. “You are now both my neighbor and the most powerful lord in all the nearby lands. You’ve accomplished this with no small amount of cunning and daring, so what is it you now seek?”
Blacknail shrugged. It was true. Soon, all the north would be his. He wasn’t quite sure what he was going to do with it, but whatever. He’d put too much effort into conquering it and killed far too many people to worry about that now. “Once I’m done getting rid of all the bandits that refuse to swear to me, I’m going to take a really long nap in my mansion.”
“Boring,” Khita replied as she stuck out her tongue.
“That seems unwise. What of the boggarts? They remain a threat, even in the northern lands that you claim,” the vympir pointed out.
Blacknail stifled a groan. This was by far his least favorite part of leadership, the responsibility. He hated that. Come to think of it, he’d never really planned to conquer the North because he actually wanted to run it. He’d simply fought to prevent Werrick from taking it over. Also, it was just sort of there. Someone had to control it, and why shouldn’t all the North be his territory? He was the best leader and fighter in or out of the Green after all. Couldn’t he just delegate everything and relax in his mansion all the time? That’s how leadership was supposed to work.
“I’ll send hunters out to kill the boggarts in my lands and destroy any nest I find, but I don’t think they’ll be too eager to fight me. It’s humans they hate, and I’ve bloodied them every time we’ve met,” the hobgoblin explained.
“And what about the South? If the boggarts do consume those lands, they will inevitably move north.”
“I plan on letting the humans fight the boggarts as much as possible. They should be grateful for all the effort I’ve put into getting them silver,” Blacknail said before grunting sourly. “Not to mention, fighting Myagnoir for them.”
Ilisti frowned. “I don’t think most nobles have such gratitude in them. The position breeds a certain selfishness.”
“Damned blue bloods,” Khita cursed.
“They’ll smile and be grateful if they know what’s good for them. Otherwise, they won’t be getting any silver,” Blacknail remarked coldly. “Besides, it’s not like I won’t have lots to do here in the North. I need to deal with all the refugees and keep my hobs out of trouble, which will mean making sure they have food and shelter. I also need to watch Coroulis and guard the silver here, and that means I need to keep repairing all the roads since I’m moving so many troops and supplies around. I also need to deal with all the territory Gob will have taken over and the humans who live there.”
Ilisti nodded. “I see. You do have a point. Perhaps it is best not to overextend. It’s is good that you are taking your duties to your vassals seriously. I had been afraid you’d let things devolve into chaos, when a true lord needs a firm hand. Personally, I don’t plan on straying from my own city of Herscrest for some time after I return. I too have many responsibilities there.”
The vympir then excused himself and went to take care of his remaining men. Blacknail watched him leave with a frown. Ugh, there was that word again, responsibility. He’d had way too much of that when he’d just been in charge of one hobgoblin city, now he was supposed to look after all of the North. Hmm, if he ran off into the forest and headed north toward the Iron Teeth it was unlikely that anyone would be able to catch him and drag him back. He could find some goblins living on the other side of the mountains and train them to be his perfect servants. Then, he’d have no responsibilities whatsoever. It was tempting, but he’d run out of cheese pretty quickly though…
There was also a little voice in his head that kept reminding him that vengeance wasn’t what Saeter would have really wanted from Blacknail. Herad would be quite happy about that, but not Saeter. The old ranger had wanted a united and prosperous North, and now Blacknail had united the North.
“Rat piss,” Blacknail swore. He couldn’t just destroy his old master’s dream. Without him around, the North would swiftly fall apart and become worse than ever. It needed an amazing and super intelligent leader like him. The burden of being so incredible at everything was heavy indeed.
There was cough from Khita, reminding Blacknail that she was still standing beside him. “I’ve been thinking. If you’re not going to do anything exciting for a while, then maybe I should go south and help fight the boggarts. I have my own men, and I’m sure some of your hobs would go with me. The kingdoms would probably pay us quite well. And it would be a great way to spread the legend of the Red Cat!”
Blacknail eyed her. Was it possible she might finally leave him alone? “You should probably do that then. I’ll let you have as many hobs as you want.”
No matter what happened, Khita’s plan seemed like a win for him, especially if she never came back. Although… maybe he should send someone competent with her, so that she didn’t get into too much trouble. Ralphi had used to be soldier, so he was probably a good pick.
“Thanks. With a force of hobgoblins behind me, I’ll be queen of the world in no time!”
Blacknail rolled his eyes but decided against making any comment about that. There was no point. More likely she’d trip over her own feet, break her neck, and end up dead in ditch somewhere.
“Why don’t you go check on the prisoners. I’m putting you in charge of them.”
“Good idea!” Khita replied before hurrying away.
Blacknail smirked after her. He’d known she couldn’t resist the opportunity to brag and lord over some humans who couldn’t escape.
Soon, the remains of Sir Masnin’s expedition and the secret force of hobs that Blacknail had brought had loaded up on silver and were ready to move. They headed out through the crumbling gates of Coroulis’ walls and back out into the Green. The forest loomed around them, thick and full of the sounds of life.
Blacknail led the way. He wanted to set an example, and the front was the best place for the leader. Behind him came a mob of hobgoblins. Led by Herah and Scamp, they were escorting several large bristleback boars that had been loaded with gear and silver. The pigs snorted loudly as they lumbered forward, but generally acted much better behaved than Blacknail remembered them being. The training must have worked. He hadn’t seen them maul a single person yet.
Imp and his disciples were among the hobgoblins. The mage was toying with one of the fire staffs they’d looted from the human mages. He hadn’t stopped messing with the weapon since he’d gotten his hand on it. Apparently, he was learning a lot and couldn’t wait to try to replicate the magical weapons. He’d also assured Blacknail that the staff was unlikely to explode, although Blacknail wasn’t quite so certain of that. That was the other reason he was all the way up at the front.
The human prisoners came next, with Khita swaggering alongside them, a smug grin on her face. Only the most injured of the prisoners were riding. The rest of them were forced to walk as their horses had been used to carry cargo. There were also quite a few horses taken from slain knights. Holding up the back was Ilisti and his men. The vympir seemed to prefer that position.
Glancing back, Blacknail saw that almost no one behind him seemed happy to enter the forest and began hiking. Sour looks decorated many faces. many of them were exhausted after the fighting and there was no shortage of wounded. Nonetheless, they had a long journey ahead of them before they reached civilization, and they were going to have to push their pace if they wanted their cargo to make a difference in the fight against the plague. At least, they were unlikely to run into any hostile mutants on the way back, since it seemed like they’d already stumbled into all of them on the way here.
A flicker a movement off in some trees to the side caught Blacknail’s eye. Upon glancing at the source of the movement, Blacknail was reminded that there was one mutant still around, even if it was only mildly hostile. It was the goat.
Sighing in resignation, Blacknail produced a piece of cheese and held it out. Seeing this, the goat ambled out of the bushes and walked over to the hobgoblin’s side. It eyed him skeptically for a moment and then snatched the cheese from his hand. Chewing on the snack, it matched Blacknail’s pace and walked beside him.
Briefly, Blacknail considered trying to kill the beast now that it seemed to have finally dropped its guard, but quickly discarded that idea. The goat was probably trying to trick him, and it had its uses anyway. It had – accidentally – saved him from Werrick after all. During that escape, the hobgoblin had managed to ride the beast for a short while, which meant he could probably tame it. It would make a great mount for someone as famous and amazing as him. He was the ruler of the North now, so couldn’t walk everywhere, not with all those fancy humans riding around and looking down on him. Also, there was no doubt that a mutant goat would be a much more regal and inspiring mount than a mere smelly horse. Ha, all the fancy noble humans would be insanely jealous of his goat.
Yes, Blacknail would just keep feeding the beast cheese as they made their way back south. Before too long it would grow used to him and he could try jumping on its back again. Having a mount would definitely help him fight other mounted foes, such as Werrick…
Hmm, it was hard to remember that Werrick was actually dead. The man had been Blacknail’s obsession for a longtime now. He was used to hating the man with an intense burning passion and plotting his terrible vengeance. Now how was he going to spend his spare time?
Regardless of all his victories and ambitions, Werrick had managed to get himself killed by some crazy street rat that should have died a long time ago. Blakcnail couldn’t imagine anything more embarrassing than dying by Khita’s hands. It served him right, although it also should have been far more painful.
Well, taking Werrick’s skull as a decoration would certainly help him remember that he was dead. Right now, the man’s bloody head was wrapped up in sack, but where should he keep the skull when he got back? It would be a waste to simply stick it on a stake. He should put it in his throne room! He didn’t have a throne yet, but with Werrick dead, he was basically the king of the North, so he certainly deserved a throne. How did you make one though? Did he need to kidnap a certain kind of human?
Bleh, he was already running into problems. Being king seemed like it was going to be a lot of work and very annoying. At least he could still have fun messing with all his minions and the humans. It would be amusing to make them do silly stuff for him in exchange for silver and gold rocks, and it had been a while since he’d last worked on perfecting his human trap…
Free Bonus Chapter!
Get access to a 9000 word bonus chapter set in The Iron Teeth and a new world map by joining my mailing list today.