The sound of his own deep breathing filled Blacknail’s ears as he sat among the loose rocks from the landslide. The corpse of the huge boar lay behind him and in front of him was the fallen body of the mutant wolf. The bloody beast was finally dead. Blacknail had killed it.
Not that the outcome had ever been in question. Sure, the monster had been tough, but Blacknail was a master ranger and swordsman. He could beat anything.
Now, Blacknail was taking a quick break. The energy from the fight and the Elixir were starting to wear off. Pain was beginning to flare up as Blacknail lost the numbness caused by his rage, and he had more than a few injuries. The wolf had gotten in several good blows and had bitten Blacknail’s arm quite hard. The hobgoblin had also fallen down a hill and hit the back of his head against a rock so hard he lost consciousness. He was probably going to need to stitch himself up.
It was a good thing he’d managed to stun the wolf with that thingy… Wait, had he just used Elixir to do some sort of special magic?
“I’m magic!” Blacknail remarked in excitement as he perked up. Ow, the sudden motion had hurt his neck.
All Vessels were technically magic users. That’s why they had increased strength and speed, but real magic was flashier than that. What was the point unless you could do something impressive like breath fire?
“Now I’m the greatest magic hobgoblin warrior ever!” Blacknail announced proudly to the empty air. “And I’m the leader.”
What exactly had he done, though? The wolf had seemed to spasm and panic. The hobgoblin hadn’t shot fire out of his eyes or zapped it with magic death beams, but whatever he had done had also scared the nearby birds in flight. Scared…. Was that it? Had he simply used magic to terrify the wolf into running away?
That sort of sucked. He wanted to shoot fire out of his eyes. Well, at least he was alive and could brag about having real magic. He might even be able to use it to finally get Khita to leave him alone.
Hmm, maybe his power wasn’t so bad, even if it wasn’t fancy looking. There were probably a lot of great and terrible things he could accomplish with such a power, like jumping out at people to scare them silly. He couldn’t wait to see the faces of some of his human minions!
“Oh, wait,” Blacknail suddenly muttered to himself. He had a problem. He was out of Elixir now. He had used his entire last vial to fight the wolf, and Blacknail had no idea where to find more. He couldn’t ask Mahedium.
The sun overhead was heating up Blacknail’s clothes, so he got up and shuffled under a nearby tree. Once there, he pulled off his torn clothes and took out some supplies. His wounds needed looking after. Blacknail gritted his teeth as he applied stinging ointment to himself and sowed up the deeper cuts. When that was done, he took a seat on a large root that jutted out from the bottom of the tree, leaned back, and closed his eyes. He needed a quick break.
No strange dreams overcame him as he rested in the cool shade. The birds resumed their chirping and a breeze blew through the trees. The tired hobgoblin nodded off.
Time passed. A shuffling sound intruded into Blacknail’s sleepy mind. He lazily opened one eye and looked around for the source. There was movement a few feet away, over where he’d dropped his bag. Someone was going through it. Was that Scamp? Blacknail stared at the hobgoblin. It was Scamp!
As Blacknail watched, Scamp finished rummaging through the bag. The other hobgoblin pulled a knife out of the sack and then causally ambled over towards Blacknail. He was still holding the knife up, as if he had plans to use it.
“What are you doing here?” Blacknail hissed angrily as he opened his eyes. He wasn’t sure what Scamp was planning, and because he was a hobgoblin he was untrustworthy.
“Oh, you’re awake,” Scamp remarked in surprise as he hid the knife he was holding behind his back.
“Answer the question.”
“You were making a lot of noise. Rocks go boom and stuff. We could hear you at base, so Gob made me come here and check it out. I’ve been hunting a lot lately. Sometimes Gob doesn’t let me back inside the camp unless I bring meat back with me. He’s mean.”
“And why were going through my bag?”
“Um, in case there was something dangerous in there?” Scamp replied uncertainly. “You never know.”
Blacknail rolled his eyes. He may be injured and tired, but he could still beat up Scamp without any real problems. The only reason he didn’t was because he wanted someone to carry his gear. Scamp couldn’t do that with a broken limb or two.
“Give me my dagger back,” Blacknail said as he climbed to his feet and held out his hand.
Scamp smiled sheepishly and did as he was told. As Blacknail was tucking the blade away, three goblins approached the hobgoblins. They were from the camp and had clearly come with Scamp.
“Come look, little beasts!” the leader of the group announced excitedly as he threw his hands up above his head.
Neither Blacknail nor Scamp had any idea what he was talking about, so they followed the energetic goblin over to the base of the hill. There were rocks everywhere now, but Blacknail recognized the spot that the boars had been protecting. Another goblin was standing just outside of the small fissure there. Blacknail pushed the others aside and peered inside. He immediately spotted what the goblin had been talking about.
There were nine small piglets tucked away in the back of the hole. They were all piled on top of each other for warmth and their little pink snouts stuck out from the mass of their brown striped fur.
“I’m taking these,” Blacknail announced as he reached in and pulled one of the critters out. The little thing squinted up at the hobgoblin and then let out an unimpressed grunt.
“Why?” Scamp asked.
“They look tasty and since they aren’t dead yet they will stay fresh for a while.”
“You’re the boss.”
“Yep, that’s me,” Blacknail agreed as he put the piglet back with the others.
There was no point sticking around. Blacknail had recovered somewhat from his fight with the wolf. Whatever Elixir had been left in his system had all been used up to help him heal. He was in far from perfect shape but he wasn’t about to collapse either. His wounds remained but they were no longer bleeding or limiting his movements.
At Blacknail’s command, goblins rounded up the piglets and the corpse of the alpha wolf. They hung the large carcass from a long pole so that four goblins could all carry it together. It was very heavy but there was no way Blacknail was going to leave his trophy behind. He planned on shoving it in everyone’s faces. They all had to know how great he was. This meant that they had to leave a lot of good meat behind, but since they were only a short journey from camp, Blacknail planned on sending some of his minions back to grab them later.
The group’s journey back to the goblins’ camp took a while because they were burdened by their cargo. Blacknail led the way – because he was the leader – and he didn’t set a fast pace. The constant stops were for safety and not because he was tired or weak in any way. Anyone who suggested that would have instantly regretted making such a slanderous insinuation.
The last stop Blacknail made was right at the edge of the forest that bordered the clearing which contained the goblin base. The sight of his camp surprised him. It had changed a lot while its glorious leader had been away.
The most obvious difference was the wall. Except for the gap that served as the entrance, the wall completely blocked the way into the base. The tall barrier of wooden stakes looked crude, but it was still imposing. Dangerous animals would have a much tougher time attacking the goblin camp now, which was good because Blacknail had to live there, and he’d dealt with enough of those for now.
It looked like Gob had managed to keep everyone busy while Blacknail had been gone. Past the wall, two more longhouses were being built among the hills. That meant the base would soon have four of the long wooden structures. There were also some smaller constructions that Blacknail didn’t recognize, and the entire camp was a hive of activity. Goblins were running around everywhere.
There were even four goblins standing outside the break in the wall. Blacknail couldn’t tell if they were on guard or just hanging around there. They had spears, but they seemed to be zoning out or talking amongst themselves, because none of them had spotted the approaching group of goblins and hobgoblins yet. Suddenly, two of the goblins turned on each other and began fighting. They hissed furiously as they wrestled across the ground. Blacknail made a mental note to make sure he posted a hobgoblin or human on watch duty in the future if there was any real looming threat.
The goblins on watch were so focused on fighting or watching the fighters in their midst that they didn’t see Blacknail’s party they were right in front of them.
“Get out of the way, you stupid runts. I’m the leader!” Blacknail hissed back as he walked over. The fighting goblins were blocking the entrance.
The goblins immediately sprang into action. The two fighters separated and all the goblins lined up to stand at attention. It was way too late for them to look even remotely competent. Scamp chuckled at them but shut up when Blacknail threw him a glare. As if he was any better.
After entering the camp, Blacknail ordered the goblins carrying his trophy to deposit over by the larder. He then dismissed Scamp and headed over to his cave. The idea of taking another nap on his comfy sleeping roll sounded really nice.
However, on the way there he noticed something odd. Blacknail studied a group of seven goblins that were hanging out in the shade under a rock. The little green critters were wearing crude clothing made from small tanned hides that had been sewed together. Two of them had stone axes and three of them were sipping water from clay cups, or at least Blacknail assumed it was water. Looking around, Blacknail spotted several other groups just like it. That was a lot of goblins, way more than he had seen before. Since entering the camp he must have seen over two hundred goblins, and very few of them looked like new arrivals. Most of them had tools and clothes.
Blacknail was thinking this over when he arrived at the entrance to his cave. He immediately noticed that Gob was waiting for him there. The hobgoblin lieutenant looked much the same, although he was now wearing a human shirt and ripped human pants. The sword Blacknail had given him was hanging at his side, which reminded Blacknail that he had to replace his own broken blade.
“I rejoice at your return, great one. I saw the corpse of the wolf you laid low. Your warrior might is beyond belief!” Gob exclaimed happily when Blacknail got close.
“Ya, I’m amazing. I want to sleep now, though. You can compliment me later.”
“You’re hurt! Was it the wolf?” Gob remarked in surprise after studying Blacknail for a second.
“I’m fine! I just need some rest.”
“Yes, boss! If you desire anything then just say so. I will do it.”
“Well, you seem to be doing a good job. Keep it up,” Blacknail told him. Gob was one of his most useful minions.
“Whenever I have a problem I just ask myself what a great leader such as you would do!”
“That sounds like the best thing you could do. You’re very smart to have figured that out yourself,” Blacknail told him. “Did anything important happen while I was gone?”
“The four new hobgoblins woke up and five more goblins fell asleep. You should probably meet them,” Gob answered.
Five new goblins were transforming? That was more than Blacknail had expected so soon. His plan only called for around a dozen. At this rate he was going to end up with far more than he could easily control.
“That is important, but so is napping. They’ve waited a few days already so they can wait one more,” Blacknail remarked thoughtfully. “Also, I was wondering about all these goblins. Why are there so many new ones around?”
Gob shrugged before replying. “They just showed up after the wall was built. Every night they come in from the forest. I made sure to put them to work, as I thought you would wish.”
“Lazy good for nothings,” Blacknail hissed.
The goblins must have realized how much safer it was inside the wall and were taking advantage of all the hard work he had put into making it! He hadn’t built it so every little green pest in the forest could relax inside at his expense. There wasn’t anything he could do about it now, though.
“I will make sure all the goblins work hard to serve you, chief!” Gob replied enthusiastically. Blacknail hadn’t actually been asking him to do anything, but whatever.
“Khita isn’t around, is she?”
“No, the loud human female went to Shelter when you left.”
“Okay, good,” Blacknail replied before yawning. He didn’t want the pest interrupting his sleep.
Since there wasn’t anything else pressing to talk about, Blacknail shooed Gob away and pushed aside the hide covering the entrance to his cave. He then entered and went to sleep on his bed. With the soft cloth beneath him, he was unconscious as soon as he had closed his eyes.
Sunlight was streaming in through the cave entrance when Blacknail woke up the next morning. He yawned and stretched as he opened his eyes and looked around. His wounds felt much better. They had scabbed over and were a little stiff but they didn’t hurt at all.
The sound of quiet breathing drew Blacknail’s attention. He instinctively focused on it and looked for the source, in case it was prey. It wasn’t; it was Khita. She was sleeping in her bed on the other side of the cave. Blacknail stared at her in incomprehension for several long seconds, before throwing his blankets aside and walking over to her. She was supposed to be at Shelter! There was no way she could have travelled to the goblin camp over night.
“Wake up!” Blacknail growled as he shook her shoulder.
“Oh, Blacknail you’re finally awake,” Khita told him as she sat up and blinked the sleep from her eyes.
“What are you doing here? I was told you were at Shelter.”
“I came as soon as I heard you were back. It’s been so boring here without you. You’re the only person here who isn’t an idiot or a coward, but when I got here you just slept for two whole days.”
Blacknail groaned. It wasn’t the next morning at all! He had wasted so much time.
The hobgoblin quickly left Khita behind and ran out of the cave to find Gob. He had things to do. His plan was already in motion and wouldn’t wait for him. Once he had found Gob, Blacknail had his minion take him to see the new hobgoblins. They had been receiving some training from Gob but only Blacknail could do it right. They wouldn’t properly fear him unless he was the one beating them.
None of the new hobgoblin looked or smelled familiar to Blacknail. They hadn’t stood out as goblins. All four of them were dressed the same and wearing loincloths. Gob had probably ordered them to make the clothing themselves. Despite the similarity in their dress though, they were easy to tell apart.
The first two hobgoblins were very similar to each other. They both had long lanky builds and short fuzzy hair on the top of their heads. One had brown hair while the other had grey hair, though. They eyed Blacknail with suspicion as they studied their chieftain with fresh eyes. The pair could probably be trained to obey, though.
The third hobgoblin was a bit shorter and still had some meat on his bones. He also had a small pot belly and was bald like Blacknail. The hobgoblin’s pudgy form was unusual since the hobgoblin transformation normally consumed all of a goblin’s fat. He must have been quite large before his transformation. His expression was guarded but not unfriendly. He seemed to have some measure of self-control already, which Blacknail approved of.
The last new hobgoblin was also a little short but his body was thin instead of fat. He had thick black hair that was long enough it got in his eyes. There was a creepily excited grin on his face as he returned Blacknail’s stare. He didn’t know what to make of it. Was this another goblin with a weird obsession, like Ferrar?
Blacknail then looked down at the hobgoblin’s body. He froze in surprise. Were those breasts? They were. This hobgoblin had a pair of small but noticeable breasts. Understanding dawned on Blacknail as he stared at the naked tits for an uncomfortably long time. This hobgoblin was a female!