The four hours Blacknail had given his scouts were almost up, and it was time for them to return from their hunt, so Blacknail decided to wait a few minutes before heading off to track down Avorlus. The scout that had found him needed a moment to catch his breath anyway, and some of the minions that had stayed at the mansion had wandered off and needed to be rounded up.
After stretching and yawning to shake off the effects of his nap, Blacknail sent out word for everyone to meet at the main foyer. There, they began preparing to head out, while they waited for the laggards to arrive. Equipment needed to be sorted, disguises had to be fixed, and loot had to be stashed away.
It didn’t take long for the scouts that had been sent out to start coming back. The first hobgoblin that arrived walked through the front door and reported that he hadn’t found anything of interest. However, Blacknail couldn’t help but notice that his clothes were absolutely covered in blood that smelled suspiciously human.
“What happened to you?” Blacknail asked.
“I tripped,” the hobgoblin replied meekly as he turned to avoid meeting Blacknail’s eyes.
“Into a giant puddle of human blood?”
“Er… yes. That.”
Before Blacknail could question him more – like about how the puddle had gotten there in the first place – he was distracted by the arrival of another scout. This one had something sitting on its shoulders. It was a human, a very small one.
“Weeee,” the little brown haired child laughed as he threw his hand up into the air. He was dressed in fine looking clothes and didn’t seem put off by the presence of all the hobgoblins at all, least of all the one he was riding.
Blacknail stared. “What is that?”
“I found it behind a house. Can I keep it?”
“Green men!” the child giggled as it stuck its tongue out at Blacknail.
“No, you can’t keep it. I already have to deal with too many small useless critters, and that thing can’t even feed itself. It could take over a year to properly train it!” Blacknail growled angrily. He had no idea how long it took human children to grow up, or how old this child was. He just knew they matured slower than goblins, so it took around six years, maybe?
“I know it’s pink and ugly, but look at its chubby face and big cute eyes! Don’t you just want to give it treats and pat its head?” the hobgoblin explained as he set the child down.
“No, take it back, right now!”
“Angry green man,” the child laughed.
“I promise to feed it and train it to do chores.”
“No! I don’t have time for this. Go return it. You can catch up to us later.”
“Aww,” the hobgoblin scout replied sadly as he turned to leave the mansion and do as he was told.
The arrival of Herah and Scamp was quite plain by comparison. They were merely pushing a wheelbarrow full of junk and food between them.
“Did you even look for the mage?” Blacknail asked them. He was not amused. It seemed like most his scouts had simply been slaking off. It was a miracle that one of them had actually stumbled onto Avorlus’ path.
“Sure, he wasn’t in any of the sausage shops we went to,” Scamp replied as he stopped pushing the wheelbarrow and let go of it.
“Why would he be in a sausage shop?”
“That’s where I would be.”
Blacknail glared at Scamp. Once they got out of this city, the hobgoblin was going to be given an endless stream of chores to do, or get stabbed to death. Either one would be fine.
“I looked for the mage. I’d do anything for you,” Herah interjected as she approached.
“As you should. I’m the leader,” Blacknail replied absently as he stepped out of the way of her attempt to lean against him. At this point, it was second nature to him.
“I also have cheese!” Herah said as she presented him with a small bundle wrapped in cloth.
Blacknail quickly snatched the present from her and sniffed it. It was cheese, alright. It wasn’t the best type, but it was far from the worst as well.
“You’re my new favorite,” Blacknail told her approvingly.
“Does that mean I get a hug?”
“No, not at all,” Blacknail replied as he eyed her suspiciously. He knew she wanted to mate with him, but why did she want to hug him? Was she trying to trick him somehow?
When everyone had gathered and gotten ready, the scout who had located Avorlus led the way back out into the city. The hobgoblins quickly left the central district and made their way into the outer parts of Daggerpoint, where everything was dirtier and more cramped. It was beginning to get dark out as the day grew old, and the sun was now touching the western horizon. The streets had become less crowded as shops closed and the shadows had lengthened. This made it easier for Blacknail’s party to move through Daggerpoint without drawing too much attention. They passed through the residential area, walked past streets full of shops, and exited an alley to emerge among rows of derelict-looking warehouses. There was no one in sight but the occasional rustle or clank could be heard from down a dark alley. It was probably just rats, or orphans. They were pretty much the same thing anyway.
“That’s the place there,” the hobgoblin scout said as he peered out from behind the corner of a building and pointed to a warehouse.
Blacknail joined him and leaned around the corner as well. All the other hobgoblins were behind him. “You followed the scent here?”
“I found the mage’s trail in a nearby alley and it led me here, boss. There are men guarding the entrances so I went back to get you.”
“And the enemy?”
“The hunters. They are in the buildings around us. The watch and wait. For what, I don’t know.”
“They probably want to move in darkness. Even in Daggerpoint people would notice a small battle and come see what was happening,” Blacknail mused to himself as he scanned the nearby windows for signs of watchers.
“What do you want to do, boss?” Scamp asked.
“We will sneak in and try to find Avorlus. There is no way some lazy city humans will see us,” Blacknail answered haughtily as he turned to face his minions and rubbed his hands together in glee. This shouldn’t be too hard.
Before anyone could reply, there was a loud boom. The orange light of untamed flames shredded the nearby shadows. The unmistakable crack and thud of flying masonry filled the air and all the hobgoblins flinched. One of the walls of Avorlus’ hideout had just exploded, and there was a cacophony of excited shouts from within.
Blacknail leaned back around the corner and frowned in annoyance. As he watched, a squad of armored human warriors stormed out of a door across the street and ran toward the action. Their leader was very clearly holding a mage staff, and as soon as they had disappeared into a side street there was another explosion.
“Or we could wait here and see what happens,” Blacknail told his minions. This didn’t seem like a situation he wanted to get involved in.
“Great idea, boss!” Scamp agreed as the other hobgoblins nodded.
“You are so wise,” Herah added fawningly as she fluttered her eyelashes his way.
There was another explosion, and then a body flew out of a second-story window and smacked into the street below. It slid briefly across the cobblestones before coming to a stop. A few moments later, a new squad of armored soldiers marched out of an alley and took up position in front of the door of Avorlus’ warehouse. They ignored the corpse that lay by their feet.
“Wow, the humans in this city sure have a lot of fun,” Scamp remarked in surprise.
Flames were now leaping out of some of the first story windows. A burning man threw himself out of one of them and began thrashing around on the ground. He screamed for a few seconds before one of the soldiers walked over and silenced him with a stab of his sword.
Several minutes passed as the hobgoblins in the shadows watched the building burn. Blacknail took the time to try and come up with a new plan, but nothing came to mind that didn’t end with him staring down the business end of a mage’s staff. Then, there was a crash, and several figures stepped out of the warehouse’s front door. By the light of the fire, they were recognizable as the attacking soldiers that had entered the warehouse before. Their leader with the mage staff was still with them. More importantly, two of soldiers were carrying a limb body between them. Blacknail studied the figure and saw the familiar figure of a white-haired old man. It was Avorlus!
“That’s him, our quarry,” Blacknail hissed as he pointed at the unconscious mage.
“It seems like these humans got him first,” Scamp replied.
“Too bad, let’s go home!” another hobgoblin added. He seemed a little frightened by all the mayhem, so Blacknail stomped on his foot and gave him a hard stare to remind him of who he should really be afraid of.
The two groups of soldiers had now merged and Avorlus was right in the very middle of them. Suddenly, two men in the dark uniforms of Avorlus’ bodyguards rushed out of the front door of the warehouse. It wasn’t clear if they were chasing after their master or just trying to escape the flames. They had swords in hand, and like all of the rogue mage’s men, they were heavy set and tough looking. Avorlus also had a habit of making his guards into Vessels, since that was his magical specialty.
The leader of the soldiers saw the guards emerge from the building, and he raised his staff. As soon as it was pointed in their direction, a blast of force shot out and slammed into the closest guard. There was a crash as he was sent flying back through the door and into the building. Before the other bodyguard could even react, a second blast smashed into him. He was also blown backwards, but instead of going back through the door, there was a loud splat as he hit the wall.
The leader of the attackers then studied the building for a few seconds, before flipping his staff around. He fiddled with the knobs on the side, and then he pointed it back at the building. A heavy boom shook the air as a green ball of energy of slammed into the building. It flew in through a window and exploded within the building, causing the earth to shake slightly. However, the mage didn’t stop there. He fired three more times. The walls of the building began warping and then the entire warehouse collapsed into a pile of burning rubble. A second mage with a staff then stepped forward and began spraying the remains with a stream of water. The water hissed and steamed as it hit the flames and hot stones. It didn’t take long for all the visible fires to be put out.
“Let’s not fight them,” Herah suggested. She sounded impressed, and Blacknail didn’t blame her. This was easily one of the greatest displays of magic he had ever seen. Usually mages held back more.
With the building completely destroyed, the soldiers started marching away down the street. They moved quickly, as if they were in a hurry, and Blacknail could guess why. They hadn’t exactly been subtle during their attack. Even this late, people would be coming to investigate all the noise they had just made. There were probably already some unwanted eyes around.
“We are following them. Be sneaky and stay out of sight,” Blacknail hissed at his minions as he stepped out on the street and began stalking after the soldiers.
“You don’t have to tell me that,” a hobgoblin whispered as he began tiptoeing after Blacknail. “I’m going to be sneakier than ever, so I don’t end up going splat against a wall.”
The other hobgoblins then followed, if somewhat reluctantly. It was night now, and a slim crescent moon was visible in the sky overhead. Without the firelight, it was dark and hard to see out, although there were still some light streaming from windows. Daggerpoint was a large city, and some streets were lit and still occupied, but the soldiers avoided them.
The rooftops started pressing closer together as the group Blacknail was following headed into a lower end residential distract. To get a better view, Blacknail jumped onto a pile of barrels and climbed up the side of a building. He pulled himself onto the clay tile roof and then continued after his prey. The soldiers travelled down several dark streets and more than a few tight alleyways, as Blacknail stalked them from above. The soldiers had a rear guard that was watching their retreat, but none of them looked up for pursuers, which was a common human failing.
As his minions followed below, Blacknail leaped from one roof to another. He landed softly with almost no noise, and then he scrambled after his quarry. He caught up to them and stopped to watch from behind a chimney as they suddenly came to a stop outside a large shop. It was a large two story building along a fairly prosperous-looking street, although there was no one out at this time of night. The door of the shop was opened by someone within and then the soldiers hurried inside with Avorlus.
Below Blacknail, his hobgoblin minions arrived and took up position in the shadows of a tight alleyway. They waited for his orders as he studied the building. Inside, a light flared into existence, but the windows were shuttered so nothing was visible inside. After a few moments of thinking, Blacknail scrambled down the side of the building to join his minions in the alleyway.
“What now, boss?” Scamp whispered.
“Now we prepare to move,” Blacknail replied quietly. “These humans are very organized and this is their base. There will be sentries all around here. Check the nearby buildings and streets. I want every one of them found and watched.”
“Can we kill them?” another hobgoblin asked eagerly.
“Not yet,” Blacknail answered. This didn’t please many of his minions, but they knew better than to complain.
“It’s a night hunt,” Herah remarked as she smiled. She didn’t seem too disappointed.
“Yes, and it will be easy. Humans can barely function in the dark,” Scamp bragged.
As they broke up into smaller groups and headed out, the hobgoblins began betting with each other about who would find the most sentries. They were far more eager for action now that there was little chance of a face-to-face fight breaking out, and hobgoblins loved to hunt, even when it didn’t immediately end in blood.
Blacknail left two minions behind to watch the front door and then took another with him as he circled around to find the back entrance. If anyone left the shop he wanted to make absolutely sure he knew about it. Once he’d found a comfortable spot on a nearby rooftop to watch from, he settled in to wait. Now was not the time to act. It was best to let the humans relax their guard, and then strike when they were unprepared. The guild wanted Avorlus alive, and he had been unconscious when he’d been captured, so that meant Blacknail had time.
Midnight came and went as Blacknail waited with the patient focus of a predator. The night grew pitch black and then began to lighten, as hobgoblins reported in to their leader and then went back out to scout or watch their quarry. Several enemy sentries had indeed been found and easily evaded. Several humans slipped into and out of the shop, but none of them were Avorlus. As the very first rays of the sun began to shine out from behind the horizon, Blacknail decided it was time to move.
“Now, tell the others to take out all the sentries and then report back here,” he told two of his minions that were behind him. They nodded and ran off to spread the word.
Soon, grinning hobgoblins began arriving as Blacknail’s forces gathered. Several of them already smelled of blood from taking out the enemy sentries.
“All the watching humans are dead?” Blacknail asked.
“Except the two in the shop that are watching the streets from windows,” Scamp replied.
“Then we take them out now, at the same time I go in to find Avorlus.”
“Whatever you want, boss.”
“Exactly,” Blacknail hissed in reply. “I’m the leader, and if you follow my orders then we will get what we came for without a problem.”
At Blacknail’s command, Scamp led a small group of hobgoblins over to scale the front of the building and take out the sentry that was posted at the window there. Blacknail took three helpers and went to do the same to the sentry at the side window. After descending to the ground, he crept through the shadows and towards the shop. When he got to the wall, he reached up and began scaling it by grabbing the rough stonework. Soon, he was dangling just beneath the windowsill. He waited there until he heard a quiet whistle from below. That was the signal. The sentry was alone and had turned away from the window. Grinning, Blacknail reached up and then pulled himself up onto the window. His strong, light, and agile body allowed him to move with both ease and in complete silence.
There was a small sitting room in front of Blacknail. It was barely lit by a single small lamp off in a far corner. The sentry was an armored soldier and had walked away from the window so he could grab a bite of food from a tray on a table off to one side. There was only about seven feet between him and Blacknail, and he seemed completely unaware of the fact that he wasn’t alone anymore. In one smooth motion, Blacknail drew a long dagger and leapt towards the man’s back. He sailed through the air like an errant shadow, and as he landed on his target, he pulled the man’s head back and reached around to cut his throat. The dagger sliced effortlessly through the flesh, and then Blacknail pulled the man down to the ground and stabbed him under the ribs for good measure. Blood spilled out of the wounds as Blacknail pinned the sentry against the floor. He died a few seconds later without ever managing to put up a fight, or even get a look at his attacker.
His prey slain, Blacknail stood back up and grinned viciously at nothing in particular. He was practically vibrating with bloodlust, but he suppressed it as he walked over to the window and signaled for his minions to climb up. They were in. Now they just needed to find Avorlus without alerting the mages.
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