Grunting in annoyance, Blacknail wandered away from the center of the hobgoblins’ forest camp and sat down on a stone that was right beside his tent. He needed to take a quick break. Being around Khita was tiring, and he’d just completed a difficult mission that had involved a lot of hard fighting and great leadership. He also hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep last night – for reasons – and it was still early in the morning. Blacknail closed his eyes, but he found it difficult to clear his mind. Up in the trees, the birds were singing their morning tunes and incessantly chirping away. He was also not left alone. Khita murmured something to Herah and than wandered over to Blacknail’s side.
He looked up at her and scowled. “What do you want?”
“To talk to you about some things,” Khita replied with a shrug.
“Too bad. Go away.”
She didn’t listen. “I was just having a chat with Herah.”
“My eyes and ears work fine. I knew that,” Blacknail observed derisively.
“Wow, you’re grumpy right now.”
“I’m trying to rest my eyes and think, but you’re bugging me, like a bug. Stop buzzing around and go away,” Blacknail replied with a wave of his hand as if to shoo her away.
“Well, you’re not busy right now, and this is important.”
“Fine, what is it?” Blacknail sighed. It was probably best to deal with Khita quickly so that she would leave him alone.
Khita smiled gleefully. “Right, so I was talking to Herah and she mentioned that you’d been avoiding her, even though anyone can see that she wants to jump your bones.”
“That’s none of your business. Why do you care?” Blacknail hissed.
“Herah is my friend.”
Blacknail doubted that, but he humored the redhead. “She’s a hobgoblin.”
“And you don’t find them attractive? What, do you like human women, or men, or something?”
“Huh?” Blacknail sputtered in surprise. What was she getting at? Did she know about Luphera?
“That’s nonsense. Stop being so stupid, you ugly human!” he quickly shot back. “Of course hobgoblins are much better looking than humans. You’re all fat, and pink!”
“Then what’s the problem?” Khita asked.
Blacknail rolled his eyes and sneered at her. “Hobgoblins can’t be trusted. They are devious and violent. Letting them near you is stupid. I can’t let her get too close or she might kill me and take my place as leader.”
Khita gave Blacknail a perplexed look as she titled her head to the side. “You’re a hobgoblin too…”
“That’s why I know they can’t be trusted.” Blacknail explained. No one knew hobgoblins better than he did.
“So the others and I shouldn’t trust you?”
Blacknail hesitated before replying. “…because I’m loyal and amazing, and I’m already the leader anyway.”
Khita shook her head. “Right, I think you’re being stupid and paranoid. Herah is attractive for a hobgoblin, right?”
“Yes,” Blacknail answered uncertainly. That was one of the reasons she was dangerous.
“Then you should definitely hook up with her! Just have fun!”
“What?” Several rather odd and confusing images popped into Blacknail’s head. He gave Khita a startled look.
“You should have sex with her,” she explained dryly.
“I don’t want your advice about this. Go away, stupid girl.” Seriously this might be the most annoying conversation Blacknail had ever had with Khita, and that was saying something.
“Ugh, you’re being stupid. Just relax and have fun. We’re all going to die eventually,” Khita told him as she turned and began walking back to Herah.
“But I have things to do before then,” Blacknail growled at her back.
Khita didn’t know anything. She was human, and not a very smart one. Sure, Blacknail would have enjoyed playing around with Herah. She had nice pointy ears, and a properly thin body, unlike Luphera, but she was dangerous. Blacknail could feel it in his bones. More than once, he’d caught her looking at him like he was a big juicy steak. That was unnerving. Yet, Luphera couldn’t be trusted either and he’d messed around with her. Blacknail could take care of himself, and it was possible that Herah wasn’t actually trying to kill him. Perhaps he was just so handsome that she couldn’t help but want to be with him and keep him around? He did have the nicest looking nose in the North. Before Blacknail could think about the situation any more, a hobgoblin appeared at the edge of camp and ran over to him.
“Boss, I found something while I was in the city,” the newcomer announced excitedly.
“Oh? What is it? Blacknail asked as he looked up. He wasn’t going to ask why the hobgoblin had been wandering the city alone, because he already knew the answer. A lot of the hobgoblins were sneaking away to explore. He was also grateful for the interruption.
“A familiar scent, a human. I found someone in the city that was back at our main camp!”
Blacknail could think of only one person that could be. He stood up and smiled. “Oh, really? Take me to them.”
Soon, Blacknail and some his minions were sneaking back into Daggerpoint. Khita and Herah invited themselves along this time, but Blacknail ignored them. It was amazing how ineffectual the city wall was at keeping hobgoblins out. They could easily scale it, dig under it, or slip through the gaps in the wood. It didn’t seem like anyone ever patrolled or repaired the barrier.
“I’m stuck!” Khita hissed from where she was balancing atop the wall. She was having a more difficult time slipping into the city and had required a lot of help.
“Just jump down,” Blacknail told her impatiently.
“It’s like a three story drop from here! Are you going to catch me?”
“No, you’re a big fat human. You’d crush me.” Blacknail told her.
“I’m not fat! You hobgoblins are just skinny,” Khita huffed as she began to slowly climb down. Blacknail had provided her with a rope but it was still taking her forever.
When she reached the bottom, the party quickly made their way along several back streets and towards a rundown residential district. They avoided as many people as possible and people avoided them right back. The dirty looking workers and tired women that walked by gave them plenty of space.
“The trail led here,” the hobgoblin they were all following said as he came to a stop across the street from an inn. They were standing beside an empty stall that somewhat concealed them from casual observation.
The inn was a rather shabby structure that looked like it had seen better days. The faded sign over the door bore the image of a cup, or maybe it was a tower? It was hard to tell. Blacknail took a few moments to think about the best way to approach this situation. Having their entire group walk into the inn would probably be a bad idea. There was no way a whole group of hooded individuals wouldn’t draw attention once they were inside. He would probably be fine if he went in with just Khita, but then what would he do once he found his target?
As Blacknail was mulling his options, the door swung open and a man stepped out. After exiting the building, he briefly scanned the surroundings, but his gaze swept right over Blacknail’s group without concern, and he began walking away from them and down the street.
“That’s him. Follow me,” Blacknail hissed as he set off after the man.
The hobgoblins and Khita hung back while their target remained in plain sight of the public. They watched and waited for several minutes as he wandered the city streets, until finally he stepped off of a main road and into an alley. Instantly, Blacknail put on a burst of speed and sprinted after him, with his minions in pursuit.
In the alley ahead, the man began muttering to himself and kicked a bit of trash. “Damn, innkeeper. He should be paying me to stay in such dirty rooms. If only those raider bastards hadn’t taken almost all my gold.”
Suddenly, he froze as if he’d heard something. With a startled look on his face, he turned to look back over his shoulder. He swiftly spotted the cloaked hobgoblins and jumped in surprise.
“Is this about the money?” he squealed. “Were you sent by Jasper to collect? I don’t have it on me, but I swear I can get it. My luck at cards is usually very good. That was just a onetime fluke.”
Instead of answering, Blacknail motioned his minions forward. They jumped on the startled man and began tying him up with rope they’d prepared beforehand.
“Don’t kill me! Oh, gods. I’ve come too far to die now.”
Once the man was completely secure and gagged, Blacknail removed his hood and leaned over. “Hey there, Elyias! It’s great to see you again. You don’t have to worry anymore. It seems like you got lost and couldn’t find your way back to Shelter, but your great leader is here to help now!”
Elyias’ eyes widened and he opened his mouth wide as if to scream – probably in joy – but then a hobgoblin shoved a sock in his mouth. The only sound he could make was a muffled moan, as he chewed the dirty wool and struggled against the two hobgoblins holding him,
Blacknail smiled and continued talking. “Good thing we found you before this Jasper fellow! It sounds like you were in trouble. Don’t worry, though. He won’t find you at Shelter.”
As Elyias tired to scream something incomprehensible, Blacknail stood up and ordered three of his minions to take the man back to their forest camp and keep him there. As they left, Blacknail wondered where the sock had come from…
“Why do you even want that loser?” Khita asked as she watched Elyias be carried off.
“He’s a friend! We can’t just leave him all alone in this dangerous city,” Blacknail explained as he nodded sagely. It was good to help your friends.
“Whatever, now that you’ve had your fun can we move on to something important?”
“Sure, let’s go meet up with Gerald and Beardy. When I’m not around for too long they get into trouble.”
The inn that Blacknail had last seen his human companions at was in a much better neighborhood on the other side of town from where they were, so it took a while to walk there. With the others gone, only three hobgoblins were left with them, so they didn’t draw too much attention as they walked along the main roads.
When they reached their destination, Blacknail left the other hobgoblins outside and entered through the front door with Khita. The place was mostly empty although there were still a few people around. Most of them seemed to be drinking and keeping to themselves, which suited Blacknail just fine.
“I’ll go up to their rooms. The innkeeper and his employees know me. You should stay down here,” Khita suggested.
“Fine, be quick.” Blacknail told her as he looked around for a good place to sit down.
He chose a table over in an isolated corner. There was no one else near it. As he sat down to wait, Khita walked up the stairs to the second story and out of sight. Blacknail sighed impatiently, but his boredom was quickly interrupted. A big man who had been drinking at a table across the room got up and wandered his way. He was more fat than muscle but his fists were almost the size of Blacknail’s head. It was amazinghow big some humans got.
“Do you think you’re so tough just because you’re wearing a fancy hood? It’s rude indoors, you know,” The huge man said as he glowered at the cloaked hobgoblin. His breath reeked of alcohol. “What, are you hiding your ugly mug? I think you must be a hideous bastard under that. ”
Blacknail sighed again and shook his head. “No, I think I’m tough because I’ve killed a hundred men like you.”
A knife appeared in the hobgoblin’s hand as he stood up. His motions were smooth and so frighteningly quick the man barely had time to react. Blacknail really wanted to work out some frustration by killing this dumb drunk, but that would draw too much attention. Instead, his blade lashed out at the man’s waist. Too quickly to follow, it sliced through cloth and leather while barely grazing the skin beneath.
“Huh?” the drunk remarked as his pants suddenly fell down.
“Leave or die,” Blacknail replied as he sat back down without concern.
The drunk stared at him for moment and then looked down. It took him moment to process what had happened, but when he figured it out he took a quick step back, almost tripped over his pants, and then hurriedly stumbled back to his table as he pulled his trousers back up. There were a few soft laughs from around the room.
Blacknail grunted in amusement as he leaned back in his chair. The incident had gotten the attention of a few people, but they didn’t do anything more than look his way and whisper among themselves. However, some of those whispers reached his ears and drew his attention. There were two men seated at a table across the room, and they were talking to each other while deliberately not looking in Blacknail’s direction. Both of them looked like any other thug off the street.
“Is that the hobgoblin?” one of them asked the other.
His companions whispered back, but Blacknail’s ears caught the reply. “Probably. It’s incredible that it can just walk around like this. Even knowing what to look for I can’t tell if it’s human or not from here.”
“If that’s it then we should go get the others. I’m not going to be getting close enough to peak under that hood, so there is no point in staying around.”
The second thug nodded in agreement, and then they both carefully got up and headed for the door. Blacknail studied them out of the corner of his eye as he pretended to watch the stairs. They knew, but how? Who were they and where had they learned about him? There was only way to find out. Blacknail rose to his feet and followed after the humans.
Once he was outside, he spotted a pair of his hobgoblin minions across the street where he had left them. They also noticed him right away, and he flashed them a quick series of hand signals. Upon receiving his orders, the hobgoblins studied the humans that had just left the inn and nodded back to Blacknail. They then slipped away into an alley and out of sight.
Blacknail waited a few moments, and then he began to trail his targets. He kept his head down and made sure there was always a group of people between him and the two men he was following, as he walked through the crowds that had come out to shop or work. People were walking and talking everywhere, and Blacknail did his best not to stand out as he kept an eye on his quarry.
Then a few moments later, the two men stepped away from the crowd. They walked over to the shadows near a closed shop and began talking amongst themselves, while occasionally scanning the crowd. Blacknail casually sauntered behind a colorful stall and out of sight. It seemed his targets were worried about being followed, but they were also apparently terrible at searching for pursuers. As Blacknail watched, three hobgoblins stepped out of the alley behind the men and dragged them into the shadows.
Blacknail grinned as he sprinted across the street after them. He slipped into the alley and was confronted by the sight of his minions holding the two men at knifepoint. The humans were holding very still and had their hands up above their heads. Both had hobgoblins behind them with blades pressed against their throats.
“Who are you and why were you looking for me?” Blacknail asked them as he stalked over to study them.
“We’re just pickpockets,” one of the men stammered.
“That’s a lie. Cut off one of his fingers. He has lots of them and if he is stubborn we can remove his toes as well,” Blacknail ordered the third hobgoblin that wasn’t holding anyone.
“Wait, no! I’ll tell you everything,” the thug quickly offered. Blacknail motioned for the man to continue talking and for his minion to put his knife away.
“Ahh, I wanted a human finger,” the hobgoblin whined.
The first thug wasted no time in spilling his secrets. It was actually impressive how fast he could talk. “We were sent here to look for the crew that attacked Cedric. Our boss thought that if we handled you then Werrick would reward us, or at least know we weren’t involved. He wanted to make sure you weren’t too much for his gang to swallow first though, so he sent us in to look around before committing the rest of the crew.”
“And how did you know who attacked Cedric or where I was?” Blacknail asked as he leaned forward to stare into the man’s eyes. He was shivering. They were only a few inches apart now, and Blacknail’s inhuman appearance obviously terrified him.
“Our boss paid an informant. They told him about you and they said that you were tied to a group of thieves that used to serve the Black Snake, before she got herself wasted. They also told us where to find them, at the inn.”
Blacknail growled and bared his teeth. “Do you have any proof of what you say?”
This development was very unwelcome. He had been planning on staying in the city for a while and gathering up a lot more supplies and information. If everyone knew who he was and where to find him that would be impossible.
“Um… I have this note from the dealer. It has your pals’ descriptions on it,” the first thug answered as he hurriedly pulled a folded piece of paper out of his pocket. The second man glared at him but kept quiet.
Blacknail took the note and unfolded it while everyone watched him. He took his time to study it carefully, but since he couldn’t read all the scribbles meant nothing to him. However, he recognized a very faint scent that clung to the paper. It smelled of exotic flowers. The scent tingled his nose and excited him.
“Kill the one that didn’t talk. Let the other go,” Blacknail told his minions.
The hobgoblins immediately obeyed. The second thug only had time to blink once before his throat was cut. The other stared at his dying companion in horror as the hobgoblin behind him backed off.
“Wha… why?” he asked in confusion.
“So that people know what happens when they go against me and what happens when they cooperate,” Blacknail answered dismissively as he turned to leave.
The thug stared after him for a second, and then sprinted away down the alley. Blacknail growled to himself as stomped off out into the street. He had some unwanted yet important things to deal with now. His human friends needed warned, and he needed to deal with a tattletale. This was going to be… complicated.
Book 3 is Out!
The third novel in The Iron Teeth series is now out on Amazon. Please support the author and help promote the book by purchasing and reviewing A Bloody Road. Every review and purchase helps a lot!