The hobgoblin quickly drew his sword. There were no more obstacles between Blacknail and the skilled assassin he’d just pissed off, only a small section of floor. Blacknail really wished he’d had time to dig a pit or set up a snare trap there. That would have made his survival much more likely.
All of a sudden Malthus lunged across the distance separating them and stabbed towards the hobgoblin’s chest. Blacknail side stepped the attack and then countered with a quick downwards slash of his own.
The assassin easily knocked the hobgoblin’s attack aside and then launched a flurry of attacks at Blacknail. The hobgoblin hissed in frustration as he blocked and weaved his way around the strikes. Blades flashed and cloaks swirled as the two combatants fought.
Blacknail knew he was in trouble. He was already having a hard time defending himself, and Malthus was obviously just testing Blacknail. He’d seen the assassin move much faster and more skillfully when he’d fought Herad. The difference in ability and experience between them was just too great.
Blacknail jumped backward to avoid a lightning fast slash aimed at his chest, and quickly readied himself for the next blow. It never came though; his opponent relaxed his guard instead of following after him. Malthus grinned at the hobgoblin while Blacknail watched him warily.
“Good, you’re only a passable swordsman, but at least you’re a Vessel. There’s no other way you could have kept up with me just now. I was worried this was going to be too easy, but this might be somewhat entertaining after all,” Malthus arrogantly remarked, as he showed off by flourishing his sword through the air.
Blacknail rolled his eyes in exasperation. Who was the human trying to impress?
“If you want-ss a hard fight, why don’t you go fight-ss Herad? Oh wait, you did! You fought-ss my mistress, and then you ran away like a rat from a cat,” Blacknail laughed viciously.
“I’m going to kill you,” Malthus hissed angrily in reply.
“You already said-ss that, idiot,” Blacknail pointed out, as he started circling around to place a table between them.
Seriously, what was with humans and repeating themselves? It was annoying.
“Enough games,” the assassin roared as he lost his temper and charged.
Blacknail jumped aside, so that the large wooden table was between them. Malthus didn’t slow down though. The assassin jumped right onto the tabletop and lunged across it as he tried to catch the hobgoblin.
The man was fast; Blacknail had to give him that. Of course he was a Vessel, so he was cheating more than a little. Fortunately, the hobgoblin had just taken some Elixir as well.
As the assassin was sailing over the table towards him, Blacknail dove under it and rolled safely away. If there was one thing that being beaten up by Herad had taught him, it was how to burn the Elixir within himself to avoid attacks by really fast humans.
“But I like-ss games,” the hobgoblin laughed, as he rolled to his feet on the other side of the table.
He could feel the Elixir flowing through his body and energizing his muscles. It tickled the inside of his skin.
The assassin’s face was twisted into a snarl as he stared across the table at Blacknail. He started walking around it towards the hobgoblin, but Blacknail started moving as well.
After several seconds of following him around the table Malthus tried switching directions, but Blacknail instantly switched too.
Malthus grabbed the table and flipped it on its side, then snarled in rage as he charged again. Blacknail ducked into the blind spot created by the table’s top, and then dashed away. When Malthus cleared the obstacle, the hobgoblin was gone and standing several feet away on the other end of another table.
Malthus ground his teeth together and his face went scarlet red. The tip of the sword he was holding shivered as he shook with rage.
“Fight me fair, you coward” the assassin yelled at Blacknail.
“No,” Blacknail hissed back.
“You are not amusing!” Malthus growled as he walked over to the table and stared hard at the hobgoblin from directly across it.
“Yes, I am,” Blacknail replied as he pushed the table forward and slammed it into Malthus’ gut.
“Ugh, hells and damnations,” the assassin wheezed painfully, before wincing and taking a step back to steady himself.
Blacknail couldn’t help himself, he began to chuckle. That had looked like it had hurt.
“Bloody bastard, you are going to pay for that,” Malthus growled as he straightened back up.
The assassin then quickly reached into a coat pocket with one hand and pulled out a vial. He pulled the cork out with his teeth and then drained the contents. He didn’t lower his guard though, because his other hand kept his short sword pointed at the hobgoblin.
Blacknail felt his earlier levity drain away. There was no mistaking the contents of the vial; it was Elixir.
Malthus hurled the glass container aside and then wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his free hand. The assassin glared at the hobgoblin, as he gripped his sword with both hands and raised it over his head. Then he kicked the table forward.
The move caught Blacknail by surprise, but he managed to push off of the edge of the tabletop with one hand and slide backwards without being hit. Unfortunately, that was when the surface he was leaning on exploded; Malthus had brought his sword down and cleaved right through it with all of his strength.
Blacknail’s support was pulled out from under him as the wooden surface collapsed. He stumbled unsteadily for a second, and that was all Malthus needed. He charged through the wooden wreckage, and backhanded Blacknail across the face.
The hobgoblin’s mask absorbed some of the blow, but not all of it. He grunted as pain shot through his jaw and up into his teeth. He tasted blood as he staggered sideways. There was a second of blackness, and the next thing Blacknail knew he was laying down and the hard floor was pressed against his back.
He groaned in pain as he tried to clear his head. Where was he again, and why did he have such a terrible headache? He hadn’t drank any of that human poison they called ale, had he?
Blacknail was gripping something tightly with one hand. It felt like a sword hilt. Why was he holding a sword as he slept? That seemed kind of silly.
The sound of footsteps approaching penetrated his agony, and Blacknail swiftly looked over towards the source of the noise. It was a pair of black boots, and they looked really fancy and tight…
What kind of moron wore boots like that? Wait a second… it was Malthus! This wasn’t good. Blacknail rolled aside just in time. There was a heavy thud as a blade bit into the wooden floor boards that had been under his head a second ago.
Blacknail jumped back onto his feet, as Malthus raised his sword again and descended upon him. The assassin’s blade sliced towards Blacknail’s head, but the hobgoblin stepped out of the way. Their eyes met and they exchanged hateful glares for a second.
“That was very satisfying,” Malthus said as he grinned viscously.
“I’m still alive,” Blacknail replied.
“Not for long. You can’t run from me,” the assassin remarked grimly.
Blacknail begged to differ; Malthus’ anger and confidence was making his attacks easy to predict.
This wasn’t actually going so badly, other than that blow to the head he’d just taken. That had hurt a lot. All Blacknail had to do was keep dodging, and Malthus would eventually make a mistake. Then the hobgoblin could make a run for it.
“You can’t catch me,” Blacknail respond confidently.
“I don’t have to, you little bastard. You’re stuck here, and I’ll soon have reinforcements,” the assassin pointed out.
Oh, right; Blacknail scowled behind his mask, as he realized the man had a very good point. Should he just attack the assassin while he was off guard? He didn’t seem to have any other choice.
“Fine, it’s a challenge,” Blacknail replied coldly, before raising his blade and stepping forward.
Malthus smiled eagerly and raised his own blade. Their gazes met and the two swordsmen locked eyes as they closed in on each other.
That was when the hobgoblin grabbed a nearby chair and whipped it at his opponent. There was no bloody way he was going to fight Malthus fair. Blacknail still remembered seeing the assassin fight Herad, and he knew he was out matched.
There was a grunt of effort from Malthus as he knocked the chair out of the air. Blacknail threw himself forward and tried to skewer the human while his sword was out of position.
Blacknail was focused on Malthus’ eyes, and that gave him a hint of a warning. Something was wrong; the assassin’s eyes gleamed with confidence. Why would they do that? The hobgoblin hesitated in his attack right before he committed himself.
While the chair still partly blocked Blacknail’s view, Malthus’ left hand blurred and something shot towards the hobgoblin. Blacknail instinctively ducked, as a throwing dagger ripped through the air where his head had been less than a second ago.
Blacknail jumped back and raised his sword up into a guard. He stared grimly at his opponent as he reevaluated him. Malthus was much sneakier than he pretended to be. Blacknail was almost impressed.
As the hobgoblin watched, the angry expression slid off the assassin’s face. Malthus then grinned cheerfully and gave Blacknail a respectful nod.
“You missed,” the hobgoblin told him.
“Yes, I did. I honestly thought I had you there though. I spent a fair bit of time and effort setting that trick up, so what gave me away?” Malthus asked Blacknail.
Blacknail ignored his question and just stared at his transformed opponent. The man didn’t seem angry at all anymore. Had he been acting? Why?
“You like games too,” Blacknail replied accusingly.
“Ha, yes. You’ve got me here. I’m a Knifeman not a paladin. Did you really think a man with a reputation such as mine could be such a straightforward fool?”
The answer to that had been yes.
“Why-ss the act?” Blacknail asked suspiciously. He really didn’t like this turn of events.
The black cloaked assassin grinned and shrugged.
“It was fun; there’s nothing I like more than a battle of wits. Locking blades pales in comparison to matching minds. We’re assassins, so a duel between us should be about trickery and wits, not straight forward swordplay. Where would the fun be in just cutting you down without first proving myself superior?” Malthus explained.
“You didn’t look like you were having fun,” Blacknail pointed out.
“Oh, but I was. It was a very interesting fight, and besides I wanted to figure you out before I killed you. However, I must admit that I still have no idea who you are. You’re a very… odd man,” the assassin replied as he titled his head to the side and gave Blacknail an inquisitive look.
The hobgoblin chuckled in response. Apparently, Malthus wasn’t the only good actor here. In fact Blacknail was obviously by far the better actor; he was pretending to be a completely different species.
“Wrong, you’re very wrong,” he replied cheerfully.
The assassin frowned when Blacknail spoke, and he looked him over again.
“I don’t care what you say, you’re not a woman,” he remarked.
Blacknail laughed again. If it was the assassin’s curiosity that was keeping him from attacking then Blacknail was going to give him a mystery. Malthus had been a dangerous opponent even when he’d been acting like an idiot.
“No, not a woman, not a man, nor a child pink of flesh,” the hobgoblin sang out tauntingly.
“But you can’t deny being weird,” Malthus replied as his eyes narrowed and he continued to look Blacknail over. He appeared to be deep in thought.
“Fine, you win. I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I should probably stop letting you stall. I can always figure it out after I’ve killed you and stripped that mask off your face,” the assassin told Blacknail a few seconds later, as he brought his blade back up and stepped towards him.
The hobgoblin had much preferred it when the man had acted like an idiot. He needed a new plan, and he was running out of time. He had to somehow escape, and do it without getting a knife in his back.
Just then, there was a creaking noise as the door behind Malthus opened. Both the combatants slowed as they waited to see who was about to enter the room.
“Horse stink,” Blacknail cursed, as three more assassins entered the room.
The black cloaked figures swiftly started fanning out in an attempt to surround him. It wouldn’t take them very long to navigate through the furniture that filled the library.
“This is still a one on one fight,” the hobgoblin remarked.
“And it will still be one, as long as you don’t try to run,” Malthus replied.
Yep, that was what Blacknail had expected. It was time to leave. He didn’t really have anywhere to go, but he couldn’t stay here. He had a plan, but it was terrible, and was most likely going to get him killed. If he stayed here though, he was definitely going to die.
“Surround the intruder but don’t interfere,” Malthus yelled at his newly arrived companions.
Blacknail used this brief distraction to quickly grab another chair and throw it at Malthus. Before the assassin could responded with another knife Blacknail threw a stone from his pouch at him.
Instinctively, the assassin dodged it which ruined his throw. The knife sailed harmlessly across the room, and nowhere near Blacknail. The hobgoblin then wasted no time in making a mad dash for the nearest window. He sheathed his blade so he could concentrate on running.
Normally, Blacknail would have made a run for the windows earlier, but these ones were barred. Apparently, this Najget man didn’t want anyone accidentally walking off with any of his books, through a window.
The assassins behind him started shouting and chasing him as Blacknail raced towards the window, but there was no way a bunch of humans were going to catch up to him now that he had a head start.
Blacknail just really hoped he was going to fit through those bars. If he didn’t the last few moments of his life were going to be very embarrassing.
The hobgoblin ducked as something whizzed by his head, and then a knife ricocheted off the wall in front of him.
“Damn,” Malthus cursed from behind Blacknail. “I want you all to spread out and make sure he can’t double back. Those windows are barred so he can’t go out that way, but he might have a trick up his sleeve. He’s a cunning bastard.”
Good, the humans didn’t think he would be able to escape through the window, so they weren’t chasing him too quickly. He hoped they were wrong.
Blacknail was now only a few feet from the bars, and his feet were carrying him rapidly closer. He really didn’t like how close together they looked; it was going to be a tight fit. Swiftly the hobgoblin took off his mask and rearranged his pouches.
Before he hit the bars head first Blacknail grabbed them and pulled himself up. He then swung his legs and feet through first. They went through without a problem, but next came his chest. Blacknail felt his ribs compress painfully and push all the air from his lungs as they slid through the opening.
His mouth was forced open and he coughed as his breath burst from his mouth, and then it was his head’s turn. He turned his face sideways and tucked his chin into his shoulders he went through. At first it went smoothly and he thought he was alright, but then the back of his head smashed into one of the bars.
Momentum carried him through, but Blacknail collapsed bonelessly onto the ground outside. His eyes fluttered and he twitched as he lay in a twisted heap there.
“Hells, how the fuck did he manage that,” a surprised Malthus swore as the hobgoblin disappeared from his view.
Blacknail gave himself several seconds to recover and then picked himself up. He groaned and rubbed the back of his head until the shiny little stars had disappeared from his vision. He was very thankful that he wasn’t fat like a human, and that his bones were so bendy. They were supposed to be like that right?
Blacknail shook his head to clear it, and tried to focus. He was far from safe outside. Malthus and the other assassins couldn’t follow him, but the hobgoblin knew they had ordered most the men to watch the perimeter of the building, and that was where he was now.
The yard outside this part of the brothel wasn’t all that wide, and was bordered by a line of shrubs. The plants themselves were just there to conceal the dirty wall of the building next door. Really it was just a pretty alley.
There was nowhere for him to hide out here. Autumn had even stripped most of the leaves from the bushes. Most importantly, the hobgoblin could already hear footsteps approaching. What was he going to do now?
“There he is!” a large man yelled as he turned a corner and came into sight. Several other people were right behind him, and all of them were armed.
The hobgoblin hissed in aggravation as he saw enemies began to approach from the other side of the narrow yard as well. He was faced with walls on two sides and hostile humans on the other two.
He’d known that there would be lots of enemies outside, but had been hoping to spot an escape route through them. There wasn’t one though, and that left him with only one option.
Blacknail sprinted away from the window he’d just come out of, and then turned around and sprinted back towards it. Right before hitting the wall of the brothel he flared his Elixir and jumped as high as he could. His outstretched claws found purchase and he managed to catch hold of a second story windowsill. He had nowhere else to go but back into the brothel.
Blacknail smiled smugly as he pulled himself and began to climb up the wall. There was no way any of the big fat pink humans below would be able to follow him, so he was safe for a little while.
That was when a crossbow bolt slammed into the wood beside his head. The stunned hobgoblin stared wide-eyed at the vibrating projectile for a split second, before his gaze automatically turned towards the shooter. Below him a purple vested guardsman was reloading a crossbow, as other human thugs gathered around him.
“Damnation, you missed. Quick, reload; the slippery bastard is getting away,” one of them yelled.
“Uh-oh,” Blacknail gasped in shock.
If that human hadn’t had such terrible aim he could have just died! It was time to leave. With panic and Elixir lending him strength, Blacknail quickly flipped himself up and over the windowsill and back into the brothel. Hopefully his second trip inside today went a lot better than his first.
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!