Blacknail was very badly outnumbered. He drew his sword and dropped his pack on the ground. Furious goblins encircled him. The green swarm was shrieking and waving their crude stone weapons. It would have been comical if not for the mad gleam in the goblins’ eyes.
He didn’t do more than glance their way though. Blacknail’s own eyes were locked on the hobgoblin that stood in front of him. If he looked away it would be a sign of weakness, and one he couldn’t afford.
The other hobgoblin’s crude loincloth did little to conceal its body; so it was obviously male. It glared evilly at Blacknail, and growled as it raised its axes threateningly. The weapons looked to have been made from pieces of chipped stone that had been secured to fire hardened branches. They were obviously crude weapons, but still very dangerous looking.
Out of the corner of his eye Blacknail observed the goblins around him. They hadn’t attacked him yet, but when they did they would swiftly overwhelm him. They might be small and weak but there were a bloody lot of them, and they seemed quite angry. His best bet was to deal with the hobgoblin quickly, and hope that would scare the goblins into submission.
Of course the other hobgoblin was noticeably larger and older than Blacknail. Several long pale scars decorated his exposed skin, and a particular nasty looking one ran down his left eye. His most distinct feature however was his black horns. Both of them were over half a foot long and branched like small antlers.
They were impressive, and Blacknail found himself more than a little intimidated by them. His own horns had never really had a chance to grow because he had taken to filing them down. They might look imposing but horns made disguising himself and wearing hats impossible. Still, he really wished he had a pair now.
Blacknail hissed angrily and waved his own weapon around as he took a step towards the hobgoblin. He needed to make this a challenge between the two of them. There was no way he could defeat the swarm of goblins as well as their hobgoblin leader.
“Hey, stupid tree head! You’re ugly, and I’m going to cut you up,” Blacknail growled as he took another step forward.
He knew the other hobgoblin couldn’t understand his words, but he didn’t need to. There was no way he could misunderstand Blacknail’s tone of voice and body language.
The two hobgoblins postured and growled at each other for a few seconds as they slowly moved closer and began to circle each other. The watching goblins’ howls of anger turned to excitement. They were now eager to see the two hobgoblins fight.
Blacknail smiled; he had succeeded in making this a one on one fight for dominance. He took another step forward, and then suddenly lunged. He slashed violently down at the other hobgoblin with his blade.
His opponent reacted faster than anyone Blacknail had ever fought before. He easily hopped back out of the attack’s range, and instead of counterattacking he simply eyed Blacknail’s sword suspiciously.
Blacknail frowned as he realized his enemy was far from stupid, and knew how dangerous his sword could be. That changed things slightly. Before he could think through the implications though the other hobgoblin attacked.
One of his stone axes hurtled towards Blacknail’s head as his opponent swung it. Even while surprised Blacknail knew better than to try and block it. The axe was heavy, and the horned hobgoblin was bigger and stronger looking than him. Instead, he slipped to the side and out of the way.
The second axe soon followed. Blacknail’s opponent jumped and swung it down at him. Again Blacknail tried to slip to the side, but just as he was readying his counterattack the other goblin threw his first axe. Blacknail was caught off guard and flinched as the axe hurtled towards his face.
He jerked his sword up and desperately tried to deflect the savage projectile, but he only managed to graze it. The axe bounced off his weapon and smashed into his shoulder. The weapon didn’t hit edge first but it still cut into him, and it definitely hurt a lot. Blacknail let out a hiss as pain ripped through his side. The attack left only a small cut but his arm had gone numb from the impact.
Blacknail growled loudly as he sized up his opponent anew. The horned hobgoblin was hanging back and watching Blacknail for any sign of weakness now. Around their small patch of road the goblins were jeering and chattering excitedly. Things were still relatively even though. Blacknail’s one arm was injured but his opponent had lost a weapon.
Rather than show weakness before his opponent and the watching goblins Blacknail attacked again. He unleashed a flurry of quick slashes at the horned hobgoblin’s body and hands. His opponent countered by stepping back and trying to smash Blacknail’s blade down with his own heavier weapon.
Blacknail’s lightning fast slashes drew blood and opened several small gashes on his opponent’s arms and ribs. He smiled victoriously as the scent of his enemy’s blood filled the air. However, Blacknail’s sore arm suddenly flared with pain and his last slash faltered.
His opponent seized the opportunity and brought his axe down on Blacknail’s blade. The stone edge of the hobgoblin’s crude axe shattered, but the impact shocked Blacknail’s injured arm and it went numb. He lost his grip on the sword, and it was ripped painfully from his hands.
The horned hobgoblin shrieked joyously and dropped his own damaged weapon. As Blacknail was still reeling in pain the other hobgoblin leapt and tackled him to the ground.
Blacknail was knocked onto his back, as his opponent landed on his chest. The horned hobgoblin straddled Blacknail, reached down, and began to viciously strangle him. Blacknail coughed as his throat was forced closed and he lost the ability to breath.
He tried to wriggle and escape but it didn’t work. The feral hobgoblin grinned gleefully down at him as he chocked the life from him. Blacknail felt himself grow light headed and weaker, as he futilely tried to suck down air. With his opponent’s superior strength and weight it was nigh impossible for Blacknail to get free.
So he didn’t try. Instead, he reached under his cloak with his good hand and drew his dagger. Then, he brought it up and savagely stabbed the horned hobgoblin in the side under the ribs. Then he did it again, and again. Then he did it one last time just to make himself feel better.
His opponent coughed, and blood splattered all over Blacknail’s face. The other hobgoblin went slack and then shivered as his grip on Blacknail’s neck loosened. Herad’s minion unceremoniously pushed his now twitching and coughing opponent off, and then rose to his feet.
Around him the circle of goblins had gone silent and they now stared at Blacknail intently. Blacknail repressed the urge to fall over and stared them down. Then, the goblins suddenly broke out into shrill cheering, and rushed over to surround him. Their excitement was obnoxiously loud.
The goblins pressed against him as they tried to reach out and paw the victor. Blacknail would have pulled away, but they came at him from every direction at once. Soon he was being jostled and pushed as the swarm around him moved.
The surprised hobgoblin tried to shove through them and escape from the mass of unwashed goblins. The little critters had really dirty hands. Blacknail didn’t know what they had been touching, but he knew he didn’t like the fact they were getting it all over his clothes.
One of the goblins broke away and stepped over to examine the pack Blacknail had dropped earlier. The hobgoblin saw him and growled menacingly as he tried to push the goblins away.
‘Mine! Back, you little thief,” Blacknail barked angrily.
The swarm of goblins around him scattered as his furious yell rang in their ears. The startled goblins retreated from him and began running around and yelling as well.
Blacknail ignored them and knocked any goblins in his way out of his path as he lunged towards his pack. The goblin that was riffling through the contents of the backpack saw him coming and quickly ran off into the nearby bushes.
Blacknail briefly checked to make sure that nothing was missing before quickly snatching his bag up. Then he patted himself down to make sure none of the goblins from earlier had stolen anything, and of course they had. He was missing a dagger and a pouch.
“Little thieves, bad goblins,” he hissed as he scanned the nearby goblins for signs of his stuff.
He saw his pouch in the hands of one of them, and moved to grab it back. He was too slow though and the green thief slipped away into the bushes at the side of the road. Blacknail growled and immediately followed after him.
He swatted branches and plants out of the way as he pursued his target through the thick scrubland. His arm was still sore though, and he was quickly growing tired. This feral pack of thieves was beginning to really annoy him.
He followed the goblin for several minutes until he stepped out of the bushes and into the ruins of an old human house. It looked to have once been fairly large but it had long ago crumbled away. Only an uneven square of cracked bricks a few feet high remained to mark where the house’s exterior walls had once stood.
The ground between the ruins was still hard packed enough that only a few small plants and grass grew there. The result was a small clearing, and the place reeked of goblins.
As the hobgoblin looked around he spotted a pile of ashes and burnt stones that marked the location of a fire pit. It had clearly seen recent use. Other signs of goblin activity, such as tracks and small animal bones, littered the area as well.
Blacknail heard the bushes behind him shake and he glanced back over his shoulder to see several goblins emerge from the bushes behind him. They cringed and lowered their eyes submissively when he threw a glare their way.
He ignored them; they weren’t a threat anymore. Goblins such as these feral pipsqueaks would never pick a fight with a hobgoblin such as him. Their natural place was below him.
Now Blacknail just needed to find his pouch so he could get going. Every minute he wasted here the rest of his tribe got further and further away.
He scanned the surroundings for signs of the thief, and quickly spotted what looked to be the entrance to an old basement or cellar hidden among the rubble. He smiled and headed towards it.
The rough stone and mortar walls of the stairway were still intact, but the steps had long ago shifted and eroded. This made the walk down the ruined stairway treacherous. Luckily, Blacknail had both very good night vision and excellent balance.
It took his eyes a few seconds to adjust to the dark but when he made it to the bottom of the passage he got a good look at the goblins’ den. It was a large room big enough to hold dozens of people, or many more goblins than that. Like the stairway down, the old cellar’s walls were rough stone with mortar holding them in place. The room had obviously originally been constructed by humans.
The floor was packed earth, but Blacknail was unsure if it had always been that way or if the dirt had built up after it had been abandoned. Signs of goblin habitation were everywhere. Collected bits of feathers, wood, and human trash were scattered around the floor ; not to mention several insects buzzed around among the garbage.
The only sources of light were the passage behind Blacknail and a small tunnel some of the goblins had dug in the far wall. Goblins always had more than one entrance to their dens, so that they could flee from predators. It looked big enough for a hobgoblin as well, but it would be a tight squeeze.
Over in one corner there was a flattened pile of dried plants and bits of cloth. It looked like the horned hobgoblin’s old bed to Blacknail. He sneered at it; his bed was much better.
The hobgoblin then noticed his pouch on the ground beside the rear tunnel. He quickly jumped over and scooped it up before another goblin could appear and make off with it. He felt relief wash over him when it was back on his hip were it belonged. He was glad he didn’t have to spend any more time looking for it.
Just then a feeling of dizziness overcame Blacknail, and he realized he was starting to feel tired and sore from his earlier fight with the hobgoblin. That didn’t surprise him; he had kind of gotten the shit kicked out of him. His opponent had got a few lucky blows in.
He moved over to the grass bed in the corner and sat down. He just needed a moment to rest, and this den was probably safer and more comfortable than anywhere else he could find.
As the hobgoblin surveyed the room around him his throat suddenly tightened and he was overcome with a feeling of homesickness. It wasn’t quite the same but the cellar definitely reminded him of the sewers he had grown up in. That seemed like a lifetime ago now, even though it had only been several months. So many things had changed.
His arm gave a twinge of pain so Blacknail removed his cloak and shirt to get a better look at it. The cut had already stopped bleeding, but there was a really nasty deep purple bruise forming around it. Blacknail winced as he examined it.
The gash was really going to start hurting once the rush from the fight wore off. He was not looking forward to that at all. That stupid feral hobgoblin, with the alright looking horns, had gotten lucky during their fight.
Carefully Blacknail began to clean and wrap the cut using supplies from his pack. By the time he was done his earlier excitement from the fight had completely worn off. Blacknail yawned as the fatigue from the struggle and all his travelling caught up to him all at once.
He decided to take a quick nap, just for a bit, so that he had some energy for the road. With a little rest he would probably be able to move faster anyway…
Lazily, Blacknail took out his Flybane and began applying it. Once he had applied enough to keep the bugs away while he rested he yawned again. Then, he laid his head down on his pack as if it was a pillow. He would just close his eyes for a second so he could rest better…
Blacknail woke to the grumbling of his stomach. For a second he wondered why he was so hungry, but then he sniffed the air. The hobgoblin quickly sat up and looked around. Several goblins were cautiously loitering around the den, and they had apparently laid out a spread of food for him.
A collection of berries and nuts were piled on some leaves in front of him, and that wasn’t all. They had also placed a dead rabbit there and returned his knife as well. Blacknail eyed the nervous looking goblins, and then sniffed the food warily. It smelled very good; better than the dried human food he had been eating on the road. Maybe this tribe wasn’t so bad after all.
Blacknail quickly scoffed the berries and nuts down, which just left the rabbit. He grabbed both it and his knife as he headed up aboveground. Goblins scattered nervously out of his way when he moved.
As he climbed the slippery passage upwards he was alarmed to see that it had grown darker. Hopefully it was just some cloud cover. Quickly, he jumped outside and looked up at the sky. The sun was starting to set; he had slept for almost the entire day.
“Damnnation-ss and rot!” he cursed in frustration.
He would never be able to catch up with the rest of his tribe before night now. That left him only two options. He could either take his chances and sleep alone in the forest by the road, or stay here for the night. There were also his injuries to consider. The smell of his blood would draw predators to him like flies to shit.
With a resigned sigh Blacknail placed the rabbit carcass on a nearby rock and went to gather some wood. Several goblins trailed after him.
It didn’t take long for him to gather up quite a bit of wood. The area was full of it, and as he worked more and more goblins joined him. In the beginning only a few of them silently followed him around, but as he gathered up pieces of wood and tinder they began to whisper among themselves and copy him.
Soon almost two dozen goblins were running everywhere and collecting fuel for the fire. An amused Blacknail soon stopped doing the labor himself and instead headed back to get a fire started. As he worked to light the tinder goblin after goblin appeared to drop loads of twigs and branches at his feet. Soon he had far more fuel than he needed, and a roaring fire.
As the flames roared higher even more goblins appeared to see what was going on. Blacknail counted about three dozen of them, which was probably the entire tribe. There were several small goblings and pregnant females among them.
They must have been hiding from the unknown hobgoblin when he first arrived. He didn’t blame them. Goblin leadership transitions were often bloody, even without throwing hobgoblins into the mix.
Blacknail didn’t care about them in the least so he ignored them, and started skinning the rabbit. He enjoyed eating them raw, but after so many days on the road he felt like hot food. In fact he felt like more than just rabbit. Had he seen a pot below?
Blacknail wandered back down into the den. His memory was right, and in one corner of the room there was a large blackened steel pot. The humans must have left it behind when they deserted the village, and the goblins had claimed it when they moved in. Among the trash he also found several wooden mugs and bowls.
The hobgoblin grabbed all the stuff and dragged it up to the fire. Working quickly, he grabbed a large branch and stuck it into the ground on an angle so that it leaned over the fire. Then he propped it up by placing a rock under it, and another atop the buried part.
Now he just needed some water, and some other ingredients. Blacknail turned to the closest goblin and repeated the word his tribe had used for water. The goblin just tilted his head to the side and gave Blacknail a bewildered look.
The hobgoblin sighed and began to lap up imaginary water from his cupped hands. It was more than a little embarrassing. This was really beneath his dignity. The goblin just continued to stare at him with a confused expression.
However, another goblin off to the side made an excited sound and rushed over. This goblin’s eyes were wide with recognition, and he began to gibber excitedly. He was an averaged sized goblin with a slight blue cast to his skin and a few strands of grey hair on the crown of his head.
Blacknail made a shooing motion towards the bushes. His eager helper ran up to the border and looked back to see if the hobgoblin was following. Blacknail went after the goblin and trailed him for a few minutes until they came to a small bubbling creek.
After scanning it carefully for any sign of a concealed tyrant turtle he approached it and took a drink. That done he filled the two cups he was holding and gave one to his guide.
When they got back to the den the hobgoblin tried to explain what he wanted to its little green residents. After several embarrassing failures Blacknail managed to get the goblins to start filling the pot using the bowls and cups. Soon, after that he had them bringing him wild carrots and other common herbs.
He chopped up all the ingredients and threw them all into the pot, and then he hung the pot from the branch above the fire and waited for it to boil. About an hour later the pleasant aroma of stew filled the air above the goblin den.
After Blacknail had finished eating there was still a lot of stew left, so he offered it to the goblins. Tentatively at first but then with eager excitement the tribe began taking mugs and cups of the stuff and drinking it down.
Judging by their excited murmuring, and the brawls that broke out over bowls, they really liked it. Several goblins tried to drink directly from the pot but they stopped after Blacknail kicked the first few across the clearing.
As the sky darkened and the stars began to come out Blacknail found himself sitting around a fire with an entire tribe of goblins. They scampered around energetically and chattered incomprehensibly among themselves. It reminded Blacknail of his life in the sewers, but was also disturbingly different at the same time.
He was now very unlike how he had used to be back then. He couldn’t even picture himself as one of the little green runts that were running around him. It wasn’t even that he was a hobgoblin now; life with humans had changed him.
As he stared at the feral goblins Blacknail realized he no longer saw the world the way this tribe did. They had such tiny short little viewpoints. They were just focused on simple things like food and shelter. When they saw the road at the edge of their domain what did they think? Did they wonder who had made it or where it led?
Blacknail sighed as he realized a simple life like this would never satisfy him anymore. He couldn’t believe he had ever wanted to return to the sewers. He would stay here for the night, and in the morning seek out Herad and the rest of his tribe. Humans had much better food anyway.
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!