Saeter led the raiding party out into the forest. One after the other, they slipped into the heavy shadows cast by the trees. It was too late in the day for bird song, so they moved in almost complete silence. Only the occasional sound of a snapping twig or rustle of movement could be heard. Even Scamp was perfectly quiet.
Soon, they reached the span of the forest where they had seen Werrick’s sentries. Saeter signalled for everyone to stop and then motioned Blacknail over to his side.
“You know what to do,” he told the hobgoblin.
Excitedly, Blacknail smiled and nodded in response, before spinning around and creeping away into the forest. His hunting instincts were already kicking in and urging him on. This was a game he both loved and excelled at; he was born to it.
The bushes around him were thick and dark. However, the hobgoblin had no problem seeing. His eyes shone with hunger as they pierced the shadows with ease.
Blacknail’s stalked silently towards the spot where he and Saeter had seen the sentries earlier. There was no light or noise to indicate anyone was nearby, but Blacknail could smell their scent on the wind and feel the presence of prey in his bones.
Yes, there they were. Two humans were standing next to the same stone as before. They were hidden by the shadows, but Blacknail knew where to look. Closer inspection revealed that it wasn’t the same two people as before. Their builds were different. However, these new lookouts weren’t any better at their jobs than the last ones.
Against a human enemy, they probably would have been able to raise an alarm long before being detected, but against a hobgoblin they were outmatched. Blacknail easily circled around until he was in their blind spots, and then he began to creep their way through the bushes. The darkness was his ally, not theirs. They were only human.
A few moments later, Blacknail’s thin cloaked form stood only a few feet behind the sentries, and they were none the wiser. This delighted the hobgoblin and he had to suppress a grim chuckle.
The pair of humans in front of Blacknail stared off into the darkness as he observed them. The only sound they made was of gentle relaxed breathing; the hobgoblin made none at all.
Suddenly, one of the sentries started to turn around. Before he could finish, Blacknail was beside him, his dagger drawn. The unseen blade lashed out through the night air and tore open the unlucky sentry’s throat.
As the first man fell with a faint gagging noise, the second reacted. He spun around, only to see nothing but his comrade’s body and an empty black forest. His mouth opened to raise the alarm, and Blacknail’s knife slid in under his ribs. The hobgoblin had dashed in under the man’s vision and gotten behind him unseen.
With his task done, Blacknail took a second to hum a happy little tune while he cleaned his daggers. He hadn’t even needed to burn any of the Elixir he had taken a few minutes ago. When his blades were clean, the hobgoblin headed back to his master to report in. He had done such a good job!
After whistling the prearranged bird call to announce his arrival, Blacknail walked out of the shadows. Everyone looked his way as he approached, but they didn’t otherwise react.
In the middle of the group, Elyias was looking very nervous. The young man was glancing fretfully about and seemed ready to bolt. The dark forest that lay in every direction and loomed above clearly unnerved him.
“Are you done?” Saeter asked in a whisper.
“Yep, all done,” Blacknail replied smugly.
“Then, let’s get going,” Saeter said as he motioned the group forward again. “We don’t have time to waste.”
The party of bandits immediately headed past the fallen sentries and towards the road. Soon, the flickering light of campfires could be seen ahead of them through the trees. The raiding party stopped at the very edge of the forest.
Saeter gazed out at the scene before them as his subordinates drew their weapons. Out on the road, Werrick’s troops had started to tuck in for the night. The tents were all still there but there wasn’t nearly as much movement as before.
Only a few shadowy figures were walking about. Others could be seen around campfires, but most seemed to have gone to sleep in their tents. The wagons the raid was targeting were still in the same place as well. They lay only a few rows of tents away, but getting to them wouldn’t be easy.
There were lots of lookouts, of course. A fair number of armed guards had been posted to watch the trees. They stood with the fires of the camp behind them so they didn’t lose their night vision. It also made them great targets.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the road was too close to the forest for them to have a very good view. With the sentries in the forest already gone, they would only have a few seconds of warning and that was it. Blacknail could do a lot with a few seconds.
“We make for the wagons there,” Saeter told everyone as they huddled near him in the gloom. “Archers will take out as many lookouts as possible and then we will charge. Varhs, make sure Scamp throws his stones well away from allies. The rest of you should sow chaos, set things aflame, and then retreat back this way.”
There were nods and everyone readied themselves. Elyias raised his hand as if to ask a question, but Saeter stared him down until he sheepishly lowered it. Then, the old scout signalled, and everyone sprang into action.
A dozen cloaked archers stepped out of the bushes and let loose a volley of arrows. The nearby lookouts went down before any one of them could raise the alarm. Immediately, the rest of Saeter’s men burst out of the forest and dashed towards the wagons.
Now, some of Werrick’s bandits began to notice that something abnormal was going on. Cries of surprise rose into the air as men lurched to their feet. However, the fastest members of the raiding party, including Blacknail, had already reached the closest campfires.
The hobgoblin slashed at a startled man that was trying to back away from him. His blade caught the man’s arm and sliced deeply into it. Even as the man was falling, the hobgoblin was already running past. There was much to do and it had to be done fast.
Similar scenes played out nearby. Werrick’s men had been caught off guard, and they were being cut down before they had a chance to organize or even draw their weapons.
Well, almost all of them. One squad of half a dozen men seemed to appear out of nowhere. They were armored and they drew their blades as they charged towards the raiders.
Varhs saw them coming. He quickly passed something to Scamp and pointed towards them. The goblin then tossed the object at the charging enemy. It flickered with orange light as it sailed through the air, before exploding with a thunderous bang. The enemy was violently blasted backwards and scattered.
Blacknail raced past tents as he closed in on the wagons. That was when he encountered the first bit of resistance. A pair of enemies ran out of the darkness to cut him off. Both of them already had their swords out and up in defensive guards.
Instead of slowing, Blacknail sped up. He grinned excitedly as he burned Elixir and felt its effects wash through him. It tingled as it boosted his body.
The hobgoblin’s move caught the enemy off guard. Before they could react, he had already batted one sword aside and flanked his opponents. The closest man was off balance, so Blacknail stabbed at his chest. With his Elixir-driven strength, the hobgoblin’s blow punched through the armor and into the soft flesh beneath.
That left one defender still alive. Blacknail quickly kicked his victim’s chest so that he could tug his sword out of it easier. It came loose with a loud sucking noise and the man’s body flopped over backwards.
The other defender lunged forwards past his comrade’s body to strike at Blacknail, but the hobgoblin was too fast for him. Blacknail stepped back out of the way and then dodged another strike by jumping to the side.
Before the defender could try for a third blow, Blacknail launched a series of attacks. The lightning fast slashes pushed the man back until the last caught him in the shoulder.
The hobgoblin’s foe screamed in pain and dropped his blade. His voice was silenced a second later when Blacknail’s sword cut deep into his neck.
That was when several of Blacknail’s comrades reached him. Without slowing, they raced past him towards the wagons. Two of them had stopped to light torches, and they hurled them into the back of the wagons. The contents of the carts almost instantly burst into flame.
As the fire spread, it frightened the horses that had been tied up nearby. The beasts began to scream harshly and stomp around in a panic. It was music to Blacknail’s long pointy ears.
The hobgoblin grinned madly as he grabbed a flaming piece of woods and threw it towards them. He hoped the vicious beasts burned! This was great!
By then, the wagons were completely ablaze. Flames roared above them and crackled madly, illuminating the camp for hundreds of feet. The sound of both human and animal screams filled the night, and Blacknail basked in it all.
Energy was surging through him in incredible amounts. He was truly alive. The goblin took a moment to let out a loud hysterical laugh, as another explosion went off somewhere behind him. He was having so much fun! It was incredible.
“Everyone, back!” Saeter roared from somewhere nearby.
Blacknail leapt to obey his master, mostly. Instead of heading straight back the way he had come, the hobgoblin took a slight detour. He picked up a flaming torch someone had dropped, and dashed into a thick cluster of tents.
The cloaked hobgoblin ran through the camp, dragging fire and death behind him. He pressed the torch against the fabric of the tents as he moved, setting them ablaze. Whenever someone lurched into his path he cut them down mercilessly. They seemed to move in slow motion when compared to his Elixir-boosted hobgoblin speed.
Werrick’s men started running away from Blacknail instead of trying to face him. The hobgoblin laughed in vicious delight as panicked men and women fled before him through the darkness. The raging fires that surrounded him blinded as much as they illuminated.
His blade reflected the flames as he cut a fleeing man down, and he laughed harder as joy overtook him. The sound off his high pitched voice rose above the flames. Its eerie cadence sounded nothing at all like a human’s.
The rows of tents eventually came to end though, and Blacknail found himself standing not too far from the edge of the forest. He threw a quick look back at the chaos behind him, and then dashed forward into the bushes and shadows with a smug smile on his lips.
Once back in the forest, he could hear people running through it in front of him. It was probably Saeter and the others so he headed their way. It didn’t take him long to catch up.
Most of the raiding party, including Varhs and Scamp, seemed have made it out safely. Saeter was leading the group. As Blacknail approached, the old scout turned to him.
“Is anyone following us?” he asked the hobgoblin.
Blacknail took a second to listen before replying. He could still hear shouting and mayhem from Werrick’s camp and someone in the forest behind them stumbling around. He focused on the closer sound and recognized a familiar terrified mumbling.
“Just a straggler,” the hobgoblin told his master. “I’ll go get him!”
Before Saeter could reply Blacknail was already dashing off into the trees.
“Oh, gods! I’m going to die here, all alone in this accursed dark forest. I can’t see anything!” Elyias whimpered as he staggered around in the dark.
The young bandit clearly had no idea where he was going. He had been stumbling around in circles.
“You’re fine; I’m here,” Blacknail announced as he stepped out of the shadows.
Instead of being comforted, the hobgoblin’s voice startled Elyias and he sucked down a breath to let loose a scream. Before he could though, Blacknail kicked him in the stomach. The young man coughed and gagged as the impact knocked the wind from him.
“Don’t do that, silly,” Blacknail explained cheerfully. “You need to be quiet. Now, come with me.”
As Elyias tried to right himself, the hobgoblin patted him reassuringly on the shoulder.
“You’ll do better next time,” Blacknail said as he began dragging him away towards the others.
Elyias seemed too stunned to resist, so it didn’t take them long to catch up. Most the humans were having trouble moving in the dark and this slowed them down. Night had truly fallen now and there was little light to see by. The slow pace meant it took them a while to get back to Herad’s base.
Eventually though, they did slip in through a side entrance and make it back to safety. They were greeted quite jovially by the guards, although Blacknail got a few uneasy glances.
Elyias took the opportunity to collapse up against the wall. He sat on the ground and began rocking back and forth as he muttered softly to himself. He was such a funny human! Blacknail really looked forward to bringing him on the next mission.
Herad showed up before the rest of the raiding party had a chance to sit down and relax. Vorscha and Red Dog were also walking at their boss’ side. All of them had excited grins on their faces, even if Herad’s was a lot more bloodthirsty than the others.
“You can see the flames from here!” Herad bragged haughtily. “I bet this knocks the wind out of Werrick’s sails.”
“The wind also carried the screams and laughter here,” one of the guards remarked. “Hearing that probably sent shivers down more than a few spines. I know it scared the crap out of me.”
There were a few murmurs of agreement and looks directed towards Blacknail. This made the hobgoblin feel quite good about himself. He was feared!
“We got the job done,” Saeter told his chief. “The wagons were destroyed and we did more than a little damage besides that.”
“Did you get the information I wanted?” Herad asked him.
“Yes, the chaos gave me enough time to find someone to ask some pointed questions,” Saeter replied. “I’ll give you the full report later.”
Herad nodded her acceptance as her eyes glinted excitedly. She obviously wanted to hear his report but she was being uncharacteristically patient about it.
“They should have cut back the forest,” Vorscha commented as she shook her head in disapproval. “Camping next to it is just asking to be taken by surprise.”
“Ha, these are bandits, not a real army. I’m surprised Werrick has managed to get them as organized as they are,” Red Dog replied scornfully.
“Well, they might make it a priority now,” Vorscha mused.
“Only if Werrick doesn’t pack up and leave,” Red Dog countered. “That light you see over the trees is their main supply cache going up in smoke. They will probably start running out of food before too long, and it’s going to be hard to get more all the way out here safely.”
“Not to mention, their morale has to be down in the drags. They have no reason to believe we can’t pull this off every night,” Vorscha added.
“We probably can,” Saeter said. “I wouldn’t want to strike them quite so hard, but we could certainly hit them around the edges and see what gets knocked loose.”
As the others were talking, Herad’s grin widened. The bandit chieftain looked positively delighted. It was more than a little unsettling.
“Werrick can’t afford to retreat,” she told her minions. “But this is still a huge blow against him. I bet the rude bastard is fuming and cursing himself sick right now.”
“I think I deserve a treat, great mistress,” Blacknail interjected hopefully when his chieftain was finished speaking.
He had been very useful, and all the killing and setting things on fire had made him more than a little peckish. Also, everyone was smiling so this was probably a good time to ask.
“You deserves many more than just one,” Herad replied as he placed a hand on the hobgoblin’s shoulder.
Blacknail’s eyes widened from shock and he shuddered slightly. The chieftain was touching him! It was terrifying! What should he do?
“I’ll have someone whip you all up a feast,” Herad told the raiding party.
She then withdrew her hand from Blacknail’s shoulder, which made him feel a lot better. All the nearby bandits smiled and several of them cheered. More than a few conversations broke out as people began bragging and talking among themselves.
The hobgoblin slipped away while the others were busy. The humans were being too chatty for him, and he wanted to get some space. They almost never discussed things that interested him. He’d come back when the food was ready.
Blacknail shivered as he walked. The hot remnants of battle lust were still working their way through his system. He still felt the urge to run and fight in his muscles.
As a gust of wind blew by, Blacknail wandered off towards the wall. He picked out an empty expanse and began to climb it. Once perched atop the barrier of stakes, he stared out into the darkness.
The road before him was dark and empty for quite a distance until it reached Werrick’s camp. The flames there illuminated the tree tops on either side of the road as they swayed in the wind.
Only a few of the fires Blacknail and his tribe had set were still burning, and they were reduced in size. There were quite a few campfires to see by, though. Blacknail could see the small shadowy figures of people moving everywhere. Werrick’s camp was still a hive of frantic human activity.
Blacknail watched them scurry about for a while. He kind of wanted to go back and hunt a few more of them, but that would be a terrible idea. It had gotten too dark for even him to see properly and going out alone was dangerous.
No, he would just have to wait until tomorrow.
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!