Cries of alarm woke Blacknail from his slumber. He could hear people yelling excitedly outside his tent. It was probably nothing, though. Humans were prone to meaningless fear and could get themselves worked up over nothing.
When the noise failed to fade away, the hobgoblin groaned and threw his blankets off. He then stuck his head out of the entrance of his tent and looked around. It took a moment to clear the sleep from his eyes by blinking.
Outside, it was so early in the morning that it was still dark out. The tip of the sun was barely visible on the horizon and the trees blocked most of its light.
With a dissatisfied hiss, Blacknail turned to look at his surroundings. What could possibly be going on so early in the morning? If there wasn’t a good reason for all this commotion then Blacknail was going to track down the person responsible and make his displeasure known.
It didn’t seem like a false alarm, though. All around Herad’s base there was an unusually high amount of activity. The bandit chieftain’s minions were all running around with far more enthusiasm than they usually mustered this early in the day.
“To arms, the enemy is coming!” someone of in the distance yelled.
Another annoyed hiss escaped Blacknail’s lips as he realized what was going on. He had a feeling this wasn’t going to be one of his favourite days. Any morning that started hours before breakfast was bound to be terrible.
There was a rustle from the nearby tent where his master slept, and then Saeter stepped out. The old scout was only partly dressed, but he was already quickly slipping the rest of his clothes on.
“Come on, what are you waiting for? Let’s go,” he ordered the hobgoblin.
Blacknail grunted sourly in reply before disappearing back inside his tent. After making sure his shirt wasn’t on backwards again, he quickly dressed himself and stepped outside.
“This is bloody annoying. Why is the enemy attacking so early?” Blacknail grumbled aloud as he strode over to his master.
“They probably wanted to move before we could catch them napping, like last night,” Saeter replied.
This made sense to Blacknail. The enemy should fear his awesome martial prowess. They would be fools not to. In this case though, it would have been nice if they had feared him a little less so that he could get a good night’s sleep.
The pair headed off to talk to the nearest group of bandits so that they could figure out was going on. However, before they got halfway there someone called out to them.
“Saeter and Blacknail, over here!” Vorscha yelled as she waved and stomped towards them.
The muscular woman looked both aggravated and distracted. She had Khita trailing behind her, and the redhead looked excited. Saeter kept walking forward as if he hadn’t heard anyone call out his name, so Blacknail poked him in the shoulder and pointed their way.
When she saw Saeter looking in her direction, Vorscha turned to make sure Khita was still behind her and then starting dragging her over to them.
“I need you to watch this ruffian,” the warrior woman told them when they got close.
Neither Blacknail nor Saeter thought much of this. Both of them scowled in distaste.
“I can take care of myself,” an affronted Khita declared.
Vorscha simply rolled her eyes and pushed her towards Saeter. The much smaller woman stumbled but managed to catch herself.
“If that’s an order then I guess I have no choice. More importantly, what’s going on?” the old scout asked Vorscha.
“Werrick’s men are marching towards the wall, right now. It looks like he’s really throwing everything he’s got into the assault this time. I think your raid last night really pissed him off,” Vorscha explained.
“You should have told me about that sneak attack! I would have gone with you,” Khita exclaimed angrily.
Blacknail wouldn’t have minded taking Khita along for the raid. Unfortunately, if he had invited her then he would have also taken the blame when she got herself killed. A much more subtle way of getting rid of the annoying pest was required.
“I just got up. What are the plans for the defense?” Saeter asked.
“We were up late burning important things,” Blacknail added grumpily.
“I don’t have time to fill you in. I really need to get back to the gate before the fighting starts,” Vorscha explained. “If you’re looking for a place to be then you should just do what you did last time, hang back and reinforce any spots that look stressed.”
“Sounds like fun,” Blacknail replied. It also sounded easy and like a great way to keep an eye out for good looting opportunities.
“Which, conveniently enough, will allow us to keep Khita back away from most the danger,” Saeter remarked dryly.
Vorscha leveled a heavy glare at Saeter. Beside her, Khita’s face was red with anger and her fists were clenched tightly. She looked like she wanted to punch someone. Blacknail took a small step away from her.
“Are you complaining about something? Do you want to join the front line or something?” Vorscha asked the old scout.
“No, it sounds like a great plan,” Saeter replied as he shrugged indifferently. “I was just thinking aloud.”
Off to the side, Blacknail threw Khita a speculative look. Was it possible that Khita’s uselessness was actually proving useful, right now? No, he must be misunderstanding something.
Suddenly, there was a loud twang as a volley of arrows tore through the air. The enemy had entered within bowshot. Vorscha flinched at the noise and turned to Saeter.
“Then shut up, old man,” Vorscha growled at him with uncharacteristic vehemence.
Everyone took a step back from her in surprise. Even Saeter had been caught off guard by her temper.
“I need to go,” she told them. “But before I do, I have one last thing to say. Blacknail, I’m holding you responsible for Khita. Watch her like a hawk or I’ll gut you like fish.”
With that said, Vorscha turned and began hurrying over towards the entrance to the camp and the break in the wall there. No one said anything for a moment, but off in the distance the now familiar sound of an army marching could be heard.
“Fine, follow me,” Saeter told his two companions.
The old scout led the way off towards the same hill they had watched the battle from before. Still somewhat off balance, Khita and Blacknail followed him silently.
Before they could get to their destination, a wave of hot air slammed into them as the sound of splintering wood filled their ears. Something had exploded.
Blacknail ducked low to regain his balance. He shielded his head as he turned to look in the direction the blast had come from. There was a huge gaping hole in the wall between him and Werrick’s army.
Flames danced around the edges of the new opening. The nearby bandits who had been near the wall had been thrown aside and scattered. Some of them were picking themselves off their feet, while others weren’t so lucky. Shrapnel from the explosion had crippled and killed.
“Well, all hells and damnation. I think we found a spot that looks stressed and needs reinforcing,” Saeter remarked sourly as he surveyed the damage.
There was a lot of damage to survey. A dozen men could have stepped through the gaping hole that had been blown in the wooden barrier protecting the camp.
“Fucking magic,” Blacknail muttered. He hated mages when they weren’t on his side. It didn’t seem fair.
“Wow, that doesn’t seem fair,” Khita remarked in an awed tone as she gazed at the blast zone.
Blacknail turned to glare at the redhead. She wasn’t allowed to agree with him. It made him seem dumb…
“Very little is fair about war,” Saeter remarked dryly. “What I want to know is why Mahedium isn’t firing back.”
“He’s over there,” Blacknail pointed out.
The other two turned in the direction the hobgoblin indicated. They could clearly see Mahedium running over to the wall from his workshop. The mage was carrying a long staff as he moved at a hurried pace.
“That’s another reason they struck so early,” Saeter commented. “Werrick knew Mahedium couldn’t always be on guard. He’s not nearly as dumb as Herad likes to say he is.”
Before the mage reached his destination, the sound of shouting intensified and there was a series of metallic screeches. The enemy had reached the wall and battle had been joined again.
A wave of enemy bandits was fighting their way towards the front entrance. A large mass of Herad’s troops were blocking their way and pushing them back. Another large group was headed towards the hole the enemy mage had blown in the wall.
Herad’s troops there were still recovering and badly outnumbered. Only a few of them fought back when the front rank of enemy bandits reached the break and began trying to force their way inside the camp.
“We need to help out,” Saeter said as he quickly pulled his bow from off his back. “They can’t be allowed to get a foothold inside.”
The old scout then quickly nocked an arrow, aimed, and let it loose. The arrow took flight and slammed into the chest of a bandit that had just stepped up to attack one of Herad’s troops that was trying to defend the gap in the wall.
Blacknail was already running after the arrow. He pulled out a vial and downed it, as he dashed down the hill. It took him only a few seconds to run past all of Herad’s nearby minions and reach the fighting.
The invigorating rush of Elixir being burned washed through him as he drew his blade. It came free with a quiet hiss, and the hobgoblin immediately aimed its silver edge at the nearest enemy.
There was no point in holding back. The hobgoblin wasn’t going to dive into a melee full of armed humans without taking every advantage he could get. Humans might be dumb and slow but there were also big and tough.
Around Blacknail, about a dozen disorganized bandits were desperately trying to block what seemed to be hundreds of enemies from slipping through the break in the wall before them. Their resistance seemed pointless.
Then, the hobgoblin’s blade cut down the first attacker. Everyone barely had time to register his presence before Blacknail moved on to a second. Relying on pure Elixir driven speed, he slipped around the attackers and cut them down, one after the other. Half a dozen of them fell before they could react to this new unexpected threat.
When they did realize what was happening, the enemy recoiled in fear and shouts of surprise escaped their lips.
“Gods’ sweet mercy, it’s a monster,” someone shrieked in terror.
Blacknail grinned as their sweet fear made his heart flutter in joy, and then he launched himself forward again with renewed energy. Instinct guided Blacknail as he attacked his enemies’ weak points. A familiar bloodlust rose within him and drove him forward.
His blade sliced through soft flesh as he easily sidestepped a counterattack. However, for every one of Werrick’s men he killed another soon took its place. The mass of attacking enemies didn’t seem to be shrinking at all.
Suddenly, the enemy stopped coming. They lined up just out of reach, and Blacknail had to stop himself from leaping forward after them. Fury and hunger burned within him. He wanted to fight!
As he warily watched the enemy, Blacknail took a careful step back. An enemy officer screamed something, and then the entire enemy line marched forward together. Now there was no space between them that Blackail could use or slip through. They was just a solid mass of furious looking humans bearing down on him.
“Shit,” one of Blacknail’s nearby allies swore.
“Double shit,” the hobgoblin added in agreement. His blood-lust was swiftly giving ground to his love of running away from danger.
The enemy approached, and Blacknail took a moment to glance over his shoulder. Herad’s forces were still greatly outnumbered; there were only a little more than ten of them still standing. These weren’t odds the hobgoblin liked.
Saeter and Khita were off to one side. They had apparently followed after Blacknail without him noticing. Both of them had swords in their hands and looked tired from fighting.
The front rank of the enemy reached the wall. Instead of fighting them, Herad’s scattered forces retreated backwards, giving the enemy a foothold inside the camp. Even Blacknail didn’t like the idea of trying to fight that many humans back to back. Running would probably be a better option, especially if he could get his master away but leave Khita behind.
“Don’t let those rutting bastards take a single step forward!” a familiar voice suddenly yelled.
Everyone turned to see dozens of bandits charging towards the fight, with Vorscha leading them. The warrior woman had taken the time to get armored up. She had a steel breastplate and was wearing a chainmail shirt underneath that. A long sword was raised above her head as she ran past Blacknail and joined the defense.
Right behind her ran the other bandits, including Geralhd. The laid back man had finally bothered to throw on some real armor as well. There was a steel cap on his head that looked somewhat ridiculous over his long hair. However, he used the short sword in his hands skillfully.
The defenders were invigorated by the reinforcements. They threw themselves alongside Vorcha in an attempt to push the enemy back out of the camp. Overextended and flanked, Werrick’s troops were quickly forced back.
The entire time, Vorscha was in the middle of the fighting. She wielded her long sword with skill and power as she urged her troops on.
“Push the damned bastards all the way back. Don’t leave a single one alive!” she yelled as she cut an enemy down.
There was a ragged cheer from her comrades in response and they pressed forward. Even Blacknail found himself rejoining the fighting. The urge to join up and fight alongside Vorscha’s counterstrike was just too great to resist.
Soon, the enemy was in full retreat and Vorscha had secured the break in the wall. Once her troops had formed up to block further entry by Werrick’s men, she turned to look back the way she had come.
A pair of horses was pulling one of the supply wagons towards her. Vorscha saw it and motioned towards the drivers.
“Get that bloody thing in the gap, right fucking now!” Vorscha yelled in their direction.
The drivers nodded and jumped off the wagon. Then, they quickly unharnessed the horses and led them aside, as Vorscha led a small team over to the cart.
As the defenders of the wall jumped aside, the bandits pushed the wagon into the break and swung it around. The wooden sides of the wagon filled most the space even if there were gaps.
Almost immediately, enemy troops attempted to scale it or slip around it. They were quickly fought off by the reinforcements Vorscha had brought with her. The warrior woman backed away from the fighting and turned to Saeter.
“That’s one crisis averted, for now. I wish I could say that was going to be the last,” she told the old scout.
“How are things going at the gate?” Saeter asked her as he sheathed his sword.
“We’re holding,” Vorscha replied. “For now, I can’t say much more than that.”
“Things aren’t going badly but not great either,” Geralhd added as he wandered over.
Vorscha’s lover was smiling cockily as he flashily flourished his blade. Blacknail wasn’t sure why Geralhd was so proud. The man had fought alongside everyone else but he hadn’t really distinguished himself.
“It’s still early in the day. Werrick might be trying to wear us down with his superior numbers,” Vorscha explained. “That damn opening magic barrage of his widened the battle line and has forced us to commit most our reserve already.”
Suddenly, before anyone could respond to that, a chorus of blaring trumpets split the air. It was almost immediately followed by the steady beating of drums. The energetic refrain was clearly coming from near the front gate.
Everyone turned to look that way. However, the press of bodies around the gate was too thick. All they could see was the back of Herad’s forces.
“Damnation, what in all the hells is going on now?” Vorscha cursed loudly.
This terrible view didn’t satisfy Blacknail. He immediately dashed towards the wall to get a higher position. He wanted to see what was going on. Instead of climbing to the top, where he would be an easy target for every enemy with a bow, he hung below the apex and peeked over.
Hundreds of enemy soldiers were trying to push forward through the gap in the wall where the camp’s front entrance was. However, there wasn’t nearly enough space for them to attack all at the same time so Herad’s forces were holding them off.
Above the fighting floated the wolf head banner and it was steadily moving closer to the front line. Right below the symbol a small group of people were positioned. The enemy soldiers moved out of their way and gave them space as they advanced towards the front.
One tall figure stood out from all the others and strode confidently forward through the ranks. He was dressed in heavy armor made of overlapping steel bands and he wore a steel helmet shaped like a wolf’s head. A thick mane of grey hair jutted out from the back of the helmet and cascade down the man’s back.
The large armored warrior could only be Werrick. The Wolf had finally shown himself and was now personally leading his forces in an all or nothing assault. A shiver of fear seemed to run through the ranks of Herad’s outlaws as they recognized him.
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!