Once he was back out on the street the hobgoblin broke into a jog, and swiftly headed towards the first of the locations Luphera had told him about. The man named Fang apparently lived in the northern part of the city.
His lair was atop a place where humans bought drinks. He had been told it would be easy to find, but full of guards. If they were anything like the other men that lived in the city then Blacknail doubted they would be much of a problem.
The hobgoblin travelled through the back alleys most of the way to Fang’s tavern. Only when he got close to his destination did he emerge from the shadows, and walk out onto one of the more crowded main streets. He kept his hood up as he scanned all the nearby buildings. Almost immediately he found what he was looking for.
The left side of the street was dominated by a large building that towered over the rest. It was a huge sprawling structure with two wings that protruded from either side. The central part even had three floors, and a wooden balcony. Most the building’s in this city weren’t nearly that tall.
Quite a few people were moving in and out of the front entrance, and a clamor of human voices could be heard from within. Humans apparently liked to yell a lot while they drank their foul poisons, or maybe it was only the louder and stupider humans that drank it?
Blacknail was sure he was in the right place because a wooden sign, with what looked like a long bloody troll’s tooth painted on it, hung over the tavern’s door. Luphera had told him to look for that symbol. This wasn’t a building he could just walk into though, because two of the largest humans he had ever seen stood outside the entrance.
They were obviously guards of some sort, because everyone who entered had to stop and speak to them first. Every once and a while, the pair of giants would turn someone away and force them to leave.
Blacknail didn’t think he could bluff his way past them. There were also too many people around out front for him to try and sneak in. He even saw several humans at windows who were obviously sentries of some sort, and one man who was loitering across the road was already glaring at him suspiciously.
Undaunted, Blacknail started walking down the street until he was out of sight of anyone watching. He then briefly scanned the crowd to make sure he wasn’t being followed, before slipping back into the maze of shadowy alleys that bordered the main streets.
He then worked his way around to the rear of his target’s base. It wasn’t long before he began to notice small patrols of humans wandering around. He could hear their footsteps as they walked back and forth through the alleys. Fang must have sent them out to protect himself, but they were no threat to the hobgoblin. He easily avoided them or hid as they moved past.
He also quickly spotted several men and women in the windows of nearby buildings. The way they kept looking around at the streets below identified them as more than casual observers. These sentries were more trouble for Blacknail than the patrols were. The hobgoblin was sneaky, but he wasn’t invisible.
He marked their positions as he circled the compound and looked for a way in undetected. It took him a while to find one. Whoever had posted the sentries had known what they were doing, but Blacknail knew he could find a flaw in any defense if he looked hard enough.
That was especially true for any defense made by mere humans. Blacknail grinned to himself as he watched one of the sentries from around a corner. Most humans weren’t nearly as smart as they thought they were.
After a few minutes of searching the hobgoblin managed to sneak right under the nose of the sentry. The woman was watching the street from a second floor window, so Blacknail slipped through the front door of her house and then right out the back. His ears and nose had told him there’d only been the one person in the house.
Blacknail then crept past the smaller buildings and wings, as he moved towards the largest building. He’d been told Fang lived on the top floor of it.
Blacknail moved slowly enough that he could hear anyone before they saw him. He had to be super sneaky now; there were a lot of men wandering around the area. It would be bad if he stumbled into them.
When he got to the central building the first thing he did was find an empty second floor window, and then he hid himself behind a row of barrels in the alley directly below it. Once he was out of sight he closed his eyes and began to concentrate on listening.
A multitude of voices echoed through the building, but almost all of them were in the large room on the first floor just past the front entrance. The second floor was much quieter, with only the occasional noise as someone spoke or boards creaked under people’s feet as they moved. The third floor was utterly silent as far as Blacknail could tell. He couldn’t have asked for a better set up.
He waited for several minutes before making his move. He had to be sure that no one was looking his way or near a window, before he started scaling the wall to get inside. He was aiming for a second floor window because climbing all the way to the third floor would leave him exposed to any watchers. None of the surrounding buildings were taller than two stories.
It was easy enough for him to quickly scramble up the side of the building and pull himself through the window and onto the second floor. Once he was inside the empty hallway on the other side of the window he crouched down and listened again.
He still didn’t hear anyone nearby, so he got up and began to look for the way up to the third floor. He exited the hallway and walked into some sort of wide eating room full of tables, chairs, and other furniture.
Most the room was dark and smelled strongly of many different types of food. None of the scents were fresh though, and after a brief exploration Blacknail didn’t find anything worth eating. Reluctantly, the hobgoblin stopped looking for a snack and went back work. He would just have to get a bite to eat when he was done.
As he was crossing the room he heard the creaking of floorboards, so he dashed off to one side and hid himself under a nearby table. Moments later, a smaller man walked briskly through the room and then disappeared through the far door.
When the man was gone Blacknail crawled out from under the table, and resumed his search for the way up. He found it several minutes later. Off to one side of the building there was a staircase that led upwards. Blacknail smirked eagerly as he carefully crept up the stairs and towards his target.
At the top of the stairs there was a door. Blacknail stopped and stared at it for a moment before tentatively reaching out and grasping the door knob. First, he tried to push it. That didn’t work, so next he gave the door a slight pull. When that didn’t work either his stomach turned nervously. He only had one more shot at this…
Blacknail held his breath as he attempted to twist the handle. There was a muted click, and he almost jumped out of his skin in alarm, as the door slid open slightly. He froze and listened just in case someone had heard something, before sliding through the doorway.
He couldn’t help chuckling quietly to himself as he moved. He’d successfully defeated the clever human lock! Had there ever been a smarter hobgoblin than him? He doubted it.
Expensive furniture lined the small room on the other side. It didn’t seem as nice as the pieces in Luphera’s chamber though, or as organized. Some of the furniture clearly didn’t match, even if it all looked fancy. There certainly was a lot of it though. The walls were even covered in pictures drawn on rectangles of various sizes.
Blacknail walked up to one of the pictures and examined one. He had seen similar things before, but never really had an opportunity to look at one closely. This one seemed to be of a man’s face. It was really quite realistic. Blacknail had no idea how humans made things like this. Was it some sort of magic?
The hobgoblin reached out and gently poked the portrait. He was somewhat relieved when his finger hit the flat canvass. For a second there he’d almost been afraid there was a real person in there or something. That would have been awkward.
With his curiosity satisfied Blacknail moved away and explored the room. There was only one other door in the chamber, and after failing to find anything worth collecting he went over to examine it. He grinned confidently as he turned the door’s handle, but nothing happened.
The handle wouldn’t turn. Blacknail hissed angrily as he clenched his teeth. Why wouldn’t it turn? The stupid thing must be broken…
As he went to try and give the handle another twist he noticed a tiny hole in the door above it. He stared at it for a second, before realizing that it reminded him of the locks he had seen on chests. The door required a key! No wonder he couldn’t open it.
Apparently, the stuff on the other side of this door was super important; because it not only required one of the turning puzzle locks but a key as well. Blacknail thought that was overkill, and more than a little unfair.
He’d had a key once, but he’d given it to Saeter. How was he going to get past this door now? Fang’s room undoubtedly lay on the other side of it.
He was just about to try shoving random stuff into the keyhole when he heard the sound of footsteps on the stairs behind him. Blacknail stepped away from the door and frantically searched the room for someplace to hide.
Should he hide behind the chair? No, too visible. What about in the chest? No, too uncomfortable.
The thud of footsteps grew closer until it reached the top of the stairs. Blacknail had no more time to waste, so he quickly threw himself behind a long padded sofa. He just really hoped whoever was coming up the stairs didn’t look too closely in his direction. The sofa’s cushions didn’t go all the way down, so his feet were visible underneath it.
The wide eyed hobgoblin peeked out from his hiding spot as the stairway door opened. An older looking human woman in a long plain dress and shirt stepped out with a pile of clothes in her hands. As Blacknail watched she crossed the floor and reached the other door. Then, she pulled a key out from her pocket and there was a click as she unlocked the door.
She pushed through and disappeared inside, but she left the door open behind her. Blacknail smirked excitedly as he rose from his hiding spot and crept over to the now open door. He looked through to make sure the woman was out of sight, and then slipped through as well. Problem solved!
The room on the other side was pretty much the same as the last one. There was a lot of furniture and paintings. He didn’t have a lot of time to look around though, as he soon heard the woman coming back.
He hurried into a small dark side room as she passed, and then he heard the door to the stairway shut behind her and the click of it being locked. It seemed like he wouldn’t be leaving the same way he’d come in…
Blacknail didn’t hear or smell anyone nearby so he began to carefully explore the suite. He found a few trinkets and shinnies someone had forgotten, so he picked them up so they wouldn’t get lost. There were several more rooms as well, including a bedroom, but they didn’t contain anything that was interesting or edible. They were also all empty; Fang wasn’t here.
That was a problem. This was supposed to be his lair, but that didn’t mean he was always here. Obviously, he left it sometimes. Blacknail sighed; he really should have thought of that earlier…
Oh, well there was no other option but to wait for the man to come back. What was he going to do in the mean time though? He should probably find somewhere to hide.
There weren’t a lot of comfortable places he could hide for a long period of time, so after a brief search Blacknail chose to conceal himself under the bed. The sheets that fell over the sides of the frame would conceal him, and as a bonus he could lay down on the floor. It was actually quite comfy.
However, after a few minutes Blacknail began to grow bored. How long was this going to take? He gave a quiet yawn as he shifted around to get more comfortable. The entire bed had been placed over a rug so the floor wasn’t too hard. Blacknail closed his eyes as he let out a deep breath and relaxed. He probably shouldn’t let himself fall asleep…
Blacknail was awakened by the sound of a door being slammed shut. As he blinked the sleep from his eyes he heard a pair of loud voices.
“Make sure I know the instant Zelena’s message arrives. When we move to take Herad out I plan on being right out front. That crazy hag has been a pain in my side for too long. How arrogant do you have to be to just move south and claim the best territory around as your own exclusive little playground?” the first deeper voice said.
“You’d have to have an ogre sized ego to think it would work, boss. That’s for sure,” the other man replied.
“Well, the Black Snake is about to be cut down to size. Zelena’s bought the cooperation, or at least the approval, of practically every chief in town. Only that pompous fool the Governor objects, and he’s just worried about not being able to play us off against each other anymore,” the voice that Blacknail was sure belonged to Fang said.
The hobgoblin ground his teeth as he listened. How dare they insult the chief of his tribe! So what if Herad was ugly? All humans were; they were pink! What a stupid color for skin to be. Green was so much better. Blacknail also knew Herad wasn’t crazy, she was one of the sanest people he’d had ever met. It was the rest of the humans who were weird…
“Very true, boss. There’s no way she can stand against you and your allies,” the other man answered.
“She’ll be outnumbered five to one, and she’s the only vessel in her pathetic little band. Including me and that assassin of Zelena’s we’ll have at least five. Herad will be dead by the end of the week, and then all that nice territory she’s claimed will be mine!” Fang exclaimed excitedly.
“As well as whatever treasures she’s hoarded away at her base,” his subordinate added.
Under the bed Blacknail went rigid with surprise. Fang was a Slosher! That complicated things…
“True, although I don’t imagine it’s any great prize. That’s enough of this useless talk. Go downstairs and send one of the wenches up, make it the new blonde. I’m feeling like a good romp,” Fang told the other man.
“Yes sir, sure thing,” the man said before heading back down the stairs.
Blacknail’s target was now alone on the third floor. The hobgoblin under the bed grinned with eager anticipation as he plotted the man’s murder. This was going perfectly, and would be so much fun!
Since Fang was a Slosher the safest plan was probably to just wait until he fell asleep and then to slit his throat. That would involve a lot of waiting though, and Blacknail had already had a nice long nap. He really didn’t want to fight a Slosher though. If he was anywhere near as dangerous as Herad then he would be very unlikely to win.
So, Blacknail waited and listened as the man named Fang wandered around the apartment. After a few minutes he walked over to the bed and sat down. His feet dangled and swayed right in front of Blacknail’s face.
Then, a shirt hit the floor as the man started getting undressed. The shirt was soon followed by a pair of pants. As the trousers landed there was a whirring noise and several golden coins rolled out. Blacknail’s eyes watched them intently as they rolled. They were so shiny…
H e wanted to grab one, or more than one, but he knew it would be a dumb thing to do. Fang might be looking. As the hobgoblin watched, one of the coins rolled under the bed before falling over. Excitedly, Blacknail reached out and grabbed it. He smiled happily as he stared at its gleaming golden sides.
“Damn, bloody things,” Fang suddenly swore.
The bed then creaked as the man leaned over and began picking the coins up. Blacknail held his breath and started fervently hoping the man couldn’t count…
The hobgoblin had no such luck. After he was done picking up the other coins, Fang got off the bed and dropped to his knees. He then reached over and lifted the edge of the sheets up to look under the bed.
The hobgoblin and the man stared at each other for a second. Neither of them said anything. Blacknail’s hood wasn’t up so Fang got a good look at the hobgoblin’s green, angular, and very inhuman, face.
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