The branches overhead creaked and swayed back and forth as the wind blew. The leaves rustled restlessly alongside them. It was a cool afternoon and the sun was just beginning to disappear behind the horizon. However, the shadowy canopy overhead blocked sight of the dusk sky and stifled the light it cast. There was an expectant feeling to the earthy smelling air, and for good reason. Dozens of silent hobgoblins waited in the shadows around Blacknail. Soon the hunt would commence.
There was a faint rustling noise as Scamp stepped out of the bushes and approached Blacknail. He stalked forward and gave the other hobgoblin a bow, which earned him a nod in return.
“I circled the human camp, boss. They have no watchers in the trees, and only a few men watching the fields around their tents,” Scamp quietly informed his chieftain.
“Then we move now. Follow me. I will lead the way,” Blacknail replied as he grinned in anticipation.
Blacknail shivered in delight. It had been too long since he had hunted his favorite prey, humans. Nothing else made him feel quite so fulfilled as taking down a thinking enemy that he had outplayed. The fact that these men worked for Werrick also added to his delight. When this hunt was done he would be one step closer to his vengeance.
With a wave of his hand, Blacknail signaled his minions and began creeping forward. Silently, the other hobgoblins followed after him. They barely made a sound as they slipped through the gloomy trees and bushes. Every hobgoblin was completely focused on the task ahead.
It didn’t take them long to reach the edge of the forest. Like Scamp had said, they encountered no scouts or any human at all until they reached the border. Blacknail crouched behind a bush and peered out into the fields. There were campfires burning there and they cast long shadows as men moved around them. The raider’s camp was made up of several clusters of tents, with a ring of watch fires set up around it to provide the sentries with light and ward off beasts from the forest.
The camp was situated between the forest and Shelter, and since it had been set up out of bow range from the village, that meant it was only about a hundred feet from Blacknail’s current position. After a few moments counting the shadows and studying the layout of the encampment, Blacknail turned back to minions and began issuing orders. He knew how to infiltrate this group of humans.
“Split into three groups. Gob, Scamp, and I will lead them. We will each aim for one of the closest fires and take out the scouts there. You will then leave behind imposters to replace the scouts and cover our exit, as the others move in deeper. Remember to withdraw when you hear the signal,” he told them.
There were murmurs and nods of acceptance from the listening hobgoblins. A few of them even bowed, including Gob. Blacknail had no idea where they had learned to do that, but he kind of liked it.
The hobgoblins then quickly organized themselves and began creeping out into the fields. The three groups of ten separated and headed for different targets. Each hobgoblin crept across the ground on all fours and kept their head down. It was slow going but they were patient. When the shadows shifted and light from the fires shone out in their direction, the nearby hobgoblins froze and waited until it passed.
When each group was in position they signaled their readiness with a birdcall. At the sound of the third call, they made their move. Hobgoblins with bows sighted their targets as others with drawn blades rose up and dashed closer. Blacknail led the way. He drew two long daggers and lunged out of the darkness. In a blur of motion, he hit the exposed back of one of the sentries. The man was looking in the wrong direction, and before he could even turn around, Blacknail had cut his throat. That done, Blacknail spun around to face the next target, but there was no need for him to do anything. Another hobgoblin had already stabbed the man, and his sword was sunk deep into victim’s chest. In fact, there were no sentries left standing. The last one coughed quietly and collapsed onto the ground with an arrow in side. All three of the sentries had been taken out before they could raise the alarm.
Blacknail quickly looked towards the other two campfires he’d ordered attacked. He saw some quick flashes of movement as the hobgoblin there finished up, but he didn’t hear any loud noises that would alert the enemy. Most of Blacknail’s minions had received only the most basic of training, but they had succeeded in their task. Blacknail had been more than little worried. So many things could have gone wrong. He had never tried to lead so many hobgoblins in such a complicated manner before. It was a good thing that hunting such as this came naturally to hobgoblins. They knew what to do. They just obeyed their instincts.
Smiling to himself, Blacknail picked out three hobgoblins and ordered them to replace the sentries around the fire. They quickly looted some human clothes and complied. If anyone looked they would be indistinguishable from humans at a distance. Blacknail then joined in the looting of the bodies and pocketed a dagger and some coins. There was no way the other hobgoblins weren’t doing it, so he might as well join in.
“Enough, we need to move,” Blacknail hissed after he’d finished searching the body of the man he had killed. His minions reluctantly did as they were told. Unlike Blacknail, they had never seen such riches before.
The sounds of human activity from deeper within the encampment were much clearer now. Among the tents, people were walking around and talking amongst themselves. Black listened for a moment before motioning for his minions to follow him deeper in. Going in further was risky because it became much harder to keep an eye on all his minions, but it was still too early to head back.
The hobgoblins hanging back away from campfires slipped into the dark space between the lights and joined their companions in a dash towards the enemy camp. A few humans looked in their direction but they were taken down by archers before they could figure out what was happening. Then the hobgoblins hit the tents. The savage killers dispersed to wreak as much chaos as they could.
As the firelight flickered behind him, Blacknail charged ahead. He crouched low as he ran past a pair of empty tents. There were two raiders walking together off to his right. One of them had a hand raised and was pointing in the general direction of some of Blacknail’s minions. They had noticed movement in the darkness but they had no idea what it was yet. Blacknail decided to make sure they didn’t ever find out. He circled around another tent and then dashed out behind them. With his sword raised high, Blacknail lunged forward and attacked. Elixir burned through his blood as his first slash whipped through the air and tore into the neck of his target. The man never even saw the blade coming. As the body crumpled, the second man flinched and turned around. Blacknail didn’t waste a second. He shifted his body weight, stepped forward, and stabbed his second target right through the stomach. The man gasped and coughed. Flecks of bloody spittle flew out of his mouth, and then Blacknail withdrew his blade. The raider collapsed onto the ground and went still, but Blacknail was already running off to find a new target.
For a while, there was only an occasional scuffle or surprised gasp as hobgoblins jumped on unsuspecting raiders or slipped into tents to kill their sleeping occupants, but then a ear shattering scream of pain rent the air and everything changed. Blacknail froze as he was about to cut open a tent that looked occupied. Around him, raiders began yelling and drawing weapons. The attackers had been discovered. Blacknail grunted sourly and stepped back. He hesitated a moment about whether to call the retreat, but then a blinding white light appeared in the center of the camp. He squinted and turned away, as the light illuminated all the tents and cast away the darkness. It revealed the shadowy figures of the raiders and the hobgoblins, and Blacknail knew it was time to go. That was mage light. If he ever figured out which hobgoblin had messed up he was going to get such a kicking.
It was somewhat unnecessary at this point, but Blacknail took a moment to scream the retreat signal. The harsh wordless yell echoed over the raiders’ camp and then was repeated by other hobgoblins that heard it. The violent screams sounded more like the bloodthirsty call of a beast than a signal to retreat, but that was sort of the point. Now that the hobgoblins had been discovered it was time to spread fear and confusion.
Partially revealed by the mage light, shadowy hobgoblins began pulling back away from the tents. They headed towards the periphery campfires they had seized on their way in, but it was not an orderly retreat. Many hobgoblins were still looting or had been engaged in combat. Blacknail quickly dashed towards the closest fight. He needed to buy his minions some time.
In front of him, two hobgoblins were struggling to fight off two raiders. Without the advantage of surprise they were having a hard time just defending themselves. Humans were larger and stronger than hobgoblins and they were almost always better trained. The blades of the raiders were hammering down against the hobgoblin’s weapons and pushing them back. Then one of hobgoblins was knocked backwards after an awkward block. The raider facing him stepped forward to finish him off, but Blacknail intervened. He charged in and parried the man’s downwards swing. There was a metallic clang as the blades met, and then Blacknail twisted around and launched an attack of his own that forced the man back.
“Retreat. I got this,” Blacknail hissed at his minions as he took a swipe at the second man. Both hobgoblins immediately jumped back and ran away, which annoyed Blacknail a little. They could have at least thanked him.
Blacknail’s sour thoughts were interrupted when his opponents attacked again. He parried one slash and sidestepped the other. There were more and more raiders appearing, so Blacknail knew he had to hurry. He would soon be swamped by angry humans.
Thus, Blacknail readied himself. The raider to his left slashed at his head while the other waited for an opening. Just as he blocked the blow, Blacknail met both the raider’s gazes and then blasted them with fear. He reached down into himself and pushed the burning power of Elixir out at them. Instantly, the raider’s minds trembled and they flinched. Fear was plain on their faces as they went stiff. That was all the opening Blacknail needed. He knocked away the blade of the man who had just attacked him and twisted his own sword around into a slash at the other raider. Caught off guard, the raider couldn’t stop the blade from slicing deep into his shoulder.
“Demon piss,” the man swore as he stumbled back and dropped his weapon.
The remaining raider raised his blade defensively to block a new attack by Blacknail. It was a clumsy maneuver. He still hadn’t recovered from the terror attack, so Blacknail had no problem using leverage to force the blade aside and stab the man in the chest. Blacknail then tugged his weapon loose and jumped on the fallen raider. A few savage chops later he was dead as well.
“There’s one of the intruders!” a deep voice yelled. Blacknail looked up to see a squad of heavily armed raiders bearing down on him. He quickly sheathed his sword and ran away. As the leader he was too important to risk, unless the situation seemed like fun.
Off to one side, a hobgoblin was dodging the wild sword slashes of a raider. It looked like the hobgoblin had a wound on his leg so he couldn’t run away. Blacknail took a brief moment to veer over and help. The raider saw him coming and slashed at him, but he dodged under the blow and kicked the man aside.
“Go,” he told the hobgoblin.
As the wounded hobgoblin obeyed, Blacknail looked around. It seemed like there weren’t any more of his minions in trouble. All of them were withdrawing towards the forest. However there were a few laggards. One unconscious hobgoblin was being carried by another and a few others were also moving slowly, either because of injuries or because they were loaded down by loot. Rolly was carrying an entire pile of pots, and was even wearing one on his head. Blacknail had no idea why.
To make sure his minions escaped, Blacknail ran over to guard their backs. There were dozens of armed raiders chasing them, and they were only about two dozen feet away.
“Don’t let the bloody fiends escape!” a taller man roared as he brandished a sword above his head and led the charge after the fleeing hobgoblins.
Sensing that he needed to do something, Blacknail turned and took a deep breath. His cloak whipped behind him as he faced the raiders that were trying to run him down, and then he screamed as loudly as he could. Hatred and hunger poured out from him.
“Humans, I am your death! I am Blacknail, the hunter of men. You serve the Wolf, but he cannot protect you from me. None of you will ever escape the Green. You have gone too deep, and now you are mine,” Blacknail yelled. He then let out a deep echoing laugh that was filled to the brim with bloodlust and malevolence, and flared Elixir. As the power rolled through him, he boiled it and blasted it outwards so that it slammed into the raiders.
The power hit them like a physical wave. Most the raiders slowed and visibly flinched away from Blacknail. A dozen or so jumped back and came to a complete stop, while several even tripped and fell. The entire group of charging raiders fell into chaos as they hit each other and stumbled, and that was when the arrows hit them. The retreating hobgoblins had reached the campfires, and the hobgoblins stationed there were taking the opportunity to cover their companions. Arrows whirred through the air and slammed into the raiders. There were shrieks of pain and half a dozen more of them fell.
“Gods damn it all. Keep moving!” the enemy leader roared. His words didn’t accomplish much. His subordinates had come to complete stop.
“You cowardly bitches! Come back here and fight like men,” the enraged raider then yelled at Blacknail.
“I am no man,” Blacknail laughed as he spun around and ran past the campfires. The darkness there engulfed him and he disappeared from sight.
The retreating hobgoblin chieftain soon caught up with his minions. They were waiting for him at the edge of the forest. Their slanted pupils shone as they reflected the distant firelight, and most of them had satisfied smiles on their faces. There was no sign of pursuit, although cursing and screams could still be heard from the raiders’ camp.
“It is done, great leader. We are victorious! All praise to you,” Gob said as he stepped out from behind a tree. He didn’t look any worse for wear, which was good. Gob was the one hobgoblin that Blacknail couldn’t easily replace.
“What he said, boss,” Scamp added with smile. He had a swollen eye that looked like it had been punched, but he was carrying a new sword and there was a sack slung over his shoulder.
All the familiar faces Blacknail remembered seemed to be there. Bones seemed to be unconscious but Twig was supporting him and he was still breathing. It seemed weird to Blacknail that Twig would go out of his way to help his rival, but whatever. Herah and Rolly were present, and both of them had grabbed quite a bit of loot. It didn’t seem like they had lost anyone. How many hobgoblins had they started with? That would have probably been a good thing to have learned beforehand.
“Did we lose anyone?” he asked his assembled minions.
“Maybe?” Scamp replied. He sounded uncertain.
“Maybe?” Blacknail enquired impatiently.
“One of ours died, but we grabbed his corpse, so he’s not really lost,” Scamp replied as he pointed to a body slumped up against a tree.
“Ah, good,” Blacknail exclaimed as he nodded in satisfaction. He had ordered them to retrieve any bodies.
Humans feared things they didn’t understand. If they had a corpse to examine, gloat over, or make into a trophy their fear would have diminished. Blacknail wanted these servants of Werrick’s stewing in their own terror as the darkness pressed in around them all night. He wanted to smell their fear on the wind. He wanted them to jump out of their skin every time they heard a twig crack and see hobgoblins in every shadow. Blacknail knew humans and he knew fear. Their terror would sap them of their strength and leave them ripe for plucking.
Since all the other stuff was out of the way, Blacknail asked the most important question next. “Now, did any of you find any cheese?”
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!