Suddenly, a door near the barricade swung open and a squad of Herad’s men started pouring out. The armed bandits immediately raced towards the archers. However, the saboteurs didn’t stick around to fight. They took a few seconds to fire off one last volley, and then disappeared back into the alleyways.
Some of the lead members of the bandits tried to give chase, but they were soon called back.
“You bloody idiots, get back here! Unless you’ve got a death wish get back here,” their leader yelled.
Just as the group of Herad’s men started to turn around another group of archers appeared on the other side of the street and loosed another volley of fire arrows at the barricade. A few of the saboteurs shot at the bandits out on the street instead of the wall, and one of Herad’s men went down with an arrow in his side.
The leader of the group froze for a second and looked around hesitantly before springing into action.
“Grab the injured and let’s get back to the wall. We’re not doing any good out here,” he yelled as he started organizing his squad’s retreat.
By this time the flames from the first enemies’ arrows had started to spread across the wooden barrier. There was a loud crack and a shower of sparks as a particularly dry section caught flame.
“We should get down there and help,” Saeter told the hobgoblin as he started down the stairs.
Blacknail nodded happily in reply. He wanted to see the fire from closer up anyway. The dancing reds and oranges were always so pretty, and he liked the crackling noise the flames made.
The hobgoblin and his master quickly rushed back down to the road behind the barrier. It was a mad bustle of activity there. Bandits were running around everywhere as they tried to fight the fire, keep a lookout for the next attack, help the wounded, and move flammable supplies out of the way.
Herad was in the very middle of the street shouting commands. At her direction the barrels by the wall that some of the bandits had been standing on were opened, and water was scooped out into buckets. Blacknail was impressed; apparently, Herad had predicted that the enemy would use fire.
Saeter immediately headed for the chieftain to get orders, but before they got there Mahedium stepped out of a nearby crowd and drew her attention. The mage was carrying his usual staff, and Blacknail eyed it with new respect. He’d seen the damage it had inflicted on the enemy.
The mage wasn’t alone this time, though. A scared looking older boy was at his side. He was carrying what looked to be a spare mage’s staff and had short blonde hair. Herad grinned excitedly as she noticed the mage.
“Are you ready?” she asked him.
“Yes, a blaze this size should be no problem. I’m well prepared for much worse,” Mahedium replied, as the boy at his side shied away from Herad.
“Then get to it! The flames aren’t getting any smaller, and my barrier isn’t getting any stronger,” the bandit chieftain told the mage dryly.
“Just make sure there aren’t any snipers hidden anywhere nearby. I’d hate to get an arrow in my back as I’m working. That would be inconvenient for both of us,” Mahedium replied coolly.
“Blacknail and I will take care of that, if that’s what the boss wants,” Saeter explained as he joined the other two bandits.
“That’s fine with me, just hurry up,” Herad told them.
“Good, you two are the best,” the mage commented as he calmly, but vigorously, started walking towards the barricade’s entrance.
All four of them hurriedly passed through building that led to the other side of the wall. The boy following Mahedium stayed as far away from Blacknail as possible. Blacknail was curious why the boy was with them, but every time he so much as glanced at him the boy hid behind Mahedium. The hobgoblin made a mental note to try again later when he wasn’t wearing his scary mask.
“My staff, please,” Mahedium told his aide as soon as they got back outside.
The boy immediately handed the staff he was carrying to the mage, and the mage exchanged it with his own. Mahedium then stared at the staff head for a few seconds, before making a few quick adjustments. When he appeared satisfied with the result the mage aimed the tip towards the wall.
There were bandits atop the barricade throwing water down, but they were barely keeping the flames under control. Flaming arrows would occasionally appear from an alleyway or rooftop down the street, and hit previously untouched spots on the wall. These new flames distracted the men trying to quench the fires, and were preventing them from getting things under control.
As Mahedium leveled his staff at the wall Blacknail felt the air swirl around him, and everyone’s clothes began to stir as newborn air currents pulled and tugged on them. Blacknail had to reach up and grab his hood to keep it from slipping off.
The hobgoblin jumped in surprise as a white icy spray burst forth from the mage’s weapon and slammed into the wall. Frost formed instantly wherever it hit, and within seconds every flame had been extinguished.
The wooden barricade was still charred in quite a few places, and covered with patches of ice, but seemed mostly intact. Saeter raised a surprised eyebrow as he regarded the mage’s work.
“That was no measly magic trick. I don’t think I’ve seen that before,” he remarked.
“Huh, I’m not surprised. A staff like this isn’t something many combat mages get their hands on, outside the navy anyway. It’s delicate and requires three different stones to power it. There’s no better way to put out fires, but the guilds don’t like handing out staffs with more than one stone in them to combat mages,” Mahedium replied.
“Where’d you get it from, then?” Saeter asked curiously.
“Avorlus had it, as well as the stones to power it. I didn’t ask where he got it from though, because I’m not sure I’d like the answer,” the mage replied.
“And he just gave it to you?” Sater asked in disbelief as his eyes hardened at the mention of the blood mage.
“Herad sent him an eloquently written letter asking him for his aid, and so he graciously agreed to help us in our time of need, as any gentlemen would,” Mahedium explained sarcastically.
“Ah,” Saeter replied as he scowled darkly. Blacknail didn’t get it.
“He also gave me several other crystals, and the use of half a dozen of his men,” the mage added.
One of Saeter’s eyebrows rose and he gave the mage an incredulous look, before making an impressed whistling sound.
“Herad must really have him by the balls. That sounds like a small fortune,” the old scout remarked.
“Indeed, it is. Avorlus has his own reasons for wanting Zelena’s plans foiled, though Herad’s rather… direct letter certainly motivated him further,” Mahedium explained.
This conversation was just making Blacknail more confused. He didn’t really understand what his master and the mage were talking about.
“Ha, I imagine it did,” Saeter replied. “She certainly knows where to stick the knife. Although, I imagine you’re right about him not liking the idea of Werrick taking over, or anyone else for that matter. Chaos suits people like him much better than order.”
“I don’t get it. Why is Herad grabbing Avorlus’ balls?” Blacknail suddenly interjected.
Saeter wheezed loudly and began coughing hard enough that he had to bend over. The fit only stopped after he hit himself in the chest a few times, and even then he still looked pale. The corner of his mouth was also twitching.
Mahedium blanched, grimaced, and seemed to be struggling to keep a spasm that had developed in his left eye under control. The boy at his side just looked shy and scared, so basically the same. None of those responses answered the hobgoblin’s question. In fact, they raised several more…
Blacknail’s master threw a quick glance over his shoulder, and when he saw no one was there he gave a quiet chuckle and smiled at the hobgoblin.
“It’s just a saying, Blacknail. It means she’s threatening him and he has to do as she says,” he explained.
“Ah, alright-ss,” Blacknail replied uncertainly.
Any further conversation was interrupted by someone yelling down at them from the wall.
“You four may want to stop gabbing and get back on this side of the wall. We’ve got incoming,” a bandit that was leaning over the top of the barricade told them.
Immediately, they all looked down the street. Blacknail’s ears went back against his head as he saw what was there. It was a lot more enemies, and they looked meaner than the last ones.
Coming down the street towards the wall, and the hobgoblin standing in front of it, were two formations of soldiers. Unlike the last attackers these men weren’t a mob; they were organized.
They were also better equipped. The smaller group on the left looked a lot like Herad’s own men. They had rough looking armor and an assortment of wicked looking weapons.
The group on the right was even more dangerous looking. Each man in it was equipped in exactly the same way, with a brown tabard, chainmail shirt, metal cap, short sword, and a small shield. They were also walking in step and moving all together, like some sort of gigantic bug with a hundred little legs. Blacknail had never seen anything like it. On one hand it seemed sort of pointless to him, but on the other it was more than a little terrifying.
“That’ll be Werrick’s regulars on the left, and the mercenaries to the right. Now the real fight starts,” Saeter mused aloud.
“We should head back inside,” Mahedium quickly replied.
The mage then started for the door without waiting for a response. Blacknail eyed the incoming troops anxiously. They didn’t look weak, and together they outnumbered his tribe by a fair bit.
“We should-ss run away. It’s stupid to try and fight-ss them like this,” he told his master.
“Herad knows what she’s doing, Blacknail; we can win this. The chief has a plan, and if it doesn’t work, well she’s never been too proud to run before. Probably, she even has an escape plan all laid out just in case,” Saeter replied as they both headed off the street.
“You wouldn’t happen-ss to know this escape route, would-ss you?” Blacknail asked him curiously.
A derisive snort from Saeter was the only answer the hobgoblin got. The pair then quickly hurried after Mahedium, and back through the building to the other side of the barrier.
“Are we going back to the uh… place we were before?” Blacknail asked his master.
“It’s called a balcony, and we may as well; the other option is to take a spot on the wall,” Saeter answered.
“No thanks,” Blacknail remarked quickly. That seemed like a horrible idea; a lot of the people that had been protecting the barricade had gotten themselves killed! What kind of idiot would want to go there?
The old scout and the hobgoblin then made their way back to the balcony were they had overlooked the first part of the battle. As Blacknail was climbing the last stretch of the creaky wooden stairs that led up the side of the building he caught another good look at the approaching enemy.
The two enemy formations were still moving separately and advancing slowly. A small group of horsemen rode between them, and seemed to be the leaders.
“It’s too bad none of those riders are stupid enough to get within bowshot. I wouldn’t mind putting an arrow in someone more important than a grunt,” Saeter remarked as he gazed towards the enemy.
“Yes, then I could-ss shoot those horses,” Blacknail replied viciously.
Saeter rolled his eyes and sighed in exasperation, but didn’t say anything.
“What-ss? They’re mean ugly things that trample-ss and bite people!” Blacknail explained.
“Let’s just concentrate on the battle,” his master replied dismissively.
The hobgoblin scowled in fustration. Why couldn’t all these humans see that horses couldn’t be trusted? One day Blacknail knew he would be proven right! Then everyone would know how smart he was and all the horses would be slaughtered. What a glorious day that would be.
“So, we’re just going to stand here and shoot people like before?” Blacknail asked his master.
The hobgoblin didn’t mind doing that. Except for the part at the end where the enemy had started shooting back it had been both fairly safe and rather amusing.
“Pretty much,” Saeter answered as he readied his bow.
“Why doesn’t Mahedium just-ss blow up all these idiots like before? Then-ss we could all go back to base and eat,” the hobgoblin remarked.
“Maybe he will. We’ll have to wait and see,” the old scout answered distractedly.
The first rank of soldiers entered the edge of bow range, and Saeter aimed and drew his weapon back. There was a familiar twang as he released an arrow, and seconds later it pierced the shoulder of one of Zelena’s men.
“Stop showing off, Saeter! We get it, you’re a good archer. Why don’t you come down here and shoot with the rest of us?” a laughing man yelled up from below, which was quickly followed by amused snorts and chuckles from the rest of Herad’s men.
Blacknail leaned over the edge of the balcony, spotted the laughing man, and threw a small rock at him. How dare he make fun of Blacknail’s master! The stone bounced off the bandit’s steel cap with a noisy clang.
“Ow, that hurt, you blasted green wretch!” the man cursed in response.
There was more muted laughter and Blacknail smirked smugly to himself.
“Save it for the enemy, they’re almost here,” Saeter ordered the hobgoblin, but Blacknail noticed he was grinning slightly.
A sharp clear trumpet blast drew everyone’s attention towards one of the horsemen, and as Blacknail watched Zelena’s men stopped moving. The mercenaries quickly marched ahead and all together they raised their shields. The first rank of soldiers held them in front of themselves and the ones further back lifted them above their heads. The shields were unpainted wood with thin steel bands around the edges and were shaped like rounded triangles.
Blacknail eyed the moving mass of protected soldiers in annoyance. That was kind of cheating; how was he supposed to shoot them now?
“Well, that will help protect them against archers, but how are they planning on dealing with our mage and the wall?” Saeter mused aloud.
The enemy was within easy bow shot of the balcony now, so Blacknail loosed an arrow their way. Unfortunately, it slammed harmlessly into one of the soldiers shields and stuck there. The hobgoblin growled in frustration.
More of the defenders started shooting and a shower of arrows descended upon the advancing enemy. Almost all the arrows failed to find a soft target though, and only a few mercenaries fell. Meanwhile, the enemy’s quick march brought them ever closer toward the wall.
“Cease fire,” the hobgoblin heard Herad yell.
Immediately, her men stopped firing and the rain of arrows ceased falling. The hobgoblin saw Mehdium climb up onto the barrier and level his staff at the enemy. He watched wide-eyed as a wave of force once again appeared at the end of the mage’s staff, and then like a massive invisible snake it shot hungrily forth.
Any second it would collide with the mercenary formation. Blacknail waited eagerly to see these new enemies get smacked violently aside like rats hit by a boot. Their fancy shields wouldn’t stop them from being blown up!
The mercenary formation finally stopped, and their shield wall suddenly parted. A tall armored man stepped out from the front rank and raised a steel amulet on a chain.
“Fuck,” Saeter cursed unexpectedly from beside Blacknail.
The hobgoblin was then surprised further when his master hurriedly fitted an arrow to his bow and took a shot at the tall man. Herad had told them to cease fire so why was his master ignoring that order?
As both the magical blast and the arrow raced toward him, purple light flared forth from the man’s raised amulet. The air began to churn and a vortex burst into being and began sucking in everything in front of the mercenaries’ mage. The air churned and whirled as dust and grime from the street was picked up and pulled into the amulet.
Mahedium’s blast and Saeter’s arrow were also tugged aside and sucked into the unnatural vortex. There was a flash of purple light and then the other mage dropped his amulet and the vortex disappeared. The enemy formation was completely unscathed.
“That’s not good-ss, even if it was sort-ss of pretty,” Blacknail remarked nervously.
“No, it seems Mahedium has some competition, and this battle will be uncomfortably close,” Saeter replied darkly as he scowled at the figures below.
“At least that guy isn’t throwing any magic back at us,” Blacknail remarked hopefully.
The enemy mage gestured and one of the men behind him passed him a staff. It looked exactly like Mahedium’s staff. The tall man then leveled it at the barricade that blocked his company’s progress, and a familiar looking ripple shot forth.
This new blast slammed into the wooden wall and smashed through it. Splinters and bits of wood filled the air as a large section of the barricade exploded noisily. Mahedium and several other bandits were thrown off the wall and disappeared, as a loud crash roared across the street.
A few seconds later cries of alarm and pain filled the air. At least a few of the hobgoblin’s tribesmen had been wounded, and a huge easily traversable hole had been punched through Herad’s barricade.
The tall enemy mage stepped back into rank, and the mercenaries began to march inexorably forward again as wreckage rained down from above.
“Huh,” Blacknail grunted as he felt a sinking feeling in his gut. This wasn’t good…
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!