The bandit archers that Blacknail had saved from the assassins took his advice and decided to leave. It would have been pointless for them to have stayed to help him fight, but it would have also been nice of them to offer. Humans sure were an ungrateful bunch.
Before they left Blacknail borrowed some of their rope. The hobgoblin was a little concerned that Malthus would get lost and not be able to find his location, so he wandered back over to the first assassin he’d killed. He then picked the corpse up and hung the cloaked body by its neck from the tallest nearby chimney. There was no way Malthus could miss that helpful sign!
Now all he had to do was be patient…
Wait, what if Malthus didn’t come because he suspected an ambush or something? That would ruin Blacknail’s perfect plan.
“This isn’t a trap. I just want-ss to kill you, Malthus!” Blacknail yelled out to clarify things.
The sound of his voice echoed loudly over the nearby rooftops and through the dark alleys between them. The hobgoblin was more than a little disappointed when no one yelled back to thank him for the explanation.
Standing around on the rooftop was definitely getting boring. Why couldn’t Herad fight people who were more interesting and talked more?
Blacknail impatiently strolled along the rooftops as he waited for his enemies to show up. He would occasionally stop to throw out a few more insults, apparently Malthus was the son of a goat, but the hobgoblin kept his head down and eyes open. The fact that the assassins were running around with crossbows hadn’t slipped his mind.
A few minutes later Blacknail finally heard the sound of someone trying to sneak up on him. He quickly looked over his shoulder to see a flurry of movement in an alley below him as several cloaked figures dove for cover.
“I think he saw us,” one of the men whispered.
“That’s impossible,” another replied quietly.
“I can-ss hear you too!” Blacknail answered back helpfully.
He wanted them to stop sneaking around and attack him already. There really was no point in them trying to sneak up on him.
“Damnation, how in all the hells can he do that?” one of the assassins cursed.
“Maybe he just guessed what we said, and he didn’t actually hear us,” another suggested.
There was a moment of silence as the assassins thought this possibility over.
“I’m not-ss just guessing; I can-ss really hear you,” Blacknail yelled back.
“Rot and ruin! It must be some sort of magic,” one of them cursed from where he was hiding behind a pile of trash.
“He could have just guessed that we’d think he was guessing,” the first assassin added thoughtfully.
There was another second of silence. Then the hobgoblin heard a smacking sound like someone had just gotten slapped or punched and Malthus spoke up.
“Just shut up, you idiot. It doesn’t matter how he’s doing it! Everyone just stay silent; we’re switching to hand signals from now on,” he commanded his men.
“Just hurry up! You’re taking-ss forever,” Blacknail impatiently shouted their way.
“Shut your vile trap you freakish bastard!” Malthus yelled back angrily.
“You’re not supposed to be talking!” the hobgoblin pointed out cheerfully.
Blacknail may have just been imagining it, but it almost sounded like he could hear Malthus grinding his teeth all the way from the roof. Was he angry for some reason? He was just trying to be helpful so that the assassins would stop wasting so much of his time.
The hobgoblin waited for Malthus and his men to approach him. After a few seconds they tried to slip around the other side of the building and flank him. Blacknail sighed in annoyance at their snail-like pace.
Well if they wouldn’t come to him then he would just go to them! The hobgoblin broke out into a dash. The thump of his footsteps as he ran knocked the tiles beneath his boots loose and they started to slide and fall off of the roof and onto the ground below.
Blacknail jumped the gap between ledges and landed on the next roof over. He scrambled to catch his balance for a second and then continued running straight for Malthus and the assassins, or at least towards the roof that hung over their heads.
After another quick leap he passed them right by and just kept on running. There was muttered swearing from the alley below as the hobgoblin zoomed by, and Blacknail smiled in self-satisfaction. His plan was perfect. All he had to do was get Malthus to follow him, and he had a fairly good idea about how to do that.
“You idiots are too slow. I’m just going-ss to lose you in the city and then go kill-ss Zelena,” he yelled as he ran by.
The muttering from below intensified, and was quickly followed a stampede of footsteps. It definitely sounded like all the assassins were chasing him.
“Quick, after him! Don’t let him escape, but keep an eye out for ambushes. This is probably a trap,” Malthus ordered his minions as he took off after the hobgoblin.
The rooftops were treacherous and harder to run on than the streets below, and that slowed Blacknail down somewhat. They also allowed him to take more than a few shortcuts though, and more importantly he was a hobgoblin Vessel, so he was easily able to keep his lead. In fact, he had to slow down several times so that he didn’t get too far ahead.
At the brisk pace he was keeping Blacknail soon led his pursuers out of Herad’s territory in the warehouse district and out into the city proper. The roofs under his feet and the buildings that supported them grew smaller. The occasional citizen of Daggerpoint also appeared below now that they were away from the battle.
As a Vessel Malthus was by far the fastest runner in his squad, but he seemed reluctant to leave his men behind and that slowed him down. All the assassins were also on the ground below Blacknail, and he was above them on the rooftops, so they couldn’t attack him no matter how close they got.
Or at least that was true for the first few minutes of the chase. Suddenly, there was a series of odd thumps from below and a curious Blacknail looked over the edge just in time to see Malthus launch himself off a pile of crates, grab a post that protruded from a wall, swing himself up, twist through the air, and then roll onto the roof.
The maneuver slowed the assassin down and left Blacknail with a strong lead so he wasn’t too worried though. Even though Malthus was a Vessel he was still human so Blacknail was confident he could outrun him.
The hobgoblin grinned smugly at the assassin without concern, until there was a shout from below and Malthus reached over the edge of the roof just in time to catch a crossbow one of his subordinates had thrown up to him. Blacknail’s smile quickly faded after that.
“Uh oh, that’s bad-ss as bugs,” he swore to himself.
The still running assassin leader pulled out a bolt and started struggling to load his crossbow while he was still moving. Unfortunately, Blacknail was fairly sure he would get it right soon. He was proven correct a few seconds later when an ominous clicking noise rang out behind him.
All of a sudden Blacknail wasn’t left with very many good options, so he jumped off the roof. A second later a crossbow bolt whistled over his head and flew off into the city.
The, still crossbow bolt free, hobgoblin now hung in the empty air over the street that ran beside the edge of the roof. A split second later he began to drop inexorably towards the rather hard looking cobblestones below.
So he twisted around and grabbed a clothesline that hung over the road. His weight dragged the line downwards and he began to slide down its length towards the center of the street, until the line broke with a sharp snap.
“Piss on crossbows!” Blacknail hissed as he flailed in the air and fell uncontrollably towards the ground again.
There was nothing else nearby he could grab, so he tucked himself up and rolled when he hit the ground. The rough stone and gravel of the street dug into his back as he careened across the street and smashed into a stack of crates.
Luckily, the crates weren’t solidly built. The thin wood shattered easily when the cart-wheeling hobgoblin hit them to reveal that they were stuffed full of packing straw. Bits of broken wood jabbed painfully into his sides as he slammed suddenly to a stop, but the cloak that he was now tangled up in stopped any of them from drawing blood.
“Ow,” the hobgoblin whined as straw rained down around him. The only part of him that was visible was his feet. They stuck up into the air while the rest of his body was hidden by shattered crates and their contents.
“He’s down, get him!” Malthus yelled from a nearby rooftop as he reloaded his crossbow.
Blacknail’s head poked out from the pile of wreckage he was buried in and he spat out a mouthful of straw. He didn’t feel so great. The city seemed blurry and to be spinning around him for some reason.
There was something else that felt wrong too… His face felt oddly exposed.
His mask! Blacknail quickly pulled his mask back on. It must have come loose when he’d crashed. Luckily, it didn’t seem like anyone had seen his face. Herad had told him to keep his identity a secret.
Blacknail shook his head to clear it and quickly rose to his feet, just as the first of his pursuers ran around the corner of a close by building and came into sight. It was time to go!
“There he is!” one of the assassins yelled as he pointed to Blacknail.
The hobgoblin immediately broke out into a sprint towards the nearest alley. He almost tripped as he struggled to untangle his cloak from his feet but caught himself at the last second. He had to get out of sight before Malthus reloaded that crossbow!
He apparently made it because no pointy objects slammed into his back as he dashed for cover. The good news was that he was almost at his destination now. The bad news was that every bone in his body hurt and his vision was still a little blurry.
The assassins entered the alley only moments after Blacknail, but he had already sprinted a fair distance ahead. Since Malthus was still more than a bit behind the hobgoblin took gleeful advantage of his absence. He pulled his sling out and sent a hail of stones at the men chasing him. They whirred through the air and smashed into the unsuspecting assassins.
“Bloody bastard,” one of them swore as a stone slammed into his shin.
He dropped to the ground, and he wasn’t alone. Another assassin also took a rock to his stomach and fell. That left… just four more assassins plus Malthus that were still chasing him.
One of the remaining pursuers dove for cover and pulled a crossbow off his back, so Blackail hurriedly fled down the alley. Rotten contraptions, why did all his enemies seem to have them? This would be a lot easier if he didn’t constantly need to worry about being shot!
Blacknail threw himself around the corner of a building and out of the shadows of the alley. He burst at a full sprint out onto a wide sunlit street.
“Ah, which way-ss now?” Blacknail hissed to himself.
All that dodging had gotten him turned around and he had to take a second to figure out where he was. He didn’t dare slow down though.
Homes made from wood and white plaster lined the edges of the road, and the running hobgoblin drew curious glances from several people who were walking by. It was far from crowded here but there were several dozen rough looking men and women scattered about. This was Daggerpoint though, so he was mostly ignored. No one wanted to get involved in something that didn’t concern them.
The assassins ran out of the alley a few seconds later, and Malthus had already gotten off the roof and caught up to them somehow. Blacknail veered left to place a small crowd of six people between him and his pursuers just as Malthus raised his crossbow.
“What in all hells!” a woman swore as she noticed the weapon that was seemingly aimed towards her.
The rest of her group flinched and two of the men drew their swords. Malthus tossed his bolt thrower to the assassin on his left and then drew his own blade. He dove forward with an angry growl and his sword flashed through the air.
The assassin’s blade knocked one of the men’s weapons aside and then he slashed through the other’s exposed wrist. The second man shrieked in pain and his sword dropped from his now bloody mangled hand. Malthus then dove through the remaining unresisting members of the crowd and after the hobgoblin.
Shouts of surprise and alarm rang out as the assassin leader scattered people in his wake and they fled from him. Blacknail started running a little faster. He was almost there now!
The street was now almost completely empty of pedestrians as everyone fled from the ruckus, but now Malthus himself was between Blacknail and the crossbowman.
The hobgoblin suddenly turned right and vaulted over a small waist-high wooden post fence that stretched the short distance between two homes. He landed on packed dirt with sparse grass sprouting up from it. Malthus was hot on his heels and the hobgoblin had to run as quickly as possible to stay ahead of him.
A tall stone wall blocked his way, so Blacknail jumped up on top of a barrel and then flipped over the barrier. He landed in a cluster of bushes on the other side and quickly scrambled to his feet.
There were no buildings on this side of the wall. Thick scrubby bush and gangly trees filled the area. The ground was dry and cracked but it showed obvious signs of flooding in the spring. That was probably why no one had built anything here. It was a forgotten little corner of Daggerpoint that had been allowed to run wild.
While exploring the city Blacknail had discovered several places like this, but this was the closest one to Herad’s base. Blacknail grinned as he ducked out of sight behind a tree. This is where he had decided to prepare his fun little surprises. It was time to see how these fat city humans did in Blacknail’s natural environment!
As the hobgoblin watched Malthus appeared atop the stone wall. The man grimaced and cursed quietly to himself as he scanned the bush below him. He seemed hesitant to chase his target into the thicket.
Blacknail was tempted to taunt him but he knew that wouldn’t help. Not knowing where his target was and whether he had doubled back towards the battlefield was undoubtedly bugging him.
After a minute or two Malthus’ cloaked subordinates climbed up onto the wall next to him. They also seemed less than happy when they saw what lay ahead of them.
“What do you think?” Malthus asked.
“I think he led us here on purpose,” an assassin remarked.
“There’s no way he’s led us into an ambush. It would take a half a company to secure this bush and we’d see signs of them,” another man replied.
“Not to mention there’s no way Herad would throw away that many men during a battle,” Malthus added.
“What if he just wants to waste our time while we search this foul mess for him? He could be long gone,” one of the other assassins asked.
Malthus scowled darkly and stared into the bush and trees for any signs of Blacknail. He appeared to be deep in thought and conflicted about what to do.
“No, he’s in there. He’s alone, wounded from his fall, and cornered. I’m not losing this chance to take him out. I don’t care if Zelena wins her little battle. I want this bastard dead. Daggerpoint is our territory; there isn’t room in it for both us and this freak,” he eventually told his men.
There were reluctant nods of acknowledgement from the other four assassins, and together Malthus and his men jumped down into the thicket below. They landed among the bushes and took up a spread out formation as they pressed forward.
From where he was lurking and watching, Blacknail purred quietly to himself in pleasure and his eyes flashed with malevolent joy. The chase had ended and the real hunt had now begun. His perfect plan had reached the final stage.
The hobgoblin carefully turned and began to silently creep away from his pursuers. He then purposely stepped on a large twig. The piece of wood broke under his weight and made a loud snapping sound.
Instantly, the assassins turned towards the noise, but they couldn’t see him through the heavy brush. They thus began to move carefully towards the source of the noise. Blacknail giggled to himself as he led them deeper into the shadows of the trees.
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