After a minute or two of walking Blacknail stopped and sighed in exasperation. He then turned around and headed back the way he’d come. He’d forgotten to do a few things. To get back to his tribe he’d need to travel through the city and the people that lived there.
He didn’t feel like going back for his mask so he just left it behind. He did however fix up his clothes as much as possible so that he wouldn’t draw too much attention. They had gotten very dirty and torn so he looted a few bits and pieces from the men he’d just killed. They also made for convenient bandages to tie up his wounds.
None of Malthus’ stuff was salvageable; nothing was left of them but bloody scraps. It had been totally worth it, though; he regretted nothing.
Once Blacknail had managed not to look like some sort of murderous drifter, even if he kind of was one, the hobgoblin stepped back into the city. He slipped out of the bushes at the edge of the scrubland and into a nearby alley.
The cool air in the shady alley was a welcome change from being out under the hot sun. All the clothing he wore got very hot when he did strenuous activities such as fighting off squads of assassins and dueling their leader.
It didn’t take him all that long to trace his way back to the edge of Herad’s territory. He kept his head down and his distance from any crowds as he walked the city streets. There weren’t a lot of people around anyway, and those that Blacknail did see were moving quickly and looked nervous.
Word of the battle taking place had undoubtedly already spread. All the magical explosions from earlier had probably gotten people’s attention as well. Like rabbits or mice that had heard an unexpected noise the citizens of Daggerpoint were seeking shelter and finding other less dangerous places to be than out on the streets.
As he drew closer to Herad’s base the sounds of fighting became more and more obvious. The cloaked hobgoblin stopped at the entrance to an alley and looked up over the city as he listened. It sounded like the battle had started up again.
Zelena must have attacked again while he was gone. Blacknail’s chest tightened painfully as he felt a sudden sense of urgency. He picked up the pace and started to jog. He didn’t really want to join the fighting but what if something bad was happening? He had to know how the fight was going.
Quickly, Blacknail scuttled up the side of nearby building and pulled himself onto the roof. Once up in the sunshine he looked over to where Herad’s barricade had been built. Nothing remained of it but ash and the stone all around it was stained black. The flames had scarred the city.
Further back from the blaze the cobblestone streets were red with blood. Ha, Herad really had dyed the streets of Daggerpoint with the blood of her enemies, and more than a few of her minions as well. Saeter had told him she wasn’t being literal but he’d been wrong!
The killing was far from over, though. Below Blacknail the struggle for control of Daggerpoint was still ongoing. Blacknail frowned with concern as he realized Herad’s men were making a fighting retreat back towards their base. If the enemy reached the base then all of the hobgoblin’s things would be in danger, even his cheese!
Zelena had finally committed her own forces and they’d been joined by what was left of the mercenaries. A small solid square of shield bearing infantry were pushing their way down the center of the street. On both sides of them were loose mobs of Zelena’s bandits.
The attackers were steadily pushing the bandits of Blacknail’s tribe back, and they also had them outnumbered. They looked to have a man and a half for everyone in Hera’s tribe. However, the battle was far from over. Herad may have lost her tall wooden wall but Blacknail knew that she’d made other preparations. He’d spent a lot of time avoiding having to help set them up after all.
The advance of Herad’s enemies was slowed by layers of obstacles such as overturned carts and piles of sandbags. Blacknail’s tribe made ready use of the cover as they fought. Before they could be overrun they abandoned their barricade and moved to the next one.
As the hobgoblin watched a group of archers appeared on a rooftop down the street and opened fire. After several volleys had fallen on Zelena’s men the archers quickly disappeared before the enemy could muster a counter attack.
After looking around for a few more moments Blacknail climbed back down onto the ground. The safest place to be where he could still keep an eye on things would be next to Herad and his master. At least it would be as long as Saeter wasn’t doing anything too stupid…
Blacknail hurried through the empty side streets that ran parallel to the battle. He ran until the sounds of battle were behind him. It was then that he noticed the sentries. There were two of his tribe posted at the corner of the street, and they were doing a terrible job because they hadn’t noticed his approach. He wasn’t even trying to be all that stealthy!
Something really needed to done about how terrible humans were at watching and waiting. After all this was over maybe he should start attacking sentries at random. That ought to get them to pay attention, and all the really bad ones would end up dead.
As the hobgoblin studied the two men in front of him, his first thought was that he should just slip past them unseen. He decided against it a moment later, though. That would take effort and he was too tired and sore for that sort of thing. Instead, he slowed down to a non-threatening walk and headed their way.
The pair of sentries quickly noticed him and their shadowy forms tensed, finally. One of them stepped forward and drew their sword.
“Stop, who goes there?” he shouted as he brandished his blade in what looked like a poor attempt to look intimidating.
“It is I, Blacknail the faceless assassin and the greatest killer in Daggerpoint,” the hobgoblin bragged in answer.
He’d gotten the last title after he’d killed Malthus. He was fairly sure that killing the old greatest killer made you the new one. If that wasn’t case then he’d just kill anyone else who tried to claim it.
There was no response for several seconds. Both the sentries started whispering to each other.
“That’s the hobgoblin, right?” a thin man with a scruffy beard asked.
“Ya, tell him to drop his hood so we can be sure,” the shorter bald one replied.
“Drop your…” the first man started to say before falling silent.
Blacknail had already flipped his hood down. The bearded bandit squinted through the shadows at him
“Well, he’s definitely a hobgoblin,” he remarked in relief. He seemed glad that a fight wasn’t about to break out.
“Are we sure it’s Blacknail, though?” the bald bandit asked apprehensively.
His eyes were wide and his voice shook with anxiety. He obviously didn’t like being in a dark alley with a hobgoblin. His companion turned and gave him a dry look. Apparently, Blacknail wasn’t the only one who thought that was a really stupid question.
“No, it’s some other random hobgoblin that has decided to play dress up and wandered over to see what’s going on. As if anyone but Saeter could ever tame a hobgoblin, or want to!” the bearded bandit replied with biting condescension.
The two men then started to argue and bicker heatedly amongst themselves. Blacknail just ignored them walked right past. They were too preoccupied to stop him. Clearly, Herad wasn’t expecting a flanking attack and was putting her less intelligent minions where they could do the least amount of harm.
After a quick peek around the corner to make sure it was safe, Blacknail stepped out onto the main street. Before him was the rear of Herad’s forces. Bandits were running everywhere as they rushed to and from the front lines. A nervous energy permeated the air and Blacknail could smell both fear and excitement.
In the center of all the activity stood Herad; she was only a few dozen feet from the fighting and was yelling orders as she waved her short sword around. At her command bandits abandoned cover or held their ground and counterattacked.
When a group looked like it was about to be overrun she and her bodyguards would dive in and join the fray herself. Enemies fell by the dozen when that happened.
Blacknail couldn’t help but notice two unfamiliar faces next to her that were also racking up quite the body count. Judging by their physical prowess and the dark look in their eyes Blacknail was pretty sure they were Sloshers sent by Avorlus. Mahedium had mentioned something about that earlier, hadn’t he?
The fear she and her bodyguards inspired among Zelena’s men was obvious. They hesitated to approach her and were quick to retreat when she advanced. Only the mercenary formation was unaffected, and Herad seemed to be avoiding them.
Suddenly, there was a shift in the way the enemy was moving. The ranks of Zelena’s men parted and three humans stepped out into the now empty space in front of Herad.
One of them was obviously a mercenary. He was wearing their brown tunic and armed and armored the same way as them. The second was a huge human male in crude leather armor with a large round belly and a long black beard. He had a huge mace over his shoulder that looked to be the size of Blacknail’s entire body. The third was a tall woman with a chainmail shirt, steel helmet, and a long spear in her hands.
The hobgoblin was willing to bet that they were all Sloshers. Herad must have thought so as well because she instantly focused on them and ordered most her men back, only Avorlus’ Sloshers stayed by her side as she marched forward to meet these new foes.
Blacknail looked away from his chieftain for a second and tried to find Saeter. He scanned the nearby crowds but didn’t see him anywhere near the rear. With a frown of annoyance and concern he started looking along the front line. There a flash of movement caught his attention and he spotted his master’s face…
Ahh, Saeter was doing something stupid! Why was he fighting on the front lines? That was for dumb people and disposable members of the tribe! His master wasn’t replaceable. Did he want to get Blacknail killed?
Immediately, the frantic hobgoblin began pushing his way through the crowd of bandits that lay between him and the front line. He had to make sure his master was safe. Who else would feed and train him?
For reasons beyond Blacknail’s understanding Saeter had his sword out and was fighting one of Zelena’s henchmen. He was holding his own but he looked exhausted. His shoulders were slumped and his movements slower than usual.
Blacknail’s heart started beating faster and a sick uneasy feeling grew in his gut. He picked up his pace and shoved a nearby bandit out of his way.
As the hobgoblin drew nearer Saeter managed to parry his opponent’s blade and then deliver a deep slash to his chest. The enemy fell as blood poured from the wound. For a moment Blacknail almost felt relief but it didn’t last long. Another enemy fighter stepped forward to challenge his master, and this one was bigger and had a larger sword!
Saeter raised his blade defensively but he was too slow. The larger man’s sword swatted it aside and sent the old scout reeling. As Blacknail watched his master collapsed onto the ground and didn’t get back up.
The hobgoblin was sprinting now, and not so much pushing people out of the way as picking them up and throwing them. The uneasy feeling pulsating in his gut was being subsumed by a new emotion, a burning wave of all consuming fury. It raged through him like a storm of fire.
Blacknail’s clawed fingers tightened and curled. His eye narrowed and his lips curled up into a snarl to reveal his long pointy teeth. He was angry, very very angry.
The thug standing over Saeter raised his sword high in preparation to strike. There were still people in the hobgoblin’s way, but he didn’t care. Blacknail flared Elixir. It mingled inside of him and seemed to drive his rage to new heights.
So empowered, he jumped and landed on the shoulders of a surprised bandit. The man wobbled but Blacknail had already lunged away towards the target of his now intense and focused hatred.
He hit the unsuspecting thug like a sac of bricks thrown by an ogre. The man coughed painfully in surprise, dropped his sword, and lurched sideways as the speeding hobgoblin smashed into him. A second later he was falling over and Blacknail had his hands around the man’s neck. A second after that Blacknail’s claws sank into the man’s throat and the hobgoblin tore his windpipe out in a small gory red explosion.
Several of Zelena’s henchmen stepped forward to deal with the new threat, but they all froze in terror a second later. The jump and following impact had thrown the hobgoblin’s hood back, and Blacknail was far too enraged to give a damn.
He rose from atop his victim’s body with a vicious snarl on his face and blood dripping from his hands. A loud menacing growl echoed up from his chest and out through his lips as he turned to stare malevolently at his closest enemies. He would rip them all apart and bathe in their blood!
Some of Zelena’s men flinched away from his gaze, others paled and remained frozen in fear, and one blonde tall powerfully built man stepped forward to attack. Blacknail ducked under the blow and killed him with a knife through his groin. The man fell and bled to death in seconds.
The hobgoblin’s bloodlust was far from satisfied; feeding it had just made it stronger and the cravings more seductive. Blacknail went for the weakest and easiest prey next.
He grabbed the fallen man’s sword and swung it towards the closest of his stunned foes. The hobgoblin Vessel’s inhuman speed took everyone by surprise. Before anyone could react the blade had sliced off the man’s hand.
Blacknail was already spinning towards the next target. He slashed up towards the thug’s face but was stopped by a clumsy block. This didn’t stop the hobgoblin. He pushed his blade forward to knock the man off balance, and then stepped forward. As quick as thought, Blacknail’s hand shot out and his fingers sank into the man’s exposed eye sockets.
More screaming filled the air. It seemed to synch with the hobgoblin’s frantically beating heart and was music to his ears. Blacknail withdrew his hand and gave it a quick lick. The taste of iron, blood, and brains felt wonderful on his lips. It tasted like belonging.
A blade sliced through the air towards him but Blacknail dodged to the side. He laughed gleefully as the claws on his left foot tore through the front of his boot and into the groin of an attacker. Then, another thug stepped forward and right into Blacknail’s blade. The edge bit into his neck with fatal precision.
Blacknail laughed as bloodlust overtook him. All these stupid humans were so slow, and their moves were so obvious. He could kill them all day, and he would, because it was such great fun!
He ducked under a wild panicked swing and gutted the idiot who had attacked him. A space had cleared around Blacknail now. Both friends and foes had fallen back from him and the pile of mangled corpses at his feet.
The hobgoblin frowned as the sound of a yelling voice penetrated the red haze that surrounded him. One of his enemies was trying to summon some crossbowmen. Blacknail was so going to kill him next. He took a step forward to do just that when a hush fell over the battlefield.
Almost everyone was suddenly looking towards the center of the battlefield, and then Herad’s voice echoed over it.
“Your Vessels are dead Zelena. They couldn’t stand against me and neither can these pitiful drags you call an army. Now, do you dare challenge me personally or will you run like a coward?” she yelled loudly enough for everyone to hear.
There was no response from anyone on Zelena’s side, so Blacknail took this opportunity to murder the man to his left while everyone was distracted. Unfortunately, he didn’t die as quietly as the hobgoblin had hoped and his screams filled the air for a few moments before Blacknail could finish him off.
Blacknail met the eyes of his next victim and stepped forward. The man’s eyes widened in terror as he returned the hobgoblin’s gaze, and a second later he turned and ran. The thug to his left followed him, and then running away suddenly became the popular thing to do.
All around Blacknail men began to flee for their lives. Soon, it wasn’t limited just to those few men near the hobgoblin. The rhythm of pounding boots on cobblestone rang out repeatedly as all of Zelena’s men broke formation and turned to run. Even the mercenaries started to march slowly backwards.
As they fled, Blacknail took a step forward to chase them but then stopped. As hungry as he was for new kills he couldn’t help but notice that none of his tribe were in pursuit. Going after all of Zelena’s men alone might sound fun but it was also probably unhealthy.
The hobgoblin stood all alone on the blood covered street. As the red rage of his bloodlust slowly drained away, he remembered that he’d come here for a reason. His master had been hit! How could he have forgotten that?
Blacknail spun around to find out what had happened to Saeter. He desperately needed his master to be alright. No amount of blue cheese could replace the man who had taught him so much!
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!