Blacknail hissed softly in warning, as the sound of footsteps on wet cobblestone drew closer. Saeter quickly held up a hand and signaled everyone to stop, and then looked back at Blacknail to see what was the matter. The hobgoblin responded by pointing to the source of the noise, and then making the hand gesture for people approaching.
Saeter immediately gestured for the group to split up, take cover, and ready their weapons for an ambush. Blacknail was more than happy to obey. Finally, some prey had shown itself! He hoped they had lots of shiny bits and tasty things on them he could take as trophies, like pie.
The hobgoblin quickly dashed over to a rain barrel and hid behind it, before drawing his bow. It had been a while since he had last used the weapon, but he remembered how.
It just wasn’t something he usually carried around with him in Daggerpoint, since a sling was almost as good and much less conspicuous. Experience had taught Blacknail that half of successfully hitting someone lay in making sure they didn’t know you were about to take a shot at them, and that was hard to do with a bow unless you were very far away.
The other members of his party also took cover behind various obstacles, and waited for the source of the noise to draw near. Blacknail could barely contain his excitement. He was shivering eagerly and had even started to drool in anticipation, as he listened to the footsteps approach.
The stupid humans didn’t know what was about to hit them! Unless it was Malthus of course, if it was Blacknail planned on running away as fast he could.
Soon enough, a man’s head poked out from around the corner. His wild looking hair was dirty blonde and he had a short beard. After a few seconds of staring down the street suspiciously, he then turned around and looked the other way for a few seconds, before stepping back around the corner and out of sight.
“It looks clear,” Blacknail heard him tell someone.
There was a low rumble of conversation, and then the blonde man stepped back out into the street. He was soon followed by several other men and a woman. Blacknail studied them as they walked closer. All of them were wearing rough mismatched leather armor, and were armed with short swords.
They all looked like normal Daggerpoint thugs to the hobgoblin, but they clearly weren’t just out for a morning stroll. They were far too nervous to be anything but intruders, and that meant they were fair game.
Saeter’s hiding spot was the closest to the enemy because he had been leading the group. While still concealed, Blacknail’s master flashed the signal for three, and then the one for two. Blacknail smiled eagerly as he realized it was a countdown.
Just as the lead thug stepped in a small puddle in the middle of the street, Saeter gave the go command. As one, the scouts rose from their hiding spots and unleashed a barrage of shrieking arrows. Their targets barely had time to react before the arrows ripped into them.
Howls of pain filled the air, and three of the enemy fell with feathered shafts protruding from their flesh. Their bodies hit the wet ground with a splash and went still. Two more of the enemy had been hit, but were still standing.
Blacknail hissed in annoyance. His own arrow had missed and flown harmlessly down the street. The stupid human had moved at the last second! That wasn’t fair. He had wanted to show off how great an archer he was!
“Damnation, you bloody bastards!” swore a large brown haired thug.
He had a deep gash across his arm that had been caused by an arrow grazing it, but the wound didn’t stop him from drawing his sword and charging the closest target he saw. The three uninjured thugs behind him also drew their own weapons, and charged as well. Blacknail hissed in irritation when he realized that they were headed for Saeter. Why did that always happen?
The hobgoblin was relieved that at least the last two thugs weren’t joining the attack. One was too busy cradling his arm, because it had an arrow sticking out of it. The other was uninjured, but decided to make a run for it. He dashed back the way they’d come, but didn’t get very far. A scout to Blacknail’s left calmly put an arrow right between his shoulder blades.
Saeter saw the enemies bearing down on him and threw down his bow, so he could pull out his sword. Blacknail hurriedly put his own bow down on the barrel in front of him and rushed over to support his master. Two other scouts were right behind him. They all drew their swords as they moved.
Saeter took a step back as he warded off his opponents with a wide swing of his blade. This bought Blacknail enough time to close on the thug closest to him. The hobgoblin put on a dash of speed and ducked under the surprised man’s blade. He then stabbed the tip of his sword deep into the terminally surprised man’s belly.
There was a wet sucking sound as the blade sunk into his flesh, quickly followed by a choking noise as the man collapsed and vomited up blood. Blacknail hurriedly stepped out of the way of the messy red torrent, and then kicked the kneeling man hard in the ribs, so he could pry his sword out of his guts.
That left three enemies that were still attacking Saeter. Blacknail’s master didn’t seem to be having any trouble keeping out of reach of their blades, though. He calmly side stepped any slash or stab that went anywhere near him, and soon the other two scouts reached his side.
Instantly, the odds turned against the thugs; now they were the outnumbered ones. Saeter and the other bandits took full advantage of this. All together they pressed forward and attacked, as Blacknail leaped to the side and threatened the thugs’ flank. The hobgoblin didn’t like attacking from the front.
Blades flashed through the air as Zelena’s hirelings were encircled and pushed together. The clang of steel on steel filled the alley as blade met blade.
As Saeter and the other scouts attacked and exchanged blows with their opponents, Blacknail leaped in from the side and slashed down at one the thugs’ feet. The hobgoblin’s swing didn’t connect, but it forced the man to lurch out of the way, and caused a gap to open in the intruders’ defense.
Almost immediately, one of them stumbled and a sword cut into his neck. He collapsed and the gap widened. Saeter and his men redoubled their efforts, and blood splashed against the ground as another of Zelena’s thugs was cut down. Blacknail giggled excitedly as he circled behind the remaining enemies; he sensed victory.
“Halt,” Saeter told his companions, as he held out a hand.
Blacknail and the scouts stopped their attack. The hobgoblin threw a questioning glance at Saeter. He’d been having a lot of fun, and they were just about to get to the best part, so why had Saeter made them stop?
“Throw down your weapons, and surrender. There’s no point in fighting,” the old scout told the last two thugs.
“We surrender,” the remaining man instantly replied, as he dropped his sword.
The woman was quick to follow. Both of them looked relieved, but still more than a little afraid. Their fear was understandable, since they were surrounded, and at their feet lay the bloody corpses of their former comrades.
The hobgoblin was still wound up from the fight and had to hold himself back from continuing to attack and torment the prey. He shivered as he fought down the urge to pounce on them. He really hoped this surrendering business was just Saeter’s clever way of disarming the enemy so that they were easier to finish off, but he doubted it.
Blacknail distracted himself by studying the captives. The surviving male was a shorter man with a wide build. The hobgoblin thought he looked like he had quite a bit of meat on him. He had dark eyes and dirty brown hair. He also had a short scraggly beard that did little to conceal his fat cheeks and the pockmarks on them.
The female was tall for a woman, and gaunt looking. She also had messy short brown hair and pale washed out blue eyes. Blacknail eyed her suspiciously. She seemed full of nervous energy and was constantly fidgeting. If one of them was going to try something it would probably be her. Blacknail hoped she did.
Both the captives noticed his intense stare, masked face, and agitated demeanor. The man blanched and took a step away from him, while the woman paled and froze. Their reactions simply excited Blacknail further.
“See, I told you the hobgoblin would come in handy. He led us right to them and we caught them like fish in barrel,” the ranger from earlier remarked.
“That wasn’t actually what you said,” his companion replied dryly.
“Close enough. Thanks, Blacknail,” the first man said.
“No problem; it was easy,” the hobgoblin replied cheerfully, without taking his eyes off the prisoners.
Saeter ignored the chattering going on behind him, and was also focused on the captives
“Surrendering was the right choice. Now, what were your orders?” he asked them threateningly.
“We were just told to scout ahead and report back any activity,” the male captive quickly replied.
“We’re not Zelena’s minions, we’re just in this for the money. They offered us bonuses if we brought back good info. Please, don’t kill me,” the woman begged.
“Do you know anything about Zelena’s movements?” Saeter asked them harshly.
“Yes, I do,” the man replied eagerly. “She’s planning on attacking you today, and is massing her forces over at Second and Gilber Street.”
Blacknail’s master looked them over contemplatively for a few seconds, before turning to his companions.
“They’re just throwaway hirelings, and probably a distraction for the real scouts,” Saeter told them.
“What do you want to do with them?” one of Herad’s rangers asked. He didn’t sound like he really cared all that much.
The old scout turned to look at the captives again and frowned. The woman gave him a hopeful smile. Blacknail took a step forward and eagerly voiced his opinion.
“You could let them go…” he suggested eagerly.
Some of the tension disappeared from the captives’ posture, and they looked relieved.
“…and then I could hunt them down through the streets for fun,” the hobgoblin finished.
Both the captives took a hasty step back from him, and a horrified expression appeared on the woman’s face.
“That would take up too much time,” Saeter replied dryly.
“I could catch them very fast,” Blacknail remarked as he eyed the woman.
She smelled strongly of fear, and Blacknail detected a slight shiver to her movements. She was obviously more afraid than her companion, and her fear was exciting the hobgoblin. He would really enjoy hunting her. Blacknail licked his lips greedily.
“Nope, still not going to happen,” his master answered sternly, and Blacknail sighed deeply in regret.
Saeter then turned towards the two captives. There was a sad look in his eyes.
“You shouldn’t have taken this job. I don’t have time to lock you up, and you obviously can’t be trusted,” he told them.
“No, wait please!” the brunette woman wailed, before one of the scouts silenced her with a swing of his blade.
The stocky man tried to flee but Saeter stabbed him ruthlessly in the back. The old scout then sighed unhappily at the corpses at his feet.
“I wanted to do that!” Blacknail whined. His master obviously hadn’t enjoyed doing it, so why had he hogged all the action?
Saeter looked up and frowned at the hobgoblin. He looked sad for a second but his face quickly hardened.
“I have another job for you, Blacknail. I’m betting there’s another more skilled group of scouts around, and I want you to track them down. There should only be one or two of them,” he told him.
“Sure thing,” Blacknail replied happily. He would get to hunt some people down after all! That was better than just stabbing them.
The hobgoblin immediately took off at a sprint down the dirty alleyway. He had plenty of energy to burn, and within seconds he had disappeared from Saeter’s sight.
Instinct told him that anyone using the humans from earlier would have wanted to make sure their distraction did as they were told, so Blacknail back traced the enemies path, and soon stumbled on a scent that didn’t belong to them. Someone had indeed been shadowing the first group of humans as they’d approached Herad’s territory.
From there it was simple for Blacknail to follow the new scent trail through the winding back alleys until he closed in on his prey. The man he was following wasn’t bad at moving silently and keeping out of sight, so the hobgoblin had to proceed carefully when the trail grew fresh, lest he stumble into him. He didn’t want the man to know he was being stalked, that would take the fun out of it.
Blacknail carefully scanned the shadows for any sign of movement, or anything that didn’t belong, as he moved through the alley. His prey was close now. He saw nothing though, so he closed his eyes and concentrated on listening.
The clatter of everyday activities echoed through the narrow streets from far away, but Blacknail tuned it out. A slight wheeze stirred the air somewhere to his right, and the hobgoblin’s eyes shot open. He immediately stalked towards the source of the noise. There was someone nearby.
It had come from the other side of a decrepit looking building, so rather than expose himself by walking down the street Blacknail chose a different way. Silently, the hobgoblin crept up to the wall in front of him and began to climb.
He swiftly made his way up the rough uneven wooden exterior of the building, and pulled himself up onto the roof. Ever so carefully, he stalked across the clay roof tiles until he reached the far edge, and then he looked down.
Below him a man wearing the familiar hooded cloak of an assassin was pressed up against the building. The hobgoblin watched as the man peered nervously around a corner and down the street for signs of pursuit. He appeared nervous for some reason, and that annoyed Blacknail. Had he somehow detected the hobgoblin’s presence?
Blacknail was just about to drop down on the unsuspecting assassin and assassinate him, when he heard someone else approaching. Thinking that it might be more enemies, he quickly rolled back over to the other side of the roof and out of sight.
When the new arrival turned the corner, the hobgoblin peeked over the tip of the building to see who it was, and his eyes widened in surprise. He recognized the man; it was what’s his face the bandit! He was one of the men that had joined Herad after Fang had died. Was he also looking for spies?
Much to Blacknail’s confusion, the assassin stepped out from the shadows and greeted the newcomer. What’s his face returned the greeting, and the hobgoblin’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. The man wasn’t looking for spies, he was a spy! Blacknail was definitely going to kill him.
“Do you have the information?” the assassin asked the traitor.
“I don’t know, do you have my gold?” he replied.
The assassin grunted, pulled out a small pouch, and threw it to the traitor. The bandit caught it and then opened it so he could peer inside. He seemed satisfied with the contents because he smiled and tucked it into his coat.
Upon hearing the word gold Blacknail had instantly focused on the pouch, but he hadn’t been able to see inside of it when it had been opened. If there was gold in there though, then he planned on taking the shiny stuff for his own. He didn’t actually have any gold yet, just a bit of silver.
“It’s your turn,” the assassin remarked, and the traitor nodded.
“All the information you want is in there, including stuff about her defenses and the location of her camp,” the man explained as he pulled out a scroll case, and handed it to the assassin.
“What about information on which merchants she deals with, the caravans she’s hit in the last year, and the details of her operation down South?” the assassin asked.
“Ya, that’s in there too. I don’t know why in all the hells you want that, though. It seems pretty bloody useless,” the other man replied.
The assassin just nodded, and then opened the case and looked the scroll over quickly. A few seconds later he closed it again and tucked it away.
“Good, this will do nicely. Thank you for your efforts,” the assassin replied.
The other man snorted in response.
“I know which way the winds are blowing. Herad’s no match for Warrick and the people behind him. Her days are numbered,” the traitor said.
“Very true, but then so are yours,” the assassin remarked with deceptive calm, as he lunged forward and stabbed the traitor up under his ribs.
The man coughed and crumpled lifelessly onto the alley floor. The assassin then quickly cleaned his knife off with a cloth and re-sheathed it. The corpse’s eyes were wide open in surprise, and the assassin gave it a smug smile.
He then picked the pouch up from where it had fallen on the ground, and opened it. This time Blacknail clearly saw the glint of gold from within, and he purred softly to himself.
“I’ll be taking this back for myself,” the man laughed
“Nope, it’s mine,” Blacknail giggled as he dropped down on the man’s back.
“What, who?” the startled man gasped.
The impact stunned the man and he started to fall. The hobgoblin wasted no time; he started stabbing wildly at the man’s exposed sides. Before the assassin even hit the ground Blacknail had stabbed him more than half a dozen times, and then Blacknail stabbed him half a dozen more.
The grinning hobgoblin stepped off the man’s squishy body and started to loot the bloody corpses. He took the scroll as a gift for Herad, but claimed all the assassin’s knives and the pouch of gold for himself. He’d earned them after all.
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!