Blacknail immediately pulled himself up from the tangle of sheets around him, and growled menacingly. The sound of his anger echoed throughout his small room, as he shot to his feet. Someone was trying to be sneaky and invade his tribe’s lair!
“Enemies,” he hissed to himself.
The hobgoblin felt his drowsiness burn away under the relentless waves of his rage. His lips rose to reveal his teeth as he snarled. Whoever these people were, they were about to get a very nasty surprise. He was going to stab them, a lot.
Blacknail didn’t waste any time. He quickly began throwing on his clothes and arming himself, as he carefully listened in on the enemies’ progress.
The footsteps were slowly but steadily crossing the roof. At first the hobgoblin assumed they were coming to attack him, but he realized that was unlikely. No one knew who he was, or where he’d stashed his cheese.
That meant they must be after Herad! They were assassins, and aiming to murder Blacknail’s chieftain the same way the hobgoblin had killed the other chiefs.
Well, it wouldn’t work, because they were much worse at it than Blacknail. The hobgoblin had already discovered them, and not being detected before reaching the target was the most important bit.
He pulled on his mask, slipped quietly through his door, and stalked quickly forward down the hallway towards Herad’s room. The hallway was dark except for a single candle set on a small table, and there was a sleepy looking guard leaning against the wall beside it.
Blacknail growled as he noticed the man’s eyes were closed. What kind of pathetic warrior went to sleep in the middle of a job?
The man was apparently a light sleeper though because the hobgoblin’s outraged growl woke him. He blinked and turned to see what was going on, and then jumped in alarm when he saw the masked and cloaked hobgoblin descending upon him.
“Shh, quiet,” Blacknail hissed as he raised a finger to his mouth. “There are-ss people on the roof,”
“What?” the man whispered in confusion, as he began to recognize Blacknail and started calming down.
“Assassins on the roof!” Blacknail whispered back.
Why did he always have to repeat himself? Human hearing wasn’t that bad, even if they had tiny pink ears.
Herad’s guard flinched as the hobgoblin’s words finally sunk in. He then threw a quick glance upwards, as if he expected to see something. Blacknail sighed in frustration; he wasn’t impressed.
“We need to raise the alarm,” the man said a few seconds later.
“No, then-ss they would run. Give-ss me door key, and then go raise alarm, silently. Herad would-ss want us to warn her, and then trap them so they end up dead,” Blacknail argued.
There was no way Herad would want to pass up an opportunity to kill some of her enemies. She was pretty consistent that way.
The guard seemed to agree with Blacknail’s judgment of Herad’s character, because he nodded reluctantly in agreement and then handed Blacknail the key.
“I’ll be right back. You wake the boss then. Better you than me anyway; she’s not a morning person,” the man told him.
He then quickly disappeared into a side room, and several seconds later the hobgoblin could hear him begin whispering to someone else.
Blacknail was tense and nervous as he unlocked the door and walked through it. Not because of the assassins, but rather because he was pretty sure the guard was right about how Herad wouldn’t like being disturbed. She would however like not being informed of the assassins even less, which meant there really weren’t any good options.
The chieftain’s room was dark, except for the slivers of moonlight that squeezed through the cracks of the one small shuttered window, and the light of the candle in the hallway that shone out from under the closed door behind Blacknail.
It was however more than enough light for the hobgoblin’s sensitive eyes. He could make out most the details of the room, including the bed Herad was sleeping on. The bandit chieftain was curled up under her sheets and her sleeping face was pointed his way.
As he approached Herad, Blacknail very carefully calculated a minimum safe distance that was out of reach of a sword. He didn’t believe for a second that she didn’t have one shoved somewhere around the bed, or that she wouldn’t use it on him if he angered her.
Once he had gotten as close as he dared, Blacknail took a second to study Herad. She looked different somehow, but the hobgoblin couldn’t immediately figure out why.
Then he realized her eyes weren’t as shadowed and menacing as usual. Did Herad wear makeup? No wait, that was just silly; of course it was actually war paint. That made much more sense.
The creaking of wooden supports from above brought Blacknail back to reality. He knew he needed to wake his chief up before the assassins arrived, but he couldn’t figure out how to do it safely. Yelling was out of the question, and so was touching her. Maybe he could poke her with a long stick?
Blacknail looked her over again. She actually didn’t seem all that dangerous at the moment. In fact she seemed kind of vulnerable, so he should probably just go shake her awake. That would be quietest way to do it after all. He took a tentative step forward…
“I can think of three reasons a hobgoblin would be creeping around in my bedroom after dark, and you’ll only survive one of them,” Herad told him, as she lay unmoving in bed with her eyes closed.
Blacknail instantly froze, and he felt a cold shiver work its way through him. His eyes widened as he realized he’d just almost gotten himself killed. Good thing he was a coward.
“There are bad assassins on the roof! When I, your ever loyal servant, heard them I told your guards. Then I came in here to tell you,” Blacknail whispered to her nervously.
The bandit chieftain grunted and opened her eyes. Her cold gaze bore into him as she studied his face. She was still scary, even without war paint.
“Good, because you’re not my type, and it’d be a shame to have to kill you for being too ambitious,” she told him, as she sat up.
Her movement caused her blankets to shift and slip off of her shoulders. Underneath that, she was wearing a loose plain white shirt and long dark pants.
“How many?” she asked, as she stood up and pulled on a leather jacket that had been lying beside her bed.
“Five or six,” Blacknail replied uncertainly. He was just grateful that his answer had apparently been the right one. What had the other two been?
“They’re coming for me?” Herad asked as she pulled a sheathed sword and hilt out from under her pillow.
“Sounds like,” Blacknail whispered back.
There was suddenly a slight creaking noise from the roof above, and both of them looked up. Herad then narrowed her eyes and then turned to the window. It was the only way in other than the door.
There was then a creaking noise from behind them, as the entrance swung open slightly. Both Herad and Blacknail tensed and reached for their weapons. However, it was only several of Herad’s guards. When they saw that their boss was up and about they stopped, and waited for orders.
Herad studied them for a second before motioning silently for them to back off. The man in front nodded, took a step back out of the room, and then carefully shut the door behind him.
The bandit chieftain then moved over to her bed and pulled several pillows out from underneath it. She then stuffed them under her blanket, so that it looked like someone was still sleeping there. With that done she crouched down beside the bed out of sight of the window.
Blacknail had been wondering where all the spare pillows had gone, they’d disappeared suddenly right after he’d piled them all on his bed to make himself more comfortable.
The hobgoblin ignored that for now though, and tried to find somewhere to hide. Another creak, this time from the roof right above the window, meant that the hobgoblin had to move quickly.
He didn’t see anything large enough to hide behind, except for the bed, so he crept up to the window and then pulled himself up over it and into the rafters above. Humans rarely ever looked up; it was a weakness of the species.
Herad gave him a dubious look, but then just shook her head and crouched back down out of sight. Blacknail was fairly sure that meant she trusted his judgment, and why wouldn’t she?
Almost immediately, the shutters below Blacknail shook ever so slightly. A slim hooked blade poked out from between them, and then slid upwards until it hit the latch. There was the faintest of clicking noises as the blade knocked the latch loose and unlocked the window.
As the hobgoblin watched from above, the shutters swung open ever so slowly. A second later, a man wrapped in dark clothing crept through the window and into the room. He quickly glanced around the room, and stared apprehensively at the dummy beneath Herad’s sheets for a few seconds, before tiptoeing off to the side.
The assassin was wearing a black hood and had a dark grey scarf wrapped around the lower part of his face, but Blacknail recognized his scent. It was Malthus, the assassin who had failed so badly at being Galive’s bodyguard.
A soon as Malthus was out of the way his companions followed him in, until all five of them were inside. Blacknail watched with interest as Malthus raised a hand and signaled to his men using some sort of sign language the hobgoblin didn’t understand.
Almost instantly, the assassins spread out and stalked stealthily towards Herad’s bed. Blacknail waited expectantly for them to step completely into the trap, but halfway there Malthus froze and hurriedly signaled his men.
Instantly, the two men closest to the window turned and ran for it. The other three, including the leader, drew their swords and began backing up slowly. Up in the dark rafters Blacknail pouted in disappointment. Somehow, they’d obviously noticed the trap, and that was no fun.
Several things then happened all at once. Blacknail dropped down onto the back of one of the fleeing assassins, and then lashed out and kicked the other one savagely in the head.
Meanwhile, Herad rose up from behind the bed with her blade drawn and launched herself at the other three assassins. The ringing of clashing blades drew the attention of several of Herad’s guards, who had been waiting in the hallway. They threw the door open and moved to join the fight.
As Blacknail grappled his opponent to the floor, Herad engaged two of the assassins in a swordfight. The third attacker stepped back and quickly reached into his robe, before pulling out a beaker and throwing it violently towards her charging minions.
The glass container hit the floor and spilled liquid everywhere as it shattered. Herad’s thugs stepped onto the mess as they ran towards her, and then began tripping all over themselves as their feet slid out from under them.
The man wrestling Blacknail finally went limp as the hobgoblin withdrew his knife from out under his ribs. The assassin Blacknail had kicked earlier had gotten to his feet and was crawling through the window, so the hobgoblin grabbed the booted foot closest to him, and pulled him back into the room.
The vial thrower assassin used the time he had bought himself and his companions to turn back towards Herad. He was however too late to prevent Herad from parrying one of his companion’s blades and then unleashing a lightning quick slash that sent the assassin’s severed hand falling to the floor.
“Plan Dawn,” Malthus barked as he ducked under a slash from Herad.
Hearing this, the assassin who had thrown the beaker broke away from the fight, and made a dash for the window. He ran right past Blacknail as he fled. The hobgoblin was now wrestling with his second assassin, and he wasn’t doing nearly as well as he had against the first.
The man had got in a lucky blow at the start, and kicked Blacknail’s knife away. The masked hobgoblin had more, but he was too busy trying not to get choked out by the larger and stronger human to draw them. He also wished he wasn’t wearing the mask so he could just bite the stupid man’s fingers off, or that he hadn’t forgotten to take his Elixir again.
Herad was now locked in a brutal sword fight with the assassin leader. Both of them launched attack after attack at each other with furious precision. Their blades flashed through the air so quickly that they were almost impossible to see. It was obvious that both combatants were Vessels, no one else could move so swiftly.
Herad was slowly forcing the man back though. She smiled cruelly as she fought, and seemed to be having quite a bit of fun. The assassin leader on the other hand looked nervous. He was obviously having trouble avoiding some of her attacks, and already had a few superficial gashes in his clothing.
The man who was fighting Blacknail suddenly lurched backwards, and then surprised the hobgoblin by punching him heavily in the side of the head. Blacknail’s mask absorbed most of the blow, but it also shifted slightly to the side and blinded him.
The now blind hobgoblin could only flail about and try to grab his opponent’s hands. This didn’t work very well though, and a few seconds later he lurched backwards as something slammed into his stomach.
By this time the third assassin had reached the window, instead of diving through it though, he turned and pulled something out of his coat.
“Dawn,” he yelled at the top of his lungs, which caused everyone to look his way.
Blinding light then burst forth and enveloped the room. Swearing rang out as everyone tried to shield their eyes.
“Fucking mage,” Herad hissed.
The leader of the assassins had been facing away from the light and prepared for it, so he wasn’t blinded. He took the opportunity to slash at Herad’s neck. The bandit chieftain must have sensed something though, because she threw herself out of the way of the attack. The assassin’s sword ended up only grazing her shoulder.
He didn’t try for a second attack. The man turned and fled towards the window, as Herad and her men tried to organize themselves and regain their footing.
The assassin that was grappling with Blacknail pushed him aside and tried to rise to his feet. As Blacknail lurched backwards he growled in frustration. Rage and confusion pulsed through him, until he couldn’t take it anymore and he ripped his mask off.
His opponent froze and his eyes widened in terror as the hobgoblin’s inhuman visage was revealed. Blacknail didn’t waste the opportunity. He grabbed one of the man’s wrists, and then before the man could recover he lunged down and savagely bit into it with his now exposed teeth.
Screams filled the room as the hobgoblin dug his teeth deeper into the human’s flesh. The iron taste of blood filled his mouth, and excited him. Filled with a sudden bout of hungry energy the hobgoblin let go of his opponent’s ruined arm, and then dug his fingers into the man’s eyes.
The hobgoblin’s long sharp nails cut through his gloves, and then deep into the man’s sockets. More tortured screams rent the air.
As the man lay helpless and writhing beneath him, Blacknail took the time to look around the room. The other assassins had already fled. Only Herad, her minions, and several corpses remained.
Herad blinked and dropped the hand that was massaging her eyes. She looked at Blacknail and ground her teeth together furiously.
“Leave the wounded one, you idiot. After them!” she yelled at him.
Blacknail immediately grabbed his fallen mask and jumped to obey. He leapt off his defeated prey and launched himself at the window.
In mid air he grabbed the window sill and swung himself around to the outside wall, where he sank his claws into the wood and began to climb after the assassins. He could hear them running across the roof, and see the discarded piece of rope they had used to escape on the street below.
With inhuman agility the hobgoblin pulled himself onto the roof and scrambled after the fleeing assassins. Instinctively, he knew that the best way to catch them was to make sure they didn’t know they were being followed. Also, Blacknail wasn’t sure what to do with them when he caught them. They still outnumbered him, and Malthus was apparently a much better swordsman than he was a bodyguard.
So the hobgoblin kept his head down and used the angle of the roof to hide himself from sight. When the remaining pair of assassins reached the end of the roof they disappeared. Blacknail scurried over and saw them on the ground below him, he also saw the rope they had used to get there. As he watched they ran across the dark city street and into an alley.
Blacknail slid down the rope and hurried after them. He couldn’t see them, but he could still hear their heavy footsteps and follow their scent.
His quarry twisted and weaved their way through the city as they tried to lose any possible pursuit. Blacknail found it highly amusing. All their efforts were utterly pointless against him; he followed after them though the alleys and back ways of the city without any problem.
Soon, Blacknail arrived in a familiar part of town. The trail of the assassins who had tried to kill Herad led up to the front entrance of a large colorful building that the hobgoblin didn’t immediately recognize, because he hadn’t really looked at it from the front before. It was the place he’d met Luphera.
A suspicious growl escaped from Blacknail’s lips, as he stood at the opening of a nearby alleyway. The darkness of night hid him as he glared at the building, and considered this new development.
Was Luphera involved in the attack on Herad? It wasn’t impossible, she had bragged about having minions and connections. The idea upset Blacknail for some reason. He wasn’t sure why though; it wasn’t like they were of the same tribe, and he didn’t really even know much about her. In fact, she was very unsettling to be around.
What should he do now? Could he just return to Herad and tell her where the assassins had gone? Did she expect him to kill them before returning? He probably could head back now without being punished, but Blacknail realized he didn’t want to. He wanted to know exactly what was going on, and whether Luphera was involved.
Yes, perhaps it was time to be a little more… aggressive with the woman. He had let her weird perfume and behavior put him off guard before, but now he was done being on the defensive.
He would find her and get answers, but this time there would be no stupid games. He would simply take what he wanted, no matter who he had to kill.
Free Bonus Chapter!
Get access to a 9000 word bonus chapter set in The Iron Teeth and a new world map by joining my mailing list today.