Upon receiving Grey’s report, the first thing Blacknail did was run off to talk to Gob. When he found him, he immediately ordered the other hobgoblin to begin assembling the full might of Blacknail’s tribe. Blacknail wanted every hobgoblin that could hold a spear ready to march, and as much magic power as he could get. It was time to strike back against the boggarts and hopefully end their assaults on the mines. Blacknail couldn’t let them continue to harass his forces above and below ground. He had more important enemies, so the boggarts needed to be exterminated.
“Grey is just as useful as I thought he’d be,” Blacknail remarked with a proud grin once he was done explaining everything to Gob.
“Yes, boss. Truly, it is like you’re so wise you can see the future.”
“I’m a super great leader,” Blacknail agreed with a nod. “I think we need even more lurkers now. They are just too useful to only have one. I’m putting you in charge of getting me more.”
“Er, how would I do that, boss? None of the trogs seem to be transforming.”
Blacknail grinned smugly. “Ah, I know the answer to that, since I’m so smart and amazing. You really need to get smarter. You see, Grey is part goblin. You need to get a whole bunch more trogs that are part goblin.”
Gob suddenly looked concerned. “Um, boss. How am I supposed to do that? What exactly are you ordering me to do?”
“Figure it out yourself. I have to go back to Grey,” Blacknail replied with a dismissive wave as he turned to leave. “Make sure my troops are ready to move when I get back.”
Leaving Gob behind, Blacknail hurried back underground to where Grey was waiting.
“Alright, let’s go. I want to see the base you found,” Blacknail told the lurker.
An hesitant look appeared on Grey’s pale face. “You sure? We no bring a light into the dark. It be hard for you.” The lurker was still learning to speak properly so his speech could be a little garbled, or maybe it was a lurker thing. Blacknail honestly wasn’t sure yet.
“I’ll be fine.”
“You sure? Hobgoblins stumble in dark. I see you.”
Blacknail huffed indignantly. “I’m one of the greatest scouts ever! A dark cave is no problem for me. I’m not some dumb blind human. I hunt in the dark all the time.”
“What a human?” Grey asked. There was a lot of basic information he didn’t know since he’d lived his entire life underground.
“Er, they’re not important. Just take me to the boggart nest.”
Nodding reluctantly in acceptance, Grey did as he was told and began to lead Blacknail through the tunnels. They quickly reached one of the guard posts at the edge of the mine and passed into the dark passages beyond it. Immediately, their pace slowed down to a crawl and Blacknail completely lost his ability to see. Everything was black. He couldn’t even see the walls or the floor. He did manage to find a rock though, by hitting it with his shin. Ouch.
“Are you still here Grey?” Blacknail whispered as he hopped on one foot. His pride was almost as sore as his shin.
There was a barely audible sigh from somewhere up above. “I take out moss light.”
There was a brief shuffling noise from up ahead and then a slight pale light appeared as Grey pulled out his glass vial filled with glowing moss. It was incredibly faint and didn’t really illuminate its surroundings, but at least Blacknail could tell where his guide was now. Hobgoblins had great night vision, but it was apparently not nearly as good as that of trogs and lurkers. His hearing also seemed less sensitive than Grey’s to the sounds of the underground.
“Good?” Grey asked.
Shrouded in darkness, Blacknail grimaced. He was too proud to give up. “Yes, let’s keep going.”
Grey didn’t reply. His gloomy light simply started bobbing and swaying as he just began walking again. Blacknail hurried after him as quickly as he dared. He still couldn’t see much of anything.
Time crawled by with agonizing slowness as Blacknail followed Grey’s little light, but they made steady progress and Blacknail’s shins only hit a few more rocks. If he stared really hard at a particular black spot, Blacknail thought he could usually detect solid objects before actually walking into them. Still, Blacknail was quite happy when they passed by a patch of glowing moss that lit up the cave around it. That allowed him to see the floor for a few moments before they passed beyond the moss’ light.
Soon after that, Blacknail noticed a tiny orb of yellow light hanging off in darkness. He stopped and turned to whisper at Grey. “What’s that yellow light?”
“Bright stinger. It lure prey then bite and kill,” Grey replied without stopping.
That sounded interesting, and Blacknail kind of wanted to go poke the yellow light now. However, he also didn’t want to get left behind, so Blacknail hurried after Grey. They carefully made their way through the black tunnels for an unknown amount of time. In the dark, Blacknail found himself having trouble keeping track.
However, Grey eventually came to a stop. The lurker turned around raised the vial of moss to illuminate his face. He then raised a finger to his lips to signal for silence. The pale lurker looked disturbing, but Blacknail was too surprised to resist as Grey grabbed his shoulder and shoved him down behind a rock. The lurker than pocketed the vial of moss, and darkness enveloped everything. Blacknail was left alone with no idea what was going on around him. This was no fun. Maybe he shouldn’t have made Grey bring him after all.
Without sight, Blacknail focused on listening. The cave was almost completely silent, but he thought he heard a faint scratching sound somewhere up ahead. Crack! Blacknail flinched as the sound of metal hitting something hard rang out from the black. What was happening? Should he do something?
There was several seconds of scuffling and Blacknail thought he heard a familiar hiss before the dark grew quiet again. He really wanted to ask Grey what was going on now, but he kept silent and waited. His patience was rewarded a moment later when Grey’s moss light sprang back into existence.
“I killed boggart guard. Let’s go. Base this way. Be quiet,” Grey explained before turning to begin walking away. Blacknail thought he saw the shadowy form of a boggart worker laying at the lurker’s feet.
After a bit more walking, Grey stopped and helped Blacknail crawl into a small passage. Goblins were burrowing creatures but being in tight confines so far from the surface still made Blacknail a little nervous. Thankfully, they didn’t have to travel all that much further. After a few tense moments of crawling, light appeared in front of Blacknail. He carefully moved foward until he emerged out onto a long natural shelf that hung above a large cave. As he moved to the side, Grey crawled out and moved up beside him. Together, they then looked out at the cave before them. Blacknail’s eyes were used to the darkness now and very sensitive, so he had to blink a few times before the shapes gained meaning.
A large cavern lay before Blacknail. It was about as wide as his mansion but with a low hanging roof that was decorated by clusters of small stalactites. It was lit by a dozen evenly-spaced posts with dim light stones on top of them. Between the posts, boggart workers scuttled about through what looked like thick mud. The entire place reeked of wet earth and sour food. Blacknail found himself gagging as he studied the workers going about their business.
On the far side of the cave there was a wide opening that was guarded by two warriors with spears. Blacknail could see past them into part of the huge cavern behind them. It was dotted with lights. And around them, tall buildings rose up into the air. From so far away, it was difficult to make out the details, but Blacknail thought the spires were rounded and that they were several stories tall. Some of them went up out of sight, so he didn’t know how high they reached.
It was an impressive sight, and Blacknail dearly wished he could see more. From his vantage point, it was impossible to tell how big the cave was or how many spires it contained. Still, this was obviously a permanent settlement that the boggarts had spent a considerable amount of time building. That made it a great target. It was time to leave.
Blacknail nodded at Grey and then turned around so that he could begin wiggling his way back through the tunnel. Grey quickly followed him. Only once they were both safely on the other side did he risk a whisper.
“Let’s go back. I saw what I wanted,” he told the lurker.
Grey simply nodded and began to lead the way back. Blacknail could only stumble after the dim light from the vial of moss he was holding. As he walked, he hit his shin on another rock and had to bite back a curse. Well, at least they were headed back now, and this horrible trip would soon be over. He wasn’t going to suggest doing this ever again. He’d gotten a lot of valuable information, but a hobgoblin’s shins could only take so much.
The pair managed to reach the hobgoblin mine and get up to the surface without a problem. Once there, Blacknail got involved with organizing his troops. Hundreds of them were hanging around the entrance to the mine now, but more were on their way and they had to form ranks and get equipped properly.
When they were called up, Blacknail’s hobgoblins were supposed to form squads based around the longhouse they lived in. Every house leader was in charge of his bunk mates and making sure they all had equipment. Gob then assigned warriors to help and captains to take charge of multiple squads. Those captains answered to Gob, who served Blacknail. It was simple system, and more than a little messy, but it had advantages. Mainly, it was easy to remember and that allowed the hobgoblins to muster quickly.
As Blacknail was stomping around and yelling at minions to form nice little lines so they could be counted – which was important for some reason – Ferrar arrived with a wagon full of arms and armor. Blacknail ordered him to hand them out to whoever needed it.
Imp also soon arrived with half a dozen hobgoblin mages. Blacknail immediately hurried over to question him. “Do you have a death beam yet?”
This operation would be much easier with a proper death beam. Imp’s usual fiery explosions were too indiscriminate to use underground in most situations.
Imp sighed. “Yes, I found some crystals I can use for that. They aren’t very flashy though.”
“Good, good. Don’t go anywhere,” Blacknail told him before going back to help organizing the troops.
Soon, almost all the hobgoblins were lined up properly and ready to move. That was when Herah found him.
“I’m ready to fight, boss!” she announced as she walked over to him and gave him an enthusiastic salute. She wasn’t alone either. There were two squads of hobgoblins behind her.
“Good. I see you brought some troops.”
“Yep, these are my patrol squad, and the others said they were your elite bodyguards, so I brought them too.”
Blinking in surprise, Blacknail studied the second squad of hobgoblins. Huh, he hadn’t even known he had elite bodyguards. It wasn’t a bad idea. Had Gob assigned them to him? Wait, was that Crow hanging out near the back of the bodyguards? Yes, the well-dressed hobgoblin was wearing a helmet to hide his face and trying to blend in, but that was definitely him. Suspicious!
Blacknail turned back to Herah and gave her a smile. “You know what?”
“What? Tell me!” Herah asked with obvious excitement before Blacknail could continue.
“Er, you’ve been doing a great job lately. You deserve a reward”
“Wow, thanks boss! What do I get? A kiss or maybe more…”
Blacknail quickly cut her off. “You get the honor of being the leader of my bodyguards during the battle.”
Herah frowned. “You already have bodyguards. What about them?”
“They get the honor of leading the charge against the enemy,” Blacknail explained as he turned to smile at the hobgoblins in question. In response to his words, there were muted curses from the squad, including more than a few from Crow.
Ha, Crow wasn’t nearly as smart as he thought he was. As if Blacknail was going to let a squad with him in it guard his back during a battle. Crow had probably formed the squad and filled it with disloyal scum. Well, that was fine. Those that survived leading the charge might reconsider their loyalties in the future.
Working with Gob, Blacknail eventually managed to get everyone ready to move. The mustering of Ironbreak’s forces had taken about two hours, which was way too long. They were probably going to have to hold drills or something. Before the boggarts had shown up, that simply hadn’t been a priority during the winter.
“We will move one squad at a time through the caves. They’re too tight for more,” Blacknail told his lieutenants. He’d called a meeting right before giving his troop the order to march.
Gob and the others nodded, so Blacknail turned to Grey. “We’re going to need you to lead the way to a large cave where we can regroup. From there, we’ll rush through their farms and cut a way into their city.”
“I know a place. It big enough,” Grey reassured Blacknail.
With that sorted out, the hobgoblin force began moving out. Squad by squad, they marched down into the mines. Each squad followed the one in front of it and had a goblin or hobgoblin mage to provide them with light. Grey led the first squad and had a screen of armed trog scouts covering his advance. Blacknail and Herah were also in the first squad, although the only thing they could really do was walk after Grey and hope he was taking them in the right direction.
Thankfully, he was. After several minutes of marching, they arrived in a large circular cavern that contained three small pools of water. The smooth floor of the cave made it look like the place flooded frequently, but for now it was a perfect place to regroup. Blacknail’s group took up position at the side of the cave and waited as more hobgoblin squads arrived.
It took longer than Blacknail would have liked. Over an hour. He could only wait in the shadowy cave far beneath the ground and listen to the gentle lapping of water and the occasional hobgoblin fart. His incredible patience was rewarded though, when Gob arrived with the last squad.
“Finally!” Blacknail growled as he grabbed Grey and pulled him over to Gob. “Which way is the enemy?”
“I lead way through caves, until their lights shine,” Grey replied enthusiastically. He seemed excited by the thought of the upcoming battle.
That was fine with Blacknail. After a brief talk with Gob to make sure nothing had gone wrong, he got everyone moving again. This time, they swarmed through the tunnels as fast as they could. It was important that they catch the boggarts off guard as much as possible, but stealth wasn’t an option, so they had to rely on speed.
The mass of hobgoblins quickly encountered resistance. They were moving too quickly for the trogs to screen their advance, so after climbing over a short ledge, Blacknail and Grey found themselves facing a pack of boggarts. There were five of the creatures, and Blacknail didn’t waste a second on surprise. He lunged forward with all his speed.
As the boggarts reeled back in shock, Blakcnail drew his blade and began hacking and slashing with complete abandon. His minions were still behind him, so he didn’t have to worry about hitting them. Thus, his sword smashed one bloody boggart aside and then severed the head of another. As he stepped forward and impaled his third target, the boggarts broke and began to scramble away. They hissed and chirped fearfully as they tried to flee into the darkness. Blacknail charged after them, and brutally cut down one more, but the last boggart worker managed to disappear into the shadows.
“Stink toads,” Blacknail swore as he came to a stop. He didn’t have a light on him, so he couldn’t give chase.
That was when Grey charged past him and into the darkness after the boggart. Blacknail had forgotten he was there. Well, that was good. The lurker could probably catch a worker. Still, there was no point wasting time.
Blacknail ran back to the ledge. Several of his bodyguards had already managed to climb it, but the rest of the army had slowed behind it. That wouldn’t do. Blacknail had some of his guards pull out rope and hang it down over the ledge so that it could be climbed faster. Thankfully, the ledge was barely taller than a hobgoblin, and he quickly got a system going and his minions began zipping up the climb one after another. That done, Blacknail led the way down the tunnel after Grey. He really hoped there weren’t any forks in the tunnel up ahead.
There were. After about a hundred feet, the path split it in two, and Blacknail had no idea which tunnel to take. However, before Blacknail had to choose one at random, Grey returned.
“I got boggart,” he replied as he stepped into the light.
“Good. Hopefully, the noise we’re making hasn’t echoed all the way to their base.”
“Don’t know,” Grey replied with a shrug.
“Just point out the right way. We need to keep moving.”
Grey nodded and headed down the left tunnel. The passage behind Blacknail was now full of waiting hobgoblins who’d trailed after their leader. Blacknail eyed them for a moment and then followed after Grey. His way was lit by a hobgoblin mage holding a crude staff, but shadows lurked and shifted in every direction. Irregular rocks jutted out from every surface, blocking both the light and everyone’s vision. It was hard to tell what was a patch of shadow and what was a hole in a wall or pit in the ground.
The hobgoblin army marched on behind their leader though. They didn’t fear the dark. Soon, Blacknail turned a corner and saw some light up ahead. As he squinted, he recognized figures moving up ahead in the light. It looked like there were dozens of people running around, although he couldn’t see any details.
“The boggarts. We here,” Grey announced with a bloodthirsty snarl. “The foul ones heard us and are gathering.”
“Then we’re going to have stomp them into gooey paste before they realize what they’re up against,” Blacknail replied confidently. That said, the hobgoblin warlord drew his sword again and prepared to signal for the charge. It was time to see how the boggarts liked being invaded for a change.
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!