Turning to stare intently at Werrick’s tent, Blacknail waited for the signal that would announce the beginning of Gob and Ilisti’s assault. Fidgeting, he licked his lips and ran his tongue over the sharp points of his teeth. His minions should already be moving into place, but it was hard to wait for them. Blacknail’s chest felt tight and uncomfortable as anxiety bubbled up within him.
Suddenly, several of Werrick’s men near the road began shouting. Soon, the cry was taken up by others and the entire camp came alive as bandits began running around in every direction. It looked like someone had finally spotted the Blackmark tribe’s main force approaching. Finally! Hidden in the bushes at the edge of the clearing, Blacknail grinned and watched the commotion intently.
Judging by all the panic, it seemed like Blacknail’s force had caught the enemy off guard with their sudden assault. The Wolf wasn’t a fool, though. Despite being surprised by the sudden appearance of an army from nowhere, it was obvious that Werrick hadn’t allowed his troops to slack off. He’d obviously been expecting Blacknail to try something, even if he didn’t know what. Not only had he posted several layers of sentries, but as Blacknail watched, over a third of Werrick’s forces quickly formed up into ranks and marched toward the road. The Wolf had kept quite a large portion of his army ready for action. That was annoying, but to be honest, Blacknail hadn’t really expected things to go too easily.
Annoyed and still anxious, Blacknail scowled as he watched bandits run back and forth through the camp. Within a few moments, almost all the camp would be up and armed. Still, Blacknail waited and his patience was rewarded as he spotted someone emerge from the big tent at the center of the enemy camp. It was a tall muscular man wearing a long fur cloak and a helmet shaped like a wolf’s head. A spike of hungry excitement stabbed through Blacknail’s chest as he watched the man march over toward the road and the troops forming up there. At last. Werrick had shown himself. Saeter’s killer was right where Blacknail wanted him.
Most of Werrick’s force was armed now, although there were lots of stragglers still rushing around. Then, on the road across the camp, Blacknail’s main force appeared. Holding up rows of spears, they marched toward the enemy at a quick pace. From this distance, it was hard to tell that most of the attackers weren’t human. The hobgoblins’ scavenged gear covered most of their skin. Blacknail wished he was close enough to see the reaction of the human bandits when they realized what they were fighting.
When Werrick reached his troops, he began yelling, and the entire formation started moving to cut off their attacker’s advance. Although more men were still running out to join Werrick, the camp was mostly empty now. It wasn’t unguarded, though. A small rearguard of about a dozen men had stayed behind. Werrick was still playing it safe, and that frustrated Blacknail. He couldn’t see a way to get to Werrick before the two main forces collided. By then, Ilisti would probably get to him first. Blacknail wanted to be the one to snuff the life from the Wolf.
As the wedge of hobgoblin spearmen marched toward the mob of human bandits, there was a sudden boom. Immediately, a twisting ball of air shot out from near the center of Werrick’s troops and zoomed toward their charging enemy. That was what Blacknail had been waiting for. Werrick had deployed his mage. His attention was now completely focused forward.
“Now! Charge like your ugly green asses are on fire, or they will be! The last hob into battle gets my sword in his guts,” Blacknail roared at his nearby minions as he burst out of the bushes and began running into the clearing.
His screaming minions immediately charged after their boss. His threats wrere entirely unnecessary. The hobgoblin irregulars outnumbered the enemy rearguard three to one, and that was the kind of odds hobgoblins liked. The thought of easy prey drew them like moths to a flame. Every one of them wanted a piece, so they raced forward in a ferocious mob.
On the other side of the camp, the air was shaken by a big boom. Imp had countered the enemy mage’s blast by throwing a ball of force of his own, using the mage staff he’d claimed before. The two magic blasts had collided and nullified each other, allowing the spearmen to continue marching forward. Meanwhile, three of Imp’s apprentices slung flaming mana crystals at Werrick’s men. The fiery projectiles sizzled as they rose up into the air and then descended. Unfortunately, it seemed Werrick had brought a second combat mage, because a wave of twisting air shot up from the bandit’s flank and knocked the fireballs aside. That didn’t deter Imp’s assistants from throwing another volley of them, though. Soon, magecraft was flying back and forth with abandon, although very little of it hit anything. Both sides prioritized defense and became stuck in a magical deadlock.
As Blacknail charged them, the rearguard quickly noticed the line of screaming hobgoblins charging out of the forest. Several flinched and yelled out in shock, but they didn’t run. Instead, they closed ranks and prepared to meet his charge. It didn’t help them much. Blacknail had gulped down a vial of Elixir and its power flowed through him as he ran. As Blacknail lunged forward, he released a wave of gut twisting fear that washed over the bandits and weakened their resolve. One of them stumbled as dread wormed its way into his mind, and Blacknail cut him down with a lightning fast flick of his blade. Then, before the other nearby bandits could recover, Blacknail unleashed a flurry of slashes that cut deep into flesh and forced them back. That was when the swarm of hobgoblins hit. Smelling blood, they slammed into the humans and began tearing them apart with little regard for their own safety. There were agonized screams as the crude assortment of weapons sent blood gushing from gaping wounds.
As his minions vented their fury, Blacknail stepped through the carnage and focused on what was happening up ahead. There was a plan. He had to focus on it. Having cut a path through the rearguard, he needed keep his eye on his true prey, Werrick.
Ahead of him, the blasts of energy thrown by the mages died out as the two sides finally met, but then one final burning projectile shot up from Werrick’s troops. It was a whistling purple fireball, and after rising straight up into the air, it exploded into a large bright star shape. The bang from explosion stung Blacknail’s ears, but the spell didn’t do any real damage to anything. Unfortunately, it didn’t have to. Blacknail suspected he knew the spell’s purpose. It was a signal that could be seen for miles. Now that both sides were locked in combat, Werrick had summoned reinforcements. His patrol would see the sign and return immediately. Even the other enemy division might see it and come to investigate. That wasn’t good, but it didn’t change Blacknail’s options. He had to win this fight as soon as possible.
As the armies clashed, Werrick roared and ordered his men forward into the wedge of hobgoblin spears. The first row of humans was brought down by the sharp points of hobgoblin spears, but then the second row bullied their way past. Many of those humans screamed and fell as spears pierced them, but then the third row of bandits attacked, and the two sides became locked in a tight brutal melee. At first, neither side gave ground, however the weight of the stronger humans began to push the hobgoblins back.
That was when Werrick himself joined the fight. The big man with the wolf helmet pushed past his troops and pulled a huge longsword off his back. With all the spear tips already pushed aside or stuck in other people, there was nothing to stop him from driving his blade into the closest hobgoblin. That hobgoblin died instantly – skewered like a cooked meat on a stick – and then Werrick was hacking and slashing his way forward. Hobgoblins began falling left and right as the Wolf’s blade tore into them, and the entire formation of spearmen began to tremble and fall apart. Sensing weakness, the human bandits pushed forward to seize the advantage.
Thankfully, Blacknail had his own allies. Werrick’s advance had not gone unnoticed by Ilisti. Unafraid, the vympir lord led his men straight toward the thickest fighting. In several places, he simply grabbed hobgoblins that were in his way and tossed them aside. Without slowing, Ilisti drew his own longsword and slashed at Werrick, who was pushed back by the blow. The two armored figures began fighting. Their blades clanged as they met repeatedly, but neither seemed to have an immediate advantage. As the vympir’s men joined the battle around their master, they stiffened the hobgoblins resolve and the Blackmark force stopped yielding ground and began pushing back.
Blacknail growled impatiently as he watched and waited. Thankfully, it was at that moment that his minions finally got into place. Several of Imp’s assistants reached his side and began pulling out red mana crystals. Behind them, the last of the rearguard was swarmed over by hobgoblins and died messily.
“Keep your shots low. Hit their backs. If you go over their heads I’ll kick your brains out,” Blacknail told the mages as they worked.
They quickly nodded or blurted out quick affirmations, and a moment later, they were ready to strike. Slings were out and loaded with their ammunition.
Blacknail smiled viciously and gladly gave the order. “Fire.”
The hobgoblins obeyed, and as the mana crystals begin to burn, they were launched at the back of Werrick’s troops. Preoccupied by his sword fight with Ilisti, the Wolf wasn’t aware of the strike until the fireballs hit the back rank of his troops and exploded. Without warning, men were torn apart by vicious explosions, and then a wave of fire washed over them. The flames singed and blackened flesh as they tried to consume everything in their way. Over a dozen of Werrick’s men died instantly, more were wounded, and the remainder were stunned by the unexpected explosions at their backs. Many of them were preoccupied fighting hobgoblins and couldn’t even turn to see what was happening. They just knew it was bad, and most likely very bad.
Blacknail laughed like a madman as he took the sight. Boom! Roasting humans was always fun, especially when they served the Wolf. With the rearguard defeated, the hobgoblin irregulars had formed up behind him. So, with a wave of his hand, Blacknail ordered them forward and signaled for his mages to cover their advance with another barrage. As the hobgoblins surged toward the fight, three fireballs flew over them toward Werrick’s troops.
However, only one of the fireballs hit. Forewarned, one of Werrick’s mages had gotten himself into position to defend against the attack. A transparent shield of shimmering blue appeared and blocked two of the fireballs. However, the one remaining fireball blasted several enemies off their feet and set them aflame. They screamed as they rolled across the ground.
With him at their lead, Blacknail’s troops yelled bloodthirsty warcries as they charged toward the enemy’s exposed rear. However, since they were in the way, the hobgoblin mages couldn’t launch anymore fireballs. The enemy mage was quick to take advantage of this. He lowered his shield and began throwing force blasts at the charging hobgoblins. There was a loud crunch as a blast slammed into a hobgoblin to Blacknail’s left and threw him backwards. However, the irregulars were spread out. The mage kept firing, but all the magical attacks either took out a single target or missed completely. They couldn’t stop the mob, but just in case, Blacknail kept his head low. There was no point in making himself a target.
As Blacknail raced toward the enemy, Werrick changed his strategy. Blacknail was too close to the press of bodies to see clearly, but there was a sudden surge of activity around the Wolf. There was a muffled boom and all the spears near him were knocked aside. At the same time, all the combatants swayed slightly as if surprised or hit by a strong gust of wind. Whatever he’d done, Werrick even somehow managed to push Ilisti and his men back a few steps. This gave the Wolf a quick reprieve, and he didn’t waste it. He began falling back and organizing a retreat. Blacknail could hear him yell out orders, and his men leapt to obey without question.
However, Blacknail was forced to turn away and focus on things closer to hand. He was almost upon the enemy, so he drew his sword and threw himself at the closest bandit. The back rank of the enemy had had more than enough time to turn around and face the attack from Blacknail’s irregulars, but they were still shocked and unorganized after being blasted by magical fire. As Blacknail’s irregulars closed in, he ran down the bandit’s line. Hacking and slashing, he ruthlessly attacked every bandit in his way as he worked toward his true goal, Werrick. The bandit lord was making his way toward the back of the formation.
The hobgoblin irregulars slammed into the enemy. They were outnumbered, but they had momentum and all they had to do was hold the enemy in place. Ilisti and the spearhobs had recovered and were pressing the attack from the other side. With Werrick gone, they were slaughtering the human bandits.
That was when Werrick suddenly reappeared. He burst out of the back of the enemy formation and began cutting down hobgoblin irregulars, opening a path for his forces to retreat through. Immediately, Blacknail shifted course. He backed away from a stumbling bandit he’d been about to cut down and began moving to intercept the Wolf. A blond human in leather armor with an axe tried to block him, but Blacknail ducked under his swing and sliced his leg open. Blood sprayed from the wound and the man fell screaming, but Blacknail ignored him and moved on.
Cutting down one more bandit and shoving another man aside, Blacknail approached Werrick. The Wolf had just finished killing a hobgoblin and was focusing on trying to get his men moving. His formally gleaming armor was splattered by blood and his long fur cloak was torn, but he didn’t look injured. Instead, he dominated the space around himself, like a giant. Even through his fury, Blacknail felt momentarily impressed by the sight of the tall man as his gaze swept his way. Werrick’s silver helm bore the visage of a snarling wolf.
“This is unreal. Where are you critters coming from?” Werrick asked as he raised his longsword. “This doesn’t make any sense.”
Stifling his doubts, Blacknail readied himself and rushed in. At the same time, Werrick swung his weapon around and took a casual slash at him. Blacknail saw the blow coming. As it whipped toward his face, the hobgoblin chieftain readied himself for a fierce fight. He gripped his own blade tightly and let out a deep breath. Deadly calm, but with fire burning in his guts, Blacknail faced Saeter’s killer head on.
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