Blacknail was just hanging around. Also, since he had nothing better to do he was reexamining some of the choices he had made recently.
He wasn’t quite sure why things had gone the way they had, but it didn’t help that he was very new at all this. He was new at reexamining things that is. Although, this was also the first time he had been hung from a tree by his ankle.
The hobgoblin jerked around again as he tried to pull himself up and reach the rope noose around his ankle so he could cut it with his claws. Unfortunately, he couldn’t muster the strength and all his efforts did was send him swaying back and forth through the air. He also started to get more than a little nauseous.
With a hiss of frustration Blacknail gave up and decided to wait for Saeter to come back out of his tent. The upside down forest spun and swayed around him as he waited. He should have known better than to try and go against his master.
Blacknail had thought for sure that he had come up with a good way to show Saeter that he couldn’t just boss him around. Apparently, he had been wrong.
It had all started several days ago. Blacknail had awoken to find himself in a strange lean-to out in the middle of the woods. This had confused him because he was fairly sure he had gone to sleep in a completely different place. Where were all the human bandits?
Still sleepy but somewhat alarmed he had gotten up and looked around. To his relief he had spotted the familiar outline of Saeter’s tent off to one side, and another tent alongside it.
Blacknail had quickly come to the conclusion that the fact that his master’s tent was nearby meant that he hadn’t been abandoned. It must have been Saeter that had brought him here while he slept.
Curious as to why he had been moved he decided to find his master and ask. So he had tried walking over to the tents, only to immediately trip over his own feet, and find out what the nearby dirt tasted like. Bleh!
It was then he had looked down and discovered that his body had changed.
At first he had thought that he had simply lost a lot of weight and gotten skinnier, but he soon realized that all his limbs were actually longer. That had confused him quite a bit.
Then he had heard a snigger of laughter and looked over to see one of the scouts from the camp grinning at him from a few feet away. He had growled at the man in annoyance. Who was he to laugh at Blacknail?
“Hey Saeter, your hobgoblin’s finally awake and he’s grumpy as a hungry bear,” the man named Varhs had yelled as he had measured Blacknail with his gaze. He hadn’t seemed impressed.
His master had then arrived and immediately ordered Blacknail to do all his usual chores. For some reason this had made Blacknail angry and resentful, but he had stifled his emotions and done as he was told.
He was rewarded with a large slab of meat that he had hungrily scoffed down before getting back to work. Saeter should have given him more though.
“Why I bigger?” he had asked Saeter as he gutted and skinned a rabbit. His new longer and more dexterous fingers had made the work easier and faster.
“You’ve turned into a hobgoblin. It happens to some goblins. They get taller and meaner,” his master had explained in his usual gruff voice.
Blacknail had remembered his master mentioning hobgoblins before in the past, so he had grudgingly accepted that explanation. He still suspected Saeter was withholding information from him though.
His head had felt weirdly light, and part of it had been whispering that he couldn’t trust his master. Blacknail’s thoughts had strayed while he worked. Why should everyone keep telling him what to do? He had gotten smarter and larger so why shouldn’t he be in charge?
Saeter had then reached over to hand the hobgoblin a rabbit hide, but Blacknail had felt a stab of unease at the man’s closeness and pulled away.
Saeter had frowned at the hobgoblin’s reaction and scrutinized him for a second before tossing him the pelt and turning away. Blacknail had taken this as more evidence that his master was lying to him or tricking him somehow.
Saeter had kept Blacknail busy all that day doing chores, but he had quickly figured out that they were mostly make-work. This really annoyed the hobgoblin. Why was his master doing this to him? Didn’t he deserve better? Why should Saeter boss him around anyway?
He had started to let a bit of hostility slip into his gaze as his eyes followed Saeter around. Saeter had noticed and met the gaze but hadn’t said anything, instead he had simply beaten Blacknail repetitively with a stick.
Of course, Saeter had claimed it was some sort of training but Blacknail hadn’t really believed him. After the chores were done to Saeter’s satisfaction he had thrown Blacknail a wooden sword, and begun to teach him swordsmanship.
“This is how every hot blooded youngster learns respect and discipline. It worked on me so it should work on you. Now I know you don’t like hitting people but from now on you’re going to have to,” he had told Blacknail.
He had then shown the hobgoblin how to hold the mock weapon, while the other man Varhs had silently watched them. Blacknail had noticed that Varhs had a real sword at his side, not a mock blade. It had struck him as very suspicious, but he was soon distracted from his musings.
The next part of sword training had involved Saeter yelling at Blacknail about how he was doing everything wrong, and the hobgoblin being smacked with the wooden blade over and over again.
This had infuriated Blacknail, and really hurt. Uncontrollable rage had poured out from some new depth within him, and Blacknail had hissed and snarled as he tried to block the blows. His mouth had watered at the thought of biting into Saeter’s flesh, but even with a sword of his own he couldn’t defend himself against Saeter’s skillful attacks and longer reach.
At first he had simply tried to defend, but Saeter had yelled and hit him over and over again until Blacknail had grown so angry he had lost all control. He had forgotten his usual rule against harming humans and swung out at Saeter’s head. Saeter had given him permission anyway.
When Saeter had easily dodged that blow Blacknail had launched himself at Saeter, dropped his wooden practice sword, and reached out to tear the man apart with his bare claws. That had been a very bad idea.
As Blacknail sprung towards him Saeter had slipped to the side, and brought his blunt blade down in a two handed swing against Blacknail’s head. The resulting blow had hurt a lot, stunned the hobgoblin, and given him his second taste of dirt that day. It hadn’t tasted very good.
Then Saeter had yelled at Blacknail until he got to his feet and continued. He hadn’t even been angry about being attacked, but he was angry about how bad the attack had been.
Eventually a very tired and sore Blacknail had simply collapsed from exhaustion, after what seemed like hours of futile attack attempts. Only then had Saeter called it a day.
Saeter had thrown the prone hobgoblin his dinner and instructed him to go to bed, and Blacknail had. He had been too tired to even think of arguing.
The next few days had been more of the same, chores in the morning and beatings at night. Blacknail had begun to grow frustrated and a hatred of Saeter had developed deep within him. His head had felt so strange and weird. Strange new thoughts kept popping up. He had been sure everything would feel better when he was in charge though.
As soon as they started sparring again Blacknail had tried to hit his master, but could never quite manage it. So he had grown even more spiteful and hostile. He’d begun to growl and hiss every time he saw Saeter, or the other man Varhs.
They were both obviously out to get him, and prevent him from taking his rightful place as the alpha. They weren’t even hobgoblins!
Then that morning he had awoken early, and in fit of anger he had snuck up on the tent where his master was sleeping. He hadn’t known what he was going to do when he got there, only that it would involve sweet revenge. Maybe he would have stolen some things, or broken Saeter’s stuff. He never had a chance to find out.
It had been a trap.
As he had crept silently along the path to Saeter’s tent from his sleeping place something had snagged the hobgoblin’s foot and violently flung him into the air.
After a surprised shriek, he had quickly realized that he had stepped in something like a giant rabbit trap that had been hidden under some leaves. He had flushed in embarrassment at the thought of being as stupid as a rabbit.
The noise caused by a startled hobgoblin being pulled into the air by a small unfurling tree had caused Saeter to come out to investigate. He had walked out of his tent, seen Blacknail, grunted, and then gone back inside to sleep. Blacknail had been too ashamed to say anything, so he had just hung there quietly for a few hours.
At least it had given him a lot of time to think. His anger had long since faded away. Maybe it was just because hanging upside down made his head feel weird in a completely different way, but looking back he really didn’t understand what he had been thinking.
Over the past few days he had not been acting like himself at all.
Even now some part of Blacknail wanted to wrap his hands around Saeter’s neck and choke him for tricking him like this. He would never have thought of doing that before. Was he so angry all the time because he was a hobgoblin now? Could he somehow go back to how he had been before?
Wait a second… why was he asking himself all these weird questions? He had never done that before. In fact he was still doing it; he was thinking about everything, even other things he was thinking about. What if he couldn’t stop! That would be horrible. All right, stop thinking right now!
…was it working?
Luckily for Blacknail his train of thought was interrupted as Saeter emerged from his tent again. He then looked up at the hobgoblin expectantly.
“Um, sorry master,” Blacknail said as he grinned nervously.
He thought his master looked skeptical of his apology.
“For what?” Saeter asked. Blacknail thought about it for a minute as he hung there.
“Being angry, trying to hit master, and being sneaky. I been very bad,” Blacknail answered with regret.
“You’re supposed to hit me during sword practice, but only during sword practice. As for being angry, can you tell me why you were acting like that?” Saeter asked him.
“I angry because I grow? You say so earlier,” he replied uncertainly.
“And how do I know you will stop?” Saeter asked.
Blacknail took another few minutes to consider the question. It was kind of a tricky question, but at least all the thinking his mind kept doing lately was proving useful.
“…because you teach me how?” Blacknail replied tentatively. His response caused a big grin to spread across Saeter’s face.
“That’s right. So let’s get back to sword practice. There is nothing like it for teaching the undisciplined control,” Saeter explained as he moved over to cut the hobgoblin down.
Blacknail groaned. Hanging upside down from a tree hadn’t been all that bad, maybe he should have kept his mouth shut.
Now that he was thinking somewhat straight, the first thing the new hobgoblin did when he got down was to look himself over in a nearby bucket of water. Two short black horns rose from his bald head. His previous short and somewhat pudgy body had been stretched out until he was almost as tall as a human.
He was skinnier than any human though but his wiry green body was still muscled. The features of his face that used to be round, like his nose and chin, had become sharper. He looked sleeker, more like a predator.
He smiled and larger teeth were revealed in the watery reflection before him. His thin tongue was also noticeably longer, and could be extended quite far out from his mouth.
The routine they had established earlier with chores in the morning and sword practice in the evening continued, only this time Blacknail was aware of his new anger and tried to suppress it. He had very limited success.
“No, control your rage. Don’t overextend. It leaves you open,” Saeter yelled sternly as his wooden blade slid by Blacknail’s own and impacted painfully against the hobgoblin’s shoulder.
Blacknail hissed angrily but tried to do as his master commanded. Control was the key, he thought to himself. I shouldn’t do what the anger tells me. He barely managed to block one of Seater’s blows as he fought to remember to keep his stance solid and light.
“Good, now attack,” Seater yelled. At his command Blacknail’s blade swung out at Saeter but the human easily parried it.
Blacknail had to fight his instinct to never attack humans, and his new hostile instincts that wanted him to leap forward and claw out Saeter’s eyes. This mental clash made his attacks slow.
“No, too much hesitation. Keep attacking,” Saeter told him. Blacknail obeyed and launched a rapid series of attacks, none of which hit. Saeter countered and his wooden blade smacked Blacknail across the head.
The hobgoblin felt himself grimace as rage built up inside of him. He wanted to leap at Saeter, to strike out at him, to feel his claws rend Saeter’s pinky flesh. He didn’t do it though.
He had lost control and given into rage a few times, and Saeter had simply smacked Blacknail down when his wild attack inevitably left him open.
No, the only way for him to strike Saeter was to control his rage and learn to use the sword. Wait, so the only way to hit his master was to not want to hit him? Ugh, now he had a headache.
“Relax, keep loose and flow through the forms while keeping proper technique,” Saeter explained to Blacknail for about the hundredth time over the past few days. Blacknail hissed angrily again but tried to as he was told. He desperately wanted to give in and go wild with rage.
Days passed this way. Varhs began to take over the sword lessons when Saeter grew too tired. Slowly Blacknail progressed and began to learn. Then one morning Blacknail woke up to find Saeter dissembling his tent.
“It’s time to head back. You’re still a crappy swordsman, but I can’t stay out here and train you forever. You’ve managed to learn some discipline though and hopefully that will be enough to keep you out of trouble. Just remember what happens if you screw up,” Saeter told Blacknail.
“I get hung from tree?” Blacknail guessed.
“No, Herad will kill you,” Saeter replied.
‘Oh…” Blacknail exclaimed.
He had almost forgotten about her. Briefly he mentally compared her fight against the ghouls with his own sessions with Saeter.
The anger that taken root deep within Blacknail as his new hobgoblin instincts pushed him to fight and dominate everyone around him suddenly shriveled up and died. He was not going to try and fight Herad. Nope, that was never going to happen.
Control was his new best friend. Once again Blacknail felt gratitude towards his wise master for working him so hard. Without his lessons he could easily imagine himself losing control, only to be mercilessly killed by Herad seconds later.
“Come here Blacknail, I have a sort of graduation gift for you,” Saeter told him.
“What’s a graduation?” he asked his master. He liked the gift part though.
“It’s what happens when you learn something or pass a test. This one is for learning basic swordsmanship and control. Every time you feel angry remember this training. Rage will only lead to self-destruction,” Saeter explained.
“Yes, master,” Blacknail replied gratefully.
Saeter then handed Blacknail a backpack. Compelled by curiosity the hobgoblin opened the pack and pulled the contents out. It was several sets of clothes and a long hooded cloak.
“Luckily, when we were leaving camp there were a whole bunch of clothes laying around that no one needed anymore. I picked some of the smaller ones out for you. There’s also some other stuff like a flint and steel in there to,” Saeter explained.
“Thank you master,” Blacknail told him with real gratitude. For some reason being given human clothes made him happy.
“Put some on, we can’t have you returning to camp dressed like a savage,” Saeter replied.
Blacknail immediately chose a rough pair of black pants and a brown shirt and pulled them on, after taking off his own self made shorts. They had been getting kind of tight recently anyway.
“Much better, you don’t look like a feral hobgoblin that just crawled out of the woods anymore,” Blacknail’s master said with a self satisfied smile.
“Ya, I don’t know what he looks like now,” Varhs added. Blacknail resisted the urge to claw the man’s eyes out.
“…and here’s the real prize. Just remember your training, or I’ll kill you myself,” Saeter told Blacknail as he pulled out a simple sheathed short sword and presented it hilt first to Blacknail.
“Oddly enough, that’s almost exactly what my drill instructor told me the day I graduated from basic,” Varhs mused quietly to himself off to the side.
Blacknail took the blade and purred in pleasure. Now he had a sword all of his own. His master Saeter trusted him with one, and had even shown him how to use it.
Blacknail unsheathed the blade and smiled at its shiny and ever so sharp edges. He ran his finger along the blade so he could feel it cut into his skin. As a tiny drop of blood formed on his finger and Blacknail chuckled gleefully.
Varhs was suddenly looking like he doubted this was a good idea. His eyes were slightly wide with concern, as if he expected Blacknail to go on a killing spree any second now. The hobgoblin decided to disappoint him.
He felt humbled by his master’s loyalty and promised himself he would return it. He would practice every day so that he would never give into his anger and disappoint his master.
“Thank you, master. Blacknail your loyal servant,” he said as he knelt and lowered his eyes submissively.
“Get up Blacknail, you earned that blade. Now let’s get back to camp. It’s been over a week, and everyone probably thinks we’re dead,” Saeter told him.
With a nod of acceptance Blacknail attached his new sword and sheathe to his waist. That done he put on the dark grey cloak, and looked back to admire himself in it.
It reminded him of Saeter and Herad’s cloaks, and made him feel important. He liked it. He flipped the hood up and over his face.
“Ugh, you can hardly tell he’s a hobgoblin. That’s more than a little scary,” Varhs commented uneasily.
From within the depths of his cloak Blacknail smiled gleefully, and his long naked tongue flicked out to taste the cool air. A whole new world lay on the path before him, if he simply had the will and discipline to walk it.
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!