The man known as Ferret strolled off into the woods towards the camp latrines. The large rough shaven bandit had been lounging around the bandit camp for awhile, but now nature’s call had lured him out into the forest.
From where he was sitting and watching from another corner of the camp, Blacknail smiled. It was not a friendly smile, but one meant to display both teeth and menace. After a quick look around to make sure no one was paying attention, he slowly got up and slipped off into the trees.
Most of the bandits in the camp simply avoided the hobgoblin, but several were more hostile. Among the most vocal about their distrust of Blacknail was Ferret.
Ferret had made his hatred for Blacknail plain at every opportunity. He spent a great deal of time trying to turn the other humans against the hobgoblin, and had even threatened to kill the hobgoblin. Worse, he had threatened Saeter. That would have to stop. Besides, Blacknail owed the man one for when he had threatened him the first day his master had freed him.
Blacknail stalked through the woods silently. He had removed the boots Saeter had given him. He found it easier to move undetected without them. He had also removed his cloak; his green skin was actually harder to see in the forest, and the cloak tended to get caught on things.
Nearly invisible, the hobgoblin circled the camp towards the latrines and his prey. He slipped noiselessly between the trees and bushes. Anticipation for the hunt gleamed in his eyes.
Soon, the cracking of breaking twigs and the whooshing sound of human breath reached his ears. With his prey located, he stopped to observe and plan for a moment from behind a nearby tree.
Ferret’s back was to the goblin and his pants were down around his ankles. He was busy emptying his bladder. Blacknail took advantage of the man’s distraction and stalked towards him. The sound of bird calls and Ferret’s own messy noises masked Blacknail’s quiet approach.
Ferret continued to urinate unaware as Blacknail closed the distance between them. When he stood directly behind his target Blacknail drew his dagger, but then the hobgoblin hesitated.
He had never actually assaulted a human before without his rage driving him. Part of him doubted he could pull it off. Ferret was not a small man. However, another part of Blacknail urged him forward. He had seen humans fight and die many times now. A good blade could end them easily enough, and Ferret was a threat to him and his master. The hobgoblin made up his mind.
Blacknail kicked the man’s feet out from under him. With a startled oomph, Ferret fell forward over the latrine pit. He flailed as he tipped forward and desperately tried to find some way to steady himself, but before he could fall into the latrine Blacknail reached out and wrenched him backwards. The hobgoblin’s long thin fingers entwined themselves through the man’s hair as he pulled the man up.
Before the man could yell and draw attention, Blacknail reached around and rested his blade against Ferret’s throat.
The rough bandit stiffened and froze in alarm as he hung unsteadily over the pit. From this close Blacknail could hear his heart pounding. The edge of his knife put pressure on the man’s skin but didn’t draw blood, yet.
“Hello-ss, Ferret,” Blacknail whispered as he leaned in and licked the side of the man’s face.
The bandit’s skin was salty with sweat. Ferret shuddered in horror.
“What do you want?” the bandit stuttered fearfully.
“Silence, yours. I have-ss heard you try and turn the band against me. You challenge me,” Blacknail answered.
“You’re not part of the band. You’re just a stupid beast. Kill me if you want but then everyone will know you for the vicious animal you are, and then they will hunt you down,” Ferret replied angrily.
Blacknail let his dagger drop, and then stabbed Ferret in the leg.
The bandit hissed in pain and flinched but Blacknail held him tightly. A few seconds later, the large man went limp and loose in the hobgoblin’s grip. Blacknail sheathed his poisoned dagger, and drew a rock from one of his pouches.
“I thank you for permission to end your life,” Blacknail told the man he had paralyzed with spider poison taken from Saeter’s bags.
Emotionlessly, he then smashed the man in the head with the rock, creating a small gash that bled freely, and let the body and the rock fall into the latrine together.
The bandit landed head first, with a loud wet splat. Much to Blacknail’s satisfaction, his face was submerged in the collected human excrement, where the paralyzed and most likely unconscious bandit would drown.
His chore complete, Blacknail got up from where he was crouched beside the latrine pit, and headed back to the camp. He circled the camp instead of heading straight back to the clearing, as not to draw suspicion down on himself. Hopefully, he would be back to where he had been sitting before anyone even noticed he had left.
He hadn’t actually followed Ferret planning to kill him. He had been planning to simply scare him into submission. However, the unthinking hatred he had seen in the man’s eyes had convinced him that wouldn’t work. Ferret had been a danger and would have never accepted Blacknail into the band.
Everything had worked out, though. Anyone that found the body would probably think Ferret had fallen in, hit his head and then drowned in the latrine. With all the footprints from the heavy traffic to and from the latrine no one would notice the hobgoblin’s prints. Blacknail smiled at his own cleverness. Saeter would probably even approve, not that Blacknail was ever going to tell him.
He emerged from the bushes at the border of the clearing and crept stealthily into the bandits’ camp. No one even looked his way. Once he reached the pile of firewood he had been sitting on earlier he picked up his discarded cloak, and put it back on.
That done, the hobgoblin decided to head back to Saeter’s campsite. His master probably had tasks for him to complete. As he moved through the camp, most of the human moved out of his way and threw him wary glances.
Word had spread about who and what was under his cloak. Blacknail found it amusing. He didn’t wear the cloak to make people less uneasy around him; he wore it because it made them more afraid. Not really knowing what he looked like was what upset them the most.
He suspected the larger and heavier humans would grow accustomed to his presence quickly if he took off his cloak and simply spent time around them. For now, he wanted to make sure they didn’t disregard him. Fear would help make him equal in their eyes and secure him a higher position within the band; without the need for violence, or at least less of it.
Blacknail arrived at the camp he shared with Saeter. Beside Saeter’s tent the hobgoblin had dug a shallow hole and built a small lean-to over it from twine, branches, and grass. It was little more than a dry place to sleep and store a few things, but that was all he needed.
Saeter wasn’t around so Blacknail strolled off to find him. Eventually he found his master by the road. He was watching a group of people approach the camp. Blacknail walked over to join him. He was curious what was going on. He hadn’t heard about anything important happening today.
“There you are, Blacknail. Decided to stop lazing about, did ya?” Saeter remarked as he looked at the approaching people with obvious disapproval.
“Yes, Master. What-ss is this?” Blacknail asked.
“The last of Herad’s new recruits,” Saeter explained. “She must have hired every petty thief and thug in Riverbend to get as many as she has. Most of them won’t last long. She’s probably planning on simply letting most of them die and keeping the survivors.”
Blacknail studied the group coming down the road. He recognized Red Dog leading them. Behind him were around two dozen men and women. Only three or four seemed familiar to Blacknail.
When they arrived, Red Dog recognized the hobgoblin and gave him a nasty look. Blacknail simply smiled back at him and made sure to flash as many teeth as possible. He knew the man wasn’t a real threat to him. He would never dare go against Herad’s wishes.
Red Dog chose to ignore Blacknail and turned to Saeter instead.
“I see your pet hasn’t managed to kill you yet, Saeter,” the bandit remarked.
“I’m not the one that needs to be afraid,” Sater responded cryptically.
“Did I miss anything important while I was gone?” Red Dog asked the other man as he frowned at Saeter’s response.
“Yes, they passed out the good manners. Too bad you weren’t here,” Saeter replied with an amused tone.
“Very funny, old man. Why don’t you use some of that matchless experience of yours and show some of these baby faced recruits around while I go talk to Herad,” Red Dog told him with a roll of his eyes.
Before Saeter could answer back, someone Blacknail had never seen before walked up behind Red Dog and spoke.
“Who is this old man, Dog?” a young human female asked as she leaned out from behind him.
The bandit lieutenant cringed slightly as she spoke. The girl had short cut red hair, and was about average size for a human female. She smiled excitedly as she looked Saeter over.
“You’re recruiting children now?” Saeter asked Red Dog disdainfully.
“I’m over sixteen winters,” the girl interjected. She seemed very annoyed at being called a child.
Red Dog just shrugged.
“I told her to screw off the first time she showed up, but then several of the other people I tried to recruit dropped out with mysterious knife wounds. Seemed like a good idea to just let her come at that point,” he explained.
The redhead smiled again as Red Dog spoke and she winked at Saeter conspiratorially. The old scout looked the girl over carefully.
“Who are you running from, girl?” he asked her.
“Name’s Khita, and I dunno what you’re talking about. Maybe, I just wanted to serve under a famous swordswoman like Herad,” she replied.
Saeter grunted and gave her a skeptical look. He didn’t seem convinced.
“Those are gang colors you’re wearing. The gangs look down on bandits, and they don’t take kindly to their members quitting either. That tells me you were looking for a quick exit from Riverbend when you joined up with us. So tell me, who are you running from?” he responded dryly.
Khita narrowed her eyes and gave Saeter a hostile stare, but then relented under the pressure of his steady gaze. Few people could outstare Blacknail’s master. He had a lot of practice at it.
“Ugh, fine! Maybe, I kinda stabbed someone I shouldn’t have,” she explained.
“Who and why?” an unsurprised Saeter asked her.
The girl’s mouth twisted into a frown as she considered whether to answer him.
“My boss’ girl. Bitch thought she could take my stuff just because she was shacking up with Klavik, our leader,” she explained reluctantly.
Saeter turned to Red Dog. The other man just shrugged indifferently.
“This is wonderful new recruit you’ve gotten for us,” Saeter told him sarcastically.
“She’s here now, so she’s not my problem anymore. Thank the gods,” Red Dog replied with an amused grin.
He then turned and walked back towards the other people he had recruited, leaving Khita with Blacknail and Saeter.
As Red Dog left, Khita seemed to notice Blacknail for the first time. She looked over the cloaked figure suspiciously.
“What’s with the cloaked freak, she just gonna stand there all day?” she asked.
Blacknail twitched as she mentioned him. She had confused his gender? Oh right, human females were smaller than males so she thought he was one of them. It was still kind of insulting for some reason. He decided he didn’t like her.
Blacknail took a long step towards the girl that removed most the distance between them, and straightened up to look her directly in the eye. Then, he swept his cloak back behind him and flipped his hood down dramatically to fully reveal his inhuman visage.
The girl’s eyes went wide and she took a step… forward? Blacknail froze in confusion and the grin slipped from his face as he took in Khita’s delighted smile.
“A hobgoblin! I can’t believe this gang has a hobgoblin in it. That’s the sharpest thing I’ve ever heard” she squealed in delight.
Blacknail took a step back away from her nervously. Her unusual lack of fear unnerved him. What was wrong with this human? Saeter looked more than a little taken aback as well.
“What’s your name? How many people have you killed? Do you know any secret hobgoblin stuff?” she asked Blacknail excitedly as she took another step towards him.
Blacknail growled menacingly, but that failed to deter her approach. He threw Saeter a panicked look. He didn’t know how to get the female away from him without drawing a blade, and he had a feeling that would be frowned upon.
Saeter rolled his eyes, but stepped forward and placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder.
“Stop harassing my hobgoblin,” he told her.
“Who were you again?” Khita asked him as she turned and pushed his hand off her shoulder.
“I’m Saeter, a scout. Now come with me,” he told her.
“Why should I go anywhere with you, creep?” she asked him hostilely.
Saeter scowled down at her.
“Because the hobgoblin goes where I go,” he answered her dryly as he turned to walk away.
“Come on, Blacknail. Let’s go see Vorscha,” he then ordered the hobgoblin.
Blacknail was more than eager to obey, and put some distance between him and the human female. She was weird.
Saeter walked off towards the camp. Blacknail shadowed his master closely, just in case Saeter needed to put himself between him and the girl again. Khita watched them walk off for a few seconds before sighing and running after them.
“Fine, where are we going? If you’re trying to get into my pants I’ll bite your bits off.” She told Saeter.
Blacknail’s master grimaced in distaste and gave her an insulted look, as he continued walking. People gave them odd glances as they made their way through the bandit camp.
“I’m taking you to Vorscha,” Saeter explained.
“Why?” Khita asked.
“Because, she loves dealing with hopeless cases like you,” Saeter told her gruffly.
Khita gave him a mean look, but continued following them.
“Does the hobgoblin talk?” she suddenly asked.
“Yes,” Saeter replied without looking back at her. He looked very annoyed to Blacknail.
“Why isn’t it talking now?” she asked.
“Why don’t you ask him?” Saeter answered in an annoyed tone as he turned to the hobgoblin.
“Answer her questions, Blacknail,” he commanded the goblin before muttering, “So she’ll leave me alone.”
Blacknail grimaced. He didn’t want to have to deal with this clearly insane youngling, but he had to do as his master ordered.
“Yes, master,” he responded with frustration clear in his voice.
“He does talk! Why are you wearing that cloak, is it magic?” she asked excitedly.
“No, I just like it,” Blacknail answered her.
Clearly she was both stupid and insane. Blacknail didn’t know a lot about magic, but even he knew it was rare and had absolutely nothing to do with goblins.
Blacknail sighed in relief as he spotted Vorscha and Geralhd up ahead at their campsite. They were seated right outside the large tent they shared.
“Vorscha!” Saeter yelled. “I got something here for you.”
The muscular woman stood up and looked their way. Blacknail thought giving the girl to Vorscha was a great idea. Blacknail wasn’t quite sure what the warrior would do with her, but he didn’t really care as long as she was kept far away from him.
“Why do you have a little girl, Saeter? She’s not yours, I hope,” Vorscha asked with amused concern.
Saeter shuddered in revulsion at the very idea of Khita being his daughter.
“No, or at least I pray to the gods she isn’t. Red Dog recruited her, apparently she insisted. I thought I should introduce you two, since I know how you like to pick up strays,” Saeter replied.
Vorscha looked Khita over and frowned.
“I might have to have a talk with Red Dog about this,” she remarked with more than a hint of threat in her voice.
“You do that,” Saeter responded indifferently.
As the two bandits had been talking Khita had been staring at Vorscha with an impressed expression on her face.
“Gods, you’re big,” she suddenly blurted out.
“And you’re tiny,” Vorscha responded with an amused smile.
“I’m not tiny. I’m over seventeen winters old. You’re just huge,” the affronted Khita replied.
Vorscha looked Saeter’s way.
“Well, thanks I guess, Saeter. I wasn’t looking for a new project right now, but I’m sure as death not going to let her wander around by herself either,” she told him.
“I don’t need any help. I can take care of myself!” Khita said as if she had been insulted.
“That might have been true in the city, but out here things are a bit different,” Vorscha told her.
The large woman looked the girl over carefully.
“Have you ever used a sword?” Vorscha then asked her.
“How could I? They’re kinda hard to hide and the city guards don’t like people other than blue bloods having them. Besides, knives work just fine,” Khita explained in a tone that suggested only idiots wouldn’t already know all this already.
Blacknail smirked at the girl. He knew how to use a sword… sort of.
“There aren’t any guards out here, so everyone has swords or worse. If you’re going to survive a week out here you’re going to need to learn to use one too,” Vorscha explained.
“That reminds me, I wanted to pass off some of Blacknail’s sword training to you as well,” Saeter interjected.
Khita’s eyes suddenly gleamed with excitement.
“If the hobgoblin’s going to be there then I’m in!” she exclaimed.
Vorscha threw the girl a confused look, and Blacknail felt a sudden spike of concern at the unexpected direction the conversation had abruptly taken.
“You want to practice sword fighting with a hobgoblin?” Vorscha asked Khita in disbelief.
“Ya, he’s so sharp and scary looking,” she answered enthusiastically.
“And this makes you want to train with him?” Vorscha asked again uncertainly.
“Yep,” Khita said.
Vorscha sighed deeply. The movement caused her chest and bosom to heave impressively. Off to the side, the still silent Geralhd smiled appreciatively.
“Well, whatever works I guess. What do you think, Saeter?” Vorscha asked him.
“Blacknail should be fine. It might even help with his control. It’s not like they’ll be sparring against each other right off the bat anyway,” Saeter answered her.
“Looks like I’ll be training these two together then,” she remarked as she eyed Blacknail and the grinning Khita. “This is certainly not how I expected to be spending the next little while.”
“Me too,” the hobgoblin muttered as he looked over at the young woman grinning at him.
His life had just gotten a little more complicated, and a lot more annoying.
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!