What would Saeter do? As Blacknail led the retreat back to his forward base, he pondered this question. There was a rather large group of humans he had to get rid of and he couldn’t quite figure out how. His first raid had killed over twenty of them, but that still left almost a hundred. Some more had probably died attacking Shelter, but the fighting there hadn’t looked too bloody. Before leaving, Blacknail had stuck around to watch the battle, and the enemy had been driven off before they could get past the walls. However, they had cut some holes in it, which meant the villagers had to watch several new vulnerable areas. Next time, the raiders might get through, especially if they were prepared for Blacknail’s hobgoblins to counterattack from the forest.
Blacknail grunted and scratched his nose. Maybe if a surprise attack wouldn’t work he could use an ambush instead? Yes, that idea had potential. Saeter had mentioned something about hobgoblins and ambushes before. A flash of excitement invigorated Blacknail, as the pieces began falling into place within his mind. This would work, but he was going to need to go back to the main goblin encampment and prepare.
When the hobgoblins arrived at the base they had made under the fallen tree, Blacknail began giving out orders. He wanted most the hobgoblins to stay and keep a watch on things, but Gob had to come with him. Gob was skilled at rounding up workers and keeping them in line. Imp was also needed because he was their only mage.
“Scamp is in charge while I’m gone,” Blacknail reluctantly told his subordinates. Was that seriously his best option? He really needed better minions.
“I’m the boss!” Scamp exclaimed happily to the hobgoblin next to him. No one else was excited about it. The other hobgoblins looked bored or irritated by the prospect of serving under him.
“Only until I get back. Just watch the enemy and don’t do anything stupid,” Blacknail told Scamp as he grimaced sourly. This was going to work, right?
With everything in order, Blacknail and a few of his helpers headed back to the main goblin encampment. Their run through the deep forest was uneventful and they made good time. Once there, it took a while for them to round up all the help and supplies they needed. Blacknail even had an idea about how to use Imp’s magic stones, without getting lots of hobgoblins maimed or killed. By the time they got back to the forward base it was starting to get dark outside. Scamp was napping atop the fallen tree but he quickly hopped down when Blacknail returned.
“The enemy humans attacked the village again, but the cowards quickly retreated when a big fight started,” Scamp reported to Blacknail. He seemed to be pretending he hadn’t just been asleep, even though everyone had obviously seen him.
“And you just watched and didn’t do anything stupid?” Blacknail asked as he eyed Scamp carefully. He had a bad feeling.
“Um, I shot at some humans with my bow,” Scamp admitted. “Then the no good cheaters shot back and I had to run away.”
Blacknail was just glad no one had died. One stupid attack was no big deal. He snorted and hit the top of Scamp’s with his closed fist. The other hobgoblin just took the blow, scowled, and rubbed his now sore head.
“So, great chieftain, what is your new plan?” Gob asked.
“We’re going to split into three groups and attack their sentries!” Blacknail explained as he grinned proudly.
“Um, this meager hobgoblin doesn’t understand how that’s any different from before…”
“Just trust me! I’m way smarter than you,” Blacknail responded jovially.
“I like that plan!” Khita added excitedly.
Very slowly, Blacknail turned to stare at her. His eyes narrowed as he took in the sight of her annoying face. The young redhead was grinning happily at him. Her eyes were practically shinning with excitement.
“What are you doing here?” he asked her.
“She was wandering around in the forest looking for you,” Scamp explained.
“And you invited her here?” Blacknail asked in disbelief.
“She had snacks,” Scamp replied with a shrug.
This sort of thing was exactly the sort of stupid stuff Blacknail had been worried about. The hobgoblin chieftain turned and smacked Scamp again. What was he supposed to do with Khita now?
“I have some snacks for you too, Blacknail,” Khita told him.
“You can’t bribe me with food, right now. I’m not hungry,” Blacknail replied contemptibly. How simple did she think he was?
Since there was no getting rid of her now, Blacknail agreed to let Khita join his force. She could serve as a human shield. If he did save the entire village of Shelter they would probably forgive him the death of one idiot. Still, she might slow him down so she would have to sit out the first attack and stay back with Imp and the others. They needed to hang back and make some preparations.
When he’d marshaled his forces and distracted Khita by giving her a meaningless job, Blacknail led his force around the edge of the forest until they arrived at the staging ground he had selected. There, a large tree-studded hill rose up right where the fields ended. The uneven ground also meant that the border between the clearing and the forest was irregular. Only the flat earth had been cleared. Off to the left of the hill, there was a ridge where the trees and bushes jutted out into the clearing by almost thirty feet.
“Perfect, this will work great,” Blacknail laughed as he looked around from atop the hill.
“The tribe is ready, clever leader,” Gob told him. He sounded unusually unsure about the last part.
“Good, just remember to retreat back here when I give the signal,” Blacknail responded as he gave Scamp a meaningful look.
“I’m great at retreating,” Scamp bragged. The only response from Blacknail was a non-committal grunt.
It was just starting to grow dark as Blacknail led his squad of hobgoblins out into the fields and towards the raiders’ camp. As before, there were groups of sentries posted all around the perimeter. However, now it was light out enough out that they wouldn’t have much problem seeing. Still, the hobgoblins kept low to the ground and attempted to sneak up on the sentries. They moved with great care but only made it about halfway across the fields before they were discovered.
“The savages are attacking again!” someone suddenly yelled at the top of their lungs. It was quickly followed by other shouts from deeper within the enemy camp.
Surprisingly, Blacknail found their choice of words to be fitting. He was both a savage fighter and savagely good looking. Maybe he would show them mercy.
“Charge, tear the invaders apart and take all their possessions. You keep what you kill!” Blacknail roared as he stood tall and pointed his blade towards the sentries. On second thought, mercy took a lot of effort.
Immediately, the hobgoblins rose and sprung into action. Half of them charged forward to attack the grossly outnumbered sentries, while the others drew their bows and began shooting arrows across the field.
“I get that hat!” Twig yelled as he dashed forward.
One of the sentries went down as an arrow caught him in the chest, and then the charging hobgoblins overran the other two. The mob of seven hobgoblins instantly surrounded their victims and pulled them down. There were pained screams as Blacknail’s minions ripped into the men with their claws, and then silence. Apparently, they had taken his order to tear them apart literally.
By this time the rest of the raider camp had come alive. A dozen armed men were already running towards Blacknail’s minions, and there were more behind them.
“Slow them down,” Blacknail ordered his archers as he pointed towards the raiders’ lead element.
A small flock of arrows immediately took flight and flew towards the charging raiders. Most of them missed but they did slow the targets down. This gave Blacknail time to signal the retreat.
“Run, back to the forest. The humans are too many!” he yelled.
At his command, the hobgoblins that were still looting the sentry post quickly started running away from the charging humans and back towards the archers. There was only about a dozen feet between the hobgoblins and pursuing humans now, but Blacknail’s minions managed to pull ahead a bit and keep their distance. They were quick on their feet and rather motivated.
When the runners raced past Blacknail’s position they were joined in their retreat by the archers. All together, the entire group headed back to the hill. This scene was repeated by the other two hobgoblin squads led by Gob and Scamp. Fifty feet from the edge of the forest all three squads met and converged. Unfortunately, this meant that all the raiders converged as well. Blacknail looked over his shoulder to see dozens of armed thugs in hot pursuit. Why did humans have to be so big?
“They’re chasing me!” Scamp yelped as he ran up beside Blacknail.
“They’re chasing all of us,” Blacknail hissed back.
Although Blacknail was beginning to doubt the wisdom of his own plan, he couldn’t just abandon it now.
“Turn and fight!” Blacknail roared as he drew his sword.
As they had been instructed earlier, the hobgoblins stopped running and turned to face their pursuers. They didn’t seem very happy about it, though. It took mere seconds for the raiders to close the distance between them. The humans drew their weapons and roared in rage. The hobgoblins were silent and grim looking, however none of them fled. Blacknail had been very clear about what would happen to any cowards, and he was much harder to escape than a clueless blundering human.
Blades flashed through the air as the two sides formed a violent melee. Hobgoblins and humans hacked at each other and dodged blows aimed their way as they fought to survive and cut down their enemies. That discipline didn’t last long, though. Within a few seconds the first hobgoblin was cut down. He was soon joined by another, and then the others broke. Outnumbered and outmuscled, the hobgoblins stood no chance in a head to head confrontation, and they knew it. They dashed towards the forest, as another one of their number was cut down from behind.
However, not every hobgoblin was running blindly. Blacknail kept fighting as he backed away from the humans. His blade forced the raiders around him away, but he kept having to retreat in a hurry to avoid being surrounded. Raiders were pressing in at him from every side. It was only after most Blacknail’s minions had gained a fair bit of distance, that he ducked under a wild swing and began sprinting away at full speed. He didn’t have to go far. They were at the edge of the forest now. In their haste to chase down their foes, the raiders had followed them all the way to the very edge of the greenery.
The lead element of the raiders stepped into the bushes and under the shade cast by the trees of the forest. Blacknail lured them in closer. As he stepped around a tree trunk to avoid a slash aimed at his face, he blasted the humans with his power. However, he didn’t make them more afraid, instead he did the opposite. With his power he stifled their fear and emboldened the minds of the raiders. The writhing worms that formed their minds were drained of energy and kept calm.
However, even while under Blacknail’s influence, the humans didn’t lose all sense of caution. Like the last time they had pursued the hobgoblins, the raider stopped their counterattack at the edge of the forest. Only their lead elements followed the hobgoblins into the bushes, the rest were called back their leaders and came to stop. That was alright, though. Blacknail had been expecting it.
As the ranks of enemy raiders came to halt and hobgoblins dashed behind bushes and trees, well over a hundred goblins rose from out of hiding. Their dirty green skin allowed them to camouflage right in with the face of the hill that started right were the fields ended.
“Attack! Kill them from afar! Show them our power!” Blacknail yelled as he leaned out from behind a tree. It was safe there.
The goblins immediately sprang into action. Each and every one of them was carrying a loaded sling, and at Blacknail’s command they began to twirl them. Sharp whipping sounds rang out as the swarm of goblins launched a barrage of rocks. The stony projectiles zipped through the air and slammed into the surprised raiders.
“Form up! Protect your heads!” a raider sergeant yelled as he pulled another man back away from a bush.
All the raiders could do was try to shield themselves. Waves of rocks were pummeling their ranks and one by one they began to fall. Blacknail didn’t waste the chance to make their situation worse either. At his command, the hobgoblins that had retreated to behind cover popped back out with bows in their hands. They began picking off targets among the raiders.
This new assault was more than the humans could take. Their formation broke as raiders began to turn and run in a selfish attempt to save themselves. However, this didn’t prevent more raiders from dropping as rocks smashed into their now exposed backs. The entire group quickly fell apart, leaving their dead and injured. While this was happening, Imp and Khita reached Blacknail’s side. Imp was accompanied by two other hobgoblins that had been assigned to help him.
“Have we won?” Khita asked as grinned excitedly.
“You haven’t done anything,” Blacknail pointed out as he watched the enemy carefully.
“Should I join the battle now, warchief?” Imp asked. He was carrying a large backpack that was full of equipment and supplies.
“Not yet,” Blacknail replied. They were already winning and he knew it was important to hold something back, in case he needed a good surprise to counter something his enemy did. He had learned this lesson from watching Herad lead battles. Basically everything he knew about war he had learned from her.
Suddenly, the retreating raiders stopped in their tracks. A new group of reinforcements had joined them and stiffened their spines. As Blacknail watched, the raiders parted to let one of the newcomers approach the front. It was a woman. She was protected by two men with shields who blocked the rocks and arrows that flew his way. The new arrival raised a hand, and there was a loud boom as a blast of rippling force shot forth. The explosion rose into the air and knocked most of the incoming rocks and arrows harmlessly aside.
She was a mage! Blacknail had suspected that the raiders had one when he had seen the magelight during his attack on their camp. It looked like this was a serious magic wielder, a combat mage. That wasn’t good. Blacknail had seen what mages like Mahedium could do. They were dangerous beyond belief. Since magic was so expensive and hard to control, the raiders must have been holding the woman in reserve.
Down below, the enemy mage raised her staff and pointed it at the hillside before her. The tip of the arcane weapon began to glow.
“Get down!” Blacknail yelled as he grabbed Khita and pulled her down in front of himself.
A column of flame burst into being and rushed forward towards the forest. It hissed and roared as it flew through the air, and then there was a cataclysmic boom as it hit the earth. Everything shuddered. Dirt and bits of wood flew through the air all around Blacknail as he huddled down close to the earth. The smell of smoke and burnt flesh assaulted his nose. He looked up to see that the power of the blast had torn a long scar across the hill. It was only about two dozen feet from his own position.
Those goblins that weren’t frozen in shock were already screaming and fleeing off deeper in to the forest. Only a few of them had actually been killed or injured by the blast, but they were cowards.
“That’s taught these skinny savages their place!” one of the raiders yelled triumphantly. “Now let’s drive these green freaks away and show them what humans are made of!”
The battered ranks of raiders roared their approval and began to charge forward again. Very few goblins were still throwing rocks, although several hobgoblins shot arrows at the advancing humans. The hobgoblins were braver than mere goblins, and smart enough to know that running would expose them and make themselves targets. However, a few stones and arrows wouldn’t be enough to stop the human charge.
“Rot and ruin, what are we going to do now?” Khita asked as stared at the approaching wave of human brutes. “That’s some serious magecraft they’ve got!”
“Now you can use your magic! Return fire at the mage,” Blacknail ordered Imp, who was huddled next to him.
The hobgoblin mage nodded and stood up. His two followers quickly followed his example and pulled out two large slings. There were already red crystals loaded in the weapons. Imp pulled a small metal wand and touched it to both mana stones. As they burst into flames, the two hobgoblins began to spin and aim their weapons. Blacknail had selected the pair for their skill with slings.
There was a twang as the hobgoblins released their shots. The two crystals whistled and trailed flames as they flew up into the air. Blacknail held his breath as the flaming orbs began to arc down toward the center of the raiders’ formation. What happened next would determine the course of the battle.