“Well, this is a fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into,” Ralphi remarked sourly.
He was leaning against the room’s only doorframe. It wasn’t a very large room, but there were several other people and one large bed in it. A tense looking Herah was standing guard on the other side of the door. Geralhd was sitting in a chair beside the bed, and Khita was sitting on the edge of the bed itself. Behind her, Blacknail was sleeping. He’d been cleaned, and his wounds had all been bandaged, but there were bloodstains showing through some of the cloth. Many of his wounds were still bleeding, even while others had healed. It was miracle that he was still alive at all. He’d looked dead when they’d first found him.
“It looks like he’s going to pull through now,” Geralhd remarked as he studied the hobgoblin on the bed. “Despite the spectacular nature of his wounds, they’re closing and he is healing.”
“Damn right!” Khita huffed loudly. “There’s no way Blacknail would die from something like this. He’s almost as hard to kill as me!”
“That’s practically a real compliment,” Ralphi muttered snidely.
“We’re lucky Werrick’s troops finally broke when they did and that Ilisti’s charge forced Werrick to retreat. Although, he undoubtedly thought Blacknail was already beyond saving.”
Ralphi’s scowl just deepened. He looked like he’d bitten into a sour fruit. “At this point, I’m not worried about the hobgoblin fading away on us. It’s everything else that’s got me worried about my skin. For starters, we have no idea how the other hobgoblins will react to his defeat and injury. Gob is keeping control for now, but they haven’t had time to really process it. We’re in uncharted waters there, and I’m worried about sinking.”
“Then, maybe you should be out there helping?” Khita replied bluntly. “You did help train the hobs. They listen to you.”
“I’ll do what I can, but I have no idea if it will be enough,” Ralphi told her. “There are also lots of other things to worry about. Even with Blacknail safely back here at the base and recovering.”
“Like Werrick. He got away and he’ll be back,” Geralhd agreed with a nod of his head. “The Wolf knows what he faces now, The next time he seeks battle he will bring all his forces against us, and some of our allies are less than reliable. Ilisti won’t bleed for anyone else. He only helped this time because we had the advantage.”
“Yep, we just started a war with the most powerful man in the North, and all we’ve got are a bunch of shifty hobgoblins, questionable alliances, and some dumb villagers,” Ralphi agreed. “Honestly, I’d be making a break for it if there was anywhere to go. Even with gold in my pocket it would be hard to get anywhere safe to spend it.”
“I just hope Blacknail recovers soon. Ilisti has been wanting to see him, but I’ve been making excuses. I can’t keep doing that for too long, and the vympir is rather intimidating,” Geralhd said before sighing deeply.
“Even when he does wake up, that will just cause us a whole bunch of different problems. We don’t know what to expect from him,” Ralphi countered. He was in a very bad mood.
“He’ll be the same old Blacknail as always, no doubt,” Khita said.
“Even you can’t be blind to the changes that are happening to him,” Ralphi replied as he gave her a condescending glare. “The healing itself isn’t something Vessels normally do, not like that, and he’s already grown an inch or two. Also, his horns are rather obvious. They’re starting to branch like antlers and they’re not even bone anymore. If you look closely, they’re some kind of black crystal. He has mutated, and that might affect his personality. Hells, it might do next to anything. I wish that creep Avorlus was here. We should probably send for him.”
Geralhd grimaced. “Ilisti might also know more, but I’m not sure we should bring it up with him.”
“Why would the vympir know anything?” Khita asked with obvious confusion.
“What do you think vympirs are? It seems obvious to me that they’re a variant of human mutants,” Geralhd answered. “But that also means he might see Blacknail as a threat or rival now, and choose to take him out while he is vulnerable. One thing I do know about mutants is that they’re very territorial.”
“So are hobgoblins,” Khita remarked snidely. “I’m telling you, we won’t notice a difference. He’ll be the same as always, just taller.”
“I wish I could believe that. However, evidence and experience suggest otherwise. At the very least, when Blacknail wakes he will be… stronger.”
“Arghh, stupid hobgoblin,” Ralphi cursed as he scratched his neck in nervous manner. “I can’t believe he’s managed to involve me in this craziness. What I use for brains must have been knocked out years ago.”
“Well, whatever happens. He needs to wake up as soon as possible,” Geralhd observed. “He has implicated us all beyond any chance of escape, and we’re going to need him. Werrick will be back, and as bad as our odds are, no one else stands a chance.”
A concerned look appeared on Ralphi’s face as he turned to stare at one of the walls. “Aye, and I can’t shake the feeling that there are other dangers coming that we know nothing about. This is the North. It’s a savage and dangerous place that has never really accepted civilization, and now it’s shifting and changing right before our eyes. A king is rising, hobgoblins are building armies, and strange new creatures like those boggarts are stalking men. Who knows what will happen next? But, out here in the Green, obvious movement usually means that the predators are gathering.”
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