Blacknail grinned savagely as he raised his sword and eyed the shadowy group of boggarts that were standing in front of the passage ahead of him. Many of the hobgoblins in Blacknail’s army were strewn out in the tunnels behind him, but there were still several dozen of his warriors nearby.
“Charge my minions! We need to clear the entrance before they get reinforcements,” Blacknail yelled as he started to run. He didn’t go too fast though, since he didn’t want to get ahead of everyone else and end up fighting alone.
Blacknail charged straight toward the enemy. As he got closer, their forms got more distinct. They were definitely boggarts. Blacknail counted around a dozen workers and about the same number of warriors. As before, the warriors were all carrying long spears. That seemed to be their standard weapon.
After a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure his allies were right behind him, Blacknail picked up speed and slammed into the assembled boggarts that were trying to guard the passage into the next chamber. Two spears sliced toward his chest, but Blacknail whirled to the side and cut off the arm of one of the attacking boggarts. It screeched in pain as it stumbled back, opening a hole in the enemy line. Drawing forth burning power from his core, Blacknail pressed his advantage. Dodging another spear, he smashed a worker aside and then whirled his blade around to deflect another attack by a warrior. Then, he slashed at the warrior’s neck. His blade found a gap in the armor there and bit deep. The warrior went down, and Blacknail spun to find a new target.
As Herah and his other bodyguards took advantage of the enemies’ broken line, Blacknail continued to hack and slash at the boggarts near him. He mangled another worker that got too close and then exchanged a few quick blows with a spear wielding warrior. More boggarts began to arrive through the passage, but now the bulk of Blacknail’s force was here. A solid wall of hobgoblins hit the boggarts and crushed them in short order.
Blacknail didn’t wait for the last boggart to die, instead he got his bodyguards and rushed forward through the opening. He had to seize control of the passage so that his forces could get through and assemble on the other side.
As Blacknail stepped through the opening, he recognized the large cavern he’d seen before with Grey. Most of the floor was covered in dark muck, although there were bare stone paths leading in every direction. Light posts were spaced out so that they illuminated the entire place, and dozens of workers were scrambling away toward the far side of the cavern. There, another host of boggarts was gathering.
Behind Blacknail, squads of hobgoblins began to spill out of the passage. Squad by squad, they took up position beside their leader, until there were hundreds of hobgoblins assembled.
Frowning, Blacknail considered his options. There were still more hobgoblins arriving, but he needed to keep moving. The objective was the enemy city, and that was in the next cave over. To get there, they’d need to deal with the mass of boggarts before them. Oh well. Blacknail hadn’t gotten this far by being afraid of fighting.
“Attack! Seize that opening and kill every boggart in your way!” Blacknail yelled at his minions. At his command, the gathered hobgoblins quickly began to advance. The ground was mucky but wasn’t too hard to cross. The mud was only a few inches thick, and there was solid stone beneath it.
Instead of leading the charge this time, Blacknail took a few moments to observe the situation and to make sure there were no problems. More hobgoblins were still making their way through the tunnels and entering the muck chamber. Blacknail had to yell at them to get them moving faster. He then formed them up into squads and sent them forward.
It was only when Gob arrived that Blacknail left him in charge and moved to join the fight on the other side of the cave. He hopped over the muck and ran over stone when possible. That allowed him to reach the back of his own forces relatively quickly.
However, before he could join the fight proper, there was sudden boom and a pair of hobgoblins over to his left went flying. A huge splash of mud was thrown into the air as well and it rained down all around Blacknail. He froze and tried to peer through the flying muck. What was going on? The visibility wasn’t great in the shadowy cave.
That was when he spotted a tall warrior boggart standing near the edge of the battle lines. He was holding a long staff tipped with a glowing crystal instead of a spear. A mage. Uh oh. Not good.
For a split second, Blacknail considered his options, before realizing he didn’t really have any. The long march through the tunnels and the rush to catch the boggarts by surprise had scattered the hobgoblin mages. Blacknail had no idea where Imp was, and thus his magical defenses were nonexistent right now. The enemy mage couldn’t be allowed free reign though. Blacknail could already see his minions hesitate in the face of the boggart’s magic. The cowards were going to ruin this for him unless he did something, and there was only one thing he could do.
Grimacing, Blacknail drew out as much power as he could from his core and then burst forward. Leaving his bodyguards behind, he jumped over muck and landed on some stone as he charged the enemy. A hobgoblin was in his way, so he just knocked the unfortunate minion aside as he pushed past him.
Blacknail had to shove several more hobgoblins aside as he approached the frontline from behind his own forces. No one looked in his direction. They were too focused on what was going on in front of them. Scattered squads of hobgoblins were fighting with groups of boggarts. Each side was trying to avoid the deep muck, so there were holes in their lines and the fight was a chaotic looking mess. Blacknail took a second to look around before entering the space between the two opposing sides. Some of his forces were holding back as they warily watched the enemy mage, who had stepped forward and was brandishing his staff high.
Still moving, Blacknail burst out of the ranks of the hobgoblins around him and charged at his target. Magic boiled though his veins, invigorating and empowering his muscles as he dashed forward. The boggart mage saw him coming and turned to study him. Then, he began to swing his weapon down and point it in Blacknail’s direction.
Grinning, Blacknail reacted quickly. As he ran, he gathered up as much magic as he could and hurled it out at the mage and all the boggarts around him. The invisible wave of power slammed into them, causing them to flinch and step back as he closed in.
This bought him several seconds and allowed him to jump over the largest bit of muck but not quite reach his enemy. The boggart had time to recover from his initial shock and get his weapon pointed in Blacknail’s direction. There was a zapping noise as a swirling blast of energy flew out if its tip.
Blacknail was already moving to dodge the magical strike. With perfect timing and magic enhanced speed, he side-stepped the attack, and it flew harmlessly past him. There were some shouts of alarm from hobgoblins as the blast headed their way, but Blacknail ignored them and concentrated on closing the distance to the enemy mage. He kept radiating chilling magical fear to slow and startle the enemy as he lunged. It worked. The boggart flinched, and Blacknail closed the distance and slashed down at his enemy without being blasted. The boggart managed to block the blow with his staff, but that was fine. Now that he was on the defensive, he couldn’t use magic
Blacknail growled loudly as he unleashed a savage flurry of blows on the mage. The enemy managed to block the first two, but the third cut into carapace, and the fourth bit deep into the creature’s shoulder. It hissed in pain and its arm went slack, allowing Blacknail’s fifth strike to sever its head from its body.
Of course, Blacknail still had to deal with all the nearby boggart warriors. Most of them were still suppressed by his magical terror, but he had to jump back as one tried to put a spear through his stomach. Blacknail had no plan to retreat though. Letting out a bloodthirsty yell, he threw himself straight toward the opening to the next cave instead. Holding nothing back, he struck out at every boggart warrior and worker that tried to get in the way. They usually didn’t last long. Blacknail cut a swathe through the first group in his way and quickly moved on to the second. Rage and the power it brought was flowing through him now, and he had a mission to accomplish.
Rallying behind him, Blacknail’s hobgoblin minions began to push the other boggarts back. There was fierce fighting all around the cavern opening as the boggarts were cut down and pushed back. The ring of clashing weapons and the hiss of dying boggarts filled the air.
Soon, Blacknail stood right before the opening. He dodged a spear strike and then cut its holder down with a lightning quick counter. On either side of him, the hobgoblin forces were closing in on the last few boggart defenders. Blacknail growled and raised a hand. Immediately, an oppressive crushing terror hit the enemy. They stumbled and quickly went down under hobgoblin blades, which allowed Balcknail to step through the opening unopposed. His minions streamed after him, eager for more violence and destruction.
Blacknail stopped as he got his first real good look at the boggart settlement. It was a small underground city. There was no other way to describe it. The opening Blacknail had just stepped through was on top of an elevated incline, so he had a great view of the place. Dozens of tall black spires jutted out from the cave floor and rose up to the ceiling. They seemed to be made from the same shiny dark material as the boggarts’ weapons. Thin and delicate bridges made from the same stuff also connected many of the towers and there were pinpricks of light everywhere. It looked like the boggarts had hundreds of light stones hanging all around the towers. It was beautiful, but also cold and alien. Looking it over, Blacknail felt a shiver go down his spine. The black towers seemed to twist in and out of existence where the shadows hid them.
“Yep, I’m going to have to destroy all this before boggarts get everywhere,” Blacknail mused aloud as he took in the sight.
Boggarts were probably like ants that way. If you them alone they’d multiply like crazy, and there was room for thousands of boggarts to live in this city, and that was more than Blacknail wanted to fight. Way more.
Blacknail didn’t have much time for contemplation though. Almost as soon as he stepped into the cave, the boggarts below reacted to his presence. Hundreds of workers began to stream out of the city. They rushed out of the buildings and ran through the streets as they charged Blacknail’s position. Soon, they were an uncountable swarm of hissing black creatures.
“That’s not good,” Blacknail remarked before looking back over his shoulder.
His own troops were pouring into the cavern, but they had to get through the cave opening. Only a few dozen were formed up and ready to fight. That wouldn’t be nearly enough to hold this chokepoint, even with Blacknail joining the fight personally. They’d be overwhelmed long before reinforcements could arrive.
Quickly, Blacknail spun around and began yelling at his minions to form a defensive line and get through the opening faster. As he was doing this, Imp and two of his helpers stepped through. Finally! A good development.
“I need a death beam!” Blacknail said as he grabbed Imp and dragged him forward. “You promised me a death beam.”
“Alright, boss. I’ll do what I can.”
“Just kill all those boggarts before they kill us,” Blacknail hissed. “That’s what death beams are for!”
Grunting, Imp played with the top of his staff for a moment. He adjusted the crystal and turned a screw near its top a few times, before leveling the weapon and pointing it at the closest of the boggarts that had just begun to run up the incline. A moment later, as the boggarts closed in, a purple beam lashed out and sprayed across their front ranks. Boggarts fell by the dozen, and the swarm slowed as the boggarts behind them stumbled over their fallen allies.
“See! Death beams work great!” Blacknail crowed happily.
However, despite Blacknail’s enthusiasm, the boggarts were still advancing. Imp hit them again and again, but while many boggarts fell, the swarm didn’t grow noticeably smaller and it kept advancing while climbing over its fallen.
“Are you actually killing them?” Blacknail asked the hobgoblin mage. “This is working, but I’m not sure it’s a proper death beam. They don’t seem scared enough.”
“It worked on the mice. They died properly.”
Blacknail scowled in dissatisfaction. “You should test it on something bigger next time.”
Imp huffed indignantly. “The problem is the lack of explosions. If there were explosions, they would be more afraid.”
At that moment, several blasts shot out of the closest black spires and zoomed toward Imp.
“Look out! Bad magic,” Blacknail cried as he jumped back away from the target zone.
The transparent force projectiles flew straight at Imp but slammed into a barrier right before hitting him. The hobgoblin mage had let his staff drop and raised a protective amulet instead. The wave of energy from the amulet had completely blocked the attacks.
“I thought they’d try something,” Imp huffed as he signaled for his helpers to spring into motion. One of them took the staff and began firing at advancing boggarts while Imp focused on supervising the work of three of his other helpers.
As Blacknail watched, Imp blocked another barrage and his worker pulled slings and fire stones out of a bag. A moment later, the helpers loaded the slings. Sighting on the towers, they then ignited the red mana stones and hurled them at the bottom of the black spires. The glowing projectiles trailed fire as they flew through the air.
“I brought explosion makers, just in case. It should be safe to use them on something so far away,” Imp told Blacknail.
“Just don’t bring the roof down,” Blacknail replied before turning away. He had his own responsibilities that he had to focus on. The horde of boggart workers was awfully close now.
“Form a defensive line! We practiced this, you idiots,” Blacknail screamed at his warriors. Many more of them had made it through the opening now.
Suddenly, there was a boom over to his left as Imp’s protections missed an enemy blast. Blacknail instinctively ducked and covered his head. However, the magical attack had slammed onto empty ground.
Coughing, Blacknail turned to glare at his minions. “If I find anyone out of position, I’ll use their skull as a chamber pot!”
Under Blacknail’s supervision, a defensive wedge made up of almost two hundred hobgoblins quickly formed up. As more hobgoblins streamed into the cavern, the line began to march forward to meet the advancing boggarts. The enemy was still scuttling forward, despite dozens of them falling to the death beam that was being wielded by one of Imp’s helpers.
While this was happening, there was a boom of distant explosions and the ground shivered. Blacknail looked over to see a fireball slam into the base of the nearest black spire. It exploded violently, cracking the tower and causing it to shudder. Worried, Blacknail glanced up at the roof, but it didn’t seem like anything was about to come down on him. Stupid boggarts, forcing him to use explosive magic underground. What idiots!
Blacknail then focused on his own task and ran over to join his warriors. Without him there to stiffen their spines and rally them, he didn’t trust his minions to hold their ground. Blacknail managed to take up position at the front of the hobgoblin formation just before the boggarts’ lead elements hit them. All around him, spears and swords lashed out at black carapaces. Angry growls and violent hissing filled the air as black claws sought green skin and steel flashed through the air.
The first wave of the boggarts went down as hobgoblin blades met them, but the next rank was right behind them and slammed into Blacknail’s force without hesitation. Blacknail stood strong before the swarm and swung his blade around in savage arcs that knocked the advancing boggarts away and ripped them apart. The enemy was relentless though. As boggart after boggart slammed into the hobgoblins, Blacknail had to draw as much magic from his core as he could to stand his ground. The power flooded into his muscles, allowing him to cut down every approaching enemy with ruthless power, but they just kept coming. There didn’t seem to be any end to the swarm of hissing boggart workers.
Hobgoblins began to go down as boggarts climbed over their own dead to get within reach with their claws, but Blacknail’s forces didn’t waver. They had been well trained, and they knew that they couldn’t outrun the swarm. They had no choice but to hold and trust that their glorious leader had a plan.
Off in the distance, fireballs continued to smash into black spires. There was a loud boom as one of the towers began to topple over. As it fell, it hit another spire, knocking it over as well. A cloud of dust rose up as rubble was thrown into the air. Many of the boggarts that were still running through the city’s streets were crushed by the debris.
The destruction of the boggart settlement greatly pleased Blacknail, but he had to focus on things closer at hand. Even with his magically boosted strength, he was beginning to tire. Since the start of the fight, he’d been striking out with continuous heavy slashes. Dozens of boggarts had died under his blade, but he couldn’t keep it up forever. The hobgoblins behind him were also slowly being worn down as well.
Blacknail really wished he had a plan.
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!