There were two guards
standing outside the gates of the castle. Both of them were wearing bright
chainmail with purple tabards over it. They also wore steel caps that reflected
the light from the setting sun off in this distance. This made them some the cleanest
and fanciest soldiers Blacknail had ever seen. Looking clean seemed to be as
important to them as actually guarding the gate, maybe more, considering how
bored they looked and how unobservant they were being.
Neither guard noticed
Blacknail’s approach until he was right on top of them. One second, the road
leading to the castle was empty, and they were having an uneventful day, the
next, there was inhuman creature looming over them.
“I have been invited,”
Blacknail announced. He was dressed in his best armor and wearing his best
cloak, which had been made from a mutant wolf he’d slain. The setting sun was
behind him, so his face was dark and his antlers caught the light and cast a
mess of creepy shadows.
“Holy gods!” one of
the guardsman yelped as he jumped back. The other simply froze and stared at
the dark figure before him with wide eyes full of terror.
“I am Blacknail, and I
have been invited by your leaders,” the hobgoblin told them. He was used to
this. Most humans needed to be told everything repeatedly. It took several long
seconds for the guardsman to process this, which was another annoying human
One guard fumbled with
his sword, but Blacknail simply stepped forward and put a hand on the man’s arm
so that he couldn’t draw his weapon. “Bad idea.”
The other guard
hesitated but then recognition appeared in his eyes and he relaxed a little.
“Right, we were told about you.”
“So, are you going to
let me in?” Blacknail asked.
The guards looked at
each other uncertainly. Letting a huge hobgoblin in through the front gate
seemed like the exact opposite of their usual duty.
“I suppose that’s what
we we’re ordered to do if you showed up,” one of them remarked a few seconds
“Good, then open the
gates,” Blacknail replied with forced patience. He wasn’t here to talk to these
idiots but smacking them around wouldn’t help. If anything, it would make them
One of the guards
hesitantly walked over to the gate. Once he was there, a head-high slot opened
and he began talking to someone on the other side. This went on for a while, so
Blacknail sighed and studied his surroundings.
The castle that loomed
behind the two guards was quite impressive, and like nothing Blacknail had ever
seen before. Its outer walls were not only taller than any other he’d seen, but
they were made from thick stone that fit together remarkably smoothly. They
looked like they would resist even the most powerful of magical blasts or even
a charge by a horde of ogres.
All the pointy towers
that had been built on the wall were also imposing. Anyone within them would
have a commanding view of the area around the castle, which had been built next
to the only trail that went through a series of very rugged hills.
The keep rose up from
inside the outer walls. Made up of more stone, it was squarish in shape except
for its triangular roof and five towers. There was a tower on each corner of
the square, and one taller one in the center. All in all, it had a very simple
and functional design. This building was a defensive structure meant to repel
invaders, not look pretty.
It would have been
very difficult for Blacknail to take this castle with his troops. Sure, he
might be able to sneak over the outer wall and open the gate after fighting the
guards, but even if his minions took the outer walls, the keep in the center
could easily be sealed up tight. Against a determined force of human defenders,
it would be next to impossible to conquer.
Yes, this castle was
very different from the crude fortifications that most settlements in the North
used. That was to be expected though. This castle had been designed to stop
real armies, not just forest beasts and bandits. Also, everything humans made
in the South was supposed to be bigger and better, and this castle was located
on the northern border of Eloria. Technically, once he was inside the castle,
Blacknail would no longer be in the North.
The guards were still
debating someone on the other side of the door, so Blacknail sighed and let his
thoughts wander. The march here from Daggerpoint hadn’t taken that long, but
they’d had to move quickly to get here in time for the meeting. Not that he’d
minded leaving Daggerpoint as quickly as possible. The friction between Herah
and Luphera had grown worse until it was quite uncomfortable for him. Blacknail
wasn’t even sure why they were fighting. He wasn’t interested in Luphera
anymore, and even if he had been, there was more than enough of him to go
Anyway, Blacknail had
ended up leaving quite a few troops in Daggerpoint, and had decided against
leaving anyone important in charge of them. Whoever he left, they’d just end up
doing what Luphera wanted anyway. Thankfully, her interests seemed to align
with Blacknail’s, so he didn’t need to kill her. He had more important things
to deal with than her games, like boggarts and Werrick. That was why he was
standing in front of this impressive heap of stone.
Finally, the guards
finished their conversation and the gates began to creak open. Blacknail waited
until they were completely open, and then he turned and motioned toward a
nearby hill. Immediately, over a dozen figures detached themselves from the
shadows and followed him in through the gates. The guards jumped in surprise
again, but a glare from Blacknail – backed by a little fear magic – made them
both instantly shut their mouths and go rigid with fear. They said nothing as a
dozen hobgoblins and three humans made their way into the castle. There were
more guards on the inside, but they either decided that the hobgoblins had all
been invited in or that this wasn’t their problem.
“Please wait here,
someone will be along meet you soon,” one the guards told the newly arrived
party, and Blacknail gave him a nod in reply.
Khita stepped forward
peered around the gatehouse. “I’ve never been in a castle before. Slums and
city markets were more my thing.”
“I defended a castle
out on the eastern border during a siege once, back when I was in the army, but
we conscripts were never let in the keep itself,” Ralphi said.
“I visited one or two
for family business when I was young,” Geralhd added. “There usually isn’t much
to them. Just a lot of stone corridors and drafty halls.”
“Lots and lots of stones. I’m actually impressed that someone got a bunch of
humans to do this much work.”
“The nobles definitely
know how to motivate the common folk,” Ralphi remarked sourly.
Blacknail looked over
at him and gave him an interested look. “Oh, how do they do that?” He could
always use more efficient humans.
Ralphi just sighed.
“Never you mind. It’s not important.”
Before Blacknail could
press the point further, he was distracted by the arrival of someone new, a man
in neat purple clothing.
hobgoblin, I presume?” the man asked. He had a very emotionless manner and
“Yep, that’s me. I can
show you my black toenail if you want,” Blacknail answered with a smile. He was
rather proud of his black toenail. It was why Saeter had given him his
A hint of grimace
briefly flashed across the man’s face. “No, that won’t be necessary.”
“Your loss,” the
hobgoblin remarked with a shrug. The man had just lost his only chance to see
the toe that terrified the North.
“Perhaps. I’m to
escort you to see the royal councilor. He wishes to speak with you. Please
leave your weapons here.”
politely as he stepped forward and gave a little bow. “We would be very
grateful for your service. Please lead the way.”
Blacknail just nodded
along. As a mutant, he wasn’t too worried about being disarmed, and Geralhd
probably knew what he was doing since he was the fancy human ceremony expert.
Blacknail had just been making everything up as he went along, which only
worked because he was so amazing at everything.
After everyone had
handed over most of their weapons to the gate guards – Blacknail knew several
of his party still had daggers hidden away – the herald began leading the group
of hobgoblins toward the keep. They exited the gatehouse and went through the
courtyard before reaching the main entrance to the central keep. There were a
lot of human troops around, more than Blacknail had expected to see. The
soldiers manned the walls and could be seen moving through the dusty courtyard
on various tasks. It seemed like there was a small army stationed here right
Passing some more
guards, the herald led Blacknail’s group into the keep. It was made from the
same cut grey stone, but now there were tapestries and glimmering mage lights
on the walls. They also passed the occasional servant, who all fled once they
After a little walking,
they arrived at a small sitting room with a closed door on the far wall. Fancy
tapestries featuring roaring lions and human knights decorated the walls.
Blacknail also saw one featuring a harpy with wings outstretched and a very
human face, but there was a conspicuous lack of hobgoblins. Well, it wasn’t
like humans were known for their good taste. At least, there were plenty of
soft-looking chairs and couches present.
“Please be seated
here, the lord will call for you soon,” the herald announced as he made a
slight bow and then disappeared back the way they’d come.
With nothing better to
do, the group of hobgoblins and former bandits sat down on the available
chairs. There was enough for all of them as long as they squeezed as many
hobgoblins as possible onto the two couches. Blacknail and his lieutenants all
got their own comfy chairs, of course. The hobgoblin settled down to wait as
his minions began to mutter among themselves, and twenty minutes went by
without any word from their host.
“Why did that purple
man bring us here just to sit around and do nothing?” Blacknail asked his
humans after his patience wore out.
Geralhd sighed. “I
believe he’s asserting his authority over us by showing us that he can keep us
waiting. It’s a very common tactic for humans, especially among the nobility,
who get off on these sort of petty power games.”
There was a grunt of
agreement from Ralphi, and Blacknail frowned thoughtfully.
“That seems rather
rude,” Blacknail announced as he got up and walked over to the closed door. A
quick jiggle of the handle revealed that it was locked.
“What are you doing?”
Geralhd asked in concern.
“I’m being as petty as
possible to win the game,” Blacknail replied as he began knocking on the door.
“That’s not how it
knocking for several long moments, until there was a click as someone unlocked
the door from the other side. A moment later, it opened slightly and a young
man in the same purple outfit as the herald peeked out. He flinched visibly
when Blacknail leaned sideways to meet his gaze – they were only about a foot
apart – but he didn’t withdraw.
“Yes, can I help you?”
the servant inquired with a stutter. It looked like he was trying to be angry
but was way too scared to pull it off properly.
Blacknail leered at him. “Is the noble guy I’m supposed to meet in there?”
“Er, yes, but he’s
busy. Please, wait until he’s ready.”
“No, I’m busy too,”
Blacknail replied as he reached out and pushed the man out of the way, so that
he could peer into the next room.
It was a small chamber
with a large wooden table in the center. There were four people around the
table. An older man, two guards, and one other that Blacknail recognized
instantly. It was Sir Masnin. All of the occupants of the room were staring at
the intruding hobgoblin, so Blacknail gave the paladin a friendly wave.
There was a deep sigh
from the elderly man standing next to Sir Masnin who was wearing a long purple
robe with silver trim. “Very well, just let the hobgoblin in. We’re just about
ready for him anyway.”
The servant Blacknail
had pushed out of the way nodded at the elderly man. He then composed himself
and turned to the hobgoblin. “You may enter and attend the lord. Your retinue
must wait outside though.”
Blacknail eyed the
servant. He found it highly amusing that the man little thought he could tell
him anything. “I need one of my men to come in and be a translator.”
The servant scowled.
“Your command of the Elorian tongue seems more than adequate to me.”
“I don’t need him to
translate words,” Blacknail explained with a sigh. “I need him to tell me what
humans mean. Your thoughts are all squishy and hard to understand.”
“Yes, like mushrooms
The servant considered
this for a moment, but only appeared to grow more confused the more he thought
about it, until it looked like his eyes were trying to go off in different
directions. He glanced toward the noble, who rolled his eyes and nodded.
“Er, very well,” the
servant conceded as his neutral expression reappeared. He was obviously far
more comfortable with taking orders than thinking for himself. Humans, they
accepted authority too easily and weren’t properly ambitious like
“Geralhd, get in
here,” Blacknail told his human minion before he stepped into the room
Smiling in what he
hoped was a friendly manner, and not hungry-looking, the hobgoblin approached
the table. “Hello, nice to meet you.”
The man in the robe
gave the hobgoblin a tight smile. “So, you’re the infamous Blacknail. I must
admit that I’d been looking forward to meeting you in person. It’s not every
day that I encounter such a unique individual.”
“Well, now you have,”
Blacknail replied. He felt like he should say more, but human small talk wasn’t
one of his strengths. “Why did you invite me here? It’s a nice castle, but you
probably want something, right?”
stepped up beside Blacknail – and slightly in front of him – and bowed.
“Greetings, lord. My I have the honor of knowing who I am addressing?”
The noble nodded. “I
am Lord Lavista of the King’s Council. You may rise.”
Geralhd stood up
straight as commanded. “Excuse my companion. He is not schooled in the proper
“Ya, that’s true,”
Blacknail agreed. He wasn’t even entirely sure what etiquette was. Something
about not eating with your hands?
“I was not expecting
you to be,” the noble told the hobgoblin. “Honestly, your own station is not
entirely clear because of the novel nature of your existence. Thus, for now,
you operate outside of normal social interactions anyway.”
Blacknail was fairly
certain that was a good thing, but just in case, he replied only with a vague
pressing matters seek our attention, and I can thus put up with some ignorance
of protocols in the name of expediency,” the noble continued. “You are the last
of the invitees to arrive for this summit, and there is no reason to delay it
any longer, so I summoned everyone to the council chamber a while ago. Sir
Masnin – whose opinion I trust – tells me that you can be worked with and
trusted to adhere to simple bargains. However, I did want to converse with you
before we met up with the others so that I could take your measure for myself.
Due to the unprecedented crises facing my nation, I have been given the
complete authority of the crown. Still, the upcoming negotiations will be
difficult, even disregarding complete unknowns like you and your faction.”
As the noble finished
talking, Sir Masnin spoke to Blacknail. “I’ve informed the lord about all our
interactions and what I know of the situation here in the North. It is far more
complex than he had suspected. Down south, they tend to ignore everything that
happens up here.”
Lord Lavista nodded.
“That ignorance might have cost us dearly, especially since some say the black
demons originated from these parts, but Sir Masnin has informed me of most of
what I need to know about local conditions and actors. However, despite his
good descriptions of certain aspects of your character, you still remain the
most unpredictable and mysterious of the locals. I am told you control
significant territory and have access to far more resources than most would
suspect. What is it that you want?”
wanted to kill Werrick, who was probably in this castle right now. Even now,
the fervent desire ate away at the hobgoblin’s insides like black boiling acid.
He wanted nothing nearly so much as to see the man die horribly and then to
chop the man’s body up for trophies. The hobgoblin wasn’t sure if he should
admit this though. He hesitated. Would they accept shiny things as an
once again proved his use and covered for Blacknail’s hesitation. “Allow me to
give some small answer here. I have spent quite some time among Blacknail and
his kin, and let me assure you, they’re not so different from the human
denizens of the North. Although primitive, they simply seek to better their
lives and learn from humans so that they may live as well as we do. Blacknail
himself is merely following in the footsteps of his now deceased mistress
Blacknail smiled. That
wasn’t entirely true. Living easier and better was nice, they’d occupied him
completely as a goblin, but turning into a hobgoblin had changed that. Now he
thirsted for the hunt and conquest far more than comforts. Blacknail had built
his tribe and was copying humans in order to forge soldiers and weapons that
would help him kill Werrick. Still, it was a better answer than he could have
come up with. It seemed like Geralhd thought that they should pretend to be
simple bandits. Blacknail would play along. They weren’t sure what this noble
wanted yet after all, so it would be best to give him what he expected.
“Yes, I simply want to
keep the territory I’ve taken and trade with you humans. I can’t do that if
boggarts kill everyone,” he told the noble.
The noble frowned
subtly and studied Blacknail. He didn’t seem entirely convinced, but Blacknail
just kept smiling as disarmingly as possible. He knew it was difficult for most
humans to read him, or even stare at his face for too long.
“How very wise of
you,” the man finally remarked as he grimaced and looked away. “Very well,
thank you for humoring my enquiries. Head back to the sitting room. A servant
will take you to the council chamber now, where I will address everyone.”
“As you wish, lord,”
Geralhd immediately replied with another bow.
standing straight, but he let Geralhd pull him back toward the sitting room.
Once there, Geralhd turned to the hobgoblin, rubbed his forehead, and groaned.
“You only got away with that discourtesy because they need you, and Lord
Lavista considers you little better than a violent savage that couldn’t know
“I am a violent
savage, so they better not leave me to wait in any more empty rooms,” Blacknail
huffed in reply.
“That’s not how it
Geralhd could argue any more, a servant appeared and began leading them down
another corridor. They didn’t have to go far, and soon they walked through a
doorway and entered a large antechamber. The room was full of colorful hangings
and impressive furniture. There were also lots of humans present, but
Blacknail’s gaze was drawn to one man in particular. Werrick. Blacknail growled
as he laid eyes on his mortal enemy and rage surged up within him.