Twists and Turns 3

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Twists and Turns 2

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After the feast was over, Blacknail planned on going to bed. First, he had to deal with Khita though. The young redhead had fallen unconscious after eating several large bowls of stew. The fool had stuffed herself until she’d passed out. That, or some of the mushrooms in the stew had reacted differently when eaten by a humans They’d never actually been tested on humans.

Anyway, Khita was still breathing and didn’t seem sick, so Blacknail picked her up off the ground and carried her to a spare room in his home, before throwing her on the bed. If he left her outside, someone useful might trip over her and hurt themselves, which would inconvenience him.

That done, Blacknail took Herah back to his own room and had some fun before falling asleep next to her. By this point, he was fairly sure she wasn’t going to kill him in his sleep, even if he slept with a hidden dagger under his pillow just in case. He’d also faked sleep a few times, but he’d quickly stopped because it was to much work. Sex made him sleepy and there were worse ways to die.

The next morning, Blacknail woke up and briefly noted that no one had killed him in his sleep. Good, that meant it was time to march. The spring offensive couldn’t wait any longer. Before the sun had completely risen, Blacknail got out of bed and began screaming for everyone to get up and get ready to move. He had a loud voice, so soon hobgoblins were streaming out of their longhouses and forming up into their squads at the training ground. Anyone moving too slowly got yelled at particularly loudly until they picked up their pace.

Gob arrived quickly, so Blacknail put him in charge of making sure every squad was ready to move. The fat hobgoblin Rolly, who was usually in charge of the larder and supplies, checked on the wagons and made sure the army’ supplies were in order. Imp also eventually showed up. Blacknail wanted him along on the expedition because he was best at using the mage staff and could do things other mages couldn’t. The mage didn’t want to leave his workshop and experiments, but Blacknail didn’t give him a choice.

Soon, everything was ready, and the army began to march out of Ironbreak and toward Shelter. Blacknail took the lead while Gob had command of the back. Ferrar and Rolly both stayed behind to run things while Blacknail was gone. Neither of them were warriors, but they shouldn’t be doing too much fighting. There was no sign of the boggarts in Blacknail’s territory, and all the hostile humans lived far away.

After some discussion, it was decided that Grey would remain behind. The lurker’s sensitive eyes made it difficult for him to travel above ground during the day, and he was needed to supervise the trogs in the mine. Also, he specialized at scouting and fighting underground, which Blacknail wasn’t expecting to do. His target was Werrick, not the boggarts.

Unfortunately, Khita came

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Twists and Turns 1

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Spring came to Ironbreak on warm winds that swiftly began melting away at all the ice and snow. Soon, the green of growing plants once again appeared, and the air became full of the sound of chirping birds that had suddenly returned after their long absence. Their singing made everything seem fresh and full of new energy.

Blacknail wasted no time. There was still a lot of melting mounds of snow left on the wet ground, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t work for his minions to do. At last, winter was coming to an end, and the next phase of his bloody plan for vengeance could begin.

The hobgoblin chieftain had been waiting a long time for the coming of spring. Months. Once the boggarts were dealt with, there wasn’t much that had needed his direct supervision, and even he could only sleep and whine about the weather so much.

Despite Blacknail’s fears that the harsh cold of winter would wear his tribe down, Ironbreak had prospered instead. The food stores and hunters had provided enough food for everyone important, and despite the snow, the goblins had been able to scrounge up their own food most the time. They could eat almost anything, including tree bark and the bugs that hibernated in it. There was never a shortage of bark, thanks to the ongoing logging operation. The trogs had also managed to figure out how to build underground mushroom farms, which were producing some food, although not a lot. Mushroom farming was tricky and they only seemed to like a few caves that had just the right level of heat and humidity.

While the living conditions in Ironbreak were well below that of most human villages, none of the goblins or hobgoblins complained. One, they knew Blacknail wouldn’t care about their petty problems, and two, they were used to much worse. A solid roof over their heads and a warm fire were unheard of luxuries to most of them. As Blacknail feasted and napped in his mansion, the thought of how much he’d improved the life of his minions filled him with smug satisfaction. He was the greatest leader ever. His ungrateful minions really should thank him more for everything he’d done for them. 

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Interlude: The Long Wait Ends

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Dalin huffed as he hiked up the side of the grassy hill. His breath left the faintest white fog in the air. It was still early in the morning and the sun hadn’t had time to chase away the chill of night. Thankfully, his homespun wool clothing kept him warm.

Once he reached the top of the hill, Dalin took a look around. In front of him, the hill sloped downward for about twenty feet before ending at a short cliff that had been dug over countless years by a creek. The rush of water filled his ears, because the stream was swollen with dirty water from the recent snow melt. The water flooded over the creek’s banks as it raced through the nearby hills.

Dalin grunted as he turned to study the fields around the stream. Gentle rolling hills surrounded him and there were few trees or even large bushes in sight. In fact, most the ground was empty of anything but the battered remains of last year’s planting. That was too be expected, since Dalin was a free farmer and these were his fields.

Spring had finally come, and over the past few days, its warmer winds had melted the last of the snow that had clung stubbornly to the earth. As a result, the air was had fresh scent and felt full of invigorating energy that prickled Dalin’s skin. After spending so much time indoors and sheltering from the cold next to the fire, winter’s hold on the world was finally over. The wait was over. Everything was coming alive again and the world was opening up.

As was usual for this time of year, the swollen rivers of the creek were doing some damage to Dalin’s fields, but it wasn’t anything he hadn’t dealt with a hundred times before. Over in the distance, he could see that some portions of his livestock fence had fallen over. That would need to be fixed before he brought his animals out. Dalin sighed. The work never ended, despite the greying of his hair and the passage of years. Year after year, he struggled to keep his farm running.

“Well, I shouldn’t complain too much. The gods might think I’m ungrateful,” Dalin muttered glumly to the wind.

These were hard times, and most people had it worse than Dalin. The war had entered a lull, but that didn’t mean it was coming to an end. Far from it. It would pick up again eventually, as it had many times before. Thankfully, the fighting was far to the east, so Dalin didn’t need to worry about raiders. He also didn’t need to worry about press gangs, unless things got really bad. He was too old for military service and the recruiters had already taken his eldest son. His two younger sons were also still children and not fit for the army.

Broken earth near the creek’s bank caught Dalin’s Eye. He frowned as he saw some tracks in the mud near the creek. Taking a few steps closer, he reached the edge of the cliff and peered over it. Hmm, he didn’t know what had made the tracks. They almost looked clawed, and there were a lot of them. They’d obviously been made by several beasts, not just one. Dalin lived in the north-west part of Eloria. He wasn’t all that far from the border, but these were still civilized lands. They’d been cleared of most dangerous beasts long ago, and kept that way by the local lords. Briefly, Dalin considered the idea that the tracks might belong to goblins or even a hobgoblin, but quickly discarded that thought. The shape was all wrong. He’d seen goblin tracks many times. The pests were always pilfering feed from his barn.

Honestly, Dalin had no idea what could have made the marks in the mud. Some harpies landing to drink? That might be it. He’d never seen any of the beasts this far south, but he was fairly sure they were real, and not tall tales. Looking up, Dalin scanned the sky for signs of large birds, but he didn’t see anything suspicious. Overhead, the sun was hidden among a host of dull grey clouds.

Feeling reassured, Dalin decided to head back home. The ground out here was still a little too wet for any farming work to be done, but there was still lots of chores he could do elsewhere, like in the barn. His wife would also probably have breakfast ready for him soon, and he was getting hungry. Dalin grinned. His wife was a great cook, and her food was what got him up in the morning every day to face both the unknown and the long familiar struggle that was the life of a farmer, even if her nagging could be as annoying as braying donkey.

Dalin cast another quick look at the empty sky and then began trudging back towards his home. The mud wasn’t bad as long as he stuck to the high ground.

Soon, the side of Dalin’s small family farmhouse came into sight. It was a rough-looking building with stone walls on the first floor and plaster around the second floor. It had also had a thick thatch roof that gave it a cozy-warm feeling, and this was enhanced by smoke rising from the chimney. Over to the farmhouses’ right, there was a large wooden barn surrounded by fencing.

Smiling at the thought of filling his belly with a hearty breakfast, Dalin walked closer and the around to the front of his house. That was when he noticed something odd. The door was open, but no one was in sight. It was still chilly out, so no one would have left it open…

With the image of the mysterious tracks suddenly fresh in his mind, Dilan rushed over to the door. An uneasy feeling had settled in his gut and the hair on the back of his neck stood straight up.

As he ran closer, Dilan saw that the door wasn’t merely open, it had been smashed. The wood around the handle was broken and shattered where someone had hit it.

“Greta! Are you alright!” Dilan yelled as he approached the looming entrance.

There was no answer, so Dilan began to panic. There was a shovel leaning against the wall nearby, so he grabbed that before continuing. Terror filled his heart now but worry for his family pulled him into the home. They could be injured or being held hostage by deserters!

Desperately, Dilan hoped he was letting his imagination get the better of him, but he raised the shovel defensively as he stepped into the building. After being outside, his eyes were unaccustomed to the gloom, and it was hard to see through the shadows.

Over to his right, past the dark shape of the dinner table, he saw the struggling low flames in the fireplace. Taking another step inside, he frantically scanned the shadows. Oh, gods. Was that a woman’s arm he saw on the ground through the pantry door? Usually Dalin’s home smelled of herbs and spices, but now he thought he smelled the iron scent of blood. Oh gods. He didn’t know what he’d do if his family was hurt. They were all he had!

Letting his improvised weapon drop slightly, Dalin rushed over to the pantry to help his wife. That was when something dark and low to the ground leapt out from the shadows at him. Dalin instinctively tried to bat it away with his shovel, but it was too fast. The old farmer screamed as claws tore into his throat. Pain wracked his body and then everything went dark.

Under the White 7

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Dust hung thick in the air all around Blacknail as he jumped back to avoid a blow from a boggart warrior that had just charged him from out of nowhere. Up ahead of him, the boggart noble stumbled away through the stone rubble that had fallen from the ceiling thanks to Imp’s magic and his master’s genius.

Snarling angrily, Blacknail drew on his magical strength and leapt at the warrior. His furious flurry of blows pushed the creature back. It staggered just as Herah joined the fight. She jumped in from the side and sliced open the creature’s neck with her shorter blade. Black blood squirted from the wound as her sword came free.

“I’m helping!” she announced happily as she landed beside Blacknail and the boggart collapsed.

“Just a little. I could do this by myself though,” Blacknail replied as he saw a small pack of workers appear and begin heading his way. He pointed at them. “Now, take your squad and hold them off. I need to get their leader.”

Still grinning, Herah nodded as her squad arrived and took up position around her. Blacknail left them to their job and charged off at the noble again. This time, no new arrivals got in his way. He was able to close in on her before she got very far. She was still stumbling away, but as he neared, she spun around to glare at him. There was a hateful snarl on her face and her black eyes shimmered with rage. Creepy.

“You are vermin! You are nothing before the Host. We are countless and unending,” she yelled.  “This nest is but one of dozens, and we are ever growing. We will destroy you and all your disgusting people for daring to strike at us.”

“Shut up and die, bug lady!” Blacknail hissed as he dove in. She was like a terrible combination of everything he hated. Human women, freaky bugs, magic, and people that talked too much.

Instead of accepting her inevitable death, the bogart noble raised her hand and pointed at Blacknail. There was a small black amulet with a transparent stone set in it clutched between her fingers.

The trinket looked dangerous, but rage swirled through Blacknail, driving him forward. Thus, instead of trying to dodge whatever effect the amulet would produce, Blacknail attacked with everything he had. Magic flowed up from his core and raged through his body as he unleashed all the energy he could. It’s burning might quickened his movements as he struck, and at the same time,  he let out a savage growl as he slammed a wall of magical terror directly in her face.

The boggart noble staggered as the magic tore into her mind and began thrashing about. As this was happening, Blacknail attacked with lighting quick speed. His blade sliced through the air and then came down on the boggart noble’s outstretched arm. A moment later, the hand that was still clutching the strange amulet hit the ground, leaving a bloody stump. 

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