Interlude: The Quiet Life

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On Winter’s Wings 11

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Blacknail coughed as he studied the swarm of boggarts that lay before him. The battle in the giant mushroom cave had been going on for a while now. Although the boggarts had been knocked off-balance by the hobgoblin’s initial charge, they were beginning to push back, and hobgoblins were starting to fall. The smaller boggarts were tough to deal with, but the real problem was the taller warriors with spears.

“I got it, boss! Magic can probably help,” Imp suddenly yelled from somewhere behind Blacknail. The “probably” was worrisome.

Regardless, the hobgoblin mage pushed up beside Blacknail and leveled his staff at the nearest enemy warrior. Immediately, all the nearby hobgoblins ducked out of his way, including Blacknail. Unlike the other magic users, Imp had a mechanical staff that he’d taken from a human mage. The device allowed him to channel magic from mana stones and shoot it, instead of using the mana stones themselves as explosives. This gave him a little more control and finesse.

The light crystal at the tip of Imp’s staff had been replaced by a blue one. It glowed brightly for a moment, and then a rippling lance of blue energy shot out. The magic flew past Blacknail and slammed into the boggarts. All the smaller specimens in the front line were blasted away, and then the lance hit one of the warriors. The creature took the blow to its stomach. Instantly, it crumbled from the impact and then was knocked violently sideways. The blue beam then shifted as Imp swung his staff around, and the deadly magic hit two more warriors before fading away. Both the tall boggarts were thrown off their feet and into the rank of workers behind them.

For a brief moment, Blacknail just watched the spectacle. Then, he grimaced in distaste. His mouth felt icky. The blue light did taste like fish. Weird.

Suppressing the urge to start spitting and coughing, Blacknail raised his blade and charged into the hole in the enemy ranks. “We end this now. Minions, forward!”

As he ran, Blacknail used his power to stifle the fear of his minions, so they’d follow him with more enthusiasm and less pesky self-preservation. That was a terrible trait for minions to have. At the same time, Blacknail also unleashed another wave of magical terror at the enemy. The boggarts had probably adapted to the magical fear already, but it couldn’t hurt.

Stunned by magical force and fear, the boggarts before Blacknail stumbled as the hole in their ranks widened. This exposed the tall spearmen at the back, so Blacknail lunged forward into the gap. He sensed weakness and his predatory instincts drove him to strike at his stunned foe and take full advantage. He was time to sink in fangs into his prey and taste victory. 

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On Winter’s Wings 10

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After sending Gob and Imp outside to get reinforcements, Blacknail and several minions waited for them to return at the first intersection in the cave. An unknown number of trogs warily watched from the shadows beyond the light. One of Imp’s assistants had remained behind with a crystal. Blacknail ignored the shifting darkness and the hissing of the unseen trogs. They weren’t important now. He had much more dangerous things to worry about. In fact, the presence of the Trogs was reassuring because it meant nothing more dangerous was around.

Thankfully, Blacknail didn’t have to wait in the dripping darkness all that long. The alarm had already been raised earlier up above, so Gob was quickly able to round up more troops and return. As Gob and Imp’s group came into sight, Blacknail counted thirty more hobgoblins and three more mages holding glowing light stones. Half the hobgoblins had the warrior mark, but all of them were armed with swords or spears. Blacknail almost felt like waiting for more, but decided it would slow them down too much. Imp’s magic should be enough.

Once he reached his chief’s side, Gob immediately stopped and saluted. Blacknail gave him an approving nod. “Good job.”

Blacknail then turned to Imp. “Did you bring your best battle magics? Every enemy we blow up is one less enemy trying to kill us.”

“Wise words, boss. But, you said not to get anything that would kill everyone in the cave or bury us under rock,” Imp replied with a frown.

“Fine, did you bring the best magic you can actually use without killing us all?”

Imp nodded. “Probably. We tested it once and nothing too terrible happened.”

“Just be ready to attack at my command,” Blacknail replied with a sigh. He hated magic.

“What enemy do you think is down here?” Gob asked as he studied the surrounding darkness with a frown. There wasn’t much to see.

“Like a great leader, I’m always expecting enemies everywhere,” Blacknail replied vaguely before ordering his troops to form up. There was a chance that his suspicions were wrong, and he didn’t want to look silly in front of the minions. There was also no point in spooking them by revealing the truth. Hobgoblins weren’t known for their bravery.

With Imp at his side to illuminate the way, Blacknail led his troops deeper into the caves and toward the underground river. The heavy thud of footsteps echoed behind him as his troops marched in a three-hob wide column.

When they reached the huge cavern that contained the rushing river, Blacknail led them down the rocky incline beyond the entrance and into the cave proper. Crabs and other beasts shuffled as they hid among the stone pillars that dotted the cave, but they didn’t attack the passing hobgoblins. Blacknail used his power to terrify any beast that got too close, but he barely had to do anything. Such a large formation of tightly packed hobgoblins wasn’t exactly a tempting target. There was easier prey for even the hungriest of creatures. Thus, Blacknail’s troops reached the other side of the cavern and the passages that lay there unmolested.

Blacknail called for a stop as he eyed the tunnel that led to the mushroom forest suspiciously. “We’re going to move quickly now. Turn up all the lights and keep in formation. Expect attacks from the shadows. Don’t even think about hanging back though. Anyone who falls behind will be gutted and left for the crabs.” 

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On Winter’s Wings 9

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After the feast with the humans from Shelter was over, Blacknail invited Herah up to see his new bed. They then had a lot of sex on it before falling asleep. It was a great way to end an enjoyable day, because Blacknail had finally managed to show off his new home. It was bigger than everyone else’s, except for Ilisiti’s mansion in Herstcrest, which didn’t count, for reasons.

The next morning, Blacknail got up early and shoved Herah aside. He had to go do leadership stuff. There were a bunch of stupid minions that needed him to make decisions for them. Thus, after a hearty breakfast at his new table, Blacknail spent the morning talking to scouts and work crew leaders that were looking for direction. Most of the answers he gave them were simply encouragement to do what they already knew was the right response, but a lot of hobgoblins felt the need to ask Blacknail for permission and advice every time the slightest problem came up. Blacknail supposed it was because he was so smart and such a great leader. Most the news he got was about supplies that had been bought down south from passing merchants being brought north. The preparations for winter continued.

Not all the reports Blacknail got were pointless though. Scouts brought him word of several more boggart sightings. The creatures seemed to be growing more active, which was a rather unwelcome development. Blacknail had been hoping the creatures would disappear back underground, but that didn’t seem to be happening. Even if they didn’t start attacking his minions, they were competing with them for prey and food, and that could lead to serious problems over the winter. Blacknail was going to have to do something about them eventually, but he had no idea what.

A messenger also brought him interesting news from one of the parties that had been sent out to form a hunting lodge. Apparently, after making their way through the Green and reaching the edge of Blacknail’s territory they’d stumbled upon a small goblin village. The settlement was made up of three huts that had been built next to a river. It had been led by a single hobgoblin, so it had been easy for Blacknail’s minions to rush in and conquer the place. After the brutal killing of the feral hobgoblin, all the goblins had immediately submitted to their new rulers. The settlement wasn’t much and needed a lot of work, but it was far better than any lodge the party could have built before the first snowfall. It not only came with a bunch of goblins that could be put to work, but it also had a plentiful food source. The local goblins frequently fished the river using sharpened branches to spear the fish. Just off the top of his head, Blacknail could think of several ways to improve their catch.

Avorlus also finally returned from his visit to Herstcrest. The mage had gone there to study the crystals Blacknail had found in one of the mines behind the city. Herstcrest was much larger than Shelter and probably would have been a more comfortable place for Avorlus to spend the winter, except that Hercrest was ruled by Ilisti. The vympir lord was very vocal about his distrust of mages, so staying in Herstcrest hadn’t really been an option for the mage. Out west, in the isolated lands where Ilisti and the other vympirs came from, there didn’t seem to be many mages. Putting two and two together, Blacknail thought this was because the vympirs had killed them all, which was understandable. Even ignoring all the random explosions mages caused, it was obvious why vympirs would have a problem with mages. Vympirs ruled through fear and power, but even though they were very dangerous and incredibly tough, a big enough magical blast could kill anything. It was a good thing Blacknail didn’t have worry about that. He was in charge because he was better than everyone at pretty much everything.

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On Winter’s Wings 8

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When the meeting with his lieutenants was over, and Blacknail had finished dumping all the work on them, he wandered off to bother the lazy workers finishing off his house. Glaring and yelling at them kept him busy and amused for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to make them work faster. What a bunch of lazy runts.

The next morning, a large mob of hobgoblins and goblins headed out of Ironbreak. Obeying the commands that Blacknail had given out yesterday, they followed the road into the Green on their way to the forward base. To make sure that enough goblins went, every hobgoblin was ordered to bring three goblins with him. This caused some grumbling, but it worked. Blacknail watched them go, and then he went to make sure none of his minions were slacking off. There was another group of getting ready to head for Herstcrest.

When he was sure Gob had everything under control, Blacknail took some guards and went to Shelter. He needed Geralhd to write a letter for him, since he didn’t know how to read or write.

Blacknail had spent some time mentally debating whether or not he should go to Herstcrest personally, but in the end, he’d decided against it. Although going to Herstcrest would become extremely difficult once it began snowing, there was little point in going there now. Blacknail didn’t have any use for Ilisiti or his men over the winter, and they’d parted on uncertain terms. It would be better to send him a letter and then meet up with him after the snows had receded.

The letter Blacknail got from Geralhd was short and simple. First, it informed Ilisti of Blacknail’s recovery, without going into too much detail. Second, it reassured Ilisti that their alliance still stood and that he could expect some support from Blacknail, such as a delivery of supplies from the south and meat over the winter. That should keep the vympir satisfied and on Blacknail’s side for a while. Ilisti was a valuable but unpredictable ally. Blacknail didn’t like depending on allies he couldn’t easily assassinate.

The group of hobgoblins and goblins headed to the settlement near Herstcrest wasn’t that large because there were only a few crude lodges there. The settlement had started out as the lair of a small feral goblin tribe, but after conquering it, Blacknail had ordered it expanded and a wooden wall built around it. The goblins there had grown some tasty herbal tea plants that he’d wanted to keep cultivating. Now, it would serve as a good place to garrison troops over the winter. It was amazing how smart Blacknail was.

As the expedition was leaving, Blacknail handed his letter to a hobgoblin messenger and ordered him to deliver it directly to Ilsiti. 

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