Bane of Humanity 14

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Werrick approached with his blade held out aggressively and its gleaming tip pointed right at Blacknail. There was silence from all the nearby human warriors as they watched, although some of their mounts neighed and snorted softly. 

Even Khita stepped back out of the way of the combatants, although she didn’t stay silent. “Kick his ass and cut out his liver! He’d not so tough. You got this!” 

Readying himself and ignoring the redhead, Blacknail raised his own longsword up defensively and grimaced sourly as he eyed his mortal enemy. He didn’t like this situation at all. He’d been waiting for a chance at Werrick forever, but this wasn’t how he’d wanted it to happen. His position was even worse than it had been during their last fight, which he’d lost. The hobgoblin knew he was tired and out of mana, while his enemy was in much better condition. Cheating would also be difficult, since Werrick was the one with backup nearby. Zelena was already watching him like a hawk. This entire situation sucked. He’d put a lot of effort into making sure his next battle with Werrick was nothing like a fair fight, but it had all gone to waste. Somehow, this was Khita’s fault. 

“You won’t be able to escape me now,” Werick laughed as stepped forward. 

Blacknail watched him warily. “I’m not running, pink face. You’re the one that will die here.”

He was totally planning on running the first chance he got. If Khita couldn’t keep up, that was too bad for her. 

Werrick’s blade lashed out, catching sunlight as it sliced toward Blacknail’s shoulder. The hobgoblin quickly side-stepped and countered with a slash of his own, which was dodged just as easily. Testing each other, the combatants exchanged a flurry of light attacks. Neither gave ground nor pressed the attack, but they kept their guards up. 

Blacknail was more than happy to keep things at a standstill for as long as possible, but after a minute or two, Werrick grew confident and impatient. The bandit lord ducked under a high slash and grinned smugly as he pressed the attack. Stepping forward into Blacknail’s personal space, he stabbed at the hobgoblin’s chest. 

Dodging to the side, Blacknail countered with a heavy downward blow, but Werrick simply rose to meet the attack and parried it before surging forward, right into the off-balanced hobgoblin’s face. He was going for a shoulder blow. Eyes wide with surprise, Blacknail hesitated for a brief moment, but then his instincts kicked in. Rage and mana swirled through his body as he growled and opened his mouth wide to reveal his long teeth. Leaning down, Blacknail attempted to gore his foe’s neck. 

Now it was Werrick’s turn to flinch in surprise, before abandoning his attack completely and throwing himself to the side. After recovering his balance and getting back into a proper stance, he threw Blacknail a dark look. 

“I forgot how much of a savage you are,” Werrick said before spitting on the ground. 

Blacknail glared at him. “You’re the one that tried to cheap-shot me first! What was that?” 

“There’s a vast difference between my attack and biting like a rabid animal,” Werrick replied angrily before approaching again. “You’re nothing like a true warrior.” 

Blacknail snorted. He didn’t care about being a true warrior at all. Survival was what mattered to him. 

“You almost had him. Try it again and tear his throat out!” Khita cheered, earning her a lot of glares from Werrick and his men. Blacknail was sure his enemy wasn’t going to try to tackle him again, so the redhead’s advice was characteristically useless. 

There was a loud metallic clang as the combatants’ blades met again. Werrick unleashed a flurry of skillful blows that tore through the air with shocking speed, but Blacknail managed to counter and keep him back with several powerful slashes of his own. The two fighters then stepped back and eyed each other warily. Blacknail was finding it noticeably easier to match his mortal foe now that he was a mutant. His longer arms and stronger muscles allowed him to use his new longsword to keep Werrick back much easier. 

“What’s wrong? Are you getting tired?” Blacknail taunted his opponent. 

Werrick chuckled grimly. “Not even a little. In fact, I believe it’s time for me to stop messing around and end this little charade.” 

The Wolf’s sword sliced through the air as he brought it around and fell into a more aggressive stance. Blacknail raised his own guard, but Werrick’s move was more than it first appeared. A thin wave of force slid off his blade and cut through the air as it flew toward Blacknail. Only the hobgoblin’s familiarity with the technique allowed him to recognize what was happening in time to dodge the attack. Werrick was using his unique Vessel abilities and channeling them through his sword. 

However, as Blacknail stepped to the side, Werrick launched himself forward and hacked at him with a wild swing. Blacknail’s arms vibrated from the force of the blow after he was forced to block it, but he kept his stance solid and used an internal burst of mana to strengthen himself and push the big human warrior back. 

Frowning, Werrick stepped back and shot another two air blades at the hobgoblin, before following right after them. The two magical slashes travelled on slightly different trajectories, making dodging them difficult, but Blacknail managed to twist out of the way of the first and then duck under the edge of the other without losing his solid stance. Thus, he met Werrick’s attack with a powerful slash of his own that sliced through the air and toward the bandit lord’s head. 

Werrick tried to parry the blow and use his momentum to barrel over the hobgoblin, but Blacknail was having none of that. He met the attack head on, blocking Werrick’s blade with his own. Their swords met with a crash that vibrated down both their arms and then the weapons locked together. Both fighters struggled to push the other back. Using some of the mana that was slowly gathering in his core, Blacknail managed to break the deadlock. His muscles strained as he pushed Werrick’s weapon away.

Grunting with effort, Werrick tried to turn his retreat into a sidestep and counter, but the pressure from Blacknail caused him to stumble instead. Sensing weakness, the hobgoblin felt a surge of excitement burn through his body as he lunged forward. His sword lashed out with lightning speed and bashed Werrick’s weapon aside. Unimpeded, his blade then clanged as it hit the man’s shoulder and was deflected off his chainmail shirt. Werrick let out a pain-filled shout as he fell back. His arm now hung stiffly as if wounded, although it wasn’t visibly bleeding. 

Mercilessly, Blacknail pressed his advantage and leaped after his injured opponent, but he didn’t get a chance to attack again. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Zelena raise a hand and point it in his direction. He’d been keeping an eye on her, and he instantly knew she was up to no good. 

As Blacknail watched, a small blast of nigh-invisible power shot out of the crystal in Zelena’s palm. It streaked through the air, forcing the hobgoblin the abandon his attack and jump back to avoid the magical projectile. 

“Hey, I saw that!” Khita yelled as she pointed at the mage woman. “That’s cheating, you bitch! Come over here and try that. I’ll cut slice open your throat.”

Everyone ignored her. 

“I don’t know what foul trick you used to injure me, but this dishonor won’t stand!” Werrick shouted proudly as he backed away like a coward. He was obviously playing to the crowd. 

Snarling, Blacknail considered going after him, but he was getting quite a few glares from the knights and mages around him. “What trick? I hit you with my sword. That’s what you were doing too!”

“If you have no honor then this duel is over,” Werrick announced before turning to his companions. “Take him down. I injured him before he forfeited the match.” 

Shouting their acknowledgement, a dozen knights urged their mounts into motion and began riding toward Blacknail. The hobgoblin eyed them with deep concern as he backed up. Unfortunately, there was nowhere for him to run now. 

“You cheating son of a harpy! Get over here and die.” Blacknail yelled at Werrick as he gave him the evil eye. The bandit lord didn’t reply or even turn around. He just kept walking over to Zelena’s side as if unconcerned by Blacknail’s fate. 

“What do we do now?” Khita asked as she drew her sword and ran over to the hobgoblin. 

Blacknail eyed her. Why did she think he had the answers? That was kind of unreasonable. “Um…”

As the knight’s closed in, Blacknail’s long green ears twitched. He heard rocks clatter behind him. While in front of him, the knights suddenly began slowing their mounts down.

Werrick glanced at something behind the hobgoblin and then turned to the male mage in his group. “Quickly, blast the fiend.”

The mage quickly moved to obey and levelled his staff at his target, Blacknail, but before he could activate his magic, a glowing blue barrier appeared in front of Blacknail, shielding him. At the same time, the sound of clattering stones grew louder and Blacknail glanced over his shoulder to see six hobgoblins slide down the hill at his back and land behind him. Looking up, he saw that there were many more hobgoblins standing atop the hill as well. Far more than he’d brought on Sir Masnin’s expedition. Imp stood in their midst, holding an amulet that was the source of the shield. 

“Oh good, you’re finally here. I thought you got lost,” Blacknail said before sighing in relief. They’d really left it to the last second. Either his minions were far too lazy, or someone had been plotting. Well, at least they were here now. 

Scamp frowned nervously as he looked down at his chieftain. “You weren’t easy to find, boss. We only got here so quickly because of all the noise you were making.” 

Blacknail was unconvinced and still more than a little suspicious. “I signaled you a while ago. You knew I was here, so what took you so long?

That was when the bushes off to Blacknail’s left rustled and another dozen hobgoblins with spears appeared to flank the knights. A moment later, another twenty hobgoblins stepped out of the tree on the other side of Werrick’s force. They were boxed in now, with no easy retreat routes. 

“We waited until we had Werrick surrounded before showing ourselves. You told me to make sure Werrick didn’t get away, no matter what, or you’d feed my guts to the pigs, remember?” Scamp told him. 

Now that he mentioned it, Blacknail did remember that. “Right, and it worked. Good job me. I’m very smart.”

Blacknail had known all along that Werrick would have several schemes in motion and that he would try to seize control of the other humans. He’d had little choice after Blacknail had forced him to come on this expedition. Control of silver was far too important for the bandit lords to share it, and they hated each other with a passion anyway. If he’d been allowed to stay behind, Werrick could have used his forces to ambush the silver and seize control of the city once it was found, but out in the Green, he was at Blacknail’s mercy and cut off from most of his troops. Thus, Werrick had no other option but to kill Blacknail before Blacknail killed him. The exact method of his betrayal had caught the hobgoblin off guard – he’d assumed that Werrick would at least wait until after Myagnoir was dead – but his vulnerability had been temporary. 

Fair fights were not Blacknail’s specialty. Long before coming on Sir Masnin’s expedition, Blacknail had secretly ordered a force of fifty of his hobgoblins to shadow the expedition from a safe distance. It was a feat that no human army could possibly hope to match, but his minions were far more comfortable in the Green. Thus, Blacknail had been prepared for any betrayal Werrick had planned and he could make sure the Wolf never left the Green alive. It was such a great plan. Blacknail knew he was amazingly smart for having thought of it, despite the slight problems he’d run into before his reinforcements had arrived, like almost dying half a dozen times. 

Scamp hadn’t been Blacknail’s first choice as leader of the reinforcements, but he was a skilled ranger, and everyone smarter had been busy. 

Most of the enemy force seemed unsure of what to do now that they faced a serious threat that they didn’t have massively outnumbered. Their mounts shuffled uneasily as the riders watched the newly arrived hobgoblins with obvious fear and concern. However, Werrick simply looked furious. Stomping forward, he levelled an accusatory finger at Blacknail and glared at him venomously. 

“I was right. This is proof that the hobgoblin was always trying to ambush us on the way back and take the silver for himself!” Werrick shouted. “He’s brought an entire army here in secret to make sure none of us survive to reveal his treachery.”

Blacknail glared back at him. Really? Human political nonsense, now? “Stop lying. I just knew that you we’re going to betray me, like you did, so I made plans to be ready to kill you and all your allies first. I didn’t want anyone but you dead.” 

This argument didn’t appear to sway anyone to Blacknail’s side. The knights were still pointing their weapons in the hobgoblin’s direction and had hostile expressions on their faces. Stupid humans. Sure, he’d explained that badly, but he still made a lot more sense than Werrick had. Well, whatever. Once they were dead it wouldn’t matter. Getting his words through their thick skulls would probably be much harder than getting his blade through their soft bits. 

“Form up and prepare to fight!” Werrick ordered all the nearby riders as he jumped back on his own horse. 

“I only want Werrick and his men. Anyone else that surrenders will make it back South alive,” Blacknail shouted.

“Don’t listen to the treacherous creature! He’s just trying to get us to turn on each other so that he can slaughter us piecemeal. If we fight side-by-side, then we can crush these pitiful savages beneath our valiant steeds’ hooves!”

None of the humans rode over to throw themselves at Blacknail and his hobgoblin’s mercy, so the hobgoblin chieftain didn’t see the point in wasting anymore time. He finally had Werrick right where he wanted him! He was outnumbered and stranded out in the Green, where running was impossible. 

“Kill them all!” Blacknail ordered his minions as a vicious hunger rose up from within him. He grinned savagely at Werrick as he fantasized about finally hacking his master’s killer apart with his own hands. He’d taste Werrick’s blood and watch with glee as the light faded from his eyes. 

At their master’s command, the hobgoblins surged forward, closing in on the knights from multiple directions. Only about half a dozen hobs stayed back on top of the hill. Imp and two of his mage assistants were among them, and they seemed to be preparing spells. Scamp also made no move to leave the top of the hill. 

“To me! We must escape the savage’s entrapment,” Werrick roared as he guided his mount to the left.

The bandit lord was attempting to strike where the hobgoblins were thinnest and smash through them to reach safety. Blacknail couldn’t let that happen. Even outnumbered, if the knights got free, they could maneuver around the hobgoblins and trample them one group at a time. 

“Charge! Follow me. The first to attack get the first pick of the loot!” Blacknail yelled at his minions before rushing ahead to cut off Werrick’s retreat. He wasn’t letting him get away now. 

Dashing forward at full speed, Blacknail ran over to where the melee was thickest, around some knights fighting from horseback. Several hobgoblins and Khita followed him. Up ahead, Werrick was cutting down two hobgoblins that had been unfortunate enough to be in his way. Over on the other side of the melee, there was a fiery explosion as the mages began dueling. 

Upon reaching the fighting, Blacknail wasted no time in throwing himself at Werrick, who was still mounted. Pushing past an unresisting hobgoblin that was glad to let him pass, he unleashed a wicked slash at his mortal foe’s leg. 

Reaching down, Werrick easily deflected Blacknail’s attack with his own blade. He then wheeled his mount around and the huge beast reared up to kick at Blacknail. Jumping back away from the horse’s dangerous looking hooves, Blacknail weighed his options. Attacking mounted warriors was still super annoying. He really hated horses. They were more evil made flesh than real animals. 

Werrick immediately pressed his advantage and cut down another hobgoblin in the melee, so Blacknail threw himself back into the fight. He only had so many minions that he could afford to lose. Lacking any real plan, he went with his instincts. 

Blacknail lashed out at the horse’s flank with his blade, however the vile beast managed to take most the strength out of the blow by sidestepping, so the sword inflicted only a shallow cut. Looking over, Blacknail saw that one of the horse’s eyes was glaring right at him. The beast looked enraged and mad in the way of all its deranged kin. That gave Blacknail an idea. Horses seemed to hate and fear hobgoblins just as much as hobgoblins hated them. 

Sheathing his weapon, Blacknail ducked under another swing from Werrick and leaped at the ass end of the horse. It tried to move away but he dashed after it. A moment later, he was jumping onto its side, and his claws drew blood, giving him purchase and allowing him to pull himself up higher. The creature’s brown flanks were impressively tall. Also, very sweaty and smelly. 

Ignoring the stench that was right below his nose, Blacknail continued to cling to the horse and climb up onto its back. The beast didn’t like that one bit, and quickly began bucking and flailing around in an attempt to throw him off. 

“What are you doing? Get off, you cretin!” Werrick yelled as he glanced back at Blacknail. 

The bandit lord tried to take a swing at the hobgoblin, but the bucking of the horse threw his aim off, and Blacknail managed to climb up and entangle the blade in his antler-like horns. Werrick struggled to keep control of his mount and free his sword as his horse neighed frantically, but Blacknail’s presence finally broke its control. It went berserk and began flailing about with complete abandon in a desperate attempt to dislodge the predator on its back. 

Both Werrick and Blacknail were thrown off and tumbled into the melee. 

Bane of Humanity 13

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Blacknail scrambled to a stop and turned to face the mounted knight that was leading the charge by Werrick’s force. Behind the hobgoblin, the fallen watchtower blocked the road. The long pile of shattered stone completely cut off Khita and his path toward the gate. 

The lead knight charged forward until he loomed right above Blacknail with his sword raised high in preparation to strike. Blacknail met the eyes of the brown warhorse and grimaced. He was cornered now and had no other option but to fight madly with every shred of his remaining strength, like a trapped beast. He wouldn’t go down without a fight. 

Blacknail’s body was tired and his mana low, but he still reached within and grasped as much power as he could. Shaping it with his will, he then pushed it out in one huge wave of rippling terror. The magic washed forward, hitting riders and mounts before seeping into their minds and overwhelming them. 

As expected, almost all the knights resisted the mental assault, but the same could not be said for their mounts. Blacknail’s power tore into the minds of the horses, ripping thoughts apart and replacing them with raw terror. Screaming, the beasts attempted to escape from Blacknail, who loomed like a horrifying shadowy giant in their minds. Ha, if Blacknail was going down, he would take as many horses with him as possible!

Some of the horses tried to scramble to a halt mid-charge, while others suddenly jumped to the side. As a result, Werrick’s force immediately descended into violent chaos as riders collided with each other or were thrown off their panicking mounts. At least one man was trampled and many others barely managed to stay mounted. The riders ground to a halt before Blacknail, their charge ended as they dispersed and attempted to regain control of their mounts. 

Feeling hollow and weak, Blacknail stumbled back toward Khita, who stepped next to him and raised her blade defensively. 

“Are you alright? Can you keep running,” she asked in a worried tone. His weakness was obvious. 

Glancing to both sides, Blacknail didn’t see anywhere to go. The buildings here had all collapsed. Trying to climb over them while being chased would be very dangerous. However, before Blacknail could reply to Khita, he noticed something rather unfortunate. One rider was pushing through the chaos and headed his way. It was Werrick. He had kept control of his mount and he looked quite angry.

“You will not escape me, vermin,” the bandit lord roared as he rode forward. “Today, you die and the North becomes mine at last.” 

Blacknail tried to sense the mind of Werrick’s mount, and found it to be unusually bright and strong. It even seemed to contain mana. Was Werrick’s mount a Vessel? Such beasts did exist, although Blacknail had never seen them before. Looking closer, the hobgoblin realized that this wasn’t the same horse that Werrick had ridden on the journey here. He must have taken it from someone else. What a thief. 

“I’m out of ideas, do you have something?” Blacknail asked Khita as he watched Werrick trot closer. He was sure she didn’t, but he wanted to hear her admit it aloud. 

Khita just grinned. “Yes, we can take him together before the others recover. We got this.” 

Blacknail groaned. What a stupid idea. He should have known better than to ask Khita anything. 

Khita’s words seemed to concern Werrick though. Since Blacknail didn’t seem to be going anywhere, the mounted vessel brought his mount to a stop. Instead of attacking, he simply waited for his allies to recover so that he wouldn’t have to fight alone. Blacknail grimaced. What a coward. Now, he might actually have to follow Khita’s dumb plan. Attacking the bandit lord now would still be better than waiting to get overwhelmed by his entire force. 

An unexpected clattering noise suddenly drew Blacknail’s attention over to his left. It sounded like falling rubble. Glancing that way, Blacknail saw a brown blur speeding his way. Flinching in surprise, he spun to face his new assailant, who he recognized a moment later. It was the mutant goat! Charging by Blacknail, the beast tried to grab at the hobgoblin’s backpack and tear it off his back. It managed to catch the fabric, but Blacknail didn’t let go of his prizes so easily. He held on to it as the goat’s momentum began pulling him away. 

“I got you!” Khita yelled as she grabbed his arm to help steady him. 

The goat didn’t slow and Blacknail felt his bag begin to tear, so he swiftly changed his approach. Spinning around, he grabbed one of the goat’s horns. However, this didn’t slow the beast. Almost instantly, he was pulled along after the speeding goat, so he loosened his hold on the bag and jumped on the goat’s back. This was made difficult by the fact Khita was still holding on to his arm, but after briefly considering kicking her in the face so she let go, Blacknail pulled her up behind him. 

“What in damnation! Stop them,” Werrick yelled furiously as the goat continued its charge right up the tall pile of rubble along the side of the street. His only reply was mad excited laughter from Khita. 

Leaping from stone to stone, the large mutant goat barely seemed to notice its riders. There was a surprising amount of muscle under its thick fur, but Blacknail bounced on its back painfully as bony bits stabbed into his soft bits. Still, he gripped the creature’s horns with everything he had. They were escaping! 

Reaching the top of the rubble, the goat began descending, and Blacknail had to hang on for his dear life. How was it that people could ride animals like horses? This was obviously unnatural. Not to mention, incredibly painful. Blacknail’s thighs felt like they were being beaten by hammers, and the less he thought about his groin the better. 

Upon reaching the ground, the goat began speeding toward the city gate. That was great, since Blacknail had no way to steer the creature, and if he fell off the beast now, he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to walk for a while. Behind him, Khita was still laughing. It didn’t sound like she was in nearly as much pain as him. 

Gritting his teeth, Blacknail clung to the goat’s back. They sped through the streets for a few moments, and then shot out of the city gates and into the forest. That was when their mount decided to try and rid itself of the annoyances on its back. Flinging itself about, the goat began trying to buck them. 

Blacknail managed to hold on for about three seconds before being thrown off. Then, he was airborne for another second before hitting the ground face first. Thankfully, the ground was soft loam here, and thus the pain from falling wasn’t actually worse than what he’d felt while riding. Groaning, he decided to take a moment to recover and simply lay on the ground. That was when Khita landed on his back. As she rolled away, the hobgoblin coughed and groaned. So far, this wasn’t a good day.

Looking up, Blacknail saw that the goat was around twenty feet away and was ignoring everything around it as it tore into the hobgoblin’s bag in pursuit of the cheese within. Noticing Blacknail’s hostile stare, it turned and gave him a look full of contempt and utter disregard before going back to snacking. Blacknail had very mixed feeling about this mutant. Technically, it had sort of saved his life twice, but it was still an arrogant thief. He wanted to kick it in the face. 

“Wow, that was incredible!” Khita laughed merrily from beside him as she climbed to her feet. “Can you believe how lucky we are?” 

“No,” Blacknail hissed angrily as he carefully stood up. Just no. His everything was tender and sore. He didn’t want to start moving, but he had no choice. Werrick wouldn’t have given up. He’d be here soon. 

Blacknail twisted around to stretch out, and his spine made several uncomfortable cracking noises. Ouch. He winced as he did a few more stretches. There was much to do. He’d had a run of bad luck, but his plan could still work. He was a tactical genius after all.

“Let’s go,” Blacknail told Khita as he began walking deeper into the forest and she fell in behind him. He didn’t quite manage to walk normally thanks to his sore butt, but he managed to limp along at a fair pace. 

Leaving the trail and the goat behind, Blacknail attempted to disappear into the forest before Werrick’s force showed up. He headed for a big clump of bushes and then passed through them before walking past several shadowy trees. The day had grown late while the expedition had fought Myagnoir. It wasn’t quite so bright out now and the forest had grown dim. That was a small advantage to Blacknail since he was running away, and humans relied on sight so much to track. 

He didn’t get far before he heard signs of pursuit. There was snorting from horses as they rode out of the ruined city gates and stomped over bushes. Glancing over his shoulder, Blacknail saw flashes of movement through the trees as riders spread out. The enemy was barely visible off in the distance, but they were determined and could catch up quickly if they spotted him.

Werrick’s enraged voice echoed through the trees. “Find them! They dismounted out here so they couldn’t have gone far. Do not let the hob escape! He dies today. There will be no more sulking about in the woods for him.”

There were several shouts of acknowledgement and then the riders flooded out into the forest. Blacknail could hear more than one of them headed in his direction. 

“We need to move faster!” he whispered to Khita as he picked up the pace. 

Racing ahead of the pursuers, the hobgoblin and the redhead hurried through the forest. Sticking to the shadows and bushes, they tried to stay out of sight as they ran. Since their pursuers were mounted, Blacknail wasn’t too worried about leaving tracks. He simply didn’t want to get run down. 

Several minutes passed before Blacknail detected someone heading their way. His ears twitched as he heard someone crashing through the bushes toward them. 

“Hide in here and don’t move,” he hissed at Khita as he pushed her into a crevice under a fallen tree trunk. He then threw some leaves and dirt on her, more for fun than for any practical purpose. 

The redhead sputtered angrily, but Blacknail ignored her and ran over to a nearby tree. Moving quickly, he climbed up into the branches. His claws sank into the bark and wood, making the ascent easy. 

Once up in the tree, Blacknail scurried out onto a thick branch and looked down. From the ground, he was hidden by some thick clumps of leaves, but he had no problem scanning the forest below for signs of movement. He didn’t have to look hard. Within moments, a knight rode into sight. His mount made a lot of noise as it stomped through the bushes. 

As Blacknail watched from concealment, the rider pulled on his reins to slow his mount and began scanning his surroundings for any sign of his quarry. Like most of the warriors on the expedition, he was wearing a simple chainmail shirt over rugged padding, since heavier armor was too difficult for most of them to carry around all the time. He also had a steel helm on and a sword at his hip. Blacknail saw no sign of a lance, which would have been near useless in the forest anyway. 

The knight approached Khita’s hiding spot at a slow trot, and Blacknail frowned. The man was moving too slowly. He couldn’t afford to waste so much time hiding since there were other pursuers out in the forest that would surround them before too long. That meant action was required, even at the risk of revealing his position. 

Shifting his weight forward, Blacknail ever so carefully pulled himself over to another branch and then began creeping down it. A few moments later, the knight rode below him, so Blacknail grinned and dropped down on the unsuspecting human. His feet landed on the horse’s back as his hands grabbed the rider’s shoulders. Immediately, the horse bucked and whinnied in shock as it felt the unexpected weight on its back. Meanwhile, the rider held on tight and tried to turn to see what had grabbed him. Blacknail didn’t let him. Reaching up, he wrapped one arm around the man’s neck and drew a dagger with the other. As the rider struggled in his grasp, Blacknail pulled the man’s chin up and slit his throat. Blood poured from the gaping gash and the man flailed about for a moment before going slack from blood loss. As a result, his grip on his mount ended and he began to slide off the horse, taking Blacknail with him. Blacknail tried to hold on, but the horse bucked again, and he was thrown off. 

“Vicious stinky beasts. You’re probably secretly allied with the boggarts” Blacknail hissed as he stood up and watched the horse run off into the woods. He’d managed to land softly on all fours this time, so he wasn’t hurt. 

“Can I come out now?” Khita asked from her hiding spot. 

“Yes, we’ve made too much noise. We need to run.” 

“I didn’t make any noise,” Khita replied sourly as she crawled out from under the log. 

“Just follow me,” Blacknail told her as he began running. 

Already, he could hear shouting and the sound of running hooves echoing through the trees as some of Werrick’s forces began heading in their direction. Obviously, they’d heard the horses screams and were coming to investigate. Blacknail sighed as he ran. He could never catch a break.

Despite the quick pace the pair managed to set, Blacknail soon heard the pursuit grow closer.

“I see them. This way!” someone yelled from behind them. 

However, instead of closing the distance, Werrick’s forces stayed back. Most likely they were waiting for their boss to show up and engage Blacknail personally. For now, they were content to keep an eye on them.  

That was when Blacknail heard a familiar and yet out of place bird-song from up ahead. Right away, he replied using a different call as loudly as he could while still running. It was as signal from one of his minions who’d noticed the commotion, and Blacknail had told him to prepare for a fight. That was about as specific as he could get while communicating using bird calls. Hopefully, this wasn’t a lone minion that had retreated from Coroulis. Blacknail could really use some help. He wouldn’t be able to stay ahead of Werrick for long. 

Beside the hobgoblin, a huffing and puffing Khita reached into a pocket and pulled out a vial of Elixir. She then chugged the entire thing down. 

“No point in saving it now,” she grunted as Blacknail nodded in agreement. 

There was another bird call from up ahead, so Blacknail shifted direction slightly and headed straight toward it. There was no way a single hobgoblin would be replying. By now, they’d have some idea of what was headed their way, and they were far too cowardly to risk themselves like that. 

Glancing back, Blacknail saw a group of horsemen racing up along his left flank. They were too far away to engage, but they did cut off one of his retreat paths and threaten to encircle him. There was also another force of riders hanging back directly behind him. The bushes and uneven ground slowed their mounts, but they would catch up before too long. 

The forest grew thinner and the bushes were swiftly replaced by thick trees with dark grey bark. The horsemen would catch up quickly such terrain. However, Blacknail had no real option but to keep running straight and hope for the best. 

That didn’t work out so well. The flanking force sped up and pulled ahead as the pursuit caught up. Blacknail was forced to turn to his right where there was a rocky hill. This was an unwelcome development. Climbing it would be difficult, especially for Khita, and the riders could just go around it. Not to mention, Blacknail spotted a mage staff among the pursuing force. If they climbed the cliff, they’d be easy targets. 

As they reached the edge of the hill, Blacknail and Khita reluctantly came to a stop. 

The redhead through him a nervous look. “What’s the plan now?” 

“Now we fight,” he replied.

“You know I’m always up for a good fight, but we’re a little outnumbered here,” Khita remarked as she stared at the approaching riders. The dirty knights looked quite menacing on their huffing mounts. 

“Don’t worry. I have a plan.”

This earned the hobgoblin an unenthusiastic grunt in response, but he ignored Khita and focused on the enemy. Seeing that their quarry was seemingly trapped, the riders slowed and spread out to encircle them as much as possible, although the hill behind Blacknail and Khita at least protected their backs.

It didn’t take long for Werrick to appear with Zelena riding beside him. Taking the lead, the bandit lord rode up through his allies and stared at Blacknail suspiciously. 

The hobgoblin sneered at him. “You’re a traitor. You let Sir Masnin die and let the Doom escape just so you could try to get me. You’ve betrayed your people and your oath.” 

He then turned to glare at the other riders. His words had mostly been for them. Some of the knights probably were uncertain about these recent developments.

“Hold your tongue, beast,” Werrick told him. “Everyone knows your words can’t be trusted. I had nothing to do with Sir Masnin’s noble death, and we will deal with Myagnoir in due time. It is wounded and on the run. You are the more pressing threat to humanity. We know you were planning on killing everyone and seizing the silver for yourself so that you and your ilk can weaken humanity and take over the North.”

“No, that’s what you’re doing, you smelly liar.” 

“I would never betray humanity to a threat as great as the boggarts or you, and I know I could never stand against the boggarts alone. Your pathetic and self-serving accusations don’t even make sense.”  

Blacknail snarled. “You’re a murderous bandit lord and a coward. You’re only concerned about your own skin, and what you know is that you could never beat me without treachery. Your country and other humans mean nothing to you.” 

Glancing over the enemies arrayed against him, Blacknail saw over two dozen horsemen. Counting Zelena, two of the riders were mages. That was horrible odds, especially since he was so tired and almost out of magic. 

Werrick motioned for his troops to charge all at once, but Blacknail cut him off. “At least be brave enough to fight me yourself instead of sending the duped minions after me.”

Sighing, Werrick dismounted. “Very well. We’ve crossed blades before, and this will simply be another humiliation for you.”

“I’m not the same as before.”

“True, but that won’t be enough. I’ve killed bigger, faster, and smarter mutants than you. My blade will put an end to your slander while the gods watch in judgement,” Werrick replied nonplussed as he drew his blade and stepped toward Blacknail. 

Worldshift Beta Reading and Discord

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Alright, I’ve finally gotten this entire novel written, edited, and prepared for beta reading. Writing a book takes a long time. Who knew? Here’s the plot summary of Worldshift: Virtual Revolution.

Society has grown rich thanks to automation and technology. As a result, jobs are scarce, but its easy for society to provide its people with all their basic needs. Strict proscriptions on research and development prevent disruption, while the government tightly controls commerce with the help of the mega corporations to prevent economic disharmony.

Ethan is young and unemployed. One of the many who fail to find a job and join the elite. Nonetheless, he lives a secure life thanks to the economic support he gets, and he finds excitement playing virtual reality games where he can take risks and lash out.

However, despite his security and determination to avoid what’s happening around him in the real world, he can’t help but feel that something is wrong with society. That feeling becomes inescapable when he starts playing the latest event in the world’s most popular game, Worldshift. Thousands of players are lured into climbing the Tower of Ascension by an incredible prize, where they team-up and battle amongst themselves, but nothing is as it seems. The tower is far more than a game. Not only are its rewards real, but so are its dangers.

Change is coming to a long stagnant world -a virtual revolution- and everything Ethan knows will be threatened.

Writing Worldshift was an experiment and an exercise to improve my writing craft. It’s a combination of a more traditional sci-fi and litrpg. I wanted a chance to write a contained story with a obvious beginning and end that was a single book in length. I also wanted the chance to really edit it several times before it was released, which you can’t do with a web serial. The end product is very different from The Iron Teeth, but I hope people like it. At over 160000 words it’s not short.

I believe that writing Worldshift made me a better writer though. Among other things, it allowed me to focus on how to craft interesting characters that feel more real and have contained arcs.

The beta draft of the novel is available to VIP tier users at Patreon if you’re interested in taking part in the beta reading. I’ve set up a discord server so that beta readers can discuss the novel.

If you’re not interested in that, then you can still head over to the discord to chat with people about my work. There are several channels where you can discuss different things. After the beta reading is done and I’ve done another round of editing, I plan in making this novel availible on Amazon.

Thanks for reading!

Bane of Humanity 12

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Blacknail’s left arm tingled numbly as it resisted his attempt to move it properly. He could only get it to shiver and twitch, which wasn’t nearly enough. He was in the middle of a sword fight and would have really liked to have both his arms working properly. Being hit by lightning sucked. 

Grunting, Blacknail eyed his two foes. The sword-wielding Vessel was grinning triumphantly as he brandished his weapon, while Zelena had a more serious look on her face. She was eyeing him carefully as she kept the magic jewelry in her hand pointed his way. Undoubtedly, she was already preparing to hit him with another blast of lightning. Blacknail was going to have to do something about that, but what? Hmm, magic would have to counter magic. 

Reaching down into himself, Blacknail grabbed control of the mana within his core and began circulating it through his body with increased intensity. Instantly, the tingling in his arm abated somewhat, but that hadn’t been Blacknail’s goal. Gathering some of the power up, Blacknail turned to growl at Zelena while he threw the invisible power straight at her. 

Unprepared, Zelena gasped and stumbled back as the magical terror washed over her. Her raised hand fell as she shivered uncontrollably for a moment. Her fearful reaction enflamed Blacknail’s predatory instincts. He wished he could have lunged forward and torn the woman apart, but he wasn’t given a chance. Seeing his ally falter, the human Vessel charged in to attack the hobgoblin. 

Steeling himself, Blacknail was forced to defend himself using a one-handed grip on his sword. It was less than ideal, and his lack of leverage quickly allowed the human to push him back. There was one upside though. Now that he was in close-quarters combat, Zelena couldn’t get a clear shot on him anymore. Yep, all he had to worry about was getting a sword shoved down his throat. Yeah!

Stumbling back over a loose brick, Blacknail hurriedly ducked under a vicious slash that had been aimed at his face. He then had to sidestep and dodge several more attacks from his enemy’s blade. He desperately tried to counterattack, but with only one hand, his attacks were easily blocked or dodged. 

Growling in frustration, Blacknail was pushed back toward a solid wall. The stone was crumbling, but that wouldn’t stop it from getting in his way. Desperately, Blacknail tried to step sideways, but Zelena cut him off and raised her hand menacingly. 

“Don’t even think about it. There is no escape for the likes of you,” she told him in a venomous tone. 

Stuck in place, Blacknail could only jerk his head backwards as the human Vessel stepped forward and attacked again. His blade was a blur of speed as it sliced toward the hobgoblin’s face. 

Blacknail’s dodge wasn’t quite fast enough. The sword bit into flesh and tasted blood as it sliced into Blacknail’s cheek. Yelping as he jumped back against the wall, Blacknail raised his weakened hand and clumsily felt up his face. Both his eyes were still working, good. The cut on his cheek wasn’t too deep, good. His nose… There was a chunk missing from the tip of his nose! Blacknail gagged and felt sick. No, this couldn’t be happening! His nose was his best feature, and now it was ruined forever. Would Herah even want to sleep with him anymore if he didn’t have a perfect long pointy nose? 

“My nose! Your deaths will be beyond pain!” Blacknail hissed furiously as he glared at his petty human attackers. How dare they cripple him so. He would tear them apart with his bare hands and then suck the marrow from their bones! 

The hobgoblin’s rage allowed him to pull up even more mana, which was helping his arm heal, but it was still very weak after being hit by Zelena’s lightning. More fear-based attacks probably wouldn’t be effective since he’d already used them on both his attackers and couldn’t rely on the element of surprise anymore. 

“You’re finished now. A wounded animal that doesn’t know its already dead,” the Vessel announced as he approached Blacknail with his blade raised. 

There was nothing the hobgoblin could do but ready his defenses. He was very aware of the cold stone wall behind him. There was nowhere to run and he was outmatched. His odds of surviving this weren’t great… No, he refused to die here without avenging his nose! Also, there was Saeter and Herad. He couldn’t forget about them. They needed to be avenged too, and he was so close. 

The enemy vessel stepped forward and launched a flurry of attacks that immediately put Blacknail on the defensive. As he desperately defended himself, the hobgoblin took two shallow cuts on his arms that began leaking blood. Any moment now, he was going to falter and take a fatal blow. Blacknail glanced hopefully over toward Ilisti’s fallen form, but the vympir was still completely out of it. What a lazy useless bastard. 

Suddenly, the combatants’ blades crashed together. The impact caused the steel to ring and sent a shiver down Blacknail’s arm. Then, the weapon slipped from his grasp. He could only stare in horror at his fumble. 

“Now you’re mine!” the vessel laughed triumphantly as he raised his blade to deliver the finishing blow. 

That was when a red-topped blur shot out from behind a pile of rubble and straight toward Zelena. The female mage spun around, but was too slow to prevent her attacker from stabbing her in the side. 

“Die, you stuck up bitch!” Khita laughed as she pulled her weapon back. “This will teach you to mess with the Red Cat!”  

The who? No, Khita’s nonsense wasn’t important. Blacknail concentrated on his enemies. 

Zelena gasped in pain and shock, although her wound didn’t look fatal. Meanwhile, her ally glanced over to see what was going on and hesitated upon noticing the new arrival. That moment was all Blacknail needed. He might have been disarmed, but he didn’t need a weapon to kill humans. He was a hobgoblin, a natural killer. Lunging forward, he dove in under the man’s raised sword and tackled his opponent to the ground. 

Gasping, the man tried to defend himself, but Blacknail was in close now. Driven by rage and cruel instinct, the mutant hobgoblin pulled himself up and chomped down on the vessel’s exposed neck. His long sharp teeth parted flesh with ease and a flick of his neck tore open a huge gaping wound. A half-gurgle scream filled the air, before Blacknail silenced it by taking another big bite. Now the man was reduced to a shivering pile of meat whose life was quickly draining away. 

The taste of blood and the feel of flesh in Blacknail’s mouth was deeply satisfying, even if humans didn’t taste great. Still, he let himself swallow the meat and then purr happily as he got to his feet, leaving his defeated foe beneath him. Normally, he wouldn’t eat humans, but he deserved to take something back from the stupid human that had crippled his nose. Really, the man had gotten off too easy. 

Up ahead, Zelena was still dealing with Khita. As Blacknail watched, she threw the redhead back with a blast of force. Holding her bleeding side, she then glanced toward Blacknail. A look of pure horror appeared on her face as she saw the blood-soaked and manically grinning hobgoblin stalking toward her. Stumbling back, she grabbed an amulet that hung around her neck. Blacknail prepared to dodge an attack, but none came. Instead, Zelena’s image became hazy and then disappeared a moment later, leaving Blacknail blinking in surprise. 

“Um, where did that blonde whore go?” Khita asked in surprise. 

“I don’t know,” Blacknail replied as he looked around. “How are you even here? I thought you ran from the cold.” 

The redhead chuckled and stuck her chest out proudly. “As if that could keep me away from a good fight. Once I got warmed up, I ran back into the cold and took one of those fancy amulets off a fallen knight.” 

There was still no sign of Zelena, but Blacknail had bigger concerns. Climbing up onto a small pile of rubble, Blacknail looked over toward the fight with Myagnoir. 

Things there weren’t going particular well. Lacking Sir Masnin’s leadership and shinning example, the remaining fighters from the first group had scattered before the Doom of Coroulis’ rage. No longer encircled, the great mutant drake was now retreating off the road and into an alley between two tall buildings. Werrick’s riders were already abandoning their next charge, as they realized they wouldn’t make it in time. Myagnoir had been gravelly wounded, but it was far from finished and was getting away. 

Blacknail growled furiously and his fingers curled up into claws. This was all Werrick’s fault! He’d set Sir Masnin up to die by not supporting him properly and he’d sent valuable fighters after Ilisti instead of using them to fight Myagnoir. The selfish bastard was ruining everything. 

Khita climbed up beside Blacknail and observed the fight too. “Well, that sucks donkey balls.” 

As Blacknail watched, Werrick’s riders came to stop alongside the scattered remains of Sir Masnin’s force. The Wolf began yelling orders, but it was obvious that Myagnoir had escaped. Then, the air shimmered next to Werrick’s horse and Zelena appeared. The two quickly began talking and then the male femage pointed straight toward Blacknail and Khita’s location. 

“Huh, that’s even worse,” the redhead observed as the hobgoblin groaned. 

At least Blacknail’s arm was feeling better now. He flexed his fingers and they responded almost normally, although they were still weak. 

Blacknail took a moment to watch what Werrick was doing, and he really didn’t like it. His archenemy seemed to be giving a rousing speech to the other humans, who were responding and getting worked up. It also didn’t appear that he was pointing them in Myagnoir’s direction. No, he punctuated one particularly loud bout of yelling by gesturing toward Blacknail’s location. 

This was not good. It was obvious that most the humans in the expedition had barely tolerated the hobgoblins’ presence, and Blacknail had known that Sir Masnin was the only one keeping everyone else in line. However, the paladin was gone now, and it seemed like Werrick was having no problem taking over and turning everyone against Blacknail. In fact, he seemed to consider getting rid of Blacknail more of a priority than finishing off Myagnoir. Werrick’s riders reformed and began moving toward Blacknail. 

“Ugh, what do we do now, boss?” Khita asked him. Blacknail snorted. So, he was her boss now? 

“We run away,” he replied as he hopped down from the pile of rubble and ran over to Ilisti’s side. 

Thankfully, the vympir was awake. He groaned and gave Blacknail a questioning look. “What happened?”

“A big lizard smacked you with its tail before eating Sir Masnin. Now everyone is trying to kill us. You need to get up,” Blacknail told him.

This earned them a confused stare, but the hobgoblin and the redhead simply grabbed his armor and pulled him up into something resembling a standing position. He wobbled a bit but didn’t fall over. 

Staring into the vympir’s eyes, Blacknail gave him some stern advice. “You need to run and hide for a while. Don’t let the humans find you.”

Ilisti nodded and straightened up, so they let him stand on his own. 

“We’ll buy you some time. It’s us they want,” Khita added proudly. 

Blacknail stared at her. That was not part of his plan, and why was she including herself? Werrick couldn’t care less about her. Did she want to be hunted? Stupid human. 

Werrick was on his way, so they didn’t hang around. The allies split up and ran into the ruins, with Khita and Blacknail going one way, while Ilisti went to find somewhere to hide. As he ran, Blacknail could hear the pounding of hooves as Werrick closed in. At least all the rubble and tight turns would slow the horses down a lot, and Blacknail had a plan. He needed to make it out of the lost city and rendezvous with his hobs. 

Glancing over his shoulder as he ran, Blacknail saw a horseman ride out from behind a building. 

“This way. I found the treacherous creature!” the rider yelled to signal to all his companions. 

Blacknail bristled as he grabbed Khita and pulled her around a corner so they couldn’t be seen so easily. Treacherous creature? He’d never betrayed the expedition! He’d never had a chance. It had been Werrick that had done that. All these stupid humans were going to pay for being so dumb. 

There was shouting from behind Blacknail and Khita as they ran toward the gate they’d come in through. This was quickly followed by some yelling over to Blacknail’s left. It seemed like the horsemen were spreading out to flank them. All the nearby ruined homes and bushes made it difficult for Werrick’s men to find them, but it also made it almost impossible for Blacknail to see what Werrick was planning as well. 

“This way!” the hobgoblin told Khita as he veered right away from the noise. 

Running down a narrow side street, the pair passed several small buildings that had mostly fallen apart. Empty windows and shadowy doors surrounded them, but they saw no signs of movement. 

“We’re not going to run into Myagnoir, are we?” Khita asked nervously. “That thing’s still out here.”

“No, it went in the other direction,” Blacknail replied. Or, at least he’d thought it had. All these bleached stone buildings looked the same and he’d gotten a little turned around. 

Suddenly, there was a clatter of hooves, and a knight on horseback rode out onto the street ahead of them. Blacknail and Khita immediately scrambled to a stop as the armored warrior turned his mount around to face them and yelled to get his allies’ attention. 

“Boar crap,” Blacknail cursed as the knight began charging toward them. They wouldn’t be able to outrun the rider in the open. 

“Through here,” the hobgoblin yelled as he ran over to one of the nearby homes and jumped through a window.

Landing on his feet, Blacknail kept running through the empty building. The only thing in his way was some wooden debris on the floor and a lot of dust. All the home’s furniture had long since fallen apart. Behind him, Khita jumped inside the building just as Blacknail vaulted through another window on the far side of the room. Once outside, the hobgoblin found himself on another side street. The old crumbling buildings were tightly packed together here, so there was no way the knight could come over here. Good, that meant they were safe for a moment.  

Khita landed next to Blacknail, and they both began running again. Blacknail was fairly certain they were headed for the gate. He would have asked Khita, but she was useless. 

Using his long pointy ears, Blacknail listened carefully for any sign of pursuit. He could hear at least two group of riders off in the distance, but neither was ahead of them. The riders kept yelling at each other, so locating them wasn’t hard. Hmm, was heading for the gate the best idea? They might be able to climb over the city wall if they could find a spot where some of those thick vines had grown up over the outside. Well, the way to the gate seemed open for now, so they’d try that first. 

The narrow residential street the pair were on led to the city wall, so Blacknail and Khita took it all the way there before turning left toward the gate. They could see the top of it above some rows of ruined buildings, but there was no straight road leading to there. Still, with no other real choice, they sprinted in the direction of the gate. 

Unfortunately, that was when Werrick finally caught up to them. As Blacknail glanced down another side street as he ran past it, he saw the bandit lord and a dozen riders charging right for him. Not good! There was a vicious snarl on the Wolf’s face, and none his followers seemed willing to talk over their differences either. 

As the stampede of horsemen turned the corner and began chasing the pair down, Balcknail considered his options. They were all bad. Khita and him were already running with everything they had, but the riders were still closing in. Stupid vile horses! Blacknail hated all of those hateful beasts. How was riding a big animal like that fair? It wasn’t!

The huffing and wheezing of the knights’ mounts reached Blacknail’s ears as they drew in closer. 

“Run the filth down! Avenge our fallen,” Werrick yelled to the cheers of the other riders. They sounded as if they were only a few feet away, but were actually at least twenty seconds behind.  

Blacknail grimaced as he tried to circulate mana through his body to increase his speed. It didn’t work very well. He was running out of mana. It had been a while since he’d had a chance to recharge, and he’d been using his powers an awful lot today. Meanwhile, Werrick’s group drew ever closer. 

The hobgoblin knew that he could speed up a little, but then he’d leave Khita behind, and he wouldn’t actually be able to escape anyway. It was the later part that mattered there. Maybe he could pick Khita up and throw her at Werrick? Ugh, knowing the redhead, she’d somehow survive that, and then he’d be run down. Damn them to every hell! He was so close to getting what he wanted. If only Werrick hadn’t started his terrible plan before Blacknail could start his own amazing one. Well, that was probably the entire point. Werrick was smart enough to know that Blacknail held all the advantages when they claimed the silver. 

That was when things got much worse. Dashing around a turn, Blacknail and Khita found themselves facing a dead end. A huge pile of stone blocked their way toward the gate. It looked like a watchtower had fallen off the city wall, and now its bulk was completely blocking the road. 

As the hobgoblin and the redhead slowed, one of the riders next to Werrick dashed ahead and closed in on them from behind. Sword raised high, he prepared to strike at Blacknail. 

Bane of Humanity 11

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After sending Ilisti flying with a swipe of his its tail, Myagnoir shifted its weight and hunched up defensively. Most of the human warriors had already managed to get themselves or their mounts free from the ice that the mutant drake had bound their feet with, and they were now closing in to keep up the attack. Sir Masnin was the most aggressive. Ducking under a slash from a claw, he hacked at the beast’s ankle before backing off. Red marred the drake’s scales. It looked like he’d drawn blood. 

Werrick had been hanging back with a squad of knights, but at that moment, he finally urged his men forward toward the drake. Blacknail hissed in annoyance as he watched them. Werrick had certainly taken his time, a suspicious amount of it. Either he was a coward, or he was playing a very dangerous game. 

The clatter of hooves on stone filled the air as the knights charged, causing Myagnoir to glance in their direction. The drake then turned and opened its mouth, as if to roar at them or assault them with magic, but Sir Masnin immediately leaped into action. 

“Press the attack! We must keep the beast occupied!” he yelled as he jumped forward to stab the beast in the leg again. Pulling his lance free, he then stabbed at Myagnoir’s underbelly. 

At the same time, several of his subordinates were also moving in to threaten the mutant drake and hack at its vulnerable spots. This forced to Myagnoir to turn back and confront them, lest it leave its soft belly vulnerable to their glowing weapons. The great beast stumbled back and bit at them with its humongous jaws. Wary of the creature’s jagged teeth, which were the size of men’s forearms, all of Sir Masnin’s men were pushed back. Even the armored paladin would die instantly if bitten. 

However, it had never been Sir Masnin’s job to wound the drake. His squad and him were only supposed to surround it and pin it down, which they’d accomplished. Crouched defensively, Myagnoir was completely open to the charge from Werrick and the knights. Galloping at full-speed they made a close pass against the drake with heat-lances levelled. Myagnoir’s back was covered by thick scales, but the magical weapons managed to cut through it. As knight after knight rode past, almost a dozen long smoking wounds appeared on the drake’s hide. 

Roaring in pain, Myagnoir swirled around and lashed out at Werrick with a claw, Blacknail grinned expectantly, but the bandit lord saw the attack coming and managed to lead his mount out of the way of the blow. That was disappointing, but Myagnoir wasn’t done yet. Still roaring, the beast attacked with his other front claw, and this time he managed to hit his target. The beast’s claws ripped into an armored knight, going right through his steel plate armor and severing the man’s arm. He fell screaming as his terrified mount ran past. 

Blacknail watched all this with mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation. The battle was fun to watch, and his allies had gotten in some good blows, but he wasn’t sure they were winning. They’d lost almost half a dozen fighters, and he wasn’t sure they’d done any real damage to their foe. If the beast didn’t start to grow tired and weak, it seemed unlikely that they’d win this fight. Ilisti’s fall in particular had severely hurt their chances. 

Sighing, Blacknail began to make his way closer to the fight. He should probably check on his vympir ally. He could do that without getting too close to the giant murder drake, and it might turn the fight around. Blacknail needed the humans to win this battle. His own plans depended on it, and he’d rather not deal with the boggarts alone. 

As the last of Werrick’s mounted warriors rode out of the fight, Myagnoir was free to deal with Sir Masnin and the others again. Their battle resumed as the warriors worked together in an attempt to keep the beast distracted and prevent it from moving around too much. They needed to keep it on the road. The drake bit and slashed at them as they ducked in and out of combat. 

Soon, Blacknail reached the pile of rubble where Ilisti had fallen. Amongst the shattered stone and dusty bricks, he easily spotted the vympir’s dark armor. It glinted in the sunlight despite the dust.  

Looking the scene over, Blacknail saw that Ilisti seemed intact, although he appeared to be unconscious. That, or dead. It was hard to tell. Thankfully, his armor seemed to only have a few small dents in it and he didn’t appear to be bleeding everywhere. Grunting, the hobgoblin removed some rocks from atop the vympir and then pulled his helmet off so he could get a better look. 

Ilisti’s black hair was plastered all across his pale face and his eyes were closed. Blacknail studied him for a moment, and then poked him in the cheek several times. That failed to provoke a reaction, so Blacknail put his finger under the man’s nose to check for breathing. His first thought had been to lean over and listen, but he’d quickly discarded that idea. For some reason, he was concerned about the unconscious vympir lurching awake and biting his neck. 

That turned out to be an unnecessary worry. A moment after Blacknail had put his finger under the vympir’s noise, his eyes fluttered open and he began coughing. Ah, he was definitely alive! Blacknail grinned happily. Time to get him back in the fight!

“Ack, what is that smell?” the vympir groaned before coughing weakly again. His black eyes seemed unfocused, and he collapsed a second later. 

Oh, no. Ilisti was still clearly still out of it. Blacknail sighed as he withdrew his digit. Unlike a human, he knew he smelled great. Ilisti was definitely still out of it. Yep. 

Before deciding what to do next, Blacknail took a moment to study the ongoing battle. He didn’t want to be caught by surprise if the flow of the fight suddenly changed or if Myagnoir headed his way. 

Sir Masnin and his subordinates still had Myagnoir on the defensive, although it seemed that they’d lost one or two more members. Blacknail wasn’t the best at counting, but that’s what it looked like to him. The warriors and knights surrounded the beast and kept it busy by lunging in to attack its scaly body before it could counterattack. 

Meanwhile, Werrick’s mounted force had finished turning around and was coming in for another charge. Every one of their lances was pointed straight toward the drake and they shimmered with constrained heat. 

Seeing his allies’ approach, Sir Masnin redoubled his efforts and began yelling orders. “Keep the beast constrained and we can end this! Don’t let up.” 

As the knights thundered closer, the paladin ran in to distract Myagnoir again. Moving quickly, he stabbed one of the beast’s front feet while it was looking the other way. The drake snarled but couldn’t spare the time and focus to do more than half-heartedly try to backhand Sir Masnin away. The clumsy counterattack missed. Myagnoir was being pressed in on all sides by the other human fighters. It had to keep turning and snapping to keep them away from its belly. 

Seeing the horsemen closing in again, Myagnoir attempted to raise another shield of freezing air. All the fighters stumbled back away from the swirling vortex, but that simply gave the remaining kingdom mages a clear shot. Almost immediately, a beam of fire shot out of the nearby ruins and seared through the shield, dispersing it. 

That cleared the way for Sir Masnin and his men to dive back into combat. Myagnoir caught one mounted knight and violently slapped him and his steed aside with a claw, but the others kept up their attack. Blacknail found their tenacity impressive, or maybe they were simply desperate now. Regardless, several of their weapons bit into Myagnoir’s flesh as they put themselves at risk to distract the beast from their charging allies. Leading from the front, Sir Masnin threw himself right into the fray. Perhaps realizing that they desperately needed to land a solid blow on the mutant drake soon, he challenged Myagnoir head on.

“For honor. For humanity. For divinity!” the paladin roared as he ran straight toward the beast’s head. 

Accepting the challenge, Myagnoir let out a vicious growl and turned to give the paladin an intense glare that caused both its yellow eyes to glow intensely for a moment.  Then, its neck extended like a snake’s as it snapped at Sir Masnin with lightning speed. Moving just as quickly, the paladin blurred as he dodged the closing teeth by throwing himself sideways. He then slashed at the beast’s neck. His lance parted the scales, leaving a long gash that quickly began gushing out blood. It wasn’t a shallow cut. The Doom of Coroulis had been truly wounded now. 

However, now Sir Masnin was off-balance and exposed. Blacknail glanced toward Werrick’s force and growled angrily. The bandit lord had slowed down his charge for some reason, and that meant Sir Masnin was alone and unsupported. If Werrick hadn’t slowed, his force would have hit Myagnoir already and drawn his attention, but now the beast could focus on the annoyance in front of it. 

Rearing back, Myagnoir swiped at Sir Masnin with one of its front claws. The paladin tried to dodge by jumping back, but the tips of the claws caught the edge of his silver armor, causing him to stumble. Off-balance, he was stuck in place as the Doom of Coroulis snarled and snapped at him again. Blacknail’s heart skipped a beat as he watched. This time, the drake’s huge jaws closed down on the paladin, piercing armor and cutting deep into flesh. A flick of Myagnoir’s neck then pulled the man up into air, so that the drake could to flip him into his mouth. The beast then began chewing as an incredibly satisfied expression appeared on its face. Blacknail winced. This was bad for so many reasons. He’d actually liked Sir Masnin. He was rather fair and practical for a human, despite his suicidal need to fight monsters and protect people. 

Only then did Werrick begin his attack, while the drake was still chewing and swallowing. The bandit lord and the rest of his mounted squad held their heat-lances steady as they zoomed toward Myagnoir’s exposed side. Werrick led the way and was the first to plunge his lance into the drake’s side as the riders made their second pass. The weapon sizzled as it slid over three feet into the beast. It then got stuck, and Werrick was forced ride on without it. The assault didn’t end there though. All of the other riders brought their own weapons to bear on the drake’s side. Myagnoir screamed in pain loudly enough to shake the air and hurt Blacknail’s ears. He winced, and a ringing noise lingered even after the beast fell silent. 

As the knights rode past, they left Myagnoir’s hide a bloody mess of long bleeding wounds. Despite the creature’s immense bulk, Blacknail knew that he’d been gravelly injured. He just wished Werrick hadn’t been the one to do it, and that Sir Masnin hadn’t been chewed up and swallowed like a dry biscuit. Blacknail found the timing of Werrick’s delay deeply suspicious. It had been a little convenient for him and far too inconvenient for everyone that stood in his way. The Wolf was obviously making his move, so Blacknail would have to be wary and accelerate his own plans. Being all alone in the ruins made that difficult though. Where had all his minions ended up? 

Blacknail’s dark thoughts were interrupted by the sound of rubble tumbling behind him. He glanced over his shoulder at Ilisti, but the vympir hadn’t moved. He was still lying on the ground. Instead, the noise appeared to have come from further back, out of sight. Blacknail frowned as he studied the ruins, but he didn’t have to wait long. A man stepped into sight a moment later, and he was swiftly followed by a woman. They both quickly spotted Blacknail and gave him furious glares that made their unfriendly intentions clear, before briefly glancing at Ilisti’s fallen form. 

Both humans were familiar to Blacknail, which was unsurprising. The idea of some random unknown humans wandering into Coroulis at this time was rather silly. The man was one Werrick’s thugs, who had stuck close to his leader over the entire journey. He was tall with a smooth face and a bald head that Blacknail approved of, although his intelligent and convenient hairstyle didn’t make him any less of an enemy. The longsword he was holding made that clear. 

Blacknail instantly recognized the woman. It was Werrick’s lieutenant Zelena. Her long blonde hair, feminine elegance, and stylish furs made her quite unique among the expedition members. Even Blacknail would never mistake her for any other human. She wasn’t armed with any obvious weapon, but delicate gold chains hung from one of her hands, and Blacknail knew not to underestimate her. She had caused trouble for him before and was one of Werrick’s most trusted subordinates.

“What are you doing here?” Blacknail asked them as he gripped the hilt of his sword with one hand. 

Zelena stepped forward and smiled in a way that failed completely to be anything like friendly. “I would ask you the same, but it’s obvious. We both came here to check on the wounded. Why don’t you leave this to us?”

“No, go away now,” Blacknail replied coldly as he drew his weapon. The blade slid free of the sheath with subtle ringing sound. There was no way his guests had good intentions. They certainly had no reason to help Ilisti, who was Werrick’s enemy. 

Instead of replying, Werrick’s minions stepped forward to confront Blacknail and their expression’s hardened. Warily, Blacknail moved to intercept them. He didn’t think they were stupid enough to not realize how amazing he was, so he stayed light on his feet and ready to move. They undoubtedly had some hidden weapons of their own. 

The hobgoblin was right, as usual. Zelena raised her chain covered hand, revealing her palm and the golden disc nestled there. There was a very magical looking white crystal in the center of it. 

Blacknail was already dodging sideways as a blast of lightning shot out of the crystal and tore through the space he’d been occupying less than a second ago. Still moving, Blacknail dove toward the swordsman, so that he could use him as a shield against further magical attacks. He got within range of the man easily enough and then unleashed a flurry of vicious slashes. 

Surprisingly, the swordsman managed to defend himself. Steel loudly clashed against steel as their blades met in a storm of incredibly quick blows. Blacknail grunted in effort as he kept up his attack. The man was not only skilled, he was also too fast to be a normal human. He was a Vessel. This complicated things. Blacknail had been right to be cautious. He was up against both a mage and a Vessel. Werrick must have gone to quite some effort to keep their abilities hidden from the rest of the expedition. 

Hoping to knock his opponent off-balance, Blacknail tapped into his core and began radiating his fear aura as he slashed down at the man’s face. The magical terror hit the enemy swordsman, causing him to flinch, but he recovered instantly. Blacknail’s attack was sidestepped, and their clash continued. 

While Blacknail was fighting the swordsman, Zelena attempted to slip around and get a clear shot at Blacknail, but he didn’t let her. Keeping one eye on her, he made sure to maneuver the swordsman between them whenever she moved. He didn’t feel like getting hit by lightning. 

“This isn’t working. Push the savage freak away!” Zelena suddenly ordered the man. 

Nodding, the swordsman suddenly stepped forward to block one of Blacknail’s attacks. Their blades met with a loud metallic ring and then locked together as the fighters’ muscles strained against each other. 

Blacknail attempted to gather up mana to empower himself so he could overpower his arrogant human foe, but then the air around the man began to shimmer. Immediately, Blacknail tried to disengage, but he was committed to his attack and couldn’t just flee. He tried parrying his enemy by stepping to the side and redirecting the blow, but he was too late. The shimmering suddenly stopped, and then the air around the swordsman exploded. The blast wave hit Blacknail hard, lifting him up and throwing him back several feet, but he managed to land on his feet. He didn’t seem injured either, or at least nothing worse than bruises. He could keep fighting and the pain simply made him angrier.

“That’s cheating. Fight fair,” Blacknail complained as he steadied himself. Magic was so unfair. He hated it. What kind of jerk used magic like that in the middle of a sword fight? 

The real problem was his positioning. Blacknail winced and readied himself for trouble. The swordsman had taken advantage of the blast to step backwards, clearing Zelena’s line of fire. She was already aiming her mana stone his way. 

Lightning burst out of the white crystal and reached for Blacknail with incredible speed. He tried to dodge, but he was slightly too slow. The edge of the bolt caught his arm, sending burning pain through his entire left side and setting his coat on fire. Thankfully, it was only a small flame that quickly went out. Of more concern was the numbness. Blacknail’s left arm felt limp and weak. He wouldn’t be able to fight properly with it anymore. 

The swordsman smirked as he approached the hobgoblin. “We’ve got the bloody creature now. To think this subhuman has caused the boss so much trouble. He’s nothing much!”