Bane of Humanity 6

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After the sudden conclusion of the duel in Khita’s favor, one of Sir Avex’s men insisted on returning south with his master’s body. Sir Masnin was unhappy about losing another member of the expedition so soon – they hadn’t even entered the Green yet – but he ended up agreeing. The idea of leaving a noble’s body to rot in the forest made a lot of the other noble’s indignant. Blacknail wasn’t sure why a corpse rotting in the forest was worse than it rotting anywhere else, but whatever. Humans did a lot of weird stuff. If he stopped to question that sort of thing, he’d never have time for more important thoughts. 

Once the rider started heading south with Sir Avex’s body on another horse, it became time for Blacknail to finally lead the way into the Green. There were still a lot of humans that were uncomfortable about this though, especially after Khita had killed Sir Avex. That hadn’t made them more trusting of him. 

Still, Blacknail just rolled his eyes and let Sir Masnin convince the doubters. He was already bored. So, since Ilisiti and Khita were standing near him, he asked them a question right as it popped into his head. “Why are so few of these human leaders Vessels? Aren’t they supposed to be big tough warriors? Isn’t that why we brought them?”

Khita laughed. “There are some real champions here, but none of them are leaders or high nobles like Sir Avex. As if those lofty fools lead from the front. I’m sure they consider themselves great swordsmen and strategists, but that’s all in their heads. They’re cowards.” 

“Even the false power granted by their mages kills most of the men who attempt to claim it,” Ilisiti explained. “True power always has a cost.” 

“Ya, they’re already rich and powerful. Why would they risk so much for so little gain?” Khita agreed. “Most Vessels are poor and desperate minor nobles. They have the connections to get the Elixir and those that survive serve as the champions of greater nobles, enforcing their every whim. Sir Avex was an arrogant waste of life, and I knew he was no Slosher. The prick probably never even considered that I might be one either.” 

Blacknail frowned. “Huh, why don’t the poor Vessels kill the weaker nobles and take their stuff.”

Khita sighed and made a frustrated face as she tried to explain. “It doesn’t work that way for nobles. Um… other nobles would gang up to kill anyone that tried that.”

“Why?”

“So that their own servants don’t get ideas and kill them. Instead, the nobles reward their champions with lands and titles to keep them happy.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Blacknail admitted. Obviously, the southern humans were very set in their ways and lazy. 

By this time, Sir Masnin seemed to have finished speaking with the reluctant nobles. They’d grown quiet, and he began walking over to Blacknail.

“We are ready to proceed. Please, go first and scout the way. We will all be right behind you,” the paladin told Blacknail. 

“Alright, I’ll leave some hobs behind to lead you,” Blacknail replied.

The hobgoblin chieftain then turned and began giving out orders to his minions. A moment after that, he was slipping into the forest with several of his minions at his side. Moving carefully, Blacknail scanned his surroundings for any of the myriad threats that were common to the Green, but he didn’t find any. Thus, after sending a signal back to the humans for them to follow, he forged on ahead. 

The forest here was entirely normal. A mix of tall trees and older shrubs, the likes of which were quite common. It was also easy to spot the old road. Not much of it remained, but Blacknail could still see a relatively flat stretch of ground that extended through the forest. On top of it, the vegetation was lighter. There were more bushes and the trees were noticeably smaller since the canopy overhead was younger than in the surrounding area. Luckily, it seemed like the old road wasn’t entirely unused though. Generations of animals seemed to have followed it, creating a trail that led in the right direction. That was good news. Having to cut through the brush would slow the humans and horses down far too much, so they needed a trail to follow.

After scouting on ahead for about an hour, Blacknail failed to find any signs of immediate danger. There were no troll tracks or recent harpy droppings around. It seemed like this stretch of forest was relatively safe, so he fell back and let some of his minions take point. They were more than skilled enough to detect or ward off mimics and other common threats. 

That done, Blacknail crept back through the woods toward his human allies. He made sure to move quietly, since he wanted to observe them while they were unaware of him. Not only would this be a great opportunity to study them while they were in a new environment, but Blacknail really liked stalking people. Few things made him feel all bubbly and warm inside the way hunting humans in the forest did. Blacknail licked his lips and smiled. Watching your unsuspecting prey as you planned the inevitable bloody end of your hunt was simply so satisfying. He even had some cheese in his pocket! This was going to be so much fun. 

It didn’t take long for Blacknail to find the humans. They were following in his footsteps and making a lot of noise. At the front was Sir Masnin and a hobgoblin guide. The paladin was dismounted and one of his men was leading both his horse and his own. Most of the humans seemed to have dismounted. There were more than a few low hanging branches here, so most riders had difficulty moving through the woods quickly. 

Slipping to the side, Blacknail circled around the expedition. He was looking for Werrick. The humans were mostly travelling in a long line now that they had to follow a narrow animal trail. The Wolf and his servants were close to the back, although they weren’t at the very end. Instead, they seemed to have chosen a position that let them avoid anyone but their allies as much as possible. Suspicious!  

There were plenty of bushes around, so Blacknail was able to shadow his supposed allies with ease from not too far away. His instincts guided him as he slipped from tree to tree. His eyes were constantly darting from Werrick and his men to the surrounding forest, but he was relaxed and at ease as he moved and listened in on Werrick’s group. This sort of multi-tasking came naturally to a hunting hobgoblin. It was what they did. 

At first, Blacknail’s targets weren’t very talkative and didn’t say anything of importance. Instead, they simply marched along the trail silently and watched the forest nervously. Of course, despite this wariness, they failed to spot Blacknail. Humans really were very bad at this, although there were a few rare exceptions. No wonder they put so much effort into building cities and farms. Most of them wouldn’t last a day in the Green. 

Eventually, the fearful silence was broken, and the humans began talking to each other. Blacknail listened carefully as the humans began discussing various things. It seemed that many of them felt the need to seek reassurances from their allies and make new plans now that they were in the Green. This served Blacknail’s purposes perfectly. From so far away, even his ears weren’t sensitive enough to hear what was being said when the humans whispered to each other, but he learned a lot just by observing who was talking to who. Soon, the factions among the humans began to become clear to Blacknail. 

There seemed to be two main factions among the nobles. One group was mostly made up of northern border lords, and they were allied with Werrick. Blacknail didn’t know the details, but is sounded like he’d cowed them into supporting him with a mix of bribes and threats. With the King’s authority so weak in the north of Eloria, they hitched themselves to him. Their leader was Lord Adred, who was an older man with a grizzled face and a thin body.

The second group was comprised of southern nobles who really didn’t care much about what was happening in the North, but they’d come to see Werrick’s influence as a threat. They also looked down on the poorer border lords and viewed Werrick as a savage. Unfortunately, this was smaller faction and they weren’t outright hostile to Werrick anyway. Their leader was Lord Petryll, a portly noble with a beard who wore armor trimmed in gold. He seemed to enjoy flaunting his wealth, which Blacknail found stupid. Gold was for hiding. Wearing it only made it easier to steal and slowed you down if you had to run away. 

Unfortunately for Blacknail, Werrick and his men were among the most closed-mouthed. The hobgoblin learned nothing of their plans. It was almost as if Werrick suspected he was being watched by someone unseen. That, or he simply felt no need to say much to anyone else at the moment. The Wolf was patient and careful.  

After a few hours had passed, Sir Masnin called for the expedition to stop and take a break for lunch. They’d arrived at a small glade. There were relieved sighs from many of the humans as they began pilling into the clearing and sitting down. Blacknail watched them for a moment before circling back around. He wanted to rejoin the group from the proper direction, so that no one knew he’d been lurking and spying. 

As he was moving next to a fallen tree, Blacknail saw two of Werrick’s men wander over to the edge of the clearing not too far from him and step into the forest. Curious, he moved over to see what was going on. It was probably nothing, but it would only take a moment to investigate. 

The two men had messy hair and rough stubble on their faces. Their simple clothes had also seen better days. They were definitely some of Werrick’s thugs. The pair walked down a small animal trail next to some thick bushes before stopping. Then, the man in the lead stepped next to the bushes and grabbed his own belt, as if to begin unbuckling it. The man had obviously been looking for somewhere private to excrete, and his companion had come along to watch his back in the forest. 

Blacknail grimaced as he watched. Humans were weird about their bodily functions and need for privacy, and it was going to cost these two. Seriously. Before the first man had gotten his belt pulled down and shown Blacknail more hairy pink flesh than he wanted to see, something reached out of the nearby bushes and grabbed him. As the man let out a terrified shout, long brown claws covered in green leaves pulled him toward the bushes and the hidden predator within them. Seeing this, the second man lurched forward to grab his companion who was tottering on the edge of the bushes. That was also a mistake. Immediately, a third claw shot out and grabbed him, and unlike his ally, he was instantly pulled out of sight. A split second later, his struggling companion also disappeared into the greenery. Pained filled screams filled the air for several long seconds as the mimic tore both of the humans apart so that it could feed. 

Blacknail let out an appreciative whistle as he began walking away. It wouldn’t be a good idea to be found anywhere near a bunch of Werrick’s dead minions. Despite their limitations, mimics were very good at what they did. Too make up for the immobility, they were experts at choosing ambush spots that lots of animals passed by, including the occasional person. Also, the creature’s first attack had been a clever trap. It could have pulled the man in right away, but instead, it had used him as bait to lure in the second man as well. It was a good thing Blacknail and his hobs knew how to spot the creatures. The bug-tree-things were really nasty. 

Werrick’s thugs had already stopped screaming, but they’d created more than enough noise to draw attention. There were shouts of alarm from the camp as people began mobilizing. Blacknail slipped around to the other side of the camp and entered it from the opposite direction, so not to draw unwanted attention to himself. He hadn’t been involved directly in the death of Werrick’s men, but he probably could have saved them. Their deaths benefited him though, so he hadn’t bothered. Also, the walk here had been boring, and this had lifted his mood. 

It looked like Sir Masnin had quickly seized control of the situation. Instead of letting people rush into the forest to meet a completely unknown foe, he was holding them back to defend the camp. That was smart. As far as he knew, there could be anything in there. 

Blacknail wandered over to the paladin’s side and gave him his best innocent look. “What’s going on?”

Sir Masnin looked relieved when he turned and saw Blacknail. “I don’t know. Two men wandered into the trees and started screaming. They haven’t come back out, but the screaming has stopped. Could you send someone to take a look?”

“I’ll go myself. It’s probably nothing. People scream and die in the Green all the time,” Blacknail replied as he started walking back toward the forest. 

“Er, thank you.” 

After a quick stroll over to the bushes the mimic was in, Blacknail took a moment to observe a few patches of blood and footprints. Even if he hadn’t watched the scene unfold personally, these signs would have told Blacknail exactly what had happened. Thus, Blacknail nodded to himself and then walked back over to Sir Masnin. Now, most of the camp was armed and ready for action. They all watched as Blacknail strolled into the clearing and over to the paladin. 

“They’re dead. They walked right into a mimic.” 

“Ah. May their souls rest in the gods’ arms,” Sir Masnin replied sadly. “Is this mimic a threat to use? Should we deal with it?”

Blacknail shook his head. “It’s not a threat to anyone else. Mimics rarely move, especially so soon after a kill, and they’re very slow anyway.”

Some of the humans wanted to kill the mimic and bury the remains of the fallen, but after some discussion, it was eventually decided to leave the bodies and move on. Werrick himself didn’t seem to care about his fallen minions, and Sir Masnin reluctantly agreed that their mission was too important for them to waste any more time. They were just common-born bandits. Blacknail was also happy with this outcome, or at least he was, until Werrick made a suggestion. 

“I take full responsibility for the loss of my men. I told them to move in pairs and not to enter the forest, but apparently, I wasn’t strict enough. It would seem my men are too undisciplined. Thus, I would like to borrow some disciplined soldiers to keep the others in line.” 

Sir Masnin frowned thoughtfully, and Blacknail scowled. What was this? 

“Yes, you did just acquire quite a few troops after Sir Avex’s death,” Lord Adred added. “Some of them would be ideal for installing the proper respect in that rabble. You should lend Werrick some of them.”

Blacknail snorted. He wasn’t sure what was going on here, but he knew he didn’t like the people involved. “Werrick seems very bad at leading. They would probably just die like the others.” 

Unfortunately, his amazing point was ignored, and after some more pressing by the northern nobles, half of Sir Avex’s troops were put under Werrick’s command. This annoyed Blacknail a lot, but there was nothing he could do about it. Stupid human politics. It complicated everything. How was it fair that Werrick got more troops after losing two and after Khita had killed his ally Sir Avex? Now all of Blacknail’s work had been for nothing. Even though he hadn’t done anything. 

The expedition soon started moving again. This time, Blacknail didn’t bother creeping back to spy. Instead, he led the scouts and sent other minions back to watch Werrick and the others. He wanted his enemies under constant watch. Werrick had a secret plan to seize advantage of this expedition. Blacknail knew he did. He just didn’t know what it was. There was no way Werrick would have come out into the Green with Blacknail without one. 

A few more hours passed by as Blacknail stalked ahead through the Green. He encountered another mimic hiding along the trail over the old road, but dispatching the creature was easy enough for Blacknail. He simply hacked it apart and moved on. Most of the more mobile predators seemed to be avoiding their group. 

Eventually, it came time for them to begin looking for somewhere to camp for the night, so Blacknail sent out scouts to scour the nearby area. Soon, one of them returned with news. 

“I found some rocks, boss,” the scout announced proudly.

“Special rocks?” Blacknail asked. 

The hobgoblin nodded and held his hands out wide, as if indicating how big something was. “Yep, they’re huge and they’re standing up!”

“Oh, let’s see them then,” Blacknail replied before commanding his minion to lead the way. 

Soon, they arrived at the stones, and despite his minion’s terrible description, they were exactly what Blacknail had expected to find. On a grassy hill stood a circle of standing stones. The weathered grey rocks were all vaguely rectangular in shape and at least a foot taller than any human. They looked ancient, like they’d stood upon this hill since the beginning of time. The forest was young and momentary next to them, almost as if it could fade away at any moment. 

“This seems like a great place to camp,” Blacknail remarked as he studied the stones. 

The entire expedition could fit within the stones and the ground there was hard and dry. It also wasn’t a bad defensive position, since there were no trees hanging overhead and the stones themselves could be defended. There was the scent of feral goblins nearby, but that wouldn’t be a problem. They would avoid unfamiliar hobgoblins like they would berserk trolls, for many of the same reasons. 

Nodding happily to himself, Blacknail went and fetched Sir Masnin and the others. It didn’t take long for them to reach the hill. 

The paladin closed his eyes and made a brief prayer upon seeing the stones. “Yes, we’re are truly blessed to find such shelter. There is an almost reverent feeling to this place. Who placed these stones here?” They are no natural formation.”

“I’m told it was hobgoblins,” Blacknail explained with a shrug. He felt a tiny spark of pride, but he had no real connection to the ancient builders of this place. 

Sir Masnin gave him a perplexed look. “You don’t know?”

Blacknail just shrugged again. “I wasn’t around back then, and goblins don’t tell stories. Saeter said hobgoblins built these though, so we probably did.” 

The paladin looked unsatisfied but nodded. “Well, let’s get everyone settled down. Nightfall is approaching and I don’t want a repeat of this morning’s tragedy.”

Bane of Humanity 5

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The clip-clop of horse hooves filled the air as the expedition to Coroulis made their way north along the road. All the humans were mounted. Blacknail and his hobgoblins were the only ones on foot. Horses and hobgoblins didn’t get along very well. The beasts bit and kicked any hobgoblins that tried to ride them. That was fine though, since Blacknail hated horses right back. He’d considered poisoning the foul creatures before they left, but Geralhd had convinced him they were necessary. He’d have to wait until the mission was over.

Blacknail kept up with human riders easily enough since they weren’t pushing their pace, and so did Khita, thanks to her own enhanced strength and endurance. Blacknail’s hob minions had to push themselves though, lest they fall behind. 

As the expedition made their way north, Blacknail kept his ears open and ordered all his minions to spread out and do the same. The humans were all travelling in groups around each party’s leader, and they would occasionally talk among themselves. A lot of important information could be collected by listening in to their conversations, and Blacknail knew that any one of them could be planning on killing him once he was no longer useful. He didn’t know which ones had made a deal with Werrick. Thankfully, most of the humans didn’t seem to realize how good hobgoblin hearing was and they could listen in with ease. 

For now, Sir Masnin was riding at the head of the expedition with his personal troops. He’d explained his plan for the first stretch of the trip before they’d headed out. They were going to keep following the road until they reached its most northern limit. There the old road to Coroulis started, but no one had used it in decades, so it had become completely overgrown. Following it wouldn’t be any faster than going through the Green, especially since sections of it had been wiped out by avalanches and floods, and all the road’s bridges had probably collapsed long ago. Those bridges had crossed several deep rivers that were now flooding. Blacknail would have to find them a way across when they got to them. 

Once at the ruins of Coroulis, the expedition would load up their horses with as much silver as possible before returning south to organize a larger mission that could move much more silver. For that to work, the road would have to repaired by crews sent by the local nobles. There were plans to use river barges to transport the precious metal in the future, but the rivers were still dangerously flooded at the moment. For now, the main purpose of the expedition was to reach Coroulis and see if there were still any huge mutant drakes around. If there were, the humans would try to kill it, while Blacknail watched from a safe distance. 

Herah was at Blacknail’s side as he walked on the left flank of the expedition with several of his other minions. As he walked, the hobgoblin chieftain was contemplating their mission and listening in to various conversations going on around him. He would have been in the center, but there were far too many horses there, and Blacknail couldn’t stomach being surrounded by the smelly beasts. They might be planning something… Also, occasionally, they’d shit as they walked, leaving the crap right in Blacknail’s way. Disgusting hateful things! Yes, they were definitely getting poisoned. His vengeance would be swift and terrible. 

Blacknail’s fantasizing was interrupted when a horseman rode up next to him. Looking over, Blacknail instantly recognized Ilisti’s rather unique armor. 

“Greetings, Blacknail. I think it’s time you and I had a talk,” the vympir announced. 

“Sure, about what?” Blacknail replied. “I like cheese a lot. We could talk about that.” 

“No. Rather I was thinking that we hadn’t discussed the transformation you’ve undergone since our last meeting and what I means for our long-term relationship.” 

Blacknail sighed. The vympir had a point. Blacknail had transformed into a full-out mutant after he’d been wounded by Werrick during their last battle. Ilisti had been there, but Blacknail’s human minions had hidden Blacknail away after he’d been wounded for his own protection. They’d been worried about Ilisti’s reaction. The vympir was an ally, but his motivations were complex and somewhat mysterious. Geralhd was worried he’d see a hobgoblin mutant as a threat and rival in a way a mere hobgoblin vessel wasn’t. Vympirs were apparently a type of mutant that could empower themselves by infecting other humans. These victims usually slowly died instead of becoming another vympir, and their blood was harvested by their attacker to make something like Elixir. Both mutants and vympirs had a reputation for being incredibly territorial. 

“Do you have a problem with me being me?” Blacknail asked. 

Ilisti shook his head. “No, I see no reason that this should alter our relationship. It has been tremendously beneficial to us both. You helped me find my new domain and your hobgoblins keep the surrounding Green from growing too wild, while I have supported you in battle. Admittedly, I had doubts at first about your ability to control yourself after your ascension, but you have put those to rest. There has been no conflict between us, and you have remained a steadfast ally to me and mine.” 

Blacknail eyed Ilisti. He wasn’t sure how much he believed that little speech, but their interests did still seem to be aligned, especially with the boggarts going around killing everyone and spreading the plague. Vympirs were also hated by the rest of humanity, so it wasn’t like Ilisti had any other allies, even if he disliked living so close to a hobgoblin mutant. That could change in the future though… 

“Good, we should stay friends. Werrick is going to try and kill us before we get back,” Blacknail told him. 

“Yes, I believe he will. That man’s thirst for violence and conquest surpasses even that of my bloodkin, and I have no intention of ever bending my knee to any man, especially not a wise-made pretender. Conflict between us is thus inevitable and this quest will provide us all with no shortage of opportunities to act against each other.”

“Want some cheese? I brought a lot so that I won’t run out,” Blacknail said as he offered the man a small yellow and green chunk. Talking about cheese had made him hungry but eating and not sharing could be considered rude. 

“Thank you for the offer, but no,” Ilisti said as he leaned back away from the fragrant food. His voice sounded slightly strained. 

“In fact, I should get back to my men,” he added a moment later as he began riding away. 

As the day went on, and the expedition kept moving, eventually afternoon came and then night began to creep up. 

“We’ll stop here and camp on that dry hill for the night. We’re almost at the northern end of this road anyway,” Sir Masnin announced as he brought everyone to a halt. “Tomorrow, we’ll head off to the Green, so prepare for that. Our pace will be much slower and more difficult in the forest proper.” 

No one had any problem with that, so everyone immediately began unpacking their tents and sleeping rolls. Several of the nobles had brought huge colorful tents for themselves. Blacknail watched them set up with some amusement. One of them even had flags on it. Sure, the huge things were fancy and impressive, but they were really impractical in the Green. They stood out and wouldn’t be all that warm, unlike the small grey tent Blacknail had brought. If something attacked the camp during the night, the nobles would get eaten first. 

Blacknail’s group set up their camp off to the side of the humans and next to Ilisti and his men. As Blacknail was putting up his own tent – no one else did it right – Khita wandered over to talk. 

“This trip has been so boring,” the redhead complained. “I thought we’d get at least a little excitement! But, no. Nothing but walking. Boring! Do you think something will attack us when it gets dark? That would spice things up. This is supposed to be an adventure!” 

Blacknail glared at her and sighed. “Shut up and go to sleep. If you’re looking for danger, we will be rushing through the Green tomorrow. I’m sure a lot of these dumb humans are going to do stupid things that will get them killed in interesting ways.”

“Ya, you have good point. None of those stuffy nobles and servants are experienced rangers like us.” 

Another sigh escaped from Blacknail’s mouth. He’d lost count of all the times he’d had to save Khita after she’d almost gotten herself killed doing something stupid in the Green. She was not a ranger. 

“Just go to sleep or I’ll bash you over the head and dump you in the forest,” the hobgoblin said as he waved her away. 

Over in the center of the camp, Sir Masnin was organizing the building of a watchfire and setting up the sentry rotation. To reassure the nobles, he wasn’t including any hobgoblins in the main rotation, but he called Blacknail over to make sure there was always one hobgoblin watching the forest. Sir Masnin wasn’t stupid. He knew who his best scouts were. 

As Blacknail was heading back to his tent, he saw Ilisti standing off to one side, studying the forest. 

“Did you put yourself on sentry duty?” Blacknail asked him. That didn’t seem like something the vympir would do. 

Ilsisti turned and grinned at Blacknail. The firelight reflected in his red eyes, making them glow. “No, I simply don’t need sleep.” 

“Right, sounds nice,” Blacknail replied as he walked back to his tent. Even he found that creepy. 

Shaking off the image of red eyes staring out unblinking into total darkness, Blacknail wasted no time in crawling into his tent. Herah was already curled up in there, but Blacknail didn’t bother her. Instead he just laid down beside her and closed his eyes. A lot of the other hobgoblins snored like hacksaws, and sometimes Herah was one of them, so he wanted to get to sleep before they started. 

Nothing attacked them over the night, which didn’t surprise Blacknail. The scent of hobgoblin and several mutants was probably more than enough to scare away anything but the deadliest of creatures or a completely berserk troll. Although, even if a frothing-at-the-mouth mad troll had attacked the camp, Ilisti probably would have just punched it to death. 

Early the next morning, Blacknail got up and had a quick breakfast with his minions. That done, he sat on his ass for over an hour and waited for the nobles to get up and ready. They were very slow. Even Sir Masnin got angry and eventually ended up sending his own troops over to help them pack up faster. 

When they did finally start moving again, it was significantly later in the morning than Sir Masnin had planned. They followed the road for about an hour before Sir Masnin called for a stop at a bend in the road. Tall greenery rose up all around the party, making this particular spot much the same as pretty much every other bit of forest they’d passed. 

“We’ve reached the northern tip of the road to Westwatch,” the paladin explained as everyone listened to him intently. “The old way to Coroulis used to begin here, although it’s not obvious. Still, following it should be easier than trying to head straight into the Green. It should be fairly flat if nothing else.” 

There were some nervous murmurs from most of the mounted humans. Many glanced at the wall of brush and trees as if it were dangerous and might attack them. That was actually somewhat smart since it might do just that. The rough brush at the side of the road was a common haunt for mimics. Still, Blacknail found their fear amusing. The big armored human warriors on their big dumb horses were scared of the bushes. They must all be city humans. 

Sir Masnin spoke confidently and with authority as he continued. “Blacknail and his hobs will now be taking the lead and ranging ahead. They are quite skilled at this and we couldn’t ask for better guides. Please do as they ask if you wish to avoid any problems we might stumble upon in there.”

“Have you ever been in the Green before?” a young man asked. There was nervous stutter in his voice. 

“I have journeyed off the beaten path and into the deep Green several times as I hunted monsters, and despite the danger, I emerged every time.”

“Then why don’t you lead us?” another older noble asked. “Why are we even considering following a hobgoblin into the darkest woods of the North?” 

“Blacknail knows far more of the forest and its dangers than I do. He enters its embrace almost every day. It is his home,” the paladin replied reasonably. 

Blackail simply rolled his eyes. His real home was a mansion in the middle of a settlement, although the settlement was out in the Green.

“The success of this mission depends on his skills as a guide, and I believe him to reliable,” Sir Masnin concluded. 

“It’s just… I can think of several folk tales that warn against people doing this exact thing,” a sorry sounding man replied. “The hobgoblin eats them as soon as they are deep enough in the Green that no one can hear their screams.”

“As I said, I believe Blacknail to be trustworthy. Also, this isn’t a folk tale. I met Blacknail years ago, and he’s still travelling with the same group of humans. I don’t think we have to worry about being eaten. Besides, he’s an enemy of the boggarts, and that makes us allies.”

“Or, maybe this savage is simply lying about his fight with the enemy. Maybe he made he made a deal with them!” one noble suggested darkly. 

Next to Blacknail, Khita looked up and laughed. “Don’t be stupid. I’ve been with Blacknail for almost forever, and he never eats people. Sometimes he kills annoying people though.” 

“You’re not helping,” Blacknail told her. If he really killed people just for being annoying, Khita would be long dead. 

“I’m not going to take threats from a dirty half-wild peasant wench,” the noble announced as he turned to glare at the redhead. “I will have your head.”

Khita sneered back. “Try It and I’ll cut you to bits. You don’t have any army of conscripts to do your dirty work out here, blueblood.” 

Blacknail sighed. The noble did have several knights and their retinue though, which was way more than Khita had. Contemplating his next move, Blacknail tried to remember who this particular human was. It was hard since a lot of humans looked the same. Hmmm, he was fairly sure this was one of Werrick’s not so secret minions. That gave him some leeway since he was already an enemy. 

“Know your place, bitch!” the armored noble hissed as he drew his sword and urged his horse toward Khita, who was unmounted. 

Sir Masnin quickly snapped his reins and begin guiding his own horse toward the noble. “Hey now, we are all on the side here.”

The paladin was quite far away though, and the noble didn’t stop. Thus, Blacknail felt the need to intervene. He stepped up beside Khita and put on his most savage grin. He wasn’t too worried about Khita, she was a Vessel, but he didn’t want things to get too messy. 

“You can have the fat one that keeps opening his mouth; I’ll rip apart his little pink soldiers,” Blacknail announced as he grinned and drew his own blade. Even though it was quite massive, almost twice the length of the noble’s weapon, he easily held it up with one hand. This reminded everyone who saw it of what they were dealing with, a mutant with superhuman strength. Just to be sure though, Blacknail gathered a bit of mana and sent it at the humans facing him. 

As fear washed over the noble and his escort, they hesitated. This allowed Sir Masnin to ride between the two groups. 

“Stop, I won’t allow violence between members of this expedition,” 

“I won’t stand for being insulted by a hobgoblin’s whore,” the noble replied. “My honor must be upheld.”

Khita just laughed. “If you don’t shut your fat mouth then someone is going stick you like a pig.”

“He should shut up and stop trying to pick a fight, or he will get one,” Blacknail told Sir Masnin. 

Grunting, the paladin turned to the noble. “Drop your challenge. We can’t be fighting over every slight, or this expedition will be a short one and we will fail in our duties.”

“I will not. I’m not going to let a peasant slander me.”

“Then leave or get off your horse and fight Blacknail in a duel right now. There will be no lingering grudges in a party under my command.”

“I don’t need Blacknail to protect me,” Khita announced. “The fat tub of lard can fight me if he wants.” 

“This will be quick,” the noble announced as he began dismounting. 

Sir Masnin scowled. “You don’t think this is beneath your honor? You’re sowing discord before this quest has even truly begun.”

The noble just snorted rudely, so Sir Masnin glanced at Blacknail, who just shrugged. He was okay with this. Sir Masin gave the hobgoblin a look, but then sighed when he realized he couldn’t stop the fight. 

“Very well. Let me lay down some rules down first though. This duel can’t be allowed to sabotage our mission. Regardless of the outcome, Blacknail and his guides will stay with us, and so will Sir Avex’s men. Should he die, they will join my own escort.” 

Both combatants were confident of their victory and angry, so they quickly agreed. A small circle was then formed for the duel to take place in. Blacknail turned to study Werrick who had walked over to the opposite edge of the circle. Their gazed met, and Blacknail gave him a meaningful look, so that he knew Blacknail would be watching out for cheating. Blacknail knew Werrick had a bunch of little tricks he could use to influence the fight.  

As everyone watched, both duelists lined up in front of each other with blades drawn. Khita looked far less impressive than her opponent. He was a large man in steel armor, while she was a smaller woman in dirty leather. 

“Begin,” Sir Masnin suddenly yelled as he backed away from the fight. 

Both combatants surged forward and their blades sliced through the air. Grinning viciously, Sir Avex slashed down at Khita with all his might. Surprisingly, instead of dodging, the redhead stood her ground and blocked the blow. There was crash of steel as the blades met, and the knight looked startled when Khita didn’t give ground. Instead, the redhead then calmly knocked his blade aside and stabbed him in the groin. Deep red blood spurted from the wound. Sir Avex stumbled back as his face went a deathly white. The color of the blood marked his wound as fatal, and a moment later the noble collapsed. Almost everyone was staring in shock now. The little redhead had outpowered the overconfident noble completely. 

“A Vessel,” someone observed in disbelief. 

“What a fool,” another man added. 

Blacknail snorted at how unobservant these humans were. Why did they think Khita was here? 

“Well, that was amusing,” Blacknail laughed as he grinned at Werrick. Although the Wolf still had plenty of allies, he had one less now. 

Bane of Humanity 4

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Blacknail lazily studied his surroundings. The birds were chirping merrily in the trees as the sun rose off in the distance. It was still spring, so there was chilly bite to the early morning air, although that would probably vanish as the day went on and the air warmed. 

Around Blacknail, there was a flurry of activity on the road right outside the castle as men prepped for the long journey ahead of them. Sir Masnin stood in the middle of the crowd of men and horses. He was constantly talking to people and yelling orders. Blacknail approved. Yelling loud enough that you were impossible to ignore was about half of good leadership. 

“Waiting for these people is so annoying. They should move faster,” Khita observed. She was sitting on a rock over to Blacknail’s left, with the rest of the hobgoblin’s minions.

Today was the agreed upon time of departure for the expedition north. Blacknail’s group had gotten here yesterday. After the meeting in the castle with Lord Lavista and the other nobles, Blacknail had rushed back over to the village he’d conquered, Aldhara. He’d needed to meet with his troops and send out a lot of messages and orders. If he was going to be gone on a long expedition, he needed to make sure everything was still running smoothly in his own territory. Thankfully, that had turned out to be the case. There had been no reports of boggart attacks or any other disasters at Daggerpoint or Ironbreak, despite the problems facing everyone else. 

All the settlements in Blacknail’s territory were actually running smoothly. In fact, Gob had headed back to Ironbreak to help train all the hobgoblins that were appearing there, and the forges were still working non-stop to produce spears and arrows for Blacknail’s troops. Although Ironbreak was still expanding and more longhouses were constantly being built, it was always packed full of hobgoblins. Gob had to keep sending them south to reinforce other areas or to hunting lodges. It seemed like while everyone else was reeling from the plague, his forces and holdings were the only ones that were growing stronger. 

At the same time, more refugees were showing up and seeking shelter. Most of them were either penniless farmers fleeing the war – and now the plague as well – or deserters looking to escape a short brutal life in a noble’s army. No one else seemed to want them, but Blacknail was happy to take them in. He had a use for both fighters and farmers. A core of skilled human soldiers would definitely help Blacknail organize his hobgoblins and stiffen their spines. Also, since Blacknail’s hobgoblins forces were constantly expanding, he needed to worry about keeping them feed. Goblins and hobgoblins weren’t the best farmers. They got bored too quickly unless closely supervised, including the overseers themselves, so Blacknail had consulted Geralhd and quickly come up with a more dependable system. He’d had land cleared for refugee farmers and provided them with everything they needed to survive in the short term, such a hut and some tools. The farms also used goblin labor and were protected by hobgoblin patrols. In return, Blacknail claimed most of their crops. There were some more details about loans and tribute, but Blacknail let Geralhd worry about that. He was just glad to get a reliable source of food. 

Reassured about what was happening back home, Blacknail had then returned to the castle to meet up with Sir Masnin. He’d arrived late in the afternoon, reported in, and camped outside for the night. The next morning, Sir Masnin had come out of the castle and organizing the rest of the force. That was what Blacknail was watching now. His forces were already up and ready. 

Khita turned to glare at some people on the other side of the crowd, but then she giggled as a smug grin broke out on her face. “Look at him there. He looks like he’s got a big stick up his ass and can’t get it out.” 

Blacknail followed her gaze until his eyes locked on Werrick’s face. The man was clearly grimacing in frustration at everything in sight. He looked quite displeased to be here, which obviously delighted Blacknail quite a bit.  The hobgoblin let out a vicious little giggle of his own. 

“Don’t do that. It’s creepy beyond words,” Ralphi remarked from where he was standing next off to the side. 

“Thank you.”

“It wasn’t a compliment,” the bandit grunted sourly. 

Werrick had remained in the castle the entire time that Blacknail had been gone. Without a doubt, he’d spent that time scheming with the nobles he had under his influence and making plans of his own. Still, Blacknail was sure he still had the upper hand. There was only so much Werrick could do while on the expedition. They would be headed off into the deep Green. That was Blacknail’s home territory, and not only would he have every advantage out there, but the Wolf would be completely cut off from reinforcements. Werrick wouldn’t be entirely without resources though. He was bringing his own escort, and most of them were standing around him right now. Eleven mean looking thugs formed Werrick’s personal guard, and he was also bringing one blonde woman, Zelena. 

Blacknail reached down to scratch his ass as he studied Zelena. She was an odd choice for an excursion into the wilds. All her clothing, from her long fur cloak to her grey skirt, was neatly tailored and expensive looking. Her long hair was also artfully done-up, and jewelry decorated her entire outfit. She looked more like a noble lady than anyone else in the castle, but there had to be more to her than was obvious. She wouldn’t be with Werrick if she wasn’t dangerous.

Blacknail wished he could say the same about his own escorts. Sighing, he turned to look them over. He’d brought the most skilled hobgoblin warriors and hunters he could get his hands on. Also, Khita had invited herself. The redhead had just laughed when Blacknail had told her she wasn’t invited. Although to be honest, Blacknail hadn’t tried all that hard to dissuade her from coming. She was a Vessel after all, even if she was annoying and was probably going to mess everything up somehow. Ralphi and Geralhd were only here to see Blacknail off. Their talents would only be wasted on an expedition into the Green to hunt a monstrous drake. 

The hobgoblins that stood out among the members of the expedition were Herah, Imp, and Slashi. With such a small group, Blacknail didn’t need any of his sub-leaders like Gob along. They were better managing other hobgoblins elsewhere. Instead, Blacknail had concentrated on bringing competent and dangerous hobgoblins that had experience as hunters, could use magic, or had fought both beasts and humans. Herah wasn’t the most skilled swordsman in the tribe, wasn’t a mage, and she was a sub-par hunter, but she was one of the most experienced fighters since she was always shadowing Blacknail when he got into trouble. Plus, he could have sex with her. That was a nice bonus since this was going to be a long trip. 

Of course, although Werrick and Blacknail were both only supposed to be bringing a dozen escorts each, Werrick still had more men that he could call on. The bulk of the force Sir Masnin was leading was made up of nobles and their escorts. In total, four noble were coming along, and as Blacknail had seen in the council room, some of them were working for Werrick. Blacknail recognized two of them as men who were obviously his enemies, but he didn’t know about the other two. They were southern nobles and they seemed to only be interested in completing the mission so far. Looks could be deceiving though. They could secretly be working for Werrick. To finish up their group, Sir Masnin had a dozen men of his own, who were probably not in league with Werrick. 

Suddenly, a commotion over to Blackail’s left caught his attention. He glanced that way and saw a hobgoblin jogging his way. It wasn’t one of his chosen followers, so the hobgoblin had to be a messenger. By the looks of it, the message was important. The hobgoblin had a determined look on his face and was moving at a quick pace. Blacknail really hoped this wasn’t bad news. A lot of things could have gone wrong, like a swarm of boggarts overwhelming Ironbreak.

“What is it?” Blacknail asked as the messenger drew closer. 

The hobgoblin stopped and sucked down a deep breath before answering. “He’s coming!”

“Who?” Blacknail asked as he made a funny face. He honestly had no idea who they were talking about. Werrick was already here, and he was the big threat. 

“Ilisiti the vympir. Gob sent me to tell you that he is on his way!” 

“What?” Blacknail remarked in surprise as he sat up. Why would Ilisiti be coming here? Also, wasn’t he really far away in Herstcrest? 

“He is riding here with some of his men right now. They will be here in less than an hour.”

Blacknail made a face like he’d just swallowed something rotten, and not the tasty kind of rotten. This was an unforeseen complication. Just what did Ilisiti want? Well, whatever it was, Blacknail needed to do something about this development before it got out of control.  

“Why is he coming here? Do you know?”

“All I know is he said he wants to join the hunt.” 

“Let’s cut him off at the road and see what he wants before he gets in sight of all these touchy humans,” Blacknail decided.

“What’s all this now?” Ralphi asked as he leaned over to listen.

After giving his minions a brief explanation of what was happening, Blacknail led them down the road away from the castle and any sentries it had out. Thanks to the hills surrounding them, they were soon out of sight of the castle. Blacknail kept them moving for a bit longer though. There was no reason to take chances. 

A few minutes later, the first sign of approaching riders appeared. Dust rose up from behind the hills and the thump of hooves reached Blacknail’s ears. Frowning, the hobgoblin chief stopped and waited. It didn’t take long for Ilisiti to ride into sight. He was a large man and unmistakable in his unique heavy armor. His helm had two small batwings protruding from its sides and its faceplate was quite menacing. Decorative steel ridges surrounded the eye holes, making it look like the wearer was always glaring with inhuman intensity. The rest of the armor plate was also quite ornate and had a antiquated look. 

Upon seeing Blacknail’s group up ahead, Ilisti and the other riders began to slow. As they approached and came to halt, Ilisti studied the people in front of him for second before pulling his faceplate up.

“Ah, Blacknail. It is good to see you. I was hoping that you’d intercept us,” the vympir said as he grinned. “I was wondering if I was in the right place, since I’ve never been this far south and no one on the road stuck around long enough for me to get directions.” 

“That depends on what you’re trying to do,” Blacknail replied.

“I’m here to join you in your hunt for the beast of the North. Why else would I speed here?”

“You want to try and fight the Doom, on purpose?” Blacknail asked. Why would anyone join this expedition by choice? He was only here because of the rewards and the chance to murder Werrick, and he was hoping to avoid any mutant drakes they encountered. 

Ilisti laughed heartily. It sounded odd coming from someone who was usually dour and reserved. “I enjoy testing myself against all manner of beast, as you well know. How could I possibly resist the chance to join in the hunt for the greatest quarry in all the world? No, this is where I shall make my legend.” 

“How did you even find out about this?”

“One of my men at your forward base sent me a bird.”

“A bird?”

“Yes, a kingshrike. In the West, they are specially trained and bred to navigate the Green safely. It is how we keep in touch with our holdings.”

Sighing, Blacknail took a moment to think. Would Sir Masnin and the others accept Ilisti’s assistance? There was only one way to find out. “Fine. Leave your men here and I’ll take you to see the leader, Sir Masnin. You can ask him to join yourself.” 

“I trust you’ll put a good word in for me,” Ilisti replied as he nodded in agreement. 

“Sure,” Blacknail said as he began leading his ally down the road. The vympir dismounted so that he didn’t stand out from the rest of Blacknail’s minions too much. 

They made it over to Sir Masnin without anyone raising the alarm, but the tall vympir did get more than a few looks. His fearsome armor made him hard to miss, but he was surrounded by armed hobgoblins and Blacknail, so the appearance of one guy in armor didn’t appear to concern anyone much. They didn’t appear to believe he was much of a threat in comparison to the hobgoblins around him. They were wrong. Blacknail had once seen Ilisti take a troll apart in a one-on-one fight.

Sir Masnin was arguing with a noble about supplies when Blacknail approached him. Glancing over, the paladin frowned when he noticed Ilisiti. He then turned back to the noble and dismissed him.

“Hey, there’s something I need to talk to you about,” Blacknail told the paladin. 

“So, I see,” Sir Masnin replied before turning to look at Ilisti. “That’s some interesting armor you have there. It’s of western origin, unless I’m very much mistaken.” 

Blacknail grunted in annoyance at being ignored but let Ilisti answer for himself.

“You are correct, sir knight. This armor has been passed down in my bloodline for generations, and I do hail from the West. My name is Ilisti, I’m a powerful ally of Blacknail the hobgoblin, and I’ve come to aid you in your expedition. With your permission I will join you with a dozen of my arms-men.” 

“Where exactly do you hail from?” the paladin asked with obvious skepticism. 

“I used to be from past Westwatch, but I find myself more to the east these days, along the border of Blacknail’s territory.” 

“So, you’re another bandit lord looking for legitimacy?”

“I care little for the approval of eastern kings. I’m here to join the hunt and test my might against that of the greatest magic-born creature alive. I look for no reward for this but glory rightfully earned.”

“He’s very strong. We could use his help and he knows his way around the Green much better than any of those fools,” Blacknail said as he pointed toward where some nobles were arguing with their servants. 

“But I don’t believe he’s quite human, is he?” Sir Masnin answered in a steely tone. 

Ilisiti huffed in annoyance and raised his faceplate to reveal his pale face and red eyes. “I haven’t sought to hide anything from you. I know that a false-blooded pretender in service to a cult such as you would recognize one of the old bloodlines.”

“You humans have this all confused,” Blacknail added. “Ilisti is as human as you, and he’s as much a human as I’m a hobgoblin. None of my minions go around saying I’m not a hobgoblin just because I’m a mutant.” 

“You don’t bite your hobs so that they get infected by your mutation and then harvest them for Elixir as they slowly die,” Sir Masnin explained. Blacknail grunted in reply. Was that how being a vympir worked? 

“Your perspective on what my kin do is skewed by your own false teachings,” Ilisiti countered. “We kill no more than the eastern lords do, and those that survive our touch are raised up to the nobility.” 

Sis Masnin sighed. “Is your thirst going to be a problem?”

“No, I have made preparations for this journey,” Ilisti replied. “Like your own, my power can be stored in vials for later use.” 

“Very well. You may join us. Someone of your strength would be useful, and we are nothing if not desperate. Perhaps the hobgoblin is correct, this new threat we face certainly would include you among the members of humanity.” 

“We have always been the best of humanity. We defended it long before the rise of the last empire or the rule of the mages, for all that most of mankind has been ever ungrateful.”

Sir Masnin grimaced as if he disagreed, but before he could reply, something off to the side drew the paladin’s attention. Blacknail glanced that way as well. It seemed that the vympir’s presence had drawn Werrick’s attention. 

“What is going on here?” Werrick demanded as he approached. 

“We have some new arrivals that wish to aid our mission,” the paladin answered calmly.  

“Unacceptable.”

“That’s not up to you,” the paladin replied coldly. “This expedition is under my authority and mine alone. Now go ready your men. We are setting out now.”

Ilsiti pulled his faceplate back down and turned to face the Wolf. “I remember you, or at least your back. You fled before me rather than do battle the last time we met. If you disapprove of my presence here and wish to prove you aren’t a vile coward, feel free to challenge me at any time, pretender.” 

Werrick’s snorted rudely. “Removing oneself from an ambush by a numerically superior foe is hardly an act of cowardice, and fighting you now would be foolish. I look forward to seeing how you fare against Myagnoir.” 

That said, Werrick turned and began walking away.

Sir Masnin sighed as he looked at Blacknail. “Watch out for yourself. Forcing that one to join our expedition was a risk. I have no idea how many nobles and troops he has turned to his side, but I would guess most of them. I can trust only my own personal forces, and the wolf is crafty. He will have many hidden cards prepared to deal with you.” 

Blacknail grinned. “I have a few cards of my own and no one is craftier than me.” 

Bane of Humanity 3

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Stunned silence filled the meeting room for several long seconds as all the attendees tried to wrap their brains around what their host had just said. It took them a while. Blacknail was the one who eventually broke the silence by letting out a deep sigh. This was already sounding like a lot of work, and he was probably going to have listen to a lot of dumb human screeching now. So annoying. 

“What? How does that make sense?” a noble with a long white beard exclaimed. Based on his plain clothes and stern demeanor, he was probably from the north of Eloria. 

“I also must protest. This plan sounds insanely dangerous,” another northern noble agreed. 

Lord Lavista frowned coldly. “We have little choice. In order to survive the plague and launch a counter attack against the boggarts, the kingdom of Eloria needs a plentiful supply of silver. Without it, we are lost.”

“Surely, there is some other source available? What about the Homelands?” 

The king’s councilor shook his head. “We could not possibly afford to buy so much silver from the empire or the costal free clans. There is also the matter of having it transported here across the sea and half the continent. Besides, this is what our coastal neighbors are already doing, and they will leave us with nothing but scraps if we try to trade with them.”

“But you risk antagonizing the Doom. It destroyed Coroulis with ease and left the greatest city of the North an empty ruin. Nothing could stand against that drake’s dread magic and horrifying strength. It levelled a city with ease.” 

Lord Lavista’s frown deepened. “They were caught off guard and didn’t know what they were facing. It was the chaos caused by the drake’s sudden attack during a blizzard and the following panic that destroyed the city as much as the beast itself. The city tore itself from fear and no one could actually mobilize a proper defense. We on the other hand would be sending a small group of dedicated warriors armed with the best weaponry the guilds can design specially for this task. Also, it is possible the beast is no longer in the city. It could have moved back over the Iron Teeth mountains some time over the last few decades, leaving the silver there for the taking. There have been no sightings of Myagnoir for years after all.” 

The fat southern noble looked thoughtful. “Perhaps the Doom is long gone, but what if it isn’t? We would be sending the expedition to their deaths unless these new weapons of yours are truly impressive.” 

“Yes, what exactly are these guild weapons you mentioned?” another noble asked. “Can they really slay a mutant drake such as the Doom?” Werrick asked with interest. Blacknail could see the cold calculations going on behind his eyes. They were much the same as the ones he was making. 

Despite the risks, reclaiming Coroulis would benefit the bandit lords greatly. They were the ones that controlled the territory around it after all, and the Doom was technically a bigger threat to them than anyone else. If a wealth of silver began pouring out of city, there was also no way they wouldn’t end up getting a large cut of the profit. It was unlikely that Blacknail and Werrick would be coming to an agreement to share though. No, the winner would take all. If Werrick could secure the city, then he could use the silver to buy a massive mercenary army and crush Blacknail. However, if the hobgoblin seized the silver, he would become irreplaceable to the southern lords and could strangle Werrick’s support. 

“I will let the guild representatives describe the weapons themselves. Please be patient and remember that we are all allies here,” Lord Lavista announced with authority as he gave the two bandit lords meaningful looks. Obviously, the king’s councilor understood what was going through their heads and had plans of his own. Infighting wouldn’t serve his purposes, yet. 

Blacknail was distracted from his thoughts as both the mages from the guilds stood up and turned to face everyone else. 

“Yes, allow me to explain our work,” the younger mage said. He was dressed in a green robe with silver trim. His older companion in red with gold trim nodded in agreement. 

“There are many written accounts of the fall of Coroulis available. Most of which were written by wealthy refugees that survived. Thus, we have a very good idea of the beast’s capabilities and have developed several effective countermeasures to its powers.”

“I find that hard to believe. The incredible might of the Doom is known to everyone. Stories of its power are used to scare children into behaving,” one noble remarked skeptically. 

“I remember those stories,” someone else muttered sourly. 

The lead mage frowned. “Let me show you.”

He turned and yelled out some quick orders to a pair of servants standing at the back of the room. At his command, they quickly hurried over with some equipment in their arms. One was holding a long spear-like thing, and the other had a large medallion.

“As most of you probably already know, Myagnoir is famous for using ice magic to freeze his enemies and protect himself. Several prominent guild scholars have been studying accounts of these abilities for years and discussing how to deal with them. This was mostly a theoretical exercise, until the king’s council suggested this mission, but that research provided us with a framework we could quickly use to create these.” 

“What are they?”

The mage took the medallion from the servant and brandished it for everyone to see. “This is a warming amulet. It uses carefully calibrated mana stones to produce a steady heat effect and will adjust its output in response to sudden drops in temperatures. Thus, it should protect its holder from the brunt of any cold based attacks.” 

“That sounds useful, but there’s that ‘should’ word again,” one noble remarked skeptically. Blacknail agreed with him. An amulet like that seemed like flimsy protection from a famously powerful mutant. 

“That sounds too simple. This took years of research? Why should we trust in some common warming magic?” Werrick asked. Blacknail frowned at him. What an idiot. Who knew what these mages were capable of? Obviously, these amulets were incredibly powerful. 

“These are no simple devices,” the lead mage replied as Blacknail nodded smugly in agreement. “Creating a defensive ward that can automatically adjust to match incoming attacks is very complicated and delicate work. The amulets can also be activated by non-mages, which is something the guilds do not like doing, as you probably already know. If this wasn’t an emergency, we would never have done it.” 

“Alright we get it. The amulets are very impressive and will protect people from the Doom’s magic. What does the spear do?” 

Putting the medallion down on the table, the mage then held up the thick spear. “These lances are actually much simpler devices. When engaged, internal flame crystals are used to superheat the shaft beyond the hand grips to incredibly high temperatures, without burning the user. That heat should not only allow them to burn through even the thickest scales, but it should also render the Doom’s magical defenses useless.” 

“So, you stab the beast with it,” Werrick laughed. 

The mage frowned. “It’s a lance, yes.”

Lord Lavista coughed to get everyone’s attention. “The crown is convinced that these weapons will do the job, and the support from the guild does not stop there. The enormity of the situation facing us has convinced them to aid us in other ways. They will be providing the army with as many fully-equipped combat mages as they can as we attempt to halt the boggart’s advance.”

“We recognize the danger that faces us all in this dark time,” the older mage agreed with a nod of head. “The combat mages are the least of our contribution to the cause. All the guilds have opened up their vaults in response to humanity’s plight. Our most advanced devices are being prepared and deployed as we speak. These are weapons the likes of which have never been seen on this continent. Some are capable of blasting entire cities to dust.” 

Blacknail perked up. What was this now? Could human mages really do such things? He might have to seriously reconsider how powerful the guilds were and how dangerous the southern kingdoms were to him. Avorlus would be the person to ask about this. 

“However, without a supply of silver, we cannot defeat the plague,” “Lord Lavista added. “Thus, three experienced combat mages will also be equipped with the guild’s best flame spells and sent to support the mission to Coroulis.” 

Geralhd sighed quietly. “That doesn’t mean much. The guild researchers care very little for combat mages. They’ve always been nothing but disposable pawns to the guilds, who keep the secrets of magic for themselves.”

“The guild masters do have some concerns about sending mages and materials north,” the younger mage said with a frown, as if in agreement with Geralhd’s whispers. “There have been many reports of unlicensed dark mages hiding in the North and producing dangerous faulty mana crystals for unscrupulous buyers that don’t care about the havoc such powers can cause.”

Both Blacknail and Werrick glanced at each other and then looked away as they tried to look as innocent as possible. Both of them employed dark mages to create weapons. 

The older mage scowled and glanced at Blacknail. “Even more absurdly, it seems like the rumors of hobgoblin mages are true, and now we hear that the boggarts are also capable of crafting spells and magical tools. This makes letting sophisticated tools be sent North a great risk. They could easily be stolen. There would be catastrophic consequences if a layman attempts to study and reproduce them.”

“And yet a failed expedition would be a far greater loss,” the councilor reminded them sternly. 

“As you say,” the older mage admitted reluctantly as his companion and him sat back down. 

“I imagine there is a limited amount of the new guild weapons available for the expedition,” Werrick inquired. 

The king’s councilor nodded. “There are enough to equip a dozen champions.”

“You expect a dozen men to kill the Doom?” a noble asked in an incredulous tone. 

“Sir Masnin, one of the finest paladins and most experienced mutant slayers on the continent will be leading the expedition. He will lead a hand-picked team of veteran warriors to Coroulis, where they will scout the city out and look for the silver. If the expedition runs into the beast – and that may not happen – then his task will be to slay it and secure the silver.”

“Even getting to the ruins will be a long and dangerous journey. Coroulis lays far to the North and the forest has grown dark and wild. Who knows what monsters lurk between here and that lost city. There may even be boggarts.”

“That is where our guest Blacknail’s skills and expertise comes into play. Coroulis lays just beyond his territory and he is the best guide through the Green available. He was born in the wildest forests of the North, trained by the White Raven himself, and has seen every corner of the Green.” 

“Um, sure,” Blacknail replied as everyone suddenly focused on him. This was probably a very bad time to mention he’d actually been born in a sewer under a city in the south. Also, the Green was a very big place and he had only seen a very small fraction of it. He had been trained by seater though, and one out of three wasn’t bad. 

Catching up, Blacknail cleared his throat and tried speaking more confidently. “Yes, I can lead some people there safely. Leave it to me. I’m the second greatest ranger ever.”

Blacknail then turned to glare at Werrick. “My master Saeter was the only better ranger, and he was actually from Coroulis. But, we can’t get his help, because he’s dead. Werrick killed him. He does that a lot. Kill important people.” 

Werrick could only scowl as the hobgoblin berated him in front of the nobles. Many of them were studying him with disapproving looks now. 

Ignoring the conflict between the bandit lords, a noble asked a question. “How many men will be going on this quest, exactly? And what do you expect from us?”

“Even if Sir Masnin secures the silver, we will need to transport it south with utmost haste. Towards this end, all the local nobility will need to work together to help secure the route. This of course means that conflict along the border can’t be allowed. Everyone must be working together.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that all petty squabbles must stop. Nothing must be allowed to go wrong.”

“In return for some of the silver?” the fat noble enquired. 

“Of course.” 

There was some grumbling, but most the nobles seemed content with that arrangement. Blacknail glanced at Werrick, who was already looking his way. Was Lord Lavista expecting them to become long-term allies? That wasn’t going to happen. In fact, now was probably the best time for Blacknail to start messing with Werrick and weakening his position. Joy. Holding his tongue had been difficult. 

Blacknail turned to Lavista. “Why is Werrick even part of this alliance? I’m going to be your guide, so I get a treaty and Eloria agrees to respect my territory, but why is he here?” 

Lord Lavista frowned. “He controls a large part of the North, and several people have told me his cooperation would be necessary.”

“But he’s getting the same reward as me, and I’m doing much more than him. I’m your guide. What’s he doing to earn his pay?”

Red-faced with anger, Werrick turned to glare at a noble. The man flinched and then quickly spoke up. “Leaving the Wolf out our arrangement would throw everything into chaos. It would be a completely unnecessary risk that could doom everything we are trying to do.”

Blacknail scoffed and threw Werrick a confident grin. “He’s just a bandit. We don’t need him. I can handle him if he acts up.”

“My troops will crush your vermin like the pests they are,” Werrick replied. 

Blacknail chuckled. “Good luck chasing me through the Green while all your men have the plague. Me and my hobs are all immune.”

“Are you saying you won’t help the expedition?” Lavista asked. 

“I’m saying I’m the only one that can guide you to Coroulis, so you’d better pay me properly.” 

“If you are immune to plague how can we know you will remain committed to the mission,” the noble that Werrick had glared at countered. It was incredibly obvious that he was working for the Wolf. 

“I was fighting the boggarts before you knew what they were, and I much prefer dealing with humans. Also, I’d rather not have hordes of ghouls wandering around. They still attack hobs when the get hungry. I just want to make sure I’m being paid properly for my efforts.”

“I’d also like some of that silver,” Geralhd mumbled. “I’m not immune to the plague.” 

“What exactly are you asking for?” Lord Lavista enquired. 

“I just think that If I’m doing way more work than Werrick then I should get paid more. Maybe I should get a lot of his territory. That seems fair.”

“Unacceptable. If you try to take what is mine, the only payment you will get is blood,” the Wolf told the hobgoblin. 

“Please, none of us can afford conflict. Asking the Wolf to give up land seems untenable. We need his cooperation,” one of Werrick’s not-so-secret allies added. 

Blacknail scratched his chin and pretended to look thoughtful for a moment. “Then perhaps he should simply come with us to Coroulis. He is a skilled warrior and a powerful Vessel. He could help us slay the Doom. He should have no problem with that, unless he’s a coward or planning on betraying us.” 

The gathered nobles began muttering amongst themselves, but Lord Lavista looked thoughtful. He seemed open to the idea. 

“Yes, I think the expedition North would greatly benefit from the addition of a warrior as renown as the Wolf,” the fat southern noble said as he gave Werrick a smirk. 

An argument quickly ensued between the various factions of nobles, but the king’s councilor quickly quashed it. “I agree. Blacknail’s suggestion seems reasonable, and we could use the another strong sword arm.”

Werrick was red-faced and fuming now. He gave Blacknail a furious glare. The hobgoblin just smiled back. It definitely seemed like he’d messed up Werrick’s plans. So many things could happen to Werrick during the long trek to Couroulis and back. Yes, that would be much preferable to another head-to-head battle.” 

“Very well. I will accompany the expedition north and help retrieve the silver,” Werrick grunted sourly when it had become obvious that he had little choice. 

The king’s councilor smiled. “Good, then the most pressing matters seem to have been settled.” 

“There are a few more issues that should be discussed,” a southern noble countered. “If you want the roads secured, what about the refugees that are streaming across the border? Something needs to be done about them. They’ve been causing chaos for years. 

Another southern noble in green silk nodded. “Indeed, since we are all here, this seems like a good time to discuss how to finally deal with the deserter problem. With the help of the bandit lords, we can end the exodus once and for all, and prevent the deserters and traitors from fleeing their rightful lords and duties.”

Lord Lavista nodded. “Sealing the borders would help us contain the plague and prevent more desertion from the army. We’re going to need to keep control over the common people in the days to come.”

“Consider it done. Denying my roads and villages to refugees would be a simple matter,” Werrick replied. 

Next to the hobgoblin, Geralhd made an angry noise, and there was a furious glint in his eyes. He seemed to seriously disapprove of the noble’s stance on the refugees. 

Blacknail nodded along with the nobles, but had no intention of doing anything to the refugees, so he gave Geralhd a wink to reassure him. Trying to stop the stream of refugees seemed like a lot of work, and he had a use for them anyway. They could be used for things hobgoblins were terrible at. In fact, he wanted some human servants for his mansion. Most hobgoblins weren’t great at cleaning, and having humans serve him was far more prestigious. 

“What a bunch of stuck-up tyrants,” Geralhd whispered. “They believe the common people exist to serve them and that their deaths mean nothing.” 

“Er, ya. Bad them,” Blacknail replied. He was doing something completely different from the nobles after all. 

It took another hour for the nobles to stop arguing about the little details of their alliance. Blacknail didn’t care about that stuff at all, and Geralhd had to pinch him a few times when he started drifting off. 

However, Lord Lavista eventually began explaining the timetable and details of the mission north. The expedition would be about fifty people in total, and both Blacknail and Werrick would be allowed to bring a small group of guards. They would also be leaving in five days, since the mages were still waiting on some equipment to arrive and Sir Masnin wanted everything prepared properly. 

That said, Lord Lavista dismissed the meeting, so that everyone could leave or talk among themselves. 

Blacknail quickly got to his feet and headed for the door. Sitting for so long had made him antsy, and he had a lot to do. This expedition was a great opportunity and he had to take advantage of it right away. Plans had to be devised and put into motion. There was no time to waste. 

However, before Blacknail could leave the room, Werrick intercepted him and his allies. The Wolf had reunited with his own minions, several thugs and one blonde woman in a dress that was lined by grey fur. Blacknail was fairly sure she was the one known as Zelena. 

Both sides glared at each other, but no one actually moved to attack, except for Khita. Ralphi had to grab the back of her shirt so that she didn’t start anything. 

A forced smile appeared on Werrick’s face as he faced Blacknail. “I don’t suppose I can convince you to set aside old grievances? Our squabble is a distraction now, nothing more. A truce would benefit us both. Despite our mutual bravado, neither of us in any place to seize the other’s territory now. There is much more to be gained from working together.” 

Blacknail had to resist the urge to spit on his face and kick him in the groin before biting his nose off. Discipline would be rewarded. Saeter had taught him that. 

“We will see how the mission goes. During it, we will have lots of chances to work together,” the hobgoblin replied cryptically as he signaled for his minions to follow him out of the room. 

Bane of Humanity 2

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There were two armed guards on either side of the door Blacknail had just walked through, and he’d been disarmed. Thus, he didn’t immediately charge Werrick, despite the rage that had suddenly boiled up within him. He took a deep calming breath instead. Vengeance would be his eventually, as long as he stayed in control of his emotions. 

Werrick was seated at a table that dominated the middle of the room. It was oddly shaped, like a half-circle. Over a dozen chairs sat all along the round edge, while only a single one had been placed in the middle of the straight side. Since Lord Lavista was occupying that lone chair, and facing all the others, Blacknail assumed this was another human intimidation thing, and promptly chose to ignore it. He was unimpressed. It was rather weak compared to the normal hobgoblin intimidation technique of killing someone and impaling their head on a stick. 

“Please have a seat at the table. Your escorts can sit at one of the side tables,” the servant that had led Blacknail into the room said as he motioned to the side. There were several small tables scattered at both ends of the room. Some of them were empty, but there were people sitting at others. They had the look of minions, so Blacknail ignored them and turned back to Werrick.

“Your translator can also join us,” Lord Lavista added from where he was sitting. He had two guards standing behind his chair, and one of them was Sir Masnin. 

“I want to sit at the big table with the important people,” Khita said. “I’m one of Blacknail’s most important lieutenants and deadliest fighters, after all. Soon, I will rule a massive territory of my own, and everyone will tremble at the mention of my name!” 

“Not a chance,” Ralphi snorted as he grabbed her shoulder and dragged her over to an empty table. “There’s already way too much that could go wrong here for my liking, even without you introducing your particular brand of messy stupidity.” Everyone else in Blacknail’s group except for Geralhd followed them to the table. 

Werrick looked different than the last time Blacknail had seen him, mostly because he wasn’t wearing armor or his wolf helm. Instead, his clothing didn’t stand out from any of the other people at the table. He wore a grey shirt and some black trousers that looked simple but stylish. Blacknail guessed that he was trying to fit in among the other humans from the south. His rough face and penetrating gaze made him stand out though, especially now that he was scowling at Blacknail. The hobgoblin met his gaze and grinned savagely. 

Despite his resolve, Werrick flinched at the raw hunger that shone through Blacknail’s eyes. He quickly recovered, but he was clearly rattled by the hobgoblin’s appearance. That was to be expected. The last time the two had met, Werrick had cut down Blacknail and left him for dead on a battlefield. However, not only had Blacknail survived, but it was that brush with death that had triggered the hobgoblin’s transformation into a mutant. Blacknail was significantly larger and more dangerous now. The fires of his hatred also burned stronger. 

“Ah, you’re alive after all,” Werrick remarked. “Hobgoblins must be made of different stuff than men.”

“I’m just special,” Blacknail replied. 

“So, I can see,” Werrick said as he glanced at the hobgoblin’s horns. “I’ll have to keep that in mind.”

“You won’t have to worry about it for long…”  

Lord Lavista interrupted the pair’s staring contest. “Blacknail, please have a seat so that we may begin the meeting.”

“Hmm, sure,” the hobgoblin replied as he turned his attention to the other people at the table.

Two were clearly mages from two different guilds. Their amulets and robes marked them as human spellcasters. There was also a man who was clearly a priest and quite a few people that looked like nobles of some sort. Some of them were dressed in frilly and colorful clothing that made what Geralhd usually wore look plain, but some wore more practical clothing that marked them as having martial experience. Except for Werrick and sir Masnin, Blacknail was sure he could take them all. 

“I don’t think it will matter who we sit next to,” Geralhd whispered. “None of these people are likely to see us as peers or treat us courteously. Just choose a random place.” 

Nodding, Blacknail led Geralhd toward the closest two empty chairs. As he moved, he considered his next move. He knew he had one huge advantage over Werrick here, he didn’t care what these southern humans thought of him at all. They were idiots, and he only needed their cooperation in the short term, while Werrick was obviously planning on starting a permanent relationship with them. That had always been the Wolf’s plan to cement his rule, but Blacknail had other resources he could tap. 

Suddenly one young noble in a red jacket spoke up as Blacknail walked past him. “We’re dealing with disgusting savages now? I must protest!” 

Oh, good. A challenge! Smiling to himself, Blacknail stopped and turned to look at the man. There was complete silence from everyone else in the room as most people tensed up expectantly. Even Lord Lavista seemed willing to wait and see what Blacknail did. 

Sneering, the noble that had insulted Blacknail raised a hand as if to punctuate his next words, but Blacknail acted first. Quickly and smoothly, he stepped closer and leaned down so that his face was only a foot away from noble’s. Then, he grinned savagely as he seized an invisible blob of magic from his core and slammed into the man’s mind like it was an iron spike. 

“Move,” Blacknail hissed right before the man squealed and toppled over backward.

The magical terror had caught the man completely off guard ripped into his mind without resistance, overwhelming him and making incapable of controlling the fear that now surged within him. 

The stupid noble hit the floor back-first and then scrambled away. Still smiling, Blacknail simply grabbed the man’s chair and pulled it closer. 

“Thanks for the seat,” Blacknail giggled as he sat down. Geralhd sighed and took the seat next to him that had also suddenly become vacant. 

Looking around the table, Blacknail saw that most the humans present were studying him. Their expression varied from shock to outright hostility. Lord Lavista was the only person present who hadn’t really reacted to his little display at all. He still had a carefully neutral expression that conveyed authority and control. 

“Now, let the conference officially begin,” Lavisita announced as he stood up and gave everyone before him a cursory examination. “You all know why you are here. A time of great trial and tragedy has engulfed Eloria. The plague threatens all of humanity and it is being spread by these black creatures that some call boggarts.”

“Has that actually been confirmed?” one noble asked respectfully.

“Yes, beyond a doubt. Our agents have observed them transporting diseased flesh and captured ghouls from city to city in order to weaken us for invasion,” the lord answered. “It is no coincidence that our forces engaged in fighting the plague are ambushed by boggarts either.” 

There was murmuring from gathered humans as they took in this information. 

“So, why are you here dealing with us? Shouldn’t you be back at home fighting these things?” someone eventually asked. “I can’t see how the answer to your problem lies in the North, and you’ve never cared about this land before.” 

The King’s representative simply nodded in acknowledgement. “That is true. However, this is everyone’s problem, and we are reaching out to all our neighbors. We’ve even ended all conflict with Hulgaron. Communication is ongoing, but it seems likely that a full peace treaty will be signed soon.”

This caused everyone to begin talking amongst themselves even more. Geralhd whistled as if impressed. “I suppose it would take something as catastrophic as a massive plague outbreak and an invasion by unknown monsters to stop that war. The death of countless thousands certainly didn’t seem to concern them much. I suppose even the nobles realize they need some peasants alive to rule over and that the plague won’t discriminate against blue blood.” 

Oblivious to what Geralhd was whispering, a porky noble in a frilly red shirt spoke up. “But what brings someone so high in the king’s esteem here to see us? Many of us are already owe Eloria our fealty and the others are no real threat to the realm, especially now.”

“I am here for several reason. First, I come seeking information. Rumor and speculation say that the boggarts emerged from the North,” the councilor replied. 

“If anything, it seems there are less boggarts in the North,” a stern looking older noble replied. 

The fat man in red shrugged. “Maybe they don’t like the cold.”  

“How bad is it near the capital, I haven’t heard any details. What exactly are we dealing with?” someone else enquired. 

This time it was Sir Masnin that answered. He looked sullen as he spoke. “Almost every city of note is struggling to contain a full ghoul outbreak, while raids by boggarts striking from below ground weaken us. Already, the city of Persepulis has fallen to the dread plague and the royal army was forced to set it aflame to contain the infection and prevent a horde of ghouls from being released on the countryside. Many other cities are predicted to fall soon as well if nothing changes.”

There was deathly silence as everyone contemplated the paladin’s words. Many of the humans looked pale. Even Werrick looked shocked by the dire straits of the southern cities. Blacknail wished he could have been there to see the fire. He had always wanted to see what a human city would look like after being set aflame. 

“And the boggarts aren’t content to simply let the plague devour us either,” the elderly councilor added. “Our scouts report that the creatures are building structures above ground. They are consuming everything from timber to farm animals in order to build settlements of some unknown black material. Where once there were farming villages, now eerie black spires are beginning to rise.”

“And the royal army is doing nothing?” a noble asked in disbelief. 

“They were caught off guard by this sudden attack,” Sir Masnin explained. “As you can imagine, most of the army was stationed at the border or actively engaging in action against the Hulgarons when the plague first appeared. They were swiftly withdrawn to help contain the outbreak but are now busy with that duty and have no time to spare to assault these new fortifications.”

“These creatures seemed to have planned this all disturbingly well,” a scowling noble with a military bearing observed. 

“Yes, we are not dealing with mindless beasts here. This is a well-organized campaign by minds that understand long-term planning.” 

The fat noble looked very nervous now. “What can we do against that? No one here has armies to spare, despite out relatively secure position here. If the plague does strike, we will have a demon’s time just containing it.”

Lord Lavista nodded. “Yes, but the council has come up with a plan that will require your aid. Thus, as our first order of business, I would like to secure everyone here’s cooperation and get an official oath of alliance. Eloria will reward you handsomely for your effort, of course.” 

Everyone began talking amongst themselves again. Blacknail couldn’t help but notice that the old man hadn’t specified what aid he actually wanted. The hobgoblin was thus willing to bet his weight in cheese that it was going to be costly or incredibly dangerous. It would be best not to get tricked into making any promises. 

Suddenly, Werrick broke his silence. “That’s why I’m here. Your messenger mentioned getting official crown recognition of the lands I hold. Is that still on the table?”

There was a nod from the councilor. “Yes, take the oath and the king will acknowledge your holdings and grant you title over them.” 

“You’re a bandit and a murderer. You shouldn’t be demanding anything of the nobility,” a southern lord huffed dismissively at Werrick. He was a middle-aged man who was starting to go bald, but he was wearing more jewelry than anyone else, as if to display his wealth. 

“Now, let’s not be to hasty. Someone as useful and powerful as the Wolf would make a great ally, regardless of the situation,” a younger – and less impressively dressed – noble countered. “What does recognition really cost the crown? Nothing.” 

“Bah, you’re simply saying that because you basically work for the Wolf there already. Don’t think I don’t know about the deal you’ve made with him or the gold he sends your way. Dealing with bandits, despicable!” 

Many of the nobles began arguing. Blacknail watched with interest. It appeared that Werrick had a lot of influence on the poorer northern lords, but that most the southern lords looked down on him. Of course, Blacknail was unpopular with everyone, so he was in an even worse position. Lord Lavista also noticed the pull Werrick had with certain parts of the nobility, and he didn’t appear to like it. He frowned thoughtfully as he studied the bandit lord, who seemed willing to let others argue his case for him now. 

“What about that green savage sitting right over there!” someone suddenly yelled, drawing Blacknail’s attention. “Surely, having someone like the Wolf on the border is a much better option than letting an inhuman monster like him squat there. Why is such a creature even here?”

Off to the side, Werrick smiled. Blacknail was fairly certain this noble was acting under the Wolf’s orders. 

Lord Lavista quickly spoke up though. “The hobgoblin is here because I wish it. He is a power in the North, as well as a vital source of information. In fact, I have heard that he engaged the boggart creatures in battle and vanquished them before they even launched their campaign against Eloria.”

A noble sniffed disdainfully. “Of course, the monster knows much about other monsters.” 

Blacknail said nothing. No one had actually asked him a question yet, and he was busy studying all the humans. They were all looking at him now, including Werrick who was nodding in sudden understanding. He seemed to have made some connections. 

The king’s councilor didn’t remain silent for long. “Now, before I go on, I must get oaths of alliance from you. We will be discussing many secrets and vital plans, and those that refuse the oath must leave.” 

“King Namirius already has my allegiance. My sword is yours, to do with as you will,” one noble immediately replied as he stood up and gave the older man a formal bow. Several others immediately did the same before sitting back down. 

“If you hold to you word then I will aid you,” Werrick added. “We should stick together in these hard times regardless.” 

“What about us border nobles that already have land and title. What are you offering us?” a scowling man in shabby clothing asked. 

“When this time of chaos is over, there will be plenty of land where the owners have fled or been lost to the plague. Those that aid the king can expect first claim when these lands are reassigned.” 

This offer quickly got the rest of the attendees to offer the councilor their allegiance, which left only Blacknail. Lavista gave the hobgoblin an enquiring look, but Blacknail kept his mouth shut. He was probably necessary for Lavista’s plan, so there was no chance of him being kicked out. He could afford to play it safe and not offer any sort of promise that could land him in trouble later. He’d hate to have to lie or murder someone to get out of a badly thought out promise. 

When everyone else had agreed to the oath, the elderly councilor looked toward Blacknail, and everyone else followed his gaze. “To start, would you tell us about your clash with the boggarts and all you’ve learned about them?” 

Frowning, Blacknail considered this question. After being insulted so much he wasn’t feeling very helpful, but Lord Lavisita seemed to be the only person here who’s opinion really mattered. Being unpopular with the other noble’s wouldn’t affect his plan at all. 

“Alright,” Blacknail replied a few moments later. “I ran into boggarts several times last year, but it was this winter that that I first really fought with them. It doesn’t count as a real fight unless people on both sides die.” 

It took Blacknail quite a while to finish recounting his battle against the boggarts, especially since he had to go into so much detail about his own fighting skills and how he’d used them to turn the tide of battle several times. He was amazing. 

Also, he had to remember to leave a lot of things out of the story, like about the specific types of magic his mages wielded and about the forest people and lurkers. That stuff would just have distracted the humans, and he didn’t want Werrick knowing of all his capabilities. 

“And were supposed to believe this fairy tale is even remotely related to the truth?” a noble asked in an exasperated tone once Blacknail was finished. There were murmurs of agreement from many of the other people present. 

Lavista quieted them with a glare. “Several parts of my guest’s tale have been independently verified, and it also contains scraps of knowledge about the boggarts that we’ve only recently discovered ourselves. For instance, some of our agents have sighted these humanoid boggarts from a distance. I would not have wasted your time with this story if I didn’t believe it to be true.”

“I find all this mention of uncontrolled magic disturbing, even if it is in inhuman hands,” one of the mages remarked. 

The fat noble in red make a thoughtful noise. “The hobgoblin’s story would explain why the creatures are rarer in the North, which no one else has an explanation for.”

“In fact, the closer you get to this Blacknail’s territory the less reports of boggart activity you get,” the militaristic noble added. 

“Yes, because I hunted the boggarts down through the dark paths and slaughtered them in their nest like vermin,” Blacknail explained as he rolled his eyes.  

“But why haven’t they moved against the North since then?”

“They are probably busy fighting you now. Also, they need food, like everyone else. I destroyed the underground farm near their nest and my hunters kill the scavengers they send out into the Green. They can’t grow an army without food.” 

“They might have trouble moving one without readily available scavenge as well.” 

“Yes, well none of us are in any position to flood the dark paths with troops or even send hunters out on mass to stalk the Green. That would be folly. The dark paths are no place for men.”

“And most humans make terrible rangers and hunters,” Blacknail added helpfully. 

“Some cities use goblins to keep sewers clean of sewers. Could we use hobgoblins for something similar in the dark paths?” one of the southern nobles suggested. 

The fat man snorted. “Gee, what a wonderful idea. Let’s just flood the tunnels under all our cities with armed hobgoblins. That would solve our boggart problem alright, and what could go wrong?” 

“Order please. This conversation is long past the point of usefulness,” Lord Lavista announced in a commanding tone. 

“Then get to it already please,” the fat man replied coldly. “You’ve been awfully vague about what you want from us, but we’ve all taken your oath, so why don’t you tell us what you are really here for?”

The councilor scowled in displeasure at the tone, but he nodded a moment later. “After much deliberation, the king and his council have come up with plan to help secure our cities. We need silver to create the cure for the plague and fortify our troops against it. Only then can be risk going on the offensive against the boggarts. However, there has been a shortage of silver in the southern realms ever since the fall of Coroulis, where most of it was mined.”

Lord Lavista paused for a moment before continuing. “Thus, I am here to launch an expedition to Coroulis in order to seize the silver we need.”