Bane of Humanity 17

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After staring at Myagnoir’s unmoving head for several long moments, Blacknail eventually worked up the courage to go over and examine it. The beast didn’t appear to be breathing, so he poked it in the eye with his sword. The massive mutant drake didn’t lurch back to life and devour him in one bite. In fact, it didn’t move at all. The beast seemed very dead. 

“I killed Myagnoir!” Blacknail announced to the world as he turned to grin at his allies. He’d done it! He’d slain the toughest monster in the North and somehow survived! 

Ilisti just nodded and looked tired, before dropping his lance. However, Khita grinned back at him. “We all worked together. I was fighting the entire time.” 

Blacknail frowned at her. “I got the finishing blow in though.”

“It was still a team effort.” 

“That’s not what you said after you stabbed Werrick in the back. You went around bragging about how you killed him. You didn’t mention me or teamwork.”

“So? What are you getting at?” the redhead asked as she scowled suspiciously at the hobgoblin. 

Blacknail smiled smugly. “Myagnoir was a lot tougher than Werrick. The drake was also way more famous and feared. It had like six names! I wonder if I’m the Doom now. That’s how it works, right? That’s a great bandit name. You can be called the Wolf Killing Cat or whatever, if you want.”

This led to increasingly loud argument with Khita, but eventually Ilisti reminded the hobgoblin that there were still things to do. Thus, Blacknail squashed the unusual exuberance he felt after his unexpected triumph and went to yell orders at his scattered minions. Most of the lazy fools were laying around on the ground. They could moan and groan later. 

Soon, Blacknail managed to gather up his dispersed minions and reform them into something like and organized group again. Quite a few of them were injured, which was annoying since it reduced his manpower, but they’d brought medicine and healers along so must of them would probably live. Hobgoblins were tough, and also easily replaced. 

With Maygnoir dead at Blacknail’s hands, Coroulis was probably empty of any more threats. Drakes were quite territorial. Thus, Blacknail felt secure in sending his minions out to search the ruins of the city. They needed to find the silver after all, and he didn’t want to stay here longer than necessary. It was important to get the silver back to the human lands quickly so that they could fight the plague and the boggarts. If they didn’t do it, then he would have to, and he really wasn’t looking for more work to do.

Thankfully, it only took two hours for some lucky scouts to stumble upon a horde of silver. Blacknail spent that time laughing at Khita and proudly posing next to Myagnoir’s dead body. 

It turned out that the keep Myagnoir had made its lair in contained a large stockpile of silver bars from the old mines outside Coroulis. The drake must have chosen the keep as its lair for that reason. Apparently, even drakes loved collecting shiny stuff. Hmm, maybe Blacknail would keep some of the shiniest bits of silver for himself. He was sure he could find somewhere to stash them. 

There was enough silver in the keep to make transporting it all at once impossible, and there was undoubtedly much more stashed around the city. Coroulis had been famous for its iron and silver mines after all. Getting the silver south would be the hard part, but even that was manageable. The human nobles were already throwing resources at the problem. Roads could be rebuilt and barges could carry silver downstream. 

Even if they did somehow run out of loose silver, the mines were still there. It should be easy enough for Blacknail to re-open them, although that would require a more permanent presence. Hmmm, that wouldn’t be a terrible idea. Having conquered Coroulis by defeating its old ruler in a legendary battle to the death, Blacknail didn’t really plan on giving the city up.  Coroulis was his now. Yes, it was going to take a while for them to gather up all the silver and transport it south, and the city was far too important to leave unguarded, so he’d need to leave a large force here anyway. Otherwise, some stupid human noble might try and seize it. 

Hmm, it wasn’t like he was going to be short on minions any time soon. Most of his local enemies were dead, and more and more goblins and hobgoblins kept appearing to take his food. Coroulis was as good a place for them to live as any now that Myagnoir was dead. The place had a lot of… space and materials laying around. It had also been Saeter’s old home, so he’d probably have liked it to be rebuilt. Maybe he’d rename the place Saeterville or Saeterhome. 

Regardless of his long-term plans, the next thing Blacknail had to do was lead his minions back south with as much silver as they could carry. All the dead humans and left behind a quite a few horses, and the hobs had brought some boars to carry their own supplies, so they should able to move a fair amount of silver in the first trip. 

As Blacknail was getting the silver loaded up and everyone ready to move, Khita walked up beside him. “I wonder if Gob has sent Werrick’s remaining men fleeing for their lives yet. I want a chance to go at them and see them flee before me, but we’ll probably be too late. All of the Wolf’s camps and towns will probably fall before we get back. Without Werrick, I doubt they have much steel in their spines.”

“Sure,” Blacknail replied vaguely. It was usually best not to think too much about what Khita said. 

“I suppose that means we’ve conquered the North. No one will dare fight us now. You’ve got your hobgoblin armies and I’m an invincible swordswoman.” 

What? Blacknail gave her an incredulous look. That was a very ridiculous thing to say, even or her. He’d conquered the North, not her. Also, she was an average swordsman at best. 

“So, what are we going to do next?” Khita asked. “I know you. You’ve always got a scheme!”

“I would be curious to hear of this as well,” Ilisti announced as he walked over to join them. “You are now both my neighbor and the most powerful lord in all the nearby lands. You’ve accomplished this with no small amount of cunning and daring, so what is it you now seek?” 

Blacknail shrugged. It was true. Soon, all the north would be his. He wasn’t quite sure what he was going to do with it, but whatever. He’d put too much effort into conquering it and killed far too many people to worry about that now. “Once I’m done getting rid of all the bandits that refuse to swear to me, I’m going to take a really long nap in my mansion.” 

“Boring,” Khita replied as she stuck out her tongue. 

“That seems unwise. What of the boggarts? They remain a threat, even in the northern lands that you claim,” the vympir pointed out.

Blacknail stifled a groan. This was by far his least favorite part of leadership, the responsibility. He hated that. Come to think of it, he’d never really planned to conquer the North because he actually wanted to run it. He’d simply fought to prevent Werrick from taking it over. Also, it was just sort of there. Someone had to control it, and why shouldn’t all the North be his territory? He was the best leader and fighter in or out of the Green after all. Couldn’t he just delegate everything and relax in his mansion all the time? That’s how leadership was supposed to work.

“I’ll send hunters out to kill the boggarts in my lands and destroy any nest I find, but I don’t think they’ll be too eager to fight me. It’s humans they hate, and I’ve bloodied them every time we’ve met,” the hobgoblin explained. 

“And what about the South? If the boggarts do consume those lands, they will inevitably move north.” 

“I plan on letting the humans fight the boggarts as much as possible. They should be grateful for all the effort I’ve put into getting them silver,” Blacknail said before grunting sourly. “Not to mention, fighting Myagnoir for them.”

Ilisti frowned. “I don’t think most nobles have such gratitude in them. The position breeds a certain selfishness.” 

“Damned blue bloods,” Khita cursed. 

“They’ll smile and be grateful if they know what’s good for them. Otherwise, they won’t be getting any silver,” Blacknail remarked coldly. “Besides, it’s not like I won’t have lots to do here in the North. I need to deal with all the refugees and keep my hobs out of trouble, which will mean making sure they have food and shelter. I also need to watch Coroulis and guard the silver here, and that means I need to keep repairing all the roads since I’m moving so many troops and supplies around. I also need to deal with all the territory Gob will have taken over and the humans who live there.” 

Ilisti nodded. “I see. You do have a point. Perhaps it is best not to overextend. It’s is good that you are taking your duties to your vassals seriously. I had been afraid you’d let things devolve into chaos, when a true lord needs a firm hand. Personally, I don’t plan on straying from my own city of Herscrest for some time after I return. I too have many responsibilities there.” 

The vympir then excused himself and went to take care of his remaining men. Blacknail watched him leave with a frown. Ugh, there was that word again, responsibility. He’d had way too much of that when he’d just been in charge of one hobgoblin city, now he was supposed to look after all of the North. Hmm, if he ran off into the forest and headed north toward the Iron Teeth it was unlikely that anyone would be able to catch him and drag him back. He could find some goblins living on the other side of the mountains and train them to be his perfect servants. Then, he’d have no responsibilities whatsoever. It was tempting, but he’d run out of cheese pretty quickly though… 

There was also a little voice in his head that kept reminding him that vengeance wasn’t what Saeter would have really wanted from Blacknail. Herad would be quite happy about that, but not Saeter. The old ranger had wanted a united and prosperous North, and now Blacknail had united the North.

“Rat piss,” Blacknail swore. He couldn’t just destroy his old master’s dream. Without him around, the North would swiftly fall apart and become worse than ever. It needed an amazing and super intelligent leader like him. The burden of being so incredible at everything was heavy indeed. 

There was cough from Khita, reminding Blacknail that she was still standing beside him. “I’ve been thinking. If you’re not going to do anything exciting for a while, then maybe I should go south and help fight the boggarts. I have my own men, and I’m sure some of your hobs would go with me. The kingdoms would probably pay us quite well. And it would be a great way to spread the legend of the Red Cat!”

Blacknail eyed her. Was it possible she might finally leave him alone? “You should probably do that then. I’ll let you have as many hobs as you want.” 

No matter what happened, Khita’s plan seemed like a win for him, especially if she never came back. Although… maybe he should send someone competent with her, so that she didn’t get into too much trouble. Ralphi had used to be soldier, so he was probably a good pick. 

“Thanks. With a force of hobgoblins behind me, I’ll be queen of the world in no time!”

Blacknail rolled his eyes but decided against making any comment about that. There was no point. More likely she’d trip over her own feet, break her neck, and end up dead in ditch somewhere. 

“Why don’t you go check on the prisoners. I’m putting you in charge of them.”

“Good idea!” Khita replied before hurrying away. 

Blacknail smirked after her. He’d known she couldn’t resist the opportunity to brag and lord over some humans who couldn’t escape. 

Soon, the remains of Sir Masnin’s expedition and the secret force of hobs that Blacknail had brought had loaded up on silver and were ready to move. They headed out through the crumbling gates of Coroulis’ walls and back out into the Green. The forest loomed around them, thick and full of the sounds of life. 

Blacknail led the way. He wanted to set an example, and the front was the best place for the leader. Behind him came a mob of hobgoblins. Led by Herah and Scamp, they were escorting several large bristleback boars that had been loaded with gear and silver. The pigs snorted loudly as they lumbered forward, but generally acted much better behaved than Blacknail remembered them being. The training must have worked. He hadn’t seen them maul a single person yet. 

Imp and his disciples were among the hobgoblins. The mage was toying with one of the fire staffs they’d looted from the human mages. He hadn’t stopped messing with the weapon since he’d gotten his hand on it. Apparently, he was learning a lot and couldn’t wait to try to replicate the magical weapons. He’d also assured Blacknail that the staff was unlikely to explode, although Blacknail wasn’t quite so certain of that. That was the other reason he was all the way up at the front. 

The human prisoners came next, with Khita swaggering alongside them, a smug grin on her face. Only the most injured of the prisoners were riding. The rest of them were forced to walk as their horses had been used to carry cargo. There were also quite a few horses taken from slain knights. Holding up the back was Ilisti and his men. The vympir seemed to prefer that position. 

Glancing back, Blacknail saw that almost no one behind him seemed happy to enter the forest and began hiking. Sour looks decorated many faces. many of them were exhausted after the fighting and there was no shortage of wounded. Nonetheless, they had a long journey ahead of them before they reached civilization, and they were going to have to push their pace if they wanted their cargo to make a difference in the fight against the plague. At least, they were unlikely to run into any hostile mutants on the way back, since it seemed like they’d already stumbled into all of them on the way here. 

A flicker a movement off in some trees to the side caught Blacknail’s eye. Upon glancing at the source of the movement, Blacknail was reminded that there was one mutant still around, even if it was only mildly hostile. It was the goat. 

Sighing in resignation, Blacknail produced a piece of cheese and held it out. Seeing this, the goat ambled out of the bushes and walked over to the hobgoblin’s side. It eyed him skeptically for a moment and then snatched the cheese from his hand. Chewing on the snack, it matched Blacknail’s pace and walked beside him. 

Briefly, Blacknail considered trying to kill the beast now that it seemed to have finally dropped its guard, but quickly discarded that idea. The goat was probably trying to trick him, and it had its uses anyway. It had – accidentally – saved him from Werrick after all. During that escape, the hobgoblin had managed to ride the beast for a short while, which meant he could probably tame it. It would make a great mount for someone as famous and amazing as him. He was the ruler of the North now, so couldn’t walk everywhere, not with all those fancy humans riding around and looking down on him. Also, there was no doubt that a mutant goat would be a much more regal and inspiring mount than a mere smelly horse. Ha, all the fancy noble humans would be insanely jealous of his goat. 

Yes, Blacknail would just keep feeding the beast cheese as they made their way back south. Before too long it would grow used to him and he could try jumping on its back again. Having a mount would definitely help him fight other mounted foes, such as Werrick…

Hmm, it was hard to remember that Werrick was actually dead. The man had been Blacknail’s obsession for a longtime now. He was used to hating the man with an intense burning passion and plotting his terrible vengeance. Now how was he going to spend his spare time? 

Regardless of all his victories and ambitions, Werrick had managed to get himself killed by some crazy street rat that should have died a long time ago. Blakcnail couldn’t imagine anything more embarrassing than dying by Khita’s hands. It served him right, although it also should have been far more painful.

Well, taking Werrick’s skull as a decoration would certainly help him remember that he was dead. Right now, the man’s bloody head was wrapped up in sack, but where should he keep the skull when he got back? It would be a waste to simply stick it on a stake. He should put it in his throne room! He didn’t have a throne yet, but with Werrick dead, he was basically the king of the North, so he certainly deserved a throne. How did you make one though? Did he need to kidnap a certain kind of human? 

Bleh, he was already running into problems. Being king seemed like it was going to be a lot of work and very annoying. At least he could still have fun messing with all his minions and the humans. It would be amusing to make them do silly stuff for him in exchange for silver and gold rocks, and it had been a while since he’d last worked on perfecting his human trap…

Bane of Humanity 16

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Even after Werrick’s defeat, ending the fight and taking control of the chaos took more than a few minutes. Blacknail ended up stomping around and screaming for over twenty minutes before the last of the fighting stopped. He also ended up killing another knight that tried rallying a resistance, back handing a berserk hobgoblin into submission, and stabbing two horses that wouldn’t shut up. If he hadn’t been in such a bad mood, the last part would almost have been fun. 

Most of Werrick’s treacherous force was dead by then, along with quite a few hobgoblins, but many humans did drop their weapons and surrender. Blacknail had their weapons and armor confiscated before putting them under heavy guard. He was told that some of them were nobles that were worth quite a bit in ransom, so he didn’t want to kill them all. Also, appearing merciful and honorable would only help him. He still had to deal with the southern humans and their kingdom. Thus, it was important to make sure they knew he hadn’t betrayed them. It was Werrick who had done that.

As he was looking over the prisoners, Herah appeared and began approaching him. He’d caught glimpses of her after the fight, but he’d been too busy to give her any thought. The other hobs he’d left behind and her must have been drawn to all the noise and joined in the fight late. 

“Congratulations on your victory over the Wolf, boss. I knew you could do it!” Herah announced she walked over to him.

Blacknail sighed and used one of his arms to keep her away when she tried to hug him. The female hob tried giving him a seductive and playful look as she tried to slip past his guard, but Blacknail wasn’t in the mood. There would be plenty of time for hugging and sex later. 

“Actually, Khita killed Werrick,” he explained as he dodged her lunge. 

Frowning, Herah picked herself off the ground. “But she works for you, so it’s the same thing.”

“I doubt that,” Blacknail mumbled sourly. Khita was too scatter brained to truly work for anyone. She simply followed whatever dumb impulses popped into her pink human head.  

“Well, he’s dead now, and you avenged your Saeter. You used to mumble about that all the time while we mated. So, let me cheer you up. All this blood in the air is so thrilling. It would be shame to waste the moment,” Herah said as she eyed him knowingly. There was a hungry gleam in her eyes. 

Blacknail just sighed again. “No, I got a lot to do still. Maybe later.” 

Turning away, he glanced toward the direction in which the ruins of Coroulis lay. Despite having finally killed his mortal foe, there was an almost overwhelming amount of work still to do. He’d sort of assumed that Werrick’s death would automatically make things easier, but it really hadn’t. 

Myagnoir still lived, and there was the matter of Ilisti. Blakcnail hoped he was still alive. He needed to track the vympir down and find the silver. Even when that was over with, and Myagnoir wouldn’t be easy to deal with, there was still the slight problems of the boggart hordes spilling forth from the dark paths and the ever-spreading ghoul pestilence. Ugh, it was enough to make Blacknail want to climb a tree and take a nap until everyone left him alone. Why couldn’t his minions be more competent and deal with these things themselves without bothering him? They were really slacking. 

Leaving the prisoners behind with their guards, Blacknail led the rest of his force back to the city. His first priority was finding out what had happened to Ilisti. Thankfully, that didn’t turn out to be very hard. After marching through the city gates and back into the ruins, one of Ilisti’s men found them and brought the vympir over. It seemed like six of Ilisti’s personal troops had survived the fight and reunited with their lord. 

“What has happened?” Ilisti asked as he stepped out from shadows cast by the ruins of a home. “You seem to have emerged victorious, but is our foe, the Wolf, truly dead? That black-hearted traitor deserves far worse than a swift ending.” 

The vympir seemed to have recovered somewhat. He wasn’t limping anymore, although his armor was still dented.  

“Ya, he’s dead, but we still have problems,” Blacknail told him.

Ilisti nodded and then looked over at some distant ruins. “Myagnoir. I can sense that the beast still lives. His presence is like a chill wind upon my skin, and a blot upon the land itself.”

“Can you still fight? My minions are gathering up all the fire weapons the mages made and then I’m going to hunt it down before it can heal.”

“You plan seems sound, and nothing would keep me from this battle. So, let us fulfill our quest together. First though, my own condition would be greatly improved by some sustenance. Do you have any dying prisoners?”

“I’m sure there are some humans laying around somewhere,” Blackanil replied. “I’ll have my scouts look.”

The vympir nodded and then followed a pair of hob scouts back out into the forest. Blacknail had given them instructions to find a dying commoner that was away from the prisoners. He didn’t want them panicking when the vympir started feeding. 

That done, Blacknail got back to work. Scouts had to be sent out and gear had to be gathered up from where it had been dropped. Myagnoir was wounded, but Blacknail still wanted every fire-lance and mage trick he could get his hands on before confronting the beast. Having as many amulets as possible was even more important. If Myagnoir started using his huge cold attacks again, only those with amulets would be able to stay in the fight. 

It didn’t take long for some of the scouts to return. They’d found Myagnoir’s lair. The great beast had retreated into the ruins of a keep. 

After following his minions over to the site, Blacknail stared down at it from atop the remains of a tall stone building down the street. The keep was massive construction made up of huge stone blocks, but it was in a state of quite some disrepair. Rubble littered the ground around it, all its towers had fallen, and there was a huge gaping hole in its side. That hole was obviously how Myagnoir entered and left the building. 

“What do we do now, boss?” Herah asked from beside him.

“Now, we watch and wait for Ilisti to get back, and then we make a plan,” he replied. 

Thankfully, Ilisti soon showed up with a new spring in his step. Apparently, a stiff drink of altered human blood had really energized him. As he reached Blacknail’s side, they immediately began planning and plotting. Then, when they had decided on a course of action, they sprang into action. 

The force split into three. The first group was the largest and contained all the Ilisti, Khita, and most the troops. The second was made of up the hobgoblin mages and their guards, while the third was the smallest and comprised of Blacknail and a few of his tougher hobgoblins. On the street, Ilisti’s group took up position between the mages and the hole in the keep wall. Meanwhile, Blacknail’s group circled around to the side. 

As Blacknail hid behind some rubble in an alley next to the road, the battle began with a dramatic flair. The hobgoblin mages opened fire, sending four hissing fireballs up into the air. The burning magic arced down at the keep a moment later and then hit the ruins with a series of loud bangs. Crackling flames washed over the stones and one even flew into the hole in the keep’s wall before exploding. 

The response to the attack was immediate and powerful. A furious roar echoed out from the keep, shaking the very stones before hitting the attackers. Blacknail winced as the painful sound pierced his ears and reverberated through his head. Ugh, Myagnoir was loud! 

A second later, a blast of air ripped out of the keep, extinguishing the flames from the hobgoblin’s attack. The wicked gale then raced down the street and hit Ilisti’s force. They shivered and stumbled back under its force, but it only lasted for moment before ending. 

However, that was when Myagnoir emerged halfway out of the keep and looked around. The beast had no choice but to come out and face its attackers, since the keep wouldn’t shield it from repeated waves of fireballs. The fiery blasts would collapse the old stone structure eventually. The huge mutant drake glared spitefully at the forces before it. It then let out another roar of challenge before stepping completely out of the keep and out onto the road. 

Immediately, Imp and the hobgoblin mages launched another volley of fireballs at the beast. The fiery projectiles zoomed toward the drake with lethal intent, but then Myangoir replied by exhaling deeply toward the incoming missiles. The breath contained a wave of magical power. It rippled out from the drake and slammed into the fireballs. They were snuffed out by the freezing air and their remains were blasted off into the distance. 

Seemingly unconcerned, the hobgoblin mages simply threw another four fireballs at Myagnoir. They had a lot of mana stones, and were under orders not to hold anything back. Their target reacted as before, unleashing another great breath of freezing air at the incoming attacks which dispelled them. However, Imp wasn’t done. As Myagnoir exhaled, he raised a staff taken from a fallen human mage and shot a beam of intense burning heat straight toward Myagnoir. 

The attack caught Myagnoir off guard, and slammed into its shoulder, blackening scales and causing the beast to roar in pain before it could respond. A moment later, Myagnoir jumped away from the beam and then summoned a swirling shield of freezing air that surrounded its body, but it had clearly been wounded again. The burn on its shoulder looked serious. 

Of course, this wound only seemed to enrage Myagnoir further. Roaring in defiance, the great beast charged toward Ilisti’s force with obvious violent intent. Imp sent another beam of heat at Myagnoir, but the mutant’s magic shield shredded it. 

Surrounded by spinning gusts of icy wind, Myagnoir slammed into the force that was standing between him and the mages. For a few seconds, the hobgoblins tried to repulse him, but then they quickly began to break. Huge claws threw them aside as chilling winds tore into them. Most of them didn’t have amulets to protect them from the cold, and those without quickly turned and fled before the killing cold. Thankfully, Myagnoir wasn’t projecting his cold very far from his body any more. He seemed to not have as much energy as before. 

Not everyone fled before the great drake though, Ilisti and Khita held their ground, while a few hobs with amulets rallied round them. Dodging the drake’s bites and slashes, they struck back with their own weapons. Ilisti sidestepped a claw and then stabbed it with the fire-lance he was holding. Khita also had a fire-lance, and she had no problem dodging, but her attempts to counter with the fire-lance were clumsy and missed. Clearly, she had no idea how to use the weapon. One hobgoblin wasn’t so lucky though. Striking with startling speed, Myagnoir’s head shot forth and its jaws closed down on him. A second later, the hobgoblin vanished down the drake’s gullet.

That didn’t stop Ilisti from dashing forward and stabbing Myagnoir in the ribs. Enraged, Myagnoir attempted to barrel right through its attackers and crush them beneath its weight. Growling furiously, it let out a pulse of frost that stunned the nearby hobgoblins and human. Then, its claws and tail lashed out violently as it charged through their center. 

One hob was thrown aside by the strike of a claw, and everyone else was forced to flee from the creature’s powerful and furious advance. Some stumbled back while trying to defend themselves, while others simply turned and ran. Roaring in triumph, Myagnoir then broke through and advanced toward the mages that had hurt it. 

However, this was all part of Blacknail’s plan. As the mutant drake surged past the scattered remains of Ilisti’s troops, Imp hit it with another heat beam. The magic attack slammed into the drake’s wind shield, doing no damage, but weakening the power of the shield. The swirling wind died down as the heat beam assaulting it faded, allowing Ilisti and Khita to throw themselves back into the fight. They both came in from the front and slashed at Myagnoir’s limbs, forcing the huge drake to end its charge. Hurt and occupied by the enemy in front of it, Myagnoir didn’t notice Blacknail.

The hobgoblin chieftain had been hiding at the edge of the road in some ruins, until Myagnoir’s charge had brought it right past his position. Now that Myagnoir was stuck in place and busy fighting Ilisti and Khita right in front of him, Blacknail sprang into action. With fire-lance in hand, he quickly scrambled up the side of a crumbling building. After pulling himself up onto what remained of the structure’s roof, he glanced at his foe again. He was about head height with the drake now, and Myagnoir appeared to still be completely unaware of his presence.

In fact, as Blacknail watched, Ilisiti charged in to strike at the beast’s flank and Myagnoir responded. The great drake stepped sideways -toward Blacknail’s location- and then leaned down to bite at the vympir. Thankfully, Ilisti managed to dodge. 

This was too good of an opportunity for Blacknail to ignore. A crazy idea popped into his head. He knew it was a little risky, but he was feeling bold. Werrick was already dead, and he had died in a very unsatisfying way. Now was his chance to do something amazing. It wasn’t like he had a lot of long term plans any more. 

Grinning, Blacknail drew on the magic in his core and threw himself off the top of the building, straight at the top of Myagnoir’s head. Wind rushed past the hobgoblin’s body as he flew toward the beast’s grey scales, and hungry excitement coursed through his body alongside his blood. He raised his fire-lance up above his head. 

Then, Blacknail’s feet made contact with the top of Myagnoir’s head. The landing sent a shock up through his legs, but Blacknail still managed to keep himself steady and stab down at Myagnoir’s skull with his fire-lance. As he drew on magic to put as much strength as possible into the blow, he activated the weapon itself. The length of the lance immediately began shimmering hazily as intense heat radiated out from it. That heat pushed back against the chill around Myagnoir, causing the air to hiss and swirl. 

Myangoir couldn’t miss the sensation of Blacknail landing on top of its head, and it instantly sensed danger and tried to shake the unseen creature off. However, it wasn’t nearly fast enough. Before it could do more than shiver, Blacknail struck. His fire-lance hit scales and then burned through them as the hobgoblin’s enhanced strength and momentum drove the lance deep. The weapon struck bone and vibrated from the impact, but then the magic weapon cracked its way through and sank into Myangoir’s brain, unleashing a wave of withering heat. 

The great drake screamed again, although this time the noise was nothing like anything it had made before. The air seemed to vibrate in resonance with the beast’s primal pain. The sound tore into Blacknail, and would have hurt him more, but he had already been thrown off Myagnoir by the beast’s spasms of pain. Blacknail twisted around in mid-air in an attempt to land on his feet. As he neared the stone covered ground, he managed to get them underneath him, but didn’t quite succeed in catching himself. Falling sideways, he threw himself into a roll that sent him away from his foe. 

Meanwhile, Myagnoir was still screaming in pain and flailing around. The beast’s bulk slammed into the building Blacknail had been standing on a minute ago, demolishing it and sending up a huge cloud of dust. Its tail then smashed into another building, destroying it as well. The drake certainly seemed unsteady on its feet. 

As Blacknail got to his feet, he watched Myagnoir pull itself and step out of the dust cloud. The massive mutant drake then turned to look squarely at the hobgoblin that had stabbed it. Its eyes betrayed more than a little pain and confusion, but they absolutely radiated hatred that was aimed right at Blacknail. Hissing furiously, the drake then lurched toward him. The ground shook beneath its heavy footsteps and it jaws opened wide, revealing wicked looking teeth of immense size. 

The drake’s charge was startlingly fast, considering its wounds, and as it moved, it unleashed a massive surge of power. A blast of cold air erupted from Myagnoir, sending loose stone flying and hitting Blacknail like a furious blizzard. 

As the freezing power washed over him, all the hobgoblin could do was stumble back and stare at his approaching death. The cold seemed to sap all his strength, despite his amulet. He was paralyzed and stuck in place as the drake loomed over him and prepared to strike. 

Myagnoir then took another step toward him, before collapsing. There was a loud boom as its huge body hit the ground, and the hobgoblin was treated to a wonderful view of his fire-lance still sticking out of Myagnoir’s skull. The beast’s now closed jaws were only a few feet away. 

“Oh, good,” Blacknail managed to squeak out as he stared at the body of his fallen foe. “I think I won.” 

Bane of Humanity 15

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Blacknail hit the ground hard after being thrown from Werrick’s horse. A shock went through his bones and he grunted in pain, but a moment later, he managed to roll across the ground and jump back to his feet. He didn’t feel like he’d been injured badly, although that might be because his entire body was already sore. Shaking his head, the hobgoblin chieftain looked around for Werrick. 

The bandit lord had been thrown about twenty feet away and had also just managed to get to his feet, although he’d dropped his sword. It was laying on the ground a few arms lengths away. Seeing an opportunity to take down big game, three nearby hobgoblins snarled and charged at the man that had fallen amongst them. Two of them held spears while the third had a short sword and a primitive wooden shield with red tribal marks on it. 

A raised arm deflected the first spear harmlessly to the side. As the surprised hobgoblin stumbled forward, Werrick reached out and grabbed him. A second later, that unlucky hobgoblin was sailing through the air right toward the other hobgoblin with a spear. They collided with a loud crack as their skulls met, and then they both fell unconscious to the ground. The sword wielding hobgoblin tried to slash at Werrick’s exposed back, but Werrick simply dodged back away from the strike and grabbed the hobgoblin’s arm. Pulling his startled opponent off-balance, Werrick then punched him in the face so hard that he flipped over backward. The hobgoblin landed in a twisted heap, and didn’t get back up. Ouch. 

His attackers defeated, the bandit lord calmly walked over to pick up his sword and then turned to look at Blacknail, who was headed his way. A knight on horseback tried to ride up and hack at the hobgoblin chieftain, but Blacknail ducked under the attack and then slashed the leg of his mount. The horse screamed shrilly – which pleased Blacknail greatly – and then tumbled over. Its rider managed to jump free and land on his knees, but before he could get up, two hobgoblins attacked him. One stabbed him in the side with a spear while the other jumped on him and began hacking at his neck with a long wicked-looking dagger. 

The arrival of his minions had changed more than the odds. The air was thick with fear now as the humans confronted a grinning inhuman foe that outnumbered them and had them surrounded. The dark stifling emotion leaked from the humans and was drawn to Blacknail by his mutant nature. Feeding on the terror, Blacknail felt his power replenish itself much faster than before. The magic boosted his strength and the overflow cycled through Blacknail before being released back out as an aura of dread, driving the humans’ fear even higher. He felt powerful. 

As Blacknail kept walking over to Werrick, a dismounted human warrior charged out of the melee and lunged at him with his blade held up high. Glancing at the man and frowning, Blacknail drew his blade with startling speed and stabbed him in the chest. With a twist of his wrist, he then twisted the weapon around and pulled it out. There was a brief sucking noise as it came free and the human warrior collapsed. With his sword now dripping crimson blood, Blacknail made it the rest of the way to Werrick unimpeded. 

Actively reinforcing himself with mana, so that his pain and weariness faded away beneath seething magic, Blacknail sneered confidently at his foe. “Nothing is going to save you this time. Today, you finally die.”

Werrick laughed darky without a hint of fear. “It is you that fate has conspired to keep alive. Your life should have ended at end of my blade long ago, you treacherous hobgoblin.”

“You betrayed me first! You’re more treacherous than me,” Blacknail shot back.

“So, you admit to planning to betray your allies!” 

Scowling, Blacknail shifted topics slightly. “I won’t be dying until I’ve avenged my master and Herah. You took them from me, and I’ll make you pay in blood and bone. I’ll put you down like a mangy dog, Wolfy.” 

“Blood and bone?” 

“I’m going to use your skull as a decoration.”

“Your grudge is petty and pathetic both. You are nothing but a savage with no comprehension of what you do. My victory over Herad was fairly won and just another step along my destiny. The North will be mine; I have claimed it by right of steel and blood. You are nothing but a hobgoblin beast howling in the dark. I am a lord with backing of interests beyond your ability to understand.”

It was Blacknail’s turn to laugh. “The North is mine. Yours is the old way that has already failed. I am making something young and strong. Your men sicken and die as my hobs grow more numerous. Even now I’ve sent raiders to slaughter your men wherever they hide. When I leave the Green with the silver, your entire band will be already be dead or have surrendered to me. Your ambitions were doomed the moment you stepped into the Deep Green with me.”

“Then I shall simply kill you and your pathetic tribe of savages will turn on each other,” Werrick spat angrily. “The silver is all I need to rebuild my kingdom. My destiny will not be denied. Before the fall of Courolis, my mother’s family were the most powerful nobles in the North, and I’m an unmatched warrior. The gods themselves have blessed my conquest. Once I cut you down like just another mutant beast that threatens my domain, I will become the king I was always meant to be and rebuild the North to its past glory.” 

“That’s not going to happen. I’ve built far more than you ever have, with all your talk of blood and destiny. No matter what, the North has changed beyond your ability to control. The old North is long gone, and it will have no human king. The boggarts and I have seen to that.” 

“You are capable of nothing but ruin and will bring the people of the North nothing but suffering. What they need is a king, and my destiny will not be denied!” Werrick snarled as he finally threw himself forward to attack. 

Blacknail stepped forward to meet him, and their blades crashed together with a loud clang that reverberated throughout the melee. Neither of them gave ground, so both combatants then began hacking and slashing at each other viciously. 

Off to the side, Blacknail saw a fireball slam into a glowing shield. It detonated with a bang, raining fire down on several fighters. There were screams as the flames hit both hobs and humans, but Blacknail was too preoccupied to see any more. The important thing was that he hadn’t been hit, although it would also be nice to know if his mages were winning their fight. Right now, he had no idea. Stupid magic. 

Ducking under a high blow from Werrick, Blacknail tried to slash the man’s shoulder, only to miss as Werrick stepped back. The fighters didn’t slow for a second. They both kept up a brutal of flurry of attacks while they attempted to find a weakness and seize the advantage. Their exchanges were so fast and powerful that everyone else fell back to give them room. Any normal soldier intruding upon their duel would have been cut down before they knew what happened. 

Werrick and Blacknail seemed to be quite evenly matched. During their last bout, Werrick had held all the advantages, but Blacknail’s second transformation had fixed that. Their bodies were now around the same size, if you ignored the hob’s horns. Werrick was still the more skilled swordsman, with many more years of practice, but Blacknail’s mutant body was superior to that of Werrick’s. Compared to a human Vessel, Blacknail had both faster arms and eyes. He could keep up with all of Werrick’s movements, even the tricky ones. 

Werrick stepped back and launched a flurry of air slashes at Blacknail. They flew out at the hobgoblin without warning, forcing him to spin and duck out of the way. A split second later, both combatants lunged at each other and their blades met again, sending vibrations down both their arms.

Both fighters were giving their battle everything they had, but as blow after blow was exchanged, Blacknail began to grow more confident. Werrick was beginning to lag, while Blacknail felt as if he could keep up this pace all day. Fear reigned across the battlefield, feeding him more and more power. Magic circulated through his body as thick as blood now, invigorating him. Meanwhile, Werrick was dependent on Elixir, and Blacknail didn’t plan on giving him a single moment to drink any. His assault was relentless. If he kept this a battle of endurance he would win. That was a good feeling. Blacknail had been waiting for this day for so long. His mortal enemy was in his power at last, and soon he would taste his heart’s blood. 

Werrick didn’t appear too concerned though. He calmly matched every blow of Blacknail’s with one of his own, forcing the hobgoblin to keep absolutely focused on the fight. The man probably had at least one trick left. He hadn’t dominated the North and killed Herad by being predictable and easy to defeat.

Snarling as his memories of loss fed his rage, Blacknail picked up the pace. His blows became even more savage as he attempted to put his foe on the defensive and crush him. At first, Werrick managed to hold his own with a series of graceful yet powerful counters, but then he was pushed back by a brutal cleave attack that knocked his weapon aside in a shower of sparks. 

Blacknail attacked again immediately, and Werrick responded by jumping to the side. At the same time, the bandit lord grabbed his own wrist and pulled something loose, a steel bracelet. A second later, Werrick tossed the bracelet at Blacknail. On guard for tricks, Blacknail immediately dodged to the side and scrambled away from the suspicious item.

It was the right move. As soon as it hit the ground, the bracelet exploded with a boom that sent dust flying in every direction. Shielding his eyes, Blacknail felt a rock hit him in the chest, cracking a rib and driving the air from his lungs. The blast had seemed like a less controlled version of Werrick’s power. The bracelet must have been designed to use it that way. 

Ignoring the injury, Blacknail glanced back at Werrick. The man hadn’t attacked. Instead, he was chugging down a vial of Elixir. He finished a moment later, and after giving the hobgoblin a smug grin, he raised his blade and moved to attack again. 

Their blades met with a metallic crash. His sore rib only slowed Blacknail slightly, but Werrick was also in better condition now thanks to his Elixir. Blacknail dodged a slash and feinted at Werrick’s left shoulder before being pushed back. It was a tiny edge, but now Werrick seemed to have the advantage. Blacknail found himself on the defensive as a reinvigorated Werrick hit him with one heavy blow after the other. Desperately, he only managed to block each blow at the last second, and his own attacks stopped completely. 

Suddenly, a redheaded blur dashed out of the melee to Blacknail’s left and charged at Werrick’s back. It was Khita and she had her sword raised and ready to strike. Blacknail could only watch in surprise as she attacked.

However, Werrick saw her coming somehow. Spinning around, he unleashed a heavy horizontal slash at her chest. As Blackail jumped forward to help, Khita managed to block Werrick’s blow, but his strength was too much. It pushed her weapon aside and then his blade slammed into her side, slicing through armor and into gut. Gasping in shock and pain, Khita’s eyes went wide as she was knocked over and collapsed to the ground. 

Werrick then spun back to block Blacknail’s savage strike. Their blades ground together and locked in place as they both pushed with everything they had. 

“You’ll pay for that!” Blacknail hissed. He was furious that Werrick had slain another of his companions, but at least it had been Khita. She wasn’t that useful any more, since he had no problem getting other human minions now. Also, she was so annoying that he’d thought about leaving her alone in the Green to die many times. Blacknail still planned to avenge her though. Also, Herah would miss her.  

“I’ll soon send you to meet all the lost souls you claim to care so much about!” Werrick growled back as he strained to overpower his attacker. 

At first, they were evenly matched, but then Blacknail embraced his emotions. Cold power coursed through him, spiraling down as he drew on the terror in the air. Black rage and grief rose to meet it, burning like a terrible inferno. They swirled together as emotions seethed within Blacknail. He was going to tear Werrick apart! All his losses would be avenged by his own hand, and then when Werrick was dead, he’d never lose anyone he cared about again. Even Khita had – sort of – been his friend, he could admit that now that she was dead. She’d been annoying, but loyal in her own way. Not the right way, but a way. 

Muscles straining, Blacknail hissed like a boiling kettle as his rage steamed out from him. Then, he gathered all his power and prepared to overpower his mortal enemy and finally slay him. 

That was when Khita got back up and stabbed Werrick in the back. Dumbfounded, Blacknail could only watch as her blade pierced armor and slid past bone to sink deep into the warlord’s flesh. 

Eyes wide in surprise, Werrick wobbled on his feet. “What? No! I’m supposed to become king. My destiny…”

Blacknail blinked as his arms grew slack. What? 

“Shut up and die. This is for all of Herad’s band!” Khita said as she kicked the bandit lord over. The redhead then hacked at the man’s neck with her sword a few times to make sure he was dead. 

“What did you do?” Blacknail asked in disbelief after he’d recovered from his stunned surprise. 

Khita laughed arrogantly. “I’ve killed Werrick, the Wolf of the North, and taken my place in bandit history! Now I’m the strongest human bandit lord of all time.”

“Bandit history? That’s not how it works, and he was mine! I was going to kill him. I’d waited and planned for years to do it!”

Khita snorted rudely. “Please. He was knocking you around like a wooden top and would have cut you down soon. I saved you.”

“I was faking it! I was luring him in so I could finish him off!”

“Phew, sure you were.” 

Blacknail sputtered angrily. Magic and rage still boiled within him, although it was fading. He really wanted to punch the redhead right in her smug face, but his hard-earned discipline stopped him. “How are you even alive? Werrick sliced you open like an apple, but you’re walking around as if you’re fine.” 

Rolling her eyes, Khita lifted her bloody shirt to reveal her stomach and ribs. Her pale skin was splattered with blood, but her wound was covered in what looked like black scales. Blacknail recognized them instantly. The same growths had appeared over Herad’s wounds, protecting them and allowing them to heal much faster. It had been her Vessel power. 

“When did you learn to do that?”

Khita shrugged. “Quite a while back. I’m using Herad’s Elixir recipe after all. It just never came up, and it’s not something I can just show off on demand anyway. Still, it’s a super handy magic power to have, since I tend get stabbed a lot lately. Werrick sure didn’t see it coming.” 

“Why couldn’t you really be dead,” Blacknail quietly muttered to himself as he eyed the redhead darkly. This was just what he needed. Now Khita was even more difficult to kill. Ugh, the world wasn’t fair. 

Looking around, Khita scanned the melee. “You should probably do something about the rest of this battle, so I can get on to spreading the legend of the Red Cat.”

“The Red Cat?”

“It’s my bandit name.”

“That’s a terrible bandit name,” Blacknail told her. 

“It’s better than Blacknail.”

“Blacknail is my actual name! I didn’t pick it.”

“Whatever. We should probably focus on the battle.”

Annoyed at her obvious deflection, Blacknail nonetheless saw her point. He did still have a battle to win and some knights to mop up. They’d betrayed him and Sir Masnin, so technically they were targets of his vengeance as well. Blacknail tried to get worked up about that, but he couldn’t really manage it. Faced with Khita’s stupidity, his rage had drained away. Werrick’s death at Khita’s hands was just too depressing. He couldn’t believe that had happened. He’d been looking forward to doing it himself since forever. 

“If you’re so tough, why don’t you end the battle?” Blacknail told Khita. “Go add to the legend of the Red Cat while I stay here and watch.” 

She glared at him. “I just took a sword to the stomach. I may not be dying thanks to my amazing magic, but I’m not at my best either.” 

Sighing, Blacknail studied the fighting around him. The stench of fear was even stronger now. It seemed like more than a few humans had noticed Werrick’s fall and word had spread through the bandit lord’s forces that their leader was dead. Many of them had already been cut down, although the fight was still ongoing. It looked like a few knights had fled off into the trees, but Blacknail knew they wouldn’t get far. 

Feeling tired after the depressing end to his long-awaited duel with his mortal enemy, Blacknail simply wanted to get the rest of this battle over with. There were still things he had to do today, like deal with Myagnoir. Sigh. Was Zelena still around here somewhere? Leaving her alive would be a mistake. 

After clearing his throat, Blacknail let out a stifling wave of magical fear and began yelling. “Alright, listen all you stupid humans. Werrick is dead! Surrender and I’ll let you live. Keep fighting and I’ll rip your limbs off and feed them to you.” 

“Ya, and I’m the one that killed Werrick. Khita, the Red Cat!” Khita added proudly. “Fear me too!”

Blacknail gave her a look. He was so going to leave her behind when he went back south. 

Bane of Humanity 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone ignored her. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bane of Humanity 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Now we fight,” he replied.

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

“Don’t worry. I have a plan.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not the same as before.”

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