Blacknail traced their path back to the bandit camp by following their old scent trail. It was easy because he had an amazing nose and was the greatest goblin tracker ever!
The goblin kept a sharp look out for signs of danger and unknown smells as he trudged along through the forest. His master was depending on him to get them home safely.
A sudden breeze blew through the trees causing some of them to sway and creak ominously. Blacknail froze in alarm. He stopped and stared at a tree up ahead of him. Had its movement just been the wind or had it been something more sinister?
The tree definitely didn’t seem to look right to Blacknail, not nearly tree-like enough. Was it another mimic? He got out his sling and started to spin it.
He unleashed the stone and it whistled through the air and bounced off the tree with a dull thud, before falling down onto the dirt. Blacknail held his breath.
Nothing else happened. The tree didn’t split open, move around, try to eat him, or anything else threatening. He was still suspicious.
“It’s not a mimic, Blacknail,” Saeter remarked dryly from behind him. “Just like the last three trees you checked.”
Blacknail sighed and walked under the tree. It didn’t move or transform into a horrible abomination. Sometimes his master was just no fun. They continued on.
The sunlight moved westward through the branches overhead as they reached the halfway point back. Blacknail was climbing over a large fallen tree trunk that was starting to rot into mulch when the barest traces of a scent suddenly caught his attention. He titled his head back and sniffed the air.
At first he smelled nothing out of the ordinary, but after a moment a scent he knew well filled his nose. Excitedly, he stopped atop the log and stood up to get a good view of the woods.
He scanned the ground and brush around him for the source of the smell. His heart started pounding as he searched. He saw a lot of roots, fallen logs, and small bushes, but no obvious threats.
“What is it?” Saeter asked with alarm.
He was in no shape for another fight and he knew it. Both his arms were heavily bandaged and he was walking with a limp.
“Goblins, many,” Blacknail answered quietly.
Several different complex emotions rose within him and mixed together chaotically. Part of him suddenly wanted to challenge the goblins for the territory. Another part of him knew that was dumb. He was outnumbered with only a wounded Saeter for backup and that they needed to get to camp. He hesitated.
“Do you smell a hobgoblin, Blacknail?” Saeter asked him nervously.
What? Blacknail turned to his master and gave him a questioning look.
“Dunno?” he answered doubtfully. “What’s a hobgoblin?”
The old grey haired scout gave him a surprised look back.
“You don’t know what a hobgoblin is?” he asked the goblin.
Blacknail nodded in confirmation. He did not know this thing.
“Huh, do you smell a large strange goblin?” Saeter asked carefully after a second of thought.
Blacknail frowned. How was he supposed smell how large a goblin was? Sometimes his master said some stupid things.
“No, master. None like that,” Blacknail replied after taking another sniff. All the goblins he could smell seemed normal enough.
His master looked relieved at the goblin’s answer. Now, Blacknail really wanted to know what a hobgoblin was. It sounded interesting.
“Keep moving but be ready for a fight. We should be able to scare them away though, they’re just… um goblins,” Saeter said with an awkward finish.
Blacknail ignored the unplanned insult. He nodded to his master and jumped down from the log as he forged ahead through the woods.
With an expectant smile, he drew his knife and held it ready in front of himself. Back in the humid darkness of the sewers when he had fought other goblins he had never had a weapon like this. It was so sharp, shiny, and dangerous! Saeter had drawn his own knife with his unbound arm as well.
Blacknail could smell the goblins better now. There seemed to be at least four of them and they were definitely moving closer. They were probably investigating his scent and looking to kill the strange trespasser. The smell of his master’s blood could had also have convinced them an easy meal was nearby.
They would get no easy meal from him. Blacknail closed his eyes and concentrated on his hearing. From within the darkness behind his own eyelids, he heard the scrunch of dead leaves being crushed and the sound of soft footsteps on dry dirt. He spun around and opened his eyes but didn’t see anything.
Blacknail narrowed his eyes warily as he scanned the surrounding bushes and trees for any signs of the goblins stalking them. He could feel them watching him. Every instinct he had was telling him there were hostile goblins around.
Out the corner of his eye, a green blur suddenly shot out from below some tangled roots and raced towards him. Blacknail reacted quickly and jumped away, just as the attacking goblin smashed its large wooden club down onto the ground by his feet. The club was made from a large twisted branch and looked like it would have really hurt had it hit.
The feral goblin’s long green ears went flat and it snarled viciously at Blacknail. He was unfazed though, and hissed a challenge right back. It was time to show this ugly wimp who was the toughest goblin around.
Blacknail wasted no time and eagerly launched himself at his opponent. He intended to counterattack before the other goblin could recover from missing with his club.
As he charged, Blacknail got a good look at his first forest goblin. The goblin was a slightly greener shade than him, completely naked, and ugly as mashed worms. Blacknail’s face had the same long nose, thick brow, and squinty eyes but they looked much better on him.
Blacknail’s smile grew wider and he bared his teeth as he took in his opponent. He was bigger than this naked little runt. It should be an easy fight, and that was his favourite kind.
As Blacknail moved to complete his counterattack and stab his attacker, something hit him from behind. He snarled and turned to see that another goblin had tackled him from behind. Hey, that was cheating!
“Cowards!” Blacknail hissed as this new goblin and he got tangled together and went flying off to the side.
They rolled across the ground. His new opponent tried to smash his head in with a sharp pointy rock, but Blacknail grabbed his arm and stopped the blow. This fight was his!
He and his opponent then fought and clawed at each other as their momentum carried them through a prickly bush. The feral was too wary of Blacknail’s blade to let himself get stabbed. Together, they then tumbled and smashed into the bottom of a thick standing tree.
Blacknail was stunned and lost his grip on the other goblin for a second. Luckily, his opponent wasn’t any better off. The two goblins fell apart, took a few seconds to recover, and got to their feet again. The feral goblin still had his pointy rock clenched tightly in one of his fists and Blacknail had his knife.
“Raargh!” the naked green pipsqueak yelled as he raised it above his head and charged.
“No quarter!” Blacknail shouted back as he ducked under the rock. It was something he had heard the bandits yell during fights.
He then tackled his opponent to the ground and bit him. His teeth sank into the flesh under the other goblin’s arm, where he couldn’t be hit by his opponent’s rock. The taste of iron filled Blacknail’s mouth as he drew blood. It excited him. He was winning!
The other goblin yelped loudly in pain and tried to pull away. Without mercy, Blacknail withdrew his teeth and stabbed his opponent in the shoulder with his blade. He had been aiming for the other goblin’s neck.
Regardless, the rock wielding goblin fell wailing to the ground. Blood dribbled from his side where he’d been bitten and the shoulder where he’d been stabbed. Blacknail spat blood onto the ground and wiped his mouth clean as he looked triumphantly down on his defeated opponent. Victory was his!
Blacknail was now breathing hard and had several new scratches that burned painfully. The other goblin’s nails had been very sharp. As he sucked down air he was alarmed to hear the crackle of leaves behind him.
He spun around just in time to duck out of the way of a surprise attack. The branch wielding goblin had rejoined the fight. Blacknail felt the club whoosh by his head as he ducked under it. Right, he had almost forgotten about that guy. How silly of him.
As he scrambled away from the club, he saw his master Saeter attempting to fight three other goblins. They circled around the man wielding long wooden spears.
“Damnation, you bloody little bastards,” Saeter swore in frustration.
He was obviously having trouble defending himself from all three of them. The old scout only had one useable arm which held a long dagger. He looked exhausted as he hopped around avoiding the goblins’ clumsy spear thrusts.
Blacknail had to focus on his own fight, though. The club wielder rushed him again. Instead of dodging again, Blacknail leaped forward before the other goblin was ready and tackled him.
They both fell over but Blacknail landed on top. He then easily managed to block the other goblin’s clumsy swings, as they were too close together for the club to be swung properly.
Blacknail put all his weight on the other goblin’s chest. Spittle flew from the feral’s mouth as he screeched and tried to bite Blacknail with his broken yellow teeth but Blacknail held him down. He had a strong one handed grip around the feral goblin’s throat.
The fight ended as Blacknail brought up his free hand and stabbed his opponent savagely up and under the ribs as Saeter had taught him. Then he did it again several times just to be sure.
Blood poured out of the wound onto the ground. The club wielder twitched and choked before going still and limp. Blacknail chuckled happily. Truly, he was a strong goblin. He’d defeated two other goblins by himself!
As Blacknail rose to his feet he turned to face the three goblins attacking his master. However, they took one look at him standing over their two defeated pack mates and fled. They scampered off into the woods with a quick series of fearful yelps.
The wounded goblin also managed to get to his feet and dive back under the roots the first goblin had hidden in. Blacknail watched him go and saw that there was a burrow under there. He felt no desire what so ever to try and chase the wounded goblin underground. That would be too much work.
“Well, this hasn’t been a good day for me,” Saeter remarked tiredly.
The old scout was swaying unsteadily but he was still standing. The goblins’ crude spears hadn’t pierced his leather armor but they’d still hurt when they had jabbed him, and they had jabbed him a lot.
Blacknail smiled up at his master as excitement overcame him.
“We win. I win! I stab, bite, and stab, and win.” Blacknail exclaimed joyfully with a little hop. He had shown those other goblins who owned this territory. Him, he did!
Saeter just gave Blacknail a tired look.
“Well, we’re still alive anyway. Let’s hurry back. I need a drink… and medical attention,” Saeter grunted.
With a shrug, Blacknail did as he was told and headed towards the camp. He had his own cuts and scrapes but none of them were too serious. They were just proof of his strength and toughness!
Saeter moved even slower now as he hobbled after Blacknail. Both exhaustion and pain from his new wounds slowed him, minor though they seemed. The old scout muttered and grumbled as he walked.
Blacknail thought his master should be happier that they had won, but he had come to realize his master was kind of grumpy for a human.
Blacknail strutted confidently through the woods now. His earlier victory had intoxicated him. He was the strongest goblin around! The toughest in the entire forest! He still kept his eyes open but his usual fear of the forest had subsided for now.
An unexpected glimmer of color among the green to his left caught his eye. Shiny! He wandered over to get a better look. The thing was small, about the size of his fist, and many different sparkling colors. It seemed to reflect the light in a rainbow hue. As he moved Blacknail heard a grunt behind him.
“Bad, Blacknail. Come back. Stay on the trail,” Saeter shouted before a fit of coughing overtook him.
Blacknail looked back with concern. He really should turn around. With regret he turned back away from the shiny thing. Knowing this forest, it was probably some sort of horrific murder trap anyway.
As he walked back to Saeter, he heard a whirring sound from behind him. With a panicked twitch Blacknail threw himself off to the side. He rolled and scrambled through the dirt before getting to his feet and turning to see what was attacking him.
The shiny object he had seen flew past him. As he watched the small colorful thing buzzed over to a tree and landed on it. It was a bug. Oh, he recognized it now. Blacknail felt really embarrassed. He threw a quick glance back towards his master. Saeter was glowering impatiently at him.
The bug on the tree was large and its wings shone with different colors as the light hit it. It looked like a cross between a beetle and an ant, and it had huge sharp looking mandibles.
Blacknail had seen plenty of them underground in the sewers. One of his main jobs had been to exterminate them. They tended to build large nests that blocked pipes, and drill holes through other pipes. His old masters hadn’t liked them much. They were also poisonous so you couldn’t even eat them. Out of habit the goblin drew his sling to kill it.
“Stop, Blacknail!” Saeter shouted suddenly as Blacknail was in mid swing. The goblin stopped and looked over to his master with a confused expression on his face.
“It’s bad luck to kill a harvester. They’re sacred to the gods,” Saeter explained to the befuddled goblin.
Blacknail considered that. If killing bugs made spirits angry it would explain all his bad luck, and how he had ended up in the forest. That made sense, no more shiny bug smashing for him. He lowered his sling.
Meanwhile, the harvester crawled up the tree bark until it reached a small green shoot. Using its pincers it snipped off the shoot and then took flight. Blacknail watched it zoom away off into the bushes with the bit of plant in its mouth.
“It will be taking that to its underground hive where it will rot and be used to grow mushrooms. That’s why it’s sacred to both Tera-Nan of growing things, and Cor-Dius of darkness,” Saeter explained reverently.
Blacknail gave Saeter a confused look. So this Tera-Nan and Cor-Dius were spirits? It figured that humans named spirits, they certainly named everything else. Saeter met his gaze and gave a pained chuckle.
“I’m not going to try and explain the gods to a goblin. No offence Blacknail. Now let’s get going,” Saeter told him sternly.
With a shrug, Blacknail moved back onto the path and began to guide Saeter back to camp again. He didn’t really feel the need to learn the names of spirits anyway. It seemed kind of pointless to him. Spirits watched you and did what they wanted whether you knew their names or not.
As they moved Saeter began to limp more and more. He was also noticeably slowing down. Blacknail began to grow concerned that his master wouldn’t make it back to camp. Dragging him would be a lot of work.
Luckily, Blacknail soon heard the sound of human voices through the underbrush. His long pointy ears detected the noise before Saeter did. He scampered off into the bushes to check it out.
“Hey, where are going? Come back Blacknail.” Saeter shouted after him.
“Hear voices. Be right back,” Blacknail responded.
He peered out from behind a tree and saw a group of rough looking humans moving around the forest. It took him a second but he recognized several of them, mostly by their strong smell. Smiling in relief, Blacknail turned and ran back to his master.
“This way! Band this way,” Blacknail told Saeter happily as he ran up to him.
Saeter gave him an annoyed look but began to walk in the direction Blacknail indicated. They soon ran into the other bandits, who were obviously searchers out looking for the cave.
There were a dozen of them spread over a small area checking under bushes and behind rocks for crevices or caves. As Saeter and Blacknail approached, one of them looked up and gave them an amused look.
“What in all creation happened to you, and should I be worried? There isn’t a pissed off drake chasing you I hope?” the man asked Saeter as he took in their exhausted and ragged state.
Saeter’s clothes were cut and covered in blood. His one arm was also in a sling. Blacknail had his own share of bloodstains and scratches as well. Saeter scowled back at the man.
“We’ll be fine, thanks for asking; and there is no drake. We just walked into a mimic and then a bunch of feral goblins decided we looked like a free meal,” Saeter replied dryly.
Blacknail nodded in agreement as his master spoke. He would have noticed a drake. He had heard they were pretty big.
“Well, I hope that mimic isn’t around here. Also, don’t look now but I think one of those goblins is still following you,” the man told Saeter with a smile as he pointed to Blacknail.
Saeter gave the man an entirely unamused look back.
“I’m not in the mood for jokes,” the old scout replied. “The mimic is two hours walk away, so don’t worry. This area should be fairly clear for several miles, but I’m heading back to camp to get myself fixed up so you’re on your own out here. I would appreciate you sending someone back with us just in case, though.”
The other man shrugged and agreed to send someone back with them. He called a lanky bandit over and the three of them then headed back to camp together.
“Try not to trip into anymore monsters, Saeter,” the bandit joked as they walked away.
Saeter turned and scowled at the man.
“Good luck out here without a guide. I have some advice for you. When you inevitably find a troll in the next bush you search you should scream really loudly. Then everyone will know what direction to run away from,” Saeter shot back before stomping off.
They soon made it back to camp without any more surprises or encounters. Once there Saeter had his wounds cleaned and stitched up. After that they both had diner and took the rest of the day off.
It eventually grew dark and Saeter fell asleep beside the remains of their fire. He had been too tired to even make it into his tent. Blacknail grinned happily as he curled up beside his master. This had been one of his favorite days ever. He was Blacknail, the strongest goblin of them all!