Honor Among Thieves 2.8

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The next few days were very boring. Herad was gone and she had taken most the other bandits with her. Blacknail spent his time doing chores and, when boredom caused his curiosity to overcome his self preservation, a little exploring.

One afternoon, Blacknail was walking over to his master’s tent. He had been out in the forest gathering some plants for Saeter. He didn’t know why his master wanted them, they certainly didn’t taste very good, he had checked.

Suddenly, the loud crack of wood splintering startled the goblin and caused him to flinch. The first noise was soon followed by the sound of panicked human yelling. That was almost never good.

Blacknail grew concerned. Then he realized the noise was coming from the nearby forest, and it was getting closer. He immediately started to run away. Just to be safe.

He made straight for his master but the noise steadily grew closer. The nervous goblin risked a glance backwards and saw a scout burst from the edge of the forest and run frantically into the clearing. The man’s face was pale with terror and he was gasping for breath.

Not good, something bad was about to happen and he wanted as far away from it as possible. Blacknail tried to run faster. His little legs pumped frantically.

“Help,” the scout yelled desperately between gasping breaths.

The goblin was pretty sure the man wasn’t talking to him, so he just kept running away.

The camp came alive with movement and shouting as others noticed the commotion. Suddenly, Blacknail heard several bandits swear or shout in surprise. He couldn’t help but shoot another panicked look over his shoulder to find out what the men had seen. He had a feeling he wasn’t going to like it.

He was not disappointed. The forest exploded and massive creature barreled out of the bushes. It was headed straight for the running scout.

The beast snorted and squealed in rage as it tried to run the fleeing man down. The scout was, of course, leading it straight towards Blacknail.

The creature was as tall as a man and heavy with both muscle and fat. It easily weighed more than a horse. Its body was covered in dark brown spiky hair that was especially long and bristly on its back. It also had a flat snout protruding from its face, because it was a giant pig.

Even with its unbelievable mass the boar moved frighteningly quickly. Blacknail had no doubt that anyone hit by it would be smashed into paste, and then crushed under its hooves. That was, of course, if they weren’t first impaled on the long yellow tusks that jutted forward out of its mouth.

Blacknail was running on all fours now as both panic and adrenaline set in. Both the scout and the huge pig were gaining on him. Saeter had risen to his feet and was now quickly going through his things.

Blacknail raced past an empty tent. He really hoped his master would do something soon… as in really soon! He didn’t want to be trampled to death by a giant pig!

From just behind him the running goblin heard a horrible scream of pain, which was quickly followed by a wet crunching sound and then a triumphant squeal. Ouch! Hopefully the beast would leave now that it had caught its target.

Nope, the sound of heavy hooves pounding the earth continued towards Blacknail. Why did these things always happen to him!

“Bad piggy, don’t chase me,” the terrified little goblin wailed as he ran.

Suddenly, there was the crack of a sling and a surprised squeal from the boar. One of the nearby bandits had hit the pig with a rock. With a furious grunt the boar shifted its beady eyed gaze to the woman who had hit him.

The woman’s eyes widened as they met the small black eyes of the boar. You could practically see anger and hatred rise like steam from off the boar’s back. It looked pissed.

With a dreadful squeal that tore through the air, the beast switched targets and made for his assailant.

After a brief second of looking very regretful of her recent life choices, the woman turned and fled. Her sudden departure surprised several bandits who had been standing right next to her.

“Hey, wait!” one of them squeaked.

Then the entire group of bandits turned and dashed away in every direction like a swarm of insects someone had just waved their hand through. None of them tried to stand their ground.

Blacknail slowed to a jog. Whew, he needed catch his breath. The boar was no longer chasing him, thank the spirits. He should be safe for now.

As the boar closed in on her, the woman dove behind a stack of solid wooden crates. This did not stop the boar. It hit the boxes at full speed with a thunderous cracking noise.

The beast’s long tusks scooped under the crates, and a jerk of its wide head launched them into the air. Its bulky body smashed right through the remaining boxes and crushed them under its hooves. An explosion of splinters was soon all that was left of them.

The noise was deafening. Even from far away, Blacknail winced in pain as the sound assaulted his ears.

The goblin couldn’t see where the woman had ended up among all the debris. He didn’t even know if she was still alive or not. If she was dead he would remember her fondly. She had probably saved his life after all.

The boar apparently couldn’t find her either. It snorted and stomped around the ruins of the crates for a few seconds before focusing his attention on the nearest visible bandit. A startlingly angry squeal escaped the beast’s lips and then it charged after him.

“Oh hells” the man yelled as he desperately looked around for somewhere to hide.

Much to Blacknail’s alarm, the man started running in his direction.

“Eek, not again!” the goblin cursed as he picked up speed.

All the nearby bandits were either running away or hiding behind tents and equipment. Several had made for the old farm house and one was climbing a tree. It wasn’t even a very large tree.

After seeing the boar go through the pile of crates Blacknail was pretty sure those were all terrible ideas. He just wished he had a better one.

The man and the beast were quickly closing in on the small goblin, so Blacknail took off towards Saeter. Bad things from the forest were kind of his thing.

The heavy beat of hooves closed in on Blacknail from behind. He wasn’t going to make it to safety!

“No no, what to do?” the goblin squeaked as he started panicking.

Blacknail then turned and dashed towards a nearby line of wooden lean-tos. They wouldn’t stop the charging boar behind him, but maybe he could hide there.

As the goblin dove into the nearest lean-to, the man running behind him leapt to the side. The bandit barely managed to avoid being impaled on the beast’s tusks but he landed safely.

The boar didn’t try and chase him. Instead, it hit the lean-tos full force. The crude wooden structures exploded as the beast smashed through them.

From inside, Blacknail watched the small building come apart around him. Splinters and broken pieces of wood flew everywhere as the boar narrowly missed the goblin. Blacknail’s eyes widened and he turned pale as a descending hoof narrowly missed his head.

He stiffened in terror as the powerful musky smell of the boar and a deafening chorus of squeals washed over him. The terrified goblin shut his eyes and curled up into a ball, while wishing he was somewhere safe. There were no boars in his old lovely sewer home.

Then the noise stopped and the beast was gone. It had passed through the shattered lean-tos and continued on. Blacknail’s heart beat was out of control and he started twitching uncontrollably.

Was he still alive? He couldn’t believe it. The goblin patted himself down, and was surprised to find his body still intact. Still somewhat stunned, he sat up and looked out from the ruins of the lean-to.

The wide-eyed goblin watched as the beast continued to rampage through the bandits’ camp. Blacknail noticed several arrows sticking out from the creatures hide. Those were new.

Apparently, some of the humans were actually doing something other than running away in terror now, what idiots. The goblin was going to run the second the beast turned back in his direction.

As he watched, several more arrows hit the boar. It grunted in pain and squealed angrily. The arrows were coming from almost every direction now as the bandits finally got organized.

The constant painful pricks were confusing the beast; it couldn’t focus on a single target. The squealing giant stomped and spun around in circles, as more and more arrows descended upon it.

Before long, it began to slow and stumble as it bled out from an ever increasing number of wounds. Then an arrow took it in the throat, and the boar collapsed. It gave one last gasping wheeze before shuddering and going still. Its gigantic fallen body was pierced by too many arrows to count.

Saeter approached the fallen giant with sword in hand. He quickly stepped in and stabbed it under the ribs. The sword sank over halfway into the beast’s side, but it didn’t so much as twitch.

“Well, it’s dead now,” Saeter announced as he withdrew the blade. He then scowled sourly as looked around the now ravaged camp.

Other outlaws cautiously began to approach the beast. Some of them had bows but others had just popped out of hiding and were unarmed.

“At least we’ll eat well tonight,” One of the bandits remarked, which earned him a few chuckles.

“True, but we’re going to have a lot of cleaning up to do to” Saeter replied.

Blacknail shakily got up and wandered over as well. The goblin plopped down at his master’s feet and leaned his head against Saeter’s leg for support.  He just felt like sitting there for awhile, it felt nice and safe.

“We have at least one grave to dig,” another bandit added with a look towards the remains of the boar’s first victim.

Blacknail looked over as well. He had realized a very important truth today, never hit a boar with a sling.

With one of his usual annoyed grunts, Saeter took charge and got everyone started on cleaning up. There was a lot to do. The titanic boar had done a huge amount of damage, and it soon grew dark.

Saeter had put himself in charge of cooking the boar. He had a giant spit roast made and the boar was cut up and put on it. When it was done he allowed everyone to stop for supper.

Blacknail joined his master at their camp fire. The smell of roasting meat was making the goblin drool all over himself. It smelled so nice! He wanted to bite into it so badly.

Saeter saw the goblin and threw him a small piece of greasy meat. Blacknail caught it right out of the air with his mouth and instantly started chewing. The goblin shivered happily as smacked loudly. His mouth tingled with glorious deliciousness.

Unfortunately, he soon swallowed the last bit of meat and his stomach wasn’t full.  The goblin opened his eyes wide and gave his master a pleading expression but the man ignored him. Blacknail cried a little as he sat next to the fire.

Why did his master never give him enough food? It wasn’t like Saeter was a cruel master, far from it.

Oh well, it was fine. Blacknail had a cunning plot in place to secure more food. He was going to go and beg from Geralhd. It worked every time.

After a brief walk around the now dark and campfire lit camp Blacknail found the man at his usual eating place. He was seated around a fire with several other men. The flickering flame illuminated their faces as they talked.

“I bloody miss the South,” a short brown haired bandit complained. “I was born in a small farming village there. In summer you could climb a hill and see nothing but endless golden fields of wheat. There were no man-eating beasts or creepy forests.”

“If I ever strike it rich I’m getting off this stinking continent,” a bald bandit interjected. “My family’s been Elorian for generations but I want to move to the Homelands. There are no dark forests full of monsters there.”

“Ugh, not me. People from Capitas are a bunch of arrogant swine. They’d all look down on you just for coming from a former colony. They think their shit is made of gold and that everyone should bow down to them,” the other man replied.

“There are other countries there; the empire fell over a hundred years ago,” the bald man countered.

“None of them are as safe or rich as Capitas, though. Even the Homelands has wars, and half the smaller countries there spend all their time settling ancient grudges from before the empire,” the brown haired bandit replied dismissively.

“There’s always the Northern Continent. It’s huge, so there’s got to be a nice place to retire there,” a third bandit who had been sitting off to one side added.

“Ha, the countries there are little more than outposts. The beasts there are supposed to be even worse than here! I’ll stick with Capitas, it’s the center of the world,” the bald man laughed.

Blacknail wandered over to Geralhd. Normally he would be wary of approaching most the bandits but the ones who had stayed behind with Saeter left him alone. Geralhd was also easy to get food out of, and not very threatening.

Geralhd noticed the goblin approach and smiled at him. He reached over and picked up a piece of meat that had been set aside.

“Sit, Blacknail. Who is a good boy?” Geralhd asked sweetly. One of the other men groaned and another chuckled as Geralhd spoke.

“Me, I’m a good boy,” Blacknail answered happily as he took a seat at Geralhd’s feet.

Geralhd smiled again and tossed him the treat. As he chewed and slurped down the meat Blacknail smirked. He clearly had Geralhd well trained.

“It’s not a bloody dog, Geralhd. It’s a goblin. They’re very different,” one of the bandits remarked in an irritated voice.

“He’s a good little boy none the less,” Geralhd answered as he shrugged and petted Blacknail’s head. It actually felt pretty good.

Blacknail smiled toothily at the other man, which caused him to look exasperated and sigh loudly.

“I still don’t understand why Saeter decided to get a goblin, or why Herad let him. It’s not like every scout in the band wouldn’t give their last prayer to be his partner; and I would have thought the boss would have said no, just to spite him,” one man told the others as Geralhd gave him a confused look.

“Why do Saeter and Herad have such a problem with each other’s company anyway? Also, why in all the gods’ names would every scout want to partner with a grumpy old man like Saeter? I mean sure he’s the most experienced of our ever so hard working scouts, but he’s also more than a bit of an ass as well,” Geralhd asked.

Most the men chuckled but one gave a nervous glance at the darkness over his shoulder before replying. It was almost like he wanted to be very sure no one unexpected was listening.

“Well, you see the answer to both those questions is sort of the same. You obviously don’t know who Saeter is, or at least who he used to be,” the man said quietly.

Blacknail’s ears twitched as he suddenly grew interested and started paying attention. He was almost done eating anyway. Geralhd leaned in closer and he raised an eyebrow inquisitively, in an invitation for the man to keep speaking.

“Oh, who did our resident old timer used to be then?” Geralhd asked with interest.

“Saeter used to run his own gang of thieves, years ago. They were one of the first successful bands, and they built a name quite a name up for themselves. That was way back of course, when things were very different. Eventually, they all retired or died until only Saeter was left,” was the other man’s reply.

“You must be joking. Who would follow Saeter, and why would Herad have a problem with that?” Geralhd asked with disbelief.
“Think about it for a second. Every bandit chief’s worst fear is being killed and replaced by one of their subordinates. Who could possibly feel secure knowing someone in their band used to be a successful leader?” the other bandit pointed out.

“That’s a good point. Herad has always struck me as more than a little paranoid. However, if Saeter used to be so famous why is he serving under Herad, instead of leading his own band? Geralhd asked.

It was different man that answered this time. He had remained quiet until now but Blacknail recognized him as one of the older scouts.

“Saeter is an odd sort bandit,” the scout explained. “He didn’t become an outlaw because he was wanted or for the money, although he certainly got both. No, he chose to become an outlaw because he was a northern patriot. He was fighting the control of the North by Eloria and Deveshur. I’d guess he’s serving under Herad because he has nowhere else to go. He’s more at home out here in the wilds than in any city, and he won’t surrender and live under the southern boot.”

He stopped and took a quick drink from the cup in his hand before continuing. Everyone waited expectantly for him to finish.

“As for why he’s not the band’s leader, well that’s simple, it’s because the age of rebellion and causes is pretty much dead. We’re fighting for money and power, and no one is more dedicated to that than Herad. Of course, that means that under her we do a lot of things Saeter doesn’t approve of,” the scout told them.

Gerahd leaned back again with a contemplative look on his face. Everyone around the fire was silent. Only the crackle of the fire and the chirp of insects could be heard.

“That’s quite the story indeed. I really can’t picture Saeter as any type of leader, but I don’t think you’re all lying to me. It would certainly explain a lot as well,” Gerald responded after a minute or so of thought.

“Well, whether you believe it or not it’s all true. Just don’t go mentioning any of this where Saeter or Herad could hear you. If you enjoy living that is,” the first speaker replied with shrug.

“I’m not a complete and utter moron,” Geralhd said with a roll of his eyes.

Blacknail was curled up close to the fire and deep in thought about what he had just heard. So his master had been a chieftain, until he had lost some sort of fight and ended up alone. Herad had let him in her tribe, but she didn’t completely trust him not to challenge her. That made sense to Blacknail, it was sort of goblin-like.

“Fine, if you can keep it to yourself then I will tell you the best part,” one of the men told an intrigued looking Geralhd. “You see Saeter’s band wasn’t just a…”

Suddenly, a cloaked figure swept out from the shadows. Everyone around the fire jerked in surprise, or sprung to their feet with looks of alarm on their faces. Saeter glared at them as he stopped and surveyed the group. Most the bandits wilted guiltily under his gaze. Geralhd gave him a weak smile.

“Oh hey, Saeter. We were just, ah, talking about some things that had noth…” he began to explain but Saeter cut him off.

“I don’t care,” he said as he glowered at them. His brows were scrunched together angrily but his voice seemed to contain a hint of worry. “Two of the men are missing. They were seen after the attack and weren’t together. Something entered the camp and dragged them away.”

Honor Among Thieves 2.7

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Over the next few days Herad was in an even worse mood than usual, which was truly frightening. Bandits who hadn’t left the camp for weeks began volunteering for watch or scouting duty. The base became noticeably emptier.

The bandit chieftain had really wanted to raid the crystal cave for treasures to sell. No one had managed to find it, though.

She had glared at Saeter when the last group of searchers had reported back. She was either furious at him for wasting her time or suspected that he’d somehow concealed the cave.

It didn’t help that the old scout had made plain his relief that no one had found the cave. Blacknail spent a great deal of time checking the snares out in the woods during this time. Sometimes Saeter joined him.

Her bad mood continued for days until the merchants from Riverdown finally arrived. Scouts that were posted to the road sent word of their approach. Herad immediately had the camp upended and reorganized for their arrival. She wanted to impress her guests.

Extra guards were stationed at the road barricades that had been built earlier. The camp and even the bandits themselves were cleaned up as much as possible. Not that the bandits cleaned up particularly well; but at least most of the smell of piss and vomit was removed.

During the time the bandits had occupied their current camp they hadn’t been totally unproductive. Herad’s base had been improved and built up a fair bit. It wasn’t like they had much else to do with their time, so they’d managed to put some effort into making themselves more comfortable.

The primitive lean-tos the forward party had constructed had been patched up and improved. Many had been divided into personal rooms with hanging hide or canvass doors. More of them had been built as well, so that every bandit had somewhere sheltered to sleep out of the wind and rain.

Trees had been cleared for timber and piled up for firewood as well. Several crude pavilions made from wagon tarps and long posts had been put up for storage or gatherings. All and all the camp looked much more permanent, and less like an overnight campsite.

Blacknail was there when the merchants arrived. He was doing one of the many chores Saeter had him constantly performing. Behind him, Saeter was sitting in front of his tent and idly whittling away at a piece of wood. Most of outlaws in the band were around except for those on watch. Herad wanted a show of force, so every bandit not on watch or scouting was in camp.

The convoy arrived around midday when the sun was almost straight up in the sky. Half a dozen wagons rolled down the dusty road and stopped out in front of the old farmhouse. Most the wagons were only lightly loaded, the merchants were here to buy not sell. What they lacked in goods though they made up for in bodies.

Dozens of people accompanied the wagons, and a lot of them were very shiny. Sunlight flashed off their armor as they moved. After a closer look, Blacknail realized that almost every human in the merchant’s caravan was heavily armed.

All and all, the bandits outnumbered the black market traders more than two to one but the guards had far better equipment, including chain mail and steel breastplates. They also looked more professional and disciplined. The guards stood tall and regarded the brigands before them expressionlessly, without showing a hint of concern at being so outnumbered.

A small skinny man with a goatee stepped down from the lead cart. With a gesture he summoned a dozen guards to him and made his way forward. Herad frowned when she saw him, but stepped forward to meet him. A dozen of her larger and better armed thugs followed her.

When the merchant and Herad met they exchanged a polite handshake. The guards and bandits glared at each other from behind their masters’ backs, but both Herad and the small man ignored them completely.

Blacknail had a sudden urge to run up and join the thugs in giving the guards evil looks. Maybe he could climb up onto one of the bandit’s shoulders for a better view while he was at it. It seemed like a fun idea, but he resisted the urge.

“Persus, I’m glad to see you,” Herad told the man whose hand she was shaking.

“I always enjoy laying eyes on you as well, Herad,” the man replied with a slight leer.

Herad smiled back at him but her one hand moved subtly closer to her knives.

“It’s good of you to come all this way. You won’t be disappointed with what we have for you,” she told him.

“Ah well, I’m afraid I’m usually disappointed when it comes to that. I always want more than others are willing to let me have,” he said with a theatrical sigh.

“That may be why I find myself dealing in black market goods,” he then added with a chuckle.

“Well, be that as it may, I think you will be pleasantly surprised at what we have for you here. You should be able to sell it for quite the profit,” Herad told him.

“Ah, that’s wonderful to hear but you know sometimes life is about more than just profit. Don’t you think?” he responded with another smirk. Herad’s smile froze.

“An odd thing for a merchant to say. I’m not sure your company would approve,” Herad replied. She couldn’t quite keep the hostility out of her voice.

“Tsk. Well, they’re not here are they? Anyway they don’t need to worry, since I always earn them a tidy sum,” Persus responded.

“I’m sure that’s true. Let’s get out of the sun shall we? I have a list of goods inside. We can go over it and then inspect the physical items after,” Herad suggested.

She clearly wanted to get down to business but Persus didn’t seem to be in a hurry. The usually in control and violent Herad seemed be acting very cautiously around this small man.

Blacknail couldn’t really understand why. As far as he could figure it the merchant was only the leader of a tribe they were trading with. He also seemed to have less men than Herad, even if they were much shinier. So, why was Herad acting so… un-Herad-like?

Blacknail heard Saeter mutter something and turned to see his master glowering at the small merchant. Was Persus his master’s enemy? Blacknail turned back to Persus when the man started talking again.

“I hope you have some refreshments. It’s been a terribly long and odious ride here. I would greatly enjoy a drink and some company before getting down to business,” Persus replied while feigning a haggard tone.

“Of course. We liberated a few good bottles on our last expedition. Just this way, Persus,” Herad answered with a wave in the direction of the farmhouse.

The merchant sniffed disdainfully when he saw it.

“A barbaric piece of shelter if I ever saw one but I suppose it will have to do. Some allowances must be made since we are so far from real civilization out here, after all,” he said with a sigh.

Herad led him to the door and they entered together. The thugs took up position outside. The guards however attempted to enter after their master, but Persus waved them off.

“I’ll be fine. Stay out here and wait for me,” he commanded with a snap of his fingers before disappearing inside.

Herad had commanded that all the bandits should watch the merchant’s guards while looking busy and professional. Thus, more bandits were on watch than usual. Many of them were standing or sitting around the camp in small, but not so casual groups, that just so happened to be facing the caravan most of the time.

The guards themselves seemed to sense the hostility because they didn’t even bother to pretend to relax. They all stood strategically around the caravan at attention with hands on weapons. They were ready for any trouble, and the bandits looked like they wanted to cause it.

Since everyone else seemed to be just hanging around, Blacknail took this time to relax as well. He yawned and walked over to a pile of firewood. There between the logs he cleared a patch of earth and gathered dry grass for a bed. Then he curled up and swiftly fell asleep with the pleasant earthy smell of drying wood filling his nostrils.

He was awoken from his pleasant dreams by the noise of the wagons being loaded. Looking up, Blacknail noticed that the sun had moved through the clear blue sky a fair bit, meaning two or three hours had passed. He got up, stretched, and looked around.

Hopefully, he hadn’t missed anything exciting while he napped. Blacknail saw that Herad and Persus were out inspecting the goods. They also seemed to be arguing back and forth about prices. Ugh, boring.

By this point Heard looked very tired of dealing with Persus. She was openly glaring at him as they argued and her voice seemed strained.

Blacknail was honestly surprised she hadn’t stabbed the small man. Blacknail knew that was how she usually dealt with people who annoyed her. She was very efficient for a human.

Members of Herad’s bandit troupe were loading the stolen goods onto Persus’ wagon, while his guards looked on. The bandits didn’t seem happy about doing the work alone.

This went on for awhile as Persus’s wagons got piled high with more and more cargo. Eventually, the last piece of stolen goods he wanted to purchase was loaded up and secured. Several crates and items he didn’t want, or didn’t want to pay enough for, were left lying around.

“It was a pleasure doing business with you, mistress Herad,” Persus told her as they were finishing up.

“You can be a vexing bargainer, but I look forward to dealing with you again,” Herad replied politely. Her voice contained a hint of hostility, though.

Persus extended a hand and they shook again. As Herad tried to withdraw her arm, the merchant pulled it up and kissed the back of her hand. She gave him a cold look, but he simply smirked back at her before letting go.

“Then as we agreed, 167 Gold Elorians, of which half are payable now and half will be deposited at the Riverdown bank for you upon my safe arrival,” he told her.

Persus then signaled to a pair of guards and they brought forth a large chest. He pulled a large key from a cord around his neck and unlocked it.

From inside, he took out several bags and counted out a few coins. He handed the coins to Herad and left the heavier bags there on the ground before locking the chest up again and slipping the key into his pocket. The chest was largely empty when he closed it.

Herad went through the bags and gave them a brief inspection. She appeared satisfied with the results.

“I wish you a safe journey home then, Persus,” Herad told the merchant as she finished.

Persus rolled his eyes in response.

“Of course you do, Herad. That’s the entire point,” the small neatly dressed man commented dryly before walking back to his wagon.

On his way he strode past Blacknail’s hiding spot in the wood pile.

The goblin hid himself as the man approached. He was pretty sure that his master and everyone else didn’t like the tiny outsider. In Blacknail’s mind that made him practically an enemy, and thus fair game.

As Persus passed by his hiding spot, Blacknail darted out and his hand reached out to swiftly liberate the contents of the merchant’s pockets. The man didn’t notice and continued walking on, unaware that he was suddenly ever so slightly lighter. The goblin sniggered as he retreated with his prizes.

After Persus had spent a few minutes yelling orders at his underlings, his caravan got itself organized and started back down the road they had come from. Blacknail watched the merchant carefully until they were gone, but the stupid man never checked his pockets.

The goblin then broke out into a grin. The prizes were all his! Excitedly, Blacknail opened his hand and examined his new property.

He’d gotten the shiny yellow key! He also had a bunch of mixed coins of various sizes and colors. That was a lot of shinnies! Grinning in joy, the goblin stuffed his new possessions into one of his pouches for safekeeping.

Now that the merchant was gone, Saeter walked over to Herad. She gave him an irritated look as he approached but her earlier bad mood seemed somewhat mollified by the large pile of gold in front of her. Apparently, she liked shinnies as well.

“I hate that money grabbing little rat. Why couldn’t the company have sent someone else?” Saeter remarked coldly.

“He’s a pig, but played right he pays more than some of their other representatives, and that’s what matters” Herad replied scornfully.

“Well, one day I hope to meet him out in the woods where there are no witnesses or guards. So I can shoot him,” he told her.

Herad turned away from him and began giving orders, but Blacknail could see she was smiling slightly. Or at least he thought it was a smile, he couldn’t be sure since it was the first time he had seen anything like it on her face.

Under Herad’s directions, the gold was soon packed away and the camp reorganized. Most of the men looked excited and expectant.

Saeter and Herad were then joined by another outlaw who Blacknail knew had somehow earned the name Red Dog. Of course Red Dog wasn’t red and didn’t have a dog. Humans were weird.

Red Dog was a tall man, but shorter than Saeter, with unruly brown hair. He also somehow managed to be one of the few bandits in camp that had pudgy cheeks. Living in the wild tended to strip the fat from most men, but apparently not from him.

“What’s the plan now, boss? The men are going to want their share of the gold and a chance to spend it,” Red Dog asked her cheerfully.

“And they’ll get it. When I say they can,” Herad told him sternly.

Red Dog fidgeted uncomfortably.

“What’s the problem? We’re only a day way from Riverdown, and they’re a typical frontier city. If we keep our heads low then we shouldn’t have problems with the law. We’ve been there before,” he remarked.

“We can’t all go at once. We’ll be staying out here until winter starts to set in, then we’ll head north to Daggerpoint. Until then I’ll pay and detach a few men at a time to the city for leave. If I pay them all now they’ll just start fighting over it,” she told him after a moment of reflection.

Red Dog nodded in acceptance. He clearly had been expecting something like that. Saeter however had a question or two.

“We’re staying here? That seems a bit risky. What about our next score?” he asked.

“I had a talk with Persus while I was entertaining him,” Herad explained. “On top of getting an interesting letter from him, I also managed to get quite a bit of useful info out of the worm… like the routes and times for several caravans over the next month.”

“Nice,” Red Dog remarked.

“Yes, it seems the Palinthiens are pressing the Elorians hard right now,” the bandit chieftain remarked with a fierce smile. “Most of their troops have been pulled out of the north to reinforce the border, and they already barely have enough for patrols. The local lords, such that they are, have enough problems of their own as well.”

“Leaving us free to run wild,” Red Dog added with a predatory smile of his own.

“Trade will probably dry up once the merchants realize how unsafe it is,” Saeter observed coolly.

“We’ll split the band and send out some smaller groups to hit smaller targets if it comes to that,” Herad answered with a shrug.

Saeter frowned but nodded.

“I don’t think we need to be worry about that. Merchants are all a bunch of greedy bastards who aren’t nearly as smart as they like to think they are,” Red Dog interjected cheerfully.

Blacknail got bored and wandered off after that. Several days passed with nothing exciting happening, just a lot of chores. Saeter kept the goblin busy and didn’t seem interested in going into town.

Things finally picked up when a group of scouts rode into camp with word of a potential target. Herad quickly summoned several of her lieutenants to a meeting. Saeter was among them and as usual Blacknail was his shadow. Also, Red Dog and Vorscha attended.

“Clevan’s group was set to watch the road south from Brackenmount,” Herad told everyone. “Persus said that they would soon be sending a big shipment of weapons south. Now, Brackenmount doesn’t produce nearly as many weapons as it did before Coroulis was destroyed but the haul should still be considerable.”

“We could always use more weapons. Tools of our trade they are,” Red Dog commented.

“We would be better served by blankets and boots,” Saeter pointed out dryly.

“True enough, but robbing a blanket caravan wouldn’t be nearly as profitable,” Red Dog replied with a chuckle.

Vorscha laughed with him, until Herad gave them both a dark look and they quickly quieted down.

“A shipment like this will be meant for the front line, and that means it will be heavily guarded. Maybe even an army escort, including combat mages and Sloshers,” Saeter warned the others.

Red Dog frowned in concern but Herad just nodded.

“Possibly, there are troops in town but no one seems to know how many will go with the caravan, if any.” she told them, apparently unconcerned.

“What’s the most the army boys could bring to the table,” Vorscha asked her boss thoughtfully.

“At most they could spare a full platoon, so less than 50 men. As for mages and vessels, who knows?” Herad answered with emphasis on the proper name of elixir users.

She didn’t seem to approve of the slang word for them, most likely because she thought it disrespectful to herself because she was one.

“Probably not many,” Red Dog commented.

“We could take a platoon but it would bleed us, and I’m not sure about any mages. Those guys can do a lot of bloody damage and it would already be a close thing,” Vorscha mused aloud.

“So we don’t attack if they’re too strong. We can always check them out and retreat if they’re too much trouble, or attack from ambush,” Red Dog suggested.

“I was already talking about an ambush,” Vorscha replied with a roll of her eyes.

“We could put men in a town on the way and get them to ply the guards with drink when they stop for the night,” Saeter suggested. “We then mark the mages and Slosh… Vessels and take them out first when the fight starts or before it.”

Herad scowled as the old scout talked but apparently didn’t find any fault with what he said.

“Yes, cunning and ruthless is the way to do it,” she reluctantly agreed. “Fair fights are for knights and nobles in stories. We could also use poison and if the town they stop at is small enough we could pillage it as a bonus.”

“That could get messy,” Saeter commented critically as he frowned.

“As long as we get the shipment I couldn’t care less. If you don’t have the stomach for it then you can stay here,” Herad told him with a cold unemotional look.

The others looked away from Saeter and stayed silent. No one backed him up against their boss.

“We’ll get ready to head out immediately,” Herad ordered everyone. “We need to be well ahead of them for this to work out correctly. Saeter you’ll take charge of the camp when I’m gone. Vorscha and Red you’re both with me.”

Saeter looked dissatisfied but could do nothing but agree. Behind him, Blacknail tried to keep out of Herad’s sight. She looked even meaner than usual.

At daybreak the next day, most the bandits marched out of camp. It was an overcast morning and the birds were singing loudly in the trees.

The bandit base felt empty to Blacknail. Very few people were left in the camp with Saeter and him. Hopefully, nothing would go wrong while most the tribe were away.

Honor Among Thieves 2.6

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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!

Honor Among Thieves 2.5

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Herad had done as she said and organized the search that evening. By early the next morning practically everyone in the band was up and about looking for the cave where the slime had come from. Only a few of the bandits were left to guard the camp and watch the roads.

The entire operation was well planned and organized by both Saeter and Herad. The scouts went out first to make sure the area was safe. They knew the forest and its many dangers so they could locate them before the less skilled bandits stumbled into them unaware. They were also much less likely to get lost among the green maze of trees.

The rest of the men then followed behind the scouts and made up for their lack of skill with numbers. They worked together to thoroughly search the bush for caves. They had been carefully instructed to move in small groups and not wander around alone.

They had also been warned to look out for danger signs because it was more than likely that the scouts would miss something. It was a deep forest, and Herad’s rangers were skilled but still far from perfect.

After a few hours of searching the scouts were ordered to start doubling back to make sure the less skilled woodsmen hadn’t got themselves stuck in mud or fallen down a hole.

Saeter still thought there would be a few casualties. It was just to be expected with so many untrained men blindly wandering the woods. Thus, it would also be the scouts’ job to collect the lost and the bodies.

Saeter himself served as a scout and Blacknail went with his master. This was no trip to empty the snares; they would be ranging far outside the somewhat safe areas they normally frequented.

The old ranger had been assigned the area North of where Blacknail had fought the slime. It was not a direction Blacknail, or many other people, had travelled. As they walked North the terrain became rough. Hills and ravines sprung up out of nowhere to block their view.

Blacknail found the constant changes in elevation exhausting. Now he knew why humans stuck so close to their roads all the time. Having to scramble up muddy hills and rocky inclines was a lot of work for a goblin with stubby little legs!

“Don’t worry about being too quiet,” Saeter told Blacknail as they started their search. “Since we’re not hunting game today I’m more worried about running into a bear or something than attracting predators.”

“Yes, master,” the goblin replied automatically.

He knew what his master meant. Certain dangerous animals were likely to attack you if you surprised them but would normally avoid people if they heard them coming. Thus, moving stealthy wasn’t always the best idea.

The forest canopy that Blacknail was walking below blocked out most of the sun, but it wasn’t nearly as dark here as in the spider infested woods. Blacknail was very glad that they weren’t headed in that direction. He shuddered at just the memory of the creepy webs that blanketed those shadowy woods and their nasty residents.

The trees here were tall and thick. The ground was covered by short leafy plants where it wasn’t blanketed in dead leaves. Here and there, small white and blue flowers peeked out from behind other plants. Blacknail actually found it all very calm and nice looking.

The goblin had tried to eat a few of the flowers earlier but Saeter had pulled them out of his hand before he could taste them. Apparently, they were poisonous. Oh well, they had smelled a little off anyway.

As Blacknail followed his master he sniffed and examined the ground for signs of the slime’s trail. He hadn’t found anything yet though.

He darted around to check under bushes and around rocks for crevices or hollows. He wanted to be the one to find the cave and its treasures! He was sure that would earn him a reward.

Plus, he wanted to see the cave slimes came from. It sounded very interesting. He was a very brave and loyal goblin when Saeter was standing right behind him.

As they followed the ravine, a low area appeared in front of them and they  walked cautiously down into it. Soon, the ground begun to get muddy and they had to watch where they stepped.

Blacknail’s short legs meant he had to hop from dry spot to dry spot to keep up with Saeter, who could simply step over the wet muddy areas. The goblin almost fell into the mud several times but managed to catch himself after some skillful wild flailing.

After a bit more walking, the pair stepped through a gap in the foliage and into a wide open area. There was a large break in the canopy above that let in light.

The leafy shrubs on the ground grew thick under the open sky. The few trees Blacknail saw were thin and seemed quite young. The drone of insects and cries of birds were louder here as well.

Saeter stepped forward into the sun, but stopped to survey the clearing before going any further in. Blacknail stepped up behind his master and looked around as well.

The goblin couldn’t see much, though. He was too short to see over a lot of the plants and bushes. He tried hopping as high as he could but that didn’t really help. He did however manage to spot several patches of tasty dew berries.

Blacknail licked his lips. Dew berries were so tasty! He was very tempted to go grab some but he knew his master would smack him if he ran ahead like that, also something might kill him.

“Hmm, something feels off”, the old grey haired scout muttered to himself as he looked around.

He apparently didn’t see anything though, because he tentatively started walking forward again into the clearing. Saeter trampled the long grass and shoved bushes aside as he moved inwards.

Saeter’s careful stride carried him towards a group of small trees that were surrounded by a large berry patch. He stared at it for a few seconds before turning and glowering at the rest of the clearing suspiciously.

The scout took another step forward. Suddenly, a sharp cracking sound assaulted Blacknail’s ears. The goblin whipped around in time to see a large branch break loose from a tree and slam into Saeter.

Saeter raised his arms in an attempt to shield himself. The branch knocked them aside as it smacked into him with a loud thud. Blood spattered across the ground as Saeter was battered.

Blacknail gasped in shock, but was relieved to see that his master had managed to stay on his feet. He was just tangled up in the fallen tree limb.

The goblin rushed forward to help his master disentangle himself. He really hoped his wonderful master wasn’t injured. He wouldn’t be able to get back to camp without him!

As he ran, Blacknail was abruptly struck by a strong sense of wrongness. Something wasn’t right here; something was bad. The goblin scrutinized the scene in front of himself carefully.

The branch was wrong he realized. It hadn’t come loose from the tree at all, it was still attached to it. In fact, it had stopped falling and had even risen a bit as Saeter began to struggle to free himself from its clutches.

Much to the goblins confusion Saeter seemed to be having a lot of trouble untangling himself. His eyes were also wide and showed a hint of fear. That was wrong, his master shouldn’t be afraid of a tree branch.

Blacknail had a sudden unwelcome thought. Was this a trap? Had someone or something made the branch break on purpose?

Blacknail had no clue what was going on but he knew what he was going to do. He drew his knife. It was time to find something to stab, until it was time to start running away.

Saeter began flailing and yelling in earnest as he tried to pull himself free from the tree branch. The old scout also pulled out his own knife and stabbed at the branch with his free hand.

Then, the entire tree quivered as Saeter was abruptly yanked towards it by something unseen. Blacknail had used this time to reach his master. Sprinting, he scurried around to get at the branch and then sprang atop it with a quick leap.

The goblin had thought he would find some rope or something to cut but he didn’t see anything like that. So, as soon as he landed, he stabbed the branch wildly with his knife. The blade hit the bark and skidded across it without penetrating. What, that wasn’t right! This was very weird wood…

Saeter was also hacking at the branch with his knife. However, his longer blade didn’t seem to penetrate the wood any better than Blacknail’s did.

In fact, the wood seemed very strange in general to Blacknail. It was warm and weirdly segmented.

Looking at where his master was stuck to the branch, it almost seemed like it had grabbed him, as if it had claws. Trees didn’t have claws. Blacknail was pretty sure Saeter would have mentioned it if they did.

“Behind you, Blacknail. Down!” Saeter yelled at the goblin suddenly.

Instantly, Blacknail obeyed and rolled off the branch. He was just in time. With a loud whooshing sound like leaves in the wind another branch swept through the space he had been occupying a moment ago.

The tree quivered again and then tilted wildly towards them, knocking leaves free and sending them spiraling down to earth in a green storm.

Blacknail yelped in surprise as the tree-like creature rose up and twisted around to rearrange itself into a horrible new shape. Uh oh, it was time to run!

As the alarmed goblin watched, the tough looking tree trunk cracked and split to become two long segmented legs. Branches then shifted to become a pair of armored arms. The top of the tree also divided itself to reveal two more long twisted arms and a monstrous insect like head that was crowned by two short stalks that ended in small black eyes.

The twisted thing’s vicious mandible adorned maw opened as it screeched hungrily down at them. Blacknail winced as the disturbingly high sound drilled painfully into his ears.

As the terrible armored monstrosity rose, it pulled the struggling Saeter under itself and pinned him there against the ground with one long arm.

The strange creature was taller than a man even though it was hunched over and balancing on four long legs. One free claw had Saeter firmly in its grasp and the other was swinging around again to grab at Blacknail. It most resembled a giant predatory stick insect or some sort of horribly stretched out leafy crab.

What the goblin had taken to be bark was actually camouflaged carapace with lichen and moss growing on it. The weirdest part however was the smaller branches and leaves. They poked out randomly up from its back and limbs, and as far as Blacknail could tell they seemed to be real plants that had sprouted from the creature’s carapace.

The terrified goblin rolled out of the way again as one of the creature’s limbs descended down at him. The claw missed him, hitting the ground instead and scarring the forest floor.

“Eep, run away! We’ve angered the trees!” Blacknail shrieked as sprang back to his feet and started running around in little circles through the grass.

 

The goblin didn’t know where to go and wailed fearfully. There were trees in every direction. He was doomed!

Just then Saeter stabbed the arm holding him again. This time he seemed to have found a weak spot because the creature hissed and shook in pain. The leafy claw that had been going after Blacknail pinned Saeter’s other arm instead.

“Damnation and misery, that wasn’t the plan,” Saeter screamed in anger and pain as he struggled to escape from beneath the claws that held him firm against the ground.

Blacknail knew he needed to come up with a plan of his own very quickly or his master was going to die, leaving him all alone and very far from the camp. There was no way he was heading back by himself now that he knew the trees would try to eat him! He wouldn’t last a second.

He had to think! He had somehow beaten the slime. With the right plan he could beat this thing to. So again, what tools did he have? Right!

Blacknail drew his sling and slipped a stone into it. He twirled it to build momentum and sighted on the target his master had told him to aim for first, the eyes.

He flung the stone towards one of the small black targets but the projectile missed and whooshed past the creature. The creature flinched away and hissed in alarm, though. It apparently didn’t like having rocks thrown at it, which meant Blacknail should do it again.

Blacknail launched another stone, this time it hit the creature on the head just under the a eye stalk. The tree thing didn’t seem hurt but it flinched again and brought an arm up to protect its fragile looking eye stalks. However, in order to do that it had to let go of Saeter with one hand.

“Let go, you bloody overgrown bush bug!” Saeter shouted as he wasted no time and immediately started stabbing again with his newly freed hand.

Blacknail continued to throw stones at the twisted creature until it turned away from him in an attempt to shield its head from the small projectiles. Ha, his plan was working! He was a genius.

Then, with a cry of victory Saeter rolled free from under his captor. He had managed to stab the knife almost all the way into the limb holding him by aiming for a joint.

The pain had caused the creature to hiss and let go of its prey for a second. However, it quickly recovered and immediately tried to grab Saeter again.

Saeter obviously had other ideas. He sprung up onto his feet with a grunt of pain and dashed towards the goblin as Blacknail covered him by slinging more stones at the now advancing monstrosity.

The thing skittered towards its escaping prey on all six of its legs now. Its body and leaves shaking as it gave chase through the long grass of the clearing.

“Run,” yelled Saeter as he grimaced painfully and dashed past the goblin.

Blacknail did. As fast as he could he spun around and scrambled away from the thing trying to eat him. His master sure liked stating the obvious sometimes.

They both ran through the woods at full sprint, with fear and pure survival instinct driving them forward. Blacknail had no illusions about what would happen if the creature managed to get a hold of him with its long branch like claws.

Soon, the sound of pursuit and shaking leaves stopped. Blacknail risked a glance backwards and saw the creature turn and begin to wander away back to the clearing it had come from. Thankfully, it hadn’t been a very fast runner.

Ahead of him, Saeter came to a stop and leaned against a tree. He was clearly in pain and exhausted. Blood leaked through gashes on both his arms where the creature had grabbed him.

In their haste to escape the man and the goblin had run into the deeper part of the bush away from the sunlight.

“Unbegotten mimics,” Saeter growled between two heavy breaths as he rested.

Blacknail remembered his master mentioning forest mimics once. He had told the goblin that they hid among trees and grabbed prey that wandered too close. He had also said to run from them if he saw one because they were slow.

Blacknail was pretty sure his master had missed some important information in there somewhere. He had certainly not been expecting something like the thing that had attacked them!

“Are we safe now? There are trees everywhere!” the goblin sobbed in terror as he spun around in circles.  No matter how fast he turned he couldn’t look in every direction at once.

“We’re good. I should have seen it. I knew something was off. That was a perfect mimic hunting ground. They can only mimic smaller trees and they like lots of sun,” Saeter groaned regretfully.

He then turned to the goblin beside him who was swaying unsteadily on his feet from too much spinning.

“I’m getting you a bigger and sharper knife,” Saeter told him.

“Yes, please,” Blacknail replied with an exuberant nod of agreement.

He liked that idea. This was the second time his knife had failed him. Just think of all the things he could stab with a bigger knife!

After taking a few minutes to suck down air and recover as much as possible, Saeter pushed himself up off the tree with a wince and turned to the goblin.

“We need to head back. I’m wounded and the blood will attract predators,” he explained.

The old scout then hesitated for a second before grumbling and adding, “Thanks Blacknail. You’re a good goblin.”

Caught by surprise, Blacknail broke out into a huge smile. His master had never complimented him other then the occasional ‘good job’ before. He felt fierce pride rise in his chest. He had been very brave!

“Thank you, master. I so happy you no dead,” he gushed as he strode forward and hugged his master around the waist.

This caused Saeter to blanch, look uncomfortable, and then try to squirm away.

“We need to head back. Let go and help me with my arms, Blacknail,” he told the goblin awkwardly.

He clearly wanted to push the goblin away but couldn’t manage it with his wounds. Blacknail waited a few second before letting go. He enjoyed the hug and had to put back the pouch his naughty fingers had instinctively borrowed by mistake when they had first hugged.

“Yes, master,” he acknowledged when he was done and had let go.

Saeter crouched down and had Blacknail go through his pouches until he found one that contained some strong herbal smelling paste and another that contained some clean rags.

Saeter then had him take out a rag and apply the paste to his wounds using the cloth. Finally he had the goblin tie one rag tightly around the largest cut to stop the bleeding, and then use another one to tie his arm up to his chest to support it and prevent it from moving.

“That will do. Let’s go,” Saeter grunted as Blacknail finished.

The goblin stepped away and Saeter rose to his feet. The two of them then began the long walk back to the camp. Saeter was wounded but could still walk without too much difficulty. Much to Blacknail’s surprise, Saeter signaled that he should take the lead.

Excitedly, the goblin took point and began to lead his master home. If they both survived he was sure to have earned a huge treat! Hopefully, it would be better than the berries the stupid mimic had chased them away from.

Honor Among Thieves 2.4

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After an uneventful night, Blacknail was woken up early the next morning and sent out to check the rabbit snares. He had done it plenty of times now and was no longer afraid of going out into the woods alone. His fear and been replaced by familiarity, at least as long as he was only making the short trip to the snares and back.

Blacknail yawned as he wandered through the bushes at the edge of the forest. His memories of his old life in the sewers had begun to fade. As dangerous as it was here, the camp had become his new home.

It wasn’t like there was any possible way to get back there anyway. The sewers were many days away through the forest, and that wasn’t a journey he ever planned on making.

His new life did have perks. For one thing, the forest smelled much better than the sewers.

He missed being around other goblins sometimes, especially the females, but in the sewers he’d mostly just fought the other goblins anyway. They’d fought over hierarchy, food, shiny things, mates, and of course just because they’d been bored.

Besides, even though humans were so big and scary they sometimes gave him treats and praised him. No goblin had ever given Blacknail tasty things, unless he’d beaten them up first.

The morning sun was shining sedately through the loose roof of leaves above him. It was a warm clear day without a single cloud visible in the sky. The morning birds sang joyfully in the trees either ignoring or ignorant of the goblin strolling along beneath them.

Blacknail stopped for a second to listen to the bird song and scan the grass and tall plants around him. As he stood motionless his green skin and hide clothes blended into the surrounding, camouflaging him.

After listening attentively for a while, Blacknail heard and saw nothing unusual so he continued his stroll. There didn’t seem to be anything dangerous around.

He moved casually but kept an eye and ear open for anything out of place. If there was one lesson Saeter made sure he never forgot it was that no one was ever truly safe out in the forest. He would hate to let his master down by dying some horrific death.

The wary little goblin soon reached the snares, but just as he was about to get to work he heard an unexpected noise. What was that? Blacknail twitched in surprise and spun around. Was it a terrible monster about to leap out and eat him?

It probably wasn’t; the grass under one of the triggered snares was just rustling. The goblin didn’t think anything really dangerous could hide in so small a patch of grass. It was probably a bird or something.

Blacknail narrowed his eyes and quietly drew his sling anyway. Something might be trying to steal his rabbit! He couldn’t see what was making the noise from his position so he circled around a tree to get a better angle.

As Blacknail watched, something started to try and climb the sapling a rabbit hung from. The goblin’s eyes widened as he looked on in surprise. He had no idea what the freakish thing was.

How could it even move? It was just a blob of liquidy stuff! It was like a see though pile of snot with a bunch of weird shapes floating in it. Yet, it was moving and actually managing to slowly work its way up the sapling. It looked really wrong, like water flowing uphill but uglier.

Blacknail hit it with a stone from his sling just on general principles. The blob of slime quivered and froze for a second before falling to the ground with a weird muted splashing noise.

Had he killed it? He hoped so. Well, apparently he hadn’t because as the goblin watched it reformed itself into a round blob and started oozing towards him with surprising speed.

Uh oh, it was headed his way! How could such a weird thing move? He hit it with another stone in the hopes that would stop it.

The slime quivered on impact and the stone sank into the blob but a second later it popped out again with wet slurping noise and fell to the ground. It also kept closing the distance between them so Blacknail swiftly took a nervous step back.

He didn’t know how dangerous the freaky booger ball was. He was pretty sure Saeter had never mentioned anything like it to him, or at least not when he’d been paying attention.

Blacknail circled around his mysterious opponent warily. Every once and a while it would put on a burst of speed and ooze towards him over the forest floor but the goblin deftly dodged it every time.

Ha, he was faster than the stupid thing! Now, he just had to find a way to hurt it before it found a way to hurt him.

Suddenly, the blob burst towards him again and he moved to dodge. Or at least he tried.

As he went to jump away something tugged on his neck sharply and choked him. His inconvenient momentum caused his feet to fly out from under him and he landed hard on his tailbone. Ow, his poor ass!

He then watched in wide eyed horror as the large blob of slime descended on him. With a wet smack it crossed the ground and enveloped his arm.

“Eeek, off off,” Blacknail yelled as he flailed and tried to get free but the transparent blob was stuck fast.

The terrified goblin tried to climb to his feet but the slime had a grip on his arm and wouldn’t let go, no matter how hard he pulled. He yelped in fear as the thing began to climb up his arm towards his head.

This was not good! Desperately, Blacknail tried to claw at it with his free hand but it just reformed around the cuts. No, that wasn’t fair! He began kicking at it with his feet but stopped when one foot sunk into the thing and became stuck as well.

Not his best plan ever… At least it seemed to confuse the thing because it stopped climbing his arm, for the moment anyway.

Blacknail whimpered and frantically tried to think. He wasn’t just any stupid goblin. He was Blacknail! What would Saeter or another human do? Come on think! A human would… use a tool. Blacknail felt a flash of hope. That’s right, he had a tool.

The goblin reached with his free hand and drew the knife Saeter had given him. Desperately, he stabbed the slime several time but it still didn’t do any permanent damage. The ooze just flowed back after he cut it.

What next? He looked his opponent over as the slime begun sucking him in again, this time by both his caught limbs. With a chill, Blacknail realized he was going to die unless he thought of something.

Think! Maybe he should attack the weird things floating in the slime. Frantically, he tried to stab the ones closest to him but they were too deep and the knife couldn’t reach them.

To his horror he felt the wet edge of the slime begun to climb his neck. He shivered with dread as he squirmed trapped upon the ground by the slime’s weight and sticky hold.

He had a sudden idea, but it was desperate and stupid. He didn’t want to do it but he was running out of time. He was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to breathe whatever this thing was made of. The very thought of the slime encasing his head and flowing down his nose and mouth was horrible.

Taking a deep breath Blacknail steeled his resolve and pulled back his arm back. He then stabbed the thing as hard as he could. His arm sank deep into the slime and was caught. He wouldn’t be able to get it out or attack the slime again and now he only had a single foot left, which didn’t do him a lot of good.

However, much to his relief he saw that the blade of the knife in his hand had managed to reach its target. The blackish sac like thing floating in the slime was impaled on the knife and dark fluid begun to spill out and mix with the transparent slime. Blacknail watched wide eyed and desperately hoped that he had actually done something and that he wouldn’t soon be eaten alive.

The blob rippled with small waves then convulsed crazily. To his horror Blacknail was sucked further in and his face was enveloped. Then just as suddenly the goblin was spat out in a splash of slime. He gasped for breath and sucked down air joyously. He was free, and not dead!

As the black liquid spread throughout the rest of the blob it started to dissolve. Blacknail lay on the ground covered in icky weird smelling ooze and watched as the creature expired with a loud gurgling noise. Eventually, only a smelly stain and several weird twisted organs remained.

Blacknail picked himself off the ground and tried to wipe the slime off his skin and clothes. He grinned in excitement. Wow, was he ever glad to be alive. That had been extremely close!

After the goblin gave up cleaning himself off, he turned to look at the remains of the creature. It was mostly just smelly gunk, which he had more than enough of, but he spotted something shiny in among the remains. It was a small crystal!

Blacknail stashed the crystal in one of his pouches and headed back to camp. A few minutes later he remembered he was supposed to be checking the snares and swiftly turned around again.

He collected the rabbit carcasses and hurried back to Saeter. He was already very late. His master would be wondering where he’d gone. He scurried down the path as fast as he could and still maintain a bit of stealth and awareness.

He made it close to the camp without any more trouble. Although he startled one of the bandit scouts as he ran past him on the trail. The man gave him a very surprised look as he passed. Blacknail ignored him and hurried home.

He exited the forest and immediately headed through the camp towards Saeter’s tent. He really wanted to brag about his victory!

Several people gave him odd glances as he passed because he was still covered in quite a bit of slime. It dribbled down his as he ran. They didn’t stop him however and he soon arrived at the tent.

Luckily for him, Saeter was seated out front on a stump oiling some of his tools. As Blacknail ran over and threw the rabbit carcasses unceremoniously on the ground Saeter looked up. He examined the goblin with an exasperated expression.

“In the name of all that is holy what have you been up to now?” he asked with troubled tone.

Blacknail was excited to show off so he reached down and pulled the orb from the pouch at his belt and shoved it into Saeter’s face.

“I take from bad puddle,” he exclaimed with pride.

Saeter leaned back away from the orb that had been shoved in his face and eyed it carefully. A very confused look came over his features.

“A bad puddle?” he repeated without understanding.

The old scout gave Blacknail a questioning look and took the crystal from him. He rotated in his hands as he examined it.

“Slimy smelly thing,” Blacknail explained excitedly.

He wanted his master to realize how great a hunter and fighter he was.

“Slimy… a slime? You fought a slime, and this is its crystal,” Saeter said with surprise as his brow tightened with concern.

“Where exactly did you fight the slime,” he asked in a serious tone.

Blacknail was more than happy to answer.

“At rabbit traps. Tried to steal but I stop. It grab but I stab good,” Blacknail answered as his backs straightened with pride.

While the goblin talked his master started to look vaguely impressed, this caused Blacknail to grow even happier with himself. Truly, he was great and mighty goblin.

“You beat a slime yourself eh? Must have been a small dud, but good work,” Saeter replied as he stood up.

“Not small, huge. Bigger than me,” Blacknail exaggerated as he extended his arms to show how big it had been.

He still wanted more praise but Saeter just gave him an amused but doubtful look before examining the crystal again.

“What’s that?” Blacknail asked his master.

“It’s the slime’s crystal. They all have one. Slimes only grow in crystal caves. Let’s hope there isn’t one nearby. They’re very dangerous, the only place more dangerous than the forest in the Iron Teeth,” he explained.

“Badder than spiders?” Blacknail asked doubtfully.

“Yes,” Seater replied with a grumble of irritation. “I’m going to have to inform Herad.”

With a command to Blacknail to follow, Saeter marched off towards the old farmhouse that Herad had taken over as her command post. Blacknail usually avoided it because Herad was a scary lady.

The thatch on the roof had been replaced and the door had been reattached. The repairs were crude looking but serviceable. Of course the crudest thing about it was the pair of thugs standing guard out front.

They were two big ugly human brutes who really seemed to be not so much standing guard as hanging out there with bored expressions on their face because they had nowhere better to be. As Saeter approached he addressed one of them.

“Is Herad in?” he asked gruffly.

“Ya, she’s in there,” the guard answered him casually.

Neither guard bothered to block them as they approached.

“I’d like to talk to her,” Saeter told them.

The two guards looked at each other and with a sigh the further one turned to the door of the house and knocked.

“Boss, Saeter’s here to see you,” he announced to the closed door.

After a minute he stepped out of the way and the door opened to reveal Herad glaring down at them.

She wore her usual leather but her cloak and most her knives were missing. Candlelight flickered behind her illuminating the interior of the dark house. At his master’s side Blacknail instinctively slouched down to make himself less noticeable.

“Normally I’d ask if this was important but since it’s you Saeter I know you wouldn’t show your face without a good reason,” she commented irritably as she stepped out to talk with him.

Saeter watched her as she descended the short steps in front of the door. She met his eyes and gave him an amused smile.

“My goblin Blacknail was out checking the snares this morning,” he told her with a gesture in the goblin’s direction.

“Fascinating, but as much as I love hearing a man brag about his pet please get to the point,” she replied with a roll of her eyes.

“When he came back he was covered in slime and had a crystal core. He told me he fought a small slime that was trying to get at the snares. I thought you would want to know,” Saeter told her. Blacknail huffed in displeasure. It had been a giant monster slime, not a small one! Saeter hadn’t even seen it.

Herad frowned and scowled in annoyance when Saeter had finished speaking. However Saeter was clearly not the target of her displeasure.

“You think it’s a sign there might be a crystal cave around?” she asked him.

“Yes, there has to be one around somewhere. The question is how close. The slime could have wandered a fair distance. It probably did since we haven’t already seen more crystal beasts or mutants,” Saeter told her.

“So then you don’t think we have a problem?” she enquired. Saeter shook his head in response and brandished the crystal core he had gotten from Blacknail.

“We could just have gotten lucky. The cave could also be mostly sealed so only things like slimes can slip through. Larger slimes can be very dangerous though. Some even have active cores and magical abilities like mutants. Those can rival Drakes in strength,” he explained as Herad gave him a frustrated look.

“This is obviously your area of expertise, Saeter. Why don’t you just explain what you want done so I can approve it?” she asked him with an annoyed tone.

“It’s too dangerous to ignore. Tomorrow I’d like to send all the scouts to search the perimeter. Then I’d like for as many men as possible to go after them once it’s safer and do a more thorough search. A small crevice will be hard to find but easy enough to seal,” he told her.

“Well, at least you don’t want to abandon the camp,” Herad mused aloud as she took a second to think his request over.

“Very well it’s not like most the men are doing anything more than lazing around. This will just help keep them out of trouble. I’ll inform them tonight,” she added and Saeter nodded in acceptance.

“Then I’ll take my leave,” the old scout told her.

Herad just eyed him as she leisurely drew a dagger and lightly pressed her finger against the tip as if testing the sharpness. She continued stroking it for a few seconds before replying.

“What if it’s more than a crevice? New types of mana crystals are worth a fortune to the mage guilds, enough to set someone up for life,” she commented dryly.

“Dangerous, you could stir up a monster capable of killing half the band. Maybe even something on the level of the City Killer and then Riverdown would join Coroulis in ruin,” he answered with concern.

Herad gave him a doubtful look.

“To the first I can always get more men, and as for the second it’s not only horribly unlikely but also simply not my problem,” she answered him.

“It is if the beast kills us all first, which is pretty damn likely. You also need somewhere to trade your stolen goods,” he replied.

“We can move,” Herad said as she shrugged in response. “Besides, you’re the one who is constantly reminding everyone that no one is ever safe out here. A mutant could attack us at any time and it wouldn’t be a surprise to either of us. This is the Iron Teeth and we’re bloody bandits. Every day we survive is a lucky one. A large payoff is worth a large risk.”

“As you wish,” Saeter replied with a sigh. “I guess we’ll see what we find tomorrow.”

“Indeed we will, and if we find the cave I will be one making the call. You can go now,” she told him dismissively in a cold commanding tone.

Saeter simply nodded and quickly withdrew. Blacknail followed his master and thought over what he had just heard. It sounded like tomorrow would be exciting.