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Whiptail had trained under Cluny for two seasons. Now, it was time to act. The ferret, stoat and rat marched boldly up to Salamandastron.
Cluny banged on the main gate, bellowing hoarsely, “Mountain Lord! My apprentice challenges you to a duel!”
Markus was the only slave to escape during the night of Scratchface’s death. He had wandered far before discovering the mountain fortress. He surveyed the group below him with scorn and anticipation. A young leveret entered his forge room and asked, “Pardon Sah, Sergeant wants tae know if you’re goin’ out there.”
“Indeed I am, young Brownhide. Send somebeast to open the gates.”
As the massive gates creaked open, Cluny handed over the Hocain to Whiptail. He swung it experimentally, disliking its weight displacement. But such things were forgotten as Markus walked boldly forward, with a huge warclub in his paw, with Whiptail striding up to meet him.
“Never thought I’d see you here.”
“Why have you challenged me? What’s the trouble worth?”
“I’m here to help my friend.”
Markus took up a fighting stance. “Vermin don’t have friends.”
Whiptail scowled. “You are not one of me, and therefore cannot judge me.
“That doesn’t change the fact that your kind are traitorous greedbags that use betrayal as a first resort.”
Whiptail pressed his face an inch away from that of Markus. “Treachery is for the weak, who cannot take what they want through pure strength and will.”
Markus stomped his foot resolutely in the sand. “Enough! You have come to fight- so we will fight!”
“Wait just a moment!” cried Cluny as he ran up to them. “You don’t want to just fight, do you? Don’t you want to make it a bit…interesting?”
Markus grunted. “Very well, scum. You want a wager? If Whiptail wins, I will give him a weapon the likes of which has rarely been seen before.”
“And if you win, you can have this.” Whiptail twirled the Hocain. “Agreed?”
Without warning, Whiptail jumped into the air and brought the Hocain down towards the Badger Lord. Markus had barely enough time to parry the blow. Whiptail used the momentum to jump a second time with his front paws, and land behind Markus, slashing him with his thick tail.
Markus stumbled to his knees in pain and surprise, giving Whiptail time to stab him in an uppercut motion. Markus roared and swirled around, bringing his club right where Whiptail’s snout had been a moment before. He frantically looked right and left, but Whiptail could not be found.
Suddenly, he felt a searing pain in his left footpaw. When he looked down, Whiptail was between his legs, a severed toe clenched between his teeth. Markus smashed downwards, but Whiptail caught the club with his tail and paw, spat the toe in Markus’s eye, distracting him, and with one push, slid forward from between his legs.
Markus aimed at him again, but Whiptail rolled out of the way and stood up. He aimed at the rat’s head, but Whiptail ducked and swung the Hocain with both paws, slicing at the badger’s mighty chest.
As Markus stumbled to his knees, Whiptail held the point of the Hocain at Markus’s throat. He gloated mockingly, “Imagine, the great Badger Lord defeated by a weak, evil little rat!”