Chapter 16

The Badgerslayer had won.

The corpses of Cluny’s forces strew the beach, crimson liquid still seeping in the sand… and in Whiptail’s fur.

It came as no surprise to him that a regiment of hares thronged out of Salamandastron, bows strung. Whiptail snarled, “Leave me be, hares- There has been enough blood today.”

“Hm, merciful chap, eh, wot?”

Don’t let ‘em fool you, Sergeant- blighter’s crueler than a crow!”

Whiptail made a young leveret shudder when he buried the point of the Glist in the earth. “Enough! I won’t soil my paws with the likes those that follow that idiot of a badger. I don’t care what you do; I’m not fighting back, but I won’t back down either. So you’re just gonna have to kill me. Tell me, can you ‘perilous hares’ kill a beast that won’t fight back?”

Slowly, very slowly, but surely, the hares made their way back into Salamandastron. The last to go was a grizzled old veteran.

“You’re different, aren’t you?”

The Badgerslayer extracted his weapon and slung it across his shoulders. “I am Whiptail!”

“A good name, for one who will surely do great things. Terrible- but great.”

As the gates closed, Whiptail walked among the area of corpses and retrieved a tout staff, a hideously curved knife, and the loose head and Cluny. He set about skinning it, removing the brain and eyes and flesh, set Cluny’s skull upon his new standard, and bellowed his victory.

Simu crouched and held his parent’s heads, sobbing and rocking back and forth. Whiptail approached reluctantly. He stood there, not knowing what to say or do. What could he say except, “I’m sorry.”

The tear-stained stoat looked at him absently. “I know Whiptail, I don’t blame ye. But I…I-I can’t go with you anymore. I just can’t.”

Whiptail nodded- he expected as much. Whiptail had retrieved the Hocain from Cluny’s corpse. He held it out to Simu. “I think this belongs to you now.” Simu wordlessly accepted it.

After a parting embrace, they went their separate ways, the only two vermin who were true friends.

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