Chapter 17

Whiptail traveled north, always north. He held out his standard with the ferret’s skull on it and the Glist tucked under the belt he had retrieved from a slain weasel. He missed Simu’s company, but reveled in his multiple victories over the badger and Cluny’s forces.

As he made camp for the night, he sat by the fire, absently dining on apples and trout. Afterward he sharpened the Glist with a flat stone and went to the sleep.

Whiptail had very odd dreams that night.

He wandered in a forest of eternal night, the trees looming over him, long dead. The sky had no moon or clouds. In fact, he very much doubted that there was a sky in this world of dreams.

He found himself in a large clearing, the grass occupying it the only living thing here. In the center was an ornate, bright red door. Some sixth sense told him not to open it. At the sound of a twig snapping, he spun to the other side of the woods.

And he beheld his sister, Glae.

“Brother Whiptail.” The ratmaid’s voice was deeper than he remembered. “When you awaken, you must never use your true name in this land ever again.”

Whiptail’s vision narrowed as he gradually came awake. As he left this land of darkness and death. As he saw Glae retreat into the forest, he could have sworn that deep in the brush and overgrowth, he saw a male mouse with a great sword, dressed in armor.

Whiptail woke but did not move; a rat was rummaging in his belt. As he beheld and admired the Glist, Whiptail headbutted him and clutched his throat, dangling the rat in the air.

The rat’s eyes bulged in fear but behind them, Whiptail sensed admiration, an unwavering loyalty to the strong. He slammed the rat into the embers of the fire and released loosened his grip to allow the intruder to speak.

“Name. Now!”

“R… Rehd…Redtooth!”

He kicked Redtooth on the bottom. “I am your master, Wh- Cluny. Now get moving!”

As the days and weeks went by, tales of Whiptail’s deeds spread like wildfire. Rats were drawn like him like worms to a corpse until he had amassed an army under his false title, Cluny.

The horde was running low on supplies as Redtooth, Whiptail’s second-in-command, spotted a village made of mud and grass to the west.

The horde stayed in hiding until the dead of night. When the last candle went out, Whiptail signaled for the rats to move in.

By morning the villagers were strewn all over the earth. Whiptail’s skill had been very evident that night, especially with his tail. His minions had been calling him ‘Cluny the Scourge.’ He did not stop the whispers; in fact, he enjoyed the infamy the name brought about.

He strolled purposefully through the ruined village, smoke billowing from the torched huts. A rustle from behind alerted made him spin around.

An elderly hedgehog mother swayed crazily as she approached Whiptail. All eyes were on her.

“You…selfish…rat! You think you can do whatever you wish, slaying whoever you want? Look around at what you have wrought!”

Whiptail did and responded, “The lives of others are not my concern.”

As he made to walk away, the hogmum pounded feebly on his chest. He grabbed her by the wrist and averted his gaze to her pathetic struggles.

When she attempted to bite him, he tossed her effortlessly to the dirt and walked away. He would have left her there if not for her next insult: “I curse you, you and all your cowardly, hideous kin!”

Cluny the Scourge spun around, lifted her bodily into the air by her throat, and callously tore off her head.

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