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Slagar the Cruel:
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The Adventures of Superstripe the Unrealistic
(And his trusty hare, Edwin)

Chapter Six: "Wolves and Rain"

A great shudder ran down the spikes of Daniel Needlespine, as his fur was pierced by a mighty gale. Quickly surveying his surroundings, as though seeking to apprehend the malefactor behind his momentary discomfort, the hedgehog spotted the culprit: a slight opening between the tall oaken doors of the Bundlebrush Tavern.

Daniel swiftly made his way from behind the counter to the entrance of his establishment, grumbling as he went. “Probably Ives,” he muttered. “Stupid rodent, leaving the door open… ruining the atmosphere… running off my customers, is what he’s doing.” Although Daniel might have bewailed the draft, he had no real grievance with it (or with Ives, leastways no more than usual). Rather, his disagreement was with the message carried along the Autumn wind – that those precious days of Summer had finally come to a close, that soon travelers would no longer haunt the trails in great numbers, that workers would feel less and less inclined to stop by for a drink. In short, that the stale days for those in the business of thirst were about to begin.

As Daniel pushed the gateway closed and marched back towards the bar, he began to catch notice of some peculiar noises coming from outside. Heavy, thundering footsteps echoed from somewhere in the forest. Twigs snapped beneath the footpaws of whatever this passing beast… or beasts… might be. Then came the sound which caused Daniel to freeze in his tracks…

A fierce, blood-curdling howl!

Back at the bar, Ives (who Daniel had finally talked into ordering more than a single pint of mead) launched yet another futile attempt to woo the nubile mousemaid seated next to him. “Did I – hic! – mention that time, when I got clocked – hic! – by a badgerlord?” Ives hiccupped, feebly trying to sound impressive in his blissful stupor.

“Shush!” the mousemaid replied, finally blessed with a good excuse to silence the impetuous gray mouse. “I heard a strange sound… I think the barkeep heard it too.”

“Was it the – hic! – sound of you an’ me makin’ beautiful music toga – toget – together? Hic!” the tipsy mouse replied.

Then, without warning, whatever was prowling around in the woods released a second howl… and this time, it was closer!

“Hey, I – I heard that one!” Ives cried, his ears perking up. Daniel grimaced and backed away from the door, doing his best to retain his composure, and trying frantically to remember the last place he had seen his hatchet… but there was no time!

Bursting open, the doors revealed the vicious, angular face of a wolf, adorned with a silver breastplate, gleaming chain mail, and a huge lance which the beast had slung over his shoulder. Many of the creatures in the tavern gasped or raised their defenses, but the wolf ignored them, staring only in the direction of Daniel.

“Pardon the interruption,” the wolf hissed in a harsh, grating voice, “but I’d like a drink.”

Daniel’s mouth suddenly felt extremely dry. “B-but, but you, you’re, y-y-you’re…” he spluttered, causing a snicker to erupt from the stupefied Ives. The wolf merely cocked his head in confusion at the barkeep’s behavior, which somehow gave the hedgehog the assurance he needed that this creature did not intend to bring them to harm. “What I mean is,” he continued, “this bar was designed with mouse-sized creatures in mind, and… well… you’re too big to fit inside.”

“I… knew this, of course,” the wolf replied, pulling his humongous head out of the door. “Could you just, mayhaps… roll a few casks of whatever you’ve got out to me? Yeah, that’d… that’d be great.”

Not particularly in the mood to argue with the leviathan crouched outside of his door, Daniel quickly sent a few kitchen helpers to fetch three barrels for the wolf, who promptly and courteously paid for the delivery. Some beasts in the tavern thought he heard another howl off in the distance… but they dismissed it as their imagination.

“So, uh, thanks,” Daniel said as he accepted the payment. “You know, for not killing us all and robbing my tavern. Much appreciated.”

The wolf snarled. “How dare you make such a crass statement about the nature of wolves! We may be powerful, and ferocious, but we are a loyal and true race, who would not –“

Before he could finish, he was pushed out of the way by another wolf, who cried, “speak for yourself!” This wolf, cloaked in black, wore a blood-colored ruby around his neck, and carried a wicked-looking curved blade. His bloodshot eyes were alight with malice.

“Know this, you insects!” cried the second wolf in a booming, sinister voice, as he tore the old wooden door from its hinges with his mighty paws. “There is no kindness or sympathy among the great race of wolves. And I shall demonstrate this… by ripping your puny little establishment to pieces! Tremble in your boots, you – URK!”

The first wolf had gotten up, and now held the second by his collar. “Look, I know you’re still stirred up over our last argument about this,” he barked, “but for the last time, stop destroying property and killing things! I keep telling you, this is part of the reason why we’ve been having trouble finding room and board in the first place…”

“Hey,” remarked a third deep voice from outside, “are we talking about base wolf moral orientation again? Because I’m telling you guys, neutrality is totally a viable –“

The lance-toting wolf, still gripping the neck of the less stable canine, now hung his head and sighed. “No, we were just about to leave. Sorry about the damage, rodents.” And with that, the trio of wolves departed. Their destination still lay ahead…

The only thing on Daniel’s mind was the question of how to keep the draft at bay while the door was missing.

It was turning out to be a somewhat dismal Autumn at Salamandastron, as far as weather was concerned. Barely a day went by without some type of storm, and while the Long Patrol’s inhabitants recognized that there are far worse things out there than rain, it did mean that the sprightly litters of hare dibbuns were forced to play inside, resulting in a great deal more broken furniture, broken kitchen utensils, and broken dreams than usual. Overall, the hares were pretty bummed out.

Superstripe’s spirits, however, went undampered. “We here at Salamandastron are facing a time of peace,” the ludicrously overpowered badgerlord warned Edwin as the hare gave his report from his new post as the overseer of the mountain’s daily patrols, “which is exactly why we can’t let our guard down! Constant vigilance! The moment we stop being super-cautious about everything going on around us is the second we’ll all end up with spears through our necks. Well, all of you, I mean. My neck is un-piercable.”

”Yes, you’ve told me this before, sah… in fact, you’ve told me this every single time I try to talk to you these days,” Edwin answered, “but y’ should really consider allowing me to put less out there every day, to maybe have some kind o’ shift system that would allow some of the hares a little time off, wot? I mean, we haven’t been able to find any sign of vermin, and with the weather bein’ how it is, most of us are comin’ down with pneumonia…”

“Questioning my decisions?” Superstripe answered gravely. “That’s the very definition of mutiny, I’ll have you know! But I’ll let it slide this time, Edwin, since you have been such a great travel companion in seasons past. Anyhow no, your request is denied.”

Superstripe turned his attention away from Edwin, towards a picture of himself he had been drawing on the wall in charcoal. “So, you haven’t quite told me yet,” the badger continued, “whether or not the Patrols have found anything worthy of report.”

Edwin sighed. “Please understand, sah, that I’m obligated t’ report to you ANYTHIN’ that gets reported to me, regardless of my opinion of its blinkin’ validity…”

“Do go on!” Superstripe remarked cheerfully, as he accentuated the muscular frame of his likeness on the wall.

“Petri Dorsalbreaker, one of th’ special scouts who run all the way to the eastern mountains on patrols,” Edwin continued reluctantly, “claims to have seen a group o’ creatures who are well over twice the size o’ badgers…”

The piece of charcoal in Superstripe’s hand suddenly snapped. His head turned slowly towards Edwin once more. “Did you say… twice the size of badgers?” the mountain lord said through his teeth.

“Wait, sah, you have to understand th’ circumstances of this report,” Edwin quickly added, waving his hands wildly in the air. “Th’ hare who made this report is out o’ his blinkin’ skull! He’s just been babbling about nonsense ever since he came back from one o’ his jaunts to the mountains… it’s the exhaustion of it all, I think, but in any case I think you can just ignore this report. In fact, this lends more credence to my flippin’ plan about implementing a shift system to –“

“No, Edwin!” Superstripe boomed, rising to his full height. “I cannot take any chances on this matter. Bring this… Petri… before me at once.”

Edwin saluted and departed to follow his master’s orders, inwardly kicking himself for obeying that particular part of procedure.

“Alright, where’s Petri?” Edwin barked with an uncharacteristic degree of authority as he entered the Infirmary. He knew the hare had been here since the ill-fated journey he had taken earlier this week, but it was impossible to locate him amidst the scores of sneezing, coughing hares who had fallen prey to dampness-related illness.

“Oh, he’s in th’ corner, as per usual,” answered Edwin’s friend Sona, pointing to the mad-looking hare with askew fur, rocking himself in the corner. “Why, what’s the matter?” she asked.

“Superstripe caught wind of the idea that something bigger than him might be walking around in our vincinity,” Edwin grumbled. “Looks like Petri’s babbling has just landed a regiment of soldiers into a fruitless search… not that the Long Patrol’s used for much of anything else these days, anyhow.”

Petri continued to rock himself back and forth, oblivious to the events conspiring about him. “The eyes,” he whimered. “Oh, what big eyes they had… evil, cold, vicious eyes!”

Edwin knocked lightly on Petri’s head. “Come on, you,” he said, “Superstripe wants to hear your little tale tail about the wolves, or dragons, or fruit bats, or orangutans, or whatever it is you claimed to have seen.”

Quickly sitting up and saluting, Petri replied, “no need to bother, sah! I’ve moved on from that sorry phase of my life. I’m a new creature, see? No more dwellin’ on the past for me… no more thinking about the… the fangs… oh, fates, the huge, sharp, jagged fangs! What great big teeth they’ve got!” Petri collapsed into the corner again, shivering.

Clapping a paw to his forehead, Edwin continued, “if you’re not going to come along willingly I’ll just have to drag you there myself.”

“Right! Let’s be off then” Petri answered, leaping to his feet and abandoning his shell-shocked demeanor.

Petri and Edwin then made their way back to Superstripe’s throne room formally and without incident, where the badgerlord had recovered a second piece of charcoal, and was now illustrating a pile of dead vermin beneath the feet of his self-portrait. “Okay, so you’re… Peter, right? Tell me more about these beasts you encountered during your last hike to the mountains, Peter.”

Petri immediately crumbled to the floor, reverting to the state in which Edwin had found him earlier. “Oh, they were terrible! Bigger than wildcats, bigger than badgers, bigger than… well, anything else I’ve ever heard of, wot? And fiercer, too! Even unarmed, I’m sure they could slice you to ribbons, chew you up, really tear you limb from limb, y’know…”

Edwin found himself rolling his eyes. “Could they breathe fire, too?” he snorted.

“Yes!” the alarmed brown-furred hare next to him cried. “Well, no. I mean… possibly. I wouldn’t put it past ‘em, is all I’m sayin’. Just trust me, they were pretty threatening creatures! And huge, too”

“If there’s anything taller than myself in these parts,” Superstripe remarked darkly, “then it must be apprehended at all costs.”

“But… first of all, I can pretty flippin’ well guarantee you these things aren’t even real, sah,” Edwin started. “Second of all, why are you so worried by this? Are y’ afraid that they could beat you in a fight?”

Superstripe laughed uproariously. “Ah, Edwin my friend, they don’t call you a comical hare for nothing, do they? No, of course, the scenario you described is impossible, as I am Superstripe the Unrealistic, the most powerful creature ever to exist anywhere at any chronological period, ever. But something taller than me? It’s just not right. Plus, all this peace is starting to bore me. So, have Pedro here direct you to the spot where he confronted these monstrous things immediately.”

While Edwin did not believe for a moment that a regiment of Long Patrol hares was needed for such an inane mission, the decision to send only Petri and himself came as a complete surprise. And as Petri appeared to be a blithering nincompoop, it was not a welcome one. “Er, Superstripe ol’ thing… if these creatures really are out there, don’t y’ think a greater military force should be sent to deal with them? Y’know, since they’re theoretically bigger than you, an’ all.”

“Oh, don’t worry, Edwin,” Superstripe answered. “Nothing could really be taller than a being as mighty as me. It’s probably, like… a trick, achieved by smoke and mirrors, or something. Besides, I was thinking of giving the troops some time off. It’s not like an unexpected vermin attack would be the end of the world, after all. I’d kind of welcome it, after this mundane streak we’ve been having.”

“We’ll leave at once then, sah,” said Edwin, as he gritted his teeth. As if something that much bigger than a badger could really be lurking around in the area! It was going to be one of those days…

But the very creatures whose existences were currently being discredited by Superstripe’s sidekick were, in fact, still lurking around in the area. Specifically, the three fanged behemoths had set up camp in a dank, gloomy cave on the western face of one of Salamandastron’s neighboring mountains.

Dallon Frostpaw, the lance-wielding wolf who had so politely obtained wine from the Bundlebrush Tavern over a month previous, now lay curled before the entrance to their cold, damp, uncomfortable shelter. The wild-eyed cloaked wolf, Valgan Scarrow, was restlessly sharpening his wicked blade while perched atop an empty cask. And the third wolf, Bittwen Malbonus, was probably doing something somewhere in the cave that nobody thought of noting for some reason.

“Argh… I can’t take this anymore!” Valgan cried, hurling his knife to the floor. “We aren’t meant to be cooped up in a little cave like this. We need more space to call our own, so that we might roam independently… so that we might hunt… so that we might feed! We are wolves, after all!”

“Well, we haven’t found such a place yet, have we?” snarled Dallon. “And we certainly need some kind of shelter in this kind of a downpour. Besides, I think you’re wrong about us needing space to ‘hunt’ something off on our own. That’s not what wolves are about. We are a pack-based animal, cautious yet loyal, valorous yet wise…”

“But it’s only biologically proper that we wolves devour the flesh of others!” Valgan answered. “Why do you think we’ve got these big teeth and claws, hmm?”

“Oh, you are not bringing zoology into this again!” groaned Dallon. “Badgers are ‘supposed to be’ carnivorous, you know! Biologically, they’re even inclined to eat baby hares. Did you know that? Baby hares! But you don’t see the badger over at Salamandastron eating the little dibbuns over there, do you?” Suddenly, Dallon was struck with an idea, which he thought best to share with the group. “Hey, speaking of Salamandastron, maybe we should go…”

“Don’t change the subject!” Valgan snapped. “You brought it up this time, and we’re going to do this thing. It’s on. And you know what, forget the physiological aspect of the wolf’s natural ethical disposition, that doesn’t even have to enter into it. It’s the cultural connotation that really matters! The fact of the matter is, Dallon, that traditionally wolves are considered ‘bad news’. We’re depicted as murdering, thieving, evil threats to the common good in most myths and tales. It’s the same way with foxes, they’re not particularly biologically threatening, but they’ve got a reputation as being underhanded and surreptitious. Guess what side they’re on, huh? We, my fellow canines, belong on that side as well.”

”Guys, guys!” Bittwen Malbonus started, stepping between his two companions. “You’re missing the real point here. Wolves are practically unknown in Mossflower Country, right? We’ve got a clean slate to work with, here! So we should do something totally unprecedented – be *gray *! I mean, just think about how awesome that would be!”

Dallon sighed. “You’ve yet to convince me that being… ‘gray’, as you put it, would be helpful in any way,” he mumbled.

“Oh come on, use your imagination!” Malbonus cried. “We could, like, go up to some vermin, right? And be all, like, ‘I’m going to help you’, but then… we don’t! It would be seriously pretty great, because nobody’s done it before!”

“That’s it, I’m getting out of here,” growled Valgan. “I need to forage for some food.”

“Don’t go too far, it looks like it’ll be raining again,” Dallon warned. “Oh, and don’t kill anybeast while you’re out. I know that’s what you think of as food-foraging, but it really isn’t.”

Valgan Scarrow strode out of the cave, holding his curved blade high. “I make no promises,” he sniffed.

“Well, this is a fine mess you’ve got us into,” grumbled a very tired out Edwin, as he and Petri finally crossed the perilous dunes and reached the vicinity of the mountains. “It’s mid-day already… by the time we get back to report that your little delusion is, in fact, just that – a delusion, I mean – it’ll be some ridiculous hour of the night. I don’t believe this, what a rotten waste of time…”

“You think you’re upset?” Petri replied. “I’m the one who already knows th’ wolves around here are real, an’ I still have to take you to where I found them! I’d really rather not, y’know…”

“As I could tell from the numerous times you’ve tried to flee back to the mountain,” said Edwin. “I’d really like to turn back too, you know, just because I already realize how futile this whole pursuit is. But unless I’m able to make you understand that there aren’t any wolves, or chimpanzees, or deinonychuses, or whatever you thought you saw lurkin around here, I’m sure you’ll just keep blabbing on about it, forcing the mountain’s forces to continue this pointless crusade. So I’m in this for the long haul…” he paused for a moment here to rub his footpaws, “no matter how much it hurts me.”

“Geeze, what’s eatin’ you, ol’ badger-sidekick-thingummy?” asked Petri, stopping to wait for the other hare. “You’re always complainin’ about how Superstripe dragged you halfway across the world with him on his little quests, aren’cha? So why so glum over this little jaunt? Besides our impending doom at the claws of the wolves you’re in denial about, o’ course.”

Edwin sighed, the anger vanishing from his face. “It’s not the mission, Petri, it’s just… just this whole situation I’m in. I’ve been off questing with Superstripe for a number of seasons now, you know. And every time that we’ve returned to the mountain, that there’s been a lull in Superstripe’s bloodthirsty rampage, I keep hoping he’ll let me leave the mountain’s service, or that he’ll just forget I exist so that I can slip away unnoticed. Now even Superstripe admits that we’re in a time of peace, and there still seems like there’s no chance.”

Petri glanced around, trying to locate a good escape route. “Do go on,” he said.

”No, I won’t bother you with the details,” Edwin mumbled, staring at his knees. “But I’m not actually from Salamandastron, and… I’m worried about my –“

In an instant, Valgan Scarrow descended upon the pair with a thunderous crash, howling madly. Not a moment later he had sliced off Petri’s left arm, which he proceeded to catch in his maw and devour.

Edwin gaped at the grisly sight, as blood spurted out out of both Valgan’s mouth and Petri’s empty socket. “See?” Petri cried with a sense of satisfaction. “I told you there were wolves around here!”

Valgan spat out the cleaned bones of the hare’s arm. “Haha! Your flesh satiates my hunger, rabbit. But it is only an appetizer! Why don’t you two come with me? My brood would love to have you over for the main course! Ha, ha, ha, ha – OOF!”

The evil wolf had suffered a mean right hook to his jaw, delivered by Dallon Frostpaw, who had left their cave after hearing the commotion. “For the claw’s sake, Valgan, didn’t I just tell you about not doing this kind of thing, you stupid git? I apologize for my fellow wolf’s behavior, small ones,” Dallon said as he turned from Valgan to the two hares. “Hey, you’re Long Patrollers, aren’t you?”

Edwin could only continue to stare in disbelief, as Bittwen joined his companions in the clearing, and Petri continued gloating, “Ha, I warned you, didn’t I? Joke’s on you, chap! Hey, this is kinda starting to hurt…”

“I’ll take that as a yes, then,” Dallon slowly remarked.

Bittwen walked towards Petri, who was now becoming quite dizzy as a result of his blood loss. “If you come with me, morsel, I will treat your wound so as to prevent your death,” the oft-ignored wolf growled. “But it just may come… at a terrible price! See, I’m neutral, so you never know exactly what you’re going to get when you deal with me.” Petri could only nod dumbly as Malbonus led him by his remaining arm into the cave where the wolves had been staying.

After several long moments, Edwin shook off his initial bewilderment at witnessing Petri’s dismemberment at the paws of a creature he had just been adamantly dismissing as imaginary. “I’m not sure I understand what’s going on,” he began. “Are you wolves goodbeasts, or vermin, or… or what are we supposed to expect from you?”

“Wolves are certainly not ‘vermin’, hare,” Dallon sniffed. “While we are powerful and quick-witted, we are also loyal and true.”

“Bah! Don’t listen to Frostpaw,” Valgan shouted as he nursed his jaw. “He’s just a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Wolves are vicious, heartless, and cruel. We go beyond vermin, yes, but only in our ultimate mastery of power, wickedness, and deceit!”

“Well, okay, the truth is,” Dallon continued sheepishly, “that none of us really knows for sure what wolves are supposed to ‘be’. The only concrete clue I’ve found in this country’s collective history is that some fox used to run around wearing a wolf pelt…”

“Clear evidence that wolves are symbols of evil and fear!” cried Valgan. “Anyways, tiny morsel, we three had all come to different conclusions on the subject of wolf morality before meeting, resulting in the… unique dynamic we’re in today.”

“So then why are you all residing together? I mean, wouldn’t it better suit you all to just do your own things independently?” Edwin asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, you see, that’s actually what I wanted to talk to you Long Patrol hares about,” Dallon answered. “As you can see, we wolves are big. I mean, really big. We’re so tremendously, ridiculously huge in comparison to most of the animals in Mossflower Country that it’s almost impossible to fit in.” He pulled out his lance, gesturing to Valgan, the currently cave-dwelling Bittwen, and finally to the silhouette of a mountain to the west with it as he spoke. “We all figured we’d have a better chance of finally stumbling upon a place around here that can actually facilitate wolves if we worked together. And now that I think about it… if Salamandastron is really a hollowed-out volcano, that can comfortably fit a badger and thousands of hares, then perhaps it could accommodate us as well.”

The huge canine grabbed Edwin by the shoulders. “Well, what do you say, hare? Could we work something out with the lord of your mountain?”

“Uh, well, I mean I could take you to him, of course,” Edwin replied awkwardly, “but somehow I don’t think he’ll be too keen to accept your proposition…”

Dallon merely smiled. “Well, it won’t kill us to try, will it?” Edwin refrained from answering. “In any case, we’d better depart as soon as Malbonus is finished cleaning your friend’s wound,” the wolf continued, turning his gaze towards the clouded sky. “Rain’s coming.”

And so, the two hares found themselves before Salamandastron again much earlier than they had expected – owing largely to their riding upon the backs of two of the three wolves accompanying them for much of the way. Though by the end, in fact, Petri had to abandon the back of Bittwen Malbonus in order to escape his efforts to buck him off at random intervals to prove his neutrality towards the hare.

“Hey, thanks again for not quite killing me, guys,” Petri said, staggering back and forth along the beach. “Think I’ll… pass out for a bit… as a result of intense blood loss…” he said, before doing so.

“Well, here we are,” said Edwin, as he signaled to the mountain’s lookouts to warn them against attacking. “The entrance is hard to see from far away, but it’s tucked just between the sand and the mountain right over there. It could be a tight squeeze for you three, though… in fact, before we go any further with this idea of yours, perhaps I should fetch my lord Superstripe so that you can –“

“Bah!” barked Valgan. “I wait for nobeast, and I take whatever I feel belongs to me!” To demonstrate this, the despicable wolf stormed over to the opening which served as the mountain’s entrance and knocked hard upon its wall with the butt of his blade. “Little hares, little hares, let me in!” he yelled.

Mandlegorf Flixwich, the mountain’s ladder operator, poked his head down. “Not by the fur on my… uh… look, you’re just not getting’ up here, on account o’ how big an’ scary you are.”

Valgan backed away from the entrance, holding his blade aloft. “Very well then, hares! If you and your cowardly lord will not stand back and allow us wolves to plunder your belonging, we will take them… by FORCE! Ha, ha… huh?”

The wolf pointed his curved blade to a tiny silhouette peering down upon the party from atop the mountain of the fire lizards. A flash of lightning illuminated the figure’s immense arsenal, muscular form, and glowing rose-colored eyes. The clap of thunder which sounded a few moments later was overtaken by the volume of the war cry which erupted from his throat a few moments later… “EULALIAAAAAA!!!!”

Superstripe then proceeded to leap down from the peak of his mountain kingdom, hopping to and from each level spot on Salamandastron’s steep surface, his agility matching that of the rain which now poured down from the heavens, until he stood but a few hare’s heights above Edwin and the three wolves.

“Impressive… most impressive,” the unrealistic badger remarked darkly, as the rain pattered softly upon the various metal instruments attached to his body. “Indeed you are tall, as the comatose hare has reported.” He unsheathed his leviathan death blade from his back. “You must think you’re quite the big-shots, hmm? You think you can just take over the mountain because you’re taller than me, don’t you?!”

“Hey, wait a minute now,” Dallon Frostpaw quickly exclaimed, “we wanted to ask for shelter within your mountain, for us wolves to join badgers and hares as creatures of Salamandastron, but we’re not here to start a fight, or to conquer anything, for that matter.”

Valgan raised a paw. “Uh… well, I am, actually,” he started.

In a flash, Superstripe dove towards the cloaked wolf, butting his helmeted head directly into the wolf’s midsection before collapsing to the ground. Valgan staggered back a few paces, but recovered in time to kick Superstripe with a huge, powerful footpaw before he managed to stand. The badger, now lying on his back beside his sword as rain poured down on his face, retaliated by whipping a throwing axe out of his belt, which he then proceeded to hurl towards the wolf with blinding speed.

Valgan cried in pain as the axe’s blade went flying by, nicking his left shoulder, but did not allow it to slow him down. Such a tiny instrument could only do so much damage to a giant such as himself, after all. Raising his curved blade in one hand, Valgan pounced with all his might towards where Superstripe was laying, but the badger rolled away just in time, grabbing his blade as he did so.

The wolf’s pace and senses still had yet to diminish, and he turned, bringing down his wicked knife, just in time to block Superstripe’s sword as he got to his feet. Pulling away, Superstripe made another swing towards the larger creature, but this time Valgan merely halted the blade by trapping it within the arc of his own weapon.

As the two pairs of red-eyes locked, Valgan could not help cackling triumphantly. “Face it, badger,” he laughed, “you’re outmatched. And so is your entire breed, you scum! Your mountain is as good as mine!”

Raindrops mingled with sweat as Superstripe desperately pushed against his enemy’s blade. He couldn’t disgrace the proud line of Salamandastron’s lords by failing in single combat. If only he could think of something, some way to overcome this foe and protect his kingdom. He just couldn’t lose like this… and then, as lightning lit up the sky, a revelation came to Superstripe like a ton of bricks. “Hey, that’s right! I quite literally can’t lose like this, or at all,” he thought to himself. “I’m Superstripe the Unrealistic!”

The heavily-armored badger then performed two back-flips before cupping his hands together, exuding a strange aura, and shouting “HADOKEN”. The resulting wave of blue energy that launched from Superstripe’s hands collided dead-on with Valgan Scarrow, creating a blinding explosion.

When the smoke cleared, Valgan was laying on his back, charred and coughing up ashes. “Don’t everyone rush to help me up at once,” he weakly growled at Dallon and Edwin, who had been watching from the sidelines the entire time, not entirely sure of who to root for.

“Okay, I think I’ve proven who the real master here is,” Superstripe proudly proclaimed. “And since the mountain lookouts informed me before I came out that you don’t really mean us harm, I suppose I’ll even let this over-anxious one live. Now, what was all this business about joining us here at Salamandastron?”

Before Dallon could begin to elucidate his proposition for Superstripe, he was interrupted by Edwin. “Hey, where did that Malbonus chap get off to, anyhow?” he asked, turning his head to search for the wolf, “an’ what happened to Petri?”

”I apologize for this, but I ate him!” Bittwen shouted as he poked his head out from behind one of the mountain’s corners. “’Cause I’m so neutral!”

Dallon turned towards Superstripe, and shakily began, “uh, now about letting us bunk with you guys…”

“Wait, so let me get this straight,” said Dallon early the next morning, as Superstripe and Edwin prepared to part ways with the trio of wolves before the cavern in which they had resided earlier. “Your solution to our problem is to just drop us back off at where we started?”

“That’s only part of my idea,” Superstripe said warmly. “I’ve supplied you with all the tools you’ll need to further excavate and furnish this mountain into a proper home. You see, Salamandastron is already bound to the legacy of hares and badgers. Only if you three create your own home, by emptying out this mountain into a stronghold of your own, will you discover your own legacy here in Mossflower as a species.”

“Hollowing out a mountain is rocky business, though,” Valgan interjected. “Do you really expect three creatures to turn this place into a proper home?”

“It will take time and practice,” the badgerlord lectured, “but most of all it will take teamwork. With my unrealistically well-crafted tools, and your immense size and strength, you will be able to make a good home for yourselves… if you work together!”

“Hey, yeah!” Dallon Frostpaw exclaimed. “Wolves are pack-based animals, after all. If we work together, we can make Mossflower a better place for all our kind.” The three canines put their paws together (even Valgan, after some prodding), and shouted a rousing cry of “TEAMWORK HO!”

Doubts still lingered in Edwin’s mind as he left the cavern to journey back to Salamandastron with his master. “I don’t get how you expect ‘em to work together at all, sah,” he told Superstripe. “Their personalities are utterly at odds, wot? Do you really think they’ll be able to work together on anythin’ so involved as creating a wolf domain?”

“Huh? Oh, no, they’re screwed,” Superstripe replied distractedly, hardly paying attention to the hare’s queries. “I’m sure they’ll tear each other to ribbons in a few weeks, and that will get them out of my fur, at least. Serves them right for being taller than me. I mean, for conspiring to invade the mountain. Oh, and for devouring Pancho.”

The badgerlord sighed, shoving his hands into pockets that Edwin had not previously realized existed in the badger’s coat of armor. “Well, looks like another problem has been resolved without the need for anything but the most minimum of carnage,” Superstripe said, pouting. “I guess I’ll just get back to the mountain, and continue barely doing anything to pass the time for the rest of this dismally uneventful season…”

Edwin realized that this might be the opportune moment to seize in order to reprise his request to be relieved of his duty. Before he could speak, however, Superstripe fell to his knees, clutching his forehead.

“I… I feel something coming on, Edwin!” Superstripe gasped, now holding one arm towards the sky as though observing some sort of celestial display. With horror, Edwin began to recognize the condition which had befallen Superstripe. Despite the hare’s hopes that his master was merely speaking of gas, he knew deep inside that something even more sinister was afoot.

“Yes! That’s it,” Superstripe joyously proclaimed, hopping to his feet as anxiousness wore at Edwin. “It’s… a hunch! Yes, I’ve received another signal from my infallible badger intuition! I feel that the safety of Redwall Abbey has been put in jeopardy once more, and that you and I must journey to take up arms before its gates at once!”

Edwin hurled himself to the ground, screaming and pounding the soil with his paws. Superstripe just crossed his arms and rolled his eyes. “Come now, Edwin! You performed almost the exact same jesting fake tantrum the last time I had a hunch about saving Redwall,” the badgerlord said impatiently. “Get some new material!”

DISCLAIMER: Redwall, Slagar, and all related properties (C) Brian Jacques and the Redwall Abbey Company. All rights reserved.