The dusty light of early morning still streaks the sky and still
fades into evening on the distant planet, Arrellia which meant "gentle
sun" in the native language of the people who dwelt on it. They were
a rather peculiar sight to behold. Their ears were large and tapered out
from their heads like bird's wings, they bore a pair of inquisitive eyes
that were generally blue in color, and their faces ended in a sharp beak
with a small horn on the end of it. They looked frightful, but they were
a peace-loving race which is what caused them to surrender so easily when
Rita Repulsa and her forces conquered Arrellia. The entire race is survived
by one member, and he alone holds the horror in his memory of what happened
when everyone was taken in the slaughter.
* * *
"Uff! That's not fair, Garren!" Finster cried out as he hit the ground for a third time in the sparring match.
"You handle that trident like a pup!" Garren chided as he helped Finster to his feet. "My friend, you are many things but a warrior is not one of them." he pointed out.
Finster nodded his head and brushed the dust from the sleeves of his black jacket that he wore over his usual white shirt and black pants. "Well, I suppose so but you could at least be easy on me," he said, with a little hurt in his voice. "I'm only a novice in trident play," he added as he picked up the steel trident from where it had fallen to the dirt. It made a soft metallic hiss as it slid against the soil grains and then Finster looked around himself nervously. He knew that if anyone caught them with weapons then they would both be in muck up to their ears. He was still worried that they were being watched.
"I'm not easy on anyone. You are a fool if you think so," Garren said proudly and held his own trident up to the light of day where it glinted softly.
Finster sighed and shook his head. "I may be a fool Garren, but I'm a wise fool," he retorted as he went to hand the weapon back to his friend.
"Just what does that mean?" Garren said, flattening his ears along the bullet of his skull menacingly.
"It means, I know not to spend all of my time practicing with weapons that I will never use," he said flatly and turned to leave.
"This is coming from the same person who is wasting away in a laboratory with his hands buried to the knuckles in clay?" Garren asked. Finster sighed again. One of the few things that he was good at was giving life to creatures that he made out of clay. Garren put a heavy hand on his shoulder. "Its true, is it not? You have a mate that any man would murder for and a child on the way, but why are you cooping yourself up like a brooding hen? Surely she can get by without your help."
"How does this tie into our trident match?" Finster asked, not wanting to discuss the matter further. "I'm not cooping myself up, I'm just engrossed in things other than weaponry," he explained. "Tridents, spears, and swords are your life while books, clay, and writing are mine."
Garren felt a smile tug at his lips. He could tell that Finster was trying to avoid matters and so he decided not to push. "To each his own," Garren said with a salute as he took the trident from Finster.
"I have to get home. I promised Selina that I'd be back in an hour and surely its been more than that by now," Finster said quickly and scurried away.
Garren watched him scramble up a nearby hill. "I'll see you tomorrow then?" he called as his friend disappeared over the crest of the hill. He heard a distant response that he didn't understand but he decided to take it as a yes as he headed off for his own home.
* * *
Finster was quite out of breath and sweat was appearing in prominant beads on his forehead by the time he reached the walkway that led up to his small house. He had been younger then, with smooth features and his hair hanging in unkept wisps. He walked up the path with healthy strides as he turned the small brass knob on the door and pushed it open. Inside, a wave of cool air swept over him and he began to catch his breath. His mate, who had fallen asleep in a chair reading now bolted awake when she heard him come in.
"Back so soon, bright eyes?" Selina asked. She always called him bright eyes when she was in an especially good mood.
"So soon?" Finster smiled. "I must have left more than two hours ago."
She yawned and stretched her arms up over her head, making her condition rather noticed. She had been heavy with cub for nearly eight months and Finster knew that any time she would begin to drop it. He desperately wanted to be there for the birth which was what he hadn't been able to tell Garren because he knew that he would never have heard the end of it. Her belly gave a little jolt and she sighed as she stood up. "Finster, you can't fool me. I know that you're a bundle of nerves right now," she said in a voice that he just scarcely heard.
"Can you blame me Selina?" he asked her. "This is our first cub. What if something should happen?"
Upon hearing this she turned to face him, no longer smiling but her face still maintaining a warmth. "You must remember also, sweet mate, that I am not the first to bear and birth a child. If something should happen and you aren't there then I will forgive you. I won't condemn you to sit here like a hawk until the time comes."
Finster wondered how she knew what a hawk was. Perhaps she had been studying from his references on life forms from other planets. He supposed it didn't matter but he didn't stop himself from sparing her one last concerned look. Seeing it, Selina laughed and linked her arms around his neck. "Don't worry so much. I'll be fine and the last minute arrangements for the cub will keep you so busy that you'll forget to worry."
"Is that a promise?" Finster asked her, feeling his stomach tighten with anxiety as he thought of all that could happen to her while she was in birth and vulnerable to everything. His own mother had died while birthing his younger sister and he feared that the same thing could happen to her.
"Just don't worry. I need you, of all people, to be strong now. You aren't helping me by being cowardly," she said placidly, and headed off in the direction of their bedroom to lie down for awhile. The cub had really been a burden on her during the last months and wouldn't allow her to sleep with all of the moving that it had done. Finster sympathized with his mate as he pushed open the door to his laboratory and walked inside.
The counter was strewn with crumpled papers and drying clay animals that he had created the night before. He hadn't been able to sleep with Selina's thrashing, and so had come into his laboratory and eased his mind by trying to create new and different creatures. He gathered the crumpled papers in a large wad and tossed them into a metal can by the door that he had intended for such things from the beginning but rarely used.
He then turned to the table once again and picked up a small clay creature that resembled a koala bear but had a reptilian face, cradled it in his hand for a moment and then set it gently into a small machine that rested on a counter with several flasks and pitchers of bubbling liquids. As he clicked a switch, the machine began to whir and click softly until finally there was a flash of smoke and the creature popped out, much larger than the original size and no longer clay. It looked at him with large eyes and then slowly made its way across the floor, trying its legs.
"Go on now!" Finster told it, trying to shoo it out the door. "Go outside! I can't have you wandering around the house with Selina the way that she is." The creature hissed but inched toward the door of his lab and then leapt out of the house through an open window. The only reason that Finster had brought this creature to life was because he couldn't stand seeing his work go to waste. This koala monster had been one of his failed attempts but he found that the best way to deal with it was to bring it to life first so that it would be the first out of his sight.
Gazing at the others, he decided that all of them would be fine as he shut off the lights and closed the door again. He would have to bring them to life later, after the cub had been born. There simply wasn't time for it at the present. He still had to find a cradle and a rocking chair not to mention locate a dozen feeding bottles or so.
"If the baby tires us so much now, then how much worse will it be when it is out here?" he wondered blankly. He crept softly down the hallway and opened the door to his room where Selina was softly sleeping on the bed. He watched her for a minute until she let a cry in her sleep and one hand flew to her belly. _The cub again,_ he told himself and closed the door with a squeak of rusty hinges. Remembering what Selina had told him, Finster tried not to worry and let his thoughts trail to the back of his mind where they would not be able to spring forth to bother him for quite a while.
His mouth stretched open in a yawn as he did so. He realized for the first time that day that he was tired and thought that he would follow Selina's example. He didn't dare climb into the bed with her as it was nearly impossible for him to sleep while she was near, giving him time to think, and plus, he thought that she would be better off if she were comfortable and wasn't limited to only her half of the bed. He collapsed into the chair that she had been asleep in when he had gotten home and examined the book that she was reading. It was entitled "Dawning Fire." Not being able to resist, Finster opened the book and began reading it. What had sounded like an interesting title was very decieving as Finster soon found out. His eyes slipped closed and he drifted off into a dreamless black sleep, putting his worries to rest for the moment.
* * *
When he awoke again, things were no longer peaceful and serene. All around him the agonized screams of his people could be heard along with intrusive new sounds. He leapt to his feet and pushed open the front door just enough that he could see what was going on. Someone or something on horseback whisked by, making him rock back on his heels but it didn't stop him from looking outside. He could faintly see the shape of a female frame running through the dust. It looked like Selina's friend, Kapok, but he couldn't be too sure. As he watched, a figure on horseback approached and hurled something at her, making her fall to the dust. She didn't get back up again even as the figure paraded his dark mount around her body and then cantered away to bring down someone else.
Finster choked back a scream as he pushed the door shut. Why was this happening to them? What had they ever done to deserve it? His mind kept bringing forth questions that he couldn't answer and so he simply did his best to ignore them. There was a cry from the hallway and he suddenly remembered. SELINA! What had happened to her while he had forgotten about her in the heat of the moment? That was a question that he couldn't answer either but one that he would not ignore. He quickly scuttled down toward the bedroom and yanked open the door.
She was still on the bed, but her eyes had rolled heavenward and she had arched her back in pain. She heard the door open and turned quickly to look into Finster's eyes.
"The cub is coming!" she told him in a pained wheeze. Finster bit his tongue reflexively, knowing that he would not be able to fetch a doctor with what was going on outside. He approached her and knelt at her side as he took her hand in his. She had been wrong. He would not be able to forget his worries while the cub was dropping. Instead he was torn between his worry for her and his dread of what would happen if they were found while she was in this state.
"Everything is going to be all right," he tried to assure her.
She grunted once as a river of sweat ran down her face and then smiled weakly. "How the tables have turned. Here I thought that you would be the one needing comfort when really I am the one." she told him as she brushed one hand against his face.
There was a loud crash, making Finster whip his head around to look at the open bedroom door.
"Whoever you find here, take them alive!" a gruff voice obsenely commanded. There was the sound of rummaging and things being broken. Finster, acting on pure instinct, shut the door as quickly as he could, accidently making it slam. "What was that?" demanded the voice as Finster backed away from the door frightfully. Heavy footsteps crashed through the hallway and stopped directly outside of the door. There was a slight hesitation before the door was kicked open and something strode in.
"Who are you?" Finster demanded as he locked eyes with whatever the thing was. It didn't answer as it commanded a troop of gurgling soldiers forward to capture them. Selina struggled in their grasp as they pulled her from the bed while Finster was taken by the arms and lifted several inches off of the ground. One of the troopers broke ranks and ran over to its master.
"What?" the thing demanded as the soldier whispered something in its ear. The monster listened intently and then nodded. "Yes, yes I'll look," it told the soldier and approached Selina fiercely. Seeing this, Finster began to struggle in the grasp of the troopers as they pulled him to his knees and twisted his arms painfully behind his back. The creature had come into the light so that Finster could actually see what it was. It appeared to be a primate of some kind clad head to foot in golden armor with penetrating red eyes and a set of black wings on its back. He recognized it as an inhabitant of Titan, a moon of Saturn. The people of Titan loved nothing more than a good kill, and both the males and females were trained to use a sword as infants before they could even walk.
Finster could do nothing but watch as the monster approached his mate and felt her belly with one massive paw. She shied away under his touch and fought the tears that stung her eyes. "Rrrr, I suppose you're right," it growled softly. "She is birthing."
"Leave her alone!" Finster commanded as he tried to stand once again and was pulled easily back to the floor. The monster turned at the sound of his voice and glowered down at him.
"Little wretch! From now until I tell you differently, you will call me Master Goldar!" he announced and kicked Finster in the haunches with one powerful leg. Finster winced as he felt a bruise begin to form. "I honestly don't know why we were given the orders not to kill all of you. Your kind contributes nothing to the well being of the galaxy, and yet you continue to breed," he said, gesturing to Selina.
"And what makes you some kind of rare prize?" Finster asked Goldar, immediately regretting that he had said anything at all. Goldar grasped him by the nape of his neck and pulled him into a standing position.
"My people rid the galaxy of loafers like you to make way for the coming of a new age!" he roared. Turning back to his troops, he ordered them to take Selina away.
"No!" Finster cried as he tried to lunge forward, still held back by the few soldiers that remained to aid Goldar. Goldar buried his fist in Finster's chest, making him double over involuntarily. He looked up through bleary eyes to see his mate being dragged away from him, her face a mask of fright and agony.
"Don't worry, little one," Goldar said in a soothing voice that sounded like a death rattle to Finster. "I have come to bargain."
"What makes you think that I would bargain with the likes of you?" Finster hissed.
"Oh you will when you hear what I have to offer." He grinned deviously. "In exchange for your services to Rita Repulsa, I will let you, your wife, and child live."
"Rita Repulsa?" Finster asked, managing to wedge his curiosity in with his fear.
"My mistress and soon to be yours." Goldar explained. "What is your decision?"
Finster's mind raced wildly as he tried to decide which was better. Death was final and a solution to all of the rest of the problems that he and Selina would ever have, but he wondered if perhaps this Repulsa woman might discharge him from her services when she saw that he couldn't fight to save his head and they would be left to their lives in peace.
"Tell your mistress that I accept her offer." Finster whispered.
"You have chosen wisely." Goldar told him, venting rancid hot breath through a mouthful of sharp fangs. Goldar made the slightest of gestures and two troopers that had been hidden in the shadows came forth and clamped a steel collar around Finster's neck and chained his wrists together. "Take him to Rita." he commanded and Finster was dragged out of his home and into the carnage-filled streets outside. Goldar watched as the lop-eared creature was led away, content that he had performed his duties correctly. As he sauntered out of the house, he gave a kick at one of the tables and watched as the legs collapsed underneath it. Rita would be pleased with his catch.
* * *
Finster was forced to walk onward until the horrible noises of the battle had faded into a dull roar. He was tired and his mouth felt like it was lined with cotton but still he walked. Everytime he slacked a little in his pace, Goldar prodded his back with his sword making Finster snap to attention again. Finster wondered what had become of Selina and if she had birthed the cub successfully or not.
At long last, they came to a large tent that had been set up in the midst of the humid vegetation and the troopers came to a stop.
"Wait here." Goldar commanded as he pushed past Finster and the soldiers into the tent. Finster now had a good chance to try and understand things a little better. He craned his neck to look at his captors until one soldier struck his head out like a snake so that he and Finster touched noses. The soldier had no face to speak of, only a pair of blank eyes and what looked to be a mouth. It was gray in color and spoke in a series of burbles and squeals.
"How long have you been working for this Rita?" Finster asked, non chalantly. The response was a garbled chorus of nonsense. Finster then learned that it was as pointless as a wet mouse to try and make small talk with a putty. Goldar returned from the tent and grasped Finster by a small chain that was attatched to his collar, making him gag.
"The mistress desires some conference with you," he told the captive, and yanked him into the tent. The harsh sun was instantly replaced by a cool breeze as Finster was led in front of Rita Repulsa who was sitting on a makeshift throne in the corner of the tent. She was a young woman with her hair done up in thick cones that stuck out from her head like bull horns and was wearing a heavy purple gown. Her very appearance was comical and made Finster want to break out laughing, but he couldn't bring himself to do so.
"And this is supposed to be a good sample of the life here?" she asked sceptically in a voice that was even more harsh than Goldar's. Goldar instantly was reduced to a pile of groveling jelly before her.
"Y-Yes empress." he stammered. "He will be a loyal worker."
"And how can you be so sure?" she asked as she walked in a tight circle around Finster in a rippling of skirts.
"He wouldn't do anything to harm his family." Goldar told her.
Rita flashed a smile at him. "Excellent Goldar," she said as she looked Finster up and down with her eyes. "You can be ruthless after all, can't you?" Goldar nodded as he tightened his hold on Finster's chain, forcing his head backward and exposing his neck. She slowly approached Finster and ran her nails down his neck roughly so that she left red streaks on his skin. "Now you listen to me," she said harshly. "Your freedom is a thing of the past. You now serve only me and if you slip up I will crush you and your family like insects. Do you understand?"
Finster nodded and closed his eyes to shut out some of the horror.
"Good," she said. "Goldar, loosen his manacles. I would like to see him more closely."
"Yes, my empress." Goldar said as Finster's shackles dropped with a clicking of chains to the ground.
Finster rubbed his wrists to get the circulation of blood going through them again while Rita grasped a leather riding crop that was leaned up against her throne and took it in both hands. Goldar lingered nearby in case the prisoner tried some sort of wild escape idea, but in truth the fight had gone out of Finster when he realized what he was up against.
"Show me your teeth." she commanded as she struck him on the bridge of his snout with the crop. Promptly obeying, Finster opened his mouth and stood patiently as Rita prodded the end of the crop at his tongue and ran it over his teeth. "Well at least they're white," she said approvingly. Goldar began to snicker softly. "Which is more than I can say for yours Goldar!" she screeched, making the monkey stop laughing immediately.
She withdrew the crop from his jaws and circled him once more. Much to Finster's surprise, she struck his calves with it and shook her head when he flinched. "He has no muscles!" she cried. "What am I supposed to do with him if he can't fight??"
"Er... Maybe he has other uses." Goldar suggested as he shielded his face with one hand, fearing Rita even more than usual while she held the crop.
"Like what? I don't need more of you ninnies who stand around and do nothing! I told you to recruit soldiers!" she raged, whipping Goldar with the crop on his shoulders and chest.
Finster stood by, looking straight ahead. He would have liked nothing more than to have watched Goldar recieve the beating but at the same time, this woman seemed insane and he didn't want to upset her further.
"His people are talented in magic using." Goldar rambled as the crop rained blows on him. "Maybe he is a magician."
Rita stopped beating him, her strength spent, and threw the crop to the ground. She turned to Finster again. "Are you?" she asked him. Finster looked at her but said nothing. "Answer me! Are you a magician?"
"Of sorts," he said quietly.
"What sort?" she countered instantly.
"I make and bring to life clay creatures," he told her as he turned his head away from her.
"Goldar, make him look at me!" she commanded. Goldar came forward and grasped Finster by the scalp and bottom jaw and swiveled his head quickly to look at Rita. "You make clay creatures then?" she asked to confirm what he had told her.
"Yes," he murmered.
A smile crept over her face. "You have promise yet." she told him. "I will need an example of your abilities, of course, but that can wait for tomorrow. Goldar, take him away," she instructed.
"Yes Rita," he said as he picked up the collar and fastened it around Finster's neck again. Roughly, he ushered Finster out of the tent and Rita settled back onto her throne. Goldar pushed him forward into the waiting arms of the Putties. "You nearly cost me my neck!" he snarled as he strode past Finster and started back across the fields toward the battle that was raging not far away. "Be more prompt with your answers!" he called over his shoulder. Though Goldar didn't see, Finster angrily spat at him and then surrendered in the clutches of the troops.
They dragged him into a larger tent that was a good distance behind Rita's and pushed him inside. The floor was lined with a thin layer of rags but there was no furniture anywhere. He listened as the putties scurried away and then all was silent. Thinking that he had a chance of escape, Finster pushed his head out of the tent opening and looked around.
Nearby, there were several guards that were patroling the tents. One of them caught sight of him and pressed a small button on a mechanism of his belt that sent a powerful jolt of electricity flying through Finster's collar, knocking him flat on his face. He lay there silently as he approached and ran a hand along Finster's neck to make sure that his pulse was still beating before he pushed him back into the tent and reposted himself directly outside.
Finster gave the soldier a glare of loathing as he sat up and curled himself into a tight ball. There was a rustling sound in the corner and he keened his ears toward it. He then heard muffled voices and giggling and a clinking of chains.
"Who's there?" he asked softly but sternly. The sounds stopped and Finster grew angry. "I said--who's there?" he nearly yelled. After a moment's hesitation, a rather timid looking creature that resembled an emaciated version of Goldar stepped out of the shadows, followed closely by a sawed off blue creature with an enormous underbite and sharp features. "That's better." Finster smiled, in spite of himself. "Now, who are you?" he asked. At the same time, both creatures tried to answer him making absolutely no sense until Finster held up one hand for silence.
"Well, he started it!" the taller dark one said in a high nasal voice and pointed an accusing finger at the smaller blue one.
"I didn't start anything, Baboo! What're you talking about?" the smaller one said in a gravely voice.
"Oh shut up Squatt! It was your fault in the first place that she caught us!" Baboo screeched as he beat the smaller over the head with one balled fist.
"Keep it down in there!" the guard commanded. The two of them shut their mouths simultaneously but continued glaring at each other with murderous intentions.
It was obvious to Finster that they hadn't been Rita's captives for very long and that they were far too moronic to make an escape.
"What're you in for?" Baboo asked him at last.
"Nothing." Finster growled. "That's why I'm going to slit a few throats." Upon hearing this, the two creatures huddled together and began quaking in fear. Finster ignored them. "I just hope that Selina is all right."
"Who's Selina?" asked Squatt curiously, recieving another slap from Baboo.
"My mate, if you must know, and she was having my child when they took her away from me." Finster told him, feeling a lump spring up in his throat.
"Aww. I'm sorry." Baboo said. Finster knew that he wasn't and was just trying to make him feel better. He drew his legs up to his chest and rested his swimming head on his knees as he tried to sort things out. He thought of just a few hours ago when he had told Garren that he would never have to raise a weapon, and now he wished that he still had that trident in hand. If he did, then he knew that he would either be dead or running free and either one was better than what was happening now.
Finally, Finster uncoiled his body and dared to look out of the tent again. Beyond the guards, his eyes met a horrible sight. Nearby, Garren was lying on the ground being whipped to within an inch of his life and he didn't fight back. The soldier that was doing it was a larger putty and black in color. It seemed to enjoy its task, much to Finster's disgust and let out a happy burble whenever it heard Garren cry out in pain. Garren tried to stand up, but his legs and arms had been bound together and he couldn't.
The whip licked at his chest, leaving an angry red welt and Finster knew that if this kept up he would die. Finally, Goldar approached and grabbed the whip from the putty.
"You fool!" he cried. "Rita wants him chastised! Not killed!" He threw the whip in the putty's face and stomped off to tend to other matters. The putty looked down at Garren, whose face was distorted with pain, and kicked him sharply in the ribs as it left. Four of the guards sprang forth, picked up Garren's body and carried him away. Finster withdrew back into the tent, realizing for the first time that tears had been running from his eyes. He knuckled them away with little thought.
"Uh oh! Did something bad happen?" Baboo asked him.
Finster shook his head. "Don't mind me." Finster told him as he felt another bout of tears sting his eyes. "I have much to learn about hardships and I'm afraid of Rita Repulsa. Afraid." A shudder racked his body as he layed down on the rags and tried to get comfortable. His fear and anger slowly melted away as he relaxed and focused on his aching muscles and heavy eyelids. His stomach was empty and his mind was full which made it quite hard for him to sleep, but he felt that he could manage a catnap at least. He dimly thought once more of everything that had happened and then slipped into the sweet oblivion of a light sleep. Baboo and Squatt watched him for a minute and then returned to their conversation.
"Poor guy." Baboo said sadly. "He really misses his family."
"Not like us." Squatt said. "We surrendered as soon as Rita promised that we would get cake if we were on her side."
"Yeah but we didn't." Baboo lamented. "She isn't very nice is she?"
Squatt shook his head. "I hope his kid's all right," he said as he stretched his arms over his head.
"Yeah me too," Baboo said as he leaned his back against the billowing wall of the tent and yawned. "I think that we could all use a nap." he said and closed his eyes as did Squatt. And so while the carnage and battle raged on outside, the three captives found sleep. The way that Finster thrashed, it was easy to tell that he was reliving what had happened earlier in his mind, but Baboo and Squatt didn't move at all and so it was hard to decide what was siphoning through their minds while they slept.
Outside, the day had reached its hottest point and battered mercilessly down on the ones that had not been deemed worthy enough to be slaves of Rita Repulsa. Large groups of the people were put to work as well diggers and haulers, trying to ignore their dead lying in the dust unburied. And somewhere off in the distance, a cub was born to a young mother.