When Finster awoke, pale light was pouring in through the sides of the
tent. He wondered just how long he had slept when suddenly the tent was
whisked open. A dark figure stepped inside and stood over him a moment.
Finster could feel the stare of the intruder drilling into his back like
a hot needle and he curled himself up tighter to feel less vulnerable.
_Maybe whoever it is hasn't come to bother me,_ he thought silently to himself, but the thought was quickly washed away as he was enveloped in a cold splash of water. He sat up shivering and stared into the ruby eyes of Goldar who was still holding the dripping pail in one paw and grinning.
"Arise, slave," he cackled and walked away, taking dutiful strides. Finster wished that he still had one of Garren's tridents in hand. He would have wasted no time in tearing out the space monkey's throat with it, but as things were he was more concerned with his own neck than he was with Goldar's. Shaking the cold droplets from his ears and head, Finster stood up and stretched his arms and legs out. What did Goldar want with him now? He wondered as he peeled open the tent flap. The light had just barely come and it was still chilly outside as he lingered there until his captors came to lead him to his next torment.
He didn't have long to wait before Goldar arrived with three putties that were carrying chains in their clumsy hands. Finster watched as they surrounded him and affixed the chains to his collar and wrapped them around his wrists again. The cold little links bit into his skin like ice and the collar clung even tighter to his neck than usual as the heavy chain was attached. One of the putties gave it a tug to get Finster's attention. He let a barking cough and stumbled in the direction that the putty wanted him to go.
"Take him to the ship." Goldar commanded the putty as Finster tried to stay close to avoid any further pain. The putty jumped to obey and scrambled off with Finster in tow. They walked on and on until nothing around them looked familiar and they began to crash through some thick brush, startling the little creatures that dwelt there and crushing saplings under their weight. Finster had begun to think that they were lost when suddenly the foliage came to an end and they stood in the midst of a large spaceship.
It was big enough to be a hovering castle rather than a ship Finster thought dimly and took in the sight of the immense craft. He didn't have time to admire the craftsmanship though as the putty hustled him inside urgently through a small door on one of its massive sides. Finster found himself in a room filled with droning mechanisms and beeping monitors as the putty continued to yank at his chain as though he were a disobediant puppy on a string. He fought the urge to begin thrashing like a hooked salmon and lurched forward to try and stay in step with the soldier.
They passed out of the control room and into a larger audience chamber where Rita sat on a much grander throne than the one in her tent. She glared as the putty brought Finster in and bowed before her. She waved her servant away, picked up her staff and stood up as gracefully as she could while the putty scampered out. She approached Finster with an oily speed that made his anger rise to a boil. It must have been very noticeable, for Rita smiled at him a little too sweetly.
"Just look at you." she mocked. "There's a fire in your eyes as bright as the sun itself and yet you don't attack." Finster turned away and filtered out her voice as he began to fear that he would attack her very soon. She gave him a smart whack in the chest with her staff. "Look at me when I talk to you!" she commanded. Finster grudgingly turned his head until he was looking her straight in the eyes. "Thats better. The time has come for me to decide whether or not to take you as a servant of mine." she informed him. Finster rolled his eyes and recieved another blow from the staff on his forehead. "Don't you roll those eyes at me!" she said menacingly.
"Yes mistress." he said deep in his throat, choking on the last word. "You're a fast learner." she commended him. "Thats a good thing to be. I have little patience for shenanigans." She clapped her hands and a throng of putties rushed in carrying a table, a small white bag, and pushing a rather large machine. When they had situated everything, Rita turned to Finster. "Now you will show me what you can do." she grinned wickedly making it evident that he was supposed to make use of the objects.
Finster walked tentatively toward the table and stood still while a putty opened the white bag and a lump of clay spilled out and plopped wetly in front of him. Finster looked at it but would do nothing else.
"Shape that!" Rita demanded. Finster slammed his fist down on top of the clay in a rage, flattening it into a gray pancake and then stared at her to see what she would do next. For a moment, her face had no expression but then she smiled broadly and chortled.
"Is that the best you can do?" she teased. "Well if I can't convince you to work then perhaps there is someone here who can." she said thoughtfully. Finster cocked his head at a questioning angle, wondering what she meant. She whirled around and walked to a doorway that was positioned behind her throne. As Finster watched, a putty ran forward to listen to her softly given orders. There was a questioning chirp from it, making Rita grow impatient.
"I don't care! Drag her in by her ears if you must!" she hissed. The putty scrambled down the hallway and disappeared momentarily. There was a scuffling noise and the protesting shouts of an outraged female voice for a moment and then the putty appeared again dragging Selina behind him under her arms while she kicked wildly with her legs, getting tangled her blue skirt and twisted violently.
"Let me go!" she shrieked and tried to bite at the putty's wrists with her small white teeth. "You can't take me away from my child! I-want-my-baby!" she screamed, punctuating each word with a strong kick of her legs.
"Quiet!" Rita cried as Selina was put on her feet and forced to look at the woman. "Stop howling for your whelp! You'll have it back soon enough, but I need your assistance first." She gestured toward Finster who tood awestruck behind the table, his eyes wavering with tears that had yet to fall.
"Finster!" Selina cried and tried to lunge forward but the putty held her back.
Finster took a few steps toward her but Rita pressed her staff against his chest cruelly. "Don't go any closer," she warned him and he stopped moving obediantly.
"The cub!" Serina exclaimed, panting wildly as she tried to break free of the clutches that bound her. "The cub Finster! Its a boy!"
"You gave us a son?" he said in a voice that was filled with joy.
"Yes, strong with blue eyes! He looks just like---his father!" she gasped as she quickly lost the struggle with the putty and was brought to her knees.
"Your wife is quite lovely, Finster was it?" Rita said in her raspy voice as she seated herself back on her throne with an air of haughtiness. "It would be a shame if something were to... happen to her." Upon hearing this, Finster bared his teeth and glared at the witch.
"You put one scratch on her and I'll--"
"You'll do nothing!" Rita finished for him. "I won't hurt her if you shape the clay to my liking." she added plainly. She could see that he was so enraged that he could have bitten rock as she said this and it made her feel even more powerful.
"I'll never do your bidding!" Finster snapped in a firm voice.
"Have it your way then." Rita said arrogantly. "Putties! Deal with her!" she shouted and at once, the putties began flocking around Selina.
"No!" Finster cried as Rita flashed him a smug smile. "I-I'll make your monster. Just don't hurt her." he whispered.
"I knew you'd cave." Rita crowed. "Putties, release the girl!" she ordered and the creatures backed away from Selina and hovered nearby at a safe distance. "What a lovesick fool you are, Finster. Any self respecting man would have done whatever he had to just to save his life from danger and yet you favor hers over your own?"
"Perhaps its because I have a heart." he growled at her.
"There you go with that devil streak again." she said, shaking her head. "We'll just have to take that out of you, but first I want my monster." Finster nodded his head, being careful to look her in he eye as he did so. "Get to work!" she said, giving his flanks a slap with the staff. Finster took the lump of clay in hand and began to shape it into a creature that matched his present mood.
Indeed, he had never created something so malevolent before in all of his years as a clay shaper. He made sure that it had sharp fangs, a hulking body and of course a set of razor sharp claws. As he envisioned it attacking Goldar, he thought of what else to equip it with. Finally he settled on a poisonous stinger that protruded grandly from its forehead and a set of swimmerets so that it would be equally effective in water attacks as it would on the land. Once he had finished it, he looked at Rita and pointed at the creature.
"It's finished." he said placidly.
"Well what are you waiting for?" Rita asked him angrily. "Bring it to life!"
Finster stared at her with angry eyes for a moment before gingerly lifting the creature into the machine that the putties had provided him with. Selina watched with interest as he pulled a handle and leapt backwards from the machine as it emitted a loud whistle. It was all that she could do to keep from smiling. With a loud cranking noise, the machine spit out the creature that he had made.
"What is that?" Goldar asked as he strode into the room from outside.
"Our good friend Finster made it for me." Rita said as she manuevered closer for a better look at the monster. It got up from the floor clumsily and looked at Rita, awaiting its orders. "I want you to take this monster, Goldar, and use it to scare some life into those slackers out there!"
"No! This wasn't a part of the bargain! You never said that you would hurt anyone!" Finster wildly protested as he was grabbed by a putty and dragged out of the audience chamber under the arms as Selina had been dragged in.
"This isn't a concern of yours, Finster." Rita told him as she watched him being dragged away. "Leave him at the bathing chamber for awhile." she instructed the putty. "He smells worse than the horses do." she cackled. Finster ignored her jest as his ears were filled with the sound of the putty's burbling, his own screams, and Selina calling wildy after him.
He continued to protest as he was pulled down the hallways on his back and cried out loudly. At one point, the putty had tried to quiet him by placing one flipper-like hand over his mouth. He had responded by clamping down with his teeth and had succeeded only in getting a mouthful of clay. He was still trying to force the unpleasant taste off of his tongue as they came to a series of metal stairs leading downward.
The putty stopped for a minute, confused as to what it should do and then continued to walk forward dragging Finster down the stairs behind him, his back thumping painfully on each metal step. When they had reached the bottom, his eyes were watering from the blinding pain that he was now in and his voice had gone hoarse from all fo the yelling that he had done.
The putty let him go for a minute to get a better grip on his arms and Finster made a feeble attempt to crawl away but he was easily caught again and the putty continued on its way, heedless to Finster's dedoubled efforts of trying to free himself. They went on like that for nearly ten minutes until he had been so badly battered that the pain rivaled even his worst battle wounds.
Finally, the putty came to a doorway and let Finster go as it read the sign carefully. In bold letters it read "Bath Chamber" which was quite unmistakable to anyone with half a brain but the putty had to go over it several times before he was sure that he had found the right place and pushed open the door. Finster had begun to sit up when suddenly he was picked up and thrown through the doorway. He heard the hinges creak as the metal door crashed shut and he was left in a dimly lit space where he could hear water trickling from somewhere off in the distance.
He pulled himself to his feet and headed forward toward the sound, intrigued by it. As he rounded a corner up ahead, he saw several large tubs that were filled with water and steaming heavily. Amidst all of this were some others of his kind that had been fortunate enough to escape Rita's slave labor and were merely in her "services" for the moment.
For a brief moment, he recognized no one but then as his eyes adjusted to the fog he saw a familiar shape in the corner. Could it be? Yes! It was Garren!
Garren looked up from staring off into space. He had been soaking his bruised body in the hot water of one of the tubs and thinking to himself when he had suddenly heard a familiar voice. Through the steam, he saw a figure hurrying toward him at a trot. He smiled as Finster came into view.
"I thought that they had killed you!" Finster said as he stopped short of the tub.
"Me?" Garren said, his face filled with mock surprise. "My friend, you underestimate my resistance. It takes more than a flogging to kill me."
Finster shook his head. Garren was just as arrogant as he had always been even in this situation. "I'm glad to hear it." he said at last.
"What happened to you?" he asked as he looked his friend over.
Finster had not had a chance to see himself in a mirror for a long time so he wasn't sure what his friend was talking about. "What's wrong?" he asked, running a hand through his hair nervously.
"You look like you spent a night in the stables." he said with a smile. Finster shook his head.
"It was almost exactly that." Finster told him, remembering the tent from the night before.
"You could do with a bath." Garren pointed out. "I don't want one." Finster said quickly. His skin crawled at the thought of getting wet after all that he had been through.
"Oh but I insist." Garren said as he stood up in the tub and gave Finster a mighty shove. He stumbled backward into one of the other tubs and was soon saturated in the warm water--clothes and all. Even with his ears submerged, Finster could hear Garren's laughter as he struggled to stand. At about that time, a putty entered the chamber hesitantly and looked from one creature to the next, seeking Garren.
"So tell me Garren, how did you escape being beaten to death? I would think that Rita would enjoy such a thing." Finster asked maliciously as he wrung the water out of his shirt and tried to maintain a shred of dignity.
"I've become a gladiator." he said quietly.
Finster nearly choked. "A gladiator?" he asked trying not to sound as shocked as he felt.
"Don't worry so much about me." he said as he rubbed some oil from a small bottle on the side of the tub into his hair. "I was put up against five putty warriors at once last night and had no trouble."
"Thats understandable. Putties have no brain." Finster informed him. "What happens when you're put up against a real warrior with a warrior's cunning?" he inquired.
"Things will be what they'll be." Garren said, idley smacking one fist into the water.
"Don't be that way!" Finster shouted, making everyone turn their attention to him. He felt his cheeks flush red with embarrassment as he quieted his tone. Unfortunately, the putty had heard him and came rushing to the back of the room where they were. "I trust your judgement, friend, but don't expect me to sit by while your life might be in danger and let you ignore my concern as though I was nothing more than a doting parent."
The putty skidded to a stop in front of Garren and gestured wildly with one hand as Finster talked. It had a small bundle of cloth nestled in the crook of one arm. Garren only glared at it and rolled his eyes. Finster looked curiously at the both of them, wondering why Garren wasn't attacking the putty.
"Finster, meet my groom." he said sullenly.
"Your what?" he asked, not knowing whether to be mortified or amused.
"My groom. He makes sure that I'm in good health and such."
"Garren, what are they doing to you?" Finster asked, a waver in his voice. "Yesterday morning you wouldn't have allowed yourself to be touched by these monsters. In fact, I would have thought that you would have been running free now and helping the others escape." he heaved a sigh, collecting his scattered wits. "You're being twisted by Rita's hands and you don't even know it."
"Finster, it is best to know when you're defeated. That is one of the first things that I learned from training as a warrior and though you don't choose to follow my path, I will stick close to what I have learned." Garren said gravely as he pulled himself out of the water and the putty handed him the bundle which he unwrapped and found to be an outfit of clothes.
Finster averted his eyes while Garren dressed in a purple tunic and a black pair of pants that had been cut off at the knees. "I'm sorry my friend." he said under his breath. "I didn't know that you would be so easily turned."
Garren gave a snort of contempt as the putty escorted him out of the room.
Finster watched them go, anger burning like hellfire around his heart. It wasn't enough that they had taken his mate and child. Now they had taken his friend too.
He looked at his reflection in one of the tubs of water and watched as the water lazily rippled, distorting his features. He slapped it with a cry of outrage just as another putty came in to retrieve someone else. The creature stopped in its tracks to stare at Finster and then continued on its way over to a tub to retrieve a crying female whose daughter had been killed in the conquering of Arrellia. Finster felt near to crying himself but the tears wouldn't come even though every nerve in his body was twanging with the ferocity of a plucked guitar string.
His clothes clung to him like a second skin from the soaking that they had recieved but he still refused to take them off. He sat silently by one of the tubs, his eyes shimmering with an unnatural brightness as he slipped deep into thought. His mind flashed snippets of the previous day making it seem real all over again and hurt just as badly. He wondered just what Rita had in store for him and his family while they were captives and at her mercy. If he wanted to keep Selina and their son alive then he would have to endear himself in the heart of the witch, but how?
He wished to ponder matters further but just then the door to the bath chambers swung open again. Finster glared at the doorway as yet another putty waddled in and bounced from tub to tub looking for someone. Finster returned to his thoughts after watching the putty a moment. His hour was not up yet in the chambers so he was sure that they had not come looking for him.
After a moment more of thinking, Finster stood up again and stretched his back. He heard the vertebrae give a gratifying pop as he did so. He then examined the tub that Garren had pushed him into. On one of the edges, there was a small bottle that he picked up and examined. He wafted it under his nose and found that it had the scent of fruit and flowers. After a moment's hesitation, he poured a little into one cupped palm and ran it through his hair as Garren had done.
It erased the musky odor instantly, leaving a sweet smell in its wake. Rita had told him to take a bath and so he had done the best that he could as he raked his fingers through his tangled pouf of hair to smooth it down a little. This time he didn't hear as the door opened and another trooper came inside. It saw him with no trouble and headed over as fast as its clumsy legs would carry it.
Finster heard it burbling and turned, nearly smacking into it. It offered him a small bundle as one had done to Garren and he took it hesitantly. As he unfolded it, a white shirt and a pair of white pants tumbled out. The putty watched as Finster caught the clothes before they could tumble to the floor and held them up for investigation. While he did this, the creature came forward to remove the collar from his neck. Finster gasped with relief as it was pulled away from his throat and felt soothing air run over the newly exposed skin.
The putty stood by watching as he tried to figure out exactly how he was going to get out of his wet clothes. They were hard enough to put on and take of when they were dry. He tugged at the shirt and enticed it to creep halfway over his chest before it tangled around his head. The putty watched for a moment before letting a knowing grunt and scampered out of the room.
"At least it's going to leave me with some privacy." he thought as he wrestled with his shirt, and at the same time tried to clutch the new clothing. Finster soon realized that he was wrong as the putty returned with a large pair of sissors in hand. Finster saw him out of the tail of his eye and began to protest. "No thats all right. I can manage." he said politely as the putty approached. He heard the first snips and began to yell. "Don't do that, you brainless hunk of clay!" but it was too late.
His shirt fell to the ground in a tattered mess and soon his pants followed. He stood bewildered and humiliated for a moment as the putty stood patiently by, its clay eyes somehow looking soulful. Finster quickly pulled the new shirt over his head, feeling the oil he had rubbed into his hair come off on the collar of it. The new material was light and didn't pull on him as much as his old garments. He put on the pants and tried to see his reflection in the water but the putty yanked him out of the room. Mercifully, he was allowed to walk after the soldier instead of being dragged on the floor like last time.
He was delivered to the throne room once again where Rita was patiently awaiting his return. She stood up and cocked her head to one side before smiling.
"Well, a bath DID make all the difference. Now you look like a drowned rat instead of smelling like a horse." Finster felt himself blush hotly. He hadn't had time to dry himself off after his unceremonious retrieval from the bath chambers. Rita stepped away from the throne and took something from behind her back while Finster strained to see what. His eyes were not in the best of shape.
It was too slender to be a blade of any sort, he realized as it was moved into his view. Her arm gave a swift up and down motion and there was a loud crack. She was holding a whip.
He felt his eyes widen as she drew near to him and ran the lash over his neck and shoulders lightly as though she was teasing him. "Now we are simply going to give you a test." she said with a gleam of mischief in her eyes. She clapped her hands once and Goldar rushed into the room holding Selina by her waist. Selina stared vacantly off into space in a docile state as though she had been drugged. "We are going to see just how far we can stretch your loyalty to my empire."
He couldn't believe what was happening as Goldar planted himself not five
feet away from him and continued to hold Selina like a rag doll. Rita grinned violently as she made her way over to the two of them with Finster watching helplessly. Just as was wondering what Rita was going to do with it, the whip cracked down on Selina. The girl arched her back a little but gave no indication that she had felt the pain.
Finster flew at the woman in a rage and felt the whip connect with his chest with the force of a horse's kick. He fell to the floor as she continued to beat on him with it until he curled himself into a fetal ball and looked imploringly at the witch out of the corner of one eye. Her face was masked by blind fury as she brought the whip down on him once more.
"Don't you ever attack me again!" she cried. Finster slowly got to his feet, never taking his eyes off of her as she held the whip menacingly so that it swung pendulously back and forth just over his head. As soon as he was standing, Rita flicked the whip at Selina again, this time it licked across her spine making her eyes water involuntarily.
Goldar watched as this went on. He was somewhat horrified but at the same time it was gratifying to watch Finster's anger rise to a boil and know that he would be allowed to deal with him should he attack again. With every stroke that Selina was dealt, Finster himself winced as though it had been him recieving the brunt of the whip's fury. Goldar couldn't understand why Finster felt such an attachment to the girl. He would never have reduced himself to risking his life over a mere female as this fool was doing now.
At last, a flicker of conciousness appeared in Selina's face as the whip came down again and she let out a single cry. Finster growled deeply in his throat as he struggled not
to attack again. He knew that he would end up getting the bad end of the fight as long as Rita held the whip and who knew what she would order Goldar to do to his mate if she became angry enough?
The whip cracked again, this time connecting with Selina's neck. She cried out loudly and would have crumpled to the floor if she was not being propped up by Goldar. Her head lulled limply from one side to the other while Rita continued her thrashing. At last, Finster leapt at her again with a roar, knocked her to her back and grappled the whip from her hands. It landed on the ground not far from where Goldar watched, flabbergasted, as the two of them wrestled.
"You--said that--you wouldn't hurt--her!" Finster panted as Rita dug her nails into his chest. He wanted to fight further but something jolted out of her fingertips that froze his blood like ice. Rita had discharged a powerful shock from her own magic powers and used it to temporarily paralyze him. She rolled him off of her chest and delivered a strong kick to his flanks as she stood up and stalked away from his still form.
"What will you do now, your grace?" Goldar asked, trying to curry favor. Rita glared at him.
"Goldar, take that miserable love of his back to her room. Take her child from her and leave it in the care of one of the other females."
"What if they won't take it?" The monster inquired as he glanced down at Finster who was slowly recovering.
"Then leave it somewhere to die! I don't have time to worry about one insignificant child!" she snapped. "That spell that I placed on the girl should wear off anytime now and she will begin to return to her wits." She knelt and rolled Finster onto his back. "I'll deal with things here."
"Very good empress." Goldar snarled as he picked up Selina and carried her away.
"Get up." Rita hissed as Finster regarded her groggily. She kicked him again in his already tender flank. "I said get up! Can't you follow an order?" Finster dragged himself into a kneeling position but could do no more as he squinted up at Rita. "Well, you failed the test miserably and I see no reason why I shouldn't kill you right here and now." Upon hearing this he cringed. "I won't though. You see, while you were in the bath chambers Goldar returned to give me the death tally of the people killed by your monster. It rivaled even his and that is why I will keep you."
"Black wasp!" Finster spat as he tried to stand but his knees buckled and he fell to the floor again. Rita swatted him on the bridge of his nose with the back of her hand.
"You dare--?" she screeched but then maintained an air of calm. "Beg mercy and perhaps I will ignore that." she offered. He was silent as he turned away from her. "Did you hear me?" she demanded as she caught one of his tapered ears in her hand and raked her nails across it.
"I'm sorry empress!" he cried out impulsively from the pain. "Forgive me!" she seemed please with that and released him. He could feel hot blood cascading down the length of his ear and matting his hair as he glowered up at Rita.
"Now say: I am your little dog and I will follow you wherever you go." she told him. Finster softly repeated the phrase through gritted teeth. Rita grinned as she listened to him make a fool of himself. She snapped her fingers and a putty came running. "Take him away." she ordered and the putty rushed to obey. Finster instantly began to struggle as the loathsome creature took a hold of him.
He didn't see as Rita picked up her staff and aimed it straight for him and hardly felt it when a bolt of energy was shot into his forehead. He struggled for a moment more and then stood quietly in a drugged state as Selina had. He was dimly aware that the putty wanted him to go somewhere and so he began walking in that direction. For some reason he didn't want to fight any longer and felt no anger toward anyone as the spell took its toll on him. He was ushered down a different hallway this time and then the putty pushed open a door and gestured to Finster that he should go inside. He obeyed and heard the door slam behind him.
Suddenly he snapped awake again. Why didn't he kill the putty while he had the chance? Why was he willingly locked into this room? In sheer frustration, Finster gave a scream and beat his head against the sleek metal walls until he fell backwards, dizzy and in pain. There was a faint humming noise and as his eyes adjusted, he saw that the putty had placed him in a laboratory and that he was near a refridgeration unit. Slowly he got up and examined things a little more closely. On the small lab table there was a note which he picked up and unfolded. It read:
Welcome to the dark side. This is your temporary laboratory until we reach the true base and you know what is expected of you. Get to work now!
It was not signed but he knew full well that it had been Rita who had written it. He sighed as he crumpled the note into a small wad and let it fall to the floor. On the table also was a large bag of clay that was waiting to be molded. He shook his head and began to pace the length of the small laboratory impatiently as he wondered what his son had turned out looking like and if he would ever see either him or Selina ever again.