When I came to, I was on top of the filled-in hole, buried up to my neck. To my left and right were trees, in front of me was the clearing where I had piled my mountain of dirt (though all that dirt was obviously back in the hole). It was still daytime, the wind felt cool on my face. My wings hovered just above the soil, eagerly waiting to snap back into place once my back was free. I wiggled a little, but I’m just a Worker strain, I had no chance of breaking out of here with brute strength alone.
“Hello?” I called out. “Hellllllloooooo? I know you want something from me, just make your demands! I won’t fall prey to your intimidation tactics!” Snowball slid out from behind a nearby bush. He looked so menacing, with his beady little eyes and his twitching nose. He hopped closer and I sneered at him, but he didn’t seem to care. “There you are, you freak. Just so you know, I won’t fall to any of your barbaric torture.” I leaned my head back, looking down my nose at him. “You fail to bury me alive and now you think you can get me to talk? Ha! Nothing could be further from the truth.”
“…” He hopped to the side, then behind me. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t twist my neck enough to see what he was trying.
“H-hey, what are you-“
My eyes went wide. My skin crawled. I bit my bottom lip and as much as I desperately squirmed, I couldn’t break free!
Master! It was so gross! It was awful!
“Eww! Eww!” I felt the grinding in my skull. “Stop gnawing on my horn! That’s..! What the heck is wrong with you?” I tried to shake him off but his razor-sharp teeth held on tight.
It was so bad, Master. I still have nightmares about it. Just remembering the sensation of him using my right horn as a chewtoy makes me shake.
Hmm… Master, you don’t have horns. I’ll try to describe how awful it was in a way you’ll understand. Imagine… imagine someone taking your hand and using your nails to scratch a chalkboard, you are powerless as that grinding, course feeling shakes through your body. Also the person hasn’t washed their hands in a while. And they radiate this aura of malice and viciousness.
“Stop! Eugh! I’ll talk! I’ll talk! Just stop doing tha-haaa-t!”
But he didn’t stop. Why would he? Daft-Rabbits are disgusting, evil creatures with no empathy. I was a fool for thinking he wanted to interrogate me. He wanted my suffering. It fed him, made him stronger.
Master. When you next incarnate into the mortal plane, I implore you. You must launch a campaign of extermination against the Daft-Rabbit menace! They’re locked onto planet Y’varda for now, yes, but what if they discover space technology? What if, during a war or some other crisis, our enemies arm the Daft-Rabbits to act as insurgents against the Slavani? Faced against such a threat, I doubt Y’varda could hold out for long. In a worst case scenario, albeit an unlikely one, what if a rival manages to capture a load of Daft-Rabbits and breeds them for war! What would happen then? You know how fast rabbits can multiply, the entire Slavani people could be overwhelmed by a foe stronger than us, more diabolical than us, more cunning than us, and more numerous! We need to end this threat now, but only you are capable of leading us to war against this foe. Any coordinated effort without you would surely end in disaster!
That’s what went through my mind at the time, and while I still stand by my request, I realized I had to deal with the threat at hand. You haven’t reincarnated, it would be a problem for later. I had to escape.
First, I thought maybe I could stab him with the sharp ends of my horns. I jerked and shook my head with gusto, but with the specific curvature of my horns, it didn’t do much except annoy him. He fought against me, pulling my head this way and that, yanking me around.
“Ow, ow! Stop!”
Second plan: “Hey! You stupid, disgusting rabbit! You’re trash! You’re garbage! All your rabbit friends think you’re worthless to the group, and you’re just the same as every other rabbit! If a dozen of you were lined up, I couldn’t tell the difference! Even if you decided to wear different clothes, nobody could tell you apart!”
He didn’t break down and start crying. In fact, I don’t think he even cared. If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s that these evil creatures are too stone-hearted to care about what others think of them.
Plan three: I took a deep breath in, worked myself up so my voice wobbled, and screamed.
“MAAAAAASTEEEEER! HEEEEEELP MEEEEEEE!!”
I waited with bated breath, my voice carried throughout the forest, silencing even the wind and his gnawing.
But nothing happened.
No grand rays of light.
No lightning strike of divine justice.
The ground did not split open and release me from my dirt prison.
I was heartbroken. Beside myself. Why would you not help me in my moment of need? (Not blaming you, obviously, keep reading ‘cause my thoughts get clarified)
Did I not pray correctly? Did I do something wrong? Was I such a failure that being tortured for your amusement was the best I could do? My mind raced with the possibilities. I went through all the sacrifices and offerings I had given recently and began to count the absurd number of small failings.
I felt nauseous. I began to cry. How could I have shirked my religious duties so thoroughly that you would leave me to this fate? Tears streaked down the fur of my face. I angled my head so Snowball would have easier access to his new chew toy… If that was what you wanted of me, I might as well comply… be of some use to you…
That was the fate I deserved…
…But there was rustling in the nearby bushes.
I didn’t bother looking over. It didn’t matter to me what it was anymore, I was just a chew toy. But Snowball cocked his head. He hopped in front of my face and sniffed the air. I don’t know what he smelled, but out from the bush leapt a mighty wolf! The same wolf I fed fish to the previous night!
Mr. Wolf snarled and growled and pounced! He flew through the air towards us, but Snowball was too fast! Using his powerful hind legs, he shot off to the side, and the wolf stood proud in front of me, protecting me from the savage creature with a rabid instinct.
The Daft-Rabbit stared back, his beady eyes undeterred by mortal emotions like fear or concern. There was more rustling in the bush behind him. Out from it, lumbering and heavy, each step shaking the earth, came the same bear from last night, and her cub!
“Wh-what are you guys..?”
Mrs. Bear swiped her mighty front paw towards Snowball, but he retreated, of course, easily outpacing the slow yet powerful attack of a mighty bear.
He had his back to a tree, and a good view of both Mr. Wolf and Mrs. Bear. He wouldn’t be surrounded or captured. But, from the thick canopy of branches above, an army of squirrels, relatives of the ones I taught how to cook, began pelting the Daft-Rabbit with acorns and nuts!
Snowball swung around to my left, the other side of the bear, but it was a trap. My animal friends knew he would try that, and the great hawk from last night swooped in and clipped the Daft-Rabbit with its talons! The wound wasn’t deep, but even still, a prominent red spot grew on his white fur.
I thought for a moment. “H-hey..!” I spoke quietly so only Mr. Wolf could hear me. “Dig me out of here! I’ll rebury my arms just under the surface, and when you chase him over here, I’ll jump out and grab him!”
Mr. Wolf nodded, planted his hind legs firmly in the dirt, and started digging with his front paws.
The Daft-Rabbit heard my plan, but don’t worry Master, I intended for him to hear it.
“Everyone!” I shouted. “Get him! Get him and I’ll catch you more fish to eat!”
Mr. Wolf leaned forward and licked my face. I knew then they weren’t doing this for the promise of more fish, or even repaying me for the fish from last night. They were all just kind creatures who wanted to help out a good friend during her time of need.
I could feel my heart melt, and tears clotted my fur. I had never felt such pure bonds of friendship before.
As Mr. Wolf dug me out, Mrs. Bear and her son chased the Daft-Rabbit around, expertly coordinating with the Squirrel army to keep Snowball out of the bushes, giving the Hawk perfect opportunities to swoop in and grab him. Were he any normal rabbit, it would have ended quickly, but he was a clever one and managed to dodge and weave between all the blows. As I watched, I got the feeling that the entire animal kingdom didn’t like the presence of Daft-Rabbits in their forest. I can’t blame them.
Before long, my arms were free and I would be able to pull myself out of the dirt when needed. I nodded to Mr. Wolf and he charged off, helping everyone chase Snowball. With so much after him at once, the Daft-Rabbit was closer and closer to being caught. He only dodged swipes by the barest of margins, he only jumped away at the last moment, I assumed he was getting tired and overwhelmed.
Since the Daft-Rabbit overheard me tell Mr. Wolf my plan, I knew he wouldn’t come close to me. My animal friends kept him from escaping into the brush, and I deterred him from trying to run between the trees and escape.
His mistake was disregarding me as just a close-quarters threat.
I took my arms from the dirt… grabbed a rock… reeled back my arm… took aim… and waited for the perfect moment. My body shook. I would have begun to sweat if you created us with sweat pores. The Daft-Rabbit was a fast beast, only one shot would allow me the element of surprise, and all my allies were in the way! Finding that one in a million shot would be nearly impossible!
I waited for that perfect chance, the one split second that would complete my hunt and let me return to the village in triumph.
The wind grew still and the branches overhead moved in such a way that a bright beam of light shone down on one single patch of dirt. I held my breath, that was the spot. I knew instantly that you were showing me exactly where to aim!
The animals chased him this way and that, forcing him to dodge and weave around all their teeth and paws and talons and acorns. He moved closer and closer to the spot, two hops closer and one hop back, edging his way towards the light until suddenly! He jumped in the perfect direction!
I wouldn’t let the chance pass me by, I trusted your intervention and launched the rock with all my might, perfectly aimed at the center of the godly rays! Snowball twisted his body in the air and the moment his paws hit the dirt, the rock connected with his chin! CRACK! The force whipped his head away and the consciousness drained from his eyes.
He didn’t stumble or wobble, he fell to the side with a thump.
The animals surrounded him and I wiggled my way out of the dirt.
“We did it! We did it!” I pulled my legs out and shook off the dirt, my pockets felt heavy with rocks and soil. I ran over to hug my animal friends, and they all reciprocated the love. “I couldn’t have done it without you all.” The hawk landed on my horns, I pet Mr. Wolf, and I scratched the bear cub behind the ears. I looked up and smiled at all the squirrel friends. It was around then that a tortoise walked by, but I don’t think that was the same one from before.
Then, our eyes turned to the rabbit.
Using every last skill I had, I grabbed an armful of vines and branches and grass from nearby trees, and tied them tight around Snowball. I paid special attention to his hind legs, making sure he couldn’t move an inch in any direction. He was wrapped like a burrito, with his head exposed and his antlers tied down. For ease of carry, I twisted a dozen strands of thick vines into a makeshift rope so I could carry him like a duffle bag.
When I was finished and hoisted him over my shoulders… I heard a noise. We all did.
We all looked around, trying to find the source of the voice.
“Ashley Vera Vestiture…”
“H-hello? Who are you?”
“I am Snowball, the rabbit you have over your shoulder.”
I pulled him around and look him in the beady little eyes. His mouth didn’t move as he spoke, so I assume it was some kind of telepathy. This is just more evidence to their threat, Master. I may not have much experience in the wide wide galaxy, but I’ve never heard of a Non-Slavani using magic before. How long until their skills grow and they start throwing fireballs at our villages? Or drying up the water supply?
“Wow.” I shifted my weight to one leg to offset how fat and heavy he was. “Didn’t know you things could talk. But… who are you talking to?”
I rolled my eyes. “That’s not my name, you stupid rabbit,” I poked his nose.
He sighed, I nodded along as he spoke. “Worker Ashley Vera Vestiture, Second Daughter of Worker Sella Fimr Coravet and Worker Bell Gierma Swordmaster, Born of the Vejtarta Spawn Pits on Crown World Y’varda.”
“Oh my gosh!” I reeled back in fear, dropping the Daft-Rabbit onto the ground. Mr. Wolf got ready to pounce, the squirrels readied their weapons, the Hawk readied itself to fly, and Mrs. Bear pushed her son behind her. “How do you know my name!? That shouldn’t be possible!”
“But it is.” His voice was calm and mature, it resonated in my soul, like those old recordings of you in your fourth incarnation. “Long ago, your Master crafted us with her arcane magic so your skills could be tested. She made us quick witted, fast, and cruel, all the things needed to force her Slavani children to grow strong in the face of adversity. You have passed the test, young Worker Ashley Vera Vestiture, Second Daughter of Worker Sella Fimr Coravet and Worker Bell Gierma Swordmaster, Born of the Vejtarta Spawn Pits on Crown World Y’varda, and so I am permitted to grant you one wish.”
I muttered, “you don’t need to say my full name every time, idiot…”
“Congratulations, young Ashely. Please release me and accept your wish, so I may test the next Slavani who comes of age and undergoes the trial.”
“I… I can wish for anything?”
I smiled devilishly and looked down my nose at him. “Okay, heeheehee!” I grabbed the handle and hoisted him over my shoulder again. “I wish to take you back to my village and become and adult! Ha!”
“Wha-but, you need to release me! I am an intricate part of your village’s culture and-“
“Heh, iiiiiiidiot! Everyone learns the story of you creatures when we’re kids!” As I left, I turned back to my animal friends and waved them goodbye. “Master came to this planet with the intent of settling it for us Slavani. She set up camp for the night where village Vejtarta now sits, and the next morning, decided to hunt in these woods for breakfast. There, she found a particularly delicious, yet incredibly dim witted, species of rabbit that she accidentally almost hunted to extinction.” I turned my head to him. “That would be you, ‘Daft’-Rabbit. ‘Course, Master is Master, so a dim-witted animal to her is a genius to us Slavani. Therefore, all that crap about her ‘creating’ a being as vile and disgusting as you is pure evil propaganda!”
He tried to protest, but I would suffer no lies from a trickster beast like him. When I reached the ransacked tent I set up on the first night, I pulled out a roll of tape and shut his dumb face. It didn’t do anything, ‘cause he spoke telepathically, but it made me feel better.
Thus, with my prize in tow, I started the long walk home.
My stomach really hurt, which made sense ‘cause my three-day food window was now over. I slowly felt my life force drain away, but I knew I had enough energy to make it back to Vejtarta.