As it turned out, the gas from Lady Ira’s spell-tablet had tarnished the guard’s keys along with their bronze weapons. Still, the corrosive gas had weakened the cell door hinges too; just enough for Dragon-Face to burst them open with a blow from his shoulder.
“Mmmm?” Uuco muttering, squirming against the many bonds tying him, glancing left and right despite the thick blindfold covering his eyes. “Mmm! Mmm!”
“Who in the underworld are you?” Rintha asked, glaring as he swung to and fro from his ceiling chains, hands encased in clumps of mortar.
“Dragon-Face!” V’vendy exclaimed, waving a cheerfully as she could with her hands bound.
“Indeed it is I!” Dragon Face declared, preening visibly. “The Great Dragon Face, champion of the Southlands.” He flexed his arms by his belly, the peaks and valleys of his biceps deepening. “It’s good see you again, Deathweaver,” he said more softly.
“Did you rescue Corax and Ira too?” V’vendy asked, before Dragon Face could talk more.
“It was more of a collaboration,” Ira insisted, squeezing through the door past Dragon-Face. “How are you two doing?”
“They dipped my hands in brick-mush!” Rintha complained, waving his hands about; they currently looked like two round clumps of rocket. “It’s a deliberate insult to my Clayborn heritage, and I intend to smash some skulls for this.”
“I’ve been swinging around on these chains for over a day,” V’vendy explained to Ira. “I think I could have loosened the bolts holding me up in a month or so.”
“Mmmm!” Uuco shouted in excitement, trying to force words past the gag in his throat. “Mmm-Mmm-Mmm!”
“Let’s get you out of those shackles,” Lady Ira said, walking past the hogtied Uuco and deliberately ignoring him. “Dragon-Face, if you would?”
“Lady Ira told me all about you, Rintha Roarhunter!” Dragon-Face boomed, taking Rintha’s mortared hands in his own. “A please to meet you! Keep very still–I don’t want to crush your hands by mistake.”
“I can help!” Corax announced, pushing his way in past Ira. “I can scrape that mortar off with my hands,” he suggested, brandishing his long, hooked, extremely sharp claws.
Rintha clenched his teeth and said nothing.
Ira pulled the hood off V’vendy’s scalp. V’vendy shook out the white-fletched feathers on her head like a bird drying its wings. Ira pried at V’vendy’s shackles with her fingers, but couldn’t make a dent in their pristine bronze hue. “If only we had time to make another spell tablet!” she cursed.
“Do you have the guard’s keys?” V’vendy asked hopefully.
“Corroded by the Lady Ira’s first spell tablet,” Ira explained.
“Ah,” V’vendy said. “Then, um–“ she chewed her lip– “–we need to free the person who can melt these shackles on his own.”
Ira looked towards the blindfolded, gagged, hogtied Uuco, who’d fallen over on the floor, undulating back and forth like a centipede.
In the back, Corax scraped strips of mortar off of Rintha’s hands, while Dragon-Face pinched and pulled the remaining fragments free like berries from a vine.
“Must we?” Ira sighed.
“Lady Ira,” V’vendy said gravely. “He’s been consistently helpful all this time.”
Lady Ira nodded gravely. “That is sadly true,” she said. She walked over to Uuco, knelt, untied his ropes, the blindfold around his eyes and last of all, the gag.
“Pfffhhag!” Uuco cursed, smacking his dry lips together and spitting a clump of purple mana out onto the floor. Scowling silently, he flexed his fingers into an arcane seal and muttered a word under his breath. Air shimmered around his lips as he wove the glamour that let him speak without cracking reality in two.
“It’s so nice to be appreciated!” Uuco spat at Ira. “No need to thank poor old Uuco for all the miracles he’s worked! No siree!”
“The Lady Ira does appreciate you, Uuco, “ Ira replied calmly, “if not by choice.”
“Hmppph!” Uuco turned his back on Ira, scowling and stroking his waxed mustache.
Dragon Face went down on one knee, an act that still resulted in him towering over the elderly Nobble. “It is good to see you again, Uuco the Witness!” He proclaimed. “I apologize for now coming sooner!”
Uuco immediately brightened. “Dragon-Face, my old sport!” he declared, slapping the masked wrestler’s shoulder. “We should arm wrestle again sometime: I figured out a way to beat you!”
Dragon-Face laughed. “I look forward to being thrashed!”
“He’s going to use magic on you, you know,” Corax drawled, combing his feather crest out with his claws.
“And I shall use my muscles,” Dragon-Face replied. “Which shall prove stronger, I wonder?”
“Now hold on there, Pilgrims,” Uuco said, waving his hands. “First things first. I gotta turn those shackles to liquid, and then I gotta get a question answered.”
Uuco the Witness’s hands clenched into fists. His grin turned into a furious scowl.
“Where’s. My. Writing Tablet?” He growled.
Captain Zarth’s eyes snapped open. He sat up on his narrow cot, yawning loudly. He rubbed at the bags beneath his eyes, darkened from rolling his seal into wet clay tablets at late hours into the night.
He wanted nothing more than to lie back down for a few minutes. But the leader of the Gnashers must be strong in all things, Zarth told himself. He took a deep breath, splashed some water from a basin into his eyes and stood.
He started by stretching, wringing his muscles and realigning all his joints with a faint click. He took a bottle of scented oil and dapped a few drops under his chin. Then he walked over to his chamber’s north wall. He pried three bricks free to reveal a small, ornate altar, the altar of a god.
Captain Zarth went to his knees and bowed before the golden statue. He made sure to keep both eyes on the statue, even as his chin brushed the floor. His god would not approve of him lowering his guard.
Sunlight trickled through his chamber’s window, reflecting off the sheen of the statue’s jagged battle-axe. Zarth stared into the statue’s featureless eyes and read something there.
“Yes sir,” he said softly. “I understand.”
He rose, slid the bricks back into the wall, and walked out the door in his bedclothes, pausing only to grab his war mace and a towering hide shield.