“This is a Surprise Inspection…”

Minbarg the Quill-Keeper was not the ideal Gnasher.

 

He had no passion for upholding the law with berserker fury and bone-cracking crunches from his mace. His beast pelt always sat uncomfortably on his shoulders; the fur tickled and chaffed at his neck. And he always felt awkward spilling oxen blood in secret rites dedicated to their Hidden God.

 

Still, Captain Zarth refused to expel Minbar from the Order of the Gnashers, even when his advisors counseled him otherwise. “Nobody,” he  told Minbarg, “can command the Chimeras like you.”

Minbarg walked up the steps of the Gnasher’s temple, one of the many towers that lined the slopes of the Infinite Temple. He came to a thick door and pushed it open, walking into a large amphitheater.

 

When the Chimera saw him, she unfurled her wings, stirring up gusts of wind with each flap. She lunged towards Minbarg playfully, but stopped short as her leg chains rattled, secured to thick bronze hoops protruding from the stone.

 

Minbarg covered his mouth until the dust settled, then walked forward, setting down the red-white shank of cow meat he was carrying.

 

“Good morning, Klebis!” He declared, nodding to the Chimera’s snarling lion’s maw. “Good morning, Kelafy!” he then said to the horned goat head sticking out of the Chimera’s side. “Good morning, Klesalsyn!” he said again to the hissing serpent that formed the Chimera’s tail. “I brought you all breakfast!”

 

At the sound of the word ‘breakfast’, the Chimera bounced up with excitement, her three heads roaring and hissing and bleating.

 

“No,” Minbarg said firmly. “Before eating, you sit.” Crooking his fingers together, he hummed the Mantra of Hate, veins bulging on his arms and legs as his muscles swelled. “Sit,” he said in a deeper voice that echoed through the amphitheater.

 

The Chimera hesitated. She sat on all fours, paws tucked over each other, three heads still and silent.

 

“Good girls!!” Minbarg exclaimed, tossing the cow shank to the Chimera. The Chimera’s lion head snatched up the shank of meat. The serpent and goat head each bit into a different part of the flesh. The three heads growled and hissed at each other as they fought for their share of breakfast.

 

Someone pounded on the amphitheater’s door, hard enough to rattle the hinges

 

“Coming!” Minbarg said, shuffling over. “I just fed the Chimeras,” he said as he opened the door, “so don’t make any loud noises or I’ll be all day settling them down–“

 

The door slammed open. Dust blew into Minbarg’s face, along with a blinding purple light.

 

“Ah-choo!” Minbarg sneezed and spluttered over and over until tears ran down his cheeks. “What–“ he stammered. “What’s going on?”

 

Minbarg opened his eyes. Captain Zarth stood in front of him.

 

“Lord Captain!” He exclaimed, falling to one knee. “What brings you here at this hour?”

 

“Some prisoners have escaped from the cells,” Captain Zarth said firmly. “I need your help!”

 

“Of course, Lord Captain!” Minbarg said, bowing until his head touched his upright knee. “I, Minbarg the Quill-Keeper, shall harness the Chimera! Klebis, Kelafy and Klesalsyn shall feast on criminal flesh this morning!”

 

“That won’t be needed,” Captain Zarth said, idly waving his hand. “The prisoners will try to recover their weapons and belongings before fleeing. Lead me to the armory, Minbarg, so we can set a trap for them!”

 

“The armory?” Minbarg stammered, raising a hand to his forehead. “Don’t you know where that is?” It felt so hot, and his vision grew blurry whenever he looked directly at the Captain.

 

“Um,” Captain Zarth said. “I forgot where our armory was. “ He raised his hand and stroked his upper lip with his fingers. “I had a lot to drink last night,” he explained.

 

“Oh,” Minbarg said, brightening. “That explains it!” He rose to his feet and gestured past Captain Zarth, the four Gnashers behind him and the two-legged dinosaur. “Right this way, Lord Captain!”

 

Captain Zarth gave Minbarg a thumbs-up. “I’m counting on you, Quill-Keeper!”

 

%%%

 

“How long before the Glamour wears off?” Lady Ira whispered to Uuco as they marched down the hall.

 

“Until he washes his face, I suppose,” Uuco replied from his perch on Lady Ira’s shoulders. Yawning loudly, he kicked his legs back and forth and rested his elbows on Ira’s head.

 

“Let us rephrase the question,” Ira grumbled. “How long does the Lady Ira need to keep carrying you like this?”

 

“Until the Glamour wears off, I reckon,” Uuco replied. “It’s very important, you carrying me! Why, if I weren’t on my shoulders, that Minbarg fellow would be seeing Captain Zarth crawling on his hands and knees. And then he’d get suspicious!”

 

“What did you say, Captain?” Minbarg asked, looking over his shoulder, purple sparks dancing around his eyes.

 

“I was thinking out loud about if I should promote you!” Uuco said, waving his hand. Reluctantly, Ira mimicked the gesture.

 

“Oh!” Minbarg exclaimed. He straightened his shoulders. “I’ll leave you to your thoughts, Lord Captain!”

 

Uuco felt pressure on the back of his neck. He glanced over his shoulders. Corax the Sickleblade prowled behind Lady Ira, tail swishing softly back and forth. He glared at Uuco with unblinking yellow eyes.

 

“What?” Uuco asked, confused by the Saurian’s anger.

 

“I will never let you ride me,” Corax said.

 

“Who said anything about riding you?” Uuco protested.

 

“You were thinking it,” Corax said. “I know it.”

 

“Corax Sickleblade,” Uuco said with long-suffering patience, “I swear, by your not-so-hidden divinity that I’m not planning to ride on your back.” He stroked his white bushy mustache in thought. “Still, imagine how many shells we’d earn if you gave rides to children during harvest festivals…!”

 

Corax hissed, baring needle pointed teeth.

 

“Never mind,” Uuco said hastily.

 

Minbarg turned left and pushed open a set of thick double-doors. “Here’s the armory, Lord Captain!” He announced. “Where shall we set up the ambush?”

 

The armory was dark, lit only by two narrow arrow holes in the wall. Motes of dust danced back and forth through the beams of light. Spears, bows and maces hung from pegs on the walls. The Pilgrim’s weapons and supplies were laid out in rows atop a long table.

 

“My sword!” Corax exclaimed, squeezing past Minbarg and snatching up his sword.

 

“My bow!” V’vendy exclaimed, shoving aside Ira and Uuco in her eagerness to reclaim her weapon.

 

Dragon Face smiled and folded his arms across his chest. “As long as I have health and vigor, the great Dragon Face is always armed!”

 

“Lord Captain!” Minbarg repeated, brow furrowing in concern. “What is your ambush plan?”

 

“Uh…” Uuco scratched his ear. “We’ll set up an ambush inside this room!” He kicked Ira’s shoulder. Sighing, Ira brought him closer to Minbarg.

 

“But I have a special job for you, Minbarg,” Uuco said in a softly conspiratorial tone. “I need you to go down the hall and wait around the corner. If any of the prisoners escape our trap, I need you to block their escape!”

 

Minbarg fidgeted. “Lord Captain,” he said hesitantly. “You know I’m not the best fighter…”

 

Uuco stretched his hand out, not quite able to reach Minbarg. Ira clenched her teeth and rested a hand on Minbarg’s shoulder. “I believe in you, Minbarg!” Uuco said.

 

Minbarg’s face broke out with a smile. “Yes, Sir!” He said, turning and running out of the room at full gallop.

 

Uuco rubbed his hands together. “That was easy,” he sighed in relief. “Now, Lady Ira: take me to that table. I’ve got a scepter and tablet to retrieve!”

 

The armory’s eastern wall exploded, sending weapons flying everywhere. Ira dove for cover under the table. Uuco the Witness lost his grip on Ira’s shoulders. Tumbling free, he landed on his back, breath driven from his lungs with a huff. Groaning, he sat up; a spear flashed past his ear and bury itself point first in the bricks behind him.

 

The real Captain Zarth came striding through the hole in the wall, mace resting on his shoulder, hide shield raised. “Escaping from prison is a felony,” he said calmly. “So is stealing from the Gnasher’s armory.”

 

He pointed his mace at the gathered Pilgrims. “The penalty for these crimes combined is death,” Captain Zarth explained. “Obviously.”

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