Author's Note: Yes, yes, I know I haven't written a parody for quite some time. Yes, I know how pained all of you are, but I genuinely feel that if there isn't something funny, I'm not going to try—and fall flat on my face.
Nevertheless, I've managed to get a brainwave, so you can happily that whatever supernatural entity you believe watches over idiot authors like me that it's seen fit to poke and prod me into writing one of these again.
What, am I supposed to put something witty here?
To say that Samantha was not the happiest gryphon in the world would have been an understatement. Indeed, it would be an understatement of so great proportions that it was probably living in a word castle of its own, lording over its vassal-understatements and bossing around little serf-understatements, threatening to tax whatever little meaning and mirth they had into oblivion.
They'd given her a human name, like all the other gryphons in the aerie. A stupid, grating human name which she couldn't quite pronounce, no matter how hard she tried; she just didn't have the vocal chords suited to the task. While Samantha knew she shouldn't be complaining—after all, she'd never had a proper gryphon name and shouldn't miss something that had never come into her possession—it nevertheless ruffled her feathers every time she thought about it.
"You in there!" the Quest(TM) dealer growled at her through the stout bars of her cell. "Wake up; there's a prospective client here; and if you botch this deal I'm holding off your paycheck!"
Her eyes snapping open, Samantha started pecking furiously at her feathers, smoothing over the most ragged spots, but it couldn't be done. It just couldn't be done. Working conditions had reduced even her inner, downy coat of feathers to a downright mess and no amount of preening was going to turn them into anything approaching presentable.
"And here's the finest of the lot for rent. I daresay she's an excellent specimen; you'll definitely look good on her while you're on your approved Quest(TM) adventure, Mr.—"
"Arthus," the other man said. "Just Mr. Arthus will do, and my friend here is Victor."
Wearing the most pleading expression she could muster, Samantha looked up at the newcomer—and blinked. It wasn't so much the prospective client or his friend behind him; but rather the fact that Mr. Arthus' friend was looking straight at her, a big grin set into his jaws.
Samantha hoped the black dragon's grin was friendly. If she had to work with some menace—
"Ah, yes, Mr. Arthus. I think you'll find our rates here very reasonable, and we're having a discount today when we hire out gryphons to participate in certain Quest(TM) adventures. They might not be as impressive or come with as many perks as some other choices, but I'm sure the economy of one will appeal to you, sir."
What was he doing? Forgetting the fact that she was supposed to be putting on a show for a prospective client, Samantha continued eyeing the black dragon.
He winked at her, opened jaws that could easily have crushed her whole—and coughed.
Something bright and shiny flew out from between the black dragon's jaws and landed by the straw was lying on, whatever sound it might have made in the process drowned out by the humans' intense negotiating. Instinctively, Samantha covered it with a bit of her musty bedding, peering at her boss to see if he'd noticed her hide whatever it was.
"Well, can she speak into my mind at the very least? The Quest(TM) division I last visited had a gryphon that could speak into my mind, you know, and that was really what I was looking for."
"I'm so sorry, Mr. Arthus, she can't do that—"
Mr. Arthus folded his arms. "I think that settles it then. Let's go, Victor. Time's a-wasting."
Grinning that toothy grin, the black dragon winked at Samantha again and lumbered off after his human companion, head bowed and wings flattened to fit into the aerie. Oddly enough, the human didn't even attempt to climb onto the back of his draconic friend.
Why was that? Doing her best to ignore her boss yelling at her through the bars, Samantha shifted about on her straw and tried to get some sleep. Losing another portion of her meagre salary meant more days hungry.
It wasn't till night that she remembered the shiny thing the black dragon had coughed out. Perhaps if it were of value, she could buy a quarter-ham with it, or something that would keep her from going hungry for another day. Rummaging through the straw until her talons hit something hard, Samantha pulled the metal object out from under the straw.
It was a file. Inscribed on the smooth side was a smiley face, an address, and in tiny writing:
Tired of your life? Think you could be so much more? Call this number now!
It had seemed like a good idea at the time. No doubt, there were many people out there whose last words had been exactly that.
Sneezing for the umpteenth time, Samantha huddled in the remains of the bear. At least that was fairly warm, unlike the downpour outside. Filing through the bars of her psuedo-prison had seemed like a good idea at the time. Oh, it hadn't really been locked, and theoretically she had a home to go back to; it was just that Quest(TM) took a dim view of employees absconding. Going back to either place probably wouldn't be the best idea right now. Killing baby bear to feed herself had seemed like a good idea at the time. The flaw in that plan had become evident when mommy bear had come home.
Well. Not many gryphons can say they've slept in the remains of a bear to keep themselves alive in the middle of the woods. It could have been worse; I might be hungry. Or dead. Like Bob. Or Martin. Or Xangogoposothrenorgor. Although I think she was pleased to be rid of that name, even if it did cost her life during that hero's adventure with the dreaded runaway lawnmower.
Feeling more miserable than she'd ever done in her life, Samantha started preening her feathers—and felt something hard amongst them.
It was the file.
Tired of your life? Think you could be so much more? Call this number now!
Well, she couldn't go back to her workplace; they'd probably put another sod in the horrible working conditions she'd been under by now. What did she have to lose? At the very least, Samantha could take that dragon and his human friend to task for tempting her to escape. It wasn't her fault, the temptation had been overwhelming!
Under what little light there was, the smiley face seemed to snigger.
Wet, cold, and feeling a sneeze coming on, Samantha detached herself from the bear carcass and stumbled into the rain.
"We need a catchphrase," Victor growled, his spiked tail swishing back and forth. "Something the masses can pick up upon and chant. Something like that human guy was advocating a little while ago; 'peace, land, bread'. A catchy, viral meme."
Not looking up from his drawing, Arthus nodded. "How about 'freedom, justice, equality'?"
"Overdone and cheesy."
"Money, money, money?"
"Fire, fire, fire?"
"Money, cake, characterization?"
Victor thought on that, drumming his claws against the floor. "Might work."
"Everyone likes them, and you can't have too much of all three. Except maybe cake. Well, what do you think of these?"
Peering at the drawing Arthus had just finished, Victor grunted. "I think they're emotionally manipulative. Great job, Arthus."
The drawing depicted a wolf pup all alone in a spotlight, sobbing. The caption declared:
I WAS STOLEN FROM MY MOTHER TO BE A TELEPATHIC COMPANION.
STOP CHILD SLAVERY NOW.
More posters followed. A sad-looking dragon whelp:
MY MISTRESS USES ME AS A TOKEN TO GET INTO HIGH SOCIETY.
COMPANIONS ARE PEOPLE TOO.
A downtrodden horse:
I AM NEVER FED AND TREATED LIKE A CAR, OVERWORKED AND UNDERPAID.
STOP WORKER EXPLOITATION NOW.
A mangy gryphon:
MY PEOPLE HAD THEIR OWN CULTURE UNTIL OUR RIDERS CAME ALONG AND FORCIBLY CONVERTED US TO THEIR VALUE SYSTEM.
STOP CULTURAL IMPERIALISM NOW.
"And here's the flyers."
ARE YOU OVERWORKED? UNDERPAID? NEVER APPRECIATED AND TREATED LIKE AN OBJECT DESPITE SUPPOSEDLY HAVING A DEEP BOND WITH THE HERO? EVER WONDER WHY THE HEROES GET ALL THE GLORY WHILE THE SIDEKICKS GET PUSHED TO THE SIDE?
EVER WONDER WHY YOU HAVE TO LEAVE AND DON'T GET ANY SCREEN TIME ONCE THE HERO DOESN'T NEED YOU ANYMORE?
EVER WONDER WHY YOU DON'T GET ANY PROPER CHARACTERIZATION AND HAVE TO LICK THE HERO'S BOOTS ALL THE TIME?
EVER WONDER WHY YOU NEVER GET A BIGGER ROLE THAN A WALKING, TALKING PLOT DEVICE?
EVER WONDER WHY YOU ARE THE ONE WHO HAS TO MAKE THE HEROIC SACRIFICE IN ORDER TO SAVE THE HERO'S UGLY, PATHETIC HIDE WHEN HE'S NEVER SHOWN YOU A SINGLE MOTE OF APPRECIATION FOR ALL YOU'VE DONE FOR HIM?
YOU MIGHT JUST BE THE VICTIM OF COMPANION EXPLOITATION.
STAND UP FOR YOUR RIGHTS. JOIN THE UNION OF COMPANIONS TODAY. ALL MOUNTS, FAMILIARS, SIDEKICKS, TELEPATHIC COMPANIONS, ETC ARE WELCOME. NO MEMBERSHIP FEE REQUIRED, ALTHOUGH DONATIONS ARE ACCEPTED.
FOR MONEY, CAKE AND CHARACTERIZATION!
CALL THIS NUMBER FOR MORE INFORMATION.
Arthus whistled. "You know, Victor, I'd never expected to have to incite a social revolution just to shake things up a bit."
"We do what we can in Nodamuo's absence. Don't worry about money. I'll fund this little venture from my hoard."
Arthus narrowed his eyes. "You have a hoard? I've never seen it before."
Nodding, Victor produced a small ledger from thin air and flipped through it. "Oh yes. Let's see…three million in fine wines, seventy million in property, and ten or so million in commodities speculation. Further assets include spell-peddling, indoor children's playgrounds and a chain of really spicy chilli dog stands."
"Ever bought a dragon dog?"
"Oh. I thought you had gold and jewels and whatnot."
"That's so old-fashioned. Besides, taking all that money out of the economy only hurts it, and then there's less for everyone. The modern dragon knows how to re-invest and make money grow."
Shrugging, Arthus gathered up the posters and tied them together. "Well then, I'll be sending these to the printer in a little while, then. Perhaps I'll be able to get more posters done in the next few days or so."
There was a knock on the human-sized portion of the room. Getting up from his folding table, Arthus slid open the latch and threw the door open; the average adventurer on a Quest(TM) wouldn't even have bothered knocking.
Samantha sneezed miserably.
"Ah, an interested individual. I'm quite sorry if we don't quite have everything in place yet, but I hope you can understand that this union is just setting up. Allow me to introduce myself. I'm Arthus, and my friend over there's Victor. You might be…?"
"Submundur," Samantha said, and sniffled again.
"Seems you'll have to get one of your broodlings to send the posters down to be printed, Victor." Turning back to the soaked gryphon, Arthus ushered her in front of a roaring hearth. "Well met then, Samantha. And I'm right in assuming you're interested in our upcoming trade union?"
"I wub cold. Cold und cunt gud home. Yor scaly fwenb over there gabe me ah filbe."
"A file? Victor, whatever did you give her a file for?"
Victor yawned. "She looked miserable. It's no secret that gryphons have crappy working conditions, Arthus. Their death rate is among the worst in the industry, and they don't get any offdays, besides. I thought she'd be happy leaving her job."
"Welp, youb bade me sleep in a bear carbcuss. Anb now I bont hab a job abymore. No one is gobing to hire ah deserbter."
"That's a terrible cold you've got coming on. Samantha."
"Arthus, could you come over here for a moment?" Hissing, Victor lowered his head and whispered to the ex-paladin while connecting the scrying pool to the etherlink network. "Look. The gryphon-as-companion-and-mount workers are probably the biggest and most influential disgruntled employee group in the whole world, let alone Quest(TM). If we can get them into our budding little union and succeed, the rest of the companion and sidekick subgroup can and will naturally follow.
"I don't think it'll be too hard; we've visited enough aeries to see the sheer amount of resentment bubbling under the surface. It could work even better if we had one of their own propagating our cause, if you can see what I'm getting at…"
"They won't like it, you know. They'll do their best to bust our union and discredit us into oblivion."
Victor grinned. "I'm a black dragon, you're an ex-paladin. I don't think we can get any more affiliated with bad stereotypes than we are already, Arthus. What can they say we do? Kill and eat babies? Everyone knows the likes of us already do that, Arthus!"
"You were telling me about how you killed a bear and slept in its carcass to keep warm," Victor said as he stoked the fire with a few huffs. "Do you mind if I asked you a question?"
Not even looking up from the gobbets of meat Victor's mate had given her, Samantha groaned. She'd never felt this full before. "Wud?"
"If you had your colleagues with you, would you have been so afraid? Would the task have been easier?"
"Welp, I supose sob…"
"Now, imagine that your previous employer was the bear. Or a bigger bear, if you will. You wouldn't have been able to do anything on your own, but what if you had a few of your co-workers with you? Or even all of them? What if all of the gryphons in the country—hell, the world decided to stop working all at once until they got better working terms?
"Ah, now I've got your attention. I see you don't think it possible. With a little coordination, it just might be, but we're going to start small. You don't have to do anything if you don't want to!"
"Ah'b hearb yub out. Ab the very leabst, ib's but ab can do for ebbing urb bood."
"Excellent. See, this was what I was thinking of…"
"What the HELL is this?" the Quest(TM) manager roared. "Get back to work now, ladies!" This wasn't right. There wasn't supposed to be a whole mob of gryphons outside! Animals weren't supposed to be able to do this! They weren't supposed to have the intelligence to form a picket line complete with signs and—and—
As one, the gryphons squawked and screeched.
"We're on strike!"
"This has gone on long enough. We're not going to put up with this measly pay any more!"
"I-I'll fire the lot of you and get new employees—you! You're not supposed to be here! I got your replacement a long time ago!"
"No," Samantha said evenly. "I've done a little research, sir, and there aren't enough unemployed gryphons within a five hundred-mile radius to fill up even half an empty aerie. All the other nearest ones have no employees to spare. Oh, did I forget to mention that every single day that this aerie isn't operating, you're losing about ten thousand gold in lost earnings? While I don't think giving in to unionists' demands will look very good in your quarterly report, neither is losing massive sums of money.
"We've unionised, and this isn't going to change."
The manager began to sweat profusely.