Thrak learned the next day that what the prince meant by unconventional must have also meant small. For he was much larger than either of the other two teams of saboteurs. Of the two, the first were halflings, brothers in fact. Thrak asked their names but they refused to tell him. The lizard man thought that was strange.
“Why won’t you tell me?” He asked innocently one final time that day. They had gone through several rounds of training for the mission, and Thrak had felt a comraderie with the little men. But clearly, they hadn’t felt it towards him.
“We’d have to kill you if we did,” the larger of the two answered and threw his companion a wry smile.
“Hmmmph,” Thrak sighed. “Not worth a battle I sssuppose.” He grumbled and snarled something to himself but went off to sleep on his hay pile. With a hurrumphf, he laid down, more certain than ever he was more lizard than man.
The next morning, he thought about asking the other two, the second team. But they were dwarves, and looked far grumpier than the halflings. Thrak thought he understood dwarves better than humans, which he felt like he didn’t understand at all. After all, dwarves were stubborn and liked to go to battle, from his experience at least. He figured he had something in common with that. But after speaking to a few he decided he did not understand them one bit. And then there was the hair. All over their face, and their head, and their arms. How, he grimaced inwardly, could one stand all that hair all over their body!
Whatever Thrak thought of his companions, he wouldn’t remember for long. He had a way of forgetting things, and besides, when it came to a battle it was snout first, think later.
The two pairs of saboteurs and he rode the waves of wind that pummeled the shores of the outer island in the caldera. The entire structure of volcanic islands was called Ferroun’s Station. It’s jagged cliffs and black rock beaches were obscured by an oppressive smoke and shadow. It was night, but the riders knew that the darkness in the center of the island wasn’t due to the absence of the sun. Even on a dark night as this, the caldera’s bay and center were completely obscured. Smoke wafted up and coiled all around in gigantic wisps. The wind would pick at it, but as with seaweed in the current it always seemed to snap back, pulling in on itself. They couldn’t see past it. So they rode on the edge of it.
The griffons and their riders, still unseen, landed their steeds in the jungle in the place they had planned. Thrak hopped off. The dwarves fell over one another but dismounted. One of the halflings seemed to give a morsel of food to it’s griffon. The beast kneeled, and both riders used their saddle handle to hop down.
Silently, they moved through the jungle the way they had planned, towards the entry to one of the lava tubes that wound under the sea and into the center island. The plan was simple. Which meant Thrak had to focus.
“Thrak,” said Genoran for the eighth time consecutively. He was not saying it very politely now and hadn’t been doing so since the fifth. “You must get this right. Thousands of lives depend on you and your comrades.”
“The unconventional people?” Thrak pointed out, certain this would show he wasn’t still thinking about the spider on the wall he thought looked tasty.
“Correct Thrak, now listen to me carefully. Once you land the steeds where we plotted, move through the jungle, and only dispatch Sasser forces if they detect you. Using the attire we’ve given you, make like you are doing work, move through the tunnels and cross into the Station. There, separate and saboteur each ship in the manner we have planned.”
“Saboteur?” Thrak muttered allowed, clearly trying to remember. His tongue lolled to the side. He looked like he was in a bit of pain. “I am ssssorry, m’Lord.”
Genoran sighed and put a hand on Thrak’s scaly shoulder. “Saboteur means to put this device here Thrak in as many of the Sasser ships as you can. You will thus stop the Sassers from using them against our Celnfolk, but allow the slaves which escape to control the vessels. We’re going to use the enemy’s ships against them you see, Thrak!” Genoran showed him the small gem they had practiced with. “These gems, placed one in each ship at the stern will fix the ship to their location until our Celns come aboard. Be sure that they are well hidden.”
Running through the jungle, his fellow saboteurs at his side, Thrak understood the mission. And in case he didn’t, he was pretty sure the others would for him.
“Here’s where we find out if that serum they gave us works,” whispered one halfling to the other. The first gave a signal and they each pulled out their black robes. Fully hooded, as they had planned, they strode into the clearing. The dwarves followed quietly, and then finally, Thrak did the same. He fumbled with pulling the cloak over his snout, and decided to leave it down. On the opposite side was the entrance to one of the lava tubes that would take them under the bay. One of the dwarves grunted seeing Thrak fumbling with his cloak, and picked up a box lying nearby. He motioned for Thrak to do the same and after several more obvious attempts, Thrak finally did the same as the others. Just then a group of the robed Sassers walked by. Each swiveled their cloaked heads towards the saboteurs. They paused, but then walked on.
“Thank you, Zy’an,” snarled the lizard man. The serum had worked. He didn’t know what the serum was, but he recalled Iricah telling him about it and how it would protect him.
So far, so good, he thought. Repeating a thought in his mind he had picked up from the humans. He followed the others into the tunnel. They passed several sets of robed groups, going about various things, mostly moving boxes or equipment. All were armed, and there were many races. Some were lizardfolk like he, and that made Thrak angry. He watched as their unblinking eyes past him.
When a group had past, one of the halflings risked a whisper. “The Sassers are controlled by the entity known as the Host. Whatever it is, it is all consuming. If we do not free the others that Celn intelligence says are here, they too will join with the host.”
Thrak let that thought sink in as they trudged through the darkness and the smoke. There was a dense odor of sulfur that he recognized from previous adventures. He noticed the other halfling, the smaller one was stifling a cough. Thrak stuck a claw out and covered the little man’s mouth just as he let out a noise. He caught most of it, but a little noise escaped. Around him, in the darkness, he senses movement from other figures stop momentarily. He caught his breath, certain this was when he would get to fight. But remembering what Genoran had told him, he waited. The sounds of motion continued and past. A few more steps and they exited the tunnel. They had made it through to the island!