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The cold wind howled loudly as the massive waves flapped up and down. Specialist Sergeant Tyrier felt slightly sick, the up and down motion of the dragon they were strapped on making him slightly green. The cold air helped to suppress his urge to vomit, he and Claymore One were all dressed in simple homespun clothes, thick jackets, and goggles to protect against the high altitude flight.

Blue Thunder stretched his wings and leisurely flapped his wings a couple of times, and rode the air currents as they glided in the night, navigating from the dim light of the twin crescent moons. They had traveled for two days, staying close to the mountain ridge, only flying during the night and resting in the day.

Blue Thunder felt free for the first time, he did not have a crew or a master to order him to do anything, only laws and rules to follow. The hooman Blake had said that if he agreed to work for them, he will be paid and given proper housing and care, but should he negate on the agreement, all that was offered will be removed.

For the first time, Blue Thunder had something he owned. The first pay he got, he bought himself a whole roasted Peco Peco, and thoroughly enjoyed it. He heard that if he saved up enough credit chips, he could get someone to build a house for him! Back in the Empire, it was unheard of that a Dragon could own property! Not to mention he really wanted a tee-vee set so he could watch all those moo-bees and dra-maas and of course music!

Blue Thunder had signed up with the so-called Air Force, serving as a heavy lifter and was expected to work alone at times, using his own initiative, yet another concept unheard of in the Empire. He did miss his Captain and crew greatly, after all, they had grown up together, but life and death is a way of life in the Empire, and he was happy he wasn't put down, like so many of the other dragons he saw at the coven that had lost their Captains.

He started humming to a tune to the song "Thunder" by Imagine Dragons, which to him the naming was quite appropriate. "Hey Blue, could you stop that singing?" Tyrier poked Blue Thunder's side as the dragon started on the chorus, making his whole rumbled and trembled, making Tyrier motion sickness worst.

"Hahaha, sorry," Blue rumbled, "Look, I can see the town of Falledge." The dark shapes of the trees looming behind them and in the distance, pinprick spots of lights by the fires and lamps from the town could be seen in the dimly lit terrain. "I am going to find a spot to set down around the mountain edge."

The men of Claymore One all looked up alert and started scanning the horizon for the town. Everyone was rigged on to the flanks and dorsal top of the dragon with carabiners. A simple lightweight scaffolding-like structure was rigged onto Blue Thunder's back, with benches and even hammocks for the men to walk, sit or even sleep.

The design allowed the men to walk up and down, and even cross over to the other side of the dragon's flank. The strips of wood, double up as benches or gangways for the men and the whole design does not interfere with the dragon's movement or even when landing. They only have to ensure that the hammocks and any loose items are secured properly in the bins connected to the frame.

"Ahh, I see a cave opening!" Blue Thunder smacked his lips as gave warning to the men. "Standby for landing!"

Everyone started checking their gear and carabiners were properly secured, "One Ready!"
"Two Ready!"
"Three Ready!"
"Four Ready!"
"Five Ready!"
"Six Ready! All clear! Good to go!"

"Dropping in three... two... one," Blue Thunder dipped his left wing and dropped into a slow spiral dive, bleeding off airspeed as he circled down and gauged the distance and the cave location. Just before slamming onto the side of the mountain cliff, he flapped his wings rapidly, hovering just below an opening large enough for him to enter and used his powerful legs and front limbs to grip the rock wall, and like a Terran lizard, climbed into the cave while folding his wings to his side.

"Urgh, I think next time we should take the Valkyrie instead," Young moaned as he unhooked his carabiner and dropped down the side of Blue Thunder, who looked mighty smug.

"Well, that was a good landing," Blue Thunder huffed, looking pleased. "As Commander Tommy said, any landing that you can walk away from is a good one!" He quoted and suddenly, tensed up. "Something is here with us!"

"Positions, people!" Tyrier immediately ordered, drawing out his Glock from his holster and spreading to the side of the dark cave. "No lights till my order!' Their main weapons were still secured in the weapon bins on the back of Blue Thunder.

"Hmmm, smells like a griffin," Blue Thunder growled as his hackles rose, ears back, tail down and his posture lowered. And a snarl replied Blue Thunder from the depths of the cave.

"Ready... lights on my mark!" Tyrier ordered as everyone had taken up positions on the side of Blue Thunder, under what cover they could find in the large cave tunnel. "Three... two... one, LIGHTS!"

At Tyrier's command, everyone looked away, only keeping one eye open, even Blue Thunder, they had rehearsed these tactics a few times before. The under rail mounted 200 lumens white light from seven pairs of Glocks, lit up the interior of the cave as bright as day. A cry of pain and surprise screamed out as the creature with a head of an eagle and body of a lion with featured wings was blinded by the sudden glare of lights.

Blue Thunder took the opportunity that the griffin was blinded and pronounced on it, his jaws going for the neck while his forelimbs latched on the monster, his claws digging in deep, causing blood to flow. With a sharp jerk and a bone snapping crack, Blue Thunder snapped the neck of the griffin and dropped the limp carcass on the cave floor.

"Dinner is served!" Blue Thunder licked his chomps and claws. He did a little dance over the carcass of the griffin and sent rock dust and fragments raining down from the cave ceiling.

"STOP!" Tyrier yelled, "You big oaf! You want to bring down the whole cave?"

"Sorry," Blue Thunder stopped his dance and settled down carefully. "I was just excited."

"Yes, yes, we know!" Altied shook his head as he reached up to the side of Blue Thunder to unload supplies. "Come on, stay still, I need to grab the lamps and if you want me to cook for you, you better behave!"

Blue Thunder hurried laid down flat on the ground, allow the men of Claymore One to unload the supplies stored on his back. "Luckily you didn't destroy any of the supplies when you fought that griffin." Young said as he hoisted down some bedrolls.

"It was just a youngling," Blue Thunder boasted, "I can kill hundreds of them easy."

"Yeah sure," Tyrier placed the lamps out at several locations, lighting the whole cave up. "Found anything else behind?" He called out to Hitsu, Doth, and Tavel who went to check the rear of the cave for any more surprises.

"Oh yes!" Hitsu yelled back after a while, "Found some treasure!"

Everyone stopped their work and went to see what treasure was found, even Blue Thunder was curious. "Look, the griffin's hoard."

A huge bird-like nest woven out of tree branches sat at the rear of the cave, and glitters of gold could be seen laced among the wooden branches. Tyrier used his light from his pistol and dug out a piece of gold nugget from the nest and whistled. "Damn, this is pure gold."

"Yup, nothing but gold here," Tavel called out from the nest he was standing on, "Seems like griffins love gold."

Blue Thunder snorted, "Amateurs! A proper hoard should not only consist of gold! You need jewels, coins and all kinds of treasure!"

"Blue, you don't even have a hoard," Young pointed out, while the rest laughed.

"Mark my words! I will have one... someday!" Blue Thunder tilted his head high up and gave a harumph.

"Sure you will," Tyrier smiled, tossing the gold nugget to Blue Thunder who deftly snatched it up with his large clawed hands. "Keep it up killing the griffins, and I heard that Major Frank is going to offer a quarter share of any treasure found during a military operation. So, part of these is ours!"

"Holy shit!" Doth cried out, "Seriously?"

"Yup, when we retire, we will be set up for life!" Tyrier grinned. "So make sure you guys pick up every piece of gold here and record it down."

"We are going to be rich!" Blue Thunder grinned and started to do a little jig again, causing everyone to curse and swear at him.

After the excitement had died down, the men cut up the griffin and roasted the choice portions, which Blue Thunder ate most of it, and everyone settled down to sleep as the sun came up.

They woke up again, close to late afternoon and started their preparations to infiltrate the Empire. "Alright, Blue, you drop us near the edge of the forest, and beat it back to base ok?" Blue Thunder nodded.

"This town we going into is called Falledge, it was part of our Kingdom of Goldrose and since the fall of the Kingdom, the Empire had taken over it. We have no idea how many Empire troops will be stationed there, but it should be a lot, as Duke Sturm should be using it as a springboard to attack the Pass a few weeks back." Tyrier looked around the gathered men and dragon.

"We will split up into groups of two and disperse into the population," Tyrier pointed to Hitsu and said, "You will be with me since Loke is not with us on this mission." which Hitsu nodded.

"High Command has given us one month's time to gather as much information as possible," Tyrier continued. "Stockpiles, military strength, routes, latest maps, marching orders even the feelings of the local population about the Empire."

"I want all information to be recorded down in code, and don't get caught," Tyrier glared at everyone. "We gather back at the edge of Falledge again after one month, if you do not make the rendezvous, it will mean that you have been either captured or killed."

"If chances of being captured are very high, make sure all information and weapons are disposed of properly, the Empire might not understand the hooman's technology, but just to be safe," Tyrier stated. "There will also be a very low chance of rescue should you be captured, so make sure you don't get caught!"

"Alright, gear up, it's about time to move out." Tyrier clapped his hands, signaling the end of the meeting and headed to the cave entrance. He stood at the edge of the opening, looking down the sheer drop of the cliff and pulled down a walkie-talkie.

"Claymore Actual to Thunderchief, do you copy over?" He sent out a message, they had early mounted a transmitting relay device out on the cliff walls. They had along the way, installed another relay device at their previous resting site, allowing radio communications over long distances.

"-underchief, what's your situation report, over."

"Claymore One has arrived within sight of Falledge, will begin Operation Dagger in one hour time, over."

"Thunderchief, copy that, stay safe and God bless."

"Claymore Actual, Roger and Tango Yankee, out." (*Tango Yankee means Thank You)

The men had changed, wearing simple homespun clothes and trousers with simple leather sandals. Each carried an unadorned short sword and dagger, with a concealed holster for their silenced Glocks. A sling leather case holds either a shotgun or an M2 Magespitter inside, while a pooch carried some explosives and grenades. A small slung bag carried other basic necessities for each man and perfectly foraged traveling documents, taken from the thousands of prisoners were carried in a simple scroll case.

Blue Thunder silently glided to a stop at the edge of a farmer's field, and Claymore One hopped off from the dragon. Blue Thunder gave a nod and quickly took off, flapping his wings mightly and disappeared into the night skies.

"Alright people, eyes front! We are in enemy territory now!"

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