The Githrox turned all seven of its eyes on Kal, fixing him with its dead, unblinking stare.  Suddenly it charged, great loping strides gobbling up ground at surprising speed.  Kal held the pistol raised and kept firing, once, twice, again.  Two of the shots hit, but the beast did not slow.  It ended its charge in a leap, jaws open, claws stretched forward.

      Kal threw himself to the side.  He heard jaws snap, felt a rush of air as the beast crashed to earth behind him.  He rolled, tried to stand.  Too slow.  The Githrox lashed out with its tail, striking his chest with the heavy knot of spiked bone on the tip.  Kal’s breath whooshed out of him.  The room spun end over end.  He slammed heavily into the cave wall then dropped to the ground in a heap.  He rolled onto his back, sucked in a breath and ran a hand over his body.  Several of the strike plates in his armor were shattered, and he was sure he had at least two cracked ribs, but he was alive and functional.  He ripped the useless shards of broken plates from his armor and shuddered.  Without Pyrel, he didn’t think he would have survived the impact.  At least the Githrox seemed to have forgotten him for the moment.

      He levered himself unsteadily to his feet.  He just needed to hold on until Rena arrived.  Together they could fight the beast, or at least cover each other’s retreat.  A shout grabbed his attention.  One of the smugglers wrenched a grenade from his belt.  He pulled the stopper and shook the canteen shaped explosive.  A stray pistol shot caught the man in the chest.  He dropped to the floor, the grenade rolling away from his numb hand towards the cave exit before exploding.  Kal covered his head and eyes as the force of the blast pushed him to his knees.  The last thing he saw before choking smoke filled the cave was the exit collapsing and the Githrox bearing down on Torma.

      Kal coughed through the stinging smoke and wiped tears from his eyes.  Everything more than two feet off the ground was obscured.  He could hear screams and see an occasional blast of alch lightning tearing through the haze.  The cavern was a dying ground.  The smart people had already run.  His original entrance was blocked off and so was his backup.  Rena was undoubtedly tearing through the streets of Arkebis at that very moment, rushing to reach Smudge’s position at the cave’s second exit.  Thanks to her attunweiyld abilities she was fast, very fast, but it would still take her minutes before she could arrive.  He couldn’t wait.  Boxed in with a Githrox, a few minutes might as well be eternity.  His only hope was to reach the second exit on his own.

      He crawled forward, keeping low and quiet, hoping the Githrox wouldn’t notice him.  He made his way towards the corner where he had seen the prisoners earlier, or at least he hoped he did.  The thick smoke made it difficult to be sure.  The prisoners’ hands had been bound, not good for their odds.  Obrin might well be dead.  All the same, he wouldn’t leave until he knew for sure, and if necessary, retrieve the body.  He owed the family that much.  He passed over one man lying on the ground.  Dead, but not Obrin.  He passed another crawling away into the darkness.  It was one of the smugglers, not who he was looking for.

      He heard a scratching noise and crawled towards it.  Through the smoke he saw one of the prisoners crouched over a broken lamp, rubbing the cords that bound his hands across a shard of glass.  Kal made a soft ‘psst’ noise.  The young man whipped violently about, face aghast with horror, hands up in a desperate defense, mouth open to shout.  Kal shot out a hand and covered the prisoner’s mouth, stifling a gurgling yell.  With his free hand, he put a finger to his lips then pulled his other hand away from the young man’s face.  It was Obrin.  He let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding and grinned.  That was probably the only luck he could count on today, but he wasn’t about to turn it down.

      Kal slid his well-worn boot knife from its sheath and sawed through the rough hemp cords that bound Obrin’s hands.  He gave Obrin a moment to massage feeling back into his fingers then motioned for the young man to follow.  Obrin nodded eagerly.  Kal kept low, staying under the smoke and close to the wall, anxious to be on the move.