The roar of a waterfall was audible long before they reached it. Callindra turned to look at her friends and motioned for them to come near.
“I’ll sneak ahead.” She whispered, “Keep the rest of them quiet. Once I know it’s safe I’ll come get the rest of you. Or if it’s not safe I’ll come tell you and we’ll figure it out.”
After they had given their grudging assent, she snuck out carefully eventually dropping to a crawl by the time she reached the edge of a large drop off. The scene below her was breathtaking. An underground river was cascading down the side of an immense cavern and had carved a riverbed through the stone, only leaving a slender arch of bedrock that spanned the gap.
The thunder of falling water all but deafened her and the mist that rose from the gorge it vanished into made it very difficult to see. She sat still for a few minutes, just watching and trying to take in the enormity of it all. A slight motion against the falling water caught her eye, a swirling in the mist that barely resolved into a humanoid creature with a long tail.
Now that she saw one, she began to see dozens, if not hundreds of the creatures they’d fought before standing before the waterfall or milling about aimlessly nearby. Beyond them she could feel the wild breezes from the outside dancing and playing between her and an opening to the outside.
Callindra let out a sob of relief. An exit to the outside. Until she saw a way out, she hadn’t realized just how closed in she felt in the caves. It took an extreme act of will to stay put, even though she knew it would be tantamount to suicide to try and run past all the lizard creatures. Even more difficult was backing away to the others where they stood in the stagnant, still cave air.
“There’s a way out, but the only way to get there is to cross a bridge defended by a hundred or more of those lizard things.” Callindra looked back at the refugees huddling together more to stave off fear than cold she thought.
“Hardly ideal.” Tryst said dryly.
“Try rotting impossible!” Said Cronos, “We can’t possibly sneak across ourselves, let alone herd this lot through without being seen.”
“With us being this close, it’s actually likely only a matter of time before they hear this unruly mob and bring the fight to us.” Vilhylm said. “Whatever we’re going to do, we need to do it quickly.”
“What if we tried something like we did in that Kobold cave outside of Vonlar?” Callindra mused, “I use magic to make a noise, lure them away and then while we lead them on a merry chase, the refugees escape. Not all these men are completely worthless… a few have bows, we might be able to make a decent fight of things.”
“Not if there are a hundred or more of them.” Vilhylm said, “Even if we could force them to come at us singly or in pairs that would be very long odds.”
“All we need to do is distract them for long enough for the refugees to get over the bridge.” Cronos said with a feral grin. “Then after we get across I can take care of the rest. It’s a narrow bridge right Callindra? No railings?”
“It’s really just a narrow piece of granite that has been exposed from the erosion of the limestone around it.” Callindra said, “That might be a problem too, since the mist from the waterfall has likely made the footing uncertain at best.”
“Wonderful.” Vilhylm drawled, “A hastily assembled, poorly thought out and dangerous plan that’s likely to get us all killed along with the folk who are trusting their lives to us.”
“Have you got a better idea?” Asked Callindra with an arched eyebrow.
“Other than going back the way we came and hoping there’s another exit somewhere else, not really.” He retorted, “But that doesn’t mean it’s a good plan or that I like it.”
“Who gets the honor of selling it to the refugees?” Tryst asked, and Callindra started to chuckle at him. As his face took on an even more wounded expression she couldn’t hold back the laughter and eventually it spilled over into the others.
“Well I think you should be the one to tell them.” He said, frowning at her. “It’s your bedamned plan, let them hear it from you!”
“I’ll tell them if you want Tryst, but they won’t like it coming from me.” She said, still smiling, “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you curse before.”
Tryst sighed in resignation and went off to speak to the assembled survivors. Cronos, Vilhylm and Callindra began to creep up to where they could see down into the cavern. Something was changing, the face of the waterfall began to reflect flickering green lights and all the creatures turned toward it.
“What are you doing?” Cronos asked, glaring at Callindra. “We aren’t ready yet.”
“It’s not me.” She replied, “But now might be our best chance at getting these people out. See, they’re all moving toward the waterfall, they all have their backs to us.”
“True, but it only takes one of them turning around to blow the whole thing.” Vilhylm said.
“Hey, same goes for if they see through whatever illusion I could conjure up.” Callindra countered, “Who knows how long this will last. We need to get them moving!” She all but sprinted back down to where the people were splitting into groups, ten civilians with three warriors as guards in each.
“What is happening Callindra?” Tryst asked, giving her an annoyed frown.
“Some kind of ritual or something, but the important thing is it’s a distraction. If we move quickly and quietly we might be able to escape before they even notice we’re here! Hurry!”
“Are you sure it’s a good idea?” Tryst said skeptically, but many of the groups were already moving.
“It’s as good of a plan as the other, I mean… it’s not like we could keep these things distracted forever and at least this way they have a running start!” She punched him in the arm, her eyes gleaming with excitement, “Come on, you’re gonna miss all the fun.”
Tryst narrowed his eyes, “Callindra, this is a serious situation. People could die. People are likely to die. We very well might die. This flippant attitude of yours is unacceptable.”
“Come on Tryst.” She said, smiling, “I have to laugh at death. It’s either that or run screaming.”
He sighed, “You are impossible, but you’re right on one account. We must move quickly. This is likely our best chance.”
“You’re too serious.” Callindra said, but she couldn’t contain the quaver in her voice. “Come on, let’s get these sheep moving.”
Tryst looked at her, a kind of understanding and empathy beginning to dawn on him. “Right.” He said gruffly, “Let’s go.”
By the time they had gotten back up the incline, a quarter of the refugees had begun crossing the stone bridge. The thunder of the waterfall drowned out any noise they might be making and by some miracle, none of them had fallen off the narrow, slippery surface. Their presence hurried the others along, but also made them careless. The first dozen had crossed and were sneaking out of the exit when one of the older men lost his footing and plunged over the edge with a piercing cry.
Without waiting to see what the reaction of the lizard people would be, Callindra sprinted toward them, Brightfang jumping into her hand. “Run!” She yelled to the refugees she passed, “RUN!!!”