Penny turned, as did everyone else.
Right behind them, greatsword drawn, was the guard, who looked even more like a rat as he crept skittishly toward the charr. Off across the cavern, the bandit leader rose from the ground, sneering behind blood that ran from a gash in his forehead. His first mate, still laid out atop the decimated table, stared them down from behind the smoking pistol in his outstretched arm.
“Hey,” Penny exclaimed, pointing. “That’s my gun. He just shot at us with my gun!”
“Penny,” Ventyr snapped. “Bigger matters.”
The leader got his feet beneath him, stood, and wiped the blood from his face, eyeing it with disdain. “Clever diversion,” he called out. “But it’s not that easy. I have scores of men right around the corner. If you don’t cooperate now, none of you will live.”
Ventyr stepped back past Penny to face the leader. “Until those scores of men burrow through a foot of solid stone, you only have three.”
The man in dust-covered vermillion turned toward the tunnel leading to the other chambers in the cave, but it was no longer there. In its place stood a jagged wall of granite, behind which he could already hear steel at work to break through. Eyes like daggers, he turned his gaze back to the sylvari. “No matter. It’s just a matter of time before they’re through. We don’t have to overpower all of you at once.” A lupine snarl twisted his face. “Remi, kill the girl.”
The scarecrow gunman sighted up and unloaded the rest of the rounds in Penny’s pistol. Two explosive rounds and an incendiary all hit flesh, and Jindel fell forward into Ventyr’s arms.
Braxus threw his head back in a guttural roar that shook the ground. All three shots had landed true, right in the back of the war-weathered charr who’d rolled himself between bullet and target and pushed his partner into their superior’s arms.
Regaining his footing, Braxus rotated, glaring at the shooter over his shoulder as he loosened the loops on the axes at his belt. “Go, sir,” he grunted, turning back to Ventyr and pressing a small disc into his hand. “I’ll cover your exit.”
“Crusader—” Ventyr began.
The usually quiet charr cut him off, “Due respect, sir, I won’t make it far anyway.”
The sylvari nodded solemnly, reaching out to touch the charr’s scarred shoulder before turning back to the others. “Everyone, we move.”
Penny jumped out after Braxus, grabbing his arm. “Don’t be stupid. Let’s get out of here!”
He pulled free and growled at her, “Go.”
Minkus and Ventyr were already helping Jindel back up to her feet. “What— what’s going on?” she asked, turning to survey the scene behind her as the two moved her down the tunnel. Where’s Crusader Braxus going? What’s he doing?” she demanded. Too busy moving her, no one answered.
Even from behind, Braxus looked prepared to clear the room. He turned first to the charging guard. With one axe he easily blocked a skill-less overhand swing of the greatsword. With the other, he sliced at the outside edge of the man’s chestpiece, half severing arm from body at the shoulder. The man dropped his sword and screamed, reaching for his dangling arm as the towering charr kicked in the side of his leg with a sickening crunch and buried an axe in the back of his neck. The man went limp, flopping as Braxus shook him from the curved blade.
Penny heard Jindel scream behind her, but she continued to watch, still as wax.
Braxus charged the leader and was first to strike, laying into the human figure with a flurry of rabid slashes. Having just drawn his slender sword, the bandit snapped into form, lightly deflecting and skirting each attack instead of taking the brunt of the charr’s strength. None of Braxus’ strokes made contact with anything but lithe steel.
Penny noticed movement to Braxus’ right and snapped. “Minkus!” she yelled.
The asura turned to her, and she pointed to the gunman on the ground, reloaded and taking aim at Braxus. “I—” Minkus stuttered, “I don’t think I can make that dist—”
“Just do it!” she demanded.
With the crack of the hammer, a round hurtled from the gun at the same instant a flash of light burst into a shimmering wall a few feet away, and several yards shy. The bullet sailed past, striking Braxus in the leg, where blood burst from both entry and exit. He buckled mid-swing and fell to a knee.
“Penny, Minkus,” Ventyr called, “move now!”
Waves of new combatants flowed through the now demolished rock wall, but Penny saw none of it. Frozen, she stared at the fight on the other side of the chamber, where Braxus was feebly on his feet again and nearly surrounded by the bandits pouring into the chamber. He stepped back, slamming down his axes to deflect another stab, and bellowed over his shoulder at her. “Go! Now!”
Minkus grabbed the woman’s hand and tugged gently but got no response. He yanked, beginning to run, and she stumbled after him.
“Minkus,” she called, finally woken from her daze. “We need to—”
“No! We have to leave,” Minkus yelled back. A flush of energy came over them both as he tugged her on.
With Jindel on one arm, Ventyr straightened, the wear on his face seeming to melt away as Minkus approached. He extended his staff, and the door burst into flame, burning intensely for only a moment before the sylvari shifted his attention to the air in the cavern. He leaned against the wall and instructed the others to do the same.
The air in the cavern vacuumed away from them, compressing itself back toward the inner chamber, where several of the bandits were knocked off their balance. There was a brief calm as the pressure shifted, and it rushed back down the corridor toward them, pulling men, women, and debris some of the distance. It whipped past the group and smashed through the door, blowing splintered wood, hinges, cinders, smoke, and three exterior guards into the forest outside.
They peeled themselves off the wall and started their final steps toward the outside world. Penny’s senses seemed keener for some reason. Even Jindel was standing straighter now.
Suddenly there was the crack of a single gunshot, and the sounds of chaos behind them turned to cheers. The four turned.
Surrounded by a mob, Braxus no longer stood. He was on his knees, hands hanging open at his sides. The human leader pulled a smoking gun from under his muzzle, holstering it as he used his boot to slide the charr’s mass off the blade buried in his chest. The large body collapsed backwards in a plume of dust.
“No!” Jindel cried, clawing at Ventyr’s arm.
All eyes turned to her. The leader pointed, and all the standing horde took off toward them.
Ventyr set the wind to their backs and helped propel the party at an unnatural speed out the mouth of the cave and into the woods.
But Penny turned back, fighting the wind not twenty yards outside the mouth of the cave. She sneered violently. “SP-1, big ol’ bomb.”
A large, densely packed explosive slid out with the fuse already lit. She’d made this one for a special occasion, and maybe a more important one would come, but at the moment she didn’t care. Taking it in hand, she waited for the first wave of bandits to approach the cave mouth and let it fly, tossing the bomb up on the crest of the opening.
When it hit rock, the fuse disappeared, and so did the cave. The side of the hill imploded under the blast, sealing the cave and burying the fastest of the bandits.
She turned once more, giving in to the rushing air, and rejoined the others. “Alright,” she said, looking straight ahead as she passed between them. “Let’s go.” Swirls of leaves and dust kicked up behind and around them, and the four disappeared into the woods.