Jorrin was irritable and shouted at Ned. The boy grabbed his gear, patted Skar on the head and darted out of the cabin. He had made his own secret entry and exit point to the bordering thicket and ran for it. Lifting a trapdoor made from branches and layered with moss, he slipped into a scraped-out passageway and crawled under the bushes. Ned was flat on his stomach and got traction using his elbows and knees as there was not much room down there. On the other side was another small trapdoor. He lifted it and exited to the thicket beyond.

He camouflaged-up and walked through the forest, listening to the rhythm of the birds. Moving carefully between tall fern in a copse of oak trees, he stopped for a moment as the birds quietened down. One was disturbed and flew noisily away to his front. Ned recognised the sign and lay down in a hollow. It was damp, but he needed to hide as something had disturbed the bird. He heard heavy footsteps. Men were coming his way. Ned peered through the undergrowth. Six Malaxian warriors walked in a line, all dressed in black and looking either side for danger. But there was no one in sight.

The leader silently held a right fist in the air and his men stopped as one. With a gloved hand, he stabbed a command to the right and then straight ahead. The men broke into a run up an incline as the leader walked toward Ned. The enormous soldier watched as his men veered right and then ahead again. He grunted approval to himself, leapt over Ned and ran in the same direction. Ned lay still. His breathing was steady, but his heart pounded like crazy. His camouflage was good, but it was getting dangerous in the forest. Although this was his backyard, he had to be careful.

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