Ned crouched on the swamp path. He looked into the instrument and squelched forward. With the full moon overhead, he stepped into the mud and found solid ground. Another step. Then again. He walked along the pathway. Wind rushed through the reeds. If the moon became obscured again, he was doomed. The water rose over his feet, and he slowed when it was knee deep. He waded through tufts of grass and continued to peer through the instrument. Splashing his way through, the ground underneath remained firm. Freezing fog hung over the swampland. The air was icy on his hands and face. About halfway across, the path was almost dry. He broke into a run as moonlight glistened on the water-logged lands. Ned sprinted into the night.
Kroll’s men spread out across the farm. They searched barns and other outbuildings. Drawing a blank, Kroll was about to question the farmer and his daughter again when he turned to see one of his men on a mound close to the edge of the swamp. The soldier looked out and movement caught his eye. Calling to Kroll, he pointed at the wastelands. Kroll stood and stared. He saw a lone figure running fast. Troops always moved in groups of no less than eight men. Merchants traveled in larger numbers. But now just one person moved at speed.
“The boy. He’s out in the swamp!!!” Kroll growled.
The Malaxian leader needed quick preparations. Calling his men together, methodical orders were issued. Two men ran back through the fortress gates. Kroll stared at the farmhouse. He speculated how the boy could have got his hands on an instrument. But lowly farmers do not have access to instruments as they are forbidden from crossing the swamp. The boy must have stolen it somehow. In short order, Kroll stood before fifteen fully armed and equipped warriors. Briefly, he outlined the campaign ahead. Eight soldiers would use an instrument and horses to get to the other side fast. He ordered them ahead, trying for a quick capture of the boy. If that did not work, they would regroup on the other side.
Horse-backed warriors set off, thundering through the swamp. Kroll moved to the shoreline and looked down an instrument. The path was illuminated. He stared up at the moon. Darkened clouds moved overhead. Kroll waved an arm forward and stepped into the waters.
“AFTER HIM!!!!” He barked to the remaining soldiers.