Kroll held his right fist in the air and brought the detachment to a brief halt. He knew the boy was close. Dusk settled in as it began to rain. Kroll searched the forest floor for evidence of movement. Spotting a snapped fern, he ordered his men into a run. Growling wolves were nearby. There was no time to rest when their target was so close. Fifteen men charged through the forest. The increased speed meant they made more noise, but it would only add to the stress of the boy if he was within earshot. The troops ran into a clearing. Kroll raised his head and sniffed. He turned to his men and grunted “Blood.”
They moved around, searching for the boy’s trail. Striding up the incline, Kroll came upon the disturbed mud and grass stained red. The rain was washing it away, but the blood was fresh. To the light of the moon, he knelt down and took off a glove. Running two fingers through the mess, he tasted it.
“Spilt this afternoon.” He looked at his men. “Where’s the scout?”
A fight had clearly taken place, but his man had disappeared. It was clear where the violence had taken place, but the earth also had scuff marks on the cliff edge. Kroll peered over and saw the river roaring below. With no sign of the soldier, he sensed all was not well. The scout had orders to capture the boy and wait. He signalled sight of his prey and pursued him to this clearing. But the boot marks stopped here. He was an expert in tracking and armed combat, but no trail headed in any direction away. All indications pointed to the cliff and river below. But it made no sense.
Kroll was not used to losing the upper hand. He clenched his fists. Their prey was a mere whelp and no match for any of his unit. Kroll ordered a halt for the night and they made camp. A fire was lit and they sat in a group eating and drinking. Kroll aired his frustrations about the boy. Most of the troops were aware of Ned’s strength and resilience. But he was still only a boy, not from the Malaxian warrior class. Ned was inferior, yet still he eluded them.