He looked down at the sheer drop. Rocks at the edge of the water would have meant certain death. The waterfall was thundering over to his right but, a bit nearer, was a pool of water so deep he could not see the bottom. He needed to cross to the same side of the river as the soldiers. If he stayed on this side, he could not be sure exactly where the Malaxians were. Tracking them had its dangers, but it was the safest option. Further downstream, rapids fell away over large jagged rocks, so he could not cross safely there. On the far side, boulders met the grassy river bank. He had just made an almost fatal mistake, but now he must take a risk. He walked toward the waterfall until the pool of water was directly beneath. There was no time to overthink this. Crouching down, he leapt clear of the cliff-face and fell feet first into the water below.
A sudden rush of noise hit his ears as he plunged into the river. The cold was a shock. With bubbles rising, he struck upwards but the weight of his bag and wet clothing made it difficult. The strong current pushed him into the darkness below. He lost his bearings and swirled about in the current. Ned had no idea where the surface was. Looking to one side, he saw light. Thrusting his arms in that direction, he kicked hard. But the boy was being dragged into the depths. His lungs hurt as he was thrust in another direction.
He kicked and stretched his arms toward the light again. White water bubbled and he hit the surface. Gasping for air, the water was forcing him toward the rapids so he struck his arms out of the water and kept kicking. He broke away from the main thrust of the current and swam toward the far shore. Finding the strength from somewhere, he grabbed onto a rock. The water was still deep, but he got a knee on the boulder and a hand on the grass above. He pulled up and out of the cold water. Laying on the bank, he panted for breath.