Brave

Reloading, Ned fired two more arrows in quick succession. His aim was pure and true as warriors fell. A Malaxian moved in to attack the lone swordsman. Jorrin defended with his sword and, leaning in low, caught a warrior with a dagger. The soldier collapsed as the swordsman launched a darting attack. Ned stood with his bow pointing directly at Kroll. But, determined to help out, adjusted his aim and the arrow hit the man fighting his father. The warrior sunk to his knees and Jorrin pushed him aside.

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Run

Jorrin and Ned raced away through the clearing and the boy gestured toward an incline. It was a short-cut back to the cabin. Jorrin frowned as Ned grabbed his arm and forced him to move faster. He was surprised at how strong the boy had become. They gained height over the clearing, but Jorrin limped more. He winced in pain. Jorrin stood on a branch and it snapped. Ned held a finger to his mouth and helped his father to the top of the hill.

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Three Down

The Malaxians ran further and found the point where the swordsman entered the forest. Studying his footprints, it was clear he was limping. Kroll saw a spot of blood on a leaf. They followed him through the forest, moving quickly. The disturbed mud and occasional snapped branch meant they could easily follow the injured man’s trail. He stood no chance against this band of bloodthirsty hunters. Kroll grunted in satisfaction. It had taken patience and skill to get this close to the swordsman. Jorrin headed into a dene between two wooded hills. Kroll sent three scouts over to the right, while he led the rest of his men straight ahead in pursuit.

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Injured

From a wooded hill to the rear, warriors moved in silence toward the two men below. Kroll held a fist in the air and his men halted. They were within striking distance of the swordsman for the first time. With a forward arm signal, the Malaxian warriors charged downwards. The heavy thuds made Jorrin swing around. He saw a large detachment of Malaxians storming through the trees. Well-armed, they wore dark leather uniforms. He set the horse off at speed and grabbed onto the saddle horn. The warriors made it to the path only to see the merchant and swordsman making their escape.

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Defender

A merchant of fine goods from Snookington Village headed with reluctance through the forest on his journey to trade in the next manor. He and several men travelled with a dozen horses laden with luxury goods. They were accompanied by three soldiers from the King’s army. The overgrown path was splintered with shards of light breaking through the canopy above. Large rocks and steep hills dominated the land. Fear etched into their faces until they saw bright sunlight at the end of the track.

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Almost Home

Ned continued through the forest until daybreak. In the half-light, he hunched down by a gorse bush and ate the last of the supplies Krea had given him. And he took in some water. He had been on the move for more than a day and a night without a proper break. Weariness was setting in. Ned sat on some grass and looked at the glistening dew. But he could only afford a brief stop as he had to get to his father before Kroll. And the boy was nearly there.

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Familiar Territory

Crawling toward the grassy verge of the river, Ned got as far as he dared. Stepping over some moss-covered rocks, he slipped into the water and drifted downstream. Opposite the encampment, he saw the fire and dark shapes of sitting men. Harsh voices rose above the trickling water. The river took him away until all signs of the Malaxians were no more. Ned meandered along with the flow of the water for a long time afterwards. Eventually, he swam for the riverbank and hauled himself out. The soldiers were way to the North now, but he had to be careful. If his trail was picked up, they would hunt him down. He could not afford to be in that position again.

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