Attack

The boy clasped his dagger and backed away. Wild eyes watched from the undergrowth. The man was too big for him to take on in open combat. Ned thought fast. Glancing at the river, he stood a better chance against the elements than this huge soldier. He moved sideways toward the edge and the man rushed him. Before Ned could make it to the water, he fell and hit the ground. The Malaxian loomed over the boy and lifted his sword up in both hands. The soldier’s monstrous shadow blocked out the sun. After all he had been through, there was nothing Ned could do.

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Shock

Ned’s heart leapt. He put the bow on his back and dropped out of sight just as the soldier bounded through a clearing, heading in his direction. The boy ran from the warrior. Adrenaline pumped through him, but he kept a clear head. Panic now would be fatal. He ran hard until his legs hurt. His face and chest were soon soaked with sweat. Spotting a gorse bush, he dropped down. Sucking air in and out, he slowed his breathing down. Ned frowned. He was in mortal danger, and all because he thought he could make the shot. Getting up, he began to run again. As soon as he was on the far side of the hill, the boy swept Eastward toward the river. He pushed through the forest and kept going. Soon he could hear the flowing river ahead. Ned began to walk, with no idea of the soldier’s whereabouts.

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Mortal Danger

The boy was about to get off the hill when he saw something over to the left. Ned shuffled around and looked at the ridge-line. A soldier jumped onto a rock. From the black leather and headgear, it was obvious he was Malaxian. He was well-built and armed with a huge sword. The man stared East, toward the river. He must be looking for sign of the main troop of soldiers being followed. Ned backed toward a tree growing near a rocky outcrop. He stood and peered around. The soldier was in clear view. Ned carefully removed his bow and fed an arrow in. If he could hit this man, the troop would be down to fourteen men. Still far too many for him to take on, but one less would eliminate the immediate danger.

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Hope

The soldiers were on a bearing directly South toward the Foijen and ran beside the river. This made it easy for Ned to keep on their tail and ensure his water container was full. He kept hydrated and the aches in his legs eased. In between food and water stops, the boy ran while keeping an eye on the soldiers’ spoor, always on the look out for danger signs. The Malaxians were cunning warriors, so Ned was wary of an ambush. If they caught him out, he would be dead.

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Relief

Ned looked at the sky until his breathing returned to normal. It was a dangerous move, but he had to do it. Now he could follow the Malaxians from a safe distance. He would be in a position to track and hide with a lot more confidence on this side of the river. Standing, his legs felt unsteady as he looked at the river and its fast current. The boy decided to go into the forest for a rest and some food. It took some time, but he felt better after the shock of the river crossing. His clothes were still damp, so he had to move to warm up. Ned stood and walked to the edge of the river. It was noisy as the waterfall hit the rocks. Ned looked at the ground and picked up the trail of the soldiers. He walked in their direction.

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Plunge

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.

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Sliding Away

When the soldiers were out of sight, Ned waited and moved back into the forest. The ground was slippery with moss-covered rocks. He moved South through the woodland and saw the trees thinning out as a steep grassy incline veered to the river below. He decided to stop and scope out the land where the Malaxian were running. He needed to make sure they were gone before he moved further. If they spotted him now, arrows would rain down.

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Predators

Kroll led his men. It was the first time Ned had seen him in some time. Big Nose was second in line. They halted on their side of the waterfall. Kroll stood by the cusp of the falling waters. He looked right, toward the swollen river forcing its way through the land. Then the leader glanced North over the lake. He seemed to scan the mountain top and along the woodland from where Ned had just come. Kroll snorted and looked straight across the waterfall to where Ned was hiding. The boy remained deathly still, but stared straight back through the wolf teeth and foliage. The great warrior sniffed the air and squinted his eyes for a long time in Ned’s direction.

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Covert

Ned moved with extreme caution. By his reckoning, the Malaxians were within a mile or so of his position. He crept through the pine and was thankful for the soft woodland floor covering. As he walked over a hill, Ned edged downward and came to level ground. Yellow and orange streaks of light were just penetrating the trees to his left and he could hear the waterfall. He prowled toward the water. The sunlight from behind cast flitting shadows as he moved in a hunch. He kept his eyes ahead. Moving between the trees, he stopped to listen for unusual sounds, but all he could hear was the waterfall, which was increasing in intensity.

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