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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Getting Away

Bathed in moonlight, Kroll dismissed the bandits, who moved to the far edge of the camp and settled down. In the shadows, Ned watched. He grasped his dagger, knowing he could attack Kroll now and slip away in the confusion. It would be possible to take him out from this distance. But these men were relentless. If one fell, another took his place to finish a mission. It was how they worked. The boy held his nerve. He took his hand from the dagger and decided to get to his family first. It was the only way he could try to save them. Kroll may have the upper hand on his father, but not on Ned. The boy flattened down and moved back into the darkness.

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Stealth

A noise rose above the flow of the river. It was sharp and abrupt. He crouched down and moved carefully into the trees. Staying still, another noise. Ned lay down flat on the forest floor. The Malaxians were here. He crawled forward and stopped to listen. A hacking cough broke through the air. Creeping further in, he heard muffled voices. In the dense foliage, he moved quiet and slow. Little by little, he closed the distance. The ground was soft and he had the skill to move with no noise.

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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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Trap

The warriors gathered back at the big pine tree while Kroll considered his next move. One soldier noticed a bent branch behind the tree and went to investigate. Standing carefully by some pine cones, he peered in. All of a sudden, a branch whipped back and a sharpened stick stabbed through his leather-clad shoulder. The man roared in pain and stepped back to the main group. Kroll’s men formed into a defensive circle and drew swords. The injured soldier was taken inside the circle and the stick was removed from his shoulder. Blood streamed down the punctured leather of his uniform. The soldier was sewn up. It was clear they were not under attack. The boy had set a trap and it worked. Kroll punched the pine tree with a meaty fist.

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Gone

Post 82

Kroll took the rest of his men to continue the hunt for the boy. They tracked him North-West through the pinewoods. Their prey was moving with care, but still left an occasional footprint. It was enough to expose him to mortal danger. The soldiers carried on the same bearing for another hour until the boy changed direction. Due North. The child was becoming more unpredictable as time went on. Kroll ordered a halt. He paced about, thinking, and beckoned one his best trackers over. Continue reading

Tactics

Post 81

Kroll gave fresh orders. Eight were to head back to the lake. On its Southernly shore was a waterfall and then the river struck toward the forests bordering the village closest to the boy’s home territory. It was where he expected Ned head for. Those soldiers were ordered to speed march and set up camp close to the waterfall. The surrounding woodland hills would make good observation areas. Kroll spread a map out on the ground and pointed to rocky outcrops where they would take up elevated positions to look for the boy. He led his other six men on Ned’s trail. Continue reading

Change Direction

Post 80Ned’s feet splashed in the shallow stream. Not wanting to move too far along, he saw a part of the forest where the floor was thick with pine needles. With eyes searching for any movement, Ned stepped on dry land and walked in a South-Westerly direction. Once out of the water, he moved like a ghost through the trees, hoping the deception would work. A few hours later, he stopped to look at the map and then up at the sun. Gauging the correct bearing, he avoided contact with any branches and only stepped on pine needles. Then he adjusted his direction Southward, each step now taking him toward the area he knew like the back of his hand. He could not afford to leave even a single footprint behind. Ned decided to go back to the lake where he had been spotted by the scout. And then keep going for home while the Malaxians wasted time trying to track him. After an hour, he ran through the trees, intent on increasing the gap between him and the soldiers. Continue reading