Saved

Ned stood over the dead soldier and saw his father still fighting off the other warriors. He could taste sick. Stumbling, he tried to move toward the fight, but fell to his knees. Pushing himself up, everything was spinning. He could hear swords clashing, but everything was blurred. With his vision blackening around the edges, he fell face down. Waking to a tugging at his sleeve, he saw Skar trying to pull him back. Ned closed his eyes and woke a brief moment later with the dog licking his face.

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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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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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