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Hunted

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I pumped my legs, running as I had never run before. Sweat poured off my brow, and occasionally clouded my vision. A grin stretched across my face. I ran through the forest as if I was flying.  


"Ha, you'll never catch me! Don't kid yourself!" I said aloud. I could barely convince myself let alone the others.  


"You are playing with death, my friend," snorted one of my pursuers. 


"Okay, friend. If I'm playing with death, does that mean that you're playing with idiocy? You forget. Death is one of my greatest allies." I would not be defeated with words. 


I made a sharp turn to avoid a tree. Bloodhounds barked, with leash tight, dragging their handlers?the posse of not-so-nice castle guards. Perhaps I should rephrase that. They were more like dungeon guards. Now, don't get the wrong idea. I was the good guy. 


"I hope you do realize that just the thought of escaping means certain death for yourself and your family alike. I'm sure we can arrange something special for you," barked a pursuer. 


I risked a glance back. They were hard on my heels. I displayed an air of confidence, but it was merely a guise. Calm down, would you, Sevran? I thought. You'll be fine. You know this forest. Don't fool yourself. That was true. I knew the forest like the back of my hand. I glanced around me. It still seemed like the home it had been to me for many years, but it now had a different atmosphere.  


I looked up ahead, and saw the trees beginning to thin out. My heart beat faster. With grim determination, I pushed myself even harder. Once out of the trees, I would be vulnerable. 


I broke out of the forest and into broad daylight. The people in pursuit of me were rapidly approaching, but they were too late. 


A cliff top approached me. A lake lay calmly below. It was maybe thirty feet below, but I would survive. If I was correct, the guards would not follow me off the cliff, for they were too bogged down with gear. They were not willing to risk losing the dogs either. They only way they could get down to me was by a path through the forest. It would take them at least fifteen minutes to walk the path and reach me.


The sun beat down on me as I approached the rocky ledge. My pursuers broke out of the forest, right on my heels. They were too late. My feet left the ground, and I plummeted over the cliff. I arced my body into a diving position. My body whistled through the air. There was virtually no wind resistance. 


I hit the water and shot down into the depths. Bubbles and white foam surrounded me. I opened my eyes, and found myself surrounded by the darkness of the bottom of the lake.  



My descent into the water slowed, and I gradually rose back up to the surface. I was soaked to the bone, and my clothes weighed me down, but I was alive. That was all that mattered at the moment. I stripped my shirt off. 


A voice thundered down from the cliff top. "We thought you might try this clever trick of yours, Sevran. So, we made further arrangements." I continued to tread water and looked up to the cliff top. A man on a horse came galloping towards the ledge. A figure with a bag over their head rode on the back of the horse.


"Remove it," said the leader of the group, a man named Zeldrene. He gestured at the bag over the person's head. Steady hands pulled the bag off. I winced. I knew who this was?my sister.


"Her life is forfeit," proclaimed Zeldrene. He paused for effect. "But I'll make a deal to you. I let her and the rest of your family go, who are all in custody already, by the way, in turn that you surrender yourself. Make up your mind quickly, or we might have to decide for you. And trust me, the alternative we choose will not be pleasant."


"Don't surrender, Sevran!" my sister sobbed. "If you do, they'll kill us all regardless!


Zeldrene turned around angrily to face my sister. "Would you just shut up?" he said in a threatening voice.


A look of fear replaced my sister's look of anxiety. Zeldrene raised his arm and punched her across her face. She wailed in anguish, and fell off the horse. In a desperate attempt to escape, my sister began to limp away. I watched with a look of horror. Her nose was bleeding, as it was surely broken. She was roughly grabbed and thrown on the ground. Zeldrene kicked my sister's side and then prepared to kick her again when I decided that I had seen enough.


"Stop!" I exclaimed. "You can have me. Just don't hurt her anymore!"


Zeldrene paused in mid motion and regained his posture. "A wise decision. Swim to the shore and wait for us to get down to you. If you are not here when we approach, I will not hesitate to personally kill the girl. Her life means nothing to me."


I did as Zeldrene said and swam to a nearby shore. I heard him faintly issuing commands to his men. A grim expression was on my face. Things weren't over yet. I had proven to be resourceful before.


I had only to wait several minutes before my pursuers would be upon me. I sat down at the edge of the shore with my feet in the water. It was a warm summer day, and my body had already dried off from my swim.


I heard a commotion from within the forest. Standing up, I turned to see men coming. My sister followed them, with her hands bound behind her back. Blood stained her face and clothes. She glanced at me and choked out, "No."


Zeldrene spoke, "Come closer and we'll free her. Stay where you are and she dies." He drew a long knife out of a sheath and put it to my sister's neck. She showed no resistance. Zeldrene pricked her neck slightly and blood trickled out of the minute wound. My sister whimpered.


I took a step forward, struggling to be the valiant warrior that everybody thought me to be. Fear crept its way into me. For the first time since I could remember, I was slightly unsure of myself. I had been in plenty of tough situations, but I had never been this close to death.


My steps quickened, and Zeldrene put his knife back in its sheath. A crooked smile lit up his face.



Zeldrene was several steps away. He was so open, so vulnerable. If I had had a weapon, he would already have been dead. I was merely an arms length away, when Zeldrene turned to a man next to my sister and muttered a fatal phrase.


"Kill the girl. She is no longer of any use to us."


I screamed. Lunging at the sheath strapped to Zeldrene's hip, I slipped his knife out and tossed it like a javelin. It struck the man about to kill my sister right between his eyes. He had just enough time to look down at the knife embedded in his chest before he fell over, dead.


"Get him!" Zeldrene roared.


I looked around in anticipation of oncoming attackers. After a quick analysis, I counted five men left, including Zeldrene. Perfect.


A man charged at me with sword in hand. "Not so fast," I scolded. He gave a rushed swing at my head. I ducked and kicked out one of his legs. He toppled over, and he released his hold on his sword. I scooped it up and faced the oncoming opponents. They attempted to circle me, but I wormed away. One came up behind me, thinking I was unaware. He soon discovered that I was very much aware, when a sword cut threw his throat. He was dead within moments of the blow. Four left.


I charged at Zeldrene, but he backed away. He started running away from the battle scene, with his head still turned around at me. There was a coward in every bunch. It looked as if I had found the one.


Zeldrene didn't realize when my sister stuck her leg out and tripped him. He went flying. When he came back down, he skidded along the ground. Dirt and leaves covered him. My sister did not hesitate to kick him.


"Doesn't it feel good?" my sister asked Zeldrene. He had done the same to her only minutes before. Zeldrene made no move to get up. He wasn't in good shape.


I was almost caught off guard when the three remaining men approached me. With swords drawn, they went into a fighter's stance. I was able to fight them off, but it was difficult. My sword was a blur as I slashed and parried. One man made a weak blow, and I easily disarmed him with a flick of my wrist. His sword fell to the ground, leaving him helpless. Two left. I quickly overpowered the remaining two.


After only several minutes, Zeldrene was the only one still alive. "Please, kill me now," Zeldrene begged.


I tapped my chin as if in thought. "Let's see. You threatened to kill my sister, tried to kill me, and abandoned your men when they needed you most. I don't think that I will grant you the pleasure of death," I said imposingly.


Zeldrene returned my glare. "You'll be dead within the hour. My absence will not go unnoticed. Where will you go? Mark my words, you will be captured and brutally murdered."


I gave a short laugh. "We'll see about that." I brought the flat of my sword down on his head, and he blacked out. I promptly tied him to a tree. "Mark my words, Zeldrene. We'll be back, and I won't be happy to see you," I said softly.


I directed my attention to my sister. "Saralina, you must go home. You are in no shape to proceed with me. Besides, where I'm going, I must go on alone."


Saralina shook her head. "No, they will already be waiting for us at home. We mustn't go anywhere near home."


I nodded. "Then you must flee to one of the outlying caves. You will not be found there."


Saralina gave me a small smile. "But first you must tell me where you are going."


I sighed. "Saralina, we cannot leave our parents in the hands of the empire. I must go back to the castle dungeons to rescue them."


"I understand. Don't get killed. I'll meet you later. Good luck, " Saralina said.


I laughed. "Luck? I doubt luck will help me much in this situation."

* * * * *



I tried to slow my breathing as I waited on the edge of the forest. Up ahead lay the castle. Deep in the dungeon were my parents. I had only one chance to save them. They were elderly folk, way past their prime. The thought of something happening to them frightened me.


I had acquired a bow and arrows in a quiver strapped to my back shortly after the previous skirmish. I still had my sword.


Up ahead were two guards protecting a drawbridge. If I could take them down, I would have free entry into the castle. The castle was not very busy at this time of year, so I shouldn't have much trouble getting in and then safely back out.


I drew an arrow out of my quiver and put it to my bowstring. I pulled it back, putting tension into the string. I then released the arrow and let it fly. It struck its target?the drawbridge guard. I quickly drew out another arrow and took down the remaining guard.


I ran out of my cover of trees and jogged towards the drawbridge. I quickly crossed it and entered the castle. The welcoming hall was empty, just as I had assumed. I ran down several hallways and passed through several doorways. I was not met with any immediate danger. I came face to face with several people, but they didn't last long.


I made my way down a flight of stairs. My feet echoed against the stone. Torches were in holsters along the walls. The air grew dank and stale as I went further down. I was approaching the dungeon. Things were about to get tricky.


I heard voices ahead. I pressed my back against the wall. "The emperor's gonna kill us. Letting that Sevran fellow escape was like signing or own death sentences. Trust me, we'll be dead by morning," a dungeon guard said to another.


"I know, I know. No need to remind me. Wish I'd never taken this job," said the other guard mournfully.


I smirked. Silently, I slipped my sword out of my sheath. It was now or never. Fast as lightning, I sprang out of the shadows, and ran towards the guards. They were startled by my quick approach and did not have time to draw their swords. Their death had come sooner than they expected.


I pulled a ring of keys off of one guards' belt. I approached the door to the dungeon. I separated a slightly larger key from the others and inserted it into the keyhole on the wooden door. With a soft click, the lock opened. I silently opened the door. Every cell contained unlawfully imprisoned, innocent people, but I only had time to free my parents. I called out to my parents in an effort to locate them.


"Mum! Dad!" I shouted.


"We're here," my dad said weakly from a cell across from me.


I dashed over to the cell where the voice had come from. I tried several keys in the keyhole, until one finally clicked. "We have to hurry. Follow me," I said to my parents.


Two figures emerged from the cell. My dad was a little worse for wear, and my mum was slightly bedraggled, but they would live.


My dad talked as we ran. "News of your escape from the dungeon has reached the people! I've heard the guards talking about it all day. You have set a rebellion into motion, Sevran. Finally, the day we have waited for has come! The empire will fall within months!" I smiled.


We charged up the steps. We were almost to the top when a squadron of enemy guards came into view. I cursed under my breath. "Stay back," I said to my parents. "I'll take care of this."


I flew into combat with the approaching men. They stood no chance. My sword was a blur as I made strike after strike and blow after blow. They were forced to retreat up the steps and flee.


I gestured at my parents to continue with me. We were not met with any other obstacles. We left the castle, and went in search of Saralina. We found her in a cave on the outskirts of the village, just as I had told her to go to.


She was bubbling with excitement when we approached her. "The people have been waiting for you! It seems that your escape has finally given them the courage to rebel against the empire. The effect is nation-wide. You are wanted right now in the village! You are to be appointed the leader of the rebellion," she exclaimed.


I gave a short laugh. "All in a day's work," I replied.


My entire family followed me to the village. Things were happening so fast. Everything was so surreal. I was filled with joy. My people had waited for this moment for decades. Now the rebellion had finally been set in motion.


I laughed silently. "All in a day's work," I mused under my breath. There was no telling where things could go from here.


"I already know what my first command will be as rebellion leader," I said to Saralina.


"And what is that?" she asked me.


I smirked. "We're going to pay Zeldrene a short visit."





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