Part One

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Grey sneakers thudded on foreign ground, crunching the leaves that had fallen from the dying trees; tripping on a bare root, scrambling to stay upright and running. Pale and shaking hands pushed low hanging branches out of the way, the heel of one splitting open on a particularly sharp thorn.

The boy ignored the blood that ran down his wrist, running around the trunk of yet another tree, one that looked the same as all the others he had passed. He panted, lungs burning from the strain of running. He wasn't used to it, and he wasn't sure how long he would last before he started to slow down.

He listened carefully. His own panting breaths, the sound of his shoes pounding against the ground and the odd crinkling noise of the dead leaves under his feet. The hoot of something that sounded like an owl. Angry yelling in the distance.

The boy cried out, willing himself to go faster, the faint light from the moon the only thing telling him where he was going. He stumbled against a tree, muscles aching and cut hand stinging. He couldn't stop, he couldn't.

He pushed off the hard bark of the tree, propelling himself forward and down a hill he didn't even know was there. He kept mostly silent this time, letting out quiet pants as he tried to right himself.

Panicked, he looked behind him and up the hill, praying to all the gods he could think of that he would not see the men chasing him. He could still hear them. It was faint, but he could still hear them, meaning he was not safe yet.

He cursed, pumping his tired legs harder and trying not to slip on the leaves. He knew he was growing tired, he knew he would stop soon, and he knew that if he did the men chasing him would catch up to him. He knew what would happen after that too. He shuddered at the thought.

The dark didn't help his fear in the slightest. The black spaces between the trees taking the shape of people from the corner of his eyes. The smallest sounds making him jump in fright. The faint shadows of the scraggly trees looked like skeletal monsters preparing for a feast. The ghost-like noises of the wind that would hide the sound of his pursuers for the smallest second it was there.

There was a layer of sweat on the brown haired boys' skin; from running or from the fear that was threatening to consume him he did not know. He tried to ignore the shadows and the dark and the noises, but from the corner of his eye he would see them, or he would hear something inhuman above him and his fear would increase tenfold.

He turned around another tree, hoping that he wasn't going around in circles. Something loomed up in front of his face, and for a second he thought he had been caught. He gasped, throwing his arms up in front of his face, only realising at the last moment that it was the thick branch of the tree.

He wanted to laugh at his mistake when an idea struck him. He grabbed the branch tight with both hands, ignoring the sting as the hard bark rubbed against the cut on his palm. Placing a foot against the trunk he pushed, launching himself onto the branch. He stood on wobbling legs, grabbing hold of the next branch, and the next, and the next, until he was high up where the leaves still hadn't fallen.

He was grateful for the dark clothes he wore, camouflaging him in the night. He breathed deep, keeping it as quiet as he could. He didn't want to give himself away now that he had finally gotten smart enough the see the abundant resources the forest provided him. He could only hope that his pursuers didn't have the same idea.

He looked down at himself, at the mud and dirt and leaves that covered his clothing and skin. He looked at his hand, covered in sticky wet blood that mixed with the dirt and the sweat that layered his skin.

It was then that he remembered the other cuts on his body. The shallow one on his face right above his eyebrow. There was another on his right arm, but he wasn't sure if that was from the men or the trees. He was sure he had skinned his knees at some point, he could feel them stinging through the burn of his muscles.

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