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Neutral Zone, OR

They ran. They hit the door in the small room off to the left side of the hallway and they ran. She felt certain that the Thorns had torn the stranger apart, that he’d somehow, for some reason, sacrificed himself for them. In fact she felt horrible for leaving him without even coming to his aid, but she had her own people to worry about, and her fear for their safety was keeping her going as they ran for all they were worth, making their way quickly out of the compound and out to the long, winding road that they knew would lead them to the old bridge that had been converted into a mechanized barrier to their enemies.

They were only a few hundred yards from the bridge now, they could see it in the distance, and yet she could feel her energy flagging. The armor she wore, patchwork though it was, still added a good deal of weight to her form, and it was wearing quickly upon her despite the burst of adrenaline that had allowed her to come this far.

“They’re coming!” one of her people shouted, his voice laced with fear as the bellows of his breathing grew closer, his heavy footsteps pounding in her ears as she kept pumping her legs as fast as she could.

“Just run!” she shouted, trying hard to use as little oxygen as she could so as not to wear her out that much quicker. They were within sight of the bridge, but as she heard the Thorns gaining ground behind them she suddenly felt a clenching sensation in her right thigh, a painful clamp that seemed to squeeze and wring the muscle like a filthy rag. She tried as much as she could to keep going, but her body had other ideas, and as her right foot came down again something snapped, or tore, she couldn’t be certain. All she knew as she hit the ground hard, the air blasting from her lungs as she went sprawling, was that her people were likely to stop for her. And it would be the end of them.

“Pick her up,” said a familiar voice.

The ringing of steel as her people drew their blades alerted her to the sudden trouble, but she was quick to force the pain down for just a moment.

“No!” she breathed, “No, he’s a, an ally. He, he kept the Thorns away from us, until now.”

“And they didn’t take my advice, since here they are,” the stranger said in reply. “Pick her up and cross, and I’ll deal with these prickly bastards.”

She wanted to laugh at that, but another wave of pain hit her in that moment as she groaned, collapsing once again. Thankfully though she felt her people lift her up as they started running again.

(to be concluded)

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