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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

Before him was a small room with a stairwell against the far wall and a doorway on
the left, presumably leading to the rest of the barracks. The entry seemed to be an office.
A woman sat at a desk, busily writing on some papers with a quill, her dark hair tied back
in a plaited tail and her head bowed.
Aiden walked forward and stood in front of the desk, making sure his boots made
enough noise on the wooden floor to attract her attention. She had swarthy skin, large,
brown eyes, and wore a guard‟s uniform.
“Is there something I can do for you?” she asked, looking up to see who had entered.
“I was wondering if I could speak with whoever is in charge here,” Aiden replied.
“An important matter of town security,” Aiden added, somewhat impatiently.
“I'm afraid the captain is two hundred miles away fighting for his country,” she
explained delicately. “But you can tell me your problem and I'll let him know when he
gets back.” Aiden blinked, caught off guard by the unexpected answer and feeling stupid
as a result.
“I'm sorry, I guess I should have known he'd be away fighting in the war.”
“We can't all be brilliant,” she replied tiredly. “I'm Sergeant Ariel, temporarily in
command of the K ingdom Guard of Culdeny.”
“Aiden Wainwright and associates,” the young man replied, ignoring an indignant
look from Pacian. “We just recovered a document from a group of deceased men digging
their way under your walls.” Ariel gave him a sharp look, perhaps not believing him, then
stood up and stared some more.
“O ne of my men just told me about the collapse, but I hadn‟t heard anything about
evidence turning up. Tell me everything, right now,” she ordered. Aiden proceeded to do
so, ably supported by Pacian and the occasional remark from Colt as they filled in details
he overlooked. When they were done, Ariel slumped back down in her chair.
“Is there anything else?”
“O nly this,” Aiden added, handing her the note he had taken from what he assumed
was their leader. The sergeant took the offered paper and read it several times, possibly
trying to glean more information from the brief message than was actually there.
Now that he had a better look at her, Aiden could see she was very fit, and clearly
not a secretary or desk sergeant as he had briefly thought earlier. This woman was trained
to fight, which wasn't exactly common these days. Much like the rest of t he country, the
town was obviously hard-pressed to find enough people to fill important posts during this
time of war. The young man noticed a wedding band on one of her fingers.
“I wonder who this 'R.B.' is,” she mused.
“We've been thinking the same thing ourselves,” Pacian said, surreptitiously
examining the sergeant with an expert eye. “What's your take on it, sarge?”
“Well, someone wants a tunnel large enough for 'forces' to move through, and that
suggests an army. The only force in the region with anywhere near the numbers required
to take a town of this size are the Steel Tigers, a mercenary company.”
“There's a company of mercs near Culdeny?” Colt asked ominously. “What idiot
hired 'em?”
“Probably one of the local merchants,” Ariel suggested, “they've been concerned
about bandit raids on their caravans along the mountains between here and Fairloch. I