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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

“Greetings strangers, I - Colt? What the hell are you doing back here?”
“Hello chief,” the big ranger muttered, scratching his head and fidgeting. “I ran into
Duncan up in Culdeny and he told me how badly you needed help down here, so, here I
am. I'm actually with Aiden,” he added hastily, “helping him and the others out where I
can. Doing good works, all that stuff. Beats getting drunk, I figured. How‟s the mouth, by
the way?” Aiden could hardly believe it. They had actually found someone Colt was
being respectful to.
“The swelling has gone down,” he replied evenly, his brown eyes sharp, like knives
aimed at Colt's throat. “And our local druid assures me that he can replace my missing
teeth with wooden ones, but thanks for asking. Just watch your step around here Colt, or
I'll have you permanently fired and brought up on charges.”
“Perhaps we should leave you two alone,” Aiden interjected dryly, for everyone's
sake. It was getting a little uncomfortable watching this conversation slowly turn into
something less civilised.
“Nah it's okay,” Colt replied, still looking ashamedly at his Commander. “I'll just
shut my mouth before I get in real trouble.”
“A smart move. So, I take it you are Aiden?”
“Yes sir, Wainwright. And this is Pacian, Nellise, Sayana and Clavis. And you are?”
“Ah, forgive my manners. Commander Armin Wise, head of the Royal Rangers
western detachment. What's left of it, anyway.” Armin reached out and shook Aiden's
“Your man Duncan mentioned to us you needed assistance down here,” Aiden
continued, “and as you've probably heard by now, nothing else is going to be
forthcoming from Culdeny.” Armin slumped back a little, leaning against the table
behind him.
“Yes, and I can understand Buchanan's position,” he sighed grimly. “He has a city to
keep safe with a bare minimum of troops necessary to do it. The lives of deer and other
animals just aren't important compared to that, and I support his posit ion. Still, I am
charged with protecting this reserve, and by God I shall see it done, even if I have to kill
every last poacher out there myself.”
“So how bad is the problem,” Aiden inquired, getting down to business. “I saw on
the way in that you've got several men guarding this compound, and I take it that isn't
enough to move in and clear the place out?”
“You don't seem to comprehend the size of this forest, young man,” Armin
remarked. “Even at full strength – forty rangers – we don't have enough to adequately
patrol the entire region. Now I'm down to eight, including myself. The best we can
manage is to keep the Lodge secure, and send out a scout every day to check the area. If
it was just the usual rabble making trouble, we could probably take care of it. But this is
“How does the current situation differ from 'the usual rabble', as you put it?” Nellise
inquired. Armin did a double-take when he looked at her, then focused on answering the
“O ur scout reported a dozen men entered the region a week ago,” Armin replied.
“They‟re based out of the southern part of the forest and they‟re out hunting at dawn
every morning. A few of them are armed with e xpensive, high-quality longbows. Proper
military equipment. They even sent a couple of arrows at our scout and shot him in the