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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

The group set off again, staying low amongst the trees, and keeping a sharp eye out
for any movement in the forest. The morning light continued to increase, and the sun was
probably going to rise at any minute. The fog should stay around for a while after that at
least, affording them extra cover to move about in. But once it lifted, hell was going to
break loose.
Several tense minutes went past as they slowly advanced through the fog. With the
growing light of day, Clavis whispered that his sight was no better than theirs now, taking
away one of their few advantages, but it was Sayana that first noticed something out of
the ordinary.
Travelling close to Aiden, she put a hand on his forearm to gain his attention,
pointing to her right ear, and then gesturing ahead. Aiden signalled everyone to stop, then
crouched down and listened carefully. He couldn't hear anything over the sounds of the
wildlife in the forest, but he had learned to trust Sayana's senses.
“Wait for my signal,” Aiden whispered, hoping that nobody would shoot beforehand
and give away their position. Sure enough, less than half a minute later, a heavy-set man
with a longbow could be seen advancing slowly through the trees. He was still a
silhouette of grey against the lighter shade of the fog, and he could easily have been a
ranger, so they had to wait a little longer just to be sure. Aiden's heart pounded in his
chest and he yearned to pull the trigger and be done with it.
The figure moved closer still and more features were revealed, enough to show he
certainly wasn't wearing the camouflaged leathers of a ranger.
“Wait,” Nellise hissed just as Aiden was about to signal for the attack. He turned to
look at her, uncertain why she had spoken, and could plainly see her dropping her
weapons and discarding the camouflaged cloak the rangers had provided.
“Nel, What are you doing?” Aiden whispered harshly as she strode forward.
“I cannot allow this to turn into another massacre, not without at least trying to speak
with them,” she declared firmly at normal volume. The hunter immediately turned to her
and levelled his bow, drawing the arrow back, ready to shoot.
“I am unarmed, sir,” she called the man, stepping towards him slowly but surely. “I
am an acolyte of the Church of Aielund, come to speak with whoever is in charge of your
contingent.”
“You are brave, my lady, to be walking through the forest at this particular time,” the
hunter replied with an educated voice. “Dare I ask if you were accompanied, perhaps by a
number of rangers?”
“The Royal Rangers are coming for you, yes,” Nellise confirmed, causing Aiden to
groan inwardly and lower his face to the ground. In attempting to find a peaceful
solution, she had just disclosed the impending attack. “Their leader believes that you are
criminals that need to be eradicated, but I suspect you have a modicum of good sense
within you. Allow me to speak with your master, that we might avert any loss of life.”
“You shall have your chance to speak, madam,” came a voice drifting through the
forest ahead. The fog had thinned out, allowing Aiden to see who was moving in on their
position. Through the trees came four men in expensive attire, with two large hunting
dogs on heavy leashes.
None of these men had noticed Aiden and the others just yet, so he indicated they
should stay low. Clavis shifted his weight around a little and settled in for a long wait,
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