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Nature Abhors a Vacuum
Stephen L. Nowland
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his thanks and ate his fill, knowing he'd need all the energy he could get before the day
was done. Just before he finished the bowl, Commander Armin stood up, his chair
scraping loudly on the wooden floor.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I understand it's earlier than some of the
civilians are used to rising, but it's important we get moving on this as soon as possible.
I'm not one for public speaking, so this briefing will be as succinct as my people have
come to expect. Sarah, could you set up the map? Let me just move this chair...” With a
little wrangling, Armin and Sarah set up a stand with a map on it, lit by a nearby lantern.
“The Lodge is here, at the top right of the map. The large circle you see surrounding
that area is our safe zone, so called because we doubt the hunters would strike at us so
close to our stronghold. For the past few mornings, our scouts have sighted the bodies of
fallen deer in the south and south west area of the ranges. They're skinning the animals
and keeping the racks of any bucks they kill, but leaving most of the rest. This is
attracting wolves and other predators, so keep your eyes out for any such beasts and steer
“We haven't sighted any campfires in the area down south, but the smell of wood
smoke can be detected on the wind, so they've got themselves a cabin or other enclosure
to keep anyone from seeing the light of their fire. From what we've learned, they tend to
hunt in the mornings, so we're hoping to be in position to lay eyes on them just after
dawn, over two hours from now. Hence the early start.”
“These bastards better have bags of money on them,” Pacian growled. “I didn't get
up before dawn just to pocket a few coppers and a bag of deer antlers.” There was
subdued laughter to the blond rogue’s remark that subsided quickly. The situation was
too serious for prolonged frivolity.
“We'll find out one way or the other, friend,” Armin assured him. “Now, we'll be
splitting into two groups. I will lead three of our rangers to the west, where we will hook
up with our scout, and then come in from the north aiming for this location here.” He
pointed to a cross on the lower left side of the map. “Mister Wainwright and his
associates, accompanied by Duncan, will head due south from here, then turn west once
you have reached this clearing.” Again he pointed to this feature on the map.
“From there, we will move in slowly, pushing them back towards this location in the
south west, where we speculate their camp is. They've shot at us already, so don't expect
them to hesitate if you're spotted. Any questions?”
“How many of them can we expect to be facing?” asked a young ranger across the
“Probably a dozen at the most, all proficient archers,” Armin replied. “If we find out
we're severely outnumbered, withdraw back to the Lodge, and we'll come up with some
other plan. Anything else?”
“You are certain these men are wealthy nobles, yes?” Nellise asked pointedly.
“I’m quite certain of that,” Armin replied firmly.
“I find it difficult to believe that they would fight to the death. These are educated
men, with families, wealth and holdings. They will not fight to the death unless you force
“I’ve already made my position clear, madam,” Armin warned, but Pacian came to