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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

“So, instead of being allowed to leave, we're doing his dirty work now?” Pacian
observed wryly. “You realise you didn't even ask for money, right?”
“Who the hell asked you?” Colt growled.
“I trust him a lot more than I trust you, Colt,” Aiden retorted. “What exactly did Olaf
mean by you having experience to 'survive this journey' anyway?”
“I'm a ranger with the local Garrison, operating out of the Calespur ranges,” Colt
answered. “I'm just... on a personal leave of absence is all.”
“Any particular reason?”
“Yep,” Colt replied with a brief grunt. Aiden waited for more information to be
forthcoming, but was disappointed.
“Would you care to elaborate?” the young man pressed.
“Why the hell should I answer something as personal as that?” Colt growled, his
eyes bloodshot in the morning light.
“I think I've figured out why actually,” Aiden observed dryly. “Can you use that
sword on your back?”
“No, I'm just holding it for someone. Idiot.”
“You have a real attitude problem there, Colt,” Aiden commented darkly. He'd had
just about enough of this – hung over or not, it was a lot to put up with.
“You sound just like my commander before three of his teeth flew out of his mouth
and across the room,” Colt observed.
“And the mystery of your expulsion from the Rangers is solved,” Pacian smirked.
“Here I was, wondering why you hadn‟t been called to service with the King. Some
mysteries solve themselves.”
“So now you know my terrible secret, what are you going to do about it?”
“Assuming we pass this „test‟,” Aiden mused, “I want to know if you‟re capable of
protecting us outside the gates. If it‟s as bad as we‟ve heard, we need you to step up and
do your job. There‟s a phrase I‟ve heard; „once a Ranger, always a Ranger‟. You may not
work for them anymore, but what I‟m asking here is, are you going to be a drunk, surly
bastard, or a proper servant of the King?”
“Can't I be both?” Colt shrugged, the shadow of a smile playing across his unshaven
face. Aiden slowly returned the grin in spite of himself. He wondered how much of Colt's
apparently abrasive personality was simply bluster. He decided to withhold judgment on
that point until Colt sobered up, but for now, he was simply relieved he'd come to some
sort of agreement with the man.
“Right, well, I'll admit that meeting didn‟t go quite as smoothly as I would have
liked,” Aiden glanced at Pacian, who merely grinned wolfishly at him. “Still, we should
talk with this „Merin‟ and see what we can make of it.”
“I have the distinct impression that Olaf isn't telling us everything,” Nellise
mumbled. “If Merin is holding something over him, there is a good chance it's something
Olaf doesn't want becoming public.”
“I had that feeling as well,” Aiden agreed. “Let's just be cautious, shall we? Pace, do
you have your knife?”
“Always,” he replied, reaching inside his longcoat to rest his hand upon the kitchen
utensil turned weapon.
“You and Colt keep an eye out for trouble. Nellise and I will try to reason with her
first. If that doesn‟t work, just grab her and search the place. The smithy is down the end