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Nature Abhors a Vacuum
Stephen L. Nowland
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“Give me a boost would you?” Aiden asked his old friend, having figured out the
best way to climb up. Pacian complied, managing to push the young adventurer up, while
maintaining his precarious perch on top of the pile of destroyed buildings. Aiden
managed to get a hold above the edge of the stone, and pull himself up high enough to
peer over the edge.
It was completely dark, but there were also no signs of glowing eyes looking back at
him either. His heart racing, he continued to climb all the way up, heaving himself over
the edge to sit on the stone floor to get an impression of his surroundings.
Although he couldn't see, his hearing gave him a sense of an enclosed space, as if
he'd climbed in to one of the buildings they'd passed on their way through. Despite his
desire to remain inconspicuous, he motioned for Pacian to throw the torch up through the
hole so he could see where he was exactly. The torch flipped through the gap with ease,
and landed across from Aiden, shedding a small amount of light on his surroundings.
He was underneath a vast pile of fallen rock that was hollow in the section around
the hole he sat next to. The rocks made an almost perfect dome shape over the hole,
peaking at the front of a building roughly fifteen feet away. The door to the building was
still intact, though it appeared to be blackened in places, and the bones of several dwarf-
sized individuals were scattered and broken around it.
But what really caught Aiden's attention was the gap in the surrounding rock just
behind him, at roughly chest height, that opened out into the main thoroughfare – the hole
he himself had made only hours ago.
Aiden could barely contain his excitement, for he had stumbled into the laboratory
he had sought, right under the noses of the insane occupants of Ferrumgaard.
Thinking quickly, mostly thanks to Nellise' tonic, Aiden took off his camouflaged
cloak and draped it over the hole in the stone to stem the flow of light from the torch.
Then, he poked his head down through the hole in the floor and raised a finger to his lips
to call for quiet from the others, lest any noise they make echo up through the stonework.
Ignoring their curious looks, he limped over to the torch, picked it up, and then cautiously
approached the area near the blackened door.
The stone around and above him - from what Aiden assumed came from a collapsed
section of the ceiling - was too perfect to have happened by accident. Combined with the
scorched door and the broken bones, it was clear that this doorway had some rather
serious eldritch protection upon it. Clavis didn't mention that the stranger who came to
collect recovered relics was a wizard of any sort, but it seemed likely, given his interest in
Leaning in for a closer look, Aiden could see etched runes around the edge of the
door, familiar shapes that he recognised from his long studies of arcane devices. Most of
them he could interpret as protective wards that invoked tremendous energies if the door
was touched, but some of them he did not recognise. Whatever they were, it seemed
likely they were all related to keeping people out of that room, at the cost of their lives.
Despite the ominous implications, this actually gave Aiden hope, for it increased the
likelihood of the contents of the room beyond remaining undisturbed for the past century.
If he could just figure out how to bypass the protective runes upon the door, he'd be able