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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

“It sounds like he was very helpful,” Aiden remarked, expecting some sort of trick to
be involved.
“Yes, Pacian insisted I try on several outfits to make sure I picked the right one,”
Sayana added obliviously. “He was very thorough.”
“I bet he was,” Aiden stated flatly, glaring at his friend's fa lse expression of concern.
Tom Ballard served them with a platter of roast po rk, potatoes, thick gravy, with hot-
buttered bread on the side. It was a feast fit for a K ing, and Aiden could only hope he
would remember the taste after days of trail rations soured his palette once more.
The meal was a strange event for Aiden, as Colt a nd Nellise chose to sit apart as they
ate, and Pacian, for once, didn't seem interested in talking at all. Sayana was uneasy with
the tension in the group and glanced around nervously, trying to understand the complex
situation. The continuing rift didn't help Aiden's appetite, but he still managed to go back
for seconds anyway, figuring that sooner or later, apologies would be given and received,
and things would go back to the way they were before.
He decided to retire early that night, since the prospect of sitting around being
ignored by people he'd come to know and respect was less than appealing. Pacian raised
an eyebrow when Sayana left with Aiden, but he kept his mouth shut.
Their activities that evening were pleasant enough, but Aiden had the feeling that he
was just there as a distraction for the red- headed sorceress, so she didn't have to think
about the next day for a little while. It worked both ways, however, for Aiden didn't give
it a lot of thought either.
By the time Pacian arrived in the room to get some sleep, hours later, Sayana was
already fast asleep in Aiden's arms. The last thought he had was whether or not he was
going to have that nightmare tonight, and if this time, he might not wake up.
* * *
They started out after dawn, having slept in later than they'd planned. Aiden had no
illusions about what they were undertaking here. He could only hope the rangers they
were to meet up with were skilled enough to sneak them into the cave where the akoran
leader, Erag Black-Tiger, was holed up.
From what Tara had described, the fortifications around the complex were
formidable. An army with a catapult would make short work of their palisade, but as he
was constantly reminded however, there was no army, no reinforcements, and not even
stepped-up patrols for the highway. If they ran into trouble, nobody would be coming to
get them.
Colt, who seemed to have avoided drinking too much last night had taken the lead.
The gravity of the situation was evidently not lost on him, and Aiden was secretly proud
that the man finally knew where to draw the line.
Nellise strolled along with Pacian, the two of them appearing to have reopened talks,
which was another good sign for their future involvement. She wore her white hood over
her head instead of her new helmet, and her gleaming new armour was partially
concealed by a white cloak Pacian had the foresight to purchase the previous day.
He'd bought five such cloaks, one for each of them to wear as a kind of snow
camouflage, one of the few advantages they'd have on the akoran high plains.