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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

“I moved it,” she explained, “though it won't prevent the staff being found by our
pursuers.” Colt started scouting around for a way out of the cavern, while Aiden took a
moment to look back down at the water, and think of Clavis. It seemed appropriate to say
a few words, but he could barely think clearly enough to force them out of his mouth. A
hand rested on his shoulder a moment later, and he looked up to see Nellise looking down
at him, with tears in her eyes.
“We'll mourn him when we're safe,” she whispered. “For now, we just need to thank
him for his sacrifice and make sure it wasn't in vain.”
“Found a way out,” Colt called, pointing up at a large tunnel entrance. “Looks like a
small river flows through here during the warmer months, and that means this will lead us
to the surface. Come on, let's keep moving.”
Somehow, Aiden managed to find the strength to get back on his feet and slowly
drag himself after the others, pausing only for a moment to send a silent farewell to their
fallen comrade.
Chapter Twenty
It was an arduous climb from the depths of the mountain stronghold to the surface,
made all the more difficult by the wounds they bore. But worse than that, the tonic
Nellise had made to instil them with energy ebbed after the first half hour, and the after-
effects were quite severe, so much so that they had to rest for an hour in the cold tunnels
before they could find the strength to even put one foot in front of the other again.
The accompanying headache and unquenchable thirst was also less than welcome. It
reminded Aiden of the first time he had gotten drunk on some cheap wine Pacian had
‟procured‟ from his father‟s cellar.
For reasons unknown, there were no signs of pursuit from the insane dwarves of
Ferrumgaard. Whether they were uninterested in leaving the safety of their ruined city, or
they felt that Aiden and the others had been slain by the serpent, they would never know.
But it was a lucky break they were all thankful for.
They were an exhausted, miserably cold bunch by the time they finally saw a
glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, leaning on each other for support and to stave
off the chill from their soaked clothing, for despite the hardship, nobody had wanted to
sleep inside the caves. Aiden had been limping along, barely coherent, for the better part
of the journey from the drained lake, and when they finally emerged from the cave into
the night air, he almost toppled over in relief.
The ground before them was covered in a thick layer of fresh snow, which had an
eerie glow to it from the moonlight filtering down through the clouds, and their breath
misted in the frigid air with each exhalation, as even more sno w drifted down from the
grey skies above. Aiden guessed that they had emerged somewhere in the Calespur
ranges, for there were thick pine trees silhouetted against the snow as far as the eye could
see. It was almost picturesque, in a way, which made the things they had witnessed down
below seem all the more surreal.
“How long were we down there?” Nellise whispered, looking around in disbelief. “It
felt like less than a day.”
“You lose track of time underground,” Sayana replied wearily. “It may have felt like
hours, but it was much longer.”