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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

“The sooner we get to the fort, the sooner I can get a drink. But if you're looking for
some incentive, once we get into the hills I'll see if I can take down a deer. I think we
could all use some real food for a change.” Pacian immediately brightened, and put away
the rest of his food as they stood and prepared to continue the journey.
* * *
The rain continued without respite as they started to move into the hills, but the
silence among the group had ended. Pacian took the time to inquire further about
Nellise's life in the Church, a subject he had little knowledge of. Aiden listened in to her
stories from time to time, gleaning whatever useful information he could about the
Colt said little, but his few comments about the land around them were an
improvement, leading Aiden to assume his hangover was subsiding. The ranger had been
unable to find any deer tracks, a fact that had disturbed him somewhat.
“Deer ain't exactly common this far south, but they're not rare either,” he had
commented absently while kneeling down to scrutinise the ground yet again. “We're
practically in the wilds Aiden. There should be something around. It's damned strange.”
An hour later, all Colt had found were days-old signs of the passage of a man,
heading south. The signs were subtle – no tracks could survive for long in the mud and
rain, so the big ranger must have been detecting other indicators, such as displaced
branches on the trees or some such.
The days were short in winter, and dusk was quickly encroaching as they moved
south. Aiden had hoped the rain would have ceased, or at least eased as they moved away
from Bracksford, but to no avail. If anything, the colder temperatures in the hills was
turning the rain into sleet, making a miserable journey even less comfortable. Aiden was
about to advise Colt to find some shelter for the night, when in the gloom ahead, he
locked eyes with someone crouching over the ground.
Aiden froze. The person seemed to be a woma n - her long hair was bedraggled and
matted against her mud-splattered face. Tattered animal skins and furs hung around her,
but it was the look in her eyes that made Aiden's heart pound in his ears. It was like
looking into the eyes of a wild animal, one that was prepared to rip his throat out if he
moved too quickly.
The two of them stared at each other, motionless for a long moment before Aiden's
companions noticed what was happening. Then, she bolted into the trees, running faster
than he thought was possible given the conditions. Aiden suddenly gasped for air, only
now aware he had been holding his breath. His heart was racing as he recovered from his
momentary shock, and he turned to look at his companions to comment on what he had
just seen.
Aiden was surprised to see that Colt had his greatsword levelled at the receding
figure, still racing to find safety amongst the scattered trees. Pacian seemed to be just as
surprised as Aiden, but he still had the presence of mind to draw his dagger. Nellise
merely looked at the others in confusion, apparently having missed the sudden encounter
altogether. She was, however, the first to notice the still figure of a man lying on the road
ahead and rushed in for a closer look.