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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

When they had come as close as they'd dared, Aiden called for everyone to stop so
that Colt could move ahead and investigate the scene. It was a tense five minute wait, but
it gave them precious time to catch their breath from the long journey. Aiden drank from
his waterskin and rested his eyes for a minute, letting the distant sounds of war wash over
him. Whatever was going on over in Culdeny, the defenders there were at least putting up
a fight, and that gave Aiden and his companions time to do what they came here to do.
When he opened his eyes again, Colt had returned, crouching down in the snow to let
them know the situation.
“They're just over the rise, about two hundred yards away,” he started, speaking to
the gathered assortment of soldiers, civilians and royalty. “Got themselves a couple of big
siege engines, trebuchets I think.”
“We're still half a mile from Culdeny,” the Sergeant remarked. “How many men are
they holding in reserve this far back?”
“About two dozen, not including their engineers,” Colt grunted. “There are a few
mounted warriors, too, including their commander, from what I can tell.”
“Robert Black is there?” Aiden asked, suddenly very interested. “How could you
tell?”
“They've got a few runners ferrying orders back and forth from the front lines, and
they were always meeting up with this one bloke in heavy armour. Has himself a nice big
stallion to ride, too, so I think it's a safe bet that he's in charge.”
“How much light was there?” Nellise asked. “We had planned a dawn attack, but if
my guess is correct, we're still over an hour from first light.”
“I saw some lanterns here and there, but it's not quite enough to fight in. I had an
idea, though – they're using burning pitch in those siege engines, so if we set those on
fire...”
“I can do that,” Sayana said confidently. “I believe I know what I did wrong with my
last attempt at creating the fireball.”
“Yeah, how about you just get closer and light it up with one of your other tricks,”
Pacian advised, somewhat caustically. “This isn't the time to be experimenting.”
“I told you, I can do it,” Sayana restated darkly. The two of them started to squabble,
as their frayed tempers and exhaustion set in. Colt added to the mix with his usual lack of
finesse, before Aiden finally snapped.
“Enough! If she says she can do it, then I trust her. But more than that, we need to
start trusting each other, or this isn't going to work.” He now had their undivided
attention, and he didn't hold back on saying what needed to be said. “Look, I know you're
tired, and I know you're hurt, in more ways than one. Getting into a fight this dangerous
after a journey that long isn't exactly ideal, and if I felt we had a choice here, I'd be
staying out of this fight altogether. This isn't my war, and for most of you, it isn't yours
either.”
“Well, the people who should be fighting this one aren't here, so it falls to us to step
forward and hold the line. We've heard about the K ing fighting a war in another country,
and didn't think we were part of it. But now the war has come right to our doorstep, and if
we walk away, we may not have a home left to go back to.”
“Things have come between us in recent weeks,” he continued sombrely, speaking
directly to his companions, and more specifically, to Sayana. “Personality conflicts, hard
choices, stressful situations... under ordinary circumstances, we probably would have
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