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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

Colt strode outside and tossed the dead wolf into the nearby trees without ceremony. He
was about to turn and speak to the rest of them when something caught his eye.
“Okay that's... strange,” he said absently, stepping over to look closer at what
appeared to be a pile of wood at the base of one of the trees.
He quickly pulled out his longbow again and looked around cautiously, but nothing
else could be seen except for the dark trees and the white snow falling from the sky.
“That wood looks like it's been cut into kindling by someone,” Aiden observed,
equally unsettled by the discovery. “Did you two see anyone around here while you were
waiting?”
“Not a thing,” Pacian shrugged. “But we've only been here a few minutes. Maybe it's
been there for a while?”
“Perhaps it was left there by another ranger,” Nellise conjectured, huddled for
warmth in the cave entrance. Colt, satisfied that nobody else was nearby, knelt down and
had a closer look at the woodpile.
“If it had been here for more than thirty minutes, it'd be covered in snow by now.
This is recent; someone has been here ahead of us.”
“But who would know we were coming here...” Aiden's voice trailed off as he came
to a realisation. “That wild woman? She was the only one that could have known we'd be
coming this way.”
“Right now, I don't particularly care if the wolves put that firewood there,” Nellise
stated. “Can we discuss this further tomorrow, perhaps over a nice, warm fire?”
“Of course,” Aiden replied, feeling like an idiot for ignoring the plight of his
companions. He stepped forward and picked up an armful of wood while holding onto
the staff in his other hand. The light was barely providing any benefit at all now, and they
would be hard pressed to start the fire in the pitch black of the cave. Colt scooped up the
rest of the wood, and they all hurried back into the cave.
By the time Colt had stacked the wood in a clear space and was preparing to light it,
the prayer of light Nellise had placed on her staff had finally given out. It was utterly dark
in the cold cave, causing Aiden a moment of anxiety as he recalled the last time he had
been in a dark cave, years ago. But a moment later sparks from the ranger's flint and steel
started to strike the tinder he had placed underneath the kindling. A small flame caught
hold, and slowly began to grow, providing not just a modicum of warmth, but a relief
from the shadow of Aiden's memories.
The rest of them quickly gathered around, shivering, but with Colt's expert guidance,
they had a decent sized fire going within minutes. Aiden took off his gloves and warmed
his hands in front of the flame, grateful and relieved that they had finally found shelter
for the night. Nellise started to wring out her sodden robe, which was beginning to steam
from the growing intensity of the fire.
“I think I'll hang this near the fire to dry out,” she said. “Excuse me while I change.”
She unstrapped her pack and sorted through it, pulling out a blanket a moment later.
“Is that water I hear?” Pacian wondered facetiously. “I think I'll look around the cave
to uh, you know, make sure it's safe and such.”
“I'm going to stand watch while the three of you get some rest,” Aiden offered.
“Fantastic, wake me if there's trouble,” Colt replied, his voice cracking from
apparent exhaustion. Evidently the big ranger had indeed been covering how wounded
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