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Nature Abhors a Vacuum
Stephen L. Nowland
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heard as Aiden approached. Pacian and Nellise were sitting on the rocky ground just
inside the entrance, and appeared to be having a casual discussion about something.
Their voices weren't loud enough to make out what they were saying, probably to
avoid attracting unwanted attention - whether it was from wolves or their companions,
Aiden couldn't tell, but they stopped talking and turned as they sensed his approach.
Nellise was wrapped in blankets, and Pacian had clearly been on watch since very early
in the morning, judging by his red-rimmed eyes.
“Good morning Aiden,” Nellise greeted him warmly. Despite the previous day’s
events, she seemed radiant. “Did you sleep well?”
“Quality, not quantity,” Aiden murmured. “Just going to make use of the nearby
trees, if you two wouldn't mind keeping a lookout for me?”
“That's what we're here for,” Pacian quipped, cheery despite the cold, morning.
Aiden crept out onto the snow-covered ground, squinting into the brightness in case there
were wolves about. Seeing none, and trusting his companions to call out if trouble
approached, he 'conducted his affairs', and then hurried back inside the cave.
The smell of the roasting rabbits lured the other two in and together they ate the first
decent meal they'd had in days. They ate in silence, their attention focused on their food,
although Aiden did notice that Colt kept a wary eye on the cave entrance. Despite the
heady aroma of roasted meat, they were not disturbed by any of the local wildlife. Aiden
silently hoped the wolves had decided they were too risky to hunt.
After they had finished eating, Nellise took down her robe from the rope and shyly
asked the men to avert their gaze. They complied, turning their attention toward packing
their gear for the next leg of the journey.
“How are you feeling this morning?” Aiden asked of his friend.
“Aside from needing a more sleep, pretty good actually,” Pacian answered. “Nellise
was able to heal us up when she awoke. You're kind of useful to have around, Nel.”
“It's nice to be appreciated,” she sighed from a few yards behind them, clearly
amused by his offhand compliment. She stepped past them, fully clothed and ready to
head out. “I offered thanks to God for our peaceful night, but I suspect if we wait around
much longer we may have some uninvited guests. We have a mission to accomplish, I
“Damn right we do,” Colt growled, tipping a small pot of water over the fire to
extinguish it. “The sooner we get moving, the quicker this whole thing will be over and
done with.” He stowed the pot in his pack, picked up his sword and strode out the cave
entrance, with the rest of them following close behind.
A few snowflakes were just starting to drift from the grey sky as they left the
sanctuary of the cave. The sun had been shining through the thick cloud briefly that
morning, though Aiden had been too groggy to appreciate it. Colt stood out in the open,
looking up at the sky. It seemed as though the constant inclement weather might finally
be starting to abate as they moved into the mountains.
“We'll have a storm before evening,” Colt declared, dashing Aiden's brief hope. “But
we made good time last night. The extra distance we came looking for that cave took us
half a day closer to the fort. I estimate we can be there a few hours after nightfall, if we
Pacian groaned at the prospect of more running, but Aiden had a thought that would
put things in perspective.