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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

“There's no guarantee we'll be able to find another cave, so unless you want to sleep
outside in the middle of a snowstorm, we should try to make it to the fort as soon as
possible,” he advised. His words had little effect on Pacian's mood, unfortunately. Colt
was in no mood to listen to any complaints, and made this absolutely clear.
“I'm in no mood to listen to any complaints,” he growled predictably. “We move fast
and get this over with.” He didn't wait for a reply, striding off along the road with Nellise
close behind him. Aiden gave Pace a friendly punch on the shoulder as a reminder that he
wasn't suffering alone, and then followed the others.
* * *
The snow started falling again soon after, but it remained light for the time being at
least. What had fallen overnight was now hard-packed on the ground, and crunched
beneath their boots as they jogged along. There had been no further signs of pursuit or
danger, at least according to Colt. He seemed to know what he was talking about, and
Aiden was beginning to understand him a little better. In a town or city, he was a dirty,
loud- mouthed drunk with little use, but out in the wild, he was at home.
They ran at a brisk pace for over an hour before Colt spotted something ahead, and
called for them to stop. Aiden's confidence was not bolstered when the ranger unslung his
bow and strung it. His eyes darting around nervously, the novice warrior drew his sword,
while the other's readied their weapons, though it was not clear what the problem was.
Aiden decided to ask Colt what he had seen, but as he walked forward to figure out what
was going on, it became clear what had spooked him.
Not far ahead of them lay a wagon with one of its two wheels broken, leaning
heavily against a thick pine a few yards off the track. How it came to be in this position
probably had something to do with the dead oxen that lay still connected to the wa gon.
The ox had been savagely dismembered, and little of it remained save for bones and skin.
Clearly, it had been eaten away by the animals intimately familiar to Aiden and his
companions.
“How long ago did it happen?” he asked flatly as he wrinkled his nose at the stench
of the dead animal. Colt was already kneeling to check for tracks, and it didn't take long
for him to draw a conclusion.
“More than two days,” he grunted. “The snow fall has been pretty consistent, and
there's practically nothing left to see. But we both know what happened here.”
“Yes, but the wolves we saw last night clearly hadn't eaten in while.”
“You don't know much about wild animals do you,” Colt stated, rising to his feet and
gripping his longbow tightly with his gloved hand. “It'll be a different pack, a more
dominant one, probably larger than the first group. The good news is, at least they've
eaten recently, so they'll be less likely to attack us. Just... keep your eyes open, I can't
make any guarantees.”
Cautiously the group moved to the wagon. Aiden's senses were heightened to an
incredible sharpness, complimenting the wild beating of his heart as he kept an eye out
for trouble. Pacian stepped ahead of the others to take a closer look. The wagon had been
filled with cargo of various sorts, mostly in boxes. Fort Highmarch did not produce any
foodstuffs, only weapons for the guards of various towns in this part of the kingdom.
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