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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

They continued along the path for another hour up an incline before Colt breathed a
sigh of relief.
“Lights up ahead,” he observed. “We've made it, I can see the walls of Fort
Highmarch.” They all felt a surge of renewed energy at the news that they had reached
the end of their difficult journey. Just the thought of a roaring fire, a proper meal, and a
comfortable bed spurred them on towards the walls ahead with an extra spring in their
step. A return to civilisation would erase the hardships of not just the past two days, but
the last few weeks of poor living conditions in Bracksford.
Within ten minutes, they were at the high stone walls of Fort Highmarch. They were
massive constructions of grey stone, easily thirty feet high and Aiden was suitably
intimidated. From what he'd read, the fort had been here for over a hundred and fifty
years, in one form or another. Only once had it come under s erious attack, from some
kind of death cult that was quickly put down, after a vicious fight. At least, that's what
was written in the history books, anyway.
Aiden recognised elements from the account of that battle from his vision in the
cave, but the history books said nothing about a golden dragon, or metal warriors. Either
his vision was some sort of hallucination, or someone had altered the histories. O ne day,
he would find out which was which, but none of that mattered now, for Aiden's stomach
politely reminded him of what was really important.
Torches flickering in the bitter wind illuminated their approach to the gate. A guard,
dressed in a heavy winter cloak over the livery of the K ingdom guards, stood near a
blazing fire set in a metal barrel, watching their approach impassively. A halberd, over
ten feet in length and tipped with a broad axe, leaned against the wall just behind him.
“Who approaches?” he called, spying the approach of Aiden and his companions in
the cold night.
“Travellers from the north,” Colt grunted, stopping just inside the area lit by the fire.
The snow swirled around him, melting as it hit the hot metal of the barrel.
“The north?” asked the guard. “Bracksford, or some other place?”
“Yes,” Colt growled impatiently. “We're looking for a warm place for the night.”
“I bet you are, it's a bad night to be standing around in the dark,” the guard
sympathised, somewhat glibly. “But I have orders to permit no-one entry to the fort.
You'll have to head back north again.” Aiden's heart sank. This was not what he had
expected, and he couldn't think of anything to say, but Colt didn't have any trouble
speaking his mind.
“Give me a bloody good reason why, or you and I are going to have a problem.”
“No need to get bent out of shape sir,” the guard replied, a little upset at having been
threatened. “The King gave us direct orders to allow nobody in for the next few weeks.”
“Is he in there?” Pacian asked, curious.
“No, he's off leading an army at war, haven't you heard?” the guard pointed out. “So
there you have it. All you need to know is that there's a very important person still in the
fort and His Majesty told us-”
“To keep everyone out, I get it already,” Colt finished. Aiden could sense that the big
man was about to say something they'd a ll regret, so he quickly spoke up before he could.
“Look, I appreciate that you've got your orders, but we've had a hell of a time getting
here. The Mayor of Bracksford sent us here with a request for assistance.”
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