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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

Although her green eyes were large and slightly almond-shaped, she didn't have the
sharp, angular features or the height attributed to elves, which led Aiden to believe she
was half-elf, born from a parent of each race, which was even rarer. He wanted to spend
some time speaking with her about this, but like every other mystery about the young
woman, it would have to wait until later.
They walked the short pathway to the large oaken door. Aiden turned the handle and
stepped into a magnificent entryway surpassing even the mayor's opulent office.
Paintings of stuffy- looking gentlemen hung on every wall, as well as a few smaller
pictures of sailing vessels.
An elaborate chandelier suspended from the ceiling cast subtle light around the
room. A roaring fireplace kept the chill winter air at bay, warmth that was more than
welcome to the travellers. Finally, at a small desk near the front of the room sat a slim,
well-dressed young woman, scribbling on a piece of paper.
“Good afternoon,” she called to them, smiling. “Can I help you?”
“No, we‟re fine thanks,” Aiden replied, returning the smile as he strode past the
desk.
“I'm sorry, but that area is for members only,” she called in mild alarm.
“Members have keys, yes?” Aiden inquired as he took the silver keychain out of his
pocket.
“I… yes, of course,” the woman conceded, appearing to be at a loss for words after
the appearance of the key. Aiden gave her a reassuring wink, then stepped through the
arch with the others in tow. An ornate door loomed before them with a silver lock on it.
Aiden unlocked it and upon opening, he could see a narrow staircase winding upwards to
the first floor.
“Alright,” Aiden said quietly, “Sayana, try not to look too dangerous. I'll handle the
talking, the rest of you keep an eye out for anything strange.” They nodded in reply, and
then followed the young adventurer as he made his way up the staircase.
The sounds of hushed voices grew in volume as they ascended, along with the
distinct aroma of pipe smoke. By the time they had reached the next floor, the air was
noticeably warmer and heavily laden with a smoky haze. The room was dimly lit by a
few small windows and some carefully placed candles.
Eight middle-aged men were in the room, most of them sitting in plush, oversized
chairs, puffing pipes and reading books. An older man in expensive clothes and sporting
a well- groomed grey beard noticed the newcomers and made his way over to greet them.
His features were lined with age, but still fair. Aiden could tell a working man by the
rough texture of his skin, and this individual‟s smooth hands indicated he was clearly
used to having others do his work.
“This area is restricted to members only,” he said in cultured voice. “You will have
to leave at once, or I shall have you removed.”
“Well, as it happens, I am a member,” Aiden responded. He produced the silver key
and quietly enjoyed the look of confusion on the man's face.
“Oh, I see. Strange, I do not recall admitting any new members lately.” He gave
Aiden an appraising look and did not appear impressed by what he saw.
“I didn't join through you, sir,” Aiden attempted to explain, making it up as he went
along. “The mayor is an old family friend of mine and thought I might like to rest my
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