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Nature abhors a vacuum, p.1
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       Nature Abhors a Vacuum, p.1

           Stephen L. Nowland
 
Nature Abhors a Vacuum
Nature Abhors a Vacuum

  The Aielund Saga - Book One

  Published by Stephen L. Nowland

  Copyright 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016 Stephen Louis Nowland

  2016 Revised Edition

  Edited by Lesley Wheeler

  The Author asserts the moral right to be

  identified as the author of this work.

  Cover art Copyright 2016 by Stephen Louis Nowland

  Acknowledgements

  Thanks go to Laurel and Gordon, Michael, Rita and Jean-Alain,

  for their support through the difficult years.

  Thanks to Walter for helping out where he could, and to

  Lesley for giving the whole series another editing pass.

  Table of Contents

  Map

  Foreword

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Epilogue

  About the Author

  Foreword

  It is a humbling thing for an author to return to their earlier work, especially for one whose career is in its infancy. When I completed Nature Abhors a Vacuum back in 2011, it was an enormous personal achievement – and an enormous result. It came in just shy of 240,000 words, and I recall thinking it might not be quite long enough.

  I’ve trimmed away at this book over the years as my understanding of pacing, tone and structure improved, yet it remained a monstrous, unwieldy novel. It’s especially important when considering it’s the first story in the series, one I’ve been using to exhibit the quality of my work.

  Sooner or later, I had planned to return to the start of the saga and undertake more polishing. My editors and friends implored me to wait until the entire saga was finished and I agreed, though I chafed at the knowledge the earlier work needed some love. I’m fortunate that as an independent author working primarily with ebooks, I am afforded the opportunity to revise the series digitally. Everyone who bought an ebook version of the series can get the revised editions for free.

  With the release of the sixth book in the series, The Akashic Throne, the saga is complete and the time arrived for a revision. As I worked on revising the first novel, I kept thinking to myself ‘what was I thinking when I wrote this?’ I was astonished at how far my style has evolved over the years. My concern was readers might not make an assumption of an improving style over the course of the series, and if they didn’t like what they read here, they wouldn’t bother to go on to find the better writing later on. So it’s overdue, but the revision is finally done.

  Prior to the previous update, NaaV rounded out at roughly 209,000 words, and weighed in nearly 46,000 words lighter. I had thought I could leave it there, but now well into my second series, I’ve learned even more about writing concisely. So, it was time for one last editing pass, bringing the word count to around 118,000 words and eliminating distracting plotlines that didn’t help the main story.

  In Defence of the Crown was trimmed by 19,000 words in the last pass, and though it was a smaller work to begin with, there was obviously room for improvement. As the series progressed, less work was needed to bring it up to my new standards – 12,000 words were cut from Ruins of Legend and Legacies of Fire & Steel each.

  The revised editions are more than simply cleaning up sentences and trimming back unnecessary words – there were issues with tone and content, especially in the early parts of books one and two. Thus, while some chapters have been re-written, the general content has remained the same.

  The revised edition of the Aielund Saga tells the same story with fewer words, and a greater focus on what’s important. I hope you enjoy reading this the revised edition as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you.

  Prologue

  To Pacian, 'effort' was a four-letter word. There was nothing he enjoyed more than dozing in a field on a sunny day like today, far enough from home so his parents couldn't assign him any chores, or punish him for failing to do yesterday’s. In spite of his obvious laziness, Pacian never liked being called out on it and went to great lengths to prove otherwise, which resulted in him being challenged to a race by his best friend.

  “Why bother, you're just going to lose anyway, Aiden,” Pacian said with a shrug as they stood side-by-side on a field of long grass. “You know I'm faster than you.”

  “If you're so sure you're going to win, what are you worried about?” Aiden pointed out with a sly grin. “Besides, it's my birthday and I reckon turning thirteen makes a difference. I bet you a copper jack I beat you to the forest.”

  “Make it three and you're on,” Pacian countered, trying to bluff his way out of the race, a fact Aiden was well aware of. Although the fastest kid in town when he applied himself, Pacian lacked the stamina for greater distances and the tree line on the other side of the field was very far away indeed.

  “Deal,” Aiden agreed, much to Pacian's dismay. Unable to squirm his way out of this one, he resigned himself to the race and before he knew it, they were both speeding through the long grass towards the tree line. While he began with a burst of speed, Pacian fell behind as Aiden, his dark hair flying wildly behind him, slowly inched his way past and gradually left his friend far behind.

  Aiden stumbled out of the field and leaned against a tree, his chest burning from the effort as he grinned breathlessly at his mate, who had apparently been unable to keep up with Aiden's new-found speed.

  “Pay up,” Aiden demanded between breaths. Pacian merely waved dismissively at him as he staggered to a halt, unwilling to waste his breath by shouting across the dozen yards that remained between them. It had been Pacian’s idea to ditch their chores in favour of something more entertaining and although reluctant to abandon his responsibilities, his friend had been very persuasive.

  So they’d left their home village of Coldstream far behind them. The two boys had been friends since they were little, a source of some concern to Aiden's parents as Pacian had a knack of getting into trouble and liked Aiden to be there when it happened.

  “I let you win, since it's your birthday,” Pacian explained casually, taking the time to tidy up his short blond hair and absently brush non-existent dirt from his tunic. “Any other day I would have beaten the pants off you.”

  Aiden laughed scornfully, knowing that Pacian's pride wouldn't permit him to admit defeat, but he decided to play along with this little fiction to spare his friend’s feelings.

  “Okay, enough fun” Aiden sighed as the laughter subsided. “If I stay away any longer my parents are going to notice.”

  “Just before we go back,” Pacian responded, “I wanted to show you something.” He started walking into the forest, evaporating Aiden's light mood in an instant.

  “But that's the Cairnwood,” he protested, gazing with trepidation at the dark shadows in the thick forest. “We're not supposed to go in there.”

  “I don't see anything dangerous about trees, do you?” Pace asked as he looked around innocently.

  “You’ve heard the stories. There's something in there besides trees. Something bad.”

  “Such as?” his blond friend prompted. Aiden was at a loss. All his parents had ever told him was that Cairnwood was a dangerous place, and sometimes people who went in there never
came out again. He was never told anything specific, such as if they were eaten by bears or ghosts, or possibly the dreaded Ghost Bear Pacian had once told him about.

  “Look, we're only going in a little way,” Pacian confided. “You're not scared are you?” Despite knowing better, Aiden was thirteen now, practically a man and would not stand for being called a coward.

  “Of course not,” he stammered in reply. Pacian grinned, then turned and walked into the forest with Aiden following cautiously behind him, suppressing any feelings of trepidation at leaving the sunlight behind and focusing on keeping up with his friend. After all, Aiden’s reputation was at stake and he was unpopular enough with the other children of Coldstream that it mattered.

  They walked between the thick trunks for some time, footsteps muffled by the fallen leaves of late autumn that lay in a thick blanket on the soft grass. For a place that was forbidden to them, Cairnwood seemed pleasant enough, though Aiden couldn’t shake the feeling that they weren’t supposed to be here.

  The wind blew gently through the boughs and the sounds of birds could be heard in the distance, all contributing to a sense of peace. Aiden was about to ask how much further they had to go when he suddenly felt the sensation of floating in the air, quickly followed by an explosion of pain on his chin that stunned him.

  The next few moments were a blur as he tumbled and crashed downwards, before finally coming to a stop on a hard, rocky surface. Bewildered and smarting from half a dozen scrapes and bruises, Aiden struggled to clear his head. The daylight had disappeared except for a small shaft coming from above to pierce the darkness.

  “Aiden, are you okay?” Pacian called from above. Slowly, Aiden raised himself on shaky legs, relieved to find that he hadn't broken any bones in his fall.

  “Yeah… I think so,” he called up to his friend with a tremor in his voice. Aiden judged it to be around twenty feet straight up and he felt lucky to be alive at all. Tentatively, he touched the walls but met nothing but loose dirt and rocks instead of hand holds. “I don't think I can climb back out. Go and get help.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “Yes!” Aiden cried in exasperation.

  “How about I find some rope?” Pacian hedged. Aiden found this reluctance baffling, until it dawned on him that they had ditched their chores and entered Cairnwood without permission and Pacian was responsible. Knowing his unreliable friend, he wasn't about to own up to any wrongdoing unless Aiden was in real danger. Apparently falling into a deep hole and injuring himself didn't qualify.

  “Okay go and get some rope, but hurry,” Aiden relented.

  Pacian sprang into action. “I'll be back before you know it. Wait here!”

  Aiden groaned inwardly at the poor attempt at humour, but at least help was on the way. Aside from the light streaming in from above, there was only blackness before him. Stretching out his arm, he encountered nothing solid, so what he had thought was a hole had in fact turned out to be some sort of cave. He crouched against the wall, too scared to leave the shaft of light and trying not to think of the horrible things that could be lurking out there in the darkness.

  As his eyes adjusted to the deep gloom before him, Aiden thought he saw a soft blue radiance in the dark. Curiosity getting the better of him, he crawled towards it, judging the light to be only a few yards away. Small rocks on the ground gouged his knees as he felt his way forward, but after brushing some of it aside he felt a smooth, solid surface underneath, almost as if it were made of metal.

  Aiden reached the dim blue light and discovered it was coming from something on the floor, a globe of light no larger than his fist. He reached out and grasped the sphere, and the instant all of his fingers came into contact with it, his entire world changed.

 
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