Previously on Seven Stones: After swallowing one of Anserth’s stimulants, Kobb regains enough energy to return the group to the Stones. However, the drug makes the side effects of travel worse, leaving both Anserth and Kobb disoriented. Anessa storms off when she realises Kobb has brought Anserth with them. Haelen suggests that, if the help he received was a lie, then perhaps correcting the flow of power to the Stones is the wrong thing to do.
Kobb filled his bowl. If your enemy wanted something, preventing it was a good start for a plan. But only a start; murderers and saints often sought the same things. “No question they’ve betrayed you, Haelen. You’ve seen the evil the power’s wrought, though. The conspiracy were involved in one—maybe two—of those problems. Things are going wrong even without humans interfering where they shouldn’t. There’s still power seeping into the world that needs stopping. We don’t finish this, there’s every chance things’ll break down again.”
“And restoring the last Stone gives those liars what they want!” Haelen glared at the fire. “Can we take the risk?”
“The Reverend’s right about not leaving evil unfought.” Anserth picked up another bowl. “Reckon that makes two things we agree on. As to the best way to do it? I’d need to know more than there are plotters using sorcery for unknown goals, and the Reverend can move people somehow.”
Haelen glanced at her. “From what I hear, you work your way into people’s trust then, once they’ve found a secret, you try to steal it. So, the less we tell you, the less chance you’ll turn against us.”
“Tell her.” Anessa stomped over to the fire. “If we want to know what those pig-shitting people are up to, best person to guess is a devious hag.”
Without meeting her gaze, Anserth held out some porridge. Anessa snatched it from her hand and dropped onto a log. The Inductor filled her own bowl, and strolled to the other side of the fire.
Kobb rested his spoon in his bowl. “Someone built this stone circle to shape power; the same power my Courser directs; that’s how I carry us back here. Recently, the power began to seep out into the world, reawakening ancient legends and corrupting flesh and souls. We’ve corrected the flow through all of the stones but one. As to what happens when we realign the final Stone…? We’ve found notes and learnt some things ourselves; not enough to be certain, though, and it turns out some of the notes might be lies.”
“This circle’s ancient.” Anserth scraped the last smear of porridge from her bowl. “Looks older than the ruins where we met. Which means it’s been doing what it does for generations without unleashing untold horrors. Haelen’s right about not handing your enemies victory. Seems containing the power makes things better, though.”
Haelen shook his head. “Until those people do whatever they intend.”
Anserth spooned more porridge into her bowl, then patted her knife. “Can you stab me with this, Medicus?”
Haelen frowned, then held out his hand. “What’ll that prove?”
The inductor ignored him and sat down.
Kobb snorted. “Proves a blade’s no use if you’re not the one holding it.”
“Maybe it don’t matter if the circle’s realigned then, if we’re here to stop them taking advantage.” Haelen rested his bowl on the ground. “I’ll bring some notes out for the Inductor to read at over breakfast.”
“Might as well study them in the tent.” Anserth sucked the last flecks of oat from her spoon. “It’s turned out a little chilly this morning.”
Anessa peered harder into her bowl, glancing up once the Inductor had gone. “You’ll want to spend time with your new friend. Suppose I’d better wash the pots.”
Kobb moved to sit next to her. “It’s my turn, and I’m not letting you steal it so you can sneak the rest of breakfast while no one’s looking.”
“How did…? Why…?” Anessa sagged against him. “I thought she… I know she’s not your friend really. Go. Help them. It’s daft you cleaning pots when you could be reading those papers again.” She straightened.
“Are you sure? If you need to talk about—”
“They don’t match.” Haelen sprinted out of the tent, Anserth following him more calmly. Skidding to a halt, he waved two documents at Kobb. “The map we found in Alcston and the one from the compound. Six of the marks are close enough; but the seventh’s nowhere near.”
“You found a map in Alcston?” Anessa shot upright, bowl falling from her hand. “You knew the Stones lead to Morth?”
“Well.” Haelen sagged. “The Reverend wanted to protect you; so you wouldn’t worry until we knew more. And then there was no way of knowing which Stone went where…”
Anessa drew herself up. Jaw jutting, she spun to face Anserth. “See! That’s how decent folk like Kobb act. Keeping secrets to make people’s live better; not as part of some twisted plot!”
“Depending on which map you trust, the last location’s either in a random area of forest or far to the south.” Anserth pointed at one of the maps. “Past the Cleft.”
The chords bulged in Anessa’s neck, but the Inductor appeared oblivious.
“Reverend takes us through the Stone, we arrive.” Haelen settled next to Kobb. “Haven’t noticed the distance mattering.”
“I meant, if legendary threats are returning the other side of the Cleft might not be a safe place to go. Don’t the annals of your Order say the Maker formed a barrier to hold back great evil, Reverend?”
“They do. We don’t have a choice, though. As Haelen says, I use a Stone and we arrive.”
Haelen frowned. “Maybe we’ve a choice when we go. All of us need more rest. We go through all these notes in detail, see if there’s anything that tells us which is right or what might happen.”
After three days of studying each scrap of paper—or in Anessa’s case, watching the Inductor—they’d confirmed the people involved in the plot were petty and twisted, and —if the conspiracy did know which location was correct, or what would happen afterwards—those answers were in the hands of another part of it.
Kobb dropped the Alcston map back onto the table again. “With the Korha covering everything in mould, we can’t even tell which map’s older. We either give up, or use the Stone.”
“Seems like there’s others out there who’re part of this, and we’ve no idea who they are.” Haelen sighed. “We don’t finish what we started, they’ll likely do it. Least if we use the Stone we might make a difference to how it comes out.”
Anessa brushed her fingers across her pendant, then nodded.
Unsure what would help, they divided as much of the research as they could between their packs and bags.
“Any guidance on how to avoid vomiting?” Anserth wiggled an eyebrow. “If we do get into trouble, I’d rather not do it on a hollow gut.”
Anessa loaded her crossbow. “Seems to be worse the more evil there is around. So, reckon you stand a bit away from the rest of us. Won’t stop you spewing, but…”
Kobb sighed. The Inductor’s choice was better in the long term, but he could do without the glares and insults it’d brought. Still, this would be over soon. Turning inward, he gathered the threads of power and shifted.
Heat and light hammered at him.
Half-blind, he looked down; but the pale stone below blazed as bright and hot.
Metal shinged behind him as Anserth drew a blade.
Squinting, Kobb peered around. Rank after rank of humans in deep purple togas, each holding a pike, ringed the edge of the stone platform.