Previously on Seven Stones: The last Eater, believing Kobb and Anessa crushed by the falling wall, returns to the only intact building. Kobb collapses part of the building and kills the Eater in the confusion. Stumbling out of the remains, Kobb discovers Anessa is only unconscious—but is pinned by a fallen wall. Shouts from the half-collapsed building reveal a human prisoner trapped in the rubble, a cage the only thing preventing him being crushed.
Kobb froze. The creaking stopped.
“Haelen Lok,” said the prisoner. “Did you see how that creature destroyed the building? Could you break the bars?”
Kobb peered through the murk. The side wall sagged inward. He was no architect, but the wall and roof looked to be taking some of each other’s weight; if he blasted one of them away, the cage would take the full weight of the other before he could get off a second shot. “Not sure it would help. We need to… Actually, we might be able to…”
He backed slowly away across the rubble to the doorway. The Eater’s staff lay next to its body, mercifully still intact. Kobb took a step back towards the cage and stumbled sideways as the stones shifted beneath his feet.
The staff lodged between two blocks, preventing him from falling. Kobb held his breath. Nothing moved. Shifting his feet carefully, he regained his footing and eased the staff free. He inched his way back to the cage, transferring his weight from foot to foot, and passed the end of the staff between two bars. “If you brace the roof with this it might hold long enough for me to get some bars out of the way.”
“And if it doesn’t, the roof crushes me.” Haelen took the end of the staff. “Don’t see a choice though. I need you to promise something first. I was on my way to find my daughter when those creatures found me. Promise me, if I die you’ll save my Katrina.”
Kobb’s fingered the pendant at his throat. He couldn’t leave a child in danger. “I promise.”
Haelen drew the staff through the bars and twisted it around as best he could. For a moment, flecks of something caught the light, confirming Kobb’s theory it was similar to a Courser. Hopefully it would be as resilient.
Kobb drew his Courser. “Turn your head away. It’s going to get messy.” Realising he had no idea which bars were bearing the least weight, he aimed to one side of Haelen and took his shot.
The bar shivered. With a graunch, the bottom sprang outward. The roof creaked, but the air was too full of muck to tell how far it moved.
Kobb dived into the choking cloud of powered mortar and dirt, thrusting his arm forwards. His fingers met flesh. Pulling his arm back, he yanked Haelen out as Haelen leapt forwards. The edge of a block bruised Kobb’s aching back as the two men landed in a tangled heap. A sharp crack, like snapping kindling, rang out.
Wanting nothing so much as a single night’s rest, Kobb struggled to his feet and staggered for the door. His passage turned faster and more assured as Haelen wrapped an arm around him and drew him forward.
The louder crack of the staff losing its battle presaged the fatal crash of the building. Gasping for breath, the two men lay on the grass.
“A Courser?” Haelen rolled over. “I hoped for rescue, but not… Has the push started?”
Kobb sat up. “I’m not in the Legion. There’s just me, and Anessa. We need to get her out.”
“If your companion was in there, then—”
“Over there. By the wall.”
Haelen eased himself upright, and then helped Kobb up. The two of them trudged across the clearing, steps gaining some hint of strength as they went.
“I used to be Legion. A healer.” Haelen crouched beside Anessa and ran his fingers over her head and torso. “She could just be stunned, but I’ll need time and a better inspection.”
“If I pull on the block, maybe you can slide her out.”
“You shifted stone last time. It’s my turn.” Haelen braced his hands on the bottom of the block. “Slide. Don’t yank. If she is injured we don’t want to make it worse.
Kobb gripped Anessa beneath the armpits. As Haelen heaved, Kobb pulled.
She moved slightly, but Kobb could feel resistance. Arms and legs trembling, Haelen let the block settle back.
Kobb stumbled over. “My turn.” His efforts were, if anything, less effective.
Haelen pumped his fingers. “What if we slide something in so it doesn’t settle back?”
Hampered by the fading light, they gathered a small pile of the flattest stones they could find. Taking turns to lift the block, they wedged the remains of the wall higher. With each wedge the pile trembled and bowed out further.
“It’s going to fall if we try adding more stones,” Haelen said. “We have to risk hurting her.”
Gripping one side of Anessa’s torso each they yanked hard. With a sound of tearing cloth, she slid from under the wall.
Haelen ran his fingers over her again, this time easing them under her torso too. “Nothing feels out-of-place. She’ll need remedies though, and rest.” He looked over at the jagged remains of the building. “My bag is buried in there somewhere. But they didn’t spend long in my camp. There might still be what I need there. If we could move her that is.”
Kobb managed half a chuckle before the coughing started. Slapping his chest, he spat muck. “Falcon, my horse, has a way of finding trouble; but I doubt anyone dropped a building on him.” He held out his rapier. “Wait here.”
Returning to Falcon was easy enough and, freed of the need for stealth, leading him back to the clearing manageable. Falcon even consented to stand still while they settled Anessa across his saddle.
Not wishing to jolt her, the journey from the ruins took even longer than the stealthy approach. By the time they reached Haelen’s camp night had full hold.
Shards of bottles, contents now only stains, lay among tatters of tent and clothing. Kobb helped Haelen lay Anessa down on the remains of a cloak. “I’ll take watch.”
“I’ll need to stay up anyway to prepare the herbs,” said Haelen. “It won’t help if neither of us gets any sleep. I’ve had nothing to do but sit in that cage anyway.”
Kobb slumped against a tree. It did make sense. “Wake me if anything seems odd.”
Sleep caught him the moment his eyes closed. And then the world tumbled into a screaming abyss.
Kobb’s eyes snapped open. Bitter slime coated his tongue and icy fingers crushed his temples.
Haelen crouched beside him.“You were thrashing. And muttering something.”
“Nightmares. Rocks twisting like smoke. And chanting. They grow stronger as I move north.”
“You barely slept. There is a potion. It might help control the nightmares. But…”
Kobb considered. Without the dreams, he might lose the way. But without one good night’s sleep soon, he would soon lose the ability to fight. “But what?”
“It needs Korha venom. There are swamps to the east. There might be Korha there. But Anessa can’t travel.”
Korha. A creature so evil the myths claimed the Maker denied it the Blessing of Death. “Then I go alone.”