Previously on Seven Stones: Haelen suggests the trickle of power to Morth might stop on its own when the other stones are purified. Kobb decides not to mention the problem to Anessa yet. Kobb and Anessa travel through another stone and arrive at the side of a foul lake. A strange half-bat, half-bird creature soars towards the water, a screaming figure clasped to it. Kobb draws a bead as the beast reaches the lake.
Heavy silence drowned the man’s voice. Wreathed in purple light, the monster tumbled into the water, captive slipping from limp arms. Murky fluid fountained up beneath the impact.
A wave of foetid air struck Kobb’s face as the muck slapped down. Eyes stinging, he made out the creature’s prisoner surface several yards out, trying to reach shore. Blinking the tears away, he ran forward, Anessa at his side.
The former captive flapped one arm towards his rescuers. The effort almost sank him, but he did it again.
Kobb grabbed Anessa’s elbow and pulled her to a halt. Locals would know the risks better than he would. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t help anyway. Releasing Anessa, he sprinted to Falcon and removed his tack.
The reins gripped in his fist, Kobb hurled the bridle to the foundering man.
The straps slapped into the swimmer’s hand, but slipped free from his fingers before they’d closed.
Kobb jerked the reins back. The straps splutted onto the shore, dark fluids oozing out.
Careful to avoid the section that had been in the lake, Kobb picked the straps up as close to the bridle as he could and hurled it out again.
The straps slapped across the swimmer’s left arm. After a false start, he hooked two fingers around the bit. His other limbs limp, he managed a third finger as the water surged over his face.
Kobb took up the slack and then backed away. After running her gaze along the length of the straps, Anessa grabbed another section. One step at a time, they towed the victim, flaccid save for his left arm, towards the shore. However, the extra resistance of the reeds proved too much.
Bit slipping from his fingers, the man flipped over. His body sank and only the matted vegetation stopped his head disappearing beneath the surface as well.
Crouched close enough to the edge that the water oozed across the tips of his boots, Kobb reached out. But he was too far away. The shwing of blade leaving scabbard sounded behind him. He rose and spun in a single move, weapons rising into a defensive stance.
Anessa stumbled away, jaw hanging open. Her sword hit the ground. After swallowing hard, she picked her weapon up and moved closer to the shore. “Hook… If you hold me, I can lean out. Hook his jacket with the point. Wipe it clean after.”
Kobb sheathed his weapons and nodded. “Instincts got the better of me. Good idea. Metal won’t soak any poison up.”
Anessa approached the edge, trying to match caution and speed.
When she stopped, he moved right behind her and clasped the fingers of both hands through her belt. He braced his legs and extended his arms as she leaned forward. Her sword brushed the top of the man’s head. Kobb shifted his left foot and then lent further. Right leg bending, he lowered Anessa forward. The tip of her sword now reached the collar of his jerkin. Less than an inch more and she’d hook him. Then, over her head, Kobb noticed several dark shapes rise from the island. “Anessa.”
Anessa glanced up. “Don’t have time to fight then save him. Have to risk one arm.”
Three bat-winged forms surged closer, as Kobb slipped his left hand free. A jag of pain ran through his right fingers as they took Anessa’s full weight.
As fast as the insects, but more ominous for being larger than an adult human, the beasts reached him before he could draw his Courser.
Then soared past, seemingly oblivious to the struggle below.
Puzzled, yet willing to grab any advantage, Kobb grabbed Anessa’s belt with his free hand and shifted his stance. As he leaned further forward, his right boot slipped on the muddy ground. His toes sank into the water.
“Got ’im!” Anessa rolled her shoulder and inched her arm toward her body.
Dull ache growing in his lower back, Kobb straightened.
Arm trembling, Anessa turned her wrist then her elbow, keeping the end of her blade hooked inside the man’s jerkin. As he drew closer, the two of them shuffled away from the lake. Inch by inch, they drew him through the reeds, until his head rested on the bank. Keeping the tension on his jerkin, Anessa moved to his side and thrust the sword further in.
After shifting her left hand half way down the blade, she turned. Under the renewed leverage, the man’s body oozed up the bank. Another heave and his legs joined it. Anessa slid her weapon free and staggered away. Pulling her kerchief out, she wiped the blade.
Kobb crouched over the former captive, one eye on the dark muck pooling beneath him.
Eyes half-closed, the half-drowned figure drew a jagged breath. “Stay away. Skin kills.”
Kobb pointed at the lake. “If you get the muck on your skin, it’s fatal?”
The man nodded once, head listing to one side.
“What do we do?” said Anessa. “We know a healer. We could—”
“No cure. Tell family. Karek…” His chest stilled.
After a moment, Kobb drew Anessa away. “Did you get any on you?”
“Only the sword. But your boots…”
“They don’t leak. Hopefully wiping it off will be good enough. We—” Kobb unsheathed his Courser as a group of armed men jogged into view from the direction the creatures had gone.