Previously on Seven Stones: Kobb and Anessa defeated the Eaters. Believing that the Eaters’ unexpected appearance so close to civilisation might be linked to the evil Kobb seeks, Kobb and Anessa follow the erstwhile attackers to ruins deep in the forest. Firing from hiding, they quickly fell the Eaters. But the last Eater reveals a shocking immunity to Kobb’s Courser, and the ability to shatter walls.
Tucking his legs in tight, Kobb rolled into the shadow of the remaining wall. Massive blocks thudded into the ground only inches from his feet, and dust rained down as others were knocked free of the lip of his narrow shelter. He pressed his elbows hard against his sides and aimed the Courser at the worst threats as best he could.
The stones shifted path—when he hit them—but, lacking whatever it was the Courser most worked upon, did not shatter. Clouds of dirt and mortar covered the stench of the Eater’s ritual, sucking the moisture from Kobb’s mouth.
The thudding and rolling stopped. Feeling something twist inside as he forced a cough down, he swilled his mouth with saliva and let it dribble in brown strings from his lips. With luck, the Eater would think him buried beneath the rubble.
Kobb eased himself up onto his elbows and crawled around the pile of stones. Peering between two massive blocks, he saw the Eater standing a few feet away, spinning its staff above its head and flicking its gaze from place to place.
Heartbeats later, it sprinted past the fire and into the intact building.
Kobb racked his mind. Even if he could get close enough to use his sword without receiving a dose of whatever the Eater did, it was too fast to fight with a rapier. He needed an edge.
He considered the rubble around him. While some blocks were cracked, most of them were intact. Most of the damage was to the mortar, or through falling. Maybe whatever the Eater had done had the same reduced effect on stone as his Courser.
Sliding slowly, he moved onto the top of a block and took a better look at the building. Two low doorways gaped, one either end of the front wall, but there were no windows—at least in the sides he could see. One corner of the roof sagged as if ready to fall.
Sparing an aching glance at the jumble of stone at the far end of the wall, he crept between columns and the remains of walls until he stood next to one of the door furthest from the damaged area of roof. He flattened himself against the wall and waited.
The chanting didn’t restart. The Eater hadn’t noticed him. Kobb took aim at the other door lintel and raised his Courser. Hoping his lungs would stand another use so soon after his frenzied firing and the clouds of muck, he took his shot. Not waiting to see the effect, he swung his rapier hard across the doorway.
The rumble of falling stones covered the sound of Kobb’s rapier striking the Eater in the face as it ran through the doorway. Continuing his motion, Kobb rolled around the edge of the door while dropping his weapons and leapt onto the staggered Eater, locking his arms around its body.
The air thickened as the rent in the building spread.
The Eater’s arms and legs blurred as it struck at him, but Kobb ignored the pain and squeezed harder. Leaning back, he raised the Eater from the ground.
Too close to wield its staff, and unable to dodge an attack that had already occurred, it thrashed impotently as Kobb drew his arms tighter around its spine.
Twisting its head around, the Eater snapped out.
Kobb felt a tearing sensation on the side of his head, followed by pain and warmth spreading down his neck. Strength trickling away, and rubble falling ever closer, he realised he would soon lose his grip to one or the other. He locked his fingers as tight as he could and threw himself forwards.
Agony spiked through his hands and forearms as they slammed into the rough floor. Blood-flecked mucus exploded from his mouth as something punched into his chest, sending his lungs into racking coughs.
Finally he drew a breath of his own will. The Eater lay unmoving beneath him.
Shouts, not loud enough to be intelligible, penetrated the rumble of falling blocks. Anessa or more Eaters? Forcing down nausea, he rolled off his opponent and staggered out of the door.
No one greeted his sight. Grabbing up his weapons, he stumbled away from the collapsing building towards where he last saw Anessa. As he moved, he realised the shouts were inside. There must have been more Eaters deeper within.
A crossbow lay next to the remains of the wall, half-cranked. Peering into the shadows beneath the sagged stonework, he saw Anessa’s head. He crouched down. “Anessa. Can you move?”
Her eyes were closed, but the locks of hair lying across her face trembled regularly. He gave praise for a Blessing. She was unconscious, but still breathing.
Easing his aching body as close as possible to the gap, he slid his right arm in. It hit rock, just below her chest.
He drew his arm back and moved around the wall. The middle had stood better. Blocks still held by mortar formed an arch, the depths of which revealed Anessa’s legs. Only one block held her in place.
The sound of falling stone quietened.
“—me. Anyone!” The shouting sounded human.
Kobb paused. The wall hadn’t sunk while he fought the Eater, so might hold a while longer. And even the thought of shifting it on his own made him feel queasy. He walked back towards the building. “I can… hear you.”
“Thank you! Hurry, please.”
Kobb took a step through the doorway. Murky light shifted through the clouds of settling dust, revealing jagged piles of stone. From the far corner, metal groaned. Twisted iron bars stopped the remaining roof falling further.
Someone moved behind the bars. “Over here. The cage saved me, but it won’t hold.”
Pausing after each step, Kobb moved closer. The rubble shifted slightly as he advanced, but held. Crouching, he saw a middle-aged man, hunched within a tangle of bars.
Kobb looked up. A team of workers with ropes and bars might move the stonework, but one ageing priest, bruised, half-choked, and without tools had no chance.
The cage creaked again as the roof shifted.