Previously on Seven Stones: While searching the ring of stones, Anessa begins to doubt her own senses. Haelen discovers his daughter might have been brought to the stones; and also evidence the barrier around the stones uses the same magic as Kobb’s Courser. Kobb and Haelen argue fiercely over whether using the stones to swiftly travel great distances is justified.
Before Kobb could clear his blade, Anessa pushed herself between them. “The Eaters run fast. Real fast. And they worship the Maker don’t they? So ain’t travelling fast righteous?”
Kobb grabbed her shoulder and twisted. “Suddenly you are an expert on virtue? On faith? Did the Maker always speak to you, or was it only since you left your hovel?”
“Virtue?” Anessa did not notice the pain in her hand—only the pleasing glow of its mark on Kobb’s face. “Least I help people, instead of following rules honest folk laugh at.”
Kobb drew his free fist back. Before the blow could fall, he doubled over.
Anessa stepped backwards as Haelen grabbed for Kobb’s bowed head. Grinning, she circled around the wrestling men. With Haelen distracting him, she should be able to pick her spot.
Her fingers wrapped around the turf hook. If she lined up right, she might catch both of them with a single—
The weapon slipped from her fingers. Haelen wasn’t her enemy. Kobb wasn’t her enemy. Why was she—? The power twisted things! She kicked the turf hook away and then unslung her crossbow. Her left hand instinctively dropped to a quarrel.
Biting down on her tongue, she hurled the crossbow away and then cast her quarrels in the opposite direction. Her mouth flooded with copper as she turned back to the struggling men and charged.
Her shoulder caught Kobb’s chest, tearing him from Haelen’s grip but sending her tumbling to the ground.
Haelen, eyes wide, brought his leg back and then paused. “Katrina?”
She was right. The stones made people see wrong. Bloody spittle flying, she locked eyes with Kobb. “Kobb! The power got in our heads!”
Kobb froze, knuckles white on the butt of his Courser. Jaw trembling, he forced his hand to the pendant at his throat.
As Anessa eased herself to her feet, Haelen began to sob uncontrollably.
“Get him outside the stones.” Kobb backed away. “Might not attack you.”
Anessa rested her hand on Haelen’s elbow and pulled gently. Body shaking, he let her lead him between the nearest stones. As soon as she stepped through, the air felt warmer. Her shoulders sagged, a stiffness she hadn’t noticed trickling away. “It worked, Kobb. I feel better.”
The taste of metal coated her tongue. For a moment she dismissed it; then she realised Kobb hadn’t just not answered, all the sound had gone. She spun round.
Purple fire flickered across the stones, lashing randomly over Kobb’s rigid body. She needed to get him out of there.
As she took a step forward, the fire surged, tendrils bridging the gaps between the stones. Her feet stumbled to a halt.
Pimples rose on her arms. The wind, gusting in one direction then another, span up patterns of dust.
Sunlight bled away, making the fire seem brighter still.
Then it stopped.
Blinking away the patterns floating across her vision, Anessa looked around. What happened? Had—?
Kobb collapsed backwards, face bloodless.
Anessa rushed towards him, but Haelen outpaced her.
“Reverend!” Haelen dropped to a crouch.
Kobb’s eyes cracked open. “Barrier. Directed the power. Affect us less.”
“You raised the barrier.” Anessa crouched at his other side. “But it nearly… You were right. Using the stones is too dangerous.”
“No…. Haelen’s right. It’s like a Courser.” Kobb sat up. “But, that much power, and after chasing through the forest without a good night’s sleep… I’ll be fine.”
Anessa raised an eyebrow, but the blood was returning to his face and he remained upright unaided.
Haelen rose and offered his hand. “Shouldn’t have said what I did. Man’s entitled to his morals.”
“I’ve faced down enough of Reverends who got a taste for telling people what to do.” Kobb took Haelen’s hand. “My fault for forgetting the Book of Blessings is a guide. Don’t hold all the Maker’s thoughts.”
“Weren’t none of us right.” Anessa gestured around. “Stones were doing things. Barrier’s up now. Best get some rest… outside the ring.”
Kobb pulled himself upright on Haelen’s arm. “Seems we owe you again. A Blessing that you saw through it given how strong it was. If it was only me succumbed, would make sense: these stones have been pressing at me for months. But Haelen was taken hard too.”
“Aren’t the innocent supposed to be immune to true evil?” Haelen frowned. “In tales, least ways.”
Anessa felt heat flood her face. She weren’t innocent. Couldn’t be, growing up around farm beasts.
“Would be good if life were like a tale.” Kobb rubbed his eyes. “Don’t mean we can’t get her back. But we’ll all benefit from some sleep.”
“That’s all it was,” Anessa muttered. “Weren’t as tired as the two of you.”
Despite her theory, Anessa tumbled into sleep as soon as she lay down.
Only to jerk awake, eyes gritty, as Kobb shouted incoherently. Conflicted between acknowledging his pain and giving him privacy, she kept her face turned away. As her eyes crept closed, an odd pattering noise came from outside.
She untangled her legs from the blanket and peered out the tent flap. The night was black, but in place of stars, purple light flickered and sparked across the sky. An especially bright flash revealed a hooded figure slipping from the second tent.