Previously on Seven Stones: Destroying the Belt heals some of Serth’s wounds, leaving her battered yet able to survive the journey back to the Stones. Kobb confirms that all of the Stones have lost their odd sense of otherness. However, just after he tells the others, the smell of burning fills the tent.
Kobb shivered, then drew his weapons and sprinted out, Anessa on his heels. Everything seemed dull. He staggered to a halt, gaze sweeping the area as he sought the fire without success. The scent of scorching came from all around, but was strongest behind him.
The barrier seemed more obvious. Two feet later, he realised smoke rose where it touched the ground. He held up a hand. “Stay back. Just in case.”
Power pressed down on him as he opened his mind to the connection. The edge seemed to be in the same place, yet felt heavier. He eased closer, a step at a time. Not heavier exactly: more— He halted, as crackle of light moved around the edge.
The flicker afforded him too brief a glimpse to be certain, but the ground had seemed eaten away. If the barrier had started to damage the soil, getting closer was risky. Especially if it arced out again. Safest option was to dismiss it. They’d realigned the Stones, so did they need the protection any more? He peered in every direction. No sign of anyone waiting to get in; and if someone did come, he could raise it again quickly enough. He turned his mind inward toward the threads linking him to the barrier.
Only to feel them slip from him.
Sinking to his knees, he slowed his breathing and eased his worry away. The structure floated before him. At ease, he reached out.
His mental fingers passed through, closing on nothing. He tried again, with no success. Sweat beaded on his brow as he pushed himself harder to no effect.
He inhaled sharply, as Anessa shook his shoulder. Then coughed as heat dried his throat.
“What’s happening? Why’s it so hot?”
He clambered to his feet. “The barrier’s changed. I can’t dismiss it.”
“How hot’s it going to get?” Anessa backed away, gaze flicking around.
“I don’t know.” Kobb patted her elbow. “We’ll check the notes. There has to be an answer.”
Anserth sat on the edge of the bed when they returned, supported by Haelen. “Whatever the Belt did to me, I feel good—a little hot, but…” The smile left her face as Kobb explained.
After easing away from his patient, Haelen moved between piles of paper, tutting under his breath. Brow creased, he held up the stained and mildewed remains of a diagram. “It’s not clear how; seems the Stones need life to seal the pattern in place, though.”
“We’re not sacrificing anyone.” Kobb snatched the page. Seven red lines linked rough rectangles to a central one. Age and misuse had destroyed most of the text. The crude figure in the middle was obvious enough, though. “There has to be another way.”
Anserth sat up straighter. “I’ll do it. If it’s this hot now, we don’t have time to research the best approach. So, we complete the mission.”
“No!” Anessa wrapped her arms around the Inductor. “We’re not killing you.”
“Anessa’s right.” Kobb held up a hand before Anserth could argue. “I know all the arguments that you’re the sensible choice. But using the Stones to travel’s heretical enough; sacrificing someone’s demon worship, plain and simple.”
Anessa looked up, eyes sparkling. “What about your Courser? Could you… break the barrier or something?”
Kobb shook his head. “Courser blasts pass through each other. More power might even speed things up.”
“She could be on the right path, Reverend.” Haelen tapped his chin. “Not breaking through, but using the way it affects you. It doesn’t just channel from somewhere else; each time you use it, you end up tired. So, the blasts contain part of your life. If you focus it on the central stone, it might be enough.”
“I hope you’re right.” Anserth eased free of Anessa’s embrace. “If you destroy the altar and it doesn’t work, then we can’t try anything else.”
“Coursers barely damage normal rock. Might not even scratch one crafted to direct power.” Kobb strode out of the tent, shoulders set. The air clutched at his lungs as he approached the altar.
His aim settled. He slowed his breathing. If his Courser did destroy the stone, it denied the Circle to anyone who might misuse it. So, one way or another, this would be a Blessing. Everything thinned as purple fire boiled out.
He dropped to his knees, focus broken, as the ground lurched beneath him. Cool air flooded his lungs. The barrier remained; the weight was gone from his mind, though. He could—
Instead of the gentle light of stars, everything had a ruddy tinge. The stars were still there, yet somehow less solid. And among them hung an immense red moon where no moon had ever been.
Courser ready, he stood. The edge of the forest loomed dark, yet thin as shadow. And visible through it, mountains jutted. Anessa gasped as she stepped into view, as shocked as he was.
A breath later, she sprinted forward, eyes locked on something just behind him. He spun into a defensive stance.
And froze. It wasn’t… How…?
Leather creaked as Reverend Militant Gannon spread his arms wide. “It’s good to see you, Absolution. I have so many things to tell you.”