Previously on Seven Stones: Each member of the quest is approached by someone they miss. However, Anserth is suspicious and attacks, revealing all the visitors are a single creature with the ability to trick people’s senses. Before anyone fully recovers their wits, the demon Kobb defeated at Raveth enters the circle of stones.
Arm straight but not rigid, Kobb tracked the abomination as it advanced. It seemed solid enough, and yet no matter how carefully he’d picked his spot, the creature always split there the instant he unleashed his Courser.
“No need for violence, Absolution.” The demon’s voice sounded like Gannon’s now; however, the hint of tortured metal still lurked beneath. “Join us and your friends won’t be harmed.”
Kobb’s ears buzzed as the power struggled to be free. For an instant, the desire to attack until he was spent filled him, but he fought it down. It must know mimicking Gannon would make him less prone to negotiate, so wanted him angry. Lending further evidence to his worry it could predict his actions, the abomination—while still moving in a series of jagged flickers—slowed to the pace and predictability of a gentle stroll. He needed to try something different; something it couldn’t dodge. He lacked any of the trappings; he was Blessed with lungs, though.
“Whosoever would be Blessed, before all things it is necessary—” Kobb drove the words of the Creed forth from the depths of his chest, yet they seemed muffled. “—that they hold faith in the Maker. Which faith…”
“The Rite of Abjuration?” The creature halted. Its speech shattered into myriad voices chanting the Creed as one. “…keep whole and undefiled; without such they shall face confusion and loss everlasting. And the demonstrations of faith are these—” The choir collapsed again into a single voice of torn iron. “The gate makes this as much my home as yours. Even with a chorus to sustain the harmonies you cannot send me to where I have not left.”
Kobb continued to push the words out with all his will, but the abomination didn’t flinch, let alone retreat. Realising he wasted his energy as surely as if he used his Courser, he fell silent.
“Gannon told me you’d see sense.”
Straightening her shoulders, Anessa drew her sword. “Why are you doing this? Why try to trick us? Why can’t you just leave us alone?”
A sound like breaking glass rang from the demon. “I want to share my home, my wisdom, everything. My appearance can be troubling at first, though. I thought seeing your friends, knowing you’d be among family, would be more reassuring.
Kobb frowned. Two moons. Mountains that weren’t quite there. If it was set on talking, maybe it’d be arrogant enough to let something slip. “You infected hundreds at Raveth. If you wanted us to join you, you could have done the same to us. You’ve proved I can’t stop you. Which means, you need us to choose to serve. You claimed this is as much your home as ours. That’s it, isn’t it? I opened the gate halfway. You need someone to complete the ritual; however, they have to do it of their own free will.”
“So clever.” A wisp of smoke rose from beneath the creature’s feet. “The gate can only be unsealed from your side. Even the tiniest sliver of me in someone and they can’t touch it. Why fight it though? If you don’t open it, someone will. Already people are turning against your beliefs. I can wait. So, why not have the rewards for yourself?”
“Pigshit!” Anessa tugged her pendant out of her jacket. “There’ll always be someone to fight. And you ain’t got nothing we want!”
“Such passion. Even the scent is sweet.” The creature juddered two feet closer to her in a blink. “I need one of you to open the way. I could embrace the rest now… or I could agree to let them leave, agree to let them live out their lives free of my love if that is what they wish.”
“Go eat slurry!” Face pale but hands steady, Anessa stepped forward and swung her sword in a massive arc. Tatters of shadow floated away as the blade cleaved through the demon’s torso. She struck again, slashing another wound through her opponent.
The demon tittered as the wisps twisted in the air and resealed the wounds. “Maybe losing a companion will convince one of you to see sense.”
Anessa leapt back, sword raised. Boot striking a hummock, she fell backwards.
Folding forward, the creature reached for her leg.
Only to be sent sprawling as Haelen slammed into it from the side.
Seeing a chance, Kobb unleashed a blast.
Purple fire lashed out, yet the demon somehow still tore apart before it hit.
The abomination juddered for an instant and reformed standing. The shadows fractured and leapt toward Kobb.
He stepped back.
A tendril of shadow flickered out as the abomination twisted past, hooking around the end of his Courser.
Before Kobb could unleash power, inhuman strength sent his weapon spinning over the creatures shoulder.
“Perhaps you’ll be more amenable without your trinket.” The abomination reformed beside Anserth. “Does this one matter to—?”
Purple fire swallowed the rest of its words. The shadowy form twisted as tatters spun away, each fading rather than flowing back. Shrinking and fading, it staggered then ceased to be.
Haelen collapsed to his knees, trickles of blood marking his cheeks and chin.
“How did you—?” Anessa dropped down beside him.
He raised a palm before she could wrap her arm around him. “Explain later. Kobb needs to close gate. Paper in tent. Two wolves on the top.”
For a moment, Kobb thought she’d insist on helping Haelen first; then she sprinted for the tents.
Anserth raised an eyebrow. “There’s nothing with wolves on.”
Haelen clambered to his feet. “It’ll take her a while to find that out though. Long enough for the Reverend to get the barrier down and close the gate.”
“Safe travels, Medicus.” Kobb bowed his head for a moment.
Nodding back, Haelen jogged toward the edge of the circle.
Reaching within, Kobb reached for the threads. This time they unwove easily. The power screamed at him, but now the Stones seemed determined to help not hinder.
When he opened his eyes again, pale starlight shone on dense forest. And an empty space where Haelen had been.
Anessa burst from the tent, a pile of parchment clutched in each hand. “I can’t find it. Are you sure it’s got two… The moon’s gone. What happened? Where’s Haelen?”
Kobb held his arms out. “He touched the abomination. He knew he was infected.”
“But, maybe he wasn’t.” Anessa swallowed. “Maybe it didn’t…”
“He used my Courser. Only way to access power if you’re not born with it’s to get it from a demon. Once the infection spread, he’d have tried to convince someone to open the gate again. So, he did the only thing he could: stay on the other side.”
Anessa collapsed to the ground, sobbing.
After staring at the tent for a moment, he turned to face Anserth. “She’ll need your help to get through this, Inductor. Not just the warrior; all of you.”
“I don’t know if I even can.” Anserth’s shoulders sagged. “I’m trained to put the mission first. How do I not do that?”
Kobb let his gaze drift across the dull stones. Not even a trickle of power hid within them. “I don’t know. But because of Haelen, there’s time for you to find out.”