Previously on Seven Stones: After fighting his way through the crowds, Kobb realises that—even if they sneak the Tan-Sorda past the guards without the alarm being raised—the streets will be filled with potential witnesses until late into each night. Anessa is mistaken for one of the hunters employed by the Duke, giving Haelen a cunning idea; however, before they can return to their room to discuss it, thugs ambush them.
Kobb considered the two figures swaggering from further down the street. Turning his leg out, he stepped forward. Weight shifting sideways, he hooked his right fingers around the quillons of his rapier and drew upward. The hilt smashed into the jaw of the thug lunging from a side alley before slipping into Kobb’s left hand.
Body following his hand, Kobb drove his knee into the reeling attacker’s groin. The foetid gust of onions and rotten teeth washed over Kobb. A crisp strike to the back of the thug’s neck with his now-empty right hand laid his opponent face down on the cobbles.
Ambush falling apart before them, the two approaching assailants abandoned their saunter for a run, pulling knives as they came.
A breath later, one staggered to a halt, Anessa’s bolt jutting from his left thigh.
Dropping her crossbow, Anessa grabbed her sword. Still unused to the weapon, she twisted as she drew, binding the hilt on her jacket.
Knife fisted tight, the thug lunged forward.
Only to crash to the ground as Haelen hurled himself into his legs.
Lips pulled back in a rictus, the wounded attacker advanced.
Kobb spun as a boot scuffed behind him. Two more thugs stalked along the street, these experienced enough to neither rush nor bunch up. Letting his saddlebag drop off his shoulder, Kobb flicked his gaze between attackers, seeking an opening.
Glancing past Kobb, the thug on the right broke into a run.
Unsure which of the gasps and flesh striking flesh behind him were whose, and unwilling to take the time to check, Kobb sprinted to meet him, hoping the extra distance denied the other attacker an opening for long enough to strike the first.
Too aware of the need to end this to be merciful, Kobb lead with the point.
His opponent lashed out at the oncoming rapier, knocking the blade aside.
Kobb rolled his wrist the block, snapping the blade back in line as his right leg kicked forward. Three inches of steel sank between the thug’s ribs. Throat spasming in a half-cough, the man collapsed to the cobbles.
Running feet echoed. Twisting the blade free and turning in a single motion, Kobb prepared to meet his second opponent. However, instead of the expected attack, the man sprinted for an alley, Kobb’s bags clutched in his arms and Haelen in pursuit. Before Kobb could follow, metal clattered and Anessa screamed.
Sword lying on the ground, she backed away from the thug she’d shot earlier. Hampered by his wound, he couldn’t press his advantage; but disarmed, she could only defend.
Needing no time to choose, Kobb charged to her aid. Blade catching the attacker’s out-thrust knife, Kobb turned his wrist, rotating the rapier around while pushing the blade aside. Not breaking stride, he hammered the hilt into the thug’s forehead.
Eyes rolling back, the attacker collapsed to the floor.
Kobb staggered to a halt. With no opponents in sight, the little aches he never used to feel made themselves known. Blade hanging, he drew a deep breath and turned.
Purple light flared from the alley. Twinges forgotten, Kobb sprinted for the narrow alley.
Three shapes lay against the wall, the shadows of buildings robbing them of detail. Feet slipping as mud replaced cobbles, Kobb advanced.
The nearest shape shifted. “Rev… Reverend.”
Closer now, Kobb realised the bundle next to Haelen was the last thug; and the third, his saddlebags, contents half-spilt. “Haelen? What happened?”
“Bag caught on the wall. He must have decided to grab what he could and leave the bag.” Haelen pushed himself to his feet. “He had your Courser in his hand when I reached him. We struggled. Purple and silence. I was slammed back; banged my head. I… I thought he’d shoved me, but he must have hit himself and fallen into me.”
“How’d he use it?” said Anessa.
“If someone’s barely connected to the power, they might never know. Even strong emotion’d only bring it close to the surface—not all the way. Holding the Courser must have been enough.” Kobb considered his possessions. Even in the gloom, he made out stains from the filth coating the floor. This wasn’t the time to care about getting the muck on everything, though. Stuffing everything into the bag, he pushed the Courser back under his spare clothes.
Haelen shuffled past Anessa. “We’d best get inside. Don’t want to be standing around if someone does investigate, and I’ve still a plan to share.”
“Better be one that doesn’t need us to stay here.” Kobb nodded toward the thugs sprawled on the street. “If the gang took a dislike because we hadn’t cut them in on the deal, they try worse once they find out we did this.”
“That’ll depend on how long it takes to get what we need.” Haelen stepped around an unconscious body. “Once we’re ready, doing it’ll only need an hour.”
The hostler gaped at them as they entered, before ducking through a door behind the bar. Seemed like the gang would find out sooner rather than later. Tiredness from the fight and tiredness at the venality of humans weighing on him equally, Kobb trudged up the stairs. Waving the other two into the room, he glanced into the second room before returning. “What’s the plan then?”
“I had an idea when that thief mistook Anessa. They’d never let hunters in unexpected. Don’t mean they won’t let other strangers who seem to have a reason in, though.” Haelen grinned up from his seat on the bed. “So, we pretend you’re a Reverend. Here to bless the special quarry, so killing it’s even more meaningful.”
Pretend he was—? Kobb struggled not to laugh, failing when he saw Anessa’s puzzled expression.
“But he is a Reverend! I thought we wanted to hide that. And how does it help us get it out?”
“Stones,” said Haelen.
Anessa’s forehead crumpled further. “Don’t think acting like we’ve a right’ll make everyone ignore a giant beast.”
“No. I mean Kobb uses the Stones to move us and the Tan-Sorda to the Circle, then we go back through.”
Kobb nodded. “We arrive near the Skithai, and none of the guards knows where to start looking for us. Travelling that way exhausts me though, so best to only take the Tan-Sorda. Unlikely they’d let me lead Falcon into the cages anyway, so the two of you ride out and we’ll meet in the forest.”
“Haelen maybe.” Anessa’s hand dropped to her sword. “But you’ll need someone in case it goes wrong.”
“You’ll need something else, too.” Haelen glanced up and down Kobb’s clothes. “No one’ll believe a Reverend Militant’s come to do the ritual; especially one who looks like he’s been on the road for weeks.”
Kobb sighed. “Fair point. If it were real, they’d send someone senior. Which means we have to convince the nearest cloister to give us vestments I’m not entitled to—without telling anyone why we need them.”