Previously on Seven Stones: A possessed boar falls into the trap. Not wanting to share the pit with a maddened beast, Haelen decides to wait until it has exhausted itself before trepanning. However, while the group eat breakfast, the boar starts to dig its way free.
“How fast can they—? Never mind.” Kobb rested his bowl on the ground and ran for the hole, followed by the others.
Anessa loaded her crossbow as she raced past him. “It might still tire itself out. If I hit it in the leg—”
“You’ll have to kill it,” said Haelen. “That insect’s not going to stop until the boar’s dead.”
“It was worth trying, but we failed.” Kobb drew his Courser. “Don’t think we can afford more time on it.”
“Wait.” Anessa grabbed his arm. “What if we drop things into the pit?”
Kobb frowned. “Knocking that hunter out almost killed him.”
“No. Around it. If it can’t move—”
“—it can’t hit the sides as hard.” Kobb holstered his weapon and grabbed a piece of broken wood.
Unsettled by the lack of squealing, he peered into the trap. Chunks of soil scattered the bottom, and the front edge already looked shallower. He quickly threw his burden in.
The boar broke it with a single blow, but it was still one less tuskful of earth smashed from the pit.
The first few journeys took an age, barely slowing the beast’s attempts to break free. Slogging through the drifts Kobb had so carefully built, the three of them hurled in whatever they could find.
But each time pressed the snow down a little, making the next trip easier. Soon they fell into a pattern: if the boar moved to the front, Anessa filled more of the space behind it; if it shuffled back, Kobb added to the tangle of wood protecting the front; and Haelen filled the space to either side.
The beast twisted and smashed, but soon lost too much leverage to break the thicker wreckage. Hemmed in on all sides, it glared up at them in utter silence.
Kobb knuckled the small of his back. “Not something I’d want to do again. But, a person’ll be easier to restraint. Best get it done, Haelen.”
Jogging over to his pack, Haelen returned with a drill and knife. He held them out to Anessa. “I’ll want both hands to get in place. Stand on the left. Hand me the knife first. Soon as I toss it to the right, give me the drill.”
After walking along the edge of the trap for a moment, eyeing the back of the boar, Haelen grabbed the jutting end of a beam. Swinging his legs clear of the spurs, he dropped down.
The boar spasmed and bucked, but couldn’t shake him before his left hand clasped a bone spur. Kneeling, Haelen snatched the knife from Anessa’s outstretched grip and hacked at a patch of bristles on the beast’s head.
The creature wrestled harder. Knuckles white against the spur, Haelen fought to stay upright. His face as pale as his knuckles, he pressed the knife to the shaved patch and sliced at the flesh below.
The boar’s hindquarters dropped, then surged up. Balance gone, Haelen fell forwards as the creature snapped its head up. The knife arced from Haelen’s hand, falling just outside the trap.
Lips drawn over clamped teeth, Haelen pushed against the bucking monster with his free hand. With a tearing sound, he straightened. Red blossomed across the side of his tunic, matching the glistening coating of a bone spur.
Kobb snatched his Courser out.
“No.” Haelen took a firm grip with his right hand on another spur and held out his left. “Almost done.”
As soon as Anessa thrust the drill into his grip, he pressed it to the cut. Drawing a deep breath, he shifted his right hand from the spur to the drill and twisted in one motion. Without his hands bracing him, the boar’s writhing sent him sliding sideways.
But the drill stayed in place. A dull crunch sounded as Haelen smacked into a spur. For a moment, Kobb thought it had broken Haelen’s ribs. Then Haelen yanked the drill up, grin fighting against the pain.
Kobb lunged forward and grabbed Haelen’s arm. Ignoring the icy stabbing that ran up his spine, he jerked Haelen towards him. Haelen smashed into him, knocking him to the ground and adding hollow lungs to the backache.
“It worked.” Anessa helped Haelen up. “There’s smoke.”
Kobb struggled to his feet. The boar rocked, froth coating its snout and wisps of something rising from its head. Moments later, the area above it flickered.
Tendrils flailing, an insect rose above the pit. Unlike the rapid lunges of the others, this one listed, chitin cracking as Kobb watched. Ichor dripping, it drifted towards him before jerking sideways. After spiralling twice, it dropped into the snow.
Unsure whether the drift would provide some protection, Kobb unleashed his Courser. When the light faded, wing fragments and odd organs lay in the mud. “Haelen, how bad are you?”
Squealing drowned out Haelen’s answer.
Kobb looked into the pit, careful to stay well away from the remains of the insect. The boar, eyes rolling and sides heaving, thrashed uncontrollably. With a sickening crunch, one of the bone spurs cracked against a joist. Kobb raised his Courser.
“Stop!” Haelen lurched over. “You’re not killing it now.”
“We need to see if it lives.” Haelen reached for the end of a plank. “We let it out.”
Anessa grabbed Haelen’s shoulder. “It’s not that important.”
Holstering his Courser, Kobb eased Haelen’s hand free. “You need to see to your wound. I’ll do it.”
Moving to the left, Kobb tugged out a baulk and cast it aside. Anessa started on the other side. The first few were easy enough; but, as the boar’s freedom to move increased, it hurled itself around more violently.
Anessa reached for one of the beams near the front but jerked her hand away as the beast reared up. “I don’t think we—”
“Take from the back.”
Working together, they cleared the highest of the obstacles.
Instinct proved more destructive than the insect’s cunning. Twisting, the boar faced them. Gashes in its flanks smeared gore across the wood, but still it fought.
“It’s too dangerous. Either it struggles free or it doesn’t.” Kobb pulled Anessa away.
Anessa jogged beside him, stealing glances over her shoulder.
The squealing intensified followed by the sound of breaking wood. Anessa began to run. With nothing to lose if the boar wasn’t clambering free, Kobb sped after her. Reaching the flimsy shelter of the camp, he looked back.
Swaying, the creature wandered around the edge of the hole.
The cold seeped through the knees of Kobb’s trousers as he waited. After several long moments, the beast settled on north and meandered into the forest.
“So, only a scratch,” said Haelen.
“A scratch?” Anessa crouched next to him. “You’re covered in blood.”
“I meant the boar. But, people have taken worse and not even stopped. Eh, Reverend?”
Kobb nodded. He’d been wounded worse himself. “Most of them got a strip torn off by a healer for doing it, though.”
“Fair point.” Haelen held himself straighter. “Auxiliary Lok, do that again and I might not heal you. Apologies, Medicus Lok. Carry on, auxiliary.” He chuckled before spitting into the fire.
“You mean you’re all right, then?” said Anessa.
“I wouldn’t say no to the rest of breakfast,” Haelen settled back. “But after that, we head on. People to save.”
Kobb looked away. People had taken worst wounds and carried on. But the ones who recovered usually spent days in the healer’s tent. For a moment, he considered arguing. It wasn’t his choice though. Haelen had decided it was worth the risk. Wouldn’t be right to override him.