Previously on Seven Stones: Kobb tricks the hunter into revealing knowledge of dark rituals and attacks. When he wrestles Kobb to the ground, Anessa hits the hunter with the flat of her turf-hook. One of the odd insects rises from his cracked skull. Courser recovered, Kobb shoots without effect. Realising the insect avoids sunlight, Kobb blasts at the fallen trees. As more light strikes it, the insect falls to the ground. Haelen suggests trepanning might drive them out of living hosts.
Kobb holstered his Courser and stood.
“Shame to waste that.” Haelen pointed at the broken branches scattered across the area. “And we’ll all be better for a rest.”
Shivering, Anessa glanced at the hunter. “Day’s only half gone. And, like Kobb said, this ain’t the best place to camp.”
“With him dead, don’t need to overnight. And sooner we’re there, sooner everyone’s safe,” said Kobb. “But, I’ll not hide that I’d enjoy something hot before we head on.”
Lifting one end of the hunter each, Haelen and Kobb moved him to the edge of the tunnel and piled broken branches over him. By the time they’d finished, Anessa had cleared enough space for a fire and brewed a pot of porridge.
Warmth from his portion easing the aches in his body, Kobb rested against a stump while Anessa scoured the last of the oats. Finally, her desire to be heading on overcame her determination to find another hint of porridge in the depths.
As she started back the way they came, Kobb eased to his feet. He moved to follow but Haelen rested a hand on his elbow. “I reckon we don’t tell her,” whispered Haelen, “about there not being anywhere safe.”
Kobb studied Haelen’s face. While his brow was furrowed, his gaze was steady. Kobb had hoped he was the only one who realised what an enemy that could move through things meant. “Agreed. We’d need to set watches anyway.”
The rest of the journey back to the settlement passed in silence. Cold smacked Kobb across the face as he emerged from the ragged tunnel. His collar tugged up further, he compared the broken huts to his memory; the wreckage seemed unchanged.
Anessa peered at the sky. “Daylight’ll hold for a couple more hours. Press on?”
“They came through here several times.” Kobb considered the tree line. “Might be nothing, but there might be a reason. Worth making sure.”
Working until twilight, Kobb found only broken wood, tatters of cloth, and the occasional battered tool. Either the insects passed on the way to somewhere else, or they achieved their goal before he arrived. “Anessa, where’s the best place for a cold camp?”
“Cold camp?” Anessa frowned at him.
Haelen trudged over to them. “Don’t want to attract too much attention.”
“Boar’s easier to dodge than the weather.” Anessa pointed up. “Clear sky means it might be bitter tonight. Better off with a small fire, maybe in one of the broken areas so there’s shelter.”
“Makes sense.” Kobb lifted a section of roof. “There’s plenty of dry wood, so we won’t get smoked out.”
Half-an-hour later, chill biting his spine despite the fire, Kobb was glad all over again that he hadn’t sent Anessa straight home. “Not ideal supper conversation I know, Haelen… how easy’s this trepanning?”
“Found a drill, so that’ll help, but it’s not something healers do any more…”
Anessa’s head snapped up. “You’ve never done it?”
Kobb reached forward to stir the soup. A suspicious oaty resistance met the spoon. “Safer to try on a boar first. Do it in daylight, in the clearing, no need to worry if the insect objects.”
“And how are we supposed to catch one?” asked Haelen.
“Most hunters use spears.” Anessa reached for the oat sack, then drew her hand back when Kobb raised an eyebrow. “But we don’t have any, and these boars’re even better at breaking things Don’t want it dead, neither.”
“We could feed it some of this soup.” Kobb loosed his grip. The spoon remained upright for a moment.
“Covered pit’d work,” said Anessa, glaring at Kobb. “Assuming they ain’t changed since last time.”
“I like the soup idea.” Haelen kept a straight face for a moment, then winked at Anessa. “But, seriously, won’t digging a pit take too long? Shouldn’t we move on?”
Anessa lifted a huge scoop from the pot and splatted it into her bowl. “We can’t leave people like that.”
“Weren’t what I meant. Don’t want to get caught here if they come back quick.” Haelen raised his palms. “Things got better in Alcston soon as you stopped the Korha. Might not have to save everyone.”
Lifting the spoon from Anessa’s hand as it passed by, Kobb took a less excessive portion. “Stopping whatever they’re planning isn’t the same as getting rid of them. It’s worth the delay so we find out if it doesn’t work before we need it.”
Haelen nodded slowly. “Practice wouldn’t hurt.”
“We’ve got till tomorrow evening anyway,” mumbled Anessa. “From the way the footprints froze, boars come through every five days, maybe six. Plenty of time to dig a pit and get it covered again.”
“One, yes. Not enough for all those breaks.” Haelen swept his arm around. “Assuming they don’t break through somewhere else.”
“That’s why we don’t put it by the tree line,” replied Anessa. “We put it in the middle of the village.”
“Still no guarantee the boar’ll run over that bit.”
“That’s the second part of the plan.” Anessa set her shoulders. “Soon as we hear crashing, I stand by the pit. The boar charges me, and goes in.”
“And if it doesn’t?”
“I run like I’ve got a mad boar after me.” Anessa’s eyes belied her humour.