Previously on Seven Stones: Kobb and Anessa use one of the stones to travel to Alcston. Searching the hut of a mysterious sorcerer, Kobb discovers a way of using the sigils that control his Courser to make the journey easier.
Anessa grabbed Haelen. “We did it!”
“That’s good to hear.” Haelen wriggled free. “But, let’s get inside. I brewed up a new batch of sleeping potion. And the Reverend will want to shake the cold off after…”
Kobb rolled his shoulders. “Journey there weren’t ideal, so best if Haelen takes a poke to make sure nothing permanent happened. Wouldn’t say no to something warm though, if you don’t mind starting supper, Anessa.”
Haelen nodded. “I’ll try to be quick. Wouldn’t be fair to force her to eat it all.”
Anessa stomped over to the woodpile. Weren’t nothing wrong with a healthy appetite. Probably be more pleasantness and less arguing if people ate up their porridge instead of spending their time making odd writings. Only a few days wood left, maybe a bit longer if they weren’t around to need a fire in the day. She peered out into the fading light. Would it be safe to lower the barrier for a while to collect wood? Or they could… She chuckled at the image of Kobb doing his mad rooster face with his jacket stuffed full of kindling. Just six stones left anyway, so probably wouldn’t be an issue.
It were a touch odd that the previous inhabitant had hauled enough barrels of water to last weeks but not built the woodpile to match. He was cracked though, so not worth creasing her head about. Adding roots to the pot and some oats for thickening, she set the soup to cook.
Waking early the next morning, she realised she’d got a full night’s sleep: no keeping one eye out for threats; no Kobb shouting. Torn between the staying curled up in the warmth of the coats piled on her bed and the smell of hot oats wafting from outside, she eased her head up.
Chill air grabbed at her nose and crept along her neck. Gritting her teeth, she dived out of her nest and quickly scooped the top layer around her. After jumping up and down to shake the sleep off, she stomped out of the tent. Despite knowing it wouldn’t be there, it felt odd not to have snow crunch beneath her feet.
“Morning, Anessa.” Haelen looked up from the pot.
Filling a bowl to the brim, she settled next to Kobb. “What’s the plan?”
“Haelen reckons we try that one.”
“You worked out where each of them goes, then?”
Kobb and Haelen glanced at each other. “Not yet,” said Haelen.
Anessa took another scoop of porridge. Seemed like Haelen found one of those things Kobb thought were wrong. Least they weren’t arguing fit to kill this time. “That one it is then. I get to pick next though.”
Haelen laughed. “The Reverend’s doing the moving. If we’re taking turns, seems he should have the next choice.”
“Suppose that’s fair.” She pointed her spoon at Kobb. “But no picking a boring one.”
Kobb inclined his head. “Of course not. Although, we do have to go to each of them, so…”
Anessa grinned, then went back to shovelling porridge into her mouth. Kobb had seemed a little severe to begin with, but he was definitely more cheerful now. Must be the company, and getting closer to ending the evil.
A second bowlful resting in her stomach, she glanced around to make sure she hadn’t forgotten something and joined the other two next to Haelen’s pick. The stones on either side seemed to shift in the corners of her eyes. Fixing a giant grin on her face, she winked at both of them. That’d show those stones she weren’t scared.
Kobb brushed his fingers over his pendant. “Ready?”
“Reckon so.” She rested her hand on the butt of her crossbow, just in case. “So we don’t know what—?”
Something wrapped around her like damp cloth and the taste of stale milk flooded her mouth. Tearing her eyes open, she lurched sideways.
Snow crunched under her feet. Then her body cramped. Acid and half-digested oats overwhelmed the milky taste. Staggering away from the vomit-spattered snow, she turned until she found Kobb. “Thought it was supposed to be easy?”
Kobb swallowed hard. His hands trembled and sweat coated his brow. “Moving worked like I thought. Must be the corruption in the power.”
Anessa looked over at Haelen. His face was a little pale, but seemed otherwise well. “How did you—?”
“Doing what I do, gives you a strong stomach. Pinching yourself helps too.”
Made sense. Probably wouldn’t last long as a healer if you got sick. She slipped off her gloves and pinched her left wrist hard. It brought back memories of her cousins just having a bit of fun, but the churning in her stomach did slow.
She studied their surroundings. The shattered remains of huts jutted from drifts of snow. Pines loomed up on all sides. Wide tracks, filled with jagged stumps, broke the wall of trees in several places. Pulling her gloves back on, she trudged towards the nearest hut.
Two of the corner posts remained upright. The rest of the walls and the roof lay, shattered and half-buried, in a rough line. Apart from which parts were intact, the next building was the same. “What happened here?”
“Something broke the huts apart,” said Kobb. “Don’t see bodies though.”
“They had time to get away.” Haelen walked over, waving a twisted metal object. Snow caked his gloves. “Least ways after the first time. Snow on those looks thicker. Dug this pan out. Must have been flattened when the hut was smashed. But I reckon if we dig through the ones over there, won’t be anything but broken wood.”
Kobb rubbed his chin. “You might be right. Something demolished those huts. Whoever lived here tried to stop it and failed, or maybe just hid. Once it was gone, they buried the dead or took them, and carried their all possessions with them. The creature came back and broke down the other huts after they were empty.”
A muffled crack echoed around the clearing. Anessa spun, looking for the source. More cracks rang out. The pines to the north thrashed in a wind that wasn’t there.