Previously on Seven Stones: The argument between Kobb and Haelen escalates to violence. Anessa realises the corruption is influencing everyone’s emotions and manages to break up the fight. Kobb directs power into raising the barrier around the stones, helping everyone think clearly but collapsing in the process. Awoken from the first proper night’s sleep in weeks, Anessa spots a mysterious figure emerging from the other tent.
Kobb focused on the weave of the canvas above his head. A great weight pinned him to the cot and a deep hammering echoed through his head. Forcing his lungs to take and hold deeper breaths, the thudding faded. Heart no longer racing, he turned his thoughts inward. The barrier pressed against him. Incoherent syllables squeezed from his lips as he shoved back.
Easing into the feeling, he sensed the wind gusting through the stones… and something else. The power twisting and flowing from the stones to the barrier. He shouldn’t be able to— He was still connected. When he collapsed, he hadn’t noticed. Body arching, he forced himself out of the flow.
A sliver of light flickered across the roof of the tent. Sitting up, he pushed aside the blanket Haelen had insisted they hang between the cots. The tent flap fell closed, cutting off the image of Anessa creeping away.
Rubbing the bridge of his nose, he scooped up his Courser and rapier. A weapon clutched in each hand, he slipped out.
Freezing air bit through his shirt. Glancing up at the snow sparking on the barrier, he considered going back for his jacket. But Anessa was already some distance away. Striding after her, he noticed Haelen standing in the ring of stones. Anessa was heading straight for him, so why hadn’t Haelen spotted whatever she had? Why was Haelen in the ring anyway? If he acted as if he were just coming to see Haelen, it might distract whatever was out there, while Anessa sneaked up on it. “Cold night for it.”
Haelen spun round, a bundle of papers slipping from his hand. Caught by the wind, notes and diagrams swirled sideways.
“Haelen?” Anessa straightened. “I thought…”
Haelen lunged for the papers. Getting his feet crossed in his haste, he landed in an ungainly heap, outstretched fingers pinning his prize to the dirt. “Woke up with an idea. I wanted to—”
“I’m first to admit it’s hard to step away,” said Kobb. “But you’ll be sharper after some rest.”
Haelen fumbled the papers back into a rough pile and stood up. “One more, quick thing. I’ll not sleep anyway for thinking on it.”
Kobb nodded. If dreams of a threat were enough to keep him moving, then how strong must the chance to rescue a child be? Clutching his arms tight in the vain attempt to save the last of his warmth, he stumbled back to bed. The remainder of his night was blessedly free of nightmares.
Even with his jacket, the next morning was bitter. The barrier stopped the snow but not the cold it brought. Haelen was already among the stones—assuming he had gone to bed in the first place. Throwing oats in a pot, Kobb relit the fire. He might not be able to drag Haelen away from his research, but the smell of hot porridge might.
Anessa emerged from the other tent, almost lost inside a crude fur coat. “Seems the old man planned in being here a while. Is that porridge?”
“Grab a bowl. There’s probably enough for your new friend too.” Seeing Anessa’s look of puzzlement, Kobb pointed at the coat.
Leaving the pot on the fire until it was a choice between burning the meal and letting it go cold, Kobb gave up on Haelen coming to him. After wrapping the handle in a rag, he grabbed another spoon and walked into the ring. “Breakfast, Haelen.”
Haelen looked up. Pointing at the map clutched in his left hand with a finger more blue than pink, he grinned. “The stones are connected to the power. Seven stones, seven threads leaking away.”
Kobb nodded. “Makes sense. But—”
“This one’s different.” Haelen patted the nearest stone. “Doesn’t look the same. And we already dealt with one of the evils. Reckon this links to Alcston.”
“If it’s not evil anymore, shouldn’t we feel … something near it?” Anessa dipped her spoon in the pot. Breath fogging the air, she circled the stone, face creased in a deep frown.
Kobb looked back and forth between the stone and Haelen’s map. He couldn’t sense anything odd—least not odder than the stones in general—but what did not having your thoughts corrupted feel like? Haelen’s reasoning made sense, though.
Anessa snuck another spoonful of porridge. “Reckon you could make it travel? If it ain’t corrupted, then ain’t it the safest one to try?”
“I want this over, too.” Kobb placed the pot next to Haelen and thrust the spoon into his free hand. “But it might be safer to take another proper look at all the papers first. Get some decent sleep and meals while we can.”
Haelen sprang up, spoon pointing at Kobb like a dagger. “Only so much reading people’s notes can do. Takes someone with the right gift to use the power. I’m the only one who understands half these scrawlings; but I can’t do it and make the potion you need. So, either you two sit around while I do it all, or you try it. Please, Reverend. My daughter…”
“My apologies. You’re right; it’s not something you find in a book.” Although, there were less savoury places you could gain access to the talent. “Best move well back, Haelen. Kobb sighed. If I make it work, no telling how it’ll do it. Don’t want to take you by accident.”
Haelen grabbed him into a hug and then jogged over to the tents.
“And put a thicker coat on before you start anything.” Kobb turned to face Anessa. “No need for you to take the risk, either. You’ve done more than most already.”
Anessa pulled her coat tighter. “And if you do it but collapse at the other end? If I’m not there to save you who knows what’d happen.”
“I suppose, if you do come, Haelen might actually get some porridge.”
Anessa’s eyes widened before crinkling with glee.
Closing his eyes, Kobb sought inwards for the odd connection he had felt in the night. Threads of power shifted and flickered just beyond his reach. He slowed his breathing, letting the patterns flow through his mind. Following the threads, he ignored each one that touched the barrier until a simpler but more chaotic structure spasmed in front of him.
“Kobb? Are you all right?”
The structure shattered, flowing lines lashing into randomness. Pain lancing through his temples, he grabbed for them, stopping the collapse. “Fine. Need quiet.”
Retracing the threads, he sifted away the ones supporting the barrier again. Fourteen overlapping lines of power remained. Headache growing, he brushed against one.
Within the chaos, lurked a rough order. A direction. Letting the merest part of his senses touch the threads, he let those that seemed to come inward drift from his perceptions.
Reduced to seven lines, the structure hung on the verge of sense. Kobb let his thoughts sink further in. There. One of the lines felt different. Holding the resonance of his Courser in his mind, he pushed aside the pain and focused on that single flow. Agony shredded his thoughts as something hurled him away.