Previously on Seven Stones: Anessa and the others fail to find a way out of the sealed chambers. However, they do find plenty of food. Serth convinces everyone to eat and rest during the day so they’re fresh when the evening comes. The Speaker returns, but informs them no one is permitted to carry weapons into the presence of the Virtues.
Anessa stared at the Speaker. “What do you mean, we can’t take weapons? There were hundreds of you with them when we arrived. Why’d they get to carry them if we don’t?”
“The prohibition applies only to those viewing the Virtues.” The Speaker held his palms up. “Violence is prohibited within the city, so you’ll be perfectly safe without them.”
Serth raised an eyebrow. “If violence is illegal, why’re all those warriors armed with pikes?”
“Greeting a guest armed shows that you do not believe them too weak to injure you. High Speaker Erinis commanded we welcome you with many pikes to demonstrate the extent of our respect for you. I assure you, none wish you harm”
Serth frowned. “You’ll forgive us being suspicious, given you locked us in here.”
The Speaker’s eyes widened. “A thousand apologies. I should have explained. No one would intentionally distress you, but… well, our city has waited for Those Who Are Named since the day it was founded; some might forget politeness in their desire to look upon you. I requested the corridors were sealed so you’d not be disturbed while you rested.”
Anessa peered at the Speaker. Threatening someone as a show of politeness sounded crazy; but people back home respected those who stood up for themselves more than those who didn’t, so it wasn’t as mad as say, insects that lived inside your head or travelling through giant circles of rocks. And he looked horrified they’d been insulted.
Haelen stepped forward, brow furrowed. “How are we to show people the respect they deserve for the years of duty if we cannot carry weapons? Couldn’t we bear them until we reach the Chamber, then leave them just outside?”
“I prostrate myself in gratitude for the honour you suggest. However, the law states no weapons may be brought, and I dare not risk that including the journey to the Virtues. Only the tools of the priesthood are exempt. Not even Those Who Are Named are safe from execution if the law is broken.”
Kobb unbuckled his scabbard. “If it is the only way, then we must comply. If you wait a moment, we’ll place our weapons back in our quarters.”
Anessa considered for a moment, then headed back into the bedroom to stow her sword. It felt odd, but Kobb and Haelen knew more about the world than she did, so if they thought these people were friends… After silently holding the chest open for Serth, she returned to the central room. And paused.
Kobb still had his Courser holstered on his baldric. Smiling in reaction to her puzzlement, he tapped his throat.
A moment later, she realised he meant her pendant. Her frown faded: the Courser was part of his priestly equipment.
Still not quite comfortable without weapons, Anessa flicked her gaze in every direction as they followed the Speaker along a different series of tunnels and back to the surface.
Warm, dry air pressed in from every direction. Wooden stalls, some mounted on wheels, formed rough streets. People of all ages, none of them armed, stared at the four of them. In the distance, a tower of pale stone jutted above the mass.
The Speaker strode toward the tower in silence, ignoring the dense crowd. Moments before he hit the first person, the crowd parted, forming a corridor slightly wider than arms’ reach.
As the people closed behind them, Serth leaned in close to Anessa’s ear. “Don’t worry. Between the Reverend’s Courser and my training, we’ll be safe enough.”
Anessa glanced at the Inductor. She was still a hag, but having her there did make it easier to stay calm “Like the compound. I distract them, then you attack.”
Serth swallowed and glanced down. “I meant that if they try anything, I don’t need a weapon to fight. No reason to risk something unless we have to.” After meeting Anessa’s gaze for a breath, Serth dropped back a few steps.
Even moving at the crawl needed to pass through the crowd, the journey to the tower didn’t take long; certainly not long enough you wouldn’t want to do it in the afternoon heat. Did that mean the Speaker’d been lying, or did it really get that hot here?
Before she’d decided, the Speaker reach a tall arch that gaped in the side of the tower. Cold darkness clamped around her as she followed him through. Blinking hard, she managed to make out three massive stone chairs in the centre of a chamber the full size of the building. An indistinct person sat upon each.
The Speaker stopped and spread his arms wide. “As is written, Those Who Are Named arrive at the Chamber of Virtues.”
“Thank you, Speaker Torva.” The central figure stood. “Welcome, travellers. I’m—”
“The rituals, First Speaker.” The man on her left half-rose out of his seat.
“Calmness, High Speaker Erinis. Our guests have waited long enough without me wasting hours to get to the point.” She patted Erinis on the arm, then turned. “I’m First Speaker Morheru. You must have questions.”
Kobb bowed. “We do not wish to ignore your traditions.”
“I’m an old woman. And I’ve spent that life studying the Virtues. Long enough to know they will still happen if I use two words instead of seven.”
Erinis shifted, but remained silent.
Kobb inclined his head. “I too have found truth arrives without us seeking it. Perhaps you might tell us of our part in these Virtues?”
Morheru settled into her chair. “Many centuries ago, Amheru the Blessed received the Belt of Mastery from That Which Watches. Knowing that our race was not ready for its power, he built this tower to protect it while he sought understanding of its true purpose. With each year, he learnt more, and carved these truths on the walls of the tower so they would not be lost. Each new carving showed our city more of the path forward, and we prospered.
“When he realised it was time to journey on, he passed the duty of guiding the city to his three children. Over the centuries that followed, the city grew and more Speakers of Virtues were appointed to carry the Virtues to the people so the three High Speakers need not rule on every matter.
“The final Virtue, carved upon the pedestal upon which the Belt rests, tells of the day the Killer of Innocence, the Misplaced Father, the Divided Slave, and the Pure Vessel will arrive to take the Belt.
“Would you like some refreshments? Or will you take it now?”