Previously on Seven Stones: After resting for several days and studying papers recovered from various conspirators, Haelen discovers the maps don’t agree, leaving two possible locations for the final disruption. Anserth realises one of them is in a region reputedly sealed by the Maker to contain a great evil. With no way to determine which location is correct, Kobb convinces the others they have to risk it. The Stone disgorges them beneath the blazing sun, their arrival point surrounded by ranks of armed figures.
Kobb shielded his eyes with his hand. The ring of warriors stood at least five ranks deep. A wall of pale stone peeped between the heads of the back rank. If it were sword-against-sword, then the four of them might cut a wide-enough path to get out; breaking that density of pikes, though, needed relentless – and costly – assaults. Sighing, he eased both arms away from his body, palms well clear of his weapons. “Easy, everyone. No reason to see enemies in every stranger.”
“And he shall bear the wisdom of restraint!” A deep voice boomed across the ring of warriors. As one, the ranks split, revealing a tall man in a vastly ornate purple toga. He bowed slightly toward Kobb, then straightened and strode down the channel. “The Speaker of the Virtues greets the Killer of Innocence, the Misplaced Father, the Divided Slave, and the Pure Vessel. Your chambers stand ready.”
Kobb bowed back the same amount. “We greet the Speaker of Virtues. We did not expect this welcome. Might we know how you knew we would arrive?”
“No shadow may obscure the Virtues. Come, the time of resting approaches. I shall guide you to your chambers.”
“We just going to go with them?” asked Anessa.
Kobb squinted sideways at the sky. “If this is still morning, the heat’ll only get worse. Best to be inside. Perhaps the Speaker could explain more on the way?”
The Speaker bowed deeply. “No mind my hold the fullness of all Virtues. And the journey to the Virtues would last into the time of resting. Those Who Are Named shall be taken to the Virtues when castigation ends.”
“What?” Anessa frowned at Haelen.
“I believe he means that it will be quicker to study these Virtues ourselves rather than ask questions; but, it becomes too hot to travel soon, so we must wait until late in the day.” Kobb picked up Falcon’s reins and trudged toward the gap in the pikes, sweat-damp clothes tugging at his skin with each movement. After a moment, he heard the sound of the others shuffling after him.
The ranks of warriors filled a second, wider, stone ring, a channel several feet wide separating the rear rank from the wall. Shielding his eyes again, Kobb made out the beginning of a ramp leading into the gap.
Cool dimness caressed his skin as the path spiralled down past side-corridors. Moments after the point where the dropping temperature changed pleasant relief to clammy discomfort, the Speaker took a corridor on the inner wall.
Several turns later, they emerged into a round chamber with a shallow pool of water in the centre. Dim lantern-light spilled from the ceiling before dancing off the surface of the water. Several doorways led to other rooms.
“These chambers are offered to you, as is ordained.” The Speaker bowed to each of them and strode out.
“Well, they got you right.” Anessa glared at Anserth. “You’re such a bitch, even a bunch of people on the other side of an impassable barrier know you’re the Killer of Innocence.”
Kobb rested his hand on Anessa’s elbow. “I don’t think she is.”
“Well, she certainly ain’t anyone’s Da!”
Kobb drew a slow breath to steady himself. When the road is full of rocks, one may build either a wall or a shelter. “I’m almost certain she’s the Divided Slave. I’m the Killer of Innocence. You remember those guards mentioning Raveth?”
Anessa nodded. “Your Order stopped a huge evil from escaping.”
“Yes. But what I didn’t tell you is I was there; Second to Preceptor Militant Gannon. I was younger then, strong enough to use my Courser as fast as I found targets.” Kobb stared at the shimmering water. “Anessa, demons slip into the world like weeds, probing every crack, settling in the smallest chink to wait. If even one tainted soul remains then the creature will return. Even the briefest touch of skin on skin might pass the seed; and there is no sure way to know who is tainted. There was only one course. Gannon ordered the Legion to cordon with crossbows and led the Order in. One-by-one our companions fell or were lost to sight, until only Gannon and I remained. A… a young girl ran out of a side alley unexpectedly, hugged Gannon before he could move away. Her hair blew across his face. There was no way to tell if she was tainted or not, but we couldn’t take the chance. Gannon declared himself unable to fulfil the duties of his station. As the senior Reverend, I ordered the man who raised me to provide the Maker’s Grace to Raveth and retreated for the Cordon. Gannon unleashed the entirety of his power without use of Courser a few moments later. The city and everything in it was scoured away. The Annals of the Order suggest the first plant might grow in Raveth when ten centuries have passed.”
Anessa collapsed against the wall, tears streaming down her face.