Previously on Seven Stones: Kobb agrees they won’t carry weapons in the city; however, because religious tools are permitted, he retains his Courser. Despite Anessa’s fears, the journey to the Chamber of Virtues passes without incident. First Speaker Morheru provides a brief explanation of how the prophecy came to be, then asks if Kobb wishes to take the Belt of Mastery straight away.
The chill of the room seeped down Anessa’s back. Take the belt now, or have a meal first? Wouldn’t they want to do… whatever you did for prophecies? It all seemed a little too easy. “And we just leave with it?”
“The Virtues say the Belt shall be given to you.” Morheru winked. “Once you have it, what you do is your problem.”
Erinis jerked upright. “I hardly think the Belt is a problem, First Speaker. Even if they are Those Who Are Named—and of course I hope they are—they’d clearly prefer we follow the rituals as much as I would.”
“The path is always there, but there are lessons in how we travel it.” Kobb nodded to Erinis. “We have no desire to rush matters of faith.”
Morheru exhaled hard. “The Belt awoke from sleep a few months ago. And how blazes as bright as in the days of Amheru the Blessed. The rituals are only one interpretation of the Virtues, anyway. I think we have signs enough.”
“Perhaps a compromise?” Erinis inclined his head. “The rituals do not say all of us must escort Those Who Are Named. I will straight away prepare for a feast for our guests, arrange supplies so they may leave as soon as they wish, and check upon their horse. In the time I need for that, you might perform the rituals.”
Anessa leaned closer to Kobb. “Don’t seem right just taking it.”
“I agree.” Serth whispered. “This feels too easy.”
Kobb’s eyebrow quirked. “I expected to do this alone. And yet I found companions to ease the way. I won’t shun another Blessing.”
Anessa swallowed hard, her fingers scrabbling for her pendant. She hadn’t thought of that. Was doubting a sin? Should she be doing something to make it right?
Kobb turned from the huddle. “A wise idea, High Speaker Erinis.”
Erinis nodded once in acknowledgement, then strode out of the room.
“I suppose we must start.” Morheru limped toward the shadows on the far side of the room.
Anessa peered at the still-seated figure. Tired eyes looked back from a wrinkled face.
“Do you need help, sir?”
Morheru paused. “High Speaker Kalit doesn’t speak, dear. Or leave his throne any more. The years have weighed heaviest on him.”
“I’m a healer,” Haelen said. “I could—”
“We will rest once our task is done.” Morheru turned to face the shadows again. “You’re kind to offer though.”
Haelen glanced at Kobb. A look passed between them, but the gloom prevented Anessa working out what it meant. Puzzled, she walked after the First Speaker. Closer now, she saw a series of pictures and symbols cut into the stone.
Arms spread wide, Morheru pressed herself against the wall. A loud click broke the quiet, followed a breath later by a grinding noise. Anessa’s gaze flicked around as the ground began to shake.
As she watched, sections of the wall juddered out forming a broad flight of stairs that lead upward. She realised the darker patch at the head was a hole in the ceiling.
“These carvings are the Virtues?” Serth swept her arm around.
“Yes. Every truth Amheru uncovered, recorded for the time they are needed.”
Serth moved closer to the foot of the stairs. “Two figures in long robes holding curved sticks. A book with a dagger below it. Three circular objects. You’ll forgive me for pointing out it will be hard for us to read them.”
“I can translate any that you wish.” Morheru raised a palm. “I realise you don’t trust me fully either, but I hope you will come to in time.” Grinning like someone’s aunt, the First Speaker hobbled up the steps, leaving Serth staring at her back.
Anessa rested a hand on Serth’s elbow. “Still glad you came?”
“I didn’t do it because it’d be easy.” Serth shook her head slowly. “Religion’s the Reverend’s area anyway. I’m only here in case it gets messy.” She stepped away, and followed Haelen.
Letting her hand fall, Anessa started up the staircase. Ahead of her, the others formed a single file, close to the wall. Morheru’s pace gave plenty of time to study the carvings; however, like Serth, Anessa could make little sense of them. Struck by a sudden thought, she let her gaze settle on Serth’s trousers. Good thick leather, but tight. How’d Serth get into them so fast when the Speaker arrived? She’d definitely not been wearing trousers when she lay down. So she’d been woken by the chamber door moving, then got up and dressed faster than Torva walked the length of that corridor.
Anessa felt heat sear up her neck at the thought of how fast Serth might be able to get her trousers off again. Glad the shadows hid the colour of her face, she clamped her gaze on the carvings. Two people not embracing. A table… not a bed, a table. Wavy vertical lines. Watching the back of Serth’s head from the corner of her eye to avoid a collision, she sidled up the stairs.
“How…?” said Haelen.
Anessa’s gaze snapped around. Haelen’s lower body disappeared as he passed through the hole in the ceiling.
Thoughts of trousers gone, she sprinted after Serth. Ignoring the drop on the inside, she pulled level with the Inductor. Together, they raced into the shadow.
The moment her head passed the floor, a purple glow flooded her vision. A thick gold band with jewels the size of her fist embedded along its length rested on a pedestal. Blinking away the glare, she made out the other three standing against the wall. She cupped one hand around the side of her face and stumbled over to them.
“This is the belt?” Despite being beside her, Serth’s voice sounded muffled.
Morheru nodded, the strange light making her skin seem smoother. “The legacy of Amheru. Awoken after centuries by your journey here.”
“Is that…?” Anessa waved her hands at Kobb’s chest.
“It feels like the same power.” Kobb squinted. “This is what we came for.”
Morheru bowed. “Then claim it. I shall not tell Erinis we forwent the rituals if you do not.”
Kobb advanced, hands moving in odd patterns. As he reached the pedestal, the light blazed brighter, enveloping him completely.
Anessa leapt forward, screaming his name. But no sound came out.