Previously on Seven Stones: Haelen discovers one of the people who helped him search for his daughter isn’t what they seemed. The two sorcerers manage to talk their way past the rearguard and escape. Kobb comes up with a plan that might dissipate the energy and deal with the possessed horses in one swoop. The others retreat to a—hopefully—safe distance.
Anessa latched the wicket gate. The timbers were thicker than her arm, but seemed flimsy compared to a power that shattered a city. Kobb wouldn’t let that happen her though. She glanced around the yard. Kobb wouldn’t; but there was no point in not being as safe as possible.
“Safest place’s the parapet.” Haelen glanced back. “Let’s us see what happens to the horses, too.”
Serth rested a hand on Anessa’s shoulder. “Good thoughts. But the Reverend might need help. Take my companions. Anessa and I’ll stay here, in case…”
Warmth spread across Anessa’s back and through her body. Serth was going out of her way to save her having to face those creatures. She cared—or did she? The warmth faded. Half the time Serth seemed to like her and the other half she tried to avoid her. Anessa stepped to the side of the gate. “The fence’ll be stronger if something goes wrong; we’ll still be close enough to help, though.”
Haelen looked as if he’d taken a mouthful of bad ale but nodded. Striding over to the cages, he explained the plan to Serth’s companions.
“What about the prisoners?”
Serth shrugged. “I doubt they’ll escape, even without guards. And we cleared the yard of weapons to link the nets together, so there’s little they can do if they do get free.”
“I meant, what happens if something goes wrong?”
“We don’t have the forces to let enemies wander; and if the horses do break the inner gate, inside those cages might be the safest place to be.” Serth snorted. “If I thought you’d go, I’d stick you in the empty one until this is over.”
“You want to lock me in a cage!” Anessa stepped closer, chin jutting.
“To keep you safe. If I could find somewhere with bed or even cushions, I’d drag you there. Those cages are all I’ve got, though.”
Anessa felt heat rush up her face, and through other places. Images of the last time they’d been in a bedroom flooded her mind. She swallowed hard to convince her throat to work. Tilting her head, she gazed into Serth’s eyes. “If you promised to stay too, I might let you.”
For a breath, Anessa was certain Serth would lean in, then the Inductor stepped away.
Anessa stiffened. Between Kobb trying to get rid of all that power, whatever’d been done to the horses, and a bunch of evil men plotting against Haelen, she might die here. But she wasn’t pigshitting going to do it without knowing how Serth really felt. She grabbed Serth’s sword belt. “No. You’re not leaving it like that again. That night in the ruins, you weren’t just tricking me. And earlier, when I kissed you, you kissed me back. And don’t you go denying it, Goody I’m-a-hag. And you’re not a hag neither; I heard you telling children’s stories! So, you pigshitting admit it, or I swear I’ll…” She waved her fist in the air.
“You’ll hit me until I say I like you? That’s—”
“Goody Weaver always said a good thrashing’s the best way to deal with nonsense. Well, you’re just being plain daft, so don’t think I won’t…!”
“I was one of the best warriors in the Legion before I became an Inductor. I could stop you a hundred ways.”
“Exactly. So, letting me grab your belt means you want me close.” Anessa nodded sharply. She couldn’t argue with that.
“You’re not going to leave this alone, are you? Raveth! Fine. I—”
Silence swallowed Serth’s words, and the rest of the world with them.
Anessa tumbled backwards as purple fire lanced into the sky beyond the fence.
By the time she’d regained her feet, Serth’d already thrown the wicket gate open. Jagged chunks of wood, the occasional yellow glint among them, surrounded a flickering column of power.
A moment later, the light collapsed, leaving a hunched figure.
Anessa dived under Serth’s arm. “Kobb!”
“I’ll live.” Kobb clambered to his feet. “I’d not call it restful, but it’s done.”
Howls echoed from the direction of the pen, followed by repeated thuds and the creak of wood. They sprinted for the parapet.
Haelen met them at the head of the stairs. “Whatever you did turned the beasts worse. Soon as the light faded, they started hurling themselves up at the fences.”
“With luck, they’re death agonies,” said Kobb. “Best stay clear of the edge until it’s over.”
Haelen frowned. “They’re active for the dying. Not enough to leap up here; enough to stress the gate, though.”
“Might be best to be sure.” Kobb drew his Courser. “But the rest of you stand away, just in case.”
Purple light flickered into the pen. The thundering of hooves and juddering of fences continued, but Kobb grinned. “Felled one in a single attempt. They’ve lost their resilience.”
The juddering and creaking ended with a sharp crack and the thud of timber on timber.
Kobb spun, and discharged his Courser as fast as he could; but releasing the power’s grip on the hut’d taken his strength. Frothing horses boiled into the yard behind them.
“How long till they die?” Anessa glanced down then leapt back. “Wine ain’t horrible. Rather eat something proper for supper, though.”
“That’s not the only problem.” Serth tilted her head toward the stairs. “And that’s assuming someone doesn’t turn up with a report and open the gates before we warn them not to. The beasts are a threat. The Reverend’s shown they die now like anything else. So, it’s my job to kill them.”
Anessa swallowed hard, then drew her sword.
“Not you.” Serth pushed her back. “I could say something pleasant. Pretend I need you to protect Kobb while he catches his breath. Truth is, we’ve lost the pikes, so it’s going to be brutal. You’d be a liability.”
Before Anessa could react, Serth’d leapt onto the stairs, her companions half a step behind.