Previously on Seven Stones: Serth insults Anessa’s lack of control, causing her to flee the room. After Anessa has left, Serth reveals she did it to distract Anessa from Kobb’s admission he’d killed hundreds. Serth shares some of her history prior to becoming an Inductor. Anessa discovers the corridors outside their rooms are sealed.
Anessa watched Serth as she delivered the news. Why hadn’t she leapt up and started giving orders? She looked almost sad, as if that story’d been… No. It was just another trick. She knew her voice carried down the corridor, and now she was trying to manipulate people again.
“Sealed?” Kobb glanced past Anessa. “I don’t remember seeing grates.”
“Big stone slabs.” Anessa mimed a large shape with her arms. “Tight enough I couldn’t get a knife point in.”
Haelen moved into the chamber. “Might just be their version of doors.”
“Doors without handles?” Anessa frowned. He’d seemed as worried as she was when they found them. “That’s not normal.”
“I’ve been thinking. The Speaker said it gets hot during the day. Could be, they keep the heat out.” Haelen strolled toward the nearest doorway. “Unless the two of you did while we were gone, we haven’t even looked in the other rooms. Maybe there’s a way of opening and closing the slabs; or something that helps work out what their intentions are.”
Kobb stood. “You’re right. No use speculating without knowing everything we can.”
Keeping as much distance as she could from Serth, Anessa followed Haelen to the first room. Two thin mattresses lay in the middle, each with brightly patterned rug lying folded at one end. Two chests, large keys jutting out of the locks, stood open beyond the beds. She huffed. “Well, at least they don’t want us getting a stiff back while we wait.”
Apart from the patterns on the rugs, the next room was identical.
A curtain half covered the third doorway. Anessa shoved it aside. A deep pool stood along one side. Opposite it, a narrow plank jutted across a shaft at knee level. “Jakes.” She spun on her heel and moved to the next, almost slamming into Serth.
Shelves lined all three walls, each containing pottery jugs, bowls, and plates; and enough food and drink to feed them for days. “Pantry. Looks like they don’t plan to let us out for a while.”
“Or their prophecy didn’t mention what we do and don’t enjoy.” Haelen leaned past her and grabbed a large red fruit from the nearest bowl. “I mean, I’ve no idea what this is. At least they got the bedrooms right, so we don’t have to share.”
Anessa frowned. There were two mattresses in each bedroom, so— Haelen’d never been happy about her sharing with Kobb, so he must mean… “Don’t matter either way. We’re supposed to be leaving this evening anyway, so we’ll be gone before we need them.”
“Might be better to have a light meal then get some sleep,” said Serth. “If it really is that hot during the day, these people do more at night. And we’ll be fresher if anything does go wrong.”
Anessa glared at her. “Anything else it’s sensible to do? Maybe I’m wearing my boots oddly?”
“Light meal sounds good.” Kobb stepped into Anessa’s line of sight. “How about we find a few things we recognise while Haelen and Anserth shift our packs.”
After a moment, Anessa sagged, then turned to the pantry. He was right: she shouldn’t let Serth get in the way like that.
A search of the shelves found some bread that hadn’t risen properly and a sort of runny porridge with garlic in which didn’t seem too odd. No cutlery though. A plate in each hand, she followed Kobb back to the central chamber.
After taking a meal from Kobb, Serth headed into the second bedroom. “I’ll eat while I unpack.”
Anessa handed one of the plates to Haelen then sat on the edge of the pool. Good riddance to her. Being trapped with her was bad enough without having to see at her all the time. She scooped up a big glob of porridge; it tasted more beany than oaty, but good nevertheless.
“She doesn’t have any clothes apart from what she’s wearing.” Haelen settled next to her. “That bag’s full of maps and notes.”
She swallowed her mouthful. “So?”
“So, why’s she unpacking?”
“Who knows why she does things? Probably so she bitch about me not being able to read.”
“Or she doesn’t want to be around if it hurts you so much. Maybe you should talk to her before she goes to sleep.”
Give Serth another opportunity to use her? “Suppose it has been a while since I let her insult me. Maybe you should take her advice and eat your meal.”
He looked at her flatly for a moment. “I’ll put that down to worry about the sealed corridors. But you heard her story, same as I did. You really think she’s in there waiting to mock you?”
“How am I supposed to know? I just feel things.” But she did know. Apart from insulting her about letting her heart get in the way, Serth’d been polite—helpful even. Perhaps she should calm it down a bit, so the argument didn’t mess with helping Kobb. She scooped the rest of the porridge and swallowed. Didn’t mean Serth was forgiven though.
Remains of the bread clutched in one fist, she rose. “Need to get her plate anyway.”
Serth sprawled on the right-hand mattress, already asleep. Her plate, every trace of porridge wiped away, lay inside the door.
Anessa grabbed the plate and retreated, cheeks burning at the decidedly not furious feelings seeing Serth in only her under things raised.
By the time she’d scoured the last of the plates, Kobb and Haelen had gone through into the other bedroom. After a few strolls around the central chamber, she decided she might as well lie down.
Eyes fixed firmly on the left hand wall, she tried not to think about Serth. This was a stupid plan. She never slept in the middle of the day – unless she was really ill – so how was she supposed to do it while the garlic porridge was making her gut twitchy.
She snapped awake, Serth’s face only inches from hers. She’d never noticed the Inductor had such long eyelashes before.
“Stir yourself.” Serth rose to her feet. “Heard stone moving.”
Anessa fumbled her belt around her waist, and staggered into the central room. Kobb emerged at the same time, Haelen on his heels.
The gentle slap of sandals grew. A moment later, the Speaker entered and bowed deeply. Straightening, he pressed his hands to his heart. “The Harrowing has passed. Are you ready to view the Virtues?”
“We are.” Kobb stepped forward. “Lead on.”
The Speaker bowed again. “The Speaker of Virtues means no dishonour. But weapons are not permitted in the chamber of Virtues.”