Previously on Seven Stones: The leader of the warriors claims the arrival of Kobb and the others was prophesied, but refuses to answer further questions until after the heat of the day has passed. While trying to unravel the bits of prophecy already shared, Kobb reveals the final hours of the Siege of Raveth, and his part in them.
Kobb stumbled forward a step. Had telling Anessa been the wrong thing to do? He hadn’t expected her to praise his actions but…
“Leave her, Reverend.” Anserth stretched an arm across his path. “If she wants to be a useless ball of snot, then let her.”
Anessa lifted her head again. “You… you… I’m glad you don’t like me… No, I wish you did. So knowing you’ll never be my friend ate into you!”
“What the Reverend’s doing is too important.” Anserth met Anessa’s burning gaze. “Letting feelings get in the way of it isn’t right.”
“Feelings?” Anessa lunged forward, fists raised. “What’d you know about having feelings?”
The Inductor pivoted on one heel, letting Anessa pass by, then grabbed her from behind. “Feelings are what make you hesitate, make you let a murderer escape because she’s your friend. That’s why Inductors are trained to ignore them.”
“Pigshit!” Anessa wriggled ineffectually. “You can’t be made to not feel things. Not unless you’re all evil inside already!”
“I didn’t say not feel, I said ignore. Not listening properly’s another thing feelings make you do. We still feel; we’re trained to wall it away where it doesn’t interfere with what needs doing, though. That’s why they call me the Divided Soul, because I’m free to follow logic.” Anserth shoved Anessa. “Can we get back to something that matters, or would you like to cry some more?”
“I hope you—” Anessa clamped her mouth shut and ran from the room.
After staring hard at Anserth for a moment, Haelen walked after her.
“I suppose you’d call it a Blessing, Reverend? Being forced to tell you all about my training.”
Kobb sighed. “You weren’t forced.”
“Wasn’t I?” Anserth pointed at him, then herself. “Which of us matters here? Finding out you killed hundreds of people would’ve broken her once it sunk in. But now it won’t because the revulsion and confusion’s directed at the ugly hag who doesn’t matter. She didn’t like me anyway, so it was the only sensible course of action. Just like Raveth.”
“Raveth wasn’t sensible, or prudent, or any of the other words that fill up reports and history books.” Kobb sank onto the rim of the pool. “Raveth was horror. At the time. Then again daily for weeks after. Wondering if I could have done something differently. Someone couldn’t push those sort of feelings away just by needing to. But then, what happened to you was more than training wasn’t it? Who was she?”
“I suppose it is too late for half a revelation.” She sat next to him. “We were in the same bunkhouse from the day we joined the Legion. Sometimes I’d top the day list, sometimes she would. The harder they drilled us, the more we excelled; and the closer we got. I’d describe her for you… but I suspect you can guess what she was like down to the way her hair moved in the breeze. The Legion doesn’t encourage relationships; soldiers knowing each other well enough to fight as a perfect pair, though…? Some things are too useful to waste. We rose through the ranks, headed for greatness.
Then some half-weight flagbearer tried to be too friendly. The battle had lasted all day. We’d finally broken them at dusk. I’d gone to my tent. She wanted to stay by the fires, have one more drink to wash the dust out. This flagbearer got grabby, and she knocked him flat. Should’ve been the end of it; his uncle was on the Council, though, so he pushed himself up and told her to mind her place. She ignored him, so he challenged her to a duel. When she ignored that too, he said it made sense anyone who’d sleep with a mongrel would catch its morals. By the time the bystanders realised it was more than a brawl, she’d drawn through him. Worthless sack of piss wasn’t even wearing his armour. Before anyone worked out what to do, she’d taken a horse and fled.
“Next morning, they posted charges. It was strongly suggested it would reflect badly on the unit if we didn’t bring her in ourselves. We always did know how the other thought, so I rode out to where I knew she’d be, and there she was waiting for me. I approached on foot, begged her to come back, told her we’d find witnesses, and sort it out. She shook her head, and drew on me. Most might have thought it a bluff, but I knew her as well as I knew myself. The fight went back and forth. We always were matched, so it was inevitable we’d end up locked blade-to-blade. Then, somehow, she surprised me; just let go of her sword. My sword was deep in her side before I realised.
“I was hailed as an example of loyalty for not letting her escape. The next day, a representative of the Council offered me a way to use my skills. I’d like to say I did it to spare someone else the horror of killing a friend; really, I just wanted the pain to stop. I can’t tell you how they did it. There were drugs, days without sleep, and… other methods. The process isn’t pleasant, yet no one regrets the choice; because afterwards regret’s only another emotion to be set aside.”
“Thank you for sharing.” Kobb patted her on the hand. Even if she didn’t know why she had.
Boots hammering the stone, Anessa stalked into the chamber.
“Glad you returned.” Kobb rose. “Might not be safe to wander too far with just Haelen for company.”
“Not much chance of that.” Anessa leaned against the wall. “They’ve sealed the exits. We checked them all.”