Previously on Seven Stones: Kobb diffuses the power, removing the horses’ supernatural resilience. However, the beasts enter a frenzy and break into the main compound. With Kobb too tired to kill the horses, Serth and her companions charge into the fray.
The howls of the creatures below grew.
“Gongs!” Anessa spun around. “We use the gongs.”
Haelen pulled her close. “They’re all down there. Even if they aren’t smashed to pieces already, we can’t reach them.”
“We need to help her. She doesn’t just get to order me to stay up here! We have to do something.”
“She needs you to be safe. Reckon that’s all she’s been doing since they found us in the forest. Might be the closest she can get to you.”
That made no sense. Serth’d said she didn’t think Anessa was up to stuff, so why couldn’t she just hold her close and never let go. She twisted free and glared at Haelen. “What do you know? What’s going on? Tell me!”
“It’s only a rumour, might not even be true. Me sharing it’d probably make things worse.” Haelen patted her on the shoulder. “Reckon the Inductor needs to tell you herself. Once she’s ready.”
“She tried.” Anessa’s head sagged. “She was about to, when Kobb released the power. And now she’s—”
“Then, we’d best make sure she gets another chance.” Kobb staggered closer to the edge.
“You’re exhausted, Reverend.”
Kobb straightened his shoulders. “I can still kill a few. Give them a moment to seize the initiative…. If I use everything left.”
“We’d be stuck here until you’d recovered. Could be days.” Haelen slumped against a table. “Do it. My Katrina wouldn’t want others dying to save her.”
Purple fire lanced into the yard, each flare silencing the sounds of teeth and steel meeting flesh, and the screams of pain.
Stomach churning, Anessa crept forward. Serth, one arm clutched around her side, stood back-to-back with the taller of her companions. Frothing beasts lunged in from all sides, only their urge to attack each other preventing them overwhelming the two humans.
Anessa fell to her knees. Even with Kobb’s help, Serth’d die. Unless… She tugged at Kobb’s jacket and pointed toward the gate. “The gong. Hit the gong.”
Hand shaking, Kobb took aim.
As his Courser blazed, the writhing mass of horses surged and the power struck flesh.
The end of silence brought a chopped off scream.
Anessa’s gaze snapped back to the fight.
Blade scything in wide arcs, Serth stood over her fallen companion.
Silence hammered Anessa’s ears.
Followed by a teeth-juddering clang. The beasts stumbled to a halt, some collapsing where they stood.
Serth lunged forward, boots skidding on the bloody mud but aim perfect.
Kobb’s Courser clattered over the edge as he slumped to the floor.
A shadow flickered past Anessa’s head, and another clang echoed across the yard. Arms flailing, Haelen hurled a stream of statues, goblets, and whatever else he could reach at the gong. Most missed, but enough didn’t.
The beasts milled in confusion as they were hacked down. Armour rent and coated with gore, Serth drove her blade through the side of the last horse and staggered to the stairs.
Anessa sprinted to meet her, arms outstretched. “Where are you hurt? Sit! Haelen, we need to—”
“I’ll survive.” Serth stepped away from Anessa’s attempt to hug her. “We leave, and we burn the compound behind us. Just to make sure.”
“What about the notes?” Haelen shuffled down the stairs, Kobb leaning on him.
Serth shrugged. “No one ordered me to secure this place. If they’ll help you do what you need to…”
“Enough!” Anessa drew herself up. “Nobody’s running around burning anything, or gathering notes, until everyone’s bandaged and rested.”
“Yes’m” Serth’s chuckle collapsed into a wince. “Wasn’t planning to do the setting fires myself. Get Col and the others to do it.”
“Well… I suppose…” Anessa’s chin jutted. “You’re not running off fetching them either.”
Kobb eased himself free of Haelen. “Falcon won’t let me fall. And ride’ll do me good. Nothing Haelen can do for me anyway.”
Anessa frowned at his retreating back, unable to come up with a reason to stop him.
Serth limped toward the nearest gate. “Time’s a wasting.”
“Don’t think you’re wandering off!” Anessa squelched after her. “You’re gonna rest, even if I have to tie you to the bed.”
Serth looked back, the filth and blood smeared across her face not diluting the fire in her eyes. A breath later, she shook her head and staggered on, her initial response swallowed unuttered.
Before Anessa had decided how to respond, Haelen stepped into her path. “Go on ahead and find some water. Healing her wounds’ll be easier if I can get rid of the horse blood first. That, and she might rest if she you aren’t nearby.”
“It’s her secret to tell, Anessa. Water, now.”
Confusion and anger churning around in her head, Anessa sprinted past Serth and out of the compound. After taking a deep breath to push her thoughts down for a moment, she turned on the spot, listening.
Without the hissing of rain or noise of horses to mask it, she located the swish of a river a few hundred yards behind the palisade. Jogging over, she chuckled. She wasn’t a warrior like the others, but even she knew having your water outside the walls was daft. After peering upstream for dead animals, she filled her bottle.
When she turned, Serth lay a short distance from the gate with Haelen crouched over her. Bottle still clutched in her hand Anessa sprinted toward them.
Hearing Serth’s responses to Haelen’s questions, Anessa slowed.
Then staggered to a halt, face burning, when she realised Serth was naked from the waist up. Bottle stretched out behind her at arm’s length, Anessa shuffled backward. Weren’t the first time she’d seen a woman’s chest; that’d been close friends, though. Didn’t seem right to look at Serth if Serth didn’t like her. “Water, Haelen. If you hand me another, I’ll fill it while—”
“I’ll not scream if you turn around, Anessa.” Serth’s voice seemed strong, but Anessa was certain it was a show.
Haelen coughed loudly, then exchanged Anessa’s full bottle for an empty one.
Neck aching with the effort of not accepting Serth’s offer, Anessa scurried back to the river. People got shy about being naked round people they liked. So, did that mean Serth didn’t feel anything? Or that she didn’t get shy?
The sound of hooves scattered her thoughts. Bottle tumbling out of her fingers, she spun.
Kobb and several other riders cantered toward Serth. Snatching the bottle from the river’s grasp, Anessa shoved the stopper in and sprinted to meet them.
“Seems my friend’s die when you’re around.” Col glared at her from the leading horse.
Anserth sat up, ignoring Haelen’s attempts to keep her still. “You’re a weasel-faced shitbrain, Col. Seems you’re the best I’ve got though. You’re Second now. Take the prisoners then torch the compound.”
“As you command, Inductor. How soon do we depart?”
“Soon as the fire’s taken hold, break camp and ride hard for the nearest city.”
Haelen pushed Serth down. “You’ll need longer than that before you’re ready to travel.”
“I know. But, we need to start the hunt for those two criminals. So, Col takes the unit as soon as it’s ready to move.”
Col snapped an unexpectedly crisp salute and led the riders into the compound.
Anger washed away Anessa’s confusion. She stared down at Serth. “You’re good at killing and stuff. But even you can’t stay here on you’re own. You’ve got to go with your people.”
“Whatever you three’re doing’s clearly too important to wait. But Haelen’s won’t leave me behind, any more than you will.” Serth quirked an eyebrow. “That’s why I’m going wherever you are.”
Kobb dismounted. “Anessa’s right. Best if you travel back to the city.”
“You’re skilled, Reverend; but, you’re not the man you were. You need another warrior.”
“A warrior?” Haelen rocked back on his heels. “Or a watcher?”
“Doesn’t matter does it?” said Serth. “Col will do what I order. So, you either leave me here or take me along.”
“Of course we’re taking you with us.” Anessa glared back and forth between Kobb and Haelen. “Straight after these two apologise for treating you like a maggoty apple!”
“Anessa?” Serth pushed herself to a sitting position again. “Listen to me. They’re not wrong about me. There’s a saying among the Legion. ‘At least Botherers have limits.’ It was all a trick. I used you.”