Previously on Seven Stones: Despite her apparent interest in Anessa, Serth has Anessa dragged away. Kobb, having escaped when his guards fell asleep, rescues her. But, before they can escape, Karak’s tower is shattered by a pillar of fire. The resulting earthquake not only collapses the ruins around them, but also opens a hole beneath their feet.
The ground tilted further, turning Anessa’s slide into a tumble. Dirty heat ran up her back as the rough stone shredded her singlet.
Pain lanced through her left shoulder, followed by a dull smack along her ribs as her body struck the side of the hole. Something clamped her wrist. Teeth gritted, she looked up.
Kobb hung above her, one hand around her wrist and the other hooked on something. The shifting ground had somehow lifted him up. Her outstretched fingers were just inches below the rim of the hole. Brow furrowed, he shouted over the din of falling stone. “Can’t lift you up. Have to climb.”
Anessa reached up, almost screaming as the shift in position drove another lance in. Fingers wrapped around Kobb’s wrist, she pulled. But couldn’t keep her grip. Her second try was equally unsuccessful.
Shoulder seeming on the verge of tearing free, she turned her foot against the side before gripping Kobb’s arm. Hoping it wouldn’t swing her out too far, she kicked up as she pulled.
The stabbing in her left shoulder eased. She squeezed her grip tighter, then kicked again. The force swung her body away from the side, but also gave her slack to bend her elbow.
A breath later, her weight fell onto her arms. Her right was yanked straight; but took enough of the strain that the agony in her left subsided to an ache. “You can let go now.”
“I don’t think… that’s a good idea.” Kobb flicked his eyes up, neck corded and teeth bared. His fingers sprang open.
She realised it was a grin— or as close as he could get. Too battered to even smile back, she inched her way up again and grabbed for the rim. Fire surged through her as she put weight on her left shoulder. Then her fingers slipped.
Fortunately, her right hand didn’t. However, the pain blurred her sight. She braced her legs again. Without her weight, Kobb could jump to safety. With it, he’d eventually fall. She had to use her left arm. If she fell, at least he’d be safe. Toes scrabbling against the side, she grabbed the edge of the hole; and let go of Kobb.
After brief eternity of pain, her right hand joined her left. Jagged cold cutting the fuzziness with each movement, she hauled herself up.
Cracked slabs shifted, yet did not fall. Legs hanging into the pit, she slumped until the hammer in her head ceased. An uncertain time later, Kobb’s hands grabbed her belt. Her left arm provided only agony; between her right and Kobb’s tugging, Anessa’s feet reached solid ground though.
“Shaking’s stopped,” said Kobb. “Safe to rest a while.”
He was right about the shaking. But not resting. “Need to move. If it’s safe for us, it’s safe for them. My arm’s useless. Can’t let them catch us.”
Kobb’s fingers ran over her shoulder. “Only a strain.”
“Hope so. Either way, can’t brace a crossbow. And I doubt they’ll run onto my sword.”
Kobb peered around. “We barely avoided being crushed. Doubt many closer in still move about, and those that do have better things than look for us. Reckon I know where they were keeping Falcon.”
Anessa’s neck hurt from watching every shadow at once, but Kobb’s prediction proved right. Despite tired feet sending loose rock skittering and aching lungs announcing each breath, no one unchallenged them as they wove through the rubble.
Kobb paused next to a mostly intact and chuckled. A soft whicker came round the corner, followed by Falcon’s head. Kobb rubbed his horse’s nose. “Not the only one who broke out I see. Lead the way, then.”
After bunting Kobb’s fingers, Falcon walked away, seemingly unconcerned by the random ground. A few yards later, he stopped and pawed at a slanted wall.
The light caught a buckle. Their packs! If she turned sideways— She fell forward as something wet hit her back. Another whicker came from just behind her ear. Ignoring the horse, she tugged her pack free then eased Kobb’s saddle bags out. Sweat beaded on her brow, she patted Falcon once on the nose before snatching her fingers away. “You’re smarter than you look.”
“He’s not the only one.” Serth emerged from the shadows. Grime coated every inch, and one leg dragged behind her. But she still loomed. “Glad to see you weren’t crushed, Anessa. I half-expected you’d let Karak live. But I never guessed you were a sorcerer. Guessed you’d come here though.” More figures, each with a crossbow, stepped into the light. “You can’t take us all, so best surrender.”
Serth thought she was responsible for an earthquake? And why did Serth want to capture them? Had some of it been real?
“No need for killing.” Kobb raised his palms and stepped forward, his right boot coming down on the pile of supplies.
Several of the warriors swung weapons up.
The ground lurched. For a moment, Anessa was puzzled by the silence. Then her knees slammed into snow-covered grass.
Bile flooded her mouth as her stomach added its voice to the pains in her limbs. Stones. Kobb had—
The Reverend sprawled beside her, the bolt through his chest stopping him lying flat.
“Haelen!” The last of her strength gone on the shout, Anessa collapsed next to Kobb. Her face landed less than an inch from his, but she couldn’t feel his breath.