Previously on Seven Stones: Anessa adds the soporific potion to the water and returns to Anserth’s headquarters without arousing suspicion. Anserth agrees to wait for morning to launch the attack, increasing the chance most of the guards will be drugged. However, Kobb is nowhere to be seen and the Inductor seems interested in more than just details of Anessa’s mission.
The scent of sweat and spices filled Anessa’s nose. A fluttering sensation joined the churning in her stomach. Muscles taut, she stepped away, a tingle running along her jaw as it drew across Serth’s fingers. Unsteady – but ability to act returning – she took another pace. Only to fall as the edge of cot hit the back of her left leg, sending her sprawling.
Serth moved closer, her gaze heavy as it ran up Anessa’s body. “Are you—?”
Anessa drew her legs in and shoved against at the palliasse with her fists.
“Steady.” Serth dropped to a crouch and raised her hands, palms forward. “What’s wrong?”
Wrong? Serth was a liar and a killer and a… “I wasn’t… I…”
“You haven’t been with a woman before, have you?”
Heat raced across Anessa’s skin. Been with a woman? Privacy wasn’t something most people in Morth had, and mostly everyone tended animals. So she’d known how sex worked as long as she remembered. And weren’t nothing wrong with whatever two people wanted to do. She’d always thought that she’d marry and have a family, though – once she’d finished hunting and adventuring; that she didn’t feel that way about the boys in Morth because they were cruel and stupid.
Serth rocked onto her heels, then eased upright. “I’ll pour us that wine.” Pulling a bottle out of the chest, Serth twisted the cork out and reached back for a battered metal tankard. She grinned at Anessa as she filled it. “Goblet’s an exaggeration. But a tankard does the task.”
Anessa pushed herself into a sitting position as Serth stepped closer. After snatching the outstretched drink, she slid away again until she hit the wall.
Serth sat on the chest and swigged from the bottle.
Droplets sloshed across her hand as Anessa gulped the wine. Bitter, fruity, fire snatched her breath yet did nothing to the fluttering or churning. Swallowing hard, she clutched the mug to her stomach. She needed to make it last. If she finished it, Serth’d pour more; and that’d mean her coming closer again. Anessa ignored the voice in her head that suggested Serth being close wouldn’t be bad, and stared into the dark liquid.
“Would it help if you told me about the tower? You achieved a task no one else has managed.”
Anessa hunched further over the mug. Serth lied to her, so why’d keeping Karak’s secret feel like betrayal?
Except, Serth hadn’t actually lied: not mentioning wasn’t lying. Anessa took a sip—a small one—to fill the silence.
“Talking might help.”
It wouldn’t. Talking about the tower’d make everything— Or did Serth mean the other thing? Maybe telling Serth about Karak was the right thing to do. Then she’d stop being so nice.
The other end of the palliasse sagged.
Warm fingers brushed Anessa’s ankle. “I didn’t mean to… I assumed you wanted…”
Anessa looked up. No trace of the hard-faced, confident warrior remained in Serth’s face. City folk had odd beliefs. What if liking women weren’t natural there? Anessa pushed down the urge to take Serth’s hand: comforting her’d be kind; but that could lead to… and maybe neither of them’d stop this time. “I… reckon you’re right about a night’s sleep before talking. I’ve not… I want to get it right.”
The sadness on Serth’s face melted, replaced by a shaky smile. She walked to the door. “Time to think’s a good idea. No need to rush things. I’ll have Orlin show you.” Fingers on the latch, she turned. “Before you go. Why haven’t you mentioned Karak’s wife?”
Wine gushed across the cot as Anessa’s hand dropped to the sword. “I…”
“A shame.” Serth drew a long thin blade from the nape of her neck. “I do like you. And I’d hoped you were nervous because it’s your first time. You didn’t kill either of them did you? There’s no harm done yet though, so no need for violence. Think about it overnight and you’ll realise Karak’s a bad person. We’ll have that talk tomorrow; tell me everything and we can make it all right.”
Anessa slumped against the wall as Serth opened the door. She could draw her sword and fight; someone who kept a knife in their slip’d expect whatever she did before she even thought of it, though.
At some point Orlin must’ve come in, because he was steering her up and out of the room. The people gathered round the maps didn’t even glance up as he led her out of the basement.
Outside, they headed into an area she hadn’t explored. Two streets in, Orlin drew her to a halt and stepped away. “I’ll put you in the same room as the Reverend. It’ll be less painful if you hand me your weapons, rather than make me take them.”
Anessa bowed her head and reached for her belt. Purple light seared her vision.
Fingers tangled in the buckle, she staggered away as Orlin collapsed backwards. She blinked hard.
“Good to see you,” said Kobb. “So you had a falling out with the Inductor, too.”
“She’s…” Anessa wasn’t sure what Serth was. But she was certain she trusted Kobb. “Karak weren’t like she said. He only wanted to save his family.”
“And Anserth found out you hadn’t done her killing for her.”
“I tried to pretend, but…” Anessa hoped the night hid her blush. “There’s something else she don’t know though. Karak had more of the potion that made his daughter sleep. Before I went to Serth, I put it in the water.”
Kobb drew her into a hug. “Brilliant! I wondered why my guards both dozed off. We’d best leave before someone notices.”
“We can’t. I promised I’d get Karak out if he destroyed the—”
The ruins shook as a deep note of metal on metal rang out. A breath later, purple light melted the shadows.
Anessa broke free of his arms. A blazing column speared into the sky from the direction of the tower.
“I don’t think returning for him would do any good.” Kobb rested a hand on her elbow. “You couldn’t have known.”
The tone rang out again, undercut by dull cracks. Anessa fell to one knee as the ground bucked beneath her.
Kobb’s lips moved as he pulled her up, but the noise of collapsing buildings drowned his words. Each with an arm wrapped around the other, they ran deeper into the ruins.
For a moment, Anessa thought they’d get away. Then the street ahead tipped, sending them sliding toward a gaping hole.
Her fingers scrabbled at the ground. All they found was loose grit.