Seven Stones: Part Fifty-One

Seven Stones

Previously on Seven Stones: Anessa sneaks past the creatures and into the tower. However, she discovers Karak isn’t alone; and he seems more interested in the safety of the woman with him than in mass murder. With another thing not matching Anserth’s story, Anessa decides to talk instead of attack. Unfortunately, his companion stabs Anessa as soon as she enters the room.

Anessa folded forward as the woman drew the knife back again. The pain felt like the time Dereck hit her with a rock. But this had to be worse. Anessa’s crossbow clattered to the floor as she wrapped both forearms around her gut. A person’s body tried to pretend things weren’t as bad. Her stomach didn’t feel damp, but maybe she wasn’t thinking right. The only way to be sure was look.

But that’d mean moving her arms. What if that was what held the blood in? She realised the woman hadn’t attacked again; instead she seemed to be arguing.

“…take the risk.”

“She could have killed either of us from the doorway,” said Karak. “Instead, she revealed herself. She didn’t draw her sword. Or try to dodge. We agreed we’d only hurt people if we had to.”

“But she’s one of them. Look at her armour!”

Armour. Anessa eased her left arm off her stomach. The chain panels. Despite all the clinking, she’d forgotten she wasn’t wearing her leathers. The pain still filled her side; she couldn’t see any blood on her sleeve, though. Must have stopped the blade. No wonder it felt like being punched. She straightened and noticed Karak held the woman back by the arm. “Traveller, not soldier… borrowed armour… want to talk.”

Karak held out his free hand to his companion. After a moment, she dropped the knife into it. Dropping it on a table, he turned to Anessa. “If you really are here to talk, you’d best shed your sword. And explain yourself.”

Anessa eased the buckle open. The belt tugged at her as it fell away, but her guts didn’t follow. “We saw some of those creatures carrying people off, so we came… my friend and me, that is, this way. Anserth said you’d gone mad, and was sending monsters out to kill everyone. So I said I’d sneak in so no one got hurt attacking. But she didn’t tell me anyone else was here, and other things is odd too. And my Dad said best way to avoid a problem’s to talk.”

“A sensible person, your father. This is my wife. I’m not surprised Anserth didn’t tell you; somehow, a married couple and their young daughter doesn’t seem as threatening as a lone figure. And Anserth is so very good at only mentioning things when it serves her purpose. Did she tell you who she really is? What she’s here to do?”

“She called herself an… Inductor. Sent to keep the expedition safe.”

“Keep it safe? More like keep her patrons’ prize safe. She was the perfect guard master until I gained entry to the vaults. Then she revealed her orders were to take everything back to the Council, secretly. I watched her guards kill Bordis. The last I saw of Savrik, he’d been shot in the leg. The three of us made it inside and barricaded the door.” Karak scuffed one foot on the floor. “I couldn’t let anyone harm my little Frinna. Some of the scrolls I found talked about calling for aid. I didn’t know what else to do.”

Anessa frowned. “If all you want to do’s escape, why build the walls?”

“I never wanted to hurt anyone. I told the beasts to keep Anserth’s people out. That must be why they didn’t stop you: you don’t work for her.”

Anessa’s shoulders sagged. She hadn’t sneaked past unseen. “I’ve seen them carry people. If the creatures do what you say, you could fly out. Let Anserth take whatever you found.”

“I can control them, but the beasts aren’t… natural. The scrolls warn that paying attention for too long changes someone. Seeing them from a distance, or while you give instructions, is safe. Clasped to their chest while they carried you miles, though, would leave a person witless. That’s why I only have one circling the tower; I sent the rest to an island nearby. There is a potion that protects you; the inhabitants weren’t like us, though: it puts humans to sleep for most of a day.”

“So you’d be—”

“—helpless,” interjected Karak’s wife, glaring at her husband. “The potion takes time to work, and someone has to be awake to control the beasts. So we can’t both go. And I’m not leaving him alone. Not with assassins creeping in.”

Karak sighed. “Frinna needs you more than I do. She’ll be safe now she’s…” He looked at Anessa for a moment. “She’ll be safe where she is. She’ll be scared without us though, so you should go.”

“We haven’t translated everything yet. There might be better way. And with both of us here, Anserth won’t risk sending anyone after her.”

After her? The sleeping child must be their daughter! Anessa felt her cheeks warm. She needed to fix things, and fast. “There must be a way. What if I guided you out? As long as they think you’re here and you’ve got the creatures, they’ll—”

“So that’s why you came!” Karak’s wife raised her fists. “You want to trick us into an ambush. Tell us we need to go through a building, then grab us where the beasts can’t rescue us.”

“No.” Anessa lifted her hands, palms up. Hopefully, people calmed like spooked animals. “I’m not a threat. I came in to stop anyone else getting hurt.” She glanced down at her sword, then deliberately took a step forward. “We can find a way out of this. Sounds like Anserth tricked us both, so I’ve no reason to help her. And the Reverend can protect you from her.”

“Reverend?” Karak’s eyes widened. “But why would there be…? Why did you come to the ruins?”

“There’s something gone wrong… don’t understand it, but Reverend Kobb does; and we followed the trail here. He’s a good man. We get to him, and he’ll sort this out. I’ll lead you over the wall, then—” Something wrong. The Korha came from somewhere else. The insects’d made a gate to somewhere else. They couldn’t let Anserth get the magic. “How long to destroy the scrolls?”

“Destroy the scrolls?” Karak grinned. “You mean escape and leave her nothing? You’re right: she might not risk attacking a Reverend. Wouldn’t work though. Setting the scrolls alight is easy enough; destroying the ritual circle would take until at least midday, though. Maybe you could slip out in daylight, but…”

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