Previously on Seven Stones: Anessa manages to convince Karak she isn’t here to kill him. Karak explains he sealed himself and his family in the tower to protect them from Anserth; and that Anserth’s real purpose is to obtain the contents of the vault for her masters. He also reveals the girl is his daughter and he put her to sleep so wouldn’t go mad while a beast flew her to safety. Ashamed for bringing Karak’s daughter into danger, Anessa offers to sneak Karak and his wife out of the ruins.
Anessa studied the two archaeologists. Karak was right: they looked healthy, but didn’t carry themselves like hunters. On a cloudy night, she might be able to give one person enough help to sneak out unseen. But both of them together, under a full moon… They’d be noticed as soon as they crossed the wall; assuming Karak’s wife even heeded Anessa’s words in the first place.
Unless the guards weren’t watching. “Where does Anserth draw water? The creatures fouled the lake, so the guards must get it from somewhere else.”
“Water? From cisterns.” Karak shook his head. “I thought of crawling out through the conduits; there aren’t any, though.”
“She already knew that.” Karak’s wife glared at Anessa. “She’s suggesting things which won’t work, so we believe she wants to help. Probably isn’t even with the Church. And if she is, they’re here to steal our find too.”
Fury flooded Anessa. “Kobb’s a good man! He could’ve killed everyone in my village, but he let them capture him ‘cos he didn’t want people hurt. If this circle’s what’s causing the evil, he could just kill you and destroy it. But he won’t! If you don’t take my help, then that’s your choice. But you don’t get to say that about him. And I don’t even know what a conduit is. If I pour that potion in the water, the guards fall asleep. Then you can take those city ways and walk out of here while Kobb saves everyone again.”
Karak swallowed hard. “That might work. I’ll find you a map.”
“Thank you.” Anessa snatched her sword up and buckled it in place, grimacing as her gut complained.
After rifling through a couple of chests, Karak handed Anessa a yellowing scroll.
Anessa unrolled it. The ink’d started to brown; the shapes of the buildings were clear enough to find the tower, though. However, there didn’t seem to be anything that looked like a well. “Where’s the water?”
“Where it says— Sorry. Surrounded by archaeologists all day, I forgot not everyone reads Skithic. Look for— It’s easier if I mark them for you, rather than spell it.”
Anessa gave the map back, thankful for another Blessing. Karak’d agreed her plan, but city folk had strange thoughts; might change his mind if he realised she couldn’t read.
Pen and scroll clutched in one hand, Karak flipped open and closed several small jars. Satisfied by the contents of the fourth jar, he pinned the map flat with the other three and dipped his pen in. “This might take a while. Could you bring the bottles of potion up, dear?”
Karak’s wife peered at Anessa for a moment before stomping out of the room.
“Don’t mind Brinthe. She’s worried about Frinna.” Karak made another mark on the scroll. “But where are my manners? You’re risking yourself for us, and I haven’t even asked your name.”
“Anessa. Anessa Tanton.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Anessa. If there’s ever anything in my power I can do to repay this kindness, it’s yours.”
Anessa stared at her feet. “Just destroy all the things that brought those creatures.”
“You have my word.” He waved the scroll around for a moment, then handed it to her. “We only used one cistern before Anserth… I labelled it primary. I’ve marked them all though, just in case.”
Anessa looked down. Fresh ink scrawled across some of the buildings; fortunately, one of the squiggles was different. Rolling it up, she tucked it into her jacket and walked to her sword. She was resettling her crossbow across her back when Brinthe stomped in, three stoneware bottles clutched to her chest.
Karak frowned. “Weren’t there—?”
“There’s no guarantee the girl’ll manage it. So I kept one.”
Anessa stiffened. “More I put in the water, better chance it don’t just leave them dozy.”
“And without any potion, we’re trapped here. Which might be what you want.” Brinthe thrust the bottles into Anessa’s arms. “My husband wants to risk it, I’ll go along. But don’t mean I trust you.”
“You want to keep an eye on me; you’re welcome to follow me to the wall. But I ain’t slowing for you.”
Brinthe turned on her heel and headed up the stairs, shoulders rigid.
Biting down a bad word before it slipped out, Anessa glanced between the bottles and her armour. A few moments later, Karak emptied a sling bag onto the floor and held it out for her.
Even knowing the beast’d seen her but hadn’t pounced, Anessa kept to the walls as she left the tower. She did make the journey faster, though. One hand braced against the bottles to stop rattling, she stopped at the top of the wall and studied the buildings. As she feared, not all the shadows seemed natural.
After ducking below the lip, she removed her jacket then replaced her weapons and the bag. Even a single clink of chain’d attract attention, and the armour wouldn’t help if they spotted her, anyway. Arms and torso free again, she slipped over the wall and moved from shadow to shadow.
Two streets later, she risked a step into the light to check the scroll. After moving back she waited a few breaths to be sure no one’d noticed, then curved around to the right area. Between the damage since the map was drawn and her not understanding it, she expected a long search. However, a dull glow from a nearby building caught her eye. That had to be the cistern. Why weren’t the guards hidden below like Anserth’s rooms? She crept closer.
Like many of the others, the building lacked windows. A quick glance around the doorway revealed a single figure seated next to a shuttered lantern. The spill of light wasn’t enough to make out their face. It did show they sat on a wooden hatch, though. Of course! The water was under the buildings, so there wouldn’t be a basement to hide in.
She picked up a small section of rock. After sneaking around the corner, she lent forward and threw the stone as hard as possible the other way. A loud clatter echoed along the street as it bounced down a pile of rubble.
Several breaths passed without a response. Then, as she was wondering what else to try, the guard emerged with the lantern and headed away.
Creeping toward the door, she eased the corks from the bottles. Open the hatch, drop the entire bag in, and be out again before the man finished his search. It’d be easier with a light, but the route to the cistern was clear. Glad she’d shed the jacket, she slipped to the centre of the room. Her fingers met the handle where she expected. But the hatch didn’t move.
She placed the bag down and gripped with both hands. After a moment, the hatch squealed up about a foot before sticking. Had the guard heard, or had the walls trapped it? Running footsteps answered her question.
Kicking the bag in, she straightened as a beam of light cut through the doorway. Blinded, she heard Col say, “What’ve we got here? You come to liven up the watch?”