Previously on Seven Stones: Morheru leads a small group of soldiers into the complex to rescue Anessa and the others. However, mind clouded by the Belt, Kobb slaughters them before they can explain. With the First Speaker dead, the last hope of calming the rioters is lost. Anessa demands that they barricade themselves in until Serth is fit to travel. Serth destroys the Belt.
Anessa’s gaze jumped around the piles of bodies as purple light drove the shadows off Kobb’s face. Where’d the attack come from? Why hadn’t the blast harmed—? She spun.
Serth lay on the floor, the blackened and twisted remains of a knife next to one hand. Brief flickers of energy crackled across her as the last of the jewels faded.
“Serth!” Anessa fell to her knees. “Why—? Serth! She’s not—”
Kobb’s arms slid over her shoulders, pulling her away. “Give Haelen some space.”
Vision blurring and chest aching, she settled back into Kobb’s embrace. Why’d Serth done it? She knew the Belt was dangerous.
“She’s alive,” Haelen said. “Her pulse is weak, but it’s steady.”
“We have to stay then!” Anessa jerked free of Kobb.
“Anessa could be right. Although—” Haelen tugged at Serth’s clothes. “The bruising’s gone. And some of her scars are too. I’d need time to be sure; the power might’ve healed her, though.”
“I hope so.” Kobb stood. “Because we can’t stay here. There’s another way in. We need to get her to the stables, before we’re overrun.”
Anessa wiped her eyes. If Serth’d been healed, then why wasn’t she awake? What if Haelen was wrong? Moving her might be the worst thing to do. She dived forward, not noticing when her elbow knocked Haelen aside. “You aren’t allowed to die. Not like this. You’ve got two things to explain now, and you’re not allowed to die until you’ve done it! Do you hear me!”
Serth didn’t react.
A moment later, Haelen coughed. “We ease her onto one of the mattresses and carry an end each while Kobb keeps an eye out for ambushes.”
Anessa clambered to her feet and backed through the door. The instant the frame hid Serth, Anessa spun on her heel and raced into one of the bedrooms. Haelen caught her up as she struggled to push a mattress through the doorway.
Each slight sag or flop of Serth’s body felt like being stabbed, but eventually the two of them got her onto it and lifted. Anessa stiffened as the improvised stretcher rose more easily than she expected. That had to be a good thing. Hoping she didn’t have to be touching the pendant for it to work, she started praying under her breath. Serth’d tried to help Kobb. That meant she was on the Maker’s side. The Maker would save her. And if she didn’t explain anything, or was cruel again, it would still be a Blessing, because she’d be alive. Hands full, Anessa let the tears and snot trickle down her face.
After a wrong turn, but mercifully without meeting another person, they reached the stable. No attacks meant the Maker’d been listening. A flicker of hope sprang up; even Falcon’s whicker seemed almost welcoming. The moment the mattress was settled, she crouched at the side of it and took Serth’s fingers.
When the world lurched around her, she barely noticed.
“Anessa?” Haelen patted her shoulder. “She’ll be more comfortable in my tent. Can you help me move her?”
She drew her hand back, a surge of joy almost knocking her over as Serth’s fingers clung for a breath. Body aching with the effort of not jostling her friend, she followed Haelen into the tent and eased the mattress down again. Then returned to her place at the side of it.
A sharp yet earthy scent filled the air as Haelen mixed pinches from several jars.
Anessa leaned closer as Serth shifted slightly. Then shifted again. Pressing the fingers of her free hand to her pendant, Anessa smiled.
Kobb strode into the tent. “The Stones are dull now.”
“All of them?” Haelen said.
Anessa frowned. They’d dealt with the last thing; why’d Haelen want to check? Her puzzlement slipped away again as Serth’s eyes opened.
A breath later, her friend’s face hardened and she glanced around. “Tent… Worked then….”
“You mean the Belt?” Anessa squeezed her fingers. “Why did you do something so idiotic?”
Kobb crouched down. “Without the Belt, there was no way to block the corridors. We’d have to leave.”
Anessa looked back and forth between them, before settling on Serth. “But, you could have died. Why?”
“Even with barricade… mob might get in… need to kill them all….”
“I knew you weren’t evil. It was stupid and risky, and wonderful. I knew you cared about people.”
Serth shook her head. “No… Kill them all to stop getting Belt… too much risk Kobb would be overwhelmed. So, I ended the threat.”
“What?” Anessa turned the words around. They didn’t fit. No one thought like that. “But— What did you mean about keeping me safe? Before those people rushed in, you said you did it to keep me safe.”
“Doesn’t matter any more.” Serth turned her head away. “I should rest.”
“No. You need to keep talking. Tell her, Haelen. Tell her she has to keep talking, so she doesn’t—”
The stench of burning soil flooded the tent.