Previously on Seven Stones: Serth is injured attempting to enter the strange glow that enveloped Kobb. The Belt restores some of the life-energy Kobb had lost to his Courser over the years. Just after the Kobb and his companions reach their quarters, High Speaker Erinis bursts in to warn them their plan has been discovered.
Kobb raised his hand to his Courser. “Plan? What plan? We haven’t decided what to do with the Belt yet.”
“There isn’t time for you to pretend innocence. People know about the kidnapping.” Erinis lunged toward the Belt.
Kobb stepped back, leaving the High Speaker gripping air. “We haven’t abducted anyone. Check all the rooms if you wish.”
“I meant the one you intend.” Erinis held his arms out. “Give me the Belt. I’ll stop the mob while you escape.”
Something wasn’t right. Lies did spring up fast, but something about this niggled at him. He needed more time to unravel what, though. “We’ll talk to the populace. We’re grateful for the warning. You’d best leave, though; it won’t help for you to be here when the attackers arrive. I don’t doubt you could stop the attack if I gave you the Belt; the Virtues commanded we should bear it, though, so that’s got to be what we do.”
“You don’t understand. They’ll…” Erinis let his head sag. “Very well. I’ll leave you to prepare.”
“Wait!” Anessa grabbed Erinis arm. “Who do they reckon we’re going to kidnap?”
Erinis turned back, hope lighting his eyes. “First Speaker Morheru. While you can’t steal the Virtues themselves, they’re all in her memory.”
That did make a certain sense. It wasn’t true, yet it was a very plausible and rational motive for kidnapping her; too reasonable. Kobb ushered Erinis through the door. “Thank you again for trying to avoid violence.”
Erinis peered at Kobb. Realising he wouldn’t change his mind, the High Speaker jogged down the corridor and out of sight.
After waiting a moment to make sure he was gone, Kobb returned to the main room.
“Will he be all right?” Anessa frowned toward the exit.
“He’s a very experienced ruler. I doubt he’ll let himself get in the middle of a fight.”
“I meant when the mob don’t find us. Now we’ve go the Belt, we can return to the Stones. Will they try to hurt him for warning us?”
Kobb settled on the edge of the pool. Sometimes, after all the things she’d done, he forgot how innocent Anessa was. “Erinis is the one who started the lie.”
“What? No. He came to help us.”
“He hoped we’d give him the Belt. I didn’t realise at first either, but there are too many things that don’t make sense otherwise. If he’d arranged a feast, there’d almost certainly have been fewer people on the streets not more; and signs they were setting up tables and preparing large quantities of food.”
“Maybe it’s all in a building?”
“Where though? I didn’t see anything happening in the tunnels when we returned. And the citizens seem to set up a temporary city on the surface as soon as the sun sets, so wouldn’t they hold it up there?” He stood and raised a palm. “I know that’s only speculation. He got here too fast, or too slow. Erinis thought we we’d be following the rituals; Morheru skipped them all, though, so we left the tower faster than he expected. There wasn’t time for him to get there then here through that crowd; yet if he came here intending to wait for us, why wasn’t he surprised we were back? And many of the residents already seemed to resent us when we left the tower. But they didn’t attack; which makes sense if they were waiting until after Erinis asked politely.”
Anessa’s eyes widened. “We didn’t have Morheru with us as we crossed the city; so it don’t make sense for the crowd to get angry. But… He didn’t want to risk the Belt getting damaged if he could avoid it. I’ll start packing.” She shot into the bedroom, reiteration of Kobb’s theory spilling from her mouth as she crossed the threshold. Only to emerge, a puzzled expression on her face, at Haelen’s heels.
“We can’t risk travelling at the moment, Reverend.” Haelen frowned. “The first few times we went by the Stones, we experienced a stronger reaction. Maybe realigning them’s reduced that, but maybe we’ve just become used to it. The Inductor’s only done it twice; taking her through before she recovers from the blast might be enough to kill her.”
“No!” Anessa grabbed Kobb’s elbows. “We can’t… We have to…”
“Don’t worry. I want her safe too.” Kobb pulled her into an embrace. “How long until she’s fit to travel, Haelen?”
“A crack to the head? Could take days of rest to shake it off.” Haelen swallowed. “Given she was hit with the same power that flows through the Stones? Might make her more vulnerable than usual.”
Anessa broke free. “The power. The Belt made you better, Kobb. Why can’t it do the same for Serth?”
“It may work.” Kobb strode to the bedroom and wrapped the Belt around Serth as best he could.
The Inductor struggled to focus on him, then sagged back into semi-consciousness.
After a few minutes with no sign of a change, he rose to his feet. “It’s not working. Maybe there’s a trick to it. But without someone to explain it… If anyone knows, it’s Morheru. We’d never make it back to the tower, though, not now Erinis realises we won’t surrender the Belt willingly.”
Anessa dropped down beside Serth, face wet. “We have to try. Maybe healing you used up the power it’d stored. If we give it some.”
It hadn’t felt drained. The power might need to be—
“I couldn’t use a Courser, but don’t mean I can’t do other things.” Anessa pressed her hands to the central jewel.
Kobb suddenly realised her plan.
Before he could react, Serth knocked Anessa’s hand away. “Did it to keep you safe… Not letting you…”
“What do you mean, you did it to keep me safe?” Anessa stared into Serth’s eyes. “Haelen’d already pulled me back. I weren’t—”
“No.” Serth swallowed. “Before—”
The sound of boots clattering along the corridor covered whatever she intended to say.