Previously on Seven Stones: Erinis warns that the citizens believe Kobb will kidnap First Speaker Morheru, and that giving up the Belt will buy time to escape. Kobb refuses, and – after Erinis leaves – argues Erinis is behind the lies. Haelen tells the others Anserth is too injured to risk travelling through the Stones. Anessa suggests using the Belt to restore some of Anserth’s life, but nothing happens. Delirious, Anserth almost reveals why she turned on Anessa; however, her explanation is interrupted by an attack.
Kobb spun on his heel and strode to the central room. Three men clutching heavy tools ran through the far doorway, followed by a woman holding a cleaver.
Seeing him, they screamed something and raced around the pool, two on each side.
He paused for a breath. The citizens had been mislead. They didn’t deserve to die. If he charged one pair, he could drive them off before the others closed; but if the others ignored him, they’d have a clear run to the bedroom. Time to find out whether the Belt had given him more than a feeling of health. He drew his rapier and adopted a defensive stance.
Rather than wait and flank him properly, the four attackers charged forward as fast as they could.
As the first man reached him, Kobb whirled toward the other pair while slashing out at chest level. As intended, the tip of his blade scored along the inside of his target’s forearm.
Shout becoming one of pain, his attacker clutched his wound and pulled up sharply. Blocking his companion’s path.
Knees bending without even the memory of age, Kobb shifted his whirl to a low sweep toward the woman’s ankles.
Her feet tangled as she attempted to reverse direction, sending her tumbling into the pool.
The third man lunged forward, bringing his improvised club whistling down over his head.
Kobb raised his arm, blade downward, as he rolled at the waist. As his opponent’s weapon deflected past along the diagonal blade, Kobb punched his elbow with his free hand.
The man grunted, dropping his club.
Kobb spun, blade rising up to meet the second man’s weapon as he rounded his injured companion.
His opponent winced as a judder ran along his arm.
Before he recovered, Kobb stepped sharply backwards, elbow raised at shoulder level.
Bone crunched. The attacker behind him staggered back, fingers clutching his bleeding nose.
Kobb spun his rapier and advanced in a high guard.
The still-armed man brought his club up in a hasty block.
Allowing his blade to be directed over his target’s shoulder, Kobb shifted his weight across as he continued forward, then drove his knee into the man’s groin.
Mouth gaping, his opponent collapsed backward.
Pivoting around three-quarters of a circle fast enough to make his coat flare out, Kobb brought his rapier to guard an inch from the nose of the dripping woman.
The cleaver splashed into the water as she raised her palms and backed away.
Arm as steady as stone, Kobb inclined his head toward the entrance.
Dripping, bleeding, and moaning, the battered former-attackers staggered from the room.
Kobb sheathed his blade.
A moment later, Anessa joined him, sword readied. “Don’t seem much of a threat.”
“Maybe not. But defeating them’s not the problem; it’s doing it without causing any mortal wounds. They don’t deserve that.”
“What about the guards? Why aren’t they attacking?”
“Might just be ceremonial. And pole-arms don’t work in narrow spaces. I think Erinis’ll likely let a few groups of ordinary people charge in first, though, in the hopes we don’t have the stomach for hurting civilians.”
“You drove those four off easily enough. So with both of us, it’ll be easy.” She grinned. “Just got to hit them, right?”
He shook his head. “Once a person’s blood’s up, making them think they’ll lose is harder than killing. There’s only some opportunities you can exploit; so, it takes longer and needs thought. And, even if you’re careful, accidents happen. So, we might push the civilians back, but it’ll wear us down.”
The scuff of feet sounded outside.
Kobb drew his rapier. “They’ll be more cautious this time. I’ll charge round the pool the moment they enter. You hold here in case any of them try to get past me.”
Her fingers too tight and elbows too straight, Anessa raised her sword.
Kobb stepped forward and spun his blade dramatically as someone peered through the door.
The head drew back. Fragments of whispered conversation drifted from the corridor.
A few breaths later, a woman wielding a chair-leg ran in.
Kobb charged toward her, bellowing.
Eyes wide and weapon clutched vertically in both hands, she stumbled to a halt.
Kobb angled his rapier back, intending to roll around her block and hammer the hilt into her face.
However, as he engaged, two more men sprinted through the doorway and headed around the pool in the other direction.
The woman’s eyes glazed as Kobb’s guard struck her temple.
Continuing past her falling body, he charged the other attackers. Only to curse as two more rushed into the room behind him.
The first pair pulled up as Anessa swept her sword across sharply.
Wrist flicking in a crescent, Kobb sliced the earlobe from the one on the left.
One hand instinctively grabbing his wound, the man spun. His weapon clattered to the floor as the flat of Kobb’s blade smacked his knuckles.
Kobb drove his fist into the man’s gut, sending him stumbling against his companion.
Before the nearest opponent could untangle himself, Kobb cracked him on the temple with the hilt of his rapier. The man crumpled.
Sword still horizontal, Anessa whirled around.
The remaining attackers halted; then divided, one facing Kobb across the pool while the other kept Anessa between them.
Hoping his opponent was too fired up to think straight, Kobb charged through the water. As the man moved to engage, Kobb hurled his rapier.
As he’d hoped, the attacker raised his arms to deflect the missile.
Hands fisted, Kobb struck forward at stomach level, driving the air from his opponent’s lungs.
A stain spreading across his crotch, the remaining opponent fled past Kobb.
Kobb reclaimed his rapier as the still conscious citizens to the chance to retreat, carrying their companions.
“Why not block the corridor?” Anessa rested the point of her sword on the ground.
“Packed in between walls, there’s no room for them to run away, so they fight.”
She glanced at his Courser. “I meant, block it so they can’t get in. We carry Serth to the stable, and as much food as we can, and bring the ceiling down behind us.”
“I don’t have the— The Belt!” Kobb jogged to the bedroom.
An impression of wide spaces and great distance wrapped around him as he buckled the Belt. Courser drawn he ran into the corridor.
Seeing no new attackers nearby, he unleashed the power. Searing light washed across the wall ahead.
Chunks of stone tumbled free, and slammed silently to the floor.
Energy filling him as fast as he could use it, he brought the ceiling down.
After a final glance at the pile of rubble to confirm it blocked the corridor, he turned.
Sandals hitting the ground in perfect unison, figures in purple togas with sabres and shields rounded the far corner.