Previously on Seven Stones: After making a plea that all the rituals are followed, High Speaker Erinis leaves to arrange a feast. First Speaker Morheru escorts Anessa and the others past the supposed prophecy to the chamber containing the Belt of Mastery. However, when Kobb approaches the Belt, he is enveloped by searing purple light and all sound is drowned out.
Strong arms wrapped around Anessa’s chest. She struggled to break free, but Haelen just lifted her feet off the ground. His breath flickered across her cheek. Whatever he said was swallowed by the silence, though. She flailed her limbs.
Despite him twitching each time a fist or boot hit him, he just continued to carry her away from the glare.
From the corner of her eye, she noticed Serth, one hand shielding her eyes, moving past them. When Haelen staggered sideways in an attempt to stop her too, Anessa intensified her thrashing.
Silent words gusting stronger, he focused his attention on Anessa.
Two steps later, Serth was a black silhouette against the purple fire. Anessa relaxed as the light bled across the edges. Kobb hadn’t been much further forward. Serth had to be almost—
The glare blazed brighter, obscuring everything. Anessa clamped her eyes shut as a feeling like spikes drove into her head.
Her pain cut off. After a moment of apparent darkness, she realised the light still shone, no longer bright enough to hurt through closed lids. Half-expecting a trick, she cracked one eye.
A mass of purple fire filled the centre of the room, but there was no sign of Serth. She must have passed within. Which meant it was safe.
Anessa struggled to break free.
Rather than resume his backward shuffle, Haelen turned on the spot. She went limp as Serth’s body was revealed, slumped against the wall. Her face looked too pale. That had to be the glare. It had to be.
Dropping Anessa, Haelen strode toward the fallen Inductor. Knees wobbly, Anessa staggered after him. Serth couldn’t be hurt. If she was, then that meant the light harmed people. And it couldn’t do that, because Kobb was in it; and he was the chosen one, so he couldn’t get hurt. Not like that.
Haelen crouched, and ran his fingers over Serth. Unsure whether she’d help or only be in the way, and unable to ask, Anessa halted nearby. As her gaze flicked between Serth and the purple glare, she realised Morheru was grinning.
Was it all a trap? Was there a prophecy, or did they just say there was to lure people up here so the Belt could kill them? That was why they banned weapons! Fists raised, Anessa advanced on the First Speaker, boots clumping determinedly.
The glow weakened, plunging the room into comparative darkness. “A little help, please.”
Anessa spun at the sound of Kobb’s voice.
Swaying but whole, he stood beside the pedestal in the centre. The Belt, jewels reduced to their initial glow, hung over one shoulder.
Forgetting her planned vengeance, she sprinted to him. Something was different. It wasn’t just the glare: his hair was darker and face lined; he looked younger; still old but in the prime of maturity. She wrapped an arm around him. “Reverend! What happened…? The light…”
“Stay your curiosity a while, child,” said Morheru. “He will have time to explain after he’s eaten and slept.”
Kobb rested his arm across Anessa’s shoulders. “Might be easier if I wait a while to get it straight in my own head. What happened to the Inductor?”
Serth! Anessa forced herself not to rush as she helped Kobb away from the pedestal.
After a few steps, he removed his arm. “Reckon I’ve got my legs back.”
Easing away, she almost leapt across the remaining floor and dropped to a crouch. Serth’s eyes were open, but her gaze drifted randomly and her pupils were different sizes.
Haelen’s brow furrowed.
But before he could reply, Serth’s hand grabbed Anessa’s neck. “Hello, pretty… Love you…” Pulling Anessa close, she kissed her hard.
Caught off guard, Anessa felt Serth’s tongue slip between her lips. Hitting her head on the wall must’ve confused Serth. She’d mistaken her for that woman she’d killed when she was young. Didn’t stop the embrace feeling real though.
Mustering every scrap of will, Anessa eased herself free and backed away. “Will she…? Is she…?”
“I’ve seen people knocked out for longer, shake it off in minutes.” Haelen smiled, the odd light making it seem too flat. “Speaking’s a good sign. She might be fine by the time we’re back in our rooms. You lift her left shoulder.”
Anessa crouched again. It took a couple of attempts to get Serth’s arm around her shoulders—the Inductor kept trying to turn it into an embrace—but eventually the three of them ended up standing in a line. The effort of steering Serth down the stairs made Morheru’s pace seem almost fast.
As they reached the door from the tower, the First Speaker bowed. “See you at the feast.”
The journey across the city was similarly slow. Unable to move in single file, the gap through the crowds seemed narrower; there were moments when Anessa wasn’t sure if the inhabitants had left enough space for her to pass. And the feeling of Serth’s fingers fiddling with the nape of her neck didn’t make it any easier. However, eventually they reached their rooms.
One ear cocked for the sound of stone closing behind them, Anessa helped Haelen settle the still-groggy Serth on a bed.
“No need for both of us to keep an eye on her.” Haelen made a shooing gesture. “Talk to the Reverend for a while.”
Feeling odd about leaving Serth—yet unsure why—Anessa headed into the main room and stared at Kobb. “What happened? There was that light, and silence like a Courser. I thought you’d… and then you were there. And you’re…”
“Not ancient any more?” Kobb winked. “The Belt somehow accesses the same flow as the Courser. Instead of taking it gives, though. I felt the years I’d lost coming back. Not all of them; a few though.”
“It makes people young again?”
He swept his arms down his body. “I think this is what I get. Tired rather than half-dead’s still a Blessing, though. And I can feel the power there; I could draw on it to use my Courser instead of my own energies. Which is a problem.”
“Problem. How’s being able to fight without— It’s connected to the Stones; keeping it means not making the Stones right.”
The sound of sandalled feet echoed down the corridor. Moments later, High Speaker Erinis staggered in. “They’ve discovered your plan. If you give me the Belt I might be able to buy you enough time to escape.”