Previously on Seven Stones: Trepanning the captured worker is successful, but she is too injured to be left alone so Haelen remains with her. Kobb and Anessa cross to the metal tower without being detected. As Kobb sneaks through the entrance, he is overcome by nausea and collapses.
Anessa crouched next to the door, gaze sweeping the clearing for signs of villagers acting odd. Her shoulders curled inward as warmth oozed through the back of her jacket.
A low grunt came from behind her, followed by brief clattering. Then something heavy thudded. Peering around the edge of the entrance, she saw the sole of Kobb’s right boot. After flicking her gaze across the clearing, she slid sideways, crossbow ready.
Kobb lay face down on the curved floor, Courser and rapier further along the corridor. As Anessa stepped forward, her gut twisted. A faint odour seeped over her, raising memories of Dereck threatening to throw her in a slurry pit when she was six. She swallowed hard and crouched, wobbling from the slanted footing. “Kobb? Reverend?”
He didn’t respond; but he was still breathing. She rolled him half over, then stopped as her elbow thudded on the wall. After a long moment straining her ears, she decided no one had noticed the noise and tried to turn Kobb over again.
On the third try, she managed it. His eyes were shut and sweat coated his brow. The green light made him seem on the verge of death—at least she hoped it was the light. He twitched when she shook his shoulder, but his eyes stayed closed. If only Haelen were here.
Shuffling past Kobb, she lifted his shoulders. Another wave of sickness rose in her gut as she pushed. She let him settle back onto her folded knees. If she took her time, she could get him onto the gantry; she couldn’t carry him across the clearing fast enough, though.
She pictured the gantry. As long as the workers stayed with the carts, they wouldn’t notice anything; but there was nowhere to hide Kobb from someone going in or out of the tower.
Above her, several dark holes led up, each less than a foot across. No use for humans; a good size for one of those creatures, though. Their living quarters. Kobb’d be found if she didn’t do something soon. The corridor curved away down and to the right, with no doors on either side. Her only chance was to find somewhere deeper in the tower.
She shook Kobb’s shoulder again. He shifted again, his pendant sliding against her hand. She straightened it, then paused. There was one other thing she could try.
Hands shaking, she wrapped her fingers around the pendant. Her mind went blank. There’d be special words. She didn’t even have Maker’s Share….
She pulled a bolt from her belt. Letting go of the pendant for a moment, she gripped the shaft by each end and brought it down over her knee. Pain jolted through her leg, but the bolt didn’t break. A foul taste coating her mouth, she tossed the bolt onto the gantry. It’d have to do.
She squeezed the pendant again. “I’m Anessa. Anessa Tanton. Everyone always says you ain’t to be bothered. But Kobb’s a good man, and he’s doing what needs doing. And I want to help him, and I don’t know how. And he deserves to have people admit he was right, and have a feast for him, and go back to his family…” Did Kobb have a family? He had to, or how would he stand to do this without breaking. “…and to not to die here. So make him better; and if someone’s got to pay, then he’s done enough so take it out on me.”
Her fingers aching, she held the pendant tighter. Kobb didn’t wake. Letting the pendant fall, she gathered up his weapons. Whatever happened, he should have them with him. The Courser settled easily, but his scabbard was tangled under his torso. She’d almost freed it when a low juddering sound filled the corridor. Bone ache joined the urge to throw up. Rapier snapping up, she waited for something to turn the corner.
The green light ahead flickered, then faded away as the noise stopped. After swapping the rapier for her crossbow, she crept forward along the wall. The corridor continued down, the gloom making it hard to make out details. The ceiling was free of holes though, so less chance of insects. The smell of manure’d faded too. Maybe she could find somewhere to hide Kobb in the darkness.
She sneaked a little further, gaze flicking around. Still no side rooms or signs of what the tower was for. Moving Kobb out of sight of the door’d be a good start though. Gut feeling more settled, she turned and slipped around the curve. Bile flooded her mouth.
Caught by surprise, she stumbled back a few steps. The sourness faded, along with the shake in her limbs. The green light: it didn’t make Kobb look sick, it made him sick. Taking a deep breath, she headed over to him, stride faltering into a shuffle as she went. Crossbow slung, she dragged him deeper. Each step seemed harder than the last.
Until she rounded the corner. The urge to vomit gone, she lowered Kobb and crept forward. Ahead, the corridor opened into a room wreathed in shadows. Didn’t seem natural, being able to see when there weren’t windows or lights, but there wasn’t the green glow. She moved into the doorway.
Apart from another doorway in the far wall, the room was empty. A gloomy corner was better than the middle of the corridor, though. She headed back to Kobb. As she dragged him into the room, a buzzing noise approached from the deeper in the tower.
She brought her crossbow up as two insects glided into the room. The lead insect fell to the floor, her bolt jutting between its eyes.
Anessa drew her turf hook as the second creature lunged towards her.