I tried to keep my hand from resting on my sword as I followed the servant girl down long hallways and flights of stairs. I didn’t want anyone we passed to think I was getting ready for a fight, but I was a little jumpy. I’d asked the girl what was going on, but she shushed me and said that we couldn’t talk about it out here where someone might hear.
Was Tallis in trouble? Or did he just want us to meet with those loyal to Radon and explain our side of the story? Maybe he wanted them to see the stone. But why ask for all of us? Whatever it was, it must be important if he had me leave the room with the stone.
“In here,” the servant girl said opening a door and standing aside so we could enter. I went first, with Rachael, Faiza, and Ethan behind me. I assumed that Samel had come along too, invisibly of course.
The few candles resting on the large table in the middle of the room did little to dispel the darkness. It wasn’t as fancy as the dining hall Ryker had his meal in. The chairs were plain and worn, and there was a musty smell. The room must not be used anymore. Perfect place for Tallis to meet with the allies of King Radon so they wouldn’t be bothered.
But Tallis wasn’t there. The room was empty.
“I’ll be right back,” said the girl closing the door. She must be getting Tallis.
There was a clicking noise that sounded like…
“Hey!” Faiza shouted as she grabbed the door handle and twisted it back and forth. “Locked,” she spat.
“Keen observation,” said a man’s voice. I spun. A figure stepped from beyond the candle light. Shadows flickered across his face, but I knew who it was. My stomach sank and I grabbed the hilt of my sword.
“Bayvlad.” I said his name in a hiss.
“At your service.” He gave a mock bow making the crescent moon clasping his cape glint in the candle light.
So it wasn’t Tallis who sent the servant. I silently berated myself for coming.
“What do you want?” I asked, tightening my grip on the sword.
“I thought you might give me a demonstration of your sword techniques. It was remarkable what you did earlier—killing those grimulin so easily.”
He knew there was no way I should be able to kill the grimulin so fast and was trying to get me to tell him how. “It was luck. And a lot of practice.”
“It didn’t have anything to do with the dwarves?”
“You think dwarves taught me how to fight?” I tried to sound insulted.
“I think they gave you the sword.” Bayvlad looked to Rachael. “And something else.”
Did he mean Rachael? Was he upset that she was back? He might suspect her of knowing the truth about who was on the throne. Thinking he was about to interrogate her, I drew his attention away. “Tallis isn’t going to be happy that you have his daughter in a locked room.”
Bayvlad chuckled. “Tallis? The one suspected of keeping grimulin in the dungeon? The one who interrupted the King’s dinner?” He paused. “Or at least suspected of interrupting the King’s dinner. We know who was really responsible for that.”
I was ready to say something in my defense, but he was looking at Rachael again.
“You spent a long time in Hashna without your father.” Bayvlad’s voice became softer. “Why was that?”
“It was the only home I ever knew,” Rachael said. “Everyone I’d grown up with was there.”
“And your father thought it would be better to let you stay there until you were older?”
“That was the only reason? It wasn’t so you could learn magic from the dwarves, wait until they found the Hashna Stone, and bring it back here?”
We all stood still, not sure what to do.
“Don’t look so surprised. It wasn’t hard to figure out. The moment you come back, grimulin show up to eat with the king.”
“I can’t conjure a grimulin.” Rachael seemed insulted, but the panic in her eyes told me it was a show. “No one my age would be able to do something like that.”
“I never said that you conjured it,” Bayvlad said as if he were addressing a spoiled child. “But you were responsible for letting them out.”
No one felt the need to let him know that it was me who let them out.
“But how would you know they were in the dungeon?” Bayvlad asked the question more to himself than to us. He looked to the sword by my side. “The same reason you knew you would need a weapon enchanted to kill grimulin.” He paused. “You saw a grimulin. And the only reason a grimulin would approach you would be if you had something very important. Something it was looking for.”
My heart pounded so hard that in knocked against the stone laying on my chest.
“The Hashna Stone.” The only movement in the room were the shadows flickering across Bayvlad’s face.
The silence made us seem guilty, so I swallowed and said, “We’d be dead if we tried to take the Hashna Stone from the king.”
“But who is the king?” Bayvlad lips curved into a slow smile. “Do you know what would happen if I told the King you knew his secret?”
“What are you talking about?” My voice was so feeble, that my question made me look even more guilty.
“You have the Hashna Stone, yet you didn’t give it to the King. Why is that?”
“Because we don’t have it,” Faiza said.
“You have it.” Bayvlad’s voice grew rougher. “Why else would the grimulin all go to one place? It wasn’t because they smelled dinner. The stone was in that room. And if you don’t want the king to find out that you’ve had his gemstone all this time and didn’t tell him, you better give it to me.” He was looking at Rachael again, and I realized he must think that she had it.
He knew too much. There was no way to convince him that we weren’t responsible for letting the grimulin out and that we hadn’t used the stone, so I changed tactics.
“Alright,” I gave a deep breath. “I let the grimulin out and used the Hashna Stone to bring them all to the dining hall.”
I could feel the other three staring at me, wondering why I’d admit to it.
“At least one of you realizes that it’s pointless to lie.” Bayvlad seemed pleased. “So where is it?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Tallis took it somewhere.”
He gave a shrewd smile. “I doubt that. Tallis wouldn’t take the stone away from the castle. Not when someone he wants to help is in the dungeon.”
“He wouldn’t be stupid enough to leave it with us,” Rachael said.
“We’ll find out.” Bayvlad turned, making his cape swish, and disappeared into the shadows. For a moment it was quiet and it sounded like he’d left the room. Was there a doorway at the other end of the room?
The silence was broken by a familiar sound of flapping wings and snarls. About two dozen yellow eyes glowed from the place Bayvlad had disappeared.
I drew my sword. Faiza and Ethan readied their bows, and Rachael stepped closer and held her hands up as ten grimulin charged at me.
I plunged my sword into the first one’s chest. It squealed and its talons still reached for me as it dropped. I pulled my sword out of its body before it hit the floor, but the other nine were on me in a tangling mass of black fur and swiping claws.
I tried to swing my sword but it was difficult to move with so many closing in around me. I stabbed as best as I could, but I couldn’t get in a direct hit. Their furry bodies banged against me from all sides, and I stumbled to my knees.
Rachael, Faiza, and Ethan were blasting magic, and shooting arrows at them, but it wasn’t killing them fast enough.
I was going to lose the stone.
Shouts and banging came from the door behind me. Bayvlad cursed. There was a lot more yelling and crashing, like the wall fell over. Voices and footfalls filled the room.
I didn’t have time to figure out what was going on. A claw grabbed hold of the stone, ripping the front of my shirt to shreds. I hacked the grimulin’s leg off, then hunched over to keep the rest of them from getting the stone. I felt the tiny pricks of their claws as they scraped my back.
One of them pulled the chain from the back of my neck. It yanked hard, pulling the chain up like a noose around my neck. I choked and tried slipping my fingers between my neck and the chain but couldn’t.
I rolled over so I could slash the thing with my sword, but a tangle of black fur and talons filled my vision and I couldn’t tell which one had it.
Rolling over was the wrong move. It gave the grimulin just what it needed to pull the stone from my neck.
For a second, I felt their talons sink into my skin like knife tips raking through bread, then the mass of dark fur and yellow eyes left.
They went after the grimulin that carried the stone.
“They have a piece of jewelry!” someone shouted. I didn’t recognize the voice.
Now that I was free of grimulin, I saw that soldiers filled the room. Rachael, Faiza, and Ethan each were held by one of them, their weapons taken.
The grimulin clutching the Hashna Stone’s chain was bleeding badly. It had a gash on its side where my sword must have cut it and there were several arrows sticking out of it. It dipped and fluttered sideways. The other grimulin grabbed at the stone, but it held.
A girl darted into the mist of the throng. It was the stern-faced, dark-haired girl from the army, Nakin.
She swung her sword and cut two toes from the grimulin carrying the stone leaving the chain hanging by one talon like a cloak on a hook. The moment she grabbed it, the grimulin were on her. Their claws dug into her and she slashed at them with her sword.
“Give it to me.” Bayvlad came forward and held his hand out.
“It’s the king’s,” grunted Nakin.
“And I’m retrieving it for him.”
The soldiers who weren’t holding my friends began hacking away at the grimulin.
“Stop!” Bayvlad commanded.
They didn’t listen.
Bayvlad began muttering words like he did earlier in the dining hall and I expected the grimulin to disappear. Instead they backed off and fled into the darkness behind Bayvlad.
The soldiers turned to me.
“Drop it,” one of them said, pointing his sword at me.
I gripped my sword tighter, not wanting to part with it. Not wanting to believe we’d gone through all this just to have the Hashna Stone given to Ryker.
“You can’t fight us all, boy.”
I laid my sword on the floor.
“I am working under the direct order of the King,” Bayvlad said, glowering at Nakin. “Give it to me.”
“It isn’t yours.” Nakin clutched the stone with her bloodied hand. The grimulin’s talons had shredded her skin. She was lucky she had on leather armor or the rest of her would be bloody too. Blood was already trickling down my shoulders and chest from the few seconds they’d been on me without the stone’s protection.
“It certainly isn’t yours.” Bayvlad stepped closer to her, probably to intimidate her. Nakin held his eyes with her stony gaze and sheathed her sword. She turned her back on him and walked away.
“Which is why I’m taking it to its owner,” she said.
“You can’t do that.”
“Take it from me then, but know that Commander Surin doesn’t like it when people show disrespect for his soldiers, and somehow I think attacking them will be seen as disrespectful.”
“I don’t fear that pitiful man.” Bayvlad’s face contorted. “All of his strength is nothing to mine. But you should be fearful of the disrespect you’ve shown me. The king will not be happy to know that you have interrupted me in capturing these thieves.”
Nakin was halfway through the door, and paused to look back at him. “Interruption? I helped you.”
The soldier in front of me motioned for me to walk. I got in line behind the others who were prodding my friends forward. The soldier went behind me and kept his sword to my back.
It looked like I would be seeing Ryker again.
Hi guys! I hope you all are enjoying the story so far. It’s getting down to the end. Only 7 or 8 more chapters to go!
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Countdown to the big decision: two more chapters.