The doors led to a spacious sitting room littered with over-turned furniture, dead grimulin, and it was packed with soldiers. Ryker stood in the center between his two bodyguards, the Hashna Stone still around his neck. Radon stood opposite from him, looking even shabbier now that he was next to his twin.
Faiza and Ethan were standing behind Radon along with several soldiers forming a protective half-circle around him. They must be some of the soldiers that knew of Ryker’s treachery before now. I started to join them, but a bout of dizziness swept over me, so I stayed by the door and leaned against the wall.
“That is not my brother,” Ryker said. “He died three years ago.”
“I am Radon. Rightful King of Minaria,” Radon looked more like a beggar than a king with his uncombed hair and shabby beard, but his voice was commanding, where Ryker’s came across as whiny. “Ryker, the scoundrel that now wears the crown, put a sleeping potion in my drink and dragged me to the dungeon. Then he claimed that it was Ryker who died, while he pretended to be me.”
There were several shouts of outrage. A few directed at Ryker, dressed in the king’s robes and decorated with the crown, but most were directed at Radon. The soldiers were having trouble deciding who to believe.
“This is madness!” Ryker’s eyes were wild, like a man on a piece of driftwood in a storm. “This man dares to come in here and accuse me—Radon, King of Minaria—of stealing my own throne.”
“He is your twin,” called one of the soldiers near Radon. “There’s no mistaking that.”
“Perhaps I should come closer, brother,” Radon said. “So you can recognize me.”
“I buried Ryker three years ago. I identified him with my own eyes. If this is Ryker, then he has either found a way to fake his own death or has been raised from the dead.” Ryker gave a barking laugh that no one joined.
“I am Radon,” Radon said firmly.
“If you are Radon, then why am I wearing the Hashna Stone?” Ryker pointed at Radon. “This man is in league with Bayvlad! They have plotted together to steal my crown. Seize him!”
The soldiers around Radon lifted their swords, ready to fight. The others in the room either stayed put or only took a few hesitant steps toward Radon. No one wanted to risk killing him if he was the king.
“I know who the real king is!” Tallis strode into the room followed by twenty soldiers and a handful of people dressed in wealthy clothing that must be important officials. Right behind them came Rachael. She was still pale, but she wasn’t shaking. She spotted me leaning against the wall and came over.
“Are you alright?” She looked me over. I realized I was probably as pale as she was, and I was covered in scrapes from the grimulin’s talons. I nodded.
“You,” Ryker scoffed. “You who were arrested for conspiring to steal my stone! This only proves that my twin is in league with Bayvlad.”
“These will vouch for what I have to say.” Tallis gestured to the officials. “Our true king has been locked in a dungeon for the past three years.”
“Silence! Guards, kill the traitors.” No one listened to Ryker’s demands. Their eyes were fixed on Tallis.
“As many of you know, I was once an ambassador to Hashna and before I left, a very strange thing happened. Our king came to the dwarves and asked for a new stone to be made for him, because his had been stolen—“
Ryker drew the sword at his hip and charged at his brother. “If you cowards won’t defend your king…” Ryker swung at Radon, but Radon blocked it. The guards around him tried stabbing at Ryker, but their swords didn’t cut him. Rachael stiffened beside me and put a hand on my arm. I gritted my teeth feeling helpless. After wearing the stone for so long, I knew there was no way for anyone to hurt him, no matter how strong or skilled they were.
Ryker laughed, “Fools!”
His two body guards followed him in his charge and attacked Radon’s soldiers, but there were only two of them and about a dozen surrounded Radon. They were soon killed.
Ryker continued slashing at his brother paying no attention to his fallen body guards or to the men that tried attacking him in spite of the stone’s protection.
The rest of the soldiers didn’t know who to attack. What if they chose the wrong side and killed the real king? That would mean their death for sure.
I started forward, ready to join the fight. But what was I going to do? Kill Ryker who had the protection of the Hashna Stone? Grab the stone and be shocked to death?
We’d gotten this far for nothing. Radon may be a better swordsman than Ryker, but eventually Ryker would wear him out. Once he died we’d be back in the dungeon, or if we were lucky, running for our lives, or hiding in some other country.
I shook myself. There had to be something that could stop Ryker. My sword! It was immune to Bayvlad’s magic, maybe it wouldn’t be hindered by the stone’s magic either. It was a long shot, but it was the only thing I could think of.
I turned and ran back to the hall, causing another burst of dizziness. I slowed long enough to let it pass, then found my bent and blackened sword.
“What are you doing?” asked Rachael as I came back to the room. I didn’t answer. My mind was focused on one thing.
I would only have one chance to make this count. Ryker wouldn’t be expecting anything to actually be able to hit him and his surprise would be my only advantage.
That is, if it actually could hit him. It may be a bit beat up, but it should still have the magic that the dwarves put into it.
I pushed passed the soldiers and ran toward Ryker whose back was to me. Perfect. I would hit him in the back of the neck. I couldn’t exactly stab with my sword bent like that. The tip was curved in. The blade was still sharp though.
I brought the blade down across the back of his neck and was pleasantly shocked that it made contact. Blood came out. Ryker stumbled forward, but didn’t fall as I expected. The gash on the back of his neck wasn’t deep. My seared sword wasn’t as sharp as I’d thought.
He righted himself and faced me with wide eyes.
I would have laughed at his expression, but all that physical activity caused another bout of dizziness and all I could do was stand there with my sword held up in trembling hands.
Ryker batted my charred sword from my grip and would have stabbed my with his next blow, but someone caught his arm. Radon stood beside him, holding his arm back. It only lasted a second before Ryker pushed him off and in two moves, had Radon at the point of his sword.
His smile looked more like a grimace of pain. Blood ran out of the wound in his neck and down his back.
I swayed and thought I would fall over from the dizziness, but somehow managed to stay upright. All I could think was that I’d messed things up again. My stupid plan to attack Ryker caused the king’s death, just like my stupid plan to let the grimulin out of the dungeon caused us to be thrown in the dungeon.
Ryker stumbled backward and the stone on his chest moved. It pulled away from him, and I expected it to disappear—sending itself away again—but it didn’t. There was a flash of red light and the Hashna Stone fell to the floor.
Right beside Samel. I blinked, thinking the dizziness was making me see things, but Samel’s motionless form remained.
There was a moment of shocked silence before Radon advanced on his brother. In one movement, Ryker was at his mercy.
Ryker whined for the guards to take Radon, but Radon commanded for them to take hold of Ryker and they did.
Radon picked up the glistening red gem from the floor beside Samel, his face grim. The golden chain was broken so he held it in a clenched fist instead of putting it around his neck.
Rachael rushed forward and knelt beside Samel.
“Samel! Samel? Wake up.”
I knelt beside him too, the pieces finally connecting in my fuzzy brain. Samel had pulled the stone from Ryker’s neck. He’d come up invisibly and no one had seen him until the stone’s power had shocked him and….
I couldn’t even think the word. Not Samel with his cheeky grin and cheerful spirits. But he was lying on the floor. He’d touched the Hashna Stone while it was around someone’s neck. The bolt of magic it put out would kill a grown man. There was no chance half a man would survive it.
Rachael cradled his head in her hands and people crowded around us. They were talking, but I didn’t hear words. All my senses seemed to be focused on the tear sliding down Rachael’s cheek. It moved so slowly, like it too couldn’t believe what had happened.
I thought I should put my hand on her shoulder, but couldn’t move. I didn’t know if it was from shock or because I was so weak from my fight with Bayvlad.
I was still watching the tear on Rachael’s face when she gasped out a sort of choke/sob. I followed her gaze. Samel’s eyes were open. A knot that had formed in my stomach released and I thought I might fall over from relief.
Samel looked at Rachael, then his eyes wandered to me. “Bet you’re glad you let me come along.” The corner of his mouth lifted, then he closed his eyes again.
For a terrible second, I thought those were his last words.
Rachael looked up with teary eyes. “Someone get a doctor.” And I knew that he was still breathing at least for now.
“He took the Hashna Stone.” I looked up to see Radon gazing at Samel with admiration and confusion.
One thought pressed itself into my weary mind: the Hashna Stone was finally back where it belonged. Bayvlad was dead. Ryker captured. And Radon was back.
The relief should have made me feel light but instead it felt like a heavy arm clapped itself around my shoulders and pulled me down.
And down I went. Into blackness.
Check out the Hashna Stone Page for previous chapters and a character list.