A/N: Thank you so much for continuing to read! Thank you especially to Drumboy100, max2013, Candylou, Cherylann Rivers, ErinJordan, EvergreenDreamweaver, and angelicalkiss for your reviews since I posted chapter 11. Now, here it is, the final chapter!
Frank and Joe looked at one another as Demyan's voice faded from the loudspeaker. Even as the words seemed to settle on their hearts like crows over a cornfield, a little spark of fighting spirit rose up in Joe.
"Looks like we're in for a final showdown," he said. "It's about time. Let's put an end to all of this."
"How?" Mr. Byron asked. "I don't see how surrendering yourselves is going to put an end to any of this."
"It will if we play our cards right," Joe told him. "First, let's look at what cards we've got. There's you three, for one. Demyan didn't say anything about you three turning yourselves over to him, so maybe he doesn't know you're with us. You might be able to act as backup. Then there's the fact that we know where the Pendant is. We can't hand Illya over to them, of course, even if he is probably a crook, but we might be able to do some bargaining with just the fact that we know where it's at. Finally, there's Chet. If he's the one that they've caught, then we're out of luck on that one, but if he isn't, then he probably did get through that tunnel, and that means that help is not only on the way, but also has a way in."
"It's not exactly four aces," Frank said, "but I think we can make a decent hand out of these cards if we play them right. We'd better treat the Chet card as the ace up our sleeve and see if we can win without it. If the terrorists know about it, they'll just panic and that might turn out worse for everyone."
"Right. That means we've only got four cards left, which isn't enough for a full hand," Joe went on. "Looks like we'll have to bluff our way through."
"There are two of us," Frank reminded him. "And they want both of us. We can use that to our advantage."
Joe grinned. "I like that thinking. Let's not forget that we have that radio, too. Okay, so what's our plan here?"
"I think I've got one," Frank replied.
Vanessa and Marius crept back along the hallways of the castle, trying to follow the revolutionaries to wherever they were taking Kristen. Finally, when they heard the loudspeaker and knew that they had taken her to the courtyard, Marius signaled for Vanessa to follow him up to a balcony overlooking the courtyard. They stayed low and out of sight, but they could see the group of masked men standing around Kristen, who looked terrified. Their backs were turned, and so the two watchers weren't particularly concerned about being spotted.
"Do you really think your friends will be turning up soon?" Marius asked.
"I'm sure of it," Vanessa replied. "Frank and Joe would never leave any of us in a lurch like this, not even Kristen, if they knew who it was."
"I still think we may have been more use going for help through the passage," Marius said.
"Chet can handle that," Vanessa assured. "He must be out by now. Frank and Joe are going to try to rescue Kristen, and they might need backup. We just have to hold on a little longer now."
Someone shouted down in the courtyard, drawing Vanessa's attention. She looked down and saw Frank approaching from the far side of the courtyard. Joe wasn't with him. He approached the terrorists with a confident step.
Demyan stepped forward to meet him. "Where is your brother? I thought I was clear in saying that I wanted both of you."
Frank ignored the jibe. "He's somewhere. There are a few conditions that you're going to have to agree to before he gives himself up. I'm here as a show of good faith on our part."
"What conditions?" Demyan sneered. "The only conditions we're interested in are the ones that we've set forth for you: that unless both you and your brother giver yourselves up, we will kill your friend there."
Frank looked over Demyan's shoulder at Kristen, who was wide-eyed with fear. "Please, Frank, don't let them!" she pleaded.
"Before you do that, I think you'll want to consider our conditions," Frank told him. "For one thing, while we were wandering around the castle, trying to avoid you people, we made a discovery."
It was impossible to read Demyan's expression through the mask, but he seemed to freeze. "I see. That was a foolish admission to make. Now we will know that there is some point in persuading you."
"Yes, that's why Joe didn't come out here with me," Frank said. "You see, only Joe could tell you where exactly our 'discovery' is. I'd like to flatter myself by thinking that I wouldn't tell you where our 'discovery' is under any circumstances, but it's best not to expect too much from yourself, so I honestly can't tell you where Joe is right now. So you can do whatever you want to me, and I won't be able to help you."
"Clever," Demyan admitted begrudgingly. "So. What are your conditions?"
"First, and most important, of course, is that you let our friend here go without hurting her in anyway," Frank said. "Secondly, and of equal importance, is that you let all of your hostages go without harming them."
"For that, you will have to somehow secure the word of the authorities out there that they will also let us go," Demyan said. "If you can do that, I'll certainly make any deal you want, because you would clearly be a most powerful ally and a most fearsome enemy. Otherwise, I think we will be content to just continue searching as we have been doing."
"Our third condition," Frank went on doggedly, "is that you answer all the questions we have for you. If you do that, we have something pretty handsome to offer you."
"I would not call immediate capture particularly handsome," Demyan replied.
"And I wouldn't call what we have to offer 'immediate capture'," Frank retorted. "But if you don't want to listen, I won't force you to."
"I'm listening," Demyan said. "In return, you will give us this 'discovery' of yours. It's a tempting offer, I suppose, but I think it is rather unfairly in your favor."
"There's another part to it," Frank went on. "If you do as I ask, Joe and I will personally show you a way out of this castle."
Demyan paused. Then he laughed. "I like this. All right. I'll play your game, for the moment. I'll start with your third request. What questions do you have for me?"
Frank felt his pulse quicken just a little. He had a feeling that Demyan realized that this was a last, desperate trick but was playing along as a trick of his own. Still, the best that Frank could do was to continue playing his own part. "Very well, but you realize that if you refuse to answer a single question, the deal is off."
"In which case, there will be nothing to prevent us killing your friend," Demyan pointed out.
Kristen gasped and began to shake.
"But don't forget that we might very well have your only chance for getting out of here alive," Frank reminded him. "I think you might be willing to cooperate with us for that."
"What are your questions?" Demyan repeated.
"First of all, who are you really?" Frank asked. "If you really are revolutionaries, what are you really trying to accomplish? And if you're not, then what's the point of all of this?"
"If all your questions are so simple to answer, then I will feel I have gotten myself a very good deal, on this part of the terms, at least," Demyan replied. "We are who we say we are: citizens of Laurenia who have suffered long enough under one oppressive regime after another and now have the courage to risk life and personal liberty to secure the freedom of all our people. I thought that was something that Americans admired. The fact that you don't is just another proof of your people's hypocrisy."
"I don't think so," Frank said. "Most Americans, including myself, do admire such things, but only when it's for a justifiable cause and when it's not merely replacing one tyranny with another. I don't really know how bad your government is, but I don't think anyone who would hold civilians hostage and threaten to kill them can be much better. Anyway, though, I'm here to question you, not to preach at you. Why do you think that the Ruby Pendant is so important for your cause? I understand that it is an important part of Laurenian history, but as such, if you really are doing this for your country, wouldn't you want to safeguard it instead of steal it and risk damaging or losing it?"
"They have told you that the Pendant is a symbol of Laurenia," Demyan told him. "That is a lie. It is a symbol of the royal family, who were the worst tyrants of them all. The day they were executed for their crimes was one of the most joyous days in our country's long and miserable history."
Frank folded his arms. "I can't agree with you there. Executing children, anyone's children, isn't anything to celebrate in my book. I've heard a rumor that there's a descendant of the royal family still living. I take it, then, that you're not acting on that person's behalf in trying to return them to the throne."
"Certainly not," Demyan said. "I would sooner die than see this country return to the tyranny of a monarchy."
"Interesting," Frank commented. "Then what type of government do you actually want?"
"The communists made mistakes," Demyan replied. "They failed in what they were trying to do, but we know better now. We will take their principles and use them as they ought to be used. If we are only given a chance, perhaps we can do better."
"Once again, interesting," Frank said, for lack of a better response. There was a good deal he could have said to that, but he didn't have any real hope of changing Demyan's mind and it seemed best to him to continue asking questions and stalling for time that way rather than getting into an argument and risking getting Demyan angry. "Let's go back to the Pendant for a minute now. You said before that you intended to sell it. How did you expect to get a buyer for it? In a way, that could be almost more difficult than stealing it in the first place."
"True," Demyan admitted. "Even though I have always hated the thought of the Pendant being safeguarded here, I would not have attempted to take it if I had not had a buyer already in place to ensure that the risk would not be in vain."
"Who is your buyer?" Frank asked. "How did you meet them?"
"Do you think I would give you the name of my own buyer? They would be most angry."
"No doubt," Frank agreed, "but what could they do to you? Surely, you weren't careless enough to reveal your identities to them."
"Ordinarily, I would not be," Demyan said. "But these are no ordinary buyers. They contacted me, personally, offering me a price that was more than fair to steal the Pendant for them. I don't know what they could do in retaliation for giving you their names, but I wouldn't like to find out."
There was a sound from above. Frank, Kristen, Demyan, and most of Demyan's men looked up toward it, toward the balcony where Vanessa and Marius were watching the entire scene play out. They tried to duck out of sight, but they weren't quick enough. Demyan gave an order to his men in their language, and several of them took off running toward the balcony.
Frank took in a sharp breath. This was an unexpected difficulty, and it was about to make everything much more difficult.
While Frank had been talking to Demyan and essentially stalling for time, Joe and the others had been busy. Joe, Biff, and Jerry were working their way around the terrorists, hoping to get in behind them. Biff and Jerry would then, in their disguises, join the terrorists and wait for an opportunity to get Kristen away from them. Meanwhile, Joe was planning out an escape route and different ways that they could delay pursuers should they be pursued.
The plan had been working out just fine. Jerry and Biff were already standing on the fringes of the group of terrorists and were edging their way toward Kristen, ready to grab her at Frank's signal. Joe just about had the escape route back to the dungeons memorized. He was helped in this by the map that Sonja had given his friends, and which Biff and Jerry had brought with them. He had lost a little time in studying a design that someone, presumably Sonja, had drawn in one corner of the map. It was a circle with lines sticking out from the top, bottom, left, and right. In the middle of the circle was a letter A, and each of the lines had a letter attached to them as well. The upward line had a B, the downward line had an N, the left line had a Z, and the right had an E. The words "four winds" were written underneath.
Otherwise, it looked as if the plan would work, up until either Vanessa or Marius bumped into something or kicked something or otherwise made enough noise to attract Demyan's attention. Biff and Jerry hesitated, unsure whether they should follow the gunmen who were headed in Vanessa's direction or if they should stay behind and still try to grab Kristen if they got the chance.
To make matters worse, in the momentary confusion, each lost track of which one the other was. Biff managed to get right next to Kristen and take hold of one of her arms. To his relief, the real guard who was holding her let go and went off with the others. Jerry, on the other hand, got swept up with the departing gunmen.
Joe was the last to realize what was going on, since he hadn't been in the courtyard. The first he knew of it was when Vanessa and Marius came running out of one door and one of the terrorists out of another. Marius launched himself at the gunman and began struggling with him. Vanessa looked at Joe as if for help in deciding what to do.
Joe couldn't help her with that, but he did know what he himself intended to do. He jumped into the fight as well. Marius had already knocked the gun out of his opponent's hands – the masked man didn't seem too interested in holding onto it, anyway – and between both him and Joe, they were able to subdue him in seconds, especially considering that he barely fought back.
"It's me, you idiots," the masked man whispered to them in English. It was Illya's voice.
"You!" Joe retorted. "I thought you'd run out on us to protect your precious Pendant."
"I changed my mind," Illya replied. "You'd better all start running. I'll try to buy you as much time as I can."
"You two had better go," Joe told Vanessa and Marius. "I've got to stay and hold up my end of the plan."
"Don't be stupid," Illya said. "I don't know what your plan was, but it's as good as ruined now. Just go."
"This might not be something you understand," Joe retorted, "but I'm not going to leave my brother and my friends in trouble when they're counting on me. But really, Vanessa, there's nothing you can do to help with the plan, so you and – I assume this is the Marius we've been hearing about – had better just go."
"I don't want to run off and do nothing," Vanessa protested.
"You might be able to help, actually," Joe told her. "If you happen to meet the rescue party who is hopefully on their way, you can point them in the right direction."
The sound of heavy footsteps in the hall signaled that they had run out of time for further discussion. Marius and Vanessa ran in one direction, while Joe stepped toward the door that they had come through moments earlier. None of them, however, were quick enough to escape the notice of the approaching gunmen. One of the gunmen shouted something to Illya in Laurenian.
Illya's only reply was to raise the gun that he had taken from the guard that he had jumped earlier. Instantly, Joe could see two major flaws with this move. For one, Illya was drastically outnumbered, and even armed, he wouldn't stand a chance. Secondly, Joe had no way of knowing whether Biff and Jerry had managed to remain in the courtyard or if they were in the approaching group. He couldn't risk letting one of them get hit. He reached out the door and dragged Illya through just as a burst of gunfire exploded.
Joe kicked the door shut after him. It was made of sturdy oak, but there was no chance of it holding up for more than a few seconds under machine gun fire. Nevertheless, Joe turned the lock on it.
Then he saw that Illya was sitting on the floor, blood oozing from a wound in his leg. Joe grabbed him by the arm and dragged him out onto the balcony, stumbling over some loose stones that had fallen from above at some point. If they stayed low, no one in the courtyard would be able to see them.
"That was a dumb thing to do," Joe said, carefully looking over the edge to survey the situation below. Only Frank, Kristen, Demyan, and two other gunmen who were each holding onto one of Kristen's arms remained in the courtyard below. Joe hoped that the other two were Biff and Jerry, but he knew he couldn't count on it.
"I know," Illya said through gritted teeth. "But I did stop whining and actually try…"
Joe shook his head. "When I told you to try thinking about other people for a change, I didn't mean to commit suicide." He could hear the gunmen breaking down the door. At least they weren't using their machine guns. That saved a little more time. "Where's the Pendant?"
"What difference does it make?" Illya asked.
"A lot," Joe insisted. "Do you have it? Give it to me!"
Illya hesitated, but the urgency in Joe's tone and the desperate situation didn't leave much room for argument. He pulled the Ruby Pendant from his pocket and placed it in Joe's hand. Joe looked at it for a second or two. Then he pushed himself up with his opposite hand and sprang to his feet.
"Demyan!" he shouted. He held up the Pendant. "Do you still want this?" He held the Pendant just long enough for Demyan to see what it was. Then he curled his fist around it and hurled it over the balcony.
While all this was going on, Mr. Byron had been working on contacting someone outside the castle either with the radio or the cell phone that Illya had given them. He also called Callie's phone and explained to her what was going on.
Finally, there was a crackle of static over the radio, followed by Chet's voice.
"Chet, are you there?" Mr. Byron asked.
"I'm here, Mr. Byron," Chet replied. "I finally made it out of that secret passage. Boy, is that place a maze. I thought for sure it was a dead end for a while. I finally figured it out, though."
"Is there help coming?" Mr. Byron asked, more interested at the moment in that than in Chet's adventures in the secret passage.
"Oh, sure," Chet told him. "They're on their way through the tunnel. They didn't let me come. But they should figure out how to get through much faster than I did, mostly because they have flashlights."
"We need them to know to come to the main courtyard," Mr. Byron said. "The gunmen are holding Kristen hostage and Frank and Joe are trying to stall for time."
"I'll get someone here to radio them," Chet assured him.
Mr. Byron breathed a little easier. Maybe they would get out of this in one piece after all.
Jerry dropped back in the group of gunmen as soon as he could. He had an idea that he might mislead them by shouting the wrong directions, but fortunately, he realized in time that shouting wrong directions in English would hardly fool the gunmen.
To his relief, the others went on when he dropped back. He paused for breath and considered his options. He decided he would go back and see what Frank and Joe were going to do about this new development. Surely, they must have a plan, he told himself.
Joe had thrown enough baseballs in his time to be a good aim. Demyan had to duck to avoid being hit by the hurtling object. The momentary distraction was enough for Frank to kick Demyan's gun out of his hands and then tackle him. At the same moment, Biff let go of Kristen and yanked the other man's mask off. It was obviously not Jerry, but he was only armed with a handgun that was still in its holster. Before he could reach for it, Biff tackled him.
Kristen looked around her for some way that she could help. She spotted Demyan's gun lying on the ground and picked it up. She had no idea how it worked and wasn't willing to try to use it to their advantage, but at least she wasn't going to let Demyan take it back.
At the same moment, Jerry, who had had the foresight to take off his mask first, came running back out into the courtyard and helped Frank to subdue Demyan. Biff's opponent would have been outmatched by Biff under any circumstances, but as it was, he was also taken by surprise by being attacked by one of his compatriots, as he thought.
Joe watched the scene from the balcony. "Yes!" he said as his brother and his friends got the better of the gunmen. His momentary celebration was cut short by the sound of cracking wood, and he barely had time to hide on one side of the door before the attackers got through the door.
Vanessa and Marius almost ran full-tilt into a group of men with guns, but rather than masks, they had vests with the word "policía" spelled out across them. After a few moments of confusion, Marius was able to explain to the police who he and Vanessa were and where they would find the terrorists. They requested that Marius come along to show them.
"Wait. You can't leave me here alone," Vanessa protested.
"You can come, but stay in the back," Marius translated the leader of the police's response for her.
Joe braced himself for the onslaught that was undoubtedly about to come from the revolutionaries. Then, instead of a barrage of gunfire, a voice shouted, "Stát'!" There was a brief spurt of shots, but it didn't last long. Then a police officer in a bullet-proof vest came out on the balcony. Illya and Joe looked up at him, and he and Illya exchanged a few words in Laurenian.
Before anyone could translate for Joe, Vanessa came rushing out onto the balcony and hugged him. "It's over now," she said. "They caught all of the revolutionaries. We're safe now."
Joe breathed a sigh of relief as he hugged her back. Then he stood up, stretched his arms, and said with a lopsided grin, "Well, that was exciting."
"Is that all you have to say?" Illya asked him. "I can't believe you threw the Ruby Pendant over the balcony. You had better hope it wasn't damaged at all."
"I know it wasn't," Joe told him. He pulled the Pendant out of his pocket and grinned again. "I switched it out for one of these rocks lying around here at the last minute. You might have gotten through to me, too, about it being important to safeguard something like this."
He then handed the Pendant to Illya and they shook hands.
It wasn't until late in the evening that all the Bayport students and Mr. Byron returned to their hotel. The reunion among them had been an emotional. Callie had scarcely left Frank's side since, and Iola, too, had remained close to Joe. Even though they were all exhausted, none of them wanted to go to bed, and so they were all gathered around in the lobby, talking over the adventure of the day.
Vanessa wrapped a lock of her hair around her finger as she watched Joe and Iola sitting together on one of the loveseats in the lobby and Joe put his arm around Iola's shoulders. Whatever Vanessa was thinking was cut short by Kristen sitting down next to her.
"I, uh, wanted to apologize," Kristen said in a quiet tone, hoping no one but Vanessa would hear her. They were sitting on the fringes of the group, and so that helped. "What I said earlier to you was pretty stupid. I didn't mean it."
It took Vanessa a moment to change her focus. When she did, she grinned. "Well, that's good, because it almost sounded like you were jealous of me, and if you're going to bother being jealous of anybody you should shoot a little higher than me." Vanessa's smile faded. "I have a confession of my own to make. That sound that attracted the attention of those gunmen. That was me. I accidentally kicked one of those loose stones that were on that balcony. If anything would have happened to Joe or Mr. Láska out there, it would have been all because of me."
"Well, I guess you're not as perfect as I was blaming you for." Kristen tried to smile.
"Hardly," Vanessa agreed.
"You know," Kristen went on, "my family moved to Bayport just a little less than two years ago. I've never been very good at making friends, and I honestly haven't made a single one since you've been here. Then you moved to town, and instantly everyone seemed like they wanted you to be their best friend. It just didn't seem fair. But I guess it was my own fault, to be honest."
Vanessa hugged her. "Well, you've got one friend now, anyway."
Meanwhile, the others had been too deep in their own conversation about the outcome of the situation to pay attention to the conversation between the two girls. Frank and Joe were explaining what they had learned or pieced together about Demyan and his men and about Sonja, including what they had learned later from the police.
"So, what's the deal with 'the four winds'?" Chet was asking. "I heard those gunmen say it, and Joe said Sonja had written it on the map, too. Does that mean they were working together?"
"Both Demyan and Sonja were pretty adamant that they weren't," Frank said. "The police here think that there is a group of smugglers or fences or something who call themselves the Four Winds. There's not a whole lot that is known about them, though. Somehow, they must have made separate deals with both Demyan and Sonja."
"I don't know what the drawing Sonja had made on the map was about," Joe added, "but if it is the Four Winds' symbol or something, it will definitely help to track them down. It would help even more if Sonja would explain what it is, but that might be asking a little too much."
"How about Marius?" Phil asked. "What's going to happen to him?"
"He and Natalia were Sonja's partners, although fairly unwilling partners," Frank explained. "Between that and the fact that Marius helped us all get out of there, Illya says he'll do what he can to get them off as easily as he can. I'm sure that also means that he's going to keep their motivations for helping Sonja quiet. I doubt the Laurenian government would go for leniency if they knew that they were trying to help a supposed heir to the throne come into his inheritance."
"Do you think there really is a lost prince?" Iola asked. "That would be pretty exciting."
"I doubt it," Phil said. "Sonja is out of her mind. I doubt there's any truth in just about anything she's said."
"Illya doesn't think it's even possible, either," Joe added. "Turns out, we were wrong about Illya. Or I was. I was the only one really thinking he was involved in all of this."
"Now the only question left is whether we're going to stay or go home as soon as possible," Mr. Byron said. "We haven't even started on the work we came here to do, and the government here has already stated that they would be glad to have us stay. Still, I don't think anyone could blame us if we decided to just go home after the day we've had."
"I think tomorrow will be soon enough to decide that," Frank said, and the other students agreed.
A/N: I would like to thank you one more time for reading this entire story. I realize that it isn't the greatest story I've posted on here, so I really appreciate it that you've read the whole thing. Thank you especially if you have/will follow, favorite, or post a review for this story. That kind of support is really encouraging to us authors.
I know I said at the beginning of this story that it's supposed to start a series. I've been having a major case of writer's block with this story and with its sequel. That's part of the reason that I don't feel that this is an example of my best work. I still intend to make it into a series at some future date, but I think I will have to let it rest for a while until a fresh burst of inspiration can make writing the sequel enjoyable for me, which will follow that it will be enjoyable for you. However, I have been writing long enough to know that inspiration doesn't come to me when I'm sitting idle. I have the most ideas when I'm right in the middle of writing other stories (a source of endless frustration for me ;) ). So, I'm going to be working on other projects while I wait, some of which are Hardy Boys and/or Nancy Drew fanfiction. Stay tuned! I'm thinking I'll be posting another story before too much time has passed, whether it's a sequel to this one or an unrelated story.