Ultimate Decision: Part Five
Renelle had almost not wanted to speak with Darwin at all, fearing that her Zafara friend would only bring more bad news. As the Aisha made her way through the bustling kitchen, dodging Neopets as they carried away the dirty breakfast dishes, she hoped that Darwin would not have overheard anything worrisome.
“What’s the scoop?” she asked casually, standing next to the green Zafara in the doorway.
“I’m actually a bit annoyed.” Darwin frowned, watching as a small Pteri tried to balance a tray on her head. A puff of steam filled the room as some Neopets began cleaning the dishes with hot water. “With Altador gone and her precious amulet stolen, Jerdana is planning to question all the servants in the castle.”
“What?” cried Renelle, drawing the stares of a few employees.
Darwin nodded. “Yes, she’s going to take us all into her room one by one and ask us if we know what happened, or if we saw anything suspicious. It wouldn’t be too bad, I guess, but then we have to do all our regular work on top of it, and it just seems like a waste of time. I mean, it’s not like any of the servants in the castle would be involved in something like this...”
Renelle wasn’t listening. Her mind was racing furiously in an attempt to comprehend her friend’s words. Jerdana would be questioning each and every one of them. Would she use magic? Would she cast some sort of truth spell that would force Renelle to admit what she had done? The Aisha felt suddenly weak, and she leaned against the wall.
“...already started with the guards, seeing as they’re the ones who are always looking out for things. You and the maids will probably be next, which means I’ll have to stay late, probably into the evening...”
What would happen if it was discovered that Renelle had stolen and broken the amulet? Would she be suspected to be working with the Darkest Faerie? Would she be thrown into the dungeons? Renelle’s imagination went wild with the possible punishments that Jerdana might assign her. No, she had to stop this. She had to somehow escape this questioning.
The Aisha turned to her friend, who was frowning at her. “Sorry,” she said. “I’m feeling a little tired.”
Darwin sighed. “Never mind,” he said, turning away from her to walk away through the kitchen. Renelle watched him disappear into the steam, her fear of Jerdana melting away into guilt as she realized that she hadn’t really said a kind word to her friend in several days.
* * * * *
It was just past midday when the first batch of maids were called to Jerdana’s chamber for questioning, and Renelle realized that it was simply too dangerous for her to remain in the castle any longer. She was in the middle of scrubbing down a long table in one of the sitting rooms when she heard the announcement, and the Aisha knew that it would not be long before her name was called.
She put down her rag and wiped her hands on her apron. She was alone in the room. Renelle looked around. She had never left during the middle of her shift before; she did not want to be caught skipping work. But she had decided that going into Jerdana’s room for questioning would be simply impossible; somehow, Jerdana would learn the truth, whether by means of magic or some other interrogation technique. The whisper of the Darkest Faerie last night had lingered in Renelle’s mind ever since she had heard it: “Bind all, free all.” Was there another aspect to the ancient spell that Finneus had not yet discovered? It was possible. Renelle had been pondering the faerie’s words all day, but she was still uncertain. The only thing she was certain of was that she needed to avoid being alone with Jerdana—at all costs.
The sitting room was still empty, and Renelle crept out into the hall. The Altadorian palace was quite large, and the Aisha knew that she had a ways to go before she would be able to leave the grounds. However, since several of the maids had already been called away from their duties, the hallways were mostly empty, and Renelle was able to hurry out of the castle without any problems.
She made her way across the sprawling lawn as quickly as she could, her purple dress rustling in the wind. The red Aisha knew that her name would soon be called for questioning, and when it was discovered that she was not in the castle, suspicion would surely arise. She had to stop that from happening, and there was only one solution she could think of.
Renelle did not take the road that led toward the Archives. She had learned enough from Finneus already, and there were some facts that she needed to take on faith alone, even if those facts came from the mouth of one of the vilest creatures in Neopia. “Bind all, free all.” Could it be true? It was certainly possible; if the twelve statues had been created to serve as a refuge for the spirits of the Protectors, would not destroying the twelve cause the spell to break? Would not, then, the Twelve Protectors be released from their bounds? It was the only way, Renelle decided, hurrying toward the Hall of Heroes as the sun beat down on her from above.
It was a windy day, and her apron pressed tightly against her dress as the Aisha battled her way down the road. This was the only way to ensure that she would not be caught for breaking the amulet; if Jerdana no longer existed in her physical form, how could she call Renelle for questioning? She could not. Renelle just needed to buy some time, and she knew that this was the only chance she had.
At last, she reached the base of the long flight of steps that led up to the tower in the center of the city. The Aisha was already exhausted, but she had no time to catch her breath. Renelle ascended the tall stairs as quickly as she could, her long hair blowing about her face in the breeze. The whole town was spread out below her, but Renelle kept her eyes trained on the arched entrance above her; she needed to do this, and do it immediately. There was no other way.
Finally, the Aisha found herself crossing through the arch and over the threshold. The wind vanished as soon as she entered the Hall of Heroes, and now she was standing in the circular room where the twelve statues stood guard over the city. It was time.
Without a glance at the shards of the Darkest Faerie’s statue, Renelle walked to the opposite end of the chamber and stood before Jerdana’s. There was no time to waste. She needed to do it quickly. There was no other way.
But as she stood there, telling herself these things, Renelle found that she could not move. She was poised to strike, to break off a piece of Jerdana’s statue and trap the Protector’s spirit within the stone, but she could not. There is no other way, she told herself, and it was true. She could not risk the consequences of admitting that she had stolen and broken the amulet. It would be the end of her. Besides, Jerdana would not be trapped forever; she would be released once all twelve of the Protectors were bound to their statues, and the spell would be broken. But of this Renelle was not positive, and that was why she could not bring herself to move.
The knife she had brought rested in her apron pocket. Renelle reached down and pulled it out, staring at the sharp blade. This would solve everything. This would prevent Jerdana from questioning her, it would be another step forward in breaking the spell, and it would turn Renelle from villain to hero. If only she could just muster up the courage, she could save herself.
The Aisha bit her lip, and glanced around the Hall of Heroes. It was silent, and the bright light from outside streamed through the arched windows. She did not want to do this. She did not want to be the one to take Jerdana’s physical body away from her and trap her within the statue. But she had to, she knew that she had to, and Renelle raised the knife up to the tip of Jerdana’s tail. If only she hadn’t stolen that amulet! If only she hadn’t dropped it down the well! If only the Darkest Faerie had not been awakened! She would not be in this terrible situation if she had just been a little bit more careful. But Renelle knew that it was of her own design, and she knew that the only way to fix everything lay in her hands. She had to do it herself. She had to do it....
Renelle raised her hand, prepared to strike, and it felt like she was not cutting Jerdana’s statue but Jerdana herself, as the knife swung down through the air and severed the end of the Aisha’s tail.
A small piece of stone clattered to the floor.
It was over.
Renelle let out a deep sigh, and her legs collapsed beneath her. She sat on the floor of the Hall of Heroes, weeping bitter tears but knowing that she had done the only thing she could. There was no way Jerdana could extract the truth out of her now; she was asleep in the stone just inches away.
But now what? Renelle was safe for the time being, but surely she had not escaped capture yet. Until the spell was broken and the Twelve Protectors were free, the red Aisha would be in perpetual danger. Should she destroy the rest of the statues now, while she was here? The thought crossed her mind, but Renelle knew that she would not have the mental strength to break any more of them, at least not right now. She decided that it would be better to visit the Archives and see if she could learn for certain if the spell would be broken when all of the statues were destroyed.
Renelle stood up unsteadily and placed the knife back in her apron pocket, along with the small piece of stone that had fallen from Jerdana’s statue. Wiping her eyes, she knew that it would only be a matter of time before she was missed at the castle; she had to hurry back. With one last look around the Hall, she walked quickly toward the arched doorway.
As she passed the shards of the Darkest Faerie, however, she heard the familiar hoarse whisper: “Bind all, free all.” Renelle froze, and a whirlwind of thoughts rushed into her mind. The faerie had given her the information that she had sought, but was it true? The red Aisha turned to face the pieces of stone that lay scattered on the floor. Could she ask the faerie to explain, to give her the meaning of these words? She took a step forward. Did she, one of the original Protectors, really know how to break the spell? Renelle realized that it would be in the Darkest Faerie’s best interest to free herself, obviously, and the only way to do that was to free the other Protectors as well. Perhaps she and the Darkest Faerie had a common need; Renelle needed to free the Protectors from their statues, and the Darkest Faerie wanted to free herself. The Darkest Faerie had given Renelle the key; was it her duty to carry it out? Was it her duty to break the spell?
Renelle was on the brink of opening her mouth to speak to the pieces of stone, but once more she found herself simply unable to move. No, she could not do this. She could not strike a deal with a force so terribly, unimaginably evil. Whether or not their motives were the same, Renelle knew that she could never, ever communicate with the Darkest Faerie, and she turned away from the shards of the statue and ran out the door.
To be continued...