Ultimate Decision: Part Seven
The knife clattered to the stone floor, and Renelle sank to her knees. Her heart continued to pound as she sat there, her face in her hands, pieces of stone from three statues lying forlornly on the ground in the Hall of Heroes. She had done it. She hadn’t thought that she would be able to, but apparently the Aisha was capable of more than she had ever believed possible. Half of the Twelve Protectors were now bound to their statues by the ancient enchantment; six others remained, unaware that a red Aisha maid was only moments away from stealing away their physical bodies and trapping them within the sculptures that had been designed for their own protection.
Bind all, free all. Could it really be true? Doubt still lingered in Renelle’s mind, but there was no longer room for it. The mission had to be carried out. She was here now; the time had come. No looking back.
Renelle tried to push the guilt from her mind and focus on the task at hand, but it was difficult. Regrets and painful memories crowded her thoughts, and the Aisha found herself unable to pick up the knife from the floor. How could she do this? How could she summon the strength to bind the rest of the Protectors to their statues, when she did not even know if doing so would break the spell?
She had done it before; she must do it again. Renelle had done things she never would have imagined, and now it was time to move forward. It was time to finish what she had started.
Renelle stood up shakily and picked up the knife. The nearest statue was Marak. The Aisha knew that the Peophin was at this very moment sitting in a room in the Altadorian castle, questioning the servants about the theft of Jerdana’s amulet and the destruction of the statues in the Hall of Heroes. He would be getting nowhere, and would be finding himself frustrated. The servant he sought was no longer in the palace; she was here, in the Hall of Heroes, about to unleash the wrath of an ancient spell and bind his spirit to his own stone likeness.
With one strike, Renelle severed the tip of the Peophin’s tail. It was that easy. Nothing seemed to happen, but as the small piece of stone fell to the floor Renelle knew that Marak had just disappeared from the castle, his spirit transferred to the cold sculpture where he at this very moment was under a bewitched sleep.
The darkness of the early morning hours gave the statues in the Hall long shadows, and Renelle moved on to Psellia’s. The Dreamer: soon she would be in a sleep without dreams. Renelle cut off a piece of the faerie’s dress, letting it fall to the floor behind the statue. Another Protector, felled by the swipe of a young maid whose eyes felt a sudden hardness, quite unlike the tears which had filled them not long ago. Renelle had done the unexpected; she had done what no other Neopet would ever have dared to do. She was helping the Darkest Faerie, and even if she believed that it was for the greater good of Altador, she was still amazed at what she had done.
As Renelle stepped toward the statue of Gordos, she wondered if perhaps many wicked acts were like this. The Aisha had always imagined villains to be heartless and cold to the bone, but now here she was, calmly breaking the statues as if she were a servant of the Darkest Faerie herself. Her heart burned with guilt and regret, but she knew that what she was doing was necessary, and she did not cry. Instead, she lifted the knife and broke off a piece of the statue’s tail.
Only three remained. It was so easy. Renelle had always imagined that crimes this terrible would be very difficult to commit, but she was doing it without any resistance at all. No one rushed to stop her, no feelings of regret overpowered her call of duty, nothing could make her turn back from her desperation.
A frill of Sasha’s dress clattered to the floor. Two left.
Renelle crossed the room toward Florin’s statue. It was like she was a machine, moving mechanically and thoughtlessly, suppressing her burning desire to turn back and confess everything. After all, there was still a chance.
The tip of Florin’s tail clinked against the stone floor as it fell. One left.
Siyana’s statue stood tall as Renelle approached it. Yes, there might still be a chance. She could run back out of the Hall of Heroes, down the steps, and make her way to the Archives, where Siyana had been entrusted with guard duty. She could tell the faerie everything, beg for forgiveness, and ask her to repair the statues with her faerie magic. But would it be powerful enough to remake the statues and free the spirits within?
Even if it was, Renelle was certain that she would not be able to admit to everything she had done. After all, who would believe that she was well-intentioned after hearing of the acts she had committed? The Aisha had stolen Jerdana’s bewitched amulet, broken it and lost it down a dry well, and bound the Protectors of Altador to their statues in the Hall of Heroes, all while continuing to work her job as a castle maid. No, there was no one who would believe her. If she confessed, she would be doomed to a life in the dungeons—or worse.
Renelle glanced out one of the tall arched windows that looked out over the city. Siyana would be in a panic right now, somewhere. She would have seen her friend Psellia, who had also been watching over the Archives, vanish into thin air. She would have known that someone was in the Hall of Heroes, destroying the statues, and she would have realized that she was in great danger. Perhaps she was on her way through the city now.... The sky was growing pink with the light of the early morning sun. Shades of color began to warm the horizon.
Renelle turned back to the statue. Siyana: the First to Rise. She would be the last to fall. All that the Aisha had done had led her to this moment; either the spell would break and all Twelve Protectors would be freed, or the city would descend into chaos.
It was all up to Renelle. It was her decision. A myriad of emotions flooded her mind, and every possible scenario flashed through her thoughts. This was it.
Renelle raised the knife, and sliced off the very tip of Siyana’s wing.
Immediately, the warm pink light on the horizon vanished.
Renelle waited. All twelve of the Protectors’ statues had been broken. All twelve of them now were trapped within the stone, under the bewitched sleep of the ancient spell. Now, the spell should break. They should emerge, somewhere... somehow... something should be happening....
The Aisha dropped the knife to the floor. Suddenly feeling very small and vulnerable, she dashed over to one of the windows. Outside, the city of Altador was dark and silent. It was right before sunrise; most Neopets would be asleep. But... but were they under a natural sleep, or... had she....
A gruff noise sounded from behind her. Renelle turned slowly around, staring wide eyed at the fragments of stone that lay scattered on the floor around the pedestal that had once held the statue of the Darkest Faerie. The rough noise continued, and Renelle left the window to approach the ruined statue. She was laughing....
Renelle had been afraid to speak to the Darkest Faerie before, even after she had heard the whispered message from the shards of stone. She had been afraid because she knew that communicating with a force so incredibly evil would have been beyond comprehension, beyond reason, but now, as she stood before the pieces of the faerie’s statue, Renelle realized that this was the only option left. The spell had not been broken, Altador was under a shroud of darkness, and the only other creature that seemed to maintain consciousness was the creature whom Renelle had thought to be the wickedest of all life. The Aisha realized that she was helpless; she had to speak with the Darkest Faerie. She had to ask for help.
“What has happened?” whispered Renelle, staring wide eyed at the bits of stone. “What have I done?”
The rough laughter began again, and the Darkest Faerie wheezed, “You have trapped the Twelve Protectors of Altador within their statues, and you have placed the kingdom under an eternal sleep. You and I are the only ones left.”
No! “But what about the spell? You said that if all were bound, then all would be freed!”
“Did I?” asked the faerie, and Renelle felt as if she had been dropped from a high cliff. “Yes, perhaps I did. But this spell is beyond my power to predict; I was here at its formation and it has endured through the ages. It will not be broken by such crude means.”
“You... you lied to me?” asked Renelle, and as soon as the words left her mouth she realized how foolish they were. Of course she had lied. She was the Darkest Faerie, and Renelle had been stupid to believe her. But she had been so desperate... it had seemed to be the only way....
“No, not quite,” hissed the faerie. “The Protectors can still be saved. If all twelve are freed once more, the city will awaken. But it will only happen if all twelve are freed....”
So it had come to this. The Darkest Faerie would have to be freed, and it would be all because of Renelle. “But how?” asked the Aisha in a small voice. “I don’t have the magic to repair the statues. Jerdana is trapped; where will we find a way to make them whole once more?”
“Jerdana is not the only one to possess powerful magic,” said the Darkest Faerie. “My strength is more than you can ever know.”
“But you are bound to your statue as well,” said Renelle. “How can you fix the others?”
“I cannot,” whispered the faerie. “Only magic combined with a physical touch can heal these wounds.” Renelle’s heart sank. “However,” continued the faerie, “I can repair myself....”
This could not be happening. But, Renelle realized, although she had been denying the truth every time something terrible had happened, it had still happened. And it was happening now. “How?”
“If you place each of the pieces of my statue back in their proper place,” said the Darkest Faerie, “I can use my magic to weld them back together. My power is contained within my spirit, and my spirit is contained within this statue. I...” the excitement in her voice rose, “I can be free....”
“But if I free you,” whispered Renelle, “you must free the others. You must.”
The faerie paused, her frustration apparent. “Yes,” she hissed. “Yes, I must, if only because the spell over the kingdom will not be lifted until all of the Protectors are freed.” She let out a rough sigh. “Yes, they must all be freed. But when the spell is lifted, I will make sure that they will never be free again.”
Renelle found herself sinking into the depths of hopelessness, as if she were falling down through the darkness of a well, falling through pain and confusion, wondering when she would hit bottom and shatter like the amulet.
“I will free you,” she breathed, and with those words Renelle dropped to her knees. She picked up a piece of stone and set it gently against the shards that still clung to the pedestal. With a long, drawn breath, the Darkest Faerie summoned her magic, and the stone pieces melted together, and became whole.
Renelle wondered why she was not crying. She wondered why she was not hating herself or running away from this mess to tell someone what she had done and ask for help. But who was there to tell? The entire land was asleep, and it was all because of her. She had done worse things than the Aisha had ever thought possible, but here she was now, stone by stone repairing the statue of the Darkest Faerie, piece by piece preparing to free the most terrible villain ever to walk Neopia, step by step sinking deeper and deeper into the blackness of the well. But she still did not hit bottom. There was still further to go, further down, further and further and Renelle did not know how much further she could go, but still she went. She placed the stones one at a time in their place on the statue, and the shape of the Darkest Faerie began to take form, and the magic fitted the pieces together until there were only two stones left.
Renelle held one in each hand. The left hand held a stone that was a lock of the faerie’s flowing hair, and the right hand held a stone that was curved and seemed to have no place in the statue at all. With trembling fingers, Renelle reached with her left hand and slid the fragment into its place, and with a long sigh the Darkest Faerie worked her magic. The stone melted into the rest of the statue, and it was complete. After an unbearable amount of time, it was over.
The long breaths of the faerie shuddered and stopped. For a moment, there was silence, and Renelle stepped back away from the statue, the other fragment still in her right hand. The Darkest Faerie gasped sharply, then let out a wild, tortured scream as her physical body emerged from the statue, like a ghost stepping out from its likeness, but whole and real and living as the faerie stepped off of the pedestal and out of the stone in which she had been imprisoned. She stood upon the floor, tall and terrible, her eyes wild with a hateful fire and her muscles taut and flexed. Her dark hair fell down over her shoulders and her mouth was open in the shocked pain of stepping out of the statue for the first time. She stood there, breathing heavily, unmoving, for several seconds, and Renelle watched in horror just a few feet away.
The Darkest Faerie stared ahead of her, looking at each of the other eleven statues in turn, and then straight at Renelle. The Aisha felt a jolt of indescribable emotion surge through her as the two made eye contact. The faerie’s lips closed and opened silently, and then she said in a terrible voice, full and whole unlike the raspy gasps before, “I am free.”
To be continued...