Ultimate Decision: Part Two
It was quite dark by the time Renelle left the palace. Still wearing her apron, she headed quickly through the streets of Altador, hoping that Hadia would still be standing at her jewelry cart. The amulet rested safely in the apron pocket, and Renelle was afraid to take it out to examine it again. Night had only just fallen, and there were still many Neopets wandering the streets, heading home for the evening. Most were wandering away from the marketplace, so Renelle found herself fighting against the flow as she hurried down the road.
Jerdana’s kind greeting still lingered in the red Aisha’s ears. Renelle couldn’t help but feel guilty that she had taken what was obviously a prized piece of jewelry from the Neopet who had protected the kingdom of Altador from countless dangers. Still, the amulet had been hidden away in a box, and it was unlikely that Jerdana checked up on it very often. By the time she discovered it was missing, the amulet would be long gone and Renelle would have left her job to pursue a more comfortable life.
Renelle continued to press onward, wondering how many neopoints she would be able to squeeze out of Hadia for the treasure. It would have to be a lot. Just as the Aisha was making price estimates in her mind, she found herself walking straight into an oncoming Neopet, and before she could stop herself, the two collided.
Renelle sprawled to the ground, and as she hit the hard stone of the street she heard a crack from her apron pocket. No! Her hands scraped against the ground, and a pile of books scattered everywhere.
“Oh my goodness! I’m so sorry!” Renelle looked over to see an elderly Lenny picking himself up from the street. He brushed the dust off his clothes and reached down to help Renelle up. “I wasn’t looking where I was going,” rambled Finneus. The old Archivist pulled Renelle to her feet. “Are you all right?”
The amulet is broken. How could it be broken? “I’m fine,” mumbled Renelle as she stood up. It can’t be broken. It can’t be broken.
“I sincerely apologize,” said Finneus. “You see, I was in such a hurry...” Renelle didn’t have time to listen to him. She had to see for sure if Jerdana’s amulet had truly cracked upon contact with the road. Without a second glance at the Lenny, Renelle immediately began walking again, glancing around for a secluded spot. She was too afraid to look in her pocket with all of these Neopets around.
This can’t be happening... Renelle had tried so hard to live a good life, but it had simply been impossible. The neopoints she earned from cleaning the castle barely covered her basic needs. How was she expected to pay the rent on the small cottage she lived in near the castle, or buy food and clothes, or keep her membership to the Astronomy Club, let alone have any money to spare, on such low wages? She had resorted to black market trade, and every time the Aisha had taken something from the castle she had felt like a piece of her had died. Her innocence, her integrity, her very soul seemed to be worn thinner and thinner every time she made the decision to steal. But how else could she live? She would never have taken things that didn’t belong to her unless it was completely necessary. And this was very necessary... wasn’t it? It was. She could give up her Astronomy Club membership certainly, but stargazing was Renelle’s only hobby. Without those rare moments of peace, she would certainly go insane. It was very necessary. She could buy fewer clothes, but the ones she had were already patched and worn. How could she live without food and clothes? It was very necessary. She didn’t want to do it, but every time Renelle had stolen she had known that it was necessary.
But now, as her feet pounded over the stones, Renelle felt that she had pushed too far. How much more of this could she endure? She had stolen one of Jerdana’s most prized possessions from right under her nose, and now it was broken. It can’t be broken. With Jerdana’s casual, “Good evening,” still ringing in her ears, Renelle at last spotted a corner that was free of Neopets. She sprinted towards it.
The Aisha was exhausted. Her breath came in ragged gasps, she was sweating, her heart was pounding, the dust from her fall still clung to her apron, and her hands were scraped. But worse than that, much, much worse than that, the amulet was broken. It can’t be broken. Renelle found herself leaning on an old well that had been filled in. The new water distribution system had rendered it useless, and now there was only a short round tower of stones and a rope that held a bucket suspended far below in the dry darkness. The Aisha glanced around once more to make sure that she was alone. A few Neopets still wandered the streets, but she was far enough away to escape notice. Her hands flew to her apron pocket. Renelle’s fingers felt the thin gold chain. With a gasp of desperation, she withdrew the amulet.
It was broken. A long crack ran right down the center, winding its way around the rubies and branching off at the bottom. The amulet was still in one piece, but it was ruined. She couldn’t sell it now. Hadia wouldn’t take it.
It can’t be sold... The realization hit her hard, making her lean dizzily against the well. She had stolen a priceless artifact and had broken it. It couldn’t be sold and it couldn’t be returned. Renelle stared at the cracked amulet in disbelief. She had taken a risk, made a terrible decision in hopes that it would finally free her from the bounds of poverty that had forced her to steal in the first place, and now that future would never come. She wouldn’t be able to quit her job; she didn’t have enough money. She couldn’t sell the amulet, and she couldn’t bring it back. If Jerdana found it broken, she would know immediately that it had been taken. “Good evening...” Jerdana would recognize her, she would accuse her, and Renelle would be punished for stealing and breaking one of Jerdana’s prized possessions. No, she couldn’t bring it back. Perhaps Jerdana would not notice that it was gone...
The Aisha stared angrily at the amulet. Why did this have to happen? I only wanted to live a comfortable life. I didn’t want to steal. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I just wanted to be happy. Why did this have to happen? It could have been over... I could have been free...
“Excuse me.” Renelle jumped, and in that instant, the amulet slipped from her hands and fell. Her body had been weak from running, her mind had been weak from the strain of stealing the item only to have it break, and her fingers had not been able to grasp the amulet as it leapt from her startled grip and dropped out of sight into the darkness of the well.
No! “I’m sorry to bother you again,” continued Finneus, “but I had to follow you and apologize for running into you earlier.” The Archivist had approached Renelle from the road with a concerned expression. “I extend my deepest sympathies, and I hope that you were not hurt in any way.” Renelle was silent. Finneus coughed, obviously feeling very guilty. You don’t know the meaning of guilt... The Aisha was sure that she was going to melt away, turn into water and join the amulet at the bottom of the well. “I’d like to invite you to visit me at the Archives any time you like,” said Finneus in a kind voice. “Perhaps an exclusive tour will make up for the inconvenience.”
Inconvenience? My life is over! “Thank you,” was all Renelle could mumble. Even now, she felt guilty for being so resentful toward the Lenny; it was not his fault. His kindness, like the kindness of Jerdana, only made her feel worse.
“All right then,” said Finneus. “Perhaps I’ll see you tomorrow, then.” With an apologetic smile, the Lenny walked back to the road and out of sight.
Renelle slumped against the well. She felt drained of all energy, of all hope. She had taken a risk in hopes that it would prevent her from having to commit crime ever again, but now that opportunity was lost. And the crime had still been committed. But what could she do? There was nothing she could do. The amulet was lost forever now; she could not return it even if she wanted to. Renelle stared into the blackness of the well. Somewhere, deep down there, the cracked amulet lay like a ruined toy, forgotten by all except the one who had dropped it. There was no going back. She simply had to move forward, continue working, live her life day to day, and hope desperately that the amulet would not be missed.
But Renelle knew that it would be missed. Perhaps not right away, but eventually Jerdana would remember it and open the bottom drawer of her wardrobe, set aside her neatly folded clothes, pull out the plain wooden box, and open it, only to find that it would be empty. Yes, Jerdana would know eventually, but she would not know who to blame. Renelle hoped that by the time the object was discovered to be missing, no one would know which day it had disappeared, and therefore no one could suspect her. Jerdana would not remember her polite, “Good evening,” nor would she remember the face of the red Aisha who had snuck into her private chamber and stolen her precious amulet without her knowledge. No, Jerdana would not be able to find someone to blame; she would not be able to identify the maid who had taken and broken the golden amulet. And for some reason, this thought made Renelle feel even worse.
But what could she do? There was nothing she could do, as the Aisha peered into the black depths of the well, feeling as if she were peering into the black depths of her soul, searching for a glimmer of light like starlight glinting off the golden surface of the amulet. But no glimmer came, and Renelle felt her eyes fill with tears, spilling into the dark well so profusely that she was sure it would soon overflow. But what could she do? There was nothing she could do, and the Aisha turned her back on the well and its hidden secret, and she walked slowly away, back toward the castle and the miserable life that awaited her.
* * * * *
The Darkest Faerie opened her eyes. It was dark, and she was staring in two different directions. The faerie tried to clear her mind, but a fog surrounded her thoughts, as if she had just woken from a dream but had not yet entered reality.
She tried to move, but found it impossible. Her vision began to clear, and the faerie saw that she was in the Hall of Heroes. One eye could see the ring of statues that represented the other eleven protectors of Altador, swathed in long shadows; the other was pointed toward the entrance to the Hall. What had happened? Her memory was still fuzzy, and the Darkest Faerie probed her mind for an explanation. She had tried to take control of Altador, but she had been tricked by that ridiculous Jerdana... the Aisha had cast a spell... her statue... yes! That was where she was; the faerie realized with a rush of frustration that she was still bound to the pieces of her shattered statue in the Hall of Heroes. That was why her eyes were pointed in different directions, why she could not move. But then... why was she awake? The mist around her thoughts was clearing, and slowly she began to remember. She had been close, yes... close to achieving her goal... but they had tricked her... cast a second spell on top of the one that bound her to the statue... she had been forced back into a bewitched slumber.... The faerie’s memories returned in a wave of fury. The amulet! The moment they had placed the amulet around her statue, she had felt the fire of unimaginable pain, and then she had fallen asleep....
But now... the spell had been broken. Yes, the Darkest Faerie understood. The enchantment which trapped her within her statue still held, but someone had broken the amulet and awakened her. Someone had taken the first step to set her free.
To be continued...