Ultimate Decision: Part Three
“So then Kelland steals the piece of bread right from under Torakor’s nose, and Torakor turns to Florin and says, ‘Can’t you grow your own bread?’ It was hilarious!” Darwin was nearly doubled over in laughter. The green Zafara wiped his eyes and turned to Renelle. “Don’t you get it? Torakor thought that Florin stole the bread when it was really Kelland! But nobody figured it out, and Florin told Torakor that you can’t grow bread, and they started fighting... Renelle?”
The red Aisha was leaning against the wall, her eyes drooping. Another sleepless night had taken its toll on her body, and she could barely stay awake, let alone pay attention to her friend’s story. “Sorry,” she mumbled, blinking. She and Darwin were standing just inside the doorway of the palace’s kitchen, where the Zafara worked as a waiter. He was trying to fill her in on the dinner conversation he’d heard last night, standing in the corner of the dining hall awaiting orders, but Renelle was simply too exhausted to listen.
“That’s all right,” said Darwin. “I just thought you might want to hear about it; I thought it was quite funny.”
“No, me too,” said Renelle, but she could not suppress a yawn. “I’m sorry,” she apologized again, “I’m just so tired.”
“I don’t think Jerdana got much sleep either,” said Darwin, frowning. “This morning during breakfast she was whispering with King Altador about spending the whole night tearing apart her room looking for something.”
Renelle’s drowsiness instantly left her. “What?” she asked. “Are you sure?”
The Zafara nodded. “Yeah, she was really worried. I didn’t hear much; they were sitting on the other side of the table.”
“What did you hear, though?” asked Renelle, trying to maintain a curious tone but finding it very difficult to hide her extreme interest.
“Oh, nothing much,” said Darwin. “Something about an amulet that she was supposed to keep safe, and then they were talking about some spell... not sure if the two were related....”
Renelle’s heart began to pound. Jerdana knew that the amulet had been stolen, and she was very upset. Would she remember the red Aisha to whom she had bid a good evening just before entering her chamber? And what was this spell that Darwin was referring to?
“Shouldn’t you be getting ready for work?” asked Darwin. “You’re usually cleaning the lower halls at this time, aren’t you?”
“Oh!” cried Renelle, glancing around at the maids who were already scrubbing down the kitchen. “Sorry, Darwin, I’m really out of it today... I’d better hurry....”
“Don’t worry about it.” The Zafara smiled as he watched his friend dash out of the room and vanish down the corridor.
* * * * *
Renelle had half expected the Archives to be closed for the evening, so it came as a mild surprise when she pushed the door open to find it unlocked. The Aisha had been to the Altadorian Archives a few times, but the pure vastness of information stuffed into the room still astonished her. Books were piled up to the ceiling, some filling the shelves that bordered the low-ceilinged room, others simply resting in mountains on the stone floor. Scrolls were stacked in pyramids around the room, and Renelle wondered what would happen if Finneus needed to access one of the documents that lay in the bottom layer. Potted plants added dashes of green to the dusty landscape, although many of them were wilting and it appeared that the Lenny had not been watering them regularly. Odd objects such as stray feathers and balls of yarn littered the floor, as well as a few large boxes that contained even more unknown materials. Lastly, sheets of paper were scattered everywhere, like a layer of white snow that covered the entire chamber.
The monocled old Lenny was the only sign of life in the room, and Renelle stood awkwardly in the doorway watching him pore over a large book. It had been enough of a battle to convince herself to come here in the first place; after hours of working in the castle Renelle wanted nothing more than to go to bed and rest. However, the conversation that Darwin had overheard seemed to be potentially disastrous, and the Aisha knew that she would not be able to sleep until she learned whether or not a spell was truly attached to the amulet that she had broken. But now, as she waited in her patched clothes, still wearing her apron, the Aisha felt tempted to turn back and run away from the Lenny who had inadvertently caused her so much trouble.
“Oh, hello there!” said Finneus. He had looked up from the page he had been examining and smiled at Renelle. “I’m glad that you decided to visit!”
“Hello,” said Renelle, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. The Lenny’s bright expression made her feel a bit ashamed that she had been silently blaming him for making her drop the amulet into the well, and she smoothed out her faded purple dress hurriedly. “I just thought I’d drop by, have a look around....”
“Good!” cried Finneus, beckoning her over to the table at which he sat. “Very good! I was just doing a little bit of research, but I’d be happy to show you around.” Marking the page that he was on with a scrap of paper, he quickly closed the book that he had been reading. Renelle wondered for a brief moment why he had even bothered saving his place; there were so many other bits of paper poking out of the book’s pages that she was sure he would have a hard time finding the right one. Her mild amusement vanished, however, when the volume’s title caught her eye.
“Enchanted Objects and Their Magical Properties?” asked Renelle, unaware that she had been speaking out loud.
Finneus gave her a sideways glance. “Yes, I was doing a little bit of reading for Jerdana,” he said, dismissing the subject with a small wave. “If you’re interested in magic, I believe I have some scrolls here in the corner....”
“Jerdana asked you to read this?” questioned Renelle, not moving from her position next to the low wooden table.
“Yes,” said Finneus, looking suspiciously at the Aisha.
Renelle realized that she would have to explain herself. “I heard from some friends in the castle that Jerdana was searching for a missing object,” she said. “Was this object under an enchantment?”
The Lenny stood still for a moment, halfway to a pyramid of scrolls and looking hesitant. After a pause, he sighed and returned to the table. “Yes, it was,” he said quietly. “I can’t say I’m surprised that the news has spread so quickly, but I am a little bit disappointed. I had hoped to find a solution before the problem was widely known.”
“It’s not widely known,” Renelle reassured him, taking a seat in a chair next to the Archivist. “My friend is a waiter in the palace; he overheard bits of the breakfast conversation this morning. I haven’t heard anything from anyone else.”
“I suppose that’s good,” said Finneus, flipping the thick tome open to a marked page, only to realize that it was the wrong one. “If any rumors were to spread, the whole city would be in uproar.”
Renelle watched the Archivist flip to another wrong marked page. “Why?” she asked. “What enchantment was placed on this object?”
Finneus hesitated. The old Lenny adjusted his monocle and smoothed his pale blue feathers. “You must promise not to repeat this,” he said, his voice sounding suddenly very aged. He cleared his throat. “You see, the amulet that was stolen was the key to a very important spell, one that may decide the future of Altador.” Renelle was bursting with questions, but she waited, merely leaning forward to hear the Archivist, whose voice had dropped to a low tone. “Jerdana enchanted the amulet to cast an eternal sleep, one that would last for at least a thousand years.” Finneus looked up from the book; he had at last found the proper page, and Renelle could see a sketch of a statue. She glanced up from the drawing and into the Lenny’s exhausted, worried eyes. “If that amulet is broken,” said Finneus, “the Darkest Faerie will awaken from her sleep.”
Renelle felt like she was falling.
The Darkest Faerie... awake? She had just been recaptured, and now Renelle had set her free. She was falling, falling down into the darkness of the dry well, falling through dreams and visions of a tainted Altador, a land ruled by a twisted, evil mind, falling into guilt and pain and regret and through the pitch black sea of agony and wondering when she would land, when she would hit the bottom and break and lie with the amulet, ruined and mangled forever.
No! This could not be happening. She had to stop this... somehow Renelle had to find a way to make things right. “But there must be some way to stop her!” Renelle’s voice had risen nearly to a shout, and the Archivist almost jumped out of his seat.
“Well, of course,” he said, smoothing out his feathers. “That’s what I’ve been researching all night.”
Relief surged through Renelle’s body. There was a chance.... “What have you found?” she asked, gaining control once more of her throbbing mind.
“Not much of a cure,” said Finneus. “Only once we find the amulet can that be managed, but I have found some more information.” Renelle waited for him to continue. The Lenny pointed to the page he had been reading when the Aisha had walked in. “The Twelve Protectors of Altador have quite a history,” he said. “They’ve ruled over the land for thousands of years, and the magic that surrounds them is of a very old and crude variety.”
“What do you mean?” asked Renelle.
“Patience,” said the Lenny with a small smile. “The Protectors knew that their leadership would be needed for the entire lifespan of the kingdom. Therefore, an enchantment was placed around them that gave them both long life and a defense against death.” He pointed to the illustration on the page.
“The statues?” asked Renelle in surprise.
Finneus nodded. “Jerdana cast a spell that bound the Twelve Protectors forever to their carven likenesses. It was perhaps not the smartest way to guarantee that they would endure throughout the generations, but it was a practical one. You see, if age or injury were to take toll on the physical bodies of the Protectors, their spirits could find refuge within their statues. They would be safe and asleep, and could emerge once more under the proper incantation.”
“Amazing,” breathed Renelle. It had grown dark, and the Archives were lit only by the dim flickering of the candles that were placed around the room. A clock ticked away on the wall as the two Neopets sat, lost in their own thoughts. Silence had fallen over the city, and Renelle’s mind wandered to the Hall of Heroes, where shadows draped the statues of the Protectors of Altador....
* * * * *
She had waited a whole day, and still nothing had happened. The eye that viewed the arched doorway to the Hall had seen nothing but the shadows of the sun as it moved slowly across the sky. Being trapped in the shards of her statue under the spell had been bad enough, but now that the Darkest Faerie was awake and conscious of the outside world... it was pure torture.
Only one thought eased the agony of her helplessness. Someone had broken the enchantment; someone had destroyed Jerdana’s spell and awoken her. Someone was on her side... but who? Her servants had deserted her ages ago, had fled in fear of the wrath of King Altador. She did not need them; she had managed to concoct a plan to take over the entire kingdom all on her own. It had failed, but she had plotted and triumphed and fallen alone. So who now dared to attempt to set her free? An ambitious dark faerie, perhaps? No, those kind were selfish and cowardly. She knew not who had broken the amulet, but she knew that whether on purpose or not, the faerie had awoken. And she could see, and hear, and... speak.
Yes, she had tried all of her senses to find that they were intact. The ancient spell that bound her to the statue still held, but the enchanted sleep had been broken. Though her eyes were broken, they could still see, and though her ears were in pieces they could still hear, and though her lips had all but shattered, the Darkest Faerie found that she could still manage a rough, hoarse whisper. If only someone would enter the Hall of Heroes... if only she had a chance to taint an innocent mind....
* * * * *
“It says something else here,” said Finneus, looking up from the book and pulling Renelle from her doze.
“What is it?” asked the Aisha, rubbing her eyes. She had found herself quite comfortable in the cozy Archives, and the nights of sleeplessness had finally taken their toll as the Neopet had drifted into a snug sleep.
“Apparently, the enchantment works both ways,” said Finneus, his brow creased with uncertainty. “While the Protectors are prevented from physical harm by the transfer of their spirits to the statues, any harm to the statue itself will also cause their physical bodies to vanish.”
“What?” asked Renelle. “How?”
Finneus merely shook his head. “That’s the way the spell works. If any bit of their statues in the Hall of Heroes is broken, their spirit will leave their body and fall under a bewitched sleep, trapped in the pieces of the statue. Until it is remade by the most powerful magic, their spirit will be sealed in the statue.”
“So the Darkest Faerie...” began Renelle, as the situation became clear.
“She is trapped in the shards of her statue,” said Finneus. “Jerdana must have known this, and to keep anyone from repairing the statue and freeing the faerie, she cast a second spell.”
“The amulet,” breathed Renelle, her heart beating faster once more.
“Yes,” said the Archivist. “Jerdana enchanted the amulet to govern the faerie’s eternal slumber, while the original spell kept her trapped within the statue.”
“But if the amulet is broken...”
“Then the faerie will be awake in the pieces of her statue, and will be only a single strong spell away from her freedom.”
To be continued...