Ultimate Decision: Part Four
She had been waiting for what seemed like an eternity, and in some respects it had been nearly that long. But the Darkest Faerie’s wait was all the more painful now that she was awake, conscious in the pieces of her ruined statue. She had waited for a full day, and now night had crept upon the Hall of Heroes and still no one had come.
Someone had to come. Eventually, some Neopet would wander into the Hall, perhaps to see the statues or climb up to the Observatory or just to enjoy the view from its arched windows, but someone would come. And when they did, she would be ready. The Darkest Faerie knew that the spell which bound her to the statue would not be broken; it was as old as the kingdom itself. She knew also that her statue would not be repaired by the necessary magic unless great need arose. So, she decided, the faerie would have to create a need.
The piece of stone which held one vigilant eye was pointed toward the entrance, and the Darkest Faerie had been watching it carefully throughout the day and into the night. Every time a shadow flitted past she grew excited, only to sink back into frustration as it disappeared. Not to worry... she had waited over a thousand years, and although she had spoiled her first opportunity, she would not ruin a second.
At last, in the darkest hour of the night, the eye glimpsed a shadow in the arched doorway. To the faerie’s wild elation, a Yurble janitor waddled his way over the threshold, dragging a mop and bucket and mumbling to himself.
Yes, he would do perfectly. She waited as the orange Neopet crossed into the round hall and set down his bucket. “...working in the middle of the night, what do they think I am? Barely pay enough to live on... why if I had the chance I’d show that scruffy Lupe... act like I’m some sort of robot... mopping the floors in a building that nobody even visits anymore... stupid old traditions... make me so angry...”
Yes, he would do perfectly, the faerie mused as he moved from the vision of one eye to the next, which lay facing the ring of statues. If she could only take that bottled up frustration, mold it and direct it as she pleased, she could make the most of her situation and throw the city into chaos. Yes, the spell was cast to protect them, but those fools would soon see that its darker side was very dark indeed.
The faerie found it dryly humorous that she could scarcely wait another minute for the Yurble to move toward her desired location, though she had waited a thousand years for this second chance. But she could wait... she could bear it a little while longer. “...as if they really care what condition the floor is in... just to give me more work... pushing me to my limit, let me tell you...” There! The janitor was standing right beside Altador’s statue, opposite hers. If she could just manage a whisper loud enough to carry the distance but not betray her....
“Work harder.” The hoarse gasp that came from her statue made the Darkest Faerie realize the pitiful condition that she was in, but she knew it would not last. Not if she had anything to say about it.
The words had startled the Yurble, and he dropped his mop in surprise. The handle clattered to the floor as his head jerked toward King Altador’s statue. Yes... yes.... The janitor glanced around the room, but saw nothing. He picked up his mop again, muttering, “Bosses me so much that I think he’s giving orders from his own statue... wish I could work somewhere else....”
“You missed a spot.” The janitor did not drop his mop this time, but he froze and glared up at the tall statue of the Lupe again. The orange Yurble looked more than a little frightened, but he was obviously convinced that the voice was coming from within his own head. Yes... be angry....
“I really think I’m going insane,” muttered the janitor, but he did not continue mopping. Instead, he stared up at Altador’s stone back, his eyes running up and down the statue as if searching for the source of the noise. “He makes me clean and mop and do all his dirty work, and I can’t even have a moment’s peace—” here he swung the mop handle at the statue, chipping a small bit of stone off of the King’s heel “—while doing it!”
Yes! The janitor, realizing what he had done, let out a small gasp. He put down the mop and leaned down to lift the small stone that he had dislodged from the statue. Looking around quickly, the Yurble hurried across the shadowy room to the shards of the Darkest Faerie’s statue. He dropped the piece of stone among the hundreds of others, then walked back to grab his mop and bucket. With one last, drawn out look around the room, the janitor muttered, “Stupid statue,” and quickly left the Hall.
* * * * *
“King Altador is gone.”
Renelle gaped at her friend. She had just awoken and had walked into the castle to meet Darwin in the kitchen to hear the latest gossip, and he had dropped a bombshell before she had even been able to tie the strings of her apron. “What?”
“He wasn’t at breakfast this morning,” said the Zafara excitedly, “and I heard Psellia say that he wasn’t in his room either. They’re going to search the castle today, but all of the Protectors seemed pretty convinced that he’s gone.”
“Gone where, though?” asked Renelle, although an idea was already forming in her mind. But how could the Darkest Faerie have damaged Altador’s statue if she was bound to her own?
“Nobody knows,” said Darwin, shaking his head. “Jerdana was getting really worried. She kept whispering to Siyana and Psellia about some amulet that she had lost, and they were worried about a spell or something. I couldn’t really tell. I was standing behind Marak’s chair at the other side of the table. It was so funny! Marak has this special chair, you know, because he’s a Peophin, but Kelland—”
“I’m really sorry, but I don’t want to be late for work again,” apologized Renelle, as she hurried from the kitchen, biting her lip in worry and wishing that she could skip the long day of work ahead of her and go straight to the Archives.
“Oh... all right,” said Darwin, looking down at the tiled floor as his friend vanished around a corner.
* * * * *
“Did you hear?” Renelle asked, bursting into the Archives, panting and still wearing her patched purple dress and apron. She had rushed through the day’s work as quickly as possible; it was now late afternoon.
“About King Altador?” asked Finneus, looking at the red Aisha from around the mountain of books he had stacked on the small table. She nodded, still exhausted from the journey from the castle to the Archives. “Yes, I heard. Here, have a seat.”
Renelle collapsed into a chair beside the Archivist. She could see that the book Enchanted Objects and Their Magical Properties was open in front of Finneus, with its many scraps of paper sticking out from various pages. “I’ve been reading all day, ever since I was told about what happened,” said Finneus, motioning toward the pile of books, “but the only explanation I could come up with was the one I already suspected.”
Renelle knew what was coming. “The statue?” she breathed, horrified at the thought of King Altador’s spirit being jerked from his body to fall under a bewitched sleep in his carven image.
“Someone must have damaged it,” said Finneus. “It’s the only way any of the Protectors could vanish into thin air.”
“But who could have done this?” asked Renelle. “Who would destroy King Altador’s statue?”
“Perhaps the disappearance of the amulet has caused more ramifications than we anticipated,” said Finneus, shaking his head. “Perhaps the Darkest Faerie is more than merely conscious. This has never happened before; I have nothing to work with, only old texts and my own guesswork.”
“We should go to the Hall of Heroes,” decided Renelle. “We should make certain that Altador’s statue has truly been broken, and we must try to see if the Darkest Faerie is awake after all.”
“Yes,” said Finneus, his eyes staring past Renelle as he pictured the situation. “Yes, that’s a brilliant idea. We shall put her to the test; perhaps the faerie is stronger that we had anticipated.”
* * * * *
Renelle had been to the Hall of Heroes many times, mostly to access the Observatory, but it never ceased to amaze her. The late afternoon sun beamed from her left, creating long shadows across the tall tower. The Aisha and her companion walked past a gurgling fountain and up the long flight of stone steps, admiring the view of the city once they reached the top. The marketplace was still bustling, and many Neopets could be seen wandering the streets that branched out from the Hall of Heroes. They could even see over the great wall that surrounded the city, the waves of the sea gently hugging the coast as ships sailed back to the docks for the evening. Renelle paused to watch the orange glow of the sun reflect off the water.
“We should go inside,” said Finneus, standing next to her and squinting into the distance.
“Yes, of course,” said Renelle with a smile, turning away from the beautiful view to follow the Archivist through the arched doorway into the Hall. To one side, Renelle could see the flight of stairs that led to the Observatory, but Finneus walked forward, into the circular room that contained the statues of the Twelve Protectors of Altador, all standing still and silent.
The statue of the Sleeper was the first one they came across, and Renelle could see that its shattered pieces were scattered across the floor, some still clinging to the pedestal on which the sculpture had once stood. Renelle found herself suddenly nervous; was the Darkest Faerie awake in there after all? If she was, it was all because of her, and the Aisha once more felt a rush of guilt surge through her body. But there was no time to feel sorry, for she had a job to do and Finneus was already heading to the opposite side of the room.
“The statue appears to be intact,” he said, his voice sounding small in the enormous chamber. The Lenny walked in a circle around the regal statue, scanning up and down the Lupe’s body for any sign of damage. Renelle hurried to join him. “Perhaps... aha! Here it is!” The Archivist was standing behind the statue, and Renelle walked over to stand beside him. The Lenny pointed at the heel of one of the Lupe’s feet. A small chip had been taken out of the statue, leaving a dent in its place.
The realization of the situation set in immediately. “So... King Altador...” whispered Renelle.
Finneus nodded. “His spirit is trapped within this statue, under a perpetual sleep. Until it is repaired by some sort of powerful magic, he will remain here.”
Renelle took a step back. “Who would do this?” she breathed, looking in horror at the still statue.
Finneus did not answer, but both of the Neopets turned to the shards of the Darkest Faerie’s statue. Wordlessly, they both crossed the Hall and stood in front of the scattered pieces. “Can she... can she hear us?” whispered Renelle, eyeing the bits of stone in fear.
Finneus shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said in a low voice. “The spell that Jerdana cast by placing the amulet around the statue’s neck was complicated, and I do not know what its full effects were. Now that the amulet is gone, and perhaps broken, anything is possible. But as long as the statue is broken, we can be certain that her spirit rests within....”
Finneus frowned and shook his head again. Renelle merely gaped at the shards of the Darkest Faerie. She was in there, in those pieces. What had Renelle done? She had broken a spell and now the faerie could very well be awake, watching her at this very moment. She had possibly released the faerie from her sleep, and now the Aisha wondered if the Darkest Faerie had somehow been able to have a hand in destroying King Altador’s statue. But how could she? She was trapped in the bits of stone that lay scattered on the floor. She could do nothing... could she?
The Lenny glanced out one of the arched windows. “It’s getting late,” he said, watching the sun begin to set over the faraway water. “There’s nothing more we can do here. I will have to continue my research in the Archives.” He slowly skirted the pieces of stone and headed out the arched doorway.
Renelle turned to follow, but as she made her way out of the room a hoarse whisper reached her ears: “Bind all, free all.” The Aisha whirled around, but the room was as empty and silent as it had been a moment ago. Renelle’s heart began to pound, and she stared at the shards of the ruined statue; an eye lay on the ground facing her. But nothing moved, nothing spoke, and Renelle could only take in a gasping breath and turn away once more, wishing that it had been her imagination but knowing now that her actions had caused more trouble than she could ever have imagined, and walk unsteadily out of the room and back down the long flight of steps.
To be continued...