Ultimate Decision: Part Eight
The Darkest Faerie stood, tall and silent, in the center of the Hall of Heroes. After everything that had happened to Renelle, this overshadowed all. Here she was: the faerie of pure evil, standing at last in her physical form in all of its terrible glory, and it was all because of Renelle. The Aisha’s mind was reeling, but it still could not grasp the magnitude of the situation.
The slender faerie’s eyes took in every detail of the room as she turned her head slowly. Her long, deep blue dress fell around her feet, and her jet black hair lay limply in the still room as the Darkest Faerie surveyed the statues of her fellow Protectors. Renelle could not take her eyes off of the pale, cold lavender skin and the lidded eyes that threatened to destroy upon contact. But the faerie did not seem to notice Renelle; even when she spoke, it appeared to be to herself.
“My little sleeping beauties,” she breathed in a voice that chilled Renelle to the bone. A long nailed finger brushed against King Altador’s stone beard. No smile crossed her lips, but the faerie seemed to be enjoying every second of her newfound freedom, walking slowly around the room and staring intently at each sculpture.
Renelle felt useless, standing off to the side. She had been so afraid of getting in trouble, of admitting that she had broken the amulet, and she had been so worried about the consequences that she would receive if her acts were discovered. But now, Renelle realized that the alternative she herself had created was far worse; she had helped the Darkest Faerie every step of the way, and now the faerie was free and uncontrollable. The kingdom and its protectors were asleep, and the Darkest Faerie was free to do as she chose.
Renelle felt numb. She had chosen this fate, and now it was her duty to make things right. She had thought that the spell would be broken when all Twelve Protectors were bound to their statues, but the words of the Darkest Faerie had been a lie. Still, there must be something... she must convince the faerie to set the others free....
“You have to heal them now.” The red Aisha’s voice sounded small and afraid, and she shrunk further into the shadows when the Darkest Faerie turned to stare at her.
“Do I?” she asked coldly, finally acknowledging Renelle. The lidded eyes flitted toward the arched windows, where outside the land was dark and silent. “Perhaps I will just let the kingdom sleep forever, as they had so happily done to me.”
“You cannot rule over a sleeping kingdom,” said Renelle, hoping to appeal to the faerie’s greed. Her words felt useless compared to the power of the Darkest Faerie, and Renelle found herself sinking into despair.
“No,” said the faerie, unmoving in the middle of the floor. “Perhaps not. An eternal sleep is too kind, I feel, for such as these.” She glanced at Jerdana’s statue. “No, they deserve to see my rise to power in all its glory. They must be conscious and wide awake, so that I can personally guarantee that each and every one of them does not see another sunrise.” A hint of a smile creased the faerie’s face. “Yes, they shall be healed. And the kingdom shall awaken to witness their downfall, and to serve me as their new Queen.”
The Darkest Faerie drifted over to the nearest statue: Kelland, the Thief. She bent down to pick up the broken piece of stone that Renelle had cut from the statue, and fitted it back into its place on the sculpture. The Aisha watched as the faerie closed her eyes and let out a deep sigh, and she watched as the stone melted back and the statue became whole, and she watched as the form of a Techo slowly stepped out of the statue and into the Hall, groaning in the pain and confusion of coming into physical being.
Renelle was beyond any surprise or hope. She could only watch from the shadows as the Darkest Faerie went in turn to each statue, repairing them with her powerful magic. She was silent as she saw each of the Protectors emerge once more into physical being, confused and dazed as the faerie herself had been a few moments ago.
But when only two statues remained, the Darkest Faerie stopped. Nine of the Protectors stood unsteadily next to their statues, still unable to act, but the faerie turned to Renelle and said, “What have you done with the fragments of Altador and Jerdana?”
Renelle could not speak; she merely extended her right hand, which still clutched the piece of stone that she now realized was King Altador’s heel. With her left, she reached into her pocket and removed the fragment of Jerdana’s statue, which she offered to the faerie helplessly. The fingers of the Darkest Faerie were cold as they snatched the pieces silently, and Renelle withdrew her hands as soon as the stones were taken.
The Darkest Faerie made quick work of the final statues, and as soon as King Altador stepped unsteadily into physical being, the warm light on the horizon appeared once more. The sun was just beginning to rise, and Renelle watched from the corner of the room as the newly freed Protectors gained consciousness.
“What’s going on here?” asked Kelland, the first to recover sufficiently enough to speak.
“We have all been freed,” said the Darkest Faerie, her voice commanding the attention of the entire room. “We are together once more, for the last time.” The eyes of all were glued to her powerful presence; nobody noticed the maid in the shadows.
“What have you done?” asked Jerdana, as the Protectors began to grasp the situation.
“I have freed you all from the bounds of your statues,” announced the Darkest Faerie, “so that you all may witness my rise to power at last. For a thousand years you imprisoned me, but the kingdom that is rightfully mine shall finally be taken.”
“No!” cried Fauna.
“Yes,” said the faerie. “You are powerless to stop me. My dark magic is more than a match for any of you. I will see to it that each of you will be destroyed forever, and there will be no statues in which your spirits can take refuge!”
“How have you done this?” bellowed King Altador, stepping forward with his sword drawn. The others had all fully recovered, and were staring in awe at the figure in their center. “How have you escaped your enchantment!”
In answer, the Darkest Faerie let out a wild cackle that echoed throughout the chamber, bouncing off the walls and filling the room with its menace. The faerie turned to face Renelle, and the eyes of the other eleven Protectors followed. “Her,” hissed the Darkest Faerie, and the Aisha felt as if she had been turned to stone.
Everyone in the room stared at Renelle, their mouths slightly open in surprise, their eyes wide as they took in every detail of the red Aisha in her patched purple dress and wrinkled apron. Renelle tried not to meet their eyes, but she found herself staring directly into the kind but shocked gaze of Jerdana. “It...” began the blue Aisha, her voice soft but clearly audible in the silence, “...it was you?” and as soon as Renelle heard those words she knew that Jerdana had not forgotten her polite “Good evening”, nor the face of the maid who had been cleaning the hallway the night her amulet had been stolen.
Renelle had been avoiding this moment for days, but now there was no escape. With the guilt and the regret of everything she had done, every decision she had made, Renelle opened her dry mouth and whispered, “Yes.”
King Altador stepped forward, his eyebrows angled down and his jaw set. “What have you done?” he asked, and then turned to Jerdana. “Has she been behind it all? Everything?”
Instead of answering, Jerdana turned to Renelle, and the Aisha knew that she had to explain herself. But as she thought of what she had done, she realized that there was no way to tell the story that would take any of the blame off of her; it rested squarely on her small shoulders, and now she had to tell them everything.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, but the Aisha knew that she had to continue. “I snuck into your room to find something to sell on the black market; just jewelry, or some kind of valuable, just something to make some neopoints so I could live a comfortable life. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but when I left the castle I fell and the amulet broke. And then someone broke King Altador’s statue, and I was in the Hall of Heroes, and I heard the Darkest Faerie whisper that if I destroyed all of the statues the spell that kept you all trapped would be broken, so I did, and... and....”
“And she released me,” said the Darkest Faerie in her icy voice. “She could not have served me better if she had taken directions from me step by step.” The faerie laughed. “And now, because of your weak and foolish servant, you will all be destroyed.” She raised her hands, and Renelle watched in horror as flames appeared around her fingers, flickering and burning brightly as they grew.
“Stop!” cried Jerdana, raising her hand and unleashing a shower of pale blue sparks at the Darkest Faerie. The fire around her hands went out.
“Is this how you want it to be, then?” asked the Darkest Faerie, taking a step toward the blue Aisha.
“No,” said Jerdana. Her voice maintained its kind tone, but it was powerful and determined. “But if this is the way it must happen, so be it.” She turned to her fellow protectors. “Stand back,” said Jerdana. “If you try to fight her it will only interfere with my magic.”
“Yes,” hissed the Darkest Faerie. “Stay back, and watch as your precious Protector is vanquished. And one by one, I will dispose of you all.” She raised her hands to the ceiling and a terrible red fire consumed her body, burning brightly in the darkness of the Hall of Heroes.
“Stand back!” yelled King Altador. “Do not interfere!” The rest of the Protectors backed away toward the walls, leaving Jerdana and the Darkest Faerie alone in the center of the ring of statues.
“You will never control this kingdom,” said Jerdana as a blue light encircled her.
“Words are unnecessary,” said the Darkest Faerie as the fire around her grew. “The outcome will be decided by power, and nothing you can say will affect that.” With a cackle, she unleashed a blast of flame at Jerdana, who closed her eyes and lifted her arms. The flames licked the boundaries of the blue light but did not penetrate the pale glow of the shield.
Renelle was still standing in the shadows near the door, and she had allowed herself to sink into a state of hopelessness. She had been discovered at last, and now she had been discarded. Everything she had done and feared and decided had come down to this, but even her pain and desperation only led her to the sidelines. She could do nothing now, except weep for the future that she had ruined and watch as the battle progressed, knowing that no matter what happened she was doomed.
She was falling, falling down through a pit of blackness, falling further and further down. She should have hit bottom by now. She had confessed and had done the worst thing that she ever had imagined, but still the sudden stop eluded her, and she fell and fell and fell through the darkness, and she could no longer see the circle of light above her, only the pitch blackness of the well as she tumbled through misery and despair toward the cracked amulet below. Renelle was falling, falling, falling, but there was still more, still further to fall, she still had not hit the bottom of the dry well, she still had not joined the amulet in the final depths of hopelessness.
...But, perhaps... perhaps then, there was still a chance. If the depths of hopelessness were still further down, perhaps Renelle could still climb out. She was falling through the blackness of the dry well, but the rope with the bucket at the end still hung down, if only she could grab it and pull herself to safety. Renelle’s mind reached out, reaching for the rope, reaching for something which might, maybe, be her redemption. She was falling, but had not yet landed. The amulet was broken, but...
Red and blue flashed through the room, and Renelle stood up. There was still a chance. She watched carefully each and every one of the Protectors, but all eyes were fixed upon the battle that was taking place inside the ring of statues. Yes, there was still a chance. Renelle turned away from the fray and hurried out the arched doorway into the dim light of dawn outside. Still a chance. As she flew down the long flight of steps, Renelle felt her heart pounding, but this time it was not motivated by fear. Now, at last, there was hope. The light was visible, and Renelle knew that if she could just get the amulet, perhaps... perhaps it could be repaired... perhaps there was still hope....
To be continued...