Ultimate Decision: Part Nine
Renelle flew through the streets of Altador. Only one thing was on her mind: she must get to the well... she must retrieve the amulet. After days of fear and agony, the one thing which had started it all would now be the thing to end it. If she could bring the amulet back, perhaps it could be fixed, and perhaps the Darkest Faerie could be imprisoned once more.
* * * * *
The faces of ten Protectors were lit by blasts of red and blue light. The Darkest Faerie’s pale skin glowed in the eerie darkness as she summoned another magical flame. “I have waited one thousand years for this,” she breathed, the tongues of fire around her hands burning larger. “No matter how much magic you possess, it is nothing compared to the wrath of my revenge.”
Jerdana was panting. She had been shielding against the Darkest Faerie’s attacks with all of the magic she could muster, but her gentle nature would not allow her to form a spell of her own to cast against the faerie; the Darkest Faerie was quick and ruthless, and it was all Jerdana could do to keep the flames at bay.
Siyana stepped forward, glowing yellow with passion. “You will never defeat us!” the light faerie said, drawing the Darkest Faerie’s attention away from Jerdana for a moment. “Your power is based on greed and anger. It will not endure.”
“Ha!” cackled the Darkest Faerie, her eyes lit with twin flames. “You know nothing of my power!” With a violent yell, she hurled a ball of fire straight at Jerdana, and the blue Aisha was thrown across the room.
“No!” yelled Altador, jumping into the ring of statues. He raised his sword. “Magic, I may not have, but courage and strength shall overcome you, wicked faerie!” He rushed at the slender figure, sword held high.
Knowing that flames would have no effect on steel, the Darkest Faerie moved her hand in a wide arc through the air. Out of the darkness came a curved blade, black as shadow and sharp as the claws that budded from the tip of each of the faerie’s wings. In a single, swift motion, the Darkest Faerie caught the black sword and swung it at Altador, blocking his blow. “You have no chance!” she hissed, swinging the blade back into the air.
Altador readjusted himself and prepared for another attack. “It is you who have no chance,” he muttered, and charged.
* * * * *
A few Neopets were outside in the light of the rising sun, rubbing their eyes and looking around in confusion. Most were still dazed from recently awakening from their bewitched sleep, but Renelle paid no attention. She spotted the dry well in its secluded corner and made straight for it. Time was running out.
At last, panting, the red Aisha arrived at the small tower of stone. On the brink of exhaustion, she leaned over it, her hands resting on the edge of the circle, her head suspended over the pit of blackness, her eyes searching below for a glimpse of the amulet.
And again, it was like staring into the depths of her soul.
It was dark, completely dark, and Renelle felt the cold stillness of the air on her cheek. She had made decisions in hopes that everything would turn out all right in the end, but so far each decision had only led to more pain, more regret, and more darkness. As Renelle gazed into the blackness, she wondered if there could possibly be a way out, if there could ever be a way that she could be good again, and not have to live with the terrible guilt of the decisions she had made. After all she had done, could she be forgiven?
In the midst of the blackness, there came a glint of gold.
The light of the rising sun had crept over the edge of the well and reflected the faraway shine of the amulet, and Renelle realized that perhaps there was hope after all. Without another second of hesitation, she gripped the rope that was suspended over the well, and she slowly began to descend into the darkness.
* * * * *
The two blades clashed together.
Neither faerie nor Lupe spoke; all of their energy was spent in the battle, swinging their swords and fighting for position in the center of the ring of statues. The other Protectors looked on from the side. Psellia knelt beside Jerdana, who was badly burned and leaning against the wall of the Hall of Heroes. The Darkest Faerie and King Altador were locked in a steel embrace, sweat beading on their foreheads, every muscle taut and flexed.
With a roar, Altador leapt at the faerie, swinging his sword and nearly slicing off a piece of the faerie’s wing. The Darkest Faerie folded the leathery appendages behind her and whirled to the side, striking back at her opponent with her shadowy blade, but it glanced off of the King’s heavy armor.
Panting, both turned to face each other once more.
* * * * *
Renelle climbed slowly down the rope. Her feet felt its length, searching for the bucket that would mark the bottom of the well, but as she descended further and further she was only met with more darkness. The pale light from above was distant, and Renelle prayed that the amulet would not be shattered beyond repair when she found it.
At last, the Aisha felt a wooden bucket beneath her feet. She reached out, and felt the stone that marked the bottom of the dry well, and with one hand, carefully began to feel around. Her fingers brushed against a thin chain, and Renelle clutched it with all of her remaining strength. The amulet had been retrieved. There was still hope. There was still a chance.
She climbed back up the rope, slowly placing one hand above the other, the amulet swinging back and forth on its chain as she struggled back towards the light. Renelle was utterly exhausted, but she knew that for once she was doing something right, and this gave her enough energy to pull herself up to the stone top of the well. She was doing something right, and if only there was a way to repair the amulet, all of the decisions she had made might be reversed. She just had to get back to the Hall of Heroes....
Renelle climbed over the edge of the well and back into the pale pink light of the sun. With the amulet still gripped tightly in her hand, she looked at the city around her.
There, right in front of the well and walking toward her, was Finneus.
The Lenny appeared confused and worried, but his eyes were fixed upon the tower in the center of the city. Renelle followed his gaze. Sounds of a battle emanated from the Hall of Heroes, and she feared that perhaps she may be too late after all. But if Jerdana was still able to use her magic, perhaps she would know the spell to repair the amulet and trap the Darkest Faerie once more.
Renelle’s eyes fell from the tower to see that Finneus had stopped walking and was staring at her with wide eyes. Renelle climbed down from the edge of the well and stood facing him, and she could see the Lenny’s gaze dart to the amulet in her hands.
The Archivist’s lips parted in a shocked gasp. “It was you?” he whispered.
“No,” pleaded Renelle, feeling like she was falling once more. “I mean... yes, but...”
Finneus took a step toward her. “I trusted you,” he said. “I thought you wanted to help me.”
“I did,” said Renelle, taking a step back towards the well. “I do!”
“But all this time, it was you,” continued Finneus. “You stole the amulet.” He stepped toward her. “You broke it and threw it down this well. That’s what you were doing that night, when I bumped into you? Trying to free the Darkest Faerie?”
“No!” cried Renelle, desperately backing away. “Finneus, it was an accident!”
“And the statues?” asked the Archivist. “Did you break them by accident too? Did you throw the city under a bewitched sleep by accident as well?”
“The Darkest Faerie lied to me,” said Renelle, the words tasting bitter and foolish in her mouth. “I thought I was breaking the spell!”
“So you’ve freed her then?” asked Finneus. “Is that what’s going on up there? You freed the Darkest Faerie and left our Protectors to fight her, and now you’ve come down here to dispose of the last chance we have to defeat the faerie once and for all?”
“No!” cried Renelle. “I’m taking it back there to get someone to repair it, to capture her!”
“I don’t believe you,” said the Lenny, and Renelle’s heart felt like it was going to burst. His voice was sad, and the Aisha sank into despair knowing that there was no way she could convince him to believe her. After all, why should he? She had lied to him, and she had done everything that he had just stated. “I cannot let you pass,” said Finneus, spreading his feathers and approaching Renelle. “Give me the amulet.”
“Finneus, I can’t!” pleaded Renelle. “You must let me go to the Hall of Heroes. This is the only way!”
Finneus shook his head. “I’m sorry, Renelle,” he said quietly but firmly, and Renelle’s mind raced.
What could she do? The only way to stop the Darkest Faerie was to somehow get the amulet around her neck once more and repair it, but Finneus would not let her through. A sudden thought flashed into her mind: with the heavy amulet in her hand, Renelle could strike the Archivist over the head and escape. She would only have to knock him out. She needed to get to the Hall of Heroes as quickly as possible, but with the Lenny in her way, she would never make it.
The choice lay before her. The amulet was gripped tightly in her hand, and Finneus stood before her, easily within reach. All she had to do was swing her arm... knock him out... run....
But she could not. Renelle had done things more terrible that she ever would have imagined, but she could not hurt a friend. Instead, Renelle yanked the string of her apron, pulled it off, and lunged at the Lenny, throwing the white garment over his head.
The decision was made.
Finneus would recover quickly and chase her, but Renelle had no time to worry. With the amulet in hand, she raced down the street, leaving her friend struggling behind her and desperately hoping that she would not be too late.
Renelle flew up the steps toward the Hall of Heroes, her purple dress billowing, conscious of nothing but the amulet in her hand and the situation that was taking place inside. Sounds of the battle between the Darkest Faerie and King Altador echoed toward her, and Renelle realized that it would be impossible to hang the amulet around the faerie’s neck in such commotion. There had to be another way....
Renelle paused for a fleeting moment in front of the arched doorway. She could catch a glimpse into the Hall of Heroes, and saw that the faerie and the king were locked in a fierce embrace, standing close to each other with swords met in the center of the ring of statues. The other Protectors watched from the walls around the chamber. There was no way Renelle could get in there, not without being captured or injured.
But then, as the light of the stars waned and the orange light of the sun melted across the sky, Renelle had an idea.
Without hesitation, the red Aisha dashed toward the flight of stairs that served as an alternate route up to the Observatory. Taking the steps two at a time, Renelle ran up to the top of the tower, where the retractable ceiling was still cracked open just enough for her to slip through.
It had all come down to this.
Renelle held the chain of the amulet in both hands, making sure to spread it wide. She would only have one chance.
She positioned herself right at the edge of the hole and waited. The ring of statues could be seen below, and the Darkest Faerie and King Altador rotated in a circle as they swung their swords at each other, lunging and retreating quickly in a dangerous dance. Renelle waited until the precise moment when the faerie’s head was directly below her, and then she dropped through the ceiling, falling through the air toward the twin blades below.
In a single motion, Renelle looped the chain around the Darkest Faerie’s neck and landed on top of her.
The faerie let out a wild scream, and the shadow blade in her hand vanished. King Altador stepped back in surprise, and Renelle rolled to the floor, lying helplessly at the feet of the Darkest Faerie.
“You fool!” shouted the faerie, staring down at the cracked amulet that hung at her chest. “No broken charm can contain me!”
Renelle’s eyes shot to Jerdana, but the blue Aisha was still lying helplessly against the wall. She was in no condition to repair the amulet....
The Darkest Faerie grabbed Renelle roughly with both hands, lifting the red Aisha to her feet. “You will pay for this,” she said, and the faerie’s hands grew hot. Renelle watched in terror as flames licked down from the curved fingers and approached her throat.
“Stop!” cried a new voice, and all eyes turned to see Finneus, looking ruffled and exhausted but determined, standing in the arched doorway. The Archivist faced the Darkest Faerie, and in a wavering voice, he recited: “Amulet of magic deep, ancient peace you seek to keep, evil sows what it doth reap, put this faerie back to sleep!”
Renelle stared in front of her, where the amulet lay against the Darkest Faerie’s pale skin. As soon as the words left the Archivist’s lips, the gold and red object shuddered, and the Aisha watched in awe as the cracks melted away, and the rubies glowed as the amulet’s pieces moved back into their places.
The faerie let out a scream and dropped Renelle, clutching the amulet at her chest. The fire was gone from her hands and her eyes, and she took a step back. Renelle sat on the floor, looking up in horror as the amulet burst forth into red light. For a split second, the Darkest Faerie’s eyes met those of Renelle, and in that moment all of the hate and fury was gone from them, replaced by a tortured fear that Renelle knew only too well. And then, the heavy lids came down over those eyes, and the Darkest Faerie slumped to the floor, asleep.
* * * * *
The Darkest Faerie, thanks to the magic of Jerdana and the wisdom of Finneus, had been imprisoned within her statue once more. The amulet which cast its enchanted sleep had been placed in a protected room in the castle, and Jerdana had taken the precaution of wiping the memories of all of the Altadorians, so that they would not remember the strange events of the few short days. However, she had allowed Finneus to keep his memories, of course, as he had been of invaluable help, and she told Renelle that she had chosen not to clear her mind either. Memories of her past mistakes, Jerdana had explained, might help guide Renelle’s decisions in the future.
The red Aisha had finally been given the chance to explain herself. She had told the eleven Protectors about the foolish decision she had made which had begun the chain reaction of mistakes that had eventually led to the awakening of the Darkest Faerie, and to Renelle’s surprise Jerdana had not punished her at all. In fact, she had even allowed Renelle to keep her job as a maid in the castle, but seeing as she had wanted to be rid of it in the first place, and her only remaining friend in the castle was Darwin, to whom Renelle had bid a fond farewell with promises to visit often, she refused.
So, she found herself sorting through old volumes in the Altadorian Archives, working long hours by candlelight, and enjoying the solitude and peace that had for so long been missing from her life. Finneus had kindly offered Renelle the position of his assistant, claiming that in his old age he needed as much help as he could get, but Renelle knew that he just wanted some company. The forgiveness of the friend whom she had betrayed so terribly had been quite a surprise, and once things had finally settled down Renelle asked Finneus, “How did you know?”
The Archivist smiled. “I had researched the spell which would repair the amulet as soon as I knew it was broken,” he said. “The only problem was that I didn’t know where it was. As soon as you retrieved it though, I knew that the spell would fix it and bewitch the Darkest Faerie once more.”
“No,” insisted Renelle, “how did you know that I was going to take the amulet to the Hall of Heroes and hang it around the Darkest Faerie’s neck?”
At this, Finneus let out a sigh. “When you threw the apron over my eyes, they were opened to the truth. I realized that what you had said must have been true, and I knew that you would try to do what was right.” He gave Renelle a small smile. “I just knew that you were good on the inside, that’s all.”
Renelle had felt like she was falling through the darkness of the well for so long, always searching for that glint of golden hope but only plunging deeper into the blackness. Now, finally hearing her friend say it out loud, she realized that she truly was good after all.
As she had stood there before Finneus, with the amulet in her hand and a last choice before her, Renelle realized that it had been the final test. In the end, she had not struck her friend over the head and knocked him out; if she had, he would never have been able to come to her rescue and say the spell which would repair the amulet and put the Darkest Faerie back to sleep.
In her ultimate choice, Renelle at last knew that, beyond any doubt, she had done the right thing. Finally, for the first time in a long time, she had made the right decision.