The Curious Incident of the Statue in the Night-time: Part One
(Note: This serves as the conclusion to the stories “Witches!”, “A Life Less Interesting”, and “Witches Ride Again”. Whilst it isn’t essential to read the other stories, certain events may make more sense if you do.)
There is a legend in Shenkuu, old as time, or at least, old as tongue could tell it. It speaks of the first Emperor of Shenkuu, and how he found one day in the mountains a mysterious Mortog, far away from its native Meridell. The Mortog had been taken ill, not being used to mountain air. The Emperor, being a kindly soul, nursed the Mortog back to health as the city of Shenkuu was built. For his kindness, the Mortog rewarded the Emperor by showing him to an ancient cave, where he discovered a statue of a Dandan, carved out of purest Jade. The Jade Dandan has been passed down from Emperor to Emperor ever since, and is one of Shenkuu’s most prized treasures.
Mr. Jennings sipped his tea slowly, carefully swilling each mouthful of liquid before swallowing. The green Krawk placed the cup back on the bone china saucer and looked across the table.
“I’ve had to give up coffee, unfortunately; it began interfering with my sleeping patterns,” he told the blue Aisha sitting opposite.
She shuffled uncomfortably.
“Why can’t we meet on Krawk Island? The Rusty Dubloon has been rebuilt,” she muttered.
“Someone such as me cannot be seen on Krawk Island,” Mr. Jennings informed her, “Besides; even the walls have ears there, along with a myriad of other ailments. Here, people go about their business without even noticing us.”
He gestured towards the crowds milling around the Neopia Central catacombs.
“Suppose someone does notice us,” the Aisha replied. “This is where you got caught, after all.”
Mr. Jennings chuckled lightly, straightening out his finely tailored suit.
“Ask yourself, if you were a master criminal who had just escaped from a maximum security cell at the Defenders of Neopia Headquarters, would you come back to where you were caught?” he asked her.
“No,” she replied.
“Exactly, that’s what everyone else thinks,” Mr. Jennings explained with the barest hint of a maddened glint in his eye, “which is why this is the safest place to be. Mr. Jennings couldn’t possibly be so stupid as to return here, in full view of the public, so it stands to reason that I can’t be Mr. Jennings.”
“But you are,” she told him.
“I know that, you know that, but the public let their assumptions blind them to the obvious truth,” he told her. “The fact that I appear to be sitting across from Light-Fingered Sarah, a thief wanted most recently for the theft of King Skarl’s crown, only compounds the fact that I cannot be Mr. Jennings, and you cannot be Sarah.”
“But I am,” she said.
“Not to them, which is why this place is safer than any tavern on Krawk Island,” Mr. Jennings told her, taking another sip of tea.
“Now,” he said eventually, “to business.”
Sarah straightened up in her chair.
“I require an artefact from the treasure house of the Shenkuu palace,” Mr. Jennings told her. “It is called the Jade Dandan, a small life-sized statue of a Dandan; appropriately enough, it is made out of jade.”
“There are some provisos,” Mr. Jennings added.
“Go on,” Sarah told him.
“No one should be harmed, at least in any lasting way. Also, this must be left in place of the statue,” he told her.
From his inside pocket he took a small white envelope, and handed it to Sarah. The words, ‘To the Emperor’, were printed on it.
“What’s in it?” Sarah asked.
Mr. Jennings sighed almost inaudibly.
“Something that should only be seen by the Emperor of Shenkuu,” he told her. “Now, you will deliver the Jade Dandan to me, here, in exactly two weeks.”
He took out a gold pocket watch and checked the time.
“Do we have a deal?” he asked.
Sarah turned the envelope over in her hands. Something wasn’t right about it; thieves don’t normally leave letters.
Still, she thought, Mr. Jennings pays well.
“Deal,” she told him.
It was midnight in Shenkuu, which was just as well because daylight robbery simply wasn’t Sarah’s style. The moon hung low in the sky and illuminated the mountain city in the pale fog. Aside from the city guard and old Gnorbu in the Lunar Temple, the citizens were fast asleep. If the old Gnorbu had turned his telescope down from the heavens, he might have seen the sleek figure of Sarah pinned against the mountain wall, slowly edging along. If he had fixed her with the telescope’s glare, he may have seen her jump with all the skill of a ninja master from the mountainside to a nearby tree and catapult herself from there up onto the roof of the palace. If the old Gnorbu had looked down for one second, Sarah’s theft would have failed completely. Instead, he reached for another Mint Roll and scribbled down the speed of Kreludor’s rotation.
Sarah was as light as the breeze as she sneaked across the tiled roof of the palace. She counted out her steps carefully, finally coming to a rest at the edge of the roof, above a thin paper window. With absolute silence she swung down, hooking herself to the roof with her feet, and began cutting a hole in the thin paper wall with a knife. When she was finished, the circle of paper floated away gently on the night breeze, and Sarah swung herself inside the hole.
There was a small creak as she landed on the floorboards. Sarah paused, then straightened herself up once she was sure she had not been heard. From around the corner came the loud creaking of a guard making his rounds. Instinctively, Sarah pinned herself against the wall. Normally, she would have stuck a dagger in the guard as he rounded the corner, but Mr. Jennings had given her specific instructions. Even if she avoided him, he would see the hole and alert the other guards. She had to deal with him somehow. She reached inside her robes for the supplies she had bought from Shenkuu.
As the guard was about to round the corner, she emerged. Her hood was down, her thick black hair draped down over her shoulders. In one hand she held a black paper fan, which she fluttered gently.
“Who are you? What are you doing up here?” the guard asked, reaching for his sword.
Sarah giggled lightly as she continued to fan herself.
“My apologies, Lord, I am but a humble washer-woman,” she replied innocently.
The guard relaxed his arm only slightly, but it was all Sarah needed. She threw the fan to the floor, where it exploded, producing a thick cloud of smoke. As the guard stumbled backwards, she leapt over him and tripped him with her foot. He fell backwards heavily, knocking himself out on his bulky metal helmet.
Sarah turned, dusted herself off, put her hood back up, and ran silently down the corridor. It would be a matter of minutes until the guard was changed or he regained consciousness. She would need to act fast.
The treasure house was on the lower levels of the palace, through a labyrinth of guards Sarah only narrowly avoided by pinning herself against the ceiling most of the time. The door to the treasure house was guarded by two of the palace’s elite guard constantly, and that night was no exception. Sarah had no choice but to confront them. She drew a long staff that had been attached to her back, and clashed with them. They were of course the palace’s elite guard; Sarah wouldn’t have stood a chance against them normally. But Sarah was a thief, so she cheated. As she spun round to connect her staff with the guard’s blades, she dropped a handful of spiked balls which the guards promptly advanced onto. As they were wincing with pain in their feet, she brought her staff down across their heads and knocked them out.
Dropping the staff as she went, Sarah opened the doors to the treasure house. A mountain of gold, rare gemstones and assorted ancient scrolls greeted her. Being a thief, her breath was naturally taken away at the sight of so much potential wealth. It was a few moments before she recovered herself and set about her task. It wasn’t difficult to locate the Jade Dandan; it was sitting on a raised dais in the centre of the mountain of gold. It seemed to glow an eerie green in the otherwise blinding gold. The surrounding treasure had been brushed back, giving the small statue pride of place. Sarah wasted no time; she marched over and picked up the fragile figure, replacing it with Mr. Jennings’s letter. It was then that she faced the hard part. The gold in the treasure house would make a substantial tip. She stood there, mentally working out how much she could carry and still be agile enough for an escape.
A loud shout from the upper levels of the palace made her decision for her. The guard had been changed on the top floor; she had been discovered. Sarah took the statue under her arm and dashed out of the treasure room door, but it was too late. The guards were already rounding the corner. She drew a small knife and weighed it in her hand. She considered that only half the guards would come to the treasure house;, the rest would protect the Emperor. Then she glanced at the wall opposite.
“That’s the trouble with Shenkuu,” she shouted to the guards. “You have walls so thin, they might as well be made of paper!”
With that, she ripped through the paper wall with her knife and dashed through. The guards, who had been born and raised in Shenkuu, stared at the spot for a few moments as if she had done something as impressive as walking through a brick wall. Then their guard reflexes kicked in, and they gave chase, ripping an even larger hole in the wall.
Sarah barely slowed; simply pointing the knife out in front of her seemed to create a hole that the rest of her body could crash through. She passed through corridors, wash houses, bed chambers, even the kitchens at one point. All the time she had the element of surprise on the occupants, and her pursuing guards had to deal with the ensuing confusion behind her. Soon, their shouts became distant as Sarah hit the outside wall of the palace. It was too strong to be broken by a simple knife, so she ran along the outer corridor, hoping to find a door leading out of the palace.
That was how she came across the large entrance hall, covered in gold and red drapes. The large palace doors stood mere metres away, but there was a problem. A small brown Mynci stood in front of them. He was wearing the full armour of a Shenkuu Warrior, and his sword was drawn. He glared at Sarah through his small eyes.
“Enemy of the Emperor, enemy of Shenkuu, prepare to die,” he stated simply, and broke into a run.
Sarah sighed. Things hadn’t gone quite as smoothly as she had expected.
To be continued...