Empire: Part Three
The carriage rattled noisily along the cobbled streets of Neopia Central, coming to a rather sudden stop in the Marketplace. The cross country carriage wasn’t exactly the most comfortable ride, but it was cheap. For the certain type of traveller that the carriage attracted, price was all that mattered.
Shan stumbled out of the carriage, jostled from side to side by the other passengers as they surged forwards into the city crowds.
Shan no longer wore the fine trappings of a Shenkuu General. Instead he wore only a simple travelling cloak.
He glanced up at the towering spires of the Business District in the distance.
So this is Neopia Central...
Shan followed the movement of the crowds wordlessly. He was a broken man now, stripped of everything he held dear. The Empire had cast him out, and his entire purpose in life had been erased.
Shan’s gaze drifted to one skyscraper set apart from the others in the distance. His hand clenched into a fist.
It was his fault. It was all his fault.
Shan’s hand moved inside his robe and tightened around his sword, the only possession he had left.
“Emperor,” the stern Tonu said as he kneeled.
“Rise, General Zhang,” the Gelert instructed.
The Tonu stood to attention.
“You understand your instructions?” the Emperor asked.
Zhang nodded. “I will lead the Imperial Army to Neopia Central. Qin will be taken by force. If he resists, he will be destroyed. The will of the Emperor is absolute.”
The Emperor nodded.
The stocky Tonu that stood before him was by no means a military genius like Shan or Qin had been, but Zhang followed orders to the letter. He would not betray the Empire. He couldn’t even fathom the idea.
“Then go,” the Emperor instructed. “Time is of the essence.”
Zhang saluted, before turning to march out.
Jennings was alone in his office, a small desk lamp providing the only light. The Krawk stood at the window, gazing down into the misty night of the city below.
The newspaper on his desk had not been read beyond the front page. The headline after all was bad enough.
‘RIOT FEARED OVER JENNINGS’
Jennings was deep in thought. Something had to be done.
He’d changed things, and changed them for the better. Yet, the people didn’t seem to see it. All they saw was some foreigner coming in and taking over things. The locals didn’t approve, and it would come to violence, he was sure.
Jennings turned his head slightly as he heard the door open. He smiled thinly to himself as he heard the familiar sound of a sword being unsheathed.
“Good evening, Shan,” Jennings remarked without looking round fully.
“General Qin,” the Mynci replied, closing the door carefully behind him. “You were expecting me?”
“My name is Mr. Jennings,” the Krawk replied. “General Qin is dead.”
“You can’t escape who you are, Qin, or what you’ve done,” Shan snarled.
Jennings turned at last to see Shan.
“You are here to kill me?” he asked plainly.
“It’s because of you,” Shan growled. “The Emperor, my exile, everything. Once you are gone, everything will be right again.”
Jennings laughed to himself quietly.
“I thought like that once,” he explained as he made his way to the desk. “Consumed by revenge and hate. I thought of nothing but destroying the Emperor, the source of all my troubles. It took this place to change my point of view.”
Shan said nothing, merely readying his sword.
“Very well,” Jennings sighed.
He took his walking cane from beside the desk, and grasped the diamond atop it. A gentle click followed, and a thin blade slid out.
Shan snarled, leaping forwards towards Jennings. The two of them met in a clash of steel, Jennings blocking Shan’s attack. The Krawk repelled him, forcing the Mynci back.
“Every time we have fought, I have emerged victorious, Shan,” Jennings taunted him. “I taught you everything you know; you can’t defeat me.”
Shan smiled deviously.
“Not everything,” he sneered.
The Mynci moved his tail with surprising speed, snaking it into his boot and emerging with a small dagger.
Shan ran at Jennings again, clashing with his sword while swiping with the dagger held by his tail. Jennings was forced back by the onslaught, jumping and weaving to avoid Shan’s wild slashes.
Jennings bided his time, skilfully avoiding or parrying Shan’s blows until he saw his window of opportunity. Jennings struck, Shan’s tail fumbling the dagger and dropping it. Another strike sent Shan’s sword spinning out of his hands.
Jennings spun, kicking Shan squarely in the stomach and forcing him back onto the floor. He wordlessly brought his sword to the Mynci’s throat.
“Finish me then!” Shan panted.
Jennings sighed, and withdrew his sword.
“I’m not going to kill you, Shan,” he said as he sheathed the blade.
“Do it!” Shan demanded. “You’ve taken everything else from me!”
“As I said, Shan, I was like you, once,” Jennings explained. “I travelled the world, consumed with rage. Then, I found my way to this city... and the people here welcomed me. I was reborn as Mr. Jennings. Neopia Central is a city of redemption, Shan. Everyone gets a second chance.”
Jennings offered Shan a hand.
“I won’t be exiled from Shenkuu just to become your lap dog,” Shan said flatly.
“I wouldn’t dream of it, I have no need of a General,” Jennings replied. “I’m not offering you a job, just a second chance in this city.”
Shan hesitated for a moment before taking the offered hand.
Behind them, the door to the office opened slowly.
“Is everything alright, sir?” Mr. Black asked as he peered around it.
“Yes, Mr. Black,” Jennings answered. “General Shan was just leaving. See to it that he is given enough for a room at the Neolodge.”
“Of course, sir,” Black nodded, taking Shan by the shoulder and leading him out.
When the door closed, Jennings made his way back to his desk and opened the paper. He considered the small note that he had hidden within, out of the sight of Shan.
‘The army is marching; they will be with you soon after dawn.’
Jennings glanced back towards the door.
Yes, a General was the last thing he needed.
Judge Hog didn’t knock; he just burst through the doors in an overly dramatic fashion when he arrived.
“Ah, Judge Hog,” Jennings remarked. “Do let yourself in.”
The Krawk absentmindedly returned to his paperwork.
“Have you heard the news?” the Judge demanded.
“News?” Jennings asked.
“The army!” the Judge shouted. “They were spotted making camp in Kau Kau Farms an hour ago! They’re demanding you, or they say there’ll be consequences.”
Jennings made a sideways glance towards Mr. Black.
“What a good job the staff of Kau Kau Farms have the day off today, or there may have been casualties,” he observed.
“There’s a crowd gathering below, Jennings,” the Judge said ominously. “They’re baying for blood. Your crony, Johnny Twobit or whoever he is, seems to be holding them back from this building, but they’ll get in sooner or later.”
“Indeed, I have seen a lot of people on the streets below. I thought perhaps there was some sort of festival going on,” Jennings replied.
The Judge straightened up, and addressed Jennings with a hint of joy in his voice, “I can’t protect you this time. You might own the Defenders, but we won’t go to war for you. I’m here to arrest you. We’ll hand you over to the Shenkuu soldiers and no one will get hurt. It’s over, Jennings.”
“Indeed.” Jennings stood up abruptly. “However, I would ask that I am allowed to give myself up.”
The Judge laughed mockingly. “How very selfless of you.”
“I want only the best for this city, Judge,” Jennings said, turning to Mr. Black. “Make sure that everything is well looked after.”
“Yes, sir.” Black nodded.
Jennings straightened out his suit, took a deep breath, and stepped out from behind his desk.
“Mr. Jennings, sir!” the red Kougra saluted as the Krawk emerged from the building.
A chorus of boos erupted from the crowd.
“Good morning, Mr. Twobit,” Jennings answered. “We shall be heading to Kau Kau Farms. If you could clear a path, that would be delightful.”
“At once, sir!” Twobit replied.
Along with Mr. Black and Judge Hog, the Kougra rushed forwards into the crowd.
Faced with the three intimidating Neopets, the crowd soon parted, instead occupying the pavements. Jennings was left to walk alone through the streets.
“Mr. Jennings!” a voice called out from the crowd. “Oh, Mr. Jennings!”
An old blue Bruce rushed forwards out of the crowd and took Jennings by the hand.
“Good morning, Miss Tobik.” Jennings smiled.
The elderly socialite, and current head of the Women’s Institute, looked on the verge of tears.
“I heard that they are planning on extraditing you! That simply can’t be true!” she wailed.
“Alas, it is, Miss Tobik,” Jennings replied, gently patting her flipper.
Tobik stifled her tears, and took Jennings by the arm.
“Then you shall not walk these streets alone,” she said bravely.
Jennings smiled to himself as the two continued on their way.
The crowds were still gathered far away from Jennings’s tower in the Docklands. It was as if everyone in the city had come out to see the spectacle.
Perhaps somewhat deliberately, Jennings chose the longer route to the farmlands on the western side of the city. After all, everyone should be able to see the show.
It wasn’t long before Jennings and Tobik came across a roadblock in the Marketplace. Around fifty Zombies were blocking the road, with a Chomby and a Meerca at their head.
“Stop this immediately!” the Chomby ordered.
“Move along, citizen!” Judge Hog shouted. “This man is a Shenkuu criminal!”
“Mr. Munroe,” Jennings greeted him, “and Mr. Oldnose too. Regrettably I agree with the Judge; you should be moving along.”
“He is our employer!” the Meerca shouted suddenly. “You can’t just give him away to the Empire!”
Jennings patted the Meerca reassuringly on the shoulder.
“I can assure you, Mr. Oldnose, that this is better than the alternative,” he explained. “Rest assured that Mr. Black will look after my affairs in my absence.”
Jennings glanced at Miss Tobik before adding with a wry smile, “Should you wish to see me off, though, I see no harm in you walking with me.”
The Judge narrowed his eyes at Jennings. He knew that smile; it meant that Jennings had some kind of plan.
By the time Jennings reached the beginnings of Kau Kau Farms, a steady crowd was marching behind him. Tobik and the Zombies had been joined by a sizable number of citizens who wanted to see the final handover. Jennings himself was giving a walking interview to Peter Hopkirk, the anchorman of Channel 9 News.
“...I would like it to be known that everything I did was for this city. I give myself up now, not because I am guilty of any crimes, but because I fear the wrath of the Imperial Army should I refuse. I wish only for Neopia Central to prosper.”
The green Bruce nodded, and took the microphone back before stopping dead in his tracks. The precession behind Jennings had also stopped.
Ahead in the path, a dozen Shenkuu soldiers were waiting. Behind on the rolling hills of the farm, tents for hundreds more had been pitched.
“Mr. Jennings must walk this part alone,” Judge Hog instructed the others.
With one glance back at the city, Jennings went forth.
Zhang was waiting for him at the head of the Imperial soldiers.
“Captain Zhang, it’s been decidedly too long,” Jennings greeted him amiably.
“General Zhang,” the Tonu corrected him. “You are to be arrested, enemy of the Empire.”
Jennings sighed. “Yes, I imagine so.”
He held out his hands to be bound.
Behind him, the crowds from Neopia Central watched as the Shenkuu forces led him away in chains.
To be continued...