Empire: Part Four
The pawn clicked into place, and the Emperor leaned back with a satisfied smile on his face.
“I have missed this,” he sighed.
“If all you wanted was to play chess, you needn’t have gone to the trouble of arresting me,” Jennings noted from the other side of the board.
“I see your wit has not left you, Qin,” the Emperor commented, moving another piece.
“Qin is dead,” Jennings replied as he moved. “I am Mr. Jennings.”
The two continued to play in silence.
“There was no need to remove Shan,” Jennings said after a while. “He was a good General.”
“He was sympathetic to your views,” the Emperor replied. “Zhang is loyal.”
“Zhang is certainly something.” Jennings smirked.
“Yet he was able to capture you,” the Emperor observed.
He moved a piece and added, “Checkmate.”
The Emperor looked over his shoulder and nodded at the waiting guard.
“I learn from my mistakes,” the Emperor said as he stood up. “The guards to these cells have been personally vetted by me. You won’t be able to sneak your employees into their ranks. You will be rotting here for an eternity, Qin. Your quest for revenge is over.”
The guard and Emperor left, locking the door behind them.
Jennings was left alone in his cell, with nothing but the chess board for company.
The Krawk carefully picked up one of the Kings and examined it, turning it slightly in the sliver of light that shone through his barred window.
“I learn from your mistakes too,” he whispered.
The Emperor’s chambers were deathly quiet.
Outside, guards patrolled constantly, while inside the Emperor slept in peace.
Above him, Mr. Jennings silently unsheathed a sword and brought it to the Emperor’s throat. The Gelert rose slowly from his slumber, though once his eyes focused on the blade in front of his eyes, he was suddenly more awake.
“Make a noise and you are dead,” Jennings whispered.
He glanced over his shoulder. A blue Aisha clad tightly in robes by the door nodded.
“Good,” Jennings said slightly louder as he leaned back. “Your guard is being changed, we can speak more freely.”
The Emperor sat up in his bed.
“Is that the Aisha thief?” he demanded.
“Indeed, I don’t think you’ve ever actually met,” Jennings answered. “Sarah, meet the Emperor of Shenkuu.”
The Aisha nodded curtly. “Charmed, I’m sure.”
“She broke you out?” the Emperor asked.
“Of course,” Jennings replied. “Sarah, as I’m sure you aware, has specific talents at stealing things. I requested that she steal me. It’s quite the convenient thing really, you exiling Shan... you see, he would have considered this, and protected against it. Zhang on the other hand is too concerned about my breaking out to consider that someone else might break in.”
“So you are here to kill me then?” the Emperor asked.
“Of course not,” Jennings gasped, as if the idea affronted him.
The Emperor stared pointedly at the blade pointed at him.
Jennings smiled. “To keep you silent.”
He put the blade away before continuing, “I can assure you, Emperor, if I wanted you dead, you already would be. I was General of your army; I know this palace like the back of my hand. If Sarah can use this information to walk around this place at her leisure, what makes you think I can’t pay an assassin to do the same? Not to mention that I could have killed you in your sleep just now.”
“Then why are you here?” the Emperor demanded.
“Because I would like your signature,” Jennings told him with a grin.
He handed over a scroll.
“It is a curious thing, but royal pardons are not valid without the signature of the Emperor,” Jennings explained. “I took the liberty of filling in the name.”
The Emperor unrolled the scroll, and cocked an eyebrow as he read the name.
“You are sure this is all you want?” he asked.
“Certain.” Jennings smiled. “Perhaps this will convince you that I have no intentions of revenge. I want to put this all behind us. Shenkuu needs Neopia Central. The gold from your mines needs to be exported somewhere, and where better than the mint of the National Neopian? Equally, though, Neopia Central needs Shenkuu. This pointless battle weakens both our Empires. Qin is dead; I wish only to live as Mr. Jennings in peace.”
The Emperor stared thoughtfully at the piece of parchment in his hands for a while, as if he was trying to figure out any hidden motives behind it.
“Very well,” he submitted at last, taking a quill from his nightstand and providing his mark.
Jennings took the scroll back. “It has been a pleasure doing business with you.”
Jennings wasn’t exaggerating; he really did know the Imperial Palace like the back of his hand. It was the work of a moment to find a hidden passage in the Emperor’s chambers, and make good their escape.
He and Sarah made their way through the stone passageway, once a cave that would lead them out into the mountains. Ahead of them moonlight was pouring in; they were almost free.
“I knew it,” a voice called from the entrance to the cave.
A figure stepped into the light, a Mynci outlined against the moon.
“Shan,” Jennings smirked as he approached. “How remarkably coincidental to find you here.”
Shan’s sword moved faster, and was pointed at the Krawk before he could react.
“We’ve all been manipulated by you again, haven’t we?” the Mynci asked.
“I can’t say I follow,” Jennings replied.
“I didn’t think about it at the time, but it’s so obvious now,” Shan continued. “A royal pardon needs a signature, one you didn’t have. What Sarah stole was inherently useless. You knew you had to come back here. You engineered the entire thing, didn’t you? You made Sarah plant seeds of doubt in my mind, to force the Emperor to exile me and enrage him to the point of invasion. You allowed yourself to be captured; all so that Sarah could break you out and allow you to force the Emperor to sign.”
Jennings smiled, “And how, pray tell, did you discover my scheme?”
“I didn’t think of it until I saw this,” Shan sneered, throwing a paper to the ground.
Even in the moonlight Jennings could see the headline.
‘PUBLIC OUTCRIES FOR RELEASE OF JENNINGS’
“You handed yourself over,” Shan explained. “But, you made sure that everyone in the city saw that you handed yourself over. You made sure everyone knew that you did it to save Neopia Central. You turned yourself into a martyr; the people who hate you now love you. You manipulated them too. You’re going to march back to the city a free man that everyone loves. I bet you probably even had me removed from my position just because you and I are the only people that know this tunnel exists.”
Jennings smiled, but said nothing.
“But you didn’t think that I might come after you, did you?” Shan said happily. “I’m going to hand you back over to the Emperor, and he’ll reinstate me. You’re too dangerous to be let go. Every time you’re involved, somebody comes out worse off – and from what I hear, most of the time somebody ends up dead. Well, no more. I’m taking you back.”
“No, you aren’t,” a voice behind Shan whispered.
Shan felt the cold of a dagger pressed against his neck. Sarah had moved without him seeing.
“You are going to let me go,” Jennings ordered.
“My sword is still at your throat,” Shan countered.
“Indeed,” Jennings agreed. “But perhaps, if I were to give you this, it might not be any longer.”
Jennings offered the scroll.
“We all live to fight another day,” he added. “This time nobody dies.”
Shan took the scroll with his free hand, and very slowly moved the sword away.
“Excellent,” Jennings remarked.
He didn’t give Shan time to think twice, he was out of sight almost immediately. Sarah followed close behind.
It didn’t occur to Shan to check the scroll for a moment. When he did, his heart skipped a beat.
The name on the pardon had been filled in, but it was not General Qin’s.
He held in his hands a pardon for General Shan.
The Mynci kneeled before the Emperor, his polished armour back again.
“He has manipulated us all, your highness,” Shan said. “Do you intend to pursue him?”
“No,” the Emperor said flatly. “I believe him. He could have killed me, or made that pardon out for himself, but he did not. If he indeed wishes the Empire harm, then he is a fool in the way he does things. We both know General Qin. We both know he is no fool.”
The Emperor stood up. “I, however, have been. I have allowed my feud with Qin to cloud my judgement, even casting you out. I cannot allow that to continue. We must ensure that the future of the Empire is glorious.”
“Yes, sire,” Shan replied.
“Now, I wish to make an announcement to the people,” the Emperor said with a smile.
Jennings sat back at his desk as he read the morning paper.
‘CITY CELEBRATES AS JENNINGS RETURNS’
“Wouldn’t you know, Mr Black... but it appears that my approval rating is through the roof.” He smirked.
The Grarrl nearly smiled widely.
“Oh, and the Emperor of Shenkuu has made an announcement,” he added. “That tiresome rogue, General Qin, has been found dead in Shenkuu. All charges against me have been dropped.”
“Quite the turn of fortune,” Black observed.
“Indeed,” Jennings agreed, putting down the paper.
“Sir,” Black ventured. “There have been some... developments while you were away.”
“Really?” Jennings asked.
Black took a small list out of his pocket.
“Let’s see...” he read. “Mr. Dorchester from Sakhmet has been in touch about a malfunction in the Expellibox; it’s been causing havoc with the reception of Channel 9. Mr. Munroe would like to talk to you on behalf of the Zombie Rights Movement; he feels the going wage for a sewer worker is below average. Kau Kau Farms were torn up pretty bad when the Army marched through; the management would like to talk to you about that. Mr. Twobit has a report for you on some illegal, or rather unlicensed illegal Cheat games going on in the Docklands. Miss Tobik has invited you to a charity ball next week, and Mr. Kanrik of the Wealth Redistribution Front would like to talk to you about an interesting business opportunity. Oh, and as ever, Judge Hog would like to speak with you.”
“Is that all?” Jennings remarked dryly.
He leaned forwards, steepled his fingers and added, “To business.”