They Think it's All Over: Part Ten
After the Yooyuball teams left the pitch, the crowds gradually made their way down from the stands and joined the steady procession of citizens heading towards the Museum. A few headed home to be with their families, but most decided that they wanted front row seats for the end of the world.
Jennings lingered behind, as did King Altador, sending Jerdana ahead in his place. He waited until they were alone until approaching the Krawk.
“I should have guessed you would resort to cheating,” Altador accused the Krawk. “So very typical of someone like you.”
“Not cheating.” Jennings smiled. “Bending the rules – and leaving no evidence of cheating, should you go looking for it. No hearty congratulations?”
“Your victory was not fairly earned; you deserve no congratulations,” Altador replied.
“Perhaps not,” Jennings agreed. “But it is wins that count, and the Neopia Central team has one. We’ll just have to see how well we do in the Altador Cup.”
“This team will never make it to the Altador Cup,” the King stated.
“That’s a very pessimistic viewpoint, your majesty,” Jennings commented. “You know, it might not be a bomb.”
“That’s not what I mean,” the King replied, a smile forming on his face. “I’ve had the scholars in Altador working overtime since your little announcement, looking for a loophole to stop you getting your way – and they’ve found one, a very simple one at that.”
“And that is...?” Jennings asked.
“You need an invitation,” Altador told him. “Something so simple, but a team cannot play at the Altador Cup without an express written invitation from an official within the city – and you don’t have one. If your little circus turns up at the gates of Altador, you’ll be turned away. I’ll have no smuggling in my city, Jennings.”
Jennings smiled. “The team would never be used for smuggling, your majesty. Assuming it would insults both you and me. The team may possess diplomatic immunity, but the people they would be smuggling to most certainly would not. I don’t doubt you’d have my team followed, and arrest those who they meet. As a consequence, no one would want to do business with them, making the act of smuggling utterly pointless – as a plan, it would only be attempted by an idiot now that you know of it, and I am no idiot. All you have done is deprived a hopeful city from taking part in your little ball game, and what a powerful man you are for doing so. I hope you are very happy with your victory; it may be the last one you get.”
Jennings turned and walked away.
“You don’t want to smuggle into Altador?” the King called after him.
Jennings paused. “Oh, rest assured, if we survive this day, I will find a way into Altador; it just won’t be through the Yooyuball team. No amount of magic wards or policed borders can keep me out; it will only be a matter of time. And if we survive this day, time will be the one commodity we suddenly have rather a lot of.”
Jennings continued his pace, leaving Altador alone in the VIP box.
Jennings was angry, that much he knew. He hadn’t counted on Altador being so petty as to prevent the team entry to the Cup, and he didn’t doubt the legal argument was waterproof. King Altador would never allow such written permission to be given as long as Jennings was in control of Neopia Central, and without the permission they could not compete. There was no way out, no matter how much creative wriggling Jennings attempted.
However, as he neared the Museum with Mr. Black at his side, Jennings found his anger waning slightly. It was the end of the world, after all, and that was no time to hold grudges. If King Altador wanted his victory, let him have it. Altador was about to be blown off the face of the planet along with the rest of them anyway, so what difference did it make?
The comforting thought of never having to see a smug face on King Altador again warmed his heart, and for a moment Jennings even found himself wishing that it was a bomb before he came to his senses.
Jennings pushed his way to the front of the crowd, to a small group of people stood on the steps of the Museum near the pillar. Jerdana was there, along with Mr. Munroe, Judge Hog, and Professor Bungle. The collective staff of the Museum, numbering near a hundred, were stood in the doorway behind the pillar, while thousands of local citizens had formed a somewhat silent vigil in the streets below the Museum.
Jennings joined the small group of important citizens, and was joined by King Altador soon after. Gazing down into the crowd, Jennings saw many familiar faces. The Yooyuball team was there, with Beastbanks and Master Shin. Thaddeus Oldnose, Priscilla Verhiem, Miss Tobik. There was the news crew from Channel 9 News, Johnny Twobit and a selection of his boys, even familiar faces from the city’s taxi service and Area 26. Everyone had come to see it end, as if they all held some self-contradictory belief that the sight of the world ending would be something to tell the grandchildren.
“I want to say something to you,” Jennings heard the voice of Judge Hog whisper.
“Now?” Jennings asked. “If it’s about Mr. Kanrik of the Thieves Guild, then it can wait until after all this... if there is an after.”
“No, it’s not about that,” the Judge replied. “I liked it better when you called it the Wealth Redistribution Front.”
“I shall talk to Mr. Kanrik about changing the name if it means that much to you,” Jennings said, slightly confused.
“No, I don’t mean it like that,” the Judge frowned. “You came back from the past with so much knowledge, and things are so straightforward when I talk to you now. Sometimes, I find myself missing you trying to outwit me. To be frank, I liked it when we lied to each other, Jennings. It doesn’t matter that we both know what the other is up to, the fun is in pretending that we don’t.”
The two stood in silence for a few moments.
“You know, I miss it as well,” Jennings admitted eventually. “If we survive this, I shall make a special effort to lie to you again in the future.”
“Thank you,” the Judge replied.
Jennings checked his pocket watch.
“Professor Bungle, it’s almost time,” he said. “Do we have a countdown?”
The Techo seemed to come out of his own thoughts, or possibly an afternoon nap, and nodded.
“Jenkins! Jenkins! The countdown, if you would!” he called out.
A Blumaroo stood nearby and rushed forwards to a small device that had been installed on the Museum steps. He applied some small magic to it, and a moment later a countdown appeared in shining gold letters, hanging in the air above the Museum entrance.
The gathered crowds didn’t join in with the silent numbers; there was nothing to celebrate when the end of the count could mean the end of everything. Instead, they quietly awaited the end. Mothers cried into their children’s arms, friends held hands, and all around the Museum, Neopians whispered their goodbyes to one another.
As the countdown passed one, Jennings watched as the crowd tensed, expecting an explosion. In front of them, the golden numbers reached zero and the final segment of the pillar clicked into place. Brilliant shining white light coursed along the edges of the pillar as it sent a beam of light high into the sky, blinding all those present. Through the light, Jennings heard the pillar crumble as whatever was held inside was released.
Finally, the light subsided, and silence filled the square in front of the Museum once more. The pillar had crumbled, but nothing appeared to have been released – there certainly hadn’t been an explosion. In the crowd, Neopians checked their limbs to confirm they were still alive. Gradually, a great cheer of joy spread throughout the crowd.
Rather sheepishly, given that he had originally been the one to predict the explosion, Professor Bungle stepped forwards to the rubble of the pillar. He began to root around in the wreckage until he came across a scroll of paper, which he read silently to himself. Around him, the joy of the crowd gradually quietened as people once more focused on the Museum.
“Mr. Jennings?” Bungle said eventually. “I think you should read this.”
Jennings stepped forwards, a sense of dread growing in the pit of his stomach. It hadn’t been a bomb, but what grave predictions had the ancient gypsies of Neopia Central seen fit to hide within the pillar?
Bungle wordlessly handed Jennings the paper before stepping back. The Krawk took a few moments to read it himself, before a thin smile spread across his face. It was a smile only Mr. Black and Judge Hog recognised, the smile of a devious, and perhaps unexpected victory. Both saw the quick glance towards King Altador before Jennings started speaking.
“Not an hour ago, I spoke with King Altador following the Neopia Central Yooyuball team’s first victory,” Jennings announced to the crowd. “He informed me that due to a clause in Altadorian law, a team cannot participate in the Altador Cup unless they are invited – and that he would be declining to invite the Neopia Central team, effectively banning them from competing.”
King Altador moved uncomfortably.
“The gypsies of ancient Neopia Central were skilled fortune tellers,” Jennings continued. “It seems they were more skilled than anyone has previously thought, as they appear to have foreseen exactly this situation. What I hold in my hands, ladies and gentlemen, is an invitation to take part in the last Altador Cup that was held before the Darkest Faerie’s betrayal, and the city’s one thousand year sleep. It is a signed invitation, by King Altador himself, though clearly he has forgotten he made it – as it is addressed to the people of Neopia City, the city that became Neopia Central.”
Jennings gave another, more significant glance towards King Altador, making sure he understood that the Lupe had lost – and the Krawk had won.
“This document will allow Neopia Central to participate in any Altador Cup it wishes to,” Jennings added. “People of the city, the world has not ended, and now we can look forward to a bright new future as we take our place beside other nations in Altador. We woke this morning believing that this may be our last day, but we can sleep tonight knowing that in fact, it is one of our most glorious!”
Cheers rose up again from the crowd, focused around the Yooyuball team stood in their midst. King Altador meanwhile stormed down the steps to the Museum, Jerdana following in his wake.
Judge Hog approached Jennings. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you planned it that way.”
“Thank goodness you know better.” Jennings smiled. “I can assure you, faking a one thousand year old document, and placing it in a similarly faked artefact that is immune to the collective efforts of all the planet’s magic users is slightly beyond even my talents.”
“Now that we’re lying to each other again, I’m not sure if that’s the truth or not,” the Judge replied.
“If I had planned it out,” Jennings added. “I’m sure that trying to work out the solution should take you quite a long time.”
“So you did plan it?” the Judge asked.
Jennings chuckled to himself, but didn’t give the Judge a reply. He walked off to join Mr. Black. Together, they melted into the crowd.
Jennings wore a smile on his face, genuine, rather than the plastic one he often used. A future he thought had been stolen from him had been returned, and everything seemed so much brighter than it had done only a few hours earlier. Jennings felt the thrill of an emotion he had deemed trivial decades ago – hope.
He made his way back to his tower in the Docklands, confident that his future was entirely of his making now.
And the new day was a great big bowl of tentacle rice.