Stealing Stones: Part One
Mr. Jennings did not want to be there.
As fun as the National Neopian Museum was - which in fairness was not all that fun to start with - there was something about official engagements in the international community that just bored the Krawk.
As the officially unofficial man in charge of Neopia Central, his presence was required. As for the other ambassadors from across the face of Neopia, well... they were mostly there for the trip out and the free buffet.
"Mr. Jennings!" an efficient looking blue Moehog called to him across the large entrance hall of the great marble building. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you!"
Jennings exchanged a slightly nonplussed look with his assistant, the green Grarrl that was Mr. Black, but shook the newcomer's hand regardless.
"I'm the curator of the Museum," the Moehog added. "Fiscal Mode."
"Wonderful to meet you, Mr. Mode," Jennings replied.
"Allow me to show you through, Mr. Jennings," Mode continued, guiding the Krawk across the hall. "Most of the Ambassadors have already arrived, we are going to begin the viewing soon. I must confess, I did not know you were a diamond fan."
"I must confess, neither did I," Jennings remarked.
In truth, he had far more pressing matters to attend to. Or at least he hoped he did. And even if he didn't, he was sure he could create at least a dozen more pressing things to amuse himself rather than be here to see the unveiling of a diamond of all things.
Admittedly, it was supposed to be a very impressive and rare Moltaran diamond, but it was just a rock all the same.
Jennings took a deep breath as they entered the display room, the expertly practiced smile bloomed into life across his face, and he braced himself to meet the ambassadors.
"Mr. Jennings." A red Lenny nodded at him in a disapproving manner.
"Good morning, Ambassador Subhuti," Jennings replied. "A pleasure to see you again. How is Shenkuu at this time of year?"
"Remarkably well," the Lenny replied diplomatically. "If you had ever visited, which of course you haven't, I would say that it is the same as ever."
Neither acknowledged what wasn't being said. Jennings was an assumed name, he was in fact Qin, a disgraced and exiled Shenkuu General. Everyone knew it, but they all acted like they didn't know, giving the impression that it was somehow an exceptionally well kept secret that only they were privy to.
They didn't have time to linger on their memories of the mountains, Jennings was called across the room by the Lost Desert Ambassador, a portly old Yurble in a turban.
"Ambassador Almas." Jennings nodded.
"I'm so glad you could come today, Mr. Jennings!" the Yurble said exuberantly. "I have been asked to convey King Jazan's deepest admiration and respect for your efforts in making the Qasalan Expellibox a worldwide financial success."
"Why, thank you, Ambassador," Jennings replied. "Kind words indeed."
"As a gesture, I have been asked to give you this," Almas added, handing over a small golden casket.
Jennings took it, opening the lid and revealing the length of luxurious fabric within.
"A sample of the King's finest golden Lyins silk," Almas added.
Jennings raised an eyebrow, "I understood that the King's personal weaves only produce a few metres of the fabric per year. This is an exceptionally rare gift, Ambassador."
"And we are exceptionally grateful for your assistance," the Ambassador pressed. "Please enjoy the showing, Mr. Jennings."
The Ambassador excused himself, leaving Jennings alone momentarily before a low cough interrupted him from his thoughts.
"It's nice to see you again," a slender red Gelert said with a smile.
Jennings paused before responding, "I'm sorry, I don't recall being introduced."
Jennings thought he had a fairly good memory for faces, but the elegant Gelert didn't seem to fit with any names Jennings knew in the diplomatic community.
"Lady Celeriac," the Gelert replied, holding out her hand.
"I can't say I recall the name, or the face," Jennings admitted.
The Gelert smiled, but there almost seemed to be a little pain and disappointment behind her eyes, as if she had been expecting a different answer.
"Perhaps it was in a different life," she supplied. "I'm the Meridell Ambassador."
"Really?" Jennings enquired. "Lord Von Stratus normally represents Meridell at these events. Is there a reason he couldn't attend? I do hope he is well."
"Quite well, yes," the Lady informed him. "Or at least as well as ever. I asked him to step aside while I took care of this visit. You know what they say, Mr. Jennings, diamonds are a girl's best friend."
She absentmindedly played with a sparkling diamond hung around her neck as at the front, Fiscal Mode called everyone to attention.
"Ladies and gentleman!" the Moehog called. "It gives me great pleasure to welcome you here today. The National Neopian Museum has long been at the forefront of cultural exhibits, so when the Moltaran government announced that this most magnificent gem would begin a world tour, we of course leapt at the chance to become the first institute to have a showing. Our thanks to Ambassador Basal and the rest of the Moltaran contingent for making this possible."
A small purple Usul who looked quite weary at the proceedings received a warm round of applause.
"Now," Fiscal continued. "Without further ado, I give you what you have all come here to see. The Obsidian Heart!"
He pulled a cover of the stand next to him, revealing a display case. Inside, a diamond the size of a fist lay waiting invitingly. The sun shining through the museum's windows was reflected in the flawless prism of the thing, giving it an almost magical appearance.
Gradually, the ambassadors were marshalled forwards in pairs to have a look. Jennings was somehow paired with Lady Celeriac, who kept smiling at the Krawk disconcertingly, as if she knew him far better than she ought to.
Jennings leaned forwards to examine the gem closer.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Lady Celeriac remarked. "They say that it was found in the very heart of Moltara City's obsidian mines. The glittering white in a sea of dark."
"Yes, they do say that," Jennings frowned, taking an even closer look at the diamond. "I've always had my doubts, of course, given that diamond is chemically different from obsidian. The chances of a diamond just happening to form in the middle of the mine are slim to none."
"You suggest it is a fake?" Lady Celeriac gasped, though Jennings could not tell if it was feigned or genuine.
"I suggest nothing," Jennings replied. "I merely make observations. Unlike yourself, I have little interest in glittering stones."
"Yet you carry one?" she asked, gesturing to the Krawk's cane.
The black stick, which in fact concealed an effective blade, was topped by a diamond.
"Ornamental glass," Jennings answered, honestly not sure if it was truth or a lie.
Jennings gave one last lingering look to the display case. Something about this wasn't right, he was sure. And he had a sneaking suspicion he knew just what was wrong.
"Is something the matter?" Lady Celeriac asked.
"No," Jennings admitted. "Not yet, anyway."
Jennings busied himself with meaningless small talk for as long as he deemed polite, attempting to avoid the mysterious Meridellian Gelert. Something about her brazen confidence unsettled him. He made a note to investigate her further – he had dealings with those who claimed to have station in Meridell before.
When at last the crowds began to thin, Jennings made his exit. He found Mr. Black waiting outside with his carriage.
"Where to, sir?" Black asked.
"We need to find someone expendable, fast," Jennings ordered. "I believe you know who."
Black smiled as Jennings closed the door to the carriage behind him, "Indeed I do, sir."
He climbed atop the carriage and cracked the reins.
Fredrick did not want to be there.
He just couldn't help it. Back where he had started.
The disused flat in the Old Shambles, a derelict area of the Neopia Central Docklands, had once been the closest thing he had to a home. The shadow Ruki had grown up on those streets, an orphan who had to pull himself up to avoid the rougher parts of the area.
There were few people born into the Docklands who didn't somehow end up in a life of crime, and for a time Fredrick Boggins, as he called himself, was proud that he hadn't ended up as a street thug.
He had been a con man.
It was somehow better in his mind. It put him above the rest. It was classy.
But then he'd been confronted with the morality of what he was doing, and attempted to flee the city. A new start in Meridell. That was his plan.
It hadn't worked out.
And now he had gravitated back to this old dump. No money, no food, no nothing. What furniture there was had rotted with the damp, only a few chairs and a closet remained. The mattress, if it could be called that any longer, now sat on the floor with more mould than stuffing.
He couldn't live like this. He shouldn't have to live like this. He was capable of so much more.
But he knew full well that the way to get there was through crime, and that wasn't a place he wanted to visit again. He had reformed. He was a better person now.
Staying inside was depressing him, so he decided it would be best to head into the city centre. Perhaps there would be jobs advertised somewhere, not that anyone was likely to give a job to someone who's past careers all came with assumed names.
As he walked, Fredrick cursed the world under his breath. In response, the world began to rain on him.
Within moments the poor Ruki was drenched, and passing carriages only served to add insult to injury by kicking up puddles of rainwater in his face.
There was a small glimmer of hope as a carriage pulled to a stop next to him. For a moment, he believed someone was about to give him a kindness.
Then he recognised the green Grarrl climbing down from atop the carriage, and he knew even before the door was opened that the Krawk was waiting inside.
The businessman greeted Fredrick with a warm if sinister smile.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Boggins. You have an appointment."
To be continued...