Tales from Neopia Central: Part Four
From Meridell with Love – The Foreigner's Tale
Neopia Central had changed – far too quickly for Lady Celeriac's liking.
Of course, she wasn't there – she lived in Meridell and was exceptionally happy where she was. But she heard the news, and she knew things were going downhill.
Mr. Jennings was dead. Although Lady Celeriac dared to hope, dared to dream, that he would yet turn up alive. After all, she liked to think of herself as an optimist in a world of pessimists.
She was like Jennings, in a way – to put it in its basest description, she was a criminal. A master criminal. Just like Jennings masterminded society in Neopia Central, Lady Celeriac did so in Meridell. Only she was far more discreet about it. King Skarl did like to pretend that he ran the place, after all.
She wasn't just a simple noble, either. She had spent time in her youth as a thief, assassin, and mercenary, learning every trick of every trade. She'd even briefly duelled with the young Mr. Jennings when he had been serving in the Shenkuu Imperial Army, and had somehow managed to survive.
After meeting him again, Jennings and Celeriac had become firm friends over the past few months, and she had even been present at his supposed death. Now, she felt a profound sense of emptiness and loneliness in her large country mansion. She felt like she had been robbed of a kindred spirit – and because Jennings had merely been washed out to sea, she also lacked a definable target for her hatred. Of course, in theory Sheikh Al-Balim had ordered the explosion that caused the deluge, but he wasn't directly responsible. Jennings had died because he hadn't moved quick enough – he'd stopped to save a young girl's life. And so, without a clear target, all that rage had been turned inwards.
Celeriac was alone and embittered. Not a position she was fond of. Her staff knew all too well to leave her alone when she was in such a mood, so her butler Carson was a rare sight when he entered her study to deliver a letter.
She read it in silence, before biting her lip in an odd, sad way.
"Ma'am?" Carson asked.
"It appears that several residents of the Hills district in Neopia Central are... less than impressed at the turn events are taking," Celeriac explained. "They are seeking an escape."
She mulled this over. "It is the least I can do, I suppose. Carson, instruct that the guest rooms are to be made ready."
"Which ones, ma'am?" Carson asked.
"All of them."
Lowchester Manor was readied for its new occupants. The building had many dozens of guests rooms, so everyone would fit, and Lady Celeriac felt oddly relieved at the prospect of so much company. The threat of conversation about something meaningless like how colourful a particular flower in the garden was or how sublime the taste of the cook's crumpets were loomed around every corner. Celeriac hoped against hope that such encounters would help take her mind of Jennings.
If nothing else, she hoped it would help her new arrivals take their mind off the horrors that were going on in the place they had just left.
She was waiting on the steps of the mansion when the line of carriages came into view. There were such a lot of them, she had to admit more than she thought there would be. It was as if they were refugees from a distant war... which, in a way, they were. Celeriac's messengers travelled faster than most carriages – she had already heard of the looting on the city streets and the threat of the Thieves Guild pulling out of the city entirely.
But she pushed those thoughts from her mind and placed a false smile upon her face. It was time to be a hostess, not a general.
The first carriage came to a stop and out stepped Miss Tobik, dressed in her finest peacock blue gown.
"Miss Tobik!" Celeriac greeted her. "I am excessively glad to see you well. I wish you were here under better circumstances, truly I do."
"Lady Celeriac!" Tobik nearly shrieked with joy. "This building is simply breathtaking!"
"You must have the tour, of course," Celeriac answered. "Is Mr. Munroe not with you?"
"He elected to stay," Tobik answered sadly. "To fight the good fight, as they say."
Celeriac gave a comforting hand to Tobik's shoulder. "I hope there shall be no fighting involved. Do go inside, my staff will get you settled."
Tobik nodded and disappeared inside.
"Viscount Hatterly!" Celeriac greeted her new guest. "It has been decidedly too long! And Mr. Worthington-Smythe-Foxley, as well. Is your wife not with you?"
The blue Nimmo greeted her. "Thankfully, she was holidaying on Terror Mountain with her sister when this whole thing transpired. I have instructed her to stay there until further notice."
Celeriac nodded as the two entered the building.
"Mr. Claremont!" Celeriac greeted the royal Eyrie who stood before her. "I have instructed my gardener, Neville, to begin work on a Yooyuball pitch in the grounds, and I hope it shall be finished presently, if you should like to practice your throw during your stay. There is a cricket pitch already, should you wish."
"Thank you, Lady Cambridge!" he replied. "I must say, Mother wrote to me from Altador, saying that I should stay away from Meridell, after all that business with rotten Lord Hensley, and Lady Cambridge that followed... even though she wasn't precisely from Meridell, as I pointed out to her. In any case, I am overjoyed at the welcome, and shall write to Mother at once to correct her thinking."
"I would be most pleased if you did." Celeriac smiled.
The procession carried on – the wealthy of Neopia Central slowly disappearing inside Celeriac's home. Walter Lavender, Henry Gilt, Martin Childer, Priscilla Verhiem – it seemed like practically everyone had fled, leaving the city to the poor.
When at last the final guest had been welcomed and their carriage parked, Celeriac retired back into her home. It was now buzzing with activity, and as Celeriac hoped, she found that the mental calculations that followed with having so many social circles under one roof were quite distracting. There would be a formal gathering that evening, and Celeriac had deliberately invited some of the local gentry in the hopes the two would be able to mingle successfully.
It was not a sombre occasion, the ball, but it was hardly the quality of party that Celeriac was used to hosting. Something just seemed to be missing. It was made even worse when she was handed a letter that had just arrived by courier – an update about the situation in Neopia Central.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" Celeriac felt obliged to announce. "It is my sorry duty to inform you of the recent developments in Neopia Central since you all left. There has been a large scale breakout from the Defenders of Neopia Headquarters, and I understand they are fighting running battles with super criminals across the city as I speak. If I could propose a toast to the fine work of the Defenders, ladies and gentlemen. I'm sure we all wish them luck."
She raised her glass. "To the Defenders."
Her sentiments were echoed by the other occupants of the room.
Celeriac returned to her conversation with the green Lupe stood next to her – an old friend from Brightvale, the Marquis del Fuego, Rodrigo de Martinez de la Piansa. He had the dubious honour of also being present at the moment of Jennings's death.
"So anyway, as I was saying," Rodrigo continued. "It was a curious thing, he just turned up on the doorstep one day, claiming Jennings had sent him as a last request."
The mention of the name alerted Celeriac to the fact that she should have been paying more attention to the conversation at hand.
"Who did?" she asked.
"Mr. Black," Rodrigo answered. "Harvey Black. I understand he was Jennings's assistant, if people in your line of work can be said to have such things."
"Mr. Black..." Celeriac considered. "I have received news of a great many things from Neopia Central, but not of him. It was like he had just fallen off the planet – that explains it, he's been in Brightvale. But what was the favour?"
"But that's the strangest thing," Rodrigo revealed. "He was sent to protect Katrine, my maid."
"The one Jennings died trying to save," Celeriac said. "But who is she?"
"A fabulous maid, of course," Rodrigo answered. "But hardly anyone of consequence to a man like Mr. Jennings. This Mr. Black, he has been acting like a bodyguard of sorts to Katrine, she is... quite annoyed at him. Neither can figure out a connection, she did not meet Jennings until the day he died, nor has she ever been to Shenkuu."
"Has she come with you?" Celeriac asked.
"No, no," Rodrigo told her. "I thought that perhaps, you would not have enough room, what with all your current guests. She and Black have remained in Brightvale."
Celeriac was full of questions, as she had always been suspicious of the way Jennings had sacrificed himself for a perfect stranger, but she did not have time to ask any – for at that moment another courier arrived, and she was handed another message.
"What is it?" Rodrigo asked, seeing she had turned quite pale.
"It appears the previous message was delayed in transit somewhat," Celeriac replied weakly. "This is a more up to date picture of the situation in Neopia Central."
She turned to the room at large again.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" she called out again. "If I could have your attention once more, please. I have just received another urgent communiqué from Neopia Central. The situation has progressed – the Defenders are entirely focused on recapturing super criminals – as a result, and armed mob of locals is terrorising your former homes, and the Defenders are powerless to stop them."
There were several gasps from people who had been foolish enough to leave behind possessions.
"There is more," Celeriac added. "The roads in and out of the city are blocked to prevent criminals escaping, and as a result everyone is trapped inside. Apparently as the result of a gang war... the Jennings tower in the Docklands was set alight. All this happened perhaps an hour before this message was sent – but most recently, a large magical explosion has rocked the city in the vicinity of the Twelve Ways. At the time of writing, it is unknown what the cause is, or how many casualties there are. Ladies and gentlemen, I ask for a moment's silence – for this is surely Neopia Central's darkest hour."
She need not have asked. The silence was gladly given.
The two island Neopets watched on as the shaman continued to work his magic, blowing strange dusts into the fire and chanting in languages they dare not listen to.
The shaman took his staff, tipped by a Petpet skull, and plunged it into the heart of the fire, causing it to blaze in all the colours of the rainbow and a few more besides. Aden stared into the heart of the fire as the shaman's chant became louder. It was beautiful, and horrible – the image burning itself onto his retinas.
Gradually, the rainbow fire began to wrap itself around the shaman's staff, coursing up and down its length but apparently doing no harm to the wielder. Then the shaman turned, slicing the staff through the air with the final words of his chant. The fire surged forth from the staff, encountering the body of the green Krawk and disappearing into his open mouth.
The darkness of the hut was silent for a moment, until the burning torches outside managed to pierce the magical gloom with their light.
On the floor, the Krawk sat bolt upright and screamed as he returned to life.
To be continued...