Tales from Neopia Central: Part Twelve
The Butler Does It – The Assistant's Tale
Neopia Central had changed a lot – and far too quickly for Mr. Black.
Perhaps out of everyone, Black felt the effects of Mr. Jennings's death the most. He had been his assistant since Jennings had first come to the city – spending every waking moment with him.
And perhaps more importantly, it had been Black's fault that he had died. He had found the evidence that had allowed his early release from prison. It was that which had caused him to be caught in the flood that drowned him.
Black felt such horrible guilt. When he was called to a secluded house in the Old Quarter soon after Jennings's death, he was hardly in an optimistic mood.
The green Grarrl knocked on the door, but found it open. Calling inside, he entered.
He found himself in a study, a roaring fire in one corner lighting the room's sole occupant, sat behind a desk in the corner.
"Do come in, Mr. Black," the white Korbat instructed him.
Black could not help but notice the two fangs protruding from his mouth.
"Lord Craven?" Black asked.
"One and the same." The Korbat nodded.
"I can't help but notice..."
"That I am a vampire." Craven nodded. "It is best to get this out of the way, I assure you. What gave it away? The blackened windows? The pale skin? Or perhaps, aha, the fangs?"
"I was under the impression I was coming to meet Mr. Jennings's lawyer," Black said.
"And you are," Craven stated. "After that business with Jonathan Entwhistle, Jennings decided to stick with a more typical lawyer – who better than a bloodsucking monster? Aha.
"Do not worry," Craven added. "I try not to bite clients, aha. I was not always a vampire – but my first client was a certain Count on Roo Island. You know the one? I was certainly never the same again, aha. But that was a very long time ago, a few centuries at least."
"Why did you call me here?" Black asked.
"Please, take a seat," Craven instructed. "You are here, Mr. Black, for the reading of the will."
"Yes," Craven explained. "He gave very strict instructions. In the event of his death, you and only you are to be called here. I sent the message as soon as I heard."
"Alright then," Black agreed, taking a seat.
Craven unfolded a piece of paper on his desk.
"The following is the last will and testament of Mr. Jennings, formerly General Ji Qin of Shenkuu," Craven read. "This is not a typical will, in that no properties have been left to anyone – I am working under the assumption that my death will result in a state of affairs which will make most if not all of them worthless. This is instead a means of me issuing one last order, or, as I would prefer, one last favour."
Craven gave a brief glance to Black before continuing, "Mr. Black, I would request that you travel to the home of one Rodrigo de Martinez de la Piansa, the Marquis del Fuego – I believe he is currently in residence within Brightvale. He has in his employ a maid, who goes by the name of Katrine. I would ask that you protect her from harm. She is very important. I have arranged with Lord Craven for funds to be made available to you as payment. You do not have to do this for me, as my death has rescinded any contract you were under. But I ask this of you as a friend, perhaps the only one I possess. The only man I would trust with this most valuable treasure. Whatever you choose, good luck, and know that you have been a very valuable employee."
Craven folded the letter up.
"Katrine?" Black questioned. "That maid he died protecting? Who is she?"
"Alas, Mr. Jennings did not provide more details, only the letter," Craven answered. "If you wish to know her identity, there is only one way to find out – talk to her yourself."
The Furanga Marches, the area of Brightvale where the Marquis del Fuego made his home, were beautiful at that time of year. The Furanga Fruits from which the area got its name were in bloom, and there was a sweet scent in the air.
But Katrine could not enjoy it on that day – the speckled Kyrii had been called to see the master.
The Marquis, a green Lupe, had company. A green Grarrl in a black suit.
"Ah, Katrine," the Marquis welcomed her. "This here is Mr. Black, he was Mr. Jennings's assistant. You remember Mr. Jennings, do you not?"
"I'm dreadfully sorry for your loss, sir." Katrine curtsied to Black. "He saved my life, I can never forget his kindness. What did you want of me, sir?"
"That's the thing, Katrine," the Marquis explained. "Mr. Black has been sent here on the final orders of Mr. Jennings. He has been instructed to keep you safe."
"Me?" Katrine asked. "Whatever danger am I in, sirs?"
"We don't know," Black answered. "But I need to ask you a few questions. We're all wracking our brains as to how exactly you two knew each other."
"We did not," Katrine answered. "I had never met the man before the night of his death, and even then we barely spoke two words to each other."
"Did you perhaps ever know a man named General Ji Qin?" Black asked.
"Not to my knowledge, a knight in the Meridell army, perhaps?"
"From Shenkuu," the Marquis answered. "I should not expect her to though, I have not visited Shenkuu since Katrine joined my staff... why, her mother was my maid the last time I visited the Empire, when I was but a teenager."
"I didn't leave Brightvale once before I joined the Marquis," Katrine added. "I'm sorry I could not be of more help, sir."
"It is a puzzle," the Marquis admitted. "How was it that he described Katrine?"
"Very important," Black answered.
"I am only a maid, sir," Katrine replied. "There is nothing special about me."
"Well, perhaps you two will be able to figure this out together," the Marquis announced. "I am to go to Meridell, to attend a party thrown by Lady Celeriac. Felenze will be driving me, of course, but I don't imagine the rest of the staff shall be needed. You will have some time to play detectives."
"Sir, thank you, but I really don't think-"
"Nonsense," the Marquis cut across her. "If there is even a chance that you may be in danger, we must discover how and why. I wish you good luck in your endeavour."
Katrine's room was modest. Certainly small by Brightvale standards, it could be considered the size of a house in some parts of the Neopia Central Docklands.
"If not you, then perhaps your mother?" Black questioned as Katrine busied at her mirror.
"Dead, sir," Katrine answered. "The Bogshot Plague."
"Sorry to hear that," Black answered.
"Don't be," Katrine said. "It was a long time ago, and she had a happy life, working for the Marquis. She got to travel the world, just as I will."
"Father?" Black asked.
"Never met him, sir," Katrine said with a little bitterness. "My mother spoke only goodness about him, but he abandoned her with nothing before I was even born."
Katrine paused. "Well, I say nothing. He gave her one thing."
She rifled through her draws until she found what she was looking for buried in the depths. It was clearly not something she cared to look at often. She threw it onto the bed so that Black could see.
It was a locket, pink in colour with a silver symbol atop it. It almost looked like a letter from the Shenkuu language, but it was somehow different.
"I took it to a local scholar soon after my mother's death," Katrine explained. "Seems it's not a Shenkuu character or a house symbol. A pretty trinket, but hardly makes up for the lack of a father. I would have sold it if my mother hadn't been so attached to it."
Black was staring in amazement at it. "I know the symbol."
"You do?" Katrine gasped.
"The reason that the scholar did not know it is because between the time your mother was given it and the time of her death, the house this symbol belongs to was purged from the records," Black explained. "That is Shenkuu tradition when a member of a family is banished from the Empire."
"This amulet..." Black added. "It bears the mark of the Qin family."
"Qin?" Katrine asked. "As in Ji Qin? The man you mentioned?"
"Ji Qin was the name Mr. Jennings used in Shenkuu," Black answered. "He is the only son of the family... this means only one thing."
"And what is that?" Katrine asked.
"You are Mr. Jennings's daughter."
The green Krawk stood on the edge of the Meridell Road. From here he could overlook much of Neopia Central. He'd decided to dock at Kiko Lake rather than in the city – it had seemed safer, and he was glad he had.
From here he could see the devastation. The fires burning around the city. The large fire that used to be Jennings tower. The green fire that used to be the Twelve Ways. The ice floe that now covered much of the docks – seemingly a battle with the Defenders still happening there from the multi-coloured blobs he could see flying about in the distance.
Neopia Central was in ruins. It had changed so much – and far too fast.
But none of that mattered – not any more. What had broken could be fixed, this much he was sure of.
The green Krawk straightened out his new suit, purchased from Kiko Lake that evening.
None of it mattered for one simple reason.
Mr. Jennings was alive.