Family Reunion: Part Two
Out of courtesy, or perhaps a desire to ensure that he hadn't imagined the entire conversation, Judge Hog escorted Mr. Jennings down through the ruined bowels of the Headquarters.
They made a brief stop at the evidence locker, where the Judge reclaimed something.
"Now that the Sheik's dead, we don't have any need to keep this," he said, handing over a familiar diamond-tipped cane. "It'll certainly look better than that stick you're using at the moment."
He gestured to Jennings's current support – a hastily made walking stick that had previously been part of Mystery Island's jungle. Jennings took the cane gladly – once, he had used it to take enemies off guard with the concealed blade within, but now, he really needed it. His leg had been badly broken on the island, and the shaman who had set it could hardly be considered a medical professional.
"Thank you," Jennings said in reply.
"The last update we got from the Docklands was just after we captured Lady Frostbite in the early hours of this morning," the Judge added. "Johnny Twobit's warehouse – the old meatpacking place, had been burnt to the ground by the Smuggler. If you're thinking of finding him, I wouldn't bother. No one's heard from him since."
"Then it appears that I must locate the Smuggler the old fashioned way." Jennings nodded.
The pair were interrupted by Sergeant Brexis, the Buzz who served as the Judge's second in command, rushing up the stairwell. He gave a surprised and very horrified look to Jennings, but managed to regain his composure when the Judge gave him a stern look.
"We've found her, sir," was his report. "Washed up on the banks of the river. She's alive – but she won't be in any condition for talking for days."
Jennings gave the Judge an inquisitive look.
"You're not the only one who can put two and two together," the Judge remarked. "We figured Brodman was planning some sort of revenge, but with you dead... we assumed the person he was heading for was Saline."
"The agent who helped me remove him from Area 26," Jennings considered.
"She disappeared soon after the breakout," the Judge added. "Even Area 26 didn't know where she was. It seems like Brodman found her."
"I should be very interested to learn when she wakes up," Jennings said.
"If she wakes up," Brexis supplied, before leaving the pair.
With Johnny Twobit, Jennings's Dockland enforcer, gone, the Krawk had lost his most logical lead for finding the Smuggler. Of course, it seemed elementary that the Smuggler would be hiding somewhere in the Little Shenkuu area, so that was Jennings's next port of call.
It was a small community in the Docklands, one Jennings himself had helped create. Filled almost entirely with Shenkuu immigrants, the place was a maze of smells and sounds from the Krawk's youth. Some of the memories they stirred up made him long for his first home once more, while others were tinged with such sadness that Jennings remembered entirely why he had never wanted to return.
The streets were filled with smog, even in the early morning, so there was little visual guide to the traveller entering the area for the first time. Thankfully, Jennings lived the streets of Neopia Central. He knew each one, and he knew exactly where he would find his target.
It was a small alley behind an exotic Petpet store. Jennings knew all too well that illegal Cheat games were run in the shop's back room. It wouldn't be long until one of the Smuggler's goons was tempted to play a hand. All Jennings had to do was sit and wait.
So he sat and waited.
Minutes perhaps turned to hours, but in the smoggy haze, Jennings was not entirely sure. In any case, he was adept at waiting, and a sly smile spread across his face when at last a figure began to emerge through the mist.
Jennings clenched his fist around his cane, preparing to release the blade stored within. But then, the figure coming through the fog solidified, and Jennings almost dropped the cane in shock.
It was a Krawk, grey in colour. Furs and feathers decorated his costume while chalk had been applied to his face to give him a skeletal look. Jennings knew this man – he was a shaman, the same one that had kept him prisoner on Mystery Island.
"How did you find me?" Jennings gasped.
"The spirits can see you, no matter where you run, Ji Qin," was the shaman's reply.
He stopped a few paces from Jennings, smiling pleasantly.
"I escaped," Jennings asserted.
"There is no escape," the shaman told him. "The island spirits are angry, Ji Qin. You had a deal. They brought you back to life, you spend that life on the island. But you ran. And now you have to pay the price."
"You are here to kill me?" Jennings asked.
"The spirits will not take that which they have given," the shaman told him. "But there is a price to be paid, Ji Qin."
"You will see, in time," the shaman laughed. "A terrible price. The island gave you life – it will take from you the next best thing. You will choose it. You will choose what the spirits will take."
"I do not make bargains with spirits," Jennings growled, swiping forwards with his cane.
It passed straight through the shaman, his form dissolving as if it had never really been there. But the noise seemed to alert someone else who had just stumbled out of the Petpet shop. Jennings wheeled round, now on the back foot as the Gelert thug was prepared for his advance.
Still, the cane clicked and fell to the floor, the blade within in Jennings's hand. He leapt forward towards the Gelert, knocking into him. For his part, the Gelert fought back with surprising strength, but Jennings had once been a Shenkuu General – trained in every martial art known to Neopia. It wasn't long before the Gelert was on his back, the blade pointed to his throat.
"This is where you tell me how to find the Smuggler," Jennings instructed.
"I don't think so," the Gelert replied with a smug grin.
His leg shot out, connecting with Jennings's recently broken leg. The pain was instant and crippling, sending Jennings to the floor. The blade, now without the cane to support Jennings, became useless in his hands. The Gelert snatched it off him.
"This is where you die," the Gelert sneered. "I never thought I'd be the one to actually off Mr. Jennings!"
The words "Think again!" came from somewhere in the smog of the alley, and a new shape collided with the Gelert, sending both rolling away from Jennings.
Sounds of a scuffle came, before one final and blunt punch was administered. A moment later, a hand was offered to Jennings. The Krawk gladly took it, having to rest on his new benefactor for support. He smiled as he recognised the face of a green Grarrl.
"Mr. Black!" Jennings declared in the first moment of pure joy he'd had since escaping Mystery Island.
The big brute of a man was Mr. Jennings's personal bodyguard. His most trusted employee, and perhaps his only true friend.
"I went to see Judge Hog as soon as I got back, sir," Black explained. "He pointed me here."
"I underestimated him," Jennings confessed, gesturing to the unconscious Gelert. "You, as ever, have impeccable timing. We should wake him up, I need information as to the whereabouts of the Smuggler."
He recovered his cane from the alley and made to prop up the stricken goon, but paused.
"How did you know I was back in town?" Jennings asked. "Or not dead, for that matter?"
"I didn't, sir," Black replied. "The Judge told me when I saw him."
"Then why ever did you..." Jennings trailed off.
Returned. Black had said returned.
"Where have you been?" he asked.
"Brightvale, sir," Black supplied. "Lord Craven gave me your final instructions soon after your apparent death. I went as soon as I could."
Jennings inhaled sharply. Jennings had left a will of sorts – a final request to Black to protect someone he held very dear. Someone he would die for. Someone, in a way, he had died for once already.
"Thank you," he said. "Thank you for going. It means a lot. She is well?"
"As well as can be expected, sir, considering," Black replied. "But there's something else-"
"Why did you come back?" Jennings asked, his voice suddenly sharp with alarm.
"Because she found out who she is, sir," Black revealed. "Katrine knows she's your daughter."
Jennings was breathless.
"Ah," was all he could muster for a few moments before his voice returned. "Did she take it well?"
"Not especially, no sir," Black admitted. "There's more, sir. She demanded that I bring her back to the city to get some sort of proof, sir... and, well, she was there when the Judge told me you were still alive."
Someone cleared their throat at the mouth of the alley, and a new figure emerged through the morning mists. A speckled Kyrii – one Jennings knew so well, but then again not at all. Katrine, his daughter.
She provided him with a look that shot pure daggers, and when she spoke it was in a voice that was laced with anger, resentment, and the bitter sting of tears.
To be continued...