Family Reunion: Part Three
Mr. Jennings had faced many foes in his time. He had fought back the vicious enemies of the Empire, putting down resistance after resistance. He had challenged criminal titans like Seth Vargo, Alfonso Might, Floretta Cambridge, and Area 26. He had even toppled the likes of Sheik Al-Balim. He had fought them all and not wasted a moment on trifling little emotions like fear.
But now, faced with the little Kyrii maid from Brightvale, fear was an emotion that seemed to have claimed his entire soul. He stood, facing her in the misty morning smog of a Little Shenkuu alleyway, speechless.
"Not even anything to say, after all these years?" she broke the silence. "Over two decades of my life to catch up on, and not even an apology?"
"I am glad to see you are well." The Krawk's pleasantries took over on autopilot.
He saw the waves of rage wash over her face. She wanted to shout. She wanted to scream – he could tell. But she wouldn't. She swallowed the anger, bottling it all up inside. She would keep it there, seething and boiling. Jennings knew, he'd done the same to his father so many years ago.
"You can't be here," Jennings said at last, his tactical mind returning to him at last.
"You're going to send me away again!?" Katrine shouted.
"No," Jennings answered. "Well, yes. Entirely so. But I will explain everything, Katrine, I promise."
He turned to Mr. Black.
"Take her to the Neolodge," he instructed. "Charge it to my account. If they tell you it has been closed, inform them otherwise."
"You're getting rid of me!?" Katrine pressed.
"I will be there soon," Jennings supplied. "But as you can see, this is hardly a time or place to break out the photo album. This place is dangerous, Katrine. You cannot be here. By all accounts, neither can I at the moment. This man will wake up soon and when he does you cannot be here."
"You have hated a father you never knew all your life, Katrine," Jennings added. "A few more minutes will hardly make that pain any deeper. Please, for your own protection."
The Kyrii eventually consented, and Black escorted her from the alleyway. Jennings knew he would have to be quick – the Gelert would soon be missed by those he worked for, and they would come looking. Binding the Gelert's arms and legs together with some rope he had brought along for the task, he slapped him roughly across the snout to wake him. The goon struggled at first, but soon realised it was pointless.
"The location of the Smuggler, now," Jennings demanded.
"I will tell you nothing," the Gelert spat back.
"You know who I am," Jennings told him. "You know who I used to be. Understand that today I am not a patient man. You will tell me, or you will die."
"Then kill me," the Gelert said, closing his eyes.
"By all means," Jennings said with an unpleasant smile.
The blade was drawn, and Jennings brought it across in a wide sweep that deliberately ended just next to the Gelert's throat. The words were already out of his mouth before Jennings stopped.
"Wait!" he begged. "I'll tell you, for all the good it will do you. He's as good as dead already."
"What do you mean?" Jennings asked.
"You'll see," the Gelert answered. "He's in a compound on Baker Street."
"Thank you," Jennings said, lifting his sword again.
"You're going to kill me?" the Gelert asked. "Of course, afraid I will tell him you are coming if you let me live."
"I won't kill you, not today," Jennings said. "I'll have killed the Smuggler before you wake up."
The blade was put back into the cane, which came down hard on the Gelert's head. He slumped forwards.
The Smuggler was important, Jennings knew it. But some things were more important. Katrine was back in the city, and if nothing else it was dangerous for her to be around. If things did not go according to plan with the Smuggler, she would be put in the line of fire. Jennings couldn't allow that to happen. He had sacrificed so much to keep her safe, too much in a way.
Besides, it was still mid morning. If Jennings was quick, he could get Katrine out of the city and deal with the Smuggler by lunchtime.
He found her in the Neolodge, as instructed. She was sitting on the bed, looking every bit as angry as the moment she had left him.
"I take it Mr. Black has explained to you who I am, or rather was, before becoming Mr. Jennings?" he asked.
Black wordlessly nodded from the corner, while Katrine produced a small pink locket with a silver Shenkuu symbol on it.
"Mum gave it to me when she died," she explained. "Mr. Black says it is the house symbol for the Qin family."
Jennings smiled, "It belonged to my mother originally. She... died when I was still young. My father had little love for trinkets... or families, as it transpired, so I took it. Soon after that I joined the Imperial Army. I was rising through the ranks when I met your mother. She was the Marquis del Fuego's maid, he was doing his first tour of Shenkuu as a young man. She was... quite beautiful, your mother. I gave her the locket as a mark of my admiration."
"You knew about me?" Katrine asked.
"Of course," Jennings admitted. "She sent me a letter telling me of your arrival soon after she returned to Brightvale."
"But you cut her off," Katrine added bitterly.
"She told you that?" Jennings asked with a hint of shock.
"Of course not, she would never say a word about you," Katrine answered.
Jennings gave a little smile.
"Your mother understood," he told her. "The Imperial Army is a job you do for life. You do not retire. Families are strictly forbidden. They are seen as a weakness, something enemies will exploit against the Empire. As a high ranking member of the military, I had many enemies, both foreign and domestic. If they had known you had existed, they would have killed you to get to me. I... 'cut you off', as you say, to protect you."
"How very noble," Katrine snorted. "You were exiled, weren't you? Why didn't you come and see me then?"
"I thought about it," Jennings admitted. "But as an exile, I had even more enemies. This city... everything is so compacted. In Shenkuu, people who would gladly kill me lived outside of the Imperial City. Here, some lived next door. In many ways, you would have been in more danger."
"So you deprived me of a father to protect me?" Katrine asked sceptically. "Why couldn't you at least come and see me once? Even if it wasn't publicly known, at least I could know!"
"I couldn't take the risk," Jennings told her. "You are the most important thing in my life, Katrine. I would never play games of chance with your fate. I have worked very hard to keep you secret – even Area 26 has no record of our relation. I know, I've searched their archives for the files myself."
"Don't think for a moment that makes it okay," she shot back.
"I don't," Jennings replied. "I've lived without a real father, Katrine. I know how much it hurts. But I can live with your hate, provided you are kept alive."
There was a brief pause before he added, "Which is why I have to ask you to leave again."
"This city is not safe," Jennings told her. "The last time you were here, I all but died. All of this, the riots, the explosions, the sheer chaos is the result of that. I cannot allow you to be put in any more danger. You must return to Brightvale. The Marquis can protect you. I can only endanger you."
"I don't care about protection! I care about getting to know my father!"
"What do you need to know?" Jennings asked, somewhat bitterly. "I am a bad man who only got worse. There's nothing more to it. Nothing else to say. Now, you must leave."
"I won't," Katrine supplied firmly.
"It wasn't a request," Jennings told her. "You will go, or Mr. Black will take you. It is your choice."
Mr. Black nodded stoically from the corner.
"You are a horrible, horrible man," Katrine snapped. "I'm glad I never knew you – I might have turned out just the same!"
Jennings gave a sad little smile, and turned to leave. He smiled not because of any pain the comment caused, although it did, but because it was the same sentiment he had shown for his father before leaving home. History seemed to be repeating itself, and not at all in a pleasant way – he appeared to be becoming the person he had once hated so deeply.
Brodman tightened the fabric wrapped around his wrist, slowing the bleeding. It would clot in time, and the wound would heal.
All in all, the Smuggler had not been too difficult. Heavily protected, of course, but he had been foolish. They certainly hadn't been expecting someone as maddened as Brodman to attack.
The poison vial tinkled to the roof tiles below him as he settled down to watch. He'd had to flee the scene quickly after attacking the compound on Baker Street. It had taken him several hours to circle back into position outside the inconspicuous front door that led to the warehouse the Smuggler, for the next few hours anyway, was calling home.
Now Brodman only had to wait. The Smuggler was dying, and Brodman had made sure he knew that much before fleeing. If he was dying, he would reach out. He would seek out the one thing he needed more than any other – if Mr. Jennings was still alive, the Smuggler would find him in his final hours.
Brodman only had to wait.
To be continued...