Family Reunion: Part Four
Jennings was not in a position he was used to. His leg was still hurting from the injury the Shenkuu goon had given it. In previous years, he didn't doubt that he would have leapt back almost instantly – but now he was faced with a startling truth that he would rather not have acknowledged. He was getting old.
The ripe old age of fifty was looming perilously close on the horizon to him, and he had begun to consider that the limp in his leg would be with him from now on. The days of aerial acrobatics were gone. The once invulnerable General was now mortal once again.
This, without a doubt, would make storming the Smuggler's compound quite difficult. Normally he would have dispatched Mr. Black to do the deed, but Katrine was far too important. Black would need to protect her.
Baker Street was a small place in Little Shenkuu. There were fishmongers nearby in the port, and the compound that Jennings found himself heading to had once been a warehouse for the local fishermen's haul. Now the two burly Neopets who stood outside hinted at a different use, and Jennings didn't doubt that more lurked within. A further three Neopets, less obvious in their appearance, were lurking in the shadows of the building's rooftop to deter any attempts to gain entry in an unconventional manner. Certainly, with the limp, Jennings had little chance of disposing with all three before at least one had fired a lucky crossbow bolt.
But thankfully Jennings possessed an agile mind, if no longer an agile body. He knew this city, like the back of his hand. Even if all of the obvious routes in were covered, Jennings knew there would be another.
Sewers. They were often overlooked.
Very quietly the Krawk let himself into the sewer system a few streets away, and began to retrace his steps. It was difficult in the near darkness, and his limp caused him to slip in the muck more than once. Slow progress, but progress all the same.
When Jennings reached where he thought the warehouse was, he smiled. As suspected, the sewer system veered off and passed straight under the building. In the old days, the fish stored in the warehouse must have drained off directly into the sewers. Jennings located a suitable ladder, and began to climb upwards.
A sorry sight greeted him as he emerged into the warehouse. It appeared to be a separate cold storage unit, and a familiar face was chained up in front of him.
The red Kougra was Johnny Twobit – Jennings's appointed man to run the Docklands. It appeared that the Smuggler had captured him in the riots of the previous night. He had been badly beaten, but Jennings found with some relief that he still had a pulse, weak though it may have been.
Jennings made a mental note to come back for the man when all of this was over. Johnny had been a useful tool in the past, one that shouldn't be allowed to die in such a manner. But there was no time to save him now – the Smuggler had to be taken care of.
Carefully, Jennings prized open the door to the storage cell, hoping it wouldn't make a noise. He stopped once it was open a sliver, and he could see the room beyond. It was the warehouse proper, and he could see a stooped figure, his back to Jennings. One of the guards was kneeling in front of him.
"I'm sorry, master," the guard was staying. "We have found no mention of him. He must be dead, as we feared."
"Try harder," came a rasp.
A familiar voice. Jennings placed it somewhere in Shenkuu, but he was sure he hadn't heard it in years. And it seemed distorted somehow... weaker than he remembered.
The guard nodded, backing away, and Jennings saw his chance. He squeezed through the gap and readied his blade. Carefully, he began to stalk closer to his prey, ignoring the pain shooting through his leg.
When Jennings was only a few moments away, the figure spoke.
"I knew you weren't dead," he said. "Or at least, I hoped."
Such a familiar voice. The image of a spotted Lupe flashed across Jennings's mind with a wash of anger.
The figure turned, and the Krawk's heart almost leapt out of his mouth.
A spotted Lupe stood before him. Stooping and wrinkled with age, he was a world away from the fierce man he had known over thirty years ago, but it was undoubtedly the same one.
The sword clattered to the floor without Jennings even realising as a single question escaped his lips.
The old Lupe smiled.
"You have no idea how good it feels to hear that word again, Ji," he answered.
"What are you doing here?" Jennings demanded.
"Come now, Ji," the Lupe gave Jennings a weary look. "I may not have taught you much in my life, but I at least taught you to be smarter than this. It is obvious why I am here."
Jennings gasped, "You are the Smuggler!?"
"Mitsuyu Qin, the most successful criminal the Empire has ever known," the Lupe confessed. "Come now, you never wondered why I was always away from home in your youth?"
"You were a businessman," Jennings insisted.
"Yes," Mitsuyu agreed. "In the business of crime."
"You... all this time!" Jennings shouted. "Did Mother know!?"
A dozen guards had burst into the room at the sound of the raised voice. Mitsuyu raised a hand, causing them to stop in their rush and return to their posts without a word.
"Not at first," the old Lupe told him. "But I was careless in those early years. I left documents in the house that your mother found. After that, things were never the same. Eventually, she was driven to..."
Neither said what came next. It was a matter of too much pain for either of them.
"It is good to see you again, Ji," his father smiled.
"Ji Qin is dead," Jennings answered bitterly.
"Yes, so I heard," Mitsuyu commented. "By the Emperor's decree."
"No," Jennings corrected him. "Ji Qin died the moment I left home. You killed him. I swore I was never going to see you again, and it is a promise I intended to keep to myself. You are despicable."
"Come now, don't tell me you have developed morals?" Mitsuyu laughed. "You are a criminal, just like me, Ji. We have both done terrible things – we are both monsters, in our own ways."
"I am nothing like you," Jennings spat, though he knew, deep down, that the pair were mirror images of each other. "I would never put my criminality above my..."
...family. But the bitter sting in Jennings's heart confirmed the worst fate of all – he had become his father. He had cast his family aside to protect his illegal practices. His father was a monster, there was no denying that, but Jennings now felt that he was far worse. He had seen the path as a child, yet quite by accident had followed him on the path to ruin.
"Why are you here?" Jennings demanded quietly.
"I thought you were dead," Mitsuyu confessed. "You may have no love for me, Ji, but I still love you. I thought this city took you from me – I intended to even the score by destroying it."
"Well rumours of my death are greatly exaggerated," Jennings told him. "You may leave. The first boat, if you would. I have no desire to catch up."
"Ji, please," his father begged. "There is so much to say, and so little time."
The Lupe gave a strained cough, and it was then that Jennings noticed that his father was unnaturally pale, even for his age.
"Is something the matter with you?" Jennings asked.
"I do not have much time left," Mitsuyu revealed, locating a nearby box and sitting down on it. "Some of my enemies from the Empire found me this morning. It appears I have not been taking as many precautions as usual. Blinded by my desire to see your memory righted, I suppose. I have been poisoned, Ji. It was a fatal dose of a rare virus developed on the Space Station, so my physicians tell me. I... will not survive the day."
"The Space Station?" Jennings asked. "The name of the poison, you know it?"
"Eplin-4993, so they say," Mitsuyu answered. "Does it mean something to you?"
It did. Jennings hadn't only been studying the names of the escapees in Judge Hog's office. He had also been studying the list of things that Brodman had stolen from the evidence locker. The poisons he had used to attack his fellow inmates during the escape. Eplin-4993 was among them – a rare virus, not contagious, and rarely used outside Dr. Sloth's inner circle.
"The man who attacked you – a blue Blumaroo?" Jennings asked.
"Yes..." Mitsuyu answered with some curiosity. "You know who sent him? The Emperor?"
"He didn't come from the Empire," Jennings revealed. "He wasn't sent by any of your enemies."
Jennings cursed under his breath as he reached the conclusion.
"He attacked you to get to me," he explained. "Hoping a dying father might bring me out of the woodwork. Clever, very clever. He's testing to see if I'm really dead. And I walked straight in here and confirmed his suspicions for him – how predictable."
Mitsuyu opened his mouth to speak again when one of his guards entered the room again, dragging a new figure by the hair. The speckled Kyrii was kicking and screaming, and Mitsuyu watched with a little trepidation as all colour drained from his son's face.
"I found her lurking outside, master," the guard reported, depositing Katrine firmly at the Lupe's feet.
"You know her?" Mitsuyu asked his son.
"In a fashion," he supplied. "She is your granddaughter."
To be continued...