Family Reunion: Part Six
For a man with as much ill gotten money as the Smuggler, it was not difficult for Mitsuyu to find a way to the airborne blimp. When offered more money than she saw in the average year, the receptionist at the Museum was more than willing to give the ailing Lupe access to the roof of the building. From there, Mitsuyu was able to grapple onto the control carriage on the underbelly of the blimp as it passed overhead.
Such a feat would not have been unordinary for someone in the Qin household – even for someone of Mitsuyu's increasing age. But the effects of the poison were now fully taking hold across his body, and as he began to pull himself up the rope towards his destination, every cell in his body burned with an agony he had never known in his life.
At last, his hand reached the control platform, and he mustered what little strength remained to claw his way up. He lay there on the floor, the exertion of the climb having taken what little resistance his body was offering against the venom. His chest was heaving, his breaths heavy and irregular. His vision blurred, sending the ceiling of the little cabin in and out of focus.
The old Lupe's face contorted in a defiant snarl. There was still some fight in this old animal yet. With difficulty, he pulled himself to his feet and wobbled over to the controls. The explosives were piled nearby, the wire to disarm them clearly marked. Brodman, it appeared, had been attempting to play fair.
But as Mitsuyu ripped the wire from the device, it appeared otherwise. The timer on the explosives continued to tick.
A mad cackle sounded from somewhere in the cabin – another of Brodman's recordings.
"So predictable!" he goaded. "I knew you would choose this pathetic city over your daughter. So logical. So very Jennings. But I must confess, I have cheated in this little game. Whilst the detonator attached to your daughter really could have been disarmed, this one will not. This is my revenge, Jennings. You will know that you chose to march your own blood to her death over this city, and all for nothing. And, to make matters worse, just as that knowledge sinks in, this blimp will collide with the remains of the Twelve Ways and you will explode along with it. Goodbye, Mr. Jennings. I win."
The tape ended with a clicking noise that was followed by another intense coughing fit from Mitsuyu, this one stronger than before, bringing the old Lupe to his knees.
Ji had managed one thing, it seemed. He had outthought Brodman by heading in the opposite direction.
But no, there was still more to be done. Mitsuyu could not die like this. Brodman had ensured the device could not be disarmed, but by the looks of it, he had not bothered to prevent the blimp's autopilot from being turned off. With a satisfied, if a little pained smirk, Mitsuyu flipped it off, and grasped the controls himself.
He felt the blimp instantly respond, and with some difficulty he began to turn away from the approaching green embers that marked the Twelve Ways. With his job done, Mitsuyu collapsed to the floor, the poison at last taking all he had to give.
He managed to gasp out a few final words before falling silent.
"A city... named Redemption..."
Jennings ran like he had never ran before. His leg screamed in agony, and he was sure the damage he was doing would render his limp permanent, but it would be a small price to pay if Katrine was saved.
He now understood the threats of the Shaman. He had seen this coming, or engineered Brodman's freedom in some way. Jennings was intended to choose, to pick which of the two things in his life which he loved most, and lose the other. But his father had saved him from the choice. Hope bloomed in his heart as the warehouse on pier number 6, his father's help had outwitted both Brodman and the Shaman. He began to believe that he could do it – he could save them all, he knew it.
He burst into the warehouse – Katrine was immediately evident, bound to a chair and gagged. She looked fearfully from Jennings to the timer on the explosives next to her. Jennings rushed to her side, observing that Brodman did not appear to have constructed a bomb with a complex detonator. He ripped out the wire, and gave a satisfied sigh as he saw the timer go dead.
He turned to Katrine, breaking the Kyrii's bindings and taking off the gag.
"He told me what he was planning," Katrine said, tears welling up in her eyes. "I didn't think you'd come."
"Let's get out of here," Jennings suggested. "We have a lot to talk about."
Outside, Jennings turned at the sound of an explosion in the sky. In the distance, he could see that the Channel 9 News blimp had exploded – thankfully, far off course and away from the Twelve Ways.
"How did you do it?" Katrine asked.
"I had help, from a good man," Jennings told her quietly.
The pair, having nowhere else to go in the absence of Jennings's tower, returned to the Defenders of Neopia building. They made their way up the stairwell to the Judge's office, finding Mr. Black on the way, who had recovered from Brodman's assault on him a few hours earlier.
The Judge was waiting outside his office, a Channel 9 News crew with him, Neovision cameras ready.
"There you are!" the Judge gasped with relief. "That explosion, it was to do with you? The Smuggler?"
"Dealt with," Jennings answered with some finality.
"You have to make an announcement," the Judge replied. "Tell the people you are back. Everyone saw the blimp explode – they are all watching Channel 9, waiting for an explanation. If they don't get one soon, they'll head back out for another night of rioting."
"I cannot," Jennings answered, gathering looks of surprise from all present. "I am retiring."
"What!?" was all the Judge could muster.
"I have neglected my family for over two decades now," Jennings added. "And today, because of that, it has paid a terrible price. I won't do that any longer. Things can be repaired, it isn't too late to change my path. I intend to return to Brightvale with my daughter, if she will let me."
"Neopia Central will tear itself apart, Jennings!" the Judge barked. "It needs you!"
"No longer my problem," Jennings answered simply.
"You mean it?" Katrine asked, a look of delight in her eyes, but tinged with something else.
It almost seemed as if she thought it was a bad idea.
"Of course," Jennings answered, pushing open the doors to the office and leading the others inside.
But there was someone else waiting within. A grey Krawk. The Shaman. He smiled an evil smile.
"I won your little game," Jennings announced defiantly. "I saved both."
"My game?" the Shaman answered. "I do not play games, Ji Qin. I told you that I would take the thing you valued most in the world, and you would choose what that was. You have chosen. I am here to collect. It is time for you to pay the price of your insubordination."
His eyes rested on Katrine, who Jennings instinctively moved in front of.
"No," he said firmly. "You will not take her. I will not let you."
"You cannot stop me," the Shaman laughed.
"Then you will take me instead," Jennings answered quickly. "I will come back with you, do what you want. Heal your island or whatever it was. Or if that isn't good enough, take my life instead. You returned my soul to my body – it was a gift I never requested in any event. Just please, not her. Anything but her."
The Shaman's smile widened, as if this was the result he had desired all along.
"Very well," he said, lifting his staff.
"No!" Katrine shouted, running in front of her father. "You will take me."
"Katrine!" Jennings shouted.
"No, father," Katrine replied. "Judge Hog is right. This city needs you. Thank you, thank you for saying you would change for me – but some things are more important. Today, you would have happily sent millions to their deaths just to save me. That's not right – this city needs you to protect it. You can't die, not again. If I can stop the last few weeks repeating themselves, then so be it."
"But I need you," Jennings pleaded.
"No," Katrine answered firmly. "You don't. You will survive without me. You are a Qin."
She turned to the Shaman, "Do it."
The staff was pointed at her, and deep green fires seemed to form around Katrine's feet. The rose up, engulfing her. Jennings tried to rush forwards and grab her, saving her from the fire, but Mr. Black and Judge Hog held him back.
Jennings caught one last glimpse of Katrine before the magical fire subsided and she disappeared. She seemed to be smiling, content, almost.
The fire was gone, and so was his daughter. Behind where she had been, the Shaman has also disappeared. Jennings heard the news crew question what had just happened, asking if she had been teleported away, but Jennings heard nothing.
The words of the Judge brought him back to reality.
"Jennings, you need to make the announcement."
The Krawk said nothing.
"Jennings!" the Judge repeated, shaking him. "Don't let her sacrifice be in vain! Too many people have had their lives destroyed – don't let any more!"
Jennings nodded slowly, "Yes, you are quite right of course. The camera, if you would."
The Neovision team reluctantly lifted their cameras and began filming.
"Hello, people of Neopia Central," Jennings said to the camera, his voice being forced back into his normal, chirpy, disconcerting tone. "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. I am very much alive, and very much in Neopia Central. I have seen the devastation caused by last night's riots, and I am here to tell you that the situation will not repeat itself tonight. The Defenders may not be willing or able to clamp down on mass riots, but I very much am. Anyone seen looting on the streets tonight will be brought to my attention. I will find you. I will find your families. And I will make you pay. Today is not a day to try my patience, I assure you. Sleep well, Neopia Central."
Jennings drew his finger across his throat to signal the Neovision team to stop the broadcast, but the Bruce was unsure if it was an intentional threat to the audience, so lingered a moment before turning it off.
"Now leave me," Jennings said, a hollow tone returning to his voice.
The Neovision team and Judge Hog left without question, even though it was technically the Judge's office. They understood that the Krawk needed time alone. Mr. Black lingered.
"Sir," he said. "I'm sorry, all of this is my fault. You would have never been swept out to sea if not for my actions, and I was the one who brought Katrine back into the city. I..."
"No, Mr. Black," Jennings answered sadly. "I have caused this event in its entirety. Now please, leave me."
The Grarrl nodded, closing the door behind him. Jennings made his way to the desk and sat down.
The full weight of the situation finally hit him. He had chosen a path, and it had taken everything from him that he had ever truly cared about. He was a monster, but far worse – now he was a monster who knew exactly what he was. There was no way back now, no way to change his path. Neopia Central was his fate, all he had left.
In that moment, he felt more alone than he ever had in his life.
The walls that Jennings had built over the decades fell one after the other, and the wave of emotion gathered like a storm within him.
The tears came slowly at first, but before he knew it he was bawling and clawing at the desk, the rage and despair claiming him entirely.
In time, he would learn to hide the grief, but he would never truly recover. The last remnant of Ji Qin had died, and the hollow shell of Mr. Jennings was all that remained.