The Return: Part One
The blue Blumaroo gave a little glance behind him as he marched up the hill on the outskirts of Neopia Central.
The Helm, that was what the locals called the place. Back in the early days of the city, centuries ago, it had been the seat of power for the King. He had ruled down from his castle with an iron fist. Those days were long gone, a revolution had claimed the monarchy, but the ruins of the castle remained.
It was these that the Blumaroo made his way to, picking a spot carefully and then swinging the shovel off his shoulder. As the pale moonlight shone down on him, he began to dig.
About an hour of digging later, the shovel hit wood, and the Blumaroo smiled.
"Welcome back," he declared.
The grey Krawk was dragged by his island furs into the warehouse, and deposited very roughly at the feet of another Krawk, green in colour.
The green Krawk could not have been more different than the grey – finely tailored suit, long cane topped with a diamond, and refined air. The Krawk on the floor was covered in animal furs and feathers, his skin chalked, and a bone forced through his nostrils.
"Fancy seeing you here," the green Krawk remarked.
The grey Krawk writhed on the floor, trying to lunge forwards but being held back by two of the green Krawk's bodyguards.
"You do remember here, don't you?" the green Krawk said. "Baker Street, the place my father used as a base just before his death. Not that you were here in person, of course, but you were watching. You must have been, to come in and steal away my Katrine so soon afterwards."
"Your trinkets will not hold me forever, Mr. Jennings," the grey Krawk snarled. "When they fall, the island spirits will bring their vengeance upon you!"
The Shaman gestured towards the amulet around his neck, and the similar crystals placed around the warehouse – distilled from Witches Bane, a mushroom capable of neutralising magical power.
"By all accounts you have already had your vengeance upon me," Jennings replied. "Unless you think taking my daughter from me wasn't enough? Did you honestly think that I wouldn't come after you? Once I told Aden what you did to his father he was more than happy to point us in your direction. A funny thing, grief."
"Your words mean nothing, the spirits will deliver me from your clutches," the Shaman maintained. "Even now, your charms are weakening."
"You and your spirits," Jennings chuckled joylessly. "Certainly, it won't be long until your raw magical power manages to overcome the amulet – but that's why I've come prepared. I have this."
From his jacket pocket, he took a small green crystal that glowed in the darkness. Jennings smiled as he heard the Shaman gasp.
"The Twelve Ways exploded two months ago, leaving behind a pool of raw magical energy," Jennings explained. "When the pool was drained, this was left behind. The wizards at the Museum say that it is a crystal of raw magic – very powerful, and capable of vast works of good and evil. But you already know that, don't you? You can sense its power."
Jennings lowered the crystal closer to the Shaman, who flinched away in sudden fear.
"Ah, but I see you already know the other feature of this particular crystal," Jennings smiled. "It's a greedy little creature, you see. The lattice craves more, so it can absorb even more magic."
Before the Shaman had time to react, Jennings pressed the crystal against his forehead. The green glow intensified briefly, and the Shaman let out a painful moan.
"How do you feel now?" Jennings asked once it was done. "Still so confident that your spirits are coming to your rescue? Maybe it was your magic that gave you confidence, nothing more."
"Please, have mercy," the Shaman begged.
"I thought as much," Jennings said, turning away.
A new set of footsteps heralded the arrival of a new person. A thin grey Nimmo.
"This is Mr. Decimal," Jennings said without turning. "He's a very exact man, very good at his job. If I tell you that he was expelled from Lord Kass's army during the second Meridell war for being a little too good at his job, that should perhaps tell you a little about his quality. You're going to spend a little time in his company."
Jennings turned to Decimal. "I want you to take everything from him, and then some more. I will not be happy until he is fully broken. Clear?"
Decimal provided a small, curt nod, before heading off towards a cold storage locker at the back of the warehouse. The Shaman was roughly dragged after him.
Jennings smiled to himself, dislodging the diamond atop his cane and replacing it with the magical green crystal.
After a few moments, he was joined by a suited green Grarrl.
"He's all set up, sir," the Grarrl announced.
"Excellent, Mr. Black," Jennings said. "We must be heading for the Hills. We have an appointment."
The ship drifted closer to the shores of Neopia Central, the lights of the docks already visible through the smog that lined the coast.
A hooded Gelert stood at the bow of the vessel, a deep scar on his snout marking him as someone who had known his fair share of trouble. He was absently playing with an amulet in his hands – a green emerald encircled by a golden Cobrall. It was a calling card, the mark of a Thieves Guild member.
"Kanrik," a blue Kyrii addressed him as he approached.
The Gelert rose from his thoughts. "Errol."
"You still sure about coming back so soon?" Errol asked. "Things might not have quietened down in the big city."
"They rarely do," Kanrik replied. "Besides, he asked us to come back."
"And you just blindly follow his orders now?" Errol asked. "I thought you were the head of the Thieves Guild, not Mr. Jennings."
Kanrik gave a little snarl. Once, words like that would have been treason. In the aftermath of Galem's death, and Kanrik's ascent to power, no one would have dared say such things. But times had changed. New threats loomed for him. One was far too close to home.
Kanrik's eyes drifted from Errol towards the stern of the ship. There, a handsome Ixi was joking with some of the younger thieves.
Hanso. Master Thief. Saviour of all Faerieland. Of all Neopia.
He wasn't even a Guild member, he'd been kicked out years ago. But after the fall of Faerieland, he seemed to have managed to drift back into the fold. Now, faced with his natural charisma and new found celebrity, thieves were flocking to him.
Some were even calling for Kanrik to stand aside so Hanso could take over the Guild. Evacuating from Neopia Central a few months earlier hadn't helped matters, Kanrik had been undermined as a weak leader.
That's why they were returning. In truth, nothing to do with Mr. Jennings. They were returning so that Kanrik could attempt to reclaim that which they had lost – his last attempt to keep his position in the Guild.
Eyes returning to Errol, Kanrik grunted.
"I've never led the Guild into harm's way yet," he stated. "I'm not about to start now."
Judge Hog stepped back as the little flame spluttered to life, closing the lantern.
The blue glass altered the glow of the light, casting deep shadows in the room at the heart of the Defenders Headquarters.
Few ever came here. It was a relic, unimportant to those who didn't understand. But the Judge did understand. The blue lamp was a symbol. Symbols mattered.
It had burned, in one form or another, since the induction of the first Defenders guard house, centuries before. Back then, the group had just been a collection of ex-soldiers determined to keep order in the aftermath of a revolution. They were almost indistinguishable from the international force of superheroes they now were, but the lamp remained. A symbol of the rule of law in the city. A symbol of protection.
The lamp had been shattered two months previously, during the riots and breakouts that had followed the apparent death of Mr. Jennings. Now the Defenders Headquarters had finally been repaired to full working order, and the lamp was the final touch.
The repaired glass had been painstakingly glued back together, giving a curious spyderweb-like pattern to the light it gave out. But even so, to the Judge, it was reassuring to have it back. It meant that law had returned to town, and order had been restored.
A low cough interrupted the Judge from his thoughts.
"Just thought you ought to know, sir, it's getting close to time," the Buzz said.
"Thank you, Brexis," the Judge replied. "It will be good to have the final pieces of the city back in place. You are taking charge of monitoring the Thieves Guild?"
"They are due in just about the same time your party starts," Brexis said.
"It's not my party," the Judge stressed. "It's hers. Sarah picked out the location we thought she would, I trust?"
Brexis nodded. "She found the collapsed cavern under the property on High Gate, and she's been making it fit for purpose."
"Good, keep a close eye on the less Kanrik-loyal members," the Judge instructed. "If anyone will start trouble, it will be them."
Brexis nodded as the two made their way out from the inner sanctum of the building, back towards the main areas. There was an optimistic atmosphere in the place now. Most of the criminals who has escaped during the riots had been captured, the refit of the headquarters had included upgrades including a training arena for the Battledome, and out on the streets things were relatively quiet.
It was good, too good. The Judge was suspicious that things would soon change in the opposite direction. The city never stayed quiet for long.
At the entrance to the building, the two Defenders parted ways. Brexis headed off north towards the Docklands, while the Judge climbed into the Defenders carriage. It would take him to the lavish Hills district on the city's west side, and a party for those individuals who had finally returned from their self-imposed exile in Meridell.
As the carriage rolled out of sight, a Faerie Kougra stepped out of a nearby alleyway. She was dressed ready for war, and her face was set in an expression that looked as if she had already seen a few. She smiled at the retreating carriage, before her eyes moved to the Defenders building.
"Let's show them how it's done."
To be continued...