The Return: Part Two
On a still night, the shrill voice could have been heard entire continents away, but as it was the middle of a busy ballroom in a Hills mansion, it merely heralded the arrival of Miss Tobik as she waddled glacially across the dance floor.
"It has simply been too long!" she positively wailed, the elderly blue Bruce gushing at the sight of the Krawk.
"A pleasure to see you again, too, Miss Tobik," he said, kissing her hand. "I am most glad to see that nearly everyone has returned from Meridell. I hope your stay with Lady Celeriac was enjoyable?"
"She was a most entertaining hostess," the elderly socialite said. "Though of course, nothing compares to home."
Jennings smiled, with the return of the Hills inhabitants, the wealthy of Neopia Central, and the Thieves Guild due in later that night, the final pieces of the city's restoration were complete.
"Lady Celeriac came along with us, you know?" Tobik continued. "Just to see us here safely, then she'll head back to Meridell. She would simply love to see you, I'm sure."
Tobik took Jennings's hand and led him over to a small group of people. A green Lupe was talking to a red Gelert, who abruptly adopted a frown when she caught sight of Jennings.
"Look who I found!" Tobik announced.
"You didn't write," Celeriac said bluntly. "We thought you were dead until we read otherwise in the Times."
"Mystery Island is not known for its couriers," Jennings replied. "Besides, I have been rather busy trying to stop the city collapsing in on itself."
"I would have written," Celeriac stressed.
She adopted an icy air, but Jennings knew it was for show – inside, without a doubt, she was glad he was alive. In time, she'd let the façade down.
"Why, there's Viscount Hatterly!" Tobik shrieked next to Jennings's ear.
She supplied a little wave that the grey Shoyru returned in kind.
"We hardly even talked when we were in Meridell, but he and my dearly beloved Clancy used to be so close," Tobik added.
"That has always struck me as a little odd," the green Lupe said, breaking the silence between Jennings and Celeriac.
He was the Marquis del Fuego, a firm and old friend of Celeriac's.
"How you have Viscounts, Lords and Ladies," he added. "Titles all over the place in the Hills, despite not having a monarchy to hand them out."
"We had a monarchy, once," Tobik replied proudly. "Back when the city first started, the King ruled from the castle on the Helm. Didn't last long, of course, but the titles are a throwback to that."
"There was a revolution, so I understand it," Jennings supplied. "The head of it became colloquially known as Madame Guillotine, due to the fate she subjected the royal family to. She became temporary President of the new republic afterwards, but revolutions tend to lead to counterrevolutions, and she was soon ousted. It is testament to Neopia Central's curious sense of irony that her fate was that of her nickname."
"How.... Interesting," the Marquis commented.
"Oh, and there's Arthur! Arthur!" Tobik shrieked to a zombie Chomby across the room, before drifting off to him.
"I too must excuse myself," Jennings added. "I have another appointment later tonight."
Celeriac smiled. "Tell Kanrik I send my regards."
Jennings gave her a small nod before heading off. A red Zafara in a regal ball gown briefly caught his attention, but when Jennings looked again, she was gone. On the way out, the large frame of Judge Hog lumbered over to him and caught his arm.
"I have been meaning to send my congratulations to you, Judge," Jennings greeted him. "The improvements to the Defenders Headquarters really are a marvel."
"Make sure Kanrik understands I will be running a tight ship in the immediate future," was the Judge's reply. "The... Wealth Redistribution Front will not be tolerated if they step out of line. We've worked hard to get this far, we're not going to take a step backwards now."
Jennings gave a smile that said he understood perfectly but said, "I haven't the faintest idea what you are talking about, Judge Hog. Good evening."
With that, he swept out of the party, finding his carriage waiting outside in the courtyard. He nodded to Mr. Black, sat atop it.
"To High Gate, Mr. Black," he instructed as he climbed inside. "We have an appointment."
High Gate was a street in the heart of the Docklands, the poorest district of the city. What would, with any luck, become the Thieves Guild meeting hall, was a rundown house about half way along the street. The windows had been boarded up and the roof tiles were missing in places. This wasn't that strange of a building in the Docklands though, meaning it didn't look out of place.
There was a blue Aisha with a deep hood standing in the doorway when Jennings's carriage pulled up.
"Sarah," Jennings greeted her as he climbed out, resting heavily on his cane as he limped across the road. "I take it Kanrik is waiting inside?"
"They've settled in nicely," she replied, standing aside to let him past.
The house itself was little more than a shell. Jennings headed down into the cellar, to find it opened up into one of the caverns that made up the Catacombs network. The entrance tunnels had all collapsed, making the house above the only way in.
The cavern was buzzing with the activity of the thieves. Sarah had been hard at work making the place fit for purpose, and now groups of thieves sat at benches having furtive conversations with each other.
Jennings located Kanrik at one such table and sat down opposite. Kanrik wordlessly nodded to the thieves he had been talking with, who left them alone.
"It is good to see you well," Jennings remarked.
"You too, for a dead man," Kanrik replied. "It was a shock when I got your letter."
"You weren't aware of my return? It was in the Times, I believe," Jennings said.
"I've been... busy," Kanrik said.
"On Terror Mountain?" Jennings smirked. "The only thing I could ever imagine busying myself with there is getting out as quickly as possible. Oh, you mean that entire affair in Tyrannia? Most unfortunate. Lady Celeriac and Judge Hog send their regards. The latter wished me to stress that you are to behave yourself, but I know I don't have to do that as you wouldn't be so foolish, would you?"
"I have more than enough problems of my own to start thinking about making a move against the Judge," Kanrik supplied.
"Problems?" Jennings asked.
Kanrik nodded towards a corner of the room, where a group of thieves had gathered to hear Hanso tell a story.
"I was under the impression you had kicked him out?" Jennings questioned.
"Then perhaps Sarah is not an efficient doorwoman," Jennings supplied. "Aside from being a bit of a buffoon though, what is the issue?"
"There are rumblings he's going to challenge my leadership," Kanrik told him.
Jennings gave a laugh. "You took down Galem Darkhand, Kanrik. I'm sure your blade could handle a petty thief like Hanso."
"My blade could, but my reputation might not be able to," Kanrik said. "He's popular. If he moves against me, he'll have supporters."
Jennings gave a thoughtful look towards the Ixi.
"Leave this issue with me, Kanrik," he said at last. "I will see what I can do. You meanwhile have more pressing duties."
"The thieves that deserted the Guild during the evacuation must be made an example of," Jennings suggested. "Make it clear that it is the Guild, or nothing. Not that I'm telling you what to do, of course. But I am, so do it. I can't have unlicensed thieves running about in my city. I need them back under your thumb. In return I'll deal with your pretender."
Kanrik begrudgingly nodded, and Jennings stood up. He made his way over to where Hanso was telling his story and sat down politely. After a few moments he provided a low cough to announce himself. The thieves that had been listening quickly scattered, leaving Hanso looking slightly crestfallen to have been denied the chance to finish his tale.
"I am Mr. Jennings," the Krawk introduced himself.
"Hanso," the Ixi said, holding out his hand.
Jennings did not take it.
"I know who you are, Mr. Hanso," Jennings said. "Do you know who Mr. Jennings is?"
"Yes," Hanso replied. "And it's just Hanso."
"Good, Mr. Hanso," Jennings said with a smile. "What are you doing in my city?"
"I'm not allowed here?" Hanso asked.
"Certainly, Neopia Central is a free city," Jennings admitted. "People may come and go as they wish. But that doesn't stop me from knowing why. You were given the title of Master Thief from Fyora herself, as I understand it. Tasked with hunting down dangerous Faerie artefacts. So this begs the question, if you are in my city, are you looking for one?"
"This isn't your city," Hanso pointed out.
"A matter of opinion," Jennings stated. "Answer my question."
"I'm not looking for anything magical," Hanso explained. "Brynn and I are having a little break."
"And you thought you would tag along to Neopia Central?"
"Seems like it might be fun," Hanso smirked.
He gave a little glance to Kanrik on the other side of the room.
"So you do intend to challenge Kanrik for his leadership?" Jennings said, picking up on the direction of the glance. "Master Thief is not enough for you? You would be Guild Master as well?"
"Why would it matter to you if I was?" Hanso asked.
Jennings leaned back, "I will be honest with you, Mr. Hanso. Kanrik and I have a good working relationship, he understands the nature of this city, but I am not loyal to him if a more positive opportunity arises. I am concerned, however, about what the Guild would become if you took over. You are tasked by the Faerie Queen herself with hunting down cursed artefacts. The Guild has had another leader in recent memory who was similarly devoted to collecting magical trinkets – Galem Darkhand cannibalised the Guild in his hunt for Bori magic, leaving it in ruins after his death. I fear that you might do the same, and all of Kanrik's hard work would be undone."
"That's nice, but it doesn't matter to me," Hanso replied. "I'm not Kanrik, I won't be your lapdog. I don't take orders from you or Judge Hog."
Jennings gave a little sigh, "That is very sad, Mr. Hanso. It appears you are either unwilling or unable to see how this city works. We don't give or take orders. We do favours, give and take. It is a game, you see? But the game is not in playing a better hand than the others. The reality is that everyone knows the cards that everyone else is holding. The game is in pretending that you don't."
Hanso gave a look that said he hadn't understood a word.
"Challenge Kanrik's authority and you will incur my wrath, Mr. Hanso," Jennings added. "I will not allow the Guild to be deconstructed from within. Neopia Central needs it, which means I need it."
"I don't have anything to fear from you, old man," Hanso smirked.
Jennings stood up. "But you said you knew who Mr. Jennings is. If you did, you would know you have everything to fear from me."
He turned abruptly and made his way back to the stairs. He supplied a quick scan of the room before leaving, and his attention was caught by a red Zafara in a cloak listening to a conversation at the back of the cavern. She looked startlingly like the one he had seen earlier at the party in the Hills, but all trace of the refinement of money was now gone from her face. A thief moved across his view briefly, and when Jennings looked again, she was gone.
Not seeing her anywhere else in the room, he turned and made his way upstairs.
To be continued...