The Return: Part Six
The industrial district was located on the east side of the city, in the northern Docklands along the coast where the ships came to port. It was a mess of factories and smoke, and few people lingered there who weren't working.
The few, of course, were the Moltarans.
Those who had ventured topside since their land's discovery had found new work in a variety of engineering haunts, and given Neopia Central's boiling pot nature, it wasn't long before a community had settled there. The Smeltworks on Black Knight's Lane was their focus. The hottest place in the city, the molten metals inside were the closest you could get to the lava floes of home on the entire continent. As a result, a small Moltaran Temple had sprouted up next to the Smeltworks, where the magma priests gathered to consult the embers and deal out advice to any who entered.
It was there that Jennings found himself drawn to. He instructed Mr. Black to leave him, but the Krawk was aware of the reassuring presence of the carriage a few streets behind him as he walked – Black had felt guilty ever since Jennings's return, blaming himself for the whole sorry ordeal. He'd been taking special care to protect Jennings even more ever since.
He stepped to one side as a line of Moltaran priests passed by, on their way to the temple. Their distinctive crimson robes stood out against the grime of the city, and they had their fiery eyes downcast, focused on the lava they could feel coursing miles below their feet, beating like the veins of the planet.
Jennings had often found the devotion of these particular priests as strange, as by definition, any Moltaran who ventured up onto the surface of Neopia was somewhat straying from the path dictated by Igneot and Madame Marbelle. He had expected, like many rebels fleeing their homelands, for them to abandon their traditions entirely. But it seemed, that for Moltarans at least, magma was more than skin deep.
Jennings was brought out of his thoughts by the sight of a red Zafara passing as part of the procession. She was clad in the same crimson robes as those around her, but Jennings clearly recognised her as the Lady. He caught her arm as she passed, and though she looked briefly annoyed at the interruption, she smiled when she saw who had stopped him.
"Mr. Jennings!" she said warmly. "Fancy seeing you here."
"You are the Lady," Jennings said proudly, as if the knowledge of this fact gave him some power.
She gave a downcast look. "Someone told you, didn't they? I do so hate it when people find out who I am. Sort of ruins the ambience, I find."
"What are you doing here?" Jennings asked, gesturing to the procession disappearing inside the temple. "These people are Moltarans. Surely they have their own spirits?"
"What do you think the magma is?" the Lady replied with a wink. "But I'm here because, Moltaran or not, these people are part of this city. They are part of me, by extension. It doesn't matter where you come from. Neopia Central accepts everyone. What is it you say? Everyone gets a second chance here. If we had to get rid of the Moltarans... why, we'd have to get rid of the Shenkuu contingent as well, including you. And I do so like having you around. You're useful."
She leaned in close to add in a whisper, "Don't stop that, please."
She leaned back to speak normally again. "A better question is what you are doing here."
"I'm hunting a ghost," Jennings told her.
She gave a little smile. "Aren't we all? A ghost, though... you mean like that one?"
She pointed off into the crowd that had gathered to watch the procession. There was a Faerie Kougra amongst them.
"How did you...?" Jennings turned back, but the Lady had gone.
She certainly hadn't re-joined the tail of the procession. It was like she had simply melted into the air.
But that wasn't important. The last of the priests were disappearing into the temple, and the crowd was dispersing. Jennings rushed forwards as best he could with his limp, searching for the face in the crowd before it was too late. He found her at last, and grabbed her by the wrist to drag her around.
"Madame Guillotine," he snarled. "We have an appointment."
Her face contorted into a ruthless grin. "Yes, we do."
In one fluid movement, she grabbed his hand with her other one and pulled if from her wrist. With both hands now free, she delivered a single blow to the Krawk's chest that sent him flying across the street to hit the opposite wall. If there had been any doubt that Guillotine was no longer a mortal Neopet, a strike of that power confirmed it.
Jennings collapsed to the floor, still conscious, but with the air knocked out of him.
"So you are Mr. Jennings," Guillotine said mockingly. "I've heard a lot about you, since I got back. How you're the one keeping things in check these days. Well I'm going to put a stop to that, and I'm going to put a stop to you, as well."
She took one of the daggers from her belt, and held it ready in her hands. Faced with such power, Jennings simply didn't have a chance.
He did the only thing he could think of doing – grasping his cane and bringing the magical gem atop it into the path of the dagger.
The green crystal reacted immediately, sensing Jennings's will and emitting a bright green flash that seemed to be accompanied by a shockwave that sent Guillotine flying. She crumpled into a heap on the opposite side of the road.
Recovering himself, Jennings briefly marvelled at the power of his new treasure. He was a man of no magical talent whatsoever – he could only dare to think what a real sorcerer could do with such a thing.
He hobbled over to Guillotine, a crowd of onlookers now surrounding the pair – a silent audience for their battle.
She was still breathing, at least. Not that she needed to. Hastily he uncorked the bottle as she looked up to him, sudden fear and desperation in her eyes.
"Please!" she begged. "Do it! He will return any moment!"
Jennings paused for a moment, confused by her sudden words. Guillotine's face meanwhile contorted into the same look of rage as before, and delivered a swift uppercut to Jennings, sending him back to the floor and the bottle flying.
"What an interesting trinket," she remarked. "I think that would suit me very well indeed."
She made for the cane, but a sudden blur of black and green tackled her from the side, wrestling her to the ground. Mr. Black had arrived.
The scuffle was brief. Guillotine supplied a kick to Black's stomach which sent the Grarrl a full ten metres in the air before he crashed back to the harsh cobbles of the street.
"Maybe another time then," Guillotine decided as she got back to her feet. "I tire of this game."
She turned her attention to the crowd, and Jennings felt the tingle of magic, just as he had done before the thieves had attacked back at the Bank.
"People of Neopia Central!" Guillotine called out. "These people would control you! They would seek to capitalise on your misery! And what of these Moltarans? Foreigners! Outsiders! Stealing jobs! Stealing money! Ruining lives! Will you stand for this?"
The crowd converged forwards, aiming on attacking each other as well as Jennings and Black. Guillotine had engineered a riot, but the pair were ready for that. Black had recovered himself, and between them they would be able to follow Guillotine as she fled through the crowd.
But she seemed to be aware of that as well, and as the crowd converged around her, she turned to them with a sly wink and said, "Boom."
Behind her, the Smeltworks exploded in a hail of white hot fire that rained down on the street. The workers and the Moltaran priests hastily evacuated their buildings, adding more chaos to the riot continuing on the streets. With that, she turned and fled.
"After her!" Jennings shouted.
"We can't follow her in this, sir!" Black protested.
"We have to try!" Jennings pressed, scooping up the potion bottle.
There was a tiny amount of the liquid still inside, hopefully enough to complete Morag's spell.
The pair dashed off after the Kougra, tracking her Faerie markings through the rioting crowd as best they could. Debris from the Smeltworks now littered the street, blocking it off in some places and painting a maddened, evil glow on the face of the Neopets now fighting amongst themselves.
Guillotine was faced by the same obstacles, and was forced down a side alley on the opposite side of the street to the inferno. Jennings and Black followed close behind, a piece of burning timber falling to block their exit. The fire was rapidly spreading to this new block of buildings, and in the distance, over the roar of the riot and the flames, Jennings could hear the sounds of the Defenders sirens.
Guillotine found her exit down the alley blocked, scrap due to be melted in the factories piled high in the alleyway. With no way back, she was cornered.
"This has been fun, I must say," she remarked.
Jennings launched the potion bottle at her, but Guillotine gave one beat of her Faerie wings and the bottle merely smashed in the place she had been standing.
"We'll be seeing each other!" she called down to them as she flew away. "You and that very interesting cane of yours."
And with her disappearing body so went the last hope of stopping her. The potion was gone, and the flames were rapidly spreading.
The Defenders arrived soon after. The flames were easy to deal with – the rioters, not so much. They were forced to arrest most of them, hoping a night in the cells would let them cool off.
And when the Judge got sight of Jennings and Black, stood plum in the middle of it all, he wasn't best pleased.
To be continued...