The Return: Part Seven
"Was that your idea of treading carefully?" the Judge asked once he, Jennings, and Black were alone in the lift heading up to his office. "Two city blocks burnt, at least fifty citizens under arrest for rioting, plus one angry neomail from the new Moltaran ambassador, and don't forget we're already skating on thin ice with them after the last one died in our custody. And what do you have to show for it? Nothing."
"I wouldn't say that," Jennings replied. "We know who she is."
"Go on," the Judge said testily.
"Madame Guillotine," Jennings replied. "She is a ghost, reanimated by Mr. Brodman. We were trying to exorcise her. She... resisted arrest, you might say."
"That's a pretty big resistance," the Judge said as the lift came to a stop.
"I met the Lady, by the way," Jennings added. "Do you know her?"
The Judge paused in his march towards his office. "I've only met her a couple of times; first was about ten years after I took over from Judge Irons. I thought you would already know her – you certainly seem to be her favourite."
"How do you mean?"
"You ever wonder how this place pays the bills?" the Judge asked. "You're the majority shareholder, but we don't have any real income. I used to wonder as well, and then I met her. I called a meeting of the shareholders ten years after being in office to find out where the money was coming from. She was the only one who turned up. Turns out she owned the place, and had been injecting funds to keep it going since the first days centuries ago. Said she liked the place better with the Defenders around. Funny thing is, a few months before you turned up in the city, she up and sold every one of her shares. It's like she knew you were coming, and knew you needed them. The money still keeps coming, though. I'm glad of that, at least."
"Judge?" a Cybunny who served as the Judge's assistant called from her desk outside his office. "There's someone waiting for you."
"She called herself Mistress Morag," the Cybunny replied.
The Judge gave a glance to Jennings.
"I think she'll want to speak to me, as well," the Krawk supplied.
Morag was facing the window when they entered.
"I won't bother with payment, as we don't have much time," the Hissi said without introductions for the Judge. "This one's on the house. Guillotine has taken a liking to that cane of yours, Mr. Jennings. I told you not to take it."
"If I hadn't, I would be dead," Jennings pointed out.
"Which would have been regrettable, but better than the alternative," Morag pointed out. "But no matter, it was fate. You were going to take it with you no matter what I said to you. Just as what follows is going to happen no matter what any of us do to stop it. She desires its power – with it, she can muster magic far greater than what you saw today."
"You knew we would fail," Jennings said. "Why did you bother? Why go all the way to the Helm to fill your part of the bargain if you knew there was no point?"
"Because then things wouldn't have played out as they did," Morag told him. "I see things, but I cannot change them. And more than that, I shouldn't change them. What happens must happen for a reason, bad or good. But I did tell you a small lie. The potions didn't have to be poured at the same time. I've brought you another sample."
She gestured behind her, to a bottle on the Judge's desk.
"Why the lie?" Jennings asked.
"To instil a sense of urgency, and get you to the Smeltworks on time," Morag answered. "I know what you're thinking, am I seeing the future or setting it in motion? The answer is irrelevant, Mr. Jennings. As I said, what is going to happen will happen. We cannot prevent it."
"And what is going to happen?"
"A lot," Morag said with a sigh. "In the meantime though, you need to summon your ghost again. Create a commotion she'll be drawn to, you know how."
With that, Morag left the trio.
"What does she mean?" the Judge asked.
"I'm going to have to ask a favour of you, Judge," Jennings said. "You're going to have to have a battle with a Faerie in the heart of Neopia Central."
The Judge gave him a suspicious glare. "Why's that?"
"Because you are going to anger Queen Fyora," Jennings added. "And arrest Hanso again."
The Judge's face made it clear he wasn't a fan of this particular plan.
"Just hope that Fyora isn't fond enough of him to come in person," Jennings added.
Hanso was brought in a few hours after nightfall, protesting as ever. Just as suspected, a personal neomail from Fyora arrived soon after, stressing her desire for the thief's freedom. This time, the Judge sent a letter in response refusing the request. For extra effect, he made sure to be quite rude.
They then had to play the waiting game. The Judge busied himself in the depths of the Museum's magic department, trying to convince the wizards there to give him enchantments with an extra edge. Jennings was left to his own devices, and he instructed Mr. Black to take him to Baker Street, and the warehouse where the Shaman was being held.
The words of Jennings's first meeting with Morag were weighing heavily on his mind. If the Lady was real, then perhaps the Shaman's island spirits were as well. Jennings needed to know more, and sadly, the Shaman was the only source of answers on the subject.
The Shaman had been chained to the wall at the back of the cold storage unit. Mr. Decimal appeared to have finished his work with the Shaman for the day, but there was no doubt from the Krawk's appearance that he had been doing a quite exemplary job.
"We need to talk," Jennings said, taking a folding chair and setting it down in front of the fallen creature.
The Shaman stirred.
"What do you want now?" he spat.
"I wish to know about your island spirits," Jennings said. "The ones you claim to serve. Have you ever seen them?"
"I speak to them daily," the Shaman mumbled. "Even now, I hear their distant echoes. Screams of rage."
"Their power, how far does it extend?" Jennings asked.
The Shaman glanced up at his captor.
"Clearly, not this far directly, or you would already be free," Jennings added. "Perhaps they cannot physically enter the Lady's realm?"
The Shaman remained silent, drifting in and out of consciousness, but it didn't matter. Jennings was largely having the conversation with himself.
"But they can send agents, like yourself," Jennings said. "No doubt there are others."
There was silence for a few moments.
"If I were to free you, our feud would be considered over, yes?" Jennings said at last. "Your island spirits brought me back from the grave, you took my daughter. We are even. You could return to Mystery Island. There would be no repercussions?"
A lie, of course. Jennings would not be square with the Shaman, and those he served in the slightest. Katrine had meant too much to let her memory fade without avenging it. But returning the Shaman could buy Jennings time. Time for him to find out more about these spirits. About their strengths and weaknesses.
"I do not know the will of the spirits," the Shaman said unhelpfully.
He gave a small cough, falling silent once more. Jennings prodded him with the cane, but failed to rouse him – he was out cold, and would provide no more answers for the day.
Fyora reacted quickly, and a Faerie was dispatched to Neopia Central the next day. A crowd had already gathered to see the spectacle by the time the Judge made his way down to meet her outside of the Defenders Headquarters. The Moehog noted Jennings waiting ready in the crowd, giving him a small nod.
"I am here as a messenger of the Faerie Queen," the light Faerie announced. "She demands that you release the thief known as Hanso from your custody."
"Fyora does not hold jurisdiction here," the Judge replied. "Hanso is being held for an attempted heist of the National Neopian Bank."
"We are aware of his charges," the light Faerie said dismissively. "Hanso will be released."
"No he will not," the Judge maintained. "I keep order here."
"I did not come to negotiate," the light Faerie stated. "I am to take Hanso, whether you give him freely or not."
The Judge clenched his fist. "So be it."
The Faerie sighed. "I had hoped you would see reality, Judge Hog. Fyora expected you would."
With a wave of her hand, she sent a great bolt of light towards him. The Judge braced himself, bringing his fist up in front of him. The bolt glanced off them, impacting in the direction of the crowd and forcing them back. The enchantments the Judge had arranged from the wizards in the Museum appeared to be doing their job.
The Judge ran forwards, bringing one fist up to collide with the Faerie in a hail of blue magical fire. It was nonsense, even charged by the wizards, the Judge could not challenge a Faerie. But his role was to provide the show. The real goal was the audience.
Jennings observed that it was growing, word of the confrontation spreading with each clash between the pair. Jennings gazed past the fight to the crowd on the opposite side, scanning the faces for the Kougra they were expecting. Amongst the crowd on that side, Black was positioned, doing the same in reverse. Between them they had the place covered. When Guillotine showed, they would know about it.
Jennings saw Black nod from the other side, and was about to turn when a voice spoke in his ear.
"Quite the show," Guillotine remarked, standing next to Jennings. "You've done this just for me?"
Jennings turned and uncorked the bottle in one fluid movement, but Guillotine caught his hand and held it, her strength easily keeping Jennings at bay. Her free hand meanwhile made its way to Jennings's cane, and the two stood there for a few moments, one hand each locked on both bottle and cane.
Jennings let go of the cane, what did it matter if she had it anyway? Guillotine snatched it away from like a greedy child, leaving the Krawk free to upturn the bottle over her.
Jennings stood back with a look of victory, but she merely laughed, a curious echoing tone to her voice.
"You think a little spell like that can stop me?" she laughed. "Now that I have this!? Now I can manifest!"
She held the cane aloft like it was a relic, and the crystal atop it glowed brightly. At once, the Kougra seemed to change, dividing into two separate forms, one holding the cane, and one not.
The one with the cane began to change shape further, blurring and reforming into a new face. A fire Lutari now stood, proudly holding the cane.
At the commotion, the battle between the Faerie and the Judge had stopped, and the crowd now centred around this new arrival. Guillotine, or whatever remained of her, had disappeared.
"Who are you!?" Jennings demanded.
The Lutari gave Jennings a playful little smile.
"Me? I'm Chaos."
To be continued...