The Curious Incident of the Statue in the Night-time: Part Two
There was no war cry from the Mynci; that unnerved Sarah. She was used to people yelling in some otherworldly tone as they charged at her. She was on familiar ground with that, but silence was altogether new. A few metres from Sarah, the Mynci launched himself in the air and spun his blade around. Sarah back flipped just in time, knocking the Mynci’s Katana from his hands. Both combatants landed in a tense position as the blade clattered away into a corner.
Sarah expected this to be the part where both of them locked their gazes and stared into each other's souls as they worked out their attacker’s flaws. The Mynci chose otherwise. He didn’t even stop for breath before launching a fresh attack of two Silver Sais which he flung through the air at her. Sarah dodged one, but had to deflect the second with her dagger, sending both weapons flying across the room. The Mynci came to a rest back near the doors.
“A better fate lies ahead for the thief who hands herself in now, rather than the one who fights to the death,” the Mynci said wisely.
He held his hand out for the Jade Dandan. Sarah glanced down to it in her other arm, and then back at the Mynci.
“So be it,” he muttered.
He unsheathed a Broad Sword and stood ready at the doors. Sarah looked around; she was out of weapons. Then she looked back down at the statue, and an idea sprang into her mind.
She threw the Jade Dandan high into the air towards the Mynci as she broke into a run. For a split second, the Mynci looked upwards in astonishment, before he leapt high into the air, bouncing off a pillar against the wall, with a view to catch the statue in mid air. Meanwhile, Sarah ran under him, and reached the door as he grabbed the Dandan. She flipped a small lever to the side, which began to open the door. Behind her, the Mynci landed, cradling the Dandan in his arms. His Broad Sword clattered to the floor.
Almost instantly, he felt cold steel against his neck. It was the Katana he had lost at the beginning of the fight.
“Give me the statue,” Sarah demanded.
“I would rather die than betray the Emperor,” he replied.
Sarah sighed. Mr. Jennings’s ‘No Casualties’ rule was beginning to annoy her. Instead, she turned the sword round, and hit the Mynci firmly in the back of the head with the blunt end. He slumped forward, and Sarah reclaimed her prize.
Then she was off through the dark mists, sword and statue in hand. Her plan for the theft had gone wrong, but she could still make good her escape. She vaulted off the mountaintop the palace was located on, and landed on a nearby bridge. From there, she navigated her way towards the sky docks. Behind her, the palace guards spread out into the mists.
The Shenkuu sky docks were home to the city’s unique flying ships that could navigate both sky and sea. Sarah had been hoping to find a fast and sleek ship like the Cyodrake’s Gaze, what she found was quite different. There was only one ship inside the dark dock building. The words “Happy Pandaphant” were written in cheap paint on its hull. It was tiny; barely enough room for the small cabin that contained the ship’s wheel on the deck. From the smell, she judged it was a fishing vessel. Sarah looked back over her shoulder into the mists, then back to the boat. Finally, she shrugged and began to board. She flipped a small switch near the gangplank, and the roof of the sky docks split in half, separating out and revealing the night sky. Using the stolen Katana, she cut the guy ropes, and engaged the engine.
Rather noisily the Happy Pandaphant sprang to life and slowly rose up through the hole where the roof had been. It wasn’t a fast or manoeuvrable ship; in fact, Sarah almost veered directly into a nearby mountain, but it was still a ship. It was still an escape. She heard the yells as the guards spotted her flying away, but she didn’t care. She cradled the Jade Dandan in her arms and thought of the money she would make from Mr. Jennings.
It was dawn when Shan the Mynci was called by the Emperor. His head still hurt from where he had been knocked out by the Aisha thief, but he was as alert as ever. He was the best of the Shenkuu elite guard, charged with personally ensuring the Emperor’s safety. He knew the Emperor would be angry at him for his failure, but the shame of letting the criminal escape was in many ways punishment enough.
Shan found the Emperor in the Treasure House. He looked worried, and paced the floor as a dozen guards watched him.
“Highness,” Shan said as he knelt.
“Get up, Shan; this is no time for ceremony. This is a crisis. I trust you know what they stole?” the Emperor said, stroking his beard unconsciously.
Shan nodded but did not get up.
“The Jade Dandan,” he confirmed, “I saw the thief myself, and held the statue in my arms. However, the thief bested me; I am eternally shamed.”
The Emperor considered this.
“Do you know how he escaped?” he asked eventually.
“She, sir. She stole a fishing ship, the Happy Pandaphant. I have dispatched messengers to Altador asking for any information,” Shan told him.
The Emperor turned to face the empty dais.
“She will not head to Altador, of this I am sure. If it is a fishing vessel the thief stole, she will have to touch water before she reaches Mystery Island. That is where we shall begin our search,” the Emperor said.
“As is your wish,” Shan agreed.
He looked sideways at a guard near the entrance to the room, who nodded and rushed out to dispatch messengers.
“Did you recognise the thief?” the Emperor asked.
“No, my Lord, they were not familiar to me. It was a female blue Aisha; other than that, I cannot say,” Shan replied.
“Do you think you would recognise her, if you saw her again?” the Emperor asked.
“Absolutely,” Shan replied without hesitation. “Her face is forever etched into my memory for the shame she has brought upon me.”
“Strange, how fate weaves such a delicate web...” the Emperor muttered as he turned away.
“Pardon, your highness?” questioned Shan.
“You should read this,” the Emperor said.
He turned, and handed a letter to him. It was written in distinctive, neat handwriting that Shan would have recognised instantly had he been thinking, but he read on anyway. It read: “Dearest Emperor, as promised on my final day of service, I have claimed the birthright of the Shenkuu throne. This is only the beginning, I intend to take from you what you took from me, everything.”
Then he read the signature.
“General... Qin?” Shan asked.
“It is his signature, wouldn’t you agree?” the Emperor asked.
Shan re-read the letter.
“Yes... and his handwriting. But to do such a thing... I didn’t think the General was capable,” Shan said is disbelief.
“Exile can do a lot to a man,” the Emperor told him, taking back the letter.
“The Jade Dandan must be recovered,” the Emperor continued, “Undoubtedly your Aisha thief doesn’t know the power of what she holds, we must find her before she meets with General Qin. Qin cannot hold the Jade Dandan, we all know what he is capable of, and the statue can give him the power to carry it out.”
“You must go,” the Emperor told him.
“Emperor, I cannot. I cannot face the General. Send someone else, I beg you,” Shan asked.
“You are the only one who got a good look at this thief. You must go,” the Emperor said, “You are also the General of my troops, Qin’s replacement. I have faith in you; you are more skilled than he is. I could not send any other.”
“Sire-” Shan began.
“This is an order,” the Emperor told him, “Do you defy me?”
“No,” Shan replied.
“Then you shall go,” the Emperor told him, “Take a full contingent of soldiers, your choice. Take no chances; you know how dangerous Qin can be, and how little mercy he has.”
“What if we meet the General?” Shan asked.
“Then you know what must be done,” the Emperor told him, “Secure the Jade Dandan by any means. He once destroyed a village on a whim; he cannot be permitted to destroy an Empire.”
Shan nodded, and bowed his head again before leaving.
The Happy Pandaphant had run out of whatever it used to fly about half way to Mystery Island. Sarah wasn’t a sailor, but she was proud of the job she had done in docking the boat. Admittedly she had completely missed the island and shipwrecked herself on the beaches of Krawk Island, but that didn’t matter; if anything, for Sarah it was an improvement. Two days remained before her meeting with Mr. Jennings. She could afford a good night’s sleep on the island before finding a ship going to Kiko Lake in the morning.
She went to the only place she knew she could get a bed; the Golden Dubloon had long ago barred her. Instead, she went to the Rusty Dubloon, one of the island’s seedier taverns. It had been burnt to the ground more often than anyone could count, and was frequented by the types of local pirates who found the rougher taverns of Scurvy Island a bit posh for their liking. The themes were dank and grog and it achieved both with startling perfection. The current owner was a pirate Techo named Toothless Bob, so named because he was one of the few pirates on Krawk Island with a full set of teeth. Krawk Island’s sense of irony never ceased to amaze Sarah. Ownership of the Rusty Dubloon passed often, as owners tended to emigrate, get murdered, get shanghaied, or mysteriously disappear in other circumstances.
“Morning, Bob,” Sarah said at the bar over the loud din of pirate shouting in the tavern.
“Is it?” Bob replied, somewhat startled.
Sarah frowned. Bob rarely got outside; his tavern was open 24 hours a day.
“I need a room,” she told him.
“Money up front,” he told her.
She handed across three Dubloons.
“And the rest,” he said.
“What?” Sarah asked.
“Rooms cost four Dubloons,” Bob informed her.
“It’s always been three!” Sarah protested.
“That’s inflation for ye, it the whatjacallit, economy,” he said flatly.
Sarah grumbled and handed over an extra Dubloon.
“Up the stairs, second on the right,” Bob said happily.
Sarah found her room, and locked the door tightly behind her. She took the Jade Dandan from under her robes and hid it under the bed. Then, she collapsed on the bed and let sleep take her. It had been a long day, and tomorrow would be even longer.
To be continued...