The Curious Incident of the Statue in the Night-time: Part Four
The Irritating Pawkeet made good time to the peaceful shores of Kiko Lake. It was dawn on the day Sarah was due to meet with Mr. Jennings when the ship docked at the port. Sarah was running short on time, and had the strange feeling of being watched, so she didn’t linger at the lake. It was only a short way to Neopia Central; every day Kiko Lake was becoming more and more like a suburb. Sarah ran all the way, stopping only to relieve a few travellers of their cash.
Mr. Jennings sipped his tea once before putting the cup back on the saucer.
“Far too hot,” he said. “I shall have to let it cool.”
He looked up at Sarah at last; she was preoccupied by looking over her shoulder.
“Are you all right, Sarah?” he asked.
“I can’t help but fell like we are being watched,” she told him.
The pleasant smile Mr. Jennings had been wearing evaporated. His tone was suddenly deadly serious.
“Were you followed?” he asked.
“Only to Krawk Island,” Sarah replied, “I gave them the slip there.”
Mr. Jennings relaxed slightly.
“I trust you have the merchandise?” he asked.
Sarah put the parcel on the table and patted it.
“I trust you have the money?” she mimicked.
Mr. Jennings put a large bag of Neopoints on the table.
“The conditions were followed?” he asked.
“I had to knock out four guards, vandalise a few walls and steal a ship, but no one died,” she told him.
“The letter?” he asked.
“Delivered as promised, can we deal now?” she asked.
Mr. Jennings nodded. He pushed the bag forwards and took the parcel. He unwrapped it quickly, revealing the Jade Dandan inside.
“Just as I remember it,” he said to himself.
Sarah turned to go, but a low cough interrupted her. She turned, to see Shan standing nearby.
“We meet yet again, Sarah,” he said.
Sarah glanced back at Mr. Jennings, who looked up from the statue at Shan. His face fell instantly.
“The Emperor sends his greetings, General,” Shan told him.
Instinctively, Mr. Jennings pulled the Jade Dandan closer.
“I am surrounded by an elite guard; it would be foolish to try anything,” Mr. Jennings told Shan.
“Indeed,” Shan replied. “You are surrounded by the elite guard of Shenkuu. It would be foolish to try anything.”
“The seal is mine now. Don’t make me hurt you,” Mr. Jennings threatened Shan.
“Please sir, I don’t want to do this,” Shan begged him, slowly unsheathing his broadsword.
“Yet we must,” Mr. Jennings replied.
Like a flash he grabbed his cane which was propped up against the wall. He pressed a small switch and the black cane fell away, revealing a blade within it. Then, he leapt onto the table, and launched himself at Shan. Out of all corners of the catacombs, bulky Neopets in black suits appeared in order to defend Mr. Jennings, whilst at the same time a dozen of the Shenkuu guards revealed themselves. It was chaos within seconds. People ran screaming through the art gallery to escape as tables and chairs were flung all around the cavern.
Sarah, having the natural instincts of a thief, ducked under a stone table at the first opportunity and watched the proceedings from safety.
“You cannot beat me,” Mr. Jennings shouted at Shan as they duelled, “I taught you everything you know!”
“My duty is to the Emperor,” Shan replied, “His will is all that matters. I shall not lose!”
Sarah watched as they fought, and as the fights continued between the rest of the Shenkuu guards and the black suited pets. Slowly, she reached up and took the Jade Dandan from the tabletop where Mr. Jennings had left it. She knew what was coming, and in the ensuing chaos, she thought she might as well make some extra profit.
The event Sarah had been waiting for occurred. From the cavern entrance there was a loud bang which signalled the arrival of the Defenders of Neopia. From Judge Hog to Torchio, the multicoloured superheroes had arrived in force. As they began to apprehend the black suited pets and the guards, Mr. Jennings noticed that the Jade Dandan was gone. He emitted a loud roar, and in a single move repelled Shan away across the floor. He ran to the art gallery, undoubtedly to a secret passage leading back to the surface.
Meanwhile, Shan recovered himself.
“We must leave!” he shouted to his fellow guards.
As one, they dropped smoke bombs, which blinded the eyes of the Defenders of Neopia. Sarah took her chances, and ran out from under the table in the confusion. When the smoke cleared, the Defenders were left alone with Mr. Jennings’s bodyguards.
Lying low was one of Sarah’s specialities. She’d mastered the art of a stealthy disappearance long before she’d perfected the other skills of the thief’s trade. She didn’t venture out into the sunlight of Neopia Central for two days, but when she did, she had a single goal in mind. She made her way covertly to the Wishing Well, place of pilgrimage for Neopia’s optimists, but it had a deeper meaning for those in the know.
“I wish for a Mysterious Trader,” she declared loudly to the Wishing Well in general. Then, without stopping, she walked briskly to the Welcome Centre, and lurked in the shadows behind it.
“Can I help you?” a shadowy Hissi asked from the gloom.
“I need something valued, for a quick sale,” Sarah replied.
“I think I can help you there,” the Hissi replied, coming closer.
Sarah took out the Jade Dandan, and passed it to the trader. He examined it carefully, passing it from one hand to another.
“So you were the cause of the commotion recently,” he told her eventually.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Two days ago a group of Shenkuu warriors attacked Mr. Jennings at the Coffee shop. They could only have been looking for this,” he told her.
“How do you know that?” she asked.
“This is the Jade Dandan, one of a kind,” he replied, “It was given to the first Emperor of Shenkuu by a mysterious Mortog, as legend says. It is beyond a price, and... what’s this?”
He turned the Dandan upside down and looked at the base. There appeared to be a section of it that could be removed. The Hissi pried at it, and a small tablet of Jade fell out. Sarah picked it up and examined the ancient seal emblazoned on the tablet. The Hissi gasped.
“The Imperial Seal!” he whispered, “The very birthright of the Emperor!”
“What?” Sarah asked.
“The Imperial Seal is the Shenkuu equivalent of a crown. Whoever holds it holds the will of the Empire. Whoever holds it is the Empire, is the Emperor!” he told her.
“Mr. Jennings wanted to steal the throne of Shenkuu?” she questioned. “I should have asked for a higher price.”
“It doesn’t matter now,” the Hissi told her. “He has fled the city. People are saying he fled east, to Brightvale and Meridell.”
“And the ninjas?” she asked.
“I should think they pursued him,” the Hissi replied.
“For payment,” he added, “I could tell you something very important.”
Sarah sighed and handed over a small bag of Neopoints.
“Mr. Jennings has placed a contract on you,” the Hissi told her. “It has been accepted by Maximilian.”
Sarah groaned. Maximilian was one of the best assassins in Neopia Central.
“You won’t buy this?” Sarah asked, referring to the statue.
“As I said, it is without a price. Only those who desire Shenkuu would purchase,” the trader told her.
“Then I need to get out of here, and find Mr. Jennings,” she said, slotting the seal back inside the statue.
Maximilian was a Gelert, not a commoner like the Gelert Assassin that served the Darkest Faerie, Max was a gentleman. He observed Sarah through a telescope as she left the Hissi trader and made her way east out of Neopia Central. He could have killed her then, but that wasn’t his style. He knew her destination before she did; it would only be a matter of time until he would strike. With a sense of satisfaction he put the telescope away and checked the myriad of weapons about his person. Slowly, he took out a pocket mirror and checked his appearance. A dashing green Gelert face stared back at him. He put the mirror away, and pulled up his hood. Then, with planned style and elegance, he leapt from rooftop to rooftop, as silent as the wind, slowly stalking his prey.
Shan stood on the deck of the Swift Quintilc watching the clouds below him. They were heading to Brightvale, where they would dock and search for General Qin. He wasn’t looking forward to it. The General had been Shan’s tutor, and in the catacombs he had tossed his pupil aside like a rag doll when he needed to. Shan knew if he met Qin again, neither would hold back, but Shan doubted if he was strong enough to best his former master. He cursed the treacherous stars for giving him such a fate, before retiring back to his cabin for the night.
To be continued...