They Think it's All Over: Part Eight
The stadium was coming along nicely. The sounds of construction reached Jennings’s office, and from his window he could see down to the rapidly progressing site. It had been a week since the Zombies had started, and everything was proceeding exactly according to schedule. The team was off in the Haunted Woods, using their world class training facilities to reach peak condition before the match.
“We are on schedule, according to Mr. Oldnose,” the Krawk stated.
“Good,” Judge Hog answered from his position standing on the opposite side of the desk. “I’ve heard back from King Altador at last. The Cup Committee had already made arrangements for the game, but he’s giving it the official blessing. Team Altador will arrive on the morning of... the detonation, along with the King himself and Lady Jerdana.”
“Both of them will be coming?” Jennings asked as he gazed down at the stands.
“Jerdana will be coming for a last minute attempt to dispel the pillar’s magic,” the Judge explained. “Though given that Queen Fyora’s visit last week was fruitless, I don’t see what she’ll be able to do.”
Silence consumed the room for a moment before the Judge added, “I told King Altador about your plans.”
“You mean you told him I intend to use the team for smuggling?” Jennings asked.
“He wasn’t happy, said he’d find a way to outwit you,” the Judge explained.
“He is welcome to try,” Jennings said bitterly. “He will be chasing smugglers where none exist.”
Jennings turned at last to see the Judge.
“What do you think of the uniform?” he asked, gesturing to the dummy standing next to the desk.
The uniform was mostly white, with a streak of crimson diagonally across the chest from the shoulder down to the hip. A symbol had been printed on the breast, a red compass, Neopia Central’s new Yooyuball emblem.
“Miss Verhiem delivered it yesterday,” Jennings added.
“Seems good enough,” the Judge decided.
“I ask your opinion because of course you are familiar with parading around in silly, lurid outfits,” Jennings said bluntly. “For my part, I would have preferred black.”
“I’m sure you would,” the Judge replied curtly. “If that’s all...?”
“Of course,” Jennings replied flatly.
The Judge excused himself, making his way back down to the ground floor of the Jennings building in a slightly deflated manner.
Things were different with Jennings, now both understood each other completely. There was no more dancing around issues, trying to outwit each other at every turn. Now Jennings spoke plainly, not bothering to hide or disguise anything.
Of course, this made the Judge’s job a great deal easier, but he found himself missing their old confrontations. He missed the times when they lied to each other.
At first, the Judge had tried to convince himself that the change was due to the drama with the magical bomb, but as time had worn on, Jennings’s frosty demeanour had remained just the same. The Judge found himself longing for just one sly remark, or to see just a flash of that acid lined smile that Jennings provided when he thought he had his victory.
It was as if Jennings felt he had been embarrassed by the Judge, fooled into thinking he had the upper hand when in fact both men were on a level playing field – and after his humiliation, Jennings was no longer in the mood for games.
If indeed the pillar did turn out to be a bomb, the Judge considered that it was a bitter note on which to end their relationship. Although the Judge was wholly aware that Jennings was a criminal and not a friend, it was as if they just weren’t having any fun anymore.
If the Judge did not understand Jennings so well, he might have feared for his life. The Krawk had a habit of removing people he perceived to be a threat. But Judge Hog knew Jennings was smarter than that – he knew the Judge needed him to make the city work, and visa versa.
As he emerged into the city streets, the Judge allowed himself a brief moment of sadness that the political game that was Neopia Central could soon come to an end, before he continued with his work.
The remaining weeks passed without major incident. The stadium was finished, the team trained, and the city waited expectantly. As Jennings had planned, the focus of the Yooyuball game gave the inhabitants of Neopia Central something to work towards, a common goal to stave off the depression and hopelessness that had taken hold in other parts of Neopia.
Jennings woke early on the morning of the Yooyuball game, his eyes opening slowly to the familiar surroundings of his office. He possessed a home, a lavish mansion in the Hills, but he rarely used the place. Jennings slept at his desk most nights, and had long ago perfected the art of sleeping without bobbing his head down – giving rise to a popular rumour in the Docklands that in fact he didn’t sleep, making him appear even more menacing to those determined to do things he disapproved of in the dead of night.
Jennings stood up and walked towards his window, looking down on the stadium. It had been finished on time, and whilst it was in no way as grand as the great Colosseum in Altador, it would perform just as well. The sunrise that was spreading across the city, lighting up the reflective glass of the Business District and softening the squalor of the Docklands, warmed Jennings’s heart.
It gave the city a strange sort of beauty, one that Jennings normally did not notice. But that morning was different, because it may very well have been the last sunrise Jennings, or anyone else for that matter, ever saw. It was something to savour, as would be every single moment of the day to come. The strange sense of despair almost took hold of Jennings before he shook it off.
“Today there were rockslides,” he told himself. “But the new day may be a great big bowl of tentacle rice.”
People were already milling about in the street below, more than usual. Some were heading towards the Yooyuball stadium, sports fans hoping to get a good seat for what could be the final game of Yooyuball ever played. Others were heading out of the Docklands, towards the National Neopian Museum. The pillar of the moment had been moved outside a few days earlier, and many were camping outside, hoping to see the end of the world firsthand.
A gentle knock at the door alerted Jennings to the arrival of Mr. Black.
He turned to the Grarrl. “I thought I gave you the day off, Mr. Black?”
“You did, sir,” he replied.
“You don’t have family to spend your final day with?” Jennings asked, suddenly aware that he knew relatively little of Harvey Black’s private life.
“No, sir,” Black replied. “If it’s all the same, sir, I can’t think of a place I’d rather be today.”
“Don’t want to miss the show, I’d bet.” Jennings smiled knowingly. “I always knew I was going to go out with a bang, Mr. Black, but I never imagined it would be quite like this.”
“I’d just like to say, sir,” Black announced, “it’s been an honour to work for you.”
Jennings smiled gently. “And your company has been a pleasure.”
Jennings turned back to the city. “I understand King Altador, Lady Jerdana, and the rest of the Altador entourage arrived late last night – they should all be arriving at the stadium soon. We had best go down and meet them.”
He looked down at his finely tailored black suit. “It seems I am dressed for a funeral. How appropriate.”
The crowd held their breath in expectation as Jerdana focused all the magical energy she could gather on the pillar. Beside her, King Altador’s hair began to stand on end.
Jerdana winced slightly, more in disappointment than pain, before letting her arms drop to her sides. The Aisha opened her eyes and turned to Altador, giving the King a simple shake of the head that communicated so much.
The hopeful crowd beyond the steps of the Museum exhaled dejectedly.
“That’s that, then,” Judge Hog said from next to King Altador. “You were our last hope; this pillar is going to open and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.”
“I can only apologise,” Jerdana replied. “It is powerful and ancient gypsy magic binding this device... I could force it open, but it is as your own mages have said – doing so would only set in motion whatever this device is meant to do.”
Professor Moriarty stepped forwards from behind the pillar.
“Thank you for trying, all the same,” the elderly Techo said. “It is an honour to have such esteemed guests at the Museum, even if it is under such unfortunate circumstances.”
Judge Hog inhaled deeply, “If there’s nothing more to be done here, we should be making our way to the Yooyuball Stadium.”
King Altador visibly tensed. “Ah yes, that. I’m surprised at you, Judge. I never imagined you’d let someone like Jennings run rampant under your watch.”
“He’s kept in check,” the Judge replied bluntly. “You have a thief on your council as well, as a recall.”
“Kelland is a thief,” Altador scoffed. “Jennings is something much worse. You know this Yooyuball team is nothing but an attempt to smuggle goods into my city.”
“Perhaps,” the Judge considered. “But if it comes to that, we can block his efforts. In the meantime, the game has provided a welcome distraction from this business with the pillar.”
Altador nodded begrudgingly, turning his back to the pillar, “Very well, show us to this stadium of yours.”
To be continued...