Mr. Jennings Must Die: Part Eight
The door to Jennings's cell opened and Sergeant Brexis walked in, the Buzz Defender standing tall above the Krawk.
"It's over," Brexis announced. "You'll be glad to know we've arrested Sheikh Al-Balim. He's being brought in here as we speak."
"Why would that be of any consequence to little old me?" Jennings asked.
"You just destroyed his empire," Brexis pointed out. "Thought you might be interested."
"I assure you I did no such thing." Jennings smiled.
"Sure you didn't," Brexis grunted. "But if you had..."
"Then it would have been exceptionally well planned out," Jennings smirked. "I would have known about the Sheikh's arrival in the city far in advance, and anticipated that he would attempt to usurp my place. I would have contacted one Solomon Moody, once a thief-master in the Docklands, and dispatched him to... well, dispatch others in the desert. Meanwhile I would have contacted the wizards in the Museum and asked them to cook up an artificial sandstorm to block communications with Sakhmet and trap the Sheikh here. Then I would put up no fight as the Sheikh's agent tried to mug me and take my cane, and happily resign myself to being arrested in the full knowledge that things would work out for the better."
"What a good job you didn't," Brexis observed.
"Indeed," Jennings agreed. "Though the best part of it would be, of course, that I had been arrested. The Sheikh is well known for using assassins and although I am well trained myself, I can hardly be expected to have eyes in the back of my head all the time. So I would have engineered the situation so that the Sheikh had me arrested, and thereby put me behind lock and key in the most heavily guarded building in Neopia Central – offering me the best protection money cannot buy. I would then be content to wait a few weeks for the Sheikh's assassins to tire or be similarly dispatched, before arranging for evidence clearing my name to surface. At which point I would walk free – there might possibly be a sunset involved at that point."
Brexis smiled. It was uncharacteristic, and that took Jennings off guard.
"About that," the Defender said. "I'm not just here to tell you Al-Balim is under arrest. You see, the evidence that implicated him was found by Mr. Black, your assistant, not Judge Hog. He's been real busy trying to clear your name, and he succeeded – because the evidence he found doesn't just prove Al-Balim's guilt, it also proves your innocence."
Brexis watched with some delight the look that spread over Jennings's face. It was a look few ever saw – a look of fear.
"He's done what!?" he hissed. "I expressly told him not to."
"Yes," Brexis smirked. "He seemed to take that as a hint that he should be doing it. Strange man. Anyway, what I'm really here to tell you is that the charges against you have been dropped, Mr. Jennings. You are a free man – no longer under lock and key, no longer a prisoner in the most heavily guarded building in Neopia Central. No longer under our protection."
Brexis stood to one side, revealing the open door.
Celeriac was waiting for Jennings in the lobby.
"I came as soon as I heard," she announced, rushing forwards to give him a brief hug. "Well, not as soon as, obviously. I had to stop off to taunt the Sheikh first."
Jennings was staring past Celeriac, a group of Defenders headed by Judge Hog had just entered the building, dragging a handcuffed Al-Balim along with them.
The Acara caught sight of the Krawk, and began to writhe uncontrollably, attempting to break free of his bonds and reach Jennings.
"You!" the Sheikh screamed in rage. "I'll get you! You'll not have a moment's peace, Jennings! From now until the day you die, my agents will hunt you down! They will find you and you will pay!"
Judge Hog gave the Sheikh a small but forceful slap on the back of his head which silenced him.
"Move along," he instructed Jennings. "There's nothing to see here."
The Defenders took the Sheikh upwards – he would be staying in the same cell that Jennings had previously occupied.
"You haven't seen Mr. Black, have you?" Jennings asked Celeriac.
"No, why?" she asked, taking the Krawk's hand and leading him outside.
"He needs to have a disciplinary," Jennings explained. "I had intended to weather the storm inside the Defender of Neopia Headquarters – that will not be possible now. Things are going to get quite difficult."
"Indeed, I have been thinking about that," Celeriac admitted. "We should get you out of the city, just for the time being until the Sheikh's anger is more spent."
"No, I must stay here and face it," Jennings told her. "It will be difficult, but it must be done."
Jennings stopped dead as they reached Celeriac's destination. A Brightvale carriage. The Marquis del Fuego, Celeriac's Lupe friend, was waiting.
"I must say, I am most pleased to see you out of jail, Mr. Jennings," Rodrigo greeted him.
But once more, Jennings was staring past the person he was having a conversation with. There were two Neopets stood behind Rodrigo, both dressed in the unmistakable garb of servants. One, a shadow Kacheek, was dressed in the black grab of a chauffeur. The other, a speckled Kyrii, was dressed as a maid.
"Oh, I do apologise," Rodrigo added, noticing the direction of Jennings's gaze. "My skeleton staff – I don't travel anywhere without them. My driver, Felenze, and my maid, Katrine."
Celeriac felt the odd spasm in Jennings's arm at the sound of the Kyrii's name.
"Charmed," Jennings said, suddenly a little breathless. "This day is not going at all according to plan. I have changed my mind. Yes, getting out of Neopia Central is a very good idea. Far away, very far away. All of us. Right now."
Rodrigo, missing the sudden change in behaviour that Lady Celeriac had noticed, nodded.
"We thought as much," he said. "Felenze, quickly, please."
The Kacheek climbed atop the carriage while the Kyrii opened the door. Rodrigo and Celeriac entered, but for some reason Jennings insisted that Katrine got inside first, closing the door after him.
Felenze did not wait for them all to be comfortably seated – the carriage was already moving when Jennings closed the door.
"To the Meridell road then, my lord?" his voice called in from outside.
Rodrigo was about to reply when Jennings cut across him.
"No," he instructed. "We are doubtless being followed, and must lose our tail before heading to Meridell. Head towards the Batrin Bridge."
"Towards the Old Quarter?" Celeriac questioned.
"Veer left before you reach the bridge – we will cross the drained river on foot and commandeer another carriage on the other side. If we are being followed, they will be lost in the confusion," Jennings explained.
"As you wish, sir," Felenze agreed from outside.
The Kacheek did as requested, and veered to the left along the drained river bank before the bridge. Jennings hopped out of the slowing carriage and located a ladder heading down towards the riverbed, and set off down it with the other four following closely behind. At the other side, there was a similar ladder, and Jennings made a beeline straight for it. At the foot of the ladder, he paused and insisted the others went first. Celeriac, Rodrigo, and Felenze had all begun to climb when downriver, an almighty explosion echoed out, causing the walls of the river to shake.
"What was that!?" Rodrigo exclaimed.
Jennings squinted to the south. His worst fears confirmed.
"A trap," he muttered. "They knew I would try this... so predictable! They've blown the dam. Climb! Climb now!"
Celeriac didn't need telling twice – she began to climb faster, reaching the top and scrambling to safety.
Rodrigo followed, Celeriac helping the still limping Lupe to his feet. Then came Felenze. Then nothing for a moment, and Celeriac could see the water gushing ever closer as the river raced to resume its original course, engulfing everything in its path.
Then a hand on the ladder. Celeriac rushed forwards to help it up, revealing the speckled Kyrii.
And then the waters arrived, rushing past them and taking the fragile ladder with them. Jennings didn't stand a chance.
"What!?" Celeriac exclaimed, rushing to the water's edge to try and get a glimpse of the Krawk.
"I got my leg fast down there," Katrine explained. "Mr. Jennings came back to help me – he demanded I go first."
"You!" Celeriac shouted, rounding on the young Kyrii. "Who are you? Why would he give up his life for you? Tell me! Tell me now!"
Rodrigo stepped between the two, "My dear Juliet, please. Katrine is just a maid – she is not at fault here."
"But Jennings..." Celeriac said, attempting to cling to rage in the hopes it would delay tears. "He would never..."
"Perhaps he had a change of heart in prison," Rodrigo suggested. "An old tyrant dies, a young girl lives... that sounds like a good deal to me."
Celeriac stood there, the colour draining from her face.
"But..." was all she could muster before the tears finally welled up and burst like the dam that had swept Jennings away.
She fell forwards into Rodrigo's arms, bawling and cursing the world.
It was a small gathering. Quickly arranged. Yet it saw enemies and friends stand together. United – united in grief.
They had all arrived at pier #6 in the Docklands, a small, private place. Not really busy, and hardly overlooked by other places.
They were all there – Judge Hog, Lady Celeriac, Mr. Black, Professor Moriarty Bungle, Miss Tobik, Arthur Munroe, Kanrik of the Thieves Guild, Thaddeus Oldnose, and Johnny Twobit. Some had been enemies, some employees.
But this, this was a funeral for a friend.
Celeriac was the last to place a small bouquet of flowers on the little row boat they had as a memorial. When she was done saying her farewells, Mr. Black gave the boat a little push and it drifted out to sea.
The gathered few watched it disappear into the port's mists.
"He may still be alive," Celeriac said, her hopeful voice tinged with the grief it had expressed over the previous two days. "No body has been recovered."
"Search parties haven't found anything on the coast, or on Roo Island," Tobik admitted. "Perhaps he is still drifting at sea?"
"The probability of someone surviving on the open waters for two days..." Bungle said. "You don't want to know how slim the odds are."
"We can hope," Celeriac replied.
"Hope is a luxury you may indulge in at will, Lady Celeriac," Judge Hog grunted. "The rest of us, we cannot afford it."
"Why ever not?" Celeriac asked.
"Jennings was the cap on the bottle that is this city," the Judge explained. "And now he's gone... it was different when they thought he'd been arrested, because they thought he'd planned it – that he was still in control. But once word gets out that he's dead, chaos will spread like wildfire. There are dark days for Neopia Central ahead. If we waste time on things like hope, we may all end up dead just like Jennings."
The Judge's ominous words sank in amidst the silence of the pier. Then, in the distance, a siren rose up. The call of the Defenders of Neopia.
Somewhere else, another.
Judge Hog turned to face them, bracing himself for what he knew may be the longest week of his life.
"The madness begins."