The Return: Part Four
Jennings was waiting in Judge Hog's office when he finally finished processing the prisoners. Dawn had long since broken and neither the Judge, nor Jennings for that matter, had gotten any sleep.
"Thank you for waiting," the Judge said, sitting down at his desk. "We had to let Hanso go."
"What?" Jennings demanded. "That was the express condition of the tip off – you arrest and detain him, you get to keep the other thieves you caught."
"And I fully intended to keep my end of the bargain," the Judge answered. "But soon after the arrest, I got a personal message from Queen Fyora herself. Seems she didn't take too kindly to the idea of her Master Thief being imprisoned. We had no choice."
"Choice?" Jennings asked. "Fyora is not in charge of this city – her word holds no merit."
"The Faeries may still be rebuilding their city, but if Fyora turned her displeasure on us, we wouldn't be able to withstand it," Judge Hog explained. "I know what you're thinking, that it's diplomatic posturing, that she wouldn't risk a war just to reclaim someone as insignificant as Hanso, but we can't take that chance."
"So he is free to walk this city, and can do anything he pleases?" Jennings said. "You will turn a blind eye no matter what he does?"
"I do for you."
"I am entirely different to him," Jennings scoffed. "I work for the good of the city. Hanso only seeks his own profit – a man who would turn the Thieves Guild into a horrible echo of Galem's days."
"I wouldn't worry about that," the Judge countered. "The few thieves that managed to escape fled back to High Gate and related their tale – the Guild knows about their bank account, the National Neopian is safe. As for Hanso, he's just been pardoned by the Defenders. His friends are going to think he cut some kind of deal for release, putting a rest to his ideas of running the Guild. No one trusts a turncoat."
"You kept me up all night for this?" Jennings asked.
"No," the Judge replied. "You saw the way the thieves reacted just before they attacked – it was unnatural. Did you feel the magic on the air?"
"...yes," Jennings admitted.
"There have been thirty-seven reports of civil disobedience in the last two days," the Judge added. "I was present at two, I felt the tingle of magic on the air then, as well. Someone is causing trouble."
"Brodman," was Jennings's ominous reply. "He must be involved."
"You are sure?" the Judge asked. "After he killed your father, and your daughter, in a roundabout way, he fell off the grid. An odd time to return."
"Not at all," Jennings replied, staring darkly at the Judge's desk. "I understand how Brodman works... when I caused the downfall of his employers in the Governors of Area 26, I took everything he had ever worked for or cared about. I destroyed him. He won't rest until he's done the same for me. The city is on the verge of returning to how it was before the riots. What better time would there be?"
"But, surely you're even now?"
"No," Jennings supplied. "We'll never be even, not until he's taken everything that matters to me – he needs to destroy Neopia Central, the one thing that still matters in my life. It's him, I'm sure of it."
"Well, if Brodman is involved, he's got an accomplice," the Judge said. "Thirty-seven incidents, and a Faerie Kougra has been reported at all of them. Never involved, just watching things. One or two, I could pass off as coincidence..."
"I saw her last night," Jennings agreed. "Just before the thieves started attacking. You know who she is?"
"I have Faerie Kougras on my wanted lists, of course, but none matching her description," the Judge said. "I've put the word about to street patrols, but nothing yet. She disappears between incidents, it's almost like she's a ghost."
"No leads whatsoever?" Jennings asked.
"None," the Judge answered. "I'm not putting this in your hands, but just be aware. Someone is up to something. Tread carefully."
Jennings left the Judge's office soon after, making his way down to the lobby using the newly repaired lift system. In the lobby, Jennings paused briefly when a face in the queue at reception caught his attention – a red Zafara he recognised as being the same one that he had noticed at both Tobik's party and the Guild's meeting house.
Here though, she lacked both the regal air of the party and the furtive nature of the Guild. She was dressed in a simple tracksuit, and wouldn't have looked out of place shopping in the Marketplace. It was remarkable how, every time Jennings saw her, she managed to look so completely different, but essentially the same.
She noticed him staring and gave a happy smile. "Mr. Jennings."
"Do we know each other, madam?" he asked.
"Certainly," she replied. "We are very well acquainted, you and I. But we've never met in person, if that's what you mean."
"I don't follow."
"Good," she supplied with a wink.
One of the low level Defenders had arrived, and coughed politely.
"He's ready to see you now, my Lady," the Korbat announced.
"Excellent," she replied. "Until next time, Mr. Jennings."
She swept out of the lobby with the Korbat, heading further into the building. Jennings was left alone and dumbfounded for a moment, before he gathered himself and made his way outside to Mr. Black and the waiting carriage.
"Orders, sir?" Black asked.
"The Museum, Mr. Black," Jennings announced. "I need to speak with Saline."
Area 26 had been a secret organisation in the deeper Catacombs that had been dedicated to gathering information. Names, dates, and places were all recorded in meticulous detail. For a time, there wasn't a pin that dropped in Neopia Central without them knowing about it.
They had been headed by the Governors, and their appointed chief, Mr. Alex Brodman. Together they had conspired to use the knowledge they had gained for profit. But Jennings had put an end to that. Brodman and the Governors had been arrested and Area 26 had been brought out of the shadows. Gradually, the information they had gathered had been added to the Neopedia archives over at the Museum. It was there that Jennings was headed to.
Saline was busy at work in her small office when Jennings found her. The orange Wocky had recovered well from her near death injuries of two months earlier. She had been one of Brodman's targets when he had escaped from the Defenders Headquarters during the riots, and had been on the receiving end of much of his built up anger.
"What can I help you with, sir?" she asked as she saw the Krawk enter.
"I need to search for a suspect," Jennings answered. "Faerie Kougra, female. Last seen wearing warrior's garb. Long travelling cloak. Likely to have some sort of military past from the way she held herself."
Saline nodded, entering the information into a terminal on her desk that linked to the magical database the wizards had constructed in the basement to hold the archives. She gave a little smile when the results came back.
"We have thirty-eight sightings recently," she announced. "I think you already knew that though, if you've been talking to the Judge – he's been attempting to track her. Thirty-seven official reports, plus your encounter with her last night."
"An identity?" Jennings asked.
"Our agents haven't been able to track her," Saline added. "According to our reports she's very skilled, disappears right into the crowd. Seems likely to have training with the Thieves Guild, Training School, or Imperial Army to manage that."
"She wasn't from Shenkuu," Jennings confirmed. "The way she held herself was too sloppy. If she was Kanrik's or Hanso's, the Judge would know her. A former pupil of the Techo Master, perhaps?"
"I'll run a wider search of the database," she added. "Add in global and historical sightings."
She looked mildly surprised as the result came back. "Well, that can't be right."
"What's the matter?"
"Filtering out Guild or Imperial involvement, it comes back with only one result – historical," she answered. "Very historical. Eighteen hundred years ago historical. Otherwise she's an unknown, and in this day and age unknowns simply do not exist. Not for Area 26."
Jennings was silent for a moment. "Who is the result?"
"Madame Guillotine," Saline announced sceptically. "The leader of the revolution that overthrew the old King of Neopia Central back in the really early days."
"Dead, if I remember correctly," Jennings remarked.
"Certainly so," Saline agreed. "The counter revolution that followed made sure of that detail. But there's no one else it could be."
Jennings was silent for a few moments before he spoke. "A ghost then, perhaps? Are there records on where she was buried?"
Saline nodded. "Up on the Helm, near the ruined castle."
"Then I will need an exorcism," Jennings added. "Have anyone you can recommend?"
"There are hundreds of claimed seers and psychics in the city," Saline answered. "Most are taking people for rides... Kauvara? No, no, you have history with her, don't you? Let's see, there's a small tent on the Crossway, near the Marketplace. A woman there who calls herself Mistress Morag might be able to help you."
"Excellent." Jennings smiled, and then paused as a new thought entered his mind. "While I'm here, could you search for a red Zafara? I've seen her around a lot in the last few days."
Saline tried to suppress a giggle. "Different places? Different clothes?"
"Yes," Jennings asked. "How ever did you know? Who is she?"
"I'm surprised someone like you hasn't met her already, I certainly haven't," Saline smirked. "Ask Morag about her as well, I'm sure you'll find her answer... interesting."
To be continued...