The Curious Incident of the Statue in the Night-time: Part Six
“What is the meaning of this?” King Skarl shouted at the assembled Shenkuu guards.
He had been dragged out of bed to the throne room, and was still wearing his dressing gown. He was not best pleased.
“Your majesty, I bid you greetings from the land of Shenkuu,” Shan said, bowing low.
“Yes, yes, get on with it,” Skarl shouted.
“We fear there may be a dangerous criminal on the loose in Meridell, sire,” Shan told him.
“How dangerous exactly?” Skarl asked.
“Very,” Shan replied, “We believe he was the architect behind your recent trouble with a Lord Belton. He was exiled from our land many years ago, for defying the orders of the Emperor and burning an entire village to the ground. As you can imagine, he is quite skilled.”
Skarl nodded solemnly.
“Where in Meridell is he?” he asked.
“We do not presently know,” Shan replied, “But we would appreciate any help you could give us.”
“Indeed, the last thing we want is a repeat of that business with the witches. Jeran,” he called to the Lupe knight, “give them whatever help they need.”
“Yes, your majesty,” Jeran replied.
In the depths of the castle, Sarah and Oscar crept along the silent corridors.
“So why are we looking for this Mr. Jennings?” Oscar asked.
“To give him the Jade Dandan,” Sarah replied, peering round a corner.
“But he’s trying to get you killed!” Oscar hissed.
“Exactly,” Sarah replied, dashing out from behind the corner and signalling Oscar to follow.
“What?” Oscar asked.
“I’ll give him the statue back, in return for him calling off the assassin,” Sarah explained.
“Why am I here?” Oscar asked.
“Sorry,” Sarah told him, stopping half way down the corridor, “but he was shooting at you as well. Once this is over, I’ll take you back to Hermit’s End.”
“Don’t move!” a frail voice shouted from down the corridor.
Oscar and Sarah turned to see and old yellow Lupe in tarnished armour hobbling down the corridor towards them.
“I wouldn’t try running,” the Lupe added. “That way is a dead end.”
Sarah noted that the knight had his sword drawn, though it seemed far too heavy for him to hold steadily.
“Who are you?” Sarah asked.
“Don’t remember me, eh?” the Lupe said scornfully. “I am Sir Bernard, servant of the King!”
The knight added a deep cough that almost caused him to collapse. It was then that Sarah noticed a small Mortog jump down off his head to the floor.
“An ancient knight with a pet Mortog,” she said, “Just great. I don’t suppose you’ve seen a green Krawk around here?”
“He’s not my pet!” Sir Bernard replied, “He’s my prisoner.”
He gave the Mortog a firm kick and it hopped off into a corner.
“Now,” Sir Bernard added, “surrender or perish.”
He raised his sword with difficulty, and approached Sarah and Oscar.
“Oh!” Oscar said eventually. “He’s the old guard we knocked over on our way out of the castle last time.”
“Good,” Sarah told him. “Maybe we can do it again.”
She tensed her muscles to charge, but another voice interrupted her.
“No one move,” it said elegantly.
Out of the shadows behind Sir Bernard, Max emerged. He had a crossbow trained on Sarah.
“Who are you?” Sir Bernard asked, swinging round.
“I’m here to collect a bounty on these two,” Max replied.
“An assassin,” Sir Bernard reasoned. “Then you are an enemy of the King as well. Surrender now!”
“Oh do be quiet,” Max muttered, and pushed Sir Bernard over with one hand.
The old knight clattered to the floor, and was pinned there by the weight of his armour.
“When I get up,” he muttered, “there shall be trouble!”
“I’m sure there will,” Max muttered as he stepped over the struggling knight.
“Now, Sarah, isn’t it?” he said. “Hand over the Jade Dandan.”
He held out his spare hand, not moving the crossbow’s sight. Reluctantly, Sarah produced the parcel and took off the packaging.
“Do you know what this is?” Sarah asked him.
“The Jade Dandan, an artefact Mr. Jennings wants,” Max replied.
“It’s more than that,” Sarah told him, “Watch.”
She turned it over and took out the small Imperial Seal.
“This is the Imperial Seal of Shenkuu,” she said, “Do you really want to give it to Mr. Jennings? I think he’s an exile.”
“No, he is a client,” Max replied.
Before he could snatch the seal away from Sarah, something quite unexpected happened. The Mortog jumped up, and grabbed it in its mouth. As it landed, it let out a faint victory croak, and hopped off down the corridor in between Max’s legs.
“Stop him!” Sir Bernard yelled. “He’s an enemy of the King!”
“What?” Max asked.
“That’s Lord Belton! He’s my prisoner!” the knight replied.
“Great,” Max muttered, and ran off after the Mortog.
With the assassin gone, Oscar and Sarah helped Sir Bernard up.
“You mean the same Lord Belton that tried to suck the magic out of Meridell?” Oscar asked.
Sir Bernard nodded.
“Edna turned him into a Mortog,” he admitted.
“I heard about that,” Sarah told them. “It turned out Mr. Jennings had supplied him. Belton must have been working for Jennings. I bet he’s going to find him!”
Before explaining any more, she ran off after the Mortog and Max. Oscar shrugged and followed, and coughing and wheezing in their wake, Sir Bernard attempted to keep up.
The commotion of the chase was heard throughout the castle. The Shenkuu guards would have been stupid not to investigate.
General Qin traced out his steps carefully. In the brief period in which Lord Belton had taken control over Meridell, he had followed orders to investigate the castle completely. Qin knew he was at the right spot; it simply had to be. He put the bag down on the floor and took out a small machine with various dials on it. Immediately they began whirring madly.
“Perfect,” Qin said with a smile.
He felt the stone of the wall, and the static that seemed to be coming from it.
From down the corridor, there came a strained croaking noise, and out of the shadows a Mortog appeared, hopping madly towards Qin. It landed neatly in his arms, and spat out the imperial seal. Qin’s smile broadened.
“My dear Lord Belton, I can’t thank you enough,” he said as he deposited the Mortog on the floor.
“Once it is done,” he added, “I’ll see to having you changed back.”
The Mortog croaked appreciatively.
A panting noise came from the same direction that the Mortog had come from, and Max appeared.
“Sir,” he said, “I have recovered the Jade Dandan.”
“What of the thief?” Qin asked.
Qin’s answer was given almost instantly, as Sarah came bounding out of the darkness. She only just managed to avoid hitting Max. Oscar followed soon after, but he lacked the grace of Sarah, and collided with both thief and assassin, sending all three of them to the floor.
“No matter,” Qin said happily. “Consider the contract nullified. You will receive payment in due course.”
He turned back to the small machine, and began pressing levers and buttons.
From the opposite end of the corridor behind Qin, the Shenkuu guards and the knights of Meridell arrived. Shan was at their head.
“General Qin, this time you will not escape,” Shan said, stopping a few metres away and drawing a sword.
“Quite true; escape is not an option,” Qin replied, busy with the machine.
“I think this is the part where you tell us your dastardly plan,” Oscar mumbled from the floor.
Qin paused, looked over to Oscar, and nodded.
“Quite true,” he said, “But Maximilian, would you gag that Kacheek? I have the feeling he may become annoying.”
Max nodded and opened his robes; Oscar caught sights of the plethora of weapons.
“Oh come on!” he shouted, “There’s no way someone can run that fast while carrying that much! Where does he keep it all? It makes no-”
Oscar was cut off as Max gagged him.
“Now,” Qin said, “for my plan. Ever since I was discharged from the Shenkuu guard for a minor indiscretion-”
“You burned down a village; you contradicted the orders of the Emperor!” Shan shouted.
Qin shot him a glare.
“Ever since then,” he continued, “I have vowed to take revenge on the Emperor. I decided I would steal Shenkuu from him. Of course, the seal alone isn’t enough for that; I would need an army by my side to storm the city. It was a problem that vexed me for some time. Then I heard of Meridell.”
“Meridell,” he continued as he tinkered with the machine, “was discovered when a group of friends fell through a time portal, into the past. They emerged in this corridor, in this very spot.”
“So you took over Meridell using Belton? What good did that do?” Shan asked.
“Well, after a brief visit to the Secret Laboratory, I gained this machine from the Scientist working there,” Qin told them.
“What does it do?” Jeran asked.
“It will modify this time portal, so that it leads to another time, and another place,” Qin explained.
“No, you can’t...” Shan thought out loud, reaching the conclusion Qin sought.
“Yes, I can. I will travel back to ancient Shenkuu and remove the Emperor before he becomes the Emperor. I will steal Shenkuu, by rewriting history, with me at the head of the Empire,” Qin said proudly.
“I will stop you,” Shan said, advancing.
“It is too late; the machine is ready. Don’t think to follow me, by the way. The portal is only stable enough for one,” Qin smirked.
He backed away, towards the wall. From the darkness of the corridor, came a clanking sound. Within moments, Sir Bernard appeared. He was old, and couldn’t slow down fast enough. Instead, he careered straight into Qin and sent them both flying. The Imperial Seal was tossed in the air, and landed neatly back in the jaws of Lord Belton, the Mortog.
“Stop him, I must have the seal!” Qin screamed from underneath Sir Bernard.
The knight sat upright, still pinning Qin down, and produced the Jade Dandan.
“You left this behind,” he said to Sarah.
He made to throw it to her, but Qin tried to thrust upwards, and the throw went off target. Instead, it hit the Mortog, which flew backwards into the wall.
There was a faint sizzle, and both the statue and Mortog were gone. Shan ran forward and pressed the wall. It was perfectly solid. Then, he turned back to Qin, still struggling under Sir Bernard.
“You are coming back with us, General,” Shan said, “to be a permanent guest in the Emperor’s cells.”
That was how it ended. The Imperial seal never was recovered, but a new one was soon made in Shenkuu and was again hidden within a statue, but this time within a Jade Mortog in honour of the hapless Petpet that had delivered the original seal to the first Emperor of Shenkuu, all those years ago. As for Sarah, well as any good thief would, she slipped out of the castle before the dust had settled.
Lying low always had been her speciality.