Eye of the Crokabek: Part Six
Mayor Dilbert stood proud and tall between Doug and Bob, the two brutes. He looked about as dignified as it is possible to look while being held captive by a pair of hulking Skeiths. The crowd stretched front of him. His people. He sensed fear and tension in every direction.
They didn't want the Sway. They wanted their old mayor back. They wanted the old ways back. But they weren't willing to fight the Sway and lose. They had succumbed to the fear instilled by the Sway. And that was how it would stay.
Tim, however, was not about to accept this status quo. His mind was racing. He had to do something – anything! – to unseat this new mayor. The people feared the mayor because they feared the Sway. But if he could cut Gerome off from the power of the Sway... If he could show the people that Gerome no longer had that backing...
“We need the Defenders of Neopia,” Tim muttered to himself quietly.
Beside him, Cog looked a question at him. She hadn't heard. Tim just shook his head to dismiss it and continued frowning.
How could you take down a member of the Sway? Did the Sway even have a weakness? They seemed to be the strongest faction in all Neopia.
Then the thought came to him. Fully formed. Tim caught his breath at the brilliance of it. Pride! It was as though he could actually see the tall, purple spirit. In his mind's eye she materialised behind Gerome and peered disdainfully down at the Wocky, arms crossed.
Tim shook his head to clear it and the vision disappeared.
There was only one way to unseat the Sway from Moltara, and it was up to him to do it. He hesitantly took a step forwards. Then committed. He walked resolutely to the stage.
Gerome paused in mid-sentence. Who was this upstart young Yurble making his way up to the stage? He'd never seen him before. He was about to call the guards to have this intruder removed as well. Until the people caught sight of Tim.
A murmur of delight ran through the crowd. Then the applause started. A genuine, warm applause this time, punctuated with cheers. There was hardly a person in Moltara who didn't know Tim by sight. It wouldn't be exactly fair to say that the people loved Tim. But right now they loved what he stood for. He represented normalcy. He represented a friendly face. A part of day-to-day life. And most of all, he was safe. Unlike everything that had happened in Moltara in the past week, Tim had nothing to do with politics. And so they welcomed him warmly.
At the back of the crowd, Stella, Phil and Marta were joining in the applause. Stella leaned over to Phil, her eyes sparkling, and commented, “So is this Tim's fan club?” Phil was too distracted to notice. He acknowledged her comment with a brief grunt. But his eyes remained fixed on his friend up the front.
After a while, the clapping died down.
“Cool,” said Tim, somewhat nervously, “I'm Tim, for those of you who don't know me.”
At Phil's other side, Marta covered her face with her wings.
“Why does he have to do that?” she moaned, “Someone needs to give that Yurble lessons in how to start sentences without the word 'cool'!”
Phil just grinned. He had long since learned to accept that that would just always be part of Tim.
Regardless of Marta's feelings, Tim seemed to be completely in control of the situation. He thanked Mayor Velmir for letting him speak. Then he began addressing the huge crowd, just as though he did this every day. He spoke of Moltara and how much it meant to him. He told an anecdote at his own expense about a silly mistake he had made on his first ever visit to Moltara. Everyone joined him in laughing. Sure, he fumbled his words every now and again, but overall, he gave the impression of being fairly well at ease in front of the big crowd.
Gerome Velmir, however, was fuming. Who did this Yurble think he was? Interrupting the town meeting like this! And where was he taking this? And when would he be finished? The Wocky had his own agenda for the meeting and Tim was in the process of merrily derailing it.
“One of the things I've always loved about Moltara,” Tim was saying, “is the way Mayor Dilbert has led the government so well.” He paused for a moment and nodded in the direction of the Chomby. “And,” he continued, “I'm really looking forward to seeing the direction Mayor Velmir will take us in in the future.” He smiled and nodded in the direction of the Blue Wocky.
The mention of his name took Gerome by surprise. He hastily inclined his head in Tim's direction. He hoped he hadn't been frowning too obviously at the time. It would look bad to appear ungrateful...
Tim was still talking.
“I've been really interested to hear some of the things Mayor Velmir's been mentioning tonight,” he continued, “We can see you've got a very clear vision for Moltara, mayor.”
Again, Gerome was caught off guard. He inclined his head in Tim's direction again. If this kept up much longer, he thought, he'd begin to look like a bobblehead doll.
“I do have one question for the Mayor, though,” Tim was now saying. An anticipatory tone tinged his words. “I'd like to hear what he has to say about the rumours that tax rates will be increasing soon.” He left the sentence hanging expectantly. A smug look crossed his face.
In the front row, Cog's expression was one of complete confusion. Like Gerome, she had no idea where Tim was taking this.
For a moment, Gerome was flustered by Tim's unexpected question. Then he smiled internally. Of all the things the Yurble could have attacked him on, he picked taxes. Taxes?! Gerome was almost jubilant. If that was the only thing Tim had been building up to...
He stepped forwards and in his best, carrying voice declaimed, “I'm pleased to be able to assure the populace that there is no foundation whatsoever to any claims that taxes will be rising. In fact, I'm able to reveal that this morning the council commissioned a feasibility report which will consider the possibility of lowering tax rates in the future.”
Polite applause greeted his words.
“Furthermore,” the mayor continued, “I'd like to assure you all that I will make it my highest priority to ensure that taxpayer money is directed towards projects that will directly benefit you, the people of Moltara. As I was explaining earlier, we have identified security as a major–”
Before he could continue, he was interrupted once again by Tim.
“Thanks for clarifying that, mayor,” Tim was saying, “because I know some of us have been concerned that with the Duchess ruling Moltara, there would have to be a rise in taxes to contribute to her funds...”
Absolute silence reigned. Cog actually felt her jaw drop in disbelief. How had Tim done it? Ten minutes ago, the mere whisper of the Duchess' name would have caused total havoc. And now Tim was publicly proclaiming from the stage that Gerome was working for her!
The anticipation was intense. Every eye was on Gerome. The Wocky appeared to be speechless. He opened his mouth to respond, but he didn't really have any words to say.
“Do you deny that you're working for the Duchess?” Tim asked directly, “Do you deny that you're a puppet of the Sway?”
“...puppet?” spluttered the Wocky indignantly, “Puppet!?” he repeated with increasing agitation. This had got him talking. “Me? a puppet? I am not a puppet of the Sway. I am more than a puppet. I AM MORE THAN THE SWAY!” he thundered. “It is through my own ingenuity and resourcefulness that I have attained this position, and it is through my own ingenuity and resourcefulness that I intend to keep it! I acknowledge no leader, and I acknowledge no connection to the Sway,” he said firmly.
“Cool,” said Tim lightly, “Good to know.” He shrugged. “So you don't lean on the Sway for support at all?” he clarified.
Mayor Velmir merely nodded, his teeth clenched.
“And you aren't backed up by the power of the Duchess?” Tim asked again.
Mayor Velmir lost it.
“WOULD YOU PLEASE refrain from insulting my dignity any further!” he raged, “You do me a great wrong to associate my name with the vile schemings of the Duchess and her Sway,” he spat.
Tim watched the mayor curiously. He evidently thought it was important not to admit any connection with the Sway. Yet Tim felt it was unwise of him to disown his faction so forcefully and publicly. Especially a faction as powerful and vindictive as the Sway.
“I don't need the support of any Duchess!” the Wocky continued, “Why if I chose to, I could take down the Sway single handedly!”
Mayor Velmir glared venomously at Tim.
“Fortunately for your precious Duchess,” he continued, “that's not the top of my priorities at the moment.” He paused for effect, “No, my first priority is to do away with people like you who are seeking to destabilise my government.”
Tim feigned an indignant surprise, “Sorry, are you threatening me, Mayor?” he asked.
“You could put it that way, yes,” Gerome replied, “No-one crosses me and gets away with it,” he warned, “And you, Tim,” he spat the word out as though the name itself was distasteful to him, “you've taken it way too far. You are not going to get away with this...”
“Okay, well thanks for the heads up, Mayor.” Tim told him, mildly, “At least I know what's coming.”
The crowd stared at him, confused. How could Tim be so blasé about such a threat? But the Yurble wasn't finished yet.
“Although, I was wondering, Mayor,” Tim added, affecting a bravery that he didn't quite feel, “I just had one more question, I'm afraid... Could you explain what sort of thing you had in mind, in terms of retribution? I mean, I'm not a Moltaran citizen so I don't exactly fall under your jurisdiction...”
Mayor Velmir glowered at him. That was not the right way to respond to a death threat! Tim had a real flair for ruining the moment.
“Oh, I have my ways...” the Wocky growled threateningly. But Tim's response had unsettled him. He didn't seem to be quite as in control of the situation as he had been a moment before...
Tim shrugged, unconcerned, “All right, thanks for clarifying,” said the Yurble mildly. And so saying, he concluded his speech as though nothing had happened, “I'll look forward to seeing you all around over the next few months,” he told the crowd brightly. Then, with a cheery “Toodaloo” he turned and left the stage.
A ripple of amusement ran through the crowd.
Phil was impressed. Tim had certainly played his cards well. With a few deft moves he had made Gerome Velmir an object of absolute ridicule. The fear that had pervaded the Town Hall a few short moments ago was practically gone.
Gerome Velmir swept a loathing gaze over the laughing, chattering crowd. Tim had wounded his pride. He'd destroyed the atmosphere of terror that Gerome had worked so hard to create. All these relaxed, chattering 'pets should be cowering before him! And they would.
“SILENCE,” Gerome roared. And the entire assembly froze in mid sentence to look at him.
And yet, it wasn't a look of fear that the Moltarans turned on him. It wasn't an attitude of contrite submission. It was a look of cautious curiosity. As though they were no longer quite sure of this new mayor's limits. But he would show them.
“Today,” he said, his voice deathly quiet, “My dignity has been insulted.”
“It has been insulted by a young Yurble named Tim,” he declared. “And this issue must be rectified.” He turned a menacing gaze on the Yurble at the front of the crowd.
“I'll ask Tim to join me up here,” Gerome said.
The crowd collectively drew breath. The mayor smiled. This was the attitude of fear he wanted to see.
Slowly, apprehensively, Tim once again mounted the stairs to the stage. He had known this was coming. But it didn't make it any easier to carry through.
Gerome Velmir was making a big mistake. There was a good reason the Sway didn't normally operate like this. They dealt in fear and uncertainty. And it worked. That was why people were always in fearful submission to them. But Gerome couldn't cope with this blow to his pride. And so, mistake or not, he sought to avenge himself on Tim. Here and now.
Tim stood on the stage, facing the mayor. He tried to stand his ground, not shying away. The Wocky stared him down. This was it.
“I am the most powerful ruler Moltara has ever witnessed,” Gerome declared, “Why, if I were to merely click my fingers, I could send half a dozen darts whizzing right into your hide...”
He held his fingers aloft, menacingly, as though poised to click. Then clicked.
The Wocky blinked. Then realised with annoyance that his click hadn't worked. It must not have been obvious enough to his plants in the audience. He would just have to be more explicit.
“When I say I want someone harmed, it happens,” he growled at Tim, threateningly. He paused for a response. “NOW!” he thundered. And still, nothing happened.
A restless murmur began to run through the crowd. Surely Tim should be on the floor in pain by now. At the mercy of some unseen threat. And yet, there he stood, on the stage, completely unharmed.
Raging, Mayor Velmir turned to Doug and Bob. He pointed at Tim. “Take him away!” he ordered. Tim's continued existence seemed to be a personal insult to him. He wanted the Yurble out of his sight.
One of the Skeiths, Doug or Bob, started forwards in order to seize the Yurble. Then a zinging sound resounded through the Town Hall. The Skeith stopped short. A dart quivered in the boards of the stage, right in front of his feet. He was fairly sure it hadn't been there a moment before. Thick though he might be, the Skeith understood the warning. He didn't take another step forwards.
Tim breathed a sigh of relief. He stood in plain view on the stage. A pair of ferocious Skieths beside him, and at least one unseen assassin in front of him. And he was safe.
Tim couldn't keep from smiling as he saw all the pieces fall into place. It was Gerome's own pride that had isolated him from the Sway – the source of his power. And it was Gerome's own pride that had goaded him to act now – showing the people that he had no power left. Tim was jubilant.
He turned to look at Gerome.
The Wocky caught one glimpse of the smile on Tim's face. He couldn't take it. The Sway had abandoned him. The Brutes had abandoned him. But he needed revenge on this Yurble – the one who had ruined everything. The rage that had been building up inside of him exploded in a burst of action. He gave a roar of frustration, lunged towards Tim, and landing a firm punch on his jaw.
Tim didn't try to defend himself. He didn't try to retaliate. He didn't even flinch. That wasn't his way.
For a long moment, Gerome stood stunned. Why wasn't Tim reacting? What was going on?
Then, as though through a haze of half-formed thought, he heard a low rumble. He saw a mob of people swarm onto the stage. He felt a dozen hands hold him aloft. He heard angry cries as he was carried away, he knew not where.
Twenty minutes later, the Town Hall was largely deserted. Those few in the crowd who hadn't bothered to join in the angry mob had all gone home. Mayor Dilbert, Rigdon, Reg, and the rest of the council had retired to a side room. They had important governmental issues to discuss. Cog, naturally, was still occupied in heading up the angry mob.
Tim sat on the edge of the stage, holding ice to his injured jaw. He had protested that he didn't need the ice, but Marta had insisted. And Stella had gone off to get some especially for him. He couldn't really refuse. Phil was doing a good job of refraining from smirking too obviously. He and Tim both knew that the ice was coming straight off as soon as the girls weren't around to berate him any more.
Silence reigned in the Hall. There didn't seem to be anything to say... and the excitement of the last few days seemed finally to have caught up with them. They were all deadly tired.
An occasional yawn punctuated the silence.
Just then, a door opened to their right, and they were rejoined by Mayor Dilbert and Rigdon.
“That was quick,” observed Phil blandly.
Mayor Dilbert nodded acknowledgement. There hadn't been a lot to discuss. It appeared that no other members of the Sway had infiltrated the Town Council. Gerome had evidently trusted no-one, even keeping his own faction at arm's length.
The council had held a short meeting – just enough for them to reinstate Astur Dilbert to the position of mayor. The vote had been unanimous. They would reconvene the next day to work through all the details. But for now, they were headed home to get some long-awaited rest.
“So I guess that's the end of that adventure,” said Phil, as he watched the councillors leave. “You did good, mate,” he told Tim, impressed, “Defeating the Sway!”
Tim shrugged modestly, “I dunno,” he said, “I feel like Gerome wasn't really your average Sway. He seemed a bit less... subtle, if you get what I mean.”
Far, far away, a tall purple Lenny was refolding a note that had just been delivered by Crokabek. She seemed to agree with Tim.
“Well that's one troublesome, self-important Wocky taken care of,” she told the Crokabek with a grim satisfaction.
She had developed this habit of talking to her birds in order to relieve the solitude. At times it was hard being the head of a clandestine organisation such as the Sway. She could trust no-one.
The Duchess drew a deep breath and let go a sigh.
“Well, my sources were correct,” she mused, “The Yurble, certainly was up to the job.”
What she didn't voice was the uneasiness she felt. This young Yurble had achieved the task entirely too easily for her comfort. He would bear watching, she thought.