An Uprising of Sweepers: Part Four
The bandits, had raided the town so many times that they are very familiar with the somewhat messy layout of the town. There are so many small roads that one could get lost if one was new to the town and its surroundings. But it also makes it easy, to lead anyone you don’t want on your heels on a fine chase through those roads and lose them. And it was also these many roads and the really close proximity of the buildings that became another key in helping the townNeopians in the town fight against the bandits. ---
“Oh, closing up for the day?”
“Yes, we are.”
Adian was wrapping up the last of the catch to speed up the sales during market closing time and giving Nikos further instructions on those sales and deliveries. Leaving their customer to him, Adian went back home for a hearty meal and a good sleep before meeting up with the others for the afternoon, to make the necessary preparations for bringing down the bandits.
Unfortunately, he slept a little too well that he woke up an hour later than he intended. Yelling to his mother that he will be out in town with Orcius, he dashed out as fast as he could rushing toward the North section of the town. He cursed the weariness that caused him to be late under his breath the whole way. He cooled down after a while, making sure to slow down and act normally when he drew closer to the meeting point.
He rapped a few times on the door of one of the unused storehouses at the outer fringes of the town and waited a few moments. He was greeted by a slightly worn out Orcius. “About time you came,” groaned Orcius.
“I see you’ve been busy training,” remarked Adian as he stepped in and shut the door after him.
“You tell me about it! I am not assigned to do as much “grunt” work as you other three, but no! You all insisted that it’ll be better for me to do some training as well when I am the one coming up with plans and strategies!”
“Survival comes to one who trains equally the mind and body,” intoned a voice from the shadows before its owner stepped out from there. “Besides, wasn’t it you who brought up the possibility that most you would be caught in a difficult situation and have to fight your way out? And getting Nikos to convince me to stay until you’re all competent in basic defensive fighting?”
“I did so, yes… But I meant only the ones who will be running around and setting up everything!” the Vandagyre replied indignantly.
“Ah, don’t wing your way out of this my feathered friend,” cut in Adian. “With all your knowledge from scroll reading and those brats gift for trouble, we did agree that it’ll be you and them strategizing together. Apart from coming up with those wondrous schemes with your assistants, you should have time and energy enough to learn what you need to know from Khaenos. Right?”
“That’s right,” agreed Khaenos, who was now back to his black as ink colour.
“And since we’re already on the subject, how is the planning?” Adian directed the question to their mastermind.
“Not as well as I’ve hoped,” sighed Orcius. “To even come up with any conclusive plans, we need information which we’re not getting fast enough…”
“But… I thought we’re not going to attempt anything for this coming raid?”
“That plan is still in place, Ad. But for the next one? We need to gather information much faster than what we’re doing.”
“I’ll agree,” another voice came. But this time, no one was surprised to see that it was only Maevia, who had flown in through a window from the loft.
“Why did you fly in, what if you were seen?? And where are the others?” fumed Adian.
“No worries. I used the side window facing the forest. And I flew ahead to inform all of you that the others are on their way.”
“Huh, then I hope they’ll use more caution than you did.”
“I can’t vouch for Nikos, but the two others can find other means of coming in without being seen. In any case, I agree with Orcius. We’re not gathering information fast enough.”
“Well, four is a bit small for gathering information for a town this size,” admitted Orcius ruefully.
“Too small, you mean. How are we going to handle this?”
“We could try see if we can get more people involved with what we’re doing.”
“But how many more? And whom exactly? We don’t have anyone who is as good in fighting as Khaenos and he isn’t planning to stay long!”
“Since you’ve mentioned my name, may I suggest something? How about adding nine more Neopians first, mainly for acquiring information? That way, you all will have at least two each covering a section of the town. Also, can we get on with training, Adian? You are more than an hour late.”
It was over two hours later, when both Adian and Nikos (who eventually turned up) sank to the floor of allotted training space in the storehouse were done learning and practising the new techniques of the day with much groaning. Even though they are fishers by profession with both strength and stamina, the strain of the training and preparations does take its toll. Khaenos; while a patient instructor, is very strict about getting the techniques ingrained in their movements. “You need to know what to do, even in the heat of battle. Your ability to recover or gain ground in a fight depends on how often you practice those techniques.”
After a while of sitting, Adian got up and headed over to where Orcius and the troublemakers were in discussion, but Nikos hung back. Even if he claimed that he doesn’t tire easily, he was tired out from the many roles and jobs he has to do, on top of the training he has. Khaenos, seeing his friend taking a longer rest, approached him.
“All well there?”
“Eh, not really. But it’s doable, the techniques are really simple enough to follow. It’s more a matter of looking as though this sudden bout of busyness I am going through is normal to the townsNeopians. That, and making sure I get enough rest,” Nikos finished with a laugh.
“Hm. Good to hear that. You’ve been making good progress with your training, so don’t worry about it if you are.”
“Right, thanks for telling.”
There was a short pause after that statement before Khaenos asked his friend a question that he had been wondering since they met after many years. “Your father, how long ago when that happened to him?”
“Oh, about… one, two… yes, three years ago.”
“I see. But did you really have to move out and live with your uncle? What about your mother?”
“Oh, right. You wouldn’t know. She got really sick and that finished her off. It was about a year after you left… and good thing too actually. She wouldn’t have liked what was happening with all the developments with the bandits now. And with my father being like that… she wouldn’t have taken it well. Anyhow, better for my father to stay with family as I am out for most part of the day.”
“At least he’ll be taken care of,” agreed Khaenos. “But, I wonder how you can take it all so well… if you are.”
“If you saw me two years back, you wouldn’t say that of me. Thanks to Adian, I managed to get my bearings and some semblance of order after that incident. Only recently did I get a drive that wasn’t related to day-to-day matters.”
“Oh? Which is?”
“The desire to give the bandits their long awaited dues. And to wrench that useless mayor out of that residence he shouldn’t be in.”
“Hm. Not bad, Nikos. But why bother? Not to look down on your efforts or whatever your little group is doing. Still, how effective will it be? Will it even solve anything?”
“Honestly my friend, I don’t know. But I do know one thing: if we don’t try, we’ll never know. We’ll still be stuck in the same rut that we’ve somehow fallen into. Then, there definitely will be no change at all. And after all, this is our Home! If an invader enters, you hunt it down and chase it out.”
And Nikos’s philosophical speech might have continued if not for Adian’s call of “Get over here, you slorgs-for-feet apprentice! We need your information NOW.” At that, Nikos went but not before giving his long lost friend a knowing smile, leaving Khaenos to move back into the shadowy recesses of the storehouse, to ponder upon what he had just said. ---
It was unfortunate for them that it was not only that they had to let one raid happen, but a few more as they were not ready and did not have the means to counter the bandits in the subsequent weeks and months. Only really brave traders would still risk passing through the town, with regularity of the occurring raids increasing causing the town’s finances to be strained to its limits. But with each subsequent raid, plans were made and slowly laid. It wasn’t easy, but the initial group of nine suggested by Khaenos previously sped up the process, which made things a lot easier for Orcius and the troublemaking trio. Also, the group gradually increased in numbers with all of them (except Khaenos) discreetly recruiting like-minded Neopians who were fed up of not being able to do anything about the town’s situation.
“What you’re doing is too dangerous, boy!” protested Adian’s mother when Adian tried to see if she would help.
“Oh, let them be already Pamia. They are old enough to make their own choices,” Orcius mother cajoled.
“But you’re not going to lose your only family through this madness!”
“Well, we can’t guarantee no one will come out of this in one piece. But these youngsters are doing is nothing wrong, aren’t they? In any case, you aren’t the only one who may end up losing a family member. And did you think so lowly of our relationship all these years? We’ve long regarded you and Adian here as part of our family!”
While Orcius’ parents quietly supported what they were doing, most of the older townsNeopians they approached were sceptical about the whole operation. As such, the recruits were mainly younger townsNeopians. It would look really strange if more Neopians show up at the storehouse, so it was decided that the apothecary will be the place to dispense information and relay any messages when Orcius is there for his shift, aside from the courier recruits (mainly apprentices from various trades) who report to Maevia, Aurelia and Nikos.
Nikos, Adian and Orcius had trained enough to reach a level that Khaenos was satisfied with. He finally left the town to continue his travels, though assuring that he will visit again when the situation in the town has been dealt with. With him no longer occupying the storehouse, only the original six continued meeting there to fine tune their plans. That storehouse would also be used in turns by Adian or Nikos after the market closes, for training recruits that are physically capable in taking on the bandits. It was hard, but they managed to get the town council to let them use the storehouse with the excuse that they are for meetings on improving the market trading.
Since the group expansion, they could delegate themselves to oversee and make certain aspects of the plan work. While there weren’t many changes in their roles, it fell on Maevia and Aurelia along with some other light footed members to scout the whole town and spy on the bandits’ activities (which they managed to identify with much shadowing, observation and eavesdropping). Meanwhile, Thena gleefully came up with ways of slowing down the bandits … many involving fishing nets as the town is after all, a fishing town. However, some methods she planned to use involved complicated mechanisms and tools that were limited to make it happen. So Orcius went through the plans and refined them, after much discussion (read, disagreement) and ruffled feathers.
“But this will definitely keep them all in one place until the whole thing is over!”
“It will but do you realise that to do that, you need to have the right equipment? And what more, one that is not so easily available!”
“Alright then! What do you recommend, O’ Orcius the Wise?” Thena retorted angrily.
“That you use the same concepts that you’ve been using for all the other traps… your idea of leaving them to dangle is good but, well… I mentioned earlier what we’ll need for that.”
“Tch! Fine! How boring!”
“Och, someone’s in a bad mood today,” remarked Nikos who had just entered and was in time to hear the end bit of the discussion, amidst the noise that Adian and the other recruits were causing with their training.
“Well, try being in my sandals cousin dear and see if you wouldn’t if your ideas were picked apart.”
“Really? I guess you win then.”
“Of course I will. How did your investigations go?”
“Eh. All I can say is, be thankful that you and Orcius are mainly in charge of putting the pieces of the operation together. The same can’t be said for mine.”
“Why, what happened?” Orcius asked with concern.
“Finding the proof of Corbio’s alliance with the bandits is not easy. We all know that it won’t be. But getting the actual evidence to show that he is not to be trusted on what he says about the bandits… We might have to change our tactics for this one.”
“How will you do that?”
“I have been discussing with Aurelia and Maevia. We think that it would be easier to trick Corbio into admitting that he is with the bandits. But how and when we are going to trick him, will be a whole other problem.”
“Hmm. This will need more thinking about. Let’s finish off with the final trap for the day Thena. Then, we’ll think about how we can deal with Corbio.”
“Good. But before that, I want Nikos to inform our fishers that we need more nets and some of those must be in these positions here and here, before this week is out,” replied Thena as she poked various points on their extremely detailed map of the town.
“Right. And will those nets need to be specially set up?”
“No, no. Leave it to our recruits stationed there, Maevia or Aurelia will oversee that part of it. We may need their help to move around some things in the alleys behind Old Man Tupernicus’ Inn though, so make sure they are on hand for that.” ---
It had been a long day for Nikos… and it is not quite over yet. He still had to find Aurelia to pass on a message from their “headquarters”. “Little wonder that I have time to properly follow our suspect!” he thought somewhat sourly as he walked through a quiet part of town. He felt a little guilty for thinking that way but then again, he was doing quite a lot. Even if everyone is doing their part in relaying any messages to one another and overseeing their parts, Nikos’s job as a fisher apprentice is one that won’t draw attention if he were suddenly seen at all corners of the town. Thus some urgent messages to be sent across town after Orcius apothecary shift (which is early morning to early afternoon) were best left to Nikos or other apprentices to courier. So poor Nikos had to do a good number of couriering, on top of general spying and getting information about Corbio’s dealings.
Maevia and Aurelia could also be messengers and no one would bat an eyelid if they were to use their much faster way via rooftops, given their widely known reputation as troublemakers. But of late, they were more involved in the matters of scouting and have little time for couriering messages. He was glad that Adian is more than able to manage the defence training of their recruits. He already has too much on hand with couriering and “seeing to” certain areas of the town that he hardly time to spy on Corbio as well.
As it was getting dark already… why not use the roofs? He will be much harder to spot anywhere on ground or above. And based from whatever he had seen and heard from Maevia and Aurelia’s reports on the bandits’ usage of the rooftops to get around, they are not likely to be using the roofs at this hour.
Nikos clambered up to the roof a single story building once he’s sure that he isn’t watched, with the speed and agility that his species had been blessed with. From there, it was really easy for him to get himself up on the roofs of the much taller adjacent building. He needed a brief moment to get his bearings and he was off; leaping, twirling and flipping through the air as he moved from one rooftop to another. He was passing through somewhere near the town centre when from the corner of his eye, he thought he saw a skulking figure at a rooftop corner overlooking the mayor’s residences. Nikos made a three point landing and turned to look that direction, but it was gone.
“Wha-? Was that?”
He wondered if it was because of the failing light that he was seeing things. But then, if he wasn’t seeing things… who was that? A bandit?? Nikos shuddered to think it could so, what if he was seen?! That can make things really bad. Putting it aside for the time being, he quickly continued on his way more discreetly…
The figure which had crouched down to avoid being seen; stood up silently, watching Nikos’s progress through the town rooftops.
To be continued…