An Uprising of Sweepers: Part Five
A week later, Orcius was going through the map and sheaf of parchments that they had drawn up their plans on the past three months since they recruited. Scanning through all the words and diagrams, he asked himself if they had somehow overlooked something somewhere. He was deep in thought when Adian made his appearance in the loft, where they have taken to having their “headquarters meeting”.
“Hey? You’ve finished early!” remarked Orcius with some surprise.
“What, is that a bad thing?”
“Well, it depends… did you train them hard enough or did your gruffness finally scare them off?”
“Hah! If that is what it takes to shake any of them up, then they won’t last long in their jobs or defending against those hoodlums.”
“Good to hear that. But really, how come you are finishing earlier these days?”
“Ah, right… you wouldn’t know, since you don’t do much outdoor labour. The techniques that fledgling brat taught us aren’t too hard to learn. Also, they don’t look like fighting stances outright, but are based on movements we all use every day.”
“I see…,” replied Orcius, now that it dawned on him that he didn’t find the techniques Devilpuss-ishly hard to perform, even if he ended up tired out from repetitively using them in mock fights. At that moment, the four other Neopians turned up. Nikos tired as he was, managed a nod to both Adian and Orcius. The trio however, were surprised to see Adian there.
“Oh? You’re earlier than we expected.”
“Yeah, I am. And don’t ask me to answer. Get it from Orcius, he asked the same thing just now.”
“Ask me about that later. Let’s start now.”
In all the months they had gathered information, they found that the bandits infiltrating the town were no more than twenty. This is a very manageable number for all of them if they include the recruits as well… but they cannot forget the bandits lurking in the forest. That place is most likely for their hideout with many areas where trees grow close and thick. As such, getting an estimate on the numbers that they are facing was difficult. They eventually managed it thanks to Nikos staying hidden on the town rooftops while a raid was taking place below. His findings didn’t bode well for the entire group: aside from the twenty that they identified, there are at least fifty more bandits… which they can’t take on all at once with their current numbers. Especially with the way the whole gang of them swarms the town in all directions at the same time.
Hence their strategy to slow them down and overpower them by means of traps and pranks that would be operated by decoy runners. Meanwhile those that have been trained, will defend the other townsNeopians and try overpower the bandits. The whole time, they were worried when they heard what Nikos encountered on the rooftops earlier that week. Precautions had since doubled in their doings to look as though it is business (or in the troublemakers case, pranking) as normal. The gang of six even changed storehouses daily, to ensure no one knows where they are meeting next. So far, they have seen and heard no signs of being found out by either bandits or the mayor. Still, they could not afford to be found out when they are so far into their plans and maintained the heightened secrecy.
“Well, I think we can say that we can almost start… if only we’re confident that our fighters are able to keep fighting for a long period of time should our pranks actually fail to bring them down,” concluded Orcius. All fell quiet after he said the last sentence, even Thena who would normally come up with a witty remark, made not a pip. Finally, it was Nikos who broke the heavy silence.
“If only more of our townsNeopians would join!”
“It would be many times better,” Thena agreed with her cousin.
“Huh, things are really dire if Keena actually agrees with Nikos on something,” muttered Adian grimly. If Thena heard herself being misnamed yet again by the Wocky fisher, she did not make any move to correct him as Orcius took the chance to ask her cousin “And what about your findings on Corbio? Anything we can use to trick him into admitting his working with the bandits?”
“Aside from our find that the blacksmith has been supplying weapons for them? Not at all. I’ve tried my best but these past few days had been hard on all our couriers, since the girls and the rest were all over town setting up their equipment. I could only spare at most, two hours to spy on Corbio and only during the same times of the day."
“Sorry to hear that. You could have asked me, you know?”
“You, Adian? You had to train the recruits! I couldn’t drag you away from them when we are also relying on them a lot!”
“Which brings us back to the same issue again: lack of numbers,” Aurelia quietly remarked.
“Argh! If only we could be in many places at once! Or if more townsNeopians would get involved! I don’t see what they have to be so worried about… Their fears are understandable, but we too have our own fears and it is also their town that we are trying to protect! I don’t mean any disrespect, but I wonder where are the townsNeopians who taught us to stand up for what is right!” vented the exhausted and frustrated Mynci apprentice.
“Maybe, they feel there is no reason for them to do so… not without a rallying leader that will actually act on those principles,” came another voice that was neither one of theirs. “Wha-?! Who-?” Nikos gasped.
In shock and trepidation, all of them turned towards the direction where the voice came from… and from a shadowy corner, a tall cloaked figure stepped out into the fading sunlight with a hood covering his face. The figure proceeded to remove his hood to reveal
“Khaenos!!!!” exclaimed everyone, with the exception of Adian, who exclaimed “Brat!!!!” instead.
“Good idea to keep changing your meeting places… but you may want a more variation than just storehouses. It’s so easy to guess which one you may be in. As for your issue with spying on Corbio, I have been spying on him all hours of the day. So that is covered.”
“Really?? You just saved an important portion of our plans!” declared Orcius with happiness and relief.
“Also, I think getting the townsNeopians to see Corbio is unreliable is key in getting more of them involved. Which reminds me, I managed to find out how many bandits are in the forest… Including the ones you’ve identified in town, they number at eighty four exactly.”
The whole group were astounded to speechlessness at the feat Khaenos just mentioned so off-handedly. “Now I remember, Orcius and I had a hard time following you the first time round. Of course it wouldn’t be a problem for you,” Adian finally remarked.
“Well, I was vaguely aware that I was being followed but I was in a rush and you two were more persistent than expected. Anyway, my master did teach me a few things about stealth as part of my training. I’ll also say that Nikos has the makings of becoming a stealth master.”
“And what makes you say that?”
“I saw him in action on the rooftops about a week ago when I was watching Corbio’s doings. Got me unawares you did, Nikos.”
“Wait… so it was you I saw that day??”
“At the rooftop corner,” confirmed the Eyrie. “You did see me? Impressive!”
“Bruised bananas, Khae! You gave us all a scare!! We thought you were a bandit!”
“Taking you for a bandit is one thing entirely… We thought you decided to travel again! And why are you this colour now??” Thena asked indignantly.
“Oh, this?” he asked as he lifted a tuft of deep blue fur from his neck ruff. “I decided to come back as myself… as Khaenos, son of Thaenos.”
“That’s… great news! But, what you told us last time gave us the impression that you don’t want to be found out as yourself. It was too dangerous or something,” reminded Orcius.
“It still is. But Nikos, you reminded me about something that I’ve forgotten since I left the town many years ago.”
“Eh? What was that?”
“It was the way you see this town as more than just the place you live in. You call it “Home” too. I may decide to call some other place home in future, but the fact remains that I did have family here and used to call it Home. But where was I the whole time? I was supposed to be doing what my father would but couldn’t do, and I ran away!”
“You had valid reasons! No one would blame you if you had chosen to run!” Thena interjected.
“That’s right. You were only what, an Eyrie chick? You couldn’t have done much even if you wanted to. The odds wouldn’t have been good,” agreed Maevia.
“No it wouldn’t. But I should have come back when I got much stronger. Instead, I vowed to follow my master’s footsteps and travelled from place to place the past two years after training with him.”
“Really? Then why did you return? Surely, you would have avoided this town like a disease if you never had intention to return,” pointed out Orcius.
“I desperately needed to replenish my supplies and apply my dye. I could have gotten it from any other town or city nearby, but I suppose the call to come back was stronger than expected.”
“I’ll say good thing too! Now we have an actual fighter who can take on those good-for-nothing hoodlums!”
“Coming from you Adian, that’s well said! I’ll add on: we can really start the fun and games now,” Orcius said with maniacal gleam in his large eyes as he rubbed his wings together with anticipation. “I feel the beginnings of a plan coming to me, gather closer all of you and listen up!” ---
Five days later, during the hottest time of the afternoon when most townsNeopians would be napping from the heat, stirrings of activity could be seen in various parts of town. Had any of them in the southern part of town bothered to pay attention, they would have seen an unfamiliar young grey coloured Acara making way through one of the many winding alleyways. With hurried but purposeful movements, the Acara finally arrived at the intended backdoor and gave the door a series of raps, sending a code to the inhabitant within. The inhabitant must have been expecting it, because the door opened an inch right after the last knock.
“Well? You don’t look like anyone I know.”
“Please sir,” the bright indigo eyed Acara piped out in a child-like voice and held out a small scroll “I was just told to send this message to the blacksmith’s backdoor.” The blacksmith stuck out a callused hand and took it roughly from the messenger’s hand.
“Alright. I got it. Now, go.”
“Ah, but sir-“
“What, boy? You want to be paid? The one who sent you will pay you!”
“It’s not that sir. I was asked to tell you to return the purses that you’ve been receiving. There’s news that some townsNeopians are suspecting anyone with purses like that to be working with the bandits. I have to bring it back from you this very instant so you won’t get caught. He will hide it well, he said.”
“What?? Very well, then!” The door slammed shut right in the poor messenger’s nose. Before the messenger could let out a squeal of pain and surprise, the door opened again to reveal a heavy set Ogrin with small mean looking eyes, who thrusted a few scarlet coloured purses in the messenger’s face. “Now, leave!”
The messenger did not need to be told another time, promptly running down the alley and disappearing around a corner. The blacksmith went back in, and barely sat in his chair when another series of raps came on his back door. Again??? He groaned loudly and headed towards the door, where the knockings were now a lot more urgent than the previous one. He threw open the door and stuck his head out to come face to face with the mayor, Corbio himself!
“Wha-, Mayor? What brings you out here?”
“Did you give that purse to anyone?” Corbio rushed in the question.
“I just did, Mayor Sir!”
“But- wasn’t it what you just told me to do?”
“I didn’t! I came to warn you burn it this minute, not to pass it to anyone!!”
“I got news that some of the townsNeopians have gotten wind of my involvement with the bandits and were coming to search your house!”
“I heard that as well! But I was told to give it back to you so we won’t be suspected!”
“Then, who did we heard this from? And why is this all happening few hours before the raid??”
“I believe all of you just heard that clearly, right, council members?” cut in a voice.
Both turned in shock to find a large burly Wocky, an austere looking Vandagyre, and all nine council members gathered behind them. The council members wore expressions of shock and disbelief at what they had just witnessed while the Vandagyre (isn’t he the apothecary owner’s son?) looked on grimly and the Wocky gave such a glare that both mayor and blacksmith took in their head to run.
Which was a mistake. Immediately, all alleyways were blocked by the rest of the recruits; who by now have taken to calling themselves “Sweepers” (seeing their doings as “cleaning out” the works of a corrupt leader), waited in hiding. Except for two. They quickly headed that way… and were stopped immediately by a tall cloaked figure. The figure apprehended both of them but couldn’t grab the mayor who made a mad dash for the other opening…
And bumped right into Nikos and Thena who were running up that particular alleyway at that moment (whereas Maevia swooped down on to the scene from the roofs)! There was a slight tussle, and Adian made his way there to provide assistance. But there was no need, as Nikos barely apprehended the mayor by crouching down and knocking him off his feet.
“Impressive, cousin! What was that you just did?”
“That is what you call a “leg sweep”.”
“Good job, all of you!” called out Orcius with pride in his voice, it was he who addressed the council earlier. And the council members gasped when the cloaked figure came into light. “It can’t be? Mayor Thaenos??”
“No, I am not. Though it pleases me to hear that I look like my late father.”
“What? You’re… Khaenos? That little Eyrie that used to play in a corner while meetings were held? How is it you’ve survived??”
“I- We thought that you ended up the same way like your family!” exclaimed a shocked Corbio, who had been hauled up and firmly held by two strong Sweepers.
“You thought wrong then, Aide Corbio… or should it be Mayor Corbio now?”
“Hah, Mayor indeed!” spat one of the council members.
“Look, this is a misunderstanding! Why do you have me apprehended like a common criminal? Release me from my bonds, I can explain everything!” pleaded Corbio.
“Oh, I don’t think so!” called out Maevia. Nikos who had a bag slung over his body the whole time, reached in it and took out a sheaf of parchments. “It was hard finding these, even with Thena’s and Maevia’s help. But we managed to, from a really tricky hiding place in Corbio’s study when he got the “news” from Maevia and rushed out.”
“In case you are wondering what these could be, O “wise, esteemed” members of council, they are documents and agreements that old Corbio here drew up with the bandits. Some even date back before the attack on the previous mayor!” informed Thena.
“Thank you, you three! And where is Aurelia?” asked Orcius as he scanned the gathering.
“Right here!” she responded from the fringes in her normal, low melodic voice. The blacksmith’s eyes grew large when the grey coloured “messenger boy” made her appearance, waving the scarlet purses for all to see. “We all know that only mayors use scarlet purses to denote their rank within a town or city. And you had just witnessed it coming out from the blacksmith’s house,” reminded Khaenos.
“Well, Corbio? What have you to say for yourself now?” When the question was met with silence, a council member directed that he and the blacksmith be locked in one of the storehouses nearby. “And we want to hear more from all of you. There are too many questions that need answering first, Orcius son of Aethius.”
“Indeed. And we are running out of time, so a short version must suffice.”
To be continued…