An Uprising of Sweepers: Part Seven
"Make one move, and I will make sure you won’t move ever again.”
Well! Even if the brute behind her didn’t say so, she wouldn’t. Also, she comes up with plans better when she is in situations like this. Though judging from the expressions of those watching from below, this situation doesn’t look good and won’t be easy to wriggle out from. Catching sight of her two friends among the periphery of the town square, she just shot them a knowing look. Haven’t the three of them encountered these types of situations before and came out from it? And his threat? It just begs for a good reply.
That was why, townsNeopians and bandits alike were amazed to see that her expression throughout was nonchalant. In fact they did not expect her to turn her head and face the bandit leader, nor reply him in such a taunting manner. “Are you sure about that? I can make a move without moving, you know?”
The mutant Uni just grinned and said “Oh? In that case, you won’t mind if I see it for myself!”
He swung his sword towards Thena’s neck is when a few things happened all at once. First, there were shouts and screams from below. At the same time, something green and small came flying straight for his face which made him change the direction of his sword to try and deflect it. Because of the distraction, he took his attention off the hostage for a brief second. In that brief second, he felt something ram into his abdomen, threatening to throw him off balance and the roof… it was his hostage! Annoyed, he lashed out at her with his blade but Thena was too fast for him, she had danced away towards the edge of the roof with a smirk. He fumed and moved quickly her way, but had his viewed blocked when he was mere inches the Mynci girl by the same flying green thing which he now realised was a Pteri
The bandit leader hit out against the Pteri with the flat of his blade, in an attempt to move the “distraction” out of the way. While the Pteri manage to fly off at last second, he also ended up hitting Thena at the back of her head as she was about to make her way off the roof. Yelling out in pain, Thena bent double to clutch her head… and fell off the roof. She would have gotten worse injuries were it not for her cousin, Adian, Orcius and a few of the Sweepers waiting below to break her fall with a sail cloth. Or had Aurelia not making her way fast enough, to warn them Thena would climb down from the roof when her assailant was distracted.
Seeing she had no injuries needing immediate attention, Nikos was about to clamber up the roof where the bandit leader was looking down at his subordinates, deep in thought. He will regret hurting his cousin! But he felt a something rush by him: Khaenos!
“You there. Whatever you are planning to do to free them, it won’t work,” stated Khaenos.
“Oh? And why is that?
“Because, all of them are already tired out and injured from the fighting. There’s no point and the townsNeopians do have the advantage in numbers.”
“Ah, but aren’t most of them also tired out and injured?”
“Which is why I am proposing this: we’ll duel one on one.”
“WHAT?!” everyone gasped upon hearing Khaenos’s bold proclamation. The only one who didn’t was the bandit leader himself. “So, you mean to settle this whole thing without drawing this fight any longer than it should. Smart. But what do I get from this?”
“Simple. You win; this town will give up three quarters of their produce and income to you every month. I win; all of you leave and never set foot in town again to harass the townsNeopians.”
Khaenos drew out the sword which he kept on his being the entire time, and got into a defensive stance. The two Neopians, the Eyrie’s golden eyes and the Uni’s solitary crimson eye stared down one another while circling the best they could on the rooftop, finding the right moment to attack. Maevia made to fly up to distract the Uni again when she felt Orcius stop her with his wing.
“No, leave them.”
“But Khaenos is also tired out! He’s mad for coming up with that suggestion when he’s in that state!”
“It’s like that bandit said. It is a quick way to settle this whole fight without dragging it out when both sides are equally disabled with injuries and fatigue.”
“Besides,” cut in Adian, “didn’t you hear what Thena said earlier? About the Neopian who got really badly injured after taking on this one?”
“No… I was too far away to hear. But, we’ve all heard about this bandit! He’s a notoriously strong fighter!”
“It’s part of the reason why that Neopian got that badly injured. I know the Neopian in question and he wouldn’t have a chance against this one, capable fighter he is. No, that brat Khaenos has the skills and a much better chance dealing with him.”
Clashing sound of blade on blade cut short their conversation. All their eyes went straight up to the roof. They were just in time to see the Uni bandit land a blow on Khaenos’s shoulder, which he barely deflected. It left a shallow bleeding gash. “Not very fast, are you?” But the bandit’s smirk at managing to injure the Eyrie fledgling was soon wiped away when Khaenos quickly followed up with an attack, leaving the bandit with a similar injury.
“So are you.”
“Then, let’s see if you can take these on!”
“These” came on in a flurry of attacks which Khaenos all but managed to block and deflect, avoiding major injuries but gaining minor ones in place. While he managed a few more counterattacks in between, they were not as many as he would like. His opponent managed to fend off many of his counterattacks and Khaenos had to watch his own footing and movements, lest he loses balance or gets cornered on the cramped rooftop.
Also, he is starting to get a little unnerved by the bandit’s fighting style. Those quick, powerful space-grabbing movements and techniques feel very familiar... It felt as though he had spent a lot time fighting against and losing to the techniques the Uni bandit is using on him. What more, Khaenos felt he was mirroring many of those techniques! His opponent apparently thought so too, as he remarked when they paused briefly to catch their breaths. “Not bad, you can actually keep up with me!”
“The way you fight… you’ve been trained well.”
“Of course! How else would I be able to control my bandits… right?” he directed the last question to his lackeys below, who all agreed loudly and affirmatively. “See that? But I think after this, you may as well hand over this month’s earnings to me!”
“Perhaps. Before that… isn’t your fighting “tusk style”?”
The bandit leader was thrown off guard for a moment by Khaenos’s question. “Wha- how did you know that??”
“Anyone who had training from Master Choirus would know. You were a student of his before, weren’t you?”
“Choirus! That old Moehog!!! And you were his student too? Oh, this makes this fight even more interesting!” gasped the bandit with incredulous laughter.
“Very much so,” agreed Khaenos dryly.
“Well, let’s finish it here and now! Let’s see if one student can best the other!”
The Uni lunged out at Khaenos, forcing him to back in to a corner. Khaenos, did not miss a beat but crouched and tumbled through the Uni’s legs. He tried to stand quickly, but had to block the blade that was coming down at his head. The bandit sneered as he bared down at him, forcing him to stay down. “What? This is the best you could do??”
The Eyrie gritted his beak. Forcing his leg to move, he risked adding another gash on to his face to do that and hook kicked the Uni in the knees. Succeeding that, it got his opponent off balance briefly, earning him time to get himself off the rooftop floor and standing. Below, the townsNeopians heaved a sigh of relief whereas the bandits groaned and jeered at Khaenos. The townsNeopians, at Orcius’s leading hollered out exhortations to their weary hero. While they had many anxious moments seeing he wasn’t as strong as the older Neopian; they chose not to be disheartened, hoping his skills, speed and agility will make up for it. The bandit leader got his balance back and swiped at his opponent, but this time the fledgling was much faster.
Khaenos took to the air, hoping that the bandit would follow him. He turned and was glad to see that the opponent was in hot pursuit. Khaenos parried the sword that came at him fiercely the best he could, while getting in a few good hits when an opening presented itself. By moving the fight to the air, he gained a lot more room for his attacks and counterattacks instead of being forced to limit his movements in a confined rooftop area. But it wasn’t long before he started to feel more drained as the fight wore on and remembered why he avoids aerial type fights. In the future he must train himself to fight longer in the air, Khaenos thought to himself… if there’s a next time. He pressed on through the haze of exhaustion. Even if he couldn’t hear them all the time, the voices of the townsNeopians reminded him that their future as a town hinges on the outcome of this tiring one-on-one battle.
Huh? Was it his imagination or are the bandit’s attacks becoming weaker and less frequent? Could it be… it was! Time finish off the fight before getting too worn out. The Uni bandit closed in the distance between the two of them and swiftly swung in his blade. Khaenos moved out of the sword’s reach and stopped the blade with his own. Before the bandit could react, suddenly Khaenos closed in as he twisted his blade out and downwards. Instantly, the bandit felt his grip loosening on his blade and it fell to the ground, narrowly missing a group of townsNeopians. The loss of the bandit Uni’s sword was followed up with his fledgling opponent bringing the edge of his blade to his throat, finishing his attack.
“Match over. Your loss, my win.”
“Indeed, fellow student. You know, I should thank you…”
“Yes, thank you… for giving me the opportunity to finish you at close range!” the Mutant spat in the Royalboy’s face triumphantly. But that expression didn’t stay too long, it gave way to confusion.
“Oi, one eyed Mutant! Missing these?” called out a voice from below a little weakly. The two fighters, the townsNeopians and bandits below looked towards the direction of the voice. The one eyed Mutant in question went slacked jaw when he saw Thena standing tall, steadied by both Nikos and Adian widely grinning up at him and brandishing a pair of daggers mockingly. He was so stunned that he allowed Khaenos to lead him down to be apprehended by the waiting townsNeopians. As the bandits were led away to be thrown out of town by a large group of townsNeopians, Khaenos hung back and headed over to where the six ringmasters of the night’s operation were gathered.
“Who would’ve thought a troublemaker’s pickpocketing act saved a fight and town!” Khaenos grunted though his small smile said otherwise.
“Of course! Why do you think we take effort to thwart all plans but our own?” she replied with pride.
“Seeing you’re responding normally, it’s good to know you’re better now.”
“Well, can’t help but recover faster when I hear myself correctly referred to by a certain spoilsport fisher!”
“What’s that?” growled the fisher in question. “Watch your mouth brat, or you’ll wish that I never “made” you better!”
“Oh, but I never said it was you! Then, are you actually admitting you’re a spoilsport?”
“That’s it!!! Apprentice, fetch my box of salt!! It’s time to clean out this troublemaker’s mouth!” he roared. But his apprentice was already breathless with laughter at Thena’s quick remarks, as were the others. Once they had collected themselves, the seven Sweepers had to run after the other Sweepers and the townsNeopians when a messenger fire Yooyu from the town council urgently summoned them. In all the bustle and their weariness from the night’s events, no one saw a figure lurking in a quiet corner of the town centre square.
The old Moehog, Choirus had kept to himself the whole time; blending in the crowd while everyone watched the one-on-one fight between his two former pupils. He nodded to himself, satisfied that he had remedied an old wrong of his, even if was in an indirect way. “They will all come out much stronger from now.” Turning the opposite direction the townsNeopians were heading, Choirus the travelling fighter left the town in the same stealthy manner he entered, as a new sun rose over a tired but triumphant town. ---
So, what happened in the end after the momentous uprising of the town against its raiders? Firstly, the town council held trial for both the deposed mayor and the blacksmith. Finding out that the mayor had indeed been working together with the bandits since the town’s earlier raids in return for not raiding his house and their protection, he was thrown out of town in disgrace. The last that was heard of him was his taking refuge in a city run by corrupt officials some distance away.
The blacksmith, was found to have been working with the mayor to supply and fix the bandits weapons in return for keeping the money given to him for his services. He had to pay a hefty fine out of that money to the town council as a means of compensation. It took out a large part of his earnings and the townsNeopians, who did not like him much due to his mean and horrible personality, shunned his business when his dealings came to light. He had no choice but to eventually pack up and bring his business to another town. Not long after that, a new blacksmith moved in.
This blacksmith willingly took in Khaenos; who decided to stay for good but wasn’t interested in following his father’s footsteps, as an apprentice even if he was a little old to be taken as one. It worked out well both ways as the blacksmith badly needed an apprentice and found it a bonus that his new apprentice know a little about weaponry and how to wield them, expanding the range of products he can sell. Khaenos, likewise was glad to learn pick up a useful trade and learnt quickly.
Orcius, was made a member of the town council to replace one of them that was elected to take the position of town mayor. He had proven himself capable of coming up with solutions to problems and would represent the younger townsNeopians in those meeting. He could still be seen working in the apothecary when he is not in any of those meetings or running around town for something related to that. Though he was glad to be chosen for such an important role, he complains to Adian and Nikos whenever he meets them about how busy he is now. To which the gruff Wocky always remarked that this is what came out of his insatiable curiosity and had brought it upon himself.
Nikos no longer worked as an apprentice after the events that shook the town were over but alongside his mentor as a co-worker. The girls; though they still held their reputation as troublemaking pranksters, they were widely respected for what they did. They too, eventually toned down their jokes (which caused occasional ruckuses, but always with many laughs and no injuries) and play them out when not too busy with their apprenticeships in their respective family businesses. And Adian, ever since hearing what they had to deal with in their younger days started to refer to them with their names correctly. Though he would revert to using the wrong names for a while if he feels their pranks are of bad taste.
The gruff Wocky still made his living as a fisher but is regarded as an important member of the Sweepers. His mother, proud and relieved that it all turned out well in the end, admitted that she had forgotten what she taught her son so long ago: standing up for the right thing mostly is and will never be easy but is a price worth paying for. The Sweepers grew in numbers after the famous uprising and held a large group of volunteers that worked to protect and maintain the town’s safety.
It was only when the small town got burnt down in a great fire some years after that and its Neopians had to move into the nearby new city of Altador (where even the Twelve Protectors heard of their deeds and warmly welcomed them), did the Sweepers relinquish their role as town protectors. While a good number of them eventually were recruited or enlisted themselves into Altador’s army, all of them never forgot what it meant to be a Sweeper and continued to live it out in their lives. ---
The old Neopian looked over his grandchildren and heaved a sigh of relief to see that they have fallen asleep. He got up and quietly crossed the room, as stealthy as he did when he was much younger. He almost reached the door when a sleepy voice piped out “Grandfather?”
“Your story did have a faerie after all.”
“Hmm. Yes, I suppose it did. But the faerie only played a small part, no?”
“Uh-huh. But it was an important small part… And Grandfather?”
“Yes, what now?”
“The Sweepers are real, right? Are you one of them?”
“For your first question: yes, they are. To answer your second question will be another long story. But I promise to tell more next time, alright? Now… sleep!”
The grandfather walked back, drew the bedcovers over his Eyrie grandchild, and left the room quickly before the chick would ask any more questions. He passed by his friend who was leaning on the wall next to the doorway and shot him a querying look. “Did I take too long, getting them to sleep that you got stiff from sitting?”
“Nah, I thought it would be more interesting to listen to your grandchildren’s bedtime story! Who would have thought that excellent blacksmith and legendary fighter Khaenos, would also be a good storyteller?”
“Storyteller?” he muttered as he sat down in one of the chairs by a large window and motioned to Nikos to do likewise. “I was merely telling something that happened, not making up stories about faeries and the like.”
“Still, it is the way you tell something that makes it a story. Even if you’re a tad gruff with your telling, it’s a good way to pass it on to them.”
“I’ll say. More coffee?”
“Thanks,” the Mynci accepted the mug. “This arrangement is not bad, isn’t it? At least my wife will have some company with yours while taking care of the grandchildren. I hope the children come back from their meeting soon.”
“Me too. Good thing you’re just staying down the road from here. What do these Sweepers have with meeting these days, I have no idea. We never had those so often!”
“Ah, don’t talk like that now… From what I hear, the Sweepers are maintaining their standards as voluntary citizen protectors, if not improving them.”
“They better be.” The two friends of old fell to leisurely talking about the antics that their grandchildren had been getting up to, their other friends own grandchildren (like how the troublemaking trio’s grandchildren torments all those around them with their pranks, or how happy Adian is whenever he finds his younger grandchildren waiting for him at the docks after a fishing trip, or the laughter Orcius’s ones brings to the apothecary customers with their use of long words) and the days gone by, as they waited for their children to return home from a Sweepers meeting.