The next morning, Empath woke up with a feeling of liberation and relief. He was half expecting the Psychelian Guard Elite to come after him, as if the Psyche Master had changed his mind after all and was going to keep Empath in Psychelia for the rest of his life. But so far he couldn't sense anything going on except for his fellow Smurfs just getting ready to start the day. He took it as a good sign.
He got dressed and went to his front door to pick up the daily newspaper when he found a message left to him by Papa Smurf. "I'll be busy at smurf with an experiment and I don't want to be dissmurfed," the note said. "You are in charge of the village until I am finished."
"Well, this smurf acknowledges, Papa Smurf," Empath said, agreeing with the decision. He might as well make his rounds overseeing the activity of the village while he was up and about.
He went over to Biscotti's bakery shop to pick up a breakfast croissant and an acorn brew. He noticed when he got there that a sign said the shop was closed. That usually meant that Biscotti would be helping out Greedy in the kitchen for most of the day.
He decided to have his breakfast with the rest of the Smurfs in the dining commons. He sat down and read the newspaper while every Smurf was busy talking with each other. It seemed like everybody was just ignoring him, as if either he didn't exist or they were just preoccupied with their own business. Maybe they have become so used to Empath being around in the village all the time now that he just became part of the crowd of faceless nameless Smurfs they normally see day to day.
"Ah, just the Smurf I wanted to see," one of the Smurfs said as he sat down beside Empath. He recognized that Smurf as Chatty Smurf, one of the Smurfs in the village who basically likes to talk about other Smurfs and all sorts of things, though mostly for conversation and not for lecturing like Brainy normally does. "So, Empath, how does it feel to still be a free Smurf after a year?"
"You know, things couldn't be much better for this smurf," Empath answered. "But this smurf can sense that's not the reason you want to sit down and talk to me."
Chatty snickered. "Very perceptive as usual, Empath. You see, I was discussing with a few Smurfs the differences between how Papa Smurf runs the village and how you run the village when Papa Smurf is not here."
"Okay," Empath said, "and what exactly have you come up with?"
"Well, it's not that we smurf any ill will towards Papa Smurf because he's been a great leader," Chatty said. "It's just that, for a Smurf his age, he smurfs to be a bit old-fashioned in his thinking and some of his methods for dealing with problems just don't smurf a whole lot of sense. He tends to smurf rather irritable when it comes to his decisions being questioned."
"That's an interesting analysis, Chatty," Empath said. "This smurf is not sure if that's really an accurate description of Papa Smurf's leadership methods or his personality."
"We all have our opinions, Empath," Chatty said. "I'm sure you might smurf a better judgment of him due to the fact that you're Papa Smurf's son and that you can smurf his mind and sense just what he's smurfing."
"There are things this smurf senses about Papa Smurf that are strictly between him and this smurf," Empath said.
"Hey, I'm not trying to be a snoop," Chatty said. "I'm just saying for a Smurf who's as close to Papa Smurf as you are, you tend to smurf things a little differently from how Papa Smurf smurfs them. Some Smurfs think you'd make a better leader than Papa Smurf."
"This smurf is not out to replace Papa Smurf anytime soon, if ever, Chatty," Empath said. "This smurf will continue to do what he asks of this smurf, and this smurf will continue to make sure his decisions are always sound. But the last thing this smurf will ever do is betray Papa Smurf or start any kind of revolution against him."
"Who smurfed anything about that, Empath?" Chatty asked. "I just hope that when Papa Smurf retires his position as the village leader, that you'd be willing to smurf his place and that he would consider you the best Smurf for the job."
Empath saw Chatty get up from his seat to go talk with someone else. He sensed from Chatty that he was too eager to have Empath become the village leader in place of Papa Smurf, as if Papa Smurf was slowly becoming tyrannical like the Psyche Master. It felt more like it was coming from the imaginations of some of his fellow Smurfs rather than sound judgments of Papa Smurf's character.
After breakfast, Empath made his rounds through the village to oversee all the activities. There was Greedy and his kitchen helpers doing cleanup and also preparing for the day's next meal. There was Sloppy making his rounds picking up garbage and cleaning the outhouses. There was Farmer working in the fields with some Smurfs giving him a hand tilling the gardens and making sure all the vegetables and smurfberry bushes were well-tended. There was Smurfette working with Vanity on the community beds. And there was Narrator teaching the Smurflings about how to speak to an audience about things going on in their stories. As far as he could see, everything in the village was going rather well. Then he remembered that Hefty was overseeing work at the village dam, which needed some maintenance to make sure the water from the lake wouldn't overflow into the village. As much as Hefty didn't like Empath looking over his shoulder when it comes to anything, he still needed to check in with him.
Empath found Hefty at the village dam with a clipboard. "So how is the activity going along with the Smurfs working with you here?" he asked.
Hefty didn't look at Empath when he answered. "Other than a few problems with Lazy and Clumsy, things are smurfing along pretty well. We should be done with our work in time for lunch at this rate. If you want to report this to Papa Smurf, feel free to smurf so."
"Hefty, this smurf is sensing some hostility in you towards this smurf," Empath noted. "Would you like to tell this smurf what's wrong?"
Hefty sighed as he turned his attention towards Empath. "Let's just smurf that I was expecting you to smurf back to Psychelia after every year that you are here like you always smurf. But now I have to get used to the fact that you're smurfing here for good and I have to smurf orders from you because you're the assistant leader."
"Papa Smurf only appointed that role to this smurf because he sees that this smurf is qualified enough to meet that task, Hefty," Empath explained. "He didn't do this to slight your ability to lead anyone in their appointed village duties, no matter how you treated those you were in charge of."
"Well, this village was a lot better off when you weren't here, and so was I, Empath," Hefty snapped. "In fact, you were a lot better off smurfing orders from me, and I hardly smurfed any problems from you except for the time that you smurfed up against me defending Grouchy of all Smurfs."
"What you were doing to Grouchy was wrong, and this smurf simply wasn't going to let you abuse your authority like that," Empath said. "This smurf finds it hard to believe that you would still be angry with this smurf over that incident."
"It's not just that, Empath," Hefty said. "It's also because you smurf yourself around here like you were so important with those powers of yours, you forget that there are ordinary Smurfs like me who have to smurf things the hard way. That's why you don't find me always admiring you like every other Smurf here. And don't get me started about you being the only begotten son of Papa Smurf, which I really don't like being reminded of on top of all that."
"This smurf isn't looking for admiration, Hefty...this smurf is just looking for friendship," Empath said. "Moreover, this smurf would rather see you all be recognized for your importance. But this smurf is sensing that the whole matter really isn't about this smurf's abilities to lead the village or yours. It's really about how you want Smurfette to consider you her one true love, and this smurf has come between you and what you want with her."
"I love Smurfette, Empath, and I won't let any Smurf like you do anything to hurt her," Hefty admitted. "But I have known her longer than you have, and I think she's smurfing a big mistake smurfing her heart to you when she's barely known you for only a year. You think I'm just going to smurf idle and let you smurf down and smurf her off her feet like that?"
"Hefty, that was never this smurf's intent!" Empath said. "Besides, Smurfette is free to give her heart to whoever she wants to, and this smurf isn't going to stand in her way if she no longer wants to see me. This smurf wants her to be happy to be able to make that decision for herself."
Hefty snorted at that. "Excuse me if I don't smurf that as so convincing smurfing from you."
Empath sighed. "Look, Hefty, you don't have to be friends with this smurf, but this smurf isn't going to stop caring for you because of this or anything. This smurf admires you as much as this smurf does any Smurf, for if it weren't for you, this smurf would not know what it's like to be a Smurf." Then Empath suddenly saw a vision: that of his friend Polaris Psyche, being attacked by a couple of Psychelian Guard Elite who were after him.
Hefty noticed Empath as he staring off into space seeing the vision. "Hey, Empath, are you all right?"
Empath turned to Hefty. "There's an emergency in the forest this smurf must take care of. Right now you're in charge until this smurf returns."
Hefty watched as Empath took off into the forest. "It never changes, doesn't it?"
In a clearing, Polaris was being overpowered by the guards, who were striking him with blows from their energy spears. "Submit, Psyche Student 1124-K," one of them said. "You cannot continue to resist the will of the Psyche Master."
"This one...refuses...to return," Polaris muttered, having trouble trying to stand or speak.
"That is not up to you, 1124-K," the other guard said. "We will bring you back to Psychelia regardless of your condition or desire."
Then Empath showed up on the scene. "Let him go, or you will have to deal with this smurf," he told the guards.
"This is our property and our business, outsider," the first guard said. "You will leave us alone or suffer the consequences."
"This is MY forest, and what goes on in my forest is MY business," Empath said. "So this smurf would suggest that you leave him alone right now."
"Then you leave us with no choice, stranger," the second guard said as they now turned their attention toward Empath.
Empath waited until the first guard made his swing toward him, then he grabbed the energy staff he was wielding and yanked it out of his hands. He quickly felled the unarmed first guard, then he blocked the swings of the second guard while delivering some of his own, felling him also.
Empath grabbed the other spear and aimed their tips toward the guards who were reeling in pain from their encounter with him. "You take these toys of yours and tell the Psyche Master that this forest belongs to the Smurfs, and that whatever is in our forest is our business to deal with," he said.
He tossed the energy spears back to the two guards, who then flew off in the direction of Psychelia. Then he looked down upon friend and scanned him with his minds-eye. He was not injured, but the fight had drained him and he was losing consciousness.
"Just hang in there, old friend...this smurf will take care of you," Empath said as he picked him up and flew him back to the Smurf Village. He had to find out why Polaris had fled from Psychelia.