Throughout most of his 100 years of being trained as a Psyche, despite how difficult the trainings became as he grew into young adulthood, Empath never had to undergo a training that actually required the cost of a life until the final year of his being in Psychelia. He could remember the intense anger he felt, like there was no way out for him, as if he had to sacrifice his very being as a Smurf to successfully complete the training. He could remember his hands being around his opponent’s neck, squeezing as hard as he could to cause him to stop breathing, seeing nothing in his own eyes but that this particular exercise would end, his teeth gritted as he exerted all his strength into this painful task. He could remember seeing all the blood and bruises on his hands after seeing Polluxis lying dead on the training floor, his tongue drooping out of his mouth, his body just as bloody and bruised as Empath’s was.
Empath felt as if he was seeing the whole event outside of himself, as if there was a strange madman taking his form that committed this terrible act and there was nothing he could have done to stop it from happening. But sadly, Empath knew that the “strange madman” who did this was he himself. It was one secret Empath wished he could bury deep in the heart of the earth, so that no Smurf would ever know that he was capable of doing such a thing.
“Empath Psyche, designation 1137-K,” a familiar voice called out to him, “the training exercise is not complete. You must confront this one in battle, and you must fight this one until one of us falls.”
Empath turned to see Polluxis standing before him, looking as healthy as he was prior to his death in the training exercise. At that moment, he could see no one else in the village except for Polluxis.
“This smurf will not fight you, Polluxis,” Empath objected, attempting to walk away from him. “You are dead, and this smurf will not fight a phantom no matter what.”
“You can’t leave until this training exercise is complete, Empath,” Polluxis demanded, blocking Empath from going elsewhere. “No matter what happens to either of us, it is part of your training as a Psyche, and you must prove yourself to be a true Psyche even if that requires your life to be forfeit.”
“This smurf has already proven himself to be a true Psyche, Polluxis,” Empath protested, eager to get himself away from this situation of dealing with a phantom. “It is time to accept that as fact and move on. The training is over.”
“As long as this one is still standing, Empath, the training will not end,” Polluxis insisted. “You will do what your instructors have told you to do and engage this one in battle until one of us falls with his life terminated.”
“This smurf is NOT fighting a phantom!” Empath yelled. “You are dead! We are not in Psychelia anymore! This smurf is not going to let you take control of me like that!”
“Then you are not a true Psyche at all,” Polluxis stated, his emotionless expression unchanged. “A Psyche would be willing to obey everything that is required of him to do by the Psyche Master, even to kill his opponent in hand-to-hand combat if necessary. You’re holding on to a part of yourself that refuses to surrender to the will of the Psyche Master. You are not part of the collective of Psychelia. You are a weak individual – an individual who will perish holding onto a belief that makes you as weak and vulnerable as the people you come from. That weakness will be your undoing. And this one will make sure that weakness of yours will destroy you.”
“I am not weak!” Empath railed. “I cherish life! I don’t take lives like the Psyches do!”
“You have already taken one life, Empath,” Polluxis reminded him. “You who claim to cherish life are only fooling yourself to think no one among your kind is going to know that. That is part of why this training exercise will not end. You will stay there and fight this part of yourself that you are trying to hide, to see whether you will complete the training as a true Psyche or stand behind your weak ideals in your hypocrisy as one of your own people.” With that, Polluxis pushed Empath hard to the ground.
Empath felt himself getting enraged as he picked himself up off the ground. Whatever this phantom was that was mocking him and what he believed in as a Smurf, he wasn’t going to let him continue to abuse him like that. He was going to make this phantom of Polluxis disappear from sight, even if it took physically fighting him to do so.
Meanwhile, Papa Smurf went to see how the preparations for Redemption Day were coming along when he was accosted by the very Smurfs he was hoping to run into.
“We’ve smurfed the brazier and the platform in place, Papa Smurf,” Hefty reported first. “Tuffy’s busy smurfing up the sacred wood for the brazier, and Vanity should be finished smurfing up the incense.”
“Good work, Hefty,” Papa Smurf responded, pleased to hear that. “How are the baptismal gowns smurfing along, Tailor?”
“They should be ready before the day is smurfed, Papa Smurf,” Tailor answered. “I had to adjust some of them for size, particularly with Baby Smurf and the Smurflings, since they’ve smurfed some from last year.”
Papa Smurf nodded in acceptance. “And what about the bread for the closing ceremony, Greedy?”
“We’ve smurfed enough loaves so that every Smurf will have a slice, Papa Smurf,” Greedy replied. “But smurfing those things on a day of fasting sure smurfs me up a mean appetite. I’ll smurftainly be glad when Redemption Day is over.”
"I would have to agree with Greedy, since with the amount of smurfberry wine that we have for the ceremony, every Smurf would be wishing to smurf their thirst," Vino added.
Papa Smurf chuckled at that. “Smurfing through the day with your innocence intact will smurfly be worth it, Greedy. By the way, has anyone seen Empath?”
“No, Papa Smurf,” Printer said. “We were just smurfing for him when you smurfed into us. Maybe he’s busy checking to make sure every Smurf is busy smurfing all their faults on paper for the opening ceremony the next day, or that they’re remaining smurf-fast to the fasting that we’re supposed to be smurfing.”
Papa Smurf stroked his beard while listening. “I just hope that’s all Empath’s smurfing right now, my little Smurfs! In the meantime, you should now prepare yoursmurfs for tomorrow and make sure you have your scrolls all smurfed up.”
“We’ll smurf on it as soon as possible, Papa Smurf,” Greedy affirmed, speaking for the group.
“Papa Smurf! Papa Smurf!” Scaredy shouted, racing towards him. “Smurf with me quickly! Empath’s gone stark-smurfing crazy, smurfing up on Vanity!”
Papa Smurf had a feeling something was wrong. He along with the Smurfs he was talking with followed Scaredy to where a crowd of Smurfs were gathered around the scene. Empath was pummeling Vanity, who had broken his mirror and wasn't putting up much of a fight because he was more of a lover than a fighter.
"You should've been dead," Empath shouted. "This smurf defeated you. This smurf had proven himself to be a true Psyche!"
Papa Smurf didn't know what Empath was talking about, but he had to stop Empath before he had beaten Vanity to death. "Empath! Please stop this fighting right now!" he shouted out to him.
But Empath didn't or wouldn't listen to him. He kept flailing away at Vanity.
Papa Smurf had to think quickly of what to do to snap Empath back to his senses. He spotted Jokey with his usual exploding surprise box. "Jokey, I need to borrow this from you," he told him as he took the giftbox away.
"Hey, what are you smurfing with my surprise?" Jokey asked.
Papa Smurf got as close as he could to Empath while holding the box with its lid aimed straight toward Empath. "I'm sorry," Papa Smurf said as he pulled the ribbon, causing the box to explode, knocking Empath off his feet.
Jokey thought that was funny. "Well, that's the first time Papa Smurf wanted to smurf a surprise on Empath!" he cackled.
The other Smurfs weren't laughing. They watched in silence as Empath shook off the effects of the exploding surprise box, feeling like he had been in a trance and had no idea what had happened. And then Empath saw Vanity on the ground, motionless and looking like he had been almost beaten to death.
"Great Ancestors!" he exclaimed. He looked down on his own hands and saw them blood-stained. He had the dreadful feeling that he did this to Vanity, and it made him feel very afraid of himself.
"Okay, let's smurf this up here!" Papa Smurf told all the other Smurfs who were watching this fight happening. "Brainy and Scaredy, take Vanity into the infirmary where I will find out how badly he's been smurfed. Hefty and Tuffy, I want you to escort Empath to his house where he is to remain consmurfed until I have a chance to talk to him."
"Right away, Papa Smurf," Hefty answered in a serious tone. He and Tuffy took Empath by his wrists and walked with him to his house, while Empath continued to look down to the ground, depressed over what he had done.
Tapper visited Vanity in the infirmary after Dabbler had applied bandages and healing salves to his face and wrapped his broken arm and leg in a cast. "Great Smurfiny Crickets, dear Vanity," Tapper gasped as he saw the face of the most prideful of Smurfs as it was. "What in smurf's name have you done to deserve such brutal treatment, and only a day before Redemption Day at that?"
"It's just terrible, Tapper," Vanity moaned, sounding really distraught. "I'm busy smurfing my own business and then Empath calls me Polluxis for no reason and then starts smurfing me like I'm Hefty's punching bag. I tried to smurf him away from me, but he just wouldn’t listen. He even broke my mirror, which would only smurf him right since it will smurf him seven years of bad luck."
"I doubt that I would believe in a broken mirror smurfing seven years of bad luck, Vanity," Tapper commented, "but it does seem that something's terribly wrong with Empath, like he's smurfing a guilt that he has trouble smurfing to terms with. In any case, you shouldn't think ill of Empath until we have a chance of finding out what it is Empath's smurfing inside. And then at that time, only the Pool of Souls can judge his guilt."
"I can only hope so," Vanity sighed. "I don't think I can ever smurf myself in the mirror without knowing that it was Empath that smurfed this to me!"
Tapper smiled. "I promise you, Vanity, that when you finish smurfing across the Great Pool Of Souls, you'll feel just like a newborn baby Smurf again, and you will be healed of all those injuries Empath had smurfed you. You'll even smurf it in your heart to forgive him!" He gently held Vanity's hand to convey his compassion. "Take courage and have some faith...you'll know within yoursmurf that it's the right thing to smurf."
Vanity felt only a little better about himself, hearing Tapper's soothing words.
Meanwhile, Duncan McSmurf and Century watched the two of them from the window of the infirmary as they talked with each other. "Michty me, laddie, that isn't how I would want any flower hat to be smurfed, even by Empath of all Smurfs," Duncan said.
"But what could have made Empath smurf such a thing to my brother, Duncan?" Century asked.
"I honestly wish I knew the answer to that, Century," Duncan said. "But I just have a feeling that Empath's smurfing something from us that he's too ashamed to admit."
"You don't think he's been taught to be that brutal to...someone like me and Vanity while he was in Psychelia?" Century asked.
"That just doesn't sound like the Empath I would know," Duncan said. "He's a much better Smurf than to ever be a brute to someone who doesn't smurf the same kind of affections toward another Smurf."
"I still don't feel comfortable that I could be the next Smurf that Empath might smurf up on like that, Duncan," Century said.
"Don't you worry there, laddie," Duncan said. "I won't let Empath smurf so far as to smurf a thing like that to you despite what kind of Smurf you are, even if I have to smurf him down."