A Thorn in the Side
I glared at the Lunar Temple through my night vision goggles. One of Virtupets's many great inventions, they allowed me to see into the night almost as if it were day.
Not that I liked the day. The night proved more advantageous for my line of work.
The silvery moonlight that had so often been my friend and my nemesis reflected off the clouds, contrasting the dark sky that had never failed me. The stars, ever watchful, seemed to be guardians of this silent night.
Silent like a home long abandoned.
One of the guards in front of the temple shuffled his feet. It was a bitterly cold night, and I was grateful for my warm clothes. Soon, it would be the right time. I looked at my watch. Five minutes. Then, the guards would change shifts. Five minutes seemed like a lifetime to wait for the power I would soon have.
Did I really need this power? Yes. I had stolen treasures. Money. Jewels. Even fine clothing. I now realized that they were all worthless compared to the power I would soon have. Nothing had the power of the cape. Everything else was worthless.
The wind blew, causing the leaves of the tree I was perched in to rustle. It also blew my black cape along with it, revealing the crimson rose emblem that had become my trademark.
Only a few minutes until the guards went inside. They wouldn't expect an attack from behind. Their one mistake. I itched for the power I would soon possess.
The moon, deciding to help my heist, hid its countenance behind a veil of clouds.
The next few minutes passed without incident. Then, finally, the guards turned and started to go inside.
I noiselessly leapt down from the tree, my black boots quietly tapping the ground. I pulled out the thermos I carried with me. I had brought just enough to do the job.
The guards stepped through the door. I pulled two poison snowballs from my thermos and threw them at the guards. They both froze for a second, and then collapsed. The poison would soon cause them to lose consciousness, but they would soon be back on their feet. I only needed them to black out for a moment.
One of the guards looked up at me, his eyelids growing heavy. Recognition bloomed in his eyes. "Thorn!"
I stepped past him. He should know my name. I know his, and, in fact, the names of everyone in the temple.
"Young Zafara, do you pledge your servitude to the Lunar Temple?"
"Do you vow to protect the Temple and the treasure it guards?"
The Gnorbu, his brown coloring turned paler with age, nodded to his colleagues. "The Zafara is ready to learn the ways of the guard. Please educate him."
"Yes, mentor!" they all responded in unison. No one dared disobey the orders of the wise Gnorbu who had taught them all.
The Gnorbu turned to the Zafara. "Young Thorn, you may never go back. Today you discipline yourself as a guard. Protect the Lunar Temple and the Lunar Cape. One day you may be trained in channeling the power of the cape."
The Zafara smiled. "Yes, mentor!"
I walked through the halls of the temple. It was warmer inside, and I suspected that someone had a fire going. The next room would be filled with traps, I knew, as with all the rooms leading to the Lunar Cape. This room would have floor tiles hiding buttons underneath. One wrong move, and a button would trigger a net from above that would capture the intruder and sound an alarm.
I stepped into the room, being careful of where I let my Zafara tail land.
"Mentor, help! Help!!!" Thorn cried from the net that had dropped from the ceiling. Now hanging in a trap several feet above the floor, the Shadow Zafara was eager to get back to the ground.
"Oh, my, what have we here?" The wise Gnorbu chuckled as he stepped into the room.
"I was going to mop the floor of the Lunar Cape room when I stepped onto the wrong button..."
"Who sent you to do that?"
"The captain of the guards; he told me the floor needed mopping..."
The Gnorbu laughed. "He was testing you. We never mop the floor in there, for the most dangerous of traps is in that room. He knew you would set off one of the many nets in this room. He wanted you to learn the position of the traps so you could lure unwary thieves into these nets."
"Well, lesson learned! Can I come down now?"
"Of course! There is a way out in case guards get caught in the nets; let me show you..."
I went around the tiles I knew were dangerous. They might have added more since I left, but I wasn't sure if the old Gnorbu was that smart.
I soon found out he was. I stepped on a wrong tile, and a net flew down from the ceiling. I cartwheeled to the left, but forgot to watch where my tail landed. It landed on a rigged tile and set off another net, which came down and scooped me up. I was trapped.
The alarm blared a loud siren, and red lights started to flash.
"Thorn, do you see the red string entwined within the rest of the rope?"
"All right. Here, take this knife and saw through it. Or, you could spend the next hour sawing at it and maybe get half a centimeter through the rope itself. Your choice."
"How does one string keep this entire net together? And why do you carry a knife?"
"Much like one hero can keep the world from ruin, one string can keep this net from collapsing. Cut that string, and..."
Thorn used the old Gnorbu's knife to cut the string. He landed flat on his rear end.
The old Gnorbu laughed. "You'll have to work on perfecting your reflexes. And to answer your second question, everyone in this temple carries a knife in case they get caught in one of the nets. You should carry one, too."
I pulled my knife from where it had been in my pocket. Eyeing the red string, I formed a strategy in my head. First, I would cut the red string, being sure to land carefully so I didn't hurt myself like I did the first time I disarmed one of these traps. Second, I would shut off that alarm. I could already hear the guards' footsteps echoing off the walls of the temple.
I sliced through the string and landed with a quiet tap. I then started looking around for the source of the alarm. It turned out to be a small dome which protected the alarm from being disabled.
I pulled out a grappling gun from my cape. It has small pockets all over it, perfect for keeping items in. Aiming it at the ceiling, I fired the gun. The hook caught in the ceiling, chipping a small hole in it. Well, I was sure they could afford to fix it. The old Gnorbu was stingy, or, as he preferred, "frugal" enough.
I pushed a button on the gun, and it pulled me up. I hoped the rope wouldn't snap.
I heard the guards' footsteps coming ever closer. I would have to hurry.
Once I finished my ascent, I jammed my knife into the dome, chipping a hole in the plastic it was made of. I kept jamming my knife at it, hoping I wouldn't ruin my favorite blade. Finally, I made a hole big enough for the blade to fit through. I thrust it at the alarm system.
After the sparks finished flying, it made weird noises and started shutting down. I heard the guards' footsteps in the hallway outside this room. I would have to act quickly.
I pulled the grappling hook out of the ceiling and fell to the ground. I ran over to a dark corner and hid. Once I had saved up the neopoints to buy a Shadow Paint Brush, and I was now glad I did. I blended in perfectly with the darkness.
The guards burst into the room, waving their halberds. They looked so ridiculous, trying to seem brave. I almost burst out laughing.
The guards began to search the room.
Thorn hid in the dark closet in the Lunar Temple. He had made a mistake, and hoped that no one would find him.
The other guards all searched for him. They had already questioned the other guards about who had ruined the newest blade in the armory, and they had all proved their innocence. The only one who hadn't been questioned was Thorn.
The guards' footsteps grew louder. Thorn shrank back further into the closet.
He could hear the guard's footsteps outside the closet's door. They stopped. Then, slowly, the door started to creak open. Light seeped into the room.
Thorn quietly crouched into a dark corner of the closet. The Shadow Zafara was nearly invisible in the darkness.
The guard, a red Ixi, poked her head into the closet. She looked around, appearing to see nothing. She closed the door, and Thorn heard her steps echo down the hall as she walked away. "He's not in the closet!" He heard her yell.
Did she really overlook me? Thorn wondered. He opened the closet door and peered out. Seeing no one, he crept out into the hallway, but the sound of a cane tapping the ground made him stop. He turned around and came face to face with the old Gnorbu.
I tried to blend in with the wall like I had that day, so long ago. I thought my ploy was working until I saw a guard walking towards me. A red Ixi. Danae.
I hadn't known her name that day, but I did now. I didn't move, tried not to breathe. I was a little uneasy, but I've had close calls before.
Danae moved closer to me. For a second, she looked as if she had seen me, then shook her head. She reported to the captain of the guard.
"No, sir, I didn't see anything."
"The thief may have moved on to the next room. It doesn't matter-they'll fall to the final trap soon enough."
"And maybe, if they do, they will learn a lesson about thievery."
She had seen me. I knew that last comment was for me as I watched her follow the rest of the guards out the door.
But I would never give up.
The Gnorbu glared at Thorn. "So, we've finally found you."
"I'm sorry, mentor! The katana looked dull, and I thought I could sharpen it."
"You'll mop the bathrooms tonight, boy. Be grateful that's all your punishment is."
When the guards finally left, I slipped into the next room. There was a pit with small platforms on top of thin poles in it. The platforms didn't look very steady. They were scattered and were a little less than two meters apart.
I had seen this trap before. The poles would bend and sway, eventually emitting a loud creak that the guards had trained themselves to hear from a mile away.
I jumped onto the first platform right in front of me, trying to keep my balance as it bent and swayed. I trusted the poles supporting them about as much as I trusted the Turmaculus with a Kadoatie. Regaining my balance, I jumped to the second one, somersaulting to the center of the platform to avoid making noise.
At least, I thought I was at the center, but I had rolled too far. As I rolled near the edge, I nearly fell, barely managing to swivel my wrists around in time to catch the edge of the platform. My back was now facing the platform, and my boots dangled over the void of the pit. It seemed to be a void, because I could not see the bottom due to the insufficient moonlight streaming in from the sole window in the room.
I heard the guards coming again. I had a plan. It was a crazy one, but I hoped it would work.
I let go of the platform with one hand and swiveled around until I was facing the pole. I swung toward it, wrapped my legs around it, and slid down toward the floor.
The guards were in the room now. They glanced over the platforms, not knowing that someone would actually be smart enough to slide down to the bottom of the pit.
I heard Danae talking with the captain of the guard. "Why do we even come to investigate these things anyway? Won't the final trap take care of them?"
"If we capture them now, it'll make things easier. Besides, if we capture the thief early, our mentor might give us a bonus."
I wished I could burst out laughing. The old Gnorbu was just a stingy old man.
The captain continued. "It looks like the thief has moved on to the final room. Still, though, let's keep guard in case they have accomplices."
I made my way across the bottom of the dark pit until I reached a wall. I realized I hadn't thought this part through. How would I get up the wall? I felt it. It was craggy, not as smooth as one would expect. I ran my paws along the side of the wall. Yes! There were handholds and footholds!
I began scaling the wall, being careful not to slip. I hoped the guards couldn't see me in the moonlight streaming in from the window. They were facing the door I had gone through, but if one of them heard me and turned around...
I reached the top of the wall and pulled myself up to the ledge. The door was right in front of me. Soon I would have the power of the Lunar Cape.
I'm sure it wouldn't matter if I took just one peek, Thorn thought. The Zafara snuck quietly into the room containing the Lunar Cape. The rest of the guards were training, and the old Gnorbu was probably taking a nap somewhere.
I'll look like a prince.
He walked over to the dais the cape rested on. His paw reached out for the Lunar Cape-
"Oof!" Thorn cried as he was hit by a flying kick from the side. He whirled around to see the old Gnorbu standing to his right. The Gnorbu had his arms crossed and wore a frown on his face.
"Stop! You don't know what you're doing!"
"I'm testing the power of the Lunar Cape!"
"You don't know what it does to those too inexperienced to control its power!"
The old Gnorbu had been stingy with me that day. Soon, though, I would get the power I deserved. Now he wouldn't call me inexperienced!
I walked over to the dais and reached out to the Lunar Cape. Its fabric was softer than any I had ever known. I grabbed it off the dais and discarded my old cape. It was useless to me now, as was all else.
I pulled the cape around my shoulders, feeling its raw power flow through my body. I now had the ultimate power! I was about to test my new abilities when I heard the sound of a familiar cane tapping the ground.
I turned around and came face to face with the old Gnorbu, the one I had once called Teacher.
"Thorn, take off the cape. It's not too late yet."
"You don't know what you're talking about! You don't want others to be able to channel the power of the Lunar Cape!" I focused my mind, tried to channel the power of the cape towards the old man. Dark tendrils shot forth from my body.
But then, something impossible happened. The tendrils turned around in midair and flew toward me! They wrapped themselves around me like ropes! I fell to the ground, unable to move in the tangle of shadowy snakes of greed.
"I told you, Thorn. You are rash and inexperienced. The cape has trapped you much like your own greed and impatience have. You must find your own way out."
The old man walked out of the room, leaving me with only the light of the once again cloud-veiled moon as my company.
Thank you for reading! Fan mail is always appreciated, and so is criticism as long as it's constructive.