Cyrus glanced stealthily around him to make sure no one was looking. He was in a large art museum, but the museum wouldn't open for another two hours, hence the rope hanging out the window. Cyrus stepped closer to the precious painting and, in one quick motion, ripped it off the wall and stuffed it into a bag.
Just as he was about to place the bag gently in his backpack however, a pale hand reached out from the shadows and snatched the wrapped painting from Cyrus' hand. Cyrus whirled around, only to see the fleeing shape of his younger half-friend Scourge. Scourge was nearly impossible to see in his black garments and could hide himself almost anywhere.
'Blast it!' thought Cyrus as he raced after the cloaked figure. The two boys pounded through the hallways, down the stairs, and out the door of the museum. Suddenly, Scourge disappeared from Cyrus' view into an alleyway. 'What is that rascal doing now?' wondered Cyrus as he quickened his pace. By the time he reached the place where Scourge had vanished, there he was again, dressed in jeans and a purple t-shirt, slumped against the wall in the perfect imitation of a bored teenager. The only sign that he was not in fact your average teen was a scar over his left eye and a bulgy camping backpack on the floor next to him.
"What's up?" asked Scourge coolly.
"You stole my painting," said Cyrus in an equally cold voice, narrowing his deep purple eyes into slits. "Give it back."
"What painting?" said Scourge, his eyes open wide in a perfect picture of innocence.
Rough hands grabbed Cyrus from behind, spinning him around to face a huge man. "What's this?" growled the man in an undertone.
Scourge began to speak in a high scared voice, "Help me sir! This thief stole a painting from the museum, and I've been chasing him to try and retrieve it and bring him to justice."
"What?" spluttered Cyrus. "I was the one chasing you, thief. You stole the painting!"
The large man twisted Cyrus's arms behind his back, causing him to gasp in pain. More guards rushed around a corner, and Cyrus knew he had to escape, and fast. With a quick movement, he broke away from the man and fled. When he glanced over his shoulder, he saw Scourge wink at him.
Enraged, Cyrus nearly turned around to give Scourge a taste of his own medicine, but he kept running because half a dozen guards were giving chase, weapons in hand. Cyrus dodged early risers out for a morning stroll and shopkeepers readying their stores. The guards got closer with every step.
Up ahead, Cyrus saw that the road ended abruptly at the docks, where barges carrying huge loads left for other countries. With a grim smile Cyrus headed right at the docks and with a flying leap, landed in an empty barrel, pulling the top over his head. Above him, the guards, confused, looked all around for the runaway thief, but, not finding him, they shrugged and trudged back to their posts.
Meanwhile, Scourge smiled, self satisfied, and hefted his backpack onto his back. He waved to the guards who had unknowingly pursued the wrong thief and headed home. He knew the painting would fetch a high price on the black market. What he didn't know was that the tip of the painting stuck out of his bag where he had quickly stowed it.
"Hey!" shouted the guard behind him, seeing the painting. "Stop, thief!" Unknowingly, Scourge followed the same path to the docks that Cyrus had taken only a few minutes before. When he discovered his mistake, it was too late. He too leaped into a barrel on the same barge as Cyrus.
Cyrus's plan was to open the barrel and escape back onto dry land. The only thing wrong with this plan was that another heavy crate had been placed on top of his one, and the barge was leaving for a cross continental trip to deliver fuel. Both Cyrus and Scourge's attempts to escape were thwarted, and they finally realized that they were doomed.
After two long days on the ship, the thieves felt a jolt, and the barge came to a juddering halt. 'What's happening?' thought Cyrus. Usually, ships docked at port with barely a bump, let alone a crash like what had just occurred. The barge still seemed to be moving however; moving in a completely unwelcome direction. Down!
'I've got to get out of here! The ship's sinking!' were Cyrus's next thoughts, as he rummaged around in the confined space that was the crate. He knew that he had brought a crowbar in his backpack for his adventure at the museum, but it could be in any of the compartments. Meanwhile, the barge was going down. Cyrus's time was running out.
The moment Scourge felt the barge stop, he knew that it had to be sinking. Perhaps it had run into a reef. 'It would be just my luck,' thought Scourge bitterly. 'First the guards seeing the painting, now THIS. When will my luck change?' He tried to shove the top off his barrel, but it was jammed tight. Panicking, he fumbled with his backpack to see if it contained anything that would save him, but it was empty, save for his disguise and the painting. 'Stupid painting!' He thought, 'surely it wasn't worth my life!'
By the time Cyrus had found his crowbar, water had started leaking into his barrel and he could feel the ship tilting to one side as it sank. He managed to pry the lid off and leap out onto the deck. The sight that greeted him was worse than he expected. The whole deck was flooded and it now tilted alarmingly.
On the bright side, land was clearly visible and as Cyrus stumbled toward one side of the barge, he could easily see the ocean bottom no more than ten feet below him. As he prepared to abandon ship, he heard a muffled banging noise coming from one of the only barrels that hadn't rolled off the barge. Cyrus approached it cautiously. After all, it could be a dangerous animal that was being transported to some secret facility or something.
The hammering became more intense as the ship lurched again and more water flooded over the deck. Holding the crowbar defensively over his head, Cyrus heard a different sound. Whatever was in the barrel was muttering loudly. "I could strangle Cyrus for this!" came the voice, "It's all his fault!"
"Scourge?" asked Cyrus. The pounding and muttering ceased abruptly.
"Cyrus? Is that you? Would you get me out of here NOW?!" yelled Scourge from the barrel.
"Try to duck if you can, Scourge," advised Cyrus, "I'm smashing your barrel top." He brought the crowbar down as hard as he could on the top of the barrel. It shattered into hundreds of pieces and an irritated Scourge stepped out of the wreckage.
"You could have done that earlier," complained Scourge.
"Well, you should consider yourself lucky I was even here," snapped Cyrus. Scourge hefted his backpack over his shoulder and turned away from Cyrus, walking to the side of the ship and looking over it. He strode back across the ship to Cyrus.
"What's your plan?" he asked.
"My plan? You're the one who got us here by showing up in the museum and ruining everything," Cyrus retorted.
"Me? You were the one who wanted to steal the painting in the first place," said Scourge.
"Look," replied Cyrus with a shrug, "If you want to keep arguing until this ship sinks under the sea, then be my guest. I, on the other hand, am leaving." With that, he grabbed the last whole barrel and threw it into the water. It must have been filled with something light, for it floated and Cyrus promptly jumped after it. He waved to Scourge, who stood gaping at him, and began the long paddle to shore.
'He just took the last barrel!' thought Scourge indignantly. 'Look at him, paddling calmly to shore as if he had no cares in the world. We don't even know where we are!' He paced the deck angrily. He couldn't swim, never having to do so in the big city. Suddenly, he noticed a hatch in the deck. Of course! Someone must have been steering the ship, and it must have lifeboats. Excited, Scourge pulled the hatch open and peered into the darkness. He could see a wavering light in one corner, as if from a candle.
"Is anyone in here?" called Scourge. The candle was snuffed out hastily but no person answered. Then a light, much bigger than the last one flared up in the hold. A barrel had caught on fire. In the sudden light, Scourge could see the word written in large black letters on the barrel GASOLINE.
Cyrus heard a loud BOOM from behind him and turned his barrel around in the water in time to see the barge explode. A small dark figure rocketed high into the air and Cyrus heard a splash. He could see Scourge paddling frantically toward him. Cyrus waited for Scourge to come closer before calling out, "Hey Scourge, need a ride?" Scourge narrowed his eyes angrily. "I see you learned to swim rather easily," added Cyrus, then paddled his barrel around and rapidly headed for shore.
Scourge scowled and swam after the other thief. Soon a bedraggled Cyrus and Scourge crawled up onto the beach. They lay there panting for a moment, then Scourge leapt up. "Why didn't you help me?" he asked heatedly.
"You looked like you were doing fine on your own," replied Cyrus with a shrug.
"That's no excuse," fumed Scourge. He stomped off into the dense shrubs that started a few yards from the water.
"Wait," said Cyrus, standing up. "I wouldn't advise you to go in there; who knows what lives in a place like this." Scourge pretended not to hear him. Cyrus followed him into the forest. Scourge glanced around and, seeing that he was being chased, broke into a run. Cyrus ran after him but sensed the danger before Scourge. "Stop!" he yelled, but it was too late. Scourge, not looking in front of him, ran headlong off a river bank and fell, floundering, into the rushing water.
Cyrus skidded to a halt on the bank. 'I suppose I'll have to go rescue him. Again,' thought Cyrus with a sigh. He ran along the bank a little ways then plunged after Scourge. The cold water struck him like a blow and he gasped for air, struggling to avoid rocks and the logs that rushed along beside him. He could see Scourge thrashing about ahead and he paddled toward him.
Cyrus heard a faint rushing, roaring noise from ahead. As the river sped on, carrying the two thieves with it, the noise grew louder and louder, until Cyrus realized what it was with a sinking sensation in his stomach. The river was speeding toward a waterfall. He attempted to grab a tree root that stuck out over the river, but all he succeeded in doing was to bloody his hand as the rough bark scraped past it. His waterlogged backpack dragged him down.
Up ahead, he could see Scourge had apparently come to the same decision as Cyrus. Frantically, he tried to paddle to shore, but the current was growing ever stronger and he might as well have tried to steer a ship through a storm with a feather. Cyrus looked wildly around for something anything that could stop his mad rush toward certain death.
Now he could see what seemed to be the edge of the world as the waterfall rapidly approached. Cyrus closed his eyes, waiting for the feeling of weightlessness that would surely be the last thing he ever felt. He heard Scourge screaming his lungs out as he went over, then the sound was abruptly cut off. Cyrus tried not to think about what had most certainly happened to Scourge; his limp body torn and bloody on a protruding rock. Then, all thoughts were washed from his mind as he tumbled down, down, down.
Cyrus woke with a start. 'Where am I?' he wondered, then, remembering, sat up abruptly. Immediately, he wished he hadn't. His head pounded, and he could feel numerous places where the rocks had bruised and cut him. He glanced around blearily. The rainforest stretched in every direction, so dense that he could hardly tell what time of day it was; though he suspected it was around noon from the spot of sunlight directly above him. To his left, the waterfall still roared ferociously, and Cyrus shuddered as he remembered Scourge.
Groggily, he got to his feet, leaning against a tree as the world spun around him. He closed his eyes. Once the world had stopped spinning, he opened them. Where was Scourge's body? Surely he would see him, surrounded by a pool of blood; eyes staring into nothing. Cyrus stumbled toward the huge lake that the waterfall thundered into and glanced around. Nothing.
'Maybe some wild animal made off with his body?' thought Cyrus with a shudder. 'It could have taken me, too!' He crouched to drink from the pristine lake before staggering back toward the forest. 'I have to find some kind of people. I have no idea what's edible out here in the middle of nowhere.' Then he remembered about his backpack. Where was it? He turned back and searched around the lake before he finally found it in a pool of water. It was probably all ruined. Holding the dripping pack in one hand, he headed for the forest.
In a few moments, Cyrus arrived in a clearing. He stopped short and gasped. There in the center of the glade was a deep purple private jet. It seemed deserted. Cautiously, Cyrus crept closer. Still, nothing moved. Now Cyrus was staring directly into the storage compartment of the plane. Inside, seven purple hardcover suitcases lay scattered. Still on guard, he clambered up into the jet and crawled to the far end of the compartment, hiding behind the largest suitcase. He dropped the still dripping backpack next to him and, exhausted by even this small effort, Cyrus fell asleep.
As he slept, Cyrus dreamed. He was in a strange forest. Somehow, he knew what he must do. He reached down and pulled up a huge heavy trapdoor, then stepped down into darkness. Cyrus kept walking till he reached a tree in the tunnel. He placed his hand on a knot on the tree and it grew hot; a swirling silver wolf's head pattern appearing where his hand had been. Suddenly, a door materialized out of thin air. Cyrus reached for the doorknob, but the world lurched and he awoke.
Cyrus felt the plane moving under him, and he realized that the jet must have taken off while he slept. He couldn't quite remember his dream; every time he thought of it, it slipped away. The plane gave another jolt, then began to lose altitude with alarming rapidity.
Cyrus grabbed for something as the plane wobbled again, and his hand found something long and wooden attached to the wall. He hung on as if his life depended on it, and, as he thought of it, it probably did. The jet continued to quiver, then all of a sudden, it plummeted toward the ground. Cyrus clutched the wooden object so hard that he saw his knuckles turn white, even in the dim light.
As the jet continued to fall, Cyrus closed his eyes, certain that he was going to die. 'I wonder if death hurts,' he wondered, then corrected himself, 'Then again, if it involves a plane crash, it probably does.' With a colossal CRASH! the plane's movement stopped abruptly, and Cyrus heard an awful scraping noise followed by the sounds of crunching metal. Then, there was silence.
Cyrus opened his eyes. Was he dead? He peered into the darkness and found the handle that opened the compartment. He threw it open and cold sunlight streamed in, along with a gust of freezing mountain air. Cyrus blinked in the sudden light. The jet had crashed halfway up a huge mountain. He shivered and remembered the purple luggage still strewn around him. 'I'll have to look through these suitcases to see if I can find anything to get me down this mountain without freezing!'
Cyrus opened the clasp of the first suitcase and saw a ridiculous array of hair supplies hair dyes in various shades of purple, hairspray, hairbrushes, hair curlers, you name it; it was all there. Cyrus pushed it away with a mixture of disgust and amusement and moved to the next suitcase. This one was stuffed with light clothing in all purple and black. The one after that had two purple laptops and a pair of giant furry purple headphones. 'Man, whoever this jet belonged to must be a real jerk!' thought Cyrus. 'One more purple thing and I'm going to hurl!'
Fortunately, the suitcase after that contained the first useful things food. There were potato chip packets by the dozen, chocolate in fancy wrappers, and Mountain Dew. 'How ironic; Mountain Dew in the mountains.' Cyrus set this suitcase aside and continued his search. The remaining three contained buckets full of purple socks and three purple-furred parkas. Cyrus grabbed a parka and pulled it on. It was plush and warm. He decided that he should fill one of the suitcases (which helpfully had backpack straps attached) to take with him.
Cyrus packed the chosen suitcase with another parka, a few handfuls of socks, and most of the contents of the food suitcase. He saw his sopping backpack in one corner and decided that there really wasn't anything of value in it, and he didn't want a wet backpack in the chill air. It would freeze to a block of ice in no time. Then he remembered the long wooden objects he had hung on to when the plane had been doing a nose-dive. He reached for them and pulled the two things off the wall, along with two long metal sticks with handles at one end and a small umbrella-like projection at the other.
Although Cyrus had never seen such things before, Scourge had once told him that they were skis. Hauling them out into the sunlight, Cyrus saw, although not to his surprise, that the skis and poles were a lurid purple. Cyrus decided it was time to leave; even with the thick parka, it was cold so high up in the mountains. He swung the heavy suitcase onto his back and leaped out of the plane. Then he leaned down awkwardly to fit his feet into the skis. To his surprise, they fit almost perfectly.
There was a cracking noise from the plane and it slid closer to the edge of the cliff. Clumsily, he pushed himself away from the plane with the ski poles. He had managed to maneuver them a bit down the mountain when another loud snap announced that the purple jet had fallen into the abyss. He reached the spot where it had been, just in time to see the purple plane break into a thousand pieces as it hit the jagged rocks below.
'Thank goodness I got out of the plane in time!' though Cyrus. 'I wonder where the driver went, though.' With this gloomy thought, the thief began to ski down the mountain. Several hours, a suitcase full of food, and five crashes later, Cyrus saw smoke rising in the distance. The setting sun saw a weary Cyrus skid into the small mining town.
He took off his skis, one of which had broken, and his backpack, and stowed them in a hastily dug hole in the ice, then stumbled to the first house in the village. A sign that read 'Shaville Hotel' hung above the entrance and Cyrus knocked on the door. A rather irritated-looking landlady answered, and looking Cyrus up and down, said, "There's no room here, mister."
"I really need a room for the night," Cyrus started.
"No room," insisted the landlady, and she began to close the door.
"But..." started Cyrus.
"If you need a place to stay you can try at the Hunter's house, right across the street. Goodbye." With that, she slammed the door in his face.
Cyrus trudged to the house she had indicated and knocked once again. A large kindly woman opened it, and seeing the tired boy on her doorstep, ushered him inside. "Come; sit by the fire while I get you some hot soup." She bustled off in the direction of a delicious smell which Cyrus guessed must be the kitchen.
Cyrus walked inside the house, and it struck him that he had never been in one before. Of course, he had stolen from rich people's dwellings and snuck into the occasional movie theater, but he had never actually been welcomed into someone's home. A warm fire crackled in the hearth and an exquisite Turkish rug lay before it. He sat, grateful for the chance to rest his aching body.
A telephone rang in the kitchen, and Cyrus heard who he presumed to be Mrs. Hunter to answer it. "Yes? Oh, Mr. Forbes; what a pleasure to...oh dear! A crash? That's terrible. Quite...what? He is alright, I hope? Yes, quite so. Thank you. Have a nice night."
There was a clatter as the phone was put down, then Mrs. Hunter's voice. "Arty dear, where are you?" Cyrus heard light footsteps on the floor above his head and a boy's voice in the kitchen saying,
"Mr. Forbes just called to inform us that your friend Amaranthine was in a plane crash. Apparently, he forgot to fill the jet's gas tank. He managed to parachute out, and is now safely back at his house."
The boy, Arty, groaned. "Again? He crashed his jet three weeks ago."
"Hmm," said Mrs. Hunter absentmindedly. "Oh, Arty, I nearly forgot. We have a visitor. Wait," she cautioned in a low voice as Arty was about to walk out of the kitchen. Cyrus nearly didn't catch the conversation, but his keen thief's ears heard every word. "You remember that article in the newspaper a few weeks back? About the stolen Hummer? I do believe that the boy in our living room is the notorious thief, Cyrus."
Cyrus' eyes widened in shock. How had someone gotten a picture of him for the newspaper? His muscles tensed, ready to spring up and dash out the door. A boy who looked about 13; the same age as Scourge but two years younger than Cyrus, strode out of the kitchen, a welcoming smile on his pointed face. A mop of untidy brown hair nearly hung over his bright blue eyes.
"Hi! My name's Artemis Hunter. My mom thought it would be funny when she called me Artemis, because that's the name of the goddess of the hunt in Greek mythology. I don't really mind, but it is annoying sometimes. You can call me Arty though; all my friends do."
This warm introduction had caught Cyrus off guard; he had been expecting a rebuke, or even an insult. That's what most people gave him. "Uh, hi...Arty," said Cyrus a bit uncomfortably.
"I'll bring you some soup," said Arty. He returned with a generous helping of steaming soup.
"Thanks," said Cyrus awkwardly. It wasn't a word he used often.
As Cyrus ate, Arty talked. He talked about his mother, Hephzibah, his older sister Caia, and his younger brother, Cephas. He talked about Amaranthine, his spoiled friend; the only son of the local millionaire, who happened to own every company for miles around. As he talked, Cyrus began to feel drowsy. He was rather grateful when Arty's mother called,
"Don't bore our guest. I'm sure he's exhausted. Send him up to bed at once!"
"Well," said Arty, a bit regretfully, "you heard what Mother said." He escorted Cyrus up some stairs and into a small but comfortable bedroom. "This is where you sleep. You can stay with us as long as you want."
"Uh, thanks," said Cyrus again. Once Arty left, Cyrus leaped into bed and fell asleep before his head hit the soft pillow. Over the next few days, Cyrus recovered from his long journey in the Hunter's house. Arty's sister Caia seemed very suspicious of him, as if he would try and steal the necklace off her if she walked too close to him. Arty was kind to Cyrus, and defended him against Caia's constant attempts to frame him if she lost her car keys. Cephas was too young to know whether to trust Cyrus or not, but they were never left in the same room together, even for a moment.
Unbeknownst to all but a stalking cat, Scourge prowled near Artemis' house, peeking inconspicuously in every window, searching for Cyrus. Scourge has tailed him thus far, but had lost the trail the day before when the jet had crashed, marooning both thieves in an unfamiliar land. He had hoped that maybe he had been the only one to survive the plane crash, but had found a pair of broken purple skis poking out of the ice under a bush, and knew that Cyrus must be somewhere in the town of Shaville.
'And it's a small town too,' thought Scourge, 'I'll find him in no time and finish him. He can't hide from me!'
Three days after Cyrus had stumbled into Shaville and met Arty and his family, Caia decided to test his loyalty. All her family seemed to think he was as harmless as a kitten, but she knew better. 'The moment we turn our backs, he'll be off with all my jewelry.' While Cyrus was downstairs enjoying a delicious dinner of chicken and potatoes, Caia excused herself from the table and snuck upstairs into Cyrus' room.
She slid a gold ring off her finger and placed it on the nightstand next to Cyrus's bed. 'Once he steals this, I'll tell everyone he hasn't changed a bit; that he is still a dirty thief, not to be trusted. That'll show them!' Then she slipped downstairs with a grim smile on her face.
After dinner, Cyrus went up to his room. As he saw the ring on his nightstand, his eyes widened. 'It's only one little ring,' he thought desperately, 'Surely they won't notice if I just slip it into my bag.' He reached toward the ring, then snatched his hand away and mentally slapped himself. "What am I thinking?" he muttered, "These people saved me from freezing and starvation, and here I am, about to steal from the first people who accepted me." Cyrus turned his back on the ring but still saw it reflected in the mirror on the back of his door. It seemed to glint enticingly, as if asking Cyrus to steal it. "No!" he said, a bit more loudly than he intended to. He got into bed and turned his back to the ring. By the time there was a quiet rasping noise from the window, he was fast asleep.
Scourge could have crowed with joy. He had found Cyrus at last! Hiding in a nearby tree, he had seen Cyrus eating with a family, then had watched Caia slip away and place the ring on Cyrus's nightstand. Now Scourge knew exactly what he had to do. He crawled forward on the tree branch and lifted the window, which opened with only the slightest rasp.
"My ring!" Cyrus awoke to Caia's hysterical shrieks. "My ring! It's gone! It's stolen!"
"Calm down Caia," said her mother, "Where was it when you last saw it?"
"I put it in Cyrus's room. He stole it!"
"I'm sure he didn't."
"I'm calling the police!" screamed Caia.
"No, wait," came a new voice. It was Arty. "Let's all be reasonable and check Cyrus's room. How can you know if he stole it if you haven't even checked?"
"Oh. Right," said Caia, a bit disappointed. Cyrus sat up in bed and looked at his nightstand. The ring was gone.
'It must have fallen off and slipped under the bed,' he thought, but even as he checked on the floor and under his bed, he knew he wouldn't find it. He heard Arty's footsteps stop as they reached his door, then Arty called out,
"Hey Cyrus, can I come in?"
"Sure," said Cyrus. The door opened and Arty, Caia, and their mother walked in. Caia immediately walked over to the backpack the Hunter family had lent Cyrus and started searching through every compartment.
"Aha!" yelled Caia triumphantly as she held up the glittering ring. "He did steal it!"
"Wait! I didn't steal the ring. It was still on my nightstand when I went to sleep!" protested Cyrus.
"I'm calling the police," said Caia as she whipped out a pink phone and dialed 911.
Outside the window in the tall tree Scourge grinned evilly. His plan had worked!
The police arrived in a few minutes, during which Caia threw more accusations at Cyrus than he could count and Arty tried to defend him. Cyrus wasn't surprised; he knew that his brief but happy stay at Arty's house couldn't last. Good times never did.
The police burst through the door with large black guns pointed in every direction. One stepped forward with a pair of handcuffs. Caia shoved Cyrus forward into the officer, who snapped the handcuffs onto Cyrus' wrists with an ominous, final sounding click like a gun being fired. Cyrus was going to prison.
Arty watched, horrified, as the police pushed Cyrus through the door. The thief was shoved unceremoniously into the back of a police car and as soon as the cops hopped in, it roared away, leaving eddies of dust swirling in the air.
Cyrus sat numbly in the police car as it sped toward the station and the jail. He was sure that he would be imprisoned for the first time in his long career of crime for a theft he wasn't even responsible for. 'Who could have put that ring in my backpack?' wondered Cyrus. 'The only person I could think of who would do such a thing is Scourge, but surely he is dead. Or is he?'
In moments, the car's engine stopped abruptly and the car slid to a halt on a gravel drive. He waited for his door to be opened; he had spotted police officers swarming around a small brick building and he was sure it wasn't a good time to run for it. The door was jerked open and Cyrus was roughly grabbed by a rather large policeman with a red face and a handlebar mustache.
"Come on, sonny," he snarled, dragging Cyrus by the handcuffs toward the police building. Cyrus followed obediently and three more officers stepped into line behind him. "Don't try any funny business," warned the large officer hauling Cyrus. 'Not that I would, with the police watching my every move,' thought Cyrus despondently.
They had reached the station now, with the rather boring brown doors barring their way. An officer stepped up to open them and Cyrus was dragged through. A long hallway stretched out before him, with black tiles and numerous doors on either side of it, most of them heavily padlocked.
As they passed each door, Cyrus glanced at them furtively. Each seemed to be made of a different type of wood. Dark wood that seemed to be nearly black, wood of a pale cream color with many knots...they went on and on until they finally came to a large metal door with a small window made of shiny bars high up on it.
The police officers stopped abruptly in front of the door and one, a rather skinny man with a mustache, pulled a large ring of keys from his pocket. He inserted an old-fashioned black key into the extensive lock and there was a loud click as the door swung open. Cyrus peered into the dark depths of the room. He could barely make out a plank of wood attached to one wall with large chains when he was shoved roughly into the cell.
Cyrus thought he heard one of the police officers mutter, "And stay there," but he couldn't be sure. Before he could see anything else, the door was slammed loudly behind him and there was a loud click as it locked, sealing Cyrus in the prison cell. As his eyes slowly adjusted to the light, he could make out the walls of the cell and a tiny window, no more than half a square foot, high on one wall. It was, of course, barred.
Cyrus wiggled his wrists in front of him, seeing if he could maybe break free, but the handcuffs were tight and securely locked. He sighed. Even if he could get out of them, how could he escape? There was no way to break down the metal door or unlock it without a key or lock picking equipment, and the window was much too small to squeeze through, even if he managed to climb nearly fifteen feet up a solid wall.
There was only one option left: the walls. As thoroughly as he could with his hands incapacitated, he ran them over the walls, searching for any cracks or impurities. How long the search took, he didn't know, but the walls seemed as impenetrable as the door. Cyrus slumped down on the cot. It was no use. He was trapped. After what seemed like hours, but must have only been minutes, he drifted off to sleep. It was the only thing to pass time in the dark cell. Later, when he awoke, he found a small tray including a few bread crusts and a jug of water. It wasn't much, but Cyrus had no way of telling when or where he would get his next meal, so he devoured the lot.
A long time later, Cyrus heard a click as the door swung open and he leaped to his feet. A prison guard stepped into the cell with a chain. He grabbed Cyrus's hands and snapped the chain onto the handcuffs, then dragged Cyrus from the cell. 'Where is he taking me? Maybe a trial? Or an execution...' he wondered as the guard led him through a deep reddish door, nearly the same color as Cyrus's own hair, and out into blinding sunlight.
Cyrus squinted ahead and saw, with a jolt of horror, a gallows; looking dark and forbidding in the bright light. As his eyes adjusted, he could see a man standing near the gallows with a scroll in his hand. He beckoned to Cyrus, and the guard holding him drew him closer to the ominous structure.
A feeling of panic swept over Cyrus like a wave over the ocean, and he quickly scanned his surroundings to see if there was any chance of escape. Behind him was the police headquarters, and on the sides and front there was a huge mob of people excited to be witnessing a hanging. He could try to run through them, but it was more likely he would be captured then not. And he was still handcuffed, which didn't help.
He gazed imploringly at the crowd. Would one of them help him? From their faces, it was easy to tell the answer: no. The man with the scroll raised it and read:
"On this day, you have gathered to observe the hanging of the notorious criminal Cyrus. He has been pronounced guilty of many crimes including theft and murder. He is sentenced to hanging..." As the man read on and on, Cyrus stared in astonishment at him murder? How had they decided on that? He had never killed anyone, unlike Scourge. Were they now blaming him for Scourge's crimes as well? As for having no trial; well, that was just unacceptable. Where was 'innocent until proven guilty' and all the rest?
Cyrus glanced around again. Finally, the man had finished reading his condemnation and had stepped off the platform. The officer holding Cyrus's chain jerked it forward, and the latter barely avoided tripping on the uneven ground as he stumbled forward toward the threatening platform. Then he was stepping up onto it, as if entranced and the policeman had slipped the noose over his neck; still holding the chain attached to Cyrus's handcuffs.
There was no escaping it now. Cyrus closed his eyes for one last time and waited for the rope to strangle him. He waited some more. Cyrus opened his eyes, just in time to see a large bullet streaking toward him.
It was too speedy to avoid. Then he noticed that it had clearly been a sloppy shot; the bullet whizzed over his head, close enough for him to feel the air parting before the metal. The rope fell from around his neck, and another well-timed missile severed the chain binding Cyrus. There was no time to lose. He was grateful to whoever had freed him, but could thank them later. For now: run!
Cyrus leaped off the hanging platform and sprinted for all he was worth through the crowd. Most stared at him in amazement as he sped past, still shocked from his miraculous escape. The police, apparently just realized that their quarry had fled, yelled and gave chase. A hand shot out from the mob and grabbed Cyrus's arm.
"Wait," a soft voice hissed. Cyrus was tempted to break away, but he could see that his captor was not one of the police or crowd. In fact, he was dressed in dark clothes and large sunglasses hid his eyes. "Follow me," said the boy, and led Cyrus quickly through the remainder of the crowd. They approached a black Jeep Hummer, and the boy gestured for Cyrus to climb in.
"Where are you taking me?" asked Cyrus, a bit worried. How could he know that this stranger was his friend? Maybe he was going out of the frying pan and into the flames.
"Wait and see," answered the boy mysteriously. Cyrus shrugged and got into the car. He didn't really have much choice as the officers were closing in on him, brandishing guns. Another few boys had appeared running furiously toward the Hummer.
"Hurry, Streak," called the boy with the dark clothing to his friend a year or two older than Cyrus, with brilliant red hair and a rather large silver gun, which he tossed into the open back of the car.
"Plan B," advised the boy who had been called Streak. He didn't climb into the car, but the next three boys did; two in the modified trunk which had been fitted with two seats and one next to Cyrus. The first boy scrambled into the driver's seat and the engine roared.
"Where are we going?" asked Cyrus again. The boy next to him, who greatly resembled Streak, answered.
"We're headed for the Silver Wolf Society," said the boy, as if this explained everything. "Hold on tight, Blade just got his license," he added as an afterthought. As he had predicted, the Jeep leaped forward and headed for the woods, dodging trees and bumping over fallen logs.
"So...why did uh...Streak stay behind?" questioned Cyrus hesitantly.
The boy looked at his knees as he mumbled, "Plan B. He was the bait for the policemen. Streak took your place." Cyrus was horrified.
"What? Is he going to be executed in my place?!"
"Well, with Plan B, you can never be sure; but yes, that's the general idea."
"But that's...that's terrible!" exclaimed Cyrus. The boy nodded quietly. "By the way, what's your name?" inquired Cyrus.
"Fireclaw," said the boy. "I'm Streak's brother." The car came to a halt and the other boy stepped out from the front passenger seat. Cyrus hadn't noticed him because he hadn't been involved in his rescue and was of slight build, dressed in a suit that complemented his light brown hair. He crouched down, feeling the ground in front of the car with an expert touch and finally grasping a handle in the forest floor. He tugged gently at the handle and a huge section of the earth rose up in front of him.
Cyrus gasped. The sight was strangely familiar, and he remembered the dream he had on the jet plane, right before it crashed. The forest, the trapdoor...all of it fit! Sure enough, as the trapdoor reached its full extent, the car drove slowly down into a huge tunnel and parked. The boy who had opened the door followed and walked confidently to a lone tree in the tunnel. As Cyrus had remembered, the boy put his hand in a certain place on the tree and murmured something. A swirling wolf's head pattern glowed under his hand for a moment, then faded as a large door appeared next to the tree.
Cyrus stepped slowly out of the car and approached the door, closely followed by the others. It opened in front of him and he stepped into the Silver Wolf Society.
As Cyrus' eyes adjusted to the bright lights of the Society, he could make out dozens of boys bustling about, delivering messages, or simply chatting animatedly. One boy, a bit older than Cyrus, with messy brown hair and light-colored eyes, walked toward the group around the door. This would have been normal, if not for the large white tigress padding beside him. The boy stuck out his hand in welcome.
"Hi, my name's Jasper," stated the boy, "what's yours?"
"Cyrus," he replied. The tigress seemed to nod in approval as Jasper and Cyrus shook hands. Jasper greeted the other Society members around Cyrus, then moved away toward a large black and silver building, that, as Cyrus guessed correctly, was the Society headquarters. The well-dressed boy who had opened the trapdoor spoke.
"Greetings, Cyrus. I believe I forgot to introduce myself. Call me Riptide."
"Hi, uh, Riptide," said Cyrus uncertainly, as he thought, 'The people around here sure have weird names! Fireclaw, Streak, Riptide...'
Riptide continued speaking, his voice smooth like a cat's purr. "Follow me if you wish to see Silver Wolf." Before they could move, however, a messenger dressed all in white gestured for Riptide to come closer. "Pardon me for a moment," he excused himself as the other began whispering in his ear. Riptide nodded, then frowned. Cyrus turned to Fireclaw, who was still standing quietly in front of the door with the dark boy.
"Before anyone takes me to Silver Wolf, I'd like to know a little about the Society."
"Quite understandable," said the boy in black, but it was Fireclaw who replied, sorrow still audible in his voice.
"The Silver Wolf Society was founded, as you can probably guess, by Silver Wolf, in opposition of his brother, the now King Shruiken Doom, who also has a society of sorts. The two brothers had some kind of fight, I guess, and now they want to kill each other."
Fireclaw stopped at a dark look from the other boy, who growled, "Speak about our leader with more respect."
Fireclaw sighed, then continued. "Well, here at the Society, we take classes and train for a huge upcoming battle with the noble Silver Wolf's brother." He said the word 'noble' with thinly veiled sarcasm, but the dark boy didn't object.
"So...you guys just go to school and train here?" Cyrus asked. He had expected a bit more, but was rather glad of the seeming simplicity of the place. The messenger boy bowed slightly and ran off. Riptide turned back to Cyrus.
"Shall we go?" he asked. Cyrus nodded. He was ready to meet this 'Silver Wolf' person. 'Bring it on,' he thought. Riptide led him, Fireclaw, and the dark boy to the entrance of the large headquarters Cyrus had noticed earlier. When they arrived at the great black double-doors that were studded with nails, Riptide placed his hand on the door, which, like the tree, glowed briefly and opened. As the boy withdrew his hand, Cyrus caught a glace of something on his palm. It looked like the pattern that unlocked the tree and door a swirling wolf's head.
Were these society members branded somehow? A sudden thrill of fear and anticipation rushed through Cyrus, along with fresh doubts. No matter how simple the Silver Wolf Society seemed at first glance, it was anything but that. 'Should I join these people?' wondered Cyrus. 'It sounds interesting, and I could get away from Scourge, but there is obviously more to it than meets the eye. What if they're involved in some illegal venture?' Cyrus nearly laughed at this thought; hadn't he led the life of a criminal up to this moment? 'I'll join,' he finally decided. 'It's not like I had anything better to do, anyway.'
The group was led through the doors and into a long hallway somewhat similar to the one that had been in the jail, in the way it was bare but for a few randomly-spaced doors on either side. This thought didn't comfort Cyrus in the least.
The hallway ended abruptly with another massive black door, this one inlaid with a large silver version of the swirling symbol. Riptide knocked softly three times, then turned the handle and stepped inside. Cyrus followed, but the others stayed in the hallway. As Riptide closed the door behind them, Cyrus gazed around the room. He wasn't sure what he had been expecting, but it wasn't this; that much was visible.
The room was small, not much bigger than a standard bedroom, with plain grey walls and black carpeting. A small desk stood facing the door, and behind it a tall swivel chair was turned toward the back wall. A wolf sat next to the chair. Cyrus wasn't surprised to see that the animal was black with a silver muzzle, chest, back legs, and tail tip. It glared imperiously at the arrivals.
Riptide cleared his throat a bit uneasily. "Sir?" he asked tentatively. "This is Cyrus. He wishes to speak with you."
"Good," replied a voice belonging to the person sitting in the chair Silver Wolf. "Step closer." Cyrus approached nervously until the black wolf's eyes told him very clearly not to come any nearer. Cyrus glanced back toward the door and saw that Riptide had exited the room.
Slowly, very slowly, the chair turned until Cyrus was standing before a young man dressed in black pants and a matching jacket. Silver Wolf's eyes, a pale brown that glinted eerily red in the light, seemed to bore through Cyrus until the latter felt as if he were being x-rayed. Finally, the leader spoke in a soft voice.
"Why are you here, Cyrus?"
Cyrus's mind went blank. What would he say? Finding his voice, he answered. "I...want to join the Silver Wolf Society."
"Indeed," said Silver Wolf. "Do you mind?"
'Mind what?' Cyrus wanted to ask; then a presence entered his mind, vast and powerful. Immediately, he realized Silver Wolf had somehow invaded his head.
'Relax.' The word seemed to appear in the air in front of Cyrus. 'If you will join our ranks, you must swear a vow.' The words shimmered, before vanishing.
'Okay,' thought Cyrus.
'Then let us begin.' The pledge began to materialize, and Cyrus spoke.
"I, Cyrus, solemnly swear that I will uphold the values of the Silver Wolf Society and keep its existence a secret that I will carry to my grave. I will learn, train, and, when my time comes, fight for the Society and do everything in my power to protect fellow members with my life. This I do solemnly swear."
As Cyrus finished, he felt a gentle tingling on his right palm. There, flickering into existence, was a perfect replica of the Silver Wolf Society's insignia. He was now a full-fledged member of the Society. Despite the fact that his adventures were really only beginning, Cyrus felt a deep sense of peace and belonging he had found a home at last.________________
Scourge peered in the window. He could see Cyrus and some other person talking. There was no place for the other thief to hide now. "I will find you, Cyrus, and when I do, you will wish you had never been born."